Three years ago, I wrote a thing that wasn’t a story and wasn’t a poem. It is about a person sitting at a party watching a couple dance and thinking of someone else, which isn’t really anything. I reworked it every six months but could never get it to cohere. It’s also transparently autobiographical but I never said so when I submitted it to my writing workshop group for feedback — I think about myself and past a lot, which is always embarrassing to me, especially with a memory as slight as this. When readers asked what the piece is about, I said it’s a madeleine moment; language as mood; time as a circle. “It’s done,” a regular reader said after another redraft. It wasn’t done but I was sick of it too. I submitted it to 15 journals and was rejected 15 times.
You see the river, swollen and brown, lapping cake-tongued at the bank. You know it stinks even though you’ve never been to this river before, even though you aren’t close enough to smell it, couldn’t be for another half-mile at least.
The first night, you sit back in a lawn chair and look up at the swamp trees overhung with paper lanterns and light bulbs in Christmas colors trailing from the branches, the way the night falls softly over the patio, which is what they call these big, open spaces here. You lean back into the laughter humming from the tables, wine bottles scraping against metal wire, chairs pushed back and forward like music. This town creating its own beat.