Spring/Fall 2020

War of Words

By Robbie Slapvox

Her black hair mingled with syntax, she rode into battle on a snow-washed mare, armed only with the testimony she’d gathered from a prior war—with each word a dagger, each sentence a knife, each paragraph a sword. She struggled for courage to face down her foe. She wanted to announce, to herald, to snap together words, to be the first female warrior in the War of Words to defeat the fascist mind. But caught in the crossfire, she was called before the tribunal. They wanted answers. They wanted to know what possessed a woman to wage war against the principalities of power in the air.

Armed with her testimony, she gave them her reasons. But the tribunal was not pleased, they would not believe her. They feared she was the architect of a loose canon. They put her at the table of contents, and she testified, she clawed her way through a wall of accusations, she pressed herself against Hawthorne’s dark forest wall, trapped by the tribunal’s proceedings. The wordsmiths held her with the word “folly.” She fought against them with the word “truth,” and then crumbled under the weight of them and cried, “You will not reduce me to hatred.”

The wordsmiths accused her of being a contradiction, a farce, an evil liar—just another feminist speaking out of both sides of her mouth. They drug her to the cliché room and bridled her mare with motifs, forbidding her from riding. Then questioned her for hours, subjecting her to cliché flash cards, screaming, “Say them, say them!” The wordsmiths opened her mouth and forced malevolence down her throat, then snapped her mouth shut with accusations and dared her to breathe a word of it. They dangled a perfect sentence before her, making her snarl at the sound of it. And at night she released the malevolence by riding her mare through the countryside of post-apocalyptic literature while whispering Hemingway passages.

On the third day, she slammed her fist on the cliché table and gave them the sum of n+1, making a way of escape, but they chased her through Solomon’s Colonnade and deep into the woods of polyphonic prose where they cornered her with a James Patterson novel.

Back in their custody, they nominated her for war in the underworld. She begged the tribunal not to send her, rebuking the 39th article of cliché therapy, “All’s fair in love and war.”

The wordsmiths said it proved the depths of her deception. They said she had no business rebuking the law when she wasn’t even worthy of characterization.

“Now, let’s talk about her animal abuse,” the wordsmiths said to the tribunal.

“I did not abuse my mare. You will not make her a whipping post for your lack of honesty.”

“Don’t accuse us of being a dead-ringer,” the wordsmiths said, then they looked at one another and laughed like frat boys.

“Cute,” she said.

“What is war?” the wordsmiths said.

“War is what happens when innocence is overpowered with arrogance.”

They laughed and said, “Poetry makes nothing happen.”

Then, with the tribunal’s approval, the wordsmiths made her prophetic in the literature of exhaustion on every news outlet. And she felt duped, she felt gang-banged, she felt misunderstood. She told the wordsmiths, “You just don’t get me.”

“What’s there to get? You were once a voice, but now an empty mouthpiece.”

She said, “You’re not making any sense. You’re supposed to be architects of language, but you can’t even master the jot and tittle.”

“Don’t threaten us,” the wordsmiths said. “You have no authority over the horizontal of a t and the dot above the i. It’s reserved for the tribunal, so get off your high-horse.”

“My mare has never touched PCP or opioids, so don’t accuse her of any wrong doing. And I’ve never been an empty mouthpiece.”

“You could have fooled us. And maybe your mare resents you for being a pushover.”

She walked to the window and looked out to where her mare stood in a meadow of yellow, bitter weed. An antihero stroked her mane and whispered in her ear. She ran down three flights of stairs, across the meadow and stabbed the antihero in the back with “a conniption fit.”

The wordsmiths lit cigars.


The wordsmiths put her on the battlefield—bound by cliché therapy—never thinking she’d have the power to kill the King of Fools and silence his Twitter feed. But “killing with kindness” brought her no real satisfaction. She told her mare, “Killing with a cliché only gives rise to more foolishness. One goes down, another rises to take his place. But I had no other option. Sometimes society is forced to meet the extremes of its own nature. And, by the way, what did the antihero whisper in your ear?”

“He said he’d take me to Vegas and give me daily brushings.”

“I knew I was right in killing him. Let no man whisper sweet nothings in your ear.”

Robbie Slapvox

Robbie Slapvox’s stories and essays have appeared in RedividerReed MagazineBrevityAnderboDescantFront Porch JournalControlled BurnClackamas Literary Review, and Zone 3. He holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he studied with Jenny Offill, David Payne, Elissa Schappel, and Naeem Murr. He is also the founder of www.360westproject.com, a writing program at a psychiatric hospital for suicidal adolescents.

View the website of Robbie Slapvox

Spring/Fall 2020