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2015 Photo Finish


Leslie Jill Patterson Nonfiction Editor

Dennis Covington Poetry Editor

Carrie Jerrell Assistant Editor & Fiction Editor

Literary Review

Katie Cortese

Managing Editors

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January 2016

Joe Dornich Sarah Viren

Associate Editors:

Chad Abushanab, Kathleen Blackburn, Margaret Emma Brandl, Chase Dearinger, Allison Donahue, Nimi Finnigan, Meg Gabbert, Jo Anna Gaona, Micah Heatwole, Caleb Humphreys, Mark L. Keats, Brian Larsen, Rhonda Lott, Beth McKinney, Scott Morris, Brent Newsom, Katrina Prow, MacKenzie Regier, Jerry Staley, and Robby Taylor.

Copyright © 2016 Iron Horse Literary Review. All rights reserved. Iron Horse Literary Review is a national journal of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It is published six times a year at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, through the support of the TTU President’s Office, Provost’s Office, Graduate College, and College of Arts & Sciences.

2015 Photo Finish


Photo Finish Issue | 2015

Winning Selection Jailhouse Rock


Margie Kivel

Fiction My Heart Is a Lump of Fried Dough Waiting to Be Formed Clowns When There’s Nobody There Carnival

Poetry The Belly of Spring Amusement Park in Winter (pointy hats do not make the man) I See What We Must Become Popped Hot Air Balloon, and Suckers


2 5 8 11 3 4 7 10 12

Melissa Reddish Siân Griffiths Lee Waxenberg Barbara Harroun

Michelle Lyle Marie Chambers Anna Scotti Gerard Sarnat

Jailhouse Rock

Margie Kivel

Shifty Henry said to Bugs, “For Heaven’s sake no one’s lookin’, now’s our chance to make a break….”

Lined up like magpies, maws ajar, waiting for the first toss with the painted-eye stare of the queued—that hungry wait of the imprisoned, in their I-don’t-care look and hands hanging loose on the window, ready for the pipe of forgetfulness. Lined up in their yellow-green tops and cog-wheel collars, curved in to crimp if heads try to leave, their Tin Man caps and smeared, blood-red grins that wear like Botox—they’re caught in the video, leaning to the left leaning to the left to catch the doomsayer’s last eat-my-words throw. A few yellow shirts not enough of a prize to raise the ante in the hardball game of doing time—it’s all plastic doll heads from here on out.

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fter too many months of folding napkins into the shape of sadness (otherwise known as Endless Shrimp), it’s time for an afternoon with a little bounce in it. I decide to find my ex-lover. I met him at a carnival one summer in the abandoned parking lot of the old mall. He was one of the teenagers running the Tilt-AWhirl. For a bite of my cotton candy, he would give the ride a little extra tilt and a whole lot of whirl. We made out behind the porta potties, trying not to swoon under the fog of so many simple carbohydrates breaking down. I asked him what his hopes and dreams were, and he made a spinning motion with his finger. By that, I understood he wanted me to lift up my shirt, but there were so many fathers walking around, I was afraid one of them might reach into my chest and steal my soul. So we both settled for mashing our eyeballs together while adults pretended not to notice. I’m not sure of his name or where he’s from or even what he looks like anymore, so finding him might take some moxie. The old mall parking lot is mostly empty except for kids with fake graffiti Melissa Reddish T-shirts and fake graffiti skateboards and fake graffiti attitudes. I send up a smoke flare filled with throbbing reds and billowing yellows to remind him of the molded plastic backdrop of our tryst. One of the kids rolls by and yells, Merry Christmas, motherfucker, which for them is pretty close to human speech. I consider stuffing the leftover flares down his pants and watching him erupt in a spectacle of light, but the other kids would probably make me their queen or something, and I don’t need that kind of stress right now. I leave the remaining flares in the shape of an anatomically correct heart, hoping if my ex-lover stops by, he’ll read between the lines.

