Front Cover by Fred Wilson
X (detail) from the Exit Art portfolio Tantra 2005
Volume 64, Issue 1
TO FORGIVE TAKES POWER—judgment, sentence, and pardon are each implied in the act. We imagine that power divine and yet also claim it for ourselves. Forgive us our . . . what? debts, trespasses, sins? as we forgive . . . the sins of others. In the loose weave of Christian tradition, transgression is the red thread, and human history begins with the first taste of good and evil. Assuming that, as the story goes, all are sinners, then the extension of forgiveness to others is the necessary step that binds community together again. Religion, from the Latin, re-ligare, to bind again.
For any of this to occur, however, the power assumed must also be recognized. In our own times, riven by social and political divisions, no such assumptions can be made, their very basis often refused. Should we be surprised, then, to find that investigations of good and evil echo everywhere in our writers’ stories and songs this spring? Where do we go wrong, and why is wrong done to us? What are we owed by others? What caused these walls to crumble, and can they, should they, be mended? Just a few of the questions we face. If a way forward is to be found, we’ll need a map or model: clarity or clairvoyance that only art—a residual form of divination—can provide. As Hannah Arendt, one of the voices cited here in Carl Hancock Rux’s “Cyclical Conversation,” puts it: “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”
We open this issue with a series of stories tracking the confrontation of modernity—capitalism, colorism, science—with tradition, where we find the latter not entirely defenseless again the former. Asnia Asim’s Kemal is known better than he knows, Chiou Charng-Ting’s finches fly only so far, and neither fire nor flood cleanse Tabish Khair’s privileged protagonists of their crimes. No wonder, then, that Oliver de la Paz’s diaspora sonnets and pantoum are centered in a “location / just beyond reach” or that, in Allegra Hyde’s wonderfully if barely futuristic tale, with the second coming of Tocqueville, beauty is never simply skin-deep. Martín Espada’s janitor may have crimes of his own to cleanse, but we also find, in Martín’s lovely, luminescent tribute to our founding editor Jules Chametzky, that tradition can, must, be passed on, and treasured. Despite the fears of Pier Paolo Pasolini, in some corners of our postmodern planet the fireflies remain, their light conserved. What’s more, the subaltern may not just speak; at times she actually wins one, as she does in the wickedly funny letters of Chuma Nwokolo, where his female protagonist outwits simultaneously the police, her husband, and his kidnappers, taking us all along for the ride.
One thing is crystal. The renewed clarity of the pages that you find in this issue we owe to Art Director Pam Glaven. At the start of 2022, she wrote to wish me a Happy New Year and pitched her idea for redesigning the Massachusetts Review, something she’d been thinking about since we began to expand and diversify our masthead back in 2020. She added, “I’m thinking about reaffirming our commitment to print, and to the book as object . . . about reaffirming our commitment to the mission of art as a tool for social justice and social change. This is such a perilous moment in history; I want to sharpen the lens that we’re looking through—cleaner, bolder, less fussy, more incisive.” No one else would we trust with this task: to break with past conventions yet maintain a healthy respect for our roots.
The art that Pam, together with Mario Ontiveros, culled from the UMCA’s retrospective exhibition also reinforces our mission—so let’s toast to working together with our campus partners for another six decades! To my mind, Pam’s lens is surely one we’re all looking for these days. And just as surely, it will be found everywhere in this issue.
