by Daniel M. Shapiro
His parents full-grown humans, he had struggled through meadows, gray of sky rubbing out green. No one but parents wanted to listen, so he would run, would allow the armored ghosts to chase him, would weep at the sight of blackening lilac bushes. Right when the ghosts would extend their wispy fingers, he would let out a shriek. He could make the shriek last for minutes without breaths, his long hair blocking out deafness. Then the ghosts would leave like everyone else. He invited animals to run with him, yelling Look out! whenever he spied the unknown shadows. Look out! Sometimes he would sense terrible spirits, not like the playful ghosts, but the spirits that hold little people over fires until their flesh pops like a can of snakes. He would remember a hand sign his grandmother had used, middle and ring fingers held with a thumb, while pointer and pinkie climbed toward the sky. Grandmother had taught him never to trust, that no matter how sinister the hand sign looked, it could implant beauty in the most abominable creatures. First, he had pointed the sign at himself.
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Daniel M. Shapiro is the author of How the Potato Chip Was Invented (sunnyoutside press, 2013). He is a special education teacher who lives in Pittsburgh. His piece "The Axeman" also appears in this issue of Mirror Dance.
What do you think is the most important aspect of a fantasy poem?
I like fantastic characters or scenarios that aren’t too far removed from conventional life. These scenarios are more like magical realism, I suppose, where everything seems normal until an unusual phenomenon occurs. When I was a little kid, I would spend a lot of time imagining I had magical powers (typically X-ray vision and flying), so I’m drawn to poems and stories that suggest regular people might have those powers.
What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?
The fantasy genre can make you forget who you are, where you are, and other important things when you’re reading. You begin to believe you’re in a place that wouldn’t really exist. I am more interested in writing and reading poems that use allegory (sometimes through fantasy) rather than tackling a concern head-on. I’m most influenced by writers who are able to transform important themes into a form of fantasy.
What advice do you have for other fantasy poets?
When you start to become uncomfortable as you write, you’re on to something.