A pure human invention. Just point every Synapse of yours to this locale. Here is now.
Chopstick Commandments: A Secular Covenant
Avoid one chopstick longer than the other in a pair
That would recall what a coffin is made of
Don’t plant them in the middle of bowel of rice
Or dish, like a scent burning for the dead
Never use them to poke around in a dish
In the way a tomb raider works hard in dark
Put them strictly parallel to each other; or you
Would have yourself crossed out as a deplorable error
If you drop one or both of them on the ground, you
Will wake up and provoke your ancient ancestors
If you use them to beat containers like a drum player
You are fated to live a low and poor beggar’s life
When you make noises with them in your mouth
You betray your true self as a rude and rough pariah
Never point them towards any one if you
Do not really mean to swear at a fellow diner
Make sure not to pierce any food with them while eating
When you do not mean to raise your mid-finger to all around you
To use them in the wrong way is
To make yourself looked down upon by others.
Yuan Changming grew up in an isolated village, started to learn the English alphabet at age nineteen and published monographs on translation before leaving China. With a Canadian PhD in English, Yuan currently edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver. Credits include twelve Pushcart nominations & eleven chapbooks (most recently LIMERENCE) besides appearances in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17) & BestNewPoemsOnline, among 1,909 others, across 48 countries. Yuan served on the jury, and has been nominated, for Canada’s National Magazine Award (poetry category).
On the 28th March 1941, Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse. The following is an Ekphrastic poem inspired by the painting of her sister, Vanessa Bell, by fellow Bloomsbury Group member, Duncan Grant. This poem is a moment wherein Vanessa is writing to her sister, only a week or two after her death, where life continues to break back in, with all of its sharp edges.
Have you ever been to Merivale?
She writes. While
Angelica, (six), fist full of flowers, arranges them in a pattern similar to that of the painted tile of the hearth.
Violet stalks with purple faces for the V and daisies for the W while she sits, cross-legged, in the milk-dish of sunlight coming in through the half-open door.
Have you ever been to Merivale?
She begins again. Blots the end of the pen, nib down for too long on the fold of cloth.
Watches the ink bleed out blue, blue, blue…Perhaps-
Perhaps we shall go, you, me-
A song thrush in the wisteria just outside of the window calls from her nest, Leonard whistles back from where he stands between the tulips
Angelica hums a tune half-forgotten and half-remembered,
and the children, of course, they do so love to see you.
She smiles, watches her daughter weave her own initials with petals from the Forsythia.
And, upon our last visit, Angelica fell rather in love with a cow which she gave your name to-
Out in the garden again, just by the door, Angelica picks weeds, plucked with the hollow sound of the milk thistle or dandelion stalk
A brown cow, all doe-eyes, soft-muzzle. Standing on legs with knees like pollarded trees.
She smiles. Gains momentum. Shifts in her chair that creaks and scrapes against the flag-stone floor.
Netty’s here, folding your stockings, rolling them into yellow balls like eggs – like eggs, in a basket.
As soon as she is gone, I’ll unravel them, fitting perhaps, for I seem myself unravelled.
She hears Netty on the stairs. Knows the satisfaction she will gain from this rolled nest of previously unravelled and unkempt stockings.
Did I tell you I see Vita now?
She comes to dinner in your place, sits in your chair with its back to the fire, with some hesitation, of course.
She looks at me. And I in her see you, and you in me she sees, though neither of us has spoken of this of course.
Instead, darling Tom slaps cards down upon the table, Queen of Hearts upturned, only fleetingly, between her and I,
And then, of course, Duncan slaps his card down too – the King, perhaps, of Spades, as suits him, and the moment passes, without whistle or trace-
The song thrush sings again, greets her mate with a beak of soft sheep’s wool scraps.
– only the echo for which I have spent these last few weeks digging for beneath the roots of speculation, only to find dust and grit, the shrivelled bulb of a daffodil dug up too often and the skull of a blackbird buried by Angelica, I am sure, though at your behest.
Now, the ticking of the clock, the whirr, the readying, readying, then the chime. Too loud. Always, too loud.
She closes her eyes, waits, waits, for stillness, and then-
Have you ever been to Merivale?
She has digressed for too long.
