Fourteen Hills, the literary journal of San Francisco State University, has already received a lot of praise. This journal specializes in presenting experimental and progressive poetry, fiction, and illustrations from vibrant artists living in the US and abroad.
“The Grand Piano Party” by Thomas Israel Hopkins is a short story about a violent gang of old men jumping a young man at night: “I was half a block from home when I saw the small cluster of old men loitering at the street corner. They all had that look—that familiar look of confidence, indignation, a healthy diet, and regret—that should have been my tip-off, a warning to me of imminent danger.” Our narrator cannot remember what it was that triggered the attack, but he remembers some vivid sensory details: “All I could feel at the time was a cluster of old bodies around and behind me; all I could smell was the musty odor of what seemed to be a common cologne.” This gang of grumpy old men is one of many gangs that roam the town looking for youngsters to beat up. They are angry at the misconception that their tax dollars are being used to give the younger generation free music lessons. Tightly written and absurd, this is a very short story that hits you as fast as the wandering gang of grumpy old men.
Eleanor Paynter’s “Bernini’s Pluto and Persephone” is a poem that is based on the famous baroque sculpture. Paynter does an effective job translating the sculpture’s mixture of sexual desire and cruelty into words:
The story begins in her thighs, his fingers
gripped, her wrenching to escape. Moves
to his face, lust and lavish
hard as his eyes on her twist, his taut shoulders turned
in the direction he wants to pull her.
Every line in this poem is filled with sexual tension and I like how the final stanza suggests that the sculpture is alive: “And she will bruise, maybe / right after you leave the room.”
Another memorable poem in this journal is John Morrison’s “Japanese Footbridge.” Morrison’s poem is set in Japan and dedicated to the men who are cleaning the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. The speaker of this poem compares these workers to the Samurai of Japan’s feudal past, which is appropriate because you would need a warrior’s spirit to take on such a dangerous job:
Beneath the ginkgos, we hunch with walking sticks
like wise men and travel to the power plant
beside the ocean to praise the Samurai
who go inside to staunch great gouts of poison steam.
The speaker respects their bravery, but also recognizes that their chances of survival are very slim: “In time, all of them will die of an explosion / or the turn of their blood.” This sense of impending doom heightens the mood of the poem and the heroism of the plant workers.
“Toenail Trimmings” by Adam McGraw is a short poem about two brothers and personal grooming: “His brother kneels, kneads / fists into knees, stares / at cracking toes. Diabetes / blackens the biggest digit.” The emotional impact of these four lines is astounding. McGraw is adept at packing in so much raw power in such a small space. The rest of the poem describes the other brother as he carefully trims the blackened toe, “gently and far enough from the quick / to avoid pinholes of blood.” Such a simple and seemingly mundane act is given a ton of emotional weight in this poem.
Jon Lasser’s “The Angel of Hunger” is a dark and creepy work of fiction that reads like a piece of mythology. The story is about a young boy named Darius who participates in a contest and rite of passage that involves diving for sea sponges. Darius wins and is blessed, or cursed, by a Priest who paints lamb blood across his family’s door. They are then visited by the Angel of Hunger:
The Angel of Hunger saw the cross painted on the door, and entered. Both boys’ bellies stretched taut like old drums worn thin with age. Their mother shivered on a threadbare blanket spread near one corner of the dirt floor. The Angel drank deep of the mother, took a bite from each boy, and slunk out through the cracked-open window with an indifferent draft.
Darius’s family is forced to live off of thin soups made of fish bones and olives while the Angel visits them on a regular basis. This suffering is supposed to be a rite of passage for the men living in this village, but the price of this passage may be too high for Darius to pay.
The staff and editors at Fourteen Hills should be proud of their latest issue. Regular readers and newcomers alike will be pleased at the high quality of work found inside.