poetry

Strawberries

They had run out
of your favourite ice cream,

so I put my heart
in an empty tub
and handed you that instead.

I watch you attack
with a vicious spoon,
trying your best
to eat in even layers.

You said
that it tasted like strawberries,
but could use some sugar –
“It’s a little bitter.”

That came as no surprise.

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fiction

Recurrence

We’re moving to Paris, we said to each other in astonishment about where we were. Only where we were was London and it was bleak and gray and confusing and I was trying to make sense of the subterranean rail system as if I’d never been anywhere before, let alone there. The map on the small screen in my hand was moving around like the carpet in the hotel lobby in Fear and Loathing. The film. I don’t remember what the carpet did in the book, because whatever it did was in my imagination and that was years ago.

Ali Smith commented on the suicides that take place each year on the north line out of King’s Cross, I recalled, aloud, as if that’d help us navigate and we maneuvered like two lost fish, our foreignness silvery and glinting amidst the hurried throngs, side by side and single file, slant formation, a desperately rhyming dance of happenstance through crowds and corridors and around corners and finally up some stairs at the top of which we emerged into noncommittal daylight and stepped our way past a woman with such judgment in her eyes she stood out from the blur and we couldn’t help but notice her glaring harshness and contempt like we were about to walk some plank and she knew it and enjoyed not telling us with her mouth, only her look.

We left her behind us like so much else but carried her look along and felt heavier for it, stepping out onto a walkway under construction or re- at the edge of a wide bridge high up some few hundred feet over a green-black river I thought shouldn’t have a name but surely did and was speckled with all manner of vessels going this way and that and lined by tall mirror and gunmetal buildings rising from its foam and filth banks. I noticed that part of our path consisted of a vehicle-sized rectangle of steel of the sort they lay awkwardly over giant potholes or trenches cut temporarily through streets for the laying of pipe or power only this had nothing beneath it but a long drop into that terrible water. We took our first halting steps with my mind full of wondering why we couldn’t simply stop, sit, and think this over… And that’s where the story begins, always.

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fiction, photography

THE LOOKALIKE

Chris R-0129 Image by Christine Renney

A man had moved into one of the ground floor flats at the far end of the cul-de-sac. He looked just like Richard Nixon and Thomas was fascinated, less by his uncanny resemblance to the disgraced former President, but the fact that the man seemed to have embraced it.
He always dressed as Nixon had; white shirt with a dark tie and with his jacket a little too tight across the shoulders. The jacket buttons seemed barely able to contain a man who somehow managed to be both coiled and slumped inside of it. Always hunched over, with his chin almost touching his chest, he appeared to have no neck.
Thomas was flummoxed as to why anyone would choose to emulate a man who historically had been so maligned, who to all intents and purposes, had failed in such a monumental and public way.
Thomas wondered if he was a professional ‘Look Alike’, although he couldn’t imagine there was much call for such a thing in 2017. But maybe over the years the man had become so locked into the part he was now unable to function as himself.

‘Have you seen the old man across the street?’ Thomas asked his wife, ‘the one who looks like Richard Nixon?’
‘Nixon?’ his wife queried. ‘What do you mean, Nixon?’
‘Richard Nixon, the American President, Watergate and that.’
‘I know who Richard Nixon is but that isn’t who he is. He’s that other guy.’
‘Who are you talking about, what guy?’
‘The other one from back when. I can’t remember his name but he had that TV show. They’re always showing old clips of him introducing Elvis or the Beatles.’
‘Ed Sullivan?’
‘Yes, him, Ed Sullivan.’
‘He isn’t Ed Sullivan, why would he want to be Ed Sullivan?’
‘Why not? Why Nixon then?’
‘Point taken but he isn’t Ed Sullivan, He’s Nixon, he has to be.’
‘Why does he have to be?’
‘I don’t know but he does!’ Thomas shouted.
‘Ok, ok. Calm down. So, if he is Nixon what would you say to him? If he really were, what would you ask him now?’
‘I don’t know,’ Thomas pondered the question, ’Nixon wanted it all so badly and he really worked at it and, after all the disappointments, he finally made it. He had what he wanted. He was exactly where he wanted to be and he screwed it up. So, I supposed I’d ask him what it was like, living with that.’
‘Wow, ok, but what if it is Sullivan? Would you ask him anything?’
Thomas laughed
‘I don’t know. Probably what was it like meeting with the Beatles and to meet Elvis.’
‘Didn’t Nixon meet Elvis and The Beatles?’
‘You’re right, he did.’
‘Wow, that’s it!’ his wife jumped up. ‘That’s how we do it.’
‘Do what?’ He stared at her, a blank expression on his face.
‘That’s how we find out.’
‘Find out what?’
‘Who he is or who he is trying to be.’
‘How?’
‘We ask him. We ask the man across the street about Elvis and The Beatles and we deduce from what he has to say, work it out from his answers, whether he’s Nixon or Ed Sullivan.’

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prosetry

Wild Horses

​You mix my medication into a pot of strawberry yoghurt and instruct me on how to eat. Open. Come on. That’s it. No, don’t chew it, it’s yoghurt, just get it down ya. There’s a good girl.

