In front of the hyena enclosure I want to hold your hand. I don’t care about your other family watching. I stand alongside, stoop slightly to your eight year old height so the back of my hand contacts yours. I can’t do the rest though. I can’t reach my fingers to curl around yours. It’s no more than a brush of our knuckles.
A battered looking creature lazes at the back of the cage, one eye on us.
“Will you call me Dad?” I say instead, and then regret it, immediately. Too much too soon. I nearly call you princess. I’m relieved I don’t.
You move away without returning my look, enough so our hands aren’t touching.
“It’s just – ” I say.
Your face is reflected in the glass. You aren’t looking at the animals. I don’t know what you’re looking at, but I can tell it isn’t them, the way your eyes are focused. Is that a good thing? Does it mean you’re thinking about what I said?
“Last time I saw you, you were this big. Couldn’t walk, talk, nothing.”
I can feel your parents looking at us. Your do-the-right-thing adopted parents who decide when you’re ready to write to me, who decide when you’re ready to hear from me, who decide when you’re ready to call me whatever, who decide how much it matters that you meet me but on their terms, always on their terms.
“It’s weird I know,” I say, “this.”
I crouch so you’re taller than me, then force a short laugh so they’ll think we’re getting along just fine, but feel an idiot afterwards because you don’t react. But it’s what they want to see. Completeness. Your story coming full circle. You coming to an understanding with big bad birth dad, the big bad wolf they told you could never look out for you. For you to look at my face and see something of yourself, to acknowledge that, then move on, say you’ve done that. Done me. I know how that works I think. I know they think this is a one off. But.
I try to see what you’re looking at, your eyes angled away and down. Undergrowth in the enclosure, from what I can tell. Tangle. You haven’t looked at my face at all. You only looked at my right hand when we first met, the one I brushed against yours just now. Knuckles tattooed. K. A. T. E.
I want to say I’ve changed, but I doubt that would mean anything to you. Would they ever tell you what happened back then? Would you be standing so close if they did?
“I used to hold hands with your Mum all the time,” I say. “Before, I mean.”
You half turn to look at your parents behind us and I wonder if you’re confused for a moment, thinking I mean that Mum.
“You look just like her.”
I say that, but really I want you to turn to me, see my face and think to yourself you look just like me.
The inked skin of my knuckle still tingles from our touch. As far as it goes. No further. They’ll be over in a minute, your other parents, calling time.
The hyena at the back, its one eye never leaving us, bares its teeth to grin.
Martin Reed is a London based writer and editor. By day, he pays the bills writing about homelessness. By night he makes things up. His short fiction has appeared in more than 20 publications, including Critical Quarterly, Litro and Ink Sweat and Tears.Read More
I never meant to be so singular.
One day the Pied Piper came
and led all the other children away
but left me here
with my defective soul and my callipered heart
infesting the streets with my aloneness
never quite shaking off the sense
that people think he should have drowned me in the Weser, too
with the rats.
Melanie Branton lives in North Somerset and has worked in education, theatre and as a full-time carer. Her poems have been accepted for publication by journals, including South, Clockwise Cat and Monkey Kettle.Read More
A Very Small Kingdom
Once there was a queen
who reigned alone over a very small
three children, a sack of potatoes waiting to be
a sack of smelly garbage waiting to be carried
a broom, useless for sweeping and even more
useless for flying around on (yes, she
and the aforementioned three children
to see what this dotty queen would come up
and also for their supper.
She had also a nervous tic, a chipped teacup,
and some small change (never enough).
And the King? Where was the King? you ask.
Also the queen would love
Perhaps he was off fighting a war. Kings love
to fight wars.
They love it so much that if there are no wars
in the immediate vicinity,
they’ll ride off looking for one.
Or perhaps there was no king. Perhaps the so-
called King was only a Frog prince who
metamorphosed back to his true self
after climbing out of the dank
swamp where he’d croaked smutty
drinking songs with his frog buddies
before climbing into the pale queen’s bed
where the climate was far too cold and
far too dry for normal Frogs or Kings.
