FOCUS
by Key MacFarlane


  1. While reaching over to change stations—a little country would fit the mood just right—he realizes he left his wallet at home. Fifth gear shifting, eyeing phone nervously, he thinks that maybe just somehow these mental cues get buried along the warning strips near exit 6, somewhere between the visual pull of a real estate building and some mangled piece of road kill that has taken weeks just to bare its bones. If Susan were around, he thought, she’d be sure to say something about how the City hires schizophrenics, bounty hunters she would say, to go around collecting all the carcasses, tossing them lovingly into some sickly underbrush off the side of the highway, just close enough to attract a few predators—to make more road kill. This is how they keep their job.

  2. I keep having these dreams where I can never—well at least not usually—get to where I want to go. Everyone with anxiety has these dreams, I think. I’m taking a math test, I’m driving to a job interview and all of a sudden I can’t see, I can’t keep my eyes open. Some strange throbbing shifting thing inside (or outside?) of my body keeps pulling me down. I’m half lucid. I can’t focus on anything in particular. Food tastes like TV static. And the only way to wake up is if I imagine some sort of horrible hypnotic accident, bodies possessed. Turns out I’ve been sweating in place for hours. Need to change the sheets. This happens to so many of us it’s not even worth mentioning.

  3. In his office he has two computer screens. One for work, one for non-work. Every 20 minutes or so (usually less) of copying strings of data into strings of excel spreadsheets he lets his eyes rest—on whatever comes to mind. That is he returns to face the face of that vacant Google rectangle (he always thought it should be a circle though) on screen numero dos. He seeks the answer to a single question, a solitary tryst, and ends up in a different place altogether, virtually. Never one for organization, he opens maybe 35 tabs on the screen’s surface of what he might be interested in, just in case. Sports news, steroids, 90s fashion, murder trial, serial killers, family guy. ‘To write or to not write on Susan’s wall?’ No clear answer. Too much time anyway. So many other destinations.

  4. Senior-Year Thesis* on Aesthetics (*Advisor insisted on amending “thesis” to “very strong opinion”): Surfaces are odious (sometimes). Lists are deceiving (sometimes). How much of what we actually say constitutes saying anything? Disrupting exchange can create the necessary conditions for actual exchange. Just look at Wall Street. What is actual exchange?—wasn’t that shown to be obsolete in our digital post-postmodern age? Satire and infinite play is all well and good, often politically useful, but after a while what, if anything, are you creating? Argument: modernity’s repetition and the impulse for novelty must be dialectically intertwined; thus the new aesthetic must be a draft dodger kind of aesthetic. (As my advisor kindly pointed out, this is not really an argument at all. He also notes that it reeks of contradiction; I had too much on my mind at the time to change it.)

  5. I want to take a picture of something beautiful. That picture of something beautiful I want to put up on my wall so that you all can tell me if it’s beautiful or not. The latter is not socially acceptable really at this point in time. Get back to me. XOXO.

  6. Susan is 5’6, white, upper-middle class (she says middle), in her mid-twenties, dirty blonde but dyed red (or what is supposed to be red), finger nails like the Reading Rainbow, and wears a sailor cap for flair since she adores Melville and tells everyone she’s never even seen the ocean. Susan is a martyr for diversity in all forms and prides herself on making very few bourgeois judgments when it comes to aesthetics. Susan thinks everything’s fair game for her new novel (sorry, novella), seen in the right light of course, placed in the appropriate sort of social circle so to speak. When she uses it at the right moment, she believes she can turn a first generation Ipod into a device for Freudian (sometimes even Dostoyevskian) guilt. She has me convinced.

  7. Jonathan is 5’11, white, quite charming if you’ll permit the indulgence, has quite a fine knowledge of beer varieties, upstanding citizen, former lacrosse star, etc. Jon (whatever you want to call him, he doesn’t care) works for some obscure investment bank or financial consulting conglomeration or something like that. Something with a decentralized organizational structure; diversity was one of five goals in its mission statement, he assured me. (I was teetering on blackout during our entire barroom discourse and can’t be blamed for misinformation. His locution, the way he strung along his dependent clauses, made me want to drink, to lie down in a cool stream). Jonny boy is most excited about—and uses his longest sentences to describe—the infinite possibilities of global trade. How one day all the world’s walls will crumble (I figured this was figurative), and exchange will happen uniformly and indiscriminately. The great flood: money will flow.

  8. The curse of OCD is that the patient is able to connect anything with anything else. Animism. Spontaneous religion really. An indelible conviction in some sort of interconnecting, causally sound totality. That something happening to Susan today at this desk typing these words, will somehow unglue her most cherished relationships with others. Uncontrollable apotheosis. Or maybe reason unchained. Looking for invisible connections among objects. Connections that bind and enslave.

  9. I’m in a glass room. Only the glass is permeable. It is saying: I contain whispers, desks, and printers but I can’t contain you. Every exit leads to another room. Some rooms are colorful, some are musical, some contain bodies rotting and piled high on concrete-cracked streets, some have dinner parties at chromium palaces, some just look the same: it’s quite distracting. I’ve researched them all, I’ve seen them on screen from a hundred different angles. I’m tired.

  10. For all our lack of focus, we return again to the same spots again and again, layering the surface of what was once smooth and understandable with a thousand hesitating brush strokes, a kaleidoscope of avoidance and weekend distractions.






     In the fall, Key will begin pursuing a graduate degree in critical human geography from the University of Washington. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Full of Crow, Eunoia Review, The Subterranean Quarterly, Stone Highway Review, and Sleet Magazine.

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