Sunday Poems 50: Lean against the back wall

At local art gallery Latitude 53, there’s an exhibit up of a half-dozen or so installations inspired by the language of video games. I visited the gallery earlier this week and saw. While I also felt affected by my charming interactions with a robot petting zoo, a virtual reality piece was most impressive to me. A brief description of my experience follows:

A closet-sized wooden box is in the corner of the gallery. Inside is dark, and mostly empty. On one wall is a small shelf holding up an upholstered cylinder, the size of a pet rabbit, and heavier than it appears. I replace the rabbit on the shelf. A virtual reality headset is on a podium, with a pair of headphones beside it. Light is unsettlingly swirling in two circles eye distance apart on the headset.

Putting on the headset blocks out all light from the outside world, but the headset shows me the room I was just seeing, more perfect, easier to discern, with the corners of the walls cast as perfect white vector lines and the rabbit’s shelf similarly outlined. The simulation is so good, that when I reached my hand out out to touch the wall, it was exactly where my goggles showed it being. A voice in the headset started me on something like a guided meditation, asking me to pick up the object on the shelf, and treat it as my companion on the journey. To rely on it for comfort. I started feeling a little nervous at the suggestion that companion would be necessary.

Slowly I started to make out a projection of my arm, ghostly, exactly where my arm was. I looked down, and there was the rest of my body. Somehow the box was picking up on my position in real-time and projecting into the virtual space. My whole body was exactly where it was, except that it was constructed from dancing lines of silk. The density of the projection was such that I could see through myself. Being transluscent was an experience I didn’t know how badly I needed.

The voice in the headset asked me to step back and lean against the back of the box. I stepped back, but looked over my shoulder as I did so, and saw that where the back wall had been now opened into a star-field. It didn’t make sense. It felt completely real. I clutched the rabbit tightly to my chest as I closed my eyes and leaned back. My instincts expected me to fall backwards, to have to catch myself with a quick step back, but the wall held me up. I stopped holding my breath, but out of the bottom of my field of view I saw that the floor was falling away from me. I leaned hard back into the wall, hoping the rabbit could hold me up as everything else fell away.

There’s more to the piece, but I don’t want to give away all of its surprises. If you’re local, I urge you to visit it if you can. When I took off the headset and stepped out of the box, I had completely lost my bearings. I found myself touching the walls to make sure they were where they appeared to be.

Sunday is a good day to reheat food in a pan (still no microwave) and have a small meal before stretching. Your back has been hurting. You wore the wrong shoes a few days in the last week and it’s caught up to you. On the bus ride home, as you looked out the window to see that a local diner was being replaced with something new, you noticed that your back was spasming. You hadn’t thought about your body. You just let it move, as if it weren’t a part of you. Now you play with the pain, stretching on a mat on your bedroom floor; where is it going and what does it mean? Below is a poem. If you enjoy it, consider sharing it with a friend. When was the last time you tried to write a poem? Is it time yet to try again? As always, I’m around if you need to talk. Have a great week, everybody.

kissing eyes

parts of ourselves:

i pick grass off of a website
and place it on the screen of my phone.

a ball, grown mossy under a dock.

delicately set on the window-sill
like a toy from childhood.

hugging electric signposts
with watermelon soda on your tongue and
wearing a yellow suit to the opera.

there are little creatures in your house.

my whole body
fits through internet lines.


missing out.

you tell your aunt
how you try not to be
where you’re not supposed to be,

and how you calculated tears
at 5.7% of your body’s
output of moisture

Originally published October 30, 2016.

Theodore Fox is a poet living on Treaty Six land in Canada.
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