A Poem A Story A Prompt, Issue 16


A couple weeks ago, the Pentagon released video of “unidentified aerial phenomena,” news that didn’t make much of a splash given… everything else. Well, I want to believe. The theoretical physicist and writer Alan Lightman has written about Fermi’s Paradox, which posits that given the vastness of the universe and the comparative youth of our solar system, advanced alien civilizations should have reached us already. “Overwhelmingly, the odds favor life forms elsewhere in the universe,” he writes in his book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. So where are they?

Certainly, beings from strange and distant worlds thrive in our imaginations. In today’s poem, the aliens “we don’t know whether we should fear or hate” are visitors not from the stars but from other countries, who come with unknown intentions. They’re also the terrifying invaders of our own bodies, and then, finally, all of us. The alien forces of today’s story, meanwhile, are referred to only in passing, a stand-in, perhaps, for the inexplicability of the moods and motivations of other people.

Also, a note about this newsletter: I’m scaling back slightly and will be sending this out once, rather than twice a week, so that I have more time to plan out issues (and you have more time to write something based off the prompts.)


The X-Files

In search of them—the aliens we don’t

know whether we should fear or hate—the stars

look puzzled by the gruesome murder scene.

I want to love them, touch them, but I can’t.

The world I live in seems as damned as theirs.

The government denies all knowledge. Soon

the terrible conspiracy begins

unraveling; the aliens we hate

and fear are colonizing us the way

that cancer does. The stars, forever in

the kind of conflict desire can create,

look puzzled when they recognize its face.

We search, we search, for something that we think

is killing us. The cancer in a gland,

the alien with terrible black eyes,

the government whose politicians stink

of some conspiracy. Here is my hand,

Mulder—take me. Here, Scully, is the lie—

destroy it. All of us are aliens

no other understands. The world is full

of stars like me, each one no universe

can hide. Once I was abducted. My sins

were all erased, but they were clinical

in their precision when they stole my voice.

—Rafael Campo

Who is this guy?

Rafael Campo is a poet and a physician who teaches and practices medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Born in New Jersey in 1964, he has published eight books of poetry, and his work often includes themes of illness, healing, and identity. In the New York Times, Dr. Jerome Groopman wrote that Campo as a poet is “undaunted by the ugliness of the physical deterioration apparent before his eyes, seeking always to capture the beauty of the human soul in struggle with physical reality.”


UFO in Kushiro (Excerpt)

“Do you mind if I ask you about your wife?” Keiko asked.

“I don’t mind.”

“When did she leave?”

“Hmm . . . five days after the earthquake, so that’s more than two weeks ago now.”

“Did it have something to do with the earthquake?”

Komura shook his head. “Probably not. I don’t think so.”

“Still, I wonder if things like that aren’t connected somehow,” Shimao said with a tilt of her head.

“Yeah,” Keiko said. “It’s just that you can’t see how.”

“Right,” Shimao said. “Stuff like that happens all the time.”

“Stuff like what?” Komura asked.

“Like, say, what happened with somebody I know,” Keiko said.

“You mean Mr. Saeki?” Shimao asked.

“Exactly,” Keiko said. “There’s this guy—Saeki. He lives in Kushiro. He’s about forty years old. A hair stylist. His wife saw a U.F.O. last year. She was driving on the edge of town all by herself in the middle of the night and she saw a huge U.F.O. land in a field. Whoosh! Like in ‘Close Encounters.’ A week later, she left home. Just disappeared and never came back. They weren’t having any domestic problems or anything.”

“And it was because of the U.F.O.?” Komura asked.

“I don’t know why. She just up and left. No note or anything. She had two kids in elementary school, and she just walked out. Not a word from her since,” Keiko said. “The whole week before she left, all she’d do was tell people about the U.F.O. You couldn’t get her to stop. She’d just go on and on about how big and beautiful it was.”

She paused to let the story sink in.

“My wife left a note,” Komura said. “And we don’t have any kids.”

“So your situation’s a little better than Saeki’s,” Keiko said.

“Yeah. Kids make a big difference,” Shimao said, nodding.

“Shimao’s father left home when she was seven,” Keiko explained with a frown. “Ran off with his wife’s younger sister.”

A silence settled over the group.

“Maybe Mr. Saeki’s wife didn’t run away but was captured by an alien from the U.F.O.,” Komura said, to change the subject.

“It’s possible,” Shimao said with a sombre expression. “You hear stories like that all the time.”

—Haruki Murakami (Read the rest here)

Who is this guy?

Born in Kyoto in 1949, Haruki Murakami is likely the most famous Japanese author writing today. His novels, story collections, and non-fiction have been translated into dozens of languages and sold millions of copies worldwide, and the recurring motifs of his fiction are so familiar to readers that they can play Murakami Bingo as they devour his latest work. In fact, he has written on a range of themes, though the quality of strangeness is ever-present in his writing. In an interview with the New Yorker, he said, “Readers often tell me that there’s an unreal world in my work—that the protagonist goes to that world and then comes back to the real world. But I can’t always see the borderline between the unreal world and the realistic world… In Japan, I think that other world is very close to our real life, and if we decide to go to the other side it’s not so difficult.”


Write about an encounter with a strange and mysterious visitor.

Alanna Schubach is a fiction writer, freelance journalist, and teacher. Follow her on Twitter @AlannaSchubach and read her work at alannaschubach.com. Send questions, recommendations for future newsletters, and the results of writing prompts (if you’re so inclined) to info@alannaschubach.com