Hello, dear Reader, and welcome to issue eight of Distance Yearning!
This week I asked artists to consider the somewhat meta concept of genius, particularly the ancient sense of the word: a capricious entity that exists outside of one’s self (and yet is trapped inside along with us,) specific to people, places, and things. Fun Fact: I first heard the term defined this way in an Elizabeth Gilbert Ted Talk. Are you gagged? I also made some allusions to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland this week, because...
...it’s Gemini season! A time of curiosity, chaos, communication, duality, wit, and whimsy. My ascendant is in Gemini and, much like my various unfinished Spotify playlists, I have organized the works in this issue intuitively rather than alphabetically.
The variety and intersection of form in this week’s issue is delightful! A heartfelt thank you to everyone who submitted, particularly first timer’s Cyrus Eosphoros, Nicole Orabona, Brian Reager, Alex Sarrigeorgiou, and KD Sims. A decorous curtsy to Mike Fracentese for gracing me with the title of Guest Editor.
Be sure to check social media for next week’s prompt. And now, without further ado, I present to you this week’s theme:
A little genius lives inside your walls. Or have the walls just started talking back to you? I'll just see what this bottle does. The world outside is off limits; your muse contorts herself to fill the confines of your home. Before she had drunk half the bottle, she found her head pressing against the ceiling. Your roommate Agnes looks like a saint when she falls asleep on the couch; you write down everything (literally everything) your common-law husband Brian says. I do wish I hadn't drunk quite so much!
I hope you will delight in the story that all of these stories tell together and, Gentle Reader, I hope you will keep communicating with your Genius!
With Glee and Gratitude,
Maria Picone: “The Silverfish is Going Places” + two sketches
It scurries along the line between wall and ceiling, careful not to overstep. It traverses countless shimmers, which is how it reckons distance. It is surging like a wave that crests atop the broken jaggedness of our textured walls. Its legs jet like a galloping cat. It calls itself ‘silverfish,’ but its body is chestnut brown. The alien lines of its carapace intersect and shake like a subway going around a curve. Those antennae map out the future a millisecond before it is experienced, a ripe opening. Its focus is on the horizon, to where another silverfish hangs, suspended.
The silverfish cannot be sure that the other silverfish is alive or dead. It sustains itself on its own uncertainty. Still, as it creeps forward to disturb the other’s rest, it finds its legs pumping faster. The other could be a boon companion. A food source. An illusion. For this it left the void space, to ease its isolation.
Nicole Orabona: a poem
I had to get outside
and cry on the patio.
Because it’s May 17.
And the cottage cheese expires
But I don’t know of any other state
to exist in
Nicole Orabona (she/her/hers) has been fighting off existential dread on Cape Cod for 70 days. She copes by playing with her cat, baking challah, rewashing plastic bags for reuse, and watering dying vegetables. Follow her on IG at @knuckle_sando.
Cyrus Eosphoros: “the light in the walls”
You always, even now, have to take a moment when you set the votive candle down and open your eyes again. Not because any suspension of disbelief is relevant in any way to what you see after, once you’ve opened your eyes; rather the opposite, and it’s the knowing exactly what you’re looking at which gives you pause.
Someday, you expect, you’ll be able to make that transition with both eyes wide open. You know that from at least second-hand experience — you know what your predecessors achieved, even if you can’t equal it, not yet. You have time. You know you have time.
The first step, the one you’d been told to struggle with, is knowing what you’re seeing, understanding of consensus reality beyond merely your own expectations. This part was effortless. Trusting yourself is hard, and, in your previous experience at least, high risk and low reward. You’ve found it more than a little unfortunate that it’s what’s now being asked of you: to understand so deeply what other people care about, what other people see, deeply enough to know how to simply and fully ignore it.
That one, that one’s hard. You have, you have had, so much information about the world in which other people live; enough to navigate it, as if through their eyes, almost seamlessly. Enough to speak to them in their language and to be understood, almost seamlessly. (Almost.)
What do you have beyond that, outside of it? Without your knowledge of others, what you’ve used your life until now to learn, what’s next? What’s left?
You don’t know. And you can hardly ask anyone — no matter how similar or otherwise sympathetic — to just look in and tell you. If nothing else, you’ve realized by now that you can’t tell if they’re right, either, until you’ve done the hard part anyway.
(You are not good at being a person, you complain. Not for the first time. It makes you profoundly uncomfortable, and all for something you still don’t know how to take away.)
It is simultaneously easier and harder, at home. Easier with how well the house something like you once built lends itself to this understanding, beyond — much as you love your library with every way you know — far beyond pure physical resource. The need that drives you now has leached into the walls, determines the angles at which light’s scattered through the windows, makes the textures of the floor agreeable to your feet, and it is good to know the precedent that stretches before you, this intimate awareness that people have done things because of reasons and made them work besides. All that feels good. But harder for how you’re alone with it; it’s still much too often that you feel like this might choke you.
