It’s 10:00 AM and tourists have wrapped
themselves around the Place Denfert-Rochereau.
We are almost at the entrance. We didn't wait this long at airport customs,
or at the Louvre. It is already hot
and my husband and daughter have left this
three-hour long line twice to get bread and Marlboro Reds
because everyone in Paris smokes.
They would rather be sleeping.
As we descend five stories down a spiral staircase
without a guide into a tunnel that didn't seem so long on the Discovery
Channel last month, Kyra asks if I think they will have a cool gift
shop. This place feels totally like some haunted
house at Disney. But the trickling water of a hidden aqueduct,
the green mold, the plaque in Latin that warns:
Beware the Gates of Hell, and the skeletons are all real.
No guards or ropes or headsets to keep us in line.
We shuffle past rows and rows of bleached and stacked bones:
The ossuaries hold miles of these walls, of these passages.
Kyra takes selfies with skulls arranged in the shape of a heart.
They are all smiling. She wears a cute black romper and cat-eye liner.
Adjusts her red hair that spills down her back. It is combed today.
She thinks it is cool that Facebook tries to tag the dead
with the names of her friends.
And as she decides on the best pic for Instagram,
Bob makes an Alas, poor Yorick I knew him well
joke as he gets way too close to a bright green head
with missing teeth and a bullet hole.
They try to guess what plague or what war killed the ones
decorating this room or that wall but they grow
bored and I am thirsty and there is a blister on my bunioned foot.
It’s draining to wrap my dome around six million of anything.
Kyra tells me she accidentally touched a few.
Asks if I saw a bathroom to wash her hands,
as I snap a pic of a keg of tibiae and a tower of humeri.
And the expertly arranged skulls with femur petals
that extend up to the ceiling remind me of the botanical
wallpaper that used to hang on our kitchen walls.
You lose your keys, or your phone, or your glasses,
or maybe your white Lexus in a parking garage.
You search everywhere.
Perhaps someone is missing you somewhere-- or not.
Perhaps you will be too late for something.
Maybe you find a car that you think is yours
and try to open the door and
see someone else’s Yeti and Ray Bans on a much cleaner seat
that has now changed colors.
You feel misplaced.
And after almost giving up this game,
they all end up in a spot you swear you already checked--
or your phone is in your hand,
or your glasses are perched squarely on your head.
Or, maybe your car is on a level you never remember reaching.
Sometimes you have this issue
when it is Tuesday and you swear it is Friday--
or when you are asked how old you are,
or when someone says your name,
or when you look in your rear-view mirror and the woodchuck
you thought you ran over is not in the road,
or when you focus on a candid photo of yourself with
your now vanished friends you thought were real.
You are unable to move forward. No option to save.
Maybe you should just go ahead and blame yourself--
‘cause most of the graphics in this simulation are pretty sick.
Just keep overlooking that missing cell of honeycombed sky,
or that gold seagull still flying without flapping
shitting s’mores on your car,
or the spotlight that may or may not fall
on your head as you search
for your shades that are waiting
for you somewhere on Level 42.
How did this happen
Why did we wait this long?
We are both at 1 percent.
This is a travesty, you say. Galaxies
should never die. And we want to laugh
but we realize we are faceless
and you are dreaming and I am you
and you have nothing left
to muster but this moment you
will not remember in the morning.
Victoria Nordlund's poetry collection Wine-Dark Sea was published by Main Street Rag in 2020. She is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize Nominee, whose work has appeared in PANK Magazine, Rust+Moth, Chestnut Review, Pidgeonholes, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. Visit her at VictoriaNordlund.com