Tod Thilleman


           Eggshell blue walls at the top of the stairs. My brother’s room was immediate but mine was next to the bathroom at the end of the hall. In between the two bedrooms was an attic crawl space which you had access to at the back of our closets, a crawl space formed from cedar. Dragging back the stack of books and shoes I’d try to enter and reach the other side, journey through the dark, small space, get trapped inside, hard to breathe except that you’d still be breathing, adapting.
     Completely immersed in both science fiction as well as fantasy lit. worlds, created from maps that made their directions out of whole cloth, images that were shuttled into outer space, what is called ‘the imagination.’ At my desk in the window’s alcove I drew a map, named various lands and towns, topological features as mountains, little carets amassed, asterisks drawn for swamps or lowland areas and each then named. The story began slowly at first, a beginning paragraph. Then dreams and moments stolen from other books in order to flesh out the allegorical dimension.
     I had encountered, intellectually, theoretically, in essays about science fiction and fantastical fictions the textual reality of allegory: correspondence had a home and the discovery of this was not one of an imaginative cast but rather a reality, the room that I inhabited. It was on the other side, continually on the other side. Fiction was nothing but the encounter with the allegorical, crossing from this shore in the physical to that shore in the other dimension, right through the middle of a name thus fleshing the name; this was a way the mind could exist and not be eliminated—it was simply reduced to the physical as infra-physical.
     Jacking off in the bathroom sink for the first time cumming, the involuntary nature of the body as correspondence, a dimension of reality that was neither figurative nor having as yet been contained by exegesis. I understood this allegorical dimension as a conceit, but was taken by it in everything I read as if the head were a tower into the physicality of words and text.
     In this way, for instance, an old crumbly paperback of David Copperfield by Dickens was consumed as allegory, and not an obvious one: not the parts of the narrative rendered as allegory, it was the potency of metaphor in slight suggestions of dress and manner, all of it coming into vocabulary newly acquired, the era didn’t matter and the imaginative implications were not as important as the physical presencings, the predicate that the allegory was making, not merely as story, nor as structure of the boy, but as elemental emanation of the boy in a titanic re-assembling of all histories and times within the most present. Of course this point of view is completely overblown, but without it, there would not have been any understanding within my own life.

Of semantic subjugation, this word as totalizer, a childish act, a thing that seniors gasping for air, toothless, resemble. A vain capturing of their era, a picture. It is an artistic prematurity, a game with colors and sounds but no depth, no new relations to exercise the personal exposure by.
     It’s much in the way of the popularizing of myth in that it wants desperately to return to a naturally idyllic world through some sort of innocent, storied rapture. The prophetic, the spunk and arc of shooting into a contemporary world, rattles around in infantilized syntactical structures, spittle and sighs drooling into the gaps that unfold by the words’ lack.
     As articulation matures, a synesthetic soul emerges, wanders over form as well as content, bridging the younger epoch with the older, birthing a vulgarized tongue, an indigenous tongue, a language that is not, primarily, an idiomatic hierarchy of nouns and verbs, a cloister of unchallenged propositions.

One might have a model to work toward, coupled with aesthetic—that art does or should or always possesses degrees of a mirroring, reduced to its essentials the mind exhibits for a moment.
     These moments exist as a collection of ephemerals, modeled into the memorial as a model of one’s own concentration, a maker’s mark of what the mind is for our kind. Maybe it’s only in that art that the reflexive capacity of humans is really finally realized, as if they needed to know they could reduce everything to the context of their own mark in time, thus making time their own unique contribution to the cosmic fabric.
     Dissociation is very much alive in the fantasy that fashion and advertising pursues and is why we’ve come to accept the rather quick turning of one generation as a model for alternative behavior, masquerading. The projection the dissociation gives off is a glammar, a grammar, a glamorous brush with immortality.
     The major narrations of time, those long-term encounters with reality, actually become reality through this grasp in the near. The imposition of perspective is and was this re-appropriation of near and far.
     This reflection, this coming to reflect, functions as a means toward nothing but perfection or what passes for a rigor of wholeness as a function of the system. Yet the wholeness is merely a way of naming, of bridging semantic divides for that whole functioning moment.