for the editors
The Fireflies of Belmont Avenue
Democracy in America
Table of Contexts
Cindy Juyoung Ok
Eavesdropping on a Cyclical Conversation
Carl Hancock Rux
Table of Contents
MR. KEMAL QUESTIONS GOD a poem by Asnia Asim
FIDELIA CÓRDOBA a story by Amalialú Posso Figueroa, translated by Jeffrey Diteman and Shanta Lee Gander
RAINING ZEBRA FINCHES a story by Chiou Charng-Ting, translated by May Huang
NAMASTE TRUMP a story by Tabish Khair
DIASPORA SONNETS and PANTOUM BEGINNING AND ENDING WITH A BIG SKY poems by Oliver De La Paz
MAGIC MARKER an essay by Chris Campanioni
TO LOOK AT EARTH FROM HOWEVER MANY LIGHT YEARS AWAY a poem by Matthew Olzmann
THE JANITOR WHO SWEPT WHERE THERE WAS NO DUST and THE FIREFLIES OF BELMONT AVENUE poems by Martín Espada
EAVESDROPPING ON A CYCLICAL CONVERSATION a play by Carl Hancock Rux
YET a poem by Matthew Olzmann
THE RANSOM LETTERS OF SISI EKO a story by Chuma Nwokolo
TABLE OF CONTEXTS a poem by Cindy Juyoung Ok
DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA a story by Allegra Hyde
ON CRYING WHILE STRIPPING WALLPAPER a poem by Stevie Edwards
PROPHET a poem by Kathryn Petruccelli
SIXTY YEARS OF COLLECTING
A TOAST TO THE NARCISSIST’S EXIT a poem by Alexa Doran
ADIE WELLS AND PASSIONFRUIT a story by Jordan James
EVERYDAYNESS and OTHER DEFINITIONS OF BASIC CONCEPTS poems by Dan Beachy-Quick
BLIND SPOT a poem by Lauren Camp
POSTMORTEM a story by Ann Lohner
MOMMA, REFRACTED a poem by JC Andrews
INLAND a story by Lauren Hohle
THE PLEATED SKIRT nonfiction by Julieta Vitullo
THREESOME and DIVORCE APPARITION ALONG THE ROAD TO EMMAUS poems by Thomas Dooley
THE NAMELESS a story by Cherry Lou Sy
STAR DUST a poem by Jason Schneiderman
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
JC ANDREWS is a poet from Springfield, AR, with an interest in poems that work as an un-ing, poems that hold questions as a form of caretaking. She is the author of the chapbook Sweetwork, and her writing can be found in The Red Wheelbarrow, New Ohio Review, and elsewhere. She was a semifinalist for the 2021 Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize, a finalist for the 2021 New Millenium Writing Award, a finalist for the 2023 NORward prize, and a top ten applicant of the Mountain Words Writer-in-Residence program. She currently serves as an associate editor of Indiana Review.
ASNIA ASIM’S debut chapbook Quarantine with Rilke (Finishing Line Press) was listed by Ms. Magazine as “one of the most exciting and necessary collections published late last year and forthcoming in 2022.” Her poems have received multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her latest work can be found in Apogee Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, CALYX, Typehouse, and Cream City Review, among others. She is the recipient of the University of Chicago’s Humanities Fellowship and Brandeis University’s Allan Slifka Award.
DAN BEACHY-QUICK is a poet, essayist, and translator. A translation of Sappho, Wind—Oak—Mountain is forthcoming from Tupelo Press, and a collection of pre-Socratic philosophy, The Thinking Root, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. His work has been supported by the Manfort, Lannan, and Guggenheim Foundations. He teaches at Colorado State University, where he is a University Distinguished Teaching Scholar.
LAUREN CAMP is the Poet Laureate of New Mexico and the author of five books, most recently Took House (Tupelo Press). Honors include the Dorset Prize and finalist citations for the Arab American Book Award, Housatonic Book Award and New Mexico–Arizona Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, The Common, and Beloit Poetry Journal, and her work has been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, Serbian, and Arabic.
CHRIS CAMPANIONI’s essays, poetry, and fiction have been translated into Spanish and Portuguese, appearing in Best American Essays (HarperCollins), BOMB, Social Text, Fence, Denver Quarterly, and several other journals and anthologies. His research connecting media studies with studies of migration has been awarded a Mellon Foundation fellowship and the Calder Prize, and his writing has received the International Latino Book Award, the Pushcart Prize, and the Academy of American Poets College Prize.
CHIOU CHARNG-TING is a Taiwanese writer whose work spans genre and literary fiction. Her book Young Gods 新神 won Taiwan’s 2019 Openbook Book of the Year Award, and she was recognized by Taiwan’s Unitas Publishing House as one of the “Twenty Most-Anticipated Young Writers of Chinese Literature” in 2020.
JEFFREY DITEMAN is a literary translator working from Spanish and French to English. His translation of Pablo Martín Sánchez’s novel The Anarchist Who Shared My Name was published by Deep Vellum in 2018. Diteman is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with research focusing on cultural hybridity in modern Latin American narratives of extended kinship.
