Four Poems by Sara Matson

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seismic darling

astrology characterization –
a classic
steel (self)
wading thru breath by
rose gold eye’s
perfect geometric oval
pierce ur body with sun //
shine
seismic darling
of anonymity
an omission of ascent
by the oracle
arcade clawed from
obscurity
she smoked the bed
to that barren triangle
wild lights
she radiates
(god’s gender)
a condemned hawk
authenticity
the weird // the secrecy
she wore
obsessive institutions
in a glass jar
around her throat
+ remained a symbol soaked
in nighttime shock
future //
hanging menacing beauty
in oil stains
applied with fingers
my eyes’ inability
to adjust in darkness
trans // formed her into
a black velvet ghost

nursery rhyme

her tits swung low
like a nursery rhyme in
// s l o w m o t i o n //
her armpits were
tufts of hairy pizza
seasonings
casually sprinkling
alcoholic junk
secrets across a knit
sequence of blinking
eyelights //
was the dead electricity
clutching the basil plant at
the hour of her death or
is this postmortem biennial
p r e v a r i c a t i o n

sprouting between
(in)fertile
sacrum leaved fingers
scratched at
freeze dried blood
wiped across the faces
of so many trusted adults in
the course of her perverted
growth

ocean thickets
scheming weightlessness
plucked language from
incandescent tongues +
distant dances welcomed
radioactive mourning //
the timely sunset
even the liquored slumber
cried out upon the
discovery their
kingdom was an
asteroid belt

capture

wrist skin
scented saboteurs
a broken staircase
(in)visible thru her
velvety cemetery ghost //
harmonic decay
paper wrapped fingers
capture the limited confession //
experimentally we lie
under cellophane sheets
a warm hurried crash
behind guilty battle
sunglasses + reeking leather
mouth //
folded on darting starlight
a perfectly strange paper scrap
documenting the puckered
seam across the vapid
edgeless
skin highway

haus

neon geisha hemlines
strewn into
blistered air
the smell that makes you
nervous
beautiful women have died here
whispered a house voice
between decaying floor boards //
windows didn’t crack
under the weight of birds
(a boring fear)
((flightless and sick))
all ransom notes are
love letters, the house explained
vellum paper shapes hiding
sticky fingers //
between floorboards, house mites
marched in tiny lines
hungry, hungry,
hungry

sara matson’s writing can be found or is forthcoming in Rabid Oak, Mannequin Haus, Anti-Heroin Chic, FIVE:2:ONE, Burning House Press, OCCULUM Journal, Dream Pop Press, Waxing and Waning, and elsewhere. she lives in Chicago with her rad husband + cats, and tweets as @skeletorwrites.

‘sadderdaze’ & ‘4183 / 3524 / 2042 / 1961’ by Caroline Grand-Clement

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sadderdaze

there are some days when the line between self care
& giving up becomes too blurred to make out.
on those days, i do not change my routine;
i do not try to catch up on the sleep i have deprived myself of;
i do not try to give myself the mental space to breathe.
on those days, i am so scared to move i barely move at all.
if i am scared it will lead me to you.
i do not want this to be another love letter to my self destruction.
it is not lovely or poetic.
it is laying on the kitchen floor because you promised
your best friend not to lay down anywhere else.
it is making those kind of promises to make sure
you do not break down in the middle of class or of a corridor.
it is laying down on the school floor anyways, sometimes.

sometimes: a word that means “now and then”.
a word that means, there are days when i am not like this,
i swear. there are days when i laugh at your jokes.
there are even days when i paint you my favorite song
& say i love you, & mean it.
but today, is “now and then”; today is sometimes.
so today, forgive me if i complain without accepting any of your solutions.
i am still trying to solve this equation, but it keeps on changing.

