As Dead Birds Circled by Ken Allan Dronsfield

On a coolish night in late December
an odd stiff breeze was blowing from the North
we sat by the damn with gin and juice while
singing sonnets of warmer days now past.
We sang loudly while the old man strummed then
laughs on the right just as screams echoed left
the levee broke and all drift in the floods.

Cleanse my soul in the fierce muddy waters.

Weeping willows joyously laughed that night.
Tender were the sounds of bare footsteps in
darkness upon the slick moss covered rocks.
Leaves shimmered in a purple twilight as
the levee broke, and tears cascaded down
the breezes died to a whispering chant
windowless walls of tall earth and rock moved
crumbling into the water’s great swallow.

Cleanse my soul in the fierce muddy waters.

A thousand eyes watched in a harsh horror
while great birds on the wing circled slowly
the damn broke and music faded away.
church bells rang out, wrapped in misty attire
blistered sacramental pious whimpers.
Quartz crystals resonate a timeless waltz
rust colored waters moved lifeless bodies
while dead birds on the wing circled slowly.

Cleanse our souls in the fierce muddy waters.

The weeping willows just laughed and rejoiced
as the great levee broke; we were still there
singing dirges; dead birds circled slowly;
baptism of souls join fierce muddy waters.

ken-allan-dronsfield-bio-picture

Ken Allan Dronsfield is a published poet from New Hampshire. He loves thunderstorms! His published work can be found in reviews, journals, magazines and anthologies throughout the web and in print venues. His poetry has been nominated for Best of the Net for 2016.

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Depth Change by Max Dunbar

At the centre of this town is a story.
This is the reason you’re here. In this heatwave the streets hum with magic. Drive down a main street lined with big, purpose-built bars and restaurants, traditional hotel pubs, upmarket hairdressers, high street banks, small pavilions of families eating and drinking, the scamper of uniformed waiters, roped-off sections of chewed road and ticking machinery, there’s money here, and a sense of mean abandon that can’t be completely explained by the recent unbroken sunshine or the place’s recent tragedy. And then you reach the suburbs. Good schools and golf courses. Rows of detached houses in shining terracotta, glistening tarmac, late-model family saloons in gorgeous cherry shades. Two children kick a ball on a drive with some precision. Over terraced rooftops you can glimpse the Three Peaks, dairy sheds, tractors, cattle. And the Nidderdale reservoir.
‘They were together as kids. She were fifteen and he were nineteen.’ The contact is a woman of thirty or so with a handsome face and clipped dark hair. ‘Place like this, lot of people get together as kids. She were fifteen, but… no one was bothered about this back then. Liam was a decent lad. He were a catch. He was in the Army for two year and had only come back because his disc slipped on a training exercise in Kenya and he got med exed. His dad owned the Gomersall auto dealership on Bruce Road. The Gomersalls have been here for generations. Liam had the car. Lovely blue Mazda. A lot of girls used to stand at the gate and watch for that car.’
Like many pubs round here this is an oak-lined barn with interiors of odd slants and angles, so although you can’t see anyone else in your immediate line of vision you hear voices and the clash of cutlery. The floors are tiled stone and shafts of light and shadow wink across them.
The contact’s phone goes off. She opens it. ‘Yeah. He’s here now. I’m talking to him.’ Pause. ‘Well if he wants to go to boxing you have to run him down.’
Pause.
‘He’s already got football and thletics, why’s he want to go to boxing? He’s eight year old.’
‘Look, call me back. Call me back.’ Snap. ‘Where was I?’
The wedding.

‘I can only really give you an hour today,’ the contact says. ‘Saturday is like my busiest day. I mean you know what it’s like yourself.’
You don’t. You don’t have kids. But you don’t say so.
‘In a way you could see where Riley was coming from. I shouldn’t say that. It’s an horrible thing to say.
‘They got married on the treehouse at Boroughbridge. That were lovely. I went up with the girls from school, got dressed up, it was like prom night all over again. She looked gorgeous. All brides do, they say. They had a four course meal with lobster thermidor and rump steak. Drove off in Liam’s Mazda with JUST MARRIED on the back and the rest of us chucking confetti and laughing. Of course his family paid it all. Liam was a big Peter Kay fan and his dad approached Peter Kay apparently to do a set. Sixteen grand he quoted. Sixteen grand! They get like that, some of them. Mind you, my cousin ran into that Katie Price when they were over in the Dominican Republic. She were sat on the beach with her kids and people were coming up to her and saying hi and she were fine with it. No airs and graces.
‘This wedding went okay. His dad were a lech – you had to watch your bra straps when Dave Gomersall was around, specially if he’d had a drink, my mam said he were the exact same when they was young. Vicki Lyall got off with Ross Brodie, Liam’s brother battered Glenn Dixon cause he poured a glass of whisky over the DJ decks, we got hold of the nan’s motor scooter and zoomed around the treehouse and the rope bridges on it, I remember Sonny Ryall and Demi-Leigh had to carry me back in a shopping trolley, I was so drunk. You’re only young once.’
It’s a curiosity of this line of work, you speak to hundreds of people, who you have never met before and with whom you have nothing in common, and a few minutes in they start telling you their life stories. ‘There is a point when you’re young, maybe sixteen or seventeen, there’s a moment of what you’d call… clarity. I remember the night of the prom me and Riley and Vicki and a bunch of us were stood on the front porch of Vicki’s dad’s house ont the Fishergate hill. We were proper tarted up and Riley had taxed a bottle of port off her mum and she’d poured it into a flask and doled it out to us, in little sips.
‘The sky was blue, and it were so hot, it was like living in LA or Barca. I remember, you know when you’re sort of tipping over into being pissed, and you feel it more, when you’re young. And I saw the limousines come over the hill, knowing that Ross Brodie would be in the back of that, Ste Bulmer too, probably already half-cut himself on bottles of Tiger beer he’d lifted from the bar at the Fauconberg. I felt… good, like really good to be alive, but also afraid and a bit low, because I knew that I would marry Ste Bulmer and have kids and get a job at the glassworks or the local authority and I would never have anything like the time to feel like this again. You don’t go to college or really leave the town. You meet someone and fall pregnant. But I think it’s hard on everyone when you fall. Riley Monk fell harder than most.’

Whatever else this place is – it’s not depressing. The view from the back beer garden is a marvellous vista of fields and townships. The sun is still out and there are more people out here. The contact asks for a light. You light her cigarette, and one for yourself.
‘I hardly saw Riley after this. They had moved into the flat above the dealership, had it to themselves – Liam’s people had an house up in Bishop Monkton. Now thing about Riley was she were always just really fit, one of the fittest girls int school.’ The contact traces an hourglass. ‘Not so much up top but dead lovely wavy black hair, long legs, kind of darkish skin with freckles – people thought she was Spanish but she wasn’t. Used to wear these skirts up to the thigh, which you got bollocked for in them days –‘
You smile. It was the exact same at your school.
‘– but Riley never did, maybe cause the teachers sensed she wasn’t wearing them for attention. She was just – ‘ The contact fumbles for the word.
Unconscious?
‘That’s it. She wor unconscious in everything she did. Lads would be fiddling themselves off to her under the desk and she just had no idea.
‘I ran into her a couple of years after the wedding. I were in the Morrisons and proper stressed trying to get the weekly shop done on a Friday after work – telling myself I could come back the next morning, but knowing I’d be too hungover and tired. I ran into her in the frozen aisle. I know obviously she was pregnant with Ava, but she just looked so ill and run on. She was about eight month gone, and she had kind of puffy features, like my aunt when she started taking the Crohn’s meds. She gave us a smile – she was the same sweet kid – and it was only that smile, coming out of that fat pale face, that made me realise who I was talking to.’ She pronounces it toh. ‘We had a hug and we chatted for a bit, not long, we said we was going to meet up soon, but we didn’t do it until much later. I mean you don’t have time. Do you have kids?’
You say no. You’re in a relationship with a good man but no kids. The contact registers this and continues her story.

