the dreamed red sun of the morning – thus I get tender letters. On wings of the morning glow – I fly into lands of butterfly-like hearts. In my vans – the poesy is indeed fulfilled. I am looking at starry starlit moonlit night – each starlets enchanting me on ways into ontology. The silvery fantasy – heralds my ways to the dreamiest moon. I am seeking the brightest star – the philosophical as well as druidically poetical. I will become blissful and Apollonian. A meek elf showing me the moon full of comet dust – the ambrosia for dreaming souls. Long live my auntie – the sibyl with propitiously weird magic!
Paweł Markiewicz was born 1983 in Poland (Siemiatycze). His English haikus and short poems are published by Ginyu (Tokyo), Atlas Poetica (USA), The Cherita (UK), Tajmahal Review (India) and Better Than Starbucks (USA). More of Paweł ’s work can be found on Blog Nostics.
I am in awe when Marie video calls me. She lives about four hours away in the car. Yesterday, she showed me the old trees in the deer park. The gnarly oaks have been there far longer than we have. The phone reception isn’t very good where she lives. I blame it on the space conkers.
I looked for other places of interest in her locality on the internet. There are some hills where a music festival takes a place and a village green where a film was shot. There are towns with cobbled streets and buildings with their own historical characters. Some of them are magpie houses.
She phones me today from the quarry I mentioned. She had forgotten about this beauty spot. Marie is glowing after the bike ride. The slight breeze is fanning her hair as the sun bounces off the brilliant white chalk. I am flabbergasted. “That is so thoughtful and romantic,” I say.
takes me everywhere with her video phone as I sit in my high-backed
orthopaedic chair at home. “I must get back now,” she smiles.
“There’s not many people about.” It is quiet. I sit feeling warm
and in love. What a romantic gesture!
She texts me after an age. I have been worrying because the country roads are perilous for cyclists. She had popped to the post office on the way home and is now sat at her table with a bowl of spiced lentil soup. That memory has really stuck as it is steeped, as the hills, in a strong emotion.
normally have to turn the oven on to cook,” I laugh. Marie is so
appreciative that someone has made her tea after work. “No-one has
done that for ages,” she says. We eat our wraps filled with
coleslaw, cucumber and slices of cheese. Marie has her obligatory
sweet chilli sauce. “Tell me what happened again,” she continues.
“I’ve got cervical myelopathy but I didn’t know. I went all through the army without a glitch and worked in care for over 12 years. That’s including working with people in mental health with The National Health Service. I was alright until I started running three years ago. Then I started getting pins and needles. I went to the doctor’s. I went to the doctor’s again. I thought it was residual stress or something psychosomatic. At last, the doctor sent me for an MRI. Then I got a phone call on a Friday afternoon. I couldn’t take it in because of my pains and the shock.”
“The doctor told me I had cervical myelopathy. I was born with it. It’s congenital which means it happened at birth. My neck is too narrow in the middle and all the nerves seem to get sore. The pains affect my peripheral nervous system because the nerves run from the brain to my arms and legs through the narrow part in my neck.”
I told her about the operation. I was so scared that I had arranged my will and a funeral plan. But on the day, I was trying not to watch morning television in the waiting room as I lay on the bed. They gave me oxygen. Then, five hours later, I woke up from swimming with dolphins, elsewhere, back on the ward. I was gagging for a brew. I tried to lift my head off the pillow but my neck felt really weak. I was wired and bandaged with a tube protruding from the front of where they’d removed two discs. There are two discs outstanding. One of the ‘actioned’ discs decompressed but the second one didn’t. I just take it day-to-day. It’s degenerative but I try to be positive.” Marie tells me how strong I am. She says that she feels safe when I’m with her. That makes me feel stronger.
We have pet names but Marie knows I’m a private man. After she finishes work, I meet her outside with salad, vegetable samosas and her birthday prosecco. I remember cutlery and two tumblers from my kitchen. She is pleased to see me.
We head to the squirrel park through narrow roads and heavy traffic. I turn her radio off. She’s used to that by now. “Oh my goodness! I could have been raped today,” I said. “It’s a good job I didn’t answer the door in the buff. I didn’t think it was you.” It was a diminutive old lady with glasses. She said, “I’m Linda” and burst in looking for a leak in the bathroom. She totally caught me by surprise.
laughed as I continued to call her “Londa.” It was a standing
joke since Marie had texted ‘Hoya’ for ‘Hi-ya’ once. We managed
to park eventually but the ticket machine required a PhD to enter the
registration number and other details.