A kind of summertime grotto or low-lying dark and slightly descending, receding yard which ended with a ditch and a crick. The back steps led out into it from the large kitchen, the large house, many storied … into the large backyard, grandparents’ house, mother’s family, this is a memory of her childhood home, of summertime too, of that time of the year just before it all goes into the grey and the white blanch of winter.
     Extended family, strangers and cousins and uncles and aunts at picnic tables. I know all of the relatives that made their way to that yard, apparently, and yet they are all strangers to me, relations. Nights with glowing paper lanterns hanging from poles and strung through trees. A kind of watery grotto area, a shrine to shells and cement with blue-painted cement pools we’d wade in.
     Or I’m imagining these things and it was simply that water was in a pool and the lights made a different correspondence to what I would call a memory.
     Aunts and uncles who also, later, stayed at our house. I remember waking in the morning, stepping over bras and women’s dresses, men’s slacks and then wandering upstairs to see strangers at the breakfast table, up early because they had to get somewhere, and soon. A wedding? Where had they traveled from? Usually Illinois, that mysterious frontier which featured at its headway the impassable wall of Chicago, a titanic city no one dare approach.
     Or it was the German relatives up above Milwaukee, or in the middle of the state, an equally mysterious region filled with small towns and strange names and stranger relatives still, with black hair, mustaches, cat-eye glasses all of them endlessly smoking cigarettes and drinking, drinking, drinking.
     These were my mother’s aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews. A slightly retarded half-uncle? Or full; or cousin? Crew cut he had, his body big, corpulent. Images of her grandmother, who I’d seen walking, walking, walking to bus stops, and continued to see into my teens, me driving by after I’d obtained a driver’s license.
     One time stopping to pick her, grandma, up, thinking that I had to do this. She owned no car, yet insisted on walking to the shopping district downtown in those impossible square high-heel clearly uncomfortable shoes. She was downtown Racine, the root memory to that city-center, for me.
     Slightly farther out in the country, out past the quarry and the Horlick Mill and the river’s falls there, the site of the old mill which was used to mill and malt the grain that created Horlick’s malted milk. The main factory was still on Rapid’s Drive, across from the golf club and the flooded old Quarry which we’d visit and bath and swim in during the summer.
     I remember the driveway to the backyard paved with gravel lent it that air of being a rural setting. The garage more of a carriage house, the front door painted white with cross-beams a kind of dark green, swung open left to right as opposed to the more modern slide-up, fiber-glassed kind. Over time, all that disappeared.
     Dad told me mom’s mother had tried to make her way out of the garage, even though the hose which connected the muffler back into the parked car … but by then it was too late.
     The body was found outside the car, making a way out of the fumes toward the door. A last minute decision.
     We would drive by the house or I would find myself there, cruising during the summers, it being not too far from Horlick High and also just that drive down Green Bay Road you would have to go that way to get to the south side of town. I call that area in my memory West Racine, too, it’s all part of the same older part of town, merging with the memories of other addresses that we’d visit, other relatives, where the train tracks crossed and the cemetery, Mounds Cemetery, with the Indian burial mounds.
     Directions into the convergence of all things: the shape of a city.

T Thilleman migrated to New York from the Mid-Western State of Wisconsin in the early 80s. For a brief period he worked for Pace Editions and the artist Chuck Close on handmade paper editions under the direction of the late Joe Wilfer. Through-out the 90s he helped edit Poetry New York and their pamphlet series. He is the author of more than a few poetry collections including Three Sea Monsters, Onönyxa & Therseyn (opening book for an extended work, Sketches), and the novel Gowanus Canal, Hans Knudsen. His collaborations with j/j hastain are Approximating Diapason and Clef Manifesto, Snag as well as the forthcoming glossary, Tongue a Queer Anomaly. His literary essay/memoir, Blasted Tower, is available from Shakespeare & Co./Toad Suck. Ongoing and online, tt blogs musings taken from the Kamasutra and others at
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.