*

‘Six year went by. Riley had three kids, two girls and a boy. The kids all seemed really nice, lively, well behaved, and healthy – and that’s something in a world where it seems every second or third child’s born with autism or club foot or some mad genetic disease that no one understands. Plus all that AHDH and opposition disorder, it’s horrible what some people go through.
‘She turned up at the school gates on a morning for months after Ava was born, and we’d chat and have a fag after the kids had gone in – just having that slice of free time before you had to head for work. I never knew when I was sixteen that I’d be fighting and scrambling for time. She also used to come on the odd night out, to the Fauconberg or into York on the minibus – and then like months went by when we didn’t see her, and it was allus her sister dropping the kids off at the gate, and her sister never spoke to us cause we used to pick on her at the school – there’s some types never forget that.’
The contact says that several years had gone by before she saw Riley again. It had been because Riley’s fella, Liam Gomersall, had been the subject of rumours in the town – that he was sleeping with every other woman in its small radius. Liam was only a few years older than Riley, and apparently felt he still had a lot of sexual experience to get in, and in addition to the reliable rumour that reached the contact’s attention she had also personally seen him, in the Fauconberg, sharing a passionate kiss – ‘with Tiny Redmonds from the other half year. They were in a booth. I was in there to pick up the meat from the raffle – I glanced across and I didn’t know where to put my face, I swear. I mean I know this town. It’s funny because you’d think it’s so dull and maybe it is but people just screw around. There ain’t a month go by when someone puts it for a divorce, not a Saturday night you don’t get woken up by some couple down the road screaming at each other in the street. I suppose it’s the same where you live?’
You don’t know. You live in a peaceful Sheffield suburb and you have no idea who your neighbours are.
The contact is saying that of course I’m no angel, everyone knows I messed around with Harry Longbottom’s cousin, but we’ve known each other since we were five and he’s a good man but you know Ste holds that over my head every time he wants to take the high road like he’s not been shagging that Shelbi Price slut from the small breeds farm for years. I fucking know! ‘But it just felt like Liam wor taking the piss, snogging like teenagers in full view of half the town. I kept thinking about it and I chatted to the girls about it and we decided what the fuck, we’d go and see her.’
They were still living above the dealership?
The contact says yeah. It was me Demi-Leigh and Vicky Ryall and I knocked and I got this awful feeling – I didn’t want her to open up. I didn’t want anyone to open. I wished that door not to open. And we waited and no one came and I was thinking thank fuck, they’re not answering, we can go, I can forget all this – and then there were footsteps on the stairs and Liam opened up.
‘He was wearing a new shirt and hair slicked back and aftershave on, like he was just off out. Dead friendly, asking us how things were like nothing was wrong. You got into the flat through a little side door, up a flight of stairs, and then – the first thing I noticed was the smell.
‘They had this little open plan flat, TV on, loads of toys and games and clutter about the place – they had three kids by then so you’d expect a mess, like my house, loads of houses, only it wasn’t, somehow. There was the smell. It wasn’t like shit or piss, it was just really thick and ground in and old and it penetrated everything. When I was twelve my granddad had a stroke. I was sent round to bring his paper and as soon as I opened the door I knew he was dead. Because of this smell of old rotten vegetables and packed dirt.’
The contact said that Liam was chatting away about nights, schools, jobs, pacing about the place, glancing on occasion into a mirror (or maybe the TV – The One Show was on) the kids were crawling and running about the place as kids do, and Riley just slumped on the floor, leant against an armchair. Riley’s lovely hair hadn’t been washed in a while and there were stains on her clothes and she was smoking.
‘And one of her kids – I think it was little Jess – she stumbled on something and fell over. Hit her head on a table leg – not hard enough to do any damage, but still, if my youngest falls or trip my heart just stops. Plus the kid just starts bawling. Riley was looking that way but just didn’t register it. It was mad. It were silent – Liam had gone into the bathroom, to powder his fucking nose or something – and Demi-Leigh says, Aww, that’s a nasty fall! I think just for something to say. And Riley goes, Yeah! and just points at her kid, as if at a comedy show. Are you cold? Do you want to go in? I’m cold.

