Another hot summer is mercifully over—another one for the record books according to scientists—yet still the mercury hovers above 90º every afternoon. Schools are back in full swing, football has resumed its rightful place on Sunday sports screens, and Wurstfest (New Braunfels’s take on Oktoberfest) is looming just around the corner. Summer vacations, if you are lucky enough to have taken one, are over, but memories, and often photos, remain. But as the late, great Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and it isn’t quite over in the minds of Voices contributors.
In this issue of Voices de la Luna we explore the theme of international life and culture. Often we don’t have to go anywhere to experience culture from another part of the world, because it already surrounds us. The month between Sep 15 and Oct 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of the contributions of Latinos from many countries to the life and culture of the U.S. Those of us who live in South Texas, of course, don’t need a special month of celebration, because we breathe the air of Hispanic heritage, taste its food, and inbibe its drink daily. Many other international cultures also contribute to our experiences on a regular basis. Our Muslim friends from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, and elsewhere recently celebrated Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, which commemorates the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Luminaria, an annual celebration of art and literature, will take place in San Antonio later in October.
Sometimes the international world comes to us, as with Pope Francis’s recent visit to Cuba and the U.S. It’s not just people who come, either, as visits to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum over the next few months will attest. Descriptions of current exhibitions may be found in this issue.
Some of us are fortunate to have had opportunities to live, study, or travel abroad, and poems, essays, and photos in this issue touch on themes of life and culture in foreign lands. Visit Lenin’s Tomb and St. Petersburg with Carol Reposa, and find out why Czar Peter the Great built his namesake city on marshy land. Learn lessons from Moumin Quazi, a traveler to the British Isles. Listen to the birds chirp as you walk with Robert Burns along the banks o’ bonie Doon. Catch glimpses of Stockholm, Oaxaca, the tropics, and Cape Town as you peruse these pages. See doves, raindrops, geckos, and even a Nile monitor lizard, and ponder the violence that affects too many people entirely too frequently.
We are proud to feature a few of the poems of Joshua Robbins in this issue. An award-winning poet, Robbins is assistant professor of English and creative writing at the University of the Incarnate Word. Our featured interview is with Jim Harter, an image archivist (read the interview to find out what that is!) and artist. Several of his collected engravings and original collages grace the pages of the magazine.
With xenophobia on the rise in the U.S. and across the world, in part due to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, there is a tendency to huddle up with “our kind” and fear those who are somehow “other.” We hope this issue will inspire you to react differently to the inevitable changes that every generation faces. As We, the image on the cover reminds us, we might as well grab the tail of the elephant in front of us, because we’re all in this together!
I mean breaker-crashed gunwales, yes, John Newton’s near-shipwreck conversion, and, of course, “Amazing Grace,” but as Janis Joplin screaked it, her voice full-throated and grainy bending the phrasing. And it’s two young men, homeless on a suburban church pew, one high or getting there, the other striking matches, each small flame tossed toward a pile of gasoline-soaked hymnals and how the day after the fire we sang over the sanctuary’s ashy smolder. And it’s the photo tucked in my mother’s Bible, the one she snapped circa 1967: Pearl’s mouth wailing, the stage set ablaze by the fiery coal of her heart that Summer of Love. Sundays, having passed out the night before, Mom would sing a wretch like me tuneless but extra loud, raise her Bible when the preacher’s tongue cast our sins away. How we burned then, bright as when we first believed.
It must be troubling for the god who loves you To ponder how much happier you’d be today Had you been able to glimpse your many futures. It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings Driving home from the office, content with your week— Three fine houses sold to deserving families— Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened Had you gone to your second choice for college, Knowing the roommate you’d have been allotted Whose ardent opinions on painting and music Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion. A life thirty points above the life you’re living On any scale of satisfaction. And every point A thorn in the side of the god who loves you. You don’t want that, a large-souled man like you Who tries to withhold from your wife the day’s disappointments So she can save her empathy for the children. And would you want this god to compare your wife With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus? It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation You’d have enjoyed over there higher in insight Than the conversation you’re used to. And think how this loving god would feel Knowing that the man next in line for your wife Would have pleased her more than you ever will Even on your best days, when you really try. Can you sleep at night believing a god like that Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives You’re spared by ignorance? The difference between what is And what could have been will remain alive for him Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill Running out in the snow for the morning paper, Losing eleven years that the god who loves you Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend No closer than the actual friend you made at college, The one you haven’t written in months. Sit down tonight And write him about the life you can talk about With a claim to authority, the life you’ve witnessed, Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.
I find the world glowing— filled with lit white candles of variable heights. This huge metallic orb hangs from a long chain, turning slowly on some implied axis. Here we are, all of us: every manner of person, animal, insect and plant. No country or history left out. One candle burns out, flame muted by fluid wax. Another waits to begin. For a moment, I am god reaching into the heart of things, to fire a tiny wick into a journey of light.
…At the end of the third ring a voice came on the line. But the voice wasn’t human. It was one of those artificial intelligence voices created by computer nerds in Silicon Valley, the same ones that invented digital crack that Americans are hooked on.
The voice said, “Welcome, you have reached God’s Kingdom. For security purposes your call may be monitored or recorded. Please listen carefully because our menu has changed. If you are calling from a touch tone phone please press 1. If you are calling from a rotary phone, please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly.”
Jack’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. In less than a nanosecond he pressed 1 and returned the phone to his ear, holding it tight to make sure he didn’t miss the next set of instructions.
A moment passed, then the voice said, “Press 1 for Spanish; press 2 for English.”
He lowered the cell phone and pressed 2. In his haste to return the phone to his ear he almost dropped it, muttering curses for his clumsiness. Jack liked to be perfect and in control at all times. His moment of clumsiness signaled neither control nor perfection.
The voice said, “Press 1 for God, press 2 for angels, press 3 for miracles, press 4 for other options. If you know your party’s extension you may enter it now followed by the pound sign, otherwise press 5 for directory assistance.”
Jack wanted to speak to God, so he pressed 1.
The voice said, “God is currently busy, but your salvation is very important to us, and he will be with you momentarily. Your expected wait time is approximately seven minutes. For your listening pleasure we will fill your waiting time with music.” …