We laughed at the squirrel antics and tried to coax one with our cucumber. “I should have brought some nuts,” I laughed. Apparently, if you drop nuts on hard standing, the squirrels come and get them. The park was sunny and busy. We ate our food then walked to the old remains. I felt really stiff as Marie pointed from the diagram on the board to where the pantry used to be. There wasn’t much left of the castle now.
One of our favourite pictures was taken in the squirrel park. Marie says she looks like an elf and I look like a giant at a festival. She takes really interesting photos.
A Chocolate Rabbit
It is round about Easter when Marie brings her daughters to visit at my flat. I struggle to open the carton of cranberry juice. “Are you struggling?” I tell Marie that I have become more clumsy as I drop things, stumble and feel stiff when it’s cold. My pains are unbearable at times, too, and I sleep more because of the increased medications. “I’m alright,” I say, “I’m a strong chap.”
I pour the juice into tumblers for Katie and Joanne. They are always smiling and polite, I notice, from having said “hello” a few times on video calls. Joanne hides behind her mam on the sofa whilst Katie talks about school and the youth club she attends. Marie’s eldest is throwing and catching a bouncy ball as she talks. Joanne peeks out and takes some interest.
The ball has an iris printed on it. Katie catches the blood-shot eye. I joke about bouncing it off the ceiling. Marie mentions about how much of a person’s eyeball must be hidden. I say it’s like isostasy in mountains. We only see the tip above ground. “There’s a lot we don’t see.”
don’t see my pains. Sometimes, I wince or cry out but people either
don’t see it or choose not to. We can never really know what is going
on in a person’s life, below the surface, unless they choose to tell
us. Marie can see that I’m deteriorating. I mask a lot but I’m a
positive chap. The girls are full of life and make me laugh.
I find some Easter eggs I chose the day before and the girls are really appreciative. Marie gives me a chocolate rabbit. “Do you know what they do with the rabbits that don’t get sold? They snap an ear off and cover them in Santa Claus foil.” It was nice to see the kids at last.
The last time I had a date with Marie was just before she visited with her children. Being a man, I didn’t have enough toilet roll in so we passed through all the Saturday night revellers for our necessities. We were hungry, too. I hadn’t been to the Turkish Restaurant since I took my kids on my birthday.
I was in pains but I felt like a rock star. I was also more than aware that Marie wasn’t wearing any knickers. They were on my bedroom floor. It was freezing but she said, “I’m wearing stockings.” We joked about one of the Mr. Men with long arms as we were seated near the window. Marie and I tore through the vegetarian kebabs with rice and a side portion of chips.
Looking back, our selfie looks like we were on holiday. Marie is looking over her shoulder with a huge cocktail in view. The glass has brightly coloured straws and parasols which were in keeping with the mediterranean decor of the restaurant. I had my usual latte in a glass mug with a tiny handle. We had the sweetest baklava afterwards. I can still taste the almonds and honey. What did we talk about? We mentioned horse racing and fox hunting. Some of the horses had been injured on television during the steeplechase. I think the vegetarian option had prompted animal welfare chat again. Our last date was so varied and colourful with great food.
Nil by Mouth
I am on peg-feed now. I don’t really have any concept of night or day. It’s more a fleeting timelessness. Sometimes, I feel like I am floating, but beyond that, I can’t feel any sensations, even when I’m being bathed or hoisted. I am only anchored to this life by the weight of my memories now.
think I can smell Marie’s favourite scent. But is her perfume a
memory as she brushes her fingers through my hair? I only know she’s
trying to comfort me because she is giving one of her commentaries.
“I am stroking your hair and thinking about our lives.” I listen
to her. Listening is all I can do. It hurts that I can’t communicate
or tell her “I love you.” I’m just lucky that she spends time
with me in my bedroom that I can’t see.
She tells me that she remembers that I went to Canada, with the army, and fed gophers some biscuits on the sub-zero prairie. She says how brave I am to have driven a wagon through cross-country snow. I feel happy but I can’t raise a smile.
She talks about how we each juggled separate university studies whilst raising young children. “That’s temerity,” she says. Then she is laughing about the time we had to nip out, late at night, for a plaster. “The garage forecourt assistant must have thought we wanted contraceptives at that hour.” I feel happy but I can’t convey that.
Marie sings our favourite songs and reads from children’s books. Then after I try to follow the competitive squirrels, that finally learn to share, she might read an excerpt from a novel I like. She has all the time in her world.
knows me well enough to know that I’d still want to share my
experiences. It hurts me that I can’t communicate that. But I’m happy
that she persists and keeps me updated. Marie knows me well.
