عين/The Eye – Tareq Imam
Tousled up – Pam Morrison
Inter-flora – Moata McNamara
Louisiana August 29: Katrina & Ida – Charlotte Hamrick
Holding on – Mikaela Nyman
Patience – Jo Cocker
‘LRDG Palimpsest’ – Liana Ashenden
Lost in the Speedway – Mandira Pattnaik
The weekend you wrapped a ruby scarf around my neck – Angela Wilson
“Don’t know when I’ll be back again – Isabelle Lloydd
Just another night of country dancing – Dianne Moritz
My Life Story (Almost) – Jeff Taylor
Forget Mars exploration, the latest cutting-edge technology is: – Gretchen Carroll
Astride the grave – Koenraad Kuiper
White Coat Words – Alex Reece Abbott
Walking from School – Sandy Feinstein
Subsistence Through the Ages – Kevin Grauke
In the driving seat – Helen Chambers
Translating the French – Mike Crowl
The Filthy Madonna – Heather McQuillan
Growing Medium – Chris Vaughan
Jack Spratt – Susan Cornford
Positive Thinking – Nicholas Fairclough
Swimming lessons from a whale-man – Deborah Jowitt
We Accomplish So Much – Todd Mercer
Pilgrimage – Gay Degani
Coral Arranging – Claire Beynon
ذات مرة، وجدت عينا ملقاة في أحد الشوارع، حقيقية.. حتى أنني عندما انحنيت والتقطتها برفق تلمستُ دموعَها. كانت ما تزال قادرة على النظر.. عين تختلف بالتأكيد عن تلك العيون المصفاة المتناثرة على أرصفة القاهرة. ظللت أحملها بحرص كي لا أفقأها، باحثا عن شخصٍ أهديها له. كنت أسترق النظر إليها، فأراها تتأمل المدينة مهزومة، دون وجه يرى بها، دون جارةٍ تشاركها النظر. في النهاية ـ وكانت كفي الحريصة المثقلة بها أتعبتني ـ اعتصرتُها بعنف، حتى شعرت بالدنيا تظلم أمامها. في ذلك اليوم بالذات، قابلتُ أشخاصاً كثيرين فقدوا كل شئ، إلا عيونهم، وفقط في البيت، تذكرت أنني ذات يوم، فقدت عيناً”.
Translated by Riham Adly
I found an eye once, a real one, discarded on the street. When I bent down to gently pick it up, I felt its tears. It could see still, unlike the eyes scattered across Cairo’s sidewalks, looking like they’ve been through a sieve. I didn’t want to puncture it by accident, so I held it with great care as I searched for anyone worthy of it. I stole a few glances at this faceless, solitary eye to watch as it watched the defeated city. Eventually, the palm holding the eye tired of its burden. I ferociously squished it till I felt its world go dark. On that particular day I met people, lots of them – people who’d lost everything except their eyes. Only when I got home did I realize that, once upon a time, I had lost an eye.
Like back when people still dropped in, Nan all floury, baking cheese puffs in the bright kitchen. How Pop would rub her head, kind of sweet kind of needling, and she’d just laugh, hair all over the show. That’s our path. Tousled up. Weedy fronds spurting like they can’t believe their luck. No visitors these days of course; people just walk by. But no one’s pointing the finger. Thumbs up more likely, or a high five thrown over the fence. As if they can hear it too. The chorus. Every crack singing its heart out with crab grass, dandelion, buttercup…
Heat throws breath back at her as she leaves the plane. Scorching. Concrete tarmac reaches up through shoes. The perfume of pandanus and heilala enter. Cell by cell. Sense by sense. New and old, like some sweet memories of a place she knows but has never been. Deep. Rich. Home?
against a grey horizon
– hot pink hibiscus
Louisiana August 29: Katrina & Ida
When the first palm fell the sureness of my disbelief was breached. What are the odds? We’d run once from a monster storm: pets, elderly sick mother, & one overnight bag riding a humid contraflow from whatever hell we might (not) return to. We took our 100 year turn, re-built, re-jobbed, re-located – Louisianans are re-silient! So they say. Nobody told the wind we still had an 84 year grace period, that running was as gut wringing as staying. Yeah, she snapped that palm quick as eyes snap shut when they don’t want to see what’s coming up The Gulf, dropping all her misery on our doorstep again.
