Month: December 2020

Poem after writing an email to my birth mother

by Sean Cho A.


[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]


If I was not American
I would be at war.

In Korea K-pop groups must still serve
their required 2 years of military service.

I am not very tactical and hate loud noises.
I am grateful there are words
to make poems with.

It’s a shame, really,
how we have overused “best”.

I want to write verse about my favorite
Korean restaurant on Lake Michigan Drive
and how it is serves objectively the best boglioli.

No one can argue with blacked out windows
and a sign that reads:
                         Closed. Thank you for your
                         years of support.

I am thankful to be here
and also very sad.


Sean Cho A. is the author of “American Home” (Autumn House 2021) winner of the Autumn House Publishing chapbook contest. His work can be future found or ignored in Pleiades, The Penn Review, The Massachusetts Review, Ninth Letter, Nashville Review, among others. He is currently an MFA candidate at the University of California Irvine and the Associate Editor of THRUSH Poetry Journal. Find him @phlat_soda.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Poem after writing an email to my birth mother”?

I’m really interested in truth vs. authenticity in poetry, and to me, (especially overtime) truth becomes valueless in verse, yet authenticity feels vital. (Did Robert Lowell really see those skunks???)


by Alyssa Walker


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


Alyssa Walker is a writer and teacher. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Huffpost and many other publications. She’s working on her first novel. Check out her website, alyssamwalker.com, or follow her on Twitter at @lysmank.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “DO NOT REMOVE”?

I wrote DO NOT REMOVE in Kathy Fish’s incredible Fast Flash workshop in November. It was the hermit crab exercise and I was terrified, both of the form and of story I knew I wanted to tell — it had been brewing for a long time. So I did what I always do when I’m terrified: I went to lie down. When my head crunched against the pillow tag underneath the pillow case, it hit me: put this hard story in the softest place you can find, with a warning. I wrote lots of versions and like this one best.

Our Neighbors, Our Own

by Katherine Gleason


[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.] Story


I am returning this box of chocolates. I don’t want your chocolates. What I want is my time, my sleep. So, you and your friends, you keep it down. You spend six-hundred-some-thousand dollars on an apartment you think you’d have some manners, a sense of etiquette, or at least you’d bother to read the house rules. You know we do have house rules. We spent a long time—that would be Carrie and I—writing those rules. They’re a real thing, rules. They apply to everyone to protect us all. Oh, sure, it was like the Wild West out here when we moved in. The group of us, bought the building from the city for a dollar, then we put in the work. This place, your apartment, had no floor. You’ve probably heard the building history. I’m sure your “team” dug up all the dirt. This was Carrie’s home. That floor, the one your contractor ripped out, we put that in, plank by plank. She was painter. All she’d do was paint, days on end. Okay, maybe there were some amphetamines involved. Yeah, we made the rules but it’s not like we were nuns. But seriously why do you have to scream? The “woo hoo” and “aaaahhhhh,” noises you’d make at a sports event or if you were being murdered. We used to party, sure, but we didn’t scream. No, I don’t remember screaming. Sometimes I wish I could’ve screamed, but it’s not like making a lot of noise would’ve helped. Down the street Bryce, the handsome guy who sits out in his wheelchair on sunny days, his place was a sex club, gay, all men. You would’ve loved it. Or maybe not. Carrie and I, we taught his go-go boys how to dance right here, in your apartment. When the police closed the bathhouse up on Eleventh Street everyone came here, so a Saturday night on the block, it was pretty crazy. All over the city people were dying. Carrie taught safer sex workshops at the club and we distributed clean needles to the junkies in the park. We were just trying to take care of our neighbors, our own. We had our own heroin dealer right across the street. Your face just went a shade of pale! No, we weren’t using, not heroin, at least. The dealer—we always thought of him as our dealer—kept order on the block, no shooting up, no littering. Carrie was like you, thin-skinned, a sprinkle of freckles. A little butch and a bit femme; she’d throw a dress on over her jeans and combat boots. I’m sure she’s still like that. She sold her place, obviously, moved to Mexico years ago, but I hear she’s back. One time, she comes storming up the stairs to my place—we always kept separate apartments—it was easier, made sense, we both needed our space. How do you and your boyfriend—sorry, husband!—manage the two of you in one apartment? I never felt the need for marriage, didn’t want any state or any church in my business. But maybe a little community support, yeah, that could have been good. So, this time, she bursts in the door, she grabs me by the hair and she drags me down the stairs, and I’m like, What did I do? We get down on the street and our drug dealer sees the grip she has on me and he laughs. “Are you girls going to fight?” he says, and he has this gleam in his eye. “Cause if you two are going to fight, I want to watch.” And I’m like, Hello, we are not here for your entertainment, and Don’t you see she’s hurting me? She wore her hair like yours, super short on the sides and longer in front. We used to cut hair in the park. The bar across the street from the park, that’s where she’s hanging out or so I hear. I won’t go in there, can’t, not after the proprietor—I won’t deign to pronounce his name—he sold one of my paintings, a painting I’d bartered for drinks and cheese sandwiches, he sold it to an advertising executive—hey, maybe it was one of your bosses—and that ad guy put my painting, my work, in one of his ads. Talk about commercial exploitation! You work in the great advertising-industrial complex, doing what exactly, creating algorithms? Oh, I bet they love you at the office. Every year they can trot you out for diversity week. They probably even invite your boyfriend—husband!—to the Christmas party. When Carrie had me by the hair, freaking, it turns out I’d left the window of her truck opened. She said someone would steal her vehicle, her livelihood. She used to make deliveries, not pizza, but construction supplies, artwork, furniture. I’d put her in jeopardy. She was so alone, so unsupported. I mean if you’d seen her, a fistful of my hair in hand, dragging me along, wouldn’t you have checked in, said something. “Hey, what’s up? Or “Is everything okay?” Anyhow, here are your chocolates. You know they use children, slave labor in the harvest, right? I’ve seen you going into that bar to down a few. Next time you’re there, if you see her, my Carrie, you ask her to stop by. And in the meantime, keep it down. I have to get some sleep.


