Blue Mesa Review, a product of the creative writing program of the University of New Mexico, almost did not see publication this year. Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Rose Richardson reports that her fellow editors had to fight to keep their magazine alive during their school’s funding crisis: “They organized fund raisers, attended countless meetings, and they brainstormed in order to bring you this very issue you’re holding. Each editor gave above and beyond to ensure this issue had a chance to make it.” The folks at Blue Mesa have a lot to be proud of in this issue. The result of their hard work and dedication is a handsome journal with great content.
Struggling with inner demons is at the heart of this issue. Richardson says “There is something dark and strange inside all of us and issue 25 of Blue Mesa Review looks into that abyss and celebrates it.” One such story is “Admission” by Alison Hess, the second place winner of Blue Mesa’s 2012 fiction contest. It is about a young man who reflects on the sins of his life while in the process of receiving a heart transplant. Some of his sins are mundane, such as stealing a cable from a neighbor, but one of his greatest sins involves raping a girl when they were teenagers. As the narrator lies on the operating table, he asks himself: “How many hearts must blacken in my chest before I’m placed in hell?” Hess’s story is an intense journey through one man’s descent into his personal hell where there is no going back.
“The Fire Chasers” by Dustin Hoffman continues the hellish theme set by Hess’s tale. It is a story about Randall, a man who was recently promoted to the position of head safety supervisor of a local refinery. There is a huge sense of irony in this promotion because, although Randall obsesses over the safety of his coworkers and his family, the man is ultimately powerless to stop the rising jobless rate of his hometown and the fires blazing up around him. He brings Jackson, his twelve-year-old son, with him as they follow the fire engines to put out the fires, but he worries about Jackson’s painted nails and effeminate disposition. Randall wants to protect Jackson from the “white-washes and swirlies and black eyes” of high school with his heavy-handed style of tough love: “He imagined outfitting him in a suit of muscles and calluses like slipping a wool safety jacket onto the men at work.” Fire is everywhere in this piece. From cigars to houses, everything seems to be burning, and not even Randall’s position on the company ladder can stop it. This was a brilliant story that seemed to singe my fingertips as I read.
Yelizaveta Renfro’s personal essay “Lithodendron” weaves in the author’s personal memories of visiting a forest of petrified trees and the life of her grandfather. The petrified trees she visits are like “broken chess pieces of the gods” and “skeletons of the past.” She wonders if her grandfather, who disappeared before she was born, would be discovered some day like an archaeological find: “Maybe someday time will spit him back out, a stone torso or a leg tumbled down to the present.” Renfro paints an image of a man who worked odd jobs around the country during the Great Depression to support his family. From fixing cars for Hollywood film stars to digging wells, her grandfather was an industrious man during difficult times. Her grandfather was not without flaws, though. He once killed a man after drinking heavily and getting behind the wheel of a car. After he spends some time in jail, he returns to work for his family by going into Mexico where he is both shipwrecked and lost in the desert. He heads south for a third time, but never returns. The juxtaposition of the author’s grandfather and the petrified trees is unique and expertly done. One gets the feeling that the distinction between the human and natural world is blurred as both are subject to the slow decay of time. All that is left are memories and stories.
This issue also includes two interviews with poets Dana Levin and Nikola Madrizov. Levin, the author of three books of poetry and professor at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, offers insight into her creative process and the state of poetry in the modern world:
I think poetry offers three crucial experiences missing from much of today’s public discourse: complex clarity, mystery, and the capacity to hold paradoxes without judgment. We’re very application and decision-oriented these days: no time to sit and think through something, no time to come to a thoughtful evaluation before acting or prescribing. To weigh is to dither; to confess not knowing is to confess weakness: these will kill us in the end, especially as we face so many complicated problems: environmentally, politically, culturally.
Considering today’s highly charged political climate, I’d say we could all learn something from Levin’s words! Madrizov’s interview not only reveals his creative process, but also delves into his cultural and familial ties to the Balkans during one of the most violent periods of recent history. Madrizov recounts a time when many poets from Bosnia told him that the shortage of paper during the siege of Sarajevo forced them to write their poems “at the margins of old newspapers, upon paper napkins and toilet paper, all of which are easily perforated by the pen, just as the bullets went easily through the bodies.”
Blue Mesa Review is fortunate to have such a devoted staff. Without their effort, we would not be able to enjoy this offering of great stories and poetry. I hope their next issue will continue such a high level of quality.