Countdown

Ian Smith Countdown.jpg

By Ian C Smith:

In nocturnal limbo, untethered from sleep since 2.30, body aching, checklist of not-to-be-left-behinds reducing like ended experiences sintering away, months morphing into years, or waves washing below the light aircraft he boards in hours and minutes counting down, he can’t stop check-listing a spun out life.

Averse to a homecoming of smelly rot, tiny insects swarming in decomposed matter in the silence below his sink, he deposits kitchen scraps in the compost, balancing this by removing some for scabbed garden spots, trowelling through a fecund reek writhing with worms before leaving for his beloved place, a shimmer of memories.

Repositioning items in two battered bags, he mulls over squeezing in a book he is nine-tenths through, a literary heavyweight as big as a best seller with a title of reducing numbers by a favourite writer, a rich rendition of possible paths taken in an artistic life.

Immersed in its saga, he is unable to leave the book behind, checks another item off, medication, considers arithmetical probabilities, how happiness can remain a hairsbreadth away, loved photos, angled light blessing an island, shrouded reminders of a life, prowling his mind’s distant alleys, treading softly through the dark stables of the past. 

About the author: Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Antipodes, Australian Poetry Journal,  Critical Survey,  Live Encounters, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

Island

Artwork: Untitled, by Jase Falk

Artwork: Untitled, by Jase Falk

By Kell Xavier:

The house is at the top of a long driveway, paved years ago and strewn with gravel. On this hill, one can see the blue mountains, rain like steam in a different city. There are candy cane lilies in the front yard, and delicate yellow flowers hang from a twist of a tree. There is green grass by the campfire, the mint plant, the badminton net, the orange trees with their waxy leaves. I climb for tangerines, my fingers digging into orange skin on a fresh-plucked fruit.

I touch my hip bones before I sleep, a reminder of physicality and the thought of beauty. Lately, when I touch my body to the floor to roll in trials of choreographic magic, I find bruising peeking through my skin. I massage fingers into the looseness of their purple pain, calling it into me and alive, like an incantation. I hold my hip bones like knobs or handles, to propel me on.

He is king of everything the ocean touches. He says so. Once or twice a year, I beg the blues, the waves— spaces he believed in— to keep his spirit alive. Every now and then, I beg something— what do I believe in?— to keep my spirit warm to him.

In a poem, years ago, I compared my father to a candle flame. What I mean is: my fragile energy is a candle flame, I don't want to think about my father.

The warm silver of a siren calling, death with desire; the cold iron of a banshee, death with petrification.

About:
Kell makes meaning with words and movement. He is non-binary, likes film and dandelions, and resides on Treaty One territory. Kell is on Twitter: @icebox_clouds

From Travail to Travel

By Ian C Smith:

On Saturday mornings in post-war London he thrills to the idea of escape.  For sixpence he sees a hero, dressed more like a movie star than a cowboy, elude a dull-witted gang, sidling from a spot tighter than his belt and boots, while the juvenile audience, escaped from grey boredom, jeers hoarsely.

Freedom: scheming prisoner motivation, the door left unlocked, exit road snaking away to the hills, or shaking off hounds by crossing streams, or the fairground life, always moving on, appeals, his hourglass almost done, parents edging closer to learning of his shoplifting, their emigration to Australia offering him an escape tunnel.

Vanished people intrigue: a car stranded under a tree, keys no longer swaying, silence, the stars, restless wind, the only witnesses; fresh starts, no difficult goodbyes, off to find Utopias gloved in dreams.  Isolated Australians’ penchant for flying overseas triggers his idealised self as a secretive drifter who makes unscheduled stops.

Travelling light to New Zealand where the South Pacific, Tahiti, await, island hopping the Dateline, splendour beckoning beyond dock lights, then hitch-hiked highways, youth hostels somewhere in America, this yearning for other lives, his homing instinct, exempts him from worn out love, income addiction, the fetid weight of a wasted life.     

About the author:
Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Antipodes, Australian Book Review, Australian Poetry Journal,  Critical Survey,  Prole,  The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

The Young Biologists

Spiders of Lantau July 2008.jpg

By Kate Rogers:

They are in Hong Kong
four days only,
found my hiking group online.
They are surprised
by the highland city-state,
its emerald cleavage
of valleys,
swaying stands of bamboo.
Meiying—small, eyes soap-stone grey—
tells me,
Mother is Chinese. I’ve never met my father—
some garden variety white guy—
in Asia long enough
to find love.

Boyfriend Bogdan
is six feet—twice Meiying’s height.
Born in Russia. Straw
blond. Silent.
Both American now.
At Harvard.
I admire their confidence, their curiosity
about spiders the same breadth
as Bogdan’s hand.
He crouches so she can
straddle his shoulders
to snap a close-up
of the spider’s silk mandala.

Swallows stoop low
over the dirt trail,
sipping mosquitoes.
I stutter to Meiying
in seldom used Mandarin,
Yenzi lai li [i]
The Swallows Return.
She smiles.

