Friday, November 09, 2007

Poets Carnt Fight No More


this poem is smoking crack
with underage hookers in Minneapolis
this poem is on a motorcycle deathtrip
through the murdered backstreets of Panang
this poem was written on a beer stained napkin
at the bar of The Gold Room, Hollywood, 1999
this poem is mud wrestling Ted Hughes
and drunkenly boxing Arthur Cravan
this poem is ingesting peyote at a party
insulting the host’s wife
and making lewd comments by an exploding beer cooler
this poem slipped on a banana peel
and died of its injuries
this poem saw god
in your asshole
this poem is tongue-tied, dumb-jawed,
in a codeine haze
talking to Tom McCarthy (necronaught) in Soho
this poem has a mild kratom habit
this poem is carried on an optimistic autumn breeze
with the smell of fermenting summer garbage, 8:00am
this poem just got lucky
with one of Sylvia Plath’s poems
this poem shot Andy Warhol
this poem is in Tangiers smoking a hookah
with Shane MacGowan and Dickon Edwards
“none for me, I have asthma”
this poem is doodling in the big book
this poem is snorting cocaine with Marc Almond
this poem is in love with you,
a frozen moment, crossing the 59th street Bridge, 2002
this poem is pissing in a cup
in Homerton Drug Dependency Unit
this poem is discussing poetry with Dennis Cooper
this poem is shooting dope with Clarence Cooper Jr
this poem is contemplating suicide
at a frigid kitchen table
this poem is shy, in a Chelsea bedroom,
“you use alcohol as a crutch”
this poem was shat out into the toilets of the Intrepid Fox, circa 1996 this poem has bled over a La Rocka suit, L.A. circa 2000 this poem is longer
and harder
than your poem.



Tony O'Neill

Dream #60


I dreamt that Dan Fante came over from LA to stay and all I had to give him was bread and cheese. A large quiet girl was in the kitchen washing up. I took him for a drive and it was raining and he looked out of the window at the streets and houses and “This neighbourhood is really rough, huh?” and I said “No, this is where the middle classes live these days. This is nice for England.”

Ben Myers


Solar Flares Burn for You


Postcard of Frieda tacked to the wall
sat down is Diego, her hand on his shoulder

a commemoration of their wedding day
her hair entwined with bright desert flowers

on a Hessian mat the grand lady stands proud
I picked up the postcard in the ICA shop

spinning the stand, sat down was a face
smiling, white beard, sweet lulling voice

he asked me kindly if I knew who she was?
I answered yes and we spoke of Rivera

monumental murals, their blue walkway house
he said that he had a painting of hers

the one on the stand, Frieda in her bed
ex voto, deep ochre, skulls perched on far corners

I looked in his eyes, tranquillity shade
his soft wrinkled face held a history I knew

a masterful drummer, paralysed in the past
he wrote the tracks of a socialism lost

the death of the shipyards, political songs
music of beauty to match Frieda’s colours

I wanted to crouch by his chair, stroke his hair
place a kiss on his cheek, hold his delicate hands

and ask him to sing is it worth it, one line
but the moment had passed - he knew that I knew

who he was.



Adelle Stripe

The Birth of a Terrible Child



I was young once, naïve. Mentally and emotionally I was an infant, a terrible child, one who had savagely stunted his self.

We were on an island, in the South East Asia. I was nineteen at the time, maybe even twenty.
The island was small, quiet. It was night.
Outside our wooden bungalow the sea rolled onto the shore. We could hear it; the rhythmic rushing of water running up and down - its sound was soothing, it always was. My heart feels content when I’m near the sea. It always calms my soul. I can never feel anger by the sea, only peace.
A jungle was directly behind us; it was a thick jungle, so dense. I had never seen so many greens before - all shades imaginable. We were close to it, on its edge. We could hear it; the late night sounds of the jungle. At night the jungle was alive.
Inside our bungalow we were silent.
We sat opposite each other, naked, with our legs crossed. A mosquito net surrounded the bed. We were isolated. Alone. It was dark, except for a few candles around the room; their flames were alive; moving, dancing.
The opium hung heavy in our bodies. We were high, wonderfully high - sitting, as if on a cloud, drifting above the world, suspended.

She was then lying on her back.
Her body looked limp in the languid light. She was confident in her nakedness. There was never any embarrassment, only ease with her bared body, with the way she held herself. There were never any cracks in her self-confidence. She simply was, and that was it. Until I met this woman I was always frightened of my own body, afraid of another seeing it in full. After sex I would cover it, nervous of what they might say or see. It was not until I started to be with her that I could relax and feel some semblance of ease.

Her thighs slowly parted.
I looked down and saw the slow reveal of her sex. Her vagina was tight, compact. She had recently shaved it, leaving a single thin line. Her fingers drifted downwards, hovering along its edge, slowly swirling.
Her eyes were on my eyes; watching, waiting. Her eyes then fell away and drifted down to what lay between her legs - it was a silent command.
I sunk down on my front, snaking my body backwards as I did so. My hands hooked around her thighs, fingers holding hips.
Everything in my perception looked soft in the light. Dreamlike. It was a dream. My real dream. It felt as if nothing was real. As if all were manifesting and projecting from the depths of a vivid dream - a phantasmagoria of erotica, brilliant and blazing.
My tongue lightly licked her clitoris, exploring the delicate folds of her skin. I looked upwards, past her small pert breasts, to see her face – her eyes were now closed, relaxed; serene, like Buddha.
I wondered how she felt with the drawn out tease on her sex mingled with the opium washing gently within - opium, such a dream it seemed to me. Opium, with its waves of warmth. Opium, running ripples of wonderment through my soft and inexperienced soul.

