Poetry Drawer: Unveiling The Absolute Identity by Rajendra Ojha (Nayan)

In practice, are you a proactive nationalist?
Are you a happy, patriotic person-
Who is bursting with intense emotions of patriotism?
Are you a man with socialist ideology?
Do you think like a conservative or a democratic man?
Alternatively, do you take pride in the culture and-
religion you were raised in from birth?

Apart from our identity as a social being,
You might also identify yourself in a different orchestra.
What do you believe your true self to be?
Oh Humanity! full of rain-soaked nature,
What do you say about your real identity?

Is our absolute identity based on—
being nationalist, democratic, religious, or culturalist?
Or are these the identities that are imposed on us-
To align the structural power with the demands of the wider society.

We are happy to identify ourselves with the relative identity—
that is created within the limited reality of the cosmos.
While —The Absolute Identity —We Have,
May haven’t been unleashed yet.
Be it in the fertile land of policy making,
Or- ‘Social Contract’.
This is the real seed of every chaos we harvest

Our true identity is, of course, our personality. And,
It is defined by the quality of our ‘Soul Thoughts’.
But the absolute identity we might have,
Lies within the quality of our—’Soul Awareness’.

Rajendra Ojha (Nayan) is a Nepalese poet, philosopher, social researcher, social worker, and EU-certified trainer. He also served as a citizen diplomat for three months under the ‘Ministry of Population and Environment’ in 2018 in Switzerland for the diplomatic program of the Minamata Convention, which was held in Geneva, Switzerland. Poems and philosophical writings of Rajendra Ojha have been published in various national as well as international literary journals from Nepal, the U.S.A., India, China, Russia, Spain, Myanmar, and Pakistan in both Nepalese and English. He has also published two anthologies, ‘Through the World’ (a collection of experimental poems) and ‘Words of Tiger’ (a collection of philosophical and psychological poems), in 2011 and 2019, respectively. Mr. Rajendra Ojha has been honoured by two major prestigious awards named ‘Asia’s Outstanding Internship Solution Provider Award 2020/21’ and ‘Dadasaheb Phalke Television Award 2023’ respectively for his work as a ‘Social Researcher’ as well as a ‘Social Worker’ (activities related to social responsibility), respectively, in 2021 and 2023.

Poetry Drawer: Ghost I Am: California Summer: Four Leaf Clover: Casket of Love by Michael Lee Johnson

Ghost I Am

Here is a private hut
staring at me,
twigs & branches
over the top—
naked & alone.

I respond to an old 60s doo-wop
song: In the Still of the Night
Fred Parris and The Satins.

Storms are written in narratives,
old ears closed to a full hearing.
I’m but a shelter cringing.
In age, nightmare pre-warned redemption.
Let’s call it the Jesus factor,
not LGBT symbols in Biden’s world.
I lost my way close to the end.
Here is this shelter in heaven
poetry imagined spaces
prematurely still not all the words fit,
in childhood in abuse
lack of reason for bruises
rough hills, carp that didn’t bite,
and Schwinn bike rides
flat tires, chains fall off, spokes collapse—
this thunder, those storms.

Find me a thumbnail
image of myself in centuries of dust.
Stand weakened by nature
of change glossed over, sealed.
Archives.
Old men, like a luxurious battery,
die hard, but with years, they
too, fade away.

California Summer

Coastal warm breeze
off Santa Monica, California
the sun turns salt
shaker upside down
and it rains white smog, a humid mist.
No thunder, no lightening,
nothing else to do
except for sashay
forward into liquid
and swim
into eternal days
like this.

Four Leaf Clover

I found your life smiling
inside a four-leaf clover.
Here you hibernate in sin.
You were dancing in the orange fields of the sun.
You lock into your history, your past, withdrawal,
taste honeycomb, then cow salt lick.
All your life, you have danced in your soft shoes.
Find free lottery tickets in the pockets of poor men and strangers.
Numbers rhyme like winners, but they are just losers.
Positive numbers tug like grey blankets, poor horses coming in 1st.
Private angry walls; desperate is the night.
You control intellect, josser men.
You take them in, push them out,
circle them with silliness.
Everything turns indigo blue in grief.
I hear your voice, fragmented words in thunder.
An actress buried in degrees of lousy weather and blindness.
I leave you alone, wander the prairie path by myself.
Pray for wildflowers, the simple types. No one cares.
Purple colours, false colours, hibiscus on guard,
lilacs are freedom seekers, now no howls in death.
You are the cookie crumble of my dreams.
Three marriages in the past.
I hear you knocking my walls down, heaven stars creating dreams.
Once beautiful in the rainbow sun, my face, even snow
now cast in banners, blank, fire, and flames.
I cycle a self-absorbed nest of words.

