Status Report 2

I’ve put up 8 “Flânerie” posts, each excerpting and referencing 7 short fictions: that’s 56 fiction writers. I even double-dipped the 7 stories from Flânerie 1,  citing each of them a second time in a Counteractuals post. All of those posts have been indexed by Google, which means they would show up if the stories’ authors google themselves. Based on the stat tracker attached to the site, maybe 3 or 4 of those writers have visited the site — a rate of less than 10 percent. None has responded to the invitation, posted at the upper right column of the site, to complete an online questionnaire. I conclude therefore, based on the empirical evidence, that the method I’ve adopted for making contact with fiction writers is not successful and will be discontinued forthwith.

What went wrong? In the first Status Report I observed that the newly published short stories I’ve read are rarely referenced on the Internet, so there’s not much reason for authors to google themselves and their stories. Are the authors disappointed by the apparent absence of reader response?

Back in Boulder a friend would take a weekly mountain hike with a literary scholar who’s evidently well regarded in the field. My friend gave me a copy of a recently published article in which this scholar evaluated the (ir)relevance of cognitive science research to narratology. Reading her article I found not just points of disagreement but probable errors and inconsistencies in her interpretations of the scientific literature she was citing. I wrote a fairly extended commentary and emailed it to my friend, who in turn emailed it to his friend. Her response: the article is already published, so there’s no need to respond to this critique.

Maybe fiction writers come to feel the same way about their work. Story writing is a competitive sport; the editors of literary magazines, inundated with far more material than they can publish, judge the competition. Being published is the prize awarded to the author for having won. In an arena where excellence is conflated with personal taste, getting a story published is one of the few tangible indicators of success. If your goal is to get published the only readers that really count are the litmag editors.

In scientific and scholarly circles, having an extensive CV of published articles can bring career rewards: academic jobs and promotions, grant money, possible entrepreneurial opportunities. Presumably it works the same way in fictional circles. Most of the litmags provide brief bios of the authors published in the current issue; those thumbnails typically list the authors’ most prestigious publications and prizes. Them that’s got shall get, as Billie Holliday sang. The magazines, seeking to enhance their own prestige and circulation, invite well-published writers to contribute pieces for publication, leaving the unknowns to battle it out for the leavings in the slush pile. The chosen few are able to buttress their proposals with their lists of pubs when it comes time to seek publication for their story compilations and novels.

Version 1 of Ficticities lamented the false promises of commercial fiction, with agents and publishers and editors and retailers making a living from the works of authors who do not. Writers of literary fiction are even less likely to make money from their work, the highbrow publishing houses being more limited than corporate for-profit publishers in their capacity to turn out new titles and to achieve widespread distribution to mass audiences. Maybe for the highbrow fictionalist the money isn’t in publishing but in teaching: get enough pubs in respected outlets and your applications for academic posts are more likely to be given a second look by the hiring committees.

Money or credit: that was the trade-off my fellow doctoral students and I were making. We could be off in industry making money; instead we were trying to achieve acknowledgment from the scientific community for making significant discoveries. Of course we also harbored expectations that credit would eventually be redeemable for money, money that would pay us to do even more creditable work — them that’s got shall get. And how would we know whether our work had made a significant contribution? If we got publication credit. The journals were the arbiters of scientific merit and the bellwethers pointing toward the future of the field. If our colleagues at other universities were discussing our work we wouldn’t know about it unless and until they cited us in their own published work, a time lag that could stretch into years. No, it was the pub that served as the token of credit.

Print journals, facing strict page restrictions, typically accept for publication only a fraction of submitted manuscripts. Journals, like universities, gain cachet by maintaining low acceptance rates, restricting access to their hallowed pages to the crème de la crème. Now change is afoot in scholarly publishing. Evaluating merit and importance is a judgment call, often resulting in wide inter-rater disagreements among reviewers of the same manuscripts. Journal editors often select from among equally meritorious articles the ones they believe to be most attractive to their readership, a decision criterion based more on popularity than excellence. Electronic publishing, facing no page limit restrictions and incurring no distribution costs,  eliminates the editorial selection bottleneck that artificially restricts supply, exacerbates competitive jockeying for position, and puts the journal publishers in control. Scientists would self-publish their work, making it freely and widely available to all. Peer review, rather than an anonymously rendered once-for-all verdict, becomes the basis for an ongoing public discussion of the published work, conducted online between authors and readers.

I don’t know whether a similar move is being considered with respect to the publication of short fictions. I would support such a move, which would correspond precisely with the Ficticities agenda. Put writers and readers in charge; make texts open access; eliminate the middlemen profit-takers. And we haven’t even gotten to the Ponzi scheme of graduate education in fiction writing, where students shell out big bucks in the scant hope of positioning themselvs on the receiving end of the money flow generated by the next generation of students.

But all of this is extrapolation and speculation, tincted with a hint of sour grapes. The gist of this status update is that the attempt to lure short story writers here to Ficticities is demonstrably unsuccessful. So I’m abandoning the effort and going back to the drawing board.


Counteractual as Motive in “We’re Good People”

Ordinarily I wouldn’t excerpt from this story. It’s resolutely rural, but that doesn’t rule it out: I’ve incorporated portions of other rural stories into my virtual flânerie through the fictional City. What would exclude it from consideration is that the litmag in which the story appears charges an admission fee. But this particular story is labeled “Feature Content,” which means that I get to read it for free online. It’s the only story I read yesterday, which is maybe why it has continued to resonate with me: in reading it I regarded it as the last online published story I would read for the foreseeable future, its cadences sounding the death knell for this particular incarnation of Ficticities.

The story appears in The Arkansas Quarterly: A Journal of Delta Studies. Although it’s called a quarterly, this journal comes out three times a year. It deals exclusively in content that “focuses on the seven states of the Mississippi River Delta, from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico… that evokes or responds to the Delta cultural and natural experience.” The current issue is Volume 48, Number 3 of the “quarterly,” so clearly it’s got some staying power. The Table of Contents notes parenthetically that the journal was formerly called the Kansas Quarterly: I’m guessing that back then it didn’t focus on Delta studies. The issue’s feature article, “We’re Good People,” is authored by one Shawn Faulkner, which would seem to give the story prima facie cred as a Delta story. I googled Shawn but couldn’t uncover his provenance. The story, though, takes place in… well, all right, let’s get to it: the counteractuals.

The events recounted in the story take place in a landscape that’s been cold so long it’s frozen solid. If I didn’t know it was a “Delta study” I’d hazard a guess that the story unfolds somewhere farther upstream in the Mississippi basin: Iowa, say, or Minnesota.

I stood and leaned my shotgun against a tree then squatted down on my heels the way old farmers did in the Bootheel when I was a kid.

The Bootheel is the lower right corner of Missouri, bordering Arkansas on the south and edging the River on the east. I suppose it’s possible that winters can get that cold down there in the Ozarks, but the author is showing us some strange times in a strange region of the Delta. It’s going to be a cold story.

There were several holes in the girl’s chest and stomach. The holes were rimmed with red. I figured they were bullet holes. I had never seen one in a human body, but they were fairly self-explanatory.

Self-explanatory? The narrator never expresses the slightest curiosity about this murder, other than to note that the girl has been stripped of pants and panties. The corpse is a given, a raw fact, like the quail he’s just shot while out hunting by the creek.

Her eyelids were open and her eyes, both of them, were blue, and for a moment they made me think of the ocean, and for a moment I thought of God, then I stopped thinking of him.

Here the narrator slips out of the actual present, not into imagined pasts of motives and suspects, but into alternative counteractual presents: the ocean, the presence of God. First he thinks about the ocean, then about God; he stops thinking of God, but not of the ocean.

The narrator, Billy, is married to Kate; they have a young daughter named Mary. Leaving the dead birds with Kate, Billy stops by Mary’s bedroom.

I could hear her breathing plenty loud, and it wasn’t a good sound. But there was nothing I could do about it. She had cancer, the kind that gets down in the bones and grows out from there. She’d always had it. She’d lived longer than the doctors said she would. She was a fighter, they said, but now she was going to die. She wanted to see the ocean before she did.

Mary is going to die, with certainty and soon. Mary wants to see the ocean — a last wish directed toward an imagined future that’s rapidly shrinking down to an actual nothing.

“She’s tough,” Katy said then burst out so hard that she started coughing all over the frying pan. “And she ain’t never going to see that ocean.”

Katy’s got a temporary job lined up, helping a friend clean out a mansion.

“Said she would give me fifty bucks.”
“Ain’t peanuts.”
“Will buy milk.”
“I guess we won’t have to worry about not having enough money for medicine. She ain’t going to need it anymore.”
“My God, Billy.”
Kate leaned into my chest.
“We never imagined it like this, did we?” I asked.
“Never in a million years. You’ve had such bad luck.”

Mary calls out, says she’s cold; Billy goes to her.

I picked her up. She was nothing more than a bag of bones and a soul. I carried her into the living room and sat with her on my lap. We listened to the radio. She had no hair. Her eyes were blue.
“I hurt, daddy. I hurt from down deep.”
“I know you do, baby.”
“Guess what, daddy?”
“I don’t want to see the ocean no more.”
You don’t?”
“No, Daddy, I think seeing it in pictures is enough.”
She fell asleep in my arms. That was her way of letting me off because she knew I wasn’t good for it, and like any kid worth their weight, she didn’t want her old man to feel bad about it.

Only now does Billy tell Katy about finding the dead girl. Katy asks why he didn’t say anything before; Billy says he’s been thinking about it.

“You get up and go right now and tell Mr. Ludwick where she is. He needs to know, as bad as it will be. And the cops and everyone else.”
I didn’t move. Katy piled the clothes on the bed.
“Katy,” I said.
“Well, get going.”
“Listen to me. I had this thought.”
And that was when I told her.
“Oh, no, Billy. Oh, no,” she said when I was done.
“She’s already dead, Katy. Ain’t nothing we can do to bring her back.”
“Billy. It ain’t right. You know it ain’t right. And even if it was, how would we do it?”

We’ve got a situation, and now we’ve got a motive, predicated neither on revenge for some past injury nor on some irresistible present urge but on an imagined future, a seeming impossibility that suddenly, improbably, has become possible.

Flânerie 8


He passes the carousel, the inflatables, the Fun House.  When the
base of the Ferris wheel comes into view, he’s surprised at the sight of
unfamiliar men by one of the tower supports, starting to break it down
with their own equipment.
He jolts into an unsteady run.  Ferris wheel thieves are something
he’s never considered.  1


They summit the clear plastic cup that holds the remnants of my milk tea, steadily growing in numbers and alarm. More and more keep coming — I cannot possibly guess from where — they seem to be produced by the very grass. Several willful ants stray from the cup and try to obtain me for the colony.  They are crawling on my bare feet, up my pant legs, through the wild reeds of my hair, some even cross the path of my pen on these pages — they are trying to keep me from writing this.  2

Photo Albums

Close-ups were replaced by Closer-ups: single feature shots. Photographers trained cameras on feet, knees, noses, shoulders, and hands. They dismantled babies frame by frame and then gave the pieces back to mothers who studied the remarkable detail. “Look! Her third toe is the longest of the bunch!” a mother pointed out. Upon hearing such exclamations, photographers wondered if mothers looked at their children at all except in photographs.
Then came the Even Closer-ups: eyelashes, a dimple, a mole, nostril shadows. Again, mothers and photographers lost babies in the pictures. This time they were right in front of the lens but completely absent in the final JPEG files of veins and hair follicles.  3


The priest lifted the silver cross from my forehead and touched it to his lips. He said the demon was gone but a monster remained. I spat blood in his face, accusing him of fake news, of failure to move on. He said if I loved my family, I’d get as far away from them as possible.
Afterwards, I tried to act normal but my wife refused to leave me alone with our daughters. A fortnight passed before I was allowed back in our bedroom and even then she wouldn’t let me see her naked, saying the way I looked at her made her uncomfortable. While she slept, I kissed the back of her neck where it curves into her shoulder and remembered the promises we made to each other on our wedding day. Then I licked my lips to savour the salty-sweet taste of her skin.
The night I bit her she said I had to go.  4

But the stage down in theatre’s heart was a sea-pool and the failing light made distances fluid so that Zoe thought she only had to reach out a hand, for her fingers to dip beneath mysteries, to decant shadows and show her … what? Faces? The curve of a cheek or an unbending arm? Stones and bones and sorrow, or perhaps an imprint left by old joy?
Her fingers wrapped themselves into mazes in her lap and Zoe breathed in time with the wind. It was not so much fear holding her in its grip, as a sense of falling.
‘You came back.’  5

Lawn Service

Townie boys with bamboo rakes scraped Hawthorne’s grassy common clean. Working for someone’s Uncle Ricco, saving up for a used Mustang to drag race till Uncle Sam dragged them off to fight in bamboo jungles. They’d whistle as you crossed their path, precisely because you were unattainable in the way that girls at a private boarding school were unattainable, like fur coats, soft and desirable but costing too much. 6


Though I’d never been more than passable as a clarinetist, I did have one skill: I can take in an entire score at once, visually, and hear the piece in my head. During undergrad, my friends would come to me the night before projects were due because I could tell with one glance whether a note was off in their counterpoint or whether there was too much going on in the brass.  7


Tom Gresham, “The Heir”

Megan Jacobs, “The Ants”

Lindsey Harding, “A Brief History of Baby Pictures”

Christopher Stanley, “Oymyakon”

Lorraine Wilson, “We Have Always Been Here”

Judith Kessler, “Falling Season”

Kelly Luce, “Two of Swords Counterpoint”

Photo source

Status Report 1

Ficticities version 2 has been up and running for 9 days; here’s how it’s going so far.

Short Fiction Readings

I’ve found, read, excerpted, linked, and posted 7 short fictions on 7 different days — those aggregated excerpt posts are titled Flânerie 1 through 7. In my readings I’ve selected recently published pieces more or less randomly from 49 different online open-access literary magazines. I’ve read each piece in its entirely, selecting excerpts I found particularly compelling and that could be adapted to fit the central conceit of a stroll through a fictional City.

Nearly all of the pieces I’ve read are very good; a few I’ve found striking, memorable. Most of the short fictions are clearly framed as stories and, while there’s pretty wide cultural and geographic diversity represented across the collection, most of the stories share the same basic premise: a central character is dealing with a minor crisis arising in some aspect of contemporary life. The fictions that aren’t stories tend to be the ones that stand out in my memory, which isn’t surprising since the non-storied  imaginary is what I was hoping to come across. I’ve also been struck by stories that aren’t so resolutely focused on the people, as well as stories set in the distant past or distant future. If I were to keep reading short fictions at this pace for a few more weeks I’d probably be able to start assigning them to categories — no doubt the first readers and editors of these literary magazines, exposed as they are to perhaps hundreds of submissions per week, become adept at sorting them into piles without even reading more than a paragraph or two.

Outreach To Authors: Click-Throughs

Version 1 of this site made an extended case for fiction writers organizing themselves into e-book publishing houses; Ficticities Version 2 is predicated on exploring the feasibility and desirability of moving forward with this hypothetical scheme. Writers who publish in open-access litmags should be in an excellent position to evaluate the attractiveness of a collaborative publishing scheme. The expectation is that, in googling themselves and seeing that their pieces have been cited here, fiction writers would click in to Ficticities and participate in online surveys designed to explore their views on the writers’ syndicate idea.

Google’s indexing of blog posts isn’t instantaneous. How long is the time lag? I’ve been keeping track: it turns out that it takes 5 days for Google to index content from a new Ficticities post. That’s not particularly problematic in the long run; in the short run it is more difficult to evaluate the pull-through from posts to authorial visits. On a daily basis WordPress shows how many people have visited the Ficticities site and which posts they’ve looked at. As of yesterday 3 of the Flâneries posts had been indexed by Google. A self-googling author coming here to see what’s up would click in on the specific Flânerie post on which he or she was cited. Of the 21 authors specifically cited in those first 3 Flânerie posts, 3 authors, or perhaps 4, have clicked in to Ficticities. It’s a small sample size to be sure, but so far the click-through rate is under 20 percent. The rate might increase as the days go by, but those actual 3 or 4 click-throughs all happened within 24 hours of Google’s first indexing the posts being visited — which makes sense if the authors have a standing order placed with Google to notify them of any mentions of their names and publications.

What about the rest of the authors — don’t they google themselves? As I’ve tracked the authors cited in the Ficticities posts I’ve discovered that it’s very rare for anyone other than the magazine publisher to cite these published short fictions. It’s conceivable that the authors are aware of the public obscurity into which their works are launched, and so they don’t even bother tracking themselves on Google.

Input From Authors: Surveys

At the top of the right column on every Ficticities page and post an invitation is issued to writers to complete a short online survey. Of the 3 or possibly 4 cited fiction writers who have clicked in to the website, how many have completed the first survey? None. So far there have been 2 responses to the first survey, one of which came from me, the other from someone who showed up on-site before the first Flânerie posts were indexed by Google. Granted, only 3 or 4 authors have shown up in total, but still: a zero response rate? Is it because the visitors didn’t notice the invitation, or did they prefer not to participate, or did they find the questions boring? I don’t know.

Next Steps

I’m going to keep at it for at least another week, reading and excerpting short fictions pretty much every day. Within the next few days I’ll put up a second questionnaire, featuring questions more aggressively geared toward the writers’ syndicate scheme, to see if the response rate goes up. But at this point I’m not optimistic about Ficticities Version 2 as a means of exploring the writers’ publishing house idea. Let’s see how things are looking by next Friday.

Meanwhile if you’ve got any thoughts about it please leave a comment on this post or send me an email (



Flânerie 7

Living Room

The stack of Pincos’s clothes were on the coffee table where Kay had put them. Kay lay down on the unruffled couch next to it, his head and ankles propped on the armrests. He folded his hands over his stomach. I could fall asleep, Kay thought. I won’t show up to class tomorrow. My students would chat for ten, fifteen minutes, then go home. The thought made Kay want to be there to see it, to hear their words and frustration. One student might remain throughout the class period, scribbling. Probably someone who isn’t always there, isn’t always on time. Someone who isn’t interested in learning to speak his or her mind in a new language.  1

“Theo smelled like you the other night.”
“What?” Pen is dumping the contents of her purse out onto the ground.
“Your perfume. Theo smelled like your perfume the other night.”
“Ack!” She pulls the single key from her skirt pocket. “Forgot I put it there,” she laughs, gathering all of her lipsticks, pennies, and tissues, and placing them back into her sack of a purse.
“Penelope, did you sleep with my husband?” I stand on the last item, a stuffed cow keychain she likes but won’t attach to her key.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Phoebe?” She looks up at me, but then turns to the cow underneath my foot. I push my boot down a little harder.
“He smelled like your perfume.”
“So you automatically assume he slept with me? You think I am the only woman who buys that perfume?”
“You are definitely one of a very few,” I retort. She pushes my boot with her fist, and pulls at the poor cow. It’s head tears off.  2


Named for Saddam’s favorite animal, the original plans called for tigers to roam the grounds and swim in the pool. Through a Chinese connection two tigers were flown in from the Shanghai Zoo. In the intense desert heat, their fur became patchy. They did nothing but sleep in the shade all day. They ate very little. Saddam was furious with his resident zoologist. He wanted powerful prowling tigers that would slink around the palace, eyes aglow, their claws clattering against the marble floor. But their skin draped off their bones like oversized mink coats. When the tigers died, the zoologist was driven out to the middle of the desert to suffer a fate similar to that of his erstwhile charges. For lack of having real-life tigers, Saddam had the palace decorated with full-size stuffed tigers, tiger hides, tiger teeth, tiger claws, tiger paintings, striped bed sheets and striped sofa covers. With the death of the tigers, the novelty of the tiger palace wore thin on Saddam, who visited it less and less. For his birthday, the Baghdad Zoo gifted their last remaining tiger to him. He appreciated the gesture but returned the animal.  3


What you wished and finally became true is dream, whereas what you never wished but eventually happened is destiny. During the passing of age and the turning of life, many years later, we raise our heads and here you are, again in front of us.  4

Used Car Lot

Once, Charlie had asked Laura what she’d do—if failure were impossible and money were no object ( and maybe if they’d saved the dope money…) And Laura had thought and thought. Finally she’d laughed and said, “I’d own a used-car dealership.”
Charlie had grinned. “Good money in that. I’ll do repairs for you. I’ll put on my best sharkskin suit and sell lots of cars for you.” They were sipping grape soda and taking turns running the bottle on their hot, summery skin.  It was Thursday, Mexican night, a dollar bag of tortilla chips and a fifty cent can of salsa.
“I don’t want to sell the cars, Charlie,” Laura had said, blushing. “I just want to drive them.”  5


Friends will make fun of you in the school parking lot. After a while, they will come to accept the things you say. At worst, they may blush and look away.
Friends will encourage you to down shots of Jägermeister and cultivate crushes.
Friends will say, isn’t so and so soooooooooooo cute, and I think he likes you.
Friends will say you’re lucky when a senior linebacker invites you to prom.
Friends will say you’re psycho when you turn down the senior for a circus-tent magic show.
But you will know better.
Aren’t you the one who wants to be a trapeze artist?
Aren’t you the one who wakes up with feathers stiff around your shoulder blades?
You are.
Yes, you are the one who ties herself to the headboard so that the girl with wings can’t do anything crazy. Like maybe fly the fuck away.  6


I bought those photographs – the entire album – for 70 euros at Place du Jeu de Balle in Brussels. Roma always said I didn’t know the value of money, and he was probably right. I don’t like flea markets; I prefer new, nice stuff. Roma’s the complete opposite, though. It was his fault that I spent my only free morning in Brussels at Jeu de Balle. It was dirty; there were nasty old people and tourists snooping through boxes of used dishes and books, shabby clothes hanging in the sun – when I was a kid, my family threw such rags away. No one even considered donating them to the poor. There was so much fur there for some reason, moth-eaten fox skins with empty eye sockets – it’s beyond me why the heck anyone would sew such a thing on their coat. All that junk was dearly priced: vendors, mostly old men, pretended they didn’t speak English, so market-goers, mostly people visiting the city, ultimately had to pay the asking price.  7


Jae Kim, “The Sloping Lawn”

Tiffany Jimenez, “What the Window Showed Me”

Dan Moreau, “The Palaces of Saddam Hussein”

Sieghard Jiang, “Years Later”

Kate Berrien, “Love (But No Money)”

Alina Stefanescu, “If You Want to Be a Trapeze Artist”

Kateryna Babkina, “Happy Naked People”


Flânerie 6

Test Kitchen

“So what would you create using Merguez?”
He glanced at her and then looked away. “Merguez?” he repeated.
“Yes, how would the Futurists cook a Merguez?”
“The Futurists?” he said with a grin. “I think they would prop one upright in a cup of cafe au lait with anchovy stuffed dates scattered around the edges and spray the plate with cologne.”
“Cologne,” she repeated.
“We could use your Samsara,” he suggested with another crooked grin. “We would work in the scent of the crushed rose petals.”  1


But this flirt alert also comes with a Code Orange blurt alert. From Sunday, December 3 until the 22nd, messenger Mercury flips retrograde, also in Sagittarius and your communication sector. This double-whammy could mess with your gift of gab and throw you off your social media game.xiv

xivThis might be urging us not to mention our budding obsession Kathryn the vet-tech to any of our few remaining platonic pals. We will attempt to hold out on doing this not simply to obey but because we have a proven track record of mentioning possible future desired realities only to have them dissipate or, rather, never come to any kind of fruition only to then be tasked with explaining ourselves. Thankfully, however, we are without a social media game that could be thrown off by any of our actions. Having a social media game would be an example of being too close.  2


The bedroom ceiling is ridiculous. Frank’s grandma had the moldings put in when she bought it in the fifties. There is a crown of roses around the lightbulb, and a crown of roses around that. Garlands float out to the corners and drift down the walls. My bridesmaids drift out to the corners of a golden swimming pool. I float between the four of them and we dip and turn as one. Dip, dip, turn. I dip better than Hayden. The water ripples around me. I am bright like a flower and it is sunny and we are all being filmed from above. There is a crown of roses around my veil and a crown of roses around that.  3

Missing Person

I write about my day and post it on a forum. The thread gets more replies than anything I’ve ever written. Most people don’t believe me. They don’t understand how I could not have childhood photos. They say the police would have disclosed more information, that a DNA test takes two to three weeks. They demand to know more about my mother. They destroy her with words. They call me a liar, unloved, and tell me I should kill myself.  4


She photographed Harlem at its lowest, its burned-out shell: the vials on the playground, buildings on fire, pregnant junkies nodding off on park benches—she took a picture of my friend Kenneth Rudolph after he’d been electrocuted. He’d been trying to tap into a power line because his lights had been cut. Estelle took a lot of heat for that. No pun.
After that she went back to self-portraits: Estelle’s Track Marks, 1984. Estelle with John, 1985. Estelle begs for Change, 1986. She didn’t have a story to tell so she started using, and retold a familiar one.  5


“I want to go to college so I can get a good job in a hotel. If I can get a good job in Phnom Penh, then I can have my own apartment. And with the rest of the money, I can help my parents.” She dispenses all the information with a cheery demeanor.
I have more questions, and she fills me in on the details of her life. “And Saran, may I ask, do you ever go to the Khmer Rouge memorial next door? Do you know what happened in that time?”
“No, that’s the past. I’m very young” she chirps brightly.
“Do they teach you about it in school?”
“Not really. Only a little.”
“What do they say?”
“It’s Vietnam’s fault. They did everything. And China.”  6


The Renaissance Face is not easy. Brenda has to picture the beautiful girls from Art History, both in the paintings and the ones who chewed on their sorority pens. Brenda is not, by default, cherubic. To get the Ren Face, she looks at the track lighting, imagining an angel looking down, draped among the twenty-watt bulbs in linen banners, pushing aside a feathery cloud to see Brenda’s—no, Belloza’s—Brenda is not a Renaissance name—glowing face. Thirty seconds. Brenda pushes a bit of fear, a bit of worry, and a lot of holiness into her face. The Ren Face is not much of anything but manically peaceful: beatific. The Ren Face goes with everything because it manages to look a little sexy, a little depressed, and a lot vulnerable. The Ren Face alone should guarantee martyrdom, if sustained for a minute. Sixty seconds.  7


Karen Cantrell, “The Deconstruction”

Joseph Goosey, “Week One of Our Asserted Future, Annotated”

Nina Ellis, “Texas Is Not a Desert”

Hal Walling, “You Haven’t Won Anything Yet”

Maisy Card, “Estelle’s Black Eye”

Mark Knego, “No One Remembers the Khmer Rouge”

Diana Smith Bolton, “Tuesday Night Figure Drawing at the Community Center”

Photo source


Flânerie 5


Frumpy jewelry. The bitter taste of yesterday’s lipstick. Thinning mascara accentuating the bags under my eyes. Mottled foundation. Amalgamation of artifices. An aerosol cloud of faded perfume. Dehydration. Old coffee in a styrofoam cup. Ashtray palette. The tart smell of saliva and the proliferation of bacteria between my gums and teeth. A tingling pocket of halitosis sealed inside the prison of my scorched mouth by weary jaws. Misfiring axons hanging from fried dendrites like defective dreamcatchers.  1


Once all the smell of burned hair was gone, the meat started releasing a pleasant smell of carne asada, which made some of the witnesses hungry. But after a while the smell of burned meat scared the few remaining spectators. For a few hours, Doña Matilde poked with a stick the carcass to make sure everything burned. When only the ashes and some of the larger bones remained, she swept them into a pile. A few months ago someone gave her a black garbage bag. Doña Matilde didn’t remember who, because she didn’t care. She was saving it for a special occasion, since it was thicker than any other bag she ever owned. With her hands, she carefully placed the bones and the ashes into the black plastic bag. After methodically collecting everything, Doña Matilde carried the black bag as if it were a baby, and placed it next to her bed. That night, for the first time in decades, Doña Matilde slept deeply with the notion that she wasn’t alone in her home any more.  2


“You aimin’ to do the work of a man, yet you thank you cain act like a child right now. Let me get you in on a secret, you ain’t never goin’ to feel better after takin’ a revenge.’
“You might not, but I will.”
“You thank you hate him right?”
“I know I hate him.”
“You ain’t even old ‘nuff to know the true hate. Child’s hate ain’t nothin’ close to real hate.”
“How do you know? You ain’t me. You don’t know what I’m feeling, if it’s real or not. All you got is your opinion.”
“I got an opinion backed by forty years’ experience you lil’ jackass. You got one that’s barely even left the womb.”  3


David stared out at the Basin spring watching the stream meet a boulder, split, and then merge on the other side. The waves smacked against the high bank. The rippling water shadowed David. He shivered as a wind gust slapped him. The tree he was standing under began to creak as though something was weighing on it. David looked up and cringed, frightened by what he saw. He could see the spirit that had invaded him. Its body hung right above him from the gnarled tree branch swaying, then, as the wind died down, slowed and turned and faced in his direction. It was Jonathan’s father Benjamin. He began dropping pieces of his life in front of David.  4


Later, Rich will miss the hotel’s starched bed sheets, the balcony from which he admired a strip of ocean, the bright oriel window, the paper delivered to his door, the stiff melon triangles arranged beside his morning coffee, the breakfast cart wheeled to the end of the bed, sheets flung over the footboard during a fitful night’s sleep, newspaper well-leafed under another cup of coffee—he will miss these luxuries, but not enough to return to them. There will be a time in Rich’s life when he will only dimly remember the name of the hotel, the month in which he stayed, the events of his life that surrounded his trip. He will revisit this city, certainly, but never the hotel itself. The hotel will host numerous visitors for decades after Rich’s trip, but, like many beachfront properties, one day close its doors to the encroaching sea, beach diminishing until dark waves lap at the hotel walls, the flooded city just another part of the ocean’s continental shelf.  5


We’re going up, up, up.
We don’t have enough momentum to go anywhere. Not really. This — wherever this is — it’ll lose its hold on us. Soon enough. But with bolts of light under my feet, with Jordan still here, and with enough fuel to stay suspended for however long, we’re not going anywhere.
Not for a while.
The Beyond can wait.  6


The most reassuring forms of animal locomotion belong to the symmetrically four-legged. Dogs, horses, and sheep hit the ground with each hoof or paw in a prescribed rhythm, either in pairs front back or the opposed corners. Their gaits can be classified ambling, loping, cantering and so on, a nomenclature related to the pattern of foot fall and the height and force of impact, resulting in speed or slowness, hurry or relaxed moving around the earth. When this kind of four-legged animal comes to a stop, its feet stand planted like a desk or a dresser. Both the motion and cease of motion of these animals we most keep near us assure us of order and domesticity.  7


Oliver Lodge, “Autopilot”

byroN José Sun, “Nudo de la Soledad”

Timothy Urban, “Before the Diner”

Allen M. Price, “Needles of Pine”

Erinrose Mager, “Moorish Architecture”

Nick Gregorio, “The Beyond”

Angela Woodward, “Prose Suite, from Declarations and Observations

Photo credit