I ask not because of the (now) literary bovine, but because, in passing a cottage I noticed a young woman, a girl, perhaps, sat, elbows on the windowsill, Mrs Dalloway between her hands – and it was such a shock to see you there, so suddenly, so starkly, in this house painted the colour of our Cornish sea, because you see (as only you do, you did) I look for traces of you, without knowing it at all, and I find I cannot speak, cannot say, as you would have done, so eloquently, but I cannot, neither with voice nor with pen the pain it is to glimpse you so suddenly, and so sharply within your absence.
The house is quiet, the bird has flown, Angelica has gone, the garden too tempting.
Such is death.
The stillness stretches.
But one of these days we may contrive to speak again. Who knows?
Again, the stillness
My darling Virginia, I miss you.
And this letter is nothing, without you to receive it.
The hesitancy of pen held above paper.
SHE’S CALLED GILLIAN
She’s got brown hair and eyes the colour of a bleached winter sky.
She’s about 5’5, but she’s tough.
I met her just after I met my girlfriend.
My girlfriend was a narcissist.
She didn’t like me having friends, or seeing family.
So, I didn’t really.
Gillian stuck around, though.
In fact, that’s when I first met her
A few months in
She was standing in a driveway nudging gravel with the toe of her Converse.
I asked her if she’d lost something.
Her wedding ring, she said. Not that it mattered.
He was a cheating bastard.
We walked to school together.
She wore dark jeans and a plaid shirt over a long-sleeved top with four buttons at the neckline.
She was self-destructive.
I liked that about her.
She’d help me put the shopping away when the Tesco delivery arrived.
It wasn’t my house,
but I did everything in it.
She expected that of me.
Once when my girlfriend went away,
we used her land to have a bonfire in the old metal drum that was full of weeds and earth and crap.
Gillian joked we should get all of her clothes and stick them on the fire,
but burning her clothes wouldn’t do any good, we decided.
She had enough trouble keeping her clothes on,
having less of them would only add to the problem.
We cooked our lunch on the bonfire.
Potatoes baked in tin foil.
Their skins were black but we ate them anyway,
and inside they were smoky and white and good.
Gillian would be there in the evenings, too.
I’d make my excuses and slip to the garage for another bottle of wine,
and Gillian was there,
back against the wall, picking at the fraying edge of her sleeve.
She’d tell me about her day, the sheep, the farm.
She’d hug me, properly, hold me until I’d stopped shaking,
or near enough.
Once, on fireworks night,
She had a party.
Everyone was there. All of her friends, family, neighbours.
Her dad made the bonfire bigger than was safe.
She poured everyone drinks and looked for me to give me something to do.
I stood in the shadows with Gillian.
She was all nervy, jittery, bristling with energy, possibility, magic….
She was wearing wellington boots.
Green ones, but they weren’t Hunter boots, and I was glad of that.
They were bog-standard boots from a garden centre.
She had one hand in her pocket, I could hear the clink of the keys to her Land Rover.
You need to get shot of her.
She said, looking at the bonfire, into the flames.
Her face was warm, golden, fire-lit and beautiful.
She’s going to kill you if you don’t.
She looked at me then, Gillian did.
One way or another you’ll end up dead.
She was right. I knew she was right.
But Gillian only existed in my head.
I AM WINTER
She is everything I am not. She is supple as a snake.
I am frozen.
She is the whisper of holidays and beach trips, BBQs and laughter.
I am eerie stillness, the last bloom of white from dying blue lips. I am winter. I am cold. I am in darkness, flirting with madness, wires in my veins, pulsing, vibrating, killing me.
I am the splinters of skeleton trees in the pockets where my eyes used to be, my mind the fleeting glimpse of a wolf. She is a peacock, I am a wild hare, running, but never finding home in a wood full of eyes. She watches me. Hiding. Breathing.
I am the uncertainty of black ice, I am strong as the North Wind.
Influenced by David Bowie, Virginia Woolf and Sally Wainwright, Natascha Graham is a writer of stage, screen and radio and lives with her wife on the east coast of England.
Her novel, Everland has been selected for the Penguin and Random House WriteNow 2021 Editorial Programme, and her short films have been selected by Pinewood Studios & Lift-Off Sessions, Cannes Film Festival, Raindance Film Festival, Camden Fringe Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival, while her theatre shows have been performed in London’s West End and on Broadway, New York as well as at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester, Thornhill Theatre, London and Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York where her monologue, Confessions: The Hours won the award for Best Monologue.
Natascha is also working on Bad Girls: The Documentary, a documentary about the cult ITV prison drama and is currently working together with Queer Colours Theatre on the upcoming production of her stageplay, How She Kills.
When she is not writing, Natascha is co-editor in chief of Tipping the Scales Literary & Arts Journal with her wife and co-hosts the upcoming LGBT podcast, The Sapphic Lounge, with fellow writer, Stephanie Donaghy-Sims.
When I searched my soul, tears snowing down the planes
Of mine. The month of advent and nativity jars
With the discord of solstice.
The long night ends.
Afterwards we move closer to sun kissed warmth
Forgetting old hurts and haemorrhages.
The Bengal Tiger
We say in Bengal, where I hail from
January is winter’s last wild roar of
The white Tiger. Too many aged, sick and frail,
Homeless people succumb in its trail.
It’s a time to give away old woollens, blankets
Anything to stave an unnatural cold
That clamps the heart, hewing bone icicles.
You can sit in your room, doors and windows closed,
And hear your teeth chatter.
The tiger prowls like virulent anarchy, anomalous
Deep freezer of blood and bluster.
I have heard it roars loudest, as it leaves and
The burial in its wake makes the living shake.
We must not be afraid however, see our sages
Dip in the holiest river at bone crushingly cold
Dawns of Kumbh mela. Faith, courage, compassion Must conquer all.
Winter is the time of kitchen camaraderie
As mothers and aunts, with daughters, start
Rolling out dough, grating coconut, boiling and
Caramelizing sugary sweet treats.
It is that time of the year when a sugar kick
Is justified, making you feel warm and lively.
Batches of Pithas, and Patishaptas,
(Indian crepe suzettes) stuffed with honey,
Clotted cream, condensed milk or molasses,
Are fried, in purest clarified butter, then doled out
To children, cousins, visitors, carried in ornamental
Trays to neighbours, packed in steel tiffin carriers by
Husbands, boasting of wifely prowess in stuffy
Offices, wrapped in banana leaf and plastic by
Hard worked maids for their hungry children.
The seasonal giving in India is warm and rural,
The domain of grandmothers and great aunts.
Legacies of love, a way of life, passed on by mothers
And aunts that dies if daughters and sons won’t learn.
Poush is our winter month, Sankranti marks the sun’s
Movement into light, beginning another cycle
Of fresh life and harvest.
Amrita Valan is a writer based in Bangalore, India and has a master’s degree in English literature. Her poems and short stories have been published in online journals such as Café Lit, Café Dissensus, ImpSpired, Spillwords, The Crossroads, Oddball Magazine, Shot Glass Journal, Poetry and Places, Wink, Modern Literature, Portland Metrozine, The Indian Periodical, The Writers Club and Potato Soup Journal and Short Story Town. Her debut collection of fifty poems Arrivederci was published in May 2021 and her collection of 17 short stories In Between Pauses was just published in November 2021.
From Igor’s earliest memories his father would give philosophical lectures during dinner time. He’d roll his eyes and pretend not to care, but the truth is he always found them more than just a little interesting.
On an early Friday night, his mother made his favorite dinner: pork chops with French fries. It was deep autumn, and his father had made a fire. “Look there…see the shadow of the tongs on the wall?” He was referring to the tool he’d use to pick up flaming logs and rearrange them. “I see it,” said Igor, more interested in grabbing another chop from the center of the table.
“They look like giant rabbit ears, no?”
“I guess so,” said Igor, shrugging his shoulders and cutting his meat.
“Do you know if we were in Plato’s cave, we’d believe that was a real bunny.”
Igor really sort of wished he’d stop talking. He sensed another one of his big lectures coming, and he’d much rather finish dinner then run outside to play with his friends. Workers had dug a giant hole near their apartment complex, the beginning of building some structure that involved burying these concrete cylinders. He’d started to climb into the cylinders after school, when his Mom made him come in to help clean up the house. But as much as he wanted to race outside to the cylinders and the big trucks, he knew he’d have to endure his father’s big lesson; they all would. He decided to get it over with.
