Tag Archives: Issue 33

The Wounds of Zayanderud, fiction by Pooya Monshizadeh

(Translated by Sajedeh Asna’ashari)

Majid, you will be released tomorrow, so, please, when you come home and see our life, do not go around thinking that I have made this life easily, and do not overlook how much I have labored over the last ten years. Now that you are being released from prison, I doubt if I have told you the whole truth about how much I suffered to pay that damn blood money and rebuild this very simple life for Saeed and Saba. I doubt if I have told you about my long shifts and sleepless nights at the hospital. I doubt if I have told you that I have taken care of so many other aging parents and children, that I have forgotten how one takes care of oneself. If only I had told you everything. If only I had not left out so much of my hardships from the news I brought you. If only my heart would not go out to you, and my mind would become mute so it would not keep on saying to me: “What can he ever do except sorrowing?”

Last week, when I came to visit you, you asked why I was quiet and unhappy; do you remember? I struggled hard to tellyou that as soon as Saeed heard about your coming home, he packed his suitcase and went to stay at his friend’s house, but the words stuck in my throat. Last winter, he began scouring the internet out of curiosity, and finally found your case. And since the moment he realized what his father had done wrong, and even worse, that his mother had been complicit with his father, in lying to their children, his demeanor has changed. This damn internet deprives people of their right to forget and be forgotten. Do you remember you once said you would win his heart after you are freed? Maybe you thought he would remain eight years old forever and you would bend down and give him a candy, and then the problem would be over. Your son has grown so old that he neither needs you to bend over, nor can your candy capture his heart. He has grown up enough to fall in love. He is in love with a young woman who is five years older than him. On Wednesday nights he goes to her home to learn piano, so his talent does not go to waste in ourdisadvantaged home. This is actually what he told me. Your 15-year-old daughter is also in love with someone. I know you think it’s too early, but it is not you and I who defines ‘early’. It is life that defines early and late, and taking advantage of your absence, it has done what it could to change everything. I am wondering why I did not tell you about these things in the first place. To help you have peace of mind? But I should have told you so you could face the truth and think it through in prison.

It has been a week since Saeed left home. I begged him to stay, but he did not listen to me. I have really missed him over the past few days. I would have never thought that, when you get out of prison, you would imprison me in a world without my son. However, it has been a long time that I am thinking that we have both been in prison. We only differ in that you never came to see me. After that incident, that shook our life like an earthquake, you were not around to see how hard I worked to lay the same broken bricks one on the other so my children would not get hurt. You did not see with what anxiety I took Saeed and Saba across the street every morning. You did not hear my heart skip a beat with every passing car, as I was scared its steering wheel would turn toward my children for revenge. You did not see that Zayanderud dry up for several years; so dry that the kids have made volleyball and football fields on its bed here and there. For a year or two the birds would come looking as if they were waiting for a ray of light to cast on a stream of water, but to no avail. And they never turned up again.

You do not believe that the ifs and buts from somewhere in the dark ceiling still pour on my head before I fall asleep. If only you had not left us alone that night; if only you had been a little more tired and after all that hesitation you had not decided to go to that party; if only I had asked you to leave the car for me; if only we did not argue and I had not sent you off with my shouts; then maybe you wouldn’t have become so nervous. Then maybe you, who was not used to drinking alcohol, would not have had those few shots, which warmed you so much that you ended up setting fire to our life. Maybe you would not make the heart of a young woman stop on the road and make the heart of her father break so badly that his agonized cries in the court have kept on ringing in my head even after ten years. However, you aren’t to blame. They punished you for involuntary killing, me for my involuntary decision to marry a prisoner-to-be, and our children for their involuntarily being our children. This world punishes involuntary crimes, as the voluntary wrongdoers know how to circumvent the law; they know how not to get confused in the midst of the jargons in the courtroom; they know how loud they should speak so the judge would hear them but others do not.

Until today, I used to daydream about your release date. I have relentlessly fought for this day. Why didn’t I think about its aftermath all these years? What should I fight for after tomorrow? Majid, I do not have the stamina to rebuild our life once again. To this day, my life was moving forward, but now I feel I have moved back. It has been ten years. I feel I have to start all over again. Maybe you should help me fall in love again. Mom is gone, so you have to regain Dad’s trust, and ask him for my hand once again. And I am not sure I will say yes. I had no doubt I would wait for you, and I did as I had promised, but I had no idea what “I will wait for you,” means at all. I was so young then, and I had seen such things in movies. I did not understand its meaning even later. If my faithfulness is judged by my body, I have indeed been waiting for you. I never stripped it naked. For ten years I spun a silk cocoon around my young body but it not only never turned into a butterfly, but day by day and year by year, it withered more and more. If my faithfulness is judged by my soul, I did not wait. The soul flies wherever it wants. It is not in our hands, is it? Has anyone made me go weak at the knees? Of course they have. So many that I have lost count. Do I still love you? I don’t know. I just remember that I once did.

