What makes the lit mag experience special? Editor Vivian Dorsel provides one interesting answer in the short introductory essay that opens this issue of upstreet. Dorsel describes the experience of arriving in Bermuda for a vacation. The narrow Bermudan roads wind you “through a landscape both commonplace and exotic—simple cottages and family homes and forms and hues foreign to your native New England, palm trees in myriad sizes, shapes and shades of green whose fronds clatter in the gusty wind . . .” upstreet creates a similar experience, introducing the reader to unexpected people and places that are nonetheless familiar.
This issue leads off with a gem. Claudia Burbank’s short story, “How to Tell if You’re Alive,” transports the reader to Switzerland, where young Marek helps “death tourists” end their own lives. Marek does the dirty work for Herr Schlegel, setting up the video camera and giving his patients the drugs that will bring them quietus. “The Cause” means a great deal to Marek; his mother had been involved before her own terminal illness. While Marek understands the gravity of his job, he’s become slightly desensitized. This state changes, of course, when he’s charged with training Anya to facilitate suicide for the dying. The beating heart of the story is the emotional epiphany Marek experiences during his time with Anya. Indeed, some of the conflict is the result of his attraction to the young woman, but Marek also considers the nature of existence and the responsibility of the dying to those who will succeed them.
Damian Fallon’s “Fellatio” will indeed appeal to the chortling twelve-year-old that remains in the depths of the reader’s psyche. The poet considers the topic in a meaningful fashion, illuminating the method by which that twelve-year-old becomes a mature adult. This close reading of both the act and the word is a reminder that great literature contextualizes the whole of the human experience.
In “Accommodations,” Jodi Paloni immerses the reader in a claustrophobic setting that heightens the emotional stakes for her three characters. Patsy Hartshorn runs a small gas station in a smaller town that is being buried by a winter storm. Patsy is about to close everything down and go home when Forrest shows up needing gas and a bite to eat in addition to the kindness of a stranger. Forrest’s terminally ill wife is in the truck; he’s hoping to let his wife see the Maine coastline one last time. Patsy has tried working through her own pain, a process that guides how she will deal with Forrest and Anna. She “understood how important it was to be able to say goodbye. No matter how suddenly a person died, or how long they were dead, seeing the body, touching the hair and skin, getting over the shock of a coldness like nothing else; a person remembers that forever.”
The nonfiction showcased in this issue of upstreet seems focused on people in need: a male model in search of a deep connection to others, a writer and scholar who wants to understand his feelings with regard to what a childhood acquaintance has become. Steven D. Rucker employs a beautiful simile, comparing the seven-person firing line at a full-honors military funeral to a “terminal chord:” solemn music that commemorates the dead and inspires the living.