Medusa Song

up on blocks

Medusa Song


Mary Akers

She scrambles the eggs while the baby howls at her knees. To drown out the racket, she hums as she jabs her fork into the yolks. She enjoys the way they spill their yellow color and swirl into the whites. She matches her tune to the schook, schook, schook of the fork against the bowl, then does a quick side-step when the baby lunges for her legs.

His little fat hands grasp the air, throwing him off balance. He totters on his heels for a moment then sits hard and rolls back sideways, bumping his head on the floor. He stops crying abruptly and flails his arms in the air like a big bug stuck on its back.

Cynthia knows she should pick him up, comfort him, but she’s too deep in her own need. She won’t look down, even, because if she looks at his face all twisted up and desperate for her, she’ll have to pick him up, and she just can’t do that motherhood stuff right now.

She used to love the feeling, everyone needing her so badly. She would peel and seed John’s oranges when she packed his lunch. She cut the crusts off his sandwich out of pure love. And when the baby fell asleep, she’d sit and hold him just as long as he would let her.

But John Junior is walking now—into everything—and he’s gotten so clingy. Her friend Alice says that John Junior is feeling separation anxiety. Every time Cynthia leaves the room he thinks she’s gone forever, just disappeared. Secretly, Cynthia wishes it could work like that—two steps into the bedroom, and poof, she’s in another life, another world.

She used to love her life. She looked forward to every day. Cynthia can’t even say when things changed. Maybe it was back when she suspected John of sleeping with his secretary. Maybe it was after John Junior was born and she couldn’t seem to do anything right.

John and she had never fought before. Well, sometimes, but it was always more of a disagreement and once Cynthia apologized it would be over. It never spilled out into the rest of her life.

Now things seem to get all tangled up, till she can’t separate them, one from the other. She feels like that woman with snakes for hair, only all her problems are tangled up there too, squirming and writhing around, hissing on top of her head.

She figures that must be why John isn’t home yet—imagine living with a woman who can’t comb her hair for the snakes. She tries calling his office, but that snooty Angela answers, so Cynthia puts on a different voice and pretends to be one of John’s clients.

“Mr. Albee promised to show us a home today, is he in?”

She smiles because she knows Angela is too dense to figure out it’s her. She’s careful to keep the smile out of her voice.

Then Angela says, “Mr. Albee hasn’t been in all day, Ma’am, may I give him a message?”

She says it real sly-like, with extra emphasis on the ma’am, until Cynthia is really getting sick. The eggs look disgusting and she feels so nauseous. Then she’s throwing up again, retching in the toilet, and thinking, God, please don’t let me be pregnant, but she’s known it for a while. Add another snake.

When she’s wiping her face, John calls and she thinks he says he’s at work, but it’s hard to hear for sure over the baby. Liar. She just called there. Cynthia doesn’t want to yell at him, but she feels it rising up in her throat like bile, and she wants to stop it but the words are pouring out all over the place like vomit, sour and steaming.

She hangs up and tries to finish supper, even if it is just eggs and toast. After John sells a house they’ll have steak. She puts the baby in his crib, and over the monitor she can hear him banging his head against the bars. She goes to the door and watches, fascinated. His eyes roll back in pleasure. She tries banging her own head once on the doorframe before she remembers the snakes. No sense getting them all riled up.

Then she hears the eggs frying too hard, and sure enough, they’re brown when she stirs them, and the toast needs scraping. Schook, schook, schook, the crumbs fly all over the sink, sticking to the sides. She thinks about that woman who drove her kids into the lake and cried about it on national TV. What a terrible person, a horrible mother. But the snakes hiss, “Yessss.”

She’s barely gotten the toast buttered when John Junior starts up again. He’s poopy, too. She can see it rimming the edges of his diaper. What with the snakes and the baby it’s really all just too much for her and she carries him out to the pickup and puts him squish onto the seat and she leaves supper unfinished and she’s really going to do it this time because she just can’t take it any more.

Halfway to the lake it starts raining. John Junior is sitting in the floorboard playing with his toes and the wipers are keeping time in the dark, schook, schook, schook, marking off the seconds till it’s done.

Cynthia pulls right up to where the lake meets the road, and there’s no one around, so she gets out and goes over to the water’s edge. The baby watches her; his face against the window, nose flattened, big eyes shining white through the dark.

