All posts by sofiacapel

I TRY MY BEST TO BE AS HOSTILE TO FEAR AS POSSIBLE, An Interview with D.M Aderibigbe

We conversed with D.M Aderibigbe, (winner of the 2018 Brittingham prize for poetry) over a period of about two hours. The striking thing about him is his affable and unassuming air. At some point he turned to jokes, even infusing the Nigerian pidgin and Yoruba in his speech, at some other, he had to excuse himself to take a medication for an allergy. Also, he had to be on the road (readings) the next day, so getting him to commit was trouble enough. But he did, and in fine style.

SRL: I’d start by congratulating you on your publication, prize, and commencement of your doctorate. How does your accomplishments, or should I say strides, affect you as a poet? Does it end at the feeling of triumph, a feeling which I think most prize winners would have, or does it feel like a burden, a pressured call to responsibility?

DM: Thank you for this. I will start by saying it feels more like a call to responsibility. Before now, I had never really felt like a poet despite having published in prestigious journals. Despite having attended one of the top MFA programs on a full scholarship. Perhaps, this also had a lot to do with the fact that I had never really thought I could write what people would consider “poetry”, or “necessary”, (laughs). But all of that changed with this book prize. More than the validation, it came with a sort of light which revealed to me that the stories I am writing about, indeed have homes in people’s minds. And that my lines and stanzas are indeed “poetry.”

SRL: That’s illuminating. As Nigerians, we were weaned off a generation of really tough poet. Poets whom not only leaned towards the visceral but the cerebral. I recall your saying you read those poets. Like Soyinka, Okigbo. I see your poems mostly lean mostly to the visceral. Your language is accessible. For someone perhaps influenced by such hard poets, would you say your style was a direct rejection of that manner of writing, or you naturally leaned towards the way you write now?

DM: Good question. Well, as an African who writes poetry, I don’t think I can escape Soyinka and Okigbo. (Luaghs). On a more serious note, those were the African poets I had access to early on. I consumed their poetry, but for some reason, I couldn’t write like that. I used to be so frustrated with my poetry during this period, because I really wanted to write the type of poetry Okigbo wrote. There were nights I cried because I couldn’t just find any older African writer who wrote my type of poetry. (If only I found poets like Jack Mapanje and Gabeba Baderoon then, that would have saved me jerry cans of tears.) So, in every way, my poetry isn’t a rejection of Okigbo/Soyinka’s, it’s more like a deviation from their type of poetry—which was the gold standard. (of course, inadvertently.)

SRL: You said in your reading at the Harvard Book Store, that your process is different; that you do not go to the poems, rather they come to you, and that often times when a poem comes to you, it’s often 90% done in your head. While I must say you’re one hell of a fortunate artist on account of your process, I must also ask, does it mean really, that your process (and struggle) of writing is simply getting the remaining 10% and refining them? Or is there more to it?

DM: Well, I wish that was everything. You know because I wait on the poems to come to me, sometimes they take weeks to come. As a matter of fact, I haven’t written a complete poem in over a month. Yes, it is easy when muse visits, but the real work is how long it takes this muse to visit. Sometimes, I wish I had the discipline to force out poems from their abode. But most times, I can’t even find my way to where they reside. So, I hope the interview wasn’t misleading anyone in any way into thinking that I have it pretty easy. We all have our battles, some are just unique.

SRL: So you’re saying while others’ battle is the writing, yours is the waiting?

DM: Something like that. But isn’t the waiting also part of the writing process?

SRL: Of course it is. By all means it is.

DM: Exactly.

SRL: Ok. You often draw from the personal. In your book, your mother’s life and death, her sufferings on account of domestic violence. Since most of your poems are autobiographical, do you fear the day you’d run out of things to write? What happens when you write all you can remember?

DM: While it is true that my book is deeply autobiographical, it draws a whole lot from imagination. I have said this before: while memory is the foundation upon which these stories are built, imagination is what determines the direction of the poem. With that said, the book I am working on right now—while based on true stories—has nothing to do with my life. The themes are really important to me as an African, but that is as personal as it gets. So, everything in this book has nothing to do with memory.

SRL: That’s another illuminating moment. I was almost hoping you wouldn’t take offence at the question.

DM: (Laughs). It is a legitimate question, you know. When you draw a lot from personal history, this will be a recurring question. I have to get used to it. I am still learning, though.

