|Art by Theobald Carreras|
Despite a rather length pause between the last two issues of Mithila Review, the latest comes right on the heels of the previous, and it’s even bigger! Eep! Well, for me that means breaking it up into smaller, more managable chunks. As the issue will be releasing for free through February, I’ll be doing three parts of my review, start with two short stories and four poems. The works definitely look at loss and vulnerability, the fiction featuring women who have lost a lot already and stand to lose more, both of them willing to trade their own safety for that of those they care about. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!
“The Kiss of the Water” by Malena Salazar Maciá, translated by Toshiya Kamei (879 words)
No Spoilers: Lima is a worker in a mine, part of an oppressed group that faces harrowing conditions. She’s desperate for water, and has traveled to where provisions are sometimes buried for those in need, only to find that they’ve been destroyed by the mine’s guards. The piece follows her on her quest for water, showing how much she needs it, and just how precious something so often taken for granted can be to those without it. It looks at corruption, and cruelty, and the act of giving water and life.
Keywords: Water, Sickness, Medicine, Mines, Family
Review: The story does quick and effective work of building the setting, casting Lima as a worker in a mine where the guards aren’t exactly in charge of keeping people confined—the landscape itself does that. The lack of provisions does that. The cruelty of the guards works to accomplish the secondary mission of the mine, that walks hand in hand with the actual resources being extracted. Namely, it kills and keeps the Gentiums fed just well enough that they die slowly. And that’s really the thing, that it’s not that they get enough that they can live. They are hungry all the time, thirsty all the time, while abundance is present, while it could easily be provided for them. But it’s withheld under threat of violence, of gun and boot. But there are things that push people over the point of caring about that, and I feel that what this story does is show such a moment. The beginning seems like maybe it’s just that Lima is thirsty. That maybe what she wants is that kiss of water, its taste on her lips. But it’s not even that. It’s that she needs water, and the kiss is not a simple drink to relieve thirst, but the only hope of a person who is on the verge of death. And for me what the story shows is how corrupt this system is, how it needs death, how it’s designed to kill these people. It’s not some flaw in the system, not some oversight or mistake. It never is. Where there is such a high mortality rate the point is to kill people and not have to take responsibility for it. To be able to blame it on crime, on the moral failings of those people who are being murdered. It’s not new, and it’s carefully captured here, a wrenching and tragic look that holds perhaps a little hope. After all, one person was able to trade their life for another’s. But only this time. And there will no doubt be a next time, and who knows what will happen then. A great way to kick off the issue!
“Upshot” by Drema Deòraich (3673 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a mother living with her two daughters in a dense jungle. It’s a life that has been interrupted by terror and by war, by soldiers and running, and now, even with that calmed down or at least distant, by poachers after the birds native to the region. Birds that the narrator values and honors...and protects. Even as she manages to keep some of the birds safe by picking off poachers, though, she can’t protect herself from the illness that is gripping her, that seems to be progressing. The piece takes place in the shadow of death, loss, and in some ways extinction, the narrator’s fight one to preserve her family but also their way of life. And it makes for a bittersweet story about nature, family, and loss, and love.
Keywords: Birds, Poisons, Markets, Family, Transformations, Illness
Review: The situation that the story reveals is a bit staggering, this family surviving after war and violence have left little behind. The narrator has raised her daughters as well as she was able, to survive and thrive, to be joyous but careful. But the narrator knows that the coughing doubling her over at times is only getting worse. And despite the time she thought she had to keep her daughters from the ugliest parts of what she does, she needs to act. And I just love the relationship between the narrator and her daughters, the ways she tries to protect them like she protects the birds, the quetzals. Using poison and skill and stealth to keep poachers away, to try and hide her daughters from the perils she knows are out there. There is no safe, not while the larger systems are in place, not while war is still a thing and her life, and her children’s lives, are not valued. Not so long as the animals, the quetzals, are valued only for their parts, only for what they can be sold as. It puts things into stark terms but I don’t think unfair ones. The narrator knows the horrors that are out there, has experienced them and tried to fight them off. But the cost has always been taking risks. Maybe catching a disease because the infrastructure, the medical care and ability to rest, the support and mutual assistance, has been stripping away by war’s blade. There’s so little left, and though the narrator has been making due, it’s mostly been her daughters that she’s been prioritizing, and the bill for that is coming due. And the moment when it does is magical, tragic, and beautiful all at the same time. Because it doesn’t sugar coat or avoid the sadness or loss of the moment. But it does leave room for something like grace, a prayer answered for a woman who devoted so much of her life to being selfless and protecting others. A bit of freedom and maybe a hope that her daughters will keep her lessons alive, and maybe the future, however bleak, still holds some wonder and peace. A wonderful read!
