Eight-thirty. The September sunset ends. A crowd of young people accumulate at the door to Sevilla. Under the club’s green neon sign, Southern California girls, black brown white, in short dancing dresses chatter like birds jiggling on a tree branch, young men in colored shoes stand mute next to them, accessories, shifting from foot to foot, observing, pointing to tricked-out autos.
Across the narrow parking lot, at Coffee Depot, it’s open-mic night. Eighty musicians, audience, and coffee patrons sit in the little theater, formerly the baggage storage room for the Union Pacific’s passenger station, on couches in the lounge, on wrought iron chairs at wrought iron tables outside, on car hoods and fenders, listening, nervous, talking. Several practice with acoustic guitars.
In the small covered patio, a half-dozen tables around a non-working fountain, we take seats. A lone guitarist plays with an amplifier. He sings without a microphone, we can hear his voice occasionally, when the strumming, riffs, picks, and thumping on the guitar box unexpectedly drop in volume.
My eighty-one-year-old mother-in-law is thrilled. She is always up for a party. She laughs, her eyes glisten, her face glows, “he must be professional.” My wife returns from the order bar with three coffees. Mine, decaffeinated, sugarless, hot; Joan’s, mocha, with extra caffeine, iced; her’s, decaf something, hot. Liz smiles, puts her feet up on the yellow painted iron chair across from her mother. We can’t converse, the amplified guitar is too loud; but the music is enjoyable. We stay and listen.
Two hundred fifty feet away, trains roar on schedule over double tracks. The Amtrak Super Chief out of LA bound for Chicago speeds by, blowing its whistle as it passes through nearby sets of double-gated railroad street crossings. Passengers are already settled at tables in the dining car, ignore our festivities. Then freights, in both directions, on the Union Pacific tracks and the Burlington Santa Fe tracks. Each train with a four-engine locomotive pulls one hundred twenty-five freight and container cars. We feel the rhythmic rumbling of the heavy cars in our feet. The diesel engine noise, steel wheels clacking on breaks in the steel rails, and incessant warning horns punch the air around us.
In the corner of the patio sits a drunk old man with a stubbly, gray beard. A white guy. He is asleep. He slumps in his white wrought iron chair. His hair is long, down to his shoulders, stringy, glistening with grease and dirt in the parking lot lights, reflecting the green of the dance club’s neon sign. His clothes hang loose, crusted with filth, almost brittle. When the acoustic guitar revs up, he seems to hear the music, stirs himself, sits up. Without opening his eyes, he reaches for a large bottle of whiskey stationed next to him on the patio’s concrete floor. He brings the bottle to his lips, covering the label with his hand, as if he is enacting a movie scene and isn’t allowed to advertise the whiskey maker. He tilts his head back, draws in a large gulp, swallows silently, then gently sets the bottle down. By the chair, he has a black backpack, his world stuffed into canvas. Joan looks over at him, then turns toward me. She makes a sad face of sympathy for him. Her husband always gave money to the homeless beggars with “will work for food” signs at the city’s street intersections. “They’re people too.” The drunk man falls back asleep in his chair. He looks homeless. Uncared for.
I watch. The drunk man sleeps without peace. Couples line up at the club door. Cars, most small sedans, enter and depart the parking lot. By the end of the evening, automobiles belonging to dancers at Sevilla and patrons at the café will spread out into streets lined with warehouses along the railroads and Hispanic neighborhoods of small bungalows within walking distance of orange packing houses. In Coffee Depot, I watch community college students with laptops and textbooks confer with one another, drink their coffee, couples touch each other, flirting, laugh at their screens, scrutinize video games.
The black, moonless night is bright as day. Yellow from a shop across the tracks, white of car beams and streetlights, red from railroad crossing signals and backing cars. Blue lamps illuminate the underside of the decorative tent covering the dance floor on the Club Sevilla roof top. My wife is tired, she closes her eyes. I watch her. She briefly dozes off, then wakes. I watch my mother-in-law. An emotion floods me, intensity as unexpected as perfume in the air drenched with gasoline fumes and coffee aromas.
The performer, practicing for his slot on the open mic stage, plays Ray Charles tunes. My wife and Joan look knowledgeably toward each other in enjoyment. Joan says something to me, but I can’t hear her. In a brief break between songs, my wife shouts out a song title for him to sing. He says he’s sung that so often he’s sick of it. Then Joan asks him to “haul out some of those old blues.” My mother-in-law always has a way with strangers, even at 81, charismatic. He laughs, obliges. To a Ray Charles interpretation, he plays “Over the Rainbow” and sings the lyrics. Joan looks at me. “What’s he singing?” “Over-the-rainbow,” I shout, leaning close to her ear. She laughs.
The drunk lurches up. “My son does that,” he mumbles, not to anybody. He falls back asleep. The musician, sitting now astride a table, with the amplifier on a chair, begins to strum a Bob Dylan tune. The drunk wakes up again. He mutters inaudibly. We look over to him. He rouses himself out of his chair. He is short, perhaps five feet five inches. He wears brown leather dress shoes too large for his feet. They are untied. His dirty shirt hangs over his pants. He lifts his pack. He stumbles forward. We think he wants to approach the musician. He passes by our table and says something again. We can’t understand him. He shuffles up to the musician and stands there, weaving slightly out of rhythm. My wife leans forward. “He’s on meth,” she says. “And whiskey,” I add.
