Readable's back and embracing the cold, with haunting tales and heartbreak aplenty. Fireside reading recommended.
Joel Fisher, Sam Tate, Jodi Jones, Dan Millen and Adam Pond
The Radox Savannah
I once bought a bottle of shower gel. I didn't look at its label, at the time. It was probably on sale. It certainly had a hook to hang from the dial, so houseguests could lather up in the narrow stall without having to lean down. I hung up this bottle of Radox and thought no more of it until changing towels, after having a friend to stay: my friend, a poet born in Africa. Only then did I see the illustrated savannah on the label and the words - African Escape Shower Therapy - blazing across the yellow liquid soap.
My father used a bar of soap called Irish Spring: it was green and smelled of chemicals. It was not a fancy brand - it was cheap, worn by a certain kind of man in the 1970s, ones who grew long sideburns and pot bellies, who'd fought in wars but didn't talk about them, men who drank American beer and cheap blended whisky, neat, who wore scents like Old Spice and Brut and Hai Karate. THe soap did not smell of Ireland or even the idea of it, though my father - my Irish-American father - used it constantly. Maybe it was also on sale, and he chose it for its cheapness, though I feel he also might have chosen it for its name, its shamrock logo, its idea of "Irishness".
I do know Ireland, so I can say with authority that the island does not smell of Irish Spring, and while I have only been as far as North Africa, I feel certain that one plastic tube of shower gel could never smell like a continent, or even the idea of one, a body of land that holds 52 countries, each of them distinct. You could not more bottle the scent of Africa than you could Ireland or North America, which might smell of hot dogs and apple pie or tamales and car exhaust, depending on where you were. When someone sells a scent called Africa, they are selling an idea - of exoticism, spice and "otherness" - I know this. When I flipped that bottle of Radox in my cart, I was not trying to "escape" or indulge in some fantasy of roaming a cartoon savannah via soap bubbles, but what does it say of me that I had not even registered the label, until through my friend's eyes?
I often wonder if my friend, this poet from Africa, paused, or if he laughed at it or me for our ridiculousness. Or if he shook his head, betrayed by my ignorance and privilege, or the thought I might have bought it expressly for him, an African man, as if I hoped to label him as Radox had. Or does the label only label me, a white woman who can pick up such a thing and not consider what it means or how it might feel to view it through eyes that are not mine?
Hidden in plain sight
Behind silent lips
And oblivious pictures
Took of you.
I am afraid of the dark.
I am afraid of what my hands could touch
When my feet stumble across the hall
And I try to hang onto the wall
But oh - there's something
Panic shuts me down
My throat is tight
I am having an allergic reaction
I never saw where I was going
I never knew if I was
In the right place
At the right time
Floating in open space
On the wrong night
But I knew your face
Before you held me tight
Before you made it all so bright
Before you had me
See the world in a different light -
Love is blind,
And so am I
We lay under the stars
I watch the sea, you stuck to the shore
You don't hold me so tight any more
I always here my breaking bones
But not tonight
Maybe I'm deaf, and so are you
And you don't even try
If at least I can feel
Beating so fast like when before
You doubtlessly touched me
You tickled my wings
And those were beating fast, too
And I was walking three feet above the Earth
Because I didn't want it to be
Whatever Happened to the Teenage Dream?
I can still remember the bedroom smelled like smoke and rain.
Dreamy-eyed and vacant, you'd lace up your old shoes.
A memory now, that harkens back
to bigger smiles and better times.
And those witches and spirits, remember them?
What use are ghost stories now?
Those were the days when melancholia was a mere
and astronaut an attainable profession.
Gracing the stars with our fingertips,
our hands brushed the surface of the moon.
We ripped a hole in the sky
and made it home in time for tea.
Now I'm lying on my bed,
complete silence bar the clock on the wall.
Tick tick ticking away.
With every we are dragged further away from childhood
and closer to the end of us
My voice lies buried in the catacombs.
It sleeps within the blinking light that stirs and
come what may as I fall among the twists,
I feel my heart turn to ash.