SRL: Ok. We all are, I guess. (Laughs)

DM: Of course. That’s what growth is all about.

SRL: The fact that your poems address social issues, it means you take a political stance for and against causes. Would you call your poems political? If not, what would you rather them? Because some people run away from being tagged a political writer. I guess this question would seem like the same notion of outsiders trying to box artists in by categorizing their work. This is not the case. I simply want to know if, for you, it’s OK to be called a political writer.

DM: As an African, my being alive alone is political. In America where I live, every step I take on any street is a political act. Any day I stop being political, it means, I am ready to die. What I am saying is, I can’t afford to be apolitical in this world that is trying as much as possible to wipe me out. So, every single poem I write is overflowing with politics. I do not need to infuse it. Just by my identity alone, it is political.

SRL: You said that you suck at fiction. To use your words more precisely, the fiction you wrote, you did not like. Is that still the case with fiction? Also, do you still write songs? Because you stated your creative venture with that.

DM: I still suck at fiction, man. I am trying to see if I can improve on it. But I do have a prose project that I am thinking about right now—nonfiction. No, I haven’t written any songs in years. But if the right offer comes in, bruh, I will definitely go back to it. O sa mo.

SRL: (Laughs)

DM: Abi, wetin man go do, na?

SRL: (Laughs). Ori e wa n be. In an interview with several African poets, Gbenga Adeshina talked about his struggle with Editors not understanding his metaphors, because obviously, he politically comes from the periphery; the fringe . Is that also a struggle you have to deal with? Perhaps yes, because E.C Osondu talked about his high context writing since coming to America; making his writing more relatable. Can you kindly talk a little more about this?

DM: Yes, this is definitely true. I wish people will always put many of these things into context. As a Nigerian, my sensibilities are naturally different. They influence how I use my literary and poetic techniques. Add this to the fact that I didn’t have any English until I was twelve, and many of my (our) poetic/literary inspirations are from the street or things we see rather than what we are taught. These things are different for us. So, when you critique us, always put some of these factors into consideration. Do not use the same lens you use to critique someone who is culturally/linguistically closer to you. That is all I am saying.

SRL: I think it was George Serferis who said in an interview that he feels in the language that he knows. Following that sentiment, I assume you feel in Yoruba and besides poetry as a business is largely hinged on feelings, so: do you write poetry in Yoruba? And do you have plans to have your poems translated to Yoruba?

DM: Yes, I actually do feel I Yoruba. But when I think poetically, I think in English. You know why? Because all of the texts I read are in English. Unfortunately, I do not write in Yoruba. However, as you might have noticed, I slip a lot of Yoruba words in my poems.
Hopefully, I can work with someone to get my book translated someday very soon. That will be a dream come true!

SRL: Ok. On the translation, perhaps I can work on that. Not me. But someone I think might be capable. I would like to know what your process of editing is like? Because in Alaska Quarterly Review, the third line had the word “splintered” (Which I personally love) but in your book and chapbook you use the word “tore” instead. Any special reason for this? Was this in a bid to sound less grandiloquent?

DM: As for that particular poem, I changed it so that the line could correspond with the others, syllabically. Like the poem, most of my revision process is driven by form and structure—much more than content. As we pointed out earlier, content is usually 90 per cent done when a poem comes to me. But because I like when the content is in conversation with the structure, the latter usually eats the chunk of my revision time.

SRL: Do you have any fears as pertaining to your craft? And finally, do you have any quirk as a writer. Or engaged in any exercise to help your process? For instance, Joyce Carol Oates is famous for her running.

DM: I’m not the most confident person when it comes to things about me. However, I try my best to be as hostile to fear as possible. I constantly remind myself that “Dami, Ole se ki ni yiii.” And with God by my side, it doesn’t take me long to expel such unwanted thoughts.
As to the second question, of course. I was asked a similar question in an interview a couple of months ago, and here is what I said: I try to mold my day in a way where I get at least an hour to do something that has nothing to do with literature. That something might be checking out my newsfeed on Facebook, CNN, tweets, Netflix, new and old music videos on YouTube, or sports.

SRL: Thank you for your time, Dami. You have to hit the road, and it would be unfair to continue to eat into your time.

DM: The pleasure is mine. Thank you.


