Emma Thomas Jones
Third Floor (Bears)
After the family cemetery.
After the failed delivery.
After the mining accident
that left you with a limp.
After the office elevator dinged
and the doors gasped open
and sealed behind you, the expected
music dammed by steel,
a room of brown bears
looked at you, blinking. These
had their own conference
room; huddled in cardboard
paper greenery, they discussed—
no joke—the prevention
of forest fires. One noticed
your bad leg and prompted
a discussion on luck.
the Elkhorn mine collapsed
after a crew drilled too deep
into the earth—discovering
water. The mine filled fast
after, carrying off its workers.
After, you had to keep
lights on to avoid seeing
pushed the elevator button.
You pushed it frantically.
The bears discussed carving
space for nature
to intrude. They asked about
if flooding the forest
could prevent its burning,
if flooding the bureau
meant they could taste
pink salmon again.
An eagle the size of a two-story [home] perches
on a felled tree, now [home] to beetles and oyster
mushrooms jutting, uncountable, from uncountable
growth rings. And Homer, our old, ribbed dog,
odysseys after a boy called Ezra. The dog shuffles
between trees as thin as wheel spokes taken
from a circumference and jammed into the ground.
Ezra passes a [home] halved and shuttering
in the geometric foliage, a banjo’s tinny song
sailing skyward like geese that [home] here when winter
strips the woods clean and raw. Last winter,
Ezra’s family lost their [home] to the bank. Now
alone with the dog, he watches the geese converge
into a single, mighty bald eagle. America’s symbol?
No, just an observation that twins the melancholy
in the banjo player’s song. I’m going back [home]—
The congregation sings, Today is the day that the Lord has made. Voices
echo behind the janitor’s mop bucket, existing in a temporary
fix—a square, gray storehouse on a highway called Zero—and without God
a place like this would be too eerie. The believers fled here
after Big Pharma bought up the church land. But these flickering
halls carry only the echo of footsteps—of rejoicing, which sounds,
if you’re listening, the same as a warning. Faith clambers
in the slickness left behind by the janitor’s dingy mop, leaves
bright blessings in the scarred tile. Like everywhere on the Zero,
this place sits abandoned. It stays too clean for the janitor to worship
more than once a week. His church: a pre-recorded sermon
playing on the radio. Echoes the congregation: rejoice.