LETTERS Journal

About once a week, I write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine. Here is the latest in this series.

Founded in 2013, LETTERS Journal is published twice a year by the Yale Institute for Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.

What They Say About Themselves:LETTERS is committed to publishing and promoting artists, visual and literary, who create in and towards forms (old and new) for what transcends and embeds human life. To write and create with spiritual concern or affection requires sincerity, honesty, and, often, bearing the full burden of a question’s ambiguities. Recognizing this, we publish work that ranges from deep conviction to turbulent doubt. Above all, though, we keep our ears tuned for what rings of the true, the beautiful, and the virtuous.”

Issue Reviewed: Issue 10 (Winter 2021)

Genre: Literary realism with spiritual elements

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “No Longer Mine,” by Adrienne Garrison. When her son returns to her farmhouse with his wife to work in a rural hospital, Mary lays not so subtle hints about having a grandchild. When tragedy strikes, Mary has to reconsider what is truly hers. A compelling portrait of a stoic woman navigating her way through grief.

Exploding HelicoptersTwo Explosions. The action in the stories is very subordinate to the ideas expressed.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. Not a profane word in sight.

Day 386

In a phone conversation with my brother yesterday, I spoke of my relief at receiving my first shot of COVID vaccine and how I was eager to restart my out-of-house recreational activities. I then asked if he’d received or scheduled his vaccinations.

I didn’t like his response.

“People keep telling me I should get my shot,” he told me, his voice ominous with hesitation. But no, he hadn’t looked into it.

He then asked me if I knew anyone who had died or suffered from a bad case of COVID. An odd way to question the severity of an illness. I’ve heard malaria’s a pretty bad disease, but I don’t know anybody who’s actually had it. Must be fake news!

But I do actually know people who’ve had COVID. A high school friend was hospitalized a few days. A former co-worker, after months of dismissive Facebook posts about government lockdowns and mask mandates, nearly died from COVID last fall; he now harangues his Facebook friends about ignoring the virus. A member of our temple also suffered from the virus.

These examples didn’t have much effect on my brother. “I heard some healthcare workers are choosing not to get the vaccine,” he then said. And if they also jumped off the Empire State Building… “And some businesses are paying their employees to get shots.”

“If we had everybody in the family give you five bucks, would that motivate you?” I asked. I could soon tell he was no longer interested in talking about the issue, so I left him with the hope that if he just got his shot then he could tell me, as well as everyone else nagging him about vaccinations, to shut the hell up.

Later that evening I talked to my sister, who had seen our brother earlier that day. A physical therapist who works with many elderly patients, she received her vaccinations as soon as they were available. She’s even more dismayed than I am about our brother’s reluctance. “He has respiratory issues,” she reminded me; he’s suffered with asthma for as long as I remember. “And he’s over 60. If he gets COVID, it could kill him.”

We agreed that travel restrictions, such as not being able to purchase an airline ticket if he doesn’t have a vaccination card, will probably what finally gets him to get his shots. “The world’s never going to be what it used to be,” he’d told me earlier that day, a statement I agreed with completely. My brother’s stubborn and is overly selective with his facts, but he doesn’t a zealot of denial. His siblings will keep reminding him that this new world requires minor inconveniences until he finally gets his shots.

The Gingerbread Wars

PHOTO PROMPT © Jennifer Pendergast  

Gillian thought her husband’s obsession with keeping their lawn greener than their neighbors was ridiculous. But her attitude changed when Priscilla delivered homemade gingerbread cookies to everyone on their street that December.

“Aren’t these wonderful?” her neighbors cooed during Gillian’s holiday party. Gillian didn’t agree, finding them tasteless and poorly decorated. Gillian also didn’t like how discussing the cookies took attention away from her holiday decorations.

She responded by making her own cookies, with more flavor and decoration than Priscilla’s.

Priscilla better bring her A-game, Gillian thought, anticipating a rematch. I’ve got fondant and I’m not afraid to use it!

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Day 380

My mother’s parents spend winters in Hawaii and usually return to the mainland in the spring. That wasn’t really an option for them in 2020, so they’ve been out there since the fall of 2019.

After getting their vaccinations with no side effects, they’ve decided it’s time to head back here. Their flight is in early May, by which time everyone in my family will also have been vaccinated, including my 24-year-old son, as vaccinations in our state are now available to anyone 16 and over.

The flight to Hawaii is long, but has the advantage of crossing timezones in reverse; it’s like gaining time. Coming back, however, and losing all that time is one giant bowl of suck with a side order of bleh. And being in a small enclosed environment with not-so-great circulation for over half a day is hardly a comforting proposition when there’s a deadly virus floating around.

My in-laws will continue to be cautious, and knowing how much family means to them I’m not going to argue with their decision. But I’m going to be anxious when their long journey back begins, and probably won’t fully relax for a couple weeks after they return.

***

Just when infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates had seemed to be consistently trending down, those numbers all picked up again this past week.

While broad dissemination of vaccines has undoubtedly been helpful, it also seems to have spurned another round of premature relaxation. People are gathering in large crowds again; the disciplines of social distancing and mask wearing have broken down. (I’m deliberately not writing about states that have lifted all restrictions, or the sizable percentage of the population that refuses to vaccinate, because writing on either subject will make me furious.)

