Front Cover by Chitra Ganesh
Courtesy of the Artist
Volume 63, Issue 1
GNŌTHI SEAUTON. According to Pausanias the first of three maxims inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, this exhortation has been central to Western philosophy since Socrates, though even Poor Richard observes that “three things [are] extremely hard, steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Contributing Editor Ruth Ozeki has crafted one of the most crystalline recent reflections on this ancient art in her essay The Face: A Time-Code (Restless Books, 2015). Adapting from art history professor Jennifer L. Roberts an exercise in “immersive attention,” Ozeki sat in front of a mirror to watch her face for three hours, “making a detailed record of the observations, questions, and speculations that arose over that time.” Today, in March 2022, two years on since the coronavirus was novel, since varying degrees of disruption, lockdown, forced isolation, death, and grief swept across the globe, it should surprise no one that we bring you an issue where, in some deep sense, every poem, essay, and story tells this selfsame story — because by now who hasn’t shared with Ruth an imposed meditation where time became painfully long? Though it may take a Zen Buddhist priest to focus with laser-like specificity on what the Greeks identified as the first task of knowledge, isn’t every writer and artist forced to find their own path out of this hall of mirrors? Yet the classical question remains: When we look at ourselves, what do we see? And if that diamond is rough, what do we really see of others?
Like the Greeks, you too must find your own way through this issue, yet for the purposes of introduction, I’ll point to some possible ways forward. When we first find ourselves, we surely do so in relation — to family, first of all, but then in schooling, work, society, or, of course, in love — any and all of which are inevitably some mix of repression and liberation. For families, one place to start would be with Liyange Amarakeerthi’s tale of moving pictures and mirrors, lovingly translated by Chamini Kulathunga. Or Juhea Kim’s “Cockroach,” which begins with a entomological stress test surely familiar to every parent. Or Aaron Hamburger’s story of finding a place for self outside of parentally imposed politics, the very sort of family saga gifted to us by the Greeks. Society is sung, in these pages, in a polyphonic chorus, by poet, former activist, and former child of god Cynthia Dewi Oka, for instance, or in both urban and rural odes by John Hennessy. And the poets, no surprise, sing of love as well, whether Charif Shanahan, imagining intimacy an ocean away, or Jason Schneiderman’s “Gay Divorce,” where the city itself offers an embrace. In the art of Chitra Ganesh, a collective, inclusive future for the city is grounded by centering its past.
We get schooled by our institutions, though their key lessons are rarely found in textbooks: here Meg Pinto’s schoolteacher on the Pacific frontier tells a tale of diversity and exclusion over a century old, whereas Stacia Tolman’s story of in-school suspension suggests what today’s instructors might learn about inclusion, but mostly haven’t. In work, both J. Malcolm Garcia and Katherine Kolupke find more repression than expression, the former in corruption at the core of occupied Afghanistan, the latter in a delicious comeuppance at a packing and mailing shop. When it comes to repression, though, there’s nothing like the state, whether in the violence it condones and covers up, here called out in no uncertain terms by Lindsay Sproul, or in the violence it hoards for itself, either in asylums, as detailed by Amaia Gabantxo, or in our so-called correctional institutions, as Patty Prewitt makes crystal clear.
After such a series of distorting mirrors, then, what knowledge? How could any self arise out of all this othering? Here, for a whole host of reasons, I’ll end with a nod to the ars poetica of Lisa Low, crafted in caution and care, not to mention strength and stamina. Two years in, after disruption, lockdown, forced isolation, grief, and death, after inscribing ourselves as others see us, we do in the end find and know both steel and diamond.
And with that, we turn the page.
for the editors
Table of Contents
The Lion Tamer’s Daughter vs. The Ledge, a poem by Kemi Alabi
A Thin Net over an Abyss, a story by Liyanage Amarakeerthi,
translated by Chamini Kulathunga
Of Bats and People, an essay by Amaia Gabantxo
Please Don’t Ask Us, an essay by Lindsay Sproul
What Did Helen Do?, a poem by Lee Upton
Butter Schooner, a story by Meg Pinto
Oil Tank Farm and Family Man in The Valley,
two poems by John Hennessy
Gay Divorce (10th Avenue), a poem by Jason Schneiderman
Mizugiwa, a story by Ning Sullivan
from The Odd Month, poems by Valeria Meiller,
translated by Whitney DeVos
Ars Poetica, a poem by Lisa Low
A City Will Share Her Secrets If You Know How to Ask,
art by Chitra Ganesh
The Poetry of Punishment, a story by Stacia Tolman
from This Is a Pipe, a novel excerpt from Andrea Durlacher,
translated by Travis Price
Still Life, a poem by Leah Umansky
Poison, a story by Katherine Kolupke
Blue Moon, a poem by C. Dale Young
Kabir, a story by Sakena Abedin
Cautionary Statement Regarding Forward-Looking Statements,
a poem by Liza Watkins
Notes on Contributors
SAKENA ABEDIN is a pediatrician and a lecturer in the History Department at Yale.
