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

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Other Side of Darkness

Ever after this night of the East New York joy ride, Johnny would have a recurring dream: he would be walking in a very deep darkness on a street pushing a gurney toward intersections, watching for traffic lights to see if they remained green, but instead of turning to red they would fade into a blackness and yet he always managed to get over to the other side, and just then an American-Black man whose grandparents were the first real cheap labor slaves - a father to his children - began walking to his side and just as suddenly on his left appeared an African-American cop - a hating "inferiors" kind of guy - walking along a bank slightly above the sidewalk and coming toward him were two young American-Black boys smiling happily, similar to the youngsters he was teaching near Myrtle Avenue close to Bed-Sty, where he told all his students education was a possible door to getting out of their rat-infested slums, and behind them walking slowly with an angry face was another man coming toward him as the man who was Johnny in the dream continued to push forward, crossing every intersection whose light would go from a green to a blinking darkness and when Johnny in the dream looked to his left, lying in the burnt brown grass was the severed head of an African-American.... Johnny always awoke at this point of the dream and recalled vividly how that night upon returning to their apartment overlooking the Flatlands of Brooklyn, surviving the big East New York joy ride when three Black guys wanted to kill a White guy who they thought looked like a Calhoun from South Carolina - since all White guys looked the same to them - he had gone to his four month old son's crib and placed his finger into his hand and only after the baby's tight squeeze and loving smile did he allow himself to cry as a full man.

by Jerry Vilhotti

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Cafe Aphra November Challenge!

So it's that time of year again......

......  as I was reminded at the weekend, when I went for lunch with some friends and saw that the table next to us had been reserved for a NaNoWriMo "Write-In" group!

Yes, November is here again.

Some of us will be taking up the annual NaNoWriMo challenge, but some of us may feel that we just don't have enough time, headspace or energy to turn out 50,000 words or more in 30 days. 

If that is the case for you, and you fancy something a bit more personal and tailor-made, or just not quite so much pressure, then why don't you take us up this year on our annual Cafe Aphra November Challenge?

Here's how it works: 

YOU get to choose what you want your writing challenge to be for this month. 

You set your own goal, whether it is a daily wordcount, an overall wordcount to reach by the end of the month, or simply a writing project you want to get FINISHED by 30th November. 

Sometimes we all need deadlines to motivate us to get it done, and here is a perfect opportunity. :)

What do YOU want to achieve in your writing by the end of November?

If you feel like taking part and fancy having a bit of support along the way, post your personal Cafe Aphra November Challenge as a comment below, and we will chivvy you and cheer you along every step of your journey! 

Keep us posted as to your progress and we can all support each other.

Good luck and good writing!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Welcome Home

I know I'm late. In my battered car, I watch the second hand on my watch jump with every palpitation of my heart. The delicate metal of the second hand is trembling, as if it might get stuck. Mom doesn't like it when people are running late. It makes her usually patient nature run wild. A light is gleaming through the windows, yet nobody has bothered to look outside. They are probably busy. I cannot seem to convince myself to leave the car. Having to apologize will at least provide me with an opening line. For a moment I fear that I might have lost my voice. "Hello?" I hear myself asking. My voice sounds unfamiliar. 

Time seems to evaporate. In the rearview mirror I try to fix my hair, aware of how greasy it is. "Bazooka Joe" dad used to call me, when I would wear my hair with my bangs falling over one eye. Yet I have never found any resemblance between the reflection of the fragile young woman in the mirror and that chubby-cheeked little cartoon boy.

I'm not so sure anymore if today is the best day for me to break a two-year-long silence. It has taken a while to get their voices out of my head. I suddenly feel silly sitting in the car and staring at the house. There are coffee stains on the sleeve of my sweater. Why didn't I see them or notice the bleach spots on my jeans as I got dressed this morning? I tell myself that the hair and the stains don't matter... or the ringless finger on my left hand. By now they have probably given up hope that I will fulfill their expectations. 

It has been such a long journey, why rush in? "They miss you!" my brother told me on the rare occasions I got hold of him on the phone. The fact that he has noticed at all makes waves of guilt wash over me. He is not a very sentimental person. The idea of being missed and needed holds the promise of something warm and embracing, yet somehow smothering at the same time... 

Urged to take action by the rumbling in my stomach, I hastily collect my cell phone, my glasses and my wallet and stuff them into my purse. In one fell swoop, I exit the cozily heated car. Outside, it is so cold that I feel naked despite the itchy sweater I have on. My cheeks burn. I take one step at a time. Wiping the dried mud off my shoes, I ring the doorbell. Light floods the porch; I hear footsteps approaching. The door swings open and I'm blinded by the broad smile on my mom’s face as she flings her arms around me.

"Welcome home!”

Monday, October 3, 2016

Autumn Comes Early

Autumn has come.
I see it in your icy eyes -
you long for leaving.

Summer's hazy heat has passed.
Now, October's winds sadly sigh
through golden trees.

I knew one day you would go,
but how was I to know
it would be so soon?

As the last russet leaves
fall to the ungrateful ground,
nostalgia haunts me
like evanescent shadows cast
by a waning moon.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Welcome, Death

Bullets fly. From the arms of men they are received by the bodies of boys. Those too young to experience a woman’s love but too old to be shielded by a mother’s. They drop beside him. He stands and watches; viewing the final expressions of those he could once have called friends. Overarching disappointment, that is what he sees. Disappointment in their training. Disappointment in their Führer. That He had not prepared them. That He had not taught them how to meet death. How, when faced with an unyielding enemy, you welcome death as if he were your friend.

Pools of white appear from the darkness. Lights of the enemy, they search for him. Waltzing across the forest floor, red flashes zipping from their core. Gunfire. Forgetting his orders, he begins weaving as the Wehrmacht officers had taught him. But the crimson sparks, they chase him. Through trees, through undergrowth. When he shoots they swarm and so he scrambles, forcing his tired legs on.

The wings of a beech tree open up offering shelter. Once inside, the branches withhold the noises of war. The gunshots. The shells. The girlish screams of boys. 

A figure appears – British – and a voice from within commands him: hold the gun at chest level, look where the bullet should go. Breathe in. Aim. Breathe out. Fire. 

The British soldier shouts:

“A boy, he’s just…” Silence. 

The balls of his feet release and he springs up, flies forwards. Arms pumping. Breathing, always breathing. Running until the sounds have receded. Running until death’s eternal grasp can reach him no longer.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Quite Contrary

Chelsea, 1966: 

I was just leaving school when Kaffe Fassett and Bill Gibb set up shop in the King’s Road, designing clothes based on what young women like me with no money were wearing. On the train back from Aberdeen after visiting Bill’s parents Kaffe saw a woman knitting and asked her to show him how. After that, he was off. Never use 2 colours when 29 will do. And if you’re stuck, add another colour. I’ve been known to call him evil. All my attempts to knit one of his designs have ended in disaster.

Plymouth, 2006: 

I only went to the conference to please Jane who’d organised it. She gave me a ticket as a thank you for baby-sitting her Gran in the run-up. To be honest an afternoon with Gran was more my cup of tea. You could knit properly, let the still-only-slightly-confused conversation float past. But Jane’s brother, the grandson, was coming for the weekend and I wasn’t needed.

I collected my goody-bag from reception then perched on a stool to choose my workshops. Kaffe’s was already full, which was fine by me. But then Jane had a major panic about the conference dinner and asked me to stand in for her at Kaffe’s workshop while she sorted it out. I must say meeting him was quite a thrill. The floppy dark fringe was now short and grey but his hands were never still as he talked about his latest show, Quilt Mania.

I stumbled a bit introducing him but no-one noticed, they just wanted to hear from Kaffe. They’d all brought an object to inspire a piece of knitting. I didn’t have one of course but Kaffe handed me a Midwinter saucer, a gorgeous pattern called Quite Contrary: pink, grey, black and turquoise stars on a cream background. 

He had just the right colours in his vast stash, but people needed more help than Kaffe could manage on his own and I had to pitch in too. No time for designing. At the end of the workshop I was about to toss the yarns back when Kaffe swooped them into a clear plastic bag with a zip lock. 

At the dinner Jane and Kaffe sat far away on the high table like mediæval monarchs. I got rather drunk and went to bed early.

The next day he didn’t appear. I knew he was leaving at 2 to catch a train. At 1.45 his partner appeared in the lobby with matching sets of needlepoint luggage piled on a trolley. At 1.57 he began to tap one pointed purple leather shoe on the tiled floor. I barely felt the brush on my arm as Kaffe raced past, his famous leather satchel flapping open. A flurry of lifted suitcases and they were gone.

The spectacle case had been left next to my coffee cup with one of his business cards inside: Quite Contrary, Kaffe Fassett, April 2006.*

by Susanna Reece

* N.B. This is a work of fiction. It’s possible that the designer-maker of this purse is the author and not Kaffe Fassett!

Monday, September 5, 2016


The moss stuck between my toes
On the riverbank.
Fish nibbled, 
Tickling me
And the laughter 
Made ripples.
People on the other side of the river
Wondered how 
My net caught minnows
I told them it was
All in the toe jam.

by Mary Bone

Friday, August 26, 2016

Nice Girl

The girl - the other girl - is pushing the stripy pushchair along the pavement. Aldi carrier bags swing from both handles. She almost walks into me. The baby is playing with its feet. The eyes of the child in the pram are his eyes, green and bright. 

Those are the eyes that I once fell into, coiled together on that old sofa with the stuffing bleeding out, our hands exploring one another for the first time.

Their baby has snot snaking down towards its lips. They’re his lips, too. His warm lips on mine on that sweaty sofa, the teenage mingle of sweat and aftershave, stolen from his dad’s bathroom cabinet. 

I’ve replayed this scene a thousand times – bumping into him, or bumping into her, bumping into them both. Showing him I’m fine, I’m over it. I’ve done all right for myself, thanks. But the baby, this baby with his eyes and his lips has stalled me.

He was a big fish in our small home town, once. He reeled me in, threw his affection around for a while. Before unhooking me, letting me go. Now he’s just a minnow, pulling this other girl and baby along in his wake. 

The baby with his eyes, his lips.

I was just a nice girl, he said. She was more adventurous than me, he said. Now she looks like the stuffing’s been kicked out of her, like the stuffing on that sofa, where I first tasted lust and excitement. 

In her dead eyes I see my alternate life. The one that got away. Her adventures confined now to a snotty child and budget chicken korma.

When we meet on the pavement, him and the girl – the adventurous one – and their snotty child, the one with his eyes, his lips, I don’t say any of the things I thought I’d say. 

I don’t tell him what a success I am. I don’t say Remember me? I just smile. I just stand there and smile, politely. 

I’m the nice girl, remember?

Friday, August 12, 2016


Sarité is dead again. Nearby, a mother kneels at the side of the road in loud lament for the shattered child in her arms. An old man leans in the doorframe of his soot-blacked house, watching me. Leaning is the best option after the landmine took his leg and his livelihood. Images surface when I’m not looking, in idle moments when I’m tempted to believe the world is a safe place again. But it never was.

I see Sarité again, turning to smile at me as she walks away, adjusting the child on her hip. “See you tomorrow,” I call out, but she doesn’t answer. Perhaps she knows that I will see her in an eternity of tomorrows, but not she me.

The moments fade, stealing my energy like a receding wave sucking sand off a beach, and I am left incredulous that life is mundane.

I move through each day, get on with my life like I’ve been told to. I get up, I do my job, I drive through endless stop-start traffic. A car backfires in the middle of Reading and I’m in Baghran again, running, stumbling from the Hazara marketplace as it explodes around me and all I can think is that I’ve dropped those beautiful pomegranates I’d bought. It jolts through my chest like an electric shock: I don’t see the marketplace, but I feel like I’m there again and it pulls the breath straight out of me. Someone hoots their horn at me, and I drive on down West Street, hands and feet still jarring.

Later there’s a film on. But a man pulls a gun and I spill my drink, Baghran intruding. Even sleep isn’t safe: I see Sarité’s face and what they did to her. The old man leans in his doorway and watches me. Awake in the dark, my heart slows back down, sweat turns to chill, but it’s always the hands and feet that take the longest to feel normal again.

And so comes tomorrow: I battle the traffic, panic in the Tesco crowds, meet a friend for coffee. My friend says goodbye, turns to smile at me as she walks away, and Sarité is dead again.

by Olivia Jackson

Monday, August 1, 2016

After Terror

There will be a pile of sand
flanked by 31 stones
where a sister died. She
was carrying coloring books
and boxes of crayons
in her backpack
when the bomb came,
her final breath a question,
not a goodbye. She
was carrying them for those
who died before
in similar blasts and fear.

Now there are lies,
speculation, calculations.
What'll happen when
it comes here.
A girl on the subway
cups her hands to alert
her mother she's hungry.
A boy plays with a toy
machine gun. In each I see
postures becoming
prayer, notes for us

who haven't yet fallen.

L.M. Hurtado

by Carl Boon

Friday, July 29, 2016


Ellie stared from the stands, dreaming of the goalkeeper. He was diving around, squelching the mud into his body. It wasn’t the first time she’d gone to watch him play; she knew there was something about him, something that entranced her.

A tap on her shoulder broke the spell; she'd forgotten that she wasn’t here alone. Ellie could tell Chrissy didn’t want to go watch a local football game in a soggy field; she’d been promised shopping and calamari.

“Which one is he anyway? The one you fancy.”

“I never said I fancied him; he’s just, he’s interesting.” Ellie pointed as discreetly as possible at the goalkeeper. “Him.”

Chrissy huffed. “He’s a six, a seven at best - what’s so interesting about him?”

“Just watch.”

They watched him in silence. He jumped and floundered; he wasn’t a good goalkeeper, and he was getting desperate. He was letting in goal after goal until one rebounded straight off him like a cannonball being fired.

“There! Did you see it?” Ellie tugged at Chrissy’s sleeve.

“Yeah, he saved a goal - very interesting Ellie.”

“Didn’t you see how?”


“Were you even watching?”

Chrissy crossed her arms. She just didn’t get it. It was only football.

They watched the striker from the other team tear down the pitch. It seemed like he already had it in the bag but when the striker booted the ball towards the goalkeeper, he saved it again. This time Chrissy saw it.

“What was that?”

“You saw it too, right?” Ellie’s excitement bubbled up inside her.

“I know the goalkeeper is allowed to use his hands, but this is something else.”

The ball flew towards the goalkeeper again. It looked like he deflected it with his chest, though Ellie and Chrissy saw it again for themselves; an arm, a fist, shoot from the goalkeeper’s chest, punching the ball away.

“How are we the only ones who can see this?” Chrissy whispered.

“I don’t know, but he doesn’t know how to control it properly yet,” Ellie looked at Chrissy.

“You were right to bring me here. Do you think he knows what he is?”

Ellie’s eyes flashed red.

“I don’t think he does.”

“Your eyes, Ellie - careful.”

Ellie’s eyes turned blue once more. “Sorry, I guess he’s not the only one.”

Chrissy laughed. “We’ll talk to him, but I want lunch first, and that shopping trip you promised.” The thought of calamari made her stomach claw at her skin. “You know where he lives, right?”

“Of course.”

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Penny For Your Thoughts

‘A penny for them,’ Agnes says, just as she had some thirty-plus years ago when out on their first date. She’s said it many times in between too. It became their thing.

And whenever she said it, Jimmy’s thoughts returned to the icy winter night of big city bright lights – to the Italian restaurant – to the night he tried a little too hard – to the night he got himself into a tongue-tied tizzy that caused the wrong words to come out in the wrong order.

Jimmy had retreated to the sanctity of his shell, sure only of one thing: that he’d blown his chance. He felt marooned sitting there, alone amongst a hubbub of happiness.

So they ate in silence. 

It was Agnes who broke the spell.

‘A penny for them,’ she said, ‘for your thoughts.’

To anyone else he would have replied with a little white lie: ‘Oh, it’s nothing… really… I’m fine… just a little tired.’ 

Her voice was gentle, soft, and calming, so he told her the truth.

Agnes listened, and her eyes smiled at him. She let him finish; then told him she understood – not literally of course – but she would try to understand. She told him not to be so hard on himself, that he was doing a great job, that she still liked him, that she liked him even more now.

Agnes would use the phrase again and again over the years, whenever she sensed the moment when Jimmy’s mind-stuff needed lancing.

And this little game led on to others. Like the one where Agnes would make him sing a song for his supper. A few bars of Neil Diamond would soon have them dancing around the kitchen ballroom style, laughing and knocking into cupboards and not caring a jot; and when they ate, the food tasted scrummier than ever.

Or the times she would be making coffee and say, ‘Not yet, not before a poem,’ and Jimmy would select at random something from the only paperback of poetry he ever owned, and recite it in full-on Olde English – Lawrence Olivier style – even though it happened to be a discarded anthology of Canadian verse he’d found on the tube. It always made Agnes laugh, which made Jimmy laugh, and coffee never tasted sweeter.

But tonight, like almost every night for the last year now, Jimmy’s words don’t flow so easily; most times they don’t come at all. He just sits at the table.

‘A penny for them…’ Agnes repeats, softer, quieter this time… a whisper in his ear.


‘How about a song?’ she asks, ‘We’ve got a nice piece of fish tonight,’ and starts to hum the intro to Sweet Caroline.

Jimmy stares into space, his eyes glazed and lost, he doesn’t respond. He doesn’t respond to the mention of fish, not to the strange woman that he sees dancing around the room, and not to the ragged book of poetry that lies unopened on the table. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

In Kowloon

In my mind there is a bed,
starched and white and you lie
there, stirruped. I can’t
look. Standing at the window

my eyes fumble for a view,
and fake a movie cityscape:
the glamour of a highrise
Hong Kong skyline, non-specific

urban sprawl; hanzi hurled
across the fishstink of a market-
place in alien humidity.
They have sapped your strength,

tapped you with their needles,
drugged you blind in this
British military hospital.
The pain is a balloon; you

let it go, watch it bump across
the tide-washed sands of
Perranporth, puddled huge
with sky, float over the black

rocks at Gwithian, the littoral
of home, hang at the limit
of a cliff edge, where the thrift
cling on for dear life to their

babies bonneted in pink.
It is September; those lanes -
bordered with a cross of hedge
and granite bank - are beaded

red with bryony; sand between
your toes, walk down them now
and knock. It is tea-time
at Trevalga and they wait

to hear the answer: boy or cheel?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Waiting to meet Dylan Thomas

They mill around the desk, crotchety wasps, all of them, calling to the receptionist, making caustic asides, until finally relieved of their luggage by capable young men in tall hats, they stretch their livid lips into smiles and cross-fade to their rooms.

I do not smile. I’m waiting for Dylan Thomas. Feeling distanced from my own narrative, as if reliving a demoralising flashback, I’m waiting for a poet whom I love more than life itself, in order that we can speak, soul to soul, artist to artist. 

Yesterday, the managing editor of Mademoiselle introduced Candy Bolster to him. To Dylan Thomas! Over lunch they talked poetry and the rights to Under Milkwood. Candy mentioned all this with a breathless flourish in the elevator at eight this morning and a sob crawled from my throat before leaping, lemming like, into the space between our feet. Tears brimmed as I slid through the yawning lift door and sped towards the restroom.

I’m in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, waiting. Perhaps he is too stewed for breakfast. But tonight he will be at the White Horse Tavern, writing. And I will circle his table, like seaweed grasping for a mildewing buoy, and he’ll call, “join me in my office, will you not?” and we’ll talk about Sunday at the Mintons and he’ll tell me, “you occupied that New England spinster like the fucking Russians entering Berlin!” And how we will laugh. 

I’m waiting for Dylan Thomas as I know that I will marry a poet and it may as well be him.

He will be alone in the tavern, majestically scrawling into his tiny leather notebook. And I will approach the table and say, “my name is Sylvia Plath” and from that splintered moment onwards everything will be splendid and perfect.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Grave Robber

I found a grave. I came on the evidence one day, in a forgotten file, randomly numbered by my camera. 

I remember walking through white snakes of sand, lifted by the wind. It blew straight off the North Sea; ice in its jaws.

Always seeking I had strode out, looking for messages in bottles, finding only crackled plastic. Holding my camera with numb hands, it had been too cold to take many photos.

Further up the sand, I passed through the iodine egg-stink of seaweed, then, crunched through broken shells to the path, up and away from the rage of the ocean. The wooden steps were filled with sand, an oil company’s unmaintained project. Corporate social responsibility ravaged by the elements.

On the cliff above the beach, marram grass, pink campion, gorse and broom, grew, holding the sand together with their roots. The fierce wind had stolen my breath as I looked towards the new horizon.

Crumpled red and orange petals had led me through the grass, past the remains of a fire-ring of stones, charred black. Almost at the edge of the cliff, vertebrae were visible, twisting through earth and debris. The corpse lay half dragged out of its resting place. It had been chewed on, half exposed yellowing bones, dark matter and the other half, still grey furred, wet from the dew. The disinterment had been frenzied and fresh. ‘Ben’ was painted on smooth pebbles, pink and white and blue, they had been strewn, displaced from their secretly significant positions. 

Here, in sight of a closed-in coastal farm, on the high cliff, I had cried. For intentions and loss, grieving as I never could at a human graveside. I ached for each animal that I had owned; each passing, life spans unmatched.

I wish now that I had covered it up, I could have pushed it back in, replaced the earth. Panic and grief made me move away quickly, I remember the sudden sense of paranoia. 

‘Guilt, guilty, guilty’, the seagulls soared and screamed, while the sea wind blasted my tears away.

I returned, many seasons later, to find no evidence of the burial. It was as if it had all been a dream borne on spindrift and tears. I would doubt my own memory, save for the photograph I stole that day long past.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Man With The Negative Charisma

You see him now and then buying pizza
He ain’t one of life’s experimenters
The man with the negative charisma
Who darkens every room he enters

Someone told me he was married once
Now he makes no impression on life
The man to whom no one responds
Who reckons he doesn’t need a wife

Naturally his colour of choice is grey
He’ll nod a “good morning” as he passes
But he’s the man with nothing to say
Who blinks behind his plastic glasses

His name in the Book of Life’s a misprint
His face on the page a careless gaffe
He’s the man who leaves only footprints
Who takes undiscovered photographs

Though you’d notice no lack of gaiety
If he vanished in holy ascension
To another world where he’s a deity
Who vibrates in the fifth dimension

Wouldn’t that be a kick in the head
If he swooshed skyward every night?
The man who flies while you’re in bed
Who dances in the yellow moonlight

by Derek Dohren

Friday, June 3, 2016


‘You’ve got something under your nose.’

With a giggle, Trudy wiped a finger under her nose, inspected the white powder there and sucked it clean. ‘I always get a bit nervous when it’s live.’

Hamish smiled thinly. He didn’t like live tv either but didn’t need any stimulation to get through a ten minute slot in the Blue Peter Garden; his ambition was enough. Ambition which would take him, if all went to plan, to Hollywood within five years.

They straightened as the director, a terrifying platinum blond with ambitions to move into Sunday night drama as a stepping stone to HBO, arrived. ‘Right, let’s get on. Where are the brats?’ Half a dozen small children, all wearing brightly coloured wellies and Blue Peter cagoules, emerged from the shed, led by a production assistant.

‘That’s no good! Give them shovels, or hoes or something. We need them doing something useful in the background. Hurry up Sally, for God’ sake!’

Sally rushed back into the shed, emerged with a handful of shiny new tools, appropriately sized for small people. She handed them out and arranged the children vaguely around the bare soil. ‘Dig, or something. Whatever. Look active.’ She hurried back into the shed, where a Hazelnut Latte and Steve, the production assistant’s assistant, were waiting.

The Director surveyed the scene. ‘You children. Dig harder. Swing these shovels. We’re about to start. Right. Places.’ She consulted her watch. ‘Trudy, Hamish, you ready?’ They nodded, and shuffled into place beside the runner beans. The red light on camera one blinked on. Trudy gave her trademark smile, and Hamish launched into his spiel. 

Behind them, unseen by the presenters, unnoticed by the director, but preserved forever by the all-seeing eye of the camera, a small girl swung a sharp, triangular shovel down on a small boy’s foot. They both looked, amazed, at the bright red blood and the neatly severed toecap of the boy’s yellow wellington. Another child picked up the little piece of rubber. Five tiny toes fell out. She screamed. Everything stopped, with the exception of the camera; the cameraman had his own ambitions, to have his own YouTube channel.

The next day, Huw Edwards looked solemn as he told the world about the demise of the most beloved children’s show in the world, as he portentously put it. Behind him, on a loop, the viewers could see Goldie, the Blue Peter Labrador, enjoying an unexpected meal.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Green Man

A group of people huddles around a man lying down on the cobbles, turning green. The people are looking over each other's shoulders, not knowing what they would want done, had they been in his position.

A woman in a brown cardigan is hysterical. She is sat on the cobbles next to the man with her legs sprawled out, like a marionette. Someone from the theatre café has brought her tissues and water in a plastic cup. The woman weeps, but all she can think of is how now she will never see the waters of Sharm El Sheikh or puff shisha sitting on satin cushions in overpriced seaside bars. She won't see the pyramids. The thought of not seeing the pyramids in particular makes her give off a high-pitched wail.

The traffic policeman is tired. The bribes he's collected today aren’t enough to get that lamb shank his wife’s ordered. He should be on the road, fining Mercedes drivers for making the wrong U-turn, restriction sign obstructed by a birch tree.

“Where the heck’s the ambulance?” the warden whispers to his colleague, a younger police lieutenant about to graduate from law school.

“They won't get here on time,” the latter answers inhaling the filter of Belomorkanal. He smokes this brand because of his granddad. He does not want to be a lawyer.

The artist sat opposite, displaying her watercolours, thinks about how she'd love to paint that, this picture. The people’s expressions, their silhouettes against the pungent autumn sky, leaves turning under their feet and in the midst of it - the green man, now turning a pallid yellow, a chameleon blending in with the leaves. That - that is real art. Five hundred reproductions of Ibryaev have made her despise the great watercolour master and his technique. But her shawl is wearing thin and her imitation skills have never failed to impress the tourists. She looks past the crowd to the back street, a wall partially hidden by the dusk.

A skinny goth leans against it, blood trickling out of his nostril, his collar encrusted. His watery eyes dart from the man on the ground onto his own black painted nails, which he bites with animal ferocity. A blooded knife handle sticks out of his trouser pocket.

The now yellow man watches everyone around him peering into his soul. The man waits for the videotape of his life to roll, but it doesn't. His wife's wailing drops away. So do the whispers and confused glances. The gash in his side stops ripping his body apart with pain and a soft cotton candy feeling descends onto his limbs.

The sound of the sirens echoes between the walls of the buildings. 

The man goes purple, his eyes roll back until you can see nothing but the whites. The women in the crowd sob. The pool of blood around him turns black, or perhaps it's the shadow that escapes the people's minds and walks across the scene turning everything ghostly.