When I was nineteen, lost, alone,
depraved and often raving from
the lack of food and meaning,
walking the streets for days
on end after dropping out
of college the better to sink,
an old man stepped up to me
and said, “Don’t look so down.
Hold your head up. Be proud
you’re a human being,” his words
the key to the lock I could not open
by myself and I immediately went to
my secret place, a circular depression
of rocks hidden by trees, wept until empty
and emerged, later, somewhat cured. Today,
at the Sunflower Grocery after work, dirty, tired,
looking for the shortest check-out line, I noticed
one checker four lanes over with no customers,
though all the other lanes were full. But what
attracted me, more than the empty lane, more
than curiosity as to why no one would use her,
was the pure sadness radiating from fifty feet
away. I went down and said, “You look so
unhappy,” as I emptied my cart, hoping to
make a joke of what I assumed was no
more than boredom or disgust at her
crappy job, engage some engagement
of the common exchange I’ve come to
depend on as a substitute for humanity.
But she did not smile, and I noticed she was
very young, very pale, very pregnant, visibly
exhausted, possibly in pain, possibly, ultimately,
alone at the end of the day. As I paid and gathered
my bags, feeling guilty, for she was about to cry, I said
“Take care, now,” but I didn’t tell her to hold her head up,
didn’t say, “Be proud you’re a human being.” Didn’t even say,
“Hang on, kid, you’ll make it.” I wasn’t brave enough to touch
her where she needed to be touched. Or perhaps I knew to do so
would destroy her in the moment, as she had no easy access to
her crying place. No one is a stranger to pain, and some pain
appreciates the lancing; but other pain, at other times,
is too big to be touched at all.

Selected byRaymond Huffman

After a rather extended and varied second childhood in New Orleans (street musician,

psych tech, riverboat something-or-other, door-to-door poetry peddler, etc.), Matt

Dennison finished his undergraduate degree at Mississippi State University where he won

the National Sigma Tau Delta essay competition (judged by X.J. Kennedy) and placed

third in the Southern Literary Festival for fiction. He is the author of Kind Surgery, from

Urtica Press (Fr.) and Waiting for Better, from Main Street Rag Press. His poetry has appeared

or is forthcoming in Verse Daily, Rattle, The National Poetry Review, Bayou Magazine, Autumn

Sky Poetry Daily, DIAGRAM, The New York Quarterly Magazine, Modern Haiku, Whale Road

Review, The Inflectionist Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, San Pedro River Review,

The G.W. Review, Gargoyle, Slipstream, Midwest Quarterly, Saranac Review, Sheepshead Review,

Blue Earth Review, Pembroke Magazine, Tulane Review, Chiron Review, Steam Ticket, Redivider

and Cider Press Review, among others. His fiction has appeared in ShortStory Substack, THEMA,

GUD, The Blue Crow (Aus), Prole (UK), The Jersey Devil Press, The Wondrous Real,

and is forthcoming in Story Unlikely.



He has also made short films with Michael Dickes, Swoon, Marie Craven and Jutta