I

AND THEN AT TIMES

And then at times

the dips of our marriage are
no different than the falling

into love in Richmond Park

before we started home, and I

wrote every day until the motion

of the ship made me certain that

for every berth going out,

new souls put in, spit from

foam. If I could read Greek or

understand the errand of the

cardinal we watch for with coffee

in our hands, I could make poetry

on the tips of fence spears where

he stops and the fire of you would

go urgently from land to land.

Charles Bane, Jr. is the American author of The Chapbook (Curbside Splendor), Love Poems (Aldrich Press), and Three Seasons: Writing Donald Hall (Collection of Houghton Library, Harvard University). He created and contributes to The Meaning Of Poetry series for The Gutenberg Project, and is a current nominee as Poet Laureate of Florida.

INSIDE                                                                      

For the umpteenth time that week she switched off the radio. The gloom was getting all a bit too much – the wars and the diseases, the riots and the banks squandering money. At heart she knew that she was a happy person, not as happy as she was when she was eighteen, but at least she was in love. She wasn’t sure whether she had learned anything new from the experience – it was mostly how she thought it would be. What she loved about Gareth more than anything was his large warm hands that made her feel delicate and secure. She was surprised that it wasn’t his political ideals and intelligence that she enjoyed, but the simple warmth of his body – his just being there. At first, she was attracted to the dedication he showed to those causes – those causes that were also of paramount importance to her. They planted trees together and cleaned litter from beaches before they bunkered down in the pub to debate current issues. They met at the Philosophy Society and eyed each other up at the Science lectures.

*

She felt vaguely nauseous and rose from her battered armchair to make herself a settling panad – she sighed listlessly and thought about home:

The hellhole in the mountains, the useless and ugly slag heaps, the town that was built out of slate and sweat. It limped along, bowed under dust-related diseases and the cold, hard, dirty work. However much work there was, the rainy eyesore still suffered under the chafing manacles of poverty.

Now pieces of the mountains were spread all over the world, beautifying towns from Dolgellau to New York and probably Timbuktu. The colours – the blues, greens and purple-greys, the neat rectangular slabs – hewn from the ground and taken away by train after train.

The industry had gone, gone, gone. Maybe the cost to life and limb were too high, the damage to the environment too great or maybe trading prices were too competitive. Unbelievably, the town had turned into a tourist attraction. There were train rides and historical guides, ‘nearby’ beauty spots and centres for extreme sports. And what happened to the money? It didn’t get anywhere near the people of Blaenau Ffestiniog’s pockets that’s for sure.

She stirred her tea noisily. These things didn’t seem to matter to her, as much now and she didn’t know why. The local news unnerved her – it made hot dry tears press behind her eyes. She knew she had the capacity for sadness – things affected her – but something had really dented the natural happiness she normally felt. She had reached the stage where she wouldn’t watch telly or buy newspapers and she refused to answer calls from her political comrades. There wasn’t a place for any of these things in her life at the moment. There was only a statically charged torrent of bad karma hurtling through the ether and landing in her ears – almost purposefully to upset her. The vast ocean of worldwide-badness bled out of the battered radio – it made her rigid and tense. The boarded up shops and the tumbleweed-litter of her hometown made her miserable.

She knew that there’s no real use in ignoring reality – eventually it would catch up with you. Gareth was becoming angry with her – well as angry as he ever got over things that weren’t straight ideas or head stuff. He showed this fairly passively but with much bad feeling. She was surprised that she didn’t really care – the advantage of not having to listen to his constant running commentary more than made up for his sulking – though she missed his closeness. He seemed to have switched off the physical at the same time as she had switched off the radio. She missed that – missed his nose gently nuzzling her ear – missed the heat that emanated from him like the ready-brek kid. She soon got bored of his cold back when he stayed over.

She wished that she could be more bothered but a switch had flicked in her heart – it extinguished her empathic side. The one which made her angry and concerned – which made her go out on icy Saturdays and shake her charity boxes or carry placards at demonstrations. Her sympathetic side registered ‘too much feeling’ – her response was arggghhh. It tore at her skin and cracked her head open. Every word scalded her. And what a relief it was to press the little off-button. There was silence and she was happy. Perhaps she would dress slowly, comb her hair neatly and drive sensibly to work and stop panicking.

