Azerbaijani Fairy Tales

by Murad Jalilov

Growing up Goychay, Azerbaijan, I would always hear my grandmother telling tales of old, some more interesting than others. She always told them at night in her loud-yet-soothing voice. The ones that stuck out the most were the fairy tales that were meant to frighten, such as “Adamcil” (Man-Eater), a tale of a humanoid with long horns and claws, covered in fur, eating human corpses, and “Isah and Musah,” the tale of a bird that mimics the cries of two brothers lost in a forest. These tales had a certain eerie charm to them and always blended with the mysterious nature and sounds of the night.

One of the better ways of introducing the public to a new culture is through folklore, more specifically fairy tales. As an immigrant from Azerbaijan, I’ve seen the current trends in American society where diversity is being somewhat celebrated, despite the current political rhetoric. It made me realize that I have something of my own to bring into this country and to its culture.

Azerbaijan’s geographical position as a country between the Middle East and Europe, surrounded by countries such as Russia, Iran and Turkey, made it an ancient hub for cultural exchange, creating a relatively unique folklore. The story that reflects this the most is “The Tale of Malikmammad,” about a young prince who journeys into the Dark World and has to face creatures from European folklore, like ogres and dragons, and a creature from Turkic folklore called the Emerald Bird (Zumrud/Konrul). There are also Azerbaijani versions of western tales such as “Cinderella” (“Göyçək Fatma”) and “The Three Goats” (“Şəngülüm, Şüngülüm, Məngülüm”). There are also plenty of tales about animals, usually with human traits, such as “Trickster Goat,” which tells the story of a goat that outsmarted a bear, a wolf, and a fox.

Unfortunately, a very limited number of Azerbaijani fairy tales have been translated into English, one of them being “Jirtan: The Little Boy Who Fought Monsters,” published in Azerbaijan International Magazine in 1996. Beyond this example, it is almost impossible to find English translations for fairy tales in the language, even for those that are known well among the Azerbaijani people, and it’s a shame that so much folklore is lost behind the language barrier. Fortunately, the age of information has connected people from around the world, making it much easier for cultures to share their heritage online for all to read and translate. Other than websites dedicated to collecting fairy tales and folklore, for me personally the web makes it easier to stay in touch with my relatives in Azerbaijan on a much more frequent basis, which allows me to ask them for fairytales that have never been recorded online or in print.

It is essential that these fairy tales are translated into English and introduced to the wider public to add the voice of a culture that has been silent for years. Unfortunately, there is little interest in literarily translating Azerbaijani literature into English among those who speak both languages, and there are even fewer people versed in creative writing in English on a college level. Azerbaijani fairy tales will bring new ideas and enrich the literature that is available in English. For this reason, I have been inspired to add the cultural artifacts I brought with me, in the form of fairy tales, to the ever-growing melting pot that is the US, through literary translation.

Read Murad Jalilov and N.K. Valek’s translation of “The Trickster Goat” below.

Continue reading Azerbaijani Fairy Tales

Editor’s Note: Understanding Anarchism: The Stone Soup Tale

The media is awash with think pieces on anarchism. What a time to be alive.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought that within my lifetime I would see black bloc or Antifa become household words. But following the Inauguration Day protests in D.C., and in the aftermath of the white supremacist assaults and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, these terms are on the tongues of, or are at least being googled by, average Americans who never before have cracked the spines of a Bakunin volume, or even considered that anarchy has a meaning beyond its being maligned as a synonym for chaos.

The hot takes on the ethics of violence, and the vivisections of community defense strategies are riveting, the kind of sexy that scores the clicks. What’s missing from the conversation is an examination of what the overwhelming bulk of anarchist theory really looks like in practice. The vast majority of everyday anarchists have never slung a Molotov cocktail, and are far, far more likely to regularly wield a soup ladle as their weapon of choice. Your garden-variety anarchist is probably digging in your local community garden as we speak.

