|Art by Lorna Antoniazzi
A new Augur is out! And while I would normally break up the issue into two parts to spread out my reviews, I don’t want to push off 2019 reviews deeper into 2020. So I’m just looking at the whole thing today (and then taking tomorrow off)! And it is a dense and at times harrowing read, full of hurt and hope, beauty and pain. It features people trying to make sense of grief, and loss, trying to figure out where they went wrong, even when there was no way they could have done better. The stories loop around relationships, around characters trying to connect to one another and finding that at times an impossible task. But sometimes managing it all the same. It’s a wonderful issue, and a great way to cap off my 2019 reviews, so let’s get right to it!
“Katabasis” by Catherine George ( words)
No Spoilers: Hannah and Dave have moved all around, from a point of origin without many prospects and a lot of bad memories on and on and on until they’ve come to an island where Dave works on a ferry and Hannah at a co-op. An island where Hannah, at least, is starting to feel a connection, a sense that maybe this could be home. When their dog finds a boot with a foot still inside, though, it kicks off a series of events that will test Dave and Hannah’s relationship, and might just break it entirely. The piece explores the space of the island that they’ve come to live on, the strangeness and the magic, as well as showing the kind of co-dependent relationship that Dave and Hannah have, and how it’s effecting both of them.
Keywords: Moving, Seas, Crabs, Relationships
Review: I do rather love how the story shows this relationship, which is deeply flawed but also just about everything these characters have. They have each other, have only had each other as they’ve moved and moved, seeking...something. Something better, some sense of belonging. For Hannah, a place where she can escape her past and maybe find a community. For Dave, maybe a place where he can feel important, can feel in control enough to get control over himself. And unfortunately for their relationship, this latest home seems exactly what Hannah needs, while revealing that Dave might be making up for not feeling in control of his own life by trying to control Hannah’s. The result is a relationship that is rotten, that isn’t really working for either of them. And Hannah can feel it, and despite it breaking her heart she knows she has to stay, because she can breathe here, because there is space and magic here that allow her to heal. And no matter how much she wishes that Dave could feel it too, I like that it’s not necessary. That, ultimately, what she finds here is the space to stop being afraid of being alone. Because there will still be people who care about her, a support network, and also a sort of beautiful magic that just feels right. The speculative touches here are light, but I feel they show this subtle shift that for Hannah has these profound implications and impacts, and it’s a slow and purposeful story of a relationship ending, and something else beginning. A great read!
“Remembrance of Worlds Past” by Andrew Wilmot ( words)
No Spoilers: This story focuses on the relationship of two people—the narrator, Stace, and their partner Ariel—as they deal not only with a terminal illness, but an approaching phantom planet that is on a collision course with Earth. Both things seem huge but intangible, shattering and haunting but dominated first and most by the need to wait. And the story is full of grief and longing, the narrator dealing with their partner having this illness, with their planet trying to brace for an impact that won’t exactly happen, if the other planets this phantom orphan has passed through are anything to go by. And for all the weightless nature of both the illness and the planet, it is a heavy story, with sorrow and with trying to make sense out of something that offers no explanations or justifications.
Keywords: CW- Terminal Illness, Planets, Ghosts, Relationships, Religion
Review: I do really like how the story parallels this enormous phantom planet with terminal illness, casting Ariel’s condition as something so huge, so unfathomable to the narrator, and something that can’t be avoided, that can’t be hidden from or fought against. It’s mysterious, and in response to it so many people have such varied reactions. Some seek out religion, try to wrap it up in some semblance of the divine in order to make it less frightening. Like people experiencing a terminal illness or those, like the narrator, touched by them, there is an impulse to want to put everything into a narrative that gives it meaning and intention, that makes it a gateway into something else, into an afterlife, into a promise. Anything to avoid thinking of it as an ending. And yet Ariel herself approaches it much differently, not with a desire to avoid but with a kind of acceptance that can seem almost cold, almost like surrender. At least that’s how I feel the narrator comes to see it in some ways, despite there being nothing to be done, despite acceptance being essentially the healthiest way of meeting something like this. And I feel that’s how they are able to then meet the phantom planet when it finally arrives, not by giving into the religious pressure but by merely accepting that it’s happening. It allows them to face something that humans by and large don’t like to think about or confront. Death. And it is death that the planet brings—the memory of death and the ghosts of all these beings who were destroyed in some way, whose ghosts were set wandering the universe without a discernible cause or reason. And it prompts people either to look for meaning there, either to try and wrap it in a narrative that is comfortable, or to just face it without trying to apply those layers, seeing that it’s death, and that sometimes there is no fighting it, no escaping it. Sometimes there is just the chill of it sweeping over you, the weight of it, and then the lightness. And it’s a stunning and powerful read!