To use a term from American football, many of us have spiked the ball before getting into the end zone, while others have decided to leave the field while there’s still time on the clock.

I really do wish I could end this ongoing journal, but COVID-19 remains too large to ignore, even for those who can’t be bothered to pay attention to science.

Charge Magazine

Another week, another review of a literary journal or genre magazine.

Charge Magazine has published four electronic issues since 2019. 

What They Say About Themselves:CHARGE is a big word. It’s a word we say every day when our phone battery is low. It is an injunction. It is something that has been entrusted to your care. It means to move swiftly and with purpose. It is a property of matter. It pervades something with a particular quality, feeling, or emotion. It is the sound that is yelled as an invading army takes the field. All of these have meaning for us in this space.

Charge Magazine is an independent publication that seeks to publish work that deals intimately, creatively, and rigorously with the ideas, questions and challenges that confront us as humans on this planet. Some of these questions are specific and new. Others are timeless, but all are part of a larger human conversation. Whatever deep-thinking people wrestle with in their most profound self, whatever of this they bring to their work, whatever the medium might be, Charge is the platform for these types of conversations.”

Issue Reviewed: Issue No. 4

Genre: Literary realism with some speculative elements

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Kepler’s Canopy,” by Dennis Schaefer. After an exuberant weekend fling with New York attorney Bertram Montgomery, young poet Robert Goronski moves in with Bertram. Robert starts working in Bertram’s office, Bertram helps Robert compose his poetry, and the synergy between the couple leads them to explore the relationship of sex and power. A very good use of an unreliable first-person narrator. 

Exploding Helicopters: Two Explosions. The stories are driven more by character than by plot.

Profanometer: Dammit. The profanity was so seldom that it was easy not to notice.

Bass Ackwards

bass ackwards \ ‘bas-ak-wərdz \ adjective, often vulgar

evidently disordered and illogical

\\ deploying a system before testing was complete was a bass ackwards strategy

Neighborhood Watch

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

The streetlight had been out since summer. The city’s service department said replacing the light was “on the list.” The alderman promised he’d “get something done.”

Holiday lights provided momentary relief, but darkness feasted the street at night with January’s arrival.

Coming home from a party one evening, a utility worker noted how the defective streetlight made his friend’s neighborhood seem overly fearful. At the end of his next shift, he drove to the streetlight with his service truck and replaced the bulb.

The street’s residents were relieved to have the light resume its nightly watch over the neighborhood. 

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Metaphorosis Magazine

Nearly every literary journal or genre magazine advises reading a sample issue before submitting. These reviews are my way of demonstrating I’ve done my homework.  Founded in 2015, Metaphorosis Magazine publishes monthly print issues and also posts new content online every week. What They Say About Themselves: “Metaphorosis is a magazine of science fiction and fantasy. We offer intelligent, beautifully written stories for adults… Metaphorosis is the title of our pre-launch introductory story, inspired by Kafka’s MetamorphosisIf you want a more intellectual-sounding answer, you could say it’s a method of understanding our surroundings through examination of allegory and parable.” Issue Reviewed: March 2021 Genre: Speculative fiction One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Going Home,” by Martin Westlake. Dimitriy Semenov, “a brilliant physicist with a top doctoral thesis in Biology and Materials Sciences from Moscow State University,” is teaching mathematics at a secondary school when he is approached with a mysterious job offer from a Russian military officer. The event which triggers Dimitriy’s journey has been the subject of many speculative stories, but Westlake presents a fresh take on the matter. Exploding HelicoptersThree Explosions. The stories are consistently imaginative and engaging. Profanometer: Gee Willikers. More proof that you don’t need colorful diction in a compelling narrative.

Day 372

At 10 AM last Tuesday, I received a call from my manager at the grocery store where I work. The store pharmacy had three openings for COVID vaccinations, and if I got there by 1 I’d receive one.

The store is two miles from my home. I was there at 10:15.

My appointment for tomorrow is no long necessary and has been cancelled. Second and final shot has been scheduled for April 13. Since it takes two weeks after the second shot to develop full immunity to COVID, I have 4/27 marked on my mental calendar as the day I can resume my communal physical activities — returning to the gym, the Pilates studio, and most important of all, the fencing club.

In May, my wife will receive her fourth shot in the vaccine lab study she’s enrolled in. It’s a double-blind study, where one group is given two shots of a placebo at the start and the other receives the vaccine; two more shots are administered a month later, with the group roles reversed. She’ll either be vaccinated by the end of May, or find out she’s been vaccinated since March.

She asked me the other day if I’d feel comfortable going to a restaurant once we’re both fully inoculated. I told her I could do it with outdoor seating, but being indoors with the pandemic still in effect, without knowing whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus, doesn’t sit well with me.

***

We also received our COVID stimulus checks from the federal government last week. Unlike the previous two payments, this time college-aged dependents were included.

My elder son is home after graduating in December, and is working as a delivery driver for a pizza chain. He took on extra shifts last week because order volume was higher than usual — a result, he was told, of the stimulus checks.

Americans get money from the government and splurge on fast food. Sometimes the jokes write themselves in this country.