Monday, 22 January 2018

Skating Backwards

by Jill Crainshaw


He just keeps skating on, thermal gloves flashing
purple and black against the marbled sky,
hostile to the numbing bone-chill in the air,
borrowed quicksilver blades biting the ice as
he skims arctic waters more treacherous
than he cares or is willing to let himself know,
tense muscles pushing hard to keep getting
there, and all the while over his shoulder,
a bejeweled willow bows low over ice scarred
by tangled tales he scratches out as he
forges ahead across the frosty expanse.
I walk on the glassy water in street shoes
and yearn for a fissure, a stumble,
a fall, a turning. Squinting down through
distorting wintry lenses, I think I see
the burnt orange shadow of a sunfish eager
for a splash of summer sun. But winter has not
yet finished her work. Then I hear giggles.
A red-mittened girl and her wind-blushed
mother. Face to face they make their
way with awkward delight across the lake,
holding hands and choreographing
a tenacious dance as first one and then
the other learns to skate backwards.


* * * * *

Jill Crainshaw is a professor at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She enjoys exploring how words give voice to unexpected ideas, insights and visions.



Sunday, 21 January 2018

Covering the Moon

by Myra King


In the distance we hear a noise like tapping. I stop some feet short of the entrance to the graveyard, my brother Ben snuggled up on my back, his head buried in my parka hood.
“Look Ben,” I say, “it’s not the dead you have to be scared of.”
Our mother tells us this all the time. We live close to the cemetery, actually only a glance away through our front door. Not that we knew instinctively to be frightened, but our friends soon let us know that it wasn’t a normal thing. Aren’t you afraid the ghosts will get you? How can you sleep? Stuff like that. But it’s not the dead that do bad things. It’s the living. Like Dad, he left us soon after Ben was born. And Ben, well he was a rape baby. Everyone knows this, even Ben, although he doesn’t know what it means. And even though everyone always says, “Poor Mrs Anderson”, that’s our mother, I always think: Poor Ben. It’s a lot worse for him.

Yeah, the dead can’t hurt you, but that doesn’t stop us from being scared. 
We have done this: visit the graveyard at midnight on every Friday the 13th since Ben turned three. It was a dare set up by my friend Anica. After the first time she chickened out, but we kept it up like a tradition. This is our fourth year. I’m eleven now and Ben is seven but it’s a good thing he’s such a scrawny kid, he doesn’t weigh much. I guess the rapist must have been a small guy ‘cause our mother is nearly five foot eleven and built like a rugby player. Sometimes I wonder how he managed it. There’s this Australian spider called an Orb weaver. She’s so much bigger than her mate who shares her web that he has to be very careful when mating. I think maybe the rapist would’ve had to be careful with Mum. I’ve seen her temper and how hard she uses the strap, especially on Ben, when she’s been drinking.  But maybe the rapist had a knife or a gun. Mum’s never told me the details, and you can’t ask about things like that, can you? I mean I’m not supposed to know, but my cousin, Daniela, heard her mum, my aunty, telling a neighbour. Daniela told me and then Ben heard me telling Anica. But we all haven’t told Mum we know.

The tapping noise is getting louder. It sounds like someone with high heels but the paths are all gravel and sand so that can’t be right. I don’t know if it’s coming closer to us, or if we are moving closer to it. The dare is to reach the middle, where the little buildings are. The mini-mansions I call them. They glow sort of in the night but I can’t see that yet, we’re still a way away.

I jump at Ben’s voice, muffled by my parka. “I gotta pee, Sis. Now.”
I lower him down and he goes behind a bush, even though we can’t see anyone and the tapping is still ahead of us.
When he comes out he offers me his hand, which I take with outstretched fingers until I’m sure it’s dry. Then we both walk on in silence. The tapping noise seems to be coming from where we are heading. But I still can’t see the mini-mansions.
Ben pulls on my hand. “Sis,” he says, “what does a rape baby look like?”
My mind can’t find the words to answer him straight away. So he tugs at my hand again, almost pulling me sideways.
Up ahead is an angel statue, I’ve never seen her before, she’s sitting in the centre of a huge plot divided into four, two at the front and two at the back. She looks like she’s about to take off. For a moment I wish I could fly away too.
There’s an iron seat across the path from her. I lead Ben across to it and sit down. He brushes leaves off the seat. He really is a tidy kid, especially for a boy. I have no idea where we are. Which way is home.
I’m gathering my thoughts like someone rounding up sparrows. They keep scattering.
“Well Ben,” I say, “a rape baby isn’t the baby’s fault. It’s still a baby, like any other.”
I can feel Ben’s eyes on me, staring, and when a cloud passes and the moon and stars light up his face, I see he’s been crying.
“Oh, Ben, you’re not that scared are you?”
Ben shakes his head and looks at the angel. “It’s just that Jack said rape is a bad thing and that I was a bad thing, and that’s why Mum hates me. And I was wondering, Sis… Will I go to hell?”
I can’t answer him this time. The trouble is I don’t know exactly how rape works. I know Jack is right, it’s something bad and I know that it’s something to do with mating.  And also the girl doesn’t want it. But does that mean the roosters are raping the hens? I see that all the time, the hens running away and the roosters jumping on them and pushing them into the dust. The hens certainly don’t want it. The baby chickens are cute though.
Ben is sucking his thumb and leaning against me. Me and him against the odds.
I realise I can’t hear the tapping anymore and I wonder when it actually stopped, how I missed the moment. I look around, back the way we came, and at the way I think we should be going. I don’t know if I can find the strength to carry Ben much further.
The clouds are covering the moon again. I didn’t think it was possible to get lost in a place we are both so familiar with. But everything looks so different in the dark.


