Monday, September 19, 2016
Sometimes It Has to be OK Not to Know
He walks into the workshop as eager to please as a cocker spaniel. Even though he is a man of twenty-three, he has the shy smile and air of innocence of a child. He is perennially cheerful, like he carries an inside joke, the punchline of which he just keeps grinning over, always fresh. I know he is a capable man on the yard, but he doesn't broadcast it in the workshops. He is respectful to a fault, and makes it a point after every workshop to thank me for coming.
T. is one of the long-time regulars. His genre is poetry, specifically love poems. He misses his girlfriend terribly and describes her in sensuous terms involving fruits, flowers, stars, incense, and crashing oceans of distance. They are flowing rivers of longing and abstraction. He can't seem to break out of it.
I push him to create a scene, to ground his work in some concrete particular. He, I think, finds that frightening, and has yet to go there.
Then one day he comes in with a Cheshire smirk and says, "I have something different today. It's the assignment you gave us, the one about showing a relationship through a scene."
I assume he is going to read a piece about his girlfriend, but when it is his turn, he details a trip he took with his father. In the account, he is sixteen, and his father takes him to a whore house in Mexico. He, contrary to usual emphases in pieces like this, omits graphic sex, but focuses instead on getting to, and crossing the border. His prose jumps with style, energy, and sensory richness.
It also takes a twist, has a silly, funny end, that embarrasses cops, specifically the Border Patrol, who can't discern the difference between deodorant residue and cocaine. I find it funny, but not terribly insightful.
After he reads I ask him if there is more he could include about what the trip was for him in terms of his relationship to his father. That was, after all, the assignment, to convey something of the nature, the qualities, of the relationship.
He says "No. There is nothing more to tell. I hadn't seen more than a few times in my life before that. I don't know anything about him. He just came to take me out to make me a man. That's it."
T. does not traffic in irony. What he says is what he means. His look when he tells me this is as honest and complete as any sentences I have heard in my life. He puts a funny face on what he has with his father, which is next to nothing.
I find the story both comic and tragic. I doubt many readers will get it without all the context, but decide to pursue publication anyway.
I file it in the category of "What might have, could have, should have, but what has never, been." That file is large. It sealed and protected by a thick wall of stories.
It's a good piece, well written. I ask him if I can submit it to the magazine.
"Sure," he says, proud to have his work considered. The truth of it disarms me. I don't know how it will fly.