online magazine for short, good writing

Month: October, 2013


by a contributor

Joshua Willey

The morning after our children were killed in New England
A man was weeping in the reference section of the library
Beside the half-mast flags flapping over city hall
Grey rain and the shortest day of the year nigh
But under the bright fluorescence of the reading room
There was plenty of time for online shopping, even a few
Make-out sessions in the stacks or a bum shaving in the WC
Singing Chet Baker: “I get along without you very well, of course I do”
At the Wallace Stegner Environmental Center druggies whisper
About tobacco and Christ, skinny jeans and free gyros
Conservatives take over Japan as we remind ourselves
Only the good die young. My father sends me pictures of
Snowbound dawns, the stillness of pines, barn icicles
While here I am on Stanyan Street more concerned that
The 49ers are making a mistake not playing Alex Smith
And watching bums watch the fog and wishing the darkness
Would come so I could quit work and trudge up to my little room
To watch The Man Without A Past and drink my tea alone
What was it Stevens said, about making a space for transcendence
And why does it remind me of a knife you had just for cutting
Salami in the park. And what has become of that knife
Good god, what has become of the salami? The Devil in the Hills
Says you just need one true thing to be redeemed, so
I guess we’re in the clear. Still, if one is so prepared to die
Before thirty, what happens if he chances to see the age when
Those numbers are tripled and we are colonizing outer space
In vast fleets of ships. Then our fuel injection and flat screens
Will seem very old fashioned indeed and we will know at last
Here and now, it really was the good old wild west after all

Joshua Willey was born in Oakland California and studied literature at Reed College. Some of his work can be found in Adbusters, Rain Taxi, Opium, Wilderness House, and Newfound. When not reading or writing he works on a farm.

This Week in Words – Oct. 26

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Back from hiatus!

Hi everybody! In honor of the Austin City Limits music festival, which I attended two weekends ago, I’ll start things off with a slideshow of 8 songs inspired by pieces of literature. It’s not the best list, nor the most comprehensive, but it’s the Huffington Post so, you know, what’re you gonna do?

Ian Crouch for The New Yorker talks about neologisms (a word I love), which are new words (many of which I do not love, i.e. twerking…ugh).

I suggest we all move to Iceland. I’m not saying it’ll improve our chances of publication, but they certainly seem to be literary-friendly over there. And it couldn’t hurt, right?

’Tis the season for All Hallow’s Read, my friends. Check out the site, the awesome promotional video, and give a stranger a scary book. Here are some recommendations, too, from them to me to you!

Happy (pre-)Halloween (weekend)!

Up North

by a contributor

a brief encounter by Richard N. Bentley

He’d come to Northern Michigan, and the lake gulls were shrieking at him. He’d been on vacation only two days, but he sat around the cabin, springing up now and then to go to the window and back. It was too chilly to go out onto the beach. The sky looked like rumpled tinfoil and the wind was strong and cold. Lake Superior came rolling up to the beach with thundering splashes.

He would go to the door, then return and slump by the fire. I also heard him last night, walking around upstairs in the night, mumbling swear words in the darkness.

This morning he fidgeted around the cabin for an hour, not eating anything.

“Demon,” he said. “No, that’s not it.”

Lucy, my sister, had wrapped a blanket around herself. She shivered and looked out the window. “Demeanor,” our father said. He laughed quickly and without humor. “No, that’s not the word.”

“Don’t worry about it, Dad,” I said. “The word isn’t important.”

Lucy said, “Dad, I can tell you the word.”

“No, no,” our father said. He held up his hand. “I’ve almost got it.”

“Demeanor,” he said. He shook his head.

We first noticed it last year when we drove up here. We stopped at a gas station. He put his wallet on the roof of the car while he filled the tank. Later, he said, “It was the credit card.” The words on the gas pump flustered him—remove card rapidly.

We drove off with the wallet still on the roof and didn’t discover the loss until we arrived here three hours later.

“Debilitate,” he says. “Dyslexia.”

“Dad, cut it out,” Lucy says, “you’re making us crazy.”

“Crazy,” he says.

The waves sweep along the shore.

“Dementia!” he says suddenly. “That’s it! Dementia. That’s the word the doctor used. Comes just before Alzheimer’s. Remember? Do you remember?”

