I almost missed my stop on the subway, I couldn’t stop reading. What captivated me most in these poems, prose poems, and short stories – and what they have in common, for the most part – is the power to surprise without working too vigorously or obviously to accomplish this. They don’t go where you expect or move the way you think they will, but they don’t announce their intentions to thwart expectations with bold gestures or wildly inventive strokes.
On occasion one writer’s work is even surprisingly linked to another’s, as in the pleasing continuity between Emma Bolden’s poem “Palmistry,” with its chime (“you / tongue a bell / clapping”) resounding in F. Daniel Rzicznek’s poem “Several Invisible Horses,” which ends: “The little bell in my head I keep from ringing,” and is then echoed immediately afterward in Annie Lighthart’s “Looking into the Fallen Church Bell.” Both are lovely, quiet poems which build to exceptionally striking conclusions. Rzicznek’s is quoted above; Lighthart’s, set apart from the previous five lines, remakes the bell as atmosphere and attitude: “That would be the first sleep, first domed night of my making.”
Eric Higgins also contributes a beautiful poem that builds to a wholly unpredictable and utterly heart-breaking conclusion. “House of Dissolving” is an original and visually evocative ars poetica of sorts, masquerading as a love poem, as carefully sculpted as the heart-shaped soap carving his poem’s seventeen-year old subject spends the night creating for his new wife (“her finger pressing where his thought had been”). “Knowing such people will die, it is difficult to rest,” Higgins concludes. Something in me melted like the bars of soap. Could there be a more compelling reason to whittle a poem?
Fiction, too, is pleasing in similar ways. Stories that move naturally toward unnaturally satisfying conclusions. These pieces are sure of themselves, but not showy, even when their voices are powerful and distinct, like the narrator in “No Cerveza, No Trabajo” by Shane Joaquín Jiménez, recently released from the state prison and learning to make his way at home again: “I dropped my one bag of earthly ties. The shag was still saucer-marked where my departed furniture had sat. My goddamn life. I picked that bag up and came stamping down them steps to the living room asnort with fury.”
The magazine’s prize-winning story by Travis Klunick, “Yeguas y Caballos,” and stories by Elizabeth Gonzalez, Barb Johnson, and others are equally strong. By and large, these stories are round and tender, with memorable characters and small, but powerful epiphanies.