by Janna Layton
The Paris Umbrella
I called it the Paris Umbrella
even though it was,
like many things,
made in China.
In Paris I climbed out of the damp catacombs
into rain, alone.
But soon the umbrella
and Montparnasse was not as cold.
Colors for wet blossoms in faint sun or
winter downpours flooding gutters.
The Paris Umbrella sheltered me
in my city and others.
In Costa Rica it disappeared,
taken away with room service remnants.
What was it, my umbrella?
A plastic and metal object from
a factory, a department store, an apartment, a hotel room;
______, Paris, San Francisco, Fortuna;
Asia, Europe, America.
Atoms moving in the company of my atoms—
for a while.
The Abandoned Office Building
Finding abandoned office buildings
is not like finding the abandoned mansions
of Gothic novels, where a stone castle
is encased in ivy at the end of an overgrown path,
and you encounter
dusty ballrooms, spider webbed stained glass,
the gaze of large oil portraits, a diamond
necklace, a secret passage.
No, the abandoned office building
you find when a wrong turn on city outskirts
brings you to a rising box of tinted windows,
surrounded by dead grasses, beer bottles, chainlink.
Inside, there are no tarnished candelabras.
There is what you expect, but oddly disarranged.
A toppled chair missing a wheel
blocks a hallway. Here and there
a pen, a paperclip, a mouse pad rest
on the coffee-stained carpet.
The plants are brown skeletons,
and one with a cracked pot spills dirt
by the desert-dry water cooler.
Heaps of blue and black electrical cords
huddle like chilly snakes.
Other objects are oddly untouched.
On a desk, a stapler and tape dispenser
are perfectly aligned.
Highlighters springing from a canister
are flowers ready to serve.
A stack of sticky notes, although faded,
awaits a message.
Guarded secrets are worthless now.
The yellowed papers locked in file cabinets
don't need the protection
of the long-lost key.
The information in rusted servers
in rusted racks is obsolete.
Confidential reports pored over are now scraps,
ink washed away by water poured
from a leak in the roof.
And there are the human traces.
A picnic, picture framed,
beside a silent, blank monitor.
A birthday card tacked to a cubicle wall.
In the kitchenette, a photocopied
cartoon, with "We know all about this!"
written in pen underneath.
In abandoned Gothic mansions,
you know the occupants
were troubled aristocrats
with dark secrets—remote.
But this abandoned monotony,
you realize, was left by you.
And where have you gone?
I had a dream about you.
I met some friends (or at least level-three hangers-on) of yours, and they invited me to your house, which was an apartment in some parts and a mansion in others and dangled over a cliff but was also on the third floor of a building. You weren't home yet. The view from your balcony: a statue rising from the canyon floor, so high and close it could almost be touched from the railing. Your friends sampled the wines and orange cake and showed me how the bottles rolled down the kitchen tile towards the sunset. You arrived, nearly catatonic from a trauma that had occurred outside, but your friends stayed in the kitchen, laughing with crumbs. I put you on the couch and rubbed your tee-shirted back. Finally, you smiled at me, and a pearl appeared on my charm bracelet. We went to the balcony. My cat was crying on the white arm of the statue, pausing to scream at the circling dog-cougars below, soft kitten tears wetting her whiskers. We leaned and leaned over the deep gap, stomachs pressed against wood, and then she was safe in my arms. The serene stone face eased into gray while the dog-cougars howled in the ravine and your friends laughed inside. At some point the kitchen guests and sun were gone, but we were still in those plastic deck chairs.
But you know how dreams are.
Janna Layton lives in Oakland, California. Her poetry and fiction have been published in various literary journals, including The New Yorker, Switchback, Appalachian Heritage, Zone 3, and Caesura. She blogs at readingwatchinglookingandstuff.blogspot.com and tweets at @jkbartleby.