Poems by Gale Acuff

 

 

Broadcast

 

Miss Hooker and I on our honeymoon,

she’s my Sunday School teacher, I’m only

ten years old, stayed up ‘til nearly midnight,

I mean in last night’s dream, I mean in mine,

I don’t know if she shared it, I mean out

-side my dream but if she did that’s a good

sign that one day it will come true, it’s called

–I forget what it’s called but the future

is what it sees and the dreamer, that’s me,

sees it, too, and if Miss Hooker saw it

as well then we’re going to be married

and marriage means that you get to stay up

 

as late as you like, with your wife by your

side snoozing–your wife, not your side–or you

snooze next to her and when it’s time for bed,

the test pattern being what’s left onscreen

at the end of the day of viewing or

maybe the jets zooming to the tune of

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” then she wakes you

or you wake her, funnily enough, for

bed, or if you don’t want to wake her you

pick her up carefully and make sure you

don’t knock her head against the end table

or on the bedroom door or jamb and if

she’s strong enough, I guess she could tote

 

you to bed, I guess that could happen, if

it happened now Miss Hooker could pull it

off, she’s 25 and a grown woman

and I’m just a boy and anyway I

didn’t dream that part last night or if I

did I don’t remember and anyway

it’s kind of traditional, I mean, to

watch TV in bed together on your

honeymoon so neither one has to touch

the other, I mean unless they want to

but of course we will, it’s expected, but

when that’s behind us, I think it’s stuff that

ends up making babies for a family,

there’s the national anthem again next

morning, and then a preacher-program to

follow, and then some news, and some cartoons,

and then maybe reruns of Leave it to

Beaver or Flipper or Sea Hunt or more                                                               

cartoons. So it’s a fine old time, getting

acquainted like that after you’ve been spliced.

Next Sunday at church, if I don’t forget,

I’ll ask Miss Hooker if she’s had any

unusual dreams lately. Unusual

in what way, she’ll ask. Oh, you know,

I’ll say–something about watching TV

in the dark with somebody you love or

will love someday and you’ll marry him and

make him the happiest guy on Earth. If

she says no, I’ll ask her to guess my weight.

Maybe she only dreamt the carrying.

 

 

Mighty Hermaphrodite

 

Nobody loves me like Miss Hooker, God

not even, He’s never there when I need

Him anyway, not that Miss Hooker is

but she is a human being and what’s

more, a woman-human being and one

day I’ll marry one, a woman I mean,

and I hope it’s Miss Hooker and as for

God, even if He’s a woman or part

of both a woman and a man and throw

in part of anything else and forget

 

that He’s the mightiest thing that there is,

not that He’s a thing, exactly, maybe

soul but even that’s not powerful

enough for someone in His position,

but I wouldn’t marry God, not even

if He was the last human being left

and like I say, he wasn’t. Or isn’t?

I guess that Miss Hooker’s not perfect and

I guess that God Almighty is but like

I confessed to her after church, I mean

Miss Hooker, I’d take her over God no

matter how she might come up short–funny

how if you can choose what’s perfect over

what’s not-so that you’d go for what’s not-so,

at least I would. Before I left Sunday

 

School I asked Miss Hooker to marry me

but not right away, of course, I’m 10 to

her 25, but I mean not to give

me her answer then nor even next week

when we meet again–maybe God’s not so

bad, He keeps bringing us together–and

she said, Gotcha, Gale, and of course I know

 

that she’ll turn me down, she’ll have to turn me

down, I need to be a teenager and

then a young man, I mean a real young man,

I mean a young adult, at least, who shaves

and drives and maybe chews tobacco and

drinks Busch and smells of oil and Gumout and

Gunk and STP and Brut and Mum and

Tinactin and Aqua Velva even

if a couple of those are sins but then

that’s what the engagement is for, so that                                                                 

we can work thing out. Of course, Miss Hooker                                                                              

will be fifteen years ahead of me all

the while, 100 to my 85

for example, like God created us,

 

but if He knows so blamed much why didn’t

He hold back on the free will when He had

the chance? Here goes nothing–I’m good to go.

 

 

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Reed, Poet Lore,Chiron ReviewCardiff Review, Poem, Adirondack Review, Florida ReviewSlantNeboArkansas Review, South Dakota ReviewRoanoke Review and many other journals in a dozen countries. He has authored three books of poetry:Buffalo Nickel,The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.

