PICTURES INSIDE THE MATTRESS BEFORE YOUR BROTHERS ARE DEAD
Joshua Marie Wilkinson
From the field below. Two boys. 1918.
The war is almost words again. Coughing fits.
The painter Egon Schiele dies in his sleep & today is October 31st.
Perhaps snow or just the smell of snow is the only location.
Backwards. Curse of narratives. All the characters
all at once. The way bodies come out of the morning.
Out of the forest, together & apart.
A perfume like dust. Vienna.
Cigarette pong just lingers in the hotel lobby. Friday
nights I take the train in from Bratislava. I buy oranges
& water before sleep. The next morning my tiny notes scribbled
on the map of his city will guide me to Schiele’s gone rooms.
Each day you must offer yourself with words to somebody.
The cello shoulders open the song, splitting the bow immediately.
Somebody’s loft in Chicago, just your fingers on the nine keys.
You’ve slept till after one again. But the memory I make
is when you pull the sweater over your bruised ribs
from what music?
Every Angel. . .
An entire album, The Sea & the Bells, for the moment
when Neruda lifted-upon his father’s casket
& seawater gushed out.
Almost deadly birds of the soul
Like a Herzog film where workers lug the sofa upstairs
& the softly crazed king must open it
as though it were an envelope in his hands.
Call me from the middle of the night where you are.
Cradle the phone on your shoulder
as you steam open the letter.
from the barn roof & finish the story of your chores.
Black swallows in your belly. A voice tickles your throat
from the inside, which gives the inside an outside.
There are photographs of the train station where Schiele was born.
Of the stationhouse roof in Tulln. Empire
& the wrong words for each thing I recount aloud.
Of doors opening.
Couldn’t I come home with an armful of groceries
to find you in the bathtub?
Opens. With pencils & an orchard ladder.
Stolen by the boy who prepared the house
& dragged the piano out into the grass
with ropes & his brothers.
A city is a kind of gift.
Stretch the map out onto the bed
& draw it over yourself, sleepy, like a quilt.
Used to sing to me as a child, my father
out of silliness or agitation, but I never found him
in the throes of a song the way he found his mother
on the kitchen floor breathing unconscious after grammar school.
In this picture I am tearing tiny maps out of guide books:
Trieste, Cesky Krumlov, Györ & folding them into
my pocket at the station.
A woman glances up at the light & I can see the train hissing
before I can hear it.
Each painting begins. The limb of some schoolboy or prostitute,
an unsmiling patron, two girls, your lover Wally, you or your wife.
An elderly woman with the body of a nun
boards the train before Budapest,
sits across from me come from Ljubljana
& crosses herself as it lumbers out of the station.
Eight months over the Slovak-Austrian border on evening
& Saturday morning trains.
Toppled buildings upright. Rain.
When there’s a figure there’s a landscape.
The opposite is true also.
Border guards with little pencils & weather in the trees.
As she steps off the trolley her dress hem catches on the jamb & tears.
Wally has red wrists. Around her eyes are red too.
She carries gouache sketches of herself
to the cafes for Egon. Split is the name of the town in Dalmatia.
Empire of Dusk.
Pressburg, Budapest & Trieste. Yellow sputter
& hiss of boxcars unhinging ball sockets. Steel.
Somehow swallows nest in the creosote eaves,
flit-scatter, fall back and return.
Vienna, Paris & your mother’s dead town, Little Krumau.
You sleep where the train sleeps. Muddy thickets,
wasp hives & flapping laundry lines.
Sketching trains on the stationhouse roof after supper.
Charcoal for the engine plumes—Umbrella,
did you bring me here?