D.M. Aderibigbe’s first book, How the End First Showed won the 2018 Brittingham Prize in Poetry. He’s received fellowships from The James Merrill House, Banff, OMI International Arts Center, Ucross Foundation, Jentel Foundation and Boston University where he received his MFA in Creative Writing as a BU fellow, and also received a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship. Born and raised in Nigeria, he is currently a first year PhD student at Florida State University, Tallahassee.

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Poetry by Maria Castro

Macaw

‘Hope is the thing with feathers’

—Emily Dickinson

 

She wears a feather

tattoo pressed over her bruises

a dream of rebirth.

It was Carmen the office cleaner

who told her how

a feather carries a prayer:

its stalk echoes a plea upwards

like baying towards the heavens

and a wish for an answer

returning through its hollow shaft

its message of hope.

The day he left at sunrise

she found a feather,

bent in the middle,

its barbs blue and yellow.

After praying she let it go,

watched as it fell softly to earth,

its song swept up in a current of warmth.

 

 

 

Dropped Dandelions

 

He ─ twenty years younger ─ moved —

in February when the cold sticks to limbs

— it wasn´t lust just love

 

he a painter — filled me with colours

— dropped dandelions in my tea

made me languorous and dreamy

 

posting poems in his pockets —

I posed for him as Diana in a

forest of weeds — in summer

 

we´d sunbathe naked — make paper chains ─

around our waists play air-writing games

— blow liquid kisses in the bath ─ drying

 

afterward — lying awake — he feared

love unmooring itself —

drifting off — a silk parachute

 

 

Tambococha Puff

 

On my cedar bed I feel island,

a language of feathers

levitates along my body.

Its slatted base has a cave

where my belongings squeeze:

mother my child, father my spirit.

I dream of nomadic tribes huddled

together on waxy leaves, rocks and moss

tucked in by toucans, macaws

parakeets and tanagers.

Deep underwater blackens,

an anaconda dies, a desert extends,

a tiny heart left to breathe.

Near to waking I hear a vision,

I see the silence of smoke

clouds wheeling up barrels of rain

forests blown up in a puff.


Maria Castro Dominguez is the author of A Face in The Crowd which is her 2016 Erbacce –press prize winning collection. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals such as Orbis, Obsessed With Pipework, Sarvasti, Apogee, Stepaway, and  London Grip. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English philology.

Miss Taike, fiction by James Ross

art: link


I once asked a group of people how many had ever dated two people at the same time.  By show of hands, the women outnumbered the men by three to one.  A grad student in need of a PhD topic might have some fun with that asymmetry— Gender Differences In Polygamous Dating Experience: Opportunity vs. Consequences. But the show of hands confirmed what I already knew from a painful experience. A man who gets involved with more than one woman at a time is in for a heap of trouble.

My own lesson in hubris took place the summer between my junior and senior years in high school.  My parents had rented a cabin on the shores of Lake Ontario in an enclave of about a dozen, spread around a grassy meadow across from a white sand beach.  During the day, the young mothers watched the smaller children at play in the shallow waters of the lake, and at night, the teenagers took over the shoreline where they did what teenagers do at night, unsupervised on moonlit beaches.

My plan for the summer was simply to take advantage of whatever opportunities came my way.  Happily, the second weekend there, one did.  Her name was Lia.  And at the risk of hopelessly dating myself by this comparison, Lia looked much like a young Elizabeth Taylor—midsized and curvy with plenty of possibility. She was a year younger than me, only a sophomore, but aptly named: Lia Taike.  Lia was less into giving than taking those first weeks.  She had me take her for pizza, to the movies, sailing, et. al. ad infinitum. But I was patient. We had all summer and there was definitely gold in them thar hills.

But about two weeks into my go slow program, she came to me and said, “My dad’s taking us away.”

I was dumbstruck.  “What are you talking about?”

“Some airline price war.  He’s taking us to Europe.  I’ve got to go.”

And the next morning, she was gone. Since I had picked the cream of the crop, numbers two, three and four were long since taken.  What remained of the summer stretched forlorn and empty.

