A Poem A Story A Prompt, Issue 46

Time

The days when we “spring ahead” or “fall back” are auspicious ones in my home, mainly because my husband has a professional and personal interest in timekeeping, and has become something of an expert on the history and mechanics of Daylight Saving Time. He’s particularly fascinated by how political decisions can morph our calendars and timekeeping practices, whether it’s a government shutdown forcing us to skip a leap second (bet you didn’t know those exist!) or an online survey leading to a Canadian territory’s decision to do away with seasonal time changes entirely.

In his essay “Time After Time,” John Crowley writes about secular time (in which “each year, month, second is a unique and unrepeatable unit that disappears even as it appears in the infinitesimal present”) versus sacred time (“a primordial mythical time made present”). He describes the historical efforts of great Catholic thinkers to reconcile these calendars, and finally his own sense of timekeeping, as a lapsed Catholic:

I keep one calendar, though: one so singular and private I can’t know if everyone, or even anyone else, has one like it—though I suspect some must. It’s without dates; the occasions that fill it have no fixed number and don’t recur in any sort of chronological order. Each is a return of some long-ago circumstance in a kind of momentary entirety: the flavor, the taste, the total sensation of it; a past moment in the present… For almost all of mine I can’t discover an original, though I believe an original is what I’m visited by. I can’t keep them; the calendar is self-erasing.

Today’s poem and story both capture the shock that comes from recognizing oneself as existing in time that, no matter how filled with memory and sensation, will, eventually, run out.

Northern lights in Yukon by Leigh McAdam from Hike Bike Travel

Poem

My Dream About Time

a woman unlike myself is running
down the long hall of a lifeless house
with too many windows which open on
a world she has no language for,
running and running until she reaches
at last the one and only door
which she pulls open to find each wall
is faced with clocks and as she watches
all of the clocks strike

                                             NO

—Lucille Clifton

Who is this person?

Lucille Clifton was born in 1936 and grew up in Buffalo, NY. Shortly after graduating college (she attended Howard University and SUNY-Fredonia), she married a philosophy professor and began working as a claims clerk while writing poetry; she and her husband had six children together. She published her first collection, Good Times, in 1969, and the New York Times named it one of the 10 best books of the year. A major breakthrough came when Langston Hughes included her work in his 1970 anthology, The Poetry of the Negro. Clifton went on to publish a number of collections, children’s books, and a memoir, was a professor of poetry at several universities, and served as Poet Laureate of Maryland. In 2007, she was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for her lifetime accomplishments. In the New Yorker, poet Elizabeth Alexander noted Clifton’s ability to create “physically small poems with enormous and profound inner worlds.” Clifton died in 2010.

Story

Director’s Cut

Maček Smolansky was a filmmaker, entrepreneur, and philosopher. But, above all, he was a perfectionist. Which was why no one was particularly surprised when he announced that his new film, “Life,” would be shot on three cameras and would correspond, minute by minute, to a human life span. Filming began with the birth of Mateusz Krotoczowski, the film’s introverted protagonist, and lasted seventy-three years. On the set of the final scene, in which Mateusz hangs himself in his basement after being diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer, the entire crew wept. Not even the soundman’s desperate shushing could stop the tears.

Post-production took a hundred and fourteen years. Maček died of old age a few months after it started. Sound-editing continued for another ninety-six years, and still, when the film was released, there were several complaints on social media that it was rushed and sloppily done.

All the leading film critics were invited to the première, and the few tickets offered to the public were sold on the black market at exorbitant prices. The film, as promised, was seventy-three years long. When the closing credits rolled and the lights came on, the ushers found that, with the exception of one viewer, the entire audience was dead. Most of them were giving off a pretty good stench. Among all the decaying corpses sat the lone surviving viewer, naked and balding and sobbing like a baby. When his tears finally stopped falling, he wiped his eyes, stood, and walked calmly up the aisle.

This aging man was the son of a famous film critic, who hadn’t even known that she was pregnant when she sat down to watch the film. He was born eight months into the screening and grew up in the dark cinema, transfixed by the screen. When he opened the doors and stepped out into the street, he was blinded by the sun. Dozens of reporters waiting outside the theatre thrust microphones at him and asked what he thought of the movie. “Movie?” he stammered, as he blinked at the sunlight. All along he’d thought it was life.

—Etgar Keret (translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen)

Who is this person?

Born in Israel in 1967, to Polish parents who survived the Holocaust, Keret is known for his “oblique, breezy, seriocomic fantasies that defy encapsulation, categorization and even summary,” per Michael Lindgren in the Washington Post. He is the author of several short story collections, comics, two children’s books, and a memoir, as well as a play and a short film. In 2018 he was awarded the Sapir Prize, Israel’s most prestigious literary award, for his book Fly Already. You can read that collection’s title story here.

Prompt

Do you have a private calendar like the one Crowley describes? Write about an experience of a sensation returning to you “some long-ago circumstance.”


Alanna Schubach is a fiction writer, freelance journalist, and teacher. Follow her on Twitter @AlannaSchubach and read her work at alannaschubach.com. Send questions, recommendations for future newsletters, and the results of writing prompts (if you’re so inclined) to info@alannaschubach.com