* * * * *

"Covering the Moon" was first published in Fast Forward Press (US). It is also part of Myra King's 2017 collection Uneasy Castles.


Myra King lives along the coast of South Australia with her writer husband, David, and their greyhound, Sparky. Her poems and short stories, some of which have won awards, have been published in the UK, USA, Ireland and Australia in many literary magazines, books and anthologies. Myra has another short story collection, City Paddock, and two YA novels: The Journey of Velvet Brown, and The Diaries of Velvet Brown, all published by Ginninderra Press, Adelaide, Australia. Her novel, Cyber Rules, was published by Certys UK.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Red Fox Rampant

by Myra King


Damien Rouge is having his fifteen minutes of fame posthumously.
Hanging up in a tree like a primate.
The TV cameras are discreet, showing only the aesthetically acceptable aftermath of the plane crash, the squeamish stomachs of the six o’clock set have to digest their dinners after all.
I recognise Damien immediately from his ponytail dreadlock and distinctive tattoo; a red fox rampant.
I remember that because I was the one who did it for him, thirty years ago.
Do the tat up high will you Marcie. I need to be able to cover it when I go for interviews.
Damien’s leg is cocked back, dog like, an angle denoting dislocation and fracture, held together by army pants, the type with reinforced utility pockets. Only God knows what they hold now.
I wonder if I should call my son. I wonder what I would say.
Hey Matt, your father, you know the one you’ve never seen? He’s on telly. Yes, now. On the news.
It gives a whole new meaning to a public viewing.
I decide not to. It is better he remembers his father from the faded photo he left me.  
Standing over a fresh kill, arm outstretched, fingers pointing to the lethal tusks of a huge boar. Mouth set in similar countenance.
Damien, the big game hunter.

Shit, Marcie, I thought you were taking something. I mean you did say you were on the pill. I don’t want no screaming brat. Get rid of it.

I had been taking contraceptives, but what did I know? I’d had too much to drink, thrown up one day and missed a dose. And I was seventeen and fertile as the plains.

Hey, Marcie, one of the guys at work said if you run for an hour and then have a hot bath that will bring on your period.

I trusted him. He was twenty-seven years old and knew the world.
But nothing happened. My period was as stopped as its namesake.

I told Matt about his father the day he turned ten, not long after he learned about the facts of life. I figured he would understand it better then. Understand that the dad he’d known for the last eight years of his life was not his biological one.
All it did was to add fuel to fire, over the recent divorce.
Really, nothing I could do back then was right.
As the years passed he grew curious. Matt began to search, I began to search, his grandmother, who lives in the same city where I’d last seen his father, began to search.
We came up with names and addresses. But nothing matched. 
Damien Rouge was as unlisted as his phone number.

Kids should be put in a sound proof room and hosed down once a week. And not taken out until they are fifteen and more interesting.
I laughed when Damien said this. It was pre-pregnancy and seemed funny.
I realise now how much he hadn’t wanted kids. He was far too busy being one.

The plane crash has happened in France, the voice over sounds so nice, dulcet tones of French with lines of hysteria. You know, the sort the media manufacture. It sounds the same in every language.
The subtitles declare it the worst aviation disaster in twenty years. No survivors.

I remember the old joke: If a plane crashes on a hill and one part falls to the North and the other part to the South, where do they bury the survivors?
They don’t of course, I answer myself, bury the survivors.
But I have been buried for years.
   
