Month: June 2021

Sitting in the Parking Lot

by Ashton Russell


I’m thinking of calling you in the Publix parking lot but the woman in front of me is crying in her car. And also, I couldn’t call you anyway. What would I do? Listen to your old voicemail again. The woman doesn’t even have tinted windows. I’m not sure why that thought comes to me, like you can only show emotion in your car if you can hide behind the dark. She was on the phone when I pulled into this space. I came here for wine, in a desperate way. In my dream last night, you were there, and you told me to look around. Look at it all. Look at what the living had done. And it felt so real, like I could wake up and call you to talk about the environment, the state of the country, we could ramble about our thoughts on the younger generation. How everyone is a victim now, but haven’t we always been. But this woman is distracting me. I can’t get out of the car. I can’t stop watching. She is letting the tears run down, not wiping them off. And then she falls forward with her head on the steering wheel. I can see her shoulders shaking and I think yes, look at what the living has done.

Ashton Russell’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Literary Orphans, CHEAP POP and Southeast Review. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.


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

Well two things – the phrase ‘what the living has done’ and the image of a woman crying in her car both came into my life separately – and years apart. I was driving and listening to NPR when an old lady in an interview said, “when the dead see what the living have done.” And then earlier this year I sat in my car and saw a woman across from me crying alone in her car.

On Trouble

by James B. Nicola


tornado has passed
all you kept in, outside now
except for yourself


every month too warm
every day mercurial
every moment, risk


One more person. Yow.
Truck too full, illegal now.
Short, moist, hot breaths. Ow.


stroll. dog approaches
owner leashed oblivious
scrouch—fast—Pet the dog


getting in trouble
going to heaven in spurts
how I love reading


James B. Nicola is the author of six collections of poetry, the latest being Fires of Heaven: Poems of Faith and Sense. His decades of working in the theater culminated in the nonfiction book Playing the Audience: The Practical Guide to Live Performance, which won a Choice award.


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

I suppose that sheer irascibility had a lot to do with the evolution of “On Trouble”—not only in life, but in art, drama, and literature as well. Oftentimes, I have imagined Shakespeare poring over a copy of Aristotle’s Poetics and saying to himself something like “Whaddaya mean a tragedy has to respect the ‘Unities of Action, Time, and Place?’ Fuhgeddabout that.” After all, Aristotle wrote over eighteen centuries earlier and was codifying what Greek dramatists had been doing yet another century before that. So Shakespeare interwove sub-plots galore, cast royalty with rowdies, spanned decades, and took audiences from Rome to Egypt, from Cyprus to Venice, and from Denmark to England and back, all in a heartbeat. The theater wasn’t called the Globe for nothing.

The form of “On Trouble” was born and bred by a similar response—of mine. This time, to haiku purists who eschew such mundane means as capitalization, punctuation, interjection, rhyme, enjambment, stanzas, sections, and dramatic scenario. As we say in the theater, “No rules, only tools.” Such a philosophy might get one in Trouble, of course, but is the only way we ever come up with Something New, whether a nonce stanzaic form or a nation. Besides, though syllabically similar, “On Trouble” does not claim to be “haiku” at all. I like to think of it, rather, as “ameriku.”

Donnie Ball

by David M. Hamlin


[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.]


Ron McLaughlin had unbridled fun when his boys were in Little League. He loved the game and the friendships and rivalries. His spirits rose every time a tyke hit a solid single or turned a routine grounder into an out. His boys were long since grown and gone, but Ron still relished the game. He’d been an umpire for more than a decade.

On a bright Saturday afternoon, Ron took his position behind the plate, adjusted his cap and mask and sang out his favorite words.

“Play ball!”

The Trout Homes Titans, sponsored, uniformed and nourished by pizza after every game by an aggressive real estate agent, were at bat. They were facing the hometown Cats. Ron knew the locals well but he’d not seen the Titans play before.

Their first batter ran the count full before he popped up to short; the next kid went down on three quick strikes.

The third Titan, who wore 1 on his uniform with lettering reading Donnie, connected and hit a crisp grounder toward third base. Donnie headed to first, not jogging but not going full tilt either; Ron trotted a few paces behind him.

