online magazine for short, good writing

Month: September, 2014

Five Things on Letters

by a contributor

from Jeff Burt, author of Tilting, Faces, and Fires That Burn, Fires That Do Not Burn:

  1. Postal home delivery began during the Civil War when a postmaster decided that mothers and fathers of Union soldiers should know when their sons had died and not have to wait to pick up the notice at the post office, to secure the intimate loss in the privacy of their own homes.  What can electrons convey compared to the height and breadth and length and weight of human sympathy in the dark ink in the ounces of a letter?

  2. I treasure hand-written lines from my grandmother, shaking penmanship in spare words in straight rows down the page, or my wife’s exultant whispers overflowing rows that lose their way much as a dreaming young farmer forgets the line of furrows and wanders off course across the field.

  3. I treasure the smudges of ballpoint ink left when a thought stalled, or the ink of the ribbon faded on the white-white paper my father used.

  4. I treasure the scented notes that my mother used, sympathies, questions, mirth and myth passing one to another with a touch of lilac or lavender.  Joy jumped and skipped across the page.  Sadness looped.

  5. When I slit open the top of the letter, the earnest desire to see what is inside, the thrill of an amateur biologist opening a first carcass or a botanist opening an unknown pod I express in that cut.  I take out the letter and give it air, let it breathe, give it back its life.

Fires That Burn, Fires That Do Not Burn

by a contributor

Jeff Burt


I was thinking of love and she and I were lying in a hollow on a hill listening to a man with a face worn like rock who lit a fire near a cliff, and squatted in khaki with a pipe out of pocket,
whose face was lit by fire, who retold the story of the Gemini twins as ashes rose to the heavens.
I was thinking of heavens, of her and her hand in mine, was thinking of ash in the air when the man said the tales are old but not forgotten and I was thinking of men who kept beasts away by fire.
I was thinking of fire, of men who looked for fire to keep an inner beast at bay, who sought gods and kept lights in the night, who told tales as this man told tales of a crippled god, of Helen and of Paris, of Dido and Aeneid, of man as woman’s immolation, woman as man’s Pyrrhic death, of the dangers of a single kiss.
I was thinking of a single kiss and saw the wood reduced to ash and ember and thought of going back by stepping forward for I had grown tired of old tongues and the telling of old tales
as he the dark-faced man, man only, fell silent, man only, as big as body and tongue.
I was thinking of tongue as I turned to see her eyes in the dark, and in the dark they were not foreign and I was thinking that we must live in our own light, that we must be our own Prometheus, that what we see and that we see must set our world on fire.
I was thinking of fire, of love, and thought this must be love: I can reach in her fire and not get burned.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California. He has published works in Thrice Fiction, Storm Cellar, Star 82 Review, and soon in The Cortland Review. He won the SuRaa short fiction award in 2011.

See Jeff’s list of 5 Things in our ongoing contributor series tomorrow.


by a contributor

Jeff Burt

She beats the driftwood against her thigh during a break in the squall, with branches and burls culled from debris and dark conversation of wind, water and wood about her feet.
She shakes out sand and rubs the wood on her jeans to shine up the wet pores looking for a face, and finds it, fumbling with a worn-out burl, her snowy cheeks turned scarlet like twin fires on the beach of the morning.
She has discovered a fable to create for her children.
I look, see nothing, and I shall not forget that when she left me that morning the ducks and gulls and the sea turned from tone and sonority to rattle and racket, the caesura and pause of the sand transformed to an endless taut drum by the pounding of the surf.
I shall not forget how I could taste the cold metal my tongue had become without her melting syllables, how wet and warm from the rain at the river’s mouth I stood shoes hung about my shoulders, impoverished of myth, looking at the torment of the sky, the storm in my mouth gone quiet and dry.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California. He has published works in Thrice Fiction, Storm Cellar, Star 82 Review, and soon in The Cortland Review. He won the SuRaa short fiction award in 2011.

See more poetry from Jeff tomorrow.


by a contributor

Jeff Burt

He begins plumb, a site sat straight for decades until the clay of his creation shifts, rung out like sponge by drought, cracked like fine china dropped on a hard floor, his edge no longer leveraged against a permanent ground, a Tower of Pisa leaning.
Now the man walks the park who only sees his feet, spinal curvature bending his head forward like an immense fruit too heavy for his shoulders to carry, the world of hummingbirds and fuchsia and cedar waxwings and berries, full moons and blue skies lost to his grounded vision, up ahead a plain of water over the rising road, above it a wealth of clouds drinking, herds of old gods grazing in the pastures of sky.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California. He has published works in Thrice Fiction, Storm Cellar, Star 82 Review, and soon in The Cortland Review. He won the SuRaa short fiction award in 2011.

See more poetry from Jeff tomorrow.

5 Recurring Themes I’ve Noticed after Two Decades of Recording My Dreams

by a contributor

from Susan L. Lin, author of Brief Spaces of Light:

  1. Words that are not words in real life. My subconscious loves making up words and proper names and convincing me they are perfectly acceptable for use. For example: “TFTBNT” (an alcoholic drink), “MULC” (a known acronym for My Unlucky Child—what that means, I don’t know), and “shinidying” (a metal device being sold for only 19 cents, according to a newspaper ad).

  2. Large, labyrinthine buildings.   I spend a great deal of time wandering around unfamiliar buildings in my dreams. These buildings are never the same, but they are always huge and populated by elaborate staircases, mysterious doors, and secret passageways. Excessively large bathrooms and elevator cars also make frequent appearances.

  3. The “evil hallway.”  Thankfully I no longer have these dreams, but when I was young, they were a staple. The dreams always involved a simple door at the end of a dark, ominous hallway. People in my life seemed to take turns living in the apartment behind that door. In the dreams, I referred to it as the “evil hallway.”

  4. Light switches that don’t work.  Light switches are never scarce, but they hardly ever work either. In one dream, I found a total of six different switches arranged in an odd circular pattern on the wall. Every single one was useless. I have come to the conclusion that perhaps I watch too many horror films. (But wait, there’s no such thing as too many horror films!)

  5. False memories, and that nagging, elusive feeling of déjà vu.  In a great number of my dreams, I will “recall” events from my childhood that absolutely never happened. The people involved actually existed, and the locations are accurate. But the memories are completely fabricated. And everything that happens in these dreams is always oddly familiar to me somehow, as if something similar has happened before, even though it never has. I find these dreams far more disturbing than even the series of murderous dreams I experienced during my nights of binge-watching Dexter.

Brief Spaces of Light

by a contributor

Susan L. Lin

The night starts like all others seem to—someone says something about me that I don’t like and I throw it back at them.

Stop making generalizations, I want to say but don’t. I try to laugh instead but come up short. My trachea tightens, makes a sound like someone being strangled. Someone, not me.

Nights like this I feel myself flatten to the floor, like construction paper glued to Bristol board, a bookend being pulled away from either side of me. Am I just everyone else’s collection of body part cutouts, mismatched and held together with brass brads, I’ll move when you want me to?

At Mallory’s place, my mom leaves messages on the machine: Baby, I miss you. I haven’t even spoken to her since I left home after high school graduation to move in with Mallory. “It’s only an hour away. I’ll come visit,” I’d said, knowing what I couldn’t leave behind would fit in a recycled chocolate tin and a pillowcase with a train running across it. On the recording, her voice sounds like an unfinished jigsaw. Her words are incomplete, almost like they’re missing their vowels, almost like I’m standing on one side of the railroad tracks, only able to catch glimpses of the world on the other side as they appear, filtered through those brief spaces of light between moving train cars.

I m—ss y—. C—ll m— b—kkk.

When I see a blue Chevy Impala speeding down the freeway, it turns into a bed rolling down the hospital hall. My father is lying down on it, connected to half a dozen feeding tubes—he’s smaller somehow, younger, thinner than I remember. I can see his bones sticking out in strange places.

I wake up not knowing where I am, lying next to a head, connected to a body, the taste in my mouth like I don’t know what, pretending I don’t remember anything. I roll away, untangle myself from habit just so I can fall into it again some other night.

On my way home, I stumble over the word—H-O-M-E—wondering where it is. Lift my foot to look under my shoe—no, not there—for some reason I think this is hilarious and laugh so hard I start to cry.

Everyone I pass on the street starts looking like a stranger with familiar eyes. I see them all pale blue, something recognizable on their faces: concern maybe, disgust more likely. There’s a bum standing next to an intersection a few blocks away from Mallory’s apartment, wearing a red knit sweater with a huge likeness of Santa’s jolly face emblazoned on the front. It’s the middle of April. The glow from street lamps, blue reflectors on the road, the red-yellow-green pattern of traffic signals, all become oversized strings of Christmas lights decorating the city.

“Please, can you spare change?” the man on the corner says. He’s carrying a cardboard sign with the word HUNGRY scrawled on it in all caps. I shake my head, no, Santa glaring at me through his woven eyes.

I have to swallow as it gets later, earlier—what time is it?—to keep myself from hurling, losing more.

Susan L. Lin hails from southeast Texas and holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts in San Francisco, CA. Her novella Goodbye to the Ocean, which these pieces are excerpted from, was a semifinalist in the 2012 Gold Line Press chapbook competition. Her short prose has recently appeared in Hayden’s Ferry ReviewGhost Town, Hypertext Magazine, Gravel Magazine, Portland Review, and elsewhere.  She blogs intermittently at