OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
AUGUR MAGAZINE – Vol. 4, Issue #1
Publisher: Kerry C. Byrne, Augur Magazine Literary Society, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Co-Editors in Chief: Lawrence Stewen, Terese Mason Pierre. Managing Editor: Victoria Liao, Poetry Editor: Leslie Joy Ahenda. Graphic Fiction Editor: Amy Wang. Editors: Vivian Li, Avi Silver. Assistant Editors: Sean Dowie, Ren Iwamoto.
Cover Art: Lorna Antoniazzi.
Interior Artists and Illustrators: Jade Zhang, Martine Nguyen, Sharifa Patrick, Victor Martins
the beauty and peril of home – by Terese Mason Pierre & Lawrence Stewen.
This issue’s theme is “home—and the myriad manifestations of that attractive concept.”
The all-volunteer staff are thanked, and there’s news of an upcoming “sister publication” debuting in 2022.
in the shadow of the field – (story/poem) by Anatasia McCray
“Content warning: mentions of slavery, intergenerational trauma”
A young girl’s obsession may be medical, or psychological, or something worse. Her mother fears the truth.
At first I was distracted by the unusual technique McCray uses to tell the story. Dialogue is treated like clips of poetry inserted between text. I cannot remember if I have ever seen this before. It certainly has the advantage of forcing the reader to pay more attention to what the characters are saying, to actually “hear” the spoken words, at least in terms of experiencing their weight and gravity of detail. It is a remarkable means of highlighting dialogue. Really makes it stand out.
Add to that vivid descriptive prose and the result is an overall poetic ambiance that greatly enhances the storytelling, lending an epic feel to it. Which is to say, an otherworldly mood which captures the inner workings of the minds of children attempting to grasp what adults are keeping hidden from them. A remarkable story on many levels: love motivated by fear, care disguising threat, guilt protecting innocence… it’s always a miracle that we survive our childhood. In this case, especially so. A lovely horror story, if that makes sense. It does when you read it.
exposure – (prose poem) Conyer Clayton
“Content warning: natural disaster, violence”
Nature in one of her more violent moods.
I’m too literal-minded to tell but I think the point-of-view character is probably a storm gleefully threatening both animals and humanity, albeit without malice. A storm that revels in its strength. Maybe. I’m not sure.
What I can say with certainty is that this single paragraph is full of isolated yet penetrating imagery, with one line in particular that struck me as powerful and true for something I had never thought of before. It’s described as a “staggered revelation.” Indeed. It is a line I will never forget.
african meetinghouse – by Kate Foster
“Content warning: mentions of racism, slavery, and death; intergenerational trauma”
Of course you feel nostalgia for the past. So do ghosts.
Black history in Canada goes further back than most people think, especially in places like Halifax. “Born and raised here, fifth generation” is more than a bit of dialogue from a fictional character. It is literal truth for some.
With the passing of generations life and experience becomes a flowing river of tradition, though often reduced to a trickle by forgetfulness and loss of records. But what happens when ancestors reach out to communicate? One doesn’t always need to fear the dead. In fact, one shouldn’t. A moving tale, hopeful and optimistic.
in slipstream – (poem) by Shantell Powell
“Content warning: mention of COVID-19 pandemic”
The Inuit straddle two worlds, two realities, and are torn between them.
This is an incredibly apt and powerful poem. Powell, a “2-spirit Inuk,” juxtaposes the imagery of the modern world with ancient habits still practised in living memory but rapidly disappearing. Her exposure of the hypocrisy of “ellen degeneres calling us savages on international television” and why Sister Sun and Brother Moon find it impossible to share Coca Cola’s view of penguins and polar bears doesn’t so much tug at the heart as wrench it out of body. For the Inuit, life is a conundrum beyond the experience of city dwellers. If they can’t find the solution, much will be lost, including aspects of us we may never know we once possessed. Their loss is humanity’s loss, but our descendants will be too ignorant to care. A hard lesson.
purgatory is high, low, and inside me – by Emily Carrasco-Acosta
“Content warning: medical trauma, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and chronic illness”
When her blood sugar is low, Mariana sees ghosts.
Diabetes can be controlled, but often it’s a daily, even hourly battle to stay on top of adequate health. Not unnaturally, an ongoing monologue on the meaning of life and death, and how to handle both, is probably quite common among the afflicted. Difficult to communicate openly and honestly with medical professionals and concerned loved ones. The former because you are to them part of a statistical overload, and the latter because they can’t fully understand what you are going through. The dead, at least, have a better idea of what you’re facing. Trouble is, some don’t care. They were pricks when they were alive and they’re pricks when they’re dead. But dead friends and family who love you can be a source of solace. Much depends on which ghosts you choose to talk to.
In short, this story explores the myriad rationalizations you will be subject to if and when you are ever confronted by a potentially fatal medical condition. Well worth reading for the lessons it imparts, plus, despite the topic, it’s rather comforting in tone.
barrels full of boiling medicine – (poem) by Cooper Skjeie
A metaphor for the colonization of Canada from the victim’s point of view.
