The Greatest Consolation by David Nikityn

Pls dnt woyry. A text from my mother. Little did she know, I was already attending a poetry reading.

“This next one,” the poet was saying, “will make a lot more sense for those of you who’ve trekked Peru’s southern edge.” He sipped sparkling water. “Who are familiar with the Ribereño-Andino dialect.”

I scanned the paint stains on my tattered jeans, the man beside me whose sneaker’s sole spat rubber flecks, the number of undergraduates in the crowd. We would have to take the poet at his word.


She’d stoically alerted us to the persistent sunspots in her vision, just the left eye, the phosphenes that wouldn’t disappear. This back when I’d taken to riding my bike anywhere I feasibly could, sometimes where I feasibly couldn’t, and imagined my carbon footprint shrinking. Scampering across all six lanes, through a break in traffic, I’d hurled my bike over the guardrail and darted up a hill to the parking lot where my mother waited in her car, both hands still clutching the wheel.

“You drove?” I tried not to sound concerned.


“Perhaps the best thing about aneurysms,” the poet was saying, “is that they don’t discriminate. They can happen anywhere, at any time, no matter who you are or what you’re doing.” A beat. “Or who you’re doing it with.” He winked at the audience. “I’ll just read a few more.”


The doctor reappeared with a stethoscope draping his neck. A moment later, the device sat in its drawer. My mother turned away to rebutton her blouse.

“We’re not concerned yet,” he began, “but you’ve got history on both sides of the family.”

Who fucking doesn’t? I wanted to scream.


“This next one concerns light pollution,” said the poet, “which if you know anything about, you’ll know how it decimates, ruthlessly, indigenous bullfrog populations.” He looked up. We gazed back at attention. “I’m sure we can all find occasions to turn the lights down.” He smiled winningly.


My sister and I, when we moved out, had each gotten her a dog: one big and white, one small and brown—one for protection and one for companionship.

“Get the fuck off the bed!” I heard her yelling, out of breath, when I called. “I always used to wonder how anyone could hate a dog,” she admitted.

Guilt exists in countless breeds.


“‘A Sonnet for the Seahorses in My Heart,’” the poet began. He shuffled his pages, flipped over several. “Actually, we’ll skip that one.”


I drove us home, my bike rattling in the trunk. The radio reported a carbon monoxide leak at a nursing home. Mercifully, the reporter intimated, it occurred at night, when everyone was already asleep.


After the reading, I biked through a park whose oaks—limbs glorious and flowing in daylight—had since decayed to slippery shadows. Gnats and fireflies danced in my headlight’s beam before exploding on my teeth. Pocketed against my thigh, the phone buzzed.

“The greatest consolation I’ve discovered,” the poet had said, “is knowing that nothing I do—that any of us do—will be remembered in a million years.” We breathed as one. A shift in a seat, corduroy on velour, soft squeaking. The poet grinned. “Thanks very much for coming. It’s been delightful.”

Photo by Velo-Radsport, used and adapted under CC.