Salamander is a diverse and interesting literary publication that includes poetry, fiction, reviews, and even portfolios of artwork. This magazine is produced by the Suffolk University’s Department of English, and they certainly delivered many amazing pieces in Issue #45.
An instant favorite fiction story for me was “Seventeen Things about My Friend Farzana” by Neha Chaudhary-Kamdar. I love how this story is told; the narrator is so focused on her friend Farzana that we only really learn anything about the narrator through her storytelling of her friend. As she and Farzana grow up in Hyderabad from childhood to adulthood, they come across some difficult and trying situations that change the nature of their relationship forever. The two girls are forced to confront some long-hidden truths and find strength in one another. This is a very powerful and engaging story.
In “The View from the Necropolis” by Erica X Eisen, we get a glimpse at a rapidly changing political climate in Crimea, specifically in Sevastopol. It starts with an immediate change: “The officials have asked us to redo the museum: walking through the ruins of the Greek settlement, they poke at the stones with their feet.” To meet the needs of the new director, who is a priest, they want to change the Chersonesus Museum to focus less on the old gods of the Greek past and more on the Saint who was baptized there. The narrator faces an ethical dilemma with this: does she stick around, keep her job but change the museum to meet the new director’s requests, or does she stand uncompromised and fight for the museum to stay as it is? Following her dilemma through the story, we learn more about the other secrets she keeps and get a feel for why she makes the decisions she does, all on the backdrop of the Russian annexation of Crimea.
Another great short story presented in this issue is the 2017 Fiction First Prize, “Girls Girls Girls” by Cady Vishniac. This is a beautifully told story from Elkie who is working a job her mother does not know about in order to pay to go to school and become a doctor. Her job is dangerous, scary, and taboo; this leads her to hide much from her mother and grandmother, including the emotional toll she is going through when a client suddenly disappears on her. She is forced to confront her own accepting nature and learn to question that people are not as honest as she had assumed. She has to learn what she is going to do with this information and how this changes her own life, her job, and her future. I could not put this story down, and I am reminded of times in my life when I learned that someone was not who I thought they were, and the realities I had to deal with in the aftermath.
Salamander changes the pace in the middle of this issue with portfolio of full-color paintings from Kikki Ghezzi. The images seem to glow with their exuberance of color and style, as seen in “The Power of the Center.” The piece draws the viewer’s eyes to its center in a very unexpected way, utilizing splashes of pink, white, red, and black colors.
There are also many beautiful poems in this issue, each one telling a different story. For instance, Robert Russell’s “The Maid’s Story” focuses on a maid who used to wash the dead for burial in her home country. This experience had a powerful effect on her and her own internal light:
Sometimes I think I can see mine
leaving me, my own life flowing out of me
into the afternoon sunlight
that runs past these windows like a river.
The poem tells the myths around washing the bodies of the dead, how “you can’t pour it on your garden: / it will stop your roses from blooming, / and your trees will never bear fruit.” Even after knowing these myths, she still does a taboo thing with this water—drink it—and never bears children in her life. Whether or not this act was the cause of her infertility or if her childlessness is a choice is never clarified, but is certainly implied here.
In “Two Nests” by Gary Sokolow, the narrator reflects on what it will be like to someday go back and revisit an old apartment where he once lived, “stand under the leaves until my old neighbor / Rose emerges with her cane, her two Pekingese, / watch as she waves to the doorman.” As he reminisces about the house, the terrace where he would have planted more vegetables if he had another season to do so, he thinks about so many of his memories in this apartment and of his family and life there. In the end, he ponders if the pigeon family he moved once “would have given up his / green paradise for a family of strangers.” There is such a sense of longing and sorrow in this poem that reminds me of how I have felt when revisiting a home I have left and that is now lost to me.
The end of the issue focuses on reviews. The first is from Drew Swinger on The Aeneid, as translated by David Ferry. The second is by Valerie Duff-Strautmann of both Cold Storage by Keith Althaus and Spill by Kelle Groom. These two books are books of poetry centered around the Cape Code environment and Duff-Strautmann compares these two perspectives on the same area very nicely.
This issue of Salamander explores poetry, artwork, fiction, and reviews that span a wide variety of topics and regions of the world, inviting readers to connect the work to their own interests.