The Writers’ Cafe Magazine – ISSUE 17 “Masks”

Wat Phra Kaew ,Bangkok,  Thailand


Sticks and Stones

by Fabrice Poussin

He has been roaming the desert of an absentee warmth
this earth not large enough for the journeys undertaken
gazes fixed on a horizon devoid of the icy rainbow.

No curve in the path was ever safe under the hesitant step
tumbles and stumbles and falls to one more broken bone
architects of wrinkles, grooves in a tumultuous road.

Bent upon the pain the only wealth he could never escape
there was a smile deep inside seeking to emerge
a tickle in the decaying insides lost to so many hopes.

The mansion crumbling under the yoke of a great void
brittle sticks he could no longer use to sustain a stroll
a last attempt to look upward in vain under the punch of a new day.

Looking back in a careful motion to the East, hoping to collapse
tripping upon the loosened rocks of an abandoned highway
he could sense an impossible destiny crushing him inside.

The eyes of a child boy cry to feed the barren soil below
if only the seeds planted by his makers could at last sprout
hands on a forgotten breast he dies a little more with each hour.

…………………………………………………………………..*****

Sitting Aside
by Fabrice Poissin

Reminiscent of the lost immigrant on the island
the girl sits in a semi darkness with half a face
she holds tight to a newest spot of grease on the dress
her soul confused by the scent of a new birth.

Gaze of the green into the blue, breathless
on a curb bearing her signature
the calves speak of better days not yet come
a quick shiver to be her only emotion.

Mountains of glass and steel surround the infant
of fifteen and a few days, little walking girl
in a forest of cannibals unware of her existence
the sky turns red of fire and death at last.

A question perhaps or a million in her virgin soul
pitiful statue flames ravage her meek dress
as she may die in to the darkness of Hades
the Cadillac slows to take in the spectacle.

A blond head wearing Lauren and Lacoste
in all would be innocence asks how long
yet she must wait for adult parents
to take her home to the docile suburbs.

………………………………………………………………………….*****

Tender Fire
by Fabrice Poussin

Standing on an invisible shelf in fluid darkness
A bluish glow attempts to sustain a life
Dreaming of becoming a large aura above the cradle
It pushes through a faintest breath.

Mesmerized eyes of a witness observe
Virgin cub in a wild world
Pondering the thought of a game
Or the risk of a dangerous enterprise.

This light floats holding the answers
To questions he cannot yet elaborate
His dreams so young at the gate of eternity
He reaches to fell the nascent flame.

Swirling at the rhythm of the soft flicker
He resembles a vagabond comet across universes
Sometimes shaping what may look like joy
As he swims within the arms of the deep.

It might be a candle at the window of his soul
Braving the storm beyond the thin glass pace
Bracing for safety on the edge of oblivion
As he fears soon the minuscule blaze might stand still.

…………………………………………………………………….*****

Birthday Masks
by Stephen Watt

Moulted cherry blossom is grinded,
powdered into the skid marks
imprinted
where the twisted aluminium halted,
crumpled like a tossed Coke can.

Moon clouds and hen party feathers
float past the funereal scene,
rubberneckers
exposing the nightmarish dream
into gangland legend –

the lower half of his jaw was hanging off;
viscous brain tissue
whitewashed on the windscreen.

Police pencils chronicle a Pink Floyd tape
keening spectral hymns,
invisible
as the fingerprints inside the stereo machine

and shiny, foil balloons spring out of the car-boot,
full of helium chemicals
like quartz, hexagonal stars
dissemble news helicopters in jewelled cloaks;

the cleaved remains wrapped in birthday sheets.

…………………………………………………………………………….*****

The Pretext
by Deborah Guzzi

Cream-plumped, sweat-sealed, faced with
day, the once perfectly pretty tween brow-knit;
gap-toothed over-plucked brows call for pencil.

Layered like joint compound on a crack,
foundation enters the pores of the supplicant.
silk and silver compounds salve the worried visage.

No papier Mache needed, no filigreed lace
eye-cloak suspends from an opera glass stick
just endless strata’s of mink brushed talc.

With the last tweak applied over her Botox lips
the child’s veneer of adulthood coalesces.

……………………………………………………………….*****

Margaritas
by Maisie Houghton

In the weeks before his mother died
he moved back into
his house of childhood.
His mother frail and spent
kept to her bed upstairs
swathed in tubes, knitted shawls
while he prowled below,
washing the car, walking the dog.
One afternoon she called him in-
Don’t think me strange
But I would love one of your magaritas
She hadn’t eaten in days but down
to kitchen he went, fetched tequila,
sliced lemons, stirred ice,
careful to rim the glass with salt.
This is so good she murmured.
He watched her one sip as
they sat in late afternoon light,
pretending all is well.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………*****

The Bride Leaves Home
by Maisie Houghton

After a rainy weekend honeymoon:
eager sex, tissue-paper trousseau on the floor,
we wake up to responsible city rhythms: I pretend
to cook the roast, iron shirts-my husband trudges to the office.
Dishpan musings blur the back yard bridal day:
the threesome band, the champagne, the works.
My kindly walrus of a brand-new
father-in-law who took my hand for a twirl
on the little wooden land of planks, our homespun dance floor.
He so polite, nodding, circling round and round-
past boyfriends, even my hour- old husband.

For me it was a hell –where is the stag line?
was I stuck forever on this island of innocence?
Now the reluctant housewife, I drift down to the sidewalk,
the delusion of a casual look.
An unexpected whoosh of yellow taxi pulls up.
The passenger leaps out-
a seersucker perfect young man.
I always stop for pretty girls he smiles.
Instantly I am guilty, already a sinner.
I stutter out I am married
and turn my back on summer.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Storeroom Secrets
by Maisie Houghton

One rainy day in my house of childhood,
in a gang of neighborhood kids, playing at Hide and Seek
bored by only my sister’s friends, I trail off to
third floor, the rabbit warren of closed doors,
into an attic room to discover

dusty Bonwit Teller boxes marked FPK papers, journals etc.
FPK, my elusive dad, yet my mother’s hand has written Private.
I am Eve in Eden, caught, tempted.
I lift the cover, choose one small leather book of notes,
FPK’s jaunty scrawl dashes across the page.

I was always golden- girl good versus my sisters
naughty bad, slamming doors, talking back,
but now I must know.
Out of sight from anyone – I read
I talk too late with lovely Theo… I like
looking at pictures of naked women… S. upset.
Can I stick it out?

I stumble away, leaving telltale light bulb blazing, the box lid off.
Later at bedtime my mother stands in my room,
my childhood Queen of Sorrow.
She delivers her pieties of privacy, discretion.
of course, of course, I reply—
those rules I would break again and again.

Then she kisses me, saying
If there is anything you want to know
Just Ask Me
and we look at each other with surprise of impossibility.

……………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Masks
by Thomas J. Misuraca

Morning announced itself through the window. Cyndee’s eyes peered out through her Sleeping Mask.

She sat up and removed the mask. Her naked face filled her with shame. It had to be covered immediately. She quickly threw on her Morning Mask.

After she had a piece of toast and a cup of coffee, Cyndee headed into the bath-room. She removed her Morning Mask and entered the shower. The warm water on her face filled her with guilty pleasure.

She dressed in one of her usual business suits but had trouble deciding which mask to wear. It was Friday, so she decided upon a Happiness Mask.

Outside, the streets were crowded with people in Morning Masks and Commuting Masks. Some wore Grumpy Masks, probably due to a lack of sleep. A few young people in Student Masks listened to music on their headphones as they waited for the train. Cyndee spotted only a few other people wearing Happiness Masks.

On the train, Cyndee saw a woman she knew wearing a Sorrow Mask.

“Why do you wear a Sorrow Mask today?” Cyndee asked her.

“Because today my mother is wearing her Dying Mask,” the woman replied.

Cyndee removed a Sympathy Mask from her purse and placed it over her Happi-ness Mask for a moment. The woman nodded in thanks.

When Cyndee arrived at work, she quickly changed into her Business Mask to match those of her coworkers. She worked busily all morning long.

Right before noon, her boss came to her desk wearing his Angry Mask.

“What’s wrong?” Cyndee asked him.

“You were supposed to have the Lewis file finished this morning!”

Cyndee threw on her Surprise Mask, “I thought it was due next week!”

“They changed the dates, remember?”

Cyndee threw on her Apologetic Mask. “I forgot. I’ll get right on it.”

In her Frantic Mask, Cyndee scrambled to get the report together.

Twenty minutes later, wearing her Relief Mask, Cyndee handed the file to her boss. He replaced his Anger Mask with his Gratitude Mask.

At lunch, all her coworkers wore their Gossip Masks. Cyndee wanted no part of it so she wore her Introvert Mask and read the romance novel she kept in her desk.

After lunch, Cyndee returned to her Business Mask. But an hour later, she had to put on her Fatigue Mask. When they called the three o’clock production meeting, Cyndee threw her Business Mask over her Fatigue Mask.

Her supervisors wore their Superiority Masks. As usual, they were dull. Cyndee knew her coworkers were wearing Fatigued Masks beneath their Business Masks.

The meeting ended and it was time for her to leave. Once again she threw on her Happiness Mask and headed for the train.

The train was packed with people. Some wore Exhaustion Masks, but most were excited about the weekend and wore Happiness Masks.

The train entered a tunnel and Cyndee saw her reflection in the window. Her face looked the same as all of those around her. It were as if she wasn’t there at all.

She removed her mask.

The people around her threw on their Terror Masks.

“Are you insane?”

“Put it back on!”

“Somebody stop her!”

Cyndee looked again at her reflection. Her naked face smiled between a sea of false expressions.

They reached her stop and the passengers cleared a path for her to leave the train.

As people passed her, they threw on their Shock Masks. How dare she expose herself on a city street?

But Cyndee didn’t care. She walked home without her mask. She knew she’d have to wear one again tomorrow, but for tonight, she wore her real Happiness Mask.

…………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Good Morning, Beautiful
by Peter Clive

The world is in one harmonious accord
that you are its most beautiful creature.

You shimmer and vibrate with beauty.
It is an active principle of your being,
not a passive condition of your existence.

But beauty isn’t easy. I tell you this
in case you sometimes feel limited
by attention you did not ask for,

or like you are secretly hiding a volcano
and risk destroying yourself
if you let the beauty out,

or if for one of a million possible reasons
you are made to feel beauty is not you,
but something that happens to you,
is even a punishment for being ugly.

I tell you all this only in case
you need someone else to say it.
If not, ignore my words the same
as you would ignore the lies
against which I set them in opposition.

Let the sunrise show what night knows:
that you and your beauty are indivisible,
need no appreciation or acknowledgement,
occur on no-one else’s behalf,
exist for no-one else’s benefit,
belong to no-one else but you.

……………………………………………………………………….*****

Alternative Mother #9
Cynthia
by Rachel Davies

There are days she doesn’t even leave her bed
except to got to the bathroom.

Last week she binge-watched all eleven series
of Vampire Diaries until she could taste blood.
She looked at me like I was a roast beef dinner
cooked rare.

If she does make it downstairs
she lounges in her D&G leopard-skin onesie
in the Barker and Stonehouse leather recliner
paid for by the sugar daddy. She’s never worked,

thinks she’s Kim Kardashian, the world comes to her.
And the world wouldn’t want to offend her:
she wears a grudge like a body-con.

I don’t remember her ever actually using
the Bugatti touch-sense kettle or the electric Aga
in the kitchen. We mostly eat Domino’s,
McDonalds, take-out from The Great Wall.
She flirts outrageously with the Deliveroo man
who pretends he can’t speak English.

My friends never visit.……………………… I don’t invite them.

…………………………………………………………………………………………*****

Alternative Mother #13
Rhona the Ratgirl
by Rachel Davies

and is your entire world
this pen in this tent
this animal skin
this thigh bone
these rats?
So where do I fit in?

You recline on a bale of straw
draped in that mangy leopard skin
in a distant approximation to sexy,
while the public comes in to oggle.

You stir the somnambulant rats
with a Brontosaurus thigh bone—
like everything about you, it’s fake.

Of course the rats are too
out of it on benzodiazepines
to move around much.

When that kid tittered at your tits
all you said was You’re supposed to be
looking at me rats.
Well, what did you expect—an Oscar?

The ambition it must have taken for you
to become the Ratgirl, Rhona.

Every day I promise myself…

…………………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Alternative Mother #1
Kali
by Rachel Davies

after Housewives With Steak Knives by Sutapa Biswas,
Manchester Art Gallery, February 2019

She’s seeing red, and it’s not the first time:
it’s in her shirt, the rose, the flag,
her hands are stained with it,
her tongue a crimson haka.

Her steak knife has grown up,
it’s a machete now, held high
in her top left hand, its blade
stained with his blood.

In her bottom left hand
the surprised head
of her seventh spouse
who was still breathing a minute ago.

Her top right hand is held aloft
in triumph; she’s forbidding me
don’t say a word.

In her other right hand
Mister Lincoln, a blood red rose
perfectly unblemished
and a flag with instructions how
to shrink this head to thread
onto her gruesome necklace
along with husbands one to six.
She can do it without the recipe now.

One of them’s been cut off in a grotesque smile,
…………..the hilarious declaration that life is worth living.*

* Sean O’Casey

………………………………………………………………………………………*****

Alternative Mother #17
Alice
by Rachel Davies

She keeps disappearing.
When it’s all too much for her
she clears off and we’re left
asking the fat caterpillar,
the grinning tabby
if they’ve seen her.

She keeps disappearing.
You can be playing cards,
but you trump her red queen
and pfft!
she’s gone.

One minute she’s there, peeling spuds;
the next, peeler and spuds by the sink,
frilly pinny on the dining chair back.
Call all you want
she won’t answer.

Sometimes, even when she’s there
in front of your eyes
there’s no talking to her.
You can see she’s away with the bunnies.

Yesterday she was baking jam tarts
lifting them carefully from the oven.
Next, boiling jam and pastry
all over the kitchen floor
and she’s nowhere to be seen.

Mushrooms are the worst.
She’s a different person
when she’s chopping mushrooms.

She just keeps disappearing
like a pool of tears
or grass stains on washday
or tea stains on a dormouse
or words left too long in the sun.

