CONTRIBUTING ARTISTS: Cover art (including model) and various photography by Nora Gombos ‘Better Get Back On’ Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 15 year old photographer and artist who has won contests with National Geographic, The Woodland Trust, The World Photography Organisation, Winstons Wish, and many more. She has had her photographs published in exhibitions and magazines across the world including the Guardian, RSPB Birds , NG Kids Magazine (the most popular kids magazine in the world) and more. She was also the only person from the UK to have her work displayed in the National Geographic and Airbus-run ‘See The Bigger Picture’ global exhibition tour with the United Nations International Year Of Biodiversity 2010. Only visual artist published in the Taj Mahal Review June 2011. Youngest artist to be displayed in Charnwood Art’s Vision 09 Exhibition and New Mill’s Artlounge Dark Colours Exhibition. ‘Rust’ Holly Playle is a freelance musician, teacher and artist. She works in mixed media, and plays piano, violin and double bass. She has a degree in music from The University of Manchester. You can buy her art and textiles from her Etsy shop at: www.etsy.com/shop/hollycat86
www.inkspillmagazine.com Mail: email@example.com Twitter: @inkspillmag Read submissions guidelines at www.inkspillmagazine.com/submissions before sending material. All work is copyright © the authors/artists 2012 Editor: Sophie Playle Poetry Editor: Annabel Banks Associate Editor: Kristina Heaney Associate Editor: Philippa Moore
Contents 05 07 62
Editors’ Letters Starters Write for Us
ARTICLES Language of Choice – Brigita Orel How to Attract a Readership by Focusing Your Writing Blog – Sophie Playle
08 25 30 42 48
SHORT STORIES Moonshine on the Cirus Geek – Heath Corlew The Beach and the Mountains – Michael Spring The Right Words – Katherine Christensen Dandelion – Christina Thatcher Just a Job – Philip Roberts
POETRY hojo boy #14 – Kyle Hemmings What Blanche Did Not Tell Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire – Caroline Woidat Holly – Christian Ward Doll – Christina Thatcher Meditation #10: The Worst Despair is Trust – Gerard Beirne Armstrong – JW Mark
18 28 39 54
ART & PHOTOGRAPHY Better Get Back On – Eleanor Leonne Rust – Holly Playle Various Photography – Nora Gombos Various Photography – Nora Gombos
17 24 29 40 46
elcome to the sixth issue of Inkspill Magazine. This marks the two-year anniversary of the magazine, and there have been some significant changes to the publication since it began. We are now available via the Apple Newsstand — one of the first literary magazines to publish through this new channel, I believe. This enables us to be both digital and portable, maximising our accessibility. We also now have some more permanent staff members. Annabel Banks has taken up the position of Poetry Editor — you can read more from her on the next page. And I’d also like to express my thanks to Kristina Heaney and Philippa Moore, who have joined the team as Associate Editors, providing a much needed helping hand with the hundreds of submissions we receive. Over the years, we’ve published some amazing creative work. I am constantly impressed with the scope of submissions, and the showcase of imagination each issue has become, thanks to all our wonderful contributors. But it’s not just the contributor that makes this magazine work. It’s you, the reader. You are the key element that everything else about this magazine hangs from. Without you, these creative pieces would simply be hanging in a vacuum. And the more readers the magazine gets, the stronger it can become. So please, if you enjoy this issue, don’t forget to spread the word. Tweet about us, ‘like’ us on Facebook, blog about us (let us know and we’ll link to you!) and sing about us from the rooftops (if that’s the way you roll... never know.) Keep spilling ink!
Sophie Playle Editor
t was a great pleasure selecting these poems for publication in Inkspill Magazine. Each invites the reader into a world, where something is not quite as we would expect. Each poem demonstrated varied and controlled form to direct us in our journey. Each has an extra level of excitement offered by playfulness (even in their darkest moments), be it of form, meaning or diction, often using shared cultural references to catch our attention before lead us somewhere new. Each one made me want to know more â€” for this is the great power of the poem. More than any other literary form, the poem can encapsulate a world or transmit a completed thought while at the same time leaving room for extrapolation, encouraging interpretation and the truly empathic response. I hope you enjoy these poems as much as I did.
Annabel Banks Poetry Editor
Associate Editor Kristina Heaney is a fiction writer from North West London. Having recently completed her Masters in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, she is currently working on finishing her debut novel. She teaches Creative Writing for adult learners across the Capital. Kristina worked as a journalist at a national mens magazine and then moved into media agency work, specializing in copywriting before making the move to full-time fiction writing which, up until that point had remained a hobby. Kristina is delighted to be part of the Inkspill team and will be looking for elegance of phrase and unexpected story-lines. Find out more about Kristina and her work at: www.kristinaheaney.co.uk. Associate Editor Philippa Moore is an award winning blogger, writer and editor. She is a columnist for Running Fitness magazine, blogs at www.skinnylattestrikesback.com and has just completed her first novel. Poetry Editor Annabel Banks graduated from Cambridge University in 2010, and received her Creative Writing MA with Distinction from RHUL in 2011. She is now in the first year of her practice-based poetry PhD at University College, Falmouth. She has had many poems and stories published. Find out more at: www.annabelbanks.com.
Letters Just had a browse through Inkspill Magazine and I’m very impressed. — David Barber via Twitter
I am a final year student on the Communication and Media course at Bournemouth University, and I must say that once I viewed a free copy of Issue 1 that I was completely mesmerized. The layout and content of the magazine’s 1st issue is amazing, especially the cover. It definitely drew my attention. — Chika Anene
firstname.lastname@example.org www.facebook.com/pages/ Inkspill-Magazine/253389737667 www.twitter.com/inkspillmag
Wonderful... definitely a magazine not to be missed! — ‘Literature Bitch’
Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. — Sylvia Plath
Writing Exercise Every day for a week, write for ten minutes under one of the following headings. Don’t stop writing and don’t edit. Just let your thoughts wonder freely: 1. My first memory 2. It makes my heart skip a beat 3. Chilled to the bone 4. The kindness of strangers 5. The scent of burning wood 6. It makes me feel safe 7. The greatest feeling in the world Every day for the following week, take thirty minutes or so to shape each piece of writing into a narrative. Edit for spelling, grammar and narrative shape. Some of the pieces you may end up discarding, but some might shape into short stories.
I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter — James Michener
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 7
Moonshine on the
Circus Geek Heath Corlew
he son of a deaf and dumb chickenplucking whore stared down at the bloody mess with a rumbling in his belly. Sometimes Hasil vented when he did his chores. So this morning, he had not wrung the chicken’s neck as usual. He had gone and lopped off its head with an axe. He would have to clean up all the blood that had sprayed everywhere, but it was never evident unless it got on his 8 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
clothes. So Hasil — sixteen, broad shouldered yet lanky, donning a peach-fuzz mustache — had done the killing naked. His morning erection had not subsided so he spent himself on the back wall of the barn thinking of town girls. He went inside the cabin, constructed originally to house the town’s dimwitted, and gave himself a good rinsing. He slipped into his father’s
old coveralls. They had been purchased black, but as they were passed from father to son, they had transformed to the colour of earth — a constant chameleon to the seasons. Hasil stood frying eggs, daydreaming about town girls and being in the picture shows, when the coffee peculated and brought him back to reality. Hasil’s dog, Frank, sat on his haunches and stared on with a powerful lust and desire for those eggs to drop to the floor. Hasil ate three of the eggs and let Frank clean his plate. He left four eggs stirred up and ready to fry in a bowl for his father, who cursed even in his sleep. He retrieved his galoshes and stepped into them, pant leg and all. After plucking the chicken, Hasil set out to the still to replace the splo to make a fresh batch of rotgut whiskey. Hasil took the trail that lead to an old abandoned Bear hunting lodge. The path was scattered with rusted out debris and cast-offs long forgotten. An old boom truck blocked the path. Its trailer sloped down towards the valley, only a couple of latches away from freedom. The cab of the truck was smashed and soiled with the expressions of various local artists, poets and romantics. He walked on. At the hunting lodge, the old logging road continued no further. Hasil, however, continued on up a path long grown over and hidden with rhododendron. This path led to a stream and upon the other side was the still. The corn meal, yeast, malt, sugar and water Hasil had previously mixed up had
fermented. He heated up the splo until it began to vaporize and the resulting vapor transferred through the copper line into the other container. The result was moonshine, and once bottled and corked, it was sold as skull cracker. Hasil retrieved a hickory stick and strung six jugs of skull cracker to it. He walked back down to the old hunting lodge with the hickory on his shoulders. Steam clung to his figure as he made his way down the mountain, the sun just beginning its ascent. The sun and Hasil were always at odds. The sun seemed to know when to descend by the sight of Hasil climbing back up the mountain. Hasil waved at the sun and waited for it to pass by on the trail. He offered it some whiskey but it never lightened his load. At the outskirts of town, people watched Hasil totter along like an outcast milk man, soiled and seasoned, applying the only trade he’d learned from whatever savage place that spat him out. He was seen as something unworldly, diseased. He wound through the streets from back door to back door — stopping at a brothel, a mill, a bar and a church. With each stop, he lessened his load. When dawn brought light upon the town of Cosby, Tennessee, the fog fled as if shooed away by the Rooster’s crow. The town was not yet open for commerce. Hasil came upon a group of boys huddled around a heaping pile of fresh cow shit. He waited for a chance to introduce himself and to inquire about Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 9
| Short Story any news of the circus. Amongst the group was an imbecile child. He watched one of the boys mimic scooping up a helping of the dung and eating from it. ‘It tastes of chocolate,’ one of the boys told the imbecile. Hasil watched as the boy ate it with no expression of disgust or delight. Hasil vomited just watching as the imbecile worked his jaws woodenly on the turd. A steady sliver of spittle escaped the corner of the imbecile’s mouth and adhered to his chin where it dangled like a yellow lugey. Eventually it broke off and fell into the muck newly formed at his feet, but a new one would quickly regenerate, lizard-like.
