Starfish#5 – A collage
Mexican Traditional Dance #9
Green Flower collage
Jim Zola is a poet and photographer living in North Carolina.
In Porto by the banks of the Douro an old man is dancing as though he wants to shake the devil out. His eyes are closed and there’s sweat on his brow and bald scalp in spite of the chilly breeze. Not far from the old man is a guitarist: twenty-something, lanky, bearded and sporting a top knot. He’s playing for the tourists waiting for their river cruises and cares not for the old man, this stomping, shimmying addition.
The visitors listen but with a quizzical eye on the dancer. My mother and I watch from a nearby café. Sipping vinho verde, I imagine he’s conjuring his lost love back from the dead. He spins and lifts his arms. I feel as though I’m missing something. Perhaps it isn’t that he’s seeing things, maybe we are the ones who can’t see the love of his life for whom he turns and moves his head with such determination, using his body to move through space and time.
There amongst the bars, buggies and postcard stands, he’s oblivious: just living life to the furious strum. It’s funny how music animates our form, how it can own us. To the crowd, this broad little man is lost in the rhythm but to himself he’s found, he’s with his lover in the autumn air.
The musician shakes his head and tries to ignore this moth to his flame by changing song abruptly to drive him away. It is the territorial and dismissive swat of a player who wants no accompaniment, an entertainer who won’t share the spotlight. His actions speak and say:
“The past is a disease, forget it. Don’t watch him. Listen to me.”
Though the old man remains undeterred, my fist tightens around the stem of my wine glass and I think what a traitor to his ancestors the guitarist is.
Picturing my grandfather and his bride, on the first waltz of their wedding day, I recall the poet Yeats:
Oh body swayed to music, oh brightening glance, how can we tell the dancer from the dance?
I remember my grandmother waving me goodbye, doing a little Charleston on her doorstep. All smiles and curls before the cigarettes got her. How she loved to twirl and kick but in the end she could barely shuffle from her bed to her chest of drawers without stopping for breath.
In my mind’s eye I see myself at five, taking over the dance floor to You Can’t Hurry Love with my father on a ferry from Rosslare to Cherbourg while the other adults around me clutch their stomachs and groan as the ship rock.
Now, gazing at the old man seems like an intrusion. It is in daylight and in public but this dance of his life, full of the stories from his heart and soul, seems so intimate and not meant for all of us to see.
My mother leans in and whispers: “Alzheimer’s?”
“Probably,” I nod.
The song finishes, the audience applauds, and the old man is still dancing.
The pompous sun boasted in at Jackie; linear and Venetian shadows settling on her skin. It was the hair and flesh sleeping alongside her, an elbow protruding into a crevice of her rib which convinced Jackie to lie there discerning the trivialities of the words belonging to a forgotten night a little longer. One day she thought, one day the air will lift the diaphragm of her one-horse town shallow breath only to fall again with a chemical-like sting of regret. And it would come as expected; first to appear in the morning and the last to leave at night. For the past 6 months Jackie has battled with the face of night, contemplating the capacity to love and fear someone all at once. For the most part she reckoned when a heart beats it can’t tell the difference in its rhythm.
‘Jackie you can love yourself or pretend to, but you can’t make love to yourself’ that was her mother’s spirit before, an assortment of grins and winks to embarrass her first-born with. Those days before, when happiness was the sound of her mother’s self-help pamphlet satire in a waiting room full of unattended teeth. The days before the love for her Jackie were untainted.
Now Jackie felt she was the embarrassment, in love with a woman as a woman living the reality of that bloody self-help pamphlet and selfishly choosing not to shut-the-fuck up and make love to herself.
As a kid Jackie would catch butterflies in glass jars and caress the grains of their powdery wings between her fingers. Just like the woman standing before her now in their own glass jar architecture, the same as and different to the woman laughing in the waiting room. The stale cyclical air where words would never find their way out, limply cast into a dead-weight existence
‘No Jackie, not this. Please anything but this.’
Some parasites grow old on their host and hide beneath satin nightwear instilling fear, reservations and hate. The jar air-tight and now Jackie was a dull orange lady clamouring, her wings stripped bare of paint. The catalyst for our existence remains a single act of love or fear or a fusion of both so that we clump together according to some sequence of genetics in pools of blood and security and we become affected moulded and sometimes clogged with nothings of the past. Those papier-Mache strings of parasitic human tied together by the wastes of nature.
‘How can you fly from human regret when your own breath is its leftovers?’ Jackie nursed a throat-burning bitterness while stroking the sleeping head of hair next to her.
As a kid, she had never noticed the streams of wet fear hemorrhaging at the mouth of her winged victims in that lapse of time before their death, but now she suffocated from the same intent of neglect. No matter who we are to this planet we stand on the environs, a mere 72 hour journey to navigate beyond the glass-jar
Gráinne is from county Tipperary where she grew up with a love for reading and writing. The unrelenting love grew wings and brought her temporarily to The Netherlands where she is now thesis-ing.
Image Credit: Havilah Galaxy
We were walking yesterday when he said, ‘There aren’t any waves in the Mediterranean Sea.’
‘I know,’ he continued, ‘because I used to swim in it every day. I’d put down my tools, change into my shorts, and cycle the path to the beach. I used to do it all year round. In winter – when I dove through the first waves – the locals would shout “Swim Loco, Swim!” And I would; I’d swim out to the furthest yellow buoy covered in ages of uncleaned bird-shit, hook my feet into its algae-ridden chain under the water, lie back and bounce with the tide. I could think of nothing and everything floating there in my open-air solitude. Memories and plans would stream across my eyes. I often contemplated if I had it deep in my will to swim to my own horizon – I never did.
‘I could always feel the urge build inside me, feel the straightening of the doubts, and then just as I had almost convinced myself; I would renege on the pact. All that I sought was confirmation that I didn’t want to die. Just to contemplate it for a moment was enough. But I would let those thoughts flourish; flourish and eventually fall. I knew if I ever fully convinced myself that it would forever be the right time.’
I felt I should say something about me being pleased that he hadn’t let go.
‘It wasn’t myself that I wanted to let go of,’ he said. ‘It was everyone else. Don’t you feel like that sometimes? Like you could commit to being you if there wasn’t anyone else around? Like a stray rock in a dune of sand.
‘Anyway,’ he continued, ‘I’d worn a band on my wrist for years – a bracelet; and I’d had it so long that it had become invisible to me. I’d been given it in love and it had disappeared with hate. The seawater had been tugging it along my forearm as I lay back in my public isolation chamber. When I rolled the circular wooden beads back down the arm my mind tripped to what they still subconsciously represented. Being again made aware of its existence weakened my resolve, I still must have yearned for that nourishing and bygone feeling.
‘You see I hadn’t fully let go – how could I have when I still wore the band that I had been hesitant in ridding myself of at the time. Now it could turn out to be the last strand to happiness, or the final hair before balding.’
He didn’t speak for a number of paces but I knew better than to interrupt.
‘I pawed at the beads with my other hand, drifting in a pool of my own thought, using the swell of the water as my scales and weighing how much of myself was invested in each bead.
‘You see, I’ve always been a forthright man and my convictions are bound, this much I know. I was given the bracelet and I kept it; I kept it loudly for a while. Nevertheless the thing had meaning and I was dubious of throwing away the memories – but the pain I carried on my wrist was so specific and so exact to me that it had seeped inside and hidden itself. Y’know?
‘I eventually forged my thoughts, grabbed the beads in a fist and pulled them from my wrist – breaking the elastic that held them together. With that snap I floated backwards, hurled everything from me and let my feet unwrap from the sunken chain as seawater surged into my mouth and flooded my carnal cries.
‘My head dipped under the water – just for a second – and when I came back up I knew I was rid of it all. There were no more ties to the connection. No links left to shear.
‘If I had been unsure before; then I knew I was right once the act was completed. I had seen each bead separate from the string high above me in mid-air. Each one pitting the water at a different time. And I tell you right now; I hope they all sank.’
Stephen McGurk, an Irish writer, has travelled across Europe collecting stories, experiences and pain. Notably his short stories and poetry are featured in The NY Literary Magazine, The Galway Review, and A New Ulster. He currently resides in Bordeaux where he is developing his first novella. Follow Stephen on twitter @McgurkNehpets
Image Credit: Štefan Štefančík
The Waiting Room 
Some thing is wrong.
