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Month: February 2022

Hot & Heavy

by Alina Pleskova

 

I haven’t learned how to ride commotion, only to enter it like a current. Or invite it in. For many years, almost every weekend, I loved elbowing my way to the front of some VFW hall or church basement or dingy venue & getting sucked into a whorl of limbs.

You could call it brute, with a flimsy tether of trust. It could be said that I got what I expected.

*

In Portugal, I kept getting breathless. As in, my breathing was very off. When I coughed or sneezed or inhaled deeply or picked up something heavy, intense pain shot through the right side of my body.

*

I process on a delay. Real time doesn’t move slowly enough, not when much of the enjoyment for me is to blur it. The near-impossible balance of both experiencing & being a little elsewhere.

*

I don’t mention it, but they often seem to sense it. This is one way to see how the breathlessness came to happen.

*

The extent to which it was done wasn’t intentional. I decided that was true, much in the same way I decide to trust someone, however briefly, because it appears they can give me a portion—even if just a sliver—of what I want.

I idly looked up phrases like blunt force a few times afterward, unsure of what I needed to see. Then I picked up my big red backpack, winced, got on a plane.

*

There’s always some lesson I want to believe arrived with total & implementable clarity while traveling. As if, in transit, I can perceive something that my quotidian self—with her staid entanglements, her debts, her worries—couldn’t possibly grasp. But all I feel, really, is a want to lessen the heavy filter of potentiality. How it blurs my sense.

*

The air in Lisbon, then Porto, was perfect: breezy, ringed with brine. Mostly there were three of us & mostly we walked, smoked, drank wine, rested, repeated. What else was there? Bougainvillea, blue & white porcelain plates, cobblestone & laundry lines, steep hills, easy meals, late dusk, honeyed dawn.

*

I don’t remember how I explained the source of my pain out loud. I took ibuprofen, lost track of time. A mouth replaced the mouth before it. Everywhere we went & everyone we met affirmed that the night was beautiful, & the Anthropocene will be where the human timeline cuts off, & no one knows where to begin to try & un-fuck it.

I cut my toes on jagged beach rocks, rammed a motor scooter against my ankle, drunk sparked a lighter backwards & singed my fingers. You could say I wasn’t paying attention, or that I was trying to relocate something.

I don’t know any better, until I do, until the next time. I sleep with a rose quartz next to my head, try to dream of gentle landings.

 

Alina Pleskova is a poet, editor, and Russian immigrant turned proud Philadelphian. Her full-length poetry collection, Toska, will be out from Deep Vellum in 2023. More at alinapleskova.com or @nahhhlina on Twitter.

 

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

I wanted to write a travelogue that sort of ignores—or at least disrupts—the notion of what a travelogue should contain, because the speaker’s mind is disrupted while traveling. This was written during & after a trip to Portugal, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, during a period of intense psychic &, more briefly, physical pain. I was thinking a lot about my personal coping strategies, some of which—BDSM, for example—may not be immediately legible as such. The physically painful incident at the edges of this writing alludes to other thoughts I had while traveling regarding slippages of boundaries & consent.

Mr. Personality

by Robin Hemley

 

I was working on my annual harassment training in the United O’Hare airport lounge, when I heard some guy across the room chatting up a young woman. She was seated and he was standing up, drink in hand. White guy in his mid-forties. Not sufficiently interested in their conversation to follow it, I just noted the woman’s laughter and the man talking as though he was a stand-up comic.

“That doesn’t play well with conservatives like me,” he said, and I wished I could follow more of the conversation, but I could only hear the loud bits. And then, “Well, I’m a social liberal.”

He and she seemed to be getting along great and I wondered if they were business associates or had just met. Was he trying to pick her up? He seemed remarkably self-assured, and I’m always fascinated by people like that. But eventually, I heard him say goodbye and he left the woman at her table. As soon as he left, her expression went from all smiles to serious, even slightly disturbed. I had a long layover, so I sat there viewing a scene in which an office bully constantly berates a coworker about the poor quality of his work. Was it harassment, the narrator asked, or simply rudeness? While I pondered, the same guy I had observed before was now chatting up two businessmen. From Ohio (they said), one in his fifties and the other in his late thirties or forties. Again, the guy stood by them while they were seated. He seemed to be Mr. Personality with his witty repartee, but I could still only catch snippets. Should I move closer? No, that seemed creepy. The guys were laughing, just as the woman had. I heard him guess what they did for a living. He guessed they were in the health care business, as reps for some kind of health equipment.

The younger man, said, “Wow, you really pegged us. I didn’t know we were so obvious.” I, too thought that was impressive and went back to my quiz. Then a little while later, Mr. Personality said “No, I’m just fucking with you. You can wait until later to beat me up.”

Who says stuff like that? The other guys weren’t laughing now. The older guy said they needed to get work done. The younger guy added that they weren’t really in the health care business. I looked up.

“Forget work,” Mr. Personality said. “All you need to do right now is enjoy your life.” For that moment, my enjoyment of life depended on him not approaching me.

Don’t worry about him,” Mr. Personality said to the younger man. “In a week, he’s going to be new.” That completely got my attention. The older guy sat stiffly in his chair. With as much hostility as a businessman from Ohio can muster, he said, “What do you mean, I’m going to be new in a week?”

Tragically, I had to leave for my plane just then, but I couldn’t get that exchange out of my mind. Mr. Personality, either drunk, unhinged, or both, had faked sanity so well, using the Trojan horse of cheeriness to keep his victims unguarded. The temperature in the room had turned and everyone had gone from best temporary buddies to strangers ready to call security. As for me, I passed the quiz before my plane left the gate. It was a matter of time, not skill. No matter how many times you screw up the answers, you get as many chances as you need until you get it right.

 

Robin Hemley has published fifteen books of fiction and nonfiction. His most recent books are the autofiction, Oblivion, An After-Autobiography (Gold Wake, 2022), The Art and Craft of Asian Stories: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology, co-authored with Xu Xi (Bloomsbury, 2021) and Borderline Citizen: Dispatches from the Outskirts of Nationhood (Nebraska, 2020, Penguin SE Asia, 2021). He has previously published four collections of short stories, and his stories have been widely anthologized. His widely-used writing text, Turning Life into Fiction, has sold over a hundred thousand copies and has been in print for 25 years. His work has been published and translated widely and he has received such awards as a Guggenheim Fellowship, a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation, three Pushcart Prizes in both nonfiction and fiction, The Nelson Algren Award for Fiction, The Independent Press Book Award for Memoir, among others. His short stories have been featured several times on NPR’s “Selected Shorts” and his essays and short stories have appeared in such journals as Creative Nonfiction, Conjunctions, Guernica, The Iowa Review, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Chicago Tribune, and many others. He is the Founder of the international nonfiction conference, NonfictioNOW and was the director of the Nonfiction Writing Program at The University of Iowa for nine years, inaugural director of The Writers’ Centre at Yale-NUS, Singapore, and is a graduate of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He is Inaugural Director of the Polk School of Communications at Long Island University-Brooklyn, Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing, Parsons Family Chair in Creative Writing, and University Professor. He has had artist residencies at The Bellagio Center at Lake Como, The Bogliasco Foundation, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the MacDowell Colony, and others. He is co-editor with Leila Philip of Speculative Nonfiction (Specualtivenonfiction.org) and co-founder of Authors at Large with Xu Xi (aalauthors.com). His website is Robinhemley.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 “Mr. Personality”?

I love encounters like this. To me, the not-knowing is more interesting than knowing. The fact that I didn’t learn the outcome of this encounter sits right with me. I love ambiguity because most of life is not knowing and trying to construct narratives from the fragments we overhear or are given. I’m actually phobic about people like “Mr. Personality.” My older sister was diagnosed as schizophrenic and my life with her when I was a teen definitely traumatized me, though it’s taken me many years to understand and come to terms with this. For this reason, I am terrified of anyone like Mr. Personality while also being fascinated by them. I’m interested in the disruptions that someone like him causes in the fragile fabric of normalcy while at the same time being terrified of the consequences of meeting up with him. I imagine that’s because I see in myself too clearly a reflection of him and my sister in myself.

Seminar

by George Singleton

 

This couple, man and woman, maybe mid-to-late twenties, plopped down beside me and ordered vodka and pineapple juice. We sat in Chattanooga, not Honolulu. The bartendress made the drinks, and garnished them with a maraschino cherry. I kind of side-eyed over. Me, I had the usual. Well, I’d gone down a couple shelves, maybe four. Let’s just say that I drank what Kentucky almost gave away free. My wife worked upstairs in our hotel room.  Genevieve ran her own non-profit, STITCH, an organization that offered free knitting lessons and yarn to the unemployed. The motto’s “Give a person a scarf and he’ll be warm for a while. Teach him how to knit a scarf, and eventually he’ll hang himself.” Not really. I just think that, often, since it’s my job to come up with Trigger and Content Warnings nowadays. I don’t want to get into it, but I had a fiasco in my life earlier that involved punching a dean.

Blood everywhere, right in the middle of a faculty meeting.

Like I said, I’d become unemployable in the world of academe, good riddance, and got hired out to offer Back Cover Trigger Warnings on Classic Reprints, paid piece rate.

So I sat at the bar, notebook open, running down what I’d end up thinking valuable info when I eventually sent notes. The Sound and the Fury: Potential Insensitive Treatment of a Mentally Challenged Person. Invisible Man: Shock Treatment, Prostitutes, Drinking, Racist Terms. Hell, I imagined that I could write out “racist terms” for about every book ever published. Moby Dick: Well, the title. Sanctuary: Corn Cob.

I’d noticed how, at the beginning of movies, warnings showed up that went “Adult Language, Sexual Content, Nudity, Drug Use, Smoking.” Smoking? Really? Anyway, I figured I’d just use these Hollywood warnings as a template. My boss said I had to be thorough and specific, in these litigious times. If I missed out on, say, oral sex, a reader might say he or she underwent horrific panic attacks and sue the publisher, if not the dead writer’s heirs.

Anyway, the woman said to her partner, “‘The steak tartare, which is supposably their specialty, looked like one of the more inexpensive cat foods.’” Her cell phone made that noise when someone hits Send. Shooooom!

I couldn’t hold back—“It’s supposedly, not supposably.”

The guy said, “Who are you?”

I said, “Derrick.” Oddly, too, Der-RICK was the sound that came out of the dean’s nose when I broke it.

The guy said, “Well, Old Man, you might want to mind your own business.”

I thought, Old Man and the Sea: Big Dead Fish. Sharks. Baseball References.

I probably don’t need to tell anyone that a pissant calling me “old man” didn’t go over well. Maybe I stared hard.

The woman said, “Now, now,” for—I guess—she understood what might happen. She held up her palms in the international We Give Up sign.

“Are y’all here for the sensitivity conference?” I asked my bar mates, knowing that I better tone it down.

The man said, “I apologize,” which I thought admirable. I thought, Maybe he’s not an idiot.

The Idiot, by Dostoevsky: Epilepsy.

The woman said, “No. We’re food critics. We write bad Yelp reviews against one of the chain’s competition.”

I tried to grasp her meaning, but got caught up thinking how a Roy Rogers bio would have Trigger in it, often. I ordered another bourbon. I ordered a round, on me. I thought, Genevieve should quit using the terms “slipknot” and “long tail.”

 

George Singleton has published nine collections of stories, two novels, and a book of “writing advice.” His stories have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, One Story, the Georgia Review, Playboy, Epoch, Agni, Zoetrope, the Southern Review, and elsewhere. He received a Guggenheim fellowship once. He’s a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He lives in Spartanburg, SC.

 

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

“Seminar” just wasn’t working out. I’d gotten to about word 3000 and nothing appeared worthwhile on the horizon. Normally I’m of the hammer-that-square-peg-into-the-round-hole ilk, and usually that’s to no avail. Something about the beginning of the story worked for me, though, so I kind of got the first 1000 word section and started deleting crap. If the first section was vegetable soup, I got rid of the okra, green beans, corn, Brussels sprouts (what the hell were Brussells sprouts doing in my soup in the first place?) and so on. I got it down—at least for me—to a palatable broth.

I should do this more often, by the way.

Completes, VI

by Richard Kostelantz

 

 

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Honoring two Jewish comedians: Mel Brooks (1926-) and Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). These are what the title says they are–complete thoughts or complete fictions, as well as thoughts that might be fictions and fictions that might be thoughts. One writing goal for me has been creating within only a single sentence complete thoughts and stories that are sometimes funny, other times profound–sometimes fanciful and other times true.

CNF: Family History

by Nadja Maril

 

The worst part of sitting in the little cubicle is the waiting afterwards. Partially undressed, you re-tie the closure of the examining gown and feel the dampness inside each arm pit. You smell your nervous body odor. Fear clutches the pit of your stomach. It’s too dark to read a magazine or the book you brought, but in the dim light you can check your phone, look for messages.

You remember the metal of the machine cold against your skin. You remember the places where the technician’s hands pushed and pressed your flesh.

