Literary as hell.

Tag: literature (Page 2 of 9)

“Where Were You?”, a poem by Dina Hashem

Where Were You?

By Dina Hashem

Where were you? I waited at the coffee shop. I pulled a chair out from a wood table, its rings stained by rings of saucers of friends who'd chatted above wisps of visible air. Friends like you and I, only you weren't there.
  I waited as a waiter asked if he could bring me an espresso or tea, but "Oh, none for me;" I was waiting for a friend, would be rude to indulge before he could even attend. "Ask me in a minute or two, or three."
  I waited with legs unfolded, pitched up, and neatly braided. A bell above the front door made fanfare for a man who moved like a tide of rust color hair, denim pockets full of whats-its galore. I wondered if I could love him while I began to hate you, as I waited there.
  I felt the time pass through my center; smelled the scents of scones and sweets nestled cutely together, temptations to my patient nature as I began to question, "Will I wait this way forever?" The door's bell answered as another stranger made way to enter.
  I waited with warmth on my skin, for you. For times we sat in bars that needed us out, when we walked by our sides on sidewalks. Me, maybe you too, wondering what we might be about. But now I wondered if we, now, were through.   I waited as my hair fell out. My skin cracked too, like a soft clay pot put too early in the kiln; or a statue, like a quarter in a well, once wishing at gods who dispensed good and ill, but now buried in some forgotten hill.   I waited as my eyes turned white. The leaves all turned from green to red, for you; for me all shapes made shadows of light. I waited as my tongue turned dry, as all my senses failed to give good notice of you passing by, if you even would arrive.   I waited ‘til my breath let go. Poor strangers must have laid me in a stretcher, or an old sack; I wouldn't know. Maybe I've passed to some heavenly realm; or somewhere far worse could be true. Or maybe I float on, mixing with the steams and sounds of this shop, continually, forever asking: where were you?


Dina Hashem is a writer and stand-up comedian from New Jersey. She studied English at Rutgers University, and now writes and performs in New York City. Dina has been a featured comic at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Boston Comedy Festival, Limestone Comedy Festival, and Burbank Comedy Festival. Her writing has been featured on the websites of Comedy Central's Indecision Forever, CC Insider, and Nickelodeon.


2015 Halloween Contest Winner: “The Rat Girl of Saint Bruno’s,” by L.L. Madrid

L.L. Madrid is the winner of our 2015 Halloween contest! Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest. You can read our finalists and runners up here.



by L.L. Madrid

Sister Mary Elizabeth acts cheerful, but she’s afraid. My nose crinkles. Underneath the mildew, I can smell her fear. She calls me sweetheart and is careful not to look at me. It’s funny; grown-ups try their best not to see, but kids stare, too scared to turn away. Mommy and I follow her down a dark corridor that connects the cathedral to the convent. She’s taking us to see the Mother Superior. My fingernail drags along the wall, scratching the bubbling paper. Mommy pushes my hand away and shakes her head.

Tail slips from its holder and smacks the stone floor. Sister Mary Elizabeth jumps. She’s a flincher. Tail flicks and sways. Flinchers make her want to wrap around ankles and yank. She wags fast and fierce. Mommy gives me that look. She doesn’t understand that Tail hates being tied up, that I can’t always control her. If we were anywhere else, she’d tell me to put Tail away, but today…

Today you’ll regret waking.  

Voice is in a foul mood. I’m trying to ignore him, but he lives in my head and he can make me hurt. I did what he said, I kicked and screamed and told Mommy I wouldn’t go…but I can’t control Mommy either. Voice snarls.  

I wonder what it’s like to have a quiet mind. I’ve never been alone in mine, but still, I’m lonely. I don’t have anyone besides Mommy and Voice to talk to. I go to school, but no one wants to be near me.

They call me Rat Girl. Though I wear layered skirts that go to the floor to hide Tail, everyone knows. Tail’s always getting free. She grabs, swings, and can kind of cool. I wish Mommy would let me, just once, go to the park and hang from the monkey bars by Tail. I know she’s strong enough. I tested her out on the towel rack and Tail pulled the bar right out of the wall. Mommy was so mad.

Sister Mary Elizabeth doesn’t look at me when she points to a kid-sized chair next to a box of toys. Eyes on the door, she says that it was nice to meet me, her voice sweet in the same fake way medicine is.

Mommy sits in front of the desk. The room is small and the window is long and skinny like in a dungeon. The only wall hanging is a giant crucifix with scary Jesus on it. I don’t mind happy Jesus, but crucifix Jesus with his twisted face, razor ribs, and nailed feet…I just want to go home.

The door opens and Mother Superior, all in black, enters. She is much older than Sister Mary Elizabeth and wears a full habit. Voice growls, hisses, and spits behind my ears.  

A giant wooden rosary hangs from Mother Superior’s hip, beads clacking like skeleton bones. Tail twitches. She wants to wrap around the cross and rip all the pieces off.

“Nice to see you again, Mrs. Palmieri.”

Mommy rearranges her hands, hiding the bare finger on the left. “Rose is fine.”

Mother Superior pitches her voice higher. “Hello, Miriam.”

Naked dolls and sticky blocks fill the toy box. I reach for a big headed baby.

“Manners Miri,” Mommy scolds.     

Mother Superior’s gray eyes are small and sharp. She’s no flincher.

“Hi.” I pull the doll from the box and place it on my lap. It has a cloth body and fat plastic hands and feet. Mommy and the nun start talking. I try pulling the baby’s head off. It doesn’t budge. I wish I was anywhere else. This room is dark and smells like bleach. I dig in the box some more. There’s a GI Joe who’s missing a leg. It doesn’t matter. Most of these toys are broken. Nobody wants them.

“Have you thought about having the growth removed?”

“The doctors said we’d have to wait until she was older, but she wants to keep it.”

Tail is alive. It would be a mortal sin to let her get cut off. I don’t want to be a murderer.

I move to the floor. It’s hard and cold. I find a Tonka truck and have it run over GI Joe. The baby tries to stop the truck, she’s bigger than it, but she’s just a baby.

“Have you considered exorcism?”

I don’t know what that word means. I slow the truck, paying more attention.

“No. I don’t think so. I mean, how can you exorcise a tail?” Mommy laughs like she does when she’s about to cry. I don’t like it when she cries. Her tears are black like ink.

“The tail is a mere symptom of the demon that’s been with the poor child since birth.” Continue reading

“Doctors,” a short story by Linda Boroff


by Linda Boroff


Berkeley attracted fugitives, Katie was beginning to realize, whether from the law, from failed relationships, or from the person one had once been. A young couple, Brigit and Tony, had just moved into the flat across the hall in the gray Victorian where Katie lived with her roommate, Cherie. Cherie believed in getting to know one’s neighbors, so she had invited Brigit and Tony to dinner. In the course of their conversation, Katie learned that Tony had done prison time in Georgia for robbery, burglary and car theft, and that Brigit had run away from her studies at Georgia State with this prize catch.

Brigit wore a short black skirt, scuffed loafers and no hose, revealing perfect legs, a grimy band-aid clinging to one knee. Though her ratty blue angora sweater had come from a Salvation Army bin, it did not conceal the fact that God had paid close attention when he put her together.

Tony was about thirty, a tall, lanky blond redneck with amused, larcenous blue eyes, an immaculate dresser and pathological liar who had also developed the bad habit of bigamy. For Tony, the law just kept breaking like a rotten shoelace. Neither Tony nor Brigit had any source of income, but masterful shoplifting kept them well provisioned.

At sixteen, Katie was on her own for the first time. Two months ago, she had arrived in Berkeley on a busload of Vietnam antiwar protestors from Santa Monica. When she called home to announce that she was staying there, her mother had not tried to dissuade her. Katie had joined a crowd at school that drank, used drugs, and had sex. She was truant and had been caught forging attendance excuses. Time and again, she stayed out all night. Her best friend, Erin, carried on with a married man. After school, Katie and Erin would get into Erin’s alcoholic mother’s vodka and call up boys and men, even teachers. Like her absent, errant father, Katie was tall and blue-eyed, curly-haired, and argumentative. The very sight of her seemed to infuriate her mother.

From day one, Berkeley had burst upon Katie, overwhelming and embracing her. This was not “another Berkeley,” or “a little Berkeley.” This was the real thing. Standing before Sproul Hall in a crowd of protesters, Katie had looked up the stairs to its Greek colonnades with a euphoric premonition that her life was at last beginning.

Continue reading

“A Hole You Fill With Money and Water,” flash fiction by Stephen Pisani

A Hole You Fill With Money and Water

by Stephen Pisani

Not long after her mother left us, Janie started running around the outside of the pool. Every night, after I got home from work and her, daycare, she took about fifteen laps around the rectangular hole sunk into the far left corner of our backyard. I had a tough time telling whether it was a coping mechanism or a seven-year-old’s idea of a good time. Probably a little bit of both.

“I’m looking for Mommy,” she’d say, as if she was going to find her hiding in one of the corners of the deep end. The water wasn’t exactly crystal clear—fallen pine needles and floating bugs formed a patchwork of various shades of black and brown on the surface—but still transparent enough for even a kid to realize the pool was full of only one thing: water. No sentient beings were lurking underneath.

“Catch me,” she’d say.

“Stop that before you hurt yourself,” I’d say.

A week went by, this activity still occupying the majority of Janie’s free time, and my words proved reluctantly prophetic. She tripped on one of the uneven bricks surrounding the pool. Her sweatpants tore straight through to reveal a clean break of skin. Blood turned her pants a darker shade of blue right around her knee.

“Owweeeee,” she screamed after dropping to the ground and clutching the compromised appendage.

I knelt beside her to inspect the cut. “What did I tell you about running around the pool?” I said, a directive I understood to be common and even required dad-speak in this type of situation. From my wife, I learned that every kid is supposed to receive a dose of “I told you so” from their parents. Really, all I wanted to do was ease Janie’s pain, so I quickly adopted a gentler tone.

“Are you OK?” I said.

She didn’t take well to the Bactine. “It stings,” she squealed.

“I know, honey,” I said. “Sorry.

“It hurts soooo bad.”

“I know.”

She sobbed in one continuous burst, a tactic in histrionics I was sure she picked up from her mother. “Mom would have never let this happen,” she said. She eyed me with a “fuck off” look that sort of gave me chills. I never considered that such a thing could be hereditary.

“I know.”

Truth is my wife didn’t even want a pool. She cringed at the mention of it, like just having to look at the thing would induce some sort of seizure or something.

What she said was, “It’s just a fucking a hole in the ground with water in it. And I’m sure it’ll cost a fucking fortune. It’s just a hole you throw water and money into.”

What she did was kick a small indent in the lawn next to where the pool was slated to go. Blades of grass scattered to reveal a patch of brown earth into which she poured a dab of Poland Spring. Then she dug a few nickels from her pocket. They let out a “plink” when they hit the muddied spring water.

“There,” she said. “Same thing.”

Kneeling next to Janie, watching her face writhe in child-agony, I decided I’d fill the pool in. With what I wasn’t entirely sure. But right then and there, as I patched the gap in Janie’s delicate skin, I finally agreed with the woman who had abandoned us: it was probably a good idea to fill a hole with something more substantive than money and water.


Stephen Pisani is a Long Island, New York native who received his MA in Writing from Coastal Carolina University. His writing has appeared in Blue Lake Review,Soundings Review, and The Furious Gazelle.


“What’s Left of the Crumbs,” flash fiction by Stephen Pisani

What’s Left of the Crumbs

by Stephen Pisani

Davey holds a fresh piece of copy paper in the middle of the den, standing halfway between his girlfriend and the muted television.

Elyse’s face contorts—it takes forty-two muscles to frown, he’s been told—and she angrily waves him away. “I’m on a call,” she mouths, ignoring his sign saying, “Come Play With Me” in dark, hastily-scribbled magic marker. Outside, snow smothers the roads, so Elyse is working from home. By Davey’s unscientific count, this is the fourth conference call she’s been on today, and it’s only five past noon.

He unplugs his phone from the charger on the kitchen counter. He turns the corner into the den, cell phone in hand, and says, “Excuse me, hun, can you get me on this call?”

She patronizes him with a labored chuckle. “Give me ten minutes, then we can play.” She winks, puts the phone back on speaker, mutes it on her end, and returns to the business of ignoring him.

“Get Mr. Howard on the line,” he says, holding his cell phone to his ear for emphasis. “Tell him I have some great ideas for the business.” She rolls her eyes without taking them off the computer screen in front of her. “I’ll be in my office downstairs, when you get a hold of him,” he continues. “I’ve got all my notes down there.”

Davey pretends to descend to the basement, but they both know he won’t. Instead he returns to the kitchen, opens the double-wide doors of the stainless steel fridge that she—mostly—paid for, grabs a package of turkey and another of ham, both of which she paid for, Boar’s Head, never the cheap stuff, and makes a sandwich on the store-brand bread he bought with a few of the dollars leftover from his pitiful severance.

Davey hears what sounds like the call ending in the other room. “We need milk,” Elyse says. She won’t drink her coffee without it, and she drinks a lot of coffee, a beverage working folk tend to enjoy. Davey won’t touch the stuff.

“Right now?” he says. He sets his sandwich down on the couch and sits between it and Elyse.

“Why don’t you go to the store? I forgot I have another call in a few minutes.”

Davey turns to look through the blinds Elyse insisted they needed a few weeks after they moved in. He can see the white flakes furiously falling between each handcrafted slat. “I’m not going out in that,” he says. “It’s too icy.”

“How about you shovel, then go out to get milk?”

He stands up, sandwich in hand—a good chunk of it in mouth—and says, “How bout I get you milk from downstairs?” He puts the sandwich down on the ottoman. Standing tall over Elyse, he gradually slinks behind the ottoman, like he’s going down a flight of stairs, the one-man show only finishing when he falls on his ass and starts cackling like a hyena in heat.

“You get that out of your system?” Elyse says. She is still planted in the spot Davey’s ass occupies most afternoons. Her phone rings. She puts it on speaker—again, muted on her end.

From his seat on the carpet Elyse wants to replace as soon as they can afford it, Davey reaches to the side. He pretends like he’s paddling a canoe out of the room. When he realizes Elyse isn’t paying him any more mind than the silenced talk show hosts on their forty-inch flat screen—a gift from her parents—he grabs his sandwich off the ottoman. The bread crumbles in his hand. Seagull-friendly specks fall to the floor. He walks away, figuring the dog will pounce on most of the mess. After Elyse leaves for work in the morning, he’ll vacuum what’s left of the crumbs.


Stephen Pisani is a Long Island, New York native who received his MA in Writing from Coastal Carolina University. His writing has appeared in Blue Lake Review,Soundings Review, and The Furious Gazelle.


Poetry by Martin Willitts



Geese get lost in mist, sidetracked
in heavy stillness, dew-wings
from burn-off, just around the corner
of mountains no one can see
but remember are there, reliable
as geese calling out to each other.

Some are unable to follow the lead,
break from the pattern. Their sounds
bounce off clouds and mountains.
Stillness is stirred from the low ground,
biting the air. At noon, still, no one can see.

It might get worse. It is better to sit tight,
hope for the weather to shift, clouds lifting
like a flock of geese over transparent lakes.


Also known as Locoweed (Astragalus tragacantha)
Iranian and Chinese herbal medicine

If you want to be a herbalist,
open this secret like a woman’s silk kimono.
You have to have some knowledge of tinctures.
Otherwise, it has no purpose.
You will go crazy trying to make cures
and it won’t work for charlatans.
If you do not know what you are doing,
you are little more than larva
feeding on astragalus leaves.

It is the natural gum Tragacanth you are after.
Twist into ribbons or flakes, powdered,
absorbed with water, stir into a paste
the size of an ankle bone. Otherwise,
it is useless. The mixture is not right.
The cure will fail the patient.
You might as well try to cure using a kimono.



Martin Willitts is a retired Librarian living in Syracuse, and he tends to his organic garden. His poems have appeared in Furious Gazelle, Kentucky Review, Centrifugal Eye, Nine Mile Magazine, Blue Fifth, Comstock Review, and the infamous many others. He has been nominated for 11 Pushcarts and 11 Best of the Net. Winner of the2012 Big River Poetry Review’s William K. Hathaway Award ; co-winner of the 2013 Bill Holm Witness Poetry Contest; winner of the2013 “Trees” Poetry Contest; winner of the 2014 Broadsided award; winner of the 2014 Dylan Thomas International Poetry Contest. He has 8 full-length collections and 20 chapbooks of poetry. Forthcoming include “How to Be Silent” (FutureCycle Press), “God Is Not Amused With What You Are Doing In Her Name” (Aldrich Press), and “Dylan Thomas and the Writer’s Shed” (FutureCycle Press).

“The San Franciscan Group Home,” a poem by M. O. Mc

At least once a week

3 kids are thrown into the frying pan

carelessly yolked together

olive oil siphoned off

black & salt left out on purpose

the shells still have transparent film

stuck to the side of the garbage disposal    

homework crumbled like cake is there too

There is surplus salmon pink late notices

broken shards of glass

swept from the kitchen aluminum floor

overflowing for space Continue reading

“Sinister Romance,” a poem by Paige Simkins

Sinister Romance


We walked the downtown

Busy streets stark naked,

Holding black candles lit

High above our heads.


We shouted at business

Men in expensive black

Pinstriped suits, “Wear red,

You must remember, wear red!”


People sitting at outside

Tables of the Black Palm

Restaurant stared in disbelief,

Whispering amongst themselves,


When we sat down to join them.


Paige Simkins is a poet who lives with her dog, Sir Simon, in Tampa, Florida. She holds a Bachelor degree in English (CRW) and a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. She works as a Public Librarian and is very passionate about poetry, libraries, VW Beetles, and visual art. Her poems have appeared in Stepping Stones Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, The Wayfarer, Crack the Spine and the Tulane Review.

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