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Month: December 2018

Oh, What a Night

by Sara Backer

Towels don’t dry. Swollen doors can’t shut. The house collects swelter—92 degrees inside. Half asleep at night, I hear a man and woman talking in the basement. Intruders! No, intruders wouldn’t chat for fear I’d call police. Am I hallucinating? I shut off the air conditioner—the voices stop. I turn it back on and a radio chat show reaches the edge of my hearing. Listening harder changes the conversation into Gregorian chant. As I start to find a rhythm, it becomes—sort of—the radio hit played nonstop through my freshman year in college. I return to a sultry August night with dancing in the quad between four dorms, me watching from the window of my room. Everyone cheers when the song begins, as if “late December back in ’63, what a very special time for me” had meaning for eighteen-year-olds who were pre-schoolers then. Giddy with my brand new independence, I wonder if one of the boys in the quad might become my first boyfriend. I calculate odds: about 150 of the about 250 are male and if a match requires a 1%, there’d be a boy for me. I put on mascara and a halter top, but I’m too shy to go downstairs and join them. The mirror shows me who I am: the girl who analyzes from afar. What happened to the music? The sneaky air conditioner shifted to fan mode, rumbling like a motor.

Sara Backer, an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine arts, has published two poetry chapbooks: Scavenger Hunt (dancing girl press) and Bicycle Lotus (Left Fork) which won the Turtle Island Poetry Award. Recent and upcoming online publications include Unbroken, Amaryllis, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Web site: sarabacker.com

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Oh, What a Night”?

When I started hearing voices coming from my air conditioner, I feared I was going crazy. I went online and was relieved to learn that was a common hallucination usually caused by fatigue. The motor noise is irregular enough for our sleep-deprived brains to interpret as voices or music. I cautiously brought up this topic with friends and was surprised to learn that they, too, had heard the AC speak to them! Never quite clear enough to nail down the words, but a very convincing radio substitute. I drafted “Oh, What a Night” under the influence of exhaustion. Unable to put up my usual critical filters, I followed my associations and landed on an August night years ago with similar weather. Barely 18 years old, self-conscious and shy, I couldn’t bring myself to join the dancing. Instead, I took refuge in analyzing the situation. As with most dreams, mine faded at the epiphany. The AC motor, which had become a musical time travel machine, went back to being a motor.

The Time Remaining

by Marlene Buono

[Editor’s Note: Click on the triptych below to view it at full size.]

Marlene Buono’s stories have appeared in Story, Paragraph, and Fourteen Hills. The story “Offerings” was anthologized in Flash Fiction, 72 Very Short Stories and read on Selected Shorts, the weekly public radio show. She lives and teaches in Northern California.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Time Remaining”?

“The Time Remaining” began as a simple short short, but the prompt to turn it into a triptych was a challenge too delicious to ignore. The third column, one of personal reflections about elements of the story, evoked memories that I hadn’t thought of in years, mirroring Mateo’s experience of a nearly lost recollection. Any one of those bullet points could be turned into a story of its own. At first I thought one had to read the story (the middle column) first before reading the outer two columns, but the conventional left to right orientation works to provide a certain anticipation about what the story might be about. The final column allowed for some very satisfying (and often forbidden) author intrusion.

CNF: Blood Money

by Bree Pye

Permanent damage. The disability check I receive from the Veteran’s Administration every month has a rate attached to it, the value of damage incurred while performing my duties as a Soldier. One by one, every ailment suffered during active duty is assigned a percentage rate. Thirty percent for a twice-broken jaw, thirty percent for two traumatic-brain-injuries, ten percent for hearing loss, and so on — a carefully calculated formula for just how much the government thinks my body and mind are worth. I just wanted to go to college, see the world. The price of dreaming is steep in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The check is a matter of permanent public record. The stain of blood-money will follow me for the rest of my life. But hey, at least my tuition is paid. “You’re lucky,” some kid said to me on my first day of college. The real damage is invisible – I can’t wash it out.

True or false? Honestly, it’s hard to tell these days. My last deployment felt like a dream. Seventeen deaths in less than eight months and I wrote the press release and covered the Ramp Ceremony for every one of them. The slow march down hastily-constructed aisles to pay final respects to shiny dog tags and too-clean combat boots while trying to ignore the muted sobs of survivors became routine. After the first few, I just went numb. I thought things would get back to normal when I got home. I thought I’d be safe – but the world moves around me so fast I can’t stop spinning.