Post-natal depression or what you call it. The contact didn’t think that Riley would come out of it but she did. Liam stopped seeing other women or at least practised a little discretion. Riley’s dad went to Mark Gomersall’s place and then they went to see Liam and maybe words were had.
‘It weren’t an uncommon thing. I’ve been on citalopram since Amelia was born. Riley had meds and also Liam’s dad paid for her to get CBT on private. She really took to it. Started turning up at the school gate on a morning, learned to drive, she ran the after school club and the netball five a sides, she came out with the girls on nights, and even got a job – she studied for like a medical coding course and got a job at the Royal. Was earning more than Liam at one point.
But in a way it’s easier when you’re depressed. You don’t think at all. You just float in the darkness. When you’re out of the darkness and with energy to burn that’s when you can feel really heartbroken and unfulfilled and aggravated. Riley wanted to see something of life. ‘And she got it.’

People think the countryside is peaceful and it is. But the country has the same problems as the city – it’s just they’re better hidden. The contact can tell you the pubs where you can buy cocaine and heroin, quite easily; can take you to farmsteads where there are, carefully concealed in agricultural warehouses, illegal distilleries and methamphetamine plants and hundreds of cannabis leaves ripening under the wattage of sophisticated hydroponic lamps. The contact knows the places on Yorkshire’s ragged coastline where small boats can dock and fields where it is safe to land a small plane. The contact knows men and women who by day are successful estate agents or ag supply purchasers and by night fire back lines and pills at sybaritic lockins,  she grew up with men who are now in prison for smuggling, others dead from ODs. It can get boring up here. Stretches of miles where there are no buses or pubs or amenities. It can get dull. And there are plenty ready to run great risk to make the town more interesting.
‘Riley fell in with the party crowd – Richie Morrison who owns the Indian place on high street, Blake Perry at the second hand bookshop, those lesbians from London, nothing against them like, who bought old Sankey’s place. She was out all the time, sometimes in  Leeds or York but most often around here, pubs and houseparties, sometimes special parties, if you get my drift – proper organised orgies, on the internet. There was a little club of them. And when the pubs were closed and there was no free house she would just wander the hills. It sounds mad, unreal, but I ran into her once. I were roped in as a supervisor at Declan’s school when they climbed Malham Cove. Have you been up Malham Cove? High, rocky cliff, you have to climb up this pathway that’s like set into the rock, all you can see is rock, you feel like you’re in that bloody Game of Thrones. Beautiful place, but it’s somewhere you go for a family picnic, not tryna crowd control a bunch of fourteen year olds – I tell you, I was glad to get a pint after that trip.
‘I climbed up to the top, knackered, and there she was – just sunning herself on the top, wearing this clingy top and her French style scarf, listening to that crazy electronic music she liked and not a care in the world. I were worried at first, cause her pupils were that dilated, and I couldn’t see that she had a map or any water – I mean, people still get lost and die in the Dales. She laughed me off. ‘It’s cool, honey! I just wanted to watch the dawn!’ Eventually I managed to persuade her to come down with the group. I remember how the sunlight caught her hair.’
She were out of the danger zone. The early years are the hardest and once the kids are off at school that’s it – if you want to go out and about you can, long as there’s someone to mind the kids, your nan or whatever, and Riley could afford proper childminders, she had money. But after years of roving about the town Liam didn’t take this at all well. He didn’t want to be a stay at home dad while his wife were gallivanting around with the cool crowd but with so many eyes on him he couldn’t not. She was always taking his Mazda and driving it off places, running the fuel down and leaving litter and shit in the car and that’s what got to him most of all – when I think about it now I think that Liam Gomersall was nothing without that car.
And Riley hated him on some level. I don’t mean she wanted to hurt him the way it looked but I do believe that on a level she hated him. Terrible arguments. Shouts. Screams. Threats. Police callouts. Ste’s brother attended one time and Riley had a black eye and Liam had so many fingernail gashes on his face it looked like she had gone at him with a cheesegrater. And the rest you know.
‘I know what you’re going to say,’ the contact tells you. ‘You’re going to ask whether she loved her children.’
You weren’t. You really weren’t.
‘What the fuck kind of question is that? Of course she loved her children!’