After some time (though how much I could not gage, as there seemed as if there was no time) she rolled onto her stomach and told me to lick between the cheeks her bottom.
I had never done this before, but did not question.
I looked down at her bottom, at the way it was shaped; it was like a black woman’s; rounded, but so tight, curved outwards, but so firm; defined, magnificent.
My lips kissed along the contours of her buttocks. My hands gradually caressed and then parted her buttocks. My mouth moved in between her buttocks, my tongue went out and slowly I licked around the rim, slowly in a circular motion, slowly with pleasure, slowly with newfound joy.

It all seemed to go on for so long, like an eternity - infinite, with no beginning or end. I felt cocooned from the world, in a womb, in our womb, with nothing else but us.
There was no world right then. There was nothing - no society, no people, no government, no rules, no hate, no hurt, no envy, no greed, no violence, no war. There was nothing - nothing but flesh and sensations and pleasure and touch and taste. There was nothing - nothing but us; cut off, alone, with our bodies abandoned to each other and each other only. There was nothing - nothing but us and the invisible hands of time evaporating out of our hands and our flesh. There was nothing – nothing but the closeness towards her inevitable departure, followed by mine - her back to Norway and myself back to England to face the same rain and the same streets and the same houses, back to the same claustrophobia, to the same small southern town that I had fled from hoping to stall the death of my spirit.



Matthew Coleman

Pig Alley



At one time I was an apprentice Upholsterer. I worked in a tiny Victorian building halfway down Pig Alley. There were four of us and we each wore leather aprons that contained a variety of specialised tools. We also had a high-pressured staple gun each, which was connected to a high-pressure generator.


Being the apprentice I was put in a corner next to the generator. Often I would sneaks look at the generator out of the corner of my eye and wonder what would happen if it blew up. Instant death, I ruminated, but I never told anyone of my concerns, for fear of ridicule. The generator generated a good deal of noise, and because of the noise I always had to get people to repeat what they said, until I began to think I was deaf.


Sometimes we had staple gun wars. Being the apprentice my gun had the least amount of power. The others could fire round after round of high-pressured staples, while mine could only splutter out a few staples at a time. So during the wars I was at an obvious disadvantage. The others would gang up on me, but I was young and nimble, and able to get a few well-timed shots in of my own.


It was three days before I discovered that a woman worked upstairs, alone. No one had bothered to mention that she existed. Upstairs was really just a loft in the roof, with sloping sides. The woman sat behind a big old sewing machine. She looked to have been there forever. Scraps of material littered the floor, hiding her dainty feet, which pressed the pedals of the machine. The machine made a whirring noise. It was gloomy up there, no natural light, just a single low-wattage bulb, glowing dimly.


Opposite the cottage was a barn-like structure. The barn had two floors. The ground floor was crammed with lots of old furniture, some of which had been there for decades. The older furniture was covered in thick layers of dust. Sometimes I would blow away the dust and a golden leg would be revealed, or a patch of bright, beautiful colour.


But upstairs was an even greater wonder. It contained the foam room. I loved the foam room; it was wall-to-wall foam, all different sizes, shapes, and colours. About once or twice a day I’d be asked to fetch a certain type and thickness of foam from the foam room. I would dive into the foam, wrap myself up inside the springy sheets, and caress the sponge. And there I would lie, safely ensconced, until the cry went up from across the road,


‘Where’s my foam?’


Most of my days were spent stripping settees and armchairs, pulling staples from worn-out furniture, thousands of staples, a never-ending supply of staples needing to be pulled out. After a few weeks I began to dream of staples at night, millions of staples marching off to battle against millions of other staples, in the great staple world war of death. And one time I even shot myself with a volley of staples to the stomach. The other upholsterers said nobody had ever done that before, it was a first, and for a short time I felt unique. I showed my friends the wound in the pub, four dots, not much of a wound, but a unique wound. Everybody laughed.


Being the only apprentice I also had to make the tea and get the lunches. I didn’t mind because it got me out of the gloomy cottage, and sometimes into the sun. I would eye up the girls in the tanning saloon on the sly. Most of them had orange faces, but given the chance I would’ve poled each and every one of them. However, dressed in my funny leather apron, and with bits of foam and staples hanging from my hair and clothes, I always passed by unnoticed.


Another job was button production. I liked this job. I cut out tiny squares of material and then covered each square around a metal disc. Then I inserted the disc into a punch machine, and with a swift twist of the handle, out would pop a button. I made new buttons every week. Despite making thousands of buttons I always liked the look of a new button, perfectly formed, like a conker or a kingfisher.


Then there were deliveries, another chance to get away from the ever-present threat of an exploding generator. We rarely got tips, but if we did it was from the poorer people. The rich never tipped and always appeared annoyed, but that’s just the way of the world. We also had contracts with luxury London hotels. This meant a drive into town. I enjoyed the drive into town. I could watch the people going about their business and wonder where were they going and why they were in such a rush. And then there were the sites, the river Thames, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the houses of parliament, and other landmarks.


Each hotel had a tradesmen’s entrance situated at the rear of the building. We always entered through the tradesman’s entrance. Often I observed the rich hotel guests. Mostly they looked bored, aimless, senses dulled by comfort. As I moved furniture around the hotel I was amazed to see toilet attendants and cloakroom assistants, and the food delivered to the loading bay made my mind boggle. Live lobsters and crayfish and boxes and boxes of champagne. For a while I thought the rich lived off nothing but lobster and champagne.


One week I had to work outside. It was mid-winter and very cold. I had to clean the legs of five hundred chairs from a banquet room of the Dorchester hotel. It needed a special chemical to clean the legs that could not be used in a confined space. My hands got very cold. Every now and then one of the other upholsterers peered through a window and laughed at me.


It was while I was cleaning the endless legs and freezing to death that I saw a plane flying high in the sky. I swore that one day I would be on a plane just like that, flying to some exotic location far, far, away, never to return. I was paid each week in cash. For some reason the boss always paid me in five pound notes. Despite the fivers my wage was very small, well below the minimum wage. Every Monday I was broke again.


After nearly two years I decided to quit the upholstery trade. I’d found another job, which paid better, not much better, but enough to make me want to leave Pig Alley. When I told the boss he appeared disappointed. He didn’t want to lose me, he said. I had a moment of weakness then and asked if he could match the salary of my new job. It was only a few pounds extra, but the boss shook his head and didn’t look me in the eye.


After that I walked out of Pig Alley and never once looked back, and although I didn’t know it at the time, I was about to embark on a series of great adventures, which would change my life forever.




Joe Ridgwell

Augusta



Lady Augusta stands at her work station, the stained oak table her dearly beloved departed on, and squints at the stinking mess in front of her. Her apron is smeared viscous red and syrupy yellow and her huge breasts fight each other for space beneath it. Earwigs scuttle over slug trails and woodlice congregate in damp corners. Her fat, red fingers poke at ingredients, peel skin, dip into steaming bowls and needle at feathers and bones with a dexterity barely expected of such digits. Forgotten things fall from the table, butterfly wings, egg shells, tiny eyeballs, nail clippings, fish scales, the occasional snake skin that floats to the floor like a discarded stocking. In wooden cages birds cheep and squawk, pulling out their own feathers in disgust. Beside a small heap of brittle spider legs a cleaver gleams. The sound of a bell ringing draws Augusta’s attention to the door and as it sweeps open a man steps hesitantly inside, a felt hat in his hands wrung like a sopping handkerchief.


“Too early,” the woman bellows and the man visibly shrinks at the noise, if not the stench, emitted from that mouth. He backs up till he is standing against the wall and can back up no further.


“Wait.” She yells. And he does.


A scrunched up baby watches him from a hammock nailed to the wall. Its fingers clutch at something in the air, a moth that flutters to and fro. Its nose is caked in snot and its mouth is a purple pucker. A piglet runs past, over the man’s feet, curly tail bouncing. It is followed by a red-haired boy, arms outstretched, his feet barely able to keep up. The pair disappear beyond a thread-bare curtain.


With obstreperous fists Augusta plucks a petrified chicken from the confines of a wooden cage with much scrabbling and writhing and black and white shit daubed on her hands. But deftly she takes a wing in each and snaps them; lifts each yellow leg and breaks it like a twig.


The man against the wall twitches. The chicken lies still on the table, eyes open, its body rising and falling with every breath. Occasionally it lets out a throaty squawk until, with an almighty heft of the cleaver, the woman separates its head from its body. A stream of blood shoots out in an arc and fills half a glass with scarlet. She throws the scrawny chicken body over her left shoulder, perhaps for luck, and it lands on top of a pile of fowl corpses, all in varying degrees of decay, from the fresh and still-twitching at the top to the sopping putrefaction at the bottom. To the half-filled glass she adds a little of this and a little of that before stirring it with her finger and then sucking it clean.


One last ingredient. This is the part he finds the most revolting. She unfastens her apron, unbuttons the top of her dress and coaxes out one gigantic breast. It is veined like Stilton and the red nipple bulges with sores. As she squeezes it gently a good stream of yellowy milk fills the glass to the top and she hands it over to the man before forcing the tumescence back into her dress.


“Drink up,” she says almost maternally. And he does.


“Same time next week,” he says in a phlegmy whisper, before throwing his money down on the table and heading for the door.


Lady Augusta nods, lifts her skirt and tucks the notes into the crease where her stocking cuts into the flesh.




Rachel Kendall

Everything is Miniature


Everything is miniature. Everything is about 1/50th of how big it should be. Your face is the size of a marble. My hand, touching your face, is the size of a breadcrumb. Your mouth, opening and saying something, is the size of an eyelash. My mouth, opening and saying something else, is the size of an eyelash. We are miniature. We are sitting in a room (bathtub), watching a TV (golfball), under a sheet (handkerchief).

‘How big do you think my heart would be,’ I ask you, ‘if I could take it out of my body and look at it?’

‘I think it would be about the size of a fist,’ you say.

I take my heart out of my body and look at it. It is the size of a new 5p. It is beating and no longer attached to the rest of my body. It looks stupid. It looks like something dropped on the floor and picked up again and blown on.

This isn’t possible, I think. Why is nothing happening? Why are we sitting here watching TV? Whose fault is this?

Your face is sad. It’s confused-looking. There are things we’re not saying, that we probably should be saying; sad, confused things; things like two hospitalized people on drips, attempting to play table tennis. The hospitalised people take it in turns to serve and never get a rally going. They wander around the table tennis room in slow motion, awkwardly searching for balls under chairs, getting their drips tangled in the curtains. The things needed to be said are hurtful, maybe, if you take them a certain way. They are things best said with all the lights and the TV turned off. But instead I’m wasting time, acting like a twat and taking my heart out of my body and looking at it, showing off, hoping you will look at it instead of the TV, hoping you will nod at it or something. What am I expecting from you? Is it me that’s making all the mistakes, and not even realising?

I put my heart back in my body.

I don’t say anything. You don’t say anything, either.

I look at your shoelace-sized leg and need to go to the toilet.


Chris Killen

Untitled



Making Rodins with the duvet
The pale length of you
Unfurled like rope, binding me to the bed
Being my girl
I was your glove, wrist deep, a red pulse.
Hand in hand, the perfect dark of your kiss,
You found me abandoned in night-time doorways.
You stuttered - I am stuttering, interrupting
The bleak texture of a policeman’s overcoat opening old wounds
and an elegant wilt, leaning against a wall.
You were my girl, never man enough for me.