Last time she disappeared
there was a strong smell of damp earth,
the acrid stench of the grave.

………………………………………………………………………………*****

Masked
by Nina Simon

He tells her how much
he loves her smile,
the curve of her body
beneath tight jeans
as she walks.

He loves their conversations
over tea and homemade cake
says she’s easy to talk to,
serene.

He thinks he can read her,
but drunk on mind stimulation,
he doesn’t see
unshed tears,
screening broken fragments behind her eyes,
thoughts she hides
in dark places of her mind.

Remembering
words of a voice from the past:
Reveal only fifty percent,
keep the rest inside

she shapes herself
into the illusion
she wants him to see –
bright coloured hues,
light and amusing,
a warm, strong shoulder
to lean on
before he goes home to his wife.

………………………………………………………………………………*****

Tutankhamun
by Penny Blackburn

In a lightless place
gold has no gleam. Lapis, quartz, carnelian
all take the same dimmed hue.

The obsidian eyes of Osiris
lie sightless, my own sockets
empty beneath them.

My whole body hollowed,
organs hallowed in their canopic jars.
Heart, lungs, liver, spleen, unneeded
in the darkness.

Follow the words of the Book of the Dead –
its spell winds itself cobra-like around me.
I will wait until it breaks, till light returns.
I will see the world again, unmasked.

………………………………………………………………………………………….*****

you can be authentic with me
by Linda M. Crate

it is okay
to put down your mask
not every day
is a good day but you are worth it
always,
even on the days
where you feel less than
beautiful;
i know
sometimes the mask feels like
protection
all it does is deflect from our true issues—
i know how heavy a mask can be to wear
release your hold on the fallacy
of perfection
we are all imperfect and yet masterpieces
all at once,
don’t worry about the days full of darkness
i will sit with you until you find the light;
because that’s what friends do—
you can be authentic with me
there will never be judgment
my love is unconditional.

……………………………………………………………………………*****

Masks
by Lach

You understand it in your head
Like memorizing for a test
You know all the answers
Before the questions are even asked
You’ve looked into their eyes
To see what they like best
And now you’re satisfied
With the way you’ve carved your mask

Laughing at the right jokes
Defending your point of view
Pushing political buttons
Reading body cues
Pointing out the enemy
With your golden gun
Pretty soon you’re everything
To every pretty one

The Navajo have a theory that
The spirit continues on
In the artwork of the artist
Once the flesh is gone
And so their masks are sacred and
Filled with conscious love
While yours are just reactions
To what others are thinking of

……………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Spirit Suite Étude N° 17
by Lorraine Caputo

……I don’t remember, indeed, those moments I’d rather keep locked away, untouched, mouldering in a closed drawer, gathering cobwebs of spiders that squeeze through cracks, mouldering in closed air, not moving, except, perhaps, a breeze that drifts subtly, fragilely into the cracks of that drawer well-closed. That drawer, swollen stuck with age, layers of delicate silk & lace gently folded, mouldering on cobwebs time has left abandoned.

…….I don’t remember what is in that drawer, though somehow I can see what lies within, off-white and fraying. So fragile, under the weight of the touch of time’s hand.

……I don’t remember if one of those pieces so old maybe what I can’t remember of that childhood rape. Perhaps that was one of the first silken pieces laid in that drawer.

…….I don’t remember the other memories lying within there. & no, I won’t force that drawer swollen by humid time open. Perhaps another is the cause of the velvety black void, the haunting music that would envelop me, suffocate me as I teetered on the brink between wakefulness & sleep. Perhaps another piece of that aged laced silk is that.

……I don’t remember what those other silken, rotting silk memories could be & no, I won’t open that drawer. It can stay there, its joints dove-tailing one into another, the varnish crackling & dulled. You can stay there, still untouched by my hand, in that room where dust dances in a sunbeam through a worn, bleached curtain.

……I don’t remember, nor do I care to. I shall close the door to that room, slip the skeleton key in its lock, hearing the tumblers clumsily fall into place, leaving the sun to set & rise, seeping through the tattered drapes, past that dresser, towards a hard, unused bed. Abandoned, locked away. Abandoned by me.

………………………………………………………………………………………*****

Guatemala City (Para Diana, Por Supuesto)
by Paul Kelly

La tierra roja de este país
Zumba en armonía
Con el coro de tu alma.

The setting suns casts a shade of
Melancholy Peach
Upon the curve of your vaguely Mayan nose.

Tus ojos, claros y café, observan cómo pasan los motos, sin un cambio notable en su calor
amoroso. Miras a través de tu reflejo, que está pintado en el primer plano de tu ventana moteada,
a las mujeres chiquitas.

You rapidly dismount your brilliantly painted bus near the edge of the city.
The horizon is
pregnant with the foliage of a newly formed Spring.
A trio of stout little women rushes to meet you. They chant a concerted litany of
Ancient Love.

Las palmas de estas mujeres calientan tus manos, con el mismo resplandor de nobleza que fluye
en tu sangre terrenal.

“We have waited so long!”, they say, the fervor of their love colors their voices with an audible
pathos, “For you to return to us.”

………………………………………………………………………………………*****

Several Snakes
by Scott Redmond

Does your left arm sometimes hiss when you’re trying to sleep?
Do the mice in your flat go missing?
Are your eyes an exquisite shade of emerald green?
Have you ever been confused by human customs?

Then you may be a bag of snakes dressed in human clothing.

Do you smell with your several tongues?

Then you may be several snakes masquerading as a person.

Do you sometimes wriggle off in different directions?
Do you compete with yourself for food?
Do you find romantic relationships hard to maintain?
Do you pity worms?

Then you may be snakes in human disguise.

Do you get tired of walking and slither along the floor?
Do you swallow moose whole with a mouth on your knee?
Do you get nervous at the zoo?
Do you work in finance?

Then you may be lots of snakes avoiding detection, by being a person.

Do you have to work together to be whole?
Do all of your organs look like intestines?
Do you rattle even when you’re not carrying change?
Do people sometimes complain that your hugs are just a little bit too tight?
Do you ever worry that Samuel L. Jackson will be on the same flight as you?
Do you inject your prey with poison?
Do you watch the snake scene in Harry Potter with the subtitles off?
Do you constrict your ready meals?
Do you respond ‘cold’ when asked your blood type?
Do you ever dream of your simple anaconda parents?
Do you dream at all or have eighty dreams at once?
Do you find yourself sizing up children as food?
Do you have eels for cousins?
Do you struggle to understand ears?
Are you several snakes pretending to be one person?

Then you may be several snakes pretending to be one person.

……………………………………………………………………………….*****

Masking the Moment
by Lynn Marie-Harper

She smeared the white clay across her face
and breathed hard out, then shallow in
with a view to keeping shtum for the afternoon

He dipped his fingers into the green gloop
and painted long lines down from his eyes
to collarbone and across to his shoulders

She stopped in front of the dressing table
turning the side mirrors this way and that
then sat and closed her eyes

He crossed the road from the bus stop
and surveyed himself in the shop window
noting with satisfaction the ugliness he saw

Far from feeling depressed or disturbed
by the semi ugliness they had created
they rejoiced to meet each other

Beneath the town hall clock
amidst the bland Saturday afternoon furore
of their fellow teenagers

These two would-be radical poets
concerned with getting the attention
they craved whilst performing their latest tirade

Were surprised by the lack of stares
as they walked through town at gathering twilight
surprised that everyone else seemed so intent on ordinariness

Their masks were not for others
and they felt no sense of freedom
in donning them, nor shame, nor glee

Save for those first moments
when their transformation began,
not for a rugby match or a play
or a party or fun of any kind

Nor a funeral, rite of passage
or any other human ritual
but as a dare to the performer in each other

The meaning of which was lost to them
Until their art teacher emerged
unexpectedly from a cinema nearby
rolled her eyes on spying them together
and cried with a smile and exaggerated panache

“At last I know my existence has not been in vain”

……………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Watching  Lacrosse 
by Morgan Driscoll

It was cold in May on Sunday morning,
Mother’s Day– but here were mothers
shaking in the rain,
umbrellas acting as a camouflage or uniform,
hiding them while keeping all the same.

And standing gray and wet I watched my son
as he tried to look like every other boy
beneath the pads and helmets, the uniforms of blue,
and white, and blue, but mostly gray and wet,
and chilled to bone.

I stood there with the parents who were parents of
the every other boys,
watching all our sons try and blend and run,
together every child might have been another one
had we not been so focussed on distinction.

But there I am with him and them, indistinct
and blurring in the pale and dim,
sodden past the wonder of my gifted offspring.
I watch him soaking in his obligation
and my pro forma cheers.

He, as unsure as we all are there,
of why we’re having contests in that rain
on either side of arbitrary sidelines mixing
assimilation with hope and cold and fear,
playing in this curious, violent game.

…………………………………………………………………………………………*****

Poorly Cast
by Morgan Driscoll

He ignores his feet so no one will
be able to see his shoes.
Unpolished in expensive tie and collar without stays
he stays beside the canapés and swings
a chin that’s shaver-nicked,
from vestibule to kitchen
and back again,
in furtive jerks.
He knows I notice but will not look
toward my embarrassment for him.
I judge him roughly
not to be myself.

In words that rush from nowhere
filling in the empty space of crowded rooms
his mouth just moves to bring the eyes and ears around,
just to press on him.
He hopes that the impression
that he gives
is someone who will give his knowledge freely,
eruditely, humbly.
I see him for whom he is…
not me.

He walks along the city sidewalks
watching for unscripted glimpses
of his styled self as fashioned in the film
where he’s the lead.
Sharp Harris Tweed that’s paired
with Vaurnet Shades that say
I am a serious man
and my activities are urgent,
is offset by, a casual arm
on propped up knee, on railing guard,
which says I take the time to take the time for poetry.
Later with kind of halting rhyme, he’ll write it down,
and pretend that it is irony.

……………………………………………………………………………*****
Poet’s Benefit
by Morgan Driscoll

I met the man who smokes the pipe
and wears the bowtie, and
I met the eye-patched man,
and the post-doc who was Austrian.
I also met the women
who wear the dark gray tights.

The pork-pie hatted chap was there with
bushy bearded balding gent, while
dred–locked, earring–ed, wingtip wearing
fellows with their paisley vests,
blocked my easy access to the vestibule and hence…
the Cabernet.

The leather patches on the elbows rubbed
against the balanced plates
of canapés, and plastic cups
held, in garden terrace hum
and murmur. Someone had not come
because of publishing delays and further

more the internet is killing us.
Submittable has raised their rates
a second time, the contest fees are odious.
In Germany and Russia, the poetry’s still precious.
The U.S. high-schools only seem to value
math and science.

The improvised piano in the background,
sounded like blank verse when first encountered;
irritating but commanding
that I listen for what else is there.
Like metaphors which let me understand sometimes
I may think the meter parodies some other man,
but it rhymes.

…………………………………………………………………………….*****

Black Panther
by Penny Sharman

She’s doing it again backwards and forwards, stalking.
That’s all she can do in the cage;
her soft padded paws calloused with worry.

She comes right up to the glass.
Her blackness steals through the prison.
She’s a film noir, a psychological thriller.
She’s helpless; you can see it in her green eyes.

The glass is a mirror to her; over and over
she faces herself, her disbelief, her brokenness.
She can’t cry; she snarls, spits, pretends it’s okay,
lets the whole world see her joke, her curiosity,
her helplessness, long pink tongue and pumping heart.

She’s doing it again, her path so well worn,
her muscles like bulldozers grind dirt,
the stench of piss to a familiarity. She’s tearing dead flesh,
eating something alien, being somebody else’s life.

It’s as if whoever has come to view her never sees her,
never hears or smells her fear. She’s a phantom, a hologram
in a cuboid. Who really knows her six by six enclosure,
her Amazonian forest floor, all those trees?

…………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Plaything 
by Rachel Cunniffe

First saw you Polyfilla white
Eye sockets, black underwater caves
A squashed sideways jaw.
A bump to the head,

Froze in mid-stride.
Turned lipless Frankenstein
Gasping unable to gulp.
No language.

Crows with silver mascara
ready for the death march.
I got my footfall back
The largest bird dived into the space
Where an eye should have been
………..heard it caw “move on, move on”.

…………………………………………………………………………….*****

Poem for Adonis
by Edel Hanley

Dark times have fallen
upon us,
darker than the old days.
An emptiness returns
to slay the winter,
kill the chrysanthemums, virgin white
and truthful, one by one.

I am tired,
suffocating in these waters,
and no man returns to save us.
Adonis rises
but nothing thrives,
Roses bloom and bleed
in the name of love, withering thereafter.
Strands of grass are cut down, dead –
All that’s left is sacred
and all that’s sacred is gone.

……………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Muzzled
by Maggie Mackay

What becometh a woman best, and first of all? Silence. What second? Silence. What third? Silence. What fourth? Silence.Yea, if a man should aske me till Domes daie I would still crie silence, silence.  —Thomas Wilson, The Arte of Rhetorique, 1560

With a flourish and a musical beat
the local blacksmith softens the iron;
a scold’s bridle for the town authority.

Bessie Telfer brankit for her voice,
fixed to the Mercat Cross for one hour,
Dorothy Waugh, Quaker preacher of Carlisle,
bridled for three hours,
a collar and stone weight iron strip splayed
across her face at the nose,
one sip of air at a time, no room for words,
an iron arch ear to ear over her head,
one more bar, below the nose,
or two or three, a bit between her lips
to fix her tongue, stippled with spikes,
up, down and back,
metal nettles to cut the palate too;
whipped as they drove her from town to town.

………………………………………………………………………………..*****

In Photos They Are Smiling
by Stephanie Pressman

On an old gravestone a thin slash
of rust a stem with no base
the imprint of a black moth

Surprising saltiness
fresh dirt in a dark hole
a shadow where they come together

Perhaps they choose poppies
not quite open
or a flat of pansies

blue sprays bleeding
into orange to mark
five years of life

They open a well-aged wine
set the good china on a white tablecloth
mask the reek of onions, their rigid lies

Where is the center?
She’s flown
to heaven on angel’s wings

some tell them

They lock their house, would flee to wilderness
or the city to find her, grub in dump sites
and termite mounds for any trace

In doorways the scurrying of blind creatures
Like lullabies, blind words sent to soothe

…………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Camouflage
by Stephanie Pressman

I had a colleague once
who when she married
disappeared inside that man
stopped coming to parties, barely
spoke to anyone at work
a shadow of her husband

who then sought other company.
After the divorce she emerged
for a while until the next man
the camouflage so complete
I never saw her again
though her darkened shape
moves among us.