She sighed and rubbed the dip between her pelvic bone and the rise of her rounded belly – her fingertips made small light circles – it brought no comfort. She appreciated the way cool-as-cucumber Gwen seemed to hide hermetically protected inside her floor-length puffer-jacket. She mourned for the loss of her naivety.

can’t change anything, can’t put things right, put things safely into the right boxes. It’s easy to make life, it only takes one sperm, but harder to decide whether the world is a good place, a healthy and safe place for the next generation.

She imagined a world without people, a planet left to the beasts, the arachnids, reptiles and woodlice.

She left the kitchen with her tea and returned to her armchair. She knocked over a pile of papers Gareth had left on her coffee table. Were they a reminder – like a cat pissing on its territory? She read the top sheet – there lay a neatly scribed equation, it made a pretty pleasing but meaningless pattern. She traced and retraced the numerals, the Greek letters and paused, her finger poised on the =. She remembered Gareth’s words ‘There’s always an answer if you look for it in the right way in the right place’. She snuggled into a deep corner of her chair, pulled an old shaggy rug up to her shoulders and warmed her hands on her steaming mug. She was glad that he didn’t know the particular questions she was asking herself at that very moment. Was she or wasn’t she? And which outcome would make her happy? She had many answers in her head, though none that she particularly thought had any preference over another.

She had her worries but who could she speak to? Gwen was too practical and would draw up a list the length of her arm – a step-by-step plan of action or alternatively would bombard her enthusiastically with a stream of poetic adjectives.

Yesterday she had made an effort to beat the weather and drive to her mother’s. Her mam didn’t have much to say which seemed rather selfish and unhelpful in her eyes.

She feeds me cake from a china plate in front of a slate hearth, turns up the gas fire, makes sure I’m warm and fed. Mam was interested in Gareth – did I love him? What was his job? Was it secure? Time enough for the other stuff. And if I didn’t love him? She shrugged and told me to stop dreaming, sort myself out and not to get in such a tiz-woz. When I left, mam stood on the doorstep and said ‘Bach, when I was your age, I was stuck here with Rhys around my feet all day and with you inside me. And I am still here, in the same slate house under the shadow of those infernal slate hills, with your dad at work all day and putting the world to rights in the evenings and coughing all night. Keep your freedom cariad.’

She stroked my cheek with the back of her hand and smiled. ‘Go on off with you now and stop your brooding.’

She waved goodbye limply and drove up and up and up the mountain pass. Her old hatchback zigzagged flimsily along the narrow grey road through the rock and heather moorland. The horizontal rain pelted the windscreen. She swerved and honked her horn at the blurred herds of bleating sheep that kept dashing in front of her. She meandered downwards, bend upon bend that followed the tumbling river, eventually reaching the barren lowlands and her seaside home.

Today, she huddled up against leather and cushion listening to the roaring wind whipping at the windows and the crisp leaves scuttling through the rough marram grass. She could almost taste the sea-salt on her lips. She quietly sang to the wind.

It will beckon

hook me in its

salty currents

run through me

turn my hair inside out

scour me

Return my purity.

A brisk walk was tempting, something she fancied doing, but she would reward herself later. She rose and rooted around in a pile of shopping bags she had abandoned earlier, retrieved what she wanted and headed off to the bathroom. She carefully read the back of a box, ripped open the packet, closed her eyes and followed the instructions. She sat on the edge of the bath holding the testing kit. Time slowed and slurred and prickled at her pores.

She looked at her watch, returned to her snug armchair and pulled the old blanket up to her chin. She peeped coyly at a tiny plastic window and burst into laughter.

Ann Matthews is a writer and musician with a particular interest in place and identity. I have released 14 LPs and performed throughout Europe, have published poetry, Strangeways and Losing Boundaries, on Knives Forks and Spoons Press. Two of my poems will be displayed as part of this year’s Blackpool Illuminations. I am working on a collection of short stories and on a historical novel set in Berlin. At the moment I live in the North Pennines where I walk, write and work as a gardener.

PAROCHIAL

I moved into Flat 1, 44 Atwood Road during a hot July. With landlords around here you have to give them a month’s notice to move out, but they won’t keep a place for you for more than about a week. So I ended up in Atwood Road. £350 per month and all mod cons, a view of a brick wall from the window and a bath that a dwarf would have struggled to get in. These were things I could deal with after a while. I kept the blinds closed and had showers. But my front door was half a yard from the front door of the building and everyone slammed the door.

One of my neighbours used to bang down the stairs at about a quarter to four every morning, hammer on the door of the flat next to mine, and then the two of them went out for an hour, coming back in just before the sunrise. I can’t be sure exactly what it was they were doing at that time of the morning but I know they weren’t collecting for the Samaritans. And then there was the guy in the flat upstairs. All day long there wasn’t a peep from him, and then come a quarter to twelve at night the footsteps suddenly started across his floor. Now this guy walked some miles in the night, let me tell you. It sounded like he wore heavy boots as he galumphed across the old floorboards. I took out my wax earplugs and launched them across the room.

There was a front garden but no gate, and the path around the side of the house was a short cut to School Lane. So despite the signs saying it was private property, day and night there were people walking past my window to cut through the garden. And then there was the bin. Waste removals had been cut down to once a fortnight, and the area was overpopulated thanks to all the big houses converted into flats. The landlord had got a big waste bin, and people came from miles around to fill it with their rubbish. Again this bin was by my window. If I opened the windows the flies streamed in. I had to get out of the place but I couldn’t afford to lose my deposit, so after a week I told myself I’d get used to it.

My landlord was an Iranian bloke called Yayhe Yasin who lived in a big house overlooking big gardens set back from Palatine Road. I was so skint that the lack of admin fees was a bonus. As was the fact that he didn’t ask for references or check me out in any way. This meant most of my neighbours were dodgy.

The Iranian landlord’s granddaughter was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Glossy black hair and tanned skin, deep set brown eyes and an oval face. Twenty years old with a body to prove it. When I cycled round to the big house on Palatine Road to give in my monthly check I always took it into the office so I could see her.

There was a German girl in the flats who walked past my window in high heels every morning. She was married to a Zimbabwean guy and they lived on the top floor. The noisy guy above me was a young English bloke called Stuart. Next to me was a middle-aged bloke called Indi. Indi had a diesel hatchback that he parked right outside my window. Sometimes he would go out at four in the morning to drive to Rusholme for a curry. There had been a news item about a carrier bag of severed cat heads being found near the back of one of the curry houses but I didn’t mention it to him. When I asked him about going out he said he could get hungry at any time. And this was a regular thing. The diesel engine would start, and then half an hour later he came back.

Indi kept knocking on my door to ask me about my life and gossip about the other residents in the flats. He was clearly lonelier than I was.

‘Some dodgy characters in these flats,’ he said.

‘I know, I’ve heard them going out at four in the morning.’

‘I used to live in that flat,’ he said.

‘Oh yeah?’

‘Yeah. So I know how noisy it is. That’s why as soon as another one came up I moved. I’m on the first floor now.’

‘At the front?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Why don’t you park at the front then? It wakes me up that diesel engine.’

‘I didn’t realize.’

‘I heard you go out at 4 in the morning. Shame it is a diesel. So, have you spoken to these dodgy characters?’

‘Listen, most people are okay in these flats. But there’s one or two you can’t talk to. And the landlord doesn’t care. It’s like the thing with the bin. They come from all over to throw things in that bin. I’ve told the landlord but he says that we pay council tax so we should get on to the council and sort it out for ourselves.’

‘Have you called the council?’

‘Waste of time. The only thing they can sort out quickly is council tax. Ask them to do anything else and it is a waste of time.’

‘These dodgy characters…. I’ll just keep my head down, not get involved.’

‘I tried that way. They are young you see, not as old as we are. They have parties and things at weekends. That front door slams all night.’

‘Don’t they realize?’

‘I don’t think they do. It’s not deliberate. They don’t have anything personally against you,’ he said, before laughing. ‘I’d never live in a ground floor flat again though. Has anyone banged on your window yet?’

‘Not so I’ve noticed.’

‘Kids go past at night and knock on your window. Have you spoken to the woman next door?’

‘No I haven’t.’

There was a flat with its own entrance at the back of the building next door to mine. There was a middle-aged woman living there. The flat was tiny but there was a patio area she filled with flowers and pot plants. There was a parking space for her blue Ford Focus. One morning I’d seen a taxi pull up at the back. She came out and told him to wait. He got out of the car and sprayed the alley wall. Then she came out with a suitcase and wheeled it to the taxi and the driver lifted the suitcase into the boot.

For two weeks I saw that Ford Focus parked there. I don’t know what number the registration plates are up to these days but the car looked pretty new to me. And on several nights I heard through the window as various people tried the doors. I was surprised the car was still there and undamaged when the woman came back after two weeks. While she’d been away I’d seen the German girl from the top floor watering the plants and flowers on the patio.

The middle-aged woman next door was called Lesley. I could tell from her blue uniform that she worked for one of the airlines as part of the cabin crew. She drove to Manchester Airport at various different hours of the day and night. Sometimes she came back to the flat with a guy and I could hear her shouting in bed. She was a shouter. I’d lie there on just the other side of the wall.

When she watered her plants and flowers on the patio she was always bending over. It felt to me like she was doing it on purpose. But I didn’t pay her much attention at first because I was preoccupied with the woman on Chiswick Street.

I had a view from my window of the end terrace house. And on the other side of the road I could see the front doors of the last couple of terraced houses. These were two-up, two-down Coronation Street style. One of them still had a ‘To Let’ sign hanging from the wall. I looked it up on Rightmove and saw that it was £850 per month.

As I sat on the couch, just a few feet from the TV in the corner and the big window opposite, I couldn’t help noticing that a man had moved in to the house with the ‘To Let’ sign, but the sign hadn’t been taken down. And I saw the woman and her young daughter come home one day, and the woman looked puzzled about the car parked in front. She went inside with her daughter. A day or so later I saw the man and the woman, new neighbours now, talking to each other, the man on his doorstep and the woman in front of him constantly laughing and flicking back her hair. The next day an old couple came walking down the street and knocked on the woman’s door. They looked happy and excited and a short time later they left the house with what I guessed was obviously their granddaughter. I saw the curtains close in the woman’s house and I imagined her sleeping there all day, recovering from the pressures of raising her daughter alone. I imagined her naked brown body and her black hair across the pillow.

She used the short cut through the garden of the house in which I was living so I saw her quite close up through my window on most days. She wore high heels and tottered around on them. When I was younger I met so many women in pubs and places like that who seemed to have just dedicated themselves to attracting men. I couldn’t ever see myself with a woman like that, however gorgeous they might look, and however well their high heels lifted everything. Then one day I saw her talking to the next-door neighbour again, and flicking her hair around and laughing, and I thought of how stupid I had been.

Later the same day the woman and the man next door walked down the road together, going off to the pub, and then I heard her heels scraping on the pavement on the way home. I looked out through the curtains and they were there, holding each other up in the glow of the orange streetlights. They seemed to stand clueless for a moment, and then the woman suddenly put her keys in her front door and pulled him in.

The next time I saw Lesley next door watering her flowers and pot plants on the patio I went out and talked to her. I started staying at hers and began to sleep better. I wasn’t hearing the slamming front door or Stuart galumphing about upstairs or Indi coming home at 4 in the morning with a curry, or the two lads leaving and coming back in the small hours after doing whatever it was they were doing. After my six-month tenancy I got my deposit back, picking it up from the beautiful Iranian girl. When the man and woman on Chiswick Street started living together, I moved into his old place with Lesle.

