tlr The Lampeter Review
JOURNAL of the Lampeter Creative Writing Centre www.lampeter-review.com
issue 7/ MAY 2013
Davina Allinson Mark Blayney Aidan Flanagan Edward Bond Chris Cornwell Katy Darby Gerald Dawe Luned Desimon Dic Edwards Martina Evans Alan Flanders Kathryn Gray Devin Harrison Geoffrey Heptonstall Jeremy Hooker Cynan Jones Marian Delyth Tony Kendrew John Lavin Hannah Lowe Roy Marshall Alison Moore Sue Moules Kate Murray Kate North Amanda Oosthuizen Michael Oliver-Semenov Valerie Sirr Robin Smith Anna Somerset Katherine Stansfield Christina Thatcher Roisin Tierney Susie Wild Dennis Oâ€™Driscoll
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EDITED by: Ros Hudis EDITORIAL BOARD: Dic Edwards, John Lavin, Ros Hudis DESIGNED by: Constantinos Andronis (email@example.com) COVER PAGE IMAGE: Marian Delyth
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BA and MA courses are taught by a staff of prominent, internationally renowned writers and lecturers, including poets Menna Elfyn and Samantha Wynne-Rydderch, poet and playwright Dic Edwards and poet, author and critic, Jeni Williams. Applications to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Table of Contents
-7Editorial / Ros Hudis -11Heloise at the Oratory / Davina Allinson -13Four Poems / Mark Blayney with images by Aidan Flanagan -17Modern Eclogue / Edward Bond -19Years have brought senility to all men / Chris Cornwell -23What Would John Keats Do? / Katy Darby -30Three Poems / Gerald Dawe -33The Tender Margins / Luned Desimon -36icepoems #16 & #1 / Dic Edwards
-39Three poems / Martina Evans -43Apparition of Evening Light / Alan Flanders -46The Punishments / Kathryn Gray -47Cats / Devin Harrison -48Providence / Geoffrey Heptonstall -62Two Poems / Jeremy Hooker -65Milk / Cynan Jones -69Photographs / Marian Delyth -77Closed for the Year / Tony Kendrew -83A Name is Written and a Heart Drawn Around it / John Lavin -91Two Poems / Hannah Lowe -92Lives of Poets / Roy Marshall -93Overnight Stop / Alison Moore -101Siblings / Sue Moules
-104Oil and Water / Kate Murray -108The Wrong Coat / Kate North -115The Cellist and the Wolves / Amanda Oosthuizen -121Two Poems / Michael Oliver-Semenov -125The Creases in John McCormack’s Shoes / Valerie Sirr -127Blue into Blue / Robin Smith -128My Brother Manqué / Anna Somerset -129Two Poems / Katherine Stansfield -1311996 American Postcard / Christina Thatcher -132The Only Hue / Roisin Tierney -134No Laughter After Midnight / Susie Wild -141Spectrum Press / Sue Moules -144A Tribute to Dennis O’Driscoll / John Lavin -147Contributors
Seven is a number that haunts mythology. Often it is the period of time before a charm or prohibition is lifted. It suggests a cycle during which essential processes are undergone, or arrival at a pivotal moment of change or reclamation. In Judaism it represents completion. This is the seventh issue of The Lampeter Review and, in an odd way, it does feel like a pivotal point for the magazine – certainly a moment to celebrate the journal’s extraordinary rapid development and to look both back at its roots and forwards to a new phase of its journey. Lampeter, a Welsh rural market town and site of the smallest university in Europe and one of the oldest in Britain, has a history of dynamic involvement in literary publication, which includes innovative journals like Belinda Humfreys’ The Powys Review and the independent small press Spectrum. In this issue we publish Sue Moules’ article on the Lampeter-based Spectrum which was established in the early 1980s. With remarkably similar goals to The Lampeter Review today, it sought to be a ‘trendsetting publication that would attract dynamic and innovative readers.’ Sue goes on: ‘the name spectrum is derived from the rainbow of colours visible when light is separated through a prism, and the aim of the press was to be prismatic, and to find a wide range of talent.’ Again, that seeking of a non-partisan diversity allied with literary excellence is also core for The Lampeter Review. The same ambitious, boundarypushing vision is still alive and proactive in our corner of the Celtic fringe. One driving force behind Spectrum Press was Sue Moule’s ex husband, the poet Chris Bendon. Chris, whom we published in Issue 2 of The Lampeter Review, lived in Lampeter for thirty-four years and died after long illness on November 1st 2011. Recalling Spectrum is a fitting way to honour him. Another contributor and enthusiastic supporter of the Review was Irish poet and critic, Dennis O’Driscoll whose premature death last Christmas shocked many. John Lavin remembers him movingly in an obituary piece.
Diverse voices, then, have become a feature of the review. In this issue we have work of accomplished and individualistic utterance across the dialectical range from the visceral urban oratory of Edward Bond’s Modern Eclogue to the quirky rural-epiphanic observations of Mark Blayney, to the assured conversational irony of Kate Darby’s What Would John Keats Do ? We mix established names with emergent talent and showcase work that has developed out of Trinity Saint David’s own creative writing community and as well as writers from as far afield as Canada, Australia and the USA. We’re delighted to have a story, Overnight Stop, from Manchester-born Alison Moore, whose début novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and two poems by Hannah Lowe, whose début collection, Chick, was published by Bloodaxe books in January. As before, we feature outstanding examples of English language writing from several of Wales’ leading authors, including contributions from Kathryn Gray, Dic Edwards, Katherine Stansfield Michael Oliver-Semenov, Susie Wild, Kate North and Cynan Jones; winner of a Betty Trask award for his first novel, The Long Dry; as well as two new pieces from Jeremy Hooker. Work by prominent Irish writers is again represented with poems from Roisin Tierney, Martina Evans and Gerald Dawe. And, in our tradition of showcasing contemporary drama, we have a mysterious and lyrical play by one of our new writers, Geoffrey Heptonstall. We also bring you images by the distinguished Ceredigion photographer, Marian Delyth. Perhaps what links many of these pieces and images is their diverse engagement with ‘the view’ – that loaded intersection between memory, the interior inflections of personality, aesthetics, space, time, location, history, and political or moral consciousness. One could add to that list disguise and revelation. A heavy brief – yet one that Jeremy Hooker, for example, tackles with supreme economy and a lightness of touch. Light touch, indeed intimacy, is a quality of Martina Evans’ poems -and an empathy alert to the ambiguous resonance of a memory, coupled with superb narrative technique. The same is true of Gerald Dawe. He has an eye – and an ear – for the subtle, even transitory detail that betrays the larger picture of society at a given point in time, be it the goofy teeth and rolled up sleeves of a recalled ‘man-soon-to-be-my-uncle’ or a misspelling scrawled in the margin of a book on poetry of the 1940s. Here the view is of the precise recollection that hints at wider significance. Authorial stance is gentle – somewhere between reflection and benign interrogation of memory. The meta-narrative is viewed through the quasi disengagement of temporal distance. For other writers in the issue ‘the view’ is more troubled and troubling. Chris Cornwell powerfully evokes the 
commercialisation of our lives perceived through metaphors of butchery – ‘the big butcher’s window.’ This bold poem is infused with the kind of parodic, driven bitterness that suggests betrayal: a betrayal of moral vision to which we have become inured, almost viewing it as a corollary of the seasoned, civilised perspective. In Bond’s Modern Ecolgue betrayal of the young is examined through the metaphor of city as analogue of the power relations between capitalist state provider of a totalizing vision – and the individual, whose own ability to locate a vision of self within the city/state has been undermined by an economic erasure -or appropriation, of the city’s history and purpose and of its working class. The young of Modern Eclogue are dispossessed - lingering like blind inversions of Baudelaire’s ‘flaneurs’ and the pan-optic view afforded by the narrator is one of moral redundancy. They come out of nowhere -- they linger on nameless streets -- the young people out of the dead -- the emptiness -- the cornucopia of nothingness -- of the absence of circles and squares Where has the wind wafted the red-brick factories? -- the stockades? -the rusting hulks? It is as if the city gains exterior coherence from interior adherence to moral bonds of justice and responsibility. When these are neglected, the city as a meaningful entity dissolves: In modern injustice no courtesy between roof and roof -- purse and purse -- mind and mind Day does not follow day -- night night -- the empty zinc bath With Dic Edward’s complex and extraordinary poem ‘Paris’ we are invited, in a gesture of ironic longing, into the ‘view’ of the urban flaneur as we might more typically conceive it – at once abandoned to the city’s aesthetic/sensual surface and yet intellectually discerning of each experience as an index of the prevailing power structures. I want to be impossible incomplete to be certain who i am to imagine Sartre at The Deux Magots and taste
the cheeses all the fucking cheeses the soupy eblochon and gamey Epoisses Brie slavering over the edge of the marble slab innumerable varieties of goat cheeses blue with hard crusts or crowned with fresh herbs tiny pyramids of sharp flavoured logs of creaminess rich with the democratic vice of complacency/ that’s me imagined arm in arm with a carnal sweetheart with booze glow The paradox dramatised in ‘Paris’ is perhaps that the gestures of freedom it conjures are in fact redolent of class exploitation and a displacement from moral engagement. Ultimately, they offer, for the narrator, hollow epiphanies - the sterility of aesthetic value divorced from a holistic vision of society. Not Leonardo’s virgin who protects the vulnerable, but the virgin who heralds the ‘age of ice’. Elsewhere, as in the stories by John Lavin, Amanda Oosthuizen, and Alison Moore, and Kathryn Gray’s poem The Punishments, moral consciousness is shown displaced through manifestations of guilt and anxiety, resulting in texts that finely balance forensic detail, edginess, dark wit and ambiguity. Alison Moore’s Overnight Stop beautifully exemplifies tension and sub-text conveyed through sensory observation – the peachy smell of an aircraft interior, for example, juxtaposed with the sound of rain like ‘bullets’. That same subtle wielding of observation that hums with the ‘unsaid,’ and a gentle thread of wit, also marks out “The Tender Margins”, the first published story by a striking new writer, Luned DeSimon. And the delicately humorous mystery of casual experience – the ways it both reflects and deflects our view of it, or our overlays of fiction, is again conveyed in Kate North’s story, “The Wrong Coat”. Wit is a powerful tool that can be at once unsettling and disarming. It certainly imbues the virtuoso handling of tone in Katherine Stansfield’s poems, and her almost celebratory relish of the physicality of language. And there is a sense in which every piece in this issue, whether it faces the dark or benign aspects of ‘the view’, is a celebration of the power of creative language and thought to heighten and deepen our perspective. This is surely at the heart of Roisin Tierney’s resonant poem “The Only Hue” which spins us through the many angles of perception and sensation. Through the many voices that make up our seventh issue, linguistic justice is done, even to the bleak spectacle of Bond’s ‘modern injustice.’
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Heloise at the Oratory Davina Allinson
For M Matins I have been a long time here, my love, hands thin on the dry scrape of winter, still in its habit of pinning the hours in a trace of ice as blue-lipped and weary as bird bones. Do you remember? The spill of morning along our thighs, those blackening curves soft as water against the slick darkness of you â€“ turning loverâ€™s wrists towards the sky, her colours ash, lime, sharp with the pull of days falling to a close? We were like sea-gods roaming the deep haul and cast, its call on our mouths as urgent as the dulled briny hum of the drowned where night heaved us in her swell, bruised our eyes, lips, moored our hands as if we had years,
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and the nesting spine-tails surfaced the cold stilling the last of the wintering dark in their closed wings.
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Four Poems Mark Blayney with illustrations by Aidan Flanagan
winter sun clouds hurry to keep warm the shadows on the road nudging my sleepy hangover to wake me, you slip a secret whisky into our afternoon to shore us against oncoming snow blue trees watch on, jealous
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banqueting hall, tara I rolled in the grass and heard distant voices: adults eating the chink of cutlery rattle of glass a scrape of chair and, seeing my hands raw knees red and mystical (not my knees at all) the smoke rising softly, the memory of those not here and a diminished, but rousing, cheer
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hook head white house protecting its young neck erect like a swan looking out for boats who would steal a home flashing a warning light like the hiss and glimpse of orange tongue
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cathedral rocks slabs of blue sound a concerto in three movements the ancient monument frowning on the skittish, yellow land
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Modern Eclogue Edward Bond
They come out of nowhere -- out of nothingness -- emptiness One day they find themselves on a nameless street -- young people -- how did they get here? They try to put together bits of memory -- sharp brightly coloured -- who was I then? - have I spoken? Modern injustice rarely shows itself -- queues shuffling at handouts -- socks for scarves -- split mittens On the abandoned town lot -- day in day out the tethered goat tugs at the halter -- braided steel -- -- strangled -- the empty zinc bath -- they say suicide -- on the big teeth ridges carved by ancient oceans The glory is all around us In modern injustice the living walk out of the dead Where there is no past there is no future I eat my two meals a day The growl of machines over the suburbs -- out on the green hills steel Golgothas waving their lunatic arms TV culture: a corpse with a thin veneer of living flesh Celebrity culture: a waiting room In modern injustice no courtesy between roof and roof -- purse and purse -mind and mind Day does not follow day -- night night -- the empty zinc bath They come out of nowhere -- they linger on nameless streets -- the young people out of the dead -- the emptiness -- the cornucopia of nothingness -- of the absence of
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circles and squares Where has the wind wafted the red-brick factories? -- the stockades? -- the rusting hulks? It is written in the origin of government that the state in which the rich take more and the poor less is ungovernable and its paving-stones shall be the altars of Tophet The zinc bath is empty -- the rivets that bound its handles hang loose in their sockets Two times a day I eat my bread No fiery angel in burnished sandals and bright raiment with a burning sword will come But it will come The fire will come It will be In counting houses -- trading floors -- wharfside exchanges -- the galaxies of coins tossed heads or tails or souls wrapped in rags The gurgling of drains and the howling of children In the office of the office: crooks apprentice-crooks trainee-crooks novice-crooks intern-crooks sibilant-crooks-ancient-in-vice-and-corruption and fresh-facedfledglings-in-theft A quorate mob gathered to pay greed cupidity bribery swindling extortion malfeasance waste pollution dereliction destitution suicide slaughter rapine war and the spilling of modern blood in their account
This poem was written as a new year poem for 2013
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Years have brought senility to all of men Chris Cornwell
What a sick and hideous marketplace man is and has become, Years have brought senility to all of men women, children too. It wears its chains not lightly like invisible inhibition but with flourishing vanity Price tags like Pelagial jewellery. All the body wracked in filth and farming, foamy cunts are cappuccinos for the man of means at any time, shipped if need be like the lakes of ham and meat, the slurry from the “countryside.” I, every eye, weeps and laments all the while a beady and blurred view, a hazing of the terror. The difference, I would say between consumption and a kiss, it is not an exchange but a full compliment of lips. What a split and what disgusting contents when muscle is meat and sinew gristle, To be sold and seen through the big, butcher’s-window. And I can see my reflection in the big, butcher’s-window sallow and slim, a havenot, a “thin.” “Wish I had the heart! To be put in pieces for people like me to see and envy the gem-stone shimmy of the scarlet walls of my heart and the proud purple sheen of my gullet all taken apart and before us. I wish I had the guts for it! To take up a career as a set of cuts and collection of offal, assortment of offal, batch of offal, a human kit, tidied into a mess of organs. An organ of the butcher’s business.” But I am flesh none the less What worth I must have, what coin I will command, Flesh for sale! Flesh for sale, son! What a hateful window! What a nauseating view the View really is. But In the City they say:
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What’s wrong with this? A whore? Yes, a whore! What of that? The whores are not for scathing; the only true romance a city houses lies as a corpse in the hearts and bones of whores and in their chambers the body of Christ can still be found l(a)ying dead
Above their doors you can read the epitaph of loving, “£20,” STERLING “N.Q.A.” Flesh for sale! “£20”STERLING. What a figure! I can afford romance! And whoever insulted the price tag can blast and burn This is currency! I know it all well. They would wait the hundred years on the shore with me If I pay ‘em for the time. They are women of the night for all is sure - and I see the reeking ruby winking at me as each one at her own times purchase, fills the smallest corner of the ferry, keep me company you see, eternity for tuppence, a penny an eye, but they don’t cower in the grasp of the ferryman’s company. Those that are women of the night, with jewellery-box hearts, buried and secreted somewhere beyond all the flesh of those butchers-window breasts. Those fat breasts, It’s all fat like the slaughterhouse scrap bag, all piss-coloured lard infected with impurity and skin like pastry. Some great pudding …or tart! Yes, tart is the word they use isn’t it? “She is loose and that’s the sum of it,” No honest-to-God price on her but her lips are laced with the degradation of a fine. All life escapes her like fruit escapes the What a bitter taste on the tongue of the finer artisan suffers when his throat and all its enlacements are trapped like hideous tendrils by those bludgeoning numbers… how heavy with weight they are and letters are so light.
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And as I sit in deference to the View, now from some grimy Inn in the city, drinking my drinks and hazing my eyes, obscuring the View, scratching my souls and wearing my pen thin, Some fucking piece of city meat and trim, In his suit and his wallet and his lank job and balding tongue and professional hair trained into shape at the gym, Licked his lips and sniffed his fingers and leant in to me A man may offer empty words so long as another man fills them for him. And in return he fills her husk and moistens her a while. “In all of commerce I see only this” A coin. “… the body of the world the liver and the parchment of the heart the gut and the rod and I see the coin The coin in me and man in the coin the man in me and the coin in men and me in you.” He drivelled. “We are in an inn, it is the public house all about us; it is the inn of the coin and the coin is drunk here and the coin is this world and this world the coin.” And with that the dull and drab croupier killed me and went back to his stall. There are those who are daughters of Hilarion’s tongue, They give birth to the children of gossip around the butcher’s window. Housewives and “whores,” in the cold, dripping at the nose, snorting steam and bathed in the black overcoats of the poor, waiting for the pawn shop to open. Waiting to be invited into the warmth and smell of vats of dripping heating over a rich, red fire, invited into the window to be, as part of the view, the envy of the gauping pauper, people they once resembled gaping in the cold, gossiping. “I wish I had the legs for it!” “…or the waist!” All cattle and meat.
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He spat his tongue at one half of woman That half that to the flesh to which the male mind ascribes phantasy and invasions. Have the promise, have the fecundity! and the promiscuity of lips and language are yours too like…” Then he bit down and spat. “Qui tacet consentire videtur” They chant, to keep their own mouths moving, But Cratylus and castration are as different as the poet and the press and I, until I die, still have my finger and Will escape the butcher’s hook, I hope, The glare of the market might pass me by, And let me and my parts die and be buried, interred with my pen, fingers, feet, phallus and my tongue.
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What Would John Keats Do? Katy Darby
Do you remember that poem you wrote me, for our anniversary? You’d found a card, retro of course, just the sort of thing I liked – like – you were always good at that. I’d bought a card, and a gift for you, but I was still unsure, then; I didn’t know whether you’d remember, or if you did, whether you’d count from the same night – or if you did that, whether you’d get me anything, so I kept my present for you in my purse, fully prepared to return it, still wrapped, to the back of my underwear drawer if you didn’t mention the anniversary. But you did. My throat thickened as you brought the card out, after dinner at my place, which you cooked in my tiny Fifties kitchenette, both of us knocking back Martinis you’d mixed; me sitting on the only barstool in my black taffeta dress, you in your shirtsleeves still with your tie on. I remember, too, the yawing lurch in my stomach when I saw what you’d written in it: not the word love, that milestone had been passed early on, both ways – no, the poem. It was terrible. Horrible. I mean really, really bad, like a tenth-grader had mixed Coleridge with Byron and yakked up the indigestible parts. It scanned, kind of, and it rhymed – oh Lord, how it rhymed! - but poetry this was not. Mongrel doggerel; horrible, terrible, execrable ... I could barely read it; leastways, not with a straight face.
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I was amazed that you’d got it so wrong; I mean a poem, for a poetry PhD? How did you expect me not to judge it? You’d have been better off quoting something sweet and allusive from Eliot or Whitman or even Yeats than writing your own. But I read it, and smiled as you watched me, because you wrote it; and it reminded me that people write poems when what they’re feeling can’t really be put into words. Only poets can make that shit into gold, and you were no poet. “What do you think?” you asked, half scared, half eager, and I knew what that felt like too. So I closed the card and kissed you, and said I loved it, when what I really meant was that I loved you. * It’s weird to be back here, I’ll say that. Alma – the city and the college – hasn’t changed much, and certainly not as much as I have, in the past ten years. Well, they call it a city, but with a four-figure population, much of it students, that’s a polite fiction at best. But I wanted to be somewhere safe and familiar, somewhere I’d been happy, at least for a while, and so when the visiting professorship came up I applied. The new President, Dr. Abernathy, didn’t remember me, but then why should he? At least the faculty who’d taught me were still there; well, most of them, anyhow. Alma’s not really the sort of place you move on from. People get comfortable here; make their lives, settle down. Except us, of course. Except me. Donald’s father runs the garage on the edge of town; I must have passed it a thousand times in my student days, filled up there, bought candy and chips, chatted with the guy, maybe even glimpsed the kid skulking around the pumps, but I can’t say I ever really noticed the place. Donald worked summers there all through high school to pay his college tuition; still helps out a few days a week. His dad said he could go to college on two conditions; one, that he didn’t move out of town, and two, that he majored in something “useful”. So Donald chose law. He hates it; I don’t blame him, but if studying something you loathe is the cost of a university education, along with waxing sedans every weekend, well, seems like that’s a price he’s willing to pay. He’s passing all his classes, so he says; so far. But Donald loves poetry. Loves it. Writes it. That’s how I met him; he cut a class on property law to sneak in to one of my seminars on Romantic poetry. I noticed him edge guiltily round the door, but I wouldn’t have commented, probably wouldn’t even have remembered, if he hadn’t come up to me after the class to … well, gush, I guess, is the word. He’s an unusual kid; for a start, his clothes are pretty outlandish even for a student at a liberal arts college. I speak as a woman [ 24 ]
half of whose students have pink hair – and that’s just the guys. At first glance, I would have described Donald’s style as “salesman at a funeral”; a cheap dark suit, a white shirt, an Alma tie, black hair slicked back; worn, over-shined Oxfords on his feet. But close-up I noticed that the suit was good quality, just old and outmoded, that the shirt cuffs were French, with those elastic-knot links, and that Donald, even for a student who clearly shopped at a thrift-store and wore the results unironically, was very, very young. How young, I found out later: seventeen, a bright boy with a late-summer birthday who’d skipped a grade, but from the back you’d make him at twentyfour, twenty-five, minimum. Maybe that was why he dressed the way he did, hoping to fool campus predators from a distance into thinking he was faculty, or at least admin. He was tall, too, and not skinny, exactly, but with that adolescent spring-bean leanness that even the best suit (and his suit was not the best) can only partially disguise. But it was his face that gave him away; he hadn’t – still hasn’t – grown into his strong features, his thick eyebrows, his rough and reddened skin. Looking at him, I aged him mentally by ten years and saw what he would one day become; handsome without knowing it, too innocent still by then to take advantage of having something women want. He’d probably marry early to his college sweetheart, if he managed to discard his virginity somewhere along the road to graduation. Earnest, eager, awkward, small-r romantic; understanding nothing until it was too late. Like me. “I really enjoyed your lecture,” he said, and his voice was already well-broken, unnervingly deep and mature coming out of that half-grown boy-face. “Keats is like my favourite poet, and your reading – well, the way you spoke it and all – I thought it was really, like, awesome.” Articulacy was not one of Donald’s strong points, but in that he did not differ from the majority of my students, so I asked him if he was joining the class. He looked abashed. “Uh, not really I guess – I’m majoring in law, my seminar’s down the hall, but I heard about your class from my friend, Betsy?” I knew Betsy: chubby, sweetfaced, a big fan of Wordsworth’s nature stuff. Pink hair, of course. I nodded encouragingly. “Oh sure, you’re the garage kid, right?” Betsy had talked about her “adopted little brother” some in class; the greasemonkey-turned-lawyer, dirt-poor, pennybright. I’d always thought it was a pretty interesting path. He coloured even [ 25 ]
more: I guessed he didn’t like to be called that. “Yeah, I guess. But, uh, she said it was … awesome, so … uh, yeah.” “Well …” I hiked an eyebrow. “Oh! Donald,” he supplied. “Well, Donald, that’s real nice to hear, but I’m afraid I can’t condone your cutting another teacher’s class to attend mine, however much you love the Romantics.” I smiled to soften the blow; the expression on his face had become that of a baby seal glimpsing the club. “How about you buy a copy of my book on Keats instead?” I suggested. “Come by next week and I’ll sign it for you, okay?” He looked a little stunned. I didn’t know what he’d been hoping for, but I had a hunch it wasn’t a sales pitch. “Uh, yeah,” he said, “Okay, wow, that would be great.” “It’s in the campus bookstore,” I said helpfully, gathering my papers and putting my glasses away (vanity, I’m afraid – these days I need them for more than reading). With my spectacles off, his round sunburned face instantly blurred to me, as though seen through sudden tears. So when he snapped open his briefcase (his briefcase! See what I mean about the salesman?) and thrust a sheaf of neatlytyped papers into my hand I couldn’t make out what the hell they were. “Would you – I mean, only if you have the time, uh, could you look at this and tell me what you think? Maybe after class next week? I’ll bring the book.” Had he written me a spontaneous paper on Kubla Khan or something? It was possible: students are weird, right? But the half-scared, half-eager tone to his voice reminded me of someone, and I guess that’s what tipped the balance for me; that, and the fact that all I had to go home to that night was grading term-papers and CSI on TiVo. “OK, Donald,” I said. * “Sure.” I stopped by the liquor store to pick up a bottle of the French white I like but can’t really afford: they don’t even bother ID’ing me any more, and I honestly don’t know whether it’s because I’ve aged so much in these last few months, or because they know me now. I grabbed some Lays and Oreos in the deli next door, [ 26 ]
too; I couldn’t face cooking, and with about a pound of students essays to read, I knew I’d need both the carb-load and the sugar-rush. I’d forgotten about Donald’s addition to my workpile until I tipped my shoulder bag out onto my desk; but there it was, hastily stuffed in the front pocket, crumpled and strangely formatted, but all too real. What the hell, I might as well get it out the way. I found my glasses, found a wine-glass, poured myself a notdriving-tonight amount of Chablis, and settled down to read. It was poetry. You’d guessed that, right? Well, I hadn’t. More fool me. And it was … horrible, terrible, execrable – well, you have a thesaurus. Worse, there was pages and pages of it: twenty, thirty at least, sometimes with two poems to a page, sometimes long verses that went on for a hundred lines or more. Let’s put it this way: I stopped counting after Glass Three and Sonnet Seventeen. It seemed, from what I could understand (which wasn’t everything, I admit – Donald had an enthusiasm for torturing metaphors that would have put the folks at Guantanamo to shame) that he was pretty badly in love with his friend Becky and she didn’t know it. There was plenty of stuff about “Juno’s curves” and “roseblush tresses” in there, anyhow, plus a few references to longing looks across the lunchroom. Knowing Becky as I did – which wasn’t anything like well, but well enough to understand that she was a perfectly nice, completely unremarkable young woman who must have inadvertently captured Donald’s heart when she was a sophomore to his freshman back in high school – I couldn’t help but feel that this … outpouring, this geyser, this violent, volcanic eruption of emotion over her represented an awful waste of good love. Too, I knew what Donald didn’t, which was that Becky had a monster crush on gorgeous blond Francis, also in my seminar group. And finally, I knew what Francis didn’t, which was that he was 100% gay. Nobody was coming out smiling in this love triangle. I took another generous sip, and turned the page, where Donald was pushing back the boundaries of poetic innovation by trying to rhyme burgeoning with surgeon – or perhaps it was surging; it was hard to tell by this stage, even with my glasses on.
