• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 09

Spread

You found the ideal spot
to unfold your trusty picnic blanket
and we took it in turns to lay it all out:

the miniature meat-free scotch eggs,
the salsa, guacamole and sour cream dips,
a popped tube of salt and vinegar Pringles,

half priced bottles of ready Prosecco,
a set of softening shoulder blades,
two bruised bananas and forgotten grapes,

dust and fluff from the out-turned pockets
in the corners of our memories,
a rainbow of sliced raw peppers,

the sound of an opening chest,
a future only one of us will
be brave enough to suggest.

1

Ingredients for Happiness

They say, kindness comes from the heart
But hunger pierces a man the most
My mother always said,
So learn to soothe that hunger
those incessant wanting,
those innumerable desires.

Those that sit precariously between the soft folds of our soul
That jagged hunger which only can be satiated
by those deft supple wrinkled hands
coated with the flour and oil
kneading the dough in the warm summer afternoon
soaked by the apricity of the sun.

What is the definition of happiness?
There are many yet none.

A belly stuffed with the desire
to be fed an ambrosial meal by the loved ones
A lingering need that clings to
our soft parts thick as greed
waiting to grow,
wanting to heal.

Those moments pitted with joys,
Those moments pregnant
with the proximity of the loved ones
brimming with passion
soaked with the unending desires
acts like a tourniquet for our bleeding self.

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2

Somewhere

where and how to abide?
hidden between the questions
the enigma of choice
the invocation of home

all the origins
the destinations
carried inside us
across multiple lands
multiple seas

the sun rises and families gather
plant roots feast celebrate remember

the sun sets and stories collect
narratives words music pictures

scatter them unboundaried
into a country that contains all

the sojourns crossings wayfaring
passages exiles pilgrimages
migrations removals transits
voyages odysseys quests

the color shape sound
taste smell texture
woven into our ancestry
our amalgamated abode

3

Mamma’s Boys

Mamma always said the most important thing was family. Her boys were never sure she meant it. She screamed at them if they so much as breathed on her special cheese sauce while it boiled, and they were often woken before sunrise by the sound of her scuttling out to start the farm work. And for all her talk of family, she barely even mentioned their papa.

Her boys asked, of course. They were young when he passed; in the only photograph they had of him, he was balancing them both on his lap with ease, his beard drooping to brush their chubby faces. Mamma once let slip that the wine she sipped every evening had been his favourite, so her boys trained themselves to withstand its vinegary bite.

They found the instruments entirely by accident. Mamma sent them to the attic to fetch something, and they stumbled upon the cases. The accordion wheezed pitifully as one boy extracted it, but as the other unwrapped the guitar, they heard a clatter.

The photograph was old, a cheap wooden frame and sepia tones, but they recognized Mamma with her long hair. She was wrangling suitcases – it was the day she emigrated to England, the sky behind her full of the ship’s smoke. Papa stood beside her, clean-shaven and smartly dressed. The guitar was strapped to his back, the accordion case wedged against his hip. Mamma and Papa weren’t looking at whoever was taking their photograph, too busy laughing into each other’s smiles. It was the brightest the boys had ever seen Mamma’s face.

So, they learned. They took turns with the instruments at first, when Mamma was out in the fields or tending to the animals, until they settled into one each. It took time to grow the callouses on their fingers, to teach their ears and their muscles what was right, but they worked hard.

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4

Picnic at the Pond

Sundays we converged on the park
with the pond no one swam in
anymore, water too dark, too
green, filled with stones, tangled in weeds.

My father’s side told their stories
of Sundays at the pond, only
day the store was closed, how they swam
in cool, sunlit water above

both stones and weeds. Mother shuddered
though she once swam in ponds, daring
the lightning to strike her,
leaving only when her gran called.

My dad’s great aunt once brought kugel,
noodle pudding from across years,
across the sea, like raw turnip,
a food from the Russian Empire.

Years later my New York friends craved
kugel served warm in winter, sour
cream and sweet raisins. They would buy
it at stores, bring it to pot lucks.

To me, it seemed bland, not like peach
ice cream, pale shadow of the ice cream
Gram would hand crank beside the ponds
Mom would swim in long years ago.

5

Dinner For None

With the late evening sun dipping below the distant horizon, I knew that the time to act was now. The brothers had been jamming for hours and there was only so much acoustic guitar and accordion that one could take. This was beside the point however, as they were undoubtedly playing their finale. A wretched moonshine inspired rendition of Danse Macabre by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The same tune they’d finished with last Friday before devouring my dear sister. Unfortunately, spaghetti al pollo was becoming a weekly favorite for these despicable humans. With a trimmed beak and cruel inability to fly, I was left with few tools with which to stave off my demise. This situation called for some ingenuity.