But then luck arrived in the form of a woody station wagon that pulled up in front of the Taike family’s empty cabin three days later. A new family had arrived.  Lia’s cousins.  I went over to introduce myself.  Evelyn Taike was easily as attractive as her cousin Lia, but in that older girl, California girl style—tall, tanned and slim with straight, shoulder—length blond hair. She looked me straight in the eye and smiled, as if to say, “I’ve got my program for the summer, too, and you could be part of it.”

Evelyn was older.  She had a car.  She could buy booze.  She was going off to college in a few weeks and her summer program was apparently to practice her charms on whoever was available—to hone her skills for the Big Show.  College.

I was up for it.

What followed was a hedonistic summer of mutual skill honing on lazy sail boat rides, picnics on nearby islands and moonlit evenings down at the beach. Evelyn preferred wine to beer, and with her car and license, we were never in short supply.  Things could not have gone better, which a wiser man might have recognized as a warning, because on the final weekend of the summer, it all fell spectacularly apart.

Walking down the gravel path toward a scheduled rendezvous, I spotted a familiar car entering the gates of the enclave.  It was Lia’s family Oldsmobile.  The car drove up to the cabin where the Taike cousins were now staying, and I knew in that moment that I was screwed.  Because as soon as Lia and Evelyn started to compare summer notes, all hell was going to break loose.

I took one of those bottles of wine that Evelyn had stockpiled and I went down to the beach and I drank it.  I figured my time was coming. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. But it wasn’t going to be good and I wasn’t going to be sober.

I sat there drinking until it started to get dark. Then in the fading light two figures came walking down the path toward me. They’re not coming together, are they? They weren’t. It was worse.

The first figure was Lia’s little brother, Billy. Billy was about thirteen and nothing to worry about.  But the man at his side stood about six foot five and weighed at least two hundred and fifty pounds—a mid-twenties, Ohio State linebacker type.  “This is my cousin, Savage,” said Billy.  Savage looked at me with a sneer that promised that what came next was going to be fun.  For him.

From my crossed legged position beside an open pit fire, it was easy to see what Savage had in mind. I reached for a rock.  I wasn’t going to go easy.  Savage snarled, “Put that down, punk.”

Billy piped up, “No Jim, it’s not going to be like that.”

I kept my hand around the rock. “Alright, Billy.  What’s it going to be like?”

“They just want you to choose.”

I glanced sideways at Savage. “What? That’s it?”

“But you better pick the right one,” Savage snarled.

I couldn’t believe my luck. No broken bones and a choice that was really a no brainer.  Evelyn was the stuff of a teenage boy’s dreams.  But she was going off to college next week and I would never see her again. Lia was the future, and there was gold in them thar hills.

“You put me in a tough spot, Billy” I said, as if giving it careful thought. “But if I have to choose, then I pick Lia.”

Savage snarled at me.  “You’re shittin’ me.”

“No.”  And I explained my thinking. The rational decision was to go with the future.

He looked poleaxed. “You want me to tell her that?”

I spread my hands.  “Look, it’s not the kind of decision you can make with your head and your heart.  It’s one or the other.  And the head says…” I shrugged, “what it says.”

His voice lowered an octave, which hardly seemed possible.  “You want me to tell her that?”

I shook my head.  “No need.  She’ll know the truth without being told.  In my heart, if not my head, she’ll always be my favorite Miss Taike.”


James Ross has had works appear in various print and online publications including: The South Dakota Review, Santa Clara Review, Whiskey Island, Phantasmagoria, The Distillery, Lost River Lit Mag, and Embark. His debut novel, HUNTING TEDDY ROOSEVELT, will be out in the spring of 2020.

Poetry by Ugonnaora Owoh

My body as a chapel

My body doesn’t produce little secrets anymore. All I see is thongs growing from the opened archives. I might like to get drunk, I might like to piss out, stain in my calved holiness, what God make me see; a little boy struggling to unswallow his secrets in his mother’s face.

My body belongs to men with stolen ghost, salt makes it glisten, water makes it weaker, touches make it God’s blunt teeth. I walk into a club at Oakland & dance in the ballroom like my body is not the chapel anymore, where God house his saliva for holy water.

His blood for purple vinegar. His flesh for communion host. His voice rings like a bell inside me, music can’t steal it from me. I close my ears, pin my fingers closely, try to listen to silence. My teeth crisp, a palm stretch divides me.

you are a dressed sin, he says. I close my eyes, rip in my concentration, try to forget about men holding my waist, pulling God’s blood out of me with a touch. I say over & over again to myself, you won’t walk out of temptation, temptation is a knife cutting you out of god’s tongue.

