Gargoyle is a fat annual published in Arlington, Virginia. At nearly four hundred pages, this large volume of work is surprisingly consistent in tone, which, for the most part, tends toward the sardonic and distanced, rich in contemporary imagery, with edgy and provocative openings, and social, political, and cultural implications to varying degrees. This issue presents the work of nearly 70 poets, 5 nonfiction writers, two and a half dozen fiction writers, and two photographers, whose black and white photos include landscapes and close-ups of animals.
Michele Brafman’s story, “Washing the Dead,” provides an example of the tone that is prevalent throughout the issue:
No melodrama here, my grown daughter needs to know what I’ve done, and she needs to know now, today, this second, to save her from her genetically flawed impulses. Since there are no words for my shame, I dream up my biopic while I wait for her outside the Great Wolf Lodge, the premier waterpark of the Wisconsin Dells.
Like most of the work in the issue, Brafman earns respect for her narrator’s stance by unfolding a story worth telling with enough surprises and genuine emotion to balance the elements of sarcasm, irony, wit, and skepticism. Ronald Wallace’s poem “Dress Right Dress” works in much the same way:
The winners of a war need not admit
the least responsibility. History
applauds them. It’s why we fight so hard
when victory has fled into another country,
changed its name and started
up its whole old life anew.
as do the poems “On reading the Bible backwards” (with its backward verse) by Claudia Putnam; “Chastity Belt Lesson,” by Traci Brimhall; and “Disappear” by Ann Malaspina; along with stories by Lisa Vogel, Steve Pastis, and Susan Smith Nash, among many others.
There is a considerable number of pieces which treat the theme of war, which seems entirely appropriate to me, given current global realities, among them are Peter Moore’s poem “Airborne Leaflet Propaganda,” which narrates a soldier’s perspective from a foxhole and Paul Sohar’s poem “War Bread” (“after this war there will be another war / eating the soil without baking it into / bread and the soil will be lapping up / toxic crumbs scattered by loaves of / bread clouds from an oven we used to / call the sky”).
A highlight of the issue is Jordan Okumura’s “Descent,” a short personal essay, beautifully written and tremendously moving. The essay opens: “We are stones in each other’s shoes, Grandpa;” and concludes:
Trauma and rivers of blood that carry memory. Fear as fond as touch and resilient and present and speaking. The dialogue of fear and the body is a heated mess. His tongue flicking maybe the top of his mouth. No language. Instead he invaded the room with the fierce body of a child before words.
Gargoyle’s cover features a photo that is whimsical and fun, but the content is serious and seriously fine.