A walking stick imitates a branch,
the leafy sea dragon impersonates kelp,
pygmy seahorses mimic coral,
a thorn bug prickles the acacia.

They hide from predators,
their disguises enough to aid survival.
What of hers? Is she now
the southern stingray burrowing
into sand? And if so,
who was the person I knew
when we first met?

………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Death as a Souvenir
by Gene Groves

This earring pierces more than a lobe.
Smooth silver skull, never gagged
by sagging skin, this Halloween heart-shaped
eyes and nose, casts a shadow of a portcullis grimace,
might mark the Day Of The Dead
or be a Whitby Goth’s memento.

Death masks are as out of fashion as phrenology.
Wordsworth, behind glass, in St. John’s College library
stares at trespasser tourists.
Bereft of albums, piles of anonymous photos
clog drawers, while smiling selfies make light
of the future, live in the moment.

Unmasked
by Rosemary McLeish

My dear friend decided to unfriend me,
no explanation given.
She used to send me messages
all day,
talk to me on the telephone,
check how all my hospital appointments went,
remembering every one,
used to drive down to see me for the afternoon.
Then, from one day to the next,
nothing.
After three weeks, emboldened by loss,
I asked for an explanation,
got a flat-out denial.
So I pushed for a meet-up;
she was the same dear friend,
for half an hour, in company.
After another three weeks of nothing,
I saw behind the mask.
I’d been had.
On an unexpected meeting,
I could not accept the second Judas kiss.
My heart, my illness, my joy
and sadness, laid bare,
basking in her radiance,
dazzled by her sun.
Well, it’s winter now.
I’ve shut my doors and windows,
pulled the curtains,
disappeared under the duvet,
staving off the cold.

…………………………………………………………………….*****

Not Recognised
by David Subacchi

Why did he wear a mask?
The striking cowboy
Dressed in white
For purity,
Bullets of silver
For fantasy.

Such a small mask
Hardly a disguise,
A white horse too
Drawing even greater
Attention
To his presence.

But despite all this
He was not recognised,
The old timer, open mouthed
As the white saviour rode away
‘Who was that man?’
Nobody even asked his name.

………………………………………………………………………………..*****

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
by Moira Garland

Solid gold whiskers mark him out
as a money-maker but he cares about the plight
of his old jail mates. They always treated me as
an equal Sir Anthony boasts in an interview it makes me sad
that others need a helping hand. Prison changed me
Before I’d have just thought ‘scroungers’.

TV cameras show him walking up the path
to Mo, and Kyle and Brandon, who stand
together, hold the outsize cheque. Philanthropy
is making a comeback in Britain today, Sir Anthony
sheds the old self-conceit, pitiful tears
endear him to the boys, he’s clearly sincere.

No more a man who’d peddle lies, accumulate
wealth by foul means. He’s back in power,
his politician pals rate him still as one of us
while he knows what ordinary life’s about:
sickness, despair, unemployment. Wealth
must trickle down.

Then time to overhaul the system,
time to dynamite the tower blocks,
where Mo and Kyle and Brandon are robbed
of nearby family, friends, allotted B & B.
Sir Anthony’s investments shun publicity:
his estate agent chain For Sale signs
on streets in every town and city explain

how the wolf strokes his chinny-chin-chin
blows even bricks to smithereens.
His drugs: money, ownership and might.
His golden fleece conceals his hide.

………………………………………………………………………….*****

Removing Her Face
by Rachel Clyne

A woman at the mirror, reaches for her pink glass
pot of cotton-wool, her remover cream
and Witch Hazel to finish the job.

Smothered white with lotion, she begins
to wipe herself away, smooths herself
back into cosy mummy in a nightie.

Each day, she re-applies skin tone, dab of rouge,
eyeshadow; she outlines lips, eyes, eyebrows–
pats on powder against shine.

With coral pink smile and clouds of lacquer
she faces her world, calling out, There.
Now I’m ready. Are my seams straight?

…………………………………………………………………………….*****

The Cunning Woman
by Sandra Unerman

The woman in Dr Bridge’s consulting room was elegant in poise and dress. But her face was entirely covered by a mask, a confection of blue velvet, silk and pearls, much fussier than her clothes and out of place for this visit. The name under which she had made the appointment was well-known, so that she could not mean to conceal her identity. Not unless the name was a false one but that would be easy enough to check.

‘Please sit down, Lady Constance,’ the doctor said. ‘It’s an honour to see you here.’

She did not move or even turn towards the chair so carefully placed in the light from the window. ‘I can’t take it off,’ she said.

Dr Bridge could not very well sit down and leave her standing. He walked round to lean on the front of his desk. ‘I beg your pardon.’

‘This wretched mask. I put it on for the Mummers’ Charity Ball a week ago and I haven’t been able to take it off since then.’

Most of the women who consulted Dr Bridge wanted him to interpret their dreams or provide them with love charms. Their husbands were self-made men, wealthy but not in the top rank of society. He had hoped Lady Constance’s appointment might open his way to a more fashionable practice. He had not expected her to present him with an interesting problem as well. He kept the satisfaction out of his voice.

‘What stops you, exactly?’

‘The pain,’ she said, her voice cool and dry. ‘Just as if I’m trying to tear off my skin.’

‘Would you like me to remove it for you?’ He did not think she wanted to seduce him, although other women had come for just that purpose. But it would be as well to rule out the possibility.

‘Certainly not.’ She was irritated. ‘If I were afflicted with delusions, my maid could have done that. Or even my husband. The damned thing has grown into my skin.’

‘May I inspect it?’

‘If you must.’ She did not flinch from his approach or from his touch at her jawline, which he kept as light as possible. She was right: the cloth of the mask grew out of her skin like a nail on a finger. He could feel a ridge beneath the join but no spot to begin a separation. She was a warm, strong woman under all those clothes, and wore a delicate, citrus scent. He backed away before he could be tempted to investigate further.

‘Interesting,’ he allowed himself to say. ‘We will have to discover the cause before I can help you. You say the trouble started at the Ball?’ He gestured towards the chair and she sat down, although she remained tense and upright.

‘Hardly. I’m not young or silly enough to get into trouble at a Masquerade Ball. I blame the old woman who tried to spoil my evening, on the way in.’

‘Who was she?’

‘A neighbour from the country. I used to know her son, years ago, before my marriage.’

‘What did she do?’

‘I didn’t recognise her at first.’ The mask made it impossible to read her expression but the lift of her chin and the tightening of her hands, clasped together in her lap, showed that she had to force herself to go on. ‘She came out of the crowd around the doors of the hall and nobody stopped her. She called my name. “Let me see your face,” she said.

“Excuse me,” I said. I couldn’t get past her.

“You ruined my Richard with your lovely face. He lasted out the War while his friends died in the trenches but he couldn’t survive you. I want to see if your pride and cruelty have destroyed your looks.”

‘That was when I realised who she was. “I’m sorry about Richard,” I said. I’d heard that he had taken to drink after I turned him down and died in a car crash. ‘But this is no place to discuss him.”

“Show me your face,’ she said again. My husband was beside me, stiff and horrified. I was sorry for her, naturally but that was too much.

“Certainly not,’ I said. “Not here and not at your bidding.”

“I’ll ask you a third time,’ she said, ‘Take care how you answer.”

‘That made me angry. ‘My mask comes off for nobody,” I said.

Dr Bridge groaned, which was not a professional response.

‘How was I to know?’ Lady Constance demanded.

‘If she could use your own words against you like that, surely the old woman had a reputation as a cunning woman where you grew up.’

‘I never pay attention to such talk.’

‘Pity.’ He scratched his beard. ‘If you go to her and apologise -.’

‘No.’ Her voice was flat and implacable. ‘If that’s all you can suggest, I’ll stop wasting your time.’

Dr Bridge frowned. His expression must be giving away his thoughts, as hers no longer could. She had not come here with much hope. Maybe what she really wanted was a target for the anger she could not turn on the old woman. He could concoct a potion for her or work an incantation, something theatrical to show willing. But they would have no effect and the damage to his reputation might be even worse than if he admitted failure now. Even if she kept her visit here a secret, she would only have to look contemptuous when his name was mentioned.

‘Can you change the mask?’ he asked.

She hesitated. ‘What do you mean?’

‘You could add layers to it, couldn’t you? Put on different styles for different occasions. You might set a fashion.’

She sat and thought. ‘White lace in the mornings,’ she said. ‘Amber silk for shopping, black and gold for the opera.’ A smile crept into her voice. ‘Maybe you are not a waste of my time, after all, my dear doctor.’

………………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Play of Pretense
by Sunita Sahoo

Do you believe in the “Happily Ever After” love story?
Those magical moments, holding hands, exchanging vows,
That seal of kiss and the start of a new journey?
Well, I’m sorry to disappoint
For me it is the dawn of Purgatory!
Your love is a mirage in my deserted heart
The more I yearn to quench this insatiable thirst
I realize, it’s just an illusion
The bubbles of hope burst!
Your lies have trapped me into an unwelcoming pool of quicksand
I keep sinking deeper and deeper
The more I try to escape
The path beneath becomes steeper!
You’ve drugged me with those honeyed words
Though it kills me gradually from within
Yet I yearn for more
Guilty for committing this pleasurable sin!
Your arms embracing me in the middle of the night
Feels like a slithering snake
Ready to spout venom
Keeps me wide awake!
Those surprise gifts embellished with ribbon and bow
Wraps my eyes so tight
I fail to strip away your disguise
Alas! Your betrayal never comes to limelight!
In the end I find myself floating in the sea of uncertainty
Waiting to be rescued by someone from above
Or drowned into the depths of this treacherous love!

………………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Yesterday’s Heroes
by David Turnbull

Why did they all get depressed?

I’ll tell you why. It was because of the no mask rule. Anyone could have told you that if you took away their masks it was going go badly. In fact, I told the Superintendent that very thing when she shared her intentions at a staff briefing.

I said “You can’t ban them from wearing masks. It’ll end in tears.”

But she wasn’t having it.

“They keep hurting themselves trying to re-enact past glories. And I’ve had complaints from next door about how they’ve been raiding the conservatory and trying to incarcerate their inmates.”

“You’ve already confiscated their capes,” I said.

“Their capes were a choking and tripping hazard,” said the Superintendent. “I had to intervene for their own good.”

Why were the masks such big issue?

Well I’d have thought the clue is the name. Sunnyview Retirement Home for Superheroes and Sidekicks. You thought it was just quirky name? No, far from it. These guys and gals are the real deal. They were delivering Pows and Kablams before either of us were born. Some of them as far back as the 1940’s.

Next door?

Sheltered accommodation for the criminally insane. They should never have gotten planning permission so close to this place. They’ve got evil masterminds and arch Nemesises galore holed up over there. It’s deliberate provocation in my opinion. I mean a lot of those hoodlums evaded justice back in the day and our old codgers still believe they’ve got scores to settle.

Anyway, needless to say, the Superintendent didn’t listen to a damn word I had to say on the subject. Next day she had laminated signs put up announcing that henceforth the use of masks was strictly forbidden.

As you can imagine this didn’t go down too well.

There was a whole lot of moaning and griping.

But it didn’t get them very far. The Superintendent wasn’t going to give an inch. They found themselves in huge dilemma. There’s a code amongst masked vigilantes, you see. To uphold the rule of law come what may. Round here the Superintendent is the law. She speaks, the residents obey. Pretty soon they were all sheepishly handing their masks. Same way as the handed in their capes previously. When the Superintendent says jump, they jump.

I noticed the change in their demeanor more or less straight away. It used to be that as soon as day broke, they’d don their masks and be up and at ‘em. Now they just snore till lunchtime. When they do finally get up, they shuffle around in slippers and pajamas or slump down in an armchair and fall back to sleep.

The place is so damn quiet now. Quiet as the grave. They look haggard and weary, old and deflated, bags under their eyes, shoulders slumped. They just stare into the distance, alone with their melancholy thoughts.

I suppose their masks were what defined them. Once they put them on, they had fire in their bellies. They could do anything. They were faster than a speeding bullet. They could leap tall buildings in a single bound. They had great power and this gave them great responsibility.

Without their mask they have no alter ego. They are simply their mild-mannered selves, trapped within the alliteration of their true names.

I’ve tried to snap them out of it, believe me. I’ve brought in newspaper clippings, showed them how they looked in their prime, in their capes and masks, read out loud the headlines about their greatest achievements. I’ve showed them old newsreel footage on YouTube. They just shrug and say they can’t remember. It pains me to see them stuck in this fugue, sinking deeper into senility with every day that passes.

It’s a crime if you ask me. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was deliberate. I’d say the Superintendent was in league with next door, scheming and plotting their downfall. No, I’m not actually suggesting that’s the case. I don’t think she’s malicious. Just misguided.

That’s why I called you in. You’re from the Health Authority. You can surely intervene. There isn’t much I can do on my own. I’m just an orderly. I change the sheets when they wet the bed and clean up the vomit when they puke up the garbage we serve for lunch. I try to keep their spirits up the best I can.

What do I want?

Well, I’m not out to get the Superintendent fired or anything. I just want things to go back to the way they were. Marshall arts on the lawn, acrobatics on the roof, maintenance of weapons and utility belts on the dining room table, boisterous debates about monumental showdowns and pulling the world back from the brink of the apocalypse.

To be honest I’ve been finding it really tough. I’ve become a bit demoralised and demotivated. Sometimes, in the mornings, I look at myself in the mirror and wonder if I can face another day. But then I remember how I idolised these guys and gals as a kid and I realise I have to pull myself together for their sake. So, I put on my brave face. I guess that is the mask I wear. My own alter ego, so to speak.

So, to cut to the chase, the one thing you can do is just to overrule the Superintendent. Rescind the ban. Give them back their masks. Let them regain their mojo. Help me regain mine. We can’t just let our heroes fade away, can we?

………………………………………………………………………….*****

Performances
by Mantz Yorke

Evening: among the gods, directors
before the annual gathering,
their faces masked by reflected light.
They watch familiar scenes – Caesar
triumphant in old gold, stroked
by conspirators as he shambles
across the set, mouthing indifference
to the ebbing tide of time; blades
plunging deep into his flesh;
Antony’s cunning baiting of the mob;
the conspirators dying by their swords
in Caesar’s afterlife revenge.

The lights extinguished, pale ghosts
haunt their eyes. From their height
they applaud the brilliant resurrection:
the quick and the dead, reconciled,
smile in unison, bow hand in hand,
then slip into the wings,
the performance at an end.
He skips conviviality in the hotel bar,
hangs his carapace in the wardrobe,
showers, re-runs his powerpoint.
His performance tomorrow
must equally convince.

……………………………………………………………………………………*****

Inside the Goldmine
by Donna Campbell

………………………………………………………………………………………….Inside the goldmine
………………………………………………………………………………………………we lipstick our mouths
………………………………………………………………………………………….with ruby red gloss –
………………………………………………………………………….powder our noses with nonsense.
……………………………………………………………………..Inside the goldmine,
……………………………………………………………………………….daylight never comes
…………………………………………………………………………….nor bares’ its soul
………………………………………………….to the disenchanted, sycophantic
……………………………………………….fools that we are.
…………………………………….Inside the goldmine
our masks explode in the face of reality.

………………………………………………………………………………….*****

The Green Masks
by Mark Hudson

Kathryn was working the late night shift
at a gas station. It was getting close to Halloween
in this small town in West Virginia.

She had locked up the gas station, and
was heading towards her car, when she turned
around, and a man in a black cloak with a
scary mask approached.

Kathryn screamed.

The man in the scary mask produced a
knife and stabbed Kathryn, and she collapsed,
dead. The killer left her there, and put
the mask by her dead body.

Then he fled into the night.

The next day, the newspaper’s front
cover discussed the murder. The town was
freaking out.

Sheriff Grady sat in his office. The
phone was ringing off the hook. He didn’t
answer it. He was just studying the mask
the forensics team found.

It was ugly.

Why did the killer leave it there?
Did he want to get caught? Was he
going to strike again?

Late that night, farmer Joe was
pulling his cows in, because it looked
like a storm was brewing. One cow
had strayed out far.

He grabbed the cow and headed
back.

Suddenly he turned around, and
a man in a green mask slit his throat.

The cow ran off, terrified.

The killer left his signature,
the green mask.

Then he fled into the night.

The next day, Sheriff Gradydrank his coffee. He had a pounding
headache. Nothing like this had
ever happened in this small,
all-American town.

Sign of the times.

That night, Sheriff Grady was
off the clock, and he went to the most
popular bar in this town, the Foxtrot
Lounge.

Most of the townsfolk were
there, and they were drinking,
nervously.

Sheriff Grady went up and
ordered a gin and tonic. It calmed
his nerves a bit.

A man walked up to Sheriff
Grady. “Hope you’ll catch that
killer for us, Bill.”

“Doing what I can.”

The manager came up to
Sheriff Grady and said, “I hope
you can catch the killer. There
was a car in the parking lot
that had an odd license plate.
I’ve never seen it before.”

Sheriff Grady had a sixth
sense. “I think the killer plans
to strike here tonight,” he said.

“Do you have a flashlight?”

So the bar manager
gave Sheriff Grady a flashlight,
and Sheriff Grady went out
to investigate the strange car.

He looked at the car, and
it almost looked like an abandoned
car.

But suddenly, he felt like
someone was watching him. He
turned around, shone the flashlight,
and a man in a black cloak and
a green mask was coming down
with a giant blade heading
towards Sheriff Grady’s head!

Sheriff Grady reacted fast.
He grabbed the arm with the knife
and pushed it back. He heard
a crack as he broke the arm. He
could tell he broke the arm,
and the knife went to the ground.

The killer cursed, but
nonetheless, he broke loose,
and went running into the distance.

He went running, and
Sheriff Grady went hot in pursuit.

He chased him into an area
where there were miles and miles
of forest and highway.

The killer was still far ahead.
He was fast, but he was running out of
steam.

Suddenly, a pick-up truck
came by. Sheriff Grady looked
in the window, and another man
in a green mask was driving!

He stuck a gun out the
window and took a shot at
Sheriff Grady.

Sheriff Grady ducked into
the underbrush of the forest. It was
pitch black.

The man driving the car
stopped, and got out with his
gun. The other one with the
broken arm joined him.

They were coming
towards the forest with
their weapons drawn.

Sheriff Grady
grabbed a giant rock,
and threw it at the
hands of the gun owner.

It made a perfect hit,
and the gun clattered
to the ground.

It looked like the two
killers now had broken
arms. That would make
them easier to track
down.

Before Sheriff
Grady could do anything
else, they grabbed the gun,
and got in the pick-up
truck and somehow
drove away.

Sheriff Grady waited
a while, and walked back
to town. His first inclination
was to get the knife, and
test it for DNA.

But when he got back
to the bar, the knife was gone.
The killers must’ve got it.

The next day, Sheriff
Grady went to the Halloween
costume store. It was only
open once a year, in October.

“Hi, Sam,” said
Sheriff Grady. He produced
the green mask. Do you remember
selling any of these?

Sam the store owner said,” I
don’t keep records of my sales.’

“Do you have a video camera
in your store?”

“I have to. People steal.”

“I must take a look at you
video footage. Police matters.”

Sheriff Grady patiently
looked through the video footage,
till he saw the people buying the
green masks. It was the Barkowski
brothers, and four masks were
sold to four people.

They were notorious
criminals, who Sheriff Grady
had repeatedly busted for
selling crystal meth. They were
currently out of jail.

“Thanks, Sam, you’ve been
a big help,” Sheriff Grady said.

Sheriff Grady went in with
back-up to the Barkowski farm.

They tried to hide, and they’d
come out shooting with their green
masks. But they knew it was over.

They were going back to jail.

Sheriff Grady had all
brothers handcuffed. He took
off their green masks.

“Why’d you do it?”
he screamed.

“It’s Halloween, why not?” they
all mumbled.

Suddenly a fellow cop said,
“Grady look out!”

A fifth person came in the
room with a green mask on, and
a gun pointed at them. “Unhand
the prisoners, or I shoot you, Grady!”

But a cop was hiding in the
side door, and shot the gun out of
his hands. He then slapped handcuffs
on his hands.

He took the mask off. It was
Sam, the store owner!

“Sam, why?” Grady said.
He didn’t answer. All five men went
to jail.

………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Behind the Clown
by Roddie McKenzie

Harum-scarum hair,
or unnaturally coloured rug,
a bumbling man – boy
a riot at parties, cock of the walk
its just X* being X… (* Please add your favourite clown here).
Don’t take it seriously,

he doesn`t do detail.
Beyond the headline clowning
and the jolly japes,
hypocrisy moulds
a mask unempathic as steel.
The irony,
imperceptible,
to him within.

Whatever mask he wears,
for the photoshoot,
he looks after number one
before the country.
Should a leader
wrap himself in the flag,
like mad Nero in his toga
and jeer down opposition,
as traitors or aliens?

Populism truely is,
the last refuge
of the scoundrel,
and *coulrophobia,
the new neurosis.

* You guessed it- fear of clowns.

…………………………………………………………………………………..*****

The Mask of Pain
by Roddie McKenzie

The glowing face, whose sparkling eyes and smile
comforted me with wise words or bedtime stories
has become a shrunken caricature,
like a portrait crumbling in its frame.
Illness and pain twists
your visage into a gothic horror
of shrunken cheeks and slouching eyes.
Despite my sadness at your pain,
my hurt, so far is, shamefully,
only a stumble, like your walk

We both know what is going to happen.
But I am too scared to admit it
I feel I am losing whatever
is left of you
behind that
tragically,
skeletal
mask.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Dr Settled and Mr Jive
by Roddie McKenzie

When I told her that as a student,
I used to sit by the loch on campus
trying to capture the gently
undulating foliage of breezy summer trees
in pencil and fingered-smeared shading,
she laughed.
What you? A reprobate who
likes his drink and drugs,
albeit, in between unwrapping
the secrets of the universe.
I had to admit that zebra – plain – to – see paradox.
Perhaps like those camouflage-like shadows
and highlights on the trees above the path ahead,
or perhaps, like those soul brothers in
Narziss and Goldmund.

I smiled, within one of those masks
and as a walking contradiction,
was unsure whom I heard reply,
congratulating her
on her luck to have found
two boyfriends
for the price
of
one.

………………………………………………………………………………*****

Self Portrait in Oil Pastels, 1976
by Roddie McKenzie

Excavated from the substrata of the loft,
a relic, from a time capsule,
my personal archaeology of the 70s.
You are aglow in primary colours,
filling that toned shirt.
Statuesque:
cheekbones chiselled from
a full palette chiaroscuro
– very post-impressionist,
incandescent and colourful as the fauve
you were.

The set jaw, almost Van Goghish
in defiance, yet wistful.
Moreover, those fierce eyes betray
an ocean – deep loneliness.
The background, a projection
of the sombre moods within;
a Wheat Field With Crows.

The artist saw beyond the subject’s
stern mask; the urgency in your scowl
to be impregnable,
Yet, portrayed also,
the hurting within.
What can I learn from that Dorian Gray?
Which, ignored or not,
creates the present.

………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Head Hunted
by Roddie McKenzie

Hanging from my study wall,
ghoulish or grinning,
garish or grandly
painted, are wooden masks.
Trophies from cultures
I have visited.

They are talking points:
(or should that be talking heads?)
similar to a Victorian explorer’s
bequeathed and contested collection;
or perhaps, like the ivory ovals
on poles outside Kurtz’s Congo hut.

Either way, they disturb friends’ children,
camp-bedded overnight on the floor.

…………………………………………………………………………*****

Doubling Up
by Hannah Stone

Ten till four, Laura
shushes hot milk onto coffee, slides
pastries on plates, deals
with loyalty cards and contact-less.
Home for a speedy turnaround
shakes hair free of net, unpins
name badge. Fastens the corset
like armour round her waist. Piles
her tresses into gravity-defying up-do. Slips
wrists into fluffy cuffs.
Anabel catches the number seventeen
to the casino for the evening shift.
As flesh flashes over splayed cards,
our girl takes comfort from the thought
of pjs and slippersocks warming under her feline friend,
who’s hollowing a welcome on the duvet-spread divan.

…………………………………………………………………………………*****

Voice
by Julian Colton

Now she’s found her voice she doesn’t need us
We the diseased chattering class with our flabby references.

No longer lingers to dip bread in the collective stew
Has her own supply of imagined kinship.

Instead, she’s off through the dark to her lonesome room
To wrestle word sounds in marginalia

Which once escaped her like daytime phantoms.
Given her lover the elbow – he can make his own peace

She’s going very far with her specificity.
Discarded old accent, a flapping of angel wings

Assumed a dialect, a brogue, a National tongue
Raised the flag, made a regal coat of arms

Now she’s found her voice she rules her own country
God save her gracious voice.

………………………………………………………………………………*****

Here’s Looking at You, Kid
by Julian Colton

‘Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing
You’re always at the mercy of a set of schmucks.’

Forgive my tough negativity sister, but…
This is what Bogey could never tell you
At the funeral, in his wise guy eulogy.
Such a truism it actually scans
Stands up to microscopic scrutiny
Cool observations and rational thought.

How typical watching young and old punks
Dip greasy fingers in the apple pie.
Listen lady, tell the kids the world’s competitive
That laid back hippy drippy live and let live
He or she is really going for it
Don’t give a nickle about inequality

Social injustice, factual or intuitive.
They’re all in it for numero uno
Dig stiletto into your tender ribs
Grip a Forty-five in that pocketed free hand
Gossip, slander and violence their insurance policy
At the convent, the office or in Rick’s club band.

Wake up, smell the bull olfactory
Feel knuckle duster beat against your green jaw
If you don’t make it pronto out of the nursery.
The best place to be – sheltered in this doorway
Waiting for some crazy dame who thinks she’s Bergman
Brim of Homburg over my hound dog eyes
Pull on my cigarette, watch the evil world go by.

…………………………………………………………………………*****

Where I’m from
by Cheryl Caesar

A gilded mask obscures the planet’s face.
Fool’s gold, factitious metal, but enough
to smother us. We cannot breathe. We pace
and sweat. Abandoned like unhappy dogs
in summer cars. Tortured like hapless ants
under a cruel magnifying glass.
Or like caged boxers, fighting in a trance.

Below, the planet dies. Above, the mask
is glittering at the sun. It has no eyes.
It wears a rigid grin, like Pennywise.

…………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Until Tomorrow 
by Soma Datta

I choose my soft clothes today
to bring grace from the pain.
My soul-humbling, joint-crushing pain.
I’ll smile and stand straight.
They won’t notice
if I don’t bend.

You know them:
the dog walker, commute driver, cube dweller.
The “Are you sick again?”
and “What’s wrong now?” sayers.
The “You can’t do it,”
“Not strong enough,” family chorus.

My “No!” “Nothing!” and “Yes, I can!”
gets me through the morning routine,
the drive to work, and crush of hours.
I’d rather disintegrate,
to obsidian dust, than admit
the slicing through my joints never ends.

“Are you sick again?”
No and always.
“What’s wrong now?”
Everything. Everyday, hurts.
“You can’t do it.
Sometimes, I can’t.

When I come home and slowly, quietly
lie down.
It’s okay, then, to bend and clutch my knees
behind the closed bedroom door.
When I’m safe, I weep and sink into
erratic lightning of spasms.

Letting the pain dictate my posture,
I know it’s all right.
Until tomorrow.

……………………………………………………………………………*****

Many Masks
by Penny Hope

Where will you take me,
this quaver-quick image
you have of me?

Ogle me, rue me?

Faint ridicule of bells
jangling against vanity.

Frown distracted by jewels
encrusted cheeks
alabaster neck
veil of filigree.

Sullen in anonymity
I am
impervious
to your will:
you will not know me.

