Issue 24 | Winter 2020

The Sheet in the Dislocated Room

—after Richard Siken

The windows were shattered on many floors so the wind came in and untied
       cables and bits of drywall
before disappearing
              like an ache in the body—how in time it grows 
                                                                                                not larger but more

welcome. The building let the wind from the highway rub its belly smooth.
        Its doors swung wide: concrete pillars, concrete floors, concrete screws
holding conduits in place
                                          and the body said, No. The body said,
This is not the plot we sketched for ourselves. But the body
       also bubbled in the semi-abandoned dark, which spoke.

Here is a canister of spray paint, the rag soaked in chemicals. Here’s the PVC pipe
             stretching floor to floor,
                                        punched through with holes.

Here’s a sack of drained Milwaukee’s Best, engine in an aluminum tube, the revving
and the revenant. Here is the outlet, the room’s defunct face; the expressionless
              cables like threads of dead-thoughts streaming up
                             from the head into a frayed oblivion.

                             Here the face again and again
is sewn up without a needle, being stitched with a cold and errant light. 
      The light stretched 
                                                        across debris—glass, nails, the lost teeth of the building. 
             This is the part where I wake up in another person’s clothes,
this is the part where I try to stay inside the building of my own 

                             body. Stay put, said the body, and I’ll bring you something.
                                                                                                                    I grew
weary of something so I moved—up stairs, through doors
       up stairs, through wounds

in the drywall between aluminum studs, until suddenly, no floor.
something on the lowest story moved like the wind 
                               tongued it across the floor and up, up, up—

a sheet with folds so fresh they jutted like ribs under the skin
                                                                                                 of a crash victim.
Like a shadow of a man throwing his fists across
      a kitchen
how they broke along the corners, how an edge severed them,
              the sheet came to rest on the stairs.

A toppled pitcher of milk 
              congealed, the skin imitating the repeated right angles beneath it. 
Then the sheet moved as if sucked through a straw and vomited out 
                                          a few steps later.  The wind picked up

and the light dropped down the long hole, story to story. 
                                                       The vertical hallway between here and there 
                            and here were the doors to here
                                                                                    and there the makeshift doors 
fabric draped loose from the frames like a body drowning in gravity.

The body spoke, and the building replied. One note and the next. 
The mouth went slack, and the face hung from the brain’s hook,
                            like a sheet on a wire to dry
                                                                                    under a sky ripped on god

knows what. The sheet hovered into the room, edges fluttering.
                           It’s night. It’s noon. The body drove the wind
        and the wind
                                                     reclined on foam piled like a chaise 
lounge against the wall. The wind grew hands, hands wrapped
                                           in the most delicate skin. The hands
                                                                                                    lunged at the sheet
                                   and snatched it out of the air
like criminals in the back
                                   of a convenience store. The sheet fought back. It struggled

to right itself. Far away, a window shattered, and the light tumbled
                  down the building
and onto the highway, where it was taken, car to car, into the next city.

                                   The sheet squirmed but could not free itself from the wind’s
                                                                                                    tight grip.
Here was the wind, here was the body; here was the sheet, 
its minute chloroform, its sack of Milwaukee’s Best passed around

          and consumed as if it were nothing.
                                                              I have been nothing. Nothing
                                   for a long time. Nothing drinking nothing. The wind said,
This new skin is acceptable. What do we do now? Do we talk?
          Here, in the dark
                                                                                             abandoned building?

Unbuilding, the building responded. I let go of the sheet. It hovered
          above the body.
                                   I was on my back. It was on top of the body. I raised a hand
to touch it. The sheet gulped like a long windpipe turning a marble
          over and over 

                                        as it choked. And for a moment the body was in paradise
          and for a moment the body floated above the sheet.

Then the wind spilled in and pushed the body back into itself,
                                                                                                    then the light
bubbled up from the floors, then the light left the body to wait
          and the wind
lifted the sheet from the body, lifted it long enough for me
              to see the holes where the eyes had been rubbed raw,
                                        and then the wind tore the sheet away,

the sheet bunched around the wind as if the wind were a needle and thread.
                                   It flew out of a window and down to the highway
where it rode the updrafts for awhile until the cars
                                                                                             mutilated it

under their tires. I thought I could not speak. I could not speak. And then I did.
                  I told the body to rise. I told the body purl.
Midnight. Noon. Midnight. Noon. I put on the clothes of another person. 
                  I dropped myself
down a vertical hallway to another story. Always dropping. Another
                                   story. Down a vertical hallway to another story.

Filed under: Poetry

Brian Clifton has work in Pleiades, Guernica, Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill, Colorado Review, The Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, and other magazines. They are an avid record collector and curator of curiosities.