Pushcart 2014: B. H. Fairchild, “The Story” (Poetry), from The Yale Review, January 2012

It has no name and arrives from nowhere,
eager for new adventures: the murmur and cries
of the crowded streets of Istanbul or Rome
or Brooklyn…
It has, as they say, a mind of its own, bearing
secret knowledge, truths from another world,
transparent and untranslatable, luminous
and cryptic. It arrives almost silently, ony
the slight crush of lawn grass beneath its sandals,
a surprise even though you have somehow
expected it.

Cerise Press said of Fairchild’s 2009 collection, Usher: “Fairchild insists that narrative is the driving force of his work. His poems always inhabit a specific moment. Even those poems that emphasize mental processes, such as distraction and association, are always clearly rooted to the physical world from which they arise.” I see that description everywhere in this poem, which appears to be a tribute to the process of story generation itself.

Where does a story come from? How can a writer – or a poet with a narrative style – go through weeks, months, years, without a glimmer of inspiration, then suddenly “get an idea”? For that matter, where does the desire to write down a story, to tell a story, come from? It’s almost as if a story is a being that includes the energy of its own propagation, compelling someone to own it, write it, so others will read it. Does it go on? Does it then compel someone else to write it again, in another way, another form, another setting with different characters? We’ve all heard there are three – or six, or twelve, the number varies depending on who you talk to – different stories, maybe just one master plot line (the hero’s quest) that gets shaped into a billion different stories, the way an alphabet creates uncountable words. But where does it come from?

The physical world is very present in this poem, in the highly specific details; the global, and the very local. We start off with the world from Istanbul to Brooklyn, in general terms, but end up with a woman at “duplex in Enid, Oklahoma, waiting for the mail.” That’s a zoom focus, practically to the color of the buttons on her blouse. The story shows up: “…you offer it/coffee and a slice of pecan pie, then more coffee.” That’s exactly the offering you’d give a guest, coffee before and after.

This is where the story ends. And now you know,
this is also where it begins, and you lean
into the light, put the pen to paper, and write.

I love how “lean” leans against the line end, into the next line, tipping us over by the momentum of our off-balance posture. The first hint of rhyme, rhythm, alliteration: we’re beginning to write.

A poem about writing. A story about a story being written; the title could refer to both the story that is the subject, and the story of the story. There’s a reference to a radio soap opera, to a letter about the war in the Pacific (both stories themselves; we are creatures made up of stories), so I’m gathering this is a genesis story, though Fairchild is a bit too young (born in 1942) to have been writing anything during WWII. I wonder if it’s a reference to a favorite story of his, written then, an homage to an author he admires.


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