Catfish Creek, Loras College
review by sarah gzemski (susquehanna university ’13)
In “Three Attitudes for Writers,” Dennis Schmitz asks, “Why does anyone write?” He goes on to say, “I mean those whom Dr. Johnson would call ‘blockheads,’ who aren’t necessarily paid, who are humans by day, scribblers by night—explainers, and tract-thumpers, those who maybe talk to daffodils on long nature walks, haikuists and fillers of scrap-paper, cataloguers, story writers included— writers of any sort.” Schmitz’s work is published in the first issue of Catfish Creek, a new national undergraduate literary magazine to be published annually out of Loras College. The scribblers, explainers, and flower-talkers who make up this magazine represent more than fifteen colleges and universities across the United States.
“School assemblies taught me how / to sit ‘Indian-style’, legs tied and quiet, / ‘Listen’ the pale face teaches.” Alex R. Baldwin’s poem, dedicated to all the massacred at Bear River, is a poignant struggle with identity. “Climbing on a God Tree” confronts the idea of being both insider and outsider in Native American culture. Baldwin writes, “I watch all my history gather, / – my blood, 15 / 16 star-spangled bayonets- / around then and now warm dancers.” And later, “My great, great grandmother, / one-sixteenth of me, takes my legs, / dances my cold blood away.” The speaker’s desire to be part of the Shoshoni culture is evident, but so is his guilt. Baldwin’s speaker is conflicted but reverent, participating in the dance around the tree. He tears through the depiction of a man in a headdress on a lollipop wrapper, leaving it behind, the only token he can give.
Cynthia Hershberger writes candidly about the pain she experienced delivering a stillborn child in her nonfiction piece, “How Many Hours Are in a Lifetime?” She relays the events without relying on sentimentality; instead, she remains straightforward about details like her son’s “dusky gray” skin and the first and only bath she gave him before the doctors took him away. Hershberger’s struggle to reconcile her grief with her faith is moving, and her attempts to regain a normal relationship with her family are honest.
“The Tree Grows Straight,” a short story by Kayla Peck, takes a look into the mind of a teenage girl who decided when she was six to pretend she was deaf. “It’s amazing the things people say when they think you can’t hear them,” Katya says. When speaking of her troubled relationship with her mother, however, she reveals, “I am certain my mother would not have censored herself even if she thought I could hear. It has always been obvious that I ruined her life.” Her mother’s shouting, regular beatings, and refusal to learn sign language are contrasted with her love of her small dogs, who often receive food when Katya does not. Katya’s fake deafness is her first line of defense against her mother, and killing the dogs at the end allows her to reject her mother’s cruelty and control: “The voice of my mother screams at me from within the woods. But I pretend not to hear.”
Catfish Creek begins by asking why anyone writes, and the answer is evident in the works that follow. I understand who writers are as I imagine Alex R. Baldwin scribbling lines on scrap paper as he explores identity, Cynthia Hershberger carefully cataloguing her life in hopes of reaching others, and Kayla Peck weaving the threads of the story she wants to tell.