Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Veronica


There is a gravestone
right in the middle of the walkway in camberwell
old cemetery
that takes up at least
half a ton of marble
and is fifteen foot in width


if you walk past the house
where they filmed
the joe orton play
and pretend not to think
about beryl reid
in a see through negligee
sucking on a lolly
"speak words of love to me mr.sloane"


up a few yards you will see this grave
it is the resting place
of veronica
i think she was a gyspy
because gypsies have the best graves
i have ever seen
and this one has four broken heart
stone carvings, and two
stone cushions
where you, dear pagan
can kneel and pray to your many gods
and for the soul
of veronica
the great bangled woman
whose picture graces the
carving of mary, with
christ in her arms,
bleeding in rock
the giant sized rosary
a noose around his neck


and there are prayer beads
that hang from the tree
overhead, a dirty old yew
that maybe she owns too
and a horseshoe, nailed into the bark
and a bottle of polish for
when the family come visit
and a crystal ball
with the magi inside and baby
jesus in a manger
a statue of st.augustine
hangs over the glass


and from every single
family member is a
message to veronica
the woman in lace
with big hooped earrings
whose face is on every corner
of the grave


next to her
is another gypsy grave
ostentatious and shiny
he was young
must have died
in an accident
or something like that
from the flowers that
hang fresh
on the incense and candles
on his black and gold headstone


this family have gone one better
there is a granite seat
where you too can sit
and think about him
and the person he was
and what he would be doing now
and how much money this grave
must have cost
as the family live in their
immaculate caravan


but at least he can rest
here
they are allowed at the very least
to bury their dead
in the same places
where we bury ours
but as for the living
they keep on moving
because nobody wants a gypsy
living in their backyard.



Adelle Stripe


Blood Apples


I buy apples from a man whose hands are covered in blood. An Algerian butcher down on the high street.
Knock-down Friday night specials, I get them cheap with some carrots thrown in for free. It’s getting dark.
This is how the story begins.
The blood on his apron and on his hands is bright red, so red it is almost unreal. Startlingly so. Hammer horror blood. It is under his finger nails like a forensic scientist’s wet dream. His wife must really love him to accept all that blood each night.
There are no shower facilities down here.
I look for a wedding ring but his hands have disappeared out of sight.
Outside, the high street is at a noisy and cantankerous standstill, rows and rows of dirty hunks of metal untidily angled bumper to bumper.
“What’s happening along here, boss?” he says, quite excitedly. “The buses aint moving.”
“I don’t know,” I reply. “I just saw a police helicopter circulating with the searchlight.”
“Fucking London! Something every day, man.”
I buy apples from a man whose hands are covered in blood…
The intended story – his story, which begins here with dried blood under the fingernails - doesn’t go much further than this, for the helicopter suddenly roars into sight, its imposing light sweeping the high street, illuminating the grime and dazzling everyone. We both stop what we’re doing (apples, blood, thoughts etc) and gaze up at it as if were a great Phoenix rising from the hot pits where the urban neglected live.
Its light it straight and true. It knows where it is going. And what it is looking for.
Then, suddenly it dips behind a building and it is gone, chasing its target through the warren of streets.
Armed robbery probably. Maybe a murder. Some shit.
These apples look good though. Colourful and crunchy.
The man with the blood on his hands gives an exaggerated tut of Algerian exasperation and takes his carving knife to a shoulder of pork, hacking at it with deft precision. More blood flecks decorate his once-white coat. I think of Pollock while somewhere in a darkened room his wife thinks of Russell Crowe and sighs like a winter sunset over a munitions factory.
“Be safe, boss,” he says. “Don’t take the bus.”
I buy apples from a man whose hands are covered in blood…
Each bite defies God; another day surviving in the Garden of Eden.
That’s it.


Ben Myers



The Vision from Within


Inside
my mind
I find a whole
wide
world
of erotica –
One where
ANYTHING
goes.

One where fantasies
fornicate into dreamlike
reality.

One where images of
flesh fluctuate
in the lowlight
that I cast.


I float down
the corridor
of desire and,
from time to time,
I stop
and watch
through the keyholes
and spy holes -
I see any scene
that I want,
I see secrets
slide into
erotic actuality.

My phallus rises with
the heat.


It is then that
I become obsessed
with the images
that I've retained from
Arthur Schnitzel's
Dream Story,
as well as with the images in
Stanley Kubrick's
Eyes Wide Shut.

I can see the
sumptuous surroundings
and the masked nakedness.

I can see myself hiding behind
a delicate mask of my
own making.

I can see the sights around me and
I tremble at the
visions of orgies and of
copulating couples,
perfect in their shape and form.

I float through it all,
watching,
my lust alive,
my loins on fire.

I see a woman -
one woman
who encompasses all
women.

A Goddess.

Slowly we come together,
with arms outstretched.

We are both naked and
the moment our lips touch
I am already inside of her -
Her cunt is celestial.

There is a sudden violent burst
from Beethoven.
(It sounds as it is
Missa Solemnis)
Our bodies spasm
in synch and
we fuck as one
within the motions
of the music.

After the onslaught
of orgasm
I feel empty,
so horrifically empty.

I open my eyes and I am
alone.

I am lying
upon a bed of soft
satin.

There is a painting on the wall,
it is of a sunset
by Turner.

The bed feels
as if it is an island,
one that is vast,
cut off.

I feel abandoned,
it is a feeling of horror
and there
is nothing within me
but a sadness
that sheds itself in one
solitary tear.

I see this in a
mirror,
in my mirror.

I look around my room
and quickly I drown in its
quietude.






Matthew Coleman

Cool Hand Luke


Sometime during a trip through South-East Asia a travelling companion and I arrived in a pretty little stopover in Southern Thailand, a quaint coastal town situated at the mouth of the San Song River, where the river flows into the Andaman Sea. On arrival our plan was to head to some nearby island resorts, but because the town was so pretty we decided to stay the night.
Spread out beyond the balcony of the cheap riverside guesthouse was an outdoor food market. I watched people buying and eating food and then caught a waft of hot chilli, fish sauce and other mouth-watering aromas and was instantly hungry. Tired and weary from a long and arduous bus journey my travelling companion announced he was going to lie down for a bit, while I, encouraged by such sweet aromas, decided to get something to eat.
I walked over to the market and stood in front of a food stall and viewed what was on offer. Like most take away establishments there was plenty of fried stuff and because we were on the coast, plenty of fish and seafood. I felt incredibly hungry and decided to order several items, but when I tried to order in English I was met with a look of total incomprehension by a fat cook running the stall. After that I tried some basic Thai, but because of my complete ineptness this tactic proved even less successful.
While I struggled to communicate the fat cook flipped something over in a frying pan, wiped a greasy hand across the front of his dirty apron, and did nothing. I looked around for help and saw a pretty girl watching with interest from a tour operators shop across the road. Acting on impulse I indicated for the girl to come over and help, but she just poked her tongue out and turned her back on me. Cheeky I thought, and acting on another impulse I strode over to the shop in a purposeful manner. When I got there the girl and I eyeballed each other,
“Wha you wan?” she asked defensively.
What did I want, I wasn’t sure, but the girl possessed beautiful eyes, eyes like the dead of night, and a sudden association of thoughts made me think of the song Spanish Eyes, but the girl wasn’t Spanish and Thai eyes didn’t sound as good. Then I forgot about the song,
“I wondered if you could help me order some food. That guy over there doesn’t speak any English and I don’t speak Thai.”
The girl smiled a pretty smile, a smile that revealed a row of brilliant white teeth, and instantly I wanted to extract those teeth and exhibit them in a museum for perfect examples.
“I busy,” she said, with her nose in the air. Then she tapped a pencil on the table and pretended to work.
She wasn’t busy because the shop was empty, but for some reason it felt like she was issuing a challenge and money seemed the only way to meet it head on. There were three other girls in the shop. I turned to them, flashed a wad of cash, and asked if they could help.
The sight of money excited the other girls and they began arguing amongst themselves,
I split the money into three separate wads, “Listen, why don’t you all help?”
The girls smiled like children, but then the other girl suddenly barked at them in Thai, and they stopped smiling. Evidently this girl was the leader.
“What?” I asked
The leader flashed me another dazzling smile, “They busy also,” she said sweetly.
I rubbed my chin, said nothing, and returned to the food stall. ‘Fuck her,’ I thought. The fat man saw me coming and smiled broadly like an old friend. This time I decided to be more assertive with my ordering. I pointed at several items on the menu and then pointed at one of the tables in front of the stall. Then I rubbed my stomach, made munching noises with my mouth, and flashed my wad. This time the man got the idea. He rubbed his hands together, puffed up his chest, and commenced rushing around his stall in an efficient and purposeful manner.
As the cook began chucking ingredients into his huge frying pan I brought a large Singha beer and sat at a little plastic table and waited for my dinner. One by one the cook began placing dishes on the table until there were seventeen dishes in front of me. To complement the food he added five tiny saucers filled with spices and dips, and also a huge dispenser of chillies.
I looked at all the food. There was far more than what I’d ordered, or thought I’d ordered, but I remained silent and formed my eyes into slits, viewing the situation as a tremendous challenge. Then I paid for the meal, gave a tip, and prepared to eat. The cook smiled and said something in Thai, which I took to mean bon appetite, but it could just as easily have meant, ‘I hope you choke to death you stupid farang fuck!”
Unruffled, I pulled a serviette from a plastic dispenser and tucked it into the neck of my tee shirt with a certain flourish. Then I looked to the Tour operator’s across the road. The three younger girls were standing in the doorway watching my every move.
I motioned for the girls to come over and they smiled and looked back to their leader. The leader stopped what she was doing and glared at me. Then she slapped her hand on the desk in a resigned manner and waved the three girls away. Immediately they ran over,
“You eat all?” said one, gesturing to the multitude of dishes.
I pulled my best nonchalant face, “Yep, unless you want to help.”
The girls glanced at each other knowingly and then said in unison, “No, we wan you eat, we think no possible.”
I wondered what I was getting myself into and glanced over my shoulder. There was the cook flipping something over in his giant frying pan. He looked at me and then at the food and in my mind the look said, ‘Now I’ve gone to the trouble of cooking all that shit, you better eat it all you little English prick.’ Fuck, I thought, this is now a challenge I can’t back down from, “Not possible a?” I told the girls with a brave face, “Well check this out!”
Then I got started. By the time I was on the fifth dish a small crowd had gathered around my table. I acknowledged the onlookers with a confident wave and soldiered on. After the ninth dish I ordered another large Singha beer and replaced the by now food-splattered serviette with a fresh one. Then I winked at the girls and gave the cook the thumbs up.
From here on in it became a battle of wills and I began to feel like Paul Newman in the boiled egg eating scene from the film Cool-Hand Luke. I went into tunnel vision mode and stuffed the food into my mouth and took large swigs of beer. After the twelfth dish my belly began to swell and tighten, and then it felt like the food was rising from my stomach to my neck, and beyond. After the fourteenth dish I became like a madman. My head felt like it was going to burst, my eyes bulged out, the sweat poured off me in torrents, and my extended belly made me look pregnant. I called out for more beer, I called out for more chilli, I said brilliant things the girls didn’t understand, but continued to stuff food down my gullet.
Finally, when the seventeenth dish disappeared down the same orifice as the other sixteen, I emitted the world’s biggest burp and collapsed headfirst onto the table. I could hear yells of delight, cheering, and an extended round of applause all around me. Then I raised my head and blinked my eyes like I was dazed.
The girls fussed about my person, and although I didn’t feel too bad, I decided to milk the situation. As the crowd melted back into the shadows I pointed feebly to the guesthouse and indicated they help me to my room. The three girls fussed around me even more and lifted my bloated frame and assisted me across the road.
As we passed the tour operator’s I shrugged the girls from me and addressed their leader,
“Excuse me,” I called out in a horse voice.
The leader looked up, “Ya,”
“Tomorrow, I need tickets for the ferry to the islands.”
The leader’s eyes suddenly brightened, “You wan now? You best price me!”
I shook my head, “No, no need, I’ll buy them when I come down for breakfast,” I replied somewhat melodramatically.
At the mention of the word breakfast all four of the girls looked amazed; “Tomorrow, you eat breakfast?” They chirped in unison.
“Of course, full English.”
The girls were confused, “Full English? Wha that?”
“I’ll explain tomorrow,” I replied, and then walked to my guesthouse just like how old Bing Crosby must have walked up the hill on that final round of golf and said, ‘That was a good game,’ before collapsing and dying of a massive heart attack. Only difference was that unlike old Bing I didn’t die of massive heart attack, but instead bumped into my still sleepy travelling companion emerging from our room like Rip Van Winkle,
“What happened to you? You look fucked,” he yawned.
I smiled weakly and pointed to the bed, “Nothing, I’m just tired after eating.”
My travelling companion reacted like he had just remembered something important, “Is there anywhere good to eat in town?” He asked.
Despite feeling like my stomach was about to explode, a mischievous thought entered my mind and immediately dominated the other thoughts that resided there, the reasonable, boring, sensible type of thoughts,
“Yeah, just tell the girls at the tour operator’s you want exactly what I had, from exactly the same place.”
My travelling companion thanked me and I felt a pang of guilt, but it didn’t last long. Then I collapsed onto the bed, rubbed my huge stomach, and stared at a ceiling fan revolving above my head. Outside I could hear voices,
“You wan same as your friend, really?”
“Yeah.”


Joe Ridgwell

First Trip


Was thinking of ‘my first trip away from home’ about going to New York, but that’s not right. Or about leaving and going to California; but that wasn’t it either. My first trip away from home was when I was two. My mother was getting divorced and she took us kids, me and my sister, left Georgia and went back home to Sweden. This was in the mid-fifties so we took the boat of course, no airliner service for poor folk.

I remember on the upper deck it was sunny, brilliant sunshine, and breezy. My sister’s (she was four) flat white hat with the red ribbon blew off and we could see it down there in the blue water, in the wake of the ship. I went up to this great big guy (when I was two, every adult was gigantic to me). Anyway, this guy is all decked out in shiny white uniform with gold buttons and hat and insignia. I imagine he’s the captain. I tell him about
the hat in the water, and ask if he can turn the boat around so we can go get it? I don’t believe he did though.

