All love, all life is a reconfiguring of all that’s already been reconfigured. Watch old trees scattering leaves on a forest floor like older trees, before being sawn to a fresh existence as paper or logs, that you will use to rebuild a place you think you’ve felt before.
And rubbing up beneath each sketch you create of you, walking, shoulders slumped into the days that are to come, is the advice that doctors once scribbled in italicised, copper-plate handwriting, advising in a drooling baritone -that you can hear can even through the ink of words – to seek sea or mountain air – to get back to when
he loved you as if days were numberless— melding together— drawing your mouth down to his skin, the walls around you dreamless holding pale snowflake after snowflake from the drift and splay of limbs, the bare forest becoming a story wending your sighs shielding then exposing you to the rest of the rushing world’s sickening delight in naming you survivor or victim interchanging blame with masked forgiveness divorcing love from warm lips still swollen with kisses, tarring you in rumour’s mesh confusion pulsing beneath all you said as you fall hard— smitten again —to bed —
all of this muttering over and over— flicking like the steely blades of scissors in a lethal cabaret snipping part of your brain away to indulge in the confetti of remembering winter branches, impossibly jewelled in emerald leaves— suspending all calendar tallies of lived and lost days— quieting the world and shutting the door of a small cabin against the snow.
Jenny is a working mum and writes whenever she can amid the fun and chaos of family life. Her poetry is published in several printed anthologies, magazines and online poetry sites. Jenny lives in London with her husband, two children and two very lovely, crazy cats. You can read more of her poems at her website.
You can find more of Jenny’s work here on Ink Pantry.
– Ah, but what about that big rock that just moved?
As soon as the colour-crazed Toonal TV logo and its accompanying laugh-track jingle both erupt in sync, and the Sock Puppet Squad whoosh on-screen with their googly button eyes and wide sticker grins, Joe Easton wakes up much faster.
“Quick, Mum – you’ll miss it!” he shouts through the lounge doorway, holding half a bowl of cereal under his already milk-damp chin.
10 minutes later…
It’s almost the break when she appears, still wearing her threadbare dressing gown. She doesn’t carry any cereal or toast. Not even a manky old banana from their fridge’s blue-tinted plastic drawers.
“Sorry,” she says, sitting beside Joe and making the tired sofa sag even more. “I dozed off again for a bit there. Right, what’s been happening?”
She leans forward, peering across at him. “Ignoring me, are we?”
“So, spill then.”
“Fine.” He twists round towards her, his own seat groaning. “They keep rapping about kindness and how being kind’s most important when times are hard. It’s easy for them to say, though – they’re socks!”
“You don’t think being kind’s important?”
“Yeah, but not every single morning.”
Joe lowers his bowl.
“Oi.” Mum points at the glass tabletop. “You’ll leave a ring if you’re not careful.”
Except Joe’s not really listening anymore. Ads hopscotch on the telly, jumping across the screen one after another, each eager to show off.
Several slots in, that promo from yesterday repeats, all jungle backdrop and CGI vines, with some cartoon creatures lurking about too; not as realistic as they could be, but they’ll do. Letters golder than buried treasure reveal clear instructions while wild animal noises play on loop:
WE KNOW YOU KNOW WHO RAINFROSTEDS’ NEXT MASCOT SHOULD BE… WE JUST NEED YOU TO TELL US.
PLEASE SEND YOUR DRAWINGS AND TOP 5 REASONS WHY TO:
Contact details, deadlines, etc.
Soon followed by:
OPEN TO CHILDREN AGES 6-11 (WITH PARENTAL/GUARDIAN CONSENT)
£1,000 PRIZE UP FOR GRABS!!
Joe presses pause on the remote, waiting for his mum to notice.
“Is this real?” she asks after a few moments.
“Seems it,” he says.
“OK, OK.” Now she’s nodding loads, reminding him of the bulldog bobblehead inside her car. “OK, we’ll start brainstorming today after school.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean, young man?”
“No offence, Mum, but you barely ever eat breakfast.”
