Mini-Interview Series_2 (1)

March Flash Roundup


In my MFA workshops, sometimes, when something felt clunky or not-quite-right, someone would say, “is this just a device?” and my first thought would be: everything is a device. Life is a device. The key is hiding it.

When writing, we have to use tricks without seeming to. Devices that feel natural, like the device of life. I like to think of these kinds of “devices” as prisms. They’re the things we hold up to the light to catch the story. If held at the right angle, they’re invisible.

In “Rotting Mangoes” by Hema Nataraju, published in Wigleaf, the story is told through the most dreaded prism: the dream. Dreams were hotly contested in my workshop experience because they are the most visible of devices. In a dream, the reader can see all the strings. But we really dream! The counter-argument cried, drowned out by the concerned murmurings of grad students around an oak table. I like dreams. Sometimes, other people’s strings are a fascinating sight. The story begins, “I dream that my sister is dead. Her body is on a wooden pallet, covered in the white and pink bedspread she and I sleep on. She should have been studying for her calculus test instead of dying. Now she won’t get into Engineering and Baba will get a heart-attack.” Through this prism, we already know the greatest fears that our speaker has. Four sentences, and everything important has been dragged out into the sun. We also know that there’s no way to avoid the loss and disappointment. We feel a kind of anticipatory dread for the young narrator whose dreams tell her that, one day, everyone leaves. The sister in this story is already sneaking out at night with an older boy on a motorbike. Change, like the scent of rotting mangoes, is in the air.

“Under the Cherry Tree” by Minyoung Lee, published in Cheap Pop uses the poem “Azaleas” by Kim Sowol as its prism. The original poem is written from the perspective of a man who sends his lover away. The original poem reads:


When you turn away from seeing me

and go,

gently, without a word, I shall send you away.

From Mount Yak in Yongbyon,


I shall gather an armful and scatter them on your way.

Step after step away

on those flowers placed

before you, press deep, step lightly, and go

When you turn away from seeing me

and go,

thought I die, no, not a single tear shall fall.

Lee flips this poem’s perspective and tells it from the woman’s point of view. She is a lover forced to walk over azalea petals, a metaphor flung at her feet by the man who jilted her. Lee writes, “The crunch of the frozen soil underneath as I sink into the earth, my femur mashing against my joints. I lean into the ball of my foot, until I feel the capillaries of the petal disintegrate, the cells holding onto one another minced into pulp.” Lee grounds the airy wistfulness of the original poem in the body of the walking woman – down to her bones. Far from stepping “lightly” as she is bidden, Lee’s speaker crushes the azaleas underfoot. Through this prism we see what gets left unsaid when men write poems of women walking away. I love retellings of this sort, from the many novels I’ve read written from the perspective of the women of Troy to Wide Sargasso Sea giving voice to Rochester’s captive wife. There is something transgressive and just about flipping an established narrative to give the voiceless their say.

Finally, “The Old Baby” by Elizabeth Crowder, published in Smokelong Quarterly, uses an event as a prism for the story’s action and meaning. Before the story begins, a baby has died. Through the baby’s death, everything else is filtered. Crowder’s narrator says, “This time, I rub my wife’s swelling feet and kiss her distended belly. This time, when her water breaks, I’m right there, clasping her clammy palms between mine. This time, when the other woman texts: tell me what you want to do to me, I say: fuck you.” We know that last time, the time the baby died, the narrator wasn’t there, didn’t clasp any clammy palms, was probably away, in some other bed with another woman. This guilt runs through the piece, reflected and magnified by the prism of the old baby’s death. This prism feels true to life because, as readers, we’ve all experienced something that changed us. There is a “before” and an “after” in everyone’s lives – usually more than one – life’s prisms that change how we see everything. That’s why Crowder’s ending is so poignant. After the wife’s minivan “is found belly up in the lake,” the narrator writes, “I try to remember my wife as she was, before the old baby, before the other woman, before me. Soft. Smiling. Sipping unsweetened Earl Grey from a chipped mug she inherited from her favorite grandma,” but we know there’s no going back. This kind of prism is effective because of how close it is to life. It’s almost string-less, seamless, in its quiet devastation.

In my own writing, the first thing I consider is the prism. Once I’ve chosen the angles of the piece, the way its light refracts, the shadows and rainbows it throws up on the wall, then the characters and metaphors can rise up and play. It’s up to the writer to decide if the lights will catch the strings of story.

Links to the stories:

Rotting Mangoes” –

Under the Cherry Tree

The Old Baby”

Deirdre Danklin holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University. Her work can be found in The Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, The Nashville Review, and Hobart, among others. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and orange tabby cat.

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