Katherine Gleason’s stories have appeared in journals such as Cheap Pop, Derelict Lit, Every Day Fiction, Gone Lawn, Juked, Jellyfish Review, and Menacing Hedge. She’s won first prize in the River Styx/Schlafly Beer Micro-Fiction Contest, garnered an honorable mention from Glimmer Train, and has been nominated for a Best of the Net award. Her play “The Toe Incident” won A&U Magazine’s Christopher Hewitt Award for Drama in 2020.


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

There used to be a gay sex club down the street from my apartment. By the mid-90s, the AIDS epidemic and gentrification shut the joint down. The club host, who was also the building owner, continued to live in the townhouse and only sold it in the last five years. The place was gut renovated, and now the guy who’s renting it stands accused of holding sex parties in the space. Plus ça change? And I do have young upscale neighbors who have get-togethers that are louder than ideal.

The Early Bird

by Seth Wade


His papa was tacked to the ground like a pin through a bug, the prongs of a rusty pitchfork lancing through the back of his leg, but the old woman wouldn’t let Willie stop running. Before he could take a second look at his father, the old woman had whisked him deep into the woods. The roar of the mob was a distant rumble, their torches like ruby fireflies in the thick dark of night.

The old woman had called herself Granny Gobbles. Nobody from the village liked her. She wore a heavy pelt of bear fur and replaced a few of her teeth with stones. Granny smelled foul, like if honey somehow rotted, but Willie held his tongue. Granny Gobble told funny stories and his papa always took him to her whenever his sickness flared up. Last night, Willie was so sick he thought he’d die—but he woke this morning feeling so much better. Granny Gobbles toiled over her stew and his papa had waited by his bedside, relieved to see him wake. Willie felt so much better, though slower, his senses duller. He couldn’t smell anything at all.


Granny Gobbles hums over her pot, stirring mushrooms and rabbit for dinner.

I know you’re lying, Willie says.

Outside the windows of her cabin: a wedge of moon in the great maw of night, the undersides of leaves glowing phlegm from the candlelight inside.

He’s dead because of me.