Casket of Love

This moon, clinging to a cloudless sky,
offers the light by which we love.
In this park, grass knees high, tickling bare feet,
offers the place we pass pleasant smiles.
Sir Winston Churchill would have
saluted the stately manner this fog lifts,
marching in time across this pond
layering its ghostly body over us
cuddled by the water’s edge,
as if we are burdened by this sealed
casket called love.
Frogs in the marsh, crickets beneath the crocuses
trumpet the last farewell.
A flock of Canadian geese flies overhead
in military V formation.
Yet how lively your lips tremble
against my skin in a manner no
sane soldier dare deny.

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 298 YouTube poetry videos. Michael Lee Johnson is an internationally published poet in 45 countries, a song lyricist, has several published poetry books, has been nominated for 7 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. Member of Illinois State Poetry Society:  Remember to consider me for Best of the Net or Pushcart nomination!

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

Poetry Drawer: Dragonfly: The Contract: The Dating Game is for the Birds: Why There Must be a Garden: A Couple Parking: Manhattan From Brooklyn Heights by John Grey

DRAGONFLY

You’re expert
at skimming the
pond’s dank surface.

Whatever it is
you feed on
I can’t see
so I don’t miss.

You squeeze so much colour
into such a small frame.

And, so instinctive,
your wings beat
without bothering your brain.

THE CONTRACT

On an overhead wire,
a flock of crows
pauses between
roadkill feasts.

There’s a contract
between these black birds
and the speeding vehicles below.

It’s all there
in strips of white-lined asphalt.

Cars and trucks
don’t brake for anything.

Squirrels, raccoons, possums,
sign their names in blood.

No worry where
the crows’ next meal is coming from.
So many fast cars.
So few smart animals.

THE DATING GAME IS FOR THE BIRDS

I’ll be an eagle for a while, soaring
on the thermals, ready to dive down
and grab the mousey one in my talons.
No, I’ll be the vulture, feasting on
the dead ones, or preferably,
the ones that just think they’re dead.
I tried being a cute bird, a chickadee
with an appealing song but
who wants to be fed seed
out of a gentle palm
or fly away at the first sign of movement.
So bird of prey it is,
a hawk because it’s what they’re used to,
a condor because they’re rare,
an owl because the hunting’s better at night.
I’ve tried being a parrot.
But “I love you” never sounds sincere
when someone has to teach it to me.

WHY THERE MUST BE A GARDEN

Without a garden,
there are no peonies
garlanding my back doorstep,
no deep fragrance
to set off a nostril swoon,
no soft white petals
for touch to reassert itself
in gentleness,
no spritely stem
to feed off earth and sky,
yet recognize in me
a seeding, watering,
fertilizing parent.
Without a garden,
the beauty is all wild.
And, as much as I love
wild beauty,
(and you know who you are)
I am always up for
a modicum of taming.

A COUPLE PARKING

Parked high on Bishop Hill,
we look down more than at each other.
for we’re confused as to what we’re doing together
but the sights are ever-present, unimpaired.

There seems no reason
why light should make a downtown beautiful,
turn its suburbs into stars,
its traffic to passing comets.

We’ve seen it all in daytime,
unlovely, nondescript.
And yet, at night, it takes on the chimera
we had hoped for in each other.

Better to be fooled by the eye
than the heart I suppose.
As lovers, we make little progress.
But as witnesses, we prosper.

MANHATTAN FROM BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

I watch, the city dazzle from afar.
No warriors. Only lights.
No one in a panic.
No loud deafening noises.
Just shapes.
A work of modern art
crossed with an ancient fresco.
Nobody trying to get the better of another.
No politicians. No cops.
No laws either
except for those of architecture
and, in the city’s upper strata,
astronomy.
No slaves to the clock.
Or savage tongues.
Or wealth. Or poverty.
No one ignoring somebody
who needs them.
No subway smoke.
No theatre crowds.
No priests either.
Everything’s celestial
without their help.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in New World Writing, North Dakota Quarterly and Lost Pilots. Latest books, ”Between Two Fires”, “Covert” and “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in California Quarterly, Seventh Quarry, La Presa and Doubly Mad.

