A young magazine, only on its second volume, Raleigh Review pulls off an understated maturity in its choice of fiction and poetry pieces, while the artwork is playful and quirky. It is a magazine that takes itself seriously, but not to a fault, with an impressive list of heavy hitters. The interior and exterior artwork are the creations of Geri Digiorno, a set of themed mixed-media collages, intricate paper mosaics that are jolting, haunting, and yet strangely sweet and light all mixed in together, a lovely invitation to read what’s inside.
Shabnam Nadiya amazes with her flash fiction piece “Eating Bone.” Old Islamic custom says that if a man wants a divorce, all he must do is say “Talaaq” three times. Nadiya’s character Disha begins by sharing her wishes and also deep fears of her husband saying the word three times and what this would mean for her as a woman in an Islam nation. She writes, “Disha knew all his usual jibes: her fleshy belly and sagging breasts, her barrenness, her dark skin, her unkempt domesticity, her lack of property. What was she good for?” Nadiya’s story is beautifully tragic, bittersweet, and holds a complicated and layered plot for such a short piece.
Equally tragic and complex is Renee LaGue’s “Tilton Hill,” a fiction piece about a father and his young daughter in the throes of a crisis on a snowy day at their farm. In a family that lives off their land and livestock, the father agonizes about whether or not to save an ailing cow while also being distraught about an affair he has had and the wreckage it has caused in his family. His daughter mentions the other woman, and he grapples with how to respond, “He knows—he opens his mouth but no words come. He is simply a man who moves stones, fingerprints erased by the granite he lays. If it is a sin to love and let love, has he not done penance?” This is a tender, melancholy, and touching story that begs introspection of the reader.
As for the poetry, an immediate standout is Maria Nazos’s “Tits and Violin,” in which the narrator sits at a bar and is annoyed by the Cassanova-type barfly who uses as a pickup line that “he loves nothing more / in this world than tits and violin.” She spends the length of the poem waffling between telling him to get lost and keeping her cool—something she notices she has gotten better at in her 30s. Of getting older and more mature, she writes that “I began to say the fourth / or fifth thing that came to mind / instead of launching the first missile from my mouth.” I think we can all sympathize with that self-deprecation. Nazos is honest, witty, charming, and hilarious. I was left wanting more of her poetry in this issue.
Jermaine Simpson lays it all on the line in his poem “To Light a Cigarette,” a gripping account of how he and his mother mourned his father’s death. His writing has a visceral, raw feel to it as he describes his mother looking for a new husband:
After my father died, she began roaming bars, searching
for my role model. She was
never good with choosing and I referred to those men as
lighters. Cheap, plastic, the kind
that left your thumb raw and callused on a cold day . . .
Simpson is masterful at creating an emotionally charged scene with so few words.
Another master at brevity, Sherman Alexie offers four short poems with titles that say it all. “The Eternal K-Mart Layaway Odyssey,” in six lines, paints a vivid picture of the narrator’s childhood struggles, and does so in an endearing, sad and earnest fashion. The narrator tells us that, as a child, he would collect aluminum cans: “Late August, and I was desperately trying to earn enough cash / to make the last payment on my new school clothes.” Alexie’s honest (autobiographical?) work never disappoints and is the icing on the cake for Raleigh Review’s Volume 2. A lovely read with a refreshing new voice.