That’s all I remember. I have little recollection of Sweden, grandparents, whatever. Grandpa’s ( Moorfaar) name is Ernst, he’s a bus driver I guess. I vaguely remember a little fat guy in some kind of tacky half-uniform, dark sweater on over his bus driver pants,maybe he took us for a ride on his bus onetime. And mother’s young brother Klas-Joren has a motorcycle, noisy; and a kayak in the cold water.
That was scary to me, not something I wanted to do. But that’s about it. There are pictures of me and my sister in a park, playground equipment. Don’t remember that. I vaguely remember there were other kids our age we played with. Neighbour kids I suppose. Moormoor and Moorfaar have a dog, Pookie-Mooken. It’s a great big Boxer type, I think, with the cut, stilted ears.

I guess we were gone for months. I mean, you don’t boat over to Sweden, and stay a week or two, not like flying to Paris for a week. But time isn’t real at that age anyway, not ‘til you start counting to Christmas or birthdays and such. I Don’t remember coming home but the story is that the boat comes to New York pier and Dad is there to meet us and we’re not there. Mom had slipped by him somehow. Imagine that, waiting these months and months wondering if you’d ever see wife and kids again. Then they come back and you go to pick them up, wait hope-filled hours and agonizing hours on the pier and then finally everybody’s gone and they’re not there.

And Dad’s panicky but not that time I guess, because he remembers that Mom had stayed at the YWCA before she’d left, waiting on ticketing and what not. So he goes to the Y and presto, there we are. Apparently Mom’s got those awful decisions running through her head, like she knows she has the return ticket...but is she going to take the kids or leave them or what?

I’m thinking there was a bus or train that’s pitch black inside except for small blinking overhead corridor type lights. And Mom’s going back to Sweden and we’re going home with Dad. It seems that you don’t really emote about things like that when you’re two or three. I had my third birthday in Sweden.

So, when we get back to Georgia, to my Grandparents house - they have this room that appears to be filled with toys. Sorta make up for not having a mother, I suppose, but I never really thought about it at the time. I did notice that the shiny silver and red tricycle had one of those push to ring type bells on the handlebars. That’s cool. And of all things, these folks have a tiny little toy Pomeranian dog. I don’t remember it from before, been gone awhile. So I say to my sister, in Swedish, since we don’t speak English anymore “these people have a pet squirrel in their house.” Later Dad tells me I told him that unlike the pom, Pookie-Mooken was a stura hundt, a big strong dog.





Mikael Covey

Patrick Kavanagh Remembered


At Brendan Behan's funeral in Glasnevin cemetery, his friend Mattie O'Neill concluded his oration by saying, 'We shall never see his like again'. As he finished, Patrick Kavanagh was heard to mutter, 'Thank God for small mercies'.
This was the nature of the relationship between the two giants of Irish literature of that time; they hated each other. Not even the death of one of the protagonists was going to change that fact. It probably would have been the same if Patrick had died first, although, of the two, he was the one more likely to hold a grudge.

Patrick bore grudges; that was his nature. And if he didn't like you, he told you so in no uncertain terms. Maybe it was because of his upbringing in the back-biting, small-farmer environment of Inniskeen where, if we are to believe his writings, neighbors skulked about behind the hedges and ditches, spying on each other and running each other down, jealous of any financial or social progress the other was perceived to have made. And where, if they saw a neighbor on his way to pay a visit, they were more likely to take the kettle off the fire than put it on. Or maybe it was the way the Dublin literati turned its back on him.

Whatever the reason, when you fell out with Paddy, you stayed fell out - as actor TP McKenna's wife. Mai, found out to her cost. They had put him up for several weeks, and were worried when he showed no signs of leaving, so she approached him, only to be told that she 'was an ignorant woman'. Paddy never spoke to her again.

Patrick hated Behan for a number of reasons.

One - he was the kind of 'buck-leppin'' Irishman that he detested. He regarded him as a phony, and once told him that the only journey he had ever made was from 'a national phony to an international one'.

Two - his involvement in Patrick's libel case against the Leader newspaper, which made him look like a liar and a fool.

Three - the fearful abuse that Behan hurled at him. It was a regular sight around the literary watering holes of Dublin, a splenetic Behan following a drunken Kavanagh, taunting and humiliating him.

Patrick Kavanagh was born at Mucker, Inniskeen, County Monaghan, on the 21st October 1904, where his father was a small farmer and cobbler. He received only Primary school education, and left school at thirteen. It was expected he would carry on the family tradition of shoe-making and farming - but Paddy had other ideas. Ever since the day he had heard a girl in school reciting Clarence Mangan's words 'I walked entranced/through a land of Morn' he knew he wanted to be a poet.

Yet, he resisted the lure of Dublin for more than twenty years, content to 'plough his stony grey soil of Monaghan', publishing the occasional poem in a newspaper or magazine. In 1930 he undertook his 'long walk' to Dublin, to test the water as it were. It was 'in the slack period – after the crops were sown', and it took him three days. He begged food and money along the way, and after he met AE (George Russell) and some of the other great writers of the period, his conversion was complete. Oddly enough, the one Irish writer he didn't think much of was WB Yeats. 'I never cared much for Mr Yeets', he sneeringly remarked years later.

However, if he thought Dublin was going to embrace him with open arms he was sadly mistaken, as he discovered when he moved there permanently in 1939. To the literati of Dublin he was the quintessential bogman, the culchie who had no right being able to read never mind write poetry, and he had to endure the daily spite of that unmannerly band. He didn't know it then, but he had no hope of becoming accepted. This rejection made him bitter, so he did the only thing he knew; he attacked everyone in sight, friend and foe alike, ensuring his certain banishment to the literary deserts.

PK was an intellectual in tramp's clothing, not the country bumpkin and bogman that he was usually portrayed as. The writer, Anthony Cronin, a disciple who became a life-long friend, said of him; 'If you stood in a doorway with Patrick, sheltering out of the rain for a few minutes, you came away knowing you had been in the presence of genius'. Anthony couldn't stand the way Brendan Behan treated Paddy, following him around, taunting him with shouts of 'you Monaghan wanker' or 'the fucker from Mucker'.

Behan was twenty years, younger, physically in his prime, and Paddy was afraid of him, so much so, that according to Cronin, 'you would see his big frame shake and he would become agitated whenever Brendan appeared on the horizon…' Cronin refused to talk to Behan because of this behavior, and this led to their famous fist-fight outside McDaid's pub one night. Cronin more than held his own, which caused Paddy to remark 'I always knew the bacon would be no match for the slicer'.

What kind of man was Paddy? He always pleaded the 'poor mouth', but given his background, that was understandable. Although it is debatable if he was as poverty-stricken as he usually made out. There was always a few pounds coming in from his journalism and the sale of poems to various magazines; from John McQuaid, the Archbishop of Dublin, who bankrolled him for most of his life; from his younger brother, Peter, who supported him during the years he worked as a teacher in Dublin; from John Ryan, the founder of Envoy magazine; and from many more friends and acquaintances. And throughout his life he harbored the belief that he would one day wed a wealthy (young) woman, who would keep him in the manner he aspired to.

The great love of his life was Hilda Moriarty, a beautiful medical student. He pursued her relentlessly, and his poem 'On Raglan Road' is dedicated to her.

