|Art by Sam Guay|
“The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls” by Senaa Ahmad (4199 words)
No Spoilers: A group of young women, volunteers to a secret military program, grow up as the world around them changes, all of them living weapons and people at the same time. A great cast, a chilling premise, and a beautiful execution make the story smolder and pop. There is fear to it, a hurt and a desperation, and I love the core of the piece, which I feel is the relationships between the different women in this very small group.
Keywords: Radiation, Science!, Weapons, Illness, Test Subjects
Review: Mixing Cold War fears and real world corruptions, the piece imagines a secret military project where women are transformed into living weapons, able to be seeded in locations and act like living bombs. It’s an ability, a situation that makes these young women rather...well, damaged in some ways, though perhaps not more than their upbringings had already done. These are women who were from poor areas, who didn’t have a lot of actual choices available to them, who fell into becoming living weapons because it offered them a way out. Of course, it doesn’t really become a way out, just a way for them to be used more, the entire system forcing them down avenues that will contribute to their exploitation, to their value to other people. The piece does a wrenching job of showing how these women are left with only each other for comfort and support. And their very existences become something for the public to talk about and have opinions on, their lives boiled down to the roles that the public and their handlers want to cast them in. Until all of the roles fall away, and they are left with just each other again. I love the way the story explores each character, giving them small ways of making them distinct, and yet the narrator is something else. The narrator relates the story as “we.” So in some ways the narrator is all the women as a collective, as a group. Together, they relate their story, indivisible even as they exists as individuals as well. It’s strange and it evokes such a great effect. In the end, there is the tragedy of their situation, the trauma of their lives, and the defiance of their joys and compassion. A fantastic read!
“The Book of Dreams” by Maya C. James
This poem examines hurt and movement and the way both that communities reject those refugees who might happen by, and also how communities push their own guilt above the pain and damage they do to these more vulnerable people and peoples. The story does a great job of building up this situation from the point of view of the people who have the opportunity to accept these people and help them heal but, well, don’t. Which shows just how much effort it is to remain hateful of these people who have been victims of circumstance and violence. They have fled, but are not emptyhanded. They have gathered what they can, and they come hoping to trade, to belong. They come because they themselves are valuable, but hate has made it so they could not stay in their home. And yet the narrator of this poem, though they recognize this value, though they know that these people have come offering things, also knows that how people react is with fear. Is by wanting to remain separate, “pure.” And this idea of purity is toxic, because it leads the narrator’s people to violence, to try and force these people who were hoping for respite to flee again. And it’s a gutting look at how communities that have already lost are made to lose more. What these people were able to save, what they hoped would help them settle, are taken from them. It’s a picture of how those with less are targeted, so that they have to chose between losing everything or risking everything. It’s difficult but it also speaks to this way that people can feel bad for refugees but also refuse to help them. That they can think that whatever forced them out of their homes was maybe “wrong,” but that it doesn’t mean they should be understood, or approached with compassion. And the ending. Well, it’s a damning moment of cold cruelty, and it makes for a captivating and complex experience. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!
“Fragile Ecosystems” by Somendra Singh Kharola
This piece for me speaks to populations and experiences that are vulnerable, framed through observing a line of ants moving the colony. It’s a poem that for me seems to address diaspora and being a refugee, hoping to find peace and security, water and fertile land, and yet existing in this moment in the movement, in the time and place between homes. Which I feel echoes or captures the sentiment of the title. That the fragile ecosystem might refer to the place the ants are moving away from, or are moving toward, but most of all it refers to the place they are at the moment, when they’re at their most vulnerable, most fragile—while they’re on the move. The poem draws this parallel to immigration, to having to leave a place because of scarcity or violence or contamination, and travel without guarantee of finding a better home. There’s a sense of hope that permeates the piece, the football held by a child, the dream of a bright, green place to play and grow. And I get the sense that the hope is tempered by the realities of the world, the grim backdrop to this movement, this exile. And the language used to describe the road forward, this green hope, is “hole in the wall,” the imagery for me implying...less than ideal accommodations, which seems to wonder at what point this home will become dry as well, and the ants will have to pick up again. It’s a yearning piece about movement and vulnerability, hope and birth. The emphasis on the eggs, the future generations, is strong, as well as the question of what they will have to endure and live through. It’s a difficult and rather short poem, dense as a brick and just as hitting. A great read you should definitely check out!