Short Story: The Shrines by Thea Prieto

jack o lantern with light
Photo by Max Saeling (unsplash)

Originally posted in Shirley Magazine’s Double Issue February 2015

The Shrines trudge through the snow with their backs to the forested moon. They
follow a single trail of footprints between the trees, a path leading them deeper into
the night and further from the warm lights of their home. Their crunching footfalls
deepen until their knees are trapped in ice. The wind in the surrounding pines expires
and every needled limb freezes in place.
 Descending flakes fill the footprints.
 The night sky clouds blind.
 Bare shrubs gasp under the snowdrifts, but the Shrines stand with their heads high,
faces alert. With their eyes squinted, they map the remaining footprints to an outcrop
of boulders a short stoning ahead. Hayward Shrine raises his oil lantern and frowns at
the rocks hove out of the woods.
 “Grant,” Ward shouts, “we know you’re out here.”
 The cold deadens his words, swallowing the sound. 
Paige Shrine reaches her mittened hands for her scarfed throat, her lips tight. Her
cheeks match the fractured faces of the boulders, pale rocks split from crept ice and
prying tree roots.
 “Grant, can you hear me?” she shouts. “Please answer me.”
 Frost bristles the forest crust.
 The pines are still and deaf.
 Beyond the gauze lantern light, cracked branches and black stumps cut the snow
banks. With wrinkles carved around his eyes and at the falling corners of his mouth,
Ward matches the shredded timber, the snapped twigs.
 He secures his gloved fingers into fists and braces his shoulders.
 “Grant, I know you want to be alone,” he says, “but we need to talk. You can’t keep
avoiding us.”
 “Is that you, Grant?” asks Paige.
 A smudge, like a dark spill, rests near the boulders. The waned moon shies behind
sinking flakes, but it does not stop climbing.
 “Grant, we know you need time, but you aren’t the only one grieving. We need to
talk to you. Your children need to talk to you.”
 The snowfall dies abruptly.
 The moon glares.
 “Grant, answer us!”
 Moonlight animates the sharp rocks.
 Grant’s body remains shadowed.
 Paige turtles her crumbled mouth into her scarf when Ward’s voice cracks.
 “We won’t get through this if we ignore each other.”
 In the darkness, Grant’s hands are frostbitten purple, his bare stomach gouged
open and packed with icy mud. His neck and the boulder face are finger-scratched. His
 nails are black from all his clawing.
 The lantern swings slightly in Ward’s hand.
 “It hurts you won’t talk to us — do you know that? We all feel terrible, but we can’t
help you, can’t if you won’t talk to us — ”
 Paige places her fingers on Ward’s sleeve, silencing him as she would a child. Ward
lifts the back of his wrist to rub his nose, to wipe his cheeks dry.
 “Don’t know what to do,” he whispers, bowing his head.
 Paige squeezes her husband’s arm and then knots her hands into one. She shakes
the single fist toward the boulders. She points her hands like an aimed prayer.
 “Grant, listen to me, you aren’t responsible for her accident, you have to
understand that by now. You were really sick that day — she wanted to run errands for
 Sleet covers Grant’s body like a shell, the film thickening. His blue ears are hollow
 “Please understand,” she begs. “You’re still so young — you won’t feel this way
 The tired words snap the frost on Grant’s skin, exposing new layers of raw.
 “Grant, you have to stop this,” she scolds. “It’s not your fault, it isn’t our fault, that
the world isn’t safe.”
 Grant’s jaw is frozen shut.
 “Grant, do you hear me — you aren’t the only one blaming yourself! I told you I
didn’t want anything for my birthday, you didn’t need to send her out to buy me
anything, I told you…”
 Ward reaches for his wife’s defeated shoulders as white mist floats out of the
treetops. A dim fog sinks into the forest around the silenced mother and father, and as
 their creased foreheads bow, the lantern light grows vaporous and thin. The boulders
 recede into darkness, the trees vanish, leaving only the strain of heavy branches in the
 Their shadows dissolve as the moon disappears.
 Their clothes sag from their shrunken bodies.
 The woods do not blink.
 The mother unravels her heavy scarf and lifts her chin over her forehead. She raises
her face as one piece, tilting it back until it sits flat atop her head. With the crinkled
mouth, nose, and empty eye cavities pointing toward the sky, the scrunched chin juts
forward like the brim of a hat. Below this brim is a girl’s small face.
 The girl’s eyes are shaded by the brim, but the lamplight reaches her cheeks, which
are the size and shape of apricots. The almond-sized pinch of cold on her nose
exaggerates the blueness of her lips.
 Gracie Shrine cups a hand to her ear and listens. “Is that you, Dad?”
 Ice snaps. In the shadows, Grant’s torso cracks upright, his head angled back.
 Gracie drops one of her mittens and looks at it lying in the snow.
 The father pushes back his wooden face. Under the brim of the old man’s chin, a
boy’s square jaw tapers like a leaf, the downward corners of his mouth slightly creased.
His neck is slight and colorless poking out of his coat, but he musters a finger from his
soft fist.
 Will Shrine points into the swirling dark. “Dad, we know you’re out here.”
 The wind masks the sound of Grant’s footsteps, his knees crunching into the layered
drifts, his skin crackling as he crawls to his children.
 “Dad, I know you’re sad,” shouts Will, “but why are you out here? What are you
trying to hide from us?”
 The fog reels, bringing down an empty sky.
 “I know you miss Mom, but Gracie’s sad all the time. It’s not good to be sad and
lonely too! How can I make it better? How can I help?” 
 The boy lifts the oil lantern, staring into its declining brightness. Gracie watches her
older brother as she would an adult.
 “I want to help,” Will says.
 He twists the knob that adjusts the glowing wick, accidentally dimming the light.
The boy bows his head.
 “Don’t know what to do,” he whispers.
 His eyes avoid the lantern as Gracie sucks one of her bare knuckles, her cheeks wet.
 “Dad, I’m sorry I gave you my flu on Grandma’s birthday,” she says. “I’m sorry!”
 Outside the shrinking sphere of lantern light, Grant kneels, his legs buried in the
snow, clay pouring from his chest like wax. With his face hanging forward and his arms
across his cored stomach, Grant tries to contain his remains and hide the mess from
sight, preparing himself for the eyes of his children. He scrapes at the numbing clay —
both children turn their ears toward the sound — but the thick mud, his only offering,
escapes through stubbed fingers.
 Grant’s neck arches up, his sunken eyes evading his children’s faces now lit with
expectancy, even as the lantern wick darkens to a spark. And gazing into the pines,
Grant wills himself to blindness. He knows the woods will ignore him, will not speak or
remember, but he still fears without the darkness, the fog, and the blind layers of snow,
the ice will stare back, and reflect his face like a mirror.

Thea Prieto's writing has appeared in print or online at Poets & Writers, Entropy,
Yalobusha Review, Propeller, and The Masters Review, among other journals. She is a
recipient of the Laurels Award Fellowship, and a finalist for Glimmer Train's Short Story
Award for New Writers. To learn more, visit Author of From the Caves

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Thea Prieto

Warhol and Factory Inspired Series: Poem by J.D. Casey IV : Every Time I Eat Campbell’s Soup

man in brown jacket walking on green grass field during daytime

photo by Mikhail/luxstn (unsplash)

Every Time I Eat Campbell’s Soup

andy, andy, where have you been
there's a war in the hall
of hell on earth

i used your golden telephone
to alert our lonesome god

the call
could not be completed
as dialed

it got disconnected
when you left the scene

i think it was the first time
when the bullets hit their mark
but failed to put you down for good

you only died a little and
you dug the corset anyway

andy, andy, do come back home
tell god we need you here
i can't get him
on the line

soulnap basquiat
while you're at it

Bio: James D. Casey IV is an artist, award-winning poet, author of seven poetry collections, and founder/editor-in-chief of Cajun Mutt Press. His work has been published in print and online by several small press venues and literary magazines internationally.

La Voce dei Poeti, La Catena della Pace international poetry contest gave "Warriors of the Rainbow" by J.D.C.IV a critic's choice award in 2016, and his poem "That'll do Pig" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by New Pop Lit in 2019.

James was born in Colorado, grew up in Louisiana/Mississippi, and currently resides in Illinois.  

Founder/Editor-in-chief of Cajun Mutt Press.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with J.D. Casey IV from Cajun Mutt Press

EIC: David L O’Nan is the Saturday Feature on Cajun Mutt Press with old storytelling poetry

Pop Art #3 Yolk by Maggs Vibo

Margaret Viboolsittiseri (aka Maggs Vibo) works in print, broadcast, special events, glitch media, and online. She is a contributor for Poem Atlas and has experimental art in the winnow
magazine, Coven Poetry, Ice Floe Press, The Babel Tower Notice Board, ang(st), The Wombwell Rainbow. Recent anthologies include Poem Atlas ‘aww-struck’, Steel Incisors, Fevers of the
Mind Press Presents the Poets of 2020 (January, 2021) and ‘My teeth don’t chew on shrapnel’: an anthology of poetry by military veterans (Oxford Brookes, 2020). She tweets @maggsvibo
and her website is

A Poetry Showcase for Gerry Stewart

Sunrise, Scotland, Sky, Landscape

photo by Pixabay.

                  A Rare Woman
Inspired by the self-portraits of Helene Schjerfbeck, 
Finnish artist, 1862-1946

The primitive spark of her gaze
cannot be silenced.
It demands a dialogue.

She starts with a soft palette 
and a reminiscent pose,
the quiet youthful notes  
shaded with a crayon.

Her eyes, stark and peering, 
hint at what drove her to the easel,
taunting us to ask why and how 
her art lifts her from obscurity to Paris.
Even her mother wondered,
why not just dabble.

Gifted with more than talent,
she is unafraid,
exposes her strength 
in heavy lines, a mustard splash,
brazen magenta slicing.

She builds face upon face,
scraping each clean before moving on. 
Traces lurk below the surface,
bold in what she shares 
and what she hides in paint.

A stubborn witness as her country falls,
independence into discord,
she best documents her own advance, 
war after war waged upon her body.

Age rips her apart.
Eyes now haggard and hollowed,
pared back to shadow,
stalked by time.

Her final statement, her fury 
never fading to a whisper,
leaves us raw. 

A Recipe for the New Year

Christmas leftovers tidied away,
the last firework embers sizzle out
over a white spread of snow.
Clean as my grandmother’s linen,
ironed crisp with starch,
the table left undressed,
but for her empty plate.

Our family’s women send me recipes 
as condolence cards,
her life marked with banana bread 
and yeasty cinnamon twists,
baking our language in love and grief.

Shuffling around the kitchen
in a house coat and worn slippers,
she faded into isolation
without other’s needs to tend.
Ingredients gathered, 
I stumble to follow the method
as I could never repeat her prayers.
Her fingers no longer warm the dough
that wilts under my impatience.
The oven remains cold.

I crack a fresh notebook, 
eggshell emotions sticking to the pages,
ink the surface with I want, I want
to heap my plate with the new,
the uncertain.

I am not ready to become memory,
sugared and warmed.

                         Diary of the Unnamed Maid
First Victim of the Great Fire of London, 1666

Mistress learnd me my letters
so I might read her lists at market.
I scratchd on Miss Hannas old slate
by firelight or with a wet finger in bed
until their shapes filld my dreams.

I share my attic room with the cat
too old to hunt mice. He warms my feet
when frost catches on the eeves.
In the morning I haste my errands 
down the rows of wood houses to the stalls
After I run to the river and scribble 
amid the tugs and shouting sailors.
Mistress never asks for the paper
sure it is dropped in the gutter.
My day is the kitchen.
Chop and peel wash the pots.

I only enter the bakery with Masters lunch.
His booming voice roars with heat
enjoining me before the oven.
I collect the family bread and cakes
sometimes a fresh biscit for Miss Mary
and a blackd one for myself.
I long rise early with that flour and warmth
but Master has a man to help.
I return to dishes and peelings.
Tonight I workd my letters in a sampler 
A gift of thanks to my good lady and sir
who gives me a job, food, a safe home.

Master says we must off to bed.
I can hear him fixing the locks.
But he has not stoppd in the bake-hous. 
The cat purrs my name 
mongst my scraps of writing. 
Voices echo in Puddin Lane below.
London never sleeps. 

St Tenue, Mother of Glasgow

Remember me, a princess raped 
and thrown away again and again
for the shame of my swollen belly.
Twice condemned by my father to death,
my life begins anew as my chariot
tumbled down Dunpendyrlaw.
A survivor, I was called Witch, 
then abandoned to the Firth’s waves.
A shoal of fish silvers beneath my coracle,
washes me onto blessed shores 
to birth my son, my dear one, Mungo. 
I share your pain, my daughters 
beaten and branded, cast aside by men. 
Come, my hermitage, my arms offer shelter.
For centuries you visit my bones, 
my sacred well in my son’s green city,
leaving coins and rag wishes,
praying that I give you peace.
Even when I am gone, you will find me
in this cathedral of metal and glass,
beneath the modern trains’ roar.

Whisper my names they have buried,
Thaney, Theneva, Tannoch, Enoch.
Whisper to me, Mother.
I will lift you up
above the grinding heels of men,
you unbroken queens.

History of a Nesting Doll

Her first face, serene is stamped with flowers 
beneath time-yellowed paint, 
but her garish colours don’t match the interior.

A clichéd spinster librarian in the corner at parties,
1950s tight perm and chunky plastic jewellery,
spitting and muttering like her Siamese cat.

After death her story cracks open,
the early loss of her mother hollowed her out,
family shuffling in from next door to fill the gaps.

The details blur more on the next Matryoshka,
features cramped, eyes anxious to speak. 
A touch of a smile, her flushing cheeks.

Engaged to an unknown boy in WW2 
who didn’t return, she never dated again.
Discouraging other widows, she chided
that only one mate exists for each.

Her next expression holds the unsaid
behind pursed lips. The paint simplifies, 
spotted headscarf and one large, loose bloom.

Unearthed sepia snapshots with her father 
at US road-side attractions, Old Faithful, 
the biggest ball of string.
He bought the cars, she drove 
as her brother moved on to family of his own. 

The last three matrons are pared down, 
wood fading, fewer dots and colours 
on matronly aprons and kerchiefs. 
A beloved community soul, layers hidden. 

She paid for niblings’ educations,
took the grandkids to local pow-wows, 
feeding her love of turquoise with the hard beat 
of dancing feet, sweltering summer days. 

Trinkets of her solo trips packed in boxes; 
wooden shoes, a twisting Thai dancer 
and a Flamenco dance in a sweeping skirt.

Ten orders down, the smallest face 
speaks with black, 
depression, electro-shock therapy, 
slivers of her memory lost 
like the last doll,

an emptied space 
in her heart-centre. 

The Viking and The Maiden

No romance 
but the sagas sung 
in my head.

He was my warrior,
riding his motorcycle in the wind
like a longboat,
a stormy petrel.

We were young gods, 
revelling in the sauna heat
of the dark disco.

Awaiting his arrival,
I brushed off sailors like flies,
breath held. 
His oars rocked him in 
on a wave of girls
who knew the course he charted.

I lashed myself,
sweat-rich and wild,
to the mast of his bones,
riding my longing tide
to the songs of the mead-hall.

I was willing to throw
myself from his cliffs,
to dance with his shield maidens
in blood-lust and love
until I broke apart, 
timbers against his sword.

But he sensed 
I was not battle-ready 
and dropped his sails
to shelter me back 
to the hearth fires.

I stole a kiss
from his sand-dry lips.
as he returned 
to the pearling foam, 
my last sun-hope
snuffed out.


When she drifted loose-paged 
through the Idaho bookstore, 
I imagined Europe’s narrow streets 
followed at her heels. 

She could never blend
into this backwater town,
an exotic wind in the tilt of her eyes, 
her Mary Janes mirror-polished, 
her uncombed hair. 

She lived in sensuous melancholy, 
a spirit downcast by her own beauty. 

I wished to remain hidden near 
to catch her spark. 
Whispers followed her,
unemployed, unwed mother. 

I dream her face stares back 
through my window, 
a maria of the moon,
her dark, silent surface
hiding upheaval.

I long for her wide cheekbones 
to push me through the crowds.

Da Vinci’s La Scapigliata

She rises from the wood,
the earthy paint,
clear and bright.

Paused over something unseen,
needlework or a sleeping child,
a thought pulls her away
and lights her from within.

Soft notes unwind in her hair, 
the thread she’s following.

by painted background,
the strictures of fashion and time,
of man or home,
on her own she is raw,
falling loose.

Grace, not in her eyes
hooded and downcast, 
not in her smile.
La Serenissima.

Bio: Gerry Stewart is a poet, creative writing tutor and editor based in Finland. Her poetry collection Post-Holiday Blues was published by Flambard Press, UK. Totems is to be published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2022. Her writing blog can be found at and @grimalkingerry on Twitter.

2 poems about forgotten women by Gerry Stewart 


A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview & new poetry by Catfish McDaris

with Catfish McDaris

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences and who are your biggest influences today?

Catfish: I started writing in 1971, while in the army, mostly letters describing shooting cannons and visiting different countries in Europe. I just missed Vietnam and ended in Germany for almost 3 years. I am from New Mexico and have always loved Westerns, so Louis L’Amour influenced me, Ivanhoe, Steinbeck, Zola, Pearl Buck, Poe. Currently I read Tolkien, since our books are archived together at Marquette University. I love Bukowski, Jack Micheline, Seaborn Jones, Adrian C. Louis, and mostly poets and storytellers I’ve become acquainted with over the past 30 years of my writing.

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Catfish: My mother and grandmother believed I had talent and my wife, Aida of 38 years has put up with me vanishing into a tale or going out reading, now it’s the Zoom reading craze.

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing?

Catfish: My wife and daughter and writer friends.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?

Catfish: I grew up in Albuquerque and Clovis, New Mexico, but after the army moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I hitchhiked and rode freight trains across America and down into Mexico. When in Europe I was in the 1st Armored Calvary and when not playing war games against the USSR. I traveled mostly in West Germany and Amsterdam. I love Milwaukee and retired from the Main Post Office after 34 years, lots of excitement from workers going postal and bombs mailed to Jefferey Dahmer while he was in prison. I always miss the mountains and plains.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?

Catfish: I try to keep my next work my most meaningful, but my part in Prying in 97 with Bukowski and Jack Micheline was popular because of Buk and it is currently being reprinted in Germany by Newington Blue Press and another solo book: Valentina Mezcalito Blues is coming out soon from Laughing Ronin Press in Kentucky.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Catfish: I quit drinking and smoking weed 16 years ago. I do like strong coffee, nature walks, thinking of new writing ideas, being with my Mexican wife, people watching.

Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza from a writing of yours or others? Favorite artwork or music video?

Catfish: I did a tiny book called: Making Love to the Rain and I thought about farmers with hope in their eyes watching their crops grow. That’s always hit me hard. Favorite artwork would be damn near anything by Van Gogh or Frida Kahlo, I’ve written extensively about both. Music video is Red Hot Chili Peppers Hump de Bump.

