Do falling trees make a sound if no human is around to hear them? Scientists have determined the answer to that anthropocentric riddle. Trees scream—at least in vibrations—whether humans are or are not around to bear witness. Plant life has long been treated to personification. Remember the mean-spirited trees that lob apples at Dorothy and company in Oz? Or what about the marching Ents of J.R.R. Tolkien?
We grieve when an especially old specimen is uprooted by hurricane. Arboreal injuries tend to receive empathetic treatment, often in transcendental terms. Such is the case with Tricia Knoll’s contribution to Glint Literary Journal, issue 7. Witnessing “an oval scab the color of blood-clot” where a limb has been cleft from a “California Sycamore,” Knoll identifies the dark wound as feminine genitalia. That image births other metaphors, including “the twist / of an owl’s face.” The impression of gendered suffering is also reflected in Leslie Philibert’s depiction of the “dark fork” of a rowan; “blood berries” bead “her” branched form.
Sometimes change is traumatic, sometimes cathartic. Julia Schwarz elegizes human females’ capacity for creating hybrid beings, our contradictory impulses tinging “[e]verything” so that what “we give birth to / is part god, part monster.” Emily Dhatt’s speaker is similarly conflicted as she identifies with a cat, a racehorse, and, most poignantly, with an endangered polar bear. Her “hands knead unguis-like” after she fantasizes about muzzling and tranquilizing the beast, renderings its “claws innocuous as feathers.” Danielle Susi’s persona perceives herself as ophidian, though the imagery is suggestive of a condemned witch, bound and set alight. The focus remains on body parts, “mouth meant to swallow,” “tail meant to sing for you.” In “Butterfly Girl” by M. Brett Gaffney, the titular character is left alone to adjust to the antennae that sprout as a metaphoric surrogate for breasts. Other girls in the locker room, having undergone their own transformations, do not approach to commiserate, “knowing it’s best to let alone an empty cocoon” for
[t]hough none of them admits it, each girl wanted to be alone
when they lost themselves, when their bodies
forced them into a life so unstable
and full of wind.
Shape-shifting is not limited to animal guises in this issue. Bodies sometimes erupt in floral configurations. The “Holy Water” of Kika Dorsey’s poem manifests as spring water in a desert, which magically yields “yucca bloom[s] white / between our wishbone legs.” In Kryssa Schemmerling’s “The Language of Flowers,” the mortality of plant life is juxtaposed with that of human kind. Frost leaves the petals of a neighbor’s gardenia “darken[ed] and crease[d],” the woman’s face “fissured” into “Sicilian hillside.” Similar alteration occurs when the faces of the Edenic first couple splinter into tree at the moment of “Separation” in Douglas G. Campbell’s illustration—and, depending on perspective, the centerpiece of Susan Yount’s “Table Arrangement,” a feminine figure, may be viewed as decomposing into or arising from larvae-fed hibiscus, more ambivalent than Botticelli’s Venus on her half-shell.
In Adam J. Sorkin’s and Cristina Hanganu-Bresch’s translation of “The Girl with Socks of Diamond” by Romanian poet, Mircea Cărtărescu, the human body proves more mineral than animal. In a surrealist environment, where “clouds are made of colored Plasticine,” the speaker occupies “the fourth floor” of a hummingbird that resides within the diamond ribcage of the multi-faceted girl. In another hallucinatory vista, Julia Rose Lewis presents us with a miniature world, viewed through a jewel-maker’s loupe. Proportions cannot be trusted even if the narrator keeps encouraging the reader to trust in her story. In Lewis’ dream, the neurobiologist Paul Grobstein figures as the white rabbit, a guide, perhaps, to understanding Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, a neurological condition, in which the perceiver encounters a telescoping world.
Other places are viewed through sensory lenses in various poems, photographs, and hybrid genre pieces in issue 7. Dianalee Velie captures a village in Tuscany in synaesthetic imagery as the sun “convert[s] all of Cortona” into “a chiesa sensuale, a church of sensuality.” Kelsie Dean documents the Turkish people’s love for “non-human lives” in her essay and photographs from Istanbul, where she taught English before being deported in the wake of the recent coup. In her black and white images, puppies turn bright gazes on a crumbling palace, while a cat surveys busy Istiklal Street from a safe vantage point. In his visual contributions, Mark Wyatt documents his travels via expressive human and animal residents of Cairo, Bombay, New York, and San Francisco. The baddest dogs alive (three pit bulls in shades) pose by a crosswalk in the latter city in the photo featured on the issue’s cover.
