Kent Dixon

The Long of the Short of It

Brevity is the soul of the short-short.
                                          ~K. Dixon


Of all the features and devices of flash fiction that you read about, only one is present 100%, and that’s, of course, the length—the short in short-short. Hence, my Brevity is the soul of the short-short. That’s obvious of course and even silly, but for the sake of investigating this form, let’s pretend it isn’t. Let’s say it’s that very concrete and articulate feature—the short length—that generates many or even most of the other features, and we’re talking not just devices and the obvious generic choices like dialogue, monologue, pov, various person narratives, parody, joke, punch lines (the ‘kicker’), et al.—but also aspects like tone, humor and irony (irony from form as well as content); the design, reader response; the hyperbole, the magical, the raunchy, the experimental; even the conscious choice of “subject matter.” Maybe even the unconscious, which can be directed, if/when you can spot your own, and one thing I’ll suggest is that the short-short gives a better purchase to spot from than the longer forms.

To explore just a few of these features, I’m imagining two kinds of readers: people who have written “flash” and people who haven’t but may be enticed to try, whether students or just other writers who don’t feel it’s quite their cup of tea, and as an aside, to those who would pass on the form, I say: Begone, dull neglect! Shorts provide an excellent practice field, and you never have to throw away a dozen-page false start.

One alert: I can’t help calling these things “short-shorts,” the term we used when starting out with them as students in the mid- to late 1960s. I prefer it to “flash,” though flash isn’t all that bad: the famous Bengali poet, Tagore, way back in 1926 published a collection of prose poems entitled Fireflies, which he said had their origins in Japanese haiku and Chinese proverbs. Fireflies! An evocative image for the form or not? And an historical footnote here: Yeats and Pound both remark on Tagore’s short pithy prose pieces as a significant influence for them, as do Neruda and Octavio Paz. All of these poets except Pound were awarded Nobel Prizes—good company—poor Ezra was probably in prison for his fascism when his name came up.

As for general history of the form, I did slip into such as I wrote this, but it grew too long and it’s nothing one can’t glean on one’s own, from Introductions to anthologies and smart little how-to books like Tara Masih’s Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (Rose Metal Press), which usefully includes “tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field.” I think I get a line in that book because my own history with the form goes back to an anthology I co-edited with my teacher at Iowa (Robert Coover in the early 1970s), which one editor calls “…likely the first anthology of literary short shorts published in the United Sates.” It’s not, unless ours was more ‘literary’ (Borges, Merwin, Brautigan, J.C. Oates, Michael Benedikt, Elie Wiesel,

Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, et al.) than the going fare. But not to dwell on the past here. The editors at OPEN are providing me with a link to my own webpage, where I attempt to refine and correct some history, and suggest more distant horizons than Washington Irving or Charles Baudelaire for the origins and nature of the form. So if you’d like more on how and where the form really comes about, click here on


For now, let’s look at some of those features that ‘shortness’ brings with it, sometimes of necessity, but also because the shorter form is better adapted than longer forms for what it’s able to absorb and so shape itself.

The Short of It

“Short” puts me in mind of one that, for all its brevity, just 70 words, accomplishes most of what the best of them do. I’ve read thousands, yet this one hasn’t loosened its grip on me for about forty years now. It’s by Richard Brautigan.


The confidence that he got by being selected all-state in football
lasted him all of his life. He was killed in an automobile accident
when he was twenty-two. He was buried on a rainy afternoon.
Halfway through the burial service the minister forgot what he was
talking about. Everybody stood there at the grave waiting for him
to remember.
Then he remembered.
“This young man,” he said. “Played football.”

