Art Institute circa 2010 - Lucky Christiansen

there is a painting of people in a downtown diner late at night & in the diner no one dares to move or breathe or talk to one another & in this picture the dark blue-green color suffocates the streets to keep them from speaking & the couple at the diner bar is illuminated in the old yellow light but don’t seem excited that they’re able to see each other & their hands are rested on the same table but they refuse to touch & maybe they just can’t touch anymore & the employee servicing the table is tired of the workday’s hours bending his back & he aches, he aches, he aches & god, when will his shift end? & the only other man sits alone with his back towards the window so he can’t be seen & he is so sick of being seen & seen with his heart on his sleeve because there’s no space for a heart in a city &

the picture is painted in cool tones & somehow warm in the way a room with broken A.C. is warm with no comfort to be found & stifling air filling your lungs & it leaves a residue in your mouth like moldy years & the painting tastes like decades & the silence of the patrons is just as stifling & in the reflection of the painting’s protective glass I see myself sitting at that diner table & I can’t quite touch their hand &

there is a bus full of children driving the 3 hours to Chicago from a small-town school on a field trip to an art museum & everyone is shouting to their friends like a flock of birds that don’t know where to go & I am sitting in a window seat next to a quiet girl whose name I can’t remember quite right anymore & we share earbuds to listen to bad 2000s pop songs while the cawing grows louder & when the bus stops she is swept away by the exiting crowd music in hand & the buffer of sound and the comfortable pressure of a body nearby is gone & I am left to wander the museum alone &

it’s hard to see the exhibits because the plaques are taller than me & when did I get so small? when did I get so large? & I take a step back & I squint at these forgotten histories from a distance & my vision distorts the same way our history books prefer to perceive the past & the clay pots left behind by people who have died leaves an ache in me & I walk into the painting gallery instead & it’s full of acrylic & oil & noise & eyes & I spot a cool blue-green on the corner wall & run to safety &

the information card says Nighthawks on it & I see no hawks or birds but I can feel their gazes on the diner & they are peeking out from windows & doors & rooftops & walkways & I see a city full of people but no one to talk to which is worse because you are taunted by the connections that might have been & I see a place with no room for mistakes because everyone is looking at you & expecting & they weren’t ever taught how to stop expecting &

I stand on the tips of my toes & scoot forward just a little & the mere thought of setting off the tape-marked alarm gives me cold sweats & I have to see & have just got to see & see a diner that is supposed to be a refuge but people track in their burdens like dirt on their shoes & this scene is alone & it’s an ache & it’s a forlorn twinge in the back of your ribcage &

I am looking back at the little museum that was too big for me & that I could never fill & I see someone left at a coffee shop because the old friend you wanted to catch up with never showed & I see loved ones falling out of touch slowly & a worse pain than a quick departure & I see a scrambling creature desperate to create a home & I see these people at the diner are waiting for a friend they’ve never made & though I am too young, too short, too late to reach I still want to extend my hand to them &

yet I am alone in a museum & staring at a painting for too long as my group starts to notice my absence & I walk to the next picture with eyes averted in shame & even though my mind can only see the blue-green streets & estranged hands & aching backs

I am watched in a city where I wear my heart on my sleeve 

& I don’t want to be watched anymore.

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