The water smells dank and fishy and it’s way too cold when she sticks her head in. Cynthia is on all fours holding her breath and she thinks about how she must look—rear in the air, head in the lake. She doesn’t get up, though, and her chest starts to ache from needing to breathe. Her head is throbbing, and her throat spasms, her body trying to force her to breathe. But she won’t, she won’t, and she can hear the schook, schook, schook of blood in her head, looking for oxygen.

When her body starts to relax and she’s feeling like she could stay down there at the bottom of the lake forever, she jerks her head up hard, throwing back her shoulders, landing on her back at the muddy edge of the lake.

And possibly the baby is crying in the truck, but he’s safe enough, and she remembers that his diaper needs changing while she watches drops of rain fall silver through the night and feels them sting her cold lake-water face as she listens and waits and hopes the snakes have drowned.


Mary Akers’ debut short story collection, WOMEN UP ON BLOCKS, won the 2010 IPPY gold medal for short fiction and she co-authored a non-fiction book (ONE LIFE TO GIVE) that has sold in seven countries. She is Editor-in-chief of the online journal r.kv.r.y. and co-founder of the Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology. She received a Pushcart 2012 Special Mention and has published a book of short performance pieces for use in high school dramatic reading competitions (MEDUSA’S SONG AND OTHER STORIES). She blogs at

Open-Air Cinema in Heliopolis


Open-Air Cinema in Heliopolis

by Hedy Habra

You used to say, mother:
“Let me see your face when lit
by a crescent moon:
every day of the month
will smile the way you do.”

We saw double-feature movies
in open-air theatres.
The cool breeze ran through our hair,
over our necks, lifted our skirts,
swayed us in a magical carpet.

Tempted by vendors chanting
Greek cheese and sesame breads,
we often stayed, sipping icy lemon
granitas through replays, the lift
and pause of cascading light.

Characters entered our own
camera obscura.
We never agreed on their age:
you added a few years,
I wanted them closer to mine.

I remember a recurrent scene,
fading now into a sepia cameo,
where a woman—always the same
yet different—slaps a man
before falling in his arms.

I watched your face then,
as stars outlined the sky,
the slight opening of the lips,
the Gioconda’s elegant smile
you allowed yourself,
befitting the sfumato of the late hours.

Arm in arm, we walked home,
following the trail of the moon.



Hedy Habra was born in Egypt and is of Lebanese origin. She is the author of a short story collection, Flying Carpets, and a book of literary criticism, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa. She has an MA and an MFA in English and an MA and PhD in Spanish literature, all from Western Michigan University, where she currently teaches. She is the recipient of WMU’s All-University Research and Creative Scholar Award and a Doctoral Dissertation Completion Fellowship Award. She writes poetry and fiction in French, Spanish, and English and has more than 150 published poems and short stories in numerous journals and anthologies, including Drunken Boat, Cutthroat, Nimrod, Puerto del Sol, The New York Quarterly, Cider Press Review, Poet Lore, Poetic Voices Without Borders 2, Inclined to Speak, and Dinarzad’s Children Second Edition. For more information, visit The above poem is reprinted from her 2013 collection Tea in Heliopolis.

Ten-Year Stare


Ten-Year Stare

by Steve Mitchell

It was a look I seen and I seen it true. Then I forgot it til I seen it again then I remembered it. All of it. Every minute in the between and that one on each end.

Like memory comes full circle pulling a kind of noose round my neck slow, tightening from the first look to the last. For a second then I seen into his world. We were together then for a second. And it felt alright. Clear. I could see the inside of the noose where the air was. And inside the noose it’s light blue. The color of a finished sky.

Before. He’d been sitting on the floor in the living room of the trailer, his trucks and cars all around him. This was before his mom left before everything started to rust. And I was mad about somethin or I’d been drinkin or I was just a son of a bitch or he was a pain in the ass but I told him to clean that stuff up and get it out of the floor and he just kept right on and I reached down and jerked him up by the arm and slapped him hard and dropped him again right there on the floor.

He didn’t cry. I think I scared him more than hurt him. He laid all balled up on the floor there and he looked up at me, them blue eyes big. I thought he’d hate me but that wasn’t what I seen. I wished it hada been hate. But it weren’t. It was like I’d disappeared. He just looked right through me like he already seen a time when I was gone. He rubbed his face. He looked right through me. Then he started pickin up his toys. That was then.