"On Raglan Road of an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I would one day rue
I saw the danger and I passed along the enchanted way
And I said let grief be a falling leaf at the dawning of the day."

Hilda was middle-class, the daughter of a wealthy Kerry doctor, and twenty years younger than Patrick; he was a penniless poet, uncouth and unwashed, a small farmer, who had forsaken the plough for the pen. She never reciprocated his love, and apart from going to the occasional film or having a cup of coffee with him, never gave him any hope.

Nevertheless, he pursued a one-sided courtship, following her around the city, and even once to her home in Dingle. It ended when she met Donagh O'Malley, a flamboyant engineer from Limerick. They subsequently married and Donagh went on to become Minister for Education in the Fianna Fail Government.

To get a true picture of Patrick, the reader could do worse than read his novel Tarry Flynn. Tarry is the nearest to Patrick we shall ever get. The poet, the dreamer, the fool of the book, ridiculed by his neighbors and both encouraged and belittled by his strong-willed mother, could be Patrick himself, and the raw material for his long poem The Great Hunger runs like a river through it.

Some people have described The Great Hunger as the poor man's The Wasteland. But in my opinion it is a much better poem than T S Elliot's offering, not least being that it is comprehensible. John Betjeman saw it for the masterpiece that it is, and was instrumental in getting it published. Pity then that it should see the light of day in the narrow-minded, priest-ridden Ireland of De Valera, where it was unjustly derided as 'a filthy poem'. It was never officially banned, but the effect was just the same.

Patrick's love of the land shines like a beacon through Tarry Flynn, yet his despair at the ball-breaking futility of it all is apparent long before he takes his departure (again, shades of Patrick himself) in the final pages. Tarry was echoing what Patrick himself was to say in real life 'the countryside is a great place to write about but it's terrible place to live in'.

But Patrick could be funny as well as depressing, and there is a hilarious incident in the book where, after a fist-fight with his neighbors, Tarry fears court action, and, spying on them one night, discovers they are 'rehearsing ' the court case in the farmhouse kitchen.
Solicitor: You're a bit of a poet, Flynn, I believe? (laughter)
Petey: (attempting to mimic Tarry) There's a great beauty in stones and weeds
(more laughter)
Solicitor: Your mother bought a farm for you to keep you from the lunatic asylum,
is that the case?
Petey: I admit she bought a farm
Solicitor: What's known as grabbing a farm, isn't that so?
(Petey scratches his head in imitation of Tarry)
'Isn't he the lousy bastard?' Commented the real Tarry.

John Kilfeather said of him; 'Mr Patrick Kavanagh was a highly cultured mind with a lot of innocence in it. Not since Burns has a great figure emerged from the people who has left such a faithful record of what it is to be of the people and yet apart from them. His life was not the least of his works of art'.

Patrick died on the 30th November 1967. His monument is a seat beside the Grand Canal, not far from the Australian Embassy in Dublin. The inscription reads;

O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb – a canal-bank seat for the passers-by.


Tom O'Brien

Truth and Reality Seldom Collide


when I was younger
I wanted to be Jim Morrison
then I grew embarrassed of that dream
then I wanted to be Kerouac
but now I would settle for anyone
other than what I am
unemployed, writing in old notebooks
avoiding the tax man at the door



Michael McCullough

Stand Up



Martin… Martin…
You’d like me to talk about Martin?
You and the world, yeah? You and the whole, wide world.
Martin’s always wanted to be a comedian. As long as I’ve known him. In our spare time, we played the clubs. The two of us doing the rounds. At first it was just small slots or open mic nights. Anywhere you could try and hold onto a stage. Happy times yet hard? Oh yeah. You could say that.
And then he made it to Thursday night compere.
Martin doesn’t tell jokes. He never did. He’s not that kind of comic.
“I’m more interested in moods,” he once said to me. In fact, he’d probably say that to you even now, if you could get close enough to ask. “I set a scene, create a vibe; off the wall riffs and right angled connections.”
There were times when I used to speak to Martin and was convinced that he was making the whole thing up as he went along.
Here’s one of Martin’s sign offs: “I swear to God, I’m so unlucky. If I was in a bummer’s conga line, I’d be the bloke at the front.”
You think that’s funny? Me? I don’t know. I’m really not sure. He’s been using that one right from the word go.
Martin claims that his favourite comics are Lenny Bruce, Peter Cook, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks.
Personally, I suspect that Martin claims this purely because he believes that he is expected to claim it.
Martin and I used to talk about comedy. Back when we still saw each other, of course. Actually, talk is an incorrect appraisal of the time spent. We discussed. Late at night, when the party was winding down and any paired off couples already slunk away, we’d find each other by the scotch bottle and reiterate our opinions. For Martin and myself, comedy was an unquestionably serious concern.
“Comedy is the picture of Dorian Gray,” Martin believed. “Comedy is our hideous truth. We can dress ourselves up. We can stay as pretty in person as we could ever wish to be. Comedy is the recognition of that hidden, buried actuality. The greed, the worry, the betrayal, the crime… every shitty effort that has ever been engaged.”
And I thought that comedy was just about making people laugh. You know. Slapstick. Set ups. Good, old fashioned jokes.
Hey – would you like to hear one?
Guess who I bumped into at the opticians today?
Everyone.
I told that at my very first gig. It raised a titter. Martin was on after me. His ten minute routine detailed with some candour a surreal Brokeback Mountain style affair between George Bush and Tony Blair. Furtive looks across the war room, the UN watching appalled from afar, Cherie’s realisation that the fishing rods had never been tarnished through use…
“Jesus, all that Blair/Bush shit,” I told him afterwards, “it’s shooting fish in a barrel, isn’t it?”
“Satire,” Martin said.
“But it’s obvious,” I argued.
“I’m making a point,” he countered.
He looked so earnest. Too earnest. Verging on self-righteous. If he had been making a point, I wasn’t entirely sure he knew what that point was himself. Meanwhile, front of house, half the room were shouting for him to come back on.
Anyway, the months crept forwards. Thursday night compere turned into Saturday night compere turned into this contract with one of the comedy club chains. Martin traversed the highs and lows of this isle amidst the gigging circuit – a star acutely rising. Now he gets mentions in the weekend Guardian. You’ve seen them, yes? Some spotter from Radio 4 went to watch him play last week in Bristol. Apparently there’s talk of a promoter subsidising an Edinburgh run.
But am I jealous?
Of course I, as I blag the odd support slot and doggedly hold onto the day job, as I sit in dingy basement dressing rooms no larger than a dog kennel with an audience of hen parties awaiting me, as I hear someone reverentially acknowledge Martin’s mastery of technique and appreciation of heritage, am going to say “no”.
But if you want the truth about Martin, then here it is.
Martin’s a fraud. Martin’s a fool. Martin’s some kind of comedic dilettante. Martin - if you discard the alleged commentary, if you peer through the paper thin polemic - represents nothing other than the simplest vanguard of the basest humour. It’s all gays and gypos and chavs and faeces. Where’s the laughs? I think. Where’s the jokes? Where, for the love of Christ, is the punchline?
And no, I do not believe myself to be bitter.
I simply look at Martin, at what’s happening to Martin -every audience in his thrall and each rung of the ladder successfully ascended – and, in the pit of my soul, just cannot bring myself to find it funny..





