koi sidebar

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 3, September 2018

Janet Lynn Davis
Grimes County, Texas, USA

Dangling by a Twig

I didn't realize the literature course I signed up for as an elective would require so much of my time. Each week, all that reading, reading, reading. A pattern emerged in my dorm room: in the wee hours, for as long as I could, feverishly scan the latest batch of short stories assigned to us; rise by 7 a.m., trying to finish, hoping a few passages would leave an imprint.

My misfortunes actually began the first day of class, when I was the last person to arrive. The room beamed with students, fresh green peas lined up neatly in their pods. Panting and no doubt disheveled, I made my way to the sole remaining seat, located in the center of the front row, directly facing the zealous professor, Mrs. M. That was where I'd be planted all semester.

a garden
of golden words,
roots deep
in metaphor
and universal truth

My every facial expression, as well as my tendency to drift off during class, didn't seem to go unnoticed. Remarkably, I always managed to muddle through when she called on me, except for one particular occasion. I partially blamed my troubles that fateful day on Truman Capote, since it was his eerie tale we were studying.

Her eyes found mine as she directed the key question to me: "And what is the most-important symbol?"

the strings of my mind
for the answer
but only the sounds
of empty chords

Symbol, what symbol? What was happening? Had I been older and far more sure of myself, I might have joked my way out of my predicament. Instead, maybe foolish, maybe brave, after what felt like an hour of silence, I allowed myself to utter three words: "I don't know." A declaration that possibly, until that moment, had never before been heard in Mrs. M.'s perfect classroom.

"You don't know?" Pause. Her eyes seemed to double in size, ready to pop out, her thick crop of hair redder than ever. "The symbol, of course, is the GREEN GUITAR!"

Of course. How I wished I could curl up, embryonic, in a treehouse—where I'd be free to read Capote's story on my own terms and in my own time.

If only I'd understood that at some level I was the protagonist in his tale of oddities and initiation. That I was Kay, the unsuspecting college student who found herself in the last-available seat on a train, across from a freakish couple bent on surprising and tormenting her. In the process, the young woman was forced to confront her "tree of night," its blackened branches, the fables and whispers sown during childhood.

ogres crouch
amid the jagged shapes
of wild shrubs
in the pitch-dark night
leaves lack their youthful glow

From that point on, life became a little lighter. Mrs. M. let up (gave up?) on me: no more questions, no more exposés of my meager class preparation. More reading—and a tough final exam—but I expected that. Best of all, never again did I have to hear the words "the green guitar," though I've carried them around in my rucksack ever since.

Author's Notes:

Truman Capote's short story "A Tree of Night" was first published in Harper's Bazaar (October 1945). Subsequently, it was included in Capote's collection A Tree of Night and Other Stories (1949, Random House).

I did indeed fear Mrs. M. But over time, I also developed a respect for her, a popular and impressive literature professor of her day.

"Dangling by a Twig" was first published in Skylark 5:2, Winter 2017.



| contents page | next tanka prose |

koi sidebar r