This stellar, solemn issue of Agni begins with Sven Birkerts’s “The Golden Book,” a lament about certain things that have been lost in time, and certain things that can be rediscovered through writing, photography, and books. At the forefront of what has been lost, he implies, is the bookstore—in this case, a Borders that provided him with his first post-college job in Michigan. What can be gained from reading and looking at books is a sense of immersion, that each time one returns to an image, line, or story, there is more to be sensed, more meaning to be wrung out of it.
Jennifer Percy’s “Azeroth” was one of my favorite nonfiction pieces. It follows the story of the narrator and her boyfriend Aleksandar, who, after the Serbs invaded, left his Bosnian village. Now, he and the narrator return to visit. The piece charts their relationship and the growing distance between the pair.
The narrator, who lives in America while her boyfriend lives in Germany, becomes convinced that her boyfriend is having an affair. As their relationship disentangles, we discover that he is having an affair of sorts—with a computer game; he is addicted to playing World of Warcraft. One of the story’s strengths is that it explores sentiment and sentimentality, without ever becoming sentimental.
Elizabeth Kadetsky’s nonfiction piece “Bombing the Ghost” contains one of the most enduring images in the issue, an image of resilience. The piece is about a girl, who, after hitting the streets of New York City armed with cans of spray paint, comes home to find that her mother has taken acid. The new M line has just been added to the NYC subway, and the girl contemplates this—how wrong it seems, later deciding that her discomfort was nothing more than a fleeting thought. “They’ve switched things up on us enough, we know we’ll get past this problem of adjustment,” she says. “We got over the conversation of the RR, the splitting of the NR, and the dissolution of the QB. We adapt.” “Bombing the Ghost” ponders memory, and the construction of memory. It also looks at the devices humans derive to push themselves along.
On a lighter note, Kathleen Winter’s poem “Hamster Thrown from Monster Truck” hinges on the amusing premise that the “we” narrating it are not familiar with hamsters—or even gerbils—but are familiar with monster trucks. They’ve seen monster trucks and are trying to imagine the situation in which a hamster could be ejected from one. The poem closes with yet another image of resilience, with the line, “We hope the hamster’s landed / on his feet.” Winter’s poem has a light touch, yet it hints at darkness. The issue of Agni contains many interesting meditations and twists on expectations.