r John Carmack arrived to open up his store for the day’s trade at 7:00 every day. For years, he arrived a full hour early so that he would have a full hour of peace and quiet. Something the confines of his home did not allow. His wife nagged the ever living shit out of him. The sound of her voice gave him the shudders. It was a shrill, whining call that demanded immediate action. ‘‘Jooooohn. Please come here a minute honey. Jooooohn. I need your help with something. Joooooohn. Could you do me a kindness’?’ However, for the past few days he had arrived to the store only to be greeted by some loud, irritating fat man yelling all sorts of nonsense about the circus coming to town. The carnival barker had a high shrill voice constant
and impossible to drown out. It reminded Mr Carmack of a bad case of jock itch and he continually adjusted himself reminiscing. So when Mr Carmack pulled in front of the store this particular morning at 7:00, he knew it must be his lucky day. Not only was there no sign of the fat man as of yet, but there was Hasil — with a little whiskey, he hoped he would be able to drown out the fat man. Mr Carmack unlocked the door, leaving it open just long enough for Hasil to pass through. He did not know what to make of all this silence and peacefulness. He knew that it must be some little trick that God had decided to play on him today. Hasil went on in and locked the door behind him. The only greeting given and returned were nods. Hell, Mr Carmack thought, I can live with nods. Shit, he loved nods. Nods and grunts were about as underrated as having a wife with no tongue, or teeth for that matter. As he went about his mindless chores for opening the store, he stared out the window at all the silence out there. Mr Carmack poured a cup of coffee from his thermos for Hasil. He went to the shoe box he kept under the counter and withdrew a ledger book to note Hasil’s delivery. Then he poured a bit of the sipping whiskey into his thermos. He handed Hasil a ‘Sears Roebuck’ catalogue and Hasil carried it over to the window. He let the boy
[He let the boy sit there in the window to gawk at all the schoolgirls going by on their way to school]
[He daydreamed about the circus as he swept and mopped the brothel floors] sit there in the window to gawk at all the schoolgirls going by on their way to school. He knew Hasil could not read, but instead used the magazine so that his gawking would not be so obvious. They talked bad enough about that boy already. It never bothered Mr Carmack to have Hasil there. It was soothing. The boy rarely spoke and never asked a thing of Mr Carmack. Mr Carmack gazed at his watch and it was almost 8:00 and no sign of the fat man. Lord God, he thought, I will go to church and listen to that crazy, spitting mad preacher you got every Sunday... and then he stopped, thinking the better of such promises. Mr Carmack took out the shoe box he kept under the counter and removed all the recites and credits, withdrawing a little framed photo of his grandparents. He opened the latch of the frame and removed another photo from beneath that. He prayed to the little nudie woman in the photo he called Gloria. At 8:00 Mr Carmack opened the store for business and saw Hasil off. He was just turning on the lights when he heard the shrill of the fat man. He shuddered and scratched his balls. He noticed that the boy had stopped there outside, and sat on his haunches watching the fat man rant and rave. But the shrill was short-lived and when Mr Carmack went to inspect his newfound
peacefulness, the fat man nor Hasil was there. So he scurried back to the counter, retrieved the shoe box and gave that nudie picture a big old smooch for all the good fortune it had brought him. He decided today to be one of celebration so he opened up his drawer and removed from it a little glass that he filled with more whiskey. He gave Gloria a toast and took him a little nip. If Jesus looked like Gloria, he thought, I would be a preacher.
he fat man led Hasil to the grounds where the circus was to be held. Huge red and yellow tents where strewn about the confines of the land once cleared for the long abandoned lumber yard. The fat man ushered Hasil to the entrance of a tent guarded by two enormous black men. He left Hasil staring up at the black men. They stared straight ahead and it was not until Hasil poked one of them in the ribs did they turn their eyes down to him. The three of them stood staring at one another, no words spoken. The other black man bent down and ran his finger across Hasilâ€™s lips, and then restored his attention to the distance. The fat man returned and sent Hasil off to make another whiskey run. Hasil did not mind being yelled at for his tardiness by the brothelâ€™s owner. He daydreamed about the circus as he swept Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 11
| Short Story and mopped the brothel floors. He had pleasant thoughts as he scrubbed clean all the soiled linens. He hummed silently to himself as he buried the naked body of a traveling salesman, throat slit by one of the whores. Hasil returned from his deliveries just after dark. No supper or pleasantries awaited him. He began to cook the chicken he had plucked that morning for dinner. His old man stared up at Hasil from the chair he sat in. ‘What business did you bring in today’?’ he asked. Hasil told his father all about the fat man with the circus. He told him about all the whiskey he had to run out there in the morning. ‘It ain’t ye fault yous so ignorant. Ye muther’d give it away for free. She’d fuck whoever had the yearn’n. If it weren’t for me, she’d have never made one dime. Hell, she couldn’t speak a lick. Don’t rightly thank she could hear neither. She pluck a chicken right quick. Lot faster’n you. She run away with them circus freaks. She run away with the biggest freak of all — she run away with the Geek. All that whiskey they want is for the Geek. I had her tote it out there but she run off with him and a whole load of whiskey.’ Hasil’s father rose and swung, drunkenly, at him. He had become seemingly incapable of stability. The blows he landed had little force behind them. He could not coordinate his legs with his arms to generate the power he once had. While he stumbled awkwardly, 12 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
he muttered incoherent curses at Hasil. The old man watched with frustration as his son took his punches mutely. It seemed he was growing numb to the mental abuse too. Hasil looked towards his dog in the corner of the room. Frank was cowering and whimpering with every shot directed at the boy. The old man spun from Hasil and kicked Frank in the ribs with his boot toe. The dog peed itself and this elicited louder and angrier gibberish. The old man leveled his toe for the dog’s head and swung violently but missed. His force spun him backwards and he crashed to the floor. He thrashed about and began pulling himself upright with a nightstand. But halfway up, he tottered backwards and fell to the floor. A war medal the old man had traded whiskey for slid from the atop the nightstand and crashed into his mouth. With the piece of furniture resting on his chest, he chunked the medal at the dog. It shattered an old wedding photo of the thrower, with his fresh bright-eyed bride, into pieces on the wall, well above the dog.
[The boy rose and walked in disgust to the door. The old man pawed for his ankle]
The boy rose and walked in disgust to the door. The old man pawed for his ankle. Hasil shook his foot free and left the room. The old man lay on the floor
panting, the nightstand rose and fell with his chest. The boy returned with the old man’s shotgun. The old man stared blankly at the ceiling. The boy pumped the shotgun and this caught the attention of his father. The old man began muttering and whimpering and he crawled backwards on his palms and heels. His back collided with the wall and he picked up the nightstand and balled up, trying to hide his immense girth behind it. The old man’s eyes were closed when he heard the blast, and remained so for some time. He finally allowed his body to slack when he heard the front door close. He opened his eyes and tossed the table aside. The dog lay silent, unconcerned with the blood and urine that flowed from it slowly across the slanted hardwood and pooled above the weak foundation. The old man rose and began to walk towards the window. Then he squatted and duck-walked to it. He peered out with only his eyes and forehead exposed. He cursed softly to himself as his shotgun and whiskey began to disappear, and then there was nothing but an empty cove. Hasil stirred about restlessly inside the cab of the boom truck. When he closed his eyes, visions of a mute woman plucking feathers haunted him. Even in his dreams, she spoke no words. He thought of Frank and he cried. He loved Frank, but his father abused that dog. He wanted to kill his father, but had settled on Frank, and he did not know the reason. He was afraid that he was
becoming as mean as his old man and he howled in despair for his own wretchedness. Why had he killed Frank, who slept on his own feet all those nights? The dog was his only friend. He had named him Frank because he had always wanted a normal name — he thought of himself as a Frank. Hasil left pre-dawn with a hickory full of shine. He beat the sun and made it to town before it could rise. Hasil strode past Carmack’s store well before 7:00. He made his way to the field with all the tents. The two black men were still at guard. They lightened him of all the whiskey and paid him in full. ‘Is it all for the Geek?’ Hasil asked. The two blacks remained focused in the distance. Hasil lightly poked one of the men in the ribs. They both looked down at him. The other man leaned down and lightly brushed his finger across Hasil’s lips. No words spoken. Hasil left with a pocket full of money. At daybreak, Hasil bought a new suit with boots that zippered up on the sides. He went to a diner and ate a breakfast of eggs, bacon, country ham, biscuits and gravy and he washed it down with hot coffee. At noon, he went to a picture show. He watched it three times in a row. When Hasil walked outside, the masses had formed around the fat man. The storm that festered in his head seemed no closer to reprise. Everywhere he looked he saw children with mothers and fathers who doted on them relentlessly. He licked his lips as he watched a fat boy caress the bountifulness of his Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 13
| Short Story change purse. The boy turned down a street and was swept up in a crowd that had begun to squeeze into a gate that opened up into the field of large tents. Hasil worked his way into the field, no longer interested in the fat boy. The tents had men in front of them that yelled out at the people as they passed. Hasil worked his way toward the biggest of these tents where the fat man called out to the crowd. ‘See the Geek,’ he repeated over and over. Hasil passed the many tents with his eyes stuck upon the geek tent. ‘Twenty-five cents to see the Geek,’ the man told Hasil. Hasil pushed the man aside. He entered the tent and walked straight to the front and up the steps to the stage. The Geek wore the pelt of a badger on his head. The badger’s head was propped open with toothpicks. The Geek put his hand on Hasil’s shoulder, trying to push him back towards the rest of the crowd. ‘Take a seat, son. You can’t be up here on stage.’ The Geek reeked of skull cracker. Sweat dripped down his face from the confines of the badger hat. ‘Dad,’ Hasil said. Hasil pulled the Geek to him in an embrace. The Geek pushed Hasil away and he tumbled down the stairs. The crowd laughed and Hasil felt their eyes burning upon him and his blushing face. The Geek tuned to the crowd, playing off their amusement. He began to bump his 14 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
[The Geek wore the pelt of
a badger on his head. The badger’s head was propped open with toothpicks] chest and flex his old, slacken biceps. Hasil watched this man, thought about him taking a boot toe to his mother who could not speak or care for herself, like Frank. It was all too much, too vivid an image. He saw the Geek with his badger hat on stage, kicking his mother. She peed herself and the crowd would laugh and jeer at her. Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters — entire families united in their ridicule of his mother — of him. They had even paid the price of admission to see it. Hasil took the stage, fed up with his standing in the world. He smacked the Geek to the ground. The Geek, now hatless, scurried away. Hasil pulled a chicken from one of the crates on stage. He bit into its throat and held it tightly by both feet as it thrashed about wildly. He began to smash its head on the ground until the chicken was good and limp. The crowd began to whoop and cheer with a fury. Hasil bit into the breast of the chicken. The crowd cheered and jeered encouragements. Insults. None of them were genuine. They were all empty. The mothers and fathers and children alike parted their mouths and emitted pure gibberish. They just hollered nonsense to fill the void in their brains. They screamed to
fill the loneliness and insecurity that prevails in silence. But Hasil was not cut out to be a geek. He was disgusted with himself. He was angry for yearning to be loved by this crowd. He spit out the piece he had bitten off and left the stage. The crowd called for him, but he no longer cared about their opinions, their needs. Hasil ran out of the tent and walked to the two black men. ‘Do you know of the woman who can’t speak? She ran off with the Geek.’ The two black men stared at one another and parted. Hasil entered the tent and there was a woman. She sat on a couch with tiny men at her feet. They were rubbing her feet with oils. Hasil went to her. ‘Are you my mother? Did you run off with the Geek?’ The woman looked down at the tiny men and they exited the tent. The woman sat up and reached a finger out and brushed it lightly across Hasil’s lips. She pulled him down to her and held him. Hasil cried there, in the arms of the Queen of the Freaks. That night the crowds dispersed. The hat of the Geek rode off upon the head of imbecile boy who waddled home, singing to himself as he went. The next morning there was scarcely a sign the circus had been there at all. Mr Carmack arrived at 7:00 sharp. He let Hasil in and by 8:00, when Hasil left, there was no sign of the fat man. Mr Carmack called out to the boy. ‘Has the circus left?’
