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Month: September 2019

Sunday Focus: Enter a Country That Has No Language

Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 


 

“The rules break like a thermometer, / quicksilver spills across the charted systems, / we’re out in a country that has no language / no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren / through gorges unexplored since dawn / whatever we do together is pure invention / the maps they gave us were out of date
 by years . . .” — Adrienne Rich 1000 words. we’ve been told, are contained in each image. These Sunday images seem to contain 1000s more than that, don’t they? Or maybe the images hold something other than words? Something else? Something behind or beyond them?

 

“I don’t trust words. I trust pictures.” – Gilles Peress And what is this Sunday’s message? Enter a wordless, mapless, lawless, unexplored country. And don’t forget to bring your camera.

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

Seven Second Stories: Space Mac (3 of 4)

by Richard Baldasty

 

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

 

 

Richard Baldasty’s microfictions in collage have appeared recently in Foliate Oak, Angry Old Man, Shuf, and Empty Sink Publishing. He lives in Spokane; on Twitter @2kurtryder.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

These four images use cuts from thirty-five different paper sources, ranging from out-of-print books, old calendars, and advertising flyers to glossy corporate reports to shareholders; from a 1930s Brownie snapshot to an illustrated history of clothing, etc. The unlikely juxtapostions are meant to create an unstable visual code subject to each viewer’s subjective interpretation.   

Dog Fight

by Ryan Stone

The dogs circled, tails arched, teeth bared. A cluster of sweaty men stood close in the stifling barn. Hay bales formed a fight pit in the centre, and the smell rising from the dirty straw matting was rancid.

My old man stood at one end of the pit, watching his mutt intently. It was part Staffy, part pit bull—a solid nugget of a thing. Dad called this one Blue, and Blue was being stalked by a bigger, leaner ridgeback owned by Ernie Smith from the pawn shop. The ridgy had a map of silvered scars over its big head and flanks. Its ears and tail had been cropped short.

“Get him, Mack,” Ernie encouraged. It darted in and tore a flap off Blue’s back leg. Blue bit at air as the ridgy moved back. Again the ridgy darted in, ripped flesh, and dodged out of reach.

Hoots and cries rose from the crowd. I tried to slide away, but Dad put a hand on my shoulder and turned me back to the fight. “Watch.”

It didn’t last long. Ernie Smith’s ridgeback opened up Blue’s stomach with a vicious slash. Blood and entrails soaked into the straw. A cheer went up from the men.

“Tough luck,” Ernie said to my dad.

“Fuck off, Ernie.”

When the pit was clear, I followed Dad in to collect Blue. One of his eyes was still open.

“Blue’s alive.”

“Not fer long,” Dad muttered. He dragged Blue out of the pit. I followed them outside.

“What’ll happen to him?”

“They burn the dead ones.”

“But he’s still alive.”

“He’ll be dead soon.”

“But—”

Dad cuffed the back of my head, knocking me to the ground. “Ya sound like yer mother.”

“Ease up, Vern. He’s just a kid.” Ernie Smith came around the corner of the barn. He was a big man, but soft, where my old man was all hard angles and muscle.

Dad turned on Ernie. “Now yer gonna tell me how to raise me kid, are you?”

“Easy, Vern. I’m just saying.” He reached out a hand and pulled me to my feet.

But Dad’s blood was up, and he cracked Ernie on the nose with a right hook. Ernie dropped to his knees, bloodied hands sheltering the mess of his nose. “That the type of thing you teach your kid, is it—how to sucker punch a guy?”

I thought Dad was going to hit him again, but instead he looked over at me. “Come here.”

He took hold of my hand and curled my fingers into a fist. “When you punch someone, keep yer thumb outside yer fist. You’ll break it if you don’t.”

I did as he said, and held my fist up for inspection.

“Good. Now go punch that fucker.” He gestured at Ernie, who was still cradling his nose.

“What?”

“You heard me. Punch the fucker in the face. Tryin’ to tell me how to raise my kid.”