[ 27 ]
What to do? Whatever to do with this steaming pile of earnest, soul-dredging shit? I could hardly break his poor, raw, palpitating heart by telling him it was bad, but then again I certainly couldn’t tell him his poetry was good. Rusty and neglected it might be, but I still had a conscience, and literary quality was the one thing I found it almost impossible to lie about: I was pretty sure my tongue would go on strike and simply refuse to form the words if I tried. Nor could I offer to teach this kid how to write poetry; only how to read it – something he’d at least started to find out for himself, if the bastardised imitations of Shelley and Keats I’d just winced through said anything. Poor Donald. Poor Betsy. But most of all, poor me. Because strange to relate, reading page after page of toe-curling doggerel, I found myself thinking about how young and stupid I had once been, and how long it had taken me to build a shell over that most vulnerable part of the adolescent anatomy; the heart that grows on the sleeve. I found myself thinking about how you took me under your wing, and helped me, and held me, and hurt me, and how maybe, just maybe, I could do the same to Donald. I was not his teacher, thank God, but I could sure as hell teach him something. I found myself thinking about his mouth and his eyes, and that low, anxious voice when he asked me to look at his work, trembling a little, just like I remember mine trembling when I gave my first chapter to you, and you looked it over and looked surprised and looked closer and said, “This looks good. It looks good.” It’s the Chablis talking, I know. Maybe if I drink the rest of it it’ll shut up. What am I saying? No, seriously, what am I saying? That I want to seduce a student? No. No, the Chablis sure does, but that’ll pass. I guess I’m saying that I understand now. What you did. What we were. Why we aren’t any more, haven’t been for nine years. Why you never called, never wrote, never replied. It makes me sad, thinking about poor Donald, all full of love, with nowhere for it to go; a soul like a ripe melon and innocent, yet of the terrible knowledge that this is a world of concrete sidewalks and the only way is down. I want someone to love this kid: does that make sense? It’s not gonna be Betsy. So why shouldn’t it be me? I guess that’s how you thought, back then when I was in love with you, unable to hide it. What’s the harm? I can show her, grow her, shield her. Why should she make the same stupid mistakes I did when I was that age?
[ 28 ]
I’ll tell you why: because those stupid mistakes are the same ones every kid makes, and if you don’t get to make them you end up like me, here, now, thinking about doing the same thing to somebody else. Do you remember asking me how I made tough decisions? I never asked you: maybe I should have – given your field of expertise you probably read Mill or Marx or one of those assholes: your philosophy and my poetry never did mix too well. And I said – not really meaning it, just plucking it out of the air, that I asked myself what would John Keats do? I always had a soft spot for the little guy; so earnest, so eager, so determined to be a poet although the reviews were terrible, horrible, execrable … and always, eternally, so goddamn young. When Keats was my age, he’d been dead five years. (An old Tom Lehrer gag: you can have that one for free). So what would John Keats do, in this situation? You know where I’m going with this, don’t you, or if you don’t, you should. Beauty is truth, truth beauty and all that? I gotta say I honestly don’t know, but what I plan to do is give Donald his poems back, say they need work (which is true) and that they show promise (which is not untrue). Then I’ll find a way to let Betsy know that Francis is gay and that Donald is in love with her. How I’ll break it to Francis that he’s gay I have no clue, but I’ll send that bridge up in flames when I come to it. Thing is, Betsy may not be beautiful (but then again, was Helen of Troy?) and Donald’s words may not be beautiful – may in fact be a car-crash. But what they’re saying – what they’re trying so badly, so ineptly, so sincerely to say, is true. And I think that’s what I’ve been missing all this time. So here I am, dabbling in your medium just like you did in mine with your terrible love poem all those years ago; badly, stupidly, wrongly, I’m sure. Writing Christ knows what – a personal essay, a philosophical paper? What would John Keats do, in my situation, bottle empty, heart full? If nothing else, he’d write, that’s for sure, an ode or a sonnet or a letter. A letter, yeah. Let’s just call this a letter. Because although these words of mine may not be beautiful any more than Donald’s are, or yours once were, at least, my love, my true love, they are fucking true.
[ 29 ]
The Last Summer Gerald Dawe
Someone took this title – Poetry of the Forties, selected and edited by Howard Sergeant – out last on June 27th, 1986. Fifteen years earlier, it was first taken out on May 24th 1971; the frank, a rubber stamp, makes all this plain. For fifteen years then the book lived at Weymouth College of Education, Dorchester Road, Dorset, which was, I hope still is, an Institute of Education, though Poetry of the Forties was WITHDRAWN. Think of the nineteen year old of 1971, the thirty-something of 1986, and the give and take, touch and go, lived with that paperback propped on tabletops, bedside lockers, in duvets, dormitories, B & B’s, the rented rooms where the young ones lived en route to a job with Poetry of the Forties in their minds, the underlined passages of the introduction, questions marked, the pencilled comment – ‘About the time of Dunkirk, Alan Rook (Staff Captain, R.A.) wrote…’ – ‘OPTOMISM!’ misspelt over coffee break or on a train shooting across long stretches of England at Christmastime, Easter; the last summer home.
[ 30 ]
Solo Man Gerald Dawe
On days like these I often think of Patrick Smyth on his boat, cuffing through the waves between Rathlin and Portrush, lord of all he surveys â€“ the coast of Ireland, jagged and proud, shuns the north sea, the seals and porpoises follow him as he veers west to Malin Head, a luxury liner rolls on the distant tide and Patrick Smyth, alone on his boat, with tables and maps, adjusts the sail like a paper boat, a solo man in all the wide wide sea.
[ 31 ]
A Late Interior Gerald Dawe
From an old photograph of my mother and grandmother, the look of my daughter… Nineteen forty-seven, the two women smile, arms delicately linked – one the same age as the century, the other turning twenty. In the darkened window, in the gently falling curtain of lace, between sunburst and cloud cover, whosoever took the photograph is just about discernible my soon-to-be-father father, in his new postwar life or, more likely, the man-to-be my uncle – goofy-toothed, sleeves rolled up, skinny as a rake, making faces at this little family before they all go back in again, through the dim hallway, by the monk’s bench, good chairs and grand sideboard to a painted scene.
[ 32 ]
The Tender Margins Luned DeSimon
The sea was calm today; a green-blue field moving slowly and flatly beyond the new brick of the Apollo Cinema, unbelievable there, like a monolith on the front. Menna stood in the view, washing last night’s dishes at the sink: glasses first, then the plates, pots last. Her hands felt safe and lulled in the warm water; she always liked the quiet times in the morning after she dropped the kids to school. She watched for the sea again, finishing up and pushing the chairs under the small wooden table, brushing up the crusts of toast, then stopped to look back at the pane itself. The window held a rim of condensation around the flaky white edge of the painted sill, which was bunching there and starting to mildew. She hadn’t turned the heating on this morning— she wouldn’t be able to get away with that for much longer. She took the dishcloth and a bit of bleach and scrubbed it over the window edge. She pulled the teatowel off the back of the kitchen door and gave everything a quick wipe, then dried her hands on the back of her jeans. She quickly checked herself in the hall mirror on the way out: a small, blonde woman with big dark eyes and a small chin—and with a flabby backside, she thought, but otherwise, alright. The front door stuck with the swell from the rain when she tried to open it, but by lifting the door hard with her right hand and pulling it, she was able to get out into the weepy light of the front gardens, turning right onto Water Street. The bar fronts opposite the mosque still stank of beer and uncontrolled bladders, even though the pavement had been hosed down an hour earlier. A dark bearded man in a tunic brushing the remains of a broken vodka bottle and a half eaten box of chips into the drain nodded at her as she crossed the road. The Women’s Centre, next door, had screens pulled across their large Edwardian bay windows, cloaking their industriousness and ensuring she could hurry past unrecognised. She really didn’t need any earache today. “Menna Menai!” shouted a dark-haired lad in trainers without socks, sailing past her on a mountain bike towards the prom.
[ 33 ]
“Jim, is that the way to your school, now?” called Menna. “Nah! Check it, I learned this from that dick of a headmaster, last time I fuckin went!” The boy balanced weightless on the metal frame at the end of the t-junction, signalled right with an almighty wave of a too-thin arm, and was gone. She turned up the parking bay behind a metal-fronted bar, and walked up the steel staircase and through a scraped wooden back door. Drops of water fell onto her hair from the lintel as she went into a low hall, lined with tired, velvet backed chairs stacked one on top the other. She walked into the galley kitchen, flicked the light-switch and turned the kettle on. The formica side was stained yellowish- brown next to the sink from years of dead tea bags being stacked there. “Who’s that? Men?” called a disembodied voice from further down the dimness. “What you having, tea or coffee?” “I was going to make it.” A small man with a close-shaved head walked in. When he smiled, his whole face wrinkled upwards. He held a tobacco tin and smelled of dope— a bit like pine floor cleaner if you burnt it, she thought. “No, you’re alright. I want to be able to drink it, don’t I?” Menna laughed. The man shrugged and passed her the joint. She took a drag, and was reminded of her hands in the warm water—safe all over. It was fine. She went upstairs to her room, with its nice bay window and narrow bed, reading light and the metal bin. She took a box of condoms out of her bag and waited. The first man took little more than 15 minutes. It was fine. She had a wash in the toilet and brushed her hair. She sat down on the loo and looked at the back of her heel on her right foot. There was a blister forming there, a pearly long raised bubble all along where her shoe had been, with a red rim. Her right foot did look slightly swollen, compared to the left one. She recalled a word, oedema. She looked through the medicine cabinet for a plaster. It was empty except for an ancient tube of hardened toothpaste and some dry hair shampoo, which smelled of coconut. She sprayed a little under her arms and went back. Jamie came in, upzippering his coat and blowing in his hands. Jamie had gone to school with Menna’s brother, and she always had a soft spot for him. She smiled as he took off his coat, revealing a Team GB sweatshirt. He gave her a fag, then lit one himself. “How’s Glenda?” “Well, she’s home now flat on her back with those pain pills. Doctors have pretty much ruled everything out- say it’s fibromyalgia. Ever heard of that?” Menna shook her head. She was getting undressed. “They gave her a brain scan yesterday. A brain scan! I told her, the right diagnosis was that they found a brain, after all.” He gave a short laugh, then [ 34 ]
stood up to stub out his cigarette. Menna was standing naked and pale against the sloped wall, which was cold. She had brought a small wooden stool out from under the bed. Jamie liked to do it standing up. “You have the most gorgeous tits.” Menna laughed, and shivered a little. “Shame about the ass,” she said. At the start, Menna would watch the sea through the window, and try to keep her weight on her right foot, which was balanced on the stool. This time, she was careful to keep the back of her foot clear of the wall. Jamie was so much taller than she was. After a while she closed her eyes and moaned a bit, out of courtesy. She opened them just after he stopped moving. The wind was getting up outside, and she could see waves starting to run and run into themselves. When she lifted her face off his shoulder, he winked at her. At lunchtime, she walked to the shops. The wodge of money felt good in her back pocket. Izzy needed a new school jumper. She ducked into the post office when she saw the queue wasn’t too bad, to put some money on the gas and electric. Mondays were usually a nightmare. Then she picked out what was for tea: mince, some potatoes for mash, and onions, a packet of frozen peas and a pound of carrots. She checked her phone. She just had enough time to run everything back. She pushed the front door hard to unstick it, and walked into the house. If she turned on the heating now, it would be warm for the kids later. She turned up the thermostat slightly—sod it, she thought. As she was leaving, she went into the bathroom and found some plasters to line her heel with, making a double layer of the pink gauze before pulling her sock back up. Then she took the daily medication that controlled her virus, to keep it from blooming; that kept her from giving it to Jamie or anyone else, like a deadly bouquet.
[ 35 ]
Two Poems Dic Edwards
ice poem#16 paris i’ve become the illustration of all i’m not all that matters not makes the illustration of me and so i have come to Paris inchoate Paris the imagined illustrated city as in Toulouse Lautrec’s millboard in pastel and dilute oil of Jane Avril in the entrance of The Moulin Rouge the substance lost in the falling rain of the brush strokes and i am become rain and the picture behind the rain insubstantial erasable to be imagined like last night with the imagined comedienne from the Grand Guignol and the half mad pederast from the Russian ballet in porno-daze/ imagining the first Roman banging his palisade stake into the ground the Lutetian air popping with the seeding of tomorrow i am imagined in these things/ London’s clubs of the cultural aristocrats like a French revolution in reverse in which the artists and writers acquiesce in the face of the hedge funders and short sellers who sustain them alienated me placed me outside/i want to be free imaginable to look out on La Chapelle end of the world before my beginning lost between the overhead Metro and the tracks of the Nord and Est railways and the big warehouses on boulevard Ney along which the black whores and girls from Eastern Europe
[ 36 ]
enchant the hard-cocked lorry drivers parked in side streets proletarian gauche Don Juans/ i want to be impossible incomplete to be certain who i am to imagine Sartre at The Deux Magots and taste the cheeses all the fucking cheeses the soupy eblochon and gamey Epoisses Brie slavering over the edge of the marble slab innumerable varieties of goat cheeses blue with hard crusts or crowned with fresh herbs tiny pyramids of sharp flavoured logs of creaminess rich with the democratic vice of complacency/ that’s me imagined arm in arm with a carnal sweetheart with booze glow and woody odour of chestnuts the languid accordions long tongued exploring the over-ripe fig of the concupiscent Spanish girl my nervous hand sweating ice into hers who has prepared for our marriage a trunk filled with sprigs of artificial cherries stalks of all the felt flowers she can find branches of ostrich plumes crests of peacock tailfeathers of Asiatic roosters and to complete the illustration entire pheasants hummingbirds and countless exotic birds preserved in mid-flight/ and falling to lassitude and maybe despair in the Luxembourg gardens where the ghostly echoes of the afternoon children and nurses signal the incorporeality of illustration which i would otherwise salute i recall forlornly Leonardo’s twice painted Virgin of the Rocks one kept in London one in the Louvre i saw that one yesterday and in a fever of insecurity imagine that while the Paris one offers shelter and protection for the kids and inhibited old it is only an illustration of what will come in the harsh light of the London where all is cold and certain and Leonardo’s little naked boys become tomb sculpture their nudity an illustration not of freedom but death the blue of the Virgin’s cape carrying the invading age of ice
[ 37 ]
icepoem #1 the philosopher they found his body in a room near the Sorbonne blue naked stiff eyes unblued like airless space/bouillabaisse with rouille sauce old like swamp water in an accompanying bowl and the stink of angels rotting/the belladonna salicylates and ergosteral drops all antidotes to the pain of love were present in the careless small stains in the Wittgenstein plus petit et moins entendu* he would have said than even futile punctuation/his attempts at amorous pursuit had become like the padding of ducks after the soaring of a thousand flamingos crimson in the falling sun/he had been Schopenhauer indifferent if needed to the maidens seduced by the pipes of fauns above the game the outwitter of Byron or Hebrew kings in debate about seduction a daily sailor to the warm harbour at the crux of womanhood with its inexpressible scents gardenias and wormwood infusions cologne from Farina Gegenuber its waters blessed by archbishops and the eyes of the succumber like small lavender-scented baths/for a time he’d wanted the emptiness wanted to be overpowered by love’s absence wanted the demeaning rhetoric of sexual familiarity wanted to find the truth in the excess of love’s waste he wanted to go beyond the politics of first moves and sculpted mores wanted to find the fabulous perfumed crows where blissful hearts die to will the world and love and go beyond representation instead he found that love is the dupe of lust that fever carried by monkeys a pawn for jealousy and revenge found that love once as luscious as locusts would so soon become as bitter as coloquintada and so in Paris where he’d first succumbed to shocking pink pullovers and full painted lips he found in the truth of love only the frost-bitten corpse of philosophy/the one desolate truth the stallion stream of his youthful piss becoming in age an increasingly oblique and weak effeminate fountain and that had been enough *smaller and less significant
[ 38 ]
Three Poems Martina Evans
Burnfort, Las Vegas For Jo and Martin We move the Sacred Heart lamp closer to his face now in the month of June. I think that those billboards of Vegas could be the Major cigarette sign or the Double Diamond Works Wonders in the lounge window round â€˜75 or the BP pump shining in the blue Burnfort evening, the wood pigeons cooing as the men come down from the mountain and fill their vans with petrol â€“ a violet cloud with a tantalizing smell and someone says Burnfort is like New York to those mountainy men the way it is all built up with a school and a church and a post office and us city slickers running the pub, shop and petrol pumps and I believe it is true, that we are like that to them there were stranger things then to believe in only now I think
[ 39 ]
it was more like Vegas, all those signs, the games of forty five and my Elvis tape playing. A few months ago, the novelty mug frightened us all by spontaneously bursting into Viva Las Vegas and I took that as a sign, did what any Catholic would do I hear you, I said and put up a shrine.
My Darling Clementine I never fail to see Daddy’s hands every time I watch My Darling Clementine and this is often, as I love that film. It’s the point where Wyatt and Doc might fight – first there’s the whiskey that Doc Holliday sends shooting down the shining bar counter with the back of his hand, followed by a forty five sliding up from Brother Morg and sent sliding down again before Doc and Wyatt make their peace over champagne and the whole room breathes as men move back to the bar, the conductor clicks his fingers and the Mexican band starts to play. I think of the story of Daddy suddenly angry one night he had enough and refused to be pacified with a drink which he sent flying down the Formica like Doc with the back of his hand and that was a funny anecdote to be told afterwards
[ 40 ]
the dramatic gesture so unlike him and I think of his swollen crooked fingers and how he was almost always powerless. I am sure that no one was afraid for his life, if there was a band, no way had it stopped playing and the cowboys were drinking steadily at the counter. Daddy was more like Mack standing behind the bar when Fonda asks, Have you ever been in love? the small deferential bald head answers subversively No, Iâ€™ve been bartender all my life.
Brother Bernard What is fate but a condensation of childhood? Rainer Maria Rilke My brother and godfather, Peter standing on the lawn of the Christian Brother seminary in Bray, his dark hair curled tightly around his fine head, his hands on my five-year-old shoulders, my camel-haired coat open showing a deep blue sailor dress with a flash of red ribbon at the throat, Peter wears a long black soutane, he is seventeen and he has been at the seminary five years. In those days a twelve year old boy could find a vocation, pack his case disappear from the family. This photo was my proof that he still existed even if he was now Brother Bernard. I felt his hands tighten on my shoulders every time I looked at it. The photo stood in a leather double frame the parents of the future priest -
[ 41 ]
also standing on the lush religious green my mother in a sixties suit with the obligatory glass-eyed mink, my father strained and shaved with knotted tie- facing myself and the brother. Then it disappeared. Around the time Brother Bernard came out and became Peter again. I wondered if it would turn up when my motherâ€™s house was cleared but itâ€™s been five years now and still no news of what came out. Twenty, thirty, forty years have passed. I am 50 still watching things appear and disappear.
[ 42 ]
Apparition of Evening Light Alan Flanders
A late Autumn walk took me Across the swollen fields of Port Meadow Where St. Margaretâ€™s limestone rubble Rises from the Saxon church yard Like a medieval vault, gray and somber, From the damp green burying ground Of Oxfordâ€™s patron Saint Friedeswide. Approaching the south door Beneath the Norman arch, Zig-zag imprints of teeth Like those from the bite of a giant dog Recall the incision on the shields Of the ancient sentries Who witnessed nearby Crusaders kneeling before The fabled treacle well, Brushing away the cobwebs To pray and take their drink Of the miracle of absolution Before the pilgrimage to free Jerusalem. Once inside, I closed the bolted wooden door, Took a seat midway down the nave and saw an apparition,
[ 43 ]
Weightless and fine, like milk drawn silk straining Through a colander of ecclesiastical window glass It took the form of a wisp of dust, And played among dried flowers Grown rigid in votive flutes Like armored knights encrypted forever In their airless sarcophagi. It hovered before the pulpit Like a small misty cloud Ageless in air scented By incense and melted candles Of beeâ€™s wax, Casting auras of ultra violet Atop the benches to the baptismal font. It found some companionship Among dried and broken Bodies of countless moths Congregated on the window Sills like litter from some Forgotten battlefield. As if assessing the fading light It crossed the paving stones Like a disciplined proselyte Answering some ancient muster, Inaudible to the living, But a summons to the dead, It withdrew among the Shadows communing Beneath the mantle Bearing the altar, Of the receding day. Alone, I sat for a while Wondering how strange a communion, And whether I had conjured Such an unearthly reunion, And what must be its fate? [ 44 ]
Feeling the evening dimming late I left by the Norman arch way, And closed the bolted wooden door behind Mulling over what relic of mine I was leaving in the wake.
