Books From The Pantry: GREEN FUSES: Poems from the VOLE Books – Winter / Spring Competition 2024 – edited by Janice Dempsey – selected by Adele Ward – reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

The title of this anthology, published by Dempsey and Windle under their VOLE imprint, is taken from lines by Dylan Thomas: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees / Is my destroyer.” The anthology contains 50 poems by 50 poets comprising three prize winning poems, three highly commended poems and 44 shortlisted poems from the VOLE Books Winter / Spring Poetry Competition 2024.

In her introduction, the competition judge, Adele Ward, says that she looked for originality, subjects not written about by any other entrant, ones that stood out for their accomplishment and obvious expertise.

The poems in this anthology cover a wide variety of subjects ranging from the changing of the seasons to a potter moulding a vase, from a parakeet that has flown far from its home to contrails that ‘marble the sky….in a penumbra of dawn and dusk.’ Most notable for me, though, were the poems on less familiar subjects: Denni Turp’s poem on orthotics, Paul McDonald’s poem on asthma attacks, Derek Sellen’s poem on sleep paralysis, Cathy Whittaker’s poem on DNA testing and Ray Diamond’s poem about the man who didn’t walk on the moon. All of these poems yielded far more than what might have been expected by their titles. McDonald’s poem, for example, has at its core the importance of communication and the need to choose one’s words carefully in a real emergency while Whittaker’s poem turns into an elegy for familial loss due to the holocaust and then widens out to include all people who have suffered loss due to conflict in war.

Michael Farry’s approach to his poem ‘Sleep’, seen through the lens of punctuation, is particularly striking. Here is the final stanza:

Lately you have found the value
of inserting an afternoon comma
a soft pause, a splice in the series
of conjunctions, interjections and moods
as you negotiate the subject-verb agreement
on the way towards the full stop, period.

Richard Wheeler’s powerful poem ‘Fragments of War’ hits home with its fast-paced lines and emphatic final line which signals the futility of it all. The lack of a full-stop at the end, as well as throughout the entire poem, questions whether humanity will ever know a time when wars will cease on Earth. Michael Tanner’s ‘Flower of War’, which follows on from the previous poem, not only shows the care that has been taken in arranging the order in which the poems appear in this anthology but also reveals the subject from a different perspective, that of survival. The rosebay willow herb which ‘thrives in bombed / And burnt-out cities’ is the botanical equivalent of the phoenix rising from the ashes. The final stanza takes the poem to another level:

See how these orphans roam
The blackened stones of home,
Stooping to pick
The tall-stemmed flower
For mothers never known.

Olivia Bell’s ‘War, page five’ is equally powerful in its unique take from the editor’s desk. The final stanza challenges us about where our priorities truly lie:

We sent the pages at ten past midnight,
a celebrity’s teeth gleaming on the front.
I took the night bus home,
wondering how I had ever believed
that all lives could be worth the same.

A notable feature that most of the poems have in this anthology is the strong final stanza which often adds something new or takes the poem to a different level. Sue Wallace-Shaddad’s poem ‘Brought Back to Life’ (after an embroidery by Maggie Hamilton) describes the work of a conservator repositioning ‘the threads / of its previous life, the colours / which shone with spring fervour / one hundred years ago’ and ends with the words:

I stroll in the garden
of Maggie’s imagination –
bring the outside in.

That idea of the needle being pulled through the embroidery is the add-on that we take away from this final line.

Stylistically, there are a number of poems which adhere to strict poetic forms: a ghazal, a sonnet, a ‘reverse’ poem and a tritina, the latter being a poem of 10 lines arranged as three tercets with one final line using a specific scheme of end words.

This anthology offers the reader poems on a wide variety of subjects presented in an original and accomplished way. The force that through the green fuse fired them into being shows that poetry still has the ability to speak to us in ways that are fresh and invigorating. Brief biographies of all the poets are given at the end.

You can find more of Neil’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Neil Leadbeater was born and brought up in Wolverhampton, England. He was educated at Repton and is an English graduate from the University of London. He now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014), Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017), Punching Cork Stoppers (Original Plus, 2018) River Hoard (Cyberwit.net, Allahabad, India, 2019), Reading Between the Lines (Littoral Press, 2020) and Journeys in Europe (co-authored with Monica Manolachi) (Editura Bifrost , Bucharest, Romania, 2022). His work has been translated into several languages. He is a member of the Federation of Writers Scotland and he is a regular reviewer for several journals including Quill & Parchment (USA), The Halo-Halo Review (USA), Write Out Loud (UK) and The Poet (UK). His many and varied interests embrace most aspects of the arts and, on winter evenings, he enjoys the challenge of getting to grips with ancient, medieval and modern languages.

