January 20, 2015
Letter from the editor
Ekaterina Vasilyeva’s photographs aim to capture what she describes as the fairy-tale nature of winter in Russia: the way it covers the “unwashed”—socio-political dirt, physical grime, bad moods; the way it links nature with metaphysics; the way it taps into the psyche. If the winter landscape is the enchanted sleep from which we wait to be awakened, she gives us glimpses of the subconscious we dream from: a half-buried stone mask, broken bars of a ski lift, a tossed scarf. It’s the subconscious that keeps working its way to the surface in this issue, taking us back to our origins, to births, to failed births. In his biography of Freud, Adam Phillips writes: “There is nothing we want to protect ourselves from more, in Freud’s view, than our personal and family histories.” But those are the scabs writers pick.
In Shannon Reed’s story, Tim’s post-heart attack conversion is like a blanket of winter snow over his old self. He announces at the beginning: “The Buddhists have a saying…that when something breaks, it is to distract us from the beautiful new thing that is being born.” I was tempted to reject Amy as mean-spirited, selfishly opposing her husband’s newfound joy in life, preferring to keep him trapped in dysfunctional irony. But I was stopped by a simple sentence, after Tim breaks one of their wedding glasses: “He didn’t look back, not at the glass, not at her.” It’s a loaded symbol, if we think of the Jewish marriage ceremony of breaking the glass, a reminder that joy should be tempered. I began to feel a current of empathy, realizing that Amy is still looking back at what they’ve been through. Instead of attending to what’s being born, she is attending to what wasn’t. When Tim finally lets go on her behalf, she’s left feeling unseen.
Dinh Prince, like Reed’s Amy, wants to show us the unwashed—the kitsch behind a natural birth in the hospital; the scars of genetic and cultural inheritance; how marriage becomes “a partnership between two rank-breathed adults sitting on the edge of a bed trying to solve a problem”—though along the way she rinses it with insight and the revelation of growth. When the death of her favorite child makes Prince realize she wants to have one of her own, she lets her awareness of and responsibility toward her pregnancy temper her mourning, and lets her mourning prepare her for bringing a child into the world: “I laughed. I sang through my tears. I wanted the baby to experience the wide array of emotions that connected him to the unseen world, so he would know life wasn’t one experience. That there were numerous contradictions, humor, artfulness, as well as shapeless uncertainty.” One of these seeming contradictions feels like progress: as a child, her minor injuries came from neglect; as a parent, they stem from devotion to the safety of her child.
Diandra Holmes’ poems home in on the unwashed in her family history: the death of a premature baby; how first love turns to first hate; the brittle tension of a family dinner. Just as Vasilyeva’s photography punctures the bleakness of winter with splashes of color and clean lines, so Holmes’ images and metaphors—the blue shoes Holmes sifts through the white folds of her sister’s wedding dress to find, like the photograph of a red scarf tossed over the frozen tundra—punctuate the judgment passed on hard lives. Her distant tone contrasts with the immediacy of her metaphors, whether “she cast hope aside, an unclasped necklace that slipped through the floor boards” or “Father’s words / were June bugs scratching at the lights” or “he grew like a window frame / covered in lead paint.” And the immediacy of the metaphors belies their intricacy, each opening like a locket, revealing a detailed portrait. The man who grew like a window frame—lead paint layered on to cover anywhere it is chipped, until the window is hard to budge—is portrayed as stubborn, flawed, shunned but minimally maintained. He ends where he began but leaves the remnants of his life in our hands, as Holmes’ sister’s shoes are left in hers—the blue a symbol of loyalty, both shed and held. It seems to me that is what these authors (or their characters) demonstrate in relation to their histories: the loyalty of a critical but imaginatively focused lens.
Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief