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.

The Year of the Flood

by Sudha Balagopal


It’s the year my friend Sia and I practice French kissing on the mirror. The year we shave our tufty underarms with a rusty razor, and tweeze our eyebrows into surprised arches. The year she writes letters to the young man next door. The year I help her sprinkle emotion, offering words like yearning and longing. The year our mighty Ganges shrugs off her embankments after a long, hot summer. The year we fall in love with love.

It’s the year we drool over Mr. Darcy and moan for Romeo and Juliet in our text books. The year we’re subjected to relentless coaching―English, Hindi, math, chemistry, history, physics―even as we crave golden mangoes and juicy stories. The year the open-air terrace becomes our escape as we thirst for evening breezes and neighborhood dalliances. The year we notice a man slipping in the dark of dusk to visit the beautiful widowed lady at the end of the street, and Sia asks, How can love be illicit?

It’s the year we read and re-read tattered copies of Mills and Boon romances borrowed from the circulating library. The year biology homework languishes on our desks even as my Ma, a school principal, repeats, Procrastination is the thief of time. The year we ignore her, fret over shoulder- sweeping earrings and hard-to-find clogs instead. The year we splish-splash through puddled streets in the torrential monsoon rain.

It’s the year I stop playing “Killing Me Softly”on my cassette player because Sia looks as melancholy as the vapor-laden clouds. The year we purchase over-priced tickets from a scalper to watch Julie and drown in the angst of the movie’s forbidden romance. The year the young man slides in next to Sia and drapes an arm around her shoulders. The year our washed garments hang for days―listless, smelly, and damp―on the clothesline in the verandah.

It’s the year we practice draping saris and strut on our driveways pretending to be aunties even as Sia struggles at school. The year she whispers on the phone, just once, I feel hope. . . less with the three-breath-pause between the hope and the less. The year no one from her family will answer my knocks. The year Ma said Sia was, Married off, quietly, in another town. It’s for the best. The year I ask-ask-ask, What’s best about it? What about love? and she stands straighter to respond, Yes, what about it? as if book-life and real-life are unrelated. The year she notices Sia’s befuddled young man hovering, and tells me, You’re known by the company you keep.

It’s the year Ma and I gasp as the angry, swollen Ganges invades our home. The year we flee to the terrace above. The year I lean over the parapet. The year I watch my favorite things―shoulder- sweeping earrings, clogs, Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet and tattered Mills and Boon romances―float in the murkiness.


Sudha Balagopal is honored to have her writing in many fine journals including CRAFT, Split Lip, and Smokelong Quarterly. Her novella-in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc fiction in 2021. She has stories included in both Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions, 2022. More at www.sudhabalagopal.com.


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

This story began in a workshop run by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar. The workshop focused on the role of place in flash fiction. Her example story contained a refrain, which inspired me to attempt that style. Also, like the girl in my story, I, too, experienced a major flooding of our home. Our family was stranded on the terrace upstairs for a few days and while the disaster occurred decades ago, I still remember so many details: the speed with which the washer gushed in, how we grabbed what food we could, how we used a kerosene stove to heat water, how we slept in the open air, how we sang for entertainment. I must mention, though, that the characters in my story are all fictional.

CNF: Accompaniment

by Lauren Fath


As you filled out your medical history on the form on the clipboard in the waiting room with the green chairs (by which I was not soothed, even though someone at the hospital must have been told that green is soothing, but had not been warned against hanging block letters on the wall, reminding us we were in the cancer unit), I tried not to look at what you wrote, what boxes you checked, as if knowing your body’s back-story somehow took me deeper into your past than I would need or you would want. The day was already laden with the possibility of knowing too much about you. But you pointed toward a box that you’d ticked off and said to me, “Everyone smoked pot in college, right?” Before I could answer, the nurse called your name and we stood up together and allowed ourselves to be led through a door to a long and daunting hallway that began with a scale you had to remove your shoes and step onto. I looked away, not wanting to know your weight because all I need is the substance of your presence in my life, which can’t be quantified. And when the surgeon spoke to us in a small, warm room, there would be more about weight: the fifty-seven grams she would remove from your right breast. The radiation that would weigh on your energy five days a week for maybe two, maybe three weeks. The surgeon’s thick pen strokes as she drew breasts on a sheet of paper, an outline of the cuts she would make into a bean-shaped anomaly, dots showing calcification spots, then more cuts if the margins weren’t clear. The heaviness of the sigh you couldn’t let out, building up inside of you, but that I could hear the same way I could see your hands tremble as you took notes on a small tablet, the way you dropped your pen cap and I bent to pick it up because, if you had, the gown would have fallen open. Even watching your cancer drawn on a blank white page felt like an invasion, and I could only imagine what it felt like to know that those pen lines would become incisions and scars, someone cutting openings into your body only to sew them closed again, weeks of healing, the many green chairs you’d sit in. When the surgeon asked you to get on the exam table, then pull back your gown, then lie down, I saw again the bruise I’d already seen, from the biopsy (the first invasion), a harvest of cells that left you purple and yellow in the spot where the healthy tissue ended, where the needle had been. It looked like the mountain ranges we’d driven through together, purple all around and lit only at the edges by the sun, the yellow sun, tugging at the dark center. Three weeks earlier, we’d soaked carefree in the hot springs of northern New Mexico on a Saturday, at dusk, beneath a hillside of pines lambent in the dying daylight. You cupped the water in your hands and let it fall back to the surface. But a biopsy has a singular and determined way of upending what we thought life was. All I could think about, as you asked questions and scrawled answers, was how long it would be before we returned to the steaming springs. How long it would be before you held in your hands the same water that covered your healing body, so many times exposed.


