Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Dialogue With Matter

Welcome back from the long weekend (and Tuesday). Hope some of you got to make it to the beach and/or barbecues on Monday. It was insanely hot and humid in NYC, which some people enjoyed. I say give me an air-conditioned cafe and an e-pile of manuscripts any day! (Well, most days...)

Story time today comes from Tyler Theofilos, who is a writer, musician, and e-commerce expert living in
Brooklyn. He's a graduate of Yale University, where he studied poetry and journalism, and his poems have been published in the Connecticut Review, Yale Literary Magazine, Sphere Magazine, and The Gaze. 

Tyler is sharing a short piece called Dialogue with Matter, which, as Tyler put it, is
about "the rapidly closing gap between a deteriorating subjective world and its siamese twin, reality." Tyler also warned me that this piece might be "more pretentious than it needs to be," which I thought was funny, mostly because I'm a big fan of pretension, but understand that it's usually unnecessary, which in turn only makes it more necessary to me. My conflict could be the result of my formerly MFA-addled brain, but I digress. Anyway, you be the judge!
Dialogue with Matter
By Tyler Theofilos

I walk to the sink for a glass of water. There is a strange lack of closure to the sunset outside… not that there’s anything particularly inaccurate about it. The light is correct. It decorates exactly.

I usually find it difficult to determine the beginning of night. The blue sky hesitates just as the sun is prepared to drop. But this time is different. Even after it sinks below the horizon, the long shadows loiter on the ground, stuck in some circular reference like a bad DOS command. Skittering blades of grass become serrated black pillars threatening the vinyl siding of houses. They rise and overtake basketball hoops until the presence of even a single mosquito would blot out the whole stretch of neighborhood. Soon enough, cars refuse to start and static takes over the fringe radio frequencies. The nights cascade into one another like shingles. It takes only one week of night to remake that roof of black glass into a cage of obsidian.

Outside, the landscape is baptized in stone. Trees spiral up and around themselves; they reach like glass sculptures of trees. As the days collect, a local widow puts together a search party for the lost. I arrive in thick, underdeveloped boots. I am not early, not late. We leave in silence with small black and white photographs. Among them, faces busied in motion, blurred and overexposed. I recognize Mary, frigid and amplified, in an opal nightgown. Our chorus of flashlights uncover expanding arcs of space before gently tucking them back in. I am really concentrating now, but in my more conscious moments, there are only flashes of wet grass. Marginal stains on parking spaces.

Getting accustomed to this new world is something that sets in only when one becomes willing. The eyes of new infants become dense with arteries, as if their bodies both knew what light was, and were desperate for it. I begin hoping that our faces might be visible momentarily through an expanding iris.

The night becomes a thick costume we wear in public spaces. I make deliberate mental movements toward unwillingness. I am Shackleton leaving his men after a fusillade of heavy handshakes.

I buy a train ticket to some equatorial oasis and board before discussing my own existence with the engineer. He is doubtful. At the Buffalo stop, I awake in a haze, caked in drowsy ocean. On the television, the panic is beginning to reverberate in San Diego, in Albany. Whole continents are consumed by night.

But outside the window, where I expect to see the passing of some dark gradient, there is just more silence; shadowy figures picking each others’ pockets and finding pictures of their own children, as if these faces, blue-eyed, chicken-pocked, could somehow redeem them. My hands are buried in my pockets. The train pulls off and leaves behind nests of unread magazines.

Inside the station, the snow is building drifts in corners. By the automatic door, a bag lady has built a pillow from it; the air nipping at her exposed skin whenever a leaf lights up the electric eye. The parking lot comes in in some enigmatic Morse code.

I keep telling myself that if there were shadows here, they would be frozen to oblique sections of tile. I can almost believe that they existed. But there is something inside me that needs something else, and it isn’t shadow, it isn’t sleep; but it feels like sleep. It feels simple and distant.

I’ve been lowering myself down some stretch of highway for hours. Occasionally, a pair of lights will barrel down a slow bend and leave two parallel white lines gleaming on my brain, but they’re no indication of distance.

* * *

The hinges let out a long pent-up wail as I pull them open. At first, the house seems a certain shade of restless. The furnace kicks in over the mock cackles of dresser drawers. Poltergeists stew in erroneous corners. I suddenly have the desire to reexamine the angles of love seats I have lived in; gently press them back into old carpet grooves. But the restlessness gives way to the calm invisibility that has been sweeping through my brain lately. I place myself on the couch, our couch, and squint my upturned eyes.

The fireplace is another television where I watch reruns of house fires. Cut to commercial. The refrigerator lets off a momentary click of light as I pull open the seal. Inside, the monarch butterfly, asleep on a bottle of Merlot, has come alive with lingering disinterest.

How did I spend my life? This atmosphere glazed in the coal of peristalsis; this ever-expanding colony of semi-colons. It will swallow me where I stand, this empty living room, this wallpaper of dream fleece. A baby raccoon cocks its head to a rifle shot, and ten dozen moths form a funnel around my feet, brushing ankles, wrists, the backs of my neck with their felt wings. I will be consumed. There were corrupt phrasings hidden in my marginalia. You will find them in a hermeneutical panic, lose yourself in the explosion of dust.

* * *

Four months in, I am everything I touch. Blades of grass hesitate like a girl’s wrist or murmuring car door. I am nothing at all until I begin to rephrase myself. As I walk, footprints build beneath me. I am larger than them and must cast a horrible shadow.

But even behind this winter veil, this thick Cartesian pitch, moments arise—real moments plucked from the matte of quiet, like the passionless scrawling of waves on a beach. In these tiny moments, I am reloved.

Rain is something I could not have expected. But I hear it surround me. There is no lightning. Only the rain, a hollow mesh settling on the roadways. Only the gentle crash of rain that might reveal the irregularities of parking lots. And then, in the afterimage of thunder’s accidental photography, I am the sole witness of myself.

There is a terrible moment that I have only rarely experienced in my life, in which the world, and all things cease to have any sort of meaning. But never before had I experienced the cruel transcendence of self-cessation; the loss of losing. My body wet, indeterminate, I collapse, my hands shaky and invisible, my dialogue with matter at an abrupt end.

Above me, the swelling of aurora borealis, at the Northern ridge. The horizon twists into itself. My senses go numb and digest me until I become a piece of light; the thin, passionate ribbon signaling not hope, not calm, not closure, but some more modern ending—completion. I derive no pleasure from the world. I derive the quadratic formula from a young girl’s lice-ridden scalp, an overanxious uncle collecting mental images of the hidden skin above her hairline. Am I the world? She will wake in the morning craving passion—the passion inherent in absence, the silence surrounding a kiss. They are passing, even in this darkness. They are all passing. I check my scalp for coefficients and shut my useless eyes.


  1. Oh my God, I love this. The writing is exquisite. Tyler, I wish you all the best with your writing career. Your writing ranks right up there with books that have won the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes for literature and fiction. DIALOGUE WITH MATTER is both beautiful and haunting.

  2. I like it. The description is raw and a nice change from "pretty, pretty!" that some writers tend to focus on.

    Pretentious? Well... when you write like that... ;)

    It's heavy, but moving. I like the almost metaphysical quality that Tyler uses: "I am everything I touch". Wow, beautiful! Well done, Tyler!