Prime Decimals 37.2

Craig Fishbane.JPG

The Day's New Words

by Craig Fishbane

followed by Q&A

No one is speaking in the classroom. Even parrots in coconut trees outside the window have gone silent during the afternoon rain. I lean against the podium and give my name to boys at wooden desks, students in bare feet and muddy t-shirts. Most are still perspiring from practice on the futbol field. They smirk at the way I pronounce each letter, enunciating long vowels and blended consonants with the crisp concision of a fussy baritone, a diva attempting to harmonize with a tuning fork. I am seeking perfect pitch: the song of a child discovering English. 

he class remains unimpressed. One boy sticks out a pasty tongue, trying to touch his nose with the pink tip. Another watches a black-limbed spider mending the threads of a tattered web. I begin writing a list on the chalkboard, vocabulary from the first unit of the text book, the introduction to first things: boy, girl, tree, monkey. I linger over the spellings of father and mother, syllables first gurgled in the back seat of a taxi.

My mother loved to tell the story—how I fidgeted on her lap, tucked in a snug blue blanket, babbling at cars passing the window. The driver was changing lanes on the expressway when I turned to her and smiled. It was the kind of expression that showed I knew what I was about to do. Taking my time, I jabbered at the scenery until we reached the toll booth. Then I looked up and called her mama. In some versions of the story, I laughed—but that always seemed like an embellishment. A smile was enough to indicate that I was no longer content to quote from a dictionary of nonsense. 

s the boys in the back row nibble on slices of moist yellow fruit, I find myself wondering if I really did savor that first time I spoke, the moment sound could finally be shaped into significance. I want to remember how I relished the flavor of language born on a distant highway. 

When I ask the children to join me in reciting the day’s new words, each phoneme is articulated with such hunger that even the boys in the back seem tempted. They lick sticky fingers and lean forward, eyeing the pale teacher as he paces the room in battered sandals. I look from face to face, waiting for a sign—listening for a whisper from that first trembling mouth: a new voice emerging through parted lips.



Craig Fishbane has been published in the New York Quarterly, the Boston Literary Magazine, Opium, Fringe and The Nervous Breakdown. His collection of short fiction, On the Proper Role of Desire, will be put out by Big Table Publishing in the summer of 2013. He resides online at and lives offline in Brooklyn, New York.



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: When you spend some time alone in the Costa Rican jungle, you will come to discover the words that you love the most.

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That Night in Miri's Kitchen

by Sally Houtman

followed by Q&A

Don’t turn around. That’s what you said. That night in Miri’s kitchen. Me wrist-deep in sudsy water. You barefoot in faded jeans. In the air, the smell of woodsmoke. The rise and fall of voices down the hall. Over nibbles we’d exchanged quick glances, my sister’s friends around the fire. Later, in the kitchen, you came to get a beer, then lingered. All movement stilled. My senses sharpened, aware only of my breathing and the rain. The rain the rain the rain, so hard against the window. You moved in close behind me, hands warm against my skin, your voice so clean and spare.  Don’t turn around

Fast forward. Four months later. You beneath a storefront awning. A woman waiting in a car. Overhead, the same old dirty, laden sky. And all that day, the rain. The day you told me you were leaving. Said it just like that. The rose you gave me in its vase at home, its head bent forward, heavy on its stalk, but still alive. I stood, feet planted on the footpath, neither here nor there and you already gone. And I understood life’s fickle pull and slip, the way a thing could be hollowed out of one thing, yet be so filled with something else.

Now you are in another city, one that cracks and rattles underfoot. And me here left with my fugue of memories. Foreshortened daydreams. The drumbeat repetition of regret. And the rain. I watch the drops that vein my window on their predetermined course. Each fixed to its task, its fate still ahead. And I think that had I known that night in Miri’s kitchen, that you were already knee-deep in someone else’s forever, halfway to someone else’s somewhere else, I would have never turned around.



Originally from the United States, Sally Houtman makes her home in Wellington, New Zealand. She is the author of a non-fiction book and began writing fiction and poetry in 2007. Since that time, her work has appeared in more than thirty print and online publications, received four New Zealand writing awards, and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “That Night in Miri’s Kitchen” was a finalist in New Zealand’s inaugural National Flash Fiction Day Competition 2012.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: When thinking of story ideas, the phrase Don’t turn around began playing in my mind. As I began to flesh out the significance of the phrase, the character, story, and setting began to emerge.

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by Kierstin Bridger

followed by Q&A

Down the street I can see my neighbor 

has married a toy.

He’s a jack-in-the-box.

Do you hear the tinny wind up?

Can you tell they’re going out tonight?

The anticipation sounds like 

an ice-cream truck out of tune, 


the cooler oozing 

a muddy cream river

skirting sprinkles and bits of nut. 

It sounds like vodka bottles

clanking inside a kicked toy chest.


Watch him spring for the laughs of company, 

his white gloves dazzling the dinner guests 

but when he’s tucked back in that rusty metal box,

when she crushes his derby into his face and chest, 

packs him up tight for the night, she can still see 

the painted grin, smell the booze 

they hadn’t shared, spot the red nose tell.


Months later, un-tethered, 

in a grey department-office downtown, 

she’ll see the forensic proof of his laptop,

how he’d gambled their savings away,

surfed for cruel images of bodies 

taking advantage of weaker bodies. 

She’ll know without reaching for the crank,

the Jack she’d slept with

for 15 years was as harmless as he’d ever be

when still attached--

wound and waiting 

to pounce from his box.



