Guest Post, Nelly Rosario: Welcome III

Pratt Institute Sculpture Park

Brooklyn, 2006

Photo of statues kneeling in parkA head goes missing on Monday.  Man #2, second from left, suffered the blow. I stand above him, nursing the cutaway view of his neck. Overnight, the lipstick mark I planted on his neck the day prior had been cut in half. The concrete grain feels like bone.

Just yesterday, Sunday, I posed between him and Man #1. I knelt in Virasana. It was a struggle forming prayer hands behind my back; reverse Atmanjali mudra always hurts shoulders, arms, and wrists. The days of the arrested being handcuffed hands-front are long gone, an aspiring cop once told me; the standard today is behind-the-back, palms faced outward. Bad yoga. I switched to Dhyani mudra, hands visible on lap for the camera. The stranger who took my photo was careless: a campus security guard cheeses at us in the background.

So Monday is sucking. Concrete is supposed to be strong, even on its knees. My morning walk through Pratt is supposed to remind me that life is good. Like a sawed-off index finger, the beheading gives me the urge to vomit up my shitty job, then eat an everything bagel. The E train with my name on it must be in Manhattan by now. Boss will have to swallow my latest excuse: “Man #2 needed a memorial.” I flag down an art student, who takes my picture: me kneeling behind Man #2 so that he bears my head.

“Welcome II” is a “commentary and protest on recent events” by South African sculptor Raphael Zollinger. The work “examines both personal and public representations of social change”. But now the eye has begun the inevitable countdown: four to go. I stay up too late, counting. Checking account balances, my daughter’s math homework, sheep. Insomnia has me munching popcorn tonight, watching “The Battle of Algiers”. Sleep finally comes during Mambo #0, just as the French bar blows up. In the dream I argue with Raphael:

Pérez Prado invented the mambo.

Benny Moré invented the mambo.

No, he didn’t.

Yes, he fucking did.

1010 WINS breaks the loop. Tuesday is staticky. New York’s terrorist alert is “high,” worse than yesterday’s “elevated,” yellow to orange in mambo time. “Let them throw the bomb, already,” growls a woman waiting for the bus near Pratt. I’m also tired of wincing. Yesterday my boss complained about my tardiness to the temp agency. Today I must delay again and check up on the Pratt 5. Hurry never turns out well. So I will delay my delay and get coffee. “They should cut off his hands,” growls the bodega owner. We hope the vandal will get caught soon. His son walks with me to see the carnage at Pratt, breaking some news along the way: “Yo, I got into the Police Academy.” No more bodega counters for him. I’m happy for him, really I am, but I tell him to go ahead and look at the Pratt 5 without me. I stay at the rose garden, where I pick dandelions, smoke a cigarette, finish my coffee. Once the coast is clear, I walk to the Pratt 5 and find that the four remaining lips taste like nickels.

Wednesday morning, Mambo #0: I’m fired. The temp agent’s voice is sunny with the news. I have Man #5 listen to the voicemail. He is stone-faced. I lay on the grass beside him in Shavasana, waiting for the vandal. The dead man’s pose is illuminating. I think of things thought to have never been: Humpty Dumpty was never described as an egg and Marie Antoinette never said, “Let’em eat cake,” and Van Gogh never cut off his whole ear. Let the vandal come now.

The rain is insane on Thursday. I do not have to fax or answer phones or proofread legalese. It’s proper that I do some writing. It’s proper that I stop to notice that one of my goldfish is swimming upside-down: swimbladder disease. It’s proper that I eat red-velvet cake for breakfast at Mike’s. It’s proper that I return books to the library, then take a quick nap over a stack of graphic novels. And after a clap of thunder wakes me up at noon, it’s proper that I pick up my kid at school, earlier than usual. She helps me administer the medicine to our sickly goldfish: feeding it peas gets it swimming right-side-up in no time.

Friday lands on new proofreading gig at Ogilve & Mather. En route to the subway, a sight makes me spill my coffee: the Pratt 5 is whole again. Man #2 has a brand-new head. Seen up close, the change back to normal drains my solar plexus, like the dry-heave withdrawal at the end of a hiccup spell. Had the artist been the vandal all along? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. What I do want to know is that Cachao invented the mambo, and whether I would make it to work on time.

Nelly Rosario

Nelly Rosario is author of Song of the Water Saints: A Novel (Pantheon), winner of a PEN/Open Book Award. Rosario currently writes and researchers for the MIT Black History Project. Her work on desveladas: visual conversations from the americas, with journalist Macarena Hernández and poet Sheila Maldonado, won a 2016 Creative Capital Artist Award in Literature. Rosario lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she is at work on a novel.

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