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Issue 37, April-June 2013
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 37.2

Flash Fiction

Craig Fishbane
The Day's New Words

Sally Houtman
That Night in Miri's Kitchen

The Day's New Words
by Craig Fishbane
followed by Q&A


Kierstin Bridger

Terence Degnan
were this a nature poem

by Kierstin Bridger
followed by Q&A
were this a nature poem
Terence Degnan
followed by Q&A

were this 
a nature poem 

it would have to take you up the Hudson
it would have formed small words
maybe a letter long
to describe where the river gets wide
and the brown fish that
was once thrown in a bucket of glitter
by god or some other natural thing, and
then tossed
back to glide below in the dark

it would have to take you to the
snow line
where the pines forget Henry Hudson
is the name for the body galloping by
past the roar of the seasoned leaves
past the thunder clap
that echoes in the Hollers
it would have to take you to the great piney forest itself
at once enormous and minuscule
past the hoot
past the cricketal symphony
it would have to take you deep
into the crevice of the pine branch
the sweater of needles
where nestled deep
is the lonely absence of roar

the meditation of the desolate needle
would have to depend on nothing
not the Canadian breeze
or the hawk’s talon
it would forget that it
was homesick
or singular
it would look neither up nor down
to center

if this were a nature poem
the needle that would be told
would not exist itself
nor cease
the needle itself would also wonder
why it was involved
in the nature poem
it would not want to have to be small
it would needle
from sunup to sundown
not face its face to the burning star, not
tuck itself against the frost
and the nature poem
would stand beside the needle
that they two, the poem and the needle, were parallel lines
one in the mind
and one attached
to the branch

but it is not
nor never can be
this is the poem of if
and its subject happens to be about the wooden screw
buried below the oil-soaked sidewalk
below the sinewy steel rebar
under the feral skull
and woolly tusk
definitely underneath the subterranean commuter pipeline
it is the aching, city

Terence Degnan is a poet and spoken word artist. He’s been published in various literary magazines including The Other Herald, The OWS Poetry Anthology, The Front Weekly, as well as in the anthology My Apocalypse. His two spoken word albums (2008’s “BC" & 2010’s "Calling Shotgun") were produced in Pittsburgh, PA and Raleigh, NC, respectively. They can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and a sundry of many, more complicated music databases. His book The Small Plot Beside the Ventriloquist’s Grave was released in August (SMP, 2012) Terence authored the play "Unattended Packages," which saw its debut in 2007 in New York City and was directed by David Little. He was recently named the poetry editor for Sock Monkey Press in Brooklyn, NY.


Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: This poem is taken from a larger work entitled “Letters from Purgatory.” A good amount of the inspiration came from following the storied river (considered in the poem) along its bank to as far as the eye can see.

No one is speaking in the classroom. Even parrots in coconut trees outside the window have gone silent during the afternoon rain. I lean against the podium and give my name to boys at wooden desks, students in bare feet and muddy t-shirts. Most are still perspiring from practice on the futbol field. They smirk at the way I pronounce each letter, enunciating long vowels and blended consonants with the crisp concision of a fussy baritone, a diva attempting to harmonize with a tuning fork. I am seeking perfect pitch: the song of a child discovering English. 

​The class remains unimpressed. One boy sticks out a pasty tongue, trying to touch his nose with the pink tip. Another watches a black-limbed spider mending the threads of a tattered web. I begin writing a list on the chalkboard, vocabulary from the first unit of the text book, the introduction to first things: boy, girl, tree, monkey. I linger over the spellings of father and mother, syllables first gurgled in the back seat of a taxi.

My mother loved to tell the story—how I fidgeted on her lap, tucked in a snug blue blanket, babbling at cars passing the window. The driver was changing lanes on the expressway when I turned to her and smiled. It was the kind of expression that showed I knew what I was about to do. Taking my time, I jabbered at the scenery until we reached the toll booth. Then I looked up and called her mama. In some versions of the story, I laughed—but that always seemed like an embellishment. A smile was enough to indicate that I was no longer content to quote from a dictionary of nonsense. 

​As the boys in the back row nibble on slices of moist yellow fruit, I find myself wondering if I really did savor that first time I spoke, the moment sound could finally be shaped into significance. I want to remember how I relished the flavor of language born on a distant highway. 

When I ask the children to join me in reciting the day’s new words, each phoneme is articulated with such hunger that even the boys in the back seem tempted. They lick sticky fingers and lean forward, eyeing the pale teacher as he paces the room in battered sandals. I look from face to face, waiting for a sign—listening for a whisper from that first trembling mouth: a new voice emerging through parted lips.

Craig Fishbane has been published in the New York Quarterly, the Boston Literary Magazine, Opium, Fringe and The Nervous Breakdown. His collection of short fiction, On the Proper Role of Desire, will be put out by Big Table Publishing in the summer of 2013. He resides online at and lives offline in Brooklyn, New York.


Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: When you spend some time alone in the Costa Rican jungle, you will come to discover the words that you love the most.

Available now: Prime Number Magazine, Editor Selections, Volume 1 and 2Learn more...

Kase Johnstun
My Affinity for Burros

Down the street I can see my neighbor 
has married a toy.
He’s a jack-in-the-box.
Do you hear the tinny wind up?
Can you tell they’re going out tonight?
The anticipation sounds like 
an ice-cream truck out of tune, 
the cooler oozing 
a muddy cream river
skirting sprinkles and bits of nut. 
It sounds like vodka bottles
clanking inside a kicked toy chest.

Watch him spring for the laughs of company, 
his white gloves dazzling the dinner guests 
but when he’s tucked back in that rusty metal box,
when she crushes his derby into his face and chest, 
packs him up tight for the night, she can still see 
the painted grin, smell the booze 
they hadn’t shared, spot the red nose tell.

Months later, un-tethered, 
in a grey department-office downtown, 
she’ll see the forensic proof of his laptop,
how he’d gambled their savings away,
surfed for cruel images of bodies 
taking advantage of weaker bodies. 
She’ll know without reaching for the crank,
the Jack she’d slept with
for 15 years was as harmless as he’d ever be
when still attached--
wound and waiting 
to pounce from his box.

Kierstin Bridger is a Colorado writer. Her work can be found in Thrush Literary Journal, Memoir JournalOccupoetry, and Turbulence Poetry, among others. She is a regular contributor to Telluride Inside and Out  and SoundCloud. She is an MFA candidate at Pacific University.


Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: “Loaded” was one of those pieces I wrote when it felt like every other friend I knew was going through a divorce. Some were amicable, some were heart-wrenching, and some were a bit more sinister than I imagined. This was my way of saying, I hear you. I am your witness and this poem is proxy. 

My Affinity for Burros
by Kase Johnstun
followed by Q&A
I stood on a street corner in Morelia, a city of more than 750,000 people in the heart of Michoacán, Mexico. Thousands of Nissan Sentras and Toyota Corollas buzzed by, weaving and honking and braking in riotous traffic. Morelia was a clean city, much cleaner than Mexico City, and roman-arched viaducts stretched above the roads and houses like thousands of grey-bricked rainbows hovering in the sky. My friend from home and study-abroad roommate, Brandon, stood next to me, and seven young boys stood around us. We drank local beer that we had just bought from a local tienda and waited for a combi, the most common and inexpensive way to get around the city, to pick us up and take us to discothèque. The old Volkswagen buses zoomed through the streets, braked very briefly at their route stops, collected passengers, and then sped away, resembling the bus on Harry Potter that weaved through the London streets, nearly killing all passengers and pedestrians with every turn. 

Arturo, our host family’s oldest son, stood out as the coolest of his friends. Every semester, his family would host students from the United States, from Canada, from Europe, and from other Latin American countries, and every semester he would parade his worldly guests out in front of his friends’ eyes. They adored him. Respected him. Looked up to him. He not only had the most interesting house guests, but he had spent months studying their languages and had a strong proficiency in English, French, Portuguese, and German, turning his friends admiration into worship. When we tried to practice our Spanish with him at home, which was the intent of the immersion-based program, he would pretend like he couldn’t understand us and somehow convince us to speak only in English so he could practice. It would have been a solid bet that he did this with all his guests. His friends would talk to him, he would translate to us, we would talk back to him, and then he would translate back. Nothing in the conversation could be said without going through his mouth. This amount of knowledge creates power. We knew it. His friends knew it. Morelia seemed to know it. Arturo was the shit, or la bamba, and there was no way around it. At that time on the street corner, I couldn’t help but admire how he mediated three or four different conversations, kept up with it all, and kept his audience laughing. 

It could have been any street in any town in any country, and it would have been the same. 

We laughed at the things all young men share in common. We translated vulgarities, and when we couldn’t come up with the exact word to describe a part of the female anatomy, we mimed it with our hands. Beer and women can bond any group of young, stupid men from any part of the world. We are simpletons, and a good buzz and talk about the opposite sex is all we needed to create cohesive connections. 

Midway through a joke, I spotted an older women and her son walking toward the combi stop. She walked with a cane in one hand and her purse in the other. Her bull-legged gate made her coming toward us very slow, but her son of about thirty years old stayed right by her side and patiently walked with her. I’d seen him before—every day at Canyonview, a school for students with disabilities, the school where I had worked for the last two years. His eyes were spread wide, his nose stubby, and his forehead broad and wide with only a small tuft of black hair remaining on the top of his head. He had Down syndrome, and as he walked toward us, he stared at the mixed group of gringos and Morelians that stood at the combi stop with beer in their hands. When he and his mother got within ten feet of the group, he said hello to us, and then the laughter and slurs erupted from Arturo’s mouth. 

“Baboso! Lo que mires?” 

“Pinche idiota!” 

“Usted es tan estúpido como un perro!” 

The boys rained down slur after slur on the man who could not walk any faster and had to walk patiently with his mom. They insulted his face, said he slept with his mother. Slapping and patting their legs, they laughed hysterically at their jokes. 

His eyes dropped down, and if they could have, they would have sank into the gutter and drifted away, but he just kept walking on by us and taking the verbal beating. 

I saw my Canyonview students and friends in him, and my heart broke: I saw Nate in him, Jenny in him, Jeremy in him. 

My eyes drifted back and forth from my new friends to the man and his mother. My ears started to burn with anger and my hands shook in nervous fear. It was one of those moments that the more reserved of us hate. We want to say something. We hate what is happening around us, but we tremble with the inner turmoil of what to say, how to say it, and if we should say it at all, just to the let the moment eat us up inside for fifteen years afterward. 

The boy walked passed Brandon and me, and simultaneously we said, “Buenos dias, amigo.” Brandon must have had the same fire in his gut. And “Buenos dias, amigo” was all we had in our weaponry. But it was enough to turn the slurs our way. 




The young men pointed their aggression toward us, and we swallowed it just long enough to let the man and his mother pass. They walked away, and I swigged on my beer and took in the coming insults about my sexuality, my intelligence, and my affinity for burros. 

Kase Johnstun is an award-winning essayist whose work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction Magazine, The Chronicle Review, Label Me Latina/o, and, as a regular contribution, in The Good Men Project. He is currently working on a creative nonfiction manuscript about the epidemiology, medical history, and affected lives of the birth defect Craniosynostosis (forthcoming from McFarland 2014/2015). He teaches written communications at Kansas State University.


Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 
A: This piece is at the linear center of a memoir (unpublished) I wrote about my time at Canyonview—how I went from a total idiot during college to a Rhodes Scholar nominee, and I truly believe it was working with students with disabilities that made me a better person. When writing this piece (chapter), I was most surprised at how much that moment ate me up inside so many years later, and that this world still has a long way to go. Just recently, the word retard as an insult has become so common in our cultural vernacular; it’s as if we’re taking a step back with our language. 

While revising this piece, I cut 1,000 words after the first draft. For me, as a writer, this is not common, but I wanted to pull the piece away from me at the center, to pull away from my feelings, and to focus on the young man and his mother.

Also, I learned that the Spanish insults have multiple meanings depending on where they are spoken. I urge readers to look up all the different meanings, as they add quite a bit more depth to the story.

That Night in Miri's Kitchen
by Sally Houtman
followed by Q&A

Don’t turn around. That’s what you said. That night in Miri’s kitchen. Me wrist-deep in sudsy water. You barefoot in faded jeans. In the air, the smell of woodsmoke. The rise and fall of voices down the hall. Over nibbles we’d exchanged quick glances, my sister’s friends around the fire. Later, in the kitchen, you came to get a beer, then lingered. All movement stilled. My senses sharpened, aware only of my breathing and the rain. The rain the rain the rain, so hard against the window. You moved in close behind me, hands warm against my skin, your voice so clean and spare.  Don’t turn around

Fast forward. Four months later. You beneath a storefront awning. A woman waiting in a car. Overhead, the same old dirty, laden sky. And all that day, the rain. The day you told me you were leaving. Said it just like that. The rose you gave me in its vase at home, its head bent forward, heavy on its stalk, but still alive. I stood, feet planted on the footpath, neither here nor there and you already gone. And I understood life’s fickle pull and slip, the way a thing could be hollowed out of one thing, yet be so filled with something else.

Now you are in another city, one that cracks and rattles underfoot. And me here left with my fugue of memories. Foreshortened daydreams. The drumbeat repetition of regret. And the rain. I watch the drops that vein my window on their predetermined course. Each fixed to its task, its fate still ahead. And I think that had I known that night in Miri’s kitchen, that you were already knee-deep in someone else’s forever, halfway to someone else’s somewhere else, I would have never turned around.

Originally from the United States, Sally Houtman makes her home in Wellington, New Zealand. She is the author of a non-fiction book and began writing fiction and poetry in 2007. Since that time, her work has appeared in more than thirty print and online publications, received four New Zealand writing awards, and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “That Night in Miri’s Kitchen” was a finalist in New Zealand’s inaugural National Flash Fiction Day Competition 2012.


Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: When thinking of story ideas, the phrase Don’t turn around began playing in my mind. As I began to flesh out the significance of the phrase, the character, story, and setting began to emerge.