|Art by Odera Igbokwe|
“Oshun, Inc.” by Jordan Ifueko (4910 words)
This is a fun story about prayers and gods, mortals and their love lives. It features Yemi, a Iyami Aje, a group of immortals who work for the greater gods, in this case Oshun. Yemi’s job is to help answer the prayers of those who have moved away from Nigeria and Oshun’s typical seat of power, to see to those people caught in the diaspora and make sure that they’re still satisfied with their faith. It’s a rather fun piece that combines customer service and office bureaucracy with divinity, to rather humorous effect. Oshun, being concerned at least in part with the realms of the heart, is often petitioned for happiness and relationship bliss. And Yemi’s friend has a real doozy of a client, a man who seems satisfied with nothing, whose laundry list of qualities any potential partner should have stretches as long as a contract with hell. The story moves with a delightful voice as well as an irreverent tone. These agents of Oshun, Inc. seem all too human at times, driven by their lusts and their humors, by their angers and their own sense of justice. I like how the system works that the story introduces, where mortals cannot lie to the Iyami Aje, which makes for some very...interesting answers when Yemi starts asking questions. At the heart of the story is Yemi trying to make a good match for those sending prayers to Oshun, but it also goes deeper than that, getting at how Yemi values not only her job but the people who petition her. It’s not so much about reaching quota as it is fostering love, which is something that she ultimately gets the chance to do, though not originally how she expected. And I just love the character work here and the sense of fun, how the story flows so nicely from the initial complication to focusing on a real solution, one not grounded in tricks really but in helping people find other people who will be good for them, to create relationships where everyone is happy. So yeah, it’s a wonderful story that you should definitely check out!
“The Colour That Defines Me” by Stamatis Stamatopoulos, translated by Stephanie Polakis (6082 words)
This is a story about war, and about color, and about revenge. It’s a noir-ish tale told across multiple perspectives all leading to a fateful confrontation and a scene that was a long time coming. I love the setting that the story builds, post-war and without color, that being a casualty of war, some sort of chemical or biological side-effect to everything that had happened. And yet everyone can still see one color, not necessarily unique to them but just about, given how many colors there are. And for being colorless it’s a vivid story about what war does to people, how it destroys lives, how it twists everything to its dance. The story has an interesting structure, jumping not only from person to person but forward through two different time lines, one before and one after the key confrontation. It’s a mystery that slowly unravels, what is going on and why Azure wants to find this man with the honeyed eyes. It’s great, too, because of how it moves, how it continues to complicate what’s going on. And, really, I love that it never features Azure as a viewpoint character. It’s never her voice that pushes forward the story, never her reasoning. Instead we get to see what everyone else projects onto her, trying to interpret her intentions, her desires. And it goes through a nice range of people, from a tattoo artist to an arms merchant to a bartender to a soldier. It paints this picture of Azure around the absence of her voice, slowly revealing something wounded, angry, and in need of closure. I just love the way it moves, even for a story that is at its heart about revenge. Because it’s more abotu war to me, and the wounds it inflicts, and the monsters it promotes, and the inevitable violence that follows, even when the world is supposed to be at peace. Because some crimes demand to be recognized, regardless of how they’ve been swept under the rug. It’s a wonderful story you should read immediately!
“Rescuing Napoleon” by Helena Bell (2983 words)
This is a weird but incredibly moving story about love and about fantasy and about, well, Napoleon. It follows two women, Joanne and Lauren, as they grow up. Lauren, ruled by her fantasies of rescuing Napoleon, her dreams of it, and Joanne, ruled by her drive to create and discover, by her devotion to science. And both of them together form an odd couple but one that just works, that lvies and breathes by the love they share, the small ways that they care for each other and accept each other and the wrenching ways that they don’t quite connect on everything. They have such different approaches to life and to this idea of Napoleon, this romantic man in need of rescue. The story builds up a world that is much like our own but decidedly different, where history and the present mix and merge in places and where Napoleon is sort of the central figure of society, a fantasy that every girl has of sweeping in to rescue him from his island prison. It’s a story that bends a lot of gender roles and ideas, that casts Napoleon as a damsel in distress and completely erases all other men from the story, which is a rather great touch, populating the world with women going about their business, getting things done and falling in love and changing the world without ever really considering men. But beneath that there is this recognition of the ways that women can react to fantasy and to having this dream to chase. For Joanne it pushes her to make her own fantasies, to make the world that she wants to live in, even as Lauren devotes herself to the story of Napoleon, to the cultural myth and expectations he represents. There seems to me to be a statement here about reinforcing harmful gender narratives or breaking them, pushing to a place where people can pursue their talents and the ways they can make the world better. It’s a fun story but there’s also this huge sadness to it, like the fun comes at a price, and it’s wrenching and interesting and very much worth spending some time with. A fantastic read!
