Caren Beilin


At the zoo you can buy animal balloons, dead birds on strings given shots of helium into the rectum and they jounce overhead attached by the string for an hour.
      I joked that I wanted a lion balloon but there actually were lion balloons, but most astounding, we saw a buffalo balloon, held on a string by the littlest girl whose parents held only clutches of small bird balloons, red robins and blue jays over their heads in bouquets of balloons, but birds, tugging them down so that they bobbed up.
      Children always do the same thing with a balloon which is to release it across a cloud. They don't think of pollution or that river animals will choke on the excess of their spectacle, for time itself is an excess of a spectacle. Time sits like fat at the gate.
      It is not surprising that the littlest child of all the zoo—it was awkward that she wasn't an infant, it seemed so recent, and time had really bullied this frail, vein-compiled thing out of a papoose so soon—released the largest, most spectacular balloon, the completed, inflated, helium-blooded buffalo over the zoo where it bobbed into the clouds never quite becoming nothing the way regular rubber balloons squint into tiny dots.
      Children love the release of a balloon. They don't understand how helium works, though I remember I understood and would cherish the death of my balloons in the living room as they incremented into the rug and the whole house took on the air of hospice and I stroked the balloon where it wrinkled and began to understand that to inject it with air would be to kill it, that the very nature of injection—pin, plunge—was in opposition to the nature of balloonskin, that there was no solution, no transfusion, though the ingredient for its survival was everywhere, was air.
      But these clever zoo animal balloons were not so clever since animals have holes, orifice and pore, fuckslots and things smaller than fuckslots, holes as varied as professional pebbles or the American monetary system or atoms. So it's not as if the animal balloons could last long at all. They were only upward for moments before people like this littlest girl's parents dragged clusters of birds at their feet, like walking a molting, dead, abstracted dog, if a dog abstracts into birds.
      The buffalo, due to and against the size of its body, went far into the clouds, bobbing against the under tufts of their curving fluffiness, a body buoyant even with its rugged ancient look, even its horns filled up with helium, the bone teeming with elation, so that it rammed into the clouds, parting them, with puppetry, and what is a balloon but a drugged puppet but an elated, perverted marionette?
      The buffalo parted one cloud over the zoo and everyone watched with a sense that it had all been planned, that reaction would be inappropriate in the context of a zoo, in the context of all these enclosures.
      I used to name my balloons as they died on our living room rug, dignifying their death with a life and saving their withers like colorful stretchy ashes.
      I named this buffalo secretly in my head, standing next to you, as it descended again onto our zoo, there being no wind. I named it for the little girl whose name I did not know, and people were not surprised when her buffalo balloon landed in a cage for colder creatures, its pores and anus wheezing out helium onto their ice island.
      It was felt—the way you can feel that you all feel—by everyone, that these animals would not know how to use this buffalo which was now too heavy to be removed. It's a shame that this particular balloon didn't land in a cage for lions because they would know exactly what to do or Native Americans you could tell people were slyly thinking.



There is a moon orchard where small growing moons are becoming panoramic in width, against black string grass, attached to vines, that are underground connected to something. To birds. If you see a bird as a bird it is: wing, breast, flush, its singing, its phrasings (above the grass) calling forth itself in reverse, so that if a bird were a photograph this were its negative, in a different dress of color, the titillating opposite or hollow of the color of the other, and together they go into the darkroom which is night, its lamps fixed over many chemicals. But if you treat a bird as a seed not a bird and plant it and let it blow, from its hollow, buried bones balloons of moons, then here is our moon orchard. The moons are many, the orchard is long. They are hot white squash, round and rock, light vermillion fuzz on them, if vermillionness were populous incandescence, everywhere. If you go out with me to examine the vines, to touch them with your sensitive handskin, they are coated in the underfur of feather, that gray spritely moss you have seen beneath and around a colored feather of a bird. If you touch one of the many moons in our orchard, they are cold and oozing freezing dew. If you put your ear near enough: the soliloquent echo of a bird sputtering her used instinct (for mating) through a twinkling vine, into the heartrock of Earth's outer space.



We make balloons out of the dead. We put helium in the corpse and tie a string around the foot, and there you are, with that person bobbing above you. If you are a child, release it into the clouds where it will twinkle into a dot and adults will pollution-bemoan you, sure, but they'll say besides, you are having fun, and besides you are a mourner.
      If you are an adult, with a dead child for a balloon, hold onto it, until it wrinkles into a wither on your living room floor, for a while static against the wall and then almost as if sitting upright like a child on the couch, and then a colorful shrivel on the rug.
      If blood is still dripping from the balloons, take heart, for a balloon can only bleed air, its air not shepherded out from any lungs.
      I have seen children put pins in other children's balloons, on the sly, at the zoo, or at home, between brothers. I have seen them save the rubber in piles, eclectically colored corpses, and I have seen humans pile other humans, having used their lungs like balloons, and pinning their loins with gun-pins.






These pieces are part of a group of short pieces I've been working on, titled Americans, Guests, or Us.