If there were a word to define the December issue of Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, it’d have to be “eclectic.” There truly is no other word I could think of that would adequately describe the nature of the pieces here. The writing ranges widely in style and tone from family-drama fantasy “Vengeance is Born” by Ashley Crisler to “Blister,” Eric Obame’s stark and sobering poem about drug addiction. To be as explicit as possible: eclectic is always a welcome thing in my book.
Two of my favorite poems from this issue dealt with the always-fertile subject of death. In Jesse Back’s “He lay like a clown with all that make up.” the reader is presented with a funeral scene and the strong central image of a clown-like corpse. The fiction-lover in me always appreciates a narrative-based poem with characterizations: a man does his family wrong by being emotionally absent and the wife’s and son’s reactions are wildly divergent; the wife weeps and the son resents. The last line cleverly complements the poem’s title.
“Visiting My Mother’s Grave” by Sherry Poff presents the aftermath of death in a more low-key manner. The poem opens with these lines: “Among the branches, / detached from earth, / the universe is a house / of verdant possibility—” and ends on “She too was a climber.” The reader gets to infer so much about the subject from that last line. This poem speaks to both the grandeur of life and specificity of character in a small amount of space.
On just about the opposite end of the spectrum—far away from death and funerals—is a very funny story: “Mattress Marty” by Linda Brown. The semi-unreliable narrator, Linda, recounts her very brief stint (“less than six days”) working at a mattress store and the shenanigans that ensue. What immediately stands out with this story is the comically flippant tone of the narrator. There’s an infectious enthusiasm in the way she relays information, such as providing her job description: “My job was to sell mattresses. If I remember correctly, in an advertising class I once took, the act of selling requires a second party, a buyer. Buyers were non-existent at Mattress Marty.” Another character named Duane (“Duane, the insane, was more like it.”) is employed as a “helper” for Linda but, as she says, “My helper never seemed concerned that he never helped.”
The rest of the story details how “Duane, the insane” actually does end up helping the narrator: when four customers eventually arrive at the same time, Duane and Linda inadvertently display “teamwork” and bungle the only potential sale. I found myself genuinely laughing out loud as I read through “Mattress Marty,” one of the funnier stories I’ve read in a while. It revels in its screwball antics and slapstick humor, and its narration is so winningly executed. A delightful comic escape, Brown’s story is a real joy to read.
I got a different kind of enjoyment out of “Cold Calling” by Glen Donaldson. This hybrid piece is about a guy named Frank Dakota who “could only sleep when exhausted.” He had been “grievously wronged at his workplace” and proceeds to go through a nighttime ritual that involves calling people on the phone. There is a steady progression to the story when it suddenly gets really tense—there was a pleasure in experiencing that kind of shift. Donaldson pens a wild ride of a narrative and presents an unsettling glimpse into the psyche of a troubled man.
Two pieces—“Pinkney’s Point” by Virginia Boudreau and “A Secret Hiding Place” by Ute Carson—deal with the idea of recalling, or facing, the past. “Pinkney’s Point” straddles the line between prose poetry and flash to present a person embarking on a journey to their childhood home. This highly descriptive piece uses contextual setting clues (low-hanging clouds, for example), letting the reader know the homecoming is fraught with mixed emotions.
In Carson’s creative nonfiction piece, “A Secret Hiding Place,” the past ultimately offers up a sense of comfort. A present-day incident with Carson’s grandson causes her to reminisce on a specific moment in her childhood in post-war Germany, circa 1946. Carson’s detailed account of growing up in a harsh, trying environment—and how she coped with it all—makes for a fascinating glimpse into a bygone world, a testament to the lengths a child’s imagination can go in order to lessen the impact of an unforgiving, harsh reality.
The eclecticism of this issue of Foliate Oak manifests in other ways: “Diner” by Kelsey Winter, presents a twisted, satirical look at the vapidity of youth and plays like the darkest episode of Saved by the Bell they never made; Lawrence E. Cox’s “Nowhere Street” is a breezy love-letter to the idea of the coffee shop and its potential for cliche; and “Danse Macabre” by Rekha Valliappan, a postmodern-tinged, surreally-conceived meditation on life and fish and the absurdity of it all.
The December 2017 issue of Foliate Oak contains a wide variety of literary gifts to discover.