This journal from the University of Northern Arizona is, as the title indicates, thin (only 78 pages), but it is dense with works that push the boundaries of fiction and poetry. Sometimes weird, often times experimental, and certainly not boring, Thin Air is a little, big journal that deserves attention.
“Massacre in Pink,” a piece of short fiction by Elise Kaplan, shows us how some folks deal with the stress of daily life. The setting is a New Mexico suburb where the narrator is watching a grassfire burn in the distance. She then hears “A small yell, a karate scream from a movie in the eighties. And a whack whack whack.” She then goes next door to see her neighbor smashing watermelons with a baseball bat as if he is Gallagher doing a Sledge-O-Matic skit. The narrator gets a turn with the bat and unleashes all of her rage and frustration onto the hapless melon:
And I screamed like I was taking revenge on the stranger who’d raped my kid sister in the alley behind the supermarket, on the missed opportunities requiring more money, time and brains than I possess, on the job that kept me underpaid and on my feet all day, on Hal’s dirty boxers on the floor and food crusted plates in the sink, on my own body once thin and pretty and now a mass of cellulite, dimples and veins. Thick gooey strands of watermelon clung to the bat.
The narrator and her new friend then sit down to have a smoke and some wine. It’s as if Kaplan is saying that sometimes we have to let our anger in order to stay sane. Sometimes, you just gotta smash a watermelon. Or two. Or fifteen.
For those who want something more titillating, check out William Greenway’s poem, “The Gods of Sex.” The poem is written in one long (perhaps phallic?) stanza that drips with sexual imagery as Gods of carnal pleasure “haunt the halls of cheap hotels, / ears pressed like doorknobs / to hear the grunting and grinding, / smiling and smacking, / leering us on through keyholes.” Whew. Anyone else need a cig right about now?
But if you’re feeling a little depressed, then Greenway’s “The Automated Suicide Hotline” can provide the catharsis you need. It is labeled as a poem but reads like a multiple choice survey for people with suicidal tendencies. There are nine questions to answer with four possible answers each, so you can play along. My favorite is question nine: “What is your greatest fear of the afterlife / a. hellfire / b. No Exit / c. 20 virgins and impotence / d. another life.” (I circled option C.)
If you want something a tad stranger, then try to digest Leslie Gottesman’s poem “Bananas after Dark.” The poem is short, but the images are vast, disconnected, and completely bonkers. For example, the second stanza reads, “drive the road and the moon. / Marbled tonic / drinks the crowd.” Don’t ask me what all this means. It might be showing the absurdity of life. It might be showing the mind of a lunatic. It might be making you hungry for a midnight snack. Whatever it’s trying to do, I like it, and it makes me laugh every time I read it.
Not everything in this journal is hanging out in the stratosphere. Leslie Pietrzyk’s “BASIL,” for instance, is more down to earth. It is a work of nonfiction where the author tells us of her time in college as a young woman during the early 1980s. Food plays a major role in her story. Pietryzk ate a lot of junk food, her diet consisting mostly of pizza, ice cream, and Burger King Fries (“Back then, no one ate well”). But at the heart of this piece is a failed relationship with a college boyfriend she had lived with. She cooks a spaghetti dinner one night, but the result is not what she expected: “The mélange in the bowl looked like stuff you dump out of a vacuum cleaner bag. Or the gunk that gets caught in the bottom of the screen door to the deck.” Pietrzyk and her boyfriend try to eat the culinary disaster but end up burying it (and probably their relationship) out back like some kind of dead animal.
I was pleased by this issue of Thin Air, even though some of the fiction and poetry flew right over my head. But the fun in reading lies in trying to catch those heavy works as they shoot off into the stratosphere.