On Obscurity by Marc J. Sheehan
Editor-in-chief Jennifer A. Howard on today's bonus content: Like Marc J. Sheehan, I’ve never seen The Sopranos. I didn’t have HBO when it was airing, I had a series of terrible DVD players in the years later when I could have checked it out on video, and now I’m all Netflix streaming and DVR’d live baseball and ANTM marathons on Oxygen. I could find ways to catch up on the series on my laptop, but I’m scared to let my computer become a place I watch TV. The internet provides enough distractions; I once clicked on a link promising to reveal 24 reasons to love cauliflower, even though I already like cauliflower plenty. The point is, I felt left out of the Sopranos conversation, like I felt when I went away for the summer and came back to find my friends had all learned to shave their legs, or when people talk about any band that isn’t the The Carpenters, or any time I order a club soda at a bar. But I don’t feel left out here, in Sheehan’s “On Obscurity.” I feel invited into something at once intimate and enormous. That’s a nifty trick in a couple hundred words.
James Gandolfini, the actor famous for portraying a likeable mob boss, died of a heart attack yesterday while in Italy to attend a film festival. I hear this on the car radio during my commute to work, a drive which gives me too much time to contemplate things such as the fact that Gandolfini was eight years younger than I am. This is deeply disturbing even though I have never seen The Sopranos, his show, despite its popularity and middle-brow cachet, which ran on one of the premium cable-TV channels I pay for – God knows why. Which is to say that I am getting old in ways time can’t make you unless you let it – although I’m also getting old in the wrinkly, cellular-decay, grave-looming-larger, Sweet-Mother-of-Fuck-where-did-my-life-go sort of way. So I’m a little miffed with Jim (who’s no longer around to take umbrage at the informality) for dying and triggering such thoughts on my drive to an 8-5 job I wouldn’t be commuting an hour and a half to if I were famous like, say, James Gandolfini. On the bright side, I’m alive – unlike, say, James Gandolfini – to say nothing of various unfortunates in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eretria, Mexico, Sudan, Congo…pretty much any place you care to mention with the exception of the Principality of Monaco, where I imagine it’s possible not only that no one at all died yesterday, but ever. And Liechtenstein. I mean, who dies in Liechtenstein? But Jim, I forgive you for causing me such a moody drive to work, as well as for your portrayals of characters whose propensity for violence was made palatable, or so I gather, by a sense of self-awareness and – if not regret and remorse, exactly – then something like longing for a world that did not require such unfortunate expediencies. Anyway, I’m still alive, have I mentioned? So thank you, Jim, for reminding me. And no, don’t thank me in return for this elegy. After all, Michigan back roads lend themselves to such ruminations on mortality, what with their cedar swamps, road kill and burned-out mobile homes; their camouflage, accident shrines and bullet-riddled signs. So this is for you, mio fratello. I’m signing off now, not with an autograph but just my signature, my scrawl, my name indecipherable in the corner of this landscape.
Marc J. Sheehan is the author of two poetry collections--Greatest Hits from New Issues Press and Vengeful Hymns from Ashland Poetry Press. His short story "Objet du Desir" won the Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Contest sponsored by the public radio program Selected Shorts and was read on stage in New York by David Rakoff. His story "The Dauphin" was broadcast on Weekend All Things Considered as part of its Three-Minute Fiction series. Publications in literary magazines include Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Passages North, Michigan Quarterly Review, and others.