Review: Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe by Lori Jakiela (reviewed by Ashley Begley)

BeliefBelief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

By Lori Jakiela

290 pages

Atticus Books, 2015


ISBN-13: 978-0991546923




We all need to believe in something. So says Lori Jakiela in Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, a memoir chronicling her search for her birth mother, for someone “that looked and moved and laughed and loved and was sad like me” (99). For some people, this belief is firmly set in a god. For others, their only belief is in the cruelty of the world. For both, this belief is their life-line; it is how they survive. Jakiela undertakes this memoir to write, process, and create her own memories and beliefs, “to sketch in the details of what was lost to me” (291). However, it soon becomes clear that Jakiela also bears witness to the stories of others—of her father who never spoke about his time in WWII, of her birth mother who says that she thinks of her often but that she wishes she had aborted her, as well as to each of her readers, to us. We all want our own stories because “everybody needs a compass in this world” (31). And Belief is Jakiela’s compass.

Jakiela is a master at weaving past and present together; at creating a seamless picture between who she was, who she has become, and who she does not remember—the self that she cannot grasp. Her memoir is like her mother’s recipe, the mother who raised her: “as proof of an exchange, a transaction between generations” (283). As Jakiela enters into this virtual, almost otherworldly, correspondence with her birth mother and sister, username Blonde4Eva, we see her struggle with the collision of these new strangers with her familiar husband and kids: on her way to meet her birth brother and sister, her husband holds her close—“‘This,’ and he moves his finger through the air, connecting dots, his face to my face and back to his, “is what matters. This is your family, right here, between us, what we make.’ Then he says, ‘You’ll understand better when I fuck you tonight.’ I love him very much” (192). It is passages like this one, imbued with raw feelings of love and doubt, that make Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe an unforgettable story from the first page to the last.

Although sometimes the tone of the memoir can become heady, as Jakiela is mourning the loss of loved ones as well as of the self that she thought she was and of the self that she always wanted to be. To help the reader, she breaks up the narrative of her own life with stories that have been passed down to her or imagined from orphanage documents. And it is in these stories that Jakiela really shines—you can feel her longing to know more, to be physically connected to the people that she loves, even if it is painful: “I say now because sometimes a clock ticking is just sound and writing in the present lets my parents be alive, which is what I want them to be” (260). Through her writing, she remembers her people and somehow makes the ordinary into something more, so that her father, in his filthy work clothes feeding the sparrows under the maple tree, who “stood back and waited for the birds…to come down like a curtain around him” (287) becomes something extraordinary.

Jakiela gives us a piece of her story, a piece of herself, and she believes: “‘People believe what they need to believe,’ my mother told me…about how people told themselves stories so they could keep going even though they knew the truth about things” (184). And it is this belief, belief in breathing and belief in tomorrows despite knowing the truth about suffering and death, that obliges her to write because writing says, “‘I was here.’ It says, ‘Maybe this life matters a little'” (282). And when we have nothing left, this is what we hold onto. This is what we believe.

Ashley Begley




Review: Count the Waves by Sandra Beasley (reviewed by Rachel Carstens)



Count the Waves

By Sandra Beasley

96 pages

W.W. Norton, 2015

$26.95 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0-393-24320-8



Enter Count the Waves: engaging, sharp, and playful. Beasley’s third collection is composed of poems that merge continents and centuries, folk tales, myths and historic narratives from which sometimes anachronistic speakers explore intimacy and longing, probing each situation or place until its dark underbelly emerges. These are smart, probing poems, necessitating, at times, the reader act as researcher, with the majority of the collection inspired by and titled with odd phrases coded in the Traveler’s Vade Mecum, a book for 19th century travelers that offers numbered phrases so that correspondents can send a quick, succinct messages. Beyond the many titles as allusions, the thematic and tonal threads are more limited; each new speaker—and the range of narrators and formal mechanisms at work are vast—differs in tone and form. Some read as stark and sincere; others are witty, full of puns and logic-play.

At their best, Beasley’s poems engage the reader in honest, funny, and startling explorations that contend that intimacy and vulnerability are, at times, unsexy, violent, willing. In the book’s first poem, “Inner Flamingo,” the physical landscapes—lovers’ bodies on a mattress “huddled at the bed’s edge” or “onioned in the skin of another”—testify as an account: unrefined, unrepentant. “The Emperor’s Valentine,” the sixth poem and first sestina, dampens the book’s initial traction: the emotional potency is obscured by competing foci, perhaps due to its form, perhaps due to too many actors—an “I”, a “you”, monkeys, turtles, and an emperor. The sestina returns with greater success in poems like “King”, “The Editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica Regrets Everything”, “Let Me Count the Waves”, and especially in “The Sword Swallower’s Valentine”.

Powerful monologues—almost anti valentines—these later sestinas are tragic and ominous. While images are recycled or reappear across poems: husks, ships, lovers asleep, these sestinas explore the multiplicity of an image and word. What might have otherwise been restrictive and clunky is focused, exploratory, with the emotional crescendoes that mark one of the great joys and concerns of poetry.

I trained against touch once upon a time,
not knowing a rigid pharynx would match
a rigid heart. I’m ready to react,
to bleed. As any alchemist can see,
to fill a throat with raw steel is no match
for love. Don’t clap for these inhuman acts.
Cut me in two. Time, time, the oldest saw.

