I still remember the day I read Susan Tepper’s poem “Course” for the first time: a Saturday in January. I was out for a walk through melting winter ice. Thought of this special mood out there. Tried to put it in words. And back home, found it captured in Susan’s poem, in 12 lines that encompass the transition of seasons, life, and our identity in this world – “we have learned to take our name / pushed shoreline to shoreline”
I was taken by the complexity of “Course”, and by the way it reflects on the duality of the world from an own, almost autonomous place. It’s a poem I kept returning to, one that remained with me, and it was fascinating to follow the comments, and to read Susan’s own view of the poem some days later: “it is a light and dark poem, that’s how I see the world, that’s my theme even with fiction, presenting that dichotomy between light and dark, good and evil.”
Another poem that remained with me since I read it is Walter Bjorkman’s “Fragments“. The poem induces a kaleidoscope of associations, evoked by the images it includes and by its experimental structure. It invites different approaches to read it, and keeps changing on the page even while you read through it. I printed it, pinned it on a wall to capture it, and couldn’t escape the feeling that this might be a modern koan: “[These] do to (one) heaven / (Wonder love)You want (hurtin’ everlovin’ you)”
What also struck me was the author’s note: “Conceived and Composed in 1974.” First seen in MiPo Zine Volume 8, 2002. And there I was, in 2009, reading it, and captured by it.
When you have kids of your own, your sensibilities do change, and writing that once may not have affected you ends up flooring you. Maybe, as a parent, you just become mushy or squishy; maybe you’re just a borderline emotional wreck, worried about all possibilities in the lives of these small people that you’ve been allowed to take home from the hospital.
Andrew Roe’s story “Stalling” is a story that hits the parent part of you. The opening line—”My son, six, is practicing dying.”—is as concise as you can get and still compel the reader to hang on to every word that follows. It opens up that world of possibilities mentioned before, and for me, the first time I read that, I felt both excitement and dread. Excitement at where Andrew was taking me with this story; dread that he was going to take me to a scary place, where the child is going to meet an unfortunate end. Thankfully, he defies those expectations and instead takes me to a moment that is all so familiar to parents. A child questioning, trying to make sense of the world with weighty questions, with it conveniently happening right at bed time. In so few words, Andrew gives us so much—emotion, rich dialogue, family history, a tender father-son relationship.
This story is powerful enough that I think it would touch non-parents as well. Like much great flash fiction, I think it succeeds in drawing readers into a world that they may not inhabit and convinces them of its authenticity. It’s a brief journey but one that will be remembered long after.
Fictionaut Faves, a series in which Fictionaut members recommend stories on the site, is edited by Marcelle Heath, a fiction writer, freelance editor, and assistant editor for Luna Park. She lives in Portland, Oregon.