Thursday, June 16, 2016

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #4

The June Mithila Review is out and to me is all about time and weight. About cycles of harm and history and time and intent and the hope of breaking free. The hope of finding a way to something better, to something not tainted with the violence of harm and loss and grief. There's a reaching in these stories and poems, a looking at what works and what doesn't work. What falls apart under the gaze of context and what might have a chance of standing up. It's a great issue with a nice mix of poetry and fiction and it's time to review!
Art by Ashim Shakya


"Choose Your Killer" by Abhishek Bhatt (1810 words)

This is a rather haunting look at consciousness and intent and the social contract. In it, Agami is a man quietly living his life until a movie promises to show his inner most deliberations about a fictitious cat-murder. It's supposed to pull on his unconscious, on the signals in his brain, only they don't end up meeting up with his conscious thoughts. And from there everything sort of spirals. The story is at turns funny and dark and trippy, examining what it means to have true volition, how much the world around us shapes our actions and desires and how much we can be a different person than who we think we are. In many ways, to me, the story looks at what happens when technology threatens to open our "true" selves by examining brain signals, equating people to no more than impulses. It's a direction that tech can go, especially because this sort of thing can be used by advertisers to specifically target people with ads. But what happens when unconscious desires poke through that are dissonant from our waking selves? It's the incredibly problematic idea that people can "secretly" be something, that people are "truly" what their brains reveal and have no power to change that. For Agami, who drifts through life, who lacks a strong will and allows himself to be pulled through based on the whims of technology, the thought is terrifying that there could be something inside him that he doesn't know about. But his reaction to that is interesting and deep and I love how the story reveals it, his rush to embrace what he sees as the repressed and how he tries to reject the social contract only to still depend on it to keep him safe. A very good read!

"Caul" by Vajra Chandrasekera (1158 words)

This story to me is about the weight of inheritance, the weight of childhood and distance and loss. The main character, the narrator, is born with a caul, and that caul acts as a sort of veil, something that numbs them in certain ways, that weighs on them. Something in their nature that they can't quite harmonize or perhaps find harmony with. Like swimming, the pull of deep water, the refusal to swim and yet the draw to women who love to, women who so often go into the water and never return. Like the narrator's mother. Like the narrator's grandmother. There is this tradition and the main character is fighting against it, refusing to bend but also, to me, wounded by the series of losses, by being left behind. They feel at peace on the beach, the hot sand beneath them, but people keep trying to draw them into the water. And perhaps some part of the narrator wants that pull, is attracted to that pull, but there's a danger there as well, the narrator knowing that going into the water will change them, that they might not come back as well. The story is beautiful and a bit dark, heavy and with lot to sift through. The narrator is present but ethereal, not a changeling but in some ways fragile before the crushing presence of the sea. And I love the way it builds to that ending, that moment of the narrator opening their eyes. A great story! 


"Apocalypse Later" by Josh Brown

This is a poem that takes the idea of, well, being a bit of a slacker, and moves it to the topic of the end of the world. I feel that the poem is playing with a lot of things, both showing a narrator that is unwilling to take actions that might save them and how ridiculous the idea of procrastinating for the apocalypse is. I love the way that it takes such simple language, such concrete things—golf, driving, TV—and contrasts them to something like the apocalypse, how it shows someone who just wants to live, okay, just enjoy things, ttake it easy. Yeah. But how much that mentality falls apart when faced with this huge destruction. With the fact of the world ending. That way that most people can probably understand not wanting to prepare for something unpleasant, but that you can't avoid it. Not preparing means dying. And that is where the poem, for me, gets its bite, in showing how people treat the end of the world (climate change especially) like it's something that can be put off dealing with. Yes the world will end, but I just want to enjoy life. And how that's not good enough. For anyone. How that's just utter shit. So yes, I quite like this poem and its implications. Go check it out!

