Books From The Pantry: Tiny Universes by Zach Murphy reviewed by Claire Faulkner

I’ve always been intrigued by flash fiction. Short, micro pieces of writing which cleverly tell impactful stories often leaving you thinking about a bigger picture. Tiny Universes by Zach Murphy (published by Selcouth Station) does exactly this. It’s a wonderful collection, the style is poetic, the language beautiful yet direct. This collection definitely leaves the reader wanting more. Each story, as the title suggests, gives the reader a glimpse into a different life or world.

I get the impression that Murphy takes notice of everything, and inspiration must come from almost everything he encounters in his daily life. One of the joys about a varied collection like this is that every time you read it something different will jump out at you or make you think about something in a way you may not have considered before.

There were a number of pieces in this collection which jumped out at me, and looking back they all seem to encompass a strong sense of place or incident, with themes of hope and survival running through.

The collection opens with ‘Before My Very Brown Eyes’, a piece about identity and self-acceptance. It’s a positive piece, which left me encouraged to read more.

‘A Fair Amount of Ghosts’ is beautifully atmospheric and full of soul. I couldn’t decide if Murphy was telling us a ghost story or recalling memories. Either way, it conjured up a vivid picture in my mind. The description of the house and the lines, It isn’t a place to live in. It’s a place to dwell in, tells you all you need to know.

Demonstrating how impactful flash fiction can be, in just 29 words, ‘Ceilings’ left me with more questions than answers. A clever piece of writing.

I think my favourite piece in the collection is ‘The Garden’, told from the viewpoint you don’t often hear. It may be a short piece of writing, but it tells us such a bigger and important story. A bee in distress feeling the impact of environment change. Truly powerful.

I’m new to reading flash fiction. Murphy’s work is often micro short and punchy, others like ‘In Rotation’, are a bit longer. Each one made me think. Each one has it’s own story, and I liked that. Some I wanted more of. Some left me with questions, but maybe that’s the point.

My book cases are filled with poetry collections and novels. After reading Tiny Universes I would definitely consider making room on the shelves for flash fiction. I recommend you start your flash fiction journey with Tiny Universes by Zach Murphy.

Poetry Drawer: Luck: Ode to the Gun: The True Nature of a Healthy Stroll: Eyeballing the New Estate by John Grey


I remain ever hopeful.
Just looking for a sign that’s all.
Doesn’t have to be a booming voice.
Or a bright light through the window.
It’s not as if disappointment
overdoes the atmosphere.
No deep bass notes on the piano,
no owls at the window
or grim reaper at the door.
The failures happen at such ordinary times
in such ordinary ways.
The flat beer. The lousy gift.
The smile that drifts over my right shoulder
to the guy behind.
So let the better times begin
in as commonplace a way
as a pool ball sunk off a carom,
getting the last outside table
at a restaurant on a beautiful summer’s day.
The rain’s been used so many times
as cliché for the down times,
I’d even hoist my sail to its sudden stopping.
Like I said before, I don’t need a miracle
The keys just need to be where I left them.
And maybe the copy machine doesn’t break down.
Such are the vagaries of the common man.
The horror story that’s really a fairy tale.
The wish list that makes its excuses.

Ode to the Gun

The gun sits
on the dressing table
beside the unmade bed
in a ramshackle motel room
off the interstate.

It’s cold as death,
glints away whatever
sunshine dares to
come its way.

Without a shot fired,
it toughens one guy
and trembles another enough
to make his knees knock together.

On a dressing table,
cold as death,
without a shot fired,
try telling that gun,
it doesn’t kill people.

The True Nature of a Healthy Stroll

A hill shaped like a skull,
a lopsided house
for a family tilted the other way,
a waddling woman
with cavernous eye sockets…
and that’s just the first block.

A faceless man,
an Indian fakir,
a klezmer band
playing “My Way” in Yiddish…
it’s not easy to cross a road around here.

How can I get where I’m going
when an albino armadillo crosses my path,
it’s raining Rolexes
and the fire station’s aflame?

the pavement’s as green as my stomach,
my umbrella won’t open,
the zipper of my pants
cuts like razor blades
and I still have another
hundred yards or so to go.

I never make it.
The odds are not in my favour.
Across the grocery store parking lot,
a plastic bag rolls like tumbleweed.
A grosbeak alights
on a grey wire fence.

Eyeballing the New Estate

Trees line just about everything.
Even the trees are lined with trees.
This is not foliage left unharmed by the bulldozers.
The greenery is imported.

The houses have names like Gardenview or Hilltop.
They’re places in a dream town.
A windless sunny parody of the way we live.
They front a lake studded with swans.

