This issue opens with terrific translations of the work of Syrian poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Esber) from Khaled Mattawa, from the book Al-Mutabaqat wal-al-Awa’il (Similarities and Beginnings), published in 1980. These poems are, according to an introductory essay by Mattawa, a departure from the poet’s earlier interest in longer forms, and they demonstrate his skill with the short lyric. They are tightly, and expertly, constructed, with lush imagery, despite their taut shape. Here is “The Beginning of Death” in its entirety:
Death rises in steps – his shoulders:
a woman and a swan
Death descends in steps – his feet
sparks and the remains
of extinguished cities
And the sky that was all wings, expands
The journal possesses an expansive approach to styles, moods, and tones, featuring poems much like the work of Adonis in temperament, such as Kevin Craft’s “Linear A”:
I am the city
as you remember it,
I am a dark incision – cat’s eye
or claw in a field
of slash and burn.
and work as distinctly different as Patrick Moran’s prose poem “Aphrodisiacting”: “Marlon Brando & Vivian Leigh projected onto the wall of a state penitentiary common room, the wear & tear of this copy, their voices could be speaking through heavy glass, making promises they know they can’t keep.”
Especially affecting are Melissa Stein’s “So deeply that it is not heart at all, but” in which each apostrophic line begins “sister:” (“sister: you needn’t lie in that sun-bleached collapse of linen,” “sister: feed yourself. the rest will take care of. promise”); and her “Ars Poetica,” which ends: “Explorers // make their reports in foam / or frost then perish, leaving behind / fresh colonies. Here’s mine.”
Efforts to shock succeed, as in Matthew Lippman’s “The Earth in There”:
The placenta is in the freezer. I thought it was a steak.
Was gonna cook it up on the bar-be with a little homemade teriyaki
My wife told me she knows a woman, Sylvia, three kids
after each birth, invited the neighbors over, made them a placenta shake.
And Green Mountains makes room for the crude and lewd, as in sonnets by Olena Kalytiak Davis that begin and end with “fuck” and “fucked.”
The issue also includes fourteen short stories (Paula Bomer, Tess Brown, Haley Carollhach, Liz N. Clift, Julian Darragjati, M.M. De Voe, John Goldbach, Mark Halliday, Justin Hermann, David Huddle, Dana Kinstler, Jacob Lampart, Rachel May, Toni Todd), as different from each other in subject matter and tone as the poems. Clift’s “Strippers Don’t Wear Socks,” is a disturbing story of girls grown up ahead of themselves. Bomer’s short piece is grown-up edgy and tough (“What is it that you hate most about me?”). Jacob Lampart offers a wild little New York story exploring one man’s friendship with another prone to “breakdowns” and a consideration of what can make us happy (or not):
Wow! I liked Mendel’s analysis. I remembered his last breakdown. Even though I didn’t meet any women, I had loads of fun visiting him at Mt. Sinai, which was where he ended up after he approached a black nurse in the hospital cafeteria, claiming she represented the black fire on white fire with which God wrote the Torah.
I was in that very cafeteria recently (the food’s not half bad), and I can picture Mendel there. But it isn’t because the story’s believable that I liked it so much, it’s because it doesn’t strive too hard to be.