OLIVER DE LA PAZ is the author and editor of seven books: Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, Requiem for the Orchard, Post Subject: A Fable, and The Boy in the Labyrinth, a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry. His newest work, The Diaspora Sonnets, is forthcoming from Liveright Press in 2023. With Stacey Lynn Brown he co-edited A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry. A founding member, Oliver serves as the co-chair of the Kundiman advisory board. He has received grants from the NEA, NYFA, the Artist’s Trust, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and has been awarded multiple Pushcart Prizes. He teaches at the College of the Holy Cross and in the Low-Residency MFA Program at PLU.
THOMAS DOOLEY is the author of Trespass (National Poetry Series) and the forthcoming collection, The Perpendiculars. He is on faculty at the Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion at UCSD.
ALEXA DORAN recently completed her PhD in poetry at Florida State University. Her full-length collection DM Me, Mother Darling won the 2020 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize and was published in April 2021 (Bauhan). She is also the author of the chapbook Nightsink, Faucet Me a Lullaby (Bottlecap Press). You can look for work from Doran in recent or upcoming issues of Pleiades, Witness, pidgeonholes, NELLE, and Gigantic Sequins, among others.
STEVIE EDWARDS holds a PhD in creative writing from University of North Texas and an MFA in poetry from Cornell University. Stevie’s poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, American Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. She is a lecturer at Clemson University and author of Sadness Workshop (Button Poetry), Humanly (Small Doggies Press), and Good Grief (Write Bloody Publishing). Edwards is currently poetry editor of The South Carolina Review, and her third full-length collection of poetry, Quiet Armor, is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press’s Curbstone imprint. Originally a Michigander, she now lives in South Carolina with her husband and a small herd of rescue pitbulls (Daisy, Tinkerbell, and Peaches). Stevie uses she/they pronouns.
MARTÍN ESPADA’s latest book of poems is called Floaters, winner of the National Book Award and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Other collections of poems include Vivas to Those Who Have Failed, The Trouble Ball, and Alabanza. He is the editor of What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump. He has received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Creeley Award, a Letras Boricuas fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
AMALIALÚ POSSO FIGUEROA is a writer, storyteller, psychotherapist, and educator who has dedicated her life to promoting the oral tradition of Colombia’s Pacific Coast, particularly of women of African descent. She was born in 1947 in Quibdó, in the Chocó region of Colombia, and studied psychology at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. In 2021, her stories were included in the collection Biblioteca de escritoras colombianas. Her first book, Vean vé, mis nanas negras, has been published in ten editions in Colombia, and she has presented stories from her Cuentos eróticos del Pacífico colombiano on stages around the world. She received the Nelson Mandela Prize from the Fundación Cultural Nelson Mandela in 2015, the Guachupé de Oro Prize from the Fundación Cultural Colombia Negra in 2017, the Orden de la Democracía Simón Bolívar from the Colombian national congress in 2009, and the Vida y Obra award from the government of Chocó in 2007.
MAY HUANG is a writer and translator from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Her translations have appeared in Circumference, InTranslation, Asymptote, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. She was a mentee in ALTA’s 2020 Emerging Translators Mentorship Program and won a PEN/HEIM grant for translation in 2021.
LAUREN HOHLE earned her MFA from Eastern Washington University. She has served on the editorial staffs of Big Fiction Magazine, Lynx House Press, Willow Springs Books, and the Gettysburg Review, where she is currently the managing editor. She is an alum of the Community of Writers at Olympic Valley and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her fiction and essays appear in or are forthcoming from Crab Creek Review, Santa Monica Review, Western Humanities Review, the Sun, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry and Prose. She is at work on a novel-in-stories.
ALLEGRA HYDE is the author of Eleutheria, which was named a Best Book of 2022 by The New Yorker. She is also the author of the story collections, Of This New World, which won the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, and The Last Catastrophe, which will be published in March 2023 by Vintage. A recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, Hyde’s writing has also been anthologized in Best American Travel Writing, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions. Her stories, essays, and humor pieces have appeared in The New Yorker, American Short Fiction, BOMB, and many other venues.
JORDAN JAMES has been published in The Westchester Review, Stoneboat Literary Journal, Periphery Journal, Kalopsia, The Song Between our Stars, The Robert Frost Review, and Poet’s Choice, with work forthcoming in Juked. He earned his PhD in creative writing from The University of Southern Mississippi.