Marie talks about what she has eaten and what the girls are doing. Joanne volunteers with rescue animals and is studying for a veterinary degree. Her eldest, Katie, is still happily finding her feet. “Have you ‘seen’ your girls?” I can’t answer her. But my eldest talks to Marie and keeps her up-to-date on their visits and my health. My children keep me safe in this disappearing life.
Marie sings. She sings until it’s time to go. She kisses me, pulls her coat on, and I drift until her next visit.
feel weightless as I head towards the pin-prick of light that grows
brighter and wider until it engulfs me. My smile gets bigger as the
last of the pain melts and I am weightless. It is all bright. The
look for the narrow gate. But he asks me softly, “What difference
did you make?” I felt confident. “I loved and acknowledged
others.” He smiled. He saw what is in my heart and told me to
return another day. I visit my girls. I go to Marie.
is sobbing at her kitchen table. She looks so small because I am not
governed by material laws. It would have broken my heart before. But
now I am no longer following the same rules. She blows her nose.
Marie dries her reddened eyes. She looks confused. I whisper. I
whisper but she can not hear me on an auditory level.
Marie senses something and smiles. She laughs. Then she gets up from her chair and goes straight to her car keys. “I knew they were there all along,” she tells Katie. Then I wait for her. But it doesn’t feel like waiting.
Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. He graduated from The Open University with a BSc (Hons) in Social Sciences. His writing has appeared in Spelk, Nymphs, Fevers of the Mind and others. In 2020 he is due to appear in Horror Anthologies published by Eerie River and Red Cape Publishing. ‘Hearts of the matter’ is available on Amazon.
The chiropractor asked if we are married. Marie said we weren’t. I smiled as I was able to remind Marie about her past medical history. “I’m not interrupting, am I?” Marie laughed despite her back ache.
Afterwards, she said she felt bubbles in her veins and had to walk about for a bit. I was pleased to walk, however awkward my legs were, as I’d sat through her hour of treatment. Marie said she could feel the benefits after just one session. We ordered carrot cake and shared some dandelion and burdock at an art installation cafe.
we watched a video in darkness. The screen projected large fingers
with cardboard hands on each. They clapped like finger puppets. I
wondered why I was restless. It was like not being able to sleep when
Marie stayed with me. I wanted to be awake every moment as our time
together was limited.
Marie was used to sleeping alone. So, we didn’t cuddle all night. We held feet instead of hands so she had space and didn’t get too hot. She no longer had to put a pillow between us to support her back. The chiropractor had been a really good experience and we felt intimate.
It always amazes me how Marie remembers song lyrics. Then, as I’m recalling her history to the chiropractor’s questions, I realise that I do listen. I just respond to the song’s melodies more than the words. I do attend. But it depends on the context and the purpose. I switch off when listening to music. That’s why I ask Marie to turn the car stereo off. I attend to her instead.
“It’s not my cup of tea,” she texts as she later says she had mushrooms and fried eggs for tea. I know that you wouldn’t eat beef stew. You’re a vegetarian, I text. Later, she asks me why I left my partner. It was the little things, I reply.
have pulled the gate off its hinges and burned it,” she says. I
feel sad because I know Marie would do no such thing. She is being
incongruous. I wouldn’t even need to ask her to close the gate a
second time. Even with her hands full of shopping bags, Marie would
go back and shut the gate. It is different with her.
She listens and remembers. I do tidy up after Marie. But it’s no hardship. I just like to be organised. I think that’s from being in the army. Marie still insists she’d have burned the gate.
“No! You would not.” Marie texts some laughter faces. She is teasing me. I can’t believe how tetchy I’ve been. I just know I listen more to her. I am older than I was. But I just give back what I receive. Marie has shown me love. And I have fed those loving acts with thoughtfulness.
The Full English
“I am absolutely gagging for a fried breakfast. Sausages, fried bread…” Marie laughs. Nothing else enters my mind as I help her with her coat. We head over to a cafe that takes me back to my truck driving days. I locate a squeezy bottle of mayonnaise and Marie finds a table. “They do vegetarian sausages,” she beams. “Don’t you like ketchup?” She knows I think tomato sauce is for girls. I growl like a man and she laughs.
breakfasts are brought over and I am consumed by the extra large
plate full with three slices of toast on the side. I go straight for
the black pudding, mushrooms and beans. I chew as a tension is
relieved. I can taste it. My eyes are closed as I slowly savour my
do you love me?” I look at her. I smile. “You should never ask a
serious question when a man is eating.” I put my fork down and
multi-task. It’s not a distraction because I do love Marie. “I love
our patience,” I say. “We both have that.” She smiles and
“When you’re outside, your dark brown hair looks almost ginger or red. You look so girly on bright summer days. It reminds me that you take risks and let your hair down sometimes. I love how youthful you look.” She smiles.
sometimes when you wear your glasses, you look like a school teacher.
