from the existentialist's essential travel guide
BY KATIE WILLINGHAM
When I need some space from the beginning, I look
to the end, but it has the same players: the little boy who thinks
about filling his mouth with green marbles, and the
girl combing the rainbow mane of her toy pony and
you’re here—a bee in a black bonnet no one’s worn in a very long time. I have
a condition where angry, confused cells lash out at the wrong
enemy. My knuckles turn red, but not all at once. When I need
some space from the beginning, I try to remember
what came before that—stars, their mouths shot through with
bright gasses. Or at least this is the story I’m telling you. No one is old enough
to watch a star age, so I’m grateful for time-lapse photography but
it’s not the same as experiencing something’s slow progress. It’s not
the same as being there. I take pills that tell my cells to behave. They go
to sleep. And this is how the end looks: language
getting as far away from itself as possible. The words have boundaries, bodies,
muscle and tendon—like you, like the bees, with their hearts and
brains fucked up by chemicals. Tourists flock to Usagi jima—the island containing
the defunct Japanese poison gas factory from WWII, now surrounded
by rabbits. They built a museum, which shows visitors how the gas
affects the body—the lungs, the eyes, the skin, the heart.
But you can make your own sickness sometimes.
When I need some space from the beginning, I plan
our dream vacation to this place. We feed the rabbits. We feed what lives
among the wreckage, what forgets easily, what
enjoys the ease of sustenance offered, cupped gently in our palms.
Katie Willingham lives in Ann Arbor and teaches at the University of Michigan where she earned her MFA from the Helen Zell Writers Program. Her debut collection of poems Unlikely Designs is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press in Fall 2017. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Southern Indiana Review, The Massachusetts Review, Front Porch, Paper Darts, and others.