Fifty Billion Planets

The galaxy is crawling with life. What’s for dinner? - Anonymous

Hemingway was wrong about the very rich, and when he walked
into my nonfiction class I told him so. He wanted to punch me

but I told him all physical violence on campus was prohibited
by the Peaceful Menno Code, so he just glared and stomped

out the door. The Code also prohibits gloating, so I asked
the students what we’d learned. “You blew our chance to talk

to a famous dead guy,” said the smart kid. “And a rich one,” said
Melinda, who never said anything. “Yeah, but rich people aren’t

like you and me,” I answered, weakly. “You mean they don’t
attach lame adverbs to their speech tags?” said the smart kid.

I opened my mouth to tell him off graciously, within the guidelines
of the P. M. C., but just then the door opened and a sweet voice

said, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” I was baffled, but the Code
requires unconditional intercultural affirmation, so I smiled

and nodded. The woman sashayed towards me, glittering
as she walked. Fifty billion earthlike planets in the galaxy

and there she was, a golden, liquid comet on a collision course
with my poor sinful earth. She circled me, twice, and then she

was more like a hawk pondering whether it was worth the effort
to swoop down and snatch a meadow vole. The students

were spellbound, Hemingway forgotten. “Everyone thinks
you said, ‘Let them eat cake,’ I muttered. “Everyone in your

stupid country, maybe,” she answered. “As if the whole world
speaks your silly language.” She slid a finger from my ear

to my chin, and I shivered, but then she turned to the class,
and she was not at all a vain, dead queen. “There are

fifty billion earthlike planets in the Milky Way,” she said.
“How will you spend your tiny, whirly, unrepeatable life?”

About the Author

Jeff Gundy

Jeff Gundy’s Songs from an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace appeared from Cascadia in fall 2013. This gathering of essays on theopoetics and Mennonite writing is a sequel to his Walker in the Fog: On Mennonite Writing, winner of the Dale E. Brown Award. His sixth full-length collection of poems, Somewhere Near Defiance, was published by Anhinga early in 2014. An essay on his time in Salzburg as a Fulbright lecturer, “The Other Side of Empire,” is forthcoming in The Georgia Review. Other recent work is in The Sun, Nimrod, Conrad Grebel Review, Kenyon Review Online, Shenandoa and Kestrel. A graduate of Goshen College, with a PhD in English from Indiana University, he teaches at Bluffton University.

Photo by Bill Walker