“Big Mother” by Anya Ow (4991 words)
No Spoilers: A group of children in Singapore go fishing only to find that what they’re fishing is drawing them into a different place, a different domain. Dark but with a push to overcome fear and doubt for the sake of one’s friends, the story is gripping and magical while not giving way to tragedy.
Keywords: Fishing, Monsters, Childhood, Friendship
Review: This story reminds me a bit of the feel I get when reading Bradbury—a sort of nostalgia for the days before things seemed so complicated, and before the world seemed to lose its strange, dark places. Of course, here the action is far away from the suburbs of middle America, and yet the feeling is similar, and I love the way the story builds up the lives these kids lead, the main character one of the leaders of this group, and the other leader growing more and more consumed by his desire for a certain kind of fish. To me, the arc of the story is about adolescence and about moving from a place where kids are just kids, without quite the weight of gender roles and expectations, and moving to a place where they feel they must treat each other differently. At least for me, the story seems to follow the way these young people begin to divide as they age, managing to hold together but knowing, at least for some of them, that the change cannot be avoided, that the poisons of the adult world where being a girl means something different and more dangerous, seep into childhood as well. For the moment, though, it’s also about resisting that, about sticking together, and about pulling someone back from the brink. It’s not an easy victory, and it’s one that tinged in change anyway, but it resists the tragedy that might have been, all because the main character is able to overcome her fear and stand up for herself and her friends. The ending brings things back around, mourning a world that was, before concrete crept over it, before the adult realities and compromises took hold. It’s a great read!
“Refugee; or, a nine-item representative inventory of a better world” by Iona Sharma (1248 words)
No Spoilers: A poetic and haunting story featuring a magic of transportation, where people fleeing violence and conflict arrive wherever the main character is, to be cared for and then sent back. Full of grief and loss but also power and resilience, it’s a bit surreal in its feel and execution, but I like how it slowly pieces together a picture of what’s happened.
Keywords: Transportation, Poetry, Loss, Refugees
Review: This is a strange story, organized as a series of scenes and thoughts and feelings surrounding a main character who seems to be at the nexus of something, where refugees from time and space will suddenly arrive and the main character will help them as much as possible and then send them back. It’s a wrenching piece in large part because there’s this violence that surrounds it all, that these people are fleeing something that’s about to consume them, eat them whole, and the main character gets only a brief time to try and make them comfortable before they must return. For many, it’s a return that will kill them, and that knowledge is a raw wound even as it doesn’t mean the narrator wants to stop or look away. Even when the narrator is dealing with their own loss, their own heartache and grief. And in that it’s a beautiful portrayal of the strength that can be found in helping others, in opening your heart even when that heart might be broken. The transportation itself is interesting and the immediate situation, a poet arriving and bringing all the narrator’s feelings to the surface even as he faces a grim future, is moving and devastating. The feel of the story, too, the framing of it and the disjointedness of it, serve to create a mood and tone for the piece that mixes a numbness from the chaos and pain and a need for warmth and compassion, to find a moment’s peace in hopes that it will be enough to endure what comes next. A fantastic story!
“The Quartet” by Onu-Okpara Chimaka
This poem weaves lore and magic, lineage and power. It features a succession of women, children born and raised and birthing and dead and on and one, the momentum and clarity of the piece growing with each new generation, with each new stanza. For me, at least, the poem seems to be framed as both a cycle and as a progression, a wheel rolling its way forward, not without its bumps or obstacles but with enough to keep it going regardless. The piece focuses very heavily on birth, on motherhood, on passing down the knowledge that’s required to try and stay alive. Not safe, really, because something the poem does well in my opinion is show that this is not a safe place to be in. The world is dark and full of dangers, but there is hope to be found in the strength and skills passed down generation to generation, a way to feel part of a long unbroken line even when the immediate circumstances are heavy and sharp. And there’s a feeling of magic, too, that there is something about this line, this regeneration of family, that is magical and even divine, that it’s a way to connect back to the oldest of traditions, to the power that was present at the dawn of all things and is still present now for those who know how to listen to the past, for those with mothers and grandmothers to tell them how. It’s a strange piece, vibrant with the rhythm of time and survival, and it’s definitely a poem you should spend some time with. Excellent!
“God of the Flood” by Loretta Casteen
This poem speaks to me of storms, and climate change, and a sort of coming reckoning. It features a narrator who has to move away from the Gulf Coast in the American South and more inland, pushed away from their home by this force of nature, but this ancient god who has come to call. It evokes Egyptian myth in creating the feeling that there is something out there with an intent driving these events, driving the waters up, waiting for the greater violence to start. Because really the story is about climate refugees, about being without a home because the world has changed (and in that it’s very well paired with the fiction piece from the same issue). The poem builds the situation as the narrator flees, as they arrive in a new city, as the city bows under the weight of the people displaced, as food diminishes, leaving little but guns and ammunition and hunger. The poem doesn’t actually reach the point when things would come to a boil, but it does a lovely job in doing everything else, of taking the reader up to that point and then stepping back and letting our imaginations fill in the rest. And I love the sort of lazy feel that the piece gives to the floods, to the god behind them, that this is a being so sure of itself that it doesn’t have to rush. It’s a situation where the god is using our own nature against us, is merely waiting to get its easy meal from all of this, no more than nudging things along while we, having pushed things to this point where everything is on the brink, descends into conflict. It’s a poem that breathes, that takes its time, and that delivers a memorable and creeping experience. Go check it out!