BY PAOLA CORSO
AIR PATTERNSShe pins panties on the line between buxom clouds roundBLOW OUT THE CANDLES
with water weight. Her bra is beside two padded patches lifted
by the breeze. A slip next to a thin layer of overcast.
Once it begins to rain,
the wind picks up
in circles and feathers.
The clothesline rises and falls, rises and falls with thunder.
The pins hold on, the clouds float up, and her undergarments fall
down. She runs with her basket to gather them from the grass.
When a butterfly with lightning wings flutters in the folds
of a pocket, she is not surprised.
She hears its antennae picking up
on the sound of a child who wishes
to be awakened from sleep.
what blew the roof off was only certain to her. there was no twisterHEIR TO AIR
out her window, no gale spinning a black cloud. she mused
at the shingled pyramid floating above her. she dreamt her father
climbed a ladder and tried to yank the roof down. her uncle attempted
to use reason: how long could it defy gravity. how long before
she pictured her baby on her birthday, each hiccup lifting the roof,
lowering it until she put her on her breast and the roof grew still
but she missed the sky. she missed its blue mission, the clouds
that pillowed her thoughts and elevated them to dream. she blew out
her baby’s candle and as the pyramid drifted off, she knew it was
her own breath reaching for the possibility of air.
In one nostril steam, in the other (stink fumes smoke) if you were downwind when sleepy little Marla May accidentally poured something into the waffle iron instead of batter and it ignited like a furnace of steel while the laundress covered for her. She fell to the ground coughing, apron over her nose as she crawled outside to the parking lot and collapsed, remembering only (a tailpipe a yellow line a fire whistle).
When she woke up, the air flashed crystal and she followed it to a neon sign for a bar, (on again off again twin tubes) inside the scent of margarita and menthol, people with face masks, bright eyes glowing in lightness. Confused, she asked for a beer, bar bingo, dark paneling, someone with a hangover or headache, but the bartender said she needed a boost, a 15-minute session, a dollar a minute to sniff out the if and when to oxidize her day.
His name was O for short—his skin was breezy, his hair windblown, his eyes circles & currents. The laundress put up her dukes, ready for a brawl. Honey, he said, for your information, you are in a five-star oxygen bar. Don't you want to try a hit of O, do something for those jet-lagged eyes, hazy hair, and mucked up disposition of yours, an oxygen facial to plump out your skin with our special blend of (aerial aerobic aerosolic) air. Out your ass, she coughed.
He put it to her this way: you can either breathe in heaven or hell with the lid off. He held a mirror to her face. Her eyes were red. Her skin was white. Her lips were blue. She could have been patriotic for the first time in her life if she waved a flag at him instead of her middle finger. O took a deep breath, puffed out his chest and showed her the door. But this time no fist, she couldn’t resist. She grabbed his mask, put it to her crotch, spread her legs and said, "Air me out, hang me to dry. I’m yours, baby." "Oh, so you want to live longer." "Na-ah." "Then you want to die happy." "Yeah." She batted her lashes and grunted for O and she didn’t mean oxygen.
He sat her down in a reclining chair, inserted twin tubes in her nostrils, a double blow of air cutting through (the sails the wings the harp singing). Her first instinct was to reach for a particle coursing through the sky, but she couldn’t catch it. Then her arms went limp where the clear ends and the color begins. There was space between her thoughts, between her toes, a breath of air from the wind gods. They showed her what she couldn’t see before, weather conditions and more: (nitrous oxide a twist of dioxide with carbon monoxide) all bona fide and ready to roll.
Her father firing her uncle’s tank of oxygen, a silver bullet coming at her with strings attached and a nose. She ducked, then rolled over and saw Donora, the grime on the cars, a woman washing windows and by the time she cleaned the last one, the first one was dirty again. She saw a blanket of cold air over the Mon Valley, smoke from the zinc works up six feet then it stops. Blackness filling the streets and drivers steering by scraping the curb, traffic coming to a halt, a football in the air but no players, the sound of a referee's whistle, a marching band. (Home.Go home.Go home now).
She saw a whole town in China pick itself up and move upwind away from the filth, from the leather mills of Xinji. Smoke billowing as a Feng Shui master routed (the evil in simmering vats of black tar). In L.A., ‘50s housewives wearing pearls, high heels and smog masks holding signs that read (Supervisors, can you see between your cars and the stars), 100 air-conditioned gypsies who can escape the heat, but not the fumes, die everyday because their lungs have an aversion to the toxic inversion.
Smarting eyes in London, in eddies of fog dark yellow & brown within it (then browner & browner still), until the city was so rusty-black Jack the Ripper lost his women because he couldn’t see his own feet. The city’s coal-smudged skies running like spigot water from a million chimneys. Motionless air. Nurses wearing masks, changing them every five minutes, they became so black. Show cows fattened and fussed over, keeled over with their tongues hanging out, and nobody with a clean hand to salute the Queen.
In the Arctic, ice (thinner than the lipstick line on her cigarettes), blacker than the nicotine on her teeth, and she saw it melt before her eyes, and inside a bowhead, a hunter harpooned and cut open, he found her lighter. Then the Triangle Shirtwaist factory girls choking in a smoky cloakroom as their dresses caught fire, pushed to the ledge by flames, crowding for air, windows popping, girls jumping three and four together. She saw the Paterson girls from the silk mill, the air above them dyed green and yellow and pink, stirring chemicals in tubs of yarn until the skin came off their hands, tasting chemicals (to determine proportion and the color of their cancer).
In New York, she saw towers fall and smoke rise, confetti blowing across the river in Brooklyn skies. Firefighters sifting through rubble for gold bands to shine in the gray ash. Cops waking up one night with blood coming out of their eyes, glass lodged in their lungs from doing time on the Pile.
Her own bed where she lie feverish, coughing and out of breath. She called an ambulance, a voice from India dispatched the call. The paramedic was a breathmaker who lay on her body and blew (in her mouth in her nostrils in her navel), and when she didn't respond, he called for the nearest relative to inhale her last breath. Her father had enough of her second-hand smoke, didn't want her two-packs a day way and said she wasn't gonna have a roof over her head 'cause she'd blow it off with her cigarette cough before he kicked her out. He spit in her ashtray, extinguished her soul, but the wind impregnated her virginness and she was reconceived by an impulse of breath.
Next a doctor, who jabbed her with a steroid and made her smoke a pipe of clean air, who said she was half way to emphysema, half done smoking her cigarette and walking away with pneumonia. Bed rest for a week. She took half a pill so they'd last longer and went to work the next day. (Those doctors are rich, she thought. I need the money).
She saw an oxygen tank delivered on her doorstep like a bottle of milk, and her uncle reaching for his, and a tube that connected his nose to the life source, like a ball and chain that kept him indoors except for chemotherapy, then he had a lighter ball, a shorter chain to walk from the porch to the car, from the car to the clinic. He held up his tank as if to say cheers, then walked back inside before she could ask him to show her how to use it. She yelled out for him, but he didn't answer.
As she whispered his name, a black bird rose from his chimney with a blast of smoke that engulfed his house and blazed in her eyes. She was too afraid to run, couldn't move, couldn't breathe when the bird swooped down for her, covered her in its fiery wings. Scorched by the heat, the bird grew still, petrified in ashes, falling like a flicked butt. She stood there, breathed inside its downy feathers the only life there is.
p a o l a c o r s o
p i t t s b u r g h, p e n n s y l v a n i a
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