Modern Forces and the Meaningful Metaphor by Mark Antony Rossi

Essay

 

'Above us'

Above Us by Amy McCartney, 2019

There are those convinced the fundamentals of writing hasn’t changed in a thousand years. An ink well, a parchment, an idea and quiet time are the essential ingredients of the literary endeavor. I don’t agree. My generation is the first to live through societal shifts in technology, economy and family structure that dramatically altered the fabric of daily life. These radical changes are so profound as to befuddle our parents who are lost to offer good counsel. I live in a time where both parents work, computers are carried in your pocket and the average adult has already had five jobs less than ten years out of college. The stability of homesteading a job, a home, even a cell phone is nonexistent. Everything is temporary and nothing is secure. Freedom forces adaptations in artistic lives during uncertain times. If you cannot truly care you cannot truly create meaningful metaphors in a day of mechanical conformity.

This is the reason I resist the denial of social changes in writing content, style, and length. There is an impact that should be acknowledged by the establishment. But I am saddened and perplexed by many academic publications who continue to push literary structure straight from the venue of Woodstock. I am amazed by journals endorsing vague ramblings of raconteurs heavy on academic published credits and light on anything resembling a connection with a current audience. Why should we ignore the information overload that is the Internet? Social platforms are more than communication tools they are also called boards for opportunities and back channels for active writers. The collective sea change of the 21st century has shorted our attention spans while simultaneously lengthening our life spans. And the internalization of this upheaval is reconstituting the perceptive viewpoint to varying degrees.

I noticed it is difficult to write past 600 words for my flash fiction and creative nonfiction. I am not consciously attempting to be rebellious or trendy. In a digital age of IM, Snapchat and Twitter I internally feel the drive to be more concise. Yesterday brevity was a dirty word describing an artist seeking a short cut. Today it is par for the course. Political and marketing campaigns have influenced our thinking to accept sloganeering as critical commentary. But bumper stickers and beer taverns are the bloody last places to find solutions to problems. The modern writer stands a chance to make a difference in this volatile environment if he merely stands up for something true in his life. Because most are sitting in silence often immobilized by political correctness, moral infancy or social apathy.

I am mortified when considering this age of instant information and communication has not produced greater peace, less divorce, more sobriety. How it is possible people persist in believing the worst about each other? How can we maintain free societies in the foreseeable future if we continue to abuse our freedoms, our families, and our friends? We have lost faith in Government and Religion because we recognize they cannot “give” freedom and happiness. At best these entities can only permit the conditions for a better life to exist. We are tasked with the enormous responsibility of discovering for ourselves how to live. This may be the price of Liberty but it is also the promise of Art to open launching points into creative expression and personal growth.

The connection between Government and Art figures frequently in my writings to remind the reader of the potential power of practical change in writing. Bad governments historically target the artist first by closing theatres, banning songs, burning books and destroying paintings. We are targets because Art matter in the daily lives of average people. Art is the eternal archive holding the memories of millions preserved as a vital source to support culture and history and dignify the voice of the governed. The very act of committing word to paper is a solemn ceremony worthy of respect and deserving as a real starting point on how to improve the world one community at a time. Your art may save a life. It may save your life. God, guns, and government have yet to fix our ailing planet. Maybe a short story on how to stop being a maggot would be a good start. You have the power. Wake up and use it.

 

About the Author:

Mark Antony Rossi’s poetry, criticism, fiction, creative nonfiction and photography have appeared in The Antigonish Review, Anak Sastra, Bareback Magazine, Black Heart Review, Brain of Forgetting, Deep Water Literary Journal, Dirty Chai, Enclave, Expound, Farther Stars Than, Flash Fiction, Gravel, Indian Periodical, Japanophile, Journal of Microliterature, Kulchur Creative Journal, Mad Swirl, On The Rusk, Purple Patch, Scrivener Creative Review, Snapdragon, Syzygy Poetry Journal, The Rye Whiskey Review, The Sacrificial, Toad Suck Review, Transnational, Wild Quarterly and Yellow Chair Review. His poetry was nominated for the Best of the Net 2019 Award. He is the Editor in Chief, Ariel Chart

http://arielchart.blogspot.com

Not Coffee by Frances Mulholland

Fiction

 

