Set the Setting
On a rainy October evening, I went out looking to buy a raincoat. I left at twilight, when the world was blue-gray, and since it was raining and humid, a thick mist rolled across the roads. Leaves on the trees were still mostly dark green though some had turned, and as I drove I was startled by their crimson that punctured the deepening gray of the night.
I didn’t find a raincoat, though I did leave with a pair of 501 straight leg Levis for $13 and a skirt with a bow for $15, and I was pleased with myself as I walked to my car. By then the night had settled into its darkness, and the water on the street added a slickness to the night so that the lights overhead slipped and shook.
Just as I opened the car door, I felt my phone buzz, its steady pulse alerting me that this was a phone call. It was Hadley.
“Mom, you need to come home,” she said.
“What’s up?” I asked, locking the car door and turning on the car.
“A few minutes ago, Corby came inside drooling and with red eyes and our house smells really bad.”
“I’ll be home soon,” I said.
I don’t know if I can describe the smell of skunk. Perhaps it’s best to describe what the smell does. It stings. It suffocates. It swallowed our home whole, but that wasn’t enough, so it slithered out the front door and met me on the driveway where, upon confronting it with my own nostrils, I stumbled forward when every part of my being screamed, “GET BACK IN THE CAR!”
I made my way through what I can only describe as thick, invisible fog. Just because something can’t be reached out and touched does not mean the thing doesn’t leave its mark. It made its presence known and kicked everyone out of the house. I found my family outside on our backyard deck. My girls were sitting on the table looking at their phones and once they saw me, simultaneously began reading off facts about what to do when a dog has been sprayed by a skunk. Jesse had a headlamp on and was spraying Corby with a hose. Every dog cleaning product we own was scattered on the deck. For a moment, all I heard was the splatter of water as it landed on the deck’s floor and the rush of wind in the leaves. I looked up and remembered the red leaves from earlier — their marks like wounds to the trees.
For the next two hours we cleaned, scrubbed, and did our best to rid our home of the silent invader that did its best to end us. By midnight every candle we owned was lit, every window was open, every fan we had was pointed outside to suck the air from our house and gasp it back outside. Corby was curled up on the couch next to Jesse, and I was sitting outside listening to the crickets and the frogs and thinking of all that is unseen and yet leaves its mark — imprinted — like a scar I’m not sure I want to heal.
This week focus on setting in your poetry. What does it do? What mood does it create? How can you write it so your reader has some emotional stakes in your poem?
Browse other poetry prompts
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.