Nonfiction

“All the Immaculate Confusion”

Michael Brown in Ferguson. Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Eric Garner in Staten Island. Today’s headlines bespeak racial division and struggle in the U.S., but also the acknowledgment of division and struggle, of cultures defining themselves and people stepping forward to articulate stories of injustice. As disquieting as some find civil unrest, and however “unruly,” to use a pet media term, protests of law enforcement have grown, this is better than silent suffering and oppression. 

It takes courage to be seen. We might prefer anonymity and masks, given the choice. As Gregory Pardlo writes, “While many of us decry veils of identity especially when they are projected onto us—we know them like we know cold water on a sensitive tooth—some others of us embrace stereotype as a form of comfort and buffer, a way of announcing we belong somewhere, if not here.” Pardlo’s narrator examines his own reticence to be seen in his essay, “‘Hurrah for Schoelcher,’” and in so doing lays himself bare, inviting the reader’s gaze, and gazing back.

Shelly Hubman invites us to view her narrator’s empathic inner world, one filled with confusion as her desire to ease suffering clashes with her need to escape it. Meeting a paralyzed patient, she intuits, “He knew the sensation of cement in the lungs and of sore rib muscles stretching for air. He knew the slightly fuzzy, dizzy sensations of a body that can’t inhale fully, the gnawing irritation of trying to get something that can’t be reached.” Narrator and patient reflect one another in this reaching, each groping for understanding, two forms in a hall of mirrors.

Each essay in this portfolio creates a wholly distinct space of meaning. The voices contrast and define one another. Jericho Parms explores the territory of reflection through backward writing and inverted perception (though who enjoys the authority to assert normalcy over inversion is one question the piece raises). She writes, “My mirrored shorthand becomes a gliding carpet or a worldly wardrobe, turning a page back in time to visit a girl I once knew, who gazes at me—equal parts longing and disappointment—waiting for some explanation for all the immaculate confusion, all the apples and poisons put before us.” Sherri Mitchell’s narrator offers some explanation from an indigenous American viewpoint, explaining that although separation is illusory, “Sadly, there will also be times when we lose sight of this basic fact. During those times, we will become lost in the unfolding stories of our individualized realities.”

And we do lose sight, as these pieces depict. In “Ballad to a Lost Generation X,” a young woman striving for romantic conquest performs a valiant debut as “chick drummer,” only to be jilted by her crush. Kelly Kathleen Ferguson’s narrator braces “for the knife of jealous pain” only to experience a vague detachment, saying, “I was apart from them, from this party, from everything.” The narrator in Francesca Louise Grossman’s “The Beautiful Now” reflects on a time when illness made the gap between her and the world seem insurmountable. And Mark Dow employs the moon, in whimsical fashion, to illuminate themes of separateness, union, and consciousness.

Oneness. Division. Definition. Reflection. The terrain these essays explore could not be more relevant to our time. As they speak to each other, may we speak to one another too. And listen. Not one day, not in a dream, but now.


Erin Wilcox is a writer, poet, editor, and musician. Her creative work has been featured in numerous literary journals including Praxis: Gender and Cultural Critiques, Spiral Orb, Stoneboat, and Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots of Alaska. Her story “Half a World Away,” published in Crack the Spine Literary Journal, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2014. A former copyeditor for Alaska Quarterly Review, Erin maintains a vigorous freelance editorial practice and writes for various trade and scholarly publications such as Copyediting and Text. She founded the Arizona chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association in 2008.