“Lifeline” by Sumita Mukherji (fiction, ’15)

 A story by Sumita Mukerji (fiction, ’15) appears in SmokeLong Quarterly:




Pia hides under the breakfast table while her mother hunches on the couch and scratches at her palm. Inside the house, acrid air. Leaves of Grass—her mother’s favorite, gifted from Pia’s father—long unopened. The slap-slapping of her mother’s sandal as she bobs her knee. The way her polyester pant leg flutters, the way her mouth trembles as she mutters to herself. The hairs on top of her mother’s lip, unshaven. Pia wants to crawl out from under the table, to remind her that she’s there. But her mother’s ample mouth droops, and Pia remains where she is.

For several minutes her mother has been scratching—distressingly, achingly—at her lifeline. The trait isn’t new, but the intensity is. As each minute passes, Pia’s stomach sinks, to her thighs, her knees, her feet. Her mother squeezes her own wrist. Veins Pia never noticed push against her skin. Pia sits on her heels, and her sundress rustles—surely her mother will notice—but there again is that acrylic nail against dry skin.

After a while, her mother studies her palm. She scratched at her lifeline when Pia’s father trained for a marathon, lengthening the time of scratching with each new mile he ran. She scratched when her father went to bed earlier than Pia did. And when he went out at midnight to drive along the highway. And now, once more, her mother’s determined scrape-scraping. Like the calico who visits their yard, scratching at the back door’s screen.[…continue reading here]

Community Digest

Faculty News & Updates

Alan Williamson and his wife, Jeanne Foster, translators, have The Living Theatre: Selected Poems of Bianca Tarozzi, available now from BOA Editions.


Jeremy Gavron’s new novel, Felix Culpa, will be released in the UK in February. Read an excerpt here.

Alumni News & Updates

A poem by Dilruba Ahmed (poetry, ’09), “The Song in Which it Resides” will appear in Ploughshares in January.

Patrick Donnelly (poetry ’03) is the recipient of a 2018 Amy Clampitt Residency Award, which will include a stipend and a six-month stay during 2018 at Clampitt’s former residence in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Robert Oldshue (fiction ’05) has won the New Letters Prize for Fiction 2017 for his story “Thomas.”

Winner of the 2016 Backwaters Prize, Stunt Heart by Mary Jo Thompson (poetry, ’09) has recently been released by The Backwaters Press.


Susan Okie (poetry, ’14) and Kerrin McCadden (poetry, ’14) have new poems in the new Winter issue of Prairie Schooner.  Susan’s poem is titled, “In Great Village,” and Kerrin’s two poems are “When My Brother Dies” and “Killeter Forest: Father McLaughlin’s Well.”


Susan Okie (poetry, ’14)

Kerrin McCadden (poetry, ’14)



Mad River by Justin Bigos (poetry ’08)

An excerpt from Mad River by Justin Bigos (poetry, ’08), available now from Gold Wake Press:

Portrait of My Father as John Clare: “Common Loon’s Nest”

