Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #8

As always, there’s a lot to see in the latest issue of Mithila Review, which seeks to look a bit at visual arts. For original fiction, there’s one flash, one short story, and one novelette, and there are nine different poems, not to mention a reprint and a load of nonfiction that I will leave you to discover on your own. What’s here, though, and what I’m looking at in my review, does an amazing job of showing people coming into contact with the unknown. Shows people who assume based on the narratives they have been told about the nature of the world. And who find that they can’t accept those narratives. That only by challenging the stories that other people tell about the world can its nature truly be revealed. The poems expand on this as well and everything works together wonderfully to create an issue that is cohesive and sharp. But I guess I should just get to the reviews!


"Ruin Marble" by Arkady Martine (4247 words)

This is a rather strange but moving story about a sorcerer named Margaret and her talking radio. And okay, it turns out to not be a radio, but then the story is about some things not being what they seem to be. For Margaret, the world around her isn't her own. It's a New York like the one she was born to, but different, and she's burned through her entire world to escape from her reality and come to a new one. To run. To hide. Because there are agents of cosmic justice, angels with a rigid sense of right and wrong, who are after her. And when they begin to catch up with her, the story shows how she's been running and with who and for what. The voice is a compelling one, wry and selfish but entertaining and a bit self-deprecating. Margaret knows what she has done and just doesn't want to deal with it. For her the questions weren't easy but she made them because the alternative was to give up, to give in, and there's a stubborn streak in her that runs throughout the story. That she's not willing to give into someone else's narrative, that she chooses instead to write her own, to make her own, to live her own. The relationship between her and the radio is great, too, giving her an out, an escape, but also a reason to finally stand and face what's been chasing her. The writing conveys a world filled with uncertainties, a world being unraveled to get at Margaret, who has to face the prospect of committing all her own sins and violences a second time and wondering if she can't try something different. Something unexpected. It's fun but complex, weird but beautiful, and definitely worth checking out!

"The Tailings" by Brian Daniel Green (1247 words)

This story is mythic is scope and framing, about a place of cold where a whittler of souls, Vagovidopito, creates servants to scratch his back, servants who have no souls and feel the lack of them. Tat, the first such servant, decides to do something about the lack, and what follows is a sort of creation story, where these people on a quest for souls must flee from what they have known and the god-like figure who created them and try to find a place to be, a place to start a family, if only they can get souls first. I think the dynamics of the story and world here are interesting, that the god-like being who creates them does so to enslave them, to keep them forever away from souls because the souls always leave. It makes me wonder more about that figure, who seems so necessary but also so cruel. Tat as I read him is like the spirit of humanity, the spirit of curiosity and drive to be...people. To be more than what we are. The idea of a soul here is also interesting because it's said to be something that must be earned, that Tat needs to be given somehow, but these words come from Vagovidopito and so how true they are is rather up in the air. If he lied about one thing, perhaps he lied about other things. And in that I feel the story is about not believing authority just because it seems like an authority. Not believing parents when what you feel is true isn't what they say is true. It's about finding your own way. For Tat it's about searching out some new way to be and finding that the answer might not be in a grand journey across the cosmos but rather a looking inward to something that's always been there. Another fine read!

"Champollion's Foot" by Haris A Durrani (9934 words)

Well okay then. This is a beautiful and layered story about hope and about resistance. About human failings and about colonialism and about harm. About Manifest Destiny written across the stars, where a corporation has managed to convince most of humanity that alien life is impossible. That the alien life that everyone knows about doesn’t count. That there is nothing stopping humans from exploiting every corner of the galaxy. And yet a small group of rebels, pushed into further resistance because one of them came into contact with an alien substance that is changing him molecularly, has travelled to a distant world to prove that wrong. And the story is a lot about the way that people erase cultures and peoples. The way they seek to keep them in the dark and out of sight. The way that conquerers and would-be conquerers seek to take the narrative of the universe and twist it to suit them. Standing in the way of this are people trying to make sense of their lives. People all fighting against the control of the corporation responsible for crushing all organized dissent but also infected by that corporation. Because it has been able to define terms for so long, the crew cannot fully imagine a world free of the vision of colonialism. An existence that doesn’t exist in those terms, of us meaning human and them meaning something else and lesser. It’s something very much in my mind of late, and the story does such a wonderful job of coming at it from different angles, showing the characters all facing the same things but in different ways and forming different conclusions. They might believe that humans are noble or savage, inherently good or inherently shit, and they have all sorts of ways of justifying their actions. But in the face of genocide a lot of the justifications fall away, ring hollow. And I love that the story still leaves room for hope, even when it’s a rather bleak hope—that colonialism is not eternal. That it is not human nature. That we might be worth something after all, and that the only way to live up to our potential is to question and fight back and push toward compassion and understanding and the truth, however uncomfortable or terrible it might be. It’s a bracing, sweeping story filled with voices and it is amazing go read it immediately!


