On Reading Dark Corners by Reuben “Tihi” Hayslett

I first encountered Tihi and his writing in a Portland coffee shop on a dreary, drippy afternoon the day before the start of the 2019 AWP Conference. Running Wild Press had organized an offsite open mic and my friend Sakae was going to read a poem so of course I was going to go. 

At the reading, I heard BA Williams light it up as she always does. I heard Sakae read “Oakland,” a poem that paints a poignant portrait of an East Bay childhood (dear to my heart because I grew up not far from there) and that was published by Dryland Lit. And I heard Reuben read a short piece of fiction.

The story Reuben read from, “Hope It Felt Good,” begins thusly: “This is what happens when your man fucks Celia Washington.”

I was hooked from the beginning. An exploration of a jealous, seething mindscape. A queer male author inhabiting the persona of a vengeful woman. The physical, mental, and spiritual transformation caused by something as simple as adultery. These combined into a charged and hilarious fable that turned in interesting, unexpected ways. 

When Sakae, Rachelle Yousuf (another BookSwellAdvisory Group member), and I began to plan an event for Lambda LitFest 2019, we asked both BA and Tihi to read and join the discussion. In September, at the Intentional Intersectionality: Amplifying Queer Voices of Color reading and discussion at Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, Tihi read from “I Want You,” a story that centers on an HIV+ man who goes on a rare night out.  

Last week, in the midst of sweeping public health announcements and adaptations, I read and re-read all the stories in Dark Corners. They move in surprising ways. They contain telling details and entertaining mysteries of unfolding. They reward sustained attention.

To give you a bit more flavor of the collection, here are my quick takes on each story:

  • “Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” is a modern day feminist fable about the siren song of incipient sexuality.
  • “2016” documents a family unraveling amidst tragedy and social unrest.
  • “Localized Politics” is a dissociative portrait of a political campaign worker fractured by stress.
  • “I Want You” looks at the ways we we struggle against isolation.
  • “Money Men” is a disturbing take on sex work and the choice of political activism or apathy.
  • “Death and Taxes” charts a father-son relationship before and after a fatal illness.
  • “Hope It Felt Good” is all about what happens when your man fucks Celia Washington.
  • “Super Rush” is a speculative story that asks in literal terms if you love yourself, what then?
  • “Denial Twist” explores the tragic consequences of hate crimes and how we do and don’t recover.
  • “A Step Toward Evolution” is a twisted revenge reenactment of intimate biological warfare.
  • “Come Clean” is a horrifying tale of violence and its ramifications, told from a child’s perspective.

What I appreciate about Tihi’s stories could fill pages. In this limited context, I’ll say what I value most is the boldness of his stories to venture into taboo territory, the way extreme conditions beget extreme emotions, and how they move page by page into stranger, darker, speculative territory while keeping a realist grounding. 

Maybe you want a light read in these troubling times–but if you’re willing to venture into Dark Corners, you’ll come out of it changed.

— Cody Sisco, a fan of Tihi’s