I just returned from a work trip to Vegas and was reminded again of the immense darkness that lies behind the relentless marquees, the canned attractions, overdone resorts, and extraverted casinos. What intrigues me are the people, the ones who live off the scraps: the immigrants in stained shirts flicking pornographic cards at tourists; the oversunned men undoing the failed Harmon Hotel, tier by black-shrouded tier; the old men levitating objects on the sidewalks for spare change; the trio of girls in extensions and eyelashes who stood in the Cosmopolitan, smiling nervously at the men who ordered them. Those who have nothing extraordinary to show, or no money to buy the time and wares of others, are seen only in flickers: shadowy figures crossing the six-lane intersections, dragging their bags or carts or unresponsive limbs. They do not rest until the others have finished consuming and, when they do, they are always waking.
This issue is dedicated to the darkness—not necessarily melancholy or evil, but the unseen, quiet vacuum that lies between the attractions that compete for our conscious attention. From what do we turn when we look for diversion? From what do we hide when we fill our time with noise, with conversations, with souvenirs, with spectacles—with what I call the dimestore world?
~T.M. De Vos, Editor
Meat and three by Rachel Adams
Dim, but not darker than me and What he pawned was black by Ashlie Allen
Inviable and Who Was the Girl in the Window? by Maureen Alsop
Deciding When to Die by Paul R. Davis
Our Dimension by Peycho Kanev
Three Poems by Simon Perchik
Exhibit I[ntrovert] by Kristin Fitzsimmons
Sleep Paralysis by Valerie Borey
Public Viewings by Chase Eversole
I’ve made the town small, an apt counter
to the pulled pork sandwich you’re holding
away from yourself as it comes apart—meat stuffed
heavy between slices of white bread.
Small as in charming, the least
expected thing to give you trouble. You
lick the juice from your fingers. It’s agreeable—
grease and cherry wood; your pleasure calls
attention to itself. I hand you a napkin.
This is a space for the niceties, where “yes, sir” and “no,
ma’am” spill out of a smile so wide, the creases in the face form
a drainage ditch. The waitress laughs because she has
to, not because she likes your joke and the way
you wear it, the crumpled hat of your good times. I get
up to wash my hands and nod at the woman tearing
her cornbread into smaller and smaller pieces, intent on what
can be reformed in the soft dent of her fingertips, now
slick with lard. She turns her toothless grin on me. She wants
it to be easier, takes matters into her own hands. Her patience
with making is a private kindness and I look away.
Some would say it is without sound.
Breath damned up into being.
Perhaps it is a bend
or a temper of season. The swan’s muzzle, spaces
the shore scathes clean dross of affections I remember
wild lupine fell on the skin.
The year the dead sat on winter terraces, snow sank
feathered palaces of weather. Without accident
my memory, convergence of wound within wound,
for what might be settled. The bodies small infinites
burrowed in weeds. The grizzle bird’s grizzled verses—
Sleep’s basket held open.
By sleep I meant the undisturbed refractory, gun-smoke shattering beyond cypress.
You are near opening the gate. The moon’s skin
scars the snow. Maybe you are still alive, listening.
How would I change the sky’s cold obeisance, the hurt where blood disappears
and wheels through each hand.
Sugar-damp spindles, skin’s alliance.
You heard goldfinches flowered lung-throb.
But I was without sorrow.
In the sun carriage we entered a canyon, ebbed
by snow’s faint intrusion, limpid periwinkle, salt.
We mapped ancestral shoulder blades
between violet embers. Silk portraits aflame.
I meet you in the little dream where the puckered sun
So you have come as wind in the leaves.
Ventriloquism’s wheeze, a voice, like anyone
unnoticed, in love’s hush and arrangement.
One still feels the former place.
Who Was the Girl in the Window?
I read—finite & deliberate salt—
the telegraphic undertaking of the body
was to know the body—
But she, preoccupied
with the last life. Light closed her eyes. Specimens
of happiness—sparrows collusions in skyward measure. Nothing
lifted. When her throat closed, her body’s
mangroves—phlegm & amebic catchments
dissolved, as if her secrets
would always be kept.
