M

Month: August 2020

Swiping Up

by Renee Agatep

 

From my window, I watched him fall. He tried to jog up to the doorway of my unit and tripped and fell on the balcony for no reason at all. I saw his face in terror, in confusion.

The moment before people fall, yes, that is really something. That is all I’ve photographed since. I set up an elaborate network of booby traps across Miami and rigged them with hidden finish line cameras. I’ve tripped thousands, maybe even millions. I’ve spent months sifting through countless faces so afraid of pain just before they smash into the pavement.

But how fine a thing it will be to watch the one who begins to fall, to see their countenance completely unchanged.

I will know them by the way they surrender with joy for the fleeting moment. In photo finish, they will accept the inevitability of walkway collisions with serenity. They will close their eyes, memorizing the wind of gravity’s grace passing their cheek.

That is the sort of person who will love me.

 

Renee Agatep is a writer and teacher living in Florida. Her recent work appears or is forthcoming in Ellipsis Zine, FlashFlood, Perhappened, Dear Damsels, Rust + Moth, Dunes Review, Malarkey Books, Versification, and others. Renee earned her master’s at Northeastern University and is currently studying creative writing at the University of Central Florida. You can find her on Twitter @GoingbyRenee.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

The original draft of this story started out as a bit of navel-gazing in a since-abandoned novel. I wrote it while living in Miami, which is no place for romantics. But what place is?

Years later, I reimagined that segment as a short story—taking the premise from contemplation into action. Thinking about people’s faces while falling became much more interesting as “Swiping Up”—setting booby traps for impossible soul mates.

American Wing Collage Series (4 of 6)

by Amy Bobeda

 

Amy is an artist living in Colorado, pursing her MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics. She’s the founder of Wisdom Body Collective–an artist collective exploring the embodiment of the sacred feminine. She’s also the founder of the Ekphrasis Salon. More about her and her work can be found on her website http://blondewanderlust.com

 

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 American Wing collage series”?

I came across a book American Paintings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a catalogue of a 1966 exhibition in Los Angeles, the week after my most recent trip to the Met. I am continually struck by the portrait of James Badger, the young boy in the light blue frock coat holding a small bird at his chest. This is the first image I see in the wing of the museum, and the fist image in the catalogue. I shrunk each painting into half or quarter size on the copier, with the end goal to create a two inch collage. I hoped the intimacy and distance would bring some peace of mind, some remark on lineage. The truth is, The American Wing is my least favorite gallery. I struggle each time I wander through the memories of our landscape, wondering how I fit among the pieces as an American artist. Each cut up became a way to imagine a different, perhaps, softer or more overt version of America’s making. A series of twenty two-inch images manifested in a single night. Months later, I found myself slipping words from the New York Times Magazine under the edges, creating a new layer of history, or commentary. Some of the images have manifested in surrealist stories, images of the New York I love, hanging on the periphery. A home away from home, I now realize will be quite different the next time I return.

My Father, the Prison Guard

by Gary Fincke

 

My father, the prison guard, says his cells have been opened now, the men he watches going home the same way he does. He says the Governor has freed them, not the virus. He has all the proof he needs—the prison is near the state capital and not one of the inmates is sick.

My father’s friends are guards, too. Three of them visited last week. They brought their wives, but not their children. My father said their names and ours. He said we’re not afraid in this house. We’re not distancing, not my wife, not my son and daughter. Masks are for thieves.

The guests stayed for hours. My mother and the wives, after dinner, sat outside. They drank wine and looked at their phones. They texted their babysitters and told my mother, “Don’t tell our husbands.”

The men drank beer and played poker. They bragged about how they’ve memorized the odds, how they can read each other’s tells. I watched from behind my father. He took a sip of beer when his cards were good. He picked at the label when he bluffed.

My brother and I stayed up past midnight. We watched a show where the host was at home and the audience was as far away as we were. He made fun of men who refused to wear masks, but nobody was there to laugh.

When they were ready to leave, my father hugged his friends. Each one touched his face and laughed. My father repeated, “Trust is love.” He sounded like our priest.

After the house was empty, my father said, “You kids see what strong is? Did you?” He hugged our mother and said, “Say thank you. Say it now before you see how right I am.”

This week, every morning, my mother took my temperature. She took my brother’s and hers, too, but only after my father left for work. “You keep this a secret,” she said. “You tell me if you hear your father cough.”

Today, while we ate breakfast, my father cleared his throat and said, “This thing will pass.” He pulled the thermometer from his pocket and laid it on the table between our cereal boxes. He told us to take a good long look while he cleared his throat again.

“Ok,” he said. He picked it up and pointed it at our mother. “Your mother wants to take my temperature,” he said. My mother bowed her head, but she didn’t fold her hands or move her lips. He pointed the thermometer at my brother. “I told her to go ahead and try.” He pointed it at me. “How’s that sound?” he said. “Like I mean it?”

When my mother whimpered his name, he snapped the thermometer. “How’s that sound?’ he said, his voice hoarse. “Like the end of something?”

None of us moved while he stood up. “I have work to do,” he said. “That’s what they’re paying me for. Being there. Somebody they can count on.”

 

Gary Fincke’s latest collection is The Sorrows (Stephen F. Austin, 2020). Earlier collections were awarded the Flannery O’Connor Prize for Short Fiction and the Elixir Press Fiction Prize. A new flash story, “The Corridors of Longing,” will appear in Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-editor of the annual anthology Best Microfiction.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

A short while ago, on a Saturday night, I watched eight cars park along the street in front of our new neighbor’s house. A party was beginning despite the lockdown. He has a young daughter and son. Bringing all those families into his house seemed way more than risky. The scene would have been left as anecdote to pass along, perhaps, to friends, but I asked my wife if she happened to know what that new neighbor did for a living. “He’s a prison guard,” she said. “In the city. In Harrisburg.” Now it was a story that nearly demanded to be written. All I needed was the point of view.

Yellow Dirt

by Eva Claire Jordan

 

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

 

Eva Claire Jordan has worked as a landscaper, visual artist, and therapist. She is currently occupied full-time by domestic life in San Jose, California, rising in the black hours before dawn to write at the kitchen table. Her family’s zine, The Corona Times, is archived in Stanford University’s Digital Repository.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

This is a true story, one I’ve been working to tell in longer form. I had to perform quite a surgery, whittling and excising in a way that felt more physical than visual, to shape it in the boundaries of a triptych. The resulting spareness suggests the bleakness of the desert itself (I hope).

As soon as I saw the Journal’s examples of sidebars, I thought of my court transcript. It took time to land on a series of cross-examination questions to best evoke the difficulty of being on the stand as a victim who is also primary witness. At first I included my replies, then I cut those for space, then questions intermingled with facts-of-point, then questions were grouped on the right to follow the chronology of events, and finally they migrated left, where they build tension that leads into the landscape where the central story begins. It is interesting to me that native speakers of Hebrew or Arabic (the other two languages present at the trial) might out of habit start on the right and drift left to end with interrogation.

American Wing Collage Series (3 of 6)

by Amy Bobeda

 


 

Amy is an artist living in Colorado, pursing her MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics. She’s the founder of Wisdom Body Collective–an artist collective exploring the embodiment of the sacred feminine. She’s also the founder of the Ekphrasis Salon. More about her and her work can be found on her website http://blondewanderlust.com

 

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 American Wing collage series”?

I came across a book American Paintings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a catalogue of a 1966 exhibition in Los Angeles, the week after my most recent trip to the Met. I am continually struck by the portrait of James Badger, the young boy in the light blue frock coat holding a small bird at his chest. This is the first image I see in the wing of the museum, and the fist image in the catalogue. I shrunk each painting into half or quarter size on the copier, with the end goal to create a two inch collage. I hoped the intimacy and distance would bring some peace of mind, some remark on lineage. The truth is, The American Wing is my least favorite gallery. I struggle each time I wander through the memories of our landscape, wondering how I fit among the pieces as an American artist. Each cut up became a way to imagine a different, perhaps, softer or more overt version of America’s making. A series of twenty two-inch images manifested in a single night. Months later, I found myself slipping words from the New York Times Magazine under the edges, creating a new layer of history, or commentary. Some of the images have manifested in surrealist stories, images of the New York I love, hanging on the periphery. A home away from home, I now realize will be quite different the next time I return.

CNF: Basic Recovery

by Amanda Vineyard

 

Everyone in this room seems angry. They get up and pace or make coffee with an absurd amount of sugar. The lights are dim, and every couple minutes someone new from the “audience” adjusts the temperature. The speakers are shaking, nervous, and unsure. We all have the same problem. Addiction. But I feel so out of place. Some days it’s hard for me to reconcile who I was with who I am today, in this room.

I’ve always wanted to be FBI. I thought the military would be a great avenue. My plans were to retire and apply to the FBI academy. In my head, I knew exactly where I was going in life. I was sworn into the United States Air Force shortly after high school.

It’s one thing to mentally run through a picture-perfect plan over and over. It’s another to live the life. I was nervous about basic training. Dad was Army, and when I was in trouble growing up, I had my own personal drill sergeant. The only thing missing was a hat with the brim that presses against the forehead in times of correction. The yelling didn’t scare me. I think what scared me the most was the thought of failing.

I asked my brother to help prepare me. We worked out together. He’d stop what he was doing and get in my face. He yelled that I was doing everything wrong. I’d get discouraged and slow down. One night he said, “it’s their job to break you down as a civilian and build you up as a solider. Don’t take it personally. Push harder. Don’t let them see you get discouraged.” Those words followed me beyond basic training.

Basic training came and went. During my time there, I pushed as hard as I could. I was chosen to become an element leader. Four out of sixty girls are chosen for this position. On graduation day, I marched in the front row, with the other chosen three. Perfect uniforms. Crisp movements. When we saluted the flag, I felt this overwhelming sense of pride. I puffed my chest out. We made it. We were Airman.

So, how did I get in this room? How did I fall into addiction? Some of the people in this room feel negative. They feel like they have lost hope altogether. There are people here that are cautiously optimistic. I am not cautiously optimistic. I haven’t lost hope. I absolutely refuse to let this be the death of me. I may not be military anymore, but I’m a solider.

Everyone tells me what to do. I’m under court orders and being monitored by a probation officer. My sponsor has guidelines to follow. My husband’s stipulations to see the kids are daunting. I am exhausted by all the rules. This mission feels impossible. Overwhelmed, I can see why people relapse. I understand the caution in the optimism.

My brother’s words ring in my ears, “it’s their job to break you down as a civilian and build you up as a solider”. Except, my heart puts it into context. In my brother’s voice, I hear the words, “the people giving you these guidelines and rules, it’s their job to break you down as an addict, and build you up as the woman I know you are…” Every year, like my graduation, I puff out my chest and hold my head high. Almost six years later and there is nothing basic about this recovery.

 

Today, Amanda is a wife, mother, and student at Missouri State University. Many years ago, she graduated high school with honors and enlisted into the United States Air Force. After she was discharged she lost her way in a world of intravenous drugs. The drug world cost her everything, except her life. August 9, 2014 was the last day she used. Since that day, Amanda has found peace in writing about her experiences. It gives purpose to an otherwise horrific time. She longs to raise awareness and spread hope to addicts and their families. We can recover!

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

I often have people ask me, “How did you get clean?”, which is a very difficult question to answer. The truth is, there were many contributing factors. “Basic Recovery” simply covers one of those factors. I drew inspiration and motivation from everything available to me, including my memories. I believe that the way we think makes a huge impact on the outcome of any situation. Changing the way I thought about addiction, recovery, and the people that I once thought were against me, was my first and most important step.

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian by Édouard Manet, 1867-68

by Jo Gatford

 

 

Jo Gatford is a writer who procrastinates about writing by writing about writing. Her work has been published by SmokeLong Quarterly, Litro, PANK, Aesthetica, and elsewhere, as well as winning the Flash500 Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Prize, and The Fiction Desk Flash Fiction Contest. Her first novel, White Lies, was published by Legend Press in 2014. She is one half of Writers’ HQ (www.writershq.co.uk) and feels very strongly about puns and Shakespeare. Read more of her work at www.jogatford.com.

 

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 Execution of Emperor Maximilian by Édouard Manet, 1867-68”?

Most of it’s true, aside from the parts that are conjecture, poorly researched, and, if my parents are reading this, the shoplifting.

I’m not sure why I found the painting so meaningful as a teenager – I never even knew the story behind it until very recently – but I still have that postcard and it still makes me feel things. Something about the missing pieces, the jigsaw effect, the fact that the subject isn’t even in the picture, the way it forces you to imagine the violence of it.

It had been on my list of ideas to write about for a while, and when I started looking into the history of the painting, its influences and legacy, it made sense to try to build it around the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts triptych model: a bastardised series of footnotes based on emotional response and train of thought rather than academic analysis.

I started with the middle column and the other two slowly emerged either side the deeper I got into my research. It was a bit like a dot-to-dot puzzle to write; every line needed to connect to some other part of the piece and most of my edits were concerned with finding a sense of counterbalance. There are definitely more than three sections, but each column should lead a path through the others until – hopefully – you’re tangled up in 153 years of art history, revolution, and morbid teen daydreams.

The American Wing Collage Series (2 of 6)

by Amy Bobeda

 

 

Amy is an artist living in Colorado, pursing her MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics. She’s the founder of Wisdom Body Collective–an artist collective exploring the embodiment of the sacred feminine. She’s also the founder of the Ekphrasis Salon. More about her and her work can be found on her website http://blondewanderlust.com

 

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 American Wing collage series”?

I came across a book American Paintings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a catalogue of a 1966 exhibition in Los Angeles, the week after my most recent trip to the Met. I am continually struck by the portrait of James Badger, the young boy in the light blue frock coat holding a small bird at his chest. This is the first image I see in the wing of the museum, and the fist image in the catalogue. I shrunk each painting into half or quarter size on the copier, with the end goal to create a two inch collage. I hoped the intimacy and distance would bring some peace of mind, some remark on lineage. The truth is, The American Wing is my least favorite gallery. I struggle each time I wander through the memories of our landscape, wondering how I fit among the pieces as an American artist. Each cut up became a way to imagine a different, perhaps, softer or more overt version of America’s making. A series of twenty two-inch images manifested in a single night. Months later, I found myself slipping words from the New York Times Magazine under the edges, creating a new layer of history, or commentary. Some of the images have manifested in surrealist stories, images of the New York I love, hanging on the periphery. A home away from home, I now realize will be quite different the next time I return.

Coronal

by J.C. Todd

 

everywhere perfumed
lilacs, roses, I forget
the air is viral

outside hospitals
and markets, refrigerator trucks
cool tulips, corpses

prick of salty mist
seaside weather of my cheeks
underneath the mask

 

J. C. Todd is the author of five collections of poetry including Beyond Repair, forthcoming in 2020 from Able Muse Press, and The Damages of Morning, a 2019 Eric Hoffer Award finalist. Winner of the Rita Dove Prize in Poetry and twice a finalist for Poetry Society of America awards, she has received fellowships from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

For the first month of shelter in place, I composed a haiku-a-day during my daily walk, responding to something corona virus-related I’d seen or experienced. The second month, I fooled around, grouping the haikus into short sequences, each one is titled “Coronal.” If I was digitally competent, I would have created a random sequence program but I’m not, so they were grouped my conscious mind.

CNF: Radiant

by Cynthia Belmont

 

Our mother’s kitchen was blond wood, black Formica, crisp lines, nothing like the bold patterned vinyl 70s kitchens on TV. She kept the counters tidy, one stack of newspapers next to the refrigerator, a menage à trois of Danish jars holding flour, sugar, and salt, a shiny microwave—modern domestic miracle, newly resized and repriced to fit the American household but still manufactured by defense companies until the 1980s. Vietnam was too recent for molecular energy not to be intimidating even though it was Agent Orange and Napalm in Vietnam, not radiation, and neither was this, but these distinctions weren’t really clear, it was a lot of people cooked one way or another. Atoms, molecules, it all sounded radioactive, invisible—you couldn’t see what they did to you inside. The Vietnamese girl in the news picture running naked in the road, you couldn’t see what they had done to her either.

Our mother said, stand back girls, don’t get too close while it’s on. Yes it’s safe, don’t worry, just don’t stand in front of the window while it’s cooking because you never know. It’s like x-rays at the dentist. You have to protect your middle.

The recessed lighting was soft, the bay window lavish with plants. I sat on the floor sometimes while she cooked, watching the red sauce splatter on the steel. When the old oven came to temperature, it issued a whimper like a musical sigh, a sleepy eye opening, cat stretch, balloon released, first star in the sky.

*

I stood at the counter drinking a glass of cold orange juice, staring out idly at the blazing green muggy backyard. My sister came into focus, sunbathing topless. Impossible. There she was, lying next to the crabapple, sunglasses on, sixteen, we never saw each other nude, or our parents, we were a dignified bunch, but there was something different about her, some kind of refusal. Her moods were mystifying. How could she be doing this? All around were two-story houses, and though the yard was heavily landscaped, some of their windows gazed down upon her. She was skinny, barely breasted, but I was ashamed, for her and for myself because she had forced me to see her. And what I saw was like and not like myself.

Everything in our graceful kitchen was suddenly strange, and I was the stranger. I felt exposed, a voyeur. Hot cheeks. This was not a setting for scenes. Also, I realized, I admired her bravado, so alien to me.

*

My sister died of breast cancer at forty-seven. It had spread everywhere, her bones, her organs, her brain, where it finally killed her. How can you have breast tissue in your brain, but you really can. Breast tissue gone wild, leaking, escaped, slinking around inside you, indiscreet, mortally excessive.

I’m ashamed now of my shame as a girl and now. But she isn’t. Not her. Little sister, her pale ribby chest is still out there in the garden. Baking, burning in glory under the sun.

 

Cynthia Belmont is Professor of English and Gender and Women’s Studies at Northland College, an environmental liberal arts school in Ashland, WI, on the South Shore of Lake Superior. Her writing has appeared in diverse journals, including Poetry, Cream City Review, Oyez Review, River Teeth, and Terrain.org.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

I started this piece while writing along with my students in a poetry seminar. The exercise we were doing, which is by Rita Dove and appears in The Practice of Poetry, is to write about your mother’s kitchen, including the oven, something green, and something dead, and a female relative has to enter the kitchen at some point. My sister died two years ago, so she is frequently in the back of my mind, and as she entered the kitchen in a sense through the view of her sunbathing outside, I realized that the piece was really about her and that it was an essay, not a poem. And so it was also an opportunity to write about something real that happened to me and to explore my feelings about it. I love when that sort of thing happens! This is one reason that it’s always a good idea to write along with students in class.

As the essay developed later, I enjoyed researching the history of the microwave oven and thinking about how this piece connects to others that I’ve written that point to hidden dangers in the modern world and how we are often focused on the wrong things—one of my favorite themes.

News

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.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now OPEN. The submission period closes June 15, 2020; submit here.

Upcoming

09/28 • Chidera Ihekereleome-Okorie
10/05 • Josh Jones