But it is so cold here...
Colder than the ninth circle.
Did he dare beat his wings?
Am I frozen in his lake?
Death never lies but something tells me I am way passed that.
Something tells me I have been ripped apart,
scattered and sewn to the dark.
It is so silent...
so silent that maybe it is
better to scream.
For who knows when I will ever do so again?
But I can feel my voice choking...
as the brimstone burns through yet another vein.
... soon I shall be nothing.
My first love was the moon
I slept in a converted attic after I was adopted
Looking out over a cemetery
In the distance was a hospital but I thought it was a college
One evening a werewolf appeared in my room
Wanting to allude an air of confidence, I asked it to take me to the toilet
I knew Red Riding Hood tricked a wolf once so I could too
The werewolf growled "No" and I figured I'd outsmarted it because it didn't eat me
But I survived that night so I knew I was here for the long run
I wasn't supposed to open my curtains but I did
Watching the sky from the comfort of my bed
Smilng at the big orb watching me, winking in solidarity
I rarely felt alone after that
For a month I had an allergic reaction to a fruit juice with artificial colourings
I gurgled and spluttered when I drank it
My belly swelled and I thought I looked like the moon
I laughed and ran around the attic
The family doctor said I was going through a phase
"Like the moon" I thought!
But my parents stopped the fruit juice and nights became quiet again
I fall asleep and blowing a kiss
Thirteen-and-a-half-thousand nights have passed
We are not humans, we are game.
I woke abruptly in the dark. I was shivering furiously. The bunk frame had collapsed, again. The messy weave of pine needles, straw and leaves that acted as a mattress had been cooled by the cave stone beneath. Everything was strewn about me, flattened beneath my weight.
The cold stream of air invading the cave was a mere foot soldier in a much greater army. The land outside was gripped by winter's icy fingers, choked of all life and colour. Each day, a new snowy fleece added another layer to transform the landscape into a blank white canvas. A fresh start.
I hated fighting with Penelope. Like her father, her mind was strong and driven by a sense of justice. I blamed him and my son, Ifan, for creating this monster inside her. Both of them opposed the regime in our old home city with other radicals. One night, weeks later, Penelope and I queued for a bread provision. When we returned home, they had disappeared. The regime exiled us to The Valley with so many others. OUr existence eradicated instantly.
Last night, Penelope questioned me. Why didn't I challenge the regime? Why didn't I want to avenge Ifan and my husband? The resistance would create a movement. It would withstand and win. Why, mother, why?
Fear. Penelope was all I had left. I had to protect her. She was only fifteen. I promise myself I would destroy that monster.
I peered through the blackness into the unsettling darkness I still couldn't bear. I pulled my blanket tighter around me for comfort, a musty odour released from the fibres.
It was five steps from my bunk to the back wall of the cave, a ninety degree turn left and eleven paces to Penelope's bunk. I'd walked the path often.
"Penelope...Penelope?" I whispered. Old Rom grunted nearby and rolled over. I lowered down to my haunches and stretched my arm out. My hand hesitated, I'd anticipated contact; a connection with Penelope's body. I felt around, rustling through foliage and willow branches. No Penelope.
The sleeping community became shadowy blurs around my feet as I dashed to the entrance of the cave. I could barely see beyond the grey cloud of my own breath. It was before sunrise, the sky a dull indigo smudged with black clouds. The giant bristles of the sequoias gradually weaved together to form a dense forest, which ran down towards the river. Damp bark and sweet pine laced the air. All was silent.
Please, Penelope. Please say you haven't been so reckless.
The walls were wet beneath my fingertips as I felt my way back inside. I was nearing Oscar's bunk. I whispered his name several times before a grunt came to the left of me. I kneeled down.
"Penelope's gone. She's left the cave."
His voice was rough and broken. "No, She..." Yawn. "The rules..." Another yawn. "She knows the rules."
"She's not in her bed."
