Month: September 2021

For the Birds

by Joan Wilking


This is the season when osprey fish the mouth of the river at turn-tide, gulls torpedo clams onto the rocky shore to crack the shells so they can get to the sweet meat inside. Finches and sparrows fight it out to occupy bird-boxes and last year’s nests. I set orange halves out on the deck railing to attract Baltimore orioles but no takers yet. Hummingbirds buzz like bees around a feeder filled with sugar water. The days have been hot and humid. I’m thankful for the breeze. The birds chirp and trill a patchwork of sounds, noise to some, music to me. The air smells of cut grass and the river across the street. Mourning doves coo, waiting for their hatchlings to fledge.

When I was young I was an equestrian. I rode with a dressage team. Dressage was all about precision, schooling an animal to take steps as dainty as a debutante’s. The stable was open on both ends. Swallows nested in the eaves. They built mud nests as efficiently as builders pour concrete. At night, bats feasted on bugs. Owls hooted and blinked at the moonlight.

Out in the marshes an egret steps as carefully as a horse trained for dressage. In the meadow a bobolink balances on a single reed. Cell phones not allowed. Piping plovers build their pebble nests on the beach protected by storm fencing park rangers on three wheelers erect around them. Goldfinches nest in tall grass. A red tail hawk perched on a telephone pole waits for road-kill or a mouse.

A thunderclap sets the birds chattering. I listen, trying to separate the sounds, trying to distinguish what’s what. There’s an app for that my friend says.

The year the mockingbird kept flying into my windows I became phone friends with a woman at the Audubon. Her advice in the end was to do nothing, accept that the bird was going to do what it was going to do, in particular because it was getting drunk on the fermenting grapes hanging from my arbor that Fall. It’s instinct that drives it, she said. It sees its reflection as a threat.

This year and last, when everything felt like a threat, the birds kept me company, their relentless industry. I run my tongue over lips chapped by too much sun. It’s hard to stay inside now that it’s safe again to breathe. At the Audubon sanctuary I buy a packet of seeds. I walk the trails and delight in the chickadees that alight to eat them out of my hand.


Joan Wilking’s fiction and personal essays have appeared in print and online over the years. Her story, “Deer Season,” was a finalist for The Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Short Story Prize. Her story, “Clutter,” which was published by Buffalo State’s Elm Leaves Journal, received a special mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology in 2016. That same year her novella, Mycology, won the Wild Onion Novella Prize and was published in 2017. In March of 2020 she started a series of drawings to chronicle the unique time in history we have all been living through. Four hundred and twenty drawings later, on Mother’s Day of this year, she stopped drawing and started writing again. This story is a piece from her new work.


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

My days start and end with bird chatter when I’m home in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where I live nine months of the year. I live alone. Isolation during the pandemic focused my attention on those sounds and the fact that even when we think we are completely alone we are surrounded by life. An uncountable number of creatures that share the planet with us. The birds just happen to be the ones that make the most noise.

All Hollow Things Taste the Same

by Karoline Schaufler


Yes, it was wrong of me to lick the human heart they brought to elementary school to say: “Healthy.” “Not healthy.” Wrong, to lick a bee’s back in the hope of tasting honey. Wrong — in my defense — for them to come in the first place with such a thing so recognizably begging to thrum not preventively cast in some kind of resin.

Imagine a twelve-year-old feeling a phantom pulse through her tongue, while everyone else cuts lines, calls names, and breaths through increasingly constricting straws. Wrong, in a different way, to needle for nepenthe in the wrong kind of vain.

Imagine she looks up at a front-row someone, with her teeth almost touching an aorta apiece and her eyes almost wishing they each weighed seven pounds, knowing everything will be stickier the second time. Learning it all tastes like the umbra of a buzz.

The ironic intake of the public speaker who holds a thousand cilia every other day but has never glanced over to see a child forging for amygdala in extraordinarily — wrong — places.

A stranger obligated to ask me to stop. Someone formaldehyde has given up affecting. Peering at me with one-fifth of an eye, while the rest of him silently confesses having never thought to peel back one lamina more. Never looked at the morass of coronary pockets and imagined probing for nectar. Secretly wondering if it is, in fact, there.

For some twelve-year-old reason, I would not relent until someone brought me a magnolia instead. Fair trade of atria for anther. Compromise of amber stuck to the residue on my chin.

Once relinquished, all I could say was: “Healthy.” Once chastised, satiated, blooming pistil and synapse, all I could do was carry around my tongue in my mouth for the rest of the day. A lolling queen in the chambers of a thrumming hive that are not cavae.




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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “All Hollow Things Taste the Same”?



by Zoe Dickinson


how water
brings all the
of the world
to each other!


the moon
enters the maple’s dripping,
empty branches

stroke yellow
into glazed


Zoe Dickinson is a poet and bookseller from Victoria, British Columbia. Her poetry is rooted in the Pacific coastline, with a focus on local ecology and human relationships with nature. She is the co-Artistic Director of the Planet Earth Poetry Reading Series.


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

I wrote this poem imagining what the Ancient Greek poet Sappho would think of a West Coast winter. For about half the year on Vancouver Island, everything is permanently dripping with rain. It took some getting used to when I first moved here, but over time I began to see the beauty in it: how water, like light, has the ability to change the way we see things. 