Kierstin Bridger is a Colorado writer. Her work can be found in Thrush Literary Journal, Memoir JournalOccupoetry, and Turbulence Poetry, among others. She is a regular contributor to Telluride Inside and Out  and SoundCloud. She is an MFA candidate at Pacific University.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: “Loaded” was one of those pieces I wrote when it felt like every other friend I knew was going through a divorce. Some were amicable, some were heart-wrenching, and some were a bit more sinister than I imagined. This was my way of saying, I hear you. I am your witness and this poem is proxy. 

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were this a nature poem

Terence Degnan

followed by Q&A

were this

        a nature poem


it would have to take you up the Hudson

it would have formed small words

maybe a letter long

to describe where the river gets wide

and the brown fish that

was once thrown in a bucket of glitter

by god or some other natural thing, and

then tossed

back to glide below in the dark


it would have to take you to the

snow line

where the pines forget Henry Hudson

is the name for the body galloping by

past the roar of the seasoned leaves

past the thunder clap

that echoes in the Hollers

it would have to take you to the great piney forest itself

at once enormous and minuscule

past the hoot

past the cricketal symphony

it would have to take you deep

into the crevice of the pine branch

the sweater of needles

where nestled deep

is the lonely absence of roar


the meditation of the desolate needle

would have to depend on nothing

not the Canadian breeze

or the hawk’s talon

it would forget that it

was homesick

or singular

it would look neither up nor down

to center


if this were a nature poem

the needle that would be told

would not exist itself

nor cease

the needle itself would also wonder

why it was involved

in the nature poem

it would not want to have to be small


it would needle

from sunup to sundown

not face its face to the burning star, not

tuck itself against the frost

and the nature poem

would stand beside the needle


that they two, the poem and the needle, were parallel lines

one in the mind

and one attached

to the branch


but it is not

nor never can be

this is the poem of if

and its subject happens to be about the wooden screw

buried below the oil-soaked sidewalk

below the sinewy steel rebar

under the feral skull

and woolly tusk

definitely underneath the subterranean commuter pipeline

it is the aching, city




Terence Degnan is a poet and spoken word artist. He’s been published in various literary magazines including The Other Herald, The OWS Poetry Anthology, The Front Weekly, as well as in the anthology My Apocalypse. His two spoken word albums (2008’s “BC" & 2010’s "Calling Shotgun") were produced in Pittsburgh, PA and Raleigh, NC, respectively. They can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and a sundry of many, more complicated music databases. His book The Small Plot Beside the Ventriloquist’s Grave was released in August (SMP, 2012) Terence authored the play "Unattended Packages," which saw its debut in 2007 in New York City and was directed by David Little. He was recently named the poetry editor for Sock Monkey Press in Brooklyn, NY.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: This poem is taken from a larger work entitled “Letters from Purgatory.” A good amount of the inspiration came from following the storied river (considered in the poem) along its bank to as far as the eye can see.

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My Affinity for Burros

by Kase Johnstun

followed by Q&A

I stood on a street corner in Morelia, a city of more than 750,000 people in the heart of Michoacán, Mexico. Thousands of Nissan Sentras and Toyota Corollas buzzed by, weaving and honking and braking in riotous traffic. Morelia was a clean city, much cleaner than Mexico City, and roman-arched viaducts stretched above the roads and houses like thousands of grey-bricked rainbows hovering in the sky. My friend from home and study-abroad roommate, Brandon, stood next to me, and seven young boys stood around us. We drank local beer that we had just bought from a local tienda and waited for a combi, the most common and inexpensive way to get around the city, to pick us up and take us to discothèque. The old Volkswagen buses zoomed through the streets, braked very briefly at their route stops, collected passengers, and then sped away, resembling the bus on Harry Potter that weaved through the London streets, nearly killing all passengers and pedestrians with every turn. 

Arturo, our host family’s oldest son, stood out as the coolest of his friends. Every semester, his family would host students from the United States, from Canada, from Europe, and from other Latin American countries, and every semester he would parade his worldly guests out in front of his friends’ eyes. They adored him. Respected him. Looked up to him. He not only had the most interesting house guests, but he had spent months studying their languages and had a strong proficiency in English, French, Portuguese, and German, turning his friends admiration into worship. When we tried to practice our Spanish with him at home, which was the intent of the immersion-based program, he would pretend like he couldn’t understand us and somehow convince us to speak only in English so he could practice. It would have been a solid bet that he did this with all his guests. His friends would talk to him, he would translate to us, we would talk back to him, and then he would translate back. Nothing in the conversation could be said without going through his mouth. This amount of knowledge creates power. We knew it. His friends knew it. Morelia seemed to know it. Arturo was the shit, or la bamba, and there was no way around it. At that time on the street corner, I couldn’t help but admire how he mediated three or four different conversations, kept up with it all, and kept his audience laughing. 

It could have been any street in any town in any country, and it would have been the same. 

We laughed at the things all young men share in common. We translated vulgarities, and when we couldn’t come up with the exact word to describe a part of the female anatomy, we mimed it with our hands. Beer and women can bond any group of young, stupid men from any part of the world. We are simpletons, and a good buzz and talk about the opposite sex is all we needed to create cohesive connections. 

Midway through a joke, I spotted an older women and her son walking toward the combi stop. She walked with a cane in one hand and her purse in the other. Her bull-legged gate made her coming toward us very slow, but her son of about thirty years old stayed right by her side and patiently walked with her. I’d seen him before—every day at Canyonview, a school for students with disabilities, the school where I had worked for the last two years. His eyes were spread wide, his nose stubby, and his forehead broad and wide with only a small tuft of black hair remaining on the top of his head. He had Down syndrome, and as he walked toward us, he stared at the mixed group of gringos and Morelians that stood at the combi stop with beer in their hands. When he and his mother got within ten feet of the group, he said hello to us, and then the laughter and slurs erupted from Arturo’s mouth. 

