‘Memoriam in A-Flat Minor’ by Douglas Cole

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News came—Bruce had died.  It was not shocking news.  He had battled Big Death in his bones for the last three years, come out victorious in that fragile way a war survivor emerges with radiant clarity and eyes that glow.  No fooling around anymore, not that he was a fool around type.  He was a shaggy-headed Bostonian with a big Irish laugh and jazz love and basketball handler’s hands and an ivy league memory.  Stories of scholarship rides and semi-pro days.  But he knew and we all knew he’d entered the land of borrowed time.  But happy.  Outwardly.  Hit by occasional, weird side-effects and glancing blows: thyroid went out, he lost much weight, a snap of the femur.  He rolled around in a wheelchair for a while.  But happy at least to be in the world.  His favorite riddle: “What do you get when you throw a piano down a mineshaft?”  He was even still ambitious to go up the administrative stream.  A good soul, if anyone can judge.

A heart attack.  That was it.  Magnificent.  Just allow that for a moment.  If you think about it—the prospects?  We never spoke of the possibilities, but I imagine and imagine I’m pretty close that he’d had a few dread dark nights looking down the barrel of his own imagination at tubes and hospital bed and withering limbs and fading air and languishing nightmare—but instead, heart attack.  I thought he’d hit the lottery.  I envied him.  What a death!

Still, there were those of us who were stunned to get the news.  Death, even most inevitable, still comes as a surprise to some people.

Testimonials at the funeral captured bits and pieces of the man.  But how dead the room was even full of people.  The green carpet of the foyer as some kind of cold pastoral.  The perfect blond wood of the chairs.  The purple upholstery of the benches—a space so generically non-denominational, hinting in its tilted way towards church synagogue and maybe mosque—floor to ceiling windows along one wall and a Zen garden on the other side with koi pond and stone pedestals and paperbark maples dripping with rain.  Up front the casket with body, and I caught the glimpse of his profile there.

Here are my colleagues, Bruce’s friends and family.  I took a spot in the back near esoteric Steve with his phlegmatic heavy brow and eyes of authorial intent.  I placed my hands on my knees.  The speaking began.

Good Man

Good husband

Smart

PhD

Athlete

Jazz Buff

Those labels hit the air, coming like cartoon anime arrows through a buzzing fly-cloud of miasmatic black stuff.   Somewhere, it slipped into a talk-show routine, microphone going around to sincere leaden student remembrances saying how much they learned from him, tears whipped away with the edge of a finger.  Family members, gratitude, moments caught in flight.  I was pretty sure I’d never draw a crowd this big.

I was slipping into a different space—rain drops out the window were bouncing on the pond—one two three—boom!—diminishing with each landing and leaving their reverberations on the surface—wonder.  How had I missed that before?

…I remember working at the radio station with him and he was always smiling and I thought he was interested but he never asked me out until I took another job…

Then I was looking down at my feet as more memory unspooled itself.  What is an eggshell doing here on the ground near my toe?  Who put that there?  How does it arrive?

…Jokes, more jokes, he could list them off alphabetically, and operas and TV shows…

The eggshell—I picked it up.  It was just big enough to fit on the tip of my finger like a little helmet.  And look, you, see how its smooth white surface is really quite rough, how going deeper reveals it’s really a lace of spongy ropes like a ball of rubber bands—rich and strange.

Continue reading “‘Memoriam in A-Flat Minor’ by Douglas Cole”

Two More Poems by Nick Ascroft

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I Coo Haiku High, Eh

(For Ames)

One Use a toothbrush, eh,   to clean your goose-
flesh ballbag,  then icewater it.

The use?
Sweet fuck all.  Momentary relief perhaps.
The itch, eternal.

Two Then Jesus claps:
Oi!  Throw no stones, you hypocrites!  (The king
Of killjoys.)

Pilate’s wife’s repulsed.  A thing
so brutal. Why? Yet …  It’s just so right now.

Three Always, we bring plagues:  in the cacao,
Minute mites;  moths, mice, flies and ants.

How scabies
crazed me.  Like fleas that bite the baby’s
brow, the unseen seethes.

Four His fluorescent
shite,  I scoop an iridescent  crescent
round his bits.

Am I infectious?   Are these
Disease-borne fingers?  He wees, sighs: oh please.

Turn to Camera in the Birthing Suite

(for Kate at 35)

At this – attaching a maternity
pad’s sticky wings to either side of your
gigantic knickers – I wink, turn to the
omniscient camera and say I am sure
that none submersed in postmodernity
as low as you have soared above their raw
and unrelievable eternity
of pain, fought unironic through the flaw
bonanza of the hypnobirth, the TENS
placebo and such taciturnity
or absence as the stand-in midwife lent,
and stayed so measured. I discern indeed
the greatest heroism in your labour.
And here’s to Entonox to blunt the sabre.

