Prime Decimals 43.2

Parul Kapur Hinzen.jpg

Fighting Words

by Parul Kapur Hinzen

followed by Q&A

Their eyes were hollow. Their work was simultaneous interpretation, listening in one language and translating into another, the language they were born to, their native tongues. Through my plastic earpiece in conference rooms, I heard snatches of their voices as I turned the dial in my console, searching for English: some sharp and distressed, rambling drunkenly; others blowing words out in nervous wisps, cautiously pausing as the speaker thundered on. The translations from Arabic to English were spirals without stop, sentences climbing into space. 

From the press officers’ table, I condensed speeches into the flat text of English news releases. I worked on short-term contracts, having given up on a novel set in India, my birthplace, a place I no longer knew well enough to describe. 

Even in Manila, around the world from UN headquarters in New York, the interpreters exhausted themselves speaking. French to Russian; English to Chinese; Arabic to English to Spanish. As government representatives debated the protection of the seas at a special conference, cobalt waves mounted outside the convention center windows. The interpreters sat behind glass walls, too, paired in booths, one speaking into the microphone, illuminated in her box; her partner waiting in darkness, tongue silenced. 

Thrown together in a strange city, a small group of us collected for dinner. In a van white as a sail, we turned away from Manila Bay, speculating on connections and origins: sugar in Hindi shukkar, in French sucre, in Spanish azucar, in German zucker; thank you in German danke, in Hindi dhanyavad. At a Lebanese fast food counter in a deserted mall, the Syrian interpreter ordered tabbouleh and grape leaves for the group, the food served to us on Styrofoam plates. He’d been eager to bring us here because the woman who owned the restaurant, a Lebanese, had told him on the phone that it was set in “an open area.” He’d pictured a garden and moon, he told us sheepishly; I had imagined plaintive Arabic music. No one anticipated a food court a level below the boutiques in a Manila shopping mall. “I don’t speak Arabic, no, no.” The Lebanese woman laughed as she set down our bottles of soda, embarrassed by the interpreter’s question. She’d been born in the Philippines. 

The square-jawed Syrian, a mournful man who’d once been a poet, recalled serving as the Emir of Kuwait’s personal interpreter during the Gulf War. Trying to reconcile incongruent grammars, to bridge the lack of sympathies between English and Arabic, had felt like an emotional assault on him. He’d been aware, too, of television cameras recording his every utterance. Arabic interpreters were permitted to act as two-way simultaneous interpreters, speaking in both English and Arabic, since there were so few of them. After switching between the languages for twelve hours straight, the Syrian found himself waking up with a shock as he navigated slow traffic out of New York City toward home, the evening sun hanging over the river. He slept, too, as he spoke. Sometimes he worked in a state of shallow sleep in his booth, he said, depleted by words. 

A doughy-faced white Colombian, a Spanish interpreter, whose German father had helped bring civil aviation to the jungle, giggled and shook her curls. She’d never fallen asleep while talking. 

Just wait, the Syrian warned her, it would happen to her one day. The tongue would take over without her consent, words forming themselves beyond her control. 

Arabic was a sentimental language, he went on in his troubled way, graced with poetic phrases of praise and courtesy that had no equivalence in English. Those flourishing preambles he struggled to give meaning to, I could easily ignore in English as fluff, grateful for some slow time during the Arabic speeches to number the pages in my writing pad, to write the speaker’s name and his country in parentheses. A pause, before I began the work of concentrating intently to catch the sentences I needed for my story. I had started learning English early, in my English-medium school in Delhi, Hindi being the language of home. I was seven when my parents decided to leave India, severing my mother tongue. The interpreters, sipping their colas and lighting their cigarettes, lived in the continuous present of their first languages, swirling in childhood words. I listened to what was said as if in retrospect, trying to decide which words would matter in hindsight, changing every is I heard to was, as if the moment I lived in had already passed. 



Parul Kapur Hinzen is a writer and journalist with an MFA from Columbia University. Her first novel, Inside the Mirror, was a semi-finalist for the 2013 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal Europe, Newsday, Esquire and ARTnews. She has published fiction in Frank, Wascana Review, Sugar Mule and other journals. Currently she writes about books for ArtsATL, Atlanta’s leading online arts review.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: In the early 1990s, as a journalist with the United Nations, I got to know a group of simultaneous interpreters at a conference in the Caribbean. It seemed none of us was fully at home anywhere in the world, so we felt an instant camaraderie.

Laurie Stone.jpg

2 Stories

by Laurie Stone

followed by Q&A


My brother was the catcher, and we were having sex. I was waiting to be scared. In our act, he would swing upside down from the bar, hanging by his knees, his arms extended, and I would fly into his chalky grip. We would sway together while I shimmied up his body for our extension tricks. Sometimes he became hard and called me goddess. I laughed and called him punk. He was wearing his hair in a Mohawk in those days. We were 7 and 9 the first time we explored, 13 and 15 the first time we went inside each other’s bodies. Now we were 20 and 22, and each time the circus moved to another city I wondered if I should take off. As soon as we were separated, I wanted to return. At the kitchen table, eating buckwheat pancakes with raisins, he said, “I don’t see other women.” I said, “You are just lazy,” feeling the nauseating dizziness of trapeze. Other kids noticed the odd way we split off. Jed was always lingering nearby. We would hear soft laughter behind us when we left a room. It was almost romantic. Whatever people thought they knew, they didn’t know. At the table, I licked a dab of mayonnaise off his nose, left from making tuna sandwiches. He was bare-chested in tights, and I studied the shadowy contours of his belly and ass. His legs were pillars. We had the same coppery hair, the same broad hands. I said, “No one will measure up, but some day we will have to leave home.” He took my braid in his mouth and bit down. I still feel the tug at the back of my neck. When I close my eyes, I see him on a bench before an unglamorous stretch of river, his hair flying, his face quizzical and refusing to suffer. Each morning when I wake up, I wonder if this is the day the fear will start.  


The Energy of Girls

Emma and I were in a shabby part of town with vacant lots and overgrown yards, and I wondered if something would happen as we loped beside Tom, who was slow-witted and 21. We were 13, and it was dark, but I wasn’t afraid. My parents were doctors. When they hugged me, they scanned for disease, so I was used to a low-level atmosphere of alarm. After a few blocks, Tom led us into a lot with tall weeds, then along a path to a clearing with stones that smelled of fire. We sat on sandy ground, light raying off Emma’s bleached white hair and fading into the trees. We ate chips from the store where Tom worked the register. He cupped his face in his hands, looking at us, and Emma touched his soft hair and long body. I touched him, too. My fingernails were dirty. His legs were firm. He said, “Nice.” I closed my eyes. It was quiet except for our breathing. When I opened my eyes, Tom was stretched out on the ground, slipping down his pants. I looked at the stars and weeds and wondered if this was how my life was going to go. Emma had lived in New York, and I wondered why she had chosen me to be her friend. The thing Tom lacked was also something he had, and the thing Emma and I had was also something we lacked, and so in this way we were a good fit. Tom’s penis stood up. I didn’t have a brother. I thought that when I was dying I wouldn’t remember where I had traveled or the work I had done but who I had touched. 



Laurie Stone has written several books of fiction and nonfiction. Her short work has appeared in such publications as Open City, Anderbo, Joyland, NanofictionThe Los Angeles Review, New Letters, Ms., nthWord, TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, Threepenny Review, Exquisite Corpse, Memorious, St Petersburg Review and Four Way Review. She is working on The Love of Strangers, Micro, Flash, and Short Fiction by Laurie Stone.  



Q: What was your inspiration for this story?

A: Susan Nordmark was writing daily flash fictions during July 2013 and posting them on Facebook as well as prompt words she culled from songs. These were plucked from Frank Zappa's song “Electric Aunt Jemima:” goddess, buckwheat, punk, raisin, mayonnaise. I gave it a shot. I was in London, and I took to walking daily in Regents Park and watching classes at a trapeze school. I had also been watching “Game of Thrones,” hence the brother-sister incest.

Claudette Cohen.jpg

Mole Crab

by Claudette Cohen

followed by Q&A

Plumed, backward-creeping bullet, 

your entire back 

the addled brow of St. Peter on the cross, 

   one thought, one glance, one quick dance for the sand, 

and then a shoveling.

Sudden have I seen 

how your afterdeath shell 

   holds dawn upside-down—

    how the Milky Way vaulting over a washing sea 

comes back under the pregnant sun 

    as arabesques of iridescence 

capering in that brittle chitinous cave 

    lined medievally with hair 

coarse as the beard of an Irishman.

That my soul could ever leave 

imprinted on its makeshift house—

picked and passed up even by the pipers— 

    that much beauty haphazardly grinning at the sky 

makes me crave to be the light playing inside you

    and the hollow where you once were.



Claudette Cohen is the winner of the 2013 Doris Betts Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in Cream City, Lyric Poetry, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Squaw Valley, and Owen Wister Reviews, storySouth, Pirene's Fountain, Fireweed, Southern Anthology, and Main Street Rag, among others. An alumna of Agnes Scott, UWYO, and UNCW, she taught writing at the University of Utah, the University of Wyoming, and Cape Fear Community College. Her newest work will appear in NCLR and Phantom Manners: Contemporary Southern Gothic Fiction by Women, U of SC Press.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: For so long I thought the remnants of the lowly and ubiquitous mole crab that litter Carolina beaches the last thing of interest on a combing. Then one day I picked one up and really looked. The worlds of color inside stunned me. I learned to walk and talk on the beach, and this discovery made me see how easy it is to be blind to the marvels in the mundane.

Eric Nelson.jpg

Thanksgiving Matinee

Eric Nelson

followed by Q&A

On a day that feels like thanks for nothing

I’m unexpectedly grateful for the shadowy

Woman in the darkened theater walking 

Down the incline—one hand full of popcorn, 

One full of giant cup—peering side to side. 


Adjusted to the dark, I ignore the trailers 

Loaded with explosions, chases, guns

To watch her, suspense building, pulling 

For her to find who she’s looking for. 

When she knows she’s gone too far she starts 

Back up the slope, scanning, pausing, 


Until finally she picks up speed and enters 

The row I’m in, nothing between us but empty seats. 

Soon she is lowering herself into the seat beside me 

Whispering God, I thought I’d never find you

And, like her, for an instant I believe she has.



Eric Nelson’s books include The Twins (2009), winner of the Split Oak Press Chapbook Award; Terrestrials (2004, Texas Review Press), winner of the X.J. Kennedy Poetry Award; and The Interpretation of Waking Life (1991, U. of Arkansas Press), winner of the Arkansas Poetry Award. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The Oxford American, The Sun, and many other journals and anthologies. He teaches in the Writing and Linguistics Department at Georgia Southern University.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: The difficult part about writing this poem was (1) recognizing that the experience was both a gift and a poem, which took years, and (2) getting the right words in the right order, which took months.

Marjorie Maddox.jpg


Marjorie Maddox

followed by Q&A

At first we think she is a he in drag—late fifties, large chest, thick legs, bouffant hairdo, heavy makeup. During the concert intermission, she walks past our seats awkwardly in high heels, pointing at the floor and mumbling. “She’s lost something,” I say to my daughter, who dutifully writes in the small striped notebook she carries everywhere. “I don’t think she can see clearly.”

“How do you spell contact?” my daughter whispers, her 20/20s focused on her depiction of the event. Slowly, the orchestra begins again to take their seats. My daughter’s letters are careful, large. Like a polite child, she stares only at what she’s writing.

When I blink and pause too long, she erases her scenario. There is little left on the nub of her pencil. Pink flecks dot her skirt. She brushes them to the floor. By this time, those at the end of our row are standing, looking between seats and along the aisle. The woman with the bouffant is saying in a definitely high-pitched feminine voice, “Yes, I think it was around here,” an usher has come out with a flashlight to shine across the burgundy carpet, and the violins are starting to tune up. 

“A diamond,” my daughter explains, and begins a new story. The week before we searched our house endlessly for my lost stone, trying to catch the gleam with her Girl Scout flashlight. Together, while listening to Peter and the Wolf, we emptied the vacuum cleaner, sifting through dirt, dust, chewed up rubber bands and tissues. We swept the bathroom floor. We crawled on hands and knees, feeling for something other than toothpaste lids and Q-Tips. At the end, the gold setting on my finger stayed empty, lost without its symbol. My daughter wrote three pages in her notebook and drew a picture. Now, she flips back to check the spelling of diamond and how many minutes I cried. The oboists, warming up, accompany her movements.

I stand to join the others in their search—of what I don’t know. My daughter continues scribbling her new narrative, adding, I imagine, the details she loves: the reflection of light on chandeliers, the slight creak of theatre seats, the growing murmur of patron voices. Strangers gathered like this, one by one, the summer we lost my daughter at the beach. Within those eternal fifteen minutes, a teenager began searching on her bike, a mother with twins called the police on her cell phone, an elderly couple collecting shells rushed off to get their car. My daughter, at six and just starting to write, was a mile down the sand, examining jelly fish, describing, in her own makeshift spelling, their dangerous invisible skin. For weeks after, I had trouble breathing.

Now the conductor re-appears, bows to the audience. Obediently, the usher vanishes; the other women in my row apologetically sit down. For a second before the music resumes, it is just the bouffant woman and I, shifting hesitantly on our tired feet, waiting as long as possible. We are lost together, she and I, hoping the other will point the correct direction. Except for the conductor, we stand alone in the darkening auditorium. The baton is high in the air, the haunting note of a single flute upon us as I finally slump down next to my daughter. Abandoned, the woman turns to me, opens her bright-lipsticked mouth in a sorrowful smile, and exposes the gap. Her left bicuspid is missing, the same one my daughter placed under her pillow the night before. While the rest of the Wind section joins in, my daughter tears out her notebook page, begins again.



Director of Creative Writing and Professor of English at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published  Local News from Someplace Else (Wipf & Stock 2013);  Weeknights At The Cathedral  (WordTech 2006); Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (2004 Yellowglen Prize); Perpendicular As I (1994 Sandstone Book Award); When The Wood Clacks Out Your Name: Baseball Poems (2001 Redgreene Press Chapbook Winner); five chapbooks, and over 400 poems, stories, and essays in journals and anthologies. She is co-editor of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (Penn State Press, 2005) and has two children’s books: A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry and Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems. “Lost” is part of her circulating prose collection What She Was Saying, finalist for several national competitions. For more information, please see her website


Q & A

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

A: What surprised me the most is being surprised—once again—at how writing gathers together so many parts of our lives, so many overlapping experiences with similar themes. And yet, that’s what writing helps us do: discover connections both within ourselves and, in turn, to others.

Jason Tucker.jpg

The Flying Ladies

Jason Tucker

followed by Q&A

I’ve got no way of knowing if my grandmother noticed the hood ornament. She must have. I would have. It would have looked so out of place next to everything else.

That car was almost twenty years old then. Its running boards were long out of style, and drug their rusty undersides against all those steep and rocky hills. On its nose, there was the company’s long-used Mayflower medallion—Plymouth, Mayflower, makes sense—but sailing above it was a masthead from a ship, a figurehead of some kind of goddess—a mermaid, but with wings instead of arms, making the leap from swimming to flying. I’ve seen pictures. It’s regarded as one of the most finely crafted hood ornaments America ever made, at least among people who collect and care about things like that. It’s safe to assume my grandmother didn’t see it as a collectable, but she must have noticed it, must have seen something of herself in it when she was feeling one of those ways she felt. 

She was called Annie then. Daddy Ralph had married her and moved her away from the life of big families and the farms they worked, moved her out to the Number 3 mining camp in Marvel. Their company house had three rooms and not much else. The first two boys had been born there, and especially after the whole inside got filled up with the hollering young’uns, Annie sometimes felt like she was being squeezed up against the heart pine walls. Outside, another six houses stood in a crooked line along the yellow rocks and scrub pine of the ridge. Just behind them, a shaft vented the mine’s exhaust, hot and dank, the single steady exhalation from hundreds of men working underground. If I’d been her, waiting on my husband to come back from a graveyard shift while I was waiting on the next explosion or the next or the next collapse or the next man getting mangled in a piece of misused or misplaced or mis-maintained equipment, I’d have lain awake, coldly comforted that right out there in the yard, so close you could walk through it, some of that breath was his.

She could look across to the next ridge and see the dinky line—the small train that carried the coal from the mine so it could be loaded on the big train. Wouldn’t much of nothing grow in them dusty yellow rocks, so anything she’d tried to plant either died or came out all dwarfed and misshapen and infertile. Them tomatoes never would make. Though they weren’t even halfway across the county, her family’s gardens would have felt lifetimes away. Here it seemed like everything and everybody was dirty all the time. Just living took most of the effort anybody could summon. They’d had to dig out a place for their own driveway when Daddy Ralph bought that ’33 Plymouth from Annie’s brother Willie. 

She would have walked past that winged mermaid every time she got in the car to drive to the dances they sometimes held around here or over in Pea Ridge or Blocton, or once in a while clear over to Montevallo. Ralph and Annie were known for knowing what they were doing when they set out after a good time. On the dance floors, they’d part crowds of lead-footed miners and their weary looking wives who watched proud, jealous, bewildered, the supple turns of Ralph and Annie’s foxtrot, the effortless curves of the one receiving the other, these hard-laboring poor folks who’d been so like everyone else in the room until just now, when across that polished floor they glided smooth as wings, easy as water. 

On the drive home, she would have watched the Plymouth’s masthead from the back, through the passenger side of the windshield, a bit blurry this time in the darkness, after the drink. The sculpted goddess that had led them here always led them home again, back to where the body hurt and the spirit did too and everything and every young’un stayed dirty no matter how often you cleaned it and the walls were all much, much too close for anybody’s dancing. 


She would have walked past them bare, un-sagging chrome tits every time she left the camp while Daddy Ralph was underground, every time she skidded down these hills with the boys bouncing around loose in the back seat, every time she’d head toward the county line for a case of Schlitz or a bottle of bonded, or just drive back in them hollers for shine by the jar or shine by the jug.

Daddy Ralph sometimes blamed himself for getting her started. He’d slouch home to their company shack after a day or a night or one of each in that hole in the ground. He’d say, “I’m gonna have me a drink.” He’d say “Come on and have one with me.”

They kept up their dancing as long as they were able. Less and less as they got older. They stopped altogether after Annie got lead poisoning from bad moonshine and turned a sight meaner than she had been. Mama didn’t come along until after the days in the camp, after they’d scrapped the old Plymouth, after Annie got heavy with the crying and the hollering and over and over again with the “you don’t love mes.” Even Mama remembers a few times as a teenager, standing in that recurring circle of awe and applause, watching her own troubled mother, knowing at least at that moment, in spite of every demon she could turn into at home, that if there was a goddess in the room, it was her.

It’s such an intricately detailed figurehead for a mid-priced sedan. It’s since been called the little mermaid, or the flying lady. With her back arched to its extreme, she sails breasts first out of a curling nest of art deco waves, propelled by her mermaid’s tail. She has no arms, and in their place are proportionate wings, bent straight back in the dramatic moment of sailing from sea to sky. She casts her head upwards, presents her strong-yet-serene face, gloriously, fearlessly toward the sky, toward us. The sinew of her throat stretches taught from the fine jaw toward the elegant, insistently feminine bones that lead outward to the shoulders. The long tresses of her hair tumble down in curls styled to match the waves from which she is breaking free. But had her wings been arms instead, cast back at that sharp angle, she would have looked like the opposite of flying. Her contours and cables would look like resistance; her arching would look like aching, like she was being tortured, restrained.



Jason Tucker lived most of his life so far in Alabama, but now is an expatriate in the upper Midwest, following teaching jobs wherever they lead. He received an MFA in nonfiction from Ohio State University and currently teaches writing at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire, where he lives with his wife and partner in writing and teaching, Amy Monticello. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southeast Review, River Teeth, Cream City Review, The Common, Waccamaw, and Sweet.



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

A: I was surprised by the hood ornament. I knew the elements of my grandmother’s life I wanted the piece to explore, but I didn’t have a structure or symbolic image. I watched an old home movie of my grandfather talking about their days in the mining camp. When he mentioned the car they’d had, I following the unpromising curiosity to photos of the hood ornament, which became the symbol I was able to fill with all these things I’ve been told about my grandmother from that time. The structure grew out of that process of making that symbol not then, but now, looking back into a historical point before I was born. As I say, it could be that nobody noticed the hood ornament but me. The facts are as accurate as I could make them, but the meanings of those facts are always made in the present. We interpret old facts through the hopes and fears and needs of our own present. That is how all histories are made.

Prime Decimals 43.3

Agnieszka Stachura.JPG

The Little Golden Book of PTSD

by Agnieszka Stachura

followed by Q&A

Jane reads to her children from A Little Golden Book in the tent in the campground off the bypass. The book is called Four Puppies. It’s full of easily digestible object lessons for the very young, complexity chewed into nuggets that slip down smooth as Jell-O. The campground is called Falling Leaf. It’s where they’ve been living since the foreclosure. There are other families here too, and children using their Outside Voices. 

“Four Puppies,” reads Jane, thinking, Puppy mill. Thinking, Fucking pet owners. Thinking, Those dogs would be at the shelter so fast if that house got foreclosed. Aloud she reads about wise Mr. Squirrel, who guides the four rambunctious collie pups through the changing seasons in the Big Wide World.

“They had so much fun that they hated to go inside—even when there were lamb chops for supper!” Nope, nothing weird there, thinks Jane, picturing four little lambs, ice crystals clinging to their snow-white fleece, curled inside a humming deep freeze. 

“Mommy, I’m hungry,” says Sally. She hasn’t been sleeping very well. “When is Daddy coming back?”

“Soon, sweetheart,” says Jane, thinking, Where is that dick? Aloud she says, “Let’s get back to our story. What do you think happens to those four silly puppies?”

“Arf, arf!” says Timmy. He’s four, and very brave.

Jane is still reading when Dick comes back. He is driving very fast. He drives fast through the campground entrance. He drives fast past the ranger’s house. He drives fast right into the tent.

It’s like being pinned beneath the weight of the Big Wide World. 

Ambulances come, and stretchers and cameramen and police. The CNN reporter looks very concerned. He says that Dick is an Iraq war veteran recently back from his second tour. He says, “Authorities are still piecing together the story.” 

Maybe Dick will get help now. Maybe not. Maybe they’ll write a book about him. The Little Golden Book of PTSD. See Dick enlist. See Dick get shot. See the phone receiver pipe fifty-five minutes of Muzak into Dick’s ear when he calls the VA hotline. See Dick take his wife Jane and their two children to a campground to live—my, camping’s fun! So much fun in the Big Wide World. 

It isn’t likely, though. This sort of thing isn’t covered in A Little Golden Book. This sort of thing simply doesn’t happen to people who live in a world where four puppies have room to play in un-neutered freedom, where they get bigger and bigger but never mature, where they eat lamb chops for dinner but are never overcome by the troublesome instinct to catch and dismember a helpful talking squirrel. 



Agnieszka Stachura is a two-time Duke graduate who lives and works in that other North Carolina college town. Her stories, poems and essays have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Funny Times, Damselfly Press, Minerva Rising, Untoward Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, Foliate Oak, Passages North, Tiny Lights and The Sun, among other publications. Her short story “The Edge of the Known World” was a Top 25 Finalist for Glimmer Train’s January 2011 Very Short Fiction Award.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: Flipping radio stations one day in the car, I came across a bottom-of-the-dial religious program. The insipid music nearly made me run off the road, and the fatuous innocence of the message left me seething. I wrote this story to explore my reaction.

John Goulet.jpeg

Mutt and Jeff

by John Goulet

followed by Q&A

If you’d been skiing in the White Mountains—right after the war, the big one—you might have seen them. A couple of young guys on rental skiis, wearing army surplus stuff. One real tall, the other short—if you read the comics you’d be tempted to call them Mutt and Jeff, a famously mismatched pair. At the top of the run, they horse around. They get somebody to record their antics on a Brownie. They are both lousy skiers and are putting off making their run. Somebody in charge comes around warning people that a dangerous fog is setting in at lower altitudes. The time to go is now. The two guys you thought of as Mutt and Jeff are the last ones on the mountain. Finally, the short one pushes off, his skis weaving erratically. Then the tall one. His take-off is no more graceful than his pal’s. In a minute they have both disappeared.

But maybe you’ve never been skiing in the White Mountains.



John Goulet grew up in Boston, Colorado and Iowa. He attended St. John’s University, San Francisco State, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. After serving in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, he returned to take a position at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he is currently Emeritus Professor of English and continues to teaches courses in creative writing. Goulet is a published short story writer and novelist (Oh's Profit, William Morrow; Yvette in America, U of Colorado Press). His stories have appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies.  



Q: What was the inspiration for the story?

A: “Mutt and Jeff” was inspired by an old photo of my father and his pal, George Coddaire, on skis.

Ross Losapio.jpg

The Greyhound Rescue Club Walks Through Hollywood Cemetery

by Ross Losapio

followed by Q&A

Mist crosses the grounds, extends

over grey muzzle and onyx eyes. 

The hounds pass, disappearing


over a stone-studded hill—each thin-stalked, 

shoulder-first step like the planting 

and unearthing of saplings—when a high Max!


trills. Max! again, and a Here, boy

But if he’s spotted a rabbit, that dog’s gone.

A salve of morning drizzle on crumbling


granite angels, amputated stumps

of wing and limb. How long, I wonder,

before she resorts to Max’s entrant name,


shame-faced: Gin Bomber or Sand Flea,

Paris Star or Puzzle Tree—something

he might recognize from the pinch of metal


stalls, the cheers of ticket-clenching crowds,

the whirring of mechanized desire caroming

into inconceivable future tense. A mantis nymph


peels away from the grass—Seed Totem, 

So It Goes, Rough Sleeper—and loses 

itself in the wrinkles of my palm. It’s not


against the law to kill a praying mantis, 

but, looking at this one’s snap pea segments pinning 

my hand to the earth, I think it may be impossible,


endangered status mythed to hide our impotence.

Monkey Mind and String Theory. The greater trick 

would be to condense ourselves like coal, 


changing from man to greyhound to mantis 

to whatever comes next: Name it Little Death 

or Horse Grenade. Name it Quiet Menace.



Ross Losapio is a graduate of the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University and the recipient of the 2013 Catherine and Joan Byrne Poetry Prize. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the minnesota review, The Emerson Review, and elsewhere. His reviews appear in Blackbird, Rattle, and Verse Wisconsin.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: I’ve lived in Richmond, VA, for nearly four years, and the complicated relationship the city has with its own past has always struck me as remarkable. Monuments to Robert E. Lee and Arthur Ashe stand within blocks of each other. Virginia Commonwealth University is a constantly expanding and modernizing presence, attracting students from all over the country and the world. Hollywood Cemetery, where this poem is set, is the final resting place of two United States presidents as well as Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy. Consequently, my poem uses the greyhound rescue club in an attempt to discuss the idea of transition, our ability (or inability) to change, the fact that we always have one foot in the past even as we strive toward the future.

Deonte Osayande.jpg


Deonte Osayande

followed by Q&A


In a drunken rage he turns pitbull,

frightens his girlfriend 

into a submission of silence,

assaults a mutual friend of ours,

and everyone remembered that.


Everyone remembers how it made me rabid,

foaming a frustration which had been boiling over 

for all of the months we lived together.


When all is calmed

his hangover is more

throbbing knot from blow

than one drink too many.

I apologize, he doesn’t

even remember the cause

only the pain. His best friend,

offers an ice bag as consolation.



His best friend says the stupid Nigger did it, 

with a tone which echoed 

underneath his skin

for generations before he was born.


He doesn’t realize he said it

as if there was a courage in

being disappointed in his country

for finally electing a president

who doesn’t have the same old skin tone.


My roommate does the most composed thing

I have ever seen erupt from his impulsive frame.


He politely asks his best friend to leave our dorm.

After his guest leaves he looks to me 

with the same riot in his eyes

pulsating through my own. 

In that moment he apologizes to me 

on his comrade’s behalf

and I find more shame then sincerity.



On a night quiet as his father’s presence during his childhood

my roommate sits across from me weeping. He doesn’t know

what he is doing in this downward spiral called a life.

He has used reverse gravity on all of his friends.

His girlfriend has been treated as expendable.

He wears the scent of the other women, doesn’t even hide it. 


It is fitting, that when she tosses his things from her window

she doesn’t hide his adulteries from the other women.


His own mother treats him like the boy who cried wolf.

Her phone is always lost when his name is on screen.

He has reached his breaking point. All he has left is me, 

and I’ve grown tired of living with him, I’m obligated to be here.

The room where he finds sanctuary is my sanctuary as well.

He says his best friend called him a beast as if he wouldn’t miss him dead,

as if he would be first to tie the noose, as if he has a white hood in his closet.

He said his best friend said this with a hiss, as if he had been a snake all along.



My roommate gets kicked out.

Turns the room into New Orleans in 06,

New York in 01,

Detroit in 67,

Greenwood Oklahoma in 21.

He leaves no good bye, no apology.


He stayed loyal to his best friend like a pitbull

since they were in high school in Grosse Pointe.

Loyal until the end, when the leash was cut,

and his side was kicked. Last thing I said to him,

was you’re going to be alright dawg, I may not like you

but even I see good in you. I didn’t mean to lie.



Deonte Osayande is a poet, editor, performer and teacher from Detroit. He is currently a writer in residence teaching poetry with the Inside Out Detroit program and is finishing his M.A. in Liberal Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy. His work has previously appeared in Emerge Literary Journal, Scissors & Spackle, Eunoia Review, Wayne Literary Review and many others. He spends his time reading, giving poetry readings, and doing other mancat.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: It took some time to finally write this poem, but it was inspired by true events with a roommate in the college dorms.

Heather Kirn Lanier.jpg

Whipping Jesus In

Heather Kirn Lanier

followed by Q&A

As a girl in the basement of a brick, sixties-era church, I colored the brown hair, brown sandals, and brown staff of a man named Jesus, who was single-handedly responsible for wearing down to a nub every brown crayon at Whitehall Baptist Church. Paperless, the crayons looked like the poops of geese. Jesus back then was the right-hand-man of God, who was a white-bearded ruler with a penchant for discomfort. When Mary needed a place to give birth, Lord God offered nothing more than a barn. And when Lord God stooped to speak to Abraham, Lord God told Abraham to slaughter his son. Abraham, always the dutiful follower, sharpened his knife. Lord God apparently reconsidered, but Abraham had been willing, had maybe even strapped Isaac to a stone table.

They probably didn’t teach us that last story at Sunday school. But I wore my fleece dresses and white tights and vinyl Mary Janes there anyway because I knew Lord God deserved sacrifice, and I offered it by way of the most uncomfortable clothing. Though the seams of my tights twisted around my thighs and though I squirmed in a desk in the damp basement, such suffering was incomparable to birthing on hay or almost murdering one’s kid. 

It did not occur to me as strange that, at least in my dreams, my father tried to murder me. That on certain nights I found myself stuck in the middle of our suburban street as he sped toward me in his red coupe. In waking life, he drove the family to church. I watched my mother’s face in the side-view mirror. Her eyebrows drew inward like ridges, her mouth pressed down into the slightest frown. Sometimes she bit back tears. But if we all went to church we’d be saved, my father said, so each Sunday he drove us, and I learned a new story about the strange dealings of Lord God. 

He sent a plague of locusts, turned a sea into blood, changed a woman into a pillar of salt. I imagine she went into a stew. When God’s people tried to reach him in heaven, he cast them from the heights of their makeshift tower, scrambled their tongues. 

And then there was Jesus. At Sunday school, Jesus continued to arrive to me as a black outline on beige paper, and as my duty to Jesus, I colored him in. He always wore the same thing: colorless folds of a robe, tied at the waist by a rope. A pair of sandals. The accessories of his beard and long hair. That was all. Beside him were typically some rocks. A flock of sheep. Perhaps another person or two, also in a robe, also in sandals. Nothing asking for chartreuse or crimson. We, the Bible-school kids of Whitehall Baptist Church, were neon-crayon deprived in the eighties and silent about it. The face of the person beside Jesus might have been scared, or weeping, or pleading, or scolding, but Jesus, Jesus was placid. Serene. And Jesus received his drab colors by my hand. 

This was the Jesus I had to accept into my heart. The minister said it. The Sunday school teacher said it. My parents said it. Accept Jesus into your heart. Accept this man in need of Crayola. Or, you know, go to hell. The choice was a no-brainer. But how do you accept Jesus into your heart? kids asked the Sunday school teachers. Just ask for it, our teachers said. Just say a prayer to Jesus—say, Jesus, please come into my heart, and you know what? If you really mean it, Jesus will enter your heart. Because Jesus loves you.

You only had to ask him once, we learned. Not twice. Not three times. But you had to remember it. The moment of salvation had to be powerful and resonant, a memory of gold and light that you could not forget even if you tried. 

After coloring the pages of the stories, we children were sent upstairs. Adults sat in wood pews. In front of each was a small vial of grape juice slipped into a cut-out circle beside the hymnals and Bibles. The pastor said it was to remind us that Jesus had died for us, bled on the cross for us. And why did Jesus have to bleed on the cross for us? Because we were sinners. 

If I rustled, my father turned his head, lifted his eyebrows so that the skin on his enormous forehead folded into five ridges, and I went rigid, faced forward. Be thankful that Jesus got nailed to the cross. In any given picture, droplets of red syrup dripped down Jesus’s martyr face, and he looked forlorn and pitiful. Jeezus, Jesus! Why’d you have to go and do such a thing? 

When the pastor commanded it, the adults lifted their tiny vials of juice and sipped them down on cue. 

At night, in bed, I asked the necessary question. Or rather, I willed him. Into my heart, Jesus. Like a whip on a horse, my imagination struck Jesus through the Valentine-shaped organ. I envisioned Jesus’s fat, sandaled foot stepping forward. His second foot, trailing the dust of the coloring book pages, followed. Now he was in. Safe. Like Pete Rose on the plate. No outs.

Until the next night, or another night later that week, or any night when I felt the shaky ground that I would grow to know well in adulthood, that shifting, cracking, moveable ground I would learn to walk on my whole life: Doubt. Could I really be sure I’d asked? Maybe I’d just dreamt of asking. Maybe I hadn’t asked. Or hadn’t asked right. Or Jesus, just a cartoon after all, had fallen straight out of the paper Valentine in my body, or hadn’t made it in to begin with. Because I hadn’t believed. 

You had to believe, they said. For Jesus to enter your heart, you had to believe in him. Did I believe in him? He and Barbie were in the same kind of coloring book pages, but for her I at least had an action figure to match. 

I was a paranoid kid. Why risk eternal damnation? Why not buy insurance in bulk. Night after night, I envisioned miniature cartoon-Jesus walking, not on water, but on the air inside my body. He stood and hovered just inches outside my heart. Come in my heart, Jesus. Ribs seemed like cage bars, and I sympathized with Jesus’s desire to go elsewhere, but obediently he went, and I could sleep soundly one more night in the poly-cotton sheets of my youth. Until the next night, when I asked again.



Heather Kirn Lanier is the author of the nonfiction book, Teaching in the Terrordome: Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach For America, and the chapbook, The Story You Tell Yourself, winner of the Wick Poetry Open Chapbook Competition. Her work has appeared in dozens of places, including Salon, The Utne Reader Online, and The Sun. “Whipping Jesus In” is from her book-in-progress, Monk’s Girlfriend: A Memoir of Love, Agnosticism, and Faith. She lives in Vermont and blogs about parenting a child with disabilities at



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

A: What surprised me most was that second sentence: brown crayon-nubs looking like geese poop. Where did that come from? I have no idea. But once I got it down, the simile evoked a quality about my childhood that was simultaneously light and heavy, silly and serious (perhaps as many childhoods are). The silliness of Crayola, the seriousness of the color brown. The heaviness of crucified Christ, the lightness of Jesus as a cartoon. The tension between these two opposites only grew as I learned both the high stakes of a fundamentalist Christian life and the mounting skepticism that seemed built into my bones. How to make sense of all that? “Crayons as geese poop” seems as good a way as any.

Katherine Riegel.jpg


Katherine Riegel

followed by Q&A

You get there by making yourself small enough to crouch under the thick wire holding up the grapes (purple, concord, with seeds—you put one in your mouth and suck off the skin, strain the flesh through your teeth, spit out the seeds, savor the sweet slimy roundness and the tart leftover rag before you swallow them both). Follow the path you find there, on hands and knees. Sergeant, your beloved shepherd dog, uses this path sometimes. Other animals do, too, though you’ve never seen them. It is low, under the arching canes of blackberry, so deeply shaded only moss and poison ivy grows. 

Don’t worry. You won’t get poison ivy. But do not dawdle. The summer weeds will not forget their battle with the house, the garden, all that tries to impose order. They do not like people all that much, and you don’t want to stay here until you grow big enough for them to notice you are one. Scramble along that path for a long time, longer than you want to be on your knees like this. Don’t stop to touch your lucky rock, riding safe in your left front pocket, the rock for which you traded a rabbit’s foot someone gave you saying it was lucky. The earth wanted its rabbit foot back, so you left it when you took the rock. 

Almost there now. See the opening? A small clear space around the trunk of the tree, the biggest tree on the property, so big you can’t put your arms even halfway around it. So tall the lowest branch is far above your reach. Now. Sit and lean your back on this wide trunk. 

Above and behind you is the house, where your mother sleeps and your brother watches TV. The house is cool with air-conditioning but too full of people, especially when your sister and father and other brother are there, the six of you colliding and rebounding like electrons.

Below and in front of you is the pasture. You have climbed down to the pasture from here, but the horses’ hoof prints were filled with water and it was a long walk back up the other way. The path doesn’t go that way; it ends at the fence. Sometimes when you are at the tree you can hear the horses eating, munching grass and stomping to get the flies off their legs. Today they are away at the far end, where they galloped after you and your brother put them out this morning. 

Shhhh. You are not here to think about the house or the pasture. You are here where no adult has ever come, and no kid has ever come when you were here, to tell the tree your secrets. The tree knows all about the rock and the rabbit’s foot. It knows about the diet bar of your sister’s, how good the chocolate outside was and how the inside tasted like sawdust. It knows you cry when your mother sings, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” because you think of her cocker spaniel Bonny, how much she must miss her, how far it must be over the ocean, so far they’ll never see each other again. The tree knows and tells no one. It is the best sort of confidante. It does not want anything from you. Its lower branches are dark and secret, but its upper branches stretch joyously in the wind of that other altitude, that higher up world. 

Go ahead. Whisper today’s secret news. The birds are off on their daily errands. The crickets can only sing, not talk in words. 

Now breathe. Put your hand in your pocket and touch the gritty surface of your lucky rock. Sit on the ground and pull up grass. This place is outside time. There is no “time to be getting back,” only you, on hands and knees, looking into that tunnel and knowing what you want now. 



Katherine Riegel has published two books of poetry, What the Mouth Was Made For (2013) and Castaway (2010). Her work has appeared in journals including Brevity, Crazyhorse, and The Rumpus. She is co-founder and poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection



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

A: The biggest surprise was probably that the 2nd person point of view ended up staying. I wrote it in the 2nd person because the memories are so personal, and from so long ago, that I thought my best shot at getting the details down was to imagine I was telling someone else what it was like. This mutated into me telling myself how to be that little girl again—a set of directions for entering memory through place. Sometimes it’s easier to engage with memory when you recognize that the past-you is, in many substantial ways, someone else.

Prime Decimals 43.5

Katie Cortese.jpg

Italian Classes at Tony's Leaning Tower of Pizza

by Katie Cortese

followed by Q&A

At the restaurant, Rico rolls the r’s in ricotta and ravioli, and in bed he trills his tongue over my nipples in exactly the same way. His tongue is a cat purring. His tongue is the tiniest outboard motor on the smallest Venetian motorboat.

Thursdays, seven of us sit elbow to elbow and hang on his words. Jenny’s an opera singer who wants to know what the hell she’s singing about. George waits tables at Tony’s. He’s required to attend, but you can tell by the yawns that give him a flip-top head he could care less about pronouncing “bruschetta” with a hard “k” in the middle. Josalyn and Salvi have a college course to pass and Mario is an old man who just wants someone to talk to.

Now though, in bed, Rico presses his cheek to my stomach and circles my bellybutton with a knuckle. Each rotation trips a thunder crack of pleasure in the deep, dark center of me. 

“Tell me again,” he says, in his Calabrese mountain accent. The class thinks he comes from Florence, but I know that’s just where he went to school. 

Ho detto giá,” I say, because it’s true, I have already told him many times.

I think he’s afraid once I’m fluent, I will leave him with his white napkin tucked below his sloping chin. Gone before the antipasto arrives. Arrivaderci, mi amore

This is why he never speaks to me in Italian.

He rolls to his back now. I am used to these frequent breaks for conversation. “Sex is like a fine meal,” he said when I stayed after class the first time. “It should have many courses.”

“It’s just a country,” he says now and he could be talking about sex or the land of his birth. When I leave his house today, he will launder the sheets and remake the bed to keep his wife from smelling my perfume. In this country, I have my own unfaithful husband. In this country, my parents are buried in adjoining plots. 

In Italy, I could rent a car at the airport in Rome and take the A3 south to Magisano. Google says it’s a seven-hour drive. People with my last name still live there. It’s a small village, even now. There may be black and white photos in yellowing albums and stories about my parents I’ve never heard. There will be roads they walked with bare feet so the dust plumed in clouds around their ankles.

I invite him to come along for an adventure. To be my authentic Italian guide. “Pui venire con mi,” I say, knowing we have less than an hour before his wife’s train gets in. She allows him his flings, but hates confronting the evidence. 

“I’ve been there already,” he says, parting my legs and kneeling between them. The hair on his head is black as ink, but he’s gray on his chest and elsewhere. He dyes his pompadour not for me or his wife, but for some other piece of evidence he keeps on retainer for the day I leave. 

I tell him in his native language that I’ll send him a postcard, stumbling on the last word until finally it comes, cartolina rolling like a prayer off my tongue. 

When I get to the village where my parents were born, it will all feel familiar. The tickle of road dirt in my nose, the still shapes of donkeys resting in the fields at midday. Rows of mudbrick houses climbing up the mountainside with laundry strung between. 

“Oh Rico,” I say. “Sí, Rico.” 

, Laura, ,” he says, trilling my “r” as his fingers close viciously on my hips. 

When I arrive in Magisano, the men playing at checkers will lift up their heads; the women, large and soft, arms floured white to the elbow, will make me a place at their tables. They will wave their arms in welcome and laugh in Italian and know I am my mother’s daughter before I even say her name.



Katie Cortese holds an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD from Florida State. Her work has recently appeared in Carve, Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Crab Orchard Review, Word Riot, and Monkeybicycle, among other journals. She teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University, where she also serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I’ve been trying to learn Italian on and off for almost a decade now, partly to touch base with my family origins and partly to facilitate the writing of a historical novel that starts in Italy. So far, mastery of that gorgeous tongue (or even functional competence) eludes me, but I wanted to write a character whose absorption of the language lifted her bodily, transporting her to a foreign place that felt like nothing other than home.

Noha Al-Badry.JPG

Counter Synchronicity

by Noha Al-Badry

followed by Q&A


This is not a death. This is not an elegy. This is not an obituary. This is not a tragedy. This is not grieving. This is not a choir of weeping while an organ ominously drones in the background. This is a history of what didn't happen, like a child dreamed but never conceived. This is not even despair. This is the space between everywhere and nowhere; the distance between heaven and hell or the silence after creation and before civilization. 



You are everything in as many names as possible. I follow a trail of ghosts—address to address abandoned by time. Always five steps behind and a decade too late. I spend eons lost or trapped in fantasies of reversal. I ride my bike backwards. I purge what I eat, but it's not the same. An action can be undone, but it's consequences always persist like how a body remains even after life is snatched from it. Like how an antonym does not negate but is rather like a parallel line pointing in the opposite direction. I stumble upon a thousand souvenirs of you, but never you. I see pieces of you everywhere: your voice in someone else's mouth, your expressions on someone else's face, someone else shrugging the way you did, a man with a cigarette holding his glass of whiskey like an impersonation of you, but never you. I am learning every dimension of futility and I wonder what I made up, if you're made up, if I'm made up. My eyes close like shutters: creaking even in sleep—infected with you.



What happens first, the tide rising or the tide falling? Does leaving imply a return? If a door is left shut and stripped of its knob, does it remain a door at all?



The wolves only howl because they can never reach the moon. Do we choose to covet only what we know we cannot have?



Noha Al-Badry. Born in Cairo, Egypt as the Soviet Union crumbled. Likes mythology, idioms, proverbs, common sayings, cautionary tales, grandmother recipes and the scent of Cairo's basil flowers. The virtually unknown zone where prose, philosophy and outrageous fantasy all intersect to reflect the world is what inspires me to write. Was previously published in Otoliths and FailBetter.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: Was inspired by the fickle nature of time and how often emotion and state of mind become the factors which shape our experience of time's passing.

Emari DiGiorgio.jpg

Short Answer

by Emari DiGiorgio

followed by Q&A

“…would you want to be yourself only, unduplicatable, doomed to be lost?”

—Mark Doty’s “A Display of Mackerel”


I told God no.

At least I think I did.

There was a storm.

Not an end-of-the-world 

joist-ripping, amphibian-flying storm,

but the rain was loud and I could hardly see

past the dash. To tell the truth

I don’t know if it was before or after 

lights on the bridge, a squad car.

I wasn’t driving that fast. I didn’t even think 

You’re gonna kill yourself tonight.


Come on, you know you’ve thought it too, 

and if you don’t want to die, or even if you do

and are just a bit squeamish about it, you ease off

on the turns, tap the brakes, make sure they’re there. 

I was glad really: no angel song, no harp, no golden stair. 

Just guessing it was God, that voice in my head, 

maybe the same one that would’ve warned

Slow down, sweetheart.


And the blue books were passed down the rows.

Short answer. Directions. I rummaged for a pen. 

What would Kierkegaard say? Something about 

a leap of faith? A woman issued me a temporary 

ID card and left two quarters on my desk.


I’ve never been myself only.

Wore my mother’s eyes my whole life.

Imagine the self disassembled on the factory floor.

Earlobes, elbows, furrowed brows, sighs 

the same length, weight, frequency sorted

stacked in the corresponding row.

What sharp instruments to strip 

the sense of loss we might share.


Tough work cutting a body from a car, 

especially when the car has melded with a bridge.

Traffic stops. The water, the barge beneath the bridge 

proceed. Proceed, the officer waves. You go.

Slow, looking, think rubber-necking. The leap 

of faith less difficult now, though you’ll forget

the color of the car, what you’re wearing,

how many bodies attend the one body trapped

wrapped round the steering column.



Emari DiGiorgio makes a mean arugula quesadilla and has split-boarded the Tasman Glacier. She is Associate Professor of Writing at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and a NJ State Poet-in-the-School. She was named a Distinguished Teaching Artist by the NJ State Council on the Arts for 2012 and received the Governor’s Award in Arts Education. Her poetry manuscript The Things a Body Might Become is a four-time finalist for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, and recent poems have appeared in, The Baltimore Review, Conte, DIAGRAM, and Poetry International.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: I am most interested in the leap itself: what it takes to go beyond thinking something to actually believing and living that belief. 

Susanna Long.JPG


Susanna Lang

followed by Q&A

My father, who studied these things, would say

that we become more so as we grow older.  

I don’t know if he invented the phrase or borrowed it 

from one of the books he read and handed on to me 

before I was ready; but more so became a word

in our family, a way to explain my mother

shifting the vase half a centimeter to its predetermined 

place on the end table, or our friend whose skin

after the heart attack lets the light through.  

We collected words, like child of God 

which means the way Sister Ann pulled Rene downstairs 

by his ear, reminding herself and everyone in earshot of where

we all come from and how to love what fights against us. 

Or heron, which means so much more than the blue-grey 

shadow that flies over the canal we insist on calling

a river, means afternoons on real rivers up north and Sundays 

at the natural history museum, the living bird’s crooked neck 

and long beak so like the artist’s rendering of what flew 

above this place in the beginning. It’s enough to make you believe 

in a Garden of Eden, if you can imagine an Eden

that grows and changes, perennials coming in more thickly, 

roses a deeper hue than they were before, but the beds

still marked. And now a previously unknown species of tailorbird

is discovered in a suburban tree, vibrating 

with its own song, new cap on its head, new name 

in the books. We still need a word for the primate 

that loosens up its shoulders like a slingshot, ready to throw

what will one day be called a fastball, my father 

sitting in the stands with my brother, one face reminiscent 

of the other, both cheering for the pitcher and his evolving arm.



Susanna Lang’s newest collection of poems, Tracing the Lines, was published in 2013 by the Brick Road Poetry Press. Her first collection, Even Now, was published in 2008 by The Backwaters Press, followed by a chapbook, Two by Two (Finishing Line Press, 2011). Her poems have appeared journals including Little Star, New Letters, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Green Mountains Review, The Baltimore Review, Kalliope, and Jubilat. She lives in Chicago, and teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: There are many sources for this poem—it’s what Ellen Bass has called a “long-armed poem” which tries to make a cohesive, meaningful whole out of many disparate parts. For one thing, the anecdotes in the poem are all true, and my father is much on my mind these days as he is old and ailing. In addition, I am fascinated with change over time, whether it’s the study of evolution or the study of linguistics, and the New York Times feeds my fascination with articles about new species or new evidence about how primates evolved into the strange creatures we are.

Jessica Barksdale.jpg

Skin Changer

Jessica Barksdale

followed by Q&A

Even though it’s the early 80’s, the apartment complex reminds her of the 70’s, which haven’t yet disappeared, some disco still in the sleeves, the tight, pegged jeans, the glitter in the late-night, drunken college hairdos. Remnants in the music, the politicians, the fast food. As she lies on the battered lounge chair, she squints at the concrete that surrounds the hole-in-the-ground pool. Sunlight strikes the water, a wavering of painted aqua against the metal safety signs. Her arm dangles, her fingers stroke the tiny decorative rocks nestled in the concrete and the seconds-from-splintering strip of wood between the pavement sections. She’s sweating, her back stuck to the rough plastic slats pressed into her shoulders, back, ass, thighs. 