What is wrong?
I read about the side effects but I don’t remember reading about this.
The side effects extend beyond the text.
I felt hopeful.
To read beyond the text is the primary function of the text.
I found a spider underneath my thumbnail today.
A side effect.
I was not aware of the ramifications.
There are plenty.
Whatever it takes.
My fingers feel heavy.
It is heavy to see these things, lie down on the couch.
Do you mean the table?
Lie down on the table.
I fear osmosis.
Here, drink this.
What is this?
It is wine.
It is blue.
Do you mind if I smoke?
There are cigarettes inside your pocket.
Am I dying?
You have grown accustomed to feeling the outside from the inside.
I did not ask about the permeability of my skin.
I know. You have taken too much Avanza. You see spiders.
How do you know this?
Today you feel the outside from the outside.
This is a fantastical joke!
Reality acquires consistency through fantasy.
The punch line?
Waiting prepares one for liberation!
Too vague, and the spiders are multiplying. I told my arms to move thirteen seconds ago and they are only moving now.
A side effect. In reality, your arms have been moving this entire time.
How much time is an entire time?
They move in theory.
A conceptual discussion doesn’t interest me.
The spiders underneath your fingernails have always been there. The spiders ‘become’ when you look at them. Stop looking. Think of a rose garden. If you must look, look for flowers.
I am tired of talking in symbols!
Read beyond the text.
A spider is a spider because it is not a rose?
To see is to name. You understand.
Stop it. My skin is without body. I feel I could be the couch.
Maybe you are the table. Maybe you have always been the table.
I appear to be experiencing an internal dilemma.
You are a mirror without end. Try moving out of the doorway.
My hands are too heavy for this.
Would you like to see The Doctor now?
You are The Doctor?
I am not The Doctor.
Why am I here if you are not The Doctor?
You were sitting inside a waiting room. You cannot wait for no thing? Try to imagine a narrative arc.
I cannot imagine it.
You are imagining it now.
How do you suppose this?
Because you are here, and I am here.
And who are you?
I am waiting for The Doctor of course! The Doctor has been hoping you would call. She will be beside herself with joy!
You mean He will be beside himself?
No. I shall be The Doctor today.
Soon you will, yes.
This framework is unreliable.
It is of your doing. You asked to see me, now I am here?
How can it be my doing if I am unable to move?
You do in theory, and you wait in practice.
Are we discussing dream logic?
It is up to you. You are writing this story.
No, I am smoking a cigarette. How can I be writing if I am smoking?
You speak as if capable of doing either thing! If you are waiting, you are not doing. We just established this.
I need another cigarette.
You smoke only in theory.
How does one smoke in theory?
You are sitting at a desk writing about yourself smoking.
Only you are not writing. You are unconscious, dreaming of yourself as a writer.
I am not familiar with dream logic.
And yet, still, you are writing!
There is no difference if you believe you are writing. You are being written about because you believe you are writing about yourself. The Writer ‘becomes’ through writing. You have a voice because The Writer gave you a voice. You created The Writer to make yourself tangible. The Writer is a vessel! You are a product of that vessel! Capiche?
In a frantic dissociated state The Writer attempts to illustrate the tangibility of their reality. “You are mistaken,” she says, “Iamtwenty-threeIwatchCarlSaganeveryeveningIhaveanalmost boyfriendwhothinkshe’sStephenMalkmusmylittlesistercalledtodaytotellmeshefuckedherbossIIexperiencelifeviabenzoedfilterduetoviolentanxietyIwritenonfictionsometimespoetryIamnowwritingatcaféaboutthefirsttimeIoverdosedonantidepressants”.
Would you now like me to conduct a dream analysis?
“I overdosed eight years ago.”
Dream theory does not require a logical framework.
“Because time is relative?”
When waiting, yes. In reality, it has been sixteen minutes.
“But I remember waking in the hospital bed. I remember the charcoal purge tasting of miscarriage, the fluid drip, the vitamin infusions.”
To do anything when waiting does not negate the waiting.
“But I am not waiting for anything!”
You are between rooms. All things done Here are not done Here.
“If one is unaware of The Waiting Room, what does it matter?”
It doesn’t matter, but you wrote me into the story. It matters to you.
“Why write you in after eight years?”
Sixteen minutes. And nothing was guaranteed.
“Suppose I didn’t write you in?”
Death within the hour.
“But to me, one hour would feel like decades?”
“And looking at my current life trajectory, I would have been fulfilled?”
The Writer is now angry. The Writer shouts:
“IF I AM UNAWARE OF THE DREAM IT IS NO LONGER A DREAM!”
“MEANING IS ATTRIBUTED TO THINGS IT IS NOT FOUND IN THINGS!”
Are you finished?
“Are we talking in symbols?”
A spider is a spider because it is not a rose. Your fingernails are filled with spiders. Kill them. There is nothing beyond the symbol.
“I feel unaddressed.”
Yes, you feel addressed. You know what you need to do. Move beyond the text.
Sweat trickles down the bridge of The Writer’s nose, dipping into her mouth. She swallows, tasting miscarriage. “What then becomes of this document? What about the people who read this?”
It is an imagined audience. Those who read this text exist only in theory.
“My theory, or theirs?”
It’s all relative, if they do not know.
jessie berry-porter writes non-fiction, poetry, non-fiction poetry and also other things. She spends too much time quitting caffeine and flower pressing.
Photography by Paul Reynolds, a Dublin based photographer. He shoots mostly on film these days. Follow him on instagram @paulfedayn
They called him The Storm. His house blew in and out all kinds of everyone and everything. People came for the stories and because it was easy – the door was always open. The Storm was always peculiar in the way he invited people in so warmly and ran out the door without a goodbye when the weather inspired him. He was strange, but then we wouldn’t have bothered with him if he wasn’t.
There were always at least four of us but the four weren’t always the same and on an odd occasion it happened that there could be eight of us. We were the embodiment of complete freedom from the restrictions of childhood and the ignorant bliss of the troubles and dreary responsibilities of adulthood.
We spent our time in his sitting room on barely clad armchairs with chipped arm rests worn down by cigarette burns and scorched by blistering fires that spluttered turf and sticks up our nostrils and down our throats. We inhaled the fumes and shared cigarettes to clear the heavy fiery smoke from our lungs.
Damp winds blew bubbles in his wallpaper and painted black patches around the ceiling. The house was a nestling, a Russian doll – a babushka of items from every land there was but we never found anything more exciting than the words that bellowed from his dried and weather beaten lips.
“There are three there in the one person, you see, he began, the night I realised that his words were like seeds in me that grew into all sorts of things.
“This one is almost certainly insane,” his words filled the tiny space between our huddling shoulders.
The Storm turned into every character and every story – you never knew who was who.
“Watch her now, she is going again. The transformations are getting more frequent,” he continued, as four heavy heads imagined a woman with sixty years of normal thoughts in her head, as Storm had put it.
If street lanterns could pull their one remaining stubborn leg behind them more quickly, there wouldn’t be such a distance from one light to another. Why don’t you walk with me?”
The Storm yelled this one and his face was a fury.
“None of them dare to answer,” he added in a more controlled pitch.
“Her three children all look at her, feeling sorry for themselves, sorry that this is what they have to go through, at this moment in their lives, just when they had become successful and happened to rid the ugliness of the world from their pristine front doors.”
He paused and started up his voice again like an engine, coughing loudly before the first word and levelling off to the sound of a muffled drone.
“I passed through so many roadblocks. Wrong Way. Turn Back Now. Danger! I even saw signs that warned me of extreme danger; scary signs to tell me that there were no more signs. But I never turned back. Never. I knew better – the signs were blessings in disguise, I reasoned. I prayed that I would never reach where I was going, because then I would have arrived. And nobody wants to arrive on time to the wrong place. Now I’m not crazy and I’ll give you the one and most powerful reason why – I know.”
He paused for an irritating ten seconds.
“There are three here you see,” he repeated, before taking what he called a sup from his dirty cup of comfort.