The camera pans back to Damien. His seat from the plane is still partly wedged in the fork of a tree, an oak I think: Quercus Robur.
His seat belt has worked, he is still strapped in.
He swings around and I am treated to a brief glimpse of his face, eyes squeezed shut as if peering into a letter box or just waking up. A brief mockery from the afterlife.
 Look Marcie, you have found me but I still ain’t going to acknowledge your bastard son.
 His face reminds me of the death mask photo of Manfred Von Richthoven - the Red Baron. But this is no tri-plane.   
Pieces of the aircraft are scattered widely over a landscape littered with clothes and body parts. I notice a water bottle and marvel at its completeness. It is still holding water.

Damien hated flying. I love it.
I remember the first time I went up about ten years ago.
Smiling like a child I gripped the hand rests and let the G forces push me down further into the seat as the plane jetted along the runway, faster and faster until we were airborne.
I wonder how I will find flying now.
  
I’d met Damien just before my seventeenth birthday, at the place where I worked, Body Artz.
Over six foot four, he stooped slightly to fit through the door. His presence filled the shop.
I had just finishing piercing some kid’s ears and was telling the mother about the aftercare.
He waited until I was finished.
“Hi… Look… Marcie,” he said, placing my nametag straight. “I’m after having a tattoo done.”
He opened the portfolio he was carrying and unclipped a drawing. It was a picture of a red fox rearing. I didn’t think it a probable pose. But the customer is always right. 
And this one was brave. He didn’t even wince as I dipped and pricked.
But sweat beaded like thaw and his voice was tight when he spoke.
“I didn’t want none of that catalogue stuff. Bloody skulls entwined with snakes and I love mother. Bugger that. I got this friend who draws. I always wanted to have a fox done ona-cow-to-me-name.”
I remember thinking he’d not seen what was available lately. But I was so mesmerised that I only managed to squeak “why, on account of your name?”
“My last name is Rouge. That’s French for Red.” He moved in his seat, shuffling up his large frame to match his importance.
It was lucky I was not injecting, I would have blurred something.
“And I play rugby. They call me the fox, cause of me moves.” A wink gave affirmation that rugby wasn’t the only game he was talking about.
When I finished I wiped the bloody surface with some gauze. I wasn’t wearing gloves. There was no such thing as Aids in the seventies.
He took my hand before I could drop the swab and I felt his fingers rubbing above my knuckle, acknowledging the bareness of my ring finger.
“So how about it, Mar-cie?”  The way he drawls it out makes it merci. The only French I know apart from oui. Which is what I say.
What?” he says, raising slivers of doubt. But youth and naivety win. And I answer yes to his please.

The news clip is going on and on. Now it’s live – adding to the surrealism. Here I sit in my kitchen, watching my first lover, the father of my only child, the man whom I have not seen for over thirty years. Live. Except he is dead. 
The paradox screams silent from the word beamed across the screen ad-infinitum.

I remember our first date - the beach at night, sand hills draped in silent purple, with Imagine playing on the radio.
I squeeze Damien’s hand along with the words “…and no religion too.”
“That’s what I reckon, Marce. Religion is for bloody idiots! Opium of the masses.”
Isn’t it opiate? But I’m not sure.
Damien is never unsure. He has travelled abroad. And had amazing adventures.  I sit entranced in the same way I listen when my dad recounts his escapades from World War Two. It is the only time my father gives me any attention. Attention that is positive. Now Damien fills the gap.
Osmosis like, his truth becomes my own until it is ‘Opium’ and how could I have been so stupid.

I ain’t paying for no fucken kid I don’t fucken want! You can’t prove it’s mine. If you keep it Marcie, you’re on your own.

I am screaming and thumping the steel cabinet beside my hospital bed in time with the contractions. A nurse goes past then snatches back a step. She stands in the doorway and tells me to grow up. Childbirth is natural.
 I think of that first night, of religion and opium and suddenly wish for both.

The only thing Damien didn’t lie about is the fact he was French. He was born there. His father signed the birth certificate before he did a runner. One trait Damien had inherited.
His mother had skittered back to Australia, a reformed repatriate. 
Finally the news is over. I switch off the TV and sit staring; the blankness of the screen reflects my mind.
Everything seems back to normal but nothing will be the same.
A brief knock to herald his appearance and my son enters the room. His cheery hello tells me he hasn’t seen the news. I sit with the secret behind my eyes merging with his handsome face. Matt is so like his father. But in appearance only. And soon he will look nothing like him. I shiver despite the summer evening.
“Someone walked over your grave, Mum?’ he says, unaware of how close he has stepped to the truth.
I smile and shake my head, a brief half turn. I hear his footsteps in the sitting room and a cork popped from a bottle.
“Want a drink? Sorry it’s been awhile since I’ve called. But I’ve got some good news. Something to celebrate.”
Matt’s voice quavers slightly but I doubt that his news will counterbalance mine.
He comes back to the kitchen and hands me a glass. We clink the silence from the room.
“I’ve found my father,” he says, and continues without halting from my shock.       “Remember that phone call Gran made when the woman sounded funny and hung up on her? Well, it turns out she was his wife. They were divorced last month and it was her way to get even. Giving me her husband’s number.”
My son gets up and hugs me, “It’s okay, Mum, he didn’t mind. I met him over the weekend. I was lucky. He is travelling to France today. He said he wanted to be back in the place he was born, wanted to die there. I told him I only wanted to meet him, nothing else, no strings.” I see the stamp of completeness in his eyes.
I hold up my glass. “To Damien and Matt.”  
There is nothing left to say. They both already have their wish.


* * * * *

"Red Fox Rampant" was first published by Little Episodes Publishing (Florida US). It is also part of Myra King's 2017 collection Uneasy Castles.

Myra King lives along the coast of South Australia with her writer husband, David, and their greyhound, Sparky. Her poems and short stories, some of which have won awards, have been published in the UK, USA, Ireland and Australia in many literary magazines, books and anthologies. Myra has another short story collection, City Paddock, and two YA novels: The Journey of Velvet Brown, and The Diaries of Velvet Brown, all published by Ginninderra Press, Adelaide, Australia. Her novel, Cyber Rules, was published by Certys UK.


Friday, 19 January 2018

Trumpet Dirge for Fathers

by Julene Tripp Weaver


1.
There are so many of them—
like the sperm they produce
Yet, never enough
in our lives.

Where art thou, oh father of mine?

All fine fathers of sound 
trumpeting—multitudes sailed
off to sea, lost in the wild winds
of a mother ocean—that mighty
womb they could not control.

The dead fathers lost to us
worthy of high grief—
the under-songs we sing
longing for the half
we cannot know.

Sperm penetrates the egg. 
But, the aggressor might well be 
the womb, lying-in-wait like a
carnivorous plant
its sticky sweet cologne.

2.
The peacock with his
turquoise speckled plume
rising iridescent—

such beauty his legacy
of survival.

Male outsiders walk alone
adorn the grounds—
entice the eye.

Such novelty wears off
when his excrement
litters the pool.

And he disturbs your quiet time 
with piercing squawks 
calling for a mate.

3.
Fathers stand outsiders—
removed from the goddess clan
they steal women
from their family home, 
to make their own.

When our ally, mother ocean, 
steals:
a father,
a lover,
a son,
we mourn such loss 
as we long 
for them to mourn for us.


* * * * *


Julene Tripp Weaver is a psychotherapist in Seattle; she worked in AIDS services for over 21 years. She has three poetry books, Truth Be Bold—Serenading Life & Death in the Age of AIDS (Finishing Line Press, 2017), No Father Can Save Her (Plain View Press, 2011), and Case Walking: An AIDS Case Manager Wails Her Blues (Finishing Line Press, 2007). She is widely published in journals and anthologies. Her poems can be found online at: Anti-Heroin ChicRiverbabbleRiver & South Review, The Seattle Review of Books, HIV Here & Now; a creative nonfiction piece is published by Yellow Chair Press, In The Words of Women International 2016 Anthology. Find more of her writing at www.julenetrippweaver.com.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Questions of Enough

by Julene Tripp Weaver

—after Nuala Archer, From a Mobile Home


How important may a woman become
begs the question, to whom? What values 
has male dominion denied? Lost vistas 
trapped in the dense woods of male 
saplings, the favored seeds they drop.

And, how powerful may a woman grow
demands the query, what authority has she 
available to wield? Each profile she rises 
to fill, her mirror reflects binding expectation,
that stifle and silence her genus creation.

What living wealth may a woman feel?
A growing seed seeks fullness, 
stop this trimming to Bonsai perfection—
stymied growth, shear cut, metal to soft
flesh, such discipline imposed.

What words travel where—from her lips,
out her arm, through her hand, to the page, and into
which book, what audience, before her Cassandra
is guillotined to silence while her newfound joy 
is exposed to a world willing to ignore.

Questions to ask of being born female—
what cracks we make, our dandelion 
attempting flower.


