Altar In a Barn by Margaret H. Wagner

  dedicated to a cowgirl… Torn ticket to a rodeo, stained upside-down wooden raspberry basket, teal, brocaded pincushion the size of a child’s hand, dried bee balm bouquet. Well-worn lasso, shredded and dusty, rusted Campbell’s soup can brimming with marbles, baby bootie scuffed, eyelets misplaced. A black silk stocking, lace on its ankle, draped over rosewood branches crossed to the four winds, silver butterfly charm with busted clasp. Hotel key yoked to plastic diamond shield, letters faded, metal watering can with no handle, yellow coneflower sprouted from a crack in the soil. The marks “n o w” in the dirt,…

How Zombie Learned the Difference Between Obsession and Love by Colton Merris

I left bits of body and micro-letters on strips of skin at her wedding. Some strips draped the backs of seats like coats. One note: To the bride: Some things are better left buried; does your husband know what you carry? I left every little bit about her. The outdoor wedding gave the guests a view of kayakers slicing rifts into the river. Their oars cut the blue water like scalpels. Caterers guarded hors d’oeuvres: pigs in blankets, cucumbers rolled into thin tortillas, and cream cheese and sliced meats, all delicacies in soft coffins. Everywhere, always, guests said how good…

The Geography of Flight by Maryann Aita

Archaeology: A- When I was eight, my mother, father, three older siblings, and I took a family portrait and hung it above the piano in our dining room. The piano belonged to my father’s father, but none of us could play it, nor did my parents see investing in lessons as worthwhile. Eventually, we sold the piano, but the photo remained there, an artifact of our proximity. In it, my mother and father sit next to each other, surrounded by their four children. My sister sits next to my mother and one brother stands between them. My other brother—the oldest…

Studying Myths and Symbols of Pagan Europe by Barbara Daniels

  All over this blue earth, life calls to life, dog to man, girl to an arum lily. Here, dear (insert your name),  we have soup on the stove, steadily simmering but likely to fail again, blown-out lentils, too much sea salt.  I open a book, examine a myth of survival, Celtic spirals, new moons. Blood soaks the stories— dancing warriors, severed heads. I taste a dollop of blueberry honey. Blueberry season lasts five weeks.  Honey preserves its sweet residue. A bird sings so loudly it seems to be on the mantle,  beak open, calling. Why do I live so…

TCR Talks with Deesha Philyaw

By Amy Reardon When I first heard the title of Deesha Philyaw’s fiction debut, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, I had to read it. It was the power and elusiveness in that combination of words. Women + Secrets + God? Count me in. Turns out I wasn’t alone. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies debuted in September 2020 and promptly won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, The Story Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Today, Philyaw is at work co-writing and executive producing its TV series adaption for HBO…

How to Flatten by Jacqueline Henry

  I had never seen a bird flatten itself until I spied a sparrow slip through a slit in the eave of Aunt Ginger’s roof.  It wore a black mask around its eyes, like people do around their fear-of-COVID faces, its feathers beautiful shades of black, gray, and green.  I wonder what it would be like to gracefully flatten. I say gracefully because I know what it’s like to be deflated, and this isn’t that kind of metaphor. This is about fitting into the sacred shape of yourself—in this place, this universe, this eave that really needs you to be…

Fear by Chanel Brenner

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. —C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed The way the afternoon light floods our front porch helps make my sadness bearable today. I scan the other houses on our block, their yards darker, but with greener grass, and wonder how ours, the one with the dead child, has the brightest light. This morning on YouTube, I watched a TODAY show interview with Matt Mauser, the husband of one of the victims in the Kobe helicopter crash. The newscaster, Savannah Guthrie, asked him if he felt angry. I am scared more than…

A San Bernardino Ghost Story by Marissa Alvarez

beginning at the bottom of stairs to a bridge next to the Santa Fe trainyard great grandfather                                 never made it home that pay day stolen wallet stolen patriarch                                a ghost in the bloodline decades of drivers spotting his outline forever crossing the Mt. Vernon bridge footsteps quickening to oblivion a shadow in headlights                                …

This One’s Me by Zac Thriffiley

To be fair, I made the mistake of standing too close to the kitchen island and hovering over the charcuterie spread. With my shoulders slouched and arms wide, I looked like a vulture protecting fresh roadkill that it had paid too much for at Whole Foods. Everyone knows that the safest place at a party—especially one where you only know half the guests but everyone is willing to have sex with you anyway—is next to the food. This way, you meet new people, but have something on hand to shove into your mouth if the conversation dies or takes an…

Alpha by James Sie

burning The wind brings in the morning even sooner than the birds. It’s covered in smoke. One sniff— clean-moist-grass    dirt-tumbled-down-from-the-night-before peeling-eucalyptus    the-promise-of-heat —All the smells are smudged with ash. Fire. Not here, but close enough. There’s no direction it’s not. Enough reason for me to get back home, but I stand on the stone steps, motionless, as the darkness yields to shreds of new sky.  I wait, telling myself I’m not waiting.  The nests above on either side of the steps are quiet, and no signs of movement in those clustered below. That’s another reason I know it’s…