Published by Pacific University in Oregon, Silk Road includes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. As diverse as these three genres are, so is the work presented within each.
The fiction surprises me, as the quality of work is ranged. In my notes, I rated pieces from A+ to C-. I would never give any story a D or an F, as each story is well-written. However, a couple of the shorter pieces are abstract and inaccessible. They sound great but have no universal truth. That being said, there are a couple of really great stories exhibited in Silk Road. Warring for first place, my two favorites are titled “Circus Matinee” and “Breakneck Road.”
“Circus Matinee” is written by Bonnie Jo Campbell, Silk Road’s featured fiction writer and writing teacher at Pacific University. They are lucky to have her. The story is about Big Joanie, a large, ugly woman selling snow cones at the circus, and the tiger that gets loose behind her. Time slows and stops in this story—we learn about Joanie’s history, her fears, and her pain. She sees the tiger in the reflection of a man’s aviator sunglasses and cannot turn around to look. It’s a poignant and haunting tale. One of the final lines, “Big Joanie will know the face of the animal that devours her” gives me chills. It’s an odd premise, but it works.
“Breakneck Road” is the story of Joe, a poor, drunk, uneducated, ex-thief who finds a newborn baby in a Coca-Cola box outside on a winter’s night. Another strange and fascinating premise. What follows is a tale of love and devotion. Josie Sigler presents amazing characters and forces you to sympathize with people you may easily refuse to defend in real-life.
Next is the poetry section. Again, the work is diverse and enjoyable. There’s a group of poems by Aku Wuwu, which are written in Yi and translated into Chinese by the poet, further translated into English by Wen Peihing. What’s remarkable about these poems are not only that they were created in a literal dying language, which adds a sense of sacredness to their existence, but that they are still relevant in English. “Crow” and “Garbage” are both rooted in Yi culture and mythology, but lines like “The film has been exposed / in our children’s eyes. / They don’t feel any of it” are both modern and American. With the rise of technology and increased globalization, Western culture also feels that loss of history and culture, though perhaps on a much smaller scale.
Another poem worth looking at is “Jellyfish” by Lillian Kwok. Many of the poems in this issue of Silk Road are verdant with water images, and “Jellyfish” is no exception. I find the jellyfish surreal and magical, at least in theory, and the poem definitely delivers this ethereal quality. It dives further into a delicious sensuality, as illustrated in this ending:
If only our skins were such fluid, intertwining membranes—
we could move together
pressed tightly in a gelatinous give and take,
mixing our electricity, with the water flowing through us.
Lastly, the nonfiction in Silk Road does not disappoint. The pieces range from a woman coming to terms with her fortieth birthday, to a modern dancer discovering her bliss, to an excellent essay about New York fire escapes. Each nonfiction piece is both introspective and relatable. I’ve never had a fire escape or stoop of my own, but Michelle Cacho-Negrete’s “On the Fire Escape” creates a sense of place that knocked my socks off. The fire escape becomes a place of celebration, relaxation, community, refuge, imagination, and ultimately, mourning. During my teenage years, my own fire escape was a fat oak tree in the front yard.
The most pleasant thing about Silk Road is that the genres are well-balanced. It’s not ninety pages of poetry with a one or two fiction and nonfiction stories. Each genre is well represented, making Silk Road a veritable crowd-pleaser!