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Forest Elegy by Despy Boutris


Despy Boutris’s microfiction piece, “Forest Elegy,” is not only a study in concision, but also one in how evocative, sensory detail can be layered to create complexity and texture. Told through an intimate first-person lens, the narrative captures the moment an adolescent couple is consumed by their deep desire for one another for the first time—all against the startling backdrop of the forest surrounding them going up in flames. Boutris, who is also a poet, brings a rhythmic lyricism to her prose. Her repetition of the phrases “It was summer” and “We were all drunk on freedom” echo like a pulse throughout the arc’s feverish escalation. Please make sure to also check out Boutris’s author’s note to read more about the inspiration behind “Forest Elegy.” We hope you enjoy the piece and look forward to sharing more flash work with you next week as we continue CRAFT’s all-flash November.  —CRAFT


 

I wasn’t the one who started the fire. I was there, though, in the forest after dark, my unclothed skin sheened with sweat. It was summer. All of us smoking, laughing, drunk on our sudden freedom—no exams, no rules, no one pushing us up against the wall. Someone rubbed two sticks together, trying to make sparks. The steady breeze, the chaos of hair. The arm slung around my waist. A girl and I slunk deeper into the dark. It was summer. All of us free, and warm, and full of longing. She touched my face and I became a burning pine. I touched her thigh and my hands turned to smoke. I felt a fire spread through me, and I didn’t think about the forest not about the breeze, the dry heat, the boys playing with their lighters. I didn’t think about the dry grasses, the pine needles, the gusts of wind threatening to blow us away. And maybe this is the real risk of wanting: turning feral, blind to the heat spreading in the distance, the shouts, the sound of footfall. It was summer. We were all drunk on freedom. I was there when the fire spread, running from the flames, a hand in mine, in our mouths the taste of smoke.

 


DESPY BOUTRIS’s writing has been published or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, American Poetry Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Journal, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Currently, she teaches at the University of Houston and serves as Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast, Guest Editor for Palette Poetry and Frontier, and Editor in Chief of The West Review.

Author’s Note

For me, a piece of writing always begins with an image. Perhaps because I am a poet as well as a prose writer, it is not an idea for narrative or dialogue that comes first but, rather, an image that I can’t get out of my mind. In this case, what spurred “Forest Elegy” was the image of a couple embracing, oblivious—at least for a moment—to the woods burning all around them. I wanted to capture that gothic image and, with it, the adolescent speaker’s experience: the hunger, urgency, and ferality that comes with deeply desiring another person for the first time.

Whether it is a fictional or autobiographical piece of writing, I am always invested in keeping a record of becoming—both the wonders involved, and the terror. I hope that “Forest Elegy” captures both, and that the narrative feels both tender and fraught, both pleasurable and risky—that, just like love, it is both beautiful and a little scary.

 


DESPY BOUTRIS’s writing has been published or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, American Poetry Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Journal, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Currently, she teaches at the University of Houston and serves as Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast, Guest Editor for Palette Poetry and Frontier, and Editor in Chief of The West Review.