Books From The Pantry: Flashes of Insight by Michael Forester reviewed by Kev Milsom

‘We adapt. We improvise. We adjust to the circumstances in which we find ourselves’.

It’s always a complete pleasure to review Michael’s literary releases and his latest publication, ‘Flashes of Insight’ simply adds to the joy for us humble book reviewers, alongside masses of the general public who have delighted in his work for years, and those new readers yet to find the delights of his books. Here, Michael has compiled fifty-two short pieces of writing, aimed to be ‘a gateway to awareness, to mindfulness, to the deeper places inside you’. Each piece carries specific messages and inspiration for the reader; a veritable ‘toolbox’ of support, encouragement and inspiration for everyone to draw from, as we go about our daily lives. 

An early example arrives in Chapter Two, entitled ‘Catching the Butterfly’, where Michael talks about the preparatory process for his writing, immediately after the ritual of consuming buttered wholemeal toast.

‘I could be in church at this moment, or temple, in a synagogue, or a Zendo. All places of ritual, all in some sense sacred spaces, set aside from the humdrum and rush. We release our preoccupation with the superficially important to concentrate upon the moment and what dwells in the moment, outside of time, encompassing timing, outside of activity, wrapping its now-ness around the silence’.

Michael strongly pushes the focus for readers to concentrate on their own energies, in order to promote personal wellbeing. A beautiful example concerning the focus upon our inner happiness is given in Chapter Five – ‘Court Holy Water In A Dry House’

‘It takes so little to create happiness. Yet we spend our lives pursuing it as if it were some quarry that we have to run to ground. We employ dog packs of activity to pursue it, hoping to corner it in some remote, inaccessible location, only to find that it has moved on just moments before our arrival. So we pursue it with the next trinket, the next project, the next holiday, angst-laden in our fear that it will always remain one step ahead and will always evade our pursuit’.

It’s impossible to read through this book without hearing Michael’s personal voice shining through every line; a voice embedded with knowledge, wisdom and empathy. Here lies a voice which has observed the world with wonder and learned much from his life’s unique pathway. Here is a voice which aims to share what he knows, what he has learned and what he hopes for the future. It’s simply a divine book and one to dip into on regular, frequent occasions. If a single paragraph, or chapter, sets the tone to create a positive Tuesday, or an optimistic Friday, then Michael’s efforts are truly rewarded. 

If humanity is to truly progress then this book should be given to schoolchildren at an early age. Hey children! Go out there. Learn. Grow. Be aware. Be kind. 

It’s a divine piece of writing and Michael should be extremely proud of himself for expressing it for the world to read, understand and learn from it.

‘Perhaps we undertake both roles at different times in our lives – the crushed and the crusher – in an endless cycle of destructiveness that ensures the psychological scarring of each new generation, carrying the sins of the fathers onto the children until the 3rd or 4th generation. Until, that is, we see it and make the active decision to break the cycle. Until we choose to build up someone we perceive to be weaker, rather than break them down. Until we choose to encourage rather than discourage. Until we choose to heal rather than hurt, to bind up the wounds of the broken to permit that healing, rather than grinding dirt into their open sores’. 

You can find more of Michael Forester’s work, reviewed and interviewed by Kev Milsom, here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: Trieste I & II: Stopping for Lunch in Vipiteno by Neil Leadbeater

Trieste I

In the crook of Italy,
the coffee capital of Illy and Hausbrandt,
that dark rich brew of a city
huddled in a demitasse cup –
home of Italian ceramics,
Istrian truffles and old world grandeur,
Architecture comes with a mixed message:
Mitteleuropa with mansard windows
meets full-on Italian Liberty style
where a gale force katabatic wind
cups its resonance round open squares
fresh off the mountains of Europe.

Trieste II

Those glory days of Belle époch posters, tariff lists and liners
reminders of an eclectic era from the shipyards of old
is where East meets West and everyone shouts ‘Trst je naš!’
Trieste is ours: a landscape in limbo –
the last ring on the rail
that held up the Iron Curtain –
a deep-water port of Latin, Slavic and German cultures
and everywhere the sea, the blue-dazed beauty of it,
dazzling stars.

