CNF: AP English Assignment

by Kathleen McGookey


It’s totally effort-based, my daughter says. To get an A, all we have to do is write two pages on true wisdom and happiness. But the students must have to do more than write a description of a night like the August night years ago, at Gun Lake, when the wind slowly blew the clouds away from the moon and the boy I was beginning to love and I saw the water come alive with the golden bodies of hundreds of minnows flashing through the shallows. And though the humid air was filled with mosquitoes, not fireflies, and though the boy laid his palm on my stomach and I can’t remember what he whispered except that it made me laugh, nothing was decided and yet everything was, our future a box wrapped in moonlight, my parents still alive and watching television in the cottage behind us, blue light flickering at the edge of our vision. Dying was for other people, nothing to spend even a minute on then, under that moon, watching those minnows, the lake like another presence breathing with us there in the dark.


Kathleen McGookey’s most recent books are Instructions for My Imposter (Press 53) and Nineteen Letters (BatCat Press). She has also published We’ll See, a book of translations of French poet Georges Godeau’s prose poems. Her work has appeared recently in Columbia Poetry Review, December, Field, Glassworks, Miramar, Quiddity, The Southern Review, and Sweet.


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

One day my son came home from school, and as he told me about his day, he actually said the dialogue that opens the poem. The contrast between his tone of voice and what the assignment required really struck me. I wondered what the teacher was thinking, giving this ambitious writing prompt to a group of high school seniors. I just couldn’t get that line out of my head, so I wrote this poem. (And I eventually changed son to daughter in the poem because a reader thought it worked better—I’m not totally comfortable with the change but I have a daughter, too, so I can live with it.)


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 closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.


02/26 • D Angelo
03/04 • Steve Cushman
03/11 • Rita Taryan
03/18 • Jessica Purdy
03/25 • TBD