Iowa Review

After the Fact: Scripts & Postscripts, #37–42

Fairy Tale

He collected every fairy tale from the village at the end of the valley except the one he wanted—the story of a dancing bear, a peddler, and a woman, which had haunted his dreams in childhood and dictated his course of studies at the university. Emblazoned in his memory was the image of the bear chained to an apple tree whose roots had curled around the coffin of the mayor; he could not recall any other details of the story beyond the rumor, widely circulated, that it was based on an actual incident, and still he lost sleep imagining the consequences of eating the fruit gathered from that tree; hence his resolve to record the fairy tale in full, preferably in the lilting voice of his grandmother, dead these many years. (He blamed his insomnia on her juxtaposition of tone and subject.) However, his family had long since moved away from the village, the tradition of storytelling died with the burial of the church under a wall of snow, and no one could answer his questions: Who trained the bear? Did a peddler really lock a woman in a barn and hide the key under the altar? What taboo had the mayor violated by selling off the forest that protected the village from avalanches? He died before the last stand of pines was cut down; the whereabouts of his skeleton remained a mystery—which led the folklorist to speculate that privation, not magic, was the true source of this ghoulish tale. What consolation he took in the prospect of an afterlife was tempered by the knowledge that he did not know how it ended. If it ended.

The Evangelicals

The evangelicals came knocking on the door, wearing wings. I said I don't do business on the porch and I'm not a candidate, but the leader spread his cape to reveal his inner being, which he took to be the truth he wished to share, while I took it to be his spindrift armpits. I lived on an island, which caused me to think of sand and mud, whitecaps and anchors, droplines and worms. He had his eye on a planet toward which he was climbing on the backs of converts. He was headed upward while I was going down. He had resuscitated the prophets. He had rolled away the rock to see who was alive in the cave. He had tallied the books and memorized the verses. He had logged the names on gravestones for soul-saving. This is what he lived for. He shouted on paper. He beseeched at the precipice and blew like a foehn. He had broken the ancient code using only coins and yarrow stalks. He was as confident as the slave of a guru. He had come by way of disbelief and was now fervent in the embodiments of the spirits. He was every church and every Sabbath. He had his hands on the gold. His belief blanketed the roofs and washed away the daily paycheck. I had only a government in shambles to match his paradise.


Iowa Review

The following excerpts were published in The Iowa Review, Volume 45, Issue 1, in Spring 2015.

The Iowa Review online


Editor's Note

The following are entries #37–42 from Merrill and Bell's project After the Fact: Scripts & Postscripts , which began as a sequence of sixty paragraphs written back-and-forth over a period of fifteen months during 2011 and 2012. "Having written sixty," notes Bell, "we decided to go on to a second section. Hence the subtitle Scripts & Postscripts. We began the project thinking of our work as prose poetry. It was an editor who first recognized that these paragraphs are a form of poetic nonfiction."
     While Bell sent his paragraphs from Iowa City, Iowa; Port Townsend, Washington; and Sag Harbor, New York, Merrill, who undertakes cultural diplomacy for the State Department, sent his from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chile, Mozambique, Russia, the Congo, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.
     "Given the nature of Chris's experiences and my predilections," writes Bell, "as the sequence pushed ahead it took up matters philosophical, sociopolitical, and aesthetic. The title After the Fact, as well as the original working title, Everything at Once, now seem apt characterizations of the international, postmodernist character of a digital age."

The latest of Marvin Bell's books are Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems (Copper Canyon); Whiteout, a collaboration with photographer Nathan Lyons (Lodima); and a children's book based on the poem "A Primer about the Flag" (Candlewick). He lives in Iowa City, Iowa, and Port Townsend, Washington.

Christopher Merrill's recent books include Boat (poetry), Necessities (prose poetry), and The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War. He directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

After the Fact: Scripts and Postscripts is available at

White Pine Press

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