My phone is ringing but I can’t locate the source of the noise. It hurts to move my eyeballs. You find my phone and see who is calling me: it’s the guy that you’re (quite rightly) suspicious about. You pretend you didn’t notice who called but I see your aura change colour and you exhale too sharply.

I start shouting about needing a cigarette. You find my cigs and lighter and slowly walk me to the balcony. You light me up and hold me back, away from the edge. I keep dropping my cigarette. I cry. I ask you where the moon is and you tell me that it’s up there somewhere but it’s hiding.

You carry me to bed and manage to remove the chandeliers that are threaded through my ear-lobes. I am suddenly aware that I ought to brush my teeth but I don’t have the strength and the idea leaves me as quickly as it arrived. I don’t know what day it is and I don’t care. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where I am. What is this? I just need everything to stop. What is this?! I don’t like it. I don’t like this one bit. You magically produce a syringe of morphine. I am so happy to see you. I tell you that I love you.

You arrange my body into the recovery position and tell me that I’m safe, that everything’s going to be fine, that when I’m better we’ll go to the seaside, that I don’t need to apologise, that you’re here to look after me. I ask you if we can adopt some sugar gliders instead of having kids. I don’t know what your reply was, if you even replied at all, but I’m sure you would’ve said yes, of course darling, because you love me too much.

I remember you smoothing my hair and whispersinging the lyrics to Wild Horses to me until I fell asleep. Wild horses couldn’t drag you away from me. But I fear that my sicknesses might cause you to walk away, voluntarily, gladly, thankfully. That, or I’ll drag you down with me. Either way, it’s not looking pretty, and I am disappointed when I wake up with a pulse 28 hours later.

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poetry

I am, I am, I am

1.

​I am a letter.
I have been sliced open
And arranged with all the others.
Important,
Ignored,
Anticipated,
Dreaded,
Unexpected.
Bringing more bad news than good.
Sometimes lost,
Sometimes pinned to the wall,
Eventually finding the hands of the right person,
Eventually discarded and forgotten about,
Not worthy of being cherished
Or hidden in the shoebox
At the bottom of your wardrobe
To be reread on a rainy day.

2.

I am a crucifix.
Worn,
Believed in by many,
Feared by some.
Adored by the faithful,
Notorious to the faithless.
I can be your constant,
I can be your last resort.
You’ll either mock me or need me,
Possibly both.
My pained face hangs over your head
When you’re lying in bed,
And I will be there at the end of the aisle,
Watching you marry the wrong girl.
I might make you uncomfortable;
Or I may provide the greatest comfort
That you’ve ever known.
Or you can, you know,
Just wear me for show:
Don’t think about my meaning,
I am just an accessory.
I have the power to intimidate
And the power to forgive
And I can look pretty while doing it.

3.

I am a vase.
Smashed into pieces on the floor,
Hidden from the parents,
Frantically reconstructed by a sibling,
Taped and glued and bandaged up,
Imperfect,
Cracked,
Fragile,
Susceptible to further damage,
Praying that nobody notices,
Plotting excuses for when somebody does,
Playing the blame game,
Holding it together,
Knowing that it’s only a matter of time
Before the parents find out
And panic
And shout
And throw me out.
No longer functional
No longer beautiful
No longer pride of place
Just an ugly, broken waste of space.

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fiction, photography

A TRYST

Chris R-0172-4 Image by Christine Renney

He had fallen for a girl on a hoarding, a bill poster. He was living in a tiny bed-sit close to the office.
He had begun to fantasise and obsess about this alluring young woman in a cocktail dress, advertising a perfume, the name of which he wouldn’t be able to remember. The hoarding was directly opposite the window to his room. It was big and imposing and in his isolation his becoming infatuated with her was inevitable.
The advertisements were changed once a month and over the summer he had lived alongside a series of gaudy images encouraging him to eat a particular breakfast cereal, to fly with a certain airline, to think seriously about life insurance, to choose wholegrain to look after his heart.
From the instant that he noticed her, he was mesmerised. After all those bright primary colours, the block capital letters and all those crude messages that he had tried so hard to ignore, this photograph blown-up to super-size of a woman turning away from a party in order to gaze in at him was wholly captivating and he couldn’t help but reciprocate. That evening he found himself drawn time and again to the window, where he stood and gazed out at her.
At the office he wasn’t able to concentrate and the following day felt like an eternity. But when at last he was back in his room and able to look at her the hours seemed to go by in a flash. It was past midnight when he realised that he hadn’t yet prepared his evening meal; that he needed to think seriously about going to bed and getting some sleep.
When she stepped from the hoarding he was startled. It wasn’t so much that she had suddenly taken form but he was amazed by how effortlessly and gracefully she managed in her high heels to climb down the wall.
She stood on the edge of the road and straightened her dress. Watching carefully he expected her at any moment to set off in search of a nightclub but when she raised her head she looked up and directly at him. Blushing violently he stepped backward but didn’t turn or look away. Making her way toward his building she crossed the busy street. He listened as she climbed up to the window and when she appeared he held out his hand and, taking it, she stepped into the room.
He remembered that she had been holding a wineglass.
‘What did you do with your glass?’ he asked.
‘Oh’, she replied, ‘ I put it down somewhere over there I think’.
He looked across at the board at the party scene she had deserted. The remaining revellers resplendent in their finery seemed unaware that she had disappeared but the photograph was hazy and blurred and he couldn’t see the wine glass.
The young woman studied him quizzically.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘Nothing, nothing’s wrong’.
He realised that his behaviour was unsettling her and smiling he pulled the curtains. He wasn’t embarrassed, surprisingly. After the first flush he now felt confident and entirely at ease.
‘Come here’, he said and, taking her hands, he pulled her in close and they kissed.

In the morning she was gone and at first he was stricken. There wasn’t any trace of her, no forgotten earring, not even a dirty cup. He rolled over in the bed and then he could smell her, her perfume, the perfume he supposed that she was now promoting across the street. Pleased with himself he basked in it. It had happened and he didn’t doubt that it would again.
Stretching out he decided that he was going to ring in sick, that in order to ready himself for tonight he needed to take the day off.
He slept in until late afternoon and, after reading the newspaper, he watched a little television and when at last it was time he crossed to the window. Once again he watched her step elegantly from the advertisement and climb down the wall.

Over the course of the next week he was surprised to find he wasn’t phased by her astounding good looks. He soon dispensed with any attempt at small talk and the moment she stepped through the window and into the room, taking her hand he would lead her to the bed.
Afterwards, he slept soundly and when he awoke he felt refreshed and eager to the meet the day. And then suddenly one morning he couldn’t smell her perfume. How long had it been, he wondered, how many nights, how many mornings? He tried to count; five, six, seven, eight? But no, it was nine.
He sniffed at the sheet where she had been laying, sunk his face into her pillow. He bunched up the quilt from her side, pulled it up to his nose and inhaled deeply but there was nothing.
That night he studied her and, scrutinising, he decided that she had deteriorated. It was a strange word to choose, he was aware of this, but it felt like the right one. She was fading, losing her sparkle, her shine. He hadn’t registered before that she was wearing make-up but he noticed now where it had begun to run on her face, that her arms and legs were streaked and dirty.
‘Would you like to take a shower?’ he asked.
‘No’, she looked at him, incredulous, ‘Why?’ she asked and smiled.
He decided not to push it.
‘It doesn’t matter’, he said. ‘But do you mind if we just sleep tonight? I’m really very tired and I don’t know but I think I might be coming down with something. I hope you don’t mind’.
‘It’s okay’, she said and sounded genuinely concerned. ‘Of course I don’t mind’.

As she groped and grappled her way from the board, he wondered how many more times she would be able to manage it, how many more times he would have to watch her as she clambered and scrambled down the bricks. He expected her at any moment to slip but somehow she made it. At the bottom she stood with her back toward him. Her dress was torn and coming undone at the seams and her legs were spotted with what, from where he stood, looked like dried blood.
She turned and he stepped backward and remembered that he had done this before on the first night and he hoped desperately that this would be the last. He was, in fact, convinced that it would be but he had decided what he was going to do and he wasn’t about to back down, now now.
She started across the street and, lunging forward, he closed the window and pulled the curtains. He sat on the sofa and waited for what seemed like an age and when, at last, she began to tap on the glass he switched on the television and turning the volume high asked himself ‘how long?’. He was surprised to hear his voice, to find that he was talking aloud.
‘How much longer’, he mused, ‘will I have to put up with this?’

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poetry, prosetry

Pablo

I saw a Picasso painting and it fucked me up
because it wasn’t oil on canvas, it was a mirror.

Her pain was contagious, her skin all sickly and diseased, all yellow and green, her hair in blue and purple streaks, matted, heavy, left unwashed for weeks.

She was stifling her screams and catching her tears in a tissue made of broken glass, muffling her sobs with icy crystal shards, alone, in pain, insane, confined within the edges of a 60 by 49 frame.

Those eyes held stories of the lives of every person she’d ever known yet betrayed no life of their own. Black holes filled to the brim with untold horrors, her eyelashes holding back the weight of a thousand lies, a pathetic barrier between the tsunami of torture within her and the face that she wears for the world;

but it will not hold, it will not hold, the wave breaks the boundary, spewing poison, rioting down her cheeks and into a handful of glass, the tears fall and fall;

and her lover only watches on, making her a spectacle, a beautiful and tragic sight to behold, not one to be reassured, not one to be consoled. He studied her pain because he wouldn’t face his own, just as you study mine because you will not face yours.

She and I, we are the same:
a sight to be seen,
a suffering machine,
a perfect exhibition
of devastation and depression.

I immediately recognised myself as the subject of the portrait
although I know that you’d say, “No, that’s not you, not at all,”
but I’m so certain that it is me, I am so certain.

How did Pablo know me so well so many years before I was born? It seems that the only people who ever truly knew me are two dead men who found beauty in the forlorn.

And so I’m left behind
with these tidal waves of grief
and a disintegrating heart,
wandering around empty galleries,
and wiping away my tears
with shards of broken glass.

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