In my experience, most of what anarchists do is feed people.

In fact, one of the most elegant illustrations of anarchism is to be found in a pithy folk tale, old and widely known, about a collective feast that burgeons from nothing but a rock.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

Two strangers come tramping into town. They are wretched and lumpen, and they are hungry. They ask the town-folk for something to calm their gnawing bellies, but are turned away, told at each house that there is nothing to spare.

Perhaps some of the householders turn them away because they cringe at the color of the skin the travelers wear, or because the lilt of their mother tongue sounds hateful to their ears. Perhaps some fervently claim that no human deserves food without first having earned it through the selling of their labor or the proving of their virtue. Maybe even most of the neighbors truly believe that they just haven’t got enough to share.

So the hungry two wander to the river, and at least slake their thirst. One of them pulls a soup pot from their satchel and builds a fire. They fill the pot with water and drop in a stone from the riverbed. Before long, there is a pleasant aroma. The strangers begin to laugh, they sing a little. A curious villager approaches, and then another.

We are making this fine soup, they say. If only we had just a sprig of herb to help the flavor.

If only one among you had just a stump of a carrot.

…just a scrap of potato, just a splash of oil, just a sliver of garlic…

a few beans

a golden onion

Soon, there is a lively crowd of villagers eager to make their small contributions to the bubbling pot.

Everybody eats.

Then perhaps somebody brings out their drum, another produces a fiddle. Perhaps there is dancing in rings and telling of stories and nursing of babies and braiding of hair. Maybe one neighbor fetches their hammer to fix another’s wagon. Maybe some older folks teach the children the names of the trees and fungi and wildflowers that grow along the bank.

 

Anarchism is non-hierarchical, non-coercive community organization for mutual aid and benefit. People, as equals, voluntarily sharing and helping and loving their neighbors so that every individual is cared for and the collective thrives.

It may sound like a fairy tale, but it’s happening right now.

 

In hundreds of autonomous chapters across the country, anarchists in Food Not Bombs have been, for thirty-five years, collecting otherwise wasted food from individuals, businesses, and even dumpsters to create free meals for the hungry in their communities.

They make a lot of stone soup, but that’s only the beginning.

Community gardens, medic collectives, Harm Reduction projects, Really Really Free Markets, organizing workers, outlaw road repair, rogue traffic patrols, prisoners’ advocacy, tenants’ unions.

All of these things are anarchy in action.

Prefigurative politics is often described as “building the new world in the shell of the old.”

Our new world has already begun, birthed from a stone in a pot.

We are making this fine soup we say.

If only we had just a sprig of herb to help the flavor…


This editor’s note was written by Tiny Donkey editor Anna Lea Jancewicz.

Interview: Saul Millan of Vox Urbana

Vox Urbana is a seven-piece bi-national band from Tucson, Arizona that infuses Latin sounds with elements of rock. The band breaks language barriers and stereotypes through their repertoire and distinct grooves, and includes a guitar, keyboard, sax, trombone, bass guitar, congas, and drums played by a diverse roster of musicians. Vox Urbana is a small ensemble of incredible talent who aim to expand their musical horizons and share the stories of others.

The band uses a style of folk music known as corridos to compose songs about the border community. A corrido is a story told in song. The word comes from the Spanish verb “correr,” which means to run, and indicates there will be a running narrative. Corridos are often about oppression, history, and the daily life struggle of those less fortunate. The band has been working on a project called Cumbia Corridos, a musical story-sharing project that tells the stories of immigrants crossing the border and Tucson’s marginalized denizens.

I spoke with Saul Millan, the band’s trombonist, who joined the band about four years ago when he bumped into Enrique “Kiki” Castellanos, the band’s co-founder and guitarist, at a supermarket. This chance meeting catapulted Saul onto an extraordinary journey of personal growth and experience.

The Cumbia Corridos project has helped immigrants tell their stories of struggles and overcoming challenges. How has the project influenced the band’s approach to music, as well as your personal lives?

