Daniel Crocker

South 55

It's like it always is
everything looks the same
especially in Arkansas

She said she'd follow me to
hell, but through this land
where everything is yellow

This is mud
This is dead country
This is a wife pregnant with spiders

You call and
ask where I'm at
I once laid a red headed
bartender at the Peabody
but I don't tell you that

It was good

Coming from Nashville
you want to meet at
such and such an exit

and like always
I do

You touch my hand
at the Waffle House
before handing me
my ticket
your mouth is dry
a crushed diamond

I know your skin
the spiral of
freckles on your left shoulder

If it killed me
I didn't notice

You want me to follow you home
but I'm not going home

I can see you smiling
in mirrored glasses
several states behind me

If I can't think of
anything pretty to say
about it
I'm sorry

and two days later
we're lying in bed
me and Mississippi
too afraid to touch
we open the window
watch the thunder storm
until the whole damn state
falls asleep
I listen to the breathing
your breathing
the awning outside
looks like a bear
in the dark

If it killed
I've always been
a miracle at forgetting

even in this dark country
even in this year of cancer
even with all of this
I come back, Mississippi.

Daniel Crocker teaches at St. Louis Community College. His newest collection of poetry, Like a Fish, will be available from Sundress Publications in October of 2011.


Chad McCaa

Love at a Party

I’m working a thirtieth anniversary party, bartending again. The DJ plays mostly oldies. The Casinos are on.

The anniversary couple wears laurel wreaths on their heads. They dance stiffly inside a flimsy circle of partygoers, smiling at each other. The song changes to “Love is A Drug” and the guests give a collective whoop and slap each other on the backs. Women hang on men and everyone does little dances. On the upward parts of the melody, I think of my empty house.

The party dwindles and I watch faces as people hug each other and make long goodbyes. The variety in faces is enough to keep one occupied for long stretches: the small wrinkles in lips, the determination of eyebrows and the thrill of large teeth, the small freckles on this woman’s forehead and the ring of gold in this one’s eyes, a man with the face of a Franciscan monk, another a gunslinger. Faces contain intimate knowledge, secret hates and loves, if you pay attention. I have known murderers by their face alone. One communicates one’s true self entirely without speaking. No one can lie.

There are still some young people here, twenty couples or so, drinking heavily. I smile and make drinks robotically, counting my movements: arm down to scoop ice, up to pour, insert straw. When people look me in the eye, I show them that this is only a temporary job.

Then, the girl comes.

Will you keep my purse back there? she says. But her face says, won’t you take me forever, bartender? Won’t you take me to your empty house? We can love each other. We can find out what we really are.

Wordlessly, I tell her yes. I tell her that things are changing at this very moment, that something is happening at this party.

She walks away, looking at me over her shoulder. She winks. I can’t help myself. I leap over the bar and run to her. I grab her shoulders and turn her towards me. You know me, I say with every small frantic movement of my eyes, every blood cell in my cheeks. I kiss her.

Suddenly, I’m being grabbed around the collar. I’m punched and kicked. Falling hard on the floor, I look up, see a young man standing over me. His face is futuristic, a space-craft pilot’s face, handsome and dark and bold as bullets.

That’s my fiancée bud, he says. Who the hell are you?

I wipe blood from my lip. I’m the bartender, I say.

Who? he says.

She’s mine, I say, struggling to my feet. She told me. The music has stopped.

You’re crazy, he says, balling his fist. I’ve loved her for years.

It’s a lie, I say. I’m sorry, but I know these things. He sneers and pushes me back to the floor.

You think love ain’t real? he says. Is that it? He punches me again and again.

I don’t speak, but I try to show him, as I feel my teeth crack and my nose break, that I know for sure it is.

Chad McCaa (last names rhymes with "obey") lives in Port Gibson, MS. He studied fiction at The Center For Writers at USM. He has published next to nothing, but stays up late, working on it. Check out "All Day Long Blues," a series of short videos documenting the rural South, forthcoming in November on Youtube and elsewhere. Hopefully.


