Poetry in Widnes by Pauline Rowe

          At the age of six I read William Blake’s The Tyger, a poem I found in a book my mother used for her night-school studies.  It was 1969, the year Lulu won the Eurovision Song Contest with Boom-Bang-a-Bang, when Patrick Troughton was Doctor Who, and Oliver Postgate’s Clangers first appeared on television. In the world, there were riots in Derry, the British Government sent the troops into Northern Ireland and Barbara Castle published her white paper In Place of Strife.  In my world I lived with my older sister, Mum, Dad, Uncle Joe and Aunty Wendy and attended a Catholic primary school that required a ten-minute walk and a twenty-minute bus ride to reach.  It was a year since my Mum’s younger brother and sister came to live with us after Grandad Attwood died in our front room.  My Dad worked at Fords and my Mum worked as a dental receptionist in the day and a part-time bingo caller at the Regal for a couple of nights a week.  She was also a student at Widnes Tech, where she was studying for her O levels at night-school.  My Mum and Dad were both marked in different ways by the experiment of Secondary Modern education.  My Dad was a good singer, a great believer in exercise and keen advocate of the radio. He was, briefly, a professional rugby player signed to Widnes, then to Liverpool City, who lost his chance of life as a sportsman because of injury.  My mother was present and absent in her reading of books.

          I was curious about the power one of her books seemed to possess.  I imagine, for I do not clearly remember, that the book opened at a frequently consulted page, but my first reading of this poem seemed to me to be an act of discovery.    I was pleased to see an eccentric spelling of tyger.  I read the poem silently inside my head:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?   …

So much begins here.  The word tyger repeated; tyger, tyger: as alliterative invocation, as defiant challenge to the command ‘twinkle, twinkle,’ as a spell, a magical call to the wild, wide world of creation.  Words on a page that I could hear somehow inside my own head as a voice, words composed centuries before, words that had travelled through time to become a new personal experience.  I did not know the meaning of every word but I understood that this poem possessed a power through its sounds, its incantatory qualities and its complexities. It struck me like a spell and I fell in love with the defiant singularity of the encounter as well as the text, those words first published in 1794 belonging to me somehow, a child growing up in a Northern industrial town, being raised by a young mother who longed to be educated. 

          The pages of Mum’s poetry book were creamy and thick like buttermilk and the poem had a small black and white woodcut print of a tiger just above it, the size of a first-class stamp.  Tyger, tyger, burning bright.  This was better than Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and had the vivid heat of Great Grandad’s coal fire about it.  In the forest of the night.  Like the thick, sharp vines and thorns around the castle in Sleeping Beauty, but the moon has moved behind a cloud. I could see the fire of the tiger’s coat moving like a torch in the dark, hot enough to set light to my Bri-Nylon nightie.   What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry?  I liked the sound of these sentences.  They made me think of mum pinching the skin on my arm if I messed around in church.  Her eyes would burn at me.   In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes?  I liked this William Blake who had his name on the poem.  He was telling me that this tiny room would not be where I would stand forever.  The distant deeps – like in Captain Nemo.  Now I could see the tiger’s eyes burning green from the thorny jungle and his coat burning orange and yellow with flashes of purple. 

          I read through the rest of the poem, it rang in my head like the Angelus, my heart was beating hard – What dread hand? And what dread feet?  I knew that, in these words, a very different kind of God was living than the Father God resident in St Thomas More’s church around the corner.  I felt that my heart too had sinews that had been twisted although I didn’t imagine it was God’s hands that caused the pain.  I carried the book to my bottom bunk and placed it under my pillow.

          I took the poem to my teacher, Mrs Hobday, a cheerful, practical woman and she asked me to read it aloud to the class.  I was unafraid, articulating Blake’s words in front of thirty silent peers, even though I didn’t know what sinews looked like or what else in the world might possess ‘fearful symmetry’.  I was reciting something like a prayer with its thys, thees, thines and “he who made the Lamb,” – and in its pronouncement I was protected from the fearfulness celebrated in the poem. 