“paper, incense, need” by Sharon Hsu ( words)
No Spoilers: Told in the second person, you are dead. Dead but not quite forgotten when you’re pulled across the ocean to America where one of your brother’s children is in great need and is performing a ritual to beseech aid from her ancestors. You become a spirit, a ghost, and through the years you try to help your family even as they lose the connections back to you, at which point you have to decide how to continue, as nothing more than a haunt, or as a guardian and guide for a family much bigger than the one you had in life. For me it’s a story about change, and community, and the need for protection and assistance.
Keywords: Family, Ghosts, Immigration, Prayers, Dreams, Language, CW- Pregnancy/Abortion
Review: The title of the piece evokes the things necessary to summon your spirit, to pull you across the ocean and enlist your help in a dire problem. It’s something you do without judgment, something you want to do, and it begins your guardianship of a family that isn’t exactly yours by blood, but that you still feel a connection to. You help, and help, and I love the way the story shows that you help despite the way that help erodes the more magical connections between you and this family, because with increasing affluence they are forgetting the rituals and the language that link them to you. They are assimilating in ways that you cannot, and I love that the story maintains that it doesn’t mean you are superfluous or obsolete. The need, that last part of the equation, is always there, and even without the other two elements it’s the need that anchors you to the world, that reminds you that there’s still work to do, still people in need of help. And even as the connections of family seem to break and dissolve, it’s only to reveal that those connections spread wider than just one branch of a family. You come to see that all the people who share in part of your culture, your history, are a family, and you do your best for them. It’s a rather heartwarming story in that, even though it’s also kind of a story about loss and change. The specifics of your culture seem to be consumed by America and its melting pot, and yet despite the pressures to conform and forget the past, the history that binds you to the people in this new world is kept alive, in part through your efforts, so that even as things change, you are along for the ride, maintaining the link through people still remembering the stories and learning the language and, most of all, still needing ancestors to watch over them. A short but wonderful read!
“Monstrous Attractions” by Cindy Phan ( words)
No Spoilers: Bianca has fled to the small towns of Prosperity and Abundance to take a job as a “wrangler” following her breakup with longtime partner Tanna. The job...isn’t exactly what she had expected, but it does give her a chance to introspect and examine her choices and the trajectory of her relationships. It’s a story with a lot of space, that balances memories and a kind of nostalgia with the terror and possibility of newness. And it traces the wounds left behind in the wake of attraction and heartbreak. And it’s a strange story full of larger-than-life beings reaching out, looking for freedom and understand and maybe love.
Keywords: Attractions, Mascots, Statues, Queer MC, Breakups
Review: This is something of a bizarre story, seeing as how it features rest stop mascots trying to break free of their restraints and be with each other. And a giant golf ball and a giant bean make for an...interesting pairing, especially when they leave a sort of devastation in their wake. The locals have empowered the wranglers to try and dissuade this congress, and to keep the statues, the personalities, in their place. And really the story explores in aching detail the ways that people build identities around objects, and the comfort that can bring, but also the danger there is of those things becoming part of a type of imprisonment. For the towns and the objects themselves. For a relationship that needs to break the careful lines these towns have drawn around themselves. It echoes in the ways that Bianca held to artifacts from her past, giving more and more meaning and power to objects that, for her partner, were merely objects. But for Bianca they were connections to the past, connections to who she was, and so were far more loaded that just objects. At the same time, though, they became bars on the cage she made in trying to capture herself in amber. Because growing and moving forward felt too much like a crime, a betrayal of the people who knew her and helped her to grow in the first place. And she mistook honoring the past and people in it with a guilt for “leaving them behind.” And it takes her a while to see that what she needs isn’t to remain tied to the past. The towns need to deal with the loss of their rest stop attractions. They have to learn to build an identity that is new, that will maybe help them adapt to the realities of now. And for me it really gets at how sometimes you need to let things go. In order to build something new, something that can be a home instead of a cage. And sometimes that realization comes too late, but sometimes it doesn’t. And it’s a yearning and complex story of love and identity, freedom and exploration. And it’s a lovely way to close out the issue!
“Garage Sale” by Wai Au
No Spoilers: The story features two people going to a series of garage sales because one, the driver, wants a new bookshelf. The second person seems mostly along for the ride, something made a bit more complicated by the fact that they’re a medium—they can see and experience events and emotions connected with items they touch. At garage sales, this ability leads to some rather loaded moments, what with having to navigate the curiosity and urge to touch things and the kind of creepiness and unpleasant things that they might discover. The piece is short and fun, a slice of life with some deeper implications, and it’s just super cute throughout!
Keywords: Garage Sales, Toys, Mediums, Memories, Queer MC(?)
