A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2005, vol 1 no 1

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Allen McGill, Mexico

The dome

My vision extends only a few feet ahead or to the rear, so acute is the curve inside the narrow, winding stairway within the dome. The walls curve sharply to the left as they rise, leaving insufficient room to stand upright. I'm forced to lean to the left bracing myself with a hand against the inner wall, smudged dark by those who have climbed before.

I chuckle, glad I'm alone, with no one trying to pass going up or down. What seemed novel a short while ago, soon becomes monotonous: pale yellow walls, an occasional bare light bulb--hollow silence, but for my deeper breathing.

the beginning
and end

No indication of life until...a window! Small and dirty, it allows me a view beyond this tunnel-like passage. The rain-gray streets of London from high within St. Paul's--remote--surreal. I turn away from this tenuous link to the outside world, think briefly of returning the way I came, but smile at my own unease, determined to make it to the top. There must be other windows. I quicken my steps. The climb seems to grow steeper, slower-- must get to the next window. My breathing grows more rapid, forced. Is the air growing thinner? The pulse throbs in my temples. Faster; my legs tighten from the strain. Another burst of speed--Yes! I laugh--another window! I Press my face against the glass--block the passage from my vision and mind--imagine I'm beyond the window, among the living.

a pigeon
glides slowly downward
fingers grip the sill

Pause--listen to the echo of my breathing, heartbeat. How much farther? Half-way? More? Continue? Retreat? A cry rises from deep within me, strangled by the tightened muscles of my throat. Must keep moving--run--don't stop--can't breathe--call for help--no one to hear. Top must be near. Must be! I surge upward, body twisted, off-balance, stumbling--rise--run again. What if there is no end? What if this is Hell? Eternity. Barely managing to contain my tremors, I run and run and--a door! I slam into it with both hands, burst through into the blessed drizzle high above the city--collapse to my knees--sobs through laughter. No one here--no one to witness--safe. I look upward, let the moist air quell my fever.

open door
a breeze descends
the abyss

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