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Month: February 2023

The Year of the Flood

by Sudha Balagopal

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

CNF: Accompaniment

by Lauren Fath

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

CNF: Golfina

by Sarah Dunphy-Lelii

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

CNF: Conquistadors

by Maria Elena Gigante

 

  1. A curious type of monument in the Andes only appeared after conquistadors slashed open the land, defiling the dead. Vertebrae, salvaged from Spanish swords, were found strung together, reconstructed—bones, threaded like beads, on reeds used as spinal cords, then staked into the dirt.
  2.  

  3. “Can’t you wait until I’m dead to do that?” Grandpa growled at my mom’s request to study their genes. Brandishing his family’s coat of arms, Grandpa spoke the king’s fabled lisp. His family came from Spain and never “mixed” in Ecuador.
  4.  

  5. Ancestry dot com can estimate ethnicity, for a price: your DNA, in database in aeternum. Ancestry has millions of data points— people eager to dig up royal blood or something shiny to conquer the boredom.
  6.  

  7. Conquistador means: one that conquers. Conquistador means: to seek and gain completion; to acquire, to win. The Ancestry results Mom wouldn’t send, at first.
  8.  

  9. Grandpa loved to win. His surname is a “city” in Spain. My sister found it, sent a photo wearing a shit-eating grin behind a sign on the outskirts of a desert ghost town, went back to the present to eat paella. Mom wouldn’t send the results because there was no Spain.
  10.  

  11. My department is doing a diversity hire: indigenous poet preferred. They must move fast to obtain the best ones.
  12.  

  13. When Grandpa left Ecuador, he shrugged off his skin, married a German in Indiana, and folded himself in.
  14.  

  15. “You’re passing,” my brother said. “If I looked like you, I wouldn’t feel right claiming it either.” Instead of Spain, there was a list, all brandishing the modifier indigenous: Ecuador, Columbia, Peru.
  16.  

  17. Conquistador does not mean Gold, God, and Glory, but textbooks tell a gilded story, propped up by withered, white truths. My department will acquire someone sturdy in their skin.
  18.  

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

 

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

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

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

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

07/08 • Meg Eden
07/15 • Tim Raymond
07/22 • Mike Itaya
07/29 • Eric Steineger
08/05 • Baylee Less-Eiseman
08/12 • Rae Gourmand
08/19 • Chiwenite Onyekwelu
08/26 • John Arthur
09/02 • TBD
09/09 • TBD
09/16 • TBD
09/23 • TBD
09/30 • TBD