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Month: July 2019

Big-Headed Anna Watches Over

by Stephanie Dickinson

 

ARKANSAS

Big-Headed Anna Befriends the Girl Who Delivered Her Baby in Secret (and walked away)

Bathhouse Row. Hot Springs. 1922

1913 and the mob pressed toward the 14-year old Angéle who gave birth near the river. The infant was found alive on a pillow of dank leaves. Angéle worked eight years on the prison farm. Now she helps me launder sheets and towels at the bathhouse. If she leans against the wash tub with the loose right handle, I know she’s hurting remembering cramp-like rags stuffed into her intestines to choke her stomach. Rush, Arkansas, she claims she’s from. The fire burns blue under the copper vat. I run sheets through the mangle wringer. It’s happening again, isn’t it, Big Head? Water crying down my legs. I can’t keep this. I tie the bleeding cord with string. I calm the girl. Tell her to hang some sheets to line and heat the flat irons. Every morning Angéle makes herself forget the boy who said he liked her mouth. A ripe blue plum that someone would be honored to take a bite from. They held hands in a hundred different ways, she wrote on his palms and arms with her fingers. I am talking to you through your skin. In the bald knob grasses he showed her how she could delight him without losing her innocence. Her lips kissing the male part of him, swimming him in circles, until he wept. For us to go away, he said, she must pleasure other men and earn the marriage money. Then he’ll bring her to Hot Springs and the palaces of marble where ladies wear silk dresses into the bathing pools and there are ostriches with yellow feathers that children ride like tiny ponies. He made her a pallet in the rank tall weeds. The stinking others took everything from her but left their seed. All that green winter with no snow or ice the leaves yellowed as they clutched their branches and Angéle lay under men who paid to rape her. Fog rolled through the hollows against the hickory’s sinews. Angéle tells me once more she’d like to look into the boy’s loam-colored eyes, to shiver, to either spit on him or forgive. We both stand in sunlight to wash the dirty collars.

 

Stephanie Dickinson lives in New York City. Her novels Half Girl and Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her feminist noir Love Highway. Other books include Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, (New Michigan Press), Flashlight Girls Run (New Meridian Arts), and Girl Behind the Door (RMP). Her work has been reprinted in Best American Nonrequired Reading, New Stories from the South, and 2016 New Stories from the Midwest. She is the editor of Rain Mountain Press. For the past few years she’s been focused on the Maximum Compound Unit at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey and (with the help of her amazing inmate friends) is writing a collection of essays. She identifies as a gunshot survivor.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Big-Headed Anna Watches Over”?

The inspiration for this book-length collection of flash fictions of which “Big-Headed Anna Watches Over” is one, was my great-aunt. Each flash fiction in the book is connected by the character of Big-Headed Anna, who I’ve imagined as an American drifter at the beginning of the 20th century, a young woman born with a large head who is an outcast. She wanders through the South, taking odd jobs like washing floors in New Orleans’ brothels, shucking oysters in Lafayette Square, selling bait in Galveston boathouses. I did not learn of my great-aunt’s existence until my mother in the last year of her life mentioned “Anna” who was born with a big head. My great-grandmother, very pregnant with Anna, had been kicked in the stomach by the cow she was milking. Everyone blamed the cow for the baby’s misshapen head. I found it odd that my very formal mother called the woman who was her aunt “Anna” as if she could not see the big-headed woman as “Aunt Anna.” No, she was only a grownup child who wore a big hat. From such humble beginning the imagination can be kindled.

Kindness

by Theresa Senato Edwards

 

Home from college for the first time
a grown son asks,

What should the world
           run on, if not money?

His mother answers,

a single mother who adds water
           to ketchup makes it last longer,
a stepfather who takes a punch
           to the jaw stops a teenager’s rage,

During his calm of deciphering,
a hill builds from sorrow.

a field of Ranunculus
           without flood or drought.

 

Theresa Senato Edwards has published two full-length poetry books, one, with painter Lori Schreiner, which won The Tacenda Literary Award for Best Book, and two chapbooks. Her first chapbook, The Music of Hands, was recently published in a revised second print edition by Seven CirclePress. “Kindness” is from her newest manuscript titled “Fragments of Wing Bones”; and other poems from this manuscript can be found in Stirring, Gargoyle, The Nervous Breakdown, Thrush, Diode, Rogue Agent, Mom Egg Review, Menacing Hedge, Moria, and elsewhere. Edwards was nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, received creative writing residencies from Drop Forge & Tool (2015 and 2018) and Craigardan (2019), and is poetry editor of The American Poetry Journal (APJ). Her website: https://theresasenatoedwards.wixsite.com/tsenatoedwards.

 

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

“Kindness” began when my son and his friend were home from college a few years ago; and my son did, in fact, ask me the question in the poem, “What should the world run on if not money?” My answer was “kindness.” Afterwards, my initial thoughts and what I started to write about focused more on the comparison/contrast of currency and kindness. But the poem moved toward emotional place and conversation between a mother and son. After some constructive feedback and my own rethinking, I kept only the most important parts that I hoped would do more than show how to “pay” for things. I wanted to show selfless acts of kindness—how thinking about others and doing more for them first is what the world should be run on. How beautiful these acts are even amid and in the aftermath of sorrow. After this process, I thought of how compressed the poem had become but felt that it conveyed a lot in its short space; that’s when I decided to take a chance and submit it to Matter Press’ Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. Thanks for taking it! #BeKind #BeKindAlways #KindnessIsSelfless #KindnessIsBeautiful

Sunday Focus: The Silent Now

Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 

 

“When you connect to the silence within you, that is when you can make sense of the disturbance going on around you.” ― Stephen Richards. Against the blur, the foreground flower(s) silently assert themselves. I am here, they say. I am here.
 

“The true definition of mental illness is when the majority of your time is spent in the past or future, but rarely living in the realism of NOW.” ― Shannon L. Alder And they assert that, too, their ‘now-ness,’ their reality. This Sunday, Sunday asks you to focus on the silence of the now, capture it shot by shot, word by word, breath by silent breath.

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

Visual Poem Series: I Am in the Book (3 of 8)

by Nance Van Winckel

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on the image below to view it at full size.]

 

 

Nance Van Winckel’s fifth book of fiction is Ever Yrs., a novel in the form of a scrapbook (2014, Twisted Road Publications); her eighth book of poems is Our Foreigner (Beyond Baroque Press, 2017, winner of the Pacific Coast Poetry Series). A book of visual poetry entitled Book of No Ledge appeared in 2016 with Pleiades Press. The recipient of two NEA Poetry Fellowships and awards from the Poetry Society of America, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner, she has new poems in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Field, Poetry Northwest, and Gettysburg Review. She is on the MFA faculties of Vermont College of Fine Arts and E. Washington University’s Inland Northwest Center for Writers.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

What always surprises me when I (digitally) enhance my photographs of walls is the way the words themselves arrive. My conscious mind works on the images and the wall, tweaking and torquing. Then suddenly some words arrive and want to belong on the wall too.

CNF / Connected: My Estranged Half-Sister Keeps Viewing My Instagram Stories

by Jillian Pretzel
 

Last year, my dad called and we got into an argument. We’d always had a rocky relationship and, during this fight, hurtful things were said—from both sides. At one point, when Dad was being particularly rude, I hung up hoping he’d call back and apologize. He never did.

I was upset, but after a couple weeks, my anger faded. I was busy planning my wedding and had other things to worry about. While I still wanted an apology, what I needed was to know if he preferred chicken or fish.

That’s when I realized: not only had Dad not contacted me in weeks, I hadn’t heard from anyone else in the family. My half-sister stopped responding to the group bridesmaid text. My aunt stopped commenting on Facebook posts. My grandparents wouldn’t call back.

I was confused. Had the family sided with Dad after our fight? Had he pitted them against me? I didn’t know, because no one answered my calls, texts, or emails.

We had no contact whatsoever.

But my half sister watched my Instagram story every day.

Instagram lists which followers see a story. And one afternoon, I happened to look through my posts and saw Jessica’s name.

Curious, I posted another picture. She saw that one, too. Soon, every time I posted something, I’d check if she looked at it. She always did.

She’d been a no-show for the bachelorette weekend, but she viewed pictures from the party. She didn’t come to the wedding, but she saw every photo from that day. Was she checking these pictures and making fun of me? Was she curious because she really wanted to talk, but couldn’t?

Christmas came and went. And my birthday. I never heard from my family, including Jessica. She wasn’t talking to me. Just watching.

By now, I’d post something and immediately check the list. When Jessica was among the first to view, I’d feel proud. When she wasn’t, I wondered what took so long. Sometimes I’d post especially for her benefit: glamorous, filtered photos of me, where my smile was big and my hair shiny. I wanted her to know I was happy without her, without our family.

One day, she missed a post. Then a few. Soon, she stopped viewing them altogether.

This felt worse than when my family skipped my wedding, when they forgot my birthday and ignored me at Christmas. At least before, I felt like someone was interested in me, that there was still a connection. Now, I felt alone.

I wondered if there was something I should do to fix my relationship with Dad, with them. But I couldn’t be the one to apologize, not now.

One night, I decided to block Jessica on Instagram. I knew this constant checking, this obsession, was unhealthy. On her page, I hovered over the “block” button—but couldn’t click it.

That night, I looked through Jessica’s page, something I’d usually been too proud to do. I looked through photos of her, her friends, and our family, all of them smiling, until my phone battery went to 20 percent, then 10 percent, and finally, turned off.

 

Jillian Pretzel received her MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English at Chapman University. She teaches at California School of the Arts San Gabriel Valley and writes regularly for Mommyish, The List, and Realtor.com. She lives in Southern California with her husband.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Connected: My Estranged Half-Sister Keeps Viewing My Instagram Stories”?

After graduating from a rigorous but wonderful duel MFA/MA program, I told myself I had to give my mind a break. For months I caught up at work, finally attacked the giant pile of dirty laundry that had been growing continuously since the beginning of grad school, and went to the community pool for the very first time since I moved into my condo three years ago. Once I finally sat down to write again, I sunk back into my old writing habits like an anvil in the ocean, and it felt good. The only thing was that I missed my writing friends. I missed sharing stories. So, I signed up for a writing class at UCLA’s extension program, wrote this story for the first assignment, and read it to the class. The feedback I got on the first draft was valuable but the best part of the class session was listening to other students’ work. Sharing my story as they shared theirs, learning, together.

CNF: Dolls, Brown Like Us: A Chronology

by Jessica Kehinde Ngo

 


1989:

Brown dolls will do the trick, my white American mother must have said to herself as she searched for Christmas gifts for my three siblings and me, all under ten years old. That will help them connect with their father’s Nigerian roots.

She purchases four Cabbage Patch dolls, all with skin the color of dark chocolate, like our father’s. Two boy dolls for my older brothers: one with a flat-top and the other with dreadlocks. Two girl dolls for my twin sister and me: both with long wavy black hair. The dolls become our constant companions.

1990:

My brothers are too old and masculine to be seen with dolls. But my sister and I are given Nigerian Barbies from Mattel’s Dolls of the World Collection for Christmas. We scream with excitement but admire the dolls from a distance, leaving them in their perfect pink boxes for safekeeping. These dolls are much too precious to play with.

1993:

American Girl releases its first brown doll: Addy, an escaped slave. My sister and I read of her daily routine of cooking and cleaning and sewing and think how tiring. Her skin is brown like ours, but her world is so different. Though we can’t afford the actual doll, our intrigue leads us to spend our allowance on Addy’s cookbooks, storybooks, buttons, and paper-doll likenesses.

2002:

My sister and I move away for college. We read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and learn of character Pecola Breedlove’s obsession with blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls because they are pretty and she, with her brown skin and brown eyes, is ugly to the world and to herself. Wow, we think. Poor Pecola.

2015:

Mom sets up a shelf full of brown dolls from our childhood in the guest bedroom. Home for a visit one weekend, I tear up.
You saved all of these?
Of course. They’re for my future grandkids.

2016:

I’m at my parents’ house for my baby shower. I’m having a boy. I unwrap a gift from my mom’s friend: a handmade brown boy doll with replicas for my sister and mom to have at their houses when they babysit. My eyes water.

2017:

My son is one year old. Perusing the clearance rack at Hallmark, I happen upon a brown boy doll. I pick it up and take it to the cash register. It’s a representation of social media phenomenon Kid President. Back at our house, guests notice the doll is wearing a suit.
Is this Barack Obama? they ask.
Sure, I say. Close enough.

