Pantry Prose: Shit Lottery by Perry Genovesi

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On the first night it snows, she finally discovers who’s leaving the trash bags outside her apartment. Luna follows the bag’s track to an unassuming rowhome one block south of hers. The air smells of car exhaust and a yellow glow shines above the porch in the upstairs window. From the front door, a thin hand appears, gripping another black bag’s top knot like a marionette. Then the vestibule light flicks off. A porch light blinks on.

“Can I help you?” the woman calls.

“No!” says Luna, standing in an empty parking space. “You weren’t going to bring that trash to the house on the corner down on Rodman, were you?”

“No,” the woman says. She heaves the misshapen bag down the eight steps and onto the sidewalk it thumps. Snow culls in its ridges. Then, from the bag, an entire doghouse, with a shingled, rust-red roof, tumbles off the curb and flips into the street. Its inner walls are painted glittering green. Luna says, “Last week it was…plates. All made up like dimes…and…the week before that, laundry bags with dollar signs on them? I’m not angry,” Luna says. “Are you a set designer?”

“A what?” says the woman.

“A set designer. Do you make props for a stage, a movie set? A movie about money? About Wall Street?”

“Oh, no.”

The woman gives a little shout Luna is ascending her steps. “You owe me a confession,” she says.

“Listen. There’s someone I’m taking care of right now. This is all him.” Then the woman pouts. “My name’s Amara. I can tell you more about him more about Mr. O’Hanlon, if you want to come inside. There’s coffee. That’s your house on the corner there, right?”

Luna nods. “A coffee.” She cozies up with the thought of a drink with a new person who is not a man. “That would be,” Luna feels the need to pause during a passing car’s rumble, “nice. Do you mean now? Who’s Mr. O’Hanlon?”

“Mastermind behind all this. I guess he’d like that,” says Amara, rolling her eyes. “I usually don’t. Look, maybe we can stay on the porch?”

“No, it’s freezing out! And I…want an explanation.”

The door opens a crack and a line of light stripes the floor.

A week ago, a bag full of dark dinner plates greeted her. On the plate’s surface someone had etched perfect profiles, in silver marker, of Roosevelt. And the week before that, she’d pulled a bag open, the bag lightening around its edges, to reveal deflated basketballs. Each ball featured the same jumble of black lines. She pulled one out and it flopped onto the curb. The lines formed a familiar face in profile: Lincoln. They were admirable renditions, with varied dates.

Luna follows Amara into the living room. Gardening tools, two dull junk flamingos, a grungy beach umbrella and green skis clutter one of the enclosed porch’s corners.

“You want a glass of wine, or water? He has some Jameson left, probably, if you want something stronger.”

Luna cowers in the moss-smelling living room. The wood panels dim the room. “Oh, wine would be great, thanks.” She pulls the bottom of her jacket over her hips. She wants to stay frozen but she’s made it this far. She creeps to an end table next to a boxy beige couch. There’s a stack of photographs on top of six shoeboxes ranging in colour from grey to brown point, and a picture of an attractive white man with a moustache and a bomber jacket stares at Luna – he’s holding a giant prize check in the foreground; in the background, a woman cheers from a doorway. Amara strides into the room with a bottle tucked under her arm and two glasses of red wine quivering.

“Thank you,” says Luna. The wine tastes like cloves and sickly-sweet cherry.

Luna lowers herself in front of a coffee table. “I do home care,” says Amara. “My, Mr. O’Han-Paddy. If I left that trash here, he’d take it, rip up the bags, bring all his crap back inside.”

“Oh,” says Luna. “The one in the pictures?”

“That’s him,” says Amara, pointing to the man with the prize check. “He used to work for a sweepstakes company. Brought those big ass checks to people’s houses. So now, I know it’s crazy but he keeps trying to make that happen again. Make stuff he thinks he’s gonna give someone. And it’ll change their lives.”

“I – there’s nowhere else to put these bags besides my house? It’s rude.”

“He gets out here and tries to find where I’ve put them on the block. Tears up other bags. He recognizes the white CVS ones with the red. I had to change out the bags. Hasn’t found where I’ve been putting them on your sidewalk yet.”

“What does he do when he finds them?”