You’d like it better if you weren’t alone, you think — you know. You’d like a handful of human voices, or even one, or two, which you can’t predict perfectly and didn’t start on your own. You’d like — and this is pure fancy even compared to the rest — you’d like someone to take the flat candle from your cupped hands, still lit, and tell you what they see.
You blow it out.
(And the thought with it? The thought with it — more or less.)
It wasn’t agreed that you would get the house, exactly. It wasn’t agreed at all. Certainly you did not choose this; and probably wouldn’t have chosen it, either, if it were the sort of thing you choose. But too much would have to be different to make that true for you to bother much in imagining it; it’s the kind of unknown that’s all blank and curdled frustration, not the kind where such as you can luxuriate in the contours of it.
There are many things not left to choice, not decided for you but simply impossible to decide; starting with being born on a burning world and as a machine that breathes oxygen, which rusts, and progressing from there. All questions need a cap somewhere or you’ll just keep falling. An advantage to talking to yourself is that no one else needs to have an opinion on where that limit’s set. A disadvantage of being what does the talking, your particular work in progress, is that other people get an opinion anyway in practice.
It starts in your chest and it’s down to your feet when you’re good, when you earn it. Your family has never owned a metronome. If you’ve opened your mouth the metronome is you. It wouldn’t have occurred to you to question that constraint. If someone else questioned it your answer would be yes. You don’t mind it.
Your friends — you do have those — your friends think your house is haunted. Someday, when the world is different, you’ve offered to let them see and put that to the test; it’s a big enough house. Until then, you practice using what they think; a hard experiment what with knowing it’s wrong. But that’s rather the point.
You do more mundane sorts of chores as well, of course. It’s something else you’d like company for, a bit less sentimentally. It’s a big house.
The world as it appears to be must be understood before it can be understood to be wrong; you know this, you know this, on rare occasions you lose your temper and hiss it at the hollow walls. Being born as empty as you were is an asset until it’s not; you didn’t have to drain yourself the way people talk of feeling like death and dying, just spread your arms and go. But you don’t know how one goes about being anything else, either, and the experience seems to have helped others.
What you know how to do is rules. So you clean on a schedule, because you don’t like it; you light the candles just when you should, because you do. You read a lot, which is just non-negotiable, and you try not to let those friends you still do have get too far away from you, because it’s easy to do otherwise.
You lose your temper — it’s always been a problem, to the point where part of you finds it comforting, treats your well-known flaws like an old fraying coat — and sometimes it even takes you a while to find it again. There’s never any real risk, but you have your schedules, and it’s a big house.
You light the candles you know you should.
You close your eyes. You wait, at intervals, for the walls to answer back what questions you haven’t asked.
You are patient. That you do know how.
It’s easier to take the unintuitive when you’ve never had an intuition of your own in the first place; then it’s just practice, and you’re good at practice. You have practice with matches, with waiting, with loneliness. You’re growing practiced with this; you know your way around by touch, and don’t struggle to clean the one window that squeaks anymore — that sort of thing. You will have been building an understanding over time, from some viewpoint in your future, no matter what it feels like now.
You light the candles; you close your eyes.
You’ll find out.
Cyrus is working to strip his handwriting of post-1888 influences. He is @chrysopoetics on Twitter.
KD Sims: “Tunnel Vision”, “Teething”, “breathe at the /”
Meeting you, I –
length of hand
mark six beats
it takes getting
index tip to end
the vein pop wrist
nails fresh bit
skin pulp ripped
‘round the beds
suck thumb to
stop raw wet red)
– what they’d
feel like and
tastes of scratch membrane. Pennied.
Of warm air’s suddenness.
Of slippery-cheeked interiors I’ll chew to
keep still til the sound impales – lapping at
the clip of the vulgar ceiling fan.
Of my salivary glands hyper producing so I might
leave as much wet as can fit in your
mouth without capsize –
already liquored up with
memory of moan.
Of muscled lick on blades dressed in marks left by birth
Of self-possessed side grin wrecked by eventual gush.
Of your affable front teeth that make me hard just by looking.
I like the way they protrude.
breathe at the /
I make myself come / limbs go / slack / laden
with buzz of 17-year cicadas / or perhaps / crickets rubbing their forewings to
find a female / no / it’s TV static getting hard in a jello mold shaped like a
peach that was eaten pit first / my blood / reluctant / pumps elsewhere in the
body again / involuntarily / I mouth melody that’s / flitted down from our
water-stained ceiling / notes fist my throat / pooling drool for the next hand
of mm-hmm yes / idle thoughts play deaf
KD (she/her) is a recent NY transplant eager to learn the rhythms of the city, but is sheltering in place in Bushwick with her anxiety and her vibrator for the foreseeable future. She lives at the intersection of high & lowbrow subject matter. She writes queer smut with the intention of helping people get off, either partnered or solo, and to power bottom male gaze into submission.
