Someone says, a poem can’t just plunge into
surrealistic bewilderment no matter how much
your life sucks. Someone else says,
the attempt to store or isolate momentum is tyranny.
These two things, and weeks spent deciphering
the elevator dream, though the setting is not
a casino-lit skybox in a high-end mall—
or a Halliburton safe house in which whole
countries are fucked between P4 and Mezzanine.
This is an ordinary elevator in the lobby
of an obsolete company, mid-March
in Midwestern city where parking lots
loom like an apotheosis of boredom.
It’s 9:04, and I’m leaning against the faux
wood wall, texting or plucking the sleeve
from my coffee cup, studiously avoiding
eye contact, when someone—it is you,
Reader—trots toward the elevator,
your stylish yet sensible shoes tapping
like a carriage horse across concrete.
Just as the door beeps and begins to shut
I thrust my arm into harm’s way, wanting you
to know how chivalrous I can be. Here we are
together in the elevator, almost touching
in the track lighting’s cyanotic glare, fondling
the backs of strangers’ heads with our eyes,
wondering which bones they’ve broken,
who among them are gluten intolerant.
I have dreamed us here a long, hard time,
have conjured the vague salt stains on your
pea coat, the cautionary umbrella jutting
from your tote bag. And you trust me
in a trite way, how courteously I remove
my backpack when it bumps your arm.
My appropriately neutral tone when I ask,
Which floor? The elevator delivers you
to Accounts, where a meeting’s already started.
One client has cold feet, another’s a sure thing,
and your boss would like to speak with you later.
Please close the door.
You want a prettier dream. Of course you do.
And it is my nature to please, to entertain you,
to offer up an afternoon glimpse of cleavage
in the cafeteria, or let a black bra strap
stray over one arm. All right then, an elevator
in Rome, where you’ve never been
in my dreams. It is Piazza Della Radio
in 2004, the fascist block apartment
where I live with Donella and Silvia,
who are smoking and shaving their legs
in the bathtub, when suddenly, a high,
girlish scream from the elevator shaft.
Now we are going somewhere, but to which floor?
And how shall I coax you there? An anecdote,
a folded coat, a café conversation with Emily,
miniature spoon nudging the foam on her latte?
Emily; Canadian, Scandinavian beer hall pinup doll,
catch all vessel for glib, gorgeous things
I want to swallow whole. Emily, tilting
her head to one side: Have you tried helmet sex?
I have not. Late at night, she whispers,
he calls me Snow White, he calls me Petit Whore,
and it’s the way it should be when you just wear words.
Emily says she envies my olive skin,
my pronunciation; so Mediterranean.
Here we are again in the lobby of a dream,
which is about guilt or desire—what else
is there? —and I am tired of trying to
convince you to forgive me for a crime
I haven’t confessed yet. Why would a girl
listen to her friend scream, Aiuto, per favore!—
trapped for two hours in an ancient elevator?
Why put a pillow over one’s face and sleep
the sleep of the condemned until a stranger
calls the maintenance man? How can I explain
myself in a manner that will arouse your
sympathies and leave you on narcoleptic knees?
Allow me to take you to the sixth floor
of a fascist block apartment. Let me show you
a book by Quasimodo (The Sunken Oboe),
one pair of larger than regulation sunglasses,
54 photos of No Loitering signs, two ticket stubs
from Villa Adriana, a gelataria named Ping Pong.
Do these details amuse? Do they say no one
suffered? Or, if they suffered, then surely it was
worth two sweaty hours? Shall I be reticent?
Or ribald? Show you a photo of me at 23,
cupping Venus’s tit in a sunlit amphitheatre?
Did you know that on their deathbeds,
Romans often freed their slaves? It was called
manumission. Death was thus an attempt
at releasing momentum, which reminds me
of a ghost story I read long ago, about a man
who dreamed of a hearse with doppelganger driver
gleefully shouting, There’s room for one more, sir!
How the next day, in the lobby of an uptown bank,
the elevator man grinned and said the very same words.
You know how this ends—a refusal, a snapped
cable, the denial of momentum. Should I go back
to that elevator shaft in Rome and try to calm Emily?
Should I tell her I hate her and want to fuck her,
that help is always almost on the way for beautiful girls?
If intimacy is what we require, then why
am I wearing this extravagant pink garter
and menstruating alone in my bedroom?
If intimacy is honesty, then why do I worry
that I’ve exceeded maximum capacity? Let us
draw up a contract. I provide the confined space
and the conversation. You name the destination.
I have often wondered, if a cable snaps
in an empty building, if a poem plunges
six stories in the dark, does it make a sound?
Reader, I fear your presence is required. Is there
room for one more? I am willing to resort
to drastic measures—you and I together
in any elevator you want, my face on your face,
hands singing up legs, my voice in your ear
like a madwoman imitating a madwoman:
release me release me release me.