Electroman: moral rectitude or top-down fascism & mindless violence in 8-parts by Evan Hay 

Electroman is alpha & omega: shocking old-school authenticity in a virtual ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ social media era of asternal semantics, communicated en masse, with intense feeling yet atrophied definition. Electroman’s legendary power represents veritas: the whole damned truth, & nothing but. With humanity’s rank & file, running a real risk of losing sight of its impersonal raison d’etre over a trifling tangle of inconsequential options, amid modernity’s treacherously mixed reality, this scientifically designed OG is pre-programmed to re-magnetise our sacred universes fine-tuned moral compass, & save western civilisation’s time-honoured dynastic concepts, cultures, & networks from obliteration. Traveling time & space at warp speed, soaring in honour of our abiding godly empyrean, Electroman ventures into oblivions deepest lifeless valleys; surviving volcanic chasms spewing volatile fiery substances, braving uncharted fenlands infested with freaky web-footed inbreds, & scantily clad sultry harlots, before scaling the snowiest mountaintops, without concern for life or limb.

A blēssed & anointed OEM production, Electroman arises erect: a clean, unerring ghost, in his own portable machine. Brand new, & reassuringly expensive AI; a patented intellectual property untarnished by contemporaneity’s monstrous rattle of uncouth virtue signalling, come ignorant self-expression. Trademarked sigils engraved across this cybernetic organism’s proud meaty chest, pay tribute to heroic derring-do; E-man’s wry smile revealing unparalleled valour, & an absolute focus on duty. Only the epic majesty of Electroman can avert what only last week seemed inevitable; flashing across earthly skies he seeks out evil, harbingers of calamity, or any bugger who gets on his manufacturer RTX Corp’s wick. Typically, lukewarm types, whom Electroman’s gilded creators regard as the apotheosis of everything effeminate, outlandish, &/or un-Anglo-American; fell creatures, that must be nipped in the bud, lest they surreptitiously spread, like urban fox faeces, which if ingested, provokes infected wretches to vomit mauvais oeufs of anarchy, over countless innocent, societal casualties.

One such cockroach, queer Bernie Sanderson, a shifty, adventitious pharmacy proprietor, groomed that honest, congenial confidence, manifest amongst east London’s openly landless teenagers: turning susceptible minds involuntarily against national service, with a vile style of humanist propaganda, neo-socialism, balalaika music, charcoal burning ethnic teapots, caviar, & mind-altering fungi. Sanderson, a disagreeable Bitcoiner, Muslim sympathiser, & suspected Marxist, was particularly distasteful with a piss-yellow polyester shirt collar, & rampant facial acne. This Russian-speaking interloper appeared on the plot one day, leached of empathy: an ephebophile, with an unwelcome, adoptive cod-English accent. Apologists opined he’d escaped from an oblast of total misery, loaded with immemorial hurt & resentment; others carped he’d crawled out from under an alien rock, or an acrid cloud of condensed communist fog, wilfully determined to undermine an intergenerational ‘us versus them’ bulldog mentality obligingly bred by forelock tugging neo-villein forefathers, into Blighty’s native adolescents.

Tintack, LSD, GHB, & liberal doses of Rohypnol were force-fed during class A drug orgies, carried out on camera, in the box bedroom of Sanderson’s grubby ground floor maisonette (located within that oddball borough of Hackney), which sported crass pro-Palestinian flags, & lurid 1970s wallpaper. Poor unfortunate street urchins were bound with rainbow electrical wire prior to being submitted to bestial rape, & associated pansexual degradations of every description, after inducements of flattery, false promises, small change, & intoxicating vodka-based cocktails. Sanderson’s diabolical web of terror was strong, persuasive, & repetitive; his distinctive Slavic silhouette cautiously espied from betwixt dusty venetian blinds, a permanent depraved fixture of this deprived, ragtag community’s life: a painful indelible blot on Vicky Park’s penny-pinching, cutpurse neighbourhood, bordering the river Lea. Sanderson’s dank stain seeped into an offbeat communal mindset; securing easy ingress, through the needy district’s basest behavioural patterns-cum-preoccupations.

