Fiction by Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés, Artwork by Sohini Ghose

Young, shy, cat-eyelined wannabe poet showed up to my office hours in search of a mentor. She had read my chapbook, some pieces collected in a popular anthology. Gingerly she passed me a sheet, nicely formatted. I was in a good mood, generous even. Earlier, a little poem of mine had been accepted into a good publication. It had been almost a year; I was getting desperate, the shine of a regional poetry prize I won had dimmed but things were looking up now.
Reading glasses poised, pen in hand, I began. The epigraph was good, necessary. The first words, lovely, melodic, and precise. The whole first line, solid. Potent even. The second, third, and fourth lines grasped me until breathlessly, as in I couldn’t breathe, I came to the end of that first stunning stanza. I bit my lip, sighed deeply and looked up, declared, “This is really good.”
“Oh,” she gasped. “Really?” She studied me, perhaps in search of a lie.
I turned back to the poem. The next gripping stanza only confirmed what was already twisting in my gut—before me was a talented poet gifted with a startling vision.
“So impressive. Really,” I said without looking up.
I finished it. I didn’t want to finish it. I couldn’t bear reveal my utter disappointment. I admitted, it was not unlike a confession, what I could contribute—after all, it’s what she wanted—wasn’t much. A word suggested. An alternate line break. Maybe a comma?
She took copious notes. I scribbled on the poem, bracketed two and a half lines that “could be tweaked.”
“This means the world to me,” she said, tears welling.
I smiled at her, it was strained. I agreed to see more of her work, see her again but I could not mentor her.