Prime Decimals 7.2

Prime Decimals 7.3

The Packer by Ann Stewart

Anniversary by Erin Ganaway

The Plumber's Tale by Gary Glass 

Prelude by William Aarnes

Moon in the Water by Kathleen Hellen

Jubal Early's Raid Reduced to Powerpoint by M.A. Schaffner

That Bitter Scent by Karin Davidson

An Un-chronological Timeline for Grief by Deanna Larsen

I Think of Him Fucking You and I Want to Die by Thomas Kearnes

War Sutras by B.J. Buckley

Aunt Caroline' Nose by Alan Elyshevitz

2 Poems by Catherine Staples

2 Poems by Avra Wing

Prime Decimals 7.7

Prime Decimals 7.5

What He Sees by Randall Brown

A Night at the Opera by Christin Rice

Dear Poet by Joseph Mills

Upstairs at the Mardigan Museum by Jenn Blair

Light Through a Train's Roof by Jéanpaul Ferro

Two Men Rowing Madly Toward Infinity by William Reichard

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That Bitter Scent

by Karin Davidson

followed by Q&A

Still upstate in Tonawanda, working the counter, wearing a pink apron and a pin with my name printed on it. Evangeline—all spelled out in fancy letters. Sure is different, Aunt Lillette, than with you and Uncle Auguste in Terrebonne, but the customers keep me going. The church next door gives us good business: seven dozen glazed, three dozen crullers, and several boxes of bear claws every Sunday. And the church ladies keep trying to get me saved, but I work the double shift on weekends. Funny how that goes.

The photos you sent show there’s a lot more oil up in the marsh grass than anyone’s letting on. The church ladies say they’re praying for all the fish. I didn’t say, “How ’bout praying for the fisherman while you’re at it?” 

Give me a holler if the shrimp ever start coming in again. My days here go one after another, and I’d much rather my white rubber boots to this pink apron.

I’ve been thinking about this strange thing that happened a few weeks ago. I was clearing the counter and staring out the big front window and this bird came flying straight at the glass. Our regular, Mr. Wiley, he’d been reading the Buffalo News, but then he turned around to see what I was so wide-eyed about. The sight was something: enormous grey wings, a neck from here to there, legs tucked up. I just stood there and watched it coming—right at us. Mr. Wiley raised up off his stool, and news about the oil spill, the World Cup matches, and Jimmy Dean’s last moment on earth all drifted to the floor. We ran outside, and a few of the ladies coming out the church stopped and crossed themselves. Flight feathers and tufts of down lay scattered around the walkway. The bird had broken its neck. Can you imagine, Aunt Lillette? A heron doing a thing like that? 

I remembered when I was just five, running around wild on the shore near Cocodrie where the herons nested. Maman waved her hands at me to quiet down. Like always, she had those pink rosary beads and they caught the sun just right, glinting and shining. I sunk into the cool sand by her feet. She had some shadow, you know?  She leaned over me and said, “I told you once, chére. Don’t let me tell you twice.” Even now, Maman still scares me. 

It’s strange that us Cajuns traveled all that way, from Canada to Louisiana, and now here I am, nearly back where our people came from. Mr. Wiley, who used to be an English teacher, remarked on my name and how Longfellow made it famous. Leaned over his coffee and sweet rolls and asked me if I knew any boys named Gabriel. I told him, “Sure, I knew Gabe. He was my steady boyfriend.” Gave me a funny look, so I said, “It’s the honest truth. Nearly got married straight out a high school. Gabe went to work as a rough neck ’cause that’s what we do, either fish or work the rigs, and the thought of one more second on his father’s fishing boat made him head out. That very first time, though, was his very last. Had a funeral ’stead of a wedding.” By the time I was done talking, the whole place had turned to look at me. Guess I have a way with people, na?

The ladies crowded into the shop this week, every one of them dressed in black. They drank half cups of coffee, and I learned they were waiting to pay their respects at Mr. Wiley’s funeral. I felt it, you know? I didn’t even know he’d died. I was getting off my shift then and wanted to go along. Somehow I ended up in Mrs. Wiley’s limo and sat next to her, holding her hand, still in my uniform. She said I smelled of sweet pastries, which seemed to comfort her. 

We drove a little ways and it started to rain. It rained at Gabe’s funeral, too. You know, Gabe was a lot smarter than people thought. He read books I haven’t even read. Kind of like Mr. Wiley—real smart, but not showing off about it. Mr. Wiley, though, he had a lot more people than Gabe at his funeral.

I thought of the morning he looked at me over the top of his paper and asked if I’d seen the Falls. I told him no, so he took me across into Canada. Said the Canadians had the best view. 

In the park there were tea roses just like at a wedding and honeymoon couples walking the paths. Maybe I should have thought of Gabe and of how Maman passed away so close to our wedding date and just before the rig blew. But Mr. Wiley, he kept me distracted, talking about poets and their stories and pretty soon there was that view, that wall of water. Bright white and unreal. I had to sit down on a bench and grab hold of the rough wooden slats. Mr. Wiley sat beside me and didn’t say anything for a while. 

Around us were lantana flowers, yellow and orange, like yours, Aunt Lillette, with that bitter scent of citrus and metal. It was too much. In front of me were those falls, thundering away, but all I could see was the cloudless view of the Gulf from your porch and, up out of the grey-green waters, a thousand seabirds—terns, seagulls, hundreds of brown pelicans—rising into the air. And in amongst the birds I saw Maman in that flowered housedress she always wore, the one with the crab boil stains. 

There I was, then, making up my mind to get back home. I’m tired, Lillette. Not as tired as you. I know that. But tired of smelling like sugar and burnt coffee. You know?



Karin C. Davidson is a graduate of Lesley University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing.  Her stories have appeared in New Delta Review, Filigree, Bananafish, and Precipitate, and have been shortlisted in several writing contests, including the Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Competition and the Bridport Prize. Originally from the Gulf Coast, she now lives with her family in the Ohio River Valley, where she is at work on stories and a novel.  Her writing can be found at



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: Last June when the Gulf coast was inundated with BP’s oil, Spain beat the Netherlands in the World Cup, and Jimmy Dean met his maker, I found myself holding a blank postcard.  How to say so much in so little space?  From this came Evangeline and her longing to be back home in Louisiana.  Out of large events come small cries that hopefully travel far.

My thanks to Nancy Zafris for that postcard.

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An Un-chronological Timeline for Grief

by Deanna Larsen

followed by Q&A

One year after her death

There’s nothing remarkable about our neighborhood, except the house across the street is where my sister’s killer lived.   


Two months before her death

He’s on the football team. I’m thirteen with crooked teeth and no breasts. He’s cute with a cowlick in the back of his hair and a half-smile that shucks responsibility. He gives me his jacket with Dayton stitched on the back and I’m propelled into eighth grade infamy. My sister sings under her breath and Mom slips Planned Parenthood pamphlets under her bedroom door.  


Three weeks after her death

After I go back to school, a kid says to me, “At least she didn’t die a virgin.”  


Four years after her death

Mom keeps everything in her room the same. When I turn seventeen, the age my sister is—the age she will always be—I go into her room. The paint looks washed out, old, out of time like this room isn’t a part of this house, or even this life. Her clothes feel starchy and cold. I listen to the PJ Harvey album she left in the CD player. It sounds hollow and tinny like I can hear the actual gears of the machine running.   


Five months after her death

We still get mail addressed to her. I wear black because that’s what they do in movies. I visit her gravesite to plant flowers but the ground is frozen. I stop wearing black. I wear red, I wear blue, I wear Band-Aids on my arms to cover up the scratches. I question God, I hate God, I doubt God, I assassinate God. And my God the flowers people send, people you’ve never even heard of; the flowers die and what are you supposed to do with all the vases. Mom hasn’t left the house since September because the last time she did, she clawed apart the freezer section at the local grocery store and when the police found her in a heap of frozen peas they said, “Can we help you, ma’am?”  


Three months after her death

Before Laurie died, Dad didn’t bother. But after she’s gone, I embody two daughters- double duty for his indifferent fatherhood. He even tries to get back with Mom, who laughs a freaky Can You Believe This Shit? laugh, and finishes watching Days of Our Lives.  


Five years after her death 

I’m older than my older sister. I start talking to her imaginary twenty-two year-old self. I’ll visit her in Seattle as soon as I can, I’ll take pictures of the Space Needle, we’ll eat at that new Korean place.     


Three years after her death

Since Mom was never going to move, Mrs. Dayton finally does. The two houses face each other. If Mrs. Dayton was washing dishes at her kitchen sink, she could see my mother peeling potatoes and Mom would fix her gaze forward until Mrs. Dayton drew the shades. I heard she moved to Pennsylvania, opened a greenhouse and hung herself from the rafters above the wisteria.   


