Prime Decimals 11.2

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by Theresa Williams

followed by Q&A

Melvin Hurst was unhappy. He had his reasons. He was a Sagittarius, and he was trapped. That was the worst thing that could happen to a Sagittarius, to be trapped; that’s what the magazine said. He knew it was true. 

So he craved and he chased. The bedroom. The bedroom of Molly Hightower in the house owned by her husband, where Melvin was right now. Melvin. Miles and miles from his own house on Easy Street, his children who always needed something: milk, shoes, glasses, dentistry. Yes, he was a terrible father, lax and unloving, but how could it be helped? He was born to it. Some part of him had always known this. That every impulse, every feeling was foreordained. That it was stamped on the blood. He was what he was, so why struggle?  

Your daily Sagittarius horoscope. Your weekly love forecast, monthly horoscope or relationship compatibility, the magazine said.

“What’s your sign?” Melvin said. “Your astrology sign?”

She sighed. “Sagittarius.” 

Then it was so designed. Molly Hightower, too, was bored. For starters, she was a very clean woman, and her husband was a grease monkey. He worked seven days a week running a service station called Go-Co. It was downtown, near the courthouse and the hardware. Melvin called Molly’s husband Johnny Go-Co. Johnny Go-Co worked at the service station while Melvin serviced his wife. The thought set Melvin aflutter. A strong pulse shot through his heart. He wanted to laugh. He did laugh. Out loud. “Ha, ha, ha!”

Molly wanted to know what was so funny.

“Nothing. Can’t I just laugh?”


“Why not?” 

“Because it’s just stupid.”

Melvin liked nonsense talk as a rule. As long as it didn’t go on and on. It beat thought-provoking conversation, for sure. Heartfelt discussion. Oh, how he liked Molly. Her hair was red, long and red. Yes, naturally red. Red on every part of her body that was hairy. That was supposed to have hair. She was Irish, like his mother. Melvin thought of his mother, how she was hardy and delicate at the same time. That was how he liked his women. Sturdy when he wanted, and delicate when he wanted.

Melvin really was in his element here at Molly’s. Despite the heat and humidity, his armpits were dry. Despite the chilidog he’d eaten earlier—with onions—his breath was minty fresh. He was blessed with clear skin and eyes. How disappointed Molly would be when he broke it off. How sad for her. He ran a finger across the jagged scar on her belly. She’d never have children, poor thing. Another thrill shot through him. He was a sensitive man. 

Molly Hightower’s grandfather clock struck three. It was a massive structure with a pendulum that looked like it could cut off a man’s head. Dong, dong, dong. Three, the perfect number. 

Only his one arm was free; Molly lay on the other. He snuck a look at his own clean fingernails. He knew that Molly must appreciate them. He laughed again. 

She slapped his chest. A titty slap, she called it.

“What?” Melvin said. “What did I say?” She was cutting off his circulation. “Hey, give me a hug. My hug tank is low.”

She rolled over and gave him a squeeze. Johnny Go-Co had recently painted the house, inside and out. Everything was glaring, a white that attracted insects. Right now, flies congregated on the ceiling, and Melvin watched them, fat, lazy flies, buzzing lazily and making him feel lazy as well. What a lazy afternoon. Johnny Go-Co, the slob, putting the old nozzle in other people’s tanks.   

Melvin bent his arm. He wanted to make sure he still could. “It’s alive.” Oh, that harsh tingling from elbow to wrist. He hated that, god, he hated it. “You and me, baby. We’re alive.” He looked at the ceiling.

Funny, when his arm fell asleep like that, he got this little fear. He thought his arm might stay like that forever, like a piece of dead meat.

“My hug tank’s low. Fill up that old hug tank,” Melvin said. The ceiling, the flies.



Theresa Williams’s short fiction has appeared in Chattahoochee Review, Hunger Mountain, The Sun and other magazines. Her novel, The Secret of Hurricanes (MacAdam/Cage 2002) was a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize.  She grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina and currently lives in Ohio, where she teaches creative writing and literature at Bowling Green State University. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: “Cleanliness” is part of an idea that has become a project: a collection of stories about people living on Easy Street. The project is largely influenced by Sherwood Anderson’s concept of grotesques. Not only that, because Melvin Hurst’s self-absorption knows no bounds, he’s an awful lot of fun to write about.

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3 Stories

by Andrew Stancek

followed by Q&A

Blue Dream

Mirko has not eaten. He wanders by the Danube, through the park, brushes a thin layer of snow off a bench, jiggles his legs. Nose runny, mouth bile-filled, temples a party for pneumatic drills. If he goes to see Duro, some harebrained scheme will bring him another step closer to prison. One crime a month is enough. He was going to have klobasa and eggs but sex intervened. 

He walks past the greengrocer—only potatoes, leeks, onions on the street display, inedible. He sees apples and pears through the window but does not dare enter. Rummaging through restaurant garbage like a mangy cur, that’s all he can think of. Mother and stepfather once took him to this one, Modry Sen, long ago, and Mirko remembers leaving the peas on his plate. 

He looks both ways, darts through the alley to the back, lifts the lid of the garbage can. 

A swinging door slams, a fat man, white hat, cigarette dangling, barks. “You, what’s up? Hungry?” Mirko flushes, his fingers clawing the crusty roll he grabbed off the top. He nods. “You ever wash dishes at home?” Mirko stares. “Come through the back. I need a dishwasher. You can have a slice of bread and butter, glass of milk now. Man-sized meal at the end. You work out, you can come back.” 

As the man holds the door for him, Mirko peers back into the street. Still time to run, he thinks. Last time he washed dishes he broke his stepfather’s glass and took off. The kitchen door creaks behind him; the man points to the heap of dirty dishes. Mirko fills the huge sink, winces as hot water splashes off the plates onto his arms. 

From the dining room he hears the thrum of conversation. A waitress drops a tray of plates next to him. Mirko inhales the smell of the half-eaten schnitzel, gobbles it in two bites.



Mirko shivers, stretches, blows on his hands. The storage room where Savel, his boss for the last three weeks, has been letting him sleep, is unheated. Better than the park or the street, even Father’s or Mother’s place, but damn in the morning his hands are blue with cold. He moves his legs off the cot, scratches, thinks some running in place would warm him up, laughs. Coffee wafts in from the restaurant. The prep boys are getting ready for the lunch rush, and they always have a big pot. He needs a piss, face washed, but his chattering teeth lead him to the stove. He pours himself a mug, sips, nods at Rasto chopping onions and peeling carrots.

“You look like shit,” Rasto tells him, “smell like it, too.” Mirko knows better than to say anything. Rasto reeks of rum and in the morning picks fights. But after lunch and three beers, he mellows and gives Mirko survival tips. He is only three years older but has been on his own since he was ten, worked in restaurants throughout Slovakia; his cheek is scarred from a beer bottle gash. Mirko yawns, gulps the coffee, burns his lips but keeps drinking. He holds the mug with both hands on the way to the can. 

At the prep table in the corner a red-haired girl, dressed in clean whites, is rolling dough. She does not look up as he goes by; the rolling pin whirrs; she cuts dough, on each square drops a dollop of cottage cheese and preserves. Mirko stares, walking toward her. He grabs a knife on her table, waltzes away balancing the tip on his chin. He looks back. She is intent on her dough. He begins whistling La Cumparsita. Let the dance begin.


Danube Promenade

Monday is the slowest day at the restaurant; most staffers have the day off. Mirko has been sniffing around Zofka, the new red-haired prep cook, since her first day on the job. Her manner is gruff. In the first week she has not said anything other than “No” to him. But on Sunday, with most of the dinner crowd gone, Mirko runs to the cemetery two streets over, helps himself to a fresh bouquet left by a grieving family. Back at the restaurant he presents it to Zofka with a theatrical bow. She continues stirring a sauce. He places the flowers in front of her, turns away, swearing under his breath. He is determined to wear her down. A large party comes in, a hectic hour for everyone. When he next looks over, he sees the flowers are in a vase in the corner of her work station.

They are now walking along the Danube. She is not interested in movies, she told him, does not drink, does not want to sit in some smoke-filled dive with a coffee. “A walk,” Mirko proposed, beginning to panic, “we can walk along the Danube, look at the waves.” He saw the “No” on her lips but she relented. “It’s going to be cold,” she said. “But I like the Danube. I used to…,” she tucks a strand of hair under her cap, gives him a shrug.

Mirko takes side glances as he walks beside her. Her face is covered with freckles and her eyelashes are a movie star’s. In the restaurant she only smells of food and her hair is covered but now Mirko is smelling flowers and her radiant hair is braided. A gull flies above, cackling; they both follow its flight. “I have always wanted to fly,” Mirko says.

As Zofka clears her throat, a startled voice calls out, “Mirko? Is that you?” Mother and stepfather are walking toward them, hand in hand. Mother is smiling, looking at him, at the girl. Mirko wants to grab Zofka and run towards the screeching gulls, soar over the river. Instead the four of them stare at each other. 

“This is my mother, my stepfather,” he finally croaks. “And this, this is Zofka.” 

“I am so pleased to see you, see you both,” Mother says. “Let’s go somewhere, out of this cold. Let’s go have a pastry together.”

Mirko is saying “No” as Zofka is saying, “That would be lovely.” Mother puts her arm around him, beaming. Mirko looks from one to the other, reaches out for Zofka’s hand. “All right then, a pastry,” he says.



Andrew Stancek was born in Bratislava, and after living in Toronto, has moved to southwestern Ontario. Some of his recent writing has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Pure Slush, Negative Suck, Left Hand Waving, 52/250 A Flash Year, Istanbul Literary Review, Kaffe in Katmandu, The Linnet’s Wings, and THIS Literary Magazine.



Q: What was the inspiration for these stories?

A: Mirko, the protagonist of these three pieces, sprang into life in 52/250 A Flash Year.  He demanded that his adventures continue.  In the end nine did appear in 52/250, and some in Istanbul Literary Review, and Kaffe in Katmandu. The three here have not seen publication before. Many others are yet to come and will be collected into an e-book soon.

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Truly See

Richard Krawiec

Followed by Q&A

They leave you, these ghosts,

and just when you think

they will never return

a single word aneurysm 

pulls your grandmother

shuffling into sight,

wearing hairnet and apron,

smiling as she lifts the pot holders,

that memory more real

than the muted crackle

of dusk light on Fall’s red

leaves. The sound of seizure

and your beloved

dog of twelve years pants

forward, cocks her head,

gives out a single yip, eager 

for one more walk.   

Drowned swirls

Arlene’s purple-stained face

up from the whirlpool

of dish suds in the sink,

as if she’s rising 

from the muddy bottom

of the lake where she took her final

sleep. Everyone is so weary.

The ghosts miss you

as much as you miss them.

Can anyone say

what’s real?

Michael’s choir-smooth face

no longer gunshot

as you once again sprawl

on the rug whose mold

scent makes you sneeze

even now, forty years later.

He giggles the word Gesundheit.

The dog licks your hand warm.

If you don’t look closely

at the rain drizzle which spots

the darkening windows,

you can truly see

your grandmother bending

to rattle a sheet of cookies

from her gas oven;  

hear the hissing warmth.



Richard Krawiec’s first full-length collection of poetry, She Hands Me the Razor, will be published by Press 53 in September.  His chapbook, Breakdown, was published in 2009. His work appears in Shenandoah, sou’wester, many mountains moving, Witness, Cream City Review, Connotation, 2 Rivers View, Gulf Stream Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. He has published two novels, a story collection, and four plays. His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the NC Arts Council (twice), and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He teaches online Fiction Writing for UNC Chapel Hill, and won its Excellence in Teaching Award. He is founder of Jacar Press.



Q: What can you tell us about the origins of this poem?

A: In the course of one day, I heard three words – the italicized ones in the poem – which sent me spiraling into memories of my dog, my grandmother, and a friend who committed suicide. But the memories were stronger than recollections, seemed like physical manifestations. That started me thinking about reality, and I realized there’s no reason to believe the physical reality we walk through is any more ‘real’ them the images from our memories. There is no objective way to prove that, nor is there any reason to believe our thoughts are less real than our observations.

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Given Names

Kate Partridge

followed by Q&A


If your name is Tyrone anything,

it has been proven that you are less likely

to be hired or rented an apartment,

regardless of your crisp and impressive resume.

If your name is Tyrone and you are looking

for a one-bedroom with your partner Abdul,

give up. Move to the city. You will have to drive

because Abdul will be on the no-fly list,

although they meant to keep tabs on 

his cousin, the black sheep. 



I once received a storybook as a gift

from the wife of our minister, who 

gave me an illustrated set of tales

about a white missionary family in Africa,

which was, to the author, a place

with no internal boundaries, full of pitch-black

children who always smiled. 

To the great amusement of their saviors,

these children had jumbled sounds instead

of names. This would not do. From America,

the missionaries had toted cans of beans, 

powdered milk, Bibles, and also a stack 

of spare Christian names to hand out.

Here you are, Paul! When they returned 

to the states, the missionary children

would go to high school Spanish class.

On the first day, Señor Miller invites

them to color their own nametags. They select 

a name from a colorful chart taped to the wall,

divided into names for boys and names for girls.



If you are born the wrong color,

the world may take your name, or

perhaps you will give it up yourself,

when spelling out Narasimha becomes

much harder than saying John – is that

with an h, or not?,  asks the Citibank representative.

Perhaps one day it will seem 

easier to stop the algebra teacher from stumbling

over it every time by just picking John,

although Tiffany Chang sounds as though

her family would have thrown out the Chang,

too, if that had been easy.



We ask a woman at marriage if she

will take her husband’s name,

when in fact it will take hers,

or if they are progressive, they will hyphenate

and combine. Leibowitz-Anderson, Leiborson,

their first child a mash of names,

but it is fair because everyone will have

to change their drivers’ licenses 

and business cards to words which are new

and reveal nothing about their great-grandfather’s residence.

This is not practical if you are a polygamist,

or just not into marriage. How about we just 

shack up and swap names for while? I will

take good care of yours.



Kate Partridge lives in Fairfax, VA, where she is pursuing an M.F.A. at George Mason University. She serves as the assistant managing editor for So to Speak



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: Recently, I was employed by a fair housing organization, where I spent a lot of time looking at data on race, religion, sexual orientation–factors that seriously affect the ability of people to obtain decent housing. This poem comes from my reflections on the information that we try to draw out of names and the act of naming, and how meaningful or frivolous that endeavor can be.

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Elizabeth Savage

So much depends



the burdens 

with which


we wheel



our happiness. So much 



depends upon a rural



glazed with white



beside darker 



So much hangs 



short words 



long arms

tea, bill,


all, free 

Beside ourselves 


once upon 

a time


with our laurels 

at rest



So much for 



balancing its red



Elizabeth Savage lives and teaches in Fairmont, West Virginia. A chapbook entitled Jane & Paige or Sister Goose, and Grammar, a full-length collection, will be published by Furniture Press Books this year.  She is poetry editor for Kestrel: A Journal of Literature & Art.

Prime Decimals 11.3

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Barely Was There Barley

by Norm Levine

followed by Q&A

Sharing old memories with middle daughter, Lauren, we went through family albums. As in most, the last twenty pages or thereabout were blank, filled in by images we’ve carried around so long they might even be true.

