Two pomegranates and a person in ski clothing

Quick Work No. 10

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories.

Border Collie on a beach, wet and smiling

The Existential Wisdom of Border Collies

by Jones Irwin

A veteran winter swimmer, Cathy, suited up, dives in with her Border Collie, Rossi. 

Rossi, his black and white coat soaked through, remembers previous masters who didn’t appreciate his exuberant energy, who tried to beat the happiness out of his hardy body. 

I’ve chosen not to invest in a wet suit as, frankly, they look ridiculous. My extremities feel like they are going to fall off, and not just my hands. 

Rossi, healed by Cathy and the waves, knows that none of us are here for very long, and we might as well die by extremity as by anything else.

Photo by C Perret on Unsplash

Perons in colorful plaid jacket and ski goggles

Winter Season

by Sharon Goldberg

I sling my skis over my right shoulder, the non-arthritic one. They’re girlie skis with green and yellow polka dots, the edges sharp to carve turns through hard-packed snow and ice, the bottoms freshly waxed to glide through soft snow and powder. My bindings are calibrated to release if I take a major tumble. A neoprene brace anchors my funky left knee. I’m no expert or daredevil, but I have taken risks. Will I today? I feel the flutter that proceeds my first run of the morning. I’m sixty-six, but I like to think I haven’t peaked yet. 

Photo courtesy of the author


Solo Trip to Mamani, 1995

by Maria Luisa Arroyo Cruzado

Two pomegranates on dark cloth with a black background

Among bobbing black chadors and bearded men in the Khomeini Airport, I hear Mamani’s  “Maria-jan!” She rushes, embraces me, her daughter-in-law.
*
Later, Mamani and her daughters laugh as I reach toward salamanders skittering up cement walls. Palm huge pomegranates. Fumble with the chador slipping from my head like rain.
*
I was 28, and months before my trip, Mamani lost the man she loved. Her only living son had named Mamani’s brother the executor of the world she was not allowed to claim.
*
At supper, when I praised her cooking, Mamani asked me: What else do I have?

Photo by Cath Smith on Unsplash


About the Writers

Multilingual Boricua poet & intersectional feminist educator María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado writes about her experiences with the four cultures and languages that inform her identity and her creativity: Puerto Rican Spanish, American English, German, and Farsi.

Sharon Goldberg is a Seattle writer whose work has appeared in anthologies and literary magazines, including The Gettysburg Review, New Letters, The Louisville Review, Cold Mountain Review, River Teeth, Jellyfish Review, Southern Indiana Review and Gargoyle.

Jones Irwin describes himself as a postmodern existentialist, a dash of noir mixed in with a progressivist ethic. He teaches Philosophy and Education in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, and writes across the genres of philosophy, fiction and poetry.


The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Executive Editor, Kate Whouley.

Quick Work lettering, a person looking out a window, and yellow shopping carts

Quick Work No. 9

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories.

Black and white photo of person looking out a window with their chin resting in their hand

Ages and Ages

by Linda McCullough Moore

Every age a different state. 
I write to you today from Utah. 
Last night, as evening fell 
they put me on the train. 
That sullen gulley of the day, 
old crickets starting up in earnest, 
swelter of late summer’s day 
no match for sudden, not unwelcome, 
wind, and then, a different darkness.
By sun-up, here arrived at one 
more age, new state, new bird, 
a different governor, some brand 
new state motto I will need to learn; 
very likely something about freedom, 
probably in Latin.

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Photo of yellow shopping carts stacked together in a wet parking lot

In the Night

by Matthew Berg

Rising to the handle, my feet planted on the bottom bar. Elbows extending outward as wings. A way is made down the row between the cars. Pushing the cart as a scooter, greater speeds are achieved. Flying, though still on the ground. In the night, by the lights of the store parking lot. The child inside says, Enjoy! I do.

A way is made through it all, flying together, the child and the adult, redefining freedom, and living in the night.

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash


About the Writers

Linda McCullough Moore is a poet and the author of story collections, a novel, an essay collection, and more than 350 shorter works. Her many awards include the Pushcart Prize. www.lindamcculloughmoore.com

Matthew Berg is a renaissance man: husband, father, working writer, and follower of Jesus. Originally from the Midwest, he is now living in the South.


The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Executive Editor, Kate Whouley.

Quick Work lettering, a black cat, and colorful balloons

Quick Work No. 8

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories.

close up of black cat

My Dead Kitty and My Indifferent Lover Pay Me A Visit

by Peter Houle

Eyes closed,
I feel Midnight’s padded paws on my chest,
pushing me upright
as I fall forward on them:
an impossible game of trust between man-child
and white-booted black cat,
long in the ground where,
sobbing at 18,
I laid him with a can of tuna.
It’s late; I rush to the antiques market
with my books; postcards;
a pair of golden, old-man spectacles;
an 80s World Cup souvenir plate;
open my chair and my mind
to face my buyers and my dream,
for you were there, too;
but it was Midnight gently catching me
before I hit the ground.

Photo by Kate Whouley

colorful balloons on a white ceiling

Birthday Party Behavior

by Elana Margot Santana

When I was four, my mother caught me and my friend Nikki on the bathroom floor with our velvet dresses pulled up to our necks, our white tights pulled down to our ankles, and our bodies pressed together. This was my first experience of coming out.

“This isn’t birthday party behavior,” my mother said, standing in the doorway.

I don’t remember feeling ashamed, just interrupted. My mother’s response that day was more of a lesson in etiquette than anything else. I wasn’t being sinful or wrong—it was just rude of me to keep the other kids waiting.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash


About the Writers

Peter Houle, a Vermonter, began planting seeds in Portugal seven years ago. You can find him at the Feira da Ladra, selling things he finds on the street or makes himself. He likes cats, obviously.

Elana Margot Santana is a writer, scholar, and visual artist living in the mountains of Colorado. Her work explores trauma, grief, queerness and multispecies embodiment. Recent publication credits include The Longridge Review and The Dewdrop.


The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Executive Editor, Kate Whouley.

Quick Work words, colorful marbles, and a woman with big hair

Quick Work No. 7

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories.

water color of swirly marbles

On Becoming a Writer at 60

by Peter Welch

Words, birthed, tender and pink, 
welcomed into the world.
Words, at first whispering,
emergence only possible
because I love them all, 
or learn to. 
Words thrill me
as they roll off my tongue: 
Evanescence – Erudite – Equanimity
Gorgeous and tenacious words 
tumble out, cascade over, 
forging new topography,
resilient enough sounds, consonants and vowels
rubbing against each other, creating heat. 
A resonating trust begins its unfolding, 
one that urges the words 
to flush and flurry into existence,
reaching into paroxysms 
that rightly bring them forth.
Ephemeral or enduring, 
Exalted in their earthly reckonings,
and essential truths.   
Words, messy and mesmerizing, 
becoming. 

Watercolor, “Cat’s Eyes,” by the poet.

Hair Story

by Amie McGraham

Newlywed: She bleached her hair, the close-cropped jet black tresses enshrouded in a peroxide haze. I only saw it in a snapshot: my mother in a high-waisted leopard-skin bikini, lifeguard tower in the background. 

Divorcee: She’s 40. I’m 12. She’s sporting the Toni Tenille bowl cut, Frye boots, my great-grandmother’s mink coat, and a NOW bumper sticker on the bright blue ’57 Chevy pickup she later traded in for a Volvo station wagon.

Resident: She wheels out of the salon on the memory care unit, and I almost don’t recognize her beneath the poufy, all-white bouffant. But she knows me.

Photo of Monica Vitti, via Flickr


About the Writers

Amie McGraham grew up on an island in Maine. Her writing has appeared in anthologies and literary magazines including Brevity and Wild Roof Journal. Currently writing a novella-in-tweets, Amie also produces a weekly 100-word newsletter, the micro mashup.

Peter Welch is currently enrolled in the MFA Writing program at Bay Path University. He is also a watercolor artist and lives in Kittery Point, Maine, with his partner Michael and their rescue pup Dasher.


The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Executive Editor, Kate Whouley.

Melting red, white, and blue popsicle

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

Posted Posted in Blog

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

Posted Posted in Blog

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

Posted Posted in Blog

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. 


CALAMITY

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.

Nightmare

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

Posted Posted in Blog

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.

Hand reach toward sunlight over water

Job Finds Divinity in the Everyday

Posted Posted in Blog

By Craig Finlay

“Job Finds Divinity in the Everyday” 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. 


When Job was bent and decrepit,
his back crooked and legs unsteady
he found himself again ruined.

He turned not to the Lord, expecting
the Lord saw and knew, the Lord allowed
suffering. Locusts ate his crops, disease felled
his goats, his servants made off with his gold

And Job calmly made his way a-shuffle
his legs widest at the knee, to the market
where he sat, head down, hand up, fingernails 
growing long. 

He looks like withered olive branch, a woman said
and he did and few there helped him
for they remembered his cruelties, how he beat
his servants, his daughters, starved them and the livestock
for years, exclaiming this was his will, enacting
a trauma none else remembered. 
He had beat them more when, having ceased 
to beat them, their praise was insufficient 

No matter, this time. Job perceived his patience.
And so he scavenged scraps from the rubbish,
nosed alongside the dogs in search of bread crusts.
Gradually he grew filthy, his clothes fell from him,
he crawled more than walked. A following of strays
developed, trotting along after him, yelping for scraps.

He did not beat them, in the heat and shimmer of the holy sun,
not caring that they only loved him for his gifts.
Finally, content to love something for needing him at all. 

Cabinet

Lying on your back, 
you pressed your fingers
into the notch 
right below your ribs.
You thought your bones 
were arranged 
like a cabinet. 
And then that shift
in the night’s spread of leaves 
that you mistook for a cold front.
You held your arm high
and straight 
like reaching out to God 
just to feel the earth 
try to reclaim some part of you.
Gravity—learning what it means 
to be subject to gravity. 
A sense that someday 
it will pull you deeper. 
Not just beneath the bed
or the house beneath that
or into the Earth, even.
Into something else,
something you can’t say
you ever knew you’d miss. 

Writer’s Commentary

“Job Finds Divinity in the Everyday”

I often find myself thinking about what happened to mythological persons later in their lives. Job is one I’ve thought about more than most. The story is one of the more disturbing in its implications. God and Satan get into an argument over why this guy Job is so good, with Satan claiming Job will behave well only because God will punish him if he’s not. So God decides to let Satan just ruin Job’s entire life to prove Satan wrong. Along the way we learn that suffering is a path to God, who should be feared.  

Growing up nonreligious, I always thought it was strange that this story was so celebrated. And I wondered, too, what kind of long-term effects that kind of trauma had on Job, who realized God’s love was shown to him in the form of immense and seemingly pointless suffering. So, in this poem I sought to imagine Job in old age, having lived a life enacting the same cruelties visited upon him by God. Abuse is something we learn. Children who are abused tend to become abusers. Having pain inflicted on us forces us to learn various coping mechanisms, none of them healthy. This poem is a portrait of a man who was tortured at the whim of someone infinitely more powerful than he was, and the aftermath of that experience.

“Cabinet”

One of the things I love about poetry is how everyone can take their own meaning from a poem. I wasn’t sure what this poem was “about” while I was writing it. I was just thinking about how, when I was a child, I would hold my arm straight up in bed. I think a lot of people did this and I was wondering why. I decided to write about it as a way of discovering how we interact with the world. Like how I used to hang upside down off the couch and let the blood rush to my head. Most of us used to do that, probably. And most of us had a moment where we pulled ourselves up off the couch or the bed and that was the last time. We never did it again. And I think that’s what the poem became “about” as I was writing it. 

Then, one of my friends read it and asked if I’d written it about her. I’ve written a few poems to or about her, so it was a fair question. I said I hadn’t and asked why she thought so. She reminded me that she suffers from a chronic pain issue that manifests in her joints. That, and I wrote the poem to an unnamed “you.” And that’s something great about poetry. Poems can be so deeply personal to so many different people, and for such different reasons.


Craig Finlay is a poet and librarian currently living in rural Oklahoma. His poems have appeared or will be appearing in numerous publications, most recently The Ilanot Review, Little Patuxent Review, Levee Magazine, and After Happy Hour Review. His debut collection, The Very Small Mammoths of Wrangel Island, is forthcoming from Urban Farmhouse Press.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin

koi fishes on surface of water

Wonder in Austin’s Backyard

Posted Posted in Blog

By Mollie Gordon

“Wonder in Austin’s Backyard” 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. 


I’ve long thought I had some sort of gift with children, like how others are blessed with a green thumb. Show me any kid, ages 6 – 16, and I can likely find some way to make them smile. I guess that’s why some people become teachers and others become gardeners. But the very etymology of the word “kinder-garten” would suggest that one needs to be both.

With Austin I feel I am neither. Other kids tell me what chaos they want to provoke in the day’s short-lived liberty, but Austin asks me what I want and makes me choose. He is impossible to get out the door because he is a tyrant about his shoelaces. If we leave and he feels I did a poor job of tying them, he’ll send us back home and make me try again. He has a generally sullen disposition, an unusual degree of inferiority for a five-year-old, and an unwillingness to ever say, “I love you.”

I know it’s selfish, but it means a lot to me when the kids I’m working with show me affection. Kids are prodigious judges of character, like dogs or some therapists. Not yet actors on the world’s stage, they generally say what they feel because there is little to gain from lying about it. So a kid liking you has to say something about who you are. Or maybe they like you because of the extra cookie you allowed them that day.

Austin shows me no affection. He treats me as an old person might treat the aide who cleans the toilets at the senior center. A possible commonality: “We both like the color green!” I try. 

“Girls should like pink,” he says.

Austin is already developing very cemented ideas of gender that I try to interrogate as often as I can. I used to call him a budding misogynist in my mind, but more recently I’ve recognized the error in that label. He has merely learned firm expectations of gender from adults that he challenges once in a while in the form of a stuffed rainbow unicorn. Austin tells me the unicorn is a boy. A spark of hope—I have to find some way for us to connect. All olive summer into amber fall, I search for my way in. 

And then, as often happens, I stumble upon it. He is obsessed with nature, and it translates into every aspect of our time together. He draws pictures for class of his deceased pet fish (named “Bluefish” for apparent reasons), drags me along on nature walks for “fresh air,” and insists we watch underwater cameras when he earns five minutes of phone time. These cams show giant squid, eels, spiny lobsters, and other creatures. Austin has plastic replicas of the creatures littered all over the apartment.

Austin’s other obsession is all things spooky, something I don’t share with him but that ties in remarkably well with his devotion to nature. Most kids would find a recording of a diver coming face to face with a moray eel terrifying, but he is no less afraid of this than he is of Slimer from Ghostbusters (his personal favorite). He speaks candidly about the death of Bluefish, whose ghost he believes to inhabit the backyard. Life and death reside in him like old friends.

In this light, Austin’s particular fascination with marine animals makes sense. They are in the depths below us, and many of them lead dangerous lives. The koi fish in his backyard, though, live like scaly kings. He likes to watch them after tiring himself out on the trampoline. He observes them keenly for up to 30 minutes at a time, never bored, and he retains his observations in a mental diary. The other day, he remarked to me that the koi were closer to the surface than usual and asked me why, always playing the detective.

“Well, what do you think?” I’ve found the best thing to do when encountered with “why” is to flip it. It ignites a child’s imagination and also spares me a lot of guesswork. When I asked him to explain the koi’s movements, he “hypothesized”—a word I taught him—that it was a little after lunchtime and they were straining to uncover any last bites of food. His evidence? Fish food gliding along the surface like autumn leaves on a lake. The fish open their mouths and wait for the food to travel by current to them.

As soon as he’s answered one of his own questions, observation prompts him to ask another. There are only two black fish, while all the others are dappled white and orange like neon paint splattered on pure marble. “Why?” Now he wants to touch them, but his mommy told him not to. “Why?” 

My careful evasion of Austin’s inquiries was put to the test three days ago when we built a snail habitat out of the acorns, twigs, and leaves we gathered on our daily nature walk. After construction was complete, we crept out into his backyard to search for snails to occupy this new residence. The backyard is a pulsing paradise, a little Forest of Arden. Bees and mosquitoes and cicadas produce a collective hum. No snails though: we only come upon abandoned snail shells, hollow with absence. Austin collects these in a gap in the stone wall, saving them for something he doesn’t know yet.

I find a snail that is definitely alive. It’s holding on firmly to the wall with its sticky secreted mucus; Austin urges me to remove it gently. I pull too hard and something cracks a little. When I turn the snail over in my hand its tentacles and eyes are missing. I feel something akin to shock or shame, or both. He sees only that it’s not moving.

“Is it alive or not?”

How do I answer? Telling him the truth would soil me in his eyes forever. I say I think so, but it might just be a little shy. We should give it some space and, um, check in on it later. 

I feel similarly inept when Austin spies something foreign and says: “What is that?” 

“A leaf?” I suggest feebly. 

He bends over it like a restless storm cloud. “It’s a bug,” he declares. 

“Sure, it’s a bug.” 

“What kind of bug?” he says.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know!” 

Realizing I’m not getting out of it this time, I say it might be a cicada. My thumb isn’t green, neither are my eyes. I wasn’t raised to be cognizant of the natural world—this five-year-old probably knows more of it than I do.

Whatever this insect is, Austin is scared of it. Vampires and zombies are no issue, but this nameless creature, probably dead, possibly living, makes him cover his eyes. I say we should go back inside. I butchered a snail; he found something that actually scared him. We’ve had enough of nature for one day.

On our way back upstairs we run into Anna, the unit owner, who is carrying a torn sheet of printer paper with a bee balancing on it. This bee, she says, just stung her, and now is dying. She explains to Austin why she is dying and why the bee is a “she.” The women do all the hard work tending and protecting their hives, and for this they must die. Anna hurries past us out into the yard, so her bee can pass away under the October sky.

Even after we have washed our hands and sat down on the rug amidst the plastic sea creatures, Austin, who has forgotten the dying bee entirely, can’t stop thinking about the cicada. “I keep seeing it in my mind! It won’t go away!” 

All too familiar with intrusive thoughts, I promise him that the image will fade eventually. To distract him I begin to talk about my misadventures in nature when I was his age, the grubs I used to dig up and the spiders I nurtured and the humongous rock outside my elementary school, which also happens to be his school. I used to climb that rock just like he does now. These stories surprise him, I can tell. Gears are turning behind his caramel eyes. He asks me what’s next. I say lunch. He urges a dance party. Lunch, I say again. He suggests a “compromise,” another word I taught him.

“Okay,” I say. “That I can do.”

Writer’s Commentary

“Wonder in Austin’s Backyard” began as one of four short nature essays I wrote, collectively labeled “Moments in Nature Chronicled by a Convalescing Brooklynite.” This was a semester-long project for my After Nature writing workshop at Sarah Lawrence College, taught by Kate Zambreno. My initial material came from a journal I had been keeping during quarantine. When I shared this with Kate, she observed that I was circling around specific figures—one being the boy, Austin, in this essay—and their relationships with the natural world. I combed through my entries for my notes on Austin; I was also still working with him during the writing process, which was incredibly helpful.

I knew that I wanted to center this essay around a specific image. While I was writing I observed that I kept coming back to the snail shell that was such a rich object: a place of life and destruction, home and hard truths. I also thought of Austin himself as somewhat lost in his shell, which posed challenges initially to shaping him as a character, as I was still struggling to grasp his essence myself. In earlier drafts I went so far as to label Austin a misogynist for his preconceived notions about gender that irritated me; it was only through discussing this with Kate that I recognized the harm in slapping such a label on him, and the need for more compassion towards this influenceable little boy. The frustration in an educator/student relationship can be sizable, but I do believe that compassion is the only way through that, and this is what I tried to lead with in this piece.


Mollie Gordon (she/her/hers) is a queer writer, educator, and theatre-maker. Her plays have been produced by The Bechdel Group and Sarah Lawrence College, and more of her work is slated to be published in the coming months. She will graduate next year with a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence. Read more about Mollie on her website or follow her on Instagram @molliecgordon.

Photo by Rebecca Campbell