Letter from the Editors: Nixtamalization

Ho Lin

Caveat Lector: Letter from the Editors

2012: The end of the world, or another annual round of hurlyburly? Difficult to tell the difference these days. One person’s Occupy is another’s Armageddon. Thanks to the Mayans (and their many, ahem, interpreters), 2012 has fertile ground for us to plow: geomagnetic reversals of the poles, raging crystal skulls, the end of the Fifth Great Cycle, the widening gyre of a Galactic Center that cannot hold.  Being of Chinese descent, I prefer the vague wholesomeness of animal astrology, and predictions for the Year of the Dragon: “We will throw caution to the winds and roll up our sleeves for all sorts of grandiose, exhilarating, colossal, overambitious and daring projects.” That’s more like it – nothing like some creative chaos to brighten up one’s year. And fitting too, given dragons’ similarity to the flying serpents of Mayan folklore, gifting fertility and visions of the sky to those ancient kings.

Speaking of the Mayans, and given the ominous presence of the corn industry in our lives (high fructose syrup, yes!), it’s also a good time to go back to the source: the Aztec/Mayan method of nixtamalization, in which corn grains are soaked in water with lime or wood ashes from cooking fires, allowing the corn to be hulled, the kerns ground into meal for flour and tortillas. Not surprisingly, this process has nutritional and aromatic benefits that we won’t delve into here – suffice to say that nothing beats home cooking, and at a time wherein some may doubt whether we’ll see our next winter solstice, we humbly proffer a bit of nixtamalization in the form of this issue. Allow the contents to soak and separate in your mind, whether it’s the breaking down of life into its component parts in John Ball’s poetry; Marcia Hurlow’s collision of chance and nature in “Country Gamble”; remembrances of places almost forgotten in William Beyer’s “Old Sailor: Canary Islands”; co-editor Christopher Bernard’s evocation of decay in “The Ghost Fleet of Suisun Bay”; or Alfred A. Brissette, Jr.’s dream of life within incarceration in “The Song Tooth.” On the Caveat Lector website, we also feature songs from Deborah Crooks, a film by Nara Denning, and an interview with the Singapore literary journal Ceriph.

We should also mention that our colleague Jack Foley is publishing a handsome new tribute to literary figures past and present entitled Sketches Poetical, in collaboration with artist Helen Breger – if this is indeed the End of Days, there are worse ways to go out than with a celebration of literary genius.

But with a bit of luck this issue will supply you with a dollop of fortitude to forge through the dark days of winter with some overambitious and daring projects, the dragon-serpent perched on your shoulder.

-- Ho Lin