Six years after her death

The house across the street bursts into flames. Mom stands on the porch and watches the fire devour the cheap siding. The shingles smoke and Mom says, “I hope Laurie can see this.”   


Deanna Larsen is a Spanish tutor is Minneapolis, MN.  She enjoys history, languages, sci fi, and world travel.  Her work has appeared in PANK, The Dirty Napkin, Euphony and elsewhere.  Beginning in the fall of 2011, she will be an MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, Mankato. 



Q: What was the genesis of this piece?

A: I rarely plan to write a piece, instead a phrase or image pops into my head.  For this story, I suddenly imagined a woman sobbing in a pile of frozen peas at the grocery store and thought, “Hmm, I wonder what that’s about.  Let’s find out.”

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I Think of Him Fucking You and I Want to Die

by Thomas Kearnes

followed by Q&A

The board of the community theatre wants to cancel our production of “The Laramie Project,” so we’re lined up on the pavement across the boulevard from the lobby, EAST TEXAS GAYS signs and LARAMIE OR BUST posters held high. Just minutes after I arrive, shake hands with the media-whore head of our gay group, Paula calls my name and motions me to follow her back into the parking lot. Timothy promised me online he’d attend this shithole rally. I’m worried this big bother with the angel bullshit will keep me from spotting him when he arrives. In the lot, Paula hauls out a crude harness comprised of connected plastic pipes. Sprouting from the harness are two straight lengths of pipe angled high and wide. As I suit up, the crowd twenty yards away begins to sing “Amazing Grace.” No fucking lie. After I slip into the gear, Paula and a pert little lesbian slide brilliant white bolts of fabric over the outstretched piping. Hanging from these pipes, the sheets resemble wings.

Find a spot, Paula instructs me. Before I can ask where I should go, she saddles up some other bastard from the cast. My scrawny shoulders already aching from the pipe harness, I settle on the outskirts of the sprawling mass of people collected on the sidewalk. Still no sign of Timothy. I wonder what he’ll think of me in this fucking get-up. The protestors cut me a wide berth. Every time I so much as twitch a shoulder, a whole wing sweeps the few feet of free air beside me. I keep apologizing to any poor bastard protestor who can’t watch his step. My shoulders now throbbing, I finally hoist up one side of the harness with my fist and hold it aloft. Some Mexican chick zips out in front of me and clicks my picture. Shit, now I’ll be on Facebook.

After a few minutes of trying to stand still, I blurt a warning to those gathered near me, and I slowly march back to the parking lot. Still there, Paula and the lesbian fit the last angel costume on some slim-chested kid I’ve never met. She asks me if I need anything. Yeah, I say, my shoulders are killing me. She promises to find someone else and I remind her to make sure the guy has broad enough shoulders. Because I do not. While I wait for her to return, I finally see Timothy drive that clunky old Cherokee into the lot. I used to suck his cock from the passenger seat as he drove us around town. He’s still fucking hot, a few days’ whiskers on his face, an impish smile, a quick and high voice that sounds so merry even when he’s talking dirty shit. 

He parks not far from where that angel shit got started, and that’s when I notice a boy I’ve never met in the passenger seat. I know right then that I hate his bony ass. He’s no older than Timothy, and Timothy himself is still in junior college. Still obscured by my sad, sad mondo-wings, I shout out his name until he spins around and finds me. The new guy hasn’t left Timothy’s side. They stand close, too close to be just friends. The new guy keeps gazing at Timothy, as if waiting for fucking God to speak. I knew this would happen, from the moment Timothy stopped fucking around with me after his choir practice. I goddamn knew he’d find someone his own age. I’ve been chasing dick since I was fourteen. Some days, I just can’t run anymore. Timothy says hello, asks me what I’m wearing. I give him the short answer. And finally, Paula returns with a stocky guy with hair all spiked and white-blonde. He and Paula assist me out of the contraption. In the time it takes me to shed that nonsense, Timothy and the new guy settle on the lawn, not far from the sidewalk. The new guy leans over as Timothy whispers in his ear. The intimacy between them that makes me sick, makes me recall the times Timothy stopped by my apartment and teased me into the bedroom, our clothes shucked off as we fell atop the mattress.

The crowd, there’s at least one hundred of the bastards now, starts another chant: Laramie or Bust! It’s a direct quote from one of the faggots in the cast. He’s young like Timothy, like the new guy. I’m too goddamn old to feel this way. I wander away from Paula’s angel depot, drift toward the chanting crowd. As I pass them, Timothy and his little pal are still deep in chat. Fuck these assholes with their signs and their songs, I just wanna watch Timothy blow this new kid against a brick wall while I webcam the whole fucking thing. I’d watch that shit again and again, I’d carry a homemade sign demanding my right to torture myself with footage of gorgeous Timothy getting fucked by a man who isn’t me.

Silent, I watch the protestors whip themselves into a deeper frenzy. I’m fucking embarrassed for them. It’s just a goddamn play. Who really cares? Just then, I hear Timothy call my name. He asks me, with that killer high voice, if I’m in the cast. You bet your ass, I tell him. I’m the goddamn star. We stare at each other. There’s nothing to fucking say. It’s goddamn over, whatever it was, and I know it. So the crowd shouts hallelujah and we shout hallelujah, and then they start over with that “Amazing Grace” bullshit. Before I know what I’m doing, I’m singing. God saved a wretch like me and all that. My God, he’s beautiful. I keep singing and soon Timothy and his new friend join in. The three of us are singing—we’re singing our fucking hearts out.



Thomas Kearnes is a 34-year-old author and essayist from East Texas. He is an atheist and an Eagle Scout. His fiction has appeared in PANK, Storyglossia, Eclectica, Word Riot, Night Train, 3 AM Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, JMWW Journal, The Pedestal, Bound Off and other publications. He has also published widely in gay venues. He has no interest in writing a novel. You can find him on Facebook. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I was indeed cast in a local production of “The Laramie Project” last summer. When the theatre threatened to cancel it, all the queers in Tyler protested. While I was dressed as an angel, I saw my friend Greg arrive with an equally young man whom I wagered was more than a friend. Greg and I had fooled around a few months back. (How do I still land men in their early ‘20s when I’m nearly 35? Baby, I’m aging WAY behind schedule!) I did feel a surge of jealousy—followed by bitterness about my age. It passed quickly, but it struck me that my reaction seemed wildly inappropriate considering what I was allegedly there to do. I knew even then there was a story to be told…

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War Sutras

by B.J. Buckley

Followed by Q&A

Loud wind and rain—the cold night bloody

with maple leaves torn from their branches.


Children’s sweet songs linger long after

their small bodies have been carried away.


One poet dared to refuse to mourn

the death by fire of a child in London.


Nor will I lament. The moon shines silver—

curved sword, a luminous pendulous breast.


In the tents a veiled woman cradles her infant,

bares a teat to nurse, her milk thick as stars.



B.J. Buckley is a Montana poet and writer who has worked in Arts-in-Schools programs throughout the West for over 30 years. Her prizes and awards include a Wyoming Arts Council Literature Fellowship; The Cumberland Poetry Review’s Robert Penn Warren Narrative Poetry Prize; the New York based Poets & Writers “Writers Exchange Award” in Poetry; the Rita Dove Poetry Prize from the Center for Women Writers at Salem College, Winston-Salem, NC; and the Joy Harjo Prize from CutThroat: A Journal of Arts and Literature. She has been awarded residencies at The Ucross Foundation and Vermont Studio Center. Her poems have appeared widely in both print and on-line journals.



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: This poem was written during flare-ups in the Palestinian and Afghan conflicts, as an expression of  hope for renewal out of the chaos of war, and the belief that life and love would eventually triumph. I was at the Vermont Studio Center, and had just taken a walk in the autumn storm, after watching a news report of multiple civilian deaths, including many children.

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Aunt Caroline' Nose

by Alan Elyshevitz

followed by Q&A

Because you were born

with Aunt Caroline’s nose

gasoline smells

like lilacs to you

and wet paint diffuses

the scent of pears

Your aunt was raised

in the countryside

with crude wooden fences

and mud holes in spring

On good days nothing

happened there

There were many

good days

in those days


Now you rely

on doorways and awnings

to evade

inclement weather

Your aunt never used

an umbrella

Her face

was a canvas

for the elements

She would stand

in a pasture

inhaling the wind


of the fragrance

of life


When trash is burned

you imbibe the aroma

of cinnamon buns

When the pet

of your neighbor


you discern a trace

of patchouli

next door

The world to you is no

foul emanation

So what have you done

with this great advantage


and Uncle Timothy’s eyes



Alan Elyshevitz is a poet and short story writer from East Norriton, PA. His poems have appeared most recently in Orion headless, Serving House Journal, and Poets for Living Waters. In addition, he has published two poetry chapbooks: The Splinter in Passion’s Paw (New Spirit) and Theory of Everything (Pudding House). Currently he teaches writing at the Community College of Philadelphia.



Q: What was the inspiration fo this poem?

A: The original inspiration for “Aunt Caroline’s Nose” was a comment made by a neighbor of mine about her daughter. From there, I elaborated, in a hyperbolic way, on the onerous responsibility of inheriting a family member’s physical characteristics.

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2 Poems

by Catherine Staples

followed by Q&A


There’s a star caught in the cedar, 

bright as a shiver of  moon.

Venus, I think, the evening star,

my late-night companion. Her lustrous


light illumines the spine of the tree.

It’s what they’ll do to you—tomorrow—

a storm of radiant waves making 

plain the beautiful symmetry


of each sweeping bone of you. 

Let the beams tip like fireflies 

tracing crowns through dogwood, 

diminutive hidden furies,


blue stars and bright flicks 

threading like jewels. Let light 

check & mend like the electro-magnetic

fields summoning birds, pole to pole.


Pure marvel; witness the Arctic warbler

just an ounce or two flying blind, 

weeks at a time, come snow or shower

he bears on, as do you, my sturdy brother—

                 oh, wind-tossed, buoyant rider.



Sheep and Angels 

It was early yet, the sun low     

when the three-rail fence cast 

its crazy shadow,  rangy phantasmagoria, 

crooked and impossibly long. 


Hundreds of days can pass, one thing 

Repeating. Rounding the corner 

by the old schoolhouse, it’s the craggy 

sheep—four-square, sturdy and alert. 


What is it he sensed? Last 

of the night coyotes, peeling off

in pairs, the here-now-gone 

damp edging a new cut of hay? 


Daylight is skeptical as the rest 

of the flock. You tap your chest

with the gesture of our grandfather,

just this, here and here, that worries you.


A phantom prick of something

where the dark mass gathered 

before the chemicals blasted 

you free and clear.


But here you are before me, handsomely

present: delicate light lines of hair, 

eyebrow, and beard growing in, here 

in the Italian place with the good 


bread and oil, talking about our children.

The winter sunlight munificent 

as the turn, Broadway to Madison,

the clean, clear lines of the park trees.


On the way home I see these long faced

beauties rising from the pedestal 

on Farragut’s statue, out from the waves 

they rise—what solemn promises—


things they know, things they won’t say.

Guardians, I’d like to think, sweet

knowing angels who might be sworn

to keep you safe.



Catherine Staples teaches in the Honors program at Villanova University. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, The Southern Review, Third Coast, Commonweal, Michigan Quarterly and others. Honors include the University of Pennsylvania’s William Carlos Williams Award and The New England Poetry Club’s Boyle/ Farber. Recently, her manuscript was named a finalist for the May Swenson award; it’s also been a finalist at Ohio State University, Lost Horse Press, and Eastern Washington University. Betsy Sholl selected her chapbook, Never a Note Forfeit, for Seven Kitchens Press’ 2010 Keystone Prize.



Q: What was the inspiration for these poems?

A: When my brother Paul was diagnosed with late stage lymphoma, I wrote night and day; the poems were like prayers cast to the natural world, to the divine, even the St. Gauden’s angel-like figures in Madison Square Park around the corner from where he worked. Both “Sheep and Angels” and “Godspeed” are from my chapbook, Never a Note Forfeit, due out May 21st from Seven Kitchens Press. 

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2 Poems

by Avra Wing

followed by Q&A


My son recounts the plot of a Zombie film

from France. He forgets exactly why,

 but one day the dead rise up and shake off 

the dust—not ghouls, staggering with stiff arms, 

but as themselves, almost good as new. 

They head back into the world willing 

to do the usual stuff—eat, buy shoes—

but everything’s out of synch. They can’t fit in 

with those who’ve never died. At the end 

they run away to form a Zombie commune, 

finding comfort in each other. 


And I cry to think of seeing all my dear ones, 

and then losing them again. Realizing 

that, after all this time, I  have nothing 

I can offer to make them feel at home. They sit,

 like dutiful guests, nervously checking

 their watches, then grab the first chance

 to slip out the door. I chase after them 

through street after street of memory, 

calling their names long after they have 

disappeared.  Then stumble my way back 

to a strangely empty house.



Dream: My Father Returns to the Latin Quarter

Someone sold my father lousy shoes,

mismatched, ill-used. The heels aslant, 

the leather cracked. I begged him to demand 

his money back, but he refused, maintaining, 

now he’s dead, he might as well

get used to shoddy merchandise.


But isn’t he a salesman too, 

a charmer, a schmoozer, making his living

hawking sundries from a hole-in-the-wall 

in the long-gone Jersey ferry terminal,

and surely no one’s fool.

On his feet all day he needs something 

sturdy—wingtips that can also see him through

the night, when he goes quickstepping like a pro 

at the shuttered clubs uptown.


He says, dolly, if it means that much to you 

I’ll get them fixed at the Italian’s. 

Though the place went out of business years ago, 

we sit, side by side, on high-back chairs 

in narrow booths, waiting as they’re made

almost good as new.


Then all that’s left for him to do

is dash up Broadway, find the right door.

The crowd parts as he eases his way 

to the front of the floor—

tall, poised, arms just so, 

a sedate hop and off he goes. 

Finessing all the latest moves. 

Sells it with his attitude.

The one to watch in cobbled shoes.



Avra Wing is the winner of the 2011 Pecan Grove Press chapbook competition. Her poetry has appeared in Hanging Loose, Michigan Quarterly Review, Apple Valley Review (which nominated her poem for the Pushcart Prize), qarrtsiluni, and Silk Road, among other places. Avra’s novel, Angie, I Says, a New York Times notable book, was made into the film Angie starring Geena Davis and James Gandolfini. She is a workshop leader for the New York Writers Coalition, and an adjunct professor of English at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, where she lives.



Q: What can you tell us about these poems?

A: I sometimes think of myself as the poet of loss. “Horror” expresses a longing for all those loved ones who are gone. “Dream: My Father Returns to the Latin Quarter” is a tribute to my late father. I hope it gives some idea of his charm.

Prime Decimals 7.3


The Packer

by Ann Stewart

followed by Q&A

Before I pack my duffle bag, the one with the Minocqua High Mighty Lion on it in shiny gold, his mane like cartoon sunbeams around his head, frozen in a roar like Dick Cheney’s rictus grin, I take out my gym clothes. They smell of teenage crotches and chlorine. So much for that. Swiftly, quietly, the way cheetahs creep along in the Serengeti plain, so their prey doesn’t notice a thing, I fill the bag with underwear and socks. 

I pack my parents’ wedding picture, and the picture of me with Jeremy, locked together. It’s summertime in that picture, like it is in the one of me and my cousin, covered in mud from puddles outside Aunt Gertie’s house, because we just didn’t give a shit. I’ve since crawled out of that mud, like some primordial soup. I’ve evolved. I’ve left behind Australopithecus and Homo Erectus and become my own species. I leave that photo on the dresser. I pack Boo Boo, my Teddy, though, because I’ve only gone so far. 

I pack the pills that I have stolen from Gertie. Tomorrow, she may notice that they are gone before she notices I am gone. Because she will get up limping, lurching, groaning from bed, pain clinging to her back like a baby monkey. Or she will have a list of chores she must do fast, items she must gather. And she has different pills that help her with each of these problems, though they can’t cure her of me. The way I track salt from the icy sidewalks through the house. The way I leave fingerprints on the pickle jar and get crumbs in the butter. The way bits of plaque get on the bathroom mirror when I floss. When she sees that her supply is depleted, she will suspect me instantly. My name will reverberate through the house like a siren. Her roar of inhuman rage will shake the walls, but not me, because I will be on the road south. Away from under this rolling blanket of cloud that keeps the Midwest just above freezing, like the comforter I throw off in the night when I am hot and sweaty from nightmares about being chased. 

I pack my knife. The one my father left me. I don’t pack my mother’s wedding ring because I am wearing it—always. I pack my comics. I pack The Things They Carried. I just like that book. I step softly into the bathroom and pack deodorant and tampons. My toothbrush. I am happy to see the flecks on the mirror. The crusty soap scum and the hair that will no longer be my problem, and the problem that I will no longer be.

I pack the little crystal ball with a tiny starfish trapped inside that my mother bought me when we went to Florida. At age eight, I thought it was so cool. To hold a thing and not touch it. I pack the bullet casing from my father’s funeral salute. Aunt Gertie will stomp back and forth, snapping the belt. When she sees that the starfish, and the shell, and the Teddy bear are gone, she will begin to sweat beads on her fuzzy upper lip. She will sit on the sofa and wait until nightfall for me to come home, the sleet silver and swirling outside, until gray turns to black. But I will have shed this awful skin. Burst out of this spore. Left the grungy loathsome piles of snow like God’s shit and followed the jackknifing bodies of birds toward the sun.

I’m thankful for too-long nights. I’m thankful for April. I close the zipper slowly, and though it seals the duffle shut, it sounds like tearing open. Like a Caesarian. It’s a sound of birth. Of freedom. Like the first mutant alien calling itself Human, who plodded ostracized from his heavy-browed former clan (or was dropped from the heavens) somewhere in Tanzania, and cooled off in the shadow of Kilimanjaro as he made his journey away. 



Ann Stewart is currently a PhD candidate in creative writing with a specialty in fiction at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, where she also teaches creative writing and introductory literature. She is the newly appointed editor-in-chief at UWM’s literary journal, cream city review, and has published both fiction and poetry in Ellipsis, Untamed Ink, At Length.



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: “The Packer” was inspired by the words “plaque,” “zipper,” and “Kilimanjaro.”


by Erin Ganaway

followed by Q&A

For our third anniversary I give him two black candles the shape of tears and clear glass holders for them. In the card I write they are unconditional love candles: the color representing the shade of my heart, the glass representing the purity of his love for me. When he opens my gift he smiles, and when he reads my card his eyelids turn red. 

Later we eat tender steaks at a table covered in white linens, served by a waiter who points to his bowtie as he describes the type of pasta served with tonight’s special. We finish with cake that tastes of our wedding, chocolate ganache accented with a fresh wedge of mandarin orange. I eat the orange. We make love in a fancy hotel room, and check out by midnight. The room is dirty, we complain. Not what I would expect from something in this price range, I say, smoothing my tousled hair with one hand. The concierge apologizes, refunds our money in full. 

When we are home I make two cups of hot tea and he lets the dog out. I take off my red skirt, now ruffled from our outing, and pull on warm flannel pajamas. He hangs his suit in the closet. I let the dog back in and he turns out the lights. We settle into bed with our tea.

Two days later he slams a door in my face. I scream from the hall. He opens the door and heads for the stairs, and as I try to push by I trip and slide feet first for the foyer. He grabs for my shirt, and I continue sliding down as my clothes slide up. When I reach the landing he is already there to block me. Let me out, I scream, and when he guards the door I sink to the hardwood floor in a fetal position. It is the only thing I know to do. And it is then I mention divorce. 

Screams start afresh, and I prowl the living room for my most important belongings. My wallet, my laptop, the book I started reading the night before. I do not bother with extra clothes or a coat or a toothbrush. He sits on the couch watching me. Come and talk, he says, just talk for a minute. His voice is steady now, softer. I continue circling the room like a bird of prey; I will not descend. Instead I go to the dining room to fetch one of the black candles. I light it, set it in front of him. It is easier to manage than me, I say. Then I walk out the door.

The candle is no longer burning when I get back. It now looks more like an egg with a crew cut than a teardrop. He is in the basement, but I find a letter where he sat. The letter says that he loves me, that he does not understand how a door slammed shut can turn into talk of divorce, that all married couples argue. I look up from the letter, toward the black candle perched on clear glass. Standing over it and peering down from above, I notice white wax puddled around the wick. How cheap, I think, that the candle is not black all the way through. How foolish I was to buy it.       



Erin Ganaway holds a Master of Fine Arts from Hollins University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Third Coast, New York Quarterly, Sea Stories, and elsewhere. She currently divides her time between Atlanta and Cape Cod.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I love when simple objects, such as a pair of black candles, ignite my imagination. I was dismayed when I lit the candles and discovered the interiors were white, but then I liked the irony of the contrast of colors. I immediately set to work on the metaphor of the candles and the protagonist’s heart, her perception of her love versus an underlying purity.


The Plumber’s Tale

by Gary Glass

followed by Q&A

There I was standing in this Ivy Leaguer's kitchen with the garbage disposal leaking out on the floor and him yammering on about how he knows all the best bistros in Paris but hasn't got the first clue what a guy like me likes to eat for lunch or whether I prefer imported or domestic beer or whether I'd ever been to a polo match, and I just stand there and let him idle his mouth because I'm thinking every minute that leak goes on leaking is another fifty bucks damage to the wine cellar or the billiard table or the Gutenberg fucking bible or whatever the hell it is in the basement under his kitchen sink.



Gary Glass is a writer, photographer, programmer, and the proprietor of, an online community for readers and writers. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: "The Plumber's Tale" was inspired by an essay in The American Scholar by William Deresiewicz, "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education," in which Deresiewicz laments that his Ivy League education has not prepared him for the challenge of making small talk with his plumber.



by William Aarnes

Followed by Q&A

We find ourselves alive

and accept life


as our parents live it,

the move from the cramped apartment


to the privacies of a home,

our own rooms, our father’s lawn


our mother’s flowerbeds,

their patience with the prayers


at daycare, the summer vacation

on which the dog gets lost


and found, the strawberry sherbet

always in the freezer, soldiers grinning


at children on the TV news.

some talk of spending less,


the friendly neighbors

often scathing to each other,


the dinging of the appliances,

the sitter explaining our parents


have gone to say a last goodbye,

the inherited piano no one plays,


the tune of wishing

it were otherwise, the slipknot 


of the bedtime story,

the good night’s sleep.



William Aarnes teaches English at Furman University. He has two collections of poems—Learning to Dance (1991) and Predicaments (2001)—both published by Ninety-Six Press. His poems have appeared in places like Poetry, The Tipton Poetry Journal, and ant-poetry. He has work forthcoming in Ascent and Curbside Quotidian.



Q: What was the genesis of this poem?

A: “Prelude” started with the worried recognition of the opening two lines, much of the rest of the poem occurring to me or the next couple of days as evidence, the “slipknot” notion coming to me a few days later. Wordsworth’s The Prelude of course provided me with the title.

Moon in the Water

by Kathleen Hellen

followed by Q&A

The crossing is a splintered track of absent thunder, 

blackened ties over gravel white as moonlight to the 

edge of pebbled things. To the brink. 

Bare feet running through the prickle of the thistle-

weed, the pale grass screaming. 


I cuff my jeans. The river lurks in babble, 

in waves against hard places. 


A tug 

is tugging. It pulls as white as moonlight.

Signal-lights ripple into waves reaching higher 

to the bone inside the knees. 


The barge is a mountain moving shadows. 

A long slow coming. 


I see in waking: A rat-face fat as grandma’s, laughing in debris. 

The belly in a beer can. The plastic bag that weeps.

The drift-


wood to the tide becomes surrender. 

The moon floats closer. 

The moon throws out its buoy.

It saves me.



Kathleen Hellen’s work has appeared most recently in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Cave Wall, Cimarron Review, The Dos Passos Review, Harpur Palate, Pank, Subtropics, Swink, Witness, among others; and on WYPR’s The Signal. Awards include the Washington Square Review, James Still, and Thomas Merton poetry prizes, as well as individual artist grants from the state of Maryland and Baltimore City. Her chapbook The Girl Who Loved Mothra was published in December 2010 by Finishing Line Press. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: There’s a place inside your head you sometimes go when you are small and all the world might seem in chaos. A quiet place, safe, where you can leave the grown-ups to their bickering and mighty woes. You can leave a house of trouble. For me, that place was by the river.  On summer nights through moonlit fields, the rails of the B&O shimmering, I’d run there. I’d sit on the rust-colored rocks and listen, hushed, waiting for the bellow of the barge around the bend. The distant echo. The sidelights blinked: red on the port, green on the starboard, like joy, sorrow; love and hate—like all the things I didn’t understand. The wake rising, I’d wade out to the waves. I’d feel baptized in the moon over the water.

Jubal Early's Raid Reduced to Powerpoint

by M.A. Schaffner

followed by Q&A

Real fighting closed in on the bureaucrats

of civil war Washington. The real trick

for preventing rust at the time involved

using sebum-based gun oils, such as whale, 


ideally Sperm. Tinted spectacles helped

protect clerks’ eyes from the sun’s reflection

off bayonets and swords. Linen dusters

proved just the thing to protect office clothes


from the blacking used on accoutrements.

And how can one say whether hand-drawn forms

proved much inferior to systems templates?

At least the user had to think and care


exactly which rows and columns went where.

Of course we can’t say now; it’s like asking

if we needed to trade the wilderness

for indoor plumbing and additional hours


of life in front of screens, or “a good hand”

for agile thumbs, or the just society

for the new release. Each generation

seeks its own shallows, even while the smoke


rises from the suburbs and windows shake

as ordnance wagons block the bureaux’ doors.



M. A. Schaffner has poetry recently published or forthcoming in Stand (UK), the Beloit Poetry Journal, The Hollins Critic, Dalhousie Review (CA), and Markings (Scotland).  Other work includes the collection, The Good Opinion of Squirrels (Word Works, 1997); the novel, War Boys (Welcome Rain, 2002); and the memoir, Good-Bye to All This (PBGC, 2009).  The Swinging Urinal, a novel in which real fighting closes in on the bureaucrats of Civil War Washington, has recently begun making the rounds.



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: Drawing its inspiration from an actual historical incident in which an unprepared Federal government had to rely in part on hastily armed civil servants to defend the capital, “Jubal Early’s Raid Reduced to Powerpoint” riffs on the eternal unreality of technological progress.

Prime Decimals 7.5

What He Sees

by Randall Brown

followed by Q&A

Instead, Sisyphus looks up, the stars like the deep-set eyes of Death, whom Sisyphus had tricked and chained so no one could die, a thing that angered Ares, who believed Sisyphus had thus ruined the fun of war, and hence this punishment, the rock, the hill, an essay by Camus that imagines him happy. 

Now, the world has turned, and stars that weren't there appear. Were he to look down, past the rock, below the mountain, he'd see the faces upturned toward him, the famous roller of rocks, a star among the punished, like Atlas holding up the world. That descent back to boulder resides in that world, like gravity, pushes him toward Fate, and it is in this briefest of moments, when it is the rock and not the world he has left behind, that Sisyphus finally sees granite, a gray wall against which with all his might he sets himself.

The granite wall moves from his vision; the stars realign; and there Merope appears, the disappearing seventh star of the Pleiades, ashamed of marrying a mortal, of her husband Sisyphus's sin that knows no end. She flickers in and out of existence. He imagines this next ascension will be his last, that the gods and goddesses will tire of watching reruns. He imagines both an end and a beginning. In that moment, when she burns for him, he imagines the softness of eyelids and fingertips, the corners of lips, before his face is turned back, finally, to the task at hand, before all is once again that rock, worn smooth like a tombstone, and all he can see is his name etched onto it, like star-nymph daughters set into stars, like the chains etched into Death's wrists, like footsteps leading back to where it all began.



Randall Brown teaches at and directs Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field, and he appears in the Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction. He has been published widely, both online and in print, and blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net. He's also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: The fact that I remember many mythic characters for their punishments—Atlas's shoulder to the world, Prometheus's ever-eaten liver, and Sisyphus's rock and roll, for example—and that I often forget their crimes made me start researching (i.e., Wikipedia) what they did to deserve such harsh judgment. That led me to some more information about Sisyphus, of his wife in the skies as the seventh star of the Pleiades. And that I thought would be the real punishment, her twinkling above him, reminding him of the world beneath his worn-smooth rock and mountain. That, I thought, would be the moment, when she appears, that would really, really suck.


A Night at the Opera

by Christin Rice

followed by Q&A

The lights dim in the opera house and the director steps forth. She is 6 feet tall and wears 4 inch heels. She looks into the audience and says, “Tonight, we have a real treat for you…”

The curtain rises and Danitza, the heroine, sings to her love, Arturo: “I will always be smarter than you, I will always earn more than you, but darling you are so fetching in that pinafore I can’t help but love you forever.” She is singing in Pig Latin. 

Arturo sings in return about how he made her his. She rolls her eyes and lets him believe that is exactly what transpired. He doesn’t know that the architecture of their lives was born on an excel spreadsheet that she drew up at work, a project plan for romance. 

In a frenzy of telling and not showing, or singing and not showing, we hear the story of how they met. And there will be much exposition, much exposition, much exposition through song.

Arturo will be too busy singing his heart out about conquering the neighbor’s nation, won’t take time to notice she isn’t listening, isn’t swooning. She is instead calculating the time it will take to make partner at the law firm and how to break it to him that there won’t be any children. Their dogs dance in unified choreography around them, a complicated ballet of leashes and dog strollers. And the supporting cast of friends and spa staff gather in a chorus about the joys of an organized bookshelf. Their beautiful home sparkles around them.

Theirs is a sweet and healthy marriage. It works because both parties think they are in control. What they don’t realize of course is that they are both wrong. Control rests in the hands of the gods who are offstage right and the gods are jealous. They are jealous because the mere mortals have not spent even one moment thinking about them. And in opera, if you don’t think about something you don’t sing about it either and you are left with songs about dry cleaning and hair care. Which, let’s face it, makes for pretty dull opera. And the offstage gods are nothing if not vain and refuse to let the audience depart without at least a taste of their mighty powers. With much clanging and banging of symbols and sirens, thunder is represented and fear will be known. The trumpets signal the rising of action and darkness will trigger a round of applause.

The curtain drops. It’s intermission, quick! Check your cell phone and grab a $10 plastic flute of California Champagne. Now, back to your seat, it’s time for the rest of the show.

Act II erupts with drums and horns and the gods. We can tell they are gods because they have the letter G hanging around their necks. It’s kind of a blingy G and hurts your eyes to look at. Danitza walks on stage and sings to them: How nice of you to join us. My husband is in the middle of a spiritual crisis about his diet, could you please attend to him? And they leap for joy to be needed and run off stage to help.

Danitza has the stage to herself. She likes it there. She lets the audience know through song that no one will be killing themselves for love in this opera, and that this too is beautiful. And there will be much exposition, much exposition, much exposition through song.

But what am I saying is maybe we go to the opera to be transported out of the everyday grind of wheels in our head and we don’t actually want reality. Maybe stories of star-crossed lovers who kill themselves are good; then their love is never really tested, right? Imagine an opera about paying bills and folding laundry and trying to make conversation for forty years. The audience would focus their little binoculars elsewhere, training them on the dust caught in the great chandelier above. 

How do you make your own dreams come true while also having a day job? At Wells Fargo? This is the opera I want to attend. Maybe opera can’t answer that, maybe there are no costumes to accompany songs about living the creative life. Maybe I will have to stage my own. I’ll be holding rehearsals soon. 



Christin Rice is a writer in San Francisco who is not above using humor as a defense mechanism. Her work has appeared in Pif Magazine, Soma Literary Review and performed at LitUp Writers. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: I spent a season trying really hard to like opera, because it just seemed like something I should love. I saw it simulcast at AT&T park, I saw it in all its grandeur in the opera house, I saw an edgy version in a museum, and every time I left wondering whether opera was really relevant anymore. Trying to find myself in the story, I wrote my own opera in response.

Dear Poet

by Joseph Mills

followed by Q&A

Dear Poet,

I’ve had enough.

For years I’ve supported you and come to your readings. Even when the audience wasn’t big enough to get a poker game going, I was there.  But now, frankly, I’m getting too old to keep sitting through hours of bad performances. I’m tired of you wasting my time. I’m tired of you seeming to have no sense of what I need. I’m tired of you not working on our relationship.

Understand, I love poetry. It’s not your poems that are driving me away, but how you deliver them. You’ve been reading your work so badly, so obtusely, or so arrogantly, that it’s painful to listen to. 

That is, when I can listen to it. Sometimes you make it so that I can’t even do that. You mumble. You whisper. Even when you’re given a microphone, you turn your face away from it. Often you don’t seem to know how to use the equipment, so you ignore it and then look baffled by the popping and screeching occurring as if it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Or, you act like the microphone’s an immovable piece of furniture. You stoop or tippy-toe to get near. I don’t understand why you don’t simply adjust it, or, if you don’t know how, why you don’t ask someone else to do it. 

I know that you can be shy, and I know that just because you wrote the poems that doesn’t mean you want to read them out loud to people. But, if you’re too uncomfortable or embarrassed to do it well, or at least competently, then don’t. I’m there because I want to better understand your work; if you mangle it, that defeats the purpose. I’m tired of waiting for a reading to be over and staying only because of pity or vague feelings of obligation or politeness.

I’m also tired of your Jekyll and Hyde act. When we talk before or after the reading, you speak normally, but when you start to read, it’s like you’ve been taken over by some alien force. What the hell happens to your voice? What’s with the odd intonations? The stilted diction? The weird emphases as if This … Is… Ve…ry…Import…ant. Or the rocking rhythm, the back and forth repetition, the sense of righteousness and mission, of someone on Def Poetry Jam? The words become sounds, and the sense drifts away. No one, probably not even you, can figure out what you’re saying. I want to hear a person, not some parody of a poet.

What I don’t want to hear is the snocking up of snot or the constant clearing of your throat. If you have to stop to blow your nose or cough, go ahead. This isn’t a whitewater ride where once you’re moving, you can’t stop. If you need a swallow of water, take one. 

I understand when you have to make adjustments like that. What I don’t understand is why you act sometimes like you’re not prepared. Why do you get up and say things like “I haven’t decided what to read tonight?” Why do you waste everyone’s time flipping through books? If you knew you were going to read five poems, why do you have twenty-five post-notes?  If you haven’t thought about the event, even though the date has been on your calendar for weeks, that’s insulting. If you have, then you’re lying. 

It’s also insulting when you act disappointed at the turnout. I’m there; is that not good enough? And why do you sometimes tell me before you even read the piece that I won’t understand it. You’ve said, “This is probably too abstract” and “I don’t know if this will make sense.” If you suspect that it won’t, why read it? Do you not care about me? And why do you read new work that you suggest might not be done? Would you serve half-cooked food if you ran a restaurant? Am I some white rat you’re running tests on? You know most of the rats, except the ones that get the good drugs, don’t enjoy that very much.

Look, I know that you’re excited to share your work, but do you have to share so much of it? I can listen closely to a few pieces, but I’m overwhelmed by two dozen shoved at me one after another. When you do that, they become an undistinguishable mass. You’re a poet, not a fiction writer. An audience can listen to a twenty minute story, but we can’t concentrate on twenty minutes of poetry without breaks in between, especially when they don’t seem to fit together or you don’t give us any kind of connective material between them. 

And speaking of time, if you say that you’ll read for twenty minutes, do you secretly think I really want you to read for forty? I don’t. I really don’t. Whenever you ask yourself, “Do I have time for one more?” the answer always should be “No.”

Please, show me that you care about our relationship. I don’t want to leave you after all these years.

But I will. 


Your long-time, but frustrated, fan



Joe Mills teaches at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where he currently holds the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. He also is the poet-in-residence at Salem College. He has published three collections of poetry, including Love and Other Collisions, and he’s given plenty of poor readings



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: I started thinking about this piece after being at yet another reading that seemed almost perversely designed to alienate people. In fact, I had been hoping that it was performance art, but, unfortunately, it was simply ineptness. At first I thought of structuring a response as an audience’s Bill of Rights which would include such radical demands as we have a right to expect the author to be prepared and we have a right to hear the author. Eventually the piece became a letter.

Upstairs at the Mardigan Museum

by Jenn Blair

Followed by Q&A

a bulky piece of bark waits atop Mt. 

Ararat, barely breathing, everything

waiting for the command to open its

throat and sing hoofs and headaches, 

feathers and stench, webbed feet, 

nerves and sneezes, elbows, knees, 

caterpillars and capillaries en-wired 

and mired in flesh, not to mention

the mysteries divided into their strange 

compartments between mottled 

and flat freckled skins. The storm

is over. Thinning clouds wait for 

joy to exhale its hundred strange

winsome little movements with such 

abandon even the sogged earth must 

briefly turn away with unguarded delight.



Jenn Blair is from Yakima, WA. She has published in Copper Nickel, the James Dickey Review, Cold Mountain Review, New South, Rattle, Tulane Review, and New Plains Review among others. Her chapbook All Things are Ordered is out from Finishing Line Press.



Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?

A: I was fortunate enough to spend the fall semester of my senior year of college in Jerusalem. I lived just outside the walls of the old city and walking through the Armenian Quarter was one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. It is there that you will find the highly worthwhile Mardigan Museum.


Light Through a Train’s Roof

by Jéanpaul Ferro

Down to Loch Long, a thousand rims of rain,

the archipelago in the angel forming the body,


and so I learn like A’saph in his melody:

the sky and the rain all at once.


Humble, I pray; and I am lost, another blue atom,

another obscene soul in this whole blue earth, 

in the blackness that stretches out into sempiternity,

that day of God before he created the universe.


And in those skies the colors darken, 

the autumn colors that come from Africa, copper and diamond, 

Jehovah God in the trees and in the wind and in the rain, 

the last light of the day through the broken ceiling of the train ...


God in everything that surrounds us—in every last minute,

night and day.



An 8-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jéanpaul Ferro’s work has appeared on National Public Radio, Contemporary American Voices, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Connecticut Review, Sierra Nevada Review, and others. He is the author of All The Good Promises (Plowman Press, 1994), Becoming X (BlazeVox Books, 2008), You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (Thumbscrew Press, 2009), Hemispheres (Maverick Duck Press, 2009), Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009), nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; and the recently released Jazz (Honest Publishing, 2011).

Two Men Rowing Madly Toward Infinity

by William Reichard

followed by Q&A

The current flows in the opposite direction

so they are moving, always, 


Time is like water, but is not water.

Time flows, but isn’t a river.

They’re determined to reach their destination, 

that point when they may turn the boat about 

and head toward home. But oars drag slowly 

through these viscous hours.

You cannot set your watch by it.

Better to use the sun, approximate

your position in the sky.

As they row, the shore becomes a series

of scrolling scenes, a diorama of one era

crashing into the next, an index

of possibilities. There is always the pull 


which implies

its opposite. The push into one day 

moves them 


from another.

If there were such a thing,

one might say they’ve been in this boat


But there’s not, so they’ve always only just arrived.

It’s a warm day on the river.

See how the light falls on their shoulders,

sweat glistening in the long sun.

Without the will to go forward,

they can only


As the daylight ebbs, the dusk engulfs them.

In their vessel, the atoms of all that’s


all that


all that

will be

merge in the darkness, erase any difference between 

the men, their craft, the water, and the endless world.



William Reichard is the author of four collections of poetry, including Sin Eater (2010) and This Brightness (2007). He is the editor of American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice (2011).



Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: This poem was inspired by an untitled painting by Ivan J. Fortushniak.

Prime Decimals 7.7


Center Wheel, Balance Wheel, Escape Wheel

by David Meischen

followed by Q&A

Their mother missed the watch immediately. It was the first of many little puzzles humming around the riddle of their father’s blood, the care he had taken to open his wrists—twin incisions, each neatly following a vein from just above the pad of the palm upward several inches toward the elbow. And so unlike him—to have fallen in the mess he made bleeding, face down in clean khakis.

Not one among them—Berndt, Willie, Gus, their mother—could swear to have seen the watch on Garett Hoffman’s wrist beforehand, while he sharpened his knives, or when he took the thirty-ought-six from the gun closet and went out to kill the pig. He’d worn the watch his every waking hour, removing it, from wrist to pocket—and then only at the last minute—for rough or dirty work. Done, he had always taken the watch from his pocket and held it to his ear, then buckled it back on his wrist. To have left the house that morning without it plainly visible would have stirred suspicion. Before he got to the pens, before he put the sticking knife to use, he must have removed the watch, a final gesture of care, not wanting it ruined.

They never forgot the blood, the pool of it beneath him—and nearby the empty sled that served to move a freshly killed pig on butcher day, their father’s work jacket folded neatly and lying there beneath a chill gray sky.

Their mother gave a great cry when she reached him and dropped to her knees. For a little while after, she seemed calm, bending over him, saying his name, saying Garret, as if to a child who has done the saddest, the most pathetic thing. And then no, her head turning from him, her eyes searching her sons, the pigs, the trees, repeating the word each time her eye alit, putting this one syllable between herself and what could not be made right. Finally back to their father again, saying Garret, no. Shaking her head, shaking herself, raising her voice to the sky, a fierce shout coming out of her. 

For a space of breaths, she took up their father’s hand—the one that had reached free of pooled blood—the knuckled back of it unmarred, wrist and forearm bare where he’d rolled his sleeve. No blood vessels bulged beneath the skin, a pallor like candle wax leaching the russet of his years in the fields.

“The watch,” she said. “You father is missing his watch.” 

“Garret,” she said. “What have you done with your watch?” And then, as if searching for a clue, she turned the hand she held, his watchless wrist turning with it, the incision revealed, blood caking in the cuffed sleeve. She turned the hand back, hiding the cut, and lowered it to the ground.

She stood, then, turning to Willie and Gus.

“Get a bucket of water,” she said. “Soap. Towels.” 

Willie and Gus didn’t move.

She clapped her hands, once and bluntly, like the crack of a whip in the air between them. “Do what I say.”

Willie and Gus took off at a run.

“He’ll need clean clothes,” she said to Berndt. “Fresh shirt and pants. And not a spot on them.” Then, before he had taken a step, “Wait. He’ll be soaked to the skin. Bring fresh boxers, an undershirt. Go.”

They came with what she had asked for—water set beside their mother, soap and towels neatly arranged on the sled while Berndt looked on, his father’s fresh clothes at his chest where he hugged them, their scent in the sharp cool air—cotton, starch, his mother’s iron. The scent of his father, the things he wore. And his mother, what she did for them.

“I’ll clean him up,” she said and ordered them away.

No one moved.

“Get,” she said. “I don’t want you to see him like this.”

It was too late. Berndt had found his father. Willie and Gus had seen him on the ground. When they didn’t budge, she ran shrieking at the older two. They ran and turned, ran and turned again, saying “Momma, Momma.” Berndt stood beside the sled wondering how it was she could send him away if she wanted the clothes he’d fetched to stay clean. He couldn’t put them down. He’d have to hold them for her. But she wouldn’t stop chasing and his brothers wouldn’t leave.

While they ran this frantic game of tag, Aunt Norma walked around the corner of the barn. Who had called her? Willie? Gus? She walked past them, past their mother, past Berndt. She stood beside their father for a stretch of moments, then turned and started giving orders. She didn’t go to their mother, didn’t so much as acknowledge what she had seen. 

She put herself between mother and sons. She posted Willie, Gus, Berndt by the barn. “Stay back,” she said. “You’ll be needed. Come when I call you.” And to Berndt, an echo of their mother. “Not a spot on your father’s things.” She went back to Momma. But the look in her eyes. Berndt never forgot the look shining out of her eyes.

Before they could so much as peek around the corner of the barn, Aunt Norma called for Willie and Gus. Berndt followed along. 

“We can’t get him clean in this dirt,” she said. “Help us. We’ll put him on the sled.”

When they turned him over, Gus let go and started back. 

“Get back here,” Aunt Norma said. “He’s heavy. You’re strong. We need you.”

“He’s gone,” their mother said. “He can’t hurt you now.”


The watch had come to their father from France. This would have been in 1932 or ’33. Berndt was twelve when his father died, in the fall of 1937. He had been in school already when the strange package arrived, but he couldn’t recall which year. And there was no one to ask. Once—oh, years and years later—he said to his wife that he could have asked his mother. Momma never said they couldn’t talk about their father. But silence had taken hold. And how to break it? Of course, by the time it occurred to Berndt that he could talk to his mother, it was too late. Dementia had laid its claim on her.

On the day the watch arrived, she had driven to the mailbox. When they returned from the fields, she gave their father a strange look and escorted him to the dining table. At his place sat a cardboard box—shaped like a hatbox, though somewhat larger—with a dull waxy coating of some kind, and strapped about, this way and that, with heavy twine. It might have been a mail-order package, but the twine augured otherwise, as did the edges of the box, much frayed by distance. And the stamps, the notations of foreign travel. Daddy sat down and carefully opened the box. It was made of heavy, corrugated cardboard, double-layered, coated inside and out with the waxy stuff. Within was an old quilt, and this is where their mother started in. She had stood there looking plainly cross, but not a word out of her. The quilt tipped her balance. Who would have shipped that old thing? And all this way? It wasn’t even folded properly.

Their father began to unfurl the quilt. Inside its folds was a little wooden box, beautifully made, with beveled corners, its lid snugly secured by brass screws. Berndt and his brothers merely fidgeted while Daddy loosened the screws. They’d been trained to watch their manners—and their tongues. Not so their mother. Not that afternoon. She kept at it with her questions, though Daddy didn’t say a word. The screws out, he removed the lid to reveal a little bundle wrapped in an oiled cloth. He loosed the cloth and removed a watch. The face of it was large for a wrist watch, a white face, with large numbers in outline to indicate the hours. To Berndt they looked like perfect stencil tracings. His teacher would have been pleased, though the six had been omitted—a much smaller face inset there for seconds.

A pocket watch is what it looked like, a pocket watch with leather bands and buckle. A very nice pocket watch. But still. To have been sent across an ocean.

“Who’s it from?” Momma wanted to know.

“It doesn’t say.” Their father lifted the box toward her. There was no sign of a letter, no visible indication of who had shipped the watch.

Momma grabbed up the old quilt and shook it out. Nothing.

“Why in the world would anyone have sent this?” She waved the quilt at him. It had seen better days.

“That was for padding,” he said. “Burn it.”

Undeterred, she peppered their father with questions—the same as before, mostly—in whatever order they seemed to strike her.

Their father didn’t answer, addressing his attention instead to the watch. He set it, wound it, held it to his ear—then put the timepiece to his wrist, buckled it, walked into the bedroom he shared with their mother and closed the door. She followed. There were sharp words, raised voices. But if their father had any idea who had sent the watch, or why, he kept it to himself.

He had spent time in France. Berndt, Willie, Gus—they knew this about their father. He’d been with the ambulance service—in 1918, seven years before Berndt was born. Aside from Daddy’s buddies in the war—and they had either come home or got buried in French graves—aside from them, who would have known their father in that long-ago time? Why send him a watch? Why now, so many years later?

Berndt seemed to remember that his father had been at Belleau Woods. Or had he imagined this?—hearing grown-ups say the words—Belleau Woods—their tone hushed. He was in high school before he saw the words in print—and smiled at himself. He’d been so young, a toddler really, when the French woods came into his vocabulary. All this time, in his ear, the place was Bellow Woods. He’d pictured cows there, among the trees, the Howitzers, the barbed wire.

Wherever Garret Hoffman might have served, whoever might have started the strange package on its way to a Texas farm, their father wore the watch that came and didn’t offer a clue about its origin. He had a bad spell after it arrived—the longest one Berndt could remember—in bed for days and then sitting, in his robe, disheveled, for several more. Hardly a word came out of him. 

Momma shooed them outside and put them to work in the yard. Except for intervals when they heard her voice—soft, mostly, with brief, sharp eruptions—there was no sign from indoors. “He’s in a black cloud,” Momma said, when Aunt Norma dropped by. They talked on the front porch. Momma wouldn’t let her sister come inside while he was like that. 

Bad spells. Black days. They were part of life with Garret Hoffman. 

Finally one morning, their father was up and coming through the house to wake them. He went out for chores and was back for breakfast, the watch on his wrist. He developed a ritual for winding it, holding it to his ear before and after, attentive to the inner movement. He let no one handle the watch, but one of them could stand beside his chair and listen while he held the crystal to an eager ear. He was careful about work that might scratch the watch face or jar the little wheels that turned inside. One of his buttoned pockets held the watch for carpentry, fence-mending, and such. He was careful of the band, too, oiling it, putting the watch in a pocket while he worked on the float at the water trough. 

Not long after the watch arrived, he took it to a jeweler at the county seat. The little man behind the glass display case put on his jeweler’s eye. He looked and looked. Shaking his head, he clicked his tongue. It was Swiss-made, he said, by Tavannes—a trench style timepiece. Looked to be from the last of the war years. He pulled a watch from his window display and pointed out its snap-on back and bezel. Daddy’s watch was different. It had a screw-on back and bezel. Harder to make them that way, the jeweler said. Expensive. Better at keeping dust and moisture out. This was watch-making at its best. “Take good care of it,” he said. “Could last you a lifetime.”

After that, the watch was regularly in one of their father’s buttoned pockets while he worked. It was always with him—never farther than his little bedside table.

As for the quilt the watch had come wrapped in, their mother didn’t burn it. She washed it carefully, by hand, and dried it indoors on the wooden rack she used for drying clothes in winter, turning it by the hour to let the air get at both sides. She folded it into a mail-order box, meticulous as a flag, with naphthalene crystals between the folds, and stored it on a shelf in her bedroom closet. She moved it with her when she built a house in town. That was 1952. The quilt was there, among her things, in 1979 when Berndt cleaned out the little house after her funeral. He took it home with him, not ready to lose the story buried in its silent folds—of crossing the Atlantic, of the bodies it had warmed, the lives, somewhere in France. In a little farmhouse, Berndt liked to imagine, with a yard full of cats and a milk cow at the fence.

“Oh, Berndt, honestly,” his wife said, tilting her head to look at him over the rims of her glasses, like a school teacher taking aim at the class dimwit. Esther didn’t care about the blanket. She made no place in her heart for most things sentimental. The advice their father had given their mother so many years ago, on the day he opened the box—it was the kind of advice that appealed to Berndt’s wife. “Burn it,” Daddy had said. And that’s what Esther did.


Their father went to his casket, finally, in a wool suit with no watch on his wrist. There had been a day of searching—Aunt Norma indoors with their mother, Berndt and his brothers outside—the frenzy of their mother’s grief channeled into this one thing they could do. Berndt had searched the tractor shed—the drawers beneath the top of his father’s workbench, a dozen mason jars lined up along a two-by-four that braced the wall above. He opened each drawer and rattled among the miscellany, the tools, took up each jar of nails or screws and held it to a panel of light pouring between two boards in the wall. He studied the filtered sun inside the dusty glass, each jar pooling with its own dimmed glow.

His parents’ bedroom, when he got back indoors, was like something out of a detective novel. Momma had ransacked it—every drawer pulled out and spilling, boxes dragged from the closet, their contents topsy-turvy, the mattress, even, yanked off the springs to sag against the wall.

His aunts and uncles, the friends and neighbors who came to see their father in his casket—they spoke of the dead as if he were sleeping. Berndt had been going to funerals for as long as he could remember. He thought the folks he’d seen in caskets looked dead. His father, in his, did not look to be sleeping. Silence eddied around him like the smell of wool and pipe tobacco, a disease, an infection his opened wrists had passed to Berndt and his brothers, and they to everyone who met their eyes. Struck dumb, all of them, looking elsewhere.

On the October day their father had taken his life, the weather was raw, as befits a butcher day, the sky a close, dense gray, the grass and underbrush and trees fading with the onset of fall. By the day of the funeral, the weather had warmed, but the overcast stayed. Watching the casket descend, Berndt hugged himself. He felt cold to his bones.

