Pantry Prose: Plastic Breath by Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi

After seven days of intolerable confinement, Izzy decided that this foggy afternoon was the right time to free herself. And, if she could manage, Clara.

She had been testing her crippled body since the morning darkness, inundating her extremities with signals to flex, and, with any hard-earned luck, move. Her weak arms appeared up to the task; she guessed her weight to be just shy of one-hundred pounds. Her legs, however, remained stubborn, anchoring her to the bed. For all the training she had subscribed to these counterparts, none was more rigorous, more vital than her breathing regimen.

Izzy’s relationship with oxygen had always been of a toxic nature. A university athlete who had relied upon her immaculate lungs for victory, it had been an unreliable ankle that decided ten metres from an important finish line was the time to snap, end her career, sink her into the depths of depression, and enrol her in a new, lifelong sport: smoking. Three packs a day, four when she was feeling particularly good (or bad), for fifty years.

And now the ghosts of cigarettes past were preventing her, in spite of her cooperative arms, from liberating herself, and, more importantly, Clara.

Izzy exhaled a laboured breath, painfully inhaled another. She should have been accustomed to it by now, but the air filtering throughout her sanctuary still tasted as artificial as it smelled. She felt the rather stale intake race through her mouth and nostrils, hoping to reach the pair of black bags that kept her going for no real purpose.

Save for Clara.

The clean dose of oxygen reached her ashen lungs, then exited her mouth and nose in another laboured exhalation. Izzy imagined the polluted molecules warning the new wave of respiration about what corruption lay within her.

She looked to her right, locked eyes with the never-blinking Clara, and, with a look that said “Don’t you dare move now”—she couldn’t risk precious breaths on her roommate’s deaf ears—began the arduous journey.

Izzy watched as she willed her right arm across the centimetres that felt like kilometres of bed. The feeble limb made pitiful progress before stopping entirely so she may regain what energy she could.

A surge of anger propelled her arm against the plastic sheet dividing her and Clara. Her hand slid down the thick material until it landed in the crevice between the sheet and edge of the bed. Using this newfound leverage, Izzy began pulling her weight with her right arm, while pushing against the mattress with her left. The juicy idea of giving up had crossed her mind, just as it had when her former severely fit self, besieged by physical and psychological cramps, had desired to slow her run to a crawl at the three-thousand-metre mark. Her conditioned lungs had burned then. Now they were volcanic.

But the agony and certain death would be worth it. Not only for herself, but Clara, who had never felt a pang in her endless life.

Izzy now found herself at a ninety-degree angle: the top half of her body sprawled laterally across the bed; the bottom half remained affixed to where it had been since she embarked upon this suicide mission of sorts. After a quick mental team huddle with her barely-working parts, she used her right hand to push against the plastic sheet. The damn thing was like a wall of concrete. Her reluctant body threatened to pull the plug on the whole operation, but a little bit of that wholesome anger, and a lot of thinking about what would happen to Clara if she failed, helped free the bottom of the plastic sheet from between the mattresses. Izzy exhaled so deeply, the fog outside of her only window found its way to her eyes.

One breath.

Her vision slowly…

Two breaths.

…slowly…

Three breaths.

…returned.

She felt her old nemesis oxygen assisting her rushing blood to restore her vision. But she knew better; death had brushed past her.

Move it, she urged herself.

Izzy hadn’t intended to escape by falling on her head, but as she shimmied herself closer… closer… closer, then over… over… over the edge of the bed, it seemed the only way. Her head free of the plastic sheet, the faint aroma of cooking bombarded her olfactory. She couldn’t help but sacrifice a valuable breath to take in the recipe she had shared with her daughter long ago. You’re using too much garlic powder, she thought, the seasoning burning her sinuses. But that was Isabelle: too much or too little of everything.

Her shoulders hanging over the edge of the bed, thinned blood rushing to her head, Izzy wondered—not for the first time—what Isabelle would think when the time came to trudge upstairs, check on her dying mother, and find her however she ended up. Hopefully, with Clara in my arms, she thought.

She wondered if her daughter would even care.

The pair of Izzy’s had lived a life of few kisses and plenty of bites. Izzy had made the cliche attempts to live via her namesake (Isabelle’s ankles were still intact, after all). Her daughter had indeed run; not on the track, but away from home, turning the typical one-off act of rebellion into a quarterly sport. When she was home, Isabelle would blame Izzy for all of her life’s unwanted biographic details: the casting out of her father, the selfish act of naming her after herself (never mind the tradition), the reason for her isolating unattractiveness, the asthma and other varieties of respiratory ailments courtesy of her chain-smoking. That her only child had decided to punish her by never marrying, never having children, was not lost on Izzy. Still, when Izzy had become too ill to breathe on her own, it was Isabelle who rushed her to the hospital; and it was Isabelle who brought her home, tucked her into bed, and made sure the oxygen tent kept her alive.

But after seven days of intolerable confinement, seven days of embarrassing baths and changes, seven days of no words exchanged save for begrudged greetings and farewells, Izzy had decided that this foggy afternoon was the right time to free herself. And, if she could manage, Clara.

Beloved Clara.

She could no longer see her only friend, but knew she was right where she had left her. I’m coming, she thought, hoping the suffocating air out here wouldn’t render her a liar.

Like in the old days, when slower competitors somehow cruised past her, good old-fashioned anger fuelled her cause, and she writhed her dangling body further over the edge of the bed like a fish out of water. A fish that wants out of her damn bowl! she goaded herself, and grew angrier at her handicap. The fingertips on her right hand touched something cold, hard. It took her a moment to realize she had touched the floor. Her left hand, still pushing against the bunched-up comforter, worked alone to send her over the rest of the way.

In the space of seconds, Izzy saw the ceiling, then her abdomen, then her legs, the latter two crashing down on her. Within the same seconds, she had felt emptiness beneath her, then the same cold, hard floor forcing itself into her neck and spine. Precious breaths were knocked out of her, and the fog returned, this time most certainly accompanied by death.

It took her a few moments to realize that death smelled an awful lot like garlic. A few more moments, and Izzy understood she hadn’t died… and that her daughter wouldn’t have heard a thing if she had. She remained alone. On the floor. Alive. For now.

Alive enough to save Clara.

Slowly, surely, Izzy wriggled away from the bed until her dumb legs hit the floor. Still, her daughter remained downstairs, oblivious, or willfully so. But in case obliviousness turned to awareness, Izzy needed to move as quickly as her lame body would allow at this late stage in the race. Last one-hundred metres, she implored.

Since sitting herself up was impossible, she needed to figure out how to get Clara to come down to her level. Could’ve just grabbed her, and brought her into the tent, she scolded herself, save yourself this stupidity. But she knew it wouldn’t have been fair to Clara, to have her lifelong companion go from breathing one brand of plastic air to another. No. She wanted Clara’s first breath to be one-hundred-percent, certifiable oxygen… even if it was tinged with garlic.

Izzy flexed the fingers on her left hand, expecting to feel a break, akin to that long-ago ankle, that would prevent her from crossing this finish line. Everything felt in working order. Hand shaped like a spider, the fingers crawled along the floor until they found the nightstand’s feet. They climbed past the bottom drawer, then the middle, then-

She stopped, having reached as high as she could go. She looked at the progress her hand had made, and was angered and disappointed to see the tips of her fingers so close to the top. So close to Clara.

No longer able to uphold itself, her arm fell to the floor for her daughter not to hear. Her shallow, disparate breathing became shallower, more disparate. The retinal fog grew thicker. And she was certain the last time she would see Clara was in the memories she had very limited time to relive:

Sneaking into her late mother’s bedroom—this very same bedroom—to sneak a peek at Clara, high on her shelf.

Receiving Clara on the eve of her mother’s passing—in this very same bedroom—on the condition that she pass Clara on to her daughter, should she have one, when her own end was near.

Asking Isabelle to take Clara off the shelf, and sit her on the nightstand; the plan to release Clara had been confirmed, all the more so by her daughter’s routine sneer and remark: “Ugly thing.” Even had Isabelle loved Clara as much as she had, Izzy felt it her duty to finally free her.

Come on, you useless cigarette-holder. Last fifty metres.

Her nicotine-stained spider-hand rediscovered the nightstand’s feet, and, once more, began its ascent.

Past the bottom drawer.

Forty metres.

Past the middle drawer.

Thirty metres.

Past the bottom of the top drawer.

Twenty metres.

Finding the top drawer’s knob…

Ten metres.

…where it hung…

Come on.

…unwilling to move.

COME ON!

Her hand sprang back, the drawer with it.

Sliding.

Sliding.

Sliding.

Until the heavy piece abruptly stopped, having reached its limit. The nightstand leaned slightly forward, and Izzy glimpsed her legacy as the dead meat filling of a floor-and-nightstand sandwich. But the nightstand had other plans; before it settled back into place, it made sure to shake free the tall, glossy box.

The impact was painful, a sharp corner hitting her perfectly in the eye, but nothing compared to the torture her lungs were putting her through. Instead of fog, there was rain. Izzy blinked the burning tears away, bringing not the nightstand into focus, but a face.

And what a beautiful face it was. Skin made of meringue. A faint smile on pink lips barely formed. Rosy cheeks forever pinched into dimples. Black eyebrows arching over a pair of unblinking bejewelled eyes. Had they seen Izzy? All the Izzy’s? From Grandma Izzy to this sorry-excuse-for-an-Izzy?

They stared at each other for some time, Izzy refusing to blink, like her little friend, lest she slip into death during one of those slivers of blackness. The smell of garlic was fading. She couldn’t tell if her daughter was altering the recipe in some way, or if her senses were gradually shutting down.

Last ten metres, she thought. Perhaps her final thought.

Izzy used the left hand that made this final reunion possible to locate the pristine cardboard flap above Clara’s head. Not with anger, but love, Izzy tore open the lid that had sealed the doll in her prison for three generations, and watched as Clara took in her first-ever breath of fresh air.

Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi spent a decade penning an eclectic bibliography of award-winning short and feature-length screenplays, before transitioning into the world of prose. 

His work often explores the lives of everyday people who find themselves trapped in the complex labyrinth of physical, mental, and emotional illness and isolation, self-doubt and self-reflection, and must find a way–if any–to confront themselves and the world around them, in real and surreal settings. 

Currently, several of his short fiction pieces are enjoying stays in multiple publications. 

Poetry Drawer: Adventure Travel: Glue: God Created Fledglings: Winds of Santa Ana: Janice M by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Adventure Travel

I have too much to eat
I take food from the mouths of children
from all over the globe
I am gleeful as I fatten

I’m a trust fund baby
so I don’t have to work
I take up silly hobbies
as past-times

I watch all the food shows on TV
I am a virtual glutton
I lick the screen clean

I masturbate to images of
the food
and the food show hosts

I like the chubby, spicy Sicilians
I venture into homosexuality
with the male chefs

I have too much to eat
but I don’t eat it all
A lot of it I throw out
I get carnal pleasure
from tossing food into the garbage
I have servants to dispose of it
but I like making expeditions into the alley
to dispose of it myself
I call this “Adventure Travel”

Glue

As a teenager
in his bedroom retreat
he built model airplanes
got lightheaded on the glue
listened to Odetta while he built
listened to Ledbelly
Muddy Waters

His schizophrenic sister skulked in the hall
Her complexion was pitted
and she wore thick glasses with black rims
but I found her attractive
an older woman
with secret knowledge
I feared I would never have

I wanted to be misled
I wanted to be detoured
by someone whose life
was a detour
I wanted to get high on airplane glue
without ever building an airplane

God Created Fledglings

The neighbours across the street have seen
the woman with the dead eyes
in the tree
and have called the police again
How many times has it been this year
the woman asks her husband
He shrugs

They think she’s dangerous to herself
or others
They’re less concerned about her
and more concerned about the others:
them

The police stroll through the house
of the woman with the dead eyes
as if they have the right

The woman with the dead eyes doesn’t mind
because she has a fantasy
that she is having a threesome
with these police officers
They are so tough and virile

The red-headed officer sees the fledglings
five of them
laid on a board across her bed
He says:
What’s that?

Those are birds, she says
God created them

What are you doing with them?

Teaching them, she says,
indoctrinating them into the new morality
leading them into the next stage
of their evolution

In fact, she’s going to decapitate them
because it will give her a thrill
and make her feel better
The neighbours don’t know that
but they are afraid that she is dangerous
to herself and others
especially others:
them

Winds of Santa Ana

The Santa Ana winds shaped me
Their power snatched the cigarette from my fingers
and drove it deep into dry chaparral
The resulting fire was preordained
I could have lived in Hoboken NJ
and the fire still would have been preordained
still my fault

The western winds overwhelmed me
They blew my garage open
sucked my tuba out into the pebbly road
dragged it down the street
Sparks flew from its brass
I was trying to teach myself to play it
so I could join a Mariachi band
with my friends Pollo Murillo and
Hector Delgadillo

My father was a half-Jewish Rumanian
but passed as Mexican
He knew all the love songs
all the songs that started with Mi Amor
and ended with
Mi Corazon
He never sang them to my mother
I knew he was not singing to her
though she was his wife
She was as beautiful and upright
as a statue of a Madonna
carved from pinyon wood
by a Colonial sculptor

When she was around, he shut his lips tight
or twisted them like a bad ventriloquist

He sang his songs to someone else
someone in a different country
he hadn’t met yet
someone he was preparing for
like preparing for the Second Coming

My mother was a Christian woman
though she didn’t love Jesus
It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in Him
She was merely indifferent

My cap flew from my head
My grandfather’s fedora blew off his dead head
his head a block of grey clay
awaiting the pinching of my fingers
to truncate the seven generations
of suffering deemed necessary

by the Holy Book
to wear down sin

I’d take it down to
maybe four

My grandmother reclined on a tree limb
holding a Russian ukulele and
the eternal flame
of youth
It glowed orange
like the eyes of a tabby cat
The wind blew her out of her tree

The wind blew carom boards
down Topanga Boulevard
out to the ocean
They skimmed across the surface
like plywood torn from houses
in a hurricane

I didn’t understand the meaning of youth
or age
All I understood was the wind

The wind would blow everything away
everything of value or lacking value
It would all end up stuck
on the branches of some bush

I didn’t need to go to high school
The wind was my teacher
The wind was the wisest teacher
The wind would get fiercer every year
All human life would disappear

The wind blew
like it never did in Patterson New Jersey
like Dr. Poet William Carlos Williams
never experienced
But Dr. Williams kept his wooden tongue depressors
locked in a glass jar anyway
He never knew what might be coming

The wind blew out the windows of our stucco shanty
the one Old Man Dengler allowed us to live in

The Electrical Engineer
had come from New Jersey
to remake the San Fernando Valley
in the image of a Diode
had come to cast Aerospace
in the image of the Aztec gods
with hordes of his
self-replicating spawn
who enrolled in my school
and looked down on me

This engineer sat at his desk and
the wind
sucked open his drawers
scattered his papers
financial papers
technical papers
He had no idea wind could blow like that
Those papers were his life

The wind turned coffee beans
into bullets
The Santa Ana winds stripped tomatoes from their vines
the grapes from theirs

Italians and Jews cried together
Tumbleweeds are weapons of mass destruction

In the future recreational marijuana would be legal
in Colorado
but in the meantime
I was going to prison

where I could not be touched
by the powerful
destructive wind
I can’t say
I wasn’t grateful

Janice M.

I wear a crown of spark plugs
crash a wedding party

I am bald
and my head shines
like fresh chrome
on the grill of a classic Buick

The bride will have to work hard tonight
to prove to her beau
that he made the right choice

and I will uplift my tits
as the Governor of California
mounts his white horse
and comes to rescue me

Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over fourteen-hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes, and was awarded the 2017 Booranga Writers’ Centre (Australia) Prize for Fiction. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, is based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. His new poetry collection was published in 2019, The Arrest of Mr Kissy Face. He lives in Denver, Colorado, USA.

Inky Interview: Author Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois from Denver, Colorado

Flash In The Pantry: Serotonin Reuptake by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

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Flash In The Pantry: Cooking Shows by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Flash In The Pantry: Still Wet by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Loch by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Photogenic by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Microwave by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Granite by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Trick by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Coal by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Poetry Slam by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Blessed: Interlocking: Solemnity: Heritage by Dr. Susie Gharib

Blessed

I’m blessed with eyes that look inwards,
that see the departed and joys to come,
that sifts the beauty that’s foiled with smog,
that keeps a gallery of lakes and fjords.

I’m blessed with ears that vie with shells
for capacity to echo the wanton waves,
to resonate to the whistles of roaming whales,
to capture the breaths of slumbering pearls.

My nostrils dilate to the hidden scent
that stone exudes and inanimate gems,
that stars transmute to ethereal winds,
that words transfuse with the warmth of a friend.

My skin vibrates to the water-drop’s silk
to the velvet of petals, to the lace of trees,
to the fluff of clouds that seep into veins,
to the texture of flames that penetrates.

Interlocking

My mind interlocks with that of the tree
of a thousand rings and thirty-three,
with that of a falcon who grieves at night
for having kidnapped the sacred trout.

