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Month: January 2019

Leftover House

by Bailey Cunningham

We aren’t ourselves but we will be, you said, coffee and frozen waffle in hand. I threaded fingers through folded lace table skirts. Your box, not mine. Warmth is made of familiar objects pressed close together in a space. I went to brush my teeth of us, but my toothbrush was gone, prematurely packed away. I squeezed paste on my finger and ran it along my gums. You watched me do this, your arms folded, your spine resting on the wall where my towel used to dry next to yours. I don’t think I meant it to come out like that, you said.

*

One must become a collector to build a home. A slow accumulation is key because this means errors can be adjusted. An entire room doesn’t have to be thrown out just because the new rug conjures the wrong sort of love. I once wanted to bring in a free table I found on the corner of Dearborn and 12th. Bugs, you said. Instead we took your mother’s writing desk with the one leg glued even with pennies. One penny for each year of arthritis and the pressure of a steadying arm. You told me the good kind take time to discover their creaks and their groans. I told you that’s called damage.

*

Remember it, that warehouse made of other people’s rooms? All those hands passing pillows, silverware sets, and curtain rods from shelves to shopping carts. We needed two gray couches and a matching ottoman. They were out of the ottomans and you were upset. I wanted to tell you it didn’t matter, no part of this mattered, not one part, but it did, and we both knew. I forget what we bought instead. We built it in the garage and left it there for months until our neighbor made an offer. We didn’t want to sell it. We made ourselves take the money, hauled the thing across the street to live in a different home with different people.

*

They say objects hold pieces of the past. I didn’t want to tell you. So instead we put our names on everything, even the lamps underneath their crusty bases, by the sticker that said, Warning: can get hot. These lamps were decades old. They left red-brown smudges in our carpet. The smudges reminded me of the time when you poured wine on the living room floor, forgetting that the glass was full, or that you were indoors, or that you were the kind of person who cared about the home we had made. We didn’t label the stains, the missing door stoppers, the nail holes left over from your mass-market Starry Night, or the thousands of places where the paint chipped away. These belonged to us, but we couldn’t bring them.

Bailey Cunningham lives in coastal Washington where she is currently pursuing an MFA at Western Washington University. Her work has been nominated for the Best of the Net 2018, and appears in Spry Literary Journal and Jeopardy Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Bellingham Review. 

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

Parts of “Leftover House” first emerged in a classroom during a collaboration assignment in which I was lucky enough to be partnered with the writer Mike Oliphant. Not being very familiar with collaborative writing, I was very pleased with what we built simply by trading a page back and forth. A few months later, I took the portions I had written from the exercise (with Mike’s blessing, of course) and used them as the groundwork for this final piece. If anything, I’ve learned the value in being a semi-social writer. It is not always necessary to lock myself away in a room for hours on end with only my own thoughts to keep me company. Oftentimes I do my best creating when I am working alongside others, discussing ideas, letting inspirations and encouragements fire back and forth between us.  

CNF: Cake

by Nathan Long

My father turned ninety this past week. At the birthday party, my two sisters sat at the table as our mother, younger by nearly a decade but aging faster, brought in the cake that my youngest sister had baked. Nine candles, a thin stick of wax to represent each decade. I stood by the wall, turning off the light as my mother entered the dining room, staring at the flowers of light as they seemed to float toward the table in the dark, illuminating the sunken face of what was once my young mother. As she passed, I saw the outline of her body, bent now perpetually forward from scoliosis, looking not unlike a candle left out in the sun. She held the cake out in front of her like an offering, and I saw below each flame the wax turning to liquid and running, drop by drop, down the candles’ edge.

I’d always thought of candles on a birthday cakes as a celebration, a rare moment when we let ourselves sit in the dark and allow fire into our lives, into our homes. But now I saw how they represented how years pass so quickly, the present illuminated by burning down the wax of the future.

Shakily, Mom placed the cake on the table in front of my father, his face now glowing, and hers receding into the darkness of the room, where she found her chair and sat down. We were all finishing up the song, a song so old and familiar and always so imperfectly sung, that I could almost not hear it at all. As we drew out the last quivering you and silence overtook us, I looked at my father’s eyes, glassy and bright above the flames, and I wondered for what he might wish. What was left to want at ninety, with four healthy adult children and a wife still by your side?

We all watched as he blew out the candles, that tiny sport at the end of the ritual which everyone must witness, to make sure a flame is not missed, and which proves that because you still have breath, you are still alive. And then there was that brief silence, after Dad had exhaled and the candles had expired, when the room was dark and quiet and still, except the ghostly thin grey trails of smoke rising up like spirits from the wicks.