“Stops people on the street. Tries to push frisbees, treadmill belts he says are dollarbills on them. I caught him with a stack of pancakes in February. Or brings everything back and pushes everything around. Throws it over the lamps. On the stairs. Says I’m censoring him. Says I’m getting in the way of changing lives, people winning.”

A creak echoes from where Luna assumes is the kitchen and then a heavy step resounds. Amara’s cheek flashes in profile. “Sir!” she says. “Mr. O’Hanlon?” An empty can hits the floor and rings. Then something slides toward Luna. Amara snatches it off the floor and stands, holding a small, stuffed, turquoise sack. It resembles the kind of sleeping bag Luna once took to with her ex to the Poconos.

“Let’s…see what’s inside,” says Luna.

“You don’t want that,” says Amara.

Luna takes it from her anyway. She opens the bag. Wrapping paper? The insides of a frog costume? She plucks out a tissue hodgepodge. It feels crisp and dry. The tissue is all green-marked – the same green as the doghouse.

“Well, he made you a wallet,” Amara mocks. Black dollar signs mark each leaf of paper. “Full of money. You’re rich now. You won the shit lottery.”

Luna laughs; the curtains waver in her vision.

But Amara says, “No! This is what I deal with. This right here is why I hide his trash.”

“He made it for me. It’s kind of sweet.”

“Maybe it used to be. Years ago. I tried to get used to it. Tried to appreciate his-”

“Well, there’s something special here.”

Amara shakes her head. “No. I talk to him about it. At least twice a month. For two years I’ve dealt with this.” Amara finishes her wine. “I tried to channel this mess into something regular. Something useful. Took him to the library Tuesdays. See if he wants to volunteer at that church on Rittenhouse. At the soup kitchen. Fool kept talking about how he – how he wanted to contribute. OK, I said, let’s contribute. We go to the soup kitchen for three days and then he yells at a man about – personal responsibility. They made us leave! But Paddy loved showing up at people’s doors with those big checks.

“When I can’t find him now, I know I’ll catch him at the dollar store. Stack of bodyboards under his arm.” Amara laughs a little. “He’ll carve into them with a bread knife. Write one out like one of those prize checks.” And she feigns carving, shutting an eye and sticking out her tongue. “And then I find three or four of them shoved under his bed. He’d address them to people. Neighbours. You never got one?”


“Well, I guess he’s moved on. You got that now.”

“It’s…charming. He made it for me.”

“Nuh-uh.” Amarah thrusts her hand out and curls-in her fingers. “Give it.”


“I can’t keep encouraging him. He stops people on the street. Tells them they’ve won some vacation to Brazil!”

“It’s mine,” says Luna.

“Don’t make me get angry,” says Amara.

A deep voice behind them booms: “It belongs to her!”

Amara rolls her eyes. “Stop. Giving. Her your crap, Paddy.” She tugs the bag from Luna’s hands.

In the light, his pale skin and white hair shines. A crumpled yellow oxford appears draped over a round body; he looks like an egg in a carton. Wrinkles crisscross his cheeks and lips. His pants have, dotting down each leg, bunches of mouse-sized holes. He glares at Amara. His scent is peppery, leathery. In a rough voice he says, “I know she’ll take them away. And so I must make more.”

“What?” says Luna.

Amara says, “Listen to him.”

Paddy nods. He puts his finger to his lips and disappears down a hallway. Shakily, Luna pours more wine into her glass. Then a scuffing makes her turn. Paddy is scraping a blue and orange bodyboard down the hallway. The bottom of it rubs against the wall; he has to carry it sideways.

He displays it to her, grinning with very white teeth. The print is a fine, professional font featuring decorative flourishes outlined in blue. Luna Vesna, 5501 Rodman Street, Philadelphia PA 19143. The cheque is for $500,000,000.

“Lord,” she says. “You know where I live.”

He drops the cheque and it thumps against the couch. Amara clutches green tissue paper. “He wants to make me happy. You’re keeping him from that.”

“Oh, you want him to make you happy?” She drops the tissue on the parquet floor.

“I don’t know why you’re being so rude,” says Luna. “Aren’t you supposed to help people?”

You try keeping up with him.” Amara presses her finger to her lips. “Paddy,” she says, but he turns to the hallway. Then to Luna she says, “Tell Mr. O’Hanlon why you’re here.”