4183 / 3524 / 2042 / 1961

it is no particular hour / a place between places / i hear your voice from the clouds / & the sound that settles in the silence of your tongue / 850 kilometers per hour away / from the pitless fear of losing you / if i squeeze my eyes shut i won’t hear my heart breaking / after you slam the door / i am still building you the castle i promised / the barn / the goats / the trees / water flowing from anywhere / but your eye sockets / only luck / i throw pennies at you until you turn copper blue / my only wish / to melt in the light of your arms / the sun never sets / we are falling through the clouds / leave all our organs in the air above our sin / time stretches like chewing gum caught in your hair / shave it off / throw it to the wind / corals have heard of our love / deep as your voice /

Caroline Grand-Clement is a seventeen years old, half-time poet, half-time student at an international school in Lyon, France. She dreams of art in any form, falling stars & late night conversations. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beyond the Shallows, an anthology by L’Ephemere Review, Rose Quartz Journal, and elsewhere. She takes part in the school magazine as writer & co-editor. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram @octopodeshearts.

‘The Artist’ by Tomas Marcantonio

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Grey-feathered gulls barked at the sway of the marina masts and a black cloud grew across the water. The artist snapped open the newspaper with a whip-crack across his folded knees and observed the sun’s descent into the burnt-honey haze at the horizon. The rub of cheap ink smudged the prints of his thumbs and ingrained on them the stale smell of recycled paper. He wrapped his slender fingers around the beer glass, moistening his palm with cold crystals of condensation. He raised the glass to his mouth and tasted only the bitter melt of the foam.

Reece Wilde’s latest masterpiece is perhaps the most stinging piece of satire to come from the controversial artist in years. ‘The Dirty Brexiteer’ is a step away from Wilde’s recent forays into watercolour, and the return to a more abstract style is a welcome return to form.

Wilde looked up to regard the changing hue of the sky. He couldn’t think of the last painting of his that wasn’t labelled a return to form. The article went on:

Wilde is a known student of the Cubist movement, and this is evident more here than in any of his previous work. The harsh angles and vivid, almost aggressive palette on show in the unnamed subject’s face are the product of a frustrated, albeit hugely masterful, creator. And the results, it cannot be argued, are astounding. ‘The Dirty Brexiteer’ is already causing a stir in the art world, and further cements the already concrete reputation of Brighton’s own prodigy.

Wilde raised the glass again and let the foam dissolve on his tongue as he shook his head. He wondered if the article had been written by a kid; an intern, perhaps, or an art student. Or just another of the blindfolded sheep-men behind their typewriters. I dance for the bears, he thought to himself, and the bears clap their stupid paws together because someone whispers to them that it is a dance and that they must clap.

‘It doesn’t look anything like your work,’ came a voice at his shoulder.

Wilde craned his neck and raised a slow, greying eyebrow to the chestnut, cat-like eyes of the waitress standing behind him. The lamp above the table cast a white glow on the crests of her olive cheeks. She stood with an empty tray tucked under one arm, and a ribbon of silky, raven-black hair fell across one eye.

Wilde regarded her and motioned to the chair opposite him. The waitress sat, her angled brows slightly turned in as she surveyed the artist.

‘You haven’t painted anything for a long time,’ she said at last.

Wilde smiled. So, one of my little rats has squeaked, he thought to himself.

‘Who have you been speaking to?’

She shook her head. ‘I’m just not as blind as everyone else, that’s all.’

Wilde’s forefinger skirted the rim of his glass. ‘And what do you know of art, exactly?’

‘I know that your true paintings are deeper than a six hundred page novel, and far more complex. I know that the way you mix colours takes my breath.’ She picked up the newspaper from the table and examined the black and white photograph. ‘And I know that your last three pieces were not painted by anyone so talented, unless you painted them with the brush between your toes, and a blindfold over your eyes, and a worm burrowing into your brain.’

Wilde observed the almond eyes before him, the cool expression.

‘Why are you doing it?’

Wilde gazed at the last heat haze of the disappearing sun. The truth was, he didn’t know why he was doing it anymore. An experiment, he told himself at first. But now what? It had backfired spectacularly.