Andrea Kneeland

Love Hotel

“Oh-tay-ah-rye wa,” she says, “doe-koh dess kah.” She clicks on the link, listens again, repeats. When she takes her headphones off, she can hear the man in the next apartment, still having sex, still loudly, with his hugely pregnant girlfriend. She puts the headphones back on and practices some more. “Oh-tay-ah-rye wa.”

She is going to Japan this year. Her suitcase is already packed, stored just next to her front door. She will attend a sumo tournament. She will visit Tokyo Disney. She will eat ramen every day. She will stay in a love hotel.

She is fascinated by the love hotels. She stops practicing and listens to Rachmaninoff while she browses through room themes: alien abduction; Paleolithic era; Hello Kitty s&m; prison ward; chapel; elementary school; ancient Egypt. She clicks on “boxing ring.”

She was not at all interested in Japan before she met Hyde. Even when she was with Hyde, listening to him talk about Japan incessantly, she was not interested.

She didn’t really like classical music, either.

But after their most recent break-up, which really does seem to be their final break-up, after she threw that plate at his face and it broke against his arm, resulting in twelve stitches, after their screaming match in the hospital room and after he told her that if they stayed together, he would really and truly kill himself. After all that, she started becoming more interested.

She’d thrown away every physical piece of himself that he’d left behind: all of his clothes, his DVDs, his protein drinks, even her own sheets that they had lain on together. But she hadn’t cleared her browser history. It was still filled with 30 second clips of Japanese pornography – mostly girls who looked no older than twelve being caned by masked men in three-piece suits. And a Pandora station filled with Rachmaninoff; Schuman; Liszt; Mozart.

She curls fetal on her side and removes her headphones, puts the laptop on the floor. Her neighbor and his girlfriend continue to scream like crazy people. She wishes she was young and stupid enough to simply obliterate herself, to dress up like a schoolgirl and let men beat her for money, to destroy herself swiftly and decisively.

But she is not young enough anymore; she is almost thirty-five. Her life options are becoming more and more closed off. She sees a great blackness ahead of her, a great tunnel of it, closing away to an ever-narrowing center. She can only destroy herself slowly and deliberately. Obliteration will take forever.

She has never cared about anything. She still doesn’t, but this, right now, is something to do. She imagines checking into a love hotel alone, spreading herself out on the bed, impaling herself with plastic sex objects from the vending machine, Ravel blasting from the hotel speakers, sending videos of herself to Hyde. She imagines how much he hates her, imagines him associating that hate with the things that he loves.

Andrea Kneeland's first book, the Birds & the Beasts, is forthcoming from Cow Heavy Books. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently Wonderfort, Camroc Press Review, Gigantic, Barrelhouse, Vinyl Poetry, FRiGG and mud luscious press. She is a web editor for Hobart.


Jacob S. Knabb


I have never been able to describe the way my father’s voice sounded with his nose full of blood as cars passed us on the interstate. I was just tall enough to see my reflection in his belt buckle. I remember being in the dirt on the side of I-65 and watching him crouch to get a closer look at the new dents in our overturned Studebaker, the rear wheel spinning slowly to a stop above us. He ran his fingers over the crumpled quarter-panel and said he was leaving us soon. He wiped blood from his nose with the back of his hand and told me an accident is something that can't happen. To my mother and to him. To me. Someone who has never been in your life—somebody who is the main character in their story too—can come along and hurt you. Just like someone had hurt our Studebaker. And maybe they didn’t even see you until the last minute. And maybe you had been waiting for them all along.

Jacob S. Knabb is the Editor-in-Chief of Another Chicago Magazine, the host of the literary variety show "So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel?", and a part-time photographer. He is a graduate of the Purdue Creative Writing Program and teaches composition at University of Illinois Chicago. His current obsession is composing a novel one line a day over at Twitter (which you can follow at!/lineadaydiary).


T.A. Noonan

Opticks // Covergirl

In a very dark Chamber, Newton records a round Hole,

the Shut of a Window, a stick in the prism’s surface.

This is where to keep the mouth. Inside, behind teeth.

No voices of blackwood, of Africa, of left-handed

Fender or clarinet. Nothing escapes. But more than mouths,

he worries about patellae. They float, you see;

bones shouldn’t float. Is not Light a Body to be kept

in perspective? It is, after all, a house of order —

architecture in Holga filters, in bilateral, radial,

helical symmetries. Everyone is a shut-in here.