Standing next to the musician, the drunk turns slightly toward us. He wants our audience. Suddenly, he begins to sing. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” The Dylan song. He sings clearly. He sings like Dylan, a passable imitation. We watch and listen. My mother-in-law’s face bursts with joy. As the drunk sings, a young college student with an acoustic guitar comes over and joins the performing duo.
Euphoria surges in me. It’s forgiveness. We’re all okay in this glowing evening. Club Sevilla, Coffee Depot, the Super Chief passing in the night. Knockin’ on heaven’s door.
About the Author:
Ronald Tobey grew up in north New Hampshire, USA, and attended the University of New Hampshire, Durham, where he published his first poem in an independent student journal. He has lived in Ithaca NY, Pittsburgh PA, Riverside CA, Berkley CA, and London UK. After professional careers in Southern California, he and his wife now live in West Virginia, where they raise cattle and keep goats and horses. Ron writes, reflecting personal experience, imagistic poetry of places, moods, and the worlds of work. His poems have appeared in Constellate (UK), Prometheus Dreaming (3 poems), Fishbowl Press Poetry (featured poet of the month), Truly U Review (7 poems), Nymphs, Line Rider Press (3 poems, twice featured poem of the week), Bonnie’s Crew (2 poems, UK), Broadkill Review (2 poems), The Cabinet of Heed (UK), The Failure Baler (UK), Pendemic (2 poems, one with 14 Haiku, Ireland), print anthology Prometheus Unbound (David van den Berg, editor, 2020), Detritus, 3 Moon (10 Haiku, Canada), Variant Literature, The Write Launch (3 poems), Poetry Pea podcast S3E11 (3 Haiku, Switzerland), Neuro Logical Literary Magazine (Ireland), Better Than Starbucks (6 haiku), and Vaugh Street Doubles (Canada).
I keep going back to the same two rooms with the dying widow below and darkness that eats me. It is Christmas Eve with the smell of snow in the air. There is an ominous muffled thud from below. I slip deeper into the bed awaiting his visit and feigning sleep. Mother’s anxious voice hissed in the dark, ‘You’ll have to come downstairs with me, your dad can’t.’ Dad couldn’t, he had an accident in the shipyard a few weeks earlier, ‘Left his toes in his boot’, someone cryptically said.
Creaking down wooden stairs, cold bit me stomach. An early Christmas present, a bicycle torch, led the way, dancing down the stairs and diving to the ceiling. The key skated across the barrel before connecting and the torch eventually settled on the widow’s cream mask face which faced the floor. She was dead.
The rest was formality, women in the street would ‘lay her out.’ The identity of Santa Claus forgotten in light of more pressing matters.
About the Author:
Tom Kelly is a Jarrow-born writer. He has had eleven books of poetry, short stories and a play published in as many years. His new collection THIS SMALL PATCH has just been published and re-printed by Red Squirrel Press.
You tell me my eyes are crooked at dinner and I would have laughed but this time I just look down. You ask me why I’m quiet and I shake my head, I’m not quiet, but I want to say why, I want to tell you. I’m picking at a cannoli when you come back from the bathroom, knocking over a tall chair at the bar with a bang, I jump and then especially I want to tell you but I don’t I smile instead and say yes let’s get the check. We’re going up the stairs now to our apartment, I have to do a work thing so I open my computer and I forget about it for a minute, I’m typing fast and I call to you in the bedroom are you asleep because now I want to talk. Mm you say rolling over as I nudge you mm curling into yourself nestled in the grey sheets.
I want to tell you that on my way to the wine store before dinner tonight, I walked past a man sitting on a stoop who said into his phone, now I have a gun you won’t be saying that anymore. When I heard the word gun my heart raced for a second and my pace quickened, just ever so slightly because I didn’t want the man to know that I heard, that I was listening.
I finally got to the wine store and I drank whatever they were offering for tasting too fast, wishing I had the blurry fuzz of alcohol to soften the hardness of what I just heard.
I remember waiting in line with friends to checkout at a gas station. We were still in high school. A woman behind us stared, she said over and over again, we were so lucky, so so lucky. She was swaying slightly, small liquor singles in her hands.
Now, I try nudging you awake babe come on I really want to tell you but your breathing is thick against the pillow your eyes crinkled tightly shut. I look at a whiskey bottle on the shelf in the next room, almost empty and small, though not as small as the bottles she held tightly but tenderly between her fingers. I think about drinking it but I don’t, I lie back and stare at the white ceiling fan orbiting in the near distance, wondering what she was trying to forget.
About the Author:
Habiba Warren was born in southwestern New Mexico. After completing her BA in Nonfiction Writing and French at Sarah Lawrence College, she moved to Brooklyn, where she currently resides. She works in creative marketing for TV/film and has previously published work in Pond Magazine.
