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Who Done It? (a writer’s block fable)

By: Ethan Goffman

Photo by John Lee on

I was in the doldrums, unable to write, unable to conceive anything fresh or profound, anything worth saying in the least. My mind was blank, the computer screen was blank, everything was frozen, frozen and I wondered if I would ever be able to write again or how I had previously managed to compose even one word. The puniness of that one word versus the possibilities of what could be or needs to be said made it seem futile to type in a single character. With superhuman effort, I finally managed the letter “a,” but it seemed woefully inadequate and I instantly backspaced and deleted it.

Fortunately, someone had been sneaking onto my computer and adding vast troves of material when I wasn’t looking. Much of it was stale, using trite language or merely repeating themes I’d written about better in the past. However, enough was truly fresh to make it worth mining and refining.

Who had been typing all this material in, at what dark hours or forgotten mornings? I could say elves, but it’s not that, exactly. I should say a prayer. I should thank god, the creative demons, my muse Thelma, some mysterious whimsy, the forces that rule the universe, or all of these and more, for somehow adding to my store of material. It certainly couldn’t have been me that did it.

Town Square

People-watching on a spring day, gentle sun refracted through scattered clouds, breezes tickling me, in Rockville’s mildly crowded town square, I noticed something sneaking behind every single person. Some kind of shadow. It lurked behind a young woman in a billowy pink dress as she rolled her infant in a stroller. A similar figure followed the infant. It shadowed diners munching on chips and salsa, on beet salad, at a streetery. It floated above a mildly bearded youth sporting a fez, sprawled over a bench, reading a thick book through thick glasses. Was it menacing that grandmotherly figure ambling with a cane away from me, step-by-step, toward who knows where?

Peering closely into my soul, out at the world, I observed the traditional coal-black figure in robes wielding a scythe. Gazing, I saw Death’s smile, half Cheshire cat, half Mona Lisa. I realized that Death is not in fact a shadow, but hard-edged. Death is reality and the human souls sauntering or stumbling about, dragged by gravity and worries, skin sagging a bit more each day, are fading shadowy dreamstuff. In our daily existence we are a kind of simulacrum or hologram. When that illusion is turned off, Death remains.

Is Death nothingness? A place of judgement? The harmony of a loving, spiritual presence? I hope to believe the latter, so I do believe the latter. Death smiles at me.


Once there was a people who could not talk, who communicated only by singing. They did so with beauty and pitch, alone and in harmony. Each song was a piece of music put together with love, but also with rational order. They sang with raw emotion out to the heavens, to the oceans, to the great land masses, to plants and animals, to distant lovers. They were born, played, ate, hunted, gathered, shared, gave birth and died surrounded by the art of their music.

choose your own ending:

A. They have since discovered emojis and a whole new means of communication. Perhaps soon they will master the wonders of multimedia.

B. Even today, whales continue their songs as they are hunted, trapped, and poisoned to extinction.


Ethan Goffman is the author of Dreamscapes (UnCollected Press, 2021)–a collection of flash fiction–and the poetry collections I Garden Weeds (Cyberwit, 2021) and Words for Things Left Unsaid (Kelsay Books, 2020). Ethan is co-founder of It Takes a Community, which brings poetry to Montgomery College students and nearby residents.

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