Sacrifice. Before joining the Army at 17, I’d only heard the world “sacrifice” during seminary class. Now, every time someone talks about the “sacrifice” my fallen brothers and sisters have made, my head feels like it’s going to explode. They didn’t sacrifice their lives – their lives were stolen from them—for dreaming of a way out of their small towns and inner cities, for wanting a shot at a college education, or for doing whatever it takes to get medical coverage for their families. You shouldn’t thank them, I think every time I hear that empty “thanks.” You should apologize – every single one of you should apologize…

Death is a familiar companion. According to veteransandptsd.com, more than 2.7 million Americans have now served in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than fought in the Vietnam War. Five-to-eight-thousand of those take their own lives – per year. Nearly twenty percent of Veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have suffered a TBI. When I returned from my last deployment, an Army psychiatrist diagnosed me with Adjustment Disorder after months of insomnia, irritability and loss of appetite. I still haven’t told my family because I have no idea what Adjustment Disorder is – other than a small percentage of my monthly disability check. I am still chasing the dreams I have left after war tore the rest from my memory. I still run from statistics – Tell me again how lucky I am.

Bree Pye is a former U.S. Army photojournalist who is currently working on completing her MFA in creative writing at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she teaches creative nonfiction and serves as the Nonfiction Editor for TIMBER: A Journal of New Writing. Her Army photos and articles can be found in various news outlets, both online and in print.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Blood Money”?

One of the most surprising things about writing “Blood Money” is that I didn’t know it would be the beginning of a pretty epic personal journey for me. I now know what adjustment disorder is — it’s PTSD — and the work of exploring what that means through my written voice started with this piece.

CNF: Five Years After my Rape, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham Addresses Me Directly from the TV in my Living Room

by Sarah Cheshire

[Editor’s Note: Click on the image below to view it at full size.]

Sarah Cheshire is of the author of Unravelings, winner of the 2016 Etchings Press Prize Chapbook Prize. Her writing can be found in Scalawag Magazine, Brevity, River Teeth, Creative Nonfiction‘s anthology Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South and Women Behaving Badly, and forthcoming in Heavy Feather Review. She is the winner of the 2018 AWP Kurt Brown Award in Creative Nonfiction, a finalist for the 2018 Disquiet International Literary Prize, and a semi-finalist for the 2017 American Short(er) Fiction Contest. She currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and serves as the nonfiction editor for Black Warrior Review.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “CNF: Five Years After my Rape, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham Addresses Me Directly from the TV in my Living Room”?

My own histories with sexual trauma made watching the Kavanaugh hearings on C-SPAN a heavily visceral experience. Throughout the testimonies, I found myself constantly retreating into own body, barely registering the words coming out of the TV. After Kavanaugh’s confirmation, I spent hours sifting through The Washington Post’s transcripts of the hearings, trying to peel back layers of political pandering in order to reveal what I had originally felt while listening. I realize now that doing so was an effort to subvert the erasure that many members of the senate judiciary committee were imposing (and continue to impose) onto me and other sexual violence survivors through their own rhetorical strategies; to find noise under silence.

If…

by Christopher James

If a child was kidnapped, and the parents didn’t pay the ransom for so long the kidnappers gave up and returned the child anyway, and the child, presumably missing at least one finger by this stage, was working up the courage to ask the parents why they didn’t just pay, that’s how I feel about you.

Christopher James lives, works and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has previously been published online in many venues, including Tin House, Fanzine, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong, and Wigleaf. He is the editor of Jellyfish Review.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “If”?

I’ve wanted to write some version of this story for three or four years (held hostage by the idea) but could never get it to work. It was, therefore, a wonderful surprise to realize it was such a short piece all along!

Talk

by Rachel Voss

[Editor’s Note: Click on the triptych below to view it at full size.]

Rachel Voss is a high school English teacher living in Queens, New York. She graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Purchase College. Her work has previously appeared in The Ghazal Page, Hanging Loose Magazine, Unsplendid, Jokes Review, Silver Birch Press, 3Elements Review, and Bodega Magazine, among others.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Talk”?

I was inspired to write this poem by the interactions I witnessed between two young siblings: a neuroatypical older brother and his neurotypical younger sister, who, in her innocence, conveyed perfectly the beauty and gravity of her brother’s condition.

CNF: Handsome Man

by Edwin Litts

He’s waiting on the bus bench in front of the store, his shaven face and perfectly parted hair tell me that he tried it the old school way; that he gave it all he had. That portly frame continues to show us that effort today; his perfectly starch-pressed short-sleeved shirt and cargo shorts, and those quite noticeable identically and seemingly maternally-tied big-bowed white sneaker laces are all remnants of that ole college try: Dreams through hard work and patience are oh so promisingly obtainable too.

It used to be that when we entered that huge all-in-one store we were directed to the shoe department or to the newly shelved vacuums. Now it seems, we are led to the “P’s”; Pharmacy Pills and more of that dreaded Printer ink. Oh, do we employ so too much of that anxious routine today. Was it the unnecessary impersonal technology that knocked you down? Was it too fickle to you?