You drive for the way back to the city. Everything’s on a gradient and you take a glimpse of the reservoir. They seem to be building something. The sun hits the water and you put the top mirror down to avoid the glare. For a moment the sky appears bright white and pressing on the land and it seems painful.

MaxDunbar

Max Dunbar lives in West Yorkshire. He blogs at http://maxdunbar.wordpress.com/ and tweets at http://twitter.com/MaxDunbar1.

 

Emigrating To Latvia by David Spicer

In college I loathed the cafeteria’s
foods: noodles, peas, cold fries.
I’d rather starve than eat food
I can’t swallow. The school
slept in a village by an estuary
near the bay, and, a loner even then,
I refused to room with anybody—
slipping through twenty-five roommates
in a semester because I obsessed
about Robert Mitchum movies. I wore
ski masks lumbering to class, pretended
I was one of Eddie Coyle’s friends.
Shivered in my solo room with posters
of Veronica Lake and Mitchum
on lavender walls, looming above Valhalla
Roses, the loudest punk metal band alive.
The fog thickened by the pier, and I ambled
through it on mornings I wasn’t flunking trig.
In sunglasses, I dreamed of joining the navy
but couldn’t swim, so I dreamed of airfields.
Yet I didn’t want to fly or sleep in bunkbeds.
Then on graduation day, I threw a dart
at a spinning globe and wounded Latvia.
I’ve been trying to emigrate ever since.

David Spicer

David Spicer has had poems in Chiron Review, Alcatraz, Gargoyle, Ploughshares, The American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. The author of Everybody Has a Story and four chapbooks, he’s the former editor of raccoon, Outlaw, and Ion Books. He is scheduled to have From the Limbs of a Pear Tree, (Flutter Press) released in the Fall of 2017.

Legends of the Fall by Alan Catlin

The family legend suggested she
was conceived in the mud at
Woodstock during a drug fueled,
hippie daisy chain love-in, any one
of several unknown men could have
donated the fluids fathers are made
from.  Not that she had a family,
per se, a mother, for sure, who was prone
to excesses and abuses and was about
as reliable as a crack whore more than
a few years past her best-if-used-by
expiration date.  More than likely,
the sex act that produced spawn was
the one that took place on acid,
in a kind of prefab motel room with walls
so thin you could hear the mice breeding
in the neighboring rooms. No wonder
the daughter was a series of acronyms
no one bothered to diagnose, up the chute
at fifteen, and long gone to parts unknown
and presumed dead, not long after she
began to show.  Ended up in some place
that was worse than hell, a suburb where
all the plastic, status seeking people
went to die and once settled there,
even dead, you still had to earn a living.
Her daughter was about as adorable
and adoptable as one of those human science
experiments gone bad in made for second
reels at drive-in movies no one watched
except in between the acts coming up for air
or to light another joint.  By her mid-teens
she had a list of priors longer than the veil
of tears track marks on her arms, her brain
a sieve all the dormant, dying cells slipped
through, only leaving behind habits of
a lifetime, a bloodline, that cannot be broken.

acatlin multi

Alan Catlin is a widely published poet in the US of A and elsewhere. His most recent book is “Books of the Dead: a memoir with poetry” about the deaths of his parents. He is a retired professional barman and the editor of the online poetry zine misfitmagazine.net.

Funeral Black & Graveside Grey by Paul Tristram

That rust filing taste… is perpetual, now.
The slanting rains no longer
wash last night’s sludge away.
There is a single beer bottle,
almost upright, in the frothing gutter,
she envies its hollowness.
Dragging the tattered hem of her skirt
through the shit and grime
of another brain-racked hour…
she wanders, inconsistently,
her wretched way
towards the mocking laugh
of the noontime church bell.
There are prison bars behind both eyes,
and a cell-door coldness to everything,
but, re-fuelling anger.
Yet, the day before yesterday,
she crossed paths with ‘Calm’,
in the Market Square.
It resided within the face of a girl
not yet damaged
by Life’s twisted purpose and meaning.
She’d appeared, suddenly,
like Francis Bacon’s ‘Jet Of Water’
before turning and disappearing
just as quickly, into mediocre shoulders.
Now, ‘Hope’ (Once Long Dead),
was back, uncomfortably,
upon its tormenting throne.
And, she couldn’t shake
the gnawing grasp of its Bastard uncertainty.

