Elodie Barnes & Erin Calabria
Winner of the 2020 Summer Collaboration Contest
curve of ocean between her and home. The secret both held and soaring.
Guess what? she had said to my father.
Is there a landscape between spoken and unspoken? Sometimes I feel like the first place I
ever existed was the sky.
We are always too late for the present moment, and maybe the past too.
My body is still responding to being displaced,
or misplaced. An unfinished sketch, hovering in half-light.
A space of endlessness.
A space of disequilibrium.
The words of this language
bruise my mouth.
More than once when my grandfather was dying, muddled between waking and sleep, he
almost told my mother the work he’d kept silent.
You wouldn’t believe it, he said. It was something else.
Years ago, he’d been a NASA engineer. I’d always pictured fighter jets flying in formation,
the equations to make them faster, sleeker, unreeling across his desk. But then he died, taking
with him those secrets I know have also, somewhere, traversed the sky.
As a child I thought I’d been stitched together
from scraps; a quilted child, a cobble of mismatched features.
A child of too many parents, too many countries.
Now, I picture my mother’s father and his slide rule, and
I think I am the child of too many poems instead.
This city remains a patchwork, seams of history still raw, unsutured.
My grandfather was five when he left this place. I never knew if he wondered about staying,
about the planes that shattered the city’s corrupted heart—what other secrets he might have
kept, if only for a rearrangement of place, of time.
Instead, this language became coiled inside him, hidden—a kite allowed to circle within the
house, only rarely let sail into high, open air.
He did not teach it to his children.
As a child I wanted to fly—to feel the earth grow wings
beneath me, to know that there was something other than gravity,
that being grounded was a choice.
I wanted my footprints to be the clouds that trailed away
across the ocean. I wanted freedom—
I try to learn the names of birds passing through this city on their way somewhere else, noting
their voices in season: elated scream of swifts through summer blue, trill of cranes too high to
see spun into autumn wind.
Now I can fly but my words cannot.
I want them to be birds, geese, smooth V-formation,
flying silently westwards at the end of the day.
I want them to be the poems that pattern
my body, but all I come up with are fragments
I learn a word that does not translate, the urge that drives those birds to cross vast distances.
They all begin to feel it at once, no matter where they are, no matter even if they are caged.
The word evokes their restlessness, but also a disquiet—the desire to speak and become
what they are.
How easy it could be for one language
slowly into another,
a syrupy sun falling
drop by drop
into the waves—
Every flight back to this city spans the ocean at night. Stillness blankets the engine roar, the
buffeting of wind outside. Daylight accelerates, time zones slipping by faster than the clock
can keep up.
Maybe it’s the absence of earth, a feeling of being nowhere at all, that reminds me that being
anywhere now means not being somewhere else. How home might just be a mirror for every
On arriving, do we remember
that every previous journey
In a dream, my mother gave me a gift containing only air, only a scent to breathe in once and
never again—something familiar but undefined, a secret that could not be spoken but
brimmed with memory and atmosphere all at once.
I promise I’ll come home, I said to her.
Then I woke to birdsong, not knowing what I’d meant.
I wonder what the birds do in between me not seeing them,
and seeing them. Perhaps this is the secret
that they are born with, and somehow manage to hold onto—
the secret of being without validation,
of dancing with clear blue even when no one is watching,
of singing even when there’s no one to hear.
We are all born a secret. Maybe life is in learning to set it free.
Elodie Barnes is a poet, reviewer, fiction writer, and essayist who can be found writing in France, Spain or the UK (usually mixing up her languages). Her flash fiction has been nominated for Best of the Net, and she is guest editor of the Life in Languages series at Lucy Writers’ Platform. You can read more of her work in One Hand Clapping, Lunate, and Sublunary Review, among other places. Find her online at http://elodierosebarnes.weebly.com and on Twitter @BarnesElodie.
Erin Calabria grew up on the edge of a field in rural Western Massachusetts and currently lives in Magdeburg, Germany. She is a co-founding editor at Empty House Press, which publishes writing about home, place, and memory. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize and was selected as a winner for The Best Small Fictions 2017. You can read more of her work in Little Fiction, Milk Candy Review, Longleaf Review, Pithead Chapel, and other places. She tweets @erin_calabria.