The wine is becoming rancid in the bottle, as if my restraint is toxic
My mother drinks three bottles a night between her and my father My father can drink two glasses if he has work the next day Two glasses and a gin if he does not, And then when my mother has gone to bed, the vino helping her to drift, The dark spirits come out Like ghosts roaming the halls in pitch, Seeing only what is left behind An empty glass, A television, volume set on low Slurred speech My mother cries, telling me she can’t do this anymore My brother’s knuckles’ still bleeding Another bottle of cheap vodka I pour down the sink I will not drink, I will not drink Next week I am at the bar buying shots for the blurry faces around me I cry at 2am sitting on my front step, no keys, no phone, no one answering the door I will not drink, I will not drink Ginger beer masks the taste, I would hardly notice it if not for the way I can meet the boys eye Fire in my veins I become the phoenix But in the morning I am the ashes, Left to make apologies for the night before Each time I remember, feeling the growing kinship between my mother and I place the cap on the bottle. I put it away. I let the liquid grow old, turn the vinegar Thinking of the acid on her tongue
About the Author:
Caitlin Mckenna is a student from Leeds, currently embarking on her creative writing masters. A queer, socialist, vegan, when she’s not writing she’s sending time with her cats and getting her heart broken.
the wall and the window rooms entering other rooms and maybe only your grey face so weak just like in here fights the boredom Saturday a warm day in January boats tied to a deck somewhere and we look perhaps only at the little white statue that looks so much like my mum
Translation: Cristina Discusar
I didn’t even get to rejoice, When everybody else was already grasping the slope of excess I come back with consumerist poetry, with an inflatable hedgehog, Captive between my ribs, With a chaotic dance: hands-feet-hands, With the typhoon controlled from caravans And gas masks. The image of the girl with short hair. The pace at which we existed from morning till night And afterwards. The insistence that found me greedy, Well stuck with my cheeks in a pillow.
I’m back with the end-of-year celebrations, With the imaginary boy and the masses of people Bursting into the banquet hall, With Duchamp’s urinal and his passion for nonconformism, With the perforated vest and the bullet found in his chest pocket.
Translation: Andreea Popescu
Our children will grow From the soil on our faces. I lock the window, Then the head of a match Begins to burn like holy water What about the leaves That fall from your body? Shall I glue it like a spoon On my forehead And walk on my hands Only to wipe juices from the pavements?
Sometimes when I look at myself
I can see a dog begging For a piece of bread.
Translation: Natalie Nera
About the Authors:
Cristina Dicusar (1993) is a young poet from Chisinau, The Republic of Moldova. She published her first poems in the „Clipa” magazine and in a poetry collection: „Casa Verde”/„The Green House”. Now she is writing her PhD with a thesis on contemporary Romanian poetry. She read at various literary clubs: The “Vlad Ioviță” Workshop (Chisinau, Republic of Moldova), “Tram 26” (Romania), “Mihail Ursachi” House of Culture (Romania), Bar Behind the Curtains (Czech Republic), Prague Writers’ Club (Czech Republic), Beseda Castle, Švrček Theater, (Slovakia) etc. She is member of the “Vlad Ioviță” Creative Writing Workshop and of the “Republica” Cenacle.
Toni Chira (2003) is a teenage talent from Bucharest, Romania. He has co-organised the TRILL Cenacle, the Online Poetry Marathon 2020 and SAD Festival. His poems have been published in the magazines Poesis International and Vatra. He is the winner of the Poetry Prize at the 2019 edition of the Young Writers’ Colloquia.
Simina Popescu is a 19- year old poet and translator from Bucharest, Romania. She is a 12th-grade student at the National Bilingual College “George Coșbuc”. Currently, she is preparing for the University of Fine Arts. She took part in various literary activities such as a creative writing workshop lead by Ciprian Chirvasiu, which resulted in the publication of collective anthology (Grădina din mansardă/ “The Garden in the Attic”), that included some of her poems. Her poems have also appeared in “Actualitatea Literară”, e Czech literary periodical „Husitské Světlo”, the Slovak periodical „Holičské Noviny”. Also, she is also part of the international poetic project “Cadena Magica” coordinated by Olga Walló.
If a fortnight ago, you’d have asked me who Hartley Coleridge was I would have said he was the baby that his proud father, Samuel Coleridge, eloquently wrote about in his great poem Frost at Midnight.
“My babe so beautiful! It thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to kook at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in other scenes!”
If pressed I would have added that Hartley grew up to be a writer to produce work that was now completely forgotten. Yet a chance find of a paperback in an Oxfam shop proved me wrong. Here was Bricks Without Mortar: The Selected Poems of Hartley Coleridge (Picador books) edited by Lisa Gee (2000). Whilst researching work for an anthology the poet Don Paterson was attracted to Coleridge’s poetry, and then showed it to Lisa Gee. Her selection is drawn from the 1833 volume of Hartley’s poetry edited by his brother Derwent.
One of Hartley’s unpublished manuscripts is Bricks Without Mortar from the Tower of Babel. This seductive title sounds like a fiction by Jorge Luis Borges. In fact there’s an indirect link to Borges, for in his fiction Coleridge’s Flower Borges remarks on the “perfect fancy” of a notebook entry by S.T.Coleridge.
“If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to
him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in
his hand when he awoke – Ay! – and what then?”
Borges perceives this as “a final goal.” Correct from a poet who wrote such visionary works as The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. Yet what would this have meant to his eldest son, Hartley? Coleridge Snr. wrote big, expansive poems with a philosophic charge. Coleridge Jnr. wrote small poems with a gentler inner exploration of the self and observations of the natural world that were imbued by a feminised awareness. It’s been said that Hartley Coleridge had more in common with his great friend the poet William Wordsworth (I would also include a similarity with John Clare.) Hartley was often a quietist who spoke (at his best) of the minutiae of life with acute sensitivity.
“The insect birds that suck nectareous juice
From straightest tubes of curly-petaled flowers,
Or catch the honey-dew that falls profuse
Through the soft air, distill’d in viewless
Whose colours seem the very souls of gems,
Or parting rays of fading diadems:-
S.T. Coleridge may have yearned for some ideal Platonic essence of a flower in Paradise to be realised in material form, whereas for Hartley the ordinary was always extraordinary. The overlooked had to be looked at with a feminine sensibility and wonderful stillness. It’s very apparent in his beautiful poem, Night.
The crackling embers on the hearth are dead;
The indoor note of industry is still;
The small birds wait not for their daily bread;
The voiceless flowers-how quietly they shed
Their nightly odours: – and the household rill,
Murmers continuous dulcet sounds that fill
The vacant expectation, and the dread
Of listening night. And haply now she sleeps:
For all the garrulous noises of the air
Are hush’d in peace; the soft dew silent weeps,
Like hopeless lovers for a maid so fair-
Oh! That I were the happy dream that creeps
To her soft heart, to find my image there.”
Hartley was known to be an egalitarian fellow mixing comfortably with the high and low of society. A great conversationalist who delighted his listeners and wrote a lot of poetry: quite a bit composed within ten minutes and regarded as pretty bad (Though the 19th century yeoman of the dales considered him “A powitt, iviry inch of ‘im.”) yet when it’s good, it can also be outstanding and sometimes great. According to scholar Andrew Keanie, Hartley very much lived in the moment greatly aided by alcohol – no doubt at the local inn where he was considered a kindly gentleman. His brother Derwent observed that Coleridge was greatly loved.
“Among his friends we must count men, women, and children, of every rank and every age…In the farmhouse or the cottage, not alone at times of rustic festivity at a sheep-shearing, a wedding, or a christening, but by the ingle side, with the grandmother or the ‘bairns’, he was made, and felt himself, at home…He would nurse an infant by the hour. A like overflowing of his affectionate nature was seen in his fondness for animals – for anything that would love him in return – simply, and for its
own sake, rather than his.”
Hartley loved cats. And in his poem To a Cat, he brings a ruthless rhyme ending when his consciousness of mortality sharply distinguishes him from an animal.
“Nelly, methinks,’wixt thee and me,
There is a kind of sympathy;
And could we interchange our nature,-
If I were cat, thou human creature,-
I should, like me, no great mouser,
And thou, like me, no great composer;
For, like thy plaintive mews, my muse,
With villainous whine doth fate abuse,
Because it has not made me sleek
As golden down on Cupid’s cheek;
And yet thou canst upon the rug lie,
Stretch’s out like snail, or curl’s up snugly,
As if thou wert not lean or ugly;
And I, who in poetic flights
Sometimes complain of sleepless nights
Regardless of the sun in heaven,
Am apt to dose till past eleven.
The world would just the same go round
If I were hang’d and thou wert drown’d;
There is one difference, tis true,-
Thou dost not know it, and I do.”
Hartley also wrote notebooks, essays and biographical pieces on other poets – Milton, Spenser and Marvell. He tried to earn his living as a teacher but wasn’t any good at it because he constantly felt intimidated by his pupils. Hartley feared they might physically assault him. (This must have fed into Hartley’s own childhood. For he was a dreamy boy who didn’t readily mix with other children; preferring his own company and his imaginary world. He even invented Ejuxira – a kingdom that had its own laws, language and customs.)
Apart from his writing any other means to earn a living seemed not to interest him. Eventually Hartley was given money by his family; his needs were modest and he got by. Despite his many friendships Hartley was lonely and unfulfilled. For Hartley was self-denigrating and considered himself unattractive to women. His childlike vulnerability and over-sensitivity was channelled into a confident poetic talent: whilst Hartley’s great social affability and his need to be a free spirit probably wasn’t grounded enough in realism.
As a poet of the 19th century he remains a major minor voice, with a sensibility that greatly differs from either the Romantic utterances of his father or Shelley. Hartley isn’t a writ
About the Author:
Alan Price lives in London. He’s a poet, short story writer, book reviewer and film critic for Filmuforia.In 2012, OUTFOXING HYENAS, a collection of his poetry was published by Indigo Dreams. This has been followed by further pamphlets and collections. His latest book THE TRIO CONFESSIONS (The High Window Press) appeared in June 2020. Alan is currently writing a novel and also working on a series of prose poems based on films.
Even when I asked for your number
it felt like swapping details at the scene
of an accident.
A year after you cleared the glass
from the road, paid off the bill,
filed away the witness statements,
I’m watching from the microclimate
of my Mercedes SLK as you dart
from a side road on your racer,
a fluorescent fish, too quick
for the protecting shoal
of the rush-hour peloton.