The Cats’ third baseman scooped up the ball and threw to first. The throw was level and accurate and it smacked the first baseman’s glove crisply. Donnie was at least three strides behind the throw.

“You’re out,” said Ron. He threw his arm up to signal the out.

Donnie tapped first base and made the turn, heading to second. Everybody else froze, completely perplexed. When he got to second base, the kid gave his teammates in the dugout air high fives.

Ron took a few steps toward second base.

“Sorry, son,” said Ron, “maybe I didn’t holler loud enough. You’re out. Inning’s over.”

Donnie gave him a look, equal parts contempt and unbridled confidence.

“Nah,” said Donnie T. “I beat the throw.”

“Nope. You were at least two steps behind it. Good effort, but it’s still an out.”

The three Cats outfielders jogged across the grass and the infielders headed for their dugout, too. The pitcher walked across the infield grass to join the catcher who pointed to second base. Donnie had not moved.

Drawing a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Ron walked all the way to second.

“C’mon, now,” he said, “you know the rules. The throw was perfect. Go grab your glove and take the field.”

“Safe,” said Donnie “I beat the throw and stretched it into a double.”

Ron wasn’t quite sure what to do, so he threw his right hand in the air again and said, “Out!”

Donnie said, “You got some kind of problem? You’re wrong and” – with a sneer – “you’re too old to be out here anyhow. I’m safe. Batter up.”

Ron turned his back to the lad and looked in to the Titans dugout.

“Coach. Over here, please.”

The coach ambled out, shaking his head slowly.

Ron spoke quietly.

“Coach, you saw the play, right? Clean throw. He was out at first.”

“I know.”

“So, get him to get off the bag.”

“Easier said than done.”

“How’s that?”

The coach shrugged.

“I got a problem here. The kid’s dad is the reason we’re here. He put up all the cash to get the team together, bought the uniforms, lends us the company van to get to games, the whole schmear.”

“So what?”

“You notice the kid’s number?”

“Sure. He’s wearin’ number One.”

“Exactly. The old man put this outfit together so his kid could be on a team. I’m gonna be honest with you. I gave him number One ‘cause the dad asked me to, but the kid’s just not that good. Our starting left fielder got the mumps. I figured I’d make his dad happy and let him start.”

“That’s all well and good,” said McLaughlin, “but it doesn’t change anything. Rules are rules, coach. You need to get him to get off that base.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

While the coach talked to Donnie, the rest of the players, all standing near their respective dugouts, watched.

The coach spoke. Donnie shook his head. The coach laid a hand on the lad’s shoulder and Donnie slapped it away, stomping one foot on the base. The coach pointed emphatically at left field; Donnie didn’t move. The coach turned and walked away.

“He’s convinced he’s safe. He’s not going to leave that bag. I don’t know what to do. You got any ideas?”

Ron folded his arms across his chest.

“I don’t need ideas,” he said. “The game is built on rules. I know the rules. Your team shouldn’t be punished – they haven’t done anything wrong – so for their sake, I’m going to give him one more chance.”

McLaughlin walked over to Donnie and buckled his knees enough so he was at eye level with the youngster.

“If you won’t follow the rules, I have two choices. I can eject you from the game and your teammates can continue without you.”

“I’m not leaving,” said Donnie. “I’m safe. You’re wrong.”

“Then I have to forfeit the game. You and your buddies take the loss. You can’t make up new rules just because you don’t like the real ones. If everybody made up their own rules, it wouldn’t be baseball. It’s up to you. You want your team to play the game or not?”

“I couldn’t care less about those losers,” said Donnie. “I hit the double, none of them had anything to do with it. It was me.”

McLaughlin held the boy’s gaze for a moment and then turned to face the dugouts.

“Forfeit. Cats win.”

When Donnie arrived home, his dad was lounging in the backyard.

“Hiya, kiddo. How’d the game go?”

“Great!” said Donnie, “I smacked a double.”


In addition to his work in short fiction, David M. Hamlin is the author of two non-fiction books and, more recently, the Emily Winter mystery series (Winter in Chicago, Winter Gets Hot, Killer Cocktail). Information about his work and a couple of free short stories can be found at www.dmhwrites.com.


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

The idea for this story arose while watching a Chicago Cubs game (I am an unabashed Cubs fan) during which one of the more recent wrinkles in the game, a video review of a close and disputed call, led to thoughts about those who do, or do not, play by the rules.


by Kim Peter Kovac


  1. “Left of boom” is the military term for the time before a bomb explodes, versus “right of boom” which is the time after, based on a left-right timeline.

  3. We (global populations, continents, regions countries, states, cities, persons) are left of boom; however, there are both seen and unseen forces pulling us rightward second by second.

  5. Which leads to questions about how to understand our zeitgeist’s boom.

  7. Is boom potentially an actual event, or one we create in our minds? How severe is it?

  9. Is boom a real place you can find on a map? Is it the knife-edge of a cliff, the doorway to a deep forest, the guts of a glacier?

  11. Perhaps boom is a glowing seed (metaphorical/psychological/mental) that lives somewhere within us.

  13. Perhaps boom might lead to a giant hole in our personal bodies or our bodies politic.

  15. How fast is the clock on tick-tick-boom, and can we slow down the ticking? Or stop it?

  17. . . . . . . .


Kim Peter Kovac recently published his first collection, Border Sounds: Poems & Dispatches from Other Timezones. He has also published over 150 pieces in print or online in 12 countries and is enormously that one of his favorite prose pieces ever (and his second published), appeared in the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts: Cardigan Spy tells of a theater conference in East Berlin in 1986 where the host-provided translator also worked for the STASI.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “(NINE) LEFT OF BOOM”?

“Left of boom” is a term of art popularized by the military after 9/11 used to describe that critical period in which the good guys can act and avert a crisis, meaning the boom. What was a bit surprising is that it is can be used in context of other major events/decisions. For example, one could use left of boom to describe the time frame between when Donald Trump learned in February 2020 how dangerous COVID-19 was, and his decision to downplay it. In this case, of course, the ‘boom’ that could have been prevented was the unchecked spreading of COVID in the US. This is what led to the piece – a musing on the broad exploration of what ‘boom’ might represent, and which booms we might be able to prevent

psychic, reader

by Taylor Alexandra Duffy


The psychic in my building forgot my name. Holding her groceries, holding her elbow as we eased down her garden apartment stairs, she warned me about the siblings I don’t have, to keep an eye on nieces I’ll never know. Oh yes, I said, you’re so right, promising to call the father who’s been dead for years. A week later she was surprised to see me when I ran out to greet the sirens, finding her waiting on the stoop, clutching her chest. Breathless, she grabbed my wrist: darling girl, this was meant for you.


Taylor Alexandra Duffy lives in New York and works in research & development. She specializes in pending patents and penning short short
stories. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in *X-R-A-Y, Passages North*, and elsewhere. She was longlisted for the 2021 SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro. www.tayloraduffy.com


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

A couple of years ago I walked by a basement storefront psychic in my neighborhood, and the opening line popped into my head. Most of my stories start with some outlandish or very specific, fully-formed sentence crossing my mind, and I then try to build a world where that statement would make sense. I quickly wrote this piece in the notes app on my phone and the published version is exactly what I wrote in that two-block walk to my apartment.

Homeless in the Time of the Plague


[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.]


It’s winter here now. Snow on the ground. Lots of new faces. Sad, angry, scared faces. I can tell with some degree of knowing them that will do what they need to do to survive, and will. Them that won’t, and won’t. It takes some a while longer to get it that the same man that passes them by with only a dismissive glance will gladly empty the change from his pockets to follow them into the alley and see them on their knees in front of him.

This is the world we live in. The real world.

I saw in the paper the other day there are over half a million homeless people in this country now. They say because of the plague there could be twice as many by next Christmas. I’m sure lots of folks look at me and figure that’s how I got here. Figure I’m some poor victim of the sickness. Never figuring I’ve been on the streets nine years now by choice. Never understanding why any sane person would choose this.

