John David Muth

Link to home pageLink to current issueLink to back issuesLink to information about the magazineLink to submission guidelinesSend email to

Hillbilly Stew

A squirrel moved into our attic.
I hear her
skittering in the early morning.
The sound is like a rat sex orgy
sporadically disturbed by a stalking cat.

I named her Linda
after my first college girlfriend,
a nervous and chatty person.
We dated for two years.
She broke up with me
over the phone
very unexpectedly
during her study abroad semester in Belgium.
It was a collect call
so in addition to losing a girlfriend,
I had an eighty-dollar phone bill.

Working in my home office,
I hear her scratching the floorboards above.
She is probably nesting in the insulation
eating the electric wiring
shitting all over our boxes and bags.

I look up at the ceiling
call her a little bitch
tell her pest control is coming tomorrow
to make a hillbilly stew out of her.

My eyes fall back to the computer monitor.
The student I have been advising remotely
looks at me in horror.
I apologize
blame cabin fever
and far too much caffeine.

Father Under Glass

A priest once asked me
if I believed in angels
the kingdom of heaven
the resurrection of the body.

I told him sure.
My sister insisted I lie.
It was the only way to be
my niece’s godfather.

Fifteen years later,
I am less spiritual guide
and more father under glass.
If her parents
murder each other
over child support payments,
I will be the one to take care of her
pay for her college education
criticize her taste in men
walk her down the aisle
help her fill out divorce papers.
I’ll do the best I can.
She is the one person under twenty-five
who doesn’t annoy me.

She wants to play the xylophone
in the high school marching band
and I am reassured
even if tragedy strikes her parents
I’ll have more than enough time
to save up for a wedding.

My Chinese Name  

My wife and her pregnant girlfriend
discuss possible names
for her unborn daughter.
Her favorite is piao liang.
It means beautiful in Mandarin.
I roll my eyes at the pretension.
Neither she nor her husband is Chinese.

An ex-girlfriend gave me a Chinese name.
I remember her vividly.
She was pretty and fun
but very traditional,
wanted a baby right away.

She was thirty-five.
Her parents were pressuring her
to marry and have children,
an ancient expectation
that often brings unhappiness.

I came to realize I did not want children
and told her when she asked me
where our relationship was going.

Her usual stoicism shattered.
She called me a deceiver
a betrayer.
Her last word came as a slap:
hun dan.
A friend of mine later told me
it meant asshole.

No one else knows my Chinese name,
only she and I.
It was deservedly bestowed
but never proudly held.


John David Muth was born and raised in central New Jersey. He has been an academic advisor at Rutgers University for twenty years. His latest book, Dreams of a Viking Wedding (Aldrich Press), was published last year and can be found on