I reminded her of those hard times when some people slept on the floor but we were so poor we didn’t have a floor. How the temperature reached 23 below on the Great Plains and we stayed warm by getting cabin fever. She reminded me she was born in Granada Hills where it was so hot she saw two trees fighting over a dog.

I recalled how we lived as gypsies around the campfire where she learned the fiddle at age three and was later first violinist with Leonard Bernstein conducting. She could only recount her accordion lessons with Harvey Goldstein and how she quit after two sessions.

We reminisced about our days in the circus where we performed as the Flying Levines and perfected the Triple Lutz-Half Gainer, with a twist of lemon, without a net. She had a faint memory of riding on an elephant while twirling eleven plates.

She regressed us to a past life in which I was her daughter, half Iroquois, half Mohawk and half Mohegan. I was the next to last. The two of us warned the tribe, too late, not to sell Manhattan to the Dutch but if they do, to get on Antiques Roadshow with those trinkets.

We both remembered the day I taught her that 8 plus 6 equals 14 by leaping up a flight of stairs or maybe that was 3 plus 2.   We couldn't agree whether I was reading her Three Blind Mice when she was 4 or Four and Twenty Blackbirds when she was 3.

Missing is the picture of her taking a journey inside a watermelon or the story of how she went through childhood with a white mustache after piling extra powdered sugar on her French toast.

Even if it never happened we still talk about those days crossing the prairie with nary and barely was there barley.



Norm Levine is a retired pharmacist who has taken up poetry, prose poems and short, personal essays. Since many poems seem to him like “carefully ruined prose,” he finds himself giving up the jagged right-hand margin and just writing in paragraphs.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: This piece was occasioned by my daughter’s (age 51) visit at which time we each had different memories. It started me thinking about a number of preposterous versions of blurry moments we’ve shared.

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Sparrow's Landing

by Jacqueline Seaberg

followed by Q&A

We had to wait until the year of the drought to bring Daddy’s ashes back to the town of Sparrow’s Landing.  

My brother, Harry, and I drove as far as we could down the once-submerged highway—now caked with red dust—toward the Lake Chifley Reservoir. On the hills above us, skeletons of wooden piers jutted out over parched earth. Closer to the receding reservoir, the grass was green and lush and dotted with debris: old bicycle wheels, limbless dolls, empty soup cans, rusting refrigerators with their doors open wide as if surprised to be discarded as their owners fled for higher ground. 

Harry stopped the car where the highway disappeared into a tangle of spiky grasses and empty beer bottles. 

“Watch where you step,” he warned as we pulled on our galoshes. 

He tucked the canister from the crematorium under one arm and a jar of sweet tea under the other. I followed behind, like Dorothy on her way to Oz, carrying a picnic basket with ham sandwiches and slices of Pepsi cake wrapped in blue-and-white gingham napkins. 

Below us, the valley yawned wide. The crumbling brick façade of the church was all that remained of Sparrow’s Landing. As we got closer, I could see the half-rotted pews through the church’s missing doors. 

I was 7 and Harry 12 when we went to final vespers at the church 20 years ago. Sparrow’s Landing was almost abandoned by then. One by one, our neighbors had taken their government checks and moved up the mountainside. But Momma was already buried by the old church, and Daddy decided he didn’t believe in eminent domain. We stayed until the water nipped at our ankles. 

“Do you remember dropping firecrackers down the well?” I asked Harry as we strode across the spongy earth. He nodded. On warm summer evenings, after Daddy made his chicken-and-waffle dinners, we’d stay up long past dark to play flashlight tag amongst the boarded-up houses. 

The cracked gravestones of our ancestors stood like crooked teeth in front of a gaping hole in the church’s western wall. Past the wrought-iron fence, I could see the waters of once-mighty Lake Chifley turn dark beneath the approaching clouds. 

The jar of tea wobbled slightly as Harry plopped it down on one of the fallen bricks that lay higgledy piggledy in the churchyard. 

“Watch your head,” he said, pointing up at the wall. “The mortar’s not quite right.”

I took a step back, peering over Harry’s shoulder as he slowly opened the canister and poured the gray-white ash, mixed with brittle bone fragments, over the thicket of Creeping Charlie that grew beneath Momma’s headstone. 

The first drops of rain were light. We stood there silently, a measured distance from the deteriorating brickwork, watching the rain wash the ashes off the little purple flowers, until water pooled at our feet. Forks of lightning chased us back to the car, forcing us to leave behind the cake and sandwiches and sweet tea as an offering to the reservoir’s dead. 



"Sparrow's Landing" is Jacqueline Seaberg's first published short story. Her poetry has appeared in Light Quarterly, The Formalist, and Prune Juice. Three of her poems are forthcoming in bottle rockets. Jacqueline is engaged to be married and lives in Chicago.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I was intrigued by an article I read about a town that had been flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers to create a reservoir and reemerged several years later during a long summer drought. I tried to imagine what it would be like for former residents to return to what was left of the town.

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Our Little Star Child

by Paul Pekin

followed by Q&A

She fell out of the sky, our little Star Child. One morning we awoke and she was there. We are older people, I must tell you that. We have lived on this earth, my wife and I, longer than God intended.

I went into the bedroom where my wife sleeps, breathing gently through her toothless mouth. She is very frail, her skin white and translucent, her bones as brittle as ice. When I touched her she opened her eyes, the same eyes I loved when we were children ourselves.

"We have a visitor," I whispered.


"Come into the kitchen and see."

When my wife saw our little Star Child, she almost fell to her knees. "She must have come from very far," she said.

"Very far," I said. "From the very stars themselves."

There are no words I know of that would describe our little Star Child. She is like no other child; she is like every other child. She is very attentive. She sat for hours, listening to my wife talk. It had been many years since my wife talked to a child.

"Oh," my wife said. "When I was your age, I rode a bicycle. I rode it down the Gregory Street hill as fast as the wind. There was a boy who lived on the bottom of that hill and I knew he would see me with my hair flying. I was never as soft and pink as a nursery. I wore patches on my knees and danced to Sammy Kaye on the radio. I rode trains and saw the Grand Canyon, and while I crossed the continent I played cards with three sailors. When I was a young woman I wore a hat with a feather in it, oh, such a feather, it must have come from a very rare bird for I have never seen one like it since. I could dance when I was a girl, I could dance all night, I would dance with young men and old men; they would lift me up and I would soar, there were times when I thought I would never return to earth. I knew secrets when I was young. I kissed another girl on the mouth and tasted her tongue. I knew how to roller skate backwards. After the prom I sneaked into the playground and rode the swings in my long strapless dress. I took my parents to the theater on their anniversary and sang right along with the cast, Oh What a Beautiful Morning. Shall I teach you the words?"

I stood in the doorway and watched my wife talk to our little Star Child. I watched her eyes grow bright and her skin turn warm. I watched her hands turn young.

I left them alone and walked up the street. I walked into the grocery and admired the pretty girl behind the checkout counter. I browsed through the hardware store and examined the garden tools and packets of flower seeds. I stopped at the cafeteria and slowly drank a cup of dark coffee while listening to other old men discuss politics. I roamed by the playground and watched the Spanish children playing soccer. I breathed in the harsh city air and I was alive. How astonished I was to remember that.

When I got home my wife was alone. She was sitting in the living room with her hands in her lap and she was smiling. "I showed her our photo album," she said. "I showed her the pictures we took on our trip. I taught her how to pay rummy. I gave her my old ballet slippers."

I took my wife in my arms and we held each other tight. She was warm all the way through and her flesh felt young. For a moment we forgot we were old and it was as it once had been. I remembered us together with smiles on our faces and a whole lifetime waiting to happen.



Paul Pekin is a retired police officer who lives in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. He published his first short story in 1965 and his most recent one last year. His work has appeared in newspapers, literary magazines, and anthologies, and has won a few prizes. In another life, he taught fiction writing at Columbia College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a few other schools.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I don’t know where this story came from, but the woman in it seems to resemble someone I lived with for forty-five years. As to the man, I won’t say.

