Friday, 14 May 2021

How to explain death to a three-year-old

by Carolyn Martin


Hold the stethoscope to her ears.
Hear your brother’s baby heart?

When she nods an unsuspecting nod,
brush a kiss across her auburn hair.

Guide her hand to his chest. Feel the up
and down? She’ll learn the feeling fast.

Keep it physical: a ritual of sound,
of rise and fall. Do not talk of afterlife,

a better place, the angels who will fly
him home. Stay practical. Chart his life

in months and days. Enshrine his photos
on the walls. Ensure she won’t forget.

Then, when he dies in your bed
before the firs release the summer sun,

send your husband to invite her in.
She won’t need words to understand.

The stethoscope is mute.
Her hand will rest on still-warm skin.


* * * * *

"How to explain death to a three-year-old" was previously published in Verseweavers and is part of Carolyn Martin's poetry collection The Way a Woman Knows.

From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin is a lover of gardening and snorkeling, feral cats and backyard birds, writing and photography. Her poems have appeared in more than 125 journals and anthologies throughout North America, Australia, and the UK. Her fifth collection, The Catalog of Small Contentments will be released in 2021. Currently, she is the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly: journal for global transformation.


Thursday, 13 May 2021

Memories in Mother’s Bed

by Pat LaPointe


It’s nearly midnight. You are exhausted and hopeful sleep will come soon. You crawl into your mother’s bed where you have slept for several weeks. The sound of your father’s rhythmic snoring in the next room reminds you of your childhood. It evokes a peaceful feeling, knowing he’s OK.

As you begin to rest your head on the pillow, memories of the events of the past weeks flood your mind. Sleep will not come easily.

The phone call that changed your life nearly a month ago:

“Mom’s hurt. She’s in the hospital.”

The diagnosis: A fall, her head slamming into a dresser, caused bleeding on the brain. No telling how long it will take for the bleeding to stop.

Someone will have to stay with your Dad. His dementia is too severe to have him live alone. The siblings can’t/won’t stay with him. It was left up to you to take over.

Your days were filled with caring for him and as well as being at your mother’s side in the hospital.

You gave him his insulin. Made breakfast. Called a neighbor to stay with him. Raced to the hospital. Asked how Mom was doing. Very little progress each day.

Your mother could not eat. She had a feeding tube. She could not breathe on her own. A machine breathed for her. She could not/would not speak.

Then a surgery to ease the bleeding. Was only successful for a few days.

Then you glanced at your Mother as one side of her body began shaking hard enough to loosen some of the tubes and wires which kept her alive. You screamed for the nurses. Your Mother had a stroke.

A week passed. Another surgery. They removed part of her skull. You saw an indentation in the bandages wrapped around her head.

The bleeding lessened for the first time in several weeks. There was talk about what she would need when she left the hospital, maybe in a month or so.

You hoped Mom could hear when you told her the good news.

For the first time you felt so relaxed that you began to nod off in the chair next to your mother’s bed.

Almost immediately, loud, repetitive sounds were coming from the monitors. When her heart rate increased, her blood pressure dangerously decreased. Nurses came and demanded: “Go to the family room. The doctor will meet you there.”

You waited and waited.

You began to curse the damn clock with its loud ticking. It reminded you of every minute you were away from your mother’s side.

The doctor arrived. We’ve done all we can. We have tried for at least 30 minutes to get her to breathe on her own. It is likely she will have some brain damage and be on a ventilator for the rest of her life. It is up to you, you must decide. We can work on her a while longer until we get her set up with a respirator OR....It’s up to you.”

“Please keep working on her just until I get back to her room.” And for a few seconds you asked yourself “Am I killing my Mother?”

You reached your mother’s room and the doctors and nurses quickly left. The lines on the heart monitor read out were flattening. You told your mother you love her just as the monitor quit spiking and the lines went flat.

Now, three days later you again try to sleep, but remember that the funeral home needs some of mom’s IDs. You reach for your mom’s purse and begin to riffle through it. You laugh as a notebook and miniature dictionary fall out followed by no less than three rain bonnets all of which were essentials in your mom’s purse. Your mother had been overprotective of her weekly hair styling, often wearing two bonnets when it began to drizzle.

Suddenly you become very sleepy, return the items to the purse and drop it on the floor, a few feet from the bed.

You are just nestling down under the covers when you hear a crinkling noise. You turn on the light and see one of the bonnets lying alone on the floor, just inches from the bed.

You begin to laugh loudly. “OK, Mom, I got your message. But even if it rains, I’m not using those bonnets.” You place the single bonnet under your pillow.

The next morning all the visitors at the funeral home have one last chance to say goodbye to your mom before they leave for church. You are last in line and take the other two bonnets from your purse and place them in the casket.

“You never know, Mom, it might rain.”


* * * * *

Pat LaPointe, editor of Changes in Life, a monthly online women’s newsletter, is contributing editor of the anthology, The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys from Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment. In addition, she conducts writing workshops for women — both online and onsite. Pat’s essays and short stories have been published widely. Currently, Pat is completing her first novel, forthcoming late 2021.

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Finding a Photograph of an Execution in Time Magazine

by Gail Davern


Here in the jungle, after a rainfall,
the colors so vivid from trees and birds
that this little grove where the army
has chosen to stop is illuminated.
A photographer hiding, zeroes in from
200 feet on the one small prisoner
digging a hole with bare brown hands,
in brown pants and brown shirt.
When he’s finished, he lies down and crosses his arms.
Climbing in on top of him, the chosen soldier
plunges a knife into the prisoner’s throat.
A gun shot would bring the enemy.
After the first cut, another is inflicted
into the jugular then the abdomen.
With blood gushing into his coarse black hair,
the earth is kicked over him and the jungle
is put straight before the next rain washes away
the sins of the trespassers and before the film
is put in the mail to New York. The photo
appears in Time magazine as a write-up on execution.
The prisoner’s right leg rose a little off the ground.


* * * * *

Gail Davern was born in London, England. She emigrated to the U.S. where she completed her university undergraduate and graduate degrees. Her work has appeared in Aileron, Alura, CQ, Crosscurrents, and the Salal Review, among other literary magazines. She was recently name finalist for the International Literary Awards: Rita Dove Award, and her chapbook, From the Island at the End of Winter was published by Finishing Line Press. She teaches at Skagit Valley College in Washington state and lives on Whidbey Island.


Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Piano Lessons

by Gail Davern


They lasted until ten at night,
the continual counting
and striking of wrong notes.
My life at home was
a musical parade of students
my mother taught while I was
in the back of the house
doing homework and
preparing dinner, so she
wouldn’t have to leave her
chair by the piano.
“No, no. Play it again.”
I would cringe to hear,
wanting the right note to be struck.
Twilight ended and the lamp
would be turned on to cast
a honey glow over the keys.
When the student left,
there was a brief silence
until the next student came.
I fantasized that the silence
could go on forever and my mother,
after a long day of work, could rest,
but Brahms interrupted and the
music lulled me to sleep.


* * * * *

Gail Davern was born in London, England. She emigrated to the U.S. where she completed her university undergraduate and graduate degrees. Her work has appeared in Aileron, Alura, CQ, Crosscurrents, and the Salal Review, among other literary magazines. She was recently name finalist for the International Literary Awards: Rita Dove Award, and her chapbook, From the Island at the End of Winter was published by Finishing Line Press. She teaches at Skagit Valley College in Washington state and lives on Whidbey Island.


Monday, 10 May 2021

Memory of Mom 

by Lisa Reynolds


I'm sitting here, drinking coffee. 

Mom's cup is on the kitchen table beside me; her instant Maxwell House Coffee on the counter.

She loved that brand; black with two heaping scoops of sugar. 

Every morning, I would make her a cup the moment I heard her moving around.

She'd come down just as it started to cool, tell me it was perfect, then sit on an ottoman in front of the patio door and watch the birds. 

The Doves stay throughout the winter. The little Jerichos too, dashing about.

Mom would point and say, "They're at it again" and I'd look over and see black and white feathers on bare branches.

And today...

I'm sitting here, waiting to hear her but the only sound is the hum of the furnace as heat rises through the vents.

No Mom. Just me.

Feeling very sad.


* * * * *

Lisa Reynolds is a Canadian writer of poetry and short stories, living in a small community east of Toronto, Ontario. Her works are published in print and online.

"Memory of Mom" is a reflective poem written about her mom, Joan who passed away on February 21, 2021. 


Sunday, 9 May 2021

A Sonata For My Mother

by Dulce Maria Menendez


Because her mother died when she was five.
Because a child should not lose her mother at the age of five.
Because the nuns dressed her as baby Jesus.
Because she wasn't educated past the age of 13.
Because she had to stop going to school to work for her aunt's who beat her and made her wear shoes which were a size too small.
Because she had to give up ballet.
Because she was a lion with green cat yes and her tresses swept past her round
face in the breezes of Havana.
Because she met my father at a bus stop.
Because someone forgot to tell her he was psychofrenic.
Because she was happy for three months before she found out.
Because she left Cuba for US(A).
Because she held my hand as we walked the streets in Miami.
Because she stopped driving after almost killing us in an automobile accident shortly after arriving in Miami.
Because she almost broke her back hunched over a sewing machine.
Because she waited for my father to come home.
Because she waited for my father to come home again.
Because she waited for my father never to return.
Because she left my father.
Because she left my father again.
Because she returned to my father.
Because she loved my father more than me and my sister.
Because she called me hija.
Because she lost her mind.
Because she regained it after my father's death.
Because she wrote poems. 
Because she listened to Rubinstein play Chopin over and over again.
Because she never said a bad word.
Because my sister was her treasure.
Because I was a daddy's girl.
Because she was a work of art.
Because her name was Salome and she carried the beheading of all eternity upon her elegant shoulders as she turned her head to see you as if for the first time.

And why does my mother listen to Chopin?
And why does the sonata bring her comfort?
And why is the sky blue? I asked her once.
Any why did she play Chopin to offer me an answer?
And why does my father leave us again and again? I asked her.
And why am I incarcerated in my own home so far away during this pandemic without my mother?
Listen.
Listen.
Listen. 
The sonata plays.
The phone rings.
It is someone from long ago who remembers my mother.
And why does my mother die on the day of the innocents?
Does Chopin have the answer?
I don't know other than at death as in the sonata
we play alone.

----

For Maria Salome Menendez Planes born October 22, 1932 and died April 1, 2020.


* * * * *

Dulce Maria Menendez publishes artists and poets.


Saturday, 8 May 2021

 

About this already

by Lorelei Bacht


You trip me, watch me fall 
Down the stairs, rumble tumble 
Of broken limbs and hair,
Knocked head, you blame 
Me for making such a fuss. 

You entertain other women,
Old bathwater, everyone gets 
A turn, I ask about the hair,
The smell of another, you say: 
Stop being so fussy.

You take scissors to the fabric
Of our relationship, our family,
The very fabric of reality,
Every morning is the morning
After, you say we've talked 

About this already.


* * * * *

"About this already" was first published in OpenDoor Magazine: https://www.opendoorpoetrymagazine.com

Lorelei Bacht is a European poet living in Asia with her family. Her recent poems have appeared and/or are forthcoming in OpenDoor Magazine, Litehouse, Visitant, Quail Bell, Wrongdoing, and SWWIM. She can be found on Instagram: @the.cheated.wife.writes and @lorelei.bacht.writer

Friday, 7 May 2021

 

Beach Fun

by Lorelei Bacht

 
Heavy rain. The sea,
Suddenly troubled, struggles
To read its own face.
 
What a drag! My heart
Broken beyond repair, when
I should “just relax.” 
 
Daddy watches them
Build sandcastles while I drown 
In my middle age. 
 
Bottom of the sea, 
Smooth black hand of cold water – 
Irresistible. 
 
I was lonely once. 
I was lonely twice, and then
I just stopped counting. 
 
Corals, dead white bones –
Soon, everything about me
Will cease to matter.
 
Murmur of the waves:
When I made you, you made me.
Walk out, and happen.
 
Reverse of the sky,
The sea welcomes everything,
Birth, death and the rest. 
 
Rolling hopes and hurts
Between its invisible
Fingers, it forgives.


* * * * *

"Beach Fun" was first published in Litehouse, a journal which promotes the work of exophonic writers (who write in a language other than their mother tongue): https://tothelitehouse.com

Lorelei Bacht is a European poet living in Asia with her family. Her recent poems have appeared and/or are forthcoming in OpenDoor Magazine, Litehouse, Visitant, Quail Bell, Wrongdoing, and SWWIM. She can be found on Instagram: @the.cheated.wife.writes and @lorelei.bacht.writ
er

Thursday, 6 May 2021

A Pocket Full of Questions

by Francesca Brenner


Do butterflies dream?
Do I dare hold a candle when it burns from both ends?
If salt is poured on a wound will it preserve the memory?
If I take my vitamins every day, I don’t have to eat, right?
Is the oldest organized crime group a murder of crows?
If you sleep too much do dreams come true?
Do dust bunnies hop in the dark?
Does a cup of water get mad if you put it in the microwave?
Why can’t we grow back another finger or arm?
If there were flying carpets they’d have seatbelts, right?
Why can’t we create a new primary color?
What is the point of a floating rib?
Why are feet so small when they have to hold up an entire body?
Do tide pools get jealous of oceans?
Do oceans get jealous of tide pools?
Do flowers speak to each other through color?
Do stalactites and stalagmites secretly want to swap definitions?
Does a crossword puzzle get mad if you don’t finish it?
How will I ever learn to fly if I don’t keep trying?


