In the Flash Prose, Jacques Debrot’s “A Brief History of the Minor Modernists” borders on humorous—if it weren’t so ‘sad truth’—with a steady stream of defining descriptors, such as:
The minor Modernists are unextravagant in everything except Books. Museums bore them. Bad news confirms their paranoia. They devour science fiction and westerns. They believe that genius is a habit that can be acquired. They write in day beds with filthy sheets and on slow trains as the rain smacks against the carriage windows like wet darts.The piece ends on the most poignant truth of death for which there is no humor.
Shasta Grant’s “Football Season, 1989” is a more traditional narrative; a throw-back to the late 80s, but a timeless subject matter: the popularity of high school sports players (Jason); the leaping transition from pre-teen to womanhood for girls (Heather ditching Katie for cheerleading and Jason); and the desire to fit in and belong (Katie wanting not to be different, to maintain her friendship with Heather, to let Jason whom “she doesn’t even like” help her leap the transition). Grant’s opening lines speak to all of this at once: “By lunchtime on Monday, almost everyone knows that Jason fingered Heather at the post-game party on Saturday. When Katie first hears it, she doesn’t know what it means; she thinks Jason has put his finger on Heather, meaning he selected her, claimed her.”
Paul Tarragó’s “Tight” shows the surreal aspect of the range of styles, describing a culture in which passing fads determine the very evolution of human existence:
You are: inshape, swaddle-wrapped, a crush-convert. Tight. From toe and finger tip, flowing through full-body to the neck line, you are bound by a micro-weave elasticated sheath that fits like a paint job, but grips like a constrictor—an angry brutish one—with variable force settings from press to squash.It’s the kind of fiction that will stretch readers’ minds and force them to consider alternate future existences beyond contemporary understanding. Sci fi, surreal, experimental, creepy—all rolled into one.
The Short Prose includes Simon Barker’s appropriately titled “Col Tempo,” translated as ‘over time’ or ‘with time.’ It tells the story of one man’s (Karl’s) obsession for another man’s (Anton’s) wife and what lengths he will go to possess her. That’s a traditional plot summary, but Barker takes the story into the surreal, and the lengths the character can go reach beyond our time-lineal reality. The story’s timeline takes fantastic leaps forward, as the imprisoned Anton Vek notes, “By counting the hours on the clock he alone kept track. A week passed, a month, half a year. Sooner than he could have imagined, an entire year was gone. Then several years.” Next paragraph: “A decade elapsed, an absurd length for imprisonment without reason.” And the next: “Another decade passed.” All the while, Karl Farben has been free, having traded his friend Anton for this freedom, and now manipulating time itself and the aging process to secure his chance with Anton’s wife. Karl is quite the bastard, but he gets his own in the end, unable to fully control the effects of his own greedy magical prowess.
Vinay Krishnan’s “Penn Station (Take This Brown Off or Hurt Me)” is just a sad commentary on our society in so many ways. The story begins where it will eventually end, with the main character, Pratik Chadha, in a standoff with police and government agents, then flashes back to his youth, where “At thirteen, he’d scrub his hands with soap and alcohol every night to rinse the color free.” And before that, “At twelve, they’d all play tag or capture the flag together during recess, but instead of chasing each other, they’d all chase him. Twenty white kids running after him, screaming: ‘Osama. It’s Osama. Catch him. It’s Bin Laden. I caught Bin Laden. He’s right here.’” He lived in New York, though wasn’t there on 9/11, and so has “survivor’s guilt once removed.” The story reveals his need to be there should another incident occur:
Every time he comes home, he takes his tour of the same spots. Financial centers, tourist attractions, iconic areas, vulnerable areas. He stays close to the masses, stays close to the cops. If something does happen again—God forbid—he’ll be there to feel the heat. He’ll have a story to tell. He’ll bruise red, white, and blue.But this obsessiveness need leads to the ironic end, where he is being singled out, accused.
The sadness in the story is one heard more publicly since Trayvon Martin—that of young black men being told how they must walk and talk to avoid being harassed, avoid arrest, avoid being shot. It’s the sadness of this country’s ostracizing those with brown skin and “funny names,” labeling them terrorists, judging their behaviors as suspect ‘just because.’ And the sadness of mental illness, which the character seems to border on with his obsessiveness, perhaps brought on or exacerbated by a lifetime of being treated as a terrorist in his own country and a lifetime which includes this “survivor’s guilt once removed.” It was difficult being inside this character’s head as the story unfolds, feeling his frustration and helplessness, knowing that his final act was not right, but also understanding how he could come to it.
Of the poetry, again variety abounds even among only six contributors. The difficulty in commenting on some of these works is the fact that they build to impactful final lines, which I’m not willing to give away. But they also contain some wonderful word- and image-constructions within, such as this from Emily Rose Kahn-Sheahan’s “Pretty Lies”: “Suppose I said, / the last piece of paper on earth // and I used it to draw a cat. I stole my mouth / from a woman with a better story.” And this from “Clown Machine” by Jennifer MacBain-Stephens: “They fury along a breeze that fills / my lungs with a passage somewhere / to something. I expand and contract, / like stomped down funnel cake.” Benjamin Seanor’s two poems were my favorite of the bunch. I had to stop after each stanza to let the language, feeling, image all resonate before moving on. When I listened to him read, it was all new again, and I had to stop the recording to allow for a fresh resonance. Try this, from “Discovering Your Lioness”:
The day gives itself to us, to emeraldingAnd these couple of great lines from “Library in the Morning, Florida”: “People often forget work is only showing your softest, loveliest self to those / who will not look.” And “We could all’ve stayed in bed, as naked as books. As full up, too.”
and crimsoning, because we have all this time
to display ourselves as something special
anyone with some sense could spot.
As an online lit mag, my only criticism of decomP is the archive. I went to it hoping to get a look at a couple of back issues only to find the archive is one long list of published works organized by the author’s last name. And when I click on one to read it, I can’t tell what “issue” of the publication it had been published in. With over decade of works and an ISSN number, it’s a bit disconcerting not to be able to discern this kind of publishing history. Overall, decomP’s strength is in its commitment to publishing variety, but also to over a decade of experience in publishing quality above all else.