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GLOSA: I lay the table

Mary Cresswell

Followed by Q&A

not that the dead will visit—they are dead.

But while we living bathe in such mild air,

neither will I rinse them from my mind,

beloved bones dismantled into sand.

Rachel Hadas, Shells


I lay the table as I always did:

blue and white dishes, crystal glasses.

The linen cloth is new. Never mind,

when he comes, he will recognise

if not me, at least the meal I serve,

the candles, the wine, the braided bread.

The words come more slowly.

I am out of practice and unused

to visitors. Greeting them is hard—

not that the dead will visit—they are dead.


I display my dead on the mantelpiece,

arrange them in rows like smoky quartz

picked up on mountain trails

or bivalves washed up on beaches.

Unlike the loud and living, they don’t answer back.

They stand mute and dusty. Always, the dead are 

accommodating, part of rituals past

and rituals yet to come. Either way,

it’s OK to leave them there.

But while we living bathe them in such mild air,


storms roll in from every compass point;

unrecognisable flotsam and jetsam 

pile up in heaps. When high tide relaxes

we are left with an expanse of debris

otherwise known as thoughts.

The dead are more kind.

They rest outside our tumbling chaos

waiting for us to pick through them.

I pause my sorting, grubby and begrimed, 

to swear I’ll never rinse them from my mind


so I decide it’s time to build

a place to hold us all, perhaps

a temple—a tumulus—a bower

to safely store the memories 

I need to keep with me. Call it what

you like. The dead have all the words to hand.

I mine them all to pick through

and extract my dearest shards. Then I 

use them to construct my promised land:

beloved bones dismantled into sand.



Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. She has published in a variety of journals in New Zealand and the United States. Her third book, Trace Fossils, was published in early 2011 by Steele Roberts of Wellington (



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: I read Rachel Hadas’s  “Shells” at a time when I was realizing that I have reached an age at which, in the normal course of events, my losses begin to rub against each other and lose their individual shape, as rocks and shells do when they become sand on the beach. While Hadas keeps the integrity of individual shells, I seem to have gone for the blur, as everything disintegrates … and indeed, checking my notes, I see that I have misquoted Hadas’s third line when carrying it over to my own poem—and for this blur I deeply apologize!

Quick Bright Things

Anna Rosen Guercio

followed by Q&A

Always the same time in a subway car.

The rhythm of the repeated object.

But then there’s when my baby lived.

Stroked my head.

Picked my pocket.


What comes out in woods

fears description, its fearful retribution.

I love, and imagine I do,

coaxed, quick, I hold stillest for you,

in opposition to better angels.



Anna Rosen Guercio is a translator and poet living in Los Angeles. Her work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from The Kenyon Review, Pool, Painted Bride Quarterly, Inter|rupture, Eleven Eleven, and Words Without Borders, with a chapbook published by Toad Press. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine.



Q: What was the inspiration this poem?

A: “Quick Bright Things” plays on Shakespeare's “So quick bright things come to confusion” (A Midsummer Night's Dream, I.i.149).  The implied comma after “quick” allows us to read the phrase on the more obvious level, but this poem imagines what a “quick bright thing” might be, how it might come to confusion, and what comes before and after.

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Catherine Harnett

followed by Q&A

Her lower baby tooth

waits for the right time

to leap into the night.

Beneath her pillow

it will hide. The fairy hovers,

fist filled with coins. 


Does she know which

brave girl wiggles her white

tooth in anticipation?


The new one inches

its way towards day, ragged

and hopeful in its cave.


Patience, my daughter, once

the little pearls have gone

come the teeth of wolves.



Catherine Harnett is a poet and fiction writer from Fairfax, Virginia, and has authored two books of poetry published through the Washington Writers Publishing House. (Still Life and Evidence). Her work has recently appeared in upstreet 5, sakura, right hand pointing, the Roanoke Review and alimentium. Catherine’s fiction appears in an anthology of coming of age stories, Writes of Passage, published by the Hudson Review. She received her BA from Marymount College of Fordham University, and her MA from Georgetown. Catherine worked for the federal government for over thirty years, and retired in 2007 to devote herself to writing full time. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: Losing teeth is a complicated experience. Losing baby teeth is exciting—the Tooth Fairy will leave something under your pillow in return for your little tooth. As we grow up, it’s not so much fun to lose teeth—we are getting old, bad habits catch up with us. Watching my daughter lose her first tooth was sweet, but I knew that wolves with their fangs are never far behind. Alas, there is no tooth fairy—when my parents died, I found all of my baby teeth wrapped in napkins. How tiny they were; how could they be mine?

Prime Decimals 11.5

Mark Richardson.JPG

Courting Param

by Mark Richardson

followed by Q&A

I’m masquerading as an exotic dancer to win the heart of Param Singh.

“Are you a new girl?” asks a Latina who’s officially on payroll.


I’d just exited the bathroom where I’d stuffed my trench coat deep into the garbage can. I only wore the coat to get past the doorman. Cleavage is climbing out of the skimpy outfit that was hidden underneath; my breasts are inviting.

“Just keep away from my regulars, girlfriend,” the Latina says, looks me up and down, and then struts toward the bar.

Her chocolate eyes betrayed no suspicion that I’m a fraud.

Param is a vice president at the financial software company where I’m an administrative assistant. He moved here from India and speaks with very precise English. He wears pressed suits and polished shoes and I have a crazy-mad crush on him. I think he’s lonely because he visits this strip club, “The Barbary Coast,” every Friday night. I know this because I’ve been following him for months. 

I walk toward the Copenhagen room.

Inside it’s extra dark with little partitioned rooms, each with a sofa and a curtain you can slide shut. Girls take clients inside for lap dances. Three weeks ago, Param spent most of the night in one of these rooms with a redhead. I have no idea how much she made, but I suspect it’s more than I make in a week. That night, two separate strippers approached me in the corner where I was trying to blend into the wall and asked if I wanted a dance. If you’re a woman, they must suspect you’re a lesbian. I’m not.

Param isn’t here yet. It’s only 6:45 and he arrives every Friday at 7:00. One thing I like about Param: he’s always on time. If a meeting starts at 12:30, he’s there at 12:30.

I feel a hand squeeze my ass. 

“Can I have a dance?”

The hand belongs to a tall man with an early Beatles-style hair cut. It sticks up in back, like Alfalfa. Well, not exactly like Alfalfa, but it sticks up.

 You can’t successfully masquerade as an exotic dancer and turn down a client, so I take the hand off my ass and pull him into one of the rooms.

“How much?” he asks.

“What you got?”

“One hundred.”

“I was hoping for two.”

“Well, I’ve only got one hundred.”

“Okay, but my top stays on.” I never had any intention of taking off my top, but I think negotiating like this makes me seem legit. Not that it would really matter to Alfalfa. He’s going to have a pretty young girl rub her ass on his crotch whether she’s officially on the payroll or not.

Another thing I like about Param: he has impeccable manners. If someone sneezes, he always says, “God bless you.” It’s close to impossible to find a decent fella in this town. My last three boyfriends were a married man, a dope fiend, and a ne'er-do-well. I deserve a gentleman.

Alfalfa sits. I stuff the cash into my bra, turn my back to him, bend down, and start grinding. I can feel that he’s enjoying it. I mean, literally feel it. He’s wearing khaki pants.

Alfalfa puts his mouth right up to my ear and whispers, “I like dirty talk.”

“That’s because you’re such a bad boy.”

“I am. I am a bad boy.”

“Do you need a spanking?

“Yes, yes.”

It goes on like this.