* * * * *

Francesca Brenner grew up in NYC’s Greenwich Village and on The Cape in Massachusetts. She currently lives in Los Angeles though her heart remains bicoastal. Her poetry has appeared in After the Pause, The Alembic, The Best of the Poetry Salon, Common Ground Review, Crack the Spine, Cutthroat, FRE&D, Halfway Down the Stairs, OxMag, Sanskrit, Slab, and Talking River. <ticklefish1@icloud.com>


Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Cinco

by Julia Fricke Robinson


more hungry than cautious
he crossed the wooden bridge to my porch
on the fifth of May
stalked the offered food, ate
with expeditious nibbles, one eye watching
me, frozen, appreciative, watching back

as he ate, wary, I noted his marks
a broken tail, a festered eye
his unique creamy beauty
one eye blue, one green
named him Cinco
silently begged him to stay

not unlike men I've loved
he resisted, indicated difficult logistics
the need to be satisfied without being trapped
domesticated without giving up freedom
to come and go at will to visit other
generous benefactors with comparable charity

each morning and each evening
he comes, proud and circumspect
rubs his young wildness against me
eats to satisfaction, and is gone again
his free spirit denies ownership
resists an easier way, and me


* * * * *

"Cinco" is part of a new memoir in progress, a follow-up to Julia Fricke Robinson's memoir All I Know (2020).

Julia Fricke Robinson divides her time between visiting children and grandchildren in Colorado, Indiana and New York and living, dancing and writing in a community of artists, writers, performers, activists and otherwise interesting people in beautiful Silver City, New Mexico, where the weather is just about perfect.


Tuesday, 4 May 2021

 

I don’t

by Carrie Lynn Hawthorne
 

My engagement ring is back in the drawer, a lonely tan line the reminder that you are drinking again. It took me eight years to get the damn thing, and now it spends more time in the drawer than it does on my finger. I remember how your voice trembled at dinner; you’d never taken me to a restaurant that expensive before. I knew it was the night. We drove up the entire coast, the beach was too dark, bitter cold. We cruised through downtown L.A. looking for the perfect spot to stop for ice cream, but my stomach wasn’t right. We ended up back at City Hall, on a park bench. You knelt in the dirt, on your bad knee. Like we were in someone else’s memory.

“I want to marry you, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. Can I give you this, so we can go home, and go to bed?” You put the ring on my finger, and it seemed so dinky, not at all how it looked in the store. Like a façade at a carnival, nothing real behind it, a rigged game. It’d be almost a year before you paid me back for it.

Now I’m washing the dishes with my bare finger, and you’re outside with your IPAs. At least you drink outside now, my sponsor insists it’s better for my sobriety. Our little boy sits in a camping chair beside you, drinking root beer, reading comic books. And we’ll go to bed in our separate rooms, the walls shuddering as you choke through your sleep apnea.

I’ll lie awake and think of that gorgeous dress my father bought me, stored at his house because it wouldn’t fit in any of our closets. I imagine my father walking me down the aisle of the antiquated church we picked, the one I paid for, the one you canceled. My father is turning eighty this year, and with a bad heart. I imagine burying my face into his chest during the father daughter dance, the pride in his face as he gives me away.


* * * * *

Carrie Lynn Hawthorne is a writer, mother, and yoga teacher from Pasadena, CA. She seeks spiritual purpose, being of service, and belly laughs. Her work will be featured in the Fall 2021 issue of Cultural Weekly.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Botany Lesson

by Lillian Necakov


The world asleep in the wolf moon’s arms
March already here, again at 5am
and I am not asleep thinking
about the woman who died
under Pennsylvania Avenue under a bridge
that was her own private heaven and
sometimes trickster

Angela at 5am walking gently off this earth
while the botanist talks to her trees
in the forest hospital
cooing to the balsam fir, sassafras, oak
you are a book not yet written
she whispers
p-i-k-o-w-a-h-t-i-k

robins at 5am stitching together a song
from snow-melt, pine needle, sapwood
against cold-morning skin
I am thinking about the zoologist’s
long arms catching every leaf falling
to pleat into a dead woman’s hair
underpass eulogy
the colour of apricot.


* * * * *

Lillian Necakov is the author of six books of poetry, numerous chapbooks, broadsides and leaflets. Her new book il virus is forthcoming from Anvil Press (A Feed Dog Book) in April 2021. In 2016, her chapbook The Lake Contains an Emergency Room was shortlisted for bpNichol chapbook award. During the 1980s she ran a micro press called “The Surrealist Poets Gardening Association” and sold her books on Toronto’s Yonge Street. She ran the Boneshaker Reading series from 2010-2020. She lives in Toronto and just might be working on a new book.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Transition

by Judy Clarence

 
Now that you've died, you are more alive
than anyone. I see you daily: memorials,
tributes, photos, poems not seen before,
the sly smile, the words
not read ‘til now.
You’re more alive than ever!
 
I only thought about you now and then;
a glimpse sometimes, here and there,
lines, images, reminders. Now
they’re everywhere, embedded in the cool air.
 
Your death. As when a dried-out, whitened
dandelion, still and ancient on its stalk,
is grabbed by an ambling child
who blows its seeds across the vast curve
of earth.


* * * * *

Judy Clarence, a retired academic librarian, currently lives with her daughter, grandchildren, three cats and two dogs in the Sierra, California foothills after many years in Berkeley. She plays violin (baroque and modern) in several orchestras and chamber groups, sang in two classical choruses in pre-COVID days, and writes poetry constantly. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Amarillo Bay, Shot Glass Journal and Allegro.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

 

Covid Spring Haiku

by Katherine West


First spring butterfly--
Last patch of winter snow
Takes flight


* * * * *

Katherine West lives in Southwest New Mexico, near the Gila Wilderness, where she writes poetry about the soul-importance of wilderness and performs it with her musician husband, Yaakov. She has written three collections of poetry: The Bone TrainScimitar Dreams, and Riddle, as well as one novel, Lion Tamer. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Lalitamba, Bombay Gin, and New Verse News, which nominated her poem And Then the Sky for a Pushcart Prize.

Friday, 30 April 2021

Full Bowls

by Jeannie E. Roberts


tossed penny efforts / thrown tokens / cast 
crumbs / lobbed toward heap / hurled toward 
sum / flung bits of sugar / slung scraps of cake 
launched to assuage / pacify / abate / unleash 
abundance / surrender veneer / offer compassion 
reject fear / unmask emotion / shed worn-out 
ways / relinquish control / embrace play / lean 
toward unknowns / turn narratives around 
notice things sideways / beneath / upside down 
lift walls of silence / fill bowls rimmed in light 
nourish / enliven / when day is done / hearten 
tossed tokens / awaken thrown crumbs


* * * * *

Jeannie E. Roberts lives in an inspiring setting near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, where she writes, draws and paints, and often photographs her natural surroundings. She’s authored four poetry collections and two children's books. As If Labyrinth - Pandemic Inspired Poems is forthcoming in May 2021 from Kelsay Books. She’s listed in Poets & Writers and is poetry reader and editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. To learn more, please visit 
www.jrcreative.biz.