(TriQuarterly 35: Minute Stories, Edt. Robert Coover and Elliott Anderson, Winter 1976)

Again, ‘flashes’ back then in the 1970s were known to us as short-shorts, and sometimes mini-stories, and were beginning to be called snappers and maybe blasters (I think by Playboy). Brautigan’s snap just about gives you a whiplash: there’s the surface simple truth, the kid died in an accident; then whelming up from below comes the funereal wanting-to-look-away-from-it truth of how short, how premature this death was. How pointless, or in a wider view, how particularly universal: that is, the muted anguish over this death spills over to mortality at large, as a kind of implied metaphor. How bloody premature all death is, for most of us anyway. And then take it one more notch worse: the minister forgets what he’s doing midstream: not enough there for him to get a purchase on. And then, receding all the while, that wry innocence at the outset about the lad’s enduring confidence. So you lose a life right along side a cobbled up reason for living: his confidence as an athlete—not a piece of self-worth commonly forgotten.

I happen to have known this young athlete—No. Just kidding. But you wonder if Brautigan didn’t. Or maybe just in his bones. He himself died too young, at 49, believing himself forgotten and living alone in California and shooting himself in the head with his .44 Magnum, his body lying undiscovered in a cabin in Bolinas for over a month.

His reputed suicide note: “Messy, isn’t it.” But he played a great game of literary football—a dozen poetry collections and as many novels. Trout Fishing in America sold over two million copies; some websites put it at twice that. He was a milestone, a beacon of the sixties counter-culture.

Why dwell on Brautigan, besides that most of his novels are laid out in short-shorts? Because there is a finger print aspect to these things, an imagination print, and in “Football” it darkens toward outright autobiography: life coming round to imitate art.

Brautigan killed himself, it’s proposed, because no one was reading him. It crushed his confidence, it took his life. But not before he got in a good swipe at Death in this little story, death that mother-fucker, the author pinging a piquant passing irony (hidden in cliché) with the sardonic and grimly witty: his confidence…lasted him all of his life. Gallows humor was quite in, in those early ‘60s. Bruce Jay Friedman’s Black Humor, that makes it a literary household word, is published in 1965, featuring Pynchon, Heller, Nabokov, Barth, Donleavy, Céline, et al.

Back to Brautigan, the stylist, the prose writer with a poet’s training, and eye: consider that perfect hitch in the last line, breaking the subject and predicate in two with the ‘he said.’

“This young man,” /he said./ “Played football.”

There you have a visual representation of the stall caused by the minister’s forgetting. You’d lose half the force of that punch with, “This young man played football,” he said. Or even with just the proper comma: “This young man,” he said, “played football.” That ungrammatical full stop—he said .—is more than icing on the cake. It’s more like the filling.

A couple of points about brevity, then:

1) This visual manipulation of word and syntax, apt enough in a poem, is much harder to pull off and not appear mannered in a short story or novel, Joyce notwithstanding. Not the case in flash. Being able to see the whole thing (usually) in one glance, calls for word counts and distinct paragraph endings. Surely most flash-writers have cut and trimmed on the left hand page, in order to get a good ‘reveal’ at the top of the next page. Rare, however, is the writer who would bother with that in a longer form. For one thing, you have no control over such, in longer forms. For another, you don’t want to: the story needs to advance. But the design of the brief story on the page, its layout, can deliver the very knock-out punch. The authors are aware of it, and manipulate it to effect. This just doesn’t occur in other prose genres; I think it’s unique to the short short.

2) When your dim inner self lines up, hangs by a strong rubbery umbilicus, with your output on a page, you’re in effect tapping your unconscious. That’s a little glib, I know, but bear with me. I’m thinking such psychological revelation is more likely to happen in something short: breaking down an obsession, a phobia, requires the smallest possible chunks, I’m told. Otherwise you’re just repeating it endlessly, compulsively immersed in a pattern or theme, rather than delineating any building block thereof. But if you want to use your foibles, be more in charge of them than they are of you, then make mince-meat of them. Put in your jeweler’s loupe so both hands are free and focus that bright white LED of honest attention meets imagination. Shorts, I propose, encourage and lend themselves to such fine psycho-laser tuning. I know I’m a wiser and calmer person for what I’ve learned about myself through/from/within my writing; I think most writers must have this little extra dollop of self-knowledge on their pallets, but to get to those colors fast and pure, try boiling down your phobia/obsession/compulsion to 500 to 1500 words. Things really jump out at you and for me, a certain amount of control is gained. Try it: go for your own ego’s jugular, with a short sharp blade and a whittler’s fine focus.

