Monday, November 30, 2020

"Inalienable / As DNA, / Self-evident / As fingerprints": "The Stain", by A. E. Stallings, and the Declaration of Independence

The first sentence of "The Stain", by A. E. Stallings, lists ways the titular stain "remembers / Your embarrassment", mixing liquids with verbal "stains" from writing to rumors. Then the poem evokes the impossibility of removing the stain with echoes of the Declaration of Independence: it is "inalienable / As DNA, / Self-evident / As fingerprints." While DNA and fingerprints figure individual biological uniqueness, "inalienable" recalls the Declaration's "rights", and "self-evident" the truths that include such rights. Yet the Declaration has its own "stain": the reference to "merciless Indian savages" as a threat to be exterminated. Stallings's poem thus connects the embarrassments of individual biography to the indelible stains of history. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 November)


Two passages from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.


[The King] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.


The Stain

A. E. Stallings, Like, 118



Your embarrassment,

Wine or blood,

Sweat or oil,


When the ink leaked

Your intent

Because you thought

Truth couldn’t soil,


Or when you let

The secret slip,

Or when you dropped

The leaden hint,


Or when between

The cup and lip,

The Beaujolais

Pled innocent,


Or when the rumor’s

Fleet was launched,

Or when the sheets

Waged their surrender,


But the breach

Could not be staunched

And no apology

Would tender;


When over-served,

You misconstrued,

And blurbed your heartsick

On your sleeve;


When everything

Became imbued

With sadness, yet

You couldn’t grieve.





As fingerprints,


It will not out

Although you spray

And presoak in the sink

And rinse:


What they suspect

The stain will know,

The stain records

What you forget.


If you wear it,

It will show;

If you wash it,

It will set.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Thrift Shopping for Congress

On 11 November, Representative-Elect Cori Bush of Missouri tweeted about the expense of business clothes for a new representative: "I'm going thrift shopping tomorrow." The responses I've seen are entirely encouraging, with many including tags of thrift shops in Washington, DC, and some even including offers of gifts. But all gifts to a member of the House of Representatives have to be reported, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez learned between November 2018 and January 2019, when she had to be careful about offers to put her up while she looked for a place to live. As Bush points out, the system is not designed to make participation easy for anyone without "generational wealth." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 November)

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Aggressive driving on the Autobahn

On the Autobahn just now, I moved to the left to make room for cars entering from the right. At the same time, a BMW raced up behind me. I accelerated to pass the car to my right – and the BMW zipped into the space I'd made, gunned past me, and zipped back into the left lane. All that's normal aggressive Autobahn driving – but then the BMW driver sprayed windshield-wiper fluid for several seconds, and the spray covered my windshield. Revenge for my slowness? But my revenge was seeing the BMW slow way down at the next exit – all that aggressiveness for a few seconds of advantage that were quickly lost. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 November)

Friday, November 27, 2020

Violence as "isolated" or "emblematic"

In "Insurgent Empire", Priyamvada Gopal contrasts British and Indian interpretations of the British Army's 1919 massacre of 379 people in Amritsar, Punjab. While the British saw the actions of the commanding officer, General Dyer, as "isolated", for Indians, it was "emblematic of deep structural racism and endemic colonial brutality." This contrast in interpretations of violence between an "isolated" act of an individual and a more "emblematic" perspective comes up in the United States today in responses to any violence that might be considered "terrorist", with white murderers seen as "lone wolves" who might have mental illnesses and non-white murderers as representatives of a threat posed by their entire race or religion. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 November)

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Listening to music I haven't listened to in a long time: The Brad Mehldau Trio, "Art of the Trio, Volume 1" (1996)

There's the joy of listening to music I listened to often years ago but haven't listened to in a long time. I experienced it today with the original Brad Mehldau Trio's 1996 album "Art of the Trio, Volume 1", with Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Jorge Rossy on drums. I have the trio's version of Radiohead's "Exit Music" as a tone for the alarm clock on my phone, but when it rings, I only hear the beginning, rather than the brilliant drifting of the whole tune. And how could I have forgotten the haunting version of Nick Drake's "River Man", which captivated me once again on this listening. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 November)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The second-generation immigrant becomes a migrant herself: Denise Levertov's "A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England"

