I first encountered Elisabeth Benjamin’s spooky in-between-worlds work in a 2008 issue of the Black Warrior Review. She was an old friend of an MFA classmate, living a rugged farmer’s life in upcountry Maine, when I got in touch to solicit the work you see below. She has a small book of stories, The Houses, available from the Catenary Press. — JT
A pond is not a promise
We are at the mud lip of a green pond after a day of walking. He is force-feeding a frog a piece of cheese. I just fell out of love with him, and I say so. He stands and accuses me of yesterday saying I love you infinitely. I did, yesterday, exactly to infinity love him. And today, or tomorrow, or last year, or seventeen years later, or winter, this pond still smells like a pond. The young frogs look like frogs. The pond smells precisely like last year’s pond, it is identical water in the same season and the smell is the familiar smell of every year’s round green pond. If any of the close trees fell across it, that would be a simple bridge, a needed surprise, it is so small and still and green, but the trees stand straight. My passions were brimming once. Yesterday. In the kitchen, in the golden afternoon, he looked at my bandaged hands and called me Cocoon Fingers.
Once I wore an inappropriate dress to the Fisherman’s Ball, held in a big white tent on the breakwater. The dress was sea foam, strapless, the skirt five sheer flounced layers that exposed my bruised knees. At the corseted bust there was a long slim triangle of silk missing, and in its place a lacy window, meant to showcase a woman’s cleavage. On me, it was merely a view onto a bony sternum, a dry ridged mudflat. I wore my green rubber boots with thick wool socks. I danced with most of the fishermen. They all wore old suits and work boots, and some were quite handsome after all. They said they hardly recognized me. As the sun set, fog hung thick on the water and pushed into town. The tent’s twinkle lights cast a murky glow over us, slow dancing. Toward the end of the night, Little Miss Mackerel, age eleven, brushed past me then stopped to gawk at my dress. A snail she’d half-chewed dropped out of her pink mouth onto my boot. I wanted to explain to her that I wore the dress as an apology for something terrible I had done. But as if in a trance, she stared into my lace window, searching for a scenery.
Instructional #6: Foraging
Beware of red tide. Beware of mummy berry. Beware the larvae-riddled and the red fruits, particularly dangling red fruits. Pick only brown mushrooms, but not the spotted ones. Also, not crumpled leaves, leaves that appear rolled, folded, or puckered. Avoid the particularly shiny fruits and yeasty dusty ones. Pungent roots may be poisonous but may also be especially delectable. They are worth the risk, although beware of late blight. Beware black leg, pink eye, pus belly and gluttony. Partake in all mints, but mind you: certain molds smell sometimes like toothpaste. Beware the under-ripe and the over. Spores are not a seasoning. Share. Say a blessing. Cross yourself the Catholic way, from left to right. Use a flat rock as a plate, that’s fine. Eat any kind of petal. Boil any kind of bone.