A Review of Netflix Series Maid by Shruti Roy Muhuri

 

 

Learning from the Maid – Manifold Struggles and Relatable Precarity

NETFLIX MAID

 

Alexandra Russell (commonly referred to as Alex in the series) suffered from emotional abuse at the hands of his husband. At first, she failed to recognise it as abuse or violence but as the series progressed, she realised it. Her husband Sean Boyd used to get violent after getting drunk and punch a hole in the wall or throw things at her, which did not directly hit her per se but the shattered glass pieces stuck on their 2 years old daughter’s hair. It resulted in Alex’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This miniseries explored a lot of themes like domestic violence, trauma and panic attacks, life and struggle of a Maid who is also a single Mom, taking care of her daughter as well as her mother.

One of the prominent themes in this series is that of insane price hike. Alex struggles with money after leaving her husband as she did not have any college education and her husband never let her have financial independence of any kind. This demonstrates how sufferers of abuse find it difficult to leave their houses (which are also the sites of violence) because they have been kept financially dependent on the perpetrators. Breaking free from such a cycle requires dragging oneself through menial jobs which do not do justice to one’s talent and yet are essential to make ends meet. Alex, who later got accepted for a Creative Writing programme with scholarship, had to work as a maid and cleaned 338 toilets to be precise to sustain herself and her daughter, Maddy.

This series has been adapted from Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive and the subtext of the memoir sums up the three most important aspects, one related to the other, that is there in the series. Even with insane amount of hard work, Alex only manages to get a meagre amount and can save up only 9 dollars. In the screen, we can see a pop-up which keeps on showing the amount of money Alex has and the amount keeps decreasing quite rapidly. This pop-up on the side makes the viewer understand how everything – freedom from abuse, financial independence, taking care of one’s own child etc. – depend majorly and primarily on this one thing called money. While the essential need for earning money is universally true, the series reinforces the materiality of everyday struggles relentlessly. Emotions are not enough in this world. You may want the best for your child but you definitely need money to be able to afford it. The pop-up acts like a constant reminder in Alex’s mind, making her want to work more and more and thereby underlining for us her own precarity. In our current times and especially post-lockdown, employment opportunities in India have reduced a lot, people have lost their jobs and face a lot of difficulties in finding new jobs. There has been exponential price hike as well. All this makes Alex’s precarity utterly relatable. Writing provides Alex a source of solace and a way out of the devitalizing rat race to ensure bare survival.

Throughout the series, Alex searches for a home. Home symbolises comfort, peace, a place where you can be yourself. We are constantly trying to make our lifestyle better and as a consequence of that, we sometimes forget trying to make our lives better. In search of a home, she changes many places – Domestic Violence Shelters, her Mother’s, Nate’s house among other places. There was a place maintained by two women who were married which both Alex and Maddy really liked. Sean crashed at that place one day, heavily drunk and almost naked, and falls asleep on Alex’s landlord’s couch. Sean not only forced Alex to leave her house but also other nice places that she finds for herself and her daughter. After some terrible and miserable turn of events, Alex takes shelter in Sean’s place which totally disrupts her mental peace and well-being. She suffered from PTSD while living there, and constantly imagined herself drowned in a pit. The pit very aptly signifies how she has actually fallen into a huge pit by going back to Sean’s place. This is something she had to face because she didn’t get any substantial help from the society. This series has also showed the inefficiency and problems of government assistance programmes. The self-defeating nature of such programmes becomes evident when a frustrated Alex asks: “I need a job to prove that I need day care in order to get a job? what kind of fuckery is that?” Anyone suffering from abuse in their home would also not have the luxury to afford the amount of time that the logistics of these programmes demand, while their perpetrator is out there trying to sabotage whatever shelter they are seeking at the court. Sean pretended to change only to get Alex back and the moment he realises that Alex is back, he goes back to his older self, throwing things at her and scaring their daughter away. Her daughter tried to hide from Sean inside a cabinet in the very same manner Alex used to hide when she was 5 years old from her father when he used to physically abuse Alex’s mother. She went inside a small cabinet while cleaning one of the houses and had a major panic attack which, she realised much later, had happened due to years of suppressed trauma which she had to go through because of her physically abusive father.

