in the heart of the heart of it
after Etel Adnan
i had been considering clouds and then there was a woman on a cloud, a smiling girl with a scarf. she kept dropping her scarf down into the wind and it would twirl and fold on itself, inflated with grace, turning and falling and becoming something else. clouds were different shapes, and i get annoyed because they keep changing before i can interpret them. the deciphering of cloud-shapes is a position i could hold for a while, how a great white whale comes momentarily to blot the sun out, throwing the weight of its shadow on the flowers.
it's difficult to describe the bedroom, meaning it's not stationary like bedrooms are supposed to be. my aunt edith looked sort of like a turtle and lived on the other side of the stonewall, and she said if you get out of bed on a different side than you got in, you'll have bad luck. so i always pushed my beds up against the wall. one way out, one way in. every night when i climb in, i feel like i'm revisiting the actual scene of last night's adventures or catastrophes. the bed is like a backdrop. my bed is like a boat. my sneaky dream-self the pirate captain, she waits for my inevitable surrender to sleep, she raises the squeaky sail in the night.
out in the middle of the ocean once i stitched a patchwork heart onto the salty canvas, but it doesn't keep the sharks away. they'll find me if they want to. they make lazy circles and yawn, listening to my teeth chatter and the creaking of flimsy cotton, fruitless rudder, patterned with faded leaves.
when he shows up, he almost always stays across the room. i never speak to him except with my eyes, which won't be quiet. "be quiet!" i hiss, "you'll scare him off." but they don't listen. he smiles, or sulks, or looks away. i do something ridiculous and he starts to laugh but swallows it, his face turns red from trying. one time there were two of him, and one was mine. nobody could see or hear that one but me. i was very impressed. "don't be," he said, "i'm not real." when i realized him i was so excited with sadness i knocked the wind out of myself. deflated, i felt grass on my back and stared up at the blue sky for a while. he was reduced to a handful of little sparkling molecules of moisture, a glittering mausoleum, waltzing the air above my head. i watched him rearrange, then vanish.
two blocks toward the ocean and one block toward the bridge is an enormous cathedral. looking up, it looks like a church, in the middle it looks like a castle, and on the bottom, at the sidewalk level, it looks like a courthouse. the church is like a dream of a church and it's beautiful and it chimes the hour every hour. i can hear it from my kitchen. it's how i know what i just did and what i'm supposed to be doing next. i always count the chimes but they're always wrong, a little more indecisive than you'd think, for a church. i walk up the stairs sometimes, mostly at night or on rainy mornings, and cup my face with my palms to the thick glass eyes of its heavy wooden doors.
mostly when i go there it's like the church is sleeping.
it's like the church is sleeping like you might picture a mountain sleeping. breathing, heaving its big belly in slumber. a belly full of old wooden pews, musty identical books with pages thin as a film of ash, and lit candles. what would a church dream about? maybe women who walk with pigeons perched on the tips of each of their fingers. maybe people talking with their eyes closed. maybe a coastline of crumbled saints, a cathedral-sized hole to fall into. maybe the church dreams of itself washing up on the beach like a sunken ship. misplaced in history. maybe prayer-beads that speckle the shoreline like barnacles, or squirm into the sand and disappear like snails. what.
when i look through the glass it's dark in there, and cradles the feeling of having been scrubbed in hollow quiet for a hundred years. when i look in there nothing is ever moving, a big warm world of invisible mystics holding their breath, enchanted static, a spell is cast over the elements, soft-scuffed wood and colored glass subtled with smoke ring, mumbles, the soft indent of the knee in between its bones. deaf and dumb to puddles of morning forming at the shallow roots of my feet. if i step away, it always seems windier here than anywhere else in the city.
THE SAME PERSON
once i saw him sitting in the elbow of a very tall cypress tree, with a ukulele. i had been looking for him. "what the hell are you doing all the way up there?" i called out. he was swinging his legs like a little boy with a striped tee-shirt in an old photograph. "this is payback for your last poem." he called back, grinning, strumming, bridging two familiar melodies i couldn't quite place. i hung around and picked berries at the base of the trunk, humming, sulking.
i jump at any opportunity for long division. it's what i like best. there is something so satisfying about bringing the next number down, raising the decimal. i mean, when you're full of equations that don't equal out. wordproblems. the calculator is a good thing to test because the numbers keep changing when you look away and look back. where there was a one, there's a two. for example, if i jump and i fall instead of float, or if i can't see my nose while winking, and i look back and it says 1.111, what does that mean. it means
numbers are imperfect, but still objective. it means nothing you've ever been taught is true. what that means is that the number one is the only one you can really believe in. believe me.
or elephant seals were attacking cars and people were getting out to take pictures. or a woman wrote a book like a treasure chest, washed up in the morning, the fog. seaweed and miniature clamshells dangling. a starfish trying to navigate chapters. or how when i sit on a bench, a toothless man might come and sit on the next bench and say i have positive energy, then lay flat on the bench and put a newspaper on his head, muttering, watching me read my book. if i leave and call my best friend in ohio to complain, she might switch the phone to her other ear and say, "well it could be worse." and she would be right.
recycling sad like aluminum, glinting from this oceanic junkyard heap. it only seems to align itself my ally under these conditions: i am a crumpled thing, on a shelf; i am trapped in a well; i am trapped like a tapwatered flower on the windless side of a window. ill-starred. asthmatic. waiting.
i am maintaining a militia, partial to internal weapons that are neither concealable nor mobile. the local government is constructed of inanimate objects. the bookshelf in the bedroom is our president, it's where the only endings happen. we hold council in the kitchen over spider-cracked teacups, under the vine plants and pepper-grinders, and save the biggest decisions for last.
ali lanzetta is a woolgatherer, writer, and bookseller who lives between trees, sleeps under blankets of books, and is enamored with giraffes, whose hearts are over two feet long. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Verse, Switchback, Eleven Eleven, A Capella Zoo, Flock, Postcard Poems & Prose, Ghost Proposal and elsewhere, and are forthcoming in Panapoly and Storm Cellar. ali studied Creative Writing in San Francisco, but eventually set sail from the city to love, live, and practice the literary arts in a Vermont valley filled with birds. Her website is alilanzetta.wordpress.org.