To tell you the truth, now that the countdown is over, now that the wait whose meaning I did not understand is coming to an end, I doubt if I want to live with you. Maybe it’s better for you not to rekindle our love. After a long time, this is the first time that I feel I can freely decide about my relationship with you. I can talk to you face to face, without the meeting room’s window between us, so my breath together with my words can hit your face and you know it’s no joke, a ten-year wait is no joke. It is my gift to you. If I ever decide to leave you, take it and never look back. Even though I told myself all these things many times today, I am wondering why I have prepared everything for your arrival. I even ironed all your clothes. It was as if I heard a voice amidst the steam and the memories emitting from your clothes, a voice that is living inside me and tells me to provide everything for you. Even if I object, it tells me to do my job and ask no questions. The voice wants everything to go the same old routine. How many years should you be away, so that your absence becomes the “routine”?

Today, they are going to release the dam water into the river. Together with Saba, we have come to the Siosepol bridge. We are now standing on the brick edge of it, where we used to sit and hang our feet. It is crowded. The sun is starting to set, and is sinking very slowly, as if it wants to see this moment before its departure. My memories with you appear before my eyes, brightly and clearly but with no color. I look at the dry riverbed. It seems as if the image of our feet swinging in the water has been buried under the ground. I remember holding your hand, but I don’t remember what it felt like. I look at Saba. A gentle breeze slides over her sleek hair. My daughter is getting more and more like you and less similar to me. I tighten my grip on her hand. She turns her head toward me and smiles at me with your sloe eyes and points to a spot. The water is rushing from afar. I turn my eyes toward the sky. The birds are not back yet. Maybe they will never return. The water is covering the riverbed and its cracks. As it gets closer, it throws up a wrecked swan paddleboat and, like a cheerful groom, hugs its old bride and makes her dance on his hands. A few children standing on the river edge are walking backward while being chased by the water. They occasionally pull their feet out of the water with a short scream, as if they are accustomed to the dryness of the river. I see the image of people clapping and whistling, but their voices fade amid the thoughts racing through my head. I am thinking that you will never comprehend the hardship Zayanderud has suffered over these years. I am afraid that you might only see your own image in the water and never notice what wounds are lying under the shallow flow of the river. The water under our feet is gradually accelerating on the thirsty Zayanderud, washing away the soil accumulated over the years.

Pooya Monshizadeh (b. 1985) is an Iranian writer currently living in the Netherlands. He is the author of the short story collection, The Angel Cake Recipe (Cheshmeh Publications, 2018), and has won several national literary awards in Iran, including Sadegh Hedayat and Bahram Sadeghi awards in 2016, and Zayanderud Special Prize in 2017.

Pretending you didn’t leave, Fiction by Andrew Bodinger

You’re pacing to combat the building cold as you wait for Jared to return with his keys. The concrete flooring outside his apartment door is gilded with shrapnel of rock salt. After years of the seasons oscillating between mugginess and flesh-eating chill, the shriveled door trembles with every slight vibration. A naked thought emerges; you consider how much force you’d have to pour at the knob to force it open.

This moment, with you staring dumbly at the door, is when Jared’s girlfriend arrives. She pauses mid-cigarette drag when she sees you mid-stride, a stranger. You need to account for your presence now, and stress pierces your pores.

You’re supposed to say something like:

“Sorry for surprising you! I’m Ryan, Jared’s old friend,” and,

“He had a little too much to drink. You should have seen him swerving on the road—

from paranoia more than inebriation,” and,

“He parked in that empty lot near the trailer park-office. The one he says you always point out. He didn’t want to scratch your neighbor’s car pulling in.” Yada yada, ad nauseum.

What you actually say, with a baby-toothed smile and with your hands’ gesticulations tenting through your coat pockets, is,

            “You must be Alexandria!”

            When the Longinus of anxiety impales your chest, you hold your hands before you, jazz-handing and repeating, “no, no, no” and then “what I mean is…” and whatever you mean, whatever sense of comfort you try and convey, manifest in Alexandria’s relaxed shoulders, a crushed cigarette on the concrete threshold, an amused exhale.

            “He’s mentioned you,” she says and pats your arm. “Where have you been?”

            Tonight was supposed to be a catch up between two former best friends six years removed. You were to compare for Jared upstate New York and Wisconsin, their respective wings and cheeses, Mass drivers to New York drivers and both to Midwestern politeness. When politics came up you were to tune your social antenna to his politics, find common ground within his axis of anger. You were to tell him about your new job back in New York, he to you about his promotion at the Frito-Lay warehouse. He was supposed to drive you home, you were supposed to dissipate into bed, self-satisfied that you reached out.

Tonight actually was a catch up between two former best friends six years removed. You shared fatty appetizers. No words were spent on Wisconsin and politics. Once seated at the bar restaurant bar, Jared told you about his marriage at 18 (which you knew about), his wife’s miscarriage at 19 (which you should’ve known about it), and their divorce by 20 (which you shouldn’t have been so smug about predicting). All this was punctuated by Jared guillotining half an avocado eggroll with his teeth. He dusted his jeans, his carabiner jingled.

“Gotta piss,” he said, surrendering his barstool.

He left your field of vision. “A shot of New Amsterdam,” you ordered, supposing he would sneak his own shots as well.

“Where’ve you been,” he asked later in the night, and the only thoughts on the shelf were half-formed: quarter defense, quarter apology.

I don’t like leaving and pretending I didn’t, you wanted to say. You also didn’t explain why you ignored his messages, or how you tried to smoke your way through anxiety, hoping it carried through an artery you could clog with weed.

            What you’re supposed to say when Alexandria offers to let you in is, “Yes, thank you. How was your night?” and when she shows you to the leather couch and pulls out ratty sheets you make them yourself. You insist that you’re a shitty friend and that she is more than kind, more than accommodating. You’re supposed to say drunken and unwarranted self-deprecations. As you spread the sheets over the blocky cushions, you tell her,

            “I ought to live in a cabin. Maybe in Greenland, or Norway. Where town is a place you go into.” You imagine a snaking road that invokes the word trudge.

Alexandria needs to understand that in your mind, that you want to live in a place whose warmth only shows in its juxtapositioning to permanent cold, to hedges of snow you scale with a rope and a pick. You’d keep a fire so long its smoke, collating into a single tether, would be central to its northern, otherworldly sky. Jared gets home. You staple your eyes shut on the couch before they fuck in their closed bedroom. That morning you wake up and accept their coffee.

            What you actually say is, “I will wait here instead,” even though your toes have regressed to numb placeholders. She detached the mitten cover of her gloves and winced as she dug through her coat for her keys.

“Whatever, dude.” She unlocks the door, and her hat and coat hit the floor before the door crashes with a force teetering on intentionality. You hear her understated curses as she pulls off her boots.

You don’t resume pacing. Temperature is a predator that tracks by movement.  A few minutes on you see Jared in the distance, waddling through the chilly mist like a late afternoon shadow, hands taut in sweatshirt pockets. A shit-eating grin surfaces; Jared shakes his head with an upbeat tenor.

            What’s supposed to happen now is that he lets you in, and you follow, for sure this time.  You sleep on his couch with no sheets, since he won’t offer. He’ll wait for you to fall asleep before he and Alexandria do whatever. He’s conscientious, you know, and he flagellates himself through the little rituals of inconveniences. You’ll wake up to the smell of his coffee and you’ll offer to buy him and Alexandria breakfast at a diner on the way home.

            But what actually happens is that he continues to shake his head. His smile doesn’t fade. He grimaces wider, if anything, as if he had just compared the numbers on his lottery ticket and learned that he was off by a single digit.

Andy Bodinger is a fiction writer and a PhD student at Ohio University. He earned his MFA from Oklahoma State University where he was an associate editor at The Cimarron Review. He is formerly an ESL teacher, having worked in The Czech Republic and China. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, BULL, Bodega, and Flash Fiction Magazine, among other places.

A fox in the hen house, non-fiction by Elizabeth Hanscombe

To write about sex at all, we must first face down the polite pretense that it doesn’t really matter to us and acknowledge that in the grand scheme of things, nothing could matter more.

—Barbara Kingsolver

I once dated an electrician by the name of Kevin. A good-looking man with sandy coloured hair and a bright smile on his innocent face. He went to Mass on Sundays. But Kevin, despite his pious upbringing, was as corruptible as the next.

            During my early twenties, I fancied myself as a femme fatale. Beware any man who came under my spell. I’d ensnare him, steal his virginity, lure an erection from his otherwise limp body, and force him into a penetrating relationship he could not resist, until finally, I dumped him.