KEMI ALABI is the author of Against Heaven (Graywolf Press), selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Academy of American Poets First Book Award. Their work appears in Poetry, The Atlantic, Best New Poets, Redivider as winner of the 2020 Beacon Street Prize, and elsewhere. Coeditor of The Echoing Ida Collection (Feminist Press), they live in Chicago, IL.
LIYANGE AMARAKEERTHI is a contemporary Sri Lankan writer, critic, and academic. He is the author of eight collections of short stories, five novels, and two collections of poetry. He is also a writer of two children’s books, six academic books, and ten translations into Sinhalese. His novel Atawaka Puththu (Half-moon Sons) won the Best Sinhala Novel award at the 2008 State Literary Festival. He is also the recipient of the National Award for Literature in 2000, Swarna Pusthaka Awards in 2014 and 2016, and the Vidyodaya Literary Award in 2014 for his fiction and prose works.
GABRIELLE BATES is the author of Judas Goat, forthcoming from Tin House in 2023. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she currently lives in Seattle, where she works for Open Books: A Poem Emporium and co-hosts the podcast The Poet Salon. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Ploughshares, Poetry, APR, and The Offing, among other journals.
WHITNEY DEVOS is a writer, translator, and scholar specializing in hemispheric American literatures. She is the translator of Notes Toward a Pamphlet by Sergio Chejfec and The Semblable by Chantal Maillard, and co-translator of Carlos Soto Román’s 11 and Hugo García Manríquez’s Commonplace / Lo común, both forthcoming. Her translations of Valeria Meiller have also appeared in AzonaL, Chicago Review, Denver Quarterly, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, as well as in Columbia Journal, where a selection was awarded the spring 2021 prize in translation.
ANDREA DURLACHER is a poet, novelist, columnist, and creative writing instructor who lives in Montevideo, Uruguay. Her collection of poems, Ni un segundo para arrepentirme, was published by Artefato in 2004, and her poetry has since been included in various anthologies. Her debut novel, Esto es una pipa (This is a pipe), was published by Random House in 2015.
AMAIA GABANTXO is a writer, singer, and literary translator specialized in Basque literature—a pioneer in the field and its greatest contributor. She’s a multiple award recipient: a Wingate Scholar and OMI alumni, and a 2020-21 artist-in-residence at the CLEAR Maritime Lab in Newfoundland’s Memorial University. A descendant of seafaring folk, she has translated generational skills into an ability to chart new routes in the literary seas. She is a lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her album Kantuz: 1931 was released last year.
CHITRA GANESH is a Brooklyn-based visual artist whose work encompasses drawing, painting, comics, installation, video art, and animation. She often draws on Hindu and Buddhist iconography and South Asian forms such as Kalighat and Madhubani, and is currently negotiating her relationship to these images with the rise of right wing fundamentalism in India. Ganesh has exhibited widely across the U.S., Europe, and South Asia, and her work is held in prominent public collections such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, San Jose Museum of Art, Baltimore Museum, the Whitney Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art. Ganesh’s site-specific QUEERPOWER FACADE commission at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, A city will share her secrets if you know how to ask, is on view through June 2022, and her solo show, Nightswimmers, is on view at Hales Gallery through February 5, 2022.
As a social worker, J. MALCOLM GARCIA worked with homeless people in San Francisco for fourteen years before he made the jump into journalism in 1995. He is a recipient of the Studs Terkel Prize for writing about the working classes and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for excellence in journalism. His most recent book is The Fruit of All My Grief: Lives in the Shadows of the American Dream.
AARON HAMBURGER is the author of the story collection The View from Stalin’s Head (Rome Prize in Literature) and the novels Faith for Beginners (a Lambda Literary Award nominee), Nirvana Is Here (winner of a Bronze Medal from the Foreword Indie Awards), and Hotel Cuba (forthcoming from HarperCollins). His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Crazyhorse, Tin House, Subtropics, Poets & Writers, Boulevard, and O, the Oprah Magazine. He has taught writing at Columbia University, the George Washington University and the Stonecoast MFA Program.
JOHN HENNESSY is the author of two poetry collections, Bridge and Tunnel and Coney Island Pilgrims. He is the co-translator, with Ostap Kin, of A New Orthography, selected poems by Serhiy Zhadan, finalist for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, 2021, and co-winner of the Derek Walcott Prize, 2021, and the anthology Babyn Yar: Ukrainian Poets Respond (Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute/HUP). Hennessy teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
JUHEA KIM is a writer, artist, and advocate based in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has been published in Granta, Slice, Zyzzyva, Guernica, Catapult, The Independent, and elsewhere. She is the founder and editor of Peaceful Dumpling, an online magazine at the intersection of sustainable lifestyle and ecological literature. She earned her BA in art and archaeology from Princeton University. Her debut novel, Beasts of a Little Land (Ecco), will be published around the world in 2022.
KATHERINE KOLUPKE is a fiction writer living in Denver, Colorado. She is a recent graduate of the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop Book Project, during which she finished her first short story collection. She is currently working on a novel.
