Robert Kloss

from A Light No More




And the crow showed you a house.

And into this house the ocean air, brine and decay, was borne through an opened window, and the red curtains drawn did tremble.

And in this house you sat before a great mahogany desk and at this desk you wrote _______ and you wrote _______.

In white gown of lace you wrote what sounds to you the crow did whisper.

And in the afternoon you stood before a dining room table set by someone you knew not and there perhaps a bowl of vegetable soup steaming and a crust of bread and a glass of milk although you knew nothing of who procured and prepared this food. This person you did not see but perhaps she listened from the kitchen or peered from under a table or desk or hid behind a plant potted and to her now you called out, “You are only wasting food—I do not eat.”

But each day you stood before this food. You never did not.

And in the afternoons neighbor women knocked at your door, and you heard their voices, and from the opposite length of the room you watched them press their faces to the windows, and into the shadows you stepped. And behind the furniture you squatted, and still you felt their eyes and you heard their comments on your strangeness. Sometimes they left on your doorstep little notes, cakes, invitations, and how you trembled to hear them approaching, the clacking feet, their exalted chatter, and how you stood now in distant rooms, and always they seemed to find a window, and always their voices followed.

And sometimes you entered the parlor and the curtains were pulled open and the room burned with light. And seated on the sofa was some woman who smiled and perhaps another woman beside her too sipped tea and often they spoke to you of matters you understood not: social engagements, the lives of other women, their husbands and children, this obscure painter or that pianist they patronized.

And nights in the house the boards did creak and snap when a substanceless substance shaped as a man ventured to leer from another universe. And nights you moved through the lightless halls carrying neither candle nor lamp for your flesh wandereth the shade with ease. And to you in the darkness the crow did whisper and now a flame kindled and in its glow you wrote _______ and you wrote _______.

And some nights a figure of shadow crouched upon your chest. It whispered to you in static and flies. And it filled with tar your beatless heart. O radiant fumes.

And you could not thrash and you could not kick and you could not scream; your eyes alone moved, blackened in their sockets.

O god, you thought. It will devour my soul.

And your nose, and your throat, and your stomach and lungs did fill with silver waters. And your mind did fog and seethe with a voice that called you now mother, now daughter, and now husband, and father.

And your great mahogany desk before the window and this window did overlook a yard and garden and a shed and a carriage house and a row of quiet houses.

Before the carriage house stood a man in gray suit and hat and from his vest a golden chain did glint. For a face he wore a featureless smear of lips, blue eyes, pale skin, and yet you did seem to know him.

In twilight now where once the carriage house and lined homes now loomed an ancient woods.

And from these woods came darkness. And from these woods came silence.

And from these woods ventured a deer no more than a shadow antlered, and beside the man the deer did stand and both did seem to observe you.

And then this deer to the woods returned.

The man alone remained. He raised his hand as if toward you and his mouthless mouth did seem to open, for across his face a darkness spread. He is going to scream, you thought.

And you covered your ears for you could not bear this sound unborn.

And to you the crow whispered this man’s name, for the crow alone knew his movements within the movement of shadows within.

And to you the crow spoke in this man’s voice, distant and crackling and thin as if heard through a tin funnel. And the man said: When I was a boy I saw you—I watched you from the window, the curtains pulled open.

And the man said: There were cards upon the table, but not playing cards. And upon these cards were written the names of your father and your husband and your daughter and yourself.

And the man said: My name is not my name. My name is my name no more.

And in the parlor you stood before a casket and within that casket a woman recumbent, stiff and unmoving, and her eyelids, nearly black.

And in the parlor flies crept and darted. And in the parlor the ceiling did seem to drip with tar.

And beside you stood the man. He wore no face but he smelled of tobacco and whisky. He wore no face but he held his hat against his chest, and blue veins bulged from his hands and wrists.

She is upstairs now, he said.

You turned to him. No, she’s there, and you pointed to the casket.

Oh yes, he said and seemed to nod. Oh yes, for many years now.

The heavens are crows and so too the land and all the regions in-between—black eyes shimmering—whispering—and all the machines and temples and towns—

And from this whirlwind comes—And in this whirlwind—

But in this room there is no more mother, no.

[The crow whispers] No, here there are only crows.

And now a room and yet not a room. This room you were within and yet you were not. And within this room you sat upon a sofa listening to a young woman play the pianoforte, her stiff posture and nimble ivory hands. And within this room you drank tea and chatted with the ladies of the neighborhood and perhaps you feigned interest and perhaps in this room you did enjoy their company. In this room you wore immense colorful garments and your hair bundled atop your head. And in this room you spoke to a boychild at play with his blocks and a girlchild in dress and ribbon as she sang for you a melancholy song of her own composition. And in this room these children you did embrace and their names you did know. And in this room they called you “mother” though their voices did seem to echo through tinhorns.

A room and yet not a room. And here the tar did drip from the ceiling and seethe upon the carpet. This room did smolder with fume and yet none did cough nor weep. And through this room a river of silver did flow and jostle the furniture and carry off the boy’s blocks but none did notice. And within this room you sipped tea though the windows did glow with fire. And within this room you stood, and yet you did not, for from a universe other you did observe, while the crow did whisper to you the nature of these events.

And then another room. And here there is a man and yet not a man. And from your window you did observe him at labor in the yard. The garden he did tend. The slow growth of a green world. These stalks bending and swaying and these roots flowering and these fruits bulging red and purple from the soil. This man and yet not a man. His soft voice from somewhere in your house. He is speaking to someone; perhaps he is speaking to you. His hands upon your arms and his breath at your neck and how strange the heat and yet you seemed to know it well.

He says your name as if he has known it for years.

And perhaps he has.

You sometimes called him “Little Bird.” Little bird, slender and frail. If you cupped your hands there your bird might sit. If you opened again your chest and sealed him within, now his heart, where once your own, might forever beat.

A man and yet not a man tangled nude in the sheets of a bed—perhaps your bed—And here the muscled curve of his buttocks and his thick calves and his heels calloused and here his shoulder blades and the lines of his ribs and here the white puckered line of a scar and here the concentric puckering of another and when this man does roll onto his back here the scar above his knee and here upon his belly and here above his collar and here again the lines of his ribs and the plunge of his belly. To him in dream you whisper how he is too slender and how he must eat and now these lines you grace with your fingers and now these scars with your lips even as he stirs and even as he murmurs your name.

How still he lies. Your ear near his nose, breathing, yes, and now your hand to his breast, his heart’s slow thrum, and now he stirs. “What?” he murmurs. “Nothing,” you whisper.

And in the morning you ask him of his dreams, and quietly now he tells you—

A woman wanders his garden wearing only black. A black veil obscures her face.

How curious.

She leans to the stalks, her pale hands—

And here his slight breasts, much as yours. How he murmurs, when along those breasts your fingertips and then your lips. And between his legs, this tuft alone, and now your fingers to opening flesh, and then to flesh within—His breath now—

And you knew his name and you knew his days in the war and you knew his years at sea and you knew his life removed from others and you knew his hours in the lightless brush and the stench of alleyways and slumbering in caves and laboring in factories and shops until he saw that they knew, they knew, and then to some other place he went.

He stood in his garden, amid the growing things, and the ebbing sunlight on his face, and to you he smiled, and perhaps you knew of his life because he had told you, and perhaps not.

His name was Albert, and yet it was not.

She is in the corners—She has wandered into the corners and walls and there she stands.

—is she lost—she answers me not.

Hollow eyes—mouth stuffed with black—

Now pull aside her veil—what will her eyes wear—

And sometimes war time songs he sang in his cracked soft voice, and sometimes for him the pianoforte you played. And sometimes he listened from the sofa, and sometimes he sang to your accompaniment. And sometimes he hummed a sweet melody to you while you in gentle circles he did dance. And sometimes you read aloud from your poems while he smoked his pipe, and sometimes you read aloud from your poems while he fell to dozing.

Evenings in the parlor before the fire Albert built and from a universe other you watched yourself and this man, their splendid life together.

It is all too much, you thought.

And you thought: I’m going to scream.

And you did clench your hands fast over your mouth— O god O god O god—

And when the crow stood upon his chest and picked at his soft flesh and eyes you screamed and beat at the air with papers folded until the crow did pause to regard you.

And now all is darkness and static. You see the flies, the crow did whisper.

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ROBERT KLOSS is the author of The Alligators of Abraham and The Revelator. He lives in Colorado.