[ 45 ]
The Punishments Kathryn Gray
Recite the Pentateuch; grab your collar to avoid the funeral car; count to one hundred before the sign; do not trust yourself around alarms; defer lifts and escalators this lifetime. Imagine the worst, once more, with feeling; remove knives from the drawer whilst repeating the Guru Gita. Avoid the colour green on a Sunday, and always keep your hands very clean. Watch each plane depart without you, and be glad; stand well clear of the platform edge. Check your oven and front door. Remember to go nowhere, ever. Worry each word is not your own â€“ not even these, which I write now â€“ and take comfort that, if all else fails, nothing can keep you safe, no, not even the dark room inside the skull where the nameless punishments are waiting.
[ 46 ]
Cats Devin Harrison
The man in a flat over The Gilded Rose feeds cats, heavy foots it downstairs at managed hours, visionless hours before last call when the final metallic drops of beer splash into the emptiness of another mouth; or later at the unveiling hours of dawn, an apparition to those who slumber, his ascending descending of cranky stairs; omnipresent, he views with a seer’s eye ubiquitous cats; midday he is more visible filling with cat manna the glazed earthenware bowls placed in alleys, spare lots, around the perimeters of vacant houses; while cats scurry he issues spells, ears alerted, cats purr, cats with mange, maimed cats, wretched cats whose miserable lives accede to him until darkness again permeates an unseen catworld, where he dons cat furs, a hair shirt, cat’s paws, cat eyes, kneading cats following the man’s royal train as he resumes his ascent of the stairs.
[ 47 ]
PROVIDENCE Geoffrey Heptonstall
Characters: Virginia Aged 30 Father Aged 50s Mother Aged 50s Narrator: Ageless Setting: Inside the mind of Virginia. Virginia: In her floating skirts she fell with the perfect rhythm of the swing which had raised her to the clouds above the beanstalk trees of childhood. And the snows fell in the Atlantic winter when she skated across the ocean to Africa in the afternoon of her seventh Epiphany. She told her dream stories as the snow fell in early evening. The snow always fell at the beginning of the year, and again at the ending of the year. The snow covered the whole earth so that sometimes it seemed the only colour in the whole world is white. There were no more sessions on the garden swing when the snow fell. The swing moved restlessly in the wind. It was shaken by the winter storms. Father: Do you remember the snow, Virginia? Do you remember the first time you saw the snow fall? Virginia: Does Virginia remember? Of course she remembers. Virginia does not forget. I started running. I ran for the bus before he could catch me. Mother: Of course she doesnâ€™t remember. You donâ€™t remember, do you, Virginia? No, of course not. We were in the city then. In our first home. That crazy, little, apartment that was too small for one person, let alone the three of us. So we moved in the spring as soon as the snow thawed. I remember your
[ 48 ]
disappointment, Virginia, when the snow began to thaw. You cried, just as you cried when the leaves began to fall. Virginia: You expect me to speak, to tell you something you don’t know. Mother: Well, we’d like you to say something. Yes, after all this time. How long has it been? Father: Feels like an eternity. Virginia: But it was only the other day you were talking to your daughter. The problem was she didn’t hear you. You saw her. You spoke. She didn’t hear you. The snow covered the whole earth. You expect me to speak, to tell you something you don’t know. Do you want to know anything you don’t know? Most people don’t want to know. I don’t suppose you’re any different in that from most people. That means, by the way, that I think I am different. It doesn’t mean I am different. Mother: Honey, we don’t expect you to do anything.
Virginia: It doesn’t mean I am different. It doesn’t mean that at all. But it does mean I think I’m different. I’m superior because I know. That’s what I think. After all, I may as well as admit what I’m feeling if I’m to be totally honest with you. I want to tell you things. And, most important, I want you to listen. I want you to listen because I want to speak. When I was a girl, growing, I was allowed to speak. I had the confidence to speak. But I never felt anyone was listening. I mean, I was only a girl. Not that it‘s a gender thing necessarily. I’m sure it would be the same for any child. Now I’m not a child I want to be heard. It’s the right of everyone to be heard. And, actually, I’m luckier than some. I mean, here you are…. Not listening…. Sorry, that was mean. And possibly untrue. Oh, now there I go insulting you when you’ve agreed to give me time to speak. And what do I do with my time? I use it to complain and insult and bore. Because you’ve heard it all before. Not from me. But you’ve heard it somewhere. Yet you expect me to speak.
Mother: Honey, we don’t expect you to do anything you don’t want to. If you want to speak we want to hear what you have to say. We’re here to listen. Father: We’re here to help, to help in any way we can. [ 49 ]
Virginia: Here I am standing here. Here I am in view. Here I am in your mind. You’re thinking about me, right? You’re wondering what I’m about to say. You want to hear something you may have heard before. You hope you’ll hear something that you’ve not heard before. And that’s why I’m here. I’m here to tell you…I’m here to tell you about myself because you don’t know me. Because you don’t know me the hope is I can say something different, not exactly original perhaps, but, you know, an interesting variation on a theme. I may be diverting. And if I’m not you can admire my dress. Or picture me without it….That’s what I want to say, I think. I mean, I want to tell you I’m here. Isn’t that enough? Can’t you imagine the rest? Mother: Virginia, where are you?
Father: Virginia, your mother and I….We’ve missed you. It’s been so long. We’ve never expected… Mother: Now, this isn’t a time for speeches. We simply want to know what’s been happening. I expect so much has happened. We don’t really hear much out here. So much happens that your father and I never hear about. We need to know. Virginia: Perhaps life will excuse me while I deal with some unexpected visitors from the past. You know how it is. Memory and all that. Father: So much has happened while we’ve been away. My, you’ve grown. You look so grown-up, doesn’t she? Doesn’t she look so grown-up? Our little girl, and here she is. She’s here with us, just like it was before. Your mother and I are really proud of you, Virginia. Our little girl looking so grown-up, almost as if she were. Virginia: Why did I let this happen? I ask myself. What door did I open? Mother: Virginia, you are talking to someone. May I ask who it is? Is it someone I know? You were talking. I didn’t see anyone come into the house. I like to meet your friends, you know. Virginia: Now, Virginia, you can tell the truth at last. This is your chance. You have a chance. Take it. Take that chance. Tell the truth. No, mother, I was reading through something for school. We each have to give a talk. We have to talk in front of the whole class.
[ 50 ]
Mother: You didn’t tell me. You should tell me more, Virginia. I am your mother, you know. What are you going to talk about in class, dear? Virginia: I’m really not too sure. I mean, I don’t know. I think it will be about the future. Yes, it’s going to be about me talking to the future. And In the future I’ll be thinking about the past. Now, isn’t that strange? We’re never satisfied with being where we are. Mother: Well, I can’t make much sense of what you’re saying. Is to be a History talk? What period will it be? I know you used to like History. It was one of my favourite subjects, too, Virginia, although I could never remember the dates of battles, nor the names of kings. So tell me what you’re going to talk about. Virginia: Napoleon. Napoleon the Third, Emperor of the French. He wasn’t as good as Napoleon the First. I’m not sure about the Second. Mother: You were always good at History. I was fond it, but I could never remember the dates of battles, nor the names of kings. There was a girl who could list all the presidents in exact order, with the dates of their administrations. She was so knowledgeable. I’m not sure that so much knowledge is good for a girl. She said she wanted to be president. Then she drowned when the ice gave way. It was too late in the winter to walk on the ice. It gave way beneath her feet, and she drowned in the chill water. Either she drowned or froze to death. She’s been gone a long time. And she won’t ever be president. She was good at History. I wasn’t, though I did like it. It’s not always wise to be too good at something. Look at that girl. And now I don’t even remember her name. Virginia: This is to let me know that I may drown. Mother: What was that? You really shouldn’t mutter, nor should you whisper. It’s not a pleasant trait in a young woman. It’s not especially polite. Why, you could be saying anything. You must speak clearly, though not too loudly. Shouting isn’t polite, either. Virginia: I was talking about a friend of mine. You never met her. She drowned. I saw her drown. I could not save her. She told her dream stories to the wild swans, for those family quarrels were springtide storms. But in a girl’s memory are many kinds of fall.
[ 51 ]
Mother: I’d like to see to see more of your friends, you know. I like to meet your friends. You don’t really talk about them, do you? I hope you have friends, dear. You can’t go through life not knowing anyone. People are worth knowing. That’s something you’ll learn when you’re wiser in the world. For all the sharks in this world, it’s still a good place to be. Virginia: Perhaps I am drowning, floating downstream, Ophelia-like. She told her dream stories to the wild swans. Romantic poets may be inspired by my fall. The regret for me is that I shall never read their verse. Mother: Now you’re talking about poetry? And Ophelia? Why, isn’t that Shakespeare? That’s nothing to do with Napoleon. I just can’t make sense of anything you say. Your thoughts are such a tangle, Virginia. You’re at an age when your mind really ought to be more purposeful. Now, I always knew where I was. The names of kings were not my strong point, but I knew where I was going. And here I am. You must have an aim, daughter. You just so much have an aim. Virginia: Then I could think of becoming president. That’s if I don’t skate on thin ice. Better to dance on hot ashes. Because I’m at an age when my mind ought to be more purposeful. I’m thirty-five years in age. Not long ago I was fifteen. Soon I’ll be fifty. But, let’s say I’m thirty-five for the time being. It makes things easier when you know what time it is. What time is it, now? The sun is getting low so soon after first light. And the snow is falling this summer. I need to concentrate. Yes, I’m sure that’s the key. If I can’t be satisfied with where I am then may be I can at least be sure that….Or not. I don’t know. You expect me to speak, to tell you something you don’t know? What don’t you know? You don’t know yourself? Well, start looking at other people. Do presidents notice other people? I think they see themselves reflected in the eyes of their adoring crowds. The powerful are never alone. That’s what makes them powerful. You don’t need to know the names of kings to know that. You don’t need to know the names of kings to know what time it is. You don’t need to know the names of kings. And we don’t have a king. We don’t need one. Kings are no different from other people except that they are kings. Mother: Sorry, dear, what did you say? I wasn’t listening. Virginia: I was talking about the way I’ve changed, I guess. She told her dream stories to the wild swans. Mother: I’d like to see to see more of your friends, you know. I like to meet your [ 52 ]
friends. You don’t really talk about them, do you? I hope you have friends, dear. Wasn’t there one who died? That was so sad. I hope you attended the funeral as a good friend should. Father: (Approaching from a distance) Virginia, did you let it happen? Your mother and I have been discussing your life since we last saw you. In those years you’ve done an awful lot of things. Why do you let things happen? And don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. Virginia: Yeah, you’re talking about me. You’re telling me I let her drown. Because I watched her, because I was on the bridge looking down when she jumped I am responsible for what she did. The way she died, that was awful. And it was nothing to do with me. Not really. So I will not feel guilty. Do you expect me to? Father: Be quiet now, please. Show some respect for the dead, can’t you? Mother: You’ll be like us one day, dear. You won’t always be young. You youngsters think you’ll live for ever. You’re going to regret a lot of things. Virginia: I saw it all. I watched her fall. I didn’t know she was going to jump. I didn’t see that. What I saw was her falling so fast into the water. It was cold, February or March. Very cold. There was not a chance of her living through that. It was so fast, so silent. So impossible. Father: Well, we’ll say nothing more about it now. Just see that it doesn’t happen again. Virginia: People can die only once. Or then again…Tearfully she would learn how the blossom does not return once the tree is shaken. Father: I will not have this insolence from you, girl. I will not tolerate it from you at any age. And you’re not too old enough, young lady, for me to… Mother: Now, let’s all take a deep breath, shall we? Otherwise we may say things we don’t mean. Virginia: Say something we actually mean. Mother: Now you know it’s not polite to give needless hurt. We can’t speak our [ 53 ]
minds all the time, now, can we? No, of course we cannot. We must consider others. Your father was deeply hurt by your attitude. You should apologize to him at once, Virginia. Then no more need be said. Virginia: I said people can die only once. They can live only once. Or so I thought. Mother: If only you could settle down with the right man. Make a home. Raise a family. If only you could settle down with the right man and the both of you could have children. Father: And teach the kids respect. A husband would sure teach you respect, girl. Make no mistake about that. Virginia: Whatever mistakes I may make in life, be sure I shall make no mistake about that. I was married. A poor, miserable orphan, a kind and gentle man took pity on me. Reader, I married the bastard. That was before he tried to teach me respect, the respect of a dog for her master. That kind of respect. Mother: Virginia, are you talking to someone? Virginia: I’m rehearsing lines for the school play. Mother: You didn’t say you were in the school play. What play is it? Virginia: Caesar and Cleopatra. Mother: Why, that’s very good news. Did you hear that, Father? Our girl is going to be on the stage. And who will you be? Virginia: The Sphinx. It’s a non-speaking role. I lie enigmatically in the sand. It’s a very demanding role. It takes skill to lie enigmatically. I may have to accept nomination as president if I do it too well. Father: Honey, this nation isn’t ready to be led by a woman. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but a girl like you… Virginia: I stopped being a girl a long time ago, about the time I understood I would not be president. That was a long time ago.
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Mother: You found your true role as a homemaker, didn’t you, dear? Isn’t that right? Virginia: Yes, mother dear, it’s so true. I started running. And the snows fell in the Atlantic winter when she skated across the ocean to Africa in the afternoon of her seventh….I ran for the bus before he could catch me. I looked round and saw he was following in the car. I got out of the bus as soon as I could. He couldn’t get out of his car at the crossroads, so I was able to get round the corner and out of sight, clutching my bag which possessed all I could take of my life. He never caught up with me. I hailed a cab, and headed for the airport. I didn’t dare go back for the rest of my things. I’ve never gone back. Mother: Home is where you belong, dear. There were times when I wanted to run, but I stayed because I have felt it my duty to stay. I always tried to teach you the virtues of loyalty, Virginia. It begins in the home. Virginia: So does pain, mother. It’s the pain I cannot endure. Father: There’s many a fine fellow just waiting for you, Virginia. Why you could have your pick of the best boys in town. I could introduce you to a couple of swell young men. Virginia: Surely, not at the same time? Then there would be pain. Mother: The Jackson boy seemed very nice. You two always got along fine. Virginia: I saw him the other day with Pete. The two of them are inseparable. Father: A guy needs a buddy. You don’t mean to suggest..? No, not in this town. It’s just regular guys in these parts. Nothing like that. Mother: I really don’t know what the two of you are talking about anymore. It seems that things get so deep and confusing these days. People just don’t talk plain any more. Virginia: You expect me to speak, to tell you something you don’t know. Father: If you talked a little less, and listened once in a while. You can learn a lot by listening. My education was by listening. Reading fancy books gives you fancy ideas that don’t match up to life always. But if you hear folks speaking things they know you’ll learn a lot. I know I have. I’ve learned a lot. So much.
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Mother: Well, I’m sure nobody listens to me. Virginia: But even after I’d gotten away I thought somehow he’d find me. I thought there were people who’d tell him. I heard they were whispering about me. They knew all about me. But I could never catch all they were saying. They were going to tell him where I was. I used to get home, and lock my door, put something against the door, and prepared for the day he found me. Father: Now, what was the name of that young man? You married him, didn’t you? We were proud of you that day. You looked so pretty. And he was a fine, handsome boy. What happened, Virginia? What did you do that was wrong? Virginia: I was scared, Daddy. Father: You need never be scared of life, honey. Mother: I left your father, you know. It was before you were born. You know how difficult men can be. Father: Now, I don’t think our daughter wants to hear about things that happened before she was born. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s tha… Mother: You know how difficult men can be. So difficult. And they never learn. You’ll find that, my dear. Oh, you’ll find that. Now what was I saying? Oh yes, I left that husband of mine before you were born. Just think of it, my dear. You might never have been born. Of course I wanted children. It’s not that I didn’t want children. I just didn’t want….Well, anyway I felt I’d had enough of that so I quit. I just quit. Father: Your mother needed a vacation. Sometimes we need to get away on our own, don’t we? We all do at some time. Well, it was like that for your mother. Naturally, I understood. That’s the secret of a good marriage – understanding. That’s the secret. I learned that secret, you see. A guy has to be smart, doesn’t he? Because you women, well, you know what I mean. Mother: I could stand no more. No more, I said, no more. There was nobody to hear me. There’s never been anybody to hear me, really. But that night there really was nobody. I was alone in my car. I was alone with nobody to hear me. I drove all night until exhaustion overtook me, and I fell asleep. And when I woke I found myself so far from home. I never wanted to be so far from what I knew. [ 56 ]
So I came back. Your father never knew about this because he was away for a few days. He called that evening, but I told him I’d gone to bed early. That was the first lie I told him. And it wouldn’t be the last. You can’t be too honest in a marriage, believe me. Father: But I knew all along. Mother: You never knew about the first time. The other times you knew about sure enough. Virginia: Even after I’d gotten away I thought somehow he’d find me. It took me a long time before I trusted anybody. Well, after an experience like that. Mother: It’s just nerves, dear. Every young bride is a little nervous. It’s only natural. Virginia: But, believe me, I’m not talking about natural. I’m talking about…. I stopped being a girl a long time ago. Mother: I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, Virginia. In fact, I never have known. It was the same when you were a girl. I suppose I should have known then. Virginia: I stopped being a girl a long time ago. Father: We’ve been talking about a lot of things since we last saw you, Virginia. Since…things happened Virginia: You mean since… Father: You know what I mean. It’s not been easy. We’ve missed so much. We never saw the grandchildren. Now, don’t tell me..? Virginia: With children how could I have run? I suppose I’d have found a way. At least I had only myself to think of. Father: You didn’t think about the marriage? You didn’t think about what a marriage means? It meant so much to you mother and me that you had found a suitable young man.
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Mother: I suppose Pete will be older now. Let me see, if he was two years your senior, and it was eleven, no twelve… Virginia: Don’t say that name. I hate that name. I fear that name. Don’t tell me you’ve been in touch with him? Oh, no. Father: Now, that’s something we can’t do. A lot of things are strictly off limits, you understand. No, we can’t do all the things we were able to before. It’s very different now. But at least we’ll never grow any older. Virginia: You’re younger than when I last saw you, you know. That’s strange. Father: I wasn’t well, Virginia, whereas your mother was in good shape to the last. She’s still in pretty good shape now. She’s not the girl I met, but she’s the woman I loved, and love to this day. Mother: Now, don’t embarrass me with all this silliness. Let’s just be happy we’re together again. I just wish the children were here. We’d love to meet them. I really don’t know why they’re not here. Virginia: I think that I’m drowning. Yes, I’m definitely running the risk of drowning. Mother; What was that, dear? Now, you were always a strong swimmer, Virginia. You know, you’re looking a little pale, dear. I don’t think you’re eating enough. I hope they’re feeding properly in that college. I know it’s easy to skip meals when you’re young and having fun. All that swimming you do. It must be a little tiring. You look tired, dear. Father: You remember how I taught you, Virginia? You swam so well. Virginia: I was swimming for my life. It was the fear of sharks, of one predator in particular. Mother: Now, there’s no fear of sharks. And those boys who told you there were alligators in the creek. And you were so feared. My, it took Daddy and me all our powers of persuasion to convince you that the waters were safe. And there were no sharks off our coast. But I suppose children like to believe these things. I suppose they do. Father: I taught you to swim, Virginia. That was me. I did that. You were a brave girl. I was proud of you.
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Mother: Well, you certainly knew your own mind. That’s right enough. We were so proud. How pretty and lithe you looked. Such a sweet girl. Such a sweet, little girl. Virginia: An alligator opened its jaws so wide. Mother: We keep telling you, Virginia, there are no alligators. We keep telling you. Not here in this river. No, that’s just some story the children tell one another. You mustn’t listen to such stories. There are no alligators in the water, and no lions in the woods. Virginia: Oh, but there’s a wolf. He fooled you with his large, round eyes and his huge grin. He fooled me, but not for long. Mother: It was only a dream. You’re safe now, my darling girl. It was only a dream. Virginia: I want to tell you things. And, most important, I want you to listen. I want you to listen because I want to speak. When I… Mother: Virginia, really, sometimes I despair of you. Virginia: Do you want to know anything you don’t know? Most people don’t want to know. I don’t suppose you’re any different in that from most people. That means, by the way, that I think I am different. It doesn’t mean I am different. It doesn’t mean that at all. But it does mean I think I’m different. Mother: And we’d like to see more of your friends. You don’t talk about them much. We don’t know who they are. We don’t know much about you now. Father: Your mother and I are concerned about you, Virginia. We are concerned about you. Virginia: I want to tell you things. And, most important, I want you to listen. I want you to listen because I want to speak. It wasn’t a dream. Mother: My, how you talk, my dear. How you talk. I declare I have never known anyone talk so. What do you find to say? Maybe you think too much. It isn’t healthy at your age.
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Virginia: I started running. I ran for the bus before he could catch me. I looked round and saw he was following in the car. I got out of the bus as soon….But there I go when what I mean to say is that my husband is such a good man, and we have such a nice home, and two adorable children, girls in red velvet and milk white hose, dressed just the way I was when I was their age. Do you remember, Mommy? Of course you do. Why, I’m that age still in your eyes. And I’m so sweet and frivolous that I’m sure to grow up and make a good man happy. Until he throws in my face the food I’ve cooked, and slaps my face, and calls me names that are not like love. And so I ran, for I swear that he would have done me harm. That’s how I ran for my life. Mother: You were always running from things. It’s better to face up to life, you know. It can be so harsh, but life is worth living if you face it squarely. Believe me, child, I know how life can be. It can get a little scary at times, that’s true. But it’s not the whole truth. I mean, just think of the lovely birthday treats Daddy and I gave you. Virginia: It was three days before my twenty-seventh birthday. We were planning to go away, not on my birthday itself, but the following weekend. It was to be an opportunity to wind down, to talk things through, to get know each other again. That was what I had hoped for. He had been so distant. He needed bringing back. And when I said as much, that was when it happened. So I ran. I should have known. It didn’t just happen. There’d been signs. I should have known. I did know. And still I did nothing because I remembered all you said, Mommy. I wanted to believe all that you said was true. Mother: I’m so glad you remembered our little talks. I learned from my mother, as she learned from hers. You’ll soon be doing the same for your daughter. What was her name now? Virginia: An alligator opened its jaws so wide. So, so wide. Father: You remember how I taught you to swim, Virginia? That’s my girl, I said, seeing you in those championships. You didn’t win, but what the heck? You swam so well. I didn’t want my little girl drowning. Virginia: Yes, that was good of you. I was afraid of the water. I was always afraid of the water. Just think what lurks down there in the murky depths of the water. Father: But, dear girl, I never meant. I mean, I never meant anything. No harm. There was no harm done, was there? There was no harm.
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Mother: We were so proud. How pretty and lithe you looked. Such a sweet girl. Such a sweet, little girl. I remember your disappointment, Virginia, when the snow began to thaw. You cried, just as you cried when the leaves began to fall. Father: And I thought’s my girl. That’s my girl. She’s the one for me. Mother: We were so proud. How pretty and lithe you looked. Such a sweet girl. Such a sweet, little girl. Virginia: I was afraid of the water. I was always afraid of the water. Just think … Father: I never meant anything. No harm. There was no harm done, was there? There was no harm, not to my little girl. It was all innocence. It was all fun. There was no harm done. No, that’s not true at all, is it? Mother: Virginia, would you please answer your father when he speaks to you? Virginia: I was afraid of the water, and afraid of the wolves, and afraid of … someone else. Mother: Well, I can’t think what you mean. There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re here now, darling. No more tears now. No more tears. We’re here now. Father: I never meant anything. No harm. Not to my sweet little girl, not to you, Virginia. I tried to save you. You know that, Virginia. I tried to save you.
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Two Poems Jeremy Hooker
St Issui, Patrishow Into the Black Mountains, raised to the sky, buzzard cry, kronk of a raven below narrow lane toiling up, past Nant Mair and holy well past the stone where Giraldus came with Bishop Baldwin preaching the Third Crusade into the small church with beautiful carved oak rood loft and screen whatâ€™s this, or should I say who! Mr Death, I presume, hands full with hour glass and scythe, a spade hung from his arm. Not today, mister.
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From the porch, stone floor splashed with dung see mountains and sky, in a mud nest over head swallows, little faces looking out, eager to fly.
St Brynach, Nevern - Jeremy Hooker 1 This was the magic west. A bloody site of raiding and slaving. A place of learning, of men familiar with Arthur and Dewi Sant. Brynach was an Irishman who talked with angels. 2 Knotwork, an old order at the hand of man. Memorials in ogham and Latin. And stones, stones, stones â€“ High Cross, old tombs and stones newly inscribed.
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What wealth, what a jumble. On top of it all a yew tree that bleeds. God knows who will make sense of it!
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Milk Cynan Jones
Watch him take the old clay bottle from his coat, the grey glaze netted now with cracks. Hear the cork puff gently as he tugs it free, the phat of the fridge door open. Hear now the electric hum. The old man lights up, like some acolyte, some religious painting. He takes the milk and pours carefully, listening for the tractor outside, to the throb of its work, the scratch of the metal bucket on the yard. He takes an inch or two of milk, no more, then shuts the door. The light goes. He pales to shadow, the hum now deadens. He takes nothing else, you witnessed that. He is careful of his thefts. But since milking stopped in the small farms here, milk is impossible to find otherways. It is strange to him, how it has gone from the land. Soaked away. He has learnt to live without sugar, but milk, oil: these two things he cannot manufacture for himself. The cat comes and watches, familiar with him now. He is apparitional almost, this strange visitor, hardly there. A current of air. Watch the cat. How the man extends a hand, wood-like with age; and the cat laps a spilled white drop off from his finger. â€Śthe sound of the tractor, its slow low shiver in the air
[ 65 ]
runs up the track cracking white-rimed puddles with his heels. The air thrums, seems somehow, that thrum, to plant into the ground. The convoy comes. Canvass tops of trucks, the outrider zips past. Engines, oil and grease, a metal smell. Cows push and mill about the gate, startled by the big machines. 1941.Trucks pass, tanks and guns as cargo. A soldier waves. The earth shakes with their weight. And the tractor works. You hear it. See a man work automatic in his habit; watch him push the part-frozen muck, leave the smallest veil of it upon the yard, a thin grey glass. When you look back, the other man is gone. ~ Find him now in the old tin shack, tough clothes grown about him like a pelt. The floor trodden to concrete hardness. There is the soil smell of damp logs. Warm space. He takes the bird in dirt-oiled hands, starts to strip the feathers. They are the shades of dead leaves. Watch: he gathers the down in finger and thumb, makes small rhythmic rips, a measured action, like playing out a line. These birds escaped from shoots are feral, domestic in their way. Have the curiosity of visitors. The bird is light in his hands and lean this time of year. Is it poaching to capture the escaped? He clears a strip across the breast a track mown through tall grass â€“ see the grey and goose-bumped skin mobile over the purple breast below. He tears with measured weight, thin membrane, peels the bird and turns the luxant carcass out like the inside of a fruit. Still the fat is yellow from all the feeds of corn. Watch him, stick-like, snap the joints, twist the legs and force them through the knot of hide, break friable wings, as delicate as bracken. The bird unpeels, its skin wet clothing, head hung swallowed in the glistening pelt. Watch him cut the neck, a liquid sound of knife, the stick-snap snap again. The windpipe plastic and foreign-looking in the neck of meat. He pulls free the purse of intestine, thumbs out the seed-filled crop which splits and loosens out a slathered grain. There is a smell of young green shoots, bile. A faint smell of ale.
[ 66 ]
…sleeves rolled, soap-like viscera flecked upon his arms, a velvet pile about his feet: his brother, skinning moles. Nude they are grotesque. A bucket of tiny prayer-like hands. He threads the pheasant on a stick, green peeled willow that starts to redden in his hands. Stripped, a slight foam comes to the liquid beneath the skin.
Smoke gathers, lilts through rusted gaps. The wind rattles, like birds hop about the roof. A thin rain brattles at the iron and runs down the corrugate, pushed by wind, runs under walls and spreads across the hard-packed soil, a damp stain that stops around the fire. As if the fire sets a limit. He tends the flames, puts a brittle handful on to burn; an immediate light. There is talk he’s been on pilgrimage. He speaks physically of this. Has stillness, as of after some great travel. He sits, stony almost. In prayer you might guess. Or, perhaps, in vigil. Pulls the stiff coat round himself, pushes the fire’s edge. Turns the pheasant on the stick. The past is before him now like a pane of glass in the late evening. It is effort for him to peer through, easier for him to watch reflections. He is witness now to long gone things. Sometimes a memory will appear, papery and animate, a memory not yet settled, a moth against the window, as if begging entry to him. Leaves faint marks. A dust of scales. The blackbirds call, dusk-fall. Hear circling rooks now in the trees. He unwraps a clutch of mottled eggs, like gathered pebbles, cracks a shell against the pan, a child’s foot crisping into frost, cows milling on a winter track, the rip of grass in a cow’s tongue. Brattle, the rain comes. Brattle. Green woodpecker laughing on a lawn. The wind loosens the iron. Rain against the roof.
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He pushes the fireâ€™s edge. It reacts to him like a cat might do; turns the bird, a brief spit drips in to the fire. Scrapes the eggs up in the pan. He takes the stopper from the old clay bottle. The firelight in the glaze. And takes a drink of milk.
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Capel Bethel/ Bethel Chapel Marian Delyth
These images are from a series of photographs taken whilst peering through the windows of a small chapel, Bethel in the small upland village of Trefenter in the Mynydd Bach area of Ceredigion. I began photographing in this area back in 1976 as part of my postgraduate project of documenting life in a remote hill-farming area. Throughout the years my style of photography has often been influenced by or dictated by the demands of a client based industry and a need to earn a living. Working increasingly on my personal projects has given me a space in which to explore my way of seeing and my way of saying. These semi-abstract pictures convey an emotional response to a simple place of worship - of looking into a place that has layers of history. The play of light is continually creating reflections and the lens of the camera is used to focus on the various elements within the physical space. Some of these images were exhibited earlier this year in an exhibition entitled Capel which explored the r么le of the chapel in Welsh Culture.
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Closed for the Year Tony Kendrew
The sign said: Closed for the year. “That’s not fair.” Andy got there first, running ahead across the grass between the car park and the beach. His dad was stepping over the perimeter logs. He was bit overweight. He took his handkerchief out and dabbed his head. “What did you say?” “It’s closed.” “What? Closed? Did you say closed?” “Yeah, Dad. It’s closed. The sign here says closed for the year.” “Closed for the year! But it’s a bloody weekend in bloody September. God almighty!” Then he shot out his arm and pointed a finger at the sun. “What is that, Andy?” Andy was expecting this. “It’s the sun, Dad.” “That’s right! It’s the bloody sun! And when did we last see it? Go on, tell me.” “I dunno, Dad. It was shining on my birthday.”
[ 77 ]
“Yeah, right! And how long ago was that? No, don’t tell me, I’ll tell you. It was two months ago, that’s when. It rains for two months and on the first day the sun comes out they pack up and go home. Jesus!” He jerked his head left and right, scanning the car park for sympathy, but there was no one in sight. Everyone was on the beach. Then he turned and raised his eyes to the top of the cliff where they’d left Gloria. He could just see a speck of white on the grass. It must have taken half an hour to get down here. “God almighty! Now what? I can’t believe this!” “It’s all right, dad.” Why didn’t he drive the car down to the beach in the first place, as she suggested? Then at least they could have gone into town for an ice cream. No, he wanted to show her the view from the top of the cliff, get her close to the edge, give her a little push, nothing dangerous, but enough to give her a scare and make her cling to him for a quick cuddle. He used to bring girls here all the time when he was a teenager. And had brought a few women here since Mary too. Always worked. It was a good way to break the ice. Break the ice! There’s a joke! There’ll be no ice now. He wasn’t sure about Gloria anyway - sunbathing up there all on her own. Why wouldn’t she come down with them? Too far, she said. Too far? High-heeled shoes with a strap round the back more like it. I told her not to wear them. Mary would never have done that. But I would like an ice cream, she said. Well, who wouldn’t! I should have told her right then. I’m not going all the way down there. Nice walk, she said. It’ll do you good. And Andy would enjoy that, wouldn’t you, Andy? You men together, father and son, off on an expedition. And you can bring me back a choc-ice. Make sure you wrap it up nice in lots of newspaper. Well, there wasn’t much he could say after that. She had given him a kiss after all, so he did owe her one. So him and Andy set off down the hill. Now what? “It’s all right, Dad. Gloria doesn’t like ice cream, anyway.” “What? What do you mean she doesn’t like ice cream? How do you know?”
[ 78 ]
“When you started walking down the hill in a huff, she whispered to me. She said ice cream was bad for her figure.” “I was not in a huff!” “She said she’d give it to me.” “You’re telling me we came all the way down here – we descended Everest – for nothing. I only came down here because she said she wanted a choc-ice.” Andy lowered his head, and his voice. “It wasn’t for nothing. It was for me.” “Well, it would have melted by the time we got back up there anyway. There’s no newspapers round here.” “It’s closed, dad.” Dad made a little coughing noise and shook his head. Then he started tapping his foot on the ground, keeping time with his head. He stopped and looked around, at the road coming in, at the car park. “Your mum used to love choc-ices.” Andy looked across the car park and scratched the back of his head. He kicked the side of the ice cream kiosk and spoke down at the rough gray gravel. “Well, she doesn’t now, does she?” Dad looked at his son. “You’ve come a long way, my boy. It’s been rough for you. And me. I just thought, I got to find someone to take care of you, that’s all, cos I can’t. I just can’t do the mum stuff.” “I don’t need a mum any more, dad. I’m ten. Double digits, remember. I can look after myself.” He looked at his son, all skinny four foot three of him, standing next to the ice cream kiosk with his trainers and his dinosaur T-shirt. Maybe it was true. “Thing is, your mum was a better cook than me.” Andy kicked the gravel. He looked up. “You’re the worst cook in the world.” “Am I that bad? I’m sorry, son.” [ 79 ]
“I can cook for myself. I can make a fried egg sandwich.” “I know you can. I’ve seen you do it. But you need more than fried egg sandwiches. I’m trying to find someone.”
“I don’t want no one. I don’t want no Gloria or no one. I don’t need no choc-ice.” He paused, biting his lip. Dad was looking serious, nodding his head. Andy decided to say it. “I’m never going to have another mum, so why should you have another wife?” Now it was his dad’s turn to pause. He had never heard his son say anything like that before. “Because a man needs a woman around, that’s why. And not just for cooking.” They both look up at the cliff where the white speck is now standing waving at them. It’s half white and half pink. “Oh my God, she’s taken her top off. And here in Seaford. Topless in Seaford! I can’t handle that, Andy. Truth is, I don’t want her either. Or anyone. I know just what you mean.” Andy’s waving back. “Don’t wave, Andy. It’ll only encourage her. Make her think we want her, somehow. Come on. Let’s go home.” They set off to walk back up the hill. The path soon hides their view of Gloria. At one point the shouts of children on the beach drifts up. Andy stops and turns to his dad. “Can we still go into town for a choc-ice?” “If there’s anywhere bloody open.” It’s a steep climb. Every few yards Andy has to wait for his dad to catch his breath. It gives him time to think. “You go on ahead, Andy. I’ll take my time.” At the level of the top of the cliff the grass flattens out and Gloria sees Andy coming. She’s standing up looking in his direction.
[ 80 ]
“Yoohoo!” Andy pretends not to hear and stares out at the sea and the people on the beach below. He takes a quick look over his shoulder up the hill. At least she’s got her blouse on again. Dad is a couple of hundred yards below, struggling up the hill. He turns and walks on. “Hello, Andy.” “It was closed.” “Closed? They must have had a death in the family.” She takes a sudden intake of breath. “I’m sorry, Andy, I didn’t mean to say that. I didn’t mean it that way. It was just a slip of the tongue. You understand, don’t you, Andy. I’m . . . I’m ever so sorry.” “That’s all right. You didn’t mean nothing. Besides, mum didn’t die after all. We saw her down there. Dad arranged to meet her. He was going to buy her a chocice. Called her on her mobile on the way down.” Andy is looking straight at Gloria. Gloria has her mouth open. Then she closes it. “The lying bastard!” She bends down and grabs her shoes and her handbag. Then turns and strides bare-foot across the grass in the direction of the road. At that moment Andy sees his dad’s head and shoulders bobbing over the brow of the hill. He’s looking at the ground. Andy watches as Gloria makes it back to the road, leans against the car to put her shoes on, and walks left down the road towards the town. He sits down on the grass facing the sea and puts his head on his knees. His dad’s huffing and puffing gets louder and louder. “Where’s Gloria?” “Gone.” He dabs his head and looks away towards the road. “Which way did she go?” Andy points towards the town.
[ 81 ]
“Well, that’s good. We’ll go home the other way. Provided she hasn’t smashed my car up. We can stop for fish and chips. Get a DVD. Your choice.”
[ 82 ]
A Name is Written And a Heart Drawn Around it John Lavin
Sunday 11/01/13 How it happens is that you just write down the first thing that comes into your head. You’re angry and you’re in a hurry to leave and you just write down the first thing that comes into your head. That’s how it happened to me and that’s how you know who I am. How you’ve seen my mug shot in the papers and read the accompanying captions with widening, credulous eyes. To begin with I was dubbed ‘shifty’ but that type of tabloidese-fence-sitting didn’t last very long. Very soon I was ‘sinister’, ‘vengeful’ - even a ‘woman-hater’ - until it was finally decided that the cap that fitted me best was plain old ‘insane’ [my outraged italics.] Those words that I scribbled down in a flash of anger and stupidity are also, of course, the reason that I am here. Writing these altogether more considered words in this blue-brick, fluorescent-lit cell. As you’ve probably already guessed, my name is Terence Stent. Please don’t be here when I get back. I think I might kill you if you’re here when I get back. That, as you most probably know, was the first thing that came into my head. It’s just something you think, say, write - and of course you don’t mean it. I didn’t mean it. How does it happen then – how can it? That the person you leave it for is murdered? The person I left it for was called Laura. Laura. *
[ 83 ]
How it happens is that you wake up one morning and smile at the woman lying beside you and find her eyes unprepared for you. You see a secret flash before her eyelids snap shut and she turns away in a laboured attempt at feigning sleep. You think about it at work. You think about it non-stop. About the mystery in her eyes during that brief moment. The mystery that made you feel like you were a stranger in your own bed. And so you leave work early so as to be home before her so you can look through her things and maybe find a clue that will help you discover whatever it is that her secret may be. You find nothing at first but you’re determined because you somehow know in your spine that she doesn’t love you anymore and all the time you’re drinking to stop yourself from shaking because you know in your heart that – yes - she doesn’t love you anymore. Then you find it. A notebook that you’ve never seen. Unused except for the ninth-to-lastpage where a name is written and a heart drawn around it. That name is Mike. And you sit down on the floor in this room that you’ve turned upside down and you just shake uncontrollably because what you’ve suspected but not really believed at all is actually true. Mike wasn’t a name that I was familiar with but I assumed that he must be someone from Laura’s work. When I had thought about it some more, I thought that, yes, maybe she had mentioned a Mike once or twice. I tried to remember what her expression had been like when she had spoken about him but all that I could visualise was the secret that had flashed across her eyes when I had woken up beside her that morning. I left the page open on the living room table and wrote what I wrote under the heart. The house was ransacked. I left quickly before Laura got home. Monday 12/01/13 Mike in the morning, Mike in the ceiling, Mike in the roar from the distant road and in the occasional snatch of birdsong, carried on the breeze through the high bars. Mike and Laura under the sheets, Mike and Laura brushing fingers and feet under desks in board meetings. Stolen glances, stolen lunches, stolen embraces behind the shine of fluorescent-lit office blinds. In cupboards and in doorways. On training away-days and weeks. In hotel bedrooms by the sea. It’s a funny thing but we look alike. Mike was waiting when I was finally allowed back to the house. That was three days after Laura’s murder and one day before my arrest. I went out to the car, with the intention of driving to a hotel, when there was a sudden clack clack clack of footsteps behind me. My first impression as he grabbed me by the throat
[ 84 ]
and shouted ‘I’m Mike you fucking scum!’ was, I have to say, one of déjà vu. He kindled a flame of recognition in me that I couldn’t at first put my finger on. It took me a moment or two to understand that it wasn’t that we had met before but that we looked very much alike. Sometimes when I think of him now this resemblance between us strikes me as more and more uncanny. I wish I could see a photograph of him but there haven’t – inexplicably - been any in the papers. I wish I could see a photograph so that I could see how similar we really do look. I only saw him once in very stressful circumstances and my mind tends to plays tricks on me when I try to picture him. It simply shows me a mirror image of myself. It consoles me a little, I suppose, for Laura to have looked for me in somebody else. It gives me hope that she still loved me and that Mike wasn’t anything more than a fling. I was being difficult. In truth, I can only admit now to what degree I was being difficult. Work was very stressful at that time. A lot of talk of redundancies. Maybe Mike reminded her of the way I had been in happier times. But it is, of course, extremely painful for me too. For there to be such a strange resemblance between myself and the murderer of the woman I loved. He pushed me against my car door, repeating obscenity after obscenity. Repeating the assertion that it was I who had murdered Laura. That it was I who was the murderer of the woman that I loved. Suddenly the world was upside down and with a fist in and out of my eyes. My neighbours were by their windows but not coming - no, not pulling him away. He hit me repeated in the face until I slid down to the floor. When I came to, only the winter air held me. Not Laura. No - Laura was dead. The light was dwindling and it was difficult to move. I felt frightened and more alone even than before. How long must I have been lying there without a single soul coming to help me? * Mike murdered Laura. Nothing else makes sense. I can see you all shaking your heads. The kind ones among you feeling pity for my evident Psychosis. The harder ones reviling me all the more for my shameless duplicity. But I am neither mad nor a liar and I repeat: Mike murdered Laura.
When I finally made it into the house I immediately called the police. It [ 85 ]
was almost impossible to walk across that threshold again but it was too cold to remain outside. I stayed in the hallway and used my mobile because I was unable to force myself to go and use the landline in the living room. That was where the neighbours had found Laura. They had had come round because they had suspected something was wrong. They had seen her through the window which overlooks the back garden. Her head had been smashed again and again against the marble hearth. The detective in charge of Laura’s case had listened patiently but with obvious scepticism to my account of Mike’s attack. There had been a lengthy pause between my finishing and his speaking, which he had filled with an almost comically exaggerated raising of his eyebrows in the direction of the two officers that accompanied him. Finally, he said: ‘I’m afraid, sir, that this simply cannot be the case. Would you like to reconsider your story? I think you must have made a mistake.’ They were all shaking their heads. How it happens is that one eye blurs and then the other eye starts to blur too. The hearing in one ear grows indistinct and then the hearing in the other ear grows indistinct too. The people in front of you first double, then morph. Then they come towards you. * When I awoke I was sticky with sweat and barely able to move underneath taut hospital sheets. I had dreamt of a moth. It kept flying around our room and each time it passed over us it appeared to be larger than the time before. ‘Mike,’ it said from time to time. ‘Mike.’ Each time it got larger it got nearer and each time it got nearer it got larger so that eventually its eyes were no more than a hand span away from my face. It had pretty human eyes. They were hazel like Laura’s. ‘Mike,’ it said. ‘Mike.’ I was in a small hospital room and it was late the next day. The detective stood over me. ‘Mr Terence Stent? I am arresting you for the murder of Miss Laura Hermann.’ He went on with that warning speech which is so familiar to the public consciousness from endless TV police and detective dramas while I tried with increasing desperation to extricate myself from the disinfectant-smelling sheets that were tucked so tightly about my person. ‘I love Laura!’ I shouted. ‘How could I have killed her?’
[ 86 ]
Tuesday 13/01/13 How I could have killed Laura is simple it seems. It goes like this: I didn’t leave the house when I said I did. Alright I was going to leave like I said but I had taken so long turning the house upside down and finding the notebook that Laura arrived home before I had time to leave. Upon confronting her with my suspicions she confirmed them. Indeed, she confirmed them with relish and goaded me with examples of her encounters, not just with Mike but with other men too. Goaded me until I flew into a violent rage and smashed her head over and over again. Until I took her long black hair and dragged her across the living room floor to smash that face I had spent my adult life covering in kisses over and over again against the marble hearth. It isn’t me and it certainly isn’t Laura. Anyone who knew her would tell you that. The idea of her goading me is insulting to her memory - it goes against the very fabric of her being. She was the gentlest of people. She prized her integrity and I know what a great source of inner turmoil it must have been for her to have lived a lie all that time she was seeing Mike. I left her with no choice, I suppose. As I said before I was being difficult. But by difficult I mean self-absorbed and distant. Not violent or abusive as has been suggested in some quarters of the press. I was having a lot of problems at work and felt reasonably sure I would be made redundant. Wednesday 14/01/13 I left the page open on the living room table and wrote what I wrote under the heart. I was half drunk and half out of my mind and I couldn’t think beyond getting another drink so I went to a pub where we were well known. They were fans of Laura there, everyone liked Laura there. They remember me from that night but it was busy and they can’t say from quite when. I was hopelessly drunk when the police arrived. ‘Mr Stent? You live with a Miss Laura Hermann? I think it would be better if we talked outside.’ I can hear them still. I can feel them still, the words that they had said. That Laura was dead. That they were treating her death as a murder case. For a moment everything had frozen still and I had seemed to leave my body. I had seemed to float above the two policemen and then, for just a second, I had vanished. And then all of the noise from the road and all of the hubbub emanating from inside the pub had come roaring back. All of that noise and all [ 87 ]
of that hubbub flooding my ears until I couldn’t stand it anymore and I vomited onto the pavement. * Where was Mike that night? That’s what I can’t understand. He has vanished without trace and yet the police seem perfectly unconcerned. They seem to be only interested in me. Several times a day I demand to see the Chief Inspector but he doesn’t come anymore so I bellow through the door instead: Mike murdered Laura! Why aren’t you looking for Mike! And sometimes, I must confess, using worse language than that. I have no proof and the cards are all stacked against me, not him. I know that. But I have one valuable piece of information that I suppose only I can truly know. I know that it wasn’t me. I think that Laura must have broken it off with him. Maybe it just sounds ridiculous and egotistical but I think that she still loved me. I think that she still loved me and that she had left Mike to try and make things work with me. He has a temper. I’ve seen it firsthand. I know what you’re thinking. Why has nobody seen or heard of him? Why is there no record of him at Laura’s work? Why did nobody see him on the morning of November the twenty-eighth when he was beating the shit out of me? But people did see! They were at their fucking windows watching! The police say that I must have inflicted the wounds myself. That I must have banged my own head against the car door over and over again. I scream for what seems like hours, days and nights but no one listens. Thursday 15/01/13 They took me to see the psychiatrist again today. The same intrusive and needling questions about my childhood and about our (mine and Laura’s) life together. These questions were all asked in the same kind of slow and overly patient manner that a parent might use to address a toddler. And then just as I was leaving, or rather, just as I was being lead out of the door, he had called after me in a low voice: ‘Mike. Just one minute, Mike.’ I thought I must have misheard him. I turned around immediately. ‘What was that?’ But the psychiatrist just smiled. ‘Oh nothing. Nothing.’