Weird spectral souls, subsisting in this down-at-heel neck of the woods, tended to be gig economy bedsitters, cowed, intimidated, & routinely harassed by absent retiree landlords (gloating over vicious price rises across London’s property-cum-rental market). Or disengaged mothers, & a handful of lickle babyfathers, in the zone; each too wrapped up administering day-to-day operations, celebrating uncanny arrays of narcissistic tics ’n’ tats, to notice Sanderson sucker punching their offspring’s solar plexuses. None of these creatures targeted by Sanderson alerted appropriate authorities about an assortment of rank obscenities playing out in the middle of terraced residences; nor did the manor’s dime droppers, errant parents, their random bedfellows, or local OAP bedwetters up to no good, sneak peeking from behind twitching curtains with silent contempt. Persons in this fey section of E9 were permanently out to lunch, on the spectrum, addicted to self-absorbing pastimes as likely to drive them mad, as bring delight.

Howbeit, no amount of terror or vacuity cast dark shadows over prophetic-cum-proprietary state-of-the-art detectors: super-duper pulsed kaleidoscopic micro-sensors. 3D mapping innovation for rugged cyborgs, generated by Raytheon in collaboration with Boston Dynamics. Plenary digital surveillance kit reimagined, boasting unbounded range, E-man’s omniscient electronic componentry relayed flashing transgression alerts to smart monitors. Simultaneously processed data capture predicted mission implications, enabling an immediate response. Instant reports summarised & sent to control panels, melded to the sweatless palm of E-man’s steady righthand; all part & parcel of advanced nanotechnology implanted into his fire-retardant membrane. Thus, highly sensitive LiDAR scanning devices, accurate enough to spot common clothes moths aflutter beneath smoke-stained cornicing, ogled at debauched hot kink sessions (with chaste clinical precision) in the mind-blowing, liminal actuality of Sanderson’s musty deathtrap of a property: riddled, as it was, from cracked ceiling to threadbare carpet, with dry rot & mould.

Searing down from the stratosphere, Electroman smashed through these rented dwellings leaky roof, & upstairs loft room, startling untold millions of illegal, brown-skinned immigrants, squatting there on a hair trigger. All of whom later in custody, pleaded that in droves they’d fled US, EU & UK sanctioned homelands, on account of economic hardship, irrevocable environmental catastrophe, or due to being terrorised victims of colonial warfare, perpetrated by NATO collaborators claiming divine rights to profit at some other mug’s expense. Not a fanboy of diplomatic procrastination, angry Electroman crashed headfirst, straight through Sanderson’s vulgar, artexed ceiling. Surprise, shock & awe were in the air, but Electroman had no truck with banalities, or idle conversations with a low budget porn king; this ugly quarry barely had time to quail, as in a blinding moment of stark-naked perception, Electroman’s powerful fists righteously smote Sandersons’ crooked nose (an unmissable, unstraightened, aquiline schnozzle, protruding provocatively from this insolent, steppe-hopping blackguard’s rodent-like physiognomy).

Electroman unleashed a sustained heavy barrage, of explosive, military-grade blows, snapping Sanderson’s Eurasian spinal cord, as if it were mere soft canned fish bone. Yet, with an unfathomable wrath provoked, & his gander up, E-man was unfinished. As Sanderson lay grounded, helplessly paralysed, nude from the waist down, spreadeagled across disjointed parquet flooring, E-man knelt on his target’s puny physique. Deploying a level of professional detachment typically attributable to seasoned vivisectionists, he continued pummelling & pounding Sanderson’s repugnant face till it was an unrecognisable quagmire of bleeding, excoriated flesh. Brown bread, Sanderson had paid the ultimate, terrible price of criminality (plus compound interest). Let it be known, shit rolls downhill. Cry God save the King, England, & Saint George! Rejoice in a proper top-down execution of justice: a sobering lesson to dodgy johnny foreigners, or dubious strangers, considering pushing their luck, by daring to cock slimy snooks at Electroman’s unforgiving robotic fortitude-cum-monumental skull & crossbones Old Testament aggression.

Evan Hay exists in Britain & rather than follow spurious leaders – over the years he’s intermittently found it therapeutic to write out various thoughts, feelings & ideas as short stories to be examined, considered, & interpreted by clinical practitioners who may be able to offer him professional psychological assistance.

You can find more of Evan’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: 100 Titles From Tom Beckett/56/Translate Objects: Nothing to merit treatment: TyouBE by Mark Young/Image by Thomas Fink

100 Titles From Tom Beckett
56: Translate Objects

We started by creating a scene.
Then came the arguments.

The first argument set what
import format to expect, set

the attributes. The second argu-
ment set the format to output.

A translated object doesn’t
change — it just goes some-
where else. At least that’s the
translation of Euclid’s defin-
ition of translate. That if every
point of a shape or figure is
moved by the same distance
in a predetermined direction,
even though it may end up
in another place, it’s still the
                                        same object.

