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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Doug Milam

My father was a scientist and a patriot. "If only I could separate myself from the mass of relations I find myself in, I could truly be free." This is the first sentence of a failed -- or I should say incomplete -- memoir that he began writing shortly before his death. "If only I could separate myself..."

He called the opening chapter The Heisenberg Principle, Or How I Learned To Love The Bomb, Through Mine Own Eyes. He didn't care much whether such a title might run him into legal trouble. He said: "subtitles, the after-comma, are not freedom's excess. Space, including the space between atoms, is the public domain."

Sometimes I had to go smoke a bowl to listen to such talk. I don't mean that in a pejorative way, I just needed to bend my mind a bit in order to condition it to being bent further.

He would often step into the shower with a bellow: "if I could truly be free!" Not even my mother's death put a stop to it.

He was an engineer too, a chemical wizard who received his Ph.D at the nice age of 24. His dissertation was entitled 'Hydrological Problems Associated With Rapid Decomposition: Their Application In Solution.' He said he got plenty of reactions for that one. His adviser urged him to change it, but my father never relented; he was energetic, combative, pissy, even prone to violence now and then. Throwing knives at trees, dripping sulfuric acid on my leg cast for kicks...my doctor was not happy that I needed to get the air out.

But his genius always got him off. Everyone -- and I really should say everyone -- was interested in his work. At the time of his death, my father was working on what he called "free energy." It was free, he said, because no power companies would control it; it would cost the average consumer -- "king," he cracked -- next to nothing, only the expense for the machine which would make back its cost in an "over-unity way." He explained that this was getting more energy out than is put in. Quite a feat, if you ask me.

This was, of course, a dangerous idea to the world of institutionalized science, let alone Big Energy, whose greed commands the economies of nations. For my father, vices and all, was not a greedy man prone to the hoarding of resources for profit. "Get this," he announced one breakfast, "a corporation has the legal status of 'person'." He also bucked the trend in the scientific community towards the patenting of knowledge under the ruse of intellectual property rights, the "prostitution of one's research to a company which -- or is it who -- can legally refuse to share the results." I tried to recall the useful inventions that had come out of Bell Laboratories, for example, or IBM's research facility, but could not. My father refused to answer, shaking his hand like he was swatting away a fly.

He quit the university when it demanded that he publish -- and so publicize its name -- edited versions of his research. Nearly the entire department was under the funding aegis of Shell Oil, which my father chafed at, given that Shell was active in the Nigerian delta and Ken Saro-Wiwa...the heated exchanges among colleagues and administrators resulted in a blow-up fracas after which he "retired" to his coach-house for "private work." Ah, those press releases...

I suppose he did typify the eccentric genius, the two going hand-in-hand in our mythology, except that he didn't have the wild tweed hair or the electric cackle. In fact he was rather bald and sardonic, but that, as he'd say, was, "according to the principle, neither here nor there." Once he came out of the coach-house in his bathrobe and muttered sourly that poetry books have titles like The Fortified Air. "Implies some arcana accustomed to privacy...poor humor...bathroom stuff." Later, when I wrote my first poem, 'Wandering', I thought back on this and laughed--

stuck with me
a force of habit
and solitude

Oh well, I was 17 then.

To this day the police have not solved the case, but I'm convinced my father got rubbed out by either industry or the government. Co-Ops, Or How Collusion Makes Do, was the preliminary title of his second chapter. It was then crossed out with Co-Opts, Or Who Watches The Watchers? He had nothing against organic food or the locally-grown, but I think the latter is more fitting. Besides, I was sick to -- well, death -- of all the games my younger brother was playing: 'Extreme Ops: Real Target ', 'Sci-Ops: The Flaying', and so forth.

Anyway, I'm dedicating my collected works to Dad. Not in so many words, it'll be more like:


You know, something succinct. Actually, I might also add what I once came across in the coach-house:

All things mystical, enjambed,
are not a magazine for capital poetry,
some firing off that
vipers and typographs
belong to the chaff
and the chafe of socialite minds.

Or maybe a quote from Eisenhower's farewell address. Anyway, I went and smoked a bowl before the police called to ask me to come to the station. Nothing new, just more questioning, telling me the feds were now involved and would I please identify this person or that, all of them members.