The separate body we made from the one body.
I experienced a kind of betrayal.
There were two things she left: dictation’s bitterness, my name
scrawled in latin, therein a coiled prayer, deadly
in the mouth. Then, the familiar stillness,
the after—mirror fills with her likeness. As across a field
my voice, little creature: all hers. Our
animal distance hallowed, the very act of our separation,
moment doubled by monument. In the diurnal smell
I felt love’s universal plurals. That night when
supper was left on the table for the spirit, the white-crowned sparrow
disappeared and reappeared. Maybe
it was the sun passing first. Her other work—she made peculiar
as inhabitant. Year after year, her spirit
would not be faulted. I stood in stone washed drive,
under the noon thaw. Maybe it was the same spot
her mother waved to her. While
she was still missing she intended to speak, but we both went
into the earth obsessed dark. Her ghost
opened the doors of the house. Scent
of rose water, moon washed walls. Estranged,
her physical vision blank against blanched mesquite. Her
body itself an ornament framed by silence. Distracting beyond
the stirring. No more could be made
from the loudness of living—the space
outstrips the glass, a tiny wilderness we dreamed.
Bereft cosmos, I might note she & I
were hand-drawn lines, ghosts
in the grass seen from the windows of a star-filled 2AM train, wherein
the scholastic adherence against which all light
is without presence. And with all knowing
the spirit quivers. She told me, one night
you will miss where you have gone into the dark…
I know it is not entirely up to me,
but I know enough about life
to know how to fill the empty bowl
that life can become when
the stores cannot hold my money,
when the streets do not hold my steps,
when the sun and moon
whirl even when clouds hide them.
The factory workers in China,
the herdsmen in the Kalahari,
the accountants in Omaha,
feel the falling from passing breaths,
so many leaves punishing the lawn.
Do we want to live, run beyond the wire,
or die before the first snow’s discouragement?
When “when” is not a human question,
how does eternity manifest itself
in the face of a god who creates
a stone it cannot lift?
Consciousness becomes blackness,
tears line the curbside,
mourners turn to laughing stars,
and the very stars are haughty,
so very high, so very far away,
and death forsakes its personage.
It is not up to me,
but I will practice the moments
before birth, before conception,
and befriend that uncaring night.
—Paul R. Davis
We all lose ourselves in the void of our precious
So if someone is lost—you go look for him; you must
find him and wash his eyes from the fog with your black ink.
the carpenter will not lose himself between the planks
or the odor of the fillings;
the builder will not be buried by the bricks
nor will he be built inside his bad thoughts;
the one who ploughs the soil will not be left behind
in the dust.
Do not forget the mad, the blind, the meek;
you must fabricate birds to circle the heads of the incredulous.
We all will dedicate to you bread and poetry—
and in our hands the legends will whisper.
and the fragrance spread out
squandered on a single bloom
already infected with your forehead
though her coffin never stops
is bathed by the others
trying to breathe as openwork
—with all these arms you dig
are turning the sun from under
its shadow, it roots and further.
A practice ground: gravestones
taking off, touching down
gathering these dead
as the dirt for loving you
—this is no bird who sings
—this is a bird who circles
by the book, eats rocks
—what’s left is a sky
that has stone to it
is bending the Earth
to steady your arms
covered with grass.
And though this door is here to love you
something more than death gives it shape
is reaching for the board you sleep on
stretched out alongside the empty dress
all night climbing on top your shoulders
the way small waves come in
and keep going, making room
for your mouth, for the nakedness
you know is yours with nothing to put on.
on demons and ghosts, a relentless
sea, for just one last embrace?
Our books are filled with orphans—
or is it the other way around?
Ink only dries once
you have something to correct.
If we could not feel pain, we’d bleed to death.
Sometimes I hear
the ocean calling our names: children,
builders in the sand.