She mumbles something about “not always my choice”, which Joe can’t quite hear.
– Looks sort of like your mum in the morning.
– I’m telling.
– Don’t you dare!
Their kitchen table is round, biscuit-coloured with brown flecks all through it; a large inedible cookie. Joe found this out when he was really small, and his teeth still hurt at the memory.
He sits there now, not tempted in the least, crushing A4 sheet after A4 sheet into compact snowballs, before letting them fly behind him – where the recycling crate lives. Whether against wall, floor or hard plastic, each crumpled projectile thuds weakly.
“Maybe we should have a breather.”
Mum rises from her squealing chair opposite.
“I’ve almost got it,“ Joe insists.
“Fair enough, but I need water. Do you want some?”
“No, thank you.”
She walks to the sink. It’s almost lunchtime and she’s still wearing her Do Not Disturb Before 10AM pyjamas. Outside, sunlight eggs the dirt-smeared windows while giant weeds grow taller between slate tiles.
Joe rubs ink-stained fingers across his closed eyelids.
“Why don’t we ever go to the zoo?” he asks, yawning. “Dad used to take me.”
Mum slurps, replying, “Because it’s too far and I’m not comfortable driving long distances.”
“We could ride the bus.”
“Why are you so fixated on the zoo all of a sudden?”
“Because I need a cool animal for this, and the zoo’s full of them.”
“So’s the internet.”
“It’s not the same.”
“It is cheaper, though. Go on, get searching.”
She hands Joe her phone while he’s still groaning; however, he soon relents, unlocking it and typing ‘weird wildlife’ into the top bar.
Results flood the screen like a pixelated Noah’s Ark.
Several taps later, he grins and reaches for his pencil again, plus some fresh, unballed paper.
Mum sits back down. “Find anything good?”
“Maybe,“ he says, doodling fast.
– Do you think he enjoys pretending to be still all the time?
– I would; it looks peaceful.
Its limp, grey nose reminds Joe’s mum of those old windsocks they have around airfields. She starts giggling.
“Why are you laughing?” he asks her.
“I’m not, just appreciating.”
Joe flips the page. “I wrote my reasons why he should win, see?”
Mum squints as she reads each scribbled bullet point aloud:
“1) He’s cute.”
“People love watching cute things on TV. It makes them softer.”
“OK, if you say so. 2) You probably haven’t heard of him.”
“Me and Dad didn’t until we saw one.”
“Hmm. 3) He really does live in the rainforest.” Mum nods. “Nice and topical. Or should that be tropical?”
Joe rolls his eyes.
“Tough table. 4) He could make people smile.”
“Not enough smiles these days.”
“5) I want him as a pet, but he’s too big for our garden.” Mum chuckles. “Don’t even think about it, mister. Has he got a name?”
“Crap, I forgot to add it!”
“Sorry.” Joe reflips the page, writing rapidly in the top left corner. “Will you send it for me?”
Mum tugs at the edge of her pyjama top. “Yes, on my lunch break on Monday.”
– What is he?
– Name: Toska. Species: Malayan Tapir. Age: 7 years – same as you, mate.
– He’s a long way from home.
Two weeks later and Joe keeps running home from school. Always the route sweats his heavy breath right out of him, but he still manages a feeble gasp of “Any post?” after letting the door slam shut each time.
Today’s no exception – standing there in the hallway, fists clenched at his sides and jumper clung around him, a superhero’s fallen cape.
He peeks into the kitchen, but his mum’s video-calling on her laptop (at least she’s dressed for this one, he thinks). She waves him off sideways towards the living room.
When he enters, his tomato cheeks ripen into a smile. He attacks the big cardboard box faster than he can see it; ribbons of brown paper float like the remnants of long-dead fireworks, before falling slowly to the crumb-fed carpet below.
Joe practically sticks his head inside, grabbing the creased note from on top. Swallowing hard, he unfolds it and reads:
Dear Joe Easton,
Thank you for submitting to Rainfrosteds’ Next Mascot competition.
