A Few Environments

Playground next to low-income housing. At night. Modular squares of beaten rubber serve as gridlike, lunar ground. Swoop of a tubular plastic slide. Sag of a miniature plank bridge that joins a pair of raised platforms, one outfitted as nautical helm, the other roofed with a ziggurat. The vast brick cake—apartment complex—beyond. Counterfeit moons in clustered bulbs, the color of scrambled eggs, on poles.

Medicine cabinet mirror ajar. Shelves a mosaic: prescription orange, paradise blue. Twin hairs stuck to the grooved little shelf that should offer soap. Silver faucet a mounted bird’s neck. Raised drain-stopper whose ridge amasses a layer of slime. Damp jeans draped on translucent rod. Tile irrigated with grout that never feels completely dry. A woman, brunette and beautiful and breathing, curled there, asleep on a towel.

Dirt trail etched high in a mountain range, a testament to prison labor. Outer edge a sheer drop close to two thousand feet. Sienna haze conjured by wheels and footfalls, coating teeth and tongues with grit. Rainforest valley a verdant mouth, lush under-sky, into which bikers and buses plummet with the impassive sun. Into which activists were thrown by their abductors, disappeared in the cheapest, cleanest way.

Major rail hub in a foreign city, with bronchial maps that idealize the non-Euclidean lay of tracks. Multiplying levels and sublevels, underground and elevated, enclosed and open-air. Views of a quilted land that bounds to each horizon. Hissing automatic doors and brushed-steel cylinders for trash. Accents throughout a tropical emergency yellow. Alien abbreviations and steadily updating schedule displays. A traffic not of people but dream-faces, -bodies, -limbs.

Stuffy crawlspace of an attic bedroom. A right-triangular tunnel extending into hoarded heat, its lines converging behind the dark. Cobweb rolled into soft pills. Cardboard boxes, crumpled from being stacked in pillars and periodically rummaged through. Dust-sticky volumes in each box: high school yearbooks, paperback classics pressed between trashy covers, dreary nonfiction with dates and birthday wishes spattered across the title page.

Tight bend in a cold shallow river where you once happened to say something cruel. Blistery rope swing that dangles from a dead flaking bough, and over a savage nest of rocks: the anatomy of an accident. Erosion on the mud cliff bank exposes roots, ancient in the calico shade. Trees’ leafy crowns pitch and yaw, receiving one another’s ripples in a manner almost affectionate. Lung-soothing scent of moss. Lullabying water that breaks the sun into colorless webs.

Hotel suite, surfaces glossy if not reflective. Luggage split open on cool black floor, rumpled innards hanging out. A flimsy button-operated umbrella, worse than no umbrella at all, accounts for the puddle in which it lies. An immense window, wiped clear of recent rains. Fog veils the tips of skyscrapers, turning beacons to exotic vapor. Beds so white they seem lacunae, pillows like gaps within gaps. Otherwise, a chamber of pure and teeming mass, more precise than the senses that apprehend it.

Carpet whose patternlessness achieves the aura of purple static. Three gray walls and one of thick, distorted glass (human-approximating forms aflow in the passage opposite). A skinny bald man with copper moustache, clipboard pressed to hollow chest, who regularly clears his throat. Desks that could sit two students apiece, topped with plasticky fake wood grain made clammy under palms laid flush. Nothing on these desks, this not being the sort of detention where one is allowed to do homework.

The pond off a road that leads to a farmhouse. Maddeningly still, bergs of algae greening the surface. A beached canoe that simply doesn’t know what it is—or appears unaware of itself in a way that the silo nearby does not. Or, the setting in sum (there is also the corn field across the road, and the ring of willows around the pond) is ignorant of its being, but each element resides in its own ignorance, and it is the peeling, baked canoe, a missile drawn up among reeds and cattails, that seems most removed from consciousness or, for that matter, doubt.

Deserted parking lot in summer, frail and goosebumped morning hour. The bland three-story corporate slab an island fortress on gray sea. A sculpted bronze logo stands sentinel out front, behind it a length of prosperous hedge. In the fire lane purrs an unmarked van, blocking the dip in the curb for wheelchairs. Maintenance crew trickles from the office, sending up thin cigarette smoke before the ride to wherever’s next. A ghostly mystique to their movements—their neutral aspect—as framed by the unborn day.

One in a modern art museum’s calibrated sequence of rooms. Dim, and large enough to coax loneliness—or enhance it, as the case may be. Bloody maroon and pale lavender paintings, on first blush interchangeably simple, abstract. Backless benches, slight velvety cushions, well-distanced from the major works. The atmosphere splices morgue with oasis. Unexpected absence of echo. A couple stalled at the eastern entrance, deciding whether to skip this part.

Driveway seeps down to a two-car garage, brown with white trim and no cars in it. A squat carpenter bee drills a familiar anecdote, tickling eaves as it lurches in humidity. A boy on the asphalt, volleying a tennis ball against the shingled side of a house and every so often the kitchen window, which rattles sickeningly, causing his shoulders to bunch up. There are moments when life’s vividness leaves him crippled, and other times when it just plain leaves him.

Snow-skinned plaza, spread before a classical dome—colossal, bone and brooding in one of the year’s last afternoons. The blizzard leans weightlessly into the world, streaming by lamp posts like neural fire. The bell tower of a massive cathedral, noded with stone ornament, floating over a hallway of twisted trees. It shimmers against pink sodium heat, a glare pinwheeled by falling crystal. The bottom of this frozen furnace a meadow lousy with ruined angels.

Backseat of a taxi, flying and not yet halfway there. Luxuriant black, stirred by whorls of charged spring air. Evening closes in the wake as if zippered. A sigh being sighed for the nth time and tucked again into its case. Bursts of neon, blank highway, water to the west all chop. The tranquility upon which trauma intrudes. No single impression to speak of when washed in the glow of the ambulance, nor at the hospital bedside, nor while wandering unharmed through this or that place, awaiting the pain of having survived.



Previously: 24 Varieties of Silence

Miles Klee is 26.

Photo by Scott Koch.