(the last seven lines of “The Sword Swallower’s Valentine”)

In “Valentine for the Grave Digger,” Beasley probes paradoxical intersections of experience and emotion through the use of obscure nomenclature and colloquial language that is rife with humor and gravity:

Don’t rhapsodize the sod’s sigh, the liftoff,
the two-step of digging and herding dirt.
Ask her if she’s heard of the monster truck;
when in doubt, chicks dig a sweet monster truck.


Pervasive throughout the collection is the effort to expose the insecurities of a speaker for whom to love is difficult, worrisome, demanding vulnerability and great sacrifice. Despite the warning in “Let Me Count the Waves” against looking for poetry in poems, it cannot be helped. The speaker in “The Circus” attests to the stakes of this collection: “to see every nature / beneath decoration”. Whether exploring love or place or death, these are poems concerned with poetry in its every facet.

Rachel Carstens




Exquisite Duet: Peauladd Huy and Sara Henning

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.

 Zero as Air

by Peauladd Huy

Air puddles necessary poison between us
And a host of the unfortunate—

How many they are to a colony
Cluster, isolated:

Impossible natures—
Why rain must come

Falling? The lawn is buried with petals
I am not there to hear. I am late

Again. The moon in its early
Crescent, I stand to see

What they make it seem—
All motion. A dagger of light.

Heading westward, a sail of darkness.
A sea of night leaves unbridled, lifted

The callous air their wounds,
And the fatigue settling in

Giving up like final flood
Surrounds the last

Standing house. Nothing speaks below
A whisper. A warm breath leaving

Dampness in my ear. A cool drift
Blowing off me:

What if none of this happened?
It’s just me (too late or early).

My time is off. Often
I feel I am a breath away reaching

Emptinesses of destinations.
One amongst nobody

I can speak of—a language I’ve kept
(Hearing myself speak) like a number amongst nothing,

Amongst zero: (finds itself nothing) undefined
I am. Zero as air.

 The Truth of Them

by Sara Henning

Air puddles necessary poison between us.

Each spring: the Bradford
       pear tree’s merciless aroma
                  of sex. No matter the hardwood
       mulch trafficked

for pine straw
       or my grandmother’s
                  shearing, the smell pulses
       through the yard

like cats skulking
       the trenches of mulch
                  islands, rubbing their spare
       bodies against

sun-raptured bark.
       Fifty, testing positive
                  for chlamydia, she believed
       the pearl stain

on her underwear
       was some relic of her body
                  refusing trespass. Grandmother’s
       doctor asking,

Is there a chance your
       husband’s been unfaithful?—
                  As if faith had ever been
       the fabric swathing

her body to his body.
       As if infection came
                  from a Holiday Inn toilet,
       his lie like semen-swill

staining the humid
       breach of air and pear
                  flesh. And when she asks
       again, and he heaves

her cage of zebra
       finches down the stairs,
                  the cage’s door, like the truth
       of them, unhinges

its gravity lock:
       birds mated for life
                  veering into baluster.
       Birds, jeweled

with contusions,
       accelerating with the heat.
                  After he’s gone to bed, she’ll turn
       to their map

of scat—stool’s hypsometric
       tints, urate’s chalky relief
                  shading, some histological slice
       she can clutch

between tissues like an MRI
       atlas. The song, emblazoned,
                  she grasps for even after
       the finches,

lush-stricken, seam
       to the contour intervals
                  of plush carpet. She’ll call them
       frost-softened stonefruit

severed from reverence.
       She’ll watch them, blooms
                  muscled off her body, fruiting
       in the dusk.


Peauladd Huy was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. With generosity and graciousness of the people at Connotation Press, her first poetry manuscript is due out sometime soon. She lives on the eastern coast of the U.S. with her family.

Sara Henning is the author of A Sweeter Water (Lavender Ink, 2013), as well as two chapbooks, Garden Effigies (Dancing Girl Press, 2015) and To Speak of Dahlias (Finishing Line Press, 2012).  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, Green Mountains Review, Crab Orchard Review, and RHINO. Winner of the 2015 Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize, she is currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Assistant Managing Editor for the South Dakota Review and as associate editor at Sundress Publications.


Choosing Our Avoidance Techniques Wisely: An Interview with Andrew Ervin by Curtis Smith


Editor’s Note: Michael Deagler wrote the following introduction for a reading Andrew Ervin did at the Rutgers-Camden Summer Writers’ Workshop in late June and gave us permission to reproduce it here.

ervin-mugAndrew Ervin is from Philadelphia, and one day he will use his considerable talents to write a novel about that city. It will be insightful, it will be funny, and it will capture the essence of Philadelphia even as it confronts us with the universal struggles of our age. But until that day, we will have to content ourselves with Andrew’s masterful depictions of other places. In his first book, he offered a panoramic view of Budapest, a city of cosmopolitan boulevards and byzantine alleyways. In his new book, he treats us to an otherworldly account of the Scottish Isle of Jura, a place of peat smoke, rain, wool, rain, offal, rain, and scotch.

It has been said that writers obsessed with place are actually obsessed with history: that a place simply provides a point at which history bunches up on itself and reveals its layers of influence. Yet Andrew is one of those rare writers of place who is perhaps more obsessed by the present day. He never allows our attentions to stray far from the uncomfortable politics of now, reminding us that if art is a refuge, it is a temporary one. Burning Down George Orwell’s House (Soho Press, 2015) is a novel about a man trying to escape the modern world by traveling to the place where Orwell predicted so much of it. It’s a meditation on ethical living, interconnectivity, society, and truth. It’s also a hilarious riff on the fish-out-of-water tale, complete with an explanation of the aging process of whisky that will make you cry a little bit.