“What?” Luna tips her wine glass.

“Tell him what you came here tonight to say.”

“I’m…here because you invited me for a glass of wine out of the blue.”

“Nah-uh. At the very least, tell him, tell me to stop bringing his trash to your house. Go ahead.”

Luna bites her lip. “I can’t.”

Amara says, “Can’t or don’t wanna?”

Luna shoots the rest of the wine into her mouth – it burns. ”Yes, it’s – at least it was true. Before I knew what you were trying to give me.” She looks at the cheque. “It’s very nice.”

Paddy’s lips soften and seem to melt to a frown. He whimpers. Amara says, “Oh, you’re not happy? Tell her what’s keeping you from paradise. Because I bet it’s not me having to confiscate your bags of newspapers. Treadmill parts. Beach towels, plates.” She turns to Luna. “It’s when his fantasy steps all over people. That’s when it irks me. It really irks me. I mean, lest we forget, the reason you marched over here was to tell me about it!”

Luna says, “Stop! You’re what’s keeping him from happiness! You’re slapping the ball from his hand every chance you get.”

“So, what?”

“I want you to stop. Stop getting in his way.”

“Leaving his crap everywhere? It disturbs people, you know. I’m not doing that.”

Luna turns to Paddy. “I’m sorry.” She bends for his cheque against the couch. Paddy’s stare bores into her. The cheque is bristly against her fingers. Amara says, “Get out of here before he tries to kiss you.” Paddy stares at his boots.

Back home, Luna turns on a Netflix movie she saved years ago. But she eats the rest of a box of Cheez-Its and passes out.

When she moves into her next apartment she brings the cheque.

The next man she dates is a bass player in Roxborough, David. The first night David will sleep over, he spies the cheque under her futon. He asks what the hell it is. “An art project?”

“From an interlude in my life,” she says.

The next trash night she leans it against a stop sign.

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Perry Genovesi works as a librarian in Philadelphia, USA. He serves his fellow workers in AFSCME District Council 47 and plays in the empty arena rock band, Canid. You can read his published fiction in the Santa Monica Review, Maudlin House, Heavy Feature Review, and collected here. He’s come to the realization that most ‘conversations’ between two people are just subtle battles to see who has to send the first email.

Poetry Drawer: Foreshadows by Ian C Smith

Sounds, ship and sea-formed, rigging’s creaks and groans, the rush of bow-split water a hiss of displeasure, they pursue fate, jettisoned provisions a sore loss.  After Tenerife, starless but dry, no rainfall since approaching the equator when the cursed pumpkins began to spoil, a threat lurks, something in the air other than ozone.  Churchill, always seeking eminence, nurses a scalded hand, the cook, broken ribs.  James Morrison’s arm is infected.

A Scot, an educated man good at judging heights and distances at sea, Morrison runs his mind over how these tars have been spoiling in the wake of the aforesaid pumpkins amid the galley’s enveloping smoke because of Bligh’s schemes.  Surely their vituperative profiteering captain won’t be taken for a god à la Cook?  Constant gales prevent their navigation of Cape Horn.

On midnight watch, Morrison discerns the sails’ dim outlines.  Cocooned by night’s cloak he can’t stop thinking about the bird, eight-foot span wingtips stretched, killed and eaten earlier that day.  Sailing the panic of wind off Patagonia’s coast riding tunnels of air like a heavenly messenger, its grace, soaring freedom, aroused optimism.  He knows they rest at Tristan da Cunha, endure long arduous journeys.

Young James Ballantyne misses historical drama’s denouement, no crowd scene role treading the boards of that deck in the future’s final act.  His corpse sinks, slowly rotating, free-falling in a chance choreography through the ever-darkening ocean, fish twitching away from his shroud, ropes holding firm so far.  Solemn shipmates wrench their thoughts from this, the first death, strain towards their sweet theatre of dreams, the idea of Otaheite’s sun-blazed volcanic mountains illustrating an otherwise monotony of horizon.

