“The Birding: A Fairy Tale” by Natalia Theodoridou (8640 words)
This is a dense story of decay, transformation, and magic, embodied in the journey of Maria, a pregnant woman looking for her husband, and instead finding another survivor of the plague/catastrophe that is changing everyone into birds. The story does an amazing job of building up this strange phenomenon, this disaster and crisis, and making it achingly personal to Maria. It takes on this mythological approach to events, where there are always kings and queens, monsters and bargains and curses. Maria lives in this world of birds, something that harkens back to her own relationship with her father, to the various hurts and disappointments she’s had through her lifetime. And it really does seem like these things are happening because of her. In a narrative sense, it’s also a nice meta moment because in a way they are, but I think the story is also making a point that how we approach the world at large is through these ways that make it personal, all about us and our hopes and situations. I love how the story shows Maria moving through this world without much in the way of direction, knowing only that she has to look for her husband, but at the same time perhaps knowing what must have happened. And it is a story that is both tragic and beautiful, balancing the darkness and the despair with the hope that maybe there is justice in all this, that maybe not all is lost and that something will remain, some spark that will carry forward. It’s a bit of a heartbreaking tale, though, with an ending powerful and devastating. There’s a bit of misdirection going on, too, I think, in the way the story uses the fairy tale, in how it might imply who is being addressed. The turn, when it comes, is wrenching and yet it leaves room for something more, for the magic at the heart of the fairy tale, that what is left is beautiful music, and how bad can that be? A disquieting and beautiful read!
“Romance of Possible Contrasts” by Alison Rumfitt
This is a fun and nicely layered poem about attraction and about difference, about the barriers that often come between two people hoping to connect. It features a personified Forest and Sea, the two looking for something that brings them to the city, to a gay nightclub. What they find is each other, and in each other there seems to be this resonance, this understanding. I love the way the poem explores how the two entities, how the two people, are different and yet similar. Are drawn to each other and yet wary because of their natures, because of the constraints put on them. They are kindred spirits in many ways, able to understand each other, and I think there is where the connection is deepest, strongest—they can understand that each has these borders that hedge them in, that they have to escape in order to be in places like the city where they can relax, where they can party. Otherwise they have to be separate, and have to true to the natures that people expect. Except that together they seem to have this urge to put that aside. To try and make something together that might shake the world up, that might erase the borders they’ve been taught are essential to who they are. But at the same time, they seem to understand that it’s not the borders that define them, but who they are in their hearts, and those hearts are telling them to take a chance, and it’s just this wonderfully romantic and fun way of showing how love can work, how desire and how transgression can work. How sometimes people need to stop worrying what something might look like, how something might work, and just try. And let those chips fall where they may. It’s an affirming and fun read and you should definitely check it out!