[ 88 ]
Saturday 17/01/13 I was placed on suicide watch this morning. Yesterday was the worst, the blackest day since Laura died. I couldn’t stop thinking about how he had killed her. I couldn’t stop thinking about the way that he had massaged her shoulders and then smoothed her arms all the way down to her hands, which he had then clasped in his own. I couldn’t stop thinking about the way that he had pressed his mouth against hers and forced his tongue in. His eyes expressionless like the way that they had been when he had begun to punch me repeatedly in the face. My face which is so much like his. Thinking back to that day it was almost like he had wanted to obliterate it. Every time I think of his face it strikes me as looking more and more like mine. So much so that when I look in the mirror sometimes I have to be sick. Oh Laura. Oh Laura. I keep picturing the look of terror that came into your eyes when he first hit you across the face. Before he dragged you across the floor by your long black hair. Before he dragged you across the floor to the marble hearth where he banged your head over and over again. The cracking sound your skull made against the hearth unlike anything he had ever heard before in his life. And then the first line of blood along the marble. The gasps and whimpers. I can’t breathe when I think about it. Sometimes I literally can’t see. I literally black out. And then always when I come to there is that glowering face in the mirror.
Mike. He tells me to be quiet. He tells me to put the pen down. He tells me that no one must find him here.
[ 89 ]
The Cake is Plum and Almond Hannah Lowe
Oh the way you eat.
We can’t kiss here. I’d like to roll you on the patchwork of my happy bed. Come home. I’m clammy-skinned below my clothes, I’m achy in the bone.
Birds are nesting in my flower pots, my dreams. Who will save me? Come home. We’ll tangle on the cushions, slant of summer light across a shoulder, thigh, a knee. Come home with me, help shake this fever.
[ 90 ]
The New Fox on Morrish Road Hannah Lowe
The new fox comes with thorns in his fur. He’s fresh from the garden, foxier than what she’s had before. He’s fixed her with his mouth, the tongue’s hot softener. He informs her, a clever fox with white fur patches. She likes him crouched on haunches, sniffing, heading slowly down her skin with bristly whispers, breathing in her. He’s unstitched her, and his claws inscribe a thin rust trail of scratches a little pain’s a sweet reminder. Oh this good new fox transforms the bed’s dilemmas. She’s dreaming fox-dreams, fur-and-bone dreams, wakes at dawn to scent of fox, to swoon at fox-thoughts. She’s forgotten she’d foresworn this old palaver. Whoosh! It’s all gone slippery and frothier one hand below the covers, searching, grasps that hot fox fur between her fingers.
[ 91 ]
Lives of Poets Roy Marshall
Who fondles bones who saw the ripple before he threw the stone who laid petals on your eyelids while you slept who steps unharmed from the avalanchesâ€™ fist who is trapped in the amber of a paperweight life who dives to find Excalibur but rescues a child who muffles the drum and amplifies the heart who draws out the thorn and holds it to the light who glimpsed himself hunted in the mist who listens for the signal of an intermittent god who writes with blood in the dust of a cell who is a butterfly resting on a wheel.
[ 92 ]
Overnight Stop Alison Moore
Monica is approaching the check-in desk when her phone begins vibrating in the pocket of her shorts. She takes the call, rolling her eyes at Michael. “Dad,” she says, “stop worrying. We’ll be fine.” She listens briefly before saying, “I’ve got to go.” She and her dad watched Lost last night, watched Flight 815 break apart in his darkened living room. After switching off the television, he said to her, “What time’s your flight?” He is worried about the engines failing, the wings falling off, about terrorists and aggressive passengers, about pilots having heart attacks or falling asleep in the cockpit. Monica has spent this afternoon sweating into her wedding dress. Now in her holiday clothes, she’s a bit cold, and there are hours of in-flight air conditioning which must be endured before reaching the honeymoon destination. On the far side of check-in, they find somewhere to sit and Monica tries not to think about the wings coming off. Her dad’s anxiety seems to be catching, like something she has just discovered growing in her skin, like the itchy ringworm she picked up after scrubbing an infected cage at the veterinary surgery. Her arm, bare between her rubber glove and the sleeve of her bottle-green uniform, must have touched the cage, or perhaps the invading fungal spores were airborne. “What’s wrong with your legs?” says Michael, and Monica stands to look at the backs of her knees where she has been absent-mindedly scratching. “What the hell?” she says, still raking her nails over the rash which has broken out. “It could be the new car seat covers,” says Michael. “Some people are allergic to neoprene. I’ll see if I can get some antihistamines.” He wanders away. When he returns with a bag from the pharmacy, he says, “Our flight’s delayed.” Monica swallows a tablet. Five minutes later, she says to Michael, “It’s not
[ 93 ]
working.” After another five, she says, “If anything, it’s getting worse.” She is agitated. Michael is restless too, impatient to be crossing the tarmac and strapping himself into his seat on the plane, to be accelerating down the runway, to be tens of thousands of feet in the air. They listen to announcements they can’t decipher, and Michael goes to investigate. When he comes back and says to Monica that they won’t be flying out until the morning, she feels herself relaxing. But then, she thinks, if something dreadful is going to happen, it has only been postponed. They are going to be put up overnight, says Michael, in an airport hotel. “Oh well,” says Monica, “that might be nice.” They pick up their hand luggage and make their way to the assembly point, from where they and dozens of others will be taken by bus to the hotel. Walking into the softly lit lobby, looking around at the sofas and potted plants, Monica says to Michael, “Let’s just stay here. We’ll stay in our room until it’s time to go home. We’ll order room service.” She stops to have a good go at her rash while Michael goes to reception. Hearing the receptionist say, “Mr and Mrs Porter,” Monica glances up, looking around for Michael’s parents before realising that the receptionist is talking about Michael and her. She meets the eye of a thin man with a shaved head who is waiting in line with the other passengers, and then Michael steps away from the desk with keycards in his hand and Monica follows him. As they walk together to the stairs, Monica is aware of the loudness of her wooden wedges on the tiled floor. She wishes she had worn something quieter, and that she had put overnight essentials in her hand luggage. She could do with a toothbrush and a change of underwear, things that are packed in her suitcase along with her bikinis, her evening wear, a beach towel that says ‘OCEANIC TRANQUILLITY’ in big, red capital letters, and an alarm clock that will go off in the morning and might be thought to be a bomb. She would like a magazine to read. When Monica reaches the foot of the stairs, she glances back at the thin man who has now reached the front of the queue and is talking to the receptionist. I know him, she suddenly thinks, and stares for a moment longer before turning away and carrying on up the stairs. When Monica sees their room, she says again, “Let’s just stay here.” She closes the curtains and lies down on the double bed, discovering that it is two twin beds pushed together, with an unclosable gap between the mattresses. The [ 94 ]
bedspread irritates her rash. Michael helps himself to a Malibu from the mini-bar. “Tomorrow evening,” he says, “we’ll be eating red snapper from the Caribbean.” “Unless there’s still a problem with the flight,” says Monica. “Twelve hours from now,” he insists, “we’ll be on the plane, strapped into our seats, awaiting take-off.” Monica goes for a bath. She sits in hot water scrubbing at her rash with a complimentary flannel. She washes her stomach. Her pregnancy is beginning to show. When she gets out, she puts her dirty clothes back on and goes to see if she can get a toothbrush from reception. The receptionist produces a dental kit and a list of other items the hotel can provide – combs, shaving kits, deodorant, sanitary products, manicure kits, condoms, slippers, shoe polishing kits. Glancing at Monica’s clothes, she also mentions the laundry service, and Monica enjoys the thought that she really could manage here for weeks without her luggage. She wanders over to the lounge area, picks up a magazine and sits down in an armchair. She is reading a scathing review of a book she liked when she becomes aware of a man standing in front of her. She glances up, expecting to see Michael. “Hello, Mrs Porter,” says the man. She recognises him as the one from the queue, the thin man who watched her scratching furiously at her legs while Michael was checking in. She is sure now that she knows him quite well but can’t think where from. He watches her struggling to place him and chooses not to help her. He sits down, and as he is getting comfortable it dawns on her who he is and her stomach sinks. “Well, Monica,” says Stanley, “Barbados here we come, eh?” He smiles. He looks different, bared without his long hair and his beard, but he always did smile a lot, although Monica could never decide whether he was friendly or hostile. She shared a house with a friend of his and never knew if she would return from work to find Stanley on the sofa, drinking milk from the carton, resting it between his thighs after swigs, looking at her in her uniform and saying, “Hello nursey.” Sometimes, she would feel agitated in anticipation of finding Stanley in the house with the milk between his legs, but then, arriving home, she would find the house empty, the milk untouched in the fridge. Sometimes, she would come home after a night out to find that he had bolted the front door before falling asleep on the sofa, so that she could not let herself in with her key. She remembers hammering on the door with her fist, trying to wake him, furious that he should have the power to shut her out of her own home. [ 95 ]
One time, Stanley wasn’t there when she went to sleep, but when she got up at dawn to make coffee, she found him stretched out on the sofa. Sitting up, scratching, he said hello to the man who was coming through the doorway behind her, who then declined coffee after all and left quickly. To the departing back of this man who was old enough to be Monica’s father, Stanley said loudly, “I suppose he has to get home to his wife and kids.” Now Stanley, reclining, putting his shoes on the hotel’s sofa, says to Monica, “Does Michael know about you and his dad?” Monica is taken aback. She had no idea Stanley knew the man he saw coming out of her room that morning. Stanley, clearly enjoying her discomfort, keeps her waiting before explaining, “I used to get private tuition from Mr Porter when I was a kid. I went to his house so I always saw his kids too – Michael and his brothers and sisters. There were always loads of kids there. I always imagined I could just sort of stay and no one would notice. But of course I was always sent home.” “His dad and me, that was years ago,” says Monica. “I didn’t know Michael then.” “Did you get crabs?” “What?” “Did Mr Porter give you crabs?” She stares at him. “He always had crabs,” says Stanley. She feels as if she is, at this very moment, crawling with lice. “I have to get back to Michael,” she says, standing, returning her magazine to the table. Stanley reaches over and picks it up, settling down to read what she was reading, without saying goodbye. She finds Michael asleep. She also finds that she has left the dental kit downstairs and has to get into bed without brushing her teeth. She sleeps badly and is already up when the wake-up call disturbs Michael. “How’s your mange?” he says, which makes her scratch. They walk down to breakfast and Michael says, “You’re on edge. Antihistamines can do that to you.” Monica doesn’t have much of an appetite but Michael makes the most of the buffet, eating as if he might never eat again, as if he will not be facing an airline lunch in a few hours. Afterwards, he goes to pay his mini-bar bill while Monica goes back to their room to collect their things. She is straightening their bedding when she hears someone knocking on the door. Opening it, she finds Stanley outside. He is holding out the toothbrush [ 96 ]
she left behind last night. “I used your toothbrush,” he says. “You don’t mind, do you? I’ve nothing catching.” Peering past her, he says, “Nice room. It’s bigger than mine. But then mine’s a single.” “I was about to leave,” says Monica. “I saw Michael at the front desk, settling his bill.” Monica stiffens, although she is relieved to think that this must be how he knows her room number; that he has not been in an adjacent bedroom, on the other side of a thin wall. “He didn’t remember me,” says Stanley. His mouth, no longer hidden by facial hair, is quite unpleasant, thinks Monica. He never quite closes it. He looks suddenly pained. He puts his hand on his crotch. “I have to piss,” he says. Monica finds herself stepping aside so that Stanley can come in. He pushes open the bathroom door and then closes it behind him. Monica shoulders her bag. She waits, hearing nothing through the bathroom door. By the time he comes out, she has put the bag down again. It is heavy and the strap – a detachable leather one – digs into her shoulder. Preparing to leave, she picks her bag up again. Stanley, still zipping his fly, goes to the bed and sits down. “I’ve been made redundant,” he says. “I’m blowing my severance pay on two weeks in the Caribbean.” “I want to go downstairs,” she says. “Do you find yourself,” he asks, “at our age, seeking out the people you knew when you were younger?” Looking down between his legs, he says, “Your bedspread’s the same as mine, Monica.” It occurs to her that she could just go, leaving him here. Taking one last look around the room, she says, “You can let yourself out.” “Don’t you want to know,” says Stanley, as Monica is walking to the door, “what Michael and I talked about?” Monica pauses with her back to him, frozen like someone with a gun pointed at her, the sight trained on the back of her head. “Not especially,” she says. “I told him how I know you,” he says, “told him some stories about the good old days.” He lies down, putting his head on Monica’s pillow, the soles of his shoes on the bedspread. He closes his eyes. “I didn’t mention Mr Porter senior.” “I’m going,” she says. “I need to piss again,” moans Stanley. “Or I feel like I do. I’ve got some kind of infection. I keep wanting to piss but nothing comes out. It just hurts.” He scampers to the bathroom and as he shuts himself in he says, “I suppose we’ll see one another on the plane. We should meet up in Barbados, go for a drink, tell [ 97 ]
Michael some more of our stories.” Monica stands for a moment outside the closed door. Slowly, she slips the bag off her shoulder and unclips the wide leather strap. Quietly fastening one end around the bathroom door handle, she pulls the strap taut and loops it around the handle of an adjacent cupboard, wrapping it around both handles a couple more times before securing it, with difficulty because her hands are shaking. Picking up her bag again, she leaves the room, hanging the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door handle. She looks at her watch. She should be on the plane by the time the maid discovers him. She has to stop herself hurrying down the stairs, rushing into the lobby. She finds Michael sitting in the lounge area, on the sofa where Stanley sat the night before. “We should get going,” says Monica, “if we don’t want to miss the plane.” “The bus won’t be here yet,” says Michael, but Monica is already heading for the exit. Michael follows her. They have just got outside when he says, “Oh, I left my book in the bathroom. Did you pick it up?” When Monica hesitates, he says, “I’ll nip up and get it. I’ll get the key back from reception.” “I’ve got your book,” says Monica, peering down the empty road. “It’s in my bag.” “I can read the last chapter on the plane,” says Michael. “Oh, I met someone called Stanley. He said he was a friend of yours. You shared a house or something.” “Not really,” she says. She keeps glancing at the hotel entrance, and Michael, noticing, eyeing her goosepimples, says, “Do you want to wait inside? Are you cold?” “No,” she says, “I just want to get going.”
“Me too,” says Michael. “I want to be on the plane.” Monica says nothing. She looks up at the overcast sky.
From her seat near the back of the bus, Monica watches the door, flinching at every thin body glimpsed through the window, every bald head ducking on entering. “Are you looking for your friend?” asks Michael. “Is he supposed to be on this bus?” “He’s not really my friend,” says Monica. Even when people stop boarding, the bus waits. Eventually, the engine is switched on. The bus idles, spewing fumes, before slowly pulling away from the kerb, and Monica relaxes into her seat. She pictures Stanley sitting in the bathroom, reading Michael’s blockbuster. She knows she [ 98 ]
has only delayed him, and that when he is found, he will just take another flight, but Barbados is big enough, although she will no doubt find herself looking over her shoulder, never feeling quite at ease, preferring to stay in the hotel. Their paths won’t cross on the return journey because Stanley will go home after two weeks but they are staying for three. And he doesn’t know where they live. With any luck, she will never see him again. They head for the airport, picking up speed. It is raining as they cross the tarmac. They hurry towards the plane, running for cover as if the raindrops were a hail of bullets. They climb the metal staircase. At the top, a stewardess greets them warmly without making eye contact. The cabin smells peachy. They have sprayed something, thinks Monica, to mask the smell of sick. They slip into their seats and fasten their seatbelts. Monica turns to the rain-spattered window, peering anxiously out. Michael says, “You’re like the man in The Twilight Zone who sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane. Are you worried?” Beta blockers, thinks Monica. She would like beta blockers to numb her to this, the awfulness of this flight. “I’ll be all right,” she says, “once we’re in the air.” Passengers continue to board and she watches their unhurried search for their seats, their dithering over what to put in the lockers, the aisles clogging. Michael inspects the contents of the pocket on the back of the seat in front – laminated emergency instructions, cartoons of people dealing calmly with disaster, and an in-flight magazine through which he leafs, browsing photographs of other destinations they might have chosen. Monica watches another plane taxiing down the wet runway. The backs of her legs are itching against the seat fabric. She is hours away from her next tablet. Michael reaches for Monica’s bag and hunts through it. “Where’s my book?” he says. Monica goes through the motions of looking through the bag herself. “I don’t think it’s here.” “You said you’d picked it up.” “I thought I did.” She is still searching, although pointlessly, there being barely anything in the bag to hunt through. She doesn’t turn to look at him, knowing that if she does she will find him looking at her as if she is crazy. In the end, she shrugs and apologises. She takes out the magazine she has bought and yesterday’s bottle of water. As she unscrews the lid and lifts the bottle to her [ 99 ]
mouth, her hand is shaking. Michael sighs. “We should be going soon,” he says. He looks at his watch. “We should have gone already.” Monica opens her magazine to a centre spread of women with circles around the sweat patches under their arms. There is a disturbance towards the front of the plane and she looks up to see the faltering smile of the stewardess at the door, and Michael says, “Is that your friend?”
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SIBLINGS Sue Moules
This is an imagined dialogue between the two sisters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell on 28th March 1941, the day Virginia Woolf committed suicide by drowning. Goat was a pet name for herself. Dolphin was Virginiaâ€™s pet name for Vanessa. VIRGINIA TO VANESSA The day was bright and clear, a touch too cold. I was a totem pole of colour leaving the seashell house where visitors left a tang of salt. The novel finished and that dark descent, thick fog of returning past, cramps in the imagination... In the garden studio I wrote these letters to you and Leonard. Dolphin , I am too much to bear; you have both made me happy, so happy. I hear voices, see face upon face talking in the silence of Rodmell. Leonard was out, I returned to the pastel quiet house, took my walking stick, crossed the water meadows to the Ouse. I saw two blue butterflies brand air,
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remembered two girls reading, painting in the great parlour over-shadowed by those portraits of large-minded Victorians swamping out colour, ledging us out into summer ponds. Remember, oh remember those Bloomsbury hours, conversations of flowing wine, ideas ink-exploding, rooms abuzz of excitement. Those days, those days and tumbling back to St.Ives then forward too Monks House to Leonard, the longed for child they said I couldnâ€™t cope with. Like a girl excited by the new I picked up a stone, sharp as flint lined a coat pocket..... VANESSA TO VIRGINIA I knew before they said, sensed the Goat weed-tangled. I was painting, saw soft blots on the canvas. The children were laughing in the bright garden. They came later with your letter when evening was darkening into those Bloomsbury hours of laughter, talk, of over doing things. Always, always we were careful against over excitement, even limitations on the visitors you loved so much.
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I was seamed to reality with children and painting to confine fears. I see your transparent face, hear your teasing voice You were dreamer, mood manipulator, a person in a story, sunk like a leaf.
Published in Metaphors (spectrum) 1986 ISBN 0 946096 06 6
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Oil and Water Kate Murray
We all remember it, everyone remembers it. How many years has it been? Seems like tons. I don’t remember it the same but then I was only eight; imagine me an eight year old boy, all scrapes and bruises; knees torn out of jeans and mudencrusted hands; pockets filled with useful things like string and stones, perhaps half a biscuit and a forgotten worm; Mum always yelling when she lost in the pocket lottery. Of course the story isn’t in the remembering but in the forgetting. I forgot you see. Not like when you forget your car keys because at least you remember that you had them to begin with. No, this forgetting is defined by the fact that I remembered nothing, even that I had forgotten something. There was no insistent niggle in the back of my mind, no on-the-tip-of-my-tongue, nothing. It was a dark time, too dark for one as young as I. It shouldn’t have happened but it did and I saw. At first I’d just scream and mum would run in and wake me. “What is it?” She’d cry, worry etched on her face, making her appear so much older, me, so tired that I’d roll over mumbling about dark, the darkness, and then drift off in the safe haven her arms gave me. Slowly the nightmares got worse though. Mum was single; a single mum having to cope with the prejudice that it brought, living off benefits, they would whisper, and slag and, the worst, poor little bastard. Not that we lived in a posh area, we were on the edge of the council flats, but we actually lived in a house. Okay, only in the basement, but it was better than the high risers. Up there the water would freeze in winter making the stairs a death trap and the lift always smelt of piss and was patrolled by pervs and gangs. We were out of it, only by about a hundred yards but it was enough. Now, of course, I know that we couldn’t afford the rent and instead had to sub-let half a flat but at the time I was happy. We had no heating and it could get cold, but we did have an open fire. It had a drab surround of beige tiles that were so shiny and silky that they felt soft. As a child I remember running my hands over them and tracing the mortar, my fingers tingling from the different textures. I loved the fire and
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its red flame, real heat, not like now when the light can be turned on or off to give a coal effect. A lie I teach my kids with unerring faith; that heat comes from lumps of plastic that flicker with false light. I see them playing with the rough resin coals just like I did with the tiles. But then I’m not surprised at the lies I tell, after all, the biggest I whisper to them as they drift off to sleep; that there are no monsters. On the 15th September I saw monsters, three of them, and none had horns, tails or large sharp teeth. Instead they wore baseball caps and hoodies. In October the nightmares got worse, so bad that I was barely speaking and mum was not sleeping. Any sleep she did get was propped up on an old soggy green chair next to my bed, her head resting on her chest, her soft snores echoing around my small bedroom. We didn’t have much; mum used to pretend we had a dog to get the free bones from the butcher. She’d boil them up, use a nutcracker to split them and take out the marrow. It wasn’t until I hit adulthood that I found out why a nutcracker was called that; I went to a friend’s house at Christmas and had to be shown how to use them with a nut. Mum called her marrow, stock and vegetable concoction beef stew and to this day it is the best thing I’ve ever tasted, even with my large gut overhanging my belt. Funny really that now the very best of restaurants will serve up marrow as a highly prized food, when it kept me and mum alive. The school noticed I was tired and always dropping off, eyes drooping and legs leaden. They even found me kipping under a tree instead of going cross-country. No one ratted on me; I don’t think anyone cared that much. I was, and in most cases, still am, an average person; I kept my head down and did the work but never excelled. When I missed school I’m sure I was only spotted as missing because of the head count. I never made friends ‘cos that would mean taking them home. Although I liked not being in the high risers our flat was not the best. The hall and the kitchen were the same place, orange cupboards stuck on the walls as an afterthought; fridge freezer rising above the banister like some squatting rumbling toad, complaining of a half empty belly. The toilet was actually outside, well sort of. You went through a covered way and there was the bathroom. It could get cold. That October was cold, but what I remember most is the rain. The flat always smelt damp, my clothes smelt damp, even my textbooks started to wrinkle around the edges as the water got into the pores. I began that year writing with a fountain pen but ended it using a biro. The ink from the fountain pen would expand on contact with the damp paper making my work impossible to read; teachers yelled and as I couldn’t escape the damp I had to swap pens. At one point that autumn I recollect coming home and finding mum scraping the mould off the walls inside the bathroom. I remember being surprised, as if I’d never seen the congealed grey-green spongy mass before, yet I’d used the bathroom every day. It’s strange how kids don’t see everything around them.