Queen of hearts

Queen of Hearts by Victoria Holt, 2017

 

An ex-wife is someone you can hate, but a dead wife is untouchable. Everything you ever did together is preserved in amber, mounted on the stage of your life for your friends and family to look at whenever they feel like it. That’s it, ladies and gentlemen, step right up! You don’t even have to buy a ticket! The greatest entertainment for human beings is picking over the bones of dead loved ones.

When their father died, his little sister went a bit crazy for a while. She would only talk to people in words or phrases their dad had used. Coming into a brightly-lit room, she would turn the light off and say, “It’s like Blackpool Illuminations in here!” When their mother bought a new dress and shoes for the funeral, she opened her eyes wide and cried out, “What do you think I am? MADE of money?”

Their grandmother had ticked her off for that one. It was almost funny watching a six year-old wag her finger at a septuagenarian and growl, “You’re not too big to go across my knee, young lady! Now get out that door and straighten your face unless you want your arse skelped!”

David had been mortified at the way his mother had sobbed, and had kept his head down all day. He was keeping his head down now. He spent his days under the covers, in the bed that still smelled of Her. His mother called round every day to check he hadn’t “done something silly”, and to bleach the benches. She talked to him about the extension she was having built and what food she’d put in his fridge, but he heard it all through a bubble.

*

‘At least it was quick.’

‘I’ll say it was quick, it took her bloody head off!’

‘Oh, for God’s sake, is there any need to be so flippant?’

‘I’m not, I’m just saying-‘

‘Well DON’T “just say”.’

‘He’s in a state.’

‘Wouldn’t you be?’

‘I saw him round the Co-op. He’d forgotten what he’d come in for.’

‘I do that all the time.’

‘Yes, but your wife hasn’t just died, has she?’

‘What had he gone in for?’

‘Does it matter?’

*

People kept telling him that they would have to “go for coffee”. He hated that expression. He hated coffee. An invitation to coffee wasn’t about you, and almost always never came to anything. They said it for themselves, not for you.

*

Take as much time as you need –

                       but don’t leave it too long, because we’ll have to pay a temp if you’re off for more than two weeks.

How are you really?

                       can I have the juicy details you haven’t told anyone else?

She won’t have felt a thing, you know.

                       apparently, Anne Boleyn‘s lips kept moving after her head was cut off.

Eternal rest give unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace, Amen.

                       sorry, I’m afraid that’s the best we can do.

Have you given any thought to when you might be back?

You can stick your bloody job.

*

Six months went by and he lived off his savings. She’d been killed in their car, so he walked everywhere. He lost weight, and had to buy new clothes. The money for the new car sat in the bank.

*

Eight months after her death, he had to catch a train to London to attend the funeral of an uncle he’d never been close to. He paid extra for first-class, hoping for peace and quiet. But someone was threatening to kill themselves, and the passengers started to complain. They had more important things to do than hope a soul would stay anchored inside its host. David got off and vomited on the platform – yellow bile, and the complementary croissant that the passengers who were Worth More got. The prospective suicide was apparently averse to the sight of bodily fluids, and changed their mind.

A middle-aged woman asked David if he was alright.

‘My wife was killed in a car crash.’ Oh, that’s not what she meant, he thought.

‘Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry!’

He could feel the mist lifting. The woman was speaking to him and he could hear the shock in her voice clearly; he didn’t have the bubble around him anymore. No more conversations about extensions and what do you want for tea. When he got to London, he would buy a new suit for Uncle Donnie’s funeral.

‘It’s alright.’ He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. ‘She was leaving me for someone else at the time.’

*

He enjoyed the funeral. The service was short, the buffet was plentiful, he hadn’t been close enough to Donnie to feel terribly sad, and after all, the man had been ninety-seven. The phrase “good innings” was bandied about a lot at the club afterwards.

