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River Song

Christina Murphy succeeded in her use of sound as a unifying concept in "River Song," The sounds in "River Song" are "metallic noises—barges, compressors, 18-wheelers" and "wistful voices without interpretation."  These  are balanced by the motif of silence and quiet silent.

The story begins with a reference to an un-named town on "an inland river," which is later named "Manoquassesett."  If their absence from Google is an indication that they were invented, all three rivers in the story—Manoquassett, Silaqua and Vuyandotte—are fictional; therefore it is of some significance that they suggest Native American names, which go back in history even before the founding of St. Mary's.

I like the change from the "heavenly love" sought by the nuns, which occurs twice in the first paragraph and once in the second, to "the heavens" in the concluding paragraph which addresses secular questioning.  
The vocabulary, phrasing, and details at the end of the opening paragraph borders on the comic:  "The nuns were very invested in heavenly love....They did good work and were rewarded with more nuns sent by train to assist with the growth of the hospital."  The tone modulates, however, through the crisis in the second paragraph, to the musicality of the periodic final sentence that ends in three iambs:  "the rivers restless song."

When Ernesto Swan the Amazon

Che's Guevara's involvement in the firing squads and labor camps in Cuba isn't on the mind of those who don the Che garb or decorate with posters bearing his image.  And, to some extent, his abominable human-rights record isn't relevant to the success or failure of "When Ernesto Swam the Amazon."  But the identity of the protagonist is revealed in the penultimate sentence, which makes something of Ernesto's being Che. 

The story is based on the film, which is based on the book by Guevara...I haven't seen Motorcycle Diaries, and I haven't read the book, so I don't know how much of the structure of this story and how many of the details are from the movie Compton said inspired him.  For the purpose of my comments, I'll assume that nothing in the story comes from the film.  

Leaving aside the idealization of a man with blood on his hands, this is a fine story. Its structure is cinematic, with cross cutting between swimming across the river and scenes with the Mother Superior and the lepers.   The swim across the river, not done before, is a journey to spend time with the lepers:  "the night would be spent with them, the people."  The use of the phrase "the people" is significant; by choosing to swim to the lepers, he rebels against authority and chooses to be with those who are isolated, outcasts of society.

The language is vivid from beginning to end. Two striking examples come to mind, both of which have both a symbolic and literal level: (1) The economical description of the singing with the lepers, is both visual and auditory: "...banging out the songs of their hearts with rocks and stolen plates."  (2) The closing images and the rhythm in the last line of the story are stunning:  "Dog paddling, more floating than swimming, more levitating than floating, Ernesto glided to them, his throat a pinhole."  The closing image "pinhole" returns to the opening of the story in which we learn about his asthma.

Another Badger More or Less 

We can only hope that Ben Langhinrich will not confine his future writing to technical work.  In "A Badger More or Less" the phrase "dissipating ripples of light" is noteworthy in part for its sound: the assonance of the short i's in "dissipating ripples" and the repetition of  "ip."  The image stands in strong contrast to the "smeared and crumpled carcass" of the dead "badger."   

This poem is divided into quatrains, in which the lines are the about the same length visually. Some stanzas continue the sentence begun in a previous stanza, and all but the last are made up of more than one sentence.  This last stanza is a long sentence, a question, ending, appropriately in a half-line, "what more are you?"

The death of the animal is found in stanzas with liquid images of light and darkness:  "liquid darkness,"  "puddles,"  "drowning eyes," "wake,"  "ripples of light."   No such images are in the last stanza, only the "screech and keening wail of tortured/brakes across the unforgiving asphalt" and the "cherry-red/Honda Civic."   

Although in the opening stanza the narrator mentions his "obstinate/inability to tell apart the myriad forest animals," he does, in fact see—and describe—the differences both in appearance and behavior.  It is less inability to distinguish but an "obstinate" refusal to use different names for the creature.  And just as well, for, this poem might not have been written.


At the center of Seth Jani's "Voices" is the line "We dig up and dig down." The line represents the searching for the source of the "voices we hear daily from the sea..." Following, as it does, the previous stanza's "hearts/ With their blue horizons,"  the digging suggest both an excavation of the external world and an introspection.
The "deadman or bird"  and  "ghost or god" are unintentional echoes of  Poe's "Bird or Beast"  and "bird or devil".  While Poe's narrator is tortured by the raven, the narrator in this poem is lured by voices. The poem is the record of the search for the origin of the voices.  In the first two stanzas the difficulty and care with which the search is undertaken is emphasized by the use of periods where one would conventionally use a comma.  The terminal mark requires a full stop:

Looking between rocks.

In the keels of ships.

Even in our own hearts

With their blue horizons.

The narrator says that "we"—unidentified—believe "in the power between worlds." The worlds are those between land and sea, the self and the external world.   It is more than an intersection of places; it is the dynamic connection of the two.  The phrase "fringes of the tide" presents the visual image of the spindrift, and also denotes the always changing boundary between land and sea.  But it is not only the world of water and the world of land, but the worlds of the spiritual and the earthly.

The author discusses the "we" of the poem.  Without his note the "we" becomes a subject for conjecture.   Even with the note, the "we" seems to include the reader, to refer to the human condition.

- Miriam Kotzin (link to Per Contra)

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