Amid all the quirkiness, the drunkenness, the rumors of werewolves and witches, a lesson for writers emerges: we are now. As writers we may canonize or demonize our predecessors, but we should never forget that they are gone, and we are here. Regardless of our level of infatuation with the scribblers of the past, they matter most insofar as they can tell us about our present. For there is no escape from the present. Even as we seek haven on remote isles and in quiet rooms, we are ever tethered to a contemporary world. We share in the responsibility for making sure that it isn’t burning down.

George OrwellCurtis Smith: Congratulations on the great reviews of Burning Down George Orwell’s House. This is your debut novel—can you tell us a little about the ride?

Andrew Ervin: Thank you—it was a long and wonderful and strange alchemical process that took some pencil shavings and, years later, transmuted them into a bound book. I started thinking about would become Burning Down George Orwell’s House way back in the fall of 2006, when I was a graduate student. That semester, I was fortunate enough to do an independent-study project with Richard Powers, a writer whose fiction has meant everything to me. He was incredible. We spent several months just talking: about novel writing in general, about specific books he wanted me to read, about how narrative can derive from character motivation. I think of those meetings in his University of Illinois office as some of the most productive writing time of my life, even if I wasn’t yet committing words to the page.

From Illinois, I moved to Baton Rouge for two years to work as an editor at The Southern Review and teach at LSU. That wasn’t especially productive time for this book, though I did write a good amount of short fiction then. It wasn’t until I moved back to my native Philadelphia in 2010 that this novel became more or less what it is now. What I learned along the way, I suppose, is that there’s no correct way to write a novel. There are no rules, no guidelines; what has worked for my contemporaries and my favorite authors isn’t necessarily going to work for me.

My fear now is that what I learned while writing Burning Down George’s Orwell’s House might only be pertinent to this novel. The next book might require an entirely new set of techniques, ones that I’m only just figuring out now.

CS: I read in your Rumpus interview that you’ve never actually been to the island of Jura—which was a mild surprise (and a testament to the book’s writing). How did you put yourself in that state of mind? What kind of research did you do?

AE: Again, what worked and didn’t work for me in writing this novel is specific to this novel, so I don’t want to make too many blanket statements about fiction writing in general, but in this instance I felt that traditional research wasn’t very important. I looked at some maps, read a few books, sure, but I’m not all that interested in any fictional place (be it the Isle of Jura or Budapest or Philadelphia) in itself except insofar as how my character feels about that place.

It’s not the real Isle of Jura that matters to this book, it’s how my former advertising executive Ray Welter feels about being there. So my research is more internal to my characters: reading the books and magazines Ray would read, listening to his music and understanding where he comes from. One tool that helped me with this—and you might think I’m joking—was online dating sites. I filled out some profiles from Ray’s perspective and in his voice, which helped me clarify some ideas about him. There was one Christian dating site that told me finding a match for him would be impossible. That one in particular was extremely inspiring.

CS: There’s a lot of drinking in the book. I’m a beer drinker, but I’ve never had a taste for whiskey. What am I missing?

AE: The real answer isn’t the fun one that people want to read in an author interview. You’re not missing anything. There are many pleasures in this world, maybe too many, and you have to find the ones that speak to you. I enjoy drinking scotch because—like wine, to many people—every sip reveals so much about where and how it was made. A bottle of scotch is a time capsule full of complex flavors that might never exist again in quite the same way.

CS: Drinking good whiskey is a big part of Ray’s experience on Jura. But then I got the impression that his drinking was part of a wider motif—how the things we dream of and anticipate are wonderful at first but then rarely measure up to reality. Ray’s trying to replace his reality with another—an idealized one—and that’s tricky business, even for the most stable of us. Yet this desire is very human. What have been your experiences with similar situations—the things you once dreamed of that, once realized, didn’t shine as brightly as you’d thought they would?

AE: That’s a fascinating and generous interpretation. Ray frequently drinks to excess and like all excessive or obsessive behavior his drinking is an avoidance technique. What exactly he’s avoiding is perhaps open to interpretation, and you may very well be getting at it here. Spending quiet, meditative time alone with our own thoughts is the scariest thing in the world for most of us, so we come up with these things (whisky, television, writing stories) to help us put it off as long as possible. What Ray tries to do, and what I’m always striving to do (and only rarely accomplishing) is to clear away all the mental distractions and think about what I think. But then here comes a new season of Game of Thrones, or a playoff series (albeit without a Philly team), or yet another posthumous Bolaño novel…

The trick is to choose our avoidance techniques wisely.

CS: My son read 1984 this past year, and I reread it along with him. I loved the book as a teen, and I was happy how strongly it’s held up (at least in my opinion). Much of it now seems sadly prophetic to greater or lesser degrees around the globe. I’m assuming it played a significant role in your artistic life as well? If so, can you tell us a bit about that?

AE: I’m not suggesting that this is really the case, but what if 1984 wasn’t prophetic at all? What if its influence was prescriptive and not descriptive? If the political forces that be—The Man—read this book, thought Now there’s a great idea! and put them into practice? That’s one mental exercise I did when writing Burning Down George Orwell’s House. Imagine the guilt Eric Blair would have felt if he knew that he had given the oppressors the tools of his country’s oppression. (Of course he didn’t do that—he simply gave a name to our very real Big Brother.) Ray’s own immense guilt derives from a similar sense of shame and disappointment. His years of selling SUVs made him rich, but only by helping to destroy his own planet.

CS: Can you share an insight to your personal writing routine? Do you set aside time and write daily? Or only when the inspiration hits? Do you think developing a routine is important for a young writer?

AE: My own routines change from project to project. I don’t write every day, or even every week, but I’m always jotting down notes and mentally moving myself in the direction of what I plan to write next. Then, when I feel ready, the rest of my life gets put on hold and I’ll spend all day and all night, for weeks at a time, doing nothing else. That’s not a method I’d recommend. In fact, I half-wish I could get better at treating my writing like a job: check in at 9, clock out at 5. I’m not wired that way. And I do love that quiet, concentrating time—free of those distractions and avoidances we were just discussing—more than just about anything in this world.

Beyond that, I certainly don’t labor under the belief that people are waiting to read what I write next. I’m not so smart and important that I need to get every thought down in order to better serve my adoring public. I write for myself, for the enjoyable quiet time. And then if I decide I want to take the results of those efforts and make them public, and if other people find some pleasure in what I’ve done, that’s unbelievably cool.

I know how little reading time I have and how many books there are that I’m dying to read. The idea of other people spending their own valuable time with something I’ve written is awe-inspiring and intimidating and very gratifying. It sounds corny, but I’m thankful for each and every minute someone spends with my fiction. I hope that I’m rewarding that time and confidence in me.

CS: Do you create a plan for your work before you put pen to paper? A point B to shine a light and pull you through? Or do you just plunge in and see where the tide takes you? A combination of the two?

AE: I do an enormous amount of pre-writing and planning, but then I also give myself the freedom to go far afield when I feel like it. It helps me to have a destination in mind whether I make it there or not.

CS: We’re both Philadelphia people. How would you describe the city, especially in terms of the arts, to those who only know us for our cheesesteaks and crazy sports fans?

AE: Philadelphia has turned into one of the great American cities and given the quality of the museums, the innovative urban planning, the bike friendliness and the walking paths and miles and miles of parkland, the long and still-vibrant history of innovative poetry, I’m surprised it’s still the butt of so many national jokes. But I’m also relieved by those jokes because I love it here so much and don’t want all of our secrets to get out. We do a great job of putting on a brutish show for outsiders, but Philly is actually the friendliest big city I’ve ever been in.

And what are you trying to suggest anyway? I’m probably one of those crazy sports fans you’re talking about. The Eagles’s second-year wide receiver Jordan Matthews recently addressed the team’s rookies. The advice he gave them was extremely smart and worth repeating for young writers who are tempted to compare themselves to their peers:

Don’t look at what this guy over here is getting paid and start changing the way you act in the locker room based on what somebody else has. […] If you start comparing, you’ll start slacking, and then you’re going to find yourself looking for a different team. Focus on what you have to do and go get that done.

I’m also a strong advocate for good cheesesteaks, especially from Dalesandro’s or my local corner shop here in Manayunk called Sorrentino’s. Every time I walk past it I think of Gilbert Sorrentino’s novels, which I adore almost as much as cheesesteaks. Wait. Okay, I think I like Aberration of Starlight more than 99% of the cheesesteaks I’ve ever had. And I’d forgo Pat’s and Geno’s for the rest of my life before giving up Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things.

Michael Deagler’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, the minnesota review, Buffalo Almanack, Front Porch Journal, the Yalobusha Review, and elsewhere. Look for him online at at

Curtis Smith has published over 100 stories and essays. His work has been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, and The Best American Spiritual Writing. He’s worked with literary presses to publish a pair of flash-fiction chap books, three story collections, three novels, and an essay collection. Dock Street Press has just put out his latest book, Communion, an essay collection. In 2016, Ig Publishing will publishing his next book, a collection of essays about Slaughterhouse Five.

Fiction: Drop by Nathan Leslie

Day 2

“Jesus didn’t walk on water,” I say.  “You know that, right?  It was ice.  Read an article said it was a cold snap and there were chunks of ice right there in the Middle East.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” she says.  She massages my knee, gives me a peck on the check.  “It’s okay, he’ll forgive you for saying that.”

“How about a job instead?”

10,000 envelopes sit in white boxes stacked on the floor.  We’re pulling them out one-by-one, sliding the blue and orange Mountain Brook Resort mailer into each one, applying the address sticker.  I’m on flyer detail.  She gets the stickers—easier job.  We save the sealing for the end.

“We’re working right now,” she says.  “We should be grateful.”

“Grateful for what exactly?  We’re envelope stuffers.”

“It’s something.  It’s good for now.  It’s money in the bank as long as we don’t make a bonfire.”

“Correction,” I say.  “It’s cents in the bank.”

Knee massage again with a hint of sarcastic tickle.  This means she wants me to shut the fuck up.  But nicely.

It’s not a bad motel exactly.  It’s just a bit crumbly—like a coffee cake version of a real motel.  The bathroom seems relatively clean for a dive.  We heard it was better than it seemed from the outside.  For our seventh motel in the past two months I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle of the pack.

At five I’m done with the stuffing.  We count 6,550 completed, which equals $65.50 for the day.  Minus $43.24 and dinner (Wendy’s), we may save ten or eleven dollars.

“Every bit counts,” she says.  We’re eating hamburgers.

“No it doesn’t,” I say.  “We may as well be indentured servants.”

