Month: September 2023

The Folsom Boys

by Matt Barrett


Once, when we were kids, we sat in the quiet darkness between our homes, our pockets stuffed with other people’s things, jewelry from our neighbor’s house and cash from my mother’s dresser, and with our heads in the grass, we looked up at all those little stars, so many miles away from here, and wondered how far we’d get if we got up now and ran, and in those quiet, twinkling hours, before the sun peeked over the hills, we saw two versions of our future: one where we lived as runaways and one where we were stuck, turning the same dirt over in the same small town, so when we got up and ran, we wondered whose choice it even was, and I think we saw ourselves living long in old saloons and lying beneath the moon on sandy desert lands, but when we reached the edge of our high school, which my brother once tried to burn down, we paused for a moment and thought who are we to run? No one in our town ran. Not my brother when they found him with matches in his hands, not my mother when she lost her job. Not even our neighbor whose jewelry went missing, a few pieces at a time. We wondered where the men went, but rumor was they disappeared. When we found ourselves on baseball diamonds or on stage singing our lungs dry, our daddies’ seats were empty but not because they ran. They went poof one day, like a magic act, after they’d had enough children or lost enough money or forgot the boys they used to be. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t grow up like that—wouldn’t dissolve into that summer air, wouldn’t evaporate into the clouds. We’d stick our feet in the ground and plant ourselves like a great white oak so when the sun tried sucking us up, we’d use its rays to photosynthesize and grow so large we’d shade our mothers when the days turned hot. Yeah, we spent their money on cigarettes now. And lizard skins to wear so we looked cool. But when they searched our pockets for the things they’d lost, we took their hands in ours and said, We promise you won’t lose us.


Matt Barrett is a writer from Pennsylvania. He teaches creative writing at Gettysburg College and holds an MFA in Fiction from UNC-Greensboro. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Sun Magazine, The Threepenny Review, The Baltimore Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Best Microfiction (’22 & ’23), Best Small Fictions (’23), and elsewhere.


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

I think there are two potentially interesting things about the way I drafted “The Folsom Boys.” The first is that, like in all of my work, I try to write an exciting first sentence, something that hints at the story to come. When I began writing the opening sentence, I liked that it didn’t want to end, which gave me the idea that the boys would decide to run. Just as the sentence runs on and on, these boys would have to run, too. But when I realized the sentence was nearing its end, I knew the boys would have to stop, too, that they were going to think things through more methodically, slowly, and turn back around for home. So, the decisions they made were based, in large part, on the form the prose was taking. The second thing that might be interesting is I didn’t have a title for the story until a Johnny Cash song came on my radio and he was singing about the Folsom prison. And I thought, what if that’s that backdrop here, that these boys are growing up in Folsom, and for this fleeting moment, they have a chance to run but don’t take it. Are they just going to end up in that prison someday, or are they actually going to do as they imagine and make their mothers proud?


by Anna Pembroke


The boy who stabbed me with a compass has a name that means father of a horse. I can still feel it under my tongue, circular, marbled, and when I cough it rolls around the dampness of my cheek and clicks against my teeth. If I bit the name, it would crack a molar.

The boy who stabbed me with a compass has no father. I find this out when I’m sitting under a palm tree eating salami sandwiches while my only friend picks at a tupperware of fried plantain. His father died in a helicopter crash, she says, mimicking a spiralling vessel with her left hand. When her fingers land on her lap she clenches her fist then releases it in an explosion. When, I ask. She shrugs. Did you know your salami is haram, she says, and the conversation moves on. I watch the boy kick a football into the goal, dust rushing in its wake, and imagine what it’s like to have no father.

The boy who stabbed me with a compass prays five times a day. As our car pulls out from the school gates on a Friday, the muzzein warbling the adhan for jum’ah, I watch him remove his shoes and place them on a rack. An older man clips him on the back of the head, and he shrinks back before disappearing into the mosque. I see him later while wandering through Wuse Market with my father. We catch eyes near the meat stalls, where blood sluices down a central drain, mingling with the heat to create a thick iron smell. Carcasses are splayed on plastic tables as men with cleavers hack at their limbs. The ragged stump of a goat’s neck drips into the dirt. I see him, and the lumps of flesh, and think of a body studded with shards of burning shrapnel.

The boy stabs me with a compass in the middle of a numeracy lesson. I have just demonstrated how to balance an equation on the whiteboard, wielding the marker with a confidence he finds offensive. He grabs my hand and pins it down, slamming the tip into my palm. Blood pools from the wound and I start to cry, gagging on my tears as I run out of the room. I hold my forehead against the headmaster’s stomach, wrapping my arms around him and staining his blue shirt. Later, in the office, when the headmaster asks what happened, the boy leans into his chair and crosses his arms with a smirk. His mother, hair coiled in complex circles that accentuate her high cheekbones, smiles disarmingly and leans forward. This girl is racist. My parents rise, outraged. I don’t really know what that means, but it doesn’t feel good. I have never had my identity weaponized against me before. I step out of the school gates with my freckled cheeks burning. Racist. It’s sour, corrosive, stripping the skin from the roof of my mouth like acid.

The boys whisper about me in the playground. The other girls avoid me, following their lead. Crazy oyinbo, dis girl wahala. They fling around words they’ve heard from their older brothers, bitch and slut and whore. My friend turns from me when I call her name, so I eat my packed lunch alone in the library. A year later, I leave this country for the last time to return to a homeland I have never lived in. The peach-pink scar still sits between my lifelines: a reminder of the fatherless boy who spat every word except that of grief.


Anna Pembroke is a writer and English teacher based in London, England. Raised in South Africa and Nigeria, she taught in Malaysia for a year before beginning a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at the Open University. She spent the Fall 2018 semester at the Aegean Center in Paros, Greece, studying creative writing and photography. Previous work can be found in Milk Candy Review, Ellipsis Zine and Messy Misfits Club. Find her on Twitter @annaisediting.


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

‘Mo’ explores the relationship between two children based in Abuja, and is loosely based on my time growing up in Nigeria. Although there are situational similarities, these characters are an amalgamation of people, stories, and emotions: much of the drafting process involved compressing the narrative to its smallest form as I experimented with the concept of ‘snapshot’ recollection and – more broadly- the idea of fragmentation as inherent to memory.

CNF: My cat vomits grass

by Mykyta Ryzhykh


What does my cat do all day long? Continuously washes himself after I hug him. However, before that he comes and rubs himself against me. Even at five in the morning and with dirty paws, when I sleep he rubs his face, because the rest of his body is hidden by the blanket.

Often the cat eats: food from the bowl, bugs, grass. Sometimes he vomits on the walkway. The walkway is already stained with cat hair and vomit, too. I don’t blame my cat: I myself have vomited a couple of times in the last year from what’s going on around me.

Often a cat will hunt mice, then toss and chew on the corpse, and leave the mouse remains and guts by the side of the road. Animal instincts are incomprehensible to me: why kill and chew on mice if you’re already well fed?

Sometimes the cat plays with household items, from shoelaces to flowers on window sills.

Despite the fact that my cat is a filthy rotter – I love him. He came to our house after the war began and came to live with us. The cat doesn’t understand at all what’s going on around him, and I don’t explain anything to him: what if he starts protecting our house from the blast wave and dies?

It’s funny, I still haven’t figured out the gender of my cat, but by default I think he’s a boy.

Someday my cat will die without ever knowing that a war has broken out. What’s more, my cat will never know why the war started. I will probably die, too, without ever finding out why people go to war. I want to die without finding out that there is a war.


Winner of the international competition Art Against Drugs and ukrainian contests Vytoky, Shoduarivska Altanka, Khortytsky dzvony; laureate of the literary competition named after Tyutyunnik, Lyceum, Twelve, named after Dragomoshchenko. Finalist of the Crimean ginger competition. Nominated for Pushcart Prize.