The complexities of our bodies derive from our minds, and Sigmund Freud was right, much of it relates to sex. But sex can become confused, not an act of pleasure, desire or of love, but of hostility, of hatred even. And sexuality is bound up in the inextricable nexus between our minds and our bodies.

I have an uneasy relationship with my own body, and so, too, with my mind. I do not want to suggest here that others are as ambivalent as me, but in my exploration of bodies I have come to see how confused I am. Others might be more reconciled to their bodies and minds. Others might be okay about sex, but I doubt it. Somehow, I suspect we all struggle with this most ancient of yearnings, which begins in infancy and childhood in our flesh and blood.

As a child my access to bodies derived from numerous sources. The first, my own body proved unsatisfactory. Something told me I should not look too closely at any of the bits normally covered by clothes. My brothers’ bodies were off limits, too. They slept in separate rooms and did not parade naked in front of us girls. My father, on the other hand, took off his clothes often.

My mother’s nakedness ended at her cleavage, which she shared with the world. Otherwise, she wore a girdle that covered her from mid-thigh all the way up to that cleavage. Her arms were free to move, as were her legs.

And I was free to explore my own arms and legs but my torso, especially the parts below, were off limits. Next, I looked to my father’s art collection; his books on art that took up space in the middle of bookshelf in the lounge room. I borrowed them, one at a time, then hid them under my jumper to smuggle into my bedroom and under my blankets where I could study each image free from detection.

How did I know it was wrong to look at these pictures? In my memory the looking ranks along with other crimes of a far more serious nature: stealing biscuits from the pantry cupboard, ordering lollies without permission from the milk bar account, thinking badly about my mother.

One image stays with me, the painting of two men in the clothes of Roman soldiers who drag a naked woman from a horse. As a child the idea of being dragged off a horse naked thrilled me with a strange tingling pleasure. Does this make me a masochist? I did not see malice in the eyes of the men dragging the woman off the horse’s back. And the naked woman’s expression is one of apprehension but not in my memory, one of terror.

Why then did I decide that bodies held desires that were forbidden? The pictures on the front of the Truth newspaper, of naked women’s breasts aglow, stay with me, too. I found copies the empty blocks of yet to be built properties in the abandoned market gardens of Cheltenham when we first moved there in the sixties. These women simpered for the camera. They seemed to enjoy their nakedness. They women enjoyed being looked at.

Why then when I took my clothes off at night, did I seek to conceal my nakedness? Why as a child when I went to the swimming pool and it was time to change from my wet bathers into dry clothes did I wait in line to get a separate cubicle in which I might change, rather than as some women and girls did, change from my wet clothes and stand naked in front of everyone? Why was I so fearful of my own nakedness but excited by the nakedness of others? In secret.

Does it go back to my father prowling the house at night? Prowling like a fox in the hen house looking for a chicken to eat. Is that how it was? Is that how I imagined it when I shared a room with my older sister and my father came into the room when all was in darkness? When my father moved along the floor on padded feet, silent as a snake, and stood between the bed in which I slept and that of my older sister.

I could hear his breathing and turned to face the wall. I knew to play dead. To be asleep, even if it meant my sister was up for grabs.

My sister was four years older than me. Her bed stood in the middle of the room away from the opposite wall against which mine stood. Her bed jutted out like a doctor’s table; her body ready for examination.

I cannot tell her story. Only what I observed which then becomes my story.

I am the gatekeeper here. I am the one who decides what you as a reader can know, which is different from the way it was when I was a child with a body that was mine but seemed to belong to someone else.

This is a woman’s story, but there are men, too, men like Kevin, who must know something of what it is like to feel disempowered, of what it is like not to own your own body. And as a young woman to imagine your body as a powerful weapon, one you can use to gain control of helpless men like Kevin.

I have an uneasy relationship with my body, not that it often lets me down, but my relationship is more like one of distrust. The inside and the outside are disconnected in ways I cannot fathom. I long for the ease that comes of unawareness, a non-self-consciousness that left me as a twelve-year-old when I first became aware that my body was changing.

As ever it hit me in the summertime, this awareness of bodies, of my own and of others. The way my older sister came with us to the swimming pool on weekends but refused to go into the water. Instead, she rested her body on a towel near the edge on the hot concrete. The only coolness she could allow herself was the splash of water after one of my brothers dive-bombed close by.

