Well the newest issue of Farrago's Wainscot is finally here! I apologize for the dramatic exclamation point, but I was a little nervous that it wouldn't arrive in time for me to have time to review it. And it has carved out a nice place for itself as a nice source for weird stories and poems. It offers up a nice variety of each this month, with four stories and four poems. The fiction moves from pumpkins to pennies to chickens to cocksucking and is a very strong issue, and the poems provides four glimpses into some strange places. So let's get to the reviews.
"Three Small Pieces of Pumpkin Pie" by Wendy N. Wagner (3138 words)
In this story women are all born with pumpkins, gourds that grow on a vine that connects back to them at the belly button. It's in many ways what makes them female, this extra bit, not exactly biological but that extra weight that they must carry, that extra consideration that they have to constantly make. Janet is a girl growing into a woman, raised by a conservative family where the father is in complete control. And Janet doesn't feel quite right about it, doesn't really like her pumpkin, doesn't want that to be what defines her. But she finds a man and marries him and falls into line and instead of really resisting the way the pumpkin grows she tries to force herself to accept it. It's something she doesn't quite manage, something she always unconsciously rebels against. (SPOILERS) Until her marriage falls apart and she lets herself, just once, become the pumpkin. It's a striking and rather disturbing tale, one where Janet can feel that having this pumpkin is not something she really wants, that it represents a sort of submission, a sort of capitulation to being owner, to being possessed that she never wanted. Hers was the firm handshake, the desire to work, and yet she could not escape enough and finds, in the end, that she has still become the pumpkin, that she has lost herself. It's sad and it's a little difficult to see and it's a testament to the story that it twists the knife at the ending, that it complicates the situation and offers no real solution, no easy fix. A great story!
"All My Pretty Chickens" by Josh Rountree (2409 words)
Okay, so I may love the chickens in this story. Something about chickens I just find incredibly endearing, the plumpness, the flightlessness, the attitude. Oh chickens... Ahem, anyway, the chickens are only a part of this story, spectral presences. Because on the day when Harold lost his daughter and son-in-law in a car crash, the day he became guardian to his granddaughter, Isabelle, all the world's dead chickens returned as ghosts. They are reminders of death, visible but intangible. For Isabelle they are a mockery, an open wound, a reminder that her parents are dead and gone and not returned, somehow not returned. For Harold they still represent a sort of hope, a possibility that there is an afterlife after all, that he will be reunited with his daughter and his granddaughter, because Isabelle is leaving for Mars and doesn't seem to be coming back. The story revolves around the chickens, around what they might mean to the different people. The language is great, the characters strong and realized. And the chickens. Seriously, the chickens are so cute I want a herd of ghost-chickens of my very own! Damn, distracted again. The writing is solid and the story moves with a weight of loss and remembrance, Isabelle wanting out from under the loss of her parents, wants to be free to be her own person, and Harold wants to keep her, wants her to remain. It's a touching story, and one that I quite recommend!
"And a Pinch of Salt" by Hal Duncan (1975 words)
Well this is a striking story, taking place in a place called New Sodom and featuring Che Zeus, son of God, expert cocksucker. This definitely captures that sense of weird that Farrago's seems to exude, and in great fashion, the story a sort of metaphorical and transcendent piece that mixes philosophy and sex and what it means to be God, to be the son of God. It's generational in many ways, for as Sodom was a city of sin (apparently), New Sodom is the city of the son of God, the place to find absolution, to feel the divine. Where as the previous God was a clockmaker, an old man who believed in divinity in the abstract, Che believes that to be perfect they must be perfect in actuality, must exist and must spread that perfection, much reach out to everyone. In this case, sex becomes the way of reaching the divine, becomes how Che gives of himself and serves and is in turn served. He becomes man and woman, top and bottom, becomes the ideal for every person, becomes their secret taste of fulfillment. It's an interesting story and I'm not wholly sure if I get all of it but it's seems to me to be making the point that what we pass on is often not what we think, and what is grace is not necessarily the precision of clocks. It's something that I see and smile at, because I never really liked the idea of God the watchmaker. God the cocksucker, though, has a sort of vulgar grace that just works. Definitely go and give this one a close read and careful consideration. It's certainly worth it!
"Wunderkammern Castle" Krista Hoeppner Leahy (4023 words)
In this story Penny is a witch of sorts, cursed or blessed to offer wishes in exchange for pennies. And yet there is a communication problem between her and the supplicants who come to see her, as she offers them freedom and they don't know the freedom that they need, the freedom that they desire. There is a chasm between these people and their true happiness, and though Penny grants their wishes, she does not grant their freedom. It is a bleak story in some ways, the people trapped in this cycle, in this situation of chains and darkness. Only, there is also hope as Penny slowly finds what she needs to be free herself, as the characters at large find their own freedoms, draw their own lines. Also there's a man who might be a clown named Pie and Van Gogh shows up in a few ways with his amputated ear and a painting. It's a strange story but there's a sense of escaping chains in it all the same, of learning the right questions to ask, the right wishes to make. And that is what makes the story work for me, that it doesn't argue that people are incapable of knowing what they want, but that people often make mistakes, and especially when given an easy answer they tend to make the wrong choices, that learning how to break free is something that comes with time sometimes, that comes with learning yourself and your situation, and then finally trusting yourself. It's a strange story, but another good one!
"Eating Persimmons" by Michael Kellichner
This poem focuses on two different couples, one an elderly pair going around harvesting persimmons, the other sitting close by, eating some of the fruits. There is a ritual to the older couple's movements, the way they frighten the crows from the trees to cut the fruit free so they can collect it, the way their old hurts hinder them. The couple nearby seems younger, newer, their journey one to cut themselves free of the tree, to not become those left behind for the crows to consume. The poem is full of aches, pains, the weight of ritual and the mix of sweet with the need for more, a mix of fruit and bird. Not to become crows, really, as I read it, but to be able to cut themselves free of the branch and learn to fly, to grow wings and be something beautiful. To escape cycles of harvest and loss. There is a strong generational pull to the poem, the younger couple seeing a possible future, wanting more, and yet for that moment sharing persimmons near the road, that and nothing more. To me there is a sense that they are waiting, that they are witnessing this act in some ways to honor it, to give it its last moment before leaving it on the trees for the crows to take. For the younger couple seems set on something different, of moving far away from the orchard, of finding some place to belong that might not have the sickly sweetness of nostalgia but has more of a place for them. At least that's how I read it.
"Pantoum with Reverb" by Jen Schalliol
In this formal poem I get the feeling of age and looking back and trying to do good. Indeed, there's a part of the poem that I really like that seems to me to speak to empathy, so see all young people as former selves, to imagine that these people are basically a younger you and to imagine then how to treat them, that if this were common then children would not be abused, would not live in want. That people would not look at a child and see an other, despite race or gender or religion, that they would see a person to encourage, a child to be gentle with, to love. And that notion in the poem is strong and so very, very good. That empathy is the key to all of this, that this person lives that hard lesson, trying but perhaps not always capable of bringing about the most change, feeling like they aren't doing anything. There is a quiet yearning to the poem, that the narrator wants something larger to reassure them that they are acting right, that they are managing well, that they are doing the least amount of harm possible. And I think that it's a very human poem, a very human idea, that want to be good, that it's the highest of callings, to be empathetic, to be constantly in fear and wonder and trying. This is another great poem, and not one to miss, managing with the form to really circle around and back and fully explore the idea and feeling. Go read it!
"Imperative" by F.J. Bergmann
This is a nicely creepy and moody poem that seems to be a reaction to a painting that, unfortunately, I couldn't seem to find via quick internet searching. I can see a few other works by the same artist so, if the work is real (and I suppose it could be fictional, though the artist is real enough, website here), I do get the sense of what the piece might look like, a butterfly ensnared, a demonic presence looking on, learning. The poem evokes the idea of dark forces learning from nature, learning how to build better ways to ensnare the human spirit, warning of the lurking darkness that is all around us. The poem is short, three quatrains and a couplet, the scene built a creepy and surreal clash of intimate and impersonal, the demon detached but still a threat, the butterfly caught and about to be destroyed. And, largely not mentioned, there is the feeling of a person here getting ready for bed, oblivious to this all. It's an interesting poem, and it makes me very much want to see the painting to see what further meaning I can pull out, but here at least I get the feeling of the dangers of nature and the dangers more malevolent still and humanity unaware to it, perhaps purposefully so, not wanting to see the dark side of beauty, the dark implications of art. Another nice poem.
"All the Saints are Looking Through Your Trash" by Teresa Milbrodt
In this poem, much as the title suggest, a person's trash is examined by a group of saints who find all the things to criticize. The person has recently gone through a divorce, or perhaps just a breakup, but whatever the case they are not in the best of places, find that they are unable to know what others want, unable to take care of themself or anyone else. And here are these saints, going through her things, finding fault over every thing. The poem moves down a list of saints, a list of sins, the way that this person could do better, but it's also a poem about throwing out the old. There is that clash in the poem between the saints disapproval and the need to get rid of things. Perhaps the poem is about knowing what to throw out. Knowing that the things that have to be gotten rid of are not necessarily the things that clutter out fridges but the things that clutter our minds and moods. Throw out the memories that keep you trapped and alone but maybe keep the donut. Throw out the words of criticism that worm their way into your life, into your mind. But keep care for yourself, and do what you can for those you care about. Know where to place your efforts and where to let the past slough away. I like the image of these saints bustling around outside, shaking their heads in silence. But then, they require the trash to have things to complain about. It's a layered poem and I'm not sure if I'm reaching deep enough into it, but it definitely has depths to peer into again and again, and I'd recommend giving it a look. Indeed!