The current issue of Salamander is chock-full of human experience. One might think a large role of all literature is to capture such experience, and I believe this to be true, but the poems and stories in this issue provide experience in the purest way. Our lives are lived through fragments even though time feels linear. The work published in this issue show us fragmented living.
Salamander’s 2014 Fiction Prize Winner, Barrett Warner, gifts us his short story “Dimension” which provides a strong example of living life in fragments. Our protagonist begins the piece by providing us with “Two points.” The first is about how his math teacher, Mr. Umbec, has died and how the speaker has given Mr. Umbec’s dog a home. The second point is how our speaker has met a woman, Yo, who “noticed very private things” about him. The story breaks from a linear telling, instead delivering the tale through sections. On the surface, we have a speaker who moved out into the sticks, turned his land into a farm and tried to hold on to the affections of this woman who “has two husbands.” However, Warner provides his readers with a story that feels choppy based on the manic nature of our speaker who, at times, gives his dog a voice. We continue to jump from anecdotes about how Mr. Umbec “couldn’t hold his liquor” to how Yo dressed our speaker in nothing but a black cape and said how he’d “look so sexy with some blood on that lip.” This weaving of narratives reads almost like a braided or lyric essay and emphasizes how life is a collection of fragments that together create a unified whole.
Derek JG Williams provides us with a poem about a speaker who writes letters to his brother in prison. While the poem is not written in fragments, it does show us how life can jump from writing a letter to walking the dog “until my feet ache.” The poet provides us with the binary of freedom and imprisonment, but leaves us wondering if our speaker is not also somehow imprisoned when he writes, “I know we need so much / more than we can give.”
Poetry dominates this issue of Salamander adding to the theme of fragmentary living. Readers are given snapshots of butterfly gardens, the blight of the female anatomy, the secret lives of teacups, and the morning song of the woodpecker. We are provided with stories from a slew of voices that, coupled together, provide the perfect reincarnation of life in the human body.
None show us what it means to be human more than honorable mention for the fiction prize. Margaret Osburn’s “When Desire Can’t Find Its Object” follows the speaker from his attempts at photographing egrets to his spontaneous visit with an old friend. Throughout the piece, our speaker muses over the waning body of a spirit that shines brightly in his eye. The two are speaking of their lives, all the while hiding what they both truly wish to share. What we’re left with as readers is a moment lost to desire and the image of life lived with a fragmented heart.
Salamander has created a unified whole from shreds of the human mind and heart. This issue weaves the breath of longing with the oxygen of language. It makes its readers think about the puzzle pieces of life and how they create a picture of perfect imperfection. It shows us how our imperfection makes us individuals and shouldn’t be traded for a neat and orderly understanding of ourselves. We are a whole built of many fragments.