Do you remember looking like a surgeon, in scrubs, with that apron
you wear at work?” Marie nods and laughs.
“Well, you remind me about how responsible you are as a mother and at work. I can’t believe you spin so many plates. You say I’m more laid back. But I’d wobble if I had to live your average day. You’re an enigma.” I think. “You’re my star!”
tell her that she is preferred without make-up and that I will love
her no matter how she looks. “It comes from within.” I tell her
that eye liner almost makes her look oriental – or at least,
Spanish. I talk about her face shapes and how long or round her
cheekbones look at different angles. “You could pass for three or
four different women.”
love her because she listens and second guesses what I’m thinking.
Marie seems to be one step ahead of my needs or wants. She always has
time for other people too.
I take a few mouthfuls of my breakfast as she beams. Then I talk about the time she video called me on the train. There was a noisy crowd of football supporters who intimidated an older lady by shouting and climbing on the seats. Marie wasn’t afraid to confront them in a non-threatening manner. They calmed down before the conductor came. Then she reassured the lady. “I do fear that you’ll come unstuck,” I say, “but you do right not to ignore it.” Too many people turn a blind eye nowadays.
also really love the ways you spend time with your kids. You teach
them traditional things. I mean, you can easily afford to ‘fob them
off’ but you don’t. You bake, make jigsaws and craft. Your girls
care about other children and they apply themselves instead of
fritting their times away.”
do have fun,” she answers. “Yes. But they take a real interest in
the environment and other’s difficulties. They’re beyond their years,
really.” Marie smiles. She smiles a big smile.
“I think I love your deep, dark eyes best of all. Do you know where my favourite place in the world is?” She shrugs and scoops up some beans. “Your left shoulder.” We both laugh.
There is a happy
silence as we eat. I tell her how I drifted through painful days for
months. I talk about seeing everything brand new again and I talk
about my writing. I love to write about the human condition; about
social commentary but I’m also attracted to the escapism of horror. I
just don’t quite know how to marry the two. I don’t want to be
pigeon-holed. I want to write about anything that feels real, alive
or…dead. I laugh.
The Horror – yes!” She loves to listen to me talk about books.
Marie says I come alive with my passions. “I know you say it comes
from within but it’s nice to have a muse,” I reply.
smiles again. “Marie! You don’t need to worry about me. I have this
knack of overcoming adversity because I have a strong faith. I
believe in you too. You give me hope. And I’ll always look out for
you. I always will. As much as I can promise…”
There is a silence as we comfortably eat together. She passes the mayonnaise before I even reach for it. She knows that I love her. It’s just nice to hear it sometimes. She can see how much I care by my purposes in life. Marie says, “actions speak louder.” And it’s true. I was bowled over by the milk-tray pillows and the trips out with the video calls. She always seems to choose the right presents, too.
I love to scrub her back and brush her hair. I like to moisturise her legs and make her green tea. These are all acts of love. Sometimes though, it’s just nice to hear “I love you.” It’s nice to hear words because words make things happen. We finish our breakfasts. I am stuffed but managed to finish the extra large plate. “I think we’ll skip puddings,” she laughs.
Marie gives me strength and convinced me to try spinach. I wrote her a poem:
“Was your day OK?” It’s just you look away and I don’t bee line to your honey smooth forehead. I don’t see your worries – those collected in blemishes or bags or even uneven sags that I don’t see. You are not Exhibit A or B or even C to be looked at like a commodity. You are more, my eternal amour. You are my best sounding-board friend and the perfect true love; my lover in dreams and in each creamy rich chocolate waking hour and day. The only one with that timeless girl’s heart – like the laughter of bicycle rides – and that sunrise smile as you nurture other smiles around you. You wear it loosely, care-free as you ‘pay it forward’ or tightly tied back on those few fraught long days. Your happiest actions outshine all that is outward as they come from somewhere softly ageless and inside. So, let me now ask you, please. You are important to me, “Are you alright?” “Was your day OK?”
Haddock and chips
It’s a lovely summer evening so we head to the park with wrapped fish and chips. There are lots of dogs running free. I think people are more tolerant here. People in London would probably have their dogs on a tight leash. We get lots of “hellos” and eye contact. Marie and I find a park bench overlooking a quiet football pitch.
“Did you order extra chips?” There is a mountain of them. The server didn’t skimp on salt and vinegar either. I start laughing. “Bloody hell! That’s a heart attack waiting to happen.” Marie’s eyes widen. The haddock is absolutely swimming in fat. It wasn’t even drained from the deep fat fryer. She chuckles and says, “I think you’re supposed to catch it first.” We eat off the same white paper which is threatening to tear beneath the sodden fish.
Mitzi ambles over. She looks like a white Yorkshire Terrier. The owners vaguely call her but leave the dog to sniff at our tea. I’m not sure if to throw some chips on the grass. I ask Marie if I’m quite reserved. She smiles and strokes Mitzi. My fingers are really greasy. “I think you think about your actions on others,” she replies.
At last, the owners call their dog. We look over the field onto the horizon. Marie nuzzles into my shoulder. “We can’t just ride off into the sunset,” she says. “We both have responsibilities.” I feel sad. I’m going home early in the morning. I agree – although I’m trying to find a workable solution. There is silence. Then we find a bin for the daft amount of left-over chips and hold hands back to the car.
really should have had some tea,” Marie says. I fall back onto the
pillows trying to catch my breath. “Yes. But the macaroons were
tasty.” We have just made love again like we invented it. I feel
like a teenager despite the aches. Marie has thought about
The hotel room has a large window which overlooks the bar and eatery with a glass roof. I talk about listening to the rain on windows. “It’s like being in the womb. I love being snuggled up in bed whilst listening to the rain on the window.” Marie agrees. We make love again. Then cries as I moisturise her legs. “No-one has ever done that for me before,” she says. “Well, you ordered the array of ‘milk tray pillows’ for my neck,” I reply. I like to scrub her back in the bath, too. I like to show her a maternal love as well as the more manly kind.
cuddle Marie and she drifts off. I am too busy with my thoughts. The
hotel room has oriental-like sliding doors to the bathroom and a
writing table. I think about making a quick coffee. Marie awakes as
the kettle boils. I make a coffee. She is grumpy as she stomps to the
bathroom. “I’m not Jesus, you know,” she barks, half asleep.
Marie has to be up early for work.
I later ask her if she remembers that night. “Of course! But I don’t remember mentioning Jesus.” I smile. “That hotel room had the world’s loudest kettle.”
Cheese and Ham Baguette
The first time it happened was on my very few trips into town. The short bus ride really makes my neck and arms sore. There’s too much braking, swerving and accelerating and too many potholes. I don’t enjoy going out. It’s purely functional and I’ve had enough after two shops. I really can’t browse CDs – the pains distract as it feels like I’m standing on children’s building bricks.
I am sat eating a ham and cheese baguette with a latte. I bite into the hard crust and then there’s a shock. I wipe the sweat from my brow. I spit the tooth into the palm of my hand. My tongue searches for the new gap and I think about getting older. I finish my sandwich as I text Marie. “When did you last go to the dentist?” I frown. I am sweating more.
second tooth presented itself on my tongue as I woke up at my
children’s house. It really freaks me out. Marie talks about flossing
and black plaque. I buy some flossing tape but it doesn’t become a
habit because my arms hurt and the novelty soon wears off. “You
should really go to the dentist,” she says. I hadn’t been for four
years. I tell Marie that I’d rather saw my leg off.
I finally get to the dentist after a six week wait. Even for me, that is a long time not to see a specialist because I’m anxious about my tooth loss. I joke in the waiting room about the drill being a lawn mower outside. Something else in the clinic room sounds like a hedge strimmer. I wipe my brow. Marie is there, on the phone, to compliment me for being responsible.
A few days later, I am eating a chocolate bar that is cold and hard from being in the fridge. I feel my top left incisor free and covered in the chocolate I’m eating. I feel faint. It’s the third tooth in as many months. Marie is incredulous. “At least you’ve still got a nice smile,” she says. I brush my teeth more than once a day now.
Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. He graduated from The Open University with a BSc (Hons) in Social Sciences. His writing has appeared in Spelk, Nymphs, Fevers of the Mind and others. In 2020 he is due to appear in Horror Anthologies published by Eerie River and Red Cape Publishing. ‘Hearts of the matter’ is available on Amazon.
As a girl, I can’t see her now. Sometimes, I think I can see her back then. But memories are fuzzy things. They are elusive or become mixed up with something else. Some of my reminisces are concrete. They are set in a strong emotion like the first time I was mesmerized by a spaceship on the big screen. Others are composites like a cut-and-paste photo-shop. Try as I might, I cannot take myself back to my school days. I can’t see Marie in the school dinner queue as she ritually pays for her daily sausage roll and beans. That is the only constant from all those years ago. That we both ordered the same for our dinner each day. I didn’t know this, then. It’s only since talking with her that we realised we ordered the same school dinners. I look back.
says she was quiet at school. It’s hard to imagine her like that. She
did well and she didn’t like boys. They were too angry all the time.