Four Poems by Samuel J. Fox

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& I want to make the dawn a new color perhaps something ungodly not gilded maybe a hemorrhage where the moon is a clot of bone & the clouds do not form the shape of a face I once cupped like a handful of river do not form the shape of memories we impose upon them in loneliness for what is this time of day but a resurrection of the same thing that trespassed on our hearts yesterday I did not want to go to the city where love makes a home in another human’s arms I do not want to go to the city where the gutter is a more respectable place to leave our old selves behind I do not want to dream of her any more than I want to paint dawn a color more suitable for waking up hung over from thirsting for a mouth willing to suck the past off my tongue or lick the tears from months ago that I still have not had the grit to wipe away they say every man is an island that’s a gigantic lie every person is an ocean of blood & every palm parted and coraled open is a delta into which every minute flows I want to paint the dawn the same color I feel it’s the most contused blue with the hue of a wilting rose sitting below it the sun a thorn of light pressed against my cheek where a kiss will not suffice to remind me of how warm it feels to be loved by someone else when I refuse to love this silhouette of mine or how it slowly grows longer behind me into a soft wound

& I used to see God as a means to ask for the unaskable to speak embers into the branches of my lungs now I am dead to God for it must be that the field where he sowed his fucks was never reaped for he must be overgrown caring for all of this sorrow he sang into the darkness I stood at midnight on a hill overlooking my town over the clock tower standing stentorian over the cemetery where my kind is rotting in their own soil the stars grinding their nuclear teeth at their wide podium I think the smallest worlds act like the gears in a grandfather clock all of them functional all of them minute when one disappears the chiming of the hours halts every person their own world but somehow when one of us suffers we go on spinning in our own resolution & God is nowhere but holy if holy was a place to reach for and never touch & I am suffering silent a flesh-bag of illuminous, nasty mercy a burning-man made of bone flammable at the touch of mundane miracles God has no part igniting & I want to leave the poem of this world sometimes not knowing who would go on to keep blowing on the fires artists leave behind making unconsumable burning brush of our veins, our terrible souls

& I have tasted the shadow on my tongue like ash it dissolves into a bitter remnant & by shadow I mean a rash of resentment toward this world and its people who may hate me simply because I am my heart plush with blood repeats its same sentence while serving its indelible purpose in my chest & I know as I stagger the sounds of the world out by looking at my phone at photos of people I hardly know at articles declaring the indefinite end of the world I could fall in love with any of these people in this club & the moon sneers a Cheshire grin & the redhead at the bar with me flashes a smile that turns sepulcher every time I look over & isn’t every mouth a graveyard for what is not said I could just as easily draw lines in the clay where one side is love the other hatred & my line be a miniscule crack in the dirt to say it is thin this relationship with the world I so love dissect a life into hours and those hours to minutes and those minutes to seconds & maybe there are approximately thirty that take our breath away I want more than that I confess the only thing I hate about this world is how we treat each stranger the only thing I love about this world is everything is everything is everything & I am no longer afraid to live

& I have sung all the songs of late that penetrated my sternum and made a timpani of my ribcage I wander on with death and coffee her veil of mica-flutter fly wings her dress green like moss on the side of a fallen spruce singing my body may be gone but I hope you carry me on in your heart, in your mind, in your soul singing but I am too weak to be your cure singing I’ve seen fire & I’ve seen rain singing there’s no one in the world like you and I almost believe the words but words don’t believe in us so I make them mean something I taste each breath I take and give it back I keep songs on loop in the pocket of my jeans I keep songs in my hat while the Carolina sky falls to soak me to the soul I keep songs in my ashtray burning while the light rises I keep songs in my passenger seat on those long dark drives to see family who will then pack songs into my ears they themselves arranged when the world grew too dim to see the truth in a lover states away I keep songs in my hand when another wants to beat the ever living shit out of me I will give them to him instead and so death leaves me be to flirt with the rest of the world and I stay my blade I unknot the noose I unload the chamber I close the cap I turn the lights of my porch on late past midnight & keep songs in my throat so if I ever do meet the Lord he will recognize me by my faulty hymns

Samuel J Fox is a queer essayist/poet living in the Southern US; he is poetry editor for Bending Genres and a columnist/reviewer for Five 2 One Magazine. He enjoys coffee shops, graveyards, and dilapidated places, depending. He tweets (@samueljfox).