He didn’t know his London family very well, but they commiserated with him over his wife’s death, clapped him on the back and bought him whiskies.

‘ ‘Alf a lager when you’ve got a minute, darlin’!’

‘Two double rum and cokes over ‘ere, sweetheart!’

‘Packet of pork scratchings, love! And a smile wouldn’t go amiss!’

The barmaid was on her own, and she was getting more irate by the minute. David watched her through the warm glow of the three Irish whiskies he’d had. He’d never seen anyone so spectacularly ill-suited to the task of pulling pints and looking pleased to do so.

‘What are you doing? You can’t come behind here!’

David was behind the bar without quite knowing how he’d got there. He’d removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves.

‘You’ll never get this lot served on your own; they’re three deep as it is.’

She narrowed her eyes, watching him serve the double rum and cokes to the man with a face like a plate of varnished corned beef. ‘Well…you seem to know what you’re doing.’

*

An hour later, most of the mourners were belting out songs of the Motherland. ‘The Fields of Athenry’ had been sung four times.

The barmaid, who was called Michelle, was flirting with David. It had come as a surprise to him, after months of seclusion, that he was worth flirting with.

Michelle casually mentioned that she had a day off coming up in three days’ time, if he was still around. Just in case. If he was at a loose end. If he fancied doing something.

‘Yeah,’ David lied as he tried to recall through the haze of whiskey what time his train home was the next day. ‘We could go for coffee or something.’

 

About the Author:

Frances Mulholland has been writing ever since she was five years old when she realised that putting an amusing caption on a drawing of her dad could get cheap laughs. Her inspirations include folklore and mythology, as well as the everyday lives of the people around her. She lives in Northumberland.

Aunt Stokesia’s Cave by Kenneth Pobo

Poetry
cage

A Cage by Victoria Holt, 2016

She says that the only place to live

is a cave.  Salamanders are better company

than people.  They listen

and keep busy.

Stalactites keep us humble,

point tips right at our heads.

 

Outside of the cave

we get proud.  We cause wars.

The sky is like a store,

always open, wanting us to pop in.

 

In a cave darkness can be complete,

scary too, but it covers you,

and it feels so good when its long

fingers rub your shoulders.

 

About the Author:

Kenneth Pobo has nine books published and twenty-one chapbooks.  His most recent book is Wingbuds from www.cyberwit.net, a press in India.  His work has appeared in: Brittle Star, Hawaii Review, Amsterdam Review, and elsewhere.

 

Introducing Shannon Elizabeth Gardner

Art

Today, we present an artist from the USA. You cannot stop looking at her images although the subject matter is quite grim. Her work has inspired us to think of a prompt: transformation. We hope it also inspires you.

Images left to right/top to bottom: Coffin Birth; Decay; Deprivation; driBdeR; Good night; Graveview; Incoming Message; Master of Decay; Sick Doctor; Smoker’s Breath

 

About the Artist:

Shannon Elizabeth Gardner is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point with a Bachelor’s in Studio Art and a Minor in Art History. Her interest in horror and the macabre came about while exploring nature and the paranormal. The work explores the natural and organic process of death, evoking empathy for decay. She believes that life is beautiful when left to fate, leaving art to chance assists the viewer to witness beauty hidden within imperfections. Her process imitates nature and discovers the earth’s imperfect beauty. The ethereal mood of her work reaches the extreme and addresses the taboo.

 

Silence by Mike Fox

Fiction

 

Neuro_Mandala

Neuromandala by Stela Brix, 2018

Memories are an environment, don’t you think? And the longer you live the more that environment grows; like bindweed perhaps or, if you’re lucky, roses tangled round a trellis. Now I find that no new experience comes alone: each arrives enmeshed in things of the past.

 

I think of this as I walk along the river, the water silver and grey, ochre near the bank where it reflects the autumn foliage. A cluster of small craft float, moored together in midstream, still as an island. Mist lies on the water like silence, and I think of the day, the early summer afternoon, the very quiet, still moment, when Geraldine kissed me. For a few seconds I can even feel the press of her lips on my cheek.

