In their "about us" section, elsewhere says it cares "only about the line/no line. We want short prose works (flash fiction, prose poetry, nonfiction) that cross, blur, and/or mutilate genre.” And, true to their word, that's exactly what the work in the latest issue achieves. Filled with evocative language and eerie imagery, the pieces here straddle the lines between prose poetry and flash fiction, sometimes almost seamlessly.
This blurring of genre is on prominent display in Benjamin Blackhurst’s “Off Highway 6.” It starts as a straightforward narrative of a man named Herbert trying to lose his virginity to his girlfriend, Harley. About midway through, the piece takes on a sudden dark tone: “It struck him she had chocolate, and he was allergic, and he wanted to know what it was like to die.” From there, the more abstract qualities of prose poetry take over as Herbert finds himself steeped in Harley’s perfume, “the air above him starting to fill with albatrosses leading him safely home to shore, the awful spectral hum of her heartbeat under his skin.” By the end, it’s not quite clear what has happened exactly, but that’s definitely by intent: what happened here is not as intriguing as how it happened.
Rachel Cruea’s “Muttersprache” opens brilliantly with: “In the stomach of a bluegill I find my grandfather’s ashes.” This is an effectively meditative piece about the nature of grief and the transience of human intimacy. The lifetime of the narrator’s grandparents is distilled down to two paragraphs filled with choice lines such as, “Her grief is like a tin of worms; the bruise-induced bloom of gills.” It ends with a bittersweet sentiment: “With the ocean still a body between her languages, she’ll keep living in a house full of him, mold her mother tongue into a key and drop it down into a well.”
My favorite of the bunch is Brian Clifton’s imaginative “The Introvert’s Guide to Dreams.” Broken up into three segments with different subtitles (“Yards,” “The Woods,” “Bedrooms”), Clifton does a fantastic job of examining the surreal nature of dreams. The protagonist often alternates between confusion and acceptance of the bizarre events taking place in the story. The use of the second person point-of-view suitably employed here as the “you” of the story allows readers to place themselves right in the center of the strange dream logic of the narrative.
At one point in the middle of the “Yards” section, the protagonist is sipping beer in a yard and watching the sun set. Then, suddenly: “A cloud of gnats twitches like an atom. At the bottom of your can, a body curls into itself.” The last sentence of the piece is startling in its language: “When she exhales, you feel a jagged and shining jewel drag itself up your throat.” Much like the real dreams and nightmares we all experience, this story lends itself to many interpretations: The ambiguity and elusiveness of the piece is what makes it so strong.
All the pieces in this issue of elsewhere possess a striking, cryptic quality that, upon multiple read-throughs, seems to deepen. These are works that are, at times, unsettling to read, but never boring, and always filled with beautiful language.