‘The circus is gone.’ Hasil left for home with the sun on his back, no longer burdened with the weight of dependency. He set out to care for his father, a ruined old geek unfit to fend for himself in the world. ‘Praise thy Gloria be,’ Mr Carmack said, without even thinking about scratching his balls.
Heath Corlew resides in Asheville, NC. where he works all sorts of part-time jobs to support his writing problem. He has an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte.
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 15
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hojo boy #14 Kyle Hemmings after rehab failed after 17 electric shocks couldn’t wean me from jungian truffle-despair// it all boils down to the first flavor mother allowed me in the summer that melted strawberry swirl & pecan crunch [ at age 16 i told a customer at take-this-out that he was an ass go learn to count change hojo fired me but i kept coming back because there was mutual need as in i would rather have three dogs w/kraut to go. truth is i’m post-dead but i’m still sucking red brick big the waitresses keep coming during happy hour we talk about old poisons & over-rings the times we flipped each other like extra beef patties [children’s portion] made the grill sizzle the smoke grew obscenely dense we became lost in making the wrong choices the menu they gave us the promise of an edible future the schedules of college breaks were all wrong
Kyle Hemmings is the author of three chapbooks of poems: Avenue C (Scars Publications), Fuzzy Logic (Punkin Press), and Amsterdam & Other Broken Love Songs (Flutter Press). He has been published at Gold Wake Press, Thunderclap Press, Blue Fifth Review, Step Away, and The Other Room. He blogs at http://upatberggasse19.blogspot.com
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Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 19
Brigita Orel analyses the boundaries of language when it comes to choosing alternatives to your mother tongue.
ome things in life we can choose, others are part of a framework we are born into. Mother tongue belongs to the second category; you can’t change it. Mostly, it’s expected of us to use it for the rest of our lives, but some don’t and they decide to communicate in another language – a language of choice. For me, this choice was a gradual development rather than a conscious decision when I started writing in English instead of
Slovene, the language of my parents. At first, I ventured out into the alien world of another language for my studies and after a while I decided to stay just a little bit longer. And then longer still. But can you ever really learn to accept another language, use it like it were your own, understand it like it spoke to you ever since you were in the crib? After years of speaking and writing in English, I have learnt to use
it considerably well. I am familiar with different parts of speech, with the tricky use of semi-colon, I know that overabundance of adverbs hurts the eye and mind. I have learned to think in English and I never forget to refer to Death as ‘he’ when personified, although Death is a ‘she’ – Matilda with a scythe – in Slovene. I am always happy to give a longwinded lecture on why there is an ‘i’ in fill, but a ‘u’ in full even though they stem from the same root; or on the emergence of phrases such as ‘raining cats and dogs’ or ‘saved by the bell’. However, it is not easy, particularly when I cannot rely on my innate language instincts to get the faintest nuances right and make my text acceptable and understandable. It is this aspect of writing in a foreign language that demands a lot of effort, dedication and time, a real passion for writing to be willing to climb over the obstacles that spring in front of me with each new sentence. This makes all my first drafts fraught with doubt, and speeds up my heartbeat whenever I seal an envelope or click the send button to email my work to an editor. Every time, even when a story or a poem has already been accepted for publication, I’ll still want another opportunity to re-read it, re-write it, re-affirm that I said what I wanted to say and no unwanted meanings slipped in. Because ultimately, no word in one language is exactly the same when translated into another language. Organic languages are not merely a set of straightforward signs like
their computer counterparts; they are always embedded in a cultural context. It is not enough to only speak the language; you have to immerse yourself into the culture. However, one can learn the technical aspects of using a foreign language – to think it – but I wonder if I have truly learned to feel in English. When I will write an expressive, touching poem, I tend to think I have. When I am at a loss for words when trying to express what lurks bellow the deepest layers of my tumbling thoughts, I fear I haven’t. Initially, I chose to write in English because it allowed me to reveal myself without the painful and embarrassing feeling that accompanies exposure.
English words never felt quite close enough to instil in me the sensation of nakedness when I put my deepest, most intimate emotions into words” English words never felt quite close enough to instil in me the sensation of nakedness when I put my deepest, most intimate emotions into words. English was the language of ‘the other’, not mine – it wasn’t this language in which I first experienced the spectrum of human emotion. It allowed me distance: distance from the readers, from myself, from the thoughts I shared; it rewarded me with a sense of liberation. I was hiding behind Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 21
| Article foreign words. Talking about humiliation, pain or love is less personal when you are using someone else’s words to do it. English was a tempting shelter, one that invited me to stay forever longer until, it seems, I’m staying permanently. But I am not sheltered anymore, no longer hiding, because now ‘the other’ is slowly becoming ‘me’. The distance has shrunk and the camouflage has been removed and I am standing exposed, no longer afraid of what I have to say, yet still wondering whether I am using the right words to say it. The same need to remain hidden and unexposed that drove me to write in English, also made me reluctant to speak about my writing, but the first successes helped me open up about it. And if I thought my choice of the language I am writing in would provoke negative responses in my circle, I was surprised with how perceptively people accepted it. Perhaps these weren’t the most objective opinions, but it seemed most people felt that this was a natural development of my English studies and also that I didn’t have to justify my decision. Slovene is a small language with a limited literary market, therefore it is tempting to try and find one’s place outside its language borders. On the other hand, this ‘smallness’ of the language also makes it that much more special to the two million people speaking it, so despite years of my ‘linguistic exile’ I sometimes still feel torn. Most often, this happens when I fail to express my thoughts in my 22 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
Knowing the correct expression in my mother tongue will inspire a sense of longing in me, a feeling akin to homesickness, a wish to return to the place where I belong” adopted language exactly the way I want to. Knowing the correct expression in my mother tongue will inspire a sense of longing in me, a feeling akin to homesickness, a wish to return to the place where I belong. But then the English words will flow and the feeling will pass. Until next time. If the people close to me accepted my writing in English with understanding, it is the English speakers who are usually more surprised and sceptic when they read my foreign sounding name under a piece written in English. Some would probably even say my choice of language is treason, but if so, which language am I betraying? It could be said that I turned my back on the language that raised and educated me, the culture that gave me substance and a set of beliefs. On the other hand, I am introducing new concepts into my adopted language by transferring my culturally conditioned thoughts into it, creating new patterns, distorting perception, invading it with alien meanings. But the process works both ways; the adopted language, too, is
invading my consciousness, re-forming it, adapting it, adding new meanings to the old, sometimes joining them together, other times juxtaposing and questioning them, but always widening the horizon – a process we are all becoming familiar with in this era of globalization. I often ask myself: am I changing my story when I use the language of another culture instead of my own? Does this affect the narrative deeper than just the surface form? And what about my target audience – am I looking for an audience that will accept my story or am I changing my story so that it will be accepted by the audience? Most often, a bit of both, I suspect. I became to look at this not as treason, but as growth, expansion, learning and creation. My perception has changed and I now know that words I first learned in Slovene can have other connotations as well, and I will always feel how English love poems are crowded and lack intimacy because, unlike Slovene, English does not have duality. Regardless, the core of human existence is the same in any language; I can adore or hurt equally deeply if I am silent, speak Slovene or write in English.
Brigita Orel’s short stories and poems have been published or are forthcoming in Rose & Thorn Journal, Cantaraville, Autumn Sky Poetry, BluePrintReview, The Storm at Galesburg collection, and other print and online magazines. One of her poems was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Slovenia where she works as a literary translator. You can view her blog at: www.bsoulflowers.blogspot.com
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Caroline Woidat He was young, it’s true, seventeen years of age to my twenty-seven. And so I’ve been condemned. Try to understand, I never did like men the way you do. A boy suits me like silk. Men suffocate me. Their bodies press hard and heavy as rocks— they see a witch to crush.
What Blanche Did Not Tell Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire
This boy held me lightly as a moth in cupped hands: his was a child’s pleasure in restless, fluttering wings. I didn’t mind how slight his body felt next to mine. In his eyes I could find a woman to meet my gaze in the mirror.
Caroline Woidat is an associate professor of English at the State University of New York at Geneseo who teaches literature and creative writing and has published essays and poems in various journals and magazines.
The beach and the mountains Michael Spring
icasso is doodling on a napkin, thinking about blue guitars. He is a gaunt young man in a waistcoat with silver buttons. It is a hot night. The sound of the sea dragging away at the pebbles on the beach can be heard clearly, like the wheezing breath of an asthmatic. Soon, the fishermen will leave the harbour in their small boats each with a lantern at the prow. The fleet will look like a fiesta, a parade of disembodied lights dancing, to the music of stringless guitars, on the inky skin of the sea. A talentless poet is across the other side of the room, thinking of sestinas, and what it would take to make his
poetry soar into the hills behind the town, swoop low in the dawn sunrise over rustic dwellings where goats would be startled and run in amazement and one child might look up, open-mouthed, from amongst chickens squawking for their food. The scene is in his mind but he cannot feel the words that would make it live for ever. Picasso will hear the word about Casagemas tomorrow. â€˜When I realised Casagemas was dead, I started to paint in blue,â€™ he will say. A girl walks in from the back of the small cafe. Both men look up as she glides Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 25
| Short Story around the counter. She smiles at both and takes the small dish of olives and pickled fish from Picasso’s table to refill from the back room, but she knows that, even if she liked him enough, he would never be faithful to her. Where he walks, he casts a misshapen shadow. He seems to look different every time he comes in to the café. As she passes the table, she touches the poet’s hand lightly, and looks at him, her black eyes like coals in a furnace. Her touch lights a fire within him.
[Her skin has the colour of
the earth around the vines, the smooth, sandy soil that nurtures such richness] He crosses out the tentative words he has written, and smiles, draining his glass. The wine is a dark red, like blood. The girl comes back and, when she has delivered the small dishes to the artist, sits down at the poet’s table. Together, they watch the lanterns of the fishing boats dancing on the water. The water is the colour of ink and cannot hold the mystery of the lights. The poet looks at her and smiles. She slips off her espadrilles and their feet touch. Her skin has the colour of the earth around the vines, the smooth, sandy soil that nurtures such richness. Years later, Picasso’s drawing on the napkin — of a dramatic cockerel 26 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
— hangs on a nail in the kitchen of the house. It amuses the lively child, the daughter of the poet and the girl in the cafe. The drawing, one of many they used to have, disappears sometime during their move to the mountains of the north, a long time before the poet, his pen rusting in its pot, sells Valdepeñas to the American, Hemingway, whose clothes are perfect. The poet, who has written nothing of any quality apart from some lines of joy at the birth of his daughter, knows that Hemingway, when he returns from fishing in the icy streams, stares far too long and too often at her. Sometimes too, he stares at the poet’s wife, though in a different way, as though wanting an explanation. The poet’s wife remembers moonlight on the beach, a crooked shadow, the clumsy passion of her husband when young. ‘This Hemingway,’ she thinks, ‘what does he see in the mirror when he confronts it?’ It is she who makes the tapas for which the café in the mountains is famous. The pickled fish still startles her mouth. She gazes thankfully at the wheatfields on the plateau, that are heavy with grain. The oil of the olives has soaked into her hands. Her black-eyed daughter has a fiery temper, and shares the American’s lack of sympathy with the fascists. The American writes letters to her, tender love notes which she reads quickly and throws on the fire. She will
not be claimed by words, especially when there is something insubstantial about them. Moreover, his friends are rich, and have the eyes of magpies. In the Autumn of the year, when the wheatfields have given up their bounty, but before the snows come, he is gone.
Michael Spring was educated at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but lives and works in London now, where he helps to run a small design and marketing company. He writes fiction for small press titles in the UK and abroad and has been an alternative theatre enthusiast for many years. He is a regular contributor to Fringe Report.
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Rust by Holly Playle
Holly hasn’t quite perfected teleportation, often appearing on church roofs, in police cells and random beds with no memory of how she got there. Once she woke inside a Tyneside magistrate’s bedroom wall, who told colleagues that it flexed during the night and breathed deep and horse-like. She tells shrinks that she learnt to blink out of space after witnessing a group of boys skin a live rabbit. Caged in an upside down trolley slowly submerging in the canal, everything went white and she found herself tossed in a patch of nettles. The back of her father’s hand. Lorries. Endlessly walking towards one unmarked village after the other. Dizzy with street lights, she blinked out of the vista and worked the rope at a cheesy Sunderland club - ‘Chez Blue’ - before settling back down at a Superdrug checkout. Her boyfriend says he sees a disembodied leg floating in the bedroom late at night. Almost like she’s swallowed herself to find out where she really began.
Christian Ward Christian Ward recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. His work has appeared in Iota, Poetry Wales and elsewhere.
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esterday, a sparrow ping-ponged off the display window of The Going Out of Business Woman’s Shoe Shop and landed in front of my left Converse on the sidewalk. He spun around in a wobbly circle and sat down hard, his head hanging low on his chest, like he was a complete loser, like what kind of a bird would his friends think he was now? The shoe store guy watched all this, slouched in his doorway as usual, leaning back into the corner with his sweaty arms folded on his belly. The guy looked like he didn’t have enough neck to hold up his head, but I knew this was an optical illusion. It’s because of the angles. The bird shuddered. I thought he must have been figuring out how to die, which is my particular subject of 30 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
interest, so I kneeled to get a better look. Shoe store guy grunted. ‘That’s a sick bird,’ he said. ‘A sick bird,’ he said again, as if I hadn’t heard him the first time. He stood and unfolded his arms at me. ‘Shouldn’t go and touch a sick bird like that.’ People I don’t know tell me what to do all the time. I don’t tell them what to do. I scooped my hand low down by the sparrow’s legs and he fell over sideways into my palm. Someone shouted from inside the shop. Shoe store guy shook his big bald head at me, then turned and left, hiking up his black pants and ducking as he walked through the store entrance. I cupped the bird in carefully next to my chest, and walked a block before stopping for another look. The bird was
hot and wet — like when the coffee spills in the microwave and I soak it up with a paper towel. His head oozed something thin and clear. It messed up his skull feathers so that I wanted to smooth them out with my finger, but I didn’t. His heart went tiptiptiptip in my palm. I could easily have squished him between my fingers. I could have hurled him into a shop window. I could have dropped him on the sidewalk and stomped on him with my shoe. I wasn’t planning to do these things, but I thought them. Just as I finished thinking them, the bird shuddered, and halfway through the shudder, the tiptiptiptip stopped. So, it was over then. He was dead. Just like that. One minute alive, and afraid of what I could do to him, the next minute, who knows? I made two observations mentally because I had left my spiral steno notebook at home. #45 Death happens fast when it’s time for it. #46 Shuddering can be involved when it is a sparrow. He was limp, and seemed heavier after he died, but I knew that was inaccurate. People and animals get lighter when they die. A person, on average, is lighter by 21 grams. People say this is proof that the soul leaves the human body — that the soul weighs 21 grams. But this is not accurate science, because it could be something we haven’t even
thought about that weighs 21 grams, like the weight of moisture in our breath, or some total other thing like an energy field or life essence. I looked around, just in case, but unless it was hiding inside the sun’s reflection off a beige Toyota Tacoma’s windshield, I didn’t see anything that looked like a sparrow’s life essence or a released energy field. I took an empty plastic shopping bag out of my briefcase, wrapped the bird in the bag and tucked him back in, next to the dead squirrel. The briefcase means a lot to me. ‘It’s a briefcase, Joe,’ Jimbo had said at the time. ‘A briefcase. Your Aunt Margie has lost touch with reality. But good.’ He thought it was a stupid gift, but I am rather fond of it. I believe it suits my ambitions.
t’s my policy not to decide the day’s activities until I’m finished dressing, so my plans won’t get caught in the zipper or tangled in the buttons. So this morning, which is the next morning after the sparrow, I make myself wait. I carefully pull on my jeans and zip the fly. Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 31
| Short Story I slip into my chambray shirt and start buttoning at the bottom and work my way up to the top, concentrating on slipping the thin buttons into the buttonholes so I don’t stray off the subject. After careful study of the topic, I believe that buttons and buttonholes are among the greatest inventions in the modern world. More people use buttons every single day than use electricity, even, or proper toilets. After I twist the last thin button into its buttonhole, I decide to experiment on the sparrow. He’s cold — room temperature, to be exact, but cold compared to yesterday. He’s no longer limp and heavy, but stiff and light, and his skull feathers dried messy, sticking out in many directions, so that the paper white of his skull shows through. I fluff the feathers gently with my finger, but they spring back to their messy state, like he needs hair gel. I decide to call the sparrow Derek in my brother’s honor — not my grown up brother, Derek, the fathead, but my big brother Derek when we were little, and he was still looking out for me. Derek never combed his hair. Derek’s — the bird’s — eyes are still open, even though his heart stopped beating yesterday. On TV, they show dead people and animals with their eyes closed, so it goes to show how you can’t always rely on research, and that proper observation is sometimes the key to great science. I pull out my spiral steno notebook, and make a few notes. #47 Death is cold. Heat is for the living, 32 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
or living makes heat, or death = cold. #48. Eyes are open. Question: Is this so they can see on the other side? The squirrel’s smell is so strong I can smell him even after I put Derek back in and close my briefcase but smell is a minor inconvenience given the serious significance of my ambitions. The wiring components are on my dresser. The D size batteries came from a flashlight I found two days ago. I decide to go with all new wires, too, in case the wiring was part of the problem with the squirrel. I have a flat cord cut from a TV set, and a piece of twisty cord from an old telephone receiver. I also found a light switch in an apartment building they were demolishing over on Mullen Avenue. I wrap the wiring in an old ratty T-shirt, and put the bundle and a roll of duct tape in my briefcase with the two cadavers. Then I wash my hands, grab the briefcase, and go down to breakfast. Jimbo looks up from his newspaper. ‘Hey Joe. You’re up early.’ He pours me a cup of coffee and brings it over. ‘The art world treating you all right?’ Making art was what I did before science. But my science is a secret, so I have no response. ‘You’re a downright chatterbox this morning. Hey listen. I overheard the new guy down at the garage bragging... could be a few drive bys happening in our block the next few days. He’s the kind of guy could actually know about these things.’ His eyes go gentle and wide like
when he laughs but he isn’t laughing. He has more of those wrinkles by his eyes, crow’s feet, and his hair has gotten so grey it looks silver this morning. ‘I know you can take care of yourself, but just watch your back, OK?’ He puts his dishes in the sink. ‘I’ll be late, so don’t wait on dinner, big guy.’ He looks at his watch, walks over to the door. ‘Later, dude.’ ‘Later, dude,’ I say back, just as he closes the door. He left the milk out again. Jimbo always forgets the milk. I put it away for him.
t’s my policy to go to the garbage cans first, because a windfall science find might change my plans for the day. I’m discouraged to see a homeless guy there already, going through the garbage cans. Mostly they just look for food, but if there’s anything valuable, like copper wire or computer parts, they’ll grab it, and I’m out of luck. Besides, I find homeless guys depressing to my mood. They make me worry about what I would do if I didn’t have Jimbo to pay the rent. This homeless guy is old and folded over, like the trees they plant in circles of dirt in the sidewalk around the city. I don’t know who thinks those trees will grow in those small patches of dirt. They never grow tall and broad like trees in nature, instead, they slowly fold over and die. A car drives up to the street at the end of the alley on the homeless guy’s side and stops so fast its tires squeak.
An old model black Beemer. The music echoes from the buildings, tunneling down to the middle of the alley where I am, music that thumps like drums. I flatten myself against the concrete wall.
[Jimbo and I saw a dead guy once — a few years back. It was before I was doing science so I didn’t take proper notes]
Jimbo and I saw a dead guy once — a few years back. It was before I was doing science so I didn’t take proper notes. It wasn’t anyone we knew. A young guy, younger than me, probably fifteen or so, was shot in his chest. It looked like he had exploded from the inside, like he swallowed a bomb and it only made it halfway down. Jimbo said you could see his heart, which now I would find interesting from a science point of view. But then, I couldn’t look. The car door flings open, the thumping gets louder, and a guy younger than me in a muscle shirt with mega huge terminator biceps climbs out of the passenger side. He leaves the car door open. He strolls on up to the homeless guy, like he has all day, like hey, look at me strolling. There’s a flash of money. The homeless guy shrugs his shoulders. The big guy pulls back, and lets him have it with Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 33
| Short Story his fist, ThwackThwackThwack, three times fast. The old man crumples to the ground without even a whimper. The big guy bends over him, but then he spots me. I turn around to go, real slow, strolling. Just strolling away. ‘You!’ he shouts at me. It sounds short and loud and deep in the alley, like a shot. I stop in my tracks and he comes up to me. There’s a tattoo on his right bicep, which says something I can’t make out. He’s got pimples on his greasy face, oozing pussy ones and blackheads. I find this so weirdly hilarious, I have to concentrate hard not to laugh. ‘You seen Streak?’ he asks. Streak lives in the building next to mine. ‘I know Streak.’ ‘I ask, you seen him?’ He flashes me a ten. But I don’t want money to help get a guy killed — and besides, most likely, even if I told the truth, he wouldn’t give me the money. ‘Haven’t seen him for over a week. I think maybe he left town.’ The guy puts the money back in his pants pocket. He cracks his knuckles at me one at a time. His knuckles are tattooed, the same on both hands, H J F C, all crooked, in bright blue ink. I cover my face and prepare to be hit by those knuckles with the letters on them. Then I get to wondering about the letters and what they stand for, and I hear myself saying the things that pop into my mind: ‘Hurting Jacked Fucker Crooked, Hate Joinery Free Chaotic, 34 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
Harvey Jackrabbit Fire Container, Hopped July Freak City…’ I know I should stop but I can’t make myself. ‘Hardened Jujubes Forked Companions….’ I uncover my face. The guy is looking at me, his face hitched up on one side, eyebrow raised, fist cocked, ready to punch. ‘Fucking nut job,’ he says, and blinks. ‘Hatching Jesus False Commentary.’ I smile at the guy, happy he hasn’t hit me. The Beemer honks three times. The guy sprints back, barely getting the car door closed before it speeds off. The boom, boom thud of the music grows softer until I don’t feel it in my chest cavity anymore. The homeless guy must have lifted himself up off the ground while I was busy. He is back to sifting through the garbage. From near the bottom, he digs out something wrapped in greasy yellow paper. He doesn’t drop the lid back but I forgive him because I thought he was a goner for sure. He must be tougher than he looks. Except for a bright red and purple split on his cheek, you can’t even tell. When he walks away, he’s not even limping. He’s just a little more folded over, like a sidewalk weed that wilts on a hot day. No science stuff today — only cans, envelopes, expired coupons, and a vacuum cleaner bag puffy with gritty dust. I drop the lid back. It echoes in the alley with a noise so loud I almost want to do it again.
go to the library next, for research, because I don’t know much about birds, and on the way, I see Streak. I wonder if I should tell him they’re after him, but he ducks down the alley before I can holler. Probably he knows already. He looked twitchy. I like the old part of the library where the reference desk is because it has forty foot ceilings and brown swirly marble floors imported from Italy. It always feels cooler than outside, and it’s quieter. ‘Hello, Joe,’ says the lady librarian, Samantha. ‘Can I help you find something?’ Samantha has shiny hair, glasses, and dangly jewelry. She smiles a lot which is confusing because you can tell she feels sour and angry most of the time. ‘I need to know about the insides of birds and also why they have clear fluid in their brains.’ A shadowy flicker crosses Samantha’s face before she smiles and swivels her chair around. Over her shoulder I watch her type ‘bird, veterinary reference’ into her computer. She writes something down with a stubby library pencil, then stands up from her desk and says, ‘Follow me,’ like she always does. She wears high-heeled shoes that clickclickclick as we walk. She walks me to a row I’ve never been down before in the general animal section. She waves in the direction I’m supposed to go and her bracelets clink like the woman on the shopping channel showing off the enamel cookware. Then
she turns; the clickclickclick travels in the opposite direction and fades away. I start in the upper left corner of the section. There are lots of colorful books with photos and paintings of the outsides of birds which I wonder why anyone would find helpful because you can already see the outsides of birds. There are thick books with plain covers that don’t have any pictures. Finally, on the bottom shelf, in the oversized category, are three books loaded with photos and diagrams of the insides of birds. They all have ‘Avian Physiology’ in their titles. I take them to a round table in the middle of the front room and set them down: three colored rectangles on the large tan circle. One of the books has a large picture of a cut-open bird, a bird autopsy. The drawing is printed on plastic pages that overlap, so you can lift them away as if you were peeling away layers of the bird. I peel away the pieces to locate the heart, the centre of the avian circulatory system, then I layer them back. I do this a few times, peeling the bird open and layering him whole again. The brain part shows something called cerebrospinous fluid. I learn that when birds breathe, the air goes into their bones as well as their lungs and that’s what makes them so light. I must’ve been talking to myself because Samantha comes over. ‘Why don’t you check the book out, Joe? Then you can take it with you,’ she says, smiling. The staff gets persecutory if I stay for too long because of a Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 35
| Short Story situation they and I had there in the past. It’s a public library and I am a part of the public, aren’t I? Aren’t I? But I’m ready to go anyway, so I don’t push it.
he willow tree is five blocks from the library. I hold the Avian Physiology for Veterinary Students book in my right arm and carry my briefcase with the left. It’s a nice day out, one of those days when the sun is yellow and warm, and even the dirt doesn’t look quite as dirty. It puts a spring in my step. Unlike the trees planted in circles of dirt in the sidewalk, the willow grew tall on a piece of yard before there was a sidewalk. There was probably a real house here once, with a porch and its own roof, but now it’s just another low rent high rise. I’ve never been inside a
feathers fall off. I try not to think it’s a bad omen. I stick two strips of duct tape to the battery for later, tearing the duct tape carefully so it has nice, straight edges. I peel away the layers of the photograph again, to locate Derek’s heart. When I have memorized it, I put the book back in my briefcase for safekeeping. I tape the wires on Derek’s chest over the place where his heart should be. The duct tape doesn’t stick well to the feathers, so I have to jiggle the wires and the batteries until they’re balanced and will stay put. Now I say the words. I say the words that are right for this sparrow, Derek, and this place, today, here, in the willow circle. You could ask why it’s important to say the right words, given the science
[I tape the wires on Derek’s chest over the place where his heart should be] house, only apartments. The willow’s branches hang down all the way to the ground. When I’m inside the branches, even though I’m still in the city, I feel like I’m inside nature. The best part is that no one from the outside can see in. I do all my science experiments here. First, I take out the squirrel and place him far away from the tree trunk on the other side where his smell won’t bother me so much. Then, I unwrap Derek, from the grocery sack. I accidentally drop him, and a few of his 36 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
of the electricity. It’s the way the words are connected that matters. My ideas and the words are connected through me, by the electricity in my brain. And because I am alive and in nature, I am also connected to the bird, the same as he is to me. Sometimes it’s stronger than other times, like the moon phases and the tides. At any rate, they come to me, the words. I couldn’t stop them coming if I wanted. I hear them in my head and I speak them as I hear them. ‘Spurred by a bird in a heartbeat,
catching. Spinous liquidity. Scientific nature plus altruistic parade equals the absolute absence of negativity.’ Then, and this is the part I didn’t try with the squirrel, I move the light switch to On. Boom, comes the sound. Boom. Ping, whizz. It worked! It worked, I think! But as soon as I think this, I know in my heart, the Boom was from outside the tree. Gunshot. I look out from the willow branches. The black Beemer screeches around the corner chasing Streak down the middle of the street. A gun barrel the size of a sink pipe sticks out of the passenger side window. I pick up my briefcase, feeling weird and light as a sparrow. I step out from the tree canopy. Streak angles his running towards me and the tree. ‘Streak? In here! You’ll be safer in here.’ I move aside the branches. Streak runs up, grabs me, drags me away from the tree, and spins me around between him and the car. He squeezes me so tight the edges of the briefcase dig into my ribs. ‘Streak! Let me go! This is Joe. From school. Remember? Let go of me!’ He doesn’t answer and he doesn’t let go, and he’s pretty strong for being such a skinny guy. But suddenly I’m stronger. I don’t want to do it but I also don’t want to be shot. I turn him around, just as we hear Boom Racket Boom Thud. Streak relaxes his hold and goes limp which surprises me and I fall backwards.
His blood is all over me and he’s right on top of me. I can tell when his heart stops because the blood stops pulsing, the heart stops thump-thumping, just the way the sparrow’s stopped. I don’t notice anything about the 21 grams and I can’t see his face to know whether his eyes are closed or open. #49. There can be lots of pulsing crimson red blood. #50. When you are near it, you can’t stop thinking about it. #51. It makes you feel sick to your stomach #52. It makes you want to run away from it. Farther than you have ever travelled, but it is too heavy and you can’t. We stay that way until the ambulance arrives.
n the hospital, Jimbo shows me the bullet hole in the front side of my briefcase. ‘Guess it wasn’t your time to go.’ Jimbo says. He says I was brave and quick thinking. He says anyone in my position would save himself. It’s instinct. Self preservation. ‘It’s wrecked,’ I say. ‘My gift from Aunt Margie. It’s ruined.’ The library book is wrecked, too. It has real blood on it now instead of just pictures. Jimbo says, under the circumstances, the library won’t charge for it.
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went home from the hospital after only one night. Then, the next day, it wasn’t the right day for it. It wasn’t the right day for a week and I stayed inside and watched TV. Then, it was the right day for it, and I went back to the willow tree to check on Derek. He was gone. The batteries, the switch, and the wires were still there. And so, I have proof that it worked, and Derek flew away after he came back to life. I’m keeping it secret. It’s worldshattering stuff. It occurs to me that I could use it on Streak, but then I think he’s been dead too long, like the squirrel. It occurs to me that I could sell my invention and make a fortune and Jimbo wouldn’t have to work anymore. This is tempting, but I’m not in it for the money. I’ve been checking all the sparrows I can find to see if any of them are Derek. I’ll recognize him by his messy skull feathers. I’ve been frequenting the shoe store in case he tries to go back there, ignoring the clerk who has been staring at me over his crossed arms and big gut in his most unpleasant manner. It’s crystal clear now that my next step is to expand my experiment to other animals. Bigger animals. Maybe another squirrel, or a pigeon. Maybe a rat. I’m worried, though, that the Streak incident may have affected things. It seems possible that part of the right conditions involved the gunshots, the 21 grams of Streak’s leaving him at the same time the sparrow was ready, and the right words. 38 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
But this is highly complicated science and I’m not sure I have it right. At least, and I realize this is no small thing given the significance of what I am talking about, but, at the very least, I saved the bird. There is no way to know about anything else without trying, so I’ll have to proceed with my experimentation and not let my thoughts get tangled. The right words will still come to me at the right time, I’m almost certain. Then, I will keep the equipment ready for when Jimbo dies, and the thought of it won’t make me so depressed.
Katherine Christensen’s poetry has been published in the new literary journal, Vanilla, and Stanford University’s literary journal, Sequoia, where she also studied Creative Writing. She is currently enrolled in Stanford’s Creative Writing Certificate Program, an online program of study, and is working on a speculative fiction novel for young adults. This is her first published story.
Photography by Nora Gombos
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Doll Christina Thatcher She learned to move, mostly, when he moved her. He stretched her limbs around him in the mornings, thrust himself inside, and left her sticky before he went out to win the two of them some bread. You owe me that much, he would say, if she ever sighed in protest. When he left she began her other duties—picking up his soiled clothes, piece by piece, soaking stubborn saucepans, dusting makeup wherever things had started to go red or purple— he kept the extended list of these expectations on the fridge. She was expected to keep his life meticulous, and in return, when she did this well, he stretched, folded, and crumpled her less. Most evenings she would wait for him, sitting rigid on the kitchen chair, in the clothes he had chosen for her—Mondays meant the navy dress with white daisies, Tuesdays meant the ivory pull-over with pink and yellow primroses, Wednesdays meant the pale green skirt with hyacinth. Women are the true flowers of the earth, he once told her, brushing his index finger along the side of her cheek. She knew that he still frequently stuck his nose and suckedMagazine in the balmy of other flowers. 40 | Inkspill | Issuescent 6
On occasion he would come home late from work and she would be alone. This time was unaccounted for. If it was summer, and she was sure, she would walk silently into their back garden, pause, and then, slip discreetly out of her assigned dress and polished shoes. She would take long strides and spread her toes through thick grass and dandelions until she reached the tree line. And, by the honeysuckle shrubs she would fleetingly take her muscles, limbs, and posture back as her own. There, she would clasp the delicate blossoms between her fingers, pull out the centers, and suck their sweet nectar, savoring something free from the earth that he had never touched.
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| Short Story
Dandelion Christina Thatcher
hen asked by an acquaintance in a dingy coffee shop years later what her earliest memory was, Ella said that it was dandelions. She remembered standing tip-toed on a broad wooden stool over the stove next to her grandmother, plucking the heads off dandelions and throwing them into a small pot of boiling water. With each one she would giggle and sing-song the line she’d heard from the freckled girl down the lane, Mama had a baby and her head popped off, as she tucked her thumb under the head of the flower, snapped, and watched it fall into the pot. ‘How old were you?’ Brent asked, lightly twisting his cigarette into a cracked ashtray on the edge of the table. 42 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
‘I’m not sure.’ She wasn’t sure of her age, that was true, but she was sure of other things: that the dandelions were fresh, that they smelt like damp grass, that the stems were sticky, that the yellow flowering part, the crown, was only slightly smaller than her tiny palm at the time. ‘Why were you boiling them?’ ‘We were making syrup,’ she said, ‘dandelion syrup.’ ‘Ah,’ Brent sighed, leaning back in his chair, ‘of course.’ He sat for a moment before cupping and lighting the new cigarette housed between his lips. He sucked in slowly. His motions, like his questions, were apathetic. Even when surprised or
delighted he managed to look underto anyone anymore. whelmed. He told her he was paid to ‘Well then, let me buy you a drink. write articles for The Thorn, one of You’ve been through hell.’ Mississippi’s hard-cutting liberal papers. ‘No thanks,’ she said, sliding her ‘Journalists are in a constant state of hand around the small glass of water in pessimistic discovery. They seek out front of her, ‘I don’t drink.’ what is significant in the world but don’t Brent sat back, raised his eyebrows hold their breath that it means anything.’ slightly, and let out a sighing breath that This first meeting had perplexed hollowed his cheeks. ‘He sure fucked you Ella. It had been four years since she up good didn’t he?’ had been left on her own, but she still Ella sat quietly while Brent casually had problems adjusting. She was sitting slipped a cigarette out of his pocket, ‘I alone in the local bar, guess you don’t want The Mockingbird, with of these either, [she had not quite gotten one a glass of tap water. She huh?’ used to being recognized. was the sponge in the Ella shook her head. She did not like the room, watching other ‘Damn’ he said, as people drink and laugh attention, did not want to he cupped and lit one and talk about the hot tell her story to anyone for himself. Charlton summer. The People’s reactions anymore] interviews had stopped, didn’t bother her as but people still recogmuch anymore. When nized her, compared the picture of her the papers first published their story in their local paper to her real life face. and her photo, she’d received knocks on Brent recognized her; news gets around her door at all hours of the day from in a small town, he reminded her later. neighbors who wanted to express their He walked across the bar, pulled out the sympathy, horror, or outrage—outrage heavy wooden chair directly in her eye came mainly from the angry woman line and sat down, who ran the domestic abuse center down ‘You that girl from the paper? Ella Mulberry Street. Some wanted to share Keane?’ he asked her, holding a Stout in their own stories because they believed one hand while the other fished around Ella could relate. Other people stopped for a cigarette in the front pocket of his her in the street, or, like Brent, asked her cotton shirt. voyeuristic questions. ‘What did your ‘Yes.’ Ella answered. She said it firmly Mother look like when you found her?’ because she was indeed that girl, even was the most popular of those types of though she had not quite gotten used to questions; Brent asked this one as soon being recognized. She did not like the as he’d finished his first Stout, before attention, did not want to tell her story starting his third cigarette. Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 43
| Short Story But, what people mainly asked her was if she saw it coming. If her childhood was just a real life foreshadowing of the future. She always answered ‘No.’ Her response was not hollow exactly, but there was no sadness in it. Her childhood was not a precursor; there was nothing painful about it. She could pluck pleasant memories out of her mind easily; she didn’t have to dig for them. She remembered how blueberries and blackberries stained her hands and mouth dark colors in the summer. And how, when she asked her mother if they could make butter out of butter cups, she said ‘sure’ and smiled. Ella remembered how thin stalks of clover got stuck between her toes when she played pirate in the back yard, just before things starting turning autumn. She could also easily recall the way the scent of the fir trees mixed with the smell of the wood burning stove in the winter.
[Her childhood was sensory and simple, the way every childhood should be]
Her childhood was sensory and simple, the way every childhood should be. ‘So, what do you think made him snap then? What was the straw that broke his back?’ Brent asked in the coffee shop, his mouth hidden behind his second double latte. He gave up pints 44 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
the year after they met — ‘that stuff brought me down’ — and took up coffee because it looked better with Camels and gave him enough energy to care about his job. ‘I’m not sure why, but I think it was the last day we went out rowing on the lake.’ Just a few months before her fourteenth birthday, Ella could remember walking to the lake with her father. It was a lazy Sunday ritual; they’d cut through the field behind the back of their house with the canoe he’d helped her make for a fifth grade project on ‘wood knowledge.’ They had always loved walking by the lake before then, so they researched how to build a canoe together to increase their time near and on the water. She sanded the wood with her small hands while he widdled out the oars. Her father became handy with tools then; he had a good swing and rhythm. Once the canoe was smooth and ready, they went out rowing together, and had rowed every week since then, for the last five years. There were only a few exceptions: when they were on vacation in Cape May, when her father was too tired from work at the steel press, or when he had had too much ale to drink the night before. But, of all the Sundays, the last was the one Ella remembered the most. She and her father had been quieter than usual that day on the lake. The water was still and Ella remembered dipping the tips of her fingers into it up to the
first line on the inside. She dipped them in and out, in and out, to see how long it would take them to prune. Her father had told her that they wouldn’t go wrinkled unless she held them under water, submerged them like in a bath, but she didn’t believe him. Her father moved the oars slowly, with purpose, as they began heading back to shore. He looked at her more intently than usual, and just before they reached the pebbled land he told her that the tide had changed. He said the lake was going to empty out and they probably couldn’t row any more. ‘What do you mean the tide has changed? Lakes don’t have tides.’ Ella said, turning to watch the water stream behind her dipped finger tips as her father rowed. ‘All water is connected to the ocean. All of it has a tide.’ Her father responded in a quiet, believable way. ‘Not all water,’ Ella retorted. ‘What about tap water, toilet water, the water in our bodies? None of that has a tide.’ ‘Yes it does. All of it is moving, capable of change, capable of staying clean or becoming dirty. The tide of this lake has changed; it was full of life, just below the surface. The life has gone now. Do you see any fish? There are no fish. There will be no more fish or plants or turtles. The lake will empty.’ Ella remembered pondering this as they slid the canoe back onto the shore. They walked back, for the first time ever, in silence. She didn’t know why he had said what he had said and why they were
quiet on the way home. His voice was normally warm, twirling up and down around his words in a lively, loving way. But that day his sound turned suddenly; it was flat and cold. There was something sinister in it, something calculating. She did not know what it all meant then, but she did know that what he’d said with his new voice made the stray hairs on her body tingle and stand up on their own. ‘So, did the lake empty?’ Brent asked, staring into his stained coffee mug. ‘Yes,’ Ella said, ‘it emptied out all over our living room floor.’ Christina Thatcher holds an MA in Creative Writing from Cardiff University. Her poetry has been published in The London Magazine and the Neon Literary Magazine. She is currently working on her first collection of short stories and attempting to order her latest poems into a respectable chapbook. Follow Christina @writetoempower
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The Worst Despair is Trust Gerard Beirne Bent over a plate of runny eggs before he passed from lust/the woman with unshaven legs and all, God help us, lining up to see his grave/we think we have it made/Let me put it thus/I can’t precisely say what it is I have in mind/ but be kind to those who have gone before us/they have given us the thoughts we never think to share/the worst despair is trust/Behave/But first the woman must return his gaze and justify the gracious tip he laid upon the countertop/this has to stop/ instead he wipes the yolk up with his bread/we watch him leave/it is certain he is walking to his death/if this was all there was, we too could soon depart/ but take heart/you haven’t heard the last of us just yet/
Gerard Beirne was born in Ireland and has lived in Canada for over thirteen years. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. He is a past recipient of The Sunday Tribune/Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year award. His two published poetry collections are Digging My Own Grave and Games of Chance: A Gambler’s Manual. His novel The Eskimo in the Net was shortlisted for the prestigious Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award 2004. His most recent novel Turtle was published by Oberon Press, 2009. His short story Sightings of Bono was adapted into a short film featuring Bono (U2) by Parallel Productions, Ireland in 2001 and released on DVD in 2004.
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Armstrong JW Mark Thatâ€™s one, compressing boot grid gray tangential powder Small step, packed commissioned paw, Pataskalaâ€™s own, initial print compressing dust. black orbit bruised foot signature. For man squash ball one giant leap Dominion dark for mankind squashed By silver craft set down he claims A mozzarella sphere white orb On top the moon, away in space Five digits pressed assert a world Compacting dust the cosmos claimed.
JW Mark is a poet living in Akron, Ohio. Among the publications to include his work are The Ampersand Review, The Midwest Literary Magazine, and flashquake. He is the author of a novel, entitled Artifice, as well as a book of poems entitled Patched Collective. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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| Short Story
Just a Job Philip Roberts
erome’s hands passed over the four dust- covered business suits in his closet in order to grab the tattered overcoat. He stood before his bedroom mirror, looking himself over, preparing his appearance just as diligently as he had some ten years prior, when he might’ve worn a suit rather than rags. The garage door opened to a world of gray clouds and thin, white frost over everything. Jerome took in a deep breath of frigid air, offering his neighborhood a toothless grin, dentures left in a glass by his bed. Suburbia gave way to taller offices and upscale stores flying by his car. The streets and sidewalks weren’t very crowded, but then, Jerome had plenty of day ahead of him, and in temperatures as 48 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
cold as that daytoday, he wouldn’t need very many people to stop. His frown didn’t set in until he saw the man near a corner with a cardboard sign held above his head. Jerome drove too fast to get a good look at the man, seeing only the army fatigues and the thin arms. Jerome had staked out a parking spot about three blocks over a long time ago, aware people might give him a second glance if they saw him emerge from even a slightly upscale car. Once parked, he hurried from his vehicle, hoped hoping no one saw him get out of it. He’d had the cops called on him before for it, been confronted by two police officers who asked who the owner was, who he had stolen it from. Looking
back, he could laugh about it, but at the time, he hadn’t enjoyed the experience. A fierce wind that dried the eyes and cracked the lips blew all around him as he walked up to the man in fatigues, a plastic bucket in Jerome’s right hand and a cup partially full of change in his left. The situation brought with it risks, and Jerome tried to decide if he could take the man down if he needed to, not that he expected a fight. A fight brought attention, and most of the beggars knew what kind of attention to avoid. ‘Hey,’ Jerome called out, got the man’s attention, his sign lowered as he turned. Help a War Vet, Jerome could see written across the cardboard. ‘Yeah?’ The man’s face was as thin as the rest of him, teeth a bit disjointed, a cautious expression on him. He had a lazy right eye, the pupil rolling down to the right, snapping back with each blink, only to begin its roll again. Jerome took a step closer, into the man’s personal space, let the hostility seep into his face and his voice. ‘This is my corner. Been coming here a long time. Got no right to take that away from me.’ The vet glanced around him, and then down at his sign, perhaps waiting for it to provide him with some answer to his problems. ‘Just needed a few bucks, you know?’ Jerome took a step back, softened his expression; if he pushed too much the man might feel cornered, lash out in order to break free. ‘Hey, I understand, and you go just
down the street, or anywhere else, and you won’t hear a word from me. Just protecting my own. Figure you can understand that.’ The man half-smiled, shrugged, already turning from Jerome. ‘Sure. What do I know about the area, right?’ His competition gone, Jerome set down his bucket and took up a seat. He shook his cup; let the rattle of the coins catch the attention of those passing by. ‘Help a man down on his luck,’ he yelled, always smiling, acting as if them merely looking at him, acknowledging he existed, gave him some kind of pleasure.
[Jerome considered properly begging to be an art, a raw and powerful type of advertising]
Jerome considered properly begging to be an art, a raw and powerful type of advertising. Over fifteen years of marketing hadn’t gone to waste, he’d often muse. He didn’t think anyone in the area brought in as much as he could, everything from his appearance to the pitch of his voice designed to garner both attention and sympathy. He could almost feel the warmth of an office he had once called his own, staring through the large window encompassing the entire left side of the room, a wintry day no different from this one filling the city. He could see the man on the street waving his cup at the crowd,; a man Jerome had given two Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 49
| Short Story dollars to an hour prior. He stood and counted the amount of people dropping money into the cup, and then went around the office, asking others if they’d given anything, until an idea began to form, cemented and made reality by downsizing two years later. Now he watched the bundled- up women, fur collars encircling their faces, offering him an apologetic smile when they dropped money into his cup, but never lingering, as if being around him for any longer might cause them harm; he saw sharply dressed business men no different from who he had once been, on their lunch breaks, rarely looking over even as they occasionally gave him money, moving on with their lives, almost unaware they’d given him anything at all, the action one of instinct rather than thought. Now and then the out- of- place middle class couples would see him, just as out of their element as he appeared to be, and while they certainly had the least money to give, they always offered the most, perhaps more capable of appreciating the pain of poverty, not that Jerome honestly knew it himself. Each time a few bills began to fill his cup he quickly pocketed them. No sense letting people see a full cup. ‘Thank you so much,’ he said when money fell into his cup, made sure to shout out his thanks, to let all those who hadn’t handed him anything hear his gratitude for those who had. The cold days offered fewer people on the streets, but those who did venture 50 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
out into the world were more willing to offer him money. After the first hour Jerome didn’t really notice the cold anymore. Beneath his worn, ratty outer shell, he had two pairs of long underwear underneath. Not far down the street Jerome could still see his earlier competition. The man waved his sign at the passing cars, unaware of all the mistakes he made. Jerome had never been a particular fan of the sign wavers as it was, the message on them rarely believable enough to make a person care. Anyone could say they’d been to war. Enough wars to go around for any age, after all, he thought. ‘Anything you can offer,’ he shouted, used himself as his selling point, and not some poorly scrawled message on a dirty piece of cardboard. Most days he worked seven hours or so, the sun gone and the streetlights awake by the time he left. Begging at night never yielded very good results. The sun was just beginning to sink, most of the business crowd on their way home, when Jerome saw a heavyset man walking up to him. Instinct told him about thethat trouble was coming his way. A deep scowl dug into the man’s pudgy cheeks. ‘What’s your name?,’ the man asked, looming over the seated Jerome. People came along from time to time who hated beggars for whatever reasons they had. Jerome had dealt with them before, and if he had to take a beating, he would. Fighting back wouldn’t do.
‘Name’s Jerome, friend. What might yours be?’ ‘Jake Eismont. I want you to remember that name. I’ll make sure you remember it. Get up.’ Jerome could see a few people down the street, but they kept their distance, or chose to ignore Jake’s yells. ‘Sorry if I’ve upset you, and I’ll be on my way if you want. Like to avoid any kind of trouble. Got enough problems already.’ He rose as he spoke, set his cup down on the ground beside his bucket, hands out in front. Jake kicked the discarded cup, sent change scattering across the sidewalk. He jabbed his finger at Jerome. ‘Doubt you remember, but I already gave you money. Gave you five bucks what,
two weeks ago, maybe.’ Jerome’s smile faltered. ‘I don’t even have a job, neither. Unemployment ran out two months ago. Could’ve used that five bucks, but hell, I see a guy on the street, I can relate, because maybe I’ll be joining him soon.’ ‘Look,’ Jerome tried to cut in, hands still out in front of him, as if Jake’s finger was a gun. ‘I’m-’ ‘I saw you in your car. How much it cost you? I’m barely able to keep mine running, and here I see you, someone I’m actually giving money to.’ The anger cast a deepening red on Jake’s face as he shoved Jerome into the wall of the store. ‘I’m sorry if I-’ Jerome began. ‘I don’t give a damn if you’re sorry,’ Jake screamed. His fist pulled back, face Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 51
| Short Story contorted like a rabid dog, Jerome the face of every misery this man had ever experienced. Both of their heads turned at the sound of a shout, at feet pounding on the pavement, Jake’s fist unclenching right before the war vet slammed into him. Jerome nearly went down with them, Jake’s fingers clinging just briefly to Jerome’s shirt, but he managed to pull free before Jake struck the ground. Jerome pulled closer to the wall, watched Jake push the vet off, give him a solid punch across the jaw. The vet didn’t fight back anymore, letting Jake hit him two more times before the siren shrieked to life, and the colored lights filled the area. The tremor of fear overtaking Jake told Jerome plenty about the man, and figured his temper had gotten him into trouble in the past. Two officers hurried up to them while the vet pulled himself up. ‘What’s going on?’ one of the officers asked them. Jake pointed at Jerome. ‘He isn’t really a bum. I saw him. He’s just lying to everyone.’ ‘Man started hitting us,’ the vet said. One of the officers turned to Jake, said, ‘That true, Jake?’ The history between the two men was obvious in the man’s stern eyes and Jake’s nervous body language. ‘He slammed into me first. I just protected myself.’ ‘Was going to hit my friend here,’ the vet said, thumb hooked towards Jerome. 52 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
‘He attack you?’ the officer asked. Jerome’s gaze jumped between all of them, lingering on Jake’s frightened eyes, mouth held tightly shut, waiting for his condemnation. But Jerome had believed Jake’s words, believed he wasn’t always such a violent man, just quick to be set off, and that he had given Jerome money with only the best intentions in mind. ‘We just had a disagreement. Things are fine now.’ ‘What about you?’ The officer said, turned towards the vet. He only shook his head dismissively. ‘I’m not pressing charges.’ ‘Get out of here, Jake,’ the officer said. Jake nodded, eyes lingering on Jerome, before he turned from all of them, trudging slowly away, hands thrust into his pockets and his head low. Both officers turned from the two supposed bums without a word and got back into their car. Jerome waited for them to leave before he turned to his benefactor. ‘What’s your name,’ he asked. ‘Brian.’ ‘Thanks… for helping me.’ He nodded, lazy eye dropping downward. ‘Like to help if I can.’ He turned from Jerome, face down to protect against an oncoming gust of wind. ‘Where are you going?’ He paused, glanced back at Jerome, expression empty. ‘Shelter about five blocks up. I’d invite you, but figured you had better places to go and all.’ Jerome reached into his pocket, pulled loose a twenty he’d been lucky enough get, and waved it at Brian. ‘Want
Brian’s eyes didn’t even lower to the bill. ‘Got enough for food today. All I hoped to get. Keep it.’ He left in silence. Jerome leaned back against the wall until he stood alone, his bucket and discarded cup on the sidewalk. Absently he picked them up before heading back to his car, winced at the sting of pain when his chapped lip cracked open, sent a thin stream of blood into his mouth.
[He earned his money no
different than he had in an office building. He just sold people the ability to feel good about themselves] The car sheltered him from the worst of the wind. In his headlights he could see a few swirling flakes of snow foretelling more to come. ‘Take tomorrow off,’ he whispered. He’d heard about a snowstorm brewing, imagined Brian out there on the corner, maybe Jerome’s corner, sign above his head, feet covered in snow. Couldn’t blame himself because someone else wasn’t as good of a salesman or businessman, he thought. He earned his money no different than he had in an office building. He just sold people the ability to feel good about themselves, to feel they were helping, and Jerome figured that was as important
as any other product in the world. He drove two blocks before stopping at a red light. To his left he saw a man sitting on a duffel bag, sign in hand reading Trying to Get Home, Need Money for Food. Soon as his window rolled down and the wind blew snow into his car Jerome saw the man get up, hurry over. He held out the twenty Brian hadn’t taken. ‘Praise the Lord, and thank you for your kindness, sir,’ the man said, face full of hair, probably in his mid-thirties. ‘You really trying to get home?’ Jerome asked him. The man paused, took Jerome in, but didn’t answer, and before he could the light turned green. ‘Doesn’t matter,’ Jerome said, window rolling up as he drove on, leaving the man growing smaller in the rearview mirror. It’s a good service, he thought, an important service, gaining a bit of happiness, a good feeling achieved only through helping others. Jerome wished he could take advantage of the service himself without wondering if a man like him stood on the other side, offering only a fake smile as he pocketed Jerome’s attempt at charity. Philip Roberts lives in Nashua, New Hampshire and holds a degree in Creative Writing and a Masters in Education. More information on his works can be found at www.philipmroberts.com.
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How to Attract a Readership by Focusing Your Writing Blog
Matching your writing motives to reader incentives
f youâ€™re reading this electronic copy of Inkspill Magazine it implies two things. Firstly, that you are fairly techsavvy as you are probably either reading this on your computer or on your iPad. Secondly, that you are interested in creative writing, and are perhaps a writer yourself. The modern tech-savvy writer is likely to be aware that â€˜creating an online presenceâ€™* is a smart marketing move, but is also likely
to enjoy developing their online presence for the sheer fun of writing and connecting online. Therefore it is likely that many of you have a writing blog.
*i.e. taking advantage of developing web-based social media in order to become publically visible, hopefully creating a trustworthy and authoritative persona, and therefore leading to the sales of books or related writing services
However, simply being a writer and having a blog does not automatically mean you have a successful writer’s blog. Sure, success means different things to different people. In the context of this article, success means that your blog is focused and streamlined enough for it to serve its intended purpose. If you want your blog to be just a place for you to vent, then I wouldn’t worry about these tips. But if you want your blog to attract a loyal readership – that is, not just a meaningless flow of traffic produced by good SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and guerrilla-marketing, but a meaningful number of people who admire and connect with your work – then the following ideas might help you develop that. Attracting loyal readers is the first stage of success. What you decide to communicate to those readers is up to you. But without a focused idea on what you want to communicate, you are unlikely to build a following of readers.
Deciding your blog’s focus
ou have to give your readers a clear incentive for coming to your blog. What information are you sharing with them? What can they learn from your posts? If your focus is too lax, your readership will be diluted. In order to help you develop your focus, you must think what you want to get out of your blog. Analyse your motives for blogging, and then turn that statement around into a focus for your readership. It’s possible
that your motives and focus will fall into one of three categories.
Common Types of Writing Blogs: 1. Writing about writing As writers, we are interested in the craft of writing. You might use your blog to talk about your weekly word counts, your methods for writing, book reviews and anything else related to writing itself. This type of blog will attract other writers. This is good if you want to discuss writing and develop ideas about technique and share motivation. It’s not so good if you want to promote your fiction books through your blog. Just because you have attracted a number of writers to your blog, it doesn’t mean they share the same taste in books as you, and so are unlikely to buy your products. If that is your motivation, you might want to re-think the focus of your blog. 2. Writing about subject matter This technique is more likely to attract potential readers (as opposed to writers) to your blog. If you are a fantasy writer and you write about all things fantasyrelated, rather than all things writingrelated, you are likely to attract people who will be interested in not only the things you write about on your blog, but the writing you are selling, too. This is a good focus to have if your goal is to promote and sell your writing – whether that is fiction, non-fiction, traditionally published or self-published. Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 57
| Article 3. Writing about services Perhaps you offer writing services, such as copy writing, ghost writing, business writing, etc. Or perhaps you offer editing or proofreading services. If the goal of your blog is to bring you clients, you must attract them by showcasing your knowledge of the services you offer. Showcase past work, or offer solutions to editorial problems (e.g. ‘How to Correctly Use the Semicolon’) and offer insightful discussions into your industry. So those are the three most common types of writers’ blogs, in my opinion. Blogging about writing is perhaps the most common. Many ‘how to’ guides suggest that writers should write about their subject matter in order to attract readers, but I think that writing about writing is equally valuable, for a different reason.
Turning your personal motives into an incentive for your readers
s mentioned previously, your personal motives for writing your blog and your readers’ incentives for reading your blog have to maintain a sense of balance, otherwise you’ll essentially just be typing into a black hole. Here’s how you might turn your blogging motives into a focus for your readers:
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A) Motive: I want to discuss and develop the craft of writing through my blog. Focus: My blog offers discussion and inspiration on the craft of writing to other writers. B) Motive: I want to promote and sell my books. Focus: My blog offers information and insights into the genre or subject I am writing about, which will be of interest to my potential novel readers. C) Motive: I want to promote my writing-related services. Focus: My blog offers interesting insights into my industry and solutions to problems related to the services I’m supplying, showcasing my skills and authority to potential clients. Of course, these are very broad statements and are intended to provide you with an overall focus in your mind. You can also merge these statements – but be careful not to dilute your focus. For example, perhaps you want to write about writing, but instead of doing it in order to share your thoughts, offer discussions and inspirations, you’re main goal is to sell non-fiction books on the craft of writing, then you can mix the first motive with the second focus.
Standing out from the crowd
n order to set your blog apart from other similar blogs, you might want to come up with an even more focused statement of intent. Let’s take a look at a real life example. The very successful blog Write to Done offers this statement:
‘Write to Done is a place where we can all grow as writers. It’s like a comfortable roadside inn on the writer’s path where we can find companionship, encouragement, and inspiration to become the brilliant writer hidden within!’ The obvious focus of this blog fits in with Focus A: offering discussion and inspiration on the craft of writing to other writers. However, the blog has an even tighter focus that this. It compares itself to a comfortable roadside inn and concentrates on companionship and growth. Therefore it will appeal to a more focused readership, those who are looking for a non-threatening environment to develop their writing, where support plays an important role. This blog offers a much different tone than, say, a boot-camp style blogging community, or a blog that focuses on the academic study of creative writing. Because of this, it will attract a more solid readership. Sarah Salway’s author blog acts as a showcase for her work, but she also adds extra value for her readers. Not only does she draw readers to her blog that
might want to find out more about her writing, but her blog’s tag-line states that she offers ‘handmade stories and seeds of inspiration’. She goes on to focus this idea in her sidebar:
‘This blog is her writing journal, to be filled with small stories, prompts, and ideas, as well as inspiring people and things.’ So not only is Sarah’s blog a showcase for her work, she is also encouraging a creative and inspirational atmosphere for her readers, who she anticipates to be other writers who are interested in her writing life. This gives her readers an added incentive to return to her blog.
Where to use your statements of focus
nce you’ve decided on your blog’s intent and focus, it is important to keep it in mind as you develop your blog, but it is also important to share it with your readers so that the moment they arrive at your online home, they are aware of the benefits of staying a while and taking a look around. Your statement of intent should appear in three different places: 1. Your blog’s subtitle. This can be a very broad statement, one that portrays instantly the main focus of your blog. Write to Done uses ‘unmissable articles Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6 | 59
| Article on writing’. It shows that its broad focus is on sharing information about the craft of writing. 2. Your blog’s sidebar. This is optional, but you might want to develop your blog’s statement to appear in your sidebar. This is where you can offer a little more insight. 3. Your ‘About’ page. Every blog should have an ‘About’ page. Statistics show that it is one of the most visited pages on a blog. Your about page is not just a place to put information about you, but it should be used as a place that goes into more detail about the purpose of your blog. Here, you can go into as much detail as you like about the focus and intention of your blog. You can mention your personal motivations for writing is, as well as why your readers should read it. It’s up to you how much you want to say.
[streamline your posts, create a sense of coherency, and help attract a following of loyal readers]
Spending some time developing your blog’s focus will be one of the best things you can do for your writing blog. It will streamline your posts, create a sense of coherency, and help you attract a following of loyal readers. Of course, your focus alone won’t build your blogging empire – there is a lot more work to be done on top of that – but it gives you a solid foundation. Sources: http://www.sarahsalway.net/ http://writetodone.com/ 60 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 6
Sophie Playle is the editor of Inkspill Magazine. She has an MA in Creative Writing and works in the publishing industry.
Write for Us
| Short Story
Fiction: 750-3000 words We want to see fiction that pushes the boundaries. We want to see successful literary experimentations. We slant towards a more literary style, but would love to see more well written genre (horror, sci-fi, fantasy) writing. Poetry: 3-50 lines Modern, experimentational, or classic. Make every word count. Think about structure and rhythm. We want to read poems that make us see the world differently, twist our guts with subtle emotional impact, and are written with talent and flare. Art/Photography: We want to see interesting, thought-provoking, highly aesthetic artwork and photography to appear inside the magazine and on the cover. Cartoons/Comics: Do you want to feature in one or more issues of the magazine with an amusing cartoon/comic? Send us examples of your work. Must fit with the theme of the magazine (i.e. be about creativity or literature). Compensation: All contributors will be sent a PDF copy of the magazine. For each issue, one contributor will receive the ‘Editor’s Choice’ award, for which we pay £10. Terms and Agreements: We ask for first world electronic rights, with the permission to archive the work indefinitely via the e-version of the magazine. We do not want previously published work. If Inkspill Magazine closes down, all rights revert back to the author. All copyright remains with the author.
Please visit the website for more information and details on how to submit. www.inkspillmagazine.com