Presently, Handsome Man introduces us to a new trend:

“Go to the bakery my boys and girls. Select that particularly nice looking 33 dollar butter creme yellow cake and picnic it right out front here. That colorful and delicious raspberry center can offset any bus exhaust too. Remember boys and girls to bring in your fork from home with you.”

We notice your novel and daring resistance, Handsome Man. Enticingly different indeed.

Eleven thirty in the morning now and waiting for his daily bus back home. Glossy water tearing down from his red shins encourages the Handsome Man to take the Express, but not today though. “I am, of course, always considering that fast heavenly Express indeed, but just quite not right now.”

Continue on with that defiance of yours Handsome Man, and was it the loss of a child or a love that stopped you cold?

With that observable resigned lonesomeness Handsome Man snuffs out his cigarette on that huge sugar-encrusted, white doily-like paper and cardboard circle that had once offered that magnificently promising, but now-spent banquet cake. He sacrifices this now new rubbish to the cylindrical receptacle and, with decorum, labors himself onto his slower and predictable downhill coach for the way back home.

Oh!, Turn around Handsome Man for that once-again magnificently promising existence back uphill. You are promised once more that it will not be all for not. Life is not rubbish at all.

Still presently we hear, “The bakery is the only department you need for now.”

Show us the way Handsome Man. Show us your true defiance Handsome Man. Are we all destined for only that one fair option: “Remember boys and girls to bring in your fork from home with you?”

Always, the rich icing designs seen through the other side of that baker’s glass case look so enticingly fascinating indeed. That always available heavenly Express, and other choices too.

Most days that approaching decision is just a block or two away; just two or three minutes away. But,continue to show us your defiance, Handsome Man. Humanity needs you to.

Today though, “The bakery is the only department you need for now. Don’t forget boys and girls to bring in your fork from home with you.”

Edwin Litts is married, the father of two sons; he enjoys playing sports with his boys and running: forty marathons completed. He savors a cup of morning coffee along with a slice of evening apple pie. Ed and his family love their guinea pig and insomniac cat too

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Handsome Man”?

People-watching fascinates me. I’m sure that many enjoy doing this. I find that a majority of the ‘watched’ display consistent markings throughout their auditioning. For example, their behavior often matches how they are dressed or their level of pallor may match their degree of frown. For myself, the individuals who stand out are the ones who display their inconsistencies.

With ‘HandsomeMan’ I see a well-groomed but unhealthy-looking individual. He seems to be sad and possibly unemployed, but continues to maintain an ability to display etiquette, and to not show any understandably-building internal anger. He is meticulous with the tying of his perfectly matched big-looped sneaker shoelaces but does not appear to care about being seen out in public devouring an entire banquet sheet cake. A sad morning for him, he is indeed alone sitting on that bus bench.

It is easy to remember ‘Handsome Man.’ It is understandable to feel sorry for him. Is it O.K. today to feel sad for others? If I knew you Handsome Man, perhaps l would help you. You do though prod us a little to help the ones that we can.

A.L.I.C.E. Training

by Sandra Faulkner

[Editor’s Note: Click on the triptych below to view it at full size.]

Sandra L. Faulkner is Professor of Communication and Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at BGSU. Her poetry has appeared in Literary Mama, Ithaca Lit, Gulf Stream, damselfly and elsewhere. Her latest book is Real Women Run: Running as Feminist Embodiment (Routledge). She knits, runs, and writes poetry about her feminist middle aged rage in NW Ohio with her partner, their warrior girl, and two rescue mutts. https://bgsu.academia.edu/SandraFaulkner

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “A.L.I.C.E. Training””?

My daughter is getting out of 4th grade a day early for Holiday break this year, because her teachers are doing an all-day ALICE training. Is this real? Teachers as bullet-proof vests. I started writing this piece when I skipped the mandatory ALICE training at my university. I remembered Sandy Hook, and how I sat in my office crying when I heard about all of those children killed by bullets. I was paralyzed in my office as my daughter sat in preschool. Being in education is like being a target for gun violence. We still do not have sensible gun laws, and I am still shocked that we love guns more than we love people. I am certain more guns are not the answer. I am certain that me sitting in training will not prepare me to be a human shield. I turned to words, the only thing I can use as a weapon and as preparation for our sickness and obsession with guns.

PHILOSOPHY AND THE FRENCH

by Madeleine McDonald
[Editor’s Note: Click on the triptych below to view it at full size.]

Madeleine McDonald lives on the eastern edge of England where the cliffs crumble into the sea, and finds inspiration walking on the beach before the world wakes up.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “PHILOSOPHY AND THE FRENCH”?

Viewing the floodlit facade of Notre Dame in freezing twilight, with a companion who rhapsodised about the philosophy behind mediaeval towns and buildings, is one fond memory among many of my giddy year in Paris.