Here comes the double-decker,
a warship, cleaving the tarmac
into ripples, rolling you
out of the lane. Your face
registers the shock, the heart
beat in your throat, and you look
the way you looked the night
you found out I’d done
what I always knew I would do,
when your best friend and your sister
were paramedics, calling your name
as you shook the stars from your eyes
and tried to sit upright. But even after
the crunching pavement
of my final text, the crushed polystyrene
of ignoring your voicemails, I’m not sure
I can resist the jolt, the lurch, the slide
of recognition, that I won’t
lean out, wave, call your name –
About the Author:
ROSALIND EASTON is an English teacher, poet and PhD student based in South East London. She is one of the winners of the 2020 Poetry Business International Book and Pamphlet Competition; her winning pamphlet Black Mascara (Waterproof), forthcoming in 2021 with Smith|Doorstop, will be her first published work.
When are we mature enough to possess our own mobile phone? Before or after writing our first really good poem? (Or – should it really be so good? Isn’t enough to just write it, just to have it, to aim for something like artistic quality and/or beauty of literature; the way one is used to defining it or to approach it from any possible angle, and to make one’s best for getting as close as possible to it?
I am not sure if I am able to answer those questions in their entirety. One of the reasons is connected to the simple fact that I have no idea how old Cristina Dicusar, Toni Chira, Teona Farmatu, Artur Cojocaru, Julie Iaroslavschi or Antonia Mihăilescu were when they got their first mobile phones, tablets or laptops. However, I know how charming and surprisingly convincing their poems were when they were only 15 to 17 years old.
I may only observe that some of them became international authors quite soon after gaining literary fame at home. For instance, I recommended myself Arthur Cojocaru for an anthology of South-Eastern European Poetry compiled by British poet and translator Tom Edward Phillips in 2018. I am happy to say it again and again: it was a very good choice.
Another success story is that of the 27-year-old PhD student Cristina Dicusar, whose strong, concentrated and deeply philosophical poems impressed and astonished the Czech and Slovak audience in Prague and in Holič during the literary tour I organized in January this year and that was meant to focus on the youngest poetic generations, writing in Romanian. The excellent poetic school in the West Bank of the Prut river embodies the artificial boundary between the Romanians in Romania and the ones in the Republic of Moldova, the ones Stalin, the Red Army insisted on calling the “Moldovans”, and the entire Soviet and Post-Soviet generations have continued to do so? Prepared, stimulated, coordinated and educated in the spirit of the Romanian literature by great poets, pedagogues and patriots like Dumitru Crudu, Monica Stănilă or Sandu Vakulovski, the youngest generation of poets in today’s Moldova have had great environment and conditions to grow into the best writers in Romanian.
Paradoxically, the right bank of the Prut hasn’t always been a Real match for Bessarabia, and if ever, rather on a regional basis. In other words, there were very strong years of the Transylvanian, Banat, Constanța, Brașov, Galați or even Bucharest poetry, but also years when the “Romanians from Romania” had to admit they were no match for their “Moldavan” colleagues.
Fortunately, it is not the case today: a very strong generation of outstanding poets begins to emerge in the Romanian Bukovina, the main and the most powerful sources being the cities of Suceava, Dej, Câmpulung Moldovenesc, Piatra-Neamț and Gura Humorului. And quite surprisingly again, there is a regional distribution of talents, concentrated in the “Petru Rareș” high-school în Suceava and in the Paper Wall Literary Club led by older, more experienced authors and literary critics Vlad Sibechi, Florin Dan Prodan, Radu Andriescu, Matei Hutopilă and Paul Mihalache.
Besides the above-mentioned names, we should not forget about the other equally talented poets. They forged and consolidated the strength and the style of youngest Romanian poetry after the centennial year of 2018: the very sensitive and (given her very young age) incredibly erudite Teona Farmatu from the city of Piatra Neamț (close to Bukowina), the courageously:”citadine” voice of Sorina Rindas, that embodies the spirit of the contemporary and historical stronghold of Suceava; the civic spirit within the very personal poetry of the only 17-year old Toni Chira, (not only) in my opinion, the unrivalled leader of “his” generation and beyond -, the apparently delicate, but not at all weak, yet strongly convincing voice of Antonia Mihăilescu; the formally self-confident poems of the apparently self-confident and well-balanced student of the “Grigore Moisil” Computers High School in the City of Jassy Luca Stefan Ouatu, the excellent organisational spirit and the very deep and formally provocative texts sometimes connected to Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” of Andreea Apostu. She is also one of the instigators, together with Toni Chira, of one of the few and excellent platforms dedicated to the contemporary and youngest Romanian poetry. Last but not least, the delicate, sensitive and painfully mature texts by Malina Lipara, a (very) young Lady-Poet who understands perhaps the best of all (“I am of the age of all that is separating us” – possibly the most convincing female cry of despair I have ever heard.
The female perspective, the drama of 3000-year of womanhood, is something I observe with awe, admiration but am unable to capture it with only a few phrases. No more than I am able to capture the complex and exciting phenomenon of contemporary Romanian poetry in a mere short “wannabe” essay. I would rather stop here.
About the Author:
Dr. Mircea Dan Duta is a poet, academic, film scientist and a member of the Czech and Romanian PEN Clubs. Moreover, he is a university lecturer and a producer and presenter of cultural events. He writes in his second language – Czech. His two poetry collections (in Czech) – Krajiny, Lety a Diktáty (2014) and Plechové citáty, mindráky a lidská práva (2015) were published by the Petr Štengl publishers. His texts have been translated into many languages in more than 15 countries in Europe, America and Asia. He also translates from Polish, Slovak, and (to) Czech.
