Melting red, white, and blue popsicle

Why I Won’t Be With You on the 4th of July

By John Grey

“Why I Won’t Be With You on the 4th of July” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 

On the one side there is my love
and on the other, your living arrangements.
My romantic soul is fully intact
and willing to take on all comers
but if a heart can be susceptible to allergens
then your family is more than enough
cat hair, pollen and ragweed 
to give it the most virulent of hives.
Your mother criticizes my supposed lack of ambition.
Your father looks down on me 
like I’m something to be squashed, not embraced.
I’m sure your brother hates me. 
And, though your younger sister sympathizes,
she keeps going on at me 
about my lack of any tattoos.
Even your grandmother, when she’s in residence,
is like this crackly-voiced PA system
continually announcing how short men’s hair was
back in her day.
So while I appreciate you inviting me over
for this year’s patriotic activities,
all I can say is –

the roads are bad,     more rain is forecast,
I don’t want to leave my sick mother all alone
at this time of year,     a cousin just died,
I’ve contracted food poisoning
etc etc etc

Just remember, these are not excuses 
borne of lack of affection,
they’re regrets based on past experience
and the knowledge that, though you love 
your family dearly, that love is not transferable.
Remember, not all holidays are a time
to step away from the rigors, the ordeals,
the vicissitudes of life. 
Some are a continuation. 

Writer’s Commentary

“Why I Won’t Be With You on 4th of July” is typical of any number of my poems in that it does not refer to a specific incident or even a particular set of characters. It is more of a mish-mash of awkward situations I have found myself in at various times of my life and the people behind that awkwardness.

I have had enough experience over the years with “meeting the folks” to inspire a hundred poems. Some have been hospitable. Others cold and uninviting. Even with the former, I’ve found suddenly being plunked down for evaluation amid a bunch of strangers, no matter how welcoming they try to be, can still be nerve-wracking.

So in this poem, I attempt to capture a little of the trepidation by exaggerating my reactions and embellishing the family’s traits. For myself, the reference to allergens is only too real. “Cat hair,” especially in my childhood, was my nemesis. And the bit about “how short men’s hair was back in her day” is only too real. As for the choice of July 4th, it seemed the perfect holiday for what I wanted to say in the poem, a time of joy and celebration with the potential to be just the opposite.

As for the form, I try to both write and construct my work with getting my point across in mind. The language is commonplace, conversational, with a twist here and there, and in keeping with the subject matter. And I look for a balance as well. Two thirds of the poem is accumulated detail and the rest an appropriate, but not too didactic, summation. I liken it to a gymnast nailing the ending of their routine.  

I try to be careful with punctuation. Even if I don’t always adhere to the grammar rulebook, I place my commas, periods, etc. in a way that complements how I wish the work to be read. Even the indented lines have a purpose. In this case, unlike the rest of the poem, they’re words as I could have actually spoken them. Plus, there’s a run-on quality to them so that one line leads into the other. This is unlike the more normal sentences which call for a pause after every one.  

By the way, though this poem is called “Why I Won’t Be With You At 4th of July,” in the spirit of protesting too much, chances are that the narrator, who may or may not be myself, will not actually repeat any of this to his romantic other, and will be with her and family at July 4th after all. 

John Grey is an Australian poet and U.S. resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review, and Qwerty, he has work upcoming in West Trade Review, Willard and Maple, and Connecticut River Review.

Image by Belle Deesse

Red seats at a diner counter with checkerboard flooring in the background

The Kid at the Counter

By Nicole Lutrell

“The Kid at the Counter” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 

There are people in this town who know me as the kid at the counter. The kid sitting at the counter of the diner late at night. Crayons or toys in front of me. 

I was there because my mom was a waitress. Childcare was expensive, or not available. We had to eat. So she would take me with her, parking me at the counter where she could keep an eye on me.

Many wouldn’t consider this an ideal childhood. But what else could we do? Single parenthood is no joke; sometimes you have to go with the least bad option. And to be honest, being the kid at the counter wasn’t bad. It was, in fact, pretty cool. I got to eat burgers any night I wanted. I also, to this day, make the best eggs you will ever eat in your life.

Sitting at a diner counter, you meet people. As I was a child, and one trained not to speak to my elders, I mostly listened. I heard stories of the people who take their meals at diners. I listened, as I colored, to men who sat with their coffee for hours, bullshitting with friends. I heard them tell stories about the wars they’d been in. Too many of them had been in wars. I heard them talk about their kids, their grandkids. How their sister was doing down south. How their brother was going to move them to Florida pretty soon here. I heard about football games, old and new.

The stories weren’t as important as what I was learning. I was learning to listen. To have a perception of the world outside of myself.

When writing came to me, like a friend from a past life, diners became my most common writing spot. I was still at the counter, scribbling out my stories and journal entries. This is how I spent much of my teenage years. 

I always knew I was going to be a writer. But the same thing happened to me in my twenties that happens to everyone. Things I knew for sure weren’t true anymore. And no matter what I did, where I was, I felt alone. I said I was still a writer. But I wasn’t writing. 

It wasn’t until I stumbled into a coffee shop on Main Street that those gears started moving again. I wanted to give this whole writing thing one more shot. So I made a date with myself. I sat at a booth in the corner, with a mechanical pencil and a marble-covered notebook.

Sitting alone, I waited. It didn’t look much like the diners I’d grown up in. But the smell, that was the same. Coffee sitting on burners. Cooking eggs and oil. When I closed my eyes, I was back at the counter. And the stories came back, settling around me. Much like the old men of my youth, they had never left. They were just waiting for me to come back. 

Writer’s Commentary

Before Covid-19 hit, I wrote in cafés as frequently as possible. Those are always my most productive writing sessions and what I’m looking forward to getting back to the most. For now, I usually write at home. I try to keep it to my office. Though, to be honest, I love using ambient videos on YouTube. Things like coffee shop background noises or “work with me” sort of videos. It gives me an alone-but-not-alone feel.  When we’re able to go to cafés and diners again, I’ll return to my habit of writing ‘sketches’ of people while I’m sipping my coffee. In public, I am a horrible spy! It’s astounding how people just do not consider who might be listening to them. But being a spy does tend to put me in situations where people tell me their stories. An elderly man once spent an entire hour just telling me stories about his experience in Vietnam. Some of the stories were horrible, hard to hear. But it was such a blessing to be trusted with them. He told me that he hadn’t even shared some of these with his family. I was blown away. 

It’s interesting; the person who taught me to listen to stories doesn’t really understand my writing. I honestly don’t think my mother, God bless her, has ever read anything I wrote.

Nicole Lutrell is still known in her hometown as the “kid at the counter.” She was raised in diners and restaurants while her mom worked, which was better for her than most people would realize. A speculative fiction writer, Lutrell writes about dragons, ghosts, and spaceships. She also writes nonfiction about growing up in a small Western Pennsylvania steel town. She can be found at her blog, Paper Beats World, on Twitter @NicoleCLuttrell, and on Patreon

Photo by R. Mac Wheeler

Raven on branch

Calamity: Three Poems

By Melekwe Anthony

“Calamity: Three Poems” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


RUM RUM the grounds shake
Not a quake, not a dream. The riders are coming.
Listen. Listen to the drumming of stables racing 
Through cuttings of drizzle and storm. Closer 
And faster, they come for Father. The devil who
Accused kings of deeds unsaid. The careless one who
Sired me and pointed the ravens this way. A feast of 
Bones and ash they will meet. No flesh escapes Alexander.
So run I run testing fate. Run I run leaving the devil to his scribble.
Run I run till the sun finds me wet, soiled and fugitive.
The smoke of home is speck in the dew. 
Home is no more.


Black, the shadow that sings. 
Dizzy and dreamy, I wake up six minutes past midnight
To a crackling at my window. Shapeless figures hovering
In the moonlight, humming Birds of Winter Crawl. I pull the 
Blanket to my freezing abouts. This is not a dream.
I know that song. My dead grandmother’s voice. Careful taps at the glass 
And I haste for the night light. Out of power. 
The shadows are floating closer and becoming manlike. Ears, neck and what
Looks like a sharpened pencil of a head. I try calling Daddy! But nothing sounds. 
No word from my mouth despite my screaming. They are
Touching my window now. I can hear them. I must be seeing them too
Because an arm slowly manifests from the dark shapes. Wrinkles and freckles, 
It stretches for my bed. For me. 
This is not Grandma.

The Chase

Father and Mum went swimming
In beautiful pea-green swimsuits,
They called themselves honey and said 
They were enjoying their money,
Our money. But left me ashore to watch
Ashore. Safe ashore, squinting to see them swimming farther 
Afar, away. Maybe they were doing that thing again. 
That thing they don’t talk about when I’m near. 
I shake my head, laughing at how little they think me.
A flying bird breezes over my head and I look.
Only one of them is on the water now. I wait. I wait.
A pounding in my chest. Water in my eyes when I hear splashing.
It’s Daddy coming back without mummy. I can’t swim.
Why won’t he dive in to bring her out? My mummy.
Something behind him. It’s faster than mummy. 
Following Daddy. Oh no. Run Daddy run.
No, don’t run. Swim. I can’t look.

Writer’s Commentary

It is hard being a boy of six and worse to admire a painful man you should call Father. When being different is weakness and being right with yourself is punished. How does a boy grow up to love a man who has caused him many tears? Shamed “naked” before his juniors and laughed at by his peers. Does this boy not wish crocodiles and tragedy on this being? Has he not dreamt many times of calamity? But what pushed me to write these three poems was expression, the need to tell my paper the truth behind all the smiles and respectful silence. Each of these poems was deliberately written with each word crafted to explain, fit the true expression. Edgar Allen Poe was a great help in their crafting. Like all writers, I hope readers can relate, rethink, and react to parental upbringing and the horrors of silence.

Melekwe Anthony was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He is currently studying journalism at University of Nigeria, where he is also a student union executive. In 2018, Anthony began his writing career and joined “The Writers Community,” a community of poets and journalists at the university. In 2019, Melekwe was named Associate Editor for The Warriors Bulletin and has gone on to publish his poetry in numerous magazines in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Photo by Amarnath Tade

bright pink hair dryer

To the Girl in the Plus-Sized Dress

By Aly Bloom

“To the Girl in the Plus-Sized Dress” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 

It will happen suddenly, and about a year too late. You will step out of the shower and dry your hair with the hair dryer, which you rarely do, and you will start to wonder if his girlfriend has to do this every day. Her hair is so long, after all, and she never styles it, never pulls it back, just leaves it hanging down straight. It will strike you as ironic, again, how he grew out his hair so he could cut it all off and donate it, and then chose a girl with hair down to her hips. She did not know him when he had long hair, but you did. 

The usual thoughts will come then, some old, some new, bouncing around in your head like particles.

You would look a lot like her, if your hair were a few inches longer and your body a few inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter. 

She claimed they’d been dating for over a year, but you know that they were broken up in August. And you know he took her back. She wore him down and won him a second time when you, for all your tears and trying, couldn’t even do it once. 

He said you were friends, “good friends,” but made it clear you would never be more. He just “couldn’t reciprocate” your feelings, and you thought you knew why. Didn’t he say he wouldn’t date coworkers? But then he chose her, in front of you, instead of you. You were wrong about his reason. He just wouldn’t date you. 

And that’s the moment when it happens. Two particles bump together in your brain, one hot, one cold, and at once you realize that your hair dries faster when you hold your head upside down and that he is not your friend. You lift up your head, put the dryer down. A friend would not treat you this way. Maybe you were once his friend, maybe you were not. Maybe you lied when you told yourself that you could be “just friends” without hoping for more. Maybe it’s a lie that he was ever your friend at all. 

You mourn for the girl who, almost exactly one year ago, sat at a table in a plus-sized dress, with short sleeves to hide her arms and Spanx underneath to hide everything else, the thick blue material both fancy and frumpy. She bought it as an emergency the day before because nothing in her closet fit anymore, and she wore it while she watched her world fall apart. You remember how she spent more time in the bathroom than the ballroom, how she was left out of the professional photos because she couldn’t bear to watch them dancing. You remember how her heart cracked when she saw them holding hands, staring into each other’s eyes. How her breath faltered when she noticed someone missing from the bouquet toss. And you wish you could tell her that it won’t be a big moment, when it happens. It won’t be the next time she sees him, or the first time someone mentions his new relationship. It won’t be the first time he and his girlfriend break up, or the second time they get together, or all the times in between when she, the girl who wasn’t chosen, scours their social media, analyzing Instagram posts and Venmo transactions, living their lives instead of her own. It won’t be when she meets someone else, or the first time he kisses her, even though she still fits into the plus-sized dress. She’s surprised, almost startled, that he likes the body she has struggled to like for years, the body she is only now learning to accept. 

No, it will be on a Wednesday afternoon, and the snow on the ground will be tough and dirty, and she’ll be checking the time on her phone because she’s running late for a doctor’s appointment, and she’ll notice again that her hair is dry, and she’ll remember that he is not her friend, and she’ll realize that maybe, finally, she is okay. 

Writer’s Commentary

I wrote most of this essay in a notebook, on my way to the doctor’s appointment that I mentioned. It just seemed so revolutionary to me, this idea that a boy I’d been obsessing over for such a long time no longer mattered, and that the moment I recognized this came on a regular Wednesday afternoon. I immediately began writing in second person, and I didn’t even consider how unusual that might be for a reader. For me, it felt like the most natural way to tell this story.

Using second person makes this story about my life into something universal. Anybody who reads this story could assume that they are the “you” that it’s being directed to. However, I actually found the use of second person to be deeply intimate. I’ve written a lot about the fallout of this particular relationship, and most of my writing has been about or directed at the boy. He was the “you” in all of my writing up until now. This time, I directed my writing at myself. It was as though I went back in time to the night my heart was broken. I felt like I could be the comfort I so desperately needed. 

This is the first time in years that I’ve centered myself in my work. I didn’t think I’d be able to do that again while still fitting into a plus-sized dress. For me, that’s the most revolutionary thing of all.

Aly Bloom is a teacher living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2015 with a double major in Modern Languages (French and Russian) and English (with an emphasis in creative writing). She has returned to writing during quarantine and is excited to begin sharing her work with others again. Her work was most recently published in the nineteenth issue of Bending Genres.