online magazine for short, good writing

5 Things I’ve Learned From My Students

by a contributor

from Jacob Little, author of On the Seventh Day: Losing Faith:

  1. “The government should keep its hands off our guns and not enslave us with any more gun control. It should also make background checks mandatory and outlaw automatic weapons.”
  2. “Studies have shown that cannabis can cure cancer, lupus, and the hiccups.”
  3. “Only a short time ago, it was a great achievement to put men on the moon. Now, men walk around up there every day.”
  4. “There are no poor people in Minnesota.”
  5. “If you write like a Tyrannothesaurus Rex, no one will understand your roars.”

On the Seventh Day: Losing Faith

by a contributor

Jacob Little

On Sundays, my father wakes up before light, lets the dog outside, and lays down on the floor to stretch out his aching, aging back. He reads the newspaper as he stretches, twisting and holding a position, grunting in discomfort inches from the words. He takes a walk under the dawning light and rehearses the sermon he’s prepared. Because he recites so much while walking, when he gives the actual sermon, he paces the stage, appearing unable to stop, powerless to contain this energy that has been building in him.

I recall debating Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale in a Monday morning class in undergrad. I listened quietly as my classmates argued whether Hermione was brought back to life. She waits in the wings the whole play―presumed dead, frozen in granite―until a master sculptor carves out her warm, blinking shape, and she steps forward to hold her long-lost daughter. But most of the class seemed to think she had been alive all along, simply hiding under the sculptor’s white sheet, still as stone. My suspicion was that Shakespeare had decided suddenly, halfway through, to make his tragedy into a comedy. So he put away the props he had planned— the blood-stained cloaks, the rusting daggers, the wines laced with poison. Then he invented the Oracle to be God, able to resurrect those long dead. It didn’t matter to me whether or not Hermione had been hiding. I only cared that in the story Shakespeare had started, Hermione would have been dead, would have stayed dead.

My dad used to walk me and my sister to the playground every Tuesday. One time I fell off a balancing bar. I don’t remember the drop or seeing the wound that would become scar. I only remember my father pulling me home in my rusting wagon. When I wrote about it years later, I omitted my sister’s presence because it required more work to fit her in. The shame of that decision has spilled over to the memory itself. Remorse still pricks me at the thought of that little red wagon when it is not trailed by my sister picking me dandelions to stop me crying.

I spoke with my father last Wednesday, and I talked about how hard it was to teach composition and write at the same time. He talked to me about writing sermons, explaining how his methods have changed over time. He told me how he had always loved to write for the page, to write work that stands up to intense scrutiny. But he said he couldn’t do that anymore. “I have to write for performance,” he said with something close to shame in his voice. “So now, if you read it silently, it’s childish.”

Once, I took a film class where we discussed the use of soundtrack. My professor showed a scene of Jaws and explained how the music enhanced the fear of that unseen threat. She then began showing that menacing fin over and over while mismatched songs played. It reminded me of when I ran the soundboard for Thursday night worship practices at church. I would listen intently through the headphones, push and pull the dials, and turn up the reverb on the less skilled singers. I would take what I could from their raw, competing voices and meld them together so anyone listening would believe that they were in harmony with one another.

My dad doesn’t go in to work on Fridays. He types his sermon on the dining room table, a fan whirring up into his decade-old laptop. One time, when he was done working on his sermon, he charged out to the backyard and began mowing from one side to the other, going over the same spots time and again. I remember him sitting down after with a glass of ice water, and looking out back through the kitchen window, surveying his work. It was just a mowed lawn, but he made it his metaphor.

On Saturday I wrote. I pulled out all the notebook scribbles from the week and I trimmed them or tossed them. I tore down my words and dissected them, examined the trunk, searching for scars. I read the same lines: once loud, once soft, once staring hard at the language, once with my eyes closed. I listened closely, trying to find a way to make it all sound like harmony when it was really nothing more than a childish outline, a regret, a carefully scripted deception.

Jacob Little is a writer of poetry, CNF, and screenplays. He is a second year MFA student at Minnesota State University. He teaches a freshman composition class and is managing editor of the Blue Earth Review. He also conducts weekly interviews with published authors on KMSU 89.7′s The Weekly Reader.

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

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.


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