“Cognitive Dissonance” by Jeffrey McRae

Jeffrey McRae


Jesus Christ, I just hit that fucking bird, I said,
though the car was empty. It was that beautiful,
whatever it was: long, mottled white and brown,
fanned-out, straining to make it. A bird’s brain

is small, its head made the tiniest thunk on the fender,
and then it disappeared: no cloud of feathers,
no tumbling wings on the road, no claw in the grill.
For a second, just before it died, it was spectacular.

That’s how death should be. I was telling someone
how a NASA engineer brought a black tile
in a bag to Mr. Morelli’s seventh grade science class.
Just like the ones used on the Challenger he told us

and blasted it with a torch and the blue flame splayed
across it like the wing of a jay. When he pointed
the flame away, our fingers were stunned
by the tile’s hard cold. We put it together: The tile

resisted the heat, fading red to black like nothing
had happened, as though he never struck the match
igniting the gas and the jet of flame never
touched the tile. Something had happened—

we saw it but we could not believe our eyes.
Our teacher sat back like a cat that ate a bird.
A week later, I was drinking milk in the hall
with Scott and Jason when he hustled by:

The shuttle just blew up. That was progress and industry
and good government and science and education
all at once. We knew it was a lesson about hope
and about aspiration and how they can end up

on the bottom of the sea: we were back in class
assembling incompatible ideas, watching the split-screen
television: tall sky scribbled with bright smoke-trails/
schoolchildren watching Christa McAuliffe vanish.

from Rattle #50, Winter 2015


Jeffrey McRae: “I live in Vermont with my wife and three kids and a cat. I teach creative writing and literature at a small college, but my favorite way to make money is as a jazz drummer. I don’t make much money.”

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