In both poetry and hybrid genre formats, occupied places are charged with contradictory associations. Some spaces serve as havens, while others become loci for haunting. In Kai Schweizer’s “Sacrilegious,” for example, a deceased narrator haunts the “old pews” of an abandoned church that has deteriorated into “purgatory” for junkies, prostitutes, and adulterers. Even environments associated with fun depreciate or degenerate into sites of despair and ruin. In James Valvis’ poem, “Your Mother Wants It,” an unused swimming pool signifies the wasteful whims of the titular character and consumer culture at large. But the economic woe experienced by Valvis’ characters seems light when compared to the historical horror of Domenic J. Scopa’s poem, in which a Nazi commandant forces sons and fathers to compete to the death with 2 X 4s at daily pool parties.
Acts of genocide, committed in World War II, may seem distant from those who are privileged enough to operate motor vehicles in contemporary America unless they are forced to worry about “men with sirens” as the speaker must in Daniel Moore’s Ohio. Even in a placed named Beauty, a sense of endangerment remains omnipresent, despite the survival of sensory pleasures, represented in the poem by “apple butter’s dark brown hymn.” In a similar tone, Julian Randall’s speaker insists that he “was not built for stay” and “wasn’t planning to live very long anyway.” Still, he signals his resilience, by naming “every impossible thing / after [his] own pulse.” He remains cognizant of and “fluent in lonely miracles.”
Such faith often enables human subjects to remain suspended between polarized positions. Various contributions equivocate between belief and doubt, pleasure and pain, transcendence and trauma, paradise and purgatory. On our home page for issue 7, Patricia Brody’s street sign directs the reader’s eye from Purgatory Road to Paradise Avenue. On the left side of the screen, Victor Gabriel Sanchez’s unblushing bride dangles a one-legged teddy bear. On the right, a vertigrised angel, photographed by Sarah Katharina Kayß, directs a pupil-less gaze toward the sky. Even a flight of stairs may be read as the most ambivalent of spaces in Fabrice Poussin’s “The Blues.” Stairs go up as well as down, the mood either hopeful or regretful, depending on perspective. The titular colors remain blurred with the camera’s focus on the handrail that could be gripped to steady the traveler in the unsteady world.
How one responds to purgatorial places depends on attitude. In his “Cynical Ode,” a humorous, long-lined poem by Daniel Riddle Rodriguez, a glass, whether “half-full optimist or less-full realist,” is likely to be “stolen and gulped by full-full opportunist.” Here, the philosophy of Confucius is undermined by the tormented attitude of Prometheus as “[e]ven the cloud sees silver as a trick of light.” Andy Stallings’ “Paradise” is similarly interstitial. In his “rote white/tragicomic,” “the music of paradise” harmonizes with “tunes of the ditch.”
Such is the condition of fugue. Not all dreams may be interpreted by resorting to divination manual. In postmodern dream space, characters materialize in unexpected places. Cheryl Gross and Marta Wapiennik repurpose and repopulate urban walls with Wonderland creatures. How might a croquet flamingo or a graying rabbit respond to their displacement “[i]f Walls Could Talk”? And, finally, Michelle Disler invites speculation into the secret lives of figurines in “Goldi and The Locks Plus One.” What do ornaments get up to after the antique mall closes for the night?
Through image and text, the contributors of issue 7 of Glint Literary Journal remind us that pleasures and pains can be shared and repurposed. Even seemingly silent beings, like that California Sycamore or a porcelain figurine, are worthy of contemplation and transfiguration. No lives are ever truly still so long as imagination survives.
In this issue’s prose, characters and memoirists similarly grapple with purgatorial sites and seek forms of salvation or succor through ritual. As the narrator of Laura Stout’s story, “Grace Untethered,” watches her birth mother succumb to illness,
the hospice women were angels, hovering when needed, administering the drugs when I finally could no longer be the judge of quantities or the depth of her pain. When the cadence of her moans and labored breathing became razors against my skin, the Angels gently pushed me aside, made me leave the room.
In Cynthia C. Scott’s “The Luckiest Girls in Town,” a man “haloed by so much sunlight that the outline of his body was blurred in the haze” is no saint or angel, but “something we conjured up from our nightmares.” It’s a story in which the “big bad wolf,” “pleased with his power,” destroys the narrator’s home with his “huffing and puffing” not literally, as in the children’s story, but by altering her perception: “I looked up at our house. The blue paint was chipped and there were a few tiles missing on the roof. Nothing looked familiar.” In Jevin Lee Albuquerque’s “Holy River,” Oldie and his beloved Trapper seek refuge from day-to-day hassles, and communion with nature, at “Paradise RV Camp,” but can only enjoy “the sound of the river. . . and the crackle of the fire” after enduring hours of “a chainsaw fired up in the bushes less than fifty yards away.” They witness a mysterious woman, rapt in destruction, “twirling around in circles, cutting branches, stepping right, left, with no idea where she was and no idea we were there.”
