Five Museums
Colleen Hollister

Museum of Ancient Dogs

Here we have the strangest beginning. Grasses caught in an underwater universe. Any wild animal: deer and ships topmast mainsail lichen rocks. Body like a breaking lighthouse glass. A street of weavers. Tiny precise models of everything. Halyard. Arctic creatures. Terrifying stained glass. River dear to bears.1 Drawings upon drawings on fine soft paper. Standing guard so that the sheep can run. Small gold snakes. Heavenly bodies are bowls filled with fire. At first, it is a gadget growing teacups in a plant pot. Innumerable dry hills and longlegged bicycling howls in an object. Let the heart haunt itself. You cannot give up on any pieces of metal, no matter what they say here, no matter how they are boxed, how they are remembered. A wooden thistle. How beautiful that is. We walk here through a world continually disappearing from view through a spyglass. Flowers where the jail was. Hospital. Slaughterhouse. How many forests you’ve forgotten. Fences lined with laughing owls. Roses are everywhere. It’s hard to watch them die, anyone. No farm is safe. A tunnel leads the way and you are stock-still panting in your stocking feet. A ladder. Climb the ladder. Take the dust into your lungs.

Museum of Tornado Disasters

Here you are lost in the language of ships. A man pulls bones from birds, fish bones, spinnerets, their thermoplastic skin, teeth. A man sorts teeth from lead, from nails. Your ears temporarily liquid. Paint yourself with continents, mark the rivers, brush as small as hair. Plum colors. Tarnished silver. Tiny town where oceans meet. An aviator. Birds suspended at the ceiling, all of them alive. Pieces of house suspended, at the ceiling. Kitchen sink. Wing-spin. Copper pipe. Bunk bed. Here is a diagram of all your days disguised as grasshoppers. The day the rooms filled with empires. The day the moss a mother gone. Carved plaster. Pretend poppies. How it did not signal ending surrounded by a plant pot rooms of fig trees children born lungless, bleating. Placed outside in air that was not air. How the people stood there, watched the bodies lift. Imagine this: a city built, surrounded by a house. Let the buildings circle round it. Let the sky, solidified. Imagine solid walls split lumber nails. Glass as fine as anything made window. The houses will grow plants in summers, small tendrils in the window gutters, then full plant-sized, leafy, proclaiming their belonging in alien space.

Museum of Poisonings, Accidental

Your heart has forgotten. In your hands you hold prehensile lips of manatees the bones of small forgotten toads. You are becoming hair and bones and eyelashes; your own self a house for teeth. A crisp world: photographic. All those lonely walks. Here the families are ghosts of tundra. Shiny seal bodies. One small room. The slipshod death wink. White feet. Conquered history. The development of peonies. You are becoming finely drawn, stitch by stitch. The mud comes to your ankles. Rooms of growing soft green grass. Bone saws saw bones the smell of it. Tall windows taste of lead. Bundles of nerves. Sparking summer. Careless self. A spinal series of rooms floored with salt. Wolf head on girl’s body. A man throws himself jumps through and all you can think about is oh those windows and the happening of breaking. Wait here. A douse in something antiseptic. When the body makes a sawhorse. Beautiful rusting limbs and bleak antennae. Scientists say here are the colors of life: white lead naples yellow emerald green. Its own slow lake. Color like dislocation. The air is thin. And how on the cliffs an ocean. And how someone in grief needs to be touched.

Museum of Arctic Maps

Plum. Cedar. In the center, trees grow. Tangle and reach, search downwards for sky. The floorboards lay out for you a puzzle. Language muddled like mud in the ears. So much in the way of anatomy and yet your walking still fails. Woods that shape the air for you. Moon a flower. Cast iron. Copper. Like you are being dragged to sea. Deep blue glass filled with willing poison. Your limbs drop off, rearrange themselves. Everything made of cork and porcelain. Rosemary. Honeysuckle. Cypress. Inside, the heart buzzing like innumerable insects. Imaginary irregular coastlines. Cliffs of dry grass. Reindeer lichen. A small room crowded with things made of metal. A drawing of the flowers in the body: blooming mess. Tiny winding streets. The most intricate doorways. Everyone has carved them. To watch the lightning means a search for light for what makes the trees jump. Once, you knew a house filled with paintings. From the ceiling beams the sky near the bears. Just see how the stars twist. How the lakes rust. Rooms full of women transformed into bees. How a small space makes you feel like you are dying. How the grass grows through the paper at your feet.

Museum of Rabbit Constellations

The language of mast of bow and stern the gray days that whales bright. The dark water. Taped our bones together, cantered into forest. Poppies. Radish. When looking into the sky, stop. Carefully remove the head of anyone around you. Chunks of building grab your hands. You are within botanical illustrations: Fine lines veins split disastrous colors. Heads of animals. Mud smell. Skeleton fish. Here you lose a family. Nose and ear a boxing moon. You are the entrance. The dome of sky slips to your shoulders. Remove your arms to catch the words: Nettle. Pumpkin. Spines between the teeth of antelopes their dark scary brimming bodies. A mess of trains resisting crashes. Who emerges whole from what should be an endless act of fortitude. Who knows what is in boxes, stars that push against their Plexiglas enclosures. Lacelike firelight. Fear of documents. How dim the all around you architecture. The chipping paint of sky. When the trees fall the heat increases. They return and they are weeds, growing. Watch. You think they are weeds. Really, they are a small forest operating near the ground. Begin here. Put this to your ear. You are a small sun orbiting a planet.

1. From Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Colleen Hollister’s work has appeared in Mid-American Review, Versal, and Quarterly West, and is forthcoming in a collection of short stories from Noemi Press in the spring of 2016. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.