Bligh’s frustration washes over pustular Surgeon Huggan.  Still abed, obese, pickled, his foetid days now acutely numbered, Bounty’s doctor, cabin a congeries of spillage, wine and sweat, drools vomit to his rattling chest.  Several ships have been sighted but they have spoken to none.  The boy sailor’s remains borne by gravity away from shillings of light dappling the sea’s surface, grief hovering in abeyance for his people in Blighty, the wind has freshened since Van Diemen’s Land, its airy questing urging them each to his particular end.

Ian C Smith’s work has been published in BBC Radio 4 Sounds,The Dalhousie Review, Gargoyle, Ginosko Literary Journal, Griffith Review, Southword, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.

You can find more of Ian’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Books From The Pantry: A Pocketful of Chalk by Claire Booker reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

Brighton-based poet and playwright, Claire Booker’s debut pamphlet of poems, ‘Later There Will Be Postcards’ was published by Green Bottle Press. A further pamphlet, ‘The Bone That Sang’ was published by Indigo Dreams. She was a recipient of a Kathak International Literary Award in 2019 and, in the same year, travelled to Bangladesh as a guest poet at the Dhaka International Writers’ Festival. Her stage plays have been performed in Europe, Australia, America and the UK. She is a member of the Brighton Stanza Group.

Titles can be magical as well as memorable. Following in the footsteps of Agatha Christie’s detective novel, ‘A Pocketful of Rye’, Aisha Bushby’s novel ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ and Richard E Grant’s memoir ‘A Pocketful of Happiness’ we now have Booker’s first full-length collection ‘A Pocketful of Chalk’.

Of course, a ‘pocket’ can also be a seam, a cavity in a rock or stratum filled with ore or other material as opposed to a small patch of land or a space for carrying small articles in one’s clothing. In this collection, Booker digs deep beneath the surface to mine a rich vein of poetry from the chalk deposits of the South Downs. It is here where we see that Booker is very much a poet of place as she takes us over a range of coastal cliffs and hills such as Beachy Head, Folly Hill, and Beacon Hill to the inland grasslands and meadows of Sussex which are all very much a part of her landscape.

In an interview for The Poet Magazine, Booker says ‘I think words, for me, are often a way to delve into the unexplored, to fling my net and see what comes up.’ Nowhere is this more obvious than in her opening poem, ‘Breaking Out’, where space is used instead of punctuation to indicate the length of a pause. The full-stop (‘I’ve had it with full stops’) is not permitted to put in an appearance until the whole poem has ended, allowing nothing to hinder the full flight of her imagination, a dazzlement of constellations, butterflies, marigolds and dandelions. The lyrical drive inherent in this and many other poems in the collection comes from Booker’s love of English hymnody.

By contrast, full stops are very much in evidence in ‘Looking Towards Smock Hill’ where short sentences help to drive the poem forward, enabling it to cover a lot of ground, giving us a sense distance in the view out to sea.

In ‘Drone Boys’ technology meets sheep. The sound and sight of them scything the air with their blades is distressing to the sheep. Reading it put me in mind of the dangers birds face when confronted with the whirling blades of wind turbines. Booker handles the clash of forces between machinery and the natural world very convincingly here. We ignore the needs of the natural world at our peril.

‘Long Man Dreaming’ is central to this collection. This is the chalk giant, known as the Long Man of Wilmington that is carved into the Sussex Downs. The jury is still out as to whether it is a guardian, some kind of war-god or a fertility symbol and its origins are unclear. The narrator imagines the giant dreaming himself back into the past to the point where the landscape returns to the seabed. Even the car the narrator is sitting in becomes a part of the transformation: ‘Inside the carburettor petrol chatters /its abrasive dialect of long-dead foliage… We sink / into blue haze. A brook has begun to babble / through my head.’

Thinking of another pocketful, the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence / a pocketful of rye’ several poems bear reference to childhood such as ‘Hey Diddle Diddle…,’ ‘The Horse in my Bedroom,’ and ‘The Museum of Childhood’ where

…the little train clatters along N-gauge tracks,
disappears into the papier-mâché tunnel.

A long heart-skip, before it emerges still guarding
its secret: the dark curved space,

a pin prick of light dilating like an amazed pupil
at the approaching world.

Even the name of the gardener in ‘Mr McGregor’s Seedlings’ is a distant echo from Beatrix Potter’s ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’.