Heidi James

Perspective


She said that it might put things in perspective, but I wasn’t really sure how lying on the floor under a blanket was going to help there.

“Things look different when you’re lying on the floor under a blanket.” Said her text, well, I’m pretty sure that they do.

“Are you alright?” I texted back.

The strength of this break up had floored her. Literally. Imagine being in that much emotional pain that after the shock and the alcohol had worn off, the nicotine levels dropped back to normal, the sobs that had followed, racking her body; all this had passed until she lay down on the floor, pulled a blanket over her self and started sending texts. The second step in sending out communication fronds.

Her first step had been to pour it out on the internet message board. She had written about crying so hard and then feeling numb and then noticing that she had scratched her arms, big red marks down her arm, but still not feeling anything. She hadn’t scratched them in a self-harm way, just that she’d been holding herself in her own arms in the absence of anyone else to do it for her. And then in that way that when you are upset and someone holds you, you cry harder, and they grip harder and hold you and you cry some more, and deeper. And she was gripping herself, holding herself and crying and then realising that there was only her to hold herself from now on and the poignancy of this made her cry even harder, and it was then she noticed the scratches on her arms.

And so this is how it was that she found herself on the floor of her front room texting me. Well, ok, I texted her first when I read her post, but she seemed like she needed some kind of response, and I couldn’t resist. But she responded, and how she responded, the raw honesty of her emotion shocked me.

She had spent the beginning of her relationship with him lying on the floor; I remember her writing about it. This was before ‘us’ of course, this was when she had just met him and we had never met, and I doubt she even knew my screen name let alone my real one. But I had read her words and they were more than just words on a screen to me. I’d seen her photo as well.

I remember her describing how her feelings for him had so floored her that she spent whole nights when she couldn’t be with him lying on her back in the middle of her front room floor, high on red wine, smoking cigarettes and listening to his music. So it seemed almost apt that at the end of it she found herself floored by it all again.

The fact that it was the same floor that I fucked her on when they had broken up the first time probably never crossed her mind.

But then the piteousness of her post and the fact that she was so bereft pulled away any lasting malignancy I may have felt towards her. That and the thought that I might get to fuck her again spurred me on to greater textual platitudes; I offered to come round.

Still under her blanket, at least in my mind, she responded suddenly back to her cold, blank little texts of the end of our affair: No, she was fine; her friends were on their way round with food, wine and cigarettes. But Thank You. And one kiss. I knew what one kiss in any mode of textual conversation with her meant.

However, the thought of her sobbing on the floor under a blanket, vulnerable and slightly drunk was enough to give me a boner and sufficient material to keep me going over the next few weeks until something more substantial came along.



Lisa Payne

The Silence of Things


It's the silence of things
That surrounds me when
I sit beneath my favourite
Tree, the leaves unmoved,
The squirrels elsewhere.

You gave me a toothpick
Once to help pick away
The dead flesh from
Between my teeth and for
Some reason I kept it –I still have it in a shoebox
Under my bed with the
Other things you gave me:

A ticket stub from a play
I hated; the cork from a
Bottle of cheap fizzy wine;
Your handwritten quote
From Stevie Smith about
Forward-looking; your
Expensive turquoise earrings
(Although you never gave
These to me); the tennis
Ball we scribbled on in
Black marker pen; the
Disgusting mosaic vase I
Never gave you for your
Birthday that year; the final
Letter you ever wrote to me.






Lee Rourke

An Empty Black Briefcase



"Katie. Katie!"

Katie Lillywhite took a few minutes to remember where she was. Her mouth was dry, those goodnight bongs she shared with Casper leaving her throat feeling like sandpaper.

"Katie! Get up! I've found something."

Her boyfriend Casper was in Katie's parents' bedroom, liquorice skinned spliff dangling from his lips and depositing ash on the salmon pink carpet. He'd barley slept due to the amount of flake he'd done the night before, the weed far from taking the edge off it and instead sending him into discoverer mode, hunting around Katie's parents house for objects of wonder. He'd also masturbated so much he was walking funny. Katie never really went in for coke-sex and she's usually awful in the mornings but this was worth waking her up for – a secret, locked away in a black briefcase.

"Fucking hell. Katie!"

Casper stomped back out of her parents' room, flinching slightly at his raw cock brushing against his boxers, and stood in the doorway of Katie's room. He stopped a moment to watch her scramble for some sense of what the fuck was going on. Her hair, mousy and lank hung over her face, her half-closed eyes looking like something out of that cartoon.

Katie slowly made sense of the shape in the doorway and smiled through dry lips.

"Hiya baby… come back to bed."

She was horny. Casper couldn't believe the irony of it. But he didn't want to give away the fact he'd so disgracefully incapacitated himself. And besides, he was genuinely intrigued as to what was in the case.

"Later babes. You've got to come see what I've found."

He left her room and Katie sat up in bed. She was naked and looked down at herself. Yeah – she was looking fucking good. A strict diet of narcotics for the last year had done wonders for her figure – all of her mates had put weight on in the student bars but not Katie.

That's how she met Casper. Drugs. She'd bumped into him at the freshers' ball. It was obvious he was just another third year on the hunt for a fresher but compared to the other idiots at the ball, he was dignified. Everyone there just reminded her of home but with more money and posher accents. They were all pissed, leaning heavily into each other's ears, kissing sloppily with hands up skirts and thighs in crotches. A few of the boys were even throwing their weight around to work out their place in the pecking order. She looked at them. Christ.

It was depressing, that freshers' ball. As the whole of freshers' week had been – giddy little girls and boys running round like they were on camp or something. Spare me, she thought. In sixth form she couldn't wait to escape, meet interesting people who didn't just do what everyone around here did. And what happened? She got to university and they were even worse – much worse, because they actually believed they were smart with it.

