“Dig Harder” by Kevin Richard White

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After I crashed the car I went into Tom’s for a nightcap. I mulled over the thousand lies I was going to tell to my wife about it. I loved lying. I crashed the car just so I could lie.  There’d be angry sex afterwards, when I told her I lied.

“Why did you lie to me?” She would say between moans, on her back, hands digging into my neck.

“I’m going to come,” would be my response.

I took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer.  When the bartender passed it over, I turned, facing the inside of the room.  Funny, all those guys sitting at the bar staring up at some bullshit TV with some bullshit game on it when the real show’s inside. 

I sipped the shitty beer as I watched a young couple at a table playing cards. Looked like rummy. Hot girl, douchebag guy. They probably had bad sex. I walked up to them. 

“Whatcha playing?” I said.

The girl ignored me, the guy shot me a look because he had to.

“I used to be real good at rummy,” I said.

Neither one seemed to care. 

A wave passed through me. I was twenty one again. The broken jukebox, the shards of the pool cue in the guy’s eye, the handcuffs, the meat-whiskey vomit on the cop’s shiny shoes. It’s all coming back and all I have to do is tighten a fist, break glass, go for the balls.

“Hey buddy,” I snarled.

The guy slammed down his hand and the girl jerked back.  I put my watered down beer on the table.

“Wanna go?” He said. 

“Who talks like that?” I said.

“I said, you wanna go?”

My knuckles have worn over the years, the chiseled face has gained weight, but the void is still there, unfulfilled by anything else except this. 

“Yes,” I said.

The girl ran off to tell the bartender. I let the kid go first and we walked to the parking lot. He turned to me in the dark and I realized why I wanted to talk to him. He threw a punch.

“Stop,” I said, but it connected.

I fell and he said, “Fucker.”

“Wait.”

He held up another fist. I stumbled up to my feet, looked past him and pointed to the reason I wanted to talk to him. “Look.”

He didn’t.

I wiped my mouth. “I ain’t gonna hit ya, Christ, look.”
He turned.

I came up behind him, smiling with pride and blood. “That’s my car.”

There it was, the wrecked Elantra. Smoke streamed out, the color of a stout.

“That’s my wife’s,” I said.

He opened his mouth to say something, maybe ask me a question.  But then he closed it and we both stared at the car.

The bartender was about to come out.  I knew that. He’d have his baseball bat, threaten to call the cops.  The douchebag’s girl would cower near the door, maybe throw an insult or two my way.  I’d walk into the dark toward a home I’d get to much later. Dig around in the fridge for a beer.  Lie to my wife about the car and then try to fuck her. 

The future can be bright.

But he left me there and walked back into the bar. I guess he didn’t have a question after all.

I guess the fun was over. I wiped the blood off of my face with my shirt. I couldn’t find my keys. I walked into the road and waved at every car that blew past me.

“Help me find my keys!” I shouted.

 

Kevin Richard White’s fiction appears in The Hunger, The Molotov Cocktail, Barren Magazine, Hypertext, decomP, X-R-A-Y and Ghost Parachute among others. He is a Flash Fiction Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine and also reads fiction for Quarterly West and The Common. He lives in Philadelphia.

“Tourist Trap” by Kyla Houbolt

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He landed on the bank of a golden river. The turf there was golden under a weeping cherry tree. It was in bloom. The small person — a girl — had round eyeglasses and he wondered if she could see how the afternoon light and the reflection of the blossoms turned the river surface the color of claret. The girl was not looking there, she was taking her violin out of its case. It was badly out of tune. She tuned it skillfully, swiftly, and began to play a melody so hauntingly sweet he forgot himself and wept on his control panel which shorted out. He did not notice this at first, so mesmerized was he by the girl, her music, her large round eyeglasses which reflected the claret color of the water and its golden ripples.

Then it was time for him to leave, to return to his own era. Soon, he would need food; his body was not used to such long periods without nourishment. But the control panel was ruined and he had no way to repair it. He was trapped. This alternate timeline that seemed so charming was doomed to end, he knew, in the imminent explosion of the planet. Alas. Yet — he might just know a way to avert that catastrophe, if he acted fast. There was no time to waste, but first he needed to eat. He approached the girl and, before she could react, removed her eyeglasses. After all, he was an obligate carnivore.
They would have been
a bit too crunchy.