For the band, this project definitely helped shape the understanding that our music can be a powerful tool. It influences us to write music that carries a message and theme, emulating corridos–the classic Mexican-style of songwriting that includes writing a story. This was the first time I wrote on a concept album and the testimonies redirected my approach on how I composed music.

Continue reading Interview: Saul Millan of Vox Urbana

Engaging Fairytales as a Millennial

by Tennessee Hill

The best college course I’ve taken thus far is Fairy Tales as Literature with esteemed fairy tale scholar and part-time fairy godmother, Dr. Christine Butterworth-McDermott. Halfway through covering the classics, a classmate remarked that they felt disillusioned by the tales. This shocked me. Were they really expecting Cinderella’s stepsisters to go unpunished, or Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant to live forever, or bread crumb trails to not get eaten by birds? Had they never heard of a jealous stepmother decapitating her child via chest lid à la “The Juniper Tree”?

As a millennial, I’ve seen my peers expect fairy tale figures to fall in real love the first go-around, sans magical spells, and Neighbors Wolves to give Little Reds a break. There’s a naive desire for rabbit holes like carnival rides, to get out when it’s not fun anymore. As young people, we’ve waded for too long in the pool of Disney where everything is lovely and resolves itself. Now, sitting in a classroom being asked to engage with “The Juniper Tree” or Perrault’s “Cinderella,” it feels like a veil has been torn.

The idea embedded in “happily ever after”–that life is changed for the better in a split second, void of consequence or reality–is one that should be laughed off the stage. But when presented with it dressed like an old lady offering to tighten the corset laces of a hidden princess, there’s shock when the princess is left to flounder on the cottage floor, suffocating. Well, Bluebeard looks like the husband type, forget all those missing wives.

Maybe that’s why there’s an ambient sadness when Hansel and Gretel are abandoned by their parents, or Donkeyskin’s father pursues her so. It’s too close to home. Having gone to the pages to find a happy family, friendly creatures, and a predictable trajectory to follow, there can be a bitter feeling of having been tricked out of a good time. To me, that’s all the more reason to dig both heels in and reside in fairy tale literature.

Generations have walked through the forest before, lantern-less and trusting. Millennials: I’m convinced we’re more fortunate than we realize. With fairytales as our guide, we can make it through, too.


Tennessee Hill is a Senior at Stephen F. Austin State University working toward her BFA in Creative Writing. She is an alum of the Sewanee Young Writers Conference, a 2017 AWP Intro Journals Award nominee, and was a finalist for the 2017 Dan Veach Younger Poets Prize. She has work in The Sandy River Review, Jenny Magazine, Kaaterskill Basin, Elke Journal, and forthcoming from Crab Orchard Review.

The Omen of Two-Heads

by Scott Russell Duncan

Evil omen one happened ten years before the chalk-white men with beards and thunder in their hands came:  a flaming ear of corn shot in the sky and glowed like a wound in heaven. The second omen: the House of Authority burst in flames.  The third evil omen was the straw temple of the god of fire got struck by lightning.  The fourth: fire streamed through the sky on a sunny day.  The fifth: wind lashed Lake Texcoco into a flood.  The sixth evil omen was the weeping sound night after night crying, “My children, we must flee!”  The seventh: fishermen caught an odd bird, ash colored with a mirror in its head that showed the night sky. They brought the bird to emperor Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.  He looked in the mirror and saw a vision of the war of pale men riding deer. He looked once more and the odd bird was gone.

The eighth omen was me.

A two-headed man was seen in the streets of Tenochtitlan.  The seers said that he was deformed. That he was an oddity. They took him to emperor’s zoo of human curiosities and eventually to the Casa Denegrida–the room with no windows painted all black in which the emperor meditated in darkness on what the seers told him. When Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin came to the Black House to see him, this evil omen, Two-Heads had disappeared.

