We recently published Kathryn Kulpa’s poetic “After Wings of Desire.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) This story is based on a German film that I was unfamiliar with until now — even without the background of the film, I still found it so compelling and beautiful. How did the movie inspire you to write this piece?
I saw Wings of Desire at the Avon Cinema, a beautiful old art house theatre in the Thayer Street neighborhood of Providence. It was such a stunningly visual movie. I don’t remember much of the dialogue or plot; it almost felt like it could have been a silent film, with all these somber, black-and-white images of angels looking down on humans, and this towering, Germanic architecture. My friend and I saw it and came out of the theater completely under its spell. Even the real world seemed unreal.
So the film itself inspired me, but also the place where I saw it, and the time. It feels very much a part of my youth. The day I wrote it, Bruno Ganz, who played the angel Damiel, had just died. My writing group was meeting, and we had three prompt words: past, future, silence. That took me back to the movie and a mood of melancholy reflection.
2) One of my favorite moments in this piece is the paragraph that begins “You belong to the past…”. That list of particular items is so striking! Did you cut anything out of this list, change anything around?
Yes, the original draft had the cedar chest of old records but not the nips of peppermint schnapps at the vampire girl’s grave. It had placeholder images: “You belong to the past, like Kettle Pond, like Bannock Hill…” place names that didn’t yet evoke what I wanted them to evoke, these secret places in nature that feel so heavy with mystery—and desire is part of that mystery—when we visit them as teenagers. The vampire girl’s grave came in a later draft, and it felt perfect. And also a perfect little Easter egg for anyone who grew up in Rhode Island, because there really was a vampire girl, her name was Mercy Brown, and people still go looking for her ghost, and that’s so much of what this story’s about. How it feels like ghosts are always with us, yet so hard to find.