As kids, when my brothers and I’d race neighbours
at the beach, we invented a medal for fourth.
Gold, silver, bronze, wood.
Hurt a lot, getting that last one.
Not just unwanted, but fictitious.
Like you’d done so poorly
you’d performed yourself out of existence.
The kind of thing that’d sound bad
even at the Olympics.
“Fourth in the world?!”
If we’d known Chemistry – or even had the Internet –
we’d have made copper fourth,
tin fifth. Which also sound shitty,
though nowhere near as devastating.
I will say we were correct that
it’s haphazard to stop at bronze.
The rationale, I suppose, is humans
prefer to acknowledge competition
only in passing. At the job interview,
all implicitly understand only one
will get a position to feed their family.
Still, you’re supposed to be polite about it.
Corporations don’t just tromp into communities
and litigate them of resources without leaving
a nice gym behind for the high school.
The battle’s to be fought beneath the surface –
like how the British deal with sexuality.
Our society sucks at podding
because we’ve never been taught
to say: I prefer Jerome cause he cooks.
Unfortunately your wife
is a front line worker. I don’t trust
your decision-making, though I do trust Bill’s.
Calculation, we’re told, is the animal
part of ourselves. Even when it’s called for,
we’re encouraged to evaluate quietly.
So we get pods of 5 totalling 15,
50 masquerading as 10.
People don’t want to offend any more
than they want to show restraint.
At the beach, the kids would surround
the fourth place finisher and yell:
Wood! Wood! Wood!
There’s not a lot about that image
to like – the thrill of condescension,
the force of giving it a name,
the kick of getting to scream it –
though one thing we were not