Prime Decimals 41.2

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Bee Noir

by Stephen Dorneman

followed by Q&A

When the cards came round and Erik hit blackjack, Camille decided a drink wasn’t the worst idea. She figured she was already down a green chip—an hour’s worth of Bee-girl pay—but maybe her luck was about to change. They settled on a bar just outside the convention hall.  

“What’s your story?” she asked, tucking her plastic bee wings and skirt inside the booth.  

“I pick up things here and there,” he said.

“So you’re a distributor?”  

“More like a customer, I guess. But certainly not a buyer.”

“How mysterious.” 

Camille took a quick inventory: Erik was tanned, not weathered. No ring, no ring shadow.

“You don’t live in Las Vegas, do you?” she said.

“California. But I get out here as often as I can.”

“Business or pleasure?” 

“I want to think they’re the same, actually.”

Camille sighed. Her black and yellow leggings itched. “I haven’t felt that way in years.”

Eventually the bartender came over with fresh drinks. A vodka stinger for the queen, whiskey for the gentleman. Camille found herself going on about her past. Ten years ago, she was a bona fide Vegas showgirl, first at Bally’s then at Excalibur. In her big solo she played a woman accused of witchcraft. She loved to watch the audience hearing her scream moments before the white knight saved her from a giant mechanical snake. Then one day, one of those audience members asked her to marry him, and she did, a marriage that ended when she realized an audience of one wasn’t worth staying sober for. Now Camille lived with her sister in Henderson. But, oh, how it felt to be the center of attention. The smoky haze surrounding the bar receded, and she told him about those screams.

“Do you think you can still scream like that?” 

“It’s not like I trained for it.”

“What I meant was, do you still want that attention? Do you want to be the star again?”

“Again? You can’t be something that you never were in the first place.”

“Sounds to me like you were.”

Something about the way Erik was talking set off alarm bells, but Camille drowned them out with a full swallow of her drink, and a long drag from a cigarette. She’d started smoking in AA—before she realized a high-functioning alcoholic always beats a non-functioning straight.

“What’d you have in mind?” she asked. 

Eric handed her a hundred dollar bill and a business card.

“I could use a star performance,” he said, opening his coat to reveal a .38 special.  

An hour later, Camille was back on the floor of the American Honey Producers, sizing up possible candidates, ready when the time came to brush up against whatever salesmen looked most likely to grope a showgirl. Then she would scream, scream as loudly as she could, loud enough and long enough to draw the attention of the entire Vegas strip.



Stephen Dorneman is a wannabe professional poker player who workshops his writing at Boston's Grub Street community and with the Bay State Scribblers. His stories have appeared in Weave Magazine, Cricket Online Review, Juked and other publications. Stephen lives in Boston with his wife, Penny, and his dog, Ellie.



Q: What can you tell us about this story?

A: I am personally drawn to Las Vegas, and so are many of my characters. It’s where dreams are born, and where they go to die.

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In the Morning I Go Home

by Tammy Peacy

followed by Q&A

I dance the tips of my fingers over the pane of glass. I’m here every few months. If she doesn’t answer, I will get back into my car. I will drive twelve hours north. She can’t hear when the phone rings, but so far, she’s always twitched back the curtain, always opened the door.

On the first morning after I slept in the storage room at the back of her cottage she says, “Didn’t your mother teach you to make a bed?”

I shake my head as she shows me how to shake the sheet and smooth it with hand and forearm. “See?” she says. I nod. She layers on the blanket and the comforter I’d kicked to the floor during the night.

I don’t tell her no one had ever made a bed in our house. Or of when there weren’t beds to make. She’d been married a second time for long enough to forget her first marriage and the ruined children borne of it. 

Later I fall asleep in a recliner watching JewelryTV with faceted African opals winking behind my eyes. She wakes me, says, “Go get in the bed.” I want to say, “But we just made the bed.” I don’t. I crawl between the sheets and blankets feeling like a piece of cheese, and before I can be asleep again I hear her ordering two sets of stackable multi-colored diamond rings. To hear a voice at two a.m. To hear her name on the television—two sets! I shutter her loneliness outside my eyelids and sleep. 

In the morning I make notes.

On her credit troubles and how it shouldn’t matter. Eighty years doesn’t get you credit for something?

On her drug problem and how it shouldn’t matter. On a small yellow pad she lists the times she’s swallowed pills. She counts the hours until she can do it again. How she should take whatever it takes. 

On her lifetime spent in obituaries under the heading of survived by. Those lost: Two husbands, a son, a mother, father, cousins, aunts, uncles.

We eat our first meal at noon. We still call it breakfast. 

“This is really it. This time,” she says into an unwrapped banana. As though there have been scares or close calls when, as far as I know, there haven’t been. 

“What do you want me to do?” I say. On previous visits I’d swiped cobwebs from high corners, changed light bulbs and left detailed instructions for how to operate the DVD player, her cellphone, a new microwave. 

“I’d like everything to come off the walls. The pictures and everything. I’d like to look at where they used to be for a while.”

I clear the walls, but a few pieces at a time, over a few days, the way she wants, until there are squares and rectangles of light between spaces darkened by years of her breathing between them. 

In a few days she says, “That’s enough of that. You can put it all back up again.”

She has to tell me where some of it goes.

“Can’t you match the frames to the shapes on the walls?” she says.

I can’t. The pieces of her life all look the same to me.

In another few days she says, “Go ahead and take what you want. Might as well. Just take it now.”

I wait until it is dark and she is mostly asleep before I take down the pieces I want to keep. 

I sit in her chair, the frames stacked atop my suitcase on the couch, and I try to see the way she’ll see.

I replace the wires to their hangers, straighten the squares and rectangles on the walls. I don’t sit in her chair after that. In the morning I go home.