What the hammer? what the chain, 

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp, 

Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

This was my discovery of poetry as both magic and mystery.  At six the experience I had was a profound experience through reading.  The nature of the poem, what it is, remained true in my partial understanding of it as much as in its very self.  A poem is an animation of the spirit of an idea. It becomes, in part, the person of the poet as well as the person of the reader.  It is a direct connection from the hand of the poet to the eye of the reader, from the voice of the poet to the ear of the mind.  Tyger embodies, for me, the essence of what poetry can achieve in language, rhythm, concept, vision and magic.

          Our tyger is “burning bright/in the forest of the night.” It is both a conflagration and a beacon, an illumination and a signal to darkness and danger.  It lights up the night, a night that is also a forest. The metaphor does not need to be doubted for the forest is a known place of danger and magic in a child’s imagination.  To the child I was, this was both knowing and not knowing.  When I read the poem out loud to my class it felt to me as though the very words could conjure up the tyger. I was used to hearing the incantations of mysterious language every Sunday.  There was a feeling of power in becoming the sayer of mysterious words. 

          But I did not love this poem because I wanted to conjure the tiger but because of its language and its intimacy, because I wanted to be myself and the poem helped me to be myself in a way that I did not understand except in the light of the poem.  Tyger was both proclaimed and public and personal.  No other art achieves such electricity in both its stillness of being and reception. That is something to do with its process of making within the mind, through the body (in the act of writing) and out of the experience of one person and then, in its telling, to the mind of another.  There is voice here and sensation but always through the prism of language, the inadequacy of words, a reaching for meaning, an attempt to distill and capture human experience.   In Poetry in the Making Ted Hughes describes this as follows:

Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are…Something of the inaudible music that moves us along in our bodies from moment to moment like water in a river.  Something of the spirit of the snowflake in the water of the river.  Something of the duplicity and the relativity and the merely fleeting quality of all this.  Something of the almighty importance of it and something of the utter meaningless.  And when words can manage something of this, and manage it in a moment of time, and in that moment make out of it all the vital signature of a human being – not of an atom, or of a geometrical diagram, or of a heap of lenses, but a human being – we call it poetry.   (p.124)

It is also helpful to consider poetry and the language of poetry in contradistinction to narrative prose because poetry favours figurative and metaphorical language in its various testaments to human experience as integral to its own nature as an art.  I took the book of poems into Mrs Hobday’s class in response to her invitation for us to take in our favourite stories.  This is the first moment in my life that I recall making a conscious decision about my preference for poetry rather than prose. This is a preference for a distinct way of thinking and organising words.  In a recent lecture published in Poetry Review Anne Carson described the painter Francis Bacon as wanting “to defeat narrative wherever it seeks to arise.”  This defeat of narrative has also become part of poetry’s purpose in post-modern times. As John Berger  argues in And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos:

Poems, even when narrative, do not resemble stories.  All stories are about battles which end in victory or defeat.  Everything moves towards the end when the outcome will be known.  Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross the battlefields tending the wounded, listening to the wild monologues of the triumphant or the fearful.  They bring a kind of peace, not by anaesthesia or easy reassurance but by recognition and the promise that what has been experienced cannot disappear as if it has never been.  The promise is that language has acknowledged, has given shelter to, the experience that demanded, that cried out.”    [‘Once in a Poem’.]

Tyger speaks of the terrible power of nature and the wrath of God.  In its question: “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” I was on familiar ground, used to reciting: “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” 

          In my childish reading of Blake I experienced the poem as liturgy, knowing nothing of Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Its power is in its magic, images, its metaphors, its priestliness and mysteries, its sounds and its rhymes and in it becoming my own, belonging to me personally as a gift; similarly, it has remained with me, for I know it by heart and have carried it inside me ever since.          

          I started to write my own inventions when I was in Junior school, aged seven.  I have a clear memory of writing a poem about a whale that began:

This creature lives under the sea

as fierce, as fierce can be…..

