Vignettes of Light Distilled

  1. I knew I had reached Illinois as I got closer and began to make out the towering flames. Nothing seemed unusual. The outer boroughs of Chicago, an anonymous tractor trailer ablaze, a man stands perplexed a few feet from the event, the night is dark. I make out his form, light casts orange on a face I’ve chosen to forget, which bore a weight I saw as familiar. Me and my car bearing witnesses to the scene, I drive by, no hesitation, feeling more at home than I did displaced. Displacement, at some point, becomes an ongoing condition. And a fire this large seems to fulfill some requirement for catastrophe.
  2. “Light— not bright, but deep. No beams, light like heat, enclosed, a roomful like a mouthful of light.” *
  3. Belly on the ground, legs splayed, like an episode of Cops. His hands gripped firmly onto the nape of my neck, nothing sexual. From here I can see the dust collecting under the refrigerator from years of neglect. This room is desirable, for its sought after location in the arts district of East Pilson, with its low rent of $550 a month and access to major train lines.
  4. My mother said: “physical wounds heal cleaner than emotional wounds.” She would know being a recipient of both kinds. One day driving home from church, I sat in the back corner of our packed minivan, feeling the limits of my body as it pressed against my siblings, sweaty and uncomfortable, crammed in next to me. My mom decided it was a good moment to announce her previous marriage, to a horrible someone, his name was Fred and that’s all she could say. For years I named all the bad news “Fred.” Every villain. Every invasion. Every horrible event was Fred’s doing. Was he in that minivan with me, sun beaming through the plexiglass windows, squirming around to find a comfortable position, his legs entangling with my brother’s, breathing in the stale, worn-out air? Was it his hands who held me, one hand on the nape of my neck, dunking me underwater in the lukewarm bath on Sunday morning, the congregation all eyes, my T-shirt now heavy and soaked: “Raised to walk again with new life.” It all felt familiar.
  5. The Great Chicago Fire burned for three days before extinguished by some unknown cause. They suspect it was rain, or maybe it just ran its course.  Among the ruins, ash and iron, a man who claims, “ she just drove on by, no hesitation.”
  6. Light—not mine, but deep. No beams, light like seeds, laboring, a wombful like a bellyful of light.
  7. He loves me despite the scars, my mother explaines to me the differences between good and bad men one day by the water, unaware I was in love with a women at the time. We pour thick lotion to cover our bodies. Her body, scar tissue. Her skin becomes tight when graphed from the thigh to replace what’s missing. Contracture; a species of neglect. A fire that wouldn’t fucking stop. And she blames her mother when it was her father who left the pilot light on.
  8. Is there a type of unreflective light? That’s absorbed, muted, undialectical, unproductive. One that contains no atoms and thus can reflect nothing. I imagine my body dethawing, windows open, the breeze runs down the trash-laden alleyway and into this room rubbing across my cheek. The sun which appears just over the fence, shining into this room at 8:02am, finds its home in my body, this vessel, contained. You’re here. You’re going nowhere. Quiet now.


*Sharon Olds, “First Memory”


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