We’re pleased to inform you that we loved your entry and will be making Toska the Tapir our new spokesanimal.
Tune in next Friday after SPS Adventures on Toonal TV (7.30am) to meet Toska on the telly.
And don’t forget your free Rainfrosteds to enjoy while you’re watching.
The Rainfrosteds Team
Joe’s chest constricts a little and he sends more paper dregs spiralling. They must just have forgotten the money, he tells himself, as Mum appears and asks, “What’s the verdict?”
– Says here he was born in the zoo.
– So, he’s never even been to Malaysia?
– ‘Fraid not.
“Listen here, sunshine.”
Joe’s mum practically spits into the speaker of her mobile phone.
“No, I’m sorry, you guys screwed up. We did everything right. Now what are you” – she uses that last word for target practise – “gonna do about it?”
It’s been over two weeks of this; her slippers have left tracks in the living-room carpet, and her voice is deep as Dad’s used to be.
Joe says nothing, watching CGI undergrowth stir once more on the telly screen.
“No, I didn’t check social media… Because I haven’t logged onto any accounts since my husband died, that’s why. Grief’s one way to keep you out of the bloody Matrix, let me tell you.”
Blurred around the edges, Toonal TV’s latest cool-guy presenter appears as if emerging from digitised bushes. He wipes invisible sweat off his forehead and keeps panting too loud.
“Hey, guys.” An exaggerated Australian accent makes Joe cringe; tapirs aren’t even from Australia! “I’m just looking for my new mate. You seen him?”
“The point is my son worked hard, won fair and square, and now you selfish people won’t give him his prize money. So, what am I supposed to tell him? That it was all for nothing?”
Joe braces himself as the final insult waddles into shot.
Identical to the updated cereal box perched on the table in front of him, Rainfrosteds really did turn his beloved tapir purple for some reason – with tiny white spots dripping like paint-splatter down his back and lime-green tufts of hair quiffing out of his head and tail.
Joe shivers, getting major supervillain vibes.
OTT again, the presenter cries out “Oh, there you are, Tim! Where were you hiding?”
So that’s why Toska hadn’t appeared on the box. But it’s only two syllables! If Joe can remember reading it years ago, Dad by his side trying his best to keep up and stay awake, then everyone else could understand it too.
Kids aren’t stupid, he wants to scream at the screen.
“Another free cereal? Are you actually serious? Fine, we’ll just see you in court. Goodbye.”
Mum jabs the button, then slams her handset on the table so hard the case cracks even more.
Right now, they can’t bear to look at each other, not with Tim the Tapir’s smug little grin, the colour of long-expired milk, all around them, and the creature’s high-honking laughter curdling in their eardrums.
Robert Keal hails from Kent but currently lives in Solihull, where he works as a copywriter. His recent fiction can be found in 100 Word Story and The Ekphrastic Review. He loves walking the tightrope between strangeness and reality.
I listen to the voices of night frogs croaking, in the late hours of the night, and try to understand the meaning of their messages echoing off the silver moon:
Their hoarse voices curl through my sleepy, mind, sewing strange thoughts from long- forgotten memories, in my mind. In the midst of their croaking, they speak to me in their language of sorrow.
During the fading hours of the night, I search for metaphors to translate the meaning of the frog’s melancholy mutterings as their voices continue to burst into the mysterious emptiness of the moonlit night, but all I end up with are strange symbols.
When I Am Old
When I can no longer see stars crawl lazily though the vastness of sky
on silver moonbeams, or the beauty of verdant trees in secret hollow glens, and my weary bones and ashen hair tell me I am no longer young and it is useless to believe in magic anymore or see elves and sprites dancing in meadows fallow, I will feel sorrow’s weight upon my shoulders.
Long Lost Memories
Amidst the cold, brisk gales On an abandoned winter night, Long-lost memories Suddenly burst forth Inside the billowing steam, spewing From an ancient iron horse As it disappeared into the Unforgiving gap of dark fears Riding on rusted iron rails, And I wept in sorrow.
Memories of Grief Were Forgotten
Emerging in the hours of an iron-colored metallic night, rusting symbols covered with an aging patina of dark contractions whispered across an old man’s ebbing life, causing him anguish.
Crystal poems written in scarlet ink were shattered by metaphorical hammers pounding words of grief into gloomy synonyms and causing dark allegories to ache inside the cold dreariness of his aging mind.
Images of broken tombstones in a field of unknown graves entered his consciousness and his trail of tears melted into the cemetery’s soil, damping it with more sorrow than it could hold.
He sensed dark, once-forgotten memories being awakened, but as sharp pangs of grief started piercing his collapsing mind, the tainted memories in the blink of Meng Po’s eye were forgotten, and calmness ensued.
What Are Those Strange Images, Which I Think I See?
Is it helplessness Suspended in rust-coated visions,
The hallucinatory echo of An old broken tenor saxophone,
An antediluvian sea where Dead things scream at midnight,
A place where abandoned women Cut their hair with broken glass shears
While they painfully paint crimson roses, On their bedroom walls?
Is it a shattered, rusted nightmare that Tastes metallic like rusted blood,
Desires twisting like toxic tendrils inside poisonous mushrooms,
A white psychedelic pill that Confuses similes with syntax,
Or a dark poem about death inside A nightmare that haunts a poet’s mind?
Is it a melancholy song sung by A bone-thin chanteuse in a shadowy bar,
A decaying memory corroding Atop a broken cement tombstone, or
perhaps a cemetery where ghosts devour reality, and whose skeletal hands scrape at your bones?
James, a retired Professor and octogenarian is a Best of Web nominee and three time Pushcart nominee and has had five poetry books The Silent Pond, (2012), Ancient Rhythms, (2014), LIGHT, (2016), Solace Between the Lines, (2019), and Serenity (2022), 1770 poems, five novels, and thirty-five short stories published in scores of national and international magazines, anthologies, and books. He earned his doctorate from BYU, and his BS and MA from California State Polytechnic University, SLO. He lives in Santa Ynez, California, with his wife Sandy, and a dog named Scout. His great, great aunt and uncle, Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt, and John James Piatt were prolific poets in the 1800s.
You can find more of James’ work here on Ink Pantry.
Peter J Donnelly lives in York where he works as a hospital secretary. He has a MA in Creative Writing and a degree in English Literature from the University of Wales Lampeter. Thanks are due to the Dreich magazine, Writer’s Egg, Southlight and South Bank, where some of these poems have previously appeared. His poetry has also been published in other magazines and anthologies including One Hand Clapping, Black Nore Review, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Obsessed with Pipework, High Window and The Beach Hut. The 22 won second prize in the Ripon Poetry Festival competition in 2021 and The Second of August was a joint runner up in the Buzzwords open poetry competition in 2020.
He’s making A mental list Of the things He misses And those That he doesn’t, He has Awful in-laws In his Does not miss category, Then he realizes That those people Actually belong In their own category.
Taylor Dibbert is author of the Peace Corps memoir Fiesta of Sunset, and the forthcoming poetry collection Home Again.
Outside, summer is dying into fall, and blue daddy petunias sprout ears— hear the beginning of night chills. In their yellow window box, they cuddle up and fear death together. The balcony sliding door is poorly insulated, and a cold draft creeps into all the spare rooms.
Bowl of Black Petunias
If you must leave me, please leave me for something special, like a beautiful bowl of black petunias— for when the memories leak and cracks appear and old memories fade, flowers rebuff bloom, sidewalks fester weeds and we both lie down separately from each other for the very last time.
I settle into my thoughts zigzagging between tears my fathers’ grave— Tippecanoe River Indiana 1982. Over now, a hillbilly country like the flow catfish memories raccoons in trees coon dogs tracking on the river bank, the hunt. Snapping turtles in the boat offline— river flakes to ice— now covered thick snow.