With the romantic, nature-loving instinct of a child I scribbled half lines and rhymes about animals and weather, about creatures and seasons.  My whale poem concluded with a drawing of a whale.  I learned about writing through reading and through looking and then attempted to think with a pencil in my hand.  I had three endeavours that related to writing.  The first was the idea that I would be a writer and in pursuit of that I made my own writing space in the shed that I shared with my pet rabbit.  I used an old dressing table as my desk and book-shelf. The second endeavour involved a gathering of resources, of tools I would need, including my books, writing paper, pencil and pen (I was some years away from my first typewriter).  The books I kept in the shed were my weekly library books, The Observer Book of Pondlife (perhaps my most important book) and A Puffin Quartet of Poets (which included Eleanor Farjeon, James Reeves, E.V. Rieu and Ian Serraillier), a book I consulted regularly. My third endeavour was in thinking.  I spent a lot of time thinking about and working on descriptions of observed objects, and I was particularly interested in insects and portraits of human faces.  Writing about the human face is something I associate with prose and school, rather than poetry. The insects were, for me, poetic and personal material. The face-writing was linked to creative work that a young student teacher, Miss Hays, developed with us in fourth year.  Although I cannot remember the result, I recall the thinking and struggle I encountered when trying to compose a descriptive piece about Thomas More’s face. 

          Writing is how I think and negotiate my space in the world. My first experience of writing was associated with silence and space away from everyone else, reading, discovering books and thinking. These are aspects of writing that remain central to my life. The experience of that first poem established for me the importance of reading, seeing in the mind (imagination), rhythm, magic, rhyme, sound, voice, thinking (the working out) as essential components of my own creative and writing life.

About the Author

Dr Pauline Rowe is Poet-in-Residence for Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust. Her publications and achievements include    The Ghost Hospital (Maytree Press, 2019) Shortlisted, best poetry pamphlet category — Saboteur Awards 2020; The Allotments (Victoria Gallery & Museum, LOOK Biennial 2019)   Sleeping in the Middle (Open Eye Gallery, 2018)  and earlier Voices of the Benares (Lapwing Publications, 2014)   Waiting For the Brown Trout God (Headland Publications, 2009). 

Fragmented Voices: Our Story so Far by Natalie Nera

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

 

It has been a wild ride, is a fair description of my last two or three years of life. The same applies to the last six months, whether we talk about my personal life or running of Fragmented Voices.

The concept of our small press has had to change over time. There are several reasons: first, you do your homework, your market research and realise that certain things are not doable. For example, going to the bank and asking for a lot of money to run an independent small publisher is in all likelihood a way to bankruptcy. That if Natalie Crick and I were to look at the commercial route, we would have to forget about being inclusive, about selecting people on the work they present. Our decisions would have to be made on their previous achievements, plus we would have to do what many agents and major publishers still do: we would have to look at creators, artists and authors as someone who is potentially bankable, which actually excludes many people.

We are happy with our chosen path because we actually love what we do. It is hard at times but also incredibly rewarding, exhilarating and inspiring. It was easy to transform our Newcastle-based press into an international one when I moved with my family to Prague, Czech Republic. Artistic compromise is something we do not want to do.

Also, it was sensible to test whether our concept would even work, make small steps first, and see how readers and writers respond. Eighteen months of preparation and six months of running the magazine, one week before our summer break – it is time for reflection:

  1. Our Ups and Downs: we launched our periodical publication in January and have been filling the Internet with new creative work three times a week ever since. We have had some amazing contributions and mostly positive feedback. However, there have been technical glitches we did not anticipate: I have not received some emails and some of my emails have not been delivered (I am still not sure about the true extent of the damage); a lot of our artwork disappeared from our website for some reason, so I had to manually upload it again. We have had some days when our new item would not share on Facebook while the next day it worked. And it is very hard to keep the magazine three times a week with a full-time job on the side. There is more background work than meets the eye of an average reader or author.

And just when I thought things would become easier, my hands would be freed to do other things, COVID-19 struck. The little virus has affected the lives of everyone around the globe. I am lucky to live in the country that acted swiftly and the impact was not too bad although it is clear that the battle is far from over. I am also lucky that, as a teacher, I did not lose my job and could continue getting a salary,  being able to support my family. However, my working days were all of a sudden up to 16 hours. My child needed home-schooling, too. He fell ill, he coughed and coughed day and night, but it was not the dreaded disease, for other things can cause problems, in this case, bacteria. Nothing two courses of antibiotics and complete isolation could not fix. Five weeks later, we can enjoy the outdoors again and like the rest of you in various corners of this planet, we are bracing ourselves for the second wave. But I believe that especially in this situation, it is important to give space to arts, to creativity, to share it and find words, other things to think about, solace, escape, emotional outlet.

  1. Love Poems: very early on, we decided that we would like to produce printed books. Small runs, once a year to begin with. The reason why it is not more is the cost. Digital publications are cheaper but therefore also more democratic and liberated than the traditional printed ones that heavily depend on sales. Our first choice was to compile a poetry anthology of love poems. It is something we would like to read ourselves, the very idea that lies behind many decisions we make. We have had a large number of astonishing, breath-taking submissions, so the ones we reject are also good, it is just that the competition is hard. Most of the rejected authors have accepted the decision graciously but occasionally, there has been an angry reply. I would like to stress here that we are not going to react to abusive letters as much as we understand the hurt an author may feel when his or her work is not accepted.
  2. Rue Collinge: as the volume of work increased, it became obvious that as a duo, we would struggle to deliver and progress with our intentions, that bringing in the third person would make things easier. Rue Collinge is our friend, colleague and someone we have worked with before so we know what to expect from her – she is bright, creative, reliable, easy-going. Her particular set of skills compliments ours and completes them. If it all sounds too simple, trust me, it is not. I have worked on many projects over the past decades, and the level of frustration one can feel when the other people in the team do not do what they are supposed to, and you end up running around, doing everything, while many times you don’t even get the credit for what you have done, is immeasurable. Working with Rue has always been smooth, and joy, inspiration. We believe she feels the same because she even gave up her chance of having her poems in the anthology in exchange for working with us. Thank you, Rue!
  3. The Changes: based on our experience from the past six months, we have made a decision to make some alterations to our online magazine. It is not going to be published in July and August.  The much-needed break will be used for our background work.
    • First of all, with the increasing volume of submissions and some emails lost, it has become obvious that we need a separate email address for prose, creative non-fiction and visual art. Please make sure that you check the email addresses that we will use from September.
    • Our website will be updated to reflect the current state of Fragmented Voices and its current activities, rather than the grand vision we originally had (and still have but it will take a while to achieve it, we need to be patient).
    • There will be changes in our online periodical: the magazine will be out twice a week – poetry once a week on Wednesdays, and prose, essays, creative non-fiction and art on Fridays. Three times a year, we will also give space to translations from various languages. Please watch out for the announcement in August.

 

I would like to thank you all for your ongoing support. On behalf of our team, I wish you a great summer break. And wherever you are, please stay healthy, safe and happy!

Attention!

working pattern internet abstract
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

 

Dear readers, authors and supporters,

I would like to apologise for technical issues we have been experiencing, which resulted in many of you not receiving any email responses. We do reply within two weeks to all submissions, however, on this occasion my server decided to act in an arbitrary manner and not send and deliver my emails.. It has been brought to my attention that this has not been the case for many weeks, or even perhaps months.

I am very sorry for the inconvenience it has caused. I have re-booted the whole system, which seems to have fixed the problem. I have also contacted all authors that are going to be featured in our publication until the summer break. It concerns prose writers, creative non-fiction writers, essayists and visual artists.

If you have not been contacted by me in the last week or so, it means that unfortunately your submission has been unsuccessful. Nevertheless, I would like to assure all of those whose work has not been accepted that there are many reasons why it happens and that they should not give up. Please keep writing and keep smiling.

And finally, poets do not need to panic as they will be contacted after 30 June regarding their submissions for Love Poetry Anthology. Many thanks.

 

Thank you for supporting our independent press.

 

Best wishes,

 

Natalie Nera

Head Editor

 

 

 

 

Introducing a New Team Member

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Rue Collinge

We are happy to introduce a new team member, Rue Collinge, who is joining us as Creative Consultant. Rue’s main focus will be books, which means she will also work on our first poetry anthology with us.

We know Rue very well and have worked with her before.

She is a linguist-turned-storyteller living in Gateshead. She is a slam-winning poet, fascinated by the power that stories have on us: those we tell ourselves, and those we tell about the world around us. Raw and lyrical, she has performed across the North-East and on the radio, and was shortlisted for the Terry Kelly Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. She has extensive editing experience, including a charitable anthology for the National Literacy Trust, and another celebrating new voices in the North-East. She works with young people to help them find a voice in an increasingly noisy world.

