art by Sophia Gregorace and YaYing Yu
Who are you?
Penumbra wearer, what goes bump in the night, un-you, black black black murk, cavity of an achy breaky heart, the down-under-under-down, one you recognize but will not admit you know, eclipse-product, inverse in verse, shadow-self, hide and don’t seek, the Hyde, the goodbye-less, the unseen unvoiced unknown unwanted unloved unendable desire-haver, da-da-da-da-darkness, yours.
What do you want?
I only want you to ask. I want you to ask me what I did today, and then, when you walk away, I want you to say: Come with me.
I can’t do that.
Something else then—don’t say what you do say, what you only ever say: Stop following me.
But why do you follow me? Why do you cling to me? Why can’t I escape you?
Why don’t you want me? Why do you run, peering over your shoulder, checking for my presence with a furrowed-brow panic-tensed no-no-never-not-no? Why do you chase me away with the light? Why do you mourn my every return?
Because: I want to do all the things that make me a human—eat, drink, think, feel—but I don’t want you to look at me while I do them. I don’t want to look at you while I do them.
You do look at me, though. And it kills me—or feeds me—or ravages me—a little bit, I think, every time you look right at me and do not see me. How can you walk right up to me with your light-refracting eyes and call me by what someone, maybe me, has told you is my name? How can you move your teeth together to make sounds that make me feel like my stomach is my brain and my feet do not belong to me and my own eyes do not exist? And then you walk away, and I walk away, and what did those few moments mean to either of us?
I will tell you how: Because I cannot resist, because I do not know any other way, because I want to bury my corporeal self deep within the cloak that is the night and hide her where the sun meets gentle diversions come day. I want to lie down on the dusky ground until the ground lies itself on top of me. I want—I want to go to places where the light cannot shine on me, cannot reveal the outline of what I am, cannot make me look at you.
Maybe I am asking for too much. Maybe what I mean when I say I want the darkness—not mine, not you—is that I want to curl my limbs around my core and cover myself with cotton and wool and close my eyes to the light. Maybe what I mean when I say I like the night is that at night you cannot see what day reveals—nor what it cannot dispel.
Maybe what I mean when I say I want to hide is that I want someone to find me. Find me. Find me and tell me you love me, tell me I matter, tell me I am interesting and good and that you think about me when you are alone. Tell me that sometimes you think about the darkness too, so you don’t have to think about your darkness. Tell me that I am not alone. Tell me that we can be alone together. Tell me that the darkness—not ours—can be the thing that gives us the power of not being seen, the thing that makes me bold enough to say: Come with me. That makes us bold enough to find each other.
I will come with you.
Not you. I wasn’t talking about you, just then. I want someone else.
You haven’t told me to stop following you, though, not this time, not yet, not when usually you already have by this point.
I don’t want you. I want darkness because I don’t want to see you. You, light-needer, light-revealed. You, darkness, mine.
Just because you do not always see me, does not mean I am not always there.
You make me hate the light.
I am not light.
I hate you.
You hate me because I am not light. You hate me because light does not exist without me. You hate me because you want darkness, but not your own, you don’t want to look at your own darkness—you don’t want to look at me.
What matters more? What’s real, or what you believe to be real? You hate me because what you really want is the light, without me.
You don’t know what you’re talking about.
Oh light, oh sun, oh moon, oh stars. You want to look at them so much; you call them selfish because you love them; everyone is looking at them and you think they are beautiful but you talk about them when they cannot hear you and you do not always say nice kind lovely things. I do not want to be talked about; I only want to be thought of. I do not want to be looked at; I want to be seen. You do know the difference, don’t you?
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
You blame them for my existing and—because of that—you won’t admit you love them.
You can’t see everything in the light, you know,
You can see me;
but you don’t have to see
anything in the darkness.
I am still here.
I wish you weren’t.
Stop following me.
You’re not welcome here.
I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, you wretched thing, you—
When the world goes dark at the end I hope you are sitting next to me. I hope we reach out for each other, smacking walls and bruising hips, knocking teeth and tripping on corners, elbow jostling rib sucking in—arm finding shoulder—head within thinking: There you are. I hope we do not need light-light-only-ever-light-be-light-see-light-die-light even if we know we love it. I hope the darkness lets us know our skin is not where we end; I hope the darkness let us know we can be darkness too. I love you. I love you. I love you.
Don’t tell me to stop following you. You know I can’t. Ask me to come with you.
Stop following me.
Ask me to come with you.
Darkness, mine, are you still here?
I told you. I’m always here.
Will you always be here?
Until you invite me in—yes.
You’ll get there.
I’m not sure.
I am. Let me show you.
I have never not been afraid of love.
What do you do when you’re afraid of something?
I pretend I don’t need it.
And do you need love?
And do you need light?
And do you need to look me in my un-eyes and really see me?
Do you believe yourself?