Exploring the art of prose


How to Say That We Want to Say Everything Is Okay by Luka Poljak

Image is a color photograph of a jack-o-lantern in a window; title card for the flash fiction story "How to Say That We Want to Say Everything Is Okay" by Luka Poljak.

The urgent rhythm of Luka Poljak’s riveting exploration of a traumatized mind, “How to Say That We Want to Say That Everything’s Okay,” drew our editors in from the first read. Written in a pressured, almost breathless first-person voice, the author gives us a simple moment between the narrator and their girlfriend as the narrator struggles to connect after experiencing severe trauma. Poljak provides a window into his technique as he writes in his author’s note: “It was through this concept of ‘breath’ in a story that I wanted to lay out a protagonist’s internal psyche, through process, and their coping with trauma.” The writer adeptly manipulates the pace of the story to bring the reader into the moment and the mindset of the character, yet does so in a way that does not distract the reader. We cannot see or feel the wheels of craft cranking and turning. The naturalism of the prose adheres to the idiosyncrasies of spoken language in its use of a first-person narrator. The story insists that the reader live and breathe alongside the character, opening space for literature’s arguably highest power: a call to empathy and connection.  —CRAFT


She said she wanted me to meet her parents up in Squamish the week after I came back and that if I wanted to die it would be okay, but only after I meet her parents. So we drove up to Squamish on the weekend but stopped at one of those Halloween stores near a gas station even though it was February because she kept saying it would be funny and so out-of-season that we just had to see it and so we did. When we got to the motel they gave us a single bed and I put on the red wig she’d picked out for me back at the Halloween store and she was on the bed and kept saying I was more wig than man but instead of having sex we both started to giggle and fell onto the bed and I slipped a little because the wig kept getting in my eyes and that made her giggle even more, and then suddenly I didn’t really feel like dying all that much and I asked her if it would be funny if I met her parents with a wig, all covered in red, and she giggled again but then kinda stopped and said she needed to use the washroom. She didn’t come out for almost ten minutes and so I sat on the bed and realized I didn’t think she found the wig that funny anymore and that I still had to go meet her parents and that we were still in Squamish and then I thought a bit about dying again, but the curtain was open and I could see the sun outside in the parking lot and I realized I’d felt a lot like concrete these past few months and wondered if she felt that talking to me was like talking to concrete ever since I came back, and I didn’t really like how that made me feel so I started hugging the pillow.

We never ended up meeting her parents. We got into a fight on the way to Dentville and she kept talking about the new pool her dad had installed and it kinda pissed me off so I said I didn’t care even though I knew it would piss her off too and then we both said some things to each other, horrible things, things I never thought I would say to anyone, and before I knew it we were parked on the side of a ditch and she was crying outside of the car, but I couldn’t really hear it because the car door kept beeping and I couldn’t feel my fist and when I looked down it was white and the blood was cut off and I couldn’t open it and why couldn’t I open it? I started to panic but I thought about what saved me from this back in the dust and I thought about my buddies in stretchers and what it actually meant to fear, the whiteness of it, but mostly I thought about dust, but then she came back to the car looking like she always did after she cried and for a brief moment it felt like how it was before I first left and I looked down at my fist and it was open.

She put her hand in my palm and said she wanted us to visit her parents anyways and who cares that we were late, and I told her I missed the winters and the snow in the Prairies, and she said she was thinking of getting a dog, that maybe we should get a dog, and I told her I thought that was terrific, and we just sat there in the car on the side of the road, and the door kept beeping, and cars kept driving past, but we both looked straight ahead. And all I could hear was her breathing.


LUKA POLJAK is a writer and recent alumnus of the University of British Columbia Creative Writing Program. He was a finalist for the 2022 CBC Literary Prize and the 2023 RBC/PEN Canada Emerging Writers Award. Read his work at CBC Books and find him on Instagram @luka_poljk.


Featured image by Josh Hild, courtesy of Unsplash.


Author’s Note

The concept of “breath” in a story is something I’ve been experimenting widely with recently. As a writer who started out in the poetry genre, this idea of rhythm and pace throughout the story, throughout the white space of the individual words themselves, is, to me, integral for capturing an essence of the character’s internal conflict, especially when used in first-person perspectives. It was through this concept of “breath” in a story that I wanted to lay out a protagonist’s internal psyche, thought process, and their coping with trauma.

Now when I say “breath” I obviously don’t mean the literal act of breathing that we all do in order to live (not that there’s nothing important to praise about that), but rather, the internalized breathing and breaths our minds do when we are reading something. Just like how I am now going to write a long sentence with no breaks or pauses or commas or periods or anything that can help your (dear reader’s) mind to cope or structuralize the words of this sentence which in turn feels like your mind while reading this is holding its breath and turning purple. Analogously, I have now used a word like analogously, followed by an intentional knife-cut of a comma, to let your mind parse these words more seamlessly, taking smaller breaths through each clause, letting your mind breathe with peace as you read. Though it may have been cynicism that led me to want to write a story with the prior philosophy in mind: that of a drawn-out exhale as the protagonist travels with their partner to Squamish. I can assure you, it was with a clairvoyance and perhaps a hint of 1 a.m. writer’s clarity that I chose empathy, not cynicism.

And much like how the words appeared to be laid out in the story, I can confirm the story, in its most fundamental, came out as a thirty-minute exercise in cutting off a reader’s source of air. Which was done in order to better understand the protagonist’s own struggle to “breathe” as they have come back to a “normal” reality after anything but a “normal” past few months.

While it was certainly an engaging inception that worked well for the first half of the story, it seemed obvious, as I kept writing, that the so-called “shift” in the narrative I wanted was to be this very shift in the pacing of the words themselves. And this I wanted to employ most readily with the scene near the end of the piece where two characters hold hands and sit in a car. That of pause. That of brief peace. That of breath. That even though the words might have come like a swarm of flies in the beginning, they’ve slowed down now. This will all end soon. And everything will be okay.


LUKA POLJAK is a writer and recent alumnus of the University of British Columbia Creative Writing Program. He was a finalist for the 2022 CBC Literary Prize and the 2023 RBC/PEN Canada Emerging Writers Award. Read his work at CBC Books and find him on Instagram @luka_poljk.