Published many times in the journals Dzvin, Dnipro, Bukovinian magazine, Polutona, Rechport, Topos, Articulation, Formaslov, Literature Factory, Literary Chernihiv, Tipton Poetry Journal, Stone Poetry Journal, Divot journal, dyst journal, Superpresent Magazine, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Alternate Route, Better Than Starbucks Poetry & Fiction Journal, Littoral Press, Book of Matches, on the portals Litсenter, Ice Floe Press and Soloneba, in the Ukrainian literary newspaper.


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

This passage was written after a specific event: I saw a cat throwing up grass that he had eaten the day before. And the times are difficult and dangerous now: people are sick of murders, blood, poverty, hostilities, terrorist attacks, war in general. It is likely that this feeling of disgust would also be transmitted to animals if they had a larger brain volume.

CNF: The Endless Backwards Hopeless Remembering

by Joanna Acevedo


On Tuesday, it seems, I have a brief, fleeting, psychotic break. You understand, these things happen. I write to B telling him the sidewalk is breathing and I can’t decide whether to slice my wrists. Alarmed, he tells me to call the doctor. Can’t get an appointment until Friday. Of course, why wouldn’t that happen? I hide under the covers at my parents’ apartment in Chelsea, watching Hulu, afraid of the cats, the shadow shapes in the walls. I sleep, fitfully, Chickpea the cat nosing me to feed her breakfast at 4 a.m. But I live.

It is May, and we have a spate of unexpectedly cold days as Mother Nature adjusts to summer. Reacclimating to sanity, I take a powerlifting class. Deadlifting the barbell, I get disoriented, and try to hide this fact from the instructor, who notices, reminds me to breathe. You don’t know the half of it, I want to tell him, but I cannot begin to explain. At home, I projectile vomit green juice and make plans to clean the bathtub. Your knees hyperextend, says the barbell instructor. You’re just finding out so many fun things about me, I joke, but the reality is I am on a ship and it is sinking.

I do what I’m supposed to. I don’t drink. I take handfuls of Zyprexa. I explain to my mother, in detail, exactly what she should do, say, to my various employers if I am involuntarily hospitalized; who to email, what wording to use. Joanna has taken an indefinite emergency medical leave. I try not to lose my shit. I am losing my shit.

As I write this, I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I don’t know how many good days I have left, the perfect capsule of the morning keeping me in its golden hands, the traffic humming under my window, the elevated train rumbling, the tears that prick in my eyes when I think about the inevitable, the potential, the loss of the mind I have tried so hard to hold on to. I don’t know what comes next. That’s the fun part. The finding out. The endless backwards hopeless remembering.



Joanna Acevedo is a writer, editor, and educator from New York City. She is the author of two books and two chapbooks, and her writing has been seen across the web and in print, including in Jelly Bucket, Hobart, and The Adroit Journal, among others. She received her MFA in Fiction from New York University in 2021, and also holds degrees from Bard College and The New School.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Endless Backwards Hopeless Remembering”?

I wrote this piece while coming out of an acute psychotic episode. As a sufferer of Bipolar disorder, writing is often the only thing that keeps me grounded in a world which is sometimes scary, unfamiliar, and overwhelming. At times, it feels like there is no hope, which is what this piece is about. Writing can be a solace, and in this piece, I was just trying to hold on to what little of myself I had left, try to stay positive, keep my sense of humor, and hope for the best. It’s sort of like a time capsule, a snapshot into my disordered mind, which from a point of more stability looks alien and unreal, but also scarily close to home. I’m forever grateful to have my writing, which has saved me again and again.


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 June 15, 2023. Submit here.


08/21 • Annie Marhefka
08/28 • Jamey Temple
09/04 • Joanna Acevedo
09/11 • Mykyta Ryzhykh
09/18 • Anna Pembroke
09/25 • Matt Barrett
10/02 • Tommy Dean
10/09 • Deborah Thompson
10/16 • Nicolette Jane