Exploring the art of prose


Tag: Point of View

Author’s Note

Over the past year I’ve been holding myself to arbitrary constraints to keep myself from saying what I want to say in a story. “The Two Denvers” arose out of a prompt from writer Peter Markus, who during a summer workshop provided a constellation of images and words that included Frida Kahlo’s painting “The Two Fridas” and Raymond Carver’s story “Fat,” whose eponymous character from Denver refers to himself as “we.” Of all that impresses the narrator about this man, it’s the sight of his fingers that she can’t forget.

What I wanted to say in this story was about hands. I thought I could tell the story of the time a friend showed me “his” cadaver, mid-dissection. He did it respectfully, and I took it to be his way of dealing with his discomfort. At the time I had a morbid fascination with cemeteries and the poems of Emily Dickinson. I was always trying to remember that I would die—something only the dead can really do. I’m not sure, now, which feels falser, comfort or discomfort with death. But a few years ago, the story changed when my friend died by suicide. The story became more than just his and mine.

Instead, I tried listening to a collection of cadavers say what only they could say, sentence by sentence. “We” could be anyone and everyone at once. But—if the narrative point of view is the one that must register some change, a rule of thumb I hold myself to—could a dead “we” change? I didn’t ask myself this question consciously while writing, but in retrospect I can think of only one way:

I think, I hope, that in the last line the cadavers come to life. Ironically, if they do, it’s with the electric jolt of one word, an addition suggested by Peter: the word “dead,” which has been taboo until then.

And this is not something I knew I wanted to say or knew that I knew, but something that emerged in the listening: that, after they die, people become terribly, newly alive.


REBECCA STARKS is the author of the poetry collections Fetch, Muse and Time Is Always Now, a finalist for the Able Muse Book Award. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in Baltimore Review, Crab Orchard Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Epiphany, Slice, and elsewhere. A recipient of Rattle’s Neil Postman Award for Metaphor and of Poetry Northwest’s Richard Hugo Prize, she grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and lives in Richmond, Vermont. Find her on Twitter @rebeccawstarks.