We are pleased to announce our 2020 winner is Alana Daly Mulligan. Alana was in very good company with some highly commended runners up. We look forward to her performance at the tribute night in August.
Alana is the co-founder of Europe’s first poetry festival organised by young people for young people (ages 13-19); The Lit Young Writers’ Festival (2017-present). Alana was selected to represent Ireland at the Three Dot Dash Summit in New York with the We Are Family Foundation (chaired by Nile Rodgers of Chic) as result. Alana is the co-founder of Modwords Cork: open mic for young artists. (2018-2019). Her short film My Great Aunt Chrissie won the Best Writing Award at Noiseflicks Film Festival (2017). Alana's second short film 'Hands' discussed homophobia in post Marriage Equality Ireland. It was well received, viewed over 20K times online and was shown at a number of festivals, conferences and has been included on a University Syllabus (2018). Alana's third short film 'The Beach Woman; was shortlisted at IndieCork Film Festival (2019). Alana was commissioned to write for the USI and within University College Cork. Publications include; Autonomy (2018), Solstice Sounds Volume VI (2018), The Quarryman V (2019), University Express, Motley Magazine, and BND Magazine. Alana has also been included on a Spoken Word map of Ireland and the UK (2018). She has performed internationally at events like All Together Now, The First Fortnight Festival, Cúirt International Poetry Festival, Cork LGBT+ Pride Festival, The Belfast Poetry Festival, ME, USA, Three-Dot-Dash-Summit, NY, and has acted as support to Stephen James Smith, Neil Hilborn and Shane Koyczan.
Beauty or something like that
They tell you it is there but often is not found by the eyes.
It clots and turns in the throat when hope is lost in reflection.
Because you can’t see it, you don’t believe in it.
And you, you are a cleft lung in some struggle with the air.
With the air, you feel both alive and dying.
And you might be trying but
It is still so hard to fill yourself with other people when you don’t feel like a person yourself.
Yourself. – – – – A person.
Is it the skin or the mind? – – – The voice or the hands?
Is it the lung –– The cleft lung?
You struggle to get the words out. Word’s out you have none.
You are reminded of your cleft lung,
Your tongue –– short with beach glass.
You pass yourself. You don’t know how to ask who or how that person is.
Nor do you want to.
Until they stop you; you stop you. You see yourself. Go to speak with your crystal-cut tongue.But you can’t.
So you do all that is left for you to do: let the ocean in your chest out of your eyes.
Release yourself of salt water. Taste it in your empty mouth. Feel it on your unsure body.
Look at the reflection of yourself in all water felled on your cheeks.
Stop the urge to speak. You can’t right now. Take a breath. Breathe. Breathe.
Listen to the sea. Let her fill your ears. While she might drown you, she feels this too.
She feels you. Alive when you shouldn’t be. Silent when you could be loud.
Don’t be. Just know that in this floating ––floating, you are an ocean. And all good things,
All good things, will come back to you. Come back to you.
And in that, you are beautiful. A beautiful, imperfect reoccurrence once in a lifetime.
In addition to the various committee posts she has held, Joy is also a founding committee member of The Lit Young Writer’s Festival Waterford from 2016-2018. Joy co-wrote the comedic promenade play “How Not to Get Away with Murder” performed by WYA Drama and in 2016, her fiction piece; “Eyes are the Doors to the Soul” was adapted into a short film by the film department of WYA. Joy has also been published in the Waterford Youth Arts Writer’s anthology “Magic is Everywhere” with poem “Time- Twiddler”.
Rays of Sunshine
Calloused thumbs laced with the edge of the white netting and a shard of sun pierced into the browning, tea-stained sitting room. Dust bunnies cascaded down like sand in an hourglass and time was frozen into a moment of waiting; listening at the open window for the yapping of the dirty cream Shih Tzu.
It began with the gate's creaky hinge. Untrimmed nails scratched against the concrete path then dug like football boot cleats into the soft, damp grass. A rude, yellow, streamed sprinkler landed into the patch of lavender tulips that lined the perimeter of the hedged garden. It sounded like rain rushing down a pipe at the side of your house or when your tap pours into overflowing basins. Yet, I was ready, grabbing two burnt-bottom pans and swinging the front door wide open. I let out a roar; banging and clattering the souls of the blackened pots, trying to sheep herd the shaggy pest from my flowers. They had only just bloomed.
Out of breath, I sat down on the bench just under the front window, satisfied my enemy had been defeated. I closed my eyelids and allowed them to enjoy the midday rays of sunlight they deserved. I flinched at the break of silence. The hearing aid in my can-crushed ear detected another intruder’s song. A light and delicate robin’s melody landed on top of the towering hedge. I let it sit awhile with me, my pans far away by the open front door. This openness welcomed a breeze into the house and all the birthday cards rattled on the mantelpiece. One card was pushed from its treasured perch as a baby bird is from a nest. The pages spread like wings trying to fly but sank to the floor, waiting for the recipient to later pick it up and place back. The sender’s signature stung my eyes every time, thinking of him writing and pre-posting this:
Happy 75th Birthday, my love.
