An education can lead to an exciting career. An exciting career can lead to positive self-image. A positive self-image can lead to pride. Pride can lead to hubris. Hubris can lead to manipulation by others. Manipulation by others can lead to career or personal life misfortune. Career or personal life misfortune can lead to negative self-image. Negative self-image can lead to disorders. Disorders can lead to drug abuse. Drug abuse can lead to hubris. Hubris can lead to a job on Wall Street. A job on Wall Street can lead to coke. Coke can lead to hubris. Hubris can lead to manipulation by others. Manipulation by others can lead to personal life failures. Personal life failures can lead to coke or divorce. Coke or divorce can lead to more coke. More coke can lead to feeling like a dog took a dump inside your brain. A dog taking a dump inside your brain can lead to disorders. Disorders can lead to mismanaged or lack of medical care. Mismanaged or lack of medical care can lead to job loss. Job loss can lead to tenuous housing. Tenuous housing can lead to homelessness. Homelessness can lead to foot problems. Foot problems can lead to gangrene. Gangrene can lead to amputation. Amputation can lead to phantom limb syndrome. Phantom limb syndrome can lead to dropping the cup. Dropping the cup can lead to a puddle of liquid. A puddle of liquid can lead to a slip. A slip can lead to a fall. A fall can lead to a hip fracture. A hip fracture can lead to hospitalization. Hospitalization can lead to an in-hospital MRSA style infection. An in-hospital MRSA style infection can lead to death. Death can lead to decomposition. Decomposition can lead to maggots and/or flies. Maggots and/or flies can lead to insect mating. Insect mating can lead to more insects.
levelheaded: Post Hoc
Perhaps its title, an abbreviated post hoc ergo propter hoc, should have tipped us off, but two sentences into “Post Hoc,” and we realize its pattern. The poem presents a world, stripped of everything but a series of causal relationships. The poem never tells us anything happens or happened or will happen. It only tells us what “can” happen, keeping time abstract. But we bring our own faulty logic to the poem, and suddenly there is a series of events that is obviously, though perhaps falsely, a story.
It’s the sense of possibility afforded by “can” that lends the poem its subtlest moments. In the poem’s opening sentence we are told, “[a]n education can lead to an exciting career.” So, an exciting career begins. Not much later, we realize the career is no more. The first sentence, despite being true, was a lie; if a career is no longer a career, it probably never was. The same logic can be applied to “failures,” “self-image,” “death,” etc.—each of them final in some way. When the same phrase begins the following sentence it chips away at the finality, and thus the authority, of the previous sentences. This is where the poem’s titular logical fallacy shines through. Any cause in the poem can be said to result in any subsequent effect. By the end, the poem’s major truth is that “an education” can somehow lead to “more insects.” The intuitive sense that these sentences combine into a narrative is an illusion—there is really only a set of unreliable causes and effects. We bring the rest.
This does not mean everything between “an education” and “more insects” is a means to an end. With the structure of each sentence set firmly, the content of the sentences comes into greater focus. Removed from context, the sentences range from the vaguely surreal: “Phantom limb syndrome can lead to dropping the cup.” To the decisively technical: “An in-hospital MRSA style infection can lead to death.” To the outrageously bonkers: “A dog taking a dump inside your brain can lead to disorders.” Thrown together in a careful order, it’s impossible to completely ignore the makings of a story. The disembodied bits of logic meld into a sort of inverted bildungsroman, chronicling the ruin of an unnamed someone. Or a million unnamed someones. Or the million possibilities available to a million unnamed someones.