Days Spent in One of the Other Worlds
1. Arrival in One of the Other Worlds
The journey was unbelievably short.
It seemed as if I had merely opened a door
and stepped through. There was no fanfare,
but the people of that world brought out their old,
blind king—gray hair, no eyes—and he reached out
to feel my face. I thought he was trying
to blind me too, so I drew back. I think he thought
I was made of air. His black-haired priests
(ridiculous reverse tonsures!) gathered around
and spoke to him in a language that sounded
like the buzzing of gnats. He nodded and said,
It is good to have you here. It is good not to see you.
2. Note Home on the Second Day in One of the Other Worlds
Could not sleep last night. Everything here
is deathly quiet. I lay in bed listening for wind,
but there was no wind. For birds, no birds.
Where you are, deafening silence is a cliché, I know,
but I swear my ears hurt this morning
as if the night had been filled with heavy bells.
I would have sold a finger for a cricket in the room.
The old, blind king asked how I slept, and I said Fine.
Have I mentioned that he has no eyes? I can’t tell
if he ever did. Yet this morning, I felt as if
he were staring through me, so I told a small lie. Fine.
What’s the harm? He’s the king of one of the other worlds.
3. One of the Ministers in One of the Other Worlds
Today the old, blind king introduced me
to a member of his Cabinet, “The Minister of Death
and Destruction.” The king instructed him to entertain me,
then left us alone. There was an awkward silence
before I told the Minister of Death and Destruction
how impressed I was with his title. He grew red-faced
and said that he only brings death and destruction
to spiders and ants. Then he said that his job
is killing him. That just the other morning he’d killed
a spider in the shower by washing it down the drain.
That he believed the water rolling down his chest was tears.
That the king is a bastard amused by the death of spiders and ants.
4. An Experiment in One of the Other Worlds
old, blind king’s priests summoned me today
for an experiment. One of them had developed a theory
that I do not, in fact, exist, and he was eager to prove it.
He claimed that I was made of nothing. (The priests
are also scholars here—very medieval.) I was asked
to sit in a hard chair surrounded by a round, stone table.
The stiff, black-haired priests led in the king, seated him
behind me (no eyes), and sat themselves around the table.
An acolyte carrying ear muffs walked around and to the back
of the room. Say something! demanded the smallest priest.
You do not exist, I said. This is one of the other worlds.
The priests clucked their tongues and congratulated the theorist.
5. Magisterial Advice in One of the Other Worlds
The old, blind king tried to save my soul today.
He told me that I must make myself real. His hand
on my shoulder felt like the hand of a father or the foot
of an eagle, talons meeting midway through muscle.
Say that you know what all of this means, he said, without gesture.
Say that you can see the sky’s colors evenly divided
in the sharp grid of order, that each square means
“hope” or “joy” or “joyful
hope” or “hopeful joy.”
I looked at his face for a long time. I can see
that you have no eyes, I said. He frowned, perhaps scowled,
and ran his hands absently around his waist, fingering his golden belt,
as if searching, out of habit, for something that was never there.
6. How I Know I Am Alive in One of the Other Worlds
Let me tell you about the old, blind king’s
beautiful daughter (big eyes, black hair, full lips).
Two days ago she fixed my eyes in hers as I walked by
her stone bench in the king’s gray garden. She was writing poems
about the colors of the sky. What does “azure” mean?
so of course I loved her. Yesterday I stopped and sat at her bench.
She said I cannot speak to you with her eyes and extended her finger
toward my face. But before touching me, she brought that finger down
to crush a spider crawling between us on the stone. Last night, as we lay
on her hard bed, side by side and staring above, she traced her fingernail
again and again around my nipple. I did not know she had entered me
until I felt the soft tickle of her nail on my filthy, throbbing heart.
7. Industry in One of the Other Worlds
Today the old, blind king showed me his Workshop
for the Construction of Truth, a long and narrow room
full of desks, at each of which sat a young man or woman
writing fourteen-line poems. Three black-haired priests
wandered among the desks, each holding a baton in one hand
and scissors in the other. When one of the industrious poets
paused to think, a priest walked up behind him and tapped
his shoulder with the baton, easy at first and then harder
until the young man began to write again. One of the women
smeared her poem with silent tears, and a priest quickly replaced
her draft with a fresh, empty sheet of paper. The king turned
to me, grinned, said, You must work to make yourself real.
8. Sonnet Written in One of the Other Worlds
trying to write a poem to please the king
who’s old and blind and lord of another world.
He asks for sonnets, says that everything
must fit the form’s demands. His sheet’s unfurled
before me now, so I must make a start:
I sing to you, my king, and here’s my
I want to eat your lovely daughter’s heart.
I want to play this sonnet’s meter wrong
and save its truth until the very end . . .
But in this world the truth will never pass.
The old, blind king will never comprehend:
his silent censors cut each couplet ass.
9. Judgment in One of the Other Worlds
Today the old, blind king asked me if I believe
in a life after this one. Which one? I asked,
and he laughed for minutes. Then he called
for two members of his Cabinet, who appeared
from behind a striped curtain (black and white).
He introduced them as “The Minister of Death
and Punishment” and “The Minister of Death
and Reward.” They took turns nodding to me
in greeting because they are conjoined twins,
connected at the back of the skull. When one bowed,
the other’s feet left the floor. Have you been good,
they asked, smiling. Have you done as you were directed?
10. Gratitude in One of the Other Worlds
Today I walked into the old, blind king’s
hoping to see his young, beautiful daughter. I wanted
to thank her for my suffering. But her stone bench was empty.
I stood before it, numb, until I realized that the night’s darkness
had fallen on it like her hair. Thank you, I said to the empty space
as I watched a spider crawl along the stone under the moonlight,
right across the spot where its brother or sister or lover had been crushed.
The Minister of Death and Destruction walked up, and we looked
at the spider for a short time. It’s so beautiful, he said,
to tears. I won’t tell the king, I said. We watched the spider
the back edge of the stone, and the minister left. Then I felt the full lips
of the king’s daughter on the wind, that unreal kiss. Thank you.
11. Why I May Stay in One of the Other Worlds
Today the Minister of Death and Punishment and the Minister
of Death and Reward asked me to look out my window and down.
I could see that the drop was miles. But look, said the Minister of
and Reward, Those trees down there will grow majestically in the spring—
they were planted long ago by the old, blind king—and you’ll
their leafy boughs waving in the wind just outside your room.
It will look like a sea of green waves. I watched the feet
of the Minister of Death and Punishment dangle, and I thought then
of how I might step out of my window and into such a sea,
how I could float in its green waves forever, or drown in them forever.
The Minister of Death and Punishment said, You get to do what you want
in this life, and you get to do what you want in every other.
12. Last Words from One of the Other Worlds
I’m sorry that I have not written to you. I’m
that this other world was not the other world
that could save us. I’m sorry that the old, blind king
is old and blind. I’m sorry that his young, beautiful daughter
has disappeared. I’m sorry for the spiders. I’m sorry
for the Minister of Death and Destruction and his many,
many tears. I’m sorry for my disparaging comments
about the priests’ tonsures. (Dear lord of this other world,
forgive me.) I’m sorry that, despite everything, everything
is still not enough. I’m sorry that this world is no better
than any of the other worlds. I’m sorry that this is the world
from which I must tell you Goodbye, goodbye, I’m
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