BIT - claudia smith


claudia smith

They leave with a doll from Wal-Mart, hypoallergenic, safe for babies, nine dollars and eighty four cents, and a Spiderman costume for fourteen eighty eight, after payday, after Xmas, so they won’t arrive with nothing to give. A five dollar markdown green Power Ranger. In the back of the Ford Escape is an only child, clutching his favorite Lego, the one he named Cesar Chavez. It is winter but she drives windows down. She passes white windmills scattered across the ranch land. They remind her of teeth. It is a bearable level of sadness. She is hoping, for her son, nothing worse than things that maim but do not kill; a mugging or a nasty boss or a disease that can be fought and most likely cured, a loss of health insurance, a divorce, the death of a single loved one. Just something ordinary, an ordinary amount of sadness, and please only occasionally. Pulling out of the city after burgers, the ice sky hurts her eyes. She imagines tearing into it the way she chomped into her burger a couple hours back. The clouds would not taste like cotton or cotton candy but something else, something only the gods could eat.

Claudia Smith
In Cold Blood
Truman Capote

MOUTH - kim parko


kim parko

My sister and I crawled into the mouth of the rug and soon found ourselves among the bats we had befriended. The bats were full of ambiguity—one minute they would fly around us lovingly and the next they would bite our ears and noses with their sharp teeth. One night a frantic bat came flying from the mouth of our rug. When the adults saw it they screamed and thwacked it until it bled on the floor. We cried bitterly over the small crumpled body, and then took it down to the other bats. When they saw the pulp cradled in our hands, they swirled madly about and nipped at us so ferociously we had no choice but to leave. As we climbed out of the rug’s mouth, we looked back to see its lips dry and pucker. With one last fetid exhale, the mouth dissolved into the tight weave of the rug and was impenetrable.

Kim Parko
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

SHIT - ania vesenny


ania vesenny

Whale shit is liquid. It doesn't sink as deep as you'd think. A blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived on Earth. Its heart is the size of a Volkswagen beetle.

Some say a hungry woman was stranded on an island. She had no gun, no harpoon, no boat. Nothing. "Shit," she'd say. What else would you say if you were stranded on an island of rocks and sand, with no boat, no gun, and no harpoon? "Shit," she'd say. "Shit. Shit. Shit."

Some say a whale then beached ashore and the woman ripped its skin with her claws, feasted on its blubber, made a raft out of its bones, floated to another island, met a man and had children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Others say a helicopter took her to a hospital. Less romantic, but still a miracle.

Ania Vesenny
Hannah Holborn

IN THE WATER - josh olsen


josh olsen

While walking along the river, Jack and I found a black garbage bag and my first suspicion was that there was probably a baby inside; it turned out to be some empty cans, but my fear wasn't completely unjustified. Just the other week, police discovered the body of a man who had been decapitated and set on fire, and not long after that a nineteen year-old girl who had been asphyxiated in the mud. As I warily probed the contents of the bag, an old Asian man in Coke-bottle glasses and a green Puma tracksuit passed along the shore. He, Jack, and I all smiled and exchanged pleasantries and he warmly tousled Jack's hair, but, based upon recent events, I assumed he thought I was there to throw my son in the water.

Josh Olsen
Johnny Ryan

FIRST DATE AT CONEY ISLAND - robert swartwood


robert swartwood

win me the big purple dinosaur she asks gripping your arm tightly her fingernails biting through the thin fabric of your shirt. you smile at her thinking why not and step up to the booth. you pay the guy his three dollars and receive two balls. you take a step back and wind up and throw the first ball. it misses. you throw the second ball and that one only knocks over the top bottle. wanna try again the guy asks but you only smile and shake your head. i wanted the big purple dinosaur she murmurs in a soft dissatisfied sort of way as you both head back down the boardwalk. her hand has left your arm, those sharp fingernails no longer biting through your shirt, and this you realize later is how you lose her — why she will never return your phone calls or answer your e-mails and why when you see her on fifth avenue years later she will walk past you like you are a broken insect too inconsequential to even smash with the sole of her shoe.

Robert Swartwood
The Girl On the Fridge
Etgar Keret

IN ORDER TO LIVE - damian dressick


damian dressick

During a lull, my writing class talks about the upcoming Christmas holidays, the presents, the dinners, the visits home. I describe my discovering Santa Claus wasn’t real the Christmas Eve my parents got loaded and made me fetch all the presents from the upstairs hall closet behind the rollaway bed and cart them down the stairs myself, shove them under the Douglas Fir next to the small ceramic nativity set shrouded in slivers of white cellophane.

My teacher whistles a puff of air between his thinning lips. Says, “Man, that’s a great story.”

I shake my head. Explain how they apologized later, when I was in junior high after they’d each done a couple of turns at Hazelton, got sober.

