This story by Jeanne Jones was one of the runners up in our Three-Minute Fiction contest.
For the fourth round of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that contain each of these words: "plant," "button," "trick," "fly."
He said, "I like this part, here: 'marble heavy / a bag full of God.' That's very good."
I said, "Thank you."
He said, "Yes ... excellent."
I said, "What about the line where I talk about the stars? The trick with the hemispheres and the different constellations?"
He said, "That's not a trick. It's bad writing. Work from the 'marble heavy' line."
And that was it. Work from the marble heavy line. I had spent weeks on this poem. I worked unbelievably hard. I ate nothing for three days while I just sat there and thought. The anguish that went into that fifth stanza I can't even bear to repeat. In the end, I stole seven words from Sylvia Plath. Seven. They were: "marble heavy / a bag full of God." The other 1,750 were mine. Now he tells me to trash the rest and concentrate on those seven words.
"You're lucky to get something valuable," he said. "Some people write junk their whole lives." I supposed he didn't have access to a reputable search engine. He didn't even have a memory, because he must have read that line at some earlier point in his life. He did, however, have an ear for poetry. Because that line is good. Obviously. I buttoned my coat and headed for the door.
He said, "Where are you going?"
"Back to work on my poem, I guess."
He asked me to first tell him what I thought about his criticism.
I said, "Well, I'm going to have to be honest with you, sir. It jolted me. It jolted me until I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant."
He paused. He was quiet for a long time. Then he said, "Damn."
I said, "What's wrong?"
He said, "You're good." He was suddenly interested. He took off his reading glasses. He leaned forward. "That's really good. Why don't you write more like that?"
I said, "OK, I'll try."
"Now," he said.
"Try to write something now. Here, write a sentence. About anything." He grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and handed it to me. It seemed like he was shaking from excitement.
"Could you maybe give me a topic or something?"
He looked out the window, and then at me. He said, "Write about the heart."
I wrote: "How frail the human heart must be — a mirrored pool of thought."
I know. I was pushing it — so different from how I talked and all. But it was so perfect. He said heart!
Then he said, "Write about writing."
I couldn't even stop myself. It was right there, begging me. I wrote: "Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing."
He said, "Widow."
I wrote: "The word consumes itself."
He said, "God."
I wrote: "I talk to God but the sky is empty."
I admit it. I saw myself then. I saw myself on C-SPAN's Book Talk. I saw myself at Borders, at Barnes and Noble. I heard them talking about me on CNN, about how I seemed to be single-handedly reviving poetry, about how poetry classes in universities all over the country were oversubscribed. Everyone suddenly interested in a bag full of God. I admit it. I got carried away.
He said, "One more." He was smiling. I thought, for a small moment, in the light of his smile, that he was sharing my dream. That he wanted everything I wanted. He said, "Try this. It's two words."