Foreword

 

"You opened this door..."  

So begins Melissa Stein's poem, "Hinges," appearing in this issue of the Bellevue Literary Review. It is an apt description for much of the writing we receive. Our themes seem to inspire writers to dig a bit deeper, to enter the realms that are slivered open when illness invades. The ways in which we are broken and healed press these doors even further ajar, allowing us to consider the fragility of the human experience.

When asked to describe our themes, we often say that we are looking for writing on "illness, health, and healing." However, this is a deceptively simple phrase. Yes, on the surface these are stories, essays, and poems about disease and healing, about the mind and body. But they are more than that. They take the reader into intimate spaces and help us find that common place—that human place—where we can slip into another person's experience.

Several pieces in this issue are meditations on loss. In "A Distant Shore," by Patrick Pfister, our narrator—on the cusp of moving from hospital to hospice—is charged with taking stock of his life in order to find some kind of peace before death. MaryLee McNeal's "Smart Enough" approaches loss from a different angle, as a man who has spent his life under the thumb of his domineering mother is suddenly ‘free' after her death. Nancy Naomi Carlson's "What Bears Your Name" is a beautiful poem about honoring a child's "one day of life."

Other pieces in this issue also consider birth and childhood. Christopher Schacht's "Shark Eyes" turns an unflinching eye to what constitutes living when twins are delivered prematurely. In "Martin, 1918," Karina Borowicz describes a childhood cut short by "the epidemic standing sentinel/ at the border between twelve and thirteen." The young narrator in Kelly Flanigan's "To the River" also sees his childhood contract when he must cope with tragedy in his friend's family and uncertainty in his own. In "Before the Jacaranda Trees Bloom," by Sequoia Nagamatsu, two recent college graduates spend a summer at a hospice in South Africa, mourning the end of their relationship while helping a young boy grieve the impending loss of his mother to AIDS.

All of the essays in this volume contemplate family relationships: what we inherit, what is lost, and how lives are interwoven despite the fractures of time and place. P. Philip Cheung's "My Father's Hands" focuses on the intangibles that his father has passed on to him, delicate talents that were not taught so much as absorbed. Itzhak Kronzon and Kurt Magsamen also pay tribute to fathers—in very different ways—in their essays. Hazel Kight Witham's "The Storm Between Us" parallels the author's struggle with mental illness with that of her grandmother, tracing her birthright back to the hospital where her grandmother endured treatment of a different sort in another era. And in "She Might Die," Magda Montiel Davis reaches back to a time when her mother's future was uncertain and her own capacity to understand was bound by the limitations of childhood.

Other pieces invite us to go along for the ride with their unique characters. In "The Hand You're Dealt," Jerry M. Burger takes us on a journey with a bipolar man searching for connection while in the throes of a manic gambling trip. Luther Magnussen's "At War With General Franco" follows a gallivanting soldier in the Spanish Civil War, weaving his story back and forth through time. And in "This, of Course, Is Spiritual," by Matt Lombardi, we spend time with a writing professor who has locked himself in the school bathroom, where he alternates between raving wildly and calmly teaching class to the students gathered outside the door.

We hope you enjoy ‘opening this door' with us. Simply putting together an issue means nothing if it does not reach the hands of passionate readers. We are grateful to everyone who joins our community of subscribers, and to everyone who chooses a copy from the overflowing bookstore racks. We hope that the words in the BLR stimulate discussion and reflection, and that you'll be inspired—to share the journal and to share your own stories.

 

 

Stacy Bodziak
Managing Editor