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Issue 27 Foreword

Suzanne McConnell

Our Fragile Environment

I have spent the last thirty summers within Cape Cod National  Seashore, a mile’s walk on a sandy one-lane road, past freshwater  ponds, to the ocean. Cape Cod is a fragile, shifting, glacier-made  place. Three feet a year of beach, on average, are swept away. From  the air, the 365 kettle ponds the glacier left resemble puddles, and  Cape Cod itself, a slender, curling spit, the glacier’s thin drool. Due  to the foresight and effort of a grassroots movement to make it  into a national park, signed into law by President Kennedy in 1961,  the outer Cape is pristine. So I am instructed daily each summer  in the value of conservation. It’s from this place that I am writing.

The theme for this issue, “Our Fragile Environment,” includes an  array of responses to it. The black executive in “Vertical Integration”  explains how he ended up imprisoned for violating labor laws, with  a neo-Nazi murderer as his cellmate. Through this cynical, unreliable  narrator—whose bottom line is the bottom line—author Stephen  Truman Sugg spins a tale that’s a tour de force in indicting and  integrating societal, political, personal, and corporate ills.

In the marvelous essay “All Our Relations,” Jeanine Pfeiffer argues for the Native American worldview that we are all related,  citing DNA and examples of how “Non-human creatures enhance  our lives…”, including predators, enumerating the domino effect  when two such creatures are removed from an ecosystem. In her  poem “Thing,” Felicia Zamora reminds us that “You wombed first  in the deep.”

Ben Goldfarb’s story “The Run” depicts what happens to a man  in an Alaskan village, dependent on salmon, when the salmon run  out. In Rhonda Browning White’s heartbreaking “A Big Empty,” a  West Virginian and his pregnant wife try to flee their home, where  they’ve witnessed mountaintops lopped off by machines at “two hundred-forty tons a bite, two bites a minute,” endured his father’s  death and her previous miscarriage. “The land retaliates for the  harm we do it,” the wife says, and the husband wonders if the  reverse can also be true.

In “From Utah to the Promised Land” by Mark Rigney, a  rancher and his wife suffer respiratory diseases. Their farm suffers drought. Her son calls from Israel with startling news of their soil.  How long can you last, the hired hand asks.

In Ginger Eager’s “Beyond the Boundaries of Flesh,” a post partum doula in an expatriate community in Thailand coaches a  mother and her newborn to breastfeed, yearns to keep her teenaged  daughter safe from the sexual threats surrounding her, and while  fleeing the impending disaster from the plant where her husband  works, believes “We can love one another beyond our fate.”

In contrast, a prominent, aging doctor voices all the reasons  why he should keep swimming to oblivion, in “Due West” by Glenn  Vanstrum. He cites his “unbearable disgrace” professionally and  catalogues the ills that will extinguish the world he has inhabited and  the ocean he has surfed all his life. Then appears “The Magnificent  Purr” by Keya Mitra, a wild spoof on spas, pets, alternative health  care, and the human inclination both to blame and worship.

Some stories convey the power of our surroundings as  background to our lives. The grandchild of Mexican immigrants  living near the border narrates Yvette Benavides’ story “Attachments.”  William Kelley Woolfitt’s gorgeous “Spotted Dog” suffuses us  into village life in Uganda, where a dog threatens the village, and  an orphaned boy who is considered bad luck discovers that luck  can change. Steven Swiryn’s “The Unicycle” depicts the emotional  environment of an enduring marriage, in all its ordinary, splendid  temporality.

The poems address weather extremes, in “You Will Feel a  Pinch” by Marylen Grigas, the impossibility of hearing oneself  think, in “The Audible World” by Nicholas Samaras, but also wry  humor in Hal Sirowitz’s “High on the Food Chain”: Smokey the  Bear is “…to the forest what Santa Claus is to Christmas.”

A theme on the environment was proposed some years ago at  an editorial meeting. The threat to it is our greatest global health  issue, we nominally concurred. But it was not until Hurricane  Sandy devastated New York and our hospitals that everyone readily  agreed to the theme. I am reminded of Ben Franklin’s warning:  “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”