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Hourglass

by Tyler Barton

 

To see if I was gifted, I was given a test. A test that would teach me only that the hardest tests are ones in which you don’t know whether you’re nailing it or failing. This test had nothing to grade. Nothing to score. What do you see here? Arrange these. Arrange them more. You have ten seconds. I test okay, but I sweat. I swallow dry spit. Next question. There were no windows, no soda, no refreshments offered. Read this aloud. Read this to yourself. Read that backward. Then came the only question that I know for sure I failed.

“What is glass made of?”

I cried in the van when my mother told me it was sand. From then on I’d search every window pane for grains. All I’ve ever found is my simple, sweaty face. How does the presence or absence of any single fact signal gifts? I’d grow to learn that facts were nothing but little presents—like the lottery tickets my family traded at Christmas—that no one needed. You are to smile anyhow, say thanks. You are to scratch. I wasn’t yet ten, yet there I sat before a man in a blue suit in a room behind the principal’s office. In every institution, I wondered into truth, is there a room behind that building’s most terrifying room? I smiled, knowing nothing except never to leave a man waiting for an answer.

What I said of course was, “Water.”

 

Tyler Barton is the author of the story collection Eternal Night at the Nature Museum (Sarabande, 2021) and the flash chapbook The Quiet Part Loud (Split/Lip, 2019). His fiction has appeared in Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Copper Nickel, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. Find him @goftyler, at tsbarton.com, or in Saranac Lake, NY where he serves as the communication manager for the Adirondack Center for Writing.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Hourglass”?

In high school I learned to hate rhyme because the poems we read that rhymed were bad. Then in my twenties I found myself landing on rhymes and playing with assonance from time to time, and these moments wound up sounding odd because they stuck out. In the last year, I’ve decided to lean completely into rhyme in my prose. It’s probably all the hip-hop I listen to. At this point, if there aren’t any noticeably similar sounds across a group of three sentences in my work, I almost have to go back and weave in some music. I’m not sure it’s the best habit. It’s making my process more arduous, harder to finish. Then again, maybe writing should be slower, and largely unfinished. But I’m glad this one isn’t.

News

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Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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