Ode on a Stick
by a contributor
Second place winner of Treehouse’s contest!
by Claudette Cohen
The blinding light said, “You will be sacred,” and the worm said, “I can’t. I’m just a worm.” And the light said, “You will fly.” And the worm said, “I have no wings.” “Fly,” said the blinding light, and the worm wriggled this way and that to try to remove itself from the ground and performed a grotesque dance, excruciating in the light. “You don’t believe,” said the light. “I know,” said the worm. “I know I cannot fly.” “Then you will not fly,” said the light, and darkness swallowed the worm who danced in excruciation, and cold froze its movements until it stood, a monument to trying, and the light was gone. “I cannot fly,” said the worm, “and now I cannot move. I am death.” “Death is sacred,” said the darkness. “You have learned not to need to fly.” “I will always wish to fly,” said the dying worm. “Your wish has come true,” said the darkness. A crow landed, plucked the dead worm from the ground, and flew away.
My mother has a bird with no feathers. One day I asked, Mama, why does your bird have no feathers? She said, Sssh. We do not speak about our birds. Then when I turned twelve, my bird came to me. When my mother saw, she took out a pair of pliers and began to pluck the feathers. I asked, Why, Mama? She said, So that it will stay. I took my bird from her, held it out the window and watched it fly away. My mother has a bird with no feathers. I have no bird. When my daughter turned twelve, her bird came to her. I gave it a perch, food, water, and kind words. Then I left the window open. The bird flew high into the sky and then was gone. For so long my daughter sat by the window and watched the sky. One day she turned away from the window and saw the bird sitting on its perch, preening. My daughter has a bird with feathers.
Today the egg said to me, “Try to push the world and see what happens.”
Claudette Cohen is the winner of the 2013 Doris Betts Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in Cream City, Lyric Poetry, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Squaw Valley, and Owen Wister Reviews, storySouth, Pirene’s Fountain, Southern Anthology, and Mainstreet Rag, among others. It has also won first place at the Southern Writer’s Symposium, Encore Magazine Fiction Contest, and Taking Flight, an anthology. An alumna of Agnes Scott, UWYO, and UNCW, Cohen attended Squaw Valley on scholarship and was awarded residency at Ucross Foundation. A new short story of hers is soon to appear in the anthology Phantom Manners: Contemporary Southern Gothic Fiction by Women, U of SC Press.