I am not welcome with my repetitions. My opaque

lack. Only white metalline Bodies need apply. He sees

through my locked jaw. That tendon connecting

tongue to cleft to cervical spine. Somewhere,

a Polaroid shudders at the thought of latex.

T.A. Noonan is the author of The Bone Folders (Sundress Publications), Petticoat Government (Gold Wake Press), Darjeeling (Ahadada Books), and Balm (Flaming Giblet Press). Her work has appeared in Ninth LetterVerse DailyPhoebeRHINOspecsHarpur PalateSuperstition Review, and many others. Currently, she lives on Florida's Treasure Coast with her husband.


Rachel Yoder

We Didn't

In February, love month, cold month of snow-cased love, we didn’t. Not in the bed, nor on the couch. We didn’t standing up, in the stand-up shower, or sitting down, in the sit-down tub. We didn’t late at night, as the TV played on the mirrored wall. Didn’t in the morning, when no-colored light sat on the windowsill. We didn’t even as our bodies, invisible and warm, rested beneath the feather duvet. Those days, those nights, it felt as though we moved within the carcass of a great animal, a maroon cavern so large we could not comprehend—and we didn’t, not even in that sweet-blooded darkness, we did not.
He thought we shouldn’t and so we didn’t. We didn’t because we wanted it too much. Didn’t because we already had too much. Didn’t because doing it was how we had once called forth dark waves. I still remember the tide of rushing horses, their frothed manes, how they rode in and rose quickly, how their wet bodies moved and spilled. They screamed horribly but were so beautiful, so soft to touch. 
We boarded a plane to Florida because we longed to be who we were not.  We touched each other’s hair. We shrugged off our heavy clothes. We rode in the back seat of a black sedan to Naples, and the carpeting in The Ritz was older than I had imagined it would be. The bar had colored bottles and people were laughing and smoking, tilting drinks, coldness on the insides of their throats, leaning in with their legs crossed and uncrossed. They talked and their words became layers of sound. They were real live people. This seemed so strange to me.  He curved his arm around my shoulder as we passed through.
Don’t look at them, he said. Just don’t look.
We didn’t in the stiff white sheets, didn’t on the balcony, didn’t even though his father was paying for the whole thing, the flights and the hotel, but we didn’t care, and we didn’t. We didn’t do it as ants crawled up and down the legs of bedside tables. Didn’t do it as the sway-backed tide slid toward night.  
We didn’t later, in the hot tub, lit from beneath. Didn’t as the water moved in our faces. Didn’t as we spoke of doing it, as we spoke of our love, as we imagined we would speak of that very moment after years. We didn’t together, but he did alone, in the warm water. It was salty and smelled of chlorine. I watched his face as he did it, memorized shadows and the shape of his skin. The palms. The darkness. The cots by the pool. The metal fence. The dark spots on the concrete. We weren’t unhappy.  We were something worse, a black-and-white photograph of the first sunset you’ve ever seen.

Rachel Yoder edits draft: the journal of process, a publication which features stories, early drafts, and interviews with the author ( Her writing has appeared most recently in The Collagist, The Sun Magazine, The Rumpus Women Anthology (Paper Internets, 2010), and is forthcoming in YOU: An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press, 2011). She lives in Iowa City and teaches creative writing in the community. For more info visit


Elizabeth Ellen


In the museum she was careful not to think of the man once. On the third floor she became separated from her party and stood a long time before a small black and white photograph, a self-portrait by a young woman whose name she did not recognize. She made a quick walk around the room hoping to find other works by the woman but there was only the one: a single image of the artist upside down, her face and breasts exposed and consuming the frame of the picture. Nothing else in the museum was as interesting. The artist’s blonde hair and pale skin were illuminated in a manner resembling Hollywood stills she had seen from the 30s, Carole Lombard or a young Dietrich, maybe. The title of the photograph was long and contained the word “angel” and the woman felt in agreement reading it. It was hard to imagine the artist otherwise. Next to the photograph was a small box containing a brief biography, a few words detailing the artist’s death, her fall from a New York building at 22. The woman paused on the word “fall.” She scribbled the artist’s name across the museum brochure along with words for a poem that would not be about him.

