Monday, December 06, 2021

Reckoning #5 (2021)

Reckoning, ed. Waverly SM, Giselle Leeb et al. Issue 5 (January–July 2021). Online at

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

Editor Cécile Cristofari opens Reckoning 5 with a call to action shaped by how pandemic has significantly isolated us from nature; we cannot simply rely on nostalgia to deepen our fight against ongoing natural depreciation from climate change and other human-made devastations. Editor Leah Bobet adds, in her following editorial, that the quest for poetry here was shaped by little intimacies, “flecks of possibility” for reconnection with the world around us, in our most personable and fleeting interactions with the rest of nature.

Anthony Pearce’s essay, “No More Creepy Crawlies,” immediately builds on that focus on minute detail by looking at the horror of missing insect-life, delayed decomp cycles, and other such signs of a massive ecological shift. “On the Destruction and Restoration of Habitats” by Priya Chand then offers a personal reflection on the difficult horror of being complicit in a set of ecological invasions that native diversity had not evolved for, and the importance of direct commitment to the work of reclaiming biodiversity. Liv Kane’s “Facing Medusas” closes the section with a meditation on fishermen and cosmonauts, setting a tone for the issue with descriptions of shared estrangement before immense realms of possibility, danger, and wonder.

Poetry next. Julia DaSilva’s “Salvage Song” casts us adrift in an oceanic realm, a voyage in the direction of longing itself, which requires us to make use of every bit of narrative flotsam we can find to carry us to the end of the world—and maybe beyond it. Marlon Hacla then has a poem presented in two languages, Filipino and English (translation by Kristine Ong Muslim), which also binds apocalyptic musings with imagery of rising waters and its detritus—and which asks how narrative wondering might allow us to invoke better worlds ahead.

Next, Christy Jones puts such questions to work in “you said, ‘they’re making the ground soft’,” which suggests a possible intentionality and value to the shifting earth beneath us. Maya Chhabra’s “Owl Prowl” similarly seeks to rationalize lost encounters, to find comfort in the relationships with nature that remain when the ones we’re looking for won’t show up. Catherine Rockwood’s “From the Embassy of Leaks to the Court of Cracks” is also trying to negotiate, its speaker pleading for new ways to tempt its audience into partaking in fractured truths on broken lands.

“when the coral copies our fashion advice” by Ashley Bao is a bleaker work, a depiction of a land that has blanched itself in accordance with our styles, our preferences, and which offers apology now, in fleeting returns to old colorations and brilliant blooms, even though such an attempt at return might be too little, too late. D. Dina Friedman’s “We Have So Little Time Left” concurs, depicting a wide range of scenes of loss (“Death / by a thousand small cuts”), not so far off from the precious world of here and now. Joseph Hope’s “Voice of God” then lends a note of spiritualism to this growing divide, with the words uttered by or through our natural world becoming indecipherable. And “letters from the ides” by Jennifer Mace offers us solace from such grim ends, but only in the possibility of imagining ourselves as coral—capable, that is, of waiting out our fear, and maybe surviving long enough to bear witness to a tomorrow filled with small yet precious hopes.

The issue then turns to fiction, where Angela Penrose’s “The Wild Inside” starts us off with a haunting look at how we might one day acclimate so fully to estrangement from the wilderness that any future interactions with it will become tinged with horror. Next, “Riverine” by Danielle Jorgenson Murray takes us in the opposite direction, offering a world where a human wants to do more, to connect, but our folklore joining with nature only create more obstacles to fuller understanding of something so utterly not ourselves.

Eileen Gunnell Lee’s “You Cannot Return to the Burning Glade” then offers another attempt at meeting the world where it is, as told through diary entries and a tension between tales of loss to the burning world and abiding hopes for (re)connection. S.L. Harris’s “Ash and Scar” narrows this attempt to a single site of hope for reconnection, a sickened ash tree, and reflects on the concurrent need for different sorts of healing among others in the protagonist’s life. “Gingko Biloba” by Riley Tao then turns the tables by giving us a story of connection from the perspective of a single Gingko biloba, over tens of thousands of years of human time. Next, Remi Skytterstad’s “A Song Born” offers us an historical Sámi (indigenous, far north on the European continent) perspective on a spiritual connection with nature that settlers drove rifts into, on both an individual and culture-wide level.

Moving back to the present (or near-future), Corey Farrenkopf’s “Wash’ashore Plastics Museum” explores an attempt to make healing and constructive use of plastic waste that washes up—even if the plastic waste seems to emerge from more lands than truly exist, lending an added level of estrangement to the struggle against human-made natural destruction. Sandy Parsons’s “The Talking Bears of Greikengkul” then explores a different kind of waste, an experiment on bears that has made a gimmick of sentient beings—and gives us a person hoping it’s not to late to help these bears’ new voices gain a seat at the table.

Steve Rasnic Tem’s “Mummies” next gives us a protagonist in a near-future devastated by climate-change on both ecological and human-psychological levels, so of course it makes sense to turn to ancient wisdom—say, the death rites of the Ancient Egyptians—to make sense of the rituals called for as individuals and world ecologies negotiate their endings. Next to this eulogizing, though, the impatient call for humans to take more responsibility sings out from Oyedotun Damilola Muees’s “All We Have Left Is Ourselves”: a story of waste among the elite, the necessity of scavenge for everyone else, and the lives lost to this unjust distribution of vital resources.

The next story, “SPF” by Justine Teu, starts with the death of a pet amid climate-change, then moves through an affected and ultimately futile veneer of normalcy laid over other heat-induced traumas in the coming world. Rae Kocatka’s “After Me, A Flood” is even grimmer, somehow, in its imagining of an attempt to bypass death from asphyxiation that leads to a different sort of life, a human being turned into relentlessly salvaged tech put to work in various efforts to sustain life around her.

And yet, perhaps against all odds, the issue ends with hope. In Karen Heuler’s “The Restoration” we’re given a re-seeding project among a range of other community projects trying to rebuild the world’s ecosystems. Here we’re given to see how even the smallest acts of individual courage can still do their part to help the whole.

This wide range of material is all well-constructed and affecting, highly stylized, but in many cases still carrying forward a body of urgency and horror that cuts through the veil of elegance. The curation of these stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces also merits high praise, because even as many individual pieces offer a singular wallop, they also wend so well together that they offer a powerful argument of fellow-feeling that deserves to be experienced as a whole.

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