The big question now:
Do you lean towards Ljubljana or run back to Rome?
Which is it to be?

Swing by for a week
and you might just stay forever.

Stopping for Lunch in Vipiteno

Twinned with Kitzbühel, the city boasts two names:
Sterzing / Vipiteno –
a place more Austrian than Italian
snuggled by mountains
in the province of Bolzano,
South Tyrol.

Coming out of Café Mondschein
where the menu is still in German,
we walk beneath the Tower of Twelve
known for its midday chimes.

A firebreak between two worlds
with views into the hills.

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 (, 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.

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

Poetry Drawer: Golden Smock: Kind Souls: Low Country: Plucked Pebble by Dana Zullo

Golden Smock

Vibrant colours and geometric prints
burst from the curated
and manicured environment.
Fanciful flower stems
and lucky turtles
lovingly adorn a plain corner.
Intricate patterns
made with mathematical formulas.
A randomly placed,
colourful floor tile,
next to a gumball machine
catches her eye,
and her mouth curls up on one side with a smirk,
remembering times long ago.

Portraits, collages, stories,
and whole histories
are sewn into the quilts,
with nimble fingers,
yet they aren’t used on a bed or couch
to curl under for warmth and security,
they are presented
on the wall as fine art,
a fabric mosaic masterpiece.

Tiny chairs in primary colours
and toddler tables
are tucked in a children’s corner with blocks,
Legos, a toy truck, and baby dolls
so carefully packed,
yet quiet and still,
oddly waiting
for a playful child to return?
Mother’s apron is carefully sewn
from burnt orange and gold cloth
with a beautiful rosette decoration.
The smock has pockets,
like a pouch in the front,
and ties with ribbons at the sides.
Her lovely work shirt,
soft and light to the touch
with bright colours for the child’s eyes to admire.
She wants to be present for them,
sturdy, kind, creative and accepting,
so when she can’t be there,
they will remember
the calm and warmth of the golden smock,
like a shining sunset.
It is her armour,
her uniform that gives her courage and confidence
to be better and wiser for them,
for herself.
She touches her fingertips to her chest
where a miniature sun resides within,
and she knows she is changing.
She calls upon that sun
to guide and nourish her motivations.
When it sets,
the moon’s silver glow
shows the way until morning.

Kind Souls

Socks and shoes
are soggy wet.
Thunder rumbles
and lightning flashes.
It sounds like a tall oak snapped in half. 
Today I am uneasy,
not knowing which way to go
on almost every decision,
so I try different directions
to see what works.
The first one didn’t seem right
so I start over and try again
in a safer place.
I found a kind face,
who took pity on me,
and a nice helper
who sewed thread onto my torn apron string
with stiff, swift fingers. 
I feel my body is weak.
I need wholesome food for nourishment
and to settle the knot in my stomach.
I had a bad night.
Up intermittently,
but never knew the time.
I had sweats then a jolt of chill.
I slept in late
and wrong footed the day.

A river of water
flows down the street.
I am only half prepared.
I have a large umbrella,
found in the trunk from father,
but I am dressed for a sunny summer day
in a jumper and white sneakers!
Can’t step in a puddle or they will be ruined,
so I turn back for cover
like an alley cat crouched in the doorway
with big eyes looking out onto the world,
hoping for kind souls to cross my path,
not nasty boars with sharp tusks.
The storm tricked me.
Just when I thought it would let up,
it struck again
and rain came pouring down
on the town, on the town, on the town.

The sun tried to come out again
and clear up the mess. 
Plans dashed
and confusion came over me again.
My mind went to a sick child at home
and my parents worry for me being alone.
They tell me to leave early
and come home.
They do not understand this place.
My husband says to stay,
do my work,
take the journey,
but the tone in his voice sounds impatient
that I am hesitating
and checking in.
Communication is strained.
Which way should I go?
I am happy to be here on this quest
with these characters
in the play.
They are trying to figure out the puzzle too.

It is calm now
and a little boy bends down into a puddle
and splashes water with his hand,
so does father.
Rose pink glasses catch the setting sunlight
at the dinner table
and it provides hope
tomorrow will be a better day.

Low Country

Driving carefully
through the storm.
Lines of swollen clouds
like black and grey ribbons.
Take me home angels.
Don’t let me go off course.
Follow the map
as it guides me through
the countryside.
Dark trees
with green buds.
I saw a mare standing over her foal
as protection in the rain.
The thunder scares me
but I have to drive straight through it
to get to the other side.
A fire smouldered in the rain
and filled my nostrils with smoke
from an old brick chimney,
years ago in a northern village.
Large black crows swoop
from the pine tree tops.
I am embarrassed that I left early,
but I know myself.
I know what I came to do.
I accomplished it
and I am ready to go home,
even though I could sense in his voice
he was disappointed in me,
not achieving the miracle.
Broken rooftops
and cottages sag by the roadside.
There are some white picket fences
that are kept with care.
Lone scary cypress
and Tuscan orange grass
sprout up like an Italian countryside,
yet the pines and thunder clouds
remind me
I’m in the low country.
Ditches are swelled with water
in this ghost town.
Rusted tin awnings and decaying black iron balconies
are on my view
as I creep around the storm
toward home, home, home.
Safety of city lights,
places I know
and the tender faces
I love, love, love.
Plucked Pebble
Round like a gumdrop or lozenge
Old and wrinkled
and yellowed with time,
like cracked and chipping wallpaper.
If it had a smell
it would be one of lingering cigarette smoke,
or dust.
I’m not sure why
I picked this pebble.
It was in a sunny spot
on the ground.
It is golden in colour,
like a warm beach.
Smooth like a bathtub
but hard, like a bone.
My two-year old daughter presses her fingers
to my collarbone
or to my wrist
and says, “Bones in there.”
It’s a tiny thing,
just a nothing
from the dirt.
Yet, I picked it
and study it
like it is special.
Doesn’t it feel nice to be picked,
as special?
To be regarded with care?
To spend time
with this nothing pebble?
Then, I vow to spend this quality time
with the people I love,
with myself.
Take time to understand the ugly and beautiful.
That is where connection is knitted.
I haven’t said a word,
yet I understand this pebble.
It will sink to the bottom of the creek
if I toss it there.
Probably, no one on Earth
will hold it or look at it so closely ever again.
Then, make the most out of this immediate time.
This moment matters.
All moments matter.
If this pebble has meaning,
then zoom out
and everything in my eyesight
has meaning and significance.
Everything and everyone
special to me,
is worthy of notice.

Dana Zullo is an educator and mother in Georgia. Her poems have been published in Paprika Southern and Literary Yard. Her artist biographies are seen in printmaking guides at Crown Point Press. She received artist residencies at South Porch Artists in SC and Dairy Hollow, AR. She also creates floral art with the Ichiyo School of Ikebana and previously taught art in the Peace Corps in Ghana. Inspired by personal development, motherhood, and the natural world, her writing and designs are found on Instagram.

Poetry Drawer: Unveiling The Absolute Identity by Rajendra Ojha (Nayan)

In practice, are you a proactive nationalist?
Are you a happy, patriotic person-
Who is bursting with intense emotions of patriotism?
Are you a man with socialist ideology?
Do you think like a conservative or a democratic man?
Alternatively, do you take pride in the culture and-
religion you were raised in from birth?

Apart from our identity as a social being,
You might also identify yourself in a different orchestra.
What do you believe your true self to be?
Oh Humanity! full of rain-soaked nature,
What do you say about your real identity?

Is our absolute identity based on—
being nationalist, democratic, religious, or culturalist?
Or are these the identities that are imposed on us-
To align the structural power with the demands of the wider society.

We are happy to identify ourselves with the relative identity—
that is created within the limited reality of the cosmos.
While —The Absolute Identity —We Have,
May haven’t been unleashed yet.
Be it in the fertile land of policy making,
Or- ‘Social Contract’.
This is the real seed of every chaos we harvest

Our true identity is, of course, our personality. And,
It is defined by the quality of our ‘Soul Thoughts’.
But the absolute identity we might have,
Lies within the quality of our—’Soul Awareness’.

Rajendra Ojha (Nayan) is a Nepalese poet, philosopher, social researcher, social worker, and EU-certified trainer. He also served as a citizen diplomat for three months under the ‘Ministry of Population and Environment’ in 2018 in Switzerland for the diplomatic program of the Minamata Convention, which was held in Geneva, Switzerland. Poems and philosophical writings of Rajendra Ojha have been published in various national as well as international literary journals from Nepal, the U.S.A., India, China, Russia, Spain, Myanmar, and Pakistan in both Nepalese and English. He has also published two anthologies, ‘Through the World’ (a collection of experimental poems) and ‘Words of Tiger’ (a collection of philosophical and psychological poems), in 2011 and 2019, respectively. Mr. Rajendra Ojha has been honoured by two major prestigious awards named ‘Asia’s Outstanding Internship Solution Provider Award 2020/21’ and ‘Dadasaheb Phalke Television Award 2023’ respectively for his work as a ‘Social Researcher’ as well as a ‘Social Worker’ (activities related to social responsibility), respectively, in 2021 and 2023.

Poetry Drawer: Ghost I Am: California Summer: Four Leaf Clover: Casket of Love by Michael Lee Johnson

Ghost I Am

Here is a private hut
staring at me,
twigs & branches
over the top—
naked & alone.

I respond to an old 60s doo-wop
song: In the Still of the Night
Fred Parris and The Satins.

Storms are written in narratives,
old ears closed to a full hearing.
I’m but a shelter cringing.
In age, nightmare pre-warned redemption.
Let’s call it the Jesus factor,
not LGBT symbols in Biden’s world.
I lost my way close to the end.
Here is this shelter in heaven
poetry imagined spaces
prematurely still not all the words fit,
in childhood in abuse
lack of reason for bruises
rough hills, carp that didn’t bite,
and Schwinn bike rides
flat tires, chains fall off, spokes collapse—
this thunder, those storms.

Find me a thumbnail
image of myself in centuries of dust.
Stand weakened by nature
of change glossed over, sealed.
Old men, like a luxurious battery,
die hard, but with years, they
too, fade away.

California Summer

Coastal warm breeze
off Santa Monica, California
the sun turns salt
shaker upside down
and it rains white smog, a humid mist.
No thunder, no lightening,
nothing else to do
except for sashay
forward into liquid
and swim
into eternal days
like this.

Four Leaf Clover

I found your life smiling
inside a four-leaf clover.
Here you hibernate in sin.
You were dancing in the orange fields of the sun.
You lock into your history, your past, withdrawal,
taste honeycomb, then cow salt lick.
All your life, you have danced in your soft shoes.
Find free lottery tickets in the pockets of poor men and strangers.
Numbers rhyme like winners, but they are just losers.
Positive numbers tug like grey blankets, poor horses coming in 1st.
Private angry walls; desperate is the night.
You control intellect, josser men.
You take them in, push them out,
circle them with silliness.
Everything turns indigo blue in grief.
I hear your voice, fragmented words in thunder.
An actress buried in degrees of lousy weather and blindness.
I leave you alone, wander the prairie path by myself.
Pray for wildflowers, the simple types. No one cares.
Purple colours, false colours, hibiscus on guard,
lilacs are freedom seekers, now no howls in death.
You are the cookie crumble of my dreams.
Three marriages in the past.
I hear you knocking my walls down, heaven stars creating dreams.
Once beautiful in the rainbow sun, my face, even snow
now cast in banners, blank, fire, and flames.
I cycle a self-absorbed nest of words.

Casket of Love

This moon, clinging to a cloudless sky,
offers the light by which we love.
In this park, grass knees high, tickling bare feet,
offers the place we pass pleasant smiles.
Sir Winston Churchill would have
saluted the stately manner this fog lifts,
marching in time across this pond
layering its ghostly body over us
cuddled by the water’s edge,
as if we are burdened by this sealed
casket called love.
Frogs in the marsh, crickets beneath the crocuses
trumpet the last farewell.
A flock of Canadian geese flies overhead
in military V formation.
Yet how lively your lips tremble
against my skin in a manner no
sane soldier dare deny.

Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. Today he is a poet in the greater Chicagoland area, IL. He has 298 YouTube poetry videos. Michael Lee Johnson is an internationally published poet in 45 countries, a song lyricist, has several published poetry books, has been nominated for 7 Pushcart Prize awards, and 6 Best of the Net nominations. He is editor-in-chief of 3 poetry anthologies, all available on Amazon, and has several poetry books and chapbooks. He has over 453 published poems. Michael is the administrator of 6 Facebook Poetry groups. Member of Illinois State Poetry Society:  Remember to consider me for Best of the Net or Pushcart nomination!

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

Poetry Drawer: Dragonfly: The Contract: The Dating Game is for the Birds: Why There Must be a Garden: A Couple Parking: Manhattan From Brooklyn Heights by John Grey


You’re expert
at skimming the
pond’s dank surface.

Whatever it is
you feed on
I can’t see
so I don’t miss.

You squeeze so much colour
into such a small frame.

And, so instinctive,
your wings beat
without bothering your brain.


On an overhead wire,
a flock of crows
pauses between
roadkill feasts.

There’s a contract
between these black birds
and the speeding vehicles below.

It’s all there
in strips of white-lined asphalt.

Cars and trucks
don’t brake for anything.

Squirrels, raccoons, possums,
sign their names in blood.

No worry where
the crows’ next meal is coming from.
So many fast cars.
So few smart animals.


I’ll be an eagle for a while, soaring
on the thermals, ready to dive down
and grab the mousey one in my talons.
No, I’ll be the vulture, feasting on
the dead ones, or preferably,
the ones that just think they’re dead.
I tried being a cute bird, a chickadee
with an appealing song but
who wants to be fed seed
out of a gentle palm
or fly away at the first sign of movement.
So bird of prey it is,
a hawk because it’s what they’re used to,
a condor because they’re rare,
an owl because the hunting’s better at night.
I’ve tried being a parrot.
But “I love you” never sounds sincere
when someone has to teach it to me.


Without a garden,
there are no peonies
garlanding my back doorstep,
no deep fragrance
to set off a nostril swoon,
no soft white petals
for touch to reassert itself
in gentleness,
no spritely stem
to feed off earth and sky,
yet recognize in me
a seeding, watering,
fertilizing parent.
Without a garden,
the beauty is all wild.
And, as much as I love
wild beauty,
(and you know who you are)
I am always up for
a modicum of taming.


Parked high on Bishop Hill,
we look down more than at each other.
for we’re confused as to what we’re doing together
but the sights are ever-present, unimpaired.

There seems no reason
why light should make a downtown beautiful,
turn its suburbs into stars,
its traffic to passing comets.

We’ve seen it all in daytime,
unlovely, nondescript.
And yet, at night, it takes on the chimera
we had hoped for in each other.

Better to be fooled by the eye
than the heart I suppose.
As lovers, we make little progress.
But as witnesses, we prosper.


I watch, the city dazzle from afar.
No warriors. Only lights.
No one in a panic.
No loud deafening noises.
Just shapes.
A work of modern art
crossed with an ancient fresco.
Nobody trying to get the better of another.
No politicians. No cops.
No laws either
except for those of architecture
and, in the city’s upper strata,
No slaves to the clock.
Or savage tongues.
Or wealth. Or poverty.
No one ignoring somebody
who needs them.
No subway smoke.
No theatre crowds.
No priests either.
Everything’s celestial
without their help.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in New World Writing, North Dakota Quarterly and Lost Pilots. Latest books, ”Between Two Fires”, “Covert” and “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in California Quarterly, Seventh Quarry, La Presa and Doubly Mad.

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

Poetry Drawer: There I Go by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Here I am,
on the deck of a ship. It’s 1933,
and the passengers who surround me are waving, frantically.
I’m afraid that their arms will fall off and I will be called
to provide emergency services.
I’m a doctor.

At least I harbour the delusion that I am.
Actually, I dropped out of med school before the end of my first term.

Those who have come to see us off
are also waving, and smiling so broadly that their faces threaten to split open.
You could almost forget that we’re in the Depression,
and that so many people are suffering.
From the deck of the ship we cannot see the bread lines
which stretch from New York City to Hoboken
and into the City of Brotherly Love.

But people are always suffering, said the Buddha,
It’s the essence of life.

I see myself as from afar,
as if part of me were a bird,
a seagull, flying above the harbour
elegant in its flight, sharp-eyed

The part of me that is the seagull wonders if the other parts are edible
as my body seems to be unravelling
My skin flies off in pointillist bits
and my organs and the fat surrounding them
stretch into streamers
like those hung in a social hall at a birthday party
or an anniversary

I am unravelling in other ways as well
My life story is no longer my autobiography
Who was I?
It takes an effort to answer that question
so I don’t try

There’s no centre to all these floating streamers.
No connective tissue wires them together
I remember “connective tissue” and many other technical terms
falling from the lips of my beloved teacher, Dr. Gall Bladder,
who was one of the first female professors of medicine in the world,
following only a Frenchwoman and a Bulgarian
She was celebrated,
her story appearing in newspapers and magazines
with stunning black-and-white photos.
She became so full of herself that her organs and muscles
swelled to four times their normal size.

There I go
in transit
between America and Europe
between being myself and being someone else
sailing across the sea

Now the streamers have flown together, reunited
but only for the purpose of having me appear as a man
in this wood-panelled nautical bar

The bartender is jolly as he juggles three bottles of the finest Scotch
and the male passengers thunderously applaud

Without warning, Dr. Gall Bladder appears
I had no idea that she was a passenger on this ship as, later in the evening,
I would be surprised to find that she would be sharing my cabin
However, I am delighted, as she makes me feel nostalgic

She strides up to the bar and issues a challenge:
she will arm wrestle any woman brave enough to come forward
After she easily defeats the five who respond
she challenges the men,
all of whom she destroys
Their faces turn red as they briefly struggle
They are like small insects being pinned down by a praying mantis

Finally the bartender tires of Dr. Bladder’s bullying and hits her on the head
with one of the bottles of Scotch
but it has no effect.
There’s a clang, like metal against metal.
Dr. Gall Bladder glares at him and he flees from the room
locks himself in his cabin
and stacks all the furniture against the door

Dr. Gall Bladder leaps over the bar and resumes his duties
Her mixed drinks are incredibly potent and delicious
as she concocts them from intergalactic recipes

In my stateroom
Dr. Gall Bladder wastes no time in fucking my brains out
Afterwords I must sleep deeply for 18 hours
until she wakes me to repeat the act
After that session, I must sleep even longer
When I awake, I ponder whether one can actually be “fucked to death”
It does seem more likely when your lover is an alien
whose organs and muscles have now swollen to six times their normal size

As I ponder, she says, “I may have something wrong with my kidneys, perhaps because of their enlargement but, at an opportune moment, when I feel ready, I will heal myself.”

I ask, “Can you heal me? The elements of my body have developed a dangerous
tendency to fly apart into colourful streamers that eventually fall into banks of blackened snow to be corrupted beyond redemption”

“Heal you?” she says. “What do you think I’ve been doing for the last several days?”

I feel an odd sensation. I look down at my dick—it is about two feet long. Previously it was about three inches, maybe not even that “What the hell?” I say.

She says, “That’s something we are able to do on my planet.”

“Can you do this for other humans?” I ask, imagining this as a source of immense income we can share.

“No,” she says. “I can only accomplish this for men whom I love and who love me in

“I’ve always been infatuated,” I say, “but I’m not sure that I love you.”

“If there were a God,” she says, “she would not have made you humans so greedy. Greed will destroy your species. But, before that happens, I will have transported you to my planet, where we will live in peace for eternity.”

“You’ve been reading too much dime-store science-fiction,” I say.

“Maybe,” she says, “Much of it, I’ve written. That’s how I got myself through med school. Let’s go back to bed, where I won’t be able to read or write.”

“No, no!” I cry. “I need a break. You’ve exhausted me. I need a day off, maybe three.”

“Ok,” she says, “Let’s go to the bar.”