‘During John Travolta’s Face/Off Operation…’ and ‘Good Day I am A Horse’ by Nick Ascroft

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During John Travolta’s Face/Off Operation …

… they discovered he had 39 faces all stacked one on top of the other
for easy access.
Always another face underneath.
SLICE this one’s Christian Slater SLICE here’s Jeremy Irons SLICE
Margaret Thatcher, etc.
Who’s your plastic surgeon asked one of the face/off operators.
This is some intricate work.
John Travolta looked at the guy.
Regulation company jumpsuit. Nondescript.
Body-count fodder. Guy’s gonna die for sure
and probably not in his own shot.
Probably three of these guys get wasted then the camera swings up
to the metal walkway.
Always a metal walkway in these places.
Guy’s got a grey-blue jumpsuit and a blue-grey gloved hand
on the circular saw.
Not gonna see it coming.
Who’s your plastic surgeon, Mr Travolta? Then BANG BANG BANG:
brains, guts, balls.
SLICE Darth Vader SLICE Freddy Mercury SLICE
Mr Miyagi out of Karate Kid.
Karate Kid 3 though. Trying to be professional but less you know fire.
John Travolta looked up at the walkway.
Where’s that go, he asked the anaesthetist.
Fuck you, thought the anaesthetist. Just so fuck
completely you.
SLICE Little Mermaid SLICE Liberace SLICE White Fang SLICE
who’s that?
That’s you. Deep in the face stack.
Thought you were something, but no.
Another face in Travolta’s deck of visages.
Just another cheap grin in John Travolta’s club sandwich of faces.
It’s like Alberto said.
Dr Alberto, sorry. You know.
Sorry, the anaesthetist. Name got cut from earlier due to run time.
Fuck you.

Good Day, I Am a Horse

And hello, I am a beaver.
To you my sincerest, I am a starfish
with an old-fashioned disposition.
Ever yours, a beetle, one of many, writing,
amid a rainstorm, of commas, to an eagle.

Wotcher,

says I back,

an eagle, via telegram (stop).
Rustling in its seat, from back in the 1990s,
some undergraduate lofts its hand.
It drops it. It mutters the word
‘anthropomorphisation’ and wonders at a tut.

Get a grip, thinks a chorus

of skinks,

in French.
An extinct moa laughs in an extinct dialect
of Maori and slaps its beaked forehead.
A kitten on the internet holds up a sign:
Yoo iz so speshl hoominz haha.

Nick has a new and selected poems out now, Dandy Bogan (Boatwhistle 2018). He’s a New Zealander mad for indie Dad-jangle.

‘self-portrait in a porch fire’ & ‘indigestion’ by Elijah Tomaszewski

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self-portrait in a porch fire

my glasses, smudged by
her milky face and chewed fingertips.
my glasses on the sill
in the bedroom. my kitchen billowing black.
my screen door smacking.
my faucet not filling anything
fast enough. my voice
another’s: snarling, buried, wicked.
my girlfriend looming
over my shoulder, half-heeled.
my greenery
consumed, reverting to
skeletons. my garden
burnt, my girlfriend’s cigarette
bursts the soil.

indigestion

syllables slid up my throat
from my boiling stomach;
they’d burst through the spaces between my teeth.
they tasted
of port wine, old pennies, dryer sheets, lime cordial,
of reheated Italian dinners and
of waking up nervous. I pursed
my lips to keep everything in.
words churned on my palate, defeated; few escaped
out of the corners of my mouth
as a watery liquor the bartender had called Black Death.
I swallowed my tongue,
the most powerful muscle, and let it slip down into
a place I’d forgotten.
your sentences, creamy, coated me in pinks and blues
and became my medicine.

Three Poems by Samantha Goh

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Lemonade

I remember coming to your kitchen in the summer. Laughing, we’d haul our harvest of lemons onto the counter. You’d add too much sugar into your lemonade, so much that it tasted like sugar water flavored with lemon instead of the other way round.

I remember the fluorescent lights, the neon hues casting their gaudy luminescence on your body. The beat was pounding, and your eyes glazed. I told you to stop, that it was enough. But you didn’t listen, just like with the sugar.

I remember the rain pouring down, drenching everything with a silver shimmer of water. I was the one to write your epitaph. Set in stone, I wrote, ‘She was born with a gift for sweetness.’

It’s raining again today. I move my umbrella to the side, and let the drops patter endlessly on me, around me. Some of it finds its way into my mouth. It tastes of lemonade.

Intertwined

I want to know you as you are, to the deepest recesses of your soul. You don’t have to mold yourself a certain way to please me. Love is a process, and we’ll learn together. I want to know your quirks, and hear your whispered ‘goodnight’ in the peace of a darkened room. Hear a symphony with me, and hear the stories told across the distances.

I want to ruffle your hair during a conversation, wink with a shared secret when we pass by each other. I want to peck you on the cheek with your friends watching, and glance back to see you with your hand on your cheek, holding my kiss with stars in your eyes.

I don’t need to see the flashiest shops and the latest movies. I want the thought, the sentiment. Bring me to a quiet picnic spot by a rushing waterfall, give me a flower to tuck behind my ear. Smile when I sing on a whim, and dance along spontaneously with me. When we jump off a cliff, I want to feel your hand in mine, fingers intertwined.

