An empty streetcar trundles by, slows to a stop, then whirs away again down the tracks. A plastic bag ghost-waltzes in the breeze, causing an automatic door to slide open, closed. A sprinkler pops up, strobes a spray, chuck-chuck-chuck, water running on the sidewalk. In a bar window, a flat-screen chats amiably to the empty stools, another re-run, its laugh track endlessly rumbling like the surf. Not a soul in sight, but the security cameras still rolling; the lampposts snap on—one by one—at six o’clock. The sun sinks down, virtuoso brushwork atmospherics, mauve and marmalade; the clock-face still going dizzy on the campanile. All these machines repeating and repeating, calibrated to their routines. The streetlights blink yellow, red, change back to green, though there’s no traffic anywhere. The open sign in a store glitches off and then back on, but fainter; an electric news-scroll reels off pixels that proclaim not that the world has ended, no, instead: happy holidays
I’ve lost my name. It disappeared with summer. I remember that a door had opened to a gust of rain, as night’s small stars, like salt-spray dashed above a jetty rock, combed through my hair. Now fall, September falling into gold. Again the fire watch; again my cobble-wobbles as I nip on toast. But come October, then no more examining the play of daylight among its spurious dissensions, no more distinguishing between cloud shadows and some far blue tendril of an inner smoke. Woo-boy, look any longer, and I think I’d blink my eyes out soon. Mid-afternoon, I leave my post. Stick-cripple-quick, I stride each counterchange where mushrooms nuzzle in a mossed ellipse. Wood-rot’s reticula, all culled and cumbered with its teeming surds, has crumbled in a plushy patch. Then off a mile, valley-wise, I wanton in the grass and gobble seed-mix till—aw, nuts!—a few ants whisper up my shorts. Tawny needles huggermugger like quislings at some fete, just waiting for a catch, along the scattered floor. And though the danger’s high today, the thin air dry upon my itchy skin, I need to clear my head. Aspens, hazels, pines, and maples: I’m gnarled outward just as them. I lean a bit into the sun. A little windburn on my chin. I cross underways through overlap, crisscross of half-collapsed thick trunks. Now evening makes the shadows walk. The plump red lip of dusk. As if a reminiscence of another view, another day, had glazed within me, my outlook casts illusions: the whole panorama of mountains flattens to a weightless sign. Distances go soft and mackled, going over, plum and russet, the horizon’s luminous decay. A tailwind’s freshened contretemps—I pass the old varnished clapboard shack, laundry flapping on its rictus. Here’s where the trail thins out then zigzags up with every switch and bend. I follow it to sleep, going up in my wind-swayed tower. But one last glance down barren heights against the rim: glimmers fever through the treetops’ nerve-ends, tippling, shining in their misperfection, before they fold themselves away like darker thoughts.
Walking down a dark hallway, a hundred years. Father was a ghost in my dreams, but my dreams, too, were ghosts. I had died. I would never wake again. The people in my dream still walked down the dark hallway. Father was there, out of reach. And each time I reached out, his footsteps echoed, my hand grasping a shadow; my hand, too, a shadow—but heavy, as a ghost is heavy compared to weightless light. I was dead. I had died. But then why was I hungry? I felt shrunken, famished as I walked, a hundred years. If shadows grow full under an intensity of light, then the faint illumination of the dream made my shadows vague. I reached out. I touched nothing. There was no father. I was the father. But then where was my son? I felt pregnant with grief. Of course, I had died. Of course, I was the son. I touched my own shadow, out of reach of myself, to myself, still sleeping, still dead. The characters in the dream went on walking. I woke, I woke from a dream into the body of a ghost. To my wake. I remembered my father, leaving. And when I looked down at my hand, a faint whorl. Out of reach. A hundred years. Shrinking or shrunken. A dark hallway, an echoing world, all growing away.