Flash nonfiction: Cortege

Ever since studying flash prose with Kathleen Rooney at the David Collins Writing Conference last year, I’ve been experimenting with short fiction. But a book of very short essays I’ve been reading has inspired me to start working with very short nonfiction as well. Here’s a result of that experimentation, still quite new (and quite rough), that I added to the instant anthology formed by participants at the Society of Great River Poets’ Creativity Camp at Langwood Education Center that I attended this past weekend. I’ll never abandon the novel as a form—no, never—but I am enjoying the skill and precision it takes to achieve such compression. I’d love to hear what you think of short prose in general and flash nonfiction in particular.


Cortège

Two blocks from my house, I saw the rippling lights and thought, What is expected of a pedestrian when a funeral procession approaches? I was on the sidewalk, not in anyone’s way, but out of some instinct I stopped and clasped my hands together, head slightly bowed, as the hearse came toward me. I’ve been in the procession enough times to know it’s an insult to the bereaved to see other people going about their lives, unshadowed, untouched by tragedy. The hearse paced solemnly by and then it didn’t seem polite to disregard the rest of the retinue, cars in a string like beads, headlights blinking. I waited and a couple walking their dog joined me, pausing out of the same instinct, reverence for the mighty reach of death. We exchanged chat. Did I know whose funeral it was? I didn’t. Did I suppose they were going to St. Mary’s, up on Logan? Ah, I said. I’d been wondering where they were headed, where the beloved was to be interred. I observed the length of the line of cars. Some pillar of the community? They’re young drivers, she said. Ah, I thought again, the young always bring out crowds. Finally the last car departed and we all took a big relieved stride, headed back to our day and our tasks. We shared cheery goodbyes as if we had been through something together. I resumed my walk in a day with a new brightness to it, the trees outlined by light. The shadow had passed to the edge of my vision, not completely withdrawn, but with the sky so blue, the sun shining, the air warm and brilliant and full of spring, there didn’t seem any point in thinking about it, at the risk of calling it back.

Flash nonfiction: Cortege

2 thoughts on “Flash nonfiction: Cortege

  • May 23, 2017 at 11:08 am
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    Misty,

    Gosh, I really like this. Having read some of your pieces at WOTA I find that you have a great ability, as a writer, to “transport” your reader into the situation you are describing. I find myself here, standing with you on the corner, as the hearse rolls by.

    I have twice participated in the River City Reader short fiction contest and found it more challenging than I had expected. My natural inclination is to pound out a 1500 word piece. If I’m lucky it is pretty decent. Cutting that back to 300 words without ripping the heart out of the piece is darn near impossible. The story, it seems to me, has to be tailored to the short length not pruned down from a bigger piece. Making a coherent and complete story in a few hundred words is more of a challenge for me than writing a much longer piece.

    As in some of your other work I have read there are some real gems here. I loved:

    “unshadowed”

    “…cars in a string like beads.”

    “…as if we had been through something together.”

    “…at the risk of calling it back.”

    These are marvelous and insightful. I loved the brief exchange with the couple walking their dog. When well done, as it is here, there can be great richness in just a few words of dialog.
    I really liked the whole thing. Very nice. If I had any suggestion to make it would be an idea I had for an alternate title to the piece. What do you think of: What is Expected?

    Have a great week Misty. Hope to see you at the WOTA.

    Dustin

    Reply
    • May 23, 2017 at 12:45 pm
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      Thanks, Dustin! What a treat, to be read with such care. I agree with you that it’s harder to write small than write big. I think the key to short prose is to think like a lyric poet: to capture an image, find the feeling connected to it, and look for the metaphor attached. For this piece, it was such an absurd moment that became heavy and then slightly funny and then lovely and replete, and I don’t know if I captured that transformation in the piece–as you say, there’s so much you have to peel away. It’s such a great exercise for we lengthy writers, though, to have to be so surgically precise. I admit I grabbed this word for the title because I liked the weight and the fanciness of it–and I wanted to suggest how that ripple of solemnity leaves an imprint on the day for those lucky enough to be going about their ordinary lives. But maybe there’s a better chord to pull.

      At any rate, I look forward to hearing more from you at future WOTA meetings! And in between times, I can always snoop around some more at your blog. 😉

      Reply

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