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by Reed Venrick
Was it the second or third night?
Not enough money for a hostel.
Trying to sleep on a park bench
in Ariana Park—two passing cops
on bicycles woke me—one swinging
his baton, one flipping through
my passport, checking for visas.
—Before you arrive, you stay in Italia?
—Yes, officer, oui.
—You need not say oui.
—You how arrived here?
—By train, officer.
—From what station you departed?
—From Florence…Firenze, officer.
—You need not say "officer."
—Why come here to Geneva?
—Making a connection to New York, monsieur.
—Show your ticket, si'l vous plait.
—Of course, monsieur.
—You need not say "monsieur."
I handed over my ticket, which showed
that my flight back to New York was still
a fortnight away. Would they take me
to jail? But the first officer spoke in French
to the other—slapped the passport back
in my hand—said some words—do not
find me sleeping in the park again.
So I left the park, and after strolling
for an hour through the drizzling streets,
and when the harder rain began, I entered
an apartment house's hallway, where I collapsed
near passersby, giving looks of disapproval,
though once, when a smoky-eyed girl leaned
and spoke kindly, I had to smile and say,
"Je ne sai pas."
The fourth or fifth day with no money,
no food, I was sitting on a park bench, staring
across the lake, up to Mount Blanc.
Never having fasted, my body was weak,
my mind dizzy—waves of panic attacks
made it impossible to sit still. Once when
I stood up too fast, a shower of stars
ignited the air over the lake, I began
to hallucinate: I felt myself floating
above the water—I sat down, but
like Icarus, feared I'd drown.
I grabbed Rousseau's Confessions
from my pack, sprawled on the open grass,
devoted myself to translating French.
I found it comforting to think he too
must have spent many hours here,
strolling under these trees—composing
lines for his Social Contract.
But increasingly restless with hunger,
I wandered wider and rambled around the park.
To my surprise, I discovered that the U.N. building,
the Palais des Nations, was part of Ariana Park.
Then I saw a mirage, an apple orchard seemed
to appear on the palace grounds. I closed
my eyes, hallucinating again, surely, seeing
a vision of apples hanging, but no, they must
be real—because a chain link fence guarded.
Green apples hanging by the thousands
from hundreds of orchard trees—I hurried 'round,
passed again. Should I jump the fence?
That night, I slept again in the apartment hallway,
but my unconscious mind became obsessive,
dreaming of green apples—and me peering
out at the world—I remembered a painting that
I'd seen in the Metropolitan by Rene Magritte.
The next evening—my fifth or sixth day of hunger—
I went to the chain link fence, threw
my pack and sleeping bag over, climbed
over the fence and grabbed my first apple—
biting in—but spiting out the sour flesh.
Still early August, with many weeks needed
until apples matured—still, I felt relieved
to roll out my sleeping bag and rest my
head back on a trunk's bark. As I looked up
at the waxing moon—I visualized a green apple
hanging before me, just like in my dream.
But sleeping rough is hard to do for hours long.
By morning, I'd risen several times to pick apples
and abate my hunger. Under moonlight, I searched
the heavy branches and more trees for riper apples,
but all were sour. So tart, I could only swallow a bite
or two at once. Still I knew they had nutrition.
In the days after, every time I closed my eyes
to meditate, I sank into my unconscious—
where a green apple waited—floating before me.
Merci, Rene Magritte and Le fils du homme,
for showing me where the real found the surreal.
At last, I was catching on to surrealism.