Prose Failure: Learning to be Less Cryptic

I don’t like to be too hard on myself when I’m operating in a new medium, but this particular fiction piece failed to be understandable or relevant to my peer group, even though to me, I made it very easy to understand and thought it was glaringly obvious. This is a great example of getting “lost in translation” and I at first was pretty frustrated. I am now considering turning it into a piece of poetry, as I really like the premise/ imagery, but I wonder if I might first ask for you guys to tell me whether or not you know what is going on here. If someone can tell me what the narrator is, I might just have crafted a “puzzle piece” of sorts and maybe I simply had bad luck with the group I have already shared it with. Please let me know! I’ll post a comment in a day or two delineating what my actual aim was.

Tattoo

I fall out of a silver needle womb of deep black onto a void of flesh, and become alive. My tail is the first pain I awaken to as it unfurls with feathers. Dark liquid feathers that seem at first severe prickling quills, but as they dry, so delicate. I wonder what I am? Wings sprout from my back, splitting from my shoulder so violently that someone far away from the carnage begins to weep. They stretch out and up in one enormous flap that pulls me, finally into being.
My head is so small, but my eyes are alert to the world, I look back on my body of fragile feathers, my toothpick legs, the toes curled like a baby’s tight fist. The most beautiful thing about me is my plainness. I am small, and brown and of little consequence to so many people, but up close I am a Darwinian marvel of exacting strokes of genius. A shock hits my system as silence ensues, I had known nothing but a buzzing drone, so I could not differentiate the vibration from perfect quiet. Something has stopped, but I begin.
I have maverick eyes, bright and quick with which to take in the world. Outside there is a small table with a bench, and there below, is a little brown bird, skipping over cracks to reach whatever crumbs lie scattered across the concrete. I know instinctively to call out, but I am a mute. How can this be? A bird without song. I strain again, my beak won’t even open, it is fixed shut with an artistic permanence. My wings may flex and twist, but they do so with pain, and never again from that first fateful opening of my birth will they move, to grant me flight. Silent, immobile, lonely bird, I am misery.
Made of pain and ink, I am as the cormorant in the oil spill, but like a vampire I am bound to endure immortal. I cannot suffocate because I never breathe, I simply exist to watch. My days draw out and my body becomes my cage, like a vegetable in a hospital bed, wishing someone would unplug me. I am covered by beautiful sheets of varying pattern and hue throughout each day, only uncovered at night. My life is a blind fog. Until today.
Today I got into a car, I was uncovered so I could see the sky as we drove, beautiful puffy clouds, I felt like I was finally flying, pure bliss. The window was down and so I imagined the wind moving at my whim over the avian contours of my body. A rolling stop, we entered a house. It was an old house filled with dolls, I felt suffocated again, An elderly voice dipped and pitched wildly in the air and soft sobbing shook my anatomy with irregular beats. I was covered again, and back into the car, I could feel the wind, I wanted the sky.
When we entered the clinic I could tell immediately that I did not belong there. This was a place for illness and death, and I was constant, permanent. They peeled back my cover in a little white room and I looked up at the masked faces, they poked me and covered me with a film of heat. My eyes were floating down into myself and I felt sleep. I dreamed of flying while my tail was burned slowly off of my body. I dreamed of song as they detached my wings like a toddler with a bug. I dreamed of freedom as my body, my legs and my head were singed into ash.

When my small soul was finally erased, and the dreaming stopped, only a girl was left, naked and burned, scarred by my existence.

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4 thoughts on “Prose Failure: Learning to be Less Cryptic

  1. I’m really surprised that this was dismissed as too cryptic. Did you read it aloud? Do you give copies to each person in the group to follow? Because I thought it was clear, even if not patronisingly so, who the narrator was and what was happening. (Maybe I should make sure I have it right that this was the story of a tattoo being inked told through the eyes of the little bird on the girl’s skin, and the tattooed bird’s subsequent experience as bound in flightlessness and silence. Then possibly a visit to a disapproving grandmother’s house after which the girl goes and has the bird removed?)

    I thought this was a really insightful and cleverly executed piece, I often look at tattoos and think they fail to capture the delicacy or movement of life and you really caught that angle wonderfully.

    I might say that maybe this piece is a little description heavy. I would avoid, at times, having more than one simile/metaphor in a sentence. For example:

    “Made of pain and ink, I am as the cormorant in the oil spill, but like a vampire I am bound to endure immortal. I cannot suffocate because I never breathe, I simply exist to watch.”

    I love “I am as the cormorant in the oil spill,” but I feel the impact of that statement is lessened slightly by its neighbours in the sentence, we know now the bird was born painfully out of ink. I might rewrite it as: “I am as the cormorant in the oil spill, cased in ink but bound to endure immortality. I cannot suffocate, I never breathe. I exist simply to watch.”

    I imagine you have a lot of ideas when it comes to graphic descriptions and at times it can be hard to choose between them, I do this too so I know it is easier said than done! I would say sometimes try and choose instead of working them all into the piece. I’ve started “banking” pieces of writing I do, or even just lines I like, for maybe use in another scene or story, they can serve as inspiration when starting something new.

    Also, if the writing is quite dense, maybe use a line in between paragraphs, and have more of them, because it makes things easier to digest. You can better control the pacing and impact of your writing like this. Maybe you did that already and the wordpress formatting messed it up though!

    Anyway, I’m sure you can do better than me just an example of where I think your beautiful descriptions might be better isolated in shorter sentences. I love that you thought so deeply into this experience and there is too much fantastic imagery for me to even highlight. Sorry for the essay!!xx

    • Wow thank you so much! There is really nothing I can say, other than this is exactly the kind of response I was looking for. I really appreciate your suggestion about the congestion of my imagery, it is all too frequently that I am singed by the editorial remark, “overuse of florid language,” and it is something that I try to work on. (I too word/ sentence bank). You got it exactly, and to let the truth be known, we originally had to title the piece, “The Journey” and my real aim in posting/ requesting feedback was to see if the simple addition of a title change would be enough that a reader with fresh eyes would get it, so yay! Thanks again for your comment, I am eager to return the favor if ever you have a rough draft that needs eyes 🙂

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