Smoking With Myfanwy Collins

Read the Story March 15, 2006
story art

One of my students wrote a poem about a “preying mantis,” unaware that the mantis was actually a “praying” one. I loved her innocent mistake and the images that emerged because of her “wrong” impression of the mantis. Do these two homophones (I hope you’re not a homophonicphobe) play a part in this story? If so, how? (If not, I pray you’ll forgive the question).

Interesting. The short answer is, no. The long answer is that maybe, subconsciously, they do. At the core of the piece is fear—of constantly feeling preyed upon or about to be preyed upon. This is a fear that is common to many women, I think, as we are taught to be wary, to beware. To always be looking over our shoulders and if we let our guards down, we are in danger. It is a horrible way to live—in fear—as it can rule your life and, at times, it has ruled mine. So this is an examination of that fear and how it manifests itself, closes in, becomes the thing that preys upon.

But you are making me think and then maybe, too, it is a prayer for release from this fear as well.

Any real life place inspire this “spongy earthed” setting? (Love it!)

The real place is where I live now—a bog in New England. I hadn’t really understood what a bog was (other than in the UK or the cranberry bogs in MA) before I lived here. They are quite fascinating, if buggy, places. Bogs are a great habitat for wildlife—of which we have much. One of our neighbors keeps a running tally, which includes: moose, deer, beaver, fox, coyote, fisher, porcupine, etc.

But perhaps most pleasing to me is the moss—always that beautiful, fresh green color of it.

“Once there was a girl who poked a bat on the sidewalk with a stick.” The mythic quality of that beginning and that girl gives the story a haunting, universal sense. What does that girl and bat embody for you?

As children we don’t fear much until we are taught to by our elders but in this case the girl does fear on instinct and is taught that maybe she shouldn’t.

Recently, I’ve learned that there is an evolutionary connection to fear—that the unpleasant memories stick in our mind longer and teach us to fear and this is what keeps us from doing stupid things like putting our hands on the hot stove element. This may also be why so many people are depressed—we forget the good things almost immediately (because they don’t help us in an evolutionary sense) and cling to the bad ones because they have taught us something (supposedly).

“You are fleeing. You are prey.” How does one fight that instinct that says “Run!”?

I don’t know if it’s possible for some people to fight it. For me, I am always on high alert. Always trying to be aware of what’s going on around me. As I said above, as an instinct, it is built into us and we can’t (and often shouldn’t) fight it, but for some it becomes more of a habit, a necessity. For me? It’s what keeps me alive and moving forward and always striving to improve.

What about spring are you dying for? It’s been a freakin’ cold winter up yer ways, yes?

This winter has actually been quite mild (last winter was the horrific one), though there have been days and weeks (in February especially) that were beyond cold.

In general, I love spring—the hopefulness of it. And I love the flowers—the forsythia, the daffodils, the crocus, the tulips, and, ahhhh, the lilacs.

But more than anything it is the return of certain song birds, like the Wood Thrush and the sound of the spring peepers in and around the many vernal ponds.

About the Author:

Myfanwy Collins has work published or forthcoming in Kenyon Review, AGNI, Cream City Review, Potomac Review, Saranac Review, Quick Fiction, FRiGG, Mississippi Review, Monkeybicycle, and Jabberwock Review. Please visit her at: http://www.myfanwycollins.com.