Por Raúl Gómez Jattin
Did they leave their smells behind?
They left the smells of their bodies. They touched everything—walls, windows, doorknobs.
There’s nothing they didn’t touch with their bodies.
Have you tried Febreze? It eliminates odors.
It sounds like a French breeze.
French people are famous for smelling good.
Actually, the previous occupants did speak French.
But they didn’t eliminate odors?
It feels like we’ve been living in space-suits that they lived in. We sit in the living room
on the couch in their space-suits. We say this is our new home.
Where did you live before you lived here?
We lived with an animal named Tenzing, after the guy who climbed Mt. Everest.
Where’s Mt. Everest?
It’s the highest mountain on Earth. Its location is unknown.
Was breathing difficult up there?
Yes, but we finally made it here alive.
By what means?
By ferry, in a terrible fog. We would’ve been lost without the foghorn.
We drove the rest of the way by car. The GPS gave us directions in a cruel British voice, and we
British people are famous for cruelty.
But it was the U.S. Defense Department that sent into orbit twenty-four satellites that can now
triangulate the location of any GPS navigation system.
So you’re always somewhere?
Now we’re in the bodies of the previous occupants.
Do you miss your own skin?
We miss our skin most of all.
Where did it go?
Do I know how this bruise came to be on my arm?
I do not. More precisely, although I know that a bruise
is caused by damaged capillaries leaking blood
into the interstitial tissue under the skin, said
capillary damage is usually caused by external trauma
like a punch from a fist, and I have zero
memory of receiving such a trauma.
Nonetheless, the bruise does exist, and no doubt because
it has the exact size and smooth oval shape of a robin’s egg,
I have lately been haunted by the voice of my late grandmother
warning me as a child that a robin will peck my eyes out
if I ever touch its egg. At that time I couldn’t think of a scarier way
to be physically violated, particularly because I’d be forced to witness
so intimately the brutal pecking out of those very eyeballs
that allowed me to do that witnessing, and as you might
expect, I developed an irrational yet profound fear
of robins and pretty much all avifauna.
Which makes the fact that I’ve been residing in this tower
very much like a bird in its treetop nest all the more unexpected.
While I do feel frankly more bird-like nestled up here than ever
at the same time my ornithophobia has never been more intense,
as if my original fear had become a fear of myself
becoming the very thing that I fear.
My occupation of this tower is further complicated
by the fact that it is not just any tower—it is in fact a former water
refurbished for human occupancy, which means that although
I’m suspended 115 feet above ground, it is impossible not to feel that
at the same time I’m floating in a great cylinder of water—
24,500 gallons of water, to be precise. The water that once
occupied this space, in other words, continues
to occupy this space as a ghostly presence.
Which perhaps explains why I’ve been so extremely thirsty
in recent days. Besides that spectral water, the only factual water
in this water tower is the water that I keep pouring into my water
which stands on my table like a small commemorative tower
honoring the larger tower that contains it. And as I pour
glass after glass of water into my body, I see my own
watery face reflected in the bottom of that glass.
Except I don’t quite recognize myself, like a bruise
whose trauma I can’t quite remember. Or the person at the party
whose name slips just beyond my memory, and she’s not
wearing a nametag. Or she is wearing a nametag
and she didn’t write her name on it, so it just says,
“Hello, my name is.” Or instead of her name
she wrote “Trauma.” In which case I have permission to say,
“Hello, Trauma, it’s been a long time.” And she says,
“Yes, Bruise, a very long time indeed. I’ve been thinking
about you pretty much constantly.” And I look down
at my nametag and indeed it does say,
“Hello, my name is Bruise.”
And I begin to feel very thirsty again, and suddenly
much older, so I take a long drink of water, and I look
in the bottom of that glass, and that’s when I see how it looks
like I’ve been pecking my own eyes out.
This window is for looking at the blizzard.
It helps me feel inside while looking at the very busy snow.
And the tree full of crows who flap and caw.
Not with their usual predatory bluster
but today with worried blizzardy minds.
Not that I can read a crow’s mind but none of us
probably has ever seen such frozen violence.
Lately it’s like all my friends’ fathers are dying,
and the hard part is we’re mostly old enough
now to feel like we should save them
or help them die peacefully, both of which are impossible.
I see my friends sitting in a room with windows.
We are old enough now that we’ve all had sex
with each other, or wanted to but then got over it.
The writer on the talkshow said that if you are a writer
you should not worry about your father
being offended by your writing, even if
it’s about having sex. We got over it,
and now we’re all just good friends
with very very dying fathers. Usually
it’s cancer cells that refuse to stop growing,
but lately it’s everyone’s heart
that no longer wants to pump blood.
Unlike this window
that so effectively does what it’s supposed to do
(i.e. look at the blizzard with crows in it).
Yet there is so much of this blizzard
that the window can’t see. If there is
an outer edge of the blizzard is a question
the window can’t answer.
I think of Hiroshige’s “Ricefields in Asakusa
on the Day of the Torinomachi Festival,”
and how the whole scene rests on the shoulders
of the cat looking out the window
at the busy festive people, but Hiroshige
makes those people sort of disappear into the ricefields,
they might as well be dying, and what’s left
is us looking at the cat’s looking,
and the one lonely fabulous mountain
in the very distant distance, marking it’s hard
to deny some outer edge of Earth, and beyond that
the beginning of not-Earth with its burning orange
where the sun just disappeared.
Although known as an artist, Hiroshige was also
a fire-fighter whose duty was to protect Edo castle,
a position his father passed on to him like a ghost
and which he passed on to his son. Just before he died
he wrote: “I leave my brush in the East
and set forth on my journey.”
I think Hiroshige would have liked this window.
The blizzard is still there, and so are the crows.
I think the fathers have not quite died yet.
Hello everyone. Thank you for being here.
Steve Healey is the author of two books of poetry, Earthling and 10 Mississippi, both on Coffee House Press.