Thursday, 29 April 2021

 

Crossed Wires

by Oonah V Joslin


I like the alternating current of our life;
our to and fro electrical connection;
my grumpy morning porridge face,
pasty and with no trace of affection
your discourse on the history of toast and marmalade
or Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh.
The fridge farts its disapproval of the removal of milk
I make the usual noises, half past listen
and you beg pardon. An old joke but tailor made
to switch on my smile. Your way of making certain
there’s nothing wrong a cup of strong tea can’t solve
I’m not in the grip of a depression.
I just need to recharge my batteries. You know
I wasn’t wired well for love, not having
that degree of self regard it takes to love another
selflessly. Your pragmatism always wins.
And you weren’t wired well for love, having that degree.
Crossing wires frequently reroutes our conversation.
It’s how we were and are. It’s how we’re meant to be.


* * * * *


Oonah V Joslin was born in N. Ireland. She has won micro-fiction and poetry awards and two Moon Prizes in Writing in a Woman’s Voice. She is currently poetry editor at The Linnet’s Wings magazine. Her chapbook 
Three Pounds of Cells is available on Amazon and had the first poem to feature on a National Trust postcard from her book Almost on Brantwood Jetty which she read for a video on board the Gondola Steamship at Coniston in 2016. You can follow her at http://oonahs.blogspot.com/ (Oonahverse) and on Facebook.


Wednesday, 28 April 2021

The Lost Song

by Karen Friedland


It was about love,
but I can never remember the lyrics,
or the melody, for that matter.

It was on the radio briefly,
during a difficult time
of love and death.

It was wispy,
ineffably lovely,
not well-known.

Someday, if I really apply myself,
I may find this lost song,
and the mysteries of the universe
may finally fall into place.


* * * * *

“The Lost Song” was first published in Constellations (2021) and is part of Karen Friedland's
chapbook, Tales from the Teacup Palace, which was published by Červená Barva Press (2020).

A nonprofit grant writer by day, Karen Friedland’s poems have been published in The Lily Poetry Review, Constellations, Nixes Mate Review, Writing in a Women’s Voice, Vox Populi and others. One of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and another was displayed for a year in Boston’s City Hall. Her two books of poems are Tales from the Teacup Palace (Červená Barva Press) and Places That Are Gone (Nixes Mate Books). She lives in a quiet neighborhood of Boston with her husband, two dogs, cat, and altogether too many house plants.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

 

This month, there is an additional Moon Prize, the 74th, and it goes to Jennifer Schoch's poem "The Vietnam Effect."


The Vietnam Effect

by Jennifer Schoch


The aroma of lilac drew me
away from my son
quiet as a crystal bowl in his stroller,
the early curious mosquitos almost kept us home.
Am I able to appreciate
this lilac,
her symmetrical perfection, without conjuring your pain?
I am fearful of this flower
I am panicked by her swift impermanence,
of my inability to hold her comforting fragrance
for those mostly marshmallowed mugs of hot chocolate days,
sequestered from the dirty New Jersey snow
where the radiators’ imbalance
from room to room
would make you yell when we opened the windows just a crack
“Goddamn waste of money!”
And the belts sang in their choir on the back of the closet door,
because the boys were fighting over remote controls again
And then, after my downward gaze had watched your darkness dissipate into the cracks between the hardwood floors,
You would read me Shakespeare:
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
Is this
why I ran away?
To places where there are no seasons
to the endless
summer days,
where flowers never seem to die.

Your toes were stained with cigarette ash the last time I kissed you goodbye.
Did I
even kiss you?
You hadn’t showered for weeks
and I was scared.
Scared of your skin
scared of your scents
scared of my
shame.
The blue of your eyes was bright
against the rivers of bloodshot.
Mom says your eyes were green
It’s like she never knew you
Sad and lonely, you asked me to stay
“Live here.”
You said.
“I hate LA.”
Like my brothers also bound to plastic liters?
They were small like my boy,
like you were once.
I am fearful in the face of this flower and her reminders.
Your grandson screams now like a broken dish
and
I wonder if you are there
silently crying
out into the black jungle for God to spare you
for your mother
for a future with mom
for a future with me
with a grandson you will never meet.
How could you have known this jungle
it would never leave?

Dying on the old hardwood floor in May
did you make it to the yard that Spring?
The worst death you died is not your final fall
it is the tree outside our window
cowering with dainty, dusty stars
you could not notice.
Did you glance outside that morning
and think to tell me of the lilacs that had bloomed?
Was your fall swift?
A small, unopened purple “bud of May”
gently shaken free?
The pain you healed, my father,
by noticing the lilacs
reading Shakespeare in Irish accents.
The unfolding damage it has caused,
in the tiniest creations
this unreconciled war from long ago.


* * * * *

Jennifer Schoch is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California where she received a master’s degree in Social Work. She is currently staying home with her young son while contributing as a writer for a book entitled Social Work and the Arts: Grounds for New Horizons. She has written, performed and directed for the screen and stage.

Monday, 26 April 2021


This month's Moon Prize, the 73rd, goes to Emily House's poem "Love, Your Daughter."


Love, your daughter

by Emily House



You've broken my heart
And you've broken my heart
And you've broken my heart again.

The therapists say,
“Manage expectations.”
Since I was nineteen they've
Told me what it is to outgrow,
Out-mature,
One's parents

They tell me 
but
Outliving parents is the only primal piece our brains can give us.

And I shouldn't be surprised that you
Believe what you believe

You spent my entire childhood 
Twisting truths 
Both ancient and modern
Pretending persecution.
Meanwhile
I was in college before I heard the term

“Worldview”

Before I realized there was more
Than
One.

You couldn't protect me from the babysitter's brother
Or your anger
And your belt.
From food insecurity
From moving over and over
Because you couldn't keep a job.
You couldn't protect my shoulders from 
The heavy weight of your tears, either

You gave me all of the power, and none of the power.

You've broken my heart, again and again. 
And you've broken my heart again.

You never stopped moving
Never stopped losing 
Jobs and loosely defined friends.
Borderline?
Sociopathy?
ASD?

I'm left holding the pieces and puzzles,
While you have no intention of seeking answers.

I'm left with your debts
And your pain
And your memories

While you claim to remember
Almost nothing at all
And twist what truth remains.

I could be angry.
I could cut you off.
I could join you,
If only in pretending all is well.

But.

You've broken my heart
And you've broken my heart
And you've broken my heart again.


* * * * *

Emily House is a writer and high school English teacher. She lives in Iowa with her family, whom she loves. When she isn't guiding young minds, her life revolves around words and emotions. She views poetry as a natural consequence of this and hopes her works bring healing and insight to all readers. 

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Almost-Full Moon in Cloudy Sky

by Joan Leotta


Not quite full, still a lovely orb
even when the clouds roll by
not blocking the moon.
But darkening the sky.

