“The Domovoi” by Avra Margariti (6509 words)
No Spoilers: Yevgeniya is a maid brought over from Russia to serve in a wealthy American household. And she hasn’t really come alone. A Domovoi has come as well, a creature who inhabits homes, who watches over kin, so long as their people of the house pay the proper respects. It is Yevgeniya’s only friend, helping her to feel less lonely in the large, mostly empty house. There’s something sinister going on, though, something that has nothing to do with the Domovoi and everything to do with why a rich American family would be getting maids from all the way in Russia. It’s an unsettling piece at times, difficult and painful, but also full of a resilient power of protection and healing.
Keywords: Immigration, Maids, Bargains, CW- Pregnancy, CW- Rape(?), Queer MC(?)
Review: This is a rather difficult story with its subject matter, placing Yevgeniya in a rather Gothic situation. Alone in a giant house with a lady who might be a bit unstable, with an old woman who knows exactly what’s in store but won’t raise a word of warning. With a master who is mostly absent but who represents something brutal and powerful. And with a force in the house capable of good and mischief, who Yevgeniya wants to trust but also wants to be wrong. Because when the lady of the house seems to befriend her, seems to want good things for her, Yevgeniya finds herself seduced in a way. Because it seems like a way out of the isolation and loneliness, because it seems like it’s the answer to all of her problems. Because it seems to promise so much. And yet she’s been manipulated and put into this situation just so that it would seem that way. Just so that she would be vulnerable. And the Domovoi seems to know and understand that, and offers her an alternative. A way out. A sort of protection, though it’s not quite the magical assurances that seem more common in American translated fairy tales. It’s one that Yevgeniya buys herself with her own courage and resolve. With her own efforts. A door is opened for her, but it’s her that walks through and into the winter, risking everything for a chance to build a situation for herself where she has kin and a place to really call home. Again, it’s a story that deals with some heavy and grim themes and content, but it does it in a way that recognizes the horror of the situation that Yevgeniya is in and offers her a way out. It’s definitely a story to spend some time with. A great read!
“The Devil Buys Us Cheap and the Devil Buys in Bulk” by M. Bennardo (10152 words)
No Spoilers: Carita is a single mother of two boys and works at a check cashing place, a step down from her job as a bank teller, though it ends up being for the same corporate bosses. She struggles, but gets by, and puts her faith in god and herself as she tries to build something better for herself and her family. Until she finds a hundred dollar bill on top of her jewelry box. Money that has no explanation and that she seems able to spend, guilt free. Only guilt is a complex thing, and as the story moves it explores how guilt can operate, and how even in, and perhaps especially in, corrupt systems, it’s vital to know where your money is coming from.
Keywords: Money, Employment, Famility, The Devil, Capitalism
Review: I love how this story takes on capitalism and the fraught nature of money. It might seem simple to dismiss Carita’s fears as religious, as being grounded in a sense of guilt that’s not rational or warranted. That what’s she’s doing is internalizing a lie that says that she doesn’t deserve to be safe or comfortable. But I really don’t think that the story leans in that direction, and I certainly don’t think that Carita’s faith is supposed to make her some sort of fool for turning down free money, regardless of how much she thinks and talks of the literal devil stalking her and her family. The thing is, I think she’s basically right. It’s just that she can see the ways in which the system in which we operate (capitalism) is at direct and irreconcilable odds with her faith, and indeed in many ways with being a decent person. It’s that she hasn’t bought the ways that religions have made allowances for capitalism and co-opted so much of it into their practices without really examining how that all is directly contradicted by their religious texts. The priest in the story laughs at the idea of usury being a sin, and yet Carita knows first hand just how awful it is. Just what it _means_. She knows, and the way that people prefer ignorance over knowledge speaks not to their faith but to their corruption, and their unwillingness to examine the hand that seems to be giving them something for nothing. I really like how Carita cuts through those sorts of justifications and puts it in simple terms--your money comes from somewhere and is probably based on exploitation, at the very least your own but probably other people’s as well. And that by obscuring that, it only makes it easier for those exploiting the most to grow their efforts. It’s a strange and wonderful story that you should definitely check out!
