Friday, 7 December 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "Like Owls" by Tania Hershman

"Like Owls"

Someone died. That was the whisper down the line. The line, that stretched, that snaked, that wound. Someone died, they hissed, pass it on. And we did, we bent towards our neighbour, our hot breath in their ear. Who, who, who? Like owls, the sounds came back. Who died, who died, who died? But nothing was returned, and no-one could see, no-one could see the front, although every day we shuffled some, we moved one foot and maybe the other. We hoped, we hoped and hoped, we clutched our numbers, shuffling.

Inside our heads we wondered if we were it, the dead, the expired. Perhaps we had all passed on but why the shuffling then? If we were dead, we thought, we'd rest. If we were dead we'd lie around all day, in sunshine if it still existed. Lucky dead, we thought, lucky not to have to queue, to eat, or breathe, or sigh or sweat, or love or curse. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

The next day and the next, we stood, we inched, we stood. And then: a runner. A runner streaking, from behind straight up, towards the head, the start, the finish! Go go go go, we cried, clutching our numbers, our shuffling feet thrilled to the chase, thrilled to the bravery. Go go go go go! The runner vanished, far far ahead, and we strained to hear, to hear some cheers, some acts, some violence, some thing. But no, the runner's run was done. Bones broken, came the whisper, hissed from one ear to the next. Truncheons, batons, zappers, chains and stern commands. The runner won't be running now, or ever, and we giggled, laughed and cackled, foolish runner, stupid stupid stupid, no not brave, not brave. Queue we must and queue we did, no breaking free, no gaining ground.

Someone died. That was the whisper down the line. Who who who? Like owls, the sound came back. 

Tania Hershman is the author of two story collections: My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions (Tangent Books, 2012), a collection of 56 very short fictions, and The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008; commended, 2009 Orange Award for New Writers). Tania's short stories and poetry are published or forthcoming in, among others, Five Dials, Stinging Fly, Tears in the Fence, PANK magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, the London Magazine, and New Scientist, and on BBC Radio. She is writer-in-residence in Bristol University's Science Faculty and editor of The Short Review. 


Tomas said...

A great little story! It reads like a prose version of a villanelle.

Anna Twizell said...

'Like Owls' written by Tania Hershman is successful as a prose poem because of her use of musicality and concentration. The musicality of the piece makes it sound good when read aloud due to the repetition of words and sounds such as, ‘who’ and ‘we hoped’. The line ‘the line that stretched, that snaked, that wound’ has an excellent poetic sound due to the technique of sibilance.
It feels different to other prose poems I have read as it shows the passing of time and movement instead of focusing on one exact moment. Although this is the case, the feeling of distillation has still been created, giving the prose poem a sense of urgency and concentration.

Laura Bowen said...

This is a wonderfully written prose poem. The title makes sense once you start reading. The repetition of the line structure and the words in one sentence give it a feeling of a poem in prose style. This technique, as well as the many commas in the penultimate paragraph give the reading a quick pace to reach the climax of the story, where in other poetry there may not be a climax. The description of slaves never knowing what is happening is conveyed well; with little description of their environment, and instead it is portrayed with their actions and thoughts.

Tessa Hewitt said...

This prose poem is best read aloud to fully hear the musicality and the sense of urgency that comes across. The repetition of particular words and sounds such as "Go go go go go!" build upon the feeling of excitement as the runner runs past. When reading it aloud, this adds to the pace and as a reader it becomes more engaging as you feel yourself becoming caught up in the moment. It is successful as a prose poem as it elaborates on a feeling in a short space of time. While the repetition at the end works to bring the prose poem full circle.