review by jessica gilchrist (susquehanna university ’15)
The 2011 issue of Prairie Margins gave me the sense that I was entering an exhibit. It first struck me when I saw the names listed on the back of the journal like a pamphlet inviting me into this new display. Even the brackets around each author gave off the impression of a name placard. With this emphasis on the author, I feel that Bowling Green State University truly is “providing a venue through which talented newcomers to the art of writing can be introduced to a wide audience,” as the mission statement says.
“A Breath For Life” by Rachel Kersse threw me into the peril of saving people’s lives every day in her nonfiction narrative about being a lifeguard. I could almost feel my lips pressed against a small mouth when she writes, “You breathe as deep as necessary. You breathe until you see and feel their chest rise and fall as your air fills their lungs.” Kersse’s use of the second person startled me because she hurtled me into that moment where one slip could mean someone dying on my watch, the constant vigilance getting my heart pounding.
Hannah Bessinger refracts the idea of the healing touch in her poem, “Hair.” Though she begins by talking about hair as being something “sleek” like “black ocean water,” the memory becomes sharp as she writes, “and my mother, yanking my hair/with her new metal comb/said not cry/at the pain of pulling.” Bessinger uses harsh sounds like the “k” in “yanking” to drive home the fact that the vicious way her mother cares for her is a reprimand to “never beg for love.”
I was drawn to Alecia Eberhardt’s story about an accidental mother, titled “The Granddaugther,” that talks about how we deal with death at different stages of our lives. When a dead friend leaves her daughter in her care, Amelia has to rethink her position against motherhood, confronting the sense of duty she thought she could never develop when she says, “I watched her damp skin steam in the small cold bathroom; I never turned my heat up high enough, no high enough for a child.” The touch grows into the two locking arms and crying over their loss, using that moment as an anchor back to reality from the grief they had both let overwhelm them.
I loved that they included a screenplay, because it showed that the journal takes risks. In A.N. McCollum’s “An Encounter at the Airport: A Mini-Drama” a man who has just murdered his girlfriend and her unborn child tries to cover up his guilt while talking to a stranger. In the course of talking to this man while waiting for his plane, he finds himself both addressing them and his new companion, such as when he says, “I offered her money to take care of it. She refused. (The child begins to cry.) My God, would you be quiet!” Though I was aware that both the girlfriend and the baby weren’t there, the way McCollum interweaves their dialogue with the main character’s panic makes them just as present as any other person in the room. The voices in this issue are this potent and powerful they stayed with me even weeks after reading the journal.