I’m sorry I missed it; I know it’s a big one.
Millions of hugs and kisses forever,
Love Ray, your ray of sunshine.’
Ray had always loved the magnificence of birds. He always left food out for them in a little dish in the bird bath. Now it was full of stale green rainfall. I hadn’t touched it in over a year I looked at the robin now. He was very round, a little too well-fed. Still, he was probably hungry.
Attempting to persuade the robin to keep me company in the garden I clasped the rusting lock on the shed and wriggled it free. Musk flooded into the garden and empty soil bags crinkled on the floorboards when I stepped into my garden’s Natural History Museum. The bird feed hid on the back of the highest wooden shelf on the right. My fingerprints clung onto accumulated dust and, grasping around the width of the container, I pulled it towards me. In doing so, an old mirror crashed onto the floor. The pieces cut my reflection into slices of myself. I sighed, wishing for no more bad luck to pile upon me. It didn’t bother me much anymore, as seven years of misfortune couldn’t hurt any more than this year already had. Ray never believed in bad luck. He proclaimed that it did not exist and was imagined out of clumsiness. But that good luck, follows us everywhere, greets us with unbolted doors. Our issue is that we simply forget to thank it for constantly keeping our lives open.
Chuckling, a memory of wings soaring through a freshly painted door climbed back into my peripheral vision.
‘Andy!’ Ray had called down the stairs with a terrifying shriek.
‘What is it, Sunshine?’
Ray increased the volume of his fear.’ Andyyyyyyyyy!’
‘Quick, there’s a huge crow up here, get the brush or something.’
I got out of my coal-stained chair and called up ‘Okay I’m coming, give me a sec.’
He replied ‘Jesus, Andy, it’s shit on the sheets.’
‘Hahaha, it’s good luck’ I laughed from downstairs. ‘Did you open the window, even?’
‘Okay wait...C’mon. Get OUT. GET out. GET OUT.’ I heard screams mixed with flapping wings. ‘It’s gone. Thank God! Wait, no, I only just changed the sheets.’
I can picture him laughing, his eyes wrinkling like crepe paper at the corners of his green eyes. He’s laughing at me now, moving from the shed transfixed to the cheap black bird bath with a plastic hummingbird perched on the side. Watching me scoop water from the dish and draw patterns in the settled green algae. I wish I could hear Ray’s beautiful voice that always echoed absentmindedly around our home. He sang when he washed drip stained wine glasses or matched up the bucket of never-ending odd socks. The chirping of Ray’s Robin filled the silence of the garden now. I appreciate that he flies in to check on me, to make sure I don’t become absorbed by ivy tendrils or leave my gate to rust in relic. It soothes me because my Sunshine sent him. I would love to know if he became a bird. A sparrow, a bluebird or a crow, he wouldn’t care as long as he flew above my heart instead of sleeping under my toes.
Maybe it would have been easier if he wasn’t gone at all. Would it hurt less if he cheated and ran away. At least then there could be a chance he’d pick up the phone. Would it have been less painful if I had run away and left him, weaned away from him like a wailing baby ignored in a crib. As adults we’re never reminded that we all learned the skill of crying ourselves to sleep before we could talk. It’s those midnight secrets we reveal right before we sleep that hurt the most. Mine are always about him. I cover up my loss with stories that help me lift my chest up and down. Sprouting ideas of Ray getting entangled with mobsters and having to fake his death to save me or being cursed into a monstrous form; forbidden to see his true love again. These thoughts are all that consume me, not that dog, not our garden, not even our home. They fill the space in my mind that’s sectioned off for him.
I throw the whole feast of stale bird pellets into the moulded dish. It overflows down onto the ground and I scoop a strong and nutritious portion in my palm. I settle my stiff bones back onto our rotting bench and dream of his spirit landing on my fingertips. I want him to eat from my hands again. Peck me away until I am nothing but a part of him. I rest my eyes, remembering hugs of sunshine and embracing the feeling of his wings carrying my soul towards light.
Lara Ní Chuirrín is one of our two highly commended runners up this year in the scholarship. The panel of judges found this years choice the most challenging so far and stressed the fine quality of writing of both of our runners up.