Now That I Desire
Now that I desire to be close to you like two occupants sharing a twin bed sensing the warmth of sweating shoulders, hungering for your flesh like a wild wolf leaning over an empty carcass, you’re off searching unexplored cliffs, climbing dangerous mountain tops, capturing bumblebees in broken beer bottles for biology class, pleasing plants, parachuting from clouds for fun. In shadows, you’re closer to life, nonsense, a princess of absurdity, a collector of dreams and silent sounds. In clouds, you build your own fantasy. Share it with select celebrities. But till this captive discovers a cure for caring, a way of rescuing insatiable insanity, or lives long enough to be patient in longing for you— you must be vigilant, for with time, snow will surely blanket this warm desire.
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 289 YouTube poetry videos. Michael Lee Johnson is an internationally published poet in 44 countries, a song lyricist, 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. Member Illinois State Poetry Society. Do not forget to consider me for Best of the Net or Pushcart nomination!
boots, smelling of here and there, long roads, unending hours
motel beds and sullied skin, roughage along rugged cheekbones
harsh winter, seasons on turn, fireplace or heartburn, calm water-blue eyes
oregano flavoured evenings, albatross wings, words exchanged in hello or goodbye
one closed door after the other, new room, unkempt future, checked bills
half-eaten dinner for rats, tips on a desolate corner table, future sunrise
ignition key on the move, tyres screech release, to a new dream, new flag down
through untold stories, haunted myths or chinese- whisper, shadows live on
Born and brought up in Kolkata, India with parents having an intense interest in literature, Raja Chakraborty grew up in ambient surroundings. Chakraborty is a bilingual poet writing in Bengali and English. To date he has published five books of English poems, and six books of Bengali poems/rhymes. He is also a regular contributor to magazines and anthologies.
Adrian McKenzie is a poet from Stoke-on-Trent, UK.
Please tell us about your poetry journey.
My journey began as a six-year-old kid that saw a rapper on Saturday morning television and was immediately fascinated by the way words fitted the drum pattern. Being a black kid in a suburban area, mum surrounded me with books as she wanted my work ethic and intelligence to overcome any racialised barriers. I was barely 10 years old when I became obsessed with the poem ‘Roman Wall Blues’ by W.H. Auden from one she’d bought. For the rest of my formal education I enjoyed English and creative writing but was never interested in poetry and hated literature analysis.
I was a people pleasing shy kid whose first love was music. Being raised in a church going household, I joined the local choir at 11 having dreamed about becoming a choir director and emulating my favourite gospel artists. Despite the ridicule I received for my voice, I left for university at 18 respected for my songwriting ability. It would be a place where my musical ambitions would peak. I went on to write for other singers and set up a gospel group that won regional awards.
Whilst at university I stumbled on spoken word during a search for rap battles and will never forget the awe of hearing ‘5 senses’ by renowned American poet Saul Williams. I would hone my style in online forums. Influences of battle rap and Saul can be found in my writing and performance to this day. I would be selected as one of the best up and comers by the local Poet Laureate within a few years of returning home to Birmingham. However, it took another move away to Stoke-on-Trent for me to become what I am now.
Can you share a poem with us and walk us through the idea behind it?
Scratches, cuts and breaks created plates Waves across broken lines need no co-signs Those with ears heard smiles Hard times made hearts soft as vinyl Stop, start continue for alignment Its amazing we dance in silence as sound bites us The bug nobody wants to squash or repel despite the danger of jezebels decibels Just pile on the pylons so this soul train can never crash We turn tables like bric a brac and from the crick and crack you can get with this or get with that Pleasantries made relatives from battles that were stress relief We pop locked our energies until joy thieves submerged Lucifer son of the morning, we chased em out of earth
This piece could by summed up by the Bob Marley quote, “when music hits you feel no pain”. Like many of my poems, it is tightly packed with a few, if you know you know references.
It is rooted in the early origins and practices of hip hop which was founded by DJ Kool Herc. The DJ who would play cuts from different artists, scratching the record to create break beats. This is coupled with the idea of pain and I explore how we process music in spite of it.
