Perfect Dark

by Lisa Eve Cheby

Poetic Essay


(Original Version)

I am forced to speak the language
of men. They study the craft of violence
in film, rate movies
in explosiveness, celebrate the artistry
of war. I resist

history lessons that discard the frames of Alice Guy-Blaché’s pantomime,
plucking babies from cabbages seven years before the great train robbery. My teacher refuses

to splice her back into the lesson. Before each class, my male classmates
line the hall, form

the gauntlet (their phrase) of masculine affection (mine). Hands push
shoulders and slap backs, elbows poke ribs, each man (boy) tossed side to
side on waves of laughter. As I approach down the hall,
the ritual pauses until I pass them to enter the classroom.

Even in the dorms, I retreat to my room to study as the guys bond
over video games. This year it is Goldeneye. Four shooters
playing all at once. One day, they invite me to join. I learn negotiation

is never an option to break into the guarded facility, to complete
the mission. Everyone has to die.
To face violence with anything less than more violence
is foolish, not part of the game.

Superhero stories once kept a strict code that the good guys never kill.
Now we want heroes who are flawed, alluring
because of their darkness, their struggle
to keep the code.

007 is not a superhero.

When not in midnight labs splicing tape, I practice how to loosen my hold
on the controller, to coordinate my trigger finger with right thumb
on the arrows, left on the joystick. I try all the weapons,
favor a light, quick rifle with lots of ammo, decent accuracy.
Then I graduate to the more elegant Russian Glock-like handgun, learn
to strategize. I hunt my prey with the soundtrack’s anxious motif
looping under incessant bursts of bullets that precede
soft groans of death.

When Bobby calls me a floozy, I know I’ve won
their friendship. Walking out of film school onto the streets of New York,
we speculate routes for escape, admire the chiaroscuro of alleys, perfect
for angling a hidden camera—that other tool we train to shoot
to bring some dream to life. Imagine

Alice in 1896, gripping her camera, the deafening stutter of the shutter,
gears moving film from one side of the magazine to the other as bursts
of light expose the nitrocellulose to explode her vision onto a screen

in language unschooled in violence.



Lisa Eve Cheby is a librarian, poet, school library advocate, and daughter of Hungarian immigrants. She holds an MFA from Antioch University and an MLIS from San José State University. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in journals and anthologies including Santa Ana River Review, So to Speak, Ruminate, TAB, Drawn to Marvel, and Coiled Serpent. She was writer in residence at Sundress Academy for the Arts’ Firefly Farms and Dorland Mountain Arts. Her two chapbooks are available from dancing girl press, with a third one forthcoming in fall 2023.

Back to Vol. VIII: “Lines”