Lara was born and raised in the Gaeltacht in Connemara, and has lived in Cork for the past five years. She writes poetry and short stories that explore states of grief, love, stagnation, and metamorphosis. She has a background in Fine Art, and is currently studying History of Art, and English. Her poetry has been published in a number of local ‘zines, most recently in Bloomers Magazine, a publication of emerging Irish artists, and she has performed poetry at the Sling Slang poetry event in Cork, as well as at various fundraisers and open mics around the city. She has also recently had a short story accepted in The Quarryman, and is working toward self - publishing a ‘zine with fellow UCC students.
After His Own Heart
Martin awoke, as he so often did, at dawn. He woke naturally, roused by the sun spilling through a gap in the curtains. He pulled on his deep blue dressing gown and yellow slippers, and shuffled his sleepy limbs out to the kitchen. He looked out the window as he waited for the kettle to boil, watching the clouds’ mottled shadows move across the fields. He stretched gently, hoping to enliven his weary muscles. At 65, his body was showing signs of being past its prime. His mind was still sharp as a tack.
‘Sharp as a tack.’ He said to the empty kitchen.
He poured some cold water on the spider plants hanging in the window, and put on a slice of toast. Martin liked to call his small home his ‘bachelor pad’, though it was far from what one might imagine upon hearing this phrase. It was the last house on a small road that led to the sea, surrounded by trees and with a bright turquoise door. The window sills were crowded with makeshift flower pots in the form of boots, china cups, teapots, and old buckets. Wedged amongst the flower pots were sea shells and fragments of glass, smoothed by the ceaseless tossing of waves and offered up along the shore, glinting green and indigo treasures that caught the morning light.
Milk and one sugar in his tea, butter and marmalade on his toast, Martin shuffled over to the back door, and opened it onto the yard. Warm sunlight poured over his balding head, welcoming his body to another day. In the yard was his car, a red Toyota that had seen better days, and parked right beside it, his brand new caravan. Well, it was a second hand Burstner caravan, but it was in great shape, and was brand new to him. It was a magnificent shiny white beast, with a blue stripe and a red stripe that ran all the way around its middle. Its logo was a blue and yellow tiger’s head, snarling from above the handles on each door.
‘You’re a thing of beauty.’ Martin raised his tea in salute.
Meeeoowwww. A gentle nudge against the back of his leg.
‘Oh hello Felix, my friend. How are you this morning?’ said Martin through a mouthful of toast.
“Did they feed you at all today?” He dropped his crusts to the ground for the cat, who sniffed them curiously and flexed his claws, before skulking off to sit on the bonnet of the car.
‘Suit yourself.’ said Martin, and he turned back inside.
He made a cup of coffee, and sat at the kitchen table, or his work table, as he liked to call it. He surveyed his latest project, and guessed at how much work was left to do. Most of the structural work had been completed. The houses and pubs had been carved from Styrofoam, painted and varnished before being arranged just as they appeared in the photographs he had tacked to the wall. He had also acquired maps from the local council, just to be certain everything in his model was as it was in real life. The town sloped down to the sea, hugging the coast from the clifftop to the sand. It was not quite a uniform sloping, though, as the topographical map had made clear, and Martin had had to mould the land with papier-mâché before he arranged the buildings. Papier-mâché had made the cresting waves of the sea, too. Martin figured that he was down to the finishing touches now. The sea needed a second coat of paint, to add a sense of texture and depth. The beach needed some seaweed strewn here and there, some gulls fighting over a chip, perhaps. A few more people in the town, maybe, to bring it to life a little more. About three more days’ work. He poked through his shoebox of paints, picking out tubes for the ocean, lining them up along the edge of the table. Cerulean Blue Hue, Phthalo Green (Blue Shade), French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, and of course Titanium White and Cadmium Yellow, to highlight the waves that caught the sun.
He was just preparing his brushes when he heard a loud thud, over at the kitchen window. Craning his neck, he peered out the window. Nothing. Clouds gathering on the horizon. He was about to return to his work, when he heard the tiniest sound. A high pitched chirping, coming from outside. Martin rushed out the back door, and around to the kitchen window, and there on the ground beneath the sill, was a small bird, with an orange belly and a blue back and a wing sticking out at a funny angle.
Chirrrp! Chirp chirp!
‘Oh dear.’ Martin bent low, examining the wing as best he could. ‘Oh dear, little fella.’
The bird watched him with one eye, the other seeming to dart around in fear. It tried to get into the air, but only managed to hop around feebly in a crooked circle.
‘Ok buddy, don’t worry, I’ll mind you.’
Martin wrapped his hands gently around the bird, careful of its broken wing. He could feel the poor creature’s heart beating in its tiny chest. It felt as though it may burst through Martin’s thick fingers. Once they got through the kitchen door, the bird started to wriggle and chirrp in his hand.
‘Shhh.’ Martin moved the bird slightly so that his right hand was free, and the bird’s eyes were covered. This darkness seemed to relax the creature. Moving quickly and smoothly, Martin strode to the table and upturned the box of paints onto the floor. He grabbed his work towel and lined the base of the box with it. Then he ever so gently placed the bird into the box, and shoved the lid back on.