The freshly cooked pasta sat atop a Tuscan red-tiled table and was guarded by the picture frame the brothers had purchased for the lone reason that the insert reminded them of the Italian family who’d elected to cut ties with them long ago. That was, after the drinking, the gambling, and the murders. If I were to live another day and lay another egg, I would need to give that spaghetti the most foul and unsavoury topping imaginable.

With Danse Macabre’s haunting melody wafting in the warm summer breeze, I leapt on the table, perched on the edge of the pasta bowl, and garnished the dish with the most exotic of greenish-brown sauces. Bon appétit boys!

6

The Proverb Says, …

I broke my ankle at an Italian restaurant I went to for breakfast. After writing a letter for a long time, I forgot that my legs were numb, twisted my ankle, and dropped the cup of cappuccino as I tried to leave from the table. Both the painful ankle and the cup that fell on the floor made a broken sound, but out of nowhere there was a blessing of "Macaroni!".

There is a saying, 'fall like cheese on macaroni,' which means "to happen at just the right time."

The letter was to be sent to my friend who had been estranged.

"Hello. How are you? Me? Of course, I am fine."

A spider that had threaded from the ceiling came down on the drops of cappuccino spilled onto the table. "Do not kill the spider in the morning," My late grandma often said. The proverb says, 'The spider in the morning is auspicious.' On the other hand, there is a saying, 'Kill the spider in the night even if it is your parent.' My grandma said, "Because the spider appearing at night is a messenger of hell."

Anyway, give a blessing to the many dead, grandma and dad buried in the darkness of the night.

Macaroni.

7

Letter

For Lauren Berlant.

The picture's faded but I remember
when I first came and what I left
behind like yesterday if yesterday
was a home of neatly cut
corners. These days my finger
-prints are smudged with work
and leak over the edges
of a frame by which I mean
a shame. My last known
whereabouts this sunset picnic park
cruising for a bruising cock
poised for a-doodle-doo. Even wine
is labelled in this country. Perhaps
forensics will recover the clues
in my dead body and ship it
back to a black and white fits
in your pocket past by which I mean
if we can conjure sweet music
before the end of our nine lives
let's.

8

I forgot the Parmesan

first I painted the sky blue for you then
I tickled your favourite hen until it sang
I brought grape juice my feet still stained from the pressing
I made a summer pudding and placed it on the picnic blanket
by the spaghetti sleek with olive oil and spiked with basil
I brought a photo of your parents waving farewell
and a rolling pin to scare away their ghosts

the band strummed and squeezed a sunset duet
all this while the camping kettle belched steam
I trembled as I led you to the woodland spot
“You forgot the parmesan again” you whined
and all the love in me began to shrivel
and the engagement ring in my back pocket
scorched a circle on my tender skin

9

Giving

Come brother, let us play
the old songs
in the golden light of
a new setting sun,
our hearts and voices
filled with welcome
for friends and family
who will dance and feast
on sweet tomatoes and home-made pasta,
washed down with warm wine.
And let us all give thanks,
and sing out praises,
to those who came before,
with nervous trepidation,
and hopeful courage,
to a strange land,
there to build a new life
so that we may sit
in homely comfort
playing our tunes
to the accompaniment of a singing kettle.

10

Harmony

The visual glimpse
of a rustic glow
affirms the synergy –
harmony of a symphony
from the guitar to the harmonica
from the humming trees to the happy hen
and a lorry load of victuals to boot
life is a pleasant rhyme
spiced with the rhythm
of pulsating vibes
for all to cheer and cherish!
Welcome to an artless home –
where life is a mollycoddle
of unending bliss
as you whine, wine and dine!

11

Salud!

South of the equator my cousin is El Asdado, stoking the parrilla, praising the guachos. A jet-lagged guest, three flights to here, I watch hummingbirds lap and slabs of churrasco drip-sear, while corn plumps sun-bright over flames. Fourteen hours to hear radios tango, dogs howl lusting the matambre arrollado. My eyes calculate the curve of a nephew's smile. My arms hold a wee one and I consider the source of love, our common blood, our history of emigration and famines, Irish, Poles, Spanish. My tongue savours the texture of language as spring-green chimichurri slathers and zings, so fresh. South of the equator, in this country of the Incas, the Andes, villas miseria, this feast of a family sates me. Faces like mine. Their language, the swimming pool, gated lifestyle are other. The same Moon, the laughter and politics similar, the shared and shared Malbec so cherry-bright familiar. I raise my glass, I am at home.
12

We Spoon Out Life

Small grains of memory gather
on the kitchen counter,
in the strum of your guitar,
in the taste of basil,
within the first arc of sun in the sky.

I remember morning light filtering through
butter yellow curtains in my bedroom.
I remember my great aunt’s baked ziti
and the special sauce
that touched the tongue with garlic.
I remember your guitar filling the air
with smoke signals of sound
on every porch, of every house we’ve called home.

On a side table rests a framed square of family.
Hands wave from the past,
the ink remains wet from letters read
and re-read.
An invisible bound book resides
within my lungs,
capturing on every page
the breath and meaning
of each grain of memory.
We add to the book,
with each birth,
honor the stream of story
running through our bones,
caverns of connection.

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13

familiaremnants

“papà, who are they?” asked a young and curious ricorda
“the one of the right is your nonno,” replied the father
“and the one with the funny brow?” continued the son
“he is your nonno’s fr–you are being a bad boy again”
“no papà, but it does make him look strange, vedi te?”

the last time someone called deseo strange was in 1981
“this maricón better not meet my fratello again or else,”
the angry brother bellowed amidst the family scampagnata
as the wife gasped in disbelief lingering at the very edges
as the son stood puzzled beside his half-giggling cousins

for a day that had been as bright as the summer in boston
only a sepia past that had crossed an ocean to a new home
and the spaghetti, the wine, and a kettle remembered how
deseo returned to matamoros and died of the new plague
leaving his amado heartbroken, wandering, irretrievable

“it doesn’t make him strange; it makes him him,” said father
“but who is he?” ricorda resumed after an extended pause
the father, staring at the photo on the wall, finally replied
“he was your nonno’s cariño who loved him so much that
they would sing together till the sun blushed into the night

14

Discovering

the same sun came up, went down
same clouds danced to same music
same green tableclothed the earth
same fire heated wood & water
same middlings of wheat & cows
brought forth bread & cheese
same miracles of hens & grapes proved
abundantly similar took waves & waving
goodbyes to make it happen

15

packing unpacking

Those sunny summer Sundays
when we’d pack the car by nine
and unpack it all again by eleven
in a quiet woodland glade
where massive trees and fresh green leaves
shed shade on our scene.
Folding chairs for the parents
and one for grandma,
if she wasn’t roaming on her travels again.
A blanket for us, spread over pine needles.
Paper plates and cups
pork pie, hard boiled eggs.
Always fresh tomatoes from Dad’s garden
and Mum made sandwiches with ham and cress.
Packets of crisps still had a twist of salt in blue paper
back then.
We were free in our little world among the trees
we’d run and hide and actually get lost,
really lost, in the forest.
Suddenly we’d find each other again
to collapse in laughter and exhaustion on the blanket.
The centrepiece of these so long ago days
was always Dad’s travelling gas hob
where he’d set the kettle with pride.
It made him happy to wait
to let it whistle a while
before he brewed the tea.

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16

The Brothers’ Grief

Warm June-bug afternoons turn to fire-fly hour,
As Old Louie strums to the wind.
And Billy pulls the melody –
The smoke and ash of the hearth, in direct contrast,
to that icy abyss where the Wools now float, suspended by the great weight of a national injustice.
A moment of silence –
Then the hen call brings them back to summer. To the wine and plenty of feast,
And the promise of Tomorrow –
For the sea does not return its captors,
Or reveal its secrets, thus,
They must not also be dragged, nor weighted –
By the calamity

The setting sun lights the boughs of the sturdy oaks,
Bringing back heat, light and life,
Causing water to bead on the exterior of the glasses,
And as it drips slowly, it is at once embraced and consumed, by the quilted blanket below.
A blanket that sits upon the land of their forefathers,
Such a pity that the Wools could not have been buried beside them –
Louie still dreams of ripping them from their watery grave to be buried in consecrated ground – that of his ancestors.
The soil that shoulders under his shoe,
All he has eaten has emerged from it, at his own hand,
And in time, when the song comes to an end, and the sun has set,
He too will retire to the soil,
Alongside his brother –
Brothers in arms, and in grief –
That of Titanic proportions...

17

The Feast

They sailed into port on a Mediterranean breeze
from olive groves and tangled vineyards

steamer trunks stuffed with seeds,
daguerreotypes and old-world dreams.

La Boca’s painted walls, here, a canary yellow,
there, green, pescadero red, ochre, ocean blue,

swept them on bandoneón chords
along el Caminito to tango bars,

where wine ran more bitter than sweet
cloudy with sediment of lives adrift.

And yet at end of day, they laid the feast,
sang songs of memory to the east.

Still thick and green, the grass grew,
trees tall, the sky, the same periwinkle hue.

