Fiction: Learning

Mike Harrison



Ken Poyner




We were once the land of not knowing. Long years ago our ancestors were visited by the first out-world explorers and did not know the man and his horse were not one thing. Then, when the man dismounted, our forefathers did not know why the horse would willingly bear the man’s weight. It was to them a science of conclusions, with no equation leading to the sum. How such things inserted themselves into our ancestors’ regular world, our ancestors did not know.

Our histories tell us that centuries passed, thick with novelties. Religion came, and we did not know God could be kept in a book, or that He lived in a specific house. Sailors and merchants came and we did not know of the boils and buboes we would suffer through our commerce with them, nor of the sailors’ and merchants’ right to appropriate our wives and daughters and fledgling boys. Nor did the people know why, over time, even the People –once dark and muddy and proud — prized blue eyes, fragile skin, and a specter of sun running triumphantly in the hair.

Medicines came and we did not know why they could turn an ordinary passing into a miracle resurrection. Then new crops came and we did not know that we would have to trade them at a premium to an out-world intermediary for the crops we grew before in our backyards. We did not know commerce was a way of some getting more, most getting less.

And when our lands became company lands, we did not know the laws that made them become so. When the plantation keepers set up a voice box so we could know the world better, all we knew was the sound of the world we did not get to know. Some of our children – as full of the out-world words and disengendering rhythms as an uncracked wife with her quivering first husband – went out to find the out-world, and we did not know we would never hear of them again. Some of our women-girls disappeared into the plantation houses and we did not know we would see them only again as ghosts on the plantation porches, or worming their way to or from a distant market with unknown bags which they carried as if each girl was an inedible pack animal.

But we are now a knowing village. Each of us has our claim on some knowledge. Collectively, we have our lore. On a small part of what was once our land, we are left — only the old, retired now from not knowing, little more than un-evicted: alive with the certain, happy with what grand conclusions we know and have become. It has taken generations to learn so much.

Come see us. We have history. There is a brochure.







Ken Poyner

Ken Poyner’s fiction and poetry has appeared in such diverse places as The Alaska Quarterly Review, Poet Lore, Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fact, Corium, Menacing Hedge, The Legendary, Full of Crow, and dozens of other print and digital venues. He has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes, a Best of the Net award, a Sidewise award, several Rhysling awards, and taught in the Virginia Poets in the Schools program. He has been a security guard, a paneling salesman, a programmer, a network engineer, a systems engineer, an information systems security specialist, and a network administration instructor. He has had more than 1100 stories and poems published in more than 300 venues.


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