During my MFA days Professor David Huddle once asked what was the most important word in the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. I responded “cold” for the way it transformed throughout the poem, from “blueblack” to “splintering” to “driven out.” One word, what we do with it, can make all the difference. Kathy Fish’s flash fiction piece “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” has its own single word, a word the entire piece hinges on: “previously.”
Fish’s inventive and joyful use of language is on full display from the beginning. (“A group of grandmothers is a tapestry. A group of toddlers, a jubilance.”) Within the smallest flash package (a mere 135 words or so) we unpack rhythms and delightful diction, emotions that take us from glee to awe to reverence. But just as we are “gathered and feeling good,” Fish gives us a turn, she gives us knowledge we can’t return from.
Where once people gathered, when “previously” we were an “exhilaration” we are now a “target.”
The morning I wrote this, there had already been two school shootings in just as many days: one in Kansas, another in Texas.
“A group of schoolchildren is a target,” Fish concludes. She is right, though don’t we all desperately wish this weren’t so?
The relevance of this writing is undeniable and too often timely. The pleasure of language in the beginning of the piece, too, is undeniable. How can both exist in such close proximity? How did we cross over into territory where all of us are vulnerable? How sad that word is, “previously.” How awful the need for this piece. How terribly necessary.
Yours in words,