On Saturdays, my mother worked in a children’s home in Burwood looking after other peoples’ abandoned children. She worked reluctantly because she needed the money. She worked at a time when most respectable mothers did not work. She had no choice. And so, we children were left at home alone in the care of each other and you could say in the care of our father, who worked only during the week.

On these days, my older sister took responsibility for the running of the household. She washed clothes, load after load, a week’s washing piled high on the laundry floor, for a family of nine children. She cleaned the house, vacuumed, scrubbed, and issued instructions to us little ones about what we must do to pitch in and help. The boys rarely helped. They took off to play, but my younger sisters and I were expected to pitch. We were girls after all.

To this day I marvel at my older sister’s determination to get the house into order, weekend after weekend, while our mother was out working, and our father sat on his chair in the lounge room drinking. By mid-afternoon on hot summer days my younger sister and I made our escape to the local swimming pool but not before we had walked past the open hallway door and seen my older sister perched on my father’s lap. He seemed to whisper in her ear. I could not bear to look. Just as I have found it difficult to look at the photos of my mother half undressed.

Years later after I told my mother about this memory, she spoke to me through misty eyes, ‘The things your father did to me…’

I did not have the courage to ask for details, but I want to know now. I wanted to know what it was my father did to my mother as much as I have wanted to know what it was my father did to my older sister. Otherwise the images float through my imagination and know no bounds.

To this day the thought of making love in the afternoon while children sit outside playing fills me with anxiety. Too much knowledge of sexual behavior too soon can overwhelm a child. Too much sexual knowledge can cripple a child’s spontaneity and natural lustiness. Can freeze-dry her sexuality in time. Even as she can go through the motions as I did in my early twenties, play acting the role of a woman in control.

A colleague once told me it is not unusual for children who have been sexually abused to feel that they are stupid and unintelligent. The experience of being exposed to adult sexuality too soon can fracture a child’s mind. It leads her to believe she should understand matters she cannot possibly understand, and because she cannot understand them, she begins to think she is stupid. And in the process her ability to learn can become further stunted in mind and body.

My sense of my own body growing up is that of a commodity. My body was an object that I needed to prune and pamper if it was to be of any value to anyone. My body was not so much sacred, as the nuns had taught at school, as it was a source of pleasure to men. As long as I tended to it. As long as I kept it small, smell free, and smooth.

This was not easy in adolescence when the onslaught of pimples left my back a ripple of raised lumps. There was a movie on the television screen, Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rodgers. Their bodies sway against the music and his hand brushes against her arms, her skin, her back. She wears a long gown, backless with pencil thin straps. Ginger Rogers whose skin is satin smooth.

I imagined Fred Astaire’s arms on my lumpy back and shuddered; no man would want to put his hand on my skin.

‘If he touches you scream,’ my sister warned me from earliest days. And so, I learned to remain invisible even as I longed for the touch of a man. Not just any man, but certainly not my father.

Each evening, his rough fingers brushed across my forehead in the sign of the cross after I came into the lounge room to say goodnight.

‘Say goodnight to your father,’ our mother said. I did not want to say goodnight. I did not want to acknowledge my existence to my father or to have him recognise me in any way other than as one of the many. One of his many children, one he could not remember, one he would not bother to visit in the night. After all, as second oldest daughter I reasoned, my turn would be next.

As my body shifted and stretched, those tiny buds of breasts swelled into full-grown breasts and saying good night became even harder. It involved leaning over my father as he sat in his low-lying armchair. Then I imagined the possibility of my father looking down my cleavage. I imagined my father recognising that I too now had breasts. An invitation for him to visit me in the night.

His rough nicotine stained fingers brushed across my forehead: ‘In the name of the father, of the son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ A blessing to keep us safe. A Dutch tradition, one our father took with him from his homeland. But as each night wore on and he drank more, brandy from a bottle of Saint Agnes, he shifted from a man of God into a man of desire. A man made up only of a body and of urges he could not satisfy with his wife, she pregnant year after year with babies.

When did I first decide it would be better to travel through life without a body, only one that walked and talked, ate and shat, but not too much of any of these things? When did I decide it was best to remain invisible?

I think back to the nights when my father prowled the house. When he moved from room to room in search of something. I knew to close my eyes, to turn to face the wall, feign sleep, stop my breath for long enough to urge him to pass by my bed. There was nothing and nowhere here for him only a lifeless corpse, a non-existent girl, a little girl whose body had not yet developed into enough of a woman to be of interest to him.

But we do not talk about these things. We did not then. We do not now? These are the things of bodies that remain secret. The generational tug, the sense that girls’ bodies are fair game for some men, even when they breach the taboo of incest.

