It’s possible that the mark of an evolved soul is the ability to pass at will into whatever state of consciousness is useful or appropriate at any given time. Over twenty distinct such states have been observed, with names like reverie, lethargy, trance, and rapture. The question of when such states are useful or appropriate is the subject of story and song from time immemorial. That they are essential to our lives if we are ever to be whole is the conviction behind a compelling new journal whose title hints at this ability I’ve described: Phantom Drift.
Editor David Memmott gives the backstory: in 1987 he started Ice River Magazine “to explore . . . a literature of the fantastic. . . . A literature of curious cross-fertilizations. A literature of intersections. Literary science fiction. Modern fantasy. Magic realism. Surrealism. Fabulist tales of inner worlds outside of time. Political satire. Techno-altered landscapes.” The next year, an independent press called Wordcraft of Oregon grew out of the magazine, “putting into print,” as one reviewer puts it on WoO’s website, “literate, innovative fiction that falls outside the commercial norm.” In the years since, connections have been made with writers and editors, culminating in what Memmott calls a “convergence” of karmic energy reclaiming such explorations within these pages.
It’s a significant success. Issue 1 is a collection of stories, poems, scholarly articles, and uncategorizable prose pieces whose overall effect is to produce “Perfect Conditions for Magical Thinking,” the issue’s subtitle. The book is soft, a little wider than it is tall, bendy in the hand and wide-margined. On its cover is a kind of icon for this issue and for the driving motive of the journal. In Jessica Plattner’s painting “St. Christopher Carrying his Child-self Across the River,” the monk wades across a wide lane of water, on his shoulders his own mini-self, beholding us with a gaze stern and knowing. In Jodi Varon’s engaging interview with Plattner, we learn that this is a representation of the centuries-old parable of the saint ferrying an infant across a raging stream, only to find after they have safely crossed that the infant is the Christ. The model for both the monk and the child is Plattner’s partner, whose life history is symbolized in the landscape. Overlaying miraculous fable with the sensibility of modern individuality may be a working definition of “new fabulism,” which may itself be a name for what we do when we move between levels of consciousness. Everything in this issue invites us to do so.
The fiction is downright haunting. David Eric Tomlinson’s “The Ornithologist’s Last Wish”—another intersection of modern with timeless, the protagonists both blessed and cursed by the granting of their wish to “live happily ever after”—wouldn’t leave my mind. Neither would Brian Evenson’s “The Jar,” from first line (“After Blau begged for his hands for a year”) to last (which I won’t quote here, as it’s a mind-blowing spoiler about Blau’s hands).
And speaking of haunting, an engaging scholarly essay discusses the evolution of haunted houses in American literature from Poe to Danielewski (“Exploring the Haunted Palace" by Matt Schumacher). A considerable “literature of the paranormal,” constituted of texts from every era that reach into occult and psychic states, has in recent years become the subject of legitimate academic discussion; Schumacher and three other essayists expand that discussion, assuring us that Phantom Drift’s mission to show “new fabulism” will not stop at fiction, and most emphatically will not be all light.
In fact, the journal intends to create what Memmott identifies as “a zone . . . where the greyness of possibility defeats easy separation of black and white,” light or dark. Ray Vukcevich’s story “The Problem of Furniture” confronts the Jungian notion that multiple personalities vie within all of us for love. “The tiny woman in the back of my head sings me to sleep,” says the narrator of Geronimo G. Tagatack’s “Counting,” and shows how swiftly we are transported when we let our inner selves fly. Daniel Grandbois’s prose poem “The Gate” reminds us that “'When it’s done, it’s done.’ . . . Only then will it be possible to distinguish day from night.”
When is that, again, please? If we’re honest, it’s a mystery—like so much these destabilizing texts address.
But where he came from is not so important.
More fascinating are the methods he used to travel here and to find me.
(You who don’t believe, keep listening.) One day he imagined a cloud,
and there was a cloud.
So he imagined a train, and a train pulled up before him.
Once inside he imagined a railroad that shot into the fish eye of time, and
there was a railroad.
He imagined a journey so impossible it would lead him to a land of hard
bricks and gravity, and he found my world.
Then he imagined a man with blue rings of fire in his brain and he
So writes Stephen McNally in the second stanza of “In Memoriam.” Your “normal,” waking-state paradigms can’t be comfortable in this magazine. I carried it around for days as if it were a ticket to a place I’ve been missing all my life.