A Girl Is (Not) a Pirate Ship

Fiction by Erin Kate Ryan

Infatuated with its own decay, an abandoned overpass has spilled its steel girder guts and boxed up the face built by humankind.

The overpass swans in its solitude, naked in the rain. The cats in the cracks have already moved on, and the overpass hums with frogsong.

The overpass was once a forest, was once a stockyard, was once a town. Its layers have all been wrenched up and left to drift back down. All lily pads are overturned, and there is nothing more here for a conquistador. (Aged and dusty, the overpass grieves its loamy forest floor.)

Like a boxing turtle: a girl, the human kind, enters the moment and elects a fighting stance. She has just crossed Missouri, stealing shelter from doorways and coffee cans. A persimmon tree is tucked beneath her girlish tongue, and her sugared breath feathers a foreign fog. Biographers barnacle, trailing her unwelcome boots.

The overpass has not yet seen such a thing as this.

And the overpass will brook no foreign share in its long-last solitude. A girl is not a pirate ship, and the overpass was never a sea.

The foreign girl does not hear the overpass object. Her conquering boots make hums of their own, and her pockets knock with turtle shells.

The rain has passed. A brook raps at her boots. The girl hoists the brook onto her turned swan shoulder and squares to face her biographers. She could be branded a pirate for this, but traveling light is no longer required.

“All I seek is solitude,” she says. “I have crossed Kentucky to shake you off, and still you puddle at my feet.”

Biographers in bishop hats elbow at one another for spots. They poise their feathered pens. And in that moment the overpass (this once-forest floor), crumbling scholar of humankind, recognizes false demure. Its quietude is numbered; its solace has been conquised. The foreign girl will plant a claim in what’s not hers for sharing.

Biographers bow their bishop hats in solemn preparation. They too can see their subject’s cracks. Cracks will crack in time.

And so: the foreign girl, surprising only herself, concedes to perform for her biographers.

She tosses them her turtle shells—

“I harbor twenty-six hopes for humankind, and I know six ways to skin a cat. Both humans and cats have reason to fear me. Elegance, as in everything, is imperative.”

She shuffles her boots and turns toward the overpass, mise en scene for dramatic reclusion.

But solitude is not for sharing. The once-forest floor is a pocket only for imagined leaves, and it wants no footnote in the girl’s foreign song.

Cracks will crack in time.

The once-forest floor heaves in growing despair, and the imagined leaves contract around the foreign girl’s feet (boots bruised from her conquising). They will translate the girl’s twenty-six hopes into frog song so that liability will be limited. A girl is not a pirate ship, and the once-forest floor is no sea, but it will hold her hostage, it will tie her to the mast, until she returns the leaves to the trees, until she prays for sleet.

“The rain has a past,” the foreign girl says. “And the barometer is stuck on fair.” Big hats bob, and feathered pens scratch at rigid turtle shells.

“I harbor twenty-six hopes for humankind.” The words garble around the sugar-sweet tree. “Yiy yahbool pwenny-six obes. Pweddy-sis obdes.”

Biographers consult: there is trouble in the translating.

“Twenty-six hopes for humankind, and twenty-four of them rely on your extinction. Cats and biographers have reason to fear me.”

Bishop hats consult: but who will be left to biograph?

The pirate girl’s plan is concrete. She has crossed Kendiana to plant this persimmon tree, and beneath the tree a coffee can of extinguished thoughts. There will be no cats to clamber the tree, and the brook will translate the leaves into yawns. The girl will hold her sugared tongue, and the tree will blaze into quiet.

Turtle shells titter; biographers have no capacity for quiet.

The once-forest floor cements itself; it will be no harbor for humankind, and the frogs need space to sing. The overpass will set the girl’s barometer like a compass and steer her swan shoulders back from whence they came. There’s no room for a girl who would set sail the world in a coffee can, just obdes for an oar. She can fly a steel brook as her pirate ship flag, yet she cannot do it here. Here is already spoken for. The cats have already moved on.

But resolve cannot conquise defeat.

The once-forest floor has lost its fighting chance, as the girl poises her boots in the moment. This pirate girl has made a name on being one who steers her own ship, and before the biographers she will have her swan song. A plant of her boot, and a new hole in the asphalt. The once-forest floor abhors being known.

The foreign girl plants the pirated tree and tucks in the brook to ballast the roots. There is a story here, of a spiteful girl who crosses Illiana smelling of sugar and plants a bruised fruit tree. A girl who bruises oversimmons and crosses sugarplants. But the once-forest floor will not languish as a footnote, and biographers are bound to be wrong. Footnotes take up too much space, and frogs have their own solitude to sing. The rain is on their lips already.

There is a story here, of a conquistador who crosses Tenntucky and melts steel feathers into sea. She could slit a pirate’s throat for less, and biographers have a fetish for gore. The foreign girl has a fetish for pirate ships, and this ship makes pweddy-sis.—

She will build a ship for her biographers here, a prison for footnotes and bobbing bishop hats. She will string high a frog-skin sail and raise the steel song mast. She will cobble cannons from turtle shells, and the knocking will keep us from sleep. (There is a danger here: Tired biographers are sloppy with detail. She could lose her sugared breath, her boots; her persimmons might melt into cherries. There is no elegance in cherries.)

The once-forest floor, reader of the human kind, can foretell the pirate ship’s fate.

Biographers’ barometers are stuck on fair; they can’t pocket the elegance in barbarity. They cannot write the enduring despair—of an overpass, a frog, or a girl. Things brutal and quiet get lost in the translating; pliability is ever unlimited.

So the pirate girl will get her ship, will despair the once-forest floor into sea. She will hold her tongue, take shelter on lily pads, and tend to her loamy bruised tree. The conquistador will plunder another’s solitude for her own, and the overpass’s obdes will rot into rain.

But this pirate ship, who’s been crossed by Ohsouri, who planted her story and buried her boot, cannot lay claim without the past sharing.

She’ll be kept from sleep by the blazing brook song and the echoing hymn of the frogs. Her boots will harden into cement, and she too will be trespassed upon.

 

The overpass was once a stockyard, was once a forest, was once a girl. The biographers get it wrong in their ship, but there’s no solace to be found in comparing.

Erin Kate Ryan’s work has appeared in or forthcoming from real and imaginary literary journals such as Glimmer Train, Conjunctions, and The Normal School. She believes that art is an essential act of resistance.