The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

A 100% True Totally Not Fictional Ghost Story

He follows me everywhere: work, gym, drive-thru, home. No one else
sees him—not my brightest students, or the woman on the treadmill
next to me, or the man who gives me my veggie burger. Not even the
dog sees him when she wags her tail right through his torso, but I know
he is there. Always, I feel him; I can never forget the feel of him now.
One day I ask him, this ghost of mine: “Please, won’t you just
go?”
I could go, he says. But I’ve been alone for so long, and you are
so very beautiful, he says.
I feel broken, he says.
I feel more than hear myself say, “If I can fix you, I’d be very
happy.”
He stays.
Over time, I come to enjoy his company, like the imaginary friends my
kindergartners bring to school. And the longer he stays, the more often
he smiles, and I find myself smiling too, watching him in a front-row
desk while I teach phonics, floating in the passenger seat on the way to
the grocery store. I smile to make him smile. I want my joy to be
contagious. But as the weeks become months, I begin to grow tired. My
cheeks hurt, my eyes too. The more he smiles, the less I do, his ethereal
pearly whites make me crazy. It’s fucking exhausting to try to be happy
all the time. I feel not chosen but haunted.
I hear you now, thinking, “If he’s smiling, how bad can he be?”
But his smile—after a while, it’s not enough. Soon your love for his
upturned mouth will cause you to long for a kiss. But you can’t kiss a
ghost. No matter how persistently he lingers. And suddenly that smile
you can never share with him becomes the saddest thing in the entire
world.

“Stop,” I say, one summer evening. The sun stays late in the sky
and I don’t see a single human of flesh and bone, just his foggy presence
behind me as I kneel in the garden. “I’d rather you haunt me like a ghoul
than a friend,” I beg. “Hide between the wrapping paper tubes under
the bed and creep behind the cracked bathroom mirror, move my keys
around the house and close the back door when there’s no breeze—
terrify me, frighten me! Just stop smiling at me like I’m something
special.”
He raises a hand like a cloud and rests it against my cheek. It
passes right through. You have made me feel so good, he says, an
apology and a thank you all in one.
I’ve gone out on a date only once since having my ghost, just to try it,
with a boy who looked at me like I was a star in the sky. I’d hoped that
just by being near him some of that affection would pass on to me. But
in the Outback parking lot after dinner, I saw my smiling ghost over my
date’s shoulder. I let the boy with stars in his eyes kiss me; I leaned way
back when his lips touched mine, like dipping in dance. My date likely
thought it was romantic but I knew it was my body trying to get away
from him even as I was slipping my tongue in his mouth, pressing my
fingers against his cheeks.
My ghost was still there when I opened my eyes and he
followed me home like he had followed me there. I think I hate him
but I know I love him, and so I do not call the star-struck boy back. (I
hope he finds a girl who thinks the world of him and leans into his
kisses.)
The day comes when I can’t get out of bed. I call off work, turn
to him, sigh. “This can’t keep happening.” I raise my hand to wave him
away, like you do with smoke or a bad smell. Then I notice my arm has
taken on the same wispy composition as his. The triangular black and
white pattern of my bedspread is visible through my skin.

I leap out of bed and check my reflection in the mirror, and
yes, there I am—solid still, except my right arm. My ghost is fluttering
about me. He has no idea what’s happening, but I do. I reach out with
my ghost hand to touch him as I have done hundreds of times, expecting
to feel air and disappointment, but when my palm feels his cheek—
clean-shaven, but scratchy still—I begin to laugh. He brings his right
hand up and lays it on top of mine, but it passes through my fingers and
then through his face. I drop my ghost limb, stunned. His right hand is
as solid as mine used to be.
He stares at his hand without satisfaction or a hint of deceit. He
did not know this would happen.
I am not sorry, standing here with my hand on his cheek. Finally,
this love that has been building inside me like a storm has found a way
to do something. I thought at times I’d drown in that love before it ever
had the chance to rain on him, but here it is. Touching him, I have never
loved him more.
My transformation is complete by sundown. With every part I
lose, his solidifies. I only wish we did not have to be mirrors of each
other, that we could exist together on the same plane.
He stands before me, a man again.
“I am happy to do this for you,” I say, and I don’t know if I mean
it but I think I probably do, and that’s the worst.
He smiles once more, and then he leaves. I hear he falls in love
with a woman tall and blond, and maybe one day he’ll marry her.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

