Eight Bits Usually Equals One Byte


A cracking voice asks, Is this English 100?

I look up at this string-thin, patchy-bearded kid

resembling Shaggy just after tumbling out of

the Mystery Machine, spooked, certain his dog can talk.

I tell him, Yes, but this is the fourth week; you’ve already

flunked, and he flies out of the room so fast

he may as well be the snowball that flattened

on the statued bust that I passed on my way to class.

Sometimes I wish I could hide in the darkness

inside my shirt pocket.  Where is the professor?

He was just here, and there’s his shirt.


I don’t know the etymology of the statement

The quarterback drops back into the pocket,

but if my OED can’t tell me, my computer will.

Ditto the difference between flotsam and jetsam

and between hem and haw, and between bits and bytes,

but no dictionary or computer can tell me how my student,

Willie McNeal, feels today, or whether I did right

by that Is this English 100? kid.  Last week

Willie was the chain-sporting, diamond-studded hero

who had run a kickoff back for a touchdown.  This week

he’s the bruised, black-eyed kid who lost his grip


on the game-winning touchdown pass.  All week

he drifts back and forth between English class and his dreams,

too tired from suicide sprints to stay awake.  I don’t need

a dictionary or a computer to understand the term suicide sprints,

but flotsam refers to shipwrecked goods spilled into the water,

like Willie if he doesn’t get up after the next hit,

and jetsam signifies goods voluntarily tossed overboard

or jettisoned, like that Is this English 100? kid.

Hem and haw come from ahem and an old form of huh,

and they work together, like a quarterback and receiver in sync,

who do not hem and haw, but strike with no fear of failure.


Class, a poet named Keats said we should write about mysteries,

uncertainties, and doubts without any irritable reaching

after fact, and then he got TB and died at twenty-six.

Also I thought someone threw a snowball across the street

this morning, but it was a leaping white squirrel

and someone’s hosing its guts off her Goodyear tires right now.

All of you floated in here today filled with fears

and feelings you can’t name.  They follow you

as surely as shadows, all the way past the edge of where your

parents and teachers can go with you, and sometimes I think of you

as bits and bytes in programming code infected with a virus

or as new words that haven’t yet entered the dictionary.




Photo By: pfly


About Author

Tom C. Hunley holds degrees from University of Washington, Eastern Washington University, and Florida State University. He is the author of three full-length poetry collections, most recently Octopus (Logan House Press, 2008, Winner of the Holland Prize); five chapbooks, most recently Annoyed Grunt (Imaginary Friend Press, 2012); and two textbooks, most recently The Poetry Gymnasium: 94 Proven Exercises to Shape Your Best Verse (McFarland & Co., Inc., 2012). He has also written for a variety of literary publications such as TriQuarterly, New York Quarterly, Five Points, The Writer, North American Review, New Orleans Review, Rattle, Exquisite Corpse, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Chronicle, Atlanta Review and Poetry Daily. His poems have been featured several times on Garrison Keillor’s NPR program, The Writer’s Almanac. In addition to writing his own poetry and prose, he is the book review editor for Poemeleon and the director/founder of Steel Toe Books. He and his wife, Ralaina, have been married since 1996, and they have three sons. In his spare time he enjoys playing bass guitar.

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