Now just stoppit. Granny clangs the ladle, glops of stew spritzing the floor. No more talking. After I fix supper, straight to bed. What you need is sleep.

Why were they trying to kill me? What’s wrong with me?

Granny’s shadow grows over Willie, and for a moment Willie mistakes Granny’s shadow for Granny herself, her shadow so dark and bristly and real, like if he reached out her shadow would feel furry like her cloak—but then a bony hand gently directs his head so he’s facing her face, just visible from inside her hood. Curly white hair, emerald eyes darting around like fireflies at night, looking deep into his.



Willie sleeping, Willie’s thoughts jumbled up. First the dream: he and Papa with Granny Gobbles after breakfast, looking over the lake. Papa fishing. Granny stroking Willie’s hair, pointing over the water, at the sky. With one knobby finger she taps a cloud. It bursts. Tendrils of green flame branching out with a boom, so loud and pretty that Willie just gawks. Then the nightmare: villagers calling poor Willie unnatural, papa’s workbench on fire, poor Willie lost in the dark, papa arguing with villagers, papa curled up in a pot.


Seth Wade studies English and philosophy at the University of Vermont, where he’s currently working on a novella. He’s previously been published in McSweeney’s and The Gateway Review, and was a finalist for The Southampton Review’s Nonfiction Prize for 2020.


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

The origins for “The Early Bird” bubbled up during the first pandemic lockdown in New York. I was reading Junji Ito for the first time and learning how to debone fish for the last time. It was a dark time for me, as it was for many, but I kept my spirits up by playing D&D with my friends over Discord. It’s with part pride and part humility I disclose that Granny Gobbles was, in fact, my level five tempest cleric, though I always imagined her as a hag of the woods. I became fascinated with this character. Over multiple revisions I tried to hone in on the beautiful horror of what Granny Gobbles was doing. As I compressed my story, I tried to reveal as much as possible through particular images, the last of which I hoped would produce a lingering impression on the reader.

Crazy Love

by Amelia Coulon


[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]


“Hank? I think I might have broken it.”

The distressed call from the bedroom into the living room, where Hank tried to work his job from home, did not fill him with a sense of joy. Rather, he leaned his head back and exhaled heavily as if asking the heavens, “why him?.” Saving the report he had begun, Hank rose from his ergonomic chair and pushed away from his desk. He rounded the corner into the hallway, past the bathroom and their daughter’s room, opening the door to his bedroom.

There sat his blonde-haired, green-eyed beloved in her fuzzy pajama set, on their bed, computer in her lap.

“What did you break?” he asked his wife of twenty years, patient and aggravated at the same time.

“The screen thingy won’t switch and when I try to use control, alt, delete, it just laughs at me.”

“It doesn’t laugh at you,” Hank debated her, taking the laptop computer from Jenna and looking at the monitor. “What ‘screen thingy’ are you talking about? Use your words.”

“The screen switcher,” she insisted, indicating the internet tabs. “I click on them, but they don’t go anywhere. It’s just stuck.”

“What did you do?” he asked, frustration starting to show through. “Did you download a virus?”

“I didn’t download anything,” she protested with emphasis. “I’ve been writing and researching and I submitted a few things I had in the works. That’s it.”

“Maybe it came from one of the pages you were using to do your research,” he growled. He tried control, alt, delete. Nothing happened.

“I told you, I already tried that,” Jenna asserted, angrily. “Why don’t you even listen to me?”

“Because you talk about thingies and the computer laughing at you,” Hank countered logically. “If you’d make actual sense, maybe I’d understand what you’re talking about. So, I figure I should probably try my own methods if I’m going to get anything fixed.”

“You knew what I meant,” she accused him, with a bit less aggression.

“I didn’t,” he assured her. He pressed the off button. The computer remained open.

“I tried that too,” she objected offhandedly with less heat.

“Did you try taking out the battery?” he asked, proceeding to do just that. “Shutting the whole thing down corrects ninety-nine percent of the problems people call IT for. That’s the first thing they’ll ask. If you rebooted your system.”

“I know. You tell me this every time,” Jenna complained, rolling her eyes.