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That day in September kept coming back to me in my dreams so that I started to remember the nothing. It was warm with a slightly chilly wind, I had a jumper on but no coat, it had been raining recently and I was stamping in puddles. One particularly large one had a small petrol or oil slick on the top and I was stamping and watching the colours; purples and greens, move around each other; never mixing but dancing in a pattern of swirls. The nightmares always started with those swirls, except I’m not creating them but being buffeted by them. It’s darker in my dreams, not the dusk of reality, but murky like I’m looking though a thin layer of oil on glass. I was out because my mum was working. She wasn’t due in till ten that night, so I just wandered around and I knew that this road had the best puddles. She worked at a restaurant and I knew that Saturday night would mean a cake, perhaps even a three layered one with sweet cream like a large sticky sandwich. So while I waited I stamped and enjoyed the colours and shapes they made. I suppose there in the street my feet were wet but I remember it like I wasn’t really there and in my dream I’m swallowed by colour; murky purples and browns all oily and slick. I move through them like I’m the water and they can’t touch me, like my body repels them. The colours fade and become black and then I hang in darkness, still not feeling. I can’t see me, not my hand or my feet, it’s like I don’t exist. I suppose I’m lucky they never looked over, that they didn’t point and come after me. I saw the bus pull up. The 202. I knew what bus it was ‘cos I didn’t have a watch and instead had to work out the time from the comings and goings of the red leviathans. I knew that this bus meant I gotta head back home, that mum would walk through the door in about fifteen minutes and expect me there. Yet for some reason I didn’t go. Perhaps it was the boys walking from the high risers that stopped me or perhaps it was the boy who got off the bus, but I froze with both feet planted in dancing colours. They shouted, the boy yelled back and they gestured to each other. I saw it all without sound, I don’t know why there was no sound but it played like a silent movie except everything was in colour. Have you ever seen fencing, the way they move around each other with those dainty swords? Well that’s what they looked like. One of the boys, taller and more massive, was aggressive and walked towards the lone boy. The bus had gone, indifferent to the fighting, leaving behind a plume of grey smoke that stank of diesel and burning oil. I remember wanting to sneeze and clamped my hand to my nose trying to stop. If I did they might see me so I tried to be like that mould in the bathroom, to be there but not to be important enough to look at. Of the three, two just stood back and shouted, egging on the tall aggressor. In my dreams they are monsters, in reality they were angry teenagers, not bad looking but a little on the skinny side. The other kid was shorter and sweet-faced and [ 106 ]
very black. You know how people can be all shades, like the Indian girl I went to school with. She was mixed and would call herself a pine colour. Well, if she was pine then this kid was mahogany, but when the other boy pulled a knife and stabbed him the knife didn’t bounce like it does on wood, instead it went in and he bled. I suppose it was red, but it looked brown in the light. The wooden boy fell and the three others froze like they didn’t understand what had happened, then as if someone had clapped their hands next to them, they seemed to wake out of a trance and run. I was like mould; I thought nothing but just stood, like the lamp post next to me. Then I ran, so fast I flew; made it home before mum and she never knew. In my dreams the colours mix with the blood which is red, cherry red and so bright I sometimes have to close my eyes against it. I sink in my dream and the colours take me, I drown in such pretty colours. Now I wake with the arms of my wife around me giving me a safe haven, and I lie to my kids, “no, there are no monsters and if you did see one they would be ugly and hairy and nasty. You ever seen anyone like that?” They always answer no and I say, “see, that means they don’t exist.” But they do and they aren’t ugly or even adult, monsters come in all shapes and sometimes they are pretty or handsome, yet still I lie. I don’t think about it but every now and then I come across a puddle and in it colours dance like fencers forever circling but never mixing.
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The Wrong Coat Kate North
Liz slipped her arms into the coat and felt clamped shut. Those around her issued shocked guffaws that sounded like tiny pistons at work in a toy robot. Liz resembled a scarecrow, her wrists and hands the clumps of straw spewing from the cuffs, her previously unremarkable belly now a substantial mattress of stuffing protruding where the belt-buckle should have closed. - I donâ€™t think this oneâ€™s mine. The ring of observers wafted out in a ripple, their pistons shushing as they dissolved. Liz peeled the long black coat away from her body and laid it back on the armchair where she originally found it. She scanned the furniture in the vicinity and identified no other long, black garments. There was silver, sequined jacket that matched a silver, sequined dress she had noticed walking about earlier. There were a few strips of material, stoles and scarves, discarded on a coffee table, snuggled together like ferrets in a nest. There were also some boxy dinner jackets and even an optimistic looking summer shawl. Liz took a solemn breath as if she was about to tell a lie and then quietly worked the room enquiring about her missing coat. It became clear that someone had taken her coat and left their own in its place. She decided to take the smaller version of her own coat and when its owner was found she would be able to exchange it. She looked for Jonathan so she could let him know all about it. She found him in the kitchen stabbing a huge ball of ice with a pick, like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
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- Hey you, said Liz as she walked towards him and plopped a kiss on his cheek. - I need to talk to you, said Jonathan in time to the beat of his ice pick, about JD. - Oh, okay, she said. - How do you think he is? - Good. Having a good time isn’t he? - I don’t know. I just think he’s a bit flat, a bit elsewhere. - He was fine when I spoke with him earlier. - Really? ‘Yes’ Liz smiled in support, though she worried that her over-earnest eyebrows may have appeared as a frown. She placed the long, black coat on the barstool next to her as Jonathan proceeded to deconstruct the minutia of JD’s behaviour that evening, right down to the way he plumped the cushions before the guests arrived. Liz nodded frequently and made agreeable noises. Inwardly she began to visualise the inevitable day that JD would move out of the flat. Her eyes glanced over the wall behind Jonathan as he spoke and she wondered if he would get to keep the beautiful Venetian watercolour that complemented the bluish silver of the cooker hood beside it. As Jonathan came to a pause she stood behind him and placed her hands on his shoulders. He put down the ice pick and turned to face her. They hung in a hug until their breathing united, when Liz said - Happy birthday then. - Yes, happy birthday then. Are you off? - Yes. Time to go I’m afraid. I’ll ring you tomorrow. - Okay. Make sure you do, and he kissed her on the lips before sloshing off with a half-melted bucket of ice. As she didn’t get to say about the coat she decided to leave a note on Jonathan’s fridge. There was one of those magnetic shopping list things that she could tell was JD’s choice. On it she wrote
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Someone has taken my size 12 coat and I have their size 8 that they left behind. Let me know when you find out who and we can exchange. L xx In the back of the taxi Liz fingered the collar of the coat and noticed a very exclusive looking label. It was a deep block of red with a squiggly black and gold crest. She decided to look in the pockets in case they held any clues. They were empty apart from a small, tightly folded square of paper that she unfolded immediately. It was not a treasure map nor the name and address of the coat’s owner but a disappointing shopping list. She scanned down the items; courgettes, aubergine, tomatoes, beef, wine, gateau, batteries, dips, chips, packet of ham (cheap), packet of ham (posh). Her eye caught on the last two items and their specific details in parenthesis. What sort of a person, with this sort of coat, would want to buy two different types of ham when they went shopping? If they had the money why didn’t they want to buy only posh ham? Perhaps they didn’t have the money and were the sort of person who spent beyond their means for appearance sake. She imagined a dinner party being prepared by a woman in her mid thirties, perhaps she was even in her late twenties, it was hard to tell. She wore a loose and large scoopneck shift that hung against her breastplate like a regal adornment. It was charcoal grey as were the smoky smears of liquid eyeliner that formed enticing horizons above her eyes. Under the shift she wore black leggings, which served to highlight the calf muscles of a jogger, the length of which never seemed to end as they merged seamlessly into the black velvet boots with impressively tall heels that she also wore. Liz decided that she was called Sarah.
She imagined Sarah rolling slices of Parma ham and arranging them in heaps next to thin segments of melon. This was a Saturday evening and the guests were almost due. After taking her plate of meat and fruit to the reception room and placing it on a fashionable occasional table she rearranged her fan of magazines on the poof and went to put the white wine in the fridge. In the fridge she noticed the large packet of economy ham to be used for lunches throughout the week to come. She cleared a space behind the jarred pickles at the very back of the fridge and slid the cheap ham in there, out of sight. Liz imagined again. Sarah saw the cheap ham, ripped open the film on the top of the packet and flaked a few slices into her Chihuahua’s food bowl. Or, she went to the fridge, took out the already opened ham and began posting strips of it into her mouth. She stood
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there, tediously repeating the action until there was no ham left. She put the empty packet in her silver bin and hopped up stairs, two at a time, then walked directly to her bathroom. She knelt in front of the toilet bowl as if in prayer. She raised each of her arms to smooth back her shoulder length, blonde hair. After scooping her hair to one side into one hand she inserted her other hand, fingers protruding, into her throat until her shoulders started to roll in waves as the ham returned and deposited itself loudly in the bright, chemically treated pool of blue below it. Liz concluded that there could be many reasons for someone to buy both ‘posh’ and ‘cheap’ ham simultaneously, and as she became satisfied with her train of thought the taxi pulled up outside her small terraced house. Liz rounded the fare up to the nearest pound, thanked driver who acknowledged her with a grunt and walked up her path. Inside she hung the coat on the banister at the bottom of the stairs. *** She was late but she decided that it didn’t matter. She had booked the tickets already and they would still be having drinks. She didn’t live far from the cinema and she wasn’t that fussed on the faux-French bar she was due to meet the others in. She decided to pour herself a gin and tonic. She issued the clear liquid from the bottle with one hand and flipped open her phone with the other. Running late. See you at the entrance in hlf hr. xx She took her drink into the conservatory. It wasn’t a conservatory as such, more a small glass extension. Her mother had given her the obligatory wicker furniture for such rooms and it was jammed into the space uncomfortably. She sat on the largest chair and put her feet on the woven table with a glass surface. After a while she noticed that her foot was causing condensation to form on the glass. Lifting up her foot she smiled at the smear on the glass that was patterned by the knit of her tights. She tilted back her glass and swallowed an ice cube. As she was about to stand up she caught a red wink of light glittering in the window. She turned to the kitchen and noticed her answer-phone had a message. She had been expecting a call from the vet about Leonard’s ears. An operation was on the cards dependent on test results. She pushed the button, beep, beep, beep.
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Hello. This is a message for Liz. I’m Juliet from, um, from Jonathan’s party. Apparently you have my coat. It’s a long black coat with a silver buckle and a collar that’s, well, it looks like felt but it’s not, it’s, well, anyway, I hear you have my coat. Call me on 07765332657 and I’ll come around to collect it when it’s convenient. I’m Juliet by the way. Liz picked up the phone and dialled. It went straight through to voicemail. Hello, this is Liz from Jonathan’s party. I have your coat, the one with the buckle and the collar. I’m out tonight but I’ll be in tomorrow. I live in 38 Newport Street, down the road from the Old Brewery, do you know the cinema? Near there. Anyway, after six tomorrow will be fine. Or, give me a call to arrange another time. Bye. The film had been average and then they went for dinner. She had asked for a starter to be turned into a main. It was a huge goats cheese parcel with a sloppy dollop of chutney. She thought the chef would have made her two or three small parcels, not just one large baggage but it did taste good. When she got home she paused at the bottom of the stairs by the coat. She leaned forward and buried her face in it. It smelled of a strong oil-based perfume and it caught in her throat as she pulled away. She opened her clutch bag and took out her light citrus scent that she had been using to hurry forth the summer. She sprayed it liberally around the garment and felt immediately guilty as though she had tipped red paint over a coat in protest. *** The doorbell rang and Liz froze. She stared at the form through the frosted glass and slowly moved towards it. Passing the banister she picked up the coat and hooked it over her left arm. With her right arm she unlatched the door, swung it open and presented herself. - Hello. You must be Juliet. - I am, said Juliet. Liz scanned down Juliet’s form noticing her fat red pendant and round, velvet coated hips. Her shoes stuck out from beneath her skirt like mice through a skirting board.
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- Here’s your coat. Sorry, I picked up the wrong one and couldn’t find mine. Liz handed her the coat and Juliet grasped it with both hands. She drew it to her chest and Liz fancied she saw her nostrils flare in disapproval. - Do you have my coat? - No, I don’t. - Oh, I thought…and she trailed off. - Well, thanks. - It’s just, I thought you’d have my coat because I had yours. - No. Maybe Jonathan… - Yes, Maybe Jonathan. - Okay, so, bye then. - Okay, bye. Juliet took two steps backwards while maintaining eye contact with Liz before turning and making her way down the path. Liz felt the need for something more and called out to Juliet, - Maybe I’ll see you at the next party? Juliet marched on to her car with a lack of recognition. As she moved her grip around the coat loosened and one of its arms flapped out through the crook of her elbow rather like the limb of a drunkard. Liz watched her open the boot of her car and throw the coat in as if it were a rag, before shutting the front door softly. Inside, the phone rang and Liz picked up. - Hi. Hi, it’s Jonathan. - Hello darling. I was just thinking about you. I wanted to talk to you about something that just happened. - My god, Liz, it’s horrendous. - What? - He’s gone. - Oh, no, really. What, JD? - Yes, he’s gone. - Why? - This morning, he went this morning. I don’t know. I mean I knew he was about to… - My poor love. Shall I come over?
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- No, I’m fine. Really. It’s just…you know, that’s that. - It is, is it? - Yes, I suppose it is. He took the funky cutlery as well. - Oh, bless you. - I know. - So… - So…I’m going to throw a party. - A party? - Yes. Will you come? - Of course I’ll come. We’ll have to plan it; it’ll need a theme. - Yes, ‘Disco for the Dumped’, we could do the 1970’s. - I love it. - Do you? - Yes. I’ll come over. - Oh, good. Good. What did you want to tell me? - Nothing, nothing. I don’t even remember. - Shall I open the Cava? - Yes, I’ll be as soon as I can. Liz put the phone down and went to the cupboard under the stairs to get her pashmina. She wrapped it across her shoulders and brooched it together with a cheap but pleasing costume clasp. She looked in the mirror by the front door and smiled. She opened the door and enjoyed the mildest chill as it settled on her cheeks. It was just about too warm for a coat.
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The Cellist and the Wolves Amanda Oosthuizen
I knew the wolves were barking at the door. Barking and belching out their calculations and it was no use trying to talk to them. Oh, they understood all right but they had no interest in listening and I was easy prey. My child, Lara, was standing at the end of the corridor. It was early so we were still in our nightclothes. She’d taken a rose from a vase on the landing and was holding it like a bloodstain against her nightdress. “Stay there,” I said because the wolves were snuffling and panting, the door was frilled with their noise and they scratched like they were tunnelling into the house. I listened to them scrape their teeth as they gnawed at the porch. The door thudded and juddered. I jumped. One of them must have thrown themselves at it. “Don’t move,” I told her and rushed to put the chain across. “Is it money they want?” She was too astute. I didn’t reply. “Shall we hide the cello again?” She asks, frowning, staring at me. “Good idea.” I pushed open the door to the front room. I was careful, standing well back in the shadows. I could see their noses in the small slits of light between the net curtains. They didn’t respect privacy; that was not what they were about. I moved slowly, sliding into the room, my back against the wall. “No, let me,” Lara said, “I’ll do it.” She handed me her rose and crawled flat on her stomach. The barking and gnawing stopped. I held my breath as she moved. The cello was not in its case. It was leaning against the wall, scroll propped in the corner, spike wedged in a notch in the floorboards. She slithered across the floor and slipped between the cello and the wall. I stopped myself from warning her to be careful. She was being heroic
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enough. I shut my mouth and smiled. She took hold of the scroll, it was above her head and she cleverly swiveled it so they, she and the cello, rested back to back. She knelt so the cello was like a lop-sided tortoiseâ€™s shell and dragged it across the floor. The wolves were quieter than before but I could hear muted mutterings, careful scuffling, a crunch on the gravel and something clinked. I thought I heard a thump on one of the upstairs windows. I was glad I had tough double-glazing to keep out the wind that wailed across the moors, skirting the house at night, or else theyâ€™d break through the glass. With her mouth open wide and her tongue resting on her lower teeth, Lara tugged the cello inch by inch. Slices of sunshine snapped like eyes through the net curtains. The cello hummed as it jarred against her spine and once it rang out as the spike caught on the pedal of our piano. As soon as she reached the open door where I was standing, I grabbed her by the arm and the cello by its neck and dragged them into the darkness of the hallway. I held her against me and pulled the cello across like a shield and we crept towards the stairs. We were barely on the bottom step when the screech happened. It was the worst of cries, raucous and horrible and sent a knife-pain stab through my forehead. Then silence fell for a few brief moments before the rumpus started over, the scratching, panting, the yelping and battering working up with even greater intensity than before. My whole body itched as if ants were swarming across my legs and back and up my neck. Reinforcements arrived at the top windows. They must have climbed the honeysuckle and rambler roses. I saw them step on the sill and stretch, showing scraggy underbellies as they clambered onto the roof. Tiles tumbled as they pawed and scraped, gnawing at the plastic gutter, slobbering bloody saliva on the windows. The three of us huddled on the middle step of the staircase. I pulled my socks over my knees to keep them warm. I let my hair fall across the back of Lara and pulled her tight, absorbing her warmth, tasting her breath. Her arms clutched my neck and for a while her body seemed asleep. When the wolves started to howl in frustration, Lara went stiff and before I could control the moment, she sprang from my arms and the cello tumbled, bouncing from the stair, turning onto its bridge, falling against the wall. It twanged and thumped. Lara jumped up the stairs, one foot on the landing the other entering her bedroom. The cello thudded to the hall floor; there was a great resonant hum and a rattle as the bridge dislodged, then the rip and crack of broken wood as the fingerboard twisted and the neck snapped. The scroll bounced behind, held only to the body by the C and G strings, and finally the body lay resting in a pool of rose petals.
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I crawled to the landing. Lara had sprung up to her bedroom windowsill and was standing pressed against the glass. The wolves who had been left balancing on the roof of the bay window had stopped their slathering. They waited on the other side, millimeters from her, watching her with steaming breath and curling lips, rolling their heads, showing their glistening teeth. She turned towards them. I hid and covered my eyes. But the wolves backed off. They went. All of them. I shook for a while on the top stair then I stepped between the Lego and Barbies, picked up Lara from the windowsill and settled her into bed, wrapping her tight in her duvet. Her heart beat like a little birdâ€™s. I counted 215 beats per minute, prestissimo, powerful and so strong. I pushed her curls off her forehead, stroking slower than her heartbeat and eventually her eyes closed. I found a reel of gaffer tape under the stairs and while she slept, I taped up the front door. I wanted to believe I could seal us inside so the wolves wouldnâ€™t be able to catch our scent on the wind and take Lara away. I thought, in spite of all their activity at the upstairs windows and on the roof, they were front-door creatures. Lara woke for lunch, full of energy, bouncing on the bed pulling her trousers on backwards, putting her socks on her hands and her pants on her head as she used to do when she was tiny and didnâ€™t know better. We laughed and danced to the radio. We made rock cakes with sultanas for me and chocolate buttons for her and cut cucumber faces for toast. Lara went to an Adventure Zone party, picked up by Sue, a friendly Mum in a 4x4. I listened to the engine until it became no more than a faint buzz, less sound than a fly on a windowpane. Then, without locking the back door I went over the hill, away from the house where the only sight was the purple lake of the moor and pewter-grey, mountain clouds. I followed the peaty rabbit paths knee-deep in heather. I felt the wind lift me along by the armpits and shove me in the small of my back. I breathed the earthy smell. The chill round my neck and in my ears felt good, zesty and energizing like lemon on the tongue. Then I turned askew, or perhaps the wind changed or something and my worries took hold, my senses died off and I started to shake. I ran home and slipped in the back door, locked up and waited. When Lara returned, she hugged me, happy and safe to be in my arms, the wolves a thing of the past. She wanted to be out in the garden. I stepped onto the patio and listened. A jackdaw padded around on the roof ridge. A squirrel ran the length of the fence and took a flying leap to the island in the middle of our pond. Bootle, our cat, slept in a patch of dried out lavender flowers. I wandered a little further. I could hear no sound now except for the wind gathering speed on the moor, rippling the pond water and ruffling up the leaves in our beech tree so the starlings twittered. The traffic hummed far off. [ 117 ]
“It’s fine,” I said. “Come on out.” Lara ran without looking at me. I sat in the camping chair with a bag of crocheted flowers and began fastening them together. It was a late afternoon in early autumn; the sun was an intense orange, all its heat concentrated in its own colour, not giving much to the air. The leaves were drying on the tree; patches of earth showed where a month ago there had been hollyhocks and sweet williams. Occasionally the starlings would sweep up out of the tree, swarming and twirling in the sky. I pulled up my socks again. The wolves wouldn’t be back now. This was not their time of day. They’d have clocked off by now. Off and on, I listened for Lara. The slurp of mud in a bucket, the secret “bloody hell” told me she was safe. At sixish, there was a kafuffle near the garden gate in the veggie patch near the greenhouse. Lara came rushing inside and wouldn’t tell me what had happened except that that the wolves had been asking questions. That evening, I picked up the pieces of the cello and lay them on the window seat in the front room. I wanted to cry. I had a recital in five weeks. I’d have to cancel. What would I do without my cello? What would I be now? I telephoned my old cello teacher, Dora. She had a Guadagnini cello I could borrow and she’d have it sent round so I could practice on it. It was important to honor an engagement, she said. That was a great relief. Later as I was slicing bread for sandwiches, I heard the handle of the front door rattle from the outside. I immediately fetched Lara, closed the kitchen door and locked it. I glimpsed the wolves scurrying off down the lane, yapping and snapping at each other’s haunches. I used all of my money to build a seven foot wall around us. I had my doubts about the wall because I knew I should confront whatever was on the outside but as the wall grew, in its lee, little pockets of sunshine buzzed with bees in buttercups and the doubts fizzed away. Finally, the starlings singing in the tree swept through the sky and pecked the last few aphids off the vegetables and Lara and I resumed the long silent evenings, the watchful nights full of anxiety and it became colder. Dora’s cello arrived by UPS packed in a cardboard box the size of a child’s bed. I slid a knife along the tape and opened it. Lara took out handfuls of polystyrene. Inside was a gleaming cherry-red case. We lifted it out, my fingers shook as I unfastened the clasps. Inside, the ebony fingerboard gleamed like treacle, the varnish was burnished to a leathery burnt umber, the scroll wound like a delicate roll of parchment and a deep Valentine’s heart was cut in the bridge. Lara sat on the window seat as I played. Its sound was huge, as if it wanted to travel the world. I telephoned Dora. [ 118 ]
“Thank you, thank you,” I said. She sighed. “Be careful.” “I’ll take great care of it. Of course I will.” “I know. It’s not the cello I’m worried about.” She sent me her love and I tried not to weep into the phone. Over the next few weeks, I learned to know that cello better than I’d known anyone. I played for hours each day while Lara was at school and again in the evening while she talked to her teddies. At the weekends, I played while Lara built a den on her island and afterwards, we had tea crouched beneath the twigs. On the night of the concert, Dora met me in the dressing room, wrapped me in her plump arms and kissed me on both cheeks. She listened as I warmed up and lathered me in praise. I was nervous. I hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours so I felt dizzy when I sat on stage in front of the audience. I played the best I could. Lara waited for me in the wings dressed in her new, bright-blue party gown and when it was time for me to take my final bow she accompanied me back on stage and smiled into the dark hall to great applause. It was the best of nights. Lara was asleep when the taxi arrived at the house. I smelled cigar smoke, fresh smoke. I woke Lara and paid quickly. I checked the lane. The wind wailed in the distance but tonight, here by the wall surrounding our house, all was still. The moor swathed us in deep darkness as if we were buried down a well but when the clouds parted, the moonlight revealed a billow of blue smoke amongst the branches of a clump of gorse. As he took the cello from the back of the car, I asked the taxi driver to wait until we were through the gate. I opened it wide and dragged Lara through, rolling the Guadagnini cello in its cherry-red case. We ran round to the patio and I held her in front of me as I unlocked the kitchen door. I could smell the cigar smoke again. The following day, I searched through piles of unopened post for any notification the wolves might have sent, but I could find nothing. I checked the gaffer tape on the front door and resealed the loose bits. When I let Bootle out, I found five or six cigar butts on the concrete slabs of the patio. I swept them up quickly before Lara noticed. Later, Lara ran in from the bottom of the garden sobbing, unable to speak. She grabbed my hand and tugged me. Bobbing in the pond like an inflatable toy was Bootle. I fished him out and tried to console her. I cleaned the weed from his fur and lay him on the soil at the edge of the island. He looked so tranquil except for his bright green eyes. I too felt tears welling up because he was a harmless, old cat and I’d had him a long time. We gathered roses and Lara consoled herself by dropping them over his body. She wrote a letter to [ 119 ]
Bootle while I went into my greenhouse to fetch a shovel. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the wolves jump the wall. They did it so quietly, so lithely, as if they were made of air and a seven-foot wall was nothing. At first Lara didn’t see. I was trapped in my greenhouse. They watched me and crowded round it. They didn’t notice her sitting on the island, Bootle’s body in front of her, perhaps fifteen meters from my greenhouse sanctuary. But Bootle’s fur gleamed in the orange sunshine. The wolves sniffed the air and the sight of Bootle glinted in their eyes, then they caught the scent of Lara. Her toes were almost dipping into the pond. Only the weed-covered water lay between her and the wolves. They watched her for a moment before crawling to the water’s edge on their bellies. If I went out now they would tear me apart. Lara’s mouth was open, I didn’t know if it was in fear or concentration, but she seemed mesmerized. The wolves were rolling their heads, tasting the air with their tongues. I tried to offer Lara some glance of comfort but she didn’t look in my direction. She took one of the red roses and threw it at the pack but it fell short and dropped into the water. To my surprise, just like a silly dog, a wolf followed it, leaping at the rose, diving head first into the green water. Lara threw another and the next wolf did the same. She carried on until the last wolf remained sitting opposite her, waiting its turn. But there were no more roses, it was sure to jump at her, take her head in its mouth and shake. For the first time that year all the starlings in the beech tree began to flutter and twitter at once. It was as if the tree was about to fly off. I burst out of the greenhouse in a shower of glass. The wolf jumped at my face. I felt its fangs on my throat but I wrestled it, took hold of its mouth and pushed back its head. It shook me off and bit my ankle. I picked up a shard of glass and pushed it into the wolf’s neck, slicing my own palm at the same time so blood poured down my arm and into the soil. In the struggle I managed to edge the wolf’s hind legs towards the water until I teetered on the rim and it slipped beneath the gleaming weed. All I could hear was the singing in the tree. There are plenty more wolves, I know that, but I’ve done enough for now; I doubt they’ll come bothering us yet. And if they do, I don’t care. Over the next few months, after my hand had healed, I played two more concerts and settled my debts. I had the seven-foot wall demolished so that I could once again listen to the wind wail from the moors and it could whip around the house and clean up the whole mess. The old wolves eventually bobbed to the surface of the pond. Lara didn’t notice so I left them, a bloating, stinking reminder to anyone who cares to see.