More recent scribes write that the Mexica scribes, who recorded the omen of Two-Heads decades after the conquest, must have been alluding to the formation of the new race, the mestizo. And today, when you see me with my two heads creeping around the streets of California, it is still an omen.  The pocho, the Anglo-Chicano, the coconut. The coming again of the mixed blood, mixed culture of European and Native American.

The American scribes have already foretold this through their haruspication of population science and census projections.  Aztecs called these omens evil, and likewise the American scribes portray the Anglo-Chicano with xenophobia, as a crisis to be solved, a Mexapocalypseomen of the end times of Anglo privilege. Behold the terror of the future.  Two-heads, the coming of the mestizo, the looming exotic native norm. Being led into the Casa Denegrida of your mind at night, into your dreams of who you are and what you will be.


Scott Russell Duncan, a.k.a. Scott Duncan-Fernandez, recently completed The Ramona Diary of SRD, a memoir of growing up Chicano-Anglo and a fantastical tour reclaiming the myths of Spanish California. Scott’s fiction involves the mythic, the surreal, the abstract, in other words, the weird. Scott received his MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California where he now lives and writes. He is an assistant editor at Somos en escrito. See more about his work and publications on Scott’s website, scottrussellduncan.com.

Images in this post are from the Florentine and Mendoza codices. 

A Feminist in the Kingdom of Trolls

by Kathryn McMahon

[Content warning: This essay mentions sexual assault.]

The protagonist’s motivation in “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” has taunted me since childhood and needled my writing. To my feminist mother’s delight, by age three I was pointing out sexism on what little TV I was allowed to watch. We lived in Maryland with my Norwegian grandfather, in whose kitchen hung a witch to ward off evil. At Christmas, tiny elf decorations called julenissen abounded. With a heart for magic and an eye for criticism, I read Scandinavian fairy tales, and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” drew both my wonder and scorn.

In the fairy tale, a peasant gives his youngest daughter to a polar bear in exchange for gold. The polar bear takes her to his castle and forbids that she speak to her mother alone. The bear is secretly a prince cursed by the troll queen. He only resumes his human form in darkness when he sleeps with the girl. She endures this until she visits home and, “disobeying” him, confides in her mother, who gives her a candle. One night while the man is asleep, the girl lights the candle and accidentally wakes him. The troll queen whisks him away to marry her daughter. How sad that our heroine has lost her handsome, royal rapist! She must go rescue him—and suffer constant victim blaming along the way—finally winning him back with her ability to clean his shirt. Whoo.

I loved the idea of traipsing through the frozen north with someone to protect me, and would later discover what a maternal archetype bears are with origins in Paleolithic bear worship. Mother bears emerging from hibernation with their cubs made bears symbols of rebirth and fertility. The “great she-bear” constellation Ursa Major has a storied past that existed long before its Greco-Roman myth. And then there is Artio, fierce protector and ultimate mama bear Celtic goddess, whose influence trickled down to my own Irish surname (McMahon means “son of the bear”). While the fairy tale evoked a Jungian response in me, I didn’t understand why the prince’s disappearance was the girl’s fault, or why she wanted him back. Stockholm syndrome was not something I knew of yet, and I remain unconvinced that wealth was her motivation. So what changed? What drove her to face death—via troll predation—to rescue her captor?

While this depends on the retelling, at an essential level, these questions spur my fiction. I write to understand people. What causes characters to act in ways that surprise themselves and even the reader? And how is this made believable?

The answer to both is rich character development made possible by feminism. To craft fully realized characters of any gender is a feminist act. This doesn’t mean the characters proceed as feminists. But giving them the capacity for the breadth of human emotion and behavior undercuts traditional forms of gender and thus creates compelling, multi-dimensional actors. And as a reader or writer, it only makes the story more satisfying when I don’t simply face the trolls, but demand to, prince or no prince.


