night (1)On Sunday I crawled under a ladder while trying to hang curtains with a drill, in an old house that was newly mine, during a winter that just wouldn’t quit. One of the thin iron rods had fallen from my grasp, its hardware scattering like marbles beneath the bed. On my knees, pawing like a cat beneath the rungs of the ladder’s metal steeple, all I could think about, beyond superstition or faith, was a boy I knew in college who came to my dorm room one afternoon—a mass-market copy of Elie Wiesel’s Night in the palm of his hand—to read for his sociology class.

I thought, then, that he might be seeking sanctuary within the bamboo and tapestry cloister of my single dorm room, shut off from the clamor of the freshman hall. I had been cross-legged on my bed, finishing an assignment for my art class—an erasure drawing of Le Pietà—as he, no more than four feet away, read through Wiesel’s account of the ghettos and Nazi prison camps in 1945, folding the corner of each page like the wing of an airplane.

My fingers were blackened from charcoal as I rubbed out the highlight of a virgin mother’s cheekbone, the angle of her nose cast down toward the body of her crucified child. I blew softly, and the collected castings of charcoal and eraser detritus scurried to the paper’s edge. He glanced over at the drawing board balanced on my bare knees, said something about the shady nature of mankind, the horrors of persecution. He smiled at the dark smudges on my cheek.

He kept pausing to stare out the window, over the western ridge of Colorado’s snow-topped mountains back to the California ocean that raised him, blonde and chiseled—a beachcomber’s dream. We had taken a few of the same drugs once, which made us more or less friends, but otherwise we were strangers, bunking down with history and our curiosity in the unknown. He liked geology—that much, I knew, and so I imagined he would give a name to the nameless cratons one day, reveal trace fossils and isotope constraints, write the story of plate tectonics before the earth’s crust absorbed our human stain.


For the rest of that winter Sunday, after the curtain rod had slipped from my arm, I tried to tidy the house. Clumsy as I am, I kept dropping things and seeing that boy’s eyes, watered, stoned, lost in the window or fixed on the book in his hands. I confess that although I could recall every detail of him, it took me nearly a day to remember his name. Stubbornly cocooned in one of the curtain panels, I pressed my forehead against the cold window glass until it came back to me. I confess, too, that I don’t know what any of this means. I don’t know the correlation between this particular past and present. Then again, stars were once just stars until suddenly they were aligned: Pleiades, Ursa Minor, the great warrior Orion.


In my dorm room, on my desk, I had one of those Japanese lanterns, and he brushed the paper orb with his fingers. I don’t remember what his hands looked like, but the paper was the paper of mulberry trees, both fibrous and translucent, stretched over bamboo ribs. I imagined if we spun the lantern we might overcome all our brooding uncertainty, we might discover where we were meant to be, find somewhere without boundary or constellation, the land itself terra incognito—a time before the North Star of the Big Dipper, before the dimly lit planet of Buchenwald. A time before windows needed treatments, and night was something to draw closed. Before art and science and religion emerged as arbiters of history. When fragments were really just fragments.


The drapes, now hung high and wide, shield against the cold. In the same way, perhaps that dorm room back in Colorado still shelters stillness. Though we flee like mice from the places we’ve been, we still hold to them with a freshman longing, with a hunger to know how deeply the world can cut. Even in the pitch-black night, this house remains a house, a camp where a boy or girl might hide, a tunnel where lovers might disappear, limbs tangled in the latitudes of design, until the rape of the world has passed, until we reach out and let the light back in.

Jericho Parms is the author of Lost Wax, forthcoming from University of Georgia Press in 2016. Her essays have appeared in Fourth Genre, The Normal School, Hotel Amerika, American Literary Review, and elsewhere.

Photo by Marcia Krause Bilyk