I think this is commentary on the concept “we’re doing this to you for your own good.” One bit of imagery which really stood out for me has to do with the perspective and behaviour of certain animals, something beyond expectation, something human-like. To me, this poem is a cry of despair about accepting the inevitable. I’m surprised the editors didn’t assign a “Content warning.”
Then again, I may have completely misinterpreted the poem (as is often my wont) and maybe they didn’t need to. You take your chances on my take on things. Validity may not be my strongpoint. Don’t care. I present my opinions for what they are worth. At any rate, I think this, too, is a powerful and meaningful poem.
goodbye to father and forest – (poem) by Moni Brar
“Content warning: abuse, death”
A man buried in the forest… buried by the forest.
I suspect this short poem has to do with the proverbial lifetime of obligation and regret one thinks about on the death of one’s father if their life had been, for you, more of a curse than a blessing. A sort of triumph shorn of any sense of joy or completion. But a victory nevertheless.
moonshaped midas – by Chimedum Ohaegbu
“Content warning: implied abuse”
Concentrating on small details is great for avoiding the larger issues.
If you pay more attention to cooking and washing dishes than you do to anticipating your spouse’s mercurial and all-to-predictable response to your non-existent flaws, at least moments in your life will be bearable and present the illusion of normality. This kind of rationalization is a coping mechanism, one you cling to as if it were a means of escape, but it never is. This brief story makes that point clearly and distinctly. There are better options.
scalp detox on Sunday morning – by Sarah Lachman singh
“Content warning: body horror”
Gold worms growing from your scalp are a good source of income.
I confess I don’t understand, in any logical or rational sense, what the imagery in this poem represents. I suspect that being a 70-year-old man rather than a young, teenaged girl obsessed with her appearance has something to do with my confusion. There may be references to things unfamiliar to me.
In general, though, I think there’s a sense of being betrayed by one’s body (as I felt to some extent as a teenage boy with a mild case of acne) and further betrayed by mom’s reassurance that everything is normal and nothing to worry about. It’s part of what contributes to teenage angst and the impression “life isn’t fair.” (If you think that, wait till you become an adult. You haven’t seen anything yet.)
There are darker tones underlying which I can’t quite put my finger on. Insufficient life experience, I imagine. Doesn’t matter. I suspect the target audience will understand more clearly.
chrita penanggalan – by Lisabelle Toy
“Content warning: body horror, blood, gore, murder, implied sexual assault, self-harm”
Demons have self-image problems, mainly because nobody loves them.
At first the young woman, a victim herself, resents being turned into a demon whose disembodied head flies through the night to kill local villagers. She resents even more their frequent attempts to kill her, because they always fail. She finds it difficult to come to terms with her new “life.” She is neither happy nor content.
Apparently based on an actual mythological figure (or actual demon as believers would say), from a psychological viewpoint there is something fundamental underlying the concept, the kind of thing Freud and Jung would have a great time arguing about. The story itself hints the demon is the female counterpoint to traditional male dominance and violence, and that she functions as a kind of avenging spirit attacking men and the women who support them. But at least young children are off limits. That suggests they might, if they learn from the fate of their parents, grow up to become people worthy of normal lifespans unhindered by vengeful demonic entities. One can hope.
One particularly interesting aspect of this story is the frustration level of both the demon and the villagers. Neither are satisfied with their state of affairs and are constantly raking their brains to come up with a solution. An arms-race of sorts. Hard to know whom to identify with, especially as the story is presented from the Demon’s perspective. No heroes in this story. Just victims.
the house at the end of the world – by Ashley Deng
“Content warning: post-climate collapse, body horror, death/corpses”
Yi is a young girl who lives with her extended family in an ancient Chinese house. She is not permitted to go into the attic.
The world is dying. The house once stood high on a hill. The ocean has risen to wash around its base. Despite extremes of weather, the house is comfortable. It endures. It provides. It is a good and safe haven for grandmothers to play mahjong. But why? How? What is its secret?
I’ll just say, come the end of the world, this house is better than most. We should be so lucky.
the oil baron’s wife – (poem) by Sophie Cracker
She regrets her marriage.
Central theme of betrayal, inevitable and relentless, and beyond personal.
reservation fairy tales 101 final exam – by Marsheila Rockwell
“Content warning: racism, trauma, murder, death”
Every 92 minutes a First Nations girl or woman goes missing. That was the statistic back in 2016. The situation is worse today.
This is in the form of a multiple choice exam. Each and every choice brings home the horror of this ongoing real-life tragedy to which there appears to be no solution. Therein lies the true horror of this situation, for real-life horror (just like real-life war) is far worse than any piece of fiction. Presented in point form, the essential details of the disappearances and their impact on those left behind are far starker and more visceral than the average reportage one comes across in the media. What is the solution? I wish I knew.
luna + moth – by Vina Nguyen
“Content warning: death, body horror, insects, child loss”
An immortal woman transforms.
