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.

CNF: Hardball

by Jamey Temple


I watch behind home plate, behind a fence, the links diamond-shaped. Every time a little league player runs, dust kicks up, blows across the field like brown smoke. Parents cheer. Fuss at their kids to run faster, swing harder, play like the professionals they’re not. I, too, played ball, but softball. We played mostly at night, under the lights, the bugs swarming and smacking the bulbs.

I pause to film my son who steps up to bat, his coach showing him where to stand in the box. His hands choke the bat high. He is six, the size of a four-year-old, so the infield moves closer. I hold my breath and the camera steady as he swings the bat, driving up the middle. He runs. Makes it to first, then second. Safe.

Baseball is all about timing. Watching. Faking chances. Sometimes you make a hit and move forward. Sometimes no matter how bad you want something or how hard you try, you walk back to the bench, out. Voices carry here. Get that ball! Infield, be ready. Good try. Let’s go, Nathan! Remember what we talked about. Get ready! Foul ball!

In a month when the sun is closer and the air hotter, this field will be quiet. No who’s next or keep your eye on it, just need to make contact! The chalk dust lines will be long gone, the grass will begin to swallow the dirt, the scoreboard will stay dark.

How many of us have stepped into the batter’s box, stepped onto a base or plate, swatted away gnats in the outfield, had our legs stick to the metal bleachers, sucked the salt out of sunflower seeds, spitting out empty shells?

We all want to win at something.

I remember when the softball field was built so girls could play, too. We had a new option other than cheerleading, dance, and pageants. I don’t remember every game I played, but I remember my dad bragging that I didn’t throw like a girl, and the batters I struck out, their fans complaining about my strikeouts. I remember double plays, line drives to my head that I caught without thinking. I remember raw, red skin on my left thigh from sliding. I remember my dad telling me to stop saying sorry when I threw a ball hard and the other girl couldn’t catch it.

But softball sounds soft, doesn’t it?

For the first time, we could wear pants and kick up dirt like the boys. We could surprise our fathers and brothers when we swung with such force the ball tinged off the bat and landed in outfield, players chasing after it, toward the shadows.


Jamey Temple is a writer and professor who teaches English at University of the Cumberlands in Eastern Kentucky. Her poetry and prose have been included in several publications such as Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Rattle, and Appalachian Review. She has been named a finalist for Newfound Journal’s Prose Prize, Fourth Genre’s Multimedia Essay Prize, and Wavelengths Chapbook Contest. She is the recipient of an Artist Enrichment grant from Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Excellence in Teaching award from University of the Cumberlands. You can read more of her published work through her website (jameytemple.com).


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

As the opening indicates, I wrote this piece while a game was in progress. Because there was so much time between games or when our son was on the field or in the batter’s box, I carried a book of poems and a notebook for freewriting to pass the time. Story ideas are everywhere–you never know when you’ll be inspired.

CNF: To the woman in the waiting room with the feverish child

by Annie Marhefka


I pretend not to see you, not to notice, because that’s what we’re supposed to do, spare you a look of pity, pretend you are invisible.

But I see you. I want to tell you that I see you, that I’ve been you.

I see how your eyelids flutter as your child’s limbs shake like tree branches about to detach from the torso, his tattered blanket haphazardly wrapped around him. I imagine you probably grabbed it instinctively as you rushed out the door, panicking about what else you may have forgotten. I see the way your hair is matted to scalp, that new wrinkle under your eye, the way you haven’t slept in days. I see the dark stain just below the neckline of your shirt, maybe milk, or oatmeal, or the stickiness of a dose of grape-flavored medicine spat back out at you. I see the way your own hands tremble as you rub his feet, the way you tuck his hair behind his ear, as if that will quell his shivering aches. I see the way you whisper to him that it’s going to be okay, the way you try and convince yourself. I see the way you’re holding back, the way your body looks like it might splinter into pieces from the weight of it all.

I bet that you have learned how to cry without making a sound in the deepest, loneliest pit of night, opened your mouth into the shape of a roar, jaws spread like birthing hips, silently fed your pain to the darkness.


Annie Marhefka is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland whose writing has been published by Lunch Ticket, Fatal Flaw Lit, Literary Mama, The Citron Review, and others, and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Annie is the Executive Director at Yellow Arrow Publishing, a Baltimore-based nonprofit supporting and empowering women-identifying writers. She has a degree in creative writing from Washington College. Follow Annie on Instagram @anniemarhefka, Twitter @charmcityannie, and at anniemarhefka.com.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “To the woman in the waiting room with the feverish child”?

I drafted notes for this piece on the notes app of my phone while in a pediatrician’s waiting room. There was a woman across the room from me, and her child was sicker than mine, and I just felt for her so deeply. These past few years have been so tough on mothers and I think there is a bit of camaraderie felt in all that we have survived and are surviving together, even though we don’t know each other. This piece is part of a collection of essays I’ve written to strangers over the last year, all centering around holding compassion for the stories we hold inside ourselves.

