Micro Essay

Syrup Smokes the Same – Micro Essay

by Andrew Baker

We smoked pine needle cigarettes and coughed up syrup. Ronnie and I were ten and wanted to be grownups. I’d been sneaking half-smoked butts from the ashtray for a few months, but he couldn’t bring himself to taste nicotine. With kid logic, we figured that pine needles would smoke the same. We emptied out some of the butts and crushed the spines inside. The brown tips that jutted out were burned down so they looked like the real deal.

Lollipop pines lined the clearing where we’d play army. It was tucked away back on top of one of the knobs. Hidden from my parents, we searched for the brownest and crunchiest needles.  We found that the green ones took forever to light. We’d climb one of the hemlocks at the edge and take turns passing the knock-off Marlboros.

Each toke burned my lungs and made me think I was drowning in Pine-Sol. It rolled across my tongue like cough syrup and dripped from my mouth like molasses. Out of everything, pine needles cause the worst cough. It’s terrifying to open your hand and see that you’ve coughed up something resembling half-eaten pancakes. We didn’t know that dried needles still hold sap, or that we’d been filling our lungs with the stuff. It didn’t stop us. I figured it was better than the cigarettes I stole from mom. If she could do it, why couldn’t I?

Andrew R. Baker is a writer, photographer, self proclaimed video game aficionado, and a closet poet from the mountains of southeast Tennessee. He currently resides in Jiangyin, Jiangsu, China and teaches English at a local school..

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Moon, River, Snow: A Dervish Essay – Micro Essay

by Robert Vivian

Cold wind touching my face at night close to the woods as if to say goodbye and I dream grandfather by the banks of the river, I dream fish under skein of ice waiting for nymphs to emerge, I dream the chance to wade again in April and I dream listening woods waiting for winter dawn and winter light empty as a windswept and barren room with all the windows open and moon, river, snow, one word in three becoming me and wanting to shine and one word in the clean hush you bring to the birth and death of every star and every clean becoming and how dear you are to me, so near and far away and intimate as breathing and simple prayer that whispers clean, clean, let go, let go, that whispers already leaving, already spendthrift and gone and cold clear water that wears away pebble and stone to give them glow and each of you a reverie all your threadbare own and almost full moon above whiter than dove tugging at river and blood do you stare because of chasm, do you stare because endless drifting stream of universal dust is all you know in star struck motes holding everything and how river is drawn to you, how it moves to gather your spirit like a lover who wants to please and snow are you glad to be here, are you truly bride worshiping in the temple of hush and snow what is it like to cover things, rake, fence, hoe, and apple cart, and moon tell me what to do with this yearning, and river tell me why I think of you as dear someone who died long ago come back in the shape of winding water flowing to the north, flowing evenly with the whole earth to cover, of gravity and remembering and new dawns breaking yolk of sun and the subtle sighing of leaves that whisper every season and withered stalk of corn, and moon, river, snow and all the elements, fire, ice, wind, and wave, lead me beyond every false and fleeting thing to that place I keep forgetting and wanting to get back to, open mouth under the stars and empty hands in the woods listening and watching for you, moon, river, snow in the hush that is winter and winter listening, winter waiting and breath made of briefest steam that shows how quick I am to pass into cloud and this breathing the writ and proof of it and unrolling scroll so soon to disappear, this breathing reaching out to you, moon, river, snow so that I may become a part of you again, ancient fathers and mothers in the ageless work of staring, carrying, and falling without a sound as you blanket the rose bushes and the watering can and the overturned wheelbarrow like someone who is on his knees after a great bout of sadness or because he has stumbled and can’t get up again.

Robert Vivian has published four novels and two books of meditative essays.

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Borderline – Micro Essay

by Kristine Mahler

Heading for the Missouri border, an early summer morning blurring down south-Nebraskan roads, crossing the great divide on a rickety old one-way bridge we paid a dollar fifty to cross, the bridge spanning some strange chasm, a split in the earth where Nebraska and Missouri actually fissured, snaking past Rusty’s Bar and Café (and we set up my stuffed red panda, Rusty, beaming on the dashboard for a quick picture that weekday morning, but a part of me wanted to stop our smooth Saturn from gliding through that town too quickly, wanted to get caught, tripped up, and go in, have a fifty cent cup of coffee with the workadays in lower Nebraska, a café I’ll remember as the life I could have had—running a card shop on the Town Square, friends and neighbors coming in once a month to pick up birthday cards, the radio station my only companion among the dusty card pyramids, starting up shop at nine-thirty in the morning after I’ve had my cup of coffee at Rusty’s), but we burn down Nebraska, cross the bridge, stop at the border of Missouri and I leap out, kick my leg up and pose against the sign, a couple of girls stopped in a car right in front of us and I wonder if they’re Nebraska girls; it’s August, they could be high school graduates, stopped at that fatal border, and they just had to stop and think a minute, call home on the cell and get Mom out of her recliner to ask, “Am I doing the right thing? Momma, you’ve got to tell me I’m doing the right thing” as her best friend waits impatiently, knowing she can only push her so far; or maybe they just stopped and dreamed, stopped and looked at the border they knew they’d never cross, stopped and looked at the lives they’d never have, maybe they just sat and watched as we rambled down to Missouri; they turned around and headed into the sunrise of another morning in Nebraska.

Kristine Langley Mahler crammed countless CNF writing courses into her degree from the University of Iowa. She is currently completing a collection of essays about her teenage crushes, and some of her recent work can be found in Embodied Effigies. In the meantime, she blogs about life on the suburban prairie, where she lives it and loves it.

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Because I Love You – Micro Essay

by Bill Vernon

Mom’s friend Betty entered our house one afternoon as if blown inside by the wind. The door banged against the wall, and from the kitchen Mom was there in an instant. Betty leaned against the door as if exhausted. “Ruth, you won’t believe what that fool did this time.”

Tony appeared in the doorway behind her. “Now, Betty, stop….”

Betty glanced at him. “No, everyone should hear what I have to endure, living with you.”

Tony shook his head, squeezed past her, and collapsed on the couch. “It was just a joke.”

Betty sneered, “A joke!”

Tony’s face became a rubber mask featuring a smirk and downcast, guilty eyes.

She’d come home from Sherwood’s Market with a bag of groceries in each arm, and found “the moron” sprawled on the floor. A lamp was on, she supposed to light up the pool of red on the floor, the big red splotch on his shirt, and the handle of the butcher knife. “It seemed to be sticking up out of him. Well I screamed, of course, and dropped the sacks. There’s a dozen eggs, a big jar of dill pickles, and God knows what else broken on the living room floor.”

Tony said, “I’ll clean it up.”

“Damn right you will.” Betty turned around to face him. “You’ll also go back to the store and replace whatever is ruined.”

Tony nodded.

Mom said, “Tony was stabbed?”

Betty turned back to Mom. “No, that was just my first impression. Then I noticed the knife was sticking up between his arm and his chest.” She put a hand flat in her armpit to demonstrate. “I also noticed the half empty ketchup bottle on the desk.”

My mother shook her head. “Tony, what were you thinking?”

Betty said, “He was trying to frighten the life out of me.”

“It was a joke,” Tony said.

Betty twisted around and yelled. “You think that’s funny?”

My mother turned away, but I saw the smile she was hiding. “No wonder you dropped the bags.”

“I grabbed the dust mop from the closet and beat him over the head until the idiot had enough sense to get up and run.”

“Ah, Betty, it wasn’t that bad.”

She glared at him. “It could very well have killed me right on the spot.”

“I pull jokes on you because I love you.”

We all stared at him. After a minute Betty said, “How can I be so lucky. Ruth, do you have any coffee perked?”

“Good idea,” Tony said. “A cup of coffee will settle us down.”

“Not you,” Betty said. “You go home and clean up the mess.”

Mom led Betty to the kitchen while Tony stood in the doorway watching. When they disappeared, Tony left. He walked hunched over as if carrying a heavy burden. He might have felt bad, but his trick seemed neat enough for me to try on my brother.

Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.

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Butterfly – Micro Essay

by Sarah Imbody

The old jogging stroller I push is awkward, the toddler in it is heavy, and my feet are slow and clumsy upon the pavement. I struggle to catch up with my son, moving one, then two telephone poles in front of me on his Mongoose bike. It was a present from his daddy and me for his eighth birthday, and it used to be wobbly underneath him, but today, on this bike ride, I notice between my own difficult breaths that he has grown into it over the past year. Where unsteadiness used to be present, there is now a sureness, almost a domination over the pedals as he thrusts them down and moves farther and farther ahead of me.

Still, I see a small falter in his balance when he stops suddenly and leans over to gaze at something on the side of the road. “Hey Mom! Come look!” he calls back to me, his hands tight around the handlebars to keep the heavy bike erect. I manage a nod, plodding forward until I catch up to him.

On the side of the road beside him lies a Monarch butterfly. Its legs are creamy white, its wings orange, yellow, black, and stiff. It is motionless in the dirt until I feel a breeze hit the back of my arms. Its wings flutter ever so slightly. “Isn’t he neat?” he says, smiling, still holding tightly to his bike. “But you can’t touch him because then he can’t fly.” I watch his smile fade at the thought.

I don’t want to tell him, but I do. “Sweetie, I think it’s dead already.”

“Aww.” He scrunches his eyes when he says this, an innocent sorrow rendered on his face that gives me pause.

“We could take him home,” I say, slowly, thinking of a way to mend his sadness. “We could press him. That way he stays perfect forever.” He nods, seemingly content with this suggestion. I pick the butterfly up gently and place it in the bottom of the stroller.

We continue on, him pedaling beside me as I jog. I tell him we can press the butterfly between the pages of a book to keep its wings intact. I do not know how this works exactly, only that I have heard of people doing such things before, have seen flowers flattened between plastic sheets, insects pressed under the glass of picture frames. For now, my son seems content that we will, somehow, find a way to keep the butterfly ageless and without flaw.

Sarah Imbody received her MA in English from IndianaUniversity (Fort Wayne) in 2011. She teaches dual-credit writing courses at Homestead High School, also in Fort Wayne. Her audio piece, “Unemployed in Indiana,” was published in Red Fez in 2012. She also served as guest editor of Dead Flowers in 2012.

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Bones – Micro Essay

by Joseph Erm

The tragedy of an age — an age such as ours — that celebrates mediocrity and a delirium constructed by endlessly scatter-casting the mundane is that, in the end, we no longer have songs worth singing or, if they exist, we tire of them too quickly. Yet this still-new century has been but the heir of the age that proceeded it — an age withered and emasculated by post-modernism and its effete insistence — still echoing in our ears — that nothing is worth doing, that the ignoble suffers no difference from the noble, that consumption is better than creation. And the persistence of this voice, if we give it room and allow it to guide our hearts, will eventually wring from us even a sense of tragedy. It’s the poison in the king’s ear.

So then, before this tragedy convinces us that there is no tragedy after all, we need the real poets to come back from the wilderness and cock it all up. For what often passes as poetry these days is something made between the university tower and the circus tent. In the tower, it is weak and obscure, a thing turned by clammy, flaccid hands. In the tent, it is made a spectacle for an audience that can only concentrate in increments of a hundred and forty characters. So the empire is served by caps and charlatans

For poetry to reassert itself as the progenitor of culture and not its cur, something revolutionary must occur again. Ring the bells, and call up the bone poets. Poetry belongs in the street. We should be calling it up from somewhere between the gut and the gutter. Fuck Levine, fuck Merwin, fuck Hall and Collins, those husks. We can no longer afford their silk. We need something lean and muscular, a poetry that exits the room with a growl.

Joseph Erm is a poet and visual artist primarily interested in the city. He has a B.A. in English Literature, an M.S. in Urban Studies, and M.F.A. coursework in Poetry. Despite the mountain of offal that passes for poetry these days, he remains hopeful.

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Hatred: A Positive Force? – Micro Essay

by Neona Twirl

In our politically correct world, it is assumed that hatred is intrinsically wrong and that love is intrinsically right. From a young age, teachers repeat to us, “You musn’t say you hate a person. You only dislike the person.” We are, on the other hand, allowed to express emotions on the other extreme: we are allowed to love. For love, in the minds of our primary educators at least, is never destructive. Perhaps they never read Romeo and Juliet and never met a person whose love was unrequited. For, with those examples in mind, we learn that the true tragedy is loving or hating the wrong person or thing or loving or hating in the wrong manner.

It has been over a decade since I was indoctrinated with this love of love, this hatred of hate. In the meantime, I have developed what I believe is a more nuanced view of the matter. We hate far more often and far more deeply than we admit: we mask much of our hatred with the label of fear. Yet, fear is simply what we feel when we don’t know whether we are worthy enough to hate, whether our hatred stems from our superiority or (as we worry) from our inferiority to its object. Many choose to fear instead of to hate because they have been taught that acknowledging their hatred demonstrates that they are not intelligent enough to comprehend that which they detest. However, seeing only one side of an issue is not always a sign of ignorance. Sometimes, it is a sign that the other side is so misguided that to see its point is to compromise your integrity, to lose a part of yourself.

Hatred, I have found, is the only way to create positive change in the world. This hatred need not be, and is in fact almost never, hatred of a person but is rather a sort of vindictiveness, which allows you to grapple with the problems of the world and to stave off the fatalism which inflicts most older people, the fatalism that kills their idealism and turns them to conservatives. In order to have the drive to change the world, you must hate the world’s problem; as soon as they appear inevitable to you, you are loosing, which means that the problems will never get resolved. For the opposite of hatred is, in this case, not love but ambivalence; rage is hot, but ambivalence makes you go cold inside.

So, in the end, you musn’t say that you hate hatred. You need to focus all of your hatred on apathy, instead.

Neona Twirl is a student who loves writing and reading, both fiction and nonfiction. She’d like to pick a career that would allow her to help create a better future for the planet, in one way or another, but she hasn’t yet settled on anything more concrete than that.

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