Ground Zero


Giannnina Braschi

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 115 in 2008.

It’s the end of the world. I was excited by the whole situation.

Well, if everybody is going to die, die hard, shit, but what do I know? Is this an atomic bomb--the end of the world--the end of the millennium? No more fear of being fired--for typos or tardiness--digressions or recessions--and what a way of being fired--bursting into flames--without two weeks notice--and without six months of unemployment--and without sick leave, vacation, or comp time--without a word of what was to come--on a glorious morning--when nature ran indifferent to the course of man--there came a point when that sunny sky turned into a hellhole of a night—with papers, computers, windows, bricks, bodies falling, and people running and screaming.

I saw a torso falling--no legs--no head--just a torso. I am redundant because I can’t believe what I saw. I saw a torso falling--no legs--no head--just a torso--tumbling in the air--dressed in a bright white shirt--the shirt of the businessman--tucked in--neatly--under the belt--snugly fastened--holding up his pants that had no legs. He had hit a steel girder--and he was dead--dead for a ducat, dead--on the floor of Krispy Krème--with powdered donuts for a head--fresh out of the oven--crispy and round--hot and tasty--and this businessman--on the ground was clutching a briefcase in his hand--and on his finger, the wedding band. I suppose he thought his briefcase was his life--or his wife--or that both were one--because the briefcase was as tight in hand as the wedding band.

I saw the wife of the businessman enter the shop of Stanley, the Cobbler, with a pink ticket in hand. The wife had come to claim the shoes of the businessman. After all, they had found the feet, and she wanted to bury the feet with the shoes. There, I was talking to Stanley, the Cobbler, because I too had left my shoes, a pair of pink boots, in Stanley’s Cobbler shop. He told me--you won’t believe what I saw. I saw Charlie, the owner of Saint Charlie’s Bar ‘n Grill, watching the burial of the twentieth century. Charlie goes out to hang the sign, closed for business, he looks up, and jet fuel burns and melts him down. And do you know how, how the torso hit the ground, how it landed. What I saw hitting the ground was a little bubble of blood, a splash that hardly felt itself, soundless, and dissolving into the cement, and melting without a sound.

I saw a passenger hanging on the edge of a bridge—with his feet in the air—his legs kicking—and both hands holding onto a steel girder hanging loose from the bridge—about to collapse—with the passenger—kicking his legs—as if he could peddle his way to the other side—where there is sand—sand and water—deep water—as if he could swim to shore and survive. I go to sleep at night and dream of teeth falling out and holes being drilled and filled with gold filling--and I see rain falling--wind blowing--cars running--fools thinking they are as smart as a fox--and the teeth keep hanging on like earrings on earlobes--and I feel my tooth is loose--it trembles like a bell--it will fall out--in a matter of time--I can tell--because I have good timing--and the pace it keeps hanging on is quite steady--so it is steadily feeling lousy and clumsy--but it is hanging on--it has a good sense of itself--it knows how to hang tough through tough times--like someone who can’t stand pain but knows how to acrobatar su pena en el trapecio de la cuerda floja--like a soldier who, wounded by 20,000 slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, hangs on for life like my loose tooth that I feel trembling in my hand--like a newborn mouse--moving around and smelling my palm--so many metaphors to say what. I mean, what can I say that has not already been said 20,000 times. The sand and the era of the camel are back. The era of the difficult. Now you have to climb sand dunes of brick and mortar. The streets are not flat, but full of barricades, tunnels and caves, and you have to walk through the maze, and sometimes you’ll get lost inside, finding no end--and no exit--and you’ll fall into despair--but you’ll see a dim beacon of light--appearing and disappearing--and when it fades away--your hope will fade--and you’ll be amazed--because your pace will change. I used to be Dandy Rabbit and now I am Tortuga China--not that I have lost my way--only my pace--because of the dead body I carry on my back--on the hump of the camel--in the desert storm--with no oasis in sight--but the smiling light of the promised land.