July 15, 2015

She Came for the Ghosts: Sabrina Orah Mark's Prose Poetry



Photo Credit: Jason Thrasher

Sabrina Orah Mark.

This week we have a prose poem by Sabrina Orah Mark, prizewinning local author and teacher. The prose poem is a curious and fascinating form: between story and poem, written in sentences rather than broken up into lines. For our attention-deficit world, the prose poem is the star of the hour, like a written Vine video with the capacity to smash and mend your heart in seconds. It is the genre Mark first fell in love with, because it is “a form both possible and impossible, wild and tame, country and city, hungry and full.”

A native of Brooklyn, NY, Mark came to Athens primarily for the ghosts (and also to study writing at the University of Georgia, where she got her PhD). She calls Athens a “strange and dreamy town, punctuated by contradiction and grit,” where “the nation’s history of racial discrimination still casts a very long shadow.” She runs her own writing workshops in Athens where she encourages students to experiment in storytelling methods and delights in the wilderness created by their writing. Find out more about her workshops at

Mark is a generous and enigmatic soul. Her writing draws you in with the beauty and mystery of a ring of red lipstick on a glass. But then suddenly the scene shifts—her words frighten and shock with their strangeness, their ability to communicate complex emotions through seemingly simple images. Be sure to check out her haunting collections of poetry, Tsim Tsim and The Babies, both out on Saturnalia Books and available at Avid Bookshop.

The following prose poem, “The Stepmother,” is a fairy tale told from the stepmother’s point of view about the cruelty of love, children, family and dreams. Its opening line is one of the best ever.

The Stepmother

“You smell like Florida.  We hate you.” The Stepmother knows from the crushed handwriting this note is from The Stepchildren. At the bottom of the note is a drawing of a mouse. The Stepmother wants to know what does the mouse mean. The mouse seems lonely and afraid. Its eyes are too big. The Stepmother peels a hardboiled egg, eats it very quietly, and thinks about the mouse, and Florida, and smelling like Florida. No one wants to smell like Florida. If The Stepmother had any guts she would go to the yard this instant and paint all the trees white, but The Stepmother has no guts. If The Stepmother had any guts her husband who is the father of The Stepchildren who believe she smells like Florida would come home and see the trees and say what in god’s name have you done? Do you think we’re living in a goddamn fairy tale here? The Stepmother would stand there with her large bucket of paint, and her guts, and tell her husband the trees are now white because she is not a real Mother, she will never be a real Mother, and also she is thinking of running away with the mouse. She would sob and say something strange and dramatic like how she feels as though she’s three plagues short of an exodus even though she doesn’t really have any plagues except for smelling like Florida. But none of this will happen because The Stepmother has no guts, and this is America not a fairy tale. This is a state in America that is not Florida even though The Stepmother is reeking of it. The Stepmother wants to know what does the mouse mean. It is a beautiful mouse. The Stepmother has no guts but she does have some scissors which she uses to cut the mouse out. No one wants to be lonely, and afraid, and live in a note about smelling like Florida. Once The Stepmother cuts the mouse out the mouse shivers. It is a very sad shiver. Sadder than all The Stepmother’s sadnesses, and somehow this comforts her. The Stepmother isn’t certain whether the shiver is from coldness or relief, but she cuts off a strand of her hair and wraps it around the mouse’s shoulders anyway. The mouse falls asleep in the palm of The Stepmother’s hand, and dreams of guts, and white trees, and the kindness of The Stepmother. The mouse is what the mouse means. It’s The Stepchildren who mean something else. It’s The Stepchildren who mean something far, far away, like a Mother. When The Stepchildren come home The Stepmother will hug and kiss them and wipe their dirty little hands until their hearts break in two.

Upcoming Events: Jordan Rothacker launches his new book The Pit and No Other Stories at 5 p.m. Sunday, July 26 at Avid Bookshop. Word of Mouth is at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5 at The Globe.

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