“When the White Bird Sings” by KT Bryski ( words)
No Spoilers: Catja is a woman living in a wood gripped by winter. She lives with a white bird to speaks to her, offers guidance. Sings to her. Which seems innocent at first, like he’s trying to help her, like he cares about her. But as the story progresses that assumption gets complicated, and the nature of the white bird starts coming clearer, thanks to a witch Catja runs into after tasting one of the apples from her orchard. The piece is careful and difficult at times because it approaches eating disorders and gaslighting, but it’s also beautiful and gripping and very good. The language effortlessly calls to mind fairy tales while refusing to reinforce the traditional “lessons” girls and women are supposed to learn from those stories.
Keywords: Birds, CW- Eating Disorders, Witches, Fairy Tales, Queer MC
Review: I love how this story leans on the tropes of fairy tales, lulling readers into this idea that the white bird is actually protecting Catja when really it is trying to destroy her. When really it is essentially the voice of an eating disorder telling her to starve herself. Refusing to let her eat for reason after reason despite her hunger. And how she, too, believes that he’s trying to help her, that he’s like her fairy godparent. When really he’s poison dripping into her ear, the actual dark magic, rather than the supposed witch. And I like how he uses the forms of narratives to give weight and credence to his words. How he takes the format of a fairy tale and uses it against Catja, who is stuck in one whether she wants it or not. She believes that the witch is out to get her first because the bird convinces her that’s how the world operates. Witches are real and are everywhere, and all their kindness is a trick with some violence coming. And it’s so strong a trope that Catja can’t do much against that assurance that the witch is a witch and not just a kind woman in the woods. Catja is made to distrust herself because that’s how the world is set up, that’s how girls are taught, that when they do things on their own the wolves come for them. Only by trusting the magic and surrendering their agency are they able to reach that happy ever after. But thankfully Catja is able to escape that. Not wholly, but she does get to he free, and gets to be with the person who really cares about her. And thought the story recognizes that some wounds never heal, it also shows this beautiful relationship that Catja is able to enter into, and how it brings her joy where before she had only hunger. A fantastic read!
“it was/n’t” by Sfé R. Monster
This graphic story is dominated by shadow and heavy black, rendered in three colors (white, black, and red) to create something unsettling and sharp with the feel of violence but, ultimately, resolving into beauty, flight, and freedom. The piece gives voice to the struggle against something huge and nameless, difficult and draining and terrible. A shape that wants, that takes, that wrecks and rends and destroys. That seems like it must be everything, must be everywhere, like all our lives will always exist in this darkness, in this place of eyes and teeth and hands. And I love the way that it conveys that, the stark creatures of that place, severed heads and mocking neck holes, smiling creatures that resemble for me at least the wolves of fairy tales, the big bads that lurk in the dark places. And I like the way the title then works into that, into the strange nature of the place described. The way that this place might exist but maybe not literally. That this was in the past but also might not be “done.” That it was and it wasn’t, that it defies being easily categorized or quantified. But that, for all that it seemed omnipresent, it had limits. Limits that were overcome, bars that were broken or slipped between. So that the narrator finds that finally, after struggle and doubt and fear and terror, that they come to someplace better. Where the hole, or whatever it is, still exists, still looms there, but the narrator is no longer in it, and there’s a freedom and a joy in that. A resilience that has paid off and allowed them to come to a place where maybe they can go where they want, where they can maybe explore the world outside the hole, which is suddenly so large. It’s a lovely and striking read, and you should definitely check it out. A great piece!
“mouth dirge” by Keith J. Castillo
This is another piece that speaks of contradictions and gives form to a feeling that is very difficult to describe or capture using conventional language or styles. And I love that the poetry here doesn’t remain constrained to conventions even of poetry. The piece is stuck at the bottom of the page, condensed and scrunched into this small space but with the indications (with the slash /) that this could have been much longer, much more airy a piece, if those can represent line breaks. But instead it comes out in a tumble, in a sort of jumble, which is part of what the poem is about, about the struggle with not being able to speak like everyone else, so that the narrator seems to be someone who was forced into systems to try and “fix” their speech without, it seems, really getting at the full issues. So maybe they can talk better but it also seems that they lack the ability to speak up or speak out because they’ve been so traumatized by people’s reactions. Told that the way they communicate is wrong. Is lacking. Ignored when they try to speak for themselves because of the way they speak, the method of their communication. They are silenced. Again and again they are silenced. And it comes through, that frustration and need to be heard, to be understood. To stop being erased, defiant in the face of expectations, refusing to conform for the sake of ease. It demands in some ways that reader shift, that the reader listen essentially to the flow of words and meaning and open themself up to this attempt at bridging a gap in communication. And it’s a wonderful way of using form in poetry to reinforce and strengthen meaning, providing an experience that is challenging but rewarding, and definitely deserves some careful consideration. A wonderful piece!
“snakeskin” by Minying Huang
This is a rather strange poem, but one that, like the last, uses form to great effect, here weaving a poem that seems to slither some down the page. For me the piece evokes the movements of a snake and what happens when that being is put into a harsh environment. A snake in winter, skin and scales not enough to protect them. And the rough scrape of trying despite the pain and discomfort of it to form a new skin that might be better suited to this environment, despite the fact that the narrator, that this snake, seems to not exactly want to have to do this. But there is a strength to it, as well, a resilience that they aren’t going to be done in by the cold, that they’re going to adapt, one way or the other. The piece works through a heavy repetition of words. This repeat and repeat in slightly different arrangements, which puts me in the mind of a few things when it comes to snakes. The first is the ourborous, the snake eating itself, which speaks of cycles and revolutions. The other thing is the ways that snakes can shed their skin, which is to go into someplace rough and repeatedly rub themselves through it. It’s a somewhat brutal process, and finding the skins after the fact is strange, a remembrance of growth yes but also of violence. And the poem seems to me to capture some of that, looking at the effort of shedding skin and the pain and the doubt and the danger. It’s doing something new, stripping away protection, leaving oneself open and soft. And yet it’s necessary, because there is no safety in the old skin anyway, no real way of holding onto it. It needs to be let go, started over, but it’s not a light process, or one that should be viewed as simple. It’s complicated and wrenching and weird and makes for another great read!