Bringing you closer to places pleasure is a new God. Too many sins too close to your soul. My body takes God out, toss it secrets again & again, thongs make a home of me, I peel my sadness out, try to hang it to evade the wetness.

I trip in the street, I run into the chapel, I levitate, guilt pour out of my mouth. I kiss the holy book as a form of prayer. Keep God inside me where he belongs, my secrets. Try for my thickened body. Soil my skin more, empty I evade.

 

The tradition of smoke

Vacuum smoke trap my breath

ice deep-motioned of red florid blossom my oxen like faded teethed light

It is the tradition of my cuticles              to inhabit the burns of bearded men’s finger touches

We try for love    try for romance

open our mouth more & say the words love want to hear                a rawboned silence in between us            so hardened like a blue-black empty space

It’s bigger of us to take a touch of our greased black skin

the red sun touch us first like sweating bullets

gun cocking our names out of our tongues

A pulsing of blood                we chew the moment for the space beyond the dark                                 lift our hands up & fright covers us like rain

We borrow a language         sew our teeth finer

Isolate the bruises

Stomach the pains                drink dribbling water

swallow our saliva like a drainpipe                          call unto God for another day

without disappearing into another trouble


Ugonnaora Owoh  lives in Nigeria. His poems have been published or forthcoming in British Configo Magazine, Agbowo, Pangolin Review, Eunoia Review, Rigorous. He’s a 2018 young  romantic prize finalist & a 2018 Fowey prize recipient. He has been featured on pride magazine & Puerto Del Sol black voices series.

Agora, fiction by Kira McPherson

‘Where you from?’

He thought you hesitated because you didn’t want to say. It was your inability to give anything other than a full account that stopped you. The same thing happened at home. People at work asked where you were off to, in the British lingo, and you talked them through the route in detail when you could have said Spain. Infidelities appear in the span of long distances but it never occurred to you to leave me out—a few days with an old friend, a train to the south. Your country of origin was likewise a matter of judgment.

We stopped in a cafe outside Park Güell where the walls were stuck with origami picnic baskets. The owner shrugged at us from behind the counter. ‘I speak English at you,’ he said. ‘But you could be Spanish, French.’ He spared us the full list. The important thing to know was that he was not being overly familiar and that the question of your provenance was for him a practical one.

We were used to these enquiries. The year before in Italy was worse. Something about this particular formation of being with you—me being with you—leaves us more open to men than normal, as though two women together intensify the loneliness of each other. Men encounter us like a mortuary, not knowing what our bodies have in common and how it might preclude their involvement.

I started speaking to pastries the way men spoke to us: Nice, very nice, I said, whenever we passed a window that looked particularly good. Come to me, I would say, smacking my lips together, opening and closing one hand.

The main entrance to the park was shut. Security barriers sent us in the other direction. We could see the tops of buildings from the outside, spires growing into view. Cranes dangled off to the side. Everything we had seen so far was in some process of construction. I felt bad, assuming it was the time of year, and that my reluctance to spend money was somehow at fault. But you told me that some of the buildings were incomplete.

‘How do you not know this?’ you said. You were using the same tone of voice as when you explained, hair dripping, that October is typically a rainy month. Then we went to a bar with a framed print of the city skyline—a weirdness of bars everywhere—and there in the picture was a crane. Only then I believed you, having spent a while on alert for long simmering acts of vengeance. We were friends again, after all. Look how we travelled as a pair.

We passed back through the bollards. You said that in Manchester they used concrete blocks to seal off footpaths, then turned some of the blocks into planters. It was disconcerting, you said, the idea that the obstruction of violence was not sufficiently aesthetic. Barriers were cropping up everywhere. It made you feel like a child again, the adults spelling out their conversations while you were still in the room. But the t-word, it didn’t bother you. All you asked was to be treated like a thinking individual. That’s what you said. I wanted something that was the opposite, an empty head. I had stopped reading the news. It was strange at first to continue moving through the newsless world, where several natural disasters, random attacks and celebrity deaths passed without incident. I was happier, I realised, but if I thought about it too much the effect went away.

Some tourists on rented bikes went past and we followed at a distance. Their brakes squealed all the way down. While walking you told me about Clara, your friend from the internet. Back then everyone belonged to a message board, you explained, now mostly replaced by social media and what you kept calling the feed. If you were growing up now you would never have left South America, because the feed would sort you according to your time zone and your English would not have changed, you said, sounding for a moment like you inhabited that other world. The greatest thrill was waking up early and waiting for the dial-up to ring, then seeing what had happened to the discussion overnight.

I asked if it would have been better, if you had made friends who were near you? Probably, you conceded. But you turned out fine—and you would have not met Clara, the first person you knew from Barcelona. The usernames appeared with flags underneath. I asked what your username was and you wouldn’t tell me. ‘I don’t remember,’ you said, although your eyes were drifting the way eyes drift when people are remembering.

The forum was an interesting mix of people, you told me. Two of them were dating, internet dating, which was impressive at the time because of the perceived risk. The lovers even had a plan to meet. You could never have achieved anything like that. Your mother assumed that a person could be anyone online—and she was right, although in the wrong way, which is the way it usually was, because you were not meeting middle-aged men pretending to be girls but in the end she would have preferred that as a more familiar horror. But that wasn’t true for everyone, you said. Some of the girls were there for the band, some were there for each other, and everyone was working it out.

‘What about you?’ I asked.

‘I was there for the music,’ you said. ‘In the beginning.’

You spoke Spanish to a man at the ticket booth. I liked being in Barcelona because you did everything for me. It was the same in Seville years ago, when we were still together. You spoke to waiters and ordered meals. You managed all the small transactions that constitute visiting somewhere new. You would make a wonderful husband for someone one day, we joked. I remember saying to you, after dinner, that we would have to be quick. My girlfriend will be back at any minute, I said.

You came back from the park ticket booth. ‘It’s closed,’ you said.

You brought out a map, pointing out the parts coloured yellow. You explained that we could walk along this route, but we would miss out on the most beautiful and scenic areas unless we came back later. I could hear the voice of the attendant in the way you spoke. We agreed the yellow places would be enough. We had stood outside the Sagrada Família for a few minutes and been satisfied with the visit overall. We joked about the city guides we had been reading, the absurd quantities of time they allocated to intellectual experiences. Soak up the architecture at the Casa Batlló: 4 hrs. A walk around the gardens was something we could do. We could pretend to be men of action, in the Aristotelian sense, characters of physical and moral fortitude equal to the scene around them.

We began walking along the perimeter of the garden. I told you about my trip to the south of England with someone who was important, or who seemed like she was going to become important but this turned out not to be the case. The Cornwall trip had nothing to do with the end of the relationship except that one immediately followed the other. This is what happened, I told you. We were on the beach one day and there were three loud noises. A car backfiring somewhere, a pause, then backfiring twice more. This sound is a lot like the sound of gunshots, which means for a short period my mind went dark and by the time it was fully mine again, meaning by the time I was back inside it with what felt like control, I was trying to hoist myself over a flood defence wall.

‘Deary me,’ you said, using your English phrase of choice.

I told you that that wasn’t the worst part. My friend in Cornwall wanted to know what I was doing. Dirt from the wall had rubbed off onto my top. My hands were black. I told her that I thought we could use the wall for cover, if we needed.. I was still trying to find somewhere to wipe my hands. A woman coming in the opposite direction stopped us. ‘You thought you were going to get blown up, didn’t you?’ the woman said, laughing. I told her yes, I did think that for a second, but I thought I was going to be shot.

You interrupted my story. Explosions, bullets—you said the difference was small.

‘They both operate as forces,’ you said. ‘It’s really cinematic effects that have spoiled this association for us. Projectiles, that’s what get you.’

But you were willing to admit that I behaved sensibly, even if this was not because of any conscious choices I had made. Your old appeal comes through strongest in these moments. Then you asked why I was telling you that story, implying that there were many other stories I could have used to illustrate my flaws. Was I was trying to make you jealous?

‘It popped into my mind,’ I said. ‘It was my last holiday, that’s all.’

‘Okie dokie,’ you said.

‘I’m sure I told you about it at the time.’

 

We went up one set of stairs and another. The view of Barcelona was the same one Picasso put in pictures, which we had seen two days earlier in the museum about him. Flat and imperfectly tessellated, lots of orange.