*

It was the other girls who’d started it, although the boys soon joined in. Puberty was the problem – it’s easy to see that in hindsight. Previously she’d been as inconspicuous as the rest of us. She and I had sat next to each other right through junior school and on into seniors. We had borrowed each other’s pens, caught each other’s bugs, and shared whispered answers to tricky questions, so that often we gave the same wrong answer.

 

I didn’t recognise her sudden blossoming, I genuinely didn’t, although now that seems inexplicable. I did notice the small gifts that started appearing on her desk. And the way some of the other boys began to stumble with their words when they spoke to her. They, I suppose, were the shy ones. Others started to ply her with embryonic chat-up lines, while she reddened and shrank.

*

I could tell she didn’t like it. Her head dipped and her long dark hair began to fall forward like a plea for privacy. Before long she stopped putting her hand up to answer questions. She spent more and more break time in the library. I could feel her withdrawing, even from me. If our shoulders touched when we shared a text book she would start and retreat, and soon there was an unbreachable inch of space between us, never before needed or even thought about.

 

Everyone’s skin is permeable. I know that now. Perhaps hers was more than most. She just didn’t want to stand out, and suddenly, unavoidably, she did. I can still frame her face: the lustre in her hair, the particular blue of her eyes and the small extra crease beneath the lower lids, the simplicity of her mouth and the default gentleness of her expression.

*

‘Stuck up cow.’ That was the moment it broke out. Before it had just been an atmosphere. Cora MacDonald, standing over her, staring down, Geraldine with her head bowed, not wanting to be seen. Teenage accusations are often wrong, or at least misplaced, but they’re fertile nonetheless. From that point on Geraldine did not fit in, would never regain the chance to.

 

Cora MacDonald was loud and physically strong. She had her coterie. They quickly fell in behind her. It wasn’t subtle, but it had no need to be. That very rare thing, a pure unblemished beauty, wished only to be invisible. All that was needed was to call attention to it.

*

Inevitably the boys started too, joining the pack, their teasing blunt with spite. What they couldn’t possess they could at least take part in destroying. I tried to protest and got my lip split. Geraldine looked at me and, almost imperceptibly, shook her head. Anything I did could only make it worse.

 

So I sat beside her – that was my one option: a single witness, each of us in our own form of exile. I watched as her spirit drew in on itself, as the space around her contracted, as the sense of her nearness diminished.

*

It stopped abruptly – the day our form teacher announced that Geraldine would be leaving at the end of term. No reason was given. Perhaps, in the moment of victory, the hunter finds compassion for their victim. Or perhaps that final brittle conquest allows them to see just what it is they’ve done. There were even some clumsy attempts at reconciliation, although it was clear Geraldine didn’t want those either.

 

The imprint of her lips fades from my cheek, and my mind returns to that final day of term, the last time I saw her. I’d said goodbye and walked away, but then heard footsteps running after me. When I turned she was there. She reached up, the press of her closed mouth gentle and deliberate, and then, somehow, I found myself alone, and for a few moments the world around me was silent.

*

Perhaps that was her parting gift: silence. She knew it better than most. The river mist is damp on my hair and clothes, the ash path still as a cloister, and I can hear no sound from the water.

 

About the Author:

Mike Fox has co-authored a book and published many articles on the human repercussions of illness.  Now writing fiction, his stories have appeared in journals in Britain, Ireland, America, Australia and Singapore. His story Breath, published by Fictive Dream, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2019. His story Blurred Edges, published by Lunate Fiction, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2020. His story The Homing Instinct, first published by Confingo, was included in Best British Short Stories 2018 (Salt). His story, The Violet Eye, is available from Nightjar Press as a limited-edition chapbook. www.polyscribe.co.uk or @polyscribe2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madrugada by Clara Burghelea

Poetry
Mojave

Mojave by Stela Brix, 2018

Pick out a piece of me- a kneecap, a brittle vein,

then a day of asking the way to undo spilled coffee,

warm yourself against things said late at night,

the underside of my chin, cold beer between your legs

a white moon, taut and urgent, no trick, no trial

just scratch the corners of your nails over my skin.

It is there where the dying begins, the goosebumps

over my ribs won’t whisper a thing the inside storm.

For now, play Yoio Cuesta softly, filling the room with

instances of us going bad, making good. Lay your fat lips,

jitterbugged with sharp-edged kisses, the voice, a saxophone

Sunday cleaning the air in between our bodies.

The insides of my wrists are ready. Let the ink flow.

 

About the Author:

Clara Burghelea is a Romanian-born poet with an MFA in Poetry from Adelphi University. Recipient of the Robert Muroff Poetry Award, her poems and translations appeared in Ambit, HeadStuff, Waxwing, The Cortland Review and elsewhere. Her collection The Flavor of The Other is scheduled for publication in 2020 with Dos Madres Press. She is the current Poetry Editor of The Blue Nib.

 

Miss Peverill by Alwyn Bathan

Creative Non-fiction
vcm_s_kf_repr_180x221

Glamour by Ida Saudkova, around 1998

 

Miss Peverill was engineered from left-over hand grenades and fighter planes damaged in the Second World War. She had no need of a voice. She wore a tweed suit cut from the finest wire wool, scented of carbolic soap, mothballs and lilac talcum powder. Parents of new starters to the school dared not dally any longer than necessary to deliver their tender five-year-olds to her classroom.

When Michael Brown baulked at being left for the first time, Miss Peverill’s oxter became the weapon of choice. Non-compliant beginners were scooped up and crumpled unceremoniously into the deepest recess of her inner arm and chest, (Miss Peverill had no breasts, just a double string of pearls to clack against the little skulls on the way up). Their arms and legs flailing, they realised quickly that efforts to abscond were futile.

As long days elapsed, escape attempts tailed off, and rewards crept in; crayons appeared on tables in re-used biscuit tins, the milk crate brought in early to allow a few degrees of defrosting before poking a straw through the silver foil cap to the crystalline milky ice-pop below. Even a Friday afternoon Bring Your Favourite Toy from Home session was a cover for Miss Peverill to manually calculate individual attendance, multiplied by the fifty-six pupils in her class.

Her modus operandi was simple: comply or face humiliation.

The tariff of punishments was non-standardised and unique. It included but was not limited to;

-standing in the corridor to allow passing staff the opportunity for casual berating

-standing in a nominated corner of the room facing the walls; back right corner for coughing incidents, back left for scraping chair legs on the floor, front left for speaking when not spoken to, and front right for asking to go to the toilet,

-and, standing inside the grey metal waste paper bin next to her desk for even greater misdemeanours.

Gossip at the school gate had it that Miss Monforte, in the classroom next door, had a policy of keeping her wastepaper bin occupied: it was one child less to supervise.

On Friday 29th September 1961, Thomas Mitchell had nothing to bring to the Toys from Home session. He told William Moore, whose desk was one to the left in the rows and columns of the classroom grid, that there were no toys in his house, and that he preferred sticks. Sticks could be guns or knives or whips and he liked having choice, he said.

Although the boys’ proximity was alphabetical in nature, this was their only similarity. William’s blond hair was parted neatly down the centre of his whistle-clean scalp and Brylcreemed flat to either side of his head. The lenses in his tortoiseshell spectacles were clear and cleaned by his mother every morning, as were his shoes. His striped tank-top, knitted by grannie for him starting school, bore every colour of wool collected since his birth. William constantly pushed up the clean cotton handkerchief which resided inside the cuff of his starched and ironed shirt, first checking that Miss Peverill’s eyes were occupied elsewhere. He assured his mother every day it would not be needed, and it got in his way.