The women at Domestic Violence shelter, however, prove to be completely opposite of the outside world and quite beautifully, they are the ones who actually help Alex at certain points in her life – Denise (the manager at the Shelter), Danielle (the woman who supported and helped Alex get on track when she lost custody of Maddy). It shows us that the victims are the only ones who can help out victims and, although honest, this is a very sad reality of our society.

 

This series also brings forth the power of literature and writing. Alex, even in the toughest of conditions, does not give up writing. She writes just out of her love for literature, and does so whenever she gets some time amidst her extremely busy schedule consisting of taking care of her daughter, combating the challenges posed by her husband and negotiating the reckless life her mother. This uncontaminated love of hers is what gets her enrolled in the Montana College of Fine Arts. This acceptance assured her a life away from stinky toilets, a life where she would be able to afford a car, where she would not have to run from door to door to get residential address for her daughter’s school, where she would not have to crash at her abusive husband’s place because she has no home, where she would not have to think twice before buying herself breakfast and most importantly, a life where she would be able to get Maddy whatever she wants for her. This is a series that thus entwines maternal love, female solidarity, power of art and the resilient struggle of individuals against the manifold process of exploitation and oppressions through a narrative that is both cerebrally and emotionally stimulating.

 

 

Shruti Roy Muhuri is studying Post Graduation in English Literature in Presidency University, Kolkata.

Poems by Milton P. Ehrlich

 

THE TANGENT POINT

 

When you climb up as high

as you can, you can touch all

her curves wherever they are,

and feel love as it’s meant to be.

Linger at her roots and you will

know the truth of whether your

flower can only speak the truth.

Taste the apple of your eye and

you will be the first to know if her

sweetness is as genuine as honey.

There are no words that can be

believed as well as your body that

speaks with the unsayable words

of the ecstasy and agony of passion.

 

AFTER YOU LEFT

 

When did I miss you?

Let me count the ways:

Only 24 hours of every day

and night—especially the night,

when only your ghost appears

in my empty room under the shadows

of the moon to watch me massage

your back until you fall asleep.

Your departure feels like I might

as well had my right arm torn off

at the Yalu River in our hasty retreat.

Now only the vibrating hum of my

phantom limb keeps me company.

Drenched in tears, I struggle to sleep

as I sing the best hymns to the Blues.

 

SENSING MY WAY HOME

 

Life without you is no life at all,

just another boring movie

without you as the star.

All I can do to save myself

is to get on the path

of sensory awareness

and approach everything

as if it was new.

I’ll allow each breath

to come at its own volition

and react to every experience

as it is and not as it should be.

I will let go of passing thoughts

and strive to be present,

allowing me to be curious

about what happens next,

offering me the possibility

of discovering an untouched

breath of creative inspiration.

 

 

Milton P. Ehrlich Ph.D. is a 90-year-old psychologist and a veteran of the Korean War. He has published many poems in periodicals such as the London Grip, Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant Literary Magazine, Wisconsin Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times.

 

Review of J.K. Rowling’s The Christmas Pig by Somrita Misra

“Miracles and Lost Causes”: A Review of J.K. Rowling’s The Christmas Pig

christmas pig

     J.K. Rowling is a name known to all. Till 2020 she was the darling of all readers, young and old. In early 2020 Rowling tweeted a few comments which shocked her readers. After all, how could the author of our favorite and very inclusive series (Harry Potter) be hateful towards one of the most vulnerable communities: the transgenders? How could Rowling, who championed the misfits and the downtrodden in Harry Potter, be transphobic? Rowling, overnight, became one of the most hated authors. Like everybody else, I was shocked and hurt. Then in 2021, Rowling published an essay clarifying her tweets. But the transgender community, the ones most affected by her tweets, refused to relent; many of them have called out the essay; for many readers, the essay just confirms Rowling’s transphobia. I would, at the beginning of my review, like to state very firmly that I do not support any of Rowling’s tweets and that my review is for Rowling’s art, which does not reflect any kind of prejudice towards any race or community, and certainly not towards transgenders. The hurt that Rowling has caused the transgender community is unforgivable as are her tweets. But art has to be separated from the artist; Kipling had deeply racist views but we cannot stop reading his stories. Indian readers have long since filtered or separated Kipling’s art from him and scholars have critiqued his racism. Rowling too has to be read in the same way, though as an informed reader and scholar, I can safely say Rowling’s works do not reflect any prejudice or phobia, whatever her own personal views may be.