You said it was strange to think that terrorists were similar to old mythic heroes, in terms of their values and tribal identities, and the idea of everything as a quest that they have a destiny to fulfill.

‘Not Odysseus,’ you said. ‘But not not that, either.’

You paused. ‘Greece,’ you said. ‘We should be there instead.’

We stood aside to let a couple with hiking gear go past. We were surrounded by tall trees that we couldn’t name. A fly hovered in front of your face, becoming caught in the gravitational pull of your nose. ‘Come on,’ you said. We continued walking up, and you talked more about Clara.

You exchanged letters with some of the girls from the internet, Clara included. You must have written your address on the open forum, which made you wince now. Would it turn up in a search if you looked for it? You would rather not know. If it did it would surface along with the younger you, the one thing part of the other.

Over the next month the mail started to come. It came from France and Australia and Taiwan, and from Clara in Barcelona. It shocked you to see the nice stationery everyone used when you had ripped pages from your schoolbook, which was the only way to ensure your lines remained even. You found out the woman from Taiwan was nearly 40. That cooled your enthusiasm. On the other hand the Australian never wrote back and stopped posting online—from time to time this was something that happened.

The strip ahead of us had been colonised by street hawkers, their blankets laid out with small items, most of them without pretense to the current location. Bags, sunglasses, flashing toys. Putty that stuck to any surface and came off good as new. One stall was selling paper dolls of US presidents, strung in chronological order and with the help of the wind apparently dancing. Things you could imagine being a child and wanting, that your adult perspective knew was rubbish. Mind-blowing to think there is economy in it, the economy of shit, shit repeated and made international. Yet at some past age you would have wanted it. It would have made you feel good in a way that was no longer available.

We moved through all this like people who had seen it before, trying to catch glimpses of the garden at the edges. Below us was the idea of an intricate hedge, blocked from view. You walked quickly to spots of shade and rested for long stretches. You said you were tired of the cold in England but here you were too hot, maladapted.

What else happened with Clara, I wanted to know. You said it was nothing. You plucked out details you remembered: she liked football, she wanted to visit Argentina. She signed her letters with a heart. You traded photos with Clara, hers arriving first. You remember she was very pretty, dark-haired and tanned and older than you, wholesome-looking, as if the photo had been taken at the instance of a good thought. You didn’t fall in love with her but that would be enough later: age and authority, one or two minor flaws in which you could invest as much personality as you needed. We all heard so much about your first love, the teacher with glasses who got surgery and spoiled all your affections.

So many people around us had gone off the pathway, finding secluded spots in the bushes where they could eat lunch. We kept climbing higher, the ledges around us thinning out. It looked the same as the spot in Italy where we fought in between towns. I thought we were done at that point, but then Manarola was so beautiful I found myself wondering what you would think.

These trips are wasted on us. You take so many they begin to remind you of each other.

‘Look at that beautiful bird,’ you said. By the time I found where you were pointing it was gone. We had no food and talked wistfully about the picnic baskets in the cafe. In our version they contained high quality cheeses and crusty bread, and too much of it for either of us to consume.

You said you didn’t know how you got a photo to Clara. It seemed possible you didn’t send one at all, any visual representation of your body at the time a violent shock to the complexity and abstraction of your inner life. Merchandise was hard to get in your town, compared to the glut in European cities and apparently Canada, where the band was also popular. Clara sent you a poster and a live concert that wouldn’t play in your video machine. The poster was something your mother would throw back at you later: three brunettes and a redhead on your bedroom wall, under her roof, how could you?

‘I was radicalised by the internet,’ you said. ‘Women with guitars. Look how far I’ve come!’

You wiped your forehead with your t-shirt and kept walking. I saw the brown of your stomach for a moment, wondered if I would see it again.

We had a good view of all the buildings we were going to miss at closer range. They could be taken in with one broad swivel of the hips. A woman held out her phone at me and spoke at length—you took it and photographed them.

‘You?’ she said, gesturing between us.

‘No gracias.

A smile sent her direction in lieu of language.

Sometimes I get angry when people call us friends. You and your friend, do you want to pay together? Your friend, what does she want? Then I remember that we are friends now, and my anger loses force but hangs around in the same shape.