Joossien e-mails me the recipe for her grandma’s appeltaart (the one you used to bake on special occasions). Tells me it needs soft sugar and one egg, clutched. And I wonder how soft the sugar in Delft is, how hard we can clutch an egg without feeling the stickiness of body as life slips between our fingers, leaving but a slick residue. I burn my nose as I bury my face in the flesh of cake, the cinnamony folds of apple. This is not the cake you baked, but by next year it will be. Trust me.
I make a clock face, placing cards at intervals on the tray table, repeating the moves until my hand is empty. Fingers not as nimble as they used to be when I could cut cards with one hand and deal with lightning speed! Players watched with awe. I dealt their fates at that table, one flip raising hopes or dashing them in an instant. I work round the circle, turning and moving cards deliberately, patiently. Counting down until dinner which will be announced authoritatively by a Westminster chime from the dining room, at a volume which could wake the dead.
Nothing cracks quite like paper in the mouth of silverfish. I feel the gaps and wish I knew you then, like meeting you shaking mortal pages from a dry hot cupboard – whose dead soldiers raise moldering slow bones of memory – young men in the desert, bearded, afraid. You camped under stars and nets dreaming of water and one woman, wet bloody bandage bone. Shrapnel buried deep.
I wish she hadn’t burned the letters home.
Lost in the Speedway
Numbers on speed dial. Seamless connectivity. They’d been dating secretly for two years before this separation. Now, fifteen-hundred miles, a militarized border between them.
Not unexpected. All along, Hina knew Brad was a foreign student who had to return; her family, orthodox.
They made do with daily conversations — about mowing the lawn, the dissertation delayed, even the dishwasher that needed repairs. Sometimes, lamenting their postponed pleasures. Neither got tired of the long-distance late-night calls.
Then: silence. Brad found out too late what transpired during the twenty-five unanswered calls. A wedding card in his mailbox: Hina & Qadir.
The weekend you wrapped a ruby scarf around my neck
don’t tell me to cheer up
don’t try to fix me
don’t say it’s just a passing cloud
don’t make me lie and say
Walk among the trees in the park, a grey sky will do. The evergreens ripple in the biting wind, the bare-boned ones are leaden. Their branches twisted, entangled. You might say intricate, labyrinthine.
Don’t ask about the dark stuff – let me talk about the stupid stuff. Over a drink, on a see-saw, just check in, and friend, I will keep the scarf on.
“Don’t know when I’ll be back again
We collide at the terminal, mash our masked faces together, and I cry. Bags almost packed. Reversing Denver’s jet plane. Everything froze, crashed, restarted.
Rain collapses on bushfire cheeks, missed her laugh like I can’t explain. Sanitizer greased hands. A sign says Auckland. I think about numbers under town names. This many Covid-19 cases, kids can’t hug their friends, but it’s okay. Aotearoa isn’t dying in droves.
I grab her hand. Haggard, jetlagged, beautiful. “Eyes on the road!” Months of a time bomb chest, vacant spaces. We knit fingers, twenty stitches. I smile deliriously. My girl has made it home.
Just another night of country dancing
They’re dressed like real dudes: Levi’s, boots, Bolos, hair slicked back, raring to Boot Scootin’ Boogie.
They sashay over, offer out a calloused hand, swing you on the floor, humming “Achy, Breaky Heart,” confident they’ll soon break yours.
Shuffling left, instead of right, they stomp your big toe, clumsy, loose with booze.
As they yammer on about themselves, spewing onion-breath in your pallid face, you plot your escape to coincide with the last twang of the steel guitar, all the while praying that a tall, handsome stranger two-steps into view.
My Life Story (Almost)
I was almost not born. Not quite out of my mother, I tried to climb back in. Since then my life has been a story of nearly, almost, and not-quite.
I was almost a delinquent youth, avoiding a lifetime of small-criminality by a whisker, and only escaping police prosecution by a hair’s breadth.
I nearly passed my university degree.
Thankfully I met Sally, my almost-beautiful wife, and have two, not-quite intelligent children to thank for keeping me nearly normal.
But I now have an almost unpronounceable terminal illness, and worry that I might be only nearly dead when they bury me.
Forget Mars exploration, the latest cutting-edge technology is:
- A dishwasher that empties itself
- The political lie detection app – only needs to catch a whiff of deceit and the alarm sounds. Also works well on people espousing conspiracy theories
- A washing machine that not only hangs out wet clothes, it also brings them in once dry and folds
- The –ist app formulates cutting responses in real time to your racist/misogynist/sexist relative
- The power-saving clone that stands in when you need a break from every-day life, or can sit in Zoom work meetings and make appropriate responses.
Astride the grave
The trumpet sounded and we made our way (we, the quick and the dead) to the changing sheds. And one sprang up in step alongside of me as we walked with piteous recognition in fixed eyes and said, “You won’t remember me, but I remember you. You scraped the moss off my grave today.”
White Coat Words
Alex Reece Abbott
Swivel to face me, your desk empty, except for one lonely fat file. Mine. Tabbed by department and coded. Share a wise look with my allocated woman, called a chaperone like it’s prom night, except this morning I’m dating destiny, bracing for your make-or-break judgement. Don’t make me sound like I’m from a freaking horror, lurking with Tippi, Sissy, and Sigourney, because my mind’s already hurtling, a helter-skelter…
Do me a favour – review your word choice. Give me a quotable quote for people asking me what did he say. Don’t tell me we’ve found nothing sinister. Tell me I’m fine.
Walking from School
She was alone on the trail with the wood ducks and terrapin and deer. She’d keep count as she walked: one eight-point buck huffing after a doe, four drakes paired off with their forever mates. Fewer birds and turtles now with the sky dark late and early.
A world, of what if the weather changed, a creep jumped from the verge. Stay the course? Take her chances under the bridge or in the creek?
The water would be cold but shallow.
One great blue heron stared, her lookout.
Sunset caught them both. End of day. Fish to come. Home.
Once were friends
A blustery breeze channelling the Antarctic persuades the three kids to bring the game inside and under the mansion’s stairs.
The three ruddy-cheeked kids use a stolen cigarette lighter to frizzle their hair and fray their clothes until a fire starts in a cob-web corner, and spreads.
The three crash out the tiny door and with a convergence of adults throng to the garden out front.
The firemen are late arriving but after the house collapses into a pile of pick-up sticks, they pinpoint the origins of the blaze.
The sullen children start pointing at each other.
Subsistence Through the Ages
You shaved your beard and scared our child; I counted our last dime twice and listened to her cries. While you swept away the dust, the wind waited for you to tire. I grew a garden to watch it die by noon. You waited for honest work but all days were Sundays. I milked our cow—she gave only ink. You prayed for rain but God’s ears were plugged. We played Hearts until dawn with a deck full of clubs, then we danced in the silence until the band fell asleep, and when Death tapped our door, she asked for everyone.
In the driving seat
I’m making an effort, so I come too and you allow me the driver’s seat, saying even I can test-drive a driverless car.
We lurch forward and I’m pinned back in my seat. Houses fall away, and I duck to avoid overhead roadsigns.
It executes a perfect three-point turn and you’re bright-eyed, skidding in your seat.
Behind my eyelids is a crash, a crumpled bonnet and me shattering through the windscreen.
Afterwards, I wrestle with nausea, even on solid ground. You love the car more. I walk home alone.
Translating the French
In the park my dog is walking. And I am walking with my dog.
The park is very pretty. But not jolly, as the French implies.
The park is either tall or big or old, depending on the context.
I am walking not fast, because my dog is petite – though not a female dog. He is very old, also.
The park is big and old – but not tall.
And at the entrance is parked my car. The entrance my dog and I have forgotten where it is!
Parked beside my car is my petite pouch of pooch poo.
The Filthy Madonna
Her milk leaks, sticky over blue-veined breasts, and blotches dark flowers on her t-shirt. She kicks a Christmas bauble at the wormy dog skittering his arse across the carpet. In the sink, yesterday’s dishes. Flyspecks taint the window glass. The TV is on, the sound off.
Her baby sleeps. His sweet head rests on her shoulder where he spilled up. She inhales the commingle of waxy skin and sour milk, and rejoices that the real father never revealed Himself. He’d find things to disapprove, a judgy bastard like that.