[ 120 ]
Two Poems Michael Oliver-Semenov
Reflections and reminiscences on the road from Cardiff to Krasnoyarsk and back You’re right this isn’t a utopia, it doesn’t even come close. The food is old and stale, shopping is a quest for what is the least out of date. Once in Moscow I entered a shop which had nothing for sale but water. Metal poles protrude from the ground like fingers of the old Soviet machine. Concrete tiles crumble and fall from the buildings, they are all coming apart. The new apartments aren’t safe. Everyone knows they’re shoddily made. Last year an entire block crumbled to nothing, everyone still inside Cooking or sleeping or whatever they were doing. The pot holes are my worst fear. Last summer, while a woman was walking with her pram, The ground opened up beneath her. She survived but her baby drowned, Was found days later, in the sewer pipe miles down. What a way to die. This isn’t a utopia, but tell me, are people really better off In the United Kingdom or America? I suffer terrible insomnia, always have since birth. It’s something instinctual. My mother and father used to sleep downstairs in the living room and My father would keep watch at the window, jump at every tiny sound. When the internet revolution came he wouldn’t go online. Convinced himself that they were watching. He burned all his bills when they were old enough, Kept phone calls to a minimum, constantly warned me of the excesses And abuses of Government. ‘They are almost always lying.’ His paranoia was contagious. The red curtains of the living room were always closed. Only a slim line
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Of sunlight ever penetrated into our lives. As if the light would somehow alert Our hidden enemy that we were alive inside; I wonder if My father knew I would once day come to live in Russia. We used to watch the Olympics together, my father and I. He knew everyone by name. Encouraged me to keep fit, compete against myself. I had hoped one day that We would watch the games for real. Now they are in London, and we are Further apart than ever. Though I like to think we have avoided disappointment. Neither of us can stand fast food. We don’t wear any labelled clothes, And credit cards being the traceable transaction currency would mean We would be left hungry and thirsty. I never thought I would see an age where fashion police were real. According to history the first socialist society were organised by the clothes they wore Or their hair style. People had to choose between the blue group, the red group or the yellow. Apparently this enforced colour coded society broke down into anarchy. In Junior school we were seated according to our mental ability. I was on the red table, this meant I could read well and my mathematical capability Was above average. Then there was the blue table, the green table, the yellow etc. etc. Until we got down to the black table. As far as I can recall once you were placed You were never moved. You had to be smart from the start. I wonder what the children from the black table are doing now. I can’t imagine the frustration of those who began life there. What a way to educate. And yet I have only fond memories of those days. Life is what you make it, so they say. Easily said when you come from good beginnings, Or have friends in high places. Not true for Khodorkovsky. It’s people like him and Bradley Manning I admire most. What courage! To accuse the president of corruption! To leak the very videos of murder you’re paid to protect, while living in the armies den! I’m too afraid to like a link on Facebook for fear of who is watching. Courage is not caring. Courage is shouting ‘free Pussy Riot’ at the gates of the Kremlin! [ 122 ]
But I am not so brave; I am still that little boy quietly cursing corruption Behind the security of the red curtain, Too afraid to let the light in.
Pugachevo My father-in-law together With his father-in-law built this dacha, In the district of energy workers Granted under the old Soviet system. Boris is proud of his garden. Every year he grows a large crop Of potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions And berries of medicinal value. If you want tea you have simply To go to the garden and fetch it. Everything we need is here And everything is made of use. Such strong walls. Trunks sawn Down the length and knitted together. All the earthquakes in the world Couldnâ€™t bring our dacha down. I have seen dachas where the roof Is an entire advertisement board, The kind you see by the side of the road. One still had a complete advert on it: A 20ft Scarlett Johansson Forever looking skyward. The annual layer of her snow Works wonders for her complexion. Before I came to bed I took the bucket Of slops to the end of the garden. I had to stop and listen. It seems All the crickets in the entire world Have also come to live here. And for every one there are
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Crystal clear stars in the sky. Except in the East, where the light Pollution from Krasnoyarsk city Refuses to let its inhabitants Enjoy the most far reaching beauty. There is not enough said of the simple life. Earlier today while all the chopping boards Were busy in preparation of shashliks, My mother-in-law spotted my 1st Edition 1966 volume of Yevtushenko. Without a second thought She placed it in front of her on the table Not once considering its monetary value. She began to chop tomatoes, Juices flowed and soaked the cover: Life blood returned to the young man Trapped inside an old black and white photo.
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The Creases in John McCormack’s Shoes Valerie Sirr
They said LASEK was magic – your misshapen myopic eyes miraculously cured. But first you would be blind for three days. You went with your wife to the Ivy Gardens. Your four-year-old steered you by the hand. You were a stumbling giant. You keeled over near the surging fountain. She led you past mown lawns to the statue of John McCormack. ‘He’s singing,’ she said. You got down in the nostalgic grass. You hammed it up when you sang, ‘L-o-on-lee-I-wan-der-throughsc-e-enes-of-my-chi-i-ild-hood.’ She said, ‘It’s okay, Daddy, soon you’ll be able to see. You listened to her. You saw the soles of your giant’s feet melting in the early morning sun.
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You saw railing shadows on the concrete path â€“ gates to a secret world that vanished in a cloudy spell. You saw your sunglasses winking at her. You saw happy ants carrying biscuit crumbs to a tea party and the creases in John Mc Cormackâ€™s shoes from his walks through the streets of the city at night.
[ 126 ]
Blue into Blue Robin Smith
When my grandfather asked to kiss my left elbow and down my stomach. I learned the meaning of shame. When my parents asked me to leave that meaning in the foyer of St. Sebastian’s like a rain-glazed umbrella next to the holy water fount. I found that I couldn’t and kept my shame buried in my stomach and left elbow- afraid the stain glass St. Peter would illuminate me for the whole church- Priest and all- to see. Then I found St. Peter’s eyes(two pieces of agate held up to light) knew guilt. Felt it as three crows. And in those quiet moments of the consecration of the Eucharist- head bowed My shame became the holy spirit flying over the vestibule into smoky light.
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My brother manqué Anna Somerset
My brother manqué You were and are much more manqué now You little monkey for departing And parting from this temporal world and me. Who will speak the franglais and wish me Guten Morgen? Who will spin my world Till I see kaleidoscopically? Who will put the pun back into fun? In a world of ciphers the exhibition you made of yourself was worth seeing. You shook up the snow globe, so violently It is broken now And there is a glittering scarring in my heart.
[ 128 ]
Two Poems Katherine Stansfield
Nightmare Beyond the barn, invisible horses tore roots and snorted each otherâ€™s twitch. Lolled with charred marshmallows, we yawned for pony club tales, from bales, fold-up chairs, a Li Lo. The teller was a small man, fox-nosed, pierced, a waist we craved. Teacher but paperless, whispering past lives only to colts. Roll-ups fell limp with waiting on his lip. We ached the unsaid, our mothers too needing truth, not his winks and shuffled could-be-fibs. They left us, certain our pert silence would drag his story clear. She came, he said, like a heart attack while he dreamt tight dressage, clopping the boards to heave her bristled bulk above his face. Her grey tongue learnt the lay of him, breath huffed molten
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the length of his sweating. Silage, drink and a hint of his sister. She laughed a broken whinny when he cried, smiled a trap for snatching early love. We left him weeping to the straw and gawped out, past our sleeping mounts, to top field and tents baring zip grins in the dark.
Portrait of Guy Pearce as a Hare not about ears rather harishness of gait: lanky quicksilver flit to the form
he is grace lollop the shot all haunch springing bravura then shanks and panic
jaw slung sadface til grin sickles pulling faces pretending levret
see it? just me well box gentle guy you bloody beauty
[ 130 ]
1996: An American Postcard Christina Thatcher
I am an Indian she said flatly into her hand-held recorder. It didnâ€™t work without batteries but she pressed the button down hard just the same. I will make a feather head dress, carve arrowheads out of rock and learn to live on maize. I will fight the black snake that lives here understand every footprint left in the dirt and make my people proud. She bit into an ear of corn, held the recorder close to her mouth, and crunched on the hard kernels with her tiny teeth. Then she said again, before Mom called her in for dinner, I am an Indian now and this field is my home.
[ 131 ]
The Only Hue Roisin Tierney
Yellow the bitch with morning sickness yellow the queasy tint of dawn, yellow the book and yellow the sun, yellow the chair I’m sitting on, yellow the sunflower, girasol, yellow the field of rape, a full-on retina-punching whack of yellow, and a softer yellow the corn. All the painterly names for yellow line up, jostle, elbow each other: Ochre, Tuscan, Cadmium, Chrome, Lemon, Flanders, Sahara, But….. Old Yeller was yellow before he died, and yellow’s the Rosa banksiae. One of our bantams turned yellow, for love; yellow’s the fox that dreams thereof. Yellow are the eyes of the turtle dove that puffs its breast and croons and trills.
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Gauguin loved yellow, his favourite colour: his Christ is yellow with mute tristesse, his Breton women rake green-gold hay against a yellow Breton sea. Many a token of love is yellow, a yellow ribbon, an amber ring, a bowl of lemony apricots, a yellow apple, perhaps one bite taken from its perfect curve, a straw-coloured trickle on a loved oneâ€™s chin. So when we set down this quince which seems to emit a halo of yellow, as its fecund scent pervades the room, know this: the apple of love takes many forms, its pome can thicken, and must, wherever, regardless of when, or who, or why, but always has this colour, golden, yellow, bright, abstruse, a light-shower, shaken perhaps from the sun or the yellow moon above. Whatever. Rest in its honey-glow awhile. Its trust. Its thrust. Its acid-yellow probe.
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No Laughter After Midnight Susie Wild
Mona was running out of jars. Usable jars at any rate. Jars with lids. Jars that would keep the offending articles within their glassy walls. Her cupboards were full of them. Boxes lined the lounge and the hall and built a cardboard city across the spare bed. It wasn’t as if she wanted them there, not really, but she didn’t know what else to do. All of her attempts to stop the misadventures of her building’s other tenants had failed. First she tried reason, polite notices, and then letters explaining her busy schedule, need for uninterrupted sleep. Finally she left Post-it notes on all of the flat doors, a mosaic of them in contrasting, ever bolder, brighter colours. Each marked with just four words, the same four words: ‘No Laughter After Midnight.’ No exclamation marks. No sad faces. No Bippity, Boppity, Boo. Most of the notes were ignored, or slipped from their perches and made a dash for the free world on the soles of other people’s shoes. After a long standoffish pause, it became clear that Mona’s Post-its had only aggravated the situation. Made things worse. Some of the neighbours began to send their own notes back, or put cut-and-paste posters up in the hallways mocking her. Missing: Giggle. Last seen on Wednesday morning. Also answers to Glee. Scared of the dark, Justin Bieber and that woman from Flat Number 5
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In the accompanying picture the letters ‘h’ and ‘a’ had been framed, arms looped, smiling. It was only the people from Flat 12 and Flat 7 poking fun at first, but soon they all started to join in. Flats 3, 8 and 9 clearly had a problem with authority. They began to laugh all the time. They threw more and more parties, inviting all of the other tenants, but not her. These parties had petting zoos and balloon men. The next morning the communal hallways would be littered with silver bullets and limp latex and strangers giggling as they crawled out into the sun. It had been a long time since Mona had laughed. When Mona first left her husband she found that there were so many times when she felt she was looking at the world through layers of dirty glass – all blurs. In the early days of separation her conversations with others seemed as if they were occurring through teller windows or bullet-proof, fist-proof plastic. Her 9 to 5 had never been a chatty kind of place anyway. Initially there were niceties, surface talk. When the office got busier and busier there became less and less time for dialogue; just waves across the room whilst treading water, or the usual weather trading symposium in the lift. Her home life hushed up too. She originally chose her new place for its gentle promises of peaceful green living, quiet appliances, doors that never slammed. Before the separation there had been a lot of name calling and door slamming, but the condo was a real snooze of a place that appeared to mollycoddle inhabitants in soft cells. This was pod living which sprawled across the city’s regenerated green spaces like frogspawn. In the beginning they seemed to bounce silently about in a bubble of padded walls. There was a lot of talk of domestic tranquillity at that time, of the need to respect each other and the environment, to avoid the unhealthy interruptions of noise pollution. She was glad of the peace, of the period of adjustment it afforded her. Initially she missed Edgar’s orchestra of sounds – the bangs and crashes and snores and guffaws. Then she started to enjoy the time to herself, to read or bake. To watch or listen to whatever she wanted without any jokes and jibes. Unfortunately it didn’t take long before the new-build wonder structure began to crumble. It turned out not to be as amazing as the residents were first led to believe. There were holes in the wrong places, another case of badly-implemented EU planning apparently. She remembered past palavers with the council; new roads and bendy buses. Somewhere people in suits were whispering ‘I told you so.’ One more time, with feeling. Mona had grown used to the silence but now new noises were coming in to fill it. Disturbance was creeping in. At first it was only muffled voices, then traffic sounds from outside. Soon everything was letting in some kind of hoo-ha or another. Even the squeezable foam of her bubble baths broke out in giggles. They [ 135 ]
travelled up the pipes and echoed all around her until, just three months into her mortgage, Mona found herself in the allotment pleading with the building’s caretaker to step in. He shook his head, suggesting that she try to have a quiet word with the others before returning to weeding his beds. She tried to take his advice. She knocked on a lot of doors but none opened to her. In the end Mona called the local council’s environmental health service and explained her predicament. Her assigned officer, Brian, understood the complexities of neighbourhood noise, how sound undesired by the recipient could intrude into their world and shatter any quality of life. In soothing tones he told her to keep a diary of the disturbing incidents and emailed her a chart to refer to, to help her categorise the level of the booms and bellows that she heard. From the bumf and guidelines she discovered that breathing and rustling clocked in at just 10 decibels, while balloon pops and artillery fire were estimated at 150 – and then she zoned out, as she had always zoned out when reading facts and figures, one of the reasons science had not become her career. Her mind skipped elsewhere to a vision of herself shooting balloons held out in bunches in her neighbours’ hands. She was a bad shot; she caused a lot of injuries, a lot of bloodshed. Above the carnage a rainbow cloud of household party zeppelins bobbed against ridged artex. And then one burst, the shower of rubber confetti shaking Mona back to the text in hand. She rubbed her eyes. Laughter did not feature on the scale but she ‘must not worry about that.’ Brian was insistent. ‘The scale is just for guidelines, just to give you a rough idea, help you to discuss the… the nuisances you have been experiencing. You’ll also need one of these.’ He tapped a small, sturdy piece of equipment to his left. It didn’t look like much – a grey padded rucksack with trailing wires. ‘This is our noise nuisance transformer. It looks like a shoulder bag but it is really…’ ‘A car? A laser gun?’ Another building to move into?’ She finished his sentence for him and watched his patience slip. As she had seen in her husband’s face, before they chose to be strangers for a while, and in her friends, when she still had time for her friends. Instead of their voices she heard Brian’s slightly nervous laugh. ‘No – ha, ha, er, no – I’m afraid not, just a humble recording system. Easy to use though.’ He demonstrated the machine, flicking switches on and off with careful flourish. ‘Point and click really. When the general fracas starts you just hold this out and press record and then we can judge the actual levels of noise made.’ He sucked air between the gap where his front teeth should have been then let it wheeze out with his next round of words. ‘Otherwise interpretations can be so subjective, so easy to get wrong. Right we [ 136 ]
are. All being well you should be getting a good night’s sleep again in no time!’ He winked and passed the machine to her, along with a thick form to be filled in, signed and countersigned. Once all the boxes were ticked, Mona sloped home to read the machine’s instructions, getting trigger-happy as the neighbours began their social activities in surround sound. She strolled by the other flat doors in her building with her best nonchalant look, pointing and clicking, just as Brian had instructed. Yet it was peculiar, the meter would not register the laughter. It was evasive, noise that would not be picked up by science, noise that did not fit any of the categories on the chart. She waited for the LEDs to change colour with crescendoing scales of teeheehees but when she glanced down they showed nothing of the sort. Back in her lounge she examined the machine, checked batteries and tested wires for faults. She even allowed herself to attempt a laugh. Glancing all around first and checking that the front door was shut three times. But she was out of practice, and there was nothing funny to react to. Her laughs were hissing whispers, barely audible. The meter did not light up and the cat cast Mona a dismayed look and left the room. Mona figured that perhaps she wasn’t the best subject, and anyway, she couldn’t test herself, there were too many risks of bias, too many outliers. Instead she took it to Brian and shrugged. When they listened back to her recordings Environmental Health drew a blank. As Brian and his cronies related this to Mona at least one of them now thought that these noises, the voices, were just in her head. At home she reread Brian’s brochure: ‘Sound is measured in decibels but volume is not the only thing that can affect our response to sound. What is considered a noise to one person may be pleasurable to another, which often makes noise ‘nuisance’ difficult to establish.’ On perusing the material further, Mona discovered that if she could collect other evidence of the noise, if she could capture it in some way for them, then Brian may be more able to help her. The brochures and website pages mentioned video footage on phones, that kind of thing but after her failures with their machine, she decided that an alternative methodology must be required – memory flashes of data collection and analysis returning from her experimental university days. Test tubes and flasks and charts and samples and observations. She searched her home for useful equipment, finding stashes of washed glassware awaiting recycling or a sudden urge to make hundreds of jars of chutney. She was always collecting jars for something. Before, there had always been enough. What with the ban on placing glass out into the street – too many broken green codes and injured animals – you now had to go to municipal buildings where the special purple disposers lurked. She had no car, and didn’t feel like lugging her empties [ 137 ]
on buses or forking out for a cab. It would capsize her bike; launch her into the gutter, gasping for air. She looked at the rows and rows and rows of them and didn’t imagine she could ever run out of jars. More would need to be fetched, she supposed. But from where? An image of her estranged husband appeared, and then was dismissed. She pulled at a loose button on her cardigan and wondered who else she might call on. Not the neighbours, of course. If she asked them there would only be more for her to do, more to collect, more to shut way. At weekends Mona took to roaming the hallways and communal areas during the sleeping hours, catching trampolining titters, before clasping lids and hands over the open-mouthed jars. Returning to her flat with baskets of full containers, hours would then be spent categorising, labelling and storing. She lost weight from all the pacing about, her clothes hanging loosely as her collection of specimens grew and grew. The trapped noises rested quietly, left undisturbed, gathering dust. The jars were such a mix of shapes, some more common than others. At the start she had soaked them, scrubbing off labels before replacing with neatly printed stickers. Her fingernails had constantly carried layers of sticky residue trapped underneath. Now she didn’t have time for such frivolities and so she just stuck coloured dots and numbers on the lids and scribbled the details into her spread sheets. The larger jars were best, the bumper ones that had held stuffed olives, broken biscuits or pickled onions. Angular, hexagonal jars once containing cherry peppers, stuffed vine leaves, feta and antipasto, looked pretty but stacked badly while the herb and condiment jars were just right for short bursts of staccato sound. The simplest were the long, thin jars bulk bought from the World Food Supermarkets on City Road – size Extra – once containing the jumbo beans bought to make her lover’s favourite chorizo cassoulet. Back when she used to do things for him, when he seemed like a person she would want to do things for. Mona’s husband had used to mock her, to laugh at her, all the time. At first it had attracted her, this jibing, this playfighting with words. A courtship ritual, they had puffed out feathers, circled each other, made a show. It was a game and she had enjoyed it. Then she had shrugged it off, it wasn’t nagging or mithering, but after a while the words had started to drown her, they pitted an anger in her chest that grew tumourous and black. Once, watching a news quiz on the telly, Mona had seen a Czech woman scowling on TV as her husband sat and talked and laughed. His laughs growing bigger and bigger the more cross that the lady appeared and Mona recognised it. The audience all laughed too, of course, but Mona understood, she knew how it felt. Edgar couldn’t understand why she got so annoyed but it seemed to amuse him even more. So he’d wind her up and up and up until she flew spinning from the room, from the house, from the marriage. Separated, yet refusing to sign the [ 138 ]
divorce papers that he also refused to post. Sometimes she would see his car circling her block and she could often hear his chortles. They followed her around. They found their way into her new home, filling her kettle, rattling the walls, and later erupting from the parties in the other flats. First from numbers 3, 8 and 9. Then all off them. Then none of them. As the parties began to subside a new source of diversion arrived, and Mona’s sleep would be disrupted at dawn with the sound of laughter in unison, deep belly laughs rising in waves with the sun. She was reminded of a trip to India that she had made with Edgar the year before – she on pretence of work, and he as her travelling companion. Much of it had been boring before they’d escaped to the coast, free at last. But there had been a moment, on their way to grabbing an early breakfast, when they had passed the Bangalore Laughter Yoga Group greeting the morning with good cheer, waggling tongues and raised hands. They were dancing to a different beat but Edgar and Mona had joined them, encouraged and welcomed in. Now it sounded as if their 81 members were at a comedy gig in Mona’s attic. Her insulation. Her skirting boards. She saw flashes of purple trailing in the distance. Try as she might to locate them, to capture their uproariousness in her charts and books and jars, each time she approached the area would silence, and then it would begin elsewhere; an evasive exotic animal with a shape-shifting call of the wild. Soon Mona stopped sleeping at all, climbing walls and stairwells in the darkling hours, pouncing on rustles and shadows with butterfly nets and sand castle buckets, muttering to herself. After her graveyard shifts she retired to her rooms to categorise and recategorise the jars and bottles: the length and force of laughter, number of voices responsible, and likely cause. Unpacking all the glassware she began to try to regroup them, to make sense of her chaos. They bumped against each other as she did so, singing out in chiming unison. She turned, placing fingers to lips, letting out her best librarian ‘Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!’ and smiling at them gathered like naughty children. One by one they obeyed her. On a Monday evening Mona sits in the spare bedroom – beside her cardboard city of the stored, boxed and hoarded – matching the last few empty jars to popped lids. She holds the vessels to her ear to check if any have retained the rushing echo of their origin – factories or furnaces – or the voices of the once contained. She hears no sounds emitted but finds herself committing her own rule-breaking cardinal sin, humming then singing softly, noticing her externalised voice halfway through a line of subverted playground rhyme: Did you steal the laughter from the laughter jar? No? Then who stole the laughter from the laughter jar? She lulls herself to sleep, dreams of making jam; waking with a hot head and sticky hands. Stumbling towards light and air she once again sees Edgar’s car [ 139 ]
drive past her block at a kerb-crawling rate. The car stops. He looks up at her window, watching as she opens it and sets off an avalanche of glassware. A cacophony of smashing mixed with cachinnation, chortling, cackling and other exhalations of amusement. HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE EEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEs and HaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAs and atisssssuue-gulp-guffaws and fnar-fnar-fnars and squeals and peals of giggles and snickering snorts and eye-wetting, bed-wetting exclamations of joy, mirth and schadenfreude. An onslaught of howling hilarity, filling the space, infecting her, until she finds she is laughing too, running around, kicking at the rolling vessels making a mockery of her home, her supposedly cherished peace and quiet. Mona laughs and her jars laugh with her. She laughs and her walls join in.