Stupid Motorist Law

by Michelle Ross


Every monsoon season, people here drown. They hike canyon beds, they hike river washes, not appreciating how quickly these mountains can turn a little water into a lot. Water funnels off the mountains into washes, a system of usually dry desert riverbeds that become raging rivers. The currents uproot trees and dislodge sofas and grocery carts and other junk people discard when the washes are dry. It’s like the currents are hosing the place down, getting into all the nooks and crannies. Here and there, these washes bisect roads, and the city puts up barricades that warn: Do Not Enter When Flooded. Vehicles get carried away. There is, in fact, a law people here call the stupid motorist law: if you become stranded in flood waters because you ignored a warning, you will be charged the cost of your rescue.

It’s this law my friend Leah invokes when I say of my husband, all relationships have their challenges, when I say patience is a virtue, when I say nothing worth doing is easy. She says, you’re like those people who drive around the barricades.

I am, in fact, one of those people, though I don’t tell Leah. The city puts the barricades up as soon as the washes begin to fill, and they leave them up long after the water subsides to a trickle. Therefore, sometimes, ignoring barricades is perfectly safe. Sometimes you’d be stupider to take a twenty-minute detour.

Still, every time, I white-knuckle the steering wheel. I hold my breath. The water is always muddy, impossible to see through. There could be anything in there—boulders, potholes, barbed wire. Or the road itself could have washed away. There could be nothing at all.


Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections: There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Short Fiction Award; Shapeshifting, winner of the 2020 Stillhouse Press Short Fiction Award (2021); and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (2022). Her work is included in Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, the Wigleaf Top 50, and the Norton anthology, Flash Fiction America. It’s received special mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. She is Editor of 100 Word Story.


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

I’ve tried to use Arizona’s stupid motorist law in a story for some years now, but I kept cutting it out. It’s a darling I kept having to kill. Those other stories were better off without it. The metaphor overwhelmed, competed too much with other story elements. Finally, I realized that the problem was that this metaphor accomplishes so much on its own that it needs little else to support it, hence this bare bones microfiction.


by Avital Gad-Cykman


I dream of a secret romance with a language. Clandestine outings, loops of words wrapped around my body when we spend long nights in a loft looking over a city and send words like a whip across the sky. I bend over the banister and bare my soul. The words taste cool and moist like dew as they slide off my tongue.

After the sexy times, we get serious. My language births words for the brain so it can wrap itself around contemporary monsters. My fear hides in the gaps and holes between words, where unnamed wars are about to break out. Named, even monsters lose their shadowy presence and let us caress their sinewy backs.

As we open up, my language gifts me with broken words and limping sentences that got lost over the generations, and seek a new mouth to pronounce them. These words are loaded, heavy with history. Ours. They melt on my tongue, then I solidify them into bearable shapes. It is possible to make toys out of ruins.

I take my language for a date at a restaurant. We are three: I, my language and a man. The language comes between us, as if I need a protector, but the man’s lips project rhymes: dandy, candy, candy cane. I get him, his words. Ours. We are alone with the language, even lonely, but we’re safe with language between us. No one can reach our core.


Avital Gad-Cykman is the author of Light Reflection Over Blues (Ravenna Press) and Life In, Life Out (Matter Press). She is the winner of Margaret Atwood Studies Magazine Prize and The Hawthorne Citation Short Story Contest, twice a finalist for the Iowa Fiction Award and a six-time nominee for the Pushcart. Her stories appear in The Dr. Eckleburg Review, Iron Horse, Prairie Schooner, Ambit, McSweeney’s Quarterly and Michigan Quarterly, twice in Best Short Fictions, W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International anthology and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in English Literature, focused on minorities, gender and trauma, and lives in Brazil.


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

Languages are untamed beasts. I love their words, for their beauty and many meanings. They help me communicate and absorb, but their limitation is clear. The proof of the limit is that each language gives a slightly different shape to what rises from the same person. Perhaps we’d better know all words and languages, to improve the precision and subtlety, or maybe, this will not be enough either. If I sound like a frustrated lover, then I managed to convey the origin of this flash.

CNF: The system moves toward what it studies

by Lina Herman


At our project launch, I try to convince my clients that they should focus their attention on what’s working. The system moves toward what it studies, I say in all earnestness.

I apply this approach indiscriminately.  At least it wasn’t tylenol, I said after my middle daughter swallowed two bottles of antidepressants.

I hand out over-sized multi-colored post-its to the whole team. We will use these to create a preferred future, I assure them.


She’s been living to go to that show, says my oldest daughter. I’d driven four hours through traffic to take her sister to West Hollywood. A 17-year-old whose who seems to wear the same false eyelashes as my daughter has crossed over from tiktok to headlining at The Echo. She’s just about my age, my middle daughter kept saying, winding her way toward the stage.

She told me she’d decided to make it ‘til the concert then kill herself after you got home, says my oldest daughter.

 But now she’s gonna hold off.

 Why are you upset? my oldest daughter asks.  This is a good thing.


The century agave in my front yard has flowered. Clusters of vibrant red blooms tower ten, maybe fifteen feet overhead. It probably has root rot, my oldest daughter who’s studying botany tells me. They flower when they get distressed, then they die.