“We can’t go to the bar,” I say sorrowfully. “We’re banned.”

“Banned? Why would we be banned? After all, I’m an eminent doctor who has cured thousands of people of the most heinous diseases.”

“Nevertheless, you broke three men’s arms wrestling them. You were as vicious as a weasel. Do you think that that’s the behaviour of a compassionate doctor?”

“That’s a ridiculous question,” she says.

Mitch Grabois has been married for almost fifty years to a woman half Sicilian, half Midwest American farmer. They have three granddaughters. They live in the high desert adjoining the Colorado Rocky Mountains. They often miss the ocean. Mitch practices Zen Buddhism, which is not a religion, but a science of mind (according to the Dalai Lama). He has books available on Amazon.

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

Poetry Drawer: Asking Directions: Padlocks and Tattoos: Insomnia by Ben Macnair

Asking Directions

I took the Road less travelled by,
and I got completely lost.
Not even Google Maps could help me,
thanks a lot, Robert Frost.

Padlocks and Tattoos

There are hundreds of couples,
who paint their initials on a padlock,
and attach it to a bridge,
for strangers to see,
decades from now.
Some men have tattoos,
of a love they hoped would be forever,
but is now a reminder
of the one who was before
the one before.
Some people have no tattoos,
no unused padlocks on bridges in a big city,
but like EE Cummings
will keep their memories of love
Inside their hearts.


When sleeplessness pounds
like spooked black Horses,
and the Night-Mare rears her hooves
calling across a canyon,
the hooves are a drum on the ground,
and pointed teeth and fetlock
are the blur of a shutter speed,
shadows are the shapes of fear
the sky is tainted black,
and the pin pricks of stars
mark the surface of a dream,
wake up.

For the shadows are only trees,
knocking against the window,
insistent you pay them attention
and the spooked black horse is calm,
carrying the eternal foot-man
who holds your coat,
but smiles and waves,
saying it is not time, just yet.
You know it was either the rain,
or the pipes that woke you,
but somewhere, out there,
is a Spooked Black Horse,
and unanswered questions.

Ben Macnair is an award-winning poet and playwright from Staffordshire in the United Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter.

Poetry Drawer: Fun by Laura Stamps

Here’s a newsflash. Rachel
has lost her sense of smell.
(Okay, sometimes I refer
to myself in the third
person.) But it’s true. Can’t
smell a thing. Can’t. It’s
this head cold. Fighting,
fighting, fighting it. I am.
And winning. Kinda. And
yet, and yet. My nose.
Dead. Pretty much. What
a bummer! And my perfume.
White Linen. Estee Lauder.
Love it. I do. But now.
You know. I can’t smell it.
Can’t. So I stopped wearing
it. I mean. What’s the point?
And then, and then. I got an
idea. I could slather myself
with scented lotions. The
ones I never wear. They’re
nice. They are. Just not my
favourite. But now. You know.
I can’t smell them. Cool!
And Etsy. Did I tell you?
Saw a vintage Coach purse.
Yesterday. Super cute.
Mint condition. $300 value.
Got it for $25. I did. Yeah.
What can I say? I’m having
too much fun. Really. I am.

Laura Stamps is a poet and novelist and the author of over 60 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. 

Pantry Prose: Untitled by Mehreen Ahmed

Clouds trailed crisscrossed across a clear blue sky. A cotton candy man stood by a huge Ferris Wheel with his cart at a theme park showground. He watched the Ferris Wheel move slowly to a full circle. Maya Julian stepped forward with her five-year-old and joined the long queue to get on the Ferris Wheel. Tilting her neck, she put a hand across her forehead like a vizier to cover her eyes from the blazing sun. She felt that the wheel did not move much; almost too slow for the world to be defined from the top there. Her daughter, Saira, and her, perhaps didn’t look all that different from ants and moths, milling about haphazardly on the showground.

As Maya looked at the top, she didn’t see any trepidation in the children or the adults. All was shipshape. The candy man attended to the many children on the ground; adeptly adjusting the pinky floss around the candy stick, and handing them over the pink dandelions in a bouquet, as it were, with a benign smile.

