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 graduated from Goshen College in 1975, and did his masters and doctoral work at Indiana University. His 13th book, Wind Farm: Landscape with Stories and Towers, is new from Dos Madres Press; earlier books include Without a Plea (2019) and Abandoned Homeland (2016), both poems, and Songs from an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace (essays, 2013). His awards and honors include a 2008 Fulbright lectureship at the University of Salzburg, six Ohio Arts Council Excellence Awards, and Bechtel, Yoder, and Menno Simons lectureships, as well as two C. Henry Smith Peace Lectureships, and he was named Ohio Poet of the Year in 2015 for Somewhere Near Defiance. His poems and essays appear in Georgia Review, The Sun, Kenyon Review, Forklift, Ohio, Christian Century, Image, Cincinnati Review, Terrain, and many other journals. After many years teaching at Bluffton University, he was named Distinguished Poet in Residence and Professor Emeritus of English in 2021.