“It’s a shadow. Didn’t they know about shadows where Plato was from?”
“Greece,” said his father. “Plato was from Greece.”
“Speaking of grease,” said his mother, “you have a lot of it right now in your beard.” Igor smiled at his mother’s joke, and she smiled back. She was always making these clever jokes, mostly because of all the books she read. He knew his father, a philosophy professor, thought he was the smartest in the house, but often it seemed like his mom was the real intellectual.
“Of course they knew about shadows,” said his father, wiping his beard roughly, then throwing the napkin on his empty plate. “But he told a story…about people living in a cave, looking at shadows.”
“Could they come out?” Asked Igor.
“Never,” explained his father. “That’s the point. They grew up thinking that the shadows of things like a rabbit were the real thing.”
“That’s sad,” said Igor, rubbing the fries in the grease on his plate.
“Why? They didn’t know the difference.”
“What if they could get out?” Asked Igor.
“Smart boy!” Exclaimed his father, beaming as he lit his pipe. His mother smiled too. “That’s what Plato asks. Suppose one gets out, and for our discussion, let us say he sees a real rabbit. Will he believe it?”
“No. Somebody would have to teach him.” Said Igor, encouraged by the praise.
“Exactly,” said his father. “And readers of this allegory, they miss this point.”
“What’s an allegory?” Asked Igor.
“It’s a story that has a hidden meaning…telling another story inside of it,” answered his mom.
“That’s not what’s important here,” said his father, relighting his pipe. “When the teacher comes to show them, they want to kill him. He basically has to take them to the truth by force.”
With his father’s lesson completed, Igor helped his parents clean the table. Then he washed dishes with his father. When they were done, he asked if he could play with his friends until bedtime.
“It’s getting cold out. Why don’t you just stay in tonight?” Said his mother, looking a little concerned.
“It’s the weekend. Let the boy play awhile,” replied his father, now sitting by the fire with his tea.
“Okay,” agreed his mom, sitting in the chair near his father. “But stay away from all that construction. It’s dangerous….and take your jacket!”
“Thanks Mom!” Said Igor, grabbing his jacket and racing out the door. Of course he didn’t listen to her warning about the construction. He raced right to the site, where he found his friends waiting in one of the giant concrete cylinders.
“In here, Igor. Look! We have a flashlight!” One of his friends, Dimitri, was jumping up and down, his voice and his stomping feet echoing through the enclosure. He waved him over with the light.
They ran in and out of the other cylinders, as well as the trucks, taking turns to pretend they were driving. Then Igor suggested they look at the giant hole.
“It’s so deep now,” said Valde, “they’ve been digging all week. But my dad says don’t go near it. We could fall in.”
“Don’t be chicken,” replied Igor. “Here, give me the light.” He grabbed the flashlight without asking, and started to lead the way. Igor had long established himself as ring leader among this pack of neighborhood friends. At school there were others, but here he was usually boss. Valde and Dimitri didn’t seem to mind, since he usually led them to more excitement.
“Here. Stand on the edge like this and look down,” commanded Igor, shining the light below.
“It’s scary,” said Dimitri. “It’s so steep.”
“Don’t be chicken,” said Igor again. “It’s a gradual incline, plus it’s soft dirt.”
“There could be rocks,” replied Dimitri, backing up.
“There aren’t any rocks. Do you see rocks?” Igor shined the light left and right.
“He’s right,” responded Valde. “There are no rocks.”
“You two should go down there, and report back what you find,” said Igor matter of fact.
“We could die,” said Dimitri, looking concerned.
“No chance,” said Valde, trying to sound brave.
“Look, there’s a little ledge you can land on, and from there you climb down.” Igor shined the light straight down the hole to show them.
“Where? I don’t see it?” Asked Valde.
“Come closer to the edge. Dimitri, you too,” Igor motioned with one arm, still holding the light.
“Where?” asked Dimitri and Valde together.
“There!” yelled Igor, dropping the light and pushing them both forward with all of his might. They screamed as they rolled down the steep slope, the sound of their voices growing more distant before they landed with a thud. It reminded Igor of the road runner cartoon, when the coyote falls to the ground.”
