Monday, December 14, 2020

Constelación #0.5 (2020)

Constelación Magazine, ed. Coral Alejandra Moore & Eliana González Ugarte. Sample issue 0.5 (2020). Online at

Reviewed by Sonia Sulaiman

Constelación Magazine is a new, bilingual, magazine of speculative fiction publishing in Spanish and English. They have yet to launch their first issue, but there is a ‘sample issue’ available and what a sample! The sample issue contains two fiction pieces: “Makeisha in Time” by Rachael K. Jones, and “I, Crocodile” by Jacinta Escudos (translated by Eliana González Ugarte), as well as “Giving Back” a piece of non-fiction, and art by Gutti Barrios. For the purpose of this review, we’re only be looking at the two fiction pieces. Each includes its own trigger warnings.

‘Makeisha in Time’ by Rachael K. Jones is a wonderfully lush and imaginative exercise in writing the marginalized and erased back into history—specifically Black Queer women. Trigger warnings for this story include death, suicide, and self-harm. The main character, Makeisha, does this unwillingly at first: she uncontrollably is relocated into the past where she lives multiple lives like a matryoshka doll, and then more purposefully as she gains more agency in her life.

Although she cannot control when and where she goes to live her other lives, Makeisha takes up the mission of leaving a legacy. Her efforts are thwarted by time, and the bias of the curators of the documents and artefacts she leaves behind. She faces gaslighting from friends, family, and historians:

“You’re building a fake identity,” Philippa tells her one day, daring the towers of books and dried-out markers to bring Makeisha some soup. “There weren’t any black women in ancient Athens. There weren’t any in China. You need to come to grips with reality, my friend.”

This, of course, is the situation of anyone interested in the historical deletions of marginalized people. There is considerable push back against efforts to gather these phantoms of history back into its pages. During one of Makeisha’s lives, she becomes a warlord in Bavaria and marries several women who take prominent roles in administering her domain. It is particularly painful for her to return from this life, but she takes solace in seeing an exhibit on it. However, the museum notes the artefacts are “early medieval objects from the court of a foreign king. He reigned in Bavaria for about thirty years.”

>He? He? Makeisha stormed back to the entrance, demanded to speak with a manager, her vision swimming a violent red, her hand groping for a pommel she did not wear anymore. It was wrong. It was all wrong, wrong, wrong. Her wives, assigned a husband and stripped of their deputyship! Their legacy, handed to a manufactured person!

The silences of history are loud. By personalizing the erasures of queer Black women in the figure of Makeisha, Jones sharpens this silence to a fine point. We will need to be as persistent as Makeisha if we are to retrieve the silenced and erased voices of history.

“I, Crocodile,” written by Jacinta Escudos and translated from Spanish by Eliana González Ugarte, is a magical realism story about a girl who turns into a crocodile when she refuses to submit to her village’s ritual genital mutilation ritual. The content warnings included with this story are: child abuse, genital mutilation, violence, and blood.

The plot of “I, Crocodile” is, like its style, essentially simple and direct but sensual in its details. The protagonist narrates her own story of finding sympathetic company with the crocodiles of the river where the human society sees only the potential for monstrosity in her developing body. From the start, she has no fear or confusion about becoming a crocodile. And as the story progresses we learn exactly what the villagers fear from girls who do not submit to the genital mutilation ritual:

You’ll never get married, they’d say. And Mother would say, no one will pay a dowry for you. We’ll be forever miserable. She’ll be unfaithful, lustful, sick in the flesh, and her whole body will rot. Her parts will grow and grow and be as big as a goat’s horn, they’d say behind my back

Instead of encouraging her to submit, these threats manifest as a dream in which she fantasizes about having a penis which she masturbates with:

I dreamed. In my dream I lay face up, naked. And in the dream, I saw that between my legs grew a long one-eyed serpent, thick and rigid, colored like my flesh, and I took the serpent’s head between my hands, placed it in my mouth and began to feel strange things throughout my body. And I awoke pressing my legs together, feeling like something moved in that part where water leaves the body. Something that moved and throbbed just as intensely as my beating heart.

The narrator embraces the changing of her body from human to animal, and transforming genitals. She has a natural, open acceptance of this transition as opposed to the horror displayed by the villagers. And yet she is not alone: others have undergone the transformation as well. The villagers warn her that she will become a crocodile if she does not submit.

After taking revenge on the women who perform the ritual, leaving behind the men who are unable to stop her and her crocodile allies, the narrator has completed her transition. By the end of the story, she is quite content to live with the crocodiles:

My crocodile friends have a good time. I no longer try to become human. I’d rather be like this, a crocodile, with a long serpent growing between my legs.

“I, Crocodile” can be read so many different ways. It could be a parable about misogyny, or transgender experiences. In short, despite its length, this story is dense with possibilities.

Constelación Magazine’s sample issue really packs a punch. Dealing head on with issues of gender, race, sexuality, and the stories we tell, this issue really whets the appetite for more. The two stories are so well written and imbued with a lot to unravel and ponder. I know I’m looking forward to reading more once the magazine launches in earnest.

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