online magazine for short, good writing

Five Things I’ve Learned Watching the Reboot of “Cosmos”

by a contributor

from Justin Runge, author of Clamor:

  1. Tardigrades are eight-legged micro-animals that can exist in extreme conditions, such as heavy radiation, boiling heat, and sub-zero temperatures. They are also known as waterbears or moss piglets, and are most likely inside of you right now.
  2. The black gaps in spectra comprise a code revealing the elements in stars, planets, anything. Reading this code is spectroscopy, and it is a foundational discipline of astrophysics.
  3. Isaac Newton was an alchemist and biblical cryptographer.
  4. When Edmond Halley successfully predicted the exact date, time, and location of a comet’s return, he essentially disproved comets as augury.
  5. Our entire galaxy is surrounded by a cloud of icy planetesimals. This cloud is called the Oort cloud, and it is where asteroids are born.


by a contributor

Justin Runge

Good morning debris, yawping power generator, steel toe and tack, shingles chiming, light rock radio. We will rise to your thuds if they patter like limerick at our door—otherwise, we’ll stay swaddled, our cat in the box springs below.

Your ruckus enhances when we press our ears to the mattress, ambience like houseflies in our cupped hands. Standing still even fills the vacancy, pneumatic nail guns popping toward our heads, noon patinated in smoke, yesterday still a plaque on our teeth.

But if we add a running sink to this rattle, the day has won; we become percussionists in it, have to know its song, meet the men our landlord has laddered up to our roof. Instead, we’ll spend the day watching slate like snowflakes blanket our lawn to the par-rum-pa-pum-pummeling of bootfeet.

Justin Runge lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where he serves as poetry editor of Parcel. He is the author of two chapbooks, Plainsight (New Michigan Press, 2012) and Hum Decode (Greying Ghost Press, 2014). Recipient of a 2014 Langston Hughes Award, Runge has published in Best New Poets 2013, Linebreak, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. He can be found at

See Justin’s list of 5 Things tomorrow in our ongoing contributors’ series.

Five mornings this year, so far

by a contributor

from Rachael Nevins, author of And Then Comes January and Parturition:

January 6
Minutes before dawn, the clouds and fog glow blue.

January 13
The sky mysteriously bright, 25 minutes before sunrise.
Stray cats lurking in the last shadows of night.

February 26
Sky still glowing from the dawn, but gray.

March 22
Blots of blue and white, like a child’s watercolor of the sky.

April 2
Look carefully. See the velvety texture of this morning’s gray sky.

For more than a year now, I’ve been tweeting the sky. I was inspired to do so by Sarah Buttenwieser (@standshadows) and recommend the practice.


by a contributor

Rachael Lynn Nevins

Before the baby was even a baby, when night and day he was just
a kick and a kick and a kick to the gut,
I dreamed about my boy, and in his belly he had
a wide-open mouth full of teeth.
I reached to pick him up, and he bit my finger
so hard I feel it even now. I remember no other dreams
from that time, and there have been no more dreams
since the baby was born, and the baby
is no longer a baby, though still in our bed, still
suckling, every night a milky blur, and every morning a surprise,
my son running the wheels of his plastic tractor
up and down my cheek. No dreams until the dream
I had last night, of an auditorium filled with cakes.
I used to dream of flight, travel, and finding hidden doorways, and now
all I have are these tables laden with cakes:
white cakes, chocolate cakes, carrot cakes,
cakes with nuts, with strawberries, with buttercream frosting,
cream cheese frosting, icing, glazes, ganache; friends
I haven’t seen in months standing at the tables, filling themselves
with my cakes, their crumbs falling to the floor….

Rachael Lynn Nevins is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. She teaches Level II fiction and poetry writing with the Writers Studio and has work published or forthcoming in Rattle, Mom Egg Review, and Literary Mama. She blogs about her days as a writerly work-at-home mom at The Variegated Life and about her reading at Commonplace.

Also check out Rachael’s poem And Then Comes January.

And Then Comes January

by a contributor

Rachael Lynn Nevins

I sing to the baby so that he does not cry
while I bundle him in his snowsuit, mittens, hat.
Such a great effort to go out
in such dim sunlight.
But what does the baby know? He
has never seen the spring. And as for me,
it is a relief to be done with December, with longing,
with the feeling I should be feeling some kind of holiness or joy.
It is enough now to make my way
down the muddy sidewalk
under the mottled sky.
The weight of the baby in his carrier
pulls at my shoulders
as I name the colors of all the houses for him—
forest green, olive green, mustard yellow, brick.
Though he’s not looking at the houses, but up at the pigeons.
On our way to the grocery, everything new.
There’s a list in my pocket.
What more could we want? Chard, coffee, eggs.

Rachael Lynn Nevins is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. She teaches Level II fiction and poetry writing with the Writers Studio and has work published or forthcoming in Rattle, Mom Egg Review, and Literary Mama. She blogs about her days as a writerly work-at-home mom at The Variegated Life and about her reading at Commonplace.

See Rachael’s second poem, “Parturition,” tomorrow.

5 Mysterious Deaths

by a contributor

from Michael J. Wilson, author of Tesla and Edison Argue and Tesla Talks to Time:

1. The Taman Shud Case (1948)

At 6:30 a.m. on December 1st 1948 a man was found dead on Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia. The body was reclining as if sleeping, an unlit cigarette behind his ear. The man had been seen alive in the location starting at 7 p.m.the night before. He was wearing nice clothing and despite the heat a sweater and jacket.

No cause of death was found. All the labels were removed from his clothing. He had no wallet. A suitcase was found also with the labels removed at the Adelaide train station. The suitcase is linked through an orange thread used to fix a hole in the pants the dead man was wearing.

In a pocket of the man’s pants a scrap of paper was found with the words “taman shud” on it. This Persian phrase translates to “finished” and is the final line of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The scrap was ripped from an edition of the book that was later discovered by an unrelated man in the back seat of his unlocked car. In the book were a series of codes that have not been translated to this day and a phone number for a nurse who lived within a mile of the beach. She claimed to not know the dead man but many believe she had an affair with him while he was a patient of hers. It was proven that she had given a copy of the Rubaiyat to another former patient. Neither the woman nor the other man would cooperate with police in the investigation.

2. Dayatlov Pass Incident (1959)

On February 9th 1959 nine skiers died while camping on the eastern side of Kholat Syakhl in the Ural mountains. The pass was named Dayatlov Pass after the deaths. The leader of the group was named Igor Dayatlov.

No one survived and there were no witnesses. The campsite was discovered on February 26th. The tent was shredded from within and all of the victims’ belongings were inside it. 1.5 km away two bodies were found in their underwear sitting under a tree. Between the tree and the campsite three more bodies were found. On May 4th the remaining four skiers were found in a ravine under snow. These bodies all had severe internal injuries despite the ravine being only 13 feet deep. One was missing parts of her face.

The clothing of the skiers showed elevated radiation levels. There are reports from people at the funerals that the bodies were oddly discolored. The campsite is near a missile test site.

3. Betsy Aardsma (1969)

On November 28th 1969 4:55 p.m. two men walked past the desk at Pattee Library on the campus of Pennsylvania State University. On their way out they told the librarian that someone should go help a woman in the stacks who fell over. They then left. Several people came to the woman’s aid; they attempted to revive her but she died upon arrival at the health center on campus.

The woman was Betsy Aardsma. The autopsy revealed that she had been stabbed one time, right through the heart. Her red dress hid the small amount of blood that came from the wound. The two men who alerted the staff of her collapse were never identified.

4. Isdal Woman (1970)

A group of friends was hiking on a trail on Mount Ulriken in Norway on November 24th 1970. They passed a woman who seemed to be terrified of two men following her. She seemed to mouth words at the group of friends, but said nothing. She walked away fast.

On November 29th 1970 at 1:15 a man and his two daughters discovered a naked, partially burned body of a woman on the same trail. Nearby were a bottle of sleeping pills and several cans of petrol.

The original hiker and friends were able to identify the body as the same woman. The man who came forward claims that a police officer told him to leave it, that the woman had been “dispatched.”

Police were able to trace the woman to two suitcases at a Bergen train station. All of the labels were missing from her clothing and her fingerprints had been sanded away.

The woman had used up to 9 fake identities in her travels across Europe. People in the hotel she had been staying at said she paid in cash and was seen talking to a mysterious man.

5. Ricky McCormick (1999)

In a cornfield in St. Charles County, Missouri, a motorist found the body of Ricky McCormick on June 30, 1999. The body was already in a state of decomposition. No one had declared him missing and he was last seen 5 days earlier at a local hospital.

The cornfield Ricky was found in was 15 miles from his home. He did not own a car. He had no known enemies. He was never married, but had 4 children. He had chronic heart and lung problems. Ricky had also been convicted of statutory rape.

In 2011, 12 years after the death, the FBI reclassified the case as a murder and released information of strange codes found on the body. None of them have been deciphered.

In 2012 Ricky’s family came forward and said that Ricky barely knew how to write, let alone create the complicated codes the FBI say they found. The family also revealed that at the time of the death they were allowed to see the contents of his person. The notes were never revealed to them until the FBI released them in 2011.

Tesla Talks to Time

by a contributor

Michael J. Wilson


            am I             dead?

The world was at war
and I was spiraling energy weapons
and sleeping with pigeons
at the top of New York

Maybe the universe is direct in all things


            what happened             next?

The colors I saw were fantastic
they shot me through with full spectrums
that brought me to my knees

It was a parting of the waves

It was only myself that died?

No true atom splitting bombs
                        that took out the world?

Clemens told me to be careful what I wished for

I wanted to break      everything


Standing in his white coat
holding a ball of fire
the vile history of this nation

He had to stand
on a box for the photographs

I hid in the back to look shorter

My plan would never have worked

            everything      got      faster

Lightning is a beat too far to cage

Hummingbirds bees moths in a glass jar

Einstein might be a genius but also
a fool

Michael J. Wilson lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts and writes reviews for Publisher’s Weekly. As these don’t pay the bills, he also works for a coffee roaster. His most recent publications are in Ping Pong, Spittoon and KNACK.

Also see Michael’s poem Tesla and Edison Argue, and tomorrow his list of 5 Things in our ongoing contributors’ series.


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