His momma she was working down at the convenience store then and I thought he’d tell her when she come home. Thought he’d come whimperin’ in to her his bottom lip all stuck out. Hours later like it had just happened. They did stuff like that him and her. Come back at you with somethin you done long after you already forgot about doing it. That woman’d get in my face now and again and my brain’d be whirring, spinning back, trying to find what it was she was talking about.

Anyway, he didn’t tell her. Just climbed in her lap when she sat down and lit her cigarette, climbed up there and clung to her like a little monkey.

I mean, it ain’t me he should be all mad at anyhow. She’s the one that left us. Came home from the plant one evening and he’s sitting on the cinder block step out in front of the locked door. School bag on the ground beside him. He’s reading a magazine he got at school and she’s gone. We know it as soon as we open up the door and that goddamn ugly ceramic clock ain’t on the kitchen counter where she put it the day she brought it home. I hated that damn clock.

He come in dragging his bookbag behind him, looked around the living room and kitchen for a second then sat down on the couch and kept lookin through his magazine. I lit a cigarette and sat down next to him and we just sat there awhile. Him reading, me smoking. Then we went out to Hardee’s for dinner.

It’s her he should hate. Not me.

Maybe he does hate her. I wouldn’t know. He’s a goddamn mystery to me.

Living’s just a blur, you know. A whir you feel streakin by like cars on a highway while all the time the edges are pullin in tighter just outta sight and the space around you is gettin smaller and smaller, pushin the air outta itself. It’s hard to know what I did and what I didn’t do.

One day don’t bleed into the next. There ain’t no difference between days so there’s nothin to bleed into or out of. I’d come home from the plant or from drinkin or from just being away and he’d be fine. He’d a made himself a sandwich and be all curled up on the couch or his bed with a book or a magazine. Weren’t no kids to play with, trailer too far back off the road, but he found things to do.

Living’s just a blur, you know, it all runs together. It’s hard to know what I did and didn’t do. He never said nothing about it. He’d come in from school or wherever he’d been outside and not say nothing about the night before. He got quieter and quieter. Days we hardly saw each other which was fine with me. While he got bigger that goddam trailer got smaller and smaller. Further back in them goddam woods.

Then one day there he was all nerve and bone. All six foot what-the-hell of him. And the trailers cold and my back aches and I’m tired cause we’re workin overtime at the plant and I can’t say no cause they’re layin people off and I’m tellin him how things are gonna be and he gets himself up off that couch and he just looks at me. Looks at me for the first time in probly ten years.

And it’s the look I already seen.

And all the news of the past spins out at me all at once. Suckin the air outta the room, pullin the noose tight around my neck. There ain’t no blue left no more in the space inside the noose.

We were together then for a second. It had been a long time. I could see him for a second and it was alright.

I stand in his way in front of the door but he just walks around me. Don’t even look at me, he’s all finished with lookin at me. He just walks around. And he leaves. Leaves me in a place where there ain’t no space to move around in and a lot of time to do it.

Screen door flappin behind him. Slappin itself against the hollow door frame. This trailer gettin empty, and colder and colder.


Steve Mitchell has published fiction in The Southeast Review, Contrary, The North Carolina Literary Review and The Adirondack Review, among others. He is currently completing on a novel, Body of Trust. Steve has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. He is open twenty four hours a day at: The above story is reprinted from his collection The Naming of Ghosts.

Her Body Desires the Instrument


Her Body Desires the Instrument

by Clare L. Martin

She elongates herself;
presses the instrument

against her body,
as in the dream

that comes to her
and comes to her—

The old guitar crumbles.
Strings fall in tonal

disarray. The wooden
neck becomes chalk,

and is crushed in her grip.
She longs to be soothed

by melodies which flutter
from her mind

to her lips,
to her fingertips.

She feels percussion in her spine,
reverberating in muscles,

charging them.
A rhythm resounds

that could vanquish
the dark spell.

Her body desires
the instrument

and she despairs
without accompaniment.



Clare L. Martin’s debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published fall 2012 by Press 53 as a Tom Lombardo Selection. Martin’s poetry has appeared in Avatar Review, Blue Fifth Review, Melusine, Poets and Artists and Louisiana Literature, among others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web, for Best New Poets and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net. Her poems have been included in the anthologies The Red Room: Writings from Press 1, Best of Farmhouse Magazine Vol. 1, Beyond Katrina, and the 2011 Press 53 Spotlight. She is a lifelong resident of Louisiana, a graduate of University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a member of the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective and a Teaching Artist through the Acadiana Center for the Arts. Martin founded and directs the Voices Seasonal Reading Series in Lafayette, LA, which features new and established Louisiana and regional writers.  More information about her work can be found at

Sex In Siberia


Sex In Siberia

by Meg Pokrass

My imaginary man lives in Siberia. We touch down on each other like  helicopters. I smile, move my mouth around him—offer a warming hut, a place to explode.  When he bursts, storm clouds open.

Southern California boasts mild, featureless people. The Weather Channel’s talking heads, all botoxed and baby-fatted in their cheeks, ramble on about radical snowstorms in New York State. I paint leaves, collect Styrofoam in buckets. Driving downtown for wrapping paper, I count the fake blonds wearing two dollar Santa Claus hats.

My parents divorced and nobody yells anymore, but that is no longer important. I want a Siberian life, a Siberian husband. One whose hair changes from brown to light.

My dog seems worried, and so he and I take long walks. Sweat trickles down my back. The dog pants miserably. I promise him that someday, we’ll skate alongside a large man who loves Labs.

In December, I slump into bed early, imagine what it will be like—Siberian sex. Better than any other kind—so cold outside, so warm under the covers. I ball up socks and rub them where the man would go. We’re there, and he is teaching me how to taste snow.



Meg Pokrass is the author of Damn Sure Right, a collection of stories. Her second collection, Happy Upside Down, will be released in the fall of  2013. Meg’s work appears in PANK, McSweeney’s, The Literarian, storySouth, Smokelong Quarterly, Gigantic, Kitty Snacks, Wigleaf, The Rumpus, Yalobusha Review, Gargoyle, and Roadside Curiosities: Stories About American Pop Culture (University of Leipzig Press in conjunction with Picador, 2013). Information about her work can be found here:

American Cliché

American Cliché

by Seth Michelson

His body skinny but for the horns
of cancer bulging from his chest
like thorns jutting from the trunk
of this older man, a lifelong rose-
lover. So he waters and whispers to them
each morning, his broken body
bent to the earth, joyful duty, as it blooms
into pink white red fireworks.
After cooing to them, he jumps
into his golden cage, motors to work,
beep-beep!, a two-hour commute
he keeps to religiously. He has to
or he’ll forfeit: the job,
health insurance, chemotherapy,
yet he leaves for work happy,
sun-lit from within, the silent prayer
of roses lingering on his lips,
a sweet perfume, smear of nectar
on the hummingbird’s miraculous beak-tip.
Like this he smiles, stuck
in traffic, engines and neighbors overheating,
while he hopes, quietly, for his roses
to be consumed: for a deer or three
to descend the hills, drift
into his backyard, trampling
its false limits with soft hooves
as, noses down, they collect fallen petals,
each a miniature silken feast, communion
wafers on famished tongues: a god
dissolving into mouths
hungry to taste and see that the earth is good,
even strewn as it is with shards, with
shattered beauty everywhere.


Seth Michelson is the author of the chapbooks Maestro of Brutal Splendor (Jeanne Duval Editions, 2005), Kaddish for My Unborn Son (Pudding House Publications, 2009), and House in a Hurricane (Big Table Publishing, 2010), and he translated Tamara Kamenszain’s internationally acclaimed book of poetry El Ghetto (Point of Contact, 2011). He currently resides in Los Angeles. The above poem is from Michelson’s collection Eyes Like Broken Windows and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

Book Review of Curtis Smith’s BAD MONKEY

Spending/Reading Politically: Curtis Smith’s Bad Monkey

by Raul Clement

Historically speaking, I don’t read much work from small presses and journals.  I am well aware of the arguments against this: 1) as an aspiring professional, I should support the industry that I hope will support me; 2) there’s a lot of good stuff out there that doesn’t get picked up by major New York presses; 3) politically, not supporting small presses is like shopping at Wal-Mart over your local grocery.  Yet I tend to stick to Barnes & Noble.  Indy for me is McSweeney’s or Tin House.

Recently, I won a drawing from Press 53. The prize was a book of my choice from their catalog. Because of my ignorance about small presses, I pretty much had to pick at random.  I chose Bad Monkey, a book of short fiction by Curtis Smith, for two reasons, both superficial: 1) the title struck me as amusing; and 2) I liked the cover.

It turns out you can judge a book by its cover—if that cover is a monochrome photo of a shirtless man crouched, monkey-like, on a back alley stairwell.  The photo promised a collection that was quirky and dark—and those adjectives apply.  There are stories about abduction, Russian mobsters, Ukrainian rapists, and demolition derbies. This is not the plotless, slice-of-life fiction so popular in journals, large and small, these days.

Even better news is that these stories avoid the pitfall of other work of their kind: stylization. Curtis Smith knows that high drama, in order to be believable and compelling, must be grounded in careful prose and attention to detail.  He writes about the most over-the-top subject matter with a subdued lyricism that reminds me of writers of a more traditional bent, like John Updike.

Here is a passage from the first story in the collection, “The Girl in the Halo.” It is told in the second person, the “you” being a teenage misfit in a high school of rich kids. One of these kids, a girl named Sally for whom “you” harbored secret feelings, has gone missing—presumably not willingly. In this scene, Smith observes the effect of her absence on the chemistry lab she and “you” took together:

“…how many bleary mornings had you spied on her, her purple pen scribbling notes and Mr. Fink droning on as he held one of his molecules, a slapped-together collection of spheres and connecting sticks that reminded you of a child’s toy.”

I’m not going to pretend that there’s anything groundbreaking here. But it’s solid, unflashy writing. It starts with “bleary,” which evokes the drag that high school was for most, while being a word we can read right past. But what really gets me here—what really takes a sledgehammer to my cynical reader’s heart—is the purple pen, encapsulating as it does an entire world of vanished innocence and half-realized femininity.  And the molecular model is great, too: who doesn’t remember these, and yet who remembered that he remembered them?

This is what good fiction’s all about: the oft-referenced “shock of recognition.”  By generating that shock, Smith earns the right to tell a story in the second-person (and present tense at that, though the above quote doesn’t demonstrate it).  He earns the right to sensationalist subject matter.  I am not going to give away the ending, but suffice to say, it’s a killer—pun certainly intended.

There are flaws in this collection. At times, the writing can wander into the excessively literary. At these moments, it reminded me of the worst stuff from small journals and presses—writing that adopts the tone of “good” writing, while having none of the feeling or insight. Here’s an offender from the same story, concerning the rumors that have circulated around school regarding Sally’s disappearance:

“Daryl Stone claims he spotted Blake’s red car on the other side of the Duke street railroad crossing, and between the hoppers’ cars flickering, thundering parade, he saw a blonde in the passenger seat…but when the caboose passed, the car was gone, the gate’s zebra-striped arm raised over a deserted macadam patch.”

I seriously doubt Daryl Stone described the scene this way. Now one can argue that this is the way “you” re-imagine(s) it. But there are similar instances throughout the collection, where Smith loses track of his characters in an ecstasy of linguistic posturing. Here’s one from “Without Words”:

“Ambrose, a cost analyst by trade and thus skilled in calculations and extrapolations, could have predicted these things, but when her loaded-down car pulled from the curb, what he couldn’t have predicted was the greater absences that would find him, his life’s unappreciated scaffolding of love and trust and faith sent crashing to the ground.”

I trust you can see why this is bad—or maybe not bad, but merely competent. A little bullshitty. Additionally, there are several examples of flash fiction here, which in trying to pack too much punch in too small a space, fail to achieve resonance. Maybe some people will like them; I preferred the more expansive work, where Smith’s lyrical aggregation has time to take hold.

But these flaws are, by and large, overlookable. Stories like “Think on Thy Sins”—in which a series of questionable moral decisions lead to one of the most bad-ass, and emotionally damaging eruptions of violence in recent short fiction—more than justify the $12 cover price which I cleverly avoided, but which you will have to pay. An earlier collection, The Species Crown, is next up on my list. I will shell out hard cash for it, and unlike when I shop at Barnes & Noble, I will know my money is going to the preservation of something real.

This could be the beginning of beautiful friendship.

Raul Clement is a musician and writer living in Greensboro, NC. His work appears in such journals and anthologies as Coe Review, Mayday Magazine, and Main Street Rag, among others. He is currently at work, with co-author Okla Elliott, on Joshua City — a Brechtian, po/mo, sci-fi novel replete with lepers, revolutionaries, and Siamese triplets who can see the future. An excerpt from Joshua City appeared in Surreal South 2009.