For Jane

i am no bird.

i am no

delicate song-maker,

no fragile feather-clump.

though i may be

little and

plain and


do not assume

that i am

what you want

me to be.

though i would

enjoy the ability

to spread out,

to see the world

and live only

for myself,

that is not

who i am.

see me

not for

what you like,

but for

who i tell you

i am.

i am

a woman—

little and

plain and


to be sure,

but i am

no bird:

i am no


for you to twist and

shape and


into the image

you like.

this is

who i am—

do not

coat me in


or pretty words

to hide

my flaming spirit

because you will only


in burning

your fingers.


Nicole Hylton is a writer-of-all-trades from Southern Maryland. She writes poetry, short stories, and has completed two novellas, Internet Official and Dropping Her Gloves. Her work has appeared in Aethlon and Avatar. She holds a B.A. in English from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, minor in Sociology & Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.


Support Our Contributors

Support our Adopt a Contributor Program and donate 60% of your donation to this contributor. To adopt your contributor, first subscribe to our monthly or annual subscription. Then, return to your adopted contributor’s work url and sign the comments section at the bottom. Make sure to include “I’ve adopted “contributor name” in your comment. We’ll send 60% of your first month’s subscription to your contributor via PayPal! If you love fiction, poetry, nonfiction, music and art, join us in supporting our talented writers and artists.

About Eckleburg

The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review is a print and digital literary journal. We offer original fiction — short stories, short short stories, hybrid—poetry and nonfiction. We also curate The Eckleburg Gallery — visual artwork and intermedia — as well The Groove including first released, original music by The Size Queens. Our archives include emerging and established writers, poets, artists, musicians and performers such as Rick Moody, Cris Mazza, Eurydice, Steve Almond, Stephen Dixon, Moira Egan, David Wagoner, Zach Galifianakis and many more. We run annual print issues, The Eckleburg Reading Series (DC, Baltimore, Chicago, New York….), as well as, the annual Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction with a first prize of $1000 and print publication.

Stepping on a Corn Flake

by Michael J. Coene

In the kitchen Marty stepped on a Corn Flake. Before he realized it was a Corn Flake, he assumed that something in his foot — something tiny and important in his foot — had snapped in two. He felt no pain at the sound of the snap, but thought that maybe it was one of those clean breaks that doesn’t reveal itself as pain until much, much later.

Marty leaned against the kitchen counter, folded up his leg. He cradled his foot to inspect it for damage. Several small yellow crumbs were attached to the fabric of his ratty white sock. The crumbs looked like crumbs from a smashed Corn Flake. At first, Marty was relieved, because the presence of the crumbs meant that his foot had probably not been damaged. Marty tried to wipe the crumbs off, which took a bit more doing than he had expected.

With the crumbs free, Marty left the kitchen. He walked to the window in his bedroom, which was also the living room, because Marty’s apartment was a studio apartment. Marty stood before the window, staring meaningfully beyond. He stood there staring for a long time, until, finally, a thought formed in his head.

Marty realized that he had never once purchased a box of Corn Flakes — not ever in his life. The thought was very frightening. He wondered how he could’ve stepped on a Corn Flake in his own apartment without ever having purchased a box of Corn Flakes before. Marty became anxious. He tried to calm himself down. His brain’s voice suggested that maybe he was mistaken about the brand of cereal responsible for the crumbs. It was a good point. Marty ran back to the kitchen. He got down on the floor.

Sitting on the floor with his legs splayed out — the crumbs scattered on the tiles between his knees — Marty sighed. He tried to remember what cereals he had purchased since moving into his apartment a little less than a year ago. He rarely bought cereal, because the milk always went bad. Cereal would get depleted long before the milk, leaving the milk with nothing else to do but sit around and rot. Marty wondered if it wasn’t some kind of marketing scam, where the quantities were offset to create a sort of endless purchasing cycle, or something.

One time Marty had bought a box of Frosted Mini-wheats, and another time — on a strange, nostalgic whim — he had bought a box of Boo Berry. Neither cereal looked anything like Corn Flakes, though. He couldn’t remember having purchased cereal any other time since moving to the apartment. In the case of both cereals, the milk stuck around until it went bad.

The crumbs on the floor had confounded him, completely. Marty sank. He stared dazedly at the crumbs. Every now and then, he pressed a finger to a crumb, sunk a crumb deep into the grooves and oils of his print, used this method to bring the crumbs closer to his face for inspection. Marty was convinced that serious data could be analyzed in the crumbs when he brought them closer to his face like that.