 

We look forward to working with her! It also means that we, Natalie Crick and Natalie Nera, have to clarify our roles as Head Editors, with the main focus on poetry and prose respectively.

 

Call for SUBMISSIONS: LOVE POEMS

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Graphic #9 (Poems) by Greg Morrissey

 We are searching for Love Poems for our first print anthology.

Most of us love someone or something, and are loved, even if we do not fully understand the feeling. Fragmented Voices celebrates diverse writing. We want to read about beautiful love, not only the romanticised and sentimental side of love, but also darker more complex aspects of ‘LOVE’ – shame, lust, the sadness and anger of loving someone who doesn’t love you back….. Love in any form and shape.

Poets should send their poetry submissions on the theme of ‘LOVE’ to fragmentedvoices@gmail.com.

Poets may send a maximum of 3 poems in a single file. Poems should be up to a maximum of 40 lines each. All work must be your own. We accept previously published poetry on the understanding your wprl does not breach the contract or agreement with the other publisher/organiser. Please include a brief biography in the body of your email, including your contact details. The deadline to submit is June 30th 2020.

Don’t Go to Denver by Melissa Grunow

Mothwings
Mothwings by Stela Brix, 2018

In the dark, my hand was shadowed against the angel wings on his back. Some time ago ink-filled needles had ripped apart his body and taken on images and symbols with unexplained meanings, words without definitions. His skin, light and smooth, was an access point into the world within him. It was twisted, complicated, uninviting. I wanted all of it and nothing to do with it at the same time.

His tattoo crawled across my hand and danced with the shadows, consuming my palm.  His exposed neck waited, while he laid there facing away from me. I had attacked him while his soul was raw, his heart vulnerable. I had told him the truth about us, about him. And he didn’t like it.

“I’ll never completely trust you. You’ll never respect me in the way that I deserve. And we’ll always come back to that,” I had said just moments earlier.

Silence. “So what do we do?” he finally asked.

“I suppose we have two options.” I didn’t sound like myself. I was always asking the questions; he always had the solutions. He could see things that I couldn’t. But in the dark, something had shifted, and I was the one with the voice. “We can compromise, and that’s what makes us, well, us. Or this ends it.”

We hadn’t even defined it yet. Our worlds had collided together suddenly, physically, a sloppy attempt to fill gaps in ourselves left by others: his by a lover who left him because he could never be something he wasn’t, mine by an attacker who left me with a black eye and a persistent fear of parking lots. We found solace in how we mutually exist in the world. As the days passed, though, it became strikingly evident that how we react to and engage with others was so notably different. We didn’t know if we could survive it.

“This can’t last forever,” I had told him a week earlier during a late-night phone call. “This will change. We will change.”

We argued about love. He ran his hand over the Emily Dickinson quote tattooed on his chest, “That love is all there is, is all we know of Love,” and said, “Love is a promise that I will hurt you less than anyone else.” He turned over, looked through the dark and right through me.

I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe in love, either, but I did understand loyalty. What I did not understand was why he would still go to Denver in the morning. Why he would pursue love with another, even if just for the weekend? Especially when I had just come home, whatever “home” was, to be with him.

I’ll be a wreck, I had told him. You already are, he had said. We had spent the past two hours talking about it. Being reasonable, fair, giving each other the chance to complete our thoughts.

“Don’t go to Denver,” I pleaded. My suitcase was sitting, still packed, at the foot of the bed. His empty suitcase was waiting next to the closet. There was still time for him to change his mind.

It doesn’t have anything to do with you, he said. I can’t accept that, I said. I’m not asking you to, he said. You can’t just use me, I said. I’m doing this because I want to be used, he said.

Round and round and round we went until I bit into his shoulder, and the talking stopped. A train blew its whistle outside the open window; a gentle fall breeze crept into the room, settling over the bodies of two lovers causing just one to shiver.

