If A Stranger Approaches You: Stories
“The Barge” is from Laura Kasischke’s story collection, If A Stranger Approaches You: Stories (Sarabande Books). Kasischke has published eight novels, two of which have been made into feature films, and eight books of poetry, most recently Space, in Chains, which recieved the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2102.
She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as several Pushcart Prizes and numerous poetry awards. Her writing has appeared in Best American Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Harper’s and The New Republic.
Kasishke said this about the origin of her story: I fear that the memories behind my stories, or the anecdotes behind the poems I write, tend to be either dull and hazy, or flat out lies, because I feel that I have almost no recollection of anything interesting ever happening to me, and I believe that I’m someone who comes up with the ideas for my stories and poems as I’m in the process, already, of writing them, so that the material seems mysterious to me, as if it’s someone else’s material.
However, sometimes, later, when friends and family read the pieces, they tell me that they recognize themselves or events we experienced together, but which I thought I’d forgotten. For instance: I thought I’d forgotten standing on a bridge in St. Joseph, Michigan, looking down at a barge, and being told that it was Soviet. The barge wasn’t stuck there, according to the cousin who reminded me that my story “The Barge” isn’t entirely fiction…But there were men on it, and they waved up at us. It must have been around this time that my grandmother died.
I don’t remember anything about that, but recently an uncle told me that, actually, I’d been playing with a doll in the front room while she was dying in the back room. And a terrible secret of mine was that I ate the eyes of a doll. I swallowed each eye down with a glass of water, the way I’d been taught to swallow medicine. After that I lived in fear for much of my childhood that those eyes were going to kill me. Then, I completely forgot about it. But then I wrote a poem about a little girl with eyes growing in her stomach.
The subconscious is quite the repository, I guess, of these things it would be probably pretty disturbing to think about very often. That I usually start writing without any idea what I’ll be writing about must be made possible by that repository. Also, the fact that I’m a pretty cheerful person, with very few bad memories. Because I guess I didn’t forget about the barge.