Fiona Ritchie Walker – In the Home Accessories Store

Fiona Ritchie Walker
In the Home Accessories Store

You turn the globe, point out your familiar place
then I send the world spinning, east to west,
until I find my patch of land surrounded by blue.

Nothing bought, we link arms,
catch the bus back
to where our hearts live now.

Jessica Bundschuh – Moving Postcards

Jessica Bundschuh
Moving Postcards

Dear Pebble,
On an afternoon walk to no particular place, a small stack of pebbles will lie at my feet; I will make up their histories for any lover: looking into his blue or brown eyes, explaining how they will bounce along the riverbed like letters in a sloppy sentence, pebbles worn round and smooth by abrasions, no place to go but downward, to the ocean; I will tell the story as if it were my own, my mouth opening each letter; and as my lips will open, pulling out the last rrrrr sound, he will certainly see my pleasure in making this sound—raunchy, rough, like a motor revving, and my tongue will suspend itself in the middle of my mouth, like a guilty lover’s; what I will say with aplomb is how I love how grey they are, all of one colour; I will bend to pick up a pebble, a smooth one, and taste it—running my tongue across its surface (to hear its salty, marrow-ribboned history, how it will come from a distant sea; how it will have no mother, no father, and no vowels to spare for its dry, hot future: OOO).

Dear Gondola,
Unser schönes Südtirol will write my dead German mother-in-law on a creased and scalloped photo. She will it hold against her umbrella, posting letters outside the hotel. Without gravity, she will slide in a gondola towards ceramic blue, higher certainly than any god, and she will let the clouds greet her, snaking her waist, while she takes picture after picture of the highest place she will ever stand—the film will stay undeveloped. She will then pass back and forth across the village wall, the five tower gates, and the church steeple—still awfully brave and awfully Gothic—to secure for me the precise dot-dot-dot […] when the up-gondola and the down-gondola will kiss and will embrace their swing or Schwung, while her streaked gondola window will reflect her passage outside: the clouds will lift between the tulip poplars and her warm breath will still on glass—and later a batting taffeta lid—caught in tomorrow’s quiet emergency, tomorrow’s unsent postcards.

Edward Michael Supranowicz – Drifting Sky 6

Edward Michael Supranowicz
Drifting Sky 6

The artist writes: ‘I have been doing digital paintings and drawings for the last 10 or so years. It is a good fit to my personality and nature, being able to go forward, then back, then back and forward, and not having to worry about wasted canvas. And digital work allows for sharing work with more than one person rather than just one person “owning” a painting. I use GIMP because it is open source. All my work starts with a “blank canvas”, same as it did when I used oil and acrylics to paint with and ink and pen to draw with.’

Edward Michael Supranowicz, Drifting Night 6, digital art, 2022

Jason Bentsman – Vanishing

Jason Bentsman

Jason Bentsman writes: ‘I’ve been taking photos for many years now, both analogue and digital, and started sharing them with the world fairly recently. Due to mindfulness in the pursuit, my output is relatively small. Nonetheless, at this point, I’ve amassed a meaningful body of work. In my photos generally I try to capture that which cannot be captured, which is to say, the transcendent. I find this much more of an intuitive than a rational process. This particular photo was taken on a caliginous day, during a blinding rainstorm, while in the passenger seat of a car. It seems to quintessentially capture the feeling of vanishing movement on the highway under such conditions.’

Jason Bentsman, Vanishing, photograph, 2023

Laura Theis – A Flying Visit To The Writer’s Zoo

Laura Theis
A Flying Visit To The Writer’s Zoo

and here we have
the poets:

they are nocturnal creatures
who dwell in liminal spaces

shy little monsters
subsisting on a mixed diet

of intrusive thoughts
echoes of past loves

and occasionally
beans on toast

approach at your own risk
they might try to escape

using your head
as their getaway driver

Nimruz De Castro – salt for good luck

Nimruz De Castro
salt for good luck

here, your great dreams have abandoned you.
or on days that you feel taller,
you say it was you
who sent them away.
you packed their bags,
lined their pockets
with salt for good luck,
with money enough
for tickets back
to that mountainous place
you left behind
so many years ago,
where the Internet was so bad, you hoped they
would give up on sending emails.
it was your choice to leave,
to live quietly, to live unbound,
unfettered, unseen.
it was you that chose
to live in a house without a door
for Opportunity to knock on.
Opportunity who speaks a different language,
whose hair is golden as flowers
your mother tongue did not have names for.
there are days he still comes to visit.
he stands beneath the doorframe,
he shakes his head, realizing he is still unable
to pronounce your name.
you smile at him, with teeth showing.
as you tuck yourself in,
outside, by the window, you watch your dreams
stand under the rain like ghosts,
as the water washes their faces away.

