Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Phantom Drift, A Journal of New Fabulism


Phantom Drift, A Journal of New Fabulism
Managing Editor:  David Memmott
Phantom Drift Limited
La Grande, Oregon

Reviewed by Dennis Daly

I admit that the first few pieces that I read in this curious journal I did not like very much. The introduction editorial intimated that many of the pieces therein “may well be indescribable,’ and given what I had just read that seemed about right. Then I read Stephen McNally’s poem, Rabbit. The poet relates in glorious detail how he befriended a long-eared fettuccini eating rabbit, who knew secrets about stone lions and spirits, who have lost their way. In fact it turns out that the very existence of the poet is dependent on the rabbit,

So he imagined a train, and a train pulled up before him.
Once inside, he imagined a railroad that shot into the fish eye of time, and
there was a railroad.
He imagined a journey so impossible it would lead him to a land of hard
bricks and gravity, and he found my world.
Then he imagined a man with blue rings of fire in his brain and he
found me.

Predictably enough, the rabbit caused the poet to drink heavily and indulge in sympathetic drugs in an effort to erase the rabbit’s hold on his fragile world.  It didn’t work but something else happened,

Sober, I was about to take up religion
when, one evening, his words (for reasons you wouldn’t understand)
seemed reasonable and clear.
Like a waterfall, it all crashed down on me, but lovingly.
He was my friend…

Okay I get it now. But how could I possibly review this journal, where, in the rabbit’s philosophy,

Art is a game of killers
and life is nothing but swamp gas, a flash in the summer sky.

In desperation and despair I went out for an evening walk.  I turned the corner at Nursery Street and there he stood, looking at me with not a little interest, somewhat larger than a normal rabbit and, yes!, he had long ears. We had a great conversation. I told him how I had stopped writing poetry thirty plus years ago—writers block big time, and how lately things seem to have turned around. He explained McNally’s next poem called Moon to me. The poem begins with a memorable image of a murderer at the door in a snow storm,

The murderer appeared at my doorstep in the night and he was dazzling,
his eyes two vaults guarded by ageless, chanting priests.
As I stared at him the snow hurried closer to touch his coat
and the moon covered us with his red hands.

Soon lighting struck from some past age and the earth glowed because the dead were building fires. It all made absolute sense since

…the snow hanging on his black coat
Formed the star chart for a galaxy beyond our reach.

As everyone should know, multiple universes can do that. Next I read a review of McNally’s Child of Amber, which won a well-deserved prize in 1992, by Matt Schumacher. It turns out that this was McNally’s only collection of poetry and Schumacher was stunned by its quality. The poet had a gentleness with animals that was endearing. His poems are in fact a refuge for animals. Schumacher notes that McNally passed away in 1998. But he lies. McNally still lives. I’ve seen him and talked with him.
About this time I closed the journal for a moment to look again at the cover. The painting by Jessica Plattner is entitled St. Christopher Carrying His Child-Self Across the River. It shows a monkish St. Christopher carrying his miniature across a waist-deep river. Nature appears well kept and stylized. The miniature Christopher has a cloud halo. The Roman Catholic Church now denies that St. Christopher ever existed. They are pulling wool over our eyes. I have his medal in my car and it keeps me safe. Many of the other plates included like number 7, The Encounter, are both creepy and reassuring. I find that strange.
In Joshua McKinney’s short fictional piece, Couch, a man with his beer falls asleep and ends up inside his favorite couch where he suffers indignity after indignity. Two coins fall on his eyes. Is this a good thing? I think so, but death is near as his kids use the couch as a trampoline. Pay no attention to the detective, who shows up to investigate and whispers to the unfortunate man’s wife into the wee hours. I’m sure it must be innocent fun.
Lichfield by Wade German waxes nostalgically about a school bus stop where earthy children get on the bus for a ride down the forever highway. They are described thusly,

They all look like birds in antiquated clothes;
smelled of mold and fresh-turned earth.
They always took the back seats, sat there mute.
We never spoke to them, didn’t like their town…

A bit like The Polar Express, only scarier. Here they are swallowed up by the cloud of our unknowing. And yes they need our prayers, like the fourteenth century mystical poem/prayer that it references.
Anita Sullivan’s poem, When the Solstice Is Late, is a timeless wonderful piece. In the window

An ancient dowager sits up there sipping tea
and peering with rheumy eyes into the mote-less afternoon.

She is waiting for the impossible: a horse sent to fetch the sun. The horse is not up to it and it ends badly.
The character Blau can’t win for nothing in the frustrating short story called The Jar by Brian Evenson. The prisoner does not have any hands and cannot retrieve his hands without his correct number. The guard is a son- of-a-bitch and there lies the problem. The guard at least has the decency to take him to the room where the pairs of hands are kept. This is a sad story so I will end the review.  There is no point in perpetuating unhappiness.
As you may have guessed, the original reviewer, Dennis, is no longer here. I don’t need him anymore. As of now, he never existed.  I am Bernard and I am a rabbit with long ears.

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