Then she got the whiff. Somebody had a spliff on the go outside. Not the usual artificial sweetness of the local hash, or the brain fumigating funk of the skunk that she would catch wafting from the nursery at night between lung crunching coughing bouts. This smelled exotic, odd, and when she saw the boy smoking it she fell in love.

"Casper. You want?"

"What is it?"

"Nepalese. Not the best but not bad."

She took the spilff from him with a look that said she knew what he was talking about and took a toke. It was the first time she'd ever tried it. Her hatred of those she found herself placed with had her eschew all of their petty delights – alcopops, weed, whiz, pills, coke, acid, glue, aerosols. But this was different. This was Nepalese, and the boy who had passed it to her had on skinny jeans, buckled boots, and a military jacket over his skinny white chest. He also had the face of an angel.

"Good."

"Not bad."

"Well you know my name, what's yours?"


*

"Katie! For God's sake Katie you fucking sloth, you have to see this."

At last she managed to make it out of bed. In just one night she had ruined the room her mother kept so tidy for her infrequent returns from university. Ash trays, pipes, barely touched take-aways, liquorice skins, baggies all littered the floor; clothes hanging from every conceivable part of the room except inside the fitted wardrobes. She had moved out of Halls of Residence and in with Casper now so she could stay at uni through the holidays as well as term-time. Her parents were nice enough, it's just that Casper and his friends were so much more. They watched films from the French new wave, read Burroughs, Bukowski, and Brautigan, they were everything she'd imagined about university. They smoked Nepalese, snorted Bolivian, drank absinthe, took methamphetamine, MDMA paste, mushrooms, and ketamine. They sometimes even smoked crack for the slum chic of it. How could mum and dad compete?

But they were at her mum and dad's. She was back on the Avenue. Her mother and father had gone away for their summer holiday and Casper thought it would be just so ironic for the two of them to go on holiday themselves – on holiday in her parents' house.

She wasn't sure, but Casper's friends laughed and hit the arms of their chairs and talked about how it would so excellent, and such a subversive thing to do, that she began to laugh with them. And so she found herself here, at home, her boyfriend rifling through her parent's private things.

Katie just hoped he hadn't found their credit cards. One of Casper's friends had stolen his own parents' credit cards and they all went shopping with them one Saturday. They laughed as they tried on outlandishly expensive labels, bought fine wines and cheeses from the food halls of the department stores, and then just took out the maximum cash advance possible to buy shitloads of gear. The boy's parents were so rich, they didn't even notice the money had gone. But her mum and dad would notice, and they'd be disappointed.

"What are you doing Casper? Let's go back to bed."

Casper ran his fingers over the brass combination locks of the briefcase. At first, Katie had been another naïve fresher to fall into his trap. Not only that, but a fresher who went to comprehensive school – she was sure to be the filthiest fuck he'd ever had. But that first night, after the freshers' ball, they didn't even have sex. She was a virgin. He couldn't believe it, where she was from he was sure she'd be one of the few members of her peer group without a pregnancy or abortion to their name, but there she was, this delicate little thing that more than anything needed protecting. He realised he liked the idea of that. Of protecting her, of opening her eyes slowly to his world, of educating her, liberating her. In fact, he fell in love with the idea of that and after a while realised he'd probably fallen in love with her too.

"Babes. Isn't you father a gasman?"

It was true. Her father was an engineer. For British Gas. He would fix people's boilers, make sure they weren't getting poisoned by carbon monoxide. He'd even been to Casper's place to check out the appliances there. God only knows what his instruments picked up.

"Yeah. He is, now come back to bed. It's cold."

Casper turned to her, the glint of a six year old in his eyes.

"Well why does he have a briefcase?"

Katie knew exactly why her father had a briefcase. Exactly what was in it. Why shouldn't he have a briefcase? He was a gasman, not a fucking tramp.

"I don't know. Important papers or something I guess."

"Come on Katie! It's locked. I've tried all the combinations I can think of – your birthday, the lot, but I can't get in."

She knew the combination for the locks. She'd looked through everything in there. But she didn't want Casper to know.

"Well then. Let's leave it. It's obvious he doesn't want anyone going in there."

Casper stood. The briefcase clutched in his hands like a shield.

"Which is why we've got to get in!"

He began to jabber on as Katie's eyes glazed over. Theories of secret government agents, wads of cash from a bank robbery, bonds, jewels, gold all washed over her.

"They might be perverts Katie! They might have all kinds of torturous sex-toys and illegal porn in here. Right now they could be holidaying at an S&M club, being buggered by Germans in leather!"

This had gone far enough. Katie snatched the briefcase from Casper. She was angry. Angry at all the assumptions he had ever made about her, about her family, the way he almost treated coming to stay at her parents house like some kind of safari, spotting the strange beasts that sat on street corners on their bikes and watching the natives strut around almost naked. He had no idea who she was, who her family were. How dare he say those things. They were good people. She was a good person.

"You want to know what's in there? Well have a look."

She ran up the combination – 151289, her birthday. The idiot had even got that wrong. She snapped back the clasps and then emptied the contents of the briefcase on the floor before storming out and downstairs to make herself a cup of tea. On the way down the stairs she spotted an envelope on the hall floor. It was addressed to her.

Casper stood and wondered what to do. Should he follow her? Should he apologise? No. He'd done nothing wrong – he was just having a bit of fun and to ignore the contents of the briefcase would just mean she had won.

Picking up the papers from the floor, he sat on the bed. Then he read the first document.He leafed through, his eyes drawing what felt like the last moisture left in his body to his tear ducts and eventually allowing a fat droplet to fall onto the papers he held shaking in his hand. Katie's adoption papers.

