Ilyse Kusnetz

Ideal City, Dream Sequence

In the beginning, I’m a miniscule
confluence of brushstrokes, strolling through
the square of Fra Carnevale’s Ideal City,
past the modest fountain and puzzled geometry
of rhomboids, octagons, stone columns
branching into chess pieces, a robed paladin,
sword and shield upraised. Jostling in the background,
the Coliseum and Arc de Triomphe
like two fans in the stands at a football match.
I vanish, then reappear, apparitional
in the domed reading room of the old British library.
Librarians squint over their bifocals at me.
Schiller and Schopenhauer argue soundlessly in
one corner, their hands ambered into bird-like
flapping as they punctuate an unknowable point.
I sink down. Sub-basement after sub-basement,
on reading podiums gargantuan tomes sigh,
levered open, each cupping a different century –
Scotland’s Enlightenment glinting like a razor,
the Sun King playing human chess
in the gardens at Versailles, da Vinci sketching
wings, propellers, a dozen airy permutations,
Zheng He and Henry the Navigator
sailing toward the slow fires of empire.
Some centuries are backward, as in a kind
of reverse time lapse – vapors of Black Death
reinhaled into a hundred thousand peasants’ lungs,
Marco Polo, Khublai Khan, Haakon Haakonsson
shrunken and curled into contemplative embryos,
Nalanda rising from its broken stones.
Further on, Murasaki Shikibu’s quill hovers above
The Tale of Genji. A Benedictine monk
ornaments the letter “O” in ruby, emerald, gold.
In Lombardy, Secundus of Non smudges the final
page of Historiola with a drop of Anjou pear juice.
I close my eyes, reopen them to hieroglyphs,
cuneiform, the language of bird’s feet,
the Pleiades etched into Lascaux’s walls,
Orion carved on a mammoth bone.
The bottom floor is stone, and I huddle outside
a small room where a rabbi dances with a whore
as you play the piano, and I know who you are,
but ahead, at the end of a narrow passageway
an eye-shaped aperture blossoms, expands –
all beyond its radiance invisible, composed of light,
and I wait, in the painted light, to step through.

Ilyse Kusnetz
“Ideal City, Dream Sequence” first appeared in Artful Dodge 52/53, 2013.