18

Another Mining Town

It’s in the hills of Appalachia where the banjo sings
And bluegrass’s forgotten gem:
The accordion, expands and contracts
The kettle boiling away

I’m a long way from the rust belt
But I close my eyes and taste homemade wine
John Prine sang about Mr. Peabody’s coal train
But it was love that hauled me away

The Welsh came to extract the coal
Two centuries and a lifetime ago
On steam ships, by rail
The rolling foothills looked like home

They brought their love spoons
Fierce dragons and sing-songy tongue
To the quaker meeting halls
Of the buckeye state

It’s strange how these things come in cycles:
I’m buying an old miner’s house
In the valleys, in Wales
Where the rolling hills really do look like home

Another abandoned realm
Where someone else cashed in
On the tar-black seams,
The soot-covered men left to fend for themselves

The fiddles and harp of Welsh folk songs
Transport me back to the banks of the Hocking
Clear-eyed and sure-footed
In the company of people who feel like home

19

Grandmother’s Lullaby

hills are more lovely
    in another country

chianti red
    color of remembrance

no apparitions to cling
to remembrance
    from another country

old photographs
transmigrate my soul
    across great waters

shuffle of the breeze
scatters my past
    to another country

tomorrow will become today
    then merely yesterday

fragrances are more sweet
    in another country

20

AS I WENT OUT OF THE FRAME

A checkered table cloth spreads its fabric
Invites all to a shaded spot
Hosting a hot meal of togetherness
Carrying the taste of days gone by

Fragrance knocks at the neighbor’s door
Dancing, singing they arrive
I manage a welcoming smile
Thinking of more supplies

The sunny day melted into the cloudy sky
We sat and ate to heart’s content
All posed to capture fleeting moment,
Deducing, twin frames, ages apart will tell of
Differing times

A sudden gale snatched my hat away
Click!
Went the camera
As I was out of the frame

21

vibrations of my memory

Their song beyond the window
Drew me to leave full plates
Step into the garden
And sink into vibrations of my memory.
The essence held in notes
Of the ties to place
generations ago.

Pictures long since forgotten
Now recalled
From the old country they came
Feet walked upon the planes
Of desert, going west.
Working the railroad, laying track
Through mountain pass
Hot heat and swarming snow
Where eagle and pine entwine.

I see their faces trapped behind the old glass frame
waving hello to the camera
As the ship took passage out beyond.
Left them here, far from the craggy shore
And wild Atlantic roar.

The bending of the notes in the music
Familiar as the hills of Clare

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22

Tomato season

The sun keeps us captive, yellow circle, it is more cheese
than the slab on the table. We shave it of pungent dust,
air thick with fat and birthing and tomato acid sharpness,
and they say we are programmed to enjoy them together,
to bleed dry this season, when cows swell pink, vines red.
I can no longer digest milk, and the trees ooze out pollen
that coats my gums, itches, turns tomato fluid into poison.

Instead, I let metal strings carve out my fingers and palm,
adjust the weight of the solid wooden body on my knee,
so natural now - this is my muscle memory, my gut need.
If I was created for anything, it was to keep creating me,
and it is a struggle, so heavy to hold, tiring to remember
which vital chord is which, to keep - the rhythm - going,
and when to drop onto sticky grass, accept that I am done.

23

First Gig In Patagonia

Negotiated our first gig in Patagonia with
himself on squeezebox, me on guitar.

Fine summer evening in mid December of
al fresco artistry for those discerning.

We practice our set, we set our practice
three hours each morn (Sunday excluded).

Audience expectant of retumbó tunes in
Spanish, Mapudungun or in the Welsh.

They sat round the fire in pairs and trios
showering applause in great anticipation.

Clothed in chiripás, we looked the part
only problem was - we are tone deaf.

Ignoring loud cries of abject derision, we
played until only the rooster remained.

By then our hunger took centre stage -
empanadas, farfalle pasta, guanaco pie.

While our kettle boiled for yerba mate,
no sugar was in situ so was quite bitter.

As the sun set behind damaged egos,
we closed our first gig in Patagonia.

24

The Happiness of One Day

It can be heard in the music
swimming through their fingers;
from the depths of their heart
to the drums of our ears,
life is lived fully on the last
day of reconciliation before The Fall.

We gather at the county's edge
sure to be comforted by the
wholeness of a meal neatly
packaged and labeled; a feast for Gods.

The sun trickles in with its
new hairdo, beaming from the
right side, hovering over our
restless bodies.
No one knows the fear of
wasting away--of lacking in
the moment of clarity.
Everything is beautiful.

I park my sedan across
from the lake and walk over
to be entertained.
I haven't had a home-cooked meal
in two weeks--I salivate.

Joy fills me up and I
overflow--spilling from top
to bottom with the happiness
of one day.

25

Cold Stone Does Not Carry Meaning

A discordant beat        stands between us         in the sunrise,

As we break fast           with the promise        of more to come,

And, as light bends     through the curvature    of last night's spilled wine,

A shrill whistling         adds new melody,         and I lift the kettle

To douse the spirit        in thick black tannins.    


But we came here            to consider             ourselves, and each other

As we all must,                 and, sitting here        we remembered

The joys we shared           when young,             like when we hid

Beneath playground hills    in the long pipe         children loved

To crawl through                to sing to the echoes.


I do.                But this is the past.        And I live here in memory.

I must.                Because you are not here        today and I visit you

To remember             the last time            we saw each other.

It was beautiful        to think it would last         forever,

But it couldn’t.


Read more >
26

La Scampagnata

The men play bocce as they have done
since Caesar’s day, cigarette smoke
in their eyes as they stoop to throw the ball
that has worn a groove down the centuries.

The women prepare the food, doughy
hand-rolled strascinati, steamy sugo
thick with pungent tomatoes, garlic,
oregano and this week’s spicy gossip.

Later the Di Bertoli brothers will play
and Ernesto and Rosa will dance under
the stars as they have done for 50 years,
still laughing at the day they missed the boat.

27

JOY WAS THE COLOUR

                       of peace, the peace
of an early morning walk up the hill,
a walk that led to the back alleyways
of forgotten anger, of buried hurt.

I remembered cycling along the Cam,
our shadows entangled,
our laughter flew like butterflies
amidst sun-drenched greenery;
I remembered our whispering conversations,
now indistinct, in city parks or busy streets,
echoing what was growing in our hearts ―
the freedom of being young,
where joy was the colour of innocence.

But nothing lasted forever.
As the scene turned sepia,
our shadows went their separate ways.
No more red green blue, or purple orange yellow
in dashing shades ―
and so only black-and-white,
or a lifeless grey, filled every day.

It was a barren landscape up the hill:
I was reminded of a burnt-out car
abandoned by a drovers’ way
not far from Loch Cùl Fraoich ―
a mound of fag-ends next to the passenger side
marking the once-human, now hollow, shape.

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28

THE SAUCE IS ALL WRONG

Casting golden glows and long shadows
A blistering sun nearing its decent for the day

Emerging from terracotta roofs,
Ready to reclaim the day with music and eating

My bones are still warm all the way through
I hear the strumming of a guitar and a squeezebox

We slowly gather to celebrate
But we feel a sense of loss and a raw emptiness

While the pasta is already made,
We trudge onwards from obligation and tradition

Wine is automatically opened,
No one says anything to mark the first time — without

I see someone has placed their photo
Pride of the place where they once would have sat — amongst us

But the music carries on — without
The sauce is all wrong — the trio now a mere duo

Without — we have lost what we once had
Like tripping up or a hiccup, it was a surprise

They wanted to leave and start again
We celebrate their bravery but miss them very much

And here we continue as always
Subdued music and sauce with too much smoked paprika

29

A sign

At the park with the chequered blanket spread out
a view unparalleled of the river
and gentle jazz from the radio.
                      The scene is set
                      The players are now here.
Out come the pasta, fries and salad
and fresh juice, nachos and sun-dried tomatoes.

This is how it was
This exact same way
When gramps proposed to nan.

And now here we are,
three generations later
hoping to recreate the magic.

But here comes the rain...
Is it a sign?

30

We Catch the Wind

The morning sky cobalt and emerald,
a ghost river and a ghost shoreline without litter,
and then shadows of decrescendo and allegro,
a challenge that brings fortissimo to daylight.

Here comes the man at the edge of the curve with his kora,
the duck of summer suddenly heavy with the arias of opera,
the relief of agogos, slit drums, seed pod shakers,
dancers coming from the brush and thorn, the grass and tree line,

djembe drums, talking drums, schamanen trommel,
the heartbeat of movement, the rhythm of shells and bracelets
and here comes the women with their adunga stringed harps
bringing their possum of truth. The wind slips in, leaves sing,

love and comfort, a hug, a clapping of stone:
no ghosts, but food and friends--rejoice, rejoice, rejoice.

31

Al Dente

It is still in the old loam kitchen. Sitting with her legs wide apart, Grandma is kneading vigorously dough. Lips compressed tightly, she remains silent as usual. Grandma doesn’t like music. Therefore the radio is turned off too. The only sound is the creaking of the old table beneath the pressure of her floury hands. I watch her quietly. Grandma sprinkles the surface of the table with flour, takes an ancient rolling pin and rolls the dough to an even circle. My gaze follows her old, dry, mealy hands. Though Grandma doesn’t talk much, her hands are magical. I’m sure of that. Her apron is stained. Sometimes she conjures candy out of the pocket of this stained apron. I’m hoping for that. Instead she furls the thin uneven oatcake into a roll. Outside a chicken is cackling, a dog barks somewhere.

I draw myself away from the memory and sit again at the table of a restaurant somewhere in the now. You sit on the opposite side. A band is entertaining the guests with folk music. I look at the perfectly identical noodles on the plate in front of me. They come in various fancy shapes like spirals, little bow ties or shells with dulcet names like farfalle, rigatoni, and conchigli. Ironically they all taste the same. Perfect rubber referred to as “al dente”. I laugh a little joyless laugh contemplating the irony. You raise quizzically your right eyebrow: “What are you thinking of?” I think of Grandma’s noodles, crooked and varying in length. I think of their intense taste. I remember the quiet loam kitchen. I think of the flawless mass produced “al dente” pasta. I think about us. We may not be perfect but we too are too similar, too shockingly similar. A mass production of obedient robots. “Thank you were much, it was delicious!” I reply smiling brightly. Anything else would be disruptive.

32

The story keepers

The morning stirs
And the rain slips through my bedside window
Dropping gently on the ground.
Bringing back days of youth, of music and food
To an otherwise abandoned piece of land
From Rampur, a small north Indian town.

It would come alive all winters
Past evenings and until midnight
With lights sober and bright
As the music played and the food was laid out.

The musicians arrived from around the country
With tunes their hearts desired, pop, light and classical,
The food stalls filled with chaats, kachoris and rolls,
Ice cream and cakes in corners.

The entire town would reach
Sons, daughters and their parents of many generations
Carrying years of rigor and fascination.
The air breathed with joy, filled with aroma.

All was possible and all was in doubt
As the food, music, hearts and minds combined
Bringing forth the story keepers of modern times.

Untimely rains adding to belief
That all could be set right and there would still be time.

33

Stories From Before the War

Some berries I couldn’t reach.
I wish I were grown-up.
I did help with picking tomatoes.
Mother had shown me how to. She also told me
that, before the war, this had been a garden with a lush
lawn and they’d have parties. She said ‘lush’.
I didn’t want to interrupt her and ask what that means.

The neighbours would come, and they’d unfold
the trestle table that stood against the wall
of the shed and load it with food—salads, pies, heaps of pasta.
I’ve had a pie once, and pasta with tomato sauce.

The Slivovitz would soon be gone. Mother always had another
bottle stashed somewhere, she said. Then they put up
a photo of Uncle Josip and Uncle Stjepan
who were in the merchant marine. I met them
once, they told tall stories. That’s what Mother said.
They’d even met a kraken!

While the water boiled for coffee, Uncle Nikola
would play the guitar and Uncle Franco the concertina,
while Mother, Marija and Vesna danced the old
dances and forgot to cook. Mother smiled, her eyes
having that far-away look like when she talks about Dad.
He’s ‘in the war’. I can’t imagine the old aunts dancing.

Uncle Franco they said had fallen. I suppose he would
be getting up again to play the concertina
for me when I am big enough. But I can dance
now, can’t I? Mother calls me and tells me
it’s not the time for dancing.
Her eyes are filling with water.

34

Under the Old Tree

I feel the grass beneath my feet,
scratch at dry dirt with clawed toes.
Sunlight,
I didn’t know what I was missing.
It feels so warm on my feathers.
Time moves differently here.
Not like in the rows of cages…
I can run, stretch and jump.
Dust bathe in grooves of my making.
Clouds huh?
So white and fluffy.
Impossibly high,
swimming in their blue void.
The best spot?
Probably by the old tree,
that’s my favourite place.
Underneath its leafy boughs.
Sheltered by mini green umbrellas.
Slowly losing myself to psithurism.
Freedom.

35

Duelling Banjos – The Lover’s Edition

Pt I

He said he’s going to leave if it happens one more time. It most likely will happen again, but I don’t know how to stop it. The 4am crying has become somewhat of a habit. It doesn’t stop at 4, either, it goes on until neither one of us can pretend like we can’t hear it. Around 7am I can hear his heartbeat in his mouth. I can feel his perpetual irritation. The livestock can sense it, too. The town thinks our milk tastes bitter!

That’s why I’ve gone to all this trouble. For reconciliation. I’ve prepared a nice meal and bought us some wine. We’ll dine alfresco this evening. We’ll relax and play music and feel the heat against our necks as our rhythms fall in and out of time with our plucking patterns. We’ll feel like we did at the start of Spring. We’ve been going through this thing, you see, we— Oh shit, he’s home early.

Read more >
36

Still Life is Never Still or Silent

Still life, only in the minds
of those with weak imaginations,
for everything has movement and sound,
even if at first glance it seems silent,
without perceptible motion.

Can you hear the music of the guitar
and accordion, how about the whistle
of the kettle, the sound of the rolling pin
thinning what will be fresh bowtie pasta,
boiled in a gurgling pot, not visible,
with a bit of oil sashayed from a bottle
with a festive label.

The grass and tile, yes, one sends sounds
of squish beneath the feet, tile reflects
each tap of heal and toe, showing wear
over the years from daily use.

The chicken, you ask, grunts upon laying,
as I do when hearing the whistle of the steamship
as it's waved away by a couple, oh, yikes,
missed that, as a couple, suitcases in hand
waves to the assembled crowd noise on the dock
as they depart to visit noisy grandchildren
in the new world.

This leaves the trees,
whose leaves rustle in the breeze,
welcoming the dawn purring its way above
the horizon, as a parade of clouds flutes by.

Read more >
37

My soul, a petty bullseye

opened up by the local bottle of wine;
oh how I am completed by what comes
from here, this earth, my earth – except
the better life is always the product of
products from other places, lands, hearts,
minds. All that we adore is mostly
because someone braver than I’ll ever be
one day decided to launch themselves on
a journey, and declare whatever they met
next good: a table as lover, as friend.

38

Russian Soul

Misunderstood
unmeasured
vast as the fields of precious rye,
deep as the wilderness of taiga forests
that run from Europe to the Chinese borders,
that’s borderless like the cloudless sky.

Serene
yet fierce
it’s kind, blue-eyed and blond-haired.
It’s raised on fairy-tales of Pushkin’s learned cat,
that walks upon the chain around the mighty oak,
on songs and balalaika tunes that played by village folk.

Forced out
to a foreign country
it yearns for a piece of home. It searches
but cannot settle and weeps by the tallest birch
for a life that once there was,
dreaming of banya, vodka, garmon' i losos’.

39

Hummingbird Over My Shoulder

On 4th of July the serviceberry blossoms
purple with the smallest plums

a mock blueberry tall enough to meet
the lowest branch of ash

nestled near the foundation and spigot
all the elms gone to disease.

Lilies spout next to the neighbor’s garage
now only housing castoffs not cars

as it etches its way in 8 foot increments
to the back where the dog sits ready to bark

next to the shed with oak and cedar panels
waiting to be laid in the house 120 years old.

We are all old on this holiday of accordion
and guitar, clap our hands just off the blanket

wave to relatives in the frame gone now
waiting our turn.

40

Family of Two

Our table isn’t grand
It doesn’t span generations

Or hold many guests
Or huge feasts to share

But it holds enough love
For a family of ten

You loved me enough
That I had no need

For fighting siblings
And drunk aunties

And tired grandparents
And weird cousins

So it’s just us two
Just how we like it

Connected by a string
Of saucy spaghetti

A garlic bread baguette
Broken in two

A packet of microwave rice
Divided in half

A head of broccoli
Sliced down the centre

Stories of our days
Shared equally and easily

Read more >
41

Thyme, Sensed

Music arrives from the ground; upwards,
swelling among the trees -
a summer intoxication begins
as the players unpack their songs,
trusting memories that have worn
thinner than paper

sharing this place, we sit among squares, ourselves framed,
revelling in the sense - the texture - of the brush
knowing that no photograph could recreate the way the air feels
or bring back the smell of bread-baked thyme,
as it crumbles in our hands

a cloud of kettle steam beckons
old friends to sit with us again
to look back on indefinite days

and as we play among the phonic earth,
laid out with love, the scent of roots
embellished by the missed seasons
the stem of your glass holds the evidence

that we were always in tune

42

Once a Year

Every year we feast in your honour
Salute the two empty seats at the table
The food and wine sitting there as if you are still with us
We tell stories about you
The funny ones, the happy ones, the mischief ones from your youth
Nothing serious, nothing laced with sadness
We can hear the sadness at the edges of our voices
See the way some of us swallow and look away
Feel tears starting to brim in our eyes

We sing, we dance, we drink too much wine
But it is only once a year
Hand in hand we watch the sun set
Leave the table to be cleared tomorrow
Kiss our fingertips and trail them across the frame
which holds your picture
as if wood and glass could ever hope to hold ones like you

43

Goodbye. Hello. To all we might know.

