Hugh Behm-Steinberg Flash Fiction: “Wallace Stevens”

Haunted Passages:
Hugh Behm-Steinberg

Wallace Stevens

Anecdote of the Jar 

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill. 

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground.
And tall and of a port in air. 

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens

Mike called me. “I found it! I finally found it!”

“Found what?” I said.

The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens.”

“So? You can find that anywhere. You can find it in the library.”

“Not one bound in human skin,” he said.

That made me pause. I looked it up on Bookfinder while Mike was going on about how powerful the human bound skin edition of The Collected Poems happens to be.

“There’s seventeen available right now on Bookfinder,” I said. “You can get one in very fine condition for around fifteen dollars.”

“Oh sure. Everyone knows that. If you’re lucky you might even be able to check one of those editions out of your local library. But that’s not what I got.”

“What have you got, Mike?”

The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, bound in the actual skin of Wallace fucking Stevens. With the dust jacket.”


“The eyes practically blink at you,” he said.

I can’t tell you how rare that book is, but I’ve heard there’s something particularly profound about that edition. That the poems had become more than poems, that they could actually make stuff happen, effect real change in this world. Dominion.

“I got the tickets this morning. We’re heading out tomorrow. Now anything we want to change in Tennessee, we can. Imagine what we could do, Bill! We could finally get rid of Mitch McConnell,” Mike said, feverishly. “We’ve got the book! We can finally begin to undo all the damage that’s been done.”

“But McConnell’s not from Tennessee, Mike. He’s from Kentucky.”

“Then we’ll use the book to make the jar absorb Kentucky into Tennessee. That’s easy! If Mitch doesn’t have a state, then he can’t be a senator, he can’t be majority leader, he won’t be able to stop background checks anymore.”

“I don’t know if that will work, Mike.”

“We have The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens bound in the skin of Wallace fucking Stevens, the emperor of ice cream himself, and no one’s supposed to have that,” Mike said. “Any supermarket in Tennessee has got plenty of jars, and there’s hills in Tennessee, scads of them, and I know it’s going to work, Bill. It has to work! It’s been so long! We’ve tried everything before but nothing has worked, it’s only gotten worse, but this, it’s The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. It has to work! Something has to work!”

“Okay, Mike,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say.

Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found in Gravel, Sand, Grimoire, Joyland, Heavy Feather Review, Jellyfish Review, Atticus Review, and PANK. His short story “Taylor Swift” won the 2015 Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast. A collection of prose poems and microfiction, Animal Children, is forthcoming from Nomadic Press in 2019. He is chief steward of the adjunct faculty union at California College of the Arts, SEIU 1021.


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