I wasn’t good at being good

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2022.

I. carbonado, n.

Um, hello?
I hope this gets to you
at all. I know
I haven’t sent anything
in a while. I want
to explain. And yes,
I’ll get to the mark on my face.

II. finger trap, n.

I need to start at the beginning.
You must have known
I needed to leave.

Whenever I had tried running,
something tethered me —
feet in quicksand.

I didn’t know
I’d actually break away.
I didn’t know
I wouldn’t be able to get back.
I’m sorry.

III. amor, n.

I guess
it was just that—
Dad always
loved you more.

You had basketball trophies,
positive comments on your report cards.
He always said
he never had to worry about you.

I had shit; I had to earn his love.
Sometimes, I thought I had it,
but it would fade away
like the doppler effect of a siren.

That’s why
I did all this:
I had to aim so high,
he’d be forced to see me.

IV. dunning-kruger, n.

I thought I had it—
I thought I had it—
I thought I had it
under control.
I swear.

V. eustress, n.

I knew what I signed up for—
I was going to be
in the first group of people
to terraform Mars.

I had the degrees, the years
of research. My name
was announced on cable news.

I was a leader in our shuttle.
People listened to me,
asked me for guidance.
I couldn’t get enough.

VI. palustrine, adj.

It was like when we were kids,
back at the lake, catching newts
in a plastic bucket.

I always needed to catch more
than you, staying out
after the fireflies showed up.

VII. perfectibilist, n.

It was arrogant to think
we could do better than this.

It was arrogant to think
we could start over.

It was arrogant to think
there was nothing here before us.

VIII. soz, adj.

I’m sorry
all this is coming to you
in pieces.

I had to reconfigure our transmitter
with spare parts of
our landing rig.

IX. carnyx, n.

I took the controls
in our final descent,
convinced I should do it,
only I could do it.

I missed a switch,
a small mistake, enough
to damage the hull.

An alarm echoed
through the ship until
someone else 
repaired the necessary parts.

X. bambi, int. and adv.

The repairs set us back 
several hours.
When it was safe and
I was finally allowed
out of the ship,
I stood on red earth,
saw maroon mountains
meet black sky,
an overwhelming array of stars
around a blue dot
where I knew
you all were.

XI. rantipole, n.

They stopped talking to me,
stopped asking me questions.
I could see
hastily-constructed walls
flash across their faces
when they saw me in the hall.

I offered to help;
they said they had it
under control.

XII. boykie, n.

This keeps happening.
I always get in my own way.

I go too far into the water,
lose my balance in the silt.

Why were my successes
never enough?

I couldn't just pass my tests,
I had to be better than all my classmates.

I couldn't just go to Mars,
I had to lead the people who went to Mars.

XIII. yampy, adj.

Dad was right.
You are the better son.
You wouldn't have
put the lives of your crewmates in jeopardy
to serve your ego.

He never made you attend
your parent-teacher conferences.
I had to sit there
while he voiced every disappoint,
while each teacher reached for any solution.

XIV. bretheling, n.

I joined the survey team
to earn the crew's respect back.
It involved walking alone,
away from their bitter eyes.

In addition to creating a map
of the surrounding area, we were looking
for somewhere to build our base.
That's when I found the cave.

XV. ballyhoo, n.

I updated the map,
sent an alert to the leadership team.
They called me to the conference room,
where they sat around a long table,
cluttered with annotated reports and blueprints.

I stood before them, detailed the cave's location;
its approximate volume; how much time, effort,
material it would take to build a sustainable base.
I-

I emphasized
its safety.

XVI. devil’s coach-horse, n.

There were so many things we-
I didn't know:
the actual depth of the cave,
the small holes within its walls,
the boring insects who created them.

XVII. sambaza, v.

Our ship was modular,
created to be dismantled,
room by room,
once a long-term location was found.

I assisted groups of people pack, travel,
and reconfigure their rooms in the cave.
They thanked me for my help, my discovery,
made eye contact with me again.

XVIII. dreidel, n.

We had a feast
once everyone was housed in the cave,
most of the landing rig left as 
a monument in the red desert
for where our settlement began.