Oscar stirred and huffed, from exhaustion, not annoyance. He groaned, heaving himself up and took a second to stretch. His lack of urgency irritated me.
The scream of the woman's voice across the cave chilled me. My blood clotted.
"Jack? Jack? JACK!" There were further stirrings in the cave, like sleeping lions waking up, startled by an enemy in their den. Then there was confusion. Hysteria. Pandemonium.
Oscar and a number of other men and women began to assemble a search party. At the entrance, the indigo sky had been penetrated by the first tints of orange.
Oscar turned back to me.
"We'll find her..."
The first bang rolled through the valley like an atomic bomb exploding. The second made me collapse; Oscar caught me. Rifle shots. No-one in our community owned a rifle. The regime. Hunting us for sport. Ensuring our suppression endured.
And they never missed whoever was in their sights.
Please, come home.
That's what they're saying.
The words bleeding out over radio waves
And as the sound plays,
The words swim into the ears of distracted listeners,
And reflect of glistening surfaces.
Coming in to rest,
In dark corners,
Disregarded and ignored,
Sitting bored in their cars,
Waiting to start the day.
But the words mean nothing to them.
In a world so full of missing children
It's a wonder how they're all still lost.
But the voice echoes
from the car speakers
And pleasds for information
That'll lead to a resolution
But instead they change the station
And replace the failing voices
With a contortion of avoidance.
Disguising apathy as ignorance.
Please come home.
Her photos on the news.
Plastered across the TV
And printed in black ink.
Next to an ad for a new fad diet
The best way to lose weight
And look great.
But they still don't see the irony.
The picture's old.
From a few years back
When society hadn't persuaded her
To shy away from the camera.
It's the latest one they've got
Where her face aint half blocked
Out by her hands and covered up.
She looks happy.
Her smile is so wide and bright
It's only the sparkling in her eyes
That takes away.
But it makes you think,
Perhaps they should have chosen a different one
'Cause it'd be hard to recognise her
Without the hope behind her eyes,
But they dulled that fire
A long time ago.
Please come home.
You can still hear them begging.
Such conviction in their throats
It's a shock the emotion
Doesn't choke them.
They've had no rest
Minds set to a hundred
Questioning every decision they ever made.
Trying to work out what happened to their baby.
They think they're here to stay.
Ready to keep fighting,
But it'll only be a few days
Before their little ones replaced
With the broken faces of some other kid's parents.
And who's gonna tell them then?
It's not their fault.
But they're no convincing them
This'll shoud their lives
In the icy cold
Of a steel hand
That'll grip and hold them
Until the end.
They don't know where she's gone.
Dad and Mum are ignoring
The truth that's burrowing through their minds
Because to accept it
Is to accept death
And they'd rather just be blind.
Hiding in hope
But deep down they both know
Their baby girls never coming home.
'Cause you can still
Hear them wishing
Pleading to the deaf ears
Of their melancholic addiction.
Please, come home.
By My Bedside
You'll find love by my bedside
A kind of love that will resonate with you
for a time that you can savour.
You'll find despair by my bedside,
A kind of despair that will sink into your
skin and make you concerned for a time
that you'd rather forget.
You'll find empathy by my bedside,
a kind of empathy that will cause you to
ponder for a time that will inspire thought.
You'll find shame by my bedside,
a kind of shame that will sink within you,
for a time that will clasp your heart
and smash it into pieces.
You'll find all these feelings at my bedside,
my bedside, my bedside...
These kinds of feelings are welcoming and
universal you'll find for a time.
at my bedside you'll find
Let's Not Have a Child Yet
The sun from the bottom of a swimming pool
you are very good at making people love you
but not very good
at making them happy
she uses a copy
of a leaflet
that came with the morning after pill
as a bookmark
for a copy
of mockingbird wish me luck
by Charles Bukowski that you lent her.
Because you have her
and she has you
and that's enough
for both of you.
I love you
as I sit
with you plastered in my mind.
You shower and change
I can see you fully dressed
in a gallery,
through the walls
things fall apart
and I let you eat me.