Slowly, Casper gathered the papers together and put them in a neat pile on the bed. He didn't want to go downstairs and face Katie but he knew he had to. He knew he had to because he loved her and wanted to tell her how much he loved her. Tell her he was sorry for being such a fuck up.

He sat up from the bed and walked downstairs. He could hear Katie crying and wiped his own tears away so he could be strong for her. He followed the sobs, the huge asphyxiating sobs that you shake with as a child, down the hall and toward the living room. Opening the door to the living room, he found Katie, head in hands and shoulders shaking. He sat beside her and put a hand on each of her shoulders.

"It's alright" he said, "It's alright."

Then he saw the letter open on the coffee table.




Matthew David Scott

Men Dying


I saw a man
DYING
in A&E this morning.
he was laying naked
surrounded
by witnesses wrapping red bandages.
he was making horrible noises
no hair on his irrelevant balls.

I don’t remember
the actual words used
but they were horrible noises too.

I saw a man
DYING
in CTC this afternoon.
he lay in a brand new ward
bubble wraps barely off his bed.
he is
just covered
– we’re losing one,
a nurse told me
she was serious and sad.

I ESCAPE
to a ward upstairs
where a girl feeds me chocolate
in her staff room.
there was life
in her eyes and calves.

later,
on the phone
horrible reality creeps in like DEATH.
I am talking to a voice
hiding in a caravan.
I’m in my pants in my bed.

I don’t remember
exactly what we said
but we made horrible noises too.

no plump nurse
watched my heart fade
irreparably clogged with whiskey
and unshed tears.



Ford Dagenham

Soapbox



Rose-Angela stands outside Sainsbury’s gripping the scuffed handles of a pushchair, in it carrier bags full of paper. Near the wheel a pigeon pecks at the idea of a crumb on the paving stones. An old man struggles out the store with four shopping bags, the elbows and knees of boxes and cans stretching the plastic. He tries not to stare at Rose-Angela, at the pushchair she’s rocking back and forth, but fails. Like a stiff breeze worrying a pile of leaves, she can feel anxiety move inside her. In this place Rose-Angela will expose them, just as she did last week at the Sainsbury’s in Acton. Just as she will continue to do until she’s visited every last store on the list, ironically the Sainsbury’s at Wormwood Scrubs. And yet in the process of exposing them, she will lose a little bit more of herself.

Inside, the bright lights create a false day; a quietless day in a suburban supermarket where all that’s happening is Monday, Clapham, chatter, destiny. She walks with the pushchair through the middle of the store. It feels like she’s inside a huge animal, the beep of barcode scanners the pulsing of its heart. Scenes from each aisle flicker past her on either side, frames from an old reel of film – a woman dying of choice in front of the deodorant section; a guy trailing after his wife, a yawn turning his head into a mouth; a little girl fishing in a pool of spilt sauce with the end of her scarf.

Rose-Angela holds her breath down the length of the Baby Care aisle and heads for the checkouts. After a moment traipsing back and forth between the tills, she chooses the longest aisle in the middle of the store. She should have picked up a basket, she realises. Pimples of sweat are breaking out on her top lip. People are staring at her, staring at the large woman in the clothes that have let themselves go: the faded jeans, black anorak and scuffed shoes.

Rose-Angela takes off her cap like she’s peeling back the ring pull from a can of soup. Her brown hair is flecked with grey, lank, in need of a wash. She fumbles for the two pieces of cardboard in the big bag hanging off the pushchair. They are identical, the word PAEDOPHILE typed in bold and the photograph of a man; a snapshot of the past that for Rose-Angela will always be the present. She lets out a deep breath; the same air she last inhaled in the courtroom a month ago when the case was thrown out through lack of evidence.

“This… this man,” she shouts, voice crackling like the start of an old vinyl record. “This… ANIMAL raped and murdered my little girl, Shelly.”

People look at their shoes, rummage in their trolleys, handbags, pockets; look anywhere but at the woman standing there in a glass coffin.

“This disgusting PAEDOPHILE lives and works in London. Yes, in fact he works in Sainsbury’s. Can you believe that?” She looks at the people not listening to her, their faces turning in on themselves with the not-listening. “I think you should know this. I think you should know that the place where you buy your Heinz beans and your wholemeal bread and your… your organic fucking muesli employs paedophiles!!”

Rose-Angela is standing on the ceiling, shouting down at the people in the store, angry words that leave scars in the air, angry words with nightmares inside them. People move away from the woman performing open heart surgery on herself at the check-out. They cough, roll their eyes, laugh nervously.

“You think that’s funny, do you? You think it’s funny that Sainsbury’s employs a fucking child molester?” She waves the signs in their faces. “You’d be happy to bring your kids in here, would you, with a fucking kiddie fiddler like that on the check-out?”
Her face is red, fringe sticking to her forehead, nostrils flared like a flogged dog; a flogged dog that has caught its own tail and is eating itself to death. Rose-Angela swallows, looks around her, realising she is telling the wrong truths, wrong because no-one wants to hear them.

She feels the security guard coming towards her before she sees him. Tremors in the floor, squeak-soled shoes running at the speed of light-footedness. When he finally takes hold of her it feels like she’s sneaked up on herself. He is gathering her up, this tall lean man in the blue uniform. Gathering up the different parts of her: elbow, arm, shoulder, and turning her into another woman altogether; a woman older, one that can’t walk… or will not walk. She pushes him away, peeling off imaginary sleeves to rid herself of the feel of him on her arms.

The security guard ushers her towards the doors. At the entrance Rose-Angela stops and turns round, shouting over his shoulder, “Sainsbury’s employs PAEDOPHILES, remember that!” She picks up the plastic bags from the pushchair and hugs them to her chest. There are six of them, orange, different sizes, all stuffed with paper. They are tied together with string in the shape of a small child.