“Baboso! Lo que mires?” 

“Pinche idiota!” 

“Usted es tan estúpido como un perro!” 

The boys rained down slur after slur on the man who could not walk any faster and had to walk patiently with his mom. They insulted his face, said he slept with his mother. Slapping and patting their legs, they laughed hysterically at their jokes. 

His eyes dropped down, and if they could have, they would have sank into the gutter and drifted away, but he just kept walking on by us and taking the verbal beating. 

I saw my Canyonview students and friends in him, and my heart broke: I saw Nate in him, Jenny in him, Jeremy in him. 

My eyes drifted back and forth from my new friends to the man and his mother. My ears started to burn with anger and my hands shook in nervous fear. It was one of those moments that the more reserved of us hate. We want to say something. We hate what is happening around us, but we tremble with the inner turmoil of what to say, how to say it, and if we should say it at all, just to the let the moment eat us up inside for fifteen years afterward. 

The boy walked passed Brandon and me, and simultaneously we said, “Buenos dias, amigo.” Brandon must have had the same fire in his gut. And “Buenos dias, amigo” was all we had in our weaponry. But it was enough to turn the slurs our way. 




The young men pointed their aggression toward us, and we swallowed it just long enough to let the man and his mother pass. They walked away, and I swigged on my beer and took in the coming insults about my sexuality, my intelligence, and my affinity for burros. 



Kase Johnstun is an award-winning essayist whose work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction Magazine, The Chronicle Review, Label Me Latina/o, and, as a regular contribution, in The Good Men Project. He is currently working on a creative nonfiction manuscript about the epidemiology, medical history, and affected lives of the birth defect Craniosynostosis (forthcoming from McFarland 2014/2015). He teaches written communications at Kansas State University.



Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: This piece is at the linear center of a memoir (unpublished) I wrote about my time at Canyonview—how I went from a total idiot during college to a Rhodes Scholar nominee, and I truly believe it was working with students with disabilities that made me a better person. When writing this piece (chapter), I was most surprised at how much that moment ate me up inside so many years later, and that this world still has a long way to go. Just recently, the word retard as an insult has become so common in our cultural vernacular; it’s as if we’re taking a step back with our language. 

While revising this piece, I cut 1,000 words after the first draft. For me, as a writer, this is not common, but I wanted to pull the piece away from me at the center, to pull away from my feelings, and to focus on the young man and his mother.

Also, I learned that the Spanish insults have multiple meanings depending on where they are spoken. I urge readers to look up all the different meanings, as they add quite a bit more depth to the story.

Prime Decimals 37.3

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This Baring Daylight

by Christopher Allen

followed by Q&A

I never visited Pete in prison, and I never told him about Miko. That was the plan. Pete claimed he was innocent, but I know different. He might not have pulled a trigger, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t want to. He’s a volcanic man. Hit first, gas-station flowers later. 

He’s called six times since he got out. “Just a couple hours,” he begs the way he used to say “Just put your mouth on it” before he bent my head down. “Just a walk around the lake in broad daylight.” He keeps adding deals. “One hour,” Anna. “I’ll buy lunch. I found Jesus, Anna. Anna?” He keeps saying my name. And then I let it slip about Miko being his—forgetting the plan—and he starts crying. Pete’s not the crying type, so I bend.

At the lake he looks all slick in the sun, getting out of a car that’s a crumble of rust and mud. I’m sure it’s dirtied to make him look all saved and Christ-like, like when a seething man shaves to show you he’s touchable, like he won’t burn you this time. Miko digs his head into my leg. “It’s OK,” I say—but I shouldn’t lie to him.

“Hey,” I holler and wave. Pete waves back and starts toward us. I expect swagger, but he walks like a man who’s seen God: head bowed but somehow taller. When he looks up, his smile seems genuine, but who knows why? I once saw him burn the head off a tick and make a heart with its blood. He smiled real sweet then too. 

He’s cradling a stuffed-bear ice-breaker. I roll my eyes when he bends down and says, “It talks when you press its belly.” I picture a room of detectives grilling Pete, pressing his belly. “I bet it does,” I say. “Anna,” he says, “try to be pleasant.” The bear’s belly says, “Jesus Loves You,” and Miko laughs.  

We start walking. The sun broils the lake up into a billion sparkles. “How you been?” Pete asks, and I shrug like How should I be? Like six years of no hitting, no flowers has been pretty good. He runs through all the questions I guess he learned in some soft-skills class in prison, and I answer them because I’ve decided to be pleasant—and it’s easier to talk squinting into the blinding sun. Miko tags along, swinging his evangelical bear and singing. I don’t guess he’s noticed yet that this is Daddy. 

“I’m tired and it’s hotter’n a witch’s titty,” Miko says finally, refusing to go any farther—it’s a pretty good-sized lake—so we sit in the shade and have French fries with extra ketchup at a place called The Snak Shak. Since no one’s talking, I point at the sign and say, “No wonder nobody can spell in this hell-hole of a country.” 

“You need to be more patriotic,” Pete says, and I tell him he doesn’t get to bend my head down anymore. And then I say I’m seeing someone. I’m not, but I need to hurt him back because that’s how we work: fire with fire, hurting and hurting back. He nods, clenches his teeth at the lake. He skips a rock six times before it disappears into diamonds. “Pretty good-sized lake,” he says to Miko, and Miko wipes his brow like it’s been an achievement. The extra ketchup is all over his face and fingers. He doesn’t notice the ketchup.

Then Pete slaps his legs like We better get a move on. There’s a light, merciful breeze now. The four-o’clock sun bends our shadows long and tall. Miko points a stinky pink finger at the dark forms stalking us. “Who’s that?” he says. “Well whatayaknow,” Pete says. “Them’s the Holy Ghosts. I’m the father”—he laughs—“you’re the son, and them’s the Holy Ghosts.” He leaves me out completely.