Marty didn’t look so good. His long-johns were light grey, and the sweatshirt was a grey of a much darker shade. The tiles of his kitchen floor were supposed to be white, but the tiles hadn’t been cleaned in months, so the floor looked more like his light grey long-johns. Marty looked down. He took in the state of what he’d let himself become. He chuckled in a way that sounded like crying, which almost made him cry. He wiped his hand down his face. Cars began to pass on the road outside. Marty listened to the rushing whoosh and hiss of cars outside, to strangers at the start of yet another day. The sound depressed him, immensely — it got him every time.

For no clear reason that Marty understood, he was always awake before the sun. He hated that his sleep schedule was set to beat the sun, but it was the way he’d always been, ever since he was a toddler. Each new morning, as soon as night started to bring out the blue, Marty rose from his sheets with a mouthful of dread. He would ache loudly at the window, drooling, snarling, groaning at the window, at all that creeping blue up and out beyond the window. Blue meant that the sound of passing cars was about to start again. Marty hated blue for that, hated even more that nothing could be done to change it. He had tried, many times, and had long since given up.

Marty remained on the kitchen floor until the sound of passing cars evened out to a less consistent rhythm, declaring the time as sometime shortly after noon. He got up from the kitchen floor, dusted himself off, and walked to the Chinese take-out place about a block from his apartment. He ordered a large dish of spicy bean curd, and a can of ginger ale. He sat in a chair that had been put there for people waiting for their food. Parts of a newspaper lay scattered in a mess on the chair next to his chair. Marty never learned how to be interested in newspapers. Still, just to seem like a person who could occupy himself, he took a page from the pile, flicked it open grandly, and let his eyes move along in a simulation of what reading most probably looked like. As Marty’s eyes moved down toward the bottom of the page, he noticed that he had forgotten to change out of his long-johns. He’d forgotten to put shoes on, too. He didn’t need to check his feet. Suddenly, he could feel it.

Deeply embarrassed, Marty checked the faces of the employees at the Chinese take-out place. He checked to see if anyone looked offended, or concerned, or fearful of his presence. But the employees all glowed with patronizing smiles that didn’t seem to hide any secret malice, really. How wonderful, Marty thought, that they could smile so sweetly despite what they must think about the state of his socks! Gratitude coursed all through Marty’s body, flowing out and toward the Chinese take-out staff. He nearly sobbed with the intensity of the gratitude he felt. He had to choke back real tears.

One of the employees appeared with Marty’s lunch — it was in a brown paper bag that was in a white plastic bag with the words Thank You! printed in joyous red letters on the side. The girl handed Marty the bags. Marty mumbled something apologetic and grateful. The girl nodded very fast. She kind of laughed as she nodded. Marty worried that her head might pop off. She didn’t seem to know what was going on, not with her head, not with his socks, not with the contents of the brown paper bag. Marty let her go without any further mumbling.

As Marty shuffled toward the door, he noticed that the welcome mat felt harsh and coarse against his shoe-less feet. He wondered how he’d failed to notice that when he first came in. The mat was so coarse that it almost hurt to walk on it. Marty bent down to take a good look. He needed to be sure that nothing more dangerous than a welcome mat was down there.

And then Marty noticed — about an inch to the right of his big left toe — a Corn Flake, just like the one he had stepped on in his apartment.

All activity in the restaurant screeched to a halt. Marty stepped back, peered in awe at the Corn Flake. His hand tried to cap the astonishment of his mouth. He trembled. The Corn Flake on the welcome mat was fully intact, which meant, without a doubt, that it was more than just a remnant of the Corn Flake he had stepped on earlier. It was its own.

A customer walked in. “’scuse me, thanks,” the customer muttered, carefully maneuvering around Marty’s dense bulk. Marty cried out. He watched in horror as the customer’s boot made its way down. Marty tried to scream a word, but all that came out was a scream. The big black boot landed smack on the Corn Flake. Marty’s throat squeaked like air from a balloon being slowly let out. His neck needed air, or less of it, or something. The customer passed by without acknowledging the outburst.

Scrambling, Marty got down on all fours to check the status of the Corn Flake.  A surge of relief rushed all the way through from his hair to his socks. It was some kind of miracle — the Corn Flake had been missed. Marty looked up to share the miracle with his new friends at the Chinese take-out place, but then he thought better of it. Some moments he needed to keep for himself.

Marty stepped into the daylight. He was feeling almost giddy. Cars whooshed by at a steady suburban tempo, reminding him, as always, that his rapture wouldn’t last. At some point, Marty would stop feeling whatever he was feeling. His brain would urge him on to the next step, toward processing the feeling with language and logistics — the step in which his brain would start asking why.

Of course, realizing that the step would come caused it, immediately, to come. Marty heard the moment happen. He heard his brain ask why? Marty shook his head. He didn’t want to hear it. Why not be allowed to just stand there and feel? But his brain moved on. Marty had no choice but to follow where his brain went.

Slumping in half, nearly spilling spicy bean curd all over the sidewalk, Marty conceded to the demands of his brain. He confessed that it made no sense — no sense at all — to feel such joy at the sight of the undamaged Corn Flake in the Chinese take-out place. No matter how the situation was approached, his reaction made no sense. In fact, the discovery didn’t even help with his investigation of the Corn Flake he’d stepped on in his kitchen. He had no way of knowing if the two Corn Flakes were connected. Even if, somehow, he was able to connect the Corn Flake on the welcome mat to the Corn Flake in his kitchen, the value of that connection — of the entire investigation! — was nowhere near the value of the surge of relief he had felt when he saw the cereal hadn’t been damaged by the customer’s big black boot. Everything was nothing, and Marty damned well knew it, and his brain was there to scold him about it.

As Marty clunked back to his apartment, exhaustion took over. He was very upset, but he was too exhausted to deal with the fact that he was very upset. Standing at the sink, Marty ate his spicy bean curd in silence. He finished his whole meal before cracking open the can of ginger ale — it was simply his method. After finishing the ginger ale, Marty pulled out the fortune cookie. The plastic around the fortune cookie put up a fight. Marty wrestled with the plastic, struggled so much that he accidentally crushed the cookie. The package popped open from the force of Marty’s hand. Crumbs from the cookie sprinkled to the floor. Had Marty’s brain not brought down his mood by holding him accountable, he probably would’ve noticed that the crumbs from the cookie were completely indiscernible from the crumbs he had wiped from his sock that morning.


Michael J. Coene’s short stories have been published by Barrelhouse Magazine, The Canary Press, Your Impossible Voice, and more  —  including an upcoming piece in The Fem Lit Mag. He lives with a blind dog above a duck-pin bowling alley in Baltimore. He does not sleep. He intends to write until he dies from it. @mjcoene

Support Our Contributors

Support our Adopt a Contributor Program and donate 60% of your donation to this contributor. When a reader submits a donation on a contributor’s page, 60% of the donation will be forwarded directly to the contributor’s PayPal account. If you love fiction, poetry, nonfiction, music and art, join us in supporting our talented writers and artists.

About Eckleburg

The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review is a print and digital literary journal. We offer original fiction — short stories, short short stories, hybrid — poetry and nonfiction. We also curate The Eckleburg Gallery — visual artwork and intermedia —  as well The Groove including first released, original music by The Size Queens. Our archives include emerging and established writers, poets, artists, musicians and performers such as Rick Moody, Cris Mazza, Eurydice, Steve Almond, Stephen Dixon, Moira Egan, David Wagoner, Zach Galifianakis and many more. We run annual print issues, The Eckleburg Reading Series (DC, Baltimore, Chicago, New York….), as well as, the annual Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction with a first prize of $1000 and print publication.

Life in the Right Lane

The black Lexus hovers like a stealth jet fighter in my rearview mirror. I can almost read the Armani label on the driver’s sunglasses. Hoping to convey an air of casual indifference, I lean back against the headrest. The stealth fighter swerves erratically and passes me on the right. “ASKHOW” his license plate demands before diminishing in the distance.

“I don’t care how you got to be so arrogant,” I call after him. My foot punches the accelerator. “And I don’t want to be like you!” I add, in case he’d missed the point. I back off the accelerator.

This scene took place about two weeks into my effort to obey the speed limit. Things were not going well. When I decided to give up speeding for Lent, I had imagined myself gliding serenely through pastoral landscapes, gazing with compassion on less enlightened souls as they dashed frenetically between work and Walmart and Wendy’s. I hoped that slowing down for Lent would facilitate “Living Fully in the Present Moment” (as described by ancient mystics and Pure Inspiration Magazine). I anticipated lowered stress levels, raised awareness, and soul-piercing moments of insight. Grand spiritual epiphanies were not out of the question.

The concept of a Lenten fast from speeding presented itself in a flash of brilliance last year, just a few days into my Lenten fast from saturated fat. I had already decided I wouldn’t do that again—who knew that a banana had point three grams of saturated fat? I nearly starved. The year before, I’d given up alcohol and was forced into isolation when sobriety revealed that my friends weren’t nearly as entertaining sans margaritas. I reasoned that obeying the speed limit would be less intrusive but still enough to disrupt my routine and nudge me towards sainthood.

Not being raised in a religious tradition, my only childhood experience of Lent was a vague feeling of exclusion when certain kids would come to school with ashes smudged on their foreheads. I eventually became a Christian in my forties, after discovering that unlike the judgmental, unloving, money-obsessed preachers on television, the historical Jesus was a rabble-rouser who confronted systems of economic injustice and religious oppression and liked to hang out and drink good wine with imperfect people like me.

As a new Christian, I was drawn to the idea of sacrifice as a way to focus on God during the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday. The Lenten season mirrors the forty years that the Jewish people followed God through the wilderness and the forty days that the devil tempted Jesus with earthly enticements in the desert. The word Lent comes from lang, meaning long, because the days grow longer in the spring. And the days truly do seem excruciatingly long—and life short—when you are tootling along at fifty-five miles an hour on the Washington, D.C., beltway.

My new spiritual practice began well. I got some satisfying exclamations of “Good one!” and “Awesome!” and “You go, girl!” after announcing on Facebook: “Tomorrow, life changes for forty days as I begin observing the posted speed limit. Can’t imagine.” It was indeed hard to imagine this happening without divine intervention. I’m the type of person who takes Google Map’s estimated travel times as a personal challenge. Now I would need to accept them as the norm.

The first few days of Lent felt downright holy. I left early for appointments and instead of my usual apologetically flustered entrances, I reached my destinations in a state of munificent calm. I stopped at yellow lights, gestured magnanimously for others to take the right of way, and smiled at dawdling elderly drivers. I felt love and tolerance for all humanity. Hey, this is working.

My car became a sanctuary. Gone were the stressful political talk shows and the pounding rock and roll. I bought a CD of Buddhist and Christian chants featuring Tina Turner, of all people. (Now there’s a spiritual conversion.) Instead of mentally leaping to my next engagement, I took time to reflect on my experiences as I drove from one place to another.

Life was good. I thought maybe I was becoming a better listener and interrupting less, not as eager to express every thought and opinion. I slept well. I noticed birdsong and gradations of shadow and the way willow oaks branch differently than black oaks. I was becoming one with Saint Francis, the patron saint of ecology known for his simple lifestyle.

The trouble started on an I-95 exit ramp, about a week into Lent. You have to wonder, what cog in what wheel of what agency determined that twenty-five miles per hour was an appropriate speed to exit a sixty-five miles per hour highway? Around a blind curve, no less. As I slowly exited the interstate and headed toward my church in Burtonsville, Maryland, I noticed red buds on the maple trees and tiny green leaves on the wild rose and sumac along the side of the road. And then I noticed the look of horror on the face of the minivan driver behind me as she suddenly came upon my springtime reverie. After this near family-massacre, I made the first small technical fix to my Lenten commitment. Thou shalt ignore off-ramp speed limits.

All went smoothly for another week or so. After decades of committed left-lane living, I was surprised to find myself feeling a new kinship with people driving in the right lane, albeit troubled to realize I had previously held them in disdain. Then a disturbing corollary emerged to pollute this beneficence. I could not embrace the denizens of the right lane without vilifying those racing by on the left. Apparently my ignition key also activates an “us versus them” meter.

I’m not proud of this. The realization that I view driving as a competitive sport and feel hostility toward the other team was disquieting. Pent-up resentment, I suppose, from always being left behind when the faster kids ran up the soccer field.

Halfway through Lent, my holy glow had turned to hateful glares for the opposition: the tailgaters and the honkers and the swerve-arounders. I couldn’t sustain the early departures and was running later and later. This just isn’t realistic. I decided on another technical fix. I’d go five miles over the speed limit when headed out somewhere, but stick rigidly to the limit on my way home.

This produced another disquieting insight—I was never on my way home. I rushed from one engagement to another, all day and every night. Oh Lord: I was infected by the major metropolitan virus whose victims must prove how terribly important they are by being terribly busy. This busyness was hardly conducive to Living Fully in the Present Moment. Or to sainthood. But at least it meant I could go five miles over the speed limit most of the time.

Easter is early this year, thank God. It won’t be long, but the remaining weeks loom as large as the entire forty days. It has become clear to me that going the speed limit is a dangerous practice. Nobody drives the speed limit, and for good reason: nobody else is driving the speed limit.

I’m doing forty on a road where I usually drive sixty, and I’m restless. Although heading home, I am debating upping it five miles an hour. Jesus defied authority and broke the rules, my inner teenager taunts, foot poised over the accelerator. You need to do this, there’s a reason, my adult answers as I set the cruise control for forty.

The creatures materialize in an instant—legs churning, hooves flashing, eyes full of terror. I hit the brakes, and six deer bound safely across the road, tails waving like white sails in the sun. Thank God I was going the speed limit.