|Art by Odera Igbokwe|
“Interstate Africana” by WC Dunlap (2487 words)
No Spoilers: On the Interstate Africana, Black souls join an endless parade, exiting and returning from mortal lives with new experiences, new wisdoms, and the occasional new regret. The road is endless, and people on it form families or not, find love or not, become artisans or not. They are, without the demands of mortality or the values of the living to get in the way of existence. Despite the Interstate being eternal, though, it doesn’t mean things can’t change, and as it winds it hits a rather grim patch, and the piece explores what that means, and how time might still be enough to heal all wounds. It’s a strange, magical, awesome story, uplifting and alive, even when dealing with an Interstate that is also kinda an afterlife.
Keywords: Roads, Afterlife(?), Rebirth, Immortality
Review: I love the energy of the piece, the vibrant way that the Interstate is described. It’s alive, it’s a conversation, it’s always moving. It’s a march, a parade, a celebration that stretches on and on. I love the ways that people can find each other again and again, caught in orbit, bound by connections that are intangible but incredibly strong. There is still family here, still community, and I just like how it all comes together, the way worries seem to slide away, everyone at last able to just be, to enjoy, to remember their lives and carry with them the lessons they’ve learned. And it’s interesting how the Interstate isn’t necessarily without strife. How the events in the mortal world can be seen in the form of a loss of color, exits going dark, covered in shadows. One that seems to coincide with the prevalence of slavery and racist violence that is still ongoing. But the story maintains a strong hope, and a strong punch, showing the resilience and care that people show on the Interstate. It’s not a strict linear plot, not a straight line of progress because, well, the story doesn’t set up the Interstate as a straight line. It’s alive, shifting, moving to a rhythm that doesn’t conform to a standard structure, to a predictable pattern. But it endures. Through the leans times, through the hardships, it remains for people to return to. For people to find healing in. For people to walk off the pain of mortality until they are hungry for it again. And what they find when they go back might not be the same grimness they found on that shadowed stretch of Interstate. It might be a brighter future they are walking into, and the hope of that keeps the feet moving, keeps the music playing, keeps the lights blazing on down the road. A wonderful read!
“Silver Door Diner” by Bishop Garrison (4714 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story keeps coming back to the same time and place. Literally. On the day that the Earth is going to start being destroyed, the narrator (the Boy for lack of a name, though that’s something more like a disguise than anything) enjoys coming back to the same diner and having a conversation with Tammy, the waitress. It’s not exactly always the same conversation, but it tends to follow the same patterns. After all, after the world is destroyed, everything gets reset right back to the same day, the same time. And the Boy has returned to the same diner many, many times. But this might be the last, and so he wants to revisit the place he’s come to care for, have the pie he’s come to love, and talk to the person he’s come to know so well, though she never remembers him. It’s a neat story, and one subtly laced with hope, I think.
Keywords: Aliens, Time Travel, CW- Nuclear Destruction, Diners, Pie
Review: I love how this story unfolds in the past, or at least feels like it does. It captures that look and feel of the Cold War era, the time of the diner, when it was all still new and polished. For me, it gives the story a strange kind of hope, because though the world is ending time after time after time, that the piece takes place in the past I feel kind of implies that at some point they do manage to undo the end of the world. They manage to prevent the nuclear war from getting out of hand and the experimental super weapon from being deployed. And I mean that might seem a stretch just from choosing when to set the story but the rest I think plays into that, into that hope in the face of certain destruction. The Boy witnesses the Earth get destroyed so many times. Tries to intervene, tries to do something, anything he can think of to prevent it despite not being allowed to intervene. He does it anyway. And none of it works. And this feels like the end to him, his last conversation before heading back to his planet (or right yeah he’s an alien). He approaches it like he’s run out of things to learn about people. That there are no surprises to him about this day, about his conversation. But of course there are. Because people will always surprise you. It might seem unavoidable that people will ultimately fail, that systems will fail, that the bombs will drop but sometimes...they don’t. And sometimes those sometimes link, and form a timeline where the bombs never fall. Where maybe, eventually, they are done away with entirely. In the face of cynicism, that the planet isn’t worth the effort, that we’ll only always destroy ourselves, I do think a story like this, about the slim hope of maybe...means a lot. Means that we aren’t beyond hope. After all, there’s still the compassion that Tammy shows every time the Boy arrives in her diner. And there’s the shot at choosing love over fear, the choice that Tammy makes, here, for the first time, that shows the Boy that he doesn’t have humanity pinned just yet. It’s a fun read, charming and quick, and you should definitely check it out!