2018:

My two-year-old son and I are visiting my parents. My mom hands him one of the decades-old brown Cabbage Patch dolls off the guest room shelf. He smothers it in kisses. I look into my mother’s blue eyes. We share a smile.

 

Jessica Kehinde Ngo studied creative nonfiction in the University of Southern California’s Master of Professional Writing program. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Times, Entropy, Artillery, and Hippocampus. She teaches writing and literature at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Dolls, Brown Like Us: A Chronology”?

I wrote a first draft of the story a couple years ago when I was taking an online flash essay course. I took the class to encourage me to get back in the habit of writing regularly and to play around with the flash form. A couple weeks into the class, I went home for a weekend to visit my parents and came across a shelf full of brown dolls from my childhood (Barbies, Cabbage Patches, and the like) that my mom had saved. I laughed (she is quite the saver of all things from when my siblings and I were kids). Meanwhile, my two-year old son grabbed one of the dolls and began hugging and kissing it. A few days later, I was deep into drafting the story of my life as told through brown dolls.

Sunday Focus: Home

Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 

 

“I live in my own little world. But it’s ok, they know me here.” — Lauren Myracle Home. A person’s house or abode, the place where a person lives or was raised, native country, homeland. Does it call us with its siren song or warn us away like the sirens of an alarm?
 

“For the two of us, home isn’t a place. It is a person.” ― Stephanie Perkins Oh baby baby it’s a wild world. And there, in the midst of the wildness, sits home, waiting. What is this Sunday’s message? Home.

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

Mirrors

by Alex Durham

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on each image below to view it at full size.]

 

 

Alex Durham is a writer, editor, and visual artist from the east coast. She studied words and theatre at Ithaca College (’19) and has been published in States of Mind and ZoetIC magazines. More often than not, Alex can be found curating playlists on Spotify. Find her online at alexdurham.net.

 

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

Surprising stuff about the origins of this piece? Some of the images—the ones of the house and my friend—were taken months before I knew I would have to grieve. When I did the shoots, I was definitely preparing for something, but I had no idea when that something would arrive or what shape it would take.

The project took on a life of its own after I went home for my aunt’s funeral. I’ve never known how to grieve or be vulnerable in a way other than art, so those five stages—denial, anger, etc.—I processed on the page. Photo editing, formatting, writing, rewriting, rewriting. These were my stages. 
This piece is dedicated to Kimberlee.

Visual Poem Series: You Get So (2 of 8)

by Nance Van Winckel

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on the image below to view it at full size.]

 

 

Nance Van Winckel’s fifth book of fiction is Ever Yrs., a novel in the form of a scrapbook (2014, Twisted Road Publications); her eighth book of poems is Our Foreigner (Beyond Baroque Press, 2017, winner of the Pacific Coast Poetry Series). A book of visual poetry entitled Book of No Ledge appeared in 2016 with Pleiades Press. The recipient of two NEA Poetry Fellowships and awards from the Poetry Society of America, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner, she has new poems in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Field, Poetry Northwest, and Gettysburg Review. She is on the MFA faculties of Vermont College of Fine Arts and E. Washington University’s Inland Northwest Center for Writers.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

What always surprises me when I (digitally) enhance my photographs of walls is the way the words themselves arrive. My conscious mind works on the images and the wall, tweaking and torquing. Then suddenly some words arrive and want to belong on the wall too.

The Lump

by Christopher X. Ryan

 

I called Mom at work, said I had a lump in my breast. “Men don’t get lumps,” she said. “This isn’t funny.”

“I can’t touch it. Flames radiate through my chest.”

She drove home, dug her fingers into the flames. I pictured her own lump from years prior lying in a landfill somewhere, encased in plastic with her name on it. Mom Joyce.

“Stop,” I said. “Jesus.”

Mom called Dad, had the same conversation. “I feel it,” she told him—him sitting on his back deck ten miles away, a finch eating seeds from his hand, the flutter of wings audible through the phone.

My girlfriend Sara cried herself to sleep; I had no idea she felt this strongly about my pain. My feelings for her, though, were multifaceted. She had a jutty chin and when angry bounced her foot as if tuned in to some unheard rhythm. The lump seemed to be making me feel something for her at last, as if it were pressing against a tender section of my heart.

An appointment was arranged with the same guy who’d excised Mom’s lump. A week later Dad and I were on the first ferry. Two hours later we were in Boston. We killed two more hours in Faneuil Hall. I arrived at the doctor’s office sleepy and satiated and sat among a dozen middle-aged women. They stared into their hands and coughed softly but no one conversed. I flipped through Women’s Day, aware they that were tossing looks my way.

The doctor said I could have the flames removed but it wasn’t serious. It might even go away. Fifteen minutes later I was back in the lobby where the women were sniffling dryly and looking at my tan legs. I’d been swimming all summer.

Three hours later, as we pulled up to my mother’s house, we saw half a dozen people zigzagging back and forth between our garage and the neighbor’s. My brother approached, hugged me, asked about the lump. “I’ll live,” I said.

“Good. We need help.”

Our neighbor George had lopped off his thumb with his table saw. He’d then walked over to the garage where my brother was practicing guitar and asked for a ride to the hospital. So the radius for the thumb was fairly wide.

Sara explained this as she hugged me, glad that the lump wasn’t really a lump. Her gaze was hard; she kept glancing at the grass. I got some lemonade and joined the search. On it went, past dark, fireflies twisted around our flashlight beams.

Then George himself came home, all sewn up, rendering the point moot. “There’s no thumb here,” he says, swishing his bare foot through the grass. The machine had pulverized the chunk of flesh and melded it with the sawdust. We’d wasted half the day looking for something that wasn’t there. I could have gone swimming. I could have gone somewhere.

 

Christopher X. Ryan lives in Helsinki, Finland, where he works as a writer, editor, and ghostwriter. Born on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, he has an MFA from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School in Boulder, Colorado. His work has been published in a wide variety of journals and magazines and he is represented by the Trentin Agency for his novel BOGORE. Chris can be found at TheWordPunk.com.

 

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

The story is based on my own experience with a lump in my breast as a teenager, but for the longest time I couldn’t find the right tone and language to express the incident. Only after many years had passed was I able to look back on that summer with a more objective, aesthetic perspective and pull the story together. (For what it’s worth, the lump simply faded away.)

A Folding Chair

by Peter Cherches

 

I own a folding chair. In case a guest should arrive unexpectedly. If a guest calls in advance, gives me ample notice, let’s say three or four weeks, then there’s the choice of the easy chair, the Morris chair, the La-Z-Boy recliner, the director’s chair, the bean bag chair, the white wicker chair, the high chair or the lawn chair. But should a guest arrive unexpectedly, there is the folding chair, which creaks when you unfold it, creaks when you sit in it, creaks with every little movement, with each breath you take, and which reminds you with each and every creak—be courteous, call first.

 

Called “one of the innovators of the short short story” by Publishers Weekly, Peter Cherches has published in scores of journals, anthologies and websites over the past four decades. His recent books include Lift Your Right Arm, Autobiography Without Words, and a historical study, Star Course: Nineteenth-Century Lecture Tours and the Consolidation of Modern Celebrity. His next collection, Whistler’s Mother’s Son, will be published by Pelekinesis in 2020.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

“A Folding Chair” is part of a series about objects, real and imaginary. Others include “A Prosthetic Mole,” “A Letter Opener” and “A Messiah with Handles.”

Sunday Focus: The Meditative

Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 


 

As a kid, Sunday mornings meant the color comic strips in the Patriot News, Casey Kasem’s countdown on WKBO, Sunday school at The Unitarian Church in Harrisburg, Pee-Wee football games with the West Shore Vikings—and then, later, Charles Kuralt. Now, it’s the stillness of Sunday that I seek out, the meditative, the om.

 

“We live in an old chaos of the sun,” writes Wallace Stevens in “Sunday Morning.” “Or old dependency of day and night, / Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, / Of that wide water, inescapable.” We live surrounded by the natural world, isolated. Perhaps in the moments like the one captured above, we feel the knitting that connects us to Nature. In writing fiction, it is often through action that characters reach their hard-earned epiphanies. Can one, in the very short story, find that insight through stillness? Think about something that only occurs on a Sunday. Think of stillness. Think of the moment as something to be read. What does it say? That’s what this Sunday asks of you.

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

Visual Poem Series: Standard Aerosol (1 of 8)

by Nance Van Winckel

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on the image below to view it at full size.]

 

 

Nance Van Winckel’s fifth book of fiction is Ever Yrs., a novel in the form of a scrapbook (2014, Twisted Road Publications); her eighth book of poems is Our Foreigner (Beyond Baroque Press, 2017, winner of the Pacific Coast Poetry Series). A book of visual poetry entitled Book of No Ledge appeared in 2016 with Pleiades Press. The recipient of two NEA Poetry Fellowships and awards from the Poetry Society of America, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner, she has new poems in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Field, Poetry Northwest, and Gettysburg Review. She is on the MFA faculties of Vermont College of Fine Arts and E. Washington University’s Inland Northwest Center for Writers.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

What always surprises me when I (digitally) enhance my photographs of walls is the way the words themselves arrive. My conscious mind works on the images and the wall, tweaking and torquing. Then suddenly some words arrive and want to belong on the wall too.

CNF: Their Marriage

by Andrew Stevens

 

Months before my mother’s mental breakdown, she found my father’s suicidal scribblings tucked away in the garage. She was delving through documents, digging up dirt before their divorce. Always too absent-minded to hide anything properly, this wasn’t the first time my father had left the closet door open with a spotlight shining toward the skeletons inside.

When I was thirteen, I found out about his third DUI when he left his lawyer’s information in the backseat of his car. He’d been cockeyed on cabernet when he carelessly crashed into a cop car. Technically, it was only his second offense. He wasn’t charged the first time — the police said his pain was punishment enough, his bones pulverized in ways that would never perfectly heal. It was 1981 — a different time; he’d be imprisoned, if it happened now.

He’d been training to be an Olympic cyclist; instead, he needed a hip replacement before he turned 50. He never rode a bike again. His hip surgery was performed by my former uncle — former, as my father’s sisters are about as successful at maintaining marriages as he is. My mother’s side has the opposite problem — they dig their digits deeper into their dead marriages, even decades after their undeniable demise.

Before my parents met, my mother’s parents separated for a short time — my grandmother left for New York. As she crossed the street en route to a Jewish singles meetup, she was struck by a car, instantly shattering any semblance of normalcy her life would ever have again. Brain-damaged, a shell of her former independent self, she returned to live with her estranged husband until the day she died. Each of their children internalized the same superstitious sentiment: “Never leave your spouse, or something bad will happen.”

My parents were only married a year when they got into their first big fight. Storming out, my father didn’t return home that night, leaving my mother panicked and perturbed. When a phone call from a jail cell confirmed he’d let the liquor take the wheel, my mother internalized a new strategy: “Never fight with him. Don’t make him angry.” That thought would worm its way into their marriage like a passive but penetrative parasite, slowly sustaining itself on the spirit of their withering affection and their cooperative, comfort-based cowardice.

I was born a year later. Having children sometimes allows you to put problems on hold. But beneath the surface, the leering leeches linger, lying in wait to escape in reenergized resentment when the nest empties.

My father idly threatened suicide several times during my parents’ year of so-called separation. Though the dissolution of their union was looming, they continued to live together in the house I grew up in. She made him breakfast every day, despite the disapproval of her friends and family.

I’ve held back from telling my father exactly how I feel, fearful of my honesty being the proverbial straw that breaks his back and ties his noose. Logically, I know his death wouldn’t be my fault, but logic doesn’t always get a say.

On a November night, I sat at home, stoned and dissociative, when an unknown number called. One of the neighbors had found my mother sitting on the porch in her robe, refusing to speak. She hadn’t been eating, drinking, sleeping. Her veins protruded, bright and blue, under her pale, malnourished skin.

Weeks later, with her attorney’s assistance, the divorce was finalized while my mother hid under blankets in the mental hospital, staring silently at the wall from her bed.

 

Andrew Stevens is a Seattle-based writer who specializes in self-deprecating flash nonfiction and marketing pieces about insurance. His work can be found nowhere else, due in large part to long-standing depression, insecurity, and laziness.

 

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

There’s no chance I would have written this piece if it weren’t for the Assembly Literary Open Mic in Seattle – it’s an independently run open mic (and the only one I know of with the concrete, excellent rules of no stand-up, no slam poetry, and no snapping). I started attending last year and it provided me with a reason to start writing creatively again, something I hadn’t done in a long time. I decided to write about the most personal, potentially uncomfortable parts of my life, so I’d be forced to read those pieces out loud in front of an audience, because I find that to be cathartic, and because my life and family are a seemingly endless source of material.

Silhouette

by Matthew Barrett
 

When I’m home, I put my suitcase down and Marilyn asks me how the conference went and I tell her it was fine. She wants details, though, so I mention the happy hour on Tuesday, how John Matthews, my boss, got so drunk he climbed on our table and stuck his finger in an empty light socket to see if he’d get electrocuted. He didn’t, I tell her, and she says, My gosh and opens the bathroom door and steps out in her robe and kisses me twice on the lips. You didn’t get into any trouble yourself? she asks, so I tell her about the presentation and how I’d forgotten the fourth slide, and she laughs and says, I guarantee they didn’t even notice.

It’s in the details—that’s how I survive. I give her the right amount, and she believes me since they’re true. It’s the secret to a happy marriage: to not pretend you’re a saint. To mention your shortcomings, your boss’s failures. When you’re honest, she accepts you more.

We get into bed and she kisses me again and I turn the TV on and we watch the next episode of Mad Men. She says, I almost watched it without you but I waited, and on TV, Don Draper’s in a doctor’s office getting his blood pressure checked, and I know what the doctor’s going to say before he says it, that Don drinks too much and smokes too much and probably isn’t in good health. It’s funny, because he looks healthier than anyone I know. But I guess he’s just hiding it well beneath the surface, like John Matthews when he’s not on top of a table.

I try giving her a few more details so I don’t feel like I’m keeping too much from her. But I know not to hint at anything larger, at least before we go to bed, when her dreams might show her what she hadn’t noticed earlier.

I was hit on, I say and she takes my hand.

Again?

I had to flash her my ring.

What’d she do?

She backed off. Eventually.

Eventually?

After I told her a second time.

Well, that’s good.

Yeah, I tell her and she waits for me to say more, even rolls toward me and searches my eyes. I look back into hers. I don’t hide, I present myself in the open. She turns off the lights, and then the TV, and I can tell she’s looking at me even though I don’t see her, and when my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see she is and I wonder if I said too much.

I pretend, too, she tells me. Like you do.

There are things I want to ask but I don’t know the right balance, if I should focus more on her or on me. What do you mean by pretend? I ask and she smiles. Her teeth catch the window light, from either a street lamp or the moon. She holds it in her mouth and when her lips finally shut, she swallows the light whole.

We’re both into make-believe, she says, and as I reach for her arm, my hand turns hot, too hot for me to touch her, and she rolls to the other side, a hazy silhouette I have not seen before.

 

Matthew Barrett’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in River Teeth, SmokeLong Quarterly, the minnesota review, Great Jones Street Press, The Maine Review, Wigleaf, Best New Writing 2018, and elsewhere. He lives in Sacramento, CA with his wife, dog, and son-to-be, and holds an MFA in Fiction from UNC-Greensboro.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

The day before I wrote “Silhouette,” my wife was binge-watching Mad Men in the other room, and when I went to make my lunch, I saw Don Draper in a doctor’s office, getting scolded for drinking and smoking too much. It was hard to imagine that Jon Hamm wasn’t in great shape, and I thought, what is his body hiding? The next day, after spending hours writing stories that were going nowhere, I switched gears, thought about what sort of scene Don Draper’s presence might parallel or illuminate, and just began to write. It was one of the fastest stories I’ve written, over the course of a couple hours, which has made me think that scrutinizing over every detail has unnecessarily complicated some of my other stories, and that it might be better to write without worrying so much about each word. Of course, worrying about the words came later, but it was nice to get everything on paper before fussing over the details.

Sunday Focus: Bokeh

Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 

 

bo·keh
/bōˈkā/
noun
the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens.

Harsh transforms to soft; bright to diffused. Bokeh, acccording to the good people at Nikon, comes from the Japanese word boke (ボケ), which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji, the “blur quality.” Bokeh is pronounced BOH-Kə or BOH-kay.

 

“Always two there are,” Yoda tells us, “no more, no less.” Two sides: focus & blur. Apollonian and Dionysian. This Sunday, turn up the volume on one side to “11.” And may the bokeh be with you.

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

Do the Conga Series

by Uday Dhar

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on each image below to view it at full size.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist Statement

These works relate to my experience as a gay man coming to terms with my sexual identity in the hedonistic times just after Stonewall. New York City was a vibrant, yet gritty town, and sex and drugs and music were the normal phenom.

The drawings are about memory as Compression. Time, Space, Music, Experiences all collapse into a dream that I wanted to translate into a visual language that is depicted by jostling forms and overlapping colors all tied into a compressed mass.

The drawing are my evocation of that time as a memory capsule. They are a connection to a time that is lost in the present day – an era defined by fragmentation and vitriol. These works celebrate pure joy and pleasure. They evoke the hot muggy summer days from July and August when everything in New York goes a bit nuts.

The drawings were sketched at various time periods (dates marked). They are a diaristic exercise. Only recently in the past 6 months has color and form been added.

The works are abstract because without specifying location or even a moment, they are about a time, place, and celebration. A transcendence.

 

Uday K. Dhar is an artist of South Asian descent who has lived in the United States simce 1971. He is an out and proud gay man who got married last year to his partner of 27 years. His partner grew up in the the former GDR, and they met in Berlin just after the wall came down. These experiences are the basis of Uday’s art practice. They refer to the possibilities that open up as it reflects on the nature of desire and curiosity about the Other.

CNF: When a Jack Fails

by Shirley Harshenin

[Editor’s Note: Click on the story below to view it at full size.]

 

 

Shirley Harshenin writes from her home in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. She believes in angels, caffeine, and the human spirit’s extraordinary resilience. Her work has been published in Canadian Writer’s Journal, Room Magazine, Contrary Magazine, was longlisted in Room Magazine’s 2018 Short Forms Contest.

 

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

While taking Nicole Breit’s “Spark Your Visual Story” course last fall, I was immediately drawn to the quilt essay for its striking visual appeal as well as the endless variety of sizes and shapes and arrangements of “squares”. Each block offering a tidy container for a story fragmented by trauma and time. I scribbled my notes on a piece of paper and scrolled through dozens of patterns until one popped out. It was perfect, allowing me to divide the content into three sections—core event, impact of core event, central theme. I scrunched content to bare bones, then printed and cut the text into fragments equal to the number of blocks I had to work with. Like a puzzle, I tried each piece in different positions until everything fit. A thrilling and satisfying endeavor.

Visual Poetry Series: Empty Cage

by Danielle Hark

 

Author’s Note

Creating the images for this series has been a journey, emotionally and artistically. Over the last year and a half, I recovered memories of trauma from my childhood. Poetry and art have been a part of my therapy, and have helped me start to process. The mediums and pieces have evolved. Currently, I am creating assemblage altered art, and photo-based mixed media, using unconventional techniques like breaking and burning. Using my typewriter, I try to tap into my child self for the accompanying text. It is a very different process than my other poetry. With these pieces, I let my unconscious be the guide.

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on each image below to view it at full size.]

 


Danielle Hark is a writer and artist who lives with PTSD and bipolar disorder. She is the founder of the non-profit Broken Light Collective that empowers people with mental health challenges using photography. Danielle lives and creates in New Jersey with her husband, two sassy young daughters, a Samoyed pup, a Scottish Fold cat, and a typewriter named Cori Blue. www.daniellehark.com @daniellehark.

 

News

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.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now OPEN. The reading period for standard submissions closes June 15, 2021. Topical Thursdays’ submissions are open year-round. Submit here.

Upcoming

10/22 • Ciarán Parkes
10/24 • Jeff Ronan
10/25 • Jamie Etheridge
10/28 • Sheldon Siporin
10/30 • John Van Dreal
11/01 • Lucinda Kempe
11/02 • Carol Taylor
11/04 • Elizabeth Spragins
11/08 • Michelle Ross
11/09 • Myron Kukla
11/11 • Nanar Khamo
11/15 • TBD
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11/22 • TBD
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11/29 • TBD
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