The Golem Visits Coney Island
In one massive reddish hand, a slip
of paper in which a hotdog rests
beneath a drizzling of thin brown
chili. He paid the vendor in quarters
and dimes, his fingers too thick, too
stiff, to handle flimsy bills. So terrified
of crushing this New World delicacy
with unintended force, he purses thin
dry lips and curves his palm—a cracked
clay canyon like the ones he’s seen in films
of cowboy desperadoes—he shapes his
ochre brick of hand into a u-form
valley. The paper-swaddled ‘dog is a narrow log
in the shadow of the golem’s finger-cliffs.
He opens his mouth, upends his palm
and swallows the ‘dog whole.
The Golem Rides the Amtrak
He tried to keep
and chapped, rugged
his sleeping seatmate in the ribs.
But the effort of holding
his arms to his urn-round
chest made the dark
hollows beneath his arms
slippery, his bicep slurring
and flattening from the warmth.
At last, he stood
creakily, a patina of moisture
on his brow making the strange sharp
furrows glisten. He patted it with a tissue,
watched it stain russet and rust, and hurried into
the empty café car, his letters dark-bright with the damp.
“Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.”
—Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
Exhibit A. Written feedback from a creative writing professor, plastered on my fridge as a reminder: “P.S. I’m sorry you’ve been so aloof in class.” I got a B in said class, and I began to obsess, imagine how I would defend myself if asked in an interview why. I would answer, I don’t think it has anything to do with my writing. As a teacher, I tell my own students, a B isn’t that bad and that furthermore, it would be really hard to get a B in a creative writing class. In my case, that was absolutely so. It was hard for me to walk into class, it was hard for me to make eye contact, and it was hard to open my mouth. Even my fictional characters were loners who lived their lives in quiet absurdity. In the real world, there were people who believed that things would be better for me if I “just spoke up.” As though speaking up is a kind of thing you can just do. At the beginning of that semester, I’d started going to a therapist. She asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you said something in class?” I told her that someone might respond.
Exhibit B. Selected student evaluations. Some are directed at my inability to be a performer:
“She was really awkward whenever she spoke to us and I feel like the class would have care [sic] more for the subject matter if she had more confidence in herself.”
Some interpreted my reticence was straight up assholery:
“Kristin did not show a great excitement for the course or the material we were reading. She was very shy for the majority of the semester and acted intimidated by the students in the class. She did not want to be in the class.”
And some students, bless their hearts, offered pep talks:
“Have more confidence. I know she’s shy but she was very intimidated by us and that was distracting.”
I felt like the kid at school whose parents say, “Well, you know, kids can be cruel.” But we’re all adults here.
Exhibit C. A collection of spinal x-rays, purchased for $25 from ChiroOne, a self-proclaimed “wellness center” in the Chicagoland area. I got roped into a free trial while grocery shopping. When I entered ChiroOne, there was something like Enya playing much too loudly. All us free-trialers were herded into a room where we got a lesson on maladjusted spines, unequal leg lengths, and flat feet. I have scoliosis, so I knew that I’d come in already busted. But the longer I spent at the “chiropractor,” the more convinced I was that my neck had completely lost its C-curve and that I’d be a hunchback at the age of 35. They’d gotten me. After the second day of the trial, still having never been properly adjusted, I walked slack-shouldered to the front desk and asked for my x-rays. I couldn’t look at them for another year, when I brought them out to write some poetry about my spine, which had been giving me some trouble. You see, if it’s hard for you to stand or sit up straight, the body often speaks for you. I try to put on a face that argues against the spine, but faces only work if they’re talking.
Exhibit D. A Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Chart. Five years ago, when I was in AmeriCorps , our group’s coordinator made us take the Myers-Briggs as a kind of bonding activity. Apparently, she thought that we’d enjoy taking a personality test more than we’d enjoy the cash equivalent of whatever it cost to administer. My type, both then and now, is INFJ or Introverted Intuitive Feeling Judging. The MBTI is the most widely used personality assessment for organizations and workplaces. When administered by a licensed professional, it’s a really expensive way of telling you what you already know. In a type chart, INFJ’s are called “Inspiring Leaders and Followers.” Really helpful stuff. But thank god I’m not an INFP who is simply described as “Making Life Kinder and Gentler” which is a nice way of saying that you’re a selfless doormat. From my experience, it’s hard for me to believe that most workplaces want to hire introverts. At least, they don’t want one at an interview. Better to take out a permanent marker and draw three horizontal lines; change the I to an E.