I looked from my old man to Ernie, who knelt hunched over with blood drenching his hands and shirt.

“Don’t do it, son,” Ernie said and looked up at me.

It’s hard to say which one of the three of us I hated more at that moment.

“I’m not your son,” I said, and swung my fist at his nose.

 

Ryan Stone writes after midnight in Melbourne, Australia. He lives beside Sherbrooke Forest with his wife, two young sons, a German Shepherd, and a Ragdoll cat. On daily walks through his woodland surrounds, he often falls down rabbit holes.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

For a long time I only wrote poetry. “Dog Fight” began as a poem, suffered through multiple drafts, and never really came together. When I started writing flash fiction, I think “Dog Fight” finally found the form it was always meant to inhabit.

Story Time

by Sarah Russell

 

She was gobsmacked with the thought—she was living a story. A Story! That made her landlady/neighbors/people on the subway and at work characters, mere characters. Her dog could be Toto or Lassie. And she could be anyone—heroine, spy, murderer—Anyone, because it was all a story.

She started writing down pieces of her past. When she was six and traded Johnny a feel inside her panties for a Three Musketeers bar, was she naive victim or apprentice temptress? The teenager who climbed down the trellis to smoke pot with Brian—tomboy Jo March or lovesick Juliette? It simply depended on how she wrote the story.

She started following herself everywhere taking notes, shaping scenes, justifying actions. There were no more sad days—just melancholy musings like Jane Eyre alone on the moors. When she found a dead sparrow, she could hold it close and weep over its hapless demise as sweet Cosette or put down her knitting and show disgust over filthy feathers and maggots as Madame Defarge.

She bought reams of paper, spent hours writing and rewriting her days with different interpretations of her actions, always leaving the scene unresolved since consequences weren’t important, only motivations. Her friends became concerned, but when they questioned her, she would answer one way, then another and another, then leave what she called Le Tableau to write it all down.

It was a little disappointing when, on her way to a mani/pedi as the pampered arm candy of a mobster, she saw herself run down by a UPS delivery truck as she crossed Elm Street. She watched the scene, somewhat dismayed. She had been picturing her death in the roles she created—a tragic heroine caught in a flood trying to rescue a puppy, Lizzie Borden felled by her own axe, reclusive spinster á la Miss Havisham dying in her threadbare parlor where no one would find her for days.

 

Sarah Russell’s poetry and fiction have been published in Kentucky Review, Red River Review, Misfit Magazine, Rusty Truck, Third Wednesday, and many other journals and anthologies. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poetry collection I lost summer somewhere was published in April by Kelsay Books. She blogs at https://SarahRussellPoetry.net.

 

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

As an impressionable young reader, I often “lived” my favorite characters for weeks after a book ended. “Story Time” is a bunch of them taking me for a spin.

Sunday Focus: Take a trip to Bokeh

Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 

 

Ah, to be that bee in the photo, living it up in Bokeh, the foreground flowers on an entirely different plane, another dimension, so focused, attentive, like the kids that willingly sat in the front row.

 

The bee is singing: “At the Bokeh, Bokeh-cabana…”
The Bokeh invites a lack of expression.
At the Bokeh, no one keys in, knuckles down, just does it.
No one falls for anyone or anything.
At the Bokeh.
Nowhere is passion and nothing is fashion.
At the Bokeh.

This week’s image encourages you to take a brief vacay in the soupy soap of Bokeh’s blur.

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

Ceiling

by Frances Badgett

 

The ceiling leaks onto the parquet. The rot separates the insulation into discolored strips of what appear to be failed organs, an ombre of pink into black. It is something Harriet sees, but does not fix. The ceiling is damp and dripping, here a collapse, the exposed wood pale where it isn’t damp. The layers of drywall dangle, opening a chasm through which the wind and rain enter. She steps in a small puddle. She lets the boards creak under her bare feet. Flexion, they call it, when the floor eases into itself.

She tries to remember the last sound she heard from a person. She can’t remember. A cat visited the porch one day, and she slid it tuna and named it D for her lost one, her enormous sadness, but the cat never came back.

She decides not to bathe today. Or, if not deciding precisely, simply leaves the decision alone. She opens the almost-empty fridge, pulls out a single small package of string cheese, slides the cheese from the sleeve. She makes coffee, measuring the beans into the cup, the grinder shaking the entire countertop. She gave up on the phone a long time ago, out of its charge, tossed on the floor next to the door.

The garden overgrows with blackberry and nightshade. She has cut it back, and it grows again. What is it to have it trim and planted with roses? What would she see out the windows if not the bare fence, the wire for the dead clematis? She sips her coffee and considers her day of shuffling and sorting. A voice somewhere calls. She has learned not to answer back. It is not his voice, nor the voice of the child, but another, a ghostly one in her head. A ventriloquist who shouts from corners, but is nested inside her.

She puts on music. Bach played in cool, logical tones. A cello’s moan in the speakers. Who thought of such a thing, an instrument to be straddled and embraced? She closes her eyes and feels the rosewood and steel under the pads of her fingertips. Nothing that isn’t already in the room appears. She opens her eyes, and nothing has moved, though she is certain she can feel the earth shift. The child is far away. She reaches, but it is no longer there. Her small D, which could be a string on the cello. Or just the beginning of a thought. She isn’t sure now, and sits on the couch, swallowed by pillows, overwhelmed. Another letter, this one more certain: O. His letter. She remembers him as smelling of mildew and dust. His hands rough on her shoulders.

A strip of drywall thunks to the floor, another trickle of dust. She closes her eyes and remembers a touch, but not his. No, the open smeared smile of a baby, fingers sticky with mango. Girl. The cello goes quiet. The house sways.

 

Frances Badgett is the fiction editor of Contrary Magazine. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Anomaly (formerly Drunken Boat), Word Riot, Matchbook, Atticus Review, JMWW, Salamander, and elsewhere. Two of her stories have made the Wigleaf 50 longlist. Her story Half Hitch has been selected for the 2019 Best of the Small Fictions from Sonder Press. She grew up in Lexington, Virginia and has a B.A. from Hollins University and an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Bellingham, Washington with her husband and daughter, and is currently working on a novel set in the Pacific Northwest. Her website is francesbadgett.com, her Twitter is @francesbadgett, and her Instagram is @FrancesBad.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

In my stories, I’m often obsessing over an externalization of the internal—a way of demonstrating emotional state without being literal about voice and dialogue—telling it slant to paraphrase Emily Dickinson (and, of course, Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola). I also write a lot about loss, and how characters navigate the unthinkable losses in their lives. Harriet’s indifference to her environment also drove me through this piece, and through the revision process, I always had to make sure she is defined (in some places by how she isn’t) through the crumbling world she’s inhabiting. I had to carve her out of her tucked-in, ingrained pattern of sadness and really find her in there. This story went through many revisions, and I put it aside for a long time and revised it again because I didn’t want to lose Harriet’s presence. As for the sentence-level mechanics, I’m constantly asking myself “is this word, or phrase, or sentence a story?” because for me, the challenge of flash is that every story has to be a collection of smaller stories, and words the tiniest stories of all, little perfect universes. I especially enjoy architectural words like plaster and lath, parquet, dentil molding, sheer walls. There’s so much richness in the vocabulary of built spaces. And then some things are just among my favorite objects—cellos, mangoes, and coffee.

Seven Second Stories: Edith And Russell (2 of 4)

by Richard Baldasty

 

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

 

 

Richard Baldasty’s microfictions in collage have appeared recently in Foliate Oak, Angry Old Man, Shuf, and Empty Sink Publishing. He lives in Spokane; on Twitter @2kurtryder.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

These four images use cuts from thirty-five different paper sources, ranging from out-of-print books, old calendars, and advertising flyers to glossy corporate reports to shareholders; from a 1930s Brownie snapshot to an illustrated history of clothing, etc. The unlikely juxtapostions are meant to create an unstable visual code subject to each viewer’s subjective interpretation.   

Five Micros

by Jeffrey Spahr-Summers

 

Your Grandmother was the Lone Gunman on the Grassy Knoll

“I realize this may come as a shock to you,” FBI Special Agent Oslo smiled, offering me a cigarette.

 

Playing God with my Mother

“Do you think it’s time to stop feeding him?” she asked.

 

The First Lie

“I hope we will be friends for life,” she said sweetly one day.

 

Attila on the Couch

“Your feelings of rage are symptoms of having an overbearing mother,” said the doctor, seconds before his head bounced across the floor.

 

Breaking News

NASA finds a flower.

 

Jeffrey Spahr-Summers is a poet, photographer and sometimes publisher living in Boulder, Colorado. He has written poetry for over 45 years but is new to flash fiction.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

I can imagine my late Grandmother actually shooting from the grassy knoll.

The East Coast Brood X

by Chelsea Stickle

 

During the last spring I was in middle school, cicadas polluted the air and their molted skin seemed to fall from the sky. It was a once in seventeen year event. There were cavities in the ground like it had been hole-punched by an overenthusiastic child. Transparent wings were everywhere. The long brown and black bodies with beady red eyes piled up alongside the molting. I’d never seen a cicada before, so I thought they were like locusts in the Bible, determined to eat everything and destroy our crops and punish us for our sins. During recess as we huddled under the safety of the eaves, Yolanda told me that those locusts were crickets. The bodies accumulated around us. Crunched under our sneakers when we failed to hop over them to the next safe spot of blacktop. We didn’t go beyond the overhang. Inside we could’ve played games or danced to the radio. Male cicada mating calls didn’t have the same rhythm. The random buzzing unnerved us. But outside recess was mandatory. They didn’t want us to become pale nerds fixated on our own ennui. Under the eaves we learned how to listen to each other and tell the truth. Our backs against the bricks and eyes on the bugs we could say things that were too frightening under anticipating, expectant gazes. Diane told us how she wanted to scream all the time. Gertrude told us how she was scared of her father. Yolanda told us she had a crush on her neighbor—a girl. We hated the oil on our faces and the odors our bodies produced. We wondered about our place in the school, our families, the world. Yolanda said the cicadas were proof that shit just happened. Gertrude said the cicadas were on timers and slept in the ground until it was time to mate and then die. Diane said that made sense since everyone was obsessed with sex anyway. We all glanced at the boys in our class stomping on cicadas for the crunch and how they shrieked when one glided down the backs of their shirts. They slid their sleeves over their hands and swatted cicadas out of the sky. Those sadists were our equals? From an accident of birth destined to be our paramours? We glanced at Yolanda, jealous. If we had cigarettes, we would’ve smoked them. The world was just so disappointing.

 

Chelsea Stickle writes flash fiction that appears or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Cleaver, Pithead Chapel, Hobart, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. She’s a reader for Pidgeonholes and lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Read more stories at chelseastickle.com or find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.

 

See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The East Coast Brood X”?

I wrote “The East Coast Brood X” in Kaj Tanaka’s Bending Genres workshop where he talked about spark stories. My spark was a particularly ugly brood of cicadas that terrorized me in middle school. They were from Brood X, and yes, they made us go outside. The rest is fiction.

