Wednesday, 23 January 2019


The flat land

by Marina Kazakova


The flat land,
once home
to coal miners,
potato eaters,
the great Flemish masters,
is swiftly losing its chassis -
its temperate climate,
broad shoulders and broad mind…
Flat voices
over-pronounce
the Flemish sounds,
over-use the dialects
in the presence of exiles,
white squatters
are getting even whiter,
ex-punks build fences
to protect the witlof gardens
from the invasion
of lowbrow middle east folk.
The flat wet land
is good for crops,
spreading the seeds,
cycling or ropewalking with sticks
along the walls
of graffiti,
stating precisely but temperately
“Dear Refuges, go home. Please.”


* * * * *

Marina Kazakova (b. Gorky, 1983) is a writer, poet and audio-visual artist in Belgium. Published internationally in magazines and journals (Three Rooms Press' Maintenant, AntiNarrative Journal, Crannog), Marina is a frequent performer. She has been shortlisted at different poetry/film-poetry competitions and was awarded various prizes. She is author of verse novel Tishe...Piano, the film adaptation of which was shortlisted for International Short Film Festival Leuven 2013, Miami Indie Wise Festival 2018, XpoNorth Festival 2018, and got ‘The Best Narrative Short’ Award at the International Film Festival behalf Savva Morozov in Moscow in 2015. Her literature works deal to a large degree with confrontation with the past and explore the challenges posed both by memory and grief. In addition to poetry, Marina has written essays and articles for such publications as The Word Magazine (Brussels), Culturetrip. com, Seanema.eu. Marina holds a Master in Public Relations and in Transmedia. Currently, she is Communications Officer at ‘Victim Support Europe’(Brussels) and working on her practice-based PhD in Arts “Lyric Film-Poem. A research on how the unique characteristics of lyric poetry can be expressed in film” at Luca School of Arts (KULeuven).



Tuesday, 22 January 2019


Girls

by Susan Tepper

We went door to door—me and Patsy collecting April, then Roberta, ‘til we rounded up a posse of girls. Five or six or seven of us to make the trek into town. Several miles in walked barefoot. It was summer and our soles were tough like Navajo feet. By Labor Day I could scrape them with the thickest needle from my mother’s sewing box and it wouldn’t leave an indent. We were toughening up through our feet; though back then we didn’t know much about toughening. We knew only to laugh a lot, and scream at whatever bothered us which was plenty.
Worms. Heavy rains brought out a gazillon fat worms that slithered on the pavement. We tried stepping around them. We screamed more. It was all too horrible. A squashed worm could start a chorus of screaming. April, fixated on the worms, and other insects, bent over studying them closely. Later she did her pre-med and became a doctor. But back when we were twelve, all she wanted to find out was if the worms were happy or sad being out of the dirt. Rosy-pinkish worms that looked too much like a part of our bodies. The part that got all tingly when we pedaled hard, pressing against the bicycle seat.
 We were starting to want attention. We wanted earrings and lipstick. Soft Capezio leather flats in pastel colors, paired with matching Pandora cardigans. So badly did we want, that some of us stole to get those things. Camille stole mascara from McCrory’s and got caught. She had to wait in the manager’s office for her mother to finish work then come get her. She had to promise she’d never steal another thing. She said the store detective kept sneaking looks up her shorts the whole time. Her mother yelled at her in front of everyone in the store office. She batted Camille around the face saying she was a stupid girl.
Our houses looked pretty much the same, newly built in the middle of wild strawberry fields. Honeysuckle and mountain laurel grew wild, too.  My dad dug out a laurel bush and dragged it onto our property where he planted it next to a big hunk of granite. It grew high there. While murmurs of war in a far off jungle, and wannabe beatnik-kids wore black and smoked marijuana.
About halfway to town we reached the railroad station. The old wooden station house peeling its red paint. We always stopped at the station to pee. Because it had a bathroom built just for one, Camille named it the horse stall. “I need the horse stall bad,” Bobbie was saying.
At that point we were always pretty much sweaty and thirsty, pushing to get at the Coke machine on the deserted platform. Patsy was tickling Bobbie to try and make her pee her shorts. Patsy was the strongest; though we were all strong. I was thinnest but still very strong. When you have brothers you become strong out of necessity. Bobbie was yanking on the bathroom door screaming: “Locked!  Oh hell oh hell oh hell oh hell,” clutching herself.
The single door opened. Out came a woman, tall and papery thin. She had on a red cotton dress faded like the station house red. Her cheeks sunken. Watery, blood-shot blue eyes. Her strawberry-blonde curls looked rusty in the bright sun. A smell of liquor surrounded her like perfume. She grinned at us all gathered there, sort of gaping.
“Hiya, girlies.” Said it like she knew us. Except that voice was from nowhere near the train station. I thought of a western woman like Roy Rogers wife. That same twangy sort of sound.
We stood there nodding at her saying our polite hellos back. I thought her hair looked like she left it too long in the curlers. Back then I was very conscious of hair. Some girl in school said my own hair looked like doll hair. You mean fake? I asked the girl. She couldn’t quite explain which upset me a lot. The woman’s dress needed a good pressing as my mother would say.
 “I got rid of it,” the woman said. Ringing her hands the way Patsy’s mother wrung out the washing from the silver tub when the machine broke down. I saw red smeared on the woman’s fingers.
“A lot of blood came out of me, so much blood. I never seen so much blood.” Yet she seemed happy enough; smiling; her stained, crooked teeth almost doing a jig. I don’t know if the others saw the blood on her hands.
  “Dammit! Get in there.” I shoved Bobbie toward the bathroom door.
 The woman didn’t move over to let her get by. She seemed not to notice—Bobbie, or any of us, really. She just seemed to want to get on with her story.  
“I used a coat hanger.” She kept on smiling, all loopy and crooked. I felt her liquor smell rise into my nose. I stared at the belt on her dress. Red cotton, with its worn out leather buckle. The kind of dress passed down from sister to sister to sister. Washed to death until there was no life left to it. The woman cackled. I stood there shivering uncontrollably. Despite the terrible heat beating down.