Animists believe that all objects
share the breath of life. Trans-
lated, that means everything’s
got a soul. Or a brand new bag.

Hi. I just found a way to move
objects around. Was wondering
if this is the best way to do it.

Nothing to merit treatment

What does Proverbs 26:24 mean? Meta-
phorically: the glaze covering a clay
pot may be attractive, but it’s just a thin
disguise. She preferred solar flares light
up the undercarriage. A battle of concepts.
Fashion crime, thought crime — they
don’t break the law despite the will of
the one who practices them. Some doc-

trines are intuitive, others invoke Stare
Decisis, “let the decision stand,” adher-
ing to a precedent that determines the
relative weight to be accorded to different
cases. Always the chance of being more
upset by the things that you didn’t do.

TyouBE

Instead of writing one or
several poems — which is
what I should be doing —
I sidle into YouTube & into
a sequence of songs that —
effort for output —seems
much more productive,
even though it will end up

being a private poem. But,
hey, I’m in there singing
along, even if the only evi-
dence of that is some cryptic
reference in a public poem
written many months later.

Mark Young was born in Aotearoa New Zealand but now lives in a small town on traditional Juru land in North Queensland, Australia. He is the author of more than sixty-five books, primarily text poetry but also including speculative fiction, vispo, memoir, and art history. His most recent books are a pdf, Mercator Projected, published by Half Day Moon Press (Turkey) in August 2023; Ley Lines II published by Sandy Press (California) in November 2023; un saut de chat published by Otoliths Books (Australia) in February 2024; and Melancholy, a James Tate Poetry Prize winner, published by SurVision Books (Ireland) in March 2024.

You can find more of Mark’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Image by Thomas Fink, who has published 12 books of poetry– most recently Zeugma (Marsh Hawk Press, 2022) and A Pageant for Every Addiction (Marsh Hawk, 2020), written collaboratively with Maya D. Mason. His Selected Poems & Poetic Series appeared in 2016. He is the author of Reading Poetry with College and University Students: Overcoming Barriers and Deepening Engagement (Bloomsbury Academic, 2022), as well as two books of criticism, and three edited anthologies.  His work appeared in Best American Poetry 2007. Fink’s paintings hang in various collections. He is Professor of English at CUNY-LaGuardia.

Pantry Prose: Escapade by Ghulam Mohammad Khan

Don’t assume I’m mad, for I am not. Some might say I’m brave, or I wouldn’t have ventured out on the coldest winter night, with lurking gunmen in the darkness, just to meet her. It was a time when the marvel of mobile phones had yet to grace our remote village. It was on the Yarbal Street where our paths crossed frequently that we decided to meet that fateful night. This street earned its name because it led to the most infamous Yarbal in the village.

The chorus of barking dogs echoed through the crisp night air, accompanying the soft descent of slushy snow from the roof eaves. Anticipation quickened my heartbeat as the clock neared midnight. I had dressed in fresh attire to ensure I didn’t carry any foul scent. I felt an overwhelming restlessness. Eventually, I stirred from my bed, quietly unlatched the window, and slipped out like a shadow. I felt no fear of the barking dogs or the gunmen. The sensation of cold snow melting on my hot cheeks was strangely invigorating.

Two streets away, a pack of dogs gave chase. I sprinted and sought refuge in a nearby hut where our neighbours stored firewood. As the dogs lost interest and departed, I cautiously emerged once more.

I had never before even touched a girl’s hand, and my desperation to meet her drove me forward. I knew I was willing to endure any torment, to go to any lengths necessary to make it happen.

In those days, being good-looking held greater sway in winning a girl’s favour than mere affluence. It was a time when young girls defied their parents and often eloped with their paramours, especially under the cover of night. Boys with long, silky hair and fair complexions were the ones who could sweep the prettiest girls off their feet. However, these unions, forged in the crucible of physical allure, frequently crumbled when the spectre of poverty cast its shadow over the initial splendour. Surprisingly, most of the girls were stunningly beautiful, while many of the boys appeared gauche and lacked wholesomeness. I found myself fitting squarely into the latter category. I was acutely aware of my dissimilarity from my neighbouring friend, who was deeply infatuated with the fairest maiden in the village, a subject of conversation for everyone.

Soaked in snow, yet ablaze with a yearning to hold her in the obscurity of night, I gently traced her window with the full palm of my hand, just as we had arranged on that very street. I couldn’t discern the exact sound produced by my hand against her window, but she had assured me she’d be attentive. I considered myself fortunate to have a girlfriend, even though I wasn’t fair or wealthy. I can’t quite grasp what ignited her love for me, or define it precisely. I can’t ascribe a name to the emotion as it escaped categorization, but in moments of desire, one’s complexion becomes inconsequential; it’s merely the physical connection that matters.