Kathryn McMahon’s fiction has appeared in Three Drops from a Cauldron, CHEAP POP, decomP, Necessary Fiction, Menacing Hedge, and Rose Red Review, among others. She lives in Vietnam with her wife and dog and tweets at @katoscope.

Editor’s Note: The Unbeautiful Ones

Growing up, you were shy. Or maybe you were short, you were fat, you had bad teeth. You had frizzy hair, you wet the bed, you spoke with a stammer. You slept with a stuffed toy ‘til you were twelve, or ‘til you were twenty, or ‘til your monthly blood ran out and you began soaking the bed with night sweats and hot flashes and Mississippi-wide rivers of regrets. You’re almost an old woman now. Love and transcendence have passed you by. Those fairy tales you were fed by Hollywood and MTV and Hans Christian Andersen as a child, and the ones you fed yourself to get by, through the loneliness of the school playground, through the long tick-tocking overthinking of the night, through the daily treacheries of life – they all lied.

Which fairy tale was it you always went back to, the one you believed in most? The one with the song saying someday your prince would come? Or the one where the funny-looking little duckling (you don’t like to say “ugly” – it’s a word that’s been used against you so many times) turns into a stunner of a swan? Did you think that might be you one day? Did you really? All along, you should have paid more attention to the crone, the ogre, the unredeemed outcasts, the ones haunting the margins, or worse yet, the ordinary ones, the unmagical, the unnamed and underappreciated. Because these were your destiny – not the beautiful ones, not the princess and the swan.

Or maybe the fairy tales didn’t lie. You just saw in them what you wanted, took what you needed. Beauty, hope, promises of happily ever after, some danger to make things interesting, some fear to cut through the dull of the everyday. You simply ignored the despair. Even though all fairy tales, and all life, is rife with it. Like that moment in Andersen’s tale about the duckling, when the bullied little bird welcomes the beauty of spring and a bevy of swans with pure, piercing heartache:

“I will fly to those royal birds,” he exclaimed, “and they will kill me, because I am so ugly, and dare to approach them; but it does not matter…”

Then he flew to the water, and swam towards the beautiful swans. The moment they espied the stranger, they rushed to meet him with outstretched wings.

“Kill me,” said the poor bird; and he bent his head down to the surface of the water, and awaited death.

In the next moment the duckling sees his reflection in the water, sees a swan looking back – his transformed self, his true tribe, his happily ever after. I wonder though, if the duckling had seen no change, no beauty, no swan staring back at him in the water, could he still have survived? Would he still have come to know happiness, belonging, self-love?

I need to know, same as every once and for-all-time misfit. Is there magic after all in despair? Can there be beauty in forsaken hope, transcendence without transformation, belonging when you’re the only one around to hear your own questions, a happy ending when the fairy tale, or life, or maybe yourself, is found so wanting?

Think back on the ones you paid too little attention to, while you were paying as little attention to the beauty in your worst and best self. The crone, the ogre, the marginal, the ordinary. The untransformed duckling. The resilient, the persisting, the interesting and astute, the ultimately self-accepting and wise. Lucky you – these were your destiny. The unbeautiful ones, who know how to make magic out of the most disappointing circumstances, to potion up an unbreakable spell of endurance out of yesterday’s cold pot of despair. Let them teach you to love whatever reflection stares back at you, to see the beauty in even a fantastically imperfect you.


This editor’s note was written by Tiny Donkey editor René Madonna Ostberg. 

Illustration of the ugly ducking by Monika Laimgruber. 