Mother now child
beggar now king
queen, lover:
proud, languishing

harridan or pauper
brute and wise

kindly, saintly
imperious
impervious

I am
impervious
to your will:
you will not know me

……………………………………………………………………………*****

Anita
by Penny Hope

she laughed at wide avenues
made her debut
in the city

skandalumwittert

threw off her spangled green wings
and danced naked
intoxicated

jet black lipstick
charcoal eyes

discomfort of applause
like brassy hail

dances with names
that drummed loudly

unthreatened
by the problem
of respectability

dizzying poses
exhilarated by gossip

stirring
her concoctions
with a white rose

………………………………………………………………………………….*****

The Shadow Self
by Peter Burrows

We look to you to see ourselves
in a brighter light.

Distant, shadow-cast, your small
pale and pock-marked face
cannot hide its history
(the hits you took for us).

The growing space between us now orbits
sonnets and songs and other past inspirations,
picked off by passing shooting stars.

We still turn out for your pet tricks –
the tidal pull; the odd eclipse –

as you course our sky, routinely waxing
and waning – but now only half-seen through fog,
or a surprise daytime ghostly sight. Hanging on

as we gaze further beyond, flitting past
to unconquered places (you can keep the flag).

Still, you know, when we need a lift to push on,
we’ll cheerily stop by, encamp
as if it was only yesterday.

Without us, you remain, undefined.

Undefinable.

Yet always there. Children anew
point upwards to where blankness
illuminates, reflects. Constantly.
At your wonder we can only stare.

……………………………………………………………………….*****

Face Value
by Pauline May

My face was a massacre, a mess,
a husk filled with unstoppable stares and hushed remarks,
a grotesque mask, sticky with strangers’ insults;
not a face, but a mash of flesh.
Not the face my daughter knew before the fire puréed me.
Hardly a face at all and not a face
able to face the world.

I could only have a face off
if I proved to them I was strong enough.
And I was; mentally and physically.
Twenty six hours it took the surgeons to fix it on.
This face that does not belong to me.

Now I’m two-faced, can’t turn about face.
I’ve stopped looking at old photos,
can’t be that person ever again.
Yet my dog knew me instantly
when she first saw me after the op.
Knew who I am, where I’ve come from.
Could identify the me in me.

I can stare the world down
now I’m not defaced,
now I’m fresh-faced, as this face fits
and isn’t ostracized,
disowned in distaste.

Strange, how I’ve developed a taste
for salted peanuts and Camembert.
A taste for something living on
in me.

And now at night I dream of kissing eyes
staring me right in the face.

The world’s first face transplant was completed in Spain in 2010 and now there have been about 40 performed world-wide. Recipients have many medical issues to deal with, including rejection, and the psychological impact of an altered appearance and feelings towards the donor and donor’s family.

……………………………………………………………………………*****

In the Face of Parkinson’s
by Jean Taylor

He lived too close to the sun,
spread its borrowed light

like a golden cloak, enfolding us.
Now we have crashed into shadow.

He wears a mask, stretched tight
across the sharp juts of his bones

no particle of slack
that might admit expression.

His eyes reveal
a vacancy that’s hard to bear.

We long for a spark of frustration,
a splinter of fear, a happiness

that has some salt of sorrow in it.

……………………………………………………………………………*****

Music Waiting
On the Death of the Composer
Jean Taylor

You were sick for the longest time.
We thought you dying, becoming
a clay mask, head flattened against
your pillow – tomb-draped.

We began to think of hymns to
wrap you in, to sing goodbye with.
Your cheekbones screeched
their skeletal beginnings.

Only your hands lived, graven
with the stigmata of suffering,
ripped from the Mount of Neptune
to the Plain of Mars.

We sat in vigil.
Though He knew that there was
music waiting, He took you
where you lay.

……………………………………………………………………………..*****

Side Show
by Jean Taylor

The first time it feels easy,
stinging, needle quick. Your
body absorbs the dye,
embraces it.

Next come knuckles,
ink-flooded,
LOVE and HATE.
The art of transformation
grows addictive,
the practice
complex, sophisticated,
painful.

Within a year you carry
thirty pictures, secret
below the curtain of your clothes,
a gallery of horrors
waiting to admit
an audience.

You harbour aspirations.
You advance
from Able Bodied Seaman
to freak show star.
Your phagocytes
engulf a sea of pigment.

Dracula, Frankenstein
and their twinned bats
become your torso.
Snakes twist dry scales
around your forearms,
tempting customers.

Your back is extraordinary.
A battle royal
waged by blue ships over a blue ocean.
Roll up, roll up.
A new show every evening.

You prick your tattooed face
………..into a mask.

…………………………………………………………………………..*****

Masked Thoughts
by Jean Taylor

Put on your best dress, Izzie.
What do you mean which one?
The white one, Izzie, your best dress,
Sunday best. You need to look perfect.
Your daddy is coming home from the sea.

What do you mean too short?
I’ll give you too short.
Is it my fault, you’ve got legs
like two stalks of forced rhubarb?
No, you’ll not be getting a new one,
not any time soon.
There are no trees for money to grow on
and not enough fish skimming the foam.
We’ve bread enough. Be thankful.
Your daddy is coming home from the sea.

What do you mean you wish he wasn’t?
Go and wash your mouth out
with soap and water, this instant.
And put your pink shoes on,
the ones with the bonny wee straps,
and your white socks – Sunday best, mind.

What do you mean the houses
have no windows?
Proper folk keep their blinds shut
and their prying neighbours out.

What do you mean
you’d like to shrink this house
and carry it down to the harbour
in the palm of your hands?
You should be looking out a present
to give your daddy.
Your daddy is coming home from the sea.

What do you mean you wish you were a kelpie?
God Izzie, what do you ever mean?

……………………………………………………………………….*****

The Story Teller
by J.S.Watts

Red. All red. Seas of blood and abandoned wastelands of torn and shredded flesh. The winds howled in anger and wailed in despair. There was nothing to do but press on, or lie down and allow himself to be engulfed by the waves of destruction and despair remorselessly rolling in from behind.

He was already lying down. The bed underneath him was reasonably soft. He was shaking and sweating, but otherwise fine. He opened his eyes and another day had begun. Anna was already up and in the kitchen making coffee. All he had to do was get up, put on the mask of daily domesticity and join her. He would drink his coffee and read the papers as if everything was okay, shower and be at his desk ready to start

writing by nine thirty at the latest. Another two chapters and the first draft of his latest novel would be complete. He made the effort and got up. Somehow, life had to go on.

The coffee was good. The papers were depressing. Anna was light hearted and jovially chatty until the subject of the novel came up.

“Another depressing read of gloom, doom, and destruction, no doubt. Why can’t you write something amusing for once, or at least something with a little get up and go?”

He bit his tongue and didn’t respond. He had found it was usually better that way.

“I mean. You write science fiction for God’s sake. Fiction. There’s no rule that says it always has to be miserable and depressing. Even in Dr. Who, there are episodes where everybody lives.”

How could he tell her it wasn’t fiction; that, before he had met her, he had travelled the Universe and beyond and had experienced the crystalline perfection of the heavens at first hand? He’d seen things she wouldn’t believe: flames leaping off the shoulder of ice planets; beams glittering in the dark near the Hauer Gate; yellow meadows and blue rivers and mountains, stars and suns and planets spread out in an eternal Milky Way of stories and places that echoed through the world. There had been such very real beauty but then had come the stuff of nightmares.

Blood. Human blood on the lens of the camera. Life ripped apart by blasts of super-human force. Rivers streaked with red, promises laced with betrayal. Unspeakable acts committed in the name of unbelievable myths.

No. He didn’t write fiction. He wrote the truth, but all the beauty of faraway galaxies couldn’t stop the nightmares from crawling back into his stories in the same way they stalked his dreams. They had their own, equal reality and it wouldn’t be denied.

“Anyway, I don’t see what harm it would do to have a happy ending for once. Cheer your readers up a bit. God knows, the World is a depressing enough place as it is, without your little suicide fantasies adding to the despair.”

Anna was on a roll. Keeping quiet and not arguing back hadn’t helped this time. Increasingly, these days, it didn’t seem to. A sign of the times, perhaps. Her anger was inbuilt and frustrated and had to vent somehow, somewhy. He and his stories were the nearest available outlet.

If he tried to tell her about the rapture of seeing three suns rise over the Ghost Falls of Fusillia, she wouldn’t believe him. What would be the point of convincing her that he had risked death just to see a blue moon kiss the diamond peak of Mount Medusa? She would never understand how he had finally made landfall on a planet wrapped in a necrotising miasma of anger and hatred; where greed, paranoia and a psychotic belief in each individual’s inalienable right to be right, regardless of the needs of others, had contaminated every life force in existence. As yet another terror motivated atrocity ripped apart the flesh and lives of unwitting victims, how could he explain that his stories were each and every one of them true, but that the sublime joy of travelling between the stars and through the untouched purity of space would, for him, always be irrevocably corrupted by the unrivalled horror of coming to Earth.

…………………………………………………………………..*****

Veneer
by Rona Fitzgerald

Yours was a good one, bright and vivid.
Over the years, I recognised the dangerous ones.
All attention at first, taking over my space,
then the small barbs, pinpricks of disappointment.

Yes yours was a good one, light and clear.
It took a while for the Minotaur to emerge,
rage at small things, pacing the room
crashing, smashing and the shouting.

In a certain light you looked strong,
dark and attractive, and it’s not as if you
tried to charm. Perhaps I was unused
to attention, to common interests.

I loved the companionship, the physical
comfort of our love. The reaching out at night
for another body. I thought you were kindred,
struggling to be heard and seen

in an unkind world. You the small man
me the big girl/woman needing love.
But I missed the beast, the devouring
need to dominate, to take what you needed.

To discard me when it suited you.
Yes, yours was a good guise.
And when I saw what it was,
…………………………….I nearly despaired.

……………………………………………………………………..*****

Fiona Edmiston Was Here
by Irene Cunningham

I took the last photo of you
laughing on the 31st
at the sight of a full-candled cake
barely two weeks ago
all lit up with the fun of it
reaching that magic number –
53 summers. You share that day
with Harry Potter. Fame at last
but partly because the stream
of silver limos that carried you away
did it on the anniversary
of Elvis’s death…simple details
to put a smile on all our hearts
that hurt as the sun bursting
out of a wet August gleamed
on the stunning cars.

You were the one we didn’t expect
to shine so soon like this. Your quiet
life helped you slip into a unit,
live as best you could on a branch.
The loss of you creates a hole
in the tree; we expected a bough
to break from the oldies at the top…
have been sideswiped, choked
at Death with his claws out.
Look at us now, reeling
with flash-memories, counting
the years we lived, all
our little branches, losing time.
Suddenly you have risen to the top –
no fairy on our tree: we have an angel.

……………………………………………………………………..*****

resurrection from birds’ point of view
by Gábor G. Gyukics

every face is a white mask
shadows
are not glued to the ground
the spring
hermetically separates winter
from summer
shoulders are the wings of birds
and those who wish to fly
must sow their bones
deep in the ground

……………………………………………………………………….*****

beyond
by Gábor G. Gyukics

you’re losing your
shadow
in the backyard of
beyond

the pro tempore borrowed money
stuck inside the sun fluxed tar
never repay it
use it
at every peg you have

because when
the colors paint the winds
every print of every face
may go to oblivion
may be washed away
in the immobile space
beyond your temple

…………………………………………………………………………………*****

everything I can imagine is mine
Gábor G. Gyukics

clouds push the streets’
down to face the ground
fences inflict wounds
on the clouds’ bellies

behind its mask
sky’s pouring down
most of its sorrow
every road is covered
it sounds
so
similar to the sound
of drums
its music can be
easily transcribed

……………………………………………………………………………..*****

umbrella moon
by Gábor G. Gyukics

you see your double on the water’s surface
you lean closer
your body jostles itself inside the pores of your face
the angle is narrowed down by your glances

the wind won’t dry your skin
in the deepening riverbed

you’re thinking about
a pleasant place
you’ve seen long ago
calming yourself
to get in harmony
with the environment

no need purchasing
a second hand souvenir
from the thug hanging out
in front of the pawnshop
tonight

there are things
that can do you in –
a body
with a ripped up abdomen
sinks faster
then the past with a mask on
cajolong present

…………………………………………………………………………*****

Hessian
by John Conway

‘Time was’, her nana always says, ‘any good woman round here could make one.’

Her biting responses go unvoiced as she sits and learns, never understanding why. Smacks to the knuckles discourage the habit before she’s old enough to ask, leaving her to resent each endless and wasted hour of practice.

Kneading the memory of pain from stiff joints, she glares at laid-out textiles, before picking a needle from the tin. Her hands remember, her fingers stitch without her even needing to think about it.

With the work comes the old question.

Not why she’s making it; not who she’s making it for; not even what the point is. No, she wants to know why it has to be made out of burlap, which nana calls burrrel and dad calls hessian. She can use whatever else she needs – any thread that gives the right look, any tools – but the hood has to be made of the same stuff as the potato bags and coffee sacks that sit in the back of the shop.

She pauses. Clearing her head. Sat, not sit. The shop was years back.

How long was that exactly?

They all burned, each mask, one after the other. Unused and unworn, all so she can make the proper one perfect. She hasn’t done this since nana died, she happily forgot the practice, but she could never unlearn it.

She’d never expected this.

Time was, she’d never be called.

Time was, any woman round here could make one.

Funny thing, time.

Where’d you get burlap these days? She’s never seen it, even in the big Tesco. But it’s waiting, just like nana always promised it would, in her own kitchen. No hint as to how, or why.

As she stitches the right-eye, she realises she can’t remember nana’s eyes. The same beady marks she’s patterning onto the face of the hood stare back at her over fifty years.

It would do for a scarecrow, she thinks, not that she ever sees such a thing outside of the telly. But she has no idea what else it could be useful for.

She did get an answer once, about the burlap, but that was from her dad.

Dad has no interest in making them, which is normal. She tells them this. No point her dad concerning himself with women’s work, that was just how everyone thinks, really. Irritated by the idea, she gives them what for, someone needs to. Her dad never thinks like that. Her nana never thinks like that. No-one really thinks like that!

She stops, and realises she’s shouting at the mask. She was shouting at someone. Wasn’t she? Their faces slip from her mind again. She looks around the empty kitchen, and she remembers they’re both gone, her dad and her nana, and everyone else. This is now, they were then.

She remembers dad answering the question, the one-time she’d asked him.

‘It were for judged men, the ones they had killed.’

‘Killed?’ she asks in mock alarm, seeing his face, his smile matches the thick smirk she’s almost finished stitching.

‘Aye, killed. By the king. Or them in charge. Weren’t a king done it in France. Think they done it to him there.’

‘You mean like a hanging dad?’

‘Nah. In the old days, the proper old days mind, hanging was just for the poor. You were a rich man, you got a proper killing. They took your head.’

‘Did they dad?’

‘Aye. Sometimes with a machine, but before that, they did it proper. Man with an axe. You knew what was right, and you were next, you gave him a coin.’

‘So he’d let you off?’

‘Nah, so he’d sharpen the axe, so it wouldn’t take five bloody goes!’

Her dad laughs for a while, the drink is in him. Then he remembers what he’s telling her.

‘But that’s why. Hessian. For the head. You don’t want that rolling all over. So, sometimes, they’d drop it in a bucket with a sack inside. And sometimes, they’d put the sack on the head first, tie it at the neck like.’

He says more, but she just stares at the grinning mask, not listening now. The neck is mostly done. She imagines waiting for the axe, one of these things already over her face.

Are they for a head-chopping? Do they still do that? She thinks they’ve banned it now, but she isn’t sure. They haven’t used one of hers for that. Every mask she makes is a practice, nana checks it, then she burns it, and that’s that.

But this is a proper one, and she still doesn’t know why.

No-one’s asked. No-one’s left a message. No-one’s demanded. She just has this compulsion, never known it before. She’s dreaming of it, and then the hessian is just here. All ready for her in the kitchen.

She realises her memory is playing funny buggers again, she’s already done most of the work.

It’s all too easy.

The mask stares back at her.

Nana make a noise that might be approval, or might not. Dad just nods, and turns away.

But he’s ready.

…………………………………………………………………….*****

Secret
by Leela Soma

Not the masks worn by  Chahu dancers of Purulia
made with eight layers of mud, clay
soaked and dried in the fierce heat of the sun
each dance at the end of an agricultural cycle
depicting various mythological characters
of the epics of Ramyana and Mahabhrata
the festive themes of joy and celebration

more a secret.

Cradled in the tropics, a nascent soul
cherished, nourished, a protected bud
blossomed then uprooted to an alien land
laden with a secret, the heritage of privilege
buried deep inside, as voices bandied words
of hurt, Paki, slum-dog, poverty. Muted
I accepted and blended. The new marginalised me
the scars deep,  keloid hard, an interred Brahmin,
forever shedding the skin of my rich culture, masked,
fused with deep roots and colourful tartan skeins.

………………………………………………………………………….*****

Hands of Guilt
by Rachel Burns

………………………………………………………..He sits in the dock of what he has done
his anxiety wrung out in his hands.

.His hands knot together…………………………………. his mother’s hands knot together.

His fingers weave in and out …………………………..his mother’s fingers weave in and out.

………….He worries ……………..his hands his mother worries her hands.

………………………The judge summarises.…………… eight offences
……………………………………………………………………………eight counts
……………………………………………………………………………each carry a custodial sentence

we

…………wait

………………………………………………..I stare at the ceiling rose and the stained glass.

………………………..The defendant wrings his hands………………… his mother wrings her hands.

He sought out gratification by cutting

…………………………..and pasting the heads of women and children onto pornography

on an American revenge porn site.

…………..He worries his hands……….. his mother worries her hands.

……………………………………………………………………..*****

Deceived
by Rachel Burns

I hear your cry of outrage as they drag
…………...you kicking and screaming from court.
The judge’s words, eight years — ringing in your ears.
…………..You deceived me, with a blindfold
and a prosthetic pink cock. You walked
………….and talked a man into my boudoir
………………………for years.

We had sex — yes, yes, yes.
……………Did you think about the carnage
your fake love would bring? Did you think
……………about your touch, your smell, your lips
tainting my skin? You bought me a ring.
…………..Then you were unmasked —
I saw you through your lies.
………….Saw you for what you really are.
An imposter —
………………………..just a girl.

Just a girl. Not the man I love.
…………….I never thought to ask.
My what big teeth you have Grandma?
……………Your deceit so cunning, so vast.
Was I just another Red?
……………So easily duped. And you the Big Bad Wolf
waiting in the shadows
……………………….to gobble me up.

The judge said it was so.
……………The jury too —
And your cries of innocence falling
…………….like autumn leaves, bleeding on the court steps outside.
Eight years — I hear your screams of anguish
…………….as they haul you from the stand.
Today is your
…………………………Judgement Day.

………………………………………………………………………….*****

The House in St. John’s Wood
by Rachel Burns

Has a thatched roof & smells of polished wood.
Shelves are lined with masks & spears & small elephants with ivory tusks.
Hunting trophies hang from the walls, animal skins carpet the floors.
I sleep in the attic room with the smell of straw & I dream
of Africa, the sound of drums beating, the tribal men & women
chanting; bodies & faces pierced & painted. My Uncle
riding an elephant, gun cocked & ready for the kill.
I wake to the fierce glare of the glass-eyed tiger
staring up at me, accusingly in the dark.

…………………………………………………………………………*****

Blue 
by Beth Vernon

  1. Like a wine glass full of water, singing
  2. Thinner than he thought it would be-
  3. Her eyes,
  4. Blue
  5. Lashes thicker on the lower than the upper rim
  6. Larger all the time, coming closer now, dawdling
  7. Almost-
  8. He turns forward but
  9. Wood shards shadow above his head
  10. Long white gowns and broken bread
  11. He wants his sin again
  12. Moving once more he watches her smile.
  13. That smooth unbroken smile
  14. The one he had so liked
  15. Closer still, turning this way and that with a gentle eye to the crowd
  16. Blue, blue
  17. He doesn’t see the little lilac forget-me-nots
  18. Weaved into her dark hair
  19. Not the painted lips,
  20. Nor the diamonds dully dangling from her ears.
  21. As she twists, the stained glass glow haloes her
  22. And dazzles the corners of her smile
  23. No, not dazzles.
  24. Twists.
  25. Next to him now
  26. He reaches his fingers up to those ash-white cheeks
  27. Unmasking her as she,
  28. Gazing coquetishly up at her beloved,
  29. Eyes g(l)azing, opens them.
  30. Veiled eyes
  31. She turns to face the altar
  32. Brimming with that hollow bright wed-woman delight.

…………………………………………………………………………*****

Rendevouz at the Azalea Garden Restaurant
by Lisa Rhodes-Ryabchich

“You have the shape
Of a fine manicured lawn:
………………………Neat and clean.
Let me take your hand—

you just won the award
for the most photogenic,
handsome man with the best musky aroma!
………………………..Do you travel a lot?”

“No, my wife is waiting for me—
At the Azalea Garden Restaurant
A mile away, I gotta go. See ya.”

“This is the most sensual dining &
Cuisine arrangement. Look honey
At the view. We made it—

Overlooking the sunset.”
From a corner booth the woman hides
& watches under antique tinted

Pince Nez silver tone eyeglasses.
“Damn that arrogant slimy ring-necked snake!”
She looks just like me except

……………………………………………………………………..*****

Ode for the Husbands Wives Careless About
by Lisa Rhodes-Ryabchich

I

Why do some women stop loving their husbands?
and let them eat themselves to death.
You can see they are not fit sex partners
with their bellies extended
like a Biafran child bloated from tapeworms,
dying of starvation.
It’s just a horrible metaphor for spousal abuse.
But does it have to happen in America,
land of the free—
where food is not a scarcity but in excess?
What is the equalizer for hope or love?

II

If the weight is lost, it can be eradicated
and taken off the chaotic list
of conditions non-eradicated.
And I blame the wives of these men who are still
sexually hot and wanting of love
and ask them why have they not been loved?
If that were my man
I would give him Garcinia Cambogia
and be a constant guru
in buying him diet shakes, a bicycle,
and Weight Watchers passes.

III

I’d say to him “Gee honey,
here is the new menu;
isn’t it delicious?
And oh, can I make your lunch?”
Then I’d take it right out of the Weight Watcher’s box
and pretend it’s made from scratch
and say “oh, so delicious.”

………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Candidate
by Elizabeth Stott

The woman is annoyed because
the rain makes her hair frizz.
She worries that the cloud around her head
makes her seem nebulous. Unfocussed.
But she wants this job, she really does.

In her new business suit
she walks the shiny street
in tight, shiny shoes,
until she comes to a big door marked ‘push’.
And she pushes it, hard. And

the door opens wide.
Everything is as impressive as she imagined;
a gleaming glass atrium, rising to the sun. On reception
there’s a smart and smiling young woman,
confident in her tailored dress. Corporate logo
embroidered on her breast, like an owner’s label.

I’m here for an interview…

The girl’s smile sets.
There’s a dash of condescension in the manicured voice.
Let me take your name.
I’ll check the list…

The girl’s hair is slicked tight, slapped into place,
make-up too perfect for mistakes.
The woman can feel her frizzy hair spring out,
freed from product and spray.
It seems to rise like thistledown,
hovers in a cloud around her face.
Who can own her with a halo like this?

……………………………………………………………………….*****

Then
by Mark Blayney

On the baddish days
I slink to the shed and raise a heavily filled glass
and see my shadow in the window.

There’s a blackish sky with purple behind
that’s going to get worse before, or if, it gets better.
The old radio glows, greening my hand.

Tom trots on the gravel, looks for me, calls my name.
Taps on the blue wood and it’s me,
forty years ago, trying to find my dad.

I often never did, and am sure
I don’t want to be like that for my son.
Put the glass down, open the door,

the shadow vanishes from the window.
I reach down and he climbs me.
You were there all the time.

…………………………………………………………………………….*****

Spirit of the West Coast
by Nina Lewis

He dances, toes driven by sand
cedar bark pinned about his muscles,
makes no sound.

He slows, to stand
by the huge fire,
the weight of the Eagle mask

heavies his neck.
He grimaces, takes the strain,
silently.

Knows this is about transformation
and not about him.
He is a bird of prey, mighty King of Sky.

As the firelight flickers
he moves again, feathered noise
and the hush of watchers.

The time has come,
for the reveal.
The wooden frame holds to his head

as he pulls the string
and dramatically transforms,
becomes something else before their eyes.

His face and beak
split down the centre,
the Eagle spreads its wings.

He reveals to them
not his face
but the eyes of an ancestor,

catches their breath
before soaring over flame
and disappearing into the night air.

……………………………………………………………………………*****

Amerind
by Nina Lewis

When he hides behind a mask of red
I know he is dowsing for happiness,
he knows how faithful I am
how indivisible we are.

When he wears his mask
of yellow and orange,
he is asking me to see him
for what he is, not who.
To recognise his intelligence
to cavort with his mind.

When he decorates his face with green
I know he’s looking to the world
outside of us, to nature.
Seeking his harmony of kinship
in a circle of healing.

When he disguises himself
under the purple mask
I know he wants to remain there
mysterious, not quite seen.
He offers me the gift
of magic, I take it –
his hands are still the same.

You are not to fear your lover
in the finery of a black mask,
this holds no darkness.
He dances victorious, offering
the Gods praise for our success.

When he puts on the blue mask
he is more connected to me
than I am to myself.
His heart intuition strengthened,
he holds me in his arms
and whispers wisdom to my ear.

When he fits the white mask
to his skin, I am undone by light.
In this purity he kisses me.
I feel the love soaring
between our untouched lips.

…………………………………………………………………………..*****

On the Demise of Barra’s Spectacle Factory
by Lynn Valentine

The blessing of Saint Jerome proved false,
convergence of glasses and island gone.
Afocal Optical packed up the factory,
a thousand spectacles drowned at once.

The waves curled like fists, claimed the glasses,
punched them out across the ocean.
Now fish loom bright, magnified,
Poseidon’s Trident tall once more.

A basking shark clears up the swarf,
a mermaid’s wandering eye is cured,
a seal wears a Deirdre Barlow mask
while we watch blindly from the shore

……………………………………………………………………*****

Ode to a Mask
by Mel Eaton

Womb’s amniotic sac
Envelopes the foetal child.
Slats of rib cage
Encase the beating heart.
A dead-set skull
Locks around a working brain.
While plump myelin sheaths
Warm pulsating nerves
And soft skin
Conceals vital veins
As self-created masks,
Shield our souls.

………………………………………………………………………………*****

Bombyx Mori
by Elspeth Wilson

“The original use of the silkworm was for the shroud”. Said gleefully from the lectern, the blouse that used to be mammy’s closes in around me – a coolness touching up against my warmth. There is a certain joy in being joyless – I know it, have felt it – and I see it in this man’s face right now, the cheerful misery etched in every line and jowl. What power in bringing a clot of mindless students to the boil with morbidity on a Monday morning. Spittle lacing every word, the talk of death is like a swift crack in the neck for a room of young, oh-so-promising people who never have to think about their abject human-ness. They pay others to do that.

Except me. My mind shoogling elsewhere, I think about you and wonder if some unwitting silkworm helped to wrap you up for the final time.

“Screw you and the horse you rode in on”. You said to me. Last time I saw you. Except you were part of the horse, whether you liked it or not. Perhaps you were only ever the tail-end desperately trying to flick away flies with no choice or direction. Still, you helped in my creation. Your face is clouded in my head, veiled in childish tears, like looking at you through the diminished ice lolly I would hold up to my eyes on humid days. I know you had misery – heaps of the stuff – but there wasn’t any joy in yours. You turned it on me, calcifying my exterior, making me bone. Hard, haughty, impenetrable.

Now, I am here in this building with twirling turrets – first in the family. You were first in the family to die and maybe I will be the first to live. The initial week in this place I got drunk and told people that my special talent was being able to have someone – anyone, dear or not – shout at me, curse me, insult me most cuttingly, and not to care or react at all. I didn’t understand the looks they gave me. But this skill protects me now in this theatre when all I want is for the toast in my tummy to sit quietly undisturbed and for me to look normal, normal, normal in front of the rows of buttoned-up shirts and lips.