‘If only everyone had half your wits,’ he said finally, his sentence trailing off unfinished.

The balcony was filling quickly as the lamps across the waterfront flickered into life.

‘I need to get back to work,’ the girl declared, standing up.

‘Come to my studio,’ Wilde said, fishing a card from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. ‘Tomorrow morning, open house.’

The girl scrutinized him.

‘Take the card,’ Wilde said calmly, his eyes fixed on hers. ‘I still have some pieces of my own.’

The girl took the card. She turned towards a table of new arrivals, looking back once to see the artist’s eyes still trained on her as he stood up to leave.

Wilde strolled the length of the marina in the fading amber light, his cane clipping the wooden boardwalk as he went. He came to the stairs of his basement studio at the end of the promenade that ran from the marina to the pier.

‘Ah,’ Wilde said, opening the door and finding the lights already turned on. ‘Found your way in, did you?’

Continue reading “‘The Artist’ by Tomas Marcantonio”

Three Poems by Luanne Pumo Jaconia

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photo by Allen Nomura

The Lights Below

From the safety of my perch
Among the trees and stars, I watch
The lights below twinkle seductively

The blinking lights
Terrify and seduce
In the same instant

They illuminate possibilities,
Coaxing long suppressed dreams
Out of the shadows

They tease with their twinkle,
You will find love. Fortune!
You will find your muse

Come here among my lights
They scream more loudly each night
With greater urgency!

I have long been a satisfied voyeur
Up here, among the trees and the moonlight,
Laughing at the lights from afar

Yet tonight I tremble; afraid of the ghost of regret…
And as my solitary perch among the stars begins to crumble
I willingly catapult myself into the fire below, before it is too late!

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photo by Al Faaet

Respite

Life, I am exhausted!
Attempting hour after hour
Day after day, to become beautiful
In your sight; to emerge a
Loving and generous soul

Even after the long and arduous task
Of emerging from the chrysalis,
The majestic grey and white moth
Pauses briefly on a red-orange petal
Before catching the next breeze

Life! As I struggle and stretch
Attempting to form myself anew,
Lovingly provide a beautiful
Red-orange blossom for me to rest upon
Before the next grueling phase of my metamorphosis!

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photo by Priscilla Hancock

Grand Jeté

Time Flies!

I jump
Spreading my arms and legwings
Wider than they can go
Then l push them further!

Time stops!

Suspended above my life
My heart leaps along with my limbs!
In this moment
I know the liberation of possibilities

Stop, Time!

You must not return me to earth, legs!
Standing up-right in the mess of my reality
Feels like dying in a dark prison
From which there is no escape

Luanne Pumo Jaconia, CSSW, began her career in child protective services, and currently facilitates parenting workshops. Luanne and her husband are parents of two; hands-on grandparents of three. Her poems often reflect the difficult and exhilarating experiences that happen within families as they grow. Luanne began submitting poetry at 70.

‘The Wishing Pool’ by Walt Giersbach

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That night, Otto wore his pajama pants and shirt backward and inside out.  He also planned to turn his Iowa Huskies cap inside out and put it under his pillow.  He told his sister Alicia about his ritual, and she sneered the immature way six-year-old girls do, showing off her lack of education.  But earlier, he knew, she had taken a handful of ice cubes from the freezer and had gone out in the bitter twilight to throw them, one by one, at the oak tree in their front yard.  Alicia also ran around the house three times, and then flushed more ice cubes down the toilet for good measure.  The ice would float to the ocean and freeze it up causing it to snow.

She could scoff, but he knew his special ritual would win the wishing pool.

Each of his eight friends in Miss Firm’s third-grade class — plus Alicia who was only a first-grader — had bet on the pool.  Each had solemnly put a dollar into a fruit jar and tucked it under a fallen tree behind the playground.  The winner would be the person who guessed most closely the first day school was cancelled because of snow.