“Social Media Manticore” by May Chong
This poem speaks to me of the way that social media can act as a sort of siren calling. A place where people can let out some of their frustration while also feeding that frustration in a terrible, amazing loop. One that feeds itself, burning hotter and hotter. And here the piece finds two lovers, one in bed and the other lingering at the computer. The situation is twisted a bit by casting the two as mythical creatures, as manticores or a manticore and a dragon or some combination like that. The speaker is pulling their reluctant lover away, trying to get them to disengage, to save some of their venom, some of their anger. And it really does ring true in many ways, the way that social media seems to offer a kind of sounding board, a way of not feeling so alone, while also being isolating, while also coming with its own slew of problems. One of the main ones being the sort of game mentality of it. Social media is always on. There are always people logged in. Which is great when you need something, when you’re in a bad way and need someone to talk to. But it’s not so good when you get the feeling that you can’t walk away, that it’s a fight and the winner is the person who lasts the longest. And for those looking, there are fights everywhere on social media. And I just like the kind of gentle way that the narrator prompts their lover to come away, to come to bed, to get some rest. Because typically, sleep is much better for the body and mind and soul than staying up on social media. As the narrator points out, the fight never ends, so it will wait. Tomorrow it will still be being waged. And I don’t know, I think the piece does a good job of showing the importance of rest and stepping away without really demonizing social media. It’s a charming piece, one about care, and it’s definitely worth checking out!
“Glimmerglimpse” by Logan Thrasher Collins
This poem captures something fleeting and beautiful, a moment between two people that seems part dream, part strange and haunting reality. At least, for me the piece seems to build up a scene that’s definitely not entire of this world. There are alien jellyfish, and colors and sensations that don’t seem to mesh with the more mundane realities of our world. But what’s “actually going on” isn’t something that the piece spends much time with. Is this some sort of recreation or game that you’re experiencing or playing? It does seem almost too perfect, too sweeping and romantic, the whole city seems to pause while you and your lover meet for what I suppose is the last time. But at the same time your lover in the poem lacks much of a back story. It’s just this moment, and if there was a past to your relationship with your lover than it doesn’t really impact what’s happening now. For me it’s more the idea of a lover, the feelings that might evoke, the strange situation where you as a reader as asked to step into this moment, this half-dream. The poem describes the last glimpse you have of your lover, but I think too the title is fitting because the poem itself deepens the layering. You are getting a glimpse of someone else getting a glimpse of their lover leaving. And because the poem exists in just that moment, without any indication there will be a sequel to it, it’s your last glimpse of that person, of the person you step into. And I just really dig the effect, that way of capturing something ephemeral but lovely, something still powerful and moving but vague and brief. And it’s haunting, the light touch before pulling away, that small taste before disappearing. It’s a quick, sharp piece, and a great read!
“Kirby; Or Everything I Needed to Know About Consumption” by Michael T. Smith
Okay I’m not sure if there is some other context to this poem but as I read it the Kirby being evoked is the pink ball video game character whose entire mechanic is that he eats. Which, I mean, it’s perfect, if perhaps a bit less...academic than this poem feels at times. But I love how the poem deals with eating, with expansion, with the drive to consume that is pushed by society and by personal forces. The piece for me looks at the idea of expansion and consumption both in terms of a inner desire to be more, to expand in influence and knowledge, and the outer drives being pushed by a society obsessed with consumption in a material sense. Both look at the desire divorced from need. This is not a consumption that is designed just to subside. It’s not about the physical requirement but rather seems to be about the desire to consume. A desire that can be manipulated in relatively simple ways (making food taste good, or like certain media and so wanting to consume them physically or commercially) or very complex ways (peer pressure, competition, role expectations, all of which can push people to feel that they should consume even in the absence of a strong desire to do, so that the desire is something more constructed and given to the consumer). And in some ways I feel like the poem plays with the impulse of consumption and the ways that there is no way to not consume and live. The first and last lines them sort of bring up this conflict, this reality, that even if a person wanted to, they couldn’t stop. So you’re left with options of what to consume, and how. The piece starts with the call to “Become the thing you c/are” and ends with “Become the thing you h/ate”, drawing a line under the way people are pushed, away from centering self on personal identity and self care and toward centering self on consumption and hate. All of that further framed by the title, which as I said evokes the video game character while also making the poem a sort of guide to consumption, axioms that the narrator is holding onto, which to me paint a rather unsettling picture of consumption, but one that definitely seeks to approach the messy and often toxic ways we as a society value and conceive of it. A fine read!
“Talking in Circles” by Holly Day
This poem takes a look at robots, and more specifically at the manufacturing robots of automobile plants. It seems to me to engage at the same time in anthropomorphizing these robots and speculating as to whether they might actually have achieved sentience. Which is an interesting thing I don’t see really discussed often, because in the cultural conversation we’ve mostly moved beyond thinking of these kinds of robots as capable of gaining sentience (kinda creepy car commercials aside). But that’s not to say that we haven’t in the past, and I think part of what the poem is facing is the ways that our anxiety about these kinds of productivity/manufacturing robots has decreased is that we’ve lost the jobs that they were replacing. While that replacement was ongoing, then the thought that they were somehow “alive” was much more prominent, and more terrifying. Now...well, the poem does a great job of capturing something almost aching in the way these robots move, the way they might communicate. In lightning. Across distance. Not in instant communication across a net. It’s almost anachronistic now, but I love the kind of elegance it lends, the limitations. It makes them less the devious and evil replacements and more the new menial labor. The mute and legion robots who can do the work better and for less. And it allows the speaker to demonstrate their power and their allure and their constant tireless existence, the reason that manufacturing jobs have shrunk, not that there’s no need, but that they are being filled by robots, who until they do develop sentience and the ability to resist, are more slaves than anything else, stuck with only their work and the fear they instill in others. It’s a strange piece, a series of thoughts that capture the feel of a mechanized manufacturing plant where it’s the robots doing most of the work while humans watch on, observing the strange dance of motion and productivity. A fine read!