* * * * *

"Girls" was previously published in Counterexample Poetics.

More about Susan Tepper and her widely published work can be found at www.susantepper.com.



Monday, 21 January 2019


This month there is an additional Moon Prize: the thirty-third Moon Prize goes to Oonah V Joslin's beautiful and haunting story "Song of Everything," posted here on December 24, 2018.


Song of Everything
by Oonah V Joslin

Sapling opened his branches and stretched up towards the light. On the forest floor everything was dark and needle still. He could hear water babbling non-stop.
“What is that noise, Mother?” he asked the tall spruce who guarded him.
“It’s Brook, Sapling, dear.”
“What does it say?”
“It tells of what it has seen and asks where it is going.”
“Who is it asking, Mother?”
“It asks the converging waters and the stony river bed.”
“And they tell it?”
“They tell it what they know.”
“What do they know, Mother?”
Sapling’s mother sighed in the wind. She wished she had all the answers. “Don’t ask me. I speak only to the earth, rain and wind.”
***
When springtime came, birds perched in Sapling’s arms and made nests all around the forest; and they sang.
“What are they singing, Mother,” he asked.
“They are singing love songs and lullabies, dearest,” answered Spruce, “and songs about lands far away.”
“Do you know the words, Mother?”
“Alas no, for I only speak to the wind that carries them.”
***
Sapling grew taller daily. He could see way into the forest now, to where shafts of light streaked through the canopy and onto the floor and wild flowers rampaged in colourful clouds of blossom. He could smell their perfume and hear the bees, busy with excitement, ruffling petal skirts.
“What do bees sing about, Mother?”
“They sing about pollen and honey and love. All the sweetest things in life.”
“And the flowers?”
“Flowers don’t sing, Son.”
Sapling looked at the bright blooms of the forest, and he could see why — flowers were indeed loud enough, in silence.
***
Down in the deciduous wood, the first leaves turned to yellow and red. The flowers, birds and bees were mostly gone. Sapling longed to be as tall as his mother, as tall as Fir and Pine, as tall as Douglas and Conifer. 
***
Snowflakes crinkled as they settled all around him and he held his branches out stiffly to catch a few and admire their lace. Even the darkness became light. The moon played an ever-changing chorus of shadows over the snowflakes and they reflected harmonies of deep blue and purple until the rosy pink of dawn.
But Sapling did not like the song the morning brought. He heard men with harsh voices and a zinging sound cut through the air. It made him quail. “What song is that, Mother,” he asked.
Spruce heard the buzz-saw too and the crack of wood. She caught the sweet, sad scent of freshly cut bark. “That is the song of death, Sapling. Sooner or later all fall or are cut down.”
“When, mother?”
“None can tell.”
They watched as the handsomest tree in the forest crashed to the ground and was hauled away.
“What happens when we fall, Mother?”
“Some say we burn. Others say we go to a beautiful place where all is joy and light, feasting and songs.”
“Do you believe that, Mother?”
“I wish it might be so.”
***
The men with harsh voices came closer. 
“Too small ‘d’you think?”
“Nah, we can take the little’uns root and all. They fetch a good price.”
They smeared an X and an R roughly on the barks.
“I wish we could fly away, like birds,” said Sapling.
“It wouldn’t help. Even birds must learn that song,” said Spruce.

* * * * *
"Song of Everything" was first published in Every Day Fiction, http://www.everydayfiction.com/song-of-everything-by-oonah-v-joslin/#comments
Oonah V Joslin is poetry editor at The Linnet’s Wings. She has won prizes for both poetry and micro-fiction. Her book Three Pounds of Cells ISBN: 13: 978-1535486491 is available online from Linnet’s Wings Press and you can see and hear Oonah read in this National Trust video. The first part of her novella A Genie in a Jam is serialised at Bewildering Stories, along with a large body of her work (see Bibliography). You can follow Oonah on Facebook or at Parallel Oonahverse https://oovj.wordpress.com/.

Sunday, 20 January 2019


The thirty-second Moon Prize for the January 20, 2018 full moon goes to Ellen LaFleche's moving prose piece "The Mourning After," posted here on January 3, 2019. It is a stunning piece of self-examination and self-revelation that may just be a guiding light for others still blinded by the darkness of grief.



by Ellen LaFleche


In the summer of 1984, I sang Happy Birthday to the young man I was dating. I never sing in public because I can't carry a tune and have a memory of a frustrated teacher whacking my head with a rolled-up sheet of music. The young man blew out the candles, looked up at me, and said, "You have the sweetest voice ever."

I married him.

After our wedding in 1985, we settled into ordinary life. We bought a house, had a daughter, juggled work and family, argued over missing toothpaste caps. We shared values of social justice and community service but had differences that challenged us in big and small ways. A sampling of these differences, with my traits on the left and his on the right:

Ridiculously outgoing vs. naturally shy.
Thrifty vs. spend-y.
Night owl vs. morning person. (He got up two hours BEFORE the cat. Before!)
Hates being cold vs. believing the electric blanket is a medieval torture device.
Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers fan.
Pessimist vs. optimist, meaning my default emotion of anxiety clashed with his philosophy of “don't worry, be happy.”

Our first argument went something like this:

Him: Why do you talk to strangers everywhere you go?
Me:   Because they're there.
Him:  Didn't your parents teach you not to talk to strangers?
Me:    Haven’t you noticed? My parents talk to strangers all the time! It’s genetic.
Him:  Well, it makes me uncomfortable. I wish you wouldn’t do it.
Me: You’re asking me to change my basic personality and my genetics!
Him:  Well, just try.

Twenty years into our marriage, John began to experience strange symptoms. On the day of our daughter’s wedding, he couldn’t fasten his cufflinks or button his tux. Knowing my default emotion is anxiety, he tried to hide his increasing muscle weakness. He switched to pullover shirts so he wouldn’t struggle with buttons. He would scan a room before walking through it, strategically holding onto walls and furniture as he proceeded. I thought he had developed a strange OCD habit but he casually mentioned that he needed time to balance himself before taking a step.