We’re driving on just-paved roads
in a new estate that used to be forest.
Those with money can’t wait to put down a deposit,
to get away from the likes of us.

Once this neighbourhood’s
fully occupied we will not be invited back.
My mother sighs. But without malice.
She’s long since learned to accept her own highway exit.

Goodnight Dear

Typical night
of sleeping by subtraction,
because the people running
are not us,
and nor are we the chasers.

Same with the gunshots.
We didn’t fire the revolvers.
And they weren’t aimed
in our direction.

So our neighbours scream.
We don’t.
They even thump each other
from time to time.
But only noise spills over
into our sanctuary.
Not fists.

Those growling dogs
can’t bite us.
The yowling black cat
may upturn a trash can lid
but not our good fortune
by strolling across our path.

We’re free and clear of our surrounds.
The huddled homeless woman
doesn’t share our bed.
Nor does the sex offender
in the room above.

Bad things happen to other people.
That’s why we have it so good.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Orbis, Dalhousie Review and the Round Table. Latest books, Leaves On Pages and Memory Outside The Head are available through Amazon.

You can find more of John’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Books From The Pantry: Human Terrain by Emily Bullock reviewed by Kev Milsom

Ink Pantry Editor: ‘Hey, I have a new book here that focuses upon female voices and…’

Me: ‘Hmmmm, I’m not sure that’s quite me. Who wrote it?’

Ed: Emily Bullock.

Me: ‘OMG, send it over, tout de suite!!!’

I’ve been so very fortunate to review Emily’s first two novels (The Longest Fight – 2015 – and Inside the Beautiful Inside – 2020 -) for Ink Pantry and both have astounded me with their elite levels of literary va-va voom. Yes, okay…I’m sure that Samuel Johnson or Noah Webster would find more suitable flowing vocabulary, but when it comes to the writing of Emily Bullock I’ll gladly stick with va-va voom. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of encountering Emily’s novels then I would urge you to seek them out and you’ll understand.

So, what’s the new book about? Well, Human Terrain is a collection of short stories that focus upon the lives and energies of various female individuals, allowing us to observe a small part of their life story, especially when it pertains to emotional bonds of love and loss. In total, we have twenty mini biographies, some lasting less than a page or two, while others stretch deeper and cover a lot of ground. Within this book we meet women who demonstrate strength of character, such as someone known only as ‘Pig Lady’; a woman who delivers food to a chip shop. At other times, the stories are all shades of sad, illuminating, poignant and powerful, such as ‘Back Issues’, where the main character is male and his wife, Barbara, is mentioned only in name, yet the loss of her influence within his life becomes a dominant factor as he slips helplessly into dementia.

Every snapshot within this amazing book is written with a perfect balance of tone, colour and detail, as if Emily is slowly composing an oil painting in deep layers, based on scattered pencil drawing plans and sketches, before the paintbrush even dares to touch the canvas. The characters range in age, from teenagers playing hooky from a London school trip to buy weed in Hyde Park, to Ivy, an elderly widow reflecting back upon her life as it draws to a close. From the opening sentence of Ivy’s tale, we are immediately gripped by her dilemma and can begin to easily visualise the elderly lady and her surroundings.

‘Ivy, who was now two years a widow, lay alone in bed. She gripped the front of her nightshirt; her skin thin and creased as the cotton. Maybe this would be the day. She’d waited long enough’.

Covering such a wide range of human emotions across twenty snapshot glimpses into people’s lives comes with obvious risks. How easy it would be to fall heavily into emotional torment and harrowing tales. Alternatively, to build too many bricks of humour into a fragile, emotional wall of observation, as we look on from a distance. Thankfully, Emily’s writing skills are blissfully adept and it’s clear that her understanding of human behaviour is likely forged from countless hours of similar observations. Yes, some of the tales are sad/poignant, yet at no point do they ever fail to reflect the grey shades of real life. Sometimes, there is no Hollywood, Walt Disney ending, accompanied by Dick Van Dyke in a blazer and singing/dancing penguins. Sometimes, life just plays out its scenarios and we have little choice but to play along with it. How we react, or adapt, is the key. Sure, many of Emily’s carefully constructed characters have lives and issues that we would choose not to adopt. Not one of them ever comes remotely close to being two-dimensional or dull. Spread over twenty separate stories, that’s quite a literary feat in itself. 

From the book’s outset, we know we’re in for a journey, as we take a cursory peek into the life of two women; a daughter who boxes for a living, and her mother who is there for her in between rounds of fights, to patch up her daughter’s wounds.

‘My job is to stop the blood, cool her off, wash her down. Who knows her better than her mum? I rub the yellow carwash sponge across her head, smooth my fingers over the braids, sweeping away water with the back of my hand’.  

Powerful writing, yet beautifully balanced and honed, like a knight’s favourite longsword, this is an outstanding book and well worth reading from cover to cover. One is eagerly awaiting Emily’s fourth novel.

Poetry Drawer: Back Roads: Diorama: Invisible Man: Scout and Jem: Give or Take by Michael Estabrook

Back Roads

Longing for the good
old days even knowing
you can never go back.

As the months and years have rolled by since I’ve retired
I’ve lost touch with most of my old coworkers.
It’s the nature of the beast I tell myself
the natural order of things
as you have less and less to do with someone
less and less in common, you lose touch
it’s simply the way it is, it’s normal.
Lisa’s wealthy now, goes biking through the back roads
of Tuscany and Scotland, what
would I have to say to her, or to Craig
who is younger than me, visiting colleges with his son?


But I’m not done living!
he shouted at the gods
shaking his fist.

Strange to think that I’ve lived twice as long
as my father lived.
He died as a young man.
But as my father
no matter how much older than him I live to be
he’ll always be older than me
because time itself at his death
is forever frozen unable to move forward.
So he’s 36 and I’m stuck at 15
in this timeless diorama forever.

Invisible Man

Don’t take your yourself
too seriously. Without humour
you’re dead in the water.

Rick was a good guy
the handsomest guy I ever knew.
We worked together sometimes stopping
at a bar at the end of the day.
Fascinating watching the ladies buzzing around him
winking and waving
or coming right over to say hi
ignoring me completely
even though I was sitting next to him.
It was like I was the Invisible Man.
“That happen often?” I asked him
as a stunning young woman handed him
her business card, touched him
on the shoulder saying call me.
He shrugged and smiled, such a modest guy.
Yep. Rick was a good guy
the handsomest guy I ever knew.
Fun to be around unless of course
you were hoping to find a date for yourself.

Scout and Jem

Memory’s the second
thing to go you know
she said with a giggle.

I remind myself that doing really well
at Trivial Pursuit is not
I repeat NOT proof that you are smart. But I suppose
recalling so many facts pertaining to history,
literature, science, sports, even entertainment is cause
for feeling pride particularly when
you’re a Septuagenarian supposed to have a fading memory.
“But before getting too inflated and self-satisfied,”
spouts the damn Devil floating in the corner,
“I’d be remiss in not reminding you that you did think
Victoria Falls was the tallest waterfall in the world
and you did forget the nicknames
of Atticus’s children in
To Kill a Mockingbird, you moron.”

Give or Take

Don’t waste time worrying
about what you can’t change
or fix, she tells me all the time.

The fancy-pants astrophysicist
with the big glasses and crazy hair explains
in logical scientific detail
that in 5 billion years (give or take)
our Milky Way Galaxy will collide
with our neighbour
the so much larger Andromeda Galaxy
and be torn apart.
Oh no! I think and begin to worry
but abruptly realize – 5 billion years, seriously!
Even I can’t be that stupid to worry
about something 5 billion years down the road
I tell myself as I see the Devil in his corner
shaking his head not having to say anything
this time for a change.

You can find more of Michael’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: A Fluffy Cat by Monobina Nath

A fluffy cat standing at the top
of the wooden stairs
Grey hair, black- headed sphere,
Five claws on each front paws,
eight on rear.
Relishing the evening sea
With white, long moustaches, rolling glee.
She lifts her pink yogurt ears
To hear-
Her unblinking yellow, black- stripes,
Smoky eyes, that reply
To the wise, to rise, to say goodbyes.

Monobina Nath is a poetess living in Kolkata, India, and also a third year student of English honours in Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College. Poems published in the anthology Chrysanthemum, newspaper International Times, Meghalaya Times, Indian Periodical. Magazines- Evepoetry, Setu Bilingual, TechTouch Talk, Spillwords Press, Ode to a Poetess and various e-magazines. Monobina’s work was selected in the National Bilingual Poetry Competition in 2021. 

Poetry Drawer: Sway and Sway: Another Dream, Another Chance: Slant Rhyme With Me by Joe Albanese

Sway and Sway

Sway and sway the birds away

the vine, it grows like autumn slumber,
heroes died along the way

weakness is my fallen glowing,
just like villains kept at bay

trick-or-treat the youthful sending,
Pleiades owes the warmth come May

velvet houses are my queue unknowing,
sway and sway the birds away

Another Dream, Another Chance

An angel fare, my modern scream—a day
within a day
I lost myself and found you there—within
the wild fray

Hope! The return of desperate prayer—luck,
anointment, haze
Another dream, another chance—one more
along the way

Slant Rhyme With Me

Won’t you stay and slant-
        rhyme with me?
Sometimes—lost in omni-pain—I
bleed right
        up the wall, then
get doused in stain.
        Call it what you will, it’s all
the same—at times I need
what’s in the mud, and all you
What’s left in me?
Maybe I just need a moment
tomorrow to breathe, but not
        today is for slant rhyme.
Won’t you stay and
        slant-rhyme with me?

