JUST TRY TO THINK OUTSIDE THE HOUSE
Nighttime kingdom of porches, the passive cast
of radial light a staging ground for open secrets.
As if shelter wasn’t a pretense, just another form
of exposure, the feature passing itself as bug.
Speaking of which, there are plenty of those—
the kind that bring the drama, stroking air with last-
ditch flares of light from the spectrum’s colder end.
Lightning, living fire: I’m on the same wavelength.
But what I really want to say has nothing to do
with features common to nature and poetry—
it’s something about boundaries, how the over-
share is a quality of space, property belonging
to the commons. Believe me, I’d know: the truth
is I’ll give anything away if I think it will keep
a conversation going. You see I let all my talking
do the talking for me. But that’s only in practice;
according to principle, I’m contained. How true
is anyone to form? I’m bound to ask, having often
fantasized that I’m descended from a long line
of thought bubbles. Let’s go back. This time,
picture the porch as a press conference all set
up to radiate public denial, allowing passive
voice to shelter in place as statements made
turn, predictably, to what is in the speaker’s
heart as a value of truth. All content is familiar
with the container it inhabits. I’m trying to make
room. What condition of living was ever private.
When it was called sensory deprivation it caused
subjects to hallucinate. In the 70s it was renamed
Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy,
aka REST, by a man who didn’t die as a boy only
because he was blonde and took a new name
and sheltered with nuns and traded in his stars
for a sign he could trace on his chest to say
it was holy and new. And he was blessed
in the name of the father who wasn’t his father
in a camp, blessed in the name of the ghost
who wasn’t his mother who was dead by then
though the boy didn’t know it, wouldn’t be
sure for years. The pretending worked. This is
how the boy was saved. And when so many
bombs fell that even the nuns had no safety
to give away, the boy belonged to the city
and to the world underground where he kept
himself small in the dark. The ruin was a kind
of weather. It went on for weeks. And even
when it was over and the cellars opened and
the boy was let into good light and his father
found him and they moved to a country far
away so each thing they saw would be called
something new, even then it was still going on—
the way the boy just kept living. He grew up.
There was work to do: trials, subjects, pursuing
truth. He studied what happens when the world
is small and gives less of itself than a person
might typically want. He got his answer: it could
be a good thing, a blessing, and because he
was right, he got to name it. Hence REST. So,
that’s why I’m here in a plastic box that isn’t
a coffin because we’re calling it a pod,
REST-ing in water thick and salt-choked
and warmed to a human degree to make me
lose touch with where, exactly, I begin. The idea
is to not distinguish myself. Even I know loss
of perspective has its own vantage. I’ve never
been deprived. Not even now with the dark so
close and forming its own impressions of me.
Typically, I give less of myself than I want.
My senses are total suckers, lighting up no
matter how little there is to go on. I take and I
take what I get. What are we calling it these days—
the one where you’re so close to the surface
it feels like burial. Belonging to a city you ruined
all by yourself. The graceless sentence packed
down your throat and shining like dirt.
For a while, I was very into making
these portraits of roads being abused
by multiple vanishing points. They all
started out the same—with the origin
of departure implied out of frame, just
behind the inevitable you I imagined
looking at the page. As if the whole
scene began wherever you’d just been,
and the past might belong on an easy
plane where lines are drawn from one
point to the next. That was the idea.
Then, in practice, it was only a matter
of letting each angle have its way until
the view was in no condition to show
anything going forward or straight.
Fair to say results were mixed or ugly
may be the word, but I hold the method
was artful, in its way. Looking back, I see
the whole phase as me trying my hand
at this perennial doozy: What do we owe
to those who do not exist? Seems like a no-
brainer until you think how quick
the living are to serve the dead, how
faithfully we execute the wills of those
whose right to dictate what goes
down in living hours should maybe
have expired. See, there’s precedent—
for the bulk of what’s left out, the non-
or not-yet thing holding sway, throwing
its weight around, like, what a drag.
And for an omission as a spell you might
fall under. And for the smallness I let mewl
and shudder in the ditch that every road
gives rise to, lost in that pernicious shadow,
belonging to a view I’ve never even seen.
Clearly I’ve considered it: the road not
drawn, bed un-made, the one thing never
in the picture. A place I might lie still.
Suzannah Showler is the author of two collections of poetry and a book of cultural criticism about The Bachelor franchise. She currently lives on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded land of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. Her debut novel, Quality Time, will be published in 2023.