Giggling, Miko jumps and lands right on top of Pete’s Holy Ghost. “Oh no you don’t!” Pete sprints about thirty feet. “You ain’t gonna get my ghost!” But Miko runs after him and jumps right back down on the shadow. “Gotcha!” Miko laughs—a new laugh, like fire from an automatic weapon that makes me want to grab my boy and run. Pete takes off again—farther this time.

“Hey,” I yell. “Y’all come on back.” I feel space stretch umbilical so I take off after them. It feels like one of them movies now where everything starts to go wrong and the ex-con runs off with the boy because the mother is so out of shape. But I can run. 

“Game’s over,” I say when I catch up. Pete’s panting but Miko’s a blaze of six-year-old energy. “Gotcha!” he keeps yelling. “OK OK,” Pete says. “You got me.” “Gotcha!” Miko roars and stomps right on Pete’s dark head as hard as he can. He stomps and stomps until his laughter becomes a growl, like some kind of rabid animal. “Please stop.” Pete walks away to find shade I guess, somewhere free of this baring daylight. But Miko follows and keeps stomping. Across the lake the wobbling sun is far from setting. “I said stop,” Pete says to the sun—not like he’s angry, just like he’s tired of fighting. 

“Miko,” I say, “you’re hurting your bear.” The stuffed animal is flying up and down like a seal in the mouth of a shark, except the seal keeps saying Jesus Loves You. “Gotcha!” Miko’s crying and coughing now, and we’re attracting attention. “It’s OK,” I say to an elderly couple passing us really slow and shaking their heads. “He’s just tired and hot,” Pete says to the woman, then looks to me for help. But I don’t have any. We just have to wait for the sun to go down.



Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen’s fiction has appeared in numerous places both online and in print and has been nominated for Best of the Net and twice for the Pushcart Prize. In 2011, Allen was a finalist at Glimmer Train. He blogs at  



Q: What was your inspiration for this story?

A: “This Baring Daylight” germinated for quite a while before I wrote it. In fact, it was just another scrap of paper in a stack of ideas for over a year. “Gotcha!” was all I’d written to remind myself of this potential story. 

After seeing a child and his father playing with their shadows one Sunday as I was walking around a lake in Bavaria, I knew I’d have to write a story about it; but I waited patiently—lazily?—for the theme and characters to arrive. When I look back, though, of course the story happened exactly when it was supposed to.

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by Gay Degani

followed by Q&A

Packs of Kents were wedged between the windshield and dash of the Plymouth, Mom and Dad lighting one smoke after another, puffing away, the radio on low, spitting static. The Mojave desert barreled by outside, long and wide and hot. 

Dad bought a cooler from Sears for the trip. It straddled the hump in the front seat under the butt-filled ashtray. It was supposed to chill the air from the vents by flowing over the ice in the cooler. Me in the backseat, I never once experienced a chill. 

Nothing but sand between us and The Alamo, and two hours out of L.A., I dripped sweat, my eyes burning from cigarette smog. I cranked down the window and stuck my head and shoulders out, face to the wind, my hair a yellow hurricane.  

Mom hollered over the seat, “Roll that window up, Sheri. You’re letting in all the hot air.” 

“But it’s like Death Valley in here.” 

Mom jabbed the red tip of her Kent at me. “Don’t sass.”  

I flopped back onto the itchy cloth upholstery, put my bare feet against the hot glass of the window, and watched the blur of red rock and blue sky through the pane, thinking about my friends back home at the beach slathered in baby-oil, going to the movies, meeting boys. Their dads sold insurance or drilled teeth or remodeled houses while mine taught American history and believed I’d grow up stupid if we didn’t take a road trip every summer and “steep ourselves in the rich and edifying tapestry that is—The Past.” 

What about the present? What about my present? Dissipating with every mile. 

He was jabbering about Davy Crockett and the Alamo siege. I couldn’t see Mom but knew she was thumbing her cigarette filter like she always did. I took out the matchbook I hid in my pocket and struck a match. Played with flame, slid my finger into the silky yellow part and kept it there until the match burned down. I didn’t make a sound.

We stopped at a rest area to pee and empty the ash trays. I was the first one out and into the smack of heat. “Ugh.” 

Mom followed, stretching and yawning, smoke wisping from her mouth. 

Dad slammed the car door and made a flourish toward the scrub brush. “Oh, ye pioneers,” using his best declaiming voice, “It is1836 and you, Sheri, are traveling west—

“Then Sheri’s been traveling the wrong way, Dad.” 

He cleared his throat, took a drag on his cigarette, and kept talking. “Traveling west in a Conestoga wagon wearing a calico bonnet and wool dress—” 

I shook my head and turned down the steaming asphalt path toward the concrete block facility, knowing Dad couldn’t really know what he was talking about.  

The restroom was dim and smelly and almost not-hot. 

“That you, Sheri?” Mom called from the one stall.  

“It ain’t Sandra Dee.” 

“Don’t say ‘ain’t.’ Can you go back to the car and get the sandwiches and the jar of ice tea?”  

“I have to pee.” 

“I’ll be done by the time you get back. They’re in the front seat in a paper bag. There’s a table in some shade on the side of the building.” 

I could hear her talking, then calling my name as I cut through the sand toward the car. The metal handle stung my fingers. I yelped, then growled. Wool dresses, I didn’t believe it. Unbuttoning the bottom of my shirt, I used it as a potholder and opened the car door. The handle still felt like fire. 