Interview: Leland Heathco & Brian Maddock

Leland Heathco, Joseph Bell (who could not be reached for an interview), and Brian Maddock co-authored a piece titled “Legacy in Red” which appeared in the 2014 edition of the Rain Shadow Review, an annual publication that consists of work by current or formerly incarcerated writers (you can read the story at the bottom of this post). I was struck by the powerfully executed reimagining of “Little Red Riding Hood,” in which the reader sees the concepts of power and gender reversed from the original. The red cape no longer represents a weak and startlingly naïve young girl, but instead a line of powerful women whose roles are complex and nuanced. In the same way that their characters consist of layers not previously attributed to them, interviewing these men helped me see past my preconceived notions and afforded me a richer, deeper view of a world that I had previously looked at with a certain shallowness. I encourage you to please look at the information provided after the interview about various prison writing programs and ways to become involved.

Brian Maddock is a 49 year-old kid-at-heart who graduated from AZ State University with a Bachelor’s in Computer Information Systems. He has worked in large IT departments developing and fixing software to help businesses operate. He enjoys hiking in the woods, swimming, reading fantastical stories, and public speaking. He has published poetry, essays, and children’s stories while incarcerated and would like to explore the medium of flash fiction. Brian gets a kick out of teaching beginning Spanish, computer basics, and essay writing, but enjoys learning equally well. He is an Arizona native and would love to eventually reside near the Pacific coast.

Leland Heathco was born on May 5th, 1957. He was raised in southern Alabama on the east coast of Mobile Bay, in a small farming community called Barnwell. Because of his father’s work as a pipe-fitter, the family traveled, which provided a cultural awakening for him as a young boy and gave him an early opportunity to learn about cultural diversity. Leland learned about working hard side-by-side with migrant workers on the farms. After dropping out of school in the eighth grade, his first job was working on a copper smelter down in the Playas Valley, not far from Animas, New Mexico. In May of 1975, he joined the Army for four years. He has been married twice and has four sons. Leland suffers from chronic free-spiritedness, and been to 27 states, including Hawaii. He also traveled to the Philippines, Germany, and the Isle of Crete, and firmly believes that travel is good for storytelling.

I understand that the piece was put together collaboratively between the three authors with no agreed upon theme or prevalent story line. Why do you think the story ended up as a reimagining of “Little Red Riding Hood”?

BM: This story began as nothing more than a blank notepad passed among three aspiring writers, each producing one line and passing it to the next as an exercise. The first line spoke of a hunter’s moon in a forest; the next author chose to add an owl on a branch. Ultimately, the word “wolf” led to a line of thought centered on the “Little Red Riding Hood” fairy tale. From there, the “red cape” developed into a symbol for a strong line of heroines, and soon the coalesced fantasy/fairy tale emerged from the amorphous lines we all contributed.

LH: The collaboration started the same way that most of my writing does. A word or a line comes to me that seems to stand out, begging for my attention, so I write it down. I’ve often thought that what I write already exists, and I’ve been fortunate that the words were given to me to write. I respect Brian and Joe as writers, and I don’t think this piece would have turned out the way it did without them. I was curious as to what might emerge if writers with different styles were to write together using a single sentence and no outline or story idea. The collaboration is the reason for the “Riding Hood” theme, which really materialized when the wolves were introduced. But, I did not want to write about Ms. Hood in the same way that she’s been depicted before. She brought herself into the story, but with a little help from me and my “Brothers of the Pen.” She is not a child, but a young woman coming of age, and coming to terms with a responsibility she does not want, however, there is honor and strength in her bloodline that will not allow her to back down from what’s before her. She is a thinker and a bad ass.

Continue reading Interview: Leland Heathco & Brian Maddock

Editor’s Note: When the Street Lamps Glow

There is a statue near the border of Nogales, Arizona of a small boy. Every time my mother, brother, and I would walk by she’d turn to us and say that if we misbehaved or did not follow her instructions we would become a statue just like that small boy. My mother was always aided by folk tales or myths to scare us into thinking that if we deliberately disobeyed her, consequences would arise.

My mother is from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Molded by a culture full of folk tales and old proverbs, she passed on generations of stories to my siblings and I.  My mother shared the legends of El Cucuy, the Mexican boogeymann and El Chupacabra, a goat-like creature the size of a small bear–its spines reaching from its neck to the base of its tail–that haunts the desert. She also told me about La Llorona.