She is a lot more confident now in her mid-40’s. I still see her
vulnerabilities, at times, but mostly, she finds an answer to most
problems. I look at our recent photos. We are always happy together.
And I tell Marie that she could pass for three or four different
women depending on how she wears her hair or the angle from which the
snap was taken.
She’s changed a lot since how I vaguely remember her outside the classroom in her school uniform. Her hair is longer and she’s a lot chattier. Marie is a manager at a fashion company. I think that has brought her out of her shell a bit. That, and the passing of time. She’s had children too. So have I. Two girls who are now at secondary school. They’re at the ages when I first knew Marie. I can’t really picture her.
We eventually left school and went our separate ways. I joined the army and Marie went to college. I never thought I’d ever meet her again. Nor did that question even enter my mind. I didn’t think about her. Then, she came back into my life 30 years later as I try to recall how she was at school. But I can’t really. I must have bumped into the teenage Marie. I’m sure I did. I just can’t think of a concrete situation where that happened. I just vaguely recall seeing her sometime, from recognising her back then, from an old school photograph. I want to think that I’ve always been there for her. But I’m sure she existed for 30 years without me. She probably didn’t even give me a second thought as I went through army basic training.
Now she has come back into my life, I don’t want us to go our separate ways again. I want to think that she is my one constant in this ever changing world. All those years ago, we ordered the same school dinners.
Scrambled eggs and mushrooms
I remember Marie seeing my newspaper article on social media. That’s when she contacted me and offered her help. She lives down South. But she could organise a supermarket delivery if I was short of food. I felt really blown away by her generosity. She always helps other people and she tries not to judge.
I remember us, much later, walking past a homeless guy. I was in pain and wanted to go home. I felt angry with myself because I had little patience. Sometimes, I give someone in need some change. But I was skint. He was the public face of the government’s social policies. I wanted to feel angry at the politicians yet they are faceless. So, the vulnerable people, on the streets, take the wrath instead. It’s not usually their faults. The notion of a meritocracy is a myth. I had to be reminded of this as Marie found time for him.
The homeless guy was called David. He had been a successful musician until he went bankrupt because of a few accidents at a gig. He hadn’t seen his children for six years. He said it was tough. Marie made him smile. She gave him some change too and never questioned whether he’d spend it on drugs or alcohol. “Live and let live,” she said. I agreed.
That’s the trouble with people nowadays. They don’t realise that a smile can make a difference. I try to smile and say, “Hello,” even when I’m in pains. It might be the only warmth someone has received that day. I try to make a small difference to others. Marie agrees. It’s the small gestures that make a big difference. I just get really annoyed that people see my pains but don’t make allowances for my unseen disability. They carry on talking even as I’ve lost the thread. I can’t keep up.
Marie saw past the difficulties reported in the newspaper article. She said I wasn’t weak at all. I was strong because I was standing up for others as I added my ‘case study’ to the mounting evidence. Those with disabilities are struggling like the increased homeless folk. Marie said, “don’t look at what you can’t do. Look at what you can.” Her understanding was like a ladder that lifted me out of a pit of unending days. I could look forward to her video calls. She made me feel sexy again. She genuinely listened and I was her sounding board. She never judged me. Her scrambled eggs tasted good. I wasn’t in the dark like a mushroom. Marie gave me my appetite back. I learned to love my world again as I adjusted. And Marie expanded the premature end to my travels by taking me with her when she video phoned.
It feels like fate. She is exactly the right woman to come into my life at exactly the right time. I began asking questions. I am still in pains but the world is new as I have lost my preconceptions about other’s appearances. Marie has awoken me. Her interest makes me question and listen again. It feels like a good thing.
Veggie Supreme Pizza
She doesn’t like the ways animals are treated. I went without meat for two days but wanted to gnaw someone’s leg off. I said I’d never eat meat if we ever lived together. I felt trepidation after saying this. I’m not sure I could stick to Marie’s principles. I like pork too much. We share a veggie supreme pizza for tea.
Marie tells me about cows that are constantly impregnated to produce milk. I find that horrifying, too. And she is nervous about confined spaces. We didn’t dwell on battery hen conditions. That can’t be a good life. Being cooped up in a small cage. I’m not sure chickens know any different though. We should be more ethical towards life.
agree that all life is equal. But I believe in God. Man was made
flesh to rule over the earth. So, I think all lives are equal. But
only mankind was made in God’s image. That makes us his highest
creation. But with knowledge comes responsibilities. So, just because
we can cage a bird, it doesn’t mean we should. There is plenty of
space to let farmed animals roam. It’s about maximum profit, I tell
“You believe in God?” I tell her I do. Nothing is an accident. There’s too much order about for our universe to just be the effect of a random explosion. You only have to look at the beauty of a rose to see that there’s a creator behind it. And I don’t think that when our physical body dies that that is the end. We live on, I’m sure. We have the capacity to love and think up poetry. I’m sure those attributes don’t die when our proteins wither. Einstein said that energy can not be created or destroyed. I think we just take on another form.
said to Marie that if I go first, I’ll look out for her. In death, I
will order her toiletries and find her car keys. I’ll fold her
clothes and stop her if she doesn’t see the car as she’s crossing the
road. I will always watch over her. She thinks that’s sweet. “But
don’t you think it’s a bit creepy?” I think.
It’s true that I’m quite a private chap. I struggle to use public loos if there’s other people about. And I’m quite tactile in a relationship. But I don’t need to see my girlfriend’s ablutions or watch her shave her legs. I think about this. Or rather, I try not to. “OK,” I say, “Then I’ll always be within ear shot.” We both laugh.
Marie thinks there’s something more but she hasn’t made her mind up as much as I have. She asks me to explain God and I struggle. Not everything can be explained. If I knew all the answers then I’d be God-like. But I’m only made in his image. I’m not totally sure what that means. God is male. And yet women are made in the image of our Heavenly Father too. I think it’s more to do with the Trinity. So, it’s less about appearance because our eyes can deceive us. We rely too much on our eyes at the expense of our other senses. I think ‘in his image’ means we have a spirit and a soul as well as a consciousness. But I’m not all knowing. I don’t need to know everything. Love doesn’t need to be quantified to be looked on with awe.
Marie looks beautiful as we go on our first date. She calls it dinner even though she’s a Northerner. It sounds more formal than tea. She knows I have my dinner at mid-day. This is an on-going joke as I begin to sound ‘di…’ before I mock correct myself with tea. We go out to eat anyway. She chooses a Mexican restaurant.
She is wearing a short sleeved dress that I say looks oriental. The eatery is busy. We find a table for two near the window that looks out onto the street. I already know I’ll order a latte. Marie looks at the vegetarian options. I watch her as she traces the menu with her index finger and looks flummoxed. “I’ll order the same as you,” I say. She smiles. “You don’t have to order the vegetarian option. You like your meat.” She decides on a green mojito and a vegetarian enchilada made with mushrooms.
I want the same experience,” I remark. I talk about travelling
alone, which is fine, although there is no-one to share the
experiences with. Photos only go so far in painting a conversational
picture. She listens. “Well, we can order the same or taste each
other’s,” she suggests.
I order a latte and a burrito filled with ground beef. Marie won’t try mine. The portions are large and we end up taking half of it with us when we leave. It is really busy and I’m in pains. She helps me through the weave of tables. I think about the connotations and we laugh at something private.
Marie orders smashed avocado on toast for breakfast. I quite like them. I’m not sure if an avocado is an aphrodisiac but I really don’t need a chemical high to feel aroused when she’s about.
There’s a mother berating her kids. She seems unaware of other customers as she swears and tugs at the boy’s hood. I tut. Marie says that she’d never talk to her girls like that. “Some people lack empathy and awareness for those around them.” I say it’s because everyone wants to be a celebrity. But, in truth, it’s probably more to do with socialization and parents. Either way, social media pulls people away from parenting and promotes people who are famous just for being famous. I drift.
“Have you ever had a car accident?” I mention the time a woman pulled out in front of me from a junction. She said she didn’t see me because the sun was in her eyes. Luckily, I was only doing 30 miles per hour. But she wrote my car off. I was alright. But the lady had popped home twice whilst I was waiting for the recovery vehicle and she didn’t even offer me a drink. “Again. That’s a lack of empathy,” I say. I ask if Marie has ever had a car accident.
tells me about the time, in her twenties, before having children,
that she skidded and her car left the ground. Her scarf had been cut
in two by the shattered windscreen. She was lucky not to have more
than a few cuts from glass shards. My mouth goes dry. I can see her
back then. I go quiet and think about my own mortality and hers. I
don’t know what I’d do without Marie. I don’t know why I picture her
smashed up car when she’s alright. I ask her why we put ourselves
through imagining past events that make us feel uncomfortable. “Why
do motorists crane their necks to look at accidents?”
want to feel.” We are so unfeeling in our everyday lives as we rush
about. We are taught to use our heads more than our hearts at work. I
think people look at those less fortunate because it gives them
reprieve from their own worries. We can feel better about our lives.
Marie makes me feel better as she says she takes less risks with driving now. “I’m more experienced and more responsible now I’m a parent,” she comforts. I smile. Being a parent does make a lot of people think of others outside of their own difficulties. It’s nice to care about others. The smashed avocado is a winner!
Pre-packed Salmon sandwiches
I hate travelling backwards. I tell Marie that the little boy I look after has never been on a train. “Well, he loves buses. Maybe you could take him. A train should be smooth on your neck.” This sounds like a good idea. I’m stuck in a chair every day on tablets. I could pace myself. “As long as they aren’t salmon sandwiches,” I say. She looks puzzled.
talk about ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. I always get
them mixed up, I say. I don’t really. I just like listening to Marie
being the confident expert as I pretend to be helpless. It’s a great
way to flirt.
I was on a train once, coming home on leave, and a woman stank the carriage out with some supermarket sandwiches that were out of date. She was trying to describe the greyish salmon, over the phone, to customer services. Everyone was changing their seats as they held their noses. She opened the window. It was freezing on the train.
wrinkled her nose. “I like trains,” she said. “I like the
feeling of not being in control. You have to totally trust the
driver. There’s nothing you can do if it crashes.” I think about
rollercoasters and shudder. I think about staying sober on nights
out. “I like to be in control,” I surmise. “Maybe your world is
safer than mine.” We talk about ontological security. How safe are
we in the world? “It depends on your safety net,” she says.
“Whether you have people around you that are dependable.” I
think. I say that past experiences definitely shape how you react to
adversity in the present. She agrees. Then she asks me why I’m
“It just sounds like something a woman would say. Enjoying the feeling of not being in control, on a train, as the scenery hurtles past. Is it a sexual thing?” Marie smiles. “Most things usually are,” she winks.
I remember the first time I saw Marie since leaving school. It was dark when she finally parked in the street. It seemed to take forever as she had a long drive. I could hardly eat my shepherd’s pie because I was so excited. Marie even had the confidence to pick me up from my ex-partner’s. We had texted and talked for almost two months over the phone.
should have asked her what car she was driving as she announced, by
text, she was here. I grabbed my bag of medications and felt anxious.
I didn’t want to tap on the wrong car window in darkness. She saw me
first. The distance between us seemed longer than it was. My chest
was somersaulting. We hugged after thirty years. I wanted to remember
drove smoothly. She eased her clutch instead of snapping at it. I
didn’t even need to remind her about my neck. I asked her to turn the
radio off. “Why?” I said that I wanted to focus on her with the
least distractions. “You are funny!”
She parked in what was to be christened ‘her parking spot’ outside my flat. We held hands. We always do. “You looked like a rock star as you walked up the street,” she remarked. I laughed and offered her a green tea. We put some music on and she kneeled down at my feet. I leaned forward and rubbed her slight back. I couldn’t help laughing. “What are you laughing at?” I said I was just pleased to see her and that my mind was in neutral. “I wasn’t thinking of anything,” I said. Then, I laugh again. “A rock star? Well, what do I normally look like?” We laughed.
Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. He graduated from The Open University with a BSc (Hons) in Social Sciences. His writing has appeared in Spelk, Nymphs, Fevers of the Mind and others. In 2020 he is due to appear in Horror Anthologies published by Eerie River and Red Cape Publishing. ‘Hearts of the matter’ is available on Amazon.
seven days of intolerable confinement, Izzy decided that this foggy
afternoon was the right time to free herself. And, if she could
She had been testing
her crippled body since the morning darkness, inundating her
extremities with signals to flex, and, with any hard-earned luck,
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
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.
now the ghosts of cigarettes past were preventing her, in spite of
her cooperative arms, from liberating herself, and, more importantly,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
felt her old nemesis oxygen assisting her rushing blood to restore
her vision. But she knew better; death had brushed past her.
she urged herself.
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.
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,
wondered if her daughter would even care.
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.
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
could no longer see her only friend, but knew she was right where she
had left her. I’m
she thought, hoping the suffocating air out here wouldn’t render her
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
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.
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.
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.
enough to save Clara.
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
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
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
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.
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:
into her late mother’s bedroom—this very same bedroom—to sneak a
peek at Clara, high on her shelf.
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.
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.
on, you useless cigarette-holder. Last fifty metres.
nicotine-stained spider-hand rediscovered the nightstand’s feet, and,
once more, began its ascent.
the bottom drawer.
the middle drawer.
the bottom of the top drawer.
the top drawer’s knob…
hand sprang back, the drawer with it.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.