Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

It goes without saying what a pair of years it’s been. I know we’re all tired of talking about it.

It’s okay to acknowledge that ‘a new normal’ like the one we’ve been attempting a return to doesn’t exist. For that to come about, there had to be a ‘normal’ to base it on in the first place. But the human experience is round, brilliant, with infinite twinkling facets. Our world shifts, person to person, evolves and transforms with each set of blinking eyes. We thought we shared a world. What we share is space. Going back to whatever the ‘normal world’ was may not make sense any longer; we’ve all changed in ways we didn’t expect during the course of our often overwhelming shared experience. But we can, and will continue to, share space. 

I guess my goals, as I worked on putting together this issue, speak to that. I wanted to hold and share space. In “Bahía Solano,” Benjamin Faro puts it well: “Geography/isn’t the only thing/that    separates    us.” It feels like more and more is added to the list every day. I don’t usually feel like I have answers to anything. But the thing that has always made me feel more fully present in myself, is tossing a grappling hook outside of my own vortex and climbing up it, until I can see someone else. My other goal was just to feel deeply, and give others the same opportunity. Sometimes, we need art to give us permission to simmer in what’s already filling our hearts.

Everyone reading this is here. We survive and exist, and we have the privilege of experiencing creative work alongside other people. I’m so grateful to the creators who have shared their work with us for this issue. Their works – relatable, vivid, prescient, stirring – offer us a chance to live, over and over, and know that, in our infinite lives, we are here together. 

It hasn’t really stopped feeling like the world is ending, the sky is falling, or the city is sinking. Maybe this is the new normal, and maybe it’s not really new. But I’m looking forward to soaking up the sunny Miami ‘winter’ for as long as I’m here. I’m eager to catch up on my backlog of fiction, to scatter myself across even more existences. And I’m happy to welcome you to Issue 11 of Sinking City!

With love,

Amanda Lamadrid


Letter from the Editor

View from a dock in Downtown Cocoa, FL. If you look closely enough, you can spot a dolphin almost surfacing the water.

Dear reader,

I think it’s safe to say that most of us do not follow the concept of time with the same sense of constancy we used to. This issue has taken longer than anticipated to get together, but like much of life, Sinking City has had to go through many transformations. Thank you for your dear, dear patience.

We have been graced with a multitude of pieces this reading period, by a diverse collective of writers, especially by emerging writers, and for works that bend the boundaries a little more, because what else can we to make sense of the world than by breaking the very structures (of anything) at the seams?

As a nod to our fiction writer from this issue, Anita Goveas, I constantly think about the concept of “environmental disturbance”, and what that looks like in our everyday world at this point. The way in which the physical world destroys, more and more every day: “the building or the tearing down” that Bryan Harvey talks writes about. Or we can extend it to metaphorical, what we “take for granted, for what it is” (taken from Thad DeVassie’s poem), or to the idea of “saving time”, or bending the continuum” (quoted from Chloé Firetto-Toomey’s poem).

“But what of the field, you ask?” (Esther Vincent Xueming). We can think of “field” through so many dimensions. The field of the backyard, in which we inhabit for most of our days nowadays, when we need to take a break from the screen. Maybe we come back to the field our childhood. Or perhaps we take time to revisit fields of our memory, to remember what a more transient :

“when it starts raining frogs and broken crutches / everyone will take notice”.
“Perhaps for the first time / since the toys were taped shut […]”, we play with them again.

What I’m attempting to get at is we have been gifted with a new issue which addresses and speaks to all of this unrest. Each piece responds in some way with deliberate meditation, care, sometimes through the element of the fantastic, and others with humor (I’m thinking specifically of Michael Chang’s piece, which includes the collective “we are poet”).

Thank you all again for your continued dedication and engagement to our magazine. We hope you enjoy issue 9!

P.S: I dedicate this issue to my close friend, Michael, who left this world too soon.

With love and gratitude,

Clayre Benzadón
Managing Editor

On Peace and Provocation-A Review of Donna Miscolta’s “Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories”

by Amanda LaMadrid

We’ve come a long way from the days in which children were to be ‘seen and not heard.’ Though the independence and value of childhood is more celebrated in today’s age, many young people, particularly those on the margins of their communities, grapple with the decision to choose peace or provocation – to stay invisible or to disrupt the still water. In Donna Miscolta’s short story collection, “Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories,” Angie Rubio, a smart Mexican-American girl growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, searches for her place and for herself during a period of civil unrest not unlike the one we find ourselves in today.

We first meet Angie in kindergarten, and stick with her for over a decade of her life in thirteen chronological short stories that do the work of framing small, character-defining moments in the context of the civil rights era and the Cold War. The collection shines when Angie’s actions and reactions, and those of the people around her, are used to tell a larger story of being young and brown in ‘60s and ‘70s America.

