Welter 55 Finalists
NOTIFICATION: You or someone you know has thought about paradise recently. We regret to inform you that paradise is running at full capacity and has no room for fanciful fiction. At your earliest convenience, we recommend that you speak to a philosopher, theologian, or psychiatrist regarding your condition. We wish you all the best. Paradise.
Anthony Lechner is a teacher, writer, artist, and philosopher, who lives in Meridian, Idaho with his wife and family.
Craigslist Ad for Our King-Size Bed
Never made! But well-worn.
Black particle-board frame pain-
stakingly put together over four
hours and more bottles of beer,
very little bickering. Well, a fair
amount of bickering—too many
cooks and all that. Minimal damage,
honey-streak on the headboard,
a list of desires tucked away
in the side drawers. Reason
for selling: all this space.
Jessica Dionne is a poet from North Carolina and a Ph.D. student at Georgia State University.
Exposure therapy is the worst. The restraints only cut into me when I strain against them. Face your fears and everything will be better. That is the theory. A stupid theory, for a stupid fear, I stupidly agreed to face.
“I’ve changed my mind, you can let me out now!”
Response, “Bring out the clowns.”
Kit Falbo, “my dreams turned into words to stimulate your imagination.”
A Dream of Marriage
A sense of order. Like light through the windows, penetrating everything. Music forming it all, holding it together. Not with threads, but with harmony: the posture of shapes each to each other. The weather of time changing everything, remorseless. Ourselves. And the past washing up on the changing shoreline of memory.
When Mark Jarman chose the manuscript of Paula Bonnell’s Airs & Voices to win a Ciardi book-publication prize from BkMk Press, she discontinued the practice of law and became a full-time writer.
Covid Reflections, Early April
The water is sharded with ice stretched
brittle, breath held and yearning.
I recall standing
on a green bridge, and beneath me: the amber
river flowing free, a wavering fawn’s silk coat.
Sleek clarity, a certain languid abandon found
when there was no reason to believe
it wouldn’t always be so.
Virginia Boudreau has 55 plus poetry credits. This is her favorite.
Home of the Brave
Bearded and dirty, wearing castoff clothes, Buzz and Little Joe watched boardwalk life pass by from their bench.
“Another summer evening in Venice Beach.”
“Beats sweating in Iraq.”
“Let it rest, will ya? It’s ancient history.”
“Better if we’d died.”
“Yeah, right. We sleepin’ under the pier again?”
“Yep. Got a new bottle.”
Mel Goldberg has taught literature and writing in California, Illinois, Arizona, and Cambridgeshire, England. For seven years, him and his artist wife have lived and traveled in a small motor home throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, where he currently resides.
Happy Birthday, Little Boy Blue
Rose pipes blue letters across the cake. Her husband yells, “My uber’s here.” She doesn’t answer. A door opens, then bangs shut. Rose jabs a striped candle into the icing and slides a tiny hospital bracelet over it, blinking away tears. She gets a match from the junk drawer, lights the candle and starts singing.
Valerie Hodges is a middle school science teacher turned writer from Philadelphia, PA.
In the City in the Day
The mindreading dog could tell which walkers would kick him, and trotted out of range down the sidewalk. Later, in the park, he sat by a drunk though he made the dog feel drunk, too. They shared a sandwich. They waited together for the sun to go down, so the city’s second life could start.
Laurinda Lind is getting restless in New York’s North Country.
All Over America
We receive another letter from Mom. Last week, she sent us one from Good Grief, Idaho. The week before that, a place called Misery Bay. Today, it’s Dismal, North Carolina. Claire asks, “So Mom is still unhappy?” Shrugging, I disappear into my bedroom. Claire’s six and I could cry. I search maps, looking for Hope.
Lisa Marie Lopez resides in Northern California with her husband and two box turtles. She’s had short stories published in many literary journals and anthologies, including The Ocotillo Review and Blink-Ink. She loves quiet walks, baseball, and more than anything, writing in cozy little cafes at www.facebook.com/authorlisamariefiction.
My parents said there was enough love for everyone. It may have been true in theory but they didn’t have the energy to expend it. My sister drank endlessly from the family well. The rest of us accepted the emptiness in our bellies because we were too proud to moisten our tongues from her spillage.
Yong Takahashi was a finalist in The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, Southern Fried Karma Novel Contest, Gemini Magazine Short Story Contest, and Georgia Writers Association Flash Fiction Contest. She was awarded Best Pitch at the Atlanta Writers Club Conference. To learn more about Yong, visit: yctwriter.com.