The River

by Laurence Musgrove


I’m going through the Cheerios too fast. I need to keep myself to one bowl a day. Just breakfast. Or dinner. Not both. Not lunch. If I was at my folks, I wouldn’t have to make these decisions. But that’s over. I felt this thing click in my head, like watching a door being locked against me. So now I’ve got to sort out how to fill the frig, try to tell what’s gone sour or bad on my own, stuff dirty clothes in my backpack, coins in my pocket, as I pedal after dark to the laundromat on the other side of the river, the river that could have easily killed me if it didn’t love me so much.


Laurence Musgrove is a Texas writer, teacher, and editor. His previous books include Local Bird – a poetry collection, One Kind of Recording – a volume of aphorisms, and The Bluebonnet Sutras – Buddhist dialogues in verse, all from Lamar University Literary Press. Professor of English at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, he teaches courses in composition, literature, and creative writing. He is also editor and publisher of Texas Poetry Assignment.


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

I attended an online workshop recently hosted by Writers’ Studio of Corpus Christi on composing strong openings for narratives. The first draft of “The River” was the result of that workshop. Afterward, I realized this opening also had a beginning, middle, and end. I then decided that it could also serve as a compressed piece of micro or flash fiction.

CNF: What You Love Most on Mill Street

by June Avignone


Michael, when I heard today you died falling off a bridge somewhere in Jersey
I thought, like a few others, that you probably didn’t commit suicide,
that you probably were just drunk and fell off accidentally and didn’t even
know your body was free falling toward the earth, knowing how our best words
can be our most savvy saboteurs.
But what do I know.

The last time I saw your face it was under a park bench in Paterson
in front of the bronze statue of Lou Costello swinging his Who’s On First bat,
your ear pressed to the dirt as if listening for the Great Falls roaring echo,
your jaw a bloody mess, your adjunct professor clothes soaked by rain
your apartment door just across the street,
sleeping like a lost crazy child in the dirt.

And the time before that you were sitting against an abandoned building
sharing a bottle with two homeless drug addicts I knew from the shelter
who drank Sterno twisted from a rag when all else failed but now had you,
and your savings from teaching at the community college. And I say,
Micheal, What the hell are you doing out here? I thought you were in rehab?
And you say, slurring loudly, almost proudly

No, no, you don’t get it! Read Bukowsk! Bukowski! He doesn’t care about
staying on wagons, he eats wagons for breakfast with crow heads. Then whisper
Listen! Be your own perpetrator or your writing will drown in pretentious silly shit!
And I say, Yeah yeah okay, you have a home, you have talent, get up. Go home,
when the filthy man with the brown bag leaning against him like a tree yells at me,
Leave him alone, bitch, he likes it out here!

That famous poet friend of yours at Columbia with the droning ego told me only
last month how you lost your apartment but live with your brother now and got a job
as a produce guy in an A&P where you met a nurse who fell madly in love with you
and your wrenching poems and just knows you’re doing fine.
But all I could think about was your soft hungry heart and bleeding face
on the ground before Costello ‘s feet and Bukowski’s words
Find out what you love and let it kill you


A former journalist and columnist, June Avignone is the recent recipient of an Allen Ginsberg Prize for poetry and author and editor of several books including Downtown Paterson, On Going Home Again, Traveling Small Distances and Cianci Street: A Neighborhood in Transition. She has had her poetry and essays published in a variety of publications including The Sun Magazine and the Paterson Literary Review.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “What You Love Most on Mill Street”?

The idea for “What You Love On Mill Street” came to me directly from a demanding crow who visits me daily on my porch in upstate New York, miles away from the Mill Street neighborhood of Paterson which I will miss for eternity.

CNF: Private Access

by David Hargreaves



Living in Oregon, born in Detroit, David Hargreaves’ translation of “The Blossoms of Sixty-Four Sunsets,” by Nepal Bhasa poet Durga Lal Shrestha, was published in Kathmandu in 2014. His own poetry has appeared in Comstock Review, Passages North, Naugatuck River Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Poets/Artists, Hiram Poetry Review, and elsewhere.He is Professor of Linguistics at Western Oregon University.


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

While observing a colleague teach Stevens’ “The Snow Man” to college freshman, the phrase ‘mind of winter’ evoked for me the concept ‘theory of mind’ in philosophy and cognitive psychology. Once the rhyme ‘mind/rind’ came into my head, the first draft was off and running. The related idea of ‘private access’ follows from the observation that certain 1st person experiences, a headache, for instance, are knowable only to the self; ‘ordinary language’ philosopher J.L. Austin captures the idea perfectly. I also have long been interested in the Nepal Bhasa language, which has a specific grammatical suffix reserved for action verbs with 1st person inner volition, obligatory in the same way other languages have ‘agreement’ or ‘tense.’ As a sidenote, I was living in Lansing, Michigan when Magic Johnson was a local high school star. Finally, while the poem was fermenting, along came a garbage truck with a robotic hand, which instantly reminded me of one of the handshapes in Buddhist iconography. The real trick was to keep myself from nerding out on the expository and instead try to relate the ideas to concrete instances. I also want to add that I’m very grateful that JCCA supports such hybrid writing.


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 December 15, 2023. Submit here.


11/27 • Michael Mark
12/04 • Helen Beer
12/11 • Rachel Rodman
12/18 • Betsy Robinson
12/25 • Trish Hopkinson
12/31 • Kim Chinquee
01/01 • Jill Michelle