16 October 2016

ghosting reality

In Rwanda, there is an undercurrent of constant motion. Bicycles balancing enormous sacks of potatoes, full sets of furniture, jugs of water. On the road, streams of motos. Children on foot with a goat. Armed men in uniform goosestepping in single file. Women with buckets of wet cement on their heads going up and down the bamboo construction scaffolding. Women with babies tied on their backs. Congolese refugees hawking roasted corn cobs from the gutters. Even at night there is movement, undulation of voices, vehicles, or music from a radio. The entire landscape thrums with a collective breath that tugs at its horizons.

At the bottom of this hill, my father tells me, the local truck drivers claim there is a ghost. We are on our way back to Butari on the wide paved road guided by the reflection of an occasional painted center line. Down the hill, a solitary row of yellow streetlamps marks the turn at the bottom. The ghost is said to be a beautiful woman who appears in the middle of the road. The fated drivers are at once captivated and terrorized so that they lose the road, miss the turn, upend their trucks in the tight groves of eucalyptus that hover at the edge of our headlights in the black night. More trucks have crashed here than anywhere else on this road, the only truck access between the country's two largest cities.

Based on a map, Rwanda is 9000 miles from my home state, but in that moment I could have been a child listening to my older cousins tell stories of the ghostly women on the Union Pacific tracks, engineers driven mad by the haunting perfume that lingers in the engine as it hurtles through the phantom shapes toward an uncertain end—tracks washed out or the trestle failed. Or perhaps it is the story of the White Lady of Spring Canyon, her husband or lover lost below in the coal mine, leaving her in perpetual mourning to take revenge on the luck of the living. 

Our world is not so large if we dare to look, our shared stories moving through similar shadows and spaces of reality, specters of story nuanced by universal circumstance or chance. The motion of reality captured in story, fiction undercut with truth, offers up a reflection of ourselves that reaches, at the very least, 9000 miles in either direction.

If you enjoyed my Rwanda story that was published earlier this year in Cimarron Review, "Stained with Lime," you may be interested to read the next story in the connected series. "The Audrey Hepburn" will premier in Delmarva Review Vol 9 on November 1, available in print and online. Watch this site for more information once the issue launches.

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."  ― Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World

23 June 2016

news: cimarron review announces release

Cimarron Review announces the release of Issue 195:

I am honored to be included in this issue alongside these fine poets and writers.  My copies arrived yesterday, and the issue is lovely and full of amazing writing.

18 June 2016

new story: where she stands

Gold-capped Mason jars filled with cut green beans line the kitchen countertop in orderly rows. On the table, a crate of new peaches, the irrigation schedule, and a stack of pink flyers: Resurrection Rummage Sale. July 14-15 Friday and Saturday at Our Holy Redeemer. Bernadette finishes the breakfast dishes and starts packing the decent hand-me-downs into paper bags. Her mother takes up the kettle to pour water through the coffee funnel.

"Marsha Neederman has some books for the sale," her mother says. "But leave me the truck so I can pick up another load of hay. Jay will be here inside the hour." Her cup full, she stirs in some sugar. "And drop those flyers by the grocery. They’re going to hand them out at the register.”

"Mom!" Ginny's wooden clogs bang down the hallway. "Where's my red notebook?" She swoops the cup out of her mother's hand, holds it to her lips, hands it back. "Hot, hot, hot."

"Not in that skimpy thing, Ginny Lynn Walters." Their mother adds milk, takes a sip, sets the cup on the sideboard. "We're not those girls," she says. With a basket of clean wet sheets on her hip, she heads out back to the clothesline.

Ginny rolls her eyes at Bernadette. Her lashes are dark with mascara. "Shoulders are the new vagina," she says.

Bernadette hands her a red spiral notebook marked
American History. "Don't be crude."

~ from Where She Stands by Sherri H. Hoffman. Available online at The Columbia Review, Vol 97, Issue 2, Spring 2016.

I find it interesting timing for this story to make its way into the world just as the Stanford swimmer’s rape conviction and mediated sentence are in the news, followed by the pleas from his family to dismiss and excuse his crimes. Reassign guilt and/or consequences to his victim. While my story,“Where She Stands,” isn't specifically about rape, it shares at its roots some of the assumptions that empower and institutionalize sexism and male privilege.

The story’s setting is intentional. I moved to a small rural town as a teenager and lived there through high school. From the cities and military bases of my childhood, I arrived with idyllic visions of a place in the country where you could swim or fish in the local river, or raise horses and a garden in your own backyard. Those parts of my naive vision became true, and during those years, the good times were really good.

But rural isolation doesn’t protect girls from being bullied, intimidated, shamed, and/or assaulted by boys secure in a culture in which they are privileged. Whether it's the kid who always sits next to you to cheat off your work or the bully on the bus. The boy who inspired the character of Lane once told me that he would often watch me ride my bay mare in the surrounding fields through the scope of his rifle. Said it as if that was a good thing. As if I should be flattered.

 No matter the setting, it remains for #everywoman to find her voice in truth. Draw the line against even the smallest forms of oppression, prejudice, and inequality in order to make a difference. 

 The unnamed woman who survived the sexual assault by the Stanford swimmer chose to address her statement at his sentencing directly to him. Her complete statement is long and powerful, and I expect the repercussions will continue in the days and weeks to come. Responding to the light sentence, the woman said, “I want the judge to know that he ignited a tiny fire. If anything, this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.” (Buzzfeed News)

Hit it out of the park, as it were. With a vengeance.

~ sherri