“Periscope (Hart Crane)” by Lauren Eyler


A small one-bedroom house with a foyer, a bathroom and a courtyard. I have called out is anyone here and received no reply. My voice does not echo, even if I try to imagine it doing so.

You would wish me to continue the description of this Zone, of this small one-bedroom house with a foyer, a bathroom and a courtyard. You have never been inside a government-sanctioned area where an individual is allowed, on his/her fourth day of residence, to commit the act of Selbstmord. Why should I evade the listing of nouns with preceding adjectives to describe the room that I sleep in? After all, the government will mail anything that I write and address.

You, like myself, have read descriptions of various Rehabilitation Zones in the Papers. You have photographs that you can pick up and study and place me in. So many have pointed out that description can never be an exact replication. A statement like there are three guns resting atop a blue cooler filled with German liquor can be seen in infinite ways. Even if I were to go into the minutia, you could never imagine even a bullet, the way it takes shape in the house or the way its existence forces the house to mold to it. I am sorry if I have disappointed you.

And after I had finished the description of the Zone that I have refused you, you would want to know how I lived out the three days before I made my decision. I must have wandered around the house or paced or lumbered or shuffled or pranced. I could have listened to music, clocks ticking, records of whales’ songs. I could have smelled eucalyptus, wet dogs, aloe. Perhaps, I lay in the bed on sheets that felt the same as my mother’s touch.

Most of all you want to know why I did it, why I decided to carry this or that out. What does a person you love think before performing a voluntary murder of the self? Again, you can open the Papers and read the various rationalizations like we did as children.

We played, while poring over these letters, Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down. We created seven categories: had become a burden to family/friends, philosophical musing, had exhausted all the reasons to live, boredom, belief that one is a failure, unrequited love and illness, whether physical or mental. After reading each letter, we tore it out of the magazine and placed it in the folder labeled with the reason. Boredom, philosophy, exhaustion and illness received a thumbs up. On the rest, we wrote arguments against the writer’s perception.

The look on my mother’s face when she found them beneath my bed. She forced me to burn them one by one. I placed them in the oven until they withered into a gold that soaked the print from the paper. This is why I no longer wanted to play. Then, I could not admit to you that I had been foolish enough to hide our work in such an obvious place. Moreover, there was a feeling of loss. I would never be able to read them again. In those moments, when desolation overwhelmed me, I would go to the library with a pen and paper and try to recount some of my favorites. I knew I could never do them justice, but, nonetheless, I spent hours in my attempts to reproduce them. When finished I would wad up my musings, lest my mother should find them, and throw them in the garbage before I left.

Later, in a college art class, I was to be reunited with the genre. My professor handed out bits of letters that described the interiors of various Zones and ordered us to create a rendition of what was described. Unfortunately, at that time, I was a realist. My paintings lacked imagination, but, now, I believe that my realist period led me to my current abstract ways. Thankfully, I had a professor that was willing to indulge me.

How does a dilettante begin an artistic practice: by imagining that they are worthy of doing so. With the letters we read, with the letters I’d written engraved in my blood, I picked up a paintbrush and palette and began to place reality on the page. With the truth of the world embedded in my mind, I felt competent in rendering these scenes.

I cannot recreate the paintings with words. I cannot reproduce colors on a page. I go as far as saying I created a color that looked like that of single malt whiskey, or going farther, still I could say that the end result was more the color of a single malt whiskey’s residue. What does that mean? Again, I see the same problem of the bullets arising. This makes me too tired. I can search high and low, but I will never make you understand the color of single malt whiskey. And if I were to place a myriad of colors on the page with such specificity, your mind would run over them and only see what you wanted. You wouldn’t take the time to consider Grand Hotel Awning, Lost Atlantis, Roasted Pine. For that matter, if I were in your place, neither would I.

The paintings no longer exist. They were a cycle of three, one painted atop the other. Although I won’t discuss my composition, I will leave the pieces of the letters that I memorized to assist in my artistic endeavors. Perhaps this is the last gift I can give you, the words of others.

They let me in here and took all my smokes. Not one in the bastard house and they knew I was a smoker. Out in the courtyard I dug holes. Hole after hole. Not one goddamn cigarette. I’ve got twelve hours left until I can pull the trigger. But fuck me. Where’s my last request?

Then there’s these guys. Two days ago they just showed up out of no-where. Four guys, on bikes. They were wearing these goofy goggles that went back to god knows how long. Their shirts said JB and Louvet. All of ‘em were smoking. When one of ‘em finished a cigarette, one of his pals would light him another. Once the cigarette was lit and in place, the guy with the new cigarette would say Merci, Merci

I thought these guys would help me out if I said s’il vous plait so I walked over and started repeating it and they kept saying thank you, thank you and me please, please. No one of’em stopped, so I threw myself at ‘em and slammed into an invisible wall. I smashed into the pavement, but I kept at it. Not one of ‘em slowed down.

