“Throughout Rachel Steele’s collection, ‘Plain-Hearted,’ not everything is absolutely how it seems. Being overwhelmed by the unexpected is an experience repeated in both her fiction pieces like ‘Three False Beginnings to an Incomplete Story’ and ‘Flurries,’ as well as her poems such as ‘Dear Olive’ and ‘Media Mutters: A Glosa.’ While Steele twists perspectives to create thundering shocks, she is continuously surprising us with her straightforward, albeit mysterious voice, and her use of transformative metaphors.
These are elements you confront as Steele stirs her synthetic realities into chaos, such as with her short fiction ‘Flurries.’ She sets up an average apartment, where an ordinary man kills time between shifts. Before he’s off to his next job, he visits this apartment simply to unwind with his precious baby girl, a Great Dane. Steele goes on to illustrate the lives of the other tenants, giving us brief descriptions to capture their dreams and their flaws. She subtly uses this ‘capturing of the mundane’ to distract her audience into a sense of comfort and personal connection before she suddenly rips the entire second floor into oblivion with an inexplicable explosion, and we’re left in a scene of debris colliding with the Chicago winter. What makes the entire piece so extraordinary is how extremely relatable everything feels, so that even the unpredictable is tangible, making the collapse even more devastating.
Just when the reader feels assured they know exactly what’s happening, they’re launched into a catastrophe. Just as with ‘Flurries,’ you never know what to expect with her piece ‘Three False Beginnings to an Incomplete Story.’ It is written as a three-part nanofiction, revealing each character through their unlikely actions. The first story delves into the crisis of a family trying to regain control after a burglary. The two items the naïve thief has claimed are couch cushions and a seemingly innocent Louis Vuitton purse. Like a defensive mother, the child narrator begins ‘sprinting with a steak knife and wearing periwinkle elephant slippers.’ This is when the readers learn that this child is not running after useless items, but the remains of their dead mother, now ash stored in her once favorite purse, closing with a smack of the line, ‘We burned her, we keep her. Those are the rules.’
The shock continues in part three, as Steele pulls us through the mind of a rather forgetful person. It’s both humorous and dark when the narrator tries to recall their day, mixing their car with a cat and immediately thinking of their roast after complaining about the neighbor’s cat, suggesting a sinister confusion of meats. The voice is so genuine and the situation so bizarre that we’re swept right along into the fluster, wondering by the end what condition the house will be in when the owner returns and whether or not the animals are safe. Though concise, the scene is illustrated with a vivacity that can only be described as ‘Steele.’
The cleverness and manipulation of her diction leaves Steele’s readers in marvel, convincing us of the unlikely though not impossible scenarios, bring our sense of normality into question. The complexity of Steele’s writing cannot sincerely be captured in this foreword, so there’s nothing left to do but drink it down like ‘the young twenty-something woman cradling a bottle of pinot griot and deciding which tampons to buy. You start thinking she’s cooing to her wine, that she’s going to drink it up. Yes she is.'”
— Sarah Ford, JFR Art & Design Editor
The following three poems were hand-picked by Rachel Steele, showcasing the talent found in her recent chapbook, Plain-Hearted.
Tip-tap of a pen feathering your name on an envelope
swallowing the notary tinged w/ coffee. Old as the orange
on the sill like the O’s of your name looking out a telescope
that bore into the mail slot & let the wood floor singe.
The edges creased thin as an eyelash,
sealed w/ lipstick the color of copper wire.
I tried to meet my lips w/ yours but my mustache
got in the way. Even my nostrils felt fire
from your brute force lilac perfume. It’s an underhanded
move catching me when I wanted to breathe. But you could render
Manhattans and the concentrated weight of an ampersand.
Does sending discolored hyacinths mean I’m less tender?
The ridges of your fingertips against mine become photogenic,
you caress creased leather & your cheeks turn stains of pomegranate.
Sex on the Beach
Tonight your name is a small thing
dry as the martini he is sipping.
raise a stained glass window to the sky
If you asked for a smoke or a light,
he’d hand you whatever he found
It scares me to watch
a woman hobble along
Sex, as they harshly call it,
iridescent with suspense
The cream in my tea
spells out something to me
I fell into this morning
It was me with the serpentine hair and the timeless stare
and there is nothing alien in the universe.
Line 1: “Tonight I Can Almost Hear the Singing” by Sylvia Curbelo
Lines 2 & 14: “When a Woman Loves a Man” by David Lehman
Lines 3 & 9: “Make It New” by Alice Fulton
Lines 4 & 5: “He Would Use One Word Where None Would Do” by Philip Levine
Lines 6 & 7: “I Don’t Have a Pill for That” by Deborah Landau
Line 8 & 12: “Two Songs” by Adrienne Rich
Lines 10 & 11: “I Hold Her” by Bonnie McKee
Line 13: “Sha Clack Clack” by Saul Williams
Three False Beginnings to an Incomplete Story
- “Dad!” The glass of the window was difficult to maneuver, but I found the kitchen knife. I ran back to the front room, to find my dad wallowing in his own blood. The burglar was headed down the street with our couch cushions and mom’s Louie Vuitton purse. He didn’t even take the Coach ones. I ran to my dad’s groaning body. “Dad, he took it. He took the bag.” My dad wasn’t responding, so I grunted and went after the man billowing down-feathers on Saint Street. I probably looked stupid sprinting with a steak knife and wearing periwinkle elephant slippers, but I didn’t have time to weigh my fashion choices for the evening. That panty hose-wearing bandit had my mother’s ashes in a designer bag and I wasn’t going to let him take her from us again. We burned her, we keep her. Those are the rules.
- You never know what you’ll find at the grocery store at 3AM. You might come across four drunk college kids playing cops and robbers in the toy aisle. Kids with foam swords and mini bottles of rumchata. You might find an older man wandering the camping aisle looking for a tent better suited for his six year old daughter, but insists it’s for himself for some reason. Then you spot a doobie poking out from his flannel breast pocket and look away toward the lane of toiletries. That’s where you see the young twenty-something woman cradling a bottle of pinot griot and deciding which tampons to buy. You start thinking she’s cooing to her wine that she’s going to drink it up. Yes she is.
- What’s wrong with today? I can’t imagine what I did differently. I tucked in my shirt, I fed the dog, and I washed the cat. No wait. I washed the car. Yeah, that’s it. Shirt, dog, car. Then I…walked the cat? No that’s not right either. What happened to the damn cat? She was in the bathroom when I shut the door. I heard another cat screeching and ran down the stairs to see why. Then I realized it was the neighbor’s cat Rump and I left in a huff. That reminds me, did I take the roast out of the oven? Wait why would I run down stairs for a cat if I knew mine was in the bathroom with me? Anyway, I ran the bath for the dog, but there wasn’t time. So I fed the dog and left.
Rachel graduated from Lewis University in May of 2016, with her Bachelor’s in creative and professional writing. She also received her minor in Chinese. Currently she volunteers as a Poetry Editor and Book Reviewer for Jet Fuel Review. Some of her writing has also been published in Windows Fine Arts Magazine. She always carries at least three books on her at all times and has a love for coffee (be it black or a caramel concoction). One of her favorite hobbies is finding new coffee shops to read in for hours. When she has a few moments to herself, she also enjoys a Netflix bingeing marathon. Some of her favorites include The X-Files, Scream Queens, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and American Horror Story.