I lay beside the canals in Esmeralda, city of water.
For hours a shadow and an oar and a boat approach,
and in the distance unseen girls hum a melody,
a melody not wholly unlike the sound of the lapping waves.
The sun rises and sets in a matter of moments.
My skin crinkles, molts, regenerates as fresh
as a babe's. I think of father, of mother, the words
not the people. My hands move now on their own.
The left points to the Saint Cloud Bridge and I say,
Saint Cloud. I'm in my body but outside it. A little god.
A deliberate historian. I record everything.
I think I always did. My right hand waves
to an acrobat on a clothesline. Behind
the acrobat a small stucco home crumbles
and rebuilds itself. My right palm
covers my mouth and I kiss it.
The veins running down my arms
appear to be filled with different colored inks,
reds, blues, greens. A shadow and an oar and
a boat approach, closer, closer.
A single swallow flies above the water, dipping down,
wetting the tips of its wings, climbing upwards over the
balconies, the rooftops, the sun setting, the sun rising,
blessing its flight. My right hand traces my uneven
and ever shifting face. What did I look like as a boy?
Did I have many friends?
The shadow offers his hand, eases me aboard
his small boat. We push off back the way he came.
He says a few words to me, the
only words exchanged on our long journey:
I used to live in the city, he says. It nearly
drove me mad. I moved to the country.
I cultivated a garden. I installed a wood stove.
This was healthy.
A small delight, to watch the shadow
command the oar, the grace in it.
I think of a woman's dress. I think
of the word rustle. I feel the word rustle.
My left hand points to the shoreline.
Spanish moss hangs from a bald cypress.
I say the word, Fire, and the Spanish moss becomes
engulfed. I say, Stop, and everything
stops, even the sun. Its position makes
me think the phrase six o'clock. While
Esmeralda, the city entire, is locked
in my rule, I step out onto the water.
I find I can walk across it. I know the
city's name, but I'm not sure I ever lived
here. The blades of grass feel foreign
on the soles of my feet.
Four has always been my favorite number,
I think. A lightning bug emits a flash of green.
It is the only creature unstuck and I follow it.
It leads me through a snow covered valley,
through a yellowed wheat field, through
a suspended dust storm. I brush away the particles
and they drop to the cracked earth.
I'm in a desert now. A woman sits with her legs
crossed. I sit with her. I feel the urge to tell her
a joke. It's apparent. She feels the same urge.
We both try to get the words out, but we keep
laughing, our minds rushing to the punchline.
Before we finish our jokes, we die. We decompose.
We turn to skeletons, our bony mouths full of ash.
We're born again, our joy and humor now with a depth centuries old.
We laugh, death much easier than we'd expected.
We try to tell the jokes again. The cycle beings and ends and begins.
The lightning bug insists that we move on.
I'm led to a gate. Guarding the gate is a girl
with a red ribbon in her yellow hair.
I ask if I can call her maiden.
I can almost see through the girl.
Rolling hills and a crystal stream
serve as her backdrop just beyond
the gate. She summons me with
a gentle wave of her hand.
I lean down. She kisses me.
You're my first kiss, she says.
I hope I'm not your last.
She takes my hand and insists we walk backwards.
The ground is uneven, my feet unsure.
There's an old saying I'm sure you know, she says.
The definition of madness is doing the same thing
and expecting a different result. This applies to more
than recurring bad decisions. It applies to death.
What are you saying? I've been expecting a different death?
You've been expecting a different consequence of death,
but you keep dying the same way, the girl says. Watch me.
Be curious. But say no more. Don't diffuse death of its
We walk backwards through the gate.
I want a secret, something
the girl doesn't know about me, one
dark moment to add dimension. But
the thought lurks that she knows
more about me than me. Time speeds
up. Day turns to night. Snow feathers
down. Backwards we walk into empty
homes, into dry riverbeds, into the unknown.
We begin to fall. From what, I'm not sure.
To where, I'm not sure.
The girl grips my hand tightly.
When will I know that I've died?
Shhh, she says. No words. Only wonder.