Friday, January 27, 2017

A Strong Sense of Place and Family

by Bacopa Literary Review Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie Baxter

Jessica Conoley's "I Am Descended from Giants" was the first submission accepted in the Creative Nonfiction category for publication in Bacopa Literary Review 2016. Editor Rick Sapp said he loved its tone and brevity; Editor in Chief Mary Bast liked "how the author shaped the piece to give it the appeal of a fairy tale;" and I still marvel at its strong sense of place and family.

"I am Descended from Giants" was awarded first prize in Creative Nonfiction. Listen to the rhythm of the words as the author sets the scene:
. . . It's southeast Mis-sur-ah flat--the flat of white dotted cotton fields and mosquito-infested rice fields. The kind of flat that offers no shelter from the Mississippi River when the rain comes, and her banks rise, and families wait to see just how high the muddy sludge will climb up the baseboards in their living room . . . .
One quickly understands why the author dubbed her characters "giants."
. . . Because it is flat, the giants made good time as they roamed the country roads looking for work. The giants had been born to work, and to help, and to pull a smile from you when you felt there was nothing to smile about. The giants were born to live lives of adventure that made even their forty-acre shadows seem insignificant. The giants' magic was in their stories.
     Three of the giants were brothers and it was the tail ends of their lives that crossed over mine . . . . they taught me to never speak ill of family and . . . . showed generosity in unexpected places, leaving their oversized coats on the shoulder of foot-weary travelers ill-equipped for the elements.
     My child-eyes only saw glints of their magic . . . they painted stories of alternate times and realities. I think they could no longer see how very special each story was. They had grown accustomed to the sparkle of magic over their shoulders and, like a long-inked tattoo, they could no longer see it when they looked in the mirror. None of them ever seemed to realize how truly remarkable they were . . .
As time marches on, the author takes us back to place, to family, and to one's role within that family.
 . . . Sitting together, we looked over the flat, flat land and I waited. No longer a child, I now knew what to look for. I had learned patience, and I waited for the magic to come in its own time.
     It started in the winds that blew through the flat, flat land. Winds that carried the sounds of footsteps on gravel roads and the methodic thump of a shovel clearing the fields. Winds that carried the smells of sun-ripened watermelon and mules in the barn. Winds that carried the heat of summer even though we were at the edge of spring. Words flowed from his mouth in deep baritone waves, the magic falling onto the fields and seeping into the irrigation ditches . . .
     Each of the three sprung from the clouds . . . . And there, at their knee, was the fourth giant, looking up to the men he would become. For one glorious afternoon the stories spun together, a magic quilt suspended in the air, enveloping me in the stories I needed to know . . . He looked to me with tears in his blue eyes, but behind his sadness was hope. When he broke our silence, his words washed over me. "They lived the stories, and I learned to weave them with my voice many years ago. You heard my call, because you are one of us. The final in our line, chosen to carry the history forward." And with this declaration his magic spilled inside of me, and finally I understood.
     I am descended from giants.
Conoley says she was raised on 1980s action films, Jem and the Holograms, X-Men, and big-brother mandated Star-Wars. Decades later she started writing fantasy novels, flash fiction, and essays. In 2012, she became the Managing Editor of Kansas City Voices, an arts and literary magazine. If you'd like to see more of her writing, check out her website.