Constant Fire

by Melissa Hardy,
149 pages,
ISBN: 0887509975

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Brief Reviews
by Kathryn Woodward

Melissa Hardy is the 1994 Journey Prize winner. That story, "Long Man the River", is included in this collection, Constant Fire (Oberon, 149 pages, $27.95 cloth, $13.95 paper). Constant fire was what the Cherokee "kindled" when they built a town; kindled, because it took ritual and sacrament, not just lighting a match. The last recorded constant fire is now a dead mound in the middle of a corn field.

This book then is an attempt to re-kindle. The stories unfold in hill country, traditional Cherokee land before the white men drove them onto the Trail of Tears towards Oklahoma or death, and to which they seeped back. The tales conjure up spirits and "the Powers of Nature, a dark and terrible Nature, to be sure, but Mother to us all." Sometimes these spirits loom too large in the stories, are used too much and too often, as death is, to move the plot, but the writing is wonderful.

"Lucille...knelt in a series of stages, like an elevator that sticks at each level."

It demands to be read aloud. People names and place names-Talahina Bluebird, Arminty Quail, Nichelle, Spiney Bole, Qualla Boundary-roll off the mind's tongue like chants. I imagine a campfire in the woods, a dark night, goosebumps. Like all recent histories of peoples violently cut off from their true past, the stories are unsettling. Like the headless chicken that somehow stayed alive, payment to Mama Jesse Black Crow for her conjuring, they get on your nerve.

Kathryn Woodward

Kathryn Woodward is the 1995 Journey Prize winner; see page 10 of this issue .


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