“It is not only beautiful things, like butterflies, that metamorphose.” Satisfied with death in the abstract, the lecturer has moved on to talk about the larvae and how they go through several stages of molting, casting their past selves off. I think he catches my eye but then I remember the trick that they tell you about in school, to look at the tops of people’s heads when speaking to large audiences. I imagine us all sitting there with the utmost part of our brain exposed and I start to giggle, forgetting myself, thinking that I am back to where you won’t notice me no matter how noise I make. People turn and stare for a moment until I am muffled by the muted sounds of laptops being shoved eagerly into bags.

When we emerge, blinking into the sunlight of the late autumn morning, the blouse whispers to me through its crinkles in a language I do not understand. I see a few faces I recognise, hoping they don’t recognise me – other than as someone who looks totally unremarkable like they should be here. Down the side-alley, by the gym that I have not yet visited, I check that no-one is watching and start unbuttoning my one family heirloom, fingering each shiny button briskly. It was stupid to think that I could wear anything from that house, that world, without having its influence cross the skin barrier. I am left in a plain black bra but around here it could pass as a top anyway, and as I walk out the alley people look at me even less than they do usually, which makes me glad. I do not know how long the husk stays in the bin before but it is a fitting tribute to a family that never was.

…………………………………………………………………………………..*****

What Lies Beneath
by Paul Waring

Fear embedded in fairy tales
the face disappointment might pull
healing hiding inside a bruise
pain erased by a mother’s kiss
poker players’ blank canvas
language spoken only by eyes
car showroom repertory theatre
intention veiled behind a smile
politicians’ buttressed egos
the dead weight of beliefs
anamorphic dream symbols
the innocence of quicksand
chameleon Pantone camouflage
pine-coned floor beneath evergreens
cloud-discoloured blue sky
blanket fog that haunts urban nights
placebo’s magic deceit
faith, hope and propaganda

………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Attention: Deficit
by Vicky Morris

and when they finally confirm
what you’d come to suspect
that you’ve spent your whole life
concealing her as best you could
starting with the unwritten rules
for little girls from rundown homes
who can’t spell out sounds, who can’t
sit still, or tell the time, or tie a lace
or hone the flit of their moth-headed ways
the persistent puzzle to fit the slot
its morphing shape, the falling short
the energy shift to stay composed
to bite her lip, to quash the impulse
to stim the glitch, to hold the dam
to stop the spew of speech unravelling
naked truths, the heart of it, the bandwidth blip,
the getting lost, a compass flipped,
a foreign map to read the codes
with light-too-bright sore eyes
the comfort zone that she can’t take
beyond the door into the world
she doesn’t suit, its buzz wire game
her bated breath, its constant bleeps
the bottleneck of incoming data
outgoing calls, the unruliness
of decibels, the traffic jam
inside her skull, the overwhelm-overdrive-overload
the are you getting tired keeping up with this?
I digress,
……………where was I?
………………………………..Yes
when you can finally understand
how you’ve spent your whole life
masking her like she’s only this
and then you look, really look
at what she’s given you and who she is –
let her stand up now. See her.
Here she is. Here she is.

………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Carolina Hygienist
by Anne Woodworth

The water-slash-saliva slurper has just emptied
my mouth when I hear her hum.

Do you sing? I ask, trying not to think
about the rasping instrument she is about to use.

Sometimes. When they ask me to.

Solo?

Yes, solo. Now open, please.

She begins to scratch at my lower teeth.
Do you know “Are You Washed in the Blood?”

I make a glottal no, being unfamiliar
with songs sung in the mountains.

She puts the scraper on the tray,
pulls her mask down under her chin

and moves to a place behind my head.
Maybe she closes the door.

I can’t see her, but her voice comes in
as if from a valley cloud.

So real, her voice, there’s nothing ultra-sonic about it.
Her vibrato, a clarity in that tiny examining room

where she sings to me, as prone and agape
I listen and feel happy to be at the dentist.

………………………………………………………………………..*****

L’Entrée d’Apollon
for Brynt Beitman, Baroque dancer

by Anne Woodworth

His hand is weightless
in a Sistine Chapel kind-of-way
but raised high above his head.

He listens for the violins. He will dance
to Jean-Baptiste Lully.
Louis quatorze is not amused.

No ruffles at Brynt’s neck. No dyed curls.
No red high-heeled shoes. No lace.
Brynt’s torso is black-shirted and arched.

His eyes behind the mask of Apollo
see with today’s luster, as we watch.
His feet swoop, left outward, inward,

right outward. His left foot giggles,
swoops into gurgling chaos from the ankle.
Sun enters in particles through the clerestory.

Now his right foot swoops into ankle frenzy,
ankle shake, ankle laughter, and sun smiles.
Brynt turns. His feet swoop, right inward,

left outward again. Louis X-I-V, you are Brynt
now, and Brynt is you. He is unseen lace,
is flat black shoes. He is flare, sunflare,

sun-king, in a black cotton shirt.

……………………………………………………………………….*****

Untitled
Helena Salgeiro

Xirando en espiral
até a náusea
converterse en estatua do museo
e mirarse dende fóra do museo
e irse afastando
irse flutuando
irse cada vez máis dunha mesma
irse afastando
até que a estatua non é máis
ca un punto
aló embaixo.

Spinning around
until the nausea
becoming a statue of the museum
and staring at it from outside the museum
and going away
floating
going away from the self
floating
until the statue is nothing but
a spot
down there.

O que me agarda mírame os ollos
como se quixese beber algo deles
algo que quedou moi no fondo
ámame coma un inimigo, unha vertixe, un pesadelo
ámame coma un espazo baleiro
e non hai mais nada
detrás
non sabe mirar detrás

The one who waits for me looks at my eyes
as if he wanted to drink from them
something that remained on the very bottom
he loves me like an enemy, a vertigo, a nightmare
he loves me like an empty space
and there’s nothing more
behind
he doesn’t know how to look behind

Ao conhecer o fondo
é cando o fondo deixa de interesar
sucede que
a man ansía algo
a man delira algo
cando o terma
arde
réxeitao
sóltao
de súpeto

Getting to know
is when interests no more
it happens that
the hand craves something
raves something
when the hand holds it
the hand burns
denying it
throwing it away
suddenly

…………………………………………………………………………*****

A Reunion
For whosoever would save his soul shall lose it: Mark 8:35
by A. Hurford

It was with shock I found that student passport pic.
I took several strips, to find a face I could accept.
All youth’s spirit given a safe porcelain glaze,
dull-doll, numb to lack in the numb-mask he portrayed.
Compare my latter decade’s snaps, the very
picture of a person, happy, warm, connected,
dolling it up heart-free beyond my taught horizon
– as a young woman – I only start to see me now,
reconcile how a youth’s treasure was spent to hide,
dial myself into combinations, self safe-shut,
to step out unfussed, mirror of what was wonted,
model of a grammar of needs need inverted.
How this heart’s been tempered, in absence grew,
my dress has uncovered me, is this me, with you.


BIOGRAPHIES

Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review as well as other publications.

Paul Christopher Kelly is a young Bay Area native of Irish and Nicaraguan descent. Through the indirect influence of his parents, he grew up with a familial affinity towards Irish and Latin American writers, such as Oscar Wilde, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Samuel Beckett, and Pablo Neruda. Due to this, his prose frequently features Spanish translations as a companion to the original English. He is currently pursuing a B.A. in Print Journalism at SFSU. His work has appeared in Transfer, Seen and Heard, Ramblr magazine. For those interested in reading more his website sfpoetryandnews.com contains samples of his poems, journalistic articles, and essays on varying subjects. He can also be reached at pinkasinfloyd3@gmail.com for further inquiries.

Stephen Watt is Makar of the Federation of Writers (Scotland) and Dumbarton Football Club’s Poet in Residence. Stephen’s fourth poetry collection ‘Fairy Rock’ (Red Squirrel Press, 2019) is the first crime book to comprise entirely of poems. Side-projects have included an anthology on behalf of editing The Joe Strummer Foundation entitled “Ashes To Activists”, and a gothic music/spoken word collaboration under the project name of Neon Poltergeist.

Deborah Guzzi writes fulltime. Her third book, The Hurricane, is available through Prolific Press. Her poetry appears in Allegro, Shooter, Amethyst Review & Foxglove Journal in the UK-Existere, Ekphrastic Review, Scarlet Leaf Review & Subterranean Blue Poetry, Canada – Tincture, Australia – mgv2>publishing, France – Cha: Asian Review, Hong Kong, China – Vine Leaves Journal, Australia – Scarlet Leaf Review – Greece, pioneertown, Sounding Review, Bacopa Literary Review, The Aurorean, Liquid Imagination, The Tishman Review & others in the USA.

Maisie Houghton grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts and graduated from Radcliffe College in 1962. She published her memoir, Pitch Uncertain in 2011 (Tidepool Press). Her poems have appeared in Common Ground Review, Paper NautilusAvalon Literary ReviewThe Café Review, and Third Wednesday. She currently resides with her husband in Boston, MA.

Thomas J. Miscuraca “I studied Writing, Publishing and Literature at Emerson College in Boston before moving to Los Angeles. Over 80 of my short stories and two novels have been published. Most recently, my story, Dear People of the Past was published in DASH Literary Journal. I am also a multi-award winning playwright with over 100 shot plays and 9 full-lengths  produced globally. My musical, Geeks!, is currently running Off-Broadway.”

Mantz Yorke lives in Manchester, England. His poems have appeared in a number of print magazines, anthologies and e-magazines in the UK, Ireland, Israel, Canada, the US, Australia and Hong Kong.

Gene Groves lives in Northumberland but is originally from Wales. She had 35 poems in Flambard New Poets 2. Her poetry has appeared in numerousmagazines including New Welsh Review, The Interpreter’s House, Pre-Raphaelite Society Review, Prole, Orbis, Obsessed With Pipework, Weyfarers, and on the Diamond Twig site. She enjoys reading at poetry events and is working on a collection.

Peter Clive lives on the southside of Glasgow, Scotland with his wife and three children. He is a scientist in the renewable energy sector. As well as poetry, he enjoys composing music for piano and spending time in the Isle of Lewis.

Rachel Davies’ poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies. She co-ordinates the East Manchester/Tameside Stanza and is on the committee of Poets & Players. She has an MA in Creative Writing from MMU. She recently completed work for a PhD. Twelve of her poems were published in a three-poet pamphlet Some Mothers Do… (November 2018) by Beautiful Dragons Press.She blogs at racheld1607.com

Nina Simon is a librarian during the working week, working with schools, promoting reading for pleasure. Away from the confines of earning a living she heads to the gym and loves to delve into her imagination to write poetry and stories.

Penny Blackburn lives in the North East of England and writes poetry and short fiction. Her online publication includes pieces in Picaroon, Bangor Literary Journal and Marsden Poetry Village and she has appeared in print anthologies by Batley Poets and Paper Swans Press.

Linda M. Crate’s poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She has six published chapbooks A Mermaid Crashing Into Dawn (Fowlpox Press – June 2013), Less Than A Man (The Camel Saloon – January 2014), If Tomorrow Never Comes (Scars Publications, August 2016), My Wings Were Made to Fly (Flutter Press, September 2017), splintered with terror (Scars Publications, January 2018), more than bone music (Clare Songbirds Publishing, March 2019), and one micro-chapbook Heaven Instead (Origami Poems Project, May 2018). She is also the author of the novel Phoenix Tears (Czykmate Books, June 2018).

Lach “As founder of the international Antifolk movement Lach has been cited as an inspiration by everyone from Beck to Suzanne Vega, from Regina Spektor to The Moldy Peaches. Lach has six albums out, a book poetry (The Thin Book of Poems published by Desert Hearts Pub.) now in its second edition, and was the writer for the hit storytelling series on  BBC Radio 4 called The Lach Chronicles, which ran for three seasons.”

Lorraine Caputo is a documentary poet, translator and travel writer whose works appear in over 100 journals in Canada, the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa; 12 chapbooks of poetry – including Caribbean Nights (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014), Notes from the Patagonia (dancing girl press, 2017) and the upcoming On Galápagos Shores (dancing girl press, 2019); and 18 anthologies. She has done over 200 literary readings, from Alaska to the Patagonia. For the several decades, she has been traveling through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth.

Scott Redmond is Scotland’s leading Romani poet and comedian, having performed around the country for the last five years, starting at 17. As a poet, he has been published in print and online, won multiple slams, and been named the ‘Bad Boy of UK Spoken Word’ by Inky Fingers. He likes long walks on the beach, discussions about metaphysics, and surreal knock-knock jokes.

Lynn-Marie Harper lives in London, enjoying its cultural delights, beautiful parks and open spaces. She enjoys travelling which she does less than she’d like, but she writes every day wherever she is. She also participates in Chi Gung and Tai chi, swims and runs after her granddaughter, is interested in and practises visual art. She has had several poems published in anthologies and online and reads widely, sometimes to others, patients particularly, in person and over the phone.

Morgan Driscoll is a long time commercial artist, looking to express himself in some other way than selling Widgets. Poetry seemed the least commercial, and most under the radar way he could think of. So far it has been a satisfying, but obscure journey. He has been published in The Amethyst Review, Humanist Magazine, Mused, and Califragile.

Penny Sharman is a poet, photographer, artist and therapist. She has three grown up sons and three grandchildren. Penny has as MA in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University and has had her poetry published in many magazines and anthologies. Penny is inspired by wild landscapes, her images are often surreal but grounded in the everyday. Penny’s debut Pamphlet Fair Ground was published by Yaffle Press in April 2019 and her first collection Swim With Me In Deep Water is hot of the press by Cerasus. You can find out more about Penny on her web: pennysharman.co.uk

Rachel Cunniffe is based in the North East of  England and has  written a  wide range of  poetry  since being a teenager, has a MA in Writing Studies gained in 1995 from Edgehill University College. Real jobs stifled her creativity for 16 years  and she has recently  been able to partially retire and spend more time writing again. She has been a member  of several creative  writing groups  one of which  has  been in existence since 1991. She read regularly at the now sadly no more Callender Poetry Festival in September during that time for about 9 years. She lives with a large black dog and two cats.

