“Human Pilots” by J. B. Park (2989 words)
This is an interesting and rather creeping story about privacy and paranoia, inaction and display. Carla is a war hero, or so she’s told, a pilot fighting in a great war until her ship was destroyed and her own injuries were so severe that she was put on leave. Only as a pilot she holds no memories of her missions, of the battles—she knows what she’s told, and while in this strange place of recovery she’s told to wait until she’s better. Not that she knows what that is, either. While there she’s also on display, subject to the intrusions of tourists wanting to see her, wanting some connection to the fight that she can’t even remember. It’s a story that unfolds with a slow pace but also with this immense weight, a boulder rolling that seems gentle until you’re caught beneath it. It’s something that seems like it should get easier when Sun shows up, another pilot in basically the same situation as Carla. But despite, or perhaps because of, their similarities, there’s something they can say, something they can’t confront. There’s this amazing doubt running through the story, Carla lost without the action of combat, without the constant reassurance she’s doing something, even if she doesn’t remember it. Stranded among the tourists, there’s part imposture-syndrome, part survivor’s guilt, part something else. And it captures this idea of impersonal, nearly humanless war, drawing parallels to drone pilots or similar people who fight without quite seeing the impact, who can’t always remember the details when it’s obscured through levels of simulation and computer personalities. It’s a deep and moving story, one that feels heavy and dense, that complicates Carla’s role as a soldier, as a hero, and as a survivor. It presents a somewhat confused, somewhat uncertain narrative that still maintains direction and force, and it’s definitely one to check out!
“Sometimes a Thousand Twangling Instruments” by Lora Gray
Well this feels like a delightfully creepy but also luminous and flowing poem about creation and about life and about monsters. The action of the piece largely surrounds the act of making, of forging—the magic that flows from the narrator into this creature that is being created, culled. The language is strange and evocative, bringing to mind swamp and those things that thrive in shallow, murky water. There’s a visceral darkness but there’s also something else, something lurking underneath the initial disquiet that the poem managed to bring out in me. Because for all that this act seems violent and brackish, there’s a sensuality to it as well, a grace that I didn’t fully expect. This birthing that is happening is something not wholly natural, it seems, but at the same time it carries with it a power and...grandeur, almost. That what the reader is witnessing, what the narrator is describing, is something both profane and wonderful. It’s no less creation for it being the creation of something strange and perhaps grotesque. Indeed, that seems to be at the heart of the poem, that the creature’s monstrosity is what makes them beautiful. That for all that many people would recoil and scream or attack or go mad, for the narrator this is a creature that they have nurtured, that they have cared for, that they have bourn. And there’s just that great juxtaposition going on in the poem, the way the light and dark play, and the growing implication that something momentous but dangerous is happening. It’s a piece that sinks slowly, that reveals its subject in fits, in the dark violence of their creation and the still afterimage of horror. And it’s a great read.
“Boys On Bikes” by Valya Dudycz Lupescu
This is a vaguely strange and rather gutting poem about a woman watching a group of boys ride their bikes through town. She watches, and the impression for me is that this is a moment out of time, relived for her or perhaps she is transported back to a day that she cannot forget, that she cannot escape. Perhaps it’s just a moment in a small town that she never left, that contains the same intersection where these boys met some fate that she never quite spells out. But I love the way the poem weaves this image, this mirage, this haunting. The way that it shows the woman much older, seeing in these boys something of the past, of a childhood that cannot be recaptured. They are the idea of summer, the carefree of being young and invulnerable. Immortal. And yet also so very mortal, as the poem implies. The piece really sells the feeling of being trapped in a moment, unable to look away, knowing that something is going to happen and yet hoping that it won’t. It evokes that moment in E.T. when the boys ride their bikes into the sky, only here it seems much more metaphor, an action that they could not do in life and now, in death, is the best that she can imagine for them. It’s wrenching because it reveals this person who seems to want nothing more than to join those boys, even knowing what happens, even having lived with it for so long. It shows the romantic vision the boys represented, the freedom and the innocence and the danger that was never real until it was, until that shattering moment when it was, and it’s just a hitting and visceral piece that you should definitely check out!
“Tinwoman’s Phantom Heart” by Nin Harris
This is an interesting poem that ranges across a number of ideas and allusions, following a narrator who has excised her flesh in favor of metal. The choice of Tinwoman and hearts is one that I especially appreciate, because I’m a fan of the Wizard of Oz and I like how the poem complicates that original idea. Here the loss of the heart is not something that the narrator fails to realize but rather something that she craves, something that she seeks. The poem does a nice job of building up the idea of the brain of this person purposefully locked into a metal shell, allowing freedom from feelings, from mortality. The language evokes a fluidity and a grace that interweaves with a certain...gross physicality. The narrator is at once disgusted by her body and yet the language used makes it seem beautiful at the same time, a sort of lovely poison. That the narrator draws out the poison through the application of metal, creating something even more fitting, more armored, is interested and rather visceral. And throughout there is still the ghostly feel of the heart to contend with, that it is gone, that the narrator has tried to put her mind over it, but something remains, some chill that still cuts through the raw defense and cold metal of this new body. In some ways it feels like a person who has uploaded herself into a computer, who has tried to trade away that aspect of humanity but has found that it’s not quite what they wanted. That yes, they’ve found a release of sorts, but there’s still a ghost of a heart in the ghost in the machine, and I rather like the way the poem layers itself and draws me in with its rich diction and evocative flow. A great read!
"The Estranged” by Elizabeth P. Glixman
This is a strange, short, and rather dense poem that seems to me to circle around the idea of harmony or, perhaps more accurately, the lack of harmony. The narrator is engaged in trying to solve a puzzle. But it’s a puzzle that really doesn’t want to be solved, that resists the narrator’s efforts to smooth out the rough edges, to force things into place. And from the title and from the repeated images of leaves, it becomes more to me about family specifically, about trying to find harmony within this family tree, trying to perhaps plan for a way to bring everyone in the family together in a way that there will be no dramatic confrontations, so that there won’t be any people that really hate each other right next to one another. In this reading, the poem is about the frustration of turning things over and over again, finding at every pause that things aren’t right, that there is too much hurt and too much drama to get everyone together, to keep the piece. Which is something that rings true for a lot of families, where people and personalities often don’t mesh, and it’s something made even more difficult of late what with the polarization of politics and the vast differences between cultures even within families. And I like the way that it shows that outside voice just advising to drop the game, to just walk away from it and try something else. Which is a nice touch to me, because it shows a sort of comfort with the idea that family isn’t enough to overcome some differences and some hurts, that sometimes trying to force everyone together isn’t going to work. Of course, whether the narrator will take that advice or will keep on regardless is never answered, and I like the way it never really gives a hard answer, a clear solution. It’s a puzzle, and the recognition of a deep problem, and it’s a rather fun poem!