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spectrum press Sue Moules
In line with his agile mind, and with a vision for the future, a man devoted to poetry created .spectrum press. He was determined that this would be a trendsetting publication that would attract dynamic and innovative readers. Even though he commenced this initiative in 1982, the name spectrum was in lower case with a full-stop before the name! .spectrum press grew out of Outcrop Publications, and the brains behind both publishing houses was my ex-husband Chris Bendon (1950-2011). Chris had founded Outcrop with the poet Norman Jope, a fellow undergraduate at Lampeter. It was inspired by Outposts, the poetry magazine and press that Howard Sergeant (1914-1987) had run for years in England. Outcrop took over from Plethora, which had been run by the University English Department and The New Rhymers Club. Norman took Outcrop back to Devon with him, and Chris and I together with two students, Julian Ciepluch and Kenneth Livingstone, started a new magazine called ‘spectrum’. The magazine ran for six issues and published 101 different writers. The .spectrum pamphlets continued until 1990. The name spectrum is derived from the rainbow of colours visible when light is separated through a prism, and the aim of the press was to be prismatic, and to find a wide range of talent. It certainly did that. Lampeter seemed to be a hot bed of poetry, and Chris, who had come from London in 1977, although born and brought up in Yorkshire, brought with him an energy and excitement for literature. As president of the New Rhymers society in college he brought poetry readings to the town. He subscribed to the literary magazine Stand, and brought to Lampeter the young Andrew Motion, just out of Oxford, Geoffrey Wainwright, Jeremy Hooker, Gavin Ewart, Steve Griffiths and Ted Hughes, who read to a packed audience in the Student’s Union Hall ( now the Old Hall). We lived in the top flat of ‘Timberdene’ in Station Terrace. It was a student house
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divided into four flats. Our front room became the editorial base of Outcrop and subsequently .spectrum. It was a press based on the old idea like the Caseg Press, founded by Brenda Chamberlain and John Petts in the 1930s, full of idealism and little money. Everything was typed up by Chris, who hated typos. I proofread and added names and titles with letraset - this was all pre-computer. It was very much a hand-made press. Allan Jones at the University print unit was our printer. Chris bought ISSN numbers and sent copies to deposit libraries and contributors. Then it was out round the campus selling copies, and the next day on the bus to Aberystwyth, and round the university there selling copies of our magazine. This was necessary not just to defray printing costs, but also to reach a larger audience. As well as the magazine, .spectrum published pamphlets of new work by individual writers. The first pamphlet publication from spectrum press was At the End of the Bay, a play by Dic Edwards, in 1982. It was followed by pamphlets by Anne Grimes, David Barnett, Rachel Luce, Geoffrey Constable, Michael Chorost (a student from USA), Julian Ciepluch, myself and Chris. .spectrum joined the Welsh Association of Small Presses and also the Association of Little Presses, and its pamphlets were stocked and promoted in Oriel bookshop in Cardiff, then run by the poet Peter Finch. Many of the writers published came from the Lampeter Writers’ Workshop, founded in 1984 by Gillian Clarke, Andrew Hassam, Kathy Miles and myself. A number of the pamphlets had recommendations on their back covers from famous poets including Gillian Clarke, Norman Nicholson and David Holbrook. People interested in writing literature came to Lampeter because of the Writers’ Workshop. The late Caryl Ward chose to study at Lampeter because of the Writers’ Workshop, which had members who travelled from Aberystwyth, Llandovery, Brecon and Narberth, such was its reputation. .spectrum published the second Writers’ Workshop anthology: to the edge of the page (ISBN 0 946096 12 0) edited by Andrew Hassam in 1989. Each magazine had a distinctive cover. The first with the prism on graph paper was designed and drawn by Chris and myself. The second and third issue were designed by Eugenie Arrowsmith, a sixth form student at Lampeter Comprehensive School. The cover for issue 4 was designed and made by Chris, .spectrum 5 was illustrated by Lesley Arrowsmith and .spectrum 6 by Shirley Barwell. Inside there were also black and white illustrations, and both .spectrum 4 and 6 had a children’s section. Of the 101 writers who appeared in the pages, many were students published for the first time, but .spectrum 1 also included professional writers such as John [ 142 ]
Heath-Stubbs and David Holbrook. .spectrum 2 introduced reviews, .spectrum 3 had a key surrealist text from Magnetic Fields by Andre Breton translated by David Gascoyne By .spectrum 3 a grant from West Wales Arts meant that contributors could be paid a token fee; .spectrum 5 included R.S .Thomas, Tony Curtis, Jean Earle and Peter Finch, while .spectrum 6 included Gillian Clarke, Robert Minhinnick, John Tripp and Ken Smith. The first four issues had four editors. When Julian Ciepluch and Kenneth Livingstone graduated, Chris and I became joint editors. By issue 6 we reluctantly closed the magazine, although the press continued to produce pamphlets until 1990. The decision to close the magazine was not financial, although by .spectrum 6 the cover price was £1 (issues 1-5 had been 75p), owing to rising printing costs. As Chris observed in his editorial in issue 6: “spectrum has, over a period of three years published new work by 101 different contributors”. He had tried to find new editors, but the work was hard and unpaid, and Chris had his own writing to do. He concluded his editorial with : “spectrum was never intended to go on for ever”. .spectrum had run its course; it had put Lampeter on the literary map - in advance of its time, just as Chris always was. The spectrum years were ones of great fun and hard work, which I combined with working in a cafe and hotel. We were both full of optimism and hope, which is essential for a shoestring press. I think in the end it gave us up. Computers were coming in, and printing costs going up. Although long after spectrum closed we’d receive contributions which I’d send back apologizing that spectrum no longer existed. .spectrum is the legacy of Chris Bendon, as without his vision, enthusiasm and determination it would not have existed. So it was with delight that I heard of Dic Edward’s plans to launch The Lampeter Review. Like . spectrum it is a magazine with enormous ideas, publishing new and established writers, from a small Welsh town with a university dating back to 1822. Photographs of spectrum magazines 1-6 courtesy of the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives, Trinity Saint David University, Lampeter. With thanks to Sarah Roberts and Peter Hopkins of the Roderic Bowen Library and Archive, where the spectrum archive is held, Kathy Miles, Outreach Librarian, Trinity Saint David University, Lampeter, and Dr Anne Price-Owen for her advice and encouragement in writing this article. Sue Moules, December 2012
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A Tribute to Dennis O’Driscoll (1954 -2012) John Lavin
In a poem from Denis O’Driscoll’s first collection, Kist (1982), he summed up what was to be a central preoccupation of his work with unerring accuracy. In ‘Someone’ he addresses the transient quality of our lives; how there is no set length for our tenure on this planet, and how death may, at any given moment, end all of our possible futures. It is a poem that casts an ironical eye over the daily routines we perform at the same time as it celebrates them. ‘someone is dressing up for death today, a change of skirt or tie’, it begins; immediately introducing us to O’Driscoll’s egalitarian, Everyman worldview; before going on, with delightfully mordant wit, to note a man ‘shaving his face to marble for the icy laying out.’ What else can we do but carry on with the routines that make life bearable? he seems to ask, his voice equal parts humour, affection and despair. Even though the human condition is defined by its very insecurity, what else is there to do but court security? This courting of security is another central tenant of O’Driscoll’s oeuvre because, unlike many of his peers, he worked outside of the academic world, in Ireland’s Revenue and Customs service, for almost forty years. His experiences as a civil servant inform many of his poems but most crucially his masterpiece, The Bottom Line, a fifty-stanza piece that will surely only grow in reputation with the coming years. In this remarkable meditation on ‘the hidden pain of offices’, O’Driscoll takes us into the minds of a multifarious array of civil servants. Much like the characters in ‘Someone’, each worker is both an individual and an Everyman. Each has different roles, whether higher or lower within the civil service but each is shackled by essentially the same longings and anxieties, while being at the mercy of the same impermanence:
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I leave for work; my office bin fills with the shredded waste of hours. A pattern regular as wallpaper or rugs and no more permanent than their flowers. This sameness of individuals recalls the different voices in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, where although each of the six protagonists lead quite different lives, each speaks in the same rhythmic voice that Woolf has chosen for them all to speak in; a rhythmic voice which recalls the ebb and flow of the seasons and, of course, the comings and goings of the tide. Likewise, the characters in The Bottom Line speak in the same rhythm and in the same, archetypal O’Driscoll voice: that particular fusion of the downbeat and the matter-of-fact with the romantic and the musical: a warehouse fronted with crates, lovers locked in an umbrella-domed embrace, consumers at a bank dispenser drawing cash. This massed choir of different-but-same-voices creates a cumulative, almost overwhelming, effect of numerousness. It is an effect similar to that achieved in The Waves, however, because all of the human life depicted in The Bottom Line is contained within the dome of the civil service, the sense of claustrophobia and transience is all the more acute. That this civil service world is, of course, also a metaphor for existence suggests a bleak vision that more recalls Eliot than Woolf and you feel that, in many ways, this poem is of a similar importance and stature as The Waste Land. The Bottom Line precisely captures the bland corporate world that defined the time in which it was written, a corporate world which continues to define the present day. That O’Driscoll worked so long in Revenue and Customs can be put down both to the fact that it was in many ways his muse, as well as to the sad truth that he had little choice but to earn a steady income, as his parents had both died by the time he was twenty, leaving him with five siblings to look after. The untimely death of his parents clearly contributed towards his poetic worldview, while the selflessness of his behaviour towards his siblings was also characteristic of his behaviour in general. Writing shortly after O’Driscoll’s death, his friend and collaborator, Seamus Heaney said:
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He was also one of the very few worthy of the tribute Auden once paid to Eliot: “So long as one was in his presence one felt it was impossible to say or do anything base.” His kindness towards other writers remains legendary. He put his own work on hold to help create Stepping Stones, a series of chapter length interviews he conducted with Heaney, which constitute a deeply important biography of the great poet. It says much of Heaney’s belief in O’Driscoll’s poetic sensibility that he would ask him to be his collaborator on such a defining project. O’Driscoll was also known for his kindness to aspiring writers, something that I myself had a chance to discover when I approached him to contribute to The Lampeter Review early last year. Not only, to my surprise and delight, did he immediately send me an extraordinary poem (‘Paper Trail’, which featured in Issue Five of The Lampeter Review) but he also took the time to be very encouraging both about the magazine and my own writing. Once the new Review had come out, he even sent me a postcard to thank me and wish me well with my writing. A little enough thing to do but one, as he would have known, that would mean a great deal to an aspiring writer. O’Driscoll’s life was reputedly full of such acts of kindness and it is something which shines through in his poetry. No matter how bleak his work may at times seem, it is always informed by warmth and humanity. That he died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve 2012 is not only a great loss to his family and friends but also to the world of poetry. He has left us with nine wonderful volumes of poetry. Nine volumes which look with unblinking eyes at what it means to be alive during the fleeting time we spend upon this earth. Go and read them all.
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Davina Allinson Davina Allison’s work has recently appeared in Eureka Street, Poetry Scotland, Eremos, Dappled Things, The Australian Poetry Journal, and on the ABC Religion and Ethics Website. She has a degree in Classics and a Masters in Applied Linguistics with Honours. Davina is also an ESL teacher, and is completing a PhD in text linguistics.
Mark Blayney Mark won the Somerset Maugham Prize for Two Kinds of Silence. He hosts and co-organises National Theatre Wales’ Word4Word events and is a UK Slam Finalist. Commendations include the Arvon Postcard Prize and the Poets Meet Painters Prize, Ireland. Mark lives in Cardiff.
Edward Bond (born 18 July 1934) is an English Playwright. He is the author of some fifty plays among them Saved (1965), the production of which was instrumental in the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK. Bond is broadly considered one among the major living dramatists but he has always been and still remains highly controversial because of the violence shown in his plays and the radicalism of his statements about modern theatre and society and of his theories on drama.
Chris Cornwell is a poet and philosopher and former editor of The Lampeter Review.
Katy Darby Katy Darby’s work has been read on BBC Radio, and published in magazines including Stand, Mslexia and Slice. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA, where she received the David Higham Award. Her debut novel, The Unpierced Heart (previously The Whores’ Asylum) was published by Penguin in 2012. She lives in London and her website is http://www.katydarby.com
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Gerald Dawe Gerald Dawe’s Selected Poems was published by The Gallery Press in 2012.He is professor of English at Trinity College Dublin.
Marian Delyth is a photographer/graphic designer working from her studio in the village of Blaenplwyf near Aberystwyth. Whilst training to be a graphic designer at Newport School of Art she became influenced by the Documentary Photography School led by David Hurn, and proceeded to Birmingham Polytechnic to concentrate on her photographic work for an M.A. She has been a free-lance designer and photographer since 1982 working mainly for the publishing industry in Wales, and has won many awards in that field. She has also played an active part in promoting the Visual Arts in Wales. For the last decade she has concentrated increasingly on personal photographic projects and has exhibited her work here in Wales and internationally. Her photographs can be seen in collections at The Casorio International Centre for Contemporary Art, Naples and The National Library of Wales.
Luned DeSimon Luned DeSimon is a charity worker and filmmaker living in North Wales. My short films have shown at festivals in the North West and Wales, and has recently started writing prose with a course designed by Comma Press. The poet Laurence James has descrobed her writing style as “prose of the apocalypse,” She has just completed a writing and research scholarship at Gladstone’s Library, which was awarded on the strength of her unpublished work.
Dic Edwards Dic Edwards, who was born in Cardiff, is a highly acclaimed radical playwright with more than 20 productions to his name, including Franco’s Bastard, and Utah Blue and also a collection of poems Walt Whitman and Other Poems. His last production was of Casanova Undone, in Copenhagen in 2009. In September 2011, Manifest Destiny for which he wrote the libretto was produced by Opera Close Up at the King’s Head in London on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. He is currently working with Brazilian composer Mario Ferraro on five short operas for children, the first of which The Cloud Eater will be produced in London in May. He is also producing more icepoems for a collection. His new play Let’s Kill All The Lawyers is looking for a production. He is Director and founder of Creative Writing at Lampeter, Trinity St David, University of Wales. Dic Edwards work is published by Oberon Books (London and New York); his website is http://www.dic-edwards.com
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Martina Evans Martina Evans is an Irish poet and novelist. Her fourth poetry collection, Facing the Public was published by Anvil Press in September 2009. A TLS Book of the Year, Facing the Public, received the Piero Ciampi International Poetry Prize in 2011. Her verse novel, Petrol, a recipient of a Grants for the Arts Award, was published by Anvil Press in September 2012.
Aidan Flanagan Aidan Flanagan is a self-taught Irish visual artist who specialises in original, Limited Edition, screenprints of the Irish landscape.www. aidanflanagan.com
Alan Flanders Alan Flanders is currently a doctoral student at Trinity St. David researching the writing of Wilfred Owen and the use of “Pity” as a central theme of his World War I poetry. Educated at Hollins and the University of Oxford, he teaches American history in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Biographical and historically- based subjects are major concerns of his poetry.
Kathryn Gray Kathryn Gray’s The Never-Never was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Recent work includes an artist’s book with Mary Modeen, Uncertain Territories, which was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy. She is a researcher on the Leverhulme-funded Devolved Voices, an innovative new project investigating Welsh poetry in English since 1997 and Wales’ ‘yes’ vote.
Devin Harrison Devin has published poetry in numerous periodicals throughout the US and Canada. These magazines include: Contemporary Verse Two, Grain, Event, The Amethyst Review, Kansas Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Passages North, and others.
Geoffrey Heptonstall is a poetry reviewer for The London Magazine, and a regular contributor to Cerise Press, Contemporary Review and The Tablet. Selected Poetry published on-line by Poetry Kit. Recent stories for Gold Dust, Litro, Open Wide and Vintage Script.ker
Jeremy Hooker The Cut of the Light: Poems 1965-2005 (Enitharmon) is a substantial selection from Jeremy Hooker’s ten volumes of poetry. He has published extensively on British and American poetry and his critical books include Imagining Wales: A View of Modern Welsh Writing in English (University of Wales Press, 2001). He has published two journals: Welsh Journal (Seren, 2001) and Upstate: A North American Journal (Shearsman, 2007). His features for
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BBC Radio 3 include A Map of David Jones. He is an Emeritus Professor of the University of Glamorgan.
Cynan Jones was born near Aberaeron, Wales in 1975. Writing so far includes the novels The Long Dry (Parthian, 2006), Everything I Found on the Beach (Parthian, 2011) and Bird, Blood, Snow (Seren, “New Stories from the Mabinogion”, 2012) and several short pieces in various anthologies. His next novel The Dig will be published by Granta in Spring 2014. A section from the novel was recently shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award and won the readers’ poll.
Tony Kendrew has been writing poems and short stories since his early teens. He lives and writes in a remote and beautiful part of Northern California, where he produced a CD of a collection of his poems called Beasts and Beloveds. He is currently doing a Creative Writing MA at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Lampeter.
John Lavin has a doctorate in Creative Writing from the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. He writes fiction and has had work published by Spork Press and Dead Ink Books. He co-edits The Lampeter Review and is also the deputy editor of Wales Arts Review. www.walesartsreview.org/author/john-lavin
Hannah Lowe was born in Ilford, Essex and now lives in London. She has worked as a teacher of literature and creative writing. Currently she is studying for a PhD. Her pamphlet The Hitcher was published in 2011 by The Rialto. Her first book-length collection Chick was published earlier this year by Bloodaxe. The featured poems are from a short chapbook, Rx , forthcoming with sinewavepeak later this year.
Roy Marshall Roy Marshall is a nurse and writer living in Leicestershire. His poems have been widely published in the UK and Ireland. His 2012 pamphlet was called ‘Gopagilla’. A full collection is due from Shoestring Press later this year. Roy blogs at roymarshall.wordpress.com
Alison Moore is a novelist and short story writer. Her first novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012 and in the New Writer of the Year category of the National Book Awards 2012. A debut collection, The Pre War House and Other Stories, will be published in May 2013. Born in Manchester in 1971, Alison lives near Nottingham with her husband Dan and son Arthur. www.alison-moore.com [ 150 ]
Sue Moules Sue Moules graduated from S.D.U.C. Lampeter with an English degree in 1979 . She was a co-founder and editor of spectrum magazine and press with Chris Bendon. She worked as a waitress in the evenings in order to write poetry during the day. She now works part time in a bookshop. She has been published widely in magazines and anthologies. Her most recent collections are In The Green Seascape (Lapwing) and The Earth Singing (Lapwing) and
Kate Murray Kate Murray is currently studying a Masters course in Creative Writing and Screenwriting in Trinity Saint David University, Lampeter. She has been writing since January 2011 and has been published in the Aberystwyth Masters Magazine 2011 and 2012. She also has a short story in Five Stop Stories Vol 2 and recently had two stories published in the online magazine Female First. She is working on her first collection of short stories.
Kate North Kate North writes poetry and fiction. Her novel Eva Shell was published in 2008 and her 2012 poetry collection Bistro has been described as having a ‘direct, nimble and confident voice’ (Penelope Shuttle). She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and a PhD in Critical and Creative Writing from Cardiff University. She teaches Creative Writing at Cardiff Metropolitan University. www.katenorth.co.uk
Amanda Oosthuizen is a writer, musician and woodwind teacher from Hampshire, UK. She has a degree in Music and English from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and MA with distinction in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester where she was joint winner of 2010 Kate Betts Prize. Her novel, ‘The Cherrywood Box’ was highly commended in the 2012 Yeovil Literary Prize. Her work has won prizes in the 2012 Yellow Room Competition, The Mail on Sunday Novel Competition, NADFAS Competition and Ian St James Awards. She has been shortlisted for the Mslexia Prize 2012 and the Asham Awards. Further information, links, articles and stories can be found at www. amandaoosthuizen.com
Michael Oliver-Semenov Michael Oliver-Semenov is a Cardiff born poet and writer. Following his poetic début in Parthian’s ‘Nu Fiction and Stuff’, Michael has published in a plethora of magazines and anthologies worldwide. After serving as the first poet in residence for Blown, the British magazine for cultural intelligence, Michael emigrated to Krasnoyarsk. His first collection of poetry ‘The Elephant’s Foot’ is due for release with Parthian in 2014 alongside his memoir ‘Sunbathing in Siberia: a marriage of east and west in post-soviet Russia’. [ 151 ]
Valerie Sirr’s poems are forthcoming in anthologies from Revival Press (Tribute to Michael Hartnett & themed Love anthology). Her poem‘Bridge’ was shortlisted for Poetry Lostock’s (UK) award, published in their anthology Afterwards. Awards include the Hennessy New Irish Writer Award and a New Writer (UK) award 2011, judged by British poet Catherine Smith. www.valeriesirr.wordpress.com
Robin Smith Robin Smith is a young poet living in the USA. Anna Somerset (nee Wilcockson) graduated in Modern languages from Lampeter in 1986 and later spent a year at E15 Acting School. A great film enthusiast, her two short films were shown at the BBC Short film Festival and has written a play for radio featuring the Lampeter experience. She is a fundraiser for osteopathy – another passion and these poems commemorate a student osteopath.
Katherine Stansfield Katherine Stansfield is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. Her first novel, The Visitor, will be published by Parthian in 2013, and her first poetry collection, Playing House, will be published by Seren in 2014.
Christina Thatcher Christina Thatcher is an American graduate of the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing MA program at Cardiff University. She now runs creative writing projects for at-risk youth across the Valleys as well as community workshops as the writer-in-residence at the Milkwood Gallery in Cardiff. Her poetry has recently been published in The London Magazine, Neon Literary Magazine, and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, among others, and is forthcoming in Dream Catcher Magazine. collectingwords.wordpress.com or on Twitter @writetoempower.
Roisin Tierney Rοisιn Tierney is an Irish poet based in London. Her pamphlet Dream Endings (Rack Press) won the 2012 Michael Marks Pamphlet Award. Her next collection is due out with Arc Publications. www.roisintierney.blogspot.com
Susie Wild was recently appointed as the editor at Parthian Books. She also hosts Cardiff Literary Salon and is a co-organiser of xx wales and Do Not Go Gentle Festival. A writer, poet and critic, her debut short story collection The Art of Contraception was published through Parthian in 2010 and longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. She lives in sin in Cardiff. susiewild.blogspot.co.uk
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The Lampeter Review has developed out of the Creative Writing Centre based at Lampeter, Trinity St David, University of Wales. In this issue...
Published on May 28, 2013
The Lampeter Review has developed out of the Creative Writing Centre based at Lampeter, Trinity St David, University of Wales. In this issue...