That One Nightstand, and That One Nightstand, and That Other
One Nightstand…

“Fair Jenny mine, the thoughtless queen of kisses.” —
Dante Rossetti

When babies are first born, they spend almost 100% of their time on
their backs. Maybe she just never grew out of that—some people don’t,
you know? Which is probably why people see her most nights at the bar
on the corner. She smiles at the bartender, who has hair that shines like
silk, and she winks at the bouncer, who looks like a Greek God, and who
she imagines could kick serious ass if he got his head out of his own once
in a while. It is reported that she chats up the guy on the barstool beside
her, who is hot as hell but writes ‘board of this place yet?’ on the napkin
between them. The working hypothesis is this: as long as he never texts
or emails her, or basically ever communicates via the written word, and
if they spend the entirety of their time together face-to-sinfully-sexyface, then no, she won’t get board, or borde, or even bored (any more than she already is, anyway).
She imagines a world in which she would begin to lose things.
She might leave her keys on a black nightstand with silver handles and
have to call a locksmith to get back into her own apartment. Then she
could forget her cell phone on the locksmith’s nightstand the next night
and then leave the replacement cell phone on the nightstand beside the
Verizon salesman the morning after. She might forget headbands and
necklaces on countless, indistinguishable brown oak nightstands, and
may even once leave her wallet on a nightstand that holds an alarm
clock shaped like Mickey Mouse. She could lose metro cards, earrings,
lip glosses; then she’d lose her mind but she’d never go back for it. She’d
never go back for any of it.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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Lyric Essentials: Emma Hine Reads Elizabeth Alexander

Thank you for joining us this week for Lyric Essentials! Emma Hine joins us to read Elizabeth Alexander and explores how poetry can give us the tools to communicate, thrive, and connect with one another during a time of political healing.


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read Elizabeth Alexander for Lyric Essentials?

Emma Hine: I’ve loved and regularly returned to Elizabeth Alexander’s work for years, but I’ve been thinking about her especially during the past few weeks. Partly, this is because my first encounter with her poetry was actually at Obama’s first inauguration, standing in the foot-numbing cold on the Washington Mall—a memory that has felt both terribly distant and wonderfully potent for a long time since. Then, in 2017, I heard Alexander in conversation with Maria Popova at an event hosted by the Academy of American Poets at Housing Works. She was talking very explicitly about the role poetry could play in the current political climate and its rhetoric of hate and distrust; she said, “We’ve got something better than that spew that comes out; we’ve got something more precise; we’ve got something that names one another; we’ve got something that sees one another. We’ve got something that connects people instead of separating them. This is what we’ve got, so let’s use it. Let’s believe in it.”

I can’t get over this description of poetry as something that precisely names and sees and connects us, and in my experience with Alexander’s work, this definition seems especially true. Many of Alexander’s poems feel profoundly familiar to me—poems I wish I had written or was able to write—and reading them makes me feel both seen and named. At the same time, across her body of work she is speaking to an identity and to experiences that I have no personal knowledge of but still feel like I can inhabit fully as a reader. I feel connected.

And I’ve had the privilege of seeing firsthand how Alexander’s poems connect with other readers and make them feel seen and named. At the Academy of American Poets, I produced four years of the annual Dear Poet Project, where students wrote letters in response to individual poems. In 2018, one of the included poems was Alexander’s “Tending,” and scores of students sent in letters about how this piece affected them personally. A sixth grader from Sacramento wrote, “It felt like the poem was speaking to me, even though my life was nothing like the life that you described. It really felt like you were speaking to me.” This is how her poems make me feel, too.

Emma Hine reads “Autumn Passage” by Elizabeth Alexander

EH: What drew you to choose these two poems of Alexander’s, specifically?

EH: I love how muscular and lyrical these poems are, how tight the syntax is, and yet how much room they still make for wildness. “On suffering, which is real” is just such an incredible way to start a poem, and then to move into the gorgeous specificity of a toddler’s voice before taking us out, again, to an almost sublimely adult understanding of death—I return to “Autumn Passage” both as a lesson in craft and a lesson in feeling. The same goes for “Equinox,” which, at fifteen lines, is structured like a long sonnet, with its three thematic sections and the final pivoting couplet. This ending is also something I return to often, for how it holds both love and unabashed honesty, and how sonically that last line just lifts from the page.

If we’re talking about the Alexander’s poetry as a vehicle for naming, seeing, and connecting, I should add that I had a lot of trouble selecting which poems to read—partly because I love so much of Alexander’s work, and partly because recording someone else’s poems in my own voice felt like an invasion of intimacy and of identity. Alexander’s “Stray,” for instance, is a poem I read often, but when I tried to record it for this series, my voice seemed to rob it of some of its power and privacy. In a similar vein, many of my favorite poems by Alexander—“Apollo,” say, and “Haircut”—speak specifically to her experience as a Black woman; I didn’t want to impose my own voice on these poems in the recording, but I hope anyone reading this interview will seek out this work as well.

Emma Hine reads “Equinox” by Elizabeth Alexander

EH: Is there a personal connection with Alexander’s writing that inspires your own work as a poet?

EH: Her work has definitely inspired mine, through what it has taught me about craft and language and kindness. She’s one of a few poets I turned to most often while writing Stay Safe—along with Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Tracy K. Smith, Ada Limón…. Like I said, there’s something about both the precision and freedom in her language and syntax that I find fully captivating, and familiar in the best poetic sense of the term—familiar because it needed to exist and therefore feels right when it does, not because it’s like anything we’ve already seen.

EH: Lastly, is there anything you are currently working on that you’d like to share with our readers?

EH: Thanks for asking! About two-thirds of the way through Stay Safe is a long, lyrical prose poem sequence, which was the last part of the book to come together for me. This sequence is set in space, on a fleet of generation ships centuries after the loss of Earth. While I was submitting Stay Safe to publishers and contests, I started working on a novel set in this same world, partially because I couldn’t let go of the idea and partially just as a distraction from submission anxiety. It’s been two years now, though, and I’ve recently finished a first full draft! I’m excited to continue working it, but I’m also excited to start writing poetry more consistently again soon.


Elizabeth Alexander is a widely recognized poet, memoirist, playwright, and cultural advocate from Harlem. Alexander is the author of eleven collections of poetry, of which American Sublime (2005) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Most recently, she published the memoir The Light of the World, which earned 2015 best book of the year pick by Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Gilbert, and several others and was a New York Times bestseller. She recited her poem “Praise Song for the Day” for Obama’s 2009 inauguration, making her only the fourth poet to read at a Presidential Inauguration. Dr. Alexander worked as a professor at Smith College, Columbia, and Yale for 15 years, and currently president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder in arts and culture, and humanities in higher education.

Further reading:

Purchase Alexander’s poetry collection Praise Song for the Day.
Watch Alexander read “Praise Song for the Day” and discuss then and now for Library of America.
Read this profile on Alexander’s memoir The Light of the World in The Washington Post.

Emma Hine is originally from Austin, Texas, and received a BA from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA from New York University. She currently serves as the Communications Manager at the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) and the Education Content Specialist at the Academy of American Poets. Prior to this, she was the Associate Content & Education Editor at the Academy of American Poets. She is also a co-founder and co-host of Debut Revue, a virtual reading series celebrating debut poetry collections. Hine’s poems have previously appeared or are forthcoming in: 32 Poems, Arts & Letters, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Mississippi Review, the Missouri Review Online, Ninth Letter, The Offing, The Paris Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Radar Poetry, and The Southern Review.

Further reading:

Preorder Hine’s debut collection Stay Safe from Sarabande Books, available January, 2021.
Visit Hine’s contributor page for the Academy of American Poets to read her lesson plans for teaching poetry.
Read Hine’s poem “Dipping Achilles” in The Missouri Review, which was a finalist for the 2016 Jeffery E. Smith Editor’s prize.