Denise Levertov's "A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England" positions the poet's birth between her ancestors' migration to Britain and her own migration to the United States in 1948, at 25. The geography of her childhood returns on her seeing the titular map, but as she remembers the towns and landscapes of that country from the her new American perspective, she considers how her migrant ancestors must have looked back on their origins from the very landscape she left behind. A second-generation immigrant becomes an migrant herself and then, "in a far country / remembers the first river, [...] the first light" of her origins. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 November)


A Map Of The Western Part Of The County Of Essex In England

Denise Levertov, "The Jacob's Ladder" (1961)


Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers

and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,

and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a

stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,

I am Essex-born:

Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,

the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,

Roding held my head above water when I thought it was

drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees

stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,

the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.

Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,

Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots

sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,

Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,

in its serpentine lake I saw bass-viols among the golden dead leaves,

through its trees the ghost of a great house. In

Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the

light of flaring sundown, seven kings

in somber starry robes gathered at Seven Kings

the place of law

where my birth and marriage are recorded

and the death of my father. Woodford Wells

where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white

statue forlorn in its garden)

saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,

(forgotten? and further away

the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once

but many times?).

All the Ivans dreaming of their villages

all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,

picking up fragments of New World slowly,

not knowing how to put them together nor how to join

image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map

made long before I was born shows ancient

rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire

for the world's great splendors, a child who traced voyages

indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country

remembers the first river, the first

field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,

that new smell, and remembers

the walls of the garden, the first light.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"If you had real houses back in Africa": Americans and Africa in a story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's story "The Thing Around Your Neck", one of the young Nigerian immigrant Akunna's first experiences with Americans is in conversations with the "girls" at the community college she attends: "They asked where you learned to speak English and if you had real houses back in Africa and if you'd seen a car before you came to America." For these young American women, Africa is not a vast continent with many countries and cultures but a single underdeveloped or even undeveloped entity without history whose people live primitively and whose local languages are unimportant compared to the colonial language that enables Akunna to communicate in the United States. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 November)

Monday, November 23, 2020

On first reading Paul Celan, for his 100th birthday

In the spring of 1987 at Stanford, I took John Felstiner's course on "Literature of the Holocaust". The syllabus included Paul Celan, whose 100th birthday is today, in Felstiner's translations, and I was immediately drawn into Celan's sound. I got the two volumes of his poems in a Suhrkamp paperback and began slowly reading them with my year of German and a bilingual dictionary. Though the poems were often hard to follow, I assumed that was a matter of my then limited German. Years later I learned that Celan is "difficult", but I'd long since found my way into his poems through the sound that seized me before the sense did. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 November)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

How my grandfather changed his offensive jokes in the 1970s

My grandfather loved jokes, especially those that made fun of such groups as the Irish or Italians. A political conservative, he was also no friend to the social movements that arose from the 1950s on. Yet in the 1970s, even he began to be aware of the limits of his jokes, so he turned his jokes about specific ethnicities into "ethnic jokes" instead. Today, many comedians (usually straight white men) complain about having to worry about offending audiences with their jokes, but when I hear such complaints, I think about my conservative grandfather, who realized he should change his jokes when he began to be told how offensive they could be. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 November)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

"The large majority are over eighty years old": Ueli Maurer and the lives he sees as expendable

In a radio interview today, Swiss Finance Minister and Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) defended the Federal Council's handling of the coronavirus pandemic even in the face of around 1000 deaths in the last two weeks. Regarding the death rate, he said, "the large majority are over eighty years old" ("Der ganz grosse Teil sind über 80-Jährige"). Apparently, Maurer thinks the lives of the elderly are worth less than those of younger people. Given the SVP's positions on foreigner residents of Switzerland, it's unsurprising that he sees some people as effectively expendable, but that doesn't make his positions on the elderly and foreigners any less appalling. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 November)