Once inside the room, I began to notice bodily sensations I had never experienced before. The human body is like a vast, uncharted universe, and within its depths resides an infinite expanse of sensual energy. It was as though this profound darkness contained within me was caught up in a swirling tempest, making me feel like I could burst forth at any moment.

In the pitch-black darkness, my surroundings remained shrouded in obscurity, yet I couldn’t escape the intoxicating sensation that enveloped me. In an instant, I found myself nestled in her embrace beneath the comforting weight of a thick quilt, its scent reminiscent of old currency notes. She pressed closer, her lips grazing my ear, her warm breath sending shivers down my spine as she cautioned in a hushed tone, “Speak softly. My aunt is sleeping in the corner to our right. Although she’s sound asleep and unlikely to wake anytime soon, we must still be cautious during this intimate moment.”

Her words slightly unsettled me, and suddenly, I felt the urge to pass gas. I couldn’t risk spoiling the ambiance with bad odour, so I forcefully suppressed it by contracting my muscles, causing a faint rumble in my stomach. She noticed and murmured softly, “Is everything alright? Your stomach seems to be growling.” “That’s not my stomach; it’s my desire growling, desperate to break free.” “Well, why wait? We can let it out right here. The passion is just so palpable, and it’s the perfect moment”, she whispered playfully.

As we made love, the presence of her sleeping aunt almost slipped my mind. Her aunt’s stature was imposing, impossible to ignore. When she walked down the street, her discomfort was evident. She’d clutch her hips with both hands, and her heaving chest caused her to breathe rapidly. She always treated me kindly, offering warm words whenever we greeted each other. However, I couldn’t overlook my aversion to her due to the large, hardened mole that covered her right temple, extending to the corner of her eye. I occasionally found myself daydreaming about removing it with a sharp blade, though the gruesome image of her entire face covered in blood left me shaken.

The night grew darker, enveloping us in its quiet embrace. Amid the rhythmic snoring of her aunt, we shared an intimate moment. Though her aunt’s snoring didn’t bother me, it brought to mind the prominent mole that I had always disliked. As exhaustion overtook me, I softly murmured in her ear, “Have you ever considered removing that conspicuous mole on her face? I find it quite unpleasant.”

“You know, my friend has a strong aversion to your short, curly hair and thinks your nose isn’t to her liking. But I have a different perspective. I appreciate you for who you are. We all have aspects that some may dislike and some may not”, she whispered this sentiment back to me.

As we exchanged hushed words, the aunt, who had ceased snoring, suddenly exclaimed, “Pinky, why are you still awake?” Taken completely by surprise, she replied with a quiver in her voice, “I just turned on the radio because I couldn’t fall asleep.”

The astute aunt hesitated to trust her instincts and cautiously rose from her bed. She shook the matchbox to ensure it contained matches before lighting the lantern. My heart raced as I envisioned myself being paraded down the village street, draped in a garland of slippers, with jubilant villagers jeering at me. I crouched beneath the quilt. “Turn off the light, please,” Pinky implored. Balancing the lantern in one hand and clutching the quilt with the other, she demanded, “Who are you? Show me your face!”

My blood boiled with anger. I yanked the quilt aside and locked eyes with her. The repulsive black mole sent waves of fury coursing through me. In a fit of rage, I seized one corner of the quilt and flung it over her head. Then I wrestled her down, wrapping her head tightly and delivering a barrage of punches. She wriggled and fought like a trapped bird. Pinky tried to pull me away, but I remained unyielding until she fell into complete silence, utterly motionless. The room now carried the acrid scent of kerosene that had spilled from the shattered lantern.

As I hurriedly tried to put on my sweater, her aunt abruptly sprang back to life, letting out a piercing scream. Fearing that her scream might awaken other members of the family, I dashed to the door, naked and in haste, somehow managing to find the latch. In my frantic state, I leaped from a high veranda, landing on a heap of bricks, severely injuring both my knees. In the darkness, I sprinted unclothed, with snowflakes lightly grazing my skin like cold drops of water on scorching sand. Desperately clutching my loose and torn boxer briefs with both of my hands, I wondered if you’ve ever heard of a foolish lover racing naked through the night, holding up his worn-out garment?