I think of ma stretched out like death
in Room 42 of the Pequot Motel,
the television static rain,
not snow, as they say, the whole room soaked
through like a rag before it’s squeezed.
I’d left the faucet on, indeed, a quick shave
before work, my twelve-hour shift
driving a cab – then coming home after fries
and a Double Whopper with cheese
in a parking lot lit up like some firefly
graveyard, wing dust on my windshield,
stardust in my head. And that’s what they called it,
trying to be kind, perhaps, doctors
and nurses, not in white suits but suits with neckties,
flowered dresses and scarves of gold.
Stardust – as if I were Brando
or Paul Newman rocking away his last days
at the Connecticut General Hospital
for the Insane. Yes, quite a name
for a place serving pot roast with plastic knives,
pressing hot towels to faces
of tenants not allowed to shave themselves. Ma
told me to not forget her soup
and crackers, Meals on Wheels had lately been stale
as my jokes. I wiped the bloody
foam from my face, made sure the TV was set
to channel 9, PBS, left
without saying goodbye. As I did tonight,
though we have no TVs, only
the large one like some aquarium lighting
up the lounge. The other men stare
and moan night and day as if it’s God Himself,
as if God played golf, or dropped bombs
on hospitals in ancient lands
still here, its people wailing for their newborn
dead, a sound I carry with me
everywhere, even here, this pond I’ve named
Hidden Loon Pond, whether it’s my right to name
God’s pond or not. I am Adam
as much as Eve, though, it took me my whole life
to figure that one out. Listen:
the loon, what’s called the common loon, yodeling
across the pond. They make their nests
with marsh grass and sedge, in the coves
and dark bays of the pond, if it’s big enough.
I once saw a loon in the lot
of Circuit City after a heavy storm.
It must have mistaken the slick
asphalt for pond, the neon glare for moonlight.
It took nearly twenty minutes
to find enough runway, like a propeller
plane before, finally, it levels
its wings and lifts from the ground. The common loon
is named for its hobble, from the Swedish word
for lame. I myself can barely
walk a mile and, worse, tonight when I escaped
that prison I forgot my shoes.
Yes, prison, that’s what I called it, the first room
I could have stayed in forever,
no rent, no hollering ma, and as much food
as an idle man can eat. Now
look at me: sitting barefoot by the cattails
of this marshy pond, listening
for the common loon, hiding, which is the sane
thing to do in this whirlipuff
of a world. Some of us, like the brown mallard,
can only fly against the wind.
Most of us can’t fly at all, and so we turn
away, pray for a mighty gust.

BIO: Justin Bigos is author of the poetry collection Mad River (Gold Wake, 2017), as well as the chapbook Twenty Thousand Pigeons (iO, 2014). His writing appears or is forthcoming in publications including New England Review, The Seattle Review, Ploughshares, Indiana Review, McSweeney’s Quarterly, The Best American Short Stories 2015, and The Rumpus. He coedits the literary magazine Waxwing and lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he teaches writing at Northern Arizona University.

Announcing the Larry Levis Post-Graduate Stipend Winners!

Friends of Writers is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Larry Levis Post-Graduate Stipend: Rose Skelton in Fiction for HOMESCAR, and Noah Stetzer in Poetry for BOYS GUIDE TO DANGER & HOUSEWORK . Each winner receives $4000. The judge in fiction was Peter Ho Davies.  The judge in poetry was Allison Joseph.


Congratulations to Rose and Noah, and many thanks to everyone who applied. Both judges report that choosing just one winner in each category was a difficult decision, as there were so many high-quality entries.Finalists in poetry included Francine Conley, Cynthia Saunders Quinones, and Luke Brekke. Finalists in Fiction were Avra Elliott, Laura Moretz, and Terri Leker.

In 2018 there will again be two awards, one in poetry and one in fiction. Submission guidelines will be available and the amount of the 2018 awards announced as of August 1, 2018, with submissions accepted beginning September 1.

An Excerpt from Every Living Species by Erin Stalcup (fiction, ’04)

Read an excerpt from Every Living Speciesa novel by Erin Stalcup (fiction, ’04), available now through Gold Wake Press:

from Every Living Species:

the northern tip of Manhattan, the sixty-six acres of Fort Tryon Park had been transformed into The Aviary. Climate zones were built to house twelve of every living species of bird on earth—Polar, Desert, Coastal, and three kinds of forest: Deciduous, Coniferous, Rain. To launch this museum, Cabela’s and Canon teamed up to host the Birds of the World Timed Birding Contest. One thousand pairs of birders would be the first to see The Aviary, and would compete: three days to identify as many species as possible, and on the fourth day ten million dollars would be awarded to the first-place pair. Each of the 250 sovereign nations had sponsored a team; the United States sponsored fifty indigenous teams; there were fifty indigenous teams representing the rest of the globe; the ACLU sponsored fifty Visibility Teams made up of underrepresented individuals; Amnesty International sponsored one hundred Peace Teams combining members from nations that had experienced recent or historical conflict; and there were five hundred pairs of paying customers.

This is what the birds would see if they ventured beyond the climate where they were

most comfortable, though they didn’t have language to say it: a glare of barren white, a swath of verdant green, scarlet desert sand, a lucent lake, a sea. Alpine lichen abutted arctic ice, cacti stood adjacent to grassland, and all three kinds of forest flanked each other—leafed, needled, jungle—just like on the planet, but compressed. No walls separated environments, so contestants would walk under a canopy of branches and arrive in the tropics, moisture streaming from unseen machines in the sky. Nearby, mechanisms masked as stones circulated frigid air in the late New York summer, kept ice intact for a small space, and contraptions released snow every hour on the hour. Chilled air drifted away at the edges, transitioned to a woodland of spruces, firs, and pines. Farther along contestants could stand between a miniature ocean and a freshwater lake, see two shores at once. Sand led to the arid zone, where an apparatus baked the liquid out of the air. The tightest knit of chain link surrounded the park, an optical-fiber canopy stretched overhead.

Inwood Hill Park had been converted to a campground for contestants, 196 acres of original forest north of The Aviary, the only place in the city you could still see trees that had been alive for over a century. Many New Yorkers thought all the parks were what was left of prehistoric forest, and skyscrapers had grown around what had been preserved, but in fact most of Manhattan Island had been flat as a field. Fort Tryon Park had been rocky and thin-soiled until nearly one hundred years before when Frederick Law Olmsted brought in fertile dirt, planted oaks, moved boulders, scooped out promenades. Olmsted positioned every stone in Central Park, situated each tree, dug and filled the lake, then duplicated his work in Fort Tryon. The architects for the Canon and Cabela’s Birds of the World Timed Birding Contest pulled out Olmsted’s maples, replaced them with palms and piñons.

The masses were gathering, preparing to compete to see who could witness the most beauty, bringing their cravings and fancies and fears, drawn as if the colored lines of subway tracks on maps stretched across the globe to wrap people and pull them close—and New York City was planning a party to greet the beginning of the end of the world.

American Ballet Theatre would perform a double-bill of Swan Lake and Firebird. The Metropolitan Opera would present Die Vogel. The Museum of Natural History would have an exhibit called Extinction: one wing holding paintings, photos, and stuffed specimens of every extinct bird, so contestants could come as close as possible to seeing every species that ever existed; a wing featuring taxidermy of other extinct animals; a wing of artifacts and relics of extinct peoples and languages; and of course dinosaurs. Revive & Restore sponsored an exhibit called De-Extinct, where you could see live species that had been returned, but weren’t quite yet ready for release into the wild. The Cloisters showcased medieval conceptions of birds, tapestries and illuminated manuscripts. Art galleries hosted Brandon Ballengee’s erasures of Audubon’s prints, Frederick Murphy’s and Alicia Kanade’s photographs of viruses that could decimate the human population, and photographs from National Geographic entitled What Still Remains. Banksy’s retirement project would be to graffiti a bird a day in an obscure location during the month of September so some could search outside of the park, for free, and the resuscitated piano bar Rose’s Turn would host an all-bird-name drag show, emceed by Tequila Mockingbird. Most bars would feature bird-themed cocktail specials, some restaurants would feature fowl-free menus for the duration, while others would run ostrich and squab and quail and pheasant and turkey specials beyond the regular chicken. “Come see the spectacle!” the papers all proclaimed.  “Celebrate obliteration in all five boroughs.”

BIO: Erin Stalcup is the author of the story collection, And Yet It Moves (Indiana University Press 2016) and the novel, Every Living Species (Gold Wake Press 2017). Her fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Kenyon Review Online, The Sun, and elsewhere, and her creative nonfiction about her teaching experiences was listed as a Notable Essays in Best American Essays 2016. After earning her MFA from Warren Wilson Program for writers, she served as the Joan Beebe Teaching Fellow. Erin has also taught in community colleges, universities, and prisons in New York City, North Carolina, and Texas, and she now teaches fiction writing at her alma mater, Northern Arizona University, in her hometown of Flagstaff. Erin co-founded and co-edits Waxwing: www.waxwingmag.org. You can read more of her work at www.erinstalcup.com.