I turned on the bright overhead light, announcing the ritual was over, as they do at the end of concerts. There was my family then, a still portrait around the table. Before I sat down to join them, I watched Dad happily taking out the candles one by one, licking their bases clean of frosting, as though he were still a little boy.

Nathan Alling Long’s work appears on NPR and in over fifty journals and anthologies. His collection of fifty flash fiction, The Origin of Doubt, was released in 2018 by Press 53, and his collection, Everything Merges with the Night, was a finalist for the Hudson Book Manuscript Prize.  He is the recipient of a Mellon grant, a Truman Capote literary fellowship, and three Pushcart nominations.  He lives in Philadelphia.

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

I love that such a familiar thing as serving a birthday cake can still be examined in a (hopefully) new light–at least new to me.  As cliche as it is, the ritual is quite poetic and beautiful.

I think the only other thing that’s left out of the piece, the only thing left to say, really, is that I’ve become more and more aware of how rare the moments are when all or most of  my family are together, and yet we don’t treat them as rare.  We often eat and drink and make jokes, which is great, but the time just slips by, consumed.  This time, I concentrated hard to be very present, to observe the details of the few hours the five of us were there together, and it made me appreciate the event more, and be able to write about it with a new clarity.

Untitled (Here)

by Paul-Victor Winters

A certain gray bird, circling, taunting frogs. Wait, wait, she says to a man tossing nuts to ducks in a brackish pond. Wait, wait, she says. Wait, she says to the man, now counting his coins. Wait to the man, now preparing for bed and wait, wait upon his waking. Wait for pancakes. Wait for the muddied boots to dry. Wait for the stacking of firewood. Wait, wait, says the bird to the man who says nothing. Wait to burn trash in an old steel drum, pockmarked and storied. Wait, says the bird to the man who says nothing on Sunday and again on Monday. Wait, wait on New Year’s Day, and again in February. There’s the man walking his path, a certain gray pellucid bird darting about in broad sweeps, whistling, trilling like a damaged nerve.

Paul-Victor Winters is a public school teacher, occasional adjunct professor and writer living in southern New Jersey. He works for Murphy Writing of Stockton University and for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s Poetry Program. Poems appear in anthologies from Jane Street Press, Serving House Books, and others, and in numerous journals, including KYSO Flash and Eyedrum Periodically. 

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

The first version of this poem happened in a mad rush while a friend and I were on a little getaway in Canajoharie, New York. Spurts-of-inspiration poems rarely occur to me, but here we are.

Privy

by Su-Yee Lin

You are not privy to the knowledge. Privy is from the Latin privatus, which of course, means private. There are many things you are not privy to: your sister’s love life, your husband’s job drama, your father’s hobbies, your best friend’s thoughts. Who are these people, you think, who hide themselves from me. Who are these people I have surrounded myself with. Who am I that I can live this way, skimming the surfaces of our lives, no connections at all. You watch them with your binoculars, listen to their phone calls, drop your newfound information on them to shock but they are unshocked and unsurprised. I didn’t tell you? They say, but how did you know if I didn’t? Their words tangle up with the things you know, your head filled with their information until it fills you up like a volcano about to erupt. Now you know the curse of knowing; now you are the one to stay silent and the knowledge and the silence will kill you like a lightning strike straight to the heart.

Su-Yee Lin is a writer from New York with work published in The Offing, Strange Horizons, Day One, Bennington Review, NANO Fiction, Electric Literature, and other literary journals. A 2012 Fulbright Fellow to China and 2014 fellow at the Center for Fiction, she also recently received a Pushcart Prize. She is working on a collection of magical-realist short stories as well as a novel.

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

In the last few years, I’ve been quite interested in microfiction, pushing the boundaries of form with the concept of what a story actually is. Originally inspired to write microfiction by a 100-word story contest, I’ve found that I really enjoy crafting prose with such tight limitations. “Privy,” in particular, was mostly inspired by the actual word privy and how it is most often used in the negative, usually in regard to knowledge or information. From there, the rest of the story was an extrapolation of that concept.

CNF Annals of Contemporary Gastronomy: American Soul Food

by Charles Holdefer

Commonly considered a folk favorite but also savored by a slice of urban elite and, more recently, by a new style of religiously-minded devotee, this dish is typically consumed fresh and steaming hot and sometimes more than once in a day, courtesy of the President of the United States, since it comes directly out of his ass.