“Hahahahahahah!” laughed Igor. “You guys fell for it!”
“What the hell Igor!??? You bastard!” Screamed Valde. “That hurt!”
“Time for your lesson!” shouted Igor, now sounding serious, like a teacher.
“What lesson? I’m coming back up,” explained Dimitri. He was harder to hear, as if struggling for breath.
“Me too!” yelled Valde.
Igor listened to them struggling to climb, shining his light before them to check their progress. They grunted and swore. Then, after making it a few meters, they tumbled down.
“Give up?!!!” Yelled Igor.
“It’s too steep!” Screamed Dimitri, now finding his voice. It sounded like he was crying. “Go get my father!”
“I’ll get a rope and throw it down, but only after you two maggots pass the test!” Igor loved that he called them “maggots.” He’d heard the term in an American war movie, from a two-star general.
“What test?” Asked Valde, sounding angrier and more confident than his fellow captive.
Dimitri held up two fingers, like a peace sign. He shined the flashlight on them. “See the shadow?!!!” Yelled Igor.
“What shadow?!!!” Valde yelled back in frustration.
“We see no shadow!” screamed Dimitri, now really crying.
“It’s a rabbit! I’m showing you a rabbit!”
“We don’t see a fucking rabbit! Just get us out of here. It’s cold!” Dimitri was sobbing now.
“Say it’s a rabbit!” ordered Igor, angry that they couldn’t see the image.
“Okay. Fuck. It’s a rabbit. Get us out!” Insisted Valde.
“And this light above you. It’s a star!”
“The flashlight?!!!” sobbed Dimitri out of frustration.
“Not a flashlight. A star! Say it!”
“Fine! Fine! It’s a star! Please Igor! Get the rope!” Yelled Valde. He too started to sound frightened.
“Okay. Wait there.” Igor smiled at his own joke as he went to the shed in the back of his house. He took down the long heavy rope coiled up in the corner, then walked back to his friends at the hole. He walked first to one of the big dump trucks nearby. Looping the rope once around the bumper, he then went close to the hole, and swung the rope down.
“See the end?” Asked Igor.
“No!” Dimitri yelled back.
“Feel for it!” Yelled Igor, shining the flashlight down the length of the rope.
“Okay, got it! I’m coming first!” Valde yelled up. “Ready?”
“Sure!” Igor said enthusiastically, setting the light at his feet to hold on with both hands. “And if you get lost don’t worry. Just follow the North Star!!!” Igor laughed so hard at his own joke, he almost dropped the rope.
Roger Sedarat is the author of four poetry collections. His fiction has recently appeared in Book XI: a Journal of Literary Philosophy, Construction Literary Press, and the Nonconformist. He teaches creative writing and literary translation in the MFA Program at Queens College, City University of New York.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, and has been published in issues of California Quarterly, and Tigershark, and online at A New Ulster, and Poetry Pacific. SuperTrump and A Wuhan Whodunnit are available to download from the Atlantean Publishing website.
I never found out exactly why, but the first thing I turned to in my local newspaper was the Accommodation Wanted section. An urge born of sadism, a therapist told me, or a delusional superiority over those in transit and not, like me, smugly settled. She depicted me as a man leaning over an ant hill, pitying the mindless, scurrying masses.
I dreamed one morning that was doing that very thing. I told my therapist, who was not as pleased as I thought she would be. She said, “We’ve talked about this,” and dug a tetchy note into her pad. She suspected me of lying to match my real life to her therapy. I didn’t tell her the end of my dream, the ants plodding in a soldierly fashion up my legs. I kept watching them, unperturbed, then was tasting and swallowing them, pretending I was the one feeding, and not them.
That dream revealed that my habit had a touch of masochism. I wasn’t sure what made my flesh creep when I read Student seeking Under/Graduate house – up for a laugh. Just one? Or all the time? Wouldn’t that be tiring? For everybody? Or Crazy music scholarship girl seeks central zone under a hundred dollars a week? Crazy, what, for real: rolling-on-the-floor frothing-at-the-gills self-harming need-to-be-restrained-and-force-fed-and-avoided-and-shunned crazy? Had to be, desiring that rent. Or merely optimistic, a form of insanity in itself. And Teaching couple seek share with other teachers – eh, but why? Were they going to share whiteboard markers, tranquilisers, or just the sheer black-dog-soul-destruction of teaching Inner London kids?