Brian Reager: three photos
Brian Reager is passing the time in quarantine falling in love with his friends all over again. He can usually be found at the cell where he’s the Associate Director but right now you can find him lying horizontal in his apartment.
Richard LeDue: “Polite Enough to Die Alone”, “Sleeping With the Lights On”
Polite Enough to Die Alone
The silence of walls is the only comforting voice
for him, when he's tired
of listening to the news,
needs to lay down, stare a a ceiling
that watches him snoring,
without judging the dreams he's forgotten.
The mornings an inch closer to a death
he'd rather not talk about.
His grey hair screams the reason he's scared,
while sore throat whispers things he'd rather not hear.
Paint chipped, faded more each year,
his promise to repaint the room
now another lie that helps him sleep
through the sound of empty streets, neighbours
who run inside with grocery bags,
his windows closed as he coughs,
so no one will panic-
his quiet house all he has left.
Sleeping With the Lights On
The walls collaborate with the silence
in between every cough turned
into claps of thunder,
flickering lamp in the corner
the only lightning;
desperate for a new bulb
(a package bought three weeks ago
just before the symptoms started),
but there's no Zeus
aiming the bolt to right a wrong
or express his divine rage,
only an electric bill overdue.
Richard LeDue was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, but currently lives in Norway House, Manitoba with his wife and son. His poems have appeared in various publications throughout 2019, and more work is forthcoming throughout 2020, including a chapbook from Kelsey Books.
Collin Knopp-Schwyn: “Crucigram”
Collin Knopp-Schwyn can be found at home.
Rachel Tanner: “The Girl Who Stayed, The Girl Who Left”
CW: domestic violence
Okay. So we’re trapped. That’s fine. We’ve been practicing
this for years, swerving ourselves in and out of relationships
and situations that held us down, held us back, held us
at actual gunpoint that night he ached us fully open and
threw our phone out the window so we couldn’t call for help.
You know why this is happening he said. You know what you did.
And the thing was we did know we did understand we did
overcook the lasagna we did not fold the laundry right
and when he said he can’t wait to kill us so he could
finally date someone hot, you know what?
He sort of had a point, didn’t he? He did. Didn’t he? It’s just
the flashbacks are so vivid when we’re not allowed outside
and our dreams have shifted to something less than nightmares,
something more like movies of necklaced hands decorating
the throats of girls too sorry, too weak, too broken,
and that goddamn kitchen wall with no art on it
so it was adequate for slamming bodies against when
he wanted to cause little to no bruising because
picture frames against a body leave marks, leave proof.
If we could just hold it the fuck together for a few days in a row,
stop remembering the place on his ear we’d have to stare at
while he was yelling because the consequences were worse
if we shut our eyes, maybe some light would seep in through
the constant image in our heads of how his body and his rage
always blocked the front door perfectly, almost beautifully.
It’s time for us to take his anger
and peel it backwards until it screams.
The danger doesn’t exist now.
The danger doesn’t exist.
Rachel Tanner tweets @rickit.
Alex Sarrigeorgiou: “Pantoum for the Pandemic”, “Crush”
Pantoum for the Pandemic
In the absence of crowds,
something coos, something lingers.
It smells like bourbon on ice in the aftermath,
after a certain hour.
Something coos, something lingers,
something I swear expands
in this uncertain hour,
the way a stranger’s voice comes carrying
something, I swear, expansive.
Here, each day rolls heavy, unfamiliar;
the way a stranger’s voice comes carrying
a new distortion of kindness.
So each day rolls. Heavy and unfamiliar,
singing on outstretched balconies
our new distortion of kindness,
we circle the rest of history.
Singing! On outstretched balconies,
in the absence of crowds,
we circle the rest of history.
It smells like bourbon on ice in the aftermath.
Look, I’m not saying
doing the dishes
should be extraordinary —
the water swirling in slippery circles,
your hands sudsy soft and smelling
of oranges — enough.
Sometimes a dish is a dish
and you’d rather be anywhere else.
You have a crush and it’s going nowhere.
Just thinking of her hands makes you tired.
Of course desire is unnecessary, so is
the mask you’re wearing.
We could toss the words back and forth
all night long and never get
to the bottom of it.
A mask is a mask.
Are you hungry?
This poem is refusing
to write itself.
Alex Sarrigeorgiou (she/her) is an actor, writer and filmmaker based in New York City. Her coping mechanisms include baking scones and gently misting her plants every morning. You can find more of her work on her website (alexsarrigeorgiou.com) or find her on Instagram (@alexsarrigeorgiou).
Hannah Gadbois: two collages
Hannah normally lives and works in Rhode Island. As a server during a restaurant shutdown, she just lives there.