- Out of this World
Magic and literature are sibling arts. Both deal with the unexpected connectedness of things, transformation from one state to another, and the human urge to defy the odds and break out of confinement or control. Both create their own rules while at the same time reminding us of compliance with physical law and the threat of failure. The magician dramatizes fragility and vulnerability, hinting that this may be the time he fails to pull it off. In literature, even Shakespeare’s master magician Prospero, who controls both the spirits and human visitors on his island, knows that he rules a world of “baseless fabric, cloud-capped towers” from which in the end he chooses to be released.
The best literature can be magical, disruptive and transporting in theme as well as in its effect on the reader. Fictive realms where old orders break down remind us that the real world is temporary and that change can finally be a positive force, whether our urge is to encourage or resist it. Obvious or not, it is one of the primal subjects of literature. In comedy, change is threatening to some but finally constructive and wonderful. In serious fiction and tragedy, the character that disrupts or threatens the way things are done ends up either sobered, reduced or cut down. Yet for reasons that may be more complicated than Aristotle’s notion of catharsis, the full experience of a tragic character can be enlightening and meaningful beyond his fate—even that of a Hamlet or Gatsby, or Lear with his clamorous, raving demise. [End Page 5]
In this issue of TMR, Regina DiPerna’s poems speak of the enigmatic connectedness between the body and the self. While the body is depicted as a site of wondrous working and simultaneous dissolution, the self takes a defiant stand against any form of containment. It strives for an almost magical autonomy, sometimes choosing to be “blind” to our mortality and deaf to “the fortune our bodies told.” Noah Warren’s poems follow the motion of a milkweed stalk caught in a storm, a boat drifting over roofs during a biblical flood and fireflies gathering above a river path. Blending observation with metaphysical inquiry, Warren contemplates the self’s place in a natural world that can be at once magnificent, mysterious and menacing. Jenny Molberg examines the “unseen” in her poems. Whether triggered by a photo of the speaker with her father at a state fair, a chrysalis exhibition, the memory of a storm or images from a fairy tale, she traces the time-obscured trajectory of the self’s evolution. Like the “two wing-buds” hidden inside a caterpillar, the future can also be seen as held inside ourselves—if we choose to believe it.
“Oonark” by Elizabeth Altomonte is an intriguing framed story set in Canada. A shocking tragedy in a middle-aged mother’s life sparks her memory of an event many years earlier when she was assigned to escort an Inuit textile artist being honored at the Canadian National Gallery. She is reminded of the artist’s interest in a particular Rubens painting and what she said about the ever-changing world. “Snow melts and becomes part of the air, and part of everything, so it is not possible to find meanings and explanations in experiences. Everything is connected, everything melts and becomes part of the air, and these unseen forces govern every aspect of our lives, from birth to death, from death to birth . . . real art is in the writing of her name upon the snow”—observations that only now, in the face of the tragedy in her own life, does the mother somehow understand.
“The Noise of His Tabernacle” by Zach Dayhuff is a story set in a small west Texas town where the main industry is the local slaughterhouse. Arlene, the narrator, is a big, awkward young woman with “fists like two grapefruits” from an Evangelical family. Because she’s strong and can do the work, she takes a job as a knocker, killing cattle. She becomes romantically involved in secret with an older man from somewhere else, not Texas, who works in...