Mythium is a journal that publishes poems, fiction, and nonfiction written by writers of color. Its mission is to celebrate the cultural voice. The content is as varied as there are ethnicities. From African American and Native American writers with violent and unjust ancestral histories, to more recent immigrants of Latin, Asian, and African heritage (and then some) looking to find a place in a new America, it’s natural to assume that this magazine is a collection of many voices and many stories. Some of the material is depressing. Some is hopeful. All of it is interesting.
The poems in Mythium are diverse. Lyrical, image-driven, rhythmic, narrative – you name it, it’s in there. It’s hard to pick one, but “Contrary Winds at Night” by Radames Ortiz spoke to me in one of those goose-bumpy kinds of ways. It begins:
“We are a splattering of contradictions,”
wrote a novelist
I think of this, in a living room,
darkened with heat
This notion that we carry broken
Jagged shards reflecting
light in strange ways
The lack of grammatical punctuation or consistency of capitalization intensifies the sense of brokenness the poem evokes. But the image is what really does it for me. There’s a dark living room, yet there’s light coming from somewhere, reflecting off sharp pieces of mirror. For me, the living room is the “I,” and the pieces of broken mirrors are the “I’s” identity. There are so many pieces, so many faces, the “I” takes on. The conflict is that we are many. We are culture. We are stereotypes. We are individual. We are communal. We are who we are, and we are who we are expected to be. And yet, this confusion is intricate and beautiful. The pieces of identity may not make a solid whole, but their scary, messy parts make strange and glorious reflections.
Poetry is only the beginning. The fiction in Mythium is incredibly interesting. Most of the stories are nonlinear, disjointed. They often jump from one character’s point of view to another and from an individual perspective to a communal one. I think it’s a subtle reminder that you can’t have culture without community. “In My Country” by Tony Robles was my favorite. It strays from the communal quality of the other pieces. Marco, an immigrant from El Salvador is a maintenance worker at a hotel. He hasn’t yet mastered the English language, and he doesn’t relate to the people he meets. When an old black man dies in one of the rooms, it’s his job to clean out the man’s belongings. Marcos arrives at the room to find an old man there. Instead of kicking the man out, he helps the man lie down and brings the man water. Later, it’s inferred that the old man was the dead man’s ghost. Marco cleans the room and leaves. Interwoven in this story are sections where Marco remembers his country. Things are different there. But common decency and connecting with others through simple kindness is universal. Marco walks down an empty street at the end of the story, yet the empty street is full of hope and possibility. He can go anywhere, do anything.
Mythium closes this issue with its nonfiction section, which includes some of the best nonfiction I’ve seen in a while. I’ll admit it; I’m a picky nonfiction reader. My standards are sky-high. Mythium is right up there in the clouds with me, travelling to a pleasant destination. In “Dreams Are Really Real,” Kalamuya Salaam wakes from a dream in which his friend, Tom, dead ten years, appears as a young man. He then recalls his friendship with Tom, all the things he learned from Tom, and how the dream made him realize how deeply he misses his friend. The most poignant section of the piece is this:
The old folks always asked: who your people – not just your blood family, but those whom you chose to love, to emulate, to run with and respect. The wise ones knew: your people are who you become, and if not become, they are the human forces that deeply influence your becoming.
Examination and celebration of culture is important, but the most important lesson I took from this journal is at the heart of this quotation. Your culture is not just your ancestry; it’s what you take from other people. It’s the love you give and receive from people of all walks of life. The only criteria are an open mind and soul.
Mythium doesn’t just celebrate the cultural voice; it promotes cultural dialogue. Any venue that encourages people to share their stories leads to a shared understanding. And that, folks, is A-okay with me.