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Got what I wanted

Image by Emily Jay (

I didn’t want to go anywhere / now look at me / I was so sick of those coders who never got to be frat boys living out their lost bromances over the office ping-pong table and kegerator / Open office floor plans are the devil / I hated having to tell them to stop saying stupid shit to the female developers / like to the one black girl, how many times can I say don’t say anything about your co-workers’ hair, ever / HR is not your friend / I didn’t want to be any of their friends / now look at me / I should measure these walls to see if they are getting closer / I haven’t been outside in a week / I think I accidentally flirted with the Instacart girl / I haven’t been touched in months / I think if someone ran their hands along my body I would spark like static electricity / After the last bad date I said never again / now look at me / My parents are aging faster than I ever imagined & I can’t go see them / Maybe they just don’t know how to turn on the “improve appearance” option on Zoom / I never wished for a brother or sister / I liked getting all the attention, knowing I was loved best by default / My greatest fear is saying goodbye to them on an ipad or not at all / or being found dead alone in my apartment partially eaten by my cats / actually that was my greatest fear before, too / When I was in college, if I answered my phone on a weekend, my mom would say staying at home on a Saturday night? / now look at me

Stephanie King

Stephanie King is a past winner of the Quarterly West Novella Prize and the Lilith Short Fiction Prize, with stories also appearing in CutBankEntropy, and Hobart. She received her MFA from Bennington and serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. You can find her online at or Twitter @stephstephking.

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Throwing Out the Fortune Cookies

Painting by Grace Cavalieri

You have two dozen in your kitchen drawers. They fold into mouths ready to speak. Baked to brittleness, they taste like sweet nothings and whisper sweet nothings. They aren’t worth eating when you can’t order anything deep-fried and must always say, “Hold the rice.” Somehow it seems petty to say, “Hold the fortune cookies.” You toss the little mouths into the big mouth of a trash bag. They make a sound between a rustle and a thud.

Why read them? You know everything they have to tell you. Half of them are maxims of good behavior that remind you of school books you hated. The other half have nothing to do with your life. You and your friends used to add, “In bed,” to the end of each fortune. When a bed can be in the ICU, it isn’t funny anymore.

For the hell of it, you open one: “Why not treat yourself to a good time instead of waiting for someone else to do it?” The whole world gasps in ventilators, dying for a good time in bed or out.

You kept the last fortune you opened before this: “You will have a comfortable old age.” You need no other. It contains, so you believe, two messages of hope: that you will have comfort, and that you will have an old age.

Miles David Moore

Miles David Moore is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, the latest of which, Man on Terrace with Wine, was published by Kelsay Books in 2020. He is a retired journalist who contributes a monthly film column to the online arts magazine Scene4. From 1994 to 2017, he organized and hosted the IOTA poetry reading series in Arlington, Va. From 2002 to 2009, he was a member of the board of directors of The Word Works.

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The Intermingling of Souls: Why I Write Letters

Photo by Sheba Amante ( ig: @photosbysheba)

“To write is human, to receive a letter divine.”

– Susan Lendroth

“How wonderful it is to be able to write someone a letter,” wrote Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami in his 1987 novel Norwegian Wood. “To feel like conveying your thoughts to a person, to sit at your desk and pick up a pen, to put your thoughts into words like this is truly marvelous.” I know that feeling well. I have been scribbling letters since I was a kid. I moved around a lot during my younger years and I quickly realized that letters were the only way I could stay in touch with my friends in the old neighborhoods. Long-distance phone calls were too expensive for just idle chit-chat. My mother was, and still is at age 95, an inveterate letter writer and it rubbed off on me.

Later in life, as I pursued literary studies while attending university, and later during my graduate school career, I found myself immersed in the lives of various writers and the philosophies from which their works evolved. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe believed letters “are the most significant memorial a person can leave behind.” My early letters were probably not how Goethe defined them. They included descriptions of my new surroundings, my new school and the people I met there, and new adventures in a new place. The letters were sent for a few weeks, maybe a few months, before my new life eclipsed the old one.

My letters took on a more utilitarian character the older I became. “More than kisses,” wrote John Donne. “Letters mingle souls.” Letters to family and friends kept me connected when I was traveling on my own. There were letters home from summer camp to fend off loneliness with the hope I would receive letters at mail call. I agree with Lord Byron who suggested that letters combine solitude with good company. I wrote regularly to my parents when I was in college, and when I was living and studying in Europe. Once again, it proved the least expensive and most practical way to stay in touch with my other life, a life conducted in my native English.

So why do I keep writing letters in the age of e-mail, tweets, and various social media platforms? All of these anticipate an immediate response before they are buried by the onslaught of more statements and inquiries from cyberspace. It’s very simple. I prefer to think about what I want to say and how I want to say it; to let it marinate before I serve it up. I feel the same way about telephone calls even now when they are cheaper than ever before. To this day I dislike talking on the phone for more than a quick exchange of timely information. If you answer the phone you are immediately tethered to another individual’s purpose and timetable. You are obliged to converse, even respond, to information and inquiries you are otherwise unfamiliar with. But a letter? One can open it when it is opportune to do so. One can hold it in one’s hands. Sniff it for the scent of the writer. Feel the paper. Study the return address, the postmark, the stamp affixed in the upper right corner. It remains a mystery until you open it. Then comes time to read it and decide when and how to respond. Freud believed that letters need not include useless information, or that which is already known. They should always impart “something new.” You are in control. “I’ll write to you,” wrote Murakami in After Dark (2004), “A super long letter, like an old fashion novel.”

For the past decade, since my retirement, I have had more time to focus on personal matters and projects. I have made it a practice of getting up, brewing a pot of strong coffee, and then writing a letter or two. Sometimes I type them but more often than not they are handwritten. I have discovered that this is a good way to stir the daily pot, to get the creative juices flowing and mixing for whatever I hope to accomplish that day. Hemingway confessed that the reason he liked to write letters was “because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet you feel you have done something.” I don’t look at it quite that way, but if the desired work is not forthcoming, these letters are evidence of my time and effort. A day well spent regardless.

My letter writing has taken on a new dimension since the onset of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. I continue to write letters to my family and a few close friends as I have for years, but for several months now I have been rummaging through my address book and sending letters to friends and acquaintances who under normal circumstances would only hear from me at Christmas, if at all. They are not just short notes with a few words of greeting and my signature. I ask them how they are and if they are staying safe and healthy. I share a few details about my own life and situation and, like my time at summer camp, I hope I might receive a letter in return. Some have remained silent, and I am not terribly surprised. So few people write letters these days. Some have replied with an e-mail or on Facebook and that’s fine. They made the effort to reply and I am happy to hear from them. But every once in a while, when I go to our mailbox, I find a letter with an unfamiliar return address. I hold it in my hand and savor it. I sniff and feel the paper as I study the postmark and stamp. Ms. Lendroth is correct. To receive a letter is divine. I smile. Regardless of its contents, for a moment there is a mingling of souls.

Steven B. Rogers

Steven B. Rogers is a Washington, DC-based historian and research consultant.  His poetry, essays, criticism and reviews have appeared in several publications, including GargoyleDown EastThe Thomas Wolfe ReviewThe Steinbeck Quarterly, and others.  He is the editor of A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines (CavanKerry Press, 2003).  His blog "Looking Toward Portugal" can be found at

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As a kid, my Uncle Ron made a big impression on me. At the time, I lived with my family in Ghana where my father worked as a medical researcher. In the middle of our four-year stay, Uncle Ron joined us in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. He taught in a small village, Anum, a few hours east of the capital, Accra, where we lived.

