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from The Exhibit

The exhibit is instructional. On the black curtain, words ripple; an alphabet of light vanishing. Here is the first specimen: hieroglyphs cover the fabric that shrouds the body from head to foot. The body that has been folded into an impossibility. Or: the smallness of form. There are places we do not trespass. There are places we must let others trespass. All that can be done is to hold breath until the river. The bones become transparent, highlighting the teeth. A static-jammed thing you were told late at night, a question you were made to answer. The exhibit says you must. The specimens in their glass boats say, we can wait. In the mirror, you see your child self: With the boy, you built traps for the girl/with the girl, you built traps for the boy. Here is the knotted rope, here are the hickory slats and splinters of bone. The exhibit says, they can only belong to you.

The exhibit is pointing in a direction only you can see. There are arrows on every wall and the arrows point to hands. It is suggested you consider including the names that have cut deeper. You don't. Instead stand before the mirror as the cotton is tucked and the light is revealed. Here is the body, its codes. Here is the flat belly parenthesized in the pelvis. Here are the numbers descending the steps. Some water you ache to drink and the wrong thing to say, always the wrong thing. The exhibit asks you to make a decision; each direction waits. The moon grows teeth. On this side is the miniature cathedral with the spine below the arch, and the molar roof. On this side, the dark room and the eyelet in the door. On still another side is the cat in the silver jar. This is the exhibit's pain: you cannot see every side at once.

We had been thinking the exhibit was about love, but it turned out to be something else. When we passed the vined archway, you said you'd been in this room before. The guards were skeptical. Neat rows of lampposts. Maps out of their frames and upside-down. Each map will lead you to a certain room. You will be surprised by your feelings. You will be surprised by the boundaries. There is a key that locks this door, and another that unlocks it. The exhibitors have hidden both in a barrel of sand that children dig through. The sand refills itself. If you come to the exhibit in the morning, you are allowed to touch. If you come at night, you are not. And if you visit the exhibit in your sleep, only it is allowed to touch you. You can sob all night, but you have to wait it out.

The exhibit is an astrology lesson. It says the world is made of spheres. They slide back and forth and around and between without knowing prepositions. One sphere holds everything we know. The second sphere holds everything we don't know. Every morning something catches on fire. The third sphere holds the other spheres but is still lonely because the fourth sphere holds love. When she cranes her neck up at the sky, at night, she shivers  This may be because she is trying to find Scorpio. She is more afraid of falling up endlessly than gravity. The night is colder than it should be. She wonders if one of the spheres has a hole. A leak that hisses the light out like a deflated tire. The fifth sphere holds the sun. Spheres six and seven don't know what love is but can recite equations. We sat under them when you said you were leaving. The cold came in then like a guest that wants to love you all night.  The eighth sphere is rounder than the gold ring at the bottom of the drawer in the attic. Even a guest knows this, having never seen the dust's halo. The sun is quieter than you would imagine. I am the ninth sphere. 

The exhibit is a lightning storm. You walk into it thinking you will die or learn something. Behind each curtain is a word that feels wrong on the tongue. On this body, see how the false tongue protrudes. No one knows why. Here is the dry cornsilk hair, here is the nasal walnut half. Underneath the scapula, a curled child. He didn't mean what he said. Underneath her hair, the skull is a generous orange. Words unripen. Another child on the chest; lengthy forms of punishment. Underneath the blue shawl, her hands fold. Underneath those, no one has seen.  Here is the release and the temporal hold, signified by clay beads, a comb, braids of fiber. Blackened skin shines underneath the glass but does not reflect. You assign meaning to texture. At the end of the storm you fit the words together and they wash out in the rain.


I and III originally appeared in 13 Myna Birds, 2012. II, VII, & IX originally appeared in Sparkle & Blink, 2012.