Winter lightning flashes,
strikes my neighbor’s tree—
I can smell the fragrant sap,
see a trail of ashes

where it skimmed the bark;
a trail lit by bits of moon
still peeking out to mark
where moonlight might

edge out the dark.
heal the ruptured bark,
or heal my heart if not the tree
at least keep me company

until morning comes.


* * * * *

Joan Leotta tells stories on page and stage. Her poems, essays, articles, and short stories have been or are forthcoming in Visual Vee, Verse Virtual, Plague Papers, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Pine Song and others. She has been a Tupelo 30/30 writer and a Gilbert Chappell Fellow.
She performs personal and folk tales of food, family, and strong women in libraries, at schools, in museums and at festivals. To relax and think up new tales she walks the beach, collecting shells. You can connect with her on Facebook. Joan Leotta.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

 

JUST ANOTHER NIGHT

by Vibha Vasanth


One night I was alone on a bench below a tree
Quietly, someone came sat next to me
I took no notice of this stranger
But the minutes that passed now seemed longer
Intrigued, I turned around and said hello
She returned the gesture, her voice soft, mellow
We got to talking about the night
And stopped only when we saw the sun's light
She then left as quiet as she came
When I realized, I hadn’t asked her name
This was, now, one of the regrets I bore
My time with her left me wanting more
I hoped to see her again some day
If that would happen, no one could say
Later one day when it was pouring rain
I stood on the platform, awaiting my train
And there I saw her, on the other side
She too spotted me, her gaze intensified
A moment of recognition between two strangers
Left me yearning to see her no longer
I got on my train with a feeling of satisfaction
We both left, each in a different direction.


* * * * *

Vibha Vasanth is an expert dreamer & idler who enjoys writing and baking while yearning to watch sitcoms and movies.



Friday, 23 April 2021

 

My dad’s girlfriends

by Shannon Phillips



When I was 15 and
the optometrist asked, Is that
your brother in the waiting room?
I might’ve cringed or
rolled my eyes.

I didn’t know them all.
The ones I knew
knew how to do practical things:
drive a stick shift, hoe a garden,
throw a punch.
 
The youngest I know of
was younger than my youngest sister;
she looked like his first love,
a woman whose windshield my mom
took a crowbar to.

We became estranged, my mom
and her untreated bipolarity and
I, except for a lone phone call
when I tried for normal,
telling her about my new 
boyfriend, and all she could
say was, Is your dad seeing anyone?


* * * * *

Shannon Phillips is a freelance copyeditor. Bedroom Poems (Small Fish Big Pond) is her most recent book. She is also the editor for Picture Show Press.


Thursday, 22 April 2021

 

CIRCUS, CIRCUS

by Mary Marca
 

Spotlights swirl, trumpets blare, and ele­phants march in circles then rear on their hind legs at the Ringing Brother Circus. Pretty girls in flashing costumes sit on the elephants’ necks and wave to the crowd. Little dogs jump through hoops, over each other, and into bins, while the children laugh and clap and point. Lions in cages roar at the trainer, swipe at him with curved claws that long to slash his flesh. Silly clowns with grotesque painted faces run and tumble, throw things, squirt the audience and each other, then blow up balloons, and pull a thousand scarves out of one pocket to blow their noses.
            Tom, the owner, the Ringmaster, in his brown monk’s robe, with his painted bald head sparkling in the lights, rings the bell and introduces the acts. The smells are animals and sawdust and sweat and the heat of bodies squeezed together under a canvas tent. Peanuts come in paper packages, and candy floss sticks to teeth and cheeks and fingers and hair. And grubby men in smelly clothes with dirty fingernails move the cages and elephant stands, but don’t smile at the people who clap and cheer.
            Sally is high above the crowd, and the band, so far down, sounds tinny as she dances across the high wire. The spotlight blinds her to up-turned faces. She plays to invisible children far below, their hungry eyes reflecting fragments of light bouncing off her sequined costume.
            She remembers staring up, with open mouth, at nine and ten, and twelve, before she ran away to find the thrill of the high wire. And Greg, who took her in—to the act and his bed—and taught her all the tricks until she was as good as him and a full partner in the act, but no longer fit his bed. And the friendship grew after. Greg, who walks on his hands behind her, as she juggles in a waitress costume, a tray with dishes, clowning for the crowd. But her slipper twists and she drops a cup which falls, falls, and bounces on the net below. She knows Tom, the owner, the monk, the brother who rings the bell, will yell at her tonight. She needs to replace her slippers but spent all her money on food.
            Her friends are hungry. They come to Sally for food she buys and cooks: large batches of pasta, or gumbo, or pancakes. She loves that they flock to her for nourishment. Greg, who fights loneliness and fear, as he struggles to keep walking in a job for the young, would drink his dinner if she didn’t cook for him. Carl the young replacement for Jim—who slipped and almost fell. Carl, who lifts Sally high above the crowd. She feeds him to keep his muscles strong and firm. Carl, with a wife and kids somewhere in the Midwest, is lonely for his family, so he seeks out Fluffy, the Elephant girl of short costume and long legs, who gives, hoping he will stay, but he won’t. Sally teases Carl about his appetites, and he grins and eats it up.
            And Alfie, the so-sad Fat Man. Poor Alfie, always hungry, can’t get the cook to give him enough of the greasy, slimy, mushy goo they serve at lunch and dinner. And he is only allowed one dozen pancakes at breakfast. Sometimes he comes over after, and Sally cooks him sausage and bacon and eggs, and makes a dozen more pancakes. Poor Alfie. He rolls in her door, rocking the trailer but can’t squeeze behind the booth so has to sit on a tiny stool. His needs are simple—food and love. His little blue eyes smile out at her from folds of flesh as Sally strokes his cheek, and he is grateful.
            They want to work the wire without a net. Sally doesn’t, but Greg looks at her with his tired eyes and tells her she hasn’t fallen in years, and she can do it. She finally agrees, and he kisses her cheek, calls her a trouper. But she remem­bers the last time with no net, and the gray of Jim’s face as he grabbed the wire when he slipped. Only his huge arms kept him from tumbling down, down to the sawdust below, to blood and pain—or maybe to nothing at all. He pulled himself up, their eyes met, and she knew it was over. She watched his muscled, trembling limbs as he moved to the ropes and carefully slid to the ground, out of the act, out of her bed, and out of their lives.

 The Death-Defying Trio is reborn, and people flock once more to Ringing Brother Circus. The huge audience cheers, and everyone’s happy, especially the Brother. The spotlight blinds the trio as they ride up to the wire. Carl is fear­less and ecstatic, Greg looks strong and sure, but Sally never forgets the yawning space below. She swallows the fear, and jokes with Greg and Carl when they pass on the ropes, when she hands them props, and when she walks, one bird cage balanced on each arm, to the middle of the wire where they release the birds to fly in a circle and back to their cage. And Sally tries not to think about the huge, empty hole below.