“If I tell you all the time,” he noted, replacing the battery, “then you should have known to try it. So, why didn’t you fix the problem yourself instead of calling me away from my work to fix it for you?”

“Niener, niener, niener,” she shot back childishly, sticking her tongue out at him.

He pressed the power button and after a moment, the laptop hummed back to life, sans problems.

“I help my wife and she sticks her tongue out at me,” he commented aloud, shaking his head. “That’s just wrong.”

“Come kiss me,” she invited, leaning to the side from her perch on their king-sized bed.

“No. I don’t want to kiss you,” Hank told her, feigning dislike. “You’re mean.”

“Thank you for fixing it,” she praised him, with sincerity in her tone. She looked at him with her green eyes dreamy and inviting.

“Okay,” he mock-grudgingly acceded. Hank walked the two steps and leaned over to give her a kiss. She put her hand on his chest to keep him there for more.

“I have to work,” he mumbled against her lips.

“I know,” Jenna replied. “Me, too.” She let go of him and he straightened up. “I sent two more samples out this morning.”

“On the new book?” he asked. She nodded. “That’s good. How do you feel like that’s going?”

“Horrible,” she answered, fatalistically. “They ask for pages and then they say, ‘no’ anyway. Everybody hates me.”

“Okay,” he agreed, knowing better than to get caught up in that line of bull thinking. “Good luck with that.”

“I love you like a watermelon,” she yelled as he left the room.

“I love you like a pineapple,” Hank called back. He returned to his chair and his work.

It didn’t bother him too much to have his wife writing from home, though the change had happened quite recently. She used to go elsewhere for the day, but with the state of everything, that opportunity fell through. Before that, she worked full-time for a law office as a paralegal. He had grown accustomed to having the house to himself. He could have the television on in the background or shred stinky Parmesan cheese over spaghetti for lunch. But not with Jenna at home.

Then there was her blending health shakes whenever she got around to eating breakfast, the noise grating on his nerves. Or when she came and hovered over him so she could ask a question for one of her stories. That always disconcerted. But, at least they still liked each other and found one another humorous.

Twenty-four years ago, they met, dated and had a baby. Through some insane magic, they’d stayed together ever since. Their son would soon turn twenty-three. Still in honesty, Hank couldn’t wait for the boy to move out of the house, so Hank could make his basement bedroom into an office. He would have so much more room down there.

“Hank?” Jenna called from the other room. “What’s a good eco-friendly car?”

Not to mention, how much quieter it would be.


In July of 2018, Amelia left her job as a pharmacy technician to write full-time. Within a year, she had completed and revised three full-length romantic suspense novels in a trilogy. Seeking representation for her work, she turned her attention to short stories, concentrating on numerous genres. As of present, she has written over one hundred different short stories which are under consideration for publication. Amelia’s goal is to achieve traditional publishing for her finished novels and continue working on book four and other books in that series.


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

The idea for “Crazy Love” came from my aunt constantly telling my husband and I how completely perfect a couple we were. The thought amused me, but I realized it was one hundred percent true. I am what my friends term, “a red hot mess.” Strangely, my husband is uniquely fond of my inability to keep myself put together.

When I thought of our life from his perspective, I imagined it must seem pretty crazy to him. This story reads like a conversation we would have and, I expect, probably how my husband would react. Still, for some reason, he does love me.

the acrobat

by Michael Spring


after the show she enters
the walk-in closet in her bedroom
turns the lights off and shuts the door

no iron rings or blades to juggle
no ropes to balance upon, no bears
to dance with, no zebras to mount

no dazzling lights and faces, no human eyes
upon her as if she were a sandwich
for all that hunger

in this room there’s nothing
to jump though, fly from or into
there’s only


Michael Spring is the author of four poetry books and one children’s book. He’s won numerous awards and distinctions for poetry, including the Turtle Island Poetry Award, an Honorable Mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and a Luso-American Fellowship from DISQUIET International. Michael Spring is a poetry editor for the Pedestal Magazine, and founding editor of Flowstone Press. His chapbook “Drift Line” was published by Foothills Publishing, 2020.