Mark Colbourne

Fake Baby Love


Eeh I can’t wait to get home and cuddle my little baby.
“Scuse me, come again?” Says my manager, we do a car share thing together.
Cuddle my baby.
“You’re 50 years old when did you have this baby?”
Oh no, not a real baby, well I think she’s real.
I call her a Pocahontas.
She’s a Native American baby, but I don’t let her wear that ethnic stuff.
Her skin feels lovely just like a real baby,
Weighs the same as a real baby.
“Does it wee, crap and sick like a real baby?” She asks.
Eeeh you are funny, of course she does, but I don’t mind.
Manager doesn’t believe me so I show her t’website where I bought her.
You can buy all sorts of babies, Madonna shoulda got one,
They’ve even got Cambodian babies and they come in different ages.
“So basically you’ve got a fake baby.”
Well I wouldn’t put it that way, my friend’s got five, all in moses baskets keeps them in her spare bedroom.
I’m off round her’s tomorrow night.
But tonight I’m going to sit down with a box of roses.
Cup of tea, Coro and cuddle my baby.
“You’ve children of your own though?”
Of course luv, but they’ve all grown up.
They: “Mother, you’re fucking sad.”
But I don’t care I’ve got my little Pocahontas to cuddle and she loves me.
I found my daughter’s old pram…
“You dare,”says manager lady.
I thought me and my friend Sheila, we could. ..
“Finish that sentence and you can forget our car share.”


Elizia Volkmann

Whiskey then Wine


He held the glass of whiskey like an object to be disposed of. The glass was long and narrow and he pinched the glass, his fingers overlapping his thumb and he sat there poised with the glass in his hand.

The liquid was the colour of old photographs, that dipped in tea colour, and it tasted like bitter nostalgia to him. It burned its way down his throat and there it lined his stomach, churning it and making him irritable.

He made frequent glances to the doorway, as though expectant of company. He hadn’t arranged to meet anyone, but he wore his best pair of shoes, they smelt of stiff leather; he reeked of newness and he sat there on the edge of his stool, his frame leaning in so close to the table that his chest pressed tightly against its wooden top. He stretched himself far forwards as though involved in a discreet conversation, and he played with the spent ends of cigarettes, biding his time with small and irrelevant acts.

His eyes would follow the grain of the wood, and his fingernails would pick at the lacquered finish of the table top; names had been etched in and were bound only by shards of splintered wood. He followed the curves of the letters with his fingertips and he spelt out the names, he whispered the names softly, he sees her name and he whispers it aloud, it doesn’t sound the same anymore; it sounds vacant and hollow, it sounds like an echo.

The amber liquid sloshed its way up the length of the glass and eschewed its way into his mouth, the rim of the glass propped up by his nose. His surroundings now drenched in the amber of the whiskey, as he views the room through the bottom of his glass.

He drinks it all and the room regains its colour. He sits by the table and he waits, he sits and waits with no drink and no reason to be there. A barman begins to light the candles on each of the tables; the candles are wedged into the necks of wine bottles. The barman lights the candle by his table, he watches as the flame gently licks the air and he watches how it wavers at each little movement he makes.

Wax trickles down the stem of the candle and it sets before it reaches the neck of the bottle, the streams of wax running down the glass remind him of tears. He touches the wax and he rolls it, creating shapes; he presses it into the table and then flicks away the crummy mess. He looks like a bored child.

Another man sits alone at the next table; he has been there for some time. He pours himself another glass of wine from the bottle that rests before him, he has noticed the man sat on the table beside him and he has noticed he has been sat there alone for some time, alone and without a drink.

“Care to join me?” He asks.
No response is made, he blinks and his eyes stay shut for too long.
The man with the bottle of wine picks up his bottle and rests it by the other table. He fetches another glass from the bar and begins to pour the man a drink. He pushes it towards him.
“Good day?” He asks.
Again the man doesn’t say anything, his breathing becomes more pronounced but he says nothing. He hasn’t touched his drink. He hasn’t looked up.
The questioning man does not feel disheartened, he enjoys his wine and waits, he waits for the story of the man waiting for no company; he can sense his eagerness to speak.
He finally takes up his glass of wine and he sips at it to begin with, and then the deep red diminishes fast.
In answer to the man’s question, “Awful, my day was awful. I thank you for the wine.”
They order another bottle and then another, they are the last to leave the bar.

It is quiet outside, it is late and it is midweek, in a few hours time they will be getting ready for work. They walk to a park where they sit on a bench, they read the names etched on the bench and they imagine the people who own these names, and they all seem much more interesting and much happier than them. One of the men reaches into his pocket and pulls out his house-keys, he turns to the back of the bench and he writes his name, then passes the keys to the other man and he does the same. They wonder what people might imagine when they see their names.

They fall asleep underneath their jackets, their clothes smelling strongly of alcohol. The park is near the University and in the morning students pass by the two men, they are mistaken for tramps, but nothing is said directly to them, there is just a faint hum of unease.

A girl stands by a tree a few steps away from them, she takes her camera out of her bag and she repeatedly takes pictures of them. She looks at the two men earnestly; their jackets overlapping, the sleeves connected like holding hands. She looks at the two men and she sees them experiencing something she has always wanted. She is happy for them.

They carry on sleeping, oblivious to the eyes that are watching them.



Emily McPhillips

Love me with your Eyes Closed


She looked to me with jaded eyes.
Short, silky, moving hair: to left: to right.
She explains but I don't listen.
Lips: moving.
Gaze: lowered.
Ebbing.
Neck turns.
Eyes: close.
Eyes: open.
Eyes: close.
Close.
Close.
Yes, she loves me.
Close.
Close.
Eyes: open. She loves me not.
She looks to me with nothing in her eyes.
Cold.
Discrete.
Warmth: gone.
--What's wrong?
Sweat on her forehead dimmed by the shade.
I'm in the light.
We must change places.
She is not under the tree.
She is looking to the river.
--Isn't it beautiful?
Yes, it is.
She doesn't know she isn't smiling.
Breeze: violent.
Lips: chapped and bleeding.
--No, i'm fine. It's nothing. . .
Her eyes look softly to the river. . .
I'm standing in the shade, beside her, now.
The two sides of her face add up: perfectly: symmetrically.
Yes.
--We should go. . .
Yes, yes. We should go. . .


Brian Gonzalez

Misspent Youth



Misspent youth
Not sniffing glue,
But reading about how others do.

Misspent youth
No sleepless nights,
Creeping around to scare the life
Out of neighbours; favours, all returned
To parents, who knew I was safe and sound.

Misspent youth;
A criminal record
Collection; the grave where loyalties lie.

Misspent youth.
Awkward fumbles
Beneath a blouse and stripy tie;
Not locked behind the bike-shed; here,
To shame and shun: the greatest fear.

Misspent youth,
No heavy hand
Upon a scarred left shoulder.

Misspent youth,
No battle scars
To glance upon and savour.



Dominic Burgess

The Man in the Fire



When I heard about how the man had jumped I wished that I had been there to watch. As fire stole its way through the old building, decimating and destroying everything in its path, this man decided to jump from a fourth floor building rather than slowly burn to death. Petrified and already feeling the rising wave of heat coming towards him, his mind must have been imagining the feeling of plastic melting against skin, of skin being bubbled away from bone, of nerves and organs screaming out in anguish.

You couldn’t read about this in the news. The local paper didn’t use the words “splinter” or “hell”. The reporter on the radio didn’t use the phrase “like something from a horror film”. I heard about what happened to him from a friend who’d been there. She said you could hear the crack of his pelvis over the sound of the fire engines. She said you could see his legs rising up into his chest as he collided with the ground. She described in grotesque detail how the man’s whole body collapsed in on itself as he landed. She said all of this to me in a hushed whisper, her eyes filling with tears as she cradled her coffee cup in both hands.

The paramedics instantly surrounded him. They put him on a stretcher and wheeled him away to an ambulance.

As my friend tells me this story I can’t help but feel jealous of her. It must be the same as the feeling of wanting to look at a car crash. Morbid curiosity. Wanting to see the worst just because it exists and it’s right in front of you.

The paramedics placed the man on the stretcher but it was pointless. He was already dead. As his legs shattered into his midsection and his torso folded up like a nightmarish jack-in-the-box, his head hit a nearby railing, killing him instantly.

Later on, as I find out just how traumatised my friend is from seeing what she’s seen, I realise that it isn’t just morbid curiosity that’s making me jealous of her. It isn’t the same as just wanting to look at a car crash.

She tells me that she can’t sleep properly because she keeps replaying that moment in her dreams. Keeps hearing that crack. That scream.

It’s then that I realise I’m jealous of her because I covet the trauma she’s had. I’m really just craving some kind of excuse for all the things that I keep on doing while I’m home.

Joe Roche

I Remember Wesley


He’d been frightened, plenty of times. He’d been stuck on lost before but had always managed, one way or the other, to get found before lost became a permanent address. And when the dust had settled, he was moving again. He rarely knew where he was going, he just knew that he was moving and that if there was time left, he might end up somewhere; but he knew it was all about time and an awful lot of people never got to where they wanted to go because they ran out of time. He imagined Mr. Time as a real hard case - not inclined to granting favors.

Sometimes it was hard to tell whether he’d become a victim and naturally fit into the role of lost soul, or if he owned lost and it was his world where everyone in it stumbled through each day begging to be let out. Or maybe it was him, silently begging to come in from the shadows that seemed to surround him and close in at times, making everything seem impossible – even breathing. Then he was frightened each day more and more because he knew he was running as far away as he could get, to leave behind everything from a past so ugly, in his child-like mind, even he knew it was best to let it all go. So he risked being lost until he could understand that maybe lost was the best place to end up in, if it allowed him to bury the past, along with every painful day he’d tried to break away from all the scary monsters – his mother, her boyfriend, his sister, his brothers, the gangs on the corner, the hate, the evil and the lonely sad – the whole world as he knew it. The west side.

The more frightened he became, the more he could forget, until one day the only memories he could conjure up were a week, maybe as far back as a month. All else became another place where he’d never return to – another man’s life, not his own; until he had successfully forgotten it all and only then was he able to concentrate on the living, on himself, - because everything that had hurt him and tied him to guilt and remorse and worry had been left behind in a place he’d never be able to find his way back to – even if he tried.

He remembered where he lived, he remembered what he liked to eat, he remembered what he loved, he remembered recent events and faces and places he had painted and drawn – he remembered all life’s experiences from as far back as a month. That was it, this was all he felt he needed and although he couldn’t explain why this all was, somehow he was satisfied that he’d been able to do something truly great in his life by throwing out the garbage that was his past. And somehow he knew that this was how he was able to concentrate and paint what he was looking at as if his eyes were a camera. Because he had no life but today and what he understood of tomorrow.

It must have been after the fright had left and the madness of a child had taken over, that Wesley began his all day, all night smile. As he moved along the streets he painted, his smile rested on top a wide chin and under a broad flat nose. It was only at night, as he slept, that the smile retreated into his mouth and his face relaxed enough to allow tears to fall freely from under closed eye-lids. Wesley didn’t dream. And when he woke up, once again he would not know where he was going or where he’d end up but he knew he was in a race and his opponent in this race was “Mr. Time.”, and no matter what happened during his day, his job was to keep working, keep drawing, keep painting, because like movement itself, the momentum would keep him up-right, and in the race and when the race was over, then he knew he would fall and then he could rest. He knew it was all about time. As long as you knew this, he reasoned with a clarity only a six-year old boy would have, then you could get yourself unstuck from lost. Wesley knew that if all the birds one day had disappeared, “Then all dare would be left was sky.” And when you had this kind of wisdom, Wesley also knew, then you could afford to smile the entire day. When Wesley woke up his first morning at Sal’s place, he woke up smiling, and he could hardly believe his luck. “Ah’s got me a real frien, not a make it up in my head – Ah got me dis time, a frien.”


If Wesley could remember growing up in his Mother’s house on Kildare, he’d remember that he’d been deemed too slow to go to a regular grade school after the third grade, and although his Mother received money from the government for his schooling and upkeep – at that time in the 70’s, it was somewhere around four hundred dollars per child, - she had seven with another on the way, the money coming in did not necessarily go towards Wesley, other than to sometimes feed him, and to buy the chains which kept him stuck close to his steel bed-frame – kept him unable to move much, unable to avoid daily beatings.

If Wesley could remember growing up in the crack house, he would remember crying every day when food only came once or twice a week. He would remember playing with cockroaches – sometimes eating them, sometimes talking to them. If Wesley could remember growing up he’d remember putting his large hands around Clem, his Mother’s boyfriend’s neck, and strangling him until Clem was dead. If Wesley hadn’t stopped remembering, he’d never sleep, because the nightmares were worse and worse after he was released from the youth camp in St. Charles after he turned eighteen, for the involuntary manslaughter of Clem, even though a court appointed lawyer had tried to make the court understand that Clem had kept Wesley chained to his bed like an animal, and when Wesley was free and had the chance, something in his eggshell fragile mind had frazzled to over-load. He’d strangled Clem, and then snapped his neck like it was a chicken bone. Wesley still loved to eat chicken.

If Wesley could remember he would have to remember how his brother’s stole his Social Security money each month and gave him little or nothing, forcing Wesley to roam the streets collecting cans and talking to himself until one day he found some magic markers - an unused set of fine-points, multi-colored. He sat by the trash can in the alley and after half of the day, as the sun was just setting, he was finishing his first piece of alley art with just enough time to include the colors of the sky over the scene he’d just drawn on the steel garbage can.

If Wesley could remember the last day he walked alone, pushing a shopping cart loaded to the sky with aluminum cans and assorted scraps of copper and brass, crying all the way to the recycle yard on Cicero Avenue, he would have been proud of himself, because that was the last day he would walk alone, crying out loud to the voices in his head, tears running down his cheeks. The next day he woke up with the markers clutched in his hands and a smile on his face that stretched across his entire world. If Wesley could remember that day, he would remember that this was the day he allowed his fright at what this world could do to him to also make him afraid enough to stop the world for long enough to forget it had ever – like him, existed in the first place. That next day, full of sunshine and a freedom that only the lost have ever felt, Wesley began to draw on garbage cans, then brick walls, then broken-up cardboard boxes, then…

Wesley knew that first he’d get lost, until he found his way out and could move past all the evils that he had put distance between. If he was lost, he figured, then how could the evil’s find him? And once he was far away from what had hurt him in the past, he could take in everything around him and keep it familiar – own it. That’s what his eyes started to do for him. They started to own everything he saw and then they captured it until it all could be released in a painting or a simple line drawing. For him, this new world that had nothing to do with where he’d come from, would be his new address. From this moment on, if he could remember, he would remember never being lost like that again.