At a village of tin shacks
we stop for bowls of Tofu-fa
with ginger syrup. The tofu quivers
like soft-boiled egg white
on our bone china spoons.
The server shuffles like my mother,
dowager’s hump heavy
on her slight frame.
She points to green fingered bananas
on a weathered plank table.
Meiying buys one.

Back on the tree-shaded trail
Meiying and Bogdan spot
katydid uniquely spiked
and caterpillars blushing pink
in the middle
like ripening watermelons.
The Young Biologists
hope to identify a new species.
I list British colonial names
from my guide, Hong Kong Butterflies:
Paris Peacock, Chocolate Pansy,
Painted Lady.
Meiying and Bogdan laugh.

I scoop a butterfly I do not recognise
from a leaf in the teeth of the wind.
Hold its ragged wings
in a loose fist.
The butterfly tickles my palm
(sipping sweat?)
I glimpse scattered cells
of blue light.

Hiking, my hips rotate
in sockets brittle as fossil insects
suspended mid-leap in sap,
shellacked. I spy a two-legged stick-
insect limping like a pilgrim
across the hard mud trail.
Meiying and Bogdan each take a photo
of it teetering on Meiying’s palm.
We emerge from trees
to asphalt path. Our pace slows.
The blue butterfly
flutters on my palm—
lover’s eyelashes against my skin.
We trade nature tales:
I recall a leopard cat—
wild feline that fixed me in its amber gaze,
sleek as it paddled a marsh pond.
Meiying recounts the torpor
of a hibernating hummingbird
huddled in the barbed
mouth of a Mojave cactus.
We do not wish to part,
standing near the steps
into the train tunnel.
The ground trembles, a train
clanks onto the tracks.
I show them—in the cage of my fingers—
the torn blue butterfly.
They nod. I open my hand.

About the poet:
Kate Rogers was shortlisted for the 2017 Montreal International Poetry Prize. She has work forthcoming in Catherines, the Great (Oolichan). Her poems have appeared in Twin Cities Cinema (Hong Kong-Singapore); Juniper; Cha: An Asian Literary Journal; The Guardian; Asia Literary Review and other publications. Out of Place, Kate’s latest poetry collection, is reviewed here.

[i] Literal: the swallows return. Idiomatic: Spring is back.

Elsewhere: A poem by Patrick Wright

ptrick.jpg

The ambulance wends its way through conifers. All screams
déjà vu. They give you room 16. It reminds me of our hotel
in negative. I share a sense of prescience. You on a gurney
say ‘it’s by design’, which again was expected.

Shuffled in, your glass doors open to a garden of squirrels.
Close, the jingle of an ice cream van. You slurp a cornetto,
sure it’ll make you puke. A final wish, with fizzy lemonade.
Ice cubes too, on tap. Ice gold, nil by mouth. Every sip, bliss.

Doctors crowd round with clipboards, a welcoming party. No
prophets of doom. Smiling receptionists. They list objectives.
They come, go. They begin sentences with so. You ask to be
‘safe, happy.’ I talk of ‘art class, garden visits, lucid chats.’

Outside, benches where we’ll slow and squeeze a lifetime,
pretend our future veranda. This jolts a small resurrection.
‘Fling open the doors, windows,’ you cry, ‘let the squirrels in.’
I comply. Wind catches curtains, sends the cactus spinning.

By day, more dreamlike than dream, a way-station. The light’s
tinged, a polaroid, like this already happened, was meant.
The full sunlight, inappropriate, the solstice ill-timed, spent
as I sit by your bedside, whisper though light-headedness.

I say everything – again – everything I want to say. Words
dense, right into your ever-waking ear. The final sense. Last
words, you requesting your hair washed, the hairdresser and
aromatherapy lady. So random, far from drama, non-events.

Then comatose days. Corridors, nodding nurses, nulled time,
snack bars, numbed out, peering through slats, wax, soap-like,
Madame Tussauds, open mouths. No yawn. By night, to your
door, moth-like, your lamplight through the nightmarish gap.

I catch your breath, nothing else. Nevertheless, it’s etched,
taken back to the camper bed. Routinely I enter, reassure you,
how close my vigil. Quick, before leaving, I kiss your forehead.
Next morning I’m told your lips are white. I check fingertips.

Outside’s sickly warm again. Volunteers knee-deep in weeds,
lawnmowers dragging a din. Likewise, inside, hoovers mutter,
say we’re earthly still. Vitals no longer matter, just measures
of distress. The room smells of cabbage, your skin porcelain,

hair spread, Pre-Raphaelite. The CD player spins, loathsome  
notes, panpipes. You talk with an eyebrow. That and twitches
of your cruicked arm. Your lips, paralysed. A straw no longer
knocks your nose pipe. Your hands warm, as they were at home.

I dim your side lamp with a scarf. The gestapo bulb overhead
gives me a migraine. Syringe drivers bleep, end a programme,
and a sparrow sings like a normal day. Pine trees surround
the grounds, while your observed breath beats, primitive.