I apply my consulting methods to my parenting too.

What conditions would best enable your intended outcomes? I ask my daughter. How can you make space for what possibilities might emerge?

 I’m not your fucking client, says my daughter.


When middle-managers write complaints on their post-its, I use a purple marker to rewrite the statements with a positive bent. We each understand our own roles and responsibilities, and how we impact our teammates, I offer.


My daughter spits on my face when I try to shake her awake to take her meds and finish her homework and get to first period. I  gather her computer and her car keys and her cell phone and leave the room in a fit.  I stand alone in the kitchen breathing heavy and clutching the items she needs to do what I’m asking.

She’s acts like a fucking cunt my husband says later that night. I wait some minutes before I relocate to the living room. Not so few that I’m taking off in a huff. But not so many that he’ll think my departure is unrelated.


I keep buying new productivity workbooks. I keep them piled on my nightstand. Getting Things Done. The Morning Sidekick. Atomic Habits. Essentialism. Deep Work. I like to read the introductory chapters before I go to sleep.  Apply order to chaos they promise me. Be creative, strategic, and simply present.

What I’d like as an outcome of this process, the COO tells me as I roll post-it covered newsprint into giant cylinders and wrap colored rubber bands around them, is for my team to want what

I want them to want.



Lina Herman lives in California where she writes poetry and short prose. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Salt Hill Journal, and BOOTH, among others.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The system moves toward what it studies”?

For some time, I’ve journaled small vignettes or moments that catch my attention, either from the day or from memory and whether or not I understand in that moment why they are meaningful. Over time, I’ve noticed an intersection between different themes–the work material, the daughter’s struggle, the mother’s attempts to influence her daughter. This piece emerged when I began to curate and reshape the vignettes, to play with how I wanted them to sit with one one another, with how they might mosaic into a larger whole.

The Drive

by Douglas Cole


They did not speak. They drove. Gabriel was used to it, knew this was how his father was in his most unguarded times, silent. They drove out onto the highway and headed north, driving in the dark. Then they pulled off onto the access road and went down into the town. The streetlights were fixed in a blinking pattern, yellow all around. They did not see another car. Then they drove up to the ferry terminal, paid a cashier in the booth and went onto the ferry. Neither of them said a word.

They stayed in the truck for the crossing. It smelled of leather and mink oiled boots and rifle iron and cigarettes. Gabriel’s father opened a window and smoked and blew the smoke out the window and leaned back in the seat and turned on the radio. He fiddled with the dial and came onto a Hank Williams song and let it sit. The ferry horn sounded three time and the boat pulled out into the sound and rocked softly while they listened to the music. This was the same way they’d go to see his cousins, Gabriel thought, but the thought was meaningless because they were not going to see his cousins. The path was familiar, that was all. He looked out at the blackness of the water, the far faint lights of homes on the islands. What was it like to live on an island? It seemed like a dream, desirable and at the same time unreal. He did not want his life the way it was, now that he was a bad kid. On an island he would be alone.

Daylight was beginning to form, glowing up along the eastern mountain range across the sound as they drove off the ferry and onto the two-lane highway. Then they were back driving through the darkness of trees, alone except for the eyes in the forest. His cousins were out here. They were probably asleep right now.

They went on through the mill town with its sandstone buildings blasted by salt waves, and then back into forest, the endless corridor with the boles fluttering past in the gray illumination of the car lights, and Gabriel thought of sasquatch, the creature of the woods, looking out from the deep of the forest. The road was becoming as they drove on it, because they drove on it and believed a road must be there for them to drive on. Really, they were still asleep in their beds. Really, they were asleep in another life and would wake up curious about these scenes that would quickly fade as they went into the rush of their other worlds. And the people in those worlds were only asleep in other worlds, and this went on for a long time, maybe forever. This is what he kept thinking as they drove in the dark, away from the sunrise that would soon overtake them, that was overtaking them even now but only in the stream of sky above, changing from darker gray to lighter gray to light, while the trees retained their impenetrable darkness.


Douglas Cole has published six poetry collections and the novel The White Field, winner of the American Fiction Award.


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

I’d just finished writing The White Field, my first published novel but not the first one I’d ever written. The White Field is written in the first person. A point of view that worked for the character in that book. Then…once I was finished, in the sense of having written, typed, edited once a full draft…I was hit by a barrage of voices. There was Sara/Michelle, in flight after providing condemning evidence at her father’s trial; Jones, an expert with money on his way down with a bad drinking problem; and Gabriel, a kid from the northwest on the cusp of adulthood, hovering for a time in that kid-zone of dream. These three characters spoke in turn to the tune of a full braided novel, of which this one piece from Gabriel’s story is a snapshot—the tension of that space where the real, the unreal, the past-present-future blur.

How to prepare figs and honey:

by Molly Thatcher


The summer I turned 15 there was a wasp nest in the attic above my bed. Every night I lay there listening to the wasps’ luxurious cannibalism, hovering just above my head. The sound of scratching larvae turned my brain to dumb pulp; my ingrown prayers punctuated by chewing “wasp-fig,” “wasp-fig.”

