May 20, 2015
Letter from the editor
The work featured in this issue of Mud Season Review entails, in a very broad sense, coming of age—coming into one’s mortality, into one’s grief, into one’s cultural heritage. And, finally, into one’s intersubjectivity, the ways we are social, interconnected beings.
Bibhu Padhi’s poems have a way of interweaving generations so that we aren’t sure if they involve different characters or a single character at different stages of life. He universalizes by going deeper into himself. The metaphoric undercurrent of this set of poems is a pain matched by intensive care, though it repeatedly comes up short, as in “The ICU Wait,” in “the old man / who left his young son because he didn’t know / how to take care of his last, loud breaths.”
Padhi’s poetry searches for “a new language of consolation,” as he says of his wife’s caring for their younger son, in “Turning Forty.” As his family shifts metaphorically into the house sparrows who watch him, he takes two steps out sideways to say of himself: he “does not quite know / how to take care of his years this day.” It’s a day that drives home in equal parts the unwieldiness of the past and the foreshortening of the future. I’m reminded of what James Baldwin said in his interview with The Paris Review: turning forty puts you in sight of your death. It’s the point at which “time alters you, actually becoming either an enemy or a friend.”
In the face of grief, as over a daughter’s drowning in Dave Essinger’s “Persistence Hunting,” time similarly becomes either enemy or friend. As the narrator Mike says: “I wonder who’s doing the persisting, and who, the hunting.” In this story, caretaking has become lifeguarding, a double-edged word Mike runs his fingers along. He’s become guarded in his grief, deadened to others’ vulnerability. It feels like a small but crucial step toward healing when he becomes aware of his friend’s need.
Mike’s sense of isolation as an embodiment of others’ fears is a counterpoint to what Alex Simand writes of in “with light steam,” as his own fear isolates him: “I feared being rejected by my cohort like a body rejects a foreign substance, a transplant whose blood type is incompatible.” The bodily metaphor feels more than appropriate, it feels necessary, given that he’s absorbed his culture in such visceral ways: the visual and physical onslaughts of the bathhouse, the drinking of lamb fat soup, the slithering along the forest floor after mushrooms. He finds release when he realizes his Russian background is a fertile source of humor to his Canadian friends—and then “underneath the derision, just below the surface,” senses “real interest.” He arrives unexpectedly at a new place: “I want to show them This is me, to wear my strangeness before them like a badge, to impress upon them the essence of my difference.”
Each painting of Val Rossman’s impresses with its difference, wears its title like a badge. As a writer, verbally oriented, I find it unexpectedly thrilling to get titles like these: Surveying the Crowd, Extra Effort Involved, Travel is Educational—as if parodies of clichés, or maybe racehorse names. But they give me extra access to the paintings, allowing me to feel something psychological that works in two directions. They help me see each painting and its construction in a new light, so that I can imagine what the lines and textures are abstracted from either internally or externally, and they refer me back to my own experiences of what the titles describe. It’s this simultaneous—or seesawing—introversion and extroversion that holds me captive to these works.
Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief