Once again, Salt Hill upholds its tradition of publishing fresh, flavorful, innovative fiction and poetry. The Hill serves up an invigorating trio of poems by Amit Majmudar. Reading “Merlin” is like watching a movie that never once disappoints the imagination, except that it ends too soon. The images powerfully evoke the collective pathos of human history, making this easily one of my favorite poems. The wise wizard found that “Histories resolve more justly [. . .] when you study them being rewound.” So that’s what he did. Merlin “saw the hanging before the crime” and how “fire collected smoke to build a hut, / and bums arrived to live in it.” Merlin witnessed in Dachau as “A muddy field ruptured. / Jews sprang irregularly, / flowers that they were, / the roots of their necks / sucking up blood / by capillary action / down to the last fleck, / risen rosebuds. / They grew healthy / and donned their rightful clothes / and went home wealthy / to readied ghettoes.” Merlin saw men grow young and return to the womb, being unborn, “savored,” “digested,” and so on. He eventually went back to witness the first cave paintings, back before language gave birth to history, hoping to finally make sense out of “all he has witnessed.”
In fiction, Jenny Pritchett’s “Born and Raised,” a story about a woman dealing with reality and surreality of her miscarriage, delivers a masterful and unsentimental handling of a topic which, though hugely emotional and highly sensitive, can be overdone and become an unintentional self-parody. But Pritchett closes the story with a scene that is at once surprising, heart-wrenching, and satisfying.
Finishing out this superlative issue is “Voice on a Spool” by Kenneth Calhoun, who won the University of Louisville’s 2006 Italo Calvino Prize. The Olifant family hits the road with “their audio tour guide tapes on a battery powered, portable player, which sat on the dashboard.” Right away something is strange about these tapes when the voice speaks directly to them, warning about cops waiting on the road ahead, commenting on the “couple fornicating in the missionary style on the hot white sand of a nearby beach.” After freaking out and inspecting the cassette and the player, the Olifant family climbs back into the car and continues the trip while the voice reassures them, “Do not fear mortality, as you do at home,” then moves on to its own agenda. Besides supporting a literary magazine publishing fiction and poetry of the highest quality, readers subscribing to Salt Hill will actually be investing in themselves.