So, okay . . . maybe I ain’t so sane after all.

My story is my own but not too different from lots of others I run into. My mother was an artist and my father was a trumpet player that spent half his life on the road with famous people like Miles Davis. When he was away mom’s artsy friends came to keep us company. When he was around it was a nonstop party with folks coming and going day and night. Folks like “Uncle” Lenny Bruce, Buddy Rich, Arthur Miller, and Jackson Pollack. Guess that’s why I grew up closer to my mom than dad, with a love of both art and music. But also a love of drugs and whiskey. Reefer and whiskey, cocaine and whiskey, uppers and whiskey, downers and whiskey, heroin and whiskey. Coke and whiskey’s what finally stuck. And never further than a phone call away.

Just so you know, Mom drank herself to death by the time she was forty. Dad overdosed on heroin at forty-three.

By the time I was nineteen I was getting known for my art. I took to piano and wrote lots of songs but my art seemed the best way to make a living. After my first showing in San Francisco in ’88 I was commissioned to create a few original pieces for a new L.A. film director named Quentin Tarantino. This led to a gig as visual-art director on his movie Pulp Fiction. That’s where I met my future, lovely wife, Angie. She was script girl on the set. Less than a year later we married and bought a house in Hollywood Hills and started living the dream. That dream lasted until ten years ago when Angie was killed by a drunk driver. Head-on collision.

She died all alone. We never got to say good-bye.

I tried to hang on after that. Tried not to lose my mind. But nothing seemed to matter. I lost the house. The cars. The friends. Just walked away from everything else. Then one day I woke up and found myself sleeping on the sidewalk. Bumming cigarettes, begging spare change, eating garbage from dumpsters in the alleys. And I didn’t care. Then the day came when I realized I felt right at home on the streets with all the other homeless. And like I already said, my story ain’t too different from lots of others. I met lawyers and professors and stock brokers and cops and doctors and actors and priests out here all in the same boat. No matter who you are or how you get here, you adapt or die.

My turn finally came. I caught the plague this past August and spent most of September, October and November trying to get medical help, in and out of shelters, emergency rooms and walk-ins. They didn’t even pretend to care. Three of my street buddies died from the plague since this all started. They were good people. Their only crime was trying to survive. Did the wrong thing at the wrong place and time. And nobody giving a shit when it happened. Doctors don’t care. Cops don’t care. Them that runs the shops and stores don’t care. And them passing by and looking all disgusted at you sleeping on a park bench sure as hell don’t care.

But really, I ain’t no different.

Yeah, I could teach the neuvo plague victims how to survive out here, but I won’t. And I could invite some back to my cardboard and tarp-covered shack hidden out in the woods to get out of the cold, but I don’t. Because in the end it comes down to survival. And if they’re right about this plague putting more and more people out on the streets, then hand-outs will soon run out. Times are already tough enough. I ain’t no martyr. Just a homeless man trying to stay alive another day.

Time will tell.

Mutilated Is the Word

by Ja’net Danielo


that fell from
my mother’s mouth—
blade on the tongue—
after her mastectomy.
When my time came,
I said to the surgeon,
           I’m not ready,
by which I meant
not for the blade
on the tongue
          but the knife
my body would take
to itself, for that final
not in the rain, not
looking me in the eye,
but just a shapeless
voice on the phone:
          This is where
it ends for us.


Ja’net Danielo is the author of The Song of Our Disappearing, a winner of the Paper Nautilus 2020 Debut Series Chapbook Contest. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Radar Poetry, Mid-American Review, Gulf Stream, Frontier Poetry, and 2River View, among other journals. Originally from Queens, NY, she teaches at Cerritos College and lives in Long Beach, CA with her husband and her dog. You can find her at www.jdanielo.com.


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

This poem was written a little over a year after having a bilateral mastectomy on a particularly bad day when I was struggling to accept this new body I find myself inhabiting. I remembered that after my mother had had her mastectomy, she said she felt mutilated. While I feared that I’d share her reaction, ultimately, I did not; instead, I experienced the surreal feeling that my body had broken up with me, swiftly and without explanation. This poem seeks to capture that.


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