J.T. Whitehead

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Artwork by Gene McCormick

You count, I count . . . everyone counts

Oh hell yeah I know math, he said.
Let me tell you what I know.
I know the one common denominator all numbers have.
All numbers happen a lot,
that is the common denominator shared by all numbers.
So you are sad, many times, once,
or you are happy, many times x 2,
melancholic four times, or 1 x each grandparent’s death
or lost lover, but free so many times, x each of the latter,
suspicious 5 times however many times it is,
or relieved, or orgasmic, x some number, hopefully cosmic
in its proportions, if not its enumerations, or eating for free,
x zero, since there’s no free lunch, or pleasing to friends
in a way that makes only some think of physical things,
& that you are so, many times more than you know.
But you, he stressed, you are everything, some number of times.
I know this, so yeah, I know math.
Hell, I’m a mathematician, even, oddly, at least this once.

Artwork by Gene McCormick

You go on . . .

            . . . deception and delusion, the twin assassins of innocent nature . . .
                                    -- Tom Clark; Junkets on a Sad Planet

What would compel one to choose the oven, the exhaust pipe, 
or the gun, is a complex concern, or a philosophical consideration.
If you will.  If you will it, perhaps it’s the gas, ala Sylvia Plath, 
S’il vous plait.  There is this aesthetic consideration: a prettier face 
than my own would not take the leap before taking the 20th pill, 
her face belonging to yesterday.  Still.  If one could succumb 
to the temptation that faces all of us, at a minimum, once, even once, 
then one could succumb 25 times.  An unfaithful lover.  A lost job.  
A lost home.  Or an abusive father.  Or an embittered mother.
A still-born child.  A fascist regime – Reps gone wild. Things aren’t 
what they seem.  Or worse, they are – & it’s garage door down time 
& start up the car.  A deceptive sister, a delusional one, the Cinderella 
sisters for one’s very own.  What gives one the choice is the voice.  
You know it, it murmurs.  It’s your own very own.  What saves one 
that choice is much simpler . . . a child’s drawing, the one that leads 
to conception & to the creation of multi-fruit trees . . . a 6-year-old 
playing the drums . . . a 9-year-old’s game winning play . . .  an infant 
wrapping his wrap-around thumbs on your forefingers . . . you count 
his time . . . or your partner . . . holding your hand in the art museum . . .  
Soul-transported to another place – Tahiti, Paris, or Outer Space –
where darkness could never restrict an exploding firmament that lights 
you up with an inspiration, the kind that leads to a brilliant creation, 
your first grader’s art . . . the most beautiful work you have seen . . . 
& you find in due time that you simply refuse to choose to create
what for loved ones would be the most un-ending date . . . & it’s over.
Calm resignation.  No self-doubt.  No despair.  No more self-hate.


J.T. Whitehead earned a law degree from Indiana University, Bloomington. He received a Master’s degree in Philosophy from Purdue, where he studied Existentialism, social and political philosophy, and Eastern Philosophy. He spent time between, during, and after schools on a grounds crew, as a pub cook, a writing tutor, a teacher’s assistant, a delivery man, a book shop clerk, and a liquor store clerk, inspiring four years as a labor lawyer on the workers’ side. Whitehead was Editor in Chief of So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, briefly, for issues 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6.  He is a Pushcart Prize-nominated short story author, a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, and was winner of the Margaret Randall Poetry Prize in 2015 (published in Mas Tequila Review).  Whitehead’s poetry has appeared in over 100 publications, including The Lilliput Review, Slipstream, Left Curve, The Broadkill Review, Misfit Magazine, Home Planet News, The Iconoclast, Poetry Hotel, Book XI, and Gargoyle.  His book The Table of the Elements was nominated for the National Book Award in 2015.  Whitehead lives in Indianapolis with his two sons, Daniel and Joseph.