Greg’s arms are tense when he lifts Sally, and after each show he seeks the warmth of his bottle. Afterwards, people flock to the sideshows; Alfie smiles again. He struts his bulk, and rolls his fat, and the crowd moans and laughs, and so does he. He might get a bonus. Sally feeds them all a super meal to celebrate. And for a while everything seems great.

The Ringing Brother wants them to pump up the act. Sally must juggle more in the finale, but she worries about her slippers. Greg and Carl tell her she can buy others, she hasn’t fallen in years, and she can do it. And Greg’s eyes tell her of his need. He must play out the time he has left.

So they rehearse and rehearse, and it’s hard. They pile on the fancy, funny things, and Sally’s shoulders ache, and her slippers slide, so she ties them tighter. She must get new ones, for real this time, when they get paid, after Saturday’s show.
            Saturday comes and all is well. They strut and clown and play, and the audience gasps and laughs. Sally plays queen and the men her slaves. She smiles as she juggles and ignores the long emptiness between her and the ground. The crowd cheers and applauds, and they stand at the grand finale.
            Sally puts one foot on Greg’s bike and the other on Carl’s. The men work the pedals to keep steady, but Sal­ly’s shoulders bear the burden of the act. They slump ever so lightly and her muscles tremble. She drips sweat as she keeps the delicate balance. When she asks Greg and Carl for help, they say, “Wait 'til the spotlight goes out.”

Her head waves back and forth, and she knows she can’t hold it much longer, but they say “Hold on. When the light goes out.” And she tries, but she rocks, and the slippers she wouldn’t replace, the slippers she has tied so tight to last one more night, those slippers, they twist and so does she.

Each of the pieces balanced so carefully on top of Sally shift and separate and begin to float. A long sigh echoes up through the empty hole from the crowd below as Sally’s arms reach out to the birds in the floating cage. And then she’s flying.

Softly, slowly, she circles Greg and Carl as they watch her, clinging to their bikes, amazed at her new-found skill. Her slippers forgotten, she feels so light, so free, and she knows this is her destiny.

Then the spotlight goes out.

Alfie runs.


* * * * *

Born in England, Mary Marca taught writing at California State University, Northridge for twenty years. Now retired, she is excited with all the extra time for her own writing. She has had stories published Literary YardAriel Chart, and Writing in a Woman's Voice, amongst others.

 

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

 

FERAL

by Shikhandin

A forty-five-degree slope led the way to Maya Kaikobad’s quarters. Moushumi climbed slowly; she wasn’t used to hilly places. Ahead, Satwaki walked briskly up, holding Mimi by the hand. Mimi, in turn, held Rishi’s hand, forming a frisky, curly haired link between father and son. The breeze had begun to turn chilly as the sun cooled to a burnt brick shade, growing moodier by the minute. Everything looked as if it had been painted in the colours artists would choose if they picturised poems.

Moushumi jogged her mind, but failed to remember the poet’s name, the one who made her think of painters visualising poems on canvas or paper. A few lines drifted in and out of her head, ruffling her thoughts, just like the evening breeze. She remembered “Daffodils” from her middle school days, and now a few lines from that poem fluttered in her mind like the petals of those very flowers in a meadow. Funny, she mused, how Indian grass grew in fields, but those in England were always in meadows! The school they had come to in the Nilgiris reminded her of these things, English things, she’d read about. Its old Victorian buildings, orderly flower beds, large pedigree dogs, and teachers’ cottages tucked behind sudden tangles of eucalyptus and other tall trees, took Moushumi away to a land she was familiar with, through books. A woman’s low laugh brought her back to her surroundings.

They were here to get Rishi admitted. The school was old and prestigious, and both Satwaki and Moushumi had heaved a collective sigh of relief when they received the confirmation letter. They had arrived three days ahead of Rishi’s admission date, and like any other tourist family, had gone sightseeing and picnicking in and around Coonoor and Ooty. Moushumi had already shopped for extra warm clothes and thermal underwear for Rishi in Singapore, but she still wanted to check out Ooty’s markets. The school provided uniforms and sundry warm clothes and blankets, but Moushumi hadn’t liked them. The colours were dull and the material scratchy.

“Considering the steep school fees, you’d think they’d provide better quality!” she grumbled to Satwaki.

He said nothing. He didn’t want to come across as a pinchpenny. A nice bright cotton slipcover would have solved both problems as far as he was concerned, why buy expensive stuff? Things got stolen or lost in boarding schools.

They had reached the school premises earlier in the day, nervous and much ahead of schedule. They had met most of the teachers and the headmaster during tea, a dainty spread of mostly baked confectioneries and savoury puffs baked by the school’s own bakery, and tea and coffee served in plain white cups and saucers with the school’s insignia. This was a school ritual for all new students, more than a century old. There were other parents with their children sitting at the tables laid out in the lawn. All were new students, though some had older siblings already in the school, and many of the parents were old students of the school. Both Satwaki and Moushumi noticed the difference between the parents who were old students and those who were not, straightaway. There was an invisible barrier between them, which came through in the way the parents carried themselves and how the school teachers and staff treated them. The old students were on sure ground, familiar territory. They spoke with confidence with the teachers, their acquaintances and friends. They ignored the other parents, not necessarily out of rudeness, but because they didn’t notice them at all.

Putting Rishi in a boarding school, one with a history, or pedigree as Satwaki’s father used to say, had been a dream for both him and Moushumi, neither of whom had had that experience. Satwaki had gone to various schools, wherever his father had been posted. The schools that the children of most army officers attended. He had finished his schooling at St. Xavier’s school though, when his father was posted in Kolkata. Moushumi, born and raised in Kolkata, had been to a typical old Kolkata institution, an academically sound, but semi-English medium school, with more stress on Bengali than spoken English. She spoke English fluently, but with a marked Bengali accent.

Satwaki was doing well in his career. He had recently been transferred to Singapore as head of his company’s operations. Satwaki often spoke of the school alumni some of his colleagues and business associates belonged to.

“It’s like a club,” he’d told her. “That’s a clique my son should be able to relate to.” 

Moushumi had never stayed even for a single night away from Rishi. But she kept her feelings to herself. It was for the good of the child. They were not trying to shirk their parental responsibilities. She knew how Satwaki felt during some of the office get-togethers. Not that she felt any better. What was it about schools that set people apart no matter how well they did in life later on, including the degrees from prestigious institutes? Moushumi shook her head at the thought as she climbed up the incline leading to the junior boys’ hostel and beyond.

They had taken the first step for their children. Rishi had been admitted. A few years later Mimi would join him. Their children would be part of a luminous alumnus. As if he’d read her thoughts, Satwaki looked back and smiled. The breeze blew her hair, and Satwaki motioned her to stop as he took aim with his camera. He seemed a lot more relaxed now that all the formalities were over, and they were free to explore the substantial grounds and chat with any teacher who happened to be available.

“Hurry Ma!” said Mimi and immediately turned back to skip alongside her brother. Mimi was even more excited than Rishi about his school. She had already made plans about which horse she would ride and on which side of the long dining hall she would sit. Rishi smiled when she announced her preferences.