Stuffed at the back of an enormous freezer in Clark’s Grocery Store, two blocks up from my childhood house, was the body of a stillborn baby. Maybe “stuffed” is the wrong word: the infant had been tenderly wrapped in a soft blue blanket, then parcelled up in brown paper, and wrapped in aluminium foil.
The police found it when old Mrs Clark went into the nursing home down the road. She’d become forgetful, and had left the gas on when she went to bed.
The baby had been a shock – Mr Clark had been overseas, and Mrs Clark had strayed only once the whole time and not even realised she was pregnant. She managed to recall that it breathed only once in her arms before fading away. She didn’t even remember putting it in the freezer.
When my father realised I’d overheard Sergeant Brennan tell him all this, he didn’t scold me for being out of bed. He laughed, and got me to pour him another Scotch.
When I met the editor of my very first newspaper for the very first time, he expressed the usual astonishment that with a father like Jack McCauley, I wasn’t going into writing fiction. Stories like finding a dead baby in a freezer are precisely why I couldn’t write fiction. I tried to picture Miss Cynthia Clark’s face when she opened her copy of a book I would never write, with a soft blue cover, wrapped in brown paper, her half-brother stolen and splashed all over the stiff cream pages inside.
‘Your first name…what the hell is it? Looks like a typo to me.’
‘Aoife.’ I could never keep the Irish out of my voice when I dragged out the vowels of Eee-fah.
‘No, it’s more of an F sound than a V.’
‘It’s too Irish for our readers. They won’t read your articles if they can’t read your name.’
He looked up to the ceiling, pondering this conundrum.
‘You can be Ava McCauley. People like Ava Gardner. And it’s easy to spell.’
I gathered my things and hurried to my desk. I’d always hated my name. My mother had nearly died giving birth to me, so my father had picked it while she recovered, drugged beyond comprehension.
My father was an author, and my mother was an illustrator. Jack ‘made it big’ in a way Moira never did. His books were constantly on the best-seller list, one was even adapted for the movies. He cemented his success with an acrimonious divorce from my mother, and remarriage to a former Miss Rhode Island. That marriage was followed by another one, to an airline stewardess, who divorced him after discovering his indiscretion with a secretary, whom he later married in Las Vegas before settling in California. I missed most of this while I was at boarding school, but friends were kind enough to pass me the press clippings.
My mother remarried to a doctor and settled down to have her real family with him.
It turns out changing my name from Aoife to Ava had a transformative effect on me. With my first wage packet, I bought my first lipstick. Tracing the crimson bullet over my lips, I imagined that Ava Gardner’s glamour was rubbing off on me. When I checked my reflection later on in the street, I was horrified to discover that the crimson rosebud the salesgirl had so admired in the department store was nothing more than a bloody gash on the lower half of my face, sucking all of the colour out of my complexion.
‘Rub a little of it into your cheeks,’ advised Myrtle at the next desk, ‘And think about mascara. That way your eyes won’t get lost.’
I wasn’t sure exactly where my eyes were getting lost, but I took her advice, and it seemed to work better. Myrtle even gave me a dusty pink shade to wear around the office. I’d grown up away from all of my glamorous stepmothers and stupidly thought lipstick only came in red.
After I’d been at the paper a month, I went to drinks with Myrtle and a few others. To my horror, I found myself wedged between Tom Denehy and Joanne Carter. Tom was the coming man in those days; he’d even been published in The New Yorker; Joanne was an arts critic. My father had a new book out that month and Joanne was tossing it around the table, along with the pretzels. Nobody apart from Myrtle had asked my name, so nobody made the connection.
‘It’s too ridiculous for words!’ Joanne laughed. ‘Does he really expect us to believe that things like that actually happen?’
They had been analysing the story of the baby in the freezer. I sipped on the martini someone had bought me, and tried to focus on the peculiar feeling of the oily yet fiery sensation of the drink. The image of a slug spontaneously combusting at the back of my throat popcorned to life in my head, and I tried not to retch.
‘That’s not the worst of it,’ howled Maurice Shaw, a theatre critic. ‘The wife curling up with a hot water bottle whenever the husband goes to his mistress? So cliché!’
I remembered a weekend home from school, and seeing Miss Rhode Island doing just that. I then remembered seeing Maurice Shaw’s name on the list of those auditioning to play Rick Chance, the protagonist of my father’s third novel, when it was made into a movie. My father was good buddies with the producer and the two of them had gotten roaring drunk at the auditions and hurled an empty bottle of Bourbon at Shaw’s head.
If I ever wrote a novel, I thought, I would open with that. Miss Rhode Island had always been kind to me. I got the impression that the food parcels and books she sent me a school were an apology for her breaking up my family.
I drained my glass. Muttering apologies, I shoved past Joanne to the bar, where Myrtle was sitting with another group of co-workers. Just as I reached them, however, she got up and headed for the restroom. I was left standing, open-mouthed and alone in front of people I didn’t know, holding an empty glass. I felt like my father and I wanted to die.
‘Ava, same again?’
Tom Denehy took the glass from me and steered me into a bar stool. I shook my head.
‘How about we have a coffee instead?’ He gestured to the barman. I didn’t like coffee any better than I liked Martini cocktails, but I thought it would be impolite to refuse him twice.
