Winter 2021

The Coachella Review

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,…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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                                …

Read more

Stuff It by Marci Pliskin

Each time I quit Prineville Insurance I tell them to stuff it. Each time they choke on the office philodendron, the dry erase markers, and the reams of useless memos waiting for the shredder as I walk out the door.  The cost of my mother’s Ensure, dentures, bath railings, diapers — well, I can’t quit anytime soon. Get along to get a paycheck I keep telling myself, however much I resent this lousy mantra. On Tuesday Delores’s doctor downgraded her to bedridden, so now I have to find the money for a decent wheelchair, not the crappy kind Medicare pays…

Read more

Three Poems by Emily R. Frankenberg

  Finally Learn English At a Spanish kiosk with second-hand books or in the Thursday morning market, I think I’ll finally learn English, and (though it’s my native language and I teach it) it springs anew in that terrain of fresh ideas, cities and marshes I knew in dreams where waking reason becomes enmired in the lotus, yes, in that place where things come trembling and pristine with no worldly reservations and its many phrasal verbs sound Viking and exotic, its monosyllables fall blunt upon the ears and all its toponyms invite me. Yes, I’ll finally learn English as European…

Read more

The Rat Trap by Rebecca Lee

  I work for a content mill. In 30 minutes I can write 500 words for $7. When I look at a single roll of toilet paper, I can tell how many words it’s worth. 7 minutes for a Snickers. 400 words for a bottle of laundry detergent. I log on to a website where clients from all different businesses in all different countries post what type of article, blog post, or web copy they need written. The content mill website works as a third party where only they interact with both client and writer. When a client pays the…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

Cut Your Own by Scott Pedersen

Otto Graf, a stooped, straight-faced man of seventy-five, stood behind his house in the remote Ocooch Mountains. Wrapped in a gray wool coat, hand-knit scarlet scarf, and tattered tweed cap, he struggled to position the opening of an unwieldy bag of bird seed over a tube feeder held by his neighbor, Gene Kaplan. “Gene, hold it steady!” “Come on, Otto, just pour it already,” said Gene. Otto was about to unleash a torrent of tiny thistle seeds into the cylinder, when the air was ripped by a metallic shriek. Both men flinched. “Scheisse!” He spit out the word and paused…

Read more

Café Drago by Kate Maruyama

(photo credit: Jack Maruyama)   Whenever he couldn’t get out of bed with his six a.m. alarm, Milo reminded himself the bakers were already at work, and it’d be his ass if he didn’t get there and start setting up. He also told himself to stop being a pussy. By the time he arrived at Café Drago for a seven a.m. shift, the sun just coming up, the bakers were already in, having arrived at four. They were the kind of guys who worked their asses off and never complained. The kind of guys he’d like to live up to.…

Read more

You Talk Like a Girl by Byron Flitsch

Your popularity and recognition depend, frequently, on your voice and the impression it makes. —Eugene Feuchtinger, founder of the Perfect Voice Institute    “CUT!” The instructor’s voice blasts through the hotel conference room filled with fellow fake eaters looking for their big break in fast food commercials. When I was signed by a Chicago acting agency in my mid-twenties, my then-agent suggested to fork over one-hundred-fifty bucks to take a commercial acting workshop to learn the ropes of eating on camera. She insisted “the only way to get the good gigs” was to be classically trained in artificial eating. A…

Read more

Diary From a Disappearing Island by Amanda Witherell

Photo by Amanda Witherell The awful is inside the normal. Like normal is pregnant with awful. —Brian Doyle, “Everyone Thinks that Awful Comes by Itself, But It Doesn’t” April 4, 2017  Fanning Island rises into view slow as the morning sun—just a low, green strip of palms with a thin gap near the center. We steer our sailboat for the gap. A couple of church steeples and spindly radio antennas pierce the canopy. A man in a rough-hewn canoe anchored just off the island, fishing, waves a long, brown welcoming arm. Brian and I haven’t seen another boat or human…

Read more

Sprouted by Natalie Rogers

Mine sprouted right through the top of my head. Everyone told me I should feel lucky, there were worse places it could pop up. Imagine the belly button? Or that crease in between the pinky toe and the toe next to the pinky toe? I tried to see the deeper meaning in my sprouting spot, though after years of research by botanists, herbalists, pathologists, and dermatologists, no official cause as to why these plants emerge from the body parts they do had been determined. Why couldn’t it have taken a subtler route? Somewhere hidden, not drawing attention from the masses,…

Read more

Muddy Sake by Kathleen Hellen

Tired of cherry, tired of this world, I sit facing muddy sake and black rice. Matsuo Bashō   they’ll never love you my mother said sipping from the warrior’s o-choko the wine served best when heated, sipped  the rice hauled up in nets, like fish, from fields for generations wine the poets tend like ritual, rice in handfuls, rolled and fanned, sniffed vatted—perhaps over-nurtured my mother said as sure as snow will fall again in Sudo Honke no milk stops at our doorstep no pyramid of pap no wholesomeness three sizes bigger, fatter  who were these half-calf kids who schooled…

Read more

A Conversation with Kimi Cunningham Grant

by Jeanne Van Blankenstein Kimi Cunningham Grant is a poet and author whose fiction is planted firmly in the woods of Pennsylvania. Her first book, Silver Like Dust, shares the story of her grandmother’s life in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Her move to fiction began with the novel Fallen Mountains, a taut mystery centered on the disappearance of a man in a small mountain town wrestling with the effects of fracking.  In her latest novel, These Silent Woods, an Indie Next List pick for the month of November, Grant returns to the Pennsylvania woods, this time…

Read more