Here They Kill the Mustard by May

While her husband drove, Margaret kept her eyes closed, trying to identify each roll to the right, each jostle to the left along West Road. She had guessed the first curve was the bend around the Tudor house. The one being gutted behind a green privacy fence. “Privacy? Everyone knows what they’re doing,” she had laughed. Moments later a sharp bank had shunted her frail frame into the padded door panel, and she thought they might be at the place with the goats. Her uncertainty, though, had surprised her.

Six long years had passed since they had moved to the hills and found themselves quickly labeled “the kids from the flatlands” after the septic tank overflowed and raccoons tore through the chicken wire. Nearly every day since they had navigated this route, eyes alert to “all” potential threats. Margaret chuckled again, then promptly regretted the expended energy. In the momentary quiet she sensed her husband was staring so that the familiar pang of guilt struck. Six long summers ago she had asked him to trust her as they tracked the petite flags and glossy plastic signs along snaky one lane roads to the Open House. Six long autumns ago they had moved into their “forever” home. She tried to find it funny.

 Soon enough, her contrition morphed into something warm as they descended a long, gentle slope. She knew they had reached the huge empty lot where the wild mustard grows. Where tall stalks burst out of compressed cracked earth with spectacular speed, growing taller than her in spots, revealing a radiant splendor seemingly overnight: intense yellow flowers arranged in delicate x’s atop sturdy hairy stems, their billowy ballet summoning dainty white butterflies. Margaret’s mother said that in the parable mustard represents faith. Well, here they chop it all down by May. In early spring, weed abatement notices start arriving. “Dried mustard plants? Highly combustible! Be safe and clear it out!” She chuckled for the last time. “Nothing that invasive is gone forever,” she thought. “After a fire destroys this place, the mustard will be the first thing to come back.” In her life before treatment, Margaret had jogged through the field each night, had stood rigid to hear what swaying sounds like, had heard the crunching beneath her shoes. She understood that well before the trucks and chainsaws rumble up to pull life out by the roots, wild mustard plants have already dropped much of their seed. She opened her drained eyes onto her husband. Oh, how she wished now that they had done the same.

Elizabeth Allison

Elizabeth Allison spent many joyful years in alternative and high school education before leaving the classroom to spend more time with her children and on her own writing. Her work has since appeared on sites such as The Huffington Post and Intrepid Times.

Quincy Gray McMichael: Featured Author

Stolen Gum

She has so much gum.

I have none.

Pained by my lack,

I count thirteen sticks

in that pink

Extra pack:

shiny foil tips make my

fingers twitch. I

skirt temptation, chasing

through the kitchen, trailing

tutus—to outside,

seeking freedom:

Spear Stream,


garden packed with crisp

green beans. But I dash

back, snatch that fat

pack. One touch

and I taste relief. Above,

the Elvis clock waggles

his hips. The King

feels my need. And only he

sees me slip:

just one silver stick.

Silly girl,

you think you’re hiding

your hand, hiding

that gum, running

to the bathroom, first,

then feigning

thirst. You return

from my kitchen,

 refreshed. But when

you roll close to me

 on the trampoline,

your whispers smell


not the yellow-egg sulphur

 of my water,

 no bold whiff of our

 garlicky lunch. Nor can

crabapple season,

 weeks away, account

 for that cloying

bubblegum scent

on your breath.

Two decades on, as I drag

myself up

to Step Nine,

into the blinding shine

of Rigorous Honesty,

I see Caitlin’s

pink-cheeked face,

that stolen gum,

first. Why this small thing,

before uglier indiscretions:

lying through my teeth

driving only while drinking

selling coke to children

selling my soul for love

from coast to coast?

Perhaps Elvis, in his eternal

temporal wisdom, hinted

at what was to come:

me, holding drink, pipe, life

in my shaking hand,

already tasting the burn

in my throat?


Fire in the Hole

I hear the Jeep before I smell it.

I smell exhaust before I see it.

Before he sees me—before I know it—

I’m horizontal, ducking low

down below the windshield sight line,

one knee on the seat, the other

leg outstretched, just hidden

behind the unfurled wing of driver door.

I can almost taste the scratched leather on my gearshift

before the rising tide of fear catches in my throat,

creeps up my windpipe,

tugs at my tonsils,

trauma souring taste buds on the back of my tongue.

Even the tang of fresh-cut grass is no match

for this metallic panic the sound

of an old engine unfurls in me—

and only in this place. My mother’s house.

Her lawn. Her gardens.

Her perfect front porch

with its worn boards, grooved from years of zealous sweeping.

Where neither the eternal pack of dogs,

nor my mother’s love,

nor my own malignant bravado

could keep me safe.

Quincy Gray McMichael

When not at her writing desk, Quincy Gray McMichael stewards her farm, Vernal Vibe Rise, on Moneton ancestral land. Her writing—both creative nonfiction and poetry—has been published in Yes! Magazine, The Dewdrop, Open: A Journal of Arts and Letters, Greenbrier Valley Quarterly, and is forthcoming from Appalachian Review and Assay, among other publications. Quincy holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University. She is a Contributing Editor at Good River Review and is completing a hybrid memoir that explores obsession and overwork through a blend of poetry and prose.

Christopher Paul Brown

Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 15 (1974), Dilapidated Railroad Bridge, Carpentersville, IL, 2020, 08-11-2019HE

Christopher Paul Brown

Christopher Paul Brown is known for his exploration of the unconscious through his use of improvisation and his cultivation of serendipity and synchronicity via alchemy.  His first photography sale was to the collection of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana, and his video You Define Single File was nominated for the Golden Gate Award at the 47th San Francisco International Film Festival in 2004. Over the past four years his art was exhibited twice in Rome, Italy, in Belgrade, Serbia, and his series of ten photographs, titled Obscure Reveal, were exhibited at a Florida museum in 2017.  His work is in two hardcover books released by Manifest Gallery and in Tusis, Manipulated Images, a Dek Unu book from 2019. Brown earned a BA in Film from Columbia College Chicago in 1980. He was born in Dubuque, Iowa and now resides in North Carolina, USA.

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