“Paid in Full” by Sarah A. Macklin (4226 words)
No Spoilers: Keisha owns a consignment shop that...isn’t doing that great. She loves it, but with the need to pay rent on top of all the other worries in her life, it’s getting to be something tied to resentment and stress, not joy. And then her brother stops in, practically glowing. Or...actually glowing? He seems happier than usual. More hopeful. More at peace. He tells her he went to a party, and felt wonderful ever since. Keisha suspects foul play, and decides, when she learns of a new party by the same mysterious Miss Yasmine, she decides to check it out. To...make sure it’s safe. But what she discovers is not what she was expecting. The piece is a delight, about the crushing weight that people carry along with them, and the feeling that comes with being able to shed it, being able to cast it aside and embrace joy again.
Keywords: Family, Parties, Burdens, Businesses, Dancing, Colors
Review: I love the way this story captures the feeling of weight. Of the toll that worry and anxiety and fear and scarcity have on a person. Compounded here by the microaggressions, the racism, all the ways that society at large pressures Black people to be perfect, to never step out of line. The ways that Keisha personally feels the pressure to make up for the loss of her parents, to take care of her brother, to be successful, all without really getting any help, anyone to make it better for her, anyone to make sure that she’s going to be okay. And that takes a toll. Day in, day out, that takes a toll. And the story shows that so well in the ways that Keisha can’t relax, the way this party acts as this siren call. She doesn’t trust it, doesn’t trust it because in some ways she’s internalized for her own protection the idea that she shouldn’t relax. That she can’t. That it’s Bad. And that’s what Miss Yasmine is pushing back against, giving people a space to be Safe. To put down their cares. And that’s why I think Keisha runs, because she doesn’t trust it, because the idea of being Safe seems so so unsafe for all these different reasons. Because it really isn’t safe to be Black and unafraid. But that doesn’t mean that Keisha doesn’t need that. And in the part she’s finally able to get there, to let go, to rip off the weight of the worries and just be, to take joy in herself and her work. And even if it only lasts there, it seems enough to make everything easier. Because the weight, once put down, doesn’t come back all at once. Like that jar of marbles, slowly filling, once it’s emptied it doesn’t stop the marbles. But it eases the burden all the same. And it’s a fun story with a great feel of being able to let go, to let down, to celebrate and feel joy. An amazing read!
“That Which Smells Bad” by Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga (2846 words)
No Spoilers: Gladys and Jean-Claude are the grandchildren of the famous Maman Zaninka, a woman famous for her ability to take care of problematic spirits. And when a ghost refuses to stop haunting a construction site, the owners decide to seek out her aide--or rather, the aide of her grandchildren, who are employed by their grandmother for the season. For Jean-Claude, it’s just another thing to do, but for Gladys it’s more than that, about connecting to the place, about not being viewed as an outsider, for all that she’s not the greatest with some of the local languages. She wants to prove that she can take care of this job, though, and not let her grandmother (and more importantly, herself) down. It’s a lot of fun, a story with heart, humor, and enough action to keep things interesting and moving nicely.