Albuquerque’s fiction is not alone in exploring the symbolism of places and their names. The first sentences of “Yellow Footprints,” by memoirist David Larsen, recall the “[t]he building in Los Angeles where we were sworn in” as marine recruits during Viet Nam War being “so nondescript that it appeared to be deliberately chosen for its non-threatening appearance; so there would be no reason for volunteers like me to back out at the last minute.” Larsen’s piece details his memory of basic training:
Squat thrusts are not as hard as doing pushups, but that is the diabolical thing about them—no matter how tired you are, you can always do one more.
After a hundred, I was totally exhausted and thought we must be near the end.
Two hundred is more than anybody would ever do without a DI standing over them.
At three hundred, I felt like I weighed five hundred pounds and was beyond agony.
The unrelenting pain radiating throughout my body would subside with the hope of stopping after thirty repetitions and then kick in at a higher level every time we had to start over.
Larsen’s descriptions of their training—the mental and physical stripping and reforming—as less Christian hell and more Sisyphean task, repeating the same awful experiences over and over, rendering empathy almost null and foregrounding physical survival. Larsen recognizes that these tactics, however excruciating and dehumanizing, made recruits into soldiers, many of whom would not come home from battle.
The “Fire Escape” in Charlotte Mandel’s story suggests a route to safety. As the aging narrator tries to help her pregnant neighbor, the young woman endures contractions trapped between the fire escape’s metal bars and the narrator’s sliding glass door, which refuses to open. Rescue evolves into a potential trap of its own when it is unclear whether the young woman is an illegal immigrant, and the “Fire Escape” of the title becomes a metaphor for immigration and the sometimes twisting pathway to citizenship. The unnamed narrator of Michael Pulley’s “Casting Off” calls his new apartment abutting a country club, which features a balcony over the faux-Edenic, bright-green grassy, golf course, a “safe house”—and never seems sure whether or not he’s exaggerating. He recalls the early days of his marriage, when his wife
once established some kind of shrine or altar around [a pin oak], stones and beads forming a circle, and many nights she walked round and round, arms in the air like signaling a touchdown. At first he thought her ritual exquisitely eccentric. She explained it all, his amusement offset by a tenderness and devotion he would abide only from her. Just let anyone dare upbraid her for those peculiar goings-on! He loved her even more—the breezy spontaneity, last minute approach to getting things done, spur-of-the-moment decisions. She wore just enough makeup, donning bracelets and large earrings. People told him she was beautiful. A colleague once said, “You don’t deserve her” then punched him on the arm.
To the narrator, whose fractured memory hinders him from determining how much blame he bears in her descent into addiction and delusion, or in their subsequent catastrophic divorce, the colleague’s painful congratulations have metamorphosed into dire prophecy.
The putative sacred union of marriage is a site of ambivalence in other prose works in Issue 7, including “This is What I Have to Tell You,” by Laine Perez. She imagines a future of government-mandated marriage by age thirty for all citizens. While Perez’s crisp prose does not inscribe utter dystopia, for protagonist Jo, sexual desire seems to be unimportant and unfelt: “The kiss is gentle and sweet. Jo waits for some physical acknowledgment of desire. Nothing happens. Jo kisses him again, and her body has the same quiet non-response.” That same body revolts against upcoming nuptials. On her back, which she bares during a fitting of her wedding gown, “patches of red, bumpy skin form an angry constellation.” As “the red patches invade and encamp,” “one encircl[es her] forearm,” shackles made manifest.
In Anthony Green’s harrowing “A Black Gay Man’s Relationship with the Law,” the subtitle “Marriage” is followed by the author remembering himself literally bound in a place one might hope to be a site of safety: “I stood barefoot in my own kitchen with blood leaking from my mouth and my arms in handcuffs behind my back. Disoriented and exhausted, I pleaded my case to the portly police officer. . .” Green’s visceral prose recounts abuse, yet there are glimmers throughout of a fragile but defiant sense of glee, as when he recalls bashing his attacker’s head in with a portrait of RuPaul.
In poetry, prose, and visual art, readers will find moments of such humor to relish throughout this issue, and much else to provoke or console. For issue seven, we also welcome four new members to our editorial board—Jane Andrews, Stacey Balkun, Galen Faison, and Jennifer Martelli. We thank them. We would also like to express our appreciation for our continuing board members as well as for the trust, patience, and talent of all the artists and writers who contributed to this issue, which we hope will provide an inspiring Glint amid darkness.
Brenda Mann Hammack and Sonya C. Brown