January 20, 2016
Letter from the editor
When I spend time with LiQin Tan’s animation installations—huge distorted heads reacting to the violence done to them—my initial aversion turns into its opposite, a wish I could see these in the round and interact with them up close, as the viewer is meant to, changing water level and light. Calling these “Refractive Brain Therapy Series,” Tan notes that in Chinese, refraction can mean both “initiating an illusion” and “leading towards social reality”—encompassing both cognitive behavior therapy and brainwashing. Each head is given a title descriptive of a state of being: dizzy, numb, drunk, or “rusty salty”—a preserved decay.
In Rebecca Fishow’s story “Visiting Sarah,” the narrator visits her sister at the Marine Corps Base Camp in San Diego and observes the distorted state of her sister—in love but shunning sex, numbed by deaths into wishing she were doing the killing—through her own distorted state. In a taxi crossing the border between Mexico and California, she observes an illusion that leads toward a perception of reality: “time moves through us, not the other way around. It goes on living through us until we’re all used up.”
As Arthur Plotnik takes account of thirty years of change in his Chicago neighborhood, he experiences a similar inversion of awareness. His nostalgic recollection in “Sap Rising: A Natural History of Neighborhood” attempts “to recapture an authentic experience of ‘neighborhood’—not as the kid-safe, stable destination for foodies our neighborhood is, but as a rooted, organic thing whose sap gets in your veins, rising and falling with the seasons and the life-cycles of its dwellers.” He moves from being the observer of shifting waves of immigration into the neighborhood, shaped by broader economic and political forces, to seeing himself as part of the cycle.
The poetry of Luisa Igloria is organic in the sense Plotnik describes, the sap flowing in its veins, embracing all seasons of life: “And let us praise / the clapper and the hollow gong both pain / and joy have made of our insides, how / forever we will swing this way in the wind” (“Magnificat”). People in her poems are acted upon, swung like a bell between opposite emotions, or ferried between life and death, but they are also self-determining: “The world we enter / then leave is round as the bowl of our / desires, and here the word for horizon / is the same as faithfulness: invisible / rudder our hands have always held” (“Manunggul Jar”). Here again, another language, another culture, reveals a poetic truth, through the meanings its words hold in tension. Metaphor ferries us across borders.
Rebecca Starks, editor