This was on the seventh of July. Three days earlier the woman had followed her dog into the closet for the duration. She had brought with them supplies: Milk Bones and Swedish fish, a bottle of water and three mini bottles of various brands of liquor: Crown Royal & Red Stag & Bailey’s. She had explained to the man several times her disenchantment with holidays and now there was the added grievance of her dog’s anxiety.

She was reading a book about teenagers in a small Texas town. Once you remove yourself from all social networking sites, she had told him, you realize pretty quickly you were never not alone. The man had not disagreed. The man had sat on his couch and read a book last New Year’s Eve while she had spent the evening taking photographs of herself in varying states of undress in the snow and sending them to him electronically.

She was considering the construction of a pool. She had dreamed its existence taking up the entirety of the backyard. In the book about Texas teenagers they disrobed on diving boards, swam unclothed. The woman knew a handful who would. She imagined their bodies illuminated by the pool’s light while she sat on the side smoking with the dog.

She set the timer, positioned herself naked the length of the diving board, her back arched into the nothingness between board and water. She was careful not to think of him. She held her face blank, expressionless; a state she had practiced, meditating on the word “fall.” Beneath her in the frame two teenagers were visible. He was unable to recognize himself in them either. Only the dog offered flashes of familiarity, panting and anxious in the grass out of focus. He stared a while longer, reopened his book.

Elizabeth Ellen is the author of Before You She Was a Pit Bull (Future Tense) and Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix (Rose Metal Press). She will publish an anthology of her work - Fast Machine - through Short Flight/Long Drive Books before the end of the year. 


Iris Ann Moulton

Short Story in Nine Parts.

I.               It is somewhere rainy and lush. Everyone’s t-shirts are dirty. There are irreconcilable halves of bumper stickers stuck to cheap cars. There are not very many roads in.
II.             There is only one house of note, in which most everything occurs.
A.            The house is stoic and grappling.
B.             The garden is polite.
a.     It is very easy to grow here.
b.     Research: what is bougainvillea? And also: where?
c.     Many of the flowers have bright bushy heads, like puppets.
C.             The entry way is splotched carpet.
D.            Something intended for keys now catches spare change, movie stubs, rubberbands.
a.     Keys are still lost.
III.           The woman has fox-colored hair down to her nipples
A.            Sheer T-shirt
B.             White
C.             One cigarette
IV.           A man comes in. We do not know if it is the lover or male relative. He knows a lot about paying bills but also her T-shirt is sheer.
V.             The lover says something that reveals he is a nice guy most of the time, but that everybody makes mistakes.
VI.           The woman thinks something that makes her unforgivable to any reader.
A. Are we the woman or the man? the reader will ask.
VII.         Draw attention to the cigarette ash, as it becomes very important here.
A.            It is long and it burns with no help.
B.             She must be distracted by something, or otherwise lost.
C.             The ash gets on the carpet and contributes to spots
D.            The brand is cheap and burns too quickly.
a.     It must be a fictional brand so as to avoid her being associated with: cowboys, punks.
E.             The lover says nothing about the cigarette ash, nor does he smoke, which indicates they will not last much longer.
VIII.       Something happens outside to break the tension, which by now should be like water threatening the drain.
IX.          She says the name of a certain flower. He touches something that is not her.

Iris Ann Moulton was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she studied English Literature and Anthropology at the University of Utah. She now lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is pursuing an MFA and works as the co-Editor-in-Chief for Beecher's. She has most recently been published in Fugue, Everyday Genius, elimae, and appeared as a featured writer for the American Short Fiction web exclusive series. For more:


Kim Chinquee

Historic District

She tried to be mindful, cooking up her rice, but she found the bang above distracting. Bang, bang, bang, and she imagined a bedpost, a wall. A man in haste, that man who had followed her from the gym late at night. It was just across the street when she used to live downtown, and she still sensed the wring of his hands, felt the veil over her head, the pow pow pow of a TV show, how he'd done that and then stuffed her and then dumped her. The flow of him stayed with her, but she couldn't define his face, whether he had a long nose or a short one, whether his eyes were dark or blue. He didn't use his lips. She remembered some white teeth, but it could have been a vision, her closing her eyes and imagining snow, a wedding, her wings.