Friday, November 20, 2020

November 19, the Gettysburg Address, and Lt. Col. Vindman

As Heather Cox Richardson mentioned in her Letter from an American yesterday, the 19th of November was the anniversary of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in 1863. At the end of her Letter, Richardson quoted passages from Lincoln as part of her defense of democracy against the machinations of President Trump. But the 19th of November was also the one-year anniversary of another defender of democracy's testimony to the House of Representatives: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council. As we follow the President's current attack on "government of the people, by the people, and for the people", it's worth remembering that he's been attacking it for a long time. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 November)


Thursday, November 19, 2020

"Veiled / in scaffolding": building buildings and writing poems with Denise Levertov

In the second section of "A Sequence", Denise Levertov considers the presence of scaffolding during construction: "The building veiled / in scaffolding. When the builders leave, / tenants will move in, pervading / cubic space with breath and dreams." Although scaffolding is necessary to build buildings, it "veils" them and has to be removed for  them to become livable spaces for the body ("breath") and the imagination ("dreams"). This would not have struck me as much if it were not for Denise's use of the metaphor of "scaffolding" in her poetry workshops in the 1980s to refer to language that is needed to draft a poem but is then best removed. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 November)

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The pandemic as a problem for producers

As the caption of the xkcd comic "Set in the Present" says (published on 11 November, 2020), "movies and shows that are vaguely set in 'the present' will be awkward for a while." In other words, any realistic narrative set in 2020 will have to address the pandemic, which will probably keep writers and producers from doing so unless the work they are making is actually about it. They would argument that if everyone's wearing masks, then no matter what you want the production to be about, it will be about the pandemic. There will still be works about the pandemic, but there won't be works incidentally set during the pandemic. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 November)


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Words for "Blacks" in "Parking Lot, Too", by Reginald Dwayne Betts

As the Blacks in Reginald Dwayne Betts's "Parking Lot, Too" are made into suspects in multiple ways, the language identifying their race keeps changing. Until line 13, the man leaving the parking lot is called "Black", but then he is identified once as "a Negro" – a perspective on him from a time before "Black Power", say. But the poem immediately shifts to a recent variation on the n-word that creates a more contemporary insider's perspective for most of the rest of the poem, until the direct use of the n-word shifts to the racist perspective of the policial and judicial world of "evidence" implied from the beginning by the word "confession". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 November)


[The poem is quoted in full at the end of my previous post on it, which is linked above.]

Monday, November 16, 2020

Walking out of a parking lot while black: "Parking Lot, Too", by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts's "Parking Lot, Too" spins variations on its opening: "A confession began when I walked out of that parking lot." A confession is a story about a sin or a crime, but this confession begins before there's a story. The first variation adds one word: "A confession began when I walked Black out of that parking lot." The image of someone "walking while Black" connects to racial profiling, and soon he "meets the description of the suspect" – a theme in cases of mistaken identity in police investigations. In the poem's further variations, Blacks are repeatedly made into suspects even in everyday scenes of "walking out of a parking lot." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 November)

[More on the poem in the next post.]


Parking Lot, Too

Reginald Dwayne Betts, Felon, 2019


A confession began when I walked out of that parking lot.

A confession began when I walked Black out of that parking lot.

A confession began when I, without combing my hair, dressed

For a day that would find me walking out of that parking lot.

There is so much to be said of a Black man with unkempt hair:

He meets the description of the suspect; suspect is running.

I ran away think from things far less frightening than the police.