Now I can’t drink the gin and tonics in my room. I can’t drink them without cigarettes. I’m bloody, bleeding on the sheets, the concrete porch ripped me up. I look out the window of my room and see those guys pedaling with their cigarettes and infinite thank yous and damn it. DAMN IT. I know laying here that it’s the only thing I’ll see out of any of the windows. They come and don’t go.

You know I came to get away from your alligators. Anywhere there is water in the house you have planted their eggs. Four beady eyes in the toilet bowls. One full-grown in the bathtub. It was the coffee pot that drove me to this place. Every morning I’d go to make coffee. Every morning I’d find eggs in the pot. I’d watch them while they broke their shells with their egg teeth. For a while, I could watch because I love you. Then, the days came when I couldn’t.

During those days, I dreamt of caffeine. I dreamt of cold showers for heat rash. I dreamt of unoccupied water glasses or an empty ice cube tray. You managed to turn even the trays into swamps.

By that point, I couldn’t drink anything anymore. I avoided the refrigerator at work. I shoved my cart past the rows of liquid at the grocery store. Water fountains were things to fear. The pipes in the walls, in the ceilings could burst.

When I arrived at the RZ, I wasn’t afraid. In a note on the table, they assured me that the house was alligator free. They said drink and I did.

They’d stocked the house with coffee pots, ice trays and bathtubs. I drank water cooled by ice. I haven’t done this since I moved in with you. I haven’t touched water. I have not swallowed water. I was surprised in all that time that I still had tears to cry and I wasted the water I had to spill on you.

After drinking my fill of water, after rubbing ice cubes down my arms to my hands, down my legs to my knees, I went outside. An Olympic-sized pool. Over our two years together, I’d forgotten about swimming pools. I’d forgotten my trip to the Olympic trials. I’d misplaced my bronze medal in the move. When I remembered these things, I thanked them for putting the pool here. I said a little prayer to them.

It was the same pool from Barcelona. The lanes sectioned off by metal with buoyant pieces of plastic, red, yellow, blue. But in the lanes, I saw the bumps, the cretinous scabs, the arch that surrounded their heinous eyes.

The alligators are doing laps. I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes and they’ve completed two. All of the lanes are occupied. I hope they die from the chlorine before they kill me.

I know I’ve seen them on TV. The host raises the authors from the dead. The authors kill themselves all over again. Well here, it’s a live action show that never stops.

Hart Crane jumps into the ocean saying “Goodbye, everybody.” Along side him, John Berrymen hits the west bank of the Mississippi and drowns in mud. David Foster Wallace strings himself up. Kane joins him. Plath opens the oven. Sexton starts her car. Hemingway shoots his favorite shotgun.

There is beauty. They go all at once, they jump, swing, slit, asphyxiate and they do it again and again and again, but I am wasting time with this. I am wasting the novel. This is just a letter. It is addressed to no one. It will go where I go wherever that is.

An egg tooth, Sexton’s suicide, bicyclers say thank you. But, you won’t see those paintings now. I slashed the canvas and moved on. I recognized the need to paint the magical: patio furniture, trees, Jesus on the cross. You can imagine all of these things. The strength of magic, an exhale into the cold.

I know I have left you wanting. You will crawl in and out of the Kübler-Ross model. You are howling and demanding me to start over, redraft, add this and that and perhaps take something or another out. Make it clear. Be kind to you. Give you access to my motivation. You want me to say it’s not your fault, but you wouldn’t believe me. Either way you’ll sit with your lips stuck to a martini glass and drowned yourself every day. Or maybe that’s projection, writing what I would have done. What I did do when my wife died. I don’t know. You’ve been watching all this time since the day of her funeral.

You want me to conjure the Christ Jesus as you have been doing for so many years. You want me to imagine that he can save me. But, by now, this is an unnecessary wish. I am already dead. Take comfort that you can still imagine and demand.

This is the last bit of palaver that I have for you. Where is this going? Why did I write you nothing and throw in pieces of stories that DO NOT belong to me. I can sleep a bit easier tonight because I know that when you see an alligator swimming in the public pools, or bicyclers or cigarettes or a rerun of the suicide mini-series, or come across a Sexton poem you will not see those things. You will see only me. The signified.


EylerLauren Eyler is from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. She has been published in The Saint Anne’s Review, Bluestem, Waccamaw, and other journals. She has work forthcoming in The Meadow and The Rumpus. She was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes in 2012.