A new couple who became pregnant by mistake. Neither of the two young parents wanted the child, so when the baby was born, they placed it in a remote location, a mud and grass hut some thirty yards from the main home. The main home, which wasn’t much better, only bigger. These two young parents, given this dove-faced baby girl, didn’t even put windows in the small hut. They kept her there for thirteen years, and in all that time never spoke once to her. I watched for all thirteen years until the girl, feral and stunted in growth and any sort of development, thought one evening to try to tear away at the natural walls. It was a triumphant moment. I had known for years she had the strength to tear down her little prison. It was the easiest thing in the world for her to pull the mud and grass apart and slide through.
Only Mud and Grass
Sheldon Lee Compton
3 Questions for Sheldon
What was your process for creating this work?
For "Two Crows" it started with these two crows that kept getting into my garbage bin. The more I watched them, the more I realized how smart they were. I wondered if I could trick them, so I clapped my hands together and made the gunshot sound and they ran off. I did this two or three times and they left for good. I'm not sure why the incident stuck with me, but I don't question those kinds of things. I started the piece and just followed wherever it took me. Writing is nothing without discovery. I was introduced to the finished work the same as anybody who would be reading it for the first time. With "Only Mud and Grass" the piece started with some wandering thoughts I had about early humankind. I shift around a lot with this kind of thing and so in the same half hour I read something about a young girl who had been kept in captivity by her parents for nearly 13 years. Without much warning the two topics got tangled up in my head and so I wrote what was going on in there. The finished piece became this odd meditation on those two subjects and also some of my worst fears as a young parent not yet twenty years old raising my son. I really don't know where the unnamed observer came from in the piece. It was another one of those moments where I didn't think about it, it just happened, and I trusted that as I always try to do.
What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?
The prose poem creates an instant dialogue if not outright debate among writers and serious readers. I love the form, practicing it mainly in what is often referred to as flash fiction beginning in about 2009. I didn't think of it as flash fiction or as a prose poem then; I just wrote short and lyrically and didn't think anything about it. The labels started up after I'd been at it for around three years. In the past few years I've come to refer to the things I write as "pieces" rather than a particular form of writing. I like to think that Lydia Davis doesn't consider any of these things and so I'm not going to either. Besides, my short stories and my poetry are so similar there's really no reason to call them anything separately. "Pieces" works best for me.
What is the significance of this work to you?
Of course the fact that I touch on my time as a young parent is significant for me but generally speaking these pieces are no more significant to me than any of the others I've written. That's not to say what I write isn't significant to me, it's just that what's important to me about anything I write is what I can discover while creating it. And I don't mean in an academic sense. I mean in what direction my mind feels like it should go. I pay attention to that and follow it. It's closest to improvisation I guess. But unlike improvisation in music or acting I have the chance to go back later and have a more analytic look at the piece. And I do that often, but rarely make changes.
Sheldon Lee Compton is a writer from Kentucky and the author of eight books of fiction and poetry. His first nonfiction book, The Orchard Is Full of Sound, about his connection with author Breece D'J Pancake, will be published by West Virginia University Press in 2022. Cowboy Jamboree Press will publish his Collected Stories in the fall of 2021.