A confession began when I robed myself in black. A confession

Began when I walked out of that parking lot wearing a black

Hoodie. Things get exponentially worse when a hoodie is pulled

Over my unkempt air. A confession began when I walked out

Of that parking lot Black. A confession began when I walked

Out of that parking lot a Negro. A confession begins when

That nigga walked into the parking lot. A confession begins

With that nigga and the pistol he carries like a dick walked

Into that parking lot. A confession begins when everything you

See him doing is seen as sex. A confession begins when

That nigga walked into a parking lot & drove away with everything

Belonging to that white man. A confession begins when

My mother laid up with a man the complexion of that nigga's

Daddy. A confession begins with my mother births a child

In a city close enough to make me & that nigga almost related.

A confession begins when the police perceive us as one. We must

Be one. He could not have walked in & driven out & I walked

In & walked out on the same night & whatever gaps in the story

& slight differences in the features of our faces was just

More evidence that niggers will lie. The confession begins even if

I didn't have the fucking car. A confession begins, my confession

Began, with a woman stitching stars and stripes into a flag.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

"As American as lynch mobs": Jerry Garcia, politics, and The Grateful Dead

In a 1989 interview in "Rolling Stone", Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead was asked by Fred Goodman about the political perspectives of Deadheads: "So do you feel it’s possible for someone to like the Grateful Dead and the Republican party?" Garcia's answer suddenly turns dark: "Yeah. We’re American, too. What we do is as American as lynch mobs." The music of The Grateful Dead emerged from a blend of blues, jazz, bluegrass, country, and rock-and-roll and contributed to the history of American music and culture. But Garcia is honest about that history, which also includes lynch mobs and nuclear weapons (which he sang about in the post-apocalyptic cover "Morning Dew"). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 November)


Saturday, November 14, 2020

"Sympathizing with the bombastic president": Letters from Trump supporters in the LA Times

Today, the Los Angeles Times published letters from Trump supporters. Three justify voting for Trump: a "Christian minister" disregarded Trump's "disturbing character" because he "defends religious liberty and the lives of unborn children"; an African-American investor "almost doubled my net worth"; another "sometimes cringed at Trump's words" but "always understood what he actually meant." The rest are less personal: the paper's "cherrypicking" reporting is "agenda-driven" with its "constant, leftist haranguing"; "elitists" mock Trump voters; "anti-Trumpers [...] make us sympathize with the bombastic president"; the "increasingly leftist" Democratic Party must "rein in its left wing". The Letters editor wanted to "give the other side a hearing", but there are no surprises here. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 November)


Friday, November 13, 2020

What needs annotation in two poems by Frank O'Hara

In a class discussion today of Frank O'Hara's "Poem" about Lana Turner and "The Day Lady Died" about Billie Holiday, my students had no trouble with the line "Lana Turner has collapsed!" – even though none of them had ever heard of Turner. As I'd mentioned that O'Hara was a mid-twentieth-century poet, they all simply assumed she was a celebrity that one might see a tabloid headline about. In contrast, the proliferation of contemporary details in "The Day Lady Died" led us to have to go through the poem as annotators, with my explanations of everything from Paul Verlaine to the New York Post – and, of course, Billie Holiday and Mal Waldron. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 November)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Tiresome similes about adultery on Seth Meyers and other late-night shows in the US

Last night, Seth Meyers discussed Republican calls for "patience": "All they can do is ask for patience. This is like if you came home late from work with lipstick on your collar and your wife asked, 'Are you having an affair?' And you said, 'Look, I can get you a cover story tomorrow, but right now I am dead tired due to some very strenuous extramarital sex.'" This could be funny if it weren't for the tiresome frequency of adultery similes on Meyers's show (and on Stephen Colbert's and Trevor Noah's, too). They're always about a man and "your wife" – and I'm sure I've never heard such similes from Samantha Bee. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 November)


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Unconditional emotional support for Trump

Montana's Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton tweeted to President Trump yesterday: "Tip your hat, bite your lip, and congratulate Joe Biden." While most of the responses are positive,  several are from Trump supporters. One says "Montana will be replacing you" in the next election. Another tweet calls Stapleton a "TRAITOR / RINO": a "Republican in Name Only". For these Trump supporters, then, a Republican must support Trump unconditionally. And one more tweet says that "71,000,000 of us feel otherwise". So that support is a matter of feeling, not thinking. Trump's groundless challenges to the election are less to overturn the results than to foster such unconditional emotional support for him. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 November)