Anne Gruner – Migration

Anne Gruner

The geese used to fly south
for the winter, a honking traffic jam
slipstreaming overhead in V-formation,
a peloton team, guided by an inner compass.
Craning my neck skyward, I listened
to the seasonal siren of change.

The gaggle now settles here for the winter.
Seems I’m no longer a flyover,
but a destination, a port.
Snow on the lawn that once shimmered
in the sunlight has become a flotilla
of gray feathers adrift on a sea of grass,
an avian navy commandeering the yard.
Black and white heads bob, gobbling greenery,
except for one—tall and alert: the captain of the watch.

My small harbor is warm and peaceful—but for
two golden retrievers staring from the window.
The furry sentinels gently whine,
seized by ancestral urges.
The local golf course, inundated
with the cackling interlopers,
compensates canines to play
an endless game of tag they cannot win.

I let slip my golden dogs of war, who cry havoc.
The armada takes flight, sailing into the blue.

It’s oddly comforting that the pattern
will repeat tomorrow and again,
but I know at some point the fleet
will opt to dock further north,
abandoning my port to loneliness.

Jane Hertenstein – Life in the Midden

Jane Hertenstein
Life in the Midden

Shaken after an unexpected break in my marriage in 2016, I decided to traverse the United Kingdom, north to south, on my bicycle. I was inspired after reading about Frances Willard, an early reformer who learned to ride a bike at age 53. It was Frances who popularized the motto: ‘Do everything.’ I took these words to heart by setting off solo from John O’Groats to Land’s End. Along the way I encountered headwinds, roundabouts, and the loneliness of long-distance cycling.
      It is near sunset and it has been raining all day. The word ‘rain’ is too broad. I’ve heard the Scottish have as many names for liquid precipitation as the Inuit have for snow. The day has been all over the dial of wetness, ranging from drizzle to misty fog, to scattered showers to sudden downpour. As a reader of English literature, the phrase “dying from the damp” comes to mind, likely some poor Dickens’s character, a wayfaring orphan, Oliver Twist’s mother.
      The damp has seeped into my soul, through the goosebumps on my forearms, through my colourless wrinkled toes. But, for now, I’ve shed my soaked tights and spongy wool socks. I’m dry sitting in the door of my tent watching the sun go down, a blaze of poppy-orange and mauve watercolouring the sky above a hillside where sheep graze.
      I feel as if I’ve climbed inside a serene Turner landscape painting as I rest in the Scottish countryside—except the day has been fraught with self-doubt, short, steep climbs—more walking than riding the bike. This is not what I imagined before setting out on a solo ride from the top to the bottom of the United Kingdom or what the locals call an End to End.
      More like an End to End Her. Me, a middle-aged frumpy housewife trying to find herself at the end of her marriage.
      But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m at the beginning of a bike trip that will ultimately take me 20 days and 1,099 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End, north to south, down the spine of the isle, from Scotland, through Wales and England to Cornwall. My tent is pitched behind a pub off the side of a road that borders Loch Ness.
      The tea in my thermos is still warm, little wisps of steam waft up. For now, the wind has stopped whipping my coffin-size tent. I’m a city-girl from Chicago—not Chicago-ish, but the true inner-city complete with gun shots, muggings, and police helicopters whirling overhead. As I watch sheep—I guess they’re sheep—dip their heads to chew and eat, bleat and baaa, and shuffle their feet, hooves, I wonder: How did I get here?
      Of course, I know how I got here. By bike. By pedalling using my own two legs. With great effort. But how—what brought me to this place, this moment, this fulcrum, or what T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets calls ‘a still point’? The universal dance.
      Watching the sun douse itself in deep reds and purples before subsiding into the west, I remember a recent news article that explained the science behind Turner’s vivid skies: disaster. A cataclysmic volcanic eruption of poisonous gases that killed tens of thousands produced otherworldly sunsets.
      That’s me I think, on the brink of change, hoping to wring beauty from pain.
      My tea has grown cold and I toss the dregs before screwing the cup back on the thermos. It has begun to rain, again.


At the hostel in Oban, I heard a weather report that sounded ominous. Gale-force winds. Word was that the ferries that would take Alex, a fellow cyclist whom I met the day before on the road, to the Outer Hebrides were not running. The next morning, I quietly gathered my things while Alex slept.
      After yanking my bike out of a tangle of other bikes in a store room, I climbed aboard my rig and headed south, hoping to catch a ferry to the island of Arran and then over to Ayr—if the weather held. A big if.
      Sometime in the afternoon the winds picked up and I found myself pedalling hard, standing on the downstroke—stock still. The wind whipped a piece off my helmet. I quickly checked my phone and maps to redirect.
      There was a campground at Lochgilphead—if I could get there. Another big if.
      Luckily, I found it and was able to call the proprietor who came out of his house to show me a flat piece of ground in a boggy field, where my tent would be fully exposed to the winds. Then, as if reading my mind, he walked me over to a stable, where I might set up. I was about to release my bungees on the back of the bike. But, wait! He then unlocked a caravan parked next to the shower house and said I could stay there. I burst into tears of relief.
      The little RV wasn’t connected to water or electricity, yet it was more than a hollow shell. There was a couch and a little table where I could spread out my stuff. For the next couple of days, it would be my refuge from the storm.


The next day I awoke to fierce winds whipping up the narrow loch slip to a frothy brew. When I opened the little aluminium door, it flew out of my hands and slapped the side of the trailer. I ran across the grounds to the bath/toilet house. Even within the cement block walls I could hear the wind whooshing.
      At the shower house I met a woman who had recently retired. She was staying at the campgrounds while volunteering at a Bronze Age dig at the Kilmartin Dig. I’d passed signs for it on the way to a café stop at the museum.
      It occurred to me that I hadn’t been spending much time just hanging out with locals, hearing their stories. Of course not, I was always on my bike or else collapsed in my tent.
      Anyway, I asked the woman to tell me about Kilmartin, to tell me what I had missed.
      Growing up in Ohio, I’d ridden my bike to Fort Ancient, the name given to grave mounds that had been robbed of the bodies and artefacts of Native peoples. At Kilmartin there was something similar called cairns that were being excavated. Maggie went on to tell me there were also standing stones.
      I’d seen stone circles in Sweden and Ireland, where ancient tribes oriented themselves within the bigger cosmos. I’m sure they had a much better grasp of where they were from and where they were going than I.
      I asked her about buried treasure. It was slow going, she told me. Much like writing, much like cycling, I reckoned. There are bright spots, nuggets in the midst of detritus. Always the biggest bonanza involves garbage: midden piles, the refuse, it is there that archaeologists discover how a society was organized, how it worked, what was important, what they threw out. It is in digging through the ordinary that one often finds a gem.
      Good words for living, I thought.


Battling the winds back to the lonely caravan, I recalled I had little food. I would need to face the elements once again.
      I donned rain pants and a rain jacket and struggled forward. Flags and pennants stood out straight from poles. Awnings over doorways ballooned. I passed a library and went in. I needed a book since I’d finished reading the one I’d brought and left at the hostel. The library had a second-hand prose section, books for sale by the Friends of the Library.
      There I bought a copy of Wuthering Heights—a more convoluted love story has never been written. Yet, it harkened back to my early twenties when I deemed it the most romantic book I’d ever read. Everlasting love, love that spoke over the centuries, that defied the dead, the separation of this earth from the next. The idea of two hearts beating as one, a soul mate.
      I was never one to fall for that kind of purple language when describing love, but, at the same time, I secretly wished it were true. I wanted a love that would last forever, that wouldn’t be corrupted by death or time. I bought the book because I hoped there was some way to go back, to find amidst the garbage and trash, something to hang on to.
      Leaving the library, I held the door for a woman right out of Scottish casting. She wore a waterproof Mackintosh with a matching brim hat tied under her chin and she was pushing one of those little personal shopping carts.
      ‘Whew!’ She paused, to shake off in the doorway. ‘I needed the trolley today so’s not to blow away!’
      I smiled in agreement before going on my way.


I next stopped at a thrift store to buy another ‘wee’ sack for food. Even here in Lochgilphead, I wasn’t far from pop culture. In the midden piles of linen dresser covers, lace tablecloths, plated tea spoons, little china creamers, souvenir Jubilee plates, I found a Backstreet Boys insulated lunch bag.
      Now all I needed was food. I found a Co-op where I restocked my store of cheese and bread, cookies, and crackers. On the way back to the caravan park was an Indian Takeaway. Curried fried rice sounded good on such a raw day. I told the kid taking my order that I’d cycled here. ‘Why?’, he’d wanted to know.
      In the big picture, I wasn’t doing anything too out of the normal. Visiting the library, thrift storing, shopping for groceries, getting takeout. I could have done all this without leaving home. But here I was in wind-swept Lochgilphead, walking through a prism. Each facet of the experience slightly different, taking on new colours, a new slant. I realized this is what it means to travel, to take time and not just pedal the miles, but to live in the midden. The mess.


Back at the caravan park I ran into Philip, the proprietor. He asked me how things were going and I waved my bag of takeaway at him and smiled.
      He told me the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had fainted after a 9/11 commemoration. I’d been so far away from the news that hearing this made me want to fall down. Suddenly there is no such thing as gravity, a way to be held up. I feel as if I am in the middle of an ever-widening, ever-maddening gyre. According to the poet Yeats, ‘the centre cannot hold’. The world seems to be bending toward some kind of fiery sunset. After weeks away from the political mayhem in America, I am thrust back into the current political reality. More and more the run up to the election felt like an episode of the Jerry Springer Show, combative daytime TV.
      How did we end up here? I wondered.


As a kid I saw the hand of God in nature, in the fluttered, fluid murmuration of starlings over a field, in the night song of crickets caught in the cracks of the patio, in the winking black-eyed Susans, butterflies dancing above the heads of wildflowers beside the road. The Divine was everywhere, in holding a door for the next person, a baby’s smile, poetry, forgiveness.
      I was having a hard time reconciling the church of Lock Her Up and Build the Wall, messages of hatred and othering, with the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel, the Golden Rule, ‘the greatest of these is love.’
      What happened to compassion?
      It all seemed upside-down. Had I been hoodwinked? Or, like, my father thought: Had I wasted my life?
      I wasn’t quite ready to give up, but I had to find a way to navigate what lay ahead.   AQ

Stephen Lunn – Set Out Running

Stephen Lunn
Set Out Running

He’s not in bed, snugged up into Sophie’s warm back. He’s downstairs, on the sofa. Last night comes back to him in a lump. It was no ordinary row. He can still taste its bitterness.
      The dog whiffles under the dining table, curled in sleep. Over the fireplace, the Little Ben clock says quarter to four. Dawn’s early light creeps through the curtains. He’s had enough: of the job, of the city. Enough of their friends, who were all her friends anyway. Enough of being a family man, in this sort of family.
      He dresses from the tumble dryer. Puts a change of clothes in a shoulder bag. Finds his jacket in the hall, checks his wallet: £120 in notes, some Euros. Driving licence, EHIC, debit card. Gets into the bank app on his phone, moves one third of their savings to his personal account.
      What else? Passport, middle drawer of the dresser. He crosses out Sophie as Emergency Contact, writes in his cousin in Stockport. In the same drawer, there’s a document wallet, with ‘CERTS’ in her big black capitals on the front: he takes his HND Mech Eng., RYA Yachtmaster Offshore, Level 5 Dip of Ed & Training, St Johns First Aid At Work, with CPR and Fire Marshal endorsements. Picks up his half-read book from the floor. Phone charger, notebook, pen. Toothbrush and toothpaste, from the downstairs bathroom. That’s enough stuff.
      He calls AZB taxis, for a pick-up by the Spar on Manchester Road in ten minutes. Puts on well-worn boots: cherry red, steel toecaps. Writes a note:
          I’ve taken £2K from Lloyds to get started. Everything else is yours.
          You’ll be happier without me. Loved you once. Good luck.

Sticks it under the tea caddy, and takes a last look round, at what was his life. Feels nothing except a need to be moving.
      The taxi drops him outside Hallam University at four fifty. He crosses the road and walks to the railway station, Sheffield Victoria, through curvy steel panels and sparkling fountains, feet so light he could skip. Buys tobacco, Rizlas and lighter from a newsagent, in case he takes up smoking again. Walks onto the station concourse. It’s hot and humid and busy already: students with rucksacks, business people with laptops. The departures board refreshes and a crowd rushes to Platform 8. The London train. He’s not going there.
      So many places. Birmingham, Southampton, Cardiff, going south. Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, going north. All too obvious. West looks better: Manchester, Liverpool. Or east. Lincoln, Hull. He’s never been to Hull. He buys a one-way ticket.
      Not many people going there this morning. He has a table to himself, all the way. He talks to a ticket inspector from Rotherham who used to drive buses. Reads his book. Loves the muddy ooze of the Humber, the arc of the suspension bridge. He doesn’t look back once.
      At half eight he’s out of Hull Paragon station, on a wide street called Ferensway. It’s full of small bikes and scooters delivering takeaway food. Who for? Who gets take-aways delivered at this time of day? He stops at the kerb. Cool easterly drizzle, sea salt in the air, two short fat Spidermen advertising pizzas.
      He walks towards the brightest patch of sky, passes a Norwegian Church, an ice rink boarded up, another fat Spiderman. A sign on a post says Trans-Pennine Long-Distance Footpath, which sounds unlikely, here by the sea. He follows where it points, down a narrow alley between high chain-link fences, onto a deserted dockside. A board swinging loose on a gate says ‘Albert Dock’.
      To his right, five big cargo boats lie alongside in a floating harbour: orange hulls, grey superstructure. No people. To the left, the biggest lock he’s ever seen, and a Portakabin. Beyond them, the Humber estuary and the North Sea. It’s peaceful here. He stops and breathes deep, thinks about what he’s done, whether he had a choice. And what he’s going to do. Plenty of choices there. Take art seriously. Go back to engineering or teaching. Write something. Join a band. Starve in a garret. Work in a factory, shop, distribution centre. Advertise pizzas. No rush though. He set out running but can take his time.
      He leans on a post by the Portakabin, trying to feel the sun, smelling fish, watching gulls clean up. He wishes he still smoked, realises he can. Rolls up, sucks it down, his head instantly spinning. He flicks the half-smoked butt into the lock, making a ripple in still water. Mullet cruise over. One sucks the butt in, blows it out again. And another. It must look like food to them.
      You can’t trust looks. Everyone knows that. But little Patrick, two weeks old, fit as a fiddle, with orange hair and freckles: the child doesn’t look like him at all. Never will. You can’t trust looks, but you can trust a DNA test.
      A stubby bloke crops up behind him, asks for a light.
      ‘My pleasure,’ he says. The bloke hangs around, standing back a foot or two, like he’s waiting for something. More people come, stand in line behind the stubby one. Men with bags over their shoulders, papers in their hands.
      He’s in a queue. In fact, he’s the front of a queue, and looking the part, with his bag and his boots.
      A man half-way back looks at his watch. They all do. He does: it’s nine o’clock. A door opens in the Portakabin, a man looks out, beckons. Grey stubble, tanned, white shirt with black epaulettes. Beckons him, as the man at the front of the queue. He walks over. He can’t help smiling.
      At ten past nine he’s out on the dock with three pieces of paper, grinning like a loon. What a nice bloke that was, Robbie Suggett. Robbie gave him the papers, three small black and white miracles. A room for a week, in the seaman’s hostel. Enrolment for a four-day course, ABS Deck Certificate. And a contract. Trainee deckhand, on the SS Tijndrum, one of those orange-hulled freighters in Albert Dock. Sailing next Friday.
      He’s never been to the Baltic.      AQ

Pamela Alexander – Nomadic

Pamela Alexander

My house is a box
with a wheel at each corner.
I think of the earth underneath it
and conserve:

not too many miles a day,
no other house left behind
to heat or cool, or furnish.
All the lights LEDs;
the furnace sips
propane. Conserve: don’t

spend energy on what
might have been–

pots tucked into lockers, knives
in drawers, everything lashed
or bungeed, secure–

or worse, on what was.

Couch and table become
beds. Storage under,
over, clever, crafty.

Land-liner, piloted
toward better weather,
outer and inner,
wherever that may be.