I should write a post about Zoetrope one of these days, but the publication of this piece is a great example of how valuable a site it is for writers. Zoetrope has private offices in addition to its more public wings (I say more public because all of the site is password-protected, but anyone can sign up to join). Some private offices were conversational, some were for specific writing exercises, some were for “writing in the window,” some were heavy on critiques, etc. It was really up to the owner of the given office, and anyone on the site could open one. It was in one of these offices where I posted this piece. One of the editors of Per Contra, where it wound up appearing in Spring 2008, asked if they could publish it. Just like that. This was not an unusual occurrence on Zoetrope—a number of the writers on the site are also editors. As an editor, I solicited a number of pieces for SmokeLong the same way myself.

Anyway, here’s the piece. It’s not much longer than the paragraph above.


Da saw dead babies in the soil, blood in the mud.

“That’s clay,” I said.

“You see what you see,” he said, and kept digging.

Irish Catholic, Da. Ten, twelve, fourteen, we lost count. Lots of babies. Most of ’em alive. Mum probably knew the count, but she was too tired to tell us. And Da dug graves for the wealthy.

Spit on him, once, one of ’em did. Da, built like a Checker cab — about as tall, his shoulders a back seat. Da could’ve killed him, but he stood and let it run down and off his nose, to fall in the red clay baby blood.

“Lost his child,” Da said, as if that explained it, and set back to digging.

I nipped at Da’s thermos, coffee and whisky, mostly whisky. “Pompous ass,” I said, all thirteen years of me. Da cuffed me, and said again, “Lost his child.”

Weepy, rich, and father of one lost child. Disheveled. What’s he know of grief, I thought. One lost child is nothing. One lost child isn’t enough to turn the clay red in a heavy rain.

But he sobbed and apologized and took a sip of the proffered thermos and tried ineffectively to dab the spittle from Da’s nose with a rumpled cravat, and Da said, “Nothing, it’s nothing,” translated to the grieving fop’s ears as the ropey snot of saliva forgiven.

But one lost child is nothing.