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and advocates for media literacy and digital citizenship. She is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society and the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

Superman, or: How My 9th Grade Book Report Went All Wrong

Superman doesn’t end up with Wonder Woman. Isn’t that wild? I had
always seen them as an item, traveling around in space on some great
big adventure—they’re an obvious, natural fit. But they don’t. Fit, I
mean. Instead, Superman, this invincible, amazing hero, falls for Lois
Lane. And, like, who is Lois Lane, anyway? She’s just a journalist. In
Metropolis. Which could be, you know, anywhere. Ohio, maybe. She
doesn’t have a magic lasso or superpowers. She can’t fly. She doesn’t
even wear a disguise. I bet she’s never even left her hometown of
cornfields and grain and Sunday School and listening to her mother. Lois
Lane is ground-tied: all she can do is watch him fly off to work, saving
the world. While Wonder Woman fights by his side. I wonder if Lois Lane
was ever jealous of Wonder Woman. Superhero and superheroine seem
more compatible than superhero and journalist. Superhero and mortal.
And yet. He doesn’t love Wonder Woman. Even though maybe
he should. He loves Lois Lane. The journalist. Maybe the hero, the super
part of Superman, would naturally be drawn to Wonder Woman. But
that’s not who he is. Not completely, I mean. Because Superman is also
Clark Kent. He’s a journalist, too. A nobody, a nerd. With glasses. From
a place called Smallville. And what he wants is lovely, lonely Lois Lane.
He could go for the super woman. He’s a super man, after all. But he is
also normal. So he goes for the normal girl. He is both and can have
either. And he chooses Lois Lane.
The Clark Kent in Superman is stronger than the superpowers
he possesses, is what I’m saying.
And, well, I love that story. Lois Lane doesn’t have to be a
goddess, or even a super woman. To win his love—get his attention, I
mean. And I just think, since it happened for Lois Lane, that maybe
there’s hope out there for all of us. The girls that are more like Lois Lane,
you know, than Wonder Woman.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

Better Living Cookbook: Recipe for a Real Girl

Ingredients:
• The so-happy-your-heart-hurts teeth from your first love
• A dusting of powder, a streak of eyeliner
• The curvy eyebrows of the boy who wasn’t as smart as you
• The dogged persistence of the boy who never asked
• The wrinkled, soft hands of the man you’ll never regret
• Brains, your own (measure amount carefully, too much of this
can ruin the entire dish)
• The heart-shaped freckle on the right shoulder blade of the one
you lost
• The gentlemanly manners of the one you never said yes to
• Blue eyes from someone, sculpted arms from another, and
mouths from them all
• Pieces and parts of all the boys you have ever known, Eve
carving herself from Adam
• A mascara’d crust to put it all in, to hold it all together


PREP TIME COOK TIME READY IN
65 Minutes 20-30 years a lifetime, if you’re lucky

Preparation:

  1. Boil thoroughly in a long, hot shower.
  2. Shave legs and under arms. (Tip: Shave the knees a second
    time; no matter how hard and close you press the blade, there
    will always remain a few solitary hairs there, defiant in
    sunlight.)
  3. Moisturize, lotion, perfume.
  4. Slice and dice a garment for wearing until at first glance it looks
    modest with potential for accidental sex appeal.
    13
  5. Knead the still-damp hair under fingers and leave to air dry in a
    casual, messy way. (Tip: Don’t rush this step—sometimes it’s
    necessary to spend several minutes ensuring the part is just the
    perfect kind of crooked; it can take hours of preparation to
    achieve this natural look.)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Let simmer until he arrives.
  2. Sift through restaurant options. (Tip: Don’t mention you hate
    hamburgers when he suggests the local burger joint.)
  3. Sprinkle laughs on all his jokes, especially the ones in poorest
    taste.
  4. For extra flavoring, add a kiss.
  5. Carve the smile from his lips to keep for yourself.
  6. Flip half-heartedly for the check, to ensure even browning, but
    back down when he insists—grate this chivalry into fine pieces
    and save them.
  7. Squeeze the fingers off the hand you’re holding to never forget
    the feel of them.
  8. Melt into his arms, chop them at the shoulders to keep around
    you always.
  9. Peel the freckles off his back, set aside.
  10. Whisk conversation in a restaurant or a car, careful of dark
    secrets boiling over, stir occasionally.
  11. Strain out the excess, and keep the parts of him you like best.
  12. Bake arms and freckles and hands and mouths into warm pie.
  13. Remove from oven, allow 10 minutes to cool.
  14. Best served quickly, as soon as you return; swallow these parts
    of him and make them yours, and he will see himself in you and
    be glad.
  15. Wait for him to call again—and repeat.

Chef’s Note: We have determined the nutritional value of a first date
based on a retention value of 10% after cooking. The exact amount may
vary depending on cook time and temperature, ingredient density, and
the specific type of boy used.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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We Call Upon the Author to Explain: Tara Isabel Zambrano

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Alex DiFrancesco is the editor of this series.

I first became aware of Tara Isabel Zambrano’s stunning flash work when reading for a local literary magazine in Cleveland, Gordon Square Review. Tara’s story that appeared in the issue I read for was called “Sandalwood Remains,” and was about a romantic and sexual encounter on a bus between Jaipur and Jaisalmer. I began following Tara’s published work with a lot of excitement and was thrilled when I heard her collection Death, Desire, and Other Destinations would be published through Okay Donkey Press. The collection includes stories about destination weddings on the moon, love, loss, fabulism, and through it all runs Tara’s careful prose and startling juxtapositions.

When indie publicist Lori Hettler of The Next Best Book Club reached out to me to interview Tara, I jumped at the chance. We talked about inventiveness, the difference between flash and prose poetry, and writing good sex scenes, among other things.

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Alex DiFrancesco: I’ll admit that flash is a little new to me, so bear with this question about form! Your book is a series of stories, most no longer than three or four pages. They often read like plotted, anchored prose poetry. How do you balance the care with language and the plotted aspects in terms of these stories?

Tara Isabel Zambrano: Thank you so much, Alex, for reading my work and taking the time. You are right. To someone new to flash, these stories might come across as prose poetry and hence the care in choosing details and language to describe them. Since they are stories, they have a snapshot of a plot and conflict. And the whole challenge amounts to picking details that propel the story and yet come across as a fresh approach to something you are used to seeing over and again. It takes a lot of editing–stirring the simmering pot, as I call it–and then stop when you have reached the right consistency and volume.

AD: You often have extremely fantastical elements in these stories–destination weddings on the moon, a moon that disappears, a girl who lives inside another girl. Do you feel these elements come easily to you? Does an excess of them inform your choice to write shorter pieces?

TIZ: It’s an instinctive process; stories with fantastical elements often come to me as an opening phrase or an image that I write down and develop, edit and re-edit to see if the concept sticks, and if it has gravity to settle on a ground of reality. I do get a lot of these ideas. Not all of them are able to create a story. Some stay in the background for months, years, or sometimes become parts of other stories. The choice to write shorter or longer pieces depends on the plot, the characters, and the process of how a story represents it. It should be in terms of length, density, and impact. It’s a function of the creative processes within every idea and not their volume.

AD: Location also plays a big part in these pieces. Many take place on the U.S. and in India. Do locations inspire these stories or do they come after other elements for you?

TIZ: The plot, the characters, and the cultural elements that weave them define the location for me. For example, the story “Alligators” is set in India; the road trip and the setup appeared in my head as the characters made their journey and I stayed true to it. “Lunar Love” is based in the U.S. because that’s how it made sense in terms of its characters and their interaction with their surroundings.

AD: You write stunning sex scenes! Do you have any tips for other writers on those? (Many writers don’t do this quite as well as it’s done in this book!)

TIZ: Thank you so much, Alex! Sex is a culmination of desire and to do it effectively and aesthetically, there should be an emotional resonance between the readers and the words. There should be a strong human element in its execution and the little details that are significant to relate to, flawed or perfect. I sound like a broken record when I say that I edit a lot. I let a story sit and then read again to see if the passion in a scene moves me.

AD: At times, I felt as if I was getting to know the narrators of these stories as the stories progressed. Do you start with distinct voices, or are you learning the narrators as they come out on the page?

TIZ: I do start with a distinct voice, but on occasion I have changed it depending on how the story progresses and how the characters transform. And that’s a revelation I always wait and hope for, to have my mind surprise me and take me somewhere where I didn’t think I’d end up. So bold, so new, so unsettling. Just show me the glimpse of that space-time coordinate and I’ll work out the rest.

AD: Another flash question: you manage to portray, at times, decades within a few paragraphs. Where do you decide a scene ends? Are the blank spots between just as important, and are we to fill them in with the guidance of what’s on the page?

TIZ: Yes, blank spots are key. Flash breathes in these white spaces. For me, there is always this sense of urgency between sentences, between words. Almost all the time, something is happening, even if it’s a thought train going at full speed about to fall off its rails. You need these breaks to allow the readers to fill in the details as they perceive it. It places them amid the story, engaged. To answer your question, to end a scene is to fold it and tuck away in a manner that suspends the conflict or begins the confusion. It’s an innate process, so I try different stakes in time and mood to see where these clearances provide the muscle and transformation I need in the story.

AD: The title of this series comes from one of my favorite songs, which contains the line, “Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix,” so my last interview questions here is always: if you had to cut one thing from this book, from a word up to a scene or story, what would it be?

TIZ: That’s a trick question! I would shorten my Acknowledgements page to just, “Thank you everyone who has touched my life.” Because this book is the resultant to all those experiences and the imaginations that came with them.

Death, Desire, and Other Destinations is available through Okay Donkey Press


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Tara Isabel Zambrano works as a semiconductor chip designer. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, The Southampton Review, Slice, Triquarterly, Yemassee, Passages North and others. Her stories have been featured in Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net. She served as the Flash Fiction editor for Newfound. She lives in Texas with her husband and two grown-up kids.

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Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin House, The Washington Post, Pacific Standard, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.

Sundress Reads: A Review of How The Water Holds Me

Growing up Iranian-American, there was this sense of division within the diaspora community I grew up in: of what came before and what came after the traumatic conflicts that led us to the United States. In Tariq Luthun’s collection How the Water Holds Me, his poetry delves into similar ideologies that I had noticed in my community, but from the unique experience of the Palestinian diaspora. Published by Bull City Press and selected for publication in the 2019 Frost Place Chapbook Competition, Luthun’s poems explore the devastation that Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans have faced, giving life, memories, and meaning to a group of people that are often reduced to and judged by the conflict they are trapped within, even when they are displaced far away from their original homeland. 

The very first poem in the chapbook immediately sets the tone for what’s to come. Titled “The Summer My Cousin Went Missing,” the Luthun uses language like “buried” to describe how busy their khalto (which is Arabic for the aunt on your mother’s side) was. The lines “Child upon child goes, and someone’s mother / is no longer a mother.” The pivot from the speaker’s aunt to a generalization encompasses universal grief, one felt among an entire community. It is here where we, as readers, come to realize that this isn’t an isolated incident. As the poem continues onwards, it shifts again. The focus is no longer on their aunt’s suffering, shifting from “she” to “we.” The speaker asks “how will we ever stay fed” and “how ever / will we live long enough to grieve,” leaving a sense of lingering for both the reader and the speaker. 

Throughout the collection, something that caught my eye was how Luthun weaved together his personal experiences, one as a Palestinian-American coming of age, to touch upon universal themes. In the poem “Al-Bahr,” he says “but I saw / a boy that could have become / me wash up on a shore.” A common story among refugees, particularly Palestinian ones, is drowning in the act of seeking a new home. This is a stark juxtaposition to the poem “Upon Leaving the Diamond to Catch 14 Stitches in My Brow,” where Luthun describes how when struck with a bat, how their “off-white noise” showed division between “us” and “them.” Their accented English, their darker skin, makes the neighbors “see us / bleed and think: / prey.” Comparing “Al-Bahr” to “Upon Leaving the Diamond to Catch 14 Stitches in My Brow,” Luthun navigates between the personal and the political. While the conflict in youth may have been the fourteen stitches, it evolves into something more, something so much more sinister, by seeing boys like him drowning and leaving their community behind to seek out a new community that might not ever even accept them.

There are moments in the book that act as cultural preservation as well. Even long after Luthun is gone, his poems have preserved mundane practices and rituals, such as going out to pick mint leaves for his mother, or, how he says in the poem “We Already Know This”: “I want to be sure / everyone knows where my parents / hail from.” This is particularly evident in the poem “After Spending an Evening in November Trying to Convince My Mother That We’ll Be Fine,” where the poet describes how “it isn’t easy / to accept that the coverage of / the world outside can be spun so much.” The final lines of that poem are “a country that cannot have him–/ a country that does not want him.” “Him,” in this line, refers to Luthun’s father. Palestine is the country that cannot have him, while America is the country that didn’t want him. For marginalized communities like Palestinian-Americans, it is brave to speak out like this, to say that this isn’t what they experienced. This their truth and reality, not what is on television.

In Tariq Luthun’s collection How the Water Holds Me, while it explores the tragedy of the Palestinian diaspora, it offers hope and preservation to their unique experience. In the actual formatting of the book, next to the page numbers, there is a little key. This represents the Palestinian right of return; keys have become a symbol for Palestinians, as many kept the keys to their original home, to represent how one day they will be able to return to their ancestral home. While many Palestinians cannot go home, Luthun offers a metaphorical home in his work, one that comes from a place of both loss and understanding. In the poem “People, Drunk at Parties, Tell Me Love” he says it’s difficult for him to say “I love you.” The poems in How the Water Holds Me show this devotion, this unspoken love. 

Tariq Luthun’s How the Water Holds Me can be purchased here.


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an undergraduate at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Her work has appeared in/forthcoming from Rust+MothInto the Void, Corvid Queen, and cahoodaloodaling, among others. She attended the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute and was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow. Currently, she is trying to figure out a happy intersection between her writing, film, and photography endeavors.

SAFTA presents: A Virtual Reading Series for November

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is proud to present “A Virtual Reading Series” on November 25th, 2020, from 7-8PM EST on Zoom. Access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress. The password is safta.

Sarah Giragosian is the author of the poetry collection Queer Fish, a winner of the American Poetry Journal Book Prize (Dream Horse Press, 2017) and The Death Spiral(Black Lawrence Press, 2020). The craft anthology, Marbles on the Floor: How to Assemble a Book of Poems, which is co-edited by Sarah and Virginia Konchan, is forthcoming from The University of Akron Press. A two time winner of the Best of the Net, Sarah’s writing has appeared in such journals as OrionEcotoneTin House, and Prairie Schooner, among others. She teaches at the University at Albany-SUNY.  

Sabrina Sarro is a current social worker in the state of NY. They hold an LMSW from Columbia University and are currently pursuing an MFA from the City College of New York—CUNY. As a queer non-binary writer of color, they are most interested in investigating the intersectionalities of life and engaging in self-reflection and introspection. They are an alumnus of the LAMBDA Literary Emerging Voices for LGBTQIA* Writers Retreat, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Yale Writers’ Workshop, and many others. They have received scholarships from The Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.

Roseanna Alice Boswell Recchia is a queer poet from Upstate New York. Her work has appeared or will soon appear in: Driftwood PressJarfly MagazineCapulet Magazine,and elsewhere. Roseanna holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English at Oklahoma State University. Her first collection, Hiding in a Thimble, is forthcoming with Haverthorn Press January 2021. Find her on Twitter @swellbunny posting about feminism and her love of exclamation marks.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

High School Sweet Non-Hearts, or: I Was Definitely Smarter Than Him

Within a thirty-mile radius, the Butler County Fair is the pinnacle of
summertime existence in the lives of young people. If you are a
teenaged-Midwesterner, there is simply no place else to be on a
Saturday night in July. All your friends will be there, not to mention your
younger brother, his girlfriend, everyone from high school—including
an old classmate of yours, let’s call him Willy Thompson. He is long and
lean and has this peculiar way of moving his eyebrows up and down
whenever he speaks, like punctuation in a written sentence. You can
never decide if this is charming or ridiculous, but at least he has a car.
This particular Saturday night, you have somehow ended up at
the Butler County Fair alone with Willy. He asked you—specifically—to
come with him, but it’s not a date or anything, you hope it’s more
circumstantial than that. It seemed almost an accident that you have
somehow ended up walking side by side with Willy, talking about if
college is worth it.
I’m just so over school, he says, you know? I’m ready to get out
of here and make something of myself.
What would you make of yourself? you ask, thinking how much
you like this idea: making yourself, as if from scratch, picking and
choosing ingredients at will.
I don’t know. He runs a hand over his tobacco brown hair, but it
is cropped so short that his fingers just pass through air. He cut it last
year, when he was thinking of joining the army and wanted to try out
the buzzed look. You liked the longer hair better. I just want to be
working, he adds, maybe head out West? I like working with my hands.
You find yourself admiring the fact that yes, he does have the
body for manual labor.
Like ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ you say, thinking of the Joads going
to California to pick peaches.
His eyebrows cease their vertical movements and furrow over
his eyes. Grapes of what?
It’s a book, you tell him. I read it in English class. You don’t
remind him he was in that class with you.
The two of you walk a bit more and you think of how romantic
it would be if he took you on the Ferris wheel, or maybe bought you a
sno-cone. You pass the aisle with all the games and a man calls out for
the boy to win the lady a prize. Willy looks at you and grins. The upward
tilt of his mouth has nothing on the curve of those eyebrows. Okay,
yeah, let’s give ‘er a try.
He gives the man three dollars and throws a dart, pops the
balloon. The man gestures for anything on the back wall. Willy studies
the stuffed animals with an intensity you wish he had applied to
Steinbeck.
What do you want? he says.
You see a cute bear at the bottom of the stack, yellow like
Winnie the Pooh with a hat that reminds you of Indiana Jones, but all
you say is, You pick for me.
He points to a stuffed monkey in a rainbow beanie. That one.
He hands it to you. Don’t say I never gave you anything.
Thanks, you say.
After that Willy says he wants to save his money and so you
leave the games lined up like ducks in a row, and the rides spinning and
twirling and lighting up the night sky like noontime. You head toward the
animal barns instead, which pleases you. The shrieks of other people’s
laughter fall behind and you are more alone with Willy than you have
ever been before. This pleases you too—or you know that it’s supposed
to, and that’s close enough.
Later you will not remember what you talk about walking
through the goat barn, the cow arena, the pig stalls. What you will
remember is when you ask him if the two of you can go to see the horses
and he says, Of course. You skip a little bit ahead of him, greet each new
horse like an old friend. Hi pretty girl, and a click of your tongue. Hello
sweet boy, with a smooching sound. The horse slobbers on the stuffed
monkey in your hand and you are not sorry.
Willy stands just behind you, hands in his pockets. What is it
about chicks and horses? He laughs.
When you look over your shoulder at him you wonder if he
always had that odd way of talking out of the side of his mouth.
I just like them, you say.
A buddy of mine has two big stallions, he says. He kicks at the
dirt. He is trying, maybe, to impress you.
Stallions? You are amazed and, at first, also impressed, like he
wanted. You have never heard of anyone casually owning a stallion.
Keeping two male unneutered horses together is a high risk. You ask,
What does he do with them?
He uses them to pull his plow, I think. They’re huge, like twice
the size of these guys. He gestures to the chestnut quarter horse you’re
petting in front of him.
What does he mean? Clysdesdales, draft horses?
Does he breed them? you ask, because why else would anyone
not neuter their male horses?
Nah, says Willy. But one is a boy and one is a girl, I think.
You say, Uh huh. Afterwards, when you are both walking back
to his car, you let him hold your hand. His fingers are rough and red and
sweaty. Yours feel squished in his big palm. You are standing in sun
made from the headlights of his car, which he has started with a click of
a button from the keys in his pocket. There is a moment when he almost
walks to his side of the vehicle and you to yours but instead you call him
back.
Yeah? he says, standing right in front of you now.
Suddenly you lose your nerve, maybe even change your mind,
but he still sees it in your eyes. When he kisses you his chapped lips are
slobbery and yours are still. Later, all you will remember thinking is,
How the hell are you supposed to do this?
It is your first kiss and you hate it.
He joins the army and three years later he will end up with a girl
named Amanda who smiles sweet but empty. At least, you think it was
Willy that joined the army. Maybe that was another boy. Certainly,
though, he was the boy who kissed you for the very first time in front
of a car. Wasn’t he? It is so hard, sometimes, to remember.
Either way, when you see his photos with another girl on
Facebook, you will remind yourself about his friend’s female stallion.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Life on Dodge by Rita Feinstein

Gradually, this new life closes over your absence like a scab.
The wound was smaller than it felt, the world so much bigger.
Right down the street—an abandoned gaslight plant
overgrown with grass and children. A farmers’ market
selling strawberry muffins and goat’s milk soap.
You always thought leaving me would be pulling a pin
from a grenade, thought I couldn’t withstand 
such cataclysmic detonation, but this is me climbing
from the crater. Washing the red down the drain.
On the far side of Dodge, glaciers roll back to reveal
circles of standing stones, dolmens full of bones.
To detonate is to excavate, to excavate to unlayer.
Beneath the pungent smoke is a certain sweetness,
beneath the separation, a kind of marriage.


This selection comes from the book, Life on Dodge, available from Brain Mill Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

 Rita Feinstein is the author of the poetry chapbook Life on Dodge (Brain Mill Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in Grist, Willow Springs, and Sugar House, among other publications, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best New Poets. She received her MFA from Oregon State University. Twitter handle: @RitaFeinstein
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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