Unlike Monkey Bicycle’s previous issues (No. 4 presented thematically-connected short stories by 40 contributors and No. 5 was devoted exclusively to humor, both dark and light), No. 6 is an arresting crazy quilt of subjects and voices, many of them masterful.
In Jing Li’s “Forever,” calligraphy is the means by which the poet penetrates memory and creates metaphor. And while the images in “Forever” are powerful without any consideration of possible retrospective influences, they still seem to echo the poignancy of works like “The River-Merchant’s Wife,” which was Ezra Pound’s translation of a poem by Li Po (*cough* Pardon me, the English professor part of my persona is leaking out my right side…Okay, there. See, duct tape helps everything). Jing Li’s last lines, which depict the sublimation of shadows into transient flock of starlings is itself a calligraphic arabesque that points to the poem’s theme: the relentless and elliptical movement of infinity.
Other stand-outs include Drew Jackson’s gorgeous “After Spaulding,” which is so rich with imagery and wit, it warrants multiple readings. With a nod to Fitzgerald’s Gatsby in the story’s introductory paragraphs, Jackson actually creates a world more vivid and enchanting than Fitzgerald’s. Jackson’s characterizations are captivating: there’s the elusive star-genius Spaulding–who creates genetically-marketable hybrids like a angora-haired pythons (whose hirsute skins can be worn with impunity by the fur coat lover)—servants who simultaneously confirm and defy expectation, and the gloriously-rendered remote jungle setting in which Spaulding now lives and where the story’s principal action takes place.
Honestly, you can’t help but admire Jackson’s clever and masterful description of Spaulding’s island, largely comprised of dense, alien foliage: “And while I knew the theory of spontaneous generation had been discredited centuries ago, it seemed that in Spaulding’s fertile wood, you could toss away the heel of a Reuben sandwich and return the next day to find a motherless calf in the middle of a cabbage patch, licking itself clean of the 1,000 Island dressing afterbirth.”
Jackson’s tidbits of obscurely fascinating trivia, artfully and purposefully sprinkled throughout the story, reveals the author’s erudition. And he treats words like beads made of precious and semi-precious stones: He strings them together in sentences to create a reading experience that literally sparkles. Overall, having read this, I wonder what it’s like to live inside Drew Jackson’s mind. I imagine it’s a pretty fascinating place, a genuine cabinet of curiosities.
Funny, down-to-earth, and absorbing are also Martha Clarkson’s “Gum Gutter,” which records a chance encounter that leads up to an elliptical and hopeful ending in the life of a woman in transition, and Michael Czyzniejewski’s “Valentine”, which relates a man’s consuming curiosity about his wife’s gynecologist, who performs her pelvic exam every February 14th.
Matt Bell’s “The Girls of Channel 2112,” about Siamese-twin, live-feed internet porn stars—one eager and willing, the other cerebral and emotionally detached—becomes an unconventional, if painful love story, involving one twin’s high school crush. Sarah Salway’s excerpt “Death Dreams” is a surreal, evocatively Jungian litany of troubling nocturnal imaginings.
Monkey Bicycle 6 is a fantastic collection of varied voices, all sewn together into one cogent whole. Buy it! You’ll enjoy every morsel.