Through doors, dandelion seeds swarm, souls in June heat.
They drift, orbs. They drift, fall. They are, I think, past residents.
A pastor offers a sticking plaster. I confess, want to follow you
to fields of patchy grass, roundabouts. I dream of tumbleweed,

wait for a knock at my door, on pins, wait for the knock, news
of a change of rhythm. Hours pass, lighting candles, listening
to news 24. Panic managed, diazepam, a fact sheet. A scream,
withheld, says why are you not doing more. Surely a remedy,

the vestige of hope. I just mop your legs with frankincense.
All I do is say – again – how I’d gift you my every limb. This
as fatigue overwhelms, cells go haywire, your body turns on
itself. A bee stinging, which stings and takes the consequence.

Vinyl butterflies cling to your bed. You’ll never notice them.
They take the place of eloquence. I recycle those same words,
repeat them again. I kiss your fringe, stroke your lobe, mourn
those wispy bits on your cheekbone, lashes the nurses praise.

I call to angels in agnostic space. I am here for the vapours,
for the portents. I am here as witness. Only now should I pray?
Enough of this horror show. Enough of this pincushion flesh.
Enough of vomit, faecal taste. Enough’s enough she finally says.

About Patrick:
Patrick Wright was born in 1979. He completed a PhD in English at the University of Manchester in 2007, supervised by Professor Terry Eagleton. He graduated, more recently, with an MA (Distinction) from the same university in Creative Writing, and is now working towards a second PhD at the Open University, focusing on ekphrastic poems in response to modernist painting. Here he also teaches Arts and Humanities modules, including Creative Writing. His poetry pamphlet, Nullaby, was published by Eyewear in 2017. His poems have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, and he has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. 

Five Questions for... Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

For the next of our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal we have five questions for Brendan Walsh, whose poem 'Playing War’ appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find our more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

I've realized that home, for me, can only be determined in retrospect. Home is a memory. I can look back at times/places and say, "yes, that felt like home," but in the moment I'm not sure it can be pinned down succinctly. Oftentimes we equate "home" with "comfort," but why can't comfort exist without home? The more comfortable one becomes in the absence of a defined location, the greater comfort one can find in every single place.

Two years ago I would have said that home is wherever I am with people who accept/love me, but it isn't that easy. I have been with wonderful people in places that were definitely not my home. Before I had the ability to travel freely, this question was much simpler to answer.

Where is your favourite place?

My favorite place is Laos. I lived in Vientiane for one year, and I'm currently back visiting for a month. I won't say that there is one place within Laos that I prefer--I am simply enamored with the feeling of being here. In my life I've never encountered a collective society that is more welcoming, humble, kind-hearted, relaxed, and hilarious. The landscape is calm and brutal in the same blink. Mornings are hazy, slow, and warm.

What is beyond your front door?

Palm trees, geckos, coffee, mangoes fallen to the sidewalk, beaches, hopefully sun.

What place would you most like to visit?

Right now it's a tie between Papua New Guinea and Mozambique.

What are you reading/listening to/looking at right now?

I'm reading Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coatesand Become What You Are by Alan Watts, listening to thousands of motorbikes tear through Vientiane's Lane Xang Avenue, and looking at three women congregated around a cart weighed down with coconuts. 

Poetry: Zenith, by Shirley Jones-Luke

Image: Katrin Schönig

Image: Katrin Schönig

Ancient mariners were guided by a celestial sphere
they revered it like worshipers of a false idol
that's why many ships were swallowed by angry seas
sailors' cries of help silenced by waves of torment
wreckage of their lost lives scavenged by the villagers

A mast holds up the roof of my cottage on a neighboring beach
like a sundial its shadow moves with the passing sun
I use fabric from the sails of old ships to block the rays
splotchy patterns decorate the sundial's form
at night, silhouettes of palm trees are shadow puppets

Morning brings more storm-battered treasures
a ship's wheel entangled in seaweed, a broken
rudder wedged between two alabaster boulders,
a cannon torn in half floats in the water, 
I see the wealth in the sand

Hurricanes are common in the area, when
clouds turn black, destruction is on the horizon,
the villagers hunker down in caves on the
side of the mountain, I pack up my few
possessions - clothing, my journal and a picture of you

There are no ships at sea, the sailors
have learned the ocean's lesson, gulls glide
on electrified air, squawking their disapproval,
I make a note in my journal to collect feathers
once the storm has passed

The sky cracks open, rain comes down
like a butcher's knife, cutting into the island
the gulls are gone, nestled in their own
shelters, the villagers pray, casting wide eyes
at the sky, I think about you

In the morning, the sun brightens the damage
huts have lost their roofs, my cottage was knocked
off its foundation and leans to the side, the gulls
feast on dead crabs washed ashore, the villagers search
for what remains and I search for remnants of you

Shirley Jones-Luke is a poet and a writer.  Ms. Luke lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts. She has an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing.  Shirley was a 2016 Watering Hole Poetry Fellow. Her work has been published by Adelaide, Damfino, Deluge and ENUF.