[GUEST SERIES]: Beautiful Ashes


Jen Michalski is author of the novel The Tide King, winner of the 2012 Big Moose Prize. She is the author of two collections of fiction, From Here and Close Encounters, and a collection of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now. In 2013 she was named one of “50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun and won a “Best of Baltimore” for Best Writer from Baltimore Magazine. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww and host of The Starts Here! Reading Series and the biannual Lit Show. She lives in Baltimore, MD

“Beautiful Ashes,” An Introduction by Jen Michalski


The new year is always a time of renewal, but February to me always feels like the dark before the dawn– the salt- and snow-stained streets, pale and stark trees and skies like Wyeth paintings. There is a bareness of life, an aching loss of hope, a string of sleepless nights, and yet, there is beauty in its skeletal symmetry, its promise of rebirth. Beautiful ashes, from which the phoenix will rise.

I have curated a selection, two weeks’ worth, of beautiful ashes from some of my favorite writers—poems, essays, and short stories that, like Michael Landweber’s story “Bruise,” bear the scars of past but offer hope for the future. Others, like Jen Grow’s story, “Lawrence Loves Somebody on Pratt Street,” visit a painful purgatory, a place that is only conquered by patience, by faith. Sometimes the beautiful is in the unexpected, the broken souls who live in guarded agitation, wards of the mental health system, as in Brandi Dawn Henderson’s “Easy,” or in souls broken by love and war, as in Dario DiBattista’s powerful essay, “Selling the Past.” Coupled with astonishing poetry by Elizabeth Hazen, Travis Kurowski, Cort Bledsoe, and Shelley Puhak, fiction by Elise Levine, and a haunting story about 9/11 from Madison Smartt Bell, I hope this work takes the reader through the darkest, coldest hours into the pale warmth of the new morning.


MONDAY: FICTION: Lawrence Loves Somebody on Pratt Street – Jen Grow

TUESDAY: POETRY: “Chaos Theory,” “Separation,” “Physics Lesson,” “Bottom Dwellers,” –  Liz Hazen

WEDNESDAY: ESSAY: Easy – Brandi Dawn Henderson

THURSDAY: FICTION EXCERPT: Bruise – Michael Landweber

FRIDAY: POETRY: “Amid the Chaos, There Comes a Costume,” “Space Opera (II),” “Space Opera (III),” – Travis Kurowski