Fortuitously, I see a space below me here, where I can set up a good example of my first point above. I would we had a page to turn, because the ‘reveal’ on this one is so abrupt (at first) that it’s almost over before it’s begun—one shake of a lamb’s tale:

Keep going . . .


These are the Seven Deadly Sins of Indecision:


Susan Geryl Sherman in A Magazine of Paragraphs (#1, Fall 1985)

What is this, a ‘concrete flash’? Is it a short-short at all, or a poem? Does it obey or subvert most of the “rules” of both, including the line break? Actually, the writer called it, and the magazine published it as, a paragraph, and cf. next section, page 8, for an instructive elaboration via that tiny magazine, with its disproportionate 20-year run.

Besides the obvious points about short-short features that can be made here—the use of space, the negative space, the whole in a glance, the wit, irony, universality (surely we can all relate to indecision)—, there’s a dark side, too, when you think about it later in the day. Indecision can be lethal, can kill you and others. A 2nd Lieutenant in a quandary in battle, say. A surgeon unsure. He who hesitates, etc., leaving you with a seven point oblivion as per above. A really good short, in its dinging of a moment, will resonate like a tuning fork—ding, y’ing, y’ing and take you in that diminuendo where it hurts to go. Stories do that too, of course, but with the same concentration? A story tends to be over, finis; the short, like a poem, will vibrate on. And we expect this echoing blow to the solar plexus in a short short: the whole (short) thing sort of draws back and then resurges forcefully in its punch line. The tide going out before the tsunami slams in. Not all do, but the ones that thrill me sure do. And the point would be, the short form is far better designed to do this appropriately—it’s what we want, whether it’s a telling image (Brautigan), a poetic one (Beasley, q.v.), a wry remark (Garrison, q.v.), or however surprisingly or aptly writers can think to end theirs. Yes, short stories can have punch lines—all mine do—but their length has enough else going on that the punch is somewhat pulled. With a short short, the punch line is generally what we came for.

The Paragraph

In their tiny little magazine that ran for decades (1985 to 2005), named simply by the ¶ symbol, and subtitled A Magazine of Paragraphs, Walter Rumble and Karen Donovan collected just that, paragraphs. These ran maybe 100 words for the shortest to around 285 for the big guys, anywhere from 20 to 30 paragraphs per issue, four issues a year. How do I know it’s 285 words and not 300? Because I learned to write to the form: exactly 28 lines down the page, and exactly 53 characters across the top (counting the spaces), was the absolute most real estate you could get. No titles, just one solid, lonely, maculate, grey-on-white paragraph stamped on the page.

You could of course write less. But I would write whatever, and if it were within possible reach, I would then work longer on trimming it to fit than I had worked to write it in the first place. And sometimes I just made a blank grid on my page and wrote to fill it in. This is probably an instructive exercise; it’s certainly good editing practice—cutting, finding one word equivalencies for three, trapping le mot juste, lopping off conjunctions and participial endings, spotting deadwood, keeping it all smooth and natural, wasting time. I probably recommend it to beginners, when they aren’t spilling over into those monster 1500 word sinkholes. Try it. It puts revealing pressure on the sentence. Mark out the space on your screen, then write something to darken it in. Here’s a lively template, though ¶ is justified on the right:

BILLY and I took apart the washing machine because it
didn’t work. We drained the water out of the back. It
pissed out of the black hose, sneaked up on the cuffs
of my pants — hilarious. It smelled: slimy old spring
freshness. We turned the power off. We took all the
screws out of the back. Used my cordless drill. The
back was rusted on. We jerked it off. We left the water
hooked up to it, maybe hoping to end up wet and laugh-
ing in the basement with the washing machine in pieces
and the pipes rusty and the drain choking, drowning,
spitting up dryer lint like post-CPR convulsions. We
pulled and pushed, slammed on it. I sat on top and he
pulled and I had my hands on the ceiling and still it was
lifting up off the greasy soapy silty and ridiculously con-
crete floor. And with heaves and sweat — with newly
filthy clothes we wouldn’t be able to wash — we got
the fucking thing apart without knowing what to do
next. Billy and I left it gutted in the basement so it
could think about what it had done to us.

~Sarah Garrison, , Vol. 8, (#3, Summer 2004)

Sarah was my student; I was really sorry I didn’t get to share the same issue with her, but maybe that was better for her. At any rate, when we’d discuss this short-short in class (I used it for years: encouraging students with what a fellow student could do), eventually someone would say something like, ‘Do I detect some sexual overtones here?’ Some would laugh, others brighten up beneath their light bulb flickering on, and a proper few demur. But the gracefully laid-in analogue, shy of porno-explicit but happily rich in innuendo—is what’s most fun here. And you can take the last line any number of ways—from ‘we washed no more clothes that day’ to the machine’s “fucking” them over to maybe Billy and Sarah arriving at a first-time moment yet uncertain about what to do, in need of a gentle shove from the reader’s imagination.

But here’s my point: in their introduction to Flash Fiction Forward, Thomas and Shapard quote one of their contributors, Richard Bausch:

. . . when a story is compressed so much, the matter of it tends
to require more size: that is, in order to make it work in so small
a space its true subject must be proportionately larger.

And the editors enhance their point better than I would: One, the subject, content, of a flash, should not be small or trivial (any more than in a poem). Two, “the essence of a story (including its ‘true subject’) exists not just in the amount of ink on the page—the length—but in the writer’s mind, and subsequently the reader’s.”

I’m not so sure about the ‘trivial,’ but let’s try holding this ‘larger’ requirement up to the shorts we read in here. See if it’s a measure of full success. Call it simply ‘the universal’, or, as with a poem, let’s just accord it that allusive energy that floats you off the page and away from the artifact and into the empyrean of the symbolic, the universal.

If the short short is a hybrid of story and poetry, or better said, runs through a gamut thereof, picking and gathering features of both forms, while dodging others, then Garrison’s here, a titillation delivered with a charming and naughty smile, is a kind of poetic conceit; yet it hunkers down on the story side: it’s narrative, it has character, conflict, (in)completed action, and so on, though you can’t ignore the poetic touches within her prose either, ‘spitting up dryer lint like post-CPR convulsions,’ or ‘the soapy silty ridiculously concrete floor.” These are no little part of it: they lift it off the floor, if you will—out of the ordinary, away from the dutiful mundane and prosaic things-as-they-are. It certainly isn’t just about a washing machine. And you figure this out as you go.

Mallarmé, talking about obscurity in poetry (both natural and willful), said in an interview: “There must always be enigma in poetry, and the goal of literature—there is no other—is to evoke objects.” And certainly he means evoking more than Maytags; he means other domains, meanings, feelings, contained in his evoked objets, plus the extra energy it takes to evoke, an aesthetic gain in the mental effort. Same interview:

Poetry being an act of creation, one must draw from the soul of
man states, [draw…] glowing lights, of such absolute purity that,
well sung and well-lighted, they become the jewels of man: that is
what is meant by symbol; that is what is meant by creation, and
the word poetry herein finds its meaning: it is, in sum, the only
possible human creation.

To bring this down from Symbolist clouds a little, let’s look at another paragraph from , in exactly the same form, but which is proportionately weak in character development, questionable on narrative drive, and completely devoid of conflict. In other words, the poetic opposite of Garrison’s narrative paragraph:

THE stomach of a ruminant comes in seven parts
or chambers. Each blade of grass, each bagful of
oats, after being munched, slowly passes from
chamber to chamber where it is subjected to acids
of varying strengths. The process takes time, but
every scrap is eventually reduced to microparti-
cles and absorbed into the bloodstream. Each
chamber resonates with a peculiar vibration. The
vibration, humming along invisible vectors, fa-
cilitates concentration. Frequently, a ruminant
will focus on a tree because of a tree’s impercept-
ible growth. The example is salutary. The curving
ribcage conceals a gurgling concerto of belly acids
breaking down the molecular structure of sun-
dabbled grains. As you listen you may hear some-
thing else. The rustle of long-stemmed grass as
the wind passes over a prairie. Or water. Water in
a gourd being plied by a gnat with two oars.

Conger Beasley, Jr. in ¶ A Magazine of Paragraphs (#3, Winter 1987)

Poem or story? It’s got both, really—the bizarre journey through the descending stomachs of a ruminant, and then its delightful turn half way through to slightly and then patently humorous imagery, ending with its wonderful surreal image of a gnat punting of a Sunday on some lily-laden gastro-intestinal pond. Or whatever. But does it get to ‘universal,’ beyond its 150 words; does the ‘ink on the page’ run over the margins, to become arabesque and evocative, like oil swirling on water?

Sure it does. It’s an exemplary lesson, on rumination, on association. On nothing less than poetic imagination, really: an invitation to the mind of the reader. It passes our ‘universal’ test with plying colors. (That’s not a typo: flash is known for its puns and neologisms—the tiny melee stones that set off the main jewel—cf. jewels #Mallarmé.)

Also, I happen to love this short; it took my breath away when I first read it thirty years ago—I think this is the one that made it onto NPR’s All Things Considered—and I still try to match it, bringing me to absorb over time Beasley’s fun in massaging the ‘scientific’ into the poetic. I’m pretty sure that blending influenced my own “Dandylion Mine” at the end of this essay: the flower lore absorbed into the playful human drama. I weighted that balance—of science and flirtation—as heavily as I thought I could. Language is, of course, supreme in the short forms: go to anything arcane, like knitting, say (‘knit one, purl two’), or the production of blood cells in the bone marrow, or discussion of levo/dextro bonding of organic molecules, really to most any outré (unfamiliar, far out) jargon, and you’re soon up to your navel in asphodel, those greeny flowers, those jewels. I’m just saying Beasley’s little paragraph had a disproportionate influence on me, by alerting and then tuning my ear to the beauties of strange lingo, as for instance:

Fibonacci Sprezzatura

Every thirtieth Fibonacci number must be divisible by thirty-
one. Since a thirtieth number is also, always, a fifteenth number, it
must [must!] be divisible by sixty-one.

(And ten, too.)

If that doesn’t thrill you quite to the bone, it probably shouldn’t. It’s not meant to: it’s actually a found short short. I was dawdling around in that Q-&-A site Quora one day (9/21/17) and came across one Tyler Schroeder replying to this rather unavailing question: Is every Fibonacci number that is divisible by 31 also divisible by 61? If so, why?

But consider Schroeder’s reply as narrative: it progresses from a given (must be), to a qualification (since), which introduces a smidgen of suspense and also hints at a possible surprise—also, always—thence to an outright screaming determination—it must [must!] . . . my god, divisibility sequence has our mathematician by the throat . . . and then the thing softens that bit of nano-hysteria with a cool-down parenthetic bonus, sounding a lot like a joke’s punch line. An actor reading this would make us laugh on that final And ten, too, intimately whispered within parentheses. But notice how our emotions follow the form here, almost to the exclusion of content (unless you’re a mathematician), and as for our universal test, in just 30 words the writer has taken us through the classic pyramid of Freytag into the forward-striding innards of Fibonacci. (The title’s mine.)

If you’re new enough to genre and natural math that these F words aren’t clicking in, then click here on FLASH#Freytag’sTriangle and FLASH#FibonacciNumbers to link to a quick gloss on them in my website. As for our “found flash,” my parting point would be, besides the felt ‘universality’ of dramatic structure, as well as turning over a leaf of the eternal and beautiful math in natural structures, this little thing makes you hear a narrative progression: aurally, rather than visually (7 Indecisions), it delivers its punch. That overtone of drawn-in narrative gets lost in longer forms, whereas in the shorter, it’s a well-met challenge to see how short you can make it and still have ‘story’ rather than just epigram or maxim.

How Short

One favorite question about these almost-over-before-they-begin aesthetic experiences, is how minimal can they get, and still approximate the experience we expect from a poem or story. These days there are Twictions (140 characters); there are calls for 100 word shorts. There’s the famous Hemingway one, the so-called ‘six word novel’ that he is said to have produced on a bet:

Baby shoes: For Sale. Never worn.

Or John Barth wresting meaning from almost pure form—cliché as form—turning it into a two-dimensional Moebius strip:

Once upon a time there was a story that began . . .

Or a favorite of mine by Lydia Davis, called “Tropical Storm”:

Like a tropical storm,
I, too, may one day become “better organized.”

The line-break there may be a bit of a fudge: she’s making important use of it, but she calls it a story, includes it in her Collected Stories, so ok, it’s two-line story albeit with that main distinguishing feature of a poem. As Alan Ziegler says in his introduction to Short, “Essentially, a piece is a prose poem because the writer says so.” Ditto, flash fiction?

What of Stephen Crane’s 1899 “A Man Said to the Universe”? It’s laid out as a poem, but then so is Lydia Davis’ above:

A man said to the universe, “Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe. “The fact
has not created in me a sense of obligation.”

I admit, it looks better as a poem, but it’s like a brief Baudelairean colloquy, and its twenty-four words certainly meets the Thomas/Hazuka requirement that successful shorts depend “…not on their length but on their depth.” Hemingway’s six-worder does claim a depth, yet I’ve seen this piece, about the baby shoes, get laughs instead of sighs in class. Does it sufficiently hold its ground, the sentiment, so as not to slip into sentimentality and therefore cause a dismissive comic response? I’m not so sure these 6-shooters can do that. Reading a lot of them, like at Larry Smith’s kids’ memoir project , they cloy really fast, despite the ones that bring a delight:

Living in an existential vacuum; it sucks.

~Deb, from Brooklyn

That’s from a teenager one might like to meet. Hi, Deb from Brooklyn!

I messed around with a few—a party game of one—try some!—and, with the hex (6) of space and design hanging over me, came up with this joshling on flash non-fiction:

Can’t write six-word non-fiction: not enough room.

Here’s a better one. I’ve been submitting a lot of work lately, and we all know what comes with that effort. Apropos:

Suicide note rejected. Try us again.

~Kent, Springfield Ohio


Like my 7-word surrender above, on the short-short essay, I’ve run out of room here. But there were two more bases I wanted to touch: how does one actually go about writing these things, and, once written, where does one send them?

See FLASH#HowTo and FLASH#WhereSend, in my website, for useful information thereon. In HowTo, I laboriously dissect one of my own, for its origins and development, one “First Spring Fly.” I was originally going to end with that one, belabored, here, but as I say, the belaboring strikes me as tedious, and the short itself has gotten to be such old hat that I can no longer gnaw on it with anything like the same satisfaction. Besides, it’s not a happy note to end on. I’d much rather end with this one, a sometime gardener’s nose-gay for his wife on her birthday—geez, next week!


A crowd, a host of golden . . . these are not your early daffodils. Not these boys, though they teem about our yard like yellow manna shook from Wordsworthy pen. I’ve dug a thousand of the little buggers at a time, renouncing chores, job, home, family. The wife—she says so poison them.

I can’t: the kids, the dog.

“So hire some neighbor kid to dig them up, penny a piece.”

I can’t: they never get enough of the root.

Finally, when she sees I’ve lost the battle yet one more year, she confides coyly that, if I really must know, she has always thought they were rather pretty.

Grrrr…! They are more than pretty, my pet. They are beyond ubiquitous, they smack of the sempiternal. And they possess great powers. Indeed, it takes but one to utterly destroy a man’s back, though you never know which one till too late. Perennial dissemblers— O, treacherous and wily dicot!

Here, my love, let me just demonstrate their magic. Take this dandy little fleck of seed here and secrete it somewhere about your person.

I huff gently at my puff ball and six or ten peel off and float like invading paratroopers down a diagonal for our lawn. “You got it? I’m not looking now, ok? Is it hid?”

She says it’s hid. I say good. I say great. I don’t say anything for a beat because I’m suddenly mesmerized: this fragile speckling of perfection, like a burst of white fireworks. It is a piece of nature from the hand of Buckminster Fuller.

“You know,” I say. “This really is an ingenious fruiting structure. All these babies, they’re just modified sepals…”

“It’s hid,” she says. She wants to play.

But I can’t stop: “Slaves supplemented their diets—salad, and wine,” I say. “Talking about the Old South, you understand. Romantic. History. Dent de lion…” I’m really losing her; she’s resumed nipping

rose hips. I follow her. “Still hid?”

“You won’t find it,” she says.

Well, this ephemeral sex organ, the potent piece of fuzz, “will home in,” I tell her, “on that single seed you have just concealed. Honest Injun. I don’t know how. How does a hazel prong find water?”

She submits. Up and down her thighs we glide: between my fingers it looks like a tiny diving bell on a stalk. Across her breasts, under her chin, her neck . . . she laughs, a garden laugh, in her throat.

“Be patient, I’m out of practice.” But the muscle memory flexes itself. It’s like a violin uncased after too long on the shelf, sweet to its master’s hand: just so in my recollect comes the rubber-handled dandelion digger smack and snug into chuff of palm.

Just so the yield, not entire, of earth as the steel slips down and along, to narrow apex of claw and nacreous root as bold as a fang. To pry with the wrist—the underground pop, like knees, of that root snapping, and the pinch-tug by the veteran scalper, and the pile of dandelion scalps sprawled there like little drying octopuses, or mashed pin wheels, that never give up and surely will go to seed right there in the top of the garbage can—you have to bag them tight . . .

“Is this a strip search?” she asks.

I’m unbuttoning her blouse, the seed I seek could be anywhere.

A hand to stay me. “Not out here,” she says—in the vegetable garden, by the sundial, our shadows reaching across her herbs into my radicchio.

“Wait,” I say. “It’s not about neighbors. It’s the wind, capricious wind carries the word with dandelions. Close your eyes.”

But she doesn’t. She doesn’t quite trust me, watching me pass the full puff slowly across her vision, and down her nose, back around to her ear, back up front to her lips—a tiny crumb of lipstick flaking there . . .

“Open your mouth,” I say, very thorough, very scientific.

And she does, dear reader, and rather than blow the whole damn thing right down her throat, as you may have suspected, as in fact I’d originally intended, instead,

I kiss her.


About the writer:
Kent Dixon is a prize-winning writer with three Pushcart nominations and three Ohio Arts Council awards to his credit. His fiction and poetry have appeared in TriQuarterlyThe Iowa ReviewShenandoahAntioch ReviewGettysburg ReviewGeorgia Review and others. His nonfiction has appeared in The American ProspectFlorida ReviewKansas QuarterlyEnergy Review, and others. He is recently retired from teaching Literature and Creative Writing at Wittenberg University. His graphic novel The Epic of Gilgamesh, co-authored with his son Kevin Dixon, is in release from Seven Stories Press. He lives with his wife Mimi in Springfield, Ohio.

Portrait image: Courtesy of Kent Dixon.

Featured image: Red Cavalry (cropped) by Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). Oil on canvas. 91 x 140 cm. 1932. Public domain.