Month: March 2023

CNF: Seeing Still

by Beth Cleary


There is a gray mouse, her body the size of an apricot, front legs and right cheek stuck in a glue trap. I stare, forget the broom and dustpan. A glue trap? In the middle of these temperate woods, door open half the day? The apricot mouse will die of cardiac arrest. The apricot mouse deserves mercy. I consider walloping her with an iron skillet, shortening the struggle. It’s not my house, not my skillet, not my glue trap. I back away, I crouch outside near a persimmon tree and I am panting. I don’t have the heart, and I will see that mouse in that trap for years.

Orange orbs swing from their branches, jeering.


My father tells us they hit him in the night. “That one there,” his eyes narrow, “he’s one of them.” I look, a young man in scrubs is carrying a medication tray. My father sees things that aren’t there, it is the disease. He tells my sister there are mice in his closet. She lays catch-and-release traps for his anxiety about the nonexistent mice. He says his brother and sister-in-law come to visit. They’ve been dead thirty years. Says his mother is in the kitchen every morning. Dead sixty years.

I don’t think the young man hits him in the night, but I watch how he puts the tray down and leaves without a word.


My mother drags last Fall’s leaves into a big pile I will jump in. But today, raking, she uncovers baby creatures in the exposed dirt. They uncurl and stretch in the new air, the new light. My mother pauses, electric. Then she reaches the rake past the newborns and bites off a rag of winter-matted leaves. She drags this straight through the babies and swings it all up onto the pile. She does this again and again, to make sure she’s killed them. If she remembers I am right there she says nothing. I see the tree, the ground, the leaves, the rake, her skirt, her shoes, those writhing animals. I see them still.

I do not jump in that leaf pile, that burial mound. I want to say I remember them.


I wake up the morning of my father’s funeral to frost on the windows. It has snowed a foot overnight, an early April surprise. I didn’t pack shoes for snow.

My father is dead six years and I see him every day. I watch him surface from the gyre of forgetting to ask about my dog, recite old phone numbers, comment on the sky. He knows, more than he can say. We should have asked more questions.


In the backyard are three apple trees and a pine. The apples are not good, misshapen and wormy, but the trees are good for climbing. I pretend I live in the tree and will never come down. I curl like a squirrel in a just-sized nest. I drape as a jaguar would over a strong branch, tail-tip flicking. Robins and crows land, take off. Rabbits dart from compost pile to hydrangea thicket. I hear the clamor of all the outside songs, each creature’s need to be and be believed.

My jaguar paradise is now a parking lot. I request stewed apricots with lunch, and the medication tray is rarely on time. It is assumed I don’t notice, don’t remember. I do, all the innocents.


Beth Cleary’s essays are published in Fourth Genre, Essay Daily, The Maine Review, Invisible City and other journals. She holds a PhD from UC-Berkeley in theater history and directing, and taught at the college level for a quarter century. She lives with her partner and dogs in St. Paul, Minnesota where, in 2014, she co-founded the East Side Freedom Library.


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

I am haunted by seeming-small violences that I witnessed as a child or perpetrate, however haplessly, as an adult. “Seeing Still” hops from one slippery, sticking-out stone to another across a roaring river of memory. Each scene is a balancing act, a breath, and there is so much swirling below each scene. The seeming-inconsequential violences in my life are on the continuum of violences we humans commit against earth and the creatures in it. I am, we are, implicated in all of them. The pandemic has put me on notice: write the truth or die lying.

CNF: Marzipan

by Claire Polders


Not as thrilling as an arrabbiata, not as erotic as bitter chocolate, not as invigorating as a lemon sorbet on a summer afternoon, but known like your husband’s eyes and rich like gold is the taste of the marzipan fruits made by the dolceria of the Santa Caterina monastery in Palermo, Sicily, where the current pastry chefs use the hand-me-down recipes of the nuns who used to live there in little barred rooms with little square desks and little baby Jesus dolls on makeshift altars to produce a rich variety of traditional cakes and crunchy cannoli filled with sheep-cheese ricotta and sesame cookies and in the fall, when it’s the season, a collection of marzipan fruits— peaches, prickly pears, persimmons, everything—all perfectly rendered in size, color, and shape, and of which you need to take only one bite, there in the monastery courtyard under the citrus trees, to bring tears to your eyes and be taken back to that innocent time from before your parents’ divorce, before your parents’ deaths, when you were still a child and not yet a girl, and remember how your parents left marzipan fruits in the shoes that your brother and you had put near the door in the hope that Saint Nicolas would come by for a visit during your sleep to take your carrots for his white horse and leave sugary treats for you in exchange, treats that didn’t taste as nourishing as Oma’s apple pie, not as warming as your father’s barbecued potatoes, not as forbidden as your mother’s ham-filled croissants, but that tasted like goodness itself, as if the sweet almond paste melting on your tongue told the story of a benevolent world where you could trust everyone and would never find yourself crying in a monastery courtyard in the fall feeling both loved and abandoned, orphaned in more than one way.


