Broken Cross on a Hillside (or Health Risk Assessment)

According to my university health-risk-assessment, I have low cholesterol. The bad way to be low—as in, my good cholesterol isn’t good enough. It’s probably because I don’t eat fish or nuts or olives. But my other cholesterol is fine, so my ratio says that my risk isn’t yet worrying.

Imagine me driving home on a Missouri highway, passing a cemetery on a hill at 58 miles an hour. Some of the grave markers sticking out of the grass are crosses, and a few of them have broken in half. A right or a left angle remains of what used to be a lowercase T. Some passersby will see these broken crosses as metaphors, but, really, it’s just an old cemetery dying like the rest of us.

Here’s an actual metaphor: I saw a man once in the median of that same highway straddling a dead buck with a knife. He took the antlers in his left hand and used the knife to remove the trophy from the deer’s head.

As the cemetery fades into the rearview, beer battered fish sticks and olives rain from the heavens. They bounce on my windshield and fall into the ditch—more carcasses of run over creatures that we may or may not consider food.


If aliens had invaded the planet when I was eight years old, and I was given a choice as to whom I would pick to champion Earth—the biggest and the baddest human on the planet against the biggest and baddest creature from outer space—I wouldn’t have hesitated. I would have picked Mike Tyson. And in this scenario, Mike Tyson would have never gone on to do terrible things to women, or bite off another person’s ear, or tattoo his face, or lose a child to a terrible accident. In this scenario, Mike Tyson would square off, bare-knuckled against some multi armed, six eyed, crustacean slash insectoid under the lights of Madison Square Garden, or Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, or maybe the ruins of the Roman Coliseum in the middle of the night. And it wouldn’t matter so much if you were from Des Moines, Iowa, or Damascus, or Leningrad, or Rio De Janeiro, or Hong Kong. The noise would be deafening, us screaming at our rabbit-eared televisions. “Save our flawed existence, Mike.” Destroy this hideous creature who shadowboxes and taunts our shirtless champion with its gross-lobster-arms. Or maybe (my eight year old mind erases all that nonsense), there is no fanfare. We cut to Mike Tyson fighting this horrible-dripping-alien-fighter in the middle of the ocean on the back of a gigantic blue whale. And we don’t get to watch, because this isn’t our fight. The whale just floats there, hoping in its whale mind for a quick ending to the pain above him, and every so often a military dolphin flips itself onto the fighting surface, trying to take out the insectoid’s legs—because, after all, this is their planet too. We aren’t the only ones who live here.

LUKE ROLFES is the author of Flyover Country, winner of the Georgetown Review Book Prize. He teaches creative writing at Northwest Missouri State University and co-edits The Laurel Review. He mentors in the AWP Writer to Writer program.