I snatched the paper sack, and coughed at the foul air inside the car, then caught a whiff of something burning. In the seat cushion smoldered a tiny glowing ball of ash and tobacco. The tip of a cigarette must have fallen off or been brushed off. I watched it eat at the nubby frayed upholstery. Couldn’t take my eyes off of the angry redness of it. A miniature flame jumped up as a gust of wind swirled past me and into the car. I reached for the ice tea jar. The glass was warm in my hand.  

I could have twisted open the lid, easily dowsed the hot little coal, but I stepped away from the car. Walked back across the sand, glancing over my shoulder when I reached the asphalt. It all looked so normal, the car door left open to let the breeze clear out the reek of cigarette and smoke.

“Sheri, hurry up. We’re hungry.” Mom sat with her back to me, twisting around with her cig at her lips. Dad stood on the edge of the rest area, a thread of smoke snaking from his right hand, gazing out at nothing but scrub and rock. 



Gay Degani has published on-line and in print including each The Best of Every Day Fiction editions (fourth forthcoming) and her own collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is the founder-editor emeritus of EDF's Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place where a list of her online and print fiction can be found. She’s had two stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize for her flash piece, “Something about L.A.”



Q: What was your inspiration for this story?

A: “Kindling” came into being because of AWP Heat, a contest in 2013 with a simple word prompt, “fire.” The challenge for me was to go beyond my “first thoughts” and find a way to write something that no one else would think to write.

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Non Event

by Elizabeth Savage

followed by Q&A

Years ago I gave up 

waiting & turned 


instead to patience 

Years ago I gave 


into temptation at once

& avoided the struggle 


Months ago I struggled

to avoid naming names


eyeing contact with 

the social contract


contracted with perennial



Perennially I am anxious

this forgetting will 


overrun my love

for the electorate


& I will run out 

of patience 


needed to read 

the fine print


what might direct me

over national borders 


I’m tempted 

to cross


Days ago I waited 

patiently to find


the printed results

but had misplaced


my glasses

at the time


Perennially I am reminded

amnesia might permit


facing pain I’m tempted 

to avoid


more than once 

I’ve forgotten 


amnesia is one form 

of forgiveness 


a perennial reminder

not to eye the contract


too carefully 

to overlook


at times

the fine print



Elizabeth Savage is author of Grammar (2012) and Jane & Paige or Sister Goose (2011), both from Furniture Press. Since 2008, she has served as poetry editor for Kestrel: A Journal of Literature & Art.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: In the days immediately prior to the presidential election last fall, I joked with students, strangers, friends, and family members about storing up poison berries to consume should the election “go the wrong way.” Everyone I talked with found the solution very attractive, but I noticed that no one stated exactly which presidential administration was so worth avoiding. Maybe our silence indicated we were all thinking about the same scary results (or assumed everyone agreed), but I seriously doubt it. As absolutely baffling as I find some political attitudes, I am encouraged by what seems the persistent delight Americans have connecting with one another, like those moments when we kid around about things that genuinely scare and sadden us. So, in short, the everyday, unplanned, uneventful moments of contact with the electorate that have kept me from defecting to Canada so far inspired this poem.

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My Crow in an Ever Expanding City

Changming Yuan

followed by Q&A

1/ My Crow

Still, still hidden

Behind old shirts and pants

Like an inflated sock

Hung on a slanting coat hunger

With a prophecy stuck in its throat

Probably too ominous

To yaw, even to breathe

No one knows when or how

It will fly out of the closet, and call


2/ In an Ever Expanding City

A fragile front page

Of last year’s newspaper

Falling down from nowhere

Begins to drift around

As if to cover the entire city

With its faded words

Some broken into small

Fragmented lights, some burned

With frantic ambitions, others glistening

Like the stars beyond the horizon

Where the headlines run parallel

To midnight, leaving the content of 

The same old story, yes, the same

Old story partly saved

Partly crashed 

Somewhere within the web 

Still expanding 



Changming Yuan, 4-time Pushcart nominee and author of Chansons of a Chinaman (Leaf Garden, 2009) and Landscaping (Flutter Press, 2014), holds a PhD in English, tutors, and co-edits Poetry Pacific with his teenaged poet son Allen Qing Yuan in Vancouver (Poetry submissions welcome at Recently interviewed by PANK, Yuan has had poetry in 709 literary publications across 27 countries, including Barrow Street, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Exquisite Corpse, LiNQ, London Magazine and Threepenny Review



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: Common, ominous, and individually unidentifiable, the crow is so inspiringly whole-black against the white background in winter that is one of my favorite poetic themes – actually I have written and published dozens of poems about crows.

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Velveteen Roses

by Sue Fagalde Lick

followed by Q&A

The funeral director leaves me alone in front of the niche where he has just placed the urn holding my husband’s ashes. From my purse, I take out a plastic bag holding a bouquet of fake velvet roses and baby’s breath that Fred gave me for Valentine’s Day three years ago. This morning, I pulled them out of a white vase on my desk. Now, I slide them into the brass vase and think about how my father has put artificial flowers in a similar vase at my mother’s niche for the past nine years. He visits every Sunday after church.

I sink into a mauve easy chair near Fred’s niche, thinking how different this is from the way we honored our dead when I was a little girl. On Sundays, we visited the mausoleum at Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose where Grandma Clara, my father’s mother, was buried in her coffin behind the marble wall. 

My mother would gather flowers from our garden, wrap them in newspaper, and put them in the trunk. Then we’d drive up the hill to the mausoleum. Our footsteps tapped on the stone floors and every whisper echoed in the glass-ceilinged, marbled halls. Grandma Clara was in Iris Court, at the far end where the 23rd Psalm was etched on stained glass. 