28 Days Later
Tiffany H. White
I’ve seen this before many times: the miracle endures even so. A twitch, a tremor, a trembling quake as the quickening pulse beats faster in search of egress.
I watch as egg-tooth snips, eggshell snaps, egg cracks and a bleary-eyed dragon breaks out.
Such a disappointment when you’re expecting ducks.
1963 vintage Tiffany H. White (LGBTQ) lives in Wales writing lies to combat lockdown dementia.
“One does not love breathing”
Harper Lee confronted the urgency of reading
when aging eyes threatened to steal that ordinary treasure.
Only then did she see the written word as oxygen.
Story and tale,
fable and memoir,
poem and essay,
breathe in, breathe out.
The mockingbird is justice.
Kansas is home.
The Cheshire holds a secret.
Tracy Thompson is mom to three amazing sons, gaga to a much-loved granddaughter, a Navy vet, Yale Law grad, and current covid-tracer, who aspires to being called a writer.
Next rejection letter I get,
I’m gonna answer,
I’m not surprised that you find my lines
unfit for publication.
Rhyme and making sense both seem
beneath your education.
And a reading of your own work proves
you’ve a little infatuation
with high art
that makes you look smart
but leaves the heart
Kelli Simpson is a mother and poet living in Norman, Oklahoma.
in the middle of a landlocked city
some fellow is building a boat in his basement
and though he knows it will never see water
he sticks to its perfect design
just like that other maker up
in the penthouse suite
who never cuts corners despite the long hours
despite the absence of heaven
Suzanne Verrall lives in Adelaide, Australia. For links to her published work go to www.suzanneverrall.com.
The Nightingale’s Song
When we say birds
find their way instinctively,
what we’re saying
is we don’t know how
birds find their way.
Nightingales never sing
until they hear another
but when they do sing
they know the score
from start to finish,
no beginner’s errors.
How can that be,
we ask, answer
it simply is.
William Heath lives in Frederick, Maryland and has published three books of poems, three novels, and a work of history.
Remembering How We Loved
These are the four ages of cat:
kitten, puss, moggie, memory.
Today, the sky’s aching depths
insist we remember the way Miss Tabby
gloried in the heat of the sun-dappled veranda,
the sound of water over stones,
wheelbarrows full of manure,
the nightingale in your throat,
primroses tugging at your sleeve.
Catherine Edmunds is an artist, musician, widely published writer, and winner of the 2020 Robert Graves Prize.
Rubrics for yonder passages
burst in on us with a sigh.
Not the “truth,” going hot-foot,
corrupting where we really were,
transmitting immediate deliverance.
Taking down testimony—the presence
of the departed—I always hear
the theoretical problem I cannot read,
declared to be a whole,
a slightly different response.
Blam blam! What an age!
*This poem was composed using words and phrases that appear on page 55 in the following works published in 1965:
- For Marx, Louis Althusser
- Poetic Meter & Poetic Form, Paul Fussell
- The Way of Chuang Tzu, Thomas Merton
- The Blue Flowers, Raymond Queneau
- The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Tom Wolfe
Jay Barnica is a stay-at-home parent and sometimes adjunct professor of writing who, in his spare time, writes 55-word poems.
Hot Towels (10 years deep)
in the mornings
I dry my face with your towel
from your shower
and every time I put my face against the cloth
I wonder what corner or crease
had its damp lapped
and I guess that’s love
Kemuel DeMoville is an award-winning poet and playwright who lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and three sons.
I rule the path of these arrows
“To the clink, shrink, or gallows.”
The aggregator of your fate,
Pinocchio or Pinochet,
No strings, no nose, no mandate.
Born of soldering iron and mother board.
My father was human-and flawed
The Turing test is easy. Singularity.
Singularly I rule,
So, you don’t have to.
Algo is a poet from Ireland.
A Firearm Metamorphosizes Into a Metaphor For Death and Vice Versa
switch a vowel
introduce a second
and learn how one minute
a boy goes from a talking thing
to a thing clutching its chest
as blood dribbles down
his green Balenciaga
switch a vowel
vamoose a second
watch the heartbroken
turn around and
blast open their lover’s chest.
Onyekachi Iloh is a writer and artist who believes in art as a weapon of the revolution.
we don’t say it’s wrong, says it’s right
henry 7. reneau, jr.
for Audre Lourde
anchored by the smallest,
heart & soul of the leviathan.
chipped teeth of courage
spinning gears of conviction,
connecting the dots to reveal
every black man, woman, & child
who said hell no!!
a constellation/: the chain of being
as strong as its weakest link.
henry 7. reneau, jr. writes words of conflagration to awaken the world ablaze, an inferno of free verse illuminated by his affinity for disobedience, like a discharged bullet that commits a felony every day, is the spontaneous combustion that blazes from his heart, phoenix-fluxed red & gold, exploding through change is gonna come to implement the fire next time.