Vegetarian seeks family home, will do housework, babysitting, etc. in exchange for living space. That went to the crux of why I searched the columns, so I could muse over questions like: dirty dishes – yay – and wiping congealed baby food off sparkling surfaces – great – but lookingafter the kids? I wondered. Couldn’t vegetarians be child-slaughterers, like the rest of us? And – living space? What, a corner of the garage? A toy box under the table?
Fit man mid-thirties will do all your home improvements in exchange for room, city centre preferred. For how long, though? Who lives in such a ruin that there are enough home improvements to sustain a business relationship? And who would seriously want to move into such a place, even in the city centre? And if he did, and he worked builder magic, would it end terribly and dramatically with last bit of paint dry, now off you fuck, fit man, and close the now non-sticking, silent door behind you?
I could only pity them, which was useless for everybody, even me and, I guess, fear them. I couldn’t help them; it wasn’t like I had an apartment to let, or even a room in the house I live in, no corner of the garage – no garage, in fact – and no toy box, because – of course – no children. I read the ads because I needed to know that maybe I was a sad sack alone in a brown house under layers of paint among ancient newspapers and spiderwebs and dust, but out there, pining for such spaces, were even sadder sad sacks. If I didn’t find one lurking at the end of the column, my hands trembled. Then I would find myself in a crouch near the spotted potted palm that had given up the will to live or at least gone into a self-induced coma until it could find a more companionable owner. I would look up only when it was dark and the vaguely Balkan music bounced faintly from the apartments across the grass, knowing that there was no bigger sadder sack than me.
The thing was that looking at the few words allocated them by the ads section allowed me a glimpse into the minds of the great unsmug and the great unsettled from a safe distance. Only an idiot would reduce that distance.
I’ve had the Virus, the ads started to announce, in banner capitals – conquered it, done, gone. Or there was Virus-Free Flatshare Sought – neg test certs a must, show you mine if you show me yours. The virus was not going to come to my home. The virus was afraid of my home, I sensed, and what was trapped in it.
But Hugh wasn’t.
Hugh’s ad was headed Help out an Underdog, eh? It read: Teacher, philosopher, lecturer, guide, ex-Cambridge and Sorbonne, needs room in a household in a desirable area. Cambridge – hey, the one in England, near Oxford? Philosopher – what? And guide to what? Eh? And what was a Sorbonne? Some fancy watery ice cream, that was all. His ad continued: Due to unforeseen circumstances, temporarily in receipt of welfare checks. Sadly I smoke.
I analysed those last three unpunctuated words. Did he sit there puffing away and looking miserable? A better question came at me out of the mist: what kind of idiot would answer an ad that more or less said Pretentious jobless smoker with no funds wants to live in your house with you?
When I smell that tobacco pong rising, I go down to Hugh’s foggy ground floor. It used to be the living room and kitchen diner, I think. I ask Hugh if he wants anything at the store. He does: a packet of cigarettes, which now cost the arm and leg we will surely both lose from smoking-related hardened arteries. But at least we don’t have the virus. And if we do, Hugh will write us a negative test result cert on the doctors’ notepapers he has amassed over the years, his little sideline to supplement his dole payments. When I ask myself, again, what kind of idiot would answer an ad like Hugh’s, all I have to do is rub a line into the yellow patina on the hallway mirror and see a puzzled, anxious face peering back at me.
Nick Sweeney’s stories pop up in pixels and print. Laikonik Express, his Poland-set novel, came out with Unthank Books. His novella A Blue Coast Mystery, about the swingin’ sixties and genocide, is out with Histria Books. He is a freelance writer and musician, and lives on the UK’s north Kent coast.
The sodden swamp will only take you halfway there, to those depths you long to reach.
Through its estuarial tangle, its water dance, its twisted winds, its shifting tides, its salt-bleached slush and its earthy-smelling seaweed to its lulling gray depths, you must make the rest of your way, alone and unaided.
This to find your wondrous world, one you will call ‘your’ home. An unchanging place in a changing world.
