Elizabet

Days on the beach under a tin sky, sand ripples on the tidal flats. Your mum doesn’t take any phone calls, your mum grabs your hand, keeps pushing you. It’s a strange holiday, cockles are popping up from the ground. The mist that began to turn white. The mainland. Your mother looks at you like you are born on a different planet. All this goes nowhere. Just out into sand. There is no end. The sound of heavy water. Does not mean anything. Your mother insisted. Come on, Elizabeth. Always dropping the h. Come on, Elizabet. Makes your name sharp, jagged clam shards. Foreign. Give her your eyes. Give her your lips. Her breath foggy with Pastis. You’re fed up with shellfish. Salt sauce. Liquid sand. Any air you eat is a disappointment.

16 Comments

  1. Nancy Bauer-King

    Well-drawn character of Elizabeth. Excellent use of seaside images that feed Elizabeth’s morose situation. I like the mum’s dropping the “h” and how it makes Elizabeth’s name sound like sharp, jagged clam shards.

  2. Todd Clay Stuart

    Jonathan, I like the specificity of the dropping of the H. Reminded me a little bit of “Anne With An E”. Resonant last line. Good work.

  3. sara lippmann

    God this is gorgeous, Jonathan. Immediate and urgent and painfully sad. The devastation that lies in the disconnect between mother and child, with the dropped h — how that detail alone tells me all the ways she is not seen, and not understood by her parent.

    Throughout, I love the musicality.

    The repetition of give — “give her your eyes. give her your lips.” And how the mother takes away the h in return.

    As always I’m struck by your dynamic word choices: “tin sky” “tidal flats” and “salt sauce”. and i want to know what you mean, somehow, about “it’s a strange holiday.” love that and would love that unpacked a hair, as I feel a universe of subtext.

    And still, I crave a bit more excavation along the imperative.

    this mother. (why the switch to past tense “mother insisted?” perhaps keep it in present, unless I’m missing something?)

    (do we need the line about any air you eat is a disappointment? I mean, YES, it’s a great line, but I also feel like that is already coming through so so well, and i’m not sure you want to step on what you’ve already achieved. Perhaps something else goes as the kicker?)

    Thanks so much for sharing! Your voice is exemplary of what language can do.

    • Jonathan Cardew

      Sara,

      Thank you so much for the feedback! This evolved from your exercise of delving into a dictionary, except in this case I took the opening lines of a very prosaic narrative I wrote a little while back (about a mother and daughter collecting cockles) and put it into Google Translate a few times to see what language might come out the other end. I was struck by some of the translations and abrupt sentences and then built from there.

      I like your suggestions! My problem is I try to be too narrative-y and then my writing loses some of that poetic strength. I agree with the need to try to weave in something more about the “strange holiday”

      Enjoying all the readings and your thoughts on language! Many thanks!

      –Jonathan

  4. Randal Houle

    Jonathon,
    Well done. This piece evokes and provokes partly because of the short punctuated language, a series of images that draw the reader. I loved the choice of the comma splice in “Makes your name sharp, jagged clam shards” One of my favorite uses of the prompts. I’m not an editor, but such a great fit for bending genres, IMHO.

  5. Meg Tuite

    Jonathan!
    This is a beauty! “Elizabet” the hard bite of her mother’s voice is palpable! Love so much ‘tin sky’ ‘cockles are popping up’ ‘The sound of heavy water.”
    “The mist that began to turn white.” (Can you take out ‘that’ and go to present? The mist begins to turn white.
    ” Makes your name sharp, jagged clam shards.” Your language choices are amazing! LOVE!

    • Jonathan Cardew

      Meg, thanks so much! Yes, great point about the tense here–I think I need to neaten some of the tenses out in this piece.

  6. Jonathan Cardew

    Meg, thanks so much! Yes, great point about the tense here–I think I need to neaten some of the tenses out in this piece.

  7. Jenn Rossmann

    Jonathan, I love this. the tin sky, the Pastis-foggy breath, the dropped h. It’s so wonderfully dreamy while having these really concrete details that tether us to reality. “The sound of heavy water” is a marvel. My inner line-editor, like Meg’s, was trying to sort out some tense things, but maybe that’s part of the dream: a swirl of present and past tense, of the mother’s accented speech and the narrator’s own. Bravo.

  8. Nancy Stohlman

    This is so pretty, especially this: Your mother insisted. Come on, Elizabeth. Always dropping the h. Come on, Elizabet. Makes your name sharp, jagged clam shards.
    It made me want to speak it out loud and taste the word on my tongue. I also got hints of Annabel Lee and Nabokov…like looking in their back doors. xo

  9. April Bradley

    Such wonderful details, Jonathan: the tin sky and this little girl whose name is truncated into something so strange to herself by her own mother. I love the poetry of this, and want to hear you read it. I agree with the tense issues. That was a bit, just a tiny bit disorienting. Very curious how google translate tinkered with your text. This is just lovely.

  10. Kristen Ploetz

    There are two things I really like about this: the very spare but oh so descriptive language about the place we find ourselves as readers, but even more so? This: “Makes your name sharp, jagged clam shards. Foreign.” WOW. As a mother and daughter both I feel this in my BONES. How something–our name–can be rendered so foreign by someone we are supposed to be closest to, to the point of it feeling not quite right, and certainly not familiar (i.e. foreign). That is really powerful and the kind of language that so sparely gets at a very common feeling. I also really love how short this is. My heart leans toward concise pieces with no words over- or underused, and this is very much one of those.

  11. David O'Connor

    Jonathan, what a lovely (pointillist) painting. Subtle yet laced, the h dropped, the pastis, that looming white mist, somewhere Chesil Beach meets a Great Day for Banana Fish… very intriguing, also a sentence rhythm.

  12. Laurie Marshall

    What a melancholy weekend Elizabet is enduring. Love this: “You’re fed up with shellfish. Salt sauce. Liquid sand. Any air you eat is a disappointment.”

    The second pov works well.

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