Their father buried, their goodbyes made as best they could, Berndt and his brothers went back to school and home to work. There was a farm to run, mules to care for, pigs to haul to market. There was lard to be made into soap, plowing equipment to be readied for spring. Each day they did the things their father had taught them.

On a morning weeks after the graveside service Berndt was mid-step to the pig-pen fence, a bucket of water in his grip for the trough, when a glimmer of light winked at him from the mesquite that shaded the pen, and his heart tried to break loose from its cage. At eye level, as if put there with him in mind, his father’s watch caught early sun and splashed it back at the morning. The watch had been carefully buckled into place near the base of a branch thick as a man’s wrist. Sixty-five years later common sense had not entirely erased Berndt’s certainty that Daddy had come back in the night and put the watch where he would find it. He put his ear to the crystal, half expecting to hear the gears inside it keeping time. Inside his listening ear, beneath the mesquite branch’s smooth bark, the sap rose—slow, silent—the steady pulse that moved the tree.

Tears came so suddenly Berndt couldn’t see to help his hasty fingers unbuckle the watch. “Goddamn you, Goddamn you,” he said, and yanked the watchband free. He gripped his father’s watch and slammed the unmarred face against the tree—again, again—fragments of glass and tiny gear wheels dropping into the dust at his feet. He knelt, then, and picked up all the pieces he could find. A splinter of glass from the watch face pricked his thumb, a drop of blood welling on the fleshy pad. 

Berndt was calm now. He walked to the Agua Dulce and scratched a shallow hole in the loose silt of the creek bed. He buried the shattered watch, the broken pieces, and went back to his chores. The pigs were waiting. They would be hungry.



Winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest in Mainstream Friction, 2011, David Meischen has short stories in or forthcoming in Bellingham Review, Superstition Review, and Talking Writing. His work has appeared in The Southern Review, Southern Poetry Review, Borderlands, Cider Press Review, and elsewhere. As a founder of Dos Gatos Press, he is co-editor of Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry, scheduled for an August release. Meischen has an MFA in fiction from Texas State University, San Marcos. He is the recipient of a writing residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts.


Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: “Center Wheel, Balance Wheel, Escape Wheel” started with the image of a watch fastened to the branch of a mesquite tree. The story’s last scene, when Berndt finds the watch fastened there, was the first scene I wrote. After that, my challenge was to put the watch front and center, to make it a credible part of the world Berndt inhabits.


Q: What's your second favorite place on Earth, and why?

A: I am given to superlatives, which is to say that in any category, I have several favorites. For many reasons, though, Austin, Texas is my favorite place on Earth. A second favorite place would be Taos, New Mexico. I love the quality of light in the landscape around Taos--and the feeling I have when I immerse myself in this landscape that I am connected to something ancient and eternal.

Q: PC, or Mac?

A: bi-

Q: What's your process when writing a short story?

A: Often I start with a moment glimpsed out of context, and I write a story to find a context for the moment. One of my stories began, for example, with a man finding a pair of glasses in a dry creek bottom, and I thought, these are his son's glasses. But what happened to the son? Did he drown in the creek? And what happened between father and son in the days beforehand? I discovered that there had been trouble between father and son, that the father carried a burden of guilt after his son disappeared, presumed drowned. The father, like many of the men I knew growing up, kept a rather tight rein on himself. The challenge for me was to express an inner life that I could feel in him but that he would not express in words. I want to write stories that explore the heart of a mystery and simultaneously discover mysteries that perhaps cannot be explained away.

Q: If you weren't a writer, what would you be?

A: It's a huge if, but I have often thought that in another place and time, I could have been a successful dancer. I grew up with country music and country music dances. I LOVED dancing, but the possibility of dancing as a career didn't occur to me until it would have been too late to train the instrument of the body to meet the challenges of the art.


What My Mother Says When She Speaks to Death

by Donnarkevic

Followed by Q&A

I am not afraid of anyone
who never bore children.
I carry pain
in my pockets like pennies
spent on candy at the movies:
Gable, Cooper, Flynn.

In the eyes of my family,
I flicker like the last picture show.
They expect me to go out
without a sound,
except maybe for a rattle.

But I will speak. My peace
will not rest in a box
like a recipe that vies to outlive me.
My body? Wormwood
on the tip of your tongue.
Like a communion wafer
or a piece of wedding cake,
I will dissolve,
and you will taste the sweet
with the bitter.
After sixty-one years of marriage,
Death, I will bury you.


The author writes narrative poetry, often reflecting people’s lives in hometown Ambridge, Pa., and adoptive home state of West Virginia.

Q: What is the genesis of this poem?
A: My mother has a rare terminal illness that slowly takes away her bodily functions. As she is unable to be understood when she speaks, I can only imagine the conversations she has.


Skipping Time—Part One

by Marc Harshman

followed by Q&A


You may think our lives are forever…
—Sandy Denny


One, two, buckle my shoes.
One, two, see the bay slide open, the hydrogen fumes glitter, the window approach
within and through which time disappear.
Three, four, knock at the door, 
Three, four, and for what did you come? All this and more? Nothing less? 
Something still? And was it, yes, peace in the end?
Five, six, pick up sticks.
Five, six, and now the thrust, the house on Maple lifting off, monsters and
angels awaiting you. How many dancers on the head of that pin? Count them,
slowly now, as if your life, as if life, as if this
nursery round can you bring you back.
Seven, eight, lay them straight.
Seven, eight, and now you Mary, or you, John, number them all your friends
dancing there on the hill, religion or not, can they not
gather here, and forget being straight or queer,
lovely is as lovely does:  eight, thirteen, twenty-one ….
Nine, ten, a big, fat hen.
Nine, ten, there and back again, searching every hedgerow, every cosmic glitch
and wormhole, every pulsing wave of ancient light – it’s all in the numbers
and the sweat a man or woman leaves to signature their having been here
and there
and back.
Eleven, twelve, dig and delve.
Eleven, twelve, yes, Adam did, and Eve span, and their numbers mounted ever since,
climbed the ladder to the stars, even eleven for the eleven who went to heaven.
And twelve? I’ll count my self, and delve, dig, search, keep track of the numbers,
the light-lit miles between here and there, between now and then,
between us both.
Thirteen, twenty-one, thirty-four, fifty-five, eighty-nine….
Jump rope skipping time.  



Marc Harshman’s eleven children’s books include The Storm, a Smithsonian Notable Book.  New titles are forthcoming from Eerdmans and Macmillan. His third chapbook of poems, Local Journeys, was published by Finishing Line. Periodical publication of poems in the U.S. include The Georgia Review, Wilderness, Southern Humanities Review, Shenandoah, 5 AM, and The Progressive.  His poems have been anthologized in publications by Kent State University, the University of Iowa, University of Georgia, and the University of Arizona. His prose poems and flash fiction have recently won awards from the Newport Review and Literal Latté and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


Q: What was the genesis of this poem?
A: “Skipping Time” is one of those happy accidents of a poem. Not really at all sure about its genesis other than that I was throwing words onto the page and they began to shape themselves around a very loose notion of remembered skipping rhymes overheard from my wife and daughter. From that the addition of numbers began nudging the poem forward. Otherwise, in subtle ways I don’t quite understand, one of Sandy Denny’s lovely songs, “Peace in the End,” was playing in my head, if not on the stereo. “Mary” and “John” are lifted from there, as well as the epigraph, if not other bits. And as if often the case when I have some other “art” pulsing strongly through my veins, bits of Sandy’s lyrics would pop into several poems over the case of several days and weeks.


How to Invest in the Stock Market

by Jay Rubin

Followed by Q&A

First, place a few fingers of one hand
On the inside wrist of the other
Count the blip-blip-blips of your beating heart
Measure your mood’s resiliency

Draw the back of one hand over your eyes
Knuckles across your brow: if dry, proceed
Place your trades; if damp, cash out
Breathe deep, relax, repeat…. 

Forget what the TV “experts” say
The market’s not a roller coaster ride
Ups and downs on paper graphs
Down in the pit, bulls and bears collide

Avoid caffeine, shun carbonated drinks
Go short when the others go long
Smoke if you must, but never inhale
Pocket chocolate for after the bell 

Tally your gains, your losses—your lost loves
That school-boy bully who beat you on the bus
Tighten the laces of your shoes, run a comb
Through the marginal part of your hair

When the bell rings tomorrow
Check your pulse: wipe your brow
There is no end to appetite



Jay Rubin teaches writing at The College of Alameda in the San Francisco Bay Area and publishes Alehouse, an all-poetry literary journal, at  He holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College and lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: Back in 2008, when the markets crashed for a second time in a decade, I watched friends berate themselves when their portfolios dropped 35%. It made me wonder why people spend so much of their time watching numbers on a computer screen. After I gave it a try myself, just to get a feel for it, I was hooked as well. Now I’m waiting for the next big crash to wipe out a third of my savings. At least I got a poem out of it.