Critical Thought: Four Letters

I’ve been interested recently in numbers—how they can at times be the most insistent bearers of the truth and at other times be the most obvious markers of the arbitrary. You can say a character has a red beard and give him a chapter of history, or you can just call him a woodsman and admit that he’s a word and that he might as well be most any other word. You can say there are four letters (and there are four letters, one woodsman, five locked chests beneath the snow and two hundred blackbirds in the tree), but four is fragile. Four threatens to fall into three or grow to five, especially if there’s no attempt made to support it, and I like that fragility. I like how precarious piles of words can be—always falling over, leaving themselves exposed, dumbly writing “I failed” in the snow.

Daniel Carter lives in Columbus, OH. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in SpringGun, >kill author, and Mud Luscious.

Four Letters

I wrote four letters and gave each a little sled made of balsa wood carved with curly-cues, and I sealed each letter with a little red wax and the print of my thumb. And the seals went out on snowy hills after the wind with its white feathers, and where the wind became confused they parted, wandering like lines of ink.

One letter made soft, crunching tracks in the snow, one small track at a time with cold pauses between. A woodsman found this sled huddled shivering between the roots of a tree and, brushing snow from the letter, lifted it to his face. The red seal fell to lie fading like an old coin, and the woodsman took four pins from the pouch at his waist, pressing the letter's folds to the bark of the tree and holding its words there, frozen.

by Daniel Carter