Exhibit E. A school picture from 1992, the year I entered fourth grade at Sts. Joachim and Ann School in St. Peters, Missouri. That was the year I signed up for the basketball team but never went to practice. The year I got my glasses for good and stayed home playing Wheel of Fortune on our new computer. That was the year my teacher, a turtle-like woman with a bowl cut and bad teeth, called me into her office to talk to me about “my attitude” by which she meant, my quiet disdain for math games and verbal participation. Also, my sarcasm.
Exhibit F. My driver’s license, which I got at the age of 25. I am still afraid to drive. Of all exhibitions, this is the oldest and most well-preserved skeleton in the closet. Ten years ago, a conversation with a hippie friend at college:
HIPPIE FRIEND: You don’t own a car. That is so cool.
Ten years later, I am still shrugging and looking away and desperately wishing for a change of subject when friends bring up traffic or parking or snow removal. Such mundane topics bring an almost ancestrally heavy shame. Overcome by the anticipation of failure, I have refused to participate correctly in this most American of pastimes. And the thing you will wonder I have no answer for. I don’t know why. If I could be on an empty road in some Subaru Outback big enough to carry all of my anxieties and no one else was there to see or judge—I’d still follow that road. It’s just that no one would be watching.
Exhibit G. An e-mail from a colleague who, when I proposed presenting at a conference on the topic of introversion in the classroom suggested “we shouldn’t acknowledge ourselves as introverts because it might become some sort of red flag to the prejudiced extroverts who might one day hire us.” But who are these extroverts in academia? When I shared the conference idea with a professor, he looked surprised. “Oh, you’re so good,” he said. “I hate those things. I’m such an introvert.” It seems to me that introversion is rampant in universities, ergo extroverts are not the only ones prejudiced against introversion. Perhaps there are many introverts, like myself, who expect more extroversion from their students and employees than they do from themselves. But back to the conference presentation…I was thinking that maybe a sexy title like “Introverting for Consensual Adults” or the more aggressive “Fuck You, I’m an Introvert” might disrupt the notion that the only thing potentially positive about a quiet person is that she is a good listener.
Exhibit H. A certificate of achievement from Huge Theater in Minneapolis, for completing their Level 1 improv class. During my first semester in improv, I would cry after every class because it was the opposite of everything I’d ever been. In improv, you’re allowed to play quiet people, but you can’t hide. Unless your character is hiding, which only works in certain scenes. When I graduated to Level 2, I stopped crying after class, but still I tended fall back on stereotypically introverted characters: nerdy librarians, girls at Comic-Con dressed up as Xena, Warrior Princess, scientists holding invisible clipboards. In improv, there are several kinds of transitions one can use between scenes. My teacher said that the most underused one is just to leave. Sorry, I’m just overwhelmed. Sorry, I’m just nervous. P.S. I’m sorry I’ve been so aloof.
Exhibit I. [Awkward Silence]
When swimming, I like to imagine that I am deep within a metaphor of consciousness. I lie floating on my back, face to the sun and sky, and imagine that this is wakefulness. Behind me, beneath the surface of the water, is sleep and the life of dreams that I at night inhabit.
The face of lake water is metallic, like bent and hammered chrome that is so soft and malleable it is being pounded by the wind and by the bodies that buck up and down beneath its surface. It’s like aluminum foil without the noise, without the distinct barrier. It’s geometric, you’ll notice – a wave doesn’t affect just one part but creates a diamond-like tessellation.
It has substance—a thickness—more so than the water we drink or the water we bathe in. It is somewhere between the consistency of pudding and not-quite-set gelatin. Your limbs just kind of dangle there, suspended in a state of sleep paralysis, while the brain keeps plugging on.