One thing I don’t like about Param: he doesn’t know who I am. He never says hi to me in the hallways or acknowledges me when I hold the door open for him. When I follow him, I don’t always keep a safe distance, because I’m sure he couldn’t pick me out of a crowd.

Alfalfa tells me he’s going to the ATM to get more money so he can have another dance, but it’s practically 7:00 and I need to find Param.

I fling open the curtain, adjust the bottom of my outfit, and then see Param already on the other side of the room. He’s talking to a redhead who has legs like a showgirl. She’s playfully tugging his shirt with her fingertips.

Note to self: Param likes redheads, consider dying your hair.

Alfalfa’s behind me saying, “Just wait here, I’ll be right back,” but I don’t wait. I force myself between Param and the redhead. “Sorry, girlfriend, this one’s mine,” I say, and flash a winning smile.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she says. Her pupils grow wide.

“We have a regular thing,” I say, “every Friday night.”

“Ah. Well. Whatever.” She stomps away. 

I take Param into the room Alfalfa and I just left; I know I do good work there. I close the curtain, but before we can sit down, Param says, “Mary, what are you doing here?”

This I hadn’t anticipated. My plan was that Param would offer me money, which I’d decline, telling him I found him so attractive I wanted to do it for free. Param, of course, would like this arrangement, and we’d agree to meet here every week. Eventually we’d move the operation to his apartment on Sacramento Street, and as he grew to know me better, we’d become a couple. The exact details weren’t fleshed out, but that was the general plan.

“You recognize me?”

“Of course, Mary, you work just down the hallway from me. I see you five days a week. You keep a Garfield stuffed animal and a jar full of jelly beans on your desk.”

“Maybe you want a lap dance, no charge.”

“Mary…” But before Param can finish, the curtain flies open. There’s a bald man the size of a Buick in the doorway. The redhead with the legs is peeking around him and saying, “That’s her, that’s the bitch. I don’t even think she works here.”

The bald man doesn’t say a word, but with one huge hand he grabs my arm and leads me toward the exit. His grip doesn’t hurt, it’s just firm. Param follows behind saying, “Excuse me, sir, can we discuss this?” He’s polite even in a crisis. 

Once we get to the front door, the big man stops and says, “If you want a job, come back and fill out an application.” His eyes don’t wander down to my chest; the restraint impresses me. He pushes me out the door.

It’s cold outside. Param appears behind me. “Mary,” he says, “I don’t understand.”

“What’s to understand? Can’t a girl decide to sneak into a strip club and offer men free lap dances?” 

I’m a little rattled that things haven’t unfolded as I planned, so instead of talking more, I start to walk down the street. I walk quickly, with big strides, which turn into skipping, then jogging, and eventually I’m running as fast as I can. My breath hits the cold air and forms into little clouds. I can hear Param running behind me, trying to keep up. I pass a group of homeless men drinking out of bottles concealed in paper bags who yell out something, but I’m moving so fast I can’t make out what they say. I keep running down O’Farrell past Jones. I was on the cross-county team in high school and can run like this forever. Eventually I end up near Union Square outside a little Chinese restaurant where I know Param likes to eat lunch on Wednesdays. He typically orders soup and pot stickers and washes it down with hot tea.

I walk inside. 

“Can I help you?” asks a little Chinese man.

“A table, please.” There are two college boys sitting at the counter ogling me. The cute one lets out a soft wolf whistle; normally I’d be offended, but since I’m shining with sweat and wearing fewer clothes than a high school cheerleader, I can’t blame him.

As I’m reading the menu and trying to decide between sizzling rice and hot and sour soup, Param walks in the front door. He’s taking big gulps of air, and once he makes it over to my table, he puts a hand on the back of my chair.

“Mary…” he says, and then takes another breadth. “Mary, we must have run for ten blocks.”

“I’m ordering soup. Would you like something?”

Param straightens up. He’s still in the suit and tie he wore at work. He takes off his jacket, wraps it around my shoulders, and then sits in the seat next to mine.

“Hot and sour. And tea,” he says. We wave over the waiter and place our order. I’m warm under Param’s jacket, but my sweaty bare legs are sticking to the chair.

“Now Mary,” Param says, looking me square in the eyes, “are we going to talk about this?”



“Well what?”

“Don’t be coy. Why were you at that club?”

“Why were you at that club?”

“Mary, that’s not the point.”

“Maybe it isn’t your point, but it is my point.” This seems to throw him. Things have changed. Param does, in fact, know who I am. And he just chased me for ten blocks. That’s got to mean something.

Our food arrives and the tea and soup warms me up even further.

“You must be cold,” Param says.

“The tea and soup are warming me up. And your jacket.”

The bill arrives and I dig the cash out of my bra, but Param insists on paying.

Outside it’s clear, no fog or moon.

“Let’s get a nightcap,” I say.

The past few months when I wasn’t following Param or looking at him longingly in the office, I fantasized about him. Sometimes it’s wild stuff with leather and mirrors and condiments—whipped cream, mostly. But I also liked to write the names—Mary Singh or Mrs. Param Singh—with a felt pen on Post-Its. I’d stare at them, and then crumple the squares into tight little balls. I also liked to picture myself on our wedding day, me in a beautiful white gown and that red dot on my forehead. I’d be willing to wear the dot for Param.

“Mary, it has been interesting, but I think it’s time—”

“Or I could tie you up with your tie and have my way with you.” I know this is amazingly forward, but under the circumstances I figure I may as well just go for it.

“That might make things uncomfortable.”

“I’ll be gentle.”

“At the office, I mean.”

“Why’d you chase after me?”

“I was worried about you.” A bus driver blows his horn and people walk past us on the sidewalk where we’re standing. “So you want to get a drink,” says Param. “Where?”

I’m in charge—yes!—I’m in charge. “Up there.” I point to the top of one of the towering hotels. “I just adore a penthouse view.”

The elevator zips us up in no time.

The room is enormous. There’s a bar in the middle and a restaurant that spins around it so the patrons can have a 360-degree view of the city.

“This could make a girl dizzy,” I say, as we take a seat at the bar.

“Yes. I’ve never seen a floor that spins.”

“No, I meant being here with you.”  I slip my arm through his. “Let’s get a drink.”

I order an appletini and Param gets cranberry juice.

“You don’t drink?”

“Sometimes, but it seems wise to keep my wits about me tonight.”

“It’s never wise to lose your wits.”

“Mary, I’ve been—”

“Oh! This is delicious! Take a sip.” I lift the drink up toward Param’s lips. “Come on, a little isn’t going to kill you.”

“That actually has quite a good flavor,” Param says. He twists in his chair so that’s he’s facing me. “Mary, you asked why I was at the strip club. The truth is I’m not sure.”

I give Param my full attention, unblinking eye-to-eye, as if what he’s saying is the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard. “I know why,” I say.

“You do?”

“You like young, half-naked girls. Param, it really isn’t that complicated.”

“Yes, I suppose there is that. But perhaps there is more as well.”

“You think too much, you know that?”

“Mary, I’m hoping we can keep this just between you and me. I would prefer others in the office didn’t find out.”

“Whatever happens between us stays locked away.” I twist two fingers by my lips as if I’m locking a safe and then I toss the key away. “Hey, haven’t they passed us already?” I nod toward a couple seated at a table by the window. “How fast does this thing move? Let’s get another drink.”

“Look, Mary, this has been one of the more interesting nights I’ve had in a long time. But it has been a long day. It is time for me to go home.”

“Okay. Suit yourself.”

One thing I love about the city: there’s always activity. Outside the hotel, doormen are hailing taxis and people are hustling about.

“Can you take a girl home?” I say, batting my eyes. Polite Param can’t say no to this.

“Of course. I’ll get us a cab.”

“No, I like to ride the cable car.” Before he can object, I move quickly toward the corner. A car is climbing up the incline, already full of tourists, and I make it in time to grab a handle and jump onto the side. Param is right behind me. I squeeze through the crowd and find a seat. I push Param down on the bench and sit on his lap. 