"Instructions for Astronauts" by Michael Janairo

This is a rather strange and haunting poem about humanity fleeing Earth in an attempt to survive, in an attempt to get to a different and better world, one unspoiled by our touch. There is a strong religious element to the poem, all of the parts preceded by a biblical verse (save two) to set up how those sections read. These are the sections of the believers, of the grand hope for humanity. The renewal, the what-have-you. And I love that the poem sets itself up that way, with everything working and working toward this end, only to pull away at the ending and drop the religion in favor of other things. In favor of one person realizing that not everything is what it seems. In favor of a new set of voices to emerge and establish themselves. The story is set up to imagine humanity as this unstoppable thing, with all the destiny at its command. Because it is right, because it is best. Look at how it conquers its own destruction and turns it into something new. Look at how it uses tools to make this all easy, mere child’s play. Look at how exciting it is. And yet the truth that this is all covering up is that humanity is fragile, and with this mentality that it is not it might stumble into its own total destruction. By thinking only in terms of Humanity (big H), humans lose sight of what might be important, of what might be waiting out there. And hey, the poem also has an awesome visual treatment to enjoy as well, further revealing how this cycle goes and how the expectations are distorted at the end. It’s a great poem that does a great job of setting up the visuals and everything works together beautifully. An amazing experience!

Three Poems by Ingrid Jendrzejewski

These poems all carry with them a sense of transformation and memory, of the narrators all coming to terms with something about themselves, some quirk of fate or biology. In "The Pear Tree," the narrator is transforming perhaps literally into a tree, though it feels more like a metaphor for a different sort of change. For experiencing something that couldn't really be prepared for and the scope of which is huge and all-encompassing. There is a certain amount of hope here, the imagery of life and spring, but even so I can't help but feel the story is more about the decay, about the slowing, about the approach of death. That if there is life it is coming at the expense of transforming this person into a static thing solely purposed to bearing fruit. The second poem, "When I Dream, I Dream of Love and Wax," is similarly about the narrator being something other than human, here being a dresser (as in, furniture), and hiding this fact from the world. They are something in the background, an object to take up space and fulfill a function. And here, to, there comes a moment of change, though it's not one of body, rather an imagined moment when someone will come and find something within the dresser to hide them both, to partition them from the glare of the world so that they might be safe (and fabulous). It's a lovely story about longing and waiting for a moment of trust in a world that makes trust nearly impossible. The last poem, "The Displacement," seems more to me about growing up and the weight of that, of forgetting the past by not having it readily to hand any longer. Of not being able to recall events because you no longer have the physical objects or the place that triggers the memory. It's a piece more thoroughly rooted in loss, in my mind, though one that's also about adulthood at the way that we, in growing, seek to create a place of remembrance, even if it never quite captures the past, it still gives people a sort of refuge for them to move forward into new lives. The three poems are full of yearning and magic and are all of them fine reads!