Tammy Peacy lives and writes in Kenosha, WI.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: Though the details of this piece are fiction, I was inspired to write it after several visits with my grandmother, which included regular nightly viewings of JewelryTV.

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By the side of the road

by Diane Lockward

followed by Q&A

By the side of the road

a doorknob nestled in the weeds.

Maybe some trucker from Home Depot

had lightened his load or a careless shopper

tossed it out with her coffee cup.


The knob was brass, perfectly new and beautiful, 

its surface etched and grooved,

something you could hold in your hand

and go where you wanted to go.


Caught in sunlight, it glinted like a pile of gold

encircled by dandelions and clover,

as if held hostage or in a ritual ceremony 

of praise or protection, a small god at the center.


I wondered what home now lacked

entrance or exit,

its residents forever permanent,

its guests forever uninvited—


maybe somebody’s mother stuck inside,

pouring another drink while she waits 

for the guest who won’t arrive.

Maybe it was her hand the doorknob flew out of.


Maybe that knob wasn’t lost at all,

but running away, 

not wanting to go where she was headed,

not to that house,


its secrets hiding like demons in corners

and crouched under beds,

its girl poised like Cerberus outside the door, 

her teeth bared, her fists empty and clenched.



Diane Lockward is the author of three poetry books, most recently Temptation by Water. Her previous books are What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve’s Red Dress. She is also the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013). Her poems have been included in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: This poem emerged out of one of those relentless images that get in your head and won’t get out. The image was of a doorknob lying in a field. That wasn’t anything I’d seen; I don’t know where it came from. But I began thinking about that doorknob until it became an emblem for places we enter and places that keep us out. I remembered that in an alcoholic family, different members take on different unacknowledged roles. One of those roles is the secret keeper. She keeps the secrets in the house and other people out. That seemed to me much like the role of Cerberus in the Underworld. Living with an alcoholic can be a kind of hell. Thus the poem.

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Julie Marie Wade

followed by Q&A

Exemplars: cloud, amoeba, wood. The cactus’ blue agape tongue. Density. 

Quick smolder, loose kindling, leaves. Vaporous. Slick. Unexpected snowfall: 

Autumn in the Everglades. Formlessness. Up to the knees. Valance. Receding 

contempt for shadows. Veneer. A dark print. The caveat of bald light. Animal 

becomes anonymous. Swaddle in the curtains, eyes tied to the curb. Velour.  

A bargain at half price. Consummation without a face. Magnetic resonance.  

Phenomenology of the first eclipse. Desert flowers. How does the sun do it?  

A guarded tenderness emerges after all. You understand again the tulip bulb, 

the tacit fog, the bookcase that gapes, ajar. These also: Icicles in April.  

Transposition from A to G—almost an octave. Cameras in space. Old spirituals.  

The snail on the orange crate in a crusted shell, waiting to be passed over.



Julie Marie Wade is the author of Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colgate University Press, 2010), Without: Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2010), Small Fires: Essays (Sarabande Books, 2011), and Postage Due: Poems & Prose Poems (White Pine Press, 2013). Her forthcoming works include Tremolo: An Essay (Bloom Press, 2013) and When I Was Straight: Poems (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014). She teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University in Miami.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: This poem is a full decade old. I wrote it during the summer of 2003 after my partner Angie and I drove 2,500 miles from our first home together in Bellingham,WA, to our new home in Pittsburgh, PA. Until that time, I had never lived anywhere outside western Washington, and there was a sense of finality that accompanied my leaving—a poignancy as well. I didn’t want to be a person who spent her whole life in the same place, and yet I wondered what it meant to move on from the only place I had ever really known. This poem began as a list of my own varied associations with vanishing and grew from there. At the time of writing, I had never been to Florida or seen the Everglades, and now we live in southern Florida, only a few miles from them. When I read this poem today, in light of the many successive vanishings that have taken place in the interim, and I come across that image of “autumn in the Everglades,” I can’t help but wonder if there was some prescience in it, if some part of me sensed where we were headed all along.

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The Language of Blood

Christina Lutz

followed by Q&A


I drive six and a half hours to visit my mother in Virginia. I am meeting her sister and niece, who have come from Korea to America, for the first time.



There are seven pictures of my mother’s sister in my father’s home. Before I leave, I study them, trace my fingers along this foreign curly hair. Here she is twenty-three, a year older than I am now. 

Her face is lost in the smoky haze of memories just out of reach.



My mother and I speak what I call Korenglish. I see her once a year, so most of our conversations occur on the phone. We greet each other in Korean and say goodbye in Korean, but I’ve lost most of this language: unable to speak it, unable to understand it, my mother’s tongue the only one I recognize.



Imagine being at a loud party. You’re standing so close to someone just to hear, it seems as though their open mouth might swallow you whole. They flit around, and you make out a few words here and there, something that looks like a question. Nod your head and smile. Always nod your head and smile.



It’s like this–엄 마, 여보세요! How are you doing? And she responds in a gaggle of symbols I can barely recollect, but because they exist in her mouth, I can parse them together. 

Sometimes I ask her to say them again, slower, and sometimes still, she has to try to say it in English, dropping vowels, pronouns lost underneath her tongue, words she doesn’t know. 

And her R’s muffled L’s, because in Korean, there is no true sound for L. 



I take Korean in college. My professors marvel at my ability to enunciate perfectly. When I tell them I am half, ban, they look at me with wide eyes. 

It is here that I relearn the hierarchical rank in Hangul. The way you address your friend is not the way that you address your mother. Even siblings, depending on the household, how strict the parents are, live in this rank. The structure of sentences, from beginning to end, depending on who you are speaking to.

My mother has only taught me conversational Korean. I speak to her as one would a friend. 



We sit at my mother’s kitchen table, my aunt still crying, my cousin fascinated by my face, by my hair, by the shape of my eyes, by the length of my legs. 



My cousin’s name is Soo-Young, nearly identical to my mother’s So-Young, who now goes by Jenny. Because she is only ten, she has yet to take English in school. She and I find a new way to communicate. I clap my hands, stretch my cheeks too wide, pull her in close. She makes strange faces, my mother telling me that they are jokes in Korea. 

My mother translates the best she can when our hands and faces, our new language, can’t fully tell the other what they want.



My aunt hands me a small pink box. Her eyes are wide, eager, nodding me to open it. Inside is a beautiful necklace, a simple chain, a small diamond hanging. I bow my head, say kamsahamnida, and she puts it around my neck. 



I touch the diamond. My mother tells me that my aunt saved up for months to buy it for me, even sold some of her old jewelry. I begin to cry. Not because it is a beautiful gesture, it is, but because this woman loves me as an individual, not just because I am her sister’s child. 

She holds me and says something that I can’t understand, and I keep crying because I don’t know how to love her. Don’t know who she even is.



My cousin runs into the guest bedroom to grab something. Earlier that week the three of them went to Busch Gardens, an amusement park. 

She brings out a pair of blue glasses, thick, little lights embedded in the plastic. She puts them onto her face and flips a switch. The lights go off around her face, blinking faster and faster with each second. My mother and my aunt scream with laughter which makes Soo-Young laugh. She pulls them off and says eounni, eonni, meaning for me to put them on and switches off the lights.



The room disappears. I can no longer make out the shapes of my family sitting in front of me. 



Lighting cracks. On, off.

Sleeping giants rest behind the sheet of black.




Rolled R’s swirl circles like a drumroll, the entrance of something grand.




Christina Lutz currently lives in a perpetual state of sunshine in St. Petersburg, FL where she is an MFA student at the University of South Florida. 



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

A: I think I’m always surprised by where an essay eventually ends up taking me, but for this piece, I think I was most surprised by how important, but fallible, language is. I was trying to find a way to process language and it still came out disjointed, but it was exactly the right fit. And being surprised by the way a piece takes shape is always an exciting thing for me.

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The Day Hoffa Died: A Micro-memoir

Stephen Kuusisto

followed by Q&A

- July 30, 1975

2:00 pm. Hoffa sat in his Pontiac in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Italian Restaurant in a Detroit suburb and waited for his contact. The day was hot. Hoffa kept the windows open. He liked air conditioning but he wasn’t going to pay for the gas. Though he’d been trying to quit he smoked a Pall Mall. He was fucked: a man at the mercy of Gerry Ford and the Mafia and a hundred little fuckers, every one of them dangerous. He smoked in the sun. 

2:00 pm. Kuusisto sat on a porch roof in Geneva, New York listening to Billie Holiday. He was 20 and half blind and more than tiny crazed. He’d recently been in a mental hospital but now he was alone and he loved the line: “God bless the child that’s got his own”. He felt he understood it in the cool way sorrowful people understand truth. He lit a joint wrapped in yellow wheat paper and allowed Ms. Holiday to occupy him on a still afternoon.

2:05 pm. Hoffa was agitated. No sign of anyone. He went into the restaurant and got some change from a waiter and phoned a lieutenant. He was blowing off steam. 

2:05 pm. Kuusisto was thinking about Holiday’s 1940’s vocal ebullience vs. Leadbelly’s slavery songs. On the Alan Lomax recordings he could hear all the particles of Mr. Ledbetter’s body shout together. Ms. Holiday still had this pain but she’d also found joy in emptiness. 

2:08 pm. Hoffa was only aware of the apparent insult, not of the coming threat. 

2:08 pm. Kuusisto turned the record over. 



Stephen Kuusisto is the author of two memoirs Planet of the Blind and Eavesdropping) and two collections of poems (Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges). He teaches at Syracuse University. 



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

A: I was amused to discover my near total recall of minor incidents I experienced on the day Jimmy Hoffa disappeared. These were not dramatic incidents but lyrical and seemed to make an understated counterpoint to the labor leader's demise.

Prime Decimals 41.3

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Vertical Stripes

by Stephanie Austin

followed by Q&A

In early spring, I move my things into the house David built with his ex-wife. My dishes go away in the custom cabinets I know she helped design. This end table I’d planned to refinish but then didn’t goes next to a dark green couch I remember him telling me came from one of their furniture buying missions in southern Arizona. The couch is a shade of green you only see under the water. Standing in her house, knowing she’s the one who put in the ceramic light plates, makes me admit to myself she had good taste.  

When David and I first met, he’d told me about the house. When they were married, they bought a plan, chose all the colors, decided to make their kitchen white and gray, then upgraded to all stainless steel appliances. The front and back yards are filled with barrel cacti, creosote, desert willows, lantana, and chocolate flowers. He said she’d tried roses but lost patience and replaced them with more drought-tolerant bushes. 

David told me how they spent two years building the place, then she walked away, and now every Saturday he’s out there sweating his ass off trimming back the landscape. The house and the yard feel hopeful, like new life. My ex and I were lifelong renters. David had the unmovable foundation, so it made more sense for him to absorb me into it.  

Do you ever think she’ll come back after the house? I asked in the beginning. 

David shook his head. She’s somewhere in Colorado finding herself.  

In the master bedroom, David has placed a single rose on my side of his bed. The frame is made of natural wood. It’s simple and elegant and complements the muted colors in the bedroom. 

Our bed, he says. 

Bet you never thought you’d say that again, I say. 

David sighs. Relationships end, he says. You’ve had relationships too and those are over now. 

I don’t still live inside my relationship, I say. 

Neither do I, he replies. It’s not like every time I look at this house, I see her. I don’t even like to think about her. 

I’m insecure, I say and smile. 

I know, he says and kisses my forehead.  

I’m insecure but that’s how the world is built. This is why we have wars. This is why credit cards exist. 

He’s cleared a portion of the closet for me, which I fill quickly. While I unpack, he reminds me of what I already know.  

The ex-wife was a struggle. She had problems. Her dead father. Her uncompromising mother. Her broken pieces. Her unwillingness to consider children. The cruise they went on the summer before they divorced. She couldn’t sleep in their cabin. The small space was too constricting. He’d find her on deck in the moonlight, crying. He asked her what was wrong and could he help. Instead of answering, she looked down at her sleeve, pulled a piece of stray hair and let it go into the ocean.   

I love you, David says to me. 

The remainder of my things must go in the spare room down the hall for now. Miscellaneous boxes and items litter the room. A broken chair he wants to fix, a box of Halloween costumes.  

The closet is spotted with women’s clothing. The most obvious, a summer dress, hangs near the front. The spaghetti straps look stretched on the hanger. The hem likely hit just above her knees, which offered a suggestion and nothing more. The vertical stripes, green and brown, were out of season, but the fabric was light; the style came from warmth. The dress looked fitted, like it hugged her body, like he hugged her body, like how he liked to hug her body. 

David says he’s forgotten all about this crap back here. Trying to be helpful, I say I’m happy to shove it all in a box and take it away. As a matter of fact, tomorrow is a good day to go to Goodwill.  

David laughs. Then he closes the closet door and asks if I’m ready for dinner. He’ll turn the grill on.  

Through the blinds, I see the sunlight slowly pulling back. I quietly open the closet door to look at the dress again. Peeking in, just enough to see and not touch it, just enough to stare at it in bad light, memorize the way it hangs, follow the vertical lines so I can use them to shred myself later.



Stephanie Austin’s short stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, the South Dakota Review, Washington Square Review, Necessary Fiction, and fwriction: review, among others. Her creative nonfiction has appeared at Used Furniture Review. Read more at



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: When you’re young, and you date, you have to confront someone’s old college relationship or some snapshots from senior prom. When you grow up, and you find yourself dating again, you realize people bring with them an entire life they’ve lived with someone else.

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by Michelle Elvy

followed by Q&A


Do you remember, brother, when we were kids, how you laughed at my crush on Bill? How you mocked the S.W.A.K. I wrote when he went to boarding school, the x I added after my name?



My crush lasted till he sent a photo: arms flung around a roommate’s shoulders, huge Rebel flag on the wall. You said, Don't hold it against him, but I did. 



You’re too political, you said, with your Malcolm X posters and DC rallies. I laugh at that now, ’cause who’s fighting the fight? Who turned patriot overnight?



We sat on your porch, singing The Fourth of July with Exene and John. You lit a Camel. I grinned, recalling when I begged one off you and gagged and you said, Smoking’s not pretty.

-Do you have to go?


-But you’re gonna go? 




I sign every letter to you with an x. 



I looked up your camp, marked it: x. I couldn’t say the name, just wanted to see it on my globe, halfway round the world from here.



I wrote a desert story called “Homecoming.” It was no good so I cut it right out of my system, control-x.



Phone call from Mom. Merry fucking Xmas. The screams spilled over the linoleum and took my voice. I’ve not spoken since.



Your letter arrived today. It’s in my pocket, unopened.

-Promise you’ll write?

-Cross my heart, hope to die.

I stare at the letter, mouth dry with sand and sorrow.



On your porch, a step you never fixed. Your letter burns my pocket. If I open it, your voice will drift into the forever night. 

I marvel at your tiny neat print, the black x written after your name. 

I sit, smoke a cigarette alone.



A manuscript editor and writer who grew up on the shores of the Chesapeake and meandered by sail to New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, Michelle Elvy edits at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Blue Five Notebook. She can also be found regularly at Awkword Paper Cut and Fictionaut’s Editor’s Eye series. Her poetry, short stories, flash, and creative non-fiction have appeared in numerous literary journals and travel magazines. She is currently completing a collection of very short stories set across the historical landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand. More at



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: Very short fiction is about intersections—direct and implied. In this story I wanted to note the intersection between war and home in a quiet way: ten short chapters, playing with the symbol x, viewing it differently each time, examining the weight of it. Add to that LA punk, and this is where I ended up.

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Gravity in Photographs

by Karen Craigo

followed by Q&A

Richard Nixon drops from the sky

in a photograph by Philippe Halsman,

who caught him just above the Oval Office floor.

Nixon’s hands, clasped at his thighs,

brace him for the moment of impact.

Halsman believed people were most natural

at the moment of the leap—fully focused

on gravity and its limits. We all trust

we can break away briefly but that the planet

will draw us back. Nixon, Oppenheimer,

Marilyn Monroe—all expected to be accepted

upon their return. Not even God

promises that. What comfort, to know

there is nothing we can do—wage a war,

build a bomb—to make the ground

relinquish its welcome.



Karen Craigo teaches English to international students at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Her work has appeared in the journals Poetry, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, The MacGuffin, and others. Her chapbook, Stone for an Eye, is part of the Wick Poetry Series.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: I wrote this poem after seeing a wonderful photography exhibit featuring the work of Philippe Halsman at the Toledo Museum of Art. It’s the job of an artist to offer another way of seeing, and Halsman’s portraits of such enduring figures as Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dalí, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Richard Nixon accomplish that beautifully. I thought the work merited an attempt at a poem.