‘Not a fan of McCauley’s work?’ he asked.
‘Not really,’ I said. ‘Although I do think he’s getting more honest with age.’
Thomas looked taken aback. ‘How so?’
I realised that I had offered an opinion and immediately vowed to Our Lady in Heaven never to accept another Martini for as long as I lived.
‘I remember reading about that baby in the newspapers,’ I said. ‘Also, I think he’s started to realise what an ass he makes of himself sometimes, chasing after women who are young enough to be his daughter.’
He scanned his copy of the day’s paper. I later found out it was his practice to take a copy everywhere with him, open at his own column, in case a restaurant was full or something like that.
‘Hey…’ he said, ‘Ava McCauley?’ He’d found my name tacked to a dreary article on dry rot in Midtown. ‘You’re not related, are you?’
I laughed. ‘No. But I get asked that all the time.’
Tom flashed perfect white teeth at me and his eyes crinkled at the edges. ‘Well, it’s not like you’d pass up a leg-up like having Jack McCauley as your old man, is it?’
I smiled, and blew on my coffee to cool it.
I don’t know how long exactly we sat at the bar talking, but I do remember leaving with the distinct impression that Tom Denehy would be my first Great Love Affair. Already, I could see us in bed together, his tenderness at my inexperience barely masking his eagerness; then a few months later, I would receive a job offer at Mademoiselle or somewhere like that. He would beg me to stay, but we’d both know our time together was at an end.
The old affection would cling long enough for me to read the announcement of his engagement to an unremarkable, dumpy secretary name Claire or Camille or something like that…I’d never liked ‘C’ names.
I would attend the engagement party, striking in a burgundy dress – scarlet would have been too obvious. He would have one too many whiskies and profess his regrets and undying love, but I would no longer feel the same about him. We would part friends. He would name his daughter Clarissa Ava in my honour.
Even my daydreams were depressing.
There was nothing I could trust about Tom. Even though he never came out and said to, I instinctively avoided him at work. I rarely went out for drinks with the gang, slinking off to a movie theatre by myself, where he would meet me an hour later.
He wanted me with an intensity that scared me, and I started to wonder if it was him I liked, or the fact that he liked me. He would kiss me so passionately that on several occasions, I nearly fainted from lack of breath. I started to believe that my lung capacity was increasing from the sheer effort of keeping up with his kisses. I figured that if journalism didn’t work out, I could become a synchronized swimmer.
On the night we finally slept together, in my rickety single bed in my tiny apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, he didn’t hold me as tightly as he had when we’d just kissed. I knew then that he would end up breaking my heart.
Jack was back in New York for two weeks, and he asked me to meet him for lunch.
‘What d’you think of the book?’
‘Not bad. Less verbose than your last one.’
He poured me a glass of wine and I tried to settle into the feeling of being a twenty-one-year-old working woman discussing serious literature and drinking Cabernet Sauvignon with her father, whom she hadn’t called dad in thirteen years.
‘Some of my colleagues thought the stories were far-fetched.’
‘Joanne Carter…Maurice Shaw…’
‘Tom Denehy liked it.’
‘Hm,’ murmured Jack. ‘Who’s Tom Denehy?’
‘We – we just work together.’
He nodded slowly. ‘Which stories did they think were far-fetched?’
‘Mrs Clark’s baby.’
Jack scoffed. ‘Well, I hope you set them straight.’
‘They don’t know you’re my father and I’d quite like to keep it that way.’
I’d never seen Jack look hurt before, not even when Miss Rhode Island lost their baby at twenty-two weeks, but he looked hurt now. Only for a moment. That moment was the pride and joy of my life, I realised, as I sat opposite him, my hair coiffured, my lips rouged, my eyes fringed with black lashes as soft and alluring as magpie feathers. If any press spotted us having lunch, my latest stepmother would doubtless be straight on the telephone to scream accusations into my father’s ears. His ears were creased where they met his face, I noticed. My father was getting old.
‘You should have written that story,’ Jack said. ‘Sandy used to make me read all the stories you sent home. What in God’s name are you doing writing about dry rot and beauty contests?’
The waiter who’d been headed towards us to take our order made a swift diversion to an empty table, brushing a piece of imaginary lint off the pristine tablecloth.
‘I couldn’t write about that,’ I croaked. ‘It wouldn’t be right.’
Jack scowled. ‘It wasn’t right that Mrs Clark felt so terrified that the only thing she could do with that poor baby was bundle it into her freezer for the next thirty years! You know her daughter called me after it was published?’
‘Yeah,’ Jack said. ‘She called me an asshole. But I don’t give a damn, Aoife, and I’ll tell you why. Not telling these kinds of stories keeps the people who are down at bottom, always, which is exactly where some people think they should be kept. I don’t give a damn for somebody being born the wrong side of the bedsheets! What the hell kind of difference should that make in this day and age? You know I was a bastard, don’t you?’
I hadn’t known this, and the shock must have shown on my face.
‘They sent your grandmother off to one of those godawaful Magdalen laundries. They would have taken me away from her, but her brother was going to America with his wife, and he got her out. They made up a story about a dead husband back in Dublin, and that was that.’
Maybe there was a connection between how my father ran from one wife after another and how he’d come into the world.