‘Right.’ His own heart beat hard in his chest. ‘What now?’
In a moment of divine inspiration he remembered the bird cage, and dashed to the cupboard in the hall. Last winter he had been poking around in Harris’s scrap yard, a marvellous place, full of gems, when had found a bird cage; he quite simply could not leave it behind, it was just such a beautiful object, or artefact as he liked to call it. Pulling it from the back of the cupboard now, all misgivings about its usefulness melted away, and Martin commended himself on having such a keen eye. He brought it into the kitchen and tried to clear a space on the table, knocking his cup in the process. The lower half of the town was flooded with thick brown coffee, threatening the structural competency of many buildings. The coffee bubbled and gurgled as it seeped through the papier-mâché. Martin cast his eyes about for a towel, but the closest one had a bird in it. No matter. The cage was one of those old fashioned ones, with thin silver bars and a domed top. At about 3 feet tall, it towered over the model town, like some sort of alien spaceship. He brought the shoebox over, and opened it slowly, wary of his patient fleeing, but the bird was huddled in a corner, its eyes darting and its breathing heavy. Martin picked it up, towel and all, and bundled it into the cage. It looked so small and helpless. He gently pulled and bunched the towel, fashioning a sort of cave around the bird’s small frame.
‘There we go.’ He said. ‘Much more cosy.’
At the sink he filled the lid of the marmalade jar with water, and walked steadily back to the bird, careful not to spill any.
‘Now my little friend. You’re all set up.’
Martin spent the rest of the day painting, casting an eye on the bird every now and then, who seemed happy enough in his new home. For dinner, he made a lovely garden pea-and-parmesan spaghetti, and to the bird he gave some cooked peas, some raw peas, some leftover fried bacon, a few shavings of parmesan, some orange segments, some porridge oats, and a heel of bread. He did not yet know what birds ate. Martin took his dinner at the crowded worktable, his bowl on his lap, surveying his work. As the day faded slowly into night, Martin watched the shadows cast by the little painted people; the couples and the families, enjoying their little seaside break. The young ones eating ice creams while their parents chatted happily. He thought about parking a model of his new van right there on the main street. Outside the post-office, perhaps. The post office had been badly hit by the coffee spill. It’s painted outside had slid down and sat in puddles on the street below. Its Styrofoam centre sat exposed and stained brown. A few coats of paint and things should be back on track. The promise of darkness, combined with the large dinner and the day’s excitement, had Martin in bed by 9 o’clock.
‘Goodnight my friend.’ He called to the bird as he turned out the lights.
The next morning, Martin woke before the sun, and shuffled to the kitchen. The bird was still asleep in its cage, nuzzled into the towel. Of last night’s many foods, all that was eaten was the bacon and the fresh peas. Martin smiled. A bird after his own heart. He made his tea and pulled from the shelf in the corner his copy of Collins’ Bird Guide.
‘Let’s find out who you are.’ Martin whispered into the breaking dawn.
Having passed through fungi and insects, he flicked slowly through pages of birds, stopping whenever he saw flashes of colour.
‘Hmmm...This book seems to think you’re a bullfinch...Or possibly a Chaffinch...Hmmm.’
Martin looked up from his book, and found the bird watching him.
‘Oh good morning friend. Can you tell me what you are?’
The bird tilted its head slightly, watching him. Martin felt that the bird looked sleepy. He had never seen a bird look sleepy before.
‘Ok, well, we won’t worry too much about it. According to this book, your bright feathers mean that you are of the male variety, and that's enough to able to name you.’
Closing the book, Martin stood up and stretched slightly.
‘So, Frank. Let’s have us some bacon, shall we?’
The bird’s eyes seemed to light up.
Martin rang the local vet, who was of very little use. She said there was nothing she could do, and that all he could do was feed him and give him water. The wing would heal over time if it was going to heal at all. The rest of the week was spent at the kitchen table, painting the model town, and chatting with the bird. Frank was a good listener.
“I’m going on a trip Frank.” Martin informed him one day, as he painted lichen on to the gable end of a house.
“I don’t know if you saw it outside, but I bought myself a campervan, and soon I’m going to take it out on the road…” Frank bobbed his head up and down, his azure feathers shimmering in the light.
“I’ll be like all these fine folks here in this town...maybe you could come along, eh?” Frank Chirped loudly. Martin did not light the fires, or weed the flower beds, nor did he wash the dishes. He arranged for a neighbour to get him what he needed in the shop - coffee, butter, marmalade, bacon, and bird seed.
‘Are you not well Martin?’ She had asked upon delivering his supplies, her neck craning as she peered over his shoulder.
