by Michael Seese
Sometimes Janet throws us a curveball. This week, I stood in the batter's box as a hockey puck came whizzing at me. As you all are well aware, the usual contest requires us to incorporate five keywords in a 100-word story. The same day she posted last week's winner, Janet said, she'd read about a Ray Bradbury short story that seemed to be inspired by a poem.
"And the idea came to me: why not use a poem as a prompt!"
So our mission this week was to read her "favorite poem of all time," Happiness by Jane Kenyon and craft a story.
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.
And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.
No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.
It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
I focused in the line "the way it turns up like a prodigal," and within a few minutes had 95% of "Gray Happiness" written.
He frowned as he threw a ladle’s worth of the glop at my tray. It landed with a sound somewhere between a SPLOOOORK and a whimper.
I trudged my ration across the sepia courtyard, finding a spot at a table that had long since surrendered to its fate. Close, but not too close, sat the others. Ashen faces contemplated their own oozy destinies. I couldn’t read their minds. I didn’t have to.
They’ve lied before.
I decided death might be an improvement. A weary hand guided a spoonful of the horrid stuff toward my mouth.
And then there was sunlight.
What would the poem make you think of?