“Hold your breath,” she said. “Do not breath.” Eyes fixed on a small smudge on the wall, you counted slowly to yourself and thought only of the numbers—one, two, three, four— while she took a picture of your breast.

You think of numbers again as you fiddle with the curtain that screens your cubicle from traffic in the corridor. Numbers and statistics. If anything is found, it will be early in the cycle of malevolent growth. Technology has provided the tools to intercede. And if they find cancer, you tell yourself, like a Girl Scout you are prepared.

Cancer, the word your mother hated to say. A word always whispered. A secret your mother hid from you until you found her prothesis bra draped across the towel rack in the bathroom. Examined the compartment with its fabric barrier. A separation between the ribcage and the artificial breast.

You remember those weeks, unable to talk about it with your friends, forced to ask for rides home from school. Skillfully, you avoided the topics of why your mother didn’t pick you up herself and why your parents missed your performance in the spring concert.

You tried to theorize where they did the cutting. A partial or a radical mastectomy? Did they remove all the lymph nodes? At night you lay awake and asked yourself, Will the cancer come back?

Low-cut dresses must be discarded. Bathing suits replaced. You were fifteen years old and frightened. Confused as to what exactly happened to your mother at the hospital, until you found the prothesis.

“I’ve been mutilated,” your mother told you while readjusting a loose poncho.

You clench your teeth. Say nothing. Silence is power. Silence is pain.

“Talk to no one about this,” she said. “No one must know.”

You were sad for your mother who was unable to voice her anger at the doctors’ mistakes. Confused.

The fear your mother instilled in you, the times she’d stop talking to you for hours, for days, for weeks, left scars. Emotional abuse you did not recognize until adulthood when your own children question your reticence.

You brace yourself for what is to come and then tell yourself she didn’t die from cancer and neither will you. Whatever is found in this diagnostic mammogram is treatable. And you will immediately share your knowledge with your family because it is the secrets that are toxic, not the diagnosis.

The technician pulls back the curtain. She smiles. “All Clear,” she says and you want to kiss her. “All clear,” she says and you want to take her in your arms and dance in the hallway.

Pleased with your reprieve from worries for another year, you don’t remember getting re-dressed. You don’t remember pulling on your coat and striding past the receptionist desk until you see them, the others waiting to take their turn at spinning the roulette wheel. Causing you to purse your lips together, hide the smile, and quickly exit remembering to take nothing for granted.

 

Nadja Maril is a former magazine editor and journalist living in Annapolis, Maryland. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine and her short stories and essays have been published in dozens of publications including: Change Seven, Lunch Ticket, Thin Air, Lumiere Review Defunkt Magazineand Invisible City. Currently completing a novel titled Diogo’s Garden, additional credits include weekly blogposts, two reference books on American Antique Lighting and two children’s books.

 

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

“Family History” started out as a fictional short story entitled “Secrets” because writing it as memoir felt too painful. But no matter how many times I revised and rewrote, the short story didn’t quite succeed. The approach to diagnosing and treating breast cancer has changed and the short story had too many historical references. So, I decided to take a different approach and begin in my present, because I often take a little journal to write in when I am stuck in a situation where I have to wait and I feel anxious, in this case waiting for the radiologist to give me my diagnostic mammogram results. As I started to write from this perspective, the words easily flowed to reveal my emotions of fear, hurt, anger, joy and empathy in a way that made sense. Even before sending this piece for consideration to the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, I had thought of this nonfiction essay as a compressed story, so I am very pleased to be included in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.

Completes, V

by Richard Kostelantz

 

 

See what happens when you click below.

Honoring two Jewish comedians: Mel Brooks (1926-) and Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). These are what the title says they are–complete thoughts or complete fictions, as well as thoughts that might be fictions and fictions that might be thoughts. One writing goal for me has been creating within only a single sentence complete thoughts and stories that are sometimes funny, other times profound–sometimes fanciful and other times true.

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

Upcoming

05/27 • Claudio Perinot
06/03 • Amanda Chiado
06/10 • John Davies
06/17 • Lynne Jensen Lampe
06/24 • Valerie Valdez
07/01 • Carlin Katz
07/08 • Meg Eden
07/15 • Tim Raymond
07/22 • Mike Itaya
07/29 • TBD
08/05 • TBD
08/12 • TBD
08/19 • TBD
08/26 • TBD
09/02 • TBD
09/09 • TBD
09/16 • TBD
09/23 • TBD
09/30 • TBD