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Light Is Not Permitted

by Ryan Sheldon

I am under the disciplinary tutelage of a severe ballet instructor, of hazy European extraction, who tells me that my will to discomfort is underdeveloped—a misshapen limb, or a joint that refuses its natural and appropriate bend.

           Alternately, he could be a violinist, or a lifter of large and cumbersomely shaped stones. This is not important. What is important is the presence of regime.

           Inertia, he offers me, by way of diagnosis.

           I have seen many films in which dancers are corrected on form. They are posed in front of a mirror, but this pose does not permit them complete vision of their figures—they cannot see, for instance, the ungainly torque of a pointed foot. It is this blindness, this defiance of suspicion, which requires the instructor to grab, twist, or pull the errant limb into proper position.

           There is usually a gasp—not so much of pain, but of recognition.

           But I am not standing in front of a long mirror. This would induce certain torments in my constitution: I shiver at the self-same eye. Instead, picture a basement—dark, with wooden floorboards—moist, perhaps, but not unclean. The whole of the room illuminated by a single halogen.

           I might only be sitting in a chair.

           The noise of breathing summons a door opening to the cold.

           This man’s lungs, once lush, athletic, and pink, strain against his years. Mine wheeze for lack of use.

           I am charmed by the terms of physical science, but only because I have little, if any idea what they suggest. They are firm laws that exceed my capacities of understanding. Like ornaments—the sun, for example, that furnace of equation.

           Metabolism, homeostasis, digestion—in these we find a mathematic efficiency. I scribble a note about the measures of heat required by the average human to accomplish basic tasks. I struggle to light the cigarette.

Author's Note

This piece is taken from a much longer project, which originally began as an effort to write a novel in daily installments—and here, I mean for daily to describe both my own practice and the subject matter that occupied the document. Predictably, I deviated from this method, and certain moments, like the one represented in this vignette, found me preoccupied with a scenario outside the realm of quotidian experience. Ultimately, what guided my method was a prioritization of voice—I wanted to presence a speaker who would offer pseudo-philosophical and aesthetic commentary against an icy landscape of "confessed" experience.


My models and inspirations include Renata Adler, Lydia Davis, and Joe Wenderoth, all of whom have produced documents that defy or elude neat generic categorization. I hoped to do the same with this project. And indeed, the end result of this activity was hardly novelistic. I've come to think of the shorts as poems, which occasionally break into narrative sprints—premises for failed novels, if you like.

Ryan Sheldon is a PhD candidate in English at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His work has appeared in Toe Good Poetry and DIAGRAM.

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