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Letter to Failure

Joy Ladin

followed by Q&A

You seem to be everywhere, in and between the lines

death writes in a fine secretarial hand, 

memories matted like leaves, half-erased dates, excuses I’ve made, 

ready to tell me – no one else will – 


how little I’ve managed to be. I circle your blank

like a butterfly circling a plate,

waiting for you to be impressed with my presentation 

of a woman in pain, really suffering 


the staples of vanished longing

affixing her to the windowpane.  

This narrowing body is a stage.  

You and I should write a play.


My character could get punched a few times, 

provoke some laughter, learn the price

of having a body, personality, time

to read ends into endings.


I keep waiting for you, my illegible co-author, to explain life’s takeaway.  

But you explain nothing. You make clocks, 

argue politics, wander libraries 

of romances you neither stopped nor started, 


conclusions you didn’t reach, tragedies and comedies 

you enjoy without regret

because they give a shape to life

life will never have.  



Joy Ladin, Gottesman Professor of English at Yeshiva University, has published six books of poetry, including 2012’s The Definition of Joy, Forward Fives award winner Coming to Life, and Lambda Literary Award finalist Transmigration. Her memoir, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her work has appeared in many periodicals, including American Poetry Review, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Southwest Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review, and has been recognized with a Fulbright Scholarship.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: This poem is part of a series of letters written to various terms (and one or two people) that are important to me. But though the terms to which these poems are addressed are charged with personal meaning, the words of this and the other poems are drawn from a very impersonal source: they were all found in a catalog of rare books. It was fascinating and a bit sad to see how readily the physical vocabulary of used books voiced my vision of life.

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Christine Hennessey

followed by Q&A

Hours after we’ve gone to bed I wake to the scent of smoke rising from your skin, can see your ash-flecked hair gleaming in the moonlight that lies across our bed. The tree was too close to the house, cast long shadows across the lawn, killed the grass. And now the tree is gone and there is a hole in the ground, surrounded by dark dirt and the fluff of wood shavings where you ground down the stump into nothing while I dragged pieces away—branches, limbs, trunk—and placed them in the fire. 

You sigh and roll away from me, and I remember a moment from earlier in the week, when we were out to dinner and you asked me to marry you and I said yes, of course, yes. This was before the tree, before the fire, before the smoke that trailed into the fading light, a plume of gray against dusty blue, the stars just beginning to peek through the trees we did not cut down. I reach for you, place a hand on your chest, feel your heart beat steady, beat slow. I miss the tree already and I hate the hole in the ground, but I understand that it was necessary if we wanted anything else to grow. 

In sleep, you raise your hand and place it over mine. The scent of smoke is fading now, but if I lift my head and look out the window I can see the embers near the earth, still smoldering. I said yes because you do what needs to be done, the hard work that no one else wants to face. I bury my face in your shoulder, breath the last traces of fire, and sleep.  



Christine Hennessey lives in coastal North Carolina, where she is a teaching assistant and MFA candidate at the UNC Wilmington. She shares her home with two giant dogs, eight chickens, one beehive, and her husband. She’s at work on her first novel and tweets via @thenewchrissy



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

A: I wanted to write a practical love poem, which is in itself surprising, since I’m not a poet. I decided to focus the piece on the tree my husband cut down, which caused a lot of strife with our landlady, which made me resent my husband—very romantic, I know. Writing this piece made me realize that what annoyed me about my husband (chopping down trees without asking permission, because he knew the landlady would say no) was actually what I respect most about him—his ability to do the right thing, without caring what others think. I set out to write a love poem, and was surprised to find that writing the piece made me fall more in love. 

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Melissa Matthewson

followed by Q&A

Let me start with the ballroom floor and the hills outside. The carpet was embellished in a swirl of maroon feathers, nylon fabric that sucked the life right out of my shoes. Large windows lined one side of the room, all of the sprawl and span of southern California visible from this tier and plateau of scrub where the restaurant perched, the silver mined out of these hills long ago. Nothing left except the coyotes wondering where to hide. 

I stood with the other girls, though I didn’t eye or swoon the boys like they did. I looked out the window instead—to the sky glowing in amber gold, to the city twinkling below brown hills, to the smog settling over roofs. I looked out to the poppies and blue eyes shaking on the hill, to anywhere but the lace and satin and groove, pushing the misery down, forcing the smile, begrudging the mother who put me here. 

I was an awkward thing of a girl—a tall and substantial impossibility, incongruent in the perfect geometry of adolescent girls. My dress: a polyester navy blue “sailor” bag, loosely hung over my hips like a tent, pleats at the knee, fabric tucked at the armpit, the sweat just beginning to form over layers of fat squeezed from my stockings. I wore flats too narrow for my wide feet, flats that pinched my sweaty toes like sardines drenched in oil and tin can. My braces gleamed under the chandeliers.

Across from us, the boys scratched their pimples, shifted their balls in restricted suits that required a tailor’s trained eye and seam. All of the doting mothers watched us in their plastic chairs and hairspray. I slumped, tried to hide under my dress, and hoped a boy would choose me. And too, I wore a gigantic pad between my legs pulled earlier from the package my mother purchased at the neighborhood grocery store, the discarded blood of my unfertilized eggs filling the cotton while I waited to dance. The dance that would never come.

The history of such cotillion is this: a patterned dance from France—a way to flirt and petticoat around the floor with changing music and shifting partners, all of it social fabrication, all of it foolish courtesy to an eleven-year-old girl. I didn’t wear petticoats and France was across an ocean—who was I to master the curtsy, waltz, and strut? 

Stevie Wonder came on the speakers then to croon, “Don’t you worry about a thing, no no.” And the Martines, our instructors, shimmied across the carpet, swinging their frosted and permed heads, repeating, “One, two, cha cha cha. One, two, cha cha cha.” 

I remember the hills most, their golden dryscape of grass. I remember thinking the coyotes must be close. 