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The familiarity of Victor Shklovsky's defamiliarization

In "Art as Technique" (1917), Victor Shklovksy proposed an understanding of literature in terms of "defamiliarization", in which familiar objects, images, or experiences are presented in such a way that we can see them anew. There's a moral edge to this: we need art to help us properly experience the world outside of our habits. Shklovksy goes on to offer a series of examples from works by Leo Tolstoy, who "uses this technique constantly", and then adds that it "is found almost everywhere form is found." But therein lies the paradox of defamiliarization as a literary "technique": to be effective, defamiliarization itself has to be "constant" and "everywhere" – and hence "familiar". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 November)

Monday, November 09, 2020

Strange and familiar at once: Bhanu Kapil and the langauge of poetry

The title of Bhanu Kapil's "How to Wash a Heart" ends with an unfamiliar collocation: not an often washed part of the body like "hands" or "hair" but "a heart". This turn at the end of the phrase makes it a good title for a poetry collection, but its position as the collection's title also makes it less strange, as such word play is expected in poetry. And when the phrase first appears in the book, it's connected to the world of art by a "curator's question" about what kind of heart it is. This "heart" is thus both strange and familiar at once, as all words become in aesthetic contexts. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 November)


How to wash a heart:

Remove it.

Animal or ice?

The curator's question reveals

Their power style.

If power implies relationship,

Then here we are

At the part where even if something

Goes wrong,

That's exactly how it's meant to be.

Your job is to understand

What the feedback is.

It's such a pleasure to spend time

Outside the house.

There's nowhere to go with this

Except begin:

To plunge my forearms

Into the red ice

That is already melting

In the box.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

More thoughts on the disruption of conventions by Trump, McConnell, and the Republicans

As I discussed yesterday, President Trump consistently ignored the rituals and conventions of politics in the United States. Of course, he could also count on the Republican party to not challenge him on that score – after all, Mitch McConnell had already begun to ignore conventions before Trump's election, at the latest with his refusal to hold hearings on President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Yet now the Republicans are going to denounce Joe Biden and the Democrats whenever they break with conventions, even as McConnell will continue to bring no bills passed by the House of Representatives to the Senate floor while Republicans decry the "do-nothing Democrats." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 November)

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Calling races as another political convention, like concessions

The other day I wrote about how concessions in US political races are a matter of convention, not law. And the media announcements of winners before the results are finalized (like CNN and others calling the presidential race today) are also conventions that have no effect on the results if they ultimately turn out otherwise. But the flip side of such conventions as concessions and the calling of races is that, even if they can be overturned, they become part of the system, the rules by which the game is played. Donald Trump has broken such conventions throughout his political career and presumably isn't going to abide by them now, either. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 November)

Friday, November 06, 2020

Trump should have run for Vice President

Sara and I were just discussing the US election (which she's been following avidly), and she wondered if Trump could run for Vice President in 2024. Of course he could, I answered – but it also made me realize that that would have been the right job for him all along. After all, the Vice President has nothing to do but things that Trump likes to do: give press conferences, make statements, be part of public ceremonies with international dignitaries, and occasionally be in a position to be the one who makes decisions (when the Senate has a tie vote). And that leaves plenty of time for golf, tweeting, and watching television. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 November)

Thursday, November 05, 2020

"Covid, covid, covid" and the "migrant caravan"

In the runup to Election Day in the US on 3 November, President Trump repeatedly complained that all he ever heard was "covid, covid, covid." And he added that the media would stop reporting on the pandemic on 4 November. That is, he saw the reporting as political theater rather than news. Yet in 2018, Trump himself engaged in a sustained performance in the weeks before the mid-term election with his repeated insistence that the "migrant caravan" was heading from Central America north through Mexico to the United States border – and immediately after Election Day, he stopped talking about it. As always, he projects his own patterns of behavior onto others. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 November)