My wily and frugal father was ahead of his time. He had an unusual fascination with bandage rolls and that pungent liquid iodine. I considered myself fortunate to be the offspring of such an extraordinary individual. I carefully applied the antiseptic liquid to my bleeding knees and wrapped them in a thick bundle of bandages. Sleep was out of the question at this late hour, with over six inches of snow blanketing the landscape. I reluctantly changed back into my old clothes, having lost my fresh ones in the chaos.

Summoning my father from his slumber, I concocted an excuse about needing to attend early morning prayers at the mosque in order to borrow his torch. Stepping out into the darkness, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and determination. I couldn’t help but dread the possibility of being discovered in the morning, but I harbored no remorse for my earlier episode with her unsightly aunt.

Under the bright light of the torch, I retraced the path I had taken to escape, painstakingly erasing any traces of blood in the pristine snow. A stillness reigned the eerie surroundings, broken only by the delicate chime of snowflakes gently descending from the heavens. Then, I proceeded directly to the mosque, long before the prayers were scheduled to commence.

As I waited for the villagers to gather, an inexplicable distraction gnawed at my soul. I went through the motions of prayer, seeking atonement, but my heart was preoccupied by something else entirely.

I walked out of the mosque as the first glimmers of dawn began to break through the darkness. The streets were alive with a sense of urgency, as people hurriedly made their way, their steps brisk and determined. The news of her aunt’s demise had spread like wildfire, and the wailing grew louder with every step I took into the busy street.

Oddly, I still didn’t feel any remorse. In fact, a sense of relief washed over me, knowing that I would no longer have to endure the sight of the unsightly mole on her protruding face. However, beneath the relief, frustration simmered as I mentally braced myself for the inevitable, the long imprisonment that lay ahead. Curiously, I wasn’t overly concerned about what others might think of me, not even my robust and miserly father.

Unexpectedly, nothing of the sort occurred. The funeral unfolded in an oddly serene manner, almost surreal in its tranquility. I, too, took part in the proceedings. Strangely, no one even broached the subject of her sudden demise. During the burial, someone casually remarked, “She was a chronic asthma patient.”

In the following week, I left my home to pursue my studies, resolute in my decision never to return. I lived in perpetual fear of being apprehended one day. What astonished me even more was the fact that no one seemed to suspect foul play, despite my leaving behind my shoes and all my clothes, with nothing to my name except for a tattered boxer briefs.

A decade later, I unexpectedly crossed paths with Pinky on same familiar street. She now held one child close to her chest and another trailed behind, clutching an ice-cream cone. She appeared entirely different, as though she had undergone a complete transformation. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was slowly taking on the characteristics of her late aunt.

We exchanged pleasantries, as if we were ordinary acquaintances catching up. Our conversation drifted towards topics like marriage and children, subjects that held little importance for me. It was during this casual conversation that she revealed a shocking truth: she had saved my life on that fateful night.

“That scream didn’t awaken anyone. It was her final scream, and she passed away shortly after. I placed her lifeless body on the same bed, opened the windows to disperse the kerosene odor, collected your shoes and clothes, along with the shattered lantern, in a plastic bag, and disposed of it in the river at the break of dawn. She was simply found dead in the morning. Life has a way of leading you down unexpected paths,” she mused, her voice tinged with a mixture of regret and resignation.

*”Yarbal” signifies the customary gathering of women from a local community at the Ghats along the Jhelum River, or on the banks of streams and rivulets, where they would fetch water for their households. This gathering spot served as a hub for social interactions, information-sharing, gossip, and a place to relieve tensions.

Ghulam Mohammad Khan was born and raised in Sonawari (Bandipora), an outlying town located on the wide shores of the beautiful Wullar Lake. Ghulam Mohammad believes that literature is the most original and enduring repository of human memory. He loves the inherent intricacies of language and the endless possibilities of meaning. In his writing, he mainly focuses on mini-narratives, local practices and small-scale events that could otherwise be lost forever to the oblivion of untold histories. Ghulam Mohammad considers his hometown, faith and family to be most important to him. He writes for a few local magazines and newspapers. His short story collection titled The Cankered Rose is his first major forthcoming work.

Poetry Drawer: Inside Ashes: These Lines Are Bitter: Obscure Book: Unscripted by Aneek Chatterjee

Inside Ashes

After every finished poem,
ashes smile.
My numbed limbs find shelter
in fugitive lyrics, inside
ashes.
I want to jump out to the
world, where stages have been
set up to accommodate words;
where flowers and chairs have been
arranged to welcome lyrics.
I search new syllables inside
flowers; — in vain.
I find new sense of
burnt out lines
drowned in ashes.

They come up like
fresh twilight
in a summer evening.
I realize ashes have a
different warmth,
full of love and the
magical depth
of twilight.

