The house was a pretty dilapidated rancher, built in the 1960s or 1970s–I have never been good at estimating things like age or the time it takes to drive somewhere when you’re already late or how long it might take to end a marriage when the love part of it fails–and it wasn’t anything fancy, it was sort of falling apart and you had to be careful if you took the front steps in a hurry, but it had three bedrooms, one for me and my dog, one for my older son who had almost outgrown the bed I got for free from a friend of mine, and the other for my younger son who mostly slept squished between the dog and I anyway, and it felt like a landing spot, sort of how i thought armstrong must have felt when he landed on the moon, like, thank god, i’m finally here and that took a lot longer than expected, and we ate most of our meals outside on the back deck regardless of the weather, meals i prepared and put in the freezer when the boys were with their dad so i didn’t have to waste time cutting carrots or trimming pork loins when they were with me, and we’d talk about the moon and its faces and phases and what it means to have the rug pulled out from underneath you, metaphorically, i had to say when my youngest started jacking around with the entry-way runner, and where we wanted to go and what we wanted to be, and i’d always say, life is as young as you make it, when my boys asked how on earth i didn’t know what i wanted to be yet, but then i’d lie in bed most nights and stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stars the family who’d lived here before me or maybe the family who’d lived there before them had affixed to the ceiling in a random array, and i’d wonder what i actually wanted to be besides a mother and an ex-wife and a walker of the backroads in the middle of the moonlit night, and sometimes the way we’d sit squished on the bench out back, bowls on our laps, forks in our mouths, staring up at the sky, sometimes the way the stars on the ceiling seemed to move with the tears in my eyes, sometimes the way the steps out front would stop me from falling when i took them two-by-two because i was late for school or hockey or a sleepover pickup–sometimes it was the rancher that held us together and not the other way around.

13 Comments

  1. Francine Witte

    This is great. Moves like a rocket. I love the part about life being as young as you make and the way the backstory of this woman is so seamlesslessly woven in. All the details of the stars on the ceiling are so visual and right. Beautiful.

  2. Al Kratz

    This is a great breathless one. It’s got that mixture of heavy and lightness too with things like the self-deprecating humor about not knowing how to age houses, or how long it takes to drive somewhere blended with the seriousness of knowing when a marriage is over. And then the humor too on Armstrong and thank god I’m finally here. So this sets up a good image map of distance and traveling and risk and reward and that merges well with the images of the falling apart house vs falling apart family unit and we just want them both to hang in there and then that idea resolves to the ending with the turn that the dilapidated rancher has indeed done the work.

  3. Len Kuntz

    Hi Jen,

    This was a whirling dervish, where we get to see the life of the narrator through her eyes, all the joys and pratfalls. I love the meditations on youth and how fleeting time is, and also how you brought “time” as a theme back at the end. Really well done.

  4. Benjamin Niespodziany

    Yes! I loved how outer space and the moon and the stars continue to return to the narrative. At first, I noted the Armstrong reference, but then it became more and more cosmic and celestial and orbital and atmospheric and great all around! Like Francine said, Moves like a rocket!

  5. Jonathan Cardew

    Jen,

    Gorgeous, bloody gorgeous! I was transported–my hand was held and I was pulled along and I was happy to be led through the rooms of this rancher! I just love the breathless sentence story and you execute it so well in this piece. Such momentum!

    This, for me, is the pivotal moment:

    “but then i’d lie in bed most nights and stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stars the family who’d lived here before me or maybe the family who’d lived there before them had affixed to the ceiling in a random array”

    I love that trackback to previous occupants–has Russian doll vibes or else 1001 Nights vibes. Houses and homes, indeed! The things that contain us and the things that have come before. And you also skillfully slip in backstory. We get a real sense of a divorce and a split family, “what it means to have the rug pulled out from underneath you.” Such excellent execution.

    I also love the circularity of this piece–the circle back to ranchers at the end. Great last sentence!

    HOW ABOUTS:

    1. If you stick with this single sentence frame, I might suggest removing the couple of emdashes (–) in this piece. This might be a subjective comment, but I feel like you don’t need them and they interrupt the flow (but that could also be a good thing?).

    2. I’ve mentioned this to a few participants: how about paring it down? Would further brevity add any power to this piece? It may be worth trying out.

    3. Still an early draft, but I might try out a different title. The Rancher?

    I want to see this one out in the world and I think you could aim big. Copper Nickel comes to mind, for some reason.

    Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks so much for playing in this shop of work!

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  6. Kristin Bonilla

    This is just gorgeous. I love the juxtaposition here of the larger world (the moon, the stars) with the small space (the house, the interiority of the narrator’s mind). There is so much emotion here but it doesn’t feel overwrought or unearned. Starting out with what appears to be dilapidated but knowing by the end that, actually, things are actually quite tight and good and functioning as they should. Just fantastic work!

  7. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Jen, the space, the movement, the zen-like details, the interiority of specifics, tone, breathless one-sentence, AAAAHHHHHH. So deeply satisfying. I love it as is, but if I could suggest one tiny thing, maybe one more ball in the air with the speaker? Still, this one is tight and ready to fly.

  8. Todd Clay Stuart

    Jennifer, I loved how the end of this circles back to the beginning, the narrator admitting to being as dilapidated as the structure she lives in. The single sentence structure of this works pretty well. Single paragraph stories are hard enough to pull off effectively, let alone single sentence narratives. You do a really good job of sustaining notes here in a single sentence. I found only 2 or 3 little bumps in the rhythm of this that can easily be smoother over in revisions. I think some of the image here are stronger than others, and you could probably tighten this by cutting a few of the them. That will immediately elevate this to the next level. Also, I think you could go ahead and make this all lower-case, since you lowercase armstrong and some of the “i”s already. Just go for it with the lower-case. One last tiny thing, the word “rancher” threw me a bit. I assumed you mean “ranch” or the equivalent, which is, at least in the US, slang for a one-story house. Maybe rancher is a common term elsewhere. It’s always a pleasure reading your work!

  9. Rogan

    I remember debating with a poet friend about cliche and overwrought images and he said to me, birds and the moon. And I bristled and told him, someone important once said every poem is a bird poem. And further, the moon cannot be cliche. It can be badly written but it’s an archetype, so are birds for that matter. All of this to say, the style of telling you did here, the way you put words in Armstrong’s mouth, the style choice to not capitalize which felt wonderfully brazen like you put a lowercase on an American god, the way you make the artificial starts come up (affixed is such a good word, so is ‘random array’) and you turn on the best kind of poetry at “mother and ex-wife” and the way you flip that last sentence which turns everything upside down in a piece so fixed on the sky is goddamn brilliant, Jen.

  10. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Jennifer, Love the way this one-sentence story weaves us through thoughts on home and ambition, it’s planning and it’s let life carry us. Love the stars, the porch dinners, the way the narrator freezes dinners so her time with her sons isn’t stolen from time with them, and her back roads wanderings, and her wondering along with her boys about why she hasn’t figured out what she will be– and don’t we do so much of that, when maybe being itself is what we are. Nice work. Thank you.

  11. Wilson Koewing

    Jen,

    Stunning language. There is a dull and beautiful pain that permeates the entirety of this piece that somehow lends magical characterization to this mother. I thought it was quite brilliant how the piece starts and ends with the home, though we really come to learn what the elements are that actually make it a home in the middle. I loved the line “life is as young as you make it.” Just fabulous. Basically perfect in my opinion.

    Wilson

  12. Georgiana Nelsen

    Jen,
    I feel like this breathless paragraph captures the essense of motherhood, especially when she’s got no partner for support, that she’s always one step behind and just wants her boys. This line “and it felt like a landing spot, sort of how i thought armstrong must have felt when he landed on the moon, like, thank god, i’m finally here and that took a lot longer than expected”. yes. It is a landing for someone who has been up in the air, with the stars and the moon no less, for too long, and has something to hold on to, that seems to hold her right back. Lovely work.
    G

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