lit issue 2020

Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

I did not know how to speak when I came to this country. Wide-eyed and Cyrillic-sympathetic, I learned English at age five. My parents often tell me that I cried on the way home from the first Monday of school because I thought all the kids spoke Kyrgyz. English did not yet exist to milk-toothed, Russian-slurring Bota. Thаt was me, learning how to spell “rose” and “color” while everyone was at recess. Me, learning tenses, while everyone around me contracted their clauses. Me, now, an editor and a writer and a soon-to-be American citizen. My grandparents, dried apricots with laughter sitting in their eyes, would poke at me. Who would have known that she would grow up to write better in English than in her native tongue? This was first-generation immigration: holding hands with two lands at once. I believe that it was only through the virtue of being a foreigner that I was able to grasp the english language at its neck, learning it through lesson and mixing its elements with a slavic sensibility. In this sense, writing in English became everything I grew from and everything I was experiencing for the first time.

My mother, pouring me black tea and spooning me mouthfuls of kasha, nurtured me not only with food but with poetry. Collections—those of which she bought for me on her commute home from work—of Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, and Emily Dickinson composed the first lyrics that built my childhood vocabulary. I was a kid hungry for energy, for bouncing words and language to devour. I sat sprawled, scrunching my brows at “Out—Out,” “Mother to Son,” and “I’m Nobody! Who are You?” Punctuation, personification, epiphany. These were the concepts that textured my burgeoning adolescence, the water that allowed my tongue to later flower with prose. I find myself to be a garden now; I’ll go through my day with a poem in the back of my throat and cannot speak until it is written. 

And now, as a university student, words provide me a sanctuary of safety. I am no stranger to anxiety. The ever-fluctuating world we live in is pasture enough for my imagination, presenting me with perils of placelessness that so often paralyze me. When I was an ill child, my mother advised me to sweat out my sickness. So when I am visited by this panic, I brew boiling water with dried leaves and chase it with blackcurrant jam, shoving on socks and layering on blankets. And I write, because writing is just another way for me to sweat. All the chaos residing in my mind translates onto the page, ridding me of cerebral static. It is the immediacy allowed to me by the reassuring spine of my journal and the command I hold over my words that anchor me to the present moment. I imagine my nomadic ancestors, moving and settling and shifting and staying, moored by the stories they told each other over hot tea and burning toasts. This tradition, passed down to me through blood and belief, allows me to create solid ground upon which my shaky legs can find stability.

In extension, reading allows entrance into the worlds of other people. It is a passport. I remember traveling past the confines of Tisch while gripping the thin chapters of Stephen King’s behemoth IT during finals, eyes glazed over from the computer screen and stomach greasy with acid. I remember crying into the pages of The Tsar of Love and Techno when flying back to Boston after winter break. I remember waking up, forehead dripping in cold terror, to find solace in a set of Russian poetry that sits on my bedside table. These are escapades and escapes. In the process of editing this magazine, these writers have invited me into their lives. I have walked into their kitchens and sipped tea from their cups. When reading these following pieces, I ask you to take things slow and read the pieces like a timeline. Linger in the lines. Leave your scarf in the beginning stanza and come back for it. These are sacred spaces, open for you to walk through and to savor on a Monday morning. 

Akbota Saudabayeva