Prose: Reflecting From Time

When I was an administrator at St. Olaf College, I would attend writer-focused events. At one of them, in the 1980s, I sat next to Riki Kölbl Nelson. She and Karen Herseth Wee co-founded Penchant, a respected group of women writers. I was walking on air to be asked to submit poems for consideration. I was even more excited to be invited to join the group. The weekly meetings became a life force for me as a writer and a woman. We take each other seriously as writers, which means we expect progress from each other. There is an obligation to show up, to be present for each other, and to pay constructive attention to what is brought to the meetings.

We meet every other week by Zoom. It’s taken time since Covid to be with each other physically, but we’re looking forward to a return of seasonal retreats and in-person meetings. With the launch of our fifth anthology, What Wakes Her in the Night (forthcoming from The Black Hat Press), there will be more of those opportunities and the synergy they produce.

The following was influenced by author Italo Calvino, who changed how I approach not only reading but also writing fiction. He challenged me to perceive time differently.

The Rewritten Version

art by Riki Kölbl Nelson

Someday an old woman will tell a tale of this time. She will have white hair, thin skin, fragile ankles. Will be a master of revision, and offer the story. Not this version, but the rewritten one. The one in another language. The language of memory with a thick accent.

She will tell about the time when she no longer felt afraid of the river’s back water. Heron-legged and eagle-watched, the river invited her, its aspect of shadow and twisted gnarl most ominous and seductive. She does not want to ever live too far from it.

The season hangs upon early April. Prelude to all things lush. And many deaths. The gasp, before green claims its pale tongue, when red-twigged dogwood offers the only color and asks no questions. The heart as sextant, lifted against the night sky to fix its location — there in the midst of five shining planets.

She reads more about string theory and chaos and is again entranced by other dimensions. And that luscious word: simultaneity. A good way to get much done. The best way to love, to make love — a mutual multiplicity coming. More than joined. Beyond intersection.

This was always the season when she parted from lovers. After all that winter, they would have explored as much as possible, and when uncovered by spring, realized there wasn’t much more either wanted to reveal. There are a few exceptions. Simultaneous. The best sort of realization. The only way no one gets hurt. All left as a pleasant memory, a present upon a pillow before the summer lover. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Some of their names are forgotten. She considers giving them each a name for the season or month when they met. Maybe just the day of the week. He was Wednesday. Call him February.

She remembers Autumn best of all.

And so the someday-old woman finds herself again in April. She thinks they should always be in bed with her amidst worn books and several dark vintages that leave behind traces of moss and chocolate and clove. Her favorite scents. The finest tastes linger long on the tongue. Simultaneously. Ah, that word again! They feel their age. She has never felt younger. It is time to start thinking of a name worthy of this story.