Keywords: Employment, Family, Ghosts, Exorcisms, Dancing
Review: Okay, I find Jean-Claude hilarious and like yes also a bit infuriating but I love him. And I love how he plays off of Gladys, so laid back (maybe just a touch lazy?) where she is much more proactive, much more wanting to make sure to do the job right and thoroughly and, perhaps most of all, without any help. But the truth is she needs help, because she can’t be all things. She can’t be the perfect student in the foreign school and te perfect local, the insider everywhere. But she tries, she tries to do everything and because she’s human, because it’s impossible to do everything, be everything, it’s sort of a mess. And maybe I’m just all about stories that are people learning to accept help, to accept the things that they aren’t. That they aren’t perfect. Because maybe I also have issues with trying to do too much at times. And it becomes incredibly useful to have someone sort of offer that help in a way that get you to lower your defenses. Gladys meets this other ghost who turns out to be friendly, who turns out to be trying to help, and once Gladys gets over herself and her reluctance to let down a little, she finds that what she needs is to be herself. To express herself. To stop trying so hard to please everyone else. To start just sort of letting things happen. And obviously Jean-Claude embodies that a bit *too much*, and in that he might indeed lose out on some of the connections to this place that Gladys does care about. But that doesn’t mean she can force them. They have to happen, have to be something she really wants, and in the end it works out. And it’s a fun and funny and triumphant and joyful. A delightful read!
“Ambrosia” by Margaret Saunders (4544 words)
No Spoilers: The story opens with Marie taking her sister to a fortune teller, trying to make her feel better because her boyfriend has left and Seline (the sister) is taking it pretty hard. Aside from the regular assurances that love is just around the corner, though, the “performance” has something strange to it--a warning. And one that Marie has trouble brushing off as pure fakery, because it deals with her aunt. Her aunt Alice, who they’ve recently had to put into a care home because of progressing dementia. Who they still visit as much as possible. Who is the last of their family left, it seems, aside from the sisters. And the one fortune sort of rune into more as Marie starts listening to the seemingly nonsense things her aunt says and discovers a strange pattern. It’s a story with a heavy core, the loss of a parental figure, and especially one who helped them get through the loss of their biological parents. The result is something raw and hesitant, but building into something certain and hopeful.
Keywords: Family, Prophecy, Art, CW- Dementia, CW- Loss of a Parent/Parental Figure
Review: This is such a wrenching story for the situation it puts the sisters in, and especially Marie, who seems to be the sister who has to feel the more responsible (as the older), who feels very keenly the want to care for her aunt the way that Alice cared for her. Which...isn’t exactly fair, because elderly care is not like caring for a child, most of the time. And it’s so hard losing a person like that, watching the change, feeling that some days it’s okay, or better, but most days... And so going to this fortune teller and hearing what she does is a shock, because it seems so personal, so intimate, so right in the ways that the rest of the fortune seemed rather samey. And it gets to her, gets her to start listening to what her aunt has to say. And realizing that maybe her aunt can see the end coming, and wants to leave them with some last gifts. In that it’s a heartbreaking and heartwarming story of a family that has been through a lot, that has felt a lot of grief, finally coming to a point where they can be happy. Where they can be together, even if it’s not always tangible. The piece doesn’t pull its punches, and the use of the elements does call out some emotional heavy artillery, but for all that the story knows to be careful. The sorrow at the loss is in part a recognition that Marie and Seline have already been grieving for a long time, and need to get back to thinking about their own happiness, their own futures. Because that is what their aunt wants for them, to be happy. And at least for this one moment Marie can be certain of that. A fantastic read!
