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Month: November 2023

House Story

by Michael Mark

 

It was late when we returned. We left the unpacked luggage by the laundry room, thumped and groaned up the stairs, turned on our bedroom lights to undress, wash, open the window, fall into bed. Something was different. Everything was different. The walls aren’t the same yellow, I asked her, are they? She asked, are they even yellow? The bedspread was different. The carpet was different. The ceiling fan was different. Are we in our house? I asked at the same time she asked, Is this our house? The curtains were obviously different, the pillowcases too. The nightstand and the lamps and lampshades were different. They’re nice, I said, voice lowered. Everything is, she said, the four syllables stilted, slightly separated, her expression a twisted mix of knowing and horror. We had been living in a distastefully decorated home. And didn’t know it – or did we? Could we have been lying to each other, ourselves? But now there was no denying. You talked me into those curtains, she said, toothbrush in her mouth, while I waited for the water to warm from the sleeker showerhead. You never mentioned you hated the couch in the living room, I said the next morning. What do you mean the old headboard was boring? Now you tell me the dining room chair molding was too Baroque? We haven’t stopped arguing, accusing, self-doubting. When we look at each other – our ‘til death do we part choices – we see only our awful taste. We sleep in different bedrooms. If one stays in our former – which we call the mosaic room because of the stunning hearth – the other takes either of the kids’ old rooms which now look nothing like theirs, too refined for children, ours to be honest. We call one the Josef Frank room for the floral settee, and the other, with the monochromatic whitish/skyish scheme, the shimmery room. The guest room is still the guest room – we just attached the suffix: with the olive herringbone pullout. You should’ve said something if that’s how you felt about the wallpaper in the upstairs hallway! Compared to the owl white damask paper we have now – how did we endure it? Tears have been shed. Nights of profound reflection: Our entire lives we’ve been delusional! What must our friends really think? Arguments metastasize. We began quarreling about non-home decorative matters: clouds, sounds, silences. You said you loved my wedding dress but look at the album – that train is so common! I should never have listened to you about parting my hair down the middle! We have agreed it’s best to divorce. It took 39 years but we’ve never been as compatible as we’d believed or pretended. Or just as likely, we’ve always known.

 

Michael Mark is the author of Visiting Her in Queens is More Enlightening than a Month in a Monastery in Tibet which won the Rattle Chapbook prize. His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry Blog, Copper Nickel, The New York Times, Ploughshares, Southern Review, The Sun, 32 Poems, The Poetry Foundation’s American Life in Poetry. His two books of stories are Toba and At the Hands of a Thief (Atheneum). michaeljmark.com

 

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

We were away for seven weeks and exhausted from travel home. I started plugging lamps back in, as I do when we return, (before we leave, I pull out all plugs for fear of some electrical mishap, fire). One by one, those areas, suddenly cast in light, focused my attention on the various furnishings of our home, and with each I felt fresh pleasure. I like this lamp, I like this chair, this wallpaper, I thought. I like our tables, sconces, our art, our whole place. I felt delight with my life. So, I didn’t go to bed, tired as I was. I wrote about life coming apart.

Sunday Skateaway

by Frances Badgett

 

You could paint the floor with Steve’s strokes and call it art, his long legs in arcs, his body’s sway and arm’s wave. The DJ spins safe tracks, disco oldies, Hot 100, top 40, Sunday fresh. But nothing about Steve is safe, his arms reaching for the neon lights, his body from stretch to sudden genuflect, a drop to the polished oak, bright orange rubberized wheels smooth. His turns unfold, the center of a rose, opening lotus, a million small swoops. You can see him a child seeking the dark sparkling cavern, a place to be a star, a place to let his long legs roll over the diamond throws of the disco ball, now a grown man in love with his perfect stop and pivot.

