Poetry Drawer: Irene: Splinters: Garden of the Gods by Charles K. Carter

Irene

Irene took quickly to the scene,
Looking to discover new things,
Looking to be places she’d never been.

Irene quickly became a yes woman all right,
Saying yes to the men’s aberrant advances
And yes to the women’s aimless advice.

Irene took quickly to saying yes
Becoming addicted to their requests,
A few more track marks on her arms,

A few more heads up her skirt.
Irene quickly became a no woman all right.
She became no woman all right.

Splinters

I have found solace in this fluid state, this comforting womb,
This escape from the reality of mankind’s mania,
Drawn to the water’s stillness, its silence, to its blue

But the waves have torn off this false merman tale
And spat me out saltily to the sands above
Bidding me no mercy, no protection as the ancient whale

Waves a gentle goodbye – I bring my wet, wrinkled fingertips
To brush away these ocean-like teardrops.
I pluck away the barnacles like scabs that have to be compulsively picked

Off like a fish being scaled, flaked until it is merely flesh to be devoured.
I am no longer welcome to live in a world where there is only peace.
I stand naked in my vulnerability, left human after the sea has had me scoured.

I step out of the water and find footing on solid ground,
Gravity weighing heavy on these shoulders
Taking in the sights of the green earth and the sky’s musical sounds

Channeling the mighty thunder of the gods to stand tall, to stay afloat.
Even though, I fear the wind will whisk me away to mere particles of dust
As the hurricane makes splinters of a small, wooden fishing boat.

I fear I would rather be splintered in the sea.

Garden of the Gods

I stand upon this rock where we had our second date,
then both spent and energized from lovemaking,
Dazed by the camel-shaped formation, the gods’ fate

that brought us here, miles from any sound but these beating hearts,
longing to be lost in each other’s touch again,
we climbed higher, fell deeper, believing we would never part

but as the space between the camel’s hump and its head grows,
so does the space between us now, both physical and beyond,
this space, this emptiness, this forest full of woes.

Every year someone falls to their death –
Dazed by the dizzying distance below, I find my footing,
pondering what hope for us there is left.

Charles K. Carter is a queer poet and educator from Iowa. He has an MA in creative writing with a poetry concentration from Southern New Hampshire University and is completing an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University. His works have been published or are forthcoming in Dodging the RainThe Mark Literary ReviewActive Muse, and Anti-Heroin Chic.

Poetry Drawer: Five Poems by John Sweet

owego poem, from a great distance

or all of us fucked like
dogs in the rain or maybe just
some of us beaten with
the myth of god

or of us raped but
all of us left for dead and
did you come to this town knowing
all doors would be locked
against you?

were you given a shovel and
a reason to dig?

a child of your own to break?

there is never any pain so
private it cannot be shared with
those who hate you most

for kristen, who got there first

and here we are wrapped tight in
the laughter of dead men
shooting their guns at the sky

here we are saying we are here
with our maps drawn in the sand

with the house not quite level
after 100 years of civil war

pictures falling from cracked walls

baby with a mouthful of
broken glass and
the trick of course is
to separate the symbol from
                   the symbolized

the reality is that a clenched fist
has no value in an empty room

your god has no purpose
in a kingdom of corpses

paint his picture on whatever
holy surface you can find
and all it does is fade

xochiquetzal

dull pewter skies and five below
zero when we get the news of picasso’s death and
then we are stoned when we hear about his
                                             lover’s suicide

ground too hard to start digging graves,
so i am swimming in your blood

you are drowning in my arms

subtle addictions and the frost that
crawls through our veins and
was i whole before i met you?

did he understand the trail of
wreckage his life would produce?

probably
and he probably didn’t care and
we are too wired to sleep when his
widow puts the gun to her head

i am happy for the gift of absolution and
                        you are begging for more

pale sunlight though a haze of
january sky and we were laughing
at the idea of true love or i thought
maybe you were crying

thought you understood i
would always fail you in the end

the enigma in shades of grey on grey

set fire to the air
in the dead man’s house

make sure

says everything is okay, says
this is just a dream within a dream
,
but i have my doubts

i have stood on the river’s surface
on the coldest day of the year,
have looked down to watch the hands
pushing upward with diminishing strength

i have been god in the
truest sense,
but i prefer drugs

i prefer sex

pain and suffering on a human level
mixed with my father’s disapproval over
every choice i’ve ever made and
what i tell him that standing still isn’t an option,
                                                  he calls me a liar

when i talk about the future, he
puts the barrel of the gun in his mouth and
this is how we spend our last
fifteen years together

this is life in the kingdom of crows

i get married

learn to crawl blind through
any number of deserts of my own making,
but i hang onto this image of you from
when we were young

i hang onto
the idea of free will

the inevitability of a
diminished future

i will find you there and sing
bitter songs of hope
before the story ends

phantom hope

a million miles of static on
pilate’s radio but the asshole wants to dance

tells you the crucifixion is
all in your mind

says it’s a waste of time
being in love with an addict

thirty years and nothing to show for it but
cold sunlight down early morning streets

st elizabeth on her hands and knees
and crawling into the ocean in
some warmer corner of the world

silver chains and a cross of
gold and what if she can’t
remember her child’s name?

what if every moment is
the one that matters most?

you stumble through each one blind
only to end up lost

only to end up holding your
father’s ashes
in the middle of the freeway

a million miles of static in every
direction and that fucker judas with
his hand up your lover’s skirt

with his teeth filed down to
chrome points and his
tongue dripping poison

gives us all one last kiss
then says goodbye

John Sweet sends greetings from the rural wastelands of upstate NY. He is a firm believer in writing as catharsis, and in the continuous search for an unattainable and constantly evolving absolute truth. His latest poetry collections include Heathen Tongue (2018 Kendra Steiner Editions) and A Flag On Fire is a Song of Hope (2019 Scars Publications).

Poetry Drawer: Manhattan: Cocaine: To Sara (From DQ): Buzz Burn: Shadows by James Croal Jackson

Manhattan

lack of grass–
a poodle shits
on sidewalk

Cocaine

I am too scared to snort
so I lick powder off the blade–
it numbs my mouth. I want to
trust you when you say
there will come no harm
my way but I’d rather ingest
rust. My lungs already cold
in gentle snowfall. And
I worry about the heart.
Why does it feel like
impending illness
when all I want to
do is snort-laugh
with you all through
the night?

To Sara (From DQ)

Wouldn’t call myself wild. Wouldn’t last a day–
before you, another home I thought’d be forever.

Some call my eyes crystal but I couldn’t predict
a future outside the shelter. I was scared yet still

nomadic to a fault– too eager to attach, I now
purr from afar– me, on a pillow on the carpet,

you, sipping coffee on the couch– just to say
I see you, I want to go there, just not yet.

I will never detail my past, its unimaginable
happenings that make me want to spill Cabernet

glasses, scatter shards of red on tile. I’m learning
to be comfortable in my surroundings, to love

and welcome love by others in this space. I leap
atop the cabinets to walk into your world, observe.

And at night I wait for you to lay in bed when,
at last, I can rest on your chest, close my eyes,

and be.

Buzz Burn

glass of prop champagne could
be a three thousand dollar shot

I can’t pay these costs the
moving parts all I want

is to buy you liquor an
André for us to drink

such fine and cheap champagne
in front of the camera I turn

to improv heroes and beg to
break the bottle I am stuck inside

of work yet warm in winter when
the bottle breaks I always crave

Shadows

we are shapeshifters we believe
in the magic of night we blend
into shadows no one knows our
lust ogling us glowing knowing
yellow eyes watchful this world
we make our decisions the love
we choose to give and leave (oh,
the love we leave) in the light we
thought would blend into other
light but that is not the way the
sun operates it glints off car hot
metal to momentarily blind you
back into the shadows

James Croal Jackson (he/him) is a Filipino-American poet. He has a chapbook, The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017), and poems in Capsule Stories, SHARK REEF, and Ghost City Review. He edits The Mantle Poetry. Currently, he works in film production in Pittsburgh, PA.

Poetry Drawer: Grow the Fruit: Keep Your Balance: Hammer Nail and Wood by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal

Grow the Fruit

Some grew the fruit,
some paint it.
Some grew the fruit.
Some eat it.

Hard at work with
the harsh sun
at their back, the
workers toil.

The painter at
his workplace
or her workplace,
paints away.

The hungry with
the money
to afford it,
enjoy it.

The going gets
tough and the
worker applies
his and her

skill to make the
fruit grow and
gathers it for
consumption.

The painter takes
a brush to
the canvas and
makes it live,

the fruit from the
fields, from the
vine; anoints it
with colour.

The consumer
buys it at
the price that he
or she can

afford. The fruit
is sweet and
delicious,
and filling.

Poetry is
like fruit. It
can rot on the
page or be

the nourishment
the soul needs.
It satisfies
and provides.

Keep Your Balance

You try to keep your balance
as you are faltering
between vertigo and confusion
as a shower of light
washes out your eyes. The day
becomes night, you remain
clouded in your mind. You see
no clarity in the darkness
that rests in your soul. You seek
out the sun and the sweetness
of fruit. You keep your balance
tethering on the head of a pin.
You pray the year brings good
luck. You are daydreaming. You
are coming out of the abyss.
You believe the fortune cookie
and the wise words it chose just
for you. You are the river. You are
the chosen one. You are like the
tree with the sweetest fruit.

Hammer, Nail, and Wood

While we sleep
the hammer is at play,
nail and wood,
the hammering sounds,
a house is being built.

Early in
the morning, the sun is
still asleep,
the hammer does what
hammers do, pounds away.

Wooden and
metal handle, steelhead,
hammer, nail,
and wood. Walls, windows, doors
and fences being built.

Pantry Prose: Yob by Evan Hay

One enchanted evening in Whites: so let us start honestly, without indulging in faux ideological one-upmanship, nor casually pretending that back-in-the-day I sat in snug splendour upon a warm seat of influence as a committee member in the Comintern; or even gigged as junior editor of Lotta Continua. I did, but that’s a whole new scandal, a cast of thousands etc. Today I remain a gentleman, albeit one of diminished means, with precious few foolish accoutrements to declare bar my congenital masculine geniuses- these lamentably on occasion will entrance me into forgetting that discretion is indeed, more often than not, the better part of valour (as so happened recently).

Do you know those times? We’ve all likely had them- in your local enjoying a quiet drink most probably after having watched a Chelsea game; quietly & unobtrusively discussing sedulous thoughts with a few select spars prior to sensing someone parked up at an adjacent table, prattling inanely to silly pals, spouting immature observations based solely on their own two-bob myopic ignorant blinkered opinions. As the night passes you’ve maybe had marginally more pints than you’d originally planned or accounted for- slowly yet ever so surely becoming increasingly pissed. Still you can’t help hearing that obstreperous background persona non grata making reckless-imbecilic comments, repeatedly getting louder, noisier, darker- lazily, carelessly playing to a crass gallery of unkempt dummies. Forebodingly you gradually become a soupçon over bothered. Still convincing yourself that you’re more mature than him, you let it pass: no dramas. Urbane anger management clicks in but tellingly your mate actually revisits the bar- when you thought he’d disappeared for a well earned leak- hence unknown to you he offers up yet another unexpected pint of Punk IPA (one of over the eight) & indebted you honourably, albeit reluctantly, accept his generosity (loosely thinking ‘I really must be meandering home to attend to Mother’) whilst also imagining this prophetic pint could figuratively tip one over a rocky precipice. However those stellar Whites ‘homies’ easily assure & flatter you otherwise, as they always seem to do, so obediently one stays put- temporally muzzled.

Nevertheless eating away at your customary happy chemically charged mood swing is a frigging stale banana, sat at an enormous adjoining walnut dining table, that you’re now certain is looking for trouble. Still you’re a refined cultured European, a fully-grown renaissance adult- in stark contrast to this giant wank*r & tableau vivant of associated gimps. You like to think that you’re well above gratuitous childish friction, but no, you just can’t handle it any longer. Full of drunk-wired-bravado, you suddenly turn around snarling, hot sang noble arises, adrenalin pumping- a visceral grievance evident in both expression & body language. Each moment seems to flow in slow motion: friends cautionary voices faintly distant- inaudible, as if you’ve cotton wool stuffed into both cauliflower ears. Clenching fists, you alter states, as if some chap’s randomly flicked an emergency switch: you flip! Not only ready but determined to have a right royal tear up & your primary target’s that Berkshire sat in the VIP reservation. In milliseconds you abruptly stand, erect, spiritedly up-out from a deep leather Chesterfield, approaching the targeted ugly boor (multiple frit knob-jockeys dotted around him) who senses a legitimate anger & unadvisedly jerks up in quasi self-defence: ultra violence erupts, loud voices, screams, tears- but noticeably no tiaras.

Diamond cut crystal glasses get smashed, antique teak tables knocked over. You deal with it, delivering a proper straightener- a real one sided row. That annoying unprepared twat’s suddenly on the wrong end of numerous hard knuckled blows; aristocratic blood is spilled, staining your newly tailored clothes, it’s all across his newly decorated boat race too & his pink, possibly Hollister, or similarly inappropriate branded t-shirt’s now claret-red. His fair weather entourage swiftly departed, melting away from one’s testosterone, clearly flustered now meekly mincing, simultaneously with style, into Boodle’s. He alone remains cowering upon a rich Axminstered floor- his effete spindly legs instructed by his brain to no longer support him due to a barrage of vicious heavy punches rained down upon his battered canister. He winces, peeking up submissively to seek mercy. You glare back admiringly down upon your handiwork, declaring yourself victor as nothing’s coming back. And then finally, post-carnage, you make a swift exit. Heading home, strolling down St. James’s with senses heightened, still shaking slightly with rage cum fear, & feeling as if one’s head needs a fucking enema. Piece by piece one truly considers what’s just happened & whom one’s just totally mullered: only the bleeding Duke of Westminster. MOTHER!

Evan Hay exists in Britain & rather than follow spurious leaders- over the years he’s intermittently found it therapeutic to write out various thoughts, feelings & ideas as short stories to be examined, considered, & interpreted by clinical practitioners who may be able to offer him professional psychological assistance.

Pantry Prose: Buzz by David Green

“What the fucking hell happened to you?”

Of all the people Ollie had wanted to avoid as he trekked across the schoolyard, Darren Malone was sitting not so pretty at the top of a lengthy list. Dazza, as he insisted on being called, (the daft twat), was the year’s resident big-mouthed bully. Like most bullies, Dazza liked to harass people based on his own insecurities – Dazza’s being his looks. A head shaped like an oversized rugby ball, and his features all curiously clustered around his bulbous nose. It gave him a cartoonist cast that would have been amusing if his cranium wasn’t the size of Sputnik and built like the proverbial you know what. Their paths had crossed occasionally. Being good at sports meant Ollie spent time in the company of people he’d rather ignore. Ollie liked his sports but would rather talk about books, movies or video games with the “geeks”. His tactic was to keep his head down, do what he had to do and get out. Not because he was afraid. Because he’d rather not interact with the preening cocks and their gushing teenage testosterone at the best of times.

This was not the best of times.

Ollie had missed the first month of what was his final year at high school. The big one. The one where it all counts. Or so Principle Fink had droned at an assembly before summer break. Fink was an all right principle, all things considered, but was incapable of anything other than boring students out of any thought of the teaching profession. Thankfully Ollie had missed that too, but had Ted, a kindred spirit, gave him the jist of it during the holidays. He had kept Ollie up to date with all the gossip that usually swirled around any place populated by teenagers. A natural storyteller, even he couldn’t make Finks proclamations anymore exciting than they were.

Ollie had been in hospital. It hadn’t been a surprise to him, in fact he’d been waiting for this operation since he was ten. Five years of dentist appointments, jaw moulds, braces, removed teeth and anxiety had led him to an operating theatre on a sweltering May morning in 1998. Never operated on before, Ollie had left his underwear on under his gown. The last thing he remembered, as the nurse had counted down from ten whilst they mixed the anesthetic into his bloodstream, was why did he have to be naked under a flimsy gown that revealed too much if they were working on his face?

Ollie had a recessive jaw. It’s common. What wasn’t so normal was just how recessive it was. If someone had a gap greater than two centimetres, an operation loomed. Ollie’s was 3.5cm and getting wider because of his developing body. He had been told at one of his many consultations that some parents insisted on the procedure if their child had a gap of a measly centimetre. For cosmetic reasons. ‘Eating’ through a straw, and having a bedpan for company on waking six hours later, Ollie had wanted to hunt down every one of those pitiful excuses for parents and do some reconstructive work of his own.

The jaw had been pulled forward as much as it could. Placed like the final piece of a demented jigsaw into the gaps where braces had manipulated Ollie’s teeth to accommodate the foreign invader. This meant that the jawbone needed breaking. With a hammer and chisel. In two places. Then bolted together with metal plates, wired up to resemble Fort Knox. There were two gaps at either side of Ollie’s bulldog grin so he could ‘eat’ liquid food. They hooked his left arm up to a drip that made sure he didn’t dehydrate, while the nurses attached his right arm to a machine that gave him sweet pain relief. His visitors asked him how he’d felt, but Ollie couldn’t say. He really couldn’t as it’s difficult to talk when you’re physically incapable of moving your mouth.

