Stuck in Song
San Francisco, CA
Lowell High School
Claudia Ann Seaman Award
Runner-Up for Fiction
A little girl sat on a rock by the shore waiting for the world to come back. She didn’t know who the world was but she hoped she would know them when she saw them.
Soon she forgot to wait. She left her rock and moved along dance floors, swaying her hips in front of strange men and filling her pockets with coins. Handsome boys put their hands in her back pocket as they walked with her, their thighs pressing up against hers. She smiled and let them follow her. Older women wove beads in her hair and explained to her how the world works. She asked who the world was and they laughed and strung the beads tighter and told her she had a lot to learn. She mimicked their light steps and light giggles, and forgot to wait for the world. Soon the girl who once sat patiently on her rock was gone, replaced with a young women with beads in her heart and the weight of a song in her gut. She wasn’t sure what it was, but it was growing.
Sometimes, when the music was just right, she remembered a certain cobblestone night, when she had left the streets and shared a warm blanket with one of those back pocket boys. She remembered the rain pattering on the windowsill keeping time with their beating hearts.
“Are you the world?” she asked him.
“No. You are the world.” He’d told her. Her heart broke.
So tangled in blankets and tattered daydreams, she rose and she ran, not stopping to retrieve her bra from the folded sheets or even think about the euros she left in the back pocket of her jeans crumpled at the bottom of the bed.
She ran to the rock where her childhood began and she screamed. The blanket fell away and she stood with the cold sea air piercing her skin. She thought about getting a tattoo of a long rip from her hairline to her navel, so her intestines could neatly spill out into the ocean. She thought about just making the cut.
She never returned to the back pocket boy, and spent her days strolling down cobblestone pathways with her thumbs in her belt loops, throwing coins at street musicians.
“Are you the world?” she never thought to ask them.
She knotted glass beads in her hair, filled her pockets with quarters and tried to ignore the song growing within her. She sang tirelessly at anyone who would listen. Somehow she knew if she could get to the end of it, it would leave forever. They stopped and listened to her misery as one might pause before a painting in a museum. But just when she finally got in the flow of it someone would grab onto the edge and cut a fragment of the melody for a keepsake. The rest of the song would snap away, and sink even deeper within her. And there at the bottom of the song, in the depths of her abdomen, was a little girl with a patient voice asking, “Are you the world?” Every time the song was cut short, the girl curled up tighter on her rock, and her question grew softer.
When the young women grew tired of the street musicians and cobblestones and the song in her stomach, she would get in her car and drive like she believed she could escape. She would take quarters out of her pocket as she drove and fling them out the window, hoping they would land in lakes somewhere and become wishes for people who wanted something out of life. She kept the window open even when she ran out of quarters in the hope that someone would come out of one of the farm houses she passed and listened to her song. They would be too tired from a life in the fields to cut a piece off, so she would sing and sing until the entrails of music floated along the whole highway, and when the road gave out and she reached the end of her song the music would drift away on the breeze and leave her forever. Then she would turn the car around. She wouldn’t have to check the road signs but she would know where she was going. She would undress and wrap herself in her softest blanket, and the rain would start again and she would knock on his door and let the blanket fall and show him she no longer needed her intestines to fall into the ocean. She would stand before him as an empty shell.
But of course, no farmers came out of their quaint little farmhouses, and the young woman with beads in her hair was still alone on the winding highway with a song stuck in her
What initially struck me about Stuck in Song was its deftly-restrained and humbling stylings that boldly amplified the speaker's own despair, naivety, and fear. Every detail and scene is crafted with a close attention to sound and a modesty that emits from the narrative itself. Appreciate how there is a song stuck in this piece, buried in “the depths of [its] abdomen.”
PRAISE FROM JUAN MARTINEZ, POETRY JUDGE
A magical piece, magically and magisterially told. I love the world that we're given here. This is a writer with a promising future.
Chloe Kerr-Stein recently graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco (class of 2019). She is currently studying Writing and Literature at UC Santa Barbara. She has studied at the California State Summer School for the Arts and the Kenyon Young Writer's Studio. She has been previously published in the 826 Quarterly and the Bay Area Book Festival's Youth Poetry Anthology.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR