by Corey Zeller
There are crude repairs happening in parallel infrastructures: huge, white, industrial curtains covering the dilapidated, street level entrances; curtain-white over the hurt-white of buildings. Broken, skyscraper windows open in the unhinged wind. With the missing steps inside the belly of the infrastructures like bones inside of whales. Going up through offices that haven't been used in years. Wires hanging from the enamel-colored ceilings. Like jungle vines. Like the shadows of jungle vines. Like the sketches long vines make when artists tie pencils to the ends of them. Scratching. Scratching. Scratching. And the ham radio, ghost voices inside. Desks and chairs stacked inside of closets. Like men trapped inside the bellies of whales. Their feet submerged in black water. Sitting at tables lit by candles made from whale fat. The sea sounds they live with. The sea.
And I want to yell a pearly thing. A hundred chandeliers falling thing through all the grate steam below. Because a correction seems mandatory. I see numbers bubbling themselves everywhere. Numbers in beams and the conclusions of blocks and signs. Lines threading into lines that crisscross over the streets in trapeze. That vein and carry. That error. And I'm pleading for a frontal life. An exposure. But the city is a spy. It's always behind me. It's calculating the sum and subtraction of numbers. It's parting numbers. And the numbers aren't parting in my favor. They're upside-down in a mismatched, barcode transformation. They're making their color known in the sky.
So I spend hours disputing the ladders. The fire escapes branching in fluke. In lame tedium. Because when a fire happens here the sky takes blackened everything in. Soured, melted couches and all. Takes that square of living and adjusts it. Tweaks it. Rearranges it. Because there is an order to living in the air. Whole, charred places sucked into the almost-sky. Into invisible life. The city's lost apartments and demolished buildings and bulldozed tombstones in a kind of tightrope walk above us. In finished, un-heckled grace. In a sort of soft Z sound I can always hear without much effort.
"Z," the sky says. Z with a kind of salesman lingering. With all the horrid otherwise of bus stops and coatrooms and unsmiling days and nights and red velvet walls. Z and I'm taking this opportunity to tell you that I'm real. I'm real now and I'm still looking for you. You and the belly of the whale you're inside. Z with the anxiety of white cars. White as the mouth of a whale turned over by the fisherman's strange and violent contraptions into the black-heart water.
White as the pupils of the life-sized, cardboard cutouts of you someone has made and put around town. In alleys. In windows. Alone and strange and everywhere. How there must a whole factory of them. How a man was carrying a cardboard version of you in the subway. I yelled for him but he disappeared behind white columns. Yelled as the train came screaming in with its comb of windows. With Z. With the memory of you like a white owl wrapped inside my coat. With you making these miserable owl sounds. Hooting with everyone looking at me with cracked, lime green plastic faces. With their dialed faces. With everyone looking at me on the subway with their rotary phone faces ringing that terrible, horrible ring that phones used to make when we were kids and even before we were kids. And I'm jumping out the door at the next stop. And I'm jumping over turnstiles and up onto the street to birdbath with the air and the light.
And I'm thinking of you. You like all the places that have been empty too long. That melancholy of vacant rooms in famous hotels. All the unused chairs in airplanes and movie theaters and subway cars. What could they possibly tell us about ourselves that we don't already know? How I'm looking at the street for some kind of insight. I'm watching the rain fall lackadaisically from a crumbling fire escape. With outside stretched before me as far as I can see from where I am now. Which isn't far. And I'm thinking of you. Thinking of everyone I've ever lost because I want to tell them something that I've learned. How somehow I'd gotten to where I am now either because of them or in spite of them. And there are things they've taken that I want back. And I'm willing to beg, to plea, and to reconcile. Because there's still some sort of inarticulate lesson to be explained.
Or is there? Maybe there's nothing left to say. Maybe there's no search party out for me after all. Maybe it's just them and just me. All in our own place. Like automatic lamps turning on and off in the winter homes of old couples off to Florida for the year.