The Bank Account

The day we met, I opened a relationship bank account with you. It wasn’t intentional, just so you know, but a matter of instinct. I met your clear, emerald gaze, and with a smile, entered my first deposit.

When I crashed into you turning the corner, you apologized and said it was your fault. We both knew that it was me who hadn’t been paying attention, but you could see my cheeks flaming and said it out of kindness. That was my second deposit.

We had many transactions, you and I. Uncountable deposits, numerous withdrawals. Over time, the deposits seemed to evaporate, and the withdrawals turned to stone. Ten dollars seemed like five. I even had an overdraft with you, but you smiled and bequeathed me a windfall.

Now, I hardly see you. I turn corners unencumbered. But my account remains full. Not a dollar lost, patiently waiting, slowly growing.

Sparkly and sweet, Samantha is a budding writer looking for magic in the world.

‘Morus’ by William Guppy

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In the unemployment office of a West London borough, on a musty sofa covered in flecks, Robert Morus sat, one tweed trouser leg crossed over the other. Glancing at his pocket watch, he sighed loudly and folded his arms.

‘It’s a damned disgrace,’ Robert said to the pensioner beside him on the sofa. ‘I have no doubt that these degenerates are deliberately wasting our time. I suppose they consider it an apt punishment for not conforming to their ‘work-ethic.’’

The old man smiled politely at Robert but said nothing.

“Week in and week out they carry out this charade!” he spluttered. ‘They interrogate us as if we were criminals, for God’s sake. It is our right to claim these subsidies, and yet one is made to feel like a vagabond just for exercising his freedom as a citizen of this once-great nation.’

Robert had become quite excited by this point, and was shifting his considerable weight across the sofa. The old man clutched onto the armrest beside him to resist the chasm which Robert had opened.

‘I tell you, if I have to wait another minute longer, I shall walk out. Don’t try to stop me. I would sooner be penniless than suffer much more of this indignity. You know, it could do a man of my reputation considerable damage if I were to be seen in here by one of my colleagues.’

The old man shifted in his seat uncomfortably and glanced toward the window at the far end of the room. It was a small box window flooded with sunlight. He couldn’t see through the brightness, but outside birds were chirping in the morning mist.

Robert sunk back into the sofa. ‘What brings you here?’ he asked.

The man cleared his throat. ‘Rheumatism.’

‘As I suspected,’ said Robert, becoming quite animated again. ‘I suppose they expect you to work, even in your state, the heartless bureaucrats. Any reasonable person can clearly see that you’re unfit for any kind of practical application.’

Robert had begun to wave his hands wildly as he spoke, narrowly missing the old man’s face with each gesticulation.

‘You are quite obviously decrepit, and possibly approaching senility. It is simply unreasonable to expect someone such as yourself to be able to perform even the most basic public function. It’s not fair on society, let alone yourself.’

The old man began to interject, but Robert went on.

‘I am of the opinion that people of your age and ー’ he looked the old man up and down ‘ ーability, should be properly taken care of. Firstly, you should all be rounded up and deposited in several communal homes for the elderly. No doubt you live alone in a large house with just your wife?’

The old man shook his head. ‘Dead these ten years.’

‘Worse! An entire residence for just yourself is hardly fair on the rest of us. No, I thoroughly believe in elderly-communal living,’ said Robert, buttoning up his jacket. ‘As well as opening up the housing market for those of us who still have our lives ahead of us, it would provide a greater quality of life for the elderly. For instance, you are no doubt incredibly lonely living at home all by yourself. Am I correct in this assumption?’

The old man shifted in his chair and looked straight ahead.

‘I thought so. Now imagine living in a household surrounded by those who share the same interests; bridge, crosswords and television soap-operas. You would never want for company again! You could all work together to perform simple tasks that would be impossible to perform as individuals, such as taking baths.’

The old man had pulled his cap over his eyes.

‘The government of course, would fund the project, and you could live very comfortably indeed amongst yourselves. And with all that body heat filling the house, you’d never complain of cold again.’

Robert’s energy had peaked, and he began now to grow bored of the subject. He went over to the water-cooler in the corner of the room and filled a plastic cup.

‘Of course, I offer these ideas freely to the officials here, but they never listen. Their minds are too embedded in the sludge of routine and uniformity to consider any radical solutions to their problems.’

He took a sip of water.

‘It’s a shame really.’

Robert leaned against the water-cooler and surveyed his environment. The sofa was pressed up against a whitewashed wall near the corner of the office. It overlooked hedgerows of grey slats that cordoned off each employee’s cubicle. Above them a ceiling fan hummed lazily along with the sounds of keys being hit, papers being shuffled. He looked at the old man who had retreated now into the collar of his duffle coat as the thump of stiletto on carpet grew louder.

‘Robert Morus.’ A neutral voice.

Continue reading “‘Morus’ by William Guppy”