When we initially considered recovery as a theme for BLR, Covid-19 wasn’t yet a twinkle in any epidemiologist’s eye. By the time the call for submissions swung into action we were knee deep in a global pandemic and the term recovery took on urgent medical tones above and beyond the metaphorical ones we’d been debating. Recovery seems to feel more dimensional than ever as we try to navigate this perfect storm of medical disasters, environmental catastrophe, political discord, economic stress, and social upheaval.
It can be exhausting to contemplate all that is happening, much less consider how we might ever recover. Literature can never offer a “how-to” manual for recovery—that we’ll leave to the strategists of the world. Rather, it offers an opportunity to grapple with the individual strands of our lives, teasing out one tiny aspect to ripple slowly through our fingers. Literature won’t necessarily give us the answers, but it will help us wrestle with the questions.
Sometimes recovery centers directly on the substances of addiction. “Shortly after I quit drinking,” says the protagonist of “The Dry Spring,” by Kyle Impini, “I saw the largest pile of cash I would ever see in my life.” Sent to “dry out” with distant relatives, he finds himself facing more than he expected. In the poem “Surviving You,” composed after seven years clean, Anthony Aguero writes: “I don’t know how I did it, / loved you all those years in the quiet landscape / of a burning vineyard…”
Recovery can also be about recovering a sense of self. The protagonist of “Crosscurrents,” by Meredith Talusan, navigates which dimensions of self to reveal. Walking into a writing workshop, should it be the “aspiring fiction writer—presumed Caucasian, presumed straight and cis, presumed not to know what ‘cis’ even means…” or should it be the “trans woman of color…even if you’re only half-Asian and no one can tell”?
The method of recovery can often depend on your frame of reference. Ucheoma Onwutuebe’s essay, “A Nigerian Attempts Therapy,” recounts her experience at a campus counseling center after she has emigrated to the United States: “I’m here only because I heard therapy is where bougie people come to toughen their hide against this cruel world.” In “Unraveling,” Carolyn Abram takes up knitting as she recovers from a long-term illness. “Knitting can feel pointless,” she writes, “[b]ut during my sickness, the pointlessness felt apt, as I had been reduced to what seemed like a pointless life.” Saima Afreen, in her essay “Beetroot Soup,” reflects on the universal use of soup to aid recovery and the particulars of this family recipe. “The low flame pulls the slices of beetroot, carrots, and tomatoes into a slow dance swirling to the center,” she writes. “Beetroot makes my heart bleed.”
In “A Spring Without Us,” Talia Bloch reflects on the yearning for recovery and for nature during the early days of the Covid lockdown. “Remember the scent of new grass / in the park, of earth clotting in the rain?” The poem ends: “Because we cannot, the tulip breathes.” Sometimes, it’s just the smallest gestures that nod toward recovery. Nicholas Yingling, in “Love, We Never Get Too Far,” writes, “You take my arm / and remind me which way to walk the fire / road home.”
The cover art is by Lauriston Avery. These otherworldly works were born out of his own experience of recovery. Avery’s artist statement brings us through his artistic process in the disorienting aftermath of addiction, populated by caulk guns, construction adhesive, and a bevy of power tools.
Recovery is rarely a final destination. Usually it is an ongoing journey, often an avidly detoured one. While we could never presume to offer a roadmap to recovery, we hope that the stories, poems, essays, and artwork in this 43rd issue of BLR provide insights into how we grapple with the journey. Enjoy the ride.