‘Ah, erh, no, it’s not quite that, am, thank you very much Louise, I really do appreciate it!’ and he closed the door in her face. A kind woman, Louise, but not someone to have nosing around right now. He did not need the whole village laughing at him again.
For seven days he cared for Frank, watching with delight as he gained strength, hopping and chirping, and to Martin’s utmost joy, singing. On the morning of the fourth day, Martin awoke to Frank’s song. He entered the kitchen to the sweetest sound, a bubbly string of notes, starting high and descending, falling to a long low whistle. Martin applauded, ‘Bravo!’ which seemed to startle Frank into silence. Martin made him extra bacon that morning. On the seventh day, Martin walked into the kitchen to find Frank flying from one side of the cage to the other, his little claws wrapping around the silver bars. All day he flew around the cage, singing. Martin watched him from the corner of his eye as he painted strands of hair onto holiday-makers on his beach. He watched him and his heart sank. He knew it was not right to keep a flying bird locked in a cage. Tomorrow he would set him free. Martin made him a huge feed of bacon that night, and some fresh peas from the garden. For himself, he pulled a bottle of brandy from the back of the cupboard, cleaned off the dust, and poured himself a generous glass.
‘Here’s to you Frank, our last supper eh?’ He raised his glass. ‘It’s been wonderful having you stay.’
Frank looked at him, head cocked to one side, bacon hanging from his beak.
The next morning Martin slept in. When he came into the kitchen Frank was flying laps around the cage. It was a dizzying sight, a blur of blue and orange. His call was shrill now, insistent where before it had been playful. Martin sighed.
‘Ok friend. I hear you.’
He carried the cage to the back door and stepped out into the late morning. The day was overcast, muggy. The cat slept, undisturbed, on the bonnet of the car. The world was silent, save for the whisper of a breeze rustling the hedges, and the distant crash of waves. Sitting on the step in front of the door, he set the cage down at his feet.
“Well, this is it buddy. Best of luck.” He opened the cage wide, and Frank flew right out. He did a small loop through the air, testing his wings, and then landed gently on Martin’s shoulder, where he sat, singing, for just a moment. Martin’s eyes filled with tears.
‘You’re welcome.’ He whispered.
Then Frank left his shoulder, and flew across the yard.
Martin, through the tears in his eyes, saw a blur of black and white. The blur seemed to have pointed ears, and a long tail. The blur moved quickly from the bonnet of the car, to the roof. It jumped onto the top of the campervan, and into the air, claws flashing.
A strangled shriek, piercing the gentle morning air.
A yard scattered with blue and orange feathers.
A blood stain on the roof of the camper.
A smug cat.
These are some things that Martin will never forget.
Martin wandered back into the house. Dropping the birdcage by the door, he put on the kettle for coffee. As he waited for the kettle to boil, he noticed the dry brown leaves of his spider plants. Changing his mind, he turned off the kettle and poured a brandy instead. He brought it to the table and surveyed his town. Sighing deeply, he sat down and picked up a brush.
Outside of publication, Rose has a strong interest in spoken-word, and has performed at Modwords Cork and Waterford Writers Weekend. Rose has also worked as a columnist for the Waterford News and Star for past three years.
Guide to Hauntings
1. Inherit a house from your aunt Mary.
You were never close to her, but you did not dislike her. She powdered her face with talcum and shaved her eyebrows and wore bright red lipstick, no other makeup. Her lips were thin, and her slash of mouth looked like an open wound when she smiled. She watched, but rarely spoke.
You will not be surprised to inherit the house, because everyone else is dead.
You won’t need the house; you have an apartment of your own in the city. An apartment, roommates, a job. A life. You used to have friends as well, but you haven’t seen much of them since Will. They were his friends, more than your friends. You used to have a Will. You no longer have a Will.
You will not need the house but will decide that you need a break. Pack quickly. Ring work and ask for time off. Put the hoodie that he left behind on and throw your bag into the backseat of the car.
Drive away. Drive faster than you normally would. You will want to play music, to turn the volume up so high that the bass turns your brains to jelly. You will not do this, because the only CD in the car is the mixtape he left in the slot.
Instead, open the windows wide and open your mouth wider. The air will hit the back of your throat like a punch, so hard you choke on it. Let it fill your lungs to bursting point. You would not be able to scream if you wanted to. Try to scream anyway.
When you get there, open the door and be surprised by the amount of dust. Evening sunlight will pour through the open windows of the hall, causing the dust particles to glow. They will hover in the air, like something solid, thick as honey. Breathe in heavy gold. Do not let it back out.
2. Unpack your things.
You will not bring much, just a couple of bags which you drag up the stairs. The steps are a musical instrument, giving off creaks and squeaks and moans with every movement you make.
