Because winter is worse elsewhere. This is what I find myself repeating every time I refresh my news feeds, in my warm house, during an extended streak of unseasonably mild weather, my children and I safe and sound in Middle Tennessee. Because winter is worse in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, devastated by earthquakes, and where, in the absence of excavators, the rescue teams pass plastic pails up and down a line of men that extends from the rubble that was once an apartment building down to what is no longer recognizable as a street. Because winter is worse in the Hatay Province, where Turkey borders Syria, and where, I read, a fire station has taken the place of a razed mosque, so that the dead may be washed according to Islamic ritual. Because winter is worse in Syria, a country to which international aid flows in a trickle because it can barely be called a state and its monstrous leader is an international outcast, and whose cities, already leveled by civil and proxy war, have been further pulverized by the earthquake and its aftershocks.
I say this as I go about my business, worrying deadlines, stuffing myself during the Super Bowl, wondering if I should make another charitable contribution, if what I do is enough, and grow less and less mindful, as the news cycle shifts to the downing of mysterious cylindrical objects and the greater likelihood of our economy’s soft landing, that for a pair of nations and its people time has been so distended by agony and loss that the notion of the future as a tense must seem inconceivable. And I do not say it not to minimize my own woes by counter-example or contrast, by positively reframing them so that I might remind myself of everything about which I should feel grateful and blessed. I say it to myself as a caution, because to romanticize conflict, to long to be tested in combat, to be stockpiled for disaster, is an American indulgence—a reverie closer to a pastime—that some of us sometimes dream longingly of Armageddon. In fact, as we are reminded by these cataclysms, the far more difficult work is to stave them off, to build into the foundation of our communities and our institutions what is solid in an unstable world. Because even barraged by such terrible images of disaster, we still manage to forget that there is no prepping for such annihilation, that we would stand, stunned, before such calamitousness astonished that there was ever some dark corner of our souls that wished for such ruin.
I am convinced it is art that frets us out of this sort of thinking and, by newly minting the world, can bolster the foundations upon which our civilization is built. To experience great art is an exercise in the most authentic kind of preparedness, because it can instill the solicitude, via empathy and imagination, to lay the groundwork necessary to make us more supple, to allow us to safely sway no matter how powerful the quake. We are grateful to welcome back previous contributors to our pages. Jos Charles gifts us with an excerpt from her memoir, The Domesday Book. There’s a selection from Major Jackson’s upcoming poetry collection. Tara K. Menon returns with her take on this past year’s Booker Prize finalists. National Book Award finalist Roger Reeves delivers a remarkable essay on hush harbors. There are also a host of first-time contributors to our pages—poets Monica Youn and Randall Mann, as well as fiction writers Xavier Navarro Aquino, Lydia Conklin, Sheba Karim, and Susan Minot. So, too, W. Ralph Eubanks, whose reappraisal of Rattlebone, a beloved novel by Maxine Clair, argues that its greatness lies in its ability to affirm the universality of experience, that no one’s plight is other to ours. And our craft essay, authored by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi—her essay is also our online feature—investigates the nature of time in narrative for the individual living in exile, after a family’s own personal earthquake of violence. I leave you with her words, which fortify my conviction in such readiness: “What I learned by enduring the feebly lit forests of language is that if we persevere in our search for truth or for a sense of justice—or, in my case, for an axis around with to organize an itinerant life—literature will show up in our lives as if alerted to metamorphose our consciousness.”