Angie understands her position in the world early on in her life. In the story “Monster,” the elementary-aged protagonist finds a new playmate in her white neighbor, Susie Wren. As the only brown girl in the room, Angie is wary of a game proposed by Susie called ‘Prettiest Girl’ before she even knows the rules. Susie goes on to establish that she, of course, will play the titular ‘prettiest girl in the world,’ and that Lou Ann, their other playmate, will be the ‘handsome prince’ who saves her. Resigned before she asks the question on her mind, Angie nevertheless prompts Susie – “saves you from what?” – to which Susie replies, “the ugly monster,” a role reserved for Angie.

In Susie’s games, Angie is always relegated to roles such as mailman, grave robber, burglar, wicked stepmother, etc., often playing the antagonist to her paler counterparts. Angie’s response to the casual racism is to attend school in her prettiest dress in an effort to feel like the princess for a change, and then finally to cut Susie out and tell her ‘no’ when she asks Angie to come play. It’s an early example of Angie’s burgeoning but strong sense of self, which will persist and come to define key moments in her life in which she will refuse to compromise who she is in order to accommodate the norms of the ‘popular.’ Angie stands up for herself, and though she will come a long way in accepting and understanding that she doesn’t need to emulate ‘Miss America’ to be celebrated, she knows from a young age that she doesn’t have to take what the world is dishing out to her.

That defiant but quiet confidence grows bolder as Angie navigates high school, where she truly comes into her own. Prior to her entry into that “unfun funhouse,” she has already promised herself in the story “Class Play” that she will someday “narrate her own story.” As she begins freshman year in “Extracurricular Activities,” she is excited to “solve the problem of her and her invisibleness.” As a Mexican-American girl in a big family, displaced several times growing up due to her father’s position in the Navy, Angie often feels overlooked and invisible. It’s a current running through this collection of her experiences, and one that persists regardless of where she is. In Hawaii, she looks more like the invisible Hawaiians than her non-native schoolmates. In California, she learns quickly that appearance matters more than talent.

Even within her family, Angie often feels like an afterthought, as her parents work to provide for the children, and are often concerned with the little ones, so that Angie and her older sister, Eva (a brilliant character in her own right) begin to make their own paths. Her mother neglects to pass on her Spanish to her children, leading to a conflict in Angie that remains latent but palpable – she is not American enough to fit in with her peers, but she can hardly speak her parents’ native language. Against the backdrop of a charged political landscape, Angie’s quiet search for identity in the face of the world’s apparent indifference leads her to understand the importance of telling her own story. Shy, scrawny, quiet, and brown, she often feels like a fly on the wall in her own life, which leads to a rich interiority from Angie, and which serves as the beating heart of the collection. During her high school years, when Angie’s observations, wit, and needle-sharp commentary move from her brain to the page, it’s immensely rewarding.

Miscolta’s steady prose and keen interest in Angie as the main player in a world just as realized, alive, and colorful as she is make for a unique reading experience that nevertheless feels like coming home. “Living Color” is historical fiction, but through the lens of being a girl in the civil rights era, the age of the hippies, in a ‘nightly news in living color’ America, an America that has enough in common with today’s to make Angie’s burgeoning power feel not only relevant but urgent. When editor Judy scornfully tells Angie, who has proposed a column on social issues in the school newspaper, that “All the important stuff happened in the ‘60s,” Angie’s maturity and intelligence are apparent. She is simultaneously ahead of her time and exactly where she is supposed to be, and “Living Color” is at its best when it leans into this portrayal of Angie as an artist, a progressive, and herald who still feels and doesn’t shy away from a desire to find her niche in a tempestuous America.

The stories really sparkle during Angie’s time in high school, as she finds her strength and power as a writer and decides she’d rather be seen and heard than invisible. Understanding at this point that there is no peace in staying silent, she makes a pact with herself to be “bold” and “provocative” at this stage in her life, and the reader, cognizant of every moment leading up to this well-earned progression, roots for her to “go, fight, [and] win.”


Amanda Lamadrid is an MFA candidate at the University of Miami with a B.A. in English – Creative Writing from the University of South Florida, where she completed a creative non-fiction thesis on her family’s journey from Cuba to the U.S. She writes both fiction and creative non-fiction, with an interest in hybrid work. She is an alum of VONA/Voices and is currently at work on fiction novel with historical elements.

Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

Welcome to Issue 7 of Sinking City—today, in the first days of December, the humidity has finally lifted its stronghold from the air in Miami. As cool rain breaks from the bleak sky in sideways sheets & floods the potholes on my street, I am reminded of our hurricane season past & all of those living real-time in sinking cities across the globe.

This year, Miami was lucky to escape the hurricane roulette unscathed, but has continued to hold space for climate refugees from the Bahamas, the Windward Islands, and more. For those of us in South Florida and other regions impacted by Rising Waters, these experiences serve as a bleak reminder of the real-time gamble of our environment: of how climate change has, and will continue, to put our lives and homes at risk indiscriminately.

But, even as water swarms in the sky above me, I know that, as Antiquity suggests, the slow burn of our collective existence is what tethers us to one another. Sometimes, we may forget that the concept of the communal is our best tool in combating what seems inevitable.

As Soleil Davíd writes, it’s “an astronomical thing, our yard of silence.” Together, we strive against the deadened, apathetic spirit which seeps into the ground like Formaldehyde. Together, we live dangerously, create dangerously, and can exist purposefully—we are The Invasives who are undoubtedly Faced With Extinction. We are the imaginary lakes and the houses near them, throbbing toward stillness.

In Sinking City’s seventh issue, 17 writers, poets, and artists tackle what it means to be a part of this race. They question the notion that We’re Fine—that there’s nothing left worth questioning. As I write this letter, the clouds above me are fracturing to make the sun’s light vulnerable to all of us flitting below, and I am grateful to all of our contributors for being a force in that fracture.

On behalf of the MFA program at the University of Miami, I write to welcome you into this space: the one between endlessness and ourselves. I hope that the pieces included in this issue can guide you—to splinter, to rupture, to shatter—something in the landscape of us.

Sincerely,

Maeve Holler
Managing Editor

Sabrina & Corina: A Review of Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Fiction Debut

by Soek Fambul

Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut short story collection Sabrina & Corina will haunt you. Firmly rooted in memories of home, Sabrina & Corina centers the lives of indigenous Latina women and girls residing in the ever-changing city of Denver. The soul of Denver, in all its gentrifying permutations, is personified throughout the collection, thematically linking the majority of the eleven stories. In Sabrina & Corina, readers feel a resistance against the erasure of the Denver many of Fajardo-Anstine’s characters call home—a city deeply tied to the collection’s momentum.

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine. Random House, 2019. 219 pp. $26.00

In the story “Galapago,” the narrator reminds us that the neighborhood character Pearla has resided in for over sixty years has been renamed the Northside by “newcomers…[as] they’d changed the neighborhood names to fit their needs, to sound less dangerous, maybe less territorial” (109). Here is the ghosting presence that unifies Sabrina & Corina, a collection that refuses to forfeit its rightful claim to home and protecting one’s own story. 

Can home be an unwelcoming place? No easy answers can be found in Fajardo-Anstine’s work, yet as each short story progresses, these delicate and complicated truths appear in unstable relationships, lost loved ones, and self-denial. Narrowing in on discomfort, the characters of Sabrina & Corrina must reflect deeply on their behaviors and the lives of those nearest to them. In a few short pages, we come away with understanding for Fajardo-Anstine’s characters and their actions, though we may not always agree with them. And, it is through this complicated feeling that we recognize the narrative power of their agency. This power suggests itself in the collection’s title: Sabrina & Corina

Fajardo-Anstine’s world primarily concerns itself with the nuances of female relationships and seeks not to appease the reader with comfortable fictions. Fajardo-Anstine leans into life’s contradictions, heartbreaks, and the hard realities in her character’s lives. Though at times, her stories’ naturalistic tendencies give way to fatalism.

After surviving a violent attack, one character plainly asserts, “I’m not ashamed…No one sees me anyway…People pretend they don’t see a girl with a bruised face” (125). In Sabrina & Corina, we become the people forced to see. Sabrina & Corina strips away the delicate barrier between public and private, placing you into the lives of characters that will unsettle you. And, perhaps, that is the truth in Fajardo-Anstine’s short fiction:  that what is most necessary is often what is most difficult. And that these truths, these stories, will follow you long after you finish reading them. Is that not the goal of fiction? Sabrina & Corina gives language to love’s absences—those who have left and will return to you—those who will never come back. These eleven stories flourish in those vulnerable spaces between loss and return. Fajardo-Anstine’s stories keep those haunting memories alive.

But What if the River is Made of Glass? A Review of Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror

by Z.L. Nickels

The landscape of contemporary serialized nonfiction collections is, to put it mildly, in a strange state of affairs. On the one hand, the proliferation of nonfiction—especially online, where digital media companies have exploded in influence—has turned the consumption of the essay into a fairly mundane experience. On the other hand, this expansion has not come without cost: serious, considerate writing has come under the thumb of capitalistic interests (as it so often does), with staff writers facing internal pressure for immediate gratification via click-throughs and mass feedback, with the process repeating itself ad infinitum.