La Llorona is told as a cautionary tale to children to make them behave properly. Different versions of the story are told depending on the region. Some say the story focuses on Maria, a woman so beautiful that all the men in her town attempted to woo her each time she walked by. Maria, with a sense of self absorption, believed she deserved the attention. She would flirt with the men but vowed only to marry the most handsome and wealthiest man she could find. The only problem interfering with her lifestyle? Her two sons. So she decided to drown them.

Other versions of the tale say Maria married a wealthy man and they were happy. She bore him two sons. After a time, the man would go away for long periods of time and when he returned, only focused on his sons. One day, he returned with another woman at his side and left again. Enraged, Maria drowned her two children in the river. Maria became deeply remorseful and wandered along the banks hoping her sons would return. It is said that when she finally died, her weeping spirit wandered the land, crying, “¡Ay, mis hijos!”

One day when I was five, my three siblings and I were playing a game of freeze tag on my grandma’s patio. Our dogs chased and barked at us. The daylight was quickly vanishing and the street lamps were turning on. As the sun set, my mother called out to us and yelled it was time to return inside. We didn’t listen. She yelled out, “¡Si no regresan ya, los va a agarrar La Llorona!” which roughly translates to, “If you don’t return now, La Llorona will come get you.” My brothers stopped playing and ran inside. I didn’t understand who my mom was speaking of because I was the youngest and had not heard the tale. I stayed outside for another five minutes and when I decided to go back, I found the door was locked. My mom on the other side said it was too late and La Llorona coming. Panicking, I begged to go inside. She hesitated. I said I was sorry for not coming back when she asked. The door unlocked and I ran inside.

I sat on a rusty old stool as I listened to my mother explain the importance of La Llorona. A weeping women all dressed in a white dress and her face covered by a white veil. She wouldn’t rest until she found her kids. That’s when my mom uttered the word: “Unless…” I stared at her, tightening my eyebrows. “Unless she finds other children, children who misbehave, and takes them instead.” I felt my skin lose its smoothness and small bumps started forming from my forearm to my shoulder. “La Llorona will come as soon as the lights on the street start turning on. Make sure you’re inside when the street lamps glow.


This editor’s note was written by Tiny Donkey editorial assistant Gabriel A. Jiménez. 

Ancillary to Memory

by Benjamin Winkler

I can still recite the entirety of Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.” It unknots itself from my tongue with the same cadence as shma-yisrael-adonai-elohainu or the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It’s almost as if the words themselves are not important but the act of worrying them. I used to carry a turquoise stone and a Garden State Parkway token in my pocket for the same purpose.

All of these were central to growing up in south Jersey, between the Pine Barrens and the City, but the memories bound up with this cultural flotsam are much more pleasant: I’m four or five and sitting with my mother on the beige sofa, finger pressed firmly to page, sounding out words like “quince” and “runcible.” I used to carry books with me everywhere, in the car, to school, in the red wagon my parents would pull me up the hill in to the Garden State Discovery Museum.

Lear’s was the first poem I ever loved and the first I ever memorized, but it was only later I learned to understand the words without the Jan Brett illustrations I knew. And then I wondered what it was like to sail across the ocean, or pierce my nose, or fall in love across a species.

I later stored away lines by Berryman and Bishop, but those are subject to forgetting. I have to look for them, to coax them out like the piggy-wig in the woods. I think the mysteries of memory are a lot like dream-logic: We don’t know why something is there, only that it is and could not be otherwise. We can tease it apart pacing around a living room or on a pricey analyst’s couch, but ultimately that your mind found this important is all the reason you need.


Benjamin Winkler lives and writes in Philadelphia, PA. His work has previously appeared in RHINO, The Ilanot Review, and Lockjaw Magazine. Find him online at www.benjaminwinkler.com or on Twitter at @cmdrcallowhill.