|Art by John Glover|
So Mithila Review seems to be back on a much more regular basis, and the latest issue is out now in its entirety, in part because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. There’s a lot of content, and there’s no way I’m getting to it all in one go, especially with it dropping on the last day of what was a very busy month. To cut myself a bit of slack, I’m only looking at one story and two poem today, and will stretch the rest of the issue between two more posts to come throughout April and May. For now, the story and poems are wonderful and push the boundaries of form and meaning. There’s a lot of good stuff to get to, so let’s dive right in!
“Mid-Term Ecolit Examination Paper” by Priya Sarukkai Chabria (693 words)
No Spoilers: Framed as an exam for a class taken in the future covering “ecolit,” this story brings a novel and interesting structure to speculating on the trajectory of climate change and crisis. There isn’t exactly a narrative to the piece but at the same time it does a great job of revealing what the future might be like through the lens of this exam. More, the future is revealed in questions, in possibilities, because the reader isn’t given the answer key, because we don’t get to see a graded assessment. So the future exists in shades and possibilities, perhaps poking the reader with the knowledge that how dire the future gets depends in large part on what we do right now, and how far we’re willing to go to avoid the worst of it.
Keywords: Exams, Climate Change, Poetry, Language, Academia
Review: I do love stories that push the boundaries of what form and format can work and still be a viable story. In some ways the piece is more poetry than prose, but it still works very well as a work of fiction, with such depth that is built around what is being asked, what is being tested, and why. The piece is almost entirely implication, the exam an artifact that has fallen out of time and wound up in our hands in the past, leaving us to try and piece together what exactly the future is like. Things don’t necessarily seem that great, though there are still classes on things like “ecolit,” so there is a sense to me at least that the world isn’t completely fucked. It’s a sentiment that gets captured in the ending, too, where the object is to explain why a complete “climate breakdown” can still be reversed. There is no option to say that it cannot, and so for me the ending definitely has a bit of hope to it, though it’s hope mingled with some deep shadows. And I love how the true/false section sets so much up that could be true and could be false to the point that we’re not sure what has been lost. How many are dead? How damaged is the environment? What species and habitats have been lost, and what maybe has been regained? The question of how much hope to have is down to the reader, and that’s where the story really shines, because it does that so well, places all this power in the hands of the reader, so that we’re the one taking the test but in many ways we’re in charge of the grading as well, ablel to decide what’s right and wrong. The only catch is that such power doesn’t come free. It comes with the responsibility to act, because not doing anything will ensure that the worst options turn out to be true. It’s only through working toward the best options that we can maybe reach there, only by studying up and approaching the climate crisis like a test, one where failure means the destruction of the world. A great read!
“Rose Glasses over Mercury Mirrors” by Lynne Sargent
This poem works with fairy tales and particularly with Snow White, focusing not on that titular character but on the “evil queen” whose gazing into a magic mirror is the heart of the violence of the tale. And I really like how the poem reframes the character, making her something other than a wicked woman, vain and greedy. Or, at least, it spreads a bit of the blame for how she is, because her relationship is shallow, because she’s not appreciated by her partner. And I really like the way the poem sets that up, the affirming and sensual way that it builds the ways that her man might have made sure that she knew that she was valued, that to him she was the fairest, without having to turn to a mirror. The turn from that is tragic and rather dark, full of all of these implications and carrying the weight of the sorrow that will come from it. It’s like she’s poisoned by the lack of regard, that lack of care, and I think it reflects (heh) how the pressures on women are intense. To be desired, to be wanted. And that, lacking that, the pressure can twist into something sharp and hungry and dangerous. And too often it also turns into something that doesn’t strike out where it should. Because men are protected, or largely so, from having to bear the brunt of that anger, that frustrated desire. So it gets twisted into a weapon against other women, turned into a sort of perverse competition where there can be only one winner, and the queen here can only feel better about herself by feeling better than other people. By thinking of them as lesser, she can feel greater. And so that cycle goes on, avoidable and preventable had only she had someone who would love her and cherish her. And that might be a bit simple, might kinda imply that she needs a man to feel good about herself, which I don’t think is the case. But I do think that the piece gets at how society pressures women and how then they can break free of that to some extent by having someone who sees the best in them and wants them. And it’s a neat poem that takes on a classic fairy tales and finds something new in it. A fine read!
“Ghost Apples” by Mack W. Mani
This is a strange poem that feels to me to trace a sort of lingering presence. A haunting but not one that really fits the traditional models. It builds the image of a woman, a researchers of some sort, someone who had a workshop and who listened for voices from beyond. The portrait the poem pains is one of a person driven to search out mysteries, to pierce the veil between the mundane and the possibly fantastic. There is a scientific curiosity, yes, but also for me at least the feeling that this person is open to what might be out there, and maybe even wants to find something to connect the traditional sciences with something that had been considered beyond. There’s also the feeling of further mystery surrounding her death, her work truncated. It leaves a rather haunted feeling to the poem, then, her disappearance or death casting her work in possible disrepute, though there are strange things still that surround it. Did she perhaps succeed, but only at a cost that put her beyond the ability to communicate them? Has she continued her work even in whatever form she’s become? The questions here make for a sense to me of unfinished business, and perhaps even inheritance, because it leaves whoever is behind, the narrator and the reader, to pick up the pieces. To try and put together what happened and, perhaps more importantly, what happens next. Which seems to be left to the reader, to the narrator, to figure out, now that the subject of the poem is gone. And all told I’m not sure if the poem is trying to reference a specific person or a kind of person in general. In many ways it doesn’t change the reading to me, even if I’m missing some context. It’s a lovely piece, cold and almost lonely but with a power to it, an impression that has been left and that is slow to fad. It’s weird, but striking, and very much worth spending some time with!