"Moving the Earth" by Melissa Frederick

This poem feels to me to be about natural disaster, and perhaps it feels more specifically about a volcanic eruption that has the potential to be huge amounts of damage to the world, and especially to the US. The story is organized in couplets, which in some ways gives it the feel of duality to me. Of paired outcomes and also ambiguity. Something happens. That much is not in question, but the poem revolves around how people interpret it. Where is Jesus in this disaster? On the side of the people, trying to avert disaster, or in some ways returned for another purpose, to herald an ending and a new beginning. Like the last poem there is a feeling of great destruction here. Run all you like, this might be the end of the world, or at least the end of the world as we know it, Jesus popped back down to tell us that our time is up, that Manifest Destiny no longer means what we thought it did, that the earth itself has plans of its own. In some ways it feels to me to address a certain apathy of the divine towards people, to challenge the idea that humans are the only special things on Earth, of the Earth. That in face of the land we are all small. At least, that's my reading. It's a beautifully constructed piece, though, and definitely worth checking out to see what you get out of it!

"Moirae" by Naru Dames Sundar

To me this is a poem of tragedy and, perhaps, the cyclic nature of atrocity and life and death. It features the Fates working through incident after incident, first in the distant past, in the realm of myth itself, and then to the present day, and then beyond. And the constant through it all is death, is slaughter, is tears and loss and grief, the Fates stuck in the same cycle of history as everyone else, as unable to prevent these horrors as people seem unable to not commit them. In some ways, then, this is about the inevitability of tragedy, the way that these events seem to birth each other, each topping the last only in scale, in twisted bodies and, eventually, whole worlds destroyed. And I love that build, the way it moves up and up, the way that it comes from this place where we glory death, where we reward violence. Like that very act, the one that wants to pretend that there is no real free will, that we are all fated and so our actions must be right, that takes away our responsibility to find a better way, locks us into this perpetual death and tragedy. In that it's a bleak poem, one that looks to the end of time where we have not broken the cycle. For that, though, I feel that there is hope as well. That perhaps by retiring the poor fates, by breaking their chains, we can free ourselves from the constant harm and murder. That we can, by rejecting that vision of fate, escape the cycle and come to a place where we are free, where we are not bound by thinking there is no avoiding violence. It's an amazing poem and you should read it!

"Mazenderan" by Mark A. Fisher

This is an interesting poem but one that I struggle a bit with because it seems more constructed with an outward web, connecting it with other texts and more specifically with The Phantom of the Opera which I have no experience with. The language of the piece is great, though, opening with two questions that I'm guessing are about the main characters of the play but which take on broader implications. To me the poem speaks of art that looks at what is foreign in a way that is ignorant, that uses the exotic in rather terrible ways. The poem actually reminds me of the recent controversies surrounding white-washing in movies, taking something that seems foreign or foreign-ish and divorcing it from the actual culture that it's from, making it cardboard-thin in order to use it as a plot device. Use it to make a villain villainous or a city "strange." And I love that the poem looks at these characters running through their own story while running through things deeper yet, never coming out of the darkness because of the ignorance inherent in their story, in the romance, in the world of their art. The message of their love becomes muddied in the context of their racism and the troubles with how they treat what is different from them. It's an interesting idea that I hope I'm getting right because I don't know that much about The Phantom of the Opera, but it's a poem that probably shifts a bit depending on whose reading it so definitely check it out and see what you think!

"Song for a Watch Repairer" by Saima Afreen

This poem is to me a nicely trippy look at time and clocks and a watch repairer. The poem does a great job of evoking the image of clocks and the feel of time, as sand through an hourglass and the sun rising and the turning of wheels. It all gets captured in the sense of work and the images of what watches see, what they have seen. How they are broken and how they are fixed. I love the imagery in the poem and how it doesn't really pull its punches, the way that it sets Dali next to Vietnam, the result of which is dark and strange but also fluid, almost intangible. There is more than just time being repaired here, but history and memory. The act of the repairer is to try and, in some ways, ease the mark of time, of wrongs done and hurts suffered. What is left is that final image [SPOILERS] of the mountain of dust, the mountain of time that has been cleaned out of the watch, so that it is able to run again, so that it is like new, forgiven and able to go forward, to find a bright future. To me at least it's a hopeful poem and a very fitting way to close out the issue.

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