 

Kyla Houbolt’s first micro chap, Dawn’s Fool, is available from IceFloe Press. She is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee. She has a bad habit of sticking poems up on trees and leaving them for any who walk by to read. Most of her published work is here: https://linktr.ee/luaz_poet.

Twitter: @luaz_poet.

3 Poems by Stuart Buck

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little ants

i am sorry that i used to collect you in matchboxes
in my pocket, far away from the rest of your family

i was young and had yet to discover how cold life can be
without the soft crawling of other bodies

 

little poem of hope

on my way to kill myself i met
a very friendly cat, so i turned around
we are all decomposing slowly
so that is of some comfort
we are all semen/blood/dying stars
so that is of some comfort

 

when i was young my mother told me i could choose the colour of the sky

so i chose invisible because i wanted to say hello to god but when the infinite is transparent you do not see god or the end of all things, you see yourself staring back and you are full, so very full of everything

 

STUART BUCK (HE/HIM)  is a visual artist and award-winning poet living in North Wales. His art has been featured in several journals, as well as gracing the covers of several books. His third poetry collection, Portrait of a Man on Fire, is forthcoming from Rhythm & Bones Press in November 2020. When he is not writing or reading poetry he likes to cook, juggle, and listen to music. He suffers terribly from tsundoku—the art of buying copious amounts of books that he will never read. 
Twitter: @stuartmbuck

Review of ‘$50,000’ (Andrew Weatherhead) by Alex Weidman

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I hate to start this way. I hate to start a review of someone else’s writing by talking about my writing, as if I’m writing in any kind of way that can be taken seriously, but lately anytime I’ve gone to write something I’ll reach a point where a thought strikes me. I’ll be writing and suddenly I’ll stop and think: “What’s the point?” And usually, or always, my point is to make some kind of point, which ends up boring me so much I don’t continue. And if not exactly a point, the most innocent thing I might be doing with my writing is trying to be clever, or smart, which fills me with a boredom even more overpowering. What does it matter? What could I possibly have to tell anyone about? Seriously, we could be underestimating the permafrost thaw by as much as 50%. The United States Army’s internal research suggests societies could start collapsing within 10 years. How much could anything I have to say matter?

This feeling has leaked into other people’s writing as well, mostly—obviously—fiction. It’s as if all I see in other people’s writing is their striving to make a point or to be clever. I quit reading more fiction books in 2019 than I finished. It’s like, oh, you put a Chinese Muslim immigrant and an Iraq War vet together in New York City? Guess I don’t have to read the whole thing, because what else are you going to say besides the world has made a mess and therefore human connection is complicated? I use this example because I’m sure it’s not about the book being bad necessarily, but I can no longer convince myself to suspend acknowledging where the writing seems to be going. I don’t have the patience anymore. I understand the antagonism between the US and China. I know what we ask soldiers to do to Muslims. I know how fucked up immigration is in this country. It’s not that you can’t write about those things in fiction anymore, I don’t think, but setting up stories against realities like that is not only not interesting to me right now, it feels corny. It’s like, I know where the world is going, and it’s to shit, so I don’t know how you could say anything else with premises like that. To try to extract anything else, let alone something like hope or happiness, out of those enormous premises feels like an outright lie. Or it’d take nonfiction. The bad is becoming so big it’s outpacing our ability to even comprehend it, let alone escape from it. The American war economy is a hyperobject. The relationship between the last two superpowers at the end of the world is a hyperobject. Climate change is a hyperobject. You’re not getting anything out of it. You’re not subverting it with daily life because daily life is swallowed up in it. You can throw in all the tricks you want, but that won’t obscure the fact that almost everything at that scale is horrifyingly vacuous right now. Most things at that scale are where the world’s real nihilism exists. Allusion, realism, fabulism, dirtbaggery, whatever one might use to try to get anything more out of reality like that is crushed under the actual weight of it. And the same goes for poetry. Metaphors, similes, bizarre forms to mirror confusion and chaos, to signify a way to understand the text, to signify a way one is supposed to feel reading the text, for me it all gets crushed under whatever reality is being hinted at. If I see a poem going all over the place I don’t even bother. Your poem is in two columns and can be read in three ways? Is that not just a gimmick? In fact, devices like these feel so shallow compared to what they’re going after that they have not only been landing flat, I can’t stop seeing in them the attempts to be clever or make a point that I can’t seem to stop doing myself.

But then something like this comes along: 

“Tater tots, untouched, in the trash / B-roll of hell / Stock photos of people losing the will to live / Every few hours a man with one eye walks by my desk / He sees the real me, eating lunch alone” 

There are 741 lines of this, 741 unstructured, standalone, non-narrative lines. 

“A music without sound / Michael Jordan crossing over Larry Bird / Allen Iverson crossing over Michael Jordan / Light from the computer screen while the city turns to dust / Hours pass… / Lie after lie delays the truth” 

It’s immediately readable, and the readability, how fast you’re drawn in, is refreshing. There are no tricks. There are no gimmicks. There’s more blank space than text, which may be the way it’s supposed to be done. And it’s not that it’s just a bunch of nonsense. It’s not that it’s not going anywhere. I’m not saying that you need to be incoherent to say something interesting, because there is an absolutely recognizable feeling as one get deeper into it. There is an arc, however sporadic. It’s dark and sometimes funny. There’s no story. There’s no real build or climax. It starts to dawn on you that it’s like your life. It’s like my life. It’s probably like Andrew’s life. The peaks and valleys (especially the peaks) have been grinded down into a more or less straight line that just goes on and on. $50,000 is the most honest book I read last year. It was the best book I read last year. It felt like it was saying something important. It felt like it grappled with the question, “what’s the point?” and wasn’t crushed. But how could such a simple book do that?

“Facts can’t change us; beliefs are too resilient / Agreeing to disagree may be all there is / Even though scientist guess we’re all just guessing / Because if knowledge, then ignorance and fear / So I mistake spilled coffee for a shadow”

It’s right there. Facts don’t matter. You’re not persuading anyone. “No answers only interpretations” he writes later, aping Nietzsche. What’s the difference between answering and interpreting? I think the difference is in $50,000 Andrew isn’t going to give you spilled coffee as a shadow, or a shadow of spilled coffee. He’s just going to give you him mistaking spilled coffee for a shadow. Why would you take spilled coffee as a shadow, anyway? They’re hardly the same color, and not even the same thing. One’s a drink and the other is an absence of light. What would you get out of that right now? Would that tell you anything about the world? I don’t believe it. In $50,000 all you get is Andrew mistaking spilled coffee for a shadow, and is that alone not something you can appreciate? Is that not good enough? While I don’t think many people would disagree that right now all we have is each other, and that we need to be there for each other, I think hardly anyone is willing to take the implications of that seriously. Implicit in that sentiment is the understanding that we are totally alone with each other, that there isn’t any sort of transcendence to look forward to or any tradition to fall back on. It implies a lack of any deeper connection to each other and to the world. Our relationships with each other and the world are not metaphorical or transactional. What that means is you don’t get spilled coffee as a shadow. The best you can do is try to appreciate that someone has it at all. It’s not mine and it’s not yours. What we all uniquely have or experience isn’t a metaphor, it isn’t something to be bartered and traded, nor should it be. If it sucks it sucks. If it’s hard then it’s just hard. I think this is where the misunderstanding of identity politics, or intersectionality, or representation occurs, when they’re seen as based on metaphorical relationships instead of literal experiences. If we can’t get to a point of appreciating the inherent experience each of us have in a way that might not affect us at all—or if we can’t present our experiences without attaching signifiers of ‘intelligence’ or a ‘better’ understanding—I don’t think we don’t stand a chance. As humans we’re all as disparate as the lines that make up $50,000. Why shouldn’t everything be this simple? There’s no real connection. We’ve got to make do with whatever kind of ‘one’ these lines, or we, form. Even if they don’t form a coherent narrative. Even if it doesn’t make sense.  

Baudrillard called this world Integral Reality. Absolute reality, all there is is all you see. There’s nothing left behind all the faces and signs, there’s no greater, or more concentrated, or truer meaning. “Colville died last night,” Andrew writes in one of his lines. Colville is dead, and you can put together as many facts and anecdotes about his life as you want but you won’t make a metaphor out of it. All you’re left with is feeling bad for his parents. And if you can’t find a metaphor in something like a friend’s death, what chance is there of finding one anywhere else? It’s best to just quit trying. Just give us what you want to give us. Strip it all down. $50,000 does it literally. Line after line after line. Metaphors and similes minimal if they’re there at all. Of course I don’t know if this style has the kind of momentum and/or pliability to become a form, something that can be done again and again, but I also don’t think literary devices are inherently signifiers of fake things. They just feel, in face of all that’s going on right now, useless at best and lies at worst.

I hope people read $50,000 and try to strip their perspectives of all pretensions like this. Although it might be ironic that this places all the emphasis on individual voice and experience at the same time I’m saying I don’t care or want to hear your metaphor, it is more an act of trust, a trust in oneself and a trust in the other to be radically honest. I hope all writing, not just poetry, goes this way for a little bit, even though I obviously have no idea what that would look like. I guess it’s something you can intuit. And clearly I didn’t read all the books last year. I’m sure other people are writing in a similar way, but I struck out more often than not. The only other thing I read last year that wasn’t nonfiction that felt as real as $50,000 was Nick Drnaso’s incredible Sabrina, which is illustrated and written in Drnaso’s similarly bare form. It’s this bareness that feels interesting right now, this Benzodiazepined, how-much-longer-are-we-at-this kind of bareness. I’m talking about not pretending your writing has made things less fucked up. I’m talking about not lying. I’m talking about how Andrew opens $50,000 saying, “No matter how depressing this book may get, just think about how much positive thinking it must have taken me to finish it.” I’m talking about Joy Williams saying, “One of the great secrets of life is learning to live without being happy.” Or maybe I’m talking about Joy Williams saying this: “Imagination is nothing. Explanation is nothing. One can only experience and somehow describe–with, in Camus’s phrase, lucid indifference.” The big picture is morbid. Maybe Andrew has figured out that right now anything more, like happiness or hope, can only be gotten at fleetingly, in the minuscule, mundane cracks in between the pummeling the world gives.

 

you can by $50,000 HERE.

Alex Weidman works at a co-op and lives in West Virginia.

3 Flash Pieces by Michael O’Brien

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sack of meat netflix special

The producer, the camera man and the sound guy start to shove the meat into a see through bag. The meat is unidentified; none of them know which animal or what part of the animal it came from. They don’t discuss this. The sound guy picks up his sound equipment. The camera man goes to his camera. The producer picks up the sack of meat and props it on a chair behind a desk in front of the camera. The producer makes sure he is out of shot and starts to prod the sack of meat with a stick. It squelches and other sack of meat noises leave the bag mass. They non-verbally decide to put a grey suit on the sack of meat. The producer starts the prodding routine again. Squelch. Sack of meat noises. Five minutes pass. Then fifteen. Another fifteen. And then words start to come out of the sack of meat. All three of them smile reassuringly. The prodding continues. And the words continues.

 

 

 

the earth IS flat, bro

So you are unemployed for six and a half years and then you finally get a job. The job is in advertising for some big burger chain. Anyway your first major task is to draw an earth. You ask about the concept behind it but you space out and don’t hear what they want. So you just draw the earth as if it was flat for the lols. Strangely everyone loves it and you get promoted to prince of the burger advertisers. WOw! But slowly you become mad with power and a flat earth fetish grows deep inside. Firstly you spend all your free time drawing flat earths. Then you spend your free time looking for the end of the earth. And as if by magic, one sunday while sunday driving, you find the end of the earth in Bolton, Lancashire. But you accidentally drive off the earth and fall into space and die. And now people still say the earth is round. Fucking losers. I think your ghost would be pissed at all these round earthers and their horizons but ghosts aren’t real. Bro.

 

 

feeling like shit in the happiest place on earth

I had scheduled an interview with the post office but I couldn’t make it due to the fact I’m finding it hard to breath. Likely story. Anyway, I’m at the doctors now – more accurately I’m in a queue to see a receptionist. My number comes up. She gives me a torturous time. I am sweating and dying. Wonderful. On one side of her cubicle are two pictures of cats. One is smiling in a photoshop kinda way. The other is a cat in a more natural pose. Seems like it might be her cat. Maybe her cat that died. I don’t really know.
She thumps away at her keyboard. She thumps away at me with questions. All I say is here is my European health-card. I am sick. Let me see a doctor, please. On the other cubicle wall is a picture of a woodpecker in a lovely pastoral setting feeding its young. I get the sense the receptionist is not into woodpeckers. I get through the questions and forms. I see a nurse first and she takes bloods and that kind of thing. Finally get to see the doctor. He is thorough, competent and polite. A good boy. He doesn’t waste words and tells me little. He sends me for more bloods and a throat swab. I head back to my flat. At the flat I take a nap. Wake up and drink coffee. I wait for blood results. I hear the woodpecker. I think he is smacking against the lampposts again. It’s also raining.

Michael O’Brien is the author of, most recently, Silent Age (Alien Buddha Press). His writing has been published widely in print and on the internet, and translated into other languages. An extensive list of these publications can be found here. He is also the curator of Weird Laburnum. You can follow him on twitter @michaelobrien22

2 Poems by Ryan Bry

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Greenland

I’m crying about Greenland again,
and it doesn’t have anything to do with you, the mountainous static
has nothing of me, its buzzing snow crackle in Greenland
where everything happens.

My water coils in clouds
above Greenland, flinching at the incestuous pop of the hilltops.
Another day for my water to be above Greenland,
which I know nothing of and yet harbors my love
for you.

A sweetness is somewhere
there are rivers of sky for deja-vu canoes and I’m crying again, Greenland,
knotting my water over you.

 

 

A Brief History of Electricity in Chicago (while listening to Wire’s Pink Flag)

My electric death-flinch brought me to Chicago
and left me.

The buildings couldn’t let me go and the summer thunder
couldn’t take me.

I’m a little bit lost living without
my electric death-flinch.

 

Ryan Bry, currently residing in St. Louis, Missouri wishes to bless all his readers with a mysterious grace that they can carry with them. The fool, jack-of-all-trades, a dreaming piece of work on his way to glory. Author of Information Blossoms out on Expat Press and member of the outsider artist band Penis Grenade.

2 Poems by Josh Sherman

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HOW TO TELL STORIES TO CHILDREN

How to Tell Stories to Children
was originally published in 1905
Sara Cone Bryant wrote it

She was an author of children’s books

Sometimes I think my life is being written
by an author
of children’s books
like Sara Cone Bryant

Things are oversimplified
dogs play a disproportionate role in the plot
there is whimsy that just seems sad
to normative adults 

Anyway, you were reading
How to Tell Stories to Children
on April 19, 2017, around 9:45 p.m.
while riding the streetcar

Your pants were pea-green and wide-legged
Your hair brown-like blonde
You were probably an art-school student
Your major, probably conceptual

You’d just sat beside me
because there was an empty seat
But maybe also because I was reading
But maybe not because I was reading

The streetcar driver was a comedian—he asked
“What kind of room has no windows or doors?”
And right away you replied:
a mushroom

It wasn’t rehearsed at all
Your brain just worked like that
Nobody else had answered or even tried
Then you went back to How to Tell Stories to Children

I continued reading Landscape With Traveler
A novella by Barry Gifford published in 1980
I wanted to get to know your brain

I wanted to be a streetcar operator
But you got off at Dovercourt

And I took the streetcar to Lansdowne

 

BODEGA

I feel like sad corner-store fruit
I’m a little bit expired
I’m a little bit bruised
I wasn’t always like this
but it’s how I am now
You’ll find me beside the Lays chips

and the gummies
You’ll find me under unflattering light
You’ll find me at unexpected hours

 


Josh Sherman is a Toronto-based journalist with fiction previously published online in Hobart and in print in the Great Lakes Review.

 

Art by Julienne Bay