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

Poetry Drawer: There I Go by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Here I am,
on the deck of a ship. It’s 1933,
and the passengers who surround me are waving, frantically.
I’m afraid that their arms will fall off and I will be called
to provide emergency services.
I’m a doctor.

At least I harbour the delusion that I am.
Actually, I dropped out of med school before the end of my first term.

Those who have come to see us off
are also waving, and smiling so broadly that their faces threaten to split open.
You could almost forget that we’re in the Depression,
and that so many people are suffering.
From the deck of the ship we cannot see the bread lines
which stretch from New York City to Hoboken
and into the City of Brotherly Love.

But people are always suffering, said the Buddha,
It’s the essence of life.

I see myself as from afar,
as if part of me were a bird,
a seagull, flying above the harbour
elegant in its flight, sharp-eyed

The part of me that is the seagull wonders if the other parts are edible
as my body seems to be unravelling
My skin flies off in pointillist bits
and my organs and the fat surrounding them
stretch into streamers
like those hung in a social hall at a birthday party
or an anniversary

I am unravelling in other ways as well
My life story is no longer my autobiography
Who was I?
It takes an effort to answer that question
so I don’t try

There’s no centre to all these floating streamers.
No connective tissue wires them together
I remember “connective tissue” and many other technical terms
falling from the lips of my beloved teacher, Dr. Gall Bladder,
who was one of the first female professors of medicine in the world,
following only a Frenchwoman and a Bulgarian
She was celebrated,
her story appearing in newspapers and magazines
with stunning black-and-white photos.
She became so full of herself that her organs and muscles
swelled to four times their normal size.

There I go
in transit
between America and Europe
between being myself and being someone else
sailing across the sea

Now the streamers have flown together, reunited
but only for the purpose of having me appear as a man
in this wood-panelled nautical bar

The bartender is jolly as he juggles three bottles of the finest Scotch
and the male passengers thunderously applaud

Without warning, Dr. Gall Bladder appears
I had no idea that she was a passenger on this ship as, later in the evening,
I would be surprised to find that she would be sharing my cabin
However, I am delighted, as she makes me feel nostalgic

She strides up to the bar and issues a challenge:
she will arm wrestle any woman brave enough to come forward
After she easily defeats the five who respond
she challenges the men,
all of whom she destroys
Their faces turn red as they briefly struggle
They are like small insects being pinned down by a praying mantis

Finally the bartender tires of Dr. Bladder’s bullying and hits her on the head
with one of the bottles of Scotch
but it has no effect.
There’s a clang, like metal against metal.
Dr. Gall Bladder glares at him and he flees from the room
locks himself in his cabin
and stacks all the furniture against the door

Dr. Gall Bladder leaps over the bar and resumes his duties
Her mixed drinks are incredibly potent and delicious
as she concocts them from intergalactic recipes

In my stateroom
Dr. Gall Bladder wastes no time in fucking my brains out
Afterwords I must sleep deeply for 18 hours
until she wakes me to repeat the act
After that session, I must sleep even longer
When I awake, I ponder whether one can actually be “fucked to death”
It does seem more likely when your lover is an alien
whose organs and muscles have now swollen to six times their normal size

As I ponder, she says, “I may have something wrong with my kidneys, perhaps because of their enlargement but, at an opportune moment, when I feel ready, I will heal myself.”

I ask, “Can you heal me? The elements of my body have developed a dangerous
tendency to fly apart into colourful streamers that eventually fall into banks of blackened snow to be corrupted beyond redemption”

“Heal you?” she says. “What do you think I’ve been doing for the last several days?”

I feel an odd sensation. I look down at my dick—it is about two feet long. Previously it was about three inches, maybe not even that “What the hell?” I say.

She says, “That’s something we are able to do on my planet.”

“Can you do this for other humans?” I ask, imagining this as a source of immense income we can share.

“No,” she says. “I can only accomplish this for men whom I love and who love me in
return.”