It was Saturday night and she'd seen the guy who lived above her in the courtyard with a skinny girl in sandals, her long dark hair, her dress so short and her thick cosmetics made her look like a scream.

She put in a set of earplugs. There were sets on the counter, in the drawer, on the desk, on the bookshelf, by the sofa. Sometimes she found them on the floor, in corners. She'd leave them, and suck them in the vacuum.

She simmered the rice, put the sprouts in the steamer, checked the stove. The tilapia was crisp. But she'd lost her hunger, and remembered writing in her journal something her therapist and the other people told her, to be mindful and just eat.

She tried to smell the food, but she smelled fire, hay, the place she couldn't move yet—where she also couldn't yet see, feeling the prick of the dry weed. She pictured one big flame, just stuck in the heat of it.

She looked out the window. Down two floors was the courtyard. Benches. Flowers. Trees. Big and round that had been there for centuries.

Kim Chinquee is the author of the collections Oh Baby and Pretty. She lives in Buffalo, New York.


Chanel Clarke

To Duel in an Empty Field

At dawn, we wanted
to come forth
on horseback with pistols,

but we couldn’t be
bothered and stayed in bed.

We needed to see
each other feel the day
ease into evening, lips colder

as the darkening hour made
our breath visible again.

Stay in your leather,
beautiful. Keep your wool
if you need it.

You are what you are,
one of us might say out loud,

and it wouldn’t matter who
because we would have made
peace with our symmetries

by then, and we wouldn’t care
so much about the noise

warming our skin. We could
nurse the noise into music.
After all, forgiving the body

is a matter of survival.
Sing wherever you are.

Be percussive, ridiculous, and brave.

Chanel Clarke is a Poetry Fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas. Her poems are also forthcoming in Bayou, Anti- and Intersections.


Travis Kurowski

Clementine Mission

This morning things are different: turtle soup, drop of port, alligator sausage. A parlor-masked man on Bacchus wraps a teenager’s neck with seventeen strings of beads, drags his private prize. You inherited this trend toward the highest barometric pressures. You move northward. The 1986 factory installed speakers blare Op Ivy, Carly Simon, trois gymnopédies. The dinner plate moon rests carelessly on the horizon’s edge. You swerve among shadow trees between miles-wide craters of Ptolemaeus, that careless expanse between Mare Nubium and Mare Nectaris where craters ghost in and out till the sun dips and starry darkness comes.

Travis Kurowski runs the creative writing minor at York College of Pennsylvania. His writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in JMWW, Wigleaf, Ham Lit, The Lumberyard, and Paper Darts. Website:


John Brandon

San Joaquin

He had gone on the run, westward and led by pure instinct, fleeing as far as possible without leaving the country and then backtracking a hundred miles. He was forty-five and had enough money to last him almost thirty years if he lived frugally. He could do that. Live frugally. He wasn’t really a criminal. He’d had friends back East but had always dreaded talking to them. There was a sandwich place he missed a lot. And an uncle. He’d never killed anyone and did not own a gun. He felt no rush at beating the system and did not think of himself as cool. He was cool in that he didn’t need other people but he was uncool in that he was able to put himself on a budget and planned to adhere to it for decades to come. He lived now in a dusty town which was a great shopping mall surrounded by farms.

He attended a prayer group founded by a couple who’d won the lottery and then blown all the money. The prayer meetings were held in a building the couple had been unable to sell off, a farmhouse on a busy street. They’d decorated the inside of the place with paired photographs—pictures of places in different parts of the world that looked exactly alike. A sprawling mini-storage facility in front of a retention pond, low chain link fencing snaking everywhere. India and Florida.

He attended a Catholic church for a time, returning to his heritage, and as before it didn’t feel that anything was taking place at the masses that wanted his presence. He tried a Buddhist temple, then a synagogue.

He lived across the street from an ignored tourist attraction, an estate once owned by a poet/statesman/farmer. He got the idea that this man was known more for the company he’d kept than for his own deeds.

He missed weather, nothing now but a breeze and a brush of clouds. There was no guarantee of winter. 

He had a fireplace and split wood and many copies of the local newspaper, and they might sit there and sit there.

He was rich, in the important way. He drove a seven-year-old Honda and subsisted on second-rate sandwiches, but he never again had to work.

He had succumbed to prayer and would succumb to other hobbies.

He would vaguely imagine going back East for a visit, but of course he couldn’t do that. The men he’d ripped off did own guns, and not for shooting skeet.

This is what he’d wanted, what he’d wished for. He still wanted it, but in the hollow way you wanted something once you had it.

The members of the prayer group sat around a big black table and this made them seem like businesspeople at a meeting conducting spiritual transactions. There were no Bibles anywhere. He could not discuss his situation, so when it was his turn to address the higher power he prayed for everyone he used to know, changing names, calling his uncle Uncle Kenny. He prayed for the men he’d ripped off. They still needed prayer and he didn’t.    

John Brandon's two novels are Arkansas and Citrus County. His shorter work has appeared in Oxford American, GQ, Mississippi Review, The Believer, Subtropics, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, ESPN the Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, etc. He is currently the Tickner Fellow in Writing at Gilman School in Baltimore. This fall he's writing a weekly blog about college football for


Carolina Ebeid

Still-life with Onions

There is the whiteness of the curtain. There is the curving whiteness
of the bathtub’s rim
where someone is sitting. The white bowl of onions at the kitchen
windowsill, it catches
the streetlight when everyone else is asleep. And the whiteness
of paper, listening. And the disquieting
white interior of worry, layered & involuted, like the acrid center
of an onion. There’s the white
flurry of her thoughts as each tiny word circles down to clump like snow.
A tinny clinking music.

Carolina Ebeid grew up in NJ, and now lives in Austin where she is a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers. Her poems appear widely in journals such as West Branch, Poetry, and Anti- . She is the poetry editor for the Bat City Review, and a CantoMundo fellow.


Myfanwy Collins

Obtuse, Not Equilateral

All winter long, the dog looked off into the woods and barked more often than normal. There was something out there. Most likely it was deer.

Sitting in her office, a pillow on her chair to placate her sciatica, Lila read online that a hundred years ago there were half a million deer in the United States. Today, there was something like 20 million deer.

Still each time she saw one it was still like a special gift. The fragile-legged fawns.

Once, she’d seen a starving deer while she hiked in Bryce Canyon. It had been too lethargic with want to run from her, just stood and stared at her with what looked like a festering teen angst. She’d told a park ranger about the deer but he advised her to let it go. There was no saving the creature. The world was tightening around the deer, expanding and contracting in equal time, forcing them closer and pushing them farther away.
The backyard was a glacier. Snow piled upon snow, crusty and brick-hard. The dog skittered around like a crab, seeking out rough ground to cling to.

But the birds were lightening; the gold and house finches starting to show their bold color again. There was hope. And the news that a boy in Lila’s neighborhood had taken part in a murder in late September was beginning to fade for most people, but Lila could not forget. In fact, she felt she might be a part of it. That it was her fault in some narcissistic way she could not comprehend.

Here were the facts: This boy and his friends had broken into the Greek Revival home of a young couple and stabbed the husband with knives from his kitchen and beat him with the hammer from his toolbox. They killed him. The wife was left alive, though barely. Beaten and raped, one of her neighbors found her tied to her bedpost.

Lying in her bed at night, listening to the wind roll hard and low over the salt marsh, Lila thought of her wrists bound, her legs puddled beneath her. How her heart would beat and push the blood out of her body swamping the carpet, so carefully picked out to match the pale stripe in her accent pillows.

The murderer boy’s family were neighbors to her, though she’d never spoken to them, only noted them as a cast of characters: mother, father, son, daughter.

When she first heard the news, Lila printed a map of town off Google and taped it up to the wall in her office. She marked her house with a yellow pushpin, the murderer’s house with black, and the victims’ house with red.

The line from the murderer’s house to her house was closer than the line from either her house or the murderer’s house to that of the victims.

The lines formed a triangle. Obtuse, not equilateral.

Myfanwy Collins lives and writes in Newbury, MA. Her novel, ECHOLOCATION, is forthcoming from Engine Books in March 2012 and her short fiction collection, I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND, is forthcoming from PANK Little Books in August 2012. Please visit her at:


Aaron Burch

The Zoo

The zoo can be seen in half an hour, the guidebook said. Small, but cute. Or, some synonym for small, another for cute. He tries to be subtle in pulling out his phone, checking the time—already thirty minutes and they’ve only seen the turtles and penguins. And the penguins only for a minute or two.

He wanders off to the next exhibit, thinking she’ll follow, and keeps wandering. Looking for a restroom, or somewhere to sit, or he isn’t sure what. He finds himself at the gift shop, asking the young girl working behind the cash register if she has a pen he can borrow. And something to draw on.

“Like, what do you mean?”

He looks at her, not sure what she’s asking, not sure what he meant.

“Like, for your kid to draw on?”

“Yes,” he says. “Exactly.”

It is her turn to look at him unsure, though she started this, didn’t she? Why would she ask about a kid and then not believe him? He looks around, behind him, left to right, like how he imagines he might if looking for his kid. If he had a kid. He waves at a spot just out of her line of sight where a kid might sit. He holds up a finger. One minute.

“I have some coloring sheets,” she says when he’s turned back to face her. “And crayons.”


He takes them to the table where his imaginary child—son? daughter? and why isn’t he/she with his/her mom, still looking at the turtles, or maybe on to the giraffes by now?—is waiting. He starts drawing. He draws each animal as he imagines he would be looking at them—lions and otters and gorillas and bald eagles. He can’t remember the last time he drew anything, even a doodle. He filled stacks’ worth of sketch pads when little, his parents always encouraging him, complimenting every new drawing he showed them, but he was always disappointed. He could never get them just right—the lines all wrong, the shading too dark or too light. They never looked like what he saw before he started drawing. Or, they looked exactly like what he saw before he started drawing. He wanted some kind of magic to happen, something unexpected between imagination and drawing. If they looked just as he’d imagined, why bother with the next step at all?

And then she was back, over his shoulder, not asking where he’d been like he expected, but picking up his drawings, flipping through. Each was rendered over the same preprinted outline of a mother elephant with her baby; each depicted one of the exhibits she’d stopped at and watched.

He wondered how much time had passed, how long they’d been there. He thought it odd, the way the guidebook had put it: the entire zoo, in half an hour. The zoo itself, sure, but not the animals it housed. What an odd way to put it, he thought again.

Aaron Burch is the author of How to Predict the Weather and the editor of HOBART: another literary journal.


Robert Bradley

Like the Mountains

In the middle of dinner, the landlord’s daughter knocks at my door. Her mother’s not home and she needs help with her Sociology homework. She has to write an essay solving a problem in society using one of three classical perspectives.

I say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She hands me a printout explaining the assignment.

I say that there are no problems unless you think there are. She looks at me blankly. I try again.

“There is no solution,” I say, “nothing’s ever solved. Say that.”

She says, “That’s not the assignment.”

“Okay, well, pick a topic, then.”

“I can’t think of one.”

“How about the credit economy, or the divided self, or racism? That’s becoming popular again. Write this down: Racists are fucking morons.”

“I can’t say that.”

“Then pick your own topic.”

“You’re not helping,” she sings.

She stands in front of a mirror, tall and over-thin, and fixes her hair. But what does she see?

She says, “What about obesity?”

“Okay, good. Obesity. Why is it a problem?”

“Duh, because it is.”

“Okay, fine. Obesity according the dialectical principles stated on this sheet of paper you handed me, is a state of unreflective satisfaction which is a self-consuming state. Obese people are saying I am me. A equals A. It’s a motionless tautology. And that’s the problem right there.” I make a chopping gesture with my hand. “These people have to get up and move around. But first they have to think of doing it and then once they’re thinking and moving then they have to stop again. Proving that life is futile and that thinking is a derangement of the mind. So, conclusions like: life is futile, like all conclusions or solutions, are meaningless. Once this is realized you become happy. Are you happy?” I ask her.

“I’d better call my mother,” she says, already dialing.

I scoop up the last of my steak and rice.

“She’s on her way,” she says, picks up her homework and leaves.

I put the dishes in the sink and go stand at my door. The skies are lit, but it’s gloomy down here. Recent rain has damped the colors. I drive to the store for dessert and I see two young birds fly out of a bush and cross in a swoop in front of my car. One of them circles back and disappears. I look in the rear view mirror to confirm my suspicion. It’s there, on the road, dead.

No one is safe.

I think of the birds framed by my window at home, hopping around in the yard. They look comical on the ground. I always laugh at them, until I see them fly up onto a tree branch; it's not as easy as it looks.
Once inside the Super Warehouse of Food and Supplies I notice that the people in here have acclimated themselves to these economy sized food portions. Eating is, indeed, an unreflective satisfaction where the satisfaction becomes hungry for itself. How will you feed that need for satisfaction? If it can’t be regulated you have to starve it. It’s the only way.

I drive by Petra’s on the way home. Stop in front of her house and call her on the cell phone.

“Ask me how I feel,” I say.

She doesn’t say anything.

I say, “Like a thousand lost golf balls.”

After a pause she says, "Don't call me anymore."

Someone once said, Be far away, like the mountains. I hear my stomach grumble. Then I’m home sitting in front of a tub of ice cream not thinking about anything. 
Robert Bradley is far away. 


Matt Baker


Dad ordered The Royal Steak, their signature dish, a Kansas City strip, the most expensive, since it was my brother Thad’s treat, and a baked potato, bone dry.  The waiter asked how he wanted his steak cooked.  Dad said, “There’s a very fine line between medium and medium-well, I want it cooked on that very line.”

The waiter nodded, “Yes, sir,” without any hesitation.  I expected the waiter to smile, assume it was a joke, then look to me or Thad for assistance.  Instead, the waiter said, “Mr. Fingersol, it’s great to see you again.  It has been a while since we’ve last seen you, and all of us at The Royal Steak are so appreciative of your courageous sacrifice.”

Thad mouthed to me courageous sacrifice? What the fuck?

“Thank you,” Dad said.  “I was in Washington D.C. for a few weeks.  I got called in.” 

He waited.  I glanced at mom, then Thad. Everyone knew he’d never been to Washington D.C. in his life.

“What do you mean by called in?” the waiter said, clearly excited.

“Young man, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Operation Falcon Fang?”

“I can’t say that I have.”

“Back in Vietnam, Operation Falcon Fang was a commando unit that I belonged to.  We parachuted down behind enemy lines, along with an assassination list.  We took out high ranking North Vietnamese military officers.  Often one-on-one, hand to hand combat-style, choke holds, snapping necks, you name it.  So, I get a coded call about a month back that I needed to go in, come in from the cold, so to speak.  I get there along with a bunch of guys I hadn’t seen in nearly forty years and we got briefed on a few things.”

“Really? All these years later, if I may, what happened or can’t you talk about it?”

“I’ll put it this way. Some liberal limp dick’s been putting in some Freedom of Information Act requests, you see, this lefty university professor is researching a book on our elite and clandestine group.”

“Oh, wow.  So there’s going to be a book about this elite commando unit Falcon Fang?”

“I thank the stars and stripes and the great heavens above that this will not be happening.  We were able to rectify the situation with a little Falcon Fang corrective action.”

I asked a passing waiter for more water.  Thad thumbed messages and emails on his iPhone.  Mom stared off into space, like always.

“Oh, my god.  Did you, I mean,” then the waiter whispered, “kill him?”

“I can’t confirm or deny that, young man.  But let’s just say that Operation Falcon Fang’s story will not be penned by a limp dick Anti-American Studies professor at Western Mountain College.”

“I’ve never heard of Western Mountain College,” I said. 

The waiter caught my eye and said, “You must be so proud.”

Dad thankfully resolved the expectation that I answer by saying, “Enough about my honorable and secret service, go get that steak on the grill and remember the fine line,” because I might’ve told the waiter that my dad never served in the armed forces and that he’s nothing but a storyteller.  

Matt Baker's work has appeared in the Southern Humanities Review, Tampa Review, Texas Review, Cimarron Review, Southern Indiana Review, and elsewhere.  He's the author of a novel, Drag the Darkness Down.