Susan Charkes

System for Practicing Panic

Small prey animals such as some rodents…systematically practise panic retreats along established paths so that they know the location of every pebble. This means that in emergencies when noise is no consideration they can flee blindly at top speed.

—Jon Richfield, New Scientist

rule no 1 [don’t move the pebbles] freely*

rule no 2 if a pebble moves while practicing move it back if it rolls
away replace it with a pebble of similar size and shape if you can’t
find one start over

rule no 3 create a simple mnemonic to recall the number of steps between pebbles the size and shape of each such as plaid gives no quarter or mine is the holy piece or
baubles dear become you

rule no 4 if the pebbles get bigger stop practicing immediately proceed
to 10

5 dust flumes at the tips of broom straws make accurate hiding impossible

6 adopt aroma of freshly cut cucumber

7 define beachhead without using swivel descant or calypso


9 add 1: elude infinity

don’t move
don’t move
pebbles pebbles pebbles
the pebbles
don’t don’t
move move move move
the peb-
the peb-
don’t move the pebbles
don’t the peb-
don’t the move
pebbles don’t move the move pebbles don’t
do it you’re thinking of moving them aren’t you
if you move them you deserve everything you get
if you know if you know what’s good for you you won’t
move them no matter what happens
you can’t do it can you
can’t not move them
can’t just keep them where they are
gotta move them
have to put your personal stamp everywhere you go even if it’s just
a bunch of random pebbles
already deranged for you
try and
try and
leave them to their mystery
don’t move ]

from The Book of Unreachable Planets

Wordlessly, the planet orbits its moons.

Their bluish rubbery stems bear outlandishly heavy harbingers of doom. Although they double
over, their burden never touches the ground. Doom grows steadily until it ripens, splitting open
along one side. From its smile spill seeds of despair, each tantalizingly sweet; each inconsolable.

Gravity: not an issue.

All the shadows have been enslaved by a species existing only as light. These beings have
engineered elaborate shadow-making contraptions, whose actions to themselves seem important.
At night the shadows gather in secret and plot their revolt.

The atmosphere is composed of crystallized memory. All beings are in continuous physical
contact with the past. Some species grow elaborate feathery protuberances that enable them to
create melodies out of the complex juxtaposition of events and feelings. To erase the past it is
only necessary to break off a piece and consume it. Although to do so is considered a faux pas,
no one can remember why.

After everything was said that could be said, the planet was abandoned.

Water droplets hang around in low clouds just above the planet’s surface, seething with
resentment. Locomotion is a challenge, as the droplets take umbrage at being shoved aside. They
push back with a force equal to the square of the oncoming impulsion. A thin coating of
obeisance is the only effective surfactant.

It is nerve-wracking!

Things start out really well. They spew excitedly from fissures and immediately take on a unique
cellular structure that heads in the right direction. Soon, though, they get swallowed up in
muddles from which succulence struggles to escape. All the endings are obscured in an
oppressive jungle of possibilities, perhaps in a subduction zone.

They really do keep moving the goalposts.

Susan Charkes lives in southeastern PA where she is a freelance writer/editor and consultant. Her recent poetry has been published or is forthcoming in, among others, APIARY, Arsenic Lobster, Cleaver, Gargoyle, Prick of the Spindle, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Spoon River Poetry Review.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.