Theodolite, by Kit Eginton

Why is dysphoria so hard to write about? Well, for something to be hard to write about, what must be true about it? When we write, we try to think of good lines. A good line is concise, it gets to the heart of the matter.

A line is a path across a field, a field which is never totally flat. A concise line is as close to being straight as possible while existing on a curved terrain. A good line tries not to swerve and fails.

The precision of a concise line reveals the curvature of the terrain, its tussocks and sunken places. It is by walking in a straight line that that curvature, that shape, is revealed. To reveal the curvature of the field is to begin to know it.

By walking many paths across a field, more of its shape becomes known. The lines begin to merge in the mind into a familiarity, a map known like the back of one’s hand. The field begins to feel like part of you. You have incorporated it, even though you can’t control it, even though it could be sold out from under you.

Suppose it is a vacant lot, overgrown with long grass, marshy. Clouds of gnats drift over it. For a few years you play there in the summers. You wear cargo shorts and get bitten. The field seems like a wild place even though your parents say the owners are planning to build a shopping plaza there.

Someone comes to survey the field as the builders prepare to break ground. You watch a pair of them out there working their bright yellow theodolite like a bellows camera. But the field cannot be known from its edges. You can’t make good lines by cutting the field up into angles and distances. You guess it doesn’t matter because they’re planning to bulldoze it.

Your good lines map a body, partially yours, that you love, but that is about to be transformed against your will.

When they do build the shopping center, no one blames you for being hurt, but you soon realize there are no good words for the field that convey why it was special. You can only say that it was special to you, which no one really cares about. When you attempt to recite the lines you remember from the field, you hear yourself as simultaneously banal and unbelievable. The shopping center blocks the view of the field. Everything you say about it is out of place, in excess. You accuse yourself of self-dramatization. The lines don’t connect together the way the paths of the field did. You can’t bring anyone to the field anymore to show them; even if you could, they might not have seen what you saw in it.

Even though you’ve lost something, there is no one to complain to, no one to accuse. The city council can hardly be blamed for wanting a new shopping center. What did you expect, that they would withhold a permit for the sake of the wildflowers? You can’t argue convincingly for that. You order a burger when your parents take you to the chain restaurant in the new plaza. The fries are good. The air smells like hot fat, air conditioning, and disinfectant. You can’t muster an argument against all this that you trust. You don’t trust anything you can’t argue against.

Kit Eginton is a poet, editor, occasional essayist, translator of Russian verse, and Iowa City townie. Her work has appeared recently in Hypocrite Reader, where she also edits, as well as The Calvert Journal and in the anthology F-Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry, out now from isolarii.