“No Folly of the Beast” by Wren Wallis (3614 words)
No Spoilers: A chance meeting between two women in the Ivory City leads to a strange friendship for Ratri, a woman on a mission of revenge against the sea-devil that killed her mother and unborn child, and Shrike, who is the last surviving member of her clan left driftless in her loss. Despite the randomness of their encounter, the two seem to see something in each other, and Ratri offers to get Shrike a job on the whaling ship she works on. It’s an arrangement that works for everyone, at least until Ratri’s mission comes to something of a dramatic head. It’s a story that swirls around grief and loss, guilt and revenge, and it’s action-packed as well as thoughtful and, ultimately, joyous.
Keywords: Whales, Seas, Sight, Ghosts, Grief, Revenge, CW- Loss of Pregnancy
Review: This story show the different approaches people can take to grief...and revenge. Ratri is on the hunt for the creature who killed her mother. Not that Shrike’s loss is any less--her entire clan--but she doesn’t go seeking the death of the person responsible. I love the exchange where Shrike lays out why it doesn’t make sense to her, why living for vengeance is a mistake, because of how it holds onto the dead, how it prevents them from moving on, and prevents the living from doing just that, standing like a wall between the bereaved and joy. And the world building and character work are otherwise rather great, revealing a world that has some intense shadows, where people seem to be losing ground to the various dangers around them. Monsters that are pushing back against human attempts to expand and spread. I love that Shrike and Ratri are both incredibly practical and competent, how both are touched by something magical, and how they have this friendship that grows and deepens as the story progresses. To the point that it’s Shrike who pulls Ratri back from the brink when she finally catches up with her revenge and...things don’t exactly go to plan. The piece is tense and would be bleak if not for the way the characters draw together and help each other. The setting itself is hungry, full of sharp edges, so that any weakness is exploited mercilessly. But it also shows that trust and joy are not weaknesses, and that not every story has to end badly. Plus there’s some amazing action and a truly awesome sea beast, so, you know, bonus! A fantastic and exhilarating read!
“Threads of Honor” by Phoebe Low
For me this is a slight haunting poem about family, about fathers, and about immortality. The narrator is the child of this man who seems to have great expectations for them. That they somehow make up for the things that he didn’t do. For the life he wanted but didn’t have. And so his presence is something of a constant, a statue, a stone wall. It confines and it seems eternal not because of the things he has done but because of the things he hasn’t. It speaks to a probably messy relationship between the two, where the narrator details their link to their father as different from most. Not grateful, exactly. And not afraid. But there seems to be some trauma and perhaps even some abuse here that muddy the water, that make for something that doesn’t really resemble a “normal” father-child dynamic. Because for the child this immortality of the father doesn’t necessarily seem like a good thing. This lack of fear about the father’s death isn’t necessarily a lack of fear. Just that it’s not about the father dying. The father here seems to have cemented himself far too thoroughly for the narrator to really believe that death would release them from his influence. And so he’s achieved a kind of immortality, and even perhaps the kind that he wanted, trying to shape his child into an extension of himself rather than as their own person. For me it carries with it this dissonance because it sees how other people feel about their fathers and it recognizes the distance between that and where the narrator is. So not only do they have this heavy relationship but they are also isolated by it, unsure of what to do with it because they lack the proper examples and framework to process everything. It’s a complex and interesting piece, careful and personal and well worth delving into. A fine read!
