Every Atom | No. 40

Kevin Brockmeier

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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Whenever I read about a buzzard—whenever I so much as encounter the word—I remember Faulkner’s claim that if he were reincarnated he would want to come back as one. Why? Because “nothing hates him or envies him or wants him or needs him. He is never bothered or in danger, and he can eat anything.” In what guise, I wonder, would Whitman choose to reincarnate?  Every guise, you sense he would answer. The self of whom Whitman sings is much larger than we ordinarily imagine a self to be. He is, or will be, or will one day have been, everything. The rocks. The mastodons. The hollows of the ocean. He will come back as me, and he will come back as you. Plainly Whitman is not writing here out of disdain for the buzzard. (His disdain is rare, and mostly reserved for human beings. See the section that follows, in which he famously longs to “turn and live with animals” in order to be free from the sicknesses of humanity.) The vanity of the buzzard who houses herself with the sky is not the vanity of a creature who dares to imagine such a home for herself. It’s not, in fact, the vanity of the buzzard at all. It’s the vanity of a world that believes he—Whitman—is not housing himself along with her, and each of us the same.

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Kevin Brockmeier is a fiction writer from Little Rock, Arkansas, with eight books to his credit. His ninth, The Ghost Variations: One Hundred Stories, is forthcoming from Pantheon Books in 2020.


Cover art by Cecilia Hotzler.