paul smoking - Copy

Paul Tristram is a Welsh writer who has poems, short stories, sketches and photography published in many publications around the world, he yearns to tattoo porcelain bridesmaids instead of digging empty graves for innocence at midnight; this too may pass, yet. Buy his books ‘Scribblings Of A Madman’ (Lit Fest Press) http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1943170096 ‘Poetry From The Nearest Barstool’ at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1326241036 And a split poetry book ‘The Raven And The Vagabond Heart’ with Bethany W Pope at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1326415204 You can also read his poems and stories here! http://paultristram.blogspot.co.uk/

Some Fresh Air by John D Robinson

‘I was sat on the steps outside
the bar: I needed some fresh
air, I was sat down and
someone kicked me hard in
the face, I lost four teeth and
a broken nose: I was in
hospital for a week, why
would someone do
something like that? I had
done nothing, what the fuck
is wrong with some people?’
he said:
I shook my head, looking
away from his busted face,
I didn’t have an answer
and felt vengeful and
disturbed, but we both knew
we were up against something
so ugly and so despicable we
hadn’t a chance of
reasoning, even with it’s
cowardly shadow.

john-d-robinson-2

John D Robinson is a UK poet: his work appears widely and frequently in the small press and online literary journals: He has published 4 chapbooks: ‘Looking Down Both Barrels’ with Adrian Manning is his latest publication.

The Hand & How to Become a Burnt Zombie by Stephen Jarrell Williams

The Hand (2).jpg

How to Become a Burnt Zombie

Bozo Beelzebub standing on the corner
Gathering a crowd of anxious grinners
Cars screeching to a stop

Spectacle enhanced
The red stoplight permanently stuck

Proud of his many horns exposed
Strange words and numbers tattooed on his face
Speaking lying wonders with an elongated tongue

Mesmerized onlookers watch his twinkle-toes dance
He promises they will never suffer death

A match he holds up with his saw-toothed nails
Waves it once and ignites it with a wink
He laughs and lights his clothes ablaze

Waving them forward into his great ball of fire….

Stephen Jarrell Williams 2

Stephen Jarrell Williams has over 1,000 poems published nationally and internationally in print and online magazines. He has been called by some The Great Poet of Doom. He draws and paints under the name of Jarrell.

 

 

Mushroom Stock by Robert Beveridge

The gelatinous mass has collected
in the back of the desk. It does nothing
but wait and quiver. You sit,
chainsmoke, wait
for it to move. Wait.

Robert Beveridge makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry just outside Cleveland, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Pulsar, Tessellate, and Scarlet Leaf Review, among others.

The Hawk by Larry Rogers

My name is Hawkins Ramsey.
I am 10 years old.
My parents fight each other
almost every night.
It’s my job to wipe up
their blood. I do this
with a house mop.
There are times when
I could use something
more industrial.

There are days
when I just want
to disappear,
not like a ship
that sinks in
the deepest part
of the ocean
and is lost forever,
but like a sock
that goes missing
in the laundry
and might show up
again someday.

In other words,
if and when
I disappear,
I would like
to reserve
the right to
reappear if
my parents ever
get their shit
together.

Larry S Rogers

Larry Rogers is a poet-singer/songwriter. Golden Antelope Press recently published a full-length collection of his poems titled “Live Free or Croak.” It’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Second Hand Couch by Ryan Quinn Flanagan

He used to raise his leg
before he farted
and they always stunk
something fierce
and the way his girlfriends
would shoulder him
on that second hand couch
in his parents’ basement
and cover their noses,
but secretly admire him
for an honesty they could
never have,
and I learned a lot
from watching and smelling
his many farts,
enough to know that women
wanted a man who was
a reclamation project,
something to be reformed
and moulded and mothered
and saved…
something created
so they could call themselves:
artist.

Ryan Quinn Flanagan Black & White

Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a happily unmarried proud father of none. His work can be found both in print and online. He has an affinity for dragonflies, discount tequila, and all things sarcastic.