Notes on the Creative Nonfiction Selections

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April 2, 2023 by The Citron Review

To read the nonfiction selections for Spring is to step into worlds that brim with the particular and closely-watched: the curve of a letter, the father who’s left, the place we need to get back to, the giant-ness of living, the smallness of being human, the moments that escape us too soon, and, also in this issue, so many mothers. From the “scent of blue ammonia” to the way “shame simmers,” these writers explore the trappings of family and our lives; that which we can’t wait to be free of and that which we long for.

Home churns with the fraught and unspoken in Sujash Purna’s “On Landing” in which the ground shifts even in a place the narrator finds suffocatingly static. Out of options and staying with family who seems not to know who he truly is, he finds himself squandering his remaining emotional resources trying to find purchase in a place he aches to leave: “The tea steams into the dining room from the kitchen and out the grilled window and the furtive texts sprout out into the tiny screen of my mom’s Nokia phone that I have been secretly texting my soon-to-be-girlfriend back in America from. I narrate like fools of what’s going on the other side of the Atlantic to my mom and sister who nod and look away into the immortal TV in a mantra trance of red, green, blue cinematic episodes of some Hindi soap opera.”

In “Didn’t Break Itself” Christine Nolan writes of the first meal her family shares after her father gets out of his latest rehab. Gathered around the restaurant table she pays close attention to his every move, scanning his face for clues, almost extra sensory in her perception, watchful and wary as she’s learned to become: “How long has it been dad?” I ask in a voice as quiet as a field mouse hunting wreckage for crumbs. If my brother had asked, he would be all roaring and putrid exhaust, but because it is me. He lowers his head, shame simmering instead of boiling and evaporating.” 

The physical loss of a father is what occupies Gina Ferrera’s young narrator in “In Script” who attempts to master her dad’s handwriting as a way to keep him close. Facing a teacher who resists her repeated attempts to pay homage to him by emulating his fanciful penmanship, she focuses on what she can perfect and contain, allowing herself only brief acknowledgment of the discord that prevailed before he left. She writes, “My father’s departure did make for better nights of sleep, but it also seemed impossible to fill his natural place in our home.”

In “The Giants” by Rosalind Aparicio-Ramirez the narrator acknowledges some weight in the sameness of every day but is also content with it. She drifts into reverie, wonders what would be different if she followed her mother’s urging to change her life, but can find no merit in it. She writes, “My mother’s negative feelings towards domestic tasks often preclude my finding comfort in them. She hovers around our cramped Brooklyn kitchen going on about how sad and lonely I must be, cooking while the rest sit around, needlessly inflicting myself with such antiquated, demeaning duties. ¿Estás segura que no quieres que te ayude? But I enjoy being alone.”

For Annie Marhefka in “One for your Mother” domestic chores fill each and every Sunday; her mother seems nearly subsumed by the rigors of keeping house. Together they scrub and dust, laboring side by side as the hours tick by with the young Marhefka vowing to mother differently when she’s grown up, to let the grime build up and find fun activities to do with her children instead. Yet when the job is done, she finds a kind of communion with her mother. She writes, “Mom pops a cork off a bottle of champagne that is lodged between a carton of milk and a box of butter sticks in the refrigerator door. The champagne is cheap, but she pours it into her fanciest fluted glass, clinks the edge of the bottle over a juice glass for me. “C’mon,” she says, “a little post-cleaning celebration.” I take the glass, sip from the rim and let the fizz sit on my tongue, tasting of cheap berries and Windex.”

Finding clues about what it means to be a grown woman in a world where lipstick, body shape, and hairspray reign occupies the narrator in Hallie Johnston’s “Girls” who performs alongside her dance team for a parade where they “march and dance and melt.” “After,” she writes, “we take pictures with the band and color guard, posing boobs out, belly in on high-rise bleachers. As metal and sequins spark in the sun, I squint and smile, smile and sweat. I feel my breath push against the packing tape wrapping my stomach from hip bone to ribcage—my idea as I dressed that morning, arms circling body, waist cutting in and in.”

The voices in these creative nonfiction selections for Spring poke and prod, bump up against what is expected, interrogate given roles and seem to ask what it means to be a son, a daughter, a kid whose been left, a woman, a mother. They are a reminder of how keenly we still feel all we can’t see, and what our loved ones won’t say, and how acutely it can shape us. For me, this issue is also about how we make sense of the way we live, especially when it may not be on our own terms, and the surprise we can feel each time we realize that those we depend upon or love most might not ever be able to change the way we’d like them to.

I hope you enjoy this issue as much as we at Citron do.

Here’s to more daylight, warmth, and time to listen to our own voice.


Ronit Plank
Creative Nonfiction Editor
The Citron Review


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