In the past, psychologists presented Rorschach ink blots to test for personality attributes, now instead they offer photographs of typical family scenes, a kitchen table, people gathered around, and then they ask their interviewees to describe what they see.

The same family can become a family riven by conflict, a family drowning in grief, a family of strangers, a family having fun. The same family can be in equal parts happy, in equal parts sad. To one onlooker, the older male figure in the photo can be seen as gentle; to another he is a despot. We see what we see from behind our eyes within our minds and not so much what we see in the picture when we are given permission to imagine.

There is room then in our imaginings to see all manner of things that arise from within our own experience. We can only imagine from there, however wild and woolly our imaginings. We all come with a past, and we all have an unconscious that is fuelled by experiences that go back to infancy and all the primitive thought processes that existed then, before we could even think, when we experienced ourselves as a storm of sensations, bodies without clear form, arms, legs, mouth, teeth, tongue and insides. Skin, hair, nails, fingers, toes, taste, smell, the sight of objects as yet undefined, wordless, reliant on others outside for our very survival.

One day my father was home sick in bed. He called to my sister. He needed help to get to the toilet.

‘Don’t be frightened of my penis,’ he said to her. She did not want to look at his penis. She could scarcely bear to touch the body of this six-foot three man who leaned on her heavily as she steered him to the toilet. And this was in the daytime.

‘What did he do to you at night?’ I asked my sister for the first time when we were well into our forties.

‘He never penetrated me,’ she said, as if this alone mattered. ‘He only ever masturbated me. And the awful thing is, it felt good. I never told Mum because she seemed so happy when he left her alone.’

There are some who argue that everything that happens to you comes as a direct consequence of your own actions. It’s your fault. You can only hold yourself responsible. I do not ascribe to this school of thought. It smacks to me of infantile omnipotence, a child’s way of viewing the world: It happened to me and therefore it’s my fault.

Original sin. Another category proposed by the Catholic Church to account for our human frailty beginning with Adam and Eve. Of course, it was Eve’s fault. She tempted Adam to eat of that forbidden apple and the rest is history. Eve to her credit was curious but then you have the naysayers – curiosity killed the cat. Too much curiosity is bad for you.

I sat with my mother one night when she was in her nineties and perched on the seat of her walker close to her chair so that she could hear me better. Once again, we launched into her memories of days gone by. We started with her childhood and the glorious days she spent, the first of seven children, on the Marnixplein in Haarlem Holland in a two-storey house, which her physical education instructor father bought in the 1930s when she was a young girl. This time I had a plan. I was on a mission.

            I began by asking her questions. How she felt becoming the helper for her parents, younger sister and five brothers after leaving school as a fourteen-year-old.

            ‘It was okay,’ she said. I didn’t have to do much. Only get up at six o’clock in the morning twice a week to scrub the floors. In those days we scrubbed floors. But it was easy. I only had to scrub the hallway and the kitchen floors. They were made of stone, terrazzo we called it. It was easy and the rest of the day I was free to do as I pleased. Then the war came, and everything changed.’

My mother reached across to feel her shoulder. ‘It hurts when I move, but as long as I sit still, I don’t notice it.’

            I was impatient. I wanted to ask questions about my father. I had a store of questions, but I could not ask them straight off.

            I wanted to know what happened when I was young, but I did not tell her this. My mother did not like to talk about the hard times. The ‘yuk’ stuff, as she called it. She told me instead about her days as a cub mistress; about camping in the Black Forest with friends; about how the German tanks lined the streets; and how she and her friends were not allowed to take their cameras with them into Germany. The soldiers took away their cameras at a checkpoint and only when they left the country could they reclaim them. ‘The Germans did not want us to see, but we knew. We could see that war was coming.’

            I did not want my mother to tell me yet again about the war. I did not want my mother to tell me yet again about her childhood. I wanted her to tell me about mine.  

            ‘It’s hard when you get older,’ my mother said, pausing for breath. You get slower.’

            The lights in the room were dim, the way my mother liked them. Every evening she turned on five lamps, one at her bedside, one at her chair, one in the far corner of the room and two behind me in the corridor. The light was golden. The heater pinged off and on. The room was stuffy. My mother’s thin blood needed more warmth.

            ‘Your father was different when he came to Australia. He changed.’

            ‘Were you scared of him?’ My mother hesitated. We were approaching unsafe territory.

‘Not during the day, but at nighttime when he…’ She hesitated again. ‘He became violent if I did not do what he wanted me to do.’ She skipped on. ‘He was not always like this.’ A pause. ‘Why did I marry him? I liked his brains.’

It was late. I looked at my watch.

            ‘You have to go?’

            ‘I don’t regret that I married your father. I don’t regret a thing’.

I kissed my mother on one cheek and joked that if she had not married my father then none of us her children, would be here. But I missed the moment.

            All the way home driving my car through the sleet and wind and rain on the Monash freeway I plotted my next move. A different type of plotting from those early days with Kevin, when the truth and intimacy mattered less to me than giving an appearance of sexual sophistication. That way, no one, including me, needed to know I was still afraid.

Elisabeth Hanscombe is a psychologist and writer who completed her doctorate in 2012 on the topic ‘Life writing and the desire for revenge’. She has published a number of short stories and essays in the areas of autobiography, psychoanalysis, testimony, trauma and creative non-fiction in Meanjin, Island, Tirra Lirra, Antipodes, Southerly, and Griffith Review as well as in Life Writing and in psychotherapy journals and magazines throughout Australia and in the United States. She is winner of the 2014 Lane Cove Literary awards for her memoir, ‘A trip to the beach’ and was short listed for the Australian Book Review’s 2009 Calibre essay prize, long listed in 2011 and 2014, with several book chapters on subjects such as complicated grief, the therapist in film and television, motherhood in midlife, feminism and women’s writing. Her childhood memoir, The Art of Disappearing was published in 2017. She blogs at sixthinline.com

A return to the Islands, poetry by Karen Petersen

Descending through primal silence
on metal, featherless wings
our silver bird finds Earth’s anchor
through the white cantons of cumuli,
and I arrive to smell the charged air,
changed  from sunshine’s clarity, water’s clarity,
azure and brilliant in the Caribbean sky.

In this paradise of heat and green camouflage
my heart lightens, slows, and relaxes.
The room is small, broad shutters open
to the sound of cannonading surf and bird song,
bed linens white as the nearby sand.
The streets are wide and white, there are no sidewalks,
the men’s dark beauty moving like flares in the night.

This sunny place is theirs, I do not belong.
Yet as a visitor I take a fragrant piece with me
like a benediction over my disassembled life:
my hypertension, my fatty liver, my unraveling brain.
The sun, with its gentle diffusion of light on a lemon wall,
does not feel doomed and mortal here.
It is steady and seasonless, uncontaminated by decay.

Harsh reflections on my aging life and its humiliations
I sit beneath the ragged palms and pastel balconies,
whose shuttered boudoirs were once open
so long ago to wild desire, now firmly closed.
The African flowers in the weeds between the rocks
carry the smell of history; they are non-native flowers,
gently avenging reminders of these souls in exile.

My past is just blue air now, fading pink petals,
like the falling pods of the flamboyant tree.
My memories drift in this drowsy heat,
lifted by the rhythm of the high hawks, circling.
I’m waiting for a visitation from my stoic angels,
those silent white egrets hiding behind the decrepit sea walls.
At long last, I can hear the dragonfly’s immortal drone.

KAREN PETERSEN has travelled the world extensively, publishing both nationally and internationally in a variety of publications.  Her poems have been translated into Persian and Spanish, and she has been nominated for numerous prizes, most recently making the longlist for The Bridport Prize (UK) with this poem. More information can be found here:  https://karenpetersenwriter.com

Two poems by Tade Ipadeola

Kungsbron Civics

Zaftig as a Stockholm summer,

the revenant of the strolls remain.

And a short street sometimes sings

of long rivers and bulletproof coffee.

Walk up the street and there, beyond the glass reflections,

is the 7-Eleven, a blonde lady from Uppsala and her pert Pekingese.

Walk down and watch Tranströmer levitate

through aromas from Thailand and Bellagio,

so many spices in the air and none from home –

except that a moving party of the Nordic young

is dancing from their hearts to Afrobeats!

Today in history, the talk of the street (whispered)

is of a circus come to town

with its bloat of hippos, a cantankerous zebra,

and bears from the vanished Arctic.

The other talk is of the future

for who could have predicted snow

falling a full foot thick in autumn

or a summer twice as warm as milk?

And what is the future if nothing

from the past remains? What are journeys anywhere

if no streets keep the rhythms of our steps?


There amidst the burden of the rafters,

in the lattice-work of history, is the shade of Albion

tossed now to truth and then to a dream

of small islands. There is a book of deeds

and reckoning open, a long list of names

futile as the Falklands and the Malvinas.

