Our first post of 2016 comes from a composition professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Jason Walker’s flash fiction offers a humorous and surreal vision of a poet racking his brain to come up with the “Next Great American Poem,” all while searching for the hidden meaning of a devil cake. Walker plays with the agonizing inner monologue of a struggling writer and personifies the demons that hinder the creative process.
The Poet’s Resistance
The man with soggy eyes waited outside my front door as I retyped the first line of what I hoped would be the next great American poem: This is the poem for all unhealthy youths . . . . But once I sensed the man’s presence outside the door again, I went blank. So I brewed tea and ate a devil cake, watching people ridicule each other on television. Then I glanced through the peephole. Another line arrived: hand your handfuls of devil cakes back to the devil. “Here’s our next great American poem,” I said aloud. “Here’s what we have to look forward to.”
I took a hot bath and concluded that devil cakes are the offspring of a real, breathing devil. I had to stop eating them before I suffered obesity of mind and body. The man still stood at my door, and now he wore shades. Perhaps he knew that his eyes were too much for me to bear. I banged on the door with my fist. “Let’s talk this over,” I said—”I’m perfectly fucking reasonable. I’ll make sandwiches.” I unlocked the door and let him inside. Eating a grilled cheese, he was less intimidating. He removed his sunglasses then reached for the draft I left on the floor. “Don’t,” I said, and then I found my wallet and took out a check someone gave me long ago. The man scribbled, “Where Is My Next Great American Poem?” on the back where I never signed my name. “Do you like TV?” I asked. He shook his head in disapproval but left a complimentary devil cake on my couch. For the subsequent weeks, I wrote nonstop. On television, people attacked each other more and more. Meanwhile, in the tradition of those I adore, I tortured myself with vague questions about the human condition. The lights stayed on the whole month, and the bill was huge.
This piece, beginning with the dark and unnerving image of an omnipresent man looming just on the other side of the door and ending with him and the poet sharing a grilled cheese sandwich incorporates a great balance of suspense and humor.
Thanks for reading and please join us next week!