“Sainsbury’s supports paedophilia. You fucking shop here, then so do you, simple as that!”

And then, balancing the child on her hip, Rose-Angela turns and pushes the empty pushchair out onto Clapham High Street.




Melissa Mann

Teeth



Dress it up as a map of experience
These teeth are a cubist ruin
Graveyard crockery
Each one malevolently wired and primed.
Each a substation of the nervous system.

I lost the foremost
beakfirst into the shingle
baiting the aired bull nerve
through salt-air and cervezas
in the three insomniac days before the flight.

The second was shattered
by a juggernaut left
delivered by a Saracen bouncer, Beil Feirste
four-square on the mandible
and as I was dragged from the floor
a sense of disbelief, hell admiration
that he had the sheer audacity
to bob and weave
before laying me out.

The third was cracked and chipped
on a chicken's limb
in a bar off Wenceslas Square
a piece of marble
held up to 40 volts
curiosity and disgust
for the only piece of your skeleton
you'll have the good luck
and misfortune to see.

Soon they'll be gone
ground to dust
and what then?
The soft mouth,
the half-mad cackle
of the gumpling,
spitting the pips.
Consider this an obituary,
32 chances blown.



Darran Anderson

A Crazy Van Goghish Kid



once when i was 15
five of us wanted to
see one of our
favorite bands
who was playing
the arena that night
but none of us
had money
we decided to go
and rob
the tickets
from the scalpers
we brought an
unmarked .22 just
in case
we pulled up
to the curb and
a big man approached
the car
he said he had the
5 tickets we needed
at $20 a pop
the plan was that
the driver was going
to have the car
in drive with his
foot on the brake
so we could jet off
when the time came
i was head thief
in the passenger seat
who would grab the
tickets from the big hand
and quickly roll up
the window as we sped away
i had a small dagger
in the left hand
at my side
the big scalper asked
if we wanted them
i said i wanted to see
them
he said he didn’t
want to let them
go
he let me put my right
hand on them while
he still held them
he repeated again
that he didnt want to
let go of them
i grabbed them hard
and ripped them from
his large fingers
and yelled like i was saying
a line in a movie:
"well you're gonna have
to!"
my friend was right on cue
and hit the gas
i screamed, "yes!"
as i rolled up the window
we made it through a yellow light
the guy had 5 friends leaning on
the chainlink fence
who jumped in a car and tried
to chase us
but hit the red traffic signal
we parked in burger king
and walked into the arena
during the show i was in the
hot sweaty general admission crowd
close to the stage
and my earring got caught
on someone's jacket and ripped
my earlobe in two
i remember the blood on
my denim jacket
i kept jumping up in the air
to get a fresh breath
blood on my shoulder
a crazy van goghish kid
with a torn ear who went to
any length to hear the music.




Rob Plath

Meat


The world tumbles into focus. It's the smell that hits me first; hot, carnivorous breath mingling with piss and wood chip. At least this should be quick. Low bass growls, something from a childhood nightmare. If you go down to the woods today you're in for a big surprise. Disappointingly my life isn't flashing before my eyes. All I can think of is whether or not I'm covered by my life insurance.

*
Jam is staring down at a tangled mass of severed cartilage and crushed bone and exposed organs. His boss tumbles in, a fat man with a red, angry face, yelling.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no" (takes a breath) "No! Leave Boz to do the cutting, I need you out front. Now!"
Jam looks over at Boz, a misshapen lump of a man, who shrugs at Jam.

"And for god's sake talk to the customers" (shouting again) "Make them feel welcome, give them a reason to come back. They don't come in for a mumbling imbecile to hand them their chops. Now go, quick, quick!"

Jam had never wanted to be a butcher. It wasn't what you would call a vocation. His Mother had told him in no uncertain terms to get a job or get out, put his name forward for the apprenticeship and gratefully accepted his placement for him. He had been working there for thirteen weeks and two days on the day of the accident. Thirteen weeks and two days of cutting and chopping and carving, of hosing down walls and sweeping blood into the gutter, of scraping congealed flesh from under his fingernails and never being entirely free of that smell, of raw meat and
disinfectant. Of prime cut death. Working there had almost turned him vegetarian. Anyway, he'd stopped eating sausages after the first week.

So on that day, the day of the accident, Jam was not entirely unhappy to get away from the blood and mess out back and serve customers in the gleaming sterility of the shop, its sparkling stainless steel surfaces offering no allusion to the horror that lay only a room away. It wasn't like Boz was much of a conversationalist.

The bell rings out and in comes Mrs Parsley, an overweight, morose woman with a blue rinse and a wispy moustache, a friend of Jam's mother.

"Young James", she twitters by way of a greeting, "and how are we today?"

"We're very well, Mrs Parsley. What can I get you today?"

"Let. Me. See." She stoops her bulk down to examine the cabinet at eye level, an old cat greedily eyeing a goldfish bowl. "A half dozen of your pork and leek and a quarter pound of ham please James. And how's your mother?"

"Fine" says Jam, wrapping the sausages. "She's fine. We're down to the last slice of ham here, I'll cut some fresh." Turns his back on her and switches on the machine. Secures the leg joint. "A quarter pound you said?" Turns back to see Mrs Parsley pale, jaw slack.

"James", she is trying to say, but the word gets caught somewhere and so she points instead. Jam looks down to see the tip of his finger, nail still attached, sitting on top of the slices of ham. Fresh, warm, thick blood is trickling down his wrist to his elbow and beginning to pool on the floor. Jam drops the ham.
"Hang on a second", he's managing to say calmly and holding his hand tight to his chest he sticks his head around the door at the back "Boz, would you mind coming to serve a minute please. I think I might need to go to hospital."

