In The City of Broken Umbrellas
The sidewalks are mirrors she searches into. The coastal rains aim straight for her head.
Her roadmap says all things meet at the downtown Axis Mundi. Leaning into the wind,
she does not know where to go, only to go against. (Her cottage: too small for one soul
and all its revolutionary paces; she is getting out, for air.) When all things do meet—
woman and swan routes and telephone lines and bottlenecked crowds of tinkers—
what stares out from the fiery center? Ships’ figureheads of mermaids or neon crows
or your man on the festival posters? This blood groove reeks of roasted almonds. No,
it snaps and groans, like exposed roots under the wheels of carts still heavy with fruit.
On this side of the bridge, the river stops. It also stops when no one’s watching.
Floating inside the city somewhere, the woman’s red jacket is an executioner’s culotte.
Its hemmed edge slants hard. The guillotine swishes behind her New York legs and
writes a whispered dictionary of departure. It’s time to close the book, Erin. Come closer
to the Spanish Arch. Here, buy some paintbrushes. Change us back with one fell stroke.
Watch as stormwinds break Erin’s umbrella at the spine. She tinkers with it for a while,
then hurls it into the rapids. Like burning maps, the same physics apply at the very center
as at the edges. Now the city’s a scratched out sketch of itself. What emerge from tunnels
are very different animals: mermen of mossy wit, a wandering gravitational field.
Here, telephones don’t ring, swans mate upside-down, advertisements reveal peepholes.
And through these, without the umbrella, she sees where the one railroad track, as if next
to a clean mirror (and not its companion), will finally touch its twin and take its—No,
close two eyes, don’t go so far. Circle back another way. Let’s keep this route secret:
a ship in a bottle, that bottle on a ship, and that ship resting politely on her blue tongue.
Alexander Lumans was the Spring 2014 Philip Roth Resident at Bucknell University. He has been awarded fellowships to the Arctic Circle, MacDowell, Yaddo, VCCA, Blue Mountain Center, ART342, RopeWalk, Sewanee, and Bread Loaf. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in Clarkesworld, Sycamore Review, Daily Science Fiction, Crab Orchard Review, Cincinnati Review, and Guernica, among others.