Monday, January 9, 2017

Poker with the Lads

See the fight last week? Oh yeah
Brutal, kid's got a chance - I like
The Mexican fella that should be
Some scrap who's ordering the
Pizza? That new girl in work? Fucking hell Barry'll be on it like gravy o’er a tattie! A flush beats a straight you
Daft twat - hand us a beer Stan!
Good man.

I don't know why
We are here or what we
Are supposed to be doing
But we are here and doing it
For some shared reason though
We don't know one another or
Really wish to and there's no
Money on the table.

Why do they play 
Poker for matches
In prison
On TV?

by Alex McMillan

Friday, December 23, 2016

Sunday Breakfast

The waitress, a smallish girl with heavy makeup, came with the menu to take my order. She dropped it and made to turn away. If she was familiar with me, she would know I place my orders immediately. I’m a regular here. 

“Please, wait. I am placing my order straight away.”

She had the figure of a runway model. I didn’t recognise her. I opened the menu and ordered Purr Double Breakfast.

“But, please, make it omelettes instead of eggs.”

“This is a standard menu, sir. It has to be eggs.”

I peered at the nametag on her blue polo shirt. 

“Kathie, please check with your chef. I’ve had it that way before here.”

“OK, sir. I will check and be back.”

She strode off. Cyndi Lauper crooned Time After Time from the speakers hidden in the ceiling. I shut my eyes to savour the richness of her voice. The waitress came back.

“I apologize. You can have it your way, sir.”

“It’s OK. With coffee and water. All to be served at the same time.” 

That instruction was important. I didn't like drinking coffee without eating something first. It churned my stomach.

“With brown or white sugar?” she asked.


“Cold or warm milk?”


She jotted on her order slip. 

“White or brown bread?”


“Butter or jam?”


She confirmed my order by running through her jottings and ending with “All to be served at once.”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Did you enjoy your meal, sir?”

“Yes,” I said, belching.

I flipped out a credit card. She asked shyly if I was tipping. I asked her to include a tip the exact value of my meal. She flinched. 

“Go ahead. I enjoyed your service.” 

“Thank you, sir.” 

“Pay by contactless ok?” I asked, casually.

She nodded. I waved the card over the POS terminal. A blip, and the transaction went through. I slipped the card in my pocket and strode to the door. Joy by Teddy Pendergrass blared from the ceiling. Kathie stood at the exit to see me out. She smiled and genuflected, “Thank you for coming.” 

I could afford to be that generous; it wasn’t my credit card. That would serve that wanka on the bus right.

by Ozimede Sunny Ekhalume

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Mockery of Tears

Grass, grown tall, cuts at his arms. He swipes back, but blade after blade they fight him, drawing lines of blood that serve only to feed the gasping soil. Poppies parade past him as he runs. Their stems erect, their heads tilted back, they watch him leap and fly, tearing through the endless green. 

A shout: Captain! Captain! The call, it twists around him, dizzying in its antiphony. Pulled forwards and then back by the words, he stumbles in confusion, then rights himself and continues to trample through the virgin field. Decapitating poppies as he passes, petals dance like the damned around him, fluttering to the ground to form a blood red pool. Black seeds scatter across the mass of petals, only to be crushed beneath the Captain’s feet as he pounds on and on. 

Again, there is the call. This time closer but he doesn’t hesitate. On he runs; faster and faster, until he trips. There is the sensation of falling, a velvet thud resounds as he hits the ground, then black. How long he lies there he isn’t sure, but when he opens his eyes those broken petals have fallen upon and around him. A reassuring blanket, they act as his own personal shroud, protecting him from what lies beyond. 

Men next to women and children; they reach out around him. Legs lean on heads. Torsos stretch out across arms. Innocents that beseech him; a saviour who has arrived too late. Gazing down, he takes in the single gunshot wound to each head, the stream of dried blood that lines each face in a mockery of tears. 

He crouches beside a young girl who clutches at a bed sheet as though to protect her. He strokes her cheek then wipes away that bloody tear. Beside her, a baby lies in his mother’s arms, his head buried between her small breasts so he won’t see the bullet coming. In death his mother rests her head on his, forevermore kissing his limp, greasy hair. 

“Captain, Captain!” The call is almost on top of him now and he no longer resists the cries of his men. 

“Here,” he shouts and within seconds he and his discovery are surrounded. Moments pass, then a young Private steps forward. As he reaches his arm down, the Captain notices a white flower attached to the young officer’s lapel. Anemone, he thinks; daughter of the wind. Extending his hand upwards, the Captain reaches past the proffered arm and instead touches the flower.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Lantern Festival, Qining, 1928.

With ribbons in her hair,
Quan went out to view the lights
and commemorate the dead.

In the cold, she called to a boy
whose face was a flame
in a bakery window.

They whispered together
a blasphemy, a dare:
we shall ride on yellow dragons
past the river.

Later she drew pictures
on peach-colored paper
while her mother spoke
of Chiang Kai-Shek.

The world was far from them,
but the lanterns swung
like faces and the dumplings

on the table steamed.
Each imagined love, each
the road, which ended at Lanzhou.

by Carl Boon

Friday, November 18, 2016


Amelia did not have the sort of mind that could compass the richness of Byzantium—the gold leaf halos encircling narrow, dark-eyed faces, the scent of dried roses, the black-skirted priests, all crushed together on a narrow strip of land that tied the dregs of Europe to the promise that was Asia.

Her own aesthetic had been shaped in a colder, harsher land. She worshipped in tiny chapels built from raw pine boards on free-flowing prairies far from any sea. No gold glinted behind her father’s pulpit. No saints were allowed within town limits.

On most days Amelia enjoyed her job, driving her chocolate-coloured truck, placing birthday presents wrapped in brown paper and fat Amazon parcels in the mailboxes that lined the county roads out of town. But she wasn’t having much fun this January day, not with the winter wind blowing waves of sleet across the prairie. By 4 PM she had to turn on her headlights. As she headed back to town, a swirl of snowflakes obscured her windshield. 

She slammed on her brakes, just missing the robed figure that was faintly visible in the growing dusk. Her headlights illuminated the Patriarch’s narrow face. He raised his right hand as if to push her truck away, or maybe just to bless her. When she cut off the engine and opened her door, he called something out in a deep bass voice. But it was all Greek to her. 

She was not the sort of person to meet a lost saint, an heir to Constantine himself, in a snowstorm on Rural Route 3.

Back when she was in Sunday school, her father had taught her to pray. But she had no words with which she could address this icon of a man. All she could do was stumble out of the cab of the truck and kneel down in the snow. She bowed her head, allowing him to place his ghostly hands on the ice crystals clinging to her hair.

by Frances Hay

Monday, November 7, 2016

a sad stretch on chromosome 11

blind from birth, she
could tell the difference
between the odor of chrysanthemums and tulips,
and remember her first whiff of both

she could identify
the scent of her brother
in a groping group
of sweaty brutes

she knew
her nose was her biographer
collecting memories, visions
her eyes could not

she studied biology
only to discover her compendium
of smells originated in a space infinitely
smaller than a fly's eye

a few molecules
devoted to identifying ham,
the rich smoky meat
of her first Easter

another clump to help her hold
the faint smell of perfume which lingered
in the room hours after
her mother passed

and who knew what atoms, what cells, what curse
of chemistry forced her to recall, most of all, the sweet scent
of her newborn's hair, the few seconds she held him,
after his tiny heart stopped.

by Jim Cunningham