Claire Polders grew up in the Netherlands and now roams the world. Recurrent themes in her novels and short prose are identity, feminism, social justice, art, and death. She works on a memoir about elder abuse, a speculative novel, and a short story collection. Learn more about her creative process, travels, publications, and the books she loves at www.clairepolders.com.


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

I wrote “Marzipan” as a form experiment on Mexico’s Isla Mujeres during the 2022 SmokeLong Summer Workshop. I chose the skeleton of one long sentence unrolling between stacked comparisons like a dare: Can you write something within this restricted framework that makes sense? Without knowing what I wanted to say, I filled in words that fitted together yet not necessarily in a meaningful way, and I made many false starts. Slowly, the sweet, rich taste of Sicilian marzipan began to haunt the piece and I sensed that I was writing memoir. But it wasn’t until I read the word “goodness” on the page that I understood why the treat from the nuns had stayed with me and had left me feeling so cherished and sad.

CNF: Holding Hands

by Amy Goldmacher


Through the sliver between seats, I can see they are holding hands: she is reading, using her other hand, the one not holding his, holding her Kindle or iPad or whatever device she is reading on, while he only needs the one hand to hold hers while he dozes or sleeps or gazes elsewhere.

I wonder how she turns the pages, because both hands are occupied, one with the reading device and one holding his; I think it’s selfish for him to want to hold her hand while she wants to read, because she has to accommodate him while limiting her ability to lose herself in the book; will she remove her hand from his in order to turn the page, or will she flex and strain a digit so as not to have to take her hand out of his? And then I wonder if he is the one holding her, and it is her need to be held even while she wants to read, and if both hands are full like her heart.


Amy Goldmacher is an anthropologist, a writer, and a book coach. She is the winner of the 2022 AWP Kurt Brown Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New York Times, Essay Daily, The Gravity of the Thing, Five Minute Lit, and elsewhere. She can be found at amygoldmacher.com and on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


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

This piece started in Jeannine Ouelette’s excellent workshop, Writing in the Dark, with an exercise in the tradition of Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. The assignment was to write a two-paragraph micro essay: the first paragraph is to concretely observe and depict something quirky and delightful, and the second paragraph is to explain why this quirky thing is a delight. I recalled a moment I had glimpsed through a sliver of space between airplane seats, and wondered what if what I was seeing wasn’t filtered through my biases or instincts, but was something else entirely?

We’ll Take the Riddle, So Long as It Remains Unanswered

by Susan L. Leary


Sometimes the blue is so blue it is every shade of blue at once. The first sound, the back & forth of the blue water. A pair of scissors is blue as is the hem of the blue hand that holds them. The first urge, to snip the blue heron from a swath of nocturnal shoreline. Discernment risks injury, so we sleep inside the blueish swirls of our own blueish bodies, mistake the brute flap of a wing for touch, suffering for the brief amnesia of stars. Distant or beloved, a man’s cigar smoke is blue, a vast graffiti of legs stretched into the blue of a borrowed beach chaise, the marooned bones fooled into a comfortable shipwreck, the lungs into ether or sea. A ghost can whet the blade & sit inside the blue of a palm without our knowing. What comes is the world before it’d begun, before the blue was anything other than blue.


Susan L. Leary is the author of A Buffet Table Fit for Queens, winner of The Washburn Prize and forthcoming from Small Harbor Publishing in February 2023; Contraband Paradise (Main Street Rag, 2021); and This Girl, Your Disciple (Finishing Line Press, 2019), finalist for The Heartland Review Press Chapbook Prize and semi-finalist for the Elyse Wolf Prize. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in such places as Superstition Review, Tar River Poetry, Tahoma Literary Review, Cherry Tree, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Pithead Chapel. Recently, she was a finalist for the 16th Mudfish Poetry Prize, judged by Marie Howe. She holds an MFA from the University of Miami, where she also teaches Writing Studies. Visit her at www.susanlleary.com.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “We’ll Take the Riddle, So Long as It Remains Unanswered”?

This piece emerged from a place of deep reflection on the meaning of life, particularly: how does one achieve peace in the wake of significant loss? When no solution presented itself, I leaned deliberately into mystery. This piece figures as a riddle because a riddle is meant to be elusive, evocative, thought-provoking, and most of all, a compressed version of what the mind might need to do to “solve” it. A riddle enjoys its brief life on the page because it knows it operates more extensively on the imagination of anyone who hears or reads it. Perhaps, then, answers are overrated. Perhaps, then, the attempt to reckon with life and never fully comprehend its origin or end is peace enough.


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.


05/27 • Claudio Perinot
06/03 • Amanda Chiado
06/10 • John Davies
06/17 • Lynne Jensen Lampe
06/24 • Valerie Valdez
07/01 • Carlin Katz
07/08 • Meg Eden
07/15 • Tim Raymond
07/22 • Mike Itaya
07/29 • TBD
08/05 • TBD
08/12 • TBD
08/19 • TBD
08/26 • TBD
09/02 • TBD
09/09 • TBD
09/16 • TBD
09/23 • TBD
09/30 • TBD