Steve Mclachlan in on Hay Street

Hay Street

Noon, people roll down the shop
streets, heat of February pulls
clothes in, pulls moods up.

I've watched shades lighten,
faces, dress and in light
striking down against store
front walls.

Banners flutter city news,
flapping shows,
events, selling the city
into the day breeze.
People mill beneath pass
the lattice of broken sunlight

* Steven Mclachlan is a part-time writer and part-time IT guru. In Melbourne,
Australia, he runs the Melb-Lit writing group. He has been recently
published in
CalliopeNerve, Wordgathering and a Handful of Stones.

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New flash fiction: Mari Binx asks can I take your picture?

Pretty As a Picture

“Can I take your picture?” he asked, a cigarette sticking to his lip through the words.  The girl seated on the step didn’t respond. She was skinny, he noted with the clinical eye of a professional photographer. He wasn’t trained to see beauty, but instead flaws. He noted the broken doll look of long legs clad in torn nylons,  legs too long and too skinny  to be really good looking. She held herself awkwardly, the slender stretch of one arm around her knee and the other resting beside her seemed to disappear into the infinity of exposed flesh. Bruises were nestled into the crook of both arms. She must be new to this, he mused, to not be hiding the track marks on her feet or anywhere else that wasn’t at first sight. “Miss,” he said, almost choking on the word. As if this specimen of the sludge of humanity qualified as a miss. “You’re pretty, can I take your picture?”

She looked up, startled at his words. Now he had the chance to see the bruise that marked her face, obviously from a fist. Makeup was caked over the top, but she didn’t have the delicate hand or eye to apply it in any workable fashion.  Her hair was clean, though a very bad dye job had the bottom an unnatural platinum with black roots grown out to 4 inches at least and her body was narrow for lack of meals, collar bones sticking out above the flimsy tank top like handles. She had no bra on, but not enough breasts to make that matter really.  She was already miles of bad road, and he was certain she wasn’t even old enough to buy a smoke yet.

“Miss,” he said in a more demanding tone, “Can I take your picture? I’ll give you as much as you charge for a handjob.”

She blinked, the street light obscuring eyes the color of emeralds. She smiled, the garish red lipstick parting to show front teeth stained with the same color. She needed braces. She needed a bath. She probably needed the money for whatever asshole beat the shit out of her or for more drugs to shove into her veins.

“You really think I’m pretty?” she asked. Her voice surprised him. It was low and melodic, bringing to mind images of those old black and white movies with the woman in the tight dress that spelled trouble. He wondered for a moment if she’d ever had a chance to see those movies. Not now, surely.

“Sure, whatever. Can I take your picture?” he flicked ten bucks down to glass littered ground by the too-large sneakers she wore. She picked it up and looked at him. “You really think I’m pretty?”

He sighed. Obviously she was as smart as she was pretty. Her IQ matched her shoe size. She wasn’t playing with a full deck. More phrases danced through his mind as he forced a smile. “Yeah.”

She returned the smile and he flashed the picture of her sitting there, the money still in one hand. “No one calls me pretty… not anymore. Jack used to but…” her voice faded, or he ignored it, did it really matter in the end? He snapped a picture. This time she had the look he was going for. Desperation, sadness, the sort of things a hooker should look like.

“Do you really think I’m pretty?” she called out, tears were dragging the mascara down her cheeks. She rubbed at it with the back of her hand, smearing it across her skin.  He didn’t answer. He walked away, leaving her already forgotten, already searching for the next picture that would scream anguish enough to propel him to fame

* Mari Binx
is a 23 year old who began telling stories the moment she could speak,
and writing them down as soon as stubby hands could hold oversize
pencils. Her blog is at

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David Mac thinks there is something fishy about today

Something Fishy About Today
Dead fish floating on the surface of the sky,
your smile is like a red bag of nails,
your heart is black mud,
your skin – cool as glass.
Bubbles fizz in my bottle, they
measure time,
the time in which we
don’t say a word.
This silence can kill but
there’s no such thing as silence anyhow.
Deep down I want my ideas to eat you.
Deep down I want to say something complex,
profound, something that’ll
make your eyes shine like crystals
and not them
dirty old pennies.
Here, rattle your thoughts and drink up.
The sun’s coming out and
I want to see
what is looks like.

* David Mac's work has appeared in Ambit, Mud Luscious, This Zine Will Change Your Life, a couple of poetry anthologies, regularly in Clockwise Cat and Monkey Kettle. His debut collection The Luton Ghoul Booms a A5, 52-page booklet, is available for £2.50 from 

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Book review – Beverly Ellis says life's like that

The Piercing Blue of Sirius, Selected Poems 1968-2008 by Larry Kimmel
Winifred Press, USA, ISBN 978-0-9792484-7-4

This Is Not About What You Think by Jim Murdoch
Fandango Virtual, UK, ISBN 978-0-9550636-3-3

As someone who has always preferred American literature, it must surely be my fault that I have (so far) failed to encounter the work of Larry Kimmel.  What a pleasure, to be given his selected poems to read.  I usually hand back to the editor copies of books he gives me to review, especially if they contain dedications, but may conveniently forget to return this one, or just confess and ask to keep it…  One thing is for sure: I don’t want to part with The Piercing Blue of Sirius.