Truth be told, it wasn’t the best way to spend an unusually warm summer.

Ollie had been one of the shorter lads in the year, though years of playing football, rugby and Judo had lent him a sturdy physique. He looked like a dwarf from The Lord of the Rings, but less hairy. As fate would have it, puberty had decided that this was the summer to hit Ollie with everything it had. On top of the constant agony from his reconstructed face, downy hair had sprung out on his chin and top lip. As if the position his jaw had been in had held off the onset of fluffy manhood. He grew half a foot too. This would have been a very welcome change, as what boy doesn’t want to be taller? Unfortunately Ollie wasn’t able to eat solid food during his recovery, so what he gained in height, he lost in weight. He now resembled the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. With a jaw like Buzz Lightyear.

The jaw was unwired at the end of September, a few weeks earlier than planned, and for two good reasons. First, the smell. Ollie was in real danger of gagging on the putrid taste of it. Brushing his teeth was tricky, what with the sheet of metal and rubber bands covering them. Ollie could quite understand why people had stopped coming up to his stifling bedroom to visit him. Plus, he wasn’t much of a conversationalist.

Second, was the weight loss. It had been four months since Ollie had eaten real food. Had he known the wait would have been as long and tortuous as it had been, he would have had something more luxurious than a medium chicken McNugget meal with a banana milkshake on the afternoon before his operation. Post-op, his weight clocked in at just under seven stone. Now, this wouldn’t have as much of a problem if Ollie was still a tippy-toe over five foot tall. It was a problem because Ollie was now five foot eight and had been three and a half stone heavier. Ollie could think of a few people that would welcome that kind of weight loss, but for his consultants it was quite the drama.

Ollie had avoided mirrors over the summer. He bit the bullet the morning of his return to school. He only recognised his eyes glowering back. People had always said his eyes were pretty. At least he had them to fall back on. A summer in bed had turned him into a milk bottle. His dark hair, curling down to his shoulders and across his brow, exaggerated the pallor. Cheekbones so sharp they could have their own set at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The facial hair, that Ollie thought rather cool as teenage boys do, looked like someone had stuck the cuttings from a hairdressers floor haphazardly around his jawline to fool a weary liquor seller into selling eager teens some cheap booze.

That jawline. His eyes kept falling back to it. Buzz fucking Lightyear.

Ollie had dreaded that first day back. It was hard enough returning to school late, all the questions, the guarded looks, the open stares, the glorious rumours. He felt like a newborn horse, leggy and feeble, thrust into a world he didn’t want to be in. Unsure of what his new body could do. He looked like a different person, a strung-out Brit-pop reject desperately needing several hot dinners. It made a hard task even tougher. Ollie wasn’t sure he was up to the test.

“What the fucking hell happened to you?” cried Dazza, the daft twat, spotting him like an owl spying a scurrying mouse across a vast distance. Voice dripping with glee at the prospect of a fresh target. Someone to pour his teenage angst on. To burn the whole fucking thing down.

Ollie’s jaw ached. He was conscious of all the eyes on him. The whispers, the giggles, the pointing. It was hot. So fucking hot. He hadn’t been cool for what felt like eons. He thought about doing what he always did around Dazza. Keep his head down. Don’t engage. Ollie gave it great consideration, as empires rose and crumbled between the seconds.

“Go fuck yourself, you daft twat!” he screamed. Months of pent up aggression and fury unleashed, Ollie’s fist landed squarely on Dazza’s crunching, formerly bulbous nose.

David Green is a fiction writer based in Co Galway, Ireland, and has been published in North West Words, Nymphs, and will appear in forthcoming anthologies from Black Hare Press, Nocturnal Sirens and Iron Faerie. David is the host of ‘Off The Page’ a monthly open mic designed for aspiring writers to showcase their work.

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Books From The Pantry: Diviner’s Nemesis II – Retribution by Maggie Shaw

Congratulations on your new novel, Diviner’s Nemesis II – Retribution. Can you tell us about it? Have you an extract that you could share with us?

Diviner’s Nemesis II – Retribution is a sequel to Diviner’s Nemesis I – Avenger but can be read as a stand-alone book, too. Both books are set in 1970s London against a backdrop of occultism and the paranormal. In Diviner’s Nemesis II – Retribution demonic forces are amassing against the protagonist Liz Graham to remove her as head of the psychic society P.S.I. Her husband Alec’s plot to destroy her predecessor Jonathan Keast, leaves her defenceless against Keast’s schemes to depose her. Can Liz destroy the evil powers at work before they destroy her?

A short extract from the book: part of section 3.5:

Outside, the night was cold and damp and still. The heavy fog deadened the lamplight and the sound of their footsteps, and enveloped the sloping fellside around them in a foreshortening grey curtain of silence. Liz confidently led the way along the streaming path beside the fell wall, at one with the elements. Though she felt disturbed by the aura of death overshadowing the crag, the messages from the rocks reassured her that should anything threaten her in that eerie walk, men would spring up from the very stones in her defence.

Keast followed her cautiously, using her as a shield against Alec’s men who he knew would be waiting among the rocks ready to kill him as mercilessly as he had killed two of them earlier. The eerie trek brought to his mind another bleak night when he had followed a woman who had shown him the way to a darker destination. All the women he had loved had had the power to elevate and destroy; but he could not understand even now why they had used such powers so capriciously. He stopped on the path and spoke to chase them back into the past where they belonged.

‘Liz, how can you live with this solitude?’

‘I’m a Celt: I am one with these surroundings. There is no solitude here,’ she said. She turned back to look at him and laughed as scornfully as he had so often laughed at her.

‘You thought this night was yours, Jon, didn’t you; but even you are frightened now. All Hallows Eve is far older than the syncretic Christianity which adopted it and spawned your bastard faith. This night is Oidhche Shamhna, Samhain, when the gates of Hades, Ynys Wair, are open to receive the dying sun. Tonight the spirits rove the earth again to torment those who once tormented them. For the next six winter months nature will sleep with the spirits in the underworld; but if you join them now, you will not return with them in the spring.’

She turned and walked on down the path, leaving her unexpected threat hanging in the air. He hurried after her, knowing not to retaliate against her bizarre tirade because she could easily extinguish the storm lantern and disappear into the night, leaving him to the fate she had threatened to bring down upon him.

A video of Maggie reading another extract, part of Section 1.6.

When did you first discover your love for writing?

I have always written stories, ever since my childhood – it’s just a part of me. I wrote my first story soon after I was able to write. It was about a working horse that broke his milk-cart traces and escaped to the mountains to live with the wild horses in a hillside cave.

You are also a musician. Do you write your own songs?

Yes, I also write songs, and again, I have been writing songs since my childhood. The first song I can remember composing was a sea shanty about a storm. My stories are a good source of inspiration for the songs I write. I am in the process of recording some of them for my new website which is due to go live in the next month or so. It was also good to be able to perform songs like ‘Merry-go-round’ in the ArtSwarm video magazine series.

Who inspires you?

Inspiration comes from the everyday things around me – a chance remark in a conversation, anger at an injustice, compassion for those struggling with life. My Christian faith, recovery discipline and my own back story are all fertile sources of material for stories and songs. People who have influenced me include the Inklings writers Charles Williams, J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis, and from my childhood, Alan Garner who lives in nearby Congleton. Landscapes that have inspired me include London, Scotland and the Lakeland valley where my family farmed for several generations, Ennerdale.

Have you any other projects on the horizon?

My next project, which I hope to complete this autumn, is to publish my novella Eregendal which I wrote when I was 21. This is a fairy tale-like fantasy about a heroic quest that goes wrong, in the genre of Visionary Fiction. The name of the leading character, Eregendal, is now also the name of my indie publishing house.

Maggie’s website

Books From The Pantry: She-Clown and other stories by Hannah Vincent reviewed by Yang Ming

Women are often seen as resilient creatures in the face of adversity. But beneath this façade lies something deeper: vulnerability and the desire to be a better version of themselves. That is what British writer Hannah Vincent hopes to convey in her debut short story collection, She-Clown and other stories. Packed with sixteen fierce and funny feminist stories, this extraordinary collection is a delightful read.

The stories are told from the women’s perspective. They are brutally honest, raw, witty, and at the same time, moving. There is Charlie in the title story, She-Clown, which was shortlisted for the Manchester Writing Competition 2017, and Words & Women Competition 2017. Charlie is She-Clown, a magician who performs magic tricks at children’s parties. When the girls’ mother introduces her to the party guests Charlie realises she knew some of them. They are men who previously treated her with no respect by engaging in sexual acts with her. The ordinariness of the magic tricks she performed emphasises the absurdities of life, as if women are meant to clown around for them. But Charlie is enlightened when the girls’ father, Tony, who first mistook her as ‘She-Clam’, explains that ‘There’s no difference between male and female clams, did you know? No difference in colour, or markings, no mating behaviour. So only the clam knows who’s who and what’s what.’ This metaphorical commentary brilliantly encapsulates what gender equality means.

While Charlie gets a glimpse of reciprocal attraction, others are seeking to find freedom. There is Charlotte in ‘The Poison Frog’, a simple story about an unlikely friendship between a frog and a girl, with a hint of surrealism. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2016, it tells the story of Charlotte who lives with her mother, even though she’s thirty years old. They are a close pair often seen together for grocery shopping and dental appointments. During their visit to a specialist, Charlotte’s mother discovers there’s a poison frog living in her throat! Over time, Charlotte is strangely drawn to it. After a successful operation, she takes the frog home. She takes care of it like a human companion. She dresses the frog up with a bonnet from one of her mother’s dolls. She even takes it for a walk where her neighbours chirp, ‘Morning, Froggy!’

The unexpected appearance of the poison frog marks as a turning point in Charlotte’s life and she begins to understand what makes her so happy. Fundamentally, the story asks the question of how much does one willing to fight for what they want, achieve it without destroying a relationship?

The collection ends perfectly with the story, ‘Woman of the Year’. It’s achingly funny yet empowering. Written from a second person perspective, the reader gets invited to a formal luncheon in ‘so-called intelligent buildings where no one can hear you when you are inside.’ Everyone is seated at a table according to the first letter of their names. The reader is reminded again the reason behind the invitation that ‘someone thinks highly of you, considers you worth inviting, wants to celebrate you.’ But who invited them?

As everyone tries to figure out who invited them, the conversations at the table begin to flow freely around the reader. You listen to their life stories and their achievements as if you are right there with them. The luncheon drags on until an impending storm throws everyone into disarray.

Writing about women takes a lot of courage and sensitivity. In this case, Vincent delves deeper into the feminine psyche, and incorporates them into her characters. With a greater understanding of their emotions and behaviour, these characters become sublime and multi-faceted. She’s a talented writer whose strength lies in turning ordinary stories into something extraordinary. Ultimately, She-Clown and Other Stories is a page-turner, and with every page, it will invigorate your soul. Now, that certainly establishes her as one of the freshest voices in contemporary fiction.

She Clown and other stories is available from Myriad

Special thanks to Emma Dowson.

Poetry Drawer: Dirty Devil Soul: The Freedom of Dreams: So Cold Here and There: Your Flanks by John Tustin

Dirty Devil Soul

I called you angel
Almost from the beginning.
You were
No angel,
The winds through the trees
Have whispered to me,
You
Dirty devil soul
Driving me to the brink
Of abdicating
Some of
My most tender dreams.

I try to think of the
Possibilities of the new her
And smile
But I can’t because
You stole that ability
Along with my dignity
And the bulk of my faith,
My heart
Shattered

And now bloodless,
Sitting slumped
At the foot of
What was once
Our bed.

I will go home tonight,
Her voice on the phone
So fleet, so tender and so weary
Of the world.
Her cadence
Still in my mind,
I will

Open bottle after bottle
And imagine her body pressed to mine,
Her lips pursed and thirsty for mine,
Her ears opened and hungry
For the aural dance of my words.
I won’t think of you for more than a dry rustling
Moment.

Her eyes are there when I close them
And I suffer knowing I am
Without much hope,
Admitting my meritless existence
Would only erode her heart
Eventually
Like water on a stone
But maybe
Just maybe it’s different
This time.

Different than every
Other
Time.

I contemplate that
And I pretend her
And I smile
But because of you
It’s a smaller smile
And when I see it in the mirror
I call myself
A no good
Willful
Liar.

The Freedom of Dreams

Just in from the rain,
Hair dripping down,
Popping open a beer
And sitting in front of the window,
The darkened sky staring back,
Wet and tired
In a home that does not belong to me.

Beard wet with rain and sadness,
The night stalks on.
I close the blinds
And turn on the music,
Hoping the room will vibrate
With the clicking of the keyboard,
The filling of the virtual page
On the computer screen,
Knowing it probably won’t
But hoping anyway.

Begging for your love
Like a beggar begs for coins,
A waif begs for bread,
A homeless cur begs
To see another sun
As he shivers through another night
On the street.

Your love is a viola
From the hallway.
Your love is vines of crisp black hair
Pulling me toward the light.
Your love is tears on the page,
Blood on the cage,
The freedom of dreams,
The vast expanse of fantastical imagining.
Your love is your legs stretched out along the bed
As I caress them from top to bottom,
Knowing I have wanted them before I knew
You existed.

My heart bursts in the air
In spirals of sparks and colours
When you love me.
When you love me.
But now I am alone.

The rain picks up as the night carries on.
The beer is gone.
I fall naked to the bed
With my snarling mind
And my broken feet,
My hair dry now,
No music in my ears,
The words unwritten

As I wait for your eyes to meet my eyes
When I close them
Until the morning.

I am only free
In the dreams I make
But cannot remember.
Somehow I know
You are there
In these unremembered dreams
And you are holding me
And we are safe and home
And that is why
I am free there
And want to stay there
Even when another morning
Comes.

So Cold Here and There

It’s so cold here
And I cannot afford to turn up the heat
So I shiver and open another bottle of beer
While listening to Caruso sing Je Crois Entendre Encore
in Italian then in French
And thinking about your own loneliness
And how cold you must be
Huddled in your bed with small dogs and your
Casual loneliness
As a wind so much colder
Than the wind that freezes my feet hits you
As I drink and type,
Not knowing what Caruso is singing
But liking it as much
As I like imagining
Your open legs
And open smile
Even though you’re so cold right now
Where you are,
Without me.

Your Flanks

Now you are here
With your flanks in my bed
I imagine
While William Bell sings
“You Don’t Miss Your Water”.
I listen while I vomit,
Waiting to finish so I can drink a little bit more.

All this American music coming from the church
Or from avoiding church
And the Louvin Brothers might have thought
That Satan is real
But I know better

As I hang upside down
Listening to The Christian Life
And knowing that, at most,
Jesus was a good guy

And I imagine that you are here,
Naked and wonderful,
Your flanks in my bed
And half as beautiful as Parsons and McGuinn harmonizing

In a mere moment
Before life does not matter much again
For 8 hours

Or more.

John Tustin Poetry

Poetry Drawer: The Trouble with Pronouns: Basket Weave by Robert Demaree

The Trouble with Pronouns

Two reasons to avoid pronouns:
First, inclusiveness,
Something preachers have learned:
God has God’s plan for God’s people.
Second, liability.
Legal makes you spell things out:
Do not take Zoltoff
If you are allergic to Zoltoff
Or to the ingredients in Zoltoff.

But then new uses for familiar words,
A way of saying who you are:
She, her, he, him, they, them.

The school association was meeting
In Chattanooga.
This was 1960.
The Latin teachers were packed
Into a tiny hotel room
To hear a paper on some obscure grammar.
A man about 40, a priest, I think,
Turned to the group, smiling
As if to reveal a monstrous secret:
You know the trouble
With the relative pronoun,
Don’t you:
They don’t always agree.

Basket Weave

Memory, that persistent puff of lint
Caught on the edge of the kitchen counter,
Preserved to no good use:
At the supermarket I lurk
While my wife considers cleansers,
Idly eyeing a shelf of
White plastic waste baskets.
Where in the world, a clerk once asked,
Did you find that beautiful basket-weave?
This was 40 years past,
In a discount store long since
Gone belly up,
Many towns and houses ago,
Along Route One,
Strip malls bulldozed out for condos,
Maybe just inside Fairfax County.
What has become of the
Basket-weave waste can
We bought that day
And the woman who sold it to us,
Remembered out of so much not,
How many check-out lines stood in,
How many white waste baskets yet to buy?

Robert Demaree is the author of four book-length collections of poems, including Other Ladders published in 2017 by Beech River Books. His poems have received first place in competitions sponsored by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and the Burlington Writers Club. He is a retired school administrator with ties to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Bob’s poems have appeared in over 150 periodicals including Cold Mountain Review and Louisville Review.