Celebrating its 45th year in publication, AGNI, published out of Boston University, takes its name from the Vedic god of fire, the guardian of humankind. AGNI’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry are a fire in the darkness, illuminating the corners of reality we do not see.
Patrick Dacey’s story “Once More Before It’s Too Late” couches the reality of a man’s violence, frustration, poverty, and borderline madness within genuineness and honesty. Mr. Healy just lost custody of his children due to being ruled “an uneven man.” He crosses a line and goes to the judge’s home to convince him to reconsider the ruling. Even before Mr. Healy goes outside the law, Dacey pulls us into his world using first person point of view. We’re in the head of man who cannot distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable. Yet his reality is genuine, his feelings and observations honest. He says that his ex-wife, “tells our children they’re bright, beautiful angels. [ . . . ] But guess what? If they think they’re beautiful and bright [ . . . ] they’re going to get pummeled when they’re older.” It’s hard not to appreciate Mr. Healy’s blunt honesty. Reasonable or not, we easily fall into his world.
Julianna Baggott upends reality in her story “The Velveteen Lover, or How Androids Become Real.” Modelled on the classic childhood story “The Velveteen Rabbit,” Baggott reimagines the rabbit as a sex toy—the Lover—while the child of the original story becomes the Woman. Following the classic tale, the Lover hopes to become Real through the Woman’s love. Baggott weaves a childlike structure and innocence over her more mature themes until the Lover’s reality becomes more real than the Woman’s world. Her reality is a footnote where “the Woman was called away suddenly to ‘go out for drinks’” but our attention is on the Lover left out on the lawn. The Woman’s world (our world) feels like the fantasy, the dream, the unreal.
Lucy Biederman’s essay “Later” is a literature lover’s dream, connecting Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and contemporary writing life. She merges literary history with the present to create an intertwined reality. Biederman is at her best when she moves between Hawthorne and her own experience swiftly and with precision, often in the same paragraph: “for all Hawthorne’s gentleness, there is something ungentle about Hawthorne too. Calm down, my mom used to tell me.” Biederman then imagines Hawthorne in our time. She imagines him overwhelmed with social media, lost even if he were contemporary to our world. Biederman grounds this imagined reality with her own writing life, frustrations and aspirations.
In “Bloodworm Baltimore French Fry” Bruce Beasley examines Freddie Gray’s murder at the hands of Baltimore police. He opens his poem with a quote about schizophrenia, which doesn’t seem to go anywhere, except that everything in the poem reads at first as a “Non / sequitur: it does not follow.” He structures his poem as threads between seeming absurdities, leaving us wondering with each line, How did we get here? What just happened? He leads us along non-sequiturs, trusting that his readers will follow. And we do. Because Beasley ties his loose ends again and again: “Disturbances / of association characterize / schizophrenic thinking.” The strangeness we question in the title becomes an extended metaphor for the strangeness of Gray’s murder. Beasley forces us to ignore distractions and view the violence of reality around us, so that we keep asking How did we get here? What just happened?
Ravi Shankar reveals and offers a quiet reality through his poem “The Melancholy of Shadows at Dawn.” Shankar writes in the specular form, where the poem is divided into two parts and the second part mirrors the first (line for line) backwards. The first part ends, “and I swore I would never ever let go. / They are all that hold me to the earth.” Then the second part begins, “They are all that hold me to the earth / and I swore I would never ever let go.” The only technical difference in the lines backwards and forwards are a few shifts in punctuation. A comma here instead of a period. A period replaces a comma. Shankar offers reality as a reflection; you must pay attention to the minutiae.
Under the guardianship of AGNI, we are in strong, expert hands. AGNI offers us a clearer understanding of our reality through viscously real, deliriously reflective, observant commentary. Each piece illuminates dark corners but does not seek to soften the danger or the dark, only give us a better view.