CNF: Private Part

by Briel Felton

 

The brown therapist holds a rag doll in his hand and while looking over his glasses, asks her to point to where he touched her. She is 9. She has been told that spot is a private one. She lies and points to the doll’s hands. Are you sure? She nods. He removes his wire glasses that remind her of bent up paperclips. He rubs two spots lined adjacently on the bridge of his nose and squeezes his eyes shut. The blue vain on the side of his face pulsates again. He says he wants to speak with her mommy now. She goes out to the waiting room with the bead maze roller coaster toy singing in primary colors and aged, cracked wood. Her mommy looks back at her. She smiles, but she notices that it doesn’t reach her mud eyes. She knows her mommy isn’t going to be happy when she comes out of the office. She knows how to make this dance end. But she promised not to tell. Her face begins to pull down the way tears beg for, so they fall quicker. She begins to tremble trying to lift her face, swiping a single, fat renegade tear from her cheek hoping the sweet receptionist with the rainbow candy jar didn’t see.

The white therapist reminds her of bone marrow, sitting propped up in a black chair. He leans forward, hands in prayer pose. She is 12. You need to give me something. He looks over his glasses at her. You already know she says in vermillion silence. Her lips stay stitched in a stark straight line. Her budding swan neck bends down in shame. He takes off his tortoise shell plastic frames, his long fingers stroking the bridge of his nose. He wants to speak with her mom now. She goes out to the waiting room and sits on the faded periwinkle chairs. Her mother looks back at her. Still smiles and her eyes are even more stone. She knows her mom will put on a brave face after. She thinks of the teal, lemon, and lavender parenting books strategically placed around the house for when fights ensue, not wanting to push her over the edge. She knows how to get off this ride. But she promised not to tell. She lifts her canary knees to her chest and looks over at the receptionist. New and unknowing of her tears.

The black therapist likes to walk around in these sessions. Using this tactic to make the client feel less like a tourist stop for a therapist to peruse. She is 16. He paces back and forth in all black and it makes the urge to talk slip farther and farther under the door. Come on, it’s me. Where do you start? She wants to show him where it all began. But she held her hands in her lap like a comet threatening to jump back into the sky. He removes his aviator frames. His square thumb and pointer finger move in a well-known fashion, massaging the dents left behind. He wants to speak to her mother now. She goes into the waiting room. Her mother’s hair is streaked with grey now. But she still smiles. Eyes are flatlines. She tells her mother she’s sorry. She knows how to finish this. But she promised not to tell. She crosses her arms across her chest and squeezes. She thinks of the rag doll. Where did he touch you? She could see herself feel the canvas texture of the rag doll as she points to its head.

 

Briel was born and raised in sweet, sweet Virginia along the coast of the Chesapeake Bay, in the cultural hub of the 757. She recently graduated from Old Dominion University, garnering a BA in English, concentrating in Creative Writing. She is the 2019 Academy of American Poet’s University & College Poetry Prize First Place Winner. Her poems have appeared in various publications including Laurel Moon magazine, Firewords magazine, Rigorous magazine, and Barely South Review. She writes about the little things in hopes of connecting with others over these small human experiences. Why are there only two lines in Walmart open? Why is it so hard to correct the employee fixing your bowl at Chipotle when they put corn in it and you didn’t ask for it? Why does the body feel numb when you yawn and stretch at the same time? That sort of thing. Nothing is off limits. No feeling. No smell. No idea. No experience. No kiss. No broken heart. Anything and everything can, and most likely will, find itself on the page.

 

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

As a person, I am very drawn to the small details around me. From certain smells to colors, to textures I’m able to lockdown on them even in serious situations. I can still remember the feel of a red rubber ball hitting up against the side of my arm during a game of dodgeball in elementary school. I can feel it, I can smell it, I can hear the pitonk noise that it makes as it bounces off the skin. Though I’m being hit with a ball, I’m still very aware of how it’s affecting my senses. As I was writing this piece, I wanted to draw upon the senses. Obviously, the story is about something that is painful, hard, guilt-ridden but the character was still aware of the maze roller coaster toy in the waiting room, and the color of the parenting books in her adolescent years, the way that the therapists looked, the mannerisms that they all did. Even though she is in the midst of something that is so traumatic, she was still able to pay attention to these things around her. I wanted this emphasis on the senses to evoke some sort of comfort. I really hope that the reader gets a sense of this as they read the piece.

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