Edel Hanley is currently researching for a PhD in women’s war writing at University College Cork following the completion of her MA in Modernities: British and American Literature and Film at UCC. Edel hosts a children’s poetry course in conjunction with the Centre for Talented Youth Ireland (CTYI) in UCC and has previously published poetry and fiction in Crannog magazine, Quarryman literary journal, and Motley magazine. Three of Edel’s poems will also be included in Book Hub Publishing’s forthcoming anthology

Maggie Mackay loves family history which she incorporates into work in print and online journals. One of her poems is included in the award-winning #MeToo anthology while others have been nominated for The Forward Prize, Best Single Poem and for the Pushcart Prize. Another was commended in the Mothers’ Milk Writing Prize. Her pamphlet ‘The Heart of the Run’ is published by Picaroon Poetry and the booklet  ‘Sweet Chestnut’ by Karen Little in aid of animal welfare. #mentalhealthformillennials which will be launched in October 2019.

Stephanie Pressman earned an MA in English from San Jose State University, taught writing at community college, and became a graphic artist, editor and owner of her own design and publishing business, Frog on the Moon. An active member of Poetry Center San Jose since its founding, she served as co-editor and layout artist of cæsura. She also co-edited americas review. Her work has appeared in many journals including Bridges, cæsura, CQ/California State Poetry Quarterly, and Montserrat Review. Her long poem Lovebirdman appears in an illustrated volume published in June, 2018 (available on Amazon).

Rosemary McLeish is an outsider artist who has been writing poems for about 20 years now. Some of them find themselves becoming works of art and some have been published in anthologies and magazines. She lives in Kent and is currently writing a book of memoir, ‘Not Doing The Ironing’.

David Subacchi was born in Wales of Italian roots. David has six published collections of his poetry which includes one in Welsh. He is a keen member of Chester Poets.

Moira Garland lives in West Yorkshire. Her poetry has appeared in The North, Algebra of Owls, Until the Stars Burn Out, and in anthologies. Short fiction publications include The Forgotten and the Fantastical #3 (Mothers Milk Press), Strix, and Tyto Alba (Comma Press). She is a retired lecturer, and melodeon player.

Rachael Clyne is from Glastonbury, Her Collection: Singing at the Bone Tree – is published by Indigo Dreams. Her work appears in journals: Tears in the Fence, The Rialto, Under the Radar, Prole, Shearsman, Lighthouse, The Interpreters House. Her new pamphlet, Girl Golem, is published by 4Word Press.

Sandra Unerman “I am a fantasy writer who lives in London. My novels Spellhaven and Ghosts and Exiles are published by Mirror World and I have had a number of short stories published. Including one in the anthology, Humanagerie, which has been shortlisted for an award this year by the British Fantasy Society. I am a member of the London Clockhouse Writers’’ Group and of the Folklore Society.”

Sunita Sahoo works as a Senior Software Engineer. She hails from India and loves writing poems of all genres. Her works have been published in The Indian Periodical Journal and The Poets Choice Zine. Most of her poems are based on her real life experiences, profound reflections of human mind, dreams and burning social issues. She loves writing inspirational and motivational poems and tries to spread the optimism to the larger mass never to GIVE UP! Apart from the above, she also loves composing short fantasy themed ballads for children.

David Turnbull is a member of the Clockhouse London group of genre writers. He writes mainly short fiction and has had numerous short stories published in magazines and anthologies, as well as having stories read at live events such as Liars League London, Solstice Shorts and Virtual Futures. He was born in Scotland, but now lives in the Catford area of London. He can be found at http://www.tumsh.co.uk.

Donna Campbell has had work published in various magazines and anthologies. Over the past 20 years she has worked with community groups using writing and performance as a way to promote health and wellbeing. Donna occasionally performs her poems at open mic nights around Glasgow. She lives alone with two old cats named Jack and Albert!

Mark Blayney won the Somerset Maugham Award for Two kinds of silence. Third story collection Doppelgangers and poetry Loud music makes you drive faster published by Parthian. Mark is a Hay Festival Writer at Work http://www.markblayney.weebly.com

Mark Hudson is a frequent contributor to writer’s cafe. For the topic of masks, he couldn’t think of any ideas, till the night before the deadline, he had a dream, or if you will, a ‘nightmare’ that had to do with masks. He immediately woke up, and before even pouring his morning coffee, he wrote this story onto his hard drive. if you’re reading it, then it was published, and he hopes you enjoy it.

Helena Salgueiro is a Galician theatre-maker, performer and writer currently based in Edinburgh. Helena has performed in several theatres and festivals from Galicia, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Lithuania, England and Scotland. Her scenic education has also taken her to Paris, Denmark and Poland. She published two poetry books in Galician, participated in several literary anthologies and was the artistic director of GN teatro until 2017. She now works as a performance artist, focusing on the relationship between poetry, dance, folklore and visual arts

Roddie McKenzie lives in Dundee and is a member of Wyvern Poets and Nethergate Writers. He has published short stories in Nethergate Writers anthologies since 2006 and his poetry and prose have appeared in: Cairn, Green Shoots, Lallans,“Seagate III” and recently in: New Writing Scotland 35, Northwords Now 36, “50 Shades of Tay”, Writers Cafe Magazine 16 and “Rebel”. His poetry explores journeys, both physical and psychological, while his stories favour the anti-hero or underdog. He is working on a novel composed of interlinked short stories based on his ten years lived in Canada. For further details see: http://www.nethergatewriters.org/?p=217 https://wyvernpoets.wixsite.com/dundee/poets and https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/lifestyle/766075/766075/

Hannah Stone has published three volumes of poetry, LodestoneMissing Miles and Swn y Morloi. She convenes the poets-composers forum for Leeds Lieder festival and hosts Wordspace Open mic event in Horsforth. She collaborates with composers and poets and runs creative writing workshops in Yorkshire.

Julian Colton has had five collections of poetry published. He edits the Eildon Tree literary magazine. He lives in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders.

Cheryl Caesar lived in Paris, Tuscany and Sligo for 25 years, studied at the Sorbonne and taught literature, phonetics and “civilization.”  She teaches writing at Michigan State University, demonstrates, reads and publishes protest poems in the U.S., Germany, India, Bangladesh, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Soma Datta is a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Creative Writing program reinvigorating her poetry and flash fiction muscles after over two decades of writing stories for businesses and brands. She intends to tell her story as a first generation Indian woman growing up between Western and Eastern cultures.

Penny Hope is a teacher and translator based in the south of England. Her poems are published in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.She has a particular interest in theatre and gardens.

Peter Burrows is a librarian in the North West of England.  Poems have appeared most recently in Northwords Now, Dream Catcher, Marble Poetry, Words for the Wild and Coast to Coast to Coast. His poem Tracey Lithgow was shortlisted for the Hedgehog Press 2019 Cupid’s Arrow Poetry Prize. More poems and publications at peterburrowspoetry.wordpress.com @Peter_Burrows74

Pauline May lives in Sunderland with her husband, son and cat. She enjoys performing at spoken word events across the north east. She has had poems published in The Blue Nib, Not Your Mother’s Breast Milk, Panning For Poems, Celebrating Change, The Writers Cafe and YorkMix Magazine. She won a Mslexia Mini Max Poetry Competition in June, judged by Helen Mort. She had a poem commended in The York Literature Festival Poetry Competition In 2015 and one shortlisted this year. She also had poems shortlisted for The Freshers Writing Prize this year and commended in Culpepper’s Remedy Poetry Competition. She also has a poem shortlisted for the Strokestown Pasttimes – Past Times Competition – result being announced this Saturday.

Jean Taylor’s poetry has been published in a range of publications including Pushing Out the Boat, Orbis, Northwords Now, Firth and Envoi as well as in anthologies and online on Atrium, Snakeskin, Amaryllis and Ink, Sweat and Tears.Her pamphlet Deliberate Sunlight was published by Black Agnes Press in 2019.

J.S.Watts is a poet and novelist. Her writing appears in publications at home and abroad and has been broadcast on BBC and Independent Radio. She has published six books: four of poetry, “Cats and Other Myths”, “Years Ago You Coloured Me”, “The Submerged Sea” and an award nominated poetry pamphlet, “Songs of Steelyard Sue”,  plus two novels, “A Darker Moon” and “Witchlight”. See www.jswatts.co.uk for further details.

Irene Cunningham has had many poems published in literary magazines over the last twenty-odd years. She lounges around Loch Lomond and sometimes blogs at https://irenecunninghamisinsideout.wordpress.com/

Gabor G. Gyukics (b. 1958) poet, jazz poet, literary translator born in Budapest. He is the author of 9 books of original poetry, 6 in Hungarian, 2 in English, 1 in Arabic, 1 in Bulgarian, 1 in Czech, 1 book of prose and 11 books of translations including A Transparent Lion, selected poetry of Attila József and Swimming in the Ground: Contemporary Hungarian Poetry (in English, both with co-translator Michael Castro) and an anthology of North American Indigenous poets in Hungarian titled Medvefelhő a város felett. He writes his poems in English (which is his second language) and Hungarian. His latest book in English titled a hermit has no plural was published by Singing Bone Press in the fall of 2015. His latest book in Hungarian was published by Lector Press in May 2018.

John Conway is a gay writer from Newcastle. He’s a fan of travel, history, early 20th Century fiction and walking in the creepier parts of the British countryside. He mostly writes genre-fiction (fantasy / historical / horror) about exploration, first encounters, lost places and enigmatic strangers. These days, he’s wondering why Northumbrian folk-horror isn’t really a thing, and how this can be made a thing.

Leela Soma was born in Madras, India and now lives in Glasgow, Scotland. Her poems and short stories have been published in a number of anthologies and publications, and has published two novels and two collections of poetry, from‘Madras to Milngavie’ and ‘Tartan & Turmeric.’  Her work reflects her dual heritage of India and Scotland.

Rachel Burns lives in Durham City. Her poetry has appeared recently in Crannog, Poetry Salzburg Review, Algebra of Owls and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She has a poetry pamphlet forthcoming with Vane Women Press.

Beth Vernon lives in the West End of Glasgow in an empty flat, having apparently driven out the other four residents one by one. She calls the Mitchell Library home, although not literally, she assures me, in the unlikely event the council is reading this.

Lisa Rhodes-Ryabchich is the author of “Opening the Black Ovule Gate,” 2018; “We Are Beautiful like Snowflakes,” 2016, from (http://www.finishinglinepress.com). She has a MFA from Sarah Lawrence College & was a recipient of a Martha’s Vineyard Creative Writing Fellowship in 2016. Poems are forthcoming or have appeared in The Chaffey Review, Poetry Leaves Exhibition 2019, Ancient Pathways, Nothing Substantial, Epiphanies & Late Realizations of Love, Remembered Arts Journal, Breadcrumbs Magazine, Greed 7 Deadly Sins, I AM STRENGTH, Medical Literary Messenger, Literary Nest, Writers Café Magazine, The Moon magazine, Destigmatized Anthology, http://www.praxismagonline.com, Gather Round, Journal of Poetry Therapy and elsewhere. She is a reader for Empire Jones Great Press.

Elizabeth Stott worked in industry as a scientist. Originally from Kent, she now lives in Cumbria. Her stories and poems have appeared in magazines, anthologies, spoken word events and as a short story collection, Familiar Possessions. More information is available from elizabethstott.wordpress.com.

Nina Lewis is widely published, her début pamphlet Fragile Houses was published by V. Press, 2016. Her second pamphlet ‘Patience’ is due out 2019.
She was a Reader in Residence for WMRN, Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2017-18. Nina curates Transatlantic poetry projects and was an International Guest Poet at Perth Poetry Festival Australia, 2018.

Lynn Valentine writes between dog walks on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands. Her work has appeared in anthologies and online in places such as the Scottish Poetry Library blog and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She is a previous winner of the Glasgow Women’s Library ‘Dragon’s Pen’ award and has been placed in other competitions.

Mel Eaton is a restless mother, teacher, freelance writer and self-acclaimed procrastinator. Mel has always struggled to find the time and space to write, therefore she founded ‘WriteSpace North East’ earlier this year in the hope of releasing her pent up creativity and finding like-minded individuals who could influence her practise and above all, discipline her to write. Described as a ‘What If’ – girl by her father and a ‘self-sufficient, overly-imaginative child ,’ by her mother, Mel has written stories, poems and journals since the tender age of 7. (She now has over 60 diaries hidden in her loft!)Three decades later, after marriage/kids/career/ a health scare and time spent generally faffing about, Mel has finally returned full circle to her writing – her true roots.

Elspeth Wilson is a Scottish writer and research with an MPhil in Gender Studies. She was recently shortlisted for the Streetcake experimental poetry prize and has previously won Best Blog at the Write to End Violence Against Women Awards. She is currently working on her debut novel and poetry collection.

Paul Waring’s poems have been published in print journals, anthologies and online magazines. He was awarded second place in the 2019 Yaffle Prize and had one poem commended and another shortlisted in the 2019 Welshpool Poetry Competition. His debut pamphlet ‘Quotidian’ is published by Yaffle Press. Paul’s website: https://waringwords.blog

Vicky Morris is a poet and creative practitioner based in Sheffield. She’s been published, or is forthcoming, in places like Butcher’s Dog, The Interpreter’s House, Brittle Star, Under the Radar, Atlanta Review and Verse Matters anthology (Valley Press). Vicky won a Northern Writers Award in 2014, and in 2019 The Sarah Nulty Award for her work developing young writers. She’s currently an Arvon/Jerwood mentee for Poetry (2019/20) www.vickymorris.co.uk

Rona Fitzgerald has poems in UK, Scottish, Irish and US publications both in print and online. Originally from Dublin, she now lives in Glasgow. Most recent publications are Poems for Grenfell Tower, Onslaught Press 2018, and #Me Too, Fair Acre Press, 2018

Anne Harding Woodworth is the author of six books of poetry with a seventh, Trouble, appearing in 2020. Her work is published widely in the U.S. and abroad, in print and on line, including TriQuarterly, Poet Lore, Crannog, and Innisfree Poetry Journal. She is a member of the Poetry Board at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.,  and of the Board of Governors at the Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts.

A. Hurford is a trans person, learning all the time, in finding her way. She was mentored by Survivors’ Poetry with whom she hopes her first collection, A Staff of Asklepios, will be forthcoming. She has a blog at https://ablindcatchinthesun.wordpress.com/

 


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