Well, here we are folks, “in the bleak mid-winter”—or what passes for the bleak mid-winter in Houston; I believe they’re predicting a high tomorrow of 72. If you are reading this issue (and what a rich issue we have for you) in more northern climes, don’t be too jealous: the bleak mid-summer we endure in the Bayou City is our meteorological karma.
In any case (north of the equator, at least), we are just a few days out from the winter solstice, and that reminds me of a little bit of magic that happens at this time of year back in Ireland (like a lot of Houstonians I am connected with somewhere else—just as a lot of our “Houston” stories are connected to other places). On a cluster of mornings around the solstice, the dawn’s early light penetrates the ancient passage grave at Newgrange near the Boyne River, illuminating the central chamber, heralding the return of life, as the calendar tips towards spring.
I think many of the best stories perform the same kind of delicate miracle engineered by the prehistoric masons who built Newgrange—they illuminate dark interior spaces, especially ones where death or disenchantment seem to hold sway. And although the writers and texts in this, our lucky third issue, are remarkably diverse in terms of form, voice, and place, they all, uncannily enough, have mortality on their minds.
Celebrated memoirist (and University of Houston professor) Nick Flynn offers us “Jelly,” a ghost story of a poem that performs an exquisite balancing act as it turns its meditative intelligence back and forth between life and death; it is a solstice in itself.
Flynn’s angels migrate all the way from Florida to a provincial town in Slovenia in Miha Mazzini’s short story. Mr. Mazzini is one of that country’s most distinguished contemporary writers, and we are honored to have contributions from both him and Prof. Flynn in this issue. The balancing act that “Snow Angels” achieves is to have both a narrative drive and memorable atmospherics (in so many stories you’ll get one or the other but not both). The eerie hush in which Mazzini envelopes his dramatization of the “big sleep” will linger with me for a long time.
We are also proud to welcome two more emerging voices to our pixilated (and wittily illustrated) pages. With “Blackie,” Jackson Culpepper, an MFA graduate from the University of South Carolina, has gifted us with a narrative in the classic Southern short story mode. It has a ruminative quality, especially towards the end, that reminded me of Robert Penn Warren’s “Blackberry Winter.” Both lyrical and lucid, “Blackie” chronicles a youthful, transformative encounter with mortality, and the promise of new life.
It’s dying of another kind that essayist (and University of Houston graduate) Edward Garza faces down in “Stand-Up,” his account of a brief but by no means inglorious career as a comedian in H-town. This non-fiction gem is genial and absorbing. Garza has a winning presence on the page, just as he must have had in the comedy spotlight.
Enjoy all four of the stories we have selected for you this season. And return to us in the spring.