A first glance wants an Italianate response, much like applications of arches on a ranch house or a hilly tableau behind a Bertazzoni ranging in corners of recast well waters. Do we know? Can we show our hand with an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation? Composed or raw it's not a draw or an either or. Either and. Cheese as sand. Fires smoldering between trees and man. The signature (to me) is part of the picture and esta Maria is a Rodriguez crafting an accordian dueting with a guitar -- a triad of a tea -- the chicken stops to see in the middle ground between lost and found, pecking at the waving goodbye or hello to all we might know. The green tops of half drunk rhymes speak volumes rolling towards or away from sunsets that rise over sunrises that set across chapters of boiling roiling kettles with mettle mixed with metal tastes of half dome cheese grates. Red brick greenfields cut out clouds. Every time we write from a now it's heard out loud. The music of the mammary (missing or simply contained in a foreship apron) tripping up bands of brothers only one sister and at the last drifter. A swirling frame contains volumes. It all remains quite quiet buzzing tearstains barely visible. We are hungry for what remains. Disembarking. I hear the strains of waving grains. Goodbye. Hello. To all we might know. The refrain is an unset list of free radical mist. Anything but automatical. Goodbye. Hello. To all we might know.
44

THE PLAYER’S DAUGHTER

The girl at the bus stop only asked for her fare. I had no money, so I took her home. I told her my father had a car and he would drive her. Together, we walked the length of the dusty hedge inhaling the heavy summer scent – cow parsley, dogrose and honeysuckle. We were the same height, both small, but her clothes were too tight. Her grey trousers flapped at her bare ankles. We shared my Spangles and argued over the best flavours. We spoke about pop music, fights and brothers, and howled with laughter at it all. Her accent was strange. I didn’t ask her name, and she didn’t ask mine.

My mother looked flustered. She gave us fat slabs of gingerbread, thickly spread with butter. The girl ate three slices. I had none. When it was time to leave, my mother offered her my old bright blue slacks and told her to put them on. They were a little too baggy, but the girl held them up around her waist, as if afraid they would be snatched away, and said they fit. She looked pleased. She folded her own grey trousers into a tight roll and didn’t say thank you.

As we left, a look passed between my parents. I knew the look. It said trouble. Was I in trouble? I didn’t know why. We sat together on the back seat of my father’s car, quiet now. She seemed not to want to go home. I worried about “the look”. There was no more laughter. My father slowed as we passed the confusion of caravans, barking dogs and woodsmoke, but the girl told him no, she should go to the pub. Her Da, she said, would be in there. Playing guitar.

45

Paradise

I made it. I'm finally here: Paradise. The summer sun shines on the beauty around us, a warm day without bugs. The animals sing for everyone to hear, a few of the others play along. The food is perfect: just the way we liked it. The wine couldn't be better, I get to enjoy as much as I want and I don't get drunk. Why can't I get drunk? I want to get drunk; I want to forget. I desperately wish I could forget you, that you're not here with me. I don't try to taste the wine as it flows down my gullet. You would have loved it, and that makes it worse. The food. It's perfect in every way, but it doesn't compare to your cooking, and who could ever enjoy a meal alone. The animals, the singing. I wish it would stop. The noise. I hate the noise, I just want quiet. The sun, the stupid, raging, fake sun: always on the horizon. Is it rising or setting? It doesn't affect the sky around it, there's no beauty to it, just a pointless, falling star.

I stare desperately at the portal, my only window to the real world - to you - sitting in its wooden oak frame. It looks like you're going to take a new journey too.

I want to be mad at you, desperately I want to be furious about the new man. Who is he? Who do you dare let hold our son? But, I can't be mad: I know how much you wanted to make the journey: we planned a version of it together. I could never be mad at you, but I can focus my rage on him.

From my hellish loft in heaven, I watch you take the journey, I watch you stumble - furious that I can do nothing - I watched him catch you. I watched him teach our son math’s, I watch him love you both. I watch you arrive in your new land. I have watched everything, and I know I should enjoy the endless paradise around me, but I'd rather be watching you.

Read more >
46

The Last Town Before The Frontier

The plane landed just after midday. The heat evaporated from the cement, smoke moving like belly dancers over the extended runway. As the passenger door opened the hot air blew in my face. From the airport, I took a taxi straight to the station.

The taxi driver was listening to the local radio which played soft ballads. He made friendly comments, proudly pointing to some unknown monument, we had just passed by. I nodded and smiled as if I understood.

The slow traffic suited me. It gave me time to think why had I come all this way.

The train arrived on time. It was heading north; not a popular destination for the millions of tourists that arrived in the country every year, like bees attracted by a summer garden. I sat by the window, watching the verdant landscape, embraced by the azure sky. The train cut woodlands and teared mountains; passing through small villages, embroidered by stony houses, emerging from the tops and sides of mountains, gentle smoke appearing out of their chimneys.

Occasionally, bursting watermelons popped out, between the woodland conifer trees. Sometimes, unexpectedly, the piercing eyes of the train gazed at the Atlantic Ocean, before it turned back towards the countