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Month: May 2024

CNF: My Mother Says

by Claudio Perinot

I push the switch and the bulb bursts. A short circuit. My father says what happened?, what did I do? I tell him I wanted to switch on the light in the corridor and it burst. My father, in the dark, starts explaining why these things happen. He says there are candles in the kitchen. My mother sits in the dark. She doesn’t move, doesn’t say a thing. She waits for something to happen, for someone to explain. My father rambles on, about the candles to get in the kitchen. He tells me to wait for him to get the candles and gets up feeling his way towards where he thinks the kitchen is. My mother sits silently. I can just make out the greyish outline of her wig as I pull out my mobile and touch a key. The little screen lights up and I see my father moving around the long side of the table, ordering me to wait for the candles that he’ll just fetch from the kitchen. Apparently neither of them has seen the light. I find the mains switch and put it back up. The little flat lights up again. My mother smiles quietly. She’s still seated in the same way and looking in the same direction. My father is surprised, then collects and preaches that I should have waited for him, he was so close to getting the candles, after all.

My father wants me to take care of my mother after he’s gone. He wants me to promise. He wants me to declare. He wants me to swear. He wants me to put it down in black ink, in front of a notary. He wants it to be legally binding. He wants to be sure that my mother won’t be left alone, after he’s gone, wants to know that she’ll always have someone by her side. He wants to make sure. He wants me to promise. After all, I am the nearest son and it’s no use moving down to my brother’s, all that distance, and even though maybe he would have more space, my mother would not be able to cope with the new location and new habits and all. No, much better here. That’s why he wants me to promise. To declare. To swear.

My mother listens. Silently. At times she tries to get a word in sideways, but my father doesn’t seem to hear. At times, when I see she really wants to say something, I stop my father by pulling his arm and making him see my mother wants to say something. She usually begins confidently, then soon afterwards stumbles on a word or two she can’t remember, and stops to recollect things, trying hard to pinpoint the word, the meaning, the idea. That’s when she usually asks my father for help. My father, let in again, starts off on another run of ideas and principles and thoughts, forgetting her along the way. She retreats and sighs. She sits again, listening. He talks. He says he wants to make sure that my mother won’t suffer when he’s gone. I must promise.

She’s letting go. My mother. My mother’s letting go. Quietly. My father. My father’s hanging on. Desperately.

 

Claudio Perinot is a bilingual disabled teacher. He holds a degree in English and Spanish Language and Literature (Univ. of Venice). His poems have appeared in Eleven Bulls, Theviewfromhere, and Cricket Online Review. He was longlisted in the 2021 Briefly Write Poetry Prize. His research on the Eliot – Verdenal friendship has been published in Annali di Cà Foscari, ANQ and South Atlantic Review, and is often cited in studies on T.S. Eliot. He lives in Italy with his wife and two sons.

 

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

That day had dogged me ever since. After a lifetime together, my father had told me flatly that he did not trust me and that he needed some kind of guarantee to convince him that I would take care of my mother. The accusation was a heavy burden. That thick, compressed clot of memory had increased the emotional pressure on me as I witnessed my parents’ slow descent into disease.

To relieve the tension, I turned to writing. As I recollected the scene, I discovered it was etched deep and clear. The sudden return of the lights in the flat had been like the flash of a powerful camera. Everything, even the smallest of details, had been fixed indelibly. I began to describe the experience. The flow started, sustained by my pent-up resentment. I wrote confidently and quickly, trying to keep up with the unleashed thoughts as they sped out, trying to miss nothing. In the end, the result was completely different from anything I had written before. It sprawled over the page, like prose. Yet, it had such a distinct emotional charge that I was certain it was the draft of a potential poem. I read it again and again, revising and improving. Excluding the removal of some unnecessary distractions, and a few minor corrections, it did not require extensive reworking. At every reading, however, it felt as if there was a hidden layer of meaning somewhere. To find it, I reread the poem repeatedly, to the point of reliving the scene.

As I listened to my father’s desperate voice again, the missing piece of the puzzle was right in front of me, staring at me. It was the real subject of the discussion. It was my mother, who sat quietly through the argument although it revolved around her. And when, at last, she wanted to say something, the words came out mixed up and incomprehensible. She was unable to convey the obscure reasoning of her deranged mind. I wondered what she thought, what her point of view was. Did she agree with my father? Was she more lenient? More optimistic? Her opinion counted more than anything else but it was unknown.

I could see it clearly now. The core of the matter was not what my father had said. It was what my mother had said, and that was lost forever. I finished the revision. I was painfully aware that it had been one of the darkest moments of my life. I wrote the title and sealed the final version of that day.

CNF: Hellgrammite

by Nancy Lord

 

For years, I tried to find her. Not determinedly but sporadically, inquisitively, wonderingly. Guiltily.

She’d been my best friend in fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade. She was the only girl I knew who loved nature the way I did. In the woods and creek behind her house we collected caterpillars and salamanders. We cut open galls that ballooned on the stems of plants to see what parasites lived inside. We made an art of tearing away the tissue of leaves to reveal the skeletal networks of veins.

One winter day, sledding at dusk, the snow-covered road was suddenly brightened by the lights of an on-coming car, and we turned into a hard-packed snowbank. When I landed on top of her, her arm swelled with a painful lump. Her father got mad, and it was two days before her mother snuck her to a doctor for an x-ray and cast.

