blackbirdonline journalSpring 2014  Vol. 13  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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from Chinquapins

spacer Syl Ponder
Kale Soup
Pretty Redbird
What Red Shirt Said to Constable Bell
Aggie’s Boy
Local Clockmaker Struck by Lightning


The chinquapin is an oak tree or shrub of the beech family with nuts that come from a fuzzy husk and are edible raw or crushed and cooked. The plant grows hither and yonder in the Appalachians, and I’ve often stumbled on them in fall when the fruit is on the ground and my appetite is primed. They’re a little like manna, a sustenance from above or beyond, and the characters in what I call “Chinquapins” seem to come irregularly but unbidden, rough at first and changing as I try to unpack their involute secrets.

The two dozen flash fictions in the suite are all set in Appalachia–small town or country–often spoken in a version of local idiolect, usually by narrators who are possessed by a deep yearning or observing someone else who is. A few are quirky, knotty to read, and they almost ask for a glossary, but I’ve tried to bend the notes of the melodic context to make the unusual meanings guessable. The first one I wrote was about a teenaged boy smitten with a bad girl, the second about a childless woman whose discovery of two owls leads her to wish for lovemaking, while her husband is overwhelmed by a fatal accident at the sawmill but doesn’t know how to tell her. After three months and five or six stories I realized that love and death were the vertical and horizontal axes upon which the whole series mapped out, and as the series progresses, death’s colors take the lead and everyone hears the “chimes at midnight.”

For the most part, I’ve tried to keep the historical time frame vague, though here and there locating references such as meth appear, along with objects whose indigenous technology makes it clear that the characters are living sometime after the Civil War, usually within half a century of its end. I’ve tried not to ride herd on these elements too closely, as there’s a mysterious atmosphere that takes me when I work on or read the stories, and I don’t want to dispel it by overthinking when and how birds fall from the sky or children go missing, murder outs or passion goes awry. I hope readers will be willing to embrace this instability, which is akin to both negative capability and the stricken puzzlement I feel when I’m alone in the room with these ghosts.

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