“Body, My House,” is the theme of new editor Maria Melendez’s first issue. “Human bodies, alive and in crisis, command the spotlight in the non-fiction books that have held my attention for the last 18 months,” she tells us in her “Welcome.” This is possibly, she reveals, the result of bodies in crisis in her own life, first her father’s triple bypass surgery, and later bouts of H1N1 from which she and family members suffered. There is certainly much writing about the experience of illness and disease in this issue, but there is also a good deal of work about food and eating; the body’s connection to the natural world; reproduction and aging; an essay about quitting smoking; and a poem about the art of maintaining a home as art (“this house is my poem!”).
Food writing includes a wonderful little essay by Andrew Lam about pho (“that ingenious Vietnamese concoction…sacred broth…spiced with roasted star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, charred ginger, and onion, and made savory by fish sauce…brewed in a low heat until the beef falls off the bone and the marrow steeps”), which is, in the end, not really about soup at all. Food-themed work includes Bradley John Monsma’s poem “Slow Food,” which describes the preparation and eating of dumplings; Marjorie Manwaring’s poem “What Rises, What Wanes,” which merges a consideration of the baking of bread with the consumption of the communion wafer; and Grace Bauer’s poem “Du Jour,” about an anorexic diet.
I was particularly struck by Judith Sornberger’s “Kneeling,” which might be considered a prose poem or a work of “sudden nonfiction,” an honest approach to aging (“Some days I hunger for retirement the way I once did for sex. As though that small death would plunk me right down in Paradise.”), and also Christopher Cokinos’s poem, “After Two Particular Sorrows, I Read Lu Chi in Late Summer.” I have been reading traditional Chinese poetry in translation extensively in recent months and appreciate how adroitly Cokinos has captured the particular sensibilities, cadences, and wistful tone of Chinese verse.
A regular feature of the magazine is the editor’s “Words Along the Way” section, focused this issue on “ecopoetics.” Work here is especially strong, including Serena Chopra’s “[context: Buffalo Nickel]” a lovely, original prose poem (“The train is saying. The train, if drifting. The train, an iron blue. She collected water in hollowed-out bone and chased the sun with glass.”); and several numbered poems in couplets by Ruth Ellen Kocher. A bilingual poem by Francisco X. Alarcón brings the issue to a fitting close, embodying (and I choose that term deliberately, of course) the magazine’s essence:
lo que ha sido that has been
y sera and will be
esta ahora aqui is here and now
las cuatro direcciones the four directions
nuestras extremidades our four limbs
nuestra casa our house
el universo the universe
en nuestro pecho inside our chest
el Sol the Sun
ninguna separación no separation
espíritu y cuerpo spirit and body
entre tú y yo you and me