“I’ve always been infatuated,” I say, “but I’m not sure that I love you.”

“If there were a God,” she says, “she would not have made you humans so greedy. Greed will destroy your species. But, before that happens, I will have transported you to my planet, where we will live in peace for eternity.”

“You’ve been reading too much dime-store science-fiction,” I say.

“Maybe,” she says, “Much of it, I’ve written. That’s how I got myself through med school. Let’s go back to bed, where I won’t be able to read or write.”

“No, no!” I cry. “I need a break. You’ve exhausted me. I need a day off, maybe three.”

“Ok,” she says, “Let’s go to the bar.”

“We can’t go to the bar,” I say sorrowfully. “We’re banned.”

“Banned? Why would we be banned? After all, I’m an eminent doctor who has cured thousands of people of the most heinous diseases.”

“Nevertheless, you broke three men’s arms wrestling them. You were as vicious as a weasel. Do you think that that’s the behaviour of a compassionate doctor?”

“That’s a ridiculous question,” she says.

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.

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

Poetry Drawer: Asking Directions: Padlocks and Tattoos: Insomnia by Ben Macnair

Asking Directions

I took the Road less travelled by,
and I got completely lost.
Not even Google Maps could help me,
thanks a lot, Robert Frost.

Padlocks and Tattoos

There are hundreds of couples,
who paint their initials on a padlock,
and attach it to a bridge,
for strangers to see,
decades from now.
Some men have tattoos,
of a love they hoped would be forever,
but is now a reminder
of the one who was before
the one before.
Some people have no tattoos,
no unused padlocks on bridges in a big city,
but like EE Cummings
will keep their memories of love
Inside their hearts.

Insomnia

When sleeplessness pounds
like spooked black Horses,
and the Night-Mare rears her hooves
calling across a canyon,
the hooves are a drum on the ground,
and pointed teeth and fetlock
are the blur of a shutter speed,
shadows are the shapes of fear
the sky is tainted black,
and the pin pricks of stars
mark the surface of a dream,
wake up.

For the shadows are only trees,
knocking against the window,
insistent you pay them attention
and the spooked black horse is calm,
carrying the eternal foot-man
who holds your coat,
but smiles and waves,
saying it is not time, just yet.
You know it was either the rain,
or the pipes that woke you,
but somewhere, out there,
is a Spooked Black Horse,
and unanswered questions.

Ben Macnair is an award-winning poet and playwright from Staffordshire in the United Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter.

Poetry Drawer: Fun by Laura Stamps

Here’s a newsflash. Rachel
has lost her sense of smell.
(Okay, sometimes I refer
to myself in the third
person.) But it’s true. Can’t
smell a thing. Can’t. It’s
this head cold. Fighting,
fighting, fighting it. I am.
And winning. Kinda. And
yet, and yet. My nose.
Dead. Pretty much. What
a bummer! And my perfume.
White Linen. Estee Lauder.
Love it. I do. But now.
You know. I can’t smell it.
Can’t. So I stopped wearing
it. I mean. What’s the point?
And then, and then. I got an
idea. I could slather myself
with scented lotions. The
ones I never wear. They’re
nice. They are. Just not my
favourite. But now. You know.
I can’t smell them. Cool!
And Etsy. Did I tell you?
Saw a vintage Coach purse.
Yesterday. Super cute.
Mint condition. $300 value.
Got it for $25. I did. Yeah.
What can I say? I’m having
too much fun. Really. I am.

Laura Stamps is a poet and novelist and the author of over 60 books. Most recently: THE GOOD DOG (Prolific Pulse Press, 2023), ADDICTED TO DOG MAGAZINES (Impspired, 2023), and MY FRIEND TELLS ME SHE WANTS A DOG (Kittyfeather Press, 2023). She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize nomination and 7 Pushcart Prize nominations.

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

Pantry Prose: Untitled by Mehreen Ahmed

Clouds trailed crisscrossed across a clear blue sky. A cotton candy man stood by a huge Ferris Wheel with his cart at a theme park showground. He watched the Ferris Wheel move slowly to a full circle. Maya Julian stepped forward with her five-year-old and joined the long queue to get on the Ferris Wheel. Tilting her neck, she put a hand across her forehead like a vizier to cover her eyes from the blazing sun. She felt that the wheel did not move much; almost too slow for the world to be defined from the top there. Her daughter, Saira, and her, perhaps didn’t look all that different from ants and moths, milling about haphazardly on the showground.

As Maya looked at the top, she didn’t see any trepidation in the children or the adults. All was shipshape. The candy man attended to the many children on the ground; adeptly adjusting the pinky floss around the candy stick, and handing them over the pink dandelions in a bouquet, as it were, with a benign smile.

Children couldn’t wait to mouth the pinky candy. However, the Ferris Wheel stopped moving for a while which no one else noticed except Maya, who felt nervous and felt she must alert the authorities for an alternate way to get those people down. They didn’t see it coming. They sat here without a concern. Maya gathered the reason for their placidness was perhaps they couldn’t see much from above.

The candy man looked up a few times like Maya. A frown appeared on his forehead too, which Maya saw, and wondered if he also noted that there was a problem. If the situation went out of hand, people could be in fatal trouble. Her daughter pulled her towards the candy cart, and they both came out of the queue losing their place in it. On her way to the cart, she saw people—mainly children with an older sibling or an adult jostling in the bottom of the wheel as they dribbled out of the lower cabins of the Ferris Wheel touching the green grass beneath. 

The ones at the top hung precariously, oblivious to what was coming next. The sky couldn’t look clearer. The clouds spread out like a fishing net through which no fish could escape. Trapped inside the net—not until then, not really until it happened that someone dropped a net into the blue bowled ocean and trapped all these frantic fish inside it; the net teeming with all the fish out of water when life was pulled out of this oxygenated cosmic ocean into the outer. Until then calm prevailed.

Those sitting at the top, were clueless, enjoying a breezy morning—chirping and laughing spring birds. Maya trembled in the fresh air as she took her daughter to buy candy floss. The candy man continued to look at the Ferris Wheel.

“Are you thinking, what I am also thinking?” Maya asked.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“I think that the wheel is broken. Those who are at the top, are all stuck.”

“Hmm, that’s exactly what I was thinking too.”

“What now?” Maya asked.

“Someone must tell the manager of this theme park, I reckon,” replied the candy man.

“Do you know where his office is? I’ll let him know.”

The candy man looked over his shoulder and pointed toward a building at the far end of the park. Maya squinted to follow his directions. Then she took her daughter’s hand and began to walk toward the management building while the decadent candy floss melted in her daughter’s mouth. Maya looked at her and smiled. She smiled back.

“Where’re we going Mammy?” she asked.

“To tell the manager to fix the Ferris Wheel?”

“Why? What’s wrong with it?”

“It isn’t working well, darling. ”

“Is it broken?” she asked.

“I think so,” Maya replied.

“Will they all die at the top?” the daughter asked.

“No, of course not, the manager will ensure that,” Maya said.

The daughter kept licking the candy cane to its bare bone until the stick was fully exposed. She looked at it and gave it a long-lasting lick, top to bottom. The manager’s building was far, but Maya persevered. She stepped up, determined to stop the disaster at the Ferris Wheel at any cost. At any cost? However, when she reached the building, she found a big padlock at its gate. She pushed it and pulled the lock but it did not open. Lights in one of the rooms were on. She looked up and she screamed; strikingly close, not quite far enough. She looked around for an object and found a rock. Maya did the unimaginable. She picked it up and hurled it aiming higher at the glass window. It rocketed through the glass. Shards fell and hit Maya on her forehead.“Oh” she uttered and sat down.

The daughter looked up at the window and shook Maya by the shoulder. Maya felt an urgency in the shake and looked up too. Her jaw fell. At the window, there was a man, not even a full man, maybe a half-man and half-elf. He—it looked like a statue with inky tears running down its cheeks. This was a make-believe theme park. A rock came flying out of nowhere; it transpired into a piece of paper as it landed with just one word written—ignis fatuus

“What does this mean?” the daughter asked. 

Maya replied, ‘Illusion,’ ‘foolish fire’. 

“Isn’t that what your name also means?” 

The daughter wanted to know from a breathless mother.