Review: Okay so I’m really interested in the idea of mediums and how people play with that. Also I know I put a question mark above by the queer MC keyword because I don’t like to assume gender in graphic works and there’s even less when it comes to pronouns or whatever but this reads very very queer to me, these two people having this sort of easy relationship. Perhaps romantic, sexual, plutonic—however it expresses itself, I love the way the passenger and the driver just sort of bounce off each other. It doesn’t seem like the oldest of relationships. The driver kind of ignores a lot of what the passenger says, and yet there is something about that and about everything else that speaks volumes, that sort of builds up this dynamic and especially the character of the passenger. Someone who is able to experience memories and see people’s secrets, their pasts, and yet is still so bubbly, so fucking cute. Seriously they are a cinnamon roll and I love them and I want their further adventures, while I also want to know more about their relationship and if it’s all that great, or if there’s more here going on. The piece does an amazing job of capturing the moment, the slice of life, while also introducing this speculative idea that’s really neat and tinged with darkness but used here for something bright and fun, something happy and joyous. And it’s a refreshing read, especially after the last story, a breath before diving back into what new depths the issue has to offer. A wonderful read!
“Construction Project as a Ghost Story” by Quinn Lui
This poem speaks to me of identity and conflict, of growing up around expectations, feeling the weight of what people want you to be, and learning how to cope with that. But not, let’s say, how to cope well, or in a way that doesn’t also leave you raw, or raging, or emptied out, or drowning. The house and the storm that are central to the piece seem to me to be the conflict between self and world and the way of containing that. So that building a house around a story feels like putting a mask over something powerful and primal, something that the person is struggling to express and embody, in order to seem put together and neat. In order to hide the storm that other people so obviously don’t want to see. But it leaves something behind. It not only doesn’t calm the storm or deal with it, but it also creates a kind of haunting, so that the house is never settled, never safe. It leaves a loss, and that’s perhaps the part that I respond to the most, as someone who spent a lot of time in denial over my queerness, that pretending to be something you’re not is a loss, a loss of all the things you might have done or lived if you were able to be honest and authentic. And instead there are only the ghosts of what might have been, who you might have been when you were so busy pretending, when you were trying so hard to fit into the row of neatly maintained houses. And the poem is full of hurt and longing, the desire to heal something that really can’t be healed. But it can be recognized, and it can be used to question and to challenge those who would pressure people to build a house around a storm. It’s a bracing and complex and fantastic read!
“Noun Torture Verb Break Broke Broken” by Kamila Rina
This is a strange and rather harrowing poem for me, ripe with imagery of breaking, of being hurt. The title beautifully and rather brutally carries across this sense of distance and dispassionate deconstruction while the meat of the poem dives into the image of a cup, of a body, being worked over. Being hurt. The narrator is experiencing but also remembering, is related what has happened while seeming to simultaneously be inhabiting what happened. Tense is being played with well throughout, once more tied back to the title with its break broke broken, categorizing and mapping what happens to the narrator as they are tortured. The precise actions aren’t exactly described in grizzly detail, but enough is given to paint a picture. For me at least information becomes worms, becomes wires. Becomes things that the “they” of the poem, that the torturers, are trying to extract. That they do extract. What’s not entirely known, and what might not be important at all, is what that information is, is what the reason for this extraction is. And really for me that’s not the point because it implies that there might be a reason for torture. A justification. When really that part doesn’t matter. What matters is how the narrator is treated, the pain and the transformation they go through. From whole to...not. And it’s that transformation that the piece really gets across in aching and electric detail. It’s not a comfortable piece and doesn’t seem meant to be one. Instead it confronts the reader with this horror, with this injury, and relates the lost feeling that comes after. Where the damage doesn’t end when the torture stops, because the torture is about breaking, which is something much more profound than just hurting, then bending or stressing. And it’s a visceral, difficult read that is still very much worth spending some time with. Indeed!
“Theories on Gods” by Jason B. Crawford
This poem speaks to me of the ways that people assign meaning and value to things based on an often imperfect and often unjust interpretation of the world around them and their own place within it. It’s a piece that deals with divinity and the many interpretations of the natural world and its cycles, each one giving rise to a different idea of what the divine is and what it should be. Which, in turn, speaks to how people respond to the oppression and hate that they experience in their lives. They are left in the place of having to interpret why everything seems so hard, why everything seems so sharp and out to get them. Their world is one where the narrative that they are told is that they are hated because there is something bad about them. Their skin is too black, their identity or attractions too queer. They are too sensitive, too different, too not normal. When really normal is just an interpretation of the natural world that has become codified and weaponized into carving out a place of power for the dominant. And those who fall outside are made to feel worthless because that’s how they’re treated. Which is a natural enough assumption when one can’t see past the artificial lines that have been imposed over the world. If one can’t shake free the false gods that people build to reinforce the version of the world that gives them the most power. It’s a poem that’s deeply tragic for me, because it speaks to the ways that those theories on gods, that those visions of the divine, eat people alive. Cut them open. Leave them without an untainted lens through which to see themselves. To see that they are beautiful, that normal is a lie people tell to justify their own corruption and hate. And it’s a wonderful and wrenching read that you should definitely check out!