Brian Murphy

The Photograph


There is a photograph of a man. The man is wearing a purple Lycra suit. It has gold fringing on the underside of the arms. It is an all-in-one. On his feet are white ankle boots. No, not boots – ice skates. The man in the photograph is wearing ice skates. He is possibly the happiest man ever, in this photograph. He is loving every minute of his existence.
Her new housemate is out of the house. He has a real job, not a job in a bar. He operates in a different time zone: he gets up in the morning. This has nothing to do with him being from Canada. This is to do with night jobs and proper jobs, and of them happening to be employed at the polar opposites of that scale.
There is no lock on his door. His door is open. This photograph is framed on the wall. It is not hidden away. She thinks how he must look at that photograph, that photograph of himself, sheathed in purple, and really think: wow. She pictures him smiling back at his younger self. She pictures him in just his pants, doing this. He has his shirt off and is unconsciously stroking his nipples. And then she imagines him realising the time, and clambering into his work clothes, fastening his tie, then rushing out to get caught up in the day's traffic.

When her friend comes over, she takes him up to the room and shows him the photograph. They laugh their guts up. There is nothing half-hearted in her treachery. She thinks this photograph is the funniest thing she has ever seen. Whenever she begins to feel sad about anything, she makes that image flash into her brain, and it is an instant pep rally. She thinks back to the days before she became aware of this photograph's existence. They are all grey.

The more time she spends with the photograph, the less able she is to see him as a real person. Sometimes, she will stare at it so long that it winks at her. Or its smile widens. She can almost sense the gentle sway of the tassels, and the cool of the ice below. Everything smells clean. It is too cold on the ice for actual aroma. But in her nostrils, a freshness definitely rises.

When he is not at work, he dresses like he still is. She wonders if he has the purple Lycra suit here with him. She wonders if he puts it on each night before bed and dances like a swan. His room is tiny. She is sure, if he does do this, that he must really have to limit his movements. She thinks she should go out, let him have the house to himself. Then he could spread out his choreography across the whole of downstairs. She would only pretend to go out, though. She would hide in the alley until he was sure he was alone, and then she would creep to the window, press her face smack against it, and watch him.

She wonders does he really come alive when she is out working in the bar. She wonders if he is like Superman, and wears his Lycra suit under his normal clothes. In her head, he rips his shirt open the second she slams the door, pumping his fist to heaven then leaping from the couch across to the chair by the window. He has practised this move to perfection. The first few times, the first twenty or so times, actually, he narrowly escaped death-by-window and death-by-missing-your-footing-and-landing-in-the-splits. But now he flies through the air like one of those squirrels with the skin under their arms, the ones that soar from tree to tree above the forest canopy. And when he's like this, leaping from couch to chair and back again, he feels so free. He feels released from the shackles of his day to day drudgery. Sometimes, he pulls his tie up around his forehead like a bandanna. Sometimes, he throws his tie on the carpet and stamps on it, as if it were a snake that had been trying to strangle him, and he had only just thought to overpower it.

She wishes she could catch him at this. Just once.



Emma J Lannie




Winter


There’s something lost
in the old stone houses,
missing now
from the farmyard shed.

An east wind dies
in the shallow valley,
sending ice
to the river’s bed.

And nothing stirs
in the frozen meadow,
as hedgerows
harbour this year’s dead.


Benedict Newbery




The Prophecies


The bridge was a great concrete structure that, despite its functionality, inspired something in me. It had bar lights on the underside. Birds nested in the gaps between the wall and the ceiling, and you could hear them fly across in relays above your head, to the other side.
It wasn’t a bad end to the summer; I’d been offered a lecturing job at the uni. It was ideal, in fact. I had creative control over the module, I was out of the nine-to-five, and even with lessons plans and coursework there would be plenty of time for drinking. And I was still – just – in my twenties. How cool was that?
And yet as the heat waned I developed a weird, melancholic apprehension about the job. It was most tangible when I was walking between classes. Many of my seminars and lectures were in the late afternoon or early evening, and as I walked across the courtyard and under the bridge – the light fading, the warmth still present but on its way out – I’d get this feeling of grainy, exalted loneliness that I thought belonged to someone I’d left in the dust long ago.
That feeling would intensify towards the end of my seminars. I had two or three on weekday evenings. The windows would fade to black as we teased the last bit of profundity out of our conversations. There was a hall of residence across from our building; walking back from the Oxford Road bars, I’d pass these monoliths of silent sleep, broken sporadically by the flickering of room lights and the isolated laughter of secret good times.
The seminars were decent groups; plenty of women. One of the male students, though, freaked me out a bit. He was a shy kid with a restless, awkward manner and a leather jacket. The young man didn’t say much, but what he said was always relevant and insightful.
Sometimes, dazed from these long hours of discussion, hours when the rest of the city was just waking up, I’d be convinced I’d gone back in time. I knew, without even having to speak to this young man, that he wouldn’t be able to go to sleep without having read twenty pages of a book; that he would frequently drift off into his own thoughts when he drank; and that he would have little or no sexual experience.
As we hurtled towards Christmas I noticed a slight change in the young man’s behaviour. His manner was as shifting and nervous as ever, his contributions as infrequent and pertinent, but the focus of his attention had turned from me to this woman in the group. I noticed it because she didn’t sit right opposite him, or next to him; in fact her chair was at such an awkward angle to his own that he had to get himself into the most elaborate contortions just to keep looking at her. He probably wasn’t even aware he was doing it.
I knew that he had never spoken to her outside the lesson.
It was driving me nuts; I didn’t know why. I wished the silly bastard would drop out, but guys of his intelligence never do this. In late November, I took the initiative.
The module was called Classic and Contemporary. Its premise was like one of those whimsical literary parlour games, the ones that we assume have some seriousness under the frivolity. Basically we would read two books in tandem: a well-recognised classic novel and also a recent book that was sort of like it. In my class we were doing Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray and The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs by Irvine Welsh. Welsh had written the intro to a new edition of Wilde’s novel, so it totally fitted. A lot of academics don’t like Irvine, but fuck ‘em. I’ll teach what the fuck I want. No one can stop me.
‘That’s exactly right, Vanessa,’ I said, after the girl in question – indeed, the object of my young friend’s dreamy desires – had made an interesting point. ‘Aside from the central conceit and the similarity of the protagonists, Welsh echoes Wilde’s view that youth is primarily for living, rather than a stepping stone into maturity and commitment. It is not a particularly original sentiment, but Welsh is one of our few contemporary novelists who champions it.’
I then began to read from my edition of Dorian Gray.

The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be stars on the clemantis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty, becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to.