For many it is delivered more quickly than pizza into the privacy of their homes, packaged in surprising—yet characteristically incontinent—spellings. On other occasions it is served in public venues like racetracks or stadiums in the presence of hungry, eager crowds. Whatever the numbers in attendance, people share a common meal, à la loaves and fishes.

Is it good for you? Or quite the opposite? Is it merely a nostalgic frisson or a taste of the future? Is it foul or authentic, or authentic because it is foul?

These questions are sources of debate, especially among Americans who dislike it. But even critics appear to become habituated and capable of consuming larger and larger doses, thereby adding to its ubiquity.

Whether you are an aficionado or a detractor, it is a fact that this dish is impossible to avoid. And this raises another, oft-discussed practical matter. Can you consume it without getting some of it on you?

Or is that OK, like barbecue?

Amid today’s concerns about the obesity epidemic, type 2 diabetes, LDL cholesterol and compromised gut flora—all worthy subjects—and the debates about local versus imported, and questions of purity—also very timely—it is necessary to keep in mind the larger picture, too.

What are the dietary consequences of this dish, in its peculiar nourishment of the American soul?

Charles Holdefer is an American writer based in Brussels. His work has appeared in the North American Review, New England Review, Chicago Quarterly Review and in the 2017 Pushcart Prize anthology. His recent books include Dick Cheney in Shorts (stories) and George Saunders’ Pastoralia: Bookmarked (nonfiction). Visit Charles at www.charlesholdefer.com.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Annals of Contemporary Gastronomy: American Soul Food”?

Is it true that you are what you eat? Sure, interpretations differ about traditions or the significance of sardines. But lately I wonder about the toxic effects of a product I spend a lot of time consuming: the words of a public figure who very much likes the sound of his own voice and who presently dominates the news cycle. Am I informing myself as a citizen by listening to him? Or is this a pointless sugar rush? Or worse, snacking on poison?

Rise and Fall

by Justin Herrmann

The summer of my tenth birthday was spent in cabs of semi-trucks with an ex stepfather, Cotton. Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri. One time we made it to Florida. He’d give me twenty-dollar bills at truck stops. When he was married to my mother I didn’t get allowance. Sometimes while he rested, I’d spend hours playing arcade games shooting cowboys with plastic pistols. Once a man played alongside me with the other pistol, placed an entire roll of quarters on the machine, said a girl as pretty as me could help myself. That I was a boy didn’t stop me from spending those quarters. Another time, at the counter of a Huddle House, a waitress with rainbow-shaped tears tattooed on her face brought me three plates of fries, only charged me for a Pepsi. She wrote a phone number on the back of the grease-stained receipt. Some nights Cotton would park in rows alongside other trucks, climb behind the seats into the sleeper cab. I’d stay up front, listen to the crackle of conversations on the CB. The thick curtain to the sleeper remained unfastened and in moonlight or white glow of fluorescent tubes, a wool blanket would rise and fall, rise and fall, till sometime before dawn. Sometimes, too cold to sleep, too weary to fight the cold, I’d climb in the sleeper, pull a wool corner around myself. Other nights no one slept.

Justin Herrmann is the author of the short fiction collection Highway One, Antarctica (MadHat Press 2014). His stories have appeared in Best Small Fictions, as well as journals including River Styx, Mid-American Review, Fourth River, and New World Writing. He lives with his family in Alaska.

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

 A friend of mine recently published a story that contained a couple details from my brother’s childhood, which, for the most part, is my childhood too. She wrote a great story. She said my family has a childhood ripe with story material. It’s rare that I’ve written stories about children, so I haven’t tapped much into my childhood for material. Her story inspired me to write this. 

split

by Michael Gerard

Sitting in the waiting room
Of my psychiatrist’s office
I reflect on my week
I glance at tomorrow
There is a world outside
But I cannot see it
There is honest money but I am
Writing term papers for cash
I’m a sad piece of math
That’s being frank
I’m a tired hustler
Being split at both ends

Michael Gerard is a writer from the Cincinnati area. He is always writing, whether it be in the form of poetry, fiction or freelance work.

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

This poem was created in the middle of a severe depressive episode. I was in a particularly dark place  and out of that darkness came “split”. The poem came out of me in a very raw format which matched the mood I was experiencing and in that way this poem feels very real and authentic to me.

