May 20, 2016
Letter from the editor
The work for our twentieth online issue concerns itself with the question: what kind of record are we writing? What is recorded, what is erased, and where in those recordings and erasures does empathy take root and allow the individual to branch and grow from solitary violation toward communal healing?
Marked with partial erasures and palimpsests, Peter Vanderberg’s sonnet sequence “Office of the Dead” attempts to say what life is by saying what it is not: “Every life needs pruning.” The poet rewrites Goodnight Moon as a more explicit reflection on mortality and pares a sonnet’s ending down to a haiku: “ebb tide — / bay snails / run for their lives.” The impermanence of memory and life haunts the strange play of tenses, as the adult narrator remembers “what it felt like to live forever” and reflects, “It’s been the rest of my life / since my last confession.”
Tyler Barton’s coming-of-age short story “The Record We’re Writing” is both confession and assertion, caught between the record Jackson wants to be writing—both in a recording studio and in the decisions he makes—and the one that’s written in and about him that he can’t change. The story shows how a tangential tragic event can become symbolic; what such a symbol looks like, its long-ranging effects, in a life. And how it still resists such reduction: “and that’s not right, either,” the narrator ends, an echo of Vanderberg’s, “That is not what it is.”
In her nonfiction piece “Knives,” Lauren Spinabelli similarly confronts the effect of someone’s trauma on others. The narrator tries to make sense of what has been done to her friend as she contrasts the public record on Facebook, the publicly erased moment of sexual assault, and the feelings of panic and invulnerability that won’t go away. “This is how I find my empathy,” she writes. “I cobble together my painful experiences and try to pair them with the pain of those around me, like a memory-match game. Or a puzzle. But the pieces are cheap imitations, and they never quite fit together.” Here, too, what can be said is never quite right.
Sometimes it is easier to show it. Sally Linder’s work depicting polar bears threatened by climate change is grounded in research “involving historical, scientific and spiritual elements,” she writes. “The images that are inspired become symbols of a compassionate, participatory commitment to life. This vision provides us with the opportunity to turn around so that we may know who the others are and our connection to them.”
The work in this issue evokes the possibility and necessity of change: of the past, through memory, and of the future, through action. I’m reminded of the ending of Larry Levis’s “Elegy with a Darkening Trapeze Inside It”:
“Every revolution ends, or it begins, in memory:
Someone remembering her diminishment & pain, the way
Her scuffed shoes looked in the pale light,
How she inhaled steel filings in the grinding shed
For thirty years without complaining once about it,
How she might have done things differently. But didn’t.
How it is too late to change things now. How it isn’t.”
Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief