Between two rivers I
am barefoot down Burnside
red shoes dangling from

Homeless people taxis missionaries
staring ("a coin, a ride,
salvation sister"
burning blisters hot on
city cement
on red leather
midnight on the river wild.

You'll find, when the water has sunken into each and every crevice in your lungs, when the salt has infiltrated your nose and bubbles out through your blue-stained lips, that you will wake up in a city. Filled with the scent of the sea and the lingering taste of blood in your mouth, you will be given a lantern by a hand with fingers too thick, with nails too long, and a headscarf. "They are waiting by the harbor," the figure says, wrapped in thick green robes, wrapped in a headscarf. "There is an hour of oil."

Go then, by the dark streets, beneath the wave-smashed spires and the tumbling layered gardens. There will be orchids alight with phosphorescent things that might have been moths, but never will grow wings now. There will be canals run dry and slimy, piled high with stone and wooden wreckage. Do not light your lamp beside them: strange eyeless things with no eyes, but many teeth, nest at the bottom, and they are hungry. Go on past them. Use the lamp wisely, but watch your way: the stones have not been tended, and strangler figs run their roots beneath and over.

Two statues, nude to the waist, stand watch over a broken lantern store. A fire burns still within: there is no fuel there, to refill the lanterns, and the street-signs nearby tell a strange, riddling tale of curving, almost Arabic language. But there are strange, glowing eyes in the ruins of this city, and you must hurry on. In the breeze, there is the smell of salt again, the scent of a choking death in water, and rich spices on the breeze. Somewhere ahead, a child laughs, gleeful in her festival mask and turns in a rush of silks to pelt down the empty road.

You may find yourself at times starved for air, or gazing up through a green and watery maze of currents. Do not listen to the murmurs of the ocean: you are not a piece of flotsam anymore.

Follow the child by twisting cobble and over the fig roots and across the bridge where the skeletons of gulls perch in their ivory plumage. Do not feed them, though they call out to you. There will be taverns that smell of rich, sweet wines distilled into brandy; there will be eyeless galleries filled with half-ruined, silken treasures and a thousand warm hearths. Tread, barefoot and bleeding, across the thorny rose vines from overgrown gardens. Do not stop there.

Pause where the choked, silent fountain sings in the soft sea breezes. You will hear that soundless melody forever, but you must not wait long. Your lantern will begin to flicker. Overhead, sea birds will circle, kin to the gulls on the bridge, like ripples on the water.

The scent of the sea is gone. The child is gone. A woman, in the doorway, her hair drawn out like fiddle-strings, beckons, then vanishes into the shadow of an alleyway. Music follows, as you must. Your lantern will go out, then, but you'll hardly need it now.

Somewhere in the depths, tiny fishes will find your eyes, and for a time, you will glimpse flashes of ivory and golden scales. By daylight, you will see only the city. You be only the city. The child will take your hand and lead you.

Go by night, though. The hour of oil only lasts so long.

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