IHLR 2023 PhotoFinish

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Leslie Jill Patterson Fiction Editor

Marcus Burke Poetry Editor

Geoffrey Davis Nonfiction Editor

Elena Passarello Managing Editors



Emma Aylor Jennessa Hester Josh Luckenbach Bibianna Ossai


Cover Photo: jou Copyright © 2023 Iron Horse Literary Review. All rights reserved. Iron Horse Literary Review is a national journal of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. IHLR publishes three print issues and three electronic issues per year, at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, through the support of the TTU President’s Office, Provost’s Office, Graduate College, College of Arts & Sciences, and English Department.






Grounding / MAGS DIEP

Dragon Nature / THUY DINH

Circus Burst / OAK MORSE

Kinda Sonnet #7 / SEAN CHO A.

4 9 17 21


In the Woods / ADAM STRAUS

it was a child’s war— / HALEY BOSSÉ

Cast Figures / NOAH THOMAS

Self-Portrait with Drought / AIMEE R. CERVENKA

The Year of Living Dangerously / SUSAN CARROLL JEWELL

24 31 41 43 48 50 WINNER


Shadow Stories / AIMEE LABRIE




e chose this year’s PhotoFinish prompt because it suggested the idea of play and childhood, and we knew in May that, after several years of isolation, we’d spend the latter half of 2023 celebrating what felt like a return to community and joy. We began the fall production season with our annual themed issue, focusing on parties—Rave, office, holiday, Tupperware, weddings, and even festivities in the natural world. Afterward, we finished and released the 2023 IHLR Chapbook winner, Maxwell Suzuki’s Bust of an Athlete, a collection of poems jubilant with love and longing. Our PhotoFinish submitters surprised us though, as they always do. We see one narrative in the photo prompt; other poets, essayists, and storytellers see another. We certainly received our fair share of manuscripts with puppet shows center-stage, but the best submissions turned the puppets to metaphors, strings attached or cut, the power of women, and moms and dads saving or destroying their children. The shadow figures became costumes or cave drawings or IRL caterpillars and hikers. Many writers saw campfires though there wasn’t one in the picture. Others saw environmental catastrophe and an apocalyptic future in the photo’s dusty tones and the implication of that innocent age before we understood where we were headed. And still others envisioned what we did—not a literal puppet show, but an energetic hoopla generated by people happy to be together and sharing tales. Ultimately, this year’s winner saw the power of storytelling in the photo—the stories we shouldn’t tell, the stories we can’t forget, the stories that embody home and who we are.




This issue is one of the most enjoyable we produce all year. It’s filled with surprise and the power of imagination, and every year, our submitters rise to the occasion. We hope you enjoy it with us, this midnight on New Year’s Eve. Share it with friends. And students. And next May, look for the posting of the 2024 photo prompt on our website and social media, and join us in our ekphrastic writing exercise. LESLIE JILL PATTERSON EDITOR

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Photo Credit: Johanna Altmann


don’t think her feet touched earth all summer. She got us to carry her down the cliff path to the beach on her litter every morning so she could watch us horsing around in the waves, but she never even put her toes in the sand. Just once, one evening, I poured a bag of beach sand into a bowl so she could wriggle her toes in it. But her feet were so tender, so white, the skin so thin, her toe bones poked through. She kept them tucked inside her bobbly knitted socks after that. She was our puppeteer all summer, MAGS DIEP dancing us on long chords, orchestrating our frolic, as if by going backstage she could trick us into thinking we could do it on our own. Our father was not there. “Work,” she said, her smile etched on with cruelty-free lip-stain. I watched her trick the blood back along the thin scars where her smile still cut through, watched her paint her cheek hollows and plaster over the darkness under her eyes. She wouldn’t wear a wig. She said she could finally use all those Italian silk scarves my father gave her each Christmas.



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She rented that cottage on the cliffs so we could all be together—the aunts and cousins, the grandparents, her best friend. We had unbirthdays every day, woke up to Christmas stockings, played at graduations, staged mock weddings. We gorged on pavlovas and gooseberry fool, and had prosecco high teas in bone china every afternoon. She organized picnics, egg-andspoon races, croquet, treasure hunts, talent shows. Through it all, she sat blanket-covered on the porch swing, wearing a quiet, watching smile. Hovering, hovering. Every night, the crickets scythed their songs under warm beating stars, the scent of honeysuckle and jasmine flavored the

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scorched sugar scoffed around the firepit, and we sang songs and took turns remembering all our togethers, while our shadows performed in the arrhythmia of the firelight. On the last day, she gave out all her jewelry, gave me her engagement ring. “It was my happiest time,” she said, her voice froggy. The others laughed and hooted, clapped and cheered, as my cousins played their latest ditty on their fiddles. I watched the tilt of her head, heard the shallow sigh of her breaths, and counted my heartbeats, wishing, wishing hers could keep up with them, hoping, hoping the strings that held her aloft would stay taut just a little longer.



Mags Diep

ou must think you’re clever, as you’ve managed to learn Vietnamese beyond restaurant-order level. To raise my hackles, you’d conflate hỏa long, the word for “fire dragon,” with khủng long, which means “dinosaur” but implies the looming, terrorizing shadow of a harridan. You keep saying you feel suffocated living with a tyrant queen who takes up so much space and how there were amazing women in your past who knew just how to take care of you. We’ve been fighting a lot; we were truly miserable during our last holiday. How right my mother is. She thinks you have cataracts in both eyes, metaphorically speaking. On our last night in Penang, we were exhausted THUY DINH and hungry from fighting, so I suggested stopping by a food shack near the beach, where they sold cold beer and delicious popiah filled with Chinese sausage, dry shrimp, scrambled eggs, and toasted jicama—lingam nourishment that might bring back memories of our happier days. On the way there, I began telling you about my childhood, how, each year, for the Mid-Autumn Festival, my parents would buy me an animalshaped lantern with a built-in candle for me to light at dusk so we could join the annual neighborhood parade. One year, I had a fire dragon lantern, shiny red with white and gold scales on cellophane skin over an S-shaped bamboo frame, in the very act of transforming from a carp to a spectacular beast! You were getting impatient with my story. I explained the dragon lantern had been so gorgeous and magical that I had no choice but to set it on fire at the end of the festival.


Dragon Nature



Thuy Dinh

At that moment, if you remember, we came across a clearing with children waving cardboard animals on sticks and jumping up and down in front of a hanging bedsheet. Someone’s dad must have been hiding behind the sheet with a flashlight to create this improvised show. A serious, round-faced toddler was trying to make his paper T. rex leap over a Mesozoic swamp. I said the scene made me think of the opening in Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously, but you just cut me off with a comment about the hot weather, and how everything smelled, which was when I understood that the paltry husk of your impaired vision would never be able to behold my glorious, rampaging presence.

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Circus Burst OAK MORSE Calling all poems.

May all the little poems

into fiery graffiti

ricochet into a rowdy rock & b concert.

Fragment the cosmos to lay down Slip out

of the land spiral

with a warped tiara & a jagged tooth. with Plain Jane

Who told you

in an old Victorian home?

skinny dip across a sunrise. So many smoky stars exist

take a reach

beyond the realm

of imagination

saw off the buttons

on your collar shirt

the moon wants to give you a lap dance.

Too often

your sweet subjects tip-toe

So, jimmy the window

bigger than Goliath

camp out

puppet straps.

Nibble on narcotics on a yacht with lunatics

scat Mama Said Knock You Out to a ladybug.

Oh, super simple.

on the edge of mercy

Just grow guts

with a flask of whiskey

then prance down to the cemetery sling glitter on who you

used to be. Say it with me!

around rich wildness.

to beamy creatives unhook your

Hopscotch atop a trap house.

& dull repellent

if you plea not to

Poems can’t boom without electricity.

From now on we’re part color &


widely uncontainable!


Oak Morse

Kinda Sonnet #7 SEAN CHO A.

all the cave paintings have a hero. all the heroes have a spear. big furred thumbless beasts. in their story the trees stop growing. what then?

* before In the beginning: not a long silence. but. a series of unobtainable silence. not unobtainable. just inscrutable.

* Scribble scrabble dibble dabble does the animator. I’ve done a lot of turns not too many just many wrong ones.

* an apple surrounded many other apples in the orchard. on trees of course. over the course of time the only truth is spring. the repetition. sprung? sprang? Back to sleep says the groundhog.



Sean Cho A.

elska DEANIE VALLONE january is bittersweet, leaving black licorice on your tongue. everything from so far north carries an aftertaste of that divine isolation. mondays could be saturdays could be eons ago, before everything i, before i could see you on flickering blue screens. back when we spoke to each other in shadow play, had to inscribe love notes on whale bone, dug holes with our hands to bury time. back when we put black licorice in everything so when we sat lonesome januarys, thousands of miles apart by dark and ice, we could still taste each other’s mouths.

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n those trips, Dad was demanding in a way you’d come to cherish. The exhortations to hike faster and carry more and cry less were easy proof that someone, at least, was paying attention. Those were the golden years: post-divorce, meaning no more waking up to breaking plates at 3 AM, but before the work accident and ensuing opiate spiral, meaning Dad was still Dad. When you arrived at boot camp, the drill instructors reminded you of the golden years. Everyone else shrank from their attentions, but you almost loved it when they corrected your slouch with a swift punch to the ribs. Your posture mattered to them. Even that was important. ADAM STRAUS One of the rules was that your pack had to weigh more than 35 pounds. There was a hanging scale at the trailhead, and if it was light, Dad would pile in pebbles from the parking lot until he was pleased with the needle’s progress. Another rule was no stopping unless on a summit, but even with this rule, you’d reach the campsite perilously late, flirting with the sunset that turned the wooded trail’s roots and rocks into legitimate hazards. You called them land mines in your head and avoided them for fun, hopping from sore foot to sore foot. This was 2002, when a generation of eight-yearolds didn’t yet know to fear IEDs.


In the Woods



Adam Straus

Dad would stake the tent’s four corners in the failing light. Afterwards, a rudimentary puppet show, illuminated against the tent’s canvas. Dad considered himself handy and took pride in fashioning dinosaurs, caterpillars, and stick figures from scraps of birch bark he found on the ground. The shows were moralizing and dull: the caterpillar that kept crawling, the dinosaur that survived, the stick figure that kept hiking. Their real contribution came years later when your squad chose “Master of Puppets” as the pre-mission pump-up song for your Afghan deployment. In the musty platform tent you called home for seven months, Metallica tied everything together, made it hyper-literal in a way that suited the melodrama of war.



Adam Straus

The puppet show was not the main event of the evening, though. Dad’s big thing was seeing the Milky Way. This, he felt, was how you knew you were really out there, away from the city where Mom was making you soft with soccer and pasteurized milk. No matter how late the moon set, no matter how early you’d gotten up for the drive that morning, no matter how exhausted from the long trudge, you had to stay awake to see the Milky Way. Those nights made even Afghanistan feel familiar: sitting alert and exhausted in the dirt, watching the moon erase the stars in its path, thinking your past made you capable of at least imagining what was to come. Being wrong.



Adam Straus

it was a child’s war— HALEY BOSSÉ

shadow hands hoisting shadowed puppets high enough to shoot out limbs, to germinate creation and do battle, tangle arms, to teach each other how a body sprouts and multiplies, and after all it was a child’s war and so, of course, the coming of the call, the echo off the ladder, the rattle of the attic with the time to come to dinner, the busy clutch of hands tasked with unimagining, with stashing things in safety in the basement of a suitcase, with turning heads to glowing dustfall and waiting out the coming of the world anew.



Haley Bossé


am s like mile in his h I reme eyes r white f skin. Th with m shade played screen sters lo


ast Figures NOAH THOMAS

skin. No, I was skin. Rolled out and tightened, my corners set in the ground tent pegs, and I still cannot wiggle free despite that my skin is gone. I am s in myself. I can loosely see the light of the sun above me; my father, the belt hand, looks like a puppet. I am dreaming. I am remembering. I am a ghost? ember, no, I am here, all these years later. The tent pegs in my shoulders, my olled into a cringe, and I cannot feel the pain then: droplets falling down fabric. But I feel them now, through the thin sheet of my memory, felt on my his is where it has gone. Donna, my therapist, holds my hand, and my skin is me. They are here, the memories playing on the light of my skin, casting s I promised myself to never remember. I see them all now, the games I d on myself, the rules I constructed on the spot, and how far I went from my n, from my skin. If only I touch it now, will the light grow brighter, and the monose their terror? Or will it all fall apart? My skin again, me.



Noah Thomas

Self-Portrait with Drought AIMEE R. CERVENKA In the dark we drew comfort from the whispers of others, though their words were meaningless to our ears. We put fingers in our mouths and imagined their hunger, sharp and bright as an unripe melon. We climbed every tree that summer, singing a song even the frogs had forgotten. Our bodies were hollow with unnamed desire and, somewhere, a memory of plenty. Brambles grasped our clothes and our skin as we reached again and again, picking the sun-ripened fruit until we bled.

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The Year of Living Dangerously SUSAN CARROLL JEWELL In the movie version, Billy Kwan speaks of wayang, the shadow puppetry of Java. “You must watch their shadows, not the puppets,” he says. The dark shapes are souls with prescient stories. On Earth’s hottest day, I walk dry rivers flooded with shadows, spirits caught in a flux of contradictions, flailing arms like flying crabs,

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dinosaurs roaming deserts, the umbra of dead seas, a haze of smoke clouds like desire. I smell something red. In the years we lived so dangerously, sun split our skin, rain swallowed our machines and tall buildings. Storytelling survives in constellations and full moons. The planet spins, and my shadow circles the edges of the mulberry paper.



Susan Carroll Jewell

hen I was a little girl, my mother and I lived with my grandpa and grandma on a farm in a small town in Giltner, Nebraska, population 213. When he learned of my mom’s pregnancy, my father, Butch Barnason, drove to Colorado and joined the rodeo, never to be seen again. My mother had one picture of Butch, a square snapshot that curled up at the ends. He’s sitting on my grandparents’ living room sofa, a crucifix behind his head. The photographer captured some of my dad, but most of the picture is taken up by the flat sole of his shoe. We were an anxious family. My mother was one of ten children who survived childhood and three others who did not. The dogs got hit by pickups. The cows and pigs were bred for slaughter and Sunday dinner. The cats lived in the barn rafters—feral, spitting creatures who puffed up if you got too AIMEE LABRIE close. One year, an infection took its toll, and they died in batches, strewn across the yellow grass near the haystack. My mom drove me to Walgreens in Lincoln while my grandpa shoveled up the bodies and burned them in an oil drum. The chickens my grandpa bought went into a pen near the garage. They were meringue white with brown speckles. My grandma gave me seed to scatter for them. I liked how they pecked in the dirt, with one eye watching. I wanted to touch their feathers but couldn't get close to them. Then, one night, a sound like a woman screaming. At breakfast, a single word between my grandma and grandpa: “Weasels.”


Shadow Stories

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Often, my mother would say, “I shouldn’t tell you this.” “It’s okay,” I’d reply. I was always telling her things were okay. In her dream, she sees her mother by the sink, tears running down her face. She asks her what is wrong. Her mother looks up. She’s wearing a bright yellow apron with tiny blue flowers on it. “Oh, honey, we were so hungry,” she says, turning the handle of the meat grinder. My mother sees that she’s taken a hatchet to the littlest brother, Jeff, and is mincing him into hamburger patties. My mother also liked to tell the story of the boy in her class who pulled a dresser on himself and stopped growing. And about her brother Tim’s best friend, Benny Butler, who dove into the chilly water of a pond and never resurfaced. Or the boy who climbed up the ladder of a grain elevator and fell in—his mouth, I imagined, filled with corn kernels when he screamed. The nun who came home for Christmas, took a ride on the back of a John Deere tractor, and snapped her neck when her habit caught in the wheels. The missing girl. The boiled baby. The man down the road with a hole where his nose should be. My heart craves these stories. They remind me of home.