Place your bags down on the bed of your aunts’ room. There’s many rooms upstairs and you could pick any; it’s a country house, large, sprawling. But you will not. You will take one owned by someone else. The room will be musty, cluttered with her things and will smell faintly of perfume. Put your things in empty drawers. Feel curious about the ones that are not empty.
Drag your hands across the surfaces, pick up the photo frames. Mary is alone in most of them, or with her sisters. Finger the knickknacks. Post cards and porcelain dogs and jewelled boxes filled with rings and feathers and buttons. Open her drawers; starched blouses, beige bras, socks with holes in the sole. You will find a dildo at the very back. You will feel like a voyeur but that will not make you stop.
Root around in her wardrobe. Slip on the black heels that you find, a size too big, sticking out over your tracksuit bottoms. You will find a pile of paper at the back, thin and fragile as flower pressings. Letters. You won’t understand the handwriting; messy, slanted, hectic. You will make out words at random: purple, mine, lungs, sea, run. They will all be signed off ‘Yours’. They are all from the same person, but you will not be able to make out the name. You will catch parts, but never the whole.
Take one of the letters to bed with you, running your fingers back and forth across the paper as your breathing slows. Fall asleep with the lights on, clutching something that does not belong to you.
3. Be woken by a loud noise in the middle of the night.
A deep heavy bang will jolt you from sleep; the shock of it will feel like someone dropping your lungs into snow. Jolt upwards. The room will be black, although you will not remember turning off the lights. Blink into the darkness, dense as molasses.
Slug your way through the treacle dark to the light switch. Flick it on. Jerk back.
Letters will plaster the walls, the ceiling. Hundreds of them.
Ink will run from most of them, leaking on to the walls. Spin in a circle. The clear words will leap out at you- purple, mine, lungs, sea, run.
Be unsure what to do. Feel scared, but uncertain. Should you gasp? Should you cry? Should you scream? Watch yourself from a distant cinema screen. Imagine yourself in a billowing white gown, fainting dramatically into the arms of a dark figure.
Do none of these things. Pick up a pillow, a blanket and your phone. Take them with you to the bathroom downstairs. Lock yourself in the bathroom. Double lock it. Climb into the bathtub with your blanket and pillow and try to make yourself comfortable. Go on to Wills’ Facebook page and scroll through the photos he has been tagged in.
Will, tanned, on the beach. Will at a party, a girl touching his arm, her face blurred. Will lying in the grass in a park, a sliver of stomach showing as he laughs in the direction of a woman with a pixie cut.
Click on her page next. Scroll through her tagged photos. Compare your heights, your waists, the size of her breasts and yours. Her eyes are very blue. Yours are not.
Keep clicking, until the sun comes up. You will not fall back asleep until then.
4. Almost drown in the bathtub.
Roll over in your sleep, breathing in slow and deep. Take liquid into your lungs, wake up spluttering and thrashing.
The bathtub will be full of ink. It will soak through your clothes, into your skin. You will be bruise blue, stained to the bone.
A figure will stand at the foot of the bath, looking at you. The outline of a man plastered in paper.
‘Your breasts are about the same size as hers, really,’ he will say.
The outline of a man will disappear, and letters will float to the floor in his place.
Drag yourself from the bathtub, sopping and heavy. Walk to the kitchen, leaving blue footprints in your wake. Open your laptop and google the word ‘ghost’.
You will find definitions.
An apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear to the living, typically as a nebulous image.
A slight trace or vestige of something.
Vestige; a small trace of something that was once greater.
Did you know that the word ghost finds its origins in the proto-Indo-European root ‘to rage’? That the old Latin word for ghost, ‘spiritus’, was a synonym for ‘breath’? That not all ghosts are dead?
Now you do. You will click, click. Let the words swirl round in your stomach.
Image, spirit, breath.
Something that was once greater.
Parts, never the whole.
6. Talk to the ghost.
Come prepared in battle armour. Spray yourself in your dead aunts’ perfume. Rim your lips with red. Put on a white slip from her wardrobe. It will cling to you in the wrong places; she was a smaller woman than you.
Light candles in her bedroom, play her old vinyl’s that scratch and whine in the gloom. Close your eyes and think of the taste of the night sky.
‘I mean, you could have just said hello.’
Open your eyes. The figure of a man lined with letters at the foot of the bed.
‘Hello,’ you will say.
His head will move up and down, examining you.
‘You don’t look one bit like her, you know. Not one bit,’ he will say.
Think about apologizing for this. Do not apologize.
‘Have you ever heard of a fetch?’ you will ask instead.
The ghost will scratch his head.
‘A fetch? It’s a ghost, the ghost of a person who is still alive, to the best of my knowledge,’ he will say.
‘Are they real?’ you will ask.