This is a short story about the Chinese Moon Goddess, or to be precise, Chang’e, who drank the elixir of immortality and flew to the Moon about 4,000 years ago. It deals with her transformation into a form capable of such a flight.
The underlying theme seems to be an essay on the meaning of child bearing when most children are still-born, or to put it another way, on the sense of futility the promise of motherhood can bring. The essential dilemma facing all women throughout time? The mood of this piece is sombre and sad rather then life affirming. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Cause for contemplation. Especially if you are a woman. Chang’e represents you, I believe.
his plumage a fortress – by Lark Morgan Lu
“Content warning: off-page transphobia”
David is the last of his family willing to accept the fact his brother Ryker is turning into a bird.
Once the transformation is finished, even David will no longer be close to Ryker, because the bird will soar in realms unseen and unappreciated by David. I suppose this implies that anyone who alters their gender will have to depend on their own resources to survive and feel complete. I’m not actually sure that’s true. In the media I see evidence of parents and siblings who support trans individuals with as much love as before, family transcending mundane convention it would appear. Yet, at the same time, it is apparent that trans face incredible hostility to the point where their murder rate is higher than any other minority group. This flies in the face of wishful thinking that most people are liberal and tolerant. This story is perhaps a plea that wishful thinking become reality.
I mean, after all, who cares what people make of their lives if it makes them happy? It’s none of our business. Petty and evil to hate people looking after themselves. As the British Actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell allegedly said of Oscar Wilde “I really don’t mind what people do, so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.” Exactly. Sensible lady.
flight – (graphic art) by Charlotte Marshall
A black woman spacefarer has crash landed on a planet inhabited by white people with bunny ears.
It would be easy to give away the conclusion of this brief comic. I’ll just say the spacefarer starts off obsessed with a narrow definition of her mission but benefits from contact with the natives. A more lighthearted plea for tolerance than the previous story.
chief editor of The Moon News – (poem) by Natalie Lim
“Content warning: mention of Nazis”
Two people are first to land on the Moon. They are in a playful mood.
No, not those two people. This is an alternate history. The two people are there to live, and their attitude reveals a refreshing truth about electing to live on a brand new world (nothing to do with Nazis, by the way).
threads of saffron – (poem) by Lynne M. MacLean
“Content warning: food”
One person gathers nutrients from another person’s suffering, eventually cooking a meal healing in nature.
Food as a metaphor for loving care in a relationship. I’ve got to say, in my opinion the content warning for this poem is idiotic to the point of being surreal, but whatever. Perhaps some people are phobic at the very thought of food and need to be told they shouldn’t read this poem. Personally, I found the poem a sprightly way of defining the difficulties and joy of a personal relationship, implying that a loving relationship is well worth the effort, so never give up. An optimistic poem.
When she speaks – by Ugochi M. Agoawike
“Content warning: emetophobia, light body horror, references to a depressive episode”
Maude dearly lovers her wife Prism, who, the embodiment of all flora, suffers terribly when winter manifests within her. Fortunately, spring inevitably returns.
A metaphor for the varying moods of a lover. Her love will decay as the blossoms may wilt, but with patience and affection flowers will bloom again. Since just the one partner is cycling through this pattern of acceptance/rejection it would appear this is a poem dedicated to a particular fickle lover rather than a general commentary on love as such. The imagery will particularly appeal to them as loves gardening, I should think.
must be love then – (poem) by Ashley Hynd
A spider is crawling around the kitchen.
Is it a metaphor for love, something unwanted yet useful? I admit I have never hitherto viewed spiders in that light, but perhaps I lack the soul of a poet. One thing for certain, where I see something best left alone, a poet finds inspiration.
One way or another, every story and poem in this issue, no matter how quiet or placid (which is to say subtle), packs a powerful punch. The bulk of it is dark fantasy, potentially depressing, but thought provoking and worthy of contemplation. The quality of writing is quite high. There are images and ideas you will not easily forget. This is not writing for those who wish to be entertained, but rather for those who wish to be challenged and see their thinking shifted in new directions.
Though not the sort of fiction I normally read, as I am a huge fan of mindless entertainment, I am grateful for the powerful imagery and poignant emotions resident in this issue. Sometimes I am not afraid to learn things I need to know more about. There’s more to life than my own narrow experience.
My one complaint is I think the content warnings give away too much and deny the reader the full scope of exploring and discovering the flavour and meaning of each piece. In my opinion they reduce the impact of what the authors intend to evoke in the reader. But that’s just me. Perhaps I’m merely revealing how obsolete I am in this modern age.
I chose to quote each and every content warning so that the readers of this column can contrast them with my take on each piece and decide for themselves as to the utility of the concept. Better yet, buy the issue, read each item from beginning to end, and then decide. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the results, pro and con, turn out to be dependant on the age of the reader. A sign of the times.
Check it out at: < Augur Magazine 4.1 >