“You don’t choose your seat,” he said. “They allot you one.”

Mimi didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘allot’ so she stuck her tongue out at Rishi. But he continued to smile indulgently. Satwaki and Moushumi were certain he would be able to work his way around and later shine in the school. Rishi had always been at the top of his class. He also seemed to instinctively know what was expected of him, and tried to fulfil his parents’ expectations without fuss. When it came to Mimi, he was more avuncular than big brother, and that suited the girl just fine, because she never lost any opportunity to take advantage of Rishi.

Now the two of them continued ahead, walking-skipping, hands linked, along the path with pretty wild flowers growing in clumps on both sides, their father having long given up his hold on the energetic Mimi. The evening settled in around the children creating a pale silvery halo. Moushumi had a sudden urge to sit on one of the smoothed down boulders and weep. By now they had reached a fork in the path. The narrower one with cypress hedges almost hiding it from view, led the way to Maya Kaikobad’s house.

Maya had kept the door ajar, so she could see them coming before they reached her gate. Her cottage was a little away from the rest of the teachers’ homes. The ground, covered with thick green grass and wild flowers, fell steeply away right behind her house, giving it a suspended in air kind of look. She didn’t care for gardening so the lack of extra ground didn’t bother her. If anything, she enjoyed the solitude, the space between hers and theirs, and the emptiness behind. Thomas sat licking his paws near the door left ajar, where a bar of reluctant sunlight warmed his twitching tail.

“Meow,” said Thomas at the sound of Mimi’s voice.

“Yes. Let them in Thomas,” said Maya. “New student’s parents need attention,” she muttered as she walked back to the kitchen. She struck a match to the gas stove. She couldn’t remember what the mother looked like, even though they’d met that morning. Maya recalled the mother, the faceless and nameless mother, as eager to please, eager to see her son learn the piano, the violin and singing! The woman seemed eager for everything. “Upstarts!”

A shriek brought Maya quickly to the front door. Mimi stood with a shocked expression on her face, holding up her index finger. Thomas was nowhere to be seen. Moushumi was furiously rummaging through the depths of her copious handbag.

“Your cat bit me,” said Mimi matter-of-factly. “What’s her name?”

“Thomas. He’s a tom cat,” said Maya, almost smiling. “Bleeding?”

“Thomas is a boy cat,” Mimi announced to no one in particular. “No blood. See? I’m strong.”

“Come in. Come in,” said Maya stepping back into her parlour.

Satwaki and Rishi entered, muttered their greetings and sat down on the nearest sofa. Moushumi had unearthed a packet of band-aids by now. She knelt down to attend to Mimi’s finger.

“Oh. So, you’re one of those moms,” said Maya.

“Was the cat already vaccinated?” said Moushumi. She didn’t sound eager-to-please at all. Her large eyes flashed in the retreating light.

Maya frowned. She turned towards Satwaki. “Which country did you say you’re posted at?”

“Singapore.”

“That’s not too far. We have children from UK and even Canada. One child, parents divorced. The mother’s in Canada, but the grandparents stay in Kochi.”

“Which class is the child in?” said Satwaki.

“Eight.” 

“Look at my finger,” said Mimi, and bounded across to Rishi who stood respectfully near a wall in Maya’s parlour.

“What did you say your name was, boy?” said Maya. “Sit down. Sit down,” she waved her hands. “Make yourselves comfy.”

“Rishi, ma’am.”

“Which class? Six?”

“No five,” said Moushumi brusquely. “He’ll turn ten this November. He’s a little young for his class. And, ahead,” but the last bit she muttered only to herself.

“I’m five,” said Mimi. “My birthday’s in September. Na baba?” She made herself comfortable on Satwaki’s lap. “Aunty where’s Thomas the tomcat?”

“Go to the garden and see if he’s there, chasing sparrows or mice. He was such a feral thing when I found him. Still a bit wild. Though vastly improved now.”

“Mimi be careful darling,” said Moushumi. She got up and followed Mimi to the door.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Maya, before shrugging irritably and turning to Rishi. “Can you play?”

Rishi who had been listening to her attentively, nodded, and smiled shyly.

“He had a teacher in Singapore. But he’s just started,” said Satwaki.

“Play me something,” said Maya.

Rishi looked up at his father. Satwaki gave him a little push.

“It’s alright,” said Satwaki in a low voice. “This is not a test. Just play.”

Rishi walked gingerly towards the black upright piano at the corner of the parlour. He looked at the piano and then at his parents.

“Play,” mouthed Moushumi from the door.

“I’ll get you folks some coffee. Hot chocolate for the children?” said Maya.

“Yes, thank you,” said Satwaki.

“Mimi, aunty’s getting hot chocolate for you. Come in,” said Moushumi.

“Play Rishi,” said Satwaki.

Rishi lifted the lid and the velvet cloth that covered the keys. He sat down on the piano stool, and ran his fingers over the keys, east to west and west to east, paused and looked around once before resting his fingers on the centre keys. Rishi closed his eyes for a few seconds in concentration, and then began to play. He didn’t look up during the time he played, six pieces in all. Behind him, his parents sat listening, nervous on his behalf. Maya watched them, first the boy, the mother and then the father. Mimi was the only one who was unaffected by the atmosphere. She had managed to make friends with Thomas, and was stroking him and murmuring endearments. Thomas seemed to enjoy her attention and had completely forgotten about his earlier hostility.

“How long have you been learning?” said Maya when Rishi finished.

“One and a half years,” said Moushumi.

“Let him say Mou,” said Satwaki, adding almost immediately, “I think one year, and seven and a half months.”

Rishi nodded and looked at Maya expectantly.

“You’ll improve,” she said. “Is the sugar okay in your coffee? And, you miss Muffet? Your hot chocolate, okay?”

“I’m letting it cool first,” said Mimi swinging her legs.

Thomas got down from her lap. Mimi got up.

“No,” said Moushumi. “Drink your chocolate first.”

Mimi grinned at Maya. Maya tweaked her nose, and walked across the room, to an arm chair near the sofa where Satwaki was sitting.

“You know I’m half Burmese,” she said, crossing and uncrossing her legs, and then crossing them again. “Half from my mother’s side. My parents divorced when I was four. I stayed with my dad and his family. I’ve lived almost in every continent in the world.”

Moushumi quickly left her armchair and sat down next to Satwaki. “That must have been many years ago, right?” she said.

“In those days, divorce wasn’t common, was it?” said Satwaki.

“Those days was 1960,” said Maya uncrossing her long legs. “We were so erudite!” She laughed, somewhat mirthlessly.

“Oh,” said Moushumi, and very softly under her breath, savouring the new word, ‘Erudite.’

“I attended finishing school in Switzerland. But my heart was in music, so I went to Germany after that. You know I’ve been with the Calcutta Choir since its inception, almost. They’ve renamed the city Kolkata!” She waved a dismissive hand even though her audience showed no disagreement. “Pish posh! It was made by the British.”