Curious about his life in Anum, I decided to spend my spring break with him shortly after I turned nine. My parents dropped us off by the side of Accra’s motorway and, thumbs out, we were soon picked up by a yellow Datsun that took us to the outskirts of Tema. An industrial port city, Tema was the inspiration for the Ghanaian pop hit, Tema Town Baby. From there, Uncle Ron and I hopped into the back of a Peugeot truck and then into a series of small tro-tros, local buses with long wooden benches for seats on an open platform behind the cab and colorful sayings on the sides such as “But Still, It Makes Me Laugh.” Along the way, friendly locals stared at my sun-bleached blonde hair and tried to touch it. I pulled a baseball cap down tighter on my head and buried myself in a copy of Who’s Who in Baseball.

In Anum, I spent a week with my uncle in his cinder block house overlooking Lake Akosombo. His school spooked me, with several closed-off shadowy buildings with large cobwebs where, long ago, European priests once lived. In keeping with the Peace Corps spirit of “do as the locals do,” I hung out with his houseboy who was three years older than me but half my size. Despite his small stature, he could outhaul me any day of the week as we carried fresh water daily about a mile from a well to my Uncle Ron’s house. For fun, I taught him to throw an American football. Meals made it harder to sustain living locally as I disliked the regular meal, fufu, a doughy sort of paste dipped into peanut sauce. Instead, I mostly ate cornflakes out of the box and mustard on bread. In the evening, while distant drums pounded from a village festival my Uncle Ron told me stories by kerosene lantern before I fell asleep.

In one story, on a hot day earlier that year, Uncle Ron had arrived home from teaching to find a line of army ants — biting creatures aggressive enough to devour a goat — marching from his mostly decorative bathtub, since there was usually no running water, and through the living room and out the front door. On the advice of the villagers, sweating in the equatorial heat, Uncle Ron built a blazing fire in the tub to conquer the marauding ants.

A decade and a half later, I reflected on this while submerged, hippo-like, in a bathtub in Poland. Somehow, my early interest in Peace Corps and my time in the African bush had led me to a small to post-Communist town called Walcz where I now lived and taught.

Unlike Uncle Ron’s house in Anum, at least my bathtub, a huge enamel battleship of a fixture, had running water and hot water at that. By October, as the daylight and temperatures dropped, the bathtub quickly became one of my favorite amenities. For one, the enormous size made it useful for washing clothes. Often, my clothes turned the water black because of the sooty polluted skies. In response, I quickly learned that standing in the tub and stomping clothes like a medieval peasant stomping grapes was a great way to get them clean.

For another, the heat in the school would not be turned on until some unspecified date in November, and the hot water provided a handy refuge. This was especially true on heatless weekends when the temperature hovered at freezing, rains blew in from the Baltic coast two hours to the north with a metronomic regularity, and artillery explosions from a nearby military base sounded an ominous backbeat.

On these weekends, I retreated to the tub and plotted my escape. Since the school director, an older man who had come up under the Communist system and had all the warmth of a statue of Lenin, had not given me a key, I was effectively locked at the end of one wing of the old neo-Gothic building inside my faculty apartment. With the school shuttered and the girls in the dormitory down the hall sent home, to leave the school on weekends I had to walk through long, dark halls lined with sconces used long ago to hold torches and then through a side door used by the caretaker and his family. Even worse, on returning I had to knock on the same door and disturb the family and their multitude of squawky chickens.

Communications with the outside world had also been a problem. I received invitations in the mail to Peace Corps get-togethers across Poland, but they typically arrived after the events took place. In a quick survey of Walcz, I also learned that the public phones only worked locally. In fact, my students informed me that the town switchboard had recently been torn out and that workers had found it stamped with a Nazi eagle from when the Germans had installed it.

I was stuck in mind and in fact. Reflecting on all this while submerged in the outgoing waters of the tub on another chilly, gloomy weekend, I realized that this Tema Town Baby needed to get his own key to the building, and soon.

Hugh Biggar

Hugh Biggar is a writer and journalist, with work appearing in The Washington Post, VICE, Ozy, Stanford Magazine, and on NPR's KQED. He has a MA in public affairs journalism from Stanford University and served in the Peace Corps at a teacher's college connected to Gdansk University and at a public high school. You can find him on Instagram @hughbiggar on Twitter @Bigghugh or visit his website

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