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

“the acrobat” was inspired by a Cirque du Soleil performance. I had the chance to attend (about 20 years ago) During this performance I watched an acrobat/ contortionist perform. My seat allowed me to see the exit tunnel. I watched her smiling for all of our applause (and hunger), then she practically floated off the stage and disappeared into the darkness. This memory, along with a writing prompt for the words “acrobat” and “closet” got me to write this poem.

Party Plans

by Liz Betz


[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]


Each time Louise’s daughters have another idea about the proposed we won the lottery party; hats and noisemakers, a DJ with a light show, they high five each other or hug each other or dissolve into giggles.

Jack is watching them and smiling. He looks as though he’d like to join his daughter’s in their little fantasy game, but it would take more money than this to have him relax, Louise knows. She leaves the celebrators and goes into the kitchen where she plugs in the kettle so she can offer everyone a cup of hot chocolate; her little celebration. Jack follows her.

“Well. Has it sunk in yet?”

He refers, of course, to the lottery win.

“I don’t think so. Not really. It seems about as real as those party plans.”

“Isn’t this incredible?” Jack sets out mugs for the hot chocolate. “But party aside, we can go ahead with a few plans ourselves.”
Did they have some plans? Waiting for when they won the lottery. She ventures her guesses.

“Like a new house? Or a trip around the world?” She receives Jack’s patented ‘let’s get serious’ look.

“I’m thinking we could buy an apartment complex in Edmonton. It would be an investment, and both girls could stay there when they go to university! Imagine. Our girls in university, Louise!” A delight in the words glimmers a moment before his gaze settles on her as if she is a shoelace undone. His tone changes.

“This is a perfectly fine house. And where in the world is it safe to travel? I mean really. Where?”

His questions mean her suggestions did register. Barely. There is little that she can say to Jack’s logic, although it is on the tip of her tongue to tell him that it’s her lottery win and not his. But that isn’t true. Winnings becomes mutual property between married people.

As she now recalls, even if there isn’t a marriage. She heard of a woman who left her live-in-boyfriend when she won a lottery and he took the matter to court and got half of the money in the end.
Mentally she halves the amount of the winning. The possibility of change, that is the scent of money. She can smell…something.


Liz Betz is a retired rancher who loves to write fiction. Her pastime seems to help her days go by, her brain to stay active and sometimes keeps her out of trouble. An overactive imagination is a wonderful thing to harness, but left alone…Her publication credits are many and varied as she explores the fictional world of mostly somewhat older but not necessarily mature characters.


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



by Rachel Nix


The idea of us at length
seems dishonest.
We were meant for more,
you think/I think
less of our decisions,
& wonder why it is
we always overthought
everything. We fought
constantly; only to
rehash what we never
even meant. This is how
lies are mastered:
repetition of reasons
& excuses. In truth, I
could’ve never been what
you wanted/I wanted
to be nothing more than
a single night of regret.


Rachel Nix is an editor for cahoodaloodaling, Hobo Camp Review, and Screen Door Review. Her own work has appeared in Juke Joint, Pidgeonholes, and Sundog Lit, among others. She resides in Northwest Alabama, where pine trees outnumber people rather nicely, and can be followed at @rachelnix_poet on Twitter.


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

There’s a lot of ‘I think’ that appears in arguments and conversations, largely as a reactionary response and always as a feeling or opinion. This poem came about when speaking wasn’t doing the trick in a situation with a friend who wanted our connection to evolve into something past platonics. The thinks became pointed and sharp when verbally spoken, which at times got confused as a sort of passion. For me, it sometimes caused regret in us knowing each other past our initial encounter—mostly from the guilt of lacking clarity, also for the hurt I never wanted to inflict. This was my attempt to unmuddle things with juxtaposing our positions while also owning my own fault in the confusions.


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 closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.


07/08 • Meg Eden
07/15 • Tim Raymond
07/22 • Mike Itaya
07/29 • Eric Steineger
08/05 • Baylee Less-Eiseman
08/12 • Rae Gourmand
08/19 • Chiwenite Onyekwelu
08/26 • John Arthur
09/02 • TBD
09/09 • TBD
09/16 • TBD
09/23 • TBD
09/30 • TBD