Redemption is at the heart of Witness magazine’s latest issue: “Heavy with religious and secular meaning, weighted with emotion, and anchored in morality, redemption is a frequent theme in literature.” This vast theme is examined and exposed in this offering of stories, poems, and essays from an award-winning literary journal.
Dennis Kennedy’s short story “War Babies” is about an elderly brother and sister dealing with their personal demons. The brother is fixated on the fact that his personal history has an eerie connection with the Second World War:
Working back from the date of his birth, Ben Price concluded he was conceived on the first day of September, 1939. It horrified him that as Hitler entered Poland his father entered his mother, and he didn’t want to press the parallel too far—it was traumatic enough just to imagine the primal scene.
This strange fixation turns into an unhealthy obsession as Ben tries to fight off Freudian attractions to his dead mother. Meanwhile, his sister has her own problems to deal with. Haunted by her adulterous past and drug addicted son, Sarah begins to hear voices in her head. Some of these voices are from people she knew in life, while others are far more disturbing:
Sometimes she heard silly voices, like cartoon characters, Bugs Bunny or Porky Pig, “Hey, doc, put that down before you kill me” or “Get out of the carrot patch, you silly wabbit.” Fred Flintstone once shouted “You can’t go out in that dress, I can see your fat ass right through your panties, yabadabadoo!”
Kennedy’s story provides an interesting look into old age and how two people try to bring sanity back into their lives.
Daniel A. Hoyt’s “Girl X” shows how two young people go off on their own interlocked journeys for redemption. Jessica is a young woman who agreed to let her boyfriend videotape themselves having sex, but later regrets that decision when they break up and the video ends up in the hands of another man who threatens to post it online unless she sleeps with him. Jessica finds some solace in a group of local hipster Christians, even though their company only gives her an excuse to snack: “They were human Xanax, and even if they didn’t calm her down, they had an industrial-size jar of peanut M&M’s on the kitchen counter.” Weaved into Jessica’s story is Peter, a young man who lives with the Christians Jessica visits. Peter is a man who loves God and Eggo waffles with grape jelly. He also has a peculiar relationship with his body: “He was the kind of person who ate parts of himself, traces of fingernails, the pink fringe of frayed skin on his thumb, once a scab the size of a nickel that he had scraped and teetered off his knee.” Tension builds as Jessica walks to the house of the man blackmailing her, carrying a bag of cookies laced with rat poison. Peter likes this pretty girl and follows her, sensing trouble. Both absurd and suspenseful, Hoyt’s story is an engaging story that strings together sex, religion, and redemption in one package.
Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew’s “Snapshots of a Decade” is a short piece of nonfiction that is arranged like pictures in a photo album. The piece covers the major events of a young family’s life, beginning with 9/11 and the impact it had on their lives: “We don’t know it yet, but we’re crying for the hundreds dead, for the stunningly unified outpouring of compassion, for our president’s lackluster response, for the war he will start, for the security our country will never again presume.” Tragedy is followed by joy when the couple marries and receives a baby girl in their lives. Yet the wheel of life turns and tragedy strikes when Emily is diagnosed with cancer: “An ophthalmologist gives us a name: Horner’s Syndrome . . . When the search is complete, fear’s cold tendrils begin to clench my shoulders, too.” I appreciate Andrew’s use of imagery in this vivid piece that captures all the good and bad moments of life.
“The Crisis” by Timothy Liu is a short and funny poem that puts you in awkward situations. You are called in the middle of the night by your boss, who is in desperate need of a friend:
so you ask if she feels alright
and the next thing you know
she’s at your door, asking if
she can take a shower, only to
reappear wearing your robe
as she slides down next to you
You do not appreciate this unwanted attention and immediately make up a lame excuse to leave the house so you can hide out at a friend’s. Unfortunately, your friend greets you with “a bottle of bourbon / sloshing in his lap, his woman / out of town—a giant plasma / screen streaming live gay porn.” Redemption doesn’t seem to matter in this poem, but it’s still pretty darn funny.
Another one of my favorite poems in this issue is “Snow Series 1” by Donna Stonecipher. Written as a series of prose poems, Stonecipher’s piece includes messages of loss and a longing to return to a past:
He thought there must be a warming point at which sentiment melts into sentimentality, pathos into bathos. The black-and-white postcards of the Alps outsold the color postcards two to one. Staring into the ice we saw a ring, which no amount of carving with your pocketknife could deliver to my hand. Why, she wondered, aren’t whole industries invested in trying to stop the present from deliquescing into the past.
I like how each piece includes images of snow and ice as a series of connecting bridges. The result is a rich set of prose poems that are a joy to read.
There are other examples of strong writing in this issue, but I believe I’ve spent enough of your time discussing it. So go on and check this issue out. Even if you don’t find redemption, you’ll still have a good time reading this one.