Otto had carefully marked the calendar when the first school closing had taken place the winter before.  That January, the snow over Iowa had piled up so high Otto sank almost to his knees when he stepped off the front porch.  He and Alicia had made snow angels and gotten their Dad’s dusty Flexible Flyer out of the garage waiting for Mom to come home from work and take them to Suicide Hill.  And they had made a fort and attacked the Schumacher kids three doors down with their barrage of snow balls.

As Otto twisted himself into a comfortable nest under the blankets and quilt, he suddenly realized there probably were one or two snowballs still left in the freezer in the basement.  He had made them in March during what seemed like the last snowfall of the winter.  The freezer was almost empty now; Mom had said they had to cut back expenses with Dad away.  Perhaps he should make a few more snowballs because they would really be needed next May or June.  What a shock the Schumacher kids would have when snowballs hit them in the head as they ran around barefoot in the springtime!

He might even write a letter to Dad and Mom could put it in an envelope with her letter she wrote every Saturday when she didn’t have to go to work at Tom’s Big Value store.  He’d tell Dad about the snow-closing pool, and how he knew he was going to win it.  The contest had been his inspiration.  He had come up with the idea of a pool after checking — secretly, of course — with the lady at the library on Greenwood Avenue about when the first snowfalls had taken place in earlier years.  He told her it was for a science project, but she didn’t seem to care as long as kids stayed in the children’s section and were quiet.

Dad had said he’d be home before the first snowfall, so he’d win two ways: he’d collect all the money and Dad would come clumping home from Iraq wearing his camouflage fatigues and big boots and give them all hugs and kisses.  Maybe Mom wouldn’t be so tired at night and always ask Otto to rub her feet as she sat in the recliner in front of the TV.

He had written down all the “first days” and then asked Mister Cooper at the grocery store to average them out for him.

“What d’you wanta know that for, Otto?” Mr. Cooper had asked.

“It’s for my wishing pool.  To pick the first snow day that school closes.”

Mr. Cooper had said, “You’re a smart kid, Otto.  What’re you wasting your time with that foolishness?”  But while averaging the dates, Mr. Cooper rambled on about a winter that froze the river.  Time stands still when it snows, he said.  He called it an occasion for happenings.

When Mr. Cooper paused, Otto told him about Miss Firm, who wore no makeup and kept a snow globe on her desk.  She’d shake the globe sometimes and say she remembered when it snowed so hard in Iowa the wolves came out of the hills and visited the town.

Mr. Cooper was patient with Otto, his mom said, because he once had a boy who was sent to a place called Vietnam and didn’t come back.  Whatever his reasons — an old man’s memories or simple generosity —, Mr. Cooper gave Otto a dollar and paid for a chance on December 23rd.

Otto picked the date of December 18th — four days away—and that meant he had to begin his pajama ritual early.  He had chosen science over guesswork, but he never ever ignored omens and symbols — what his grandma called portents.  Every event, every glance, every crack in the sidewalk was filled with meaning.  Dogma was established: “If you step on a crack, you’ll break Vladimir Putin’s back.”  And, there was unpatriotic heresy from Tommy Schumacher: “No way!  If you step on a crack you’ll break your mother’s back!”

Alicia had picked Valentine’s Day and then had to ask Otto what date that was.

Maybe, Otto thought, his dad knew when it would snow if he could be so certain about his return.  This was something to think about, Otto considered, as sleep closed in on him.  He decided there were more questions than answers in life, just a lot of mysteries only grown-ups could figure out.

“Ha ha,” Alicia laughed dramatically the next morning.  “Didn’t snow and you look like a dork!”

“Yeah, but wait’ll I tell Mom you were throwing ice cubes at a tree and running around like a chicken.”

They ate the rest of their oatmeal in silence and then left to wait for the school bus.

Otto had nothing more to say as he stared balefully at the sun, didn’t wave back at Mrs. Schumacher who dropped off her kids, didn’t even lean down to pet their Labrador retriever when it rubbed against his leg.