CHAMINI KULATHUNGA is a Sri Lankan translator. She is a graduate of Iowa Translation Workshop and a former visiting fellow at Cornell University’s South Asia Program. Chamini is currently working as Asymptote’s editor-at-large for Sri Lanka and as an associate editor at The Song Bridge Project, a non-profit publisher of literary translations based in Iowa City. She is a recipient of Cornell University’s Global South Translation Fellowship in 2021. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Los Angeles Review, World Literature Today, Asymptote, Project, Plume, and elsewhere.
LISA LOW’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Ecotone, The Iowa Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, and elsewhere, and her nonfiction won the 2020 Gulf Coast Nonfiction Prize. She is the associate editor of The Cincinnati Review and a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati. Her debut chapbook, Crown for the Girl Inside, won the 2020 Vinyl 45 Chapbook Contest and is forthcoming from YesYes Books.
VALERIA MEILLER is a writer and scholar specializing in the environmental humanities in the Latin American region. She is recognized for conceiving original and dynamic projects and ideas for biennials, exhibitions, conferences, and publications. Valeria is the author of four poetry books in Spanish: El libro de los caballitos, El mes raro, El Recreo, and Tilos. She is an assistant professor of Social and Environmental Challenges in Latin America at UTSA. For more information about her work, visit www.valeriameiller.com.
CYNTHIA DEWI OKA is the author of Fire Is Not a Country (Northwestern University Press) and Salvage (Northwestern University Press), and Nomad of Salt and Hard Water (Thread Makes Blanket Press). A recipient of the Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Prize and the Leeway Transformation Award, her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, POETRY, Academy of American Poets, The Rumpus, PANK, Guernica, ESPNW, and elsewhere. Her experimental poem, Future Revisions, was exhibited at the Rail Park billboard in Philadelphia in summer 2021. An alumnus of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, she has taught creative writing at Bryn Mawr College and New Mexico State University, and is currently Poet in Residence at the Amy Clampitt House in Lenox, MA. She is originally from Bali, Indonesia.
MEG PINTO grew up in northern California, moved east for college, and stayed. She has an MFA from the University of Massachusetts. Pinto has taught writing at Smith and Princeton, as well as in public housing settings. She’s worked in documentary film, including as scriptwriter for a PBS series on the history of the American teacher.
PATRICIA PREWITT is an elderly lifer who’s served 36 years, thus far, for a murder she did not commit. #justiceforpattyprewitt
TRAVIS PRICE is a fiction writer and translator of Spanish whose work has appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, pioneertown, jmww, and Latin American Literature Today, among other publications. After completing a Fulbright in Uruguay in 2018, Travis attended the Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference and has since translated the work of several Uruguayan writers, including Marcelo Damonte, Horacio Cavallo, and Ana Laura Pedraja. Travis lives in Philadelphia.
JASON SCHNEIDERMAN is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Hold Me Tight (Red Hen); he edited the anthology Queer: A Reader for Writers (Oxford UP). He is an associate professor at CUNY’s BMCC and teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
CHARIF SHANAHAN is the author of Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing (Crab Orchard Series in Poetry), which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and Jones Lectureship at Stanford University, and a Fulbright grant to Morocco, among other awards and recognitions. He is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Northwestern University, where he teaches poetry in the undergraduate and Litowitz MFA and MA programs.
LINDSAY SPROUL’s debut novel We Were Promised Spotlights was published with Putnam/Penguin in 2020, and her short fiction and essays have appeared in Glimmer Train, Witness, Epoch, Hayden’s Ferry Review and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from VCCA, Columbia University, and MacDowell. She serves as the first queer editor-in-chief of the New Orleans Review and teaches at Loyola University New Orleans.
NING SULLIVAN was born and grew up in mainland China. She came to the United States of America at age thirty-six. A former academic and researcher with advanced degrees in philosophy and sociology, she has studied and worked in China, Sweden, Denmark, Mexico, and the US. She has taught philosophy, sociology, and statistics, worked as a data consultant, and published research papers on Asian American mental health. This is her first publication in creative writing. She lives in Maine with her husband of twenty-two years.
STACIA TOLMAN has worked the fields of education for many years, first as a high school English teacher and now as a substitute, where the kids are lively company. A hilltown Yankee, she lives and gardens and swims with her family in New Hampshire.
LEAH UMANSKY is the author of two full length collections, The Barbarous Century and Domestic Uncertainties among others. She earned her MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and has curated and hosted The COUPLET Reading Series in NYC since 2011. Her creative work has been published widely in such places as Fence, the New York Times, POETRY, The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day, and Rhino.
LEE UPTON is the author of books of poetry, fiction, and literary criticism. Her seventh book of poetry, THE DAY EVERY DAY IS, won the 2021 Saturnalia Prize and is forthcoming from Saturnalia in 2023.
LIZA WATKINS is a poet and social worker from Louisiana. Her current work reflects ongoing research in the communities and wildlife refuges recently devastated by Hurricane Laura. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston, where she was a teaching fellow. Her work has appeared in Paris Review, and she is a reader for New England Review.
C.DALE YOUNG is the author of a novel, The Affliction, as well as five collections of poetry, the most recent being Prometeo. A recipient of fellowships from the NEA, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, he practices medicine full-time and lives in San Francisco.