Thursday, January 1, 2015


My Autobiography
By Paul Smith

I always wanted to write a biography. I never could decide on whose, though. I knew everyone. Everyone knew me. I’ve been called lots of things-slippery, insubstantial, lacking in sheer strength, a slave to gravity. I’m used to that. I still wanted to write someone’s life story.

So I decided to write my own. My own. My own autobiography.

I’ll start with my childhood. It was stressful. I had two dads, both with the same name. At first I thought ‘hydrogen’ was a cool name, but my dad wasn’t cool. He was very hot-tempered. Plus, there was two of him. Mom’s name was oxygen. I liked that name a little better. She never liked it. What she disliked more was my two dads. They drove mom nuts. They’d have terrible fights, the three of them, and both dads would argue over who was really my father.

So one day I just left home. I promised mom I’d show up again someday. But my intention was to never come back, to find a place where there was no fighting and bickering. I got lost in the universe for eons. That’s eons, not ions, which I suppose I was. I went from galaxy to galaxy, looking for a place I fit in. It was like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Isotopes. One place was too cold, another too hot. Eventually I found this place, which was just right.


At first, earth was a great place-hot and rugged, with all kinds of germs and amoebae, all of whom liked me. Now I was like a mom or a dad. Everyone depended on me, everyone called me friend. Everyone drank me. I nourished simple cells, organisms, eukaryotes, trilobites, then dinosaurs, mammals, and finally the family of man.

Man was a puzzle. At first he lived in caves, then trees, then huts and finally high-rises. No matter where he lived, though, he needed me. First he drank me from rivers and lakes. Then he built aqueducts and I flowed to his cities. Then he pumped me all over. I started out one place and wound up in another hundreds of miles away. But it wasn’t enough that I nourished him. I had to nourish what he ate as well. Soon there were irrigation systems that he built to get me to wheat, sorghum, rice, alfalfa, bean sprouts. And that still wasn’t enough. I could have named my price, had I been man. But I was just a simple molecule. And all of me, in the sea, was in demand, too. Man found a way to take the salt out of me, and man used all of that up, too. Wars were fought over me. Continents like Africa went dry because all of me got sucked up in the hot Saharan sun, watering crops to feed the billions of people man produced. Soon there were more of them than of me, all of them soldiers with guns. And with all those guns, they killed each other off.

There was one final big war in which everyone died. But there was still some of me. And some animals, cells, invertebrates, some weird looking fish that thrived at the bottom of the oceans, some grotesque bacteria growing in the Ogallala aquifer, which wasn’t tapped dry. So after man and woman were gone, I took a breather. Then I began negotiating with the cells. Cells have great memories. So do I. I reminded them of what happened eons, ago. Not ions. Eons. I reminded them not to evolve into man again. They bought into the idea. How they did it with their chromosomes, I don’t know. But they did pull it off. This time the cells reproduced into peaceful creatures with long necks and non-warlike genes. Some of them looked like geese, some like ichthyosaurs. I waited a billion years or so until I was satisfied things had stabilized.

Then I called mom. “You never pick up a phone and call your mother,” she said.

I recognized her voice. I told her I wanted her to come live with me. She was excited. I got her a visa, and after several hundred thousand years dealing with immigration, I got her cleared. She loved my new place. And the cells loved her.

Our happiness only lasted a few millions years. I could tell something was wrong.

“What is it, mom?” I asked.

“I miss your fathers. You gotta bring them.”

“You always fought, mom. The three of you always fought.”

‘I miss him, them. You gotta do something.”

“OK, where is dad?”

“Are,” she corrected me. “Come look.”

She took me to the edge of the earth where we stood and stared at the vast majesty of the universe, gazillions of stars. Mom pointed. And there dad was, in the corner of a faraway galaxy, flickering with that special incandescent, explosive split personality that set him apart. Then, unexpectedly, there was a giant explosion as the sky lit up. The tiny speck that my dad or dads had been suddenly was a flash of light that catapulted myriads of particles in every direction, an illumination so bright I was nearly blinded. Then dad was gone in a spark of fate and oblivion and grandeur.

My dad, the supernova.

Mom was morose for several centuries, but then a new guy came along. He wooed her with flowers and candy plus a few electrons he found floating around, leftovers from dad. They hit it off right away.

“He calls regular,” mom said. “Not like somebody.”

I wanted her to be happy. The new guy was OK.

His name was Carbon.

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Paul Smith writes fiction, poetry and occasionally does his poems live at the Green Mill in Chicago. In fact, he's planning on doing one there tomorrow night, so come one come all. Drinks are on him, if you say the magic word.


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