“Your husband is also into music?” said Moushumi.

“I don’t have a husband. Not now.”

“Oh?” said Satwaki and Moushumi together.

“I came to this school to drill some music sense into the kids. And also, for the air. Hills you know.”

“Yes,” said Satwaki. “Purer. Indian cities are polluted.”

“But hill stations have become so touristy these days. I’m not sure I can stand it anymore. And then the quality of people. In my time, you had to come from a certain kind of family to get admission into a boarding school like this…”

“I know what you mean,” said Satwaki. “My father was in the army. He felt the same way about civilians.”

“Oh, you have an army background? So, what was your father?”

“He was a doctor.”

“Oh? A doctor?” She fluttered her fingers. “Don’t mind me,” she said airily. “I’m just an old romantic. You know soldiers and men in uniforms…”  Maya turned towards Moushumi. “And your father?”

“Both my parents were professors at Calcutta University.”

“Ah yes,” said Maya. “That unmistakable accent. I’ve lived in Cal for, how many years? More than twenty - thirty, now.” She turned towards Rishi, “And what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a deep-sea diver,” said Mimi.

Rishi smiled.

“Good for you!” said Maya. “Rishi, you have a sweet smile. Now, I’ll play you a couple of pieces, okay?”

Rishi nodded shyly. Mimi went up and leaned against Rishi. “Play for me too,” she said to Maya. Satwaki leaned forward.

“It’s getting late” said Moushumi. But nobody paid her any attention.

Maya played elegantly, her body swaying with the music. She played an easy piece by Tchaikovsky first, and then quickly moved on to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. She followed it up with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. When she began to play Mozart’s Symphony No 40 in G minor, Molto Allegro, Satwaki and Moushumi looked at each other. They smiled in mutual recognition of the music. It was one their favourite Hindi Film songs. They hadn’t known about its classical origins! The idea delighted them. They continued to smile throughout the piece, but without comprehension, except when the first familiar bars were repeated.

“Recognise this?” said Maya when she began playing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor.

Satwaki grinned. “Saturday Night Fever!”

Maya turned her head to smile at him and continued playing. She ended her performance with a Nocturne by Chopin. Mimi, who had slowly crept forward with each new piece that was played, now stood at Maya’s shoulder, almost breathing on her arm.

“Aunty you play like a queen. A real fairy queen!” whispered Mimi in an enraptured voice the minute Maya finished,

“Really?” said Maya. She ran a playful finger all the way from Mimi’s curls to her chin. “And you look like a little elf yourself. Dancing in the moonlight.”

Maya rose from the piano seat, a faint smile playing on her lips, but her eyes seemed to have drawn in the dulcet yet contemplative notes from the Nocturne. Her shadow elongated against the wall with regal grace. Satwaki and Moushumi also rose, as if to remain seated would have been a violation of the evening. Rishi seemed transfixed, and had to be pulled to his feet by Mimi. Maya saw them to the door and raising a hand, she fluttered two fingers. Satwaki ducked his head. Mimi waved her hand like a flag. Rishi said “bye ma’am,” but so softly nobody heard. Moushumi barely nodded in acknowledgement, and strode ahead, her hand on Rishi’s shoulder.

Later when the three of them walked back to the school guard house, beyond which their taxi waited, Mimi almost dragged her feet, and was unusually quiet. She hadn’t cried when they said good bye to Rishi in front of his dormitory, under the kindly but firm eyes of the house master. They watched as Rishi gathered his almost ten-year-old dignity around his shoulders like a cloak and walked down the long corridor, never once glancing back. Mimi caught hold of her parents’ hands, one in each of her own and pulled them away with all her strength when Rishi’s back finally disappeared around a bend. They were silent, almost still, throughout the ride back to their hotel. The three of them felt claustrophobic in their hotel room, so summoning the hotel’s taxi service they set out to eat elsewhere, a nice restaurant that served alcohol, preferably.

Moushumi, Satwaki and Mimi ended up weeping simultaneously during dinner, after they had “cheered,” Satwaki raising his whiskey glass, Moushumi her Gin and Lime and Mimi her Vanilla chocolate float. They didn’t care who watched them. The tears just came, turning their drinks salty. They couldn’t eat, but Moushumi, ever the frugal mother, asked for the uneaten portions to be boxed. Satwaki didn’t protest that it would be wasted since they were going to return to their hotel, not home. He was too overcome by emotion to bother. They took the overnight train to Chennai the next day, and the flight back to Singapore the same night, after freshening up and eating lunch at a hotel near the airport.

During the days that followed, after their return, Mimi diligently checked the letter box downstairs on her way back from school, every day. At Rishi’s school they were encouraged to write letters on paper, not email, though the school administration and teachers kept parents abreast of everything through their website and individual emails. A letter arrived at last, after weeks of waiting, and it was fat with news. Satwaki hurried home from office after Mimi’s excited phone call. She hadn’t opened the letter, nor had she allowed Moushumi to do so. The two of them watched excitedly, like children beneath a Christmas tree, as Satwaki did the honours. Rishi had written a separate letter to each of them. Some details overlapped, like the school routine and new friends that Rishi had made. But there was something exclusive for each of them.

Mimi’s letter carried many doodles and sketches and descriptions of the horses and their names. Satwaki’s letter contained Rishi’s study plans, and details about the teachers. To Moushumi, he wrote about Maya and Thomas:

Dearest Ma, wrote Rishi, and a few paragraphs later, Maya Ma’m didn’t stay. She left a couple of weeks after we met her, when she had played like a fairy queen, like Mimi said! Thomas didn’t go with her. He has become a feral cat now. Yesterday I saw him and called. I had a biscuit in my hand, but he only looked at me suspiciously and ran off. I heard something about Maya Ma’m. People are saying that she packed the piano along with her furniture.  The piano belonged to the school. I don’t know how true this is…”

Moushumi read the letter to herself again after she’d read it out to Mimi and Satwaki. This was to become the first of a family ritual, the opening of Rishi’s letter together and reading each portion to each other. That day, she also took Rishi’s letter to a corner and re-read it for the umpteenth time from the first word to the last, slowly. When she came across the portion about Maya Kaikobad, she smiled grimly, but her tongue caressed the word “feral” in her mouth, over and over again. “My clever boy,” she said to herself, “he heard it just once and already knows it, and can even use it in a sentence!”


* * * * *

"Feral" was first published in The Reading Hour and is part of Shikhandin's new short story collection Impetuous Women (Penguin/Viking: An imprint of Penguin Random House, 2021).

Shikhandin is the pen name of an Indian writer who writes for adults and children. Her published books, as Shikhandin, include Impetuous Women (Penguin-Random House India), Immoderate Men (Speaking Tiger), and Vibhuti Cat (Duckbill-Penguin-Random House India). Prior to that a novel and a short story collection were published. Shikhandin has won multiple awards in India and abroad, and her poetry and prose have been widely published in journals and anthologies worldwide.

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