Thomas had an unfamiliarity with the bathtub, or the sink: his hygiene requirements were managed by spit on a tea-towel. His dark hair was matted and cut at irregular intervals using the scissor attachment of a Swiss army knife. Perched on top of his olive skin, it resembled the bird’s nest he stole from Leppy’s copse, similarly full of wildlife.  Sunburnt cheeks and nose and filthy fingernails evidenced his free-range existence; the lyrics to his life-song scribed in utero. He found little of interest in his school environment; the crayons were useless after invading every orifice he could access unobserved, milk made him sick, and he decorated the inside of the waste paper bin with curds and whey for three consecutive mornings before being allowed to drink water from the art sink tap. Neither could he sit still in his allocated place, Desk 3, Row 2. Thomas liked to swing his feet and stub his boots, laces flailing and clicking, against the legs of the desk and as he watched the dried mud clumps decorate the classroom floor while William looked anxiously on.

‘If you have brought nothing, then sitting quietly is what you must do, Thomas,’ Miss Peverill said, ‘perhaps that will help you remember next Friday.’ Replacing the reading glasses tethered by a golden snaking chain, she re-applied herself to the back pages of the green register grids which covered the surface of her desk.

The low hum of herd breathing resumed and was occasionally punctuated by odd shuffles of permitted movement as the children played, mainly solitarily, at their desks. Geoffrey White successfully assembled his Mr Potato Head, popping plastic arms and legs into the hollow brown tuberous body, adding glasses and moustache, and lifted it to show Raymond Tindale next to him. He nodded in appreciation, offering by return and with blue smudgy fingers, a page bearing R-A-Y printed from his John Bull rubber letters and ink pad. The Smith twins brought their Hoover Junior twin tub, and shared it on their desk, Christine turning the handle of the spinner painstakingly smoothly as Pauline lifted out the pretend-washing with her pretend-tong-fingers. They had forgiven Miss Peverill for last week when she had promised to bring a scoop of Daz washing powder from home to let them demonstrate to the boys how a washing machine worked. She then forgot. The contagion of crying that resulted, initially from the Smiths, which then spread through the remainder of the starters who were only just keeping control of their own separation anxiety, taught Miss Peverill an important lesson in teaching; that some promises were best not made in the first instance.

The gridded sheets of the register were turned over with care and attention at the front of the class accompanied by an occasional irritated glance over the black-rimmed spectacles.

Suddenly, the infant purr was ruptured by the clatter of wood upon wood.

The children jumped in their seats.

A lone desk lid, raised and dropped.

And again.

Fifty-five pairs of eyes swivelled to locate the noise whilst Thomas Mitchell elevated his chin and stared directly into the eyes of the woman seated at the big desk. He lifted the lid once more and held it momentarily, surveying the expressions of those around him before allowing it to fall freely from such a height it bounced on the empty desk framework.

William’s face drained of colour.

As the lid crashed against the frame once more, the eyes quickly relocated their gaze.

To Miss Peverill.

Then to Thomas.

And back to Miss Peverill.

Mouths opened. Bodies tensed.

‘Thomas Mitchell,’ she hissed, ‘take yourself off and stand at the front of the class. We no longer wish to see your disobedient face.’

‘I won’t,’ he said, jumping off his seat and brushing against William as he squeezed through the narrow gangway, the width of a puny five-year-old and Miss Peverill’s narrow hips.

William reached into his shirt sleeve and pulled out the crisp folded whiteness that usually returned home in a pristine state. He dabbed it against the corners of his eyes and his nose which were now starting to leak.

Making his way towards the teacher’s desk, Thomas stamped his feet hard on the tiled floor as he walked, releasing a trail of last-night’s muddy scrapings as he muttered under his breath,

‘and there’s nothing you can do to make me.’

 

About the Author:

Alwyn Bathan was a teacher for 39 years before deciding to return to formal learning through the MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University where she graduated with distinction. She works for Unicef UK, promoting children’s rights in education settings. She is keen on social justice and work-life balance, not necessarily in that order!

She won the Evesham Festival of Words Short Story Competition 2019. She has also recently finished writing her first novel. Alwyn enjoys the gym, walking her dog and being life-long learner.