“Steel Dust” & “Soothsayer Blues” by Qurat Dar
In the first poem, “Steel Dust,” a narrator takes in a landscape that has borne the touch of humanity for a very long time. And that has been in some ways changed and shaped by that human touch, but in other ways which was changed and shaped humanity. And for me the piece has a lot to do with the idea of time, of tradition, and most importantly of place. Because this story for me is very much abotu the place as the narrator sees it, a place that persists despite humanity’s attempts to tame it, to mark it with their civilization. None of those marks end up being indelible, though, none of them permanent. It’s the land that remains, the land and the heat and the dust that remain, regardless of how people try to banish them or paint over them or filter them. And I think the poem recognizes the kind of insecurity the personality of the land, the permanence of the land, provokes in people. So that they are always busy, always growing, trying to cram in as much humanity into the space as possible as if through that they can make a statement that they are here, that they will not be moved. That they will last. But in a place that has known such change, such conflict. human marks are over washed away. Wiped clean, leaving stone and the odd traces of what went before but not the vibrant human constructs that were supposed to last forever. For me, at least, the title seems to imply that it’s never going to be the human elements that last. That always the dust will creep back and claim what it can, what it will. And so it becomes a part of the collective unconscious, the collective anxiety, the place a kind of looming power always ready to start again, to witness the death and rebirth of cities, of empires. Always there, through every attempt to supplant it. Dogging humanity’s footsteps, waiting for the next fall, and the next. It’s a bit haunting, but a great read!
The second poem is a stark turn from the first, concentrating on the damage that humans do to the planet and to each other. And yes, there is also a sense of place here, of a whole planet damaged by greed and corruption, and whole weather patterns broken and beyond fixing. The idea of a climate refugee is not a new one, but what that looks like will be evolving as disasters brought about by climate change cause people to seek out pockets of relative safety. But the piece doesn’t feel to me as much about place and permanence as the last poem, and instead focuses on people. On the injustices and the inequalities. On the ways that climate change is pushed by profit, get going through profit, through exploitation. And how the wealthy and powerful just keep on pushing because they can isolate themselves from the greatest impacts of the changes. Indeed, because they can further profit from those changes, authoring the devastation that they can then pretend to try and fix through products they can sell to those less wealthy to mitigate some of those changes. Masks to filter air and bottled water and more and more electricity to cool or heat or provide for people being unable to go outside, unable to face the world. It’s a sharp piece, and for me feels more angry than the last, more bitter, more wanting to throw a brick through the glass walls behind which the wealthy watch the destruction they create while sipping expensive beverages. And for me it captures just what there is to be angry about, and how frustrated and at times impotent that anger is, because those without power often face the prospect of compliance or death. There is no middle ground, and survival is to be tied more and more into the mechanisms of exploitation, to be chained to the sinking ship of capitalism. A wonderful read!
“tetrahedral edifices of a sticky rice realm” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires
This is a rather long poem that for me seems to follow someone stepping through a kind of portal and finding themself in a place of story, metaphor, food, and death. And for me the piece has a feel that the narrator is coming from a place of exhaustion and erasure. That they have fought in their life to push back against injustice, that they have been a voice against oppression, and yet they find themself worn out and worn down, afraid that their efforts have come to nothing, that they have wasted their life. They are feelings that probably most people struggling for change against systemic issues feels, because so often real change seems impossible, and that the fight never seems to really make progress. In the face of that, the struggle can seem futile, pointless. Especially when that struggle happens in a sort of isolated way, waged through art or other less physical means. Because still people die. Still corruption spreads and those who author murder and privation end up being insulated from accountability or justice. And I’m probably missing some of the context of the piece, as it seems to work in some older legends, a story of a person thrown into a river. They feel similarly, like they’ve been tossed into the dark waters where there waits a host of things to bite at them, to take pieces of them until nothing is left. That is, if they had no support. As it is, though, the piece shows that the narrator, feeling complete destruction, is saved by having a sort of safety net. A support network. People willing to stand up for them, to toss their treats into the waters to divert the fish and allow the narrator to pass back through into the world, to be reinvigorated by the trial and ready as always to push forward, to fight for what they know is right. It’s a lovely and inspiring poem that I feel captures a lot of what it’s like to be a person wanting to do good and terrified and anxious about doing enough, of becoming a target, and coming through all of that to a place where they can keep on working. A wonderful poem!