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Forgetting "Spirited Away"

Shortly after the film came out on DVD, my father came to visit me in Basel and gave me a DVD of Hayao Miyazaki's 2001 film "Spirited Away." Unfortunately, I couldn't watch it: my DVD player at the time could not read Zone 1 DVDs from North America. But a few years later, we finally got a DVD player that could read any DVD regardless of its region, and I finally watched it. So I was surprised when I just watched the film again on Netflix at how little I'd actually remembered of the film, except for the basic plot of the story and a few of its most haunting images. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 November)

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Concession as a matter of convention, not law

Like so many things about politics in the United States, the concession by a losing candidate in a race for political office is a matter of convention but not of law. In the 2017 special election for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became President Trump's first Attorney General, Republican Roy Moore never conceded the election and filed an unsuccessful lawsuit alleging voter fraud, but Democrat Doug Jones still took office in January 2018. In the coming days, there will be much talk of who concedes, and when, but we should all keep in mind that concessions are secondary to the actual counting of all the votes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 November)

Monday, November 02, 2020

Utopia, Utah, Atopia, Sandra Simonds

One poem in Atopia, a book-length poem by Sandra Simonds, contains nothing but questions; the first line (which doubles as the title) asks three: "What is Utopia? Is it heaven? Is it Utah?" Even if it is motivated by the repetition of "Ut-" from "Utopia", the sudden surprise of "Utah" makes the third question a joke with an unexpected twist as its punch line: for whom might Utah be a utopia? But what is now Utah was settled by Brigham Young and the Mormons as their own utopia when they reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Given the progressive political themes in Simonds's book, though, this association is surely ironic. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 November)

Sunday, November 01, 2020

A "dread of light" and the temptation of metaphor: John McCullough's "Sungazer"

John McCullough's poem "Sungazer" begins with an eye infection which later runs its course but leaves behind a case of photophobia, a "dread of light." It takes a long time and many attempted treatments until "[a] therapist suggest[s] I gaze at a burning match" for brief periods so that the eyes can gradually adapt to stronger and stronger light. It's tempting to read the process of physical infection, diagnosis, treatments, and remedy as a metaphor for the speaker's mental health, but that's just a side effect, as it were, of the clarity and precision of the poem's storytelling. The poem stands on its own without standing for something else at all. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 November)


John McCullough, Reckless Paper Birds, Penned in the Margins 2019, 46-48


It gathered when I was twenty-four, an infection

from a contact lens. The pink halo around one iris,


my dread of light. A searing bulb had the gaze

of a basilisk. Watching TV was like staring into a volcano;


my eyes boiled in their sockets. Like an arachnophobe,

I knew how many gleams there were in a room,


where they hid. I smothered windows with newspaper.

made my bedroom a dungeon. Let me vanish.


The infection went, the problem stayed. I visited

a local clinic: chin rests slow voices, drops


of fluourescein to stain my corneas. Good news,

announced the doctor: he couldn't find any problems.


This didn't sound good to the thing that wore

sunglasses indoors, that on dates blew out


the restaurant's candles. Bury me in the cellar.

I stopped leaving my room, became obsessed


with those fish that live at the bottom of the ocean

in total darkness, how natural selection breeds change:


sensitivity to the slightest shift in pressure,

jaws with rows of colossal, impossibly curved teeth.


I dreamed of looking in mirrors at my towering fangs,

my wincing eyes enormous, my skin covered


in small, brilliant scales at her to see.

A therapist suggested I gaze at a burning match


for five seconds, build up slowly. I put a time in my diary

each day for watching TV for two minutes.


It felt like counting down to execution. Finish me.

It worked. I was not killed by Anne Robinson


or the nine o'clock news. I ordered table lamps

of every kind, coloured bulbs. I left my dungeon.


Now exist in the realm of light again, I understand

there are times when it is necessary to approach


a blazing house and enter, times when I must open

my eyes wide and let in every quickening flame.