The lobby is oceanic. Transparent walls leap away from the water, visually. The resulting tensions of the space are: expansivity vs. throat-tightening restraint, sense of damp vs. desire for duration, bone vs. strut. At the center of what can only be called the harbor, a city rises like a slick silver lotus. Once the visitors gather a few belongings and abandon shallow acquaintance, they row toward this stainless steel vault-upon-vault of windows. Because they want to be looking out.
An angel-thing was recruited to act as docent. She is ape-like. Except for the wings. A child, you think, is asleep among the monsters, the appendages. So the docent is a two-guide.2 Plus, she is ridden by/with two living machines (all sinew and webbing, like thumbspans but immense, and feathered). This one cannot fly anymore. A city, foreigners all of them, off the water, watch the angel-thing pass each day. (She passes each day.) She wears rollerskates -- she pockets skyscrapers. Each day a new one, and up the elevator. In her projections, she resembles a sculptor. She and the child, the child and she -- they take a group. They make a tour. They tour the sky. They show the people out, the out through windows un-opened lest someone fall. To the museum's visitors (a collective to which you now belong) the two-guide is a winged primate, atrophying.
The first room is one woman. A strung-out. She is laid on a loom, and her eyes have accepted this. Suspended there, her limbs sway, disconsolate and heavy, amidst her trapeze edifice. Like a post-invitation housefly, she waits. This is one of the many waiting rooms. Her look of disinterest is not in keeping with her limbs. They twitch. They fracture. They dislocate, shred from shoulder and hip, fall to the floor. And then, as you watch, they drift back up to reattach, and reattach. As if stitched. She is a stalwart and she is a stalemate. And has, you imagine, in this fashion, earned much misguided adoration.
The two-guide has the face of a chimp (and another face, hidden in wings cradled around her spine). The child is not so much seen as felt -- its body used only when the angel-thing's anatomy miscarries tasks required of their position. The two-guide opens the elevator door with a crowbar. You think you are in an underground. The air is subterranean, possibly submarine. Cells with reddish bars streak the reaches of the cavern. The room is larger, you estimate, than eight city blocks. (Such spatial calculations must be remnants of your profession.) The angel-thing interrupts your self-congratulation. This is the clone-farm, she says. Your group, currently five strong, sits cross-legged in a star-form on the cement floor. The two-guide does not light a bonfire. Instead, she wheels around you on her skates gesticulating bravely, and her shadows fly among you like bats. You do not see anyone else here, under the museum.
The next room is filled with frogs. They must have manifested or condensed along the ceiling, which is dripping. Their colors are striking, exquisite actually. The frogs have already died, or are dying, outside the museum -- yet, in the room: golden toad, brown bull-, glass, poison blue. A thousand more. Frogs of every conceivable hue -- gargoyling on every conceivable surface. Not hopping, but singing. The two-guide tells you that frogs are to ecologists as canaries are to coal-miners. The analogy reminds you of a ruler in the hands of a nun. (Your ancestors died of black lung, it starts coming back in this way to you.)5 Suddenly you imagine the frogs songless, keeled over or splayed, preparing themselves for burial in brown paper bags, or for dissection. Quick ascension. The two-guide sheds a monkey-tear; you fear her crusting up about the eye. She says, No one knows why they are dying -- they breathe through their skins. One of the women in your group pulls out a Romeo y Juliette, lights up.
Tragedies. Mim and you are running your hands across pages. Onion-skin, parchment, linen, cardstock. You have been left device-less in the tactile library. You cannot see the words in the books, but when you run your naked hands across their pages, it is as if a sharp implement scores the text internally. Most of Dante you felt in your right thigh. Othello, etched behind your eyelids. The others stopped reading hours ago and went off with the two-guide to the restroom, but you and Mim find the trade for pain6 an acceptable one.
The pollen room coats you with yellow. The group is whole again, and might as well be an old photograph. So much aging prior to birth. (The hour before you delivered your son is fog, but it was then you began dissipating.) Much of the party is allergic. Three are on the floor with the migraine, asthma, arrhythmia. The two-guide says, If this is too much life for you, mark it for the future. You pull out a notebook, for learning. Mim has recovered some breath, and smiles. Like an industrial kitchen, the room is both filth and oil. Rubbing fingertips together: the discovery of substance. This is measurable -- you mistakenly speak the sentence aloud.
Crossing a glass bridge between buildings -- the sunset. Plastering your face to the glass, you notice other face prints, other finger smudge. The pattern is like a large frost. Tradition has nothing to do with years, you think. This museum is relatively recent. The two-guide has just delivered an oratorio commemorating its construction on the site of an earlier museum. And the one before that was burnt down during one of the occupations. And the one before that one was Roman, at least in design. The glass on your face is a stopper, though the bridge continuously dances with the buildings. The bridge is a flexible conduit. Glass is liquid. Sunset is liquid. Time is liquid. You stand for awhile. The dark is on your back first, like a cloak of cold. The sunset has withdrawn to the longitude of its next withdrawal. Such a different personality than dawn. You wonder how they bear to co-exist.
The final room is sleep. You spend all your money here. You have your portrait made. You buy cocktails for everyone, weak ones sweet with midori -- delivered in test tubes. You allow yourself to become incoherent. You say all kinds of things to Mim who refuses to respond in kind.9 You curse at the nameless members of your group, including yourself (you want that back most of all). You pound on the chest of the two-guide, who will not bite you again. You cry. You keep crying. Your throat is raw as fire.
We are back on one of the roofs. I had to show you one more time. This time you look up. You take a spoonful of ash and you put it inside your mouth. You nearly gag, but are finally able to swallow. It isn't supposed to be this hard. You talk at me like that for a few hours. I don't mind so much. I still don't think you are comprehending. This is the part where you tell me. But you don't know what I'm supposed to tell you. You don't know who I am. To you I look like the idea of a late-term fetus on the back of a monkey, and you think that means something. And it does. But not to me. You are the one with the photographs. This is your missing. Your grief. This is what you can't own. Your unmanageable gap in the skyline.
Much much later, years, the museum is a poorly-drawn figure in a book you have closed. You go to the infirmary for a festering infection in your left hand. You haven't been able to hold your drafting pencil for a week. Doctors and nurses are standing around the hallways with no one to tend to. This is the last waiting room. An attendant puts you on an IV drip. The bag hanging beside you is filled with milk, and this reminds you of your mother, who made you finish everything because of the starving. A candy striper brings in a tray filled with pomegranates10, but as you bite into the first, you taste fortune. You extract it, brush off the seeds, and the wet slip offers up an equation:
You bark at the teenager in the aqua-striped apron to leave all the fruit for you. You say you are dying, for emphasis. She backs out of the room, all the while biting her bottom lip, which is the incredible shade of cotton-candy.
You eat and read and eat and read -- knowing you will shit spring the next day. Still, you don't feel full. You suspected MSG or misdirection -- even before you were told. You have never been far from grasping the ins and outs of architectural domesticity. To scale a transparency requires a system of pulleys and falsehoods. Scaffolding. To clean things all the way up. You cringe as you pull out your IV. You leave the damp slips of paper on the bed. It's just a little pus. You exit the building. Scars will not be your concern.
1996 © 2011