There is no announced theme in this issue (which marks the journal’s 75th anniversary), but do you perceive a pattern? Here are the opening lines of the issue from “In the Village of Missing Children” by Rigoberto Gonzalez:
The old not call themselves old,
the call themselves dead. They call
themselves forgotten and silent, the footprints
made by water that evaporate and erase,
leaving the ground thirsty for contact
all over again. They call themselves
banished, abandoned, invisible, asleep
Which is followed by these opening lines from “When the Light in Dreams is Identical to the Light in Death” by Peter Marcus:
I’d just returned from a bus tour of the mass graves at Babi Yar
with an hour stop at the Chernobyl Museum with its photographs
of a radiated humanity. Thyroid cancers, gross deformities, rashes,
workers in protective suits raking, shoveling, and tossing out debris
as if performing mundane yard work
Which is followed by these opening lines from Laura Kasischke’s “Swan Logic”:
Swan terror and swan stigmata. Three of them slaughtered
at the edge of the pond
and one still
One still gliding around in wounded circles on the black mirror of that, like
some music box tragedy inside some girl.
Which is followed by an epigraph from Cornish Folklore (“In old England, after a death, family members went to the nearest beehive to tell the bees”) and these opening lines from Gary Fincke’s “Telling the Bees”:
My father, at eighty-nine, abandoned
His yard to hired help and neglect. He drew
His bedroom drapes as if he were closing
That theater like a bankrupt business.
Which is followed by this opening passage from Jane Delury’s short story, “Transformation of Matter”: “The event of this day will be the drowning, but now, in the oblivious present, it is the snow.”
I’m not complaining or even unhappy about this death spiral, just observing it and finding that the pieces work together to serve the mood of the times, which is, for the most part, deservedly quite dark most days. But, if you think there will eventually be some relief from these difficult realities, think again. Here are the opening lines of “Snow Angel” by Jane Springer: “Tell me about ice & I will tell you about the bottle shard held to the boy’s throat in my / kitchen. The boy seemed to melt into the floor & the shard made a scar / on the tile where it missed the mark.”
And the opening of “Ode” by Susan Terris: “unfiltered words spew from her mouth with volcanic force drunk with fire / but our mother’s torso atilt is slack and uncooperative / the jab of an accusatory finger you must want me to die she beneath your soft wings.”
I’m not looking for a break from these tragedies, I find, instead, they represent a kind of permission to experience the world’s horror in all its glory, which is to say that these expressions of horror are in themselves, for the most part, simply glorious in their execution.
I must mention an extraordinary piece of nonfiction by Traci Fount, “Scenes from an Unsane Childhood,” a terrifically honest and beautifully composed essay about growing up with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Her full-length memoir on the subject will, according to contributors’ notes, be published next year by Simon & Schuster, and I await it eagerly.
There is also a marvelous portfolio of paintings of the by Edward Pramuk, “Voyages,” who says he has been inspired by such painters as Milton Avery and Turner, and such poets as Neruda. These works are created of the richest blues and whites and are among the most exquisite I have ever seen of sky, sea, rock formations, boats, and a sense of distance that brings us close and distances us all at once. They are truly wondrous.
Bringing us close and distancing us simultaneously is, I think, the best way to describe the whole of the issue, with its richly dark portrayal of human and natural disaster, catastrophe, illness, destruction, cruelty, confusion, and death. For that reason, this is a particularly satisfying issue of the magazine, despite the fact that it feels, if not wrong, at least somehow strange to say so.