Under Water Eyes [Another Short Poem]

"The newt
in the goldfish bowl
that I had in my youth"
   

Allen's aunt, Anya, often talked about her grandfather, Opa, her andere vater -- or "other father" -- and once described Opa's fading blue eyes and the mystery of his sudden vision loss and the pain of needles being stuck into his eyes: 

"His eyes, my Andere Vater's eyes, they would hurt so much, but he kept smiling, never frowning, never complaining."   

Every time Anya said, "andere vader," the boy, Allen, heard, "Underwater" -- a misnomer of sorts, a fanciful interpretation.   

Still, now in his mid-twenties, Allen often imagines what it must be like to have "underwater eyes," to have needles stuck into his eyes. This is the only morbid fantasy he ever allows and it is often triggered by the false memory of a photograph showing him as an infant in his mother's arms -- a photograph he keeps in a gilded frame on his desk. He looks at the photo between pressing facts and crunching numbers -- Was that really my mother? -- and then imagines himself strapped to a doctor's table, the menacing grin of someone capable of sliding pins into eyes and imagines the pop of jelly, pop pop pop, as pins pierce the film of the surface of his eyes to let out all the air, let out all the sudden and mysterious migraines, and free the memories, the false memories.

"was exactly that:
a newt
in a goldfish bowl." 
 

I was in my early-twenties, fresh out of college, and it was one of those hot, city summer afternoons that turn people, even good people, into cartoon villains. I was working as a set-builder at an uptown theater and left work to beat rush hour and cut through the humidity and descended into the sweltering subway station. 

I wasn't alone. There were many truants.   

In the grimy cliché of the underground, people removed articles of clothing and I was tempted to yank my sawdusted t-shirt from my body. I watched a large woman begin to unbutton her secretary's blouse to reveal her massive brassier just as her eyes began to roll back into her head.   

Before another level of desperation took hold of the waiting lot, of which I was an inactive participant, one of those newer, shinier trains arrived packed with people absorbing its puffing air conditioner. Even though I assumed that it was more comfortable in the train than out of it, as the cars passed I noticed all the miserable melting faces.   

The train came to a halt and the sweaty throng pressed forward; I wedged myself into the dead zone between doors. The near fainting woman with the enormous chest was now more conveniently placed under a puffing vent. The conductor started his spiel, "There's another train right behind this one," but we were all, ALL, intent on staying. The doors started to spasm and I became one of those people, for no discernable reason other than I didn't want to remain on the platform, who has to squeeze into the already dangerously crowded car. The doors continued to attempt closing and although I was not yet responsible for holding up the train, someone in front of me said, "Come on man," and I think he was talking to me.   

"The train won't move until all doors are cleared," the conductor said.   

I didn't entertain leaving and despite being one sardine too many, I wedged myself between a hair sprayed pouf, a large briefcase, and something claustrophobic.   

The arrangement: it was cooler in that car, albeit in a balmy way. The doors slid in and out of their slots seemingly making more progress with each endeavor.   

"If these doors don't close, we will have to decommission this train and instruct everyone to get off," the conductor threatened and yet I still wasn't the culprit. I was sure that I, and the three people in the door space along with me, were all well within the car -- nothing, not a shoe, was in the way of the doors.   

The "Come on man" voice cursed and said, "I'm getting off"; and just as he started to push his way out, the doors began to close again. This time being among the many bodies in the way, I was pushed into the frame of the doors and they closed on me. Most of my body remained inside, but my right arm, shoulder and foot stuck rigidly out. The train stood still for a moment. The doors didn't move. The conductor said, "Next stop…," and the train then lurched forward with me stuck in the door. I began my silent panic and the man forcing his way out cursed again and instructed someone to pull the emergency break. No one moved and I alone entered the humid darkness of the tunnel.   

The train sped forward in an attempt to stay on a schedule. There was nowhere for me to go and those around me didn't bother to try and make more room so that I may wedge myself back into the canned mass.   

No one looked at me and the moping business of people weighed down by weather purveyed. I suppose I got what I deserved -- the silent treatment, a cool, discerning silent treatment.

"The newt was a newt;
the gold fish bowl, a goldfish bowl;" 

Ghosts feed off the imagination -- ardent specters of thoughts, head chatter that gets the best of the sleepless, restless patron of intoxicants. Nothing has really changed for Allen's son. His anxiety wasn't commanding his midnight attention, his once and former impending coronary episodes were a failed mission of a recent, unknown past -- ghosts knocking at the soul's door to get in, "It's cold out here."   

*Were there crickets in prison?   

Allen's son, Will, was always stuck. 

I was always stuck in the doors."

and my youth? I was young"   

Marta moved carefully through the day/night, seeking a momentary reprieve from the bombardment of hate and its many forms -- self, external, imposed, transposed, clacking, steaming, frigid, naked, damned, and oh so damned.

"Sometimes things are
what they are"    

The girl in front of him waiting for her latte had several hairpins, alternating gold and silver in a haphazard fashion around the crown and poking out of her head and a strong, too strong, lavender odor. But she bounced, unlike the vibe of old woman that she emitted, when the barista slid the hazardous drink across the Formica surface. She bounced, almost, as she had her coffee card stamped, and when she turned around and faced Will for a too short a moment, the lavender smelled just right and her hair-pinned head looked just right. She was a girl:

"and I long for what they are."   

Marta was in three places.   

She stood in the back of the room near a large, iron cargo door defying the nakedness forced upon her by keeping her hands at her sides in an almost military-like attention. She had space around her, a solid foot of space between her and the throng of other women screaming and pressing towards the door in which they were all fiercely instructed to enter. The woman to Marta's right was trying to calm her daughter, a slight thing almost her mother's height and pressed into her mother's flesh as if they were trying to become one, "They're only going to wash us. They're going to clean us, you see."   

Marta walked with her two-year-old son, Allen, who was given to her younger sister, Pauline, months ago as passage to Switzerland was secured for two and only two by their grandfather, andere vater, or "other father," in a prescient action of selflessness mere days before deportation.   

Marta was now with her son wherever he was, preferably playing in a garden, and she was sure he was fine, she knew that he lived.   

Marta, herself in the large, filthy sterility of this "shower" alone in the mass of various fleshes, became what was left of herself, a lone pile of clothes, mostly woolen, next to a heap of tatters.   

"Wasser!" someone ordered.   

"Wasser!" they all screamed.    

All eyes underwater… like newts.

Share this story