Lauren Fath is the author of My Hands, Remembering: A Memoir (Passengers Press, 2022) and the lyric essay chapbook A Landlocked State (Quarterly West, 2020). Her work has appeared in Fourth Genre, Gertrude, High Desert Journal, and Post Road, among others, and has received Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. She lives in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where she is an associate professor of English at New Mexico Highlands University.


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

This essay emerged from a mixed-genre workshop I co-taught with a colleague—a poet—last spring. We always ended the class with a generative exercise. That evening’s prompt was “a time you crossed a boundary.” I had just the day before taken my friend to her appointment, and I was trying to make sense of how I felt. In learning so much of her body’s past and present, I had become an interloper, someone who knew more than I ought to. The compressed, single-paragraph structure was innate to the content: a medical history condensed to one page; the distillation of a life to a column of check-boxes; the small, stuffy exam room where we hung on the surgeon’s every word, holding our breath.

CNF: Golfina

by Sarah Dunphy-Lelii


When you gently shake a box of baby turtles onto the sand in the moonlight they make a tumble of wills to live, each two inches long, faces already ancient. The goal is the ocean, forty feet away and slightly downhill, roaring gently as it does, offering future. How to chase it, there are many ways. Some lay on their backs, paddling hardly at all as they breathe sea air, and wait. Some right themselves and head off a bit sideways, lurching five or six paces and pausing to rest, swaying their tiny heads. One was running when she hit the sand, paddling already in free fall, ploughing a beeline at a pace that exhausted even us to watch, murmuring cheers as we hurried to brush away the flotsam in her path. One tiny baby had emerged from the egg with only three flippers and, though his heart was strong and his eyes clear, could not pursue a straight path. Greatly moved, we finally placed him on the wet sand, and then again, when an arriving wave pushed him back the way he’d come. We would not hear of a gull’s likely arrival, or a watery predator from beneath, and hoped for him with our eyes closed.

These little ones must chart their own course, travel their own path with their own body, so that they learn this place. If she is a she, she will return to this beach for the rest of her life, to struggle ashore in the dark over and over, carve in the sand a deep nest to fill with eggs, and then sink again into the sea, unseen. She puts down roots in this very first moonlight sprint, these brief harrowing moments, and without roots she would always be adrift. For both shes and hes it is this journey that strengthens their limbs and prepares them for the roughness of the surf, where they gulp the air as they toss and flail, but may never rest their feet on the ground.

Males have no reason ever again to touch the beach, but some still do. Some arrive by moonlight and, like their mothers and sisters, scoop a nest, which will remain empty, then another, and another. After these, they return to the ocean. It is their way of asking who they really are, says a beautiful young person on my left. I turn to see his face and he smiles slightly to himself, then moves his eyes to the horizon. We stand together, with twenty other strangers, long after all but one of the babies has found the water. This last one is weak with exhaustion and especially small, pushed back again and again by the waves and covered in sand, motionless until at last, each time, one tiny flipper waves and a cheer goes round the crowd. A last wave throws him into the air and he cartwheels into the backward suck of sea water and is finally gone, and more than one of us cries.

We trail back barefoot, our arms full of boxes much lighter than they had been, and imagine these souls now adrift, that the children had named for what they love best, their cats and their mothers and their sweets. And they will be back, at least one will come back surely, and nod her wizened head through sixty years of our plastics and our oils and our fervent hope.


Sarah Dunphy-Lelii has been teaching psychology at Bard College for 16 years, working with undergraduates (in upstate New York), preschool-aged children (in her research), and wild chimpanzees (in Kibale, Uganda). Her academic writing has appeared in journals including the Journal of Cognition and Development and Folia Primatologica; her creative nonfiction writing appears in places including Plume, The Common, Dogwood, CutBank, Unbroken, and Passages North. Check out her writing here: sarahdunphylelii.me


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

I came to the western coast of Mexico on sabbatical and, not knowing a soul, connected with a local turtle conservation project. Each evening at sunset a large crowd of barefooted beach wanderers must be kept out of the cordoned-off area by us few volunteers. Within a day I found myself talking to people from all over the world about the olive ridley sea turtle (“golfina” in Spanish), which I’d myself only heard of hours before. The determined and ridiculous paddly hustle of the little ones toward the ocean is touching beyond words. “golfina” is the coming together of three weeks of small observations, conversations, and the magical heartbreak of praying that the 1 in 5000 who makes it to adulthood will be the one you’ve just tipped onto the sand. You can learn more by searching sayulitaturtlecamp.

CNF: Conquistadors

by Maria Elena Gigante


  1. A curious type of monument in the Andes only appeared after conquistadors slashed open the land, defiling the dead. Vertebrae, salvaged from Spanish swords, were found strung together, reconstructed—bones, threaded like beads, on reeds used as spinal cords, then staked into the dirt.

  3. “Can’t you wait until I’m dead to do that?” Grandpa growled at my mom’s request to study their genes. Brandishing his family’s coat of arms, Grandpa spoke the king’s fabled lisp. His family came from Spain and never “mixed” in Ecuador.

  5. Ancestry dot com can estimate ethnicity, for a price: your DNA, in database in aeternum. Ancestry has millions of data points— people eager to dig up royal blood or something shiny to conquer the boredom.

  7. Conquistador means: one that conquers. Conquistador means: to seek and gain completion; to acquire, to win. The Ancestry results Mom wouldn’t send, at first.

  9. Grandpa loved to win. His surname is a “city” in Spain. My sister found it, sent a photo wearing a shit-eating grin behind a sign on the outskirts of a desert ghost town, went back to the present to eat paella. Mom wouldn’t send the results because there was no Spain.

  11. My department is doing a diversity hire: indigenous poet preferred. They must move fast to obtain the best ones.

  13. When Grandpa left Ecuador, he shrugged off his skin, married a German in Indiana, and folded himself in.

  15. “You’re passing,” my brother said. “If I looked like you, I wouldn’t feel right claiming it either.” Instead of Spain, there was a list, all brandishing the modifier indigenous: Ecuador, Columbia, Peru.

  17. Conquistador does not mean Gold, God, and Glory, but textbooks tell a gilded story, propped up by withered, white truths. My department will acquire someone sturdy in their skin.

  19. DNA is traced and dated, databased, debased. Scientists confirmed: those bony towers in the Andes were built after graves were ripped open, the dead disturbed. We let Grandpa take his secret to the grave before we started digging.


Maria Elena Gigante (she/her) is a queer, nonbinary writer who teaches at Western Michigan University. Previously published in the field of rhetoric, she now writes micro memoirs and flash essays. “Conquistadors” is her first creative publication.


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

“Conquistadors” began as separate pieces, in different genres. I was trying to process my grandfather’s death, and his insistence on hiding his real ancestry, around the same time that I happened on a popular science article about the discovery of Andean burial sites. Then, I was inspired by a talk at AWP by Kimiko Hahn on the Zuihitsu, a genre of Japanese literature that creates connections among fragments of ideas, and “Conquistadors” coalesced from these previously disparate pieces.

CNF: The Gift of the Acadians

by Paul Hostovsky


He was the only Deaf person in his family. And he mostly kept to himself. Because no one in his family bothered to learn how to sign. He didn’t learn it himself until they sent him away to the school for the Deaf. Where he lived during the week. And he only came home on the weekends. For years and years. And home began to feel less and less like home. Because the language of home wasn’t his language. Because sign language was his language. So home was the school for the Deaf where everyone signed. And that’s where he met his future Deaf wife. And she took his last name, a French name that went all the way back to the French Acadians, who fled Nova Scotia during Le Grand Derangement in the 1700s and settled in the American colonies. And the French Acadians kept to themselves mostly. Because the American colonists didn’t speak French. So there was a lot of inbreeding–cousins marrying cousins–which was probably how a recessive genetic quirk got passed all the way down to the little Deaf boy. Who thought he was the only one. But he wasn’t the only one. Because his wife was Deaf and pretty soon they had their first child, and that child was born Deaf. And he and his Deaf wife didn’t know what to think. They laughed and rejoiced. And two years later the twins were born Deaf. And they laughed and rejoiced again. And again. And home was sign language. And he and his wife and his children were home. And he was never so happy in his life. A life in which he had thought he was the only one. But he wasn’t the only one. Because the others were all on their way. And they’d been on their way all this time. They were a long time coming. But here they all were now. And he supported his Deaf family by working for the post office as a letter carrier. He delivered letters for over forty years. By the time he retired he was a grandfather. And his three grandchildren were Deaf. And their flying little hands and their beautiful animated little faces were a gift. And this was the gift of the Acadians. This quirky, genetic gift. And it was a precious gift in spite of what the doctors and the audiologists said. It was a hidden gift that took a long time to be found. But a short time to unwrap. The gift of a large Deaf family–Deaf children, Deaf grandchildren, Deaf sons- and daughters-in-law. All signing up a storm. All gathered around the old Deaf grandfather. Who was never so happy in his life.


Paul Hostovsky’s latest book of poems is Mostly (FutureCycle Press, 2021). He has won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, and has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter. Website: paulhostovsky.com


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

I make my living as an ASL interpreter. So I hang out a lot with Deaf people. A Deaf guy once told me a version of this story when we were sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, waiting for his name to be called. He has a distinctly French-sounding name, and I originally used his name as the title for the piece, when I wrote it a few weeks later. I actually know his family, and his kids went to school with my daughter, who is also Deaf. But then I thought he might not appreciate my using his name without his permission. Especially if the piece gets published. So I changed the name to a different French-sounding name. Then I decided to get rid of the name altogether and not name any names, because it could be (and it is) the story of more than a few Deaf (and DeafBlind) people whom I have known over the years. By the way, it was the French who founded the first school for the Deaf in the world. And ASL is a linguistic offshoot of French Sign Language.

Superman Flying Over A Nude Beach

by Pedro Ponce


There was a new joke at school. One boy would approach another, his hand raised level with his chin. “What’s this?” he would ask, palm down, skimming the hand flat through the air. If I squinted hard enough, I could see the middle finger curled down and folded against the meat of the palm.

The other boy would merely watch in response, knowing the question was rhetorical. After a moment of following the hand’s trajectory, the first boy would deliver his shrill punchline: “SUPERMAN FLYING OVER A NUDE BEACH.”

I laughed as hard as I could along with the others.

I practiced the gesture repeatedly on my own—while doing homework, folding laundry, setting the table for dinner. No matter how many times I tried to imitate what I saw at recess and lunch each day, the cryptic gesture refused to yield its secret.

“What are you doing?” my mother asked, as she watched my hands, unlinked by prayer, float above the dining room table. The days were getting shorter, making everything inside show more brightly against the fading sky.

Saying nothing would only betray something. I formed a fist and coughed into it.

My mother shook her head and asked for the salt. I watched my father nudge the salt and pepper toward the center of the table. I grabbed them in my right hand. Both shakers fit easily under my palm.

“I said I wanted the salt.” My mother spoke down to her plate. I clenched both shakers over the tablecloth, waiting.

My father set down his fork and knife. He reached for his water glass and took a long drink. He seemed to study the bright red flowers stitched into the tablecloth as he set the glass down. I felt the strain in my fingers spread through my wrist and down toward my elbow.

“Let her have both,” my father said. “I’m never really sure what she wants.”

The tip of my middle finger emerged from between the drab plastic shakers. I moved to set them down. As words erupted to either side of me, I watched the protruding tip of my finger hover and descend toward the shadow of wings skimming the corner of a place mat.


Pedro Ponce’s flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including hex, Moon City Review, and Wigleaf, as well as in the anthologies New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and The Best Small Fictions 2019. His latest collection is The Devil and the Dairy Princess: Stories, published by Indiana University Press.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Superman Flying Over A Nude Beach”?

I often start with images—in this case, an actual hand gesture I recall making the rounds of my elementary school many (many) years ago. Games are never just for fun. There are those who get them, and those who don’t. Those who don’t are usually more interesting to me than those who do, and those who don’t but pretend they do are the most interesting of all. Of course, there are lots of other things this narrator doesn’t get, and I was trying to capture this feeling, his growing awareness of all he doesn’t know, even about those closest to him.

Writing My Dissertation at Brookhaven National Laboratory

by Kenton K. Yee


I chose theoretical physics for its sunrise qualities: bright lights, rustling leaves, praying mantises. Accuracy, precision were sacred. Deer and ticks. Comets and planetesimals. Every true equation rhymes with the rustle of leaves. We had assignments, of course: to explore as many what-if possibilities as we could think up. By the second cup of coffee, ideas came faster than kettle steam. Waiting for the whistling, I saw the blur of tossed die and knew, yes, I want to spin and spin. I want centrifugal force to rip off my frown and fling my flesh into the spiraling arms of acceptance.


Kenton K. Yee writes from northern California. His recent poetry appears (or will soon appear) in Rattle, The Threepenny Review, Constellations, Plume Poetry, Analog, The New Verse News, The Indianapolis Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Hollins Critic, Ligeia Magazine, and Pembroke Magazine, among others. Chapters of the dissertation I wrote at Brookhaven National Laboratory while a UCLA doctoral candidate were published in Nuclear Physics B and Physical Review D.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Writing My Dissertation at Brookhaven National Laboratory”?

Although I’m not claiming it as nonfiction, this prose poem reflects what I remember about my dissertation writing experience. Writing the prose poem, I realized what I loved wasn’t thinking about mathematics but the feeling of how, when ideas came, they “came faster than kettle steam.” This is why I was so passionate about pursuing theoretical physics and is why I’m passionate today about pursuing creative arts.

Three Moments

by Eric Bosse


Our daughter comes through in a tutu, chopping off the heads of imaginary goblins with a plastic ax. Our son hops through on her trail, flimsy football helmet perched on his head. He declares himself the Prince of Superheroes: “Tom’s the name!” My wife braids her hair and scrolls her phone for news. My socks are thick. My toes are cold. Snowflakes zigzag past the windows. A moment in time. Gone. This happened years ago if it happened at all.

I show the girl a photo of a wombat. She is disappointed to discover that a wombat is not, in fact, a bat with woms. I ask her what a wom is. “I don’t know,” she says. “That’s what I was excited to find out.”

The boy in the car seat shouts, “Stinky toot!” The girl says, “Hush now.” I say that wasn’t a nice thing to say. The boy says, “Don’t worry, Papa, you just imagined it.” I glance at the rearview mirror and say, no, I heard it. “Oh, then don’t worry, Papa,” he says, “I just imagined it.”


Eric Bosse is the author of Magnificent Mistakes (Ravenna Press 2011) and his stories have appeared in The Sun, The Collagist, FRiGG, Hobart, Wigleaf, New World Writing, and Matter Press.


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

These pieces come from a chapbook I’m putting together, gathering more of these moments from this time. Lately, I’m dwelling on the looming transition from parent-of-children to parent-of-adults; and sometimes it feels like the very best part of my life is about to end. I’ve collected moments like these over the years, written them down as transcriptions of life. When I recently returned to these, each moment felt entirely whole and alive to me, years after they happened. They are minor moments, yet they feel durable enough to last for an eternity. I’ve grown obsessed with the brevity of our time on earth and the knowledge that the planet is four and a half billion years old. If I’m lucky, I’ll get seventy-five or eighty or ninety years–barely a breath in the life of this rock, which, itself, is a speck in a vast, expanding universe. I am overwhelmed, nearly every second. These are the ripples I’ve made.

George Washington’s Bandaid

by Stefanie Freele


We had to dig a trench. For the tortoise’s fence as she needs winter quarters to semi-hibernate. It might have been Betsy Ross’s hair band we found in the dirt first, the very same band she used to hold back distracting tendrils as she sewed with concentration on the American Flag. Or the sharp piece of glass shattered from Ben Franklin’s light bulb. We located the sturdy feather used to write the Declaration of Independence, and a pen tip from 1907, proudly made by Joseph T. Pen, whose wife invented the Pencil. Her name was Maryanna. Every treasure must have a story. Two soil-encrusted beads: jewels lost for centuries from the queen’s crown when she came to visit the garden and tripped on a root. A sticker, most likely dropped by Abraham Lincoln on his way to return that penny. A small rock with white: a drop of paint from a hurried Picasso, or from that troubled bloody guy who cut off his ear? The Mariana Trench we called it, George Washington’s trench. Dig! Someone—a huge fan of David Attenborough—pointed out that the Mariana Trench isn’t necessarily the deepest on the planet because we haven’t discovered everything about earth yet. Go discover, we shouted, Go! as we dug farther, further, deeper, uncovering King George’s favorite green crayon, tile from a nearby undiscovered Egyptian tomb containing King Tut’s coffee cup collection, a reddish clay piece of the world’s original wheel. There was shouting and ah-has and look! The reptilian eyes of the tortoise watched as we unearthed history and when asked if she’s happy, none of us knew how to respond. How do you tell? She’s a tortoise, we shrugged. We don’t speak tortoise.


Stefanie Freele is a previous contributor to The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. Her short fiction can be found in Flash Fiction Online, Glimmer Train, and Witness. Stefanie is the author of two short story collections: Feeding Strays (Lost Horse Press) and Surrounded By Water (Press 53).


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

Sulcata tortoises show affection by bumping into you. Should you be bumped by a tortoise, I would think it ranks as a special moment. Staring into a tortoise’s eye is much the same as gazing into the night sky. How do you make sense of something so expansive?

Far from Rockabye

by Jennifer Markell


At the mall she felt clean & she needed clean since he’d used up her shampoo & her hair was greasy under her winter hat. She walked the aisles as if they were freshly paved streets, enjoying the smoothness underfoot. Music overhead asked nothing of her. At Hearth and Home, she let her hand linger inside a cushioned oven mitt. Her fingers surfed the tide of bath mats, stroked the raveled fringe of a pashmina blanket. She watched young couples register for kettles & candlesticks. High school girls maneuvered the racks at Crush, man-handling the pre-faded jeans with rips in them like un-sutured wounds. The air smelled of somebody’s mother. She couldn’t go back to him. Always the danger of delicate lingerie. Nightgowns made her cry.


Jennifer Markell’s first poetry collection, Samsara, (Turning Point, 2014) was named a “Must Read” book of poetry by the Massachusetts Book Awards in 2015. Her second book, Singing at High Altitude, was published in November 2021 by the Main Street Rag. Jennifer’s work has been included in The Bitter Oleander, The Cimarron Review, Consequence, RHINO, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and the Women’s Review of Books, among others. Before joining the board, she received the Barbara Bradley and Firman Houghton Awards from the New England Poetry Club. For the past twenty-four years, Jennifer has worked in community mental health and as a therapist. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three well-versed cats.


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

Years ago I worked at a homeless shelter for women. I served meals, handed out tiny bars of soap and towels for the showers, talked with the guests. I became aware of how vulnerable the women were, how vulnerable we all were, living in a country with a frayed safety net. Recently I saw a woman walking at the mall whose demeanor made me think she must be homeless. I wondered about her story and wanted to explore it and get closer to her through writing. Who was she, what had brought her to this point in her life, and what was she looking for at the mall? As I began to write, the pathos of her story took shape in my mind through the material objects she was drawn to.

At the Altar of Her

by Andrey Uzarski


He loved her from the moment he laid eyes on her: Hania, his little girl.

She laughed a symphony— this girl. She told stories that rivaled all fantasy. She had his skin and eyes and every Earthly part, so no one could mistake that they were blood.

She had his heart, sealed in a jar beneath her bed.

In the nights when she would wake, crying great storm clouds, he rushed to her side and wrapped her tight in his arms.

“You’re safe here,” he said. “Sweet girl, this is home.”

This was home, just the two of them.

He cooked her dinner by the light of the lamp, the sky outside a blue-black shroud, the smell of fresh liver and browning onions trapped inside their flimsy walls.

“So hungry!” she cried, draping herself across the table.

“You’re too young to be such a queen.”

She giggled at this, a subdued strings section. “But you’re a queen!”

“I’m a grown-up.”

He thought this was the truth; sometimes he wasn’t sure.

Sometimes his guts were too big for his body.

Sometimes he couldn’t remember which of them had birthed the other.

He spooned the meal onto her plate—pink, with hand-painted flowers—and served it with a flourish, a napkin over his arm, bending carefully to avoid his stitches.
“For the lady,” he said as he placed it before her.

She dove in with her hands and no hesitation, tearing the tissue apart to her liking, sharp teeth gnashing, throwing scraps across the room.

His mother would call her a beast of a girl. He smiled as he watched her instead. “It’s good?”

She nodded.

“That’s my darling.”

He wiped the grease from her mouth when she finished, revealing her glowing, grinning face— his face, his dimples. Her happiness set the room afire.

And come tomorrow when it grew back, he knew he could cut himself open again.


Andrey Uzarski is a transgender writer and student of English currently studying abroad in Germany. His fiction has appeared in The Crucible, the undergraduate magazine of Earlham College, where he also works as a co-editor. He will graduate this May. You can find more from him at andreyooze.wordpress.com.


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

I wrote this in the final stretch of recovery after major surgery, having just received permission to resume normal activity. Every time I stretched, or moved my arms, or lay down in the wrong way, I still felt the seams where I’d been opened and then sewn back shut. Every time I took off my shirt, I gawked at the novelty of my own appearance. The body is a common focus in my writing— through transition, through pregnancy, through change and loss of all kinds— but it’s not so often that I get to work in the midst of my own nonfigurative body horror.

Home Improvement

by Stephen Tuttle


The time had come to replace our windows, so we called a window company, and they sent a salesperson who confirmed that our windows were old and shabby. You need new windows, she said. We know, we said, that’s why we called you. Have you considered mirrors? she said. Our mirrors are fine, we said. But not your windows, she said. No, we said, our windows are shabby. You just said so yourself. So, let’s get you some mirrors, she said. No, we said, just windows. Right, she said. Later that day, all our windows had been replaced by mirrors. This made us angry at first because they weren’t even two-way mirrors, the sort that let some light in. To the salesperson, we said, What good are mirrors that don’t let light in? But she didn’t hear us. She was admiring herself in a mirror that was leaning against the house where a window used to be. This one is very nice, she said. We agreed that that one was very nice. We asked when it would be installed, and she told us that it was installed. No, we said, installed-installed and not just leaning against the house like that. Look at this frame, she said. The frame was gold and beautiful but maybe a little ornate for our tastes. The mirror itself was so large that it was never going to fit. We were about to say so when the salesperson invited us to stand where she was standing and look at the mirror from there. So we each took a turn in front of the mirror, feeling flattered by what we saw there.


Stephen Tuttle’s fiction and prose poetry has appeared in The Nation, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. He teaches courses in fiction writing and American literature at Brigham Young University and is currently at work on a book-length collection of microfictions.


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

It emerges from a process I’ve been enjoying for the last couple of years. I’ll use a random word generator to create juxtapositions that spark ideas (this one might have been “mirror” and “house,” for example). I try out a lot of these, seeing what sticks and throwing out the rest (the majority). Sometimes, though, I land on something that feels genuinely surprising to me and “Home Improvement” is one of those.

The Princess and the Pearl

by Linda Kirk


The princess knew it was too late when the warning came from beyond this life. Two of the three little pigs had cried out to her: We took your pearl and ignored it – you ignored ours. She heard their voices while lying on a monument made from clear plastic mattresses. The prince stood smiling at her from the bottom of the translucent stack. Just how many are there? Ten? Twelve? You’re so sensitive, he said from below, holding a pearl – or was it a pea, bleached white from the sun. He poured the pearl from one hand to another, and from up on top, she couldn’t tell if he had palms or paws with pinsharp claws, sharp as a trap. I like how I can see through them, he said, nodding at the sheer assembly. The better to watch you with. Whichever it was, pea or pearl, when he slipped it below the very last mattress against the floor, her tower teetered and shifted, the shrill vibration rifling up her legs and belly. She thought then of her friends. The foolish pigs had built their foolish houses, and she her foolish bed, where she waited: a pearl, or a pea, a wolf, tongue, and teeth, and an ending in the morning.


Linda Kirk is special education teacher with a BA in writing living in Madison, Wisconsin with her family. Her publications of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction with Rose Red Review, Apeiron Review, and Running Press are the hopeful precursors to well-written but pleasantly addictive romance novellas, as of yet unpublished.


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

Sometimes smashing together the biblical wisdom of Jesus’ parables with the more recent wisdom of children’s fairy tales just works – like adding balsamic vinegar to stir-fry sauce. You taste, nod, and enjoy. The first version of “The Princess and the Pearl” began as a doodle in the ample margins of a church bulletin and never outgrew its roots.

How to Make an Origami Mouse

by Bethany Jarmul


  1. Visit the craft store. An employee who reminds you of man-who-broke-your-heart explains your paper options.

  3. Avert your eyes as he scans, bags your selection.

  5. Watch a how-to video. Eat a donut and watch the video again. Wipe the gooey chocolate from your fingertips onto a golden sheet of foil paper. Shake your head at yourself.


  6. Fold, fold, fold. Create an ugly rat with enormous ears.

  8. Sigh. Place the creature on the shelf with the half-knitted scarf, misshapen clay bowl, unfinished painting, crumpled-up letter.

  10. Question why you keep reminders that you’re terrible at everything, like he said. Never finish what you start, like he said. That you’ll never find love, like he said.

  12. Google “easy calligraphy.” Write a sticky note for tomorrow: “Buy calligraphy pens. Make eye contact.” Underline “make eye contact” three times.

  14. Eat another donut; allow its strawberry filling to drip down your fingers onto the floor.


Bethany Jarmul is a writer, editor, and poet. Her work has appeared in numerous literary magazines and been nominated for Best of the Net. She earned first place in Women On Writing’s Q2 2022 essay contest. Bethany enjoys chai lattes, nature walks, and memoirs. She lives near Pittsburgh with her family. Connect with her at bethanyjarmul.com or on Twitter: @BethanyJarmul.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “How to Make an Origami Mouse”?

This piece was something that I wrote based off of one of the daily photo prompts provided by SmokeLong Fitness. The photo was of several origami mice who appeared to be alive, climbing down a chair. The photo prompt sparked the title “How to Make an Origami Mouse” and the story followed from the title.
The first draft of the piece was about 350 words, but I wanted to submit it to a 100-word submission call, so I compressed the story. Eventually, I went back and added in a few words and sentences that I really loved from the first draft, and that’s how I ended up with this final draft, which tells the story in a few words but still includes some fun sensory details that really make it come to life.


by Suzanne Verrall


When Ian fell off his bicycle and knocked his head he lost the last ten and a bit years of his life. Which is to say all of it, given Ian was not quite eleven. A very nice couple called Mr and Mrs Whittaker took Ian home from the hospital and showed him his room and his clothes and his things and told Ian to call them mum and dad. Then, following the doctor’s instructions, they kissed Ian on the top of his head, being sure to avoid the lump, and left him to it.

Ian took his time looking over the model aeroplane kits and the books about insects and the schoolbag with its red pencil case and primary grade textbooks and an old banana peel at the bottom. He looked in the wardrobe at the jeans and shirts, the school uniform blazer, the shoes. He pulled out a hoodie and put it on over the t-shirt he had worn home from the hospital. It fit perfectly across his shoulders but the sleeves were too short and Ian could see his bony wrists with their fine golden hairs poking out beyond the cuffs. He pulled it off and dropped it on the floor and reached for another hoodie. There was a full length mirror on the back of the wardrobe door and Ian looked at himself as he tried it on. Then, one by one, he pulled every shirt off its hanger. The pile of clothes on the floor grew as Ian worked his way through the jackets and the jumpers, the trousers and the shorts. Not one piece of clothing fitted him right. Not even the pyjamas.

Exhausted and panicked, Ian lay back on the racing car bed with its matching robots sheet and pillowcase set. He fell into a deep and immediate sleep and dreamt of a house with a white front door that he knew he had painted himself, with the brass doorknocker he distinctly remembered buying from the hardware shop and screwing in place. Behind the door, in the house, Ian knew was his wife and children but he couldn’t seem to make it up the garden path. All he could do was watch as a boy about sixteen years old with neatly combed hair and a bunch of flowers lifted the doorknocker and rapped it sharply three times. “Don’t answer the door,” Ian cried in his sleep. “He’s too old for you.”


Suzanne Verrall lives in Australia. She is the author of the poetry collection One Day I Will Go There (Vagabond Press, 2022). Her poetry, flash fiction and essays appear in various publications including Australian Poetry Journal, Southampton Review and The Interpreter’s House. For links to her work go to www.suzanneverrall.com.


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

I once knew a woman who, following a bicycle accident, believed her life had been reset, that somehow she had been given a second chance. What an opportunity to be taken advantage of, I thought. But, like all accidents, not without a measure of risk.

How to Run

by Emily Hockaday


When I say I want to go to the Moon, I mean I can see it there. It is tangible. Why won’t you let me reach out and touch you? When you say Your daughter, you mean, why aren’t you better at this? When I say Put your hand on my back, I am having an existential moment, I am looking at the Moon knowing I will never be there looking at the Earth and it seems very unfair, and then, looking at the baby monitor, while you do (finally!) put your hand on my back, I start to wonder: are you right? Do I deserve to hear your daughter in that tone of voice, just because I left the baby gate open, this once, and you caught her splashing her hand in the toilet? If we were on the Moon, there wouldn’t be any toilet water to splash in. When I say I’m doing my best, I hope it’s true. I hope you believe me. I really hope that I am.


Emily Hockaday’s first full-length collection Naming the Ghost was out with Cornerstone Press September 2022. Her second collection is forthcoming October 2023 from Harbor Editions. Emily is the author of five chapbooks and coeditor of the horror collection Terror at the Crossroads. Her work has been featured in print and online, and she can be found on the web at www.emilyhockaday.com and on Twitter @E_Hockaday.


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

Like the speaker of the poem, I also spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the Moon. All of space, really. (I work in science fiction.) It’s wild that we live on this one planet, when there’s an infinite Universe all around us! I wrote this poem after leaving one of the baby gates open in a rush (although I don’t believe there was any toilet-splashing). You’d be surprised how hard it is to use the bathroom and remember to close a gate while parenting with an early toddler who needs constant supervision. I don’t know if peeing with the door open is fascinating per say, but all of parenting feels superhuman in the midst of it.

CNF: A Lesson on Tattoo Removal

by Adrianna Sanchez-Lopez


When I was a teenager, my mother took a knife to the small cross tattooed on her left hand. She hated her tattoo. She hated how strangers would stare at her hand, sometimes asking if she belonged to a gang or served time. She hated how employers asked her to cover it with makeup. She never told me the story, yet I knew. I saw it in the way she dug her nails into the cross when she thought no one was looking. I felt it in the way her body caved when I asked about girlhood. I witnessed it when she sharpened a pocketknife and cut into her flesh, lemons sliced and ready to squeeze into a freshly opened wound. I remember my mother defying, showing me how to heal from the specters of permanence, from the fear of our past selves.


Adrianna Sanchez-Lopez (she/her) resides in Colorado. Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bright Flash Literary Review, Prose Online, Five Minutes, The Headlight Review, and elsewhere. Learn more about Adrianna at adriannasanchezlopez.com.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “A Lesson on Tattoo Removal”?

This piece came to life during a generative workshop offered by Chestnut Review. I had bodies on my mind, and, during a short moment of meditation, the image of my mother’s tattoo came to me. In its first draft, this was a 3,000-word essay that just fell flat. I spent the next few months whittling it down, discovering meaning in a moment I’ve been contemplating for nearly two decades.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now open. The reading period for standard submissions closes again December 15, 2022. Submit here.


03/20 • Claire Polders
03/27 • Beth Cleary
04/03 • Gargi Mehra
04/10 • Tina Wang
04/17 • Juliana Rappaport
04/24 • TBD