Jessica Rambles for the Summer

It’s been a busy summer so far, both in the office and out. Editing the autumn issue and reading through another year’s stellar manuscripts have made the days pass quickly at work. Likewise we’ve been moving at a clip at home, as well. Finally receiving an acceptance letter for our daughter to begin kindergarten, we are now nervously preparing her to be more independent as she will be leaving the care of family for the first time come August! Can she get herself redressed after using the restroom? Is she writing well enough? Can she wait her turn to talk? Will she eat anything packable other than bananas and crackers and water for lunch? For any meal?

With the realization sinking in that my daughter and I will be separated far more than we are used to when school starts, I am trying to enjoy these remaining days of togetherness. We like City Park here in New Orleans—its museum, sculpture garden, playground, big lake, City Putt and Storyland (she made me add these two when I read her this blog). It’s a great park and has had vast improvements since Katrina, with more planned. We spend a lot of time there, but summer in New Orleans, as everyone knows, is brutally hot and humid. We are fortunate to have a small pool, which is where we spend a lot of our afternoons May through October (we get an extended summer here, sometimes appearing even at Christmas!). Keeping the pool clean is its own challenge, a daily battle against the algae that heat and rain seem to grow faster than chemicals can kill. Sometimes a faint green hue shimmers in the evening light, and I know I’d better act immediately or risk looking out in the morning at a bright green pool which will then take days to clear, days of heat when the A/C runs nonstop and yet the thermostat does not dip below 80 degrees inside because the heat index outside is 100, when all you want is to dive in, which, although warm, is still better than not being in the water.

All this a long way of saying that when I opened the summer issue of The Southern Review and reread the first poem, “Sharing an Artichoke,” by G. F. Boyer, I immediately saw the parallel image to our being in the pool. The poem begins: You boil the little armadillo./We watch the water bubbling/from clear to green.” Of course, that’s where the parallel stops and I’m completely immersed in the poem itself. With its nod to Blake’s “fearful symmetry,” an artichoke, like any unfamiliar form, may have a “terrifying design,” prompting the question “who would have thought it edible?” yet we dine, consume all as “We unfold it leaf by leaf” and “scrape it clean across our teeth.” I hope the invitation that opens the issue is accepted and that all the pages are savored.

As always, I’m especially in love with the poetry in the journal, and we have  a good range, from prose poems to a crown of sonnets from the outstanding Ryan Teitman. Elizabeth Cox’s “Quixotic Propositions” is brilliant in its question-and-answer structure that begins, “Q: Does anyone tell me the truth?/ A: When you open your eyes and it is morning,/that is the truth.” Some of my favorite stanzas include “Q: What about the hammering that goes on in the attic?/ A: It can hardly be stopped. A bare bulb/shines from the top of the stairs./Someone wants out.” And one that I copied down and pinned to my bulletin board during edits: “Q: What if love leaves the house?/A: Twist inland. Give to others what you want/for yourself. In the break of the sun, see all/that is bound to come.”

Sometimes in the moment it’s hard to see all the good that potentially is coming, to give anything else to anyone or even yourself. But sometimes you can see that the moment you have is perfect. So while I have this time with my daughter, and the noon hour is underway, I will prepare some lunch: cheese grits and ham for me, maybe because I’m Southern but more likely just because I’m lucky, and waffles and an apple for my daughter because that’s what she is willing to eat this week.

Later we’ll go swimming when she and her father return from an after-hours visit to the day camp where he works as an artist, sculpting tunnels and fabulous structures out of cardboard that the kids crawl and romp through, finding themselves inside a work of art and full of wonder.

While they’re away, though, I’ll get to take some time to myself, getting inside the works of art I have access to by either reading or editing poems or listening to the audio gallery, which is a special treat. We’re so pleased to have several contributors reading their works from the summer issue: the terrific Charles Rafferty, Sasha West, Shara McCallum, Caitlin Horrocks, Nick Courtright, Chloe Honum, Lesley Jenike, Weston Cutter, and Stephen Dunn, whose readings make his poems even more touching and wondrous, if you can imagine that being possible.

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