Monday, March 21, 2022

The #Midwessay: Lena Crown, The Colossus of St. Louis

The Colossus of St. Louis

Lena Crown


There were eyes on the walls as we danced. Each one round and black with an imploring fleck of light inside the pupil, bound by concentric circles of yellow and red, as if putting out a homing signal. Red brick peeked through the paint, and in the center of the room, cement columns stood apart like bodies.

I knew this gaze intimately. Eyes are nestled all over St. Louis like security cameras, the signature of a local graffiti artist. By the night of the party, I’d met a thousand eyes on the wall of my favorite brewery, tracing their tessellation in the wallpaper as the scent of hops pricked my nose like pepper. They glimmered from the wooden fence bordering the highway in the glare of my headlights, and they peeked up my skirt from the sewer grates when I jaywalked.

It was the thick of summer. As hours passed, the party picked up speed: upstairs, we flailed to electric funk in our own pillars of empty space; in the parking lot, we knit our fingers through the diamonds in the chain-link fence as we flirted with friends of friends of friends. The eyes on the wall seemed to wink in the headlight beams that melted over us and away like disappearing ink. One boy challenged another to a wrestling match, their shapes shadow puppets gobbling each other on the asphalt. A new DJ took the helm, a tall man with long red hair who twisted knobs back and forth with his eyes shut. The air clung in hot pearls to the peach fuzz at the napes of our necks as we closed the space between us.

That was three years ago. It was just a night, really. Nothing special. But that’s kind of the point—what I find myself craving from writing about the Midwest is indulgence, abundance, fun. It’s hardly fair for New York to hog all the nights that bleed into morning, the headlights, car horns, glitter, stranger sweat, apartments crumbling in a charismatic way. I want to read about unexpected destinations in cities like St. Louis, I want the names and faces that slip viscous and slick through your fingers when you take them in your hands. I think we deserve to be frivolous with our images, lavish with our gaze; we deserve to look and be looked at by a thousand eyes. We deserve excess. Yes, the land flings its arms wide and open; yes, there is space to fill. Watch as we fill it. 

We climbed my fire escape that night heavy with the satisfaction of a story in our bellies. We didn’t sleep for a while yet. Instead, we sat outside the back door to my apartment, next to the antique dresser a previous tenant had left on the landing. The top was stuck all over with melted candles, their white wax hardened into a tide pool topography. I lit every wick just to watch them work. Each flame glimmered at the heart of a dark wet halo. We made our own eyes and watched them dance.


Lena Crown's work has been published in Sonora Review, The Offing, the North American Review, and Porter House Review, among others. She is currently stationed outside Washington, D.C., pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at George Mason University. Find her on Twitter at @which_is_to_say.


 Like fellow Midwesterner and incredible essayist Sonya Huber, I loathe the harmful writing advice of “show don’t tell.” Yet, I am also a writer born and raised in the Show Me State. While Missouri is steeped in Southern front-porch storytelling, the Middle West’s characteristic pragmatism, understatement, and complicated* past and present are perpetual in our prose. We want it both ways: to show and to tell, to be Southern and Midwestern. Ultimately, there’s a certain resilience and toughness Missouri essayists must harbor because we can’t assume you, dear reader, share our points of reference or understand why we stay or live in this place, however long. Ultimately, though, describing what others do not know or have the words for makes for wilder, more inventive stories. The Missouri essayists in this project share the very Midwestern joys and terror of what it’s like to be in a state with “no particular place to go.” What constrains and releases us may surprise you.

Missourians: we'd love to have more essays riffing and rumbling on the #Midwessay! Contact me at michaella.thornton at gmail and I'll be happy to include your thoughts and insights in this project.

 —Michaella A. Thornton

* And by “complicated,” I mean openly racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, and more. We have a lot to unpack and improve on here.

What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond.  These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors

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