Reading The Sun is like spending a few hours with a very smart and environmentally-aware friend who is also a little bit of a goof. The theme of this independent, ad-free journal varies month to month, but the prose, poetry and photography selections tend to create an over-arching narrative like a well-ordered book of poetry.
September's issue focuses upon family dynamics and explores the role of humans as rogue family members of our planet's eco-system. One essay in particular is a perfect primer for the upcoming holiday season. "A Zen Zealot Comes Home" by Shozan Jack Haubner chronicles the irreconcilable sentiments stirred up by the author's Thanksgiving visit to his family. The emotional distance between the zen monk Mr. Haubner and his conservative, gun-dealing father can't be addressed by simply flying back across the country. Too wide to bridge, the ideological chasm between the two provides a fine place for Mr. Haubner to roar his frustration and then be confronted by his own angry echo.
Arnie Cooper's interview with Whole Earth Catalog editor Stewart Brand does not ever fall victim to familiar environmentalist rhetoric. Entitled "Environmental Heretic," Brand explains why he is critical of the "back-to-the-land" mind-set, how he has come to embrace the idea of nuclear power, and how he advocates both genetic engineering and organic farming. The Sun also typically features a Dog-Eared Page, where "works that have deepened or broadened our understanding of the human condition" appear, and this month's piece feels like a continuation of the Stewart Brand interview. Two excerpts reprinted from biologist Lewis Thomas' The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher describe how the earth operates much like a human cell, except humans have started "running the place" without truly understanding how the cell works.
The writing in The Sun takes risks and pulls off stunts I don't usually have patience for. "When Mystical Creatures Attack!" by Kathleen Founds is a short story told in eleven fictional high school essays. Each vignette details the hopes and disappointments of a tenth grade classroom in all their cruel beauty, and I love the cumulative effect of eleven unreliable narrators. "Conversations with A Tree" by an author simply listed as Sparrow provides additional genre whimsy. Listed under the heading "Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories" in the table of contents, this piece is actually three pages of diary entries where Sparrow records his conversations with a Norway maple he encounters in the suburbs of New Jersey. Yes, the tree's side of the conversation is included.
I bought The Sun this month because I saw the poet Tony Hoagland listed in the table of contents. To read a great new poem by one of my favorite poets in a current publication is as life-affirming as happening across a radio station playing a new song by my favorite band. In "Please Don't," Hoagland's flowers and blades of grass are high on life and artlessly vulnerable:
—they don't imagine lawn
mowers, the four stomachs
of the cow, or human beings with boots
The speaker in Hoagland's poem acknowledges the danger which accompanies being truly alive, but hopes to keep the grass and flowers naive for a little while longer. In this stanza, we realize the entreating title itself, “Please Don’t,” is actually Chekhov’s gun hanging on the wall, fully loaded, a gun the poem’s speaker knows must be fired—but not yet. The poem is more interested in asking for a few more minutes of joy than being painfully truthful.