“In Retrograde” by Billimarie Lubiano Robinson
I love the sense of movement from this poem, the way both the title, the structure, and the text of the piece all sort of work in concert to paint a picture of moving bodies. The title evokes space and planets that seem to move backwards across the sky. The structure of the poem is also such that the text flows across the page, forward and back, giving the feeling of orbits, or moving, of riding galaxies and speeding through space. And the same time, a lot of the imagery is also natural, plant-based, speaking on the ways that certain shapes, that certain ideas play out in nature again and again, on the micro and macros scales. The piece moves, and the narrator moves as well, tying large to small, far to near. The distance doesn’t seem to matter so much as the feeling, the connections. As the piece moves on the motion increases, becomes faster, lighter, with a sense almost that the narrator, that whoever they are with as well, are sort of coming apart. Not painfully or tragically, but sort of becoming one with a larger way of existing, particles spreading out, cycling and changing. Seasons pass, stars seem to move about the sky, and sometimes life itself seems to move in retrograde, backwards at times before speeding up again, revolving in orbits that don’t always make sense from where we are because we are moving too. And there might be a touch of destruction there, as well, the mention of asteroids falling, of stellar explosions, of crashes. There might be a lingering loneliness, too, or longing for something that can’t quite be reached. The mention of the small planets without stars, the sense of distance, it all sort of works together to me to build this sense of people, of planets and stellar bodies as people, moving closer, falling away. Sometimes never crossing, sometimes meeting in fire. But there’s also a sense of continuation, and life, and moving on, and it makes for a lovely read!
“Paradise” by Jarred Thompson
This piece seems to me to speculate about the qualities of heaven, drawing parallels between the ways people imagine heaven and the structures on Earth that would then be similar. Is heaven a city, where God is a mayor who rules above it all, making time for the elites but not for the common masses, for the people who might think there are better ways to run the place? Who might protest, who might face the lash of archangels sent to enforce order? Or is like a gated community, elite, where no one is really let in unless they pass a test that means they’ll play by the rules? What would that mean? And I love how the poem interrogates and explores that, looks at the implications of things happening in heaven. Or things remaining the same, always. And the narrator seems to, really in either situation, veer away from the constructions of heavy. Because if things happen, they don’t seem to change, and the whole thing is still built around this central authority who can never be displaced, who is always supreme, even if there’s supposed to be compassion and infinite wisdom and etc etc because those things have already been weaponized and used on Earth to do Some Shit. The narrator seems to gravitate more towards Purgatory because it still maintains a sort of balance. Between pleasure and pain, between Heaven and Hell. Perhaps part of what the narrator is getting at is that Purgatory sort of lets people remain...human. Pain being a part of that experience, and without that Heaven might be something alien, or might be something familiar, a lie that people have to accept. And so I really like the way the piece moves around the idea of heaven and how people build it for themselves, for others. Showing that by its nature these people’s joy, their perfection, is happening over the suffering of others, that they either get to be ignorant of, or joy in part because they know that others are suffering, which, well, shit. A fantastic read!
“Tiny instances of Black girl magick” by Nia June
This piece speaks to me of power, of desire, of movement and community and...and finding that power, that movement, often gets...codified, categorized, and characterized in some...less than ideal ways. That time and distance and trauma have a way of changing things, and for the narrator, who has accomplished so much, who has always been in contact wiht hte world, with the divine, with a power that is her own and her communities, this change is about how people talk about that power. For me it speaks to narrators who have been forgotten, who have been suppressed, who have had to wait for people to rediscover them. And who are back now, but find that what they do and what they are has been dressed in terms that they didn’t have before. That come from outside, and that in many ways cast what they do as some sort of wickedness. For me it speaks the wounds that are left when cultural traditions are lost, when they are cut away, when they face colonization and intolerance. And there’s something sad tucked into the kind of mocking tone when the narrator reacts to what they do being labeled black magick. Still, there’s a laugh to the piece for me, a kind of shrugging at the ridiculousness of it, but not necessarily throwing it away out of hand. There might be an eye roll but there’s also I feel a reclamation, a way that the narrator is just going to run with it fine it’s not right really but they’ll work with it and show what it’s really about. Not magick but something that just is. Something that in fact a lot of people have access to and can take part in, that’s not this strange outside other thing, this unholy etc. It’s life, and it’s real, and it’s here and everywhere and it’s time to relearn, to embrace this part of what has been lost, and celebrate, as the narrator seems to be celebrating throughout. And it’s a fantastic way to close out the issue!