Dance is referenced. When we dance it’s for us, others might join them even imitate things they like to share joy. Think weekend club nights. In hip hop, dance battles used to be a way of diffusing tension and negativity as well as express themselves.
What themes keep cropping up in your writing?
Identity / faith or belief / relationships/ humanity
What are you reading at the moment?
Nothing! Although I read a lot, it’s primarily for information rather than pleasure. True to my roots, you’ll see more influence in my writing from who I’m listening to.
What advice would you give to new poets?
Write and share from where you’re at. From the words you use, to your voice and the way you feel on and off the page. It’s all yours, nobody else’s, so embrace it.
Where is the best place to get copies of your work?
For printed copies you can find me on Amazon – I have two projects, Bless Yuh Art which is a year’s worth of poetry in the order it was inspired, and 7 on the back which was my first foray into self-publishing. However, if you want to see and experience my poetry from across the years – both my YouTube and Instagram pages have a number of videos.
Have you any upcoming performances?
I’ll be doing an online performance for Gloucestershire Poetry Society in the autumn, date to be confirmed, and I have a headline set at Voices from The Fountain in Walsall for May 2024. I’ll be putting up performances on my social media pages as soon as I know.
This, a good place to begin the circle, dear jogger, opens up the park and the morning.
You should not stir the goodness or the goose. The skein of the waterfowls are scattered in the pasture. Today’s mood made them shells holding a hollowness and a howl for the sea.
When the exotic wings glide in the park the goose fights for her boundary at first.
Zen eventuates. She settles between the flocking birders and the winter’s slaty sun.
We, the local walkers, already gave her pet names. The goose stares hard with its hundred names, native pride, doubting vigilance.
The Mystery, Life
My mate finishes pissing. He plays drunken bird toy swaying on the port bow.
“Now we are out of wine in our blood.” He slurs. His voice is ash and sand.
The current streams five shades of the river. A conical buoy oscillates midst this concurrence.
“You may drown.” My shouting sounds gay, buoyant. Sometimes he does drown, emerges eaten by the fish.
And then we steal the boat from the pier leased by his father again and again.
The brother who opens your id and loses the key, makes you drunk and piss in your own yard as your wife watches from the first floor boudoir returns.
You know the grey. You know the why. You know the honey and the sting he hides. You lower your guards in the ring, let the blood ooze, trickle down your chin and yet do not wipe the corner of your mouth.
He offers your children a lift to their school, takes them for fun instead. Nothing sharp, not more harm than one pale ale too many, your wife sees a blade whenever sun catches his glasses.
He returns. He disappears. You know where. You know why.
Kushal Poddar is the author of Postmarked Quarantine and has eight books to his credit. He is a journalist, father, and the editor of ‘Words Surfacing’. His works have been translated into twelve languages, published across the globe.
My brick home of tough times Looks like My miniature islet. Like some fantasy lovers Dancing under the whole stranded sky My miniature of an islet home Has no address. I cannot whisper my ill wind of ease To my miniature islet home. I admire members under its roof The love is danced, The love is greeted, Love is treated. To a remembered beloved I address my islet. One home I should build For Imagination, I often knock its door Where my imagination wakes up, Becomes a task doer, Makes the world fitted in a room More spacious. But I want to walk in my garden!
Sushant Thapa is from Biratnagar, Nepal. He has published four books of poems: The Poetic Burden and Other Poems (Authorspress, New Delhi, 2020), Abstraction and Other Poems (Impspired, UK, 2021), Minutes of Merit (Haoajan, Kolkata, 2021), Love’s Cradle (World Inkers Printing and Publishing, USA and Africa, 2023). He is an English lecturer to undergraduate level students of BBA and BIT at Nepal Business College, Biratnagar, Nepal and Master’s level at Degree Campus. He also teaches English poetry to M.A. English students at Degree Campus. He holds an M.A in English literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He has been published in print, online, school book and anthologies around the world. He also writes Flash Fictions, Short Stories and Book Reviews.
You can find more of Sushant’s work here on Ink Pantry.