“One you can see walking through the hilly head of hair – the sea underneath him, using its breath to soften the tips of long grass that bend to his long procession. He is Kala.
Two is Sortie. If his life was a drawing, he’d be the depth of shading that pushes out all that it illustrates. He’d be the shade that makes fields divide over and over and rivers and seas contract and widen and mountains run steep and near to the ground.
Three is Paoki, pulling and dragging at his own nerves, unravelling himself at the seams to learn how he works and then hysterically knitting himself back into a knot a moment later.”
Paoki discovered the note, carefully left unfolded between pages in a book mindlessly left to rot on a window ledge.
He opened it and the sun spread the letters across the page. Words zoomed in and out of focus, as rays choreographed themselves into a senseless pose. What great words had been written only to be hidden by their own aging dust; a secret withered by the sun and scented with the rash of mildew.”
“She left a note you see – do you want to hear what it said?”
We were all confused at this stage – the Storm’s stories never made sense until the end and even then I was thinking about it, wondering about it and remembering it at the strangest of moments.
“Go on Storm,” I shouted, leaning forward and feeling the slap of the fire’s heat on my face.
He took a piece of paper from his pocket and started in a whisper again and grew louder as the words took on weight.
My dearest secret,
I am in a transient place. Things around me remain, but I change, they tell me.
I’m where we once stood and I’m writing you this letter I wish I’d written before we both left. There is no credibility after Alzheimer’s.
Everything I say is suspected as being nonsense. There is nothing left to contribute. My body is cared for more than my mind. All that is constant is you. You are all I remember. You are moving with me it seems. I hold onto you or you are holding onto me: I cannot tell.
Words in this letter whisper beyond the reach of sound in your ears, beyond retrieval, beyond senseless thought, beyond doubt, beyond what they hear.
Duty and honour marched you off to other men’s struggles. How brave you were to fight for strangers’ beliefs. Weary, I threw away the pages of love you sent, and read your journey as an escape away from me.
All forms of thoughtless deeds scribbled on wasted paper until all was said. I slept on your side. The pen pulled from me pages of torment, up and down, across and down. Grief pushed and dragged at me until it had my hand seized. Pages crumbled and creased were discarded for a while.
I could feel your words on my lips, kissing me away. How could I remain with your words resting on me and your sense absorbing me through days that ran into years?
And now my love I want to write all the words in the world for you. But my words bump into each other, clumsy on the page, too long a part, too long without meaning.
I visited the place where we met and time has moved things there too my love. Bare steel beams hold the house’s shelter. Cement floors open to winds blowing in and out of every direction. No place for draft, just open spaces free to blow in and out of nothing.
I’m waiting only the time I know that passes. I manage to escape myself with all this transient confusion, but I imagine my torment in this moment of torment. I imagine the next will be worse and my last was kinder.
My memory of you is here and every moment they tell me something different. There are moments that you are married, happy and normal, and there are times when you are gone, lost at war – the unknown lover. And then there are seconds that you are on your way.
I search for you in every face, in every shadow that I see and in every foot step that falls into my ear. I search for you in every moment. Every thought takes me away now, away to places I have already been. There is nothing new anymore. My life stopped a long time ago and I go back and forth in search for where I really am.
This is the letter I’m returning to you. Decades have ran over me – a prisoner of your war. From where I was and always remain. I could have never imagined this love would be the only thing to survive in me. I die a beaten body, without a mind, but my love could live a thousand more lifetimes. Read me well. Read me in. Read me out. Take me with you.
The Storm let the silence slip in again.
After several minutes of watching the fire die down, he stood up, grabbed the poker and stirred the fire around.
“People chatter, chatter, chatter and leave no room for anything but sound. Imagine ignoring the ‘other’ voices in your head. Imagine indeed. I don’t ignore mine. Yes I said, I don’t. Mind you, they only come when I stop talking.
With that, he ruffled the fire up again to reveal the last few burning embers and said grinning, “I listen to them all. Indeed I do.”
Lyn Byrne is a Trainer of Business, Training and Communications. She has worked as a freelance print Journalist and as a broadcast news Journalist for local radio. Lyn has a degree in Business and French and a Masters in Journalism. She has also studied creative writing and Emotional Intelligence.
Image Credit: Obed Hernández
Sarah crawled across the wood floor, which was in the curl of its decline. Slapped up and frigid. The wood turned up at extremities to pare the bell end of the white wall. A cast of small shadows had sprung up, pared fields of not light, from the sticking edges of wood in an outreach to the wall achieved. Their smallish, short-lived bodies wavered in the admitting daylight on the calm of breastrock of the back wall against sun.
Sarah–a much greater body–hoped that Sarah could not hear her.
Sarah had been with Sarah–in or about her home or house of mind–for as long as she could remember.
She can remember Sarah leap off her chest to cling to the shoulder of her childhood friend Emma. They were five. Emma had closed the door of her bedroom but Sarah could still feel Sarah there; just beyond the door. She was not invited where Sarah could go, walking by purer paths. The grandmothers, romantically entwined wooden souls of her own head, had laughed, joking with one another:
“In the bedroom of a girl let the shadow of no man fall.”
“But, the bedroom of a girl is also the shadow of a man!”
An adult’s voice had come stroking out of a glass of water – “queer or . . . could sexually abuse her . . .” before settling back into the circle of the liquid.
One in a series of amputations of character that had affected Sarah from birth. Before, even. Amputation of the potent through the potent. Not that amputation was a bad thing. She is not convinced that there are such things as whole bodies pure. Yet, a standard of purity exists the proof of which: that it was amputation she was subject to over years.
Her trick: to make of the lessened whole. To project: this less piece over the wholer time is you and the amputated may be erased by the nature that knows it as it is memorized and restored by the features of your (intimate) knower (yourself). The green field with its absent cows may know Sarah as much as Jeremy, but Sarah may know only Sarah.
What was lost off couldn’t be you, or it wouldn’t lost, so the green field . . . but she remembers it all. She indexes it all in the variety of her, bolting, down bearing anger, grin. Her persistence that makes lessens.
The end of Sarah’s ‘subjection’ came about when she recognized, and in recognizing accepted, the hatred of others for her. She recognized that, whatever the ritual of acceptance, hatred of her would endure.
A true body, moving through a tide of splitting shadows, distinguishes itself in hatred. Is moved through the heavy earth by wearing a dizzying, conical and evanescent hat of hatred; it makes you seemfloat. It is wearing an absence of others you have cut from you.
Sarah has a practice of watching them. The haters. And does so from her window, recording them & their bodies by drawing them in her green–plastic encased–notebook.
On her windowsill she keeps a copy of a populist book ‘To earn back the world of people, we first had to believe we forgot them’ by a Lily Mushiga. She has read this book twice this year and its argument–that we can only get to one another by recognizing we are already with one another–has had and will have no effect on her practice of drawing.
The end of a public amputation–a motivated by concern amputation–generated a paradox of hatred. She was wholed now, and all her lessening forgiven, because hatred had that grip on her; that grip of gym hall, ball echo, sorrow. If there were no hatred to find in the world she would, in that instant of knowing what she wanted was so, cease to be held together. She would come apart like the dust loo roll her brother had placed in the low river’s stream when she was twelve. Her skin would gently fold down, and parts of it would crack into singles. Her grandmothers would come out from the large o the largesse of which was growing as the paper skin softened and ripped – they would come out and finally they would get to go on the journey–adventure–which had been their conception.
Sarah had witnessed, at age ten, a televisual portrayal of a hen night and the women had bright lollipops in the shape of penises. That was when her grandmothers had come to exist and she knew that if she found that there really was not hatred out there–but that all hatred was just, and only, and disappointingly narrow people crashing against each other as singles (and this was impossible to her, hence paradox, because singular people were made of real hatred)–they would finally go off to fulfill their conception. To go around the old village, knot of hair in the now suburb, with their pockets full of these coloured lollipops. Overflowing with these melt-marked penises. And every person they would hand one to would make a hen party’s sense. They wouldn’t, because they are magic, hit a single person in their journey who didn’t belong to the bride.
And where would she, the granddaughter of all people, be? She’d be a disintegrated womb of drymouth topsized by water.