People laughed, ate, played games.
They were so happy.
It would be
the last time that feeling was shared.

XIX. carboy, n.

The next morning,
Hisashi, our agriculturist,
lead his team to establish
micro- and macrocrops
within and outside the cave.

He asked for my help
surveying the land, showed me
all the tubes and bottles for
his complex compost system
and his set up for brewing beer.

XX. hagwon, n.

Many people invited me to help them,
learn their roles.
I was accepted again, fully.
I was seen as a leader again.
I was learning so much.
Things were going so well.

XXI. rinky-dink, n.

So, you should
be able to see the wall behind me.
If it's not in focus, just know that
the shelves have fallen over,
the posters and pictures ripped.

You can actually see 
on this shelf panel, the holes
from the insects that live here.

It fell apart slowly. An air leak
in one of the rooms deepest in.
Patch work covered it, we moved on.
Then more leaks, more patchwork,
until Gloriana died in her sleep.

XXII. mondialization, n.

Gloriana was the lead
of the communication team.
They were constructing the transmitter
to report our progress back to Earth.

Our first report, as you well know, was
her death, no explanation or cause.

XXIII. lip-sync, v.

There was debate
about whether to share
that information right away.

There was debate
about whether to carry on
like nothing happened.

For days, we
cosplayed professionalism:
did the tasks on the docket,
said words with no real meaning.

XXIV. zilch, v.

They left no one.
There's no one
left.

I
examined Gloriana's body,
her room, to look for clues.

Day by day, there was less of her,
not natural decay, chunks bitten off
her limbs.

XXV. christmas, v.

On Earth, I think it was Christmas
when I made that realization.

I wrote a report, took some pictures,
presented my findings to the leadership team.

Two of them were absent. We assumed
they were on an assignment or

were recording messages to send
to their families for the holidays.

We were wrong.

XXVI. hanukkiah, n.

The next day, the lights went out.
Emergency flashlights under our cots
lead us through the hallways.

As we approached the power sector,
there was a whirring sound,
like an engine low on oil.

When the door opened, our flashlights
were whipped out of our hands
by a gust of wind escaping

through a large hole in the wall.
Shards of Tenzin's sweater caught on its rim,
their severed hand on the emergency shut-off lever.

XXVII. chindogu, n.

It all went fast then;
panic has a way of
exacerbating things.

We huddled together,
surrounded by machines
that were utterly useless then.

Gathered in one of the central modules,
we concentrated our food, water, spacesuits,
smuggled weapons and ad hoc ones.

XXVIII. bak kut teh, n.

Hisashi set out on his own,
knife in hand,
to find a specimen
to examine, develop a strategy
for attack.

He returned dangling a beetle
the size of a football
by its antennae.
It oozed a viscous blood,
shade of mulberry.

After some poking, prodding,
he suggested
someone should take a bite
to see if its edible
in case our food supply runs low.

I volunteered.
It all felt like my fault.
It was the least I could do.
As my teeth sank into its flesh,
the floor rumbled, erupted.

XXIX. mugwamp, n. and adj.

A swarm of them
fell like hailstones,
bounced like rubber bullets,
sank teeth and pincers
into whatever they found.

We scattered, ran for the exit,
but there stood the largest of them,
the size of a loveseat,
shrapnel lodged in its exoskeleton,
human blood in its teeth.

Hisashi and I charged with sharpened table legs,
hoping to distract it away from the doorway
while others fled to safety.
They all fell to the swarm, Hisashi fell
when a pincer stabbed his stomach.

Sharp pincers, legs scraped my face as I escaped
alone, the captain of a solo-mission.
I ran to the communications room, this room right here,
through a drafty hallway,
this room, the last lung to hold air.

XXX. dear john, n.

You’re going to learn about this
through an official communication
someday soon.
I typed it up and sent it to NASA
soon as I caught my breath.

But, I needed you to hear it from me.
I needed you to know I tried.
I needed you to see my face one last time,
know we fought back.
I needed you to know no one else should come here.

XXXI. mukbang, n.

I can hear them now
in the walls.

They’re going to get in
any minute now.

I’m not going to make it
back home.

So, I just want you to know
I lo-

3 thoughts on “I wasn’t good at being good

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