Multiple contests’ winner for short fiction, Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction, The Pacifist, is an audible bestseller. Included in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction Anthology, her works have also been acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, and DD Magazine, translated into German, Greek, and Bangla, her works have been reprinted, anthologized, selected as Editor’s Pick, Best ofs, and made the top 10 reads multiple times. Additionally, her works have been nominated for Pushcart, botN and James Tait. She has authored eight books and has been twice a reader and juror for international awards. Her recent publications are with Litro, Otoliths, Popshot Quarterly, and Alien Buddha.

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

Poetry Drawer: The Disagreeable Ocean Between Us: The Stag in the Lake: A New Pattern: Inhouse Mail: Greasy by Holly Day

The Disagreeable Ocean Between Us

I wonder if my son, when he’s out getting the paper or a cup of coffee
if he stops and talks to squirrels or rabbits or dogs
like he did when he was little, like I always did with him
if he stops to chirp at sparrows, throw them bits of donut
or if he’s forgotten to notice these things, he just sips his coffee
thinks of grown-up things.

And I wonder if, when he’s out with friends late at night
coming back from the bar and laughing too loud for the quiet surroundings
if he points out the startled frogs that leap across their path
to huddle in the damp, dewy grass, trapped by footfalls on one side,
heavy traffic on the other?
Does he stop walking, stoop down by the grass
carefully pick up the frightened frogs and set them safely
on the other side of the sidewalk, where they can disappear
into the taller, dark growth of garden plants and hedges?
Or are these things invisible to him now, as they seem to be
to so many other adults I know?

And I wonder, if, among his friends
there is just one girl who sees him
almost stop to greet a squirrel
or rescue a frog
or toss a surreptitious pocket cracker to a lone speckled pigeon
and knows that she is not alone in her own love for this world
sees that same love hidden
in the eyes of this boy I used to know?

The Stag in the Lake

The stag stumbled out onto the lake in the middle of the night
fell through the thin crust of ice halfway across. He must have floundered
for hours out there, cut a path through the lake until the ice grew too thick
for his hoofs to crush through. He might have made it if it had been daytime
the sun might have kept him alert enough to make it to the far shore,
where he could have stumbled out, shook himself, jumped
and leapt to the beach until he was warm enough
to run through my parents’ yard to some safe spot in the forest next door.

But because it was night, he may have lost time swimming around in circles
thrashing against the same patch of ice again and again in an attempt
to reach a far shore he could not see, the flashing lights of passing cars
bouncing off the water as late-night traffic thundered down the nearby freeway.
Sometime during his struggle, he gave up and just froze in place
one foreleg stretched out on the ice, a pair of broad antlers
preventing his head from sinking below the ice.

There was a good month where one could walk out onto the ice
right up to the frozen stag, stare straight into its glassy, black eyes
touch it if you wanted to—I never did. My dad talked about taking a hacksaw out
cutting the antlers off and making something out of them, some kind of
outsider wall art, but in the end decided against disturbing the animal’s corpse
mostly because my son started crying about the poor deer, that poor deer.

It disappeared overnight during a freak thaw, slipped free from the ice
and carried away by some sudden current from the nearby spring.
My son was convinced that the deer had finally gotten free
and run away, swam to safety to the other side of the lake
and because I’m not a monster, I told him he was probably right.

A New Pattern

I feel the knots and scratches on my husband’s back
and I can’t stop touching them, tracing them with my fingertips
in a mimicry of romantic caressing. They don’t feel like
fingernail scratches, don’t feel like anything
but random bumps. “You should start putting lotion on your skin,”
I blurt out, wanting him to turn over so I can see his back
get a look at these marks I keep feeling, reassure myself.
“I can do it for you, if you’d like.”

“I bumped into a machine at work,” says my husband
a little irritably, he’s try to get me to cum
and I’m obviously distracted.
“You can take a look at them later.”

I close my eyes and tell myself that the reason I married this man
was because I didn’t have to worry about the things
bumping around in the back of my head, I force myself
to completely succumb to trust. I do trust him.
There are too many leaves in this book of mine
dedicated to past betrayals, heartbreak, denial, surprise
that being in this place, with this man,
is an unexpected happy ending, almost too good to be true.

Inhouse Mail

I’d find his letters to my mother in the most unexpected places
shoved under the mattress in their bedroom,
tucked between the desk and the wall
as if it had slipped and gotten stuck there,
sometimes, just lying out on the kitchen table, as if opened and read
just minutes before. I couldn’t help read them, because I was a kid
and I just read everything, I was a snoop.