Destiny is a fork in the road, a path turning

into other paths returning the tired spirit

of crusaders to their hearths in the homeland.

Where is the love promised the knight after conquest?

Where is the rest assured the diligent seeker

in the quest for what is now at hand? Albion

knows but breathes as one with the silence.

Tade Ipadeola is a Nigerian Lawyer and poet who has three published volumes of poetry – A Time of Signs (2000), The Rain Fardel (2005) and The Sahara Testaments (2013) to his credit. He also has other notable works such as translations of poems of W.H Auden and Tomas Transtromer into Yoruba. He has also translated Daniel Fagunwa into English. He has published many short stories and essays. In 2009, he won the Delphic Laurel in poetry with his poem ‘Songbird’, in Jeju, South Korea.  His third volume of poetry, The Sahara Testaments – a sequence of quatrains on the Sahara – won the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2013. He was chosen by the Rockefeller Foundation as one of 12 artists, scholars and leaders from around the world to be Residents at the Bellagio Centre in 2015.

How to write a surrealist novel, poetry by Umar Sidi

Be madly insane

Your narrator

should be a dog, a child-flower or a poet

drifting in the hallucinatory

haze of mushrooms & hallucinogens

Have no plot

At most, have three characters in a boat:

a boy, a Bengal tiger & the angel of death

Subject them all to the will of weather


Have a hundred fleas argue in the ear of a naked buxom woman bathing in the sand

Let your story be a howl engraved on the tomb of a Rastafari

snoring away in a Tibetan cemetery

Your novel should be pointless

Without any ideological leaning; it should be chaotic, like the scrawls of an energetic blind child playing in the sand

If you must have a setting, it should be in an unnamed city where people, suddenly, stop dying

Your novel could be set on the back of giant turtle, whose specie is long extinct

The title should be opaque, like: Introduction to a Discourse on the Paucity of Reality or Umbilical Limbo

Note: It is best if the title is a single word, like: Gift, Nadja, L’Amoufour

Regardless of the level of your irrationality, do not change your name to Dali, Heisler, Rene Magritte or Desnos

Do not smoke Cuban cigars

Do not wake at dawn with a burning desire to see the full orange moon

Do not dream

Do not write in a notebook or on a typewriter

Ensure you write on the tablets of wind and water

Write on the hidden pages on the back of the butterfly

While finishing your first draft

Remember to wake up at night, enter your mind and scream:

Be the Idiot!

Be the Smile

A Surrealist Interpretation of Rastafarian Painting & Jazz or Definition of an Idealist Rascal

This is the Dada this is not the DAda

The resultant effects of the bludgeoning possibilities in the Rastafari Bull painting hanging in the Museo de Surealisme is depicted as the sigh of the gazer the striking pose of the looker & the hidden identity of the interpreter especially if he is

            a rascal or

a poet who welcomes  the morning with a steaming mug of bad coffee

Am a I

Am a king stone

Am a dreadlocked king of coils in the shadow of da great Jah da Boumbaclat click clock of da king of coils around da python around da stem leaf of da watergrass around da beargrass around da crazygrass around da bluegrass grass of da greengrass herb in da Bless Ganja Bless Jah Bless Zion Bless poet drinking bad coffee contemplating meaning of Rasta ART in da Bless herb of da green garden of Haile Selasie to cast a long haul crucial come dung curse on them Bad Babylon system come dung crucial curse  on da Niyabinghi ras clot blood clot of da come dung Babylon neo capitalism grass of illusion of liberty


You ask me write poem of painting of brethren sniffing white powder sipping glass poison  & drowning in sky of mothereal bawl of goddamn goat meh meh meh


You ask me paint poem of dreadlocked tree of life on da head of old blind Rasta man

All kinda things in the bathfountain with Rastaman bawling like  goat meh meh meh ya man gone man Jah gone man Zion in da grass  poem in painting of da Rastaman

In letters to Breton there exist an atmosphere of readiness which transformed states of individual consciousness to illuminate art displayed at the Centre. These transpositions re-affirm a major assumption of the non- bilateral agreement between some surrealist thinkers and the ideals of the poet nicknamed the Rascal

That is not the DaDa, that is the daDa


You ask who Am high

Am high man

Am high man being

Am rascal poet drinking bad coffee in haze of come dung Babylon steam of smoke Ganja


Umar Abubakar Sidi is the author of the poetry collection, The Poet of Dust (Konya Shamsrumi). His work has appeared in Brittle Paper, Jalada, and elsewhere. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.