“The Optimist” by Emily Sperber

Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2019: Editor’s Choice


Desert Road by Ellen McCarthy

Image: “Desert Road” by Ellen McCarthy. “The Optimist” was written by Emily Sperber for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2019, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

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Emily Sperber


He tried to make it better
by saying at least this
was the good kind of desert,
not the bad kind and I did not
bother asking him the difference.

He tried to make it better
by saying that at least I,
his wife, didn’t have to
give the long haul trucker
a handjob for a ride to the
towing company we didn’t
even know would be there
and I didn’t want to bring up the
fact that we were still walking
and the long haul trucker was
already down the road.

He tried to make it better
by saying that the clouds
looked like cotton candy—
blue & pink puffs close
enough for the taking—
so, in his youth, he obviously
didn’t take fistfuls of the sugar
in his mouth only to throw
up in the carnival’s trash
can, those blue & pink puffs
not so puffy at the bottom
of the garbage and while
I made this distinction
apparent to him, he rolled
his eyes and twisted his
feet, in one fluid motion,
in the direction of, hopefully,
a gas station because, he said,
like a ringing bell in our
marriage, he was only
trying to make it better.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
May 2019, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “I just loved how vividly these two characters jumped out of the image and into life. It’s the precision of the details that work this magic—the carnival trash can, his full-body eye-roll. I also love that I can’t decide who to side with—neither of them, I suppose. Somehow I think they’ll make it out, though.”

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