Mom, who was not fond of flower arranging, would go to work in the kitchen-like room just off the hall with a big white-tiled counter and sink, assembling the bouquet for the vase while my little brother and I ran around the echoing halls and Dad stared up at the square of marble with his mother’s name on a brass plaque. 

It seemed to involve a lot of cutting and cursing before Mom finally shoved the newspapers and flower stalks into the trash can and called to Dad that the flowers were ready. Now I understand why it was difficult for her, but from those days, I just remember the smell of sweet peas, roses, and azaleas, and see Dad hooking the vase on two prongs sticking out of a very long pole and raising it way above our heads as we held our breath until the vase was safely in its slot. Then we’d stand back and admire the flowers awhile. Dad would get very quiet. His mother died when I was two years old. Her loss was still fresh in those days. But my brother and I had no memory or sympathy; we were just two antsy little kids. 

At last he’d nod and sigh and we’d walk away. Often we’d stop in the next hall, where Grandpa’s boss’s family had been laid to rest in a big iron-fenced area with what looked like giant marble coffins. They hadn’t been gone long either in those days. 

Finally, we’d walk out under the rotunda and down the marble steps into the sun. Oak Hill’s mausoleum, built in 1928, sat high above San Jose. To the east, we could look down on the fairgrounds and beyond to the foothills and Lick Observatory. To the north, we could see all of downtown laid out before us, and to the west, we looked for our neighborhood and our house, near Valley Fair and the Winchester Mystery House. 

Directly below, we saw miles of graves, including, somewhere, the ones holding Dad’s grandparents and their parents and siblings, where he used to come with his family when he was a boy. Everybody came in those days, all the aunts, uncles and cousins. After they decorated the graves, they’d spread out a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon visiting. Now you rarely see anyone around the older graves.

I asked my friends whether they visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried or inurned. Most of them said no. It’s too far, too weird, or they just don’t believe the person is there anymore. Aside from lonely widows and widowers, most of the visitors these days seem to be genealogists studying the gravestones for clues to family history.

In the movies, we always see people visiting graves in the ground with big tombstones where they lay real flowers or maybe even tend a small garden. But in real life, more and more people are being cremated, their ashes scattered, placed on the mantle at home or stashed in a niche, like Fred’s. The percentage varies by location, but in the western U.S., an estimated 65 percent of the dead are cremated now. If the ashes are placed in a cemetery, their love ones rarely visit after the newness wears off, and the flowers they place are small, artificial, and conveniently reusable. 

Chelan Abbey, where Fred’s ashes have been placed, is just one room up a hill behind the cement plant in Newport, Oregon. It’s cold and it reeks of rotting flowers, dust, mildew, and air freshener. You can watch the sunset over the ocean from here, but it’s nothing like the magnificent mausoleum in San Jose with its marble walls and sculptures, soft music, and hushed aura of eternity. I know my husband isn’t here. His body was just an empty shell after he died, and nothing is left of it now but ashes. I can talk to him better at home, where his body is gone but his spirit still lives in the warmth of the pellet stove or the cabinets where he kept his wine collection. 

Today’s cemetery flowers are mostly artificial. Some cemeteries and mausoleums don’t even allow real ones. They wilt too soon, and their falling leaves and petals make a mess. Plus people don’t visit often enough to maintain real flower arrangements—although you can pay someone to do it for you. At Oak Hill and at the Santa Clara Catholic Cemetery where my mother is inurned, if you put up something tacky, cemetery staff will remove it. Ditto for anything that rots or gets in the way of the gardeners and caretakers. 

It’s more casual here in Newport. The urns come in all shapes and colors, including little log cabins and a giant ceramic artichoke. People hang cards, pictures, letters, plaques, balloons, and even comic books on and around the glass. On Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, the cemetery supplies American flags for all the veterans. Families leave stuffed animals on the floor and potted flowers near the niches. One family filled their two vases with dirt and planted one marigold in each. 

After a while, you get to know everybody in the place, their names, their photos, what they used to love. You notice new names and new flower arrangements.

It’s a miracle that Fred has ended up in this niche right next to his parents and his brother. I have been bringing flowers here for 14 years. I stood on this same chair taking pictures of the niche when his dad and brother were placed here. Fred’s mother had to have photographs. When she passed away, she joined her husband and son in the same space. I have spent years collecting plastic flowers from the Craft Warehouse and the Dollar Tree, putting up red flowers for Christmas, blue and yellow for spring, orange and yellow for fall. 

I have become negligent. If I’m lucky, I get the Christmas ones out before Easter. But some of the vases sit empty all year, or their flowers are faded and coated with dust. I bring enough fake flowers to share with the undecorated niche of a teenager named Rocky who never seems to have any visitors. I wonder what happened to his people. I wonder what will happen to mine if I ever move away.

My father doesn’t go to Oak Hill often anymore, even though his father’s ashes now rest in the crypt with his mother’s coffin. The last one alive in his family, Dad puts artificial flowers there, too. Then, alone, he stares out at the acres of graves and beyond them the miles of housing developments and freeways that were all farms when he was a boy. 

Fred used to cry every time we came to visit Chelan Abbey. I’d handle the flowers, and then hold him as he sobbed on my shoulder. Now he’s here, too, or at least his ashes are. I stand in front of the niche, tracing his name through the glass, trying to grasp what has happened. I fix his flowers, and then I sit in the mauve chair. My first couple of visits after the immediate numbness wore off, I cried as if I’d never stop. Now I just sit here with him, as I sat beside his bed at the hospital and in the nursing home where he died of Alzheimer’s disease. 

I stare at the black urn with Fred’s full real name engraved in brass. I talk to him, but I don’t think he’s listening. I get up to straighten a crooked flower, to make sure Fred’s flowers aren’t blocking the niche above his. I look at the decorations on the other niches and wonder about the people who put them there. 

Fred doesn’t care about flowers. He never did when he was alive, and he certainly doesn’t care what kind I put in front of his ashes. Cemetery flowers are for the living. We want to do something to show that we still care, that we have not abandoned our dead.

Chelan Abbey is locked. When you buy a space, you get a key. The door locks behind you when you go in. You change the fake flowers, say a few words, and go back out into the world, gratefully filling your lungs with ocean air as the door clicks shut behind you, locking away the dead for another time. 

It’s late January now. I need to take down the Christmas flowers. Valentine’s Day is next week. Maybe I’ll just take those velveteen roses back. Maybe, wherever he is, Fred won’t mind sharing them again. 



Writer, musician, and dog mom, Sue Fagalde Lick spent many years in the newspaper business before earning her MFA in creative nonfiction at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her work has recently appeared in the Bellingham Review, Skirt!, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Still Crazy, and Humor for a Boomer's Heart. Her books include Stories Grandma Never Told, Shoes Full of Sand, and Childless by Marriage



Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: Two things surprised me about writing “Velveteen Roses.” First, that I found comfort in remembering those times I visited the cemetery with my parents when I was a child. I liked the ritual and the shared solemnity as we put up flowers and reread the 23rd Psalm printed on the stained glass window near my grandmother’s niche. Second, as I asked people about their cemetery experiences, I was surprised at how few people visit cemeteries anymore, at how attitudes about honoring the dead have changed.

Prime Decimals 37.5

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Two Owls

by R. T. Smith

followed by Q&A

Come up, Landrum. Hildy’s voice scraped like a froe on fresh oak. Come up and give me a cuddle. I’ll show you the owlets. 

You get down here, gal, and lay out my dinner. I’m in no state for your rusties. 

No joking, Landrum. You want to see these owls. 

He had been running the gangsaw all day, and the sawdust was in his beard and under his combinations, in his nostrils and making the snuff behind his lip coarser than nature had intended. He was bone weary, skinned in the sweat that had dried on him, his knobby hands sore of flesh from the many scratches and sore of bone from the gripping and wresting. Stipples of blood on his shirt and one boot. 

Hildy had known her man would be weary and ornery, but she hoped the young owls splashing in the washtub would lift his spirits some. The birds were strange like creatures from a fireside yarn, but they flew to and from the dead boughs with grace. She believed their antics in the twilight and the silence of their wings might move Landrum in a lovesome way before he could remember the weight of his labors, but she did not know that the Flowers boy had lost an arm to the widow-maker saw, did not know that her husband had been the closest by but could do nothing when the boy’s blood lashed upward, shooting out in three long bursts, cardinal red in the late sunlight, till there wasn’t enough force to spurt again. The mangle was high, near the shoulder, and when Doster and Landrum got there, both grabbing their belts for tourniquets, it was too late, and the boy’s eyes were silvering over. 

Hildy had grown acquainted with the barn owls over the course of ten days, had sat by the window listening to their whoots, sitting in the dark herself until they first entered the clearing. That was when she thought of the tub, and on the fourth evening the pair dropped to the apple tree’s weathered limbs, then took turns, one as sentry while the other drank, waded, splashed about like any wren. Five nights, and they never knew they were watched. 

Now she sprinkled tobacco along the paper and rolled her cigarette, thinking she would light it only if Landrum did not come up. She wished he would come up, weighting down the loose steps, then weighting her down with his yearning. Late March now. If they tried again and succeeded it would be a Christmas baby she’d have time to coddle before spring planting. 

But she knew he would not come up, though she did not know why. 

Pouring the coffee, Landrum was running his mind back to the mill for omens. Then Hildy was spooning up the stew, breaking the full moon of the cornbread. 

Yuns have you some eat. She struck her match against stove iron, and its brief blossom was the only light in the room.



R. T. Smith is writer-in-residence at Washington and Lee University, where he edits Shenandoah and teaches. His most recent collection of fiction is Sherburne (Stephen F. Austin U. Press, 2012). His stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories and New Stories from the South.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I’d been writing a series of short shorts (collectively called Chinquapins), all set in Appalachia and almost all touching on matters of love, so when a quartet of owlets started bathing in our yard in the evening, I quickly began to imagine them as metaphorical and their hosts as two people who stepped out of the shadows to take the job.

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Dirty Dancing

by Lori D'Angelo

followed by Q&A

When I hear that they’re making a remake, I start screaming, and the designer dude that we have over to remodel our house gives me a strange look. I can scream if I want to. It’s my house. 

Dirty Dancing was my childhood. We danced to the songs at summer camp where other people learned how to lead, and I, the shy girl, just stood back watching other people dirty dance. 

The designer whose name is Herman as in The Munsters—his words not mine—tells me to calm the heck down. He flips his black hair and sips the cool water I gave him. Suddenly, I resent the cool water. Maybe I should have made it lukewarm. 

I simply say, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” 

“Isn’t it funny how half the people in Dirty Dancing are dead?” 

“Patrick Swayze. That’s one person.” 

When the renovation is done, we’ll have an island. 

“Jerry Orbach,” he says. 

Who? I think but don’t want to admit that his Dirty Dancing knowledge may be superior to mine. 

“He played the father. He was also on Law & Order.” 

“That got canceled,” I snap. 

Paul and I used to watch Dirty Dancing when we first started dating. I was a freshman. He was the hall RA. We’d put the movie on and sing the lyrics to “The Time of My Life.” He didn’t wear male leotards, but he was hot nonetheless. Now, we just watch Dora the Explorer and Elmo. 

I munch a banana while Herman shows me the sketches. I want to be like Ronald Reagan, who is dead now, too, and say, “Tear down this wall.” 