“Dad,” I say, “don’t worry. The doctor said it could be a long way off. It doesn’t happen right away.”

“A long way off,” he says.

Our father straightens himself before the window, watching the waves.

He says, “Please keep helping me to remember. Help me to keep remembering, the word.”

5 Things to Fill the Space in Your Brain Reserved for Useless Facts

by a contributor

from Deborah Rocheleau, author of Near-Sighted:

  1. Silver-medalists from every Winter Olympics since 1948.
  2. Names and official languages of planets that never existed.
  3. Holiday jingles for eggnog brands no longer in production.
  4. Who forgot to unload the dishwasher.
  5. Birthdays of various family members, friends, and close coworkers.


by a contributor

Deborah Rocheleau

I should have cloud-gazed more. If only I’d focused on something more distant than the cracks in the sidewalk, like constellations on a dewy night, only visible in my peripheral vision. In Chinese, the word for ugly is compound, composed of the adjective “difficult” and the verb “to look”. Literally, hard to look at. Only now do the doctors tell me that life should never be hard on the eyes.

I never sat on my brother’s liquefying couch in the basement, eyes trained on the sniper scope taking up a fourth of the TV screen. Though the TVs got wider, his video games kept parceling up the screen, smaller and smaller. I never spent nights pouring over a glowing computer, but I slumped closer and closer to my art books as I read them in bed, until I woke in the morning with my head pressed against them, and I realized the illustration was a portrait of a dog, not a basket of fruit. That was the first sign of eye troubles.

I should have dived eyes-first into the drive-in movie screen, instead of sitting in the rumble seat while my brother tolerated my company, stroking the worn steering wheel instead of his girlfriend’s arm. I licked the garlicky popcorn butter off my fingers as the bad guys duked it out on screen, studying the photos of a Monet by the warm light of an assassin’s fireball. Mom warned me not to read in the dark.

I should have planned on pedaling farther than a bicycle’s spokes could carry me, to a college out of sight of a cornfield. Then my watercolors might consist of more shapes than those rows of crops. They filled my studio window with a scene more inspiring than my blank canvass, distracting me from my work. When I hit a mental block, my eyes would skim those fields, and my hand would sketch them without my consent. So I bought a curtain, blinders for my eyes. Now, when confronted with an assignment deadline, I stare into two patchworks of nothing.

I should have bought French truffles (even though they actually came from China) instead of eating squash November through April, since it was the only local-grown crop that kept dry in the cellar. If I’d ever written letters (writing by candlelight would have done wonders for my eyes, I’m sure) I should have scraped the adhesive off the stamps, collected the little snapshots of another unreachable culture, and wondered what on earth the carnation and the scroll meant, anyway.

Freshman year, my school got vending machines that sold only carrots, in little bags like Barbie-Q chips. If I’d eaten them more often, Mom says, this wouldn’t have happened. Carrots help your eyes, if you don’t mind sacrificing your skin pigmentation. I’m sure Mom has a home remedy for that somewhere, too.

Living so close to the airport, the noise is whiter than my canvas, and just as distracting. I learned to block it out, to see it as the clacking typewriter of productivity. Now, in the silence of a corn field, I’m out of ink ribbon, armed with only a jar of liquid paper.

They say Beethoven was deaf; he felt out his symphonies through vibration and memory, note by note through dozens of revisions. So could a half-blind artist paint by feeling the heat of refracted light off paint? Blazing yellow, eye-watering red, and snow-on-the-eyelashes blue?

Wearing another person’s glasses doesn’t show you how they view the world, all blurry and unfocused. You have to have their eyes, too.

In hindsight, I should have worn frumpy sweatshirts and frizzy hair, instead of squeezing my legs into skinny jeans and ironing my hair pizzelle-thin every day. I have to change my style now to accommodate the glasses. It’s a fine line between sophisticated genius and bookworm, and there’s no way I’m letting a contact get that close to my eyeball. Don’t they hurt? Don’t they sting, like ill-suited people forced too close together?

I wear my glasses when I check my email now, a half-dozen social networking sites open on my computer. Sitting in my chair, I escape the stuffy air of my house, filled with the breath of one too many family members. “Friends” leave me comments, telling me what they really think about my art without the hypocrisy of polite conversation getting in the way.

