“Complete Darkness,” “The Light in a Corner Tavern” and “The Deep”

“Complete Darkness,” “The Light in a Corner Tavern” and “The Deep”

“Complete Darkness,” “The Light in a Corner Tavern” and “The Deep”

Complete Darkness

In the summer of 1998 I was a lantern-

fish,    no

I mean waitress,

but all the same

            the water was freezing cold

            and the pressure was pulverizing.

            yet (animals) somehow survive in this most extreme environment

which was the Mucky Duck Shanty (bar and grill)

            we wore yellow or blue polo shirts with a duck on them,

            Big fish tank when you walked in, I was so bad

                                       at the job,

because of lack of experience, no not really, it was the “clinical depression” I think

The first challenge

animals encounter as they move deeper

                                                                             is the complete darkness. 

            I never spoke      to the other staff members      because

            I didn’t understand how or why one might do such a thing

 Some deep-sea fishes, like the stout black smelt , have giant eyes

                                                                     to capture the faintest glimmers.

            I even fucked up the sweeping–

I would sweep every straw wrapper and crouton

    into the dustpan individually and the boss

            had to tell me, “ya know, you could just sweep everything into a little pile then sweep

that whole pile into the dustpan.”

 I mean, Christ,              I knew that.                       but I was underwater

                    and the extreme pressure between the sea floor and the surface

                 make the creature’s survival               on the surface near impossible

The bartender kept raising his eyebrows when my dad came in

 and ordered glasses and glasses of wine:

            Some have giant eyes to capture the faintest glimmers Others have abandoned vision

There was a soup called tomato potato cheddar and beer

(which I always thought was a great name).

If I ever reach the surface I will tell the owner

how much I admire her and her soup

 and we will laugh together

    and make eye contact in the light.

The Light in a Corner Tavern

   is otherworldly at 4 p.m.,

especially when you’re a kid

  and the world is so vast:

         the K &R Saloon glittering

    like Versailles, big enough for a pool table

and a pinball machine,

   leaded glass windows looming.

      My dad and I would stop in after school

 and he’d lift me up to taxidermied buffalo head

 secured to the wall so I could pull his

    scraggly beard for luck.

Ma Bell’s on South 12th was smaller,

    just Ms. Pac-Man

 and a cigarette machine.

And the dartboards, of course–

        Mom shot darts once a week,

said she wasn’t great at hitting bullseye’s

    but always got the triple 20s.

     Daddy tended bar a few nights

a week and ran the football pool.

Nighttimes were magic–the glow

 of the lights behind the liquor bottles,

      men slamming heavy cups

   of dice onto the bar. The Mills Brothers.

Conway Twitty. Haze of cigarette smoke.

I liked to sit at the bar to drink Coke

 out of a pilsner glass, looking

        at the dirty dollar bills stapled

to the wall, wondering why

   we couldn’t spend them–so much money!!

The bar stools covered in duct tape,

         perfect for spinning until you got sick.

But the popcorn machine was a fraud:

   it didn’t pop anything.

It was just a glass box,

   faded red stripes on the sides

and a lightbulb–

just reheated the stale stuff

      from the giant bags,

     too salty,

served in coffee filters.

Once Daddy took me to the basement

 with him to change the kegs.

   The cellar was low-ceilinged and freezing:

        a secret glacial domain–only accessible

  through a door in the men’s room,

          thick with the uncanny smell

of what I later learned

    was urinal cakes.

I remember being scandalized

    the day Daddy worked the Saturday morning

     shift and put up the big poster

of a blond girl wearing rollerblades

and a very small hot pink bikini.

     She was leaning on a graffitied wall

that read P.B.R. Me A.S.A.P.

    I was at the bar assembling my Barbie

refrigerator set, hoping

   the poster was just a venial sin

       and not a mortal one

 they hadn’t specifically covered

     bikini girl posters in religion class

at St. Cyril’s, but I got a heavy ‘sin’

    vibe from it. A venial sin you can atone

for, but mortal sins were really bad: mortal sins

       meant hell.

The Deep

Water moves through my splayed fingers as the pills

bob slowly downward, dissolving into sleep.

I’m deep enough to leave the rage

dappled along the waves. I can escape the light

piercing the surface. Now I hope

to devolve sweetly into piscean sludge, fear

only the creatures I should fear,

and open clams to catch the sinking pills.

I’ve disrobed, left my shoes and my hope

soggy on the shore: learned how fish sleep–

eyes open, gills fluttering. The light

is diluted down here, and the moon’s rage

as it yanks on the tides is a muted rage.

In drowning, one learns not to fear.

Here there is no shame of racing from daylight,

and we lose the desire to digest all these pills.

Kelp-strangled, we twist into sleep

and nurse the saltwater hope

of shedding our teeth. I hope

to swallow some gravel and grind this rage

into a fine sand; rock it to sleep

in my belly. People on the dock fear

this place, need to feed themselves pills,

drag it into the light,

and tell it to lie still. But here is a secret about light:

it likes to drift and liquefy, it has hope

that it can turn inside out and bleed the pills

from its pores. It is only stirred to rage

when held by the neck. Light and fear

are both aquatic; sleek. Sleep:

Don’t bother with us if you cannot sleep.

We don’t want you; we don’t want your arid light;

we don’t want your smell and your inadequate fear.

But please, if you do sink down, don’t hope

for respite from the rage,

just a shield from the waylay to pills.

About the Author

Meara Levezow

Meara Levezow is a queer poet from Sheboygan, Wisconsin living in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bluestem Magazine, The Inkwell Journal, and The Midwest Review, among others. She has worked in restaurants for over twenty years.

Read more work by Meara Levezow.