He withdrew emotionally and spent his spare time alone, drawing illustrations on legal pads or listening to music in the privacy of his headphones. I experienced extreme anxiety. I described these feeling as knowing an asteroid is headed for earth but not knowing where or when it will strike.  After years of medical appointments, and several misdiagnoses, John was told he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease, popularized by the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014). ALS is a fatal disease that causes progressive paralysis; death usually occurs when the muscles that control breathing begin to fail. Coming to terms with a fatal diagnosis required us to do what I called pre-grieving. We reflected on our marriage, on the beautiful family we had created, including our newborn grandson, Jackson. We pre-grieved together, drilling into our feelings and enjoying small pleasures: watching baseball, doting on our newborn grandson, having lunch at the local diner. John had spent his career working with old people as director of our local senior center. He’d always looked forward to growing “old-old,” believing the challenges of aging could be met with grace and joy. He was devastated to know that he would pass away in his sixties and would not be there to give grandfatherly advice to our grandson.

The neurologist estimated that John would live one to two years after diagnosis. But his disease moved at warp speed. Three months after the diagnosis, my daughter and her family moved into our house to help with end-of-life care. The phone rang, friends and neighbors dropped by with food, our cell phones beeped with text messages. The baby cried, we bickered over whether to turn on the TV or not. ALS paralyzed John’s throat muscles and in the last weeks of his life he could not swallow or speak. A musician who works for our local hospice set up her harp in the sickroom and comforted us with heavenly sounds. My daughter and I hugged each other and wept at the beauty of her music.

A few days before he died, I told John that I forgave him for anything he might have done to hurt me. “And I hope you forgive me for anything I might have done to hurt you, especially my cooking.”  He grunted out a kind of laugh. Our daughter leaned over the bed rails and stood there for hours, reading him poems by his some of his favorite poets – Seamus Heaney, Mary Oliver, Wallace Stevens.  Our son-in-law shaved John and measured morphine doses.

John died at home on January 16, 2014. At his memorial service, people advised me to find comfort in the joyful memories I had banked. I hated that cliché. My grief was so raw that joyful memories were too painful to remember, let alone provide solace. When someone told me “He’s in a better place,” I cried out that he was now inside an urn. “What kind of a place is that?” I wanted to know.   

John’s death was bracketed by the loss of my dad two months earlier, and the sudden loss of my only sibling three weeks after John. Overwhelmed, enraged by the feeling that fate was picking on me, I sought counseling. The therapist explained that the fullness of grieving means taking time - years, not months - to understand the lost relationship in all its sorrows and joys. I learned that the best parts of a marriage can be the faults and foibles, the big and small differences, even the sorrows. Navigating those differences can be the heart of a relationship, the good stuff, the joy. I’m not writing this essay wearing a pair of rose-colored glasses. (I realize that not everyone can navigate their differences; also, none of this applies to relationships involving abuse). We had hardships – real hardships - that triggered less-than-perfect behaviors and the full range of emotions, including anger, despair, even moments of hatred toward each other.   

Early in the grieving process, while trying to fully understand our relationship, I focused on forgiving his faults and foibles. What a magnanimous feeling that was. There was the time he’d re-arranged my closet alphabetically by the first name of each designer. I came home to find an Abercrombie shirt hanging next to a Betsy Johnson dress next to a Calvin Klein skirt (items I had thriftily plucked from yard sales and thrift stores). I yelled and yelled. He calmly closed the windows so the neighbors wouldn’t hear my shrieks.    

My therapist helped me to realize that alphabetizing my closet was a creative way for him to let off steam after a stressful day at work.  In the comfort of her office, I was able to (mostly) laugh at the escapade. John’s OCD made sense to him in the same way my extreme thriftiness makes sense to me. The fullness of grieving forced me to acknowledge my own faults and foibles. There was our 10th anniversary dinner at an Indian restaurant. Our food sizzled on our plates, releasing the fragrance of saffron, curry, lamb. On the way home, John pointed out that I had ignored him during the feast. I’d been too busy chatting with the hostess, the waiter, the acquaintances sitting next to us. I’d even invited those acquaintances to push their tables next to ours, which they did. Our romantic table for two had become a table for four! I had to acknowledge that my relentlessly outgoing nature strained our marriage. John was painfully shy and felt embarrassed, even jealous, when I chatted with strangers.   