Neil Campbell is from Manchester, England. His most recent collection of short fiction, Ekphrasis, is published by Knives, Forks and Spoons. He has twice been included in The Best British Short Stories.

LITHOGRAPH SERIES, EDITION OF 2

Chocolate swirl of a city on the brink of becoming a

lava-lamp. Have your choice of desires

fermenting in the atmosphere, biting at the clouds

to the point of hickies, untapped inspiration this city’s

chocolatiers could find useful. With lazy eyes he already made note

of the girl desperately wishing to be the dozen yellow roses

kind, instead the raspberry liquor to his half-finished masterwork.

Next to her the girl he painted last who he remembers

avoiding seeing naked, tired of resisting the urge to tell her stop

eating camellias for breakfast, your veins resemble a wilting garden.

So many unpleasant people and only second tea time; to this

a natural counter: At least I am awake, unlike gas guzzling citadels

beyond the stained glass horizon, starved into sleep, never to wake.

They knew he was born an artist the day he proclaimed tears

the only adequate medium that reflects innate fragility of all subjects.

By some ungodly humor

it was the crash of a chandelier, the earliest pet of man, to rain down

with impatience as an avalanche of long-trapped workers’ tears atop his head

and then –

“Girl cleaning up smashed watermelon inside diorama of the Sahara Desert

in the American Museum of Natural History, NYC” (early 21st century)

artist’s name illegible

lithograph with cut outs from grocery flyer

– milky coffee. Leaky, you liked to call it. Leaking breasts not a problem

any time soon, can’t say the same for the pipe beneath the lion-claw

bathtub. Why don’t you drink proper coffee you can’t do anything right.

Peacock pink label on a can, just because it sounded pretty

and isn’t that what you try to do? Thrown back at me during dinner

at a manor of paupers – I’m sorry, artistes

when I asked you to draw me in my past life. A side alley cradling

rainwater pools. Excess. Where does it lead to leading to who cares where.

Not an opera house that’s for sure. How little you know. I slept

in box five last week in the hope of absorbing still-clinging echoes

from the velour seat cushions. I’m like the vase in raspberry crème with

candied jellyfish all over that stands in your foyer. Empty until proven full.

It’s too much to be splendidly complete in one’s breaking.

Settle for the soggy biscuits.

“Girl with a snowflake umbrella in a sunflower field” (201-)

artist’s name rubbed off

[soggy] lithograph with coordinates on the back

 

Orchid Melancholy, felt by people who have been sheltered due to

fragile character due to waterfall hair and ivy-wrapped bones due to

some architectural design meant to be contemporary. I owe you nothing

in what is a moment of disquiet among an abundance of fashionably clad

tree branches (rubbery leaves periodically sprayed for effect) and

napping cats (porcelain with glass inlay for the eyes) whereas for flesh

you turn to peaches or mandarins where the idea of peeling came across as

scandalous. Try rolled up rugs next time in old aristocratic kitchens

where pedigree routine still tramples solid thought, but personally

I would go for eyes which give waves a run for their money.

I owe myself a plate of rose jelly advertised in a magazine not long ago

and denied out of practicality (“roses have feelings too”) and now cheap

enough to buy after selling some animal’s pincushion heart.

LOVE AFTER THE CHOLERA

“The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Ever seen a hummingbird in the dead of winter

when its heart hammers so loud it could shatter glass?

There’s your proof

that medicine and natural destiny are not interlinked.

We have not yet heard of the Australian

coral reef clogging emergency rooms in sleepy

American towns or picketing while conservative

cherubs complain over lack of sleep.

When they refused to let me visit you I begged

the nurse to put paper airplane stickers all over your hands,

an eternal reminder I had so much to say

it would not fit on paper. The one time I was able to tame

my thoughts I slipped one through your window

as the sun blushed its brightest. In it was the same

promise made in South America by lovers

many years ago – I will love you

even after cholera.

Margaryta Golovchenko is a first-year university student from Toronto, Canada. My poems have appeared in places like In/Words, Pear Drop Press, The Impressment Gang, and others. I am a proud bibliophile with an undying love for cherry strudel and collecting trinkets

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