Claustrophobe Stuck in an Elevator
The panic I exhale turns elevator oxygen into hydrogen cyanide. Imagine vast space, the psychiatrist said, the purest snow I have ever known, sledding with my father and brothers in Wisconsin. The snow smelled of cream and pine needles. But mothers and children smelled fresh snow in line to the gas chambers, too. These elevator walls are soldiers standing guard, following the orders of their construction.
I remember a photo I saw of Auschwitz in the 1980s, trees in winter near where the "undressing area" was. There were skinny branches wrapped around thin trunks to keep warm, leafless trees paying homage.
"Arbeit macht frei," one says. "Work, work, work your way into the compassion of the walls."
I finger the imperfections in the wood, trace my finger along dents and scratches. The surface is now human, its depth negotiable. The wall's restraint is of my own choosing. We are, after all, both dying in this moment. The guards are inside the chamber with the victim, both dying in this moment.
Motionless here for centuries, I am a Neanderthal in a glacier. Five hundred years from now scientists will dig me out of here, to study ancient claustrophobic man.
Some Native Americans believe if you stare at a bear long enough, he will talk to you. Some claustrophobes believe if you stare at a wall long enough, you can walk through it.
The elevator door slides open and a woman from this century enters.
"Oh, God!" she screams, as the walls carry my body through snow with no footprints.
I hear what I cannot see, like the cat on the jungle floor that hears the commotion of bird and monkey in the canopy. They are cathedral creatures that will never touch earth.
Sometimes there is a perfect humming of wings over one special flower. Other times, it's a Lithuanian immigrant mimicking to his grandson the flapping of hawk wings through fleshy lips and a curved tongue holding vodka drops like an awning holds rain drops.
Chris Capitanio is a poet living in Illinois.