This is a truth that mangrove mud crabs like Aru, living in the Sundarbans of West Bengal, know instinctively and well. And must know to survive in a place where the rivers and the sea are primed with primeval energy to seep into the porous earth and swallow it.
Hoping that her shell exterior mottled with two shades of gray, one that matches the glassy, ash colour of the marsh, will hide her from the sharp-eyed eagle soaring above on a misty December morning, Aru uses her walking legs, stealthily at first and then with surety, to move across the semi-solid sludge of sand, silt and clay banks and their narrow, shallow creeks.
She knows she must find her underground haven before she begins to molt as her exposed flesh will be a succulent temptation to her predators. With her pincers raised, eye stalks waving in the light breeze, swimming legs firmly tucked beneath but flexing the second joint of each of her ten legs, which act as hinges and bend sideways, Aru walks fast on the tips of her legs.
She goes past tall, sturdy, green-grey mangrove roots, some upright, others tilted. She can hear them breathing, straining noisily, to anchor the loose gravel, to fasten the sandbar slime and to stop the bank from being pockmarked with tide pools and drowning completely in waters of both the rivers and the sea.
As she advances, she makes a rough guess that to her flying predator her gait must look like a sideways scuttle, a sidling. In the same breath, Aru also assumes, that, perhaps, to the eagle eye, her Sundarbans must look like a forest with a series of restless yet determined blue rivers cutting through the land to reach the Bay of Bengal.
But Aru knows better. She knows that her mangrove is so much more. That it is a sponge of the living unconscious. That a billion tons of ancient sediment and memories from the freshwaters of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna don’t simply reach but mingle inextricably with the truths of the saline, prehistoric, seawater from the Bay of Bengal.
And that over and above all this, at the heart of her sultry Sundarbans, is a terrain of in-betweens. And that all living things here fluctuate in-between a swampy land and the sea. Fresh water and saline sea sprays. Clear blues of the Bay of Bengal and murky waters of criss-crossing river systems. Hot, rainy summers and dry, sluggish winters. Peaceful and wild cyclonic days. And, strangely, yet truly, in-between swimming tigers and walking fish.
She knows that they also swing between stasis and change. The familiar and unknown. Giving and taking away. And in-between the privileged oppressor and righteous oppressed.
It is hard for Aru to tell where one vexing middle will begin or end. Or which will take over and when. Or whether they will war or work together. But what she does know is this. That these in-betweens of her dry-damp microcosm have lain powerfully encamped within her from birth as her search for a place in it.
As the wet shores glisten in the sun like a silver forest and yet another depression forms over the sea causing humidity to leach into her, past her shell, even in December, and as the dull heat assails her, Aru chooses to concentrate on the subtle sounds of life around her, on the enchantments rather than the menace or her region’s agitating ambiguities.
She tunes into the soft lapping of waves, the murmurs of the mangrove, the faint cadences of low-hanging gewa and sundari branches, the muted calls of pitta birds, the far-off exhalations of the shushuk, the bottle-nosed freshwater dolphin, and the muffled sounds of sea snails, mudskippers and amphibious fish that hop out of the water and scribble patterns on the banks.
This till she spots a water monitor lizard swagger along the bank, flicking its long, forked tongue and a crocodile step out to soak up some sun bringing harm to her path. She can also distantly hear the sounds of human crab catchers, their voices echoing past the noises made by their squishy, squelchy feet pushed deep into the gray mire of the banks.
Alert and poised for escape, Aru’s eyes track a moving object, a woman. Her sari, its anchol and the ends of her long hair drip with a liquid curtain of marsh sediment. Instinctively, Aru knows that the woman, like her, is battling the in-betweens of her world. That is she, too, is a fugitive, fighting to survive.
Prioritising her own escape, Aru is determined to not be exposed on the open bank, to push the frontiers of her young life as much as she can and to find her pit in the underworld, her home. As a crab, she knows that active resistance is not the only or best way of warring the chilly amorality of the natural world. That there are other equally valid ways of fighting.
Quickly and noiselessly, Aru burrows in the sandbar, clawing her way in, deep, deeper, until she is out-of-sight to her captors. With her ten legs, she grips the soil within and then quickly engineers its physical and chemical makeup within her hollow to suit her needs as those of the tiny insects who companionably move in alongside with lightning speed.