‘Why didn’t you tell me any of this?’
Jack smiled. ‘Hell, I’ve gotta leave you something to write about.’
We filled the whole hour with talk. Outside the restaurant, Jack squeezed my arm and turned to leave, then paused. ‘I hope this Tom guy is a decent sort.’
I loathed him at that moment. He’d been absent for most of my life, would be hard-put to tell you what colour my eyes were, and yet here he was, giving me the fatherly advice I’d craved my whole life.
When Tom came by that night, I noticed that his ears, too, were starting to crease where they met his face. I also noticed the smell of Femme de Rochas clinging to his body.
I remember vomiting as soon as we’d made love, and asking him to leave. I told him I’d probably picked up a bug.
When he’d gone, I changed the sheets and tried to think about what I would do. I remember crying, and as I licked the tears from my lips, tasting him on my mouth. He’d brought a bag of cherries over for me, and had eaten some on his way there.
I threw the whole lot in the trash, full of rage towards him and the other woman; was she admiring a similar bowlful of cherries on her counter top?
I realised, just before I fell asleep, that I couldn’t remember the colour of Tom’s eyes.
Tom didn’t come to the office the next day, or the day after that, or even for the rest of the week. He was over at The New Yorker. All week, I swung between wanting to murder him and being desperate for him, so much so that I didn’t notice my monthly was late until Friday.
Tom was coming out of The New Yorker with a smooth-looking blonde girl. I lingered across the street, feeling keenly the cheapness of my blue suit and the tightness of all the powder I’d applied to my face.
When I told him what was wrong, the colour drained from his face. He told me he knew of a place where it could be “taken care of”. I wondered how many women he’d said those words to.
When I asked him if the blonde was the one I’d been able to smell on him the week before, he didn’t say anything. He just pushed a crumpled wad of notes into my hand. I felt like a prostitute.
‘I’m not going to one of those butchers,’ I said, sounding more resolute than I felt. I pushed the notes back into his hand and walked away before he could say anything.
When I felt the sensation of something coming away inside me, I knew it wasn’t my monthly. I’d just crossed the road to my apartment, and swung my bag around me so that it covered my backside.
I could make out the spinal cord, and the ribcage. It looked like a fossil one sees in a museum, its chest flayed open on the wad of tissue I cradled it in.
Placing it inside a clean Tupperware, I went back into the bathroom to let the rest of the blood drain out of me, and into the lavatory.
Afterwards, I put the box in my refrigerator, and fell asleep, fully clothed, on the couch.
The only woman I knew for certain who’d lost a baby was Miss Rhode Island. She told me to rest up, then see a doctor. I called in sick and stayed in bed for three days straight. Tom didn’t come by, or even call. I emptied the Tupperware down the lavatory.
On the start of my fourth day in bed, the telephone rang. It was my father, telling me to get up, get dressed, and get my ass down to the 21 Club.
‘It’s hard now, but it’ll make great material.’
My mouth dropped open as Jack ordered two more whiskey sours. Sandy had wisely waited until that morning to telephone him to break the news of my misfortune.
‘How the hell can you say something like that?’
‘Aoife, you should be writing properly. Write the truth. Write about your grandmother. Write about what a terrible father I was. Write about this Tom Denehy, and put the goddamn frighteners on him so he thinks twice before treating another poor girl like this.’
He pushed my drink towards me and I threw it back without hesitation. Part of me wished I’d kept Tom’s money and bought a one-way ticket to Paris.
‘Any other pearls of wisdom before you leave?’ I asked Jack.
‘Just the one,’ he said. ‘Change your last name, too. You don’t want people thinking you’re riding my coattails.’
About the Author:
FRANCES HOLLAND is a writer from Northumberland. Her work has been published in The Manchester Review, Mslexia, Fragmented Voices, Litro, and other publications. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University.
The summer has nearly gone, autumnal rains and morning chills penetrate my skin. We, in Fragmented Voices, have spent it trying to update our website – work which has been started but not finished yet and will be continuing throughout the year.
However, much of our summer months have been devoted to the love poems anthology, something we are already proud of it. I hope that you will feel the same once the book is out this year.
We have also made changes to our online magazine. What can you expect? It will be out twice a week from September till about mid- December and from February till May. In that time, you can expect poetry (Wednesdays), and prose, creative non-fiction, essays or visual art (Fridays). Once a month we are going to introduce some exciting new authors in translation. This 2020/2021 season we have Romanian and Moldovan poetry as well as Czech poetry.
I hope that you will like our changes and updates. We made them after careful consideration that reflects our experience from last year’s season.
What does not change is that we are still looking to discover new talent – illustrators, visual artists, poets, fiction and non-fiction writers. When you decide to submit, please read our guidelines carefully, otherwise, it can lead to rejection on technical grounds, i.e. submitting outside our submission window. Also, before you write THAT angry letter (to which we never respond), please take a few days before you press the SEND button. I am the first one to admit that I have done it in my life more than once and always when I was in a raw place. Trust me – it is always a mistake.
I look around and see the world in chaos. Globally, we live in uncertain times, we live in stressful times. I believe creativity and art are one of the few things that connect people everywhere. I do not think that I can change the world’s problems at my desk by typing my lines but I believe that our work can make it a bit more hopeful place, a place where things are possible.