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  • Leslie Jill Patterson

Open Issue: Release!

I like the idea of closing Volume 18 of Iron Horse by “opening” its last issue to every topic and theme, because this year, 2016, ended several major threads in my life while opening other doors. The conclusions have been hard, brutal: love lost to pancreatic cancer; a cousin jeopardized by the failure of our nation’s mental healthcare system; the end of a fellowship that shuttled me out of the classroom and into the field as an activist, where I felt, every day, like I was actually doing something to better the world; and, of course, finally, the loss of Obama’s legacy to a man I find it difficult to call a man. The election season and its outcome also triggered, for me, the loss of spiritual privilege I didn’t realize was privilege: the white, heterosexual benefit of embracing faith and hope without much struggle. Now, I find it difficult to align myself with people who call themselves Christian, to call myself a Christian, even to pray. For the first time, I am forced to hone a genuine faith or let it go. I’ve decided to see these crises as open doors. This is an opportunity to change, to dig deep and forge a better life, spiritual and otherwise. It’s parallel to the renewal—the renewed energy—that I’m seeing among writers, in the Writer’s Resist movement or the daily work of Write the Power, led by Jaswinder Bolina. Many days, it is difficult to imagine that those of us who oppose the new president can do much to stop the GOP, who plans to gut so many things our nation needs, but we must see every day as an unlocked door, an open window, the opportunity to educate and lead our country to undisputed change, because this time, it better be genuine if we want to beat back the tide of hate permanently, to step forward without immediately afterward taking a gigantic step backward, a step back forty decades. No more “like” buttons clicked on Facebook. No pantsuits donned for one day. No Tweets that quickly disappear into oblivion. But candid education, conversations, action, activities, donations, movement. This year, I also returned to the classroom, which broke my heart. It was a huge adjustment I struggled with all semester. In returning, I allowed myself to do something I’ve never felt comfortable doing: for my graduate workshop, I selected required texts written only by women, writers of color, and LGBTQ writers. I don’t know why I’ve always seen this as somehow too revolutionary, too rebellious; almost every class I completed during my graduate work featured nothing but the writing of white, heterosexual males taught by white, heterosexual males. Why shouldn’t a female professor match that book for book, writer for writer? Why not a mainstream workshop of diversity and only diversity? How else does diversity become mainstream instead of “other”? The class was a success, largely because of the talent and heart and generosity of its students. They lifted my spirit in ways I didn’t think possible. It was a warm “welcome back” to academia when I had no desire to return. In this issue of Iron Horse, we’re taking two steps forward. We’re introducing two new genres to our pages: translation and graphic literature. It’s tremendously exciting to open this window and let some fresh air blow into our pages. Why haven’t I done this sooner? What was wrong with me, clinging to old literary ways? Simply looking at Nick St. John’s graphic flash fiction in the opening pages of this issue makes me smile, genuinely smile. I love knowing that nestled toward the end of the issue also lies Ruth Goring’s poem, “Medellín,” and her translation of it into the language of her youth, a language she still speaks today. Presented in two languages, the poem gives a depth to Goring’s meaning that would otherwise have been missing. We’ll hope to include more translations and graphic literature in future issues. Finally, Jessica Morey-Collins’s poem, “Uncle Sam’s Shadow Rattles Change,” foretells what’s to come in the kick-off of Iron Horse’s Volume 19. We were surprised to find her poem among the submissions for this open issue while we were simultaneously reading for the State of the Union Issue (19.1). After much debate, we decided to leave it right here, in 18.6. Why relegate hope, energy, honesty, and raised voices to one issue. We have a gut feeling every submission period will resound more strongly with these voices; they will not be contained.

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