I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU IF YOU ‘GET’ THIS POEM. I DON’T GET IT, AND I’M THE ONE WHO WROTE IT. THE THOUGHT BEHIND IT WAS: I WOKE UP IN A DIFFERENT UNIVERSE. NOT SO STRANGE. IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, MY LIFE HAS CHANGED IN RADICAL WAYS… UNPLEASANT AT FIRST, DESIGNED (I BELIEVE) BY THE UNIVERSE TO WAKE ME UP AND GET ME MOVING. TIME TO WRITE THAT BEST-SELLER, GIRL, YOU’RE CHASING 65.
LIFE, MORE OR LESS LINEAR TO THAT POINT, TOOK A NOSE DIVE — ‘LIKE CHUTES AND LADDERS,’ AS NOTED. ‘THIS IS ALL GOOD,’ IS THE WAY I USUALLY SEE IT. IT’S DIFFICULT, A LOT. I DON’T MIND DIFFICULT, WHEN THERE’S PROGRESS, EVEN IN TINY INCREMENTS. WHEN I WROTE THIS, I WASN’T SEEING ANY PROGRESS. IT WAS JUST A PHASE, THOUGH….
When Is This, Anyway?
A week or two ago, or in an epoch when the snail was empress
of the eyrie and the highest point a crater’s lip, I woke up in an
unfamiliar universe, and though this sort of cosmic blip is less
astonishing than formerly — when, for example, I was sixty-three
and in a mirror glimpsed my upper body, turning to observe aloud,
“I’m wearing Miss McCluskey’s arms” to my reflection, Miss McCluskey
having been my fourth-grade teacher, much beloved and somewhat
careless of her triceps, whose condition troubles her no longer, if
indeed it ever did, what with her being many years deceased —
the universe in which I lately found myself, in any case,
grotesquely differed from the others I had visited; so little they
appeared to have in common that I doubted my identity until I
tasted the distinctive flavor of my tears.
The math misled me. I’d begun to learn the new arithmetic,
you see, consisting of degrees of difference between myselves on
(a) New-Universe–Arrival Day, and (b) the Day Before, experienced
by Me and Yester-Me, respectively. So if I traveled to a universe
that varied from the former only with regard to slackness in the
arms I wore, the slight divergence earned a modest score,
described by an equation such as
Yester-Me + 18 = Me
or similar… a strictly linear progression, as you see.
But evidently I had landed in a time and place equivalent
to, say, Atlantis — poorly understood and thus considered
“wholly fabulous” and “merely mythical.” In literature, its
designation is the Twisted Plane, and it is where I live
today. As Me, I walk among you, talk with you in customary
ways, except it seems that somebody has put the English
language, words and definitions independently, into a jar
and jumbled them, then dumped them out and paired them
up again, but randomly. A strange man tapped me on the
shoulder, saying, “Here you are,” and handed me a book
so generated, titled Dictionary.
Other oddities: The tides have turned around, though I
suppose it’s logical, now that I know that what to Yester-
Me was Up, today is Down — so much confusion for the
few of us who were around when Red was Brown. The
Children are no longer young. Adults do not age
gracefully; they lurch and stumble, stagnate, have their
eyelids done, and some regain a decade, others more…
then, without warning, one or twenty or a hundred of
them fall, like Chutes and Ladders, don’t you know, except
they might drop months or years and suddenly a man
who, at the age of six, reached four-feet-two in height
and never grew another inch, before your eyes and in
no time at all is twice as tall!
But worst of all, the aging isn’t even chronological!
The seasons have advanced by one, so fall is summer,
winter’s autumn, and the harvest is whenever farmers
have a sec, I guess, of which not only are there less
and fewer (oh! —except in February), it’s (that is,
“the space-time continuum is”) just a mess, and that’s
a fact. It’s lost its head, it has! It stretches and
contracts with no apparent symmetry or set of rules
and regulations… with no method whatsoever.
I got onto a bus this morning, and I felt no small relief
that wheels still go around instead of bouncing up and
down like pogo sticks. My sense of comfort and familiarity
was quickly quashed, however, by a thick, hot, heavy-
handed scent, like rotting oranges laced with animosity.
It felt to me as if I’d merely smiled — that friendly curving
of the facial muscles I’d been doing since my early infancy,
as babies tend to: ONE, when they are given food (It pays
to keep the Breakfast Lady happy, and there’s not a single
thing that pleases her as much as Baby’s sweet face
wreathed in smiles); and, TWO, when there’s a Big Game
on the television, something that the grownups temporarily
and unaccountably are watching with a lively interest.
This is unacceptable [the baby reasons]. Why are they not besotted with me, as they were just thirty seconds earlier? Not sure what this dilemma calls for. Ought I cry? Is this a wailing situation? Must be careful not to overdo that one. Let’s see…. What is the trick I learned the other day, that thing I did, that accidental bit of luck that made me such a hit? Oh, the excitement! What a lot of whooping merrily and laughing happily! For quite a while, I was the Solar System’s Most Amusing Child! And all I did was— Oh, for pity’s sake! What DID they call it when I lifted up the corners of my mouth? The title was… it was the opposite of pout. The thing I did was… Ah, I’ve got it! Smile!
At any rate, the passengers were not impressed, and I received a hostile
stare… the best I could expect, it seemed. Four scowled; two got sick;
and… Oh, dear me! I think I know what happened: I suppose… at
least, conjecture, though I can’t be certain… nonetheless, I estimate
the odds are twenty-six to
ten that I had gotten
Up and Down
again. If not, it
must have been
the king, though I
suspect I’ll get the axe.
Well, what do they expect when designations anchored to the language
by a thousand years of sense and habit are capriciously reversed
without so much as an announcement in the paper? Whether justice
has been served, I’m sure I couldn’t say. I merely gave the
executioner his orders as I was instructed. Mr. Executioner,
said I, up with the weapon; off, thus, with his head. And since
the up that day still meant “above,”
for better or for worse…
the old gray goose