EDITOR’S LETTER: Issue 7&8
By Larry Wormington, Peauxdunque Review Editor-in-Chief/Publisher
Hello, Peaux-kin, and welcome to our special, two-scoops edition of the Peauxdunque Review. Here, for a limited time only, you’ll not only receive the fowl-flagged brilliance of Issue 7, but also the uncontested majesty that is Issue 8—a wondrous wedge of literary goodness, just in time for the holidays. Two journals for the price of one, if that one was already marked up prior to sale (just kidding; we’re terrible at sales, truly). But wait, there’s more! Okay, okay … I’ll stop. Serious creative bloodletting deserves serious introduction, so I shall endeavor to respond in kind.
As you can see from our Issue 7 cover, we chose to aim our aviary proclivities toward Eastern Europe, in honor of the embattled peoples of Ukraine. The white stork, Ukraine’s national bird, rises into the blue, over a field of golden wheat. Like their taloned talisman, the Ukraintsi have ascended in our hearts and minds and, dare I say it, provided a rebirth of hope as they withstand treachery and atrocious onslaught. These continuous wounds (it appears from we paralyzed spectators) cut deeper, and resonate through countless generations, as they are interiorly morbific—delivered by their neighbors and once and would-be family. I had planned to pen a detailed opinion on the war itself, and the parallels with our rising domestic unrest here in the West. But as the butchery and senseless violence perpetrated against Ukraine approaches a year, much better words and fresh opinions are already out there. Also, as these Issues 7 and 8 came into focus, I felt the weight of how other artists were experiencing this moment, and thought it better to share how their cumulative words have guided me out of my darkness.
What struck me most, in piece after piece, was a shared nostalgia for place, and hunger for peace in the now and in our imagined yesterdays. It’s palpable throughout and, like my own desires, occurs on the micro and macro levels. This shouldn’t have surprised me. Place and one’s sense of belonging are baked into our DNA, and are most certainly a Peauxdunque Review aesthetic. I believe anyone with self-awareness and empathy long for the peace that place provides—peace of mind, peace of spirit, even the simple, calming peace of conquered procrastination, that quiet after all the to-dos are checked off, and adequate sweat given, the nurturing peace of love given and returned in some tiny alcove, wrapped warmly with family and friends, just shiny, soothing, all-encompassing peace.
We see this in so many of the works in Peauxdunque Review Issue 7, starting with the fiery, life-flashing-before-your-eyes narrative “Dirt Girl,” by Anna Adami, where we clench our fists high for the narrator, Greta, riding on her shoulder as she navigates childhood and adulthood simultaneously. We, too. “… feel her own lightning, a force. At that moment, she’ll rise, absolutely in love with herself. This love will be exponential, not narcissistic. It’ll spill out of Greta and onto everyone she holds dear.” This longing theme of space and time, beginning and end, continues in Patrick Reardon’s poem, “Inhale exhale,” where “I breathe galaxies in a breath,” feel all my life pass before me, then, “I breathe and, look, it begins and ends”; and in D.C. Leonhardt’s “Streetlamps and Angels,” where “To walk as we do, to drink as we do, to drown themselves and wash Us fallen humans from misery to the light of streetlamps, water Streaming from our bodies as we give ourselves over.”
I chose this line from D.C. Leonhardt because it speaks to the conduit of yearning for much of the beauty that is Issue 7: water. Whether consuming it, being consumed by it, washing in it, being washed away by it, running from it, driving through it, fighting it, welcoming it, or seeing our reflections within it, water is the current (pun intended) of our shared history. From the poetry of Nikki Ortiz, “For the Dead Alligator in the Post-Ida Dumpster” and “Mothering During Climate Change,” where we clench up when she tells us, “…there is no doula for the abyss”; to crying bankside for Harry and Patches in Bob Bradley’s “Season’s End”; to doing so once again for young Rudy in “The House on Rondo,” a richly drawn creative non-fiction piece that embodies a sense of place like no other, by Debra Stone. I could go on and on, as each author bears notice, each word and image feels so necessary, so inevitable. But I must give Issue 8 its due as well, so I will bundle my thoughts on Issue 7 with the love and hope of James O’Connor, and his heart-squeezing poem, “A Walk in the Woods with My Daughter.” Thank you, James, because who doesn’t want to “… pocket the sage and sawdust, the moss and purple honeysuckle.” And, like your dogs, “… carry the diary of their day’s journey in their nostrils … with a sense of where they’ve been,” we writers are ever-watching, tasting, smelling, absorbing—the literary dogs of this imperfect world
Young and old, cradle to grave, we are searching, calling out to this world and our past ones in the hope we can made some dent, some connection, to leave a trace, so that someone might call us back by word or deed, to confirm we were ever here at all. With this thought, I turn to the soulful tones of Peaxdunque Review Issue 8. If Issue 7 were the burning whiskey of an Old Fashioned, Issue 8 would be the dashed bitters and just-right sweet goodness of the dark cherry that comes next, after the drink is gone, imbued with all the power of what came before but with its own concentrated delight and character. In the form of physical layout, Peauxdunque Review Issue 8 starts with a long-overdue celebration of the photographic artistry of James Cullen. The internal cover-work, which also emblazes the back cover of this double-issue, is a stunning image of a street reveler, who appears to defy gravity with his celebratory dance. It’s not just a literal tribute to New Orleans, one of our hometowns, but also is a perfect segue to the astounding works for the issue. As with Issue 7, Issue 8 snakes through the grottos, grasses, and golden towers in search of the self. Setting is important, as good work always proves true, but real setting has real characters roaming through it. It envelops us and frames our reality and possesses our memories. Issue 8, which also happens to be brimming with winners and a select group of runners-up and honorable mentions from the 2022 Patty Friedmann Writing Competition, illustrates this power of place in much the same way.
