Lynn Powers  © 2006 All Rights Reserved

UnLethe

In this heaven, the files are white, the labels darker white. The silver-white onionskin papers in the files on which the records are kept are crisp as soldiers in dress uniform lined up for inspection. No clicking fingernails on keyboards break the labor-intensive silence. New information is added by an immortal workforce of gatherers and scribes who wear white gloves like antiquarians handling incunabula. Their work is infinite in infinite space and time and they are infinitely patient. Thus this heaven has something of the atmosphere of august old libraries, the ones with catalogues of folio size, into which titles are pastedcarefully inscribed in a fine hand on transparent slips of paper. Or of the scriptoria in which monks worked year after year after year on illuminated manuscripts. But it doesn’t smell of book or parchment dust, and no-one sneezes; the aether, in fact, has a faintly antiseptic scent, like the air in sealed-off sterile units of hospitals where those with compromised immune systems are kept infection-free.

Here the plots of all the books the immortals have ever read inhabit their minds like homing pigeons flown back to the coop. And all the flowers that have ever been pressed into those booksnow two-dimensional works of translucent art showing pistil, stamen and leaf vein in delicate exactitudeare assembled and indexed. The invisible ties that connect friends who have “grown apart” or “lost touch” are revealed, and they snap back together like released rubber bands, to gasps of delight, and occasional consternation. The floor is coveredas far as the eye can seeby a maze-like carpet of silk, each strand of which memorializes what you forgot each time you went into a room and forgot why you went there; the path is yours to recapture.

And thoughts, like the ones I’m having now, that I’m not sure I want to pursue, that I could abandon when I go into the kitchen for a cup of tea, or when I look out the window and become mesmerized by the waving of branches, or a bird pummeling pastsuch thoughts, like all thoughts, are threaded on a great crystalline spool, and each thread-end has a white tag, labeled by hand in that darker white. Some immortals, with infinite access to or recall of time ahead, behind, and around them, pitch themselves into the well of forgetfulness. But it, alas, forgets forgetfulness, opening at the bottom and spilling them out on the silk carpet near the crystalline spool by the white on white files, where they are snapped into groups of people growing ever largerthwack, thwack, thwack, thwack.



History


He has only one arm, but he doesn’t have none. He has only one ear, but he doesn’t have none; he has one leg, he has one leg! he has no legs, but he has a trunk; he has no arms, but he has a trunk; he has a hole in the heart of the trunk, but he has his eyes; he has no eyes, but he has his nose; he has no nose or eyes, but he can hear while his armless, legless trunk plummets down hill on its little wooden wheeled platform. And let him not mouth this is the worst, should that trunk hang by the teeth of its head over frightful, sheer cliffs and unswept minefields, but salute his President with eyeblinks and await a rousing chorus of “Them Bones.”

Oh cosmically-proportioned Human, spread-eagled over six of the eight compass pointsyou’ve already lost one of your four legs to crusades or jihads or whatever, one to “insurgents” on one side, one to “insurgents” on the other. One arm wasted away in unregarded famine and snapped like a twig, one flew from a blasted bus or targeted car, another was nailed, as a warning, on an enemy door. And one little bite of the brown recluse spider--blessedly created out of non-existencejust hanging out under your filthy straw pallet, and the two remaining limbs’ll go necrotic and have to be amputated from their quadrants. What shall we say now, Mr./ Ms. Cosmo/a Little? Thanks, but no thanks, weve already drunk from that cup? Organ chords and seraphic choirs! Melancholy bugle calls! We want to stamp the blank check insufficient funds, but there’s always more where that didn’t come from.

But listenplease don’t take his remaining leg arm nostril ear kidney eye lung, he is really grateful, he is, he is lighting this candle, carrying this feather, dropping coins in this slot, kissing your book, prostrating his body, spilling this blood, voting for God, inscribing Your Name on his still-beating heart.

Judy Kronenfeld
Copyright © 2006

 

JUDY KRONENFELD’s poems have appeared in Poetry International, the Womens Review of Books, the Portland Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Free Lunch, and many other journals, as well as in various anthologies, such as Red, White & Blues: Poets on the Promise of America (Iowa U.P., 2004) and So Luminous the Wildflowers: An Anthology of California Poets (Tebot Bach, 2003). She is the author of a book and two chapbooks of poetry, the most recent being Ghost Nurseries (Finishing Line Press, 2005). She has also published stories, essays, and reviews, and a (muckraking!) critical study, KING LEAR and the Naked Truth (Duke U.P., 1998). She teaches in the Creative Writing Department at UC Riverside.


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