Q8: What kind of music do you enjoy? Favorite musical artists, influences, songs that inspire?

Catfish: Well, I got to see Jimi Hendrix twice, Little Feat, now I like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joe Satriani, Kingfish Ingram, Gary Clark Jr.

Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?

Catfish: I mentioned my 2 books coming out. I’ll be Zoom reading Nov 3rd for Montgomery College, MD at an English 101 class my little chap called The Impala and maybe Cobalt from Prying and at Wounded Knee, SD probably some Frida Kahlo poems. Lots of stuff always come along, remember what’s on Buk’s tombstone “Don’t Try”.

Bonus Q: Are there any funny memories that you can recall during your writing/creative journey?

Catfish: There was a local music/reading long ago in the gay district of Milwaukee. I was reading with a sax player, named Big Frank, we had each other’s six. His warning for danger was he’d start playing Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. The Emcee was a guy with a dark beard wearing a wedding dress. He had a briefcase of fake $3’s after every performer read or played their instrument, he handed them a stack of money. This handsome blonde man kept staring at me rather strangely. After we did most of our thing, I grabbed the case and threw all the money in the air, people were squealing and jumping, but not blondie, Big Frank hit Take Five. He pulled his 357 from his horn case as blondie grabbed a handful of fucking chapbooks. We split posthaste. A month later the cops caught Dahmer, after he’d eaten most of 21 men. The cops came knocking at my apartment, they found 3 of my books at Dahmer’s house. I let them search, even the freezer. Sick huh?

Poetry by Catfish McDaris:

The Monster

In three days, I see
a new doctor
maybe he can help me

I’ll try to explain
the anxiety and panic

How I’m paralyzed by fear

How prayer doesn’t seem
to be the cure

How I wonder if God
has turned His back on me

How no one seems
to understand the terror

How I love my family
but even their love
can’t stop the monster.

Graveyard Stew

My grandparents lived in the
Panhandle of Texas, there were
guns in every room because of
a long-ago feud that resulted
in prison time for my grandpa

We’d eat white bread with sugar
and milk called graveyard stew
and sleep in the mule barn guest

Room, grandpa would wash his
face with pumice soap to try and
remove the carbon black from work

They’d drink home brew on weekends
one night granny threw her tit over
her shoulder and her prune nipple

Hit grandpa in the eye, she started
laughing when he yelled and fell out
of his chair and shit his pants.

The Desert

Cochise’s dry hot tears
skeletons of buffalo
windstorm ghosts dry death.

Heat waves dance in dearth
forests are matchsticks waiting
animals on edge.

The heat of summer
beckons fireflies to sparkle
crisp plants beg for rain.

There But For the Grace of God

The Honduran immigrant
staggered into the meeting
speaking only Spanish, he
said he needed help

His entire body was shaking
from alcohol withdrawals, I’d
seen men like him, near death
some recovered, he sweated
out a pure booze stench

One hundred people prayed
for him, he died before midnight

It took Jose twelve years to
find his family in Chicago
and give them some closure.

Bio: Catfish McDaris is an aging New Mexican living near Milwaukee. He has four walls, a ceiling, heat, food, a woman, one cat, a daughter, a typing machine, and a mailbox. That’s enough for him. He writes for himself and sometimes he gets lucky and someone publishes his words. He remains his biggest fan. He’s been sliding in the shadows of the small press for 30 years. Catfish McDaris won the Thelonius Monk Award. His work is at the Special Archives Collection at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is listed in Wikipedia. His ancestors were related to Wilma Mankiller from the Cherokee Nation. He’s on vacation from selling wigs in a dangerous neighborhood in Milwaukee. Van Gogh and Catfish were both born in ’53 and Vincent died on his birthday July 29th. Cat’s hometown is Clovis, New Mexico, Gauguin’s father and son were named Clovis.

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