Melissa Matthewson holds degrees from the University of California Santa Cruz and University of Montana. She is currently pursuing an MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her essays and poetry have appeared, or are forthcoming in Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Literary Mama, Hothouse, and Camas among other publications. She lives in the Applegate Valley of southwestern Oregon.



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

A: I really like writing very short essays—the attention to detail required when you sharpen your focus on one moment in time, the process of capturing glimpses of memory with conscious deliberation of image, word choice, sentence structure. In writing this, I was surprised by the clarity of details and images that came flooding back to me upon remembrance—the physical and social discomfort of the situation, the hills outside the restaurant, the landscape and geography, the terror and the ability to reflect on those moments of excruciating pain in order to unearth a little bit of beauty and mystery twenty-five years later.

Prime Decimals 41.5

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The Awakening

by Keith Rebec

followed by Q&A

It was April when we found the woman floating in the ditch pool.

“What’s that?” I asked. 

“Lord Jesus,” Mom said, and stopped the Buick.

We got out. The woman was submerged to the shoulder blades. Her arms were thick and bare, the skin taut, and clumps of vegetation coalesced around her armpits.

“You okay, ma’am?” my mother asked. “It’s a miracle you aren’t froze to death.”

“Go to hell, bitch,” the woman said. “And mind your own business on the way down.”

My mother tightened her winter jacket. She frowned and tugged at the edges of my hat, her breath rolling atop my cheekbones in dainty puffs. “I’m not sure what to do,” Mom said. “It’s clear she’s not right. We can’t just leave her.”

I nodded.

“Hello,” Mom said. “Are you mentally touched? We can help.”

“Fuck off,” the woman said.

I toed a rusted muffler clamp until it sank into the mud. My father was probably home from the Eagle Horn Tavern, cussing our missteps.

“She’s kind of like a wild dog,” Mom whispered. “Sometimes they’re as stubborn as the devil, but once they get cold and hungry, they always come around.”

We stood along the road for a long time waiting for the woman to come around. Snowflakes clung to our eyelashes—our fingers and lips hurt, turned purple—so we retreated to the car. The woman belted Irish songs, caught falling ice with her tongue, and stayed, with only the whites of her eyes aglow, until dusk. Then she emerged, nude and chapped—the dark patch between her legs caked with soil—and rapped on our window with a wet knuckle. 

“Cowards,” she said. “You’ll never live life being afraid,” and she strode back into the darkness.

I waited along the fringe for most of my life before I finally followed.



Keith Rebec resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s a graduate student working on an MA in Writing at Northern Michigan University. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Shenandoah, The Portland Review, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, Midwestern Gothic, Devil’s Lake, and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, among others. He’s the managing editor for the literary journal Pithead Chapel, and you can learn more about him at



Q: What can you tell us about this piece?

A: The inspiration for this piece began as an image of a woman submerged in mud along a rural road in northern Michigan. Then when the mother and son entered the picture, the story just took off on its own.

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The Greatest Narcissist on Earth

by Jodi Barnes

followed by Q&A

I forgot how masterful you are, way better than a pickpocket. After our meeting, I drove home with one hand. It felt funny but I figured I'd absentmindedly put the other in my purse or tossed it into the backseat with my jacket.

In my driveway, two metatarsals tumbled out the driver's side door. My spleen is a splatter on the right rear hubcap. At least they explain some minor aches and pains. 

Before I could grab the ibuprofen in the kitchen, I saw my reflection in the microwave door: my throat a bloody mess, larynx flapping against my collarbone.

I thought back to walking through the shiny door, ordering my coffee, sitting down across from you. As soon as I spoke, you interrupted, called our child a liar, a druggie, but not a whore like last year. I was grateful she wasn't there; it's taken her 14 months to put herself back together.

I don't remember you touching me, no handshake or the slightest brush against your Rolex on my way out. I wondered why it got harder to hear you; I just found what might be my left ear. I think I'm losing the better half of my heart.

What do I do with these pieces? You have bought up all the ice on this road. You own every hospital for miles; all the doctors are in your pocket.

As much damage as you've done, I have to hand it to you—here, take this one—you're the man, making people think they can come apart all by themselves.



Jodi Barnes’s flash fiction can be found on 100 Word Story, Prime Number, Wigleaf’s Top 50, Camroc Press Review (forthcoming) and Fictionaut’s Editor’s Eye. Her short-short stories have made finalist on Glimmer Train, Sixfold and in Press 53’s Open Awards (2011, 2013). Her chapbook, unsettled (Main Street Rag), was runner-up for the Oscar Arnold Young best poetry book award in North Carolina. Other poems are in Iodine Journal, Blue Collar Review, and in several anthologies. She founded 14 Words for Love, literary experiments for positive social change.



Q: What can you tell us about this piece?

A: Losing body parts seemed a more interesting, nonsentimental way to express one parent’s emotional aftermath of a difficult meeting with an ex-spouse about their child.

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Three Poems

by Thade Correa

I. Dawn

Swarms of white bees teem in the streets, 

clouds of stars. Houses, cars, streetlamps 


pitch and careen: the world spins anchorless 

as silence drowns the hours one by one 


until time shrinks and stands alone, banished 

to a shadowed corner. The space it leaves behind 


floods with whispers: We come from nowhere, 

and go away nowhere. To hide its secrets, 


the snow builds a room without walls, 

a house in the wind, and the moment, 


free of before and after, wears nothing 

but a robe of water and light.  



II. Windows

for J.H.


In rooms they stand sentinel. There might be papers 

covered with numbers on a desk, books filmed 


in dust, battered chairs in which absence sleeps 

under the false suns of lamps, paintings suffused 


with remembered light. In cloisters of dim air 

in which all music rusts, they keep vigil 


over the possible. They are wounds in time 

bleeding blue wind, fragments of the sky, 


wells of hope. You lift your head and meet 

their eyes: in them, sunlight wanders the streets, 


grasses knit the scars of graves, birds follow 

the pale voices of stars home to trees heavy 


with tomorrow. You turn away.  

It is now. It will always be now.



III. Storms

Along suburban streets, spring leaves of trees 

blister in black winds, magnolia blossoms 


lift their lips to drink a roiling sky, 

then scatter in air, a flutter of eyelids, ghost-pink, 


across windows shut fast to strands 

of cold pearls falling. Pillars of lightning, 


precipices of cloud. A braying, whirling 

and raveling in thickets of noon-day night. 


Here is passion: lashed with leaves, 

the grass of manicured lawns aches and arches, 


suburban brick houses, spacious and sterile, 

stand drenched in a sea that streams across miles 


to clutch the new earth in arms of flame. 

Close your eyes. Feel the storm that rages 


across vistas of breath, surges untamed 

toward blue forever, and sink into your life. 


Everything that grows begins in darkness.



Thade Correa hails from Northwest Indiana. He received his B.A. from Indiana University, his M.A. from the University of Chicago, and his M.F.A. from the University of Notre Dame. His poetry, translations, and essays have appeared in various venues, including The Ostrich Review, Actuary Lit, Prime Number, RHINO, Asymptote, Paragraphiti, Ibbetson Street, The Aurorean, and Modern Haiku. In 2012, a collection of his poetry garnered him an Academy of American Poets Prize. A composer and pianist as well as a writer, he currently publishes his music with Alliance Publications. Currently, he works as a teacher of both writing and music. 


These poems are excerpted from Correa’s first poetry collection, entitled The Falling Light (2013).

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Wendy Mnookin

followed by Q&A

The child is allergic.

They must give the cats away.

Oh which should she give up first,

and how far, and how long?

All? she asks.

Yes, all. And so 


she forgets her slippers, 

pink, with sequins, when she hurries 

to Slipper Day at school.

They wait all day on the counter, abandoned

with a few soggy Cheerios,

hardening crusts of toast.


One by one the cats come home–

the decree lifted–

moody, demanding

bits of turkey, a shoulder to knead.

They wrap themselves

around chair legs, her legs,

purring loudly.


And though her mother says

everything will be fine–

which means everything

will be forgotten–

the child refuses ice cream

and keeps her losses close.


No: she eats the ice cream,

chocolate and vanilla both,

and keeps her losses close.



Wendy Mnookin’s latest book is The Moon Makes Its Own Plea (BOA Editions, 2008.) Her other books are What He TookTo Get Here, and Guenever Speaks. Widely published in journals and anthologies, Wendy is the recipient of the Sheila Motton Book Award and a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches poetry at Emerson College and at Grub Street, a non-profit writing program in Boston. You can find out more about her work at



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: This poem was written over a course of years. The anecdotes about the cats and the one about the slippers were originally in two separate poems, based on experiences of two of my nieces (thank you Julia and Sophia!) But I couldn’t make either of the poems work. It wasn’t until I combined the two that I was able to come up with the last stanzas, which bring the poem around to how I dealt with loss and disappointment as a child.

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Bill Riley

followed by Q&A

We see each other more than the people we call friends, and, for some, the people we call family or more. We spend ninety minutes three times a week picking, rolling, boxing out, passing, and sometimes shooting successfully.

We are not close, though the closeness is what makes my wife cringe when, over dinner, I tell her about the blood down Steve’s shirt or how quickly Rupert’s shirt turns from red to black with sweat. You’re always touching each other, she wonders. And, you undress and shower next to John and then see him in the hallway later that afternoon. 

Here’s what we know: Pat used to teach kindergarten until he couldn’t get down on the floor to play with the kids as easily. Now he’s an education professor and burns all the guys with newborns a CD of Pete Seeger songs. 

Murry was a professor but now he’s emeritus after celebrating a publication by smoking weed in his office. We don’t count three-pointers but he shoots them anyway.

Paul is a writer for one of the most right-wing publications in the country. A lot of times I guard Paul and he’s ten years older and two steps faster than I am. Sometimes, I think of the differences in our politics as motivation. Sometimes I also guard Mark, one of several Marks, who I refer to in conversation with my wife as “Republican Mark.” Republican Mark and Jon are two of the best players, and sometimes I think they use their politics as motivation as well. (Jon is writing a book about queer sexuality, poverty, and Whitman…so it’s a hunch they don’t agree on the Affordable Care Act.)

Tall Mark played at Dartmouth and was an au pair for Bruce Springsteen’s kids one summer. Big Mark has broken his jaw and won’t be back for a year. 

We call our own fouls, some more than others. We hate when the undergraduates play with us because they’re quick enough to get open and macho enough not to know when they suck. We revel in the too few moments when a screen leads to a pass which leads to a cut which leads to an open basket. We hang our heads when we must stop for tangled legs and popped knees.

Jeff’s wife had a daughter, then, three months later, he didn’t. SIDS.

We know that Vikrash will always take an open 20-footer rather than drive, so we stay up on his hip. We know that you must front Dan in the post because he knows where he is with his back to the goal and has only two post moves but both of them are very good. We know that Magic—that’s what we call him, the guys like me who haven’t played for years and years don’t know his real name—will drive, throw up the stupidest looking floater and make it time after time. We know that Jimmy protects himself when he shoots by driving his knee up but we know we won’t complain because he is over 60 years old and tore his quadriceps one winter shoveling snow. We know that Jerry gets quiet sometimes and we think that it’s because he played wide receiver in the NFL and he’s at least 70 and he’s probably lost count of all the concussions he suffered.


We know you can’t guard Scott’s hook shot but he’s had two knee surgeries so you can probably deny him the ball. We know that just the a few months ago Jeff’s wife had another daughter, but we don’t know how happy he is because he stopped playing.

We know that this game—folks showing up to Rec Hall at 11 in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—outdates most of us. We know this game has existed for years. Sometimes we hear stories about the guys who started this game, how they used to run four courts full of games. Now, about 16 show up regularly. We know the games were more physical back then because this one former Marine used to play and he punched someone once. 

We know your weekend was fine, and ours was too. Thanks for asking. 



Bill Riley is a lecturer at Penn State and a graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at Ohio State. He is writing a book about the current Milan High School basketball team (the high school that inspired "Hoosiers" in 1954), and has published work in Indy Men's Magazine and Spry Literary Journal. 



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

A: What surprised me is how much the guys I play basketball with know about what each other does—at home, at work, on the basketball court—and how little we know about how each other feels about it. I’ve spent all this time thus far in my life (I’m 30) assuming that the people I spend the most time with are my friends. That’s not entirely true anymore, and it’s something I didn’t quite realize until I wrote down all of these facts about my basketball crew and wasn’t able to identify a single emotion for any of the characters. As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difficulties of starting and maintaining adult friendships, especially between men. I want to be upset about the gap between friend and acquaintance that I’ve noticed, but as you add more and more to your life—I’m recently married and a new father—maybe what we need is more acquaintances that we only have to spend physical energy on, not emotional.

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Ray Scanlon

followed by Q&A

Pencil to paper, my grandson copies theorems out of the text-book, the better to cement them into his mind and make them his own. He's studying for his geometry final exam, and I'm there for backup. As he works problems I ask the occasional leading question, affirm correct answers, maybe raise an eyebrow at careless arithmetic errors. Mutual ribbing at faulty understandings is part of the drill, too. The duty is light, and I have the leisure to reflect on the serious improvements a few months of brain development have wrought in him. You can't get too attached to your mind's picture of your teenager; he'll keep achieving pieces of adult maturity in virtual blinks of an eye. The boy's organization, focus, and attention span are impressive. His elders are palpably relieved.

After close to two hours of congruencies, parallels, and perpendiculars, the boy pushes his chair back and announces it's time for a break. He invites Dad to play some basketball; I say invite, but the challenge is always there, either overt or implicit. We gather up the ball, the adult beverages, a cigar, and head down the cul de sac to the hoop.

I may have blurted out some lame-ass bullshit about geometry's application to basketball. It is, of course, useless. Euclid never had to deal with this game of spin, trajectories, and ridiculously imperfectly elastic collisions. Even calculus could not bring deliverance to a player in the heat of the game. Far better for the boy to use it afterward in a moment of calm as elegant verification of what he already knows through muscle memory and hours of practice—and maybe to discover the critical angles and velocities which determine whether the ball drops through the net or pops out after circling the rim.

Dad and the boy—these aficionados of skill—play horse, pig, ox, around the world, shoot-out. The boy is physically adult and still growing. Dad feels no compunction about using his razzle-dazzle shots. With vicious acceleration, the boy dribbles and feints, laughing for sheer joy. Hoping to throw off Dad's rhythm, he elicits outraged delay-of-game protests. He and his father are close enough in skill so that it's no rare thing for the boy to win, and neither is shy in offering his opinion of whose butt is going to be whipped. My only active role in the games exactly matches my ability. Two out of three times I can stop a stray ball if it comes straight to me, not too fast. Otherwise, my part is to observe and revel in the moment.

The athletic tradition in my family was less strenuous. After Sunday dinner at Grammy and Gramp's, we kids and the elder two generations sat around the living room and, in the season, watched a baseball game on the television. (To more precisely date myself, the TV used electron tubes and had to “warm up.” It was black and white. It had twelve VHF channels sucked in from the ether through a rabbit-ear antenna. There were no remotes: you changed channels by walking over and turning a knob on the TV, and you had to fine-tune it with another knob. You could adjust the contrast, too. There was no slow-motion instant replay.) My grandfather, belonging to the first generation of his Anglo-Irish family born in the United States, had no trouble adopting the national pastime as one of his sports. However, he'd reached the age at which sitting in front of a TV led pretty much inevitably to dozing off—it was impossible for me to fathom this then, but now I'm all too familiar with the phenomenon. We kids paid little attention to the ball game, but Gramp's snoring was a reliable source of amusement.

It was good to have small places in our lives that were familiar and predictable, even though “random” and “zany” were hardly hallmarks of our nerdish upbringing. It is good now, too, that I can claim to be in on the ground floor of another family tradition, for so these two-man basketball contests are shaping up to be. This evening ritual provides structure and rootedness that are valuable in a culture that's not necessarily always your friend. It will certainly evolve as my grandson goes out into the world, but I have high hopes it will persist in recognizable form for years to come.

Dad will take shuffling baby steps with his walker until he's in position under the net, the erstwhile boy beside him. “Underhand, right-handed, backboard, right-only catch,” the geezer rasps. Both of them have long since mastered this shot; most likely could do it blindfolded. I'll be there, getting the hang of my new ectoplasmic form, ready to tweak gravity to ensure the needful results.



Ray Scanlon. Massachusetts boy. Has grandchildren. Extraordinarily lucky. No MFA. No novel. No extrovert. His work has been published recently in Camroc Press Review, land that I live, and Stymie. On the web:



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

A: Early on I wrote a snarky bombastic irrelevant paragraph detailing how I feel about professional basketball. I tried to force transitions into it and out of it, but it was out of place, just painfully wrong. Finally I realized it was going to have to die, and I found it surprisingly easy to kill that particular baby. Ripping it out felt good, and then the rest just kind of flowed. Including the ending, which often enough afflicts me with weeping and tearing of hair.