This is really a unique combination for a literary magazine, and I found myself deeply intrigued by the “Reader’s Notes” section where readers shared their own narrative stories about being haunted by something or someone. Some of them share a happy memory that lingers with them to this day, while others share a disconcerting or upsetting moment in their life that still haunts them. These stories share smells, scents, experiences, and little glimpses into other people’s lives, and each one was so different from the others.
These micro stories then pave the way for the stories, artwork, and poems that follow, including “Bison Clouds,” by Jonathan Winston Jones. Here, the narrator is haunted by a spirit that she thinks may be her great-great grandmother. She believes that this woman has followed her since childhood when she was raised in what was her house. She can remember her great-great grandmother’s piano, her bed, and her other heirlooms and how they seem possessed by the elderly woman’s spirit. After all the struggles she has had with her own mother, a meth addict, she ends up finding a way to push it all away and focus on a time in her life before that addiction. She does this by immersing herself in the memories of playing music on a piano, just like the one she grew up with. Her great-great grandmother has been trying for so long to help her find peace and perhaps this piano is a way for her to finally reach it.
One of the stories that I could not put down was “The Pain” by Alex Mouw. Here, we meet a man who is suffering from pain. The pain is strange because it comes and goes. It can be overwhelming or it can be smoldering, and he is struggling to find how to deal with and overcome the pain. Pain like what he is experiencing is not something someone can “see” on a person. It is something someone feels, and it is so hard to explain or describe those feelings to someone else. Too often, doctors and nurses are worried that patients are just drug seekers, and so it takes time to convince them that this is not the case.
I resonated with this story so much because a friend of mine struggles with pain daily, and it is hard to describe what he is going through. It wasn’t until physical manifestations of his pain started to show in front of doctors and nurses that they really understood how significant his pain was. Like my friend, the narrator strives to find a solution to the pain, or even just a small reprieve, which the narrator seeks in stretching and positive thinking. Still—how do you live with pain? How do you find the motivation to keep going every day while suffering from pain? The best that most of us can do is try to be understanding and supportive—what else is there to do?
Madeleine Mysko’s story “A Bird’s Voice Calls” also gives us a glimpse into painful hauntings, although of a more emotional sort. Here, the narrator has been hired as an in-house assistant to Anne, a woman who is suffering from a debilitating disease that is getting worse and worse. She helps Anne garden, tends to her plants, and engages in discussion with her on all sorts of literary topics. When Anne starts to become forgetful, the narrator realizes just how much worse her condition is getting. Over time, she stops being Anne’s caretaker, opting instead to be her friend and to visit with her and chat with her when she can. The time she spends with Anne and the conversations they have together forever linger with the narrator, and even after Anne’s death, she still thinks about that time, haunted by the fact that she did not read Walt Whitman when Anne asked her to, but only later, after Anne’s death. In life, we all have regrets, but I hope we still have time to rectify some of them. Mysko reminds us how precious life is, urging us to take the time to do things now rather than put them off until later.
Within the pages of this issue, we also get to enjoy two different print “galleries” of artwork from different artists. One set is from Trinh Mai, who shares her creations of “mixed media ‘war wounds’ that incorporated letters of hardship and hope that the participants wrote to themselves.” Each image includes an explanation of what mixed media items have been incorporated, such as certain water, tree branches, or even bank notes, to tell a bigger picture than the image itself might be able to convey on its own.
Leslie Pearson’s gallery is from her Vignettes of a Family, which uses handwritten letters, journals, old books, and other items to create mixed media images. Here, we get to see “Cells,” which resemble the cells in bee hives. As the artist shares:
Cells was created at a time when we kept bees. Each day I looked at the hives with childlike wonder. The proximity and closeness of the individual structures found within this installation were influenced by the bee hives.
This is because each cell is connected to other people in our lives, even if we have never met them. Some of these connections may be intangible or remote, but they are all present, part of making us who we are today.
Ruminate does an amazing job of demonstrating the spirituality in the world both through the written word and artwork. In this issue, we get a glimpse into what truly haunts our lives: our regrets, our pains, our loves, and our memories. Knowing what haunts us can help us take hold of that “thing,” and own it, to integrate it into ourselves and become better for having experienced it.