Back to Issue Forty-Three

Bottom Line




In science class Michelle diagrams a weed with epidermal features, blue and red like medieval trade routes. Those roads go on forever, she realizes as the lights dim and a film about outer-space adventurers fills her mind. She remembers a boy in Idaho who rode his horse backwards.

Bottom line: Some explorers, like Marco Polo, need more than two camels to prove we are living on the wrong planet.



Her brother Darren likes to shoot small animals and birds and pretend he’s a hunter in Africa. He writes the name of his special girlfriend on a sheet of paper and folds it like an airplane. When he washes dishes, he blows bubbles through a straw he got at Dairy Queen.

Bottom line: His sister ripped his favorite shirt after he tossed her in a lake in Minnesota.



Michelle’s best friend Sarah got in trouble because she drank too much beer and stayed out late instead of going to a slumber party where everyone was sharing pictures of their parents’ weddings. Her dad had all his hair when he got married and her mom looked like a movie star, like a femme fatale.

Bottom line: It’s not her party, so she won’t cry, even if she wants to.



Many of the kids at the party look the same, dress the same, think the same thoughts. I want to be more like Sarah, Michelle thinks. Outside the house, across the street is a cemetery with a tombstone carved like an angel. Inside the house, a man dressed like God is serving brownies and ice cream.

Bottom line: Count to ten, but don’t forget who you are. Outside is the new inside.





When you fall in love the first time, the edge of the world is out of sight. Michelle’s head has grown as large as her house. Birds fly through windows in her brain. People are growing older everywhere, except in the vast universe of Why Not.

Bottom line: When her brother Darren holds his breath, the air speaks volumes. His new T-shirt has a life of its own.



Grandpa’s ‘98 Buick LeSabre is parked outside purring like a car salesmen who bought a horse for his stepdaughter. Grandpa is smoking a Lucky Strike, feeling guilty, and imagining he is a famous actor in a play about heterosexuals in Tennessee. His wife moved to Japan last summer.

Bottom line: The full moon is a planet inside another moon, like a second universe in the new black hole they discovered in June.



The piñata is shaped like a chicken and full of candy, not just fresh Tootsie Rolls and Kit Kats, but leftovers from Halloween. What we expect from the sky can’t be gathered in our arms or crushed like papier-mâché. Her brother wants to cut off the head of her pet chicken. When the rain stops, the best ideas are not far behind. We laugh because everything is funny.

Bottom line: Don’t try this at home.


Michael Malan is editor of Cloudbank, a literary journal in Corvallis, Oregon. He is the author of three books from Blue Light Press: Overland Park (2017, poems and flash fiction), Tarzan’s Jungle Plane (2019, prose poems), and Deep Territory (2021, poetry). His recent work was posted on December 10 at New World Writing. Other work has appeared recently in Washington Square Review, Tampa Review, Cincinnati Review, Chicago Quarterly, and Poetry East.

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