Tag Archives: new writing

Tom Whalen


Every hero the writer must approach only approximately. The eyes, for example, must resemble Roman candles, like the eyes of the actors in Wilhelm Meister arriving at night in freight wagons before the castle of a count, as noted in Jean Paul’s School for Aesthetics. Her hair may be red, a vibrant color appropriate on the heads of heroes, no matter her country of origin or how deep down lost she may be. Red signifies all I find vital, all that burns, loves, and dies. I will choose my heroes as carefully as the next writer, though perhaps, unlike them, I will choose my colors better. Trees line the avenues of my thoughts as I compose myself again for the day, which perhaps in no sense need be considered heroic. My description must be natural, despite ignoble nature, which winds its way into the voice speaking to me from a castle window. Is it raining? Am I in the courtyard or in a small boat? Do I sing songs? Is the hero herself a singer? Does the moon shine on the water? Later, deeper into the night, court musicians will serenade the queen, while I continue concocting lyrics to my hero’s heroism. Is my act, too, then, one of heroism? That I even ask proves it’s not. But then the question arises, Who is the hero trying to fool? To which I respond, aligning greatness with the small, Only herself. True value comes only from the original, which the hero in every way is, no matter how closely her behavior adheres to the pattern. Relating the parts of the pattern to the whole is where she performs her magic. How is it, you may ask, that she colonized the eye of this spectator? Had I another four hours I might answer that question, but in forty minutes I must be back at my unheroic work behind the desk of a desk, where I retrieve and send notes the point of which I do not understand. The hero, on the other hand, at every turn of the wheel widens my perspective. With a look, she can turn monsters into innocent youths asleep on hillside meadows beneath austere, imposing mountains, like the brow of a deity angered by her charges who sleep on unaware. Like me, the hero herself must work through the lunch hour, especially on days of great stress, e.g., the day the rent is due or a lover or child has forgotten to call. But what fool would do that? Certainly I wouldn’t, given the opportunity to importune my hero, which isn’t likely, nor would I dishonor her with a request greater than bringing me a glass of water, which indeed would be welcome after an hour adrift on the sea of eternity shouting Fenster and Salvation into the wind like some idiot schoolboy. But then is not my hero also imprisoned in a castle of her own making? Yes, with the exception that her castle rests on the top of a tree (Yggdrasil) and mine on Herweghstrasse in Stuttgart, Germany, at 11:31 a.m., May 6, 2016, the day before my mother’s birthday, dead these past forty-one years. The hero, too, lost her mother, but at an even younger age than I. The first time I saw her she was bent over, her arms plunged up to her elbows in two sacks of barley. A strange green light suffused the granary. But this isn’t why I credit her heroism. The hero exerts no moral fee from those she saves. The raven she changed back from a prince can only shake its dark head in confusion, then wander off into the woods until that time it’s again of use to the narrative. A psychic otherness surrounds the hero, for whom cognition is ontology. By the way, these opinions and resolutions I express here are occasions of joy. Even if she were to call me a malicious old monkey? But what am I saying? I’m neither your typical primate nor old, nor can I imagine—except during my weaker moments—she giving a fig for me. The hero doesn’t want to arouse pleasure, but to conjure things. Surely I haven’t conjured her, but has she conjured me? Best not think too much about that. The hero’s aesthetics—which I have had the pleasure of observing, like a diner another diner dining alone in a distant, poorly lit corner of a Parisian restaurant on rue de Rivoli—match her ethics to a T. I cannot doubt them anymore than I can wish them or her away. While I devised my lyrics, was she dreaming me into or out of the world? In other words, am I asleep or dead? Hurry. I’m almost out of time. The same I will not nor can say about the hero. Have I ever loved or been loved? Was there a time before which I cannot remember, and if not, then why do I bother to speak of it? What questions I ask! A ninny could do better. So could the hero, should she be so inclined. Soon all that will be left of me is a primitive phantasm to which no reality adheres. The night is as clear as a pebble, the stars constellations of her dreams. If she were a statue snowily glowing in the dark of night, I wouldn’t find her anymore heroic, considering what she is, which defeats my powers of description and make-believe. Not that that is a prerequisite to hero worship or that my essay has anything to do with Carlyle or Byron. No, the hero I’ve essayed herein lives modestly in a condition considered by some as domestic bliss, by others as domestic horror. My own opinion of the matter is hardly relevant. I live alone in a small back room where nightly not a single idea or possibility parades past exclaiming, “How will I live without her?”


Tom Whalen’s books include Dolls (prose poems), Winter Coat (poems), and The President in Her Towers and The Straw That Broke (novels). His translations of short prose by Robert Walser, Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories, was recently published by New York Review Books.

(In real time, the Walser book comes out on September 13.)

Meg Pokrass

Where I Found Him

Way up in Alaska I found the man who loved me. He could no longer move his feet. I found him half-dead, staring up at the sky, looking for a helicopter. He turned his head and said to me “I am sad”. When he spit my name, it froze, but I understood it. He juggled the letters with his frostbitten stare. I was just visiting, a tourist in Alaska, I said, I was not local and could not be depended on. But the truth was this; I wanted to be loved by this man, even if the ice were rigid and the climate would ruin whatever we became. I liked the feel of his frozen words, the way they caught each other mid-air.


She: “So, you mean, as an example, you would be sitting here in the garden like this and if you were in Facebook, you’d take a photograph of yourself sitting here in this garden, and you’d put it all over on Facebook and say ‘look at me, hooray, here I am, wonderful me, in this garden’?”


She: “Extraordinary!”


Meg Pokrass, is a flash fiction writer, poet and writing tutor. Her books include flash fiction collections,Bird Envy (2014), Damn Sure Right (Press 53 2011) The Dog Looks Happy Upsidedown (forthcoming from Etruscan Press2016) and an award-winning book of prose poetry Cellulose Pajamas (Blue Light Book Award Winner 2015). Among her many other publications, she has a flash-fiction novella and essay on the form in My Very End of the Universe, Five mini-novellas in flash and a Study of the Form published by Rose Metal Press. Meg is not really sure if she lives in California or the north of England, but you can keep up-to-date with her antics at megpokrass.com.

Kelli Russell Agodon

Overcrowded With Ghosts

My nights are packed with mourning—barn swallow in the closet, fishhook attached to its beak.

I once had a sister named Hazard, we daydreamed about orchids, I washed the blood out of her hair.

My nights are packed with panic—thunderstorm in the west of my brain, earthquake beneath my ribs, someone I know is dying, had died, is holding the gate open for death, but death is sleeping on the porch.

Is this the moth my sister longed for? Moth becomes mother becomes a suicide
in the flowers. Orchid. Greenhouse.

When my sister died it wasn’t because she was brokenhearted, instead it was a cancer
that wouldn’t let her swallow. It wasn’t because she grew up without a mother, but because her body grew too much. Like blossoms. Like tumors.

My nights are packed with lightning. Ghost storms of the past, someone whispering, Who’s next? The room is dark with worry. My phone blinks on the nightstand, my sister blinking in the stars.

Fairytale in Fractures

Sometimes through the darkness you can see the bioluminescence in the waves, an ocean of constellations, someone moving a magic wand through the seawater. There was no light streaming through the castle window, but the moat glistened. Everything that shouldn’t glow was glowing, everything that didn’t want to be touched was being touched, and when you disturb the plankton it shines for a moment.

I leave out the part when I was sixteen and my friend took me into the back bedroom of his castle. And instead, I tell you how later that night I walked two miles down railroad tracks carrying a puppy I‘d found, guessing he’d been abused or tossed from a car. I leave out the part where I was hurting and instead focus on the moonlight shadowing Puget Sound, how I knew another train was coming by the ripples in water, how the bioluminescence stayed by my side all night. I leave out the part where he pushed me down on his sister’s twin bed and instead focus on walking to the only vet still open after midnight.

Sometimes in the darkness you can’t see the darkness, like when a friend is no longer a friend, but then, we didn’t have a name for it, like someone moving a wand through the seawater—everything that shouldn’t be known is known, and if you injure the plankton that part of it will die.

I leave out the part where I left the castle, because there never really is a castle and instead tell you the easiest way to stop suffering is to find something more hurt than you are and carry it near your heart for many miles. I won’t describe to you the villains, who are probably not villains in other people’s lives. I won’t go into the details of days/weeks/years after, how long it took to trust again, but will say—I set the puppy in a towel on the receptionist’s lap then washed the blood off of mine. Sometimes we have to walk home alone on railroad tracks. Sometimes we have to do our best to fight off a prince. But because the world hopes for happy endings, I will tell you—the dog and I both survived.


Kelli Russell Agodon is a poet, writer, and editor from the Pacific Northwest. She’s the author of six books, most recently, Hourglass Museum (Finalist for the Washington State Book Award in Poetry & the Julie Suk Poetry Prize) & The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice. She is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press where she works as an editor and book cover designer. Her work has appeared in magazines such as The Atlantic, New England Review and O, The Oprah Magazine. Kelli is also the Co-Director of the Poets on the Coast writing retreat as well as an avid paddleboarder, mountain biker, and hiker. She lives in a sleepy seaside town a floating bridge & a ferry ride away from Seattle. www.agodon.com / www.twosylviaspress.com


Kathleen Nalley

Holiday Inn

After the bruised body recovered, after being shoved
into a car, after the knot in the temple subsided after
a platter of fried chicken smashed into her head, her
mamma took her girls to the Holiday Inn and hid. She
didn’t know what her next move would be; she just
knew she had to move.

Her grandfather brought donut holes and milk for the girls.
Every few minutes, her mamma reminded them not to go
near the window, not to peek out from the curtain, to be
sure the panels were pulled tight. Even the air was taut,
snapped shut. Shut up. She hoped the hotel’s star and
arrow didn’t beckon him, didn’t point out their location.
In the 1970s, the hotel’s slogan changed from “the
nation’s innkeeper” to “the best surprise is no surprise.”

This is her happiest memory: no surprises. Dunkin Donuts
and her grandfather’s khaki jacket, wet from the rain. The
newness of the old hotel room (a room not her own; a
room where she, alone, was not hiding). The coldness of
the milk on her lips. The warmth of the vent under the
curtained window. The green and yellow incandescents
twinkling like stars just above their room.


Kathleen Nalley is the author of the
chapbooks Nesting Doll (winner of the S.C.
Poetry Initiative Prize) and American Sycamore
(Finishing Line Press). Her poetry is forthcoming
or has appeared in Slipstream, Rivet, storySouth,
Night Block, The Bitter Southerner, and Night
Owl, among others. She holds an MFA from
Converse College, teaches literature and writing
at Clemson University, and finds books their
forever homes at M. Judson Booksellers and

David Lehman

Five O’clock Rush

The nurse left work at five o’clock. My heart stopped beating at 5:01. There
was no one in the room when I died and no one to notice the miracle of my return
to consciousness. Perhaps you have heard of such cases. Someone has died, for all
intents and purposes, then comes back to life. It happened to the composer
Jerome Kern, for example, back in 1937.

But there was something unusual in my case. When I died it was one
minute past five. When I woke the clock said 10:25, darkness had fallen outside,
the radio was playing an old Sinatra song, “But Beautiful.”

And here’s the strange part. When the song ended, the voice on the radio
was the voice of the nurse, Alice, who differed from every other nurse in this
purgatorial hospital by speaking to you not as if you were a child, not in the first-
person-plural (“how are we feeling today?”), but in the hippest jive imaginable in
1946, September 1946, in the streets and alleys of downtown New York..

For that was the month and year in which I came to life, and this was the
place. And here’s the strange part. When I looked out the window I saw Alice,
only now her name was Angel, in her customary raincoat in the customary drizzle
walking into the street. Her back was turned to me. The studio was undecided
between Joan Fontaine and Joan Leslie for the part. But when I looked in the
mirror I knew she was there with me in the room – I saw her standing there
behind me grinning, naked and reveling in the effect of her wild brown curls on
my overheated imagination. I had turned nineteen that summer.

Angel was English, and I was American and I ordered us drinks and the waiter
came and we made desultory conversation but everything I said she repeated
with a question mark and there was one simile like an oasis in the desert, a white
elephant in the room.

So I turned around a second time and saw the bed was made with her inside,
naked except for her wild brown curls, and there was a night light and a selection
of books on the night table. Proust as rendered by Scott Moncrief, War and Peace
as translated by Constance Garnett, Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, all
four volumes in an out of date and therefore somehow appropriate translation.
Not a bad way to die. And she was singing to me, my mushroom queen, my olive-
backed kingbird, my gin-and- vermouth with a splash of bitters and an olive in a
Y-shaped glass, and this was no hospital at all but a hotel, a grand hotel, and
there was nothing stopping me from getting my old tuxedo pressed and heading
out for a night on the town. That’s what I was doing. The clock said 5:20. I
couldn’t account for the intervening minutes. But I knew she’d be there when I
got back.


The Knight’s Move

Naomi wears a lacy light-pink blouse, shoulder-length brown hair with
eyeglasses to match, jeans, no belt, expensive sandals with toes painted a goth
purple, pearl earrings not too showy. Eye shadow and brow-enhancing make-up
have been subtly applied. The blouse does not quite reach the back of her jeans,
exposing a crescent of white midriff. She sits on a park bench with her legs crossed
and a Kindle on her lap and she is playing with her I-phone, swiping screens. On the
bench she is flanked, on her right, by the thin brown leather jacket she has taken off
and, on her left, by her black leather handbag invitingly open. The professor notices.

In chapter two Floyd, a practised pickpocket, strikes on the subway. He
removes Naomi’s wallet with all her cash and credit cards, plus something else, a
small blue box from Tiffany’s, and exits the train at the next stop. The young woman
absorbed in her i-phone will not realize that she has been robbed until the train
pulls into Union Square and she steps out into the farmers’ market and eyes the
tomatoes, green peppers, Italian plums, the last of the season’s peaches, the first of
autumn’s apples.

In chapter three we realize that Floyd is the true protagonist in the story,
elegiac in tone, about the master of a dying art, who has exercised his skill for
decades in the New York subways, specializing in the West Side IRT and IND lines
but sometimes crossing over to the Queens-bound F or 7 trains. He dresses like a
European tourist in a sport coat, can affect a foreign accent, and has the rare ability
to lose himself in a crowd of people and travel incognito, changing the lives of those
he rubs against while remaining himself unchanged in the encounter, like the
ageless proprietor of an esoteric book shop that will soon go out of business.


David Lehman is a professional writer and editor who holds a faculty
appointment at the New School in New York City. He is the editor of The
Oxford Book of American Poetry; and the general editor of The Best
American Poetry. His most recent books are Sinatra’s Century: One
Hundred Notes on the Man and His World (HarperCollins, 2015) and
New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013).