Jeff Gallagher – 3 poems

Byzantium

            

To a distant friend killed in a car crash

            

At an unpredictable point in time

the brain

bowing under the weight of facts, 

pulsed in protest

and spat the blood through your busy head

like the yoke of a badly boiled egg

            

The great jawline of that vaulted dome

slammed shut

– a vain attempt to prevent a meltdown –

broke in an instant

and lay like shards in a glass case,

the scant fragments of a mind too full

            

No longer you in that skidding car

stopped short,

crumpled by the random truck –

identity swept away –

and the empty shell of your curious skull

cracked and shattered by some cosmic trowel

            

They no longer mummify or pickle in jars

or stuff

what is worthy of preservation:

carved quaint prose

is what remains, recalled in the smoke

glimpsed by your Aeneas on the road to Rome.

🍃

            

Fan Club

            

back then

just a look or a word 

or a touch

from those guys

could make us immortal

            

but the founder of Genesis 

was busy on his phone

and Anderson (the guy with the flute)

danced behind a counter 

selling fish

yeah man but I was in the same room

            

saw them both back then

and I seem to recall

Phillips (simply years ahead)

smiling shyly and someone from Tull

shouting peace man yeah

I’m sure he was talking to me

            

I was this close to Stacia in 72 

Hawkwind far out yeah and Curved Air

that Sonja’s 72 today 

and still gorgeous

still got the T shirts they signed

and did you know Lemmy yeah 

he was born in Burslem

yeah man in the same effing street

            

Glastonbury yeah that was me too

yeah third row back 

sitting on some guy’s shoulders

totally pissed

a-gain

yeah mate I mean Fripp and Eno

I mean they’re like gods

            

retired now 

or gone

the old familiar faces

just like the seventies

all in our seventies

posting ripping yarns

from our new conservatories

the Peter Pans of YouTube

            

never such innocence,

never such innocence again

            

still

bloke in the pub quiz team

he was in a band 

once you know

got to number 85

in the Billboard 100

with a song about gnomes.

🍃

            

Jane Hill’s Wife

            

As I search online for another glimpse of the immortals,

my way is barred by curious diversions, such as

“Breakfast Show guest swears live and walks off set” and

“Weather presenter reveals amazing new beard” and

“Take a close up look at Jane Hill’s Wife – so weird!”

            

Recalling that newsreader with the faint maternal smile,

I click the link idly and resist the fierce challenge of

“Important message for all you baby boomers” and

“Savvy pensioners cannot afford to miss this plan”; or 

“Invest now. Protect your family while you can.”

            

I am not distracted: Jane’s Wife is my holy grail

as I bravely withstand straplines with their siren songs, such as 

“Whatever became of the other Herman’s Hermit…?” and

“You won’t believe how much Snow White has grown old…” or

“This horror-child is now a gorgeous centrefold.”

            

But I am wise to these distractions that would entice us

And I resist the lure of more sinister temptations:

“Can COVID really increase your memory skills?” and

“The ten greatest movies of Johnny Depp revealed” and 

“Name all the teams who have won the Charity Shield.”

            

And now she is there again, this unseen Eurydice

awaiting my gaze as the flight of an arrow leads to

“Ten TV celebrities in same-sex relationships” and

“Ten stars called Jane who made it big, it’s said” and

“Ten famous people called Hill who are now all dead.”

            

And always the advertising fed intravenously,

half-truths and oxymoron turning brain to stone:

“These baked beans buff you up better than Botox” and

“Love Island cutie reveals beauty secrets of tar” and

“New tanned body for less than the price of a car.”

            

I reach Olympus. And here at last to greet me

Is Jane, the face that launched a thousand headlines:

“Boris Johnson says Brexit is a done deal” and

“Scientists say climate change is caused by cows” and 

“Jane Hill caught on camera adjusting her blouse.”

            

Blinded by her fame, I cannot avert my gaze:

I am one step from my objective. I click again:

“A personal message to you from Jane Hill’s Wife”. Yes?

“The Internet gods are cruel. They take no prisoners.

“So respect my privacy. And mind your own bloody business.”

            

And, armed with clutch purse and tiara, Jane’s hologram stands

Next to a cut out silhouette: the wife. And Jane says:

“Behold. A false trail leads only to a dead end” and

“Go home. Turn off your computer. Get a life.”

And thus ends my epic quest for Jane Hill’s Wife.

            

Yet now, in old age, I still desire to dwell with the gods 

by Googling the divine along well trodden paths, such as

“The quick and easy way to write your will” and 

“The new dementia craze that is sweeping the nation”,

“Blind faith”, “assisted death” and “cut price cremation.”

🍃

            

Jeff Gallagher is a poet and playwright living in West Sussex. He has had numerous plays for young people published and performed nationwide. His poetry has appeared in The Journal, One Hand Clapping, Makarelle, Spellbinder and Runcible Spoon. 

Frederick Pollack – 6 poems

Trade-in

            

Kliban imagined Our Lady

appearing to a Volkswagen

parked at a one-hour meter

in Denver. One assumes she had her reasons:

a message too urgent

to take venue and audience sufficiently into

account. Any secular intellectual

might sympathize.

            

There are cases still more extreme.

Universal consciousness

suddenly befalls one

of those attenuated stickmen made

to writhe by hot air at used-car lots.

He understands everything.

He knows where the others are.

The answers are so terrible

he becomes at last one with his dance,

but even more alienated

from his eager open painted eyes

and smile. Preaching also to windshields.

🍃

            

The Stowaway

            

A voice, insinuating, loathsome,

came over the comms: “In ancient times,

small groups in bad situations –

an open lifeboat, cave-ins –

often hallucinated

another member, always calm and helpful.

In many cases they called him Shepherd.

Later they may have viewed him as an angel,

but I make no claim to that. You can call me Shepherd.”

What was so bad about the voice?

It was educated, in an old, elitist way, and

relaxed. The captain, whose job

and joy it was portentously to state

the obvious, announced, “We have a stowaway”

and called for teamwork; he and the others

thinking what the Head Office

would do to them for this, and covertly

selecting whom to blame. They

conferred. They checked readings, logs,

storage units, food and oxygen

consumption. Were issued sidearms,

and headsets that, once activated,

erased fear, superstition, and

concern about career, leaving only

purpose. They found him

in the lounge, beside a viewport, looking down

at the planet. Vegetation there

was purple, much of it now black

from mining. “Freeze!” yelled someone. He

smiled. Was oddly wispy, antique

clothes without a logo,

dyed by the old red dwarf; hardly there

when they upped the lighting. They tased him:

nothing. Zipties passed through him.

Their focused anger fought its bounds. He

smiled. The AI identified

what he said next as propaganda

issued to soldiers in an ancient war: “You should

regard the enemy as someone

who has killed your father, burned your house, dishonored

your mother. On him you may discharge

the load of misery and frustration

you have carried with you all your life.”

🍃

            

Capital

            

I had arranged a few objects

on the setback bricks

atop the old-fashioned fireplace.

A blue Tunisian plate.

A Baule mask. A small sculpture,

which only when you looked at it

looked shapeless, by a sculptor

who had lived upstairs of my father.

This was after

I had scrubbed with a wire brush

as much grime as I could

from the fireplace, which had burnt

nothing in decades and never would.

            

Then I realized that something like

a window or a mirror

was there, and that beyond it lay

an almost identical

but clean and working hearth. The plate

was the same, the mask better and not

inherited, the artwork

by some big name and rather dull,

the room a charming nook. Mine was my flat.

I could almost see him.

He could almost see me, and was

amused, not very interested, then gone.

I wondered: were we both evil?

🍃

            

Legacy

            

Their names remembered like old phone-numbers,

or vanished, though the face remains,

and the last ambiguous laugh, or request for a loan …

Best to regard them as scientists, explorers,

lost somewhere. One discovered

the effect of forty acid trips

in one semester on a mind

that might have rivaled Goethe’s. One

who loathed computers when they appeared

became their master, hidden in that fortress.

One researched for ten years with Scholastic rigor

unrequited love, then boringly,

hermetically, theorized women. And, finding

profession, promotion, family, one found me

a vestigial organ, subject to infection, best

removed. But the cases

that keep me up, trying to remember names,

cafés, disputes, are less clear …

It’s only certain that the fault was mine.

