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The Barcelona Review

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An editor went to a reading, which also featured
an open mic.  He would not ordinarily have gone,
but he was considering working with the evening's
headlining author. To his surprise, he heard a story
he just had to publish from an anonymous
young woman.

But at the end of the event, the author had disappeared.
He couldn't find her anywhere.
He asked everyone, tried to track her down:
Who was her agent?
Where had she published?

But no one knew who she was,
not even the organizers of the reading series;
she'd signed up a few minutes before the event began,
using just her initials, not even a name to know her by.

Desperate, the editor advertised a call for submissions,
carefully worded to try and elicit just her story.

He was flooded with hopeful offerings,
none of which came close to her remembered prose,
that glimpse of where the plot was headed...

It was obvious where each author had chopped off
the corners from a different kind of book, crammed
in a subplot, anything to make their manuscript
fit the call.

But one letter was different:

A friend of mine has written a book; from your call,
it sounds like you might be interested in it.
I convinced her once to read from it in public,
but she's very shy and would never dream
of submitting it herself...

Sometimes a friend
lends you a dress,
drives you to a party,
or just holds your hand,
a simple act of generosity
that winds up transforming your life.

       ####   ####                                             

Hansel & Gretel

Two writers attending the same MFA together
might from a bond that rivals that of siblings.

Time and again, their instructor lead them out
into uncharted territory, pushing them beyond

their comfort zones: experiments with tense,
points of view, in using metaphors or sentence

fragments.  Each new project left them feeling
lost, as they struggled to find their own way

to completing the assignment.  How normal to turn
to one another for advice, support, consolation.

If they cling to each another, even after
the program's over, it's because they understand

what the other's been through, has survived.
Who else would have the patience to sift

through rewrite after rewrite, the trail of drafts
that lead, at last, to the story? Who else would

understand how their instructor was both step-
mother and witch in one, tyrant and role model:

lending Hansel books to read to expand his frame
of references, broaden his literary horizons, or gently

give support during a critique; the next day harshly
challenging them, like the time she had them change

the story's voice and Gretel told her: Show me how.
And their mentor did show them.  Who else

would know how writing again after a dry spell
felt exactly like coming home at last?

       ####  #### ####                                              

The Ugly Duckling

Not only paupers dream of having
been born in the wrong family, of one day
finding themselves restored to the royal
palace, where they've always--they knew
it all along!--belonged.

Genetics has nothing to do with it: there was once
a boy who was different than his
siblings, his parents, even though they were all
related by blood. The boy loved to read.

His brothers and their friends teased him, because
they were children and that's what children do,
and the boy was not good at sports the way they were.

His mother fed him, but had little more attention
to spare him as she juggled the obligations
of his older brothers--taking them to soccer matches,
tending to their scrapes, washing their stained clothes.
Yes, he was different than her others sons, but often,
she was secretly relieved that at least he didn't demand
more of her time.

His father viewed him with suspicion, and
sometimes even his wife as well: was this child
even his? It was enough to drive him to drink,
the uncertainty, the constantly having to tell
the kid to get his nose out of a book and go out
and play like normal children should.

Reading became a clandestine activity,
under the covers at night, locked in the bathroom,
the young boy forced to plot against family.

But as he grew, oh that joy of discovering,
at last, online and at school, a community
of other readers, who took delight in the written word!
They seemed like his true family, and now
that he no longer felt displaced, he began to spread his
wings and write his own poems, tales, stories.

© Lawrence Schimel  2019

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