     With this disclaimer, let me begin my review. Rowling, in her interviews, has said that she always wanted to write a Christmas story. But she wanted the story to be really good. Thus was born The Christmas Pig. The book revolves around a young boy, Jack, and his beloved toy, Dur Pig or as he is called popularly, DP. Jack’s seven year old life suddenly turns topsy turvy when his parents are divorced and he has to move to a new town where his mother decides to move to when she gets a new job. During all of these upheavals,  DP has been Jack’s closest companion. Then, one Christmas eve, Jacks’ new moody teenage step-sister (Jack’s mother has remarried) throws DP out of the car and DP is lost. Jack feels emotionally wrecked and screams and shouts, refusing to accept DP is lost and insisting on looking for him. Holly. Jack’s sister, feels terrible remorse for her petty deed and buys Jack a replacement, a new Christmas Pig. Jacks is baffled and angry that any one can imagine that his beloved toy can be replaced and throws away the new pig. Dejected, sad, depressed Jack goes to bed, deciding to sneak out of the house after midnight in search of DP. But the midnight of Christmas Eve is magical and miraculous; Jack’s clothes, toys, things all come to life and his new unwanted Christmas Pig offers to accompany Jack to the Land of Lost Things to bring DP back.

    From hereon begins this tale of magic and adventure and one boy’s determination to rescue his oldest friend. Beyond the adventure and magic is glimpsed an introvert child’s transformation into a brave and loyal friend; Jack, in the book, metamorphoses from a bullied, quiet child to an immensely persevering soldier who refuses to surrender or be frightened of the very cruel Loser, the king of the Lost Land. The book is beautifully illustrated by Jim Field but all of the illustrations fade before Rowling’s magical storytelling; we remain engrossed in Jack’s adventures throughout and the book is difficult to put down. The writing is beautiful and poignant; every struggle is felt, every tear is shared by the reader with Jack. Critics have written about Rowling’s influences for this book; how it reflects Dante’s Purgatory and the Christian spirit of sacrifice. Obviously, the book can be read this way. Any thesis writer or scholar can analyze The Christmas Pig and write about its literary angles. But my attempt is a review and I would like to point out the immensely relatable characters and the brilliantly created fantasy world.

     Jack is perhaps one of Rowling’s most adorable characters; we cheer for Jack throughout. We are rooting for Jack as he struggles to find his toy and we applaud his matured decision at the end as he emerges stronger and happier from the Land of the Lost. The Land of the Lost is a fantastic world, evil and, at the same time, fascinating. Rowling’s animations of Hope and Happiness is beautiful as is her attempt to be eco-critical in the depiction of discarded plastic straws and plastic toys floating down the tunnel. Young readers and older ones would be wondering what is likely to happen when Jack and the Christmas Pig are chased by a giant creature called the Loser who likes to eat things and whose minions like to smash things to smithereens. These moments of tension are depicted with the utmost vibrancy and the urge to keep reading to discover what happens is all consuming.  The allegorical characters of the Land of the Lost are interesting for older readers while young readers are just propelled on by the love of a good story, the joy of which no smartphone or technology can match.

     Rowling has always been famous for her depiction of protagonists from broken families and Jack’s character is a testament to that. What is perhaps most significant, in Rowling’s recent children’s stories, is her moral message. She does not preach anywhere in her books but when Jack realizes, at the end, that lost things stay lost and new things take their place, it makes children understand that grief and loss is inevitable and that life is a series of new adventures. The eponymous  Christmas Pig is a delight; he is humorous, sarcastic, kind, friendly, all at once. In the end, Jack is very happy with his CP though he loves his lost DP just as much. Rowling, whatever her views, which we can and should condemn, is a brilliant storyteller; she, in her books, at least, champions civil rights and individual freedom and represents the underdog, the misfit who gradually learns to succeed and carve out his niche in society. The climax of the book makes us all teary eyed; when Jack has to choose between the right thing to do and what he wants to do, it is heartrending. Jack’s choice is all the more poignant. We applaud Jack and are happy in his new found wisdom. The Christmas Pig is magical; so magical that children will discover the life long joy of reading. In Rowling’s own words: “. . . something very magical can happen when you read a good book”.

Somrita Misra is Assistant Professor in the Department of English in Chanchal College, Malda, West Bengal. She is a Potterhead, a researcher in children’s literature and a thorough bibliophile.