CNF: O Funeral

by Marina Carreira

Instead I hung up the phone, took more than the directed amount of Xanax, pulled the cork from the 9 Crimes bottle and watched/not watched Good Morning America in ripped, college sweatpants. Mourning from a living room hazy with July light.

Even if I wanted to go there, I couldn’t. The kids don’t have up-to-date passports, my sociopath boss won’t give me off with such short notice, what do I even pack, and who am I kidding, no one has flight-to-Portugal money. All I can do is I imagine myself there.

The capela is dim and the yellow of old notebooks. Sometimes yellower give the flicker of the candles around the alter. There are gorgeous little bushels of orange and purple and white wildflowers strategically placed around his coffin so that it looks like he is somewhere in the serras of Algarve and not one of the dusty, olive-treed villages of Batalha. He is thinner than I ever remember, skin taut with the weight of ninety long years. He is wearing his favorite navy suit. His only navy suit. I wait for him to whistle but he doesn’t.

Avó is there, trademark smirk in tow, playing the pobre viuva. My mother and sister and aunt and cousins are dabbing at their eyes, wiping under their noses, turning their cheeks side to side in receipt of kisses from twice-removed relatives. The men in the chapel hold their arms in that way where palms cup elbows, murmur quietly about who else has passed this year. Kids fidget like squirrels when the battery on their mother’s cellphone dies. I wait for Avô to whistle.

Even if I went there, he wouldn’t have known. People with Alzheimer’s won’t remember the big you, only the little you. The you with melty vanilla ice cream dripping from your mouth. The you downstairs in the basement studiously watching him press suits. The you in the fetal position inside the orange rock fortress. You with the scratchy mustard-colored covers up to your neck. You in the Flamenco Dancer Halloween costume he made. You singing “Like A Virgin” into the mirror. You at 11 riding your bike without training wheels. You walking to school with a terrible haircut, even more terrible attitude. The You Then that never became the You Now. Can ghosts get Alzheimer’s?

Augusto da Trindade Ribeiro was born during a frigid winter inside a dark stone house in 1925. He was the first boy in his village to own a bicycle. He married my grandmother Maria, who made his life hell on earth. He was an immigrant tailor who lived the American Dream before retiring to Fanhais, in a pretty white house with royal blue accents. He waited at the rusty gate for me every summer. He died on a gurney in a hospice overlooking the ocean with the biggest waves in the world, never knowing his grown granddaughter: the poet, the mother, the addict.

Funeral over, I open another bottle of red and change the channel. The woman on the screen feels spirits, like really really and sometimes I even talk wid ‘em. I wonder if they understand her Long Island accent. I wonder if they get Alzheimer’s too.

Marina Carreira is a queer Luso-American writer and artist from Newark, NJ who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University, NJ. Marina’s chapbook, “I Sing to That Bird Knowing It Won’t Sing Back” was published May 2017 by Finishing Line Press. Her first full-length poetry collection, “Save the Bathwater”, is out now and published by Get Fresh Books. Her work is featured in Paterson Literary Review, The Acentos Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Hinchas de Poesia, Luna Luna, among others. Marina has showcased her art in group exhibitions and festivals at the Ironbound Cultural Center’s Shiman Gallery, Hahne & Co., Gallery 211, and Living Incubator Performance Space {LIPS} in the Gateway Project Spaces in Newark, NJ. She is founding member of “Brick City Collective”, a Newark-based multicultural, multimedia group working for social change through the arts.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “O Funeral”?

I wrote “Funeral” during the core grieving, but the editing of the work only occurred about a year later, when I was sober and in a place of acceptance. The revision process didn’t necessarily bring me to that dark place again, but it did hit me with waves of sadness and saudade, not only because I was reminded of my grandfather’s death and the inability to “say goodbye” and attend his funeral, but for the broken and hopeless person I was (for a long time and especially) during that time. To say that this piece is a testament to the healing properties of writing feels like an understatement.

News

Congrats to Christopher Allen for having a work from HOUSEHOLD TOXINS being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

New titles available from Robert McBrearty and Tori Bond.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions is now OPEN. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period closes December 15, 2019; submit here.

Upcoming

12/09 • Foster Trecost
12/11 • Margaret Madole
12/16 • Janiru Liyanage
12/23 • Tanner Barnes
12/25 • Tara Campbell
12/30 • Caroline Firme
01/06 • Meg Eden
01/13 • Daniel Galef
01/20 • Francine Witte
01/27 • Abigail Manzella
02/03 • Julia Lynn Offen
02/10 • Jennifer Delisle
02/17 • Madison Frazier
02/24 • Kenneth Pobo
03/02 • TBD
03/09 • TBD
03/16 • TBD
03/23 • TBD
03/30 • TBD