Even for a ‘selected’ covering a writing career of forty years, the range of forms and styles represented here is impressive.  Taken from nine collections, the sampling includes all sorts of poems, prose poems and narrative fiction.  Quite literally a feast and never a dull moment, as the subject matter also ranges over a variety of places, times and situations.  His shorter poems, eg the haiku, are acutely observed, a ‘travelling eye’ accompanying the reader to places where we have all been – perhaps not geographically, but instantly recognisable in terms of common human experience.

The poems about the author’s ‘Pennsylvania Deutsch’ family history are particularly memorable.  They are reminiscent of the real-life stories told to me by relatives living in similar German-speaking farming communities in other US states, eg Strange Harvest ‘His first day home on the farm, unscathed by combat, he loses an arm to the combine harvester…’  I always begged my family for more of these high-octane rural tales, eg the new bride who was handed an axe and told to dispatch four hundred chickens before lunch; the writhing mass of garter snakes hibernating in my aunt’s cellar each winter; the events of the nearby Sioux reservation.  This book contains an exhilarating thread of work along these lines, on the subject of Larry Kimmel’s first-generation American ancestors and their polyglot neighbours.  The people, events and the land itself are somehow mythologised into folk legend: very characteristic of American literature and absolutely fascinating, like the back-story in Holes by Louis Sachar or (a guilty pleasure) the beet-farming tales of Dwight K. Shrute in The Office: An American Workplace.  The long poem which vividly relates the author’s grandmother being swept away in a torrent – The Johnstown Flood, May 31 1889 – also sweeps the reader away, rendering them powerless to stop reading until the final word is reached: a classic.

Whether family folklore or personal observations about life and mortality, Larry Kimmel’s work presents the reader with a fresh viewpoint from a sympathetic correspondent.  (Now to try and track down copies of his previous books; hope they’re still in print – they certainly deserve to be…)

Another author whose work gives a compassionate response to the human condition is Jim Murdoch.  Both of these men are prepared to talk directly about the adversities of life as it is lived: unglamorous sometimes, but honest and timeless.

Jim Murdoch says in his introduction to This Is Not About What You Think: ‘I’ve long held the belief that writers should say what they have to say and get off the page.  So I try to do exactly that.  This has resulted in an aphoristic style of writing which I happen to like…’  True enough: due to the highly personal viewpoint, some of the poems have an aphoristic feel, but the collection goes far deeper than the usual surface gloss and easy wit of actual aphorisms.

Without the protection of cynicism or bravado, these poems acknowledge all the usual human vulnerabilities, reflecting the real world where l’esprit de l’escalier reigns and that pithy one-liner is never on the tip of your tongue when you need it; hurt is deeply felt, but quietly borne.  The author gives us his careful observations of life far more than his opinions and the concerns are universal.  The wisdom in the text seems to have been hard-won and some of the subject matter is very moving, eg Father Figure and the series of poems Advice to Children.

Some of the poems can appear deceptively simple at first glance, but the points they make often resonate and demand subsequent readings; this is an unassuming book which quietly grows on you.  The longer poems are frequently supple and mediate between an interior/exterior world, eg ‘You can drown inside yourself you know/but only a dripping tap can drive you/insane’ (Old Flames In The Rain).

In his introduction, the author offers the reader permission to use his poems: ‘Just because I’ve finished thinking my thoughts, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t be able to make use of them.  They may make something of them that I never intended or imagined.’  And that’s the whole point of this text, as demonstrated by the cover illustration of a Rorschach ink-blot which appears to be a naked man – or is that just what I see?  Get a copy and see what you think: it’s well worth a look.

…our reviewer Beverly
is a poet working in the east of England. She studied American Literature at Warwick University and
has a PGC in Creative Writing from UEA.

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Gareth Storey says it's dinner time

Dinner Time

Here the lapin jumps over
Pots of boiling vegetables

Bites a vein on a chef's arm
And darts through the service door

He pisses on a waiter's shoe
And passes sous la table
Where the president enjoys tête de veau

This skinned rabbit
Looks up the first lady's skirt
While nibbling at crumbs

Some customers who've finished their coffee
And paid l'addition
Get up from their seats

And the man who trades as a lawyer
But paints his dead daughters portrait
Each week
Holds the door
For those he's just lunched with

The cold rabbit surges out the door
Onto Rue de Beaujolais and joins

A dozen snails, half a cow's head
And several frogs on their way
To a safe haven

* Gareth Storey was born in Dublin and graduated in Creative Writing at Kingston University. His poetry has been published in Decanto, The Nth Position and various other journals. His hobbies include brooding and liquid lunches.

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New haiku: Patsy Goodsir is in Oban

Alone with his thoughts
enjoying the Autumn sun,
he closes his eyes.

* Regular IS&T contributor Patsy Goodsir was in Oban at the end of last year and composed this haiku after seeing this scene.

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Dan Wyke has heard all his stories before


I’ve heard all his stories before
and I am sick of them.
They have no affective content
and they try to persuade
the listener to think about him
the same way he would like
to think about himself.
I glaze over.
I think of a beaver’s dam
stretching across a river;
a brittle construction snagging drink cans,
plastic bags, and all sorts of crap.

* Dan Wyke is a winner of a Gregory Award for poetry and a collection Waiting for the Sky to Fall is available now from Waterloo Press at

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