Alex Houen


One month of being forced to perform an Oedipal shuffle
(I sprained my toe when I fell, drunk, from my bike)
and now here I am bedridden in an alpine hotel
making collapsible mountain after cliff after mountain
with my knees beneath the sheets. With each seismic
shift the window’s biopsy of sunlight shows me
a snap-shot of shoddy still-life while my head
casts itself the head of a head-shaped cloud.

Across a valley of the bed you are sleeping
with your viral fever. What a pair we make.
Outside, the rest of our party must have joined
the local masses in throwing themselves down slopes
for real. So many iron filings on a sheet
of paper, a swarm of hidden magnets drawing
them all around it? That’s a vision of not looking
out the window. I’ve just left my father’s

Christmas (it’s New Year’s Eve) and I can’t work out
the scale I have of things. The miniature black
plastic Christmas tree has grown as fragile in stature
as the street lights here which hang like huge crystallised
bronchioles of public lungs. Yes, that’s also
a vision of not looking out the window.
It’s this list lying between us, careless, on the bed
that’s keeping me from looking—the list I made

of souvenirs my father has collected over years.
Last night I found myself turning them into a kind
of doll of him in my mind. The two Ethiopian
earspoon crucifixes became his feet; the brass
callipers his legs; the tiny rusted dagger
(Moroccan) did for his genitals, while his portly torso
was the crucible (‘A.D. 1770’) stuffed
with organs of astrolabe, abacus, and jade polar

bear. The two mini-vices were his hands hovering
around him, armless, as if remote-controlled
by the obsidian figurine of his head—carefully sculpted
to be a penis, cat or woman’s face depending
on the angle from which you regard it. And after all that,
could I get the thing to work? No, it’s useless—
and I’ve no instruction manual apart from his badge
declaring that ‘Seniors Do It Better’. There was nothing left

but to place each piece of him back within its perimeter
of dust. So: have I committed anything at all?
If not, it’s amazing how stern the sleeping back
you’ve turned to me looks. You’re so riddled with the morning’s
light it’s terrifying. And I dare not answer you, my
beautiful sphinx, for fear that you wouldn’t devour
me if I got it all wrong. When I finally look out the window
it’s iron filings, paper, and magnets all the way.

Something inside me breathes its sigh of relief.