* * * * *


Julene Tripp Weaver is a psychotherapist in Seattle; she worked in AIDS services for over 21 years. She has three poetry books, Truth Be Bold—Serenading Life & Death in the Age of AIDS (Finishing Line Press, 2017), No Father Can Save Her (Plain View Press, 2011), and Case Walking: An AIDS Case Manager Wails Her Blues (Finishing Line Press, 2007). She is widely published in journals and anthologies. Her poems can be found online at: Anti-Heroin ChicRiverbabbleRiver & South Review, The Seattle Review of Books, HIV Here & Now; a creative nonfiction piece is published by Yellow Chair Press, In The Words of Women International 2016 Anthology. Find more of her writing at www.julenetrippweaver.com.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Cut Finger

by Barbara Walker


This morning, I cut my finger
and not just a little bit.
I slammed that butcher knife down
and cut my finger 'til it split!

It all happened so very fast,
I couldn't believe my eyes
and Tom was working out back,
so, he didn't hear my cries.

I didn't want to stare at it,
I didn't want to see the wound.
I didn't want to face the fact,
I just might need an emergency room.

I grabbed a towel, wrapped my finger
and pressed down very hard,
then, I said a few choice words;
after all, I am a bard.

I found the gauze in the junk drawer,
I found the medical tape, too.
My finger looked like a mummy,
by the time that I was through.

Later, Tom asked if it needed stitches.
Okay, I admit it, I told a few lies,
but, if I ever take this bandage off,
I'm hoping for a good surprise!

Later, I had a massive hot flash,
been getting them for years.
This one was so intense,
I cried big crocodile tears.

I began to recover from that,
when my stomach began to ache.
Now, what is this from, I thought.
Hope it's not dinner from last night's plate.

I ran to the bathroom.
I was in there quite a while,
but, that's just like me,
doing everything with style!

I think I'd better lay low now,
so, do you know what I'm going to do?
I'm going back to bed
and hide under the covers, too!


* * * * *


Barbara Walker has had several short stories published in anthologies and her poems published in various magazines. She loves to watch the beautiful sunsets from her comfy chair on her patio of her new hometown by a lake in Arizona.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

SomeOne is Watching

by Helen Bar-Lev


A world newly created
in a little garden called Eden
tomatoes, zucchini, parsley can be seen
trees of fruit, of life, of knowledge
all give shade even on the hottest of days
animals are cuddled up peacefully,
the lamb with the lion, the snake and the rat,
the dog and the cat,
a human appears, then another,
similar but different
then they have children, and look:
someOne who has invented
this innovative experiment
has been observing, taking notes,
making adjustments here and there,
drawing up plans for improvement
when one of the children murders the other –
Interesting, thinks the someOne who created them
as He eats a date, sips some wine made from local grapes,
decides not to get involved so does nothing
First mistake

It’s 68 A.D.
they’re selling popcorn at the Coliseum
marching Christians in,
all have been tortured before, of course
lions descend,
they’ve all been starved before, of course
no need to continue the scenario
but look at the spectators sitting in the stadium,
eating popcorn with dates and cheese, and look:
someOne is sitting there
popping grapes into His mouth –
and no, it’s not Bacchus –

It’s the year 1,410
the guys are at it again
gallant, galloping
burning with the lust of conquest
with the pleasure of slaughter
the rape of daughters
all over Europe the inquisition is in full swing
and on the highest hilltop in Jerusalem,
drinking goat’s milk, eating figs, and look:
someOne is watching them
with a telescope, a new invention –
but it’s not Galileo –
great spot He’s got, a view of the heavens
so He can see what His angels are up to
and also of the action on the blood-stained ground
we didn’t say He approves
but He’s not critical either
let’s say He’s nonchalant

It’s a thousand years later, give or take,
they’re selling popcorn
at the movie theatres
books at the schools
steaks in the restaurants
pizza in Rome, falafel in Jerusalem
olives in Baghdad, tickets to concerts in Paris
they’re gassing, bombing, beheading,
slaughtering, kidnapping, torturing
a cinerama of humanity
too enormous to view from just one vantage point,
so that someOne we’ve glimpsed before
is watching now from the clouds,
sipping pineapple juice,
maybe latte if it’s a cold day,
and no, it’s not an astronaut,
yawning, tsk tsk, boys will be boys,
kill, rape, conquer, destroy
this is the planet of free choice


* * * * *

© 7.2016 Helen Bar-Lev


Helen Bar-Lev was born in New York in 1942. www.helenbarlev.com  She holds a B.A. in Anthropology, has lived in Israel for 46 years and has had over 90 exhibitions of her landscape paintings, 34 of which were one-woman shows. Her poems and artwork have appeared in numerous online and print anthologies. Six poetry collections, all illustrated by Helen. She is the Amy Kitchener senior poet laureate. Helen was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2013 and is the recipient of the Homer European Medal for Poetry and Art. Helen is Assistant to the President of Voices Israel. She lives in Metulla, Israel.