Parental Guidance – Maurice Devitt

 

A hot summer’s day on the estate, tar-lines

softening in the blistering sun. Constructing

triangles with ice-pop sticks, we meld the corners

with our new liquorice glue and whip them

like frisbees from between our fingers,

to watch them ride the warm silent air,

twisting and dipping until they crash and split

like atoms, sticks splayed. I throw one

and it takes off, rising sharply as though from a sling,

then stalls like a cough and bounces off

the windscreen of a cornering car. Sliding

to a stop, the driver jumps out, engine left running.

I am already gone, scooting down the side-passage

of our house. He lopes up the steps, pounds on the door.

No answer at first, just the peripheral view

of a net-curtain settling. He looks up at the windows,

they hold their silence. He shuffles self-consciously

on the step. My mother opens the door, her small frame

standing tall in the doorway, her face suitably sullen.

The man is shouting about what I have done,

while my mother examines the chips in her fingernails.

He demands to see me as if it were his right

to exact some revenge. My mother seems to grow taller

in the darkened hallway, as I appear sheepishly

from beneath her housecoat. He stretches to grab me,

she pushes me back, takes one step forward and explains,

that while she is aware her son is young and reckless,

he does not need to feel this anger to know

that he is wrong. Fear will teach him nothing.

The man harrumphs and walks away. I catch

his last regretful glance from the driver’s seat,

knowing that, for me, this is not over yet.

 

 

Personal PhotoWinner of the Trócaire/Poetry Ireland and Poems for Patience competitions, Maurice Devitt has been nominated for Pushcart, Forward and Best of the Net Prizes and been runner-up in the Cúirt New Writing Prize, Interpreter’s House Poetry Competition and the Cork Literary Review Manuscript Competition. He published his debut collection Growing Up in Colour with Doire Press.

Before – Elisabeth Kelly

 

Dusty tins of condensed milk in the pantry.

Scholl slip on wooden sandals in the porch.

The blue labels worn down so only a soft oval remains in the wooden sole.

Tip toe hanging up the washing and the sandals falling down off dry heels.

Your life mapped by the cracks on your skin.

 

A drum of stagnant water in the corner of the steading.

Wellingtons with waterproofs wound around in the utility room.

Two sets of different ones, occasional and everyday wear.

Smelling of the black rubber cover over the silage pit and the cold stone ramp of the

midden.

Your life lived between the two.

 

A tree house made of old fence posts in Back Field.

Bare-feet drumming through the dust of the lane. Creosote sticking to the backs of knees.

Cow muck with a crust on top to poke with your toes, daring, pushing to see how far you

will go.

 

I never gave a thought then to how far we may go.

 

 

 

DSC_0520Elisabeth Kelly is an Early Years Teacher based on a hill farm in the Scottish Borders. She lives with her young family and too many animals. She has recently returned to writing. She has a poem currently in the Longlist for the Anthony Cronin Award at the Wexford Literary Festival 2020. She tweets at @eekelly22.

When Summer Comes – Holly Day

 

I bury their heads in peat and think of the day when

the sun warms the soil and the clouds bring the rain and the white

snowy fields that once seemed to stretch endless will

be a fuzzy memory of a cold and irrelevant past.

the seeds so carefully planted before the first frost will

unfold like origami and send thin furry roots tunneling

through the chilly dirt to find footholds in the earth.

I’ll wake to find a thin coat of green covering

the warmed soil surrounding the base of the old birch tree

in the back yard.

 

eventually, the thin frost of green will grow into a thick carpet, obscuring

the domed hills marking the entrance and exit of traveling worms,

the triangular footprints of excavating seasonal birds, even the

occasional fox footpad, preserved in wet mud. but

today, snow falls in soft clumps outside my kitchen window, barely

heard or felt by the tiny cocooned bodies of insects and plants

lying dormant beneath the soil. I stare past the snow

dream bright, grand dreams of far-off

summer days, imagining the crackle

of night crawlers moving beneath decomposing leaves, the way

the stars look so fuzzy in the sky on

hazy, summer nights.

 

 

Holly Day bioHolly Day has taught writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, since 2000. Her poetry has recently appeared in Tampa Review, SLAB, and Gargoyle, and her published books include Walking Twin Cities, Music Theory for Dummies, and Ugly Girl.

She stops and says – Claire Sexton

 

She stops and says ‘Hang on, that’s

my Mum calling’,

and suddenly I am back there again;

colour unbecoming; milkshake;

antiseptic.

 

And in the rafters of the old

gymnasium, black birds fritter away

time with backwards and forwards

motions; skipping games; dodgeball

flits amongst falling glass.

 

And wild garlic lies pungent in the

forest; recognisable despite its heady

transformations.

 

 

image1 (2)Claire Sexton is a Welsh poet and writer now living in Berkshire where she works as a school librarian. She has previously been published in Allegro Poetry Magazine, Amaryllis, Amethyst Review, Foxglove Journal, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Light: a Journal of Photography and Poetry, and Peeking Cat Poetry. Claire often writes about mental health, in particular her own experiences with depression and anxiety.

The Conspiracy – Dan A. Cardoza

 

It’s the last night of my once a year visit nearly complete. Actually, it’s our last visit ever. Another uncomfortable Thanksgiving has come and gone. Tomorrow, it’s back to Chicago.

Earlier in the day, mother asks me to trawl through the attic boxes, and fish out our childhood memories before they place the house on the market.

Later in the day, after an early supper, father and I sit alone facing each other at the opposite ends of the kitchen table. Mother is at church, volunteering for just about anything.

I stand; push two dusty childhood photographs I discovered toward father.

Father look, these are so familiar, yet distant? I voice.

Yes, they are nearly identical son, except one is underexposed, sepia. Not sure why you retrieved the photo box from the attic. Most of those years are dead and buried.

I only asked you to look at these two father.

Son, why do you insist that we look at any photos?

Not sure father, maybe it’s time. I remember you thumbing the fat camera levers on your new Polaroid 900. Mother was hovering nearby. I recall your big smile. We were posing and …

Yes.

Its then father stands to exit the room. His massive hand smothers the handle of his lacquered Mallacan cane, veined & crooked, a tan leather glove. Then he limps away.

In the chilled lens of a dusty sunset, the parched air drifts through the half closed window, hissing faintly through the screen, like a thousand tiny tongues singing a chorus of truth. A chill slowly slithers up my spine. It’s moments like this I dread. I feel such gloom, like an orphaned child.

Goodnight father, see you in the morning.

Goodnight.

Much later, as I retire, I hear subtle moans coming from his room, as he toils in the muddy pastures of his sleep. As if on cue, at 3:00 A.M., he sits up and stares into the dark, at nothing in particular. I know this because mother spoke of his nightmares that have only increased after he quit drinking. She also confessed his depression is getting worse.

Over the years, our family has weathered torrents that have washed away bridges, only to be restored by the uncomplicated architecture of distance and malaise. I still want to understand, but after so many years, the melody of deception is a cappella. I close my eyes and begin to wade into the shallow waters of sleep.

Then I enter the dark of a dream,

You take us to the park. We play hide and seek for hours. Only this time I am never found. Mother, crazed with fear eventually finds me walking into the mist of her high beam headlights, a shivering apparition. Nothing is ever the same.

Swimming back from the deep waters of sleep, toward dawns pale shore, I hear an unseen small voice, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four…

 

 

Dan A. CardozaDan has an MS Degree. He is the author of four poetry Chapbooks, and a new collection of fiction, Second Stories. Recent Credits: 101 Words, Amethyst, UK., Chaleur Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, Dissections, Door=Jar, Entropy, Esthetic Apostle, Foxglove, Frogmore, High Shelf Press, Poetry Northwest, Rue Scribe, Runcible Spoon, Skylight 47, Spelk, Spillwords, The Fiction Pool, The Stray Branch, Urban Arts, The Zen Space, Tulpa and zeroflash.

I wish I’d studied palaeontology – Spangle McQueen

 

They used to teach that colour would never be detected in fossils.

But now it’s someone’s job to reveal the complexions

of dinosaurs, to unravel the hints about hues,

examining melanosomes and spherical organelles,

to conclude that, ‘You don’t have an orange and white tail

for nothing’. It’s someone’s job to pore over fossilised

forearms looking for the trace of quill knobs

or to separate spiral twists of fibres to analyse Jurassic

dandruff and to tell us with authority that these creatures

shed their skin in flakes. I wish I’d studied palaeontology

instead of forensic psychology. Primitive plumage

interests me more than psychopathy and the science

of empathy ever could.

 

 

20171019_233122-1Spangle McQueen is a happy grandma and hopeful poet living in Sheffield.

Eva – Spangle McQueen

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers – Emily Dickinson

 

If I left you a feather

preserved

in Burmese amber

would you treasure

 

this coelurosaur’s gift

wrapped in semi-

translucent resin?

Would you release

 

the ferrous

traces of my blood –

hopeful of

cloning?

 

Or would you reject

this humble

hollow-tailed thing –

ignore me – in favour of

an angel’s token?

 

 

20171019_233122-1Spangle McQueen is a happy grandma and hopeful poet living in Sheffield.

A fist lost – Gareth Culshaw

 

The pitch was always poor in under 14s 

footie. At the start of the season the council

would send men out. Paint the lines,

mow the turf, align the goalposts.

 

I always played better when he came

standing there with his accent.

My first goal scored, smiles all round.

Jogging back, raised fist to you

 

yours pumped in the air. We got on 

back then before the stubbornness set, 

distance in years between us showed.

 

That break in the relationship a hole 

in my memory, will never be filled.

 

 

IMG_1727Gareth lives in Wales. He has his first collection out now by FutureCycle called The Miner. He hopes one day to achieve something special with the pen.

Giving to Charity – Megan Whiting

 

Yesterday I gave my life away.

Ripped the past from the present

and left my house devoid of memories.

Bullied my childhood into boxes

and coerced my teenage years into carrier bags,

then lugged the entire sorry lot to the one place it might be useful.

Here, I handed every part of my former self to an elderly volunteer,

who groaned at the weight of my old life

and decided what it was worth.

Only then could I return to my empty house

and start again.

 

 

megan image 5Megan is a freelance writer and proofreader based in Suffolk. A poet at heart, she has been published in anthologies and online and offers personalised wedding poetry as one of her services. Megan loves to read and go for tandem rides with her fiancé. Find out more at www.meganwhiting.co.uk.

Picking up lost leaves – Gareth Culshaw

 

The sunlight I once knew.

That yellow light that crept over

the slates and dripped to the tarmac.

Garages with corrugated roofing

that kept the snow from sliding.

Houses with gable and hip roofs

that now have a buckle of solar panels.

The tree that reached for the sky,

even stroked the clouds when we 

were small. Graffiti on the walls

and swear words in the puddles 

of teenage spit from years ago.

New neighbours with quiet eyes.

Swifts that came for a generation

now lost to the winds. The banging

footballs that hammered away time,

just an echo in the ears of myself. 

Moving back to a place I once knew,

is like a tree picking up the leaves

it lost in autumn, and asking them

to belong again.

 

 

IMG_1727Gareth lives in Wales. He has his first collection out now by FutureCycle called The Miner. He hopes one day to achieve something special with the pen.

Two Sisters, The Fourth Of July, 2008 – Eliza Spinna

 

Two weary goddesses on the hot concrete. We blast the crackly radio full volume.

I dance barefoot; my limbs are still unsure of themselves.

 

The summer asphalt sears my fleshy, uncallused feet. Rose bobs her head casually, coolly. The coolest.

I am seven and my sister reads comic books but as far as I am concerned my sister is the sole superhero

 

in this town. My hands are smudged blue with melting popsicle. A piece of pink

cotton candy is lodged between Rose’s two front teeth. I don’t think she knows herself better than anyone

 

else knows her. Thinking too hard, she says, is a recipe for disaster. She has a hole in her shorts.

One of the buttons on my yellow sundress has popped. At this age I am unsure of most things. Today,

 

I think, is like Sunday but instead America is God. I tell Rose this and she laughs like I said something

funny but I really do mean it. Patriotism and praying seem very similar to me. They both involve

 

reverence. Rose has begun to question God and America, but I am still young and Church is fun enough

and on Independence Day you get to see fireworks, and the simplicity of abiding by these rituals is

 

coherent in my seven year old mind. Other things I am already sure of: my sister is a fireball

that is hurtling towards the sun and I cannot wait to see how spectacular the explosion is.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 11.05.38 PMEliza Spinna is a Manhattan-based emerging poet and writer. She is a rising senior at Stuyvesant High School.

A Problem Shared – Laura Muetzelfeldt

 

Everything important Mum ever told me she told me while cracking eggs. The news was always followed by a business-like tap, freeing wobbly flying saucers from their shells. Mum could crack eggs and open them with one-handed, something I tried to get the hang of, but couldn’t; I always ended up having to rescue tiny triangles of shell from the goo. Making cupcakes to sell at school she told me once they found a lump inside her which turned out to be her twin, dead and swallowed before she was born. Her stories always lasted as long as the recipe took to make, then we would sit down with Dad, and the secrets would fizz inside me as he tucked into whatever we’d just baked, not knowing what I now knew.

Most of the secrets she told me were to do with love. Once, whilst making an almond cake for someone’s birthday, she said:

‘It was only when I met your father that I realised my whole life up to then I’d mistaken lust for love.’

I wasn’t sure what lust was, but it sounded dangerous, creeping – liable to spread when you turned your back.

Mum looked less like a mum when she was baking, like she was just playing at being a grown up. That day, she had flour smudged above her eyebrow and her sleeves rolled up so that they kept drooping, nearly getting in the mixing bowl. I pushed up my sleeves but they kept falling down and getting messy.

All the times we baked, I never told Mum my secrets. I never got that thing where telling other people made your problems seem smaller. For me, it always made them double not halve: like kisses or a punch, they were something you could never take back.

 

 

 

unnamed (4)Laura is a teacher, writer and silversmith who lives in Glasgow with her family. She writes short stories and has been published in journals such as The International Literary QuarterlyBandit Fiction, and Ink, Sweat and Tears; her story, ‘Anna on the Wing’, was highly commended in The Federation of Writers Scotland Competition 2018. She also writes young adult fiction and her novel, Perfect Memory, was longlisted for Fish Publishing’s Young Adult Novel Contest.

The Good Girl – Louise Wilford

 

Childhood stains it all,

blood that no amount of spit-wet tissue can rub out.

 

The playground grit against our knees,

the slap of rope on asphalt, skipping songs

coating the summer day. The walk-in cupboard where our toys

were kept, silverfish in its dusty corners.

 

That’s where I hid the card, the broken bits

of yellow-painted egg-box daffodils.

Crumbs like dried yolk stuffed in the Ludo box.

 

I’d missed school with the ‘flu’, so couldn’t finish it myself.

She’d stuck on the final leaves, filled in the last

few letters: OTHER’S DAY.

 

Glass animals on the windowsill

watched me as I tore the card to bits,

each wound a slice into her skin.

 

She’d ruined it, just as she soiled that Sunday

when she told them all I’d lied.

And all the while her alligator smile

tuned out their doubts.

 

As if a girl like her…

 

I felt her fingertips against the cardboard flowers,

her grinning brush-strokes on each painted edge.

 

Those old, sad days in which we played and wept.

For good or bad, they’re where we learned to be.

Until we die, they’re where our lives are kept.

 

 

unnamed (2)Yorkshirewoman Louise Wilford is an English teacher and examiner. She has had around 50 poems and short stories published in magazines including Popshot, Pushing Out The Boat and Agenda, and has won or been shortlisted for several competitions. She is currently writing a children’s fantasy novel.

After Me – Julia Molloy

 

Darling, come closer. There’s nothing to be scared of, nothing to fear. You are always safe with me. Whenever you smile, I’ll smile too, though mostly you make jokes that aren’t funny these days. Whenever you cry, I’ll be waiting with my shoulder and a glass of your favourite wine. It’s the Rioja you prefer now, isn’t it? When we first met, it was all about the alcopops and fluorescent cocktails that quickly got us high so we could dance and be free. We’d dance to songs we no longer heard while others vomited and fought and cried. We’d dance and hold each other close. I guess we lost friends that way. But I can still remember how it felt, the first time we held each other. Our shoes stuck to the floor and the DJ shouted through the air, but all I could focus on was you. I thought my skin would ignite. As the years have mellowed, as our days have grown more fleeting, we savour the Rioja while we can. We don’t dance or play music. We sit, and we hold hands through fading daylight and long dark nights.

Darling, come closer. That was what you used to whisper in the darkest of nights after our son died. We held each other under bed sheets you always insist on ironing. We waited for time to do its work, but I think we both still feel the emptiness. So we hold each other wrapped in the clean, sharp edges of the bedsheets. We stop asking why.

Darling, come closer. I worry about who will keep you safe after me. Who will know about your favourite Rioja? Who will know how to leave you in peace when you come home from work, how to give you that space in which to breathe? Who will know the hole inside? I suppose someone could learn this soon enough, but still I worry. I don’t recall learning these things about you as much as absorbing them. We cried once at a study where children were punished and rewarded to see if they learned better. Our own son toddled at our feet. But now I come to think of it, that was how I absorbed these things about you. Your joys and your hates, your laughs and your rages, punishments and rewards. Who else can absorb these things and keep you safe?

Darling, come closer. I need to feel you near me. You don’t understand why I worry so much about you, why I don’t worry more about myself and what I must face. You don’t understand that worrying about you keeps the fear away. When we met, I remember how I felt a weight had been lifted from my mind. I didn’t have to be alone. I could hold you in my arms and you wouldn’t even comment on my clammy skin. Now, I worry about you to keep darkness at bay.

Darling, come closer. I can feel the darkness coming. I whisper to you again and again, or at least I think I do. You’re smiling, but not as you used to. It’s a smile that will turn into a cry the moment I close my eyes. I whisper again, or perhaps I don’t. Perhaps this is just the dream of life. Perhaps this is how you are after me.

 

 

Author photoJulia Molloy is a short story writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming at The Fiction Pool, Fictive Dream, Crack the Spine, STORGY, Platform for Prose and Riggwelter Press. Her work was shortlisted for the Fresher Writing Prize 2016. She graduated from Lancaster University in 2015 with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing and now works at a government organisation. You can find her at www.juliamolloy.org and on Twitter @JRMolloy2.

Distracting photograph – Kieran Egan

 

Pensive, looking sideways, unfocused eyes,

perhaps wondering about her future.

 

Now flight-phobic, terrified of takeoffs.

To ease her anxieties I had suggested 

we bring and talk about photographs of ourselves, 

at ages five, and ten, fifteen, and twenty.

 

We examined the pensive ten-year-old girl looking sideways.

The woman she had become started to reminisce 

about her family, her school,

and what the girl in the photograph most cared about.

 

It was just a few minutes’ distraction, to ease her fears,

neither of us anticipated the flood of sobbing tears.

 

 

unnamed (2)Kieran Egan lives in Vancouver, Canada. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Quills (Canada), Literary Review of Canada, Dalhousie Review (Canada), High Window (UK), Orbis (UK), Raintown Review (USA), Envoi (UK), Shot Glass Journal (USA), Qwerty (Canada), Snapdragon (USA), The Antigonish Review (Canada), Acumen (UK), Canadian Quarterly and The Interpreter’s House (UK); also shortlisted for the John W. Bilsland Literary Award, 2017 and for the TLS Mick Imlah prize 2017.