“I love riding the cable car,” I say. “It makes me think of fedoras and old cars with white wall tires.” 

The crowd sways and I slide across Param’s lap. I grab his arms and wrap them around me. I lean back, and the car keeps climbing up the hill. When we reach the top, I say, “Here’s my stop,” and pull the cord that rings the bell.

As Param walks me the two dozen or so steps to the entrance of my apartment building, we can hear the cables spinning underground. 

I unlock the front door, turn around, and say, “Why don’t you come up for a bit?”

Param clasps his hand and says, “No, thank you.” He pauses, and then with a little grin says, “I might regret this, but are you free tomorrow night? Dinner, perhaps?” Most men would follow me right upstairs, eager to get laid. Not Param. He really is a real gentleman.

“Dinner sounds good,” I say.  I give him his suit coat back and we exchange cell numbers.

Once inside my apartment, I brush my teeth, floss, brush again, and gargle. I slip on a pair of sneakers and call a cab. I’ve made it to Param’s in as little as seven minutes, but the cab driver hits every red light, so it takes closer to thirteen. Param owns a two-bedroom, top-floor condo. Across the street is an apartment building. I push the buzzers to about six different apartments until someone rings the front door open. I race up the stairs; I’ve done this enough times to know that the door to the roof is unlocked. From the ledge I can look right into Param’s bedroom, just in time to see him climb under the covers and start reading a book. He is wearing the cutest striped pajamas!

Maybe instead of dinner, Param and I should rent a car and drive to Las Vegas. We could get married in a tacky little church. That would be a story to tell our kids.



Mark Richardson’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in SegueCrime FactorySwitchback, Nth Position, and elsewhere. Richardson lives in Northern California and works as a marketing writer in Silicon Valley.



Q: What influenced this story?

A: I’ve been reading a lot of short stories written by Aimee Bender and Haruki Murakami. They’ve had a big influence on my approach to fiction: less realistic, but stories that move rapidly, are fun, interesting, and pull the reader along in unexpected ways.

Paul Dickey.jpg

Rick of Firewood Out Back, Behind the Nursing Home

Paul Dickey

Followed by Q&A

In the back lot, the bark rots away from limbs, 

home for silverfish and cantankerous beetles. 

Boys playing in the alley no longer hide 

for safety from mothers behind the dank log pile.

In wet and dry stammers of forgetful weather, 

under the mind’s full snow of eternal moments, 

the heartwood loses tissue, all the evidence

of once being a tree among other tall trees, 

in a busy forest. Christian men brought the load,

mixed proud names of hardwood – oak, ash, maple –


fully seasoned and stacked to a proper angle.  

The fiber now is brittle as a box of foxed

newspapers once read daily. The men had felt good 

about what they had done. The young are so inclined, 

counted their deed service, asked only a fair wage. 

Their labor was of course appreciated, though 

all the firewood is not yet used, its time not come. 

If now brought to the fire, the logs could not sustain 

a night of conversation, would burn in minutes, 

crackling and popping like little, human voices. 



Paul Dickey’s full-length poetry manuscript, They Say This Is How Death Came into the World, was published by Mayapple Press in January 2011 and is being nominated by the press for the National Book Award in poetry. His poetry has appeared recently in Verse Daily, Rattle, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, Mid-American Review, Midwest Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review and online at  A poetry chapbook, What Wisconsin Took, was published by the Parallel Press in 2006. Biographical information and notes on previous publishing activity may be found at



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: Although the poem was inspired by my wife’s volunteer service as a guardian and friend to nursing home patients, she points out to me that the poem is totally unrealistic. No nursing home staff would have time, inclination, or opportunity to provide such frivolous entertainment to the residents as to allow them to muse and visit by an open fire. I say, my point, exactly.

Patrick Milian.JPG

Patrick Milian

Two Brothers and a Year in the Shape of a Triangle

followed by Q&A

My brother never understood my map ritual,

never gathered how pushing the colored heads of pins

into imitation vellum to indicate three things


—where we are, 

where we’re from,

where we’d like to be—


would build scalene walls between points to bind up the paper ocean.


His favorite part was, once the pin-pushing was over,

pointing out how I had wired the ocean for light.


My brother would hold the map up to the window

 and let the light shine through each tiny puncture, 

spreading out in elongated cones that ended on our foreheads.


When you endure tragedy, you have to tell someone everything except what happened, 


like seeing a little circle of Summer sun just above  my brother’s eyebrow 

without ever knowing the hole in the sea.


The other side of the map, outside the window:


The river there ran so close to the ocean it changed

directions with the tide, eschewed its own muddy gravity


for the sake of proximity to its destination, hesitated

and deposited its contents for fear of dilution.


The delta is the difference from—the distance

between—the change in—the before but also after—


The delta sifts its own shape from sedentary shores,

piles borders and crenellates partitions, and opacity


sinks into the carved line-laden silt, like the delta’s shape 

stitched its own sides into the riverbed, peeled them off


like leeches until only the three necessary 

for definition survived. The water slows


when the moon thumbs it into the earth, so refracting particles

stand stock-still for the dull moment before sinking


into a shallow curve, a slower slope—and slope

is the change in vertical over the change in horizontal


and change is notated as delta, a tiny triangle that wielded

more ideogrammatic force as its original Semitic pictograph:


a fish. The delta is where everything falls into a pile:

moonlight, ground stone, shards of bony fish,


pictures that are words, and letters with no sound.

A pile shaped a little like a triangle.


That was our geometric season—

the calendar’s squares dedicated

to sorting out the numbers 

that rang in patterns, resonated 

in our bones and promised 

to swallow us up in their 

own hulking simplicity.

Mathematics, he said, had to be

accepted, in all its arbitrary and stilted

strangeness, but it never asks more

than that. I think the strangeness

of it grew from the ground with the ice

that encased ozone-poisoned leaves

before the snow came, when

I replied that arbitrary and stilted

were the best we could hope for

and that I did more than accept it.

He sighed and watched

snow heave from the sky.


My brother alone:


He stands in the winter storm,

submerges his feet in the piling 

snow and thrusts his fists into 

his threadbare coat’s pockets.


He becomes the axis around which the flakes

tilt on an imaginary grid, the arbitrary cross-hatch

that gifts spaceless points with a location.


Three points determine a plane. A spinning

triangle of any three particles builds the surface

that cleaves him across his middle.


To stand in the snowstorm is to halve yourself

over and over with your own rational imagination.


He accepts the cold, endures the loneliness,

but how does he withstand the endless cross-cutting?


My brother alone: the quickly diminishing solitary geometer. 


Me alone:


Three points (two hydrogen and one oxygen)

determine a plane. The water molecule gives

enough permission to constrict it with whatever


pins and however many triangles I can build. 

The body is, more than likely, just a river on foot,

carrying water and dropping the rest, another means 


of constriction to which the water submits.

In this way the body as I see it

is in the shape of a triangle.


Me alone: a slow-moving vector 

if the river there had been graphed.


The snowstorm is a flood of imagined triangles.

In this way the world bent to the human will

is in the shape of a triangle.


He couldn’t follow the logic once the rains came,

couldn’t fall through the hole in the ocean,

couldn’t unwrap the water

from around his vibrating bones.

I suppose, for him, the triangle

was always a cell—in every sense—

and knowledge promised escape.

It wasn’t until that circle of Summer sun

went dark, just before the light

started shining from the other end,

that the delta picked up its three side

and finally drifted into the endless.


Here’s what I know: he was, at the very least, not afraid

of dilution, gulping down a glass of water every morning


as if to keep his insides from crusting over. I suppose, that

last morning, when he didn’t finish the glass, he had hardened


and had to tap his way out with a water-softened fingernail.