“She places her strokes with audacity, mocha-mint brown next to gaudy yellow,” some wannabe critic observes. “The result is, frankly, too ugly to endure.” I agree, in the Chinese sense of ugly. Every day, as I whizz past the inspiration for the scene on my bike, I think the same thing, how ugly it all is.

I shouldn’t have tried to read the words of my mother’s spy novels as I lay in her lap, collecting useless scraps of stories. I rolled my eyes beyond their natural range to graze across those black lines like crops, those precious sentences out of another human being’s head. Probably pulled an eye muscle that way. Then again, the critics would have you believe nothing in life should be hard to look at.

Deborah Rocheleau is a language fanatic. Her fiction has been published with the Tin House Open Bar100 Word Story, decomP magazinE, Flights, Mock Turtle Zine, and the Boston Literary Magazine. She is currently writing a contemporary young adult novel. She blogs at

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

Five Ideas for Awesome Poems I Still Think I Will Write One Day

by a contributor

from Taylor Mali, author of Things to Which I Have Compared Our Marriage:

1. Poem about the sign for a lost three-legged dog
The one I saw outside a liquor store in a college town
that read Lost: Three-legged Dog. And how someone
had taped another sign just beneath that read Found:
One Dog Leg.

2. Poem about my friend Genevieve Wilt
And how she said she’d been a slut in high school before she found God,
and how, when I asked her if anyone had ever teased her by saying
Good girls won’t but Genevieve Wilt, she gave me a look that either meant
she was incredibly insulted, I was going to hell, or possibly
that she totally would have slept with me in high school.

3. Poem about the three ways to avoid getting into an accident while driving
Because everyone thinks of slamming on the brakes
and swerving violently and no one remembers that acceleration
can also save your life.

4. Poem about the Empire State Building
And how on some days, from some angles
it seems tall and skinny, but on other days
it’s shorter and thicker.
Also, how ever since September 11th,
it has always seemed smaller than I remember.

5. Poem about my sister’s long blond hair
which she cut off on the first warm day of Spring
while sitting on the deck outside.
How she left the hair there to be blown away by the wind
and, we discovered months later, scavenged
by birds who flew strands of it into the trees
where they wove it into their nests.

Things to Which I Have Compared Our Marriage

by a contributor

Taylor Mali

A wave, a sunset, a solar eclipse, a star, a shooting star, a black hole, an undiscovered planet, an unlit candle, the last match, a bird’s nest with two blue eggs (like the one we had to move off the flood lamp, knowing the chicks would never hatch); as a fish you can never catch, a nudibranch, shark, a piece of corral, the breath, the dark, a walk in the woods, the snow, the morning, a beach, as a fire in the fireplace that lights from a spark or embers, as a three-legged dog, two cats, one dead mouse licked clean like a loving gift, granite, quartz, sandstone, fool’s gold, a pebble on our driveway, black ice, rain, the ocean, thirteen million undulating jellyfish (and how you emerged from the lake with tears in your eyes for the love of God); as a sprint, the marathon, the broad jump, the hurdles, a nap, a dream, a bath, a hundred-thousand-dollar bill, the Sacajawea dollar coin, a first edition, the last will and testament, the cool side of the pillow, a pasta machine, a queen size bed, a single bed, sleeping alone in a king size bed in a hotel room, a good night’s rest on a hardwood floor; as a vacation, a second home, a luxury, an extravagance, a lightning bolt, a bat, a chant, a game, a tear, glove, tree, stone, nail, needle, silver bullet, a drug, an antibacterial ointment, a balm, a time bomb, a heart attack, a computer, database, hard drive, a trust fund, a glimpse, an epiphany, a mirror, a view of the river, a window, a door, a gateless gate, a gong, a call to prayer; as electricity, a dead light bulb, a dry well, a flat tire, a spare tire, a pair of favorite pants that no longer fit and never will, neatly hanging in the closet; aloha.


Taylor Mali is one of the most well-known poets to have emerged from the poetry slam movement and one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series “Def Poetry Jam.” A four-time National Poetry Slam champion, he is the author of two collections of poetry and a book of essays, “What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World.” In April of 2012, Mali completed a 12-year project of convincing 1,000 people to become teachers and marked the occasion by donating 12 inches of his hair to the American Cancer Society.