“The Minotaur” by Evelyn Deshane
This poem speaks to me of transitions and monstrosity and the fear surrounding conforming to dominate narratives about gender and body and identity. The piece flows from a place of transformation, the narrator experiencing the effects of testosterone and feeling a certain...monstrosity growing inside them, from the way that they look, the way that they feel, the doubt about their own thoughts, the desire for further surgery that might be rejected, and if rejected, might bar them from some “true” status that they feel locked from, trapped outside of, locked in a labyrinth where the goal, the escape, is a certain amount of acceptance. It’s a difficult poem because it deals with societal as well as personal ideas of gender and performance, the fear and hope about what being on testosterone might bring, the excitement and hesitation, the attraction and revulsion all swirling around, making for a very difficult path to walk, always twisting and in danger of getting lost. And really for me a part of the story, where it leads as it winds through time and transition, is toward a place where the narrator and men in general don’t have to be judged just by what surgery they have, by what bodies they have. The poem for me speaks to the way that hormones can work on the mind to help a person feel more right, but that there isn’t necessarily one path for everyone to take to be more comfortable with who they are, to feel better in their own skin. For me, I see a rejection here of the implication that the narrator needs to do things to their body in order to be considered a man, in order to not be rejected. That, by embracing how they feel about every aspect of hormone therapy and surgery and finding what works for them, they are coming out of the labyrinth on their own terms, no less valid than anyone else. And that by doing that, they can find a home in the body they have. Which is as much a refusal to accept societal definitions of what makes gender real as it is a celebration of the individual ways that the narrator defines their own body and gender. It’s a complicated and rather moving poem that I thoroughly recommend!
“After Stonehenge” by Salik Shah
This poem speaks to me of family and enduring strength, evoking Stonehenge to harken to something that has stood seemingly forever, that has been constant and mysterious and present. But, as the title suggests, it’s a presence that might not last forever, and the poem I feel seeks to map a world without this important figure in it, without the woman who has held a family together, who has traveled from house to house, relative to relative, in her old age, until finally that age catches her fully, and the narrator then is a member of that family, having lived with the comforting reminder of her presence for their entire life and now faced with the prospect of having to go on without it. The woman of the poem is a monument, a great pillar around which the family can in some ways build an identity, through her stories and through the strength of her character. And I admit this might be completely missing the point, but I do like the idea of drawing the parallels between this woman and Stonehenge, to compare the way that it feels she’ll always be there, the way that she’ll always remain timeless, and then to realize that there is something unknowable about her, something that the narrator can longer connect with, because too much time has come between them, because she no longer knows them, because the end is coming, and with it the need for the narrator to find out how to define themself after. It’s a rather stirring and sweet poem to me and it’s a great read!
“The Drum Star (Orion’s Ghost)” by Ryu Ando
This is a strange poem that seems to float around space and the prospect for alien life while keeping much of its focus on the way that people act here, on Earth, their restlessness and impatience, their will to colonize and dominate, cutting them off from the rich sea of possibilities that awaits. The poem moves around the stars and among the people looking up at them with wonder and anticipation. To me it seems to whisper to listen to the wisdom of the stars, to patience and persistence and not the rash actions of violence, the quick explosions of tragedy. In many ways the piece seems to speak to me of misunderstandings, of reaching for things without truly understanding what they are. In that place of misapprehension, anger can bloom, and rage, and war, and death. It’s finding the wrong message in what could be a peaceful universe, one we could reach out through in peace, hoping to find a kindred spirit instead of terrified to find one, the main difference there being in how we see ourselves and our own intentions. Do we jump at the shadows of our own malice or do we try to find a way that is hopeful, that believes in the power of light and life. And so in part for me the poem becomes about how we see the stars and how that reflects something about ourselves. How if we are to strive for a way forward, a sustainable future that doesn’t burn and consume all before it, we have to stop using the stars to justify our aggression and instead learn to be more comfortable with the silence and the darkness it offers, to seek to peer through it to what might lay beyond, and to go with a sense of peace and patience. At least, that’s what I got from the piece. It’s a great poem, and you should definitely sit down with it and see what you come up with.
“Translating Himagsikan” by Dimas Ilaw
This poem seems to me to be about the act of translation itself and more specifically the violence that translation, that forced translation, can bring. The piece follows violence and forced conversion, people made to adopt new names, to adopt new ways, in order to appease an invading force. The piece is rich in violence and suppression, people being forced from their families, people being killed. And through it all there is something more than death that is happening, a language that is being overwritten, a colonization that is erasing a history and a people. The poem itself, untranslated, stands as a sort of rebuke to that, a recognition of the damage done and the invasion of some other language but also a refusal to part with the language that is threatened, that is associated with the people who have survived, with their identity and their existence, so that it is not erased, is not lost. The piece in some ways uses that language to emphasize how it can tell a story within a story, the English passages in the untranslated work creating a whole to themselves but one that is missing some vital components, ones that create a deeper message, a hidden revolution going on underneath the eyes of the colonizers, of those responsible for the violence. At least, that’s how I read it, where in the first version there’s a sort of call to let things go, that time will heal, which becomes a much easier poem to read. With the parts that require the translation, the poem becomes bloodier, becomes more of a call to rise up, to take back, to fight. It’s the revolution hiding in plain sight, evident for those who know the language but invisible otherwise and it’s a great use of language and translation to show and to capture that feeling. It’s a fascinating poem that I feel I might be missing a lot of but it’s amazing and you should check it out!