My Heart Is a Lump of Fried Dough Waiting to Be Formed


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The Belly of Spring Michelle Lyle

Rationalization is quaint and useless, like rigged carnival games you can never win. In the field out past the Tilt-A-Whirl, seeds stir dark and dainty, sucking down daminozide like teens at bottles of Boone’s Farm. Sloppy roots forget what to say, twist signals and pop up in the circle of our flashlight, confusing it for the sun. Exposed like tadpoles in a koi pond, we crush the innocent mistake with what we think is love.

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Amusement Park in Winter (pointy hats do not make the man)

Marie Chambers

Every idea is a disco song on Fire Island where the boy toys line up rainbow chests splayed open neon on parade heads tipped right left center voguing in demi-profile to outmaneuver the shadows of a December sun. I cannot remember the year you died only that we came here where these heartless Gameboy wannabes still sing.


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he last time I saw my father, he was aiming ping-pong balls at the mouths of plastic clowns in the hopes of winning a large red rabbit. Roberta jumped against his shoulder, her boobs bouncing like beach balls inside her lime-green tube top. Daddy had left three weeks earlier to pick up some ice cream, and only later did we find out that he’d picked up the neighbor’s wife instead. Even at nine, I knew better than to hope to see either of them again, so when I did, everything gained a kind of magic. In the light August rain, the carnival rabbits leered with demented grace. It was a night for coincidence and disappointment. I’d like to say that, all those years ago, I wanted my daddy’s love more than any prize, but the truth is, I wanted a bunny that would dwarf the stuffed bears and puppies filling my bed. I’d sleep with it as a pillow, my head resting in its sexless crotch. By then, I knew that a rabbit was more dependable than a man’s attention. My college suitemate never learned a thing about love, which is her problem. Gretel thought that if she just opened her mouth into a wide enough O, she’d win any guy whose balls dropped in. She thought that about Tony, submitting to him over and over. Even with all her paint—the mascara, the shadow, the lipstick—she never realized that Siân Griffiths she was the clown in this metaphor until the night she caught Tony and me in the back of his pre-owned Lexus, him going to town between my legs and me arching up to meet his mouth so that neither of us noticed her. Gretel flung the door nearly off its hinges. My head hit the doorframe, and it took a minute for the clouds to clear before I saw the tears splitting cracks through her foundation. I didn’t mean to hurt her. I really didn’t. I didn’t mean for her to ever know. But she came to college to learn, and I guess she learned all right. Tony wasn’t a prize either but more like a nickel ride, good for a few laughs. I haven’t seen Gretel since that night. She screamed at me to get the hell out of the house, but I’m not the going type. Maybe some day Gretel’s road will cross with my daddy’s—that’d be rich. One of life’s ironies, right? He’ll have been through several sluts since I saw him last, because you can’t help your nature. Gretel is exactly his cup of tea: one of those hollow-eyed, skinny girls who can’t ever find love. I’d like to think that the lesson I taught her will stick, but maybe some lessons are just like the rain was that night, sliding down the cheeks of all those hopeful and pathetic clowns.


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Iron Horse Literary Review

I See What We Must Become Anna Scotti

—but where is the soul of the bear dressed in a soiled tutu and where is the soul of the elephant that danced for peanuts and oranges, that wept at the snap of the prod—yes, wept. All mothers can. And where is the soul of the dog that loped behind the wagon, so willing to forgive, so sure of misunderstanding, and what of the souls of the girls, dazzled by sequins and spangles, who sweated beneath the roustabouts, and where are the beaten horses, the lizards pinned to cardigans, and where is the soul of the tiger that leapt through a ring of fire; I see where our souls must go, but where is the soul of the tiger?

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y father was Gene Kelly singing in the rain. He showed me how to make a four-foot spray of water with a single puddle jump that could wash away every neighborhood kid in a wave of dirty water. Then my father was Kyle Reese in The Terminator, whose absence was necessary to save all future generations from a pre-programmed demise. My father had a short-lived stint as that faceless, gray-legged umpire who stood behind Marty Barrett when Jesse Orosco struck him out and gave the Mets the final win in the 1986 World Series. When I turned twelve, my father morphed into one of the laughing clowns in the row of carnival games at Rye Playland. I had wished for him at the very Zoltar machine that Tom Hanks consulted in Big. My father became Clown Number 3—I knew it from the glitter on his right cheekbone. His head moved at a slightly slower pace than the other clowns, and if I listened closely, he sang the first three verses of “Eleanor Rigby” a cappella at the beginning of each game. If I hummed along with him, his head would pause after every other line, and he’d allow me to loft the ball right into his mouth. He flooded me with prizes: giant blue stuffed monkeys and plush Snickers bars. I gifted them to random girls in his honor. According to Lee Waxenberg Mom, my father loved the ladies. In high school, Mom told me where my real father could be found, and I went to speak to him via a telephone through thick, filmy glass. He had sunken cheekbones, unruly eyebrows, and looked nothing like Gene Kelly. “You got yourself a skinny neck like me,” he said. “But there ain’t much I can do for you since they keep on prolongin’ my stay.” Then he asked about Mom in a way no teenage boy wants anyone asking about his mother, so I never went back. Since we were his only kin, the prison released his body to Mom and me when that scrawny neck of his shattered under the size-twelve shoe of one of his cellmates. We paid for a shady plot at the cemetery right off I-95. “More than he deserved,” Mom said. Now I had a “this is my father” spot to point to, with his name carved into a chunk of cheap gray granite facing a row of arborvitae.

When There’s Nobody There


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Yet, I never visit him there. I take my own son to Playland, and we drop in on Clown Number 3. I teach my son to sing “Eleanor Rigby� and toss the ball at just the right time, and the only father who ever gave me anything gives my son a prize every time.

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Popped Hot Air Balloon, and Suckers Gerard Sarnat

Big Red was her favorite horse until I tripped down —Charles “Hank” Bukowski Born Andernach, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, raised South Central L.A., race tracks back in the Reagan years may have been Buk’s version of Herman Hesse’s anti-fascist Magister Ludi. There was a bunch of us cocky experts who hung out besotted among the crappy leftover buntings and balloons and clowns playing pinball at the top of Hollywood Park’s stretch section of the bleachers. Practically every day, I was there, including the weekend of our high school ball. Hank sat about ten rows behind—even worse view albeit the decisive action takes place around that turn. The huge beast who didn’t wear clothes well was always alone. Finally, I worked up the lather to ask him to autograph the Racing Form I gave to my kind-of date instead of a corsage. One day, following him through the trash of torn tickets to the $2 window, we couldn’t believe our ears: Hank bet the goddamn favorite to show! For all his horserace ruminations, the Master of the Game actually knew nothing.


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he last time we got wasted together, we went to this old school carnival. The air was thick and coated us in the sugared smell of funnel cakes and the greasy scent of onion rings. Underneath was beer, garbage, and body odor. I was payday flush, and the beer was cold. We rode the Tilt-A-Whirl, and the Buccaneer, a ship that heaved back and forth, up into the air. We raised our arms and looked at one another and screamed. Yours was the face I loved best. I knew it better than my own. Your mouth opened wide in mock terror, but really we were both thrilled. You kissed me, tasting like a baseball game—hot dogs and beer. I was already pregnant, but we didn’t know yet, and at midnight, when the street dance ended, we hung on to one another, swaying in a slow dance to the summer quiet of car doors slamming, engines starting up, radios, and girls laughing and calling out to teenage boys. In the purple night, we danced like it was our wedding. On our way home, we walked through the alley of games, still lit up but empty, and you leaned against one game and pulled me to you. You kissed me with your eyes closed, but I was looking straight on at the wide-mouthed clowns, creepy and garishly obvious in their laughing need, directly behind you. I wanted to stuff their mouths with Barbara Harroun cotton candy, and my own, because foreboding was filling me up. It was like I was a glass and dread was being expertly poured. I’d been warned about you by my best friend, Sheila, and my parents, too. But I liked that you didn’t have a job because it meant you were always around. And I did have a job, and it paid enough. You made me believe I had everything I’d ever need. You were so caught up kissing me, you didn’t know they turned out the lights. I thought about the roller coaster we’d ridden, one circle of track that went around and around and then hung at the top, so we were upside down in a cage. I was so scared, I started praying aloud, and you laughed in delight. The ride hinged on a balding tractor tire and a dirty carny. My life seemed a fragile, precious thing that I had no notion how to protect. I removed your hands and pulled away so I could run. I held onto one of the clown’s pointed hats while I bent over and vomited, and even in the dark, I knew the second from the left was looking right at me, watching. You rubbed my back and said tomorrow you’d win me a stuffed bear and a feathered roach holder and then the world. What I got was a drunk husband and four kids, their mouths seemingly always open, always asking to be filled, always asking for more, far more than I could ever give.


