A Letter from the Editor
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
June 21st, 2012
Welcome to Issue Six.
I was thirteen years old when I first encountered the work of Ray Bradbury. I was swinging on my chair at the back of Mr. Bassett’s English class. If I leaned far enough, I could rest my chair-back on the bookcases behind me and attempt the nonchalant pose that all teenage boys strive for, but few master. The textbooks were passed around. They were dusty, blue and sticky, all randomly deflowered by the customary cock and balls etched in black biro ink.
Page 367. Mr. Carlaw. Read aloud. “The Pedestrian”. Ray Somebody.
I hated reading aloud. As my voice began to break, nature had blessed me with an unfortunate vocal pitch which could, within the space of a sentence, oscillate between the gravely depths of a whisky soaked Tom Waits to the tingling heights of a preteen Pee-wee Herman.
I opened the book and began to read:
“To enter out into that silence that was the city at eight o’clock of a misty evening in November, to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to step over grassy seams and make your way, hands in pockets, through the silences, that was what Mr. Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do.”
From that very first sentence, that magnificent first sentence, I was hooked. I leaned forward on my chair. I concentrated. Bradbury’s words spoke directly to my past experiences in the city: walking with my parents as a child, my fascination with the crowd, but most importantly, my interest in the forbidden nocturnal city – a city that I had observed, in the most part, from the passenger window of my father’s pillar box red Volvo 240.
And so, at that moment, I decided to follow Mr. Leonard Mead’s lead. To walk at night. To escape. To explore.
A number of years later, while on a road trip from San Francisco to Mexico, Bradbury’s story returned to me. I remember driving from Solvang, a Danish community in the Santa Ynes Valley, to sunbathed Santa Barbara. Here, we stumbled across a budget hotel called The Inn at East Beach, and decided to stay overnight.
The Inn apparently played home to Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Support Team back when Reagan enjoyed escaping to his ranch in the Santa Ynes Mountains. The jovial, Hawaiian shirted general manager quipped that he still had a store of computer equipment that the agents had left behind.
Heading out into the California sunshine, we strolled along the coastline, overtaken by hard-bodied joggers, rollerbladers, cyclists and Segway riders. Finally, we found ourselves on State Street in search of victuals and libations.
Sometime later, after one too many hamburgers and two too many craft beers, we emerged from a street corner bar to find that the sun had somehow fallen from the sky. We began to trace our steps back to the motel along Cabrillo Boulevard in darkness. The coastal pathway, which earlier was a hub of activity, was completely deserted. Cabrillo Park and the beach too were empty, closed to the public after nightfall. Streetlights served to illuminate the road only. The sidewalk became increasingly shadowy and foreboding.
We crossed back to the north side of Cabrillo Boulevard to distance ourselves from the sinister shapes of the park. Within minutes the pavement had ran out, and we found ourselves walking curb-side on dewy sprinkler-fresh front lawns. Cars slowed, passengers peered at us. We were, after all, the only nightwalkers. As I braced myself for the siren howl of the patrol car, I thought of the ‘The Pedestrian’. Bradbury’s futuristic dystopia – a society suspicious of the nocturnal walker – was right here and now in Santa Barbara.
Later, when browsing the LAPD website, I read an advisory which stated that if an individual is driving home at night and notices someone walking that he or she does not recognise, it is sensible to drive around the block and return after the stranger has left. It is interesting how the walker is perceived as a prowler or predator after dark, and how, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the act of walking itself can be considered a subversive activity just as Bradbury envisaged.
Ray Bradbury died sixteen days ago, aged 91. He left behind him an estimable body of work that has touched and will continue to touch the lives of readers for generations to come. From a personal perspective, Bradbury’s hand has forever shaped the way I see the city and its suburbs at nightfall. Whenever I walk on a dark suburban street, his words will always accompany me.
Issue Six of StepAway Magazine features three nocturnal walking narratives. The first, “Out for a Late Night Walk,” by William Cullen Jr., captures the strange serenity found among the darkened tenements. The second, “At Night,” by Jane Ozkowski, captures a female pedestrian’s fear as she walks on skid row. The third, “On Mannerheimintie” by Meredith Foster, is set in Helsinki, and also discusses one woman’s cautionary approach to the street at night.
Meanwhile, Kristin Fouquet’s short story “The Surreptitious Lens,” is a walk around New Orleans with a hidden camera and Mark Pawlak’s poem, “Admonitions,” casts a camera eye over a city’s forgotten flora.
“The Color of the Mother” by Jillian Thaw, is a flash fiction wander through Cape Town. Carol Lavelle Snow’s poem, “Tulsa on a Summer Morning,” describes a sunkissed breakfast time walk in Oklahoma’s second largest city. “The Streets,” by Apryl Sniffen, is a flash fiction flit thorough Williamsburg, Brooklyn, while Robert Cunningham’s poem “Utopia” captures the limitless connections made in Manhattan. Finally, “Three” by Rouchswalwe strips back layer after layer of history from the street.
The cover art for this issue comes courtesy of Shanghai based artist Lu Xinjian. His city DNA paintings are acrylic on canvas abstractions of urban areas viewed from above, using Google Maps. Xinjian’s paintings represent the structure and form of a specific urban space, whilst his colour choice is determined by the design of the city or national flag. The piece featured on our cover is entitled “Hong Kong No.2″. Xinjian’s work is currently on display at the F2 Gallery in Beijing. The exhibition features his new “Invisible Poem” series. His striking collection of artwork can be viewed online here.
We also welcome a new addition to our Northern Wanderer series from north east based poet Keith Armstrong. His poem, entitled “Streets of Tyne” is a stride through the streets and street names of Newcastle upon Tyne.
I sincerely hope that you enjoy this, our sixth issue of StepAway Magazine, which is dedicated to the memory of Ray Bradbury and the many books he left behind.
Darren Richard Carlaw