Sarah was not happy to room with recognition of hate. She liked to play cold princess above the square compound of Sarah’s body. She considered it to be in her imagination. In her mind. She could look at the changing properties of it, the waxsound, waxshape, waxsmell, and see the square it was. She could see it composed neatly into boundaries; the fountain pen extra of her tongue and tip collapsing into the shadow of the surface of a face. Folded away.
Post-recognition Sarah could look, moving in her ghostly way about the house – making it feel without halls, without trafficking spaces she graced it as if moving claustrophobia – and Sarah’s body would not fold away from her eyes and come, peacefully, to sit in her mind. It would, instead, scream. It would cry out as if in need of help. It would make itself move like a thing that suffered but only by imitating the letters of the word that said suffering.
The body like a poor, otherworldly, actor who has confused the object of her imitation; taking the words of the speakers for the world of the act and the speakers–the persons–as vases of temptation, procurement, and induction.
Sarah had always managed closeness to others. She profited from the misrecognition which Sarah experienced. She filtered it into the minds of the others around her; creating gaps and possibilities for them and so drawing them close to her. This was how she managed closeness.
She offered something rare. Not herself. She offered the value, as a lump, of a missing whole ( person ). In the day it is so surrounded. So many to think of and break through. Something has to fall through it cutting. Ending the harangue of interaction. Can you imagine being as close to a man as close? A failing of identity. Some identities must be failing-identities if others are to even breathe for once, you know?
How they would sigh a hateful sigh of relief at–for once–running over a partly constituted person. I needn’t stop dear that person is only partly constituted and how Sarah would laugh.
Now that Sarah was building hatred into the wellish work of going through a day’s round and bucketless delight as a shut in with her recording of the people who went flat over the same day’s breadth, there was less and less of her to miss. To misrecognize. The less of her that was there the less of her there to not catch.
‘I miss her absence’ thought her absence, and Sarah commiserated.
One night Sarah joined her in bed. The closeness was so real to her, so consuming and so inexperienced that she carried on with it. Having never before slept.
The novelty of this experience produced in Sarah a love for Sarah she had not thought possible. The oxymoronic orthodoxy of Sarah, a material shadow through her life of closeness, was transformed in this novelty of their close lying bodies to a love.
Sarah understood herself well. She was not a whole mass of life but her actions were a code of pleasing others that, whatever narrative pressure she applied, broke down into proper discreteness and a vulnerability of exposure to interpretation. She was exposed even in safety for her safety was a function of the proper action of her solvent body. In Sarah, however, she discovered a means of elevating herself into an existence.
She began to eat of Sarah. Though just the superficial. The layer of dead skin.
Regularity makes a beginning.
In nights Sarah whispered graphics with her unreal and productive mouth. The Arizona blaze of the white coloured font hanging over and illuminating the two becoming bodies lying close–made close–in the clever dark of the am. Dark that figured out the world to around them and slotted it in place.
In the beginning Sarah wanted only the misbegotten of Sarah. Surface not depth.
Sarah found herself quickly with depth in mouth. Sarah’s organs were visible to Sarah. They were preserved on her glassy eyes. Her eyes were collections of frozen ponds in the gardens of another century; preserving on their cold surfaces the eachness of each organ so that the eyes of Sarah, so often turned away, could still provide in moments of collision a map to her interior. The drip vision of Sarah tempted. It offered a look that admitted only the least and the exact, paring down all things to create the most evidence of space between them. You could, once breaking the skin, leap from one organ to one organ in a purity affixed by those out-hanging, dull eyes.
Sarah is snug against the back of Sarah. She mis-matches the buttering and breaking liveness of her own eye, which holds itself on the slope of Sarah’s bare and borroughed back, to the opaque coldstocking of the eye of the woman she loves. Sarah does not see the world of people there is to know and love, to find solidarity with, and so she may see in the innate preservativeness of what’s vision the need of hatred to divide. Grandmothers, at once and together –
“You may pass GO! and not collect a world.”
She moved her hands around Sarah, pressing closer to the holes of her menstrual back, and closed each hand over each eye feeling the lack of difference.
The most traumatic event in this history occurred moments ago: is the occasion of Sarah’s escape.
Sarah was on all fours on the bed and up at the bedpost and Sarah could not hold back. She was eating of Sarah back and forward, back and forward. Biting down to make drag and biting up again to make letter. She made a slough of peached skin to reach up. She made a hood and nose of flesh that falls into itself like a ship’s mast falls in a movie where the water is actually parking lot shallow and the nose of the mast senses asphalt. She made a perspective of tang flesh that is ridiculed by the soft, wet air.
Think of the produce!
Can you believe that in the end the first mover was tucking?
I would say that an observer would describe it as genital semaphore.
The ghost stood up and had the perfect body–which all would envy or desire–that of a Brazilian transexual–congratulations ghost, you’re More than a Suzerain could hope to suffer fuck. She tumbled off the bed and collapsed onto the wooden floor of the bedroom. The warmth of the wood teased the end of her bodies and she slept for the first time involuntary.
The grass is pressed down and tiled with blood. Sarah lies on the front lawn, well maintained despite the desert climate, of her rented home. The ghost is there, standing over her. The pain is a lot for each of them. Outside they are properly confronted with one another. A neighbour goes by, thinking primarily of sorbet in the heat, and he sees them both. Really, he sees one of them but in seeing one of them he sees the other, and they cannot tell which one is being seen. The suspicion is it is the ghost.
Why are you calling me that?
I will eat of you completely.
Sarah sees, as she falls into the manicured grass, the two-bodies, the plural-body of so many others. She sees the part of it that lies falling underneath and the part of it that eats of; strong women, natural women who eat to survive their pluralism.
It is like, neighbour, when you see a woman in the street who knows she is seen. Who turns and sees you. Who has your eyes in that moment and is eaten. And you crawl out the other side of the blood tiles of time but her body breaks into two. In preparation.
Kate Kiernan is a writer based in Dublin. Another incarnation of herself once published work with the Stockholm Review of Literature and the Honest Ulsterman, among others. Now she waits for estrogen.
Image Credit: Micah Hallahan
Street Art by Joe Caslin during the build up to the referendum on marriage equality, April 2015, South Great George’s Street, Dublin
Half House, Cork Street
Paul Reynolds is a Dublin based photographer. He shoots mostly on film these days.
Follow him on instagram @paulfedayn
Fuck. Not now. Not as. Fuck. As my granny’s being lowered. Fuck. Not now. As she’s being lowered into her grave. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Clutching the grave stone I sink down. My left hand motioning sickeningly backwards, against my will. Again and again, moving, jerking. It is like a futurist painting, all the stages of motion seen at once. My right hand is doing it now. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck; I’m dying. Sickening nausea at the foot of the grave stone. Need to go to hospital. Now. Della, Veronica, Richard, Dáire. The priest and the rest, wondering. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Staring down at the bluish gravel of the car park. Staring down. Thinking of blue. Heavy, being half-carried, fixing my eyes on the blue and yellow art-deco pattern of my velveteen top. Focusing on staying conscious and upright, on controlling. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, shit, shit, shit. Finally at the car. Lying down in the back. Control. Stay conscious. Sit upright. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Take this to calm you down. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In. Around a round about. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Are we nearly there yet? Out. Another car park. Spewing foam onto Veronica’s funeral attire as she tried to help me out. If you want to, get sick in this umbrella, awkwardly open in front of me as I make it across the car park to A+E. Barely standing. Semi-conscious. Immediate attention brought to me. A flurry. A trolley. Helped up on to it awkwardly in my heavy, semi-selfness. She’s her god mother and a consultant. No she’s not, I was never baptised. Well, I can tell you what I saw.
Róisín Power Hackett is a Fine Art Graduate from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. She has an MA in Art in the Contemporary World, an art writing masters, from the same college. She has been published in Minus Nine Squared, Minus 9 Squared’s Anthology, Word Legs, Mama Grande Press, Skylight 47, Pamphlet Magazine (Netherlands), Glitter Stump, The Weary Blues and the Irish Abortion Rights Campaign newspaper, Rise and Repeal. Róísín has written for Hunt and Gather Creations, an on line Dublin culture magazine. She has also been published in all of the zines she has been editor of, those being The Kite and WORDS Zine.
Image Credit: Lance Anderson
What I mean to say is that there was a slightly contagious form of madness spreading its way through the house. It was one of those subtle forms of insanity, the kind not to be picked up in its early formative stages. From what the narrator could gather, the madness’ early manifestations had come with the arrival of Peter, a sculptor/house cleaner born and bred in Beeston. Peter’s newly-acquired room had recently been vacated by the post-punk, straight-edge vegan Birdy, who had stopped paying rent three months before in what he called ‘a political protest against the corporate capitalist scum’, but which in reality meant Birdy had been kicked off his housing allowance for refusing to leave Beezlebub – his demented Pitbull-Alsation hybrid thing – outside of the Housing Benefits office. This subsequently left his three other housemates – Alexandria, Phillip and August – footing the bill instead and they’d had to find a replacement quick-sharpish. This was accomplished through Gumtree. Et voilà: Peter.
When Peter arrived with his bag of belongings, the room smelled of tangy lemon marijuana and still-thriving BO. Flyers for hardcore gigs were sellotaped up on every available wall space, hiding the damp.
‘Feel free to just rip all that shit down,’ Alexandria had informed Peter, not seeming to notice the smell, the physical presence of it lingering in the room’s corners like an all too substantial poltergeist. Neither did Alexandria notice Peter’s own reaction to the room, which was, however, minimal to the point of negligible. Alexandria was looking elsewhere, inwards, and she knew that her Twitter and her Tinder and her Linked In and her Facebook and her Instagram simply weren’t going to police themselves. No sir they weren’t.
And so Peter had set about refurbing the room in accordance with his own needs and tastes. To the rest of the tenants, these needs and tastes appeared ascetic to the extreme, bordering on total aesthetic and emotional neglect.
‘He’s living like a total monk,’ is how August phrased it, talking in subdued tones from the kitchen area to Phillip, laid out in the living-room’s Oakley (other brands are probably available) leather recliner, hopelessly addicted to Bethesda Game Studios’ RPG shooter, Fallout 4.
‘At least he’s quiet,’ replied Phillip, working on his Power Armour so that he might stand a better chance against the Super Mutants currently besieging Sanctuary Hill’s shack walls. Phillip was hoping that August would soon leave the room and stop disrupting the immersive, post-apocalyptic ambience he had, for the past eight months now, being building his life upon.
August nodded, spreading Lurpak Spreadable across a suspect-looking piece of blue bread. He was thinking about the alternative, the previous occupant: Birdy’s late-night ravings against the Conservatives, the Liberals, Labour, the Greens; he was thinking about the hours he stood there in front of Birdy’s weed-focused polemical fury, nodding politely and being unable to detach himself from the ranting and go to bed, or else go to Alexandria’s bed, where there would be a 50/50 chance that something might happen, something that might, inevitably, lead to something else. Because that is what had been happening recently.
In other words, the household was not as harmonious as it had never been and, focusing on this new disharmony that was not the same as the old disharmony the original inhabitants had grown used to (it was, after all, at least exciting when the police got called after Birdy threatened to punch the landlord because he was acting like a total Nazi), said original inhabitants decided a house meeting should be called in order to discuss this newly distinguishable disharmony as exacerbated by their recently acquired Gumtree tenant.
They called the house meeting – the first of its kind – via WhatsApp and Snapchat. When everyone responded except for Peter, who was in his room and very quiet, they sat down together in the living room (meaning: Alexandria, August and Phillip did), turned off the X-box One and closed the lids of their humming trio of Macbook Pros. When all was relatively uncomfortably quiet they picked straws to see who would approach Peter’s room and ask if he might like to take part in proceedings. Unfortunately, due to lack of straws (because who actually buys straws in this day and age anyway?), the reality-bound threesome had to rely on picking coins out of an opaque tea mug instead, with the hierarchy of the value of the coins being based, obviously, on their respective monetary value. Which really didn’t quite work out too well, given that coins are all different sizes and weights and are easily distinguishable from touch alone. But none of the housemates seemed to care enough to consider this flaw in the decision-making process, and Alexandria lost because she was the last to pick her coin.
‘I really don’t want to do this,’ Alexandria said, to which August replied that he’d put himself in her place for a blowjob (‘I’m totally kidding dude’, he quickly added, but he wasn’t, not at all) and Phillip said something that could have been ‘fuck that shit’ but maybe wasn’t.
Clutching the offending two-pence piece in her hand, Alexandria trotted reluctantly up the stairs to once-Birdy’s room as Phillip and August gave each other secret and silent high-fives in the living-room; August then opening his Macbook to Skype his girlfriend Megan, who was currently travelling around the US and kept posting Instagram photos of her selfie-decapitated and sunbaked legs at the Grand Canyon, at Venice beach, at some show in Las Vegas etc. and who didn’t really know about August’s sporadic nocturnal activities with his housemate i.e. the now-ascending Alexandria; Phillip turning back on his X-box and once again hoping that August might leave the room and take his scattered, lagging Skype conversation (that would occasionally – and obscenely, grossly – take a dangerous public turn into sweating innuendo) into the privacy of his own bastard bedroom.
When Alexandria knocked on Peter’s room, it took him a long moment to answer. It was the kind of long moment that might make you think someone’s either not at home, or, if you know they are definitely at home, then they are either in a very deep sleep or are just dead. When Peter did finally answer (he wasn’t dead), he said this: ‘I’m just, um, pretty busy.’
‘It’s kinda important Peter,’ Alexandria replied, staring at the blank door and imagining all kinds of nefarious situations Peter might be involved with in there, behind that plank of blank wood. Although his voice did sound nice and soft, politely gentle. ‘It’s… well, we’re thinking of having a house meeting kind of thing.’
‘Yeah?’ came Peter’s uncertain reply. ‘What were you thinking about having a house meeting about?’ A pause. ‘Have we got rats?’
‘What!?!’ Alexandria scanned the hallway subconsciously for vermin. ‘No, of course not. It’s not about… Wait a minute, have yougot rats?’
Another long pause, before: ‘No, I was just guessing. It seems like the kind of issue that a house meeting would be called for. Like to talk about how much an exterminator costs, or about buying one of those, um, subsonic devices that are humane and just, irritate them until they leave?’
‘Yeah right, that’s true. But I mean, there could be other issues too, aside from rodents.’ Alexandria had no idea about what these subsonic devices were, but Peter’s voice was relaxing, and led her to believe that these devices definitely existed and would probably be a great call if they did ever happen to have a rat problem in the near future.
‘I guess you’re right’ – shuffling noise behind the door, and Alexandria imagining one giant rat edging around the bare room of ex-housemate Birdy, and then Alexandria also realising that she couldn’t quite remember what this new housemate, Peter, actually looked like. Did he look a bit like Christian Bale in that film where he chops off his arm? Was he amputated like Megan was in her selfie-trip across America, but this time actually? Or was that what Birdy had looked like, before he flew the coop?
‘Should I’ – Peter said, very hesitantly now – ‘come and join the meeting then?’
‘Yeah, well that’s why I was coming up, here. To ask if you’d like to join in and discuss… any issues we might need to get off our chests?’
‘But not rats?’
‘God no! No rats period. Forget the rats. Just… other things on our chests, on our minds.’
Alexandria stood staring at the door, kind of touching the cool metallic handle, expecting it to open. When it didn’t, she said, ‘So I’ll see you downstairs in five?’
‘Totally,’ responded the door.
After two hours of waiting (no one venturing back on up to Peter’s room because it just seemed, well, rude), Phillip is fine, because he’s back on track with Fallout 4 and his EXP rating is going through the roof and ain’t no way any laser damage is getting on through his Power Armour right now, shit. As is August, who’s broken up (via Skype) with the image of tanned legs in various touristy places that constitutes Megan (some lagged weeping ensued), and is, quietly but less quietly than when he still had a girlfriend, trying to persuade Alexandria to experience all that a sojourn to his bedroom might entail. Alexandria, meanwhile, is successfully rebuffing all August’s repetitive attempts, and is not even opening her Macbook, is looking back up at the stairs where the soft voice of what probably wasn’t a human-sized rat had spoken through the two, three inches of wood and promised it would come and join in with the meeting that, unbeknownst to the rat, would seek at victimising it because it just ‘didn’t fit neatly here, really, and it was probably time to be looking at more, like, better options that would be mutually, y’know, beneficial for everyone involved’, and Alexandria is staring at the bottom step of shitty-coloured carpet, and even though she can’t remember exactly what their new housemate looks like, she is wondering (and in a very wonderful and surprising manner that makes her feel like she’s back in that world of childhood that had all seemed so tangible once upon a time) if she might not be, accidentally, disgustingly, totally out-of-the-blue as it were, in love. And this, she mulls over in a distracted way, would be the first time ever. A new experience. Something to possibly tell someone at some point in the near future. Something to post about. But then, how would the strange subtlety of such an event be accurately conveyed? How would she display her heart to the rest of her followers? How?