One of you stopped writing first, you can’t say if it was you. For you the band was one stop along the way and you think for Clara it was different. You have no evidence, but it feels wrong to continue relationships when you are sitting on something explosive, that will explode you and propel you into a different place than before. The fear is that you have a pattern here, that you can start and stop things at will, and that we never know which thing might be discarded next.

You ask about my childhood on the internet. It was much the same, I tell you, and entirely different. I developed two interests in parallel that took me through early adolescence: astrology and motorcycles. Both helped me work myself out at a comfortable remove.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘And I developed a phishing scam when I was thirteen.’

‘Fishing?’

‘Password scam. A stupid email saying, ‘Your account has been compromised’.

It was more innocent at the time, depriving people of nothing but the ability to send and receive emails.

‘We didn’t all have lesbian music,’ I said.

In the sum of it Clara was not an important person. You only remembered her because of the Barcelona connection. It was your grandmother who mailed the letters anyway, meaning that your commitment was not always up to the task.

By the exit an escalator spat out new people. There was a mosaic that you had an instinct to describe as beautiful, you said, but on second thoughts it was just colourful. What did I think? ‘Colourful,’ I said.

We took a circular path that went gradually downhill. No bikes this time to lead us.

‘Have you seen the Chagall gallery,’ you asked, ‘in Nice? It looks just like this.’

You didn’t go inside because it was eight euros and you had seen the famous Chagalls elsewhere. While you spoke you were taking such long strides it must have looked to an observer like you were running away. You were on the horizon, parallel to the rooftops that ran beside us. You grew older, found excuses to move away. There never was another letter writer and now you have stopped sending letters completely. The daytime took you in, and down you went.


Kira McPherson lives in London. Her short fiction has been published in Westerly magazine and is forthcoming in the 2018 London Short Story Prize Anthology. She won a 2018 Spread the Word London Writers Award. She is working on her first novel.

Poetry by Eadbhard McGowon

Calling your name

 

I never knew my grandfather

never made his acquaintance

nor felt his affection, his closeness.

I talk often to the dead,

try to share moments, explain my fears,

or to ask for their opinion.

 

I speak to them to make a connection.

Will they answer me from a distance?

Do they know my apprehension?

Hard to hear them in the noise

of this side’s distracting diversions.

 

I imagine an old man with white hair

holding my hand, smiling,

as we walk through streets,

lined with chestnut trees

and pass through wheat fields;

he is talking to me or remains silent.

 

Silence is often an answer

to questions whose response

would be too elusive.

In this dream we have a dialogue:

he explains things to me

and I ask hundreds of questions

to discover an unknown domain.

 

We have now a conversation

between rows of graves,

where startled deer watch the living

who search for traces of the dead,

stand motionless on the clearing

of this peaceful location, so soothing,

that even the hind and the fawn

are surprised to hear steps

on the carpetlike lawn.

 

I would have liked to listen to him,

to his experience and vast knowledge.

He suffered two wars,

survived the first, lost a son and a daughter.

He did not see the end of the second

nor Hitler’s death which he yearned for.

Nothing remained of him:

He not only lost his life.

He lost everything.

 

Only a handful of ashes is left

in a plot, one meter by one meter,

with a simple headstone.

 

I have a yellowed photo,

mounted on brown cardboard.

At the bottom it says: Atelier Raspe

Imperial court photographer 1894

an illegible address on the reverse side

handwritten in gothic script.

 

His permanent address now is:

 

Central Cemetery,

field twelve, row eight, grave thirty.

 


 

 

 

Monday, oh Monday. Foreword 27 by Kelvin Kellman

Monday, and the solemn dawning of life’s realities claw back at you, no matter the jollity of the weekend. Life is hard. Life is unfair. Every (working) day we see these realities. The not-so-smart former classmates getting ahead, leaders meant to be behind bars still in office, the temptation to join the Joneses.

But bliss is when you know there’s respite from these cruel manifestations; when you understand you can access a portal where which to escape into velvet dreams unending. Issue 27 is that portal. Two fine fictions, one interview that explores more on the process and mechanism of poetry, and then poems of pure escape. I hope you truly escape like I did, reading them.

Lest I forget, I am Kelvin Kellman. A past contributor, and the new editor. It is my pleasure to continue to read the wonderful literature sent our way, and curate the affairs of this amazing journal.

Kelvin Kellman.