‘As real as I am,’ he’ll reply.
‘Are you real?’
‘Is the past ever very real?’
‘That’s a rubbish answer,’ you will say.
He will stop smiling.
‘Yes, yes it is,’ he will say.
7. Summon it.
Summoning is a tricky business. It requires procedure, ingredients, intention. But the man lined with letters will give you the recipe when you ask.
Take the mixtape out of the car and play it so loud that you can’t hear yourself think.
Open a bottle of wine and drink it from a mug while crooning out the words of his favourite song.
Burn a lock of your hair. Takes the ashes, mix them with honey and the blood of a new born dove. Smear the paste across your lips, your eyelids. Take a picture of this and put it on your Snapchat story.
Go outside and strip, wearing nothing but his hoodie. Dance until your feet bleed. Let the moon lick your skin. Howl until the wolves come. Let them fuck you in the toilet of a nightclub while their friends take a video.
Crawl from the club to the forest on your hands and knees and rub yourself in the dirt. Eat every rock in the forest until your stomach splits open. Check his Facebook in the forest while lying in a pile of your own entrails.
Bury your entrails in the ground and wait until a crow claws its way out of the earth. There will be a piece of paper in the crow’s beak. There will be number that you deleted from your phone months ago on the paper. Dial the number.
‘Hello?’ the ghost will say.
‘Hey,’ you will reply. The ghost will sigh.
‘Jane, please stop doing this. I asked you to stop contacting me. Just, just stop,’ he will say. The ghost will then hang up.
The man lined with paper will lead you up to bed, put the blanket over you.
‘Sorry,’ he will say,’ Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.’
8.Banish the ghost.
Gather up all the letters. The words that you can understand will stick into you like blades.
Take all the parts that you understand and scribble them out with a pen until you can’t see them anymore.
Take the letters and place them in the bathtub. Go get the mixtape and snap it in half and throw it in there too. Piss on his hoodie and give it to the crow to eat. Slit the crows throat and drop it in the tub. Delete his messages. Block him on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram.
Get gasoline from the basement. Pour it over everything in the tub. Set the lot on fire. Watch the whole thing burn.
The man lined with letters will watch you while you do this, looking at you with something that could be pity, or something that could be tiredness.
‘Did you really think that would work?’ he will ask.
‘Not really,’ you will say.
9. Perform a cleansing ritual.
The man lined with letters will not know how to do this and will not be able to advise.
But you will know. You have always known how to do this, even if you weren’t always aware.
Go take a shower, not a bath. Turn the temperature so high it hurts. Scrub at your skin until all your blue bleeds away. Watch the ink wash away down the drain.
Put on an oversized t-shirt that is clean, and your softest socks.
Sweep away the ashes and bleach the bathtub until it gleams.
Pour salt around the boundaries of the house.
Throw out the milk that has gone mouldy in the fridge.
Reply to the concerned texts from Susan from work.
Pack your aunts’ things into boxes.
Make tea brewed with holy water, mint and the memory of bright light on Winter mornings.
Light a white candle in every room.
Let ice melt on your tongue.
Say the word ‘Yes’ over and over until it is the only word the walls can remember.
When it rains, open up all the windows so that the house can remember what the sky tastes like.
Cry until the house floods.
Fall asleep in laundered sheets that smell of fresh linen.
10. Say goodbye to the ghost.
You will meet the man lined with letters on the front porch, not in the bedroom of a dead person.
You will not smile at him, but you will take his hand and hold it. You will sit down on the porch together, and he will put his paper arm around you while you email an estate agent about selling the house.
You will have avoided looking directly at the ghost for the entirety of this trip. You will have looked at the outline of him. The shape of the ghost is all you know, because you don’t know if you will live through seeing the sum of him. But now is the time to be brave.
Look at the ghost. It will feel like thrusting your hand in a deep fat fryer. Keep your hand in the oil until the pain feels as clean and clear as a crescendo. Look at him for five hundred seconds. Or for five hundred years. However long it takes. However long you need.
Do not say goodbye to him in words. Kiss him on the cheek and rise. Walk away.
(Look back, if you need to. You will need to. That is okay.)
Put one foot in front of the other. Do it again. Do this over and over again for the rest of your life.
Climb into your car. Drive away, slower than the way you came.
Take your time coming home. You’ll get there, eventually.
I watch my father lose his father.
Toast crunched, tea drunk,
we unload the dishwasher.
Crouched by him, I gather
serving spoons with silver tongues,
he is losing his father.
Stacking things in order,
flasks at the back, China cups in front.
I pull out the bottom drawer.
A puddle of water,
shaped like a lung.
Black tar in his father.
He wonders why it isn’t stronger,
are the wires overstrung?
I shut the door of the dishwasher.
Honestly, why bother?
