"Girl with a Goat's Voice" by prose finalist Nate Liederbach

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“Selvin the Christmas Elf” from Girl with a Goat’s Voice

Winter bedtime legend, our family favorite, of Selvin the Christmas Elf—how Grams tells the tale: Dear sweet Selvin driving his pretend-dead girlfriend south to Arizona and going in no direction but beams bouncing ragged over cracked two-lane highways, to that place where cliffs go to die, where cliffs drag themselves like the worms of Dune across rock seas and deaf clay thirsting—or so Selvin imagines—for newness, for lush grass, for supreme flatness, oh, but finding only heaps of dry ancestry, and on that first night how Selvin the Christmas Elf sleeps with her body in the truck bed, his huskies curled over their shins while an autumn storm converges from Baja to ping the camper shell, winds abiding ever stronger, winds pugilizing, weaving, heave-whistling each window slit and colding every bolt to where, at one point, a terrific gust agitates the axles and Selvin the Christmas Elf thinks the pretend-dead girlfriend has moved—unnerving, sure, but in morning’s drab reality, nope, so Selvin makes a campfire from sodden cardboard as ravens circle like cursed Girl Scouts and he burns everything he can find, burns it into a different earth of vibrating floors of smoke that resuscitate pretend-dead girlfriend, who, with a loose cough, slinks over the tailgate to take up a plastic spoon, to feed them pre-stirred yogurt, its icy nips, and soon their site’s warmed and soon she urges they stripped off those road-spiced North Pole uniforms to fuck gratefully on a rain-beaded truck hood (even though, way before release, Selvin the Christmas Elf, still stuck in that Arctic pall, in that long-gone crevasse of a toy builder’s mind, scowls at the huskies for scampering around their love-making, for chasing chipmunks, for rearing back and boxing, the fruitlessness of their mock battles, which make Selvin think, All life as just play? Is that why I left?), though suddenly now the haze is clearing and beyond the girlfriend’s myth-sharpened ears an unbundling sun reminds Selvin the Christmas Elf to concentrate on this present, on rasping, twining, not violently, but steadily, his tool attuned as horologist finger, as so patiently trained, yes, for he’s the worker who works for wonder alone—or no, better, the man with the plan, the one who escaped, who wouldn’t rectify revolution and individuation, who saw through the hoary-white lies but couldn’t do it alone, had to let her drag him into it, as if it were his idea, as if it were ever his, just like this: he’s done, yanked loose, condom cast on the last smoldering log, all noxious smoke but no chimney, no plate of cookies, nothing to keep it ordered.

Nate Liederbach is the author of the story collections Doing a Bit of Bleeding, Negative Spaces, Beasts You’ll Never See (winner of the 2014 Noemi Book Award for Fiction), and the forthcoming Blessings Galore and Tongues of Men and of Angels: Nonfictions Ataxia. He lives in Eugene, OR and Olympia, WA.  

"True Love and Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape" from prose finalist Micah Perks

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“Ghost Deer” from True Love and Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape

Colin’s story:

“This happened before my Dad took off, like a long time ago.” Colin’s blinking a lot, because he just got contacts, and it makes his eyes look big and wet, plus with his reddish brown hair and brown freckles, and the fact that he’s skittish and slim, he looks a lot like a deer himself.

Fiona turns from the sink and says over the rushing water, “What did you say about a deer?”

“Is this your Seder story?” Little My asks.

“It’s just this deer, okay? One day Dad was like, Get your nose out of that video game, Son, we’re going hiking.”

“He never called you son,” Fiona says.

“Whatever. You know I hate hiking. So then we were walking in the gorge, like a long way up, up by Taughannock Falls, and no one else was there because it was like October and grey and cold and no one wanted to be there, obviously. Then we saw this deer. It was tiptoeing along the cliff edge above the falls. When we saw it we were all, Whoa, holy crap! The deer heard us and freaked. It tried to turn around on the ledge or whatever. And it fell off the cliff. Like a long way.” Colin’s face is so pale now his freckles seem to pulse. His eyes blink.

