Air Space Tour
Note how time collapses
the more years you collect. Folds
like gray matter to fit the circumference
of your skull. Too much of it all at once
would be a terror emptying
as an unbroken expanse of sky.
My ninety-nine year old friend contained
1919, and 1993, and 1958. All the times
inside her, she inhabited at once. You must
be strong, so strong, to withstand existing
in many elsewheres and also here. At thirty,
my mother worked across from the apartment
she’d lived in at twenty. Peered in the windows
at herself. Her great-uncle had a phrase
for such revisitings:
air space tours, meaning the way vast tracts
of time unfurl behind you like contrails, your life
shimmering, each moment of it present and painful
and sweet. My mother had me at thirty-one,
the age I am now. A palimpsest:
my mother and her best friend speeding down
Lake Shore Drive at seventeen, radio blasting Laura Nyro.
A stoned soul picnic where my mother sits cross-legged,
a joint tucked behind her ear. My mother as yet unfettered,
my mother free.
1. There are many different words for hell in the bible. For instance, Gehenna: trash heap on Jerusalem’s outskirts, where pharisees’ and colonizers’ detritus burned beside the subaltern’s and dogs gnashed their teeth.
2. Several months I believed I was dead and in hell, my friends and family simulations calibrated for subtle torment. Like on The Good Place. Solipsism is a hell. No windows, no doors.
3. Hell as thermodynamic principle: empire’s excess locking inexorable feedback loop into place. Fire and flood. Hell already upon us. The material reality of hell.
4. Hell by choice: we could mint trillion dollar coins and tax for inflation but our false teachers would sooner privatize oxygen than build God’s kingdom here.
5. Maybe it’s better if we just die now, she jokes on the group chat, not joking. This being alive stuff is too much stress. In my next life, bring me back as a rock.
6. White Americans build tombs for the prophets our ancestors killed and decorate the monuments of the godly people our ancestors destroyed. Then Tweet, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.” This, too, a feedback loop.
7. Hell as infinite recursion. As wormhole. As 1918 anti-maskers returning to hang governors in effigy. As Sisyphus. Russian Doll. Groundhog Day.
8. Hell as never-ending psy-op. Fireworks for eternity. A forever gaslighting. Scrabbling up a surface with no footholds. Government access to what breaks inside people and goes on breaking.
9. Another incarnation: a robot that parrots you in predictive text, spitting back your most tender and repulsive places. Google’s record of your psyche. Our inexorable porousness: no part of us left unpenetrated by algorithm.
10. Several months I believed a sad-faced statue in my house to be stealing my soul, speaking sinuously upon each instance I had missed the mark. Penetrating my skull with its cruel and intimate laughter. My soul leaching away like blood swirling into water, escaping my body like fingers of smoke. Thus cursed, I could forget everyone’s doom for a time.
11. Solipsism: a comfort for the comfortable. A denial of the material reality of hell.
12. Man-made hell: no retirement savings. An eviction notice. Rationing your Insulin. An overrun ICU fogged by intubated breath. Having no plan. No place on earth to go. Bring me back as a rock, my friend says, because both her countries kill her.
13. Hell: a comfort to the few. An oil derrick mining money. An offshore account. The knowledge that the world will die but you will be okay.
Phoebe Rusch's work as a poet, essayist, and fiction writer has appeared in Lambda Literary poetry spotlight, The Rumpus, and Entropy magazine, among other publications. They have an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan. More of their writing can be found at www.phoeberusch.com.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.