Farrah Fawcett Poster

by Kim Magowan

Last night, I was lying in bed masturbating, and after I came I felt this strange, specific pain in my sphincter, which made me worry that I had that cancer that killed Farrah Fawcett. Anal cancer. What seemed most awful about that cancer was not the pain (though I imagine it would be painful), but how degrading it was. To be Farrah Fawcett, and be laid low by cancer of the ass? It seemed like one of those perfect punishments, like the sinners in Dante’s Inferno, whose circumstances in hell so precisely match their crimes.1 (What a demonic, mathematical mind Dante had! Like my ex-husband, Marcus, the sadistic engineer).2 Breast cancer might have been an even more perfect disease for Farrah, with that famous poster of her in the red bathing suit, her nipple protuberant as a wad of chewed gum—my twisted older brother David displayed that poster. But surely ass cancer was a close second. I hadn’t seen that poster in 30 years, but my vision of Farrah’s tilted haunch was so crystalline, and so menacing, that even though my modus operandi after I come is usually to crash (to the point that now the principle function of coming is to sleep, as if an orgasm were a glass of warm milk), instead I launched myself out of bed to Google “Farrah Fawcett, nipple poster.” But memory had played tricks on me: you can’t see Farrah’s ass at all, just the top of her brown thigh. I studied her bared teeth, her rictus grin3, and felt the strangest, superstitious relief—that I had dodged some projectile, aimed only at sexual women.4


1. In the second circle of hell are consigned the lustful, blown violently about like leaves in the wind, never able to relax or to establish footing. This represents how lust carries one away and generally fucks one up.

2. A whole treatise could be inserted here to count the ways of Marcus’s sadism, but to give just one illustration: he claimed once in couples therapy that the reason he never kissed me was because I had bad breath. Dr. Templeton nodded his head approvingly, like Marcus was being so brave, and at the end of that session, said, “I think we’ve made a real breakthrough today.” The men smiled beatifically at each other. That’s when I knew I would divorce Marcus. Even now, ten years later, no amount of Listerine or Altoids or obsessive flossing will fully convince me that Marcus was lying, merely trying to wound me. The best weapon of a sadist, my ex-husband taught me, is to sharpen the truth into a bayonet and gut you with it.

3. The most perplexing thing about the popularity of that poster is Farrah’s smile, which is not phony so much as tormented: the corners of her mouth extend as if she were a horse wearing a bit. Or perhaps this is not perplexing at all. Perhaps Farrah’s clear absence of pleasure is the key, not her nipple after all: her misery the turn-on to my creepy, misogynist brother David, and to all fucked up teenage boys.

4. Cupid’s arrows target those who aren’t yet in love, but outside the tidy box of myth, we all know at whom stones are flung in real life.

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and was published in March 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. She is Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com  

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

Often when I’m writing a flash piece, I have a keyword in mind, and the keyword for this one was “interaction.” There are a number of interactions at work in this piece: pleasure and pain; low culture (Charlie’s Angels) and high culture (The Inferno); the immediate present, the more recent past (when the narrator was married to her skewering husband), and the long-ago past (when she last saw the Farrah Fawcett poster). I’m interested in how memories seem crystalline—she thinks she can picture the Farrah poster precisely—yet when cross-checked, turn out to be flawed. Some of these interactions are weirdly blurry, like the narrator’s reading of Farrah’s smile. The interaction that I found most intriguing was that between the main text and the footnotes. When I used to write scholarly articles, my favorite parts were my footnotes—that’s where I threw in the interesting bits that would take up too much time to pursue—and the same is true for me in this story. I like the mini-narrative the footnotes tell about being a woman and being in pain.

Dawn

by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher

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

Harrison Candelaria Fletcher is the author of the award-winning Descanso For My Father: Fragments of a Life and Presentimiento: A Life in Dreams. His lyric essays and prose poems have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies. He teaches in the MFA programs at Colorado State University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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

“Dawn” is from a larger project exploring notions of in-between-ness. With it I’d hoped to examine the residues of a dream – a kind of awakening – and the emotional reflections-refractions we carry over from sleep. I’d never written a tryptic before and I love how the form allows for echoes, ripples, shimmers, etc. Now I’m hooked!

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.

Submissions

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

Upcoming

09/05 • Richard Baldasty (1 of 4)
09/07 • Briel Felton
09/09 • Chelsea Stickle
09/11 • Jeffrey Spahr-Summers
09/12 • Richard Baldasty (2 of 4)
09/14 • Frances Badgett
09/16 • Sarah Russell
09/18 • Ryan Stone
09/19 • Richard Baldasty (3 of 4)
09/23 • TBD
09/25 • TBD
09/26 • Richard Baldasty (4 of 4)
09/30 • TBD
10/02 • TBD
10/03 • J.I. Kleinberg
10/07 • TBD
10/09 • TBD
10/10 • Lilian McCarthy
12/02 • Tara Campbell