Gets off at Bourbon Street To down a drink with Jack Micheline
He walks the battlefields with Walt Whitman
Roams the plains with Red Cloud
In search of the last Buffalo
Forever walking the streets of North Beach
In search of the elusive ginger fish smell
Death a sightless chauffeur waits like
A concubine facing down a faceless John.
You Deserve To Suffer
Visions of the past float like
The riverbank of my mind
Pink panties and white bra
Laying like a land mine on the floor
Next to the foot of the bed
Drinking tequila with glasses
Dipped in salt as I slowly move down
Your soft underbelly like
A moth undressing a light bulb
I was there the night you put your
Fist through the window swearing You saw the face of God
In your own reflection Yelling Mantra’s no one understood
As the people down below looked Up and wondered what
The screaming was all about
I was there the night at the bar When you broke a beer bottle Over the head of a drunk bully
Leaving seconds before the cops came
And though I should have
I didn’t give them your name
I was there the day at the cemetery When you visited the grave Of the only man you ever loved
I was there the night you sat alone At the airport watching strangers
Greet their loved ones at the arrival gate
Page 2. You Deserve to Suffer
I was there the night they took you away
To Langley Porter Psychiatric Clinic Where you soared like a bird in flight
Never to return to earth as we know it
I was there the day the crucifix carrying Priest Said his mumbo jumbo words over the grave
Looking like a caterer serving leftovers At an unattended banquet
I was there the day they buried you in A shawl of unwritten poems And drank a toast to you Long after the others left Remembering that white bra And pink laced panties
The night we lifted boulders from The chest of Jesus and hurled them At the face of God.
A.D. Winans is an award winning poet and writer and the former editor/publisher of Second Coming Magazine/Press, Awards include a PEN National Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature, a PEN Oakland Lifetime Achievement Award, and a Kathy Acker award in poetry and publishing.
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.