In ‘Italian Hair’ Booker manages to convey a whole spectrum of moods ranging from envy to humour and pathos in five quatrains against a backdrop that swings between the romance of Italy to the reality of England, from Sophia Loren to the fictional character of Nora Batty.

‘Framed Woman’ is an ekphrastic poem based on a painting titled ‘Cape Cod Morning’ by the American realist painter Edward Hopper. In the actual painting, a woman is looking out of a bay window, her attention caught by something beyond the frame. She herself is framed by tall dark shutters and the shape of the oriel window. Booker focuses on the woman’s tense pose, the way her hands are ‘welded to a table’ and tells us her own take on the story of this woman and how she lives day by day in her own interior space.

‘News Flash’ reads like an intrusion into our settled lives. The violent headline haunts the narrator with endless repeats until the carefree girls playing on the beach become fully cognisant of it. The poem is the musical equivalent of the renegade snare drummer in Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony who is given the freedom to ‘improvise’ to the point of waging a war with the full forces of the rest of the orchestra.

Many of the poems in this collection are about nature but there are others which explore relationships with family and friends. Whether she is writing about a father mending nets, an osprey fledging or mirabelle plums, Booker dazzles us with her inventive vocabulary and keen observation. Highly recommended.

A Pocketful of Chalk by Claire Booker is available from Arachne Press.

You can find more work by poet and reviewer Neil Leadbeater here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: I Age: Crypt in the Sky: Priscilla, Let’s Dance: Willow Tree Poem by Michael Lee Johnson

I Age

Arthritis and aging make it hard,
I walk gingerly, with a cane, and walk
slow, bent forward, fear threats,
falls, fear denouement-
I turn pages, my family albums
become a task.
But I can still bake and shake,
sugar cookies, sweet potato,
lemon meringue pies.
Alone, most of my time,
but never on Sundays,
friends and communion,
United Church of Canada.
I chug a few down,
love my Blonde Canadian Pale Ale,
Copenhagen long cut a pinch of snuff.
I can still dance the Boogie-woogie,
Lindy Hop in my living room,
with my nursing care home partner.
Aging has left me with youthful dimples,
but few long-term promises.

Crypt in the Sky

Order me up,
no one knows
where this crypt in the sky
like a condo on the 5th floor
suite don’t sell me out
over the years;
please don’t bury me beneath
this ground, don’t let me decay
inside my time pine casket.
Don’t let me burn to cremate
skull last to turn to ashes.
Treasure me high where no one goes,
no arms reach, stretch.
Building for the Centuries
then just let it fall.
These few precious dry bones
preserved for you, sealed in the cloud
no relocation is necessary,
no flowers need to be planted,
no dusting off that dust each year,
no sinners can reach this high.
Jesus’ heaven, Jesus’ sky.

Note: Dedicated to the passing of beloved Katie Balaskas.

Priscilla, Let’s Dance

Priscilla, Puerto Rican songbird,
an island jungle dancer, Cuban heritage,
rare parrot, a singer survivor near extinction.
She sounds off on notes, music her
vocals hearing background bongos,
piano keys, Cuban horns.
Quote the verse patterns,
quilt the pieces skirt bleeds,
then blend colours to light a tropical prism.
Steamy Salsa, a little twist, cha-cha-cha
dancing rhythms of passions, sacred these islands.
Everything she has is movement
tucked nice and tight but explosive.
She mimics these ancient sounds
showing her ribs, her naked body.
Her ex-lovers remain nightmares
pointed daggers, so criminal, so stereotyped.
Priscilla purifies her dreams with repentance.
She pours her heart out, everything
condensed to the bone, petite boobies,
cheap bras, flamboyant Gi strings.
Her vocabulary is that of sin and Catholicism.
Island hurricanes form her own Jesus
slants of hail, detonate thunder,
the collapse of hell in her hands after midnight.
Priscilla remains a background rabble-rouser,
almost remorseful, no apologies
to the counsel of Judas
wherever he hangs.

Willow Tree Poem

Wind dancers
dancing to the
willow wind,
lance-shaped leaves
swaying right to left
all day long.
I’m depressed.
Birds hanging on-
bleaching feathers
out into
the sun.

Michael Lee Johnson
lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. Today he is a poet in the greater Chicagoland area, IL.  He has 275 YouTube poetry videos. Michael Lee Johnson is an internationally published poet in 44 countries, has several published poetry books, has been nominated for 6 Pushcart Prize awards, and 6 Best of the Net nominations. He is editor-in-chief of 3 poetry anthologies, all available on Amazon, and has several poetry books and chapbooks. He has over 453 published poems. Michael is the administrator of 6 Facebook poetry groups and member of the Illinois State Poetry Society

Poetry Drawer: In the Storm: Revolt: Baffled: Playhouse by Aneek Chatterjee

In the Storm

When the storms came,
father tied a rope through the whole
of each iron frame, supposed to hold
glass panes of the windows tight.
Latches of the window frames were long
broken, like our families, known and unknown.
There were glasses everywhere,
between you and me,
transparent, yet invisible;
we can see, but we’re unable to.

Ropes were ephemeral, unlike the storms.
They were blown away quickly.
And the glass panes were shivering in fear,
like me and father, everyone knew iron frame.

In the storm, I failed to realize
which was more vulnerable; —
glass or the iron frame.


On a dangerous turn of the mountain,
I saw someone trying to cut winds
through his hands.

I felt shaky, yet curious.
And tried to replicate.
But my hands revolted.

Informed, they were tired
with socially warm


Initial interactions whispered,
you were a poem without

Finally discovered
myriad notes of interrogation,
without any comma.

I felt like a semicolon,
unable to guess, whether
I should move a full stop.


We have created this playhouse
& named it undecipherable.
Here, our daily sojourn runs smooth as if
on rail tracks; where our sons and daughters
take a ride, which we tend to think
as merry ride.
When the train gets a jolt, we try to
change the track, not the coach.
In this coach, several games are played,
some tough, some easy. In this coach,
we stage multiple dramas, some straight,
some imagined, some undecipherable.

We have created this playhouse, to remain
happy, or to believe happy, satiated.
This playhouse devours us, until we leave …
& we do not know the ultimate
fate of our coach, which for some years
remained our playhouse

Aneek Chatterjee is from Kolkata, India. He has been published in poetry magazines and anthologies across the globe. He authored 16 books including four poetry collections, namely, “Seaside Myopia” (Cyberwit, 2018); “Unborn Poems and Yellow Prison” (Cyberwit, 2019); “Of Ashes and Persiflage” (Hawakal, 2020) and “Archive Avenue” (Cyberwit, 2022). He was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia, USA and a recipient of the ICCR Chair (Govt. of India) to teach abroad. 

Poetry Drawer: I Used To Dislike Eventide: Gone River: A Tale From My Memory: On A Seismic Scale: Narrative by Kushal Poddar

I Used To Dislike Eventide

Sun sets the honey hive on fire.
This is still earth, here,
a little more ornate, a shade of bride-fresh.

I cover my mother’s hand with mine,
hers ever tinier, shrinking further,
becoming those of my daughter’s,
still large enough to drown the sky
if held before my eyes.

Gone River

Along a long gone river
rove my memories.

The rhyme of ducks, ashes, ashes,
and the old stone bridge that stays

loyal to those who dare to cross,
say, “You may stand on the devil’s arc

but there will be no shadow
to forge the hole, not in whole.”

Who am I who tour the echo?
Why a revisiting hollows out
spaces hallowed?

A Tale From My Memory

We play memory-game today,
pretend we do not know this place
and form O with our mouths
when we find all the hidden keys and knives.

On A Seismic Scale

I sewed my lids tight against
my rapids of eyes. Earth quivers,
people already pouring into the thoroughfares,
avenues, roads, streets, lanes, alleys behind
your moss and mess. The couch canoes in a vortex.
A falling jar of silence crashes even before
hitting the floor. What are we now? Where are you
when the earth shakes? My friend calls me
to say his mistress doesn’t know what to do with
his body. Bury in a debris? I whisper.


He can see her, his wife,
singing in their son’s wedding
and drowning in the pallor of cancer,
him singing to her. The song he
cannot recall is a milestone.
One can move either way.

He can see her, the song.
A woman blinds it with her hands,
soft, whiting away hands.
She says, “Guess the lyrics, dear tune.”