 

About the Author:

Melissa Grunow is the author of I DON’T BELONG HERE: ESSAYS (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018), finalist in the 2019 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Award and 2019 Best Indie Book from Shelf Unbound, and REALIZING RIVER CITY: A MEMOIR (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Memoir, the 2017 Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers’ Favorite International Book Contest, and Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and listed in the Best American Essays notables 2016 and 2018. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. She is an assistant professor of English at Illinois Central College. Visit her website at http://www.melissagrunow.com for more information.

A Tangible Beauty of Absence by Sue Pearson

CockelShell - A Tangable Beauty of Absence
A Tangible Beauty of Absence by India Hibbs, 2019

                                                     

She saw the shell, there, on the sand, on a still autumn day when the calm lapping sea melded into the sky at its horizon.

This was the first walk of autumn and it had taken some cajoling to persuade the teenagers to leave the cottage. They had grumbled and straggled behind until they breathed fresh sea air on turning the corner at the top of the hill. Then their long strides easily overtook her and suddenly she was alone. Forgotten in the moment, as they linked arms, engrossed in themselves and each other.

She bent down and picked it up. At first, it appeared sealed and she thought that the occupant may be dead within but she looked more closely. It was open a sliver and she saw and smelt that it was empty. Left home, gone fishing, just popped out. Such a clean salty exit.

The children were play wrestling ahead. The man-boy and his sister, almost as tall as each other. A tangle of limbs and wind-carried laughter.

Over years and seasons, over notches on the kitchen door jamb, they had taken this walk. At first within and then carried, later with uncertainty, holding her hand. For years, running on and back, on and back, zigzagging over the beach, hunting, scouring for treasure. Dog shark egg purses, feathers, jellyfish, crab shells, animal tracks, clean washed bones, sea glass and shells. So many shells; limpet, cowrie, cockle, whelk and top shell, lots of top shells because they twinkle silver in the sunlight. All excitedly gifted to her until her pockets could contain no more.

This one was a cockle and she popped it into her pocket. With her fingertips, she felt the sea smoothed ridges on either side, felt its coolness, the weight of its emptiness. Within her pocket, her fingers scooped it to fit the hollow of her palm. The creature’s lifetime artistry. This accumulation of such magnitude left behind.

A few grains of sand trickled from it and became lost in the dark seam of her pocket.

 

 

About the Author:

Sue Pearson began writing two years ago and had her eyes opened and brain massaged by the MA Creative Writing course in 2019.  She enjoys crafting short stories and creating poetry. She lives in Newcastle with her husband, two children, cat and dog, all of whom are muses. She stepped away from a career in law to feel the joys and frustrations of creativity and hopes that life will be different ever after. 

This story has been originally published in an online students’ literary magazine and then again reprinted in Bridges 2019, an anthology of works by creative writing and writing poetry students at Newcastle University. with the financial support of the School of English Language, Literature and Linguistics. The very same anthology is out tomorrow with Bandit Fiction. All money made from its sale goes towards the National Literacy Trust.

 

 

Causeway by Oz Hardwick

speakeasy
Speak Easy by India Hibbs, 2019

 

When the tide’s out you can walk to the island. There’s a name for this, but then there’s a name for everything, and knowing that name rarely makes much of a difference, so I decide I may as well make up my own. I decide to call it the by the name of my first pet, a black and white rabbit of which I was inexplicably frightened, just as I was inexplicably frightened of loud noises, mirrors, and the woman who sat on the side of my bed solicitously whispering that she knew everything about me. In truth, at that age there wasn’t much to know, but her voice, the darkness, and the shuffling of the rabbit in the chest of drawers, was enough to tell me that I should be wary of names and dangerous tides. The island isn’t far, and beyond that is a fragmenting Europe, then nothing but melting ice. There are rabbit tracks on the drying sand, the figure of a woman in the dying light. Names keep their power even as their referents recede, and although I keep my lips sealed the sea knows them all.

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Oz Hardwick’s work has been published and performed internationally in and on diverse media. His chapbook Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI/Recent Work, 2018) was the winner in the poetry category of the 2019 Rubery International Book Awards, and his most recent collection – his eighth – is The Lithium Codex (Clevedon: Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019). Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the Creative Writing programmes. http://www.ozhardwick.co.uk

 

The Gecko’s Tale by Abigail Ottley

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Children by Kasia Grzelak, 2018

 

‘Jesus Christ,’ says Jerry, ‘the little bastard bit me.’

