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The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic Offers a Feast of Memories and Lessons

The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic Offers a Feast of Memories and Lessons

Author: Michael Graves

August 24, 2020

Is Miah Jeffra a philosopher? Is he, perhaps, a prophet? Is Miah Jeffra, author of The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic, a loud, queer pop lit voice for the new dawning? The author’s collection of essays proves that he is all these things and more. With cadenced writing, Jeffra offers a fortified feast of memories, personal theories, and lessons.

The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic contains over twenty colorful, bite-sized musings that, as the title denotes, are composed as ekphrasis. Each essay is prompted by a piece of visual art, a song or a photograph that have punctuated Jeffra’s experience. For example, in “Just One Day Out of Life,” the author calls on Madonna’s slice of Top 40 mastery, “Holiday.” Jeffra remembers belting out this hit with his beloved mother while cleaning their not so happy, not so quiet home. Later, at a school assembly, Jeffra meets a rather disappointing Santa Claus and almost chokes to death, courtesy of a butterscotch treat.

In The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic, Jeffra makes numerous references to his database. In “To an Ex-Lover,” Jeffra writes about a childhood alien encounter and a subsequent case of self-soiling. The author takes this opportunity to consider how dependable our brains (and memories!) can truly be.

He explains:

We encounter a particular configuration of shadows and light, and that configuration is then matched to the closest file we have in our database. Your brain is a file clerk, searching for the match. That closest match is then pulled up and projected onto our mind’s silver- screen. And that is what we see—not what we perceive, but what we see. Everyone knows a filing system is unsuccessful without explicit labeling. Labels are language. In essence, language becomes more our eyes than our eyes.

So, did Mr. Jeffra actually experience an alien encounter? He writes, “When you don’t collect much data, you don’t have much in your database.” The author, though, did shit himself in the process.

With a hefty dose of candor, Miah Jeffra explores some unsettling moments from his life. This includes sexual assault, as well as relations with his absentee father. What is equally unsettling, though, is that the author confesses to not always being a truthful person.

In “A Fiction More Real,” Jeffra writes:

In high school I told my classmates that I grew up in Tokyo. No, I didn’t just tell them I grew up in Tokyo, I lavished upon them an epic tale that could cross an ocean. Even though our Marine Corps family had moved all over the country, and I had traveled more than most my age, I fabricated an even more exuberant history… I was not legible to them, so I made myself the most extraordinary thing to read, a flashy billboard.

How can we, as readers, place our trust in an author who lies? Jeffra confesses to an imaginary sister named Shenandoah who remained active even during his undergraduate studies.

The author also admits to catfishing and deceiving an ex-lover in hopes of regaining his affections. Jeffra, in his admissions, becomes completely naked. He writes, “I didn’t lie to elevate impressions, to draw people to me. I lied because I was afraid people would leave.” He also reveals, “whenever pain gripped me, my imagination spun out of control, and I crafted stories that I presented as truth, largely because I believed them… It was never to deceive, but somehow something to give while I disappeared, like the weaving of a dazzling fabric under which to hide.” Jeffra’s honesty, when paired with his reasoning (and remorse), only contribute to his reliability as a guide who possesses equal parts vulnerability and authority. Who admits such sordid, sketchy details about their past? Miah Jeffra does. And he does so with a sense of pride and even accomplishment. What growth!

The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic can certainly be read as a memoir on the run. Being a Marine Corps kid, Jeffra’s home base was everchanging, as was the time spent with his mother. A life of packing and unpacking, migrating from one house to the next. Miah Jeffra writes, “From the trailer park to Pasadena, to Granny’s Glen Burnie breezeway, to the Baltimore projects, to the Ferndale cottage…six homes in seven years. Each time (mama) would say some variation of, ‘I’m tired of this fucking place.’” For most of his life, Miah Jeffra has been in constant motion, literally and figuratively. He tells readers, “There is a hope in moving. It has us focus solely on what’s next. Each place, a matter of something new. Each place, leaving something behind. Maybe even forgetting.”

When Jeffra reflects on his own photographs, it’s as if this boy, this man has been lassoed for one brief moment. His carousel ride of a life is put on pause and the author is captured by Kodak. Jeffra writes, “Photographs make still, a life.” The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic is the journey of a man who finally finds home. In choosing familiarity in San Francisco, in his husband, in his day-to-day life, Miah Jeffra becomes his own hero. Isn’t that what we’re all striving for?

I feel fortunate that The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic is now in my database. I am certain I will click ‘search’ and refer to the files gifted to me by the author. Flawed, real and ferocious, Miah Jeffra has certainly taught me a thing or two.

The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic
By Miah Jeffra
Sibling Rivalry Press
Paperback, 9781943977734, 140 pp.
March 2020

Buy the book here!

Read more on Miah Jeffra:

‘The First Church of What’s Happening’ by Miah Jeffra

Michael Graves photo

About: Michael Graves

Michael Graves is the author of the novel, Parade. He also wrote Dirty One, a collection of short stories. This book was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an American Library Association Honoree. His fiction and poetry has been featured in numerous literary publications, including Post Road, Pank, Velvet Mafia and Chelsea Station Magazine. Michael’s short work has also been featured in several anthologies, such as Cool ThingThe Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered and Eclectica Magazine’s Best Fiction, Volume One. Visit him online @ www.michaelgravesauthor.com

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