Is entertaining a friend at her home when there is a knock at the door. It turns out to be a delivery: her latest book is back from the printers. The friend, far younger than she is and not particularly bright, is anxious to get the box open. He keeps exclaiming at the size of the package and all the books that there must be inside. The great writer is reluctant to open the box as she’d much rather go through the book later, when she’s alone. The delivery of a new book from the printers is an event filled with trepidation: she has learned over time that mistakes are inevitable. One hopes that they will be minor – the odd missed comma or extra space between words – but occasionally there is a gross, unpardonable error that will inevitably sour the relationship between herself and the publisher, making things especially awkward when the editor is a friend, as is the case in this instance. Her companion, however, begs and pleads like a child trying to winkle an early Christmas present from his parents, and eventually the great writer gives in. He gleefully plunges towards the box and tears at it feverishly, emitting a little squeal as the first book emerges from the bubble wrap. After regarding it with a strangely ravenous look in his eyes, he passes the book to the writer and delves back into the box. His groan of disappointment confirms her worst fears:
“What is it?”
“They’ve made a mistake!”
“They’re all the same book!”
we used to sing “adap- adaptation…
changes in the body to fit a location”
to remember why we can’t breathe
underwater but your fish can.
in the playground, all our bodies made tender
by play, by fingers interlocked, and your bite,
your breathmarks on my wristbone,
you wished away offences caused when
you threatened to tell everyone about me
stealing your crisps. now I mend myself
for a different you. cast my limbs just so that
I might fit more comfortably under your arm,
in the palm of a friend, when I am just so
small, hooked on and impossibly breathless,
sprouting gills in the guilt of coming to know
the impossibility of my environment.
“You won’t always have this appetite.” Jane McKie
Wooing her is like licking
an electric fence, all wet hunger and idiot shock.
You won’t always want this trouble.
You won’t always have this appetite.
You won’t always write DMs and then
delete, and then refresh. You won’t always insist
on getting your chin wet. This story stretches
only as far as browsing the cost of a flight.
Ask lightning, an easier trip, a gentler blast
than a nude at midnight.
Girls are taught to make
I am built for sating, packet-mix, preheated,
impatient. I am buttered peaches,
I am the wide field of expectation, I am the calm cow
who asks how the new fence tastes, and I am proof
that you might always have that appetite.
Maybe on the first
day of first grade,
before we had money
and all that came with it,
before there were hand marks
all over both of us,
before we stumbled
like blind men without dogs,
it would be just me
standing behind you
in the class picture,
two of my fingers
making bunny ears
above your head
small but sure as soldiers,
it’s you, it’s going to be you.
I start today
The wine stain
On my mouth
My mother taught me to eke
out inherent goodness in others, even
if amounting to only a few drops and shower
them with waterfalls of praise, to behave
with books as with babies,
gently. I can now command reams of paper into to-
do lists that efficiently crumple
she told me, wound practical
people less. My mother taught me that the
kindest kind of kindness
is always spontaneous and unremembered,
but sings as silence would when
it comes back; I see the poetry
in her eyes when she hears it. My mother
taught me to exploit
discounts, fresh fruits and her
superlative cooking; my stomach grudges
being away as much as I do, but grudges,
like life, are not permanent she said.
Love is. Loving is.
Like oxygen, her love is life-sustaining but invisible,
My mother never taught me love, I
understood it the moment she cradled
me in her arms.
in a sticky mass.
we stumble on into a
round, circular night.
It’s a perversion of the bestest kind.
I open my mouth, with words
ready to defile the host.
But derision is an ache in my gut, just where I feel you the most.
A fine wind lands headfirst onto the solitary candle, and so I lose your face and your aquiline nose.
I weep up a storm cloud, spilling out on the asphalt.
I am an urban pomegranate.
I take to the Underground, just minutes before shutdown. I am here most of the year: a mole in search for a home.
Not much is awake yet.
The train snub-noses into the dawn
and the dawn shrugs. It’s not warm.
Polmont November. Geese.
The gummed rails’ murmur.
I tell you about the documentary
I watched, in which
some smart person sought out
The Scotrail lady.
You don’t know her,
under the buffer of your border
river, in London, where everything
is spoken in the dialect computer.
But I tell you
one woman gives us this day
our daily bread: incantation
of Coupar, Leuchars, Dundee,
Arbroath, Montrose. I know
she recited each calling point –
Crianlarich, where this train will divide –
a magic three times. In a list,
the penultimate stop,
and each journeys close:
– and Mallaig. Bathgate,
where this train terminates.
She said she did it years ago –
Glaswegian actress with a gas bill
to pay – but that travellers still
write letters to tell her of kinks
in the sequence at Dumfries, Tweedbank, Drem.
There’s no more dawn at Croy
than there was at Falkirk High. I say
the word dreich for you to learn,
but you’re sleeping: lean and braced
as though facing a galeforce wind.
But in your weird and moving dream –
cold shuck of glass at your temple
and the tea-trolley’s ankle-break whirr –
you’ll hear her cast the glamour
of our impending arrival.
One day I’ll write her a letter
myself: say I’m thankful
for journeys she’s guided me on:
change here for the bus link and services to –
travel in the rear two carriages…
At Glasgow Queen Street you wake,
and it’s like she’s still guardian angeling –
take all your personal belongings
with you – knowing you’re precious,
your skeleton carefully made.
Take good care, she says, on the station.
I am reading a book for work
and you are checking
the camping equipment,
the tin saucepans
nestled into each other,
plastic shapes of
spoon and fork.
A sleeping bag has a rip in it.
I am still reading.
You tell me there is a hole
and I tell you where the sewing kit is –
a rabble of threads, needles half in, half out
of packets, you are amused
by the show of how much I care, how
often I sew.
The next time I look up – you had gone quiet –
you are sewing the tear
with neat stitches
with each stitch I feel something rip a little
as I read, and you sew.
Soon you will nestle
the children into
I have a
Stella Hervey Birrell
As he waits for his turn
at a dingy barber’s shop
called ‘Lovely Saloon’,
he watches the road,
people moving up
An attractive girl, her left hand on her left ear,
looks directly at him
and exclaims, ‘Shut up!’
A young man, his left
hand holding his left ear:
smiles and smiles at no one.
A lone woman, her right hand on her left ear,
her face to the sky, asks, ‘But where?’
Another woman, her left hand on her left ear,
suddenly thumps the air: ‘Yahoo!’
A girl with long hair, her left hand on her left ear,
briskly nods at the ground.
A middle-aged man, his left hand clutching his left ear,
raises a finger,
and with eyes blazing,
twists his lips agitatedly.
Seeing these people,
he recalls two old
‘Do not talk to yourself
like a lunatic’
‘Do not mumble all alone like a sorcerer’.
either the maxims
have lost their relevance,
this is an age
of ear-clutching lunatics.
* Khasi tribe from Meghalaya, Northeast India.
Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih
Across her lips, dark
shiny locks interlock like
a venus flytrap.
Mixed girl microaggression
at multiracial family gatherings.
Mixed girl model America’s
melting pot. No hate crimes
if everyone melds into one.
Golden hues pronouncing
“This is your diverse America,
where we lose all identity
till our colors become one.”
One of them caught him on the leg, one of the birds with the razors attached, when they were released into the ring. At the time he thought nothing of it. Just a little nick. He’d put a plaster on it later. Not going to distract him from the thrill of the fight and the lure of the money. And in the thick of the action, among the cheering and jeering, the pushing and shoving of the crowd, he completely forgot the slight twinge in his calf. Ironically, it was his bird that did it; the one he had backed, the one that won big for him.
It was only later, when the crowd had dispersed and the adrenaline wore off, that he realised the extent of the damage. Someone applied a tourniquet, helped concoct a plausible cover story. They’d clear up after him, don’t worry. Just another bloodstain in the sawdust.
Someone dumped him in a lay-by, far enough away, where he counted his money and tried to persuade himself he was only shivering because it was three in the morning. He went over the details of the cover story in his head again and again, but by the time the ambulance arrived he was in no position to tell it.
Nick Lord Lancaster
He gave her his name
As much a gift as syphilis
A tattoo that nobody wants
Blood beading around pools of black ink.
She lost her sense of humour
He’s hidden it away between folded towels
In the airing cupboard.
He always apologised
When she snorted
As if laughter on the lips of a young woman
Was a bad smell at the dinner table.
In amongst the pots and pans
She’d left her dignity somewhere
Because now she acted out the scenes
‘Put it in there, then in there, then in there’
The ones that she came to recognise
After work on his computer screen.
She missed her allowance for two months
When they bought a new bed
That they’d spent three Sundays
Admiring in the Pine Warehouse
Searching for a conversation.
But when he said ‘this is where
We will make our family.’
Bile rose in her throat and stole her tongue
She spent three hours boiling the sheets
Hoping that she too could stay
Clean clean clean.
A snap of the glove
of the latest finger
With every thorn
like the new child
my pink face
crumples like paper.
this costume is mine
until I’m new.
I lay awake
on my sticky bed
with all my neighbours
I’d never known so many
shades of white.
‘Just do me a favour,’ he said
‘Check over my figures –
Something just won’t add up.’
I fix it
in three hours
and press my lips together.
My smile is as convincing as his
Toilet-bowl white teeth
Falling over his tongue
As he races to affix it to
A board member’s behind.
Is who I am now
It’s embedded in my genes
Maybe if I tried
I could read this report in Latin
But instead I make notes in shorthand
A revered ancient language.
‘Whose report is this?’ ejaculates Mr Board.
A nervous brown tongue flicks over
Those toilet-bowl teeth
I am silent.
‘It’s mine,’ he says.
Mr Board turns to me –
‘Just do me a favour’
‘Get that in the notes,’ he says.
I press my lips together.
In the doctor’s surgery
My lips are parted
For the third time this month
In his endless quest to fix my insides
By gently chipping away at them.
I hand him the chisel,
but he looks up, annoyed.
‘Just do me a favour,’ he says
‘And try to relax.’
I try to relax
but the phone keeps ringing.
My mother is calling
to check that I still cook her recipes.
He asks: ‘do we know what we are having for tea?’
We do not.
He comes behind me
and links his arms around my waist
face in my hair.
‘Just do me a favour.’
An unusually hot afternoon in mid- April. We are in the garden, amusing ourselves in companionable quiet. You are happiest with the earth, bedding fragrant French lavender into its new home. You work carefully, tucking the roots gently into the soil with your bare hands, contentedly sighing every now and again. I sit reading nearby, cocooned in the oval chair with its thick cream cushions. My dress is the colour of clementines, and glows in the hot golden sun. The pages of my book breathe on the breeze and I slip in and out of the words; one moment Nietzsche and the cries of the neighbours’ baby the next. Its wails rent the air suddenly, desperately, and my heart jolts. I listen instinctively, waiting for it to be soothed. The hush comes quickly, in soft Italian murmurs that my ears don’t understand. Softly, softly, lullaby, hush my love, you need not cry.
Where are you going with this?
Your passion is caught in your beard
and she holds her breath,
you might just take it from her.
She is crushing on you:
it is easy to do.
Hungry for the stars
and storminess and the pub at 2am,
she will man your barricade.
Having told her what it is,
say the word.
He plays by his own tune, an inventor,
investor in himself.
To others he might seem like one at odds with the world,
but there are no odds in his world,
nothing to gamble or lose.
He is the solo player of his own team,
bricklayer of his own foundation.
The harmonies of his life are rich and silent
scorching the ears of those that hear.
He sits alone but surrounded,
tinker of his craft,
weaving threads of agéd phrases,
polished relics, softening the edges.
He listens like a broken watch waiting for the minute,
but he is always second to those who shout or howl or cry.
A river runs through him.
Gushing the tide of humanity flows fast,
shaping those around him,
voicelessly moulding us into his works of art.
Today, I shat very well without noise and easily.
I shat thinking about you, and to be honest, I’m not ashamed anymore.
(Understand this: pretty boys also shit)
To think about intestines you have to understand that the blue ass of a Russian smells the same as a beautiful Peruvian soldier’s ass.
I get drunk and think about my stomach’s clay.
Then, I realize an overwhelming truth:
Each morning I shit my heart out in pieces.
Jorge Alejandro Vargas Prado
She wore the biggest sunglasses you’ve seen,
No sunshine in sight but that didn’t deter her,
She thought the tinted lenses made her look smart,
Shrouded in mystery,
a woman with no history, she would wear her Raybans forever,
whatever the weather.
The lights are on
and I am home,
Outside shines night
and birds sing silence.
The moment grows
and I cower.
and fuels the house.
like an erupting volcano.
Children don’t work like adults.
We have less to fear;
but ours is double concentrated.
The lights are on
but I’m not home,
Here, is not there
but here in
the sounds of the moment
we are here in.
Yet, here is also an echo
of a moment before
when here was not here
but there waiting
to be discovered by us
and defined in the borders
of our memories
as here, where
we heard the birds in the sky.
Here, is only here
to be heard by us.
For others to hear here
would make it there to us once more.
A billion years from now
or a billion billion
will these words resound
will these ancient feet print
Could it be that
Ridley Scott’s Alien exists
will this make sense and how
a billion years past
or a billion billion
will we be back now
or stuck in hell. What
will be remembered
The Duellists or (the) Duel?
I have no idea why, but I thought the Mona Lisa would taste better.
that have been asking,”
for all of Facebook
to read or ignore.
“My BMI has
dropped from 26
And if they did,
surely she could have
told them directly.
“It’s the look in their eyes when we hit them, people and animals, that bothers me most,” the engineer said.
I don’t miss those conversations with engineers and conductors about the horrors of their jobs.
I don’t miss the three-hour delays for suicides, accompanied by fists pounding on windows when passengers realized they would not make graduations, weddings, and job interviews.
I don’t miss the café car attendant, who sang over the intercom in a shrill voice his invitation to the café car.
I don’t miss the cat lady, who claimed she kept her meowing cat zipped in her jacket for emotional support.
I don’t miss passengers with croup-sounding coughs asking to borrow my phone.
I don’t miss the sunburned faces and liquor-smelling belches of people boarding after a day at the horse races.
I don’t miss the nosy tax guy, who seemed to take pleasure in hearing about our pay cuts and layoffs during the Great Recession.
I don’t miss those things on 785 northbound.
But I miss the happy-go-lucky dog, that for years ran full speed alongside us every day at the same place and time, like clockwork, trying to keep up with our train.
I wish I could stop missing that dog, and wondering about the look the engineer last saw in its eyes.