Luna won’t sing unless she’s tending, watering, pruning, scattering, planting. Plants respond, often with shivers of gratitude. Plants can dance and do. Sometimes she hears an under-rhythm, rumbling thanks in reply from their roots. Other times, mornings she’s put no soul into her song, plants sour, go flimsy, seize up in grumpy clumps, so she responds with gospels, digs a little deeper and soon enough, a slow conversion, swaying leaves, slight bop, thanksgiving buds. She kneels to sing into ears of virgin buds, pats beds of soil. Her tallest plant does a mini hallelujah. Hallelujah you, she says.
They said my Aunt Margaret was a magpie because she always wore black and white and chattered noisily. But she made great meat pies!
Her husband, however, hardly ever spoke a word and had a veritable rainbow of clothing. He was a strict vegetarian.
Then there was the story of how they’d first met. She was, as you’d expect, round and glowing, like a pearl. He was dry and angular as a stick. At a long-past morning tea, she’d offered him a plate, saying, “I could just spend a lifetime fattening you up!”
He looked at her and said, “Yes”.
He sees positivity in everything. This morning I saw him hanging blue bedsheets on the clothesline. The yellowish dye stain hadn’t quite washed out. “My son wet the bed again,” he said, wearing a big smile. “Oh well, they’ll smell nice and fresh for him this evening.”
If I were to ask What if your son wets his bed again tonight? The answer I’d expect back would be What if he doesn’t? And he’d be smiling, of course.
I hate it when people answer questions with questions.
Maybe some pesky blackbird or sparrow nearby will shit on his laundry.
Swimming lessons from a whale-man
My father was an aquamarine man. When he swam, he breathed smoothly, like a sea creature. People stopped and watched him. On land, he breathed easily too. He made me think whale-men could be real.
He said, “It’s all about the breathing. Get that right, and everything else follows.” He was standing by the pool, one arm bent like a wing.
He didn’t wait for me to breathe before he showed me how to cup my hand and gather the water like a bundle of twigs. That’s what he said, even though it wasn’t something anyone really did.
We Accomplish So Much
At the mandatory internal networking luncheon, we scout and advise potential successors from the far-flung departments. We absorb valuable input from senior people who attend over beverages, those who’ve groomed and succeeded since the Nineties or earlier. The best ones are gone, however. The natural pros. They schooled their successors thoroughly then went home to watch their shows in perpetuity. Or a few were fired for grooming problems. For paddling their canoe in their own direction, willy-nilly. The pathways to advancement are clearly marked, color-coded and narrated by Morgan Freeman. We’re doing tremendous work.
She wonders if it’s his art or his missing ear that enchants those who love his work. Did he toss that ear into the dirt, grind it beneath his heel, or hide it in a jar? And when he washed off the blood, did he call it cadmium red or alizarin crimson?
She wakes to the morning light of Arles, tromps through its orchards and hayfields to paint with a hammering heart, a glistened eye, then falls asleep to the Mistral’s howl.
She wonders what she’s willing to lose. She scratches her ear, realizes she’s willing to lose much more.
We’ll open today’s demonstration with the introduction of a single stem—the exotic, eight-tentacled Anthozoa Octocorallia. One of the more complex, decorative corals these make highly successful stand-alone arrangements, lending themselves particularly well to marine ikebana.
One of our goals is to achieve a dramatic arrangement that’s pleasing to the eye, however it’s important to bear in mind we’re working with delicate creatures. Part of our task is to re-create a convincing sea-equivalent, a mini indoor reef. The bottom of your vase should be able to support a dune-bed with a depth of at least six inches.
I think you’ll agree Octocorallia make an elegant first statement? Time now to add a branch or two of plain Whip Coral, a couple of white Gorgonians and a clump of tall, bronze eelgrass. Sea lettuces are often overlooked but their fine, filigree-type foliage adds tonal depth and interest to even the simplest design.
Corals have surprisingly voracious appetites, but interest in a limited diet. They will require feeding two to three times a day. You’ll find there are plenty of wholesalers who keep generous stocks of microscopic plankton and flagellates, conveniently frozen and packaged by the mini block.
If you’re diligent, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy the same coral arrangement for many years. And if at any stage you wish to add a little extra interest, consider introducing a small spiny urchin or ornamental slug. The latter is yellow, often misguidedly labeled ‘sea lemon’.