Shannon Canning’s bold, yet intricate painting of a revolver, “Balance of Power,” sets the tone for this “Open Issue” of the magazine – works with bullet-like precision that are also foreboding or dark or solemn. Like Canning’s close-up of the gun handle, they reference danger, without being dangerous, and they intrigue us because they dazzle (the gun is quite beautiful), but their beauty is derived from their darkness.
The issue opens, appropriately, with Michael L. Johnson’s poem, “Gunfight in Reverse,” whose concluding words “cold truth” set the stage for the works to follow. Among them is Laura McCullough’s marvelous poem, “Seventh-Grade Science in the Partially Burned Classroom.” I am not often moved or impressed by “school poems,” but this poem is an exception, a masterfully composed and original piece that is not sentimental, but almost steely: “I knew there were red wolves in my body; I knew / what went past my lips was adding to me.”
McCullough’s poem is followed by Lauren Berry’s “Invitation from My Father to Observe Surgery,” another poem that stands out from what I think of as the overproduction of poems about health and illness. Berry begins:
After that I wanted everything to open.
God forbid someone ask me to set the table, to line
the knife next to the fork. God
forbid I ride the train next to the man with weak arms.
John Estes, Miranda Merklein, and Charles Hughes contribute equally laudable poems, difficult stories that balance, with bullet-like precision and skill, personal detail and larger concerns.
The same could be said of “In Absentia: On Things Remembered and Forgotten,” an essay by Discovered Voices Award Winner for Nonfiction Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, and “What We Tell,” the Discovered Voices fiction winner by Laurie Rachkus Uttich. The essay explores the way memory works, as it considers what it means to witness and then live with the image of an unusual act of violence. The story explores illness, grief, loss, child/adult relationships, and, ultimately, romantic love through a voice that is utterly engaging and original, a voice I wanted to hear more from, a sure sign of a story’s success.
If all these troubles and violence and danger are worrying you – don’t despair. The issue’s superb contents are book-ended by the “cold truths” and the final words of Erika Meitner’s poem, “We will be all right,” which are also the final words in this issue. (This cannot, of course, be a coincidence, so I applaud the editor’s careful work to create this “whole” of these discrete pieces.) I loved this poem, too, and was startled, but moved and pleased, to find this restrained, but hopeful dénouement.