Resuscitated, I feel like
rising from the ashes.

These Lines Are Bitter

Do not sail your tongue
over these lines.
These lines are bitter.
They contain black smoke from
every battlefield schemed by us.
They have deep wounds, visible
and invisible.
From every wound visible,
blood drips. Do not sail
your tongue in blood.
It’s thick
and bitter.
Here, flowers have
refused to bloom.
Agonies only carry
these lines, aptly.

Do not touch these
with your decorated eyes.
These are full of tear gas

and failed promises.

Obscure Book

You are a chair.
I’m all dust on the soil.
You’re a designation.
I’m the obscure book looking
from the corner of a
tinned rack.
You’re a crowd.
I’m the lonely bush
by the side of the road.
You’re a festival.

I’m still searching the
festive light.

Unscripted

Here you come, slowly
like long-awaited thoughts,
yet to bloom in a poem.

I’ve seen you already, —
like clouds see the river, —
from a secret 3rd floor window.

I’ve seen you long ago,
like the sudden childhood flower,
yet to acquire a name.

I’m also searching the name of
the river and the unscripted poem.
in my secret chamber

But I’m sure they will
forever
remain untitled.

Aneek Chatterjee is from Kolkata, India. He has published more than five hundred poems in reputed literary magazines and poetry anthologies. He authored and edited 16 books including five poetry collections. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Dr. Chatterjee received the Alfredo Pasilono Memorial International Literary Award. He was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia, USA, and a recipient of the ICCR Chair (Govt. of India) to teach abroad. 

Poetry Drawer: Nobody is Reading Poetry: This Siege: Earthquake Tremors by Dr Susie Gharib

Nobody is Reading Poetry

Nobody is reading poetry,
I reiterate in my bed,
my head repelling the pillow
with multiple authorships at stake.
This is the age of ridicule
and trendy trivialities
readily uploaded on the internet.
I sigh and with difficulty
close my reluctant eyelids.

Nobody is reading poetry
which is being bled
at the altar of social medias
that are preoccupied with current affairs,
such as posers,
disasters,
and pointed fingernails.
I think of ailing Muses
desperately awaiting remedies
that resuscitate
in vain.

This Siege

‘This siege,’ I state.
He attempts to interrupt with a piercing gaze.
‘This siege’, I repeat.
He beckons with his forefinger to me to discontinue.
‘This siege has not weakened me,’ looking him in the face.
‘Can’t you see that pressure has not made me yield.
What have you gained from the deaths of my peers,
the crucifixion of my dreams,
and the maiming of my career?’

His features twist with a menace
that he fails to conceal.

‘Intimidation and blackmail are not the way,
to win people over to the implementation of your ideals.
What’s so successful about your enterprise,
a fraternity of slaves,
whose loyalty is enjoined
by subtle threats and fear?
What a waste!’

Earthquake Tremors

They aim at that part of the brain
that maintains balance and equilibrium
and make the strings of hearts vibrate
to its contagious electricity.

I sway tremulous like a half-cut tree
on the onset of an eternal delirium.

These headaches I have that harass my day,
the weakened joints,
the lethargic ankles,
the feeble feet that now feel faint
the bewildered eyes,
the reluctant tongue
are my own unacknowledged diagnoses
of the Tremor-Shock Syndrome, TSS.

Dr Susie Gharib is a graduate of the University of Strathclyde with a PhD on the work of D.H. Lawrence. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Green Hills Literary Lantern, A New Ulster, Crossways, The Curlew, The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Ink Pantry, Mad Swirl, Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine, and Down in the Dirt.

Susie’s first book (adapted for film), Classic Adaptations, includes Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

You can find more of Susie’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: Waiting for the Bluebird of Happiness: Yoga Mat: Comforting the Enemy by Salvatore Difalco

Waiting for the Bluebird of Happiness

I could have been better. I know that.
But I was asking questions that could
not be answered. My spells turned out
to be voluntary and self-sustaining.
The vast fields I traversed
were greener than my waistcoat
traded from an armless man
who needed fresh shoes.

We all live in our own little dream.
If I gaze at my hands I feel
waves of blue-grey guilt,
and a wish to run at the field ram
harassing the billowy sheep
in order to relieve myself of this feeling.
The ram always wins, so no guilt
would stem from that collision.

