Month: December 2019

CNF: The Flower Pot

by Caroline Firme


Three months ago, in the spring, I was close to suicide. Texas was awash with the medley of rich blue, coral, and yellow that brings seasonal joy in the form of wildflowers. It is punishable by brief imprisonment to pick these flowers. In the weeks that were almost my last, I picked ten Texas daisies and put them on my desk in a vase made by my late aunt.

Her vase lingers on my desk still. The silhouette of its right side is an s, asymmetrical. The bottom segment is longer, elongated all the way through, like a winding road with two shallow turns, right then left, if followed up from the terracotta clay base. It shines with the irregularity of a half-eroded river stone: more matte at its bulbous bottom and glossy at its short, tapered top. I cannot decide if the glazed surface is black or dark grey.

The daisies have stems of ochre and olive green, with centers yellow like an old obituary clipped from newspaper, petals crispy and tussled with decay, off-white with an arrestingly grey undertone, an unnerving quality in their color comparable only to the skin of a loved one’s vacated corpse. From where I sit I cannot smell the decay I fear hangs around them like a poltergeist. As long as I don’t move, they are immortal.

When I was in the hospital my mother cleaned my room for me, and I cried on the phone about this kindness. She left the flowers, and I wonder if they were as fossilized then as they are now, whether she would have kept them, if she did so despite their antiquity. Why? Certainly the other spoils of my months long depression were discarded: the tea with mold lily pads and a rich micro ecosystem, the unspeakable tools of self destruction, the tear stained tissues littering the floor, never reaching the trashcan in the powerlessness that rendered me bedridden. I wonder, too, whether my room would have been left as it was if I never made it to the hospital: if my coffee stained carpet would become consecrated ground, the disarray a monument to my illness, and those daisies morbidly beautiful always, outliving me.

I must not touch the flower pot, lest stems snap or petals fall. The only evidence of degradation is a sandlike debris like autumn leaves below the impossibly resilient, if dead, flowers. I must not move the flower pot, my portrait of Dorian Gray. The flower pot is a ghost of a self who gave in, and I dare not break the spell.


Caroline Firme is a 19 year old student of rhetoric and writing at UT Austin. Writing is not only her passion but her way of navigating life: She has filled well over a dozen journals in the last six years. She gave her first poetry reading when she was nine and placed in a poetry competition held by Live Poets Society when she was in high school. Her second publication was a poem in Entropy Magazine about a boy, written when she was 15 and thought she couldn’t possibly be a lesbian. She has since escaped compulsory heterosexuality, and spends her time taking notes on movies, going down Wikipedia holes, obsessively listening to Animal Collective, and dabbling in tuner culture.


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

“Flower Pot” is weird because I wrote it 3 years ago as a college essay, but I realized it was too morose and metaphorical. It was about the way in which a traumatic act (committed by the boy I wrote my first published work about) tanked my mental health and GPA by plunging me into one of the worst depressive episodes of my life. It was originally an examination of the way depression bodily disables you and renders you unable to maintain basic hygiene and cleanliness. It was supposed to indict my own neglect for my mental health, but I couldn’t make the connections. I knew what I wanted to say, but the piece didn’t say it properly. I liked the prose, but a lot of it was a rambling mess, and I didn’t want to seem unstable by mentioning suicide, so I hid it away out of shame.

I didn’t rediscover it until I made a little book of poems for my best friend fairly recently. I started editing it into something I ended up being really proud of. I like the editing more than I like the writing, most of the time. The hardest part is banging out a garbage rough draft, but the rest is my favorite thing in the world. I like fixing things. Now, “The Flower Pot” feels hopeful. That chapter of my life is over, and I still have reminders, but I’ve recovered from my PTSD and I don’t feel as fragile anymore. I no longer feel like I could fall back into that abyss. The piece is sort of its own flower pot.

How to Knit a Holiday Party

by Tara Campbell


Size: Never big enough to skip without it being noticed


          30-1,000 coworkers, maybe 5 of whom you’d choose to see outside of work hours
          New Boss, who’s pretty cool, actually
          Manager 1 who’s not
          Manager 2 who’s trying, you suppose, but just doesn’t get the whole #metoo thing
          HR (Human Resources)
          Office Crush

          C: chat
          D: drink
          Ha: laugh naturally
          HaHaHa: laugh nervously
          S: steer conversation another way to avoid embarrassment
          S/L: steer conversation another way to avoid lawsuits


  1. Cast on HR team and a dozen coworkers who come to the party at the appointed start time
  2. C, Ha, D, repeat for twenty minutes
  3. Cast on Manager 1 and 2
  4. Listen, HaHaHa, D, repeat for what feels like eternity
  5. Cast on Office Crush, D, don’t look directly at him
  6. Cast on New Boss, shake her hand when she comes around to greet everyone because she’s pretty cool, actually
  7. Avoid Manager 1 and Manager 2 when they try to copy New Boss—too late guys, you’re faking
  8. Find 2 of the maybe 5 coworkers you’d choose to see outside of work hours, gather in a corner, C, Ha, D
  9. Dissolve group when Manager 2 weaves in your general direction
  10. D, D, D, Decide you should woman-up and say hello to Office Crush
  11. Pretend to bump into Office Crush at bar, HaHaHa, D for one sip, spill rest of drink on his shoe, mop up with apologies, run to bathroom, cry
  12. Exit bathroom, HaHaHa when coworker asks if you’ve talked to Office Crush yet, S
  13. Check to make sure Office Crush has left the bar area, Refill
  14. D, repeat until embarrassment fades
  15. Shake your head at rumor a new admin had to S/L with Manager #2
  16. Be glad it isn’t you this year
  17. D, repeat
  18. Hear another rumor: New Boss heard about S/L with Manager #2, has scheduled meeting with him to discuss it
  19. New stitch: O (open eyes wide)
  20. New stitch: Sm (move lips into “well, what do you know” position, which feels closer to a smirk than it should)
  21. Quietly clink glasses with every female coworker, plus men who get it
  22. Ha, D, and get ready for the start of a Happy New Year


Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, and Strange Horizons. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, a hybrid fiction/poetry collection, Circe’s Bicycle, and a short story collection, Midnight at the Organporium. She received her MFA from American University in 2019.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “How to Knit a Holiday Party”?

My mother was a knitter, and she taught all of us kids to knit when we were young. I wrote this piece in a workshop by Kathy Fish (the fairy godmother of flash) during the second holiday season after Mom passed away. I was visiting my sister and her family, staying in the room that used to be Mom’s, remembering one of those simple moments that don’t seem important at the time, but become important later: the two of us sitting together in her room late at night while I knitted a scarf with her needles and yarn. That’s what inspired me to think about how to use a pattern to tell a story.

My Uncle Drank Himself to Death

by Tanner Barnes


          and my father ate lemons every day until
the enamel on his incisors peeled.

          The two marble stones that stick out of
his gums are false, but he smiles,

          high as a kite, as his brother is buried.
He doesn’t help his siblings clean up

          the empty cans that lined the body.
Instead he pulls out the pocketknife

          he stole and cuts a lemon into fours.
He grabs a saltshaker. His mouth consumes a desert.


Tanner Barnes is a current MFA student at Florida State University. His work has previously appeared in the Rappahannock Review and the Oakland Arts Review. He doesn’t have a website, but he does have a twitter (@aint_no_cowboy), and he thinks you should follow him.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “My Uncle Drank Himself to Death”?

This poem came out of a few different drafts. I have a word doc on my computer titled “lemons” that is about 1500 words. The poem grew big and bulbous through two different versions. My loving girlfriend read both versions and said they were absolute trash. So, in 20 minutes I wrote this version. I guess you could say that this poem built from a lot of throat clearing. The poem is a very personal look at my family and how addiction, regardless of the substance, can rule one’s life.

Sunday Focus: No One Is You-Er Than You

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.]



“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” — Dr. Suess Today is our photographer’s birthday. Happy birthday, Meg! To her youthful, brilliant, ever-glowing, beautiful spirit, we say: Yay you!


“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”— Satchel Paige This photograph was taken on the last day that Chanticleer Gardens remained open for the season. Meg’s photographs exhibit, time and time again, shot after shot, the wisdom of the good Doctor Suess: “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” For giving us a year of inspiring, fantastical glimpses of your own wonderful heart and life-force, we thank you and say, once again, happy birthday!

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.


by Margaret Madole

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



Margaret Madole is a student from Connecticut. Her work can be found in Every Day Fiction, Hobart, and *82 Review. When not writing, she participates in copious amounts of theater and dance. She is aromantic and asexual.


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

This was a whirlwind piece. I wrote it on my phone, on the bus ride home from school. I had figured out I was aromantic only a few days before, after a few months of lukewarm questioning, and it felt like romance had sprung up everywhere in response. The fanfiction character was added the day before (I saw it in history), the poem arrived in my inbox that morning, and I watched the YouTube video while walking to the bus that afternoon. That was also the day I read “I Walk Into Every Room and Yell Where the Mexicans At” by José Olivarez in my AP English Literature class. I had been so floored by that poem that my reaction was basically “I want to do that,” and that thought combined with my frustration with the recurrence of romance led to me frantically typing this poem on the bus. The piece owes the lack of capitalization and prose poem style to Olivarez’ impact, but more notably, the constant returning to the examples set by various authors as a way of anchoring it comes from the continual reappearance of the “white woman” within Olivarez’ piece. The only alterations I made after the initial drafting were phrasing tweaks and the addition of the reference to Frozen, as that appeared in the news a few days later and added to my frustration. Because of its reliance on allusions, it seemed particularly suited to the triptych style, so that’s exactly what I did.


by Foster Trecost

I kept my seat. Passengers in the aisle weren’t moving and until they were, neither was I.

“Could you at least stand?”

Hours earlier, I had attempted benign conversation with the man next to me. These attempts were met with disdainful silence that, if silences could speak, would have said conversation was not an option.

Now, nearly two hours later, I hoped my own silence said standing was not an option, either.

The doors opened and audible gasps filled the fuselage. A nervous queue began a two-footed crawl in the direction of daylight. At last I stood, merged in, and crawled with them. At the portal a memory demanded recollection and I paused, giving it time live again. It pulled me back to childhood and placed me atop a latter. My brother, older and more experienced in the ways of the playground, stood at the bottom of a metal slide. “Come on, Brucey, you can do it!”

He used to call me Brucey. He was the only one who ever did.

Back in the present, no one beckoned from the bottom, but like I did back then, I jumped onto the slide. After a quick trip down, I stood and dusted my pants with both hands, and began following masses who lumbered along like a caravan crossing the desert.

“That was almost fun.”

It was my row mate. I didn’t answer.

“Hey, did you hear me?”

“I did,” I said, “My name is Brucey.”

“We’re fellow crash survivors,” he said. “We survived a plane crash. Together.”

I looked at the plane overhanging the runway by only a few feet, yellow tongues protruding from every opening. “We skidded off the runway,” I said. “You can’t really call that a plane crash.”

“Sure you can.”

I looked again at the airplane and thought about things that had nothing to do with airplanes. Brucey. I liked the way it sounded. Still do.


Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, sometimes very short. Recent work has appeared in Peacock Journal, New World Writing, and Star 82 Review. He lives in New Orleans with his wife and dog.


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

Like a lot of my stories, “Brucey” involves a mode of transportation (in this case, an airplane) and a memory. The memory is real, for the most part, and I wrote the story around it. What I didn’t intend, but I’m glad it’s there, is a melancholic twinge at the end. What became of Brucey’s older brother? I get the feeling the answer to that question would go in a tragic direction.

Sweet and Sour Christmas: A Recipe

by Tara Campbell


Advance Preparation:

  1. Cave to self-imposed pressure to fly across the country to see family for the holidays again, despite your desire to stay home.
  2. Scour multiple travel sites for best price, grumbling continuously. For maximum inconvenience, forget to consider how early you’ll have to wake up to make the flight you eventually choose. Two days before takeoff, calculate timing. Stew.
  3. Sprinkle invitations to holiday parties you actually might have wanted to attend liberally within your dates of travel. To reduce bitterness, remember that you are an introvert, and probably would have stayed home anyway.


  1. Set alarm; fail to fall asleep.
  2. Strain result through traffic, lines, and airport security.
  3. Once past security, add a mile-long queue for coffee. Forego coffee.
  4. At gate, add one crying infant, one bickering elderly couple, and one family of loud talkers. Mix, too close. Pour into plane and simmer for five hours.
  5. Upon landing, transfer to rental car to cool. For best results, don’t think about how your mother used to pick you up from the airport; then as she got older, would ride along with your sister or brother to come get you; then would wait for you at home; and now, isn’t there anymore at all.
  6. Once at your sister’s house, whisk in one distracted sister, one brother-in-law who kind of forgot you were coming, and three sick children who fail to cover their mouths when they cough. Simmer.
  7. After 24 hours, separate sister from mixture and go out to lunch. Laugh. Reconnect.
  8. After another 24 hours, fold in one brother and one nephew flying in from LA. Mix with another brother arriving from Texas, and another brother driving down from Bellingham. Add a pinch of niece driving up from Portland.
  9. Press each ingredient firmly to your chest. Reserve warmth for remainder of year.
  10. That evening in your sister’s guest bedroom, lie on sheets that used to be on your mother’s bed. Think about the last time you held your mother’s hand, kissed her forehead, stroked her cheek, less than two years ago in this very house. Note: This step comes automatically. It is the simplest part of the process, and the most difficult.
  11. Know you will always come home again.


Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, and Strange Horizons. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, a hybrid fiction/poetry collection, Circe’s Bicycle, and a short story collection, Midnight at the Organporium. She received her MFA from American University in 2019.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Sweet and Sour Christmas: A Recipe”?

This piece came from a prompt in one of the phenomenal Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash classes. I was at my sister’s house for the holidays during part of the course, for only the second time since my mother’s death, so that whole experience was still very raw and present in my mind. Going home for Christmas always meant going home to Mom, even after she moved in with my sister, who had converted to Orthodox Judaism decades before (a whole other story). Even without the dynamic of navigating different cultural/religious practices, as parents age and pass on, the locus of “home” shifts, which is a disorienting experience for everyone involved. Still, family bonds are strong, no matter how you label them, and now our mostly secular family continues to come together to celebrate non-specific holidays in my sister’s Jewish household.


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

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now open. The reading period for standard submissions closes again June 15, 2023. Submit here.


08/21 • Annie Marhefka
08/28 • Jamey Temple
09/04 • Joanna Acevedo
09/11 • Mykyta Ryzhykh
09/18 • Anna Pembroke
09/25 • Matt Barrett
10/02 • Tommy Dean
10/09 • Deborah Thompson
10/16 • Nicolette Jane