same as it ever was (talking heads)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Stuart Dybek: A spotlight

About three years ago, I took a creative writing class. Not to bore anyone but it really sparked an interest in reading that I had not possessed before the class. I was introduced to the likes of Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff and Stuart Dybek. I read a short story by Dybek called "Pet Milk" which is still to this day my favorite short story of all-time (which I will reprint here one day). Today, I'd like spotlight a short story called "Silhouettes" which appears in Dybek's short story collection 'The Coast Of Chicago'. If you don't like this type of thing, I'd stop reading here.

The alley became a river in the rain - a river with currents of clattering cans and a floe of cardboard. The boy would wake to the headlights of lightning spraying the walls of his small room, and lie listening to the single note of drops pinging the metal hood of a blue bulb that glowed above a garage door. Finally, he'd go to the window and look down. The blue bulb gave the rain a bluish gleam. Rotted drainpipes gushed like dislocated fountains. Flooded tar roofs seemed to tilt, spilling waterfalls through sluices of fire escape.

At the mouth of the alley, a streetlight swirled, slowly disappearing down the whirlpool of a sewer. And beyond the aura of the streetlight, on a street whose name and numbers had been washed away, shadows moved aimlessly through rain. Tonight, they had their collars raised. He could catch glimpses of them passing by the mouth of the alley. Even when he couldn't see them, he could sense their presence: shapes that he'd named silhouettes, shadows that threw shadows, that inhabited the hourless times of night stolen from dreams when it seemed to the boy as if he'd been summoned awake only to lie there wondering for what reason he'd been summoned. He couldn't remember when he'd become aware of their presence, or when he first thought of them as anything else - not ghosts, or spirits. Silhouettes were enough to haunt him.

Others had known their own names for shadows. Downstairs the Ukrainian kid who practiced the violin slept with his arms extended in the shape of a cross to ward off the dead. Across the alley, in a basement flat, a Puerto Rican girl prayed as if begging before a vigil candle flickering the picture of the Virgin on her bureau, and sometimes the smell of coal furnace behind the grate that opened on purgatory would fade into a faint scent of roses. There were guys who carried knives taped inside their socks to school, who still slept at the edges of their beds in order to leave their room for their guardian angels. There were girls who wore mascara like a mask, who swore they'd seen Nina, the beautiful high school girl who had plunged from a roof one summer night. Nina had sneaked out that night to meet her boyfriend, Choco, a kid who played the conga and had gone AWOL to see her. Choco, his conga drum strapped over his shoulder, had led her up a fire escape to the roof where he slept on an old mattress. They took angle dust, which made the moon seem near enough to step onto from the roof. The girls said that on moonlit nights music would wake them - a song whose beat they all recognized, though none of them could hum back its melody - and they would see a fantasma, Nina, her hair flying and blouse billowing open, falling past their windows, but falling so slowly that it seemed as if it might take forever for her to hit the street.

And there were apparitions in broad daylight: the mute knifesharpener pushing his screeching whetstone up alleys; the peddlers with clothesline whips flicking blinded horses as their wagons rumbled by tottering under jumbled loads of uprooted cellars and toppled attics; the hunchbacked woman who walked bent from the waist as if doubled over by the weight of the lifetime's length of filthy, gray hair that streamed from her bowed head and swept the pavement before her.

They seemed part of the streets. If anyone noticed, it was only to glance away, but the boy secretly regarded them as if he were witnessing refugees from a cruel fairy tale groping their way through the ordinary world. He wondered where they disappeared to, where they slept at night, and what they dreamed.

Besides the daytime apparitions, the silhouettes seemed nearly invisible, camouflaged by night, shadows who'd broken their connections to whatever had thrown them, and now wondered free, like dreams escaped from dreamers. They emerged from viaducts on nights when viaducts exhaled fog and manhole covers steamed. Where they stood in dripping doorways, they made the doorways darker. When they stepped into the open - shadows, but shadows no longer supported by walls or trailed along pavement - the rain, slanting through the glow of streetlight and shop signs, beaded off them like molten electricity. Oncoming headlights bent around them; flashed of lightning traced their outlines. The boy could sense them moving along the street and wondered if tonight was the night for which he'd been summoned awake, when the silhouettes would finally come up the alley, past the guardian streetlight now swirling and sinking, and assemble below his window, looking up as his face pressed against the spattered pane, their eyes and mouths opened onto darkness like the centers of guitars.

Love, it's such a night, laced with running water, irreparable, riddled with a million leaks. A night shaped like a shadow thrown by your absence. Every crack trickles, every overhang drips. The screech of nighthawks has been replaced by the splash of rain. The rain falls from the height of streetlights. Each drop contains its own shattering blue bulb.


Blogger Satisfied '75 said...

I'm glad you finally learned to read, man. Illiterate at 25 was wack.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005 10:41:00 PM

Blogger cgpop said...

so many near accidents, with me not being able to read stop signs and all.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005 8:57:00 AM

Blogger The Captain of the Ship said...

ah, raymond carver is my favorite and it's rather hard to pick my favorite piece of his...but one of them is one of the better love poems ever. (i feel like my categorizing this as a love poem and the fact that i think it is one of the best love poems probably explains a lot). Oh well...

An Afternoon

As he writes, without looking at the sea,
he feels the tip of his pen begin to tremble.
The tide is going out across the shingle.
But it isn't that. No,
it's because at that moment she chooses
to walk into the room without any clothes on.
Drowsy, not even sure where she is
for a moment. She waves the hair from her forehead.
Sits on the toilet with her eyes closed,
head down. Legs sprawled. He sees her
through the doorway. Maybe
she's remembering what happened that morning.
For after a time, she opens one eye and looks at him.
And sweetly smiles.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005 5:52:00 PM

Blogger Scrubby Nub and The Bothered Brigade said...

I'm not going to lie, dude, I didn't read the whole thing. People started moving around behid me at work. Paranoia kicked in. I closed the page. I liked the first five sentences though.
(I'll finish reading it later and say something this)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005 7:01:00 PM

Blogger cgpop said...

It would definitely not do anyone any good to be caught reading this at work. I want no one reprimanded on my watch. Carver rules.

Thursday, November 10, 2005 1:07:00 AM

Blogger inuit said...

Interesting blog about i love you poetry, keep up the good work i love you poetry

Thursday, August 17, 2006 4:40:00 PM

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