Tag Archives: Issue #39

Neon Literary Magazine #39

Image by Davyd Samuels

In issue 39 of Neon everything goes wrong. Parties become nightmares, bridges collapse into bays, a house fire consumes possessions, cars freeze over and life plans dissolve into nothingness. But if that all sounds a bit depressing it’s worth mentioning that there are also dinosaurs and quicksand-related adventures and an elephant that nobody seems to want to speak about, even when it’s drinking their tea. Contributors to this issue include James Nixon, Tracey Iceton, Debra McQueen, Emily Rose Cole, Alex Sword, Colin Bancroft, Jasmine Chatfield, Matthew Di Paoli, Jack Houston, Gerard McKeown, and Frederick Pollack. The cover image is by the very talented Davyd Samuels.

Neon is free to read online, and costs just £4.00 for a physical copy. In its new, perfect-bound format each issue is around 70 pages, and is photo-illustrated in black and white. Free copies of Neon‘s first ever pamphlet (the intriguingly-titled Selected Timelines: Past & Future by Holly Jensen) will be distributed along with this issue.

Published winter 2014 (print and online).

“Quicksand” by Matthew Di Paoli is now available as a Neon Single in PDF, EPUB and MOBI formats.

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“After The Parade” by Gerard McKeown

Image by Simon Kingsnorth

Glass crunched under my mum’s car tyres as her Corsa crawled up the road, which had been clean when we drove down it a few hours earlier, before the parades passed through. As the wheels rotated I felt each chip of glass dig into the hard rubber, tearing at the air inside. The tyres fought back, powdering the glass, but it was a losing fight; the glass only needed one good hit to win.

Parade-goers still lined the roads, drinking carry-outs.

“If those hoors bastards have to have their fucking parades, they should be made to clean up the fucking roads afterwards,” Mum shouted, eyeballing the nearest group.

They stepped out onto the road in front of us. Another group a bit further up, who’d heard her too, walked out to join them. A couple of the lads held empty bottles like weapons. There was no room to drive around them.

“Drive through them,” I said.

My mum looked at me like she couldn’t believe I’d said it. I could see the fear in her face. The group closed in, compacting themselves within spitting distance of the car. The seat below me felt unsteady, like one of the wheels had punctured.

“They’re not going to hurt an old woman,” I said. “Drive.”


Gerard McKeown is an Irish writer living in London. His work has been published in 3:AM, Litro, Neon and Fuselit, among others. He has performed as support for acts as diverse as John Cooper Clarke, Stewart Home, and Frank Sidebottom. More of his work can be viewed at www.gerardmckeown.co.uk.

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“Quicksand” by Matthew Di Paoli

Image by "backtrust"

I was on my way to the butcher’s when I stepped in quicksand. I hadn’t really thought about quicksand in years. Maybe Indiana Jones or one of those Humphrey Bogart movies where he’s a boatsman, and he wears a hat. I imagined the sand’s texture to resemble grape jelly.  It’s actually more like the inside of a rhubarb pie.

I guess it’s not that odd to step in quicksand, but the thing that really threw me off was that it was in the middle of ninety-seventh street by the Marshall’s. I wasn’t on my way to Marshall’s though. I was trying to get some tenderloin. The stuff was up to my thighs. They tell you not to struggle, but struggling is my first response to most everything. I’d struggled my way to thirty-five. I struggled myself into a nice desk job where I sold a very expensive type of athletic cup that most people didn’t really need. The support was incredible though. I sometimes just wore it around my studio apartment. I was like a squirrel is hugging your genitals. Maybe it was indescribable.

In any case, the quicksand was up to my thighs, and I wished I had the athletic cup because, really, who knows what’s in Manhattan quicksand? My phone was ruined. I’d say about a hundred people passed me by. A few cars rubbernecked at first, but now they weren’t even stopping. A clerk from Marshall’s put a traffic cone by me so no one else would get stuck. I guess that was decent of him.

He wore a white shirt and a blue apron. He’d sweated through at the armpits, and he had a haggard look about him that told me something had taken him by surprise many years earlier, and he’d never recovered. I know that feeling.

I tried to wiggle toward him, but it sucked me in a little further. “Is there any way you might call someone for me?” I asked.

He took his flat palm, ran it down his wet face. It sounded like the crush of flesh under tires. He wiped the salty sweat onto the orange cone and set it down in front of me. “Listen, I’ve got my own problems.”

“I understand,” I said.

The street lamps flickered on, and the traffic lights glowed. I became tired, though I’d never tried sleeping standing up before. My body sagged forward. The air cooled. I dreamt of a young trapeze artist I’d seen as a boy. How precise her steps were, her taut skin and blue tights. I’d wondered if women like that really existed. Years later I met one, but I was not her trapeze artist. I was a man who’d existed many times and never in the right place. Always falling into quicksand and showing up to parties while the girls were still dressing.

At sunrise, the man who sold cat-skin handbags and cell phone cases laid out a thin rug he kept under his stand and began his morning prayer. It was very moving. Someone tried to come over, waving five dollars at him, but he wouldn’t say a word. The sun beat on his dark skin. I envied his sovereignty.

The next day was hotter than the last. A man and a woman stopped to look at me. They were very blonde. One was blonder than the other, but I wasn’t sure which. They were like small sun gods, and I enjoyed looking at them.

“Where are you from?” I asked. It’s very boring being in quicksand, after all.

They whispered to one another in a strange language.

The man’s face glowed like Mayan sacrifice. The woman’s hair drifted to cinder.

I looked up in the sky because I knew that’s where they were from. I pointed. “Up there?”

The blonde woman agreed. She nodded. The blond man seemed unsure and smiled with embarrassment. They walked away, the man tugging the woman by her porcelain arms. I regretted speaking to them. How would you like it if the Venus De Milo started asking you questions, I thought. Not that I was the Venus De Milo, but it was the best example I could think of. I hadn’t eaten in a very long time. It’s like they say, you never realize how much quicksand will take from you until it’s gone.

On the third day of quicksand I smelled my body becoming part of the earth. The sand gripped my waist. I rested my hands on its back. The city can be very cruel to those it deems unworthy. The night was so quiet. I only heard wind. The pavement grew sticky and moist like liquorice gum.

My parents came to visit.

“So are you happy?” asked my mother. She brought a small basil plant. It smelled like June in Sicily, and I remembered feeling hot and content like a dog in the sun.

“To tell you the truth, Ma, I don’t like it here much.”

“Why don’t you just get out?” asked my father.

I was too embarrassed to tell him I couldn’t. I wanted to prove to him that I could. “It’s actually not so bad here. I have more space than my old apartment.”

“Well that’s good to hear,” he said. “That place was a real dump.”

“We just worry about you,” said my mother. She started blowing gently on the basil leaves.

“What’s that for?”

“I heard they like it. Everything needs caring for.” The purple in her hair deepened in the baking sun. She squeezed my burnt, chafing arm. “We miss you. You ought to stop by.”

I nodded. “I will. It’s just hard to get to Queens from here.”

“Your mother, she worries,” said my father, watching the cat-skin vendor praying with a look of bewilderment on his face. “Does he always do that?”

“A few times a day,” I said.

“Well he ought to get a better rug. That rug is filthy,” said my mother. She often worried about other people’s rugs.

They both kissed me on the cheek. My mother hugged me. It hurt and felt wholesome. I hadn’t felt whole in a while.

The quicksand wrestled my body. It clung around my chest. It’s amazing how many different types of hubcaps there are. The way women pack their flesh into shoes. How every cigarette stump is warped like childrens’ ear lobes. There is a grimness to the bottom of the world.

I was asleep when I saw her. Really, I couldn’t lift my head, so I only saw her ankles and knees.

“My name is Alice,” she said. Her voice sounded like gasoline. There was something combustible in it. Something I wanted to capture and inhale. “Are you a sinker, too?”

“A sinker?” I asked.

She squatted down, and I saw her thighs.

“You know,” she said suggestively. She dipped her hand languidly into the quicksand. First her nails, then her knuckles, the curve of her palm. A rush of air blew inside her skirt.

“There’s a name for people like us?” I asked.

Her tan legs rubbed together. “Could I join you?”

I tried to nod my head, but the quicksand wrapped around my neck. Alice slipped off her golden sandals and dipped her foot in. She shook with pleasure. Then, without hesitation, she plunged her other foot in and began to sink. The murky sand engulfed her calves and thighs, and her skirt settled around it like a parachute.

“I’ll wait for you,” I said.

“I hope you do.”

I would. I would wait for her to sink into the earth with me, and we would live forever, sinking downward like the roots of ancient and forgotten willows growing hotter and deeper toward the centre of the earth until we fused and became unflinchingly whole.


Matthew Di Paoli obtained his MFA at Columbia University for fiction. He has been published in Black Denim Lit, Carte Blanche, Blue Penny Quarterly, Poydras Review, Pithead Chapel, Gigantic, Fiction Week Literary Review, Newport Review, and Post Road literary magazines among others. Currently, he is releasing his novel, Killstanbul, with El Balazo Media.

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“The Big One” by Debra McQueen

Image by Vivek Chugh

On the fourth floor of the humanities building
in the redwood and eucalyptus forest
of my university, the ground rolls up
like a steadily building Pacific wave –
one of those pounding Ocean Beach
in earshot of this classroom.

Levelor blinds slash
like daggers across the windows.
Those of us raised here dive for desks
too small for book bags.
Twelve on a threshold for fifteen seconds
and the door police beat against us
like we are rioters.

Outside, the redwoods loom,
giants bent on crushing us.
A mushroom shape of smoke
rises behind Twin Peaks.
Some punk with a walkman radio
shouts the highlights –
“The bridge fell into the ocean!
The Bay Bridge is gone!”
It takes hours –
the Underground closed up
like a Mom And Pop eatery in the suburbs –
on a long MUNI bus ride so crammed
we have no choice but
become friends with each other.
As the teetering bus rises over
Potrero Hill a collective gasp –
our city black as the bottom of an oil drum.

We limp over broken concrete
in the dark – find our ways
past strangely quiet crack dens –
I clutch the handrail like a blind opossum –
creep up four flights of stairs
and meet neighbours for the first time.
Sixteen of us gather
in the weirdo’s apartment.
Candles, candles everywhere and only gin to drink.
Teetotallers gulp five-olive martinis.
Straight-edgers take bong hits.
A huge vat of spaghetti on the gas range –
we won’t hear till much later
how lighting stoves blew up houses at random.
We can’t get enough pasta into us.

Sitting in a circle we listen
without interruption as each one
details exactly where, when, and what
we were doing the moment
the big one hit. No one has batteries
big enough for a boom box.
All we can do is sit, drink, smoke,
make new friends.
We will wonder about each other
days later, power restored,
news of our demise greatly exaggerated.
Just as slowly and just as quickly
as those fifteen seconds ticked by,
our names will drift away.
When we see each other in the hall,
we will nod like lovers embarrassed
by our ill-advised one-night stand.


Debra McQueen teaches school, rides a motorcycle, and loves to travel. This year she’s published a scandalous resignation letter in WORK (www.workliterarymagazine.com) and poetry in The Legendary (www.downdirtyword.com). Her creative nonfiction appeared in The Art Of Medicine In Metaphors in 2013.  She’s from San Francisco, now living happily in South Carolina.

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“Failure Day” by Frederick Pollack

Image by "beermug"

The One Percent’s more gung-ho bitches
bitch that their taxes go towards
this holiday. None do. It’s private,
mid-spring when the crops burn.
Pink slips tend to appear around that date;
roaches swarm, and jellyfish.
Spouses leave, and the one left waits
for talk-show hosts’ routines about the day.
At their desks, despite stern memos,
the employed for a moment contemplate
without distance, analyze without theory.
Motivational speakers have
their hands full, sweat more than usual.

The fact about when hybrid batteries
die is well-established; don’t tell me
it’s coincidence. In the arts,
kids wonder whether a Personal Style
is possible or if it’s even uncool
to think of. In his cave,
the last ecstatic of an unknown faith
embraces the dull sky and cries,
You are my sunshine. Bars
tactfully add an hour to Happy Hour.


Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both published by Story Line Press. His other poems appear in print and online journals and he is an adjunct professor in Creative Writing at George Washington University.

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