Six Enclosures from Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge

People kept saying other people were
fleeing the city and pointed to themselves.
We became third persons, but not arrogantly
so. I referred to myself as “Ana Patova,”
and said, “Ana Patova must have left.” For
a moment I thought I would sell my home
and wrote in our newspaper, “Ana Patova
wishes to sell her home; she is leaving.” I
read what I wrote and couldn’t believe
my words and couldn’t respond to inquiries.
“I am not leaving,” I said to friends who’d
read my ad. At the same time that they
were convincing me to stay they themselves
began to pronounce strange lines. “Hi, from
Delaware,” Duder Bello said on occasion. “I
am still in France” (Luswage Amini). We
were making chaos with our goodbye notes,
and it wasn’t as though leaving wasn’t
happening but that it just wasn’t ourselves
who were doing it. No one could name names.
We all knew that Hausen wanted to go, and
when he finally vanished, many of us felt
relief. We missed him, though we didn’t
know him (we knew his confinement), but
we celebrated his departure as a threshold
crossing. “Hausen finally made it,” we’d say
and clink our glasses. So, we knew that leaving
was possible and that in many corners of
our neighborhoods people were preparing
to depart, and did depart. But, we couldn’t
call out to them, even when the time came
and the deserter was someone we loved or
someone with whom we worked and drank.
Our mouths would empty, for a long time,
would be dry, and when saliva came back
to us, it was only to ourselves that we could
point. “I’m leaving,” I would misspeak
without knowing. “I’ve left too,” would say
Luswage.

  • * *

I sat in one of the galleries of the Museum
of Science and Anatomy, recovering from
a story someone had told me, a story I
would never write, but which would
dictate my behavior for the next several
years, everything from how I dressed and
what I read to whom I saluted in the
street and what scared me. The story
wasn’t given to me as most are, as some
kind of choreography beaten against
the body rather it was laid on top of my
voice. I told the story, over the course
of many days, to hundreds of people, or
perhaps to only one person, again and
again. It didn’t seem to matter who heard
it, only that I went on telling it. It was a
story of moments, the moments of
bewilderment that had begun to visit
all of us, of which my time in this museum
now was. You were bewildered by a
certain sharp awareness that made you
stop and sit down, usually to write a book,
but the book that was this story could not
be written. It had become an intruder in
my mouth, when I wanted to be silent, and
sent me running out my door and, for
many days, sitting in that gallery, staring
at walls that had not yet been dressed but
observing lines that were beautiful and
could not be authenticated and were
drawn by no one.

  • * *

Winds shook the walls of the city, they
did not. Waters from unknown valves
flooded the streets, our streets were dry.
My neighbors leaped from buildings,
slammed their loneliness into the ground,
no one leaped. I set my house on fire: I
burned my first house down; I burned my
second house. Luswage Amini burned her
house. Zàoter Limici burned his house.
Duder Bello destroyed his neighborhood
with fire. Bresia burned the maps in her
house, then burned her house down. My
mother burned her house, even Vlati
burned his—the Governor’s palace. For
weeks, dark smoke bruised the sky, yet
the sky was clear; the sky was always
clear. Someone flew over Ravicka and
drew it and failed. Houses burned. They
did not burn. The phone rang as I wrote
that. I answered five years ago. “The city
is on fire,” the caller shouted. “We are
destroyed.” Luswage went to her summer
home and put fire to it. She called someone,
me, someone else. We all had to let others
know what we were doing. “I burned it,
Luswage,” I told her. “Why is it still
here?” She arched her back climbing out
of the tub, then burned her building down:
“I stood in the ashes. I swear to you.”
“Goddamn,” she said, looking up at the
plane. We knew he was dropping matches
to the earth, though they didn’t land near
us. The plane was supposed to crash.
“Our houses were supposed to burn,” I
said about the crisis destroying our city.

  • * *

Hausen wrote a book that everyone
was reading. It went that way with men,
and yet this was a book that meant a lot
to me and led to a book of my own.
Hausen wrote a book in the time before
the crisis and people carried it around
in their back pockets; it was mass
produced. In the book, a man walked
over a bridge and entered a building,
where he jumped into a pool with a
mineral-green bottom. He swam back
and forth. He did a breast stroke, he
worked from his back, he banged his
body against the water, he sang, he
shouted. He climbed out and exited
the building, leaving a trail of water. The
book described the water as text; the
drops were signs. They doubled the story
of Hausen’s character. He was a man
who swam at night in empty buildings.
The man went home to someone who
did not seem quite like a woman, but who
also was not identified as a “man.” The
man coming home lay on top of this
person and swam and told a story, which
was a confession, and the body gasped,
but we did not know if the man’s story
was causing this gasping or whether the
cause was his writhing. The reader couldn’t
hear the story, but Hausen had the language
around the story crack and drop heat on us.
And the body writhed on top of the other
body and whispered to it about something
done and undone in the city, something
sitting under water, something terrible.

  • * *

The city that existed ran like a film
playing in a small movie house on a
forgotten street in the blown out part
of the city we swore never to enter,
never to grace, because of some tragedy
no one remembered but which haunted
our movements in the “safe” parts of
the city, which counted for most of
Ravicka. It was too imbalanced: that
there was this block of streets, off limits
to our living, and within this block
breathed the real body of our city, the
one that existed rather than painted itself
to exist, the living one, at least as I came
to think of it, though I had never seen
that film. I tried to arrive at the movie
house, but got turned away each time.
It was the film of the decade and would
tell me how to live and would open into
new streets, where bodies were possible,
where architecture exceeded itself and
took care of the environment, brought
the park into itself, danced around the
canal, where water ran next to and
summer bodies floated by. It wasn’t a
utopia playing there but the real built
environment, the one that went with the
language you spoke, that could handle
the verbs of your language. It was the city,
but was unreachable, was violent, without
victims and without perpetrators, and
violent, though there were no crimes.

  • * *

Every time I wrote a sentence something
disappeared, and after many thousands
of sentences, some of which I didn’t keep
or didn’t like, I began to look for those
vanished things. I also wondered whether
it was more that they were invisible than
vanished. I thought writing had something
to do with invisibility and the world tried
to show you this as often as it could, but
disappearances seemed to have more to
do with not writing, from the way things
looked in the city, among my friends and
acquaintances. You were losing hope if
you weren’t writing, which isn’t the same
as things going invisible. You were losing
hope, too, if you were writing, but it was
a different kind of loss, because there was
always something you had more of when
you were done writing, even if it was
sentences that you hated. I wrote
sentences about how men sleep and my
wooden spoons vanished, or perhaps
were no longer visible to the eye. Most
of the sentences I wrote I did so without
thinking of the consequences of objects
going missing. I was often trying to write
about the crisis, which was hard and
took everything you had, which was
almost all your language for that day.
One day I stopped writing and asked
after the vanished things; I wanted to
know where they were. It was strange to
have had them go away so silently. I
asked into the room where they were
and wondered about the thing and all
the things that replaced it. Would they
all come back at once?

Contributor

Renee Gladman

RENEE GLADMAN is the author of one collection of poetry and six works of prose, most recently Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge (Dorothy, a publishing project, 2013). She teaches in the Literary Arts Program at Brown University.

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