Extinction in Four Causes by Daniel Uncapher

Material: of the wood in the table, the marble in the statue, the plastic in the stomach. Concerned citizens in colorful suits drew water from certain measured depths and recorded the pH levels while whales, confused by the pounding, beach themselves on candy-colored shores. On closer examination the reproduction cycle of frogs is once again drawn into question, conspiracies crafted to suit the production problems of the Tesla Model 3. River systems in Asia are blamed for superstitions deemed too replete for the day, but the caloric intake stays stable across diverse and multinational markets. It would seem that the ocean made too many enemies, that the icebergs are beating a too-late retreat.

Formal: of patterns brought into being, of Plato sprawled out on the page (like one of your French girls, sinking fast): scholasticism, mercantilism, Ray Kroc’s advertising campaigns, agricultural-based hierarchical society. What irregularities jump out at you when you scan the horizon? How many parallelograms are in this picture of triangles? In the pattern that preceded thought the children, dreams fixed firmly on the future, went on pretty disgusting sexual benders; a process of mutual self-discovery, choking on gas fumes and heaving pressed oil until every emotion, evenly dispensed, breaks its own face on the pavement.

Efficient: of the sexual deviant scraping away at the statue of the young boy, the agent hacking away at the jungle of data seized on their personal computers, a burden of proof. Measure consumption in wage hours, in gallons, in barrels, in carbon footprints the size of meteor craters, slip the tether like a balloon caught in a breeze, ripped out of your weak, childlike grip. I looked behind me and was startled. Did I cause the Anthropocene? Is it possible did all that? Did Amazon? Did the Chicago School of economics? Did initially unexpected but ultimately predictable weather patterns? It takes a lot of energy to power a cell. Such tiny little specimens—did they really cause all of this damage?

Final: of the telos, the end-game, the big idea. Space is already too crowded for any off-planet solutions. The decisive moment has already passed and no one leapt up to volunteer for action. The committee approved my application for sabbatical in the face of impending disaster and I turned my back on my investigations, going straight to McDonalds for a Happy Meal. I stated my preferences clearly: no pickles, no mustard, fries, tea; money changed hands in a sensible order; and food was delivered to me in a bright, structurally-sound cardboard box, folded by hand only moments before for my pleasure. I parked across the lot and ate my Happy Meal and when I was finished I deposited the bright red box into the garbage can, crushing it against a stack of similar boxes. Unanimous processes of perfect consent. I experienced indigestion on the drive home, and when a squirrel ran in front of the car both the front and the rear tires crushed it. The weather was perfect.

Daniel Uncapher holds an MFA from Notre Dame, where he received the 2018 Sparks Prize. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chicago Literary Review, Tin House Online, Baltimore Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Neon, and others.