With every crumb, our effort undone.
Father pays to drain his father,
I scatter salt in the dishwasher.
The F Train
She had her yearly metrocard and a whole lot of time. Every day, at eleven a.m., she would take the F train from Brooklyn to Coney Island, or up to 179th street in Harlem and back, only alighting on the platform to switch back to the Brooklyn bound train. This was how she filled her time; riding back and forth, back and forth, all day long in the company of strangers. At eleven a.m. the lines were never overcrowded. It was an easy time to begin her commute. Most people were already at work or school, depending on season.
She would fill the time with counting. Ten passengers in the carriage at Ninth and Seventh, six boarding at Bergen, three alighting. By the time they reached Harlem, the carriage would be almost empty. Occupied by only herself, and perhaps an older man with grey dust on his skin or a young woman, shaking and sweating in another world beside her. She would watch the other passengers, catching glimpses of God in a woman’s filmy eyes or carving out rail-routes in the scraggy skin around old men’s fingernails, following patches of psoriasis from their elbows to their wrists. The carriage would sway from side to side, feeling loose on the tracks, until she felt her own body fall into a rhythm, akin to the crystal-lady’s rocking beside her.
One day she interrupted her usual route. She alighted at Jay Street to walk the brownstone lined streets. She moved fast, pounding the sidewalk until her shin bones were sore. She counted the signs; a reminder to ‘curb your dog’ at the corner of every block, protestations mourning modern America hanging in the windows on the left, stars and stripes shrouding the gardens on the right. She picked her way past dog walkers, mailmen, mothers and fathers. She walked the perimeter of Fort Greene park, the laughter of children whistling through her. An hour or two later and she was back on the platform once again, waiting for the F to Coney Island. Maybe she would see holidaying families, happy and beach bound.
Lost in her inner world, full of anticipation and distraction, she paid little attention to the people around her. She was only ever interested in the commuters when they were on the train. She didn’t register the bending mother, a slap of admonition sounding skin to skin on her son’s hand, nor did she register the homeless man who had jumped the turnstile, only to lean against the wall beside her. Similarly, she never saw the youth standing too far beyond the yellow line, teetering as though he were balancing on the breeze. She didn’t see the anxious jitter of his hands, the brown eyes that wouldn’t still, the sweat above his lip, trapped between baby hairs.
She heard it though. The screeching on metallic tracks, the butcher-house thud and crack, the gut-weighted silence of afterwards.
11 Apr 2017
my body lay like I had thrown her,
into the bath.
one leg, fat, white,
strewn over the shallow bath wall,
arms tossed behind her head
reaching for cool tiles.
she is tiny there,
unnoticed and beautiful as
the birdsong peeking through
the open window.
Look at the doll take care of the doll
The doll has no eyes,
There are two olive-black pits
where the doll's eyes should be,
Take care of it
Hold its hand
Not that hand
It is a nude descending
A nude on a staircase.
Look at the doll take care of the doll
The doll has no eyes,
There are six buttons on the doll's chemise
Two are missing;
Three and four
Not that hand
The other hand
That hand is on.
There's a hand ahead of your step
A hand on the floor
Most dolls have ten fingers
This doll has eleven
Five on the floor
Six in your hand.
Look at the doll take care of the doll
The doll has no eyes,
The five on the floor are quick
A hand with five legs
The hand with five legs
stops when you stop,
It turns and looks at
you with no eyes.
We know it looked.
It jumps, clicks its thumb
and middle finger,
You move again; commanded.
Step stair step and stare.
Look at the doll take care of the doll
The doll has no eyes,
The doll has stopped walking,
Its neck turns in your direction,
A hand appears in the eye sockets,
A thumb outward from socket left,
A middle finger from socket right,
It clicks its fingers in shattered bridge bone,
It breaks out through the doll's face
And throws itself at your neck.
Look at the doll take care of the doll
For the doll has no eyes.
The Last Supper
I sit front and centre
hands spread, a victim of your choices.
The red wine stains my lips
swirls in my mouth like poison.
Twelve different voices crowd my ears
this is goodbye, but we do not know it yet.
If I could climb inside my own artwork, I would
change the past, present and future.
The moment I announce the betrayal
of all we have worked for, beautiful chaos.
You clench your fist and withdraw
A pretty penny was your price, so easily bought.
You took me here, you see, to Italy
where we could sit and marvel at what remains
each stroke of Da Vinci's masterpiece eroded
just as our own has been.
We do not take the Father's name in vain in our house
instead, we find receipts for jewellery our mother never received.
You are our Judas Iscariot
now the red wine stains the table cloth with blood
you will not climb a hill to place your head in a noose.
Yet still I pray for the resurrection, the salvation
of your name disappearing from the divorce papers.
(It was all in vain.)