Pushcart 2013: James Robison, “I See Men Like Trees, Walking” from Wigleaf, 2/9/11

Then [Jesus] came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.” –Mark 8:22-26 (NKJV)

I’m not sure it takes a Biblical reading to appreciate this tiny snip of prose poetry (available online), but it probably helps.

As is usually the case with the Bible, you can find nearly as many interpretations of the story from the Gospel of Mark as there are people who read it: “Jesus cured the man twice: once of blindness and then of post-blind syndrome,” says Brian Knowles on Godward. “God reveals Himself progressively,” according to Everett McCoy’s posting on Sermon Central.

What does this have to do with the 124 word flash? Maybe nothing; maybe everything. The author of the story should not be confused with the televangelist of the same name, after all.

When your canvas is 124 words, every one needs to count, and they do. The title is pretty creepy, whether or not you know the Bibilical origins. The alliterative opening phrase – “funnels of frayed rags” – sets beauty against creepiness, particularly when those rags turn out to be bats feasting on mosquitoes. But the narrator brings us back to earth, back to his bucolic summer evening, watering the cabbages with Mom and Daughter playing catch. You can’t read this without hearing the “thwock” of the mitt.

The tone changes again, right in the center of the piece.

Later, my wife is saying how hard to love all things, hard to take the sense of fleas or the cottonmouth that blinded the little girl out Route 9, near Bonner’s Black Angus farm.

True enough. But the fleas, the cottonmouth, even the frayed rags of bats, they’re not evil. They’re just trying to survive, and all they have is instinct. The narrator then takes our attention to another location, the Union cemetery on his property, where “each mossed tombslab, (there are seven), leans for a soul perfectly forgotten.”

I see at least two families of readings, and they’re not mutually exclusive. There’s this idea of seeing in multiple stages. But there’s also the side-by-side idea of nature’s brutality, and that which is unique to people.

I must again give a shout-out to Wigleaf, the original publisher of the piece, for their first Pushcart nod. Considering how outspoken Pushcart editor Bill Henderson has been about online literature in the past, it’s just a joy to see fiction from a 100% online literary magazine – one devoted to flash, at that – represented in this volume (they’ve published online-only poetry before). It’s also nice to see an author with Robison’s resume embrace online journals like Wigleaf, as well as Smokelong, Corium, and elimae, all terrific literary magazines, all proudly online-only. Let’s hope this represents a trend.

2 responses to “Pushcart 2013: James Robison, “I See Men Like Trees, Walking” from Wigleaf, 2/9/11

  1. I am flattered that you took the time and used such care to illuminate my story. Thank you, Karen.
    Jim Robison

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