The teacher ignores me, goes on about how the story does a great job using symbolism, the way one incident stands in for all the mistakes that fall under the heading of bad parenting. Of course no one would really do that to a kid, he says. But because it’s so unthinkingly cruel, because it offers such a stark, stripped down example—a single incident involving a terrible betrayal of an innocent—it says a lot about the horrible mistakes humans make in the process of parenting children, reminds us how vulnerable our best intentions are. The other kids in expository writing decide his “vulnerability of our intentions” bit is really the nuts and nod, raising their eyebrows.

Not yet tearing up, I tell them it’s not a story about parental failure. My parents had me bring the presents down so my younger brother and sister wouldn’t wake up to find nothing under the tree on Christmas morning. My parents did it out of love.

“Jim,” my writing teacher looks at me, asks, “Can you remember what we said on the first day of class is the reason we tell stories?”

Damian Dressick
Green Lizards
Alicia Gifford

BLUEBIRD - sarah hassan


sarah hassan

He had gotten me an orchestra seat next to Sleeping Beauty’s mother. I assumed she was related to the prima; the smell of rosewater, the Russian stole. I folded the program in my hands as if attempting origami. He had seated me where I would be able to watch him jump off and disappear into the darkness. He knew that was my favorite part.

And what brings you to the ballet? the mama asked. Her voice made my bones ache. I am married to the Bluebird, I said proudly, but not too proud. She just smiled beneath her painted face, the drawn-on beauty mark.

I will go home with him tonight and draw a bath, I thought as the house lights went down. I will draw a bath and play jazz and take off my clothes and lie on the tile floor. I will insist on soaping him down. He will refuse and instead wrap his tights around my neck from the edge of the tub. While the blue stains my skin I will take a sharp inhale of lavender, hear the high note from the trombone and think, god, I love this man.

Sarah Hassan
Black Swan Green
David Mitchell

SACRED PLACES - alexandra isacson


alexandra isacson

While she lay on the massage table draped with vermillion towels, he rubbed her shoulders with warm lavender oil with his strong hands.
"Practicing law is so corrupt in Arizona. I feel cut off spiritually," he said. "How 'bout you?"
"Valium screws my dream life."
He pulled her wife-beater up in the back and her sweat shorts down some. He rubbed oil at the base of her back into her tattoo. She felt closer to him, touching one of her most sacred places.
"This tattoo's ethereal," he said. "Who did this?"
"My first love. I found a design that da Vinci put on the sleeve of one of his angels."
She asked him to do it in sepia, the color of his eyes.
"It's one of the most beautiful tattoos I've ever seen."
"He did it with a trinity of needles, he said he didn't want to tear up my skin with one."
"Your father's name?"
"Where I come from, that's what people do,"she said. "What is written on people's soul rises to the surface of their skin he told me.


pastel drawing by COOPER RENNER



paula ray

"I ordered these shoes months ago!" Sabrina blared as her burly sister, Sadie, stood with hands on hips. "I demand an exchange."

Larry cowered behind the register, filling out an exchange form, as the sisters stomped about the store. "We'll take these." The ladies signed the form, and then stormed out, two hippos in stilettos.

Larry smiled, pulling the prized blue patent pumps with gold trimmed spiked heels, just his size, from beneath the counter. "There, there my darlings. You have been recorded as lost. You can come home with Daddy now."

That evening, he stepped into his favorite blue halter dress, slipped on his new pumps, tugged on a platinum wig, and meticulously painted his face. He scurried off to Front Street, where hookers click-clacked down the sidewalk, making sure to jiggle for potential Johns, who drove by slowly.

Larry pranced and found his spot, making his prosthetic breasts jiggle too. Then, like Marilyn Monroe, he spread his legs slightly and stood above the grate, waving, waiting for the updraft.

He didn't expect steam to scald his balls and blister his penis. He limped home, bow-legged, with less grace than the hippos in stilettos.

Paula Ray
The Really Short Poems of A.R. Ammons
A.R. Ammons

randall brown

I stuff scarecrows at the Pumpkin Fair, in a make-believe competition with her daughter to stuff the most straw into sleeves. Her husband smokes a cigar, taps the ash onto her back. Accident, she tells me. But you, you're so good with her. It's just straw, I say.

Randall Brown
Common Criminals
Larry Fondation



edmund sandoval

We were talking in the kitchen. Talking about exes – a woman who laughed as though she was choking on water, a man who worried about how his ass looked in his blue jeans. She was sitting on the counter eating kimchi out of the jar. Her hair was up and she was wearing her plastic framed glasses.

As she was talking I was thinking how I’d like to remember her as she is now. Seven a.m. on a Saturday and eating the kimchi – spicy, sour and off-smelling – listing off the idiosyncrasies that were probably cute and affable at one time but are now something to laugh at.

I’ve tried kimchi before and every time she eats it, she wants me to also. She forks some up for me, reddish strands of cabbage and daikon, entire cloves of mushy garlic, withered chilis.

She tells me how her last boyfriend was. How he was on the small side but different. Totally different than anyone she’s known. She tells me how he’d remember to buy her the biggest jars of kimchi without MSG and how he ran marathons and cooked giant pots of curry, drank porter at room temperature with her dad.

And then she hops off of the counter, puts the fork in a coffee cup filled with soapy water that’s in the sink and puts the kimchi back in the fridge. She smiles at me and looks out the window, remembering him without laughter.

Edmund Sandoval
The Everlasting Story of Nory
Nicholson Baker



kyle hemmings

I could recite you that old poem about silver foxes and carnelian colored apples. But you're so far away. Cow towns, miles of prairie-sky, college students reading Sartre, their flimsy words, a lick of salt. You could be seduced by the sway of white ash, the cinnamon wind. A new boy sweet as chocolate. He'll promise you a mountain of steely love, agnate loyalty. I won't spit towards the wind. Not leeward. I'll settle into a numbing routine. Back in Bloomfield, we have blocks of garage sales and little antique houses, bars full of men with high polished lies, their drinks a shade of urine yellow or bismuth for the hardened who down no chaser. On the streets, you can meet a homeless women who'll tell you about her poppy-silk past that went moonless. You could lose a whole future on the spin of a pitched penny. We’re the victims of stars. Suppose. Suppose. For another dollar, she'll disappear. The way you did last month. In the quick, the dust from your skin barely settled on the bed. At night, I dream of subways and rolling railways, a country of endless stops and gos. It's all I can do to make a breakfast of eggs sunny-side up and not break the yolks.

Kyle Hemmings
Heath Ledger
Blake Butler



jeanne holtzman

He didn’t cry when he was born. The doctor said he was perfect. His mother searched for omens. She paced like a lioness, vigilant, all claws and fangs.First there were coughing fits, mysterious rashes. Nothing serious, the doctor intoned. Asthma. Allergies.Then his hands turned white and blue and red, on and off. She checked the cupboard for empty bottles, corks. The blood tests were negative.His legs hurt, all the time. She made a trip to the bank. A crisp new hundred dollar bill. Rolled. Placed into a bottle. Corked. Thrown from a bridge.

Jeanne Holtzman
Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
Amy Hempel



spencer dew

The windmill never worked. We, meanwhile, soak up sun when we can and doze through fieldtrip tours, failing bi-weekly vocab quizzes and claiming that our English is getting worse, suffering for our immersion.

Ripe figs rupture on the limb, swarmed by insects. A man with an empty eye socket sells red threads. A cocktail waitress walks down the street to a kiosk for another bottle of rum. She wears a tight, shiny-lettered shirt that says “I hate my outfit,” and we keep asking for her name, we Americans, we summer students, and she keeps refusing to tell us. “Call me what you want. What can it matter?”

On Thursdays, students head home for the weekend, and the professor offers to drive me out to an Arab village for the best humus in the world, served warm, coated in oil and fava beans. As we leave, crossing the parking lot, the professor bends to pick something off the ground. “Consider this tiny thing,” he says, bouncing a screw in the palm of his hand. “The American soldiers, our Israeli soldiers, they carry how many pounds of equipment, weaponry, armor, sophisticated gadgets? Then there is this, on the other side.”

Spencer Dew
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Malcolm X: w/ Alex Haley



s. craig renfroe, jr.

So there are all these ants, thousands of ants. And the ants are spelling out words, the ants are spelling out a sentence, the ants are spelling out “Be not afraid.” And I am afraid—I am fucking afraid. Is this biblical? Aren’t the angels supposed to use that line? Are these ants angels? “Cool it,” the ants write. I don’t think angels would use slang. At any rate, I stop stepping on them, crushing them with the toe of my sneaker. They cover the tile of my kitchen. There’s no evidence of food left out. Should I get them something? “Leave everything,” the ants write, “abandon your possessions.” Other ants form even more words below these, and when they cohere, it says, “Stop judging others, work only for the good of the whole.” The top group has scrambled and is marching into a new linguistic formation. I grab a can of Pam cooking spray off the counter. As I cover them with it, the nozzle hissing, it doesn’t seem to kill them, but they do get sticky and clump together, no longer into words, just clumps. I sweep them up.

S. Craig Renfroe, Jr.
Fun Home
Alison Bechdel



robert flanagan

When Mom came home from work around seven she and Billy ate supper at a card table in the apartment’s big room: potato soup, slices of ham, and hard rolls from the Pick Me Up Cafe. The Protestant owner was good about letting the help take extra food home, Mom said, although Billy was worried she stole it. Even if she did, you couldn’t blame her; on her own now, she had to look out for her son. And not having gone to Catholic schools she didn’t know how lots of everyday things people did were mortal sins.

She turned on the radio—Perry Como “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes,” The Ames Brothers “You You You,” and washed their dishes while Billy sorted her tips, flattening and smoothing dollar bills to slip into a brown Toledo Trust envelope and packing coins in the bank’s brown roll wrappers. He never kept as much as a penny for himself, although once when an eighth grader who picked on sixth graders tried picking on him he had borrowed a roll of nickels to use at school and put it back when he was done with it.

Robert Flanagan
Riddley Walker
Russell Hoban