The bus creaks into the stop beside the river. The big blue warehouse buildings. Lemon sky to the left over Patrick Street. No matter what season I go here Cork City always feels hazy and lazy, like some seaside holiday place. Some humidity in the air that’s not there in Dublin. Further South I guess although I can’t see that affecting climate at such a level.
It reminds me of nauseous car journeys when I was a kid, the long brown shape of Dunnes Stores on the river out the window. Visiting Margaret and Billy and getting the spare room, the one that was Margaret’s office with all the chiropractor stuff in it. The glass jar of green liquid with the pointy crystal top, the heavy textbooks, the chair in it with the hole for your face. Me and my Mam and my Dad all had to sleep in the same room and I’d wake up much earlier than them, counting to five hundred because I was so excited and bored. I loved sleeping on the floor on the airbed with its sudden funny movements, its farty noises.
I’m meeting Ana at the bus stop over the bridge, outside Brown Thomas. I ate all six of my rice cakes on the bus even though I don’t really think I was hungry. I’m just exhausted. I slept badly. I have that indiscriminate feeling of run-down wanting that I’m never sure is hunger or thirst.
I’m early. I walk up and down Patrick Street for a while, looking in glossy shop fronts. Weirdly like a French street or something in this kind of brittle sun. It hits me that I feel really ill. My eyes doing this funny thing, like everything’s too bright. The pavement is made of these light grey flagstones that look impossibly smooth and clean like we’re indoors. I’m halfway down Patrick Street and I suddenly feel like I can’t get a handle on the depth of anything around me, like the ground is coming up to meet me even though I’m still standing up.
I sit back down at the bus stop where I’m meant to wait for Ana. The feeling is starting to subside a bit but now I’m just anxious trying to monitor it, looking around me and seeing whether the world is doing that swelling thing again. That’s what it was. Like the ground was swelling.
I have anxiety but I’ve never properly had panic attacks. I had something close to one once, after I’d seen some movie that had scared me when I was about nine. I was in the back of my Mam’s car and I suddenly felt like everything was going too fast around me. Looking out the windows was making me sick so I had to squish myself between the two front seats and look at the road head-on as it hurtled towards us. I got that for years on and off, that feeling when you’re in a car and you suddenly realize how fast you’re going, everything blurring as it melts past you outside.
I realize there are some Facebook messages from you that I haven’t seen yet.
So you’re just going there for like a day
Yeah just for this festival yoke with Ana
Long way to go to hang out with a friend
Ah yeah haven’t seen her in ages though
Well let me know when you’re back
Yup! Will do
Because I thought we’d arranged to meet tomorrow
Yeah I’ll be back tomorrow! Still on for that if you are
Yeah I’ll be free 2pm or so
Oh sorry, is evening okay? I thought we’d said evening!
No I don’t think we said evening
Oh ok. Probs won’t be back until evening because buses
Right. Let me know
Will do! I should be home 5 or so! Can meet you in town?
Well that’s a lot later than we’d said but ok
Aw I’m really sorry, v all over the place at the moment!
Yeah. Don’t you have something to go to
Nope just waiting for Ana to arrive!
Are you ok? Sorry again ❤
Nothing you just seem upset! Bad at telling in messages though
I’m not upset
Good! I am glad. How’s your day going?
Okay I guess why
Idk no real reason just chattin : )
Why are you still messaging me on here
Ok I can stop if you want? I just thought you were upset or something.
I’ve said I’m not
Go meet your friend
The only thing I have in my bag, food or beverage wise, is some dark chocolate. I break off a square and eat it. It doesn’t make me feel any better.
I’m so relieved to be around Ana and her sister. Their muddy hiking boots and fleeces. Arguing gently about what groceries they should buy and bring, who’ll carry the bread and who’ll carry the houmous. I feel awkward intervening in anything as a guest, so I’m getting to drift around smiling gratefully. I guess I’m also glad her sister’s there because it means we don’t have to talk about private stuff.
The festival hasn’t really started yet. It’s only afternoon, and I get the impression that even when it’s going full swing it will be pretty chill. There are families with kids in their baggy pantaloons, the West Cork lot. The girls have gone to find loo’s and I’m there underneath a music tent where a band are tuning up, quiet fizzles of noise from the amps. The ground is muddy and pockmarked with footsteps here. The walls of the tent navy blue and the feeling again that my eyes are having trouble adjusting. It’s dark inside the tent and the flashes of drizzly sky visible at the sides too white. The ground stretches out around me too close to my face even though I’m standing it’s horrible.
‘Hey.’ Ana claps me between the shoulder blades and I jump. ‘We’re going to go for a walk since nothing’s started.’
The road plunges into damp woods. It’s the kind of country road with deep trenches of mud on either side of it, tire-sized, and a strip of grass down the middle like a widow’s-peak tuft on a bald guy’s head. Fairy lights strung up in between the telegraph poles. It’s still too bright – the sky that overcast searing white – so the fairy lights are only faint. Spots of colour that pulsate and fade, the hearts of tiny ghosts.
The woods peter out and we’re in a valley, grassy slopes either side. There are some hikers pottering around in their slick damp anoraks with their ski poles. I hear German spoken. There is a slab of stone in the middle of the valley, coffin-shaped. A disheveled man comes up to us. Eyes piercing blue.
‘This place,’ he says, unprompted. ‘This is one of those important places.’
We look at each other nervously, and he goes on, although we haven’t asked.
‘All the energy gathers here,’ he says. ‘You become aware, and you become aware you’re aware.’
Ana and her sister sort of smile politely at him. Some tourists – rosy cheeked girls with skiens of flaxen hair coming loose from their hoods – are taking selfies with the stone. The thing seems to be to lie down on it. Some sort of meditation thing.
We take turns. I sit down on it after the others have had their go. It’s narrow, like an ironing board, and I’m worried I’ll roll off the side. Damp and I’m not wearing anything waterproof. It hurts my shoulder blades when I lie down, the sharp, the cold. I focus on what I can see, like it’s the opening shot of a film. The sky blank white, the grass verges of the valley on either side if I tilt my head. I lie there for a while, trying to feel something, not feeling anything. Just bits of drizzle as they spiral and stick to my cheeks, and the agitated feeling that I want to look at my phone.
Last Wednesday, my friend Craig was coming up from Belfast. We were going to go to the Pav that evening. I hadn’t seen him in months, so this was a big deal. I told you on the phone that I was going to meet a friend, since you and I had had also planned to meet up at some point that day. You got weird. I can’t really remember what you said that made me think you were annoyed, but I definitely felt like you were annoyed. I’m not sure why. He’s gay, and you know he’s gay, so it wasn’t that kind of thing. But it was something.
I only ended up meeting him for an hour in the end. I got worried about you thinking I was flaky, felt mean, wanted to do both things. I drank a pint too quickly, Devil’s Bit cider with syrupy blackcurrant pooling down the bottom. Sitting there indoors in the Pav because of the sun showers, light streaming in across the wooden floorboards. The place empty enough, everyone in there crowded around the screen in the top corner shouting at the rugby. Too loud for Craig and I to hear each other. We hadn’t talked much in ages, so we didn’t really get down to the discussions. Almost too much to update each other on.
Walking out into the sun across the cricket pitch, slightly sleepy now from the drink, shake myself, shaky vision. Out across the cobblestones to meet you at Front Arch. I saw you when I was still in the shadows coming out, you were sitting on the railings outside. Neck craned brow furrowed looking for me from the other direction looking annoyed and I suddenly wanted to walk backwards and hide. You saying I was ten minutes late. It was okay in the end, we went to the park and sat by the waterfall, wasn’t that bad.
When you left there was something about the blueness of everything in Dublin as all the light left the city and I just shuddered a bit. For some reason into a corner shop for a shoulder of Huzzar. On that ambiguous stretch of road near Busáras when I realized I’d forgotten the juice. I never spend that much time inside Busáras really. The bright expanse of floor. The glow of the vending machines lit up in the window. I bought a bottle of Tropicana and poured the vodka in when I got to Connolly station, got on a dart out to my parents house and drank it on the way. Gentle sway of the dart. You are getting sleepier and sleepier.
There’s a note in my phone that says tell Ana everything. I can date it to somewhere between Raheny and Kilbarrack when my belly was getting warm and I was starting to feel pleasant and expansive about the world. That first blush of drink going through you when all the solutions seem simple. In future I’m going to just. Why do I never just. Seems stupid the next day when you remember all your reasons for keeping the peace.
When I got in that evening my Mam slagged me for seeming tipsy, said my pint with Craig must have turned into a good few altogether. I’d practically forgotten I’d met up with him earlier, seemed like ages ago. I realized I could pretend that was what happened. Finally back after a long catch-up. I microwaved some food and sat at the table, turned happy-drunk.
They’re waggling hands in front of my face. I sit up, wipe the drizzle off my glasses, twisting them against a corner of my t-shirt.
‘What? Oh yeah. Learnt all the secrets of the universe. Totally enlightened.’
Alicia Byrne Keane is a spoken word poet from Dublin. She features regularly at poetry nights around Ireland and the UK, performing at festivals such as Body & Soul, Castlepalooza and Electric Picnic. Her poetry has been published in journals such as Headstuff, Bare Hands, Increature, and FLARE 03. She has one collection of poems, titled ‘We Could Be In The Sky.
I stare at the scuffed lino of the corridor, listening to the fading rustle of his jacket as he makes his way downstairs. When he pulls the main door open an icy draught gropes into the building and snatches the last trace of his warmth from my chest. Lost and alone once more, I turn to go inside. But suddenly I freeze, alert. His footsteps I realise are not diminishing but growing louder and louder now, and I look around and in rewind I see him reversing back up the corridor towards me and in an instant he is in my arms again, and I am hugging him again at the door of my apartment, deeply and warmly, with all the strength of my frail arms, trying to tell him that I really like him, begging him to understand that it would kill me if this were the last time. But his face is far far away, blank and constricted by the same decisive stiffness that I feel in his chest. He is impatient to be gone. We break apart and back first, with the wary, stilted gait of two people who are afraid of bumping into each other, we enter the kitchen and he slips off his jacket and drops it on a chair, and then we reverse up the narrow staircase to my bedroom and begin to strip in silence. I watch as he unties his shoelaces and then removes his shoes and socks. He pulls off his jeans, his t-shirt and finally his boxers at the same instant as I drag mine down to my ankles. We flop down on the bed with a bounce and I flinch when I caress his bare chest because when I look into his eyes they seem distant and colder now, like they do not know me anymore. We lie motionless side by side but not touching as our breathing grows heavier and deeper. Our gulped pants are coming thick and fast now and we are wiping up with scrunched wads of toilet paper. I drag him to me and hold him and press my cock into the tufted pucker of his ass and we both come instantly and then I start fucking him, the rhythmic slaps of my thighs against his butt cheeks ringing in our ears. When I pull out he whispers urgently, “Fuck me now!” and so I begin to suck his cock and massage his asshole and kiss him deeply, ravenously, on the mouth, on the nose, on the neck as we slowly, garment by garment, dress ourselves in the bed and then leap off it and wedge our shoes on without bothering with the laces and rush downstairs through the kitchen where he grabs his jacket from the chair and then out onto the street. And we are practically running through the midnight streets now, hands gripped together, streaking past wobbling drunks and rubbish blowing in the freezing winds, laughing, telling silly jokes, smiling when we catch each other’s eyes, impatience and desire burning a hole in us, though not enough to stop us pausing on the bridge above the glittering black back of the waters for a deep and fierce, teeth-clashing kiss. We blaze through the final streets, burst into the nightclub and race straight to the dance floor where we hold each other and kiss. And when our two famished mouths meet and lock, and our four hands clutch and begin to sing, and when we bury ourselves in each other and the loudness all around us dwindles to a speck, in this moment I know that this is all I’ve ever wanted, not happiness, but just this. This. And now he is leading me with a nervous, pleading hand down the stairs towards the smoking area, barging through knots of dancers, twisting his head around with each step as if he is terrified that I may suddenly disappear. When we reach the far end of the smoking terrace we halt and he asks me with a gentle quaver in his voice, “Do you want to dance?” and then we lean in for our very first kiss. His huge grey eyes loom like two moons before me, his tobacco-curdled breath hits my face, and then softly our chapped lips collide. My heart strikes once, a solid punch behind my ribs, and then falters, and for an instant the whole world is silent and still. As we pull apart the roar of revelry plunges back into my ears, and now we are chatting for dear life. My tongue pushes out word after meaningless word as if a steady stream of noise is my only possible hope. I do not know what I am talking about and all I am thinking is that I do not understand why he didn’t just tell me to leave him alone when I came over to him he is so beautiful. And he keeps relighting his cigarette even though it has never once gone out, and he looks down at the ground and then into my eyes and smiles, and then up at the sky, and my bones and sinews and every inch of my flesh is yearning to clasp him to me he is so beautiful, so cute, so tender, so kind. And I’m so lucky to be here, right here, and for once in my life I know how lucky I am. Eventually I work up the courage to ask him his name, then how his night is going, and finally I manage to wrench from my mouth the word “Hey!” and walk away from him, retreating in rewind across the smoking area back to the entrance of the bar with my heart pounding like a sweet illness in my chest. And I am by the door now watching through the crowd a lone boy lost in thought dragging from a new-lit cigarette. I backstep through the doorway, the murky heave of the dance floor rumbling behind me, a cold lick of winter creeping down my chest, and a blast of joy swells inside me as my eyes fall like hammers on a gorgeous young man, one of those brutal incarnations of my most cherished dreams. And I watch, the stench of success already filling the air, though I cannot sense this yet, as he raises a blackened match before his lips and with one sharp breath sets it to flame.
Dermot O’Sullivan is from Dublin, Ireland. He studied English Literature in Trinity College, Dublin. His work has been published in journals including Causeway/Cabhsair and Fence. He currently lives in Brazil.
Image Credit: Dominik Martin
I stare at the row of rails below, waiting for the familiar rumble to come through the tunnel, the sound of another hollow day beginning. The pin on my nametag has worn loose, causing the badge to lie askew on my chest with my photo at a slant, as if perpetually asking a question. Only now do I realize my name is misspelled. I want to ask myself, indignantly, how none of my coworkers could have noticed, but the truth is no one has spoken to me long enough to notice.
The Metro arrives. Impatient passengers thrust onto the train the moment the doors open, shouldering through those getting off like they’re stalks in a cornfield. Those departing push just as forcefully, banging bags into elbows and suitcases into knees. I wait, letting them sift around me. It’s exactly like the rest of my life. I am a colander. People run through me.
All the seats are taken when I squeeze on. I grab a pole and the Metro tunnels through the earth the same as ever. Some occupants read newspapers, or books, or their laptops, the same as they always do. Some stare blankly at feet. A few talk, but most are quiet.
Everything is the same as it is every day.
That is until a woman, younger than me, in a baggy coat with oily hair, sitting a few chairs diagonally across, begins to cry.
I notice it just as it’s about to happen. Her lip does its first subtle quiver. Then her chin scrunches, as if a giant sculptor had thumbed the soft clay of her features. Now the sculptor balls up her entire face. She lets out a small sound. Then she is full-blown weeping right here on the Metro in front of everyone.
We ignore it.
The elderly man on her left clears his throat and stands. No hurry, like he wanted to all along. He shuffles over to a map on the wall. The teenaged girl on her right wanders over to a pole, hooks an arm around it without looking up as she jabs at her phone. No one else reacts to the incident occurring diagonally across from me. They squirm a little, cough, but otherwise continue with their iPods and paperbacks.