Shining a light on my own faults wasn’t an enjoyable endeavor. But it was crucial to grieving and healing. An unexpected benefit of this fault-finding expedition was a deeper understanding not only of myself, but deeper insight into how relationships work (not just romantic ones), and a tenderizing of my capacity to love. Many of the books about grief get it wrong. Grief doesn’t end after that mythical “six months to a year” deadline. It is a lifelong journey. A grueling, tear-soaked process (there will be setbacks, maybe even despair), the price we pay for loving someone.


* * * * *

Ellen LaFleche is the author of three chapbooks: Workers' Rites (Providence Athenaeum), Beatrice (Tiger's Eye Press) and Ovarian (Dallas Poets Community Press). She won the Tor House Poetry Prize, the New Millennium Poetry Prize, the Hunger Mountain Prize, and the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Prize. She is an assistant judge for the North Street Book Prize and a freelance editor. She is currently finishing a manuscript tentatively titled Walking into Lightning with a Metal Urn in My Hands, a collection of poems following the death of her husband to ALS.


Ellen LaFleche is a previous Moon Prize winner for her poem "After" posted on Writing In A Woman's Voice on June 9, 2017. 



Saturday, 19 January 2019


Baby Aimee

by Oonah V Joslin


with real-feel skin
life-like, genuine
guaranteed to please
and fully pose-able

she's yours to buy
to hold close. Cherish
every chubby inch of her.

Perfect she
doesn't cry or pee; she
doesn't breathe or grow
and cannot die.

So real, surreal, unreal
she really unsettles me.
Or would it be

the market’s need for her?


* * * * *

Oonah V Joslin is poetry editor at The Linnet’s Wings. She has won prizes for both poetry and micro-fiction. Her book Three Pounds of Cells ISBN: 13: 978-1535486491 is available online from Linnet’s Wings Press and you can see and hear Oonah read in this National Trust video. The first part of her novella A Genie in a Jam is serialised at Bewildering Stories, along with a large body of her work (see Bibliography). You can follow Oonah on Facebook or at Parallel Oonahverse https://oovj.wordpress.com/.


Friday, 18 January 2019


A different city

by Oonah V Joslin


each moment
emerges
from what has gone

before you were born
or we met
or were there together

all of us
young and lively;
or now.

We say,
It's changed. The old
folks have passed on.

We've changed.
Look at us.
Sixty plus

some gone before
the future arrived
and like it or not

we are reminded
the present was all
anyone ever owned

and is.


* * * * *

Oonah V Joslin is poetry editor at The Linnet’s Wings. She has won prizes for both poetry and micro-fiction. Her book Three Pounds of Cells ISBN: 13: 978-1535486491 is available online from Linnet’s Wings Press and you can see and hear Oonah read in this National Trust video. The first part of her novella A Genie in a Jam is serialised at Bewildering Stories, along with a large body of her work (see Bibliography). You can follow Oonah on Facebook or at Parallel Oonahverse https://oovj.wordpress.com/.

Thursday, 17 January 2019


HELLO BIG BROTHER

by Irene Cunningham


Is the carpet red enough, warm as toast?
Let me take your shoes, rest and be thankful
the warring is over, the country lies
at your feet...a nice bowl of rebel soup
will settle your stomach. The bread is free
of every irritant so don’t worry,
be happy. You’ve had a hard time of it
with all that waiting, manipulating –
it must be worth it. Wait, I’ll use my hair
to dry your feet; I heard it was the biz
in the past, we could bring it back in praise
of peace. Of course things will be difficult
with all the separating, collating
but it’s good to finally know your place.


* * * * *

Irene Cunningham’s recent publications: In Between Hangovers, Picaroon, South Bank Poetry, I am not a Silent Poet, Former Cactus, Riggwelter, The Lake, Shoreline of Infinity, Blue Nib. She thinks about the outside world but isn’t often there. One of her poems published this year has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Her website is  http://ireneintheworld.wixsite.com/writer