I always prayed at night. I’d do it while gripping and pulling at my nylon nightdress so it wouldn’t touch my clammy body. I knew already god was meant to hate me, but calling my thoughts prayers put them in italics. As prayers, my secret desires and loathings weren’t trapped inside my mind with the chewing wasps but stage direction: italicised and already leaning out from my body in anticipation.

One September morning the men came and gassed the wasps. The tiny bodies I’d heard growing sprinkled down through impossible ceiling seams onto my pillow, their embryonic legs adorably curled-up in mute defeat.

Looking down at them, I was indecently outgrown. I blushed as I cleared away the corpses.


Molly Thatcher is an emerging writing. This is the first time her fiction has been published, but her non-fiction art and literary criticism has appeared in The Oxonian Review and The Virginia Woolf Miscellany. She studied an MSt in modern and contemporary literature at Oxford University and currently lives in London. She finds joy in writing about the queer stuff of life, the materials of history, and all things morbid.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “How to prepare figs and honey:”?

This piece is part of a longer work about the experience of living back in your childhood bedroom. The wasp situation didn’t happen exactly this way. I was unfortunate enough to have a wasp nest above my bed and was driven slightly mad by the noise. However, it happened when I was older, and I never felt the need to pray. I’ve always felt though that my self-loathing teenage mind resembled a fig: this ingrown flower around a hateful but helpless wasp. So, the imagery has always been associated with that age to me.

The Museum of Girlhood

by Annie Fay Meitchik


Hello and welcome, hola and bienvenidos, to The Museum of Girlhood. As we enter the museum, please take off your shoes unless you’ve come wearing kitten heels or penny loafers, otherwise frilly socks will be provided for you for the duration of your tour. As we wait in this entryway for folks to prepare their feet for the softness and fragility of the eggshell and feather floors we will soon be walking upon, please feel free to take note of the way we have designed these walls leading us into the museum. Each of these pink and red archways came from Mother Earth, the greatest girl of all, and the paints are made from her gifts—the red pigment comes from Hawaiian dirt and the shades of pink are actually all of the bubblegum bubbles that have ever gone off and floated away from glossy pink lips.

Now that you’re all ready, follow me. On our left you’ll notice a dark classroom with a television set on wheels playing a film about puberty that lacks any substance. Notice how young the girls are, only eight or nine years-old, and take notice of how there are no boys in the room learning alongside the girls about how their bodies work. Because, of course, why would boys need to learn about that? They’re only eight or nine years-old, remember, very innocent and very young.

On your right is a new exhibit. Notice the following behind the display case: A porcelain sculpture of hands calloused from monkey bars, a slim hardcover book with a pink linen cover that reads in gold embossed letters A Guide to the Importance of Always Saying Please and Thank You: Even When You Don’t Mean It, a selection of beads and friendship bracelets, a training bra from a box store, and a Victorian dollhouse.

Next we’ll be entering our botanical building. Even though we’re now outside, continue to use your inside voices, thank you. Feel free to quietly explore the fairy garden, the roly-poly farm, or the mermaid fort. Notice how the garden is made of delicate moss and glitter and how the fort is made of pool floats and towels, that when placed over the jets send a good feeling to a weird place that we’ll not explore further because, as you recall, we didn’t discuss this back in the dim classroom.

Moving on, welcome to the hall of ballet slippers. This interactive exhibit allows visitors to fill out cards, writing down a dream they once had as a child that they never achieved as an adult. In your best cursive penmanship, please write down your failure or failures if you’re feeling ambitious or motivated to do so, and place your scroll inside one of the many ballet slippers covering the walls and ceiling, thank you.

As we exit through the gift shop, I hope you’ll buy a souvenir to remember this journey. I’m often told at the end of these tours that visitors expected things to take longer, but see, the road through girlhood is rather short and there’s not much we can do about that. Please dispose of your frilly socks in the white wicker bin to your left. Today, we’re offering a promotional deal on purchases of pressed flowers, ruled notebook paper that’s ripped along the edges for writing letters to crushes, and impossibly tiny animal figurines that come in sets of four to symbolize a specific type of family. Any of these items can be yours today for 20% off their original price with the code Please that you can use at check out.


Annie Fay Meitchik is a writer and visual artist with her BA in Creative Writing from The New School. Through storytelling, Annie aims to amplify the voices of marginalized identities, advocate for equality in art/educational spaces, and synthesize her own life experiences all with a comedic edge. Learn more at: https://www.anniefay.com/.


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

I thought of this entire piece in one sitting at 3:00 a.m. This creative nonfiction essay utilizes details from my own experiences and explores defining the body as a place. I liked playing around with the repeated use of the phrase “Thank You” and writing in such a unique, almost sci-fi voice.

Lovers’ Disappearance

by Thomas Hobohm


I started off slow. I lost names, faces. Soon I ceased to understand the objects around me, their categories: colors, shapes, functions. It wasn’t long before I forgot myself, who I had been, was, wanted to be. I became nothing, I became nothing I couldn’t be. I learned techniques of emptiness, how to pour water out of an already-empty carafe, how to construct a vacuum that doesn’t contain even itself, a vacuum of vacuums. In this non-place, communication ceased, being ceased, events ceased. It was there that you fell for me: my vacant stare pulled you down, your arms pulled me up. With your bare hands you built a boy and named him me. It wasn’t dialectical. You created something from nothing, from nowhere. And now that something has run away, abandoned you. So, you’ll start off slow. You’ll lose names, faces. Soon you’ll cease to understand the objects around you. Don’t worry: I’ll find you someday, which is to say I’ll find the things that could become you, and I’ll assemble the thing you could become.


Thomas Hobohm lives in San Francisco but grew up in Texas. They are the Web Editor at The Adroit Journal, and their work has appeared in Poetry Online, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Astrolabe. Find them at https://www.thomashobohm.com/.


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

This piece emerged out of my reading of Alain Badiou’s work, specifically “In Praise of Love” and “Philosophy and the Event.” Badiou speaks of love as “The Scene of Two”—for him, when two people fall in love, they construct a new subjectivity together, a wholly new orientation toward life. I began to imagine what it would be like to truly forget the world, and to create a new one with my beloved. And then what it would feel like for that world to fall apart. The final piece ended up a lot shorter than my first draft, because my natural impulse as a writer was to add more details, more signifiers, more descriptions. While revising, I cut most of that out to convey the sense of loss that had motivated me to write the piece in the first place. If I’m being honest, I believe romance is really like that: you lose yourself, you are found, you find somebody, they are lost. It is happening everywhere, all of the time.

Pie Chart

by Kim Magowan


My ex-husband calls me out of the blue, freaking out. He’s just discovered his wife, the woman he left me for, is cheating on him. If he confronts Daphne, he’s afraid she’ll leave him for this co-worker dude. What if he doesn’t confront her?

It’s not like confronting my ex-husband about Daphne saved our marriage. I clearly remember his face when I did—20% horrified, 80% relieved, is how I’d have depicted his expression on a pie chart. That’s how I knew we’d split up. Because his relief so visibly outweighed his horror.

I’m tempted to say something harsh. I say, “Wow, I’m so sorry.”

In a sense, that’s true: I genuinely pity him. But it’s also false, because I don’t see his loss of Daphne as regrettable. I could never understand what he saw in her, why he preferred her to me. Daphne can’t even finish her sentences; talking to her is a chore. That’s why it took me forever to realize my ex-husband was in love with Daphne, because I found his infatuation so baffling. Even knowing, I still felt like saying “Really?”

If fifteen years ago my ex-husband had never met Daphne at the Po’ Boy food truck at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, we might still be married. I can’t say I wish for that outcome, that I would rewind time and intercept him. In that case, I wouldn’t currently be toasting pine nuts, which my ex-husband hated. I wouldn’t now be married to Oliver. Our kids with Oliver’s hazel eyes would not exist. I picture that Back to the Future scene where Marty and his siblings disappear from the photograph.

But if I could time travel, here’s what I would tell my twenty-eight-year-old husband, marching to the food truck where Daphne waits: the perfect partner does not exist. Reset your expectations. If you’re happy with your partner 51% of the time, shut the hell up.

Tonight the kids are at sleepovers. Oliver and I will watch Succession with bowls of pesto linguine in our laps.

“What should I do?” my ex-husband says. He lays out the pros and cons of confronting Daphne. If he pretends he doesn’t know, he thinks it’s “highly possible” Daphne will grow disillusioned with the new dude. “He isn’t worthy of her,” my ex-husband says. “She’ll realize that, right?”

I keep this thought to myself: You never did.


Kim Magowan is the author of the short story collection How Far I’ve Come (2022), published by Gold Wake Press; the novel The Light Source (2019), published by 7.13 Books; and the short story collection Undoing (2018), which won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her fiction has been published in Colorado Review, Craft Literary, The Gettysburg Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com


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

My father once told me that if you’re happy with 70% of your job, you should count yourself lucky. I remember at the time (I was in my early 20’s) thinking 70% didn’t sound so great; barely a C-, after all, in a test. But I often think of my father’s satisfaction assessment now. When I was younger, I had much more inflexible, idealistic, and, I now think, unrealistic standards for what kind of profession, or accomplishment, or relationship was “worth” investing in and maintaining. I’m using all the monetization language deliberately, because the image that generated this story was the pie chart. I liked the concept of using something as corporate, mathematical, and (literally) flat as a pie chart to characterize something as nuanced as a betraying partner’s expression, or as amorphous and squishy as marital happiness. The narrator is older and wiser now. She’s feeling a bunch of things during this phone call with her ex: sympathy mixed with serves-you-right vindication, regret mixed with relief. But she’s learned discipline. She keeps her crueler thoughts to herself—well, we get to hear them, but her ex-husband is spared.