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is a Southerner by birth and an Angelino by choice. She received an MFA from the Professional Writing Seminars at Bennington College. Her work has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Talking Writing, The Quotable, The Ilanot Review, Printer’s Devil Review, and, most recently, The LA Review of Books. She’s the 2014 winner of the Tallahassee Writers Association’s annual creative nonfiction prize and is also a winner of the 2015 ARTlines2 Ekphrastic Poetry Contest for work inspired by a piece of art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (judged by Robert Pinsky and published by Public Poetry September 2015). About her poem, she writes, “When I first glanced at the picture, I thought, ‘Too much!’ or, ‘No one living is this happy,’ or, ‘Why do we insist on perpetrating the illusion that life needs to be dizzy to be joyous?’ Then I just wrote down every physical detail that led me to this emotional resolve and let the narrative of life-suggested versus life-lived versus liferemembered play out in the edit of the language. And the moral is … no neon required; life with all its bustle is the sweetest gift of all.”


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SIÂN GRIFFITHS lives in Ogden, Utah, where she directs the Creative Writing Program at Weber State University. Her creative work is forthcoming in The Georgia Review and has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Quarterly West, Ninth Letter, and The Rumpus, among other publications. Her debut novel, Borrowed Horses (New Rivers Press, 2013), was a semi-finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. For more information, please visit About her story, she writes, “I’m not normally a contest-entering kind of gal, but the photo prompt for this contest was so interesting that I could not help but want to write in response. The lurid colors and gaping clown mouths struck me as desperate, and I found myself wanting to write a character in a similar state of vivid desperation. I floundered for quite a few weeks until I found the right voice, but once she started speaking to me, she revealed her whole story.”

BARBARA HARROUN is an assistant professor at Western Illinois University. Her most recent work is forthcoming or appearing in Per Contra Fiction, Fiction Southeast, Watershed Review, and Text Magazine. Her favorite creative endeavors are her awesome kids, Annaleigh and Jack. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she can engages in literacy activism and radical optimism. She blogs about all things mysterious with her friend Rebekah at She can be found at About her story, Harroun writes that, “The photo prompt called to mind a summer festival my small Midwestern town holds each year. The open mouths of the clowns screamed unending need to me, and the narrator’s voice, speaking in the past tense, whispered in my ear. Carnivals are always a mixed bag for me, and my family had recently attended this annual event—Heritage Days—and dropped sixty-five dollars on fried foods and rides in a twenty-minute span. The kids loved it, but I was tired from a day of travel, and some of what I saw made me sad.”

MARGIE KIVEL is a poet, essayist, and artist living in Rockport, Maine. Her work has been published in The Lampeter Review (Wales), A Taste of Ink, Anthology of High Tide Poets in Midcoast Maine, and several online publications. She serves on the board of the Maine Poets Society and is also part of Ink Bone, an intimate group of obsessed poets crafting new word horizons. About her poem, Kivel writes, “The five wooden heads remind me of a Ray Bradbury story about a fantod-carnival that arrived outside a small town in the middle of the night. I started writing from those neck prickles, but diverged into the surreal world of solitary confinement. The result is a blend of Ray Bradbury and Frontline laid on top of Elvis singing ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ I love to mix alien images that unsettle the mind.”



M.S. LYLE hails from New Jersey and currently writes from Roswell, Georgia, a revived mill town hugging her beloved Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. You can find her work at Postcard Poems and Prose, Fried Chicken and Coffee, The Write Room, and upcoming in Lunch Ticket Literary Magazine. She’s currently editing a full-length poetry manuscript and working on a collection of travel essays. About her poem, she writes, “‘Belly of Spring’ began as an exercise in sound until I read an article about the toxicity levels of pesticides used on apples and how pesticideproducing companies and growers try to rationalize their use. For reasons that remain a mystery, I opened up the draft and inserted the line about daminozide, and there it sat until I saw the photo prompt, which made me think of small town carnivals and teenagers and how we negotiate (or rationalize) away parts of our innocence when we’re young—how we sense that some things are rigged, yet play along anyway.


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MELISSA REDDISH is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled The Distance Between Us (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013) and a short story collection entitled My Father Is an Angry Storm Cloud: Collected Stories (Tailwinds Press, July 2015). A hybrid novella entitled Girl & Flame is forthcoming from Conium in 2016. In 2013, she received a Soaring Gardens Artist Residency. When not writing, she teaches English and directs the Honors Program at Wor-Wic Community College. About her story, she writes, “When I came across the Photo Finish contest, I had been reading a lot of poetry, including The Trees The Trees by Heather Christle and Citizen J by Daniela Olszewska. I enjoyed the playful and inventive use of language—the way Christle created these weird aphoristic lines and Olszewska often banged unique images and phrases against more well-known sayings to create something both familiar and new, like your childhood home as it appears in a dream. I wanted to shamelessly steal some of these techniques and use them in a quasilinear prose piece. The image itself helped catapult me into the carnival, and the rest of the flash fiction grew from there.”

GERARD SARNAT has established and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised and served as CEO of healthcare organizations and as a professor at Stanford Medical School. He has published in over a hundred magazines and is the author of three collections: Homeless Chronicles: From Abraham to Burning Man (2010), Disputes (2012), and 17s (2014). Visit his website at He writes that the genesis of his poem was “a combo of living between Bukowski’s San Pedro home and Hollywood Park, plus reminiscing about our ill-spent high school years with a friend who now lives in Germany. Some version of this poem may appear in my fourth collection, Melting the Ice King, about my 99- and 100-year-old parents.”

ANNA SCOTTI is a poet and writer who gives seminars to corporate groups on grammar and writing mechanics. She teaches English at an international school in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, Anna was awarded both the Orlando Prize for short fiction (AROHO), and the Pocataligo Prize for poetry (Yemassee). Anna holds an MFA in fiction from Antioch University. Visit her website at About her poem, she writes, “I’ve seen ekphrasis explained many ways, but the definition I use in teaching is ‘a piece of art inspired by another piece of art.’ The photograph of horrid little clown heads on pinball machines expressed perfectly the concept of hell. It’s not a place I believe in, literally, but it’s a useful construct to describe where many of us belong in view of our treatment of animals and the natural world. Carnivals and fairs are traditionally among the worst places on earth to be a captive animal, and that idea took me to this poem. The part I’ve toyed with most is the title. I went with the current version because of the implication of impending doom and inevitability in the imperative must.”




is a freelance writer based out of Irvington, New York. Her fiction has appeared in The Westchester Review. Prior to pursuing a writing career, she received a law degree from Fordham University School of Law and spent many years working in finance. She is currently working on her first novel. About her story, she writes that, “When I first looked at the Photo Finish picture, I envisioned an old-fashioned barbershop quartet of plastic clowns. A few hours before sitting down to write, I had a conversation about a little boy I knew who had never met his father. I enjoy writing from a photo as a prompt because it forces my mind to make unusual connections and mesh divergent ideas in ways I never would have imagined. My best stories often stem from the sheer coincidence of two unrelated images floating around in my head at the same time.�


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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 for information on the various levels of support. Benefactors ($300) Wendell Aycock Lon and Carol Baugh Beverly and George Cox Sam Dragga Madonne Miner Charles and Patricia Patterson Gordon Weaver Equestrian ($3,000 and above) TTU English Department, Chair Bruce Clarke TTU College of Arts & Sciences, Dean Brent Lindquist TTU Graduate School, Dean Mark Sheridan TTU Provost’s Office, Provost Lawrence Schovanec TTU President’s Office, President Duane Nellis

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IHLR 2015 Photo Finish  

Our annual finale, released at midnight on New Year's Eve, contains poems and prose in response to a selected photo (the cover of the issue)...

IHLR 2015 Photo Finish  

Our annual finale, released at midnight on New Year's Eve, contains poems and prose in response to a selected photo (the cover of the issue)...