How all this gets me thinking of what life would look like without me in it. Some dock below the Brooklyn Bridge where the engine of an unmanned taxicab is running and running and running. Some hill where children should have been playing. Where the silhouette of a boy I do not know is patterned against the sky, wondering if he can take the steep ride down. Some street at the end of August where two people might have been kissing. Where doors swung open and drunks slid past without a word. Chased off into the night like birds from screaming children. Some hospital bed where only the droning of machines catch a kind of almost cry. Where handprints streak themselves across the window of a maternity nursery like cheesy special effects in a remake of The Invisible Man.
How it all makes me want to tie bandages about my body like the Invisible Man.
Because I want to be seen where I am. For what I am. I want to wrap bandages around my body until someone studies me long enough to do the unraveling for me. Understands me enough to turn away tie after tie. Till I'm invisible again. Because wasn't that an old dream of ours. To not be seen. To spy on the people we hate and love. To know exactly what they do when no one is looking. To understand why everyone seemed so different. How difference seemed like the only thing that could possibly be true.
Difference like sci-fi. Like the red and gunmetal colored UFOs someone has been spray-painting all over the city. That huge one painted in a vacant lot behind the bank. "Take me with you," written above it. How it all makes me remember you. How you once pointed at the moon and told me it was four minutes away. Always four minutes. How you told me that if aliens were watching us from a thousand light years away they wouldn't be watching us. They'd be seeing Earth a thousand years ago. And I couldn't believe it. Because it meant that no matter how far away you can go there'll be an echo of us, an afterimage. That everything we do is reflected by distance. And distance follows distance.
Like that cat I saw pawing at another cat inside a corner store window. Scratching and pawing against the glass. Trying not to get its tail wet in the rain. Trying not to get hit by the small stones some boys hanging out at the newsstand were throwing at it. How at first I thought it was pawing at its own reflection.
Which seemed somehow sadder. But I think now it was sadder that there were two. Two both knowing what they were missing. Which reminds me of you. How looking out at the sometimes dark-red and mostly-green water below the bridge at night I feel I can hear a whale song below it. That sonogram-like murmuring below the surface. How when I find a cold, high place I think I can see the outline of the monster stewing below. Like Jaws. Like some black leviathan whose mouth opens to what you think of when you're afraid of God. That opens to you.
And did I mention how I opened? How they hit me in the subway. Hit me and I stripped my pants down to my knees. How I was looking for you. I swear I was looking for you but it felt so good to be naked there. With their hand between their legs. On my bare ass. With people watching. Because I was open. Open like a kind of hurt and the smell of something burning that never goes away. That feeling of your thick lips in the dark so long ago. That smell of you all over. And I swear I was looking. When they hit me. With the white and smash of winter skies in colorless photos. Those pictures of people in your family who were alive before anyone you've ever known was born. Hit me and I heard the whales singing through each and every street. Heard the subway cars screeching to a halt. Heard windows busting and you coming. I heard you coming in a sad way. Like the color red on anything when it rains. How they dragged me from the subway and took me to the jail. That place of orange following orange. Of our zoo sounds holding over blue floors. Blue walls. Holding and someone is pounding a brick against an iron slot for help. For one of the skinhead guards. You hear him and then screaming. With us living our life of makeshift things. Of hiding. Of permanently marking the skin with something to remind us there's something outside and below the skin. Something beyond the blue walls. Blue but there was red there too. There was more than a fair share of red. And maybe that's just it. Maybe life isn't a story about us. About someone. Maybe life is just a series of colors. Colors and whatever comes with them. Like the old things that they give back to us when we leave the jail. So long separated that they're not even ours anymore. Just things. Just colors.
Like how one afternoon it all just sort of made sense. With that female guard. That one who really liked me. How she took me to an old part of jail that hadn't been used in years. Took me even though she could have gotten fired for it. Took me just so I could stand in front of an open window and look down at the water. Because it seemed like that was the most human thing she was capable of doing. And that's it. You understand what I'm saying?
Corey Zeller's work has appeared in The Kenyon Review Online, The Literary Review, Caketrain, Keyhole, No Colony, PANK, and elsewhere. He is forthcoming in an anthology Saul Williams is putting together for MTV Books and is an intern at Mud Luscious Press.