This is the reality facing the modern essayist. And this is the environment that Jia Tolentino dives into, headfirst, with her discerning debut collection, Trick Mirror.

Averaging roughly 30 pages per piece, the essays contained in Trick Mirror each follow a familiar, successive structure: Tolentino begins by excavating a point of entry (e.g., the origins surrounding her own reality TV experience or a detailed exposition of female literary archetypes) and deepens her inquiry via an interweaving of facts, statistics and related personal experiences. This approach has the effect of fleshing out the initial inspection, broadening it to allow for a multitude of perspectives. Like an author of a fiction collection, Tolentino does her own world-making.

At their best—as in, the aforementioned “Reality TV Me”—Tolentino’s essays are precisely crafted; they give the reader the simplest, albeit most vital version of what an essay has to offer: the time to sit with an argument and just think. At their least realized—such as “Ecstasy” wherein Tolentino discusses Houston megachurches, hip hop and recreational drug use—the sections don’t quite stitch together properly. That piece, in particular, is the first time in Trick Mirror where woven threads begin to show.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. Random House, 2019. 303 pp. $27.00

Those threads are worth examining more closely, starting with the title: the O.E.D. does not contain an entry for the term ‘trick mirror’; nor does Merriam-Webster or Cambridge, or even an index as lexically-hip as the Urban Dictionary (a search of which provides only a shrugging emoticon—a result, no doubt, which brings Tolentino endless joy). If the reader is not careful, s/he may assume the title refers to a physically distortive mirror, like in a carnival funhouse. But this associative term is different than what Tolentino is aiming for. “Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives,” [inside jacket]. Rivers are a sort of mirror. So, too, is self-delusion a trick. And look: the collection’s subtitle is ‘reflections on self-delusion’. But the careful reader might still suspect a linguistic sleight of hand.

Much of Tolentino’s professional life has been crafted around essays; her debut demonstrates a deep care for them—what they are and what they can be. Etymologically, the ‘essay’ is rooted in the Baconian conception of an attempt or an experiment. Original usage posited it as an unfinished attempt, something to be inevitably fixed. Modern usage embraces the idea of a reflection, the writer is assaying (note the turn of phrase) some portion of the world via subject and providing commentary. It is not unfair to say that this accurately describes the ‘mirror’ portion of Trick Mirror: the river running through this collection carries all of us with it.

Whether it be the social evolution of the internet; cultures of sexual assault on college campuses; societal conceptions of the ‘ideal woman,’ societal conceptions of the ‘difficult woman,’ the decision to marry, et cetera, Tolentino exhibits a sharp understanding of our current cultural era and the events that led us here. The collection itself is rarely prescriptive—mirrors do not provide suggestions, nor do they hint—and, in fact, Tolentino occasionally appears unsure of whether she has gone too far in her analysis: “I benefit from it… I am complicit no matter what I do,” “maybe I’m extending sexism’s half-life now, too” and so on. The resulting image is that of an author who is not wholly convinced of where she—the essayist—starts and where the product eventually ends.

And so, the real question here involves the trick: what exactly is it, and what does the answer say about us? At first, it seems as though the subtitle’s invocation to self-delusion is aimed at Tolentino’s subjects: idealistic internet users, barre aficionados, corporate grifters, her sixteen-year-old self and more. But this verdict fails to account for the full breadth of the tricks being played. When you look closer at Tolentino’s work, you discover that she is simultaneously asserting the reader’s self-delusions while extending the space to reflect upon them. It seems evident that she is asking us to accept these delusions as our own; after all, she is, admittedly, as complicit as any one of us. Thus, we find the phrase ‘trick mirror’ to be linguistically reversed. The trick is not altering our reflection in the mirror: it is the mirror that is clearly reflecting the tricks we play on ourselves.

Delusions are not always a terrible thing, however. Sometimes they are necessary. Sometimes they lead us to greater achievements and realizations—our misplaced beliefs pulling us through otherwise uncharted waters. One might say the same about Trick Mirror. Not every essay in this collection is a beautiful experience. But the reader may find that Tolentino’s work can help them get to the other side.

SONNET FOR SNAPPER CREEK by Maureen Seaton

by Maureen Seaton

Now I’m almost killed (again) on the Snapper

Creek Expressway, my shadow left behind on

blacktop like a map of this precarious sinking

city. So I invent an odd task for myself–

ephemera, I decide, harmless but illegal, that

tissue in felon wind, a blip beneath radar–

and I enjamb the law in small ways, felonious

poems sailing from the sealed lips of mermaid

sculptures, the tentacles of banyans, stuffed

into bottles I toss into Snapper Creek (the

creek, not the suicidal highway), begging fish,

fowl, and humankind: O, Miami, save us.

 

Sonnet for Snapper Creek first appeared in Panhandler Magazine.