No wonder he went off looking for a war.
He was gone and the queen reigned alone.
It was a lonely life, but what to do?
Oh, much to do. A queen’s work is never
First she had to go to the office and make
money to buy food.
Then she had to go to the supermarket and be
insulted by rude check-out girls when
she dug in her handbag for small change
Then she had to wait at the bus stop weighed
down with heavy bags.
Then she had to stand during a forty minute
ride because who would give up their seat
to a baleful-looking queen with a nervous tic.
Then she had to walk five blocks through rain,
snow, sleet, you name it, like she was a
freaking postman instead a queen,
but now we are getting off the
First she had to make the money.
Second she had to buy the food,
Third she had to carry it home
(tons and tons over the years).
Then she had to scrape it, slice it, dice it, fry it,
boil it, broil it, salt it, pepper it, mash it, splash it,
put it on the table,
and issue her queenly commands:
Eat your supper.
Sit with your chair on all four legs.
Don’t talk with food in your mouth.
Be glad you have food on your plate.
Eat your supper.
The moral of this story is:
Even in very small kingdoms, there is
always much to do.
Janice D. Soderling is a previous contributor to Ink, Sweat & Tears. Her poetry has appeared in many UK magazines including Magma Poetry, Orbis, Anon, Acumen, Horizon Review, Antiphon, New Walk, Other Poetry, Sein und Werden.Read More
Background Noise in the Aquarium
Along the carriage a range of headsets and earplugs
with bright wires, each one connected to some piece
of electronic equipment hidden beneath
the supra-epidermal layers of these creatures
who are also travelling into town at this time.
A closed loop within might be full of harmony –
anthems, perhaps, of a favourite artist or band.
Or something faintly experimental recommended
by a friend, whose tastes are more inclusive
than their own – but surprisingly accessible.
These fish can be quite gregarious in their own way,
speaking to one another over huge distances
about things which did or might or shouldn’t occur.
They use a blur of tense and place which makes them feel
at home and alone and almost completely fulfilled.
The rest of us hear one side only of these accounts,
end up being variously tantalised, bored or subdued
by events whose locations are always somewhere else.
Places we might have visited at the wrong time
or streets in suburbs we’ve only ever heard about.
Out here, we enjoy the noise of living traffic, the option
of passing the time of day with someone we can see.
Or just drifting through those intermittent silences
that are inevitably lost on the more intensely connected
of our shoal, their shimmering fins and faraway eyes.
As outsiders, we may be detached and uninitiated,
but we are joined to one another by sharing the same air.
Arriving at our destination we hear the name announced,
step lightly into a crowd whose speech is almost touch,
whose words are nearly kisses landing on our cheeks.
Oliver Comins lives and works in West London. Early work collected in a Mandeville Press pamphlet and Anvil New Poets Two. Poems are being published this year in Ink Sweat & Tears, Meniscus and The Echo Room plus The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood and Choclit from Happenstance.Read More
There was always the urge to continue the writing, to add to the seemingly endless plot of my fictionalized existence. To slit my cerebral wrists and spill the ink onto the page relieved the daily stress of the physical reality. To write became a beautiful distraction. Not even the drugs could transplant me into a garden of thought such as what the ink does to me. I have to consume words and burn them into thoughts and write write write, everyday, I have to drink the ink so I can later regurgitate my own biological, single celled words and wipe them up with paper.
But of course my urge inevitably becomes satisfied, and I will not have to write for about a week at the most, and after a week of wading through a hazy dream state the words come back, they grow like mold in the aqueous membranes of my subconscious and I have to dig them out with a pencil and paint the words on the paper.
Burning the hours of the clock away with a match, smoking a pipe of tobacco and cannabis at my escritoire, facing my typewriter like an opponent. I thrust my fingers like daggers at the keys in hopes of breaking them or bashing my fingernails inward and puncturing a vein of ink until the paper is marked. I need to paint upon the canvas, I need to add color to the plot. I procure the mellow dream drugs.
There is an obscure, hedonistic outlook in the core of the pill that is dissolving in my stomach, and the pleasure flows like a river through my tangled being. I chase the pill with a cut diamond glass filled with deep blue ink. The words bleed down my throat and settle in my blatter like water on sun drenched sod. Beautiful thoughts fizz to the scalp of my hairs and bounce around in my skull. I smile at the euphonious breeze that seeps around the trees like water and tides through the windows and into the house, where it walks around like a ghost. The words materialize before me like a prism of ink and float around the room in vague teasing motions, finally directing its attention to me and the typewriter.
A brief sensation of an old memory washes over me, and the memory digresses into a dream, and the dream a sentence, and I reach for the keys and crash upon them like waves of an ocean filled with thick, dark ink, and the keys tap in obligated accommodation to my raconteur fingers, and the words spill like water and ice and then the cut glass is dropped and the diamond glass shatters and cuts my fingers and I bleed and bleed and bleed the black ink, the mainline to my fiction is punctured and I spill my mind onto the paper and I can feel the pain leave me as I burden the paper with my pain and my wonder and my ink.
The wind rushes into the house and arouses me like a physical being, and I stand up alarmed, the chair falls at my feet, and I rush to the window and scream out into the dewy night, the frogs croak back in raspy burps, the air is warm yet it cannot be trusted. I feel the memory swell like a bruise in my head, it grows and pulses with a life, it frenzies with plot, and I remember that the memory is in fact a dream, I vomit the last of the words out into the moist grass below, a rabbit skitters and dashes away, smeared in ink.
Stomach satisfied, I grab the pile of words inked on the crumpled, yellowing paper and toss them like pigeons out the window.
Short fiction writer Max Reagan has written over fifty short stories and has been published in several literary magazines. He is a college student from Los Angeles, California. His theme revolves around poetic prose of the surrealist nature.Read More
The dogged savant having satisfied his appetence
for metathesis, set his mind on those endemic
conflations usually subordinated. Tyrannicide
or apotheosis? He couldn’t decide. The endless
tautologies, and lack of training on modern
phonological principals thwarted new paradigms.
When he talked he was prone to excessive syllepsis.
Hail the chimera, its great golden mane and venomous
serpent tail morphological, major miracle, ontology
onto itself. No recidivism would dare try scare the
chimera, lest under duress it recoil into a zygote.
The savant’s repressive hebetude held him back.
At times admonitions weighed heavily on him. Life
shrunk to a series of ekphrasises in periphrastic flux.
But with morals intact he remained inscrutable.
Aphasia only furthered his recalcitrance
as he was always aiming to abrogate helots.
He had no ambition to try to ameliorate every single
flibbertigibbet on the planet, every ninnyhammer
and dangling metonym. Like a moth chewing its way
out of a cocoon, he recused excessive indolence. Then
exercising prudent judgement, he let tiny lemmings
navigate their odd philologies through sun’s schism.
Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly. His poetry and interviews have appeared in Nimrod, Portland Review, Kestrel, Cream City Review, Poetry Salzburg, Boston Poetry Magazine, Gertrude, The Bacon Review, and many others. He has published a travel guide, Best Choices In Northern California, and Time Lines, a book of poems. He lives in Marina, California.Read More
Sarajevo to Dubrovnik
Unintentionally we captured
a rainbow, the sky half dark
and the sun full of energy, mischievous
in an affectionate way. Perhaps
we had too many coffees or
the narrow roads and mountain
passes had raised our heartbeats
but here we are like go-betweens
carrying love letters or breathless
sighs from country to country
and this rainbow sneaking in
hitching a lift with no word
to the wind.
Eileen Carney Hulme has two collections published and a third due in 2015. Widely published in magazines, she also had a poem set to music and performed at the Cork Choral Festival and has two poems transcribed on to wall space in an art gallery. This is her website.