Children couldn’t wait to mouth the pinky candy. However, the Ferris Wheel stopped moving for a while which no one else noticed except Maya, who felt nervous and felt she must alert the authorities for an alternate way to get those people down. They didn’t see it coming. They sat here without a concern. Maya gathered the reason for their placidness was perhaps they couldn’t see much from above.

The candy man looked up a few times like Maya. A frown appeared on his forehead too, which Maya saw, and wondered if he also noted that there was a problem. If the situation went out of hand, people could be in fatal trouble. Her daughter pulled her towards the candy cart, and they both came out of the queue losing their place in it. On her way to the cart, she saw people—mainly children with an older sibling or an adult jostling in the bottom of the wheel as they dribbled out of the lower cabins of the Ferris Wheel touching the green grass beneath. 

The ones at the top hung precariously, oblivious to what was coming next. The sky couldn’t look clearer. The clouds spread out like a fishing net through which no fish could escape. Trapped inside the net—not until then, not really until it happened that someone dropped a net into the blue bowled ocean and trapped all these frantic fish inside it; the net teeming with all the fish out of water when life was pulled out of this oxygenated cosmic ocean into the outer. Until then calm prevailed.

Those sitting at the top, were clueless, enjoying a breezy morning—chirping and laughing spring birds. Maya trembled in the fresh air as she took her daughter to buy candy floss. The candy man continued to look at the Ferris Wheel.

“Are you thinking, what I am also thinking?” Maya asked.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“I think that the wheel is broken. Those who are at the top, are all stuck.”

“Hmm, that’s exactly what I was thinking too.”

“What now?” Maya asked.

“Someone must tell the manager of this theme park, I reckon,” replied the candy man.

“Do you know where his office is? I’ll let him know.”

The candy man looked over his shoulder and pointed toward a building at the far end of the park. Maya squinted to follow his directions. Then she took her daughter’s hand and began to walk toward the management building while the decadent candy floss melted in her daughter’s mouth. Maya looked at her and smiled. She smiled back.

“Where’re we going Mammy?” she asked.

“To tell the manager to fix the Ferris Wheel?”

“Why? What’s wrong with it?”

“It isn’t working well, darling. ”

“Is it broken?” she asked.

“I think so,” Maya replied.

“Will they all die at the top?” the daughter asked.

“No, of course not, the manager will ensure that,” Maya said.

The daughter kept licking the candy cane to its bare bone until the stick was fully exposed. She looked at it and gave it a long-lasting lick, top to bottom. The manager’s building was far, but Maya persevered. She stepped up, determined to stop the disaster at the Ferris Wheel at any cost. At any cost? However, when she reached the building, she found a big padlock at its gate. She pushed it and pulled the lock but it did not open. Lights in one of the rooms were on. She looked up and she screamed; strikingly close, not quite far enough. She looked around for an object and found a rock. Maya did the unimaginable. She picked it up and hurled it aiming higher at the glass window. It rocketed through the glass. Shards fell and hit Maya on her forehead.“Oh” she uttered and sat down.

The daughter looked up at the window and shook Maya by the shoulder. Maya felt an urgency in the shake and looked up too. Her jaw fell. At the window, there was a man, not even a full man, maybe a half-man and half-elf. He—it looked like a statue with inky tears running down its cheeks. This was a make-believe theme park. A rock came flying out of nowhere; it transpired into a piece of paper as it landed with just one word written—ignis fatuus

“What does this mean?” the daughter asked. 

Maya replied, ‘Illusion,’ ‘foolish fire’. 

“Isn’t that what your name also means?” 

The daughter wanted to know from a breathless mother.

Multiple contests’ winner for short fiction, Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction, The Pacifist, is an audible bestseller. Included in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction Anthology, her works have also been acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, and DD Magazine, translated into German, Greek, and Bangla, her works have been reprinted, anthologized, selected as Editor’s Pick, Best ofs, and made the top 10 reads multiple times. Additionally, her works have been nominated for Pushcart, botN and James Tait. She has authored eight books and has been twice a reader and juror for international awards. Her recent publications are with Litro, Otoliths, Popshot Quarterly, and Alien Buddha.

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