            

Explorers, certainly, for all of us

“moved.” I imagine them

in towns I never visited, every turn

of every street available on screens

but where the later, all-revealing face

never appears, while

the googled bio seems a fantasy …

Scientists, too; for they learned

new accents, tastes, ways of accommodating

and dying. In any case

the dullest will bequeath ten thousand facts,

I a few mysteries.

🍃

            

Grasp

            

Immune to its charms, ignorant of its names,

I drive into the countryside.

Odors of vegetables and animals.

Hay-fever, chaperone of intellect.

I bear in a cardboard box the relics

of the deceased, suggesting only innocence:

a past, that is, not canceled promise.

The house is as I expect, expecting little,

in need of paint to hide its other needs.

And, knocking, I must remember whether

son, daughter, or whoever is in the box,

for that can influence my reception.

Which will inevitably be bad,

though at first I’m offered a chair and awful coffee

and gaze at pious slogans, framed or carved,

I privately decode, my look approving.

Try to grasp, I urge, that I didn’t know him

or her. I’m not the police. I come

long after the police, who were and would be kinder;

it’s we around this desperately polished

table who are the cold case now.

She meant to be good, quit drugs, help people,

he to be rich, successful, male –

successful in any case, a star, a patriot!

These toys, that scrap of diary, this key

to a long-emptied safe deposit box

reveal if properly interpreted

their good intentions. The city

was cruel, but with a cruelty you wanted …

At which the beating comes. I’m prepared,

faith in non-violence never questioned;

and when, exhausted, he, they stop,

I see in them through my remaining

eye that agonizing choice of troubles,

whether to dispose of me or learn.

🍃

            

Junior Moment

            

As I awoke I wasn’t sure

what the times demanded, what diction to use.

Slang flashed and vanished

like quanta. Was a word meant

to be placed in a sentence or replace it?

And with what emphasis, what shrug or rictus?

Worse was the question

of persona and tone. Once there had been

a noncommittal caution,

a mask of belonging. Still earlier

in my genetic background lay

a touching earnestness that coincided

oddly with the “hardboiled” mode.

(At such a distance the term confused me:

surely it meant a way of being eaten?)

Later there came a frantic expressiveness

that may have been honesty, shot through

with saving moments of rage. This yielded

to a sullenness, which deepened.

How should I speak, who should I be,

I wondered, when I entered

the cafeteria, went to my locker

for my blazer, my hoodie?

Swung from bed; was surprised to encounter

my cane, my denture.

🍃

            

Frederick Pollack is author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure (Story Line Press, 1986; to be reissued by Red Hen Press) and Happiness (Story Line Press, 1998), and two collections, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015) and Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). In print, Pollack’s work has appeared in Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Manhattan Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Main Street Rag, Miramar, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Poetry Quarterly Review, Magma (UK), Neon (UK), Orbis (UK), Armarolla, December, and elsewhere. Online, his poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Diagram, BlazeVox, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Big Pond Rumours (Canada), Misfit, OffCourse, Bindweed (June 2016) and elsewhere.

Cormac Culkeen – 1 poem

Bring Home A Rock

            

If you’re to bring home a rock,

Allow one that’s bright, veined

With crimson, yellow, mauve, or

Shows its hidden light in quartz.

            

Pick it from a beach, storied

Like a city with its people

Let it be one rubbed smooth

Or pierced ancient with seawater,

            

Crouch amongst them, allow

Daylight its search throughout

Its lines and hollows, address

Your waiting silence with breath

            

As sunset rusts a melt horizon,

Daubing its evening violent pink,

Molten orange, livid red, seabirds

Calls trawl the light as

            

Thrifty stars blink, waking

Over the slow rails of ships.

            

Shade it in a pocket, bring

It along Galway’s streets,

Busking voices trail open skies

Peppered with clouds and cobalt,

            

Let it rest in your palm,

Taking in waiting mountains

Silent for voices to guide it towards

Droplets salting from its form,

Not mist, nor rain.

            

Cormac Culkeen is a writer of poetry, fiction and short stories. He lives and works in Galway and is completing a BA Connect in Creative Writing in NUI Galway, returning to university full time as a mature student in 2018. His work has been published in The Burning Bush, Skylight 47 and The Wild Word poetry magazines.