Neighbor Girl

by Kate Michaelson


Meet me at the corner, between the tall hedge and the pasture where the fuzz-tipped grasses ripple like a sea. My bike sparkly red, yours powder blue, tires popping tar like gum bubbles. I got my jelly shoes, jelly bracelets, pastel plastic bright as gold. Pedal past Joe and Wilkie’s place, their algae pond, past where we saw the snake. Hard past Burt and Clary’s where the hound dogs strain and bay. The unh unh unh that rattles bones over tracks that mark halfway. Past the factories’ loud blasts of heat and noise. Give it all we’ve got, standing for the hill. Hit the crest and down—just a streak of color past the house where box springs rust. Past ditches overgrown with phlox and chicory—their names a spell to us—through air spun thick as snow with cottonseed. Then slow, jump off with me, and sink your bike into the pillowed green. We’ll disappear into the sweet-dark berry patch, hosts of tiger lilies nodding, drowsy-hot these days as full as lives.


Kate Michaelson is a writer and educator living in Toledo, Ohio. Her poetry and prose have appeared in publications such as Free Verse, The Laurel Review, and River Teeth (Beautiful Things series). Her debut novel, Hidden Rooms, will be published in Spring 2024. You can connect with Kate and find more of her writing at www.katemichaelson.com.


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

I wrote Neighbor Girl on a summer day when I was feeling nostalgic for adventures with one of my childhood friends. She and I lived in the country, where it seemed like we were the only girls anywhere near the same age for miles. One summer break, our moms agreed that we could meet at the corner on our bikes and ride around together from there. I remember thinking that this was major–that I was really grown up now, which was funny because I was probably nine at the most. But I felt this new sense of freedom that, for the first time, I could explore the world on my own, and that my friend and I could go anywhere our bikes could take us

oyster pearls and betta fish

by Courtney McDermott


The betta fish is missing. At first she thinks it died and her husband flushed it down the toilet. But when she asks her husband about the fish, he merely shakes his head. “Did we have a fish? I don’t remember getting one.” Then she thinks of her two-year-old, Bertie, and how he has taken to hiding things around the house. At first it was harmless: action figures between sofa cushions, dead batteries in his father’s water bottle, her gold hoop earrings in the dog’s food bowl.

Then his hiding became more precarious. Toy cars behind the radiator, burning the tips of his marshmallow fingers. He hides his mother’s time. She looks at the clock, and 15 minutes are gone, slipped into an electric socket. His father rides the exercise bike and nightmares caught between the spokes screech as the wheels spin.

But each time Bertie forgets what he’s hidden, running off to chase the dog, to climb the ottoman, leaping onto the floor. “Jump!” he yells.

She asks him about the betta fish, kneeling down so she is eye-level with him.

“Uh oh. Where go?” Bertie asks, his eyes wide and white like oyster pearls. Yes, his mother thinks, he’s like an oyster trapping treasure.

She checks all of Bertie’s usual hiding places: the crack between the bed and the wall, the toilet, the trashcan, his father’s shoes. When Bertie’s mother leans down to wipe snot from his nose, she sees a flicker of blue in his ear. She claps his face between her hands, holding him still.

Sure enough, a fin wiggles out of his ear.

She drags him into the emergency room. “There’s a fish in his ear!”

Other mothers in the waiting room overhear, their children with scrapes, allergic reactions, broken toes. They raise their eyebrows at each other. She shields Bertie’s ear from them with her body.

The doctor frowns, but this is her resting face. “Yes, it’s a betta,” she says.

“Of course it is. I told you that.”

“We’ll get it out in no time.”

Bertie screams when he sees the tweezers, but in a matter of seconds, the betta is lifeless on the examination table. The nurse wipes away fish scales and ear wax.

“I see something else,” the doctor says, looking into his ear again.

They drain Bertie’s ears next, and something falls out that she doesn’t recognize at first.

It’s thin and silvery and when held to the light looks like a rainbow.

“It’s mine,” the mother says automatically. Though she doesn’t recognize it, it feels familiar in her hands.

She tucks it into her purse for safekeeping. When she arrives home, Bertie races off to scatter toys about the house. His mother places the thin, silvery thing into the fish tank and watches it catch the light-filled water.

Years later, as she assembles a scrapbook for Bertie to take with him to college, she will look at an old photograph of herself holding baby Bertie in front of the fish tank. She will think she sees something thin and silvery trailing from the tips of her hair, leaking from her eyes. She knows that if she could only follow the strands it would lead her to the grotto containing everything she’s ever lost, but she will turn the page and the moment will pass.


Courtney McDermott (she/her) is the author of the short story collection, How They Spend Their Sundays (Whitepoint Press), which was nominated for both the PEN/Hemingway Award and The Story Prize. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Notre Dame. Her work has appeared in A3 Review, the Notre Dame Review, Lunch Ticket, Prism Magazine, and the Boston Globe, among others. Originally from Iowa, she lives in the greater Boston area with her husband and son.


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

I had a betta fish growing up that my two-year-old brother killed by over-feeding one day. Thinking about that unfortunate incident, I wondered how my toddler son would handle a betta fish. It occurred to me that he would probably hide it somewhere like he hides everything else.

