"How the Girl Became a Poet" by Mathieu Cailler



For Lyuba Yakimchuk


In a vast bomb shelter, hundreds of citizens cup candles. The soft light gives a warm hue to the coldness, and the girl scribbles in her notebook, trying to distract herself from the current images around her with a pleasant one from last month:


A bike ride down a hill near her church, a steep one, where she cranked the pedals until her legs were rubber and the tires bounced, causing the chain to jingle against the frame. She sped into an overgrown patch of weeds, mostly wild brush, where dried twigs jammed and dinged in the spokes of her wheels. Then she slammed the brakes and watched a little cloud of dirt rise and sweep over her, the dust sparkling with bits of dandelion seed heads. She made a wish.


She tries to capture this moment in a little poem, one that was assigned for class last week, the last day of school before the invasion. She thinks it is silly to write a poem while bombs strike the old brick in her village. She thinks it is stupid to think of another word for “green” when bodies in her neighboring town are being carried out on stretchers as air raid sirens howl. She thinks she is dumb for trying to write a cute poem during a war.


But, as another bomb is dropped and the shelter shakes again, she drops her pen, and her father wraps her hard before reaching down to pick it up. He passes it back to her. He gives her his candle, too. He asks her if she has enough light to keep going.