Joe Albanese is a writer from South Jersey. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have been published in 12 countries. Joe is the author of Benevolent KingCainaCandy Apple RedFor the Blood is the LifeSmash and Grab, and a poetry collection, Cocktails with a Dead Man.

Poetry Drawer: Mavericks: The Blood That Makes Us Black: In Maid’s Water: The Head in his Fedora Hat by Strider Marcus Jones


you taste of cinnamon and fish
when you wish
to be romantic-
and the ciphers of our thoughts
make ringlets with their noughts
immersed in magic-
like mithril mail around me
stove dark forest, pink flesh sea
touchings tantric-
make reality and myths
converge in elven riffs
of music, so we dance it-
symbols to the scenes
of conflict, mavericks in dreams
that now sit-
listening to these pots and kettles
blackening on the fire
of rhetoric and murderous mettles-
before we both retire
to our own script.

The Blood That Makes Us Black

imagine yourself,
in a photo-fit picture
with every nothing that’s new-
minus in health,
quoting icons and scripture
under the whole black and blue.

optimum dreams
turn out fake in the mirror
facing what’s been like fallen heroes-
in so many scenes
like a ghost who is giver
passing on wisdom, who knows-

the blood that makes us black
of two from one,
is schooled by fungus fortunes
and faiths old hat
to be sold on-
like tamed-trained gangs, making golden dunes.

In Maid’s Water

we’ve left the well-footed
the rutted
and rebutted
of shadows cast
by towered glass.

opened closed curtains
for fusty moths,
chanted white spells with Wiccan’s
left pictured
rooms and halls-
become un-scriptured
hills and squalls-

in maid’s water
pouring down her
erect chalk man,
like a wild gypsy,
love tipsy
smelling of cinnabar
and his cigar,
like whirling
while the changed wind howls.

Minds and Musk

so now
we both came
to this same
branch and bough-
no one else commutes
from different roots.

me carrying Celtic stones
with runes on skin over bones-
and you, in streams
on evicted land
trashed ancients panned-
our truth dreams
under star light crossing beams.

in here, there is no mask
of present building out the past
with gilded Shard’s of steel and glass
shutting out who shall not pass.
the tree of life breathes
a rebel destiny believes-
we are minds and musk
no more husks and dust.

The Head in his Fedora Hat

a lonely man,
and music
is a poem
not knowing-
a caravan,
whose journey does not expect
to go back
and explain
how everyone’s ruts
have the same
blood and vein.

the head in his fedora hat
bows to no one’s grip,
brim tilted into the borderless
so his outlaw wit
can confess
and remain
a storyteller,
that hobo fella
listening like a barfly
for a while
and slow-winged butterfly
whose smile
they can’t close the shutters on
or stop talking about
when he walks out
and is gone.

whisky and tequila
and a woman, who loves to feel ya
and outside

when ya move
and live as one,
brings you closer
in simplistic
muse Babylon.

this is so,
when he stands with hopes head,
arms and legs
all a flow
in her Galadriel glow
with mithril breath kisses
condensing sensed wishes
of reality and dream
felt and seen
under that
fedora hat
inhaling smoke
as he sang and spoke
stranger fella

Strider Marcus Jones is a poet, law graduate and former civil servant from Salford, England with proud Celtic roots in Ireland and Wales. A member of The Poetry Society, his five published books of poetry reveal a maverick, moving between cities, playing his saxophone in smoky rooms. He is also the founder, editor and publisher of Lothlorien Poetry Journal.

His poetry has been published in the USA, Canada, Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Spain, Germany; Serbia; India and Switzerland in numerous publications including: Dreich Magazine; The Racket Journal; Trouvaille Review; dyst Literary Journal; Impspired Magazine; Literary Yard Journal; Poppy Road Review; Cajun Mutt Press; Rusty Truck Magazine; Rye Whiskey Review; Deep Water Literary Journal; The Huffington Post USA; The Stray Branch Literary Magazine; Crack The Spine Literary Magazine; The Lampeter Review; Panoplyzine  Poetry Magazine; Dissident Voice.

You can find more of Strider’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: Polarized Ends: Attempt Two by John Maurer

Polarized Ends

My soul is not kindred, it is imaginary
Like Jesus in the concentric circle of dots
It is not solar exclusive, stare at anything too long and you go blind
The page-turning and sage burning has me unlearning the words I once hoarded

Like what for? Who for? No amount of beauty or love sustains the flower
Abstract concepts do not grow the grass; that is sun and water
That is the son and daughter who eat your dreams in front of your face
Not I, I spot a spy in my circle and show him the use of a circular saw

Show him how stable a table can be with three legs
No horses but the fields get plowed, no need to be proud
The process is enough, the work is the reward

Attempt Two

Making water and fire out of firewater
This is reverse engineering quite literally
Impoverishing myself as to engorge rapidly

What is really worth my while
and what’s just worth it for a while, I don’t know
I have permanent solutions for temporary problems
Medical grade solvent for the slightest stain

The crystalline Sistine slipping off my lips like the Listerine
Let’s talk real standards, don’t talk to me about how many publications you have
How many books in pending: tell me how many friends you’ve lost
How much blood (in pints) you’ve spilled, how much do your parents resent you?

John Maurer is a 26-year-old writer from Pittsburgh that writes fiction, poetry, and everything in-between, but his work always strives to portray that what is true is beautiful. He has been previously published in Claudius Speaks, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Thought Catalog, and more than sixty others.

Poetry Drawer: Stranded in a Fairy Tale: In Between Sleep: Watching: Partnered To Lost Time: Too Early For Brunch by Rp Verlaine

Stranded in a Fairy Tale

Far from
Romantic, the
rain untangles
our first embrace.

A downpour
circumvents desire
when she tells me
“I have to go”

while she attempts
covering her hair with
the poem I wrote her,
undone in an instant.

“My hair, my makeup”
she shrieks, getting
into a cab without me
as if I’m culpable.

Left stranded,
I’m a relic of

a knight
sans armour

My mighty sword
hidden, my would be
queen long gone,
& castle torched to ashes.

In Between Sleep

Been drinking all day, though its not yet night
in a crowded bar with no room to doubt
angels I talked to that might just exist
giving me warnings to seek enough light
to make peace with myself I’m still without
all that I lost, to forget or dismiss.
Sleep eludes, escorts faces of the past
to relive mistakes I can’t walk out of
with certain pleasures that grow vague each day.
Can’t say how much longer this long game lasts
I’ve played my hand both in loss and in love
I have one more drink see the time and laugh
leaving the bar a drunk walking dark streets
humming blues songs of death promising sleep.


The watch strapped
to her wrist could
be from another
As she steps
out of a car into
the forever that
will be the rest
of my day…

spent wondering
why I did not ask
for the time
to hear her voice,
signal logistics,
and checkpoint
to the eternity
I’ll need to forget her.

Partnered To Lost Time

Vanity submits truth,
saw her eyes again
predisposed to mirror.

With few ambitions
like the rainbow
after touching sky.

She studies her face
while I wait as if
Godot made promise.

We have reservations 
at a pricey restaurant 
waiting to extort us both. 

Finally, she comes out
asking how she looks
glorious, I say.

she returns to mirror
two or three more times.

Dating a narcissist
partners you to lost time
the young ones are the worst.

With that said, I’ll take
what I can steal
even borrow.

For the miracle
of her walking
across the room.

Only to me
which is all I see
if I don’t really look.

Too Early For Brunch

Huevos rancheros in a brand new place
more Anglo than Mexican yet quite good
maybe its the beer or tequila shots
That tamper my mood seeking to erase
All I took for granted, misunderstood
over a love that once burned scalding hot
which had tapered to a chill in the air.
Hard long looks of doubt and mistrust
and long drives at night just to get away.
Only to return while all too aware 
it was a mistake swallowing disgust.
Till we ended it, I guess I’m OK 
but that’s a lie I tell myself again
drunk in a tourist trap at eleven am.

Rp Verlaine, a retired English teacher living in New York City, has an MFA in creative writing from City College. He has several collections of poetry including Femme Fatales, Movie Starlets & Rockers (2018), and Lies From The Autobiography 1-3 (2018-2020).

Poetry Drawer: repressed: broken days broken by beauty: the haunting truth by Tohm Bakelas


labyrinths shift and
awaken buried truths—
i walk dark twisted paths

broken days broken by beauty

coloured weeds growing
through cracked grey sidewalks—
do you even take notice?

the haunting truth

when life is good, i think:
i will die someday
and i am afraid

Tohm Bakelas is a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. He was born in New Jersey, resides there, and will die there. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, zines, and online publications. He has published 12 chapbooks. He runs Between Shadows Press