Day 7

Losing 1760 Willowcrest wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  At least at that juncture the mortgage monkey was off our back for good.  Regret is the real demon.  I’m sitting on the “comforter” on our queen-sized, looking at the purple and blue and red swirly pattern on it, trying to decide (1) who came up with this hideous monstrosity and (2) why did the White Crescent Motel choose this particular hideous pattern rather than any of the other possible (less?) hideous patterns at their disposal and (3) was there a committee?

A committee is exactly what I needed back in 2008—some team to save me (and us) from myself.  Instead, we bought at the peak and suffered like chumps.  We’re not unique.

It didn’t help that I was a “consultant.”  People used to toss that word around gleefully (almost Frisbee-like), with a sense of braggadocio.  “Consultant” equaled someone giving two shits about what you think and paying for it.  Now we realize it means jack shit.  Consultant might as well equal “freelancer.”  I got nothing.  Nada.

We’re in a routine of getting our “continental breakfast” gratis in the little “breakfast nook” of the White Crescent.  This means de-thawed mini-bagels and spotted bananas with a side coffee so thin you can see the bottom of the Styrofoam fucking cup that may or may not include non-dairy creamer (I’m afraid to investigate the makeup of that).  Occasionally White Crescent splurges for individually wrapped min-muffins—the kind you find at 7-11 next to the donuts.  Or sometimes they spring for some orange colored version of orange juice (but it’s not Tang and it’s definitely not orange juice—just orange dye and sugar).  We snag a couple extra bagels and cream cheese samples for lunch.

I like to get down there by eight to avoid the ruckus; she’s not in a hurry and likes the social scene—as it were—at any rate.  Seven days in and she’s everybody’s best friend.  I don’t care.  Give me my preservatives, food coloring and paltry caffeine injection and let me hole back in my room and stuff envelopes until my fingers bleed and my wife scolds me gently for using the Lord’s name in vain (while in the next breath mentioning that he will forgive my sin, He being the God of all compassion and understanding—good to have him on my side).

We need to purchase some plastic gloves before we run out of Band-aids.  My fingers are in tatters.

Day 12

I’m hacking and coughing so much whatever dust mites or whatnot that are causing this are receiving the workout of their lives—climbing into (and then rapidly finding themselves expelled from) my respiratory system.  This gives me serious pause.  She’s on both knees in front of the calypso comforter praying for a respite (for me) from the allergens.  When we run the window fan it helps.

I have yet to find my bloody lungs splayed on the comforter.  Things could be worse.  As a sidebar, I’m sure these are not the only disgusting body fluids which have been sprayed all over this comforter.  I’ve read the articles.  We might as well take a wad of used toilet paper, smear it all over the toilet and sleep on that.  And yet, we still used the comforter anyway, like morons.  We’ll probably get Ebola from this blanket.

“I wonder if….” She starts.

“It’s too late for this,” I say.  At eight thirty my middle-aged brain is fried and I’m ready to disappear into myself.  It’s eight seventeen.

“There’s nothing wrong with Pennsylvania,” she says.  “We can stuff there, too.”

“I like it here,” I say.

“You don’t sound good.”

“It’ll ease up.  It could be stress.  Stress makes it worse.”

We have the weather channel going in the background.  The screen is showing images of drought staining the Midwest—a big blotch of dryness.

“We could start anew,” she says.  “There’s nothing wrong with a clean start.”

I don’t respond.  I lean back into a stack of three pillows and close my eyes.  I regret every stupid meaningless lunch and flat screen purchase and asinine music download and trip to the Outer Banks.  I recall one particular dinner at this expensive Italian place in the city.  We just kept ordering appetizer after unnecessary appetizer, bottles of wine, lavish desserts—all of it.  Why?  The bill came to something like $680 for four people.  It was something else.

Day 14

The coughing has subsided with an assist from the maids (we tipped them $20 with the promise that they vacuum everything three times over, please, pretty please).

She has taken to visiting Earl and Kitty in 237 and or Bud and Jocelyn or Aunt Dot—this is what Aunt Dot calls herself, at least.  Or having them over to our room.

We didn’t know White Crescent Motel had the reputation for collecting castaways.  In school I was Phi Beta Kappa.  That meant something to me then.  The underground is news to me.

Earl and Kitty come over and they drink a twelve pack of whatever cheap brew is on sale at the Kwik-E-Mark down the block.  Then they run their mouths.  Kitty says she lives for drinking.  This strikes me as possibly the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.

They were both in real estate.

I tell her it’s exhausting having Earl and Kitty over, but she thinks the two of them are just lost souls in need of guidance.

When she pays for them at night she asks the Lord if they could please cease and desist with the alcohol consumption.  I ask her if she thinks her prayers are going to make a whit of difference.

“It can’t hurt, can it?”

We come from opposite perspectives on this.

But and Jocelyn are depressives, which gives me hope because at least they have wised-up.  They have little to offer conversationally, however.  When we run out of things to talk about (which is often fifteen minutes in) they sing for us.  Gospely/bluesy songs.  Sometimes Jocelyn plays the banjo in accompaniment.  She was a lawyers a few years back.  He was an accountant.  Now they do spot temp work, when they can get it.

And they live in this shit hole, too.

Aunt Dot likes to dispense advice.

“You two should quit it,” she says, referring to the envelope packing.  “Go to Littleton, Arkansas.  That’s where the new Dowdell plant is going to be.  Get your roots in the ground there and pretty soon you’ll have your life all over again.”

Aunt Dot doesn’t care for the others.  She wears flowing ex-hippie wear and fifteen bangles on each wrist.  Her hair looks like kelp.

“She’s an old soul,” she says of Aunt Dot.

“She’s an old something,” I say.

Day 19

I have so many paper cuts on my fingers they are entirely wrapped in tape and Band-aids.  I look like a boxer.  All for one cent per envelope for Mountain Brook Resort.  As we stuff the envelopes I wonder how many recipients of their flyer (A) Read it and (B) Think their free-weekend sounds like a good fucking idea or (C) Care about a trip to middle-of-the-swamp Florida.  I’d say .001 percent, if MBR is lucky.  And this .001 percent most likely consists of the senile or schizophrenic who don’t know any better.  The whole thing stinks—it’s either a total scam or a cult or a drug thing, or maybe all of the above.

Goddamn, I think.  What am I doing?  I just want to sleep.

“Don’t you worry now,” she says.  I’m half-asleep, face pressed into a pillow.  “I believe in us.  Everything is going to be fine.”

Somehow, despite the saccharine tang of all of it, she still does make me feel better.

“Holy smokes, if you weren’t propping me up who would?”

She’s patting my back.

I married Sister Theresa.

I look around at the tacky motel art.

I once had a great job and house.  Now, nothing.

When I walk I walk slowly, as if it were 500 degrees outside.  I’m filled with dread.

“I don’t know,” she says.  “I guess you’d be left to the wolves in your mind.”

“How can you possibly retain such optimism?  How do you do it?”

She smiles and shrugs and cuts the lights.  She knows I know it was a stupid question, though she’d never call it that.  She hums to me as I drift off, patting my back.

“It will all work out,” she hums.

Day 27

I’d love to vanish—disappear to some obscure country where the creditors can’t touch me.  I used to believe I had to live in America otherwise I wouldn’t be “in touch” with what’s going on.  Now, everything is online anyway.  And America isn’t America any longer.

I just want a better me.

She doesn’t believe in divorce, as if divorce were some kind of mythological creature—the Loch Ness monster or Abominable Snowman.

I don’t hold anything against her.  I’m simply ashamed of our situation.  It would be easier if I didn’t feel responsible.

We stuff envelopes for hours in near silence.  I wouldn’t call it inspiring.  I’m tired after an hour, but I keep going.  Every finger is bandaged and I still keep going.

When I’m not stuffing I notice I move even slower, as if burdened by heat stroke.

I have a recurring nightmare that I will die with a stack of envelopes in between my legs, a flyer in each hand.  What a joke.

Day 33

They’re all there—Bud and Jocelyn, Aunt Dot, Earl and Kitty.  Also some newbies—Salvadorians and Hondurans who are unsure if they are going to attempt to return back to their home country or seek another paltry gig in some other town.  It’s bad here.

I’m tired of eating potato rolls and spotted bananas.

When she’s asleep tomorrow I’m going to make my move.

We’re sitting there eating our toasted bagels with jam and drinking Styrofoam cup after Styrofoam cup of weak coffee.  It’s better than nothing.

There’s a guy who says he knows of a warehouse which is hiring down route 56 all the way out near the chicken farms.  He says the pay is pretty decent, all things considered and that it’s guaranteed for three weeks, minimum.  They have rush orders to fill.  They have cats in the basement—and a cafeteria.

From my position this sounds incredible.

I smile at her as she chats up her friends and I hold her hand under the table.  I squeeze it.  She must know in her heart of hearts how I feel—how dismal it is right now for me.  How I had to pawn off my comic book collection just to scrounge enough money to be where I am now.

I’m looking out the window.  It is hot and dusty and dry still.  We live in a rain shadow.  I can’t remember the last time it rained.  If I could live in the shower stall I would.

Day 34

She’s on her knees, her hands clasped on the bed.  She’s mouthing words of prayer.  I know she’s desperately thinking of me.

She opens her eyes and stands, says we should get going to breakfast.

“Go on without me today,” I say.

She gives me a quizzical look—it says both that I need the energy and that I should be more social.  Even if she doesn’t say it, I know she wants me to reach out more to the others.  “Reading out” is about the last thing I’d like to do.

“Bring me back some stuff, okay?”

The door clicks behind her.

I wonder if my mother was alive how things would be different.  I bet I wouldn’t be so clingy.  I bet I would’ve left a long time before.

That night she’s reading next to me.  I can barely close my eyes.  All I can think about is what’s next.  I pretend to read an old National Geographic someone left in the room, but all I can do is look at the pictures.

When she eventually snaps the reading lamp off I listen to her breathing slow.  When I know she’s asleep I place my arm over her torso, I can feel her warmth.  I stay in that position for a long time.  And then I lift my body.

Nathan Leslie’s eight books of fiction include Madre, Believers, and Drivers.  His book of stories, Sibs, was published by Aqueous Books in 2014 and his novel, The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, was published by Atticus Books in 2012.  He is also the author of Night Sweat, a poetry collection.  His short stories, essays and poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, and Cimarron ReviewNathan was series editor for The Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for five years.  He is currently fiction editor for a fiction anthology, Shale.  He also has a collection of flash fiction coming out soon with Texture Press.  His website is




Final days to register for the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference

chesapeake-writers-conferenceThe Chesapeake Writers’ Conference at St. Mary’s College of Maryland is in its fourth year, and we are excited to have three great faculty members returning—Liz Arnold (poetry), Matt Burgess (fiction), and Patricia Henley (fiction). This summer we will welcome conference newcomer Angela Pelster-Wiebe to teach the creative nonfiction workshop.

Join us on Maryland’s Western Shore—five minutes from the Chesapeake, ten from the Potomac–for a week of craft talks, lectures, panel discussions, and readings, as well as daily workshops in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. It is possible to receive college course credit for the work you do at the conference.

Enrollment is limited; applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

For more information, visit

Review: The One-Hour MFA (in fiction) by Michael Kimball (reviewed by Michael Tager)


The One-Hour MFA (in fiction)

By Michael Kimball

90 pages

Publishing Genius Press, 2015




The One-Hour MFA (in fiction) is a bold statement to make on the cover of a book of writing. All of us MFA   graduates are sensitive about the time and effort we put in to obtain our degrees.The insinuation that we could have just read a book is one that makes my eye twitch. Wait. It’s not an insinuation. It’s a statement. A deliberate value judgment.

Of course, Michael Kimball has written seven other books and he has no MFA. With a track record like his, and with the quality of prose he produces, it’s wise to listen. And One-Hour MFA is as fun and well-written as it is educational. He’s on to something.

An eBook to be released on July 7th in 15 free chapters – like a semester – at Real Pants, and sold as a pocket-sized book by Publishing Genius PressOne Hour MFA doles out useful, applicable nuts-and-bolts style advice to writing fiction. Inside the book is, of  course, “Learn by writing” but it’s sandwiched between valuable dissertations on syntax and assonance, lengthy explanations on outlining, distinctions between character and plot and (a favorite) the importance of revision, “It must mean something that the end of the revision process, for so many, comes down to commas (and disgust).”

You could read this book in an hour, but mastery and application takes much longer. It might be wise to read each chapter twice and then apply concepts in the space of an hour and repeat the process fifteen times. This is not the book for casual writing enthusiasts who want to learn to write a novel in an hour, or even a week. Each chapter, though short, is filled with meaty concepts and explanations that are deceptively challenging. But the tools are there. Learning to write fiction is hard, time-consuming, and requires education to fully grasp some of the more advanced concepts. Kimball does a wonderful job of giving this education and explaining difficult ideas in layman’s terms. For example, what does he mean when he’s discussing “acoustics” in the arena of writing? He’s not talking about amphitheaters.

According to Andy Devine, “Words have acoustical qualities that resonate with being human.” Well, thanks for not very much, Andy. But what does Kimball say?

Working with acoustics is recognizing the recurring sounds and using them to rewrite the sentence. Maybe the first word in the sentence has a long-o sound in it and the sentence will feel finished if it ends with another word with another long-o sound in it, say, smoke. Maybe the fact that that sentence ends with a hard-k leads to the next sentence beginning with another hard-k sound, so the consonants run together and there isn’t any space between the sentences, not even really a pause, and then all of a sudden the narrative speeds up in a way that feels thrilling and then maybe there’s a fire and the house burns down.

Did you see what Kimball did there? How he used the sentence he was writing to explain the concept he was writing about? It’s slick and illustrative.

Stephen King’s On Writing has a wonderful section that talks about his writing schedule, of grueling hours a day spent writing and re-writing. To Kimball, writing is, “…trying in a basic way to get from one sentence to the next sentence.” It’s the day-to-day process of continuing after it’s stopped being fun and started being work. For those looking for an easy way out of learning to write, this book isn’t the book for them. There are tricks of the trade to be let in on, but no cheat codes because “Getting the material down is the hardest part…”

Actually sitting down and writing is one of the most commonly cited reasons for getting an MFA. And those reading books on writing are likely looking for a magic bullet. But, as Kimball tells us, there is no secret. There’s different ways of tackling the same problem and what works for one person, may not work for the next. Kimball can give the answers that work for him; he doesn’t use outlines, for example, but he admits they’re viable for other people. He says, “The key is to make those choices for yourself, whatever they may be, and to use those choices to create original fiction.”

There are always choices to be made. What does it mean to have an MFA in writing? You might learn sentence level mastery, or how to meet deadlines and motivate yourself to work or you might learn the foundations of writing by reading the masters. You may become experts in syntax and grammar and understand how to use words like a poetic wordsmith. Are those all contained within One-Hour MFA? Check, check, check, check and check. You don’t need an MFA when you can read Kimball’s book. The most important factor in becoming a writer is finding the discipline and motivation to write every day. Many with MFAs don’t have that and many without do. There’s an entire section in One-Hour MFA about discipline and practice. If there’s one section to harken to, that would be it. And it’s a lovely chapter, full of sage advice.

Is there anything that isn’t captured by reading One-Hour MFA? MFA programs deliver instruction, workshops (for what that’s worth) and the connections that are formed by interacting with other writers constantly. And while that information isn’t captured in the book, it is out there in the world, free if you look for them. Is that difference worth tens of thousands of dollars? Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s worth nothing that One-Hour’s publisher, Publishing Genius is run by an MFA grad. So is the writer of this review. What does that mean? Maybe we both think that other options are worth pursuing. Michael Kimball sure does. An MFA is a wonderful luxury, but is it necessary?

All an MFA means is that you have mastered skills necessary to get into and pass an MFA program. It doesn’t mean that MFA grads are writers. In the same vein, reading The One-Hour MFA (in fiction) won’t make you a writer, but it will mean that you’ve been given a fantastically comprehensive and easy-to-understand guidebook. A primer. It’s up to you to internalize, practice and master the skills therein. One Hour gives you the tools to write well, but it’s up to you to pick it up.

Michael Tager


Exquisite Duet: Timothy Green and Katherine DiBella Seluja

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.

Middle Age at Midnight

by Timothy Green

his mouth
was a carnival
of squalors

his eyes
were edgewise

in the beaks
of the crows
on the log

of his nose
on the face
not his face

but his father’s

Along the Third Rail

by Katherine DiBella Seluja

His mouth, a carnival.  Of squalor, he knows plenty.

This life of Snicker-bits and fries from the bottom of the bag.
His head, a tilt-a-whirl of pigeon feathers and rat.

Long hours in the tunnel,
lines in his palms, only a gypsy’s daughter could read.

An ability to strum and a crooked smile,
his missing teeth never bother the tourists.

Small change always appreciated, daily commuters know him by name.

Frieda tosses a Krispy Kreme and Jared
gives up the end of his moo goo gai pan.

His favorite slogan  CAN’T GET OFF THE FERRIS WHEEL  in pencil
on cardboard is lucrative.

On a good day, a bottle of Colt 45 and a hot dog.
On dark days, a bed of crumpled paper towels

the men’s room floor    the 5-o’clock express
rattling across his molars.


Timothy Green has worked as editor of Rattle since 2004. His book of poems, American Fractal is available from Red Hen Press. He lives in the mountains near Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

Katherine DiBella Seluja is a poet and a nurse practitioner.  Her experiences of illness and healing inform much of her writing. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Katherine’s work has appeared in Adobe Walls, American Journal of Nursing, Barefoot Review, bosque, Right Hand Pointing, and Santa Fe Literary Review, among others. Katherine has Nursing Science degrees from Columbia and Yale University. She can be found at


Stuff We Like: Ebook Flights

eBookiPhone4Publishing Genius (PGP), the small press run by Adam Robinson, has always excited us, from the broadside project that launched the press in Baltimore in 2006 to Everyday Genius (a daily online magazine that closed its doors in 2014), to Chapbook Genius (e-books that could be printed out and assembled into books), to the actual press (which gave us Shane Jones’ Light Boxes).

And now we are just as excited about Robinson’s new ebook arm, Ebook Flights, available through all major digital media distributors. Described by Robinson as “like a wine tasting or flight of beer, EBook Flights come in batches.” The flights range from 10,000 to 20,000 words, and each batch will feature three books by three writers. Authors in the first batch include Gabe Durham, Lily Hoang, and Bob Schofield.

The conceit of the series might be found in the explanation offered by Robinson of how the ebooks may be read: “If you’re flying from, say, JFK to Dulles, you might just purchase one flight in the series. But if you’re going all the way to LA, you can dig into all three.”

Ebook Flights are set to depart on July 1, and if they’re chosen and collated with the same care Robinson brings to all his projects, we plan on being roundtrip customers.

Winner for The Claudia Emerson Poetry Chapbook Award!


Claudia Emerson

We’re so very thrilled to announce that poet M.L. Brown has been chosen as the winner of The Claudia Emerson Poetry Chapbook Award, for her chapbook titled Drought.

Contest judge Sandra Beasley, author of Count the Waves and I Was the Jukebox, offers this citation for her selection of Drought:

“Containers crack, / no longer hold—” opens “Lamentation,” one of the key moments in M.L. Brown’s stunning Drought. What kind of containers? “[P]ickle jars, row boat, / mother’s arms.” These poems dance between absence and presence, erasure and invocation. I cannot call them elegies, because they’re brimming with the bright particulars of a life in motion. But just as a bee’s death can be embedded in its sting, ache often hides within ecstasy.

This publication celebrates the legacy of Claudia Emerson (1957–2014), a beloved Virginia poet and mentor to many. Emerson believed in poetry’s ability to parse even the silence. She would have appreciated Brown’s attention to syntax and origins of language, her soundscapes, the resonant endings. Although nothing can amend the loss of Emerson’s distinct voice, the jmww chapbook series is dedicated to sharing her vibrant legacy.

Many congratulations go out to M.L. as well as to two finalists—Chen Chen and Noah Stetzer—who were honored by Sandra as runners up, for manuscripts respectively titled Set the Garden on Fire and Because I Can See Needing a Knife.

We also would like to express our appreciation for the many outstanding manuscripts we received from all contest entrants. In addition to the winner and finalists, semi-finalists we would like to recognize are:

Nick Admussen, Nancy E. Allen, Michelle Bitting, Mark Jay Brewin, Jr., Aaron Brown, Colleen Coyne, Iris Jamahl Dunkle, Cornelius Eady, Doug Fuller, Piotr Gwiazda, Lesley Jenike, Vandana Khanna, Kathleen Kirk, Laura Kolbe, Jeffrey Ethan Lee, Jon Loomis, Carley Moore, G.H. Mosson, Jessica Pierce, Terry Savoie, Suzanne SimmonsJenna Kilic SomersKeli StewartMonica WendelAmie Whittemore, and Harold Whit Williams.

Thanks again to all, and many thanks to Sandra for her dedication in judging the contest, and to Kent Ippolito for his graciousness in allowing this work in Claudia’s name. We’re excited to be publishing Drought as a follow-up to our first poetry chapbook, Jessica Poli’s Glassland, and as the first part of a series that has so much meaning for us.

-Ashlie and Jen


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