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Palooka - 2012

  • Issue Number: Number 4
  • Published Date: 2012
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

The cover art for this issue—“The Little Prince” by Andrew Robertson—speaks greatly to the aura of the writing held within. The Little Prince stands on his asteroid, back turned to us, with just his rose. The fiction, poetry, and nonfiction held within the magazine emit these same senses of loneliness and solitude, though in a way that is both beautiful and poetic.

Sean Thomas Dougherty’s nonfiction piece “Nowhere Near Somewhere,” for example (if the title doesn’t prove it enough), starts, “It’s true the heaviest grief carries no weight, moving through us so lightly we can no longer feel the ground. Its sound is the hissing of a wounded balloon propelling haphazardly into the sky.”

Erin Elizabeth Smith contributes a collection of poems all having to do with Alice (of Wonderland). Smith delves into the viewpoint of Alice, wondering what it might be like to live in her mind. In one poem, Alice even gives advice to another character, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz:

and you, so foolish to believe home
is something you’d want to click your heels for,
a place where we aren’t just stories
told to keep girls tight in their own beds.

While the Disney version of Alice is happy and sing-song, Smith brings us a new viewpoint. Perhaps my favorite of this collection is the one that most reminds me most of the little prince on the front cover, “The Carroll Illustrations”:

In Carroll’s drawings, Alice isn’t
so proper or so blonde . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
                    Here, plain-clothed
and stone-eyed, she reminds
me of myself, unlike her Disney
doppelgänger, whose sheeted
hair curtsies like a buoy on a still bay.
There is no delphinium-eyed
darling, singing among the violets,
but a real girl, who is reaching a hand
from the salted water
as if drowning in it all.

Michelle Valois’s “Translation” focuses on the image of a pomegranate (a poetic fruit if you ask me) to portray the relationship between the narrator and the narrator’s companion: “Almost edible, the insides of this strange fruit: moist, chalky, acidic, sweet, and stinging the mouth’s soft flesh.” The lines at the end of the piece are what struck me the most: “You told me about Persephone, poor lass, who ransomed her return for just one taste. I said, I might go home one day. That winter I carried the weight of our love on my tongue.”

But as much as I enjoyed the poetry and the nonfiction, the fiction in this issue is really what had me captivated. Bo McMillan’s “Supernova” is a story told through the viewpoint of a young boy, one who is attached to his action figures, his superhero costume, and his ability to be a detective:

Sometimes people don’t look at you as much if you’re not wearing your costume. It only really works if people don’t know your true identity though. I walk to school and I look like a regular boy, but I’m not. Nobody knows I’m a superhero because I’m not wearing my suit. This means I can be a detective. . . . Superheroes use detecting a lot because they’re only allowed to beat up bad guys and sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is bad or good.

But through the story of him trying to figure out who stole his Captain Machinegun, we discover that he is a young boy trying to cope with and deal with the loss of his father: “I throw all the superheroes in the trashcan because one time Captain America died in the comics and he came back, but in real life if you’re dead you can never come back. Not even if people miss you.”

Greg S. Johnson’s “Kasia” is equally endearing. Having fallen in love with her old Bösendorfer piano and playing music on it, the narrator battles with her mother’s voice in her ear, the one that tells her to “learn something useful.” In a heartbreaking move from Krakow to Warsaw (in Poland), her piano, her Kasia is broken into pieces. “Even today that sound of heartbreak rings in my ears,” she says. Now living in Chicago, away from her parents, she tries to open her heart to a new piano:

I stand near her and stare at the lights reflecting off the perfect glossy finish.
I sit down on the floor and lean back against one of the legs. It is not so intricately carved but at least it is solid. I worry the hole in my sweatpants. After some time I move the bench out of the way and curl myself underneath her. I hold one of the pedals as though I am shaking hands.

The solitude found within all of these pieces is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, making it an issue worth returning to.

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Review Posted on November 14, 2012

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