“Give Me, I Give Thee” by C.A. Schaefer ( words)
No Spoilers: In the world of the story, girls/women create either gems or reptiles/amphibians when they speak. Producing gems is seen as virtuous, as reflecting moral righteousness, and gets you labeled a diamond. Producing reptiles/amphibians is seen as sinful, a reason to enter a convent, and gets you labeled a toad. This systems stacks the game against women of either sort, applying a judgment to something that no one has any control over. The narrator, though, has managed to find happiness despite it, with her wife and a cottage that’s not quite in the woods, and a joy in cooking and eating that stands opposed to the expectation that women just be chaste and hungry. There’s a lurking danger, though, that looms as a shadow of their lives, and the world at large, and makes for a balanced and rewarding read.
Keywords: Jewels, Speaking, Reptiles, Queer MC, Murder
Review: This is something of a haunting read, showcasing a queer relationship that is beautiful but balanced on a razor’s edge because of the looming violence and the weight of all the expectation of grief, tragedy, and death. The narrator is a woman who has largely escaped from the pressures she grew up struggling under, the hunger that she was supposed to suppress and repress. She’s queer, and living with her wife, and defiant in the face of those who expect her and want her to be a toad. But she also rejects the moral lines that would have her be saint while her wife is a sinner. She shows the artificial and bullshit nature of these distinctions, the ways that all women are hurt by them, not just those who get cast out as toads but those who are diamonds as well, because even they are judged, and even they are subject to the same objectification that makes their murder a grisly spectacle. There’s a lot going on here and the prose is heavy, aching, and amazing. It conveys the feeling of having to navigate a world that is hostile, that has been made hostile, that carries this strange and sometimes wondrous magic that people have built a whole mythology around. A mythology of biology that keeps women shackled to impossible standards and asks them always to sacrifice to be valued, but doesn’t make that value actually...useful. Or protective. Or...anything. It’s a lie that the narrator and her wife live somewhat outside of but can’t wholly escape, because it’s the world, and as much as they hate it, they need to interact with it to live. It’s a story that leaves a mark, a would that might slowly fade in time, that might scar or not, depending on the reader. It’s amazing, though, and so very much worth spending some time with. A fantastic read!
“The Book of Revelation, Appendix A” by Quinn Lui ( words)
No Spoilers: This story is framed as a series of correspondences—letters, voice mails, texts, telegraph, binary, etc., between two beings who keep coming back, time and again, until the end of the world. And yet there is an absence to the piece, a longing, a loneliness. Slowly the shape and the certainty of the piece solidifies, and as it does the connections to the title are made clear. Throughout, though, it’s a rather aching piece building to a lovely and bittersweet conclusion. There are elements of religion here, but from the day’s names the piece seems to mix things up a bit, not settling on a wholly Christian mythology but rather pulling from the larger ideas of the end of the world, and the beings who might be present for it.
Keywords: Correspondence, Hunger, Loneliness, Apocalypses, Dancing
Review: I like the idea that the horsemen of the apocalypse are not beings who arrive solely at the end of the world, but rather that they are eternal, that they are present through history, through all the varying ends of the worlds, ends of different civilizations, their methods of communication changing as time and technology progress. And that here the narrator, the author of most of these correspondences, is yearning in many ways for a chance for all four of them to come together again. Which never works out well for humanity, perhaps, but which for them carries a certain beauty and grace. The piece mentions War and Conquest being locked in a kind of dance, and for me there’s a terrible beauty there, and for the narrator too it seems this thing that they both want and fear. The end of the world for them is a time of devastation but also where they finally get to belong and be with those that they are linked to. It’s strange and interesting that throughout the piece they seem to be chasing Death, trying to find their errant partner, and trying through it all how not to hunger for them, for the ends they author, even as they’re not entirely successful. It’s a piece that brings its own twist to the idea of the revelations, not as a single cataclysm but as a process of perpetual beginning and endings, a dance where the music must change but the partners continue on. The narrator has tried to change things in the past, out of frustration or boredom, but in the end of ends they are still where they were always, moving through the steps of a dance that is also a home. Another great read!
“Beauty, Sleeping” by Lynne Sargent
This poem keeps with the themes of the issue, dealing with the weight of expectations and the cycles of oppression and violence that often trap people (and especially women) in situations where they must constantly strive to satisfy standards that aren’t fair or possible. As the title of the piece implies, it takes on the tropes of fairy tales and the plot of Sleeping Beauty specifically, following the characters after the end of that story and making the second person “you” the sleeping beauty herself, who even after surviving her own evil stepmother now must face her mother-in-law, who is her own kind of charming (sarcasm!). And for me the piece really shows how it’s often other women who are the strictest gatekeepers of femininity, who are the strongest in upholding the traditions and opinions that lead women to never be good enough. To always have to try and prove their worth and their value when there is no good enough anyway. You are put in a situation where you want to help, where you want to get onto her good side, but the closest you get is constantly tired, exhausted, and penalized even for that, as if there is a way that you could do everything and still be cheery and happy and unburdened. It’s a rather deep and wrenching read, for all that it’s fairly short as well. And it’s a rather bleak take on the fate of this fairy tale character, one where her happily ever after is spent chasing an unattainable acceptance from a woman who is determined to blame her for the inequities of her own life, for the pain that this mother-in-law feels having been reduced to the role of mother and then having to give away the person who was supposed to define her life. It’s a complex experience, but a wonderful subversion of tropes and exploration of gender roles and expectations. A wonderful read!
“Dream Circles” by Amanda Wan
Probably it’s not too surprising that a poem with the word “dream” in the title would be surreal and strange, luminous and reaching. For me it speaks to a sort of unresolved looping, a person grasping with the feeling of something undone, perhaps never able to be done, because of some loss, some distance, or some time. The narrator of the piece speaks to someone they are trying reach, who in this dream they are walking toward after having gathered up shells along a beach, carrying these unbroken records of their journey in the hopes of...well, it’s a bit unclear. For me it seems like to show this “you” the shells, not just as proof that they have gone and done this thing but also as a way of sharing something important, that they saved these shells that have otherwise been shattered, that they carry something whole that might no longer exist. And the piece evokes and deals with cycles, with a repeating pattern of dreams, which to me speaks to this persistent desire and need to do something, to meet with this person who might not be around anymore, who might be beyond reach. Instead what remains is the desire and the replay of this metaphorical exchange, over and over again. And yet at the same time I feel that the dream itself, the cycle itself, is a kind of meeting, that as long as the narrator lives through this dream, they are in essence having some sort of contact with you, and feel that there is a communication of sorts going on. It’s interesting and a melancholy for me but also lovely and does a great job of capturing the feel of a dream, the way that it borders making sense and just existing in a sort of random way. Here the weight of it for me makes it feel like a deep well that we as readers are only skimming the water of, and I love that feeling of depth I get from reading it. Definitely a poem to spend some time with!