Now, I sort of got carried away here. Indeed, when I came to I realised that I was standing directly in front of the young man – towering over him, in fact. He was looking up to me as if I had threatened him. The last few words of Wilde’s paragraph had been delivered in an angry snarl, and I could sense that the students on his right and left had shifted their chairs away from the ugly scene.
I backed off a bit. ‘What did you think of that passage, Andrew?’ I asked.
‘Well, ah,’ he said, tripping over the words a little, ‘first thing is –‘
‘What? Go on. We’d love to hear your opinion.’
‘Well… Andrew’s not my name.’ He paused. ‘It’s your name.’

I walked back under the bridge. The disbelief of having lost it in a seminar gave way to a creepy dread. I knew this feeling as well; it was the knowledge that what you had just done– or not done, as was normally the case – would haunt you for the rest of your days. In time you forget where this feeling came from but it grows, exponentially, with every missed chance. As you get older, life feels like a loaded gun pointed at your heart.
It was only nine and I hit the staff local to get drunk. The faculty were a good, interesting bunch of people; many were PhD students my age or younger who had been roped into teaching.
However, their company sometimes depressed me, and this was one of those nights. In one of the world’s richest and most developed societies the bar had not the ring of laughter and song but ironic ennui, weak jokes in plum voices and the soft thunk of lowered expectations. All their talk was reminiscience. There was a consensus that the good times were over; the cut-off point varied (parenthood, marriage graduation from uni, graduation from high school) but the consensus remained; life was over, and the future lay in the past.
It was a Thursday night and the bar had a late licence. We were joined by a few of the students, who liked to stop in for a pint before heading off to the clubs. Vanessa came in with a few friends and sat in on our discussion. It fell to her to make the obvious point.
‘You guys are all sitting around going on about your glory days when you were students,’ she said, ‘but when you were students you were probably going on about the glory days of high school. I mean, why do people love nostalgia so much?’
My head jumped on her train of thought; in this heartbeat between birth and death you got one moment of perfection, one time when it all came together, from which everything else was decline. But what if that moment never came? Could you invent it?
‘It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ she said. ‘You convince yourself that you’ll have to give up on living at a certain point, and you wait for that point while kidding yourself that you’ll always have these amazing times to talk about in the pubs. You convince yourself that life ends after a certain age, and so it does.’
‘Another great point,’ I told her. I was quite drunk by this time. ‘The body remains alert and agile deep into middle age, but the mind closes and the dreams die. Why? The problem is that the world is run by stupid, servile, pious idiots, who won’t be happy until everyone else is a stupid, servile, pious idiot like themselves.’ I was really starting to notice the shine on her tanned skin, and in her tumbling hair, and in her bright brown eyes. ‘They get you while you’re young… or just about to stop being young. Pressure. Propaganda. It is a kind of sentimental conspiracy about mediocrity… or, in the writer HP Tinker’s phrase, a conspiracy of eunuchs.’ I paused. ‘I am available for weddings, birthdays, corporate events and bar mitzvahs.’
She laughed. I wonder if she understood what I meant. I wonder if I had.

Fortunately, nothing was said about my erratic behaviour in the seminar and the pub. This was surprising; people are so fucking sensitive these days. Anything that can be construed as damaging their perception of the world will send them screaming to the authorities. But everything was calm.
Although I kept a lid on it, the kid in my seminar continued to obsess me. His behaviour had changed. Where once his gaze would drift by slow magnetism towards Vanessa, where once anything she said would have him chiming in with uncharacteristic exuberance, now the guy was silent, and not even that restless. He had given up, I thought. Or maybe not even been so brave as to make the wrong decision; just postponed the right choice, day by day, month by month, kidding himself he had all the time in the world.
I drank too much, and lost a lot of sleep. I counted the days until Christmas. The lights at each point of the courtyard came on, and would burn that way for months. The birds flew over my head in squawking relays.
I messed around with the seminar lists so that I wouldn’t have to teach the kid in the leather jacket again. After all, he could learn nothing from me that really mattered. Where did I get the ego to think that I could teach anyone anything?
Mid-December. Last day of term. I had conducted the final seminar, and was now walking back under the bridge to the Cornerhouse, sad and relieved at having got that strange, awkward boy out of my life forever.
I was halfway under the bridge when I realised I had left my briefcase in the seminar room.
I did a double turn, wanting to head back to the room before the janitorial staff locked the place up for the next few weeks. Mine was the last class of the day, and they tended to shut the building down in good time, obviously as desperate for a pint as I was.
I was just emerging into the courtyard where I saw the kid from my seminar. The streetlamp revealed the cast of his unsure, handsome face, the dimensions of a body slowly turning to muscle. He had left the room before me but was now hanging around on the yard to no obvious purpose. Thinking. Dreaming. I couldn’t bear to watch, and figured I would try and pick up my briefcase some other time.
Then a familiar female form appeared from of the door to our building.
The guy recognised her instantly. For a moment, and even at this distance, I could see the internal battle waging under his skin. That skin that he never felt too comfortable in.
She was walking across the courtyard. She hadn’t seen him.
My heart, on the verge of breaking.
Then he started towards Vanessa, and I heard a friendly shout carry over the cold air. She turned towards him, her posture hopeful, and I said out loud – so loud that a couple of porters turned towards me – ‘Come on, pal. GO!’


Max Dunbar

Nitty Gritty


Rosa rolls onto her side as translucent love oozes down her brown thigh. She hasn’t been fucked like that since she was in the bug-house. And that time they had to hold her down. She crawls across the big, fuck-stained mattress towards Queenan. His bloodstained pillow looks like a Rorschach blot. His eyes are open, fixed on nothing in particular. Rosa offers him a sliver of smile. He blows her a brief kiss across the mattress before reaching across and probing her smear of fur noncommittally. Rosa glances back at the bloody pillow. Psychoanalysts used to use the inkblot test as a method of psychological evaluation. When a patient was reluctant to openly admit to psychotic thought patterns the ink test helped to differentiate between psychotic and non-psychotic thinking. Always sounded like bullshit to Rosa. Queenan’s forefinger makes her tingle inside. Surely this much happiness can kill. She hears a knock at the window. Some skinny white guy. A withered, unwashed dirt-bag with a brickwork complexion. The guy from the cantina. Queenan fumbles underneath the bed. When they moved into this motel room he fixed his gun under the bed with an old piece of carpet tape. Queenan aims at the guy from the cantina. The nosebleed just grins. The window shatters in a spurt of red. The mooch slumps towards the dead window frame, his eyes still loaded with after dinner payback. He slurs a threat at Queenan. Queenan sighs and tentatively scratches his bar-wound. This crank was stubborn like a shit-stain. Queenan stands up and shoots him again. Rosa hears his eyeball pop. Outside, the blood-coloured Texas moon shimmers in the desert breeze.



Tom Leins.

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Heart and Sole


this woman
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she had it all
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of pizzaz

her favorite pastime
was hanging out
drinking beer
glasses by the hour,
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non-stop in bed-
she loved dick,

rolling around
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getting every
inch of it
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especially
she liked it
to banana co.
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she had heart
and sole,
this woman
of mine,
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it was later i
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on the ground
the soles of her
plastic feet
walking over
my heart,
when i walked
in unexpected
and found her
with another
dick,
the same dick
she abandoned
fourteen months
ago,
how she spoke
of him with
a foul mouth

yea,
she had it
going on,
and going on
she went.




Anthony Liccione