“Are you serious?” Fiona says, turning off the faucet.  Daniel’s shirt floats winey, salty and abandoned in the sink. Fiona’s standing by the table holding the kosher salt. “I thought deer were sure-footed, like cats.”

“It was lying half in that pool at the bottom of the gorge and half on the like, gravel,” Colin says. “Its back was broken or something. It couldn’t move even when we got up close to it, except it’s eyes were rolling around. We realized if we left it there, the coyotes or dogs would get it.”

“Did you call the cops?” Little My asks.

“We put it out of its misery,” Colin says, “or whatever you call it.”

“Coño,” Daniel says. “When did you say this happen?”

“Nobody ever told me this,” Fiona says. “What do you mean you put it out of its misery?”

“Dad was like, ‘Son, you have to put this deer out of its misery.’ And he handed me a big rock.”

 

“Ghost Deer” won and was previously featured in The New Guard’s Machigonne Fiction Contest.

The Los Angeles Times called Micah Perks’ first novel, We Are Gathered Here (1997, St. Martin’s),  “a tightly woven story that is as fanciful as it is grimly real.” Her memoir, Pagan Time, came out in paper in 2009 from Counterpoint, has been translated into Korean and is an audio book from audible.com. In 2010 The San Francisco Chronicle listed it in Best Summer Reading and Adirondack Life listed it as Adirondack Required Reading.  She’s published short stories in Zyzzyva, The Massachusetts Review, and Epoch, amongst many others, and her stories have been anthologized in The Encyclopedia Project, Viz Inter Arts, The Best Underground Fiction and others. Four of her stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. She has been given multiple residencies at The Blue Mountain Center and received a Saltonstall Foundation For The Arts grant. She won an NEA in 2008 for the first chapter of her novel-in-progress. Recent essays have been published and are forthcoming from The Rumpus andTin House. Micah lives with her family in Santa Cruz California, where she co-directs the creative writing program and is a professor in the Literature Department at University of California, Santa Cruz. She’s at work on a novel.

"Too Smart For Her Own Good: Stories" by prose finalist Evelyn Somers

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“Roy” from Too Smart For Her Own Good

“Let’s do the wine,” said Roy. He’d forgotten a corkscrew, but Francis’ things were in the back, and Roy used the carpenter’s rule to force the cork down into the bottle. At first it kept bobbing back up, blocking the opening, but finally he managed to wedge it sideways, below the neck. He swigged from the bottle and held it out to me, but I waved it away; I was scrounging around for the plastic go-cups that were always lying around, among the marker stakes and graveyard inventory forms. I found two, and Roy poured, nearly draining the bottle. I thought of Rushing Rapids as I watched the wine chugging over the cork.
“To Francis, for providing the wheels and the brandy,” said Roy, raising his cup to toast.

“And to Mom, for the wine.”

Roy frowned but he drank; his Adam’s apple rose and fell. Noticing it—noticing him—I felt much too large and awkward for the car, suddenly: the cow Mom was always saying I was. So I got out and walked around to the cemetery behind the church. The place was ancient, part of it was, anyway—old enough to please Roy, who like Francis, his idealistic, historic preservationist father, was in love with the past. At the farthest end, some of the marble tablet stones had sunk so deep that you wouldn’t have known what they were, if not for the church and the other, newer graves. Others lay toppled beside their bases. In the middle of the yard stood a cluster of lichen-covered obelisks.

Close to the church were the newer stones: granite blocks with polished faces and roughened tops, like Dad’s. There were vogues in tombstones, like everything else. There were even vogues in whether it was best to live or die. When Mom’s brother, my uncle, got sick they’d told him six months, given him painkillers and sent him home to wait for his end. That was the first time Mom nursed anyone; she was only fifteen. But with Dad it was, We’ll try everything, to give him as long as possible. Though his prognosis was better, too: kidney failure was more treatable than metastasized cancer. So there was the transplant, and afterward, when his body rejected it, two years of dialysis, during which they somehow made me. Mom was six weeks pregnant when Dad had his stroke. Even then they kept him alive for two more months on a respirator. The second stroke was a blessing, said Mom. They should never have tried to save him. And now they probably wouldn’t have, she believed—wouldn’t have recommended the respirator, at any rate. Now ideas were swinging back the other way. In a few more years, Mom predicted, they’d be packing people home again, telling them, “Don’t worry. Dying is perfectly

natural.”

She was right about that, but she’d been wrong to remarry before Dad’s body was even cold. Wrong as well, to do what she did to Roy. And wrong to say all the terrible things she said to me.

 

Evelyn Somers is the associate editor of the Missouri Review and a past contributing editor for Bloom. Her fiction has appeared in Crazyhorse, Georgia Review, Shenandoah, the Florida Review, South Dakota Review, Pank, the Collagist, and others. She is the recipient of a Barbara Deming Foundation grant for fiction. Books she has edited as a freelancer have won the John Simmons award, the Drue Heinz, and the Peter Taylor prize for the novel and have been published by both university and small presses and larger, commercial presses. She is at work on a novel and a variety of shorter projects. Her website is evwords.com.

"The World Is All That Does Befall Us" by prose finalist Thomas Walton

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“Seeing the Problem” from The World Is All That Does Befall Us

Stanza I

Dear L,

I’ll start here, but this doesn’t start here. If I’ve done this right, you can start anywhere.

‘Starting over’ is an oxymoron, whether or not it’s advantageous is beside the point. If (and I know it’s a little early in the piece for this kind of reasoning, but who’s to say you’re starting here anyway) I were truly starting over, then this would end here. It would end before it had even begun. Starting over … why would I want to do that? I’m too full of thorns now to start over.

I have a daughter. Her name is Tuuli. She’s 5.

‘Tuuli’ is derived from Finnish, meaning wind.

 

Verbal actions imitate human actions or the actions of wind or river or rain.

-A.R. Ammons.

 

You can’t be with the one you love if you want to love them still. Desire can only be for what is lacking. Everyone knows this. It’s been known for thousands of years. It is the crux of desire, and oceans of ink have been spilled into it.

As you can see I’m spilling this in prose. Prose is derived from Latin provertere, to turn forward. This then, is an attempt to turn forward, not to start over.

‘Catastrophe’ also comes from a word meaning to turn (the Greek strephein). Is prosethen a catastrophe? Is something catastrophic inherent in saying?

 

I won’t name you. You will be anonymous [< Gk. an, without + onuma, name].

In the dictionary, the word following ‘anonymous’ is ‘anopheles’ [< Gk. anopheles, useless]. I’m obviously trying to use you, which is, perhaps, a bad idea.

 

Thomas Walton’s work has appeared most recently in Gold Man Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and the anthology Make It True; Poetry from Cascadia. He edits PageBoy Magazine in Seattle WA, where he lives, builds gardens, and volunteers in his daughter’s fourth grade class … yeiks! 

"Home for Wayward Girls" by prose finalist Melanie Bishop

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“Home for Wayward Girls” from the eponymous collection

It’s a Thursday night when the police knock on our door.  The knock is like any other but when I open it, they fill our front stoop with their largeness, their dark uniforms, guns and billy clubs.  Through the open windows of their car, I can hear the police radio reporting crimes.

The bigger of the two asks to speak to my parents and since my father has had Beefeater’s all night, I call out “MOM!”

“Oh my,” is what she says when she rounds the corner, like she is expecting the paper boy collecting, or girl scouts selling thin mints.  Renee is right behind her and the three of us face them but nobody asks them to come in.  Renee’s got a piece of lace showing at the scoop of her pullover. It’s from the bra she just got at Sears and I know because I was with her when she tried it on.  It’s tan, but Renee is so fair, it might as well be brown against her vanilla. The guy doing the talking, the bigger one, whose navy blue uniform shirt is all untucked on one side, where the billy club dangles—he’s not even pretending to know that staring’s impolite.  He is focused on where that lace disappears.

“We’ve got a warrant to come in and find a runaway—Larissa Kramer?”

“She’s here,” my mom says. “She’s staying with my daughter.  Her parents kicked her out.”

“Well, they may have, but they want her back now.  You can send her out or we can come in and search, Ma’am.”

“Amelia, go get Larissa,” she says.  “Hurry,” she adds, so I run, even though we are not allowed to run in the house.  I barge in without knocking, another rule I’m breaking, because the New Orleans Police Department is at our front door. But what I see is Larissa already halfway out that bedroom window.  Gina’s standing there holding the pulled out screen, like it’s a poster board presentation for school.

I take my time walking back to the front door, not knowing whose side to be on—let Larissa get a headstart, or let the policemen know she’s escaped, and halfway to Kabel Drive by now. I give her some time, since she’s on foot, barefoot, and they’ve got cars. Worse than that, guns.

Melanie Bishop’s young adult novel, My So-Called Ruined Life (Torrey House Press, 2014) was a top-five finalist last May for both the John Gardner Award in Fiction and CLMP’s Firecracker Awards. Bishop has published fiction and nonfiction in Glimmer Train, Georgetown Review, Greensboro Review, Florida Review, Puerto del Sol, The American, Potomac Review, Vela, and Family Circle. She received a screenwriting fellowship from the Chesterfield Film Project, co-sponsored by Universal Studios and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. For 22 years, she taught creative writing at Prescott College in Arizona, where she was Founding Editor, and Fiction/Nonfiction Editor of Alligator Juniper, a national literary magazine, three time winner of the AWP Directors’ Prize. Currently Bishop lives in California, where she’s an editor and a writing coach, and hosts retreats in Carmel-by-the-Sea. She reviews books for Carmel Magazine, New York Journal of Books, and Huffington Post.

"The Heart is a Slow Learner and Other Stories" by prose finalist Mary Larkin

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“The Night of the Leonid Showers” from The Heart is a Slow Learner and Other Stories

I have gone back in time and am on the porch, writing the Great American Novel, waiting for my father to die.  It has already happened, but I have undone it and am enjoying the moments with the words and the slick writing pen with its fluid stream and the paper, not to mention the drill-beaked hummingbird that hovers, hums and sucks at the red plastic flowers that are little fructose ducts to the kool-aid-red sugar water within. The tiny bird reverberates, then flits away spilling one droplet, and the past is gone, time shifts back to the present, and my father is dead.

I do not go inside to get the phone when it rings; I know my husband will answer its toll, just as I know he will open the screen door and take two tentative steps onto the porch and say, “Your father has died.”

There is nothing much for me to do with this choice piece of news my husband has just handed over to me like the Sunday Times.  The big blue jay sits in a low branch, parallel with me in my canvas butterfly chair which has wings of its own, and we eye one another.  I do not trust him at all.  He will smash other birds’ eggs and sup on the unhatched chicks. Like Cronos, I think to myself.  But some will survive.

The news is no good.  You wonder if it ever was, but when these things happen, you’re sure it has been better than this.  This is the worst.

Mary Larkin won the Southern Indiana Review Mary C. Mohr Editors’ Award in Fiction for her story “All That Was His,” 2012. She received Honorable Mention in Broad River Review’s 2013 Ron Rash Awards judged by Jill McCorkle. Larkin’s fiction has been anthologized and appeared in many journals, including Shenandoah, TheChattahoochee Review, The Nebraska Review, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Inkwell, and others. She is a Pushcart Nominee, a Writing Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a 2015 Writing Fellow of The Hambidge Center, and the recipient of Hollins University’s Andrew James Purdy Award as well as their AWP Intro Journals Award nominee. Larkin received her MA in Creative Writing from Hollins, and her PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University. She has work forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Spring, 2016.

"Swarm" by prose finalist Harmony Button

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“This Word Is Earth” from Swarm

I have a story that I’ve told myself so many times I no longer know if it is true or not. It has to do with the fireplace in my parents’ house, and a face I dreamt I saw there. The face was made of spirals – eyes and mouth  and if I got too close to the cold hearth, the face would loom up from the void and suck me into darkness.

For the next year, I avoided the living room at all costs after dark, skittering past the fireplace and bolting out the other side of the room like a startled calf. My parents were used to such odd behavior. There had also been a period of time in which I became convinced that a skeleton who lived in the upstairs toilet would crawl up the pipes and grab me if I didn’t leap off the bathroom tile and onto the safe-zone of the hallway carpet before the toilet finished flushing. There was also a texture-sensitive zombie who did nothing but stand by my bedroom door at night because he couldn’t cross from carpet on to wood. 

I had a rich imagination. 

But then, years later, I read something about the Mound Builders of Ireland, and how they worshiped an earth goddess. Her image appears in tombs built under dolloped mounds of earth that dot the landscape. She was the goddess of the hearth, worshiped at the center of the home: the fireplace. 

And then, there was her picture. Her eyes and mouth were spirals. 

I felt a sting of recognition, as if I had discovered her, myself. 

I was convinced that I had dreamed the image of the Mound Builder’s goddess before she had even been discovered by scientists of my generation. Perhaps I was psychic. Perhaps I was born of Druid blood and felt, at heart, as if I’d always known her. Perhaps I called back the distant memory of a dream and made it fit the image I had seen in National Geographic. 

My mother took one look at the picture and told me it looked nothing like the face I used to draw.She told me that the face I used to be afraid of was from a picture book  Uncle Wiggly’s Bedtime Stories  and I hadn’t dreamed it at all.

Harmony Button’s work has been included in Best American Notable Essays of 2015, she has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Web awards, and she was awarded the Larry Levis Prize (Academy of American Poets). Her work as appeared in journals such as Colorado Review, Chicago Quarterly, Southwestern American Lit, Cobalt, Rock & Sling, Bayou and Drafthorse. Find out more at www.harmonybutton.com.

Carey McHugh's "American Gramophone" in Cleaver Magazine

American-Gramophone

In Cleaver Magazine‘s winter issue, among poetry and prose, flash fiction and art, is a book review by Clare Paniccia of Carey McHugh’s American Gramophone. Paniccia opens with a suggestion:

In approaching Carey McHugh’s American Gramophone, one might first consider this question: What is the song of America, or American culture? It’s easy to jump to the obvious conclusions—the United States has strongly defined itself through its velocity, whether in industry, technology, or commercial growth, and its music has become largely representative of these themes, with contemporary pop artists representing the almost-electric shine of the digital age, rock bands highlighting the working-class, and country groups crooning over the “loss” of an easy-going, slow-paced lifestyle.

She’s hesitant to suggest that we impose on these poems our notions of what it means to be “American”—notions which, although true of a certain brand of Americana, do not do justice to the now-muddied origins of this concept or of this land. Nor is this true of McHugh’s fervent vision: hers is an America stripped of its associations and left with its most unruly, primitive form. Paniccia continues:

…what if America’s song isn’t something you can quickly flip to on a radio? What if America’s song is something that deviates completely from the mainstream—something pared to its most visceral form: an instrumental, organic, and natural tone? Think of the vibrating note of a fiddle, the deep strum of a guitar, and bare, haunting vocals. The sounds of folk and Americana that seem to eek out of valleys, creeks, and forgotten forests—quietly shivering their way into the undercurrent of the American everyday. These are the notes that wind from McHugh’s own gramophone, characterizing this dark collection with a taste of folklore and caution that asks the reader to step out of his or her American associations and return to the frontier’s beginning—the land at its most original, and its most severe.

Paniccia is right to characterize McHugh’s world as one of transience and volatility: for to speak of nature and its song is never to speak in constants, but rather in ruddy uncertainty. Divided in several sections, American Gramophone may be seen perhaps as a meditation on a forgotten history—one free from the notions of industry and development—with Section Two specifically serving as an epitaph to a society now living among ruins.

Poems like “Aviaries and Asylums” and “The Plenty” document this history, detailing how the individual has turned from the organic in an attempt to construct tools and resources to overcome earthly constraints; yet, McHugh’s song always carries in the background, accompanying inevitable failures—“I will try four strings tuned in fifths to the sound of falling.”

To read the review in its entirety and for more of Cleaver, head over to their website for their winter issue.

"In Josaphat’s Valley" and "Stick-Light" by prose finalist Joshua Bernstein

NOTE: Joshua Bernstein submitted two manuscripts to this year’s prose reading period. Stick-Light, one of two submissions, is a complement to In Josaphat’s Valley, both of which were selected as finalists.

On the Occasion of Israel’s Independence from “In Josaphat’s Valley”

Recently, the rabbi of my congregation, which is in Duluth, Minnesota, asked me to give a short talk at a Friday evening service commemorating Israel’s Independence Day. He knew that I had had some background with Israel, having served in its army, and I had just moved to Duluth to take up an academic position. I told him I was quite hesitant. He asked why, and I explained that I had a lot of uncertainties about Israel. “Who doesn’t?” he replied.

In the end, the talked turned out fine, and despite a few troubles with the microphone, the audience responded positively. “I was really moved,” said one congregant. “I often hear about Israel, but I’ve never really heard that take.” It was hard to tell what she might have meant by that, but it called to mind the line in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, where O’Brien’s narrator reflects:

When I tell this story, someone will come up to me afterward and say she liked it. It’s always a woman. Usually it’s an older woman of kindly temperament and humane politics. She’ll explain that as a rule she hates war stories; she can’t understand why people want to wallow in all the blood and gore. But this one she liked.

I met Tim O’Brien once. It was a couple years back at a writers’ conference in Sewanee, Tennessee. He was smoking compulsively, and he was polite enough to me. We spoke a little bit about Israel. He said he had known some colonel or another from there. Did I know the man, Ron something? We were both drinking, and that was about the extent of our talk. I did tell him that I appreciated his writings, and he seemed moderately touched by that.

What I didn’t say to him, though perhaps should have, is that I don’t normally like war stories, but I really liked his. I would have loved to have seen his reaction.

 

“Stick-Light” from the eponymous collection

That December was a cold one, with a seemingly endless rain. We had just completed our training and were awaiting development to the line, so for one month we guarded a base in Neve Yaakov, a pine-studded settlement in Jerusalem’s east half, which also housed Central Command. Ostensibly a general worked there, though we never saw the man. We simply blew on our hands, perched inside the steel lookouts, shivering away in the gloom. I imagine the conditions in solitary aren’t much worse. About the only solace I had was books, which I read in secret beneath the dull glow of my cellphone. One was Nine Stories by Salinger, which I didn’t much like, the other a tattered volume of poems by e.e. cummings, including my favorite, “the bigness of cannon”:

I have seen all the silence

full of vivid noiseless boys

 

at Roupy

i have seen

between barrages,

 

the night utter ripe unspeaking girls.

 

War in the trenches was evidently different from this; we had lost one man to suicide already, and several more would be dead soon in Lebanon, but the war as we knew it was itinerant, more or less random, and completely without logic or cause. Men simply guarded, went on arrests, staged patrols or raids, and, as we were soon to discover, got shot in the head late at night, or while walking back from a bathroom, or carrying a carton of food. In Jenin, one man, a guy I disliked, took a mortar in the cheek while losing at Halo 2. No one shut the thing off for weeks. They just left it on pause, as if believing that he was frozen within the stalled screen.

 

J. A. Bernstein’s stories and essays have appeared in dozens of journals, including Boston Review, Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, and Tin House. A former Fulbright Scholar and finalist for the James Jones First Novel Award, he lives in northern Minnesota, where he is an assistant professor of English at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Paint & Sip with African Voices on 12/18

On Friday, December 18th from 6:30-9:00 PM, join African Voices Magazine for a night of books, wine, and painting. Their Paint & Sip Gathering is the perfect pre-holiday opportunity to mingle, paint, and indulge in some book talk with other creatives. African Voices says of the event: “Artist D. Cross will guide you in a journey of self-expression and empowerment.  Let your muse lead you — paint your vision board for 2016 or whatever you desire. No experience in art is needed, bring your sense of adventure! There is a Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight in all of us.”

Registration is $20 before December 15th and $25 thereafter, which includes the cost of art materials and refreshments. The African Voices Upper West Side office is easily accessible by the 1, 2, or 3 trains at the 96th St stop.