There was now more than twelve dollars in the jar.  They all stood around at recess while Eddie Kraus counted it.  Otto tucked in Mr. Cooper’s dollar and they covered the jar with brush again under everyone’s mutually distrustful eyes.  Walking back to the playground, Eddie poked him.  “You aren’t cheating, are you?  You said your dad would be home before the first snowfall, so maybe he knows when it’ll snow.”

“Nah,” Otto shrugged, “that’s just what he said.”  But Otto knew privately that the promised return was a solemn oath.

The next day and the next were no stormier as December 18th approached, and Otto’s mood darkened with each passing day.  His mother sat watching the news on TV after dinner each night, making Otto wonder if children in Iraq ever watched TV shows about American people.

“I swear, you are the unhappiest child I’ve ever seen.”  His Mom stopped him in the kitchen and looked him up and down, standing over him with her hands on her hips.

“I do my chores,” he said.

“I’ve seen happier looking children in the poor house.  Cheer up, for Heaven’s sake!  It’s going to be Christmas pretty soon and your Dad will be home.”

Sure, he thought, but would it be a white Christmas?  The holidays signaled anticipation and a certain magic, but as a third grader he worked to maintain a defiant belief in Santa Claus against ridicule from bigger kids.

December 18th dawned without a cloud in the blue hemisphere.  A big red sun rose over the houses as he clambered aboard the bus.  The morning of the 19th started out cloudy and brisk, with a wet north wind whistling down out of Minnesota.  But by two o’clock, as the bell rang and the children ran from the school to their buses, Otto felt the first snow flake on his ear.  And then another tickled his nose.  And another.

“Snow!” he shouted to Alicia.  “It’s coming!  I told you my trick with the pajamas would work.”

“Ha ha!  You missed it by one day.”

“But I can still win.  I’m still the closest.”

The bus driver heard them and smiled.  “Big ’un coming.  Watch the TV weather lady tonight.”

Otto had never felt better.  Tomorrow was Friday and if it snowed hard enough there would be no school and if Mom didn’t have to work she could take them to Suicide Hill and he could collect the money on Monday.  If it was real blizzard, it might even be Tuesday, but he could wait.  The wolves might even visit town.

He ran shouting up the walk to their front porch and bumped into two men wearing green Army uniforms who were coming out the door.  One gave a flickering half-smile of embarrassment; the other stared intently at the opaque sky.

His mother stood silently.  Her hands twisted the front of her green Tom’s Big Value smock.  Her eyes stared sightlessly at the backs of the visitors.

“Didn’t you hear me, Mom?  It’s snowing!”

“Shut up, Otto,” Alicia said, sensing something neither of them understood.  “Just shut up!”

Walt Giersbach’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a score of online and print publications, including Soft Cartel. He served for three decades as director of communications for Fortune 500 companies, helped publicize the Connecticut Film Festival, managed publicity and programs for Western Connecticut State University’s Haas Library, and now moderates a writing group in New Jersey.

‘Antagony LLC.’ by Edward Raso

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I have been ignored, avoided, cursed, berated, insulted, threatened with bodily harm, chased, spat upon, and assaulted. Sometimes all in the same week. But I don’t mind. Quite to the contrary, this is the kind of week to which I aspire. The kind that typically nets me a nice little bonus. You see, it’s what I do. Professionally. I annoy. I agitate and antagonize. I drive people right to the edge and if I can, over. I am a Professional Nuisance.

I even have a business card: Scott Stempowicz * Professional Nuisance * Antagony LLC.

A Professional Nuisance (PN as we refer to it in the trade) is kind of a hitman for the meek and passive aggressive. We don’t make people dead; we make them miserable. Do you have an awful neighbor? A cheating boyfriend? A coworker from hell? A tyrannical in-law? I can get you satisfaction. I will, for a fee pre-negotiated by Antagony LLC, make your despised one the target of my considerable antagonistic talent. And for your viewing pleasure, many of the interactions with the target will be recorded with my vintage Google Glasses, that, let’s face it, annoy everyone a great deal right off the bat.

