M

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.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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.)

News

Congrats to Christopher Allen for having a work from HOUSEHOLD TOXINS being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

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

New titles available from Robert McBrearty and Tori Bond.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions is now OPEN. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period closes December 15, 2019; submit here.

Upcoming

12/09 • Foster Trecost
12/11 • Margaret Madole
12/16 • Janiru Liyanage
12/23 • Tanner Barnes
12/25 • Tara Campbell
12/30 • Caroline Firme
01/06 • Meg Eden
01/13 • Daniel Galef
01/20 • Francine Witte
01/27 • Abigail Manzella
02/03 • Julia Lynn Offen
02/10 • Jennifer Delisle
02/17 • Madison Frazier
02/24 • Kenneth Pobo
03/02 • TBD
03/09 • TBD
03/16 • TBD
03/23 • TBD
03/30 • TBD