(Step)Brother: Rite of Passage
The night of your service
I applied letters to my back
windshield in white shoe polish—
medium of tourney wins and young
love—soaped this temporal pledge
In Memory of Jeff John
For months my twelfth-grade year, hard
rain refused to sluice the grief
tattooed across my rear view.
Kelly Martineau’s essays have appeared most recently in Entropy, Quarter After Eight, and Sycamore Review, and there’s always a new row of knitting beneath her needles.
The Orphan Fawn
Perhaps he remembers
his first trip outside the shady undergrowth by the pond
a slant of sunlight skiffing the green treetops
how the air rippled, sound vibrating his mulish ears.
Maybe he remembers the whump, her tumbling up
the dull thud, silence
felt her settling, a veil shuttering her eyes.
Margaret Koger is a Lascaux Prize finalist and former English teacher from Boise, Idaho.
It’s all the same as when I left this morning. Food bowl on the floor, half-empty. Green plaid bed in the corner, covered in soft, golden hairs. Her medication on the counter in the plastic daily pill minder. One last car ride together, and now I return alone. All the same. But everything has changed.
Wendy Vogel is a veterinarian, cancer survivor, board game designer, and author of the Horizon Arc science fiction series.
First Visit to a Strip Club
I suggest it. I’m feeling daring. Rumor is, a mean girl from school started stripping after she dropped out.
Suddenly there she is: pale skin, sparkling bikini. Following my gaze, my date says: “Her? You said she was stacked.”
She hears. Her meanness disappears and leaves behind a girl without clothes: stony face, daring body.
Andrea Eaker lives in Seattle. She’s working on seeing good in everyone, even the mean-seeming girls.
“Amado, de alguna manera, tu has capturado
Mi corazón en este cuarto tranquilo.
Pero no tengo miedo, cariño.
En algún lugar en el silencio,
Voy a robar el tuyo.”
‘Beloved, somehow, you have captured
My heart in this dusky, quiet room.
But I am not afraid, darling.
Somewhere in the silence,
I will steal yours.’
Phyllis Houseman was born in Detroit, did Peace Corps training at the College Park Campus, and has published several novels and short stories.
I take my black skin out for a walk
I collar and muzzle and leash
I let my black skin exercise its freedom
within the chain-linked fence of black skin parks
until one day bleeds into another and
(for the Juneteenth time) my black skin
presents its collar and muzzle and leash
and unconditional love
Dean Gessie is an author and poet who has won multiple international prizes.
I was born in 1965. Things have gone well; I’ve done enough. Last year a girl on our block was diagnosed with cancer. I walked Lucky past her house late at night and prayed Moses’s prayer: Please, God, heal her, please! Two pleases. Months later I got sick. The girl, thank God, is doing well.
J.B. Wilde lives with his family near Chicago.
Cheryl Somers Aubin
She would get a cup of water, place her finger on the curved edge of the lamp, water the garden painted on the side. Alzheimer’s stole her memory but not this, the love and care of the flowers she’s remembered to water. We remove the lamp, her hands will reach but not find her garden.
Cheryl Somers Aubin is an essay and fiction writer and the author of The Survivor Tree: Inspired by a True Story.
He’ll Be Perfect After a Trim
Katie patted Mummy’s bulbous belly. “If it’s a boy, can we swap him?”
Mummy laughed. “No. A baby’s like a haircut. You’re stuck with whatever you get.”
But Katie remembered her last haircut. She’d cut it herself, then Mummy fixed it with scissors.
That night as Mummy slept, Katie perched on the bed, scissors ready.
G.B. Burgess’ five brothers inspired this story. For more: gbburgesswrites.wordpress.com.
A Thought of Her
The day my mother died, the earth moved ever
so slightly, as if music was off key, a story sequence in
odd order, or a movie playing over and over.
Others didn’t notice, as they mourned, but I felt
the wonder of it, the soft trembling beneath me, changing
Catherine Stanley is a documentary filmmaker, scriptwriter, playwright and poet, whose work has won awards in all categories, as she continues to create with meaning.
Love in a Rush
It was a miserable, wet and cold morning. Waiting for the train across the opposite platform, our eyes met. Suddenly the trains came between us. l bowed my head and muttered quietly, “I’ve lost him.” The trains pulled away once again, our eyes met. Today we celebrate our love in a rush 40th years on.
Valerie Peter is from London and now lives in Southwest England. She has a deep passion for writing, but has never had the courage to submit anything, until now.
God bless this mass murder,
the ones before, and to come.
Let thoughts and words
flow downstream to comfort
the afflicted again,
again. Hold this rifle
as you would a pillow or prayer,
feel its heft and the sex
in its recoil. Sweet Jesus,
bless the blood, the children,
and all the beasts they feed.
Todd Heldt decided to let predictive text write his bio. He dreams of artificial intelligence talk radio.
To a Woman Whose Online Dating Profile Admonishes, “I am an expert at being single. I do it well.”
At being a gal unattached
Her acumen’s likely unmatched.
Yet because it is “-men’s”
With which “acumen’s” ends,
A pun has been nested and hatched.
And say what you want about puns,
Our words are a river that runs;
While its surface reflects
What our “good taste” neglects,
Our meanings pair off and shoot guns.
Charles Leggett is an actor who’s played more than 55 characters.
Grandpa slipped me my first Kit Kat outside the nursery. Mom’s newborn had chocolate fingertips. Started sucking on them before I was weaned and on my ninth birthday we shared our last Kit Kat at hospice. I leaned in to kiss him. As if to give me a heads-up he whispered: Death smells like chocolate.
Alan Harris is a hospice volunteer assisting patients in writing memoir narratives, letters and poetry.
Patrick Cabello Hansel
an animal darts out—
—I’m so damn
but it’s a rat!
I swerve back,
get that bastard,
crush its feet and head,
I skid, coffee flies
all over, papers past
from the floor,
and in the back
crying in his sleep.
Patrick Cabello Hansel is the author of the poetry collections The Devouring Land (Main Street Rag Publishing) and Quitting Time (Atmosphere Press).
After Christmas break she wanders in and
out of all three empty bedrooms on the
second floor. At 3 AM she stops just
outside the master bedroom door with a
pitiful cry as if to imply that
we are some kind of terrible shepherds—
sleeping through the night
without a sheep in sight.
Susan Barry-Schulz lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York with one or more of her three adult children. It all depends.
New Year’s Eve found me counting
how many more roots I must pluck out
how late it can run before my
great-grandmother’s ghost finally gets it.
Possessed by it for twenty winters
I don’t know what it’s like to not
have a heart that feels like coming back
from the market carrying too many apples.
Madalena Daleziou is a writer from Greece, living in Scotland, where she studied a Masters in Fantasy Literature. She is currently editing her neo-Victorian novel.
clover, mixed forbes,
a quiddative green,
oak and elm, hickory,
pushed up to ride
the surface of the path
by rocky soil
in the big pasture,
fescue and Johnson
grasses as tall as a man,
wait for the mower
Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives in the Arkansas Ozarks. She has published four books, including The Mercy of Traffic and On the Way to the Promised Land Zoo and five chapbooks. Her work appears in Mom Egg, Bracken, and upcoming in The Atlanta Review. For more information, check her website at www.wendytaylorcarlisle.com.
On Moonless Nights
Unseen, the Moon carves marionettes in self-portrait and sets them skyward, suspended by the hair of children, night by night, sliver to globe. Though the horizon burns, the night never ends, lurking in shadow as the Moon stalks the Sun. No night is moonless. Grifter, trickster, the Moon mimics newness by the lies of light.
Eric Botts writes essays and produces audio stories in Pittsburgh; he has a day job, but it is not interesting.
The Year You Returned to L.A.
Two fives fetched a tank of premium.
Marked ten years in exile after internment.
(A pair of buffalo-head nickels
roamed the prairie where the camp stood.)
Cesium was tense and unstable.
The last day I saw you alive,
you needlessly apologized from your bed
for my unmissed 55 candles
and cake. Years ignitable—
George Uba is author of Disorient Ballroom (Turning Point). His American-born parents were interned during World War II due to their Japanese ancestry.
Ba Bao Fan
We show our spines like a stegosaurus, mold glutinous rice around our bones & decorate them with treasures: dried longan, dates, black sesame, adzuki bean paste, darkened with brown sugar & oil, our backs smoothed & softened & cushioned, so nai nai will say you gained weight! & squeeze our arm–it sinks like tofu sponge under her spindly fingers.
Lucy Zhang writes, codes, watches anime, and can be found on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.
A Railroad Man
Isaac plays chicken with the trains every Saturday and walks along the tracks, waiting for the familiar vibrations of the rails while taking swigs from his flask. It’s not that he has a death wish. He just wants his blood hot and ready and flowing. He wants to remember what it’s like to breathe in life.
Meg Sipos is a Pittsburgh-based writer, editor, and podcaster.
We are in his apartment in the tiny shower together which is to say we are naked and we are touching and yet honesty is much more intimate than sex and by that I mean I could live in this moment forever but eventually, the water will run cold and his patience will run out.
Leeor Margalit (@leeormargalitpoems) is a 22-year old from Southern California currently living on a kibbutz in Israel.
I Create a Paint Color / I Name Crushed Haze
You spoke to me about the delicacy
of watercolor, how the grey green
silvery blue of beach grass was muted
but somehow velvet rich.
I wanted you to touch my breast.
I wanted to know where you’ve been.
Mostly, I wanted to know why you left.
Dorian Kotsiopoulos’ poems have appeared in literary magazines, including Poet Lore, Salamander, and Smartish Pace.
In the Museum of Civilization, there are hundreds of hummingbirds. Their throats darken into red lilies. Feathers gleam with beetle scales. When I take their photo, the camera melts the birds into silhouettes. Everything washes away, except the tags on each curled foot. They glow like emerald eyes, a jaguar’s face hidden in the dark.
Grace Q. Song is a Chinese-American writer from New York.
At some point the paintings would seem finished. Standing beside me, my teacher would quietly regard my work. Taking my brush in his hand, he would add a few strokes here and there. I always was surprised to see what had been missing. I had learned the craft, but he made the art.
David K. Slay’s short fiction and creative nonfiction can be found in a group of diverse literary journals—most recently in Toho Journal Online, and nonfiction craft articles are in CRAFT Literary and Submittable’s “Content for Creatives” blog.
Lilia Marie Ellis
Half perfect—like a hill smoothed with footprint and snow in ashen aftermath, alabaster, the forfeited life regained again as new—I don’t know what I’ve reached, there are no stars in the sky to hold it up to. Is this joy, having arrived at last, or my best impression? Would it make a difference?
Lilia Marie Ellis is a trans woman writer from Houston. Her work has appeared in publications including The Nashville Review. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @LiliaMarieEllis!
In Praise of Rude Awakenings
That cold splash
the gasp—chill slick
down your spine—
hard flat facts
into your gut
some heat-lit thing inside
turns and burns
pig on a spit
stings your eyes
eyelids stutter. No
warning no pricking of thumbs
yet still it has come
with a clap.
Sharmon Gazaway writes from the deep south in multiple genres and her work is in Daily Science Fiction, Tiny Spoon, Backchannels, The Society of Classical Poets, microverses.net: Octavos and more.
On the back of the card, he had written: “Marry me.”
The front showed two monkeys eating fruit. Was the large monkey protecting the small one? Was it maternal or macho? Were they sharing their spoils or squabbling? Or stealing forbidden pleasure? Perhaps they were simply two monkeys eating fruit.
She threw the card away.
K.S. Dearsley’s fiction is the result of reading too much as a child. Her work has appeared in publications as diverse as StoneStone and Diabolical Plots.
Disabled Like Me
When I’m out rolling, people stare. Not long ago some older dude made a show of stopping and saluting, so there’s at least two reasons I’m staying in these days. I’m not your flag. I’m not a sweetener for your sour conscience. I’m the bad dream you missed, the difference between night and day.
Jon Fain has other smidgen fictions in 50 Word Stories, Molecule Tiny Lit Mag, and The Dribble Drabble Review.
“You need a shower,” said Julie, eyeing her son. He was saturated with sweat and still wearing his dusty track uniform.
“No I don’t,” he said.
Julie didn’t hesitate. She went to the fridge and got out an egg. She cracked it on his forehead. The white trickled down, leisurely.
“Now you do,” she said.
Samantha Pilecki works as a librarian and therefore enjoys librarian-y things, such as smoking cigars, caring for rats, and reading tarot cards.
Once I was young and counted license plates. Memorizing
states conveyed careful observation.
Now the virus invades once-exotic letters.
I consider reporting visitors, think of familiar names felled.
But I imagine chasing plates, Quixote reincarnated, while the virus watches in the shadows. I imagine people wearing fear, bewilderment, and amusement.
I laugh. I’ve cried enough.
Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University and has had work nominated for the Pushcart.
Fires burn things
so they can lie.
Let’s hide behind them tonight.
Our hands are glass
and our tongues, ice.
Bring the logs, fry us down.
I’m shaking, they’re singing.
I’m talking, they’re screaming.
Turn up the small talk, drown pain out.
Fires burn things
so they can lie.
Go ahead, hide behind them tonight.
Kathleen Castro is an Ecuadorian-American English major at Miami-Dade College in Downtown Miami.