So, to affirm my own metaphor of the Old Fashioned, hoisted in hand on a gray and rainy afternoon visiting with our editorial staff in New Orleans as we put the wraps on Issue 8, I’d like to start in the same place Issue 8 does, with the rousing poetry of Rodger Kamenetz. In “Asterism,” Rodger writes, “… our myths were getting old. We needed new ones so we turned to our dreams,” then “You were luscious then in the light: I tasted you. Was it apple, pear, peach, mango? The fruits danced into each other till the letters blurred in our names.” For those playing at home, yes, I am aware there’s a lot more at stake here than alcohol-laden fruit in the glass. But this work is visceral, and heady, and fitting genesis for the work that follows in Issue 8, for if your myths are slipping away as well, perhaps it’s time to find new dreams, and a new place.
Perhaps no story illustrates this transformation from a lost, lonely place to one of transcendence than “Dear Methheads,” the runner-up entry in the 2022 Patty Friedmann Writing Competition CNF category, by Anisse Gross. I think I can say, without compunction, that this story will forever sit on a high shelf in my soul, as experiencing it moved me such that I will be forever grateful. I dare not share too much of this lovely piece, lest I steal its magic from you, but I will give you a window into how Anisse Gross pulls off a bit of the universal loneliness that is the human experience and elevates it with, “Did they say, Dear unhappy couple, we know all of the things that you do and don’t do, and that your secret is safe with us? Can you feel someone from a distance? Can you feel unhappiness from fifty feet away, through glass, lit up by lamps? Without seeing our faces clearly ….” Just incredible.
What does it mean to be from a place? Who decides? I believe great works make us doubt the accepted answers to these questions. Fish-out-of-water stories abound, but the best of them, I believe, have us wondering who’s the fish and who’s the water. No other story in my recent memory illuminates this evaluation of accepted norms and everyday existence with the gravitas than “Her Own Kind,” by our winner of the 2022 Patty Friedmann Writing Competition short story category, Bae Di. In this incomparable work, Bae Di holds a mirror up to Western society as we experience our reality through the eyes of the main character, Lulu. With cutting dialogue and sardonic wit, Di puts us in very familiar places but allows us to see the obvious distortion we exhibit and project in Everyday-Everytown, America. Here’s just a taste: In a two-college town, “The Christian university’s president urges his students to carry concealed weapons and end the Muslims before they walk in. ‘Only the bad Muslims,’ he clarifies. ‘There’re many good Muslims. You know what I mean.’ Lulu’s college, Rosemary, dignifies itself with a well-mannered apathy toward the fact that the Christian university basically owns the town, and that the university is nibbling down Rosemary with each passing day.” Believe me; you definitely want to take off the standard-issued flag glasses and experience the rest of this story.
There’s so, so much more for you here, my loves, and it appears grief, and ascendance from grief, carries it forward. It’s fitting, after experiencing these last few years, that we, the survivors, would look to spotlight the dark corners of our hearts, if only to make it to some better tomorrow. When we have exemplary writers, like Jenny Keto in “The Reason I Keep My Questions Between Dark and Dark,” cutting us to the bone, knowing, we are all “… sick on sad.” And Jillian Dankel’s tear-wringing “Paw Paw,” telling us what we all know but don’t say, “I am relearning what I have loved and what has loved me.” And Kelly Jones, in “Dreamwake,” consuming us further with, “I want to learn to cry to feel loss, to mourn what is gone.” During these momentous times, where so many have slipped away from us, either literally or through some perverse, swallowed ideology, I treasure all of you out there who are still finding the words.
I will leave you with this. I truly hunger for peace on a macro level, as well, a world of peace, one where humanity just stops, our hidden thirsts finally quenched, and we wash the blood from our hands with a soul-certainty that, this time, we’ll keep them clean. Sadly, as my sand slips through the chasm, I often fear I am in the minority in this desire, as history and current affairs continue to vividly illustrate. This vexes me. How can it be that such a great number of us choose combat over coexistence? If we all long for a safe, warm space, why can we not learn to share it, and protect it together? If you are taking the trouble to read this and experience the outpouring of creative lifeblood contained within, I believe these questions devil you, as well. At least, I pray they do. What I do know is this: The words in Peauxdunque Review Issues 7 and 8 make me believe I am not alone; so, as logic goes, neither are you.
I’d like to thank all of our beautiful therapists/contributors, whether they’re mentioned above or not, for informing and guiding my thoughts on Issue 7 and Issue 8. You restore my faith and remind me that there’s always something we can say, write, and do to pull one another back from the ledge. Just reach out, take my hand, and sing with me. You know the words.
Larry Wormington is a Dallas-based fiction writer who grew up in the piney woods of East Texas. He received his MFA from the University of New Orleans and his BA from the University of North Texas. His stories have appeared in Redivider, Elm Leaves Journal, Harpur Palate, and the fiction anthology Monday Nights, among others. He is a Marine veteran and a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance. Professionally, he works as a technical writer and runs several small businesses in the greater Dallas area – the rest he saves for his Khaleesi and their four incredible children.