“Rebirth,” says Herman with a burst of compassion, “isn’t such a bad thing. Who knows? Maybe the remake won’t be half bad.” 



Lori D’Angelo’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in various literary journals including The Bakery, Connotation Press, dirtcakes, disClosure, Drunken Boat, Everyday Genius, Forge, Gargoyle, Hamilton Stone Review, Heavy Feather Review, Juked, Literary Mama, LOUDmouth, The New Verse News, Pequin, Praxis, Red Lighbulbs, r.kv.r.y., Reed Magazine, Spittoon, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Stone’s Throw Magazine, and Word Riot. She is a fellow at Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation, and an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Fiction Workshop. She lives in Virginia with her husband, son, dogs, and cats.



Q: What can you tell us about this piece?

A: Dirty Dancing was a memorable movie from my childhood. I set out to write a story around a movie title and came up with this.

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by Peycho Kanev

followed by Q&A

The end of my sleep is sneaking

between the light of the bulb and

the alcohol:


I saw you on the street, how you 

watched the painters working at the faces

of the passing people and the unbearable 

buildings, how they suck their pipes and

listen to the intolerable waltzes from their 

little radios.


Now, it is midnight,

and I am kissing your breasts. 

I taste your soul, as my hands reach out

searching for love in this room sodden

with stink of bread, wine and death.


We are walking on the steps of others

before us,

and we live within our small summer.


Now, we are shaking and awaiting the winter,

and you look me in the eyes;

(what a feeling), somewhere outside,

the dogs are barking, and cats are sleeping

by fireplaces:

you want to tell me something,

I light a cigarette and look into your 



I wait for the oldest curses 

of all.



Peycho Kanev is the author of four poetry collections and two chapbooks. His poems have appeared in more than 900 literary magazines, such as: Poetry Quarterly, Evergreen Review, Columbia College Literary Review, Hawaii Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Sheepshead Review, Off the Coast, The Coachella Review, Two Thirds North, Sierra Nevada Review, The Cleveland Review and many others. 



Q: What can you tell us about this poem.

A: I wrote this poem for the lost loves that every man has been through. Because we all know what that is. The trap is eternal and we keep on falling in. And yet, some of us like to call this situation a game. Maybe it’s a game. But there are no rules. Just pain and tiny flashes of pleasure and joy.

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Elevator Dream #93

Janeen Pergrin Rastall

followed by Q&A

When the elevator opens

A man with blood-crusted coat sleeves

Leans forward to hold the door

The girl in front of you

Steps in

You shake your head 

And wonder

What is she thinking

You wake

Take a sip of water

Rearrange the sheets

The elevator opens

A man with mud-crusted coat sleeves

Leans forward to hold the door

You search his pupils for your reflection

You wake

Look at the clock

Move the pillow beneath your head

The elevator opens

Two girls are about to enter

You lean forward to hold the door

Too slow

You watch it close.



Janeen Pergrin Rastall lives in Gordon, MI, population 2. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications including The Raleigh Review, The Great Lakes Review, Heron Tree, Midwestern Gothic and The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works by Wayne State University Press. Visit for more details.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: “Elevator Dream #93” explores the possibility of changing the past by dreaming. It is part of a series of poems I have written for a collaborative chapbook on dreams and other evening adventures.

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The Whack-Job Girls 

by Bonnie ZoBell

Monkey Puzzle Press, 2013

Softcover, 60 pages $10.00

Short on Words, Long on Thought

Flash collections, even chapbook-length, are often problematic. The reader of these collections is often left with the whirlwind feel of watching television with a hyperactive channel surfer, never settling into the author’s narrative rhythm nor falling into the story. For most flash, their climaxes and denouements occur far too quickly. ZoBell’s The Whack-Job Girls does not suffer the reader this condition, nor the breathlessness most indie flash collections leaves the reader feeling. ZoBell’s language and prose is paced, but paced with a fullness and lushness that develops her characters and carries the story beyond the page. You see, ZoBell’s stories cut to our existence and our desires to connect with others, whether this connection be in the communal approach to bedding with animals and a sleep apnea-machine breathing husband in “Deep Sea Dive” or the reduction of all the earth’s inhabitants to the violence of the animal world we all live in in “Serial.” 

Most of The Whack-Job Girls’s stories are finer examples of the indie publishing’s penchant for flash fiction—Frigg, The Foundling Review, Night Train, and Wigleaf to name a few. ZoBell’s work, in this sense, should be the exemplar younger flash writers should aim for. All of the stories are commendable, memorable, and prove for an eclectic mix of styles and voice, but one story deserves special attention. “Rockstar,” the story of a fashionista who finds herself going blind, stretches head and shoulders above the rest. In a voice reminiscent of Carver’s Where I’m Calling From, “Rockstar” takes the tragedy of encroaching blindness and the absurdity of losing it all and replaces the situation and sadness with a sense of hope for Jill’s loss of sight to reconcile with a distant sister and an estranged mother. The story conjures the lost and salvation of “A Small, Good Thing” and leaves the reader wanting more of this from ZoBell, not because her other stories are lacking, they don’t, but because the story suggests a brilliance that reflects an agile mind and a writer of keen observation.

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Bonnie ZoBell was born in Eureka, California, and now lives in San Diego, surrounded by dogs, cats, a husband, and many succulents in her sunny casita. She teaches at San Diego Mesa College where she is Creative Writing Coordinator, is Associate Editor at The Northville Review, and Roving Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles

Ms. ZoBell has won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for her fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award for a story later read on NPR, and other prizes, and received an MFA from Columbia University on fellowship. In spring 2014, her linked collection What Happened Here will be published by Press 53. For more information, visit