Lisa Krannichfeld’s “Undomesticated Interior No. 7” dominates the cover of the spring and summer issue of Black Warrior Review. Its subject, a young black woman wearing a flashy blue suit, mint green button down, and screaming red boots, sits defiantly at the edge of a chair, ready for movement. An image of a snarling wolf hangs on the wall just behind her. In her artist’s statement, Krannichfeld says: “Images are vehicles for the teaching of history and it is the historical imagery of the female gender I aim to counterbalance.” Looking over the eight other images Krannichfeld has contributed to the issue, all of women in ornamentally-patterned suits, sitting in wallpapered rooms with framed images of bared fangs surrounding them like a warning, an aura, it’s clear that these are not the “doll-like women,” the “decorations” of the past; instead, Krannichfeld’s subjects throw the male gaze back at their viewers, watching with confidence, hands running together as they contemplate their opponent’s next move. And that move had better be good.
Issue 44.2 is boldly experimental, sometimes to a fault, but when the daring work lands, it lands in style. “American Offering” by Aurora Masum-Javed is that magical sort of flash piece that opens worlds some novels would never dare to. The protagonist, a young girl, wakes each night and hides with her relative, her amma, in the closet as masked men invade her house. When a crow carcass appears in their driveway, missing its heart, the girl’s amma thinks it’s a warning to leave, but the girl sees it as a gift. “Its blood, my blood,” Masum-Javed writes. “Our eviscerated quiet, our making. I stretched into the wretched gown of its gore, that city of death, teeming.”
Tony Wei Ling’s contribution, “The Best Lighting for My Body Was at the White Horse Inn and Bar, Oakland, California,” an essay about transition, is a welcoming in. He writes, “My gender is ‘fluid,’ as people used to say, but this rarely means that my gender is gentle with me.” At points, the piece isn’t gentle either; it is revealing, sometimes overly tactile. “Everything that should have been nasty, or embarrassing, wasn’t,” Wei Ling writes. “That collection of atomized skin. My pubic hair sticking to someone’s thigh. My belly, my breasts, squelching in the dirty water.” The author is describing a defining moment where, crammed into a bathtub with two trans friends under unflattering light, a sense of self is established. It’s beautiful in inverse proportion to the physical description of the scene.
In “Mary,” a smooth poem by Carlina Duan, a mother renames herself to gain the trust of her patients. Duan writes, “my mother a dentist named Mary or was it hunger they called her / or was it rain?” Later, more explosively, in the chapbook at the end of the issue, in a poem titled “as crayon and hypersensitivity on hot cement,” Sade LaNay writes:
[ . . . ] flanked by jitterbugging angels balancing a
boom box on your head my rotting bucktoothed mayfly my crushed
cicada of a girl keying a Lexus you prude box of fusty plums [ . . . ]
It is this balance of chaotic, high-octane creativity, and measured, confident storytelling that makes the issue a success.
In “The World Holds What It Remembers Most,” the fiction contest winner, Tess Allard tells the story of a woman who loses the people in her life, realizing they’ve been replaced with ghosts who play, and work, and re-enact their deaths. Upon discovering a boyhood version of her husband playing basketball, the protagonist has a hard time tearing herself away. “I watch him as the new stars traverse the sky,” Allard writes, “and I listen not to the whirr of insects or the distant sirens that used to fill the city night but instead the echoed sounds of history.” Everyone in her world is dead and doesn’t know it, and though her own status is never explicitly revealed, those familiar with the fate of The Sixth Sense’s Dr. Malcolm Crowe might have some ideas.
There are a number of other strong pieces in the issue, including Rivers Solomon’s bizarre and moving story, “Prior to Being Swallowed Up,” about a young girl dealing with trauma by sculpting meat—ground beef, salmon, pork, chicken—and vegetable protein into anatomically detailed figures. Withdrawn from school, caught between a mother who indulges her and a father who sees only damage, the girl, Agnes, must come to her own realization, manufacture her own healing. “She was tired of the softness and mutability of flesh,” Solomon writes. “She leaned into her mother’s rigidly strong embrace, the bones of the woman’s forearms squeezing Agnes’s vertebrae. She wanted to stay like this forever, her mother a cast, Agnes the fractured thing that needed setting.”
Black Warrior Review was created in 1974 by graduate students in the MFA program at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Much has changed in the last forty-four years, and Issue 44.2 addresses our present landscape with strength, inclusivity, and openness to the unknown. The editors have, in some instances, embraced experimentation over substance, but the vast majority of the work in the issue is worthy, provocative, and a joy to explore.