From those letters,
I learned that all of their hand-holding in public,
the proclamations of love,
it was all a lie. It was a fantastic performance.

Years later, when my sister started drafting her suicide notes
she also would leave them in unexpected places,
half-written under her mattress, balled up in the trash can in our bedroom
folded up and stashed with her homework, shoved in the bottom of her purse.
Having learned already to accept all smiles and outward signs of happiness
as lies, the subsequent drafts never surprised me,

and, like the evolution of letters that led to my parents’ divorce,
the evolution of suicide notes into that last one
spread out on the coffee table, waiting for me
when I got home from school
barely needed reading, I already knew what it said.

Greasy

He goes out to the bar just so he can tell real women
all of the things that are wrong with them, point out
the dirt under their nails, their dried-out hair
the way half their lipstick is worn off after a couple of beers.
Because most women are conditioned to take such comments
as helpful instead of insulting, they just nod and smile
wonder why they aren’t even good enough
for this lonely slob at the bar.

When he gets bored of judging human women, he goes back home
to his apartment full of quiet sex dolls, all posed
in front of the television, which he left on for them
considerately. He doesn’t even bother getting a beer
when he comes home—he doesn’t need beer
to talk to these ladies. They already understand him
they already and always know just what he wants.

Holly Day’s poetry has recently appeared in Analog SF, Cardinal Sins, and New Plains Review, and her published books include Music Theory for Dummies and Music Composition for Dummies. She currently teaches classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minnesota, Hugo House in Washington, and The Muse Writers Center in Virginia.

Books From The Pantry: The Greatest Forgiveness of All: Worcestershire Young Writer Competition Anthology 2023

This anthology, organised by Kevin Brooke, Worcestershire Literary Festival Young Writer Ambassador, was created from the entries for the Festival’s Young Writer Competition 2023 which in turn was generously supported by The Story Knights and Worcester Arts Council. Competition entrants were asked to submit stories of up to 300 words on the theme of forgiveness. There were three categories of entrants: Senior Years 1-12, Intermediate Years 7-9 and Junior Years 3-6. The judges were Professor Rod Griffiths, Polly Stretton and Dr. Tony Judge and the winning entries for each category were announced at the festival launch event on 11th June 2023. The anthology comprises 2 entries from the 10-12 category, 6 entries from the 7-9 category and 41 entries from the 3-6 category.

Hidden in the title is the notion that forgiveness is the greatest healer of all. This notion is made more explicit in the stories that make up this anthology. Particularly impressive is the way in which many of them reveal a level of maturity, insight and wisdom which some of us only reach later on in life. I am thinking here of the need we all have to not only forgive others but also, crucially, to forgive ourselves.

The stories cover a wide range of themes: everything from precious objects broken in the home, hurtful relationships at school, our lack of understanding of others, our disrespect for the environment and for each other’s feelings. Jealousy, envy and selfishness are the main culprits and these are explored imaginatively through the medium of the school playground, animals (horses, bears, dinosaurs, cats and mice) and even, in one case, planets in outer space.

In reality, forgiveness is not always the end of the matter. These young writers know that life is not as neat as that. As one writer puts it: ‘Her words of forgiveness didn’t mean it hadn’t happened, it’s just a cut that’s turned into a scar.’ All, however, speak to us in some way of the power of forgiveness and also of the importance of friendship, especially of friendship restored.

The Greatest Forgiveness of All is available here from Black Pear Press.

Neil Leadbeater was born and brought up in Wolverhampton, England. He was educated at Repton and is an English graduate from the University of London. He now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014), Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017), Punching Cork Stoppers (Original Plus, 2018) River Hoard (Cyberwit.net, Allahabad, India, 2019), Reading Between the Lines (Littoral Press, 2020) and Journeys in Europe (co-authored with Monica Manolachi) (Editura Bifrost , Bucharest, Romania, 2022). His work has been translated into several languages. He is a member of the Federation of Writers Scotland and he is a regular reviewer for several journals including Quill & Parchment (USA), The Halo-Halo Review (USA), Write Out Loud (UK) and The Poet (UK). His many and varied interests embrace most aspects of the arts and, on winter evenings, he enjoys the challenge of getting to grips with ancient, medieval and modern languages.