Bryan R. Monte – I Only Had to Look to See

Bryan R. Monte
I Only Had to Look to See

Genealogy taught me to concentrate on the gaps,
to look for those missing or barely mentioned,
to fill out the branches of my family tree.
They were everywhere, at least one a generation:
the son or daughter who never married
and didn’t become a priest or a nun
who left town soon after graduation
and never returned, or who married
and divorced after a child or two,
then moved away to the big city,
no family to tell their story,
aunts, uncles, and cousins at a distance
who could only guess: What is he/she doing there
at the other end of the country?

Two doors down, on my childhood street,
lived an old man and his two unmarried sisters
for 40 years. Two doors up, the oldest daughter
moved to Seattle and sent back
knives with carved, totem-like handles
for her brothers and father
and chevron and animal-patterned fabrics
for her mother and sister.
Four doors up, the oldest son,
one of the neighbourhood bullies,
who held my older sister over an open sewer
and me to the ground while a frightened dog
tore my bare back, also moved out West.
When I was 22 and lived in San Francisco,
his father phoned to invite me to this son’s home.
‘Take BART to the end and I’ll meet you at the station.’
We drove to a two-bed, two-bath ranch
his son shared with a college ‘friend’,
(‘California houses being so expensive’),
when both were away. The ‘friend’s’ room
featured a wall-mounted college diploma
between two deer antlers above his bed, the son’s bath
an ‘It’s An Orgy, Come On In’ cartoon shower curtain
from the Does Your Mother Know? store in the Castro.

My family tree and neighbourhood observations
were akin to Galileo’s first telescopic mapping
of the Jovian moons’ changing positions

East       *         *       O         *               West
East                           O    *    *    *        West
East           *    *        O                          West

orbits he used to confirm heliocentrism
resulting in a life-long house arrest.

From this I should have learned the price
of being correct, but incautious,
extrapolating from micro to MACRO
in the ’80s, as I typeset my gay magazine
on the college mainframe and brought
my ‘lover’ to campus readings.
I only had to look to see to predict
what my professors would punitively deny.

Glen Wilson – Contact

Glen Wilson
Contact

She is waiting to catch the crest,
a thrall to nature, or at least

to that part that overwhelms
with its double-edged rush,

and from a distance I watch
the sea break the storm wall,

see her pushed back until she
is claimed by water, her scarf

left snagged like seaweed
on splintered boardwalk,

near a broken phone, pictures
beyond viewing, drenched

by a want of experience.
Despite the warnings,

being told the storm is coming
is never the same as its touch.

Marcus Slingsby – Alang Ship Breaking Yard

Marcus Slingsby
Alang Ship Breaking Yard

At the water’s edge the sand is black
heavy-ink-black waves caress it.
Like a sunrise-sky the beach slowly,
through dirty greys and sickly yellows
becomes the colour you want.

The biggest ship breaking yard in the world!
Mile after mile, ship after ship
Rammed onto the sand
Eaten by hands
holding blow torches.

Ants on hulls
Slowly devouring everything.
The street to this show –
A market selling toothpicks from aircraft carriers
Shot glasses in Russian
A chandelier
But the ballroom’s gone
The dancers, a world away.

Tom Gannon Hamilton – Nickel Iron

Tom Gannon Hamilton
Nickel Iron

Recalling piglets at a sow, a score of grade four pupils,
we vied for position around a photo, framing a woman,
her upper thigh bruised black.
Transfixed by the famed image, such incomprehensible
odds, mixed misfortune and privilege
to be chosen by debris set in motion, we’d been told,
by a fourteen-billion-year-old event, still unfolding.
Discussing the Big Bang when the bell rang,
once dismissed, we dismissed the notion as irrelevant.

Yet space-time, writ-large, writes off as commonplace,
the stuff humans hold so dear: gemstones,
being mere silica, that mineral class comprising
over half earth’s crust: keen obsidian, quartz pegmatite
and our own exquisitely blown glass
are just so much fluff, a buffer for the nickel-iron core,
earth-science reckons to be quite similar
to meteorites, which, despite their mass, almost
always entirely combust after entering the atmosphere.

Over eons, our planet, on its annual orbit, has enjoyed
a rendezvous with an asteroid belt.
We watch the resulting showers from sleeping-bags,
under quilts, atop a frosty hillside, entranced for hours,
until hypothermia threatens, our host
promises hot cocoa and we repair indoors, where
he displays them: some resembling black chewing gum
wads, one specimen, cut into thin sections,
each plate, condensed calamity, a micro-mayhem.

I dreamt those interior designs: frozen Aurora Borealis,
lightning-bolt chorus line, crystalline chevron,
zig-zag Navajo blanket, then shuffled back to the sack
after emptying my bladder; a radiance arose
behind Venetian blinds, brighter than a cop helicopter
spotlight, white as the molten pellets arc-welders drop.
The ensuing split-second brought a muffled pooohmm,
as when you spit on campfire embers.
I presume it struck the riverbank or hit the river itself.

Pat Seman – Pearl

Pat Seman
Pearl

There are always things that lie hidden,
buried deep in the bed rock of the past,
shunned and thickened with shame
into a shell impossible to prise open,
enclosing the tender mollusc that converts
every invasion, every grain of grit
from the rough pressing world,
into a hard and shining lining, a membrane
of mirrors of shifting, treacherous beauty,
a life-time’s creation, a lifetime’s frustration
pressed layer upon layer, strata of memories
that will not yield their secret, guardian
of the essence, the incandescent pearl,
                      my mother
         clamped tight in her shell.

Deborah Harvey – A family history of refractive errors

Deborah Harvey
A family history of refractive errors

Tell me about your mother
the therapist said

and I stared at the floor, unsure how to start
all I could see was the grain of her skin
the knot of her nose, cherry pink
lipstick smeared on a tooth

It took me years to look past the wood, focus on tree

Now I’ve climbed to the top to take in the view
only to spot our distance
running at twice the speed of silence
over the clouded horizon

Is our gap wide enough now?

If I dress in hi-vis and wave both my arms
do you think you might see me?

Helen Ferris – That year

Helen Ferris
That year

Life was fast until we started losing time
quick breaths keeping time with the beat of the tube carriage
no more car rides
lingering and sickening

The air thickened
meaning summer
the screaming ache in my back telling me I had worked hard enough
wondering how it had been two weeks since I last ate
and why I felt emptiness but no hunger

You’re unsure how much to take from me
tipping the scales too far to bear, too far to go back
chewing your name
unfamiliar and intimate

Helen Ferris – A Pilgrimage

Helen Ferris
A Pilgrimage

A mother wakes to a starless sky,
work on her mind and in her bones.
She scrubs under soft water
with hands that are used to hardness.
She scrubs floors that will never look clean.
It is comfort that the coast is near,
the landlock of London left behind,
grey smothered by the light of home.
Sweat and salt are her second skin
as her children ask questions about war.
The window is a siren call and a threat.
A small drip from the ceiling sinks into the sheets.
An ant carries a fragment of leaf above itself,
greener than still rivers.

A boy returns to school after everything he owns,
everything he knows, has been destroyed.
His towerblock up in flames, his flat a home then gone.
Stinging knees scraped by the concrete,
glowing rubies crusted with dirt.
A girl glances down at her scuffed trainers,
the flapping soles drawing unwanted attention.
One of the boys says she flinches too quickly.
She doesn’t trust how he laughs.
Answers catch in her throat. She fears further questions.
On the way home, the wind whips through her hair
veiling her chapped, rosy face,
a futile barrier to the spitting rain.
They fall through the cracks because they are quiet.
Wherever they go the air is thick
and the chimneys breathe slowly
into guzzling lungs.

A curious mind finds menageries in the clouds.
A sturdy hand finds black diamonds underground,
moves staccato, while light is swallowed
by shadow. As music is pulled from her
The mother wonders
how many have ripped their hearts out
to provide comfort for another.

Jim Ross – Unassigned

Jim Ross
Unassigned

In a dream, I’m on my deathbed. As the moment approaches, I ask, ‘Is this billable? ’ followed by, ‘To what do I bill this?’

###

      I ask friends for advice on interpreting my dream.
      A high-school classmate, Ron, now a medieval historian, advises, ‘Ah, but who will be answering? Sounds like an illustration out of the medieval ars moriendi. Look out!’
      Knowing the ars moriendi were medieval texts outlining protocols for ‘a good death,’ I ask, ‘You mean dying isn’t billable?’
       ‘Au contraire,’ Ron answers, ‘but who will be holding the divine credit card reader?’
      A mutual classmate, Bob—a middle-school teacher and Assistant Principal—sharply disagrees: ‘The question might be read: “To what account do I bill this?” meaning “To whom am I accountable?” It’s not a matter of ars moriendi but of ars vivendi.’
           College classmate John, who ekes out a living through sweat of his brow and strength of his hands, suggests, ‘The experts are hill people: the rugged terrain where they spend their lives puts them a step ahead of most bill collectors. Ask them.’
      Another college classmate, Gus, a lawyer, promptly emails me a do-it-yourself manual for setting up and maintaining systems of billable rates.
      Yet another college classmate, Gary, known as the ‘poet lawyerette,’ says, ‘Instead of asking, “Is this billable?” I’d ask, “Can we make a deal about the value of the time that’s left?”’

###

      I spent my career in an industry that demanded its workers bill each quarter hour to any of numerous charge codes. As it happens, the company’s name was MACRO. Colleagues committed to a single client and project had little reason to ask howto complete their timecards. However, those who worked on multiple projects and sometimes performed non-billable work—tasks that couldn’t be billed to clients— often characterized the time-reporting experience as ‘vexing’ or ‘unsettling.’ Everyone knew, being billable was highly correlated with being valued, and having ‘billability problems’ meant your ‘future’ was ‘at risk.’
      Management made it clear we were expected to bill every moment we reasonably could to client-billable projects rather than to overhead. When asked to attend an all-staff meeting or perform a small, non-billable task, someone inevitably asked, ‘To what do I bill this?’ MACRO management bridled at such micro questions. They speculated that askers believed they operated on a higher ethical plane or suffered from a deficiency in ability to read between the lines.

###

      Former MACRO work colleague Trish, now a mindfulness coach, says, ‘Your dream is a reminder that every moment counts.’
      Another MACRO work colleague, Stan, an anthropologist, says, ‘You worked way too long in that milieu. Asking for someone else to take responsibility for providing a charge code, even in a dream, is either a way of avoiding responsibility or quibbling over meaningless details.’
      MACRO’s CEO, Frank—long the final arbiter of billability questions—advises, ‘Your time should be charged to “unassigned”’.

###

      Returning to my dream, I’m lying in bed, I know the end is near, yet I’m asking whether this is billable. I want to know to what account I should bill this. After telling colleagues who asked how to fill out their timecards that they knew the answer, here I am, asking the same niggling questions, on my deathbed no less. Am I too unable to read between the lines?
      Only I can decide. Nobody can tell me how to fill out my timecard. Only I know how I’ve spent my life. The moments that mattered were hardly ever client billable. I can’t abdicate to others my responsibility to answer the hard questions.
      Perhaps by asking on my deathbed, ‘Is this billable?’ and ‘To what do I bill this?’ I’m really asking ‘Am I still valued, even in the moment of my death?’ And if I am, ‘Does that mean my future is freed of risk?’   AQ

Lily Jarman-Reisch – Quantum’s Complaint

Lily Jarman-Reisch
Quantum’s Complaint

A runt
in a dark neighbourhood
few visit,
a lifer in the Shawshank
of quantum gravity,
entangled with trillions
of my kind, never
knowing my place,
my worth in the grand cycle
until

another black hole hoovers
me over its event-horizon
shrinking me to a nullity
too tiny for space and time,
suddenly distinctive
after a lifetime in limbo,
a singularity,
my one chance
to belly through a wormhole
to freedom,
revel in the rain of redemption
until

I’m spat out yet again
by the next big bang
back to the slammer,
pining before a pin-up
for the tunnel beyond.