I’m listening, my brother’s bones, to your worried rattle


and click, but all I hear is the music of curve and slope,

the sounds of a watery world bent to our will.



Patrick Milian currently lives in Atlanta, Ga., where he sells shoes, plays the banjouke, and struggles with the MFA application process.



Q: Do you have any comments you'd like to make about this poem?

A: This poem is dedicated to Harold Kleeman for painting triangles all over my life.

Christine Salvatore.jpg


Christine Salvatore

followed by Q&A

In the hour before dark, a woman sits 

on her front porch watching the geese 

head south.  She can’t endure 

the ritual departure much longer 

and feels, on her porch swing, unsafe 

as if she is dangling and ready to fall.  

If she dreams tonight, it will be of apples, 

late in season, trees heavy with red fruit 

too cumbersome for bent branches 

to cling to any more. In the morning 

the hard ground will be littered with them 

and, if the air is right, she’ll pack a bag 

and leave this town. She’s not running, 

but winter is coming and this year has been 

without tangible harvest. Maybe she’ll drive 

far enough to find an orchard just in blossom— 

fruit not nearly ready to be picked, consumed.  

There, with the sound of wings overhead, 

she will find a place to start from.   

She wants to be more tree than fruit.   

She wants to bear the weight of each 

season and then be able to just let go.



Christine E. Salvatore received her MFA from The University of New Orleans. She currently teaches literature and creative writing at Rosemont College, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and Egg Harbor Township High School. Her poetry has recently appeared in The Literary Review, The Cortland Review, and in The Edison Literary Review. She is the recipient of a 2005 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts.



Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?

A: I always imagine setting out for new adventures, especially when I’m feeling particularly cornered by everyday obligations. This yearning, and my love of Robert Frost and Fall, inspired the poem.

Prime Decimals 11.7

Peter DeMarco.jpeg

The Commuter

by Peter DeMarco

followed by Q&A

I unload trucks at Home Depot with Tommy, a college student who wants to make the scariest movie ever made, no haunted house bullshit or monsters, he says, just real psychological horror, like this movie he saw in film class called The Tenant.

After work, we drink in a topless bar. I ask the barmaid if she can make something pretty. Thirty seconds later a Tequila Sunrise sits in front of me. Perfect, I tell her. Outside, the winter deadness had robbed everything of any spirit. It was nice to see some color.

Tommy asks me if I want to be in his movie.

As an extra?

No, my lead.

I’m not an actor.

There’s not much dialogue, he says.

Why me?

I need a Mr. Suburbia type. 

The jukebox plays “Gloria.” It’s Christmas week and the bar is empty. A dancer wears a mini-skirt Santa outfit. 

Everybody cuts their grass, I tell him.

Not me.

What do I have to do, I ask.

Just follow my direction. I’ll talk you through it. The film is more of a mood thing, a lot of shadows, sounds.

Tommy’s film is called The Commuter. On Halloween, a man is on his way home from the train station when he hits a kid on a bike. The kid is wearing one of those skeleton costumes. The guy leaves the scene because he’s got a date with a woman he’s been pursuing for a long time. He feels guilty and imagines he hears the skeleton bones rattling around his house, kind of like a Tell-Tale Heart thing, Tommy says.

At the end of the movie he’s wandering around the city and comes across a movie being shot. There’s a crowd of extras and he walks into the middle of the crowd, and he cries, he can’t express himself to the real world, Tommy explains, so he cries in this fake world in the middle of all these strangers.

Tommy tells me he’d like to open his film in the topless bar, on a close-up of a dancer’s breasts, and then pull back slowly until the commuter is revealed drinking at the bar. I don’t think anyone’s ever opened a film with that kind of shot, he says. It could be symbolic, you know, the guy lost his mother when he was young, and it’s kind of a maternal thing.

I don’t tell Tommy that my mother died when I was 10. It would make him feel like a casting genius. 

In the parking lot, I watch him pull away in a Monte Carlo, and after his tires finish threading the gravel, it’s quiet again. It’s one of those nights where everyone is somewhere and the night belongs to itself. I stop for coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. The movie theater I worked in during high school sits across the street, on the edge of a strip mall, its façade reminding me of a tired, broken down boxer, scarred and punchy. 

The marquee is white and blank. 


I’d been to the city once. My parents had taken me to the Empire State Building because I wanted to see where King Kong had fallen. He didn’t really die here, my father told me, it was make believe.

On the street, I almost trip over a homeless man missing half his body and living on a skateboard. He’s rattling a single coin around in a coffee mug. I stop and stare at him. He stares back, still swinging the coin in the cup around.

Don’t you know it’s not polite to stare, he snarls. The sound in his cup reminds me of something. When I walk away he calls me a fuckin’ freak.

Two nights before, Tommy told me to take the train into the city a few times, to get the feel of commuting. That morning, in the train station parking lot, I joined the commuters. They looked like an army of silhouettes, in position for the 7:17 a.m. train, the one my father took every day. I wore one of his old gray suits. At my side was his scuffed black briefcase. 

On 42nd Street, black guys in fancy hats give me the eye. It’s cold, and they huddle in doorways. A row of movie marquees displays Charles Bronson, Kung Fu, and horror movie titles. I buy a hot chocolate and walk into a pornographic bookstore. I almost expect someone to tell me that I’m not allowed in there. In the bookstore in our strip mall where I used to buy my comic books, there was an adult section behind these swinging saloon-type doors in the back of the store, with a sign that said ‘You Must Be 18 to Enter.’ For a 10-year-old, the other side of those doors might as well have led to outer space. 

One day I rode my bicycle behind the shopping center and over to the store’s dumpster, where stacks of magazines were piled on top. I spent an hour looking at extreme close-ups of female body parts. I rode home with an erection, and when I entered the kitchen my mother was sitting at the table, in her bathrobe, stirring an empty coffee cup, the spoon clanging against the ceramic with an empty resonance. She had just found out she had leukemia. 

After she died, I thought about the sign: You Must Be 18 to Enter. When it came to sex, you had to be 18, but an experience with death had no sign, no age restriction.

A Santa shakes a bell and says help the needy. His white beard has turned gray, stained with city soot and exhaust. I try to remember my father’s office address. He worked at a life insurance company, in accounting.  

The wind in the city is brutal. I don’t know how my father managed this commuter lifestyle. I stare at my reflection in a glass door and notice that the suit appears to dwarf my body. 

Then I realize it was the suit my father died in.

I drink in a noisy Irish pub where everybody’s celebrating the holidays and slapping me on the back. For some reason they all want to buy me drinks. Perhaps it’s my bland appearance, which causes them to project onto me their feelings for a brother, son, nephew, or husband. 

Out in the cold, my eyes water and my head spins. I lean against a brick wall and check my watch. On the way to the station, I stop by the homeless man on the skateboard. He shakes the cup and I listen to the sound of the coin, the same sound my mother’s spoon made in her empty cup as she stared out the window at her moribund garden.

I swing my briefcase and knock the cup out of his hand. It smashes on the sidewalk. He curses and rolls towards me with saliva spraying from his mouth and I run away, the briefcase tight to my chest. 

On the train, I stare out the window, the same landscape my father watched, strip malls and houses, pools and fences. In the parking lot, commuters hustle off to waiting cars, while others appear languid as they make their way through dark rows of vehicles. 

At home, I take a long shower and then walk into the yard and fill my lungs with cold winter air. There’s a full moon out and I think of how life is much scarier than the movies. There was the day my father stood alongside our pool, the sun reflecting off the gold locks on his briefcase. He’d taken an early train home. The lawn looks good, he told me. Then he collapsed into the pool. I was so stunned by the incongruity of what I’d just witnessed that I couldn’t move. I just stared at his gray suit jacket, splayed out like a giant bird’s wings on the water. 

They told me that he was dead from a heart attack before he even hit the water, that there was nothing I could’ve done, but that didn’t make me feel any better.  

A month later, a bulldozer filled in the hole that was once the pool.


I arrange snow shovels in Aisle 5. Tommy wants to start shooting the film next week. I ask him how he plans to make a film that takes place on Halloween in the winter, when there are no leaves on the trees. There are tricks, Henry, he says.

Back home, the kids play touch football in the street. I join in and hit one kid for a long touchdown. They tell me I have a good arm and want to know why I don’t answer the door on Halloween. I’m probably watching TV and can’t hear the door, I lie. One kid says his mother calls me Boo Radley and he wants to know who Boo is.

I tell him that Boo Radley was a character in a story who helped children, and liked to watch them play outside.

The kids go in for dinner and I notice that the outside of the house could use a little paint. I hadn’t done much since my father died. Just continued to cut the grass in the summer and shovel the driveway in the winter. My father died when I was a senior in high school and I was able to maintain the house with his life insurance and pension policies. But I lost the motivation to attend college and began working various construction and custodial jobs.

On Monday morning, I join the commuters on the 7:17. I open my father’s briefcase. It is the first time the case has been opened since he died. There’s an old newspaper, some pens, papers, and my mother’s autopsy report. I wonder why he kept it in here. It lists all kinds of medical jargon, and the time of death. It was spring. I’d been playing Little League when my father picked me up and told me the news. I had just struck out with the bases loaded to end the game and nobody on the team would talk to me.

In the city, I wander around. Holding the briefcase and wearing a suit makes me feel purposeful, but I’ve got nothing to do. I buy an ‘I love N.Y.’ coffee mug and locate the homeless guy. He’s holding a paper cup. I hand him the mug and smile. Fuckin’ freak, he says. It starts to snow and I take off my father’s overcoat and place it around his shoulders. How did you lose your body, I ask him. Fuckin’ Vietnam, he says. I’ve seen it in the movies, I tell him. 

The movies are a fuckin’ lie, he spits.

I walk back to the station and remember what my father said about King Kong, how he was only a foot tall.  

I continue to commute. I stop going to work at Home Depot and ignore Tommy’s phone calls. Sometimes I walk into random office buildings, take the elevator up, punch a button, and walk through office space as if I had a purpose. Nobody ever says anything.

On the train one morning I run into a girl from high school who worked at the candy counter of the movie theater when I was an usher. One night she’d told me that I looked sharp in my red velvet blazer.  I said that I didn’t know why they called us ushers because ushers escorted people to their seats and all we did was rip their tickets. She had laughed and said that I could escort her someday, but I never did anything about it.

Now she’s married with kids and works in advertising as a traffic coordinator or something like that. I tell her that I’m an actor and I’m on my way to audition for a floor wax commercial. My character is supposed to come home from work, kiss my wife, and tell her how clean and shiny everything looks. You’ve got a believable look, she says. 

We say goodbye and I tell her that I’m on my way to California to be in the movies. 

The snow is light, and the city looks like it belongs in one of those snow globes. I look up to the top of the Empire State Building, the way I did when I came here for the first time. That’s where King Kong went, I’d said to my father. 

Then he told me how it was all a lie.

I buy a new overcoat and get a large container of coffee. A taxi drops me off over the bridge. I look up at the green sign and begin to walk west. The snow is heavy. With my briefcase and coffee, I was ready.

I had a long commute ahead of me.



Peter DeMarco teaches high school English and film in New York City.  He has been published in The New York Times, Cadillac Cicatrix, SmokeLong Quarterly, Verbsap, Pindeldyboz, Sunsets & Silencers, Hippocampus Magazine, Dogzplot, and Cinema Retro.  Peter lives in New Jersey with his wife Charmaine, and two boys, Dexter and Sam.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I’ve been working on a series of suburban stories involving the Henry character.  They have autobiographical roots:  I lost my parents at a young age and remained in their house.

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Beth Copeland

Followed by Q&A

I stole another woman’s only scarf—

          No, I didn’t. I stole the line above to lead to the next

line, swiped like the challis scarf


lost in a church parking lot.

          It was black with a blue-and-white geometric print

like tiny Turkish tiles.


One Sunday I looked up from prayer

          and an old woman in the pew in front of me

was wearing my scarf!


Because it had been given to me

          by someone I loved, I couldn’t let it pass,

so after church, I said, “You’re wearing


my scarf,” and she said, “Someone found it

          and said it looked like mine,” adding insult to injury

since I didn’t think my beautiful scarf


looked like it would belong to

          a woman wearing Hush Puppy shoes and a Brillo-pad 

hairdo.  “But it’s not yours,” I said.


“It’s mine,” so she took it off,

          handing it over as if she were giving me a gift

when the scarf had been mine to begin with. 


I still wear it, especially

          on cold mornings when I need to wrap something warm

and familiar around my neck.


That happened many years ago

          when I still went to church and still believed 

I was lost and needed God to find me.



Beth Copeland grew up in Japan, India, and North Carolina. Her book Traveling Through Glass received the 1999 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award. Her poems have been published in various literary journals and have received awards from Atlanta Review, North American Review, The North Carolina Poetry Society, and Peregrine. Two of her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is employed as an English instructor at Methodist University. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: I wrote “Confession” in response to a writing prompt from Tupelo Press Poetry Project. The prompt was to use a line from Anne Marie Rooney’s poem, “Last Evening: Index of first lines.” My first line, “I stole a woman’s only scarf,” was taken from Rooney’s poem, which Rooney took from someone else’s poem.

Rich Ives.jpg

Man Counting the Thoughts of a Cloud

Rich Ives

followed by Q&A


There’s a rock asleep in number one,

but two embraces it, and three goes along for the ride,


and soon there’s nine of them,

all huddled together, trying not to touch,


and then one wonders about the space between,

how there’s nothing in it on one side, and on the other


a vast distance to cross to reach something

larger than oneself, so the emptiness inside


seems to multiply. It’s filling that space between.

We must try to comprehend how many of us


will be asked to give up our lives 

to all those gentle stones carried one at a time


from one side of the field to the other

and back again without even waking.




I came to a hole in the ground, and I fell in

because I could not see the bottom.

It was what I wanted, and I kept falling.


My friends thought I was dead, but I was older than that—

there’s room for your death in a glass of water.


I was about to take my legs into the next room.

I had gotten too far ahead of myself.


I had been falling a long time when I heard a pin drop.

I went looking, and I found the haymow, and someone disgusting

was rolling in it with someone almost beautiful.



What I meant by “confused” was

after your bones crack and fall

to a pile of dust on the bedroom floor,

they will water your prosperous garden with you.


Above the hardware sign, several bulbs bend

down like an overbite cavity, flashing golden

in the evening’s lighted smile, a suitor

with only sincerity and an earnest flutter.


Rubber glove turned inside out, paper plate grayed

with greasy abandon, iridescent feather of a large

and arrogant bird, bubblegum stuck to the bus-stop seat—

pay attention there’s another life being decided,


and the important thing is exactly what we thought it was,

but smaller, so much smaller, and inside us all the time,

waiting to show us what it found, out there,

where we were thinking.



Rich Ives is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. His story collection, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking, was one of five finalists for the 2009 Starcherone Innovative Fiction Prize. In 2010 he has been a finalist in fiction at Black Warrior Review and Mississippi Review and in poetry at Cloudbank and Mississippi Review. In 2011 he is again a finalist in poetry at Mississippi Review. The Spring 2011 Bitter Oleander contains a feature including an interview and 18 of his hybrid works.



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: “Man Counting the Thoughts of a Cloud” is part of a series of point-of-view poems with sections that reconsider each premise from a different angle while the language remains straightforward, establishing a recurring character who appears to be simpler than he really is.