I don’t blame them. It’s embarrassing, watching her twist up her face like that, cry those fat tears like that. What a scene she’s making, as if I don’t have problems too. Doesn’t she know where she is? Doesn’t she know everyone can see? Doesn’t she care?
She doesn’t, and I hate her for it.
Over the years I have lost this ability to cry, like one loses baby teeth or the color of their hair or the density of their bones. Osteoporosis of the soul.
It’s not like I haven’t tried. When my mother finally succumbed to that long, hard sickness, I sat in the front pew at the funeral and knew I was supposed to do it. Show some kind of feeling. I had it, but the tears wouldn’t come. I pushed and pushed like trying to turn myself inside out, but the tears wouldn’t come.
This woman’s tears flood out of her effortlessly while my fists tighten at the ends of my too-short sleeves. I hate her for this shameless display. I hate her for this lack of self-consciousness. I hate her for this freedom.
One time I watched a movie about a dog. The owner had hit the dog with his car by mistake. Was hugging its neck and sobbing. I watched that part again, captivated by the actor’s face. All the contortions, like a worm shriveling in the sun. I watched it several times and then went to the bathroom mirror to copy the actor. Maybe if I got the procedure right, then everything I had pent up inside me would find its way out. But all that happened was I looked like I was taking a big shit.
Constipation. That’s what it feels like. Jammed up like logs on a river. I watched a documentary about that once—those early days of transporting lumber via waterways. How when the logs jammed up, the workers would pull this or that log, and when they pulled just the right one, the whole mess would explode in a torrent of wood and water. That’s what I need. My just-right log.
The woman on the Metro carries on, until something startling happens. Another woman, with spiraling curls like a curtain of moss, walks over to the crying one. She sits beside her, wraps her arms around her. Just like that. The crying one lets out a sob, covers half of her crushed-clay face. Her body tenses at first, but soon it gives up her weight to the other, gives up and gives in. The second woman doesn’t speak, doesn’t ask what’s wrong, doesn’t say shhh or don’t cry or it’s okay. Doesn’t make any sound at all. Just holds her.
Just lets her.
She doesn’t pry for reasons. She doesn’t soothe it away, hush it down. She doesn’t try to fix it, to stop it, to judge it, to hide it. She just lets it. Lets it. Lets it.
Maybe she knows it’s not about the reason. Sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes you’re walking to the train stop or the post office or the store on the corner, and it hits you. You stumble, your balance thrown off just a bit. Your mind is pulled to it by the centripetal force like this speeding Metro. Your insides hang askew like your faulty name badge. Off-center, off-kilter, just off.
Sometimes it makes sense. It comes when you’ve caught too long a glimpse at the photo of your mother when she still had all her hair. It comes when you realize the people you work with every day still don’t talk to you long enough to notice the misspelling right there on your chest.
But other times it doesn’t make sense. It hits you when you’re laughing. When you’re having fun, or supposed to be. It hits you when you’re watching your niece on the carousel. It hits you when you’re blowing out the candles on the cake your sister made for your birthday. She and her husband and your niece are all smiling, wondering what you’ve wished for.
Maybe you tell them. I don’t. It would hurt them too much.
So no, there isn’t always a reason. But they expect one. I wish I could explain it. Please tell us, they say. Why are you sad?
I don’t know. I just am.
For the first time in my life, I am watching someone besides myself have this uncontrollable, illogical feeling, and also for the first time in my life, I am watching someone not ask why.
Maybe all this time it was okay I didn’t have an answer.
I watch the woman crying, and the other woman letting her, and I don’t hate them anymore. I am thankful for them. For her honesty. For her acceptance.
Surrendering to the motion beneath my feet, I approach the two. The crying one looks up first, cheeks wet and shiny. The other turns her head, meets my gaze through her mossy curls. I want to say something. That I understand. That I’m grateful. But what was jammed behind my eyes is now jammed inside my throat. The words do not come. Yet the curly-haired woman seems to know. She looks at me in a way that feels deeper, vaster, more seeing than I have felt in years.
She reaches out a hand.
Just then the Metro stops, throwing me off balance. I hit a pole with my shoulder. The doors open, and in an instant I’m swept away by the mass of departing travelers. Their bulk pushes me onto the station platform. The train doors shut. I lose them.
But it’s okay.
Because today, something has happened.
My just-right log has begun to budge.
Shannon Noel Brady writes because one day she sprung a leak and stories poured out. Her work has been published in Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal, Jersey Devil Press, Vandercave Quarterly, and more. She can be found at snbradywriter.wordpress.com, on Twitter @snbradywriter, or up in a tree.
Image Credit: Corey Agopian
Yes, but can you fly?
she said to be a feminist; that’s what she told me to do. i told her my femininity was a pair of old crows tied to my appendages/i told her my mouth would flood rivers with fantasy/ i told her princessmermaid ariel was strapped to my head in a series of painfully acquired hair-extensions and i told her i was already woman enough to know my womanhood. i wrapped this hood (little red’s or robin’s, or something on the spectrum between femininity and what you want me to be) around my face – i wrapped it – i wrapped it close. i felt this rapture, the wrapping-paper still paper-mached to my mother’s fingertips. i felt all the paper, the plastic, the riptide lipstick lacquered onto my lungs (by now, I’m sure, like tar from cigarettes – doesn’t makeup stick to ribcages too?).
i made up my mind to matter. i willed my matter to mistake myself for a woman. i willed my womanhood to hold close to my own hood (childhood being at least one reason why). i went, hooded and clutching, hansel and gretel-ing and groveling and ingratiating my way all the way to that hut in the woods (goldilocks was there, but baba yaga too). i told baba yaga of the words that keep wrapping around my head like a hood (is it a scarf, or a rapture?). she told me courage was a monument; i was a firebird; love was a causation; the divine feminine was a lake. i told her i had lost the ability to interpret fairy tales (childhood being at least one reason why), (and that furthermore, they were encouraging me not to). she said to be a woman; that’s what she told me to do. i told her my femininity was a pair of old crows tied to my appendages.
This is the way the story started
This is the way the story started. The story might have had chapters or thoughts or moments or stanzas, but they all bled together and they all looked like one another and so in truth…the story dug its swallowing hands out of the deep belly of its own fertilizer and ran around collecting its own raindrops until it was thick enough to be drunk. To be felt rolling down the throat. To leave a formidable taste in the mouth. At least the aftertaste could be described, if not seen.
Well, the story was about a girl. Or a girl was the story, or her story was the way she was all the parts of herself. At any given moment in her life she looked like a flash of light or a bolt of color nameless amongst the star region she claimed as her name. There was an alchemy to the world that had made her face pulse together out of a certain collection of elements…and that little bundle of genes had at last found its footing inside the realm of a daffodil that had turned fleshy and round at the edges.
Her dreams were made of all things she could find – old paper longings, new tides of reminiscences, soft lingering kiss intentions, and folded up wads of duct tape. Her dreams came in waves, in derivatives and in dollops. Her dreams scattered wounds across her fickle, freckled face and sewed patches on old-ragged-lawnchair-hand-me-down-hearts. She had a spherical soul and she dreamt her life away.
This was the story of the girl I wrote over and over. Her story kept beginning and kept ending and I kept finding myself in the middle trying to see if I could see her in any place other than the side of my mind. It began like this a thousand times and one…or at least, the moments when it began to begin wanted to convince themselves they were beautiful enough to be a beginning.
Lauren Suchenski is a fragment sentence-dependent, ellipsis-loving writer and lives somewhere where the trees change color. Lauren believes in the inherent creative capability within all people. You can find more of her poetry at @lauren_suchenski on Instagram and @laurensuchenski on Twitter.
Follow Mirrors – our reflections caught hoping they might find us out
Girl Through A Glass Half-Empty
Adam Steiner’s poetry and fiction appear in The Arsonist, Rockland Lit, Proletarian Poetry, The Next Review. Adam is currently running the Disappear Here project to produce a series of poetry films about Coventry ringroad. Photography featured in Crap Towns (Funeaton), Foxhole magazine and Paper and Ink zine. He tweets @BurndtOutWard