Editor's Letter

These are times in which the questions Why write? and Why create art? come perilously close to being commonplace, rhetorical. Depth of conversation and understanding—let alone recognition of oneself in the other, the other in oneself—seem nearly out of reach. Twenty children are lost at an elementary school in an act of grave violence, and what we get, at least nationally, is not a sense of human reflection, of reverence and silence, but a suffusion of noise in the form of a shrill and hackneyed debate and an ensuing rush to buy guns. As we publish this issue, we’re confronted with the news of another school shooting, today, in Atlanta. Our severed connections between each other seem almost irreparable. There are too many crises, too many questions. 

The written word and the created image cannot provide answers. Self-assurance is not the point of art, anyway. But art can help us remember—not an idealized past, not a history free of scars, but a sense of who we are, what we are made of, where we are from. The best art, I believe, is a reach for wholeness, even a grappling with wholeness. This kind of art floods the work in this issue. Interestingly enough, much of the work gathered here finds expression through the medium of water, specifically of rivers—that which is fluid, ever in motion, and does nothing if not reach and grapple.

Death is here, too, as it was in the first issue, perhaps even more palpably so: miners are lost in the Upper Big Branch disaster; men and dogs die from poisoning; a poet meditates in a graveyard; a horse quotes Thomas Merton’s Zen and the Birds of Appetite while speaking to a Southern Baptist congregation at a memorial service; animal hides are dreamed back to life; a roadkill hawk on Highway 41 elicits a solemn epiphany, a roadkill goose on a suburban street does the same; toothless sharks tell Confederate ghosts where to rest in kaolin country; a heron consumes a salamander; a poet turns to mist on a South Carolina beach.

Yet if there is death, there is vitality here, too, as ever before—a dance, an interplay, understood only by those “who know the stream’s flow / is life and death / throbbing in balance,” as Joseph Bruchac writes in “Fall Creek,” from which the title of this issue—To Understand This Dance—is taken.  This is echoed in John Lane’s and Michael Delp’s epic collaboration in this issue, particularly resonant in these lines: “In the mouths of caddisfly larva / Are maps, and on those maps / Are the secret paths home.” (And if that sounds like a rip-off of the end of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to you, know that Lane and Delp beat him to it by two years.)

Secret paths home. That is the country and the provision of art. That is what we reach for and grapple with.  The paths are in the rivers and waterways everywhere in this issue. They are also in the constellations of Erin Ganaway’s lovely poem “Pater Ad Astra,” in the circulatory system of Alice Friman’s “The Body 101,” in layers of “time’s detritus” and the “hidden narratives / of creek-side mothers” of William Wright’s “Edgefield Creek,” in a mother’s necklace of Imani Marshall-Stephen’s “The Pearls,” in the stories and images of Beate Sass's "Tall Timbers" photo essay. They are everywhere.

Are these “secret paths home” enough to lead us to healing? That remains to be seen. We haven’t followed them nearly far enough. In that failure, I believe, is hope. So much of “the country they call life” that Rilke wrote about remains unknown—undreamed, even. But the pieces of the maps cover the ground, run with the water.

Many of those pieces are here.

Christopher Martin
Editor-in-Chief, Flycatcher
Acworth, Georgia
January 31, 2013  

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