The Palace at 4:00A.M. by Robin Davidson

“Memory’s nakedness is like a bone that will not decay.” —Liu Xiaobo


Alberto Giacometti understood the house of childhood
to be a house of bones, or more accurately

in this case, of bare wood, glass, wire—
the sculpture’s naked frame, a skeleton of mother memory.

What I remember as a child is a dream in which I walk
along the steel girders of an anonymous building,

a labyrinth of metal rising into the night sky’s
pitch black, the narrow beams like blocks of ice or fire

beneath my feet, each step a tightrope dance above an abyss.
Unlike the Palace no objects hang seductively.

No Surrealist’s invitation into sleep. I wander endlessly
from beam to beam, imprisoned in an emptiness

whose only gift is silence.
Mother was an absence. The invisible

walls of a house. An empty amphitheater strung with
rhinestones shining like stars.

Mother. An elusive sparkling.
Giacometti divides the Palace with a pane of glass,

a transparent skin, a membrane, what we see but cannot touch,
what cannot touch us, a brittle veil between lives.

If I could speak to the girl suspended, balancing,
holding her breath, I would tell her how she will outlive

the inner dark, how the glass pane will shatter
into cerulean fragments, how she will come to wear

these shards like buttons sewn on a woman’s suit coat.
Each tiny stone, a star or bone, fastened against her chest

by frayed thread whispering open, open,
to each rib, vertebra, as a voice in a dream might

choreograph the tenuous constellation of hours,
burning coals, lemon balm, a flowering.


Robin Davidson is author of two poem chapbooks, most recently City that Ripens on the Tree of the World (Calypso Editions), and a full collection, Luminous Other (Ashland Poetry Press). She is co-translator with Ewa Nowakowska of The New Century: Poems from the Polish of Ewa Lipska (Northwestern UP), and teaches creative writing for the University of Houston-Downtown.