Leaving casualty four hours later, a large bandage wrapped around his entire hand, already beginning to unravel and grey around the edges. Pausing for a breath as he gets out of the sliding doors at the front, a man in a cheap blue grey suit, slicked hair, a clip board, approaches him.

"Injured at work?" and before Jam can nod a crisp business card is thrust towards his unbandaged hand. Jam glances down; the motto 'No Win, No Fee' embossed on the front of the card. "Not now, I'm a sensitive guy, I know what it's like, wait till you get home, till you're recovered, give me a call, you know it makes sense". Before Jam can say a word the man is gone, shaking the hand of the next person to walk through the sliding doors of the hospital exit.

His mother is waiting for him on the doorstep as he gets home "And what time do you call this? Worried sick I was. Sick." On and on and on she goes until Jam is so hopelessly lost in her moaning that the only thing left to do is go to bed. Stretched out on his bed with his bandaged hand slung awkwardly across the headboard he remembers the card. It can't hurt, he thinks.

*
Eight hundred quid he got that first time. Eight hundred English pounds for the tip of his little finger. It seemed a fair exchange. Jam never went back to the butcher's. Instead he used the money from his finger to put down two months rent on a bed-sit at the opposite end of town to his mother's and took a job at a local chip shop. It wasn't great work but he was just happy to be away from home.
A couple of months past and the rent was due again. He'd begun to hate his new job was just as much as his last one.

One quiet Monday evening Jam found himself standing watch over the deserted shop. He'd not served a customer for hours and he amused himself by dropping individual potatoes into the electric peeler, the rumbler the manager had called it, at the rear of the shop. He watched with detached amusement as the noisy machine chewed up the spuds and spewed out jagged, thick cut chips into the tray at the bottom. The smell of hot fat and boiling oil and vinegar was everywhere. Spilt salt grains crunched and slid under his boots. He bit his lip and watched the door for customers. He dropped another spud and then forced his hand into the machine.

*
Splashing deep red paint onto the walls of his new two-bedroom apartment, Jam tries not to look at the stumpy mess of his left hand. The last few months have been good for Jam, its important he remembers that. He recites a few of his favourite personal mantras he's learnt from endless hours of daytime TV. You get what you give. Speculate to accumulate. No pain, no gain. He gets on with his painting, breathing deep through his nose, chewing on the side of his tongue.
Lately Jam has been seeing accidents waiting to happen everywhere he goes. An exposed bit of scaffold; just the right height for a nasty gash on the head or even a gauged eye. A cracked paving stone; nicely positioned to trip and crack a knee cap or skull. Exposed wiring, loose tiles, serrated edges. A few weeks earlier he'd let a bus run over his foot, crushing four toes. The hospital said he'd probably always walk with a limp. He was waiting on that claim to pay for a new fitted kitchen.

As the fresh paint begins to dry and crack, Jam sits flicking the channels on his new plasma screen television while picking at dried paint residue and discharge from his mutilated hand. He closes his eyes and opens them an hour later. He gets up and goes to the refrigerator and takes out some lamb to defrost for tea. He sits back down. He picks at his hand again and watches some more television. He doesn't know what time it is when he stops flicking the channels half way through When Animals Go Wild. He doesn't move while he watches a man explain how he survived a shark attack and needed one hundred and twenty four stitches. He's not thinking anything while a disfigured man explains how he was mauled by a grizzly bear. When the programme finishes he goes back to the kitchen, puts the lamb in the fridge and orders a pizza. He watches some more television.

*
When he enters City Zoo two days later Jam is wondering whether Bears hunt sheep in the wild. Oh well, meat's meat he thinks as he feels the lamb inside his sock and under the sole of his shoe mince and squelch between his mangled toes. As he limps towards a sign, ignoring pelicans, ignoring penguins, he is slightly disappointed to discover that the zoo houses only brown, not grizzly, bears. Oh well, a bear's a bear he thinks. Ignoring limas, ignoring lamas, he is marginally surprised and pleased to find the bear enclosure deserted and easily accessible. As he slides under the barrier and dangles his leg over the edge of the pit he almost smiles, noticing a large, faded sign: Attention! Please DO NOT feed the bears. As his shoe slips off and falls into the pen with a soft splat, gaining the attention of a flash of matted brown fur, revealing the clumped blood and flesh stuck to his sock. As he feels it mince and squelch between his toes, as he thinks a bear's a bear, as he thinks meat's meat. As he feels himself losing his grip, slipping down the embankment, toppling into the pit, his life refusing to flash before his eyes, hearing his ankle snap under the force of the fall. At least this should be quick he thinks, as the world tumbles into focus.



Lee Mess

Lay This Burden Down



The Autumn sun is weak,
but on my face nonetheless.
In Christ Church Garden
volunteers are sweeping the leaves,
binning cans,
and tidying the beds.
‘Look at this,’
a boiler suited woman says
as she leans on her broom
and reaches down
and lifts a syringe.
‘No matter
how many
they scatter here,
they never grow.’




Tim Wells

At Dawn



a false light in morning
as we skulk our way home
under the drug, waves of
murder radiating from the
steep morning sky balanced
like a door on its hinges

what are we doing here at
dawn, walking past houses
we lived in five years ago,
me and you, what are we
doing here under the heavy
lacerated palm of this drug?

the bus station is deserted
and a black cat crosses the
street like we are invisible

then the sky slams shut in the
wind, though there is no wind,
and the taxis blare forth on
the early road to the airport

and we stutter our way home
under the drug, a violence
of purple energy in the sky
like a washing machine full
of blood-stained bedsheets



Kevin Spaide