Ellen, Maggie and I by Tom Kelly


I am looking at a photograph from 1933 of Palmers, the great Jarrow shipyard on Tyneside. It had just closed making most of the town unemployed. My Great Grandmother Maggie is trying to making ends meet and failing. The Thirties are hard and it’s going to get harder. Maggie knew that better than me. Here are the notes and letters Maggie wrote. My mother gave then to me years ago and I didn’t read them until recently.

She lost two children in child birth, the infant mortality rate in the town was 11% in the Thirties, today’s it’s less than half of one-percent. I’ve not had a child. I don’t know if I will. Do I want one? My partner says I should make up my mind. My M.A. is ‘taking over’, he says. My dissertation is on Jarrow in the 1930s and Ellen Wilkinson, the town’s MP from 1935.

Here is a photograph of her in Jarrow during the 1935 election. I have written how she must have felt, ‘My first time in Jarrow. I had just turned forty and thought I had seen poverty but not this defeat in people: it made me ill. My heart was wrung out. I saw knots of worn-out men hanging round corners, lined faces told their stories: hunger, cramped lives, hearts and heads held in a giant vice, locked in pain. I looked again at these old men and women and they were young and trapped in cramped life cages. The government had closed ranks on them. It had decided, in the words of the President of the Board of Trade, Lord Runciman, that Jarrow, ‘must work out its own salvation.’ I was hungry to change their lives. I held a meeting on the Pit Heap at Jarrow and saw men’s eyes glisten in the blue-black-gas-lamped night and was lifted. I was guided by their pain. I was carried. The government has closed its all-seeing eyes and decided not witness the devastation it was causing. An entire town does not deserve to live like this.
I could hear the emotion in my voice and held-in rage as I spoke, “I will do my utmost. You will be my witness, if I fail you must tell me. My failure must not happen. Let’s reach for the stars….”
After the meeting I talked to families and they revealed the harsh realities of their lives, these were not mere statistics. Their demands for the bare necessities were being denied. I had a burning hatred for all in power, but I knew I could not allow that to rule.’
I have read so much about the 1930’s and marching as a means of protest was not unusual. The blind marched from Edinburgh and miners from Wales, all saying the same thing: what is happening can only be wrong. Jarrow Council organised a march to London in October 1936. I could hardly believe when I read Maggie’s notes but she was at Ellen’s meeting. Here is what she wrote in pencil. I had to photocopy them to save them:
‘I was on the Pit Heap. There were hundreds there. When Ellen got up to speak, she was wearing red, that’s one of the reasons she’s called, ‘Red Ellen.’ Aa’ll never forget it. Aa was lifted.  Aa thought she can do something; we can escape this. You know we had nowt. TB in Jarrow was aa scourge. Aa lost aa sister through it; she was only thirteen. Aa was hungry all the time. The walls in our streets were filled with beetles we would squash and see blood splashing on the walls. We felt our blood was being taken and wasted.
Our lives were being wasted. Do you know hunger? You can think of nothing else. Nowt. Don’t talk to me of problems, until you’ve known real poverty. You can’t even look at me. On the night of Ellen’s meeting the stars seemed to be sitting on me head, the air had aa bite but was fresh, it smelt of hope. She gave me a sprig of hope and that’s something aa’ d never known. Never. I loved and breathed something new, it made me forget about me empty belly.’
I felt Maggie was writing directly to me. I have cried over her words more than anything else in my life. I suffer from asthma, so did Ellen. Medication’s more sophisticated now, I use a spray. At the time they thought it was psychosomatic. She used tablets. There were doubts about her cause of death. She was only fifty-six, and the Minister of Education. Some intimated she committed suicide. Do people die through a lack of love? Is it enough for life to just drift on? Is that enough? We must need more. Ellen was a passionate woman and has stayed in people’s hearts and minds eighty years later. But was she really loved? She had lovers but was she loved?
I love this photograph, of Ellen in full-flow. She was not some bloodless, passionless facsimile but the real bloody thing. My partner says I have become too engrossed in Ellen, to the detriment of everything else. What he means is that the flat is a mess and why has he got to come home to a darkened room with me on my lap top looking at, ‘Ellen bloody Wilkinson photos?’  
This is a Jarrow Crusade photograph. Do you know who has the copyright on the photos? The Getty Foundation. The irony is not lost on me. In this photo Ellen’s leading the march. She didn’t walk all the way from Jarrow to London. She joined the march when she could leave The House of Commons. Here she is having a break with the marchers. And it wasn’t just a photo opportunity. This was the crusade to save a town. And what happened?  Defeat’s a bitter pill and it’s hard to swallow?
Their petition was ‘presented’ to Parliament and that was it. No debate. Some of the marchers were all for going back into the House and causing a disturbance but that would have been undemocratic and Ellen spoke to them and persuaded them not to. What did the marchers achieve? What were they given?  A second-hand suit and a third-class rail ticket back to Jarrow.
Here is another note from Maggie. I will include it in my dissertation. This is her during the Second World War. She must have written it in the shipyard, the back is covered in grease.
‘Aa got aa job as aa Lady Driller during the war. It was bloody hard. When aa first started aa couldn’t lift the drill, men would stand around, watching me struggle, laughing their socks off. By the end aa could throw it over me shoulder as if it was aa bairn. They stopped laughing. Mind you’ve got to be careful when the drill bits snaps, they fly all over the place. One flew off and hit the foreman right up the arse! All the lasses screamed but he never said aa thing. Just walked slowly to the lavatory, where he screamed like aa stuffed pig.
I’m expecting an’ aa pray it’s a boy. That’s what me man wants. Not that he has ever said. It might make him happy and pigs would definitely fly.  He never spoke much about the march. Except when he had a drink. He said they had been sold down the river. He used to get really mad but he was never good with words and they would spill out and aa would end-up battered and bruised and aa’d go ti bed with the bairns.’
I picture Ellen alone, after the marchers have had their boat trip on the Thames, after they have picked-up their second-hand suits and after being been waved off from Kings Cross.  Do you know that feeling? Not just the way you feel when you have the kind of loneliness that lasts for days. It is corrosive, drags its heels for years through your heart so you settle for second best, for anything rather the emptiness that brings such pain. You endure anything after that.
Is that the way I feel about my partner? Ellen and Maggie’s lives have made me look at my own: I have to do more. Maggie, on one of her notes said, ‘Me father could neither read nor write.’
I am writing this for Ellen, Maggie and me.



Tom Kelly’s Grandmother

About the Author:

Tom Kelly is a Jarrow-born poet, short story writer and playwright. He has had eleven books of poetry, short stories and a play published in as many years. His new poetry collection THIS SMALL PATCH has recently been published and re-printed by Red Squirrel Press. 

Wuthering Heights by Rachel Burns

I thought my lover was like Heathcliff.
You had a temper, like my jealousy.
Sixteen, I’d sneak out in the middle of the night,
the owls hooting. Oh, it gets dark, it gets lonely
and return to the sound of the milk cart,
the milk bottles clinking on doorsteps,
starlings pecking at the silver tops.
The smell of morning dew on grass,
burning up in the early light.

About the Author:

Rachel Burns lives in Durham City, England. She has short stories published in Mslexia and Here Comes Everyone. Her poetry pamphlet ‘A Girl in a Blue Dress’ is available from Vane Women Press and The Poetry Book Society.
twitter @RachelLBurnsme

Poetry in Photography by Carl Scharwath

Carl Scharwath is our regular contributor in prose, poetry and visual art, and there is a reason why we select his work. He has the gift to see things differently, seeing the unusual in the ordinary, which is what artists and writers do. The world changes because of the way we see it.

About the Author

Carl Scharwath, has appeared globally with 170+ journals selecting his poetry, short stories, interviews, essays, plays or art photography (His photography was featured on the cover of 7 journals.) Two poetry books ‘Journey To Become Forgotten’ (Kind of a Hurricane Press).and ‘Abandoned’ (ScarsTv) have been published. His first photography book was published by Praxis. His photography was also selected to be in the Mount Dora Center For The Arts gallery and their show “Be A Part Of It.”   Carl is the art editor for Minute Magazine, a competitive runner and 2nd degree black- belt in Taekwondo. 

All The Things I Could Not Say To The Fallen Baby Bird by Priyanka Sacheti

I am saying them now.

Of how smoothly you slipped inside the new nest
of soft flesh and phantom bone on picking you up.
I know, I know: 
I should have waited for your mother to return, 
I should have known that you were trying to fly,
I should have known, I should have known-

But it was a blue winter morning,
the kind that postcards make their living out of,
the air smelt unbearably sweet,
and I needed to rescue someone other than myself.
Carrying you in that makeshift womb,
I placed you in light, 
turning you over from flesh warmth to stone cold.
And then I walked away, never to look back.

I remember still the softness of your black down,
your trembling dissipating into a folded sleep. 
In my saviour hopes, you flew again.
You tasted sky currents
and cloud-pillowed your head
when you were too tired to fly any more.
And your feathers, unimaginably soft still,
would shelter and birth life too.

I think the above because 
this I cannot and will not consider:
you marooned inside that circle of light,
wondering if this was it, then,
your first and last flight.

About the Author:

Priyanka Sacheti is a writer and poet based in Bangalore, India. She grew up in Sultanate of Oman and has previously lived in the United Kingdom and the United States. She has been published in many publications with a special focus on art, gender, diaspora, and identity. Her literary work has appeared in Barren, The Cabinet of Heed, Popshot, The Lunchticket, and Jaggery Lit as well as various anthologies. She’s currently working on a poetry and short story collection. She can be found as @atlasofallthatisee on Instagram and @priyankasacheti on Twitter.

Poesie d´Auteur in today´s Romania Introduced by Mircea Dan Duta

Poesie d´Auteur in today´s Romania

By Dr. Mircea Dan Duta

If we are to define some common features for the four authors presented here, we will find out very soon there´s quite a difficult task. Rather than defining them by their age (all in their thirties) or gender (all young-ish men), I would like to focus on their work. They all have a very personal style, which creates more or less their unique, idiosyncratic poetics.
None of them could be suspected of standardisation, academism, commercial or conventional tendencies as specific features of their work. All four are removed from the mainstream poetry.
They have no need to cross its more or less relative boundaries because they have a lot to say within their own stylistic and thematic realms. I am not trying to criticize or downplay the contemporary Romanian mainstream as it is a strong, complex, impressive and surprisingly quite fresh movement (or rather a stream of movements), however I do not intend to explore it here. The reason why we present these four poets is because they do not follow any prescribed recipes or methods – they have their own. They are not in conflict with the mainstream, in fact on personal level, they are friends with the poetic trendsetters in Romania. They simply do not need any auspices because of their own unique way with words, they create what we call poesie d’auteur.
I believe their talents and strong poetic voices should be heard more and get more recognition outside their narrow circle and it is the main reason why I selected these four poets for the translation feature in Fragmented Voices. I would like to express my gratitude for this opportunity.


Cosmin Perta, photo by Alexandra Turku

I Saw a Little Animal Crossing the Street

I saw a little animal crossing the street.
It was walking as if it had to get somewhere.
Do you still love me?
You bought me sneakers. I spent several hundred hours in those sneakers
on the street, at my desk, during classes, on benches, in parks, and in bars…
I sat as if I had nowhere to be.
I thought at some point to tell you something good,
I kept thinking of what to tell you,
and no good word from my lips.
You know, when I was six, my mom took me out to take pictures with me,
as if she knew that little boy wasn’t going to make it,
that his image needed to be kept somehow.
I followed that little animal for tens of meters,
but it seemed to know what it was doing, and I envied it.
A hedgehog on the street,
an old, tired, huge hedgehog. He was crying.
I slept with the hedgehog on my chest,
and he, scared, and I, insomniac, we somehow connected,
and fell asleep.
You told me we snored, me and the hedgehog.
The sneakers from you broke and smell horribly, although I still wear them in sun or rain.
I think that little, untamed animal is the one who has no place or no reason to go.
Do you still love me? Tomorrow I’ll throw away these sneakers,
but I’ll keep them for today, they’re so hard to peel off my feet.

Translated by MARGENTO


Andrei Zbirnea, photo Oana Nasta

nick cave)

And the bus station fills with linden scent tonight

just like the smell of all objects in the vicinity of the carol

park good morning love doves you wrote me and then I believe

it stopped raining on the constantin brâncoveanu boulevard my watch

is in good hands you can reclaim it upon your return

#legacy #poetry #expired #vodka only at a teodor dună’s reading

you can witness andrei zbîrnea drinking rosé good morning

love doves how did you sleep my bedroom door was locked I didn’t

rummage through the pantry good morning love doves the ceiling is about

to collapse. I can’t let you crash here next time you’re in town good morning

love doves the city unfolds like a handheld fan in a Turkish bazaar a Gruzin

painter locked himself in an attic caricatures don’t tell us about globalization an

Armenian movie director good morning love doves and coming to terms with sexuality

in the ‘50s good morning love doves good morning emir kusturica good morning jazz.

june 21 2018

Translation by Daniela Hendea


RAI, photo from Romeo’s personal archive


People were dying all around him and tombs were being born,
pain was building its kingdom around him,
fear was bringing forth monsters all around.

He didn’t shoot at anybody and no bullet touched him.

When the war stopped,
they found him motionless, gun fully charged, the trigger loose and cold,
his eyes void, unslept and cold,
his heart empty, beating vainly, in a death toll.

They judged him according to martial law
and named him traitor, chicken, wet-behind-the-ears, a punk,

He was forbidden passage through the arch of triumph
and was erased from all the conscript lists;
next he was convicted not to die
until he would have lived through the horrors of 41 more wars.

Not for an instant did he understand what was going on around him.
Inside himself, he had already been through a life-long
war raised to the power of 41.

The war with his deaf-and-dumb self.

(Verses from the volume I, the Deaf-and-Dumb (Tracus Arte Publishing, 2018)
Translation by Adriana Bulz


Ciprian Măceșaru, photo by Ana Toma

 every evening i eat my sardines 
 from the north atlantic i drink my bulgarian 
 wine i open my soul like 
 nuns in movies showing louis de funès
 therefore I start writing and a little drummer comes 
 out of my head hitting hitting hitting his plastic 
 drum a toy my brain manages to 
 make work only at dawn after nervously
  pedaling the whole night
 in the morning when the piranha sparrows start
 crunching out of my heart while the white belly of the day
 is slowly falling down on me I feel death 
 cheating on me I feel the rays of the sun passing 
 through my body as x-rays penetrating some animal corpse
 hanging from a nail in the slaughterhouse revealing entrails
 the most pathetic of them being the ones of a writer wallowing around in self-pity 

Translation by Mircea Dan Duta

About the Authors

Cosmin Perța was born in Viseu de Sus, Maramures, in 1982. He is a poet, prose writer, drama writer and essayist. He graduated from the Literature Faculty of the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj. He went on to take an MA in Contemporary Literature at Bucharest University, followed by a PhD with a thesis on the subject of the fantastic in East-European literature. His poems have been translated into eleven languages and some of his novels are currently being translated into four languages. In the Romanian and foreign press there are more than three hundred reviews and references to his work. In the last ten years he has been awarded some of the most prestigious Romanian literary prizes.  

Andrei Zbîrnea was born in 1986. He is a journalist@realitatea.net, copywriter, and sometimes poet as well as a handy man@ Mornin’ Poets Wokshop.  Borussia Dortmund fan and also big lover of The Office (US) Tv Series, Andrei hopes to write prose someday. His published books include Rock în Praga (Herg Benet Pusblisher, 2011); #kazim (contemporani cu primăvara arabă) (Herg Benet Publishers, 2014); Turneul celor cinci națiuni (frACTalia, 2017) ; Pink Pong (with Claus Ankersen, frACTalia, 2019)

Romeo Aurelian ILIE (RAI) is a 32-year old Romanian poet. He has only one poetry book, named “41. I, the Deaf-and-Dumb”( Tracus Arte Publishing House, Bucharest, 2018), that was published after winning a debut contest. He has also published poetry, literary criticism and essay in various cultural journals in Romania, the Republic of Moldova, Spain, Italy and the USA.

Ciprian Măceșaru (b. 1976, Câmpina) is a writer, musician, illustrator and cultural journalist. His works were included in numerous anthologies. Poems and / or stories of his have been translated into Italian, Czech, Hungarian, Hebrew, Yiddish, English and Bulgarian. He is the founder of the cultural magazine Accente, based in Bucharest. Ciprian is also a drummer of Hotel Fetish and Toulouse Lautrec bands. He wrote a libretto for the chamber opera In the Body, composed by Diana Rotaru. Irish composer Gráinne Mulvey wrote work Don´t Walk, based on his lyrics. He has won multiple prestigious awards, among them Diploma of Excellence for European Journalism, awarded by EUROLINK – House of Europe, 2010; The Young Writer of the Year 2013 ​​Unpublished Novel Manuscript Award, granted by the Bucharest Prose Branch of the Romanian Writers´ Union. His list of published books is extensive, just to mention a few recent ones: And It Got Dark (Next Page Publishing House, 2018); The Past is Always One Step Ahead of You (Cartea Românească Publishing House, 2016); Dark Sources (Casa de pariuri literare, 2020), The Invisible Runner (Paralela 45 Publishing House, 2019).

Impressions from the Land of Vanished Beautiful Things by Stephen Mead

When Alice fell down the rabbit hole on her way to Wonderland it was not an ordinary tunnel of dirt and plant roots through which she plunged. I know this by remembering the childhood copy of the book our family had. On the cover of this book Alice is wearing some sort of light blue pinafore over a blouse with white puffy sleeves and a matching white band in her blonde hair. Her arms and legs are bent at their joints and a little bit spread-eagle but Alice looks more surprised than worried, and in the brown background are shelves upon shelves of leather bound books. Apparently this white rabbit is scholarly and has a library to be proud of. The tomes in this rabbit’s bookcases seem to be as treasured as the copy of “Alice in Wonderland” which opened in my small childhood hands.
In good moments this is how my memories come: clear, distinct, without underlying psychological baggage. In such an instance I can, for example, remember the Christmas angel made by my father’s sister which was the last ornament to top the trees of our family’s holidays for more than a decade. The angel’s body was made of a cardboard dowel, hollow of course so as to fit over the apex of pine just right, but over this dowel was the top torso of a doll’s body with elegant shoulders, a pearlescent gown and hands clasped to hold either a piece of sheet music or a candle. The more I concentrate the more I’m pretty sure that the held scroll was choral for the lips of the angel’s haloed china head formed an “oh”. Light silver mesh covered the gown while a veil of small gold leaf stars decorated the angel’s head, her dark hair cut in a bob of Snow White meets Prince Valiant. From photos I know that this was how my Aunt, who died young of rheumatic fever, wore her hair as well, thus I always associated the angel with the spirit of my Aunt, a tender vigilant presence among the Christmas tree lights.
Other memories seem to come a long way over the hills and valleys of my cerebrum and cerebellum. Some of these ghosts of gray matter are like war-weathered soldiers, others, vagabond-like and occasionally ragamuffin. These waifs are less Dickensian but more like the sort out of Hans Christian Anderson, rather forlorn from vague travails I can’t quite put my finger on. I try but they shift, pop up and down here, now there, in some cerebral game of whack-a-mole.
This essential illusory quality of memory, of living itself, by organic osmosis, has formed a large core of my art. I have filled so much paper and canvass with the outlines of beings superimposed. These beings may be lovers, friends, family members or related by an indirect kind of intimacy, a struggle against racism or homophobia or some other underlying connecting bond of emotional commonality. The symbolic integrity is in the details of how colors may blend together or how what goes on, collage-like, under, over, between the outlines, creates different ways of viewing, even feeling, the whole. Writing of memory is also a piecemeal way of understanding life, trying to grasp what is apparently transparent but often intensely visceral while experienced. After all, in the midst of remembering something a person may not be in that place, and certainly not in that time, any more. A person may be looking out a window at quite some other scene, an ocean, or a busy city street for instance, while the memory is a film, a slideshow, a chrysalis of sensations going on simultaneously throughout the interior landscape.
When I think of the room which served as a living space for more than one family member, just at different times, this is what occurs: an overlapping. This overlapping, like the slowly twisted body of a kaleidoscope blurring to a lens of clarity, is especially true when some of the objects and furnishings in the room remained the same though different family members made use of them on the timelines of heritage, perspective, change and mortality. Specifically I am thinking about the room above the living room in the farmhouse I grew up in, a room that in some households may have served as an attic, but for my grandmother, then my parents, and then for my brother, was actually a bedroom, the size perhaps of a studio flat.
Gray stairs led to this chamber, behind a wooden door of cracking molasses-brown varnish. The interior of that door had a crackling-effect to its off-white patina too, and as one climbed the sturdy steps an air of dusty pink opened up; pink even over the slight slant mid-way up the stairwell where sheet metal of an old wide heating vent was covered in plaster. I don’t recall a handrail so much as a pink walls used for balance and guidance, pink like the color of ventricles to a heart and walls which were like cave drawings for the repeated millions of fingerprints from the people who came up and down those stairs. At the top of the right wall was a gray painted hinged circular lid, a lid which was like a ship’s portal whose interior was filled with insulation since this hole had been part of the stovepipe inner sanctum once used to heat the farmhouse. This hole matched another one higher in the center of the slightly slanted piece of sheet metal midway up the stairs, and a third in the wooden floor right next to the white banisters.
This network of vanished heating pipes created a different sort of portal for my siblings and I while growing up, for of course we did view these holes as something nautical, that they had the function of periscopes or large barometers for invisible submarines perhaps. We’d find some way to pop the hinged lids open, remove the circular dry wall cut-outs, and call messages through these flue-passages, messages of danger danger, be on the alert, messages of novice Morse code. My daredevil brother was even able to stand with legs spread on either side of stairwell cavity, disregarding the distance to stairs beneath in order to reach that mid-wall second chimney stopper, though of course my parents were less than impressed by such risks. Just one more way to fall, break a neck and see how you like it pretty much sums up their reaction to his acrobatics.
At the very top of the stairs, across from the loop of string which turned the ceiling light on, was a solid dark wooden chest. If this was meant to be a hope chest than its thick black lacquer suggested my grandmother’s prospects must have run towards the gothic if not downright bleak. Even in its lid was not hinged but a heavy slab that slid to the side like an opening to a mausoleum casket. In hindsight I’m relieved that this chest never entered my nightmares, its Pandora lid slowly inching to reveal body parts of Blue Beard’s brides, for I’m fairly certain my brother encouraged such bump-in-the-night fancies. Mainly what I remember it holding was the dense scent of its own woodsy heat and blanket piled upon blanket; many of these quilts of course being hand-stitched in traditional star patterns. From the scraps of old clothes, triangles of flannel joined up with squares of printed cotton, these traces of bunting backed by the durable cloth used to tuck ancestry up under one’s chin on long winter nights. The chest also had a couple of side compartments. One held a Parcheesi board crafted from maple coasters, and the other a mother-of-pearl pair of opera glasses in a purple beaded bag with a golden snap. I believe we played games of espionage with these miniature binoculars as opposed to Evenings of Madame Butterfly Live from the Met.
The ceiling of this room was more than trapezoidal; having at least seven angles bending to match the shingled roof above, though right down the center a full grown adult could stand up straight without banging his head. In retrospect I see this bubblegum pink painted room as being shaped like the interior of a barn and, like a barn, its temperature was either very hot in the summer or very cold November through March. It also only had three white-trimmed windows, two squat horizontal rectangular ones in the front and one regular-sized vertical rectangle to their left. This created a dimness in the room that was ideal for private sojourns of refreshing rest unless one’s temperament was more maudlin and claustrophobic in which case the front windows seemed like steely eyes. Luckily the former was the case for my grandmother and most likely my parents, (though they only took the bedroom for a very short time while my grandmother lived in their bedroom during her last illness), whereas since my brother had the bedroom under the hormonal pendulum of teenage years, any Heathcliff broodiness was naturally par for the course. Even I feel a great sense of lassitude mixed with the forbidden, keep out, for the years he dwelled there, but that comes from his typical stance of independence in the necessity of finally having a room of one’s own versus the thoroughfare of the one he shared with me.
Given the angles of the ceiling the placement of furnishings was fairly consistent no matter who slept up there, even if the actual pieces of furniture changed with each occupant. There was always someone’s wooden antique dresser with its hinged oval mirror next to the stair banisters on the left-hand side of the room, an antique wooden wardrobe in the center of the windowless right wall, and always a bed with some sort of antique headboard in the middle of the room. Actually, though my brother and I have had more time on earth together than either of us had with my grandmother, even if it feels as though he had squatter’s rights on the bedroom the longest, since that was pretty much an off-limits place to me during that time, my clearest memories of the bedroom fall under grandma’s reign and thus have greater warmth. (Either that or given my age and how Alzheimer’s works that is the real basis for these oldest memories being the stronger.)
The head and footboard of my grandmother’s bed were a green-tinged brass and rose like the steeples and turrets of some medieval castle. They even had the elegant arabesques between the four-poster poles at each end. I was allergic to the pillows and mattress, all made of down, but loved being able to feel the occasional spine and quill squeezed through fabric between fingers. The bed was also great for napping, being small and getting lost in the depths of its queen sized contours. Between the front windows there was a hard backed love seat with thick fuchsia cushions great for curling up in and peering out the rear slats like a monkey, or lying the full length of, poking skinny arms and legs out of the holes made by armrests, and singing row, row, row your boat as gently down the stream grandma merrily joined in as a resonant echo. Beside the loveseat was a round piano stool whose seat had the circles of a tree and could be screwed up and down. This stool had three curved legs carved like lion’s feet at the tips and she placed her Christmas cactus on it with a lace doily beneath. The cactus bloomed from having been in the sun under the front Catalpa throughout the summer.
I remember the red-tinged waxen curls of the blossoms falling on the thin Oriental rug when placed back upstairs. I remember my grandmother going back and forth with her carpet sweeper, the thick beige nylon of her legs, her house dresses which came below the knees and, against that, either an apron or a cardigan sweater or both. The twin doors of her pine wardrobe painted with something green and floral in design, had hooks on their insides where other such frocks and sweaters hung, while on the higher shelf and top were hatboxes filled with creations of elaborate feathers, ribbons, beads or veils. I think one was even covered with miniature dove nests completed by eggs of pearl.
Next to this was a washstand with a faux marble top and rods on the sides for a washcloth and towel. The front of this washstand also had double wooden doors, cedar stained with keyholes under the gold knobs that clicked them in place. On the faux marble top, made of milk white china, was grandma’s pitcher and bowl. Before pulling up her slip for the day grandma would pour the silvery water out and sponge-bathe, lifting each breast natural and innocent as if before the eyes of her Lord. Then there was the powder with its puff of vanilla or lilies of the valley. Along with the pitcher and bowl was the round dish for bobby pins, the caramel square of beeswax she polished with, the matching tortoiseshell-backed brush, mirror and comb.
Sometimes, on holidays or before church, Dutch reformed, grandma wore a little bit of make-up. There was mainly a small compact for powdering the nose and a pot of rouge that might serve as lipstick too. I don’t think she had the fancy roll-out kind Mom had, but the rouge was ruby and the little circles on lips and cheeks easily smoothed in. Occasionally grandma let me try a little on lips and cheeks as well and together we looked beautiful, especially with the costume jewelry accessories, the necklaces of beads long enough to be looped double or the earrings like ruby teardrops which screwed in to the lobes. If my brother saw me like this he would say I was a fairy-nice-fellow and asked if I took a Fem-iron vitamin like the tired housewives in the TV commercials.
Later, older, the few times he let me up in his room he had it decorated with purple lights, glow-in-the-dark posters and a glowing plastic skull. He listened to Rush, Pink Floyd, and grew mary-jew-wanna behind the barn until mom found out. On some summer nights he’d take the screens out of the front and we’d crawl past where the windows, like stiff mirrored wings, swung into the room. Sometimes our sister joined us. It would be late, dark, quiet, and we knew we could not let our parents know. Often the quiet was punctuated by the clank, metallic squeals, whistles and clangs of the railroad over the hill. Over that same hill was often a greenish glow from the plastics plant which changed that part of the sky into Emerald City fog.
The shingles of the roof would be cool, leaving little bits of rough grit against our palms, forearms, knees and feet as we shuffled around, occasionally being brave enough to stand, our silhouettes matching the tallness of the surrounding trees. The leaves of these whispered of calm, of peace, as did the rustling of the lilac bush on one side, the wisteria on the other. Sometimes those scents rose in the air’s fading mugginess while lightning bugs flickered in the outlying fields below.
Still waters running deep, I don’t think we reminisced aloud much about grandma, her daughter who died young, or even her husband who also died before we came on the scene but who built this house whose roof we scampered upon. Our waters resembled the streams of dad’s in that respect, a reticence in the bloodline which did not stem from lacking reserves of sorrow. We know these people were still honored by their photos on the downstairs mantel or the books of yellowing sheet music piled in rooms for a piano no one now living in the house knew how to play. We ruminated in silent reverie about these beings through the things they left behind when done with living in the rooms we who came after now occupied.
Above and beyond us the stars would go on with their wondrous performance as more cosmos seemed to open up further the longer that we gazed. Occasionally there was the distraction of passing planes and vapor trails to follow, the good distant drone of engines, the tiny flashing of red and blue lights, and the hope for a U.F.O. to really liven things up. Hazy overcast nights were mellowing but of course we preferred skies of cirrus against onyx and full blood orange moons slowly turning to polar craters we would look for a face in. Even then we knew how small we were yet could take comfort in the infinitesimal scope of it all. Our spirits were more enormous than we realized, maybe finding some kind of faith in the night before crawling back in through the windows, the protective solitude of our sensitive selves tested again and again every time we ventured, homesick and shy, into the wide unknowable world.

About the Author:

Stephen Mead is an Outsider multi-media artist and writer. Since the 1990s he’s been grateful to many editors for publishing his work in print zines and eventually online. He is also grateful to have managed to keep various day jobs for the Health Insurance. Currently he is resident artist/curator for The Chroma Museum, artistic renderings of LGBTQI historical figures, organizations and allies predominantly before Stonewall, The Chroma Museum

Accident Anatomy by Jiye Lee

Upon leaving the house today,
I saw laid out between two white cars:
a body. One red claw protruding
from her plump belly, curled
as if grasping for air.
Her head was tucked
beneath her wing, stretched out
like a shield, moments before
the scream that came.
How peaceful she appeared
on the tarmac, stricken with sleep.
Her ashen feathers bleeding white
at the tips like angel wings.
I waited for her to stir.

About the Author:
Jiye Lee is a British-born Korean writer and spoken word poet from Newcastle. She focuses on themes of cultural identity, travelling, family, mental health issues, love and loss. Her works have appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Orphans Journal, Bandit Fiction Press, and BBC sounds.

Introducing Jane Burn

We know Jane as an outstanding poet from the North East of England whose skill with words is regularly recognised both nationally in the UK and internationally. Today, we introduce her as a supremely talented visual artist. She works in a wide variety of mediums, from watercolour, acrylics, pencil and pen & ink through to lino cutting and sculpture. Much of her work carries a strong environmental message, having been produced on or with reclaimed materials in order to lessen the burden on landfill. Most of her artwork is sold privately and her illustrations have been used as covers for many of the pamphlets published by BLERoom Press. She has provided the artwork for the covers of anthologies including Noble Dissent (Beautiful Dragons), Bloody Amazing (DragonYaffle), Be Not Afraid: An Anthology in Appreciation of Seamus Heaney (Lapwing) and Witches, Warriors. Workers (Culture Matters).

Images by Jane Burn (left to right, top to bottom): Bad Housewife; Blue Angel; Cover for the Witches, Warriors, Workers anthology (Culture Matters Press); Mother, Tunnel; Old Age, Cat and Books; Self-portrait as a Hare; Swan (previously published in One of These Dead Places, Culture Matters Press); Whale Queen

Green Dress by Jenny Robb

Before shops eased doors open,
before bars and restaurants
spilled people on streets,
I paused, mask hot with nervous breath,
at the Roy Castle Charity Shop.

There among shoe sweat,
sweet, musty perfume,
the dust of forgotten books,
was my jade green dress with sweetheart neck,
forty-seven years old and looking new.

Oh I loved how it clung
to my young body,
its colour drawing green
from my hazel eyes.

Oh how it pranced
through parties and discos,
attracting drunken snogs and fumbles.
I long to try it on,
mould it to my life now.

It would not fit.

I blink,
the mirage is gone.

About the Author:
From Liverpool, Jenny has been writing poetry seriously since retiring. In 2020 she has poems in: Writing at the Beach Hut; Nightingale & Sparrow; As Above so Below; Poetry and Covid; An Insubstantial Universe Anthology, (Yaffle Press), Bloody Amazing Anthology, (Yaffle and Beautiful Dragons Press) & forthcoming anthologies Lockdown, (Poetry Space); The Language of Salt, (Fragmented Voices) and Geography is Irrelevant, York Spoken Word (Stairwell Books).