After Museum1
Kirsten Kaschock

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.

1sub-Museum = pre-garden, what went underground but was not sown, or was sown without resource.
see Orpheus, see Orphanage

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.

2Two-guide = duality of human experience

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.
When the two-guide brings your group (there are never more than five of you, never less than three) into the next hallway, one of you swallows hard, and the rest feel a lump swell like a dried pea re-hydrating in your left breast. This is the Greatroom of Non-Differentiation, she tells you, the child-voice catching on a red feather then spit out of the wings, wet and thin. Teeth hang in mid-air as if for plucking. A rich stain of liver tissue on the far wall accuses you of your last orgasm. The question you want to ask is always the same one. How do we keep from drowning in these bodies? The two-guide touches your arm with her damp, hairy palm, and the answer is: membranes. And the answer is: form. And the answer is: some god. But you don't want to hear that, so move on.
All of you squeeze past a large black dog into an elevator. You are in the elevator for what seem like years. But these are not years, they are hours. Each hour has a name that the two-guide has given you on a card. This is a parlor game, and you must figure out who is holding what hour. There is a man on the elevator who has eaten his card because he was born illiterate, and since that time could not bear to ask for assistance. That hour was lost. You all knew it was lost, but still, you took turns reading the man's tongue with your own. Taste buds and Braille, the dark feeling of dropping, the dark feeling of being less accountable to gravity.3

3Grief = related to Guilt, related to Orgy, related to The Living. akin to Becoming a Cavity

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.
She begins the history:
They hide here, for the most part, not venturing forth toconquer.
They work.
It is a cooperative and they are industrious, with little discern-ible ego.
Walking, the women hold hands.
The men hug often, patting each other on the back.
(In the air, you sense words -- It won't always belikethis.)
She continues:
They are twins, but some are older.
Knowing kindness comes only from within the compound,they do not lecture one another.
They do not say, I told you. They do not say, I know exactly.
They give what meager space there is, freely.
Then, the angel-thing punches you in the gut:
Once, two composed a piece for cello. In cells a quarter mileapart.
The work differed by three notes and a time signature.
One was hailed as a masterpiece from which the other sought tolearn.
Devastated, you ask, But where are the clones? The two-guide smiles a face-splitting smile. They are in the backroom. Being studied. You are not our only visitors. There is a special tour for scientists. Scientists are not historians. Scientists believe in living outside history. This time, the angel-thing tells you, like every time, they see themselves as saviors.
You are growing accustomed. As the tour continues, you are feeling more at home not feeling at home in your own skin. Bodies are borrowed all the time. Planes go down. For a hundred reasons. A clone joins you. This is not unheard of, the two-guide assures. With the clone, called Mim4, you are four. Having lost two along the way. The two-guide assures you that this having-lost-people is also not unheard of, also expected. Especially along the way. The four of you and the two-guide walk up many flights. The clone is a replacement, this is how you feel. The clone replaces what you have lost, and yet is not real, does not threaten the memories of the lost by being real and in its own right. Clones have no rights, the clone assures you. One of your group throws the clone down a flight of stairs. Clearly, Mim is correct. She stands and follows the party up, and up.

4Mim = projection of self (as in mimeograph, dolt)

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.

5Loss of identity ≠ transcendence

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.

6Pain ≠ transcendence

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.
The roof. We had to come here. I had to show you. We are on an island, scraping stars out of the sky. Don't worry about Babel. Don't worry about smiting. Yes, we are tall. Yes, it is impossible to survive from this height, although it has, nevertheless, been done. On one side of the tarmac is a mountain of ash.
Here is your teaspoon: tell me how many have died.
Bump to black. New room -- the room where you don't have to be here any longer. This is the room where if you are waiting for it to be over, it is. There is a pastoral mural on the curving wall -- a mostly willow-green panorama replete with sheep. People litter the floor of this room, people from earlier tours. Here, the angel-thing glances over her shoulder at the child you cannot see and says something you interpret as comforting, and it is not human. You decide to go on. This is the room where if you wanted opium7, someone would have already offered you a hookah. No one has offered you a hookah. The rules of the room are not posted. This is the room where rules relinquish their absolute nature. Here, rules fray. Some, it seems, as you peer into their unknotted faces, faces (you think) of imbeciles, find such slippage comforting.

7Loss of sensation ≠ transcendence

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.
Mim and the two-guide are off a little ways from the group, speaking in tongues. Instinctively, the rest of you kneel, bowing your heads. Later, you will wonder how you came to be reborn. You will wonder if it was the threshold -- the crossing over of buildings, or if it was the dire nature of the triangle (three of you kneeling), or if you were bewitched. You recognize that shape and number have taken on the importance of word. The world is richer, although you have not been out in it since you can remember and don't know if you will ever venture again. Close is good. To be near home, to call your own the safety of a certain doorway. After the ceremony of rebirth, you stand and reach toward the angel-thing, thinking you have glimpsed the child (infantile) through the wings. The two-guide snaps at you with its cave-mouth, nipping your hand, drawing blood.
This is one of the lessons it was for you to learn.
Night in the museum has its own rooms, four of them. The first is wallpapered in moneys. Bills from a hundred-thousand mints form a geometric jigsaw of soft greens and pinks and grays on all sides. The floor is adrift in coins. Walking is difficult, the room is like a boat, and you keep wanting to sit down. Mim tells you it's dirty, and not to sit. Every minute, her face grows more and more lovely.
The second room of night is empty and small, but well-lit, with white squares on the walls where paintings might have hung before the clocks went dead.
In the next room, the heat is unbearable8. I cannot tell you how.

8Pain ≠ transcendence

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.
You cry.
You say, This is not even what it's about.
Don't you think I know that?

9Mim's rejection of you = the failure of narcissism to overcome self-loathing

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.

10Pomegranate = Placebo

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:

Museum = the seat of muse. see Mimesis, see Memorial

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.
You plant a foot in the wet street.