After My Nephew Reads My Poem About the Cow Who Got Stuck in a Tree
by Carla Panciera,
reviewed by Steven Gullion
"I remember that cow," my nephew says. "She’s the one we pulled out of the mud with the tractor."The nephew remembers other dead cows: a crazy cow "who dropped dead in the milking parlor," a show cow who died in her sleep ("that one broke your grandfather's heart," the narrator says), a cow that bled to death, a cow that choked to death, and so on, but none of the cows he remembers is the cow in the tree. "Why can't I remember her?" he says. The narrator confesses.
"I made this one up," I say. "There never was such a cow." A phantom cow who never dangled between tree limbs, sunset, autumn, in another life.No, there never was such a cow as a cow in a tree, ascendant, halfway to heaven, "in another life." That cow was made up, a fiction, an image to help us cope with death, in this case a death that looms in the background of this conversation—the death of the narrator's father. The cow in the tree is a fantasy we all might like to believe in, but it is a fantasy that the nephews of the world will not allow.
It's interesting that someone, author or editor, chose to label this as poetry and not flash, or just plain old fiction. It's popular among fiction writers to debate the definition of flash. Opinions range from the practical (anything under a thousand words) to variations of the Supreme Court's definition of pornography: we know it when we see it. My definition of flash is no better than anyone else's, but I think flash occupies a spot on a continuum between poetry and short story prose. Like poetry, the best flash uses language in surprising ways; it uses concrete detail to elicit meaning; it's about the essence of things. Yet, it is a narrative. Time elapses. It contains characters and, usually, scene. Ultimately it's just a label, but to me this is a piece of flash fiction, and a fine one.
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