Ten Nights' Dreams
Lee Ann Roripaugh
(after Natsume Soseki)
9. “You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
After s/he’s gone, the dresser and cupboard drawers yank themselves open in
Closet doors swing ajar, clothes slump from their hangers with a sigh. Buttons
unravel from thread and are spat out—clattering to hardwood in a noisy scatter.
You creep on the floor among them, eyes closed, trying to read their shifting Braille
with your fingertips.
Hidden compartments come undone, popping out like jack-in-the-boxes around
light fixtures and electrical sockets. The cats use them as cat doors, stepping in
and out (in and out). You hear them swish their tails inside drywall.
The apartment now a Japanese puzzle box like the kind you played with as a child.
An entire bedroom wall slides away with a brittle warble of tambourine bells, and
you find a secret room. Inside, an inventory of lost things: your American
grandmother's glittery blue metal music box, kokeishi dolls fishing on a geta shoe,
unpaired earrings, black-and-white photos with yellowed scalloped edges, an entire
language you used to speak.
Heavy flecked rice-paper boxes that smell like green tea, wrapped in simple bands
of linen ribbon, stacked floor to ceiling. They are carefully labeled:
Things Forgotten and Not Written Down
Dreams Really Nightmares
Nightmares Really Dreams
Transitional Love Objects
Things Given Away Too Carelessly
Moments Spent Too Long in Hesitation
Moments of Not Enough Hesitation
Time You Thought You Had But Didn’t
On the floor, in the middle of the secret room, a violin case. Your violin. From before.
Mounted insects unhinge from the wall, ricochet about the apartment: blue
morpho’s shiny awkward flapping; stick insect a slow-motion twig laboriously
creeping away from the hearth; peanut-headed lantern fly making demented
rotations around the crenellations of the mantelpiece before becoming a tangled
seed-pod rattle in your hair.
Kneeling, you unlatch the case, expecting familiar burnished deep-red wood,
expecting to stroke hourglass curves, ebony fingerboard—tracing your finger over
the bridge, along the graceful arabesques of f-holes. But when you open the lid,
you discover your violin is gone. Stolen.
Someone has left a note inside the case’s empty velvet. An anxious gust of wind,
and outside, chimes jangle their deranged music, walls of the room suddenly
transparent now liquid, breathing, a molten glass. Winged things buzz and swarm
like the inside of a swirling snow globe. And when you lean in closer to read the
handwriting on the note—is it his/her handwriting?—it erupts into honey-colored flame.
You fly through a terrible yellow-green sky.
Tornadoes parabola down from the glowering bellies of clouds. Lightning releases
its electric guillotine.
You’re searching for something, but time is running out. You swoop and dip in and
out of trailers in a desolate trailer court. Interiors abandoned in medias res. Inside
a trailer that smells of spilled beer and cat piss, you find what you’ve been searching
Lit candle guttering on the counter top.
You realize that you’re supposed to blow out the candle.
You must sing. The song so old it’s been lost until this moment, this particular now.
The breath from the song blowing out the candle. You’ve never sung the song before,
but you know the melody, the words in a language you’ve never spoken, from
somewhere deep within your very bones, as if encoded and spirographed into the double
helixes of your DNA.
You must blow out the candle. To blow out the candle is to be merciful.
You’re frightened. Why has this been left up to you? You hover above the candle
(This unharrowing. This unsorrowing.)
You sing the song. Your voice a fierce ether. The flame quavers in the breath of your
song, the world flickers, and—
Lee Ann Roripaugh
Author Discusses Poems