I have been with Antagony LLC for eight years and I’ve won Nuisance of the Year four times. I was all but assured the Senior Professional Nuisance (SPN) position opening up next month. But unfortunately for me, a public nuisance is only as good as his last case. And as I sit here with my jaw wired shut, sipping coffee through a straw, I now have serious doubts about my chances of promotion. You see, my last case was such a shit show-dumpster fire-spectacular-hot mess, that even these idioms invoking feces and flames fall short as descriptors.

It did not go well.

I didn’t even want the stupid case in the first place, but then when the original PN became incapacitated, it was assigned to me. That original PN would be one Freddie Spangle, my longtime rival and now probable lock for the SPN position. Don’t get me started on Spangle. He is a great and terrible asshole.

There’s a lot of competition among us nuisances. It begins early on. Antagony LLC is always looking for new talent and there is no shortage of annoying people out there who would like nothing better than to transform being their anathema into a prosperous career. Most get weeded out during the applicant interview process–clueless aspirants who all think they’re Machiavelli when really they’re just Elmer Fudd. Only the very top of the talent pool makes it through for a probational try. As these hopefuls quickly find out, talent alone doesn’t cut it. Nor does enthusiasm. We’re always getting these young hotshots, fresh out of college and full of promise, talented enough to make even Fred Rodgers go red in the face and scream “FUCKKKKK!” through clenched teeth.

Your typical probie hot-shot starts out gung-ho but no matter how much he’s warned, his enthusiasm will usually get the better of him. He’ll cross the line from clever, covert nuisancing to legal harassment. He’ll go too far, too soon, and blow his cover on the first or second day. This ruins any chance of continuing the case for the week or so it takes to truly antagonize someone. When they fail, Antagony LLC ends up having to refund the money. At best. But sometimes the target goes to the authorities and the whole big mess leads back to Antagony and creates legal headaches the company does not need. Had it not been for the Trump Freedom of Business Act of 2019, capping liability suits against corporations by individuals to $1,000, Antagony LLC would surely be out of business. Nevertheless, a new hire who catches a harassment suit or even a restraining order during his probationary period is automatically shit-canned.

Any seasoned PN will tell you that a successful case takes more than just a full frontal assault. It takes research into the target’s habits. It takes planning. You must be sagacious. The first thing I do when I’m assigned a case is study the target’s routines. I slog through the research so I can map out my nuisancing ahead of time. The company encourages this. They recommend one week for research, one week for nuisancing.

Once my research is done, I begin. If the target is a motorist, Day One will typically begin with one of my favorite and most effective techniques: I engage him in a rented car. I start by weaving recklessly around him so that he gets very nervous and slows down. Then I pull right in front of him and drive very S-L-O-W-L-Y. Think of the speed you’d need to go in order to get a large knuckled, eleven-and-one-steering-wheel-clutching, elderly person to pass you across a double yellow line, shaking their heads in pity while doing so. Now half that velocity and you have an idea of what I mean. The target becomes upset, blowing his horn, flashing his lights, screaming out the window, etc., until he can finally get around and away from me. Except: Aha! He hasn’t gotten away at all. I already know where he’s going. And I, armed with my research into his routines, can take my time like Pepé Le Pew gently and relentlessly pursuing his feline love interest. On a good day, if the target has lots of driving to do, I will switch rental cars several times to preserve my cover and make his day a vehicular living hell.

Continue reading “‘Antagony LLC.’ by Edward Raso”

‘Upon Learning’ by Chris Hardy

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Pass

I didn’t see the knife in the envelope
my father was waving through the window.
Smiling and cheering they met me at the door,
parents, sister, Juma, and Nina our black
Alsatian joining in with barks and whines.
The envelope had flown from London across
the Alps, Sahara, Ethiopia, Kilimanjaro,
then in a sack five hundred miles up country
to where we lived, where we lived together,
from where its paper blade would cut me out,
the incision at first unnoticed,
sharp and quick.

