THIRTEEN YEARS AGO, I wrote this about sleeping birds:
Sleeping birds are vulnerable. This is why the lucky ones roost for the night on the low, gnarled branches of the mangrove trees that flourish in the back bay of Estero Island, Florida.
Leaves, boughs, and trunks rise in tangled masses straight out of these quiet tidal waters—no visible ground above the sea. On this landless Bird Island, some fifteen thousand birds gather at dusk to nod off in peace. No ground, no predators. These birds are fearless for the night. How I envy them. The romance of it makes me shudder.
Funny I would write "shudder" in regard to being fearless. Maybe because even then, as now, I suspected that the romantic peddling of fearlessness is ultimately bullshit. The trick is not being without fear, it's being with fear and living anyway, leaping anyway, crashing inevitably.
Many of you entered the Elephant Rock Flash Prose contest last month. Way to go! I hope it was fun doing that, even if it was scary, considering that only one writer could win. That writer, Kaylynn Raschke, will be reading her wonderful piece, My Mighty M, at Elephant Rock's #AWP15 event on April 10, as will the three writers who received honorable mentions for their work: Allison Coffelt (Inheritance), John Holmquist (Father of Waters), and Jennifer Hernandez (The River). Congratulations, one and all! If you haven't reserved your free tickets yet, do it now! Space is limited.
I'll be reading, too. A lyric essay on the theme of the river in five short parts exploring what things are in relation to what they are not. A sort of foray into literary negative space, with original violin accompaniment by the lovely Susan Sophocleus. It's called Wingless Bodies, and I've been toiling over it in that particularly consuming way, where the thing itself blots out everything else, enshrouds you in a haze and lures you blindly down narrow arteries where uninvited characters lurch out from behind loading docks. And you're like, Hey! Who said you get to be in this piece? But they just stand there with that casual, defiant look that says they've been there all along. Which they have. Kind of like that. So I guess they're coming to the party.
I hope you will, too.
Judge's Statement from Robyn Ryle
I grew up on the Ohio River in Kentucky and I’ve lived the past twelve years downstream on the same river in Indiana. The river is my directional compass—am I north or south of the river? It’s a topic of sociable conversation; is the river up or down today? It’s a sign that I am close to home. I can roam from Pittsburgh all the way to New Orleans, where some of the Ohio flows out into the ocean through the Mississippi, and it is all my river. It is all connected in a way. So when Jeannine Ouellette asked me to judge a flash contest on the theme of The River, it just made sense.
Reading these entries was an exploration into the trickster nature of rivers—the way they can appear in so many different forms. Here in a poem as a monster that swallows children, turning them into food for “bottom feeders/with whiskery puckering mouths.” There in a Twain-esque piece full of crazy characters like Shorty with a Mona Lisa smile and Crazy Clarence from the “purist school of risk-taking.” Then the river as a reminder of what makes a place home and the crucial difference between “empty versus room: it’s how you say it.”
In the winning entry, the river becomes a person, “My Mighty M.” A lover teased. A thing to be possessed—“My Mississippi.” One imagines the Mississippi strutting down St. Charles Street and then being put in her or his place affectionately—“Just look at you now.” The river as an old friend. The river as the water flowing through our veins and something we carry with us always.