An author, journalist, and father, Kushal Poddar, editor of ‘Words Surfacing’, authored eight books, the latest being ‘Postmarked Quarantine’. His works have been translated into eleven languages. 

Books From The Pantry: Keep Dancing Lizzie Chu by Maisie Chan reviewed by Yang Ming Renee

Two years ago I reviewed Maisie Chan’s delightful debut children’s novel, Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths, about an eleven-year-old Danny Chung who loved drawings and hated Maths. One morning, he received an unexpected guest in his house – his grandmother who he had never met before. Over Easter break, he got to know his grandmother more, and his initial animosity towards her grew into an appreciation for her presence. Since its publication, the heart-warming story has won the Jhalak Prize and the 2022 Branford Boase Award. Now, two years later, Chan follows up her success with her second children’s novel, Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu, published by Piccadilly Press. This time, Chan doesn’t disappoint.

The novel opens with a twelve-year-old girl, Lizzie Chu, who finds her maternal grandad, Jimmy, whom she affectionately addresses as Wai Gong, ‘on his knees jabbing a piece of wire through the cracks in the roadside drain like he was trying to hook a duck at a fairground’ during one of her shopping runs when an eco bus threatens to knock him down. Lizzie rushes to his aid and saves him in the nick of time. We can surmise something isn’t quite right with Wai Gong. He has been acting strangely lately. He is becoming more forgetful than usual and spends a lot of time talking to Guan Yin – the Chinese goddess of compassion, kindness and mercy.

On the other hand, Lizzie has been holding the fort at home since the death of Grandma Kam. She has big shoes to fill, and her plate is getting full with caring for Wai Gong, running errands, sorting out the household bills and cooking while juggling her schoolwork and being a normal twelve-year-old girl. The question is, is Wai Gong feeling sad because of Grandma Kam’s passing or is it something else? One day, Lizzie and Wai Gong discover that Grandma Kam has left a golden chain with a jade circular pendant and four tickets to Blackpool Tower Ballroom. A light bulb instantly lit up in Lizzie’s head, and she devises a madcap plan. She’s going to bring Wai Gong on a trip of his lifetime to Blackpool Tower Ballroom, ‘the Mecca of Ballroom Dancing’ where he always longs to go with Grandma Kam.

Targeted at young readers, the uplifting intergenerational story takes them on a rollercoaster ride, with unexpected twists and turns, which surprises them on every page. The journey to Blackpool Tower Ballroom has me sitting at the edge of my seat, and I can’t help but cheer for Lizzie. In contrast to Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths, this novel has more awareness of inclusivity. In one of the chapters, Lizzie’s school teacher, Mrs Begum explains to the class:

We don’t call people names. We do not talk about other people’s family members. Luke, just because someone looks and acts different to what you’re used to, doesn’t mean that they are strange.’

We also are also introduced to an ensemble of diverse supporting characters that make Glasgow. Among them are Lizzie’s best friends – Chi, a self-centred but kindhearted and hard-core Comic Con fan, who is a mixed Welsh and Vietnamese and Tyler, a black British boy who has a gift of making clothes and has two fathers. Chan’s strength as an author lies in her knowledge of the Asian and British cultures, given her heritage. She cleverly weaves the classic Chinese folk tale Journey to the West into the narrative as a parallel to Lizzie and Wai Gong’s journey to Blackpool Tower Ballroom. She does it with sensitivity and meticulousness. She uses ‘Wai Gong’ for Lizzie’s grandad as Wai Gong is a commonly used term in Southern China to address maternal grandad and is widely used in Asia. Using the Chinese deity, Guan Yin as a motif adds depth to the novel and provides a good entry point in understanding Chinese culture. Chan further incorporates other British cultural references, such as the ever-popular Strictly Come Dancing and Comic Con event to show that one doesn’t have to lose sight of their heritage in another country.

Despite being a middle-grade novel, Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu doesn’t shy away from discussing weighty topics about death, loss, grief and illness. It sheds light on the role of young carers and their daily struggles. It acutely captures the carers’ initial denial of their loved one’s loss of cognitive functioning and their gradual acceptance of the condition.

This is a timely topic happening globally as the ageing population increases. The novel illustrates the dependency on a larger community during challenging times and why it is so important in a rapidly developing society. As the well-known African proverb says, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ But I believe in this story it takes a community to support one in need of help and to show that the human spirit is more resilient than what we can imagine.

Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu is published by Piccadilly Press, which is part of Bonnier Books Ltd. The U.S version will be out on 28th March 2023. The children’s novel is now available in Waterstones, Book Depository and Amazon UK.

You can find more of Yang Ming’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: Brit-ish by John Lindley

I’ve been seeking something in Cornwall
I’ve been searching for it in Wales
I’ve been studying the latest guide books
And listening to the Ancient Tales
I look deep into the eyes of the people I pass
But none of this gets me too far
I’m in a battered place called Britain
And I’m looking for who we are.

We’re the bastard sons and daughters
Of the Romans and the Celts
Our potential’s the tip of the iceberg
But it’s one that slowly melts
If all that was then and this is now
I gotta work it out if I can
’cause I’m bruised and I’m bloody and British
And I wanna know who I am

You won’t find answers in our hearts anymore
They’re as con-fused as our heads
You won’t find nothing out from the words we say
’cause they aren’t quite what we said
You won’t find it in Jubilee, authority
Or in shared conscience anymore
We’re nasty, brutish and short of ideas
And can’t remember what we’re here for

Identity is what you want it to be
You can make it whatever it fits
Call us English, Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh
Call us Limeys, Poms or Brits
If you think that will help explain to yourself
Who we are beneath these scars
Then you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din
In working out who we are

Good people are all around us
I keep telling that to one and all
But The Moral Majority gets bigger
And they haven’t any morals at all
Too many turn into dyslexics by choice
To read the Letter of the Law
We’re a busted flush called Britain
And we don’t know what we’re standing for

Let’s talk about the Union Jack, Jack
Talk about St. George’s Cross
If it wasn’t such a drag we’d rally round the flag
And show everybody who’s boss
Boss of quite what, we’re not sure anymore
There’s been a change to our regime
But we’re British right through to our misplaced hearts
Trying to figure out what that means

©John Lindley 2022

Born in Stockport and now living in Congleton, Cheshire, John Lindley’s poetry has appeared widely in magazines as well as being broadcast on radio. John was Cheshire Poet Laureate in 2004 and Manchester Cathedral Poet of the Year 2010.

John’s website.

You can find more of John’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: Beyond by Sayani Mukherjee

Jewels of unhappening
My solemn thoughts to unbind me
What is timeless may stand still
Creation’s bemused space
The nightspring of desire
May collide in one union platform
May lyricism found peace in
The softness in the unchanging innocence
May the lamp burn forever
Furthermore pain more destruction
I have come in full circle
What lies beyond thoughts
Mundane responsibilities everyday living
Little wonders joy sorrows
My aching cup of imagination
It’s half brimmed in full measure
In places my eyes seek
What comes in surface stays for two
Three days
But ideas are my life force
It pours in rain soaked abundance
The cup is endless

Poetry Drawer: Harvesting Your Soul: Light: Sorrows Inside by Mohammed Omer Shabbir

Harvesting Your Soul

To win the greatest prize, one must first find,
The light in life, near streams where meadows grow,
And where the trees rise above the clouds,
Towards paradise for renewed life.

Stay away from those who speak with thorns,
The spikes of hate, always shed innocent blood.
Becoming the enemy of companions of faith,
Those who cherish bonds are the advocates of joy.

Open your mind and reveal your heart,
Within your soul lies the seeds for growth,
Nurture and encourage your fruit to bloom,
When harvested the doors of paradise unfold.


Is light a blinding sight?
Should all run and hide,
Staring into the light,
As the light stares back,
Deeply into one’s soul.

I hope one can find hope,
Surrounded by rich rays,
A safe embrace of faith,
Relieving the sombre torments,
That life always forms.

Sorrows Inside

The sorrows of this world disappear,
As the clouds in the sky fade away,
Releasing the weight inside,
A burden that sustains all of life.

Behind the veil, there is light,
Sorrows to never again cause harm,
Never to materialise and acquire time,
Beyond this world awaits infinite life.

Mohammed is a writer from Manchester. He explores a wide range of topics in his poetry, expressing and experimenting with different styles. He endeavours to raise awareness for important issues in society and wildlife awareness. By using his unique perception to share different perspectives. His work can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram