Written by Rich Ives 
Art by Sarah Ashtari 

Published 4/4/2014

Art by Sarah Ashtari 

She is seated alone in the middle of the room. The wooden floor shines softly with an undulating movement of light that reveals no pattern but still returns to her. She raises her arm, her hand loosely restraining a blue handkerchief, and we imagine that she has seen us, but we are not there. She has seen something in the room of her dream that corresponds to our imagination of her. She welcomes the caress of an older man, who has appeared from nowhere. Is he a ghost? Is he in her dream?
The older man is attractive, and we can see how she might dream of him. It is not hard to be her, for we are the dream itself and not something in the dream. We do not go away when she forgets us.

She is singing in a language you do not recognize. A creature is rowing a mechanical boat across a metallic sea. The spray from the oars turns from a turquoise blue to a golden mist. There is another kind of singing in the meeting of the metal parts. She is not the parrot you have imagined her to be, although the parrot’s wings contain the same movement you can find in her throat.

Her desire is the sun, immediate and captivating, but equal to all those that desire its magic. It will leave you as easily as it has come, but you can learn to accept its infidelities. And you may learn to burn beyond your needs and send out the excess by nature and not by choice, and in this way, understand her further. She may not be all you need, but she can sustain you while you search for it.

The object is always a mystery. She sits beneath a shadow as if it were the tree itself, and she takes in the reflections of the sea, moving inside herself, swimming to the island of her need. She need only turn her head to draw the waves around her, and she drinks the wind to keep from falling. When she raises her veil, the fish come back.

The deserter comes from the other side of the possible. He is tired of what he was and has no name for himself. He talks too much. The rhythms of his speech seem to sooth him. No one understands what he means. He stops when he has felt the notes of his voice coincide with what he has imagined, but he believes he has given away the truth.

The dull thudding ratchet of the wooden clock begins to knock in a steady rhythm in ever so slightly varying tones, until the sound has rounded itself and begun again with all the variations attached. It may be that it is calling out, as you are, for someone who isn’t there. The mechanical boat appears, rowed by a pair of metal eyes. The deserter is walking along the waves with a steady dropping of his hands, as if he were gently planting something in the ocean, again and again and again. The hand of the woman releases from the grip of sunlight and lies on the seat of the boat in its darkness. How could you know where it was going? A bell begins ringing, with a wooden rasp in its throat. Is the boat a music box?

The deserter is out walking with a broken shoelace. He seems to enjoy the flapping of the shoe’s tongue and steps harder on the right foot to exaggerate its rhythm. He leaves the path to find stones and trees to step over, but the muffled sound of the needles and leaves is not what he is after, and he returns to the path. He removes an awl from his carpenter’s apron and caresses the wooden ball of its handle. He appears not to be thinking of what it is used for. There is a voice in its roundness that can only be heard from inside. He is trying to discover how to get there.

He inserts his wrist in the hand and begins to pull the saw until he can feel the hand on the other end pulling it back. He wonders who has attached themselves to that hand, and then it is time to again pull the saw back.

“Hey Dollface,” he says to the head, which he has pulled from his pocket, having forgotten he saved it for his daughter from the suitcase he found torn open on the park bench.

She falls from the bench and curls up like a potato bug. She begins rocking, and the motion takes over the earth. At this moment, in this place, she has become the ordinary, and everything leans towards her and tries to stand, as she does, next to the small pile of dirt. The trees, who cannot, look disappointed. The stones appear to have adjusted, however, and even the squirrels appear to be leaning against the trees to persuade them to accept their limitations. No one is here to understand how this happens, but this is not the kind of thing that needs understanding, and if she were to get up, another revolution would occur. I can’t move,” she says, rocking and rocking. “Everyone can hear me.”

“The doctor cannot see me,” says the deserter.

“He does not need to see you to heal you,” says the woman in the rowboat. She seems to be gathering liquid on her skin, although it is difficult to see how this is happening since the boat is not visibly moving.

The walls fall away. “Tell me who I am,” they say, but of course you cannot hear them. The doctor can, and he will cure them, but they will no longer be walls.

It is not the choice I would make to heal such revolutions.

I hold my own hand as if it too were a wall. I carry it to the floor, and here it flops like a fish and seems to be enjoying its difficulty breathing. It knows it cannot die at this moment, but it does not know what room it will be carried to, or how many walls that room will already have.

Once you called me oval, and I did not understand. I smiled at you and took you into my eyes. I gave you my wall, and it squeezed you, and it looked for another to meet you with. My facial exclamations came out slowly to greet you, and I combed them and dragged them across your cheeks. You exclaimed in delight and perhaps a little pain. Exquisite. I was around myself with immediate return. I could not depart from it, and I did not want to, though I tried. I tried in order to see if it was as good as I thought. It was different, and it was.

The searchlight circles the knee and returns. The wooden hand is dripping its lost leaves. Brush open the finger. Requilita, the pale moon of your ant-drenched fingernail calls me to my parts. Call me another’s name, and I shall be yours.

Crushed and glistening, my hat is a boat, and I am beside myself in it. The gardeners are preparing their opera, but the singing is not pleasant. I cannot tell if it’s the interruptions of the crows or the sincerity of the trees that bothers me inside, but there is something that comes to my ears without adequate preparations. I hope I can appreciate the performance when the bodies are ready for planting.

I can listen only with my fingertips. I know that it is not a very original ailment, but my efforts at arranging a replacement have failed. I dream of succumbing to an overwhelming substitute, and I have placed another man’s hands at my throat to offer my talents to his fingertips. The mist and force of my desire did not please him, and he left with his box full of calluses, unquestioned. I could not speak of it, and doing so would only have made his failure more apparent. I did not want him to despair. To become aware that one has failed to acquire the limitations of others is to be doomed.

The photograph of Requilita’s torn lip bleeds for me, and I gather the drops on the blue handkerchief. I am there each time to suffer its pleasures. The creatures of the night are talking to Requilita’s hair and accepting its darkness, which is greater than theirs. I have begun taking notes on the pitches of the wooden sounds arriving from Requilita’s knee. It is a great resource of departed evenings, and I enjoy its fading, which is never complete, and seems to be gathering the most delightful little droplets.

“How come you live at night?” Requilita asks me, and I answer unromantically to see if she has understood me, “I am first of all, a rock.” And she directs me to the porthole to warn me.

“Can you see what is out there?”

“Yes, but I am unsure what it means, since I know that you are inventing it.” And I feel like laughing, but I do not.

“The flower is dripping.”

“Hold your head still, and I will listen.”

And I listened, and I said, “You are the man I have been following,” and when she did not respond, I realized I had said it only to myself, and then I listened.

“Now I am turning my wet finger around the rim of the waterglass. Can you hear the beautiful flower?”

“I can hear you breathing.”

“Yes, that’s what I mean.”

The fingers are taller than the door, and they enter, but remain attached to something outside. I’m not sure it is a hand. I’m not sure I am in the room, but I am in the room. Red berries are at the center of the room. I don’t seem to have noticed that my nose is bandaged. The tree, which was here yesterday, is unwinding. “Let me help you up,” says time, which has passed. And it does.

There is a maze inside my reflection, which I have entered. Or has it entered me? I am traveling between what I know and what I do not know, as I always have. The distance has not, as I thought it would, lessened. Because I do not have to ask, “Who am I?” do not assume I know.

There was a sun on either side of me when I stopped for lunch. I was enjoying myself, and I could not stop watching. I was not able to avoid the obvious, but I could simply wait for the balance to throw me aside.

The tree, which I climbed, was not the gardener’s favorite, and that was my intention. I intended to live on in the bounty of the host, if I could find it. I was not consuming the necessary blindness, so the gardeners began reaching with their rakes and hoes. I had stopped climbing, so they circled and talked of how much they could not see. They wanted me to join them.

I was still telling the story, so I reminded them that Requilita had been discussing her wooden shoes with their rakes and hoes, and they had said that there must be some reason in it. I couldn’t imagine what might grow, but I let them believe as they wished. I climbed down from the tree and tried to remember what I had seen.

I had somewhere to go, and I felt I was out there, beyond it.

The door at the back of her neck would not open.

The guests have begun attending me. The sky grows dark, but the wind does not rise. I close my eyes. The wrong trees approach me. The gardeners glide by, and their implements light the floor’s stupendium of fallen needles. I cannot see the moon returning. My arms embrace the tree, which begins to fall, but will never fall completely down. I can see the fingers that have entered now, but I cannot cross the boundary between us. I am afraid I shall dream with the tides, and the room will evaporate. If I touch myself, the fingers will be mine.

Perhaps the dead have the most baggage, for they are no longer capable of supporting their memories. It leaves me with questions concerning what to do with my new experience. If I don’t move, the dew allows me to notice more.


Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission, and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation, and photography. His writing has appeared in VerseNorth American ReviewDublin Quarterly,Massachusetts ReviewNorthwest ReviewQuarterly WestIowa ReviewPoetry NorthwestVirginia Quarterly ReviewFiction Daily, and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award fromBitter Oleander. In 2011 he received a nomination for The Best of the Web and two nominations for both the Pushcart Prize and The Best of the Net. He is the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. His book of days, Tunneling to the Moon, is currently being serialized with a work per day appearing for all of 2013 at http://silencedpress.com
Both Tunneling to the Moon (Silenced Press) and a book of poems, Light from a Small Brown Bird (Bitter Oleander Press) are scheduled for paperback publication in 2014.  
(Updated Apr. 2014)

Born in 1976, Sarah Ashtari is an Iranian artist. She got her BA in painting from the University of Tehran and her MFA in illustration from Tehran Art University. She has had a number of solo and group exhibitions, as well as installation, painting, fabric art, doll and sculpture exhibitions in Iran. She is recently experimenting with printmaking. She lives in Tehran and teaches at the Islamic Azad University.  
(Updated Nov. 2013)