Yoga Mat

Give me shelter or simply take away my boots
so I may better freeze to death on this yoga mat
and leave all my worldly belongings to another
broken person, or a cat who needs somewhere
to rest it’s little head. I’m easy to please, man,
just give me a chance to show you I’m as human
as anyone else on the planet, albeit I’m nowhere
as good as most people. My mother dropped me
on my head when I was a toddler, after my father
dropped her on her head. What goes around,
they say, those people who always have something
to add that makes no difference to anything.
Hey, don’t get down watching me lie upon
a stinking yoga mat I found in a trashcan.
I wore it like Rambo for a while, but it lacked
gravitas and made it hard to defend myself
against gremlins and demons and warlocks.
They all come for me at night, that’s the thing.
They won’t leave me alone. In the pitch black
darkness they can handle me with many hands.
Otherwise the tiger in the tank reverses course
and without delay roars out from the gas cap.
That’s the story from the jungle, friends.
Take us home now, Jerome, we have horses
to feed and cows to milk and a small black cat
waiting for a cozy yoga mat to call it a day.

Comforting the Enemy

Show me the way to the bedroom,
I’m so tired I could sleep for a year.

Don’t be afraid of the bandages.
Tomorrow, medics will change them.

But show me the way to the bedroom,
don’t be afraid, I will not harm you.

Don’t be alarmed, we are just people.
Yes, I am less than I was, nevertheless …

I only want to sleep the sleep
of the nearly doomed, of the blessed.

Fluff up the pillow for me, please,
my hands were lost in the war.

Some say the war isn’t over,
I say it’s over for me. Do you agree?

Pull the blankets to my throat, dear,
same reason as before.

Sicilian Canadian poet and short story writer Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto, Canada. Recent work appears in RHINO PoetryThird Wednesday, and E-ratio.

Poetry Drawer: Bad Date Blues Haiku by Laura Stamps

So me and Hazel.
Here we are. Sitting on a
bench at the new mall.

Saturday morning.
First the dog park. Then the mall
for compensation.

The sweet kind. Ice cream.
Chocolate Cookie Dough for me.
Pup cup for Hazel.

Ice cream. The best cure
for bad dates. Can’t believe his
dog bit Hazel. Geez.

Dating. Not my thing.
Should have listened to myself.
Why didn’t I? Why?

Well, I’m listening
now. No more dates. No more men.
None. I’m done. Promise!

Ice cream and Hazel.
She’s the best date. No stress. Yeah.
Dogs are much more fun.

Laura Stamps is a poet and novelist and the author of over 65 books. Most recently: THE GOOD DOG (Prolific Pulse Press, 2023), ADDICTED TO DOG MAGAZINES (Impspired, 2023), and MY FRIEND TELLS ME SHE WANTS A DOG (Kittyfeather Press, 2023). She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize nomination and 7 Pushcart Prize nominations.

You can find more of Laura’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: The River Knows: Observations: Memories of Floridian Nights by Wayne Russell  

The River Knows

The spirit of dark and
lonely waters calling me.

Into her flow, I follow
hollowed with the years.

Clutching at tree branches,
dropping across her visage.

But alas, it is too late, tonight
I have lost my grip on reality.

Tonight, the river shall devour
me, as slowly I slip into her
icy clutches.

Tonight, I am hers for all eternity,
breathing in her liquid allure-

as slowly, I slip into unconscious
slumber, fading out into the dawning
of a new day, that bleeds into being.

Observations

The dogwoods naked and unperturbed,
basking in the silence of slumber;
a skyline born again, rising from the throes
of slate grey.

Grassy knolls and footpaths coexisting,
until the loud rebirth of Spring time, breaks
their drab attire.

In the distance, the lazy haze grey factory is
looming; like ominous death birds hovering;
fading red brick at its base; smoke stacks

reaching, indifferent into the dreamscape
sky, hovering always, like an unpredictable

friend.

Memories of Floridian Nights

Spanish moss, strewn throughout
whispering branches of live oak and
pine.

The concerto is in full swing, down at
the boggy marshes, tonight.

Glow bugs are dying stars, counting
down the apocalypse; in frantic strobe
lit code.

Frogs croak with supreme confidence,
convinced that they are indeed one of
the famed Three Tenors; reincarnated.

Crickets rubbing their sleek wings in
chirping cadence, the shrillness could
awaken the dead.

An acorn drops out, from the nestled
safety of a towering oak tree; it splats
into the swamp below-

parting the dark green algae and lily pad
tainted waters in the night.

Parting my thoughts, scattered on the
warm Florida breeze, like memories
evaporating within the mist of time.

Wayne Russell is the author of the poetry book 2020’s “Where Angels Fear” via Guerilla Genius Press, available for purchase on Amazon; his second book “Splinter of the Moon” published by Silver Bow Publishing; has just been released and also can be found at Amazon in both Kindle and paperback edition.