Penelope Weiss


               I am in my own bed, but am I sleeping? Am I dreaming? Am I in this life? Am I in some other life? Where are my eyes, where are my ears, where are my hands, where are my feet? My eyes are closed, my ears are shut, my hands are frozen, my feet are numb.

               But I remember a day long, long ago at the natural history museum, after the bus ride home, after supper, when I fell asleep in my own bed.
               My dream opens on corridors, flashes of light, footsteps, the sounds of birds, the colors of insects, the shape of dinosaur eggs.
               I slide on the floor of the great marble hall. Outside, trees and stone towers, the texture of grandeur.
               I see a hunter, a fisherman, I hear fragments of music. A shaman beckons me into a Haida canoe. Peruvian gold shivers behind glass.
               I wander toward the marsh birds at sunset. Oceanic birds fly before a storm. A frigate sinks behind the sun. I see prismatic clouds, thick vines, a far shore.
               I kiss the eye of a whale, climb a dinosaur, ride a sea horse. Again, I kiss the eye of the whale. I sleep in a bamboo forest, tiptoe near a buffalo, run with wolves under an Alaskan moon.
               I climb up to the sky. The stars surround me. Their silence astounds me.
               I am not afraid. I am one with the sky. I rejoice in the starry night.


               Please, don’t tell us that story again about the Albert Hotel and how you wore your red silk pants and your purple sweater to work almost every day in 1968. Your long black hair and your almond eyes are not what they were 50 years ago. Please don’t go on as if it was yesterday that you and your fellow workers leaned out the window of the office on West 11th Street to see what you could see inside the Albert Hotel, like it was an avant garde movie or a happening to be noted in the annals of the 1960s, as written by a journalist who would die of exhaustion the day after she turned 90.
               Give us a break is what I’m saying, and I mean it! Go home and write something different, maybe conjure up a literary boxing match between Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot or fixate on the problems of translation from English to French of a little poem you wrote several years ago that your French friend Christian said he could translate better than you, especially as you cribbed your translation from Google.
               Okay, I’ve said my piece. I promise I won’t whipsaw you again unless you start telling us another story from your famously hippie youth, maybe the one where you didn’t go to Chicago for the 1968 convention because you were afraid you’d be beaten up by the Chicago police. Or maybe the one where you sat in the fountain in Washington Square Park in 1961 to protest the proposal to stash the Fifth Avenue buses in the park after their run down Fifth Avenue. And I hope you won’t show us the tattered clipping of the photo of you in the crowd that was published in the New York Times the day after.


               Was my childhood any different than anyone else’s? Was I smarter or dumber than any other kid? For instance, when people say “it’s like shooting fish in a barrel” they mean it’s an easy thing to do. I never understood that. I always heard the phrase as “showing fish in a bottle.” For years I imagined that fish in a bottle. Every night, before I went to sleep, I would try to decide what kind of fish and what kind of bottle. Was it a swordfish or a carp, a herring or a sardine? Was it a bottle of milk or a bottle of whiskey? Was it a bottle of oil or a bottle of wine? A bottle of perfume or a bottle of salt? And would the fish be swimming in deep water or lying at the bottom of a clean, empty bottle?
               Or maybe it was a ship in a bottle. If so, was the ship a clipper ship or a trireme? A modern racing yacht or an old freighter? A three-masted schooner or a hunk of smokestack lightning? A Coast Guard cutter or an ice breaker? That last question always made me want to join the Coast Guard. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Penelope Weiss grew up in New York City and now lives in Shrewsbury, Vermont. Storiana, her collection of stories, was published by Casa de Snapdragon Publishing and is available on Amazon.
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