My fingers interlock with those of the wind
who shrieks the pain that dwells within,
with those of a lingering, pensive cloud
who contemplates the cerulean skies.

My teeth interlock with those of thorns
who have impaled all types of scorn,
with those of a squirrel who loves to crack
the nuts of wisdom on aprons of grass.

My eyes interlock with the halos of stars
an agglomeration of cosmic lights,
with the rays of Helios when he departs
the spheres of the earth in his orange ark.

Solemnity

An Englishman’s home is his fort,
a law established by Sir Edward Coke
to emphasize the sanctuary of one’s abode.
The assimilation to a castle had struck a chord –
when I was only thirteen years old –
in someone whose house was like a port
accommodating galleys, ships, and boats.

There were always visitors around to probe
the deepest abyss of inmost thoughts,
prying, interrupting, and disrupting discourse.

I always sought the furthest room
when the kitchen congested with drink and food,
with preparations for a banquet that would conform
to the social etiquette of being a host.

The bustle and babel created discord.
The aromas of strangers who chattered and fumed
would linger for hours on eves and morns.

There were always people around the house,
neighbours, relatives, acquaintances and bores,
fingering the solemnity of my private world
with greasy fingers that relish the sauce.

Heritage

Before me lies a kingdom, submerged
in the ugliest form of camouflage.
The castle is a mill and the mill has ash
and every nearby stone is draped with trash.

I walk the narrow lanes, each roofed with an arch.
It feels like roaming the heart of an ark.
I look for traces of submerged stonework
amongst a vineyard of pots and pans.

The din of transactions is maddening my mind.
There’s no way of silencing the gaping mouth
that craves for profit from the merchandise
that usurped the throne of scripts and chants.

On the top of a hill, a temple perches
whose walls had withstood all types of archers,
whose star was erased from stone by scratches,
but whose winding stairs attest to its heritage.

Susie Gharib is a graduate of the University of Strathclyde with a Ph.D. on the work of D.H. Lawrence. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in multiple venues including Adelaide Literary Magazine, Green Hills Literary Lantern, A New Ulster, Crossways, The Curlew, The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ink Pantry, Mad Swirl, Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine, and Down in the Dirt.

Poetry Drawer: Rush Week: Knowledge by Robert Demaree

Rush Week

Thinking now
Of the barbaric rites
Of our young days,
Fraternity rush at Chapel Hill,
A kind of ritual mutilation:
Invited, I suppose, because I’d been to
Boarding school, but quickly turned away,
Not at all like them, tailored heirs of
Planters, silver flasks,
Harris Tweed sports coats at football games,
Kinston, Goldsboro, Rocky Mount,
The place that would have me—
Frame house without Ionic columns—
Refuge for northern boys
Come south to school.
A year later I was the brother who escorted
Two or three baffled freshmen to the porch
To explain we had not gotten
To know them well enough
.
I am ashamed of that
And much else besides.
Have only been back two or three times since.
Once a young man found our picture
From fifty years before. Is this you, he asked.
I had to say it was.
I still keep up with two or three of them;
With one, a neighbour now at Golden Pines,
I share a glass of port
And rue the passage of time.

Knowledge

People come to the cottage now
To help us with different things,
Fix the computer, cut down trees,
Cost of being seventy-two.
The computer guy brings no special tools,
No Allen wrench with which to probe
The hard drive’s dark insides,
Except for which I might leave
My brain to science,
Only keystrokes, clicks of the mouse,
Things some do for themselves.

The cottage next door is for sale,
Realtor’s sign incongruous on our dirt road.
My parents’ friends, also long gone,
Left it to four children who have reached
That tired, timed impasse of heirs:
Those who would keep it can’t afford to
And vice versa.
So there are grandchildren
Who will not know
These New Hampshire woods, this pond.

Still I would protect them and us
From the dead white pine
By the turtle rock—
I remember the storm that took its life,
Years ago,
Lightning running up and down the bark
In a silver-black night.
The woodsman, of course, does have special tools—
Bobcat, chainsaw.
More than that, he knows
Exactly where the tree will fall.


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.

Books From The Pantry: The Burning Circus by Mark Sheeky

Mark Sheeky (b. 1972) is a contemporary artist and renaissance man. His childhood passion was computer game design, producing music on software of his own design. In 2004 he began oil painting and decided to devote his life to art. His oeuvre is typically fantastical or surrealistic, and has painted over 600 works, produced and published 30 albums, and has authored four books of poetry and prose since his first novella, The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death (2012) while illustrating and contributing to many more. An occasional performance pianist, he is part of poetry and music duo Fall in Green.

Mark Sheeky: The Burning Circus (2020) is my second poetry anthology, my first was ten years ago, and I’ve certainly changed a lot as an artist and writer since. It’s a collection of poems about circus characters: a clown, a juggler, a tattooed man, a lion tamer etc. I thought this would be a rich pool of ideas and characters to choose from, perhaps, I thought, characters with interesting and distinct personalities that can represent different parts of all of us. Art must always tread the line between the personal and the universal. I think poems, especially, work best when people can identify with them, see something of themselves in them. I wanted to add a mix of feelings and stories and situations that we could all sympathise with.

For The Burning Circus I wanted to add an overall structure or narrative, to create more than a simple collection of poems. I think a book is an artwork in itself, and should be structured, contain a sense of unity and overall neatness. Poetry itself is about structure and order in writing, after all. Here, I added a few poems to the start and end that hint at something more, an indication that these characters are parts of a whole psyche.

In each poem I’ve tried to represent something of both the circus performer and their act. The Juggler, for example, spaces the words like hoops tossed into the air, and I often focus on how the different circus characters might feel, or their origins. The Lion Tamer compares the immigrant lion tamer with the lion, an animal captured and shipped from war-torn Africa. The Dwarf paints images of a life of a man looked down on, metaphorically, as well as physically.

I always wanted to illustrate the book, too; the visual beauty of the book is as important as the aesthetics of the words. I wanted to make something pretty, a book that people would love to own, so I spent some time drawing in pen and ink for each poem and put a lot of work into the cover and overall graphic design – I think this is a vital part of the art of creating a book. I love pen and ink for illustration, it’s so expressive; every mark, every hand movement, captures the exact feeling of that moment in time.

John Lindley, former Cheshire Poet Laureate:
Divided into three linked sections, Mark Sheeky’s astonishing new collection takes us on a journey, via a ‘fragile caravan of dreams’, in which the passing scenery is seen as if through a distorting mirror; a journey whose twists, turns and destination are wholly unexpected. In images so tactile you half expect the greasepaint to come off on your fingers, this is language, from one of our finest poets, that dazzles without attempting to disguise the grit of sawdust beneath the sparkle.

Clown Face

Crushed into beetles’ petals, for my lips
I can feel their sun, encased in the austere lacquer
and made into a paste for laughter.

Something like my father’s face, romanced
with a rim of lightbulbs, and tears of his hope
walks a well-worn script.

Where Aztecs ruled, a child-hand curtseys,
and a tent of insects applaud the basket,
their bloody farewell crying a smile
to the Northern rain in my heart.

The glitter thrown to the wind falls to the dust of saws.
Stars to ashes, heaven’s applause.

Skin

I make a canvas of my chest
each ink-prick a penitent step
towards an unknown light,
explored like a crow explores night.

The roses decay with my flesh
in organ lament for each love,
oak-carved in solemn phrase
to bleed their scent beneath strangers’ gaze.

As years roll, each Sisyphean scar
etched across virgin skin becomes art,
my heart pushed out from in
to weep, more like Narcissus’ kin.

Now I am a museum,
artefacts of sad youth on show, blue-black.
My menagerie keeps me warm from without,
prayers back on track

towards God again
and my solitary pain.

Amazon Link UK
Amazon Link US
Amazon Author Page
Mark Sheeky’s Website

Books From The Pantry: The Never Ending Life by Anum Abdullah: Reviewed by Isha Crowe

I was given The Never Ending Life to review for Ink Pantry. I didn’t know what to expect, and after having read it, I still don’t know what to make of it. Is it an autobiography? Is it a self-help or motivational book? Is it a fictional story? It appears to be a mix of all three.

The author, Anum Abdullah, is a young woman who tells the reader about events in the life of a young woman. Or several young women; it isn’t clear. Some parts are written in third person, others in first person, but it is not clear why this is.

I veer towards the assumption that the author is actually writing about events from her own life.

She also tells stories that at first seem to be (auto) biographical, but after reading a few lines it becomes obvious that they are not. They are fantasies of what might have been – of how she would’ve liked things to be. They are daydreams put on paper.

It took a bit of getting used to, but after a few chapters, I started to like this concept. Because don’t we all do that: fantasize of how things could’ve been if only…? Abdullah just took these mind-wanderings to paper (or screen) and published them. Her writing style is poetic, dream-like and sweet; her sentences are a joy to read.

A negative is that she refers to the same events over and over – specifically to a break-up with a romantic partner. It is as if she wrote this book for her own catharsis, and that, indeed, would involve re-visiting the same upsetting events many times over. But for a reader this soon becomes repetitive and dull. Had the book been a quarter of the length it is now, it could’ve covered the same points far more poignantly.

Abdullah’s experiences and feelings are recognisable; most potential readers will have been through similar experiences, and certainly through similar emotions and fantasies. That characteristic is both a strength and a weakness.

To young people it might be nice to learn that they aren’t alone in feeling what they feel; that someone who appears to be quite successful in life has coped with the same problems and challenges as the reader. For them, The Never Ending Life might be a reassuring read.

Hence, I would recommend this book to people in their late teens or early twenties, who could do with a bit of emotional backing-up.

Because of Abdullah’s poetic writing style, lovers of poetry might also appreciate this book as something to dip in and out when the mood is right.

The Never Ending Life

Books From The Pantry: The Heartsick Diaspora and other stories by Elaine Chiew: Reviewed by Yang Ming

In her remarkable debut short story collection, The Heartsick Diaspora and other stories, Singapore-based writer Elaine Chiew takes us into an intimate world of the Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese diasporas.

This collection, comprising of fourteen stories, is set in different cities around the world and each of them shines a light on people who are often torn between cultures and juggling divided selves. Chiew compiles her stories based on a ten-year time frame with her initial story, Face, which won first prize in the Bridport International Short Story Competition 2008 and through The Heartsick Diaspora, which won second prize in the same competition in 2010.

In Face, it tells the story of an elderly woman, Yun, who suffers from urine incontinence and her strained relationship with her American-born Chinese daughter in-law, Karen. She lives with her son, Qiang, and his family in London. Her granddaughter, Lulu, feels uncomfortable around her, as ‘she smells like wee’. Now, Yun decides to return to her hometown in Malaysia, which baffles Karen and Qiang as both of them are able to provide care for her, unlike back home, she has no-one.

The depiction of her racist encounter with a group of drunken youths on the London tube and her reluctance to talk about this is an honest take on some of the struggles faced by South East Asian diasporas who find living abroad daunting. On one hand, she wants to be a good grandmother, but on the other, that fateful encounter cripples her.

A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin feels like an Asian version of the critically acclaimed film, The Sixth Sense. The protagonist in this story is a teenager who has the ability to see and communicate with dead people (yikes!). One evening at a laundromat, he encounters a girl-ghoul, Boo. The thing is, she has an insatiable appetite. Slowly, an unlikely friendship is formed between them. Things get complicated when she keeps asking for more food, and he has to come up with various ways to appease this confused and lost spirit, other than feeding her with joss paper food, which the Chinese burn during the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Written from the first person perspective, this piece explores the theme of identity. What kind of ghost is Boo? Does she belong to the conventional race categories in Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian and others? In fact, does this even exist after death? Chiew cleverly weaves in the fact about the Malay ghost, Pontianak, and Chinese ghost, egui, at the beginning of the story to set the tone right.

In the title story, The Heartsick Diaspora, four writers find their cultural bond of friendship tested when a handsome young Asian writer, Wei, joins their group.

Interestingly, the narrative is written in a play format with sub-headings such as Introduction of Characters, Acts and Scenes. The writers are a motley group and when everyone gathers at the weekly writers’ sessions, their different personalities inevitably clash with one another. The palpable tension between the strong-willed Chandra and the soon-to-be divorced Phoebe towards the end of the story is expected. Yet it’s necessary to resolve the ambiguous relationship between Wei and Chandra.

Ultimately, The Heartsick Diaspora and other stories is laced with wry humour, intricate details and multi-layered characters. Chiew possesses a talent in writing lyrical prose that oscillates between humour and seriousness. She has a knack of injecting subtle humour that allows the reader to laugh and cry for the characters at the same time.

For instance, the opening paragraph of Face set me guffawing:

“‘Why should Lulu know how to roll spaghetti with a fork? We’re not Italian.’ Karen bangs the saucepan on the stove because this is how some Chinese people take out their frustrations – by abusing their cookware.”

Similarly, there’s a paragraph in A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin which I couldn’t stop laughing at:

My other sister, Bee Khing, sleepwalks and has, more than once, scared the urine out of our neighbours by showing up in her long white nightdress at the void deck very early in the morning while old men are doing tai chi.’

Chiew doesn’t compromise the use of Chinese vernacular, which adds a distinctive flavour to her stories. She writes such vivid descriptions of the places inhabited by the characters that I feel like I have been transported to Belgravia, Singapore and New York. But what distinguishes this collection from the rest is that Chiew highlights the displacement and identity of the Chinese migrant communities. As an Asian writer straddling between cultures (the UK and Singapore), I identify with the pertinent question of belonging. Who am I in this globalised world? She’s definitely a writer to watch out for in the years to come. At the beginning, reading the book was a slow-burning process. But as each story progresses, it grows on you. And you will want to read it again.

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Pantry Prose: What’s the time, Mr. Wolf? by Evan Hay

Mark my words, apart from being a seminal thinker & slimy foreign art monger, Vas Pretorius DeFerens was something of an enigma to friends, enemies, & medical science alike. Allegedly he was a proud possessor of either three or four perfectly formed testicles, which tourist coach parties of the incurably bi-curious & naive were regularly welcomed to examine (upon a reasonable payment of corkage), just so long as they proceeded slowly through Vas’s open fly- at which point invariably he brutally resynthesised those tiny teeth into a sudden playful biting unity, normally after drawing a groper’s attention to some trivial detail of architraving, weather, etc. (as advertised, I‘ve completed my memoirs as a short story; a quite draining & frankly illegal process which necessitated breaking all 37 of the past Labour government’s Police & Criminal Justice Acts. But in the name of Mammon, what can you do?) So it’s all quite fascinating, & whilst I have no obvious quarrel to pick with any man’s physique (with the sole exception of Eric Pickles), I mention these positively material facts to warn that you’ve unadvisedly strayed from the path, & night must fall. Keep up. You youngsters could learn a lot if only you paid heed.

Let me confess without duress: I really can’t legitimately claim to understand Vas’ nature, despite the fact (& source of endless gossip) that we spent multiple lunar months engaged in a perfervid co-habitation in a Hoxton studio; such was his delightful mastery of disinformation, dark propaganda & intoxication that, I never managed to arrive at a final figure for his testes (fleeting glances, all from dangerous angles, tentatively recall they were jet black & vulcanized like his durable character). Whatever ginger evidence I have I lay freely before you; they’re only crumbs I spare, each liable to be snaffled up by a myriad of nocturnal beasts coming to life in bracken & furze, but follow them as best you can- it’s too late to turn back now. Alas, there are no garnished spicy vol-au-vents to sustain you. You’re in way over your head I fear.

Vas’ legendary libido was immune to entropy or ennui. His grinding demands were a continual worry, unconcerned with tradition, expense, or, to be frank, practicality- I’d often discover Dutch gentlemen’s magazines (of a kind featuring photography of undraped women) squirreled away in the oddest of places. I knew they were his as Superintendent McGregor, my old Vice Squad pal (since gone freelance), verified his inimitable paw prints. These were good old days of covert cash transactions, my boy. Investigation also found disturbing designs & working prototypes for- shall we say gadgets, in many more than one of the two-hundred & thirty-six secret compartments of his secretary. Now, I don’t think for a moment Vas’ ‘preferences’ particularly interest you- you’ve got enough on your plate as it is, looking at those dreadful holes in your old worn boots (are they hand-me-downs?) & the sheer depth of snow round here. But they do cast a slanted light on a brilliant criminal mind, & whilst it may be the case that you maintain law is crime- I make no excuses, offer no apologies. Vas will always be a veritable villain. Not in business practice, where all’s fair & little love guaranteed, but in his damnable lack of honour regarding aesthetic criticism. Vas’ self-promotion, remarkable before he met me, became nothing less than lupine afterwards- for goodness sake no, I wouldn’t climb that tree if I were you; it’s the first place they’ll sniff out silly. Do get a grip & take some responsibility for your plight! I digress: so I woke up one morning, a little after noon, to find an estate agent’s clerk staring at me with undissembled fear. Back in the glory days of the Great Boom, you understand, when any property vacated before teatime would be occupied & fully furnished by vespers, at a sixty percent mark up. On reflection, that stunt had many of Vassily Perestroika Deferenovitch’s hallmarks- handcuffs, treacle, an anaconda, a mousetrap in the first aid box; but how long had he been planning it? Before he met me? After I said what I did on demand about his precious book lionising Andy Warhol? Maybe it was thin skin or sheer caprice- it scarcely matters does it? Pardon me? Oh, howling? I don’t think so. No, my mistake, yes there it is, right behind you.

I reliably heard a week later, through McGregor, that he’d shackled up with Sir Hugh Corduroy in Belgravia. Nice but dim, a remarkable chap, Sir Hugh, could stammer incoherently in no fewer than eight Arabian dialects. Gosh! Hottentot, Farsi, Yiddish, take your pick: he was incomprehensible in it. Anyway, as you may know, previously he was respected as a patron of the arts, pillock of the church, & former director of the V&A etc. Tolerated by peers, trusted by subordinates, feared by staff, a great Englishman – before you could say ‘Duchess of Gloucester’ he’d pen a more brainless Times diary than Sir Roy Strong. No, trust me, I have clippings. In retrospect it seems accumulatively predictable that a lifetime of total emotional deprivation should have led him into Vas’ gingerbread parlour. OK, pipe down, I’m telling my stories have patience, but yes, now you mention it, they’re all around you. Man up. Where was I? Of course, what followed was contemporary folklore- how Sir Hugh, through Vas’ ‘Caliban Arts’, traded the Elgin marbles for Andean wood carvings of doubtful provenance, his Rembrandt sketches for an acrylic tennis racquet pixillage- cats & umbrellas also featured, if memory serves, that’s right- created by a second year arts student, some sordid strumpet of no good breeding- his Vermeer for a breeze block & tarpaulin ‘installation’, his entire portfolio of primary shares for a chance to wrap the outside of Acton in back issues of The World of Interiors: such insatiable insanity. Destruction ensued, as night follows day. I fondly recollect running into him behind King’s Cross one wintry evening, in the company of a young Wandervögel; that such a renowned member of Blighty’s Establishment should fall into rank disrepair, honestly one shouldn’t laugh. I can still picture his ragged silhouette hunched against a brooding February sky, insipid light shining through his fallen arches, rain that spluttered from his choked guttering, & a colony of zoonotic bats hanging around uncomfortably in his cracked façade. He was totally spent, utterly ruined. Died later next spring, ulcerative colitis returned the post-mortem, although the cruel whisper in Whites opined he was burgled to death. No! Don’t start running, that’s what they want, they’re simply waiting for it. Have you learned nothing? That’s better. Anyhow, after inheriting Corduroy’s estate, Vincent Pietro DiFerrari consolidated his much heralded renaissance by leading a popular national crusade to recapture & repatriate all those treasures he himself had shop soiled to sell abroad. Amazingly, or rather inevitably, he once again came up trumps (turned out clauses written in invisible ink were legally binding after all, on the principle of caveat emptor & tuff-titty). There never was any lawful chance to stop the bounder (he was consistently one step ahead), but after that carnival of criminality nobody else even tried. He branched out; diversified, pretty soon there wasn’t a pie in the proverbial pantry innocent of his thumbprint. His Tavistock Square pied a terre became a swinging hot spot, precisely the placed to discuss perspectives in post-structuralist criticism, have one’s nipples pierced, take a heroin overdose, play the Cocoa Futures’ market; swaggeroos & mountebanks from five continents perched there. Arbitrageurs, faith healers, nihilistic young rock stars, depraved heiresses with thousand pound orchids in their hair & many faces of Satan tattooed across the length & breadth of their inner thighs. All these were nothing more than local colour, background noise to VPD’s glaring blaring bray. Well whistle if you must, by all means, & respect for trying, but do you really, even in your wildest dreams, think they appreciate Mozart?

Oh, Vas, I’ve met a few genuinely great men, but only one colossus: he became a cultural reference point, the zeitgeist incarnate. He was the opinion former’s opinion former, intellectual fashion leader, international trendsetter, pathfinder & trailblazer. The New Man- one of his wheezes, the New Woman too, for that matter, the New World Order for all I know (he hasn’t written me recently). Rottweilers, eco-friendly washing powder, Porsches & red braces! You’ve never thought about it, have you? But red braces! Like unavoidable diamond bullets of truth! The genius of the man, the anti-mensch, the monster! At his peak, countless leading institutions from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to the Bilderberg Group accredited him. He’d grab a canapé & a glass of Moet at the Soviet ambassador’s daughter’s sixteenth birthday party (Order of Lenin First Class on his ample bosom), before dashing off to a debriefing with some CIA Head of Station behind Victoria Coach Station. Crikey! A wanky conceited cunt he may’ve been, but Vas was paid a sum not unadjacent to thirty thousand pounds sterling by a British Broadcasting Corpse to propagate his philosophy for one hour every Monday morning on Radio 4’s Today Programme: the horror. I recall the last time I saw Vlad Perrier Difference: live on ITV evening news, barrelling through Heathrow, reporters armed with the sacred light of truth cowering before bodyguards licensed to kill & armed with electric cattle goads. It was only a week after the Crash I believe- he wasn’t the sort of Johnny to hang round waiting for women or children, no sir. Everything created has a sell-by date, he remarked, almost to himself, before turning triumphantly to face down his inquisitors. I’ll be back, he said.

Meaningful pointed questions were being asked by then, OPERATION SCAT came to light, & fifty fat middle-aged merchant bankers woke with headaches to discover their virginities defiled. We, willy-nilly his disciples, awoke with hang-overs to discover our palettes no longer smeared with the actual colours our eyes beheld; in order to have fun one must retain at least a memory of youth. The rest you should know, & here we are. Well, anyway, those were the end of days my friend- when the scary forest was just a distant line on the horizon, & many & sweet were the birds that sang. Well, I haven’t time to stand out here with you chattering all night. Excuse me, but I’m a busy man. Yes I’m sure I’d feel the same if I were as poor as you. I still maintain it’s a lifestyle choice, so own it. Oh, come now, don’t take on so- here, you can have my handkerchief, you cannot see in this light but it’s a red spotted jobbie. Is there a safe route out of here for you? Not really, I made an effort to assist with directions but they’re just breadcrumbs. I wouldn’t pin too much hope on crumbs. Listen, if you’d stop crying for a moment. And let go of my hand. What’s that? Yes indeed, they’ve got big eyes haven’t they? Don’t let them see that you’re afraid, it excites them! Look here, I don’t mean to be unkind, but sadly it’s your own fault, really. In any case, I’m truly sorry, but it’s sauve qui peut nowadays. Well, goodbye sonny. And yes, bonne chance to you, too. Bye. I beg your pardon?

Oh, suppertime, I guess.

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.

Books From The Pantry: The Coal Miner’s Son by Patricia M. Osborne

After tragedy hits the small coal mining village of Wintermore, nine-year-old miner’s son, George, is sent to Granville Hall to live with his titled grandparents.

Caught up in a web of treachery and deceit, George grows up believing his mother sold him. He’s determined to make her pay, but at what cost? Is he strong enough to rebel?

Will George ever learn to forgive?

Step back into the ’60s and follow George as he struggles with bereavement, rejection and a kidnapping that changes his life forever. Resistance is George’s only hope.

Thank you Deborah for inviting me over to Ink Pantry to share my news about The Coal Miner’s Son, Book 2 in the family saga, House of Grace trilogy. All books may be read as a trilogy or stand-alones.

It seems quite fitting I return to Ink Pantry, considering that is where my writing career kicked off with my first poem ‘How to give birth to an Alien’ published in Ink Pantry’s anthology, Fields of Words.

We have all come a long way since our Open University days and when Ink Pantry was first set up with ex-students as elves. At that time I had never considered publishing more than the odd short story or poem, never mind a novel, and now I have two novels published and am over halfway through with the third, which I aim for a March 2021 publication.

Before House of Grace, my first novel, I struggled to write a short story with more than two thousand words, yet now all my short stories want to become novels.

Monday 9th March 2020 is not only the launch date for The Coal Miner’s Son but the third anniversary of publication for House of Grace.

Both novels are available on Amazon Kindle and paperbacks may be ordered via Amazon, good bookstores, or your local library. Signed paperbacks are available by contacting me via my website.

Patricia M. Osborne is married with grown-up children and grandchildren. She was born in Liverpool but now lives in West Sussex. In 2019 she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (University of Brighton).

Patricia writes novels, poetry and short fiction, and has been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her first poetry pamphlet ‘Taxus Baccata’ is to be published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in Spring 2020.

She has a successful blog where she features other writers and poets. When Patricia isn’t working on her own writing, she enjoys sharing her knowledge, acting as a mentor to fellow writers, and as an online poetry tutor with Writers’ Bureau.

The Coal Miner’s Son is the second book in the House of Grace trilogy.

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Contact: Via website or email: patricia.m.osbornewriter@gmail.com

Where to buy books

House of Grace

The Coal Miner’s Son

Signed paperbacks (for further details)

Poetry Drawer: 8 Poems by Anne-Marie Silbiger

Perfection

In many ways,
I never learn.
Coaxing dead bruises.
Corking my skin.

Sewing love into hems.
Yearning for a reviving touch.
The walking wounded
in nature’s glory.

A love that bruises

Welts in line with flinching
An exit beleaguered by blind adulation
As harpies hang from dying trees
Frothing at the mouth with maudlin song
Dropping their dread like breadcrumbs
Haranguing me to flee

You are not bullet proof

Let me sing to your ribcage
Blessing your breath
Soothing you with love, quietly
I am your goddess
With mettle, love forged its way
We in these wastelands
Our secret Brigadoon
At last, I am feeling alive in a love so robust
My organs riot
Your order and will pull me closer
Nothing can save me from you
A guest inked on your skin
Hunting for my final resting place

Love’s loss

shirking responsibility
bathing in foolish want
lounging in dreams
eyes blazing in unison
a sighing universal
walking to walk
breathing to breathe
waking to each new dawn
with little surprise in store
holding onto fragments of hope
in respect of the promise made
we keep living to love
with fingers now talons
scratching at skin
digging to feel something other than nothing
you made the nothing
something
we grew closer as
love knocked us sideways
stoking the hearts of us
flooding our bodies with joy
love in a country made for two
we sealed it and ran
you with my sadness above you
me with your mouth on mine
breathing quick to save time

Remind me when I forget

Remind me that you love me
Even when I blaze through
Singed at the seams
Untouchable
Remind me that you love me
I forget

Rebirth

I’ve made so many mistakes
Given myself to the lost
Hoping to find home
Suffered the wrath of the cruel
Left in pieces of grief
I want a rebirth
I want a riot of butterflies
To take me back
Back to that air heavy with colour
Muted sounds comforting
Nights steeped in the wonder
Of my mother’s belly
Back to the beginning
Naked in a church font
Blessed in morning light
Mouths whispering promises to protect me
A baby up in arms
Demanding only love

Transgression

I do not want your attention.
The shouts of heraldry are misplaced as I squint at the sun.
I hide in the dark.
Waiting for empty pavements to exist.
Do you know how it feels to stalk the earth in vain.
To watch the rain and want to be the raindrops?
The only joy is knowing I’m not alone in my exclusion.
I am part of a pack.
A misunderstood teeming line of souls.
One day, we will have favour.
We shall have glory.
You and yours will bow.
Holding your wicked tongue.
Your unclenched fist signalling hope.

I am an unfinished opus

I am an unfinished opus.
A work of art in waiting.
Life composes me.
The seasons work in tandem.

Rain dampens wrath.
Cold brings hiatus.
Sun warms the binding.
Adding essential strength.

Anne-Marie Silbiger is an Irish poet living in London
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