This issue of Halfway Down the Stairs, the “Chaos” issue, features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that have been written, as Editor Joseph Murphy says, by overcoming “chaos, distraction, frustration and more.”
“The Screaming Beet” by Elizabeth Weaver was my favorite fiction piece. The story comes through the eyes of Emily, a young girl whose baby sister Rose is a terror: she never stops screaming. The child’s thought process is both entertaining and innocent:
Could Emily find someone to take a screaming baby? Maybe she could leave Rose on someone’s doorstep, but everyone probably knew Rose belonged here since she hadn’t heard of another newborn in the neighborhood. Could she throw Rose out with the garbage? No, she reasoned. The garbage men would hear Rose and leave her behind, maybe even ring the bell to find out why Rose was thrown away and then Emily would be in trouble. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she was that there should be a place to bring babies that people don’t want anymore.
And as the tension of the story builds and comes to a close, Emily finally understands the reason why Rose may be screaming so loud and endlessly.
Bradford Philen, who teaches high school English in Beijing and is working on writing about West Africa, contributes an original and unique tale in “Here and There.” The narrator, a woman from Beijing, tells about her new home in Africa:
There, in Shanghai, bad man there. Here, bad man, here, but, here, this people warm. They know bad, but they see bad, and they help people with the bad. They make cold turn warm in mystery way, like the ancient man of my Shanghai and my people. There, in Shanghai, they no have warm like here, in Africa. There, in Shanghai, they lose that warm. It too cold there.
Both the nonfiction pieces are personal, reading almost like journal entries. Diane M. Perrone’s “The Babysitters” was intriguing for the details, like stepping into the memories of a friend’s. And “New Landscapes of Home” allows the reader to feel the stress and embarrassment Leah Givens feels as the mother of her ex (her ex being someone whom she admits she may love again) takes care of her newly adopted cat while she is on vacation; but the mother takes it upon herself to clean and reorganize Givens’s apartment.
After looking up several of the Hebrew words that Trinya Gaynon uses in “Golem, Goats, Grandma,” I appreciated the poem and its insights through the golem:
Calling the mud to defend us,
cool clay from the river soothes
our hands, relieves the itch from each sting.
We clothe our golem in discarded
blue jeans and trace EMETH
on its forehead, bind
our truth to water and clay,
and it can’t talk back.
The characters in Halfway Down the Stairs speak, they feel real to me, especially in the nonfiction (obviously), but even in the fiction and poetry. The issue is alive; it breaths. In an easy-to-read format, there is much to consume here.