The world’s invasions, the violent murmurs of those who should know better words, melted here in the mirrors and disco, monotony of laps. He breaks the songs in two with his arms, kicks the skates in time with Abba. The child he was skates with him, a tether in his moves, a sadness in his tight fists, his raised arms. He folds deep at the waist, ducking invisible forces, rises again like tides. A hundred people failed him, and here he is, taking it all back for Brick House for I feel love I feel love I feel love I feel love. Look closely and you can almost see a hard, thin beginning of a smile.

 

Frances Badgett is a writer and editor living in Bellingham, Washington. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y, Salamander, JMWW, 100 Word Story, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. She has been published in the JMWW Anthology, been on the Wigleaf 50 twice, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She can be found on Threads, Instagram, and Bluesky as FrancesBad and Frances Badgett on Facebook.

 

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

It was one of those restless Sundays I wanted to do take my daughter and her friends somewhere, but everything was closed or seemed like a lot of fuss (the pool with its towels and locker room and changing and showers), so we chose roller skating. I don’t roller skate, so I sat at one of the snack bar tables and watched the skaters. I thought to bring my laptop, and as I watched a skater, this story formed. It didn’t come out whole at first, there was a lot of backstory and weight and boring minutiae in it, so, it took a great deal of compressing, but that skater really caught my attention. The skater wasn’t quite as expressive as my story skater, but I turned him in to the expressive one, but I think they are both deep inside their skating, that something in there is fighting for air and light. This story took a long time to edit into its final form, but I never regret that time editing and contemplating.

CNF: Gifted

by Angela Townsend

 

There are gift registries for the recently divorced, but they aim too low.

I would have welcomed fuchsia towels or window herb gardens when notaries stamped my new old name. I would not turn away spray mops or right-hand rings. You have my blessing to comfort me with peridots and decorative pillows.

But the cosmos loves its divorcees enough to give real gifts.

Penny the lawyer lost her lawyer husband to another lawyer. Penny did what holy people have done since dawn. She softened the days into dough, kneading them until they tee-hee’d. She colored her hair orange, then let it go wool-white at forty three. She adopted a one-eyed cat and named him Romeo.

She watched the dragon boats on the Delaware and saw her arms grow coppery with feathers. She joined the rowers. She married flight and water. She was discovered by fire. She is sanctified with life.

Ellen the agnostic said “no” after thirty years of “I’m sorry.” She scrunched her curls and un-balled her fists and trespassed the grounds of monasteries. She walked labyrinths and banged gongs and argued with wild geese.

She followed white-tailed deer who were not afraid. She invited archetypes on hikes. She said “maybe.” She wrote hymns. She read her name on God’s palm. She dipped hunks of her life in wine and offered them to sisters.

Josie the genius held her children against the chill and survived fire. She studied sugar’s secrets and coaxed fondant into art. She built three-dimensional Elmos and Avengers and licked her fingers free of vengeance. She lit candles and taught second graders that their lives are worth the sweet.

She decided the stove was just for a season. She decided she had as many acts as breaths. She believed everyone who ever called her brilliant against the one who disagreed. She grabbed her jumper cables and ended up a Jeopardy finalist. She made the Philadelphia public school system cheer.

My mother did not buy me Lizzo CDs or shower curtains or “Delightfully Divorced” T-shirts. She brought a jeweled tiara and a pink ceramic apple and declared my condo The Queen’s Garden. She hung a rose window in my living room and established Notre Dame of the suburbs. She crossed out my apologies. She commissioned feral angels and uncanonized saints to insist that I am my own. She also bought a titanium bar to keep unsavory characters from breaking my balcony window, but she is as much a mother as a mystic.

I did not ask for this book, but language loves enough to write true stories. When the library fell on my tail, I counted eight more lives. I asked the words of life if they remembered my name. They lined up like ladybugs. They had waited years for this. I planned to write until I ran out of road, only to go airborne at the horizon.

I played with paragraphs and redeemed wrinkled promises from the back of my wallet. I wrote until I kissed the face of my own childhood. I shared wriggling words, imperfect and in progress. I was declined and accepted. I formed a two-woman writers’ colony with my mother. I ate apples from the highest branch.

We aim high.

We need not register with anyone.

The Gift loves enough to give life.

 

Angela Townsend is Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary, where she bears witness to mercy for all beings. Her work appears in Fathom Magazine, Hawaii Pacific Review, LEON Literary Review, and The Razor, among others. She graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and Vassar College. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately.

 

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

“Gifted” first cracked its egg as I sat in traffic on the Delaware River. Watching dragon boats fly beneath me, I thought of one zestful friend after another. I felt a rush of feathers as I remembered how these women had added extra pages to the “end” of their stories, vaulting through new lives. As I crossed into Pennsylvania, I gave thanks for their rebel joy. I recognized myself as a fledgling in their arbor. I began scribbling at the next stop light.

Shapeshifter

by Tara Campbell

 

It sits on a new hill now, looking down at the lake at the end of the slope. It eats the same thoughts as always, but they taste different here. Its digestion happens not with a gurgle, but the gravelly hum of tires over rough concrete. Each hiccough is the song of a different bird, most often a crow. Every burp is a snippet of music blasting from a car window—hip hop, bachata, grunge, country—the one thing uniting them: excessive decibel level. Even its skin is audible, emitting a high-pitched, discordant whine, two tones grating a half-step apart.

Its thoughts are still too echoey for comfort. On occasion, a jet engine roars through its head, mercifully brief and far away. From time to time, sub-monsters stomp around in its skull, arriving at random intervals with quick and heavy thudding.

Its sneezes are the squeal of a window sliding on a reluctant track. When it settles down for the night, it sighs a low tumbling hum. Warm. When it sleeps, its snores are either a series of death rattles or the dainty patter of rain.

It regrets that, since moving here, it can no longer sing that one song it sang most evenings and weekends, the one that went click-click-whoosh, click-click-whoosh. It’s lost that ability here. And though it bought new jewelry with which to adorn itself in its new location, it finds itself missing its old plastic baubles, mismatched and old, yet familiar. It’s still getting used to the chime of its shiny new crystals.

When it misses its old things too much, it soothes itself by tapping its feet, toenails clacking like a keyboard. It runs its fingernails over its skin, light as new ink on smooth paper. It looks at black marks on white paper and dreams.

Some evenings it wanders to other parts of town, howling in a way that should feel familiar, but is not yet. It croons into the night, and it listens for more black-mark dreamers. And it hears them: growling, hooting, whispering, shrieking their own songs. They take turns sharing, the shapeshifter and the others. This should comfort the shapeshifter, and mostly it does. It listens, and it howls, and waits for the moment it will recognize itself again. It’s not quite there yet, but that time will come.

 

Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse, and graduate of American University’s MFA in Creative Writing. In addition to JCCA, previous publication credits include Masters Review, Wigleaf, Electric Literature, CRAFT Literary, Daily Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and Escape Pod/Artemis Rising. She’s the author of a novel, two hybrid collections of poetry and prose, and two short story collections from feminist sci-fi publisher Aqueduct Press. Her sixth book, City of Dancing Gargoyles, is forthcoming from Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP) in fall 2024. Find her at www.taracampbell.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 “Shapeshifter”?

I just moved to Seattle this summer, and this CNF is about readjusting to my new home. It was an experiment in abstraction for me, an attempt to capture the feeling of dislocation through sensory information, without filling in the exact environment or circumstances. Because I don’t quite feel like myself, I’ve imagined myself as my new apartment building, creating a fantastical new body out of all the unaccustomed quirks and sounds around me.

Fortunately, I’m connecting with other hooters and growlers in my new city. But I’m still getting used to the random rattling of our fridge in the quiet of night–it sounds like Predator snoring in our kitchen. And now that I’m cooking with an electric stove, I miss the click-click-whoosh of cooking with gas.

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