No Need to Boast
These days, many literary journals seem overly concerned with creating a brand image, often hyper-sexed and portrayed through provocative covers to attract new readers. My first impression of the Gulf Coast Journal was that they must be pretty confident in their readership – with a glossy dark green cover and plain white type the issue had the heft and appeal of an instructional manual.
However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the quality of writing found between the covers spoke for itself; no need to boast. The journal houses a diverse cast of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, interviews, and reviews. With the 2010 Gulf Coast Prizewinners rounding out the issue, it offers plenty of hearty literary fare to see one through the long winter.
Benjamin Percy’s aptly titled “The Cold Boy” is perfectly chilling, laced with evocative pen and ink illustrations by Danica Novgorodoff. It is the story of a strange young boy thrust under the keep of his bachelor taxidermist Uncle while his mother goes on a cruise with her new boyfriend. After saving his nephew from a near drowning in the frozen pond next to his home, the Uncle finds himself catering to a boy who “twists his face into a hateful expression, hissing” and crushes ice with a noise “like bones breaking”. The indoors becomes outdoors as the boy seems determined to slip away into the depths of another world: “the curtains breathe inward, green and lit with moonlight and trembling like underwater weeds…the fibers of the carpet feel more like frozen blades of grass…”. In the end, the boy stirs his Uncle enough to confront the “white void” of his own life where “he feels lost and overwhelmed in its changelessness.” Perhaps it is a bit sadistic to love such an ice-encrusted story during the dead of winter, but Percy’s prose simply seduces.
In Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s "These Are Mysteries”, three women speculate on the world passing by outside their car windows on a late summer road trip. “Why is the dog lying dead on the side of the road? And whose shoe is that, sitting a few feet away? Why has one tree lost its leaves?...Who is selling raspberries?...How far are we?...What time does it grow dark here?” The short prose piece evokes a Southern gothic air when the car makes a stop at a road-side farm stand run by a girl and her younger brother, sitting in lawn chairs “tilted back at a dangerous angle”. The younger brother alerts them to the “Trash and Treasures table set up in back…all under five dollars.” His older sister, “Her body at once utterly lifeless and on the verge of some exhilarating action,” prompts nostalgia for the inherent promise of girlhood fantasy: “nothing has happened yet, but it could at any moment”. It is something that seems sadly elusive to the women now, as the narrator ends the piece, “We do not get out of the car, to take a closer look at the shoe”.
Jules Gibbs confronts human hungers head-on in “Your Old Animal”, drawing the conclusion that “It’s pointless to weep for your old animal, call it back, in whatever specious form it might take now, bolus of tooth, fur, claw, feather, bone, as if you might rekindle some old appetite for intimacy, as if you wouldn’t just tear each other to pieces.” His aim is dead-on; he manages to put words to thoughts you didn’t know you had.
In “Cousteau Unpacks the First Aqualung”, Jody Rambo sets us underwater, recreating the experience of a pioneer through beautiful imagery: “Swallowed in the touches of the bodies of fish. To halt and hang attached to nothing, no lines nor air pipe to the mirroring surface, is a dream. And from this dream—flesh feeling what fish scales know.”
In her poem “Home Movies”, Dorianne Laux creates haunting images of growing up that shadow and blur the lines between sex, violence, punishment, and privacy: “a hole rimmed in fire on the bedroom wall he held us against by our throats when he found us, fumes of melted plastic in the singed air around us, the tinny motor clacking softly through the dark.” The poem’s success is in its intentional unbecoming stain.