A Brief History of My Relationship with Mercury
BY CHARLES RAFFERTY
1. Becky and I woke up early to look for Mercury. The sky was mostly clear and unspectacular. The unrisen sun had just begun to taint the few clouds there were with the orange of overripe pumpkin. Several dim lights were present, and Becky asked which one was Mercury. I had no idea, but this did not stop me from pointing at the tiny speck about to be swallowed by a brightening cloud.
2. When I was 9 I dropped a thermometer on my bedroom windowsill. The mercury spilled into the track. I didn’t know that it was poison. I played with it for days—rolling it back and forth with my finger, shattering it, watching the ball bearings of it spread and recombine. A week later it was gone. The breeze that blew over my August sheets must have found a place to hide it.
3. And there was Freddy Mercury, of course. I remember the autumn when “Under Pressure” was everywhere. Becky picked me up as I walked along the muffler-strewn shoulder of Route 38. We drove around all afternoon. That song came on at least four times, and every time we turned it up.
4. Mercury was both the most boring and the most exciting of the space programs. It ended before I was born. Someone decided to sit on top of a weapon. Someone decided to go to space and come right back. It reminded me of my father, who dove into the pool when he got hot enough but climbed right out, dripping over the copy of War and Peace he’d been working on all summer.
5. Becky drove a Mercury. We made out in it. There always came a moment, after we had parked and kissed for a while, when we would step out of the car and reenter through the back doors from our separate sides. It was like we were kids again—riding in the back, getting driven. The seats back there were cold at first. Vinyl. Easy to clean.
6. When I was little, I traded a Mercury dime for an Indian head penny. Mark Morris thought I was a fool, but it was worth it. I had a whole bag of the dimes, and my oldest coin was a 1923 Lincoln penny. Now I had an Indian head: 1898, and still the oldest coin in my collection.
7. The god of Mercury was supposed to be fast. He brought news that the king was dead, that the war was lost, that the girl you waited for was fooling around in the back seat of her mother’s car, that this was the reason she did not pick up the phone, that she would rather destroy you by pulling me into her arms.
CHARLES RAFFERTY’s tenth book of poetry is The Unleashable Dog. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Oprah Magazine, The Southern Review, and Prairie Schooner, and are forthcoming in Ploughshares. His collection of prose poems, The Smoke of Horses, is coming out with BOA Editions in 2017. His collection of short fiction is Saturday Night at Magellan’s. He has a story in the most recent issue of The Southern Review. Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College.