Eli doesn’t look up straight away but keeps his eyes on the workbench.  His neck is hunched into his narrow shoulders and his complexion is more than usually grey.  ‘I’d watch my mouth if I were you.  The boss don’t care for that kind of language. Outed someone two days ago. Heard it down the canteen.’

Jerry is using his long, bony thumb to squeeze the fleshy pad of his finger.  His angular features convey a mixture of indignation and pain.

‘Look,’ he says, ‘it’s bleeding.  It didn’t oughta be allowed.’ He inserts his finger into his mouth and sucks on the wound.

‘We oughtta have gloves,’ he says.  ‘They should issue us with gloves.  Anyways, why are we doing this? What’s the point of it all? Forty-eight hours and they’ll all be dead and stinking to high heaven.’

It occurs to Eli that Jerry might well have a point. Eli has worked at the depot for a much longer time than Jerry and, in the course of his experience, he has had to deal with some very strange job sheets. Once it was two truckloads of turtle doves, another time three thousand white mice.  There had been trouble over that one, a lot of bad feelings.  Three thousand mice, whatever their colour, don’t amount to no rose garden.  Some of the guys got all worked up and took it into their heads to complain.

‘I ever tell you about the walk-out?’ says Eli, ‘There was this really big guy. Name of Luke.’

Jerry looks blank and shakes his head so Eli goes ahead and tells him.  He tells how the boss is under pressure that day and in no mood to listen and how, eventually, voices are raised and then all guys walk out.  For a while, it feels good, like back in the old days, before they changed the regulations.  But then next morning the boss comes around wearing this big, sticky smile. The boss takes Big Luke and a couple of others upstairs to the office and when they come back they’re all buddy-buddy and grinning fit to bust. Then the boss says he’s glad they’ve cleared the air and how he’s sorry for the misunderstanding. He raises the daily rate and everybody smiles.

‘So?’ says Jerry. ‘What’s your point?  What’s this got to do with me?’

Eli sucks in his cheeks and purses his lips.‘Well,’ he says, ‘when the boss has gone, the guys make a fuss of Big Luke.  They slap him on the back and make thumbs up and pump away at his hand.  And, when Luke says it ain’t nothing at all, they say he is just being modest.  Luke makes like he don’t want to hear it but, all the same, he’s pretty damned pleased.’

Eli narrows his eyes and fixes them on Jerry.  He wants to be completely sure that his audience is paying attention.

‘Thing is,’ says Eli, ‘about eight months later Big Luke goes missing from the depot. Word goes round that he’s put in for a transfer and maybe he did. Fact is, though, no one knows for sure. No one knows nothing.  There ain’t no one I know of, not man or woman, ever saw Big Luke again.’

Eli sees that the point of his story has not been lost on Jerry who returns to the conveyor belt but no longer has his mind on his work.  For two or three minutes, he sifts through the lizards, sorting them for size and colour.  Some of them are dead already, others are plainly too big. Finally, he turns to face Eli with the air of a man who wants answers. A thirteen inch gecko hangs limply from his fingers.  He holds it by the tip of its tail.

‘So you are saying’ he says, ‘that I shouldn’t complain.’ He makes the gecko swing about a little and seems to be studying it real close. ‘In short, you’re telling me to hush my mouth lessin’ I get what’s coming and end up like this little fella with no bark or bite.’

Eli shrugs his shoulders and turns back to the belt.‘I ain’t telling you nothing,’ he says. ‘Plain truth is, I ain’t rightly talking at all.  What I is doing is minding my business and working my way through this job sheet. Maybe it’s about time you was doing the same.’

Jerry looks at Eli quizzical like and then they turn back to the belt. Lizards of all species, all colours and all sizes, are still trundling by. On the platform that stands to Eli’s left, there is a growing pile of corpses.  Funny thing is, it just so happens nearly all of them are geckos.

***
About two hours later the lizards are done.  Eli is finishing the paper work and Jerry is sluicing down the belt.  It has been a hard day but Eli is happy that the job didn’t drag on till morning.  He likes it best when he can come in early knowing they are up to date.

