28 July 2022

Three Poems by Stephen Mead

The Walking

(Thanks to Jane Siberry)



from over the shoulder lifted by wind

when somebody went face down in a stream-----

How dreamily, further on, rapt, steadfast Narcissus

becomes more enamored with his own lovely reflection.


When night arrives, from the bottom, stars, cabbage-white,

unfold and rise.

Look, they seem to whisper.  See.


Is the distance crying?


Bells peal.


Don't answer.

Walk mute, constant among strangers.

Pretend clarity when friends ask.

Fake assurance as knowledge

to what keeps repeating itself.



Above Eyes


Dreams exist in a sleepwalker's dilemma, a field of force.

How to ever retrieve, reel the entirety back, when still

in training wheels, though seventy-five?


Maybe there's been a mistake.

True, true enough, plans, speculations breed,

feed off of us, turn to nourishment or flotsam.


Which will intention get: accident claiming impulse,

a cause of digression, or the target vibrating on contact

as a lover is suddenly the index for every next thought?


No, be a besieged city.

Erect stones, sandbags of blankets,

then pretend waiting's only nominal.

Better forget. Clean the fridge.


So why do these breaths, these visitations, descend,

pelt, hook in anxious of children as if

the hovering afterwards

was the matter life depends on?





This is painting in near dark,

not even eyesight for light.

More like fingertip probes.

More like radar lips.

Can you read me?

Over.  Stand by.


By & by, baby, knowing only words,

I grow more illiterate, grow into a form

of clay, clay as flesh entering the paint.

It's symbiotic, each feeding, taking away,

open veins pulsing with the shapes of touch.


The shapes of touch are color,

energy depletion reaching a main circuit,

arcs of volts calm as lighting with thundering



Make no mistake.  The flashes are real.

So I give you this riddle, our gestures

of instinct homing in, a primitive source


dark may see the arch, the frame through

which paintings speak.

15 July 2022

quotidian one–twelve by Shine Ballard

As a child, i dehydrated easily.

Ginger & rye . . .


after i mowed the lawn,

“i’ve got to go—”

into sleep until, again, i wake—

“i can wait.”

Procure another pencil.

Wipe down the sink,

and she weeds the perimeter.

A quick lunch with a politically kneaded history.

i’ll loathe a little deeper.


Pick up some Lapsang Souchong,

soon . . . soon . . .

be safe,

editing in between.


Shine Ballard

04 July 2022

Best Job/Worst Job

The following pieces are part of new series on Scud, whereby authors respond to the following non-fiction prompt: What was your best job? What was your worst job? Author Jack Mayo [1] only responds to the first prompt (though beautifully, so it’s allowed) while author Bob Jones [2] responds to both. If you are interested in submitting your own Best Job/Worst Job essays, please see the Contact page on this website. Consider publishing anonymously, so you can speak your mind.

Worst Job: “Stuck Lit”
By Jack Mayo

The worst job I’ve had is my current one. This is partly because of previous bad jobs that have led me here, and partly due to particular dynamics of my current job, the cravenness of my institution, and the dysfunction of my department. I’m a Lecturer of English at a public university in Texas. My intention here is to trespass my daily rationalizations in order to get down how entirely bad it is: A thick description of my job’s badness meant not to compete with the badness of other jobs but to articulate the fine-toothed badness of this one. My account will beg the question why I stay. Quit Lit is a genre that has arisen to describe my situation, written by people who’ve gotten out. I envy these people. I’m also sad they’ve given up their summers. Let me contribute then to the field of Stuck Lit. Let me be a voice of the stuck. Allow me to console myself at least.

In terms of the desire not to work at all, my job is sometimes great. I can dick around all of Monday and often do. My hair is wild and rumpled and an emblem of my profession. Mild mornings I bike to work. My office, which I must battle to keep, is the size of a closet and smells like a locker. In it hang two dress shirts I don in rotation on days when I teach.

Of course, I’ve done this to myself. But my participation in my stuck-ness makes the job worse. It makes it harder to leave as well. I find myself not at a crossroads so much as a cul-de-sac. The relative freedom of my schedule forces me to confront the idea that I might feel this way in any job, or even with no job. I’m uncertain of my identity without it. This uncertainty has been leveraged against me, used to pay me insulting wages. In some respect, my job is my hatred of my job. It’s possible I could hate my job without even having it.

But enough about me.

As I said, this job could be excellent, but pains have been taken to make it suck. The fulcrum of that suckage is that I’ve perpetually, and in perpetuity, more students than I can teach, and they produce, perpetually and in perpetuity, more pages than I can read. My job makes me Sisyphus and Tantalus both at once.

I have a colleague I run into often in the hallways whose name is Dave but let’s call him Sam. I like Sam. He’s prone to reminding me that his garage is stocked with camping equipment I can borrow. He’s always refilling his water bottle and he admires my hoodie. His optimism has propelled him to high places in our department--a hero amongst trolls. It’s possible he becomes a likable dean. A remarkable human is Sam. There’s force to his optimism that I admire from the perspective of my worthlessness. On Tuesdays, when I end my classes early so that I might cycle through the countryside, he’s there in the hallway talking optimism. Sam styles himself as impervious to the pains taken to make our jobs suck. He says things like: “Isn’t it great that all we do is read stuff and talk about it?” When I talk with Sam, I’m prone to agree. When I face my mountain of papers to grade, I’m prone to giving them all A’s in lieu of critique. The speed of my reading is a natural limit my job is leveraged against. An intentionally diabolical calculation. If not intentionally diabolical, then why would my performance evaluation be placed entirely in the hands of the people my job it is to educate? The elegant solution is not hard to find: I simply don’t read much of what they write. I serve instead as their cheerleader, advocate, camp-counselor--roles that have been made necessary by budget cuts elsewhere.

It’s this absurd bankruptcy that makes my job suck. Nowhere am I encouraged actually to help my students improve. Everywhere I’m required to perform my best impression of Sam. Sam has taken his Sam impression so far he performs it for himself. When I talk with Sam I become the version of me that performs Hallway Sam. Meanwhile, the institution makes no investment in me, thereby ensuring my replaceability matters to no one but me. To find my idealism mined so thoroughly and then paraded through a chamber of efficiency is the precise mechanism through which my job sucks.

It’s why Sam and I lead double lives. My shadow-self is an amalgamation of cycling and beer. It’s made of a handshake agreement with my students that none of us work too hard. In quietness we collaborate. In total, I teach them nothing, except maybe the minutest manner of resistance. To teach all of them anything would take 60 hours in a week, plus another 60 to respond to their homework. Instead, I’ve grown practiced at filling 75 minutes calling roll. My students rate me above-average in terms of my roll-call performance. My long-form roll call has withstood empirical review, which I’ve commissioned and authored, in adherence to the protocol for keeping my job, in which I demonstrate continual improvement within the absurd bankruptcy. My findings I’ve assessed and reformulated with higher efficacy. I’m almost a prescription drug. I’m nearly AI. The widening distance between the expected and the real is what makes my job the worst. Across the divide I sustain the argument that the one be taken for the other. The vehicles of my dissonance: a bike, some beers, a weed gummy.

Sam’s gambit I can hardly imagine. At the end of each semester, he takes a picture with each of his classes. My favorite colleague. A total monster.

If I had it to do over, I’d join not the faculty, but the Orwellian Office of Faculty Success, whereupon I'd lose my summer but my cycling would become total.

Best Job/Worst Job
By Bob Jones

My favorite job was working in a coffee shop while I was in college. The one I worked at was downtown, off campus. I remember walking there in the predawn hours, my hair freezing, almost deliriously tired because my shift started at like 5:30 AM and, being a college student, I never went to bed before 2. It's a small thing, but the job got me away from campus and brought me into contact with townies, older indie kids who snuck me into bars while I was underage, and regular people who lived in this medium-prestigious college town. I loved coffee. I loved that I loved coffee. I loved being done with work by noon, tips stuffed in my pocket, and getting a paycheck every single week. I spent money on CDs and books and cigarettes, I paid my own rent, I let my tuition bills accumulate because that amount of money was unreal, ludicrous. I was young and had energy and the world seemed exciting, walking to work under the stars, the town still sleeping and so quiet. I remember making exquisite cappuccinos. I remember drinking a beer at 6 AM on St. Patrick's Day then unlocking the doors. I remember smoke breaks. I remember working closing shifts, there not being a single clean glass in the house because a local band was rocking and we couldn't keep up, then locking up, heading straight to townie bars, seeing bands, feeling like I'd tapped into something joyful and real about my new, quasi-adult life. I met friends there who have proven to be lifelong friends. It was magic.

Fast forward about 12 years, and my worst job was working in a coffee shop.

I had graduated from college, I had graduated from graduate school, I was married, and a child was on the way. I was also profoundly lost after floundering through years of soul-crushing adjunct work and deciding I could not do it for one semester longer. I could not read one more undergraduate essay. I just couldn't. I was unemployed, seeing therapists half-heartedly, drinking too much. Eventually I was kicked off unemployment and I needed to work, to do something, anything. So I got a job at a chain coffee shop in a strip mall in a suburb that required a 45-minute commute by bus. It was also soul-crushing. I remember scrubbing shit and pubes off the toilets and thinking about my graduate school friends and classmates who were getting tenure, finishing books and PhDs, getting profiled and reviewed in the New York Times. I have come to believe in the dignity of labor and I don't think there's anything wrong with custodial work, cleaning toilets and such, but at the time I felt like I had royally fucked up somewhere along the line, to be doing the same work I had done a dozen years earlier for roughly the same amount of pay, only now my friends weren't there with me, I was about to have a shitload of responsibility, I was mopping up alone in a suburban strip mall, and there was no joy, none at all.


[1] A pseudonym.
[2] Another pseudonym.