Dalton stalked the white deer. It became his obsession, like…
Since February, three friends of mine have been diagnosed with cancer. Their stories are all too familiar. A few odd pains—nothing too severe— an eventual doctor’s visit, followed by a couple more, and finally, a diagnosis that seemingly came from out of the blue. They are all in their sixties. Far too young.
One occupied a large space in the landscape of my childhood. He bought me my first guitar, gave me my first beer, taught me about country music—about Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, George Jones, and Tammy Wynette. One time he was listening to Patsy sing “Faded Love,” and he pulled me over to the stereo. “Listen to this, Jason,” he said. “Listen to the breath she takes before she goes for that last note.” He pointed at the speakers, and indeed there it was, Patsy’s vulnerability on full display for the close listener, a moment of beauty that he had not missed.
In thinking of him over the past couple of months, I keep remembering a song he used to sing about someone being kept up at night by a memory that refuses to be silenced. It’s a sentiment that I believe many of the contributors to this issue would recognize, as so many of these stories, essays, and poems are rooted in memory—in having, as Michael Ondaatje writes in The Cat’s Table, “an old knot in the heart we wish to untie.”
Such heartstrings are on full display in “When You Say ‘Home,’” a new short story by bestselling novelist Wiley Cash, who is also interviewed in these pages by Amy D. Clark. The knots are present in stories by emerging writers Natalie Sypolt and Devin Kelly, each of whom ground their work in stark beauty and lyricism; in aching pieces of flash nonfiction by acclaimed fiction writer Holly Goddard Jones and essayist Laura Michele Diener; in poems whose subjects range from hawks in flight, bus stop encounters, immigration, and family politics. They can even be found in Genevieve Thurtle’s engaging craft essay “Tragedy on a Large Stage,” which explores the setting of Vietnam in Tim O’Brien’s classic short story “The Things We Carried” and how “the slippery nature of narrative truth becomes even more so when memory comes into play.”
As these wonderful writers begin to untie the old knots in their hearts, keep your eyes and ears peeled for moments of beauty, for wistful breaths like the one Patsy took. And like my old friend, pause to savor them.