‘When you’ve finished that,’ Eli says to Jerry, ‘don’t forget to spray.  That stink will be ten times worse once the place has been shut up for the night.’

‘Ok, ok, I know,’ says Jerry and you can tell he’s kind of touchy but he goes off to get the spray and his boots make muddy marks on the floor. Anyway, Jerry comes back and you can see he isn’t happy. He has the freshener spray in one hand and his mop in the other.  He is fairly stomping along.

‘Shoot,’ he says as he is retracing his steps, ‘wouldn’t you damn well know it?  Hey, you know,  I just bumped into one the guys from upstairs.  You ain’t gonna believe what he told me.’

Jerry is in the act of pitching the air freshener canister to Eli when the double doors open and in walks the boss. He has on this very sorrowful look like he has just heard someone’s died and Jerry watches with horror as the canister strikes the floor.  Everybody else kind of freezes on the spot but the boss just raises his eyebrows and makes with this great big cheesy smile as if to say that everything’s ok.  Then the smile is kind of wiped away and the sorrowful look clicks back into place. The effect, Jerry thinks, is as if one clown mask is being worn over another.

‘Eli,’ says the boss, ‘I am glad I have caught you. I’ve been mulling things over. I think we may be wrong about the lizards.  It’s too much like the frogs. Fact is, I’m pulling the plug on this one. We need to start afresh.’

Eli is taken aback.  His mouth sags a little.  On the other hand, he is a wily old fox and too long in the tooth to let on.

‘Yes, Sir’ he says, ‘I’ll pick up the job sheet first thing in the morning.’

‘No,’ says the boss, ‘you misunderstand me. I need this attended to now.’

Eli and Jerry exchange looks but the boss doesn’t see this.  He is too busy checking on the figures that he keeps in his little leather book.  He doesn’t see Eli raise his hand in warning or Jerry’s eyes narrow.  He doesn’t feel the tension between one man and the next that tightens like a net across the room.

The boss closes his notebook and puts it in his breast pocket. He pats the pocket as if to satisfy himself that everything is in order. ‘Two thousand ought to be enough,’ he says.  ‘Shall we say not later than seven?’

He doesn’t wait for an answer but is already half way out the door.  But then he pauses and stands in the doorway, his head cocked to one side.  He looks like a man who has just forgotten the very thing he came there to say.

’By the way, Jerry, it almost slipped my mind. I wonder if you can give me a minute. There’s something I’d like to discuss with you — in the office upstairs.’

Jerry looks at Eli and Eli looks at the boss.  Then he shrugs his shoulders, a movement so small you can hardly see it at all.  As the door closes behind Jerry, Eli is starting up the conveyor belt.

‘Mice,’ he says. ‘Friggin’ mice.’

                                                         © Abigail Elizabeth Ottley

 

 

About the Author:

 

Abigail Elizabeth Ottley writes poetry and short fiction from Penzance in Cornwall. Since 2009 her work has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies. These include ‘The Lake’, ‘The Blue Nib’, ‘Atrium’, ‘The Atlanta Journal’ and ‘Ink, Sweat & Tears’. Abigail was featured in ‘Wave Hub: new poetry from Cornwall’ edited by Dr. Alan M. Kent and was among the winners for ‘Poems on the Move’ at last year’s Guernsey Literary Festival. 

My Place by Lynn White

TheGardener
The Gardener by India Hibbs, 2019

 

My Place

 

I creased the page

to keep my place,

but when I returned

I was unsure,

unsure if I had found it.

Was it really my place,

the place

I’d once inhabited.

It didn’t seem quite right.

Perhaps I’d moved on too quickly,

turned over two pages instead of one.

Perhaps I should go back,

retrace my steps.

Maybe then I’ll find my place.

 

About the Author

Lynn White lives in north Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy, and reality. She was shortlisted in the Theatre Cloud ‘War Poetry for Today’ competition and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Rhysling Award. Her poetry has appeared in many publications including Apogee, Firewords, Capsule Stories, Light Journal and So It Goes. 

  https://lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com and https://www.facebook.com/Lynn-White-Poetry-1603675983213077/