What Was It For

Adrienne Raphel

I lived in wallpaper for seven
Layers; I peeled at them all as though
One by one I could live in seven walls ...
First, upright stripes, yellow and darker, vertical
To the picture rail and then again above it
Not quite aligned because the lines above
Lined up with the next layer, same yellow and stripe
But stippled, velvet, brittle and thick,
Gold, but not to the touch; it rubbed off and
The paper underneath had been papered before
The picture rail – this complicated
Oriental scene over and over
Done in green and the same shades of green:
A two-eyed queen, seated in profile;
At her feet, jackals and leopards the size
Of lapdogs, leaping, all four feet above the floor,
Backs all arched in the same curve; 
And outside her room, men in Hokusai hats
Huddle and run without faces, and she sits
Inside, and inside again, looking to
The other wall of the room in the paper;
            (Between the third and fourth walls, a bat
            Flying around and around from somewhere –
            Was it between the papers, bats can do that –
            That – around again and again, into that corner,
            The only thing I could see was bats, and how,
            And how, and now before I could go forward
            Everything but the bat was going to stay, right)
Right underneath, I found a layer of feathers,
Feather-printed – no, actual feathers:
After-feathers, down, eiderdown,
Pheasant and partridge and what-have-you,
Turkey, or grouse, or Canada goose, lots of them
Pressed like locks of hair, crusted and soft
And vegetal smell, but that was the smell
Of the glue on the back of the third wallpaper,
Or the fixed green dye compounded in lead, tourmaline;
I shook flecks of old color out of my hair
And all the feathers fell off together,
By now ankle-deep; I’m at the fifth layer,
Pattern of birds, or bees, unruly with wax
Sticking all over the place from the feathers;
When I pick at wax, I pick at wax;
I’ve found the moon, or is that just stone –
            God – is that another bat – I’m going
            Out of my mind, get it, get it out –