The odd thing about swimming in lake water is that you see a bunch of heads floating on the surface and nothing below. Occasionally you will see a leg or two rising independently from the depths when a bather attempts a handstand below the surface. The lighting especially makes it surreal—the sun shines differently over an open body of water. The angle of the sun is more evident, casting an orange lens one way and a bluish gray one the other.
Occasionally, you will also see paddle boarders…these are people who stand on surfboards and paddle their way around the lake using an oar. They look like gondoliers of the modern day, like Thor Heyerdahl except with plastic rafts instead of balsa wood. They appear to be walking on water, immortals next to the rest of us.
Sometimes you see people doing extreme balancing acts on paddle boards. I once saw a woman doing yoga in the middle of the lake. She went into The Crane, weight centered on the palms of her hands, knees on elbows. Then she levitated upwards and hung for a moment in the air before tumbling into the ice cold water. I ducked my head below to watch her flailing limbs. For a moment, we made eye contact. Hers were wild, forward thrusting. I did nothing. It was just a board floating in the middle of the lake, a forgotten strand of a dream brushed away by daylight.
We opened the house to the public the day Aunt Maude fell down the stairs. Uncle August assured passersby on the sidewalk that the main attraction was worth the $5 cover charge, which included a complimentary bottled water and fresh gala apples from the corner mart two blocks north. He had spent all night making the sign from particle board: “SEE THE INCREDIBLE DART WITHIN A DART.”
Last Christmas my cousin and I had been playing darts in the basement, and during a game, he threw a bullseye followed immediately by another, the second dart landing inside the first. There, it jutted out, held firmly by gravity and freak chance. My cousin wanted to count the second dart as a bullseye, but I said it didn’t count because it wasn’t actually on the board. Uncle August, on the other hand, said it was never to be tampered with unless we didn’t want Christmas gifts. He spent the next few months photographing it, sending the pictures everywhere. He used different angles with different lighting arrangements, culling through collections of old lamps at outlet stores and novelty shops, buying professional equipment and lenses and swapping out cameras just to get all the shots he needed.
“It’s a sign from God,” he said to Aunt Maude.
“Do you really believe that?” she asked.
“I believe it, certain,” he said.
“If you believe He cares that much about a game of darts, you’ve lost your faith.”
The lens snapped shut and opened.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for, my chance at a million dollar idea. A real one. We can turn this place into a stop on one of those bus tours of the country. ‘World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn.’ ‘World’s Biggest Spoon.’ And lookit, ‘the World’s Best Bullseye!’ It belongs on Ripley’s!”
“Why would anyone want to stop and see that?” she asked.
“People will pay money to see anything if it’s unique enough.”
“Don’t you think someone might think it was faked?”
The lens snapped shut and opened.
“No one is going to think this was faked.”
“How can you be sure of that? You didn’t even see it happen.”
“I know it happened. You can’t fake something like that. The boys’ reactions. The early pictures. None of it. It really happened.”
“But will anyone actually believe it? I’m not doubting you. I’m doubting everyone else.”
“That’s your first mistake.”
The lens snapped shut and opened.
“What, doubting everyone else?”
“Of course it is. You are assuming they don’t have the capacity to experience miracles.”
Aunt Maude shrugged.
“I just think there are better things to occupy your time.”
The lens snapped shut and opened.
“It isn’t called occupying if it means I’m using it for something productive.”
“Why don’t we just use the money to travel to see those things you’ve always wanted to see?”
“Why would I do that?” he asked.
“It’s all you’ve talked about for years!” she imitated, “‘You just wait, Maude. When we retire, we’ll camp among herons, drive an RV cross-country, shoot the shit with regulars at small-town diners’. Why not? Why not now?”
“I’ve never walked away from something this big. It’s big, Maude. Bigger than all of us.”
The last of the pictures were in the developing room. There were no lights, certainly no cameras. She had no sooner turned around after Uncle August had made his spiel that she went headfirst down the stairwell. Uncle August picked up his particle board sign, and holstering it under his arm, kicked open the front door, the screech of a rusty spring bouncing against the ceiling.