Her father was both fun and difficult. He took the two of us fishing and was as interested as we were in what we found—once fly larvae with impressive pinchers, fluttery gills, and acrobatic moves. I learned these were called hellgrammites. I had also learned that my friend’s mother slept on a cot in their laundry room. If that seemed odd and a little sad, I didn’t think too much about it.

For eighth grade I transferred to a different school and our lives diverged. Later that same year, listening to the radio in my room, I heard a news announcer say her father’s name and “self-inflicted gunshot wound.” I told my parents and went back to my homework. Suicide seemed like something adults should deal with. I don’t know if my parents did anything. I didn’t ask; they didn’t say. Our mothers had been Girl Scout leaders together.

My friend, her mother, and her two sisters moved across town. I may have helped. I at least recall a truck piled with furniture, driving away. Not a moving van—a pickup truck and some young men, perhaps friends of the older daughter. I recall beaming faces, as though there was some joy in the occasion.

The other side of town seemed immeasurably far away. A couple of years went by and I heard that my friend had dropped out of school and had a child.

Years—many years—passed. I lived very far away. I thought about my friend every December on her birthday, wondering what might have become her life. When the internet arrived, I looked for her there. I found her father’s obituary, nothing about her or her mother or sisters.

Every few years, I typed in her name. Finally, there she was, birth name along with another. She’d been dead already for a year, dead at 67 “after a period of declining health.” She had lived all her life in the same town where we’d grown up. She had two sons. In six short paragraphs I read that she “loved nature and spent much of her time enjoying and photographing the flora and fauna around her home. She experimented with the cross-pollination of some of her plants and flowers. She also bred and raised quail, chickens, ducks, and geese. . . But her happiest pastime was fishing in a canoe on Lake Massabesic.”

I read this again now, years later still. I picture my friend floating on that lake on the edge of our town, casting a line, reeling in a brown-sided bass with large scales and sharp fins. Who is she with? Who does she tell about what makes her happy?

 

 

 

Nancy Lord, a former Alaska State Writer Laureate, is the author of three short story collections, five books of literary nonfiction, and the novel pH. Her narrative work, which focuses mainly on environmental and marine issues, has appeared widely in journals and anthologies and has been honored with fellowships and awards. She currently teaches science writing for Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Homer, Alaska. www.writernancylord.com

 

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

I’d been thinking about my childhood friend for years and had made a couple of unsuccessful efforts to write about our relationship. I decided one day, after rereading her obituary, to compress my memories and grief into something very short, relying on just a few images. The day of fishing and examining hellgrammites with her father had always stayed with me. The piece I wrote was 700 words. I further compressed it to meet the word limit when I submitted it to your journal.

Thank You, Isaac

by Paul Beckman

 

Everyone’s getting ready for the party, mom and dad say there should be a reason for a party but neither remember the reason we start parties so we just go about our business and tonight our business is decorating, food, and, then I see it as the last sliver of sun goes behind the ghost hills to the north a tiny sliver of orange breaks through from the east and everyone stops and watches it and can taste the juicy orb, and then little by little it begins to segment like shooting stars, and the residents of Isaac Newtonville smile and jump up and down, not ready to talk or do anything but wait and mind taste the tangerine, when suddenly it segments and begins to fall with only the tangerine silk holding together, then the movie comes on an Issac Newton, founder of our town, laughs, and claps his hands, segments keep splitting into smaller ones until everyone has their taste of tangerine and they sit in crescents around the town bonfire and eat and slurp and smile so happy that tangerine season is upon us and they don’t look forward to the baby season and become morose fearful for the change of seasons.

 

Bio

 

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

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CNF: I Become My Younger Self

when I comb the Walmart clearance racks for a $2 t-shirt, when I eat three bowls of Reese’s Puffs because my parents only bought it for me as a wrapped gift on Christmas morning, when I apply for a writing workshop and instinctively click “yes” for the scholarship button and am reminded of the hours I spent as a teen hunched over the dining room table with piles of scholarship forms and pens, and before that the hand-me down sweaters and dusty sneakers, the special family nights when we shared the $5 burger deal at McDonald’s, and before that sneaking down the stairs in my faded Lion King nightgown watching my parents’ shadows argue about bills, and before that my dad telling us to trust God would provide, and before that my dad telling us he quit a job, and before that my dad telling us he quit a job, and before that my dad telling us he quit his one good job, and before that squealing while he tosses me into the air—

by Bethany Jarmul

 

Bethany Jarmul is an Appalachian writer and poet. She’s the author of two chapbooks and one poetry collection. Her work has been published in many magazines including Rattle, Brevity, Salamander, and One Art. Her writing was selected for Best Spiritual Literature 2023 and Best Small Fictions 2024, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, The Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and Wigleaf Top 50. Connect with her at bethanyjarmul.com or on social media: @BethanyJarmul.

 

See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “I Become My Younger Self”?

I was applying to a writing workshop and instinctively checked the “scholarship” button, which triggered a series of memories and emotions for me— of a complicated childhood, that was not all good or all bad. I figured that this experience would make an effective micro piece, but more than that, I knew I needed to write about it, to try to process it. Writing is often how I make sense of my life and the world.

This piece was written all at once, and required very little editing after the first draft. Those are my favorite kind of pieces to write, when they come out all in one rush. What a thrill! If only all my writing arrived so easily!

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