Strong first lines. That’s the highly enviable trait shared by several of the pieces in Bacopa, the Writers Alliance of Gainesville-produced journal named after a family of aquatic plants with medicinal strength.
First, just daring us to not read on in her story “Guilty Creatures,” there’s Stephanie Barbé Hammer’s first line, “I tell Cassandra I can’t train for rocks and stones after journalism because I have to go home and kill my parents.”
Then we’ve got James O’Brien, in his poem “I Concede the Nature of the Film,” leading with, “You were, in almost every respect, the critical mistake of my life.”
And in the nonfiction category, Wanda Legend begins her piece “N-word” with this: “Not for amateurs, small-town chat is a craft masterful as tractor repair or canning.”
Taking the cake, however, is Ed McCourt with the intro paragraph to his essay “Watching Rocco,” which garnered an Honorable Mention in nonfiction for the 2011 Bacopa Literary Review Prizes:
I am watching Rocco. He is playing the drums and walking on a treadmill. I’ll elaborate: he is wearing spandex shorts that extend no lower than his groin, a radiant, spaghetti-strapped tank hanging loosely around his orange stomach, and a bandana knotted circuitously around his sunglasses; walking backwards on the only treadmill of the condo’s undersized gym; and with unflinching ferocity, pounding a snare drum that has been mounted across his chest.
The next paragraph begins: “I dislike condos.” (If you want the rest of the story—and this is nonfiction, remember—buy Bacopa.)
Speaking of pieces worth seeking out this journal for, Amanda Skelton’s “Warding Off the Monkey” (First Place, nonfiction) left me hoping the author has a lot more work—perhaps a forthcoming book? (Please?) Her piece in Bacopa is a mother’s account of her 12-year-old son’s battle with anorexia, which inevitably becomes the mother’s battle as well: “When anorexia has inserted its lying, chattering voice into your son’s head, you will go to great lengths to drown it out.”
Skelton details “my pursuit of his happiness”—her attempt to fill the minutes, all 10,080 of them, of each day, beginning at 4 a.m. with the first of five meticulously prepared protein shakes, to five therapy sessions a week, Tai Chi classes, daily trips to a Games Workshop, and on and on. “There is nothing quick about those minutes,” Skelton writes, but she needed to fill them because left to its own devices, her mind filled with self-flagellating thoughts derived from books on anorexia she’d read:
Dysfunctional families, the books said, caused anorexia. I was yet to find the latest research that let parents off the hook by confirming anorexia as a biological brain disorder and pointing to an underlying genetic component. Science turned out to be more full of grace than Mary.
In addition to five nonfiction pieces, this issue of Bacopa features thirteen short stories. Kathleen Alcalá’s “Jonah,” a ghost tale of sorts, contains this wonder-full exchange:
One night, when Jonah was seven, he woke to find a giant bird perched at the head of his bed. The window was wide open, and the moon shone hollowly, like a giant bowl in the sky.
Jonah sat up to look at the bird. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I have come to take you to meet your fate.”
“Already? I’m only seven.”
“You don’t have to stay with your fate,” said the bird, “just meet it.”
“The Rice Thief” by Edward Black also has its share of memorable moments, including a perfectly absurd exchange between a police clerk and the old woman calling to report stolen rice. The clerk, Ato, has just asked for a description of the missing items:
“What do you mean?” Miwa said.
“The rice,” he said. “What did it look like?”
Ato filled in the blank. “How many?”
“We can’t leave a blank,” he said.
For personal reasons, the first piece I read in this issue was Keith Moul’s poem “Taking Himself Too Seriously,” which employs the lines “I am not so serious / that I forget the wonder— / of making amends and love.”
Next, because it was blatantly shaped like a tree, I read Tad Karmazyn’s poem “Conversation with a Tree,” which I was certain I’d dislike, but could find no fault with. The content (“Spring comes with certitude and blossoms”) stood up with the form.
Of the journal’s 22 poems, though, the one that struck me the most was Erika Brumett’s “Fight Overheard in Sign Language” (Second Place, poetry), wherein a couple is observed in passionate, wordless debate. This transcript includes
a pouring motion.
An empty overflowing.
A mournful armful of
that spilled onto the street
and her shoes which kept walking.
The man held out the cracks of his palms,
where she couldn’t get a word in.