On the Dakota flying to the coast
the pilot took me into his cabin.
I looked at the controls, the dials,
herds of wildebeest, zebra, gazelle
across yellow plains, studded with thorn.
There was something else going on
that seemed to have my attention.
That night, staying with friends,
I came out of my room to find them watching.
The dim blue light on the landing turned cold,
dropped down and poured into my chest.

Jokes

In England my grandfather met me,
a Naval Officer in a dark-blue suit.
The taxi stopped in a street
that glistened in the drizzle
and dim light of street lamps,
outside a tall portico with unlit windows.
I was sick on the floor of the cab.

Hunched headmaster Scragg said,
the ghost of Saint Cuthman walks
but never on the first night of term
to us, standing in our dormitory.
Above my bed was a beam
beneath which we were told
a detached head sometimes
hung in the dark
and that if you climbed up
you’d break a bone.

Preston did and bust his leg
next day playing rugby,
the same match Fielding
got hit under the chin,
bit his tongue half through,
stood there with this flap
hanging out of his gob,
blood streaming down his front.
We laughed. The teacher said,
stuff your hankie
in your mouth, find Matron.

Tall, grey, impatient with our
coughs, ear ache, home sickness.
A bath and change of clothes each week,
cold water wash at dawn,
was her prescription.
After she developed cancer
I saw her thin face at a window.
It was she who told us about the head.

Gardener said, sleeping in an attic
he woke to find a ghost
by his bed, a woman killed
when a tree fell through the roof.
I dreamt of looking up a staircase
to a landing with a shut door,
from where a banister rose
to higher floors in the dark.

Rites

Blows, shoving down hillsides,
enforced mutual masturbation,
coating hands with dog shit,
typewriter, kidney punch, dead leg.
Noise after lights-out –
a beating with shoes,
broom handles, hockey sticks,
bent over laundry baskets
where Matron stacked our sticky linen.

If Hutchinson took offence
the others would stick with him.
Trapped in sheets and blankets,
we attack Marston silently,
twisting his wrists and arms,
fist in the ribs and solar plexus,
a foot in the balls to make him roll up.
He doesn’t cry out. Hutchinson directs.

Each Sunday to St Peter’s,
Nunc Dimittis, Magnificat,
our breath white in the cold nave.
Awake my soul and with the sun
All our weakness thou dost know
Forgive our foolish ways
Oh God our help in ages past
For there’s another country I heard of long ago
and at the end for a few seconds –
The Lord bless you and keep you,
The Lord make His face to shine upon you
and be gracious unto you,
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you
and give you peace.

I wrote home on thin blue paper
folded into a small rectangle,
sealed along its edges.
I spent my pocket money on broken biscuits ..
I got 6/10 in the History test ..
It is very cold here ..
Fry’s sledge hit a gate you could see the bone ..
This Easter am I going to Granny or Aunt Muriel? ..
Tomorrow is the school cross-country run ..
Sorry you found my last letter hard to read ..
How are Juma and Nina?

A teacher found my matches.
Hardy – to Mr Scragg.
I stood before the desk,
he remarked on my upbringing,
You’ll have to be caned –
three, bent over in the corner.
Scragg had angina.
With ‘Ike’ Williams always six,
to see our shoulders shudder.

Drill

Lie flat on your back, legs straight out,
both feet two inches off the ground,
keep them there.
Hang on the wall bars,
wrists jammed against a rung,
raise knees to waist,
stay there.
Stand in line, arms horizontal,
level with shoulders.
Rotate arms and hands
backwards, small loops,
do not let them drop.

The five mile run across
damp fields and flooded ditches,
up steep paths, over gates and fences,
through valleys full of grey, wet trees,
narrow lanes like drains
sunk in the ground, small streams
running in the verge.