For What It’s Worth

by S.E. Daniels


My legs bake. My feet glow red. I can’t bring myself to get up to adjust the umbrella. My book lies open on my lap like a shield.

“Here you go. Just what the doctor ordered.” He hands me the drink, condensation beading on the glass. It soaks my hand and runs down my arm. My toes start to smolder.

My mouth curls at the corners, but I don’t meet his eyes. It’s the best I can offer him. I slurp a mouthful of rum, mint, and lime. It electrifies my tastebuds and frees my vocal cords.

“This was a great idea,” I tell the sea as I set the drink on the table between us, its presence a waypost, an emblem of our loss.

He pats my hand before I can withdraw it, then leans back in his lounger.

“It’s been a tough year. There’s nothing more valuable than a little self-care, right?” His words dance away on the breeze. The glaring heat reaches my knees. My toes blacken and turn to coal. He drops his hat over his face and sighs.

“This is the life.”

I watch the Atlantic caress the white sand beach and wonder what it’s worth. One night in our room is the price of a stroller. Dinner is the equivalent of a car seat. Every drink is a pink ruffled dress, a pair of tiny shoes.

He lies beside me, a picture of repose, as I am consumed. I could save myself or reach out to him. Instead, I swelter and burn and turn to ash hoping to blow away.


S.E. Daniels is a veteran of the video game industry, and an author and illustrator living in MidCoast Maine. Her stories have appeared in various literary journals and in app stores around the world.


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

This piece took first place in its group in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2022 competition. The prompts drove me to sunlight and loss, and I instantly thought of Hemingway. “For What It’s Worth” is an homage to his infamous six-word story, blown out, and told from a feminine perspective.

CNF: Advice and Caution, or How to Be a Tall Woman

by Erica Goss


  1. Forgive the boy next door who yells at you on your way to first grade. “Lurch” is one of the few words he knows.

  3. Breathe through the growing pains. They will last for years.

  5. Stand up straight. Ted Cassidy, the Addams Family’s original “Lurch,” was 6’9”, and he never slouched.

  7. Your brothers are tall and thin. This fact will be noted with approval.

  9. You are tall and thin. You’ll be compared to a certain garden vegetable.

  11. Your heart will start beating irregularly at age nineteen. Your back, neck and shoulders will hurt most of the time. This is normal for tall people.

  13. Understand: there is a height—five foot eight, perhaps—beyond which you’ll make men uncomfortable.

  15. Accept that the available pool of men your height is extremely limited.

  17. Date a short man, just once. Or twice. Leave him when his friends start asking what it’s like in bed.

  19. Be kind when someone asks you, ever-so-sweetly, to grab that jar from the highest shelf at the grocery store. Don’t give in to the temptation to ask that same person to pick something up off the floor for you.

  21. Refuse to discuss the weather up here, down there, or anywhere.

  23. Always wear flats.

  25. Remember that black makes you look taller. So do vertical stripes. You certainly don’t want to look any taller than you already are.

  27. Accept that your ankles and wrists will show.

  29. Learn to sew. Be sure to add six inches to all seam allowances.

  31. Explain, patiently, that at no time in your life have you ever played basketball. This will make some people angry. They will accuse you of wasting your height.

  33. Be aware that being tall makes you look older. Starting at age twelve, remind men that you are not eighteen. You’ll have to be firm on this one, because they won’t believe you.

  35. Get used to the back row.

  37. Get used to the view from the back row: pink scalps, dandruff. Ring around the collar.

  39. Get used to feeling slightly embarrassed most of the time.

  41. Get used to the fact that tall women in popular culture are usually depicted as freaks.

  43. Change the subject when someone mentions Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. Try to forget how the boy next door would yell, “Please please don’t hurt me!” rolling his eyes and pretending to be afraid of you.

  45. Never, ever use words with the suffix “ess,” especially “poetess” or “giantess.”

  47. When pregnant, be careful not to bump into people. Your belly will be higher than you realize.

  49. Act like you don’t know the answer when someone asks you how tall you are. Alternatively, ask that person how tall she thinks you are. Treat it like a fun way to get to know each other.

  51. When asked if you’ve ever modeled, respond with “Once, but it wasn’t for me.”

  53. Ignore articles that claim tall people die earlier than short people. Try to ignore your irregular heartbeat.

  55. Rejoice when studies suggest that being tall is correlated with higher IQ, higher income and lower risks of diabetes, dementia and heart disease.

  57. Acknowledge, ruefully, your tall, high-IQ father’s death from complications of dementia.

  59. Wonder why you are usually the tallest woman in the room.

  61. Wonder where the other tall women are.

  63. If you were a man, people would assume you were in charge.


Erica Goss is the author of Night Court, winner of the 2017 Lyrebird Award from Glass Lyre Press. Recent and upcoming publications include The Colorado Review, The Georgia Review, Oregon Humanities, Creative Nonfiction, North Dakota Quarterly, Gargoyle, Spillway, A-Minor, Redactions, Consequence, The Sunlight Press, The Pedestal, San Pedro River Review, and Critical Read. Erica served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California, from 2013-2016. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she teaches, writes and edits the newsletter Sticks & Stones.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Advice and Caution, or How to Be a Tall Woman”?
A few months ago, I started thinking about my life as the owner of a non-standard body. I was six when people started telling me I was tall. At such a young age, I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but I soon learned that it came with baggage. My mother reminded me to stand up straight while the kids in my neighborhood made tall jokes. It was very confusing.

As I grew into my tall body, I discovered that being tall is a condition people will tell you about. As a tall woman, it’s very hard to avoid attention—I’m always ready for the comment about my height that might come from someone anywhere, at any time.

I created the list as a sort of protection spell, from one tall woman to another. These were the things I had to learn the hard way. I wanted to share that wisdom with someone younger, hence the “advice and caution” of the title.

I tried to include the comical parts of being tall as well as the less amusing ones. Like most things, it’s a mixed bag. It’s taken me a lifetime to accept my body for what it is, and to appreciate it without judgment. Actually, I’m still working on that.

CNF: Water Skiing

by Jenny Burkholder


I watch your burial from a hard-back chair of grief in front of dim computer screen. It’s February, and we’re deep in the pandemic; my father, along with hundreds of thousands of others, are dead. The chair is broken, so I sit in it every day of to remind myself Stop your bellyaching.

Hundreds of people gather on ZOOM because of cancer not COVID. Only your family stands in the cold at your gravesite, and your Rabbi asks us over and over to mute, but the chatter continues as more and more people log on; you have hundreds of friends who cannot be silenced.

One shouts into the screen, I can’t find the fucking volume. Her name is Susan. I begin to laugh, mostly because I have cried so much, and Susan laughs, too, and scoffs, Look at all the wives, they look so old. Someone, whose name I have forgotten, politely reminds her that we can all hear her.

Her square goes black.

Now, I’m scrolling through pages and pages of papery skin, my own sagging and furrowing around my lips. I wonder how many of these mothers grieve for your mother, who wishes she could have seen gray bristly whiskers growing on your chin.

What can I say? My own cancer has become boring and routine, and you’d be thrilled to know that when I see our shared doctor, we talk about Leo Kottke and sometimes, how much we miss you.

I know you love to laugh, so in your honor, I will adopt the day’s metaphor. Like you, I want to hold the boat’s tow rope tightly, letting it pull me lap upon lap around the lake, until my legs ache, my knuckles whiten, and my biceps quiver. It’s then and only then!—such a precarious balancing act on one ski, maybe two—that I will tap the top of my head and let the rope go.


Currently Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Poet Laureate, Jenny Burkholder’s poems have appeared in North American Review, The Maine Review, and Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, among others. Her chapbook, Repaired, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2016. Read more of her poetry and creative nonfiction at overexpressed.net.


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

This poem is for AL who died of breast cancer at 55 years old. Just months earlier, my father had died of COVID, and AL died on his birthday. This creative nonfiction prose poem is about how being alive is a wonderfully precarious act of balancing grief and joy.

Edgar Allan Poe would kill to visit my childhood home

by Stacey Forbes


Listen, there are bones in the basement. A murder of crows in the field. Poe would die, if he wasn’t dead already in a gutter where the rain has bashed his brilliant brains in. They say he drank himself to death but I know better. Something bit him. The bones are the tails of squirrels. The backs of rabbits. The head of a deer that looks and looks. It was rabies that killed Poe. Maybe he staggered into the night, absinthe-lit and grieving for Annabel Lee. Maybe booze threw him into the path of a vampire bat after all. Sometimes I drink to boil the bones clean. The elk’s flank. The wild turkey’s claw. Mouths to feed upstairs and hearts in the walls. My father says he hunts for us. In the dream where the rifle taps at the door of this poem, I believe it.


Stacey Forbes won first place in the 2021 Plough Poetry Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2022 Fish Publishing Poetry Prize. Her poems are published or forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Terrain, The American Journal of Poetry, Carve, and Split Rock Review, among others. Born in the Pennsylvania countryside, Stacey now lives in Tucson, Arizona.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Edgar Allan Poe would kill to visit my childhood home”?

In literature, my first love was Edgar Allan Poe. My English teacher loved Poe and recited The Bells and The Raven from memory, wild-eyed and gesturing and pacing the room. It was a scary and wonderful chapter in my young life. The pinnacle was a field trip – we drove from my small Pennsylvania town to a theater in New York to see a live performance of The Telltale Heart. I was completely mesmerized. On the ride back I thought, what would Edgar think of our home? My father was an avid hunter, feeding our family venison, rabbits, pheasants and, once, a wild Turkey for Thanksgiving. Skins, furs and bones could often be found in our basement and barn as animals were dressed for the butcher. I had often wondered about their hearts. Their ghosts. It wasn’t hard to imagine heartbeats reverberating in our walls. My small country life and Poe’s vast demons came together in a compression of prose I wrote to express how haunted, and how alive, his work made me feel as a child. Poe helped me give words to the terror and wonder of a child’s mind. I allowed his stories and mine to blend and dovetail together in this piece, the way they did in my imagination.


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