Erasure of that which is neglected can emerge in art by way of seemingly dark images.
In some ways, this issue holds expected (bicoastal) localities and classic autumnal elements: storms, pine forests, cats, spirits. Treasures, artifacts, jewels. But these are props, constructed from the ether and will of the relationships within their poems. Speakers and characters wield power over these physical extensions—they shatter them, fix them, wash them, bury them, dig them back up again.
And in the season of the witch, there is time for bad behavior. “I Genghis Khan my animus," writes Annie Lure of a secret self. “I serry Assyrian warriors, Stalin, and the Me-Too women./My fingers gobble my grandmother’s pomegranate orchard.” Archetypes and symbols also glow in Joanne Yu Yan Chan’s short story, “The Gift,” which explores expectations of the dark feminine.
We have chosen poems which convey, beyond traditional themes of fallen leaves and horror, a poet’s understanding that humans can coexist with useful darkness, drinking from its cathartic depths. We cohabitate, never satiated. Those of our species who found the most success in probing history, the psyche, art, and even space, made permanent peace, I think, with shadow—staring down death on their own road, as in Faith Allington’s poem, “On the Cusp.”
In autumn, we reunite with the cold yet can still turn to the last of the year’s overripeness, excess, and access to earth. In these pages, light falls into rooms as onto graves: always with care, always with some entanglement long since unraveling there. “Sometimes I think the things I say/are what you think,” writes Brian McCabe. “Sometimes the things you think/I mean, I don’t. Wanted you to wake in a room/on cool pale sheets and be what’s missing.” This preoccupation with memory cannot be avoided. Our collective, “symphonic will/to live, now breathes into these moments” of searching, remembering, and settling (Rikki Santer).
When we look up at a clouded sky, it is the darkest shapes that hold the most water. In the sockets of a skull, darkness is proof of history and growth, of calcium and minerals. The animal half of us, beyond fear of loss, makes no qualms about its transformation. The corpse is a vessel of elements and more. In M. Cynthia Cheung’s poem, “The Sand-People of Sutton Hoo,” the dead are simultaneously idle and interrupted. They are us if we laid down; and us, acted upon and gone beyond.
Death in autumn garb, without spring’s activity of birth, can also allow for rest in ritual; “our lives seeking no more/than the seal to our afterlives” (Max Lasky). Bodies ease out of controls finally completed, becoming physical symbols that subsume. This will happen whether we yield to or try to spurn the “worms—/who would wither sacred flesh” and “swallow river stones./everything to preserve this/vessel/from the ravages of/impermanence” (Aimee Lim).
There is so much that a poem can be for us. A letter. An open casket. An animal drawn close. A river stone in the throat, working its journey through you; that later gleams out from among your pelvic bones. That later rests alone. For now, we are here. I hope that you enjoy these poems.
M. CYNTHIA CHEUNG
JOANNE YU YAN CHAN