Sometimes I’m reading a book and a paragraph just slays me.
I found one while reading in my writing room at Yaddo. I’d do this thing while I was there, this reward system: Read a story, go back to the desk and write. Write one scene, then I’m allowed back to the couch to read. Read one story, get up, write! Repeat.
Here is the paragraph, the opening paragraph of a short story, that slayed me:
Lately I’ve been thinking of that summer. We barely ever got off those ponies’ backs. We painted war paint across their foreheads and pinned wild turkey feathers in our hair, whooped and raced across the back field, hanging on their necks. Some days they were a pair of bucking broncos, or unicorns, or circus horses, or burros on a narrow mountain pass. Other days they were regal as the ladies’ horses, and we were two queens, veiled sultanas crossing the Sahara under a burning sky. We were the kidnapped maidens or the masked heroes. We braided flowers in their matted tails, dandelions and oxeye daisies that got lost in the snarls, wilted, and turned brown. We tore across the back field, our heels dug into their sides. We pulled them up short and did somersaults off their backs. We did handstands in the saddle. We turned on a dime. We jumped the triple oxer, the coop, the wall, the ditch. We were fearless. It was the summer we smoked our first cigarettes, the summer you broke your arm. It was the last summer, the last one before boys.
—From “Sweethearts of the Rodeo” a short story by Lydia Peelle, in the collection Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing
After reading that paragraph, my spine tingled. Memories surfaced. Something came to me. Something I wanted to write. No one even knows what this is, and it’s not so obvious at all when you read the paragraph, but when I read it back I remember it. My spine tingles again. I know.
What’s a paragraph that slays you?