Born and educated in a small town in Bihar, India, TABISH KHAIR is the author of various books, including the poetry collections Where Parallel Lines Meet and Man of Glass; the studies Babu Fictions: Alienation in Indian English Novels and The Gothic, Postcolonialism and Otherness; and the novels Just Another Jihadi Jane, The Bus Stopped, Filming, The Thing About Thugs, How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position, and, in 2022, The Body by the Shore. His novels have been shortlisted for nine prizes in five countries, including the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Encore Award, and translated into several languages. A contributing editor for MR, Khair lives in a village near the town of Aarhus, Denmark.
SHANTA LEE GANDER is a writer of poetry, creative nonfiction, journalism, a visual artist and public intellectual actively participating in the cultural discourse with work that has been widely featured. Her current multimedia exhibition, Dark Goddess: An Exploration of the Sacred Feminine, which features her short film, interviews, photography, and other items is currently on view at University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art from now until spring 2023. Shanta Lee is an adjunct faculty member within the Creative Writing Department at Wilkes University.
ANN LOHNER’s fiction has appeared in Sewanee Review, Santa Monica Review, and Cimarron Review (US), Dalhousie Review and Nashwaak Review (CAN), Stand Magazine (UK), and Westerly Magazine (AU).
CHUMA NWOKOLO was called to the bar in 1984 and appointed a notary public in 1995. He is the convener of the good-governance advocacy project Bribecode. He cofounded African Writing magazine and was writer in residence at the Ashmolean Museum. His short stories and essays have been widely published, and his work has been translated into Italian, Slovene, Arabic, Yoruba, and Slovak. His first novel, The Extortionist, was published in 1983 and his latest, The Extinction of Menai, in 2018.
CINDY JUYOUNG OK is a writer, editor, and creative writing educator. A MacDowell Fellow, her poems are published or forthcoming in Poetry, the Nation, and the Baffler.
MATTHEW OLZMANN is the author of Constellation Route as well as two previous collections of poetry: Mezzanines and Contradictions in the Design. A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman, MacDowell, and the National Endowment for the Arts, Olzmann’s poems have appeared in the New York Times, Best American Poetry, the Pushcart Prizes, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. He teaches at Dartmouth College and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
KATHRYN PETRUCCELLI holds an MA in teaching English language learners and harbors obsessions over place, words, and the ocean. Her poetry and prose have appeared in places like the Southern Review, New Ohio Review, Rattle, Tinderbox, SWWIM, Sweet Lit, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, and others. She’s been a Best of the Net nominee and a finalist for the Omnidawn Poetry Broadside Contest. Kathryn teaches workshops for adults and teens that center around contemporary poets, a love of language, and the emotional literacy needed to weave a better future.
CARL HANCOCK RUX is an award-winning American poet, playwright, and multidisciplinary artist. He is the author of the poetry collection Pagan Operetta, the novel Asphalt, and the Obie Award–winning play Talk. Rux is co-artistic director of the Mabou Mines theater company and associate artistic director of Harlem Stage.
JASON SCHNEIDERMAN is the author of four books of poems, most recently Hold Me Tight (Red Hen). He edited the anthology Queer: A Reader for Writers (Oxford UP). His poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies; he is a longstanding co-host of the podcast Painted Bride Quarterly Slush Pile. His awards include the Shestack Award and a Fulbright Fellowship. He is professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
CHERRY LOU SY (she/her) is a writer/playwright originally from the Philippines of Chinese and Filipino heritage. Currently based in Lenapehoking, aka Brooklyn, New York, she received her BA at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and attended Brooklyn College’s MA in English Literature as well as the MFA in Playwriting program under Mac Wellman and Erin Courtney. She’s a recipient of fellowships and residencies from VONA and Tin House among others and a finalist for way too many things to mention.
JULIETA VITULLO is a Seattle-based bilingual writer and playwright born and raised in Argentina. She holds an MA in English and a PhD in Spanish from Rutgers. She’s the protagonist and co-script writer of the award-winning documentary La forma exacta de las islas. She authored a book about the Malvinas/Falklands War, and her articles on Latin American culture, literature and film have appeared in journals in the United States, England, Ireland, Argentina, Brazil, and Spain. Her work has appeared in Into the Void, The Normal School, The Fabulist, and Hawaii Pacific Review and were twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Julieta is a resident playwright and dramaturge at eSe Teatro, Seattle Latinas Take stage, and six of her plays have been presented in Seattle. In the spring of 2022, she launched PoemasEternos, a typewriter poetry and art project.