Hyperion

Emery, blonde hair over one eye,
indifferent to punishment,
had a Persian cousin.
Veils and gowns,
warm evenings in Shiraz.
At weekends we made off
to a cafe where the sun shone
through large windows,
the room pale and cool.
We wrote poetry.
It was Spring,

Girls looking over fences, calling our names,
grabbing our caps and running off,
serving in shops, cleaning floors.
Met them down Dog Lane,
a minute risked between prep and roll call,
or in a barn which stank of cow shit,
sometimes an iron shelter on the promenade,
waves crashing over groynes.

After holidays we came back
long hair tucked into collars,
queued for short back and sides
outside the bath cubicles where
we’d once been hung,
shackled to the top bar of the doorframe,
scaffolding clamps round our wrists,
racked by our own weight.

One day Emery was gone.
Trying to impress his relative
he crashed a Lancia in Lewes High Street
where it caught fire.

Defeat

My atlas said:
‘Each year the Suez canal is used by 12,000 ships, 35% of them British.
UK average annual income £276; life expectancy males 66; females 71.
India average annual income £20; life expectancy males 27; females 27.
USA average annual income £519; life expectancy males 62; females 66’.

As ships converge on Cuba
I dream we are playing cricket,
huge brown mushroom clouds rise
against a blue sky
behind trees ringing the ground.

One Sunday Bennett’s sermon,
leaving school in ’17,
life expectancy two weeks,
lines of small black figures
vanishing across a horizon at Langemarck.

An ex-soldier, stupefied with drink,
staring open mouthed at our laughing faces
tells us to dissect cloaca, vent
of plaice, pinned before us on the desk.

Saturday evening in a classroom,
lists of war dead on one wall,
cone of silver filling the screen,
glorious defeat, Tobruk.

Exeat

At year’s end in the taxi
my grandfather asked me
the formula of sulphuric acid.
I didn’t answer.
He said that at my age he could
calculate the diameter of a propeller shaft
from the weight of its screw,
was proud to have learned
in the Sailor Boys’ School
neat handwriting
for keeping a log.

Then, looking out of the window,
he told me they’d starved,
scooped grease from tubs of cocoa.
How a boy caught stealing wore
‘THIEF’ pinned to his uniform.
That boys judged insolent would
pull down their trousers,
lift their shirt, bend forward,
head between the Bosun’s knees,
be flogged across back and buttocks.
I didn’t say anything.

I flew to Rome, Karachi, Delhi,
took off from there in the evening.
Looking out the window
a jagged strip along the horizon,
glinting white against dark blue sky.
Everest, Kanchenjunga the pilot said.
Setting sun turned
the peaks pale red,
the sky beyond them black.

In Singapore midnight air
thick, warm, full of scent,
fermenting fruit and fuel.
Next morning from a Dakota
over the South China Sea
I saw the wakes of ships
heading west towards the Pacific,
knew where they were going
and where I was.

*

(Years later I thought I’d got away,
that it had vanished like dreams on waking –
the flint walls, dark windows, wet stripped trees,
muddy trails over hills,
jeering big faces looking down.
Then we took my daughter to University,
leaving home for the first time.
Six hours in the rain past Stoke.
A room with a dim yellow light,
iron bed, her small trunk on the floor.
She looked at us and
suddenly it was all there –
a cloud of voices, fists, oak doors,
hammer beams, the unlit portico,
a thousand miles of silence, ghosts –
filling the room to the ceiling,
a cold vice gripping my chest,
forcing my heart down.)

Chris lives in London and has lived and travelled in widely. His poems have been
published in many magazines, anthologies and websites including Poetry Review;
Poetry Salzburg Review, Stand; Tears In The Fence; The Dark Horse; among others.

He is in LiTTLe MACHiNe (www.little-machine.com) performing their settings of well known poems. They have made an album with Roger McGough and are touring with him.

Chris’s most recent collection, ‘Sunshine at the end of the world’; was published in August 2017 by Indigo Dreams Publications.