Terms of Lease

by Laura Kochman

In the interest of full disclosure, this is the bad end of the beach. This house is rotten and crooked under the siding, floorboards so soft you could crumble them like sugar and lick the crumbs off your toes. I find children sometimes, creeping around with their noses out like rats, sniffing up the steps. Sea wall’s too small, too swollen with oysters and rot, too slippery to climb. At night, my feet still skip from rock to rock, finding the shallow holds too late and twisting into the sand, crushing oysters underfoot. All right—the oysters are only a symptom of the storm, and I may have planted some for company in the sand, blue and hard as night. I’ve come to love their stale shells, their crusted hinges. Don’t listen when I sit on the rotting balcony and cry over abandoned horses, their hooves twisted from birth, if only I cry if only someone had noticed, their feet could have healed and straightened. If only in the sea. Sometimes I will open the stain you call garage and unfold the folding chairs. Sometimes they will block the sun. Sometimes the fabric will twist into the metal tines, sometimes rust will catch the hinges and they will crack down the middle. All right—I may have left the chairs out in the salt wind myself. At night I will turn on the spray hose and wash sand off the siding, twist the laundry line until it snaps against your bedroom window. I know you’ll sleep there, in the biggest bedroom, the sweetest spot, my old jewel-box. My feet will leave salt crystals under the sheets, at the end of the bed when I’m not there. The buckets in the laundry room are for soaking, for the soft frog of a horse’s foot to rotate down into. Salt stings but it keeps the floors from creaking, keeps the hoof beats on the boardwalk. This house is sunburn. Don’t change the light bulb in the living room—you might see my glowing hand, my fingertips burned and indistinctly seared into the glass.

Laura Kochman, originally from New Jersey, is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. Her work can be found in Copper Nickel, alice blue review, Bat City Review, StorySouth, and others.

The “defamiliar” image (e.g., “This house is sunburn”) and the repeated image (salt, for example) both seem central to this piece. How, as a writer, do you approach creating that central, original image/pattern? What advice do you have for those of us who might need some advice on creating such central, organic, surprising images? I think that writing a de-familiarized central image or pattern comes from obsession, from letting it lead your thoughts into new language. I have this impulse to work with the same cluster of words over and over again, to return with another lens and discover something new about the same image. The compression of a prose poem feels appropriate to me when writing obsessively, since obsession is both out of control and restrained by repetition, and I think that prose has both of those instincts.

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