Aimee LaBrie

Contributors SEAN CHO A. is the author of American Home (Autumn House, 2021), winner of the Autumn House Press Chapbook Prize. His work can be found or ignored in Black Warrior Review, Copper Nickel, Prairie Schooner, and The Massachusetts Review, among others. Sean is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of California–Irvine and a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati. He is Editorin-Chief of The Account. About his poem “Kinda Sonnet #7,” he writes, “This piece comes out of a larger sequence in which I was interested in the effects and ethics of animating landscapes.”

HALEY BOSSÉ (they/them) is a queer, non-binary writer and early childhood educator. Their recently published poems can be found in Strange Horizons, All My Relations, Full House Literary, Poetry as Promised, and en*gendered. Find Haley on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @TalkingHyphae or on their knees, teaching young children how to blow their noses. As a preschool teacher, Bossé spends most afternoons talking to young children about life and death: “The poem ‘it was a child’s war—’ emerged as I reflected on dramatic play happening in my preschool classroom at the start of the the war in Ukraine. Knowing that young children use play to process what they don’t understand, I listened as the three- and four-year-olds tried to make sense of the information they had taken in from overheard conversations and surreptitious bouts of screen time. This poem also represents my practice of writing to figure out how to be alive in this world.

AIMEE R. CERVENKA is a writer, climate activist, and professional baker. Her poetry has appeared in more than a dozen publications, including Poet Lore, Slab, and Ascent, and she won the 2022 Briefly Write Poetry Prize. She is also the author of

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the micro-collection (Not Quite) Political Animals (Rinky Dink Press, 2023). She currently lives in Spokane, Washington. About her poem “Self-Portrait with Drought,” Cervenka writes, “My reaction to the photo prompt progressed rather quickly from one of innocence and play to one of unsettled darkness, which is how I entered the poem, quite literally. From there, it was natural to place one of my own childhood memories into a sort of imagined future-scape informed by our climate reality, which at the time of writing was quite apparent to me in the numerous fires, storms, heat waves, etc., occurring around the world and close to home.”

MAGS DIEP was born in Africa, grew up in the mining towns of Australia, and now lives in the North of England. She spent many years traveling and even more years at home, educating her children. She discovered flash fiction when her last child went to secondary school, and she became addicted to its brevity and urgency. With no fixed sense of earthly belonging, she “writes” her place in the way a child creates a den. Her favorite book is the Bible. About her story “Grounding,” Diep notes, “The photo prompt this year had such a joyful largeness, its figures so playful, fantastic, and whimsical, that I couldn’t get past it. It had the presence of a campfire community, a primordial Plato’s Cave, shadows and all, and it made me think of all the ties that bind us to place, to friends and family, and, indeed, to life. The idea of someone’s last days—how they might enact their bucket list—spun out of that. Having struggled with my own mental and physical health after my last child was born, I am conscious of the irony of trying to live and be present even as you are robbed of the energy necessary for those two things. I am conscious also of the tensions between staying aloft and being floored, of struggling for control but accepting the ultimate loss of it. The child’s voice is very much me coming to terms with the darkness surrounding those brief figures dancing in the light.”

THUY DINH is a literary translator, Coeditor of the Vietnamese webzine Da Màu, and Editor-at-Large for the Vietnamese Diaspora at Asymptote Journal. Her essays and poetry translations have appeared in Asymptote, Manoa, Michigan



Quarterly Review, NBC Think, NPR Books, Prairie Schooner, and Rain Taxi Review of Books, among others. Her co-translation of the selected poetry of Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ, entitled Green Rice(Curbstone Press, 2005), was nominated for the Kiriyama Prize in 2006. In her flash fiction “Dragon Nature,” Dinh refers explicitly to Peter Weir’s film The Year of Living Dangerously (1982): “Its opening scene depicting the Javanese wayang kulit, or shadow play, seems to mirror this year’s photo prompt on ways of seeing and reenacting reality. The notion of shadow implies anguish, dream, and subjectivity. The speaker in ‘Dragon Nature’ sees herself and the world in epic, mythical proportions, to counter her lover’s ‘impaired vision’ that can’t appreciate her larger-than-life presence. In addition, Julio Cortázar’s short story ‘Blow Up’ (‘Las Babas Del Diablo’), in which the narrator is both spectator and participant of the framed reality in question, serves my implicit ‘ghostly’ inspiration.”

SUSAN CARROLL JEWELL lives and writes in Upstate New York. Her poetry can be found in many fine journals, including Rattle, Cultural Daily, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Midwest Quarterly, and Comstock Review. She has earned degrees from Keuka College, the University of Virginia, and the University at Albany. Jewell is legally blind from degenerative myopia, which has slowed but not stopped her. When the 2023 PhotoFinish prompt was released, Jewell thought of Peter Weir’s film The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), from which she borrows her poem’s title: “‘If you want to understand Java,’ Billy Swan says in the film, ‘you have to understand the wayang.’ Shadow puppet theater has been a form of storytelling in Indonesia since the first century. The PhotoFinish prompt seems to show a human in pursuit of a crab chasing a centipede following the angels of dinosaurs—the story of evolution and extinction on parade. The souls of living things circle the heavens like on a wayang screen. Earth exists without us. This is our story if we continue to live dangerously.”

AIMEE LABRIE’s short stories have appeared in the Minnesota Review, StoryQuarterly, Cimarron Review, Pleiades, Beloit Fiction Journal, and Permafrost Magazine. They are anthologized in A Darker Shade of Noir, edited by Joyce Carol

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Oates; Fractured Lit Anthology, Vol. 3; and Philadelphia Noir. Her second short story collection, Rage and Other Cages, won the Leapfrog Global Fiction Contest and was published in December 2023. In 2007, her first short story collection, Wonderful Girl, was awarded the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and was published by the University of North Texas Press. Her short fiction has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize. LaBrie teaches undergraduate creative writing for Rutgers Writers House and works as a senior program administrator for the English Department. She lives in Cranbury, New Jersey. “Shadow Stories” is a response to a friend’s question about why LaBrie is fascinated with darker stories: “Being from the Midwest, so much of what you learn quickly is how many ways you can get hurt or killed or paralyzed—don’t jump into that pond, stay away from those cows, look out for coral snakes—and I was raised on stories of tragedy related to the landscape. We never could keep a dog alive on the farm longer than a couple of years. My stories now all have that undercurrent of anxiety, and this one was a cataloguing of the stories I heard before I turned five.”

OAK MORSE lives in Houston, Texas, where he teaches creative writing and theater and leads a youth poetry troupe, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters. He was the winner of the 2017 Magpie Award for Poetry in Pulp Literature, a finalist for the 2023 Honeybee Poetry Award, and a semifinalist for the 2020 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. A Warren Wilson MFA graduate, Morse has received Pushcart Prize nominations; fellowships from Brooklyn Poets, Twelve Literary Arts, and Cave Canem’s Starshine and Clay; as well as a Stars in the Classroom honor from the Houston Texans. His work appears in Black Warrior Review, Obsidian, Tupelo Quarterly, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Nimrod, Terrain.org, and Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, among others. For Morse, poetry allows for expression, confrontation, and excavation of what he might not be able to dig up otherwise: “Amiri Baraka said that ‘Poems are bullshit unless they are / teeth,’ so lately I’ve worked to write with more bite, more teeth, about poetic conditions and themes that subvert traditional subject matters often found in poems. In ‘Circus Burst,’ my goal was to broaden the horizon



of what a poem can be. Through this, I learned that embracing the uncommon is paramount; a line from a mantra my poetry students recite, ‘Kneel away from the norm,’ encourages them to write and tell stories different from others. Besides, what is normal anyway? So, in the poem you will find a list of out-of-the-box examples of what a poem could dare to be about. In that, I tried to draw up the beauty—visually, sonically, emotionally—that gives light to the otherwise mystified opportunities.”

ADAM STRAUS is a Marine veteran. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, The Hopkins Review, The Los Angeles Review, Pithead Chapel, JMWW, trampset, and elsewhere. Straus holds an MFA from Rutgers–Camden. About his story “In the Woods,” Straus writes: “I’m a highly literal person, so when the photo struck me as a puppet show viewed through tent canvas, that’s where the story went. I thought of my own experiences hiking and camping as a kid (much more pleasant than the ones described here; thanks, Dad) and the ways in which I remember imagining myself into military service while in the woods. The switch to second person was one of the last things I did: I was in my ‘read aloud’ stage of revisions, and the story just didn’t sound right in third. Second person gave the sentences a new rhythm.”

NOAH THOMAS is a mental health counseling student in New Orleans. His writing has appeared in Ekstasis. He has three guinea pigs and an intemperate cat named Boba. Thomas’s story “Cast Figures” recalls the stories of clients he has seen: “The prompt led me into the phantasmagoria, lit by the courage so many show in therapy, that often comes with trauma work. I have found myself transposed across physicality and time by the deep stories in others’ lives, and I can always sense the bright—perhaps terrifying—something behind the surface of memories and moments. The prompt reminded me of this visceral, kaleidoscopic incarnation of the self in trauma.”

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DEANIE VALONE is is a writer and theater-maker based in Wisconsin. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Wisconsin Review, Booth, Star*line, Sundog Lit, Arboreal Magazine, Jumeirah Magazine, Vocivia Magazine, and elsewhere. In 2022, she won First Place for Poetry in the Midwest Writing Center’s Iron Pen Competition. In her free time, she trains birds of prey and brews beer (though not at the same time, for safety reasons). Follow her writing adventures on Instagram: @seedeanwrite. Vallone writes that her poem “elska” began while looking at the prompt photo: “I was overcome with this deep, almost inexplicable feeling that the world around the shadow puppeteers had fallen away. That it was a sort of timebefore-time or time-out-of-time, and these people were making art together in this unknown landscape. The photo evoked for me this idea that storytelling can be, in its most essential form, just bodies and voices and imagination. That we can make art and forge bonds and share the deepest parts of ourselves with the simplest of means. That we as a species have always been storytellers, from the very beginning of time, and no matter what happens in the future, we will continue to tell stories. At the same time, I’d been thinking of a trip I took almost a decade ago to Iceland. The land and its history are extraordinary, and I remember experiencing that same feeling that the world had disappeared and all that was left was this island. All of these ideas came together in the creation of ‘elska,’ which means ‘to love’ in Old Norse. ‘elska’ draws on this idea of yearning, of how we reach each other across continually shifting time and space to share community and stories and, especially, love.”



Iron Horse Literary Review would like to thank its supporters, without whose generous help we could not publish Iron Horse successfully. In particular, we would like to thank our benefactors and equestrian donors. If you would like to join our network of friends, please contact us at ihlr.mail@gmail.com for information on the various levels of support. Benefactors ($300) Wendell Aycock Lon and Carol Baugh Beverly and George Cox Sam Dragga Madonne Miner Gordon Weaver Equestrian ($3,000 and above) in memory of Charles Patterson TTU English Department, Chair Michael Faris TTU College of Arts & Sciences, Dean Tosha Dupras TTU Graduate School, Dean Mark Sheridan TTU Provost’s Office, Provost Ronald L. Hendrick TTU President’s Office, President Lawrence Schovanec


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