In half-circles near the fence surrounding the pool area, some once hopeful landscaper planted palm trees that were later ignored, growing wide and fat, fronds turned toward the sun, sad little date or rotten coconut or horrible banana things popping off them like ticks. 

She’s studied all morning, and now it’s afternoon. She’s jittery from many mugs of strong generic tea and not enough food. She’s scared and lonely and alone, a bad combination, so she smokes five of her precious Virginia Slims cigarettes and eyes the slice of the space between her thighs, visible but not big enough.

She used to think that leaving her boyfriend John was the answer to happiness, just as two years earlier, she used to think escaping her mother’s house was the key. Just as long ago when she was a child, she dreamed of running away. Around that same time, she’d known for a fact that if her father left or died from some swift illness or was killed in a tragic car accident everything would be fine. Then he did die from stomach cancer, and nothing was fine. 

You’d think she would have learned.

She closes her eyes, takes a deep drag, exhales, and coughs. In the seventies, she’d known she was a failure, stuck in an unhappy household, doomed to her father’s severe disapproval. She was vaguely popular, vaguely pretty, prone to plumpness, susceptible to ascetic diets and near eating disorders. She was almost below average in all the ways she could be below average. But none of this was new. All of that had been constant and, she thought, irrevocable. When his disapproval disappeared along with his body and face and tobacco smoke, she was only a failure and stuck in an unhappy household. When she left and moved in with John and got a job at an insurance company as a file clerk, soon promoted to the claims department, she was only in an unhappy household, John and she too young to do much besides smoke pot and fight. Now that she is a freshman in college and getting all A’s and alone in her one-bedroom apartment in the cheap seventies complex, she’s only unhappy.

At what point will the combination be right? she wonders. With her eyes closed, she imagines she could be sitting at any pool. The one where she learned how to swim as a child. The one from her future, where things will be current and stylish. Or even a different pool from right here in town, where the friends she doesn’t yet have will live, where she’s invited over to swim and laugh, these pleasant, smart people all smoking from her not-as-precious-anymore pack of Virginia Slims.

Who does she have to leave to get that?

The wind blows, the scruffy fronds rattle like bones. The central California heat pulses off the bad concrete in waves. The terrible fruit falls around her chair. Yellow jackets hover. Sweat slips down her sides. No one has ever fit. No family has comforted her like some perfect piece of clothing or warm blanket or a hot bath. No person has held her the way she wants to be held, for as long as she needs and not a second more. Nothing has been right, and she knows that nothing ever will. How can it? What’s left to do? Who else can she meet and then disappoint? She needs to find that one last skin to shed, the last maneuver, the last way to drop all that she’s carried and leave it behind like a tattered cloak, a bad hat, a dress no one, not even she, ever wanted.



Jessica Barksdale is the author of twelve traditionally published novels, including Her Daughter’s Eyes and When You Believe. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, Carve Magazine, Mason’s Road, and So to Speak. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension. You can read more at



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

A: Mostly I was surprised about what I remembered from a time over thirty years ago. Everything seemed so hard and so ugly at the time, and the good news things got better. But it was seeing that struggle in the words that surprised me, as I mostly don’t think of that interstitial time much—after leaving something and before something else happened.

In terms of revising, I wanted to keep most of the images sensory—the heat, the textures of the pool setting. I wanted bodily as well as mental discomfort.

Ira Sukrungruang.jpg

Summer Days, 1983

Ira Sukrungruang

followed by Q&A


He was Thai, not the strange, pale Chicago Catholic boys I pal-ed with. Then, I had no Thai friends. Because of this, my parents loved him, thought he would be a good influence on me, that his presence would halt America spreading in my veins. It did not matter that was years older, a high schooler who lacked high school friends. What mattered was how he took flight, bike like an appendage. How he and bike spun and twirled, how he and bike traversed the world on one wheel. How I was in awe, the on-looking second grader, the boy watching his first Thai friend, Thai magician, Thai god.



This is what happened: we lay in suburban grass, staring at the sky, the contrails of a plane landing at the airport a few miles away. He said, Easy life. He whistled. Easy everything. Words slipped out like my neighbor’s sprinkler, vowels lingered longer from his lips. Easy, he said and bumped against my shoulder. Meanwhile, clouds took animal shapes, ants tickled the underside of my arm.



This is what happened: he stayed the night once, and we unrolled the fold-out couch and lay underneath it—our cave—past bedtime; he was Thai after all and Thais were allowed leniency. My parents succumbed to sleep hours ago, the house dark except for Johnny Carson on TV, his white hair, his white suit, his white teeth, like a lighthouse.



This is what happened: he pulled down his pants. Johnny Carson swung an imaginary golf club. Ed McMahon’s guttural laugh.



This is what happened: he grabbed it tight in his hands and tapped my shoulder. 

And this: he pointed at my pajama bottoms. 

And this: Let me see yours

And this: I slid my shorts down to my ankles. 

And this: his hushed laughter, laik, small in Thai. 



Years later, when I was in high school, I would see him at a Chicago party, beer in hand, beautiful white girl on his arm. How I envied him again, envied the ease of which he stood and talked to everyone at the party. How he seemed a sun that planets revolved around. How this woman, lips like peppers, touched and traced his cheeks with a red fingernail. 

When he saw me, his eyes widened, his smile widened, his sinewy arms widened to embrace me. He said I had grown. Yai, big. Asked if I remembered that summer, those days of bike and sky. You look good, he said. A man.



I tell my wife the story. We are in bed, the southern Illinois sun filtering through the laced curtains, our dogs lying in patches of light. She tells me it’s not normal, but it didn’t feel wrong then nor does it now, only a memory without anchor. She says I have stored this memory in a dusty corner of my brain. 


Perhaps, this is what we do, sometimes, to endure. Perhaps, we wish these moments away like an eyelash, like dandelion fuzz. 

When he comes back, it is without sentiment, a dropped rock in water, ripples and ripples, spreading and spreading. What remains is a drawing left too long in the rain, the faint lines of chalk, a world empty of grace and color. 



Ira Sukrungruang is the author of Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy and In Thailand It Is Night. His newest book, Southside Buddhist, is forthcoming in summer 2014. He is the co-founder of Sweet: A Literary Confection and teaches at University of South Florida and the low-residency MFA program in City University Hong Kong. For more about him, visit his website:



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

A: This essay began as a poem. So that was the biggest surprise. To discover it wasn’t a poem. It wasn’t a poem because it was straying from poetic language and movement, and the more I wrote, the more I wanted to go beyond the moment, to dig deeper at the memory of that summer night under the foldout couch, to interrogate memory and also why this particular memory sticks to the bones, why, at times, we aren’t able to understand why we remember things; we just do. The questions that kept coming up were narrative questions, character questions. Not language questions. Not poetry craft questions. Not structural questions, though structure does play a large role in this piece. I still wanted to keep the poetic impulses in this essay. The halting pauses. The repetition. The concentration on image before breaking form and allowing expositional content to take over. The moment I decided to write it as an essay I allowed the language of discovery to take over, instead of the language of sensation. Sometimes the best revision is about shifting the lens of genre to find the true intent of the piece.