"family (a form somehow must)" by Gwynne Garfinkle

To me this poem speaks to a vision of family as presented through the lens of popular culture and more specifically television. It's not weird to say, after all, that we get a lot of our visions of what family is from witnessing it. The family sitcom is one of the institutions of America, the way people gather round to see how families are supposed to act. And yet the inconsistencies show through, the ways that shows have a tendency to ease out any wrinkles, to introduce things only to erase them a moment later. The feeling becomes that the individuals here aren't important, can be replaced at any time if they become too unpopular, if they make things too difficult. They can be written out and never talked about. The stories that don't hit well don't have to effect the show going forward. The feeling is supposed to be one of constancy, where nothing really ever changes. But the way that this hits us, the viewers, the people living and growing, is very different. Because through all of this the real narrative, the real vision of a "true" family is something that gets stripped away. These television families don't have to deal with chronic issues. They don't have to face very difficult trials. There is drama yes and incidents yes but all of them get wiped clean in the end so that the end of every episode is like the beginning of every episode. Things are resolved in ways that they never are in real life and the cracks in the illusion show through, never as perfect as they seemed when viewing them for the first time. Reality creeps and banishes the fake. And yeah, it's a great poem!

"How to build a woman, sodden flowered and strong" by Hester J. Rook

This poem captures a great sense of magic and possibility. It is a fantasy piece, imagining a world of mages and sorcerers and the main character, the narrator, who is a woman built of magic and materials. And the metaphor here can be fairly clear, that the narrator is built by what could be seen as two parents who give her very different things and finished by herself, gone out into the world only to be molded again by a new magic-user. There's the sense here that that's what expected of people and especially of girls and women. That they be built and then function as an object, as something to be further molded and refined by a new man, a new owner, the woman passed from parents to husband without complaint. But the poem imagines more for the narrator than that, not especially condemning the man who seeks to shape her but showing that all of this is treating her as an object, as a thing. And, without the influence of the man, she might be able to finally see what she can make of herself outside the influence of people trying to manipulate and shape her. That there is a power and a possibility in this moment that might otherwise be a loss, that others would certainly see as a loss. The piece is magical and fun while also capturing a nice complexity and intensity. Definitely carve out some time to spend with this piece!

"The Santa Monica Prophesies: A Collaborative Triptych" by Layla Al-Bedawi, Holly Lyn Walrath, & Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

This is a trio of poems that speak of patience and loneliness to me, worship and renewal. The project is arrayed in three parts, each one belonging to a different poet, each one drawing on images and themes and echoes of the others. The project begins with "Two Half Hitches" by Layla Al-Bedawi, a poem that images someone on the shore, or perhaps more accurately someone of the shore, a being of sand and rock who finds someone come to them and they meet in passion and fear and a crash of wills. They spiral each other, desperate and afraid, and revel in the feeling of being near. To me the story is about loneliness and sacrifice, and sacrifice not in the giving up someone for something else but more like a holy sacrifice, a sacrifice-as-entreaty, a sort of planting of a hope that something (here the sea) might make it real. That the moments of fulfillment are fleeting does not matter so much as the feelings those moments bring, the joy and the exhaustion and the hope, that maybe there will come a time when the feeling will last past the dawn. It's a story of cycles, and in a triptych that's a great way to start, because it gives way to "My City of Ruin" by Holly Lyn Walrath, a piece that brings a more urban feel to the shore, that establishes a city and brings with it a people who worship fortune. Again there is the sense of people reaching for something beyond themselves, seeking to fill some lack they can't quite articulate, and falling into patterns t hat are harmful, looking for signs of love that are also signs of destruction. The piece is more concerned with ritual in many ways divorced from meaning, where people try to impress their god without knowing how, without even knowing why, to find in the end that what they are asking for is not really what they want. Which in turn segues nicely into the last of the poems, "The Crystal Gazer," by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, which brings things back to an individual and a shore, an absence and a return. The title here to me evokes someone seeking clarity and perhaps knowledge of the future. And indeed with this piece the triptych seems more drawn into past, present, and future, with the place of Santa Monica that yearns for people only to find them and be twisted by them, and finally in this last section find some measure of release, finding in the slow inhale and exhale of humanity a cycle that might still turn out all right. It’s a lovely way to bring everything together, seeing the beauty of Santa Monica that was and what it could be, while being aware of some of the ugliness of what it is. It’s a trio of poems about patience and the cycles of growth and decay and it’s very much worth your time and attention. Go read it!


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