Now, inside, with safety in her trough and hope in her dust bowl, the picture of the woman comes to Aru’s mind.
Aru has been told by other crabs that women in the human world have to, like them, adapt to the high salinity and caprice of the mangrove biome, find their food and battle with large predators, sometimes visible, other times not, things like history, culture, religion, political faiths, class, family and relationships, things she does not know too much off, to find their place.
She hopes that this woman, like her, finds her own safe mangrove sandbar, her own world complete with golpatta, nipa palms whose fronds are used to thatch roofs, and her footing in it. That she fights her fight intelligently, without belligerence or aggression but with a quiet understanding of strategy and determined astuteness.
Who knows maybe…in-between the baritone growl, pugmarks and scat of the tiger, its rushing blur of stripes and the gentle scents the khalshi, garan and baen trees, where bees make a light honey, a darker one, and a runny one…the woman will, before long, raise a seashell to her escape, to her new discoveries and to what can be still discovered.
Chitra Gopalakrishnan, a New Delhi-based journalist and a social development communications consultant uses her ardour for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism. Author website: www.chitragopalakrishnan.com
In the entire damn history of the world, women have always had bellies. Nice, big, round ones. Venus of Willendorf is proof of fat women 30,000 years ago—hot as fuck. Show cellulite some love— modern bellies covered, fussed at, rejected and doctored. Shamed into shapewear, weakness,
lack of decent medical care. If I have a belly, how can I be strong? And yet, women were goddesses,
with curves, wombs revered, still sexy without a baby, belly and hips arousing. So, wear that fatkini, get your belly a little sunburnt, worship fat goddesses. They know all about your shame.
Dandelion Wish: Update
I blew seeds into stars
Asked why not my family?
Weren’t we in more danger?
Our ice rinks turned into morgues.
I ceremonially slid myrrh and olibanum soap over body for months.
It disappeared into residue.
Should my grief, dead wishes, flow down drain?
There are so many dandelions to pluck,
seed the galaxy with, create more galaxies with—
but while wishes multiply—there are none strong enough
to fix our family.
I talk to your mother once a week,
anything to break up nostalgia,
endless holidays smearing her calendar.
Each seed that I have blown to ether
drifts back into my chest.
The cave there holds tight those seeds,
but no dreams come true.
Wishes are magical on their own—
buy we manifest, not necromancy.
I clutch your dandelion wishes.
The myrrh is gone, the seeds safe,
but my wishes have changed.
You are all dandelion.
While you dream.
I blow your wishes.
How She’d See Me
for Carrie Fisher
“I drowned by moonlight” dangling, tangled by sideways rainbows, unsure of dramas typing in my head,
unsure of “motive” and “pure” and glances
I gasp when others sigh and frown as others giggle and contrariness comes in threes and “I’m feel I’ve very sane about crazy I am” and still sigh
raw emotion dips
leaps out of mouth
dreams out of hands
I wish we could “inaugurate Bipolar Pride Day,” I mean, mania is one step more magenta than the rainbow—and if you throw in ribbons, glitter, and bondage boots—yea pretty much got
the dirty drip
“strangled in my bra” would headline my fizzled eyes and the books tossed aside in the corners where the spiders read.
And I would rest—deep forest—deep moss—”There’s no room for demons when you’re self-possessed”
it’s true, how many demons does one need?
ten? five? I guess twins might be nice
a serious one for mania—keep ya reigned in
one—one step loonier than ya to pep up depression
“Instant gratification takes too long”
*quotes are by Carrie Fisher
Kim Malinowski is a lover of words. Her collection Home was published by Kelsay Books and her chapbook Death: A Love Story was published by Flutter Press. Her work has appeared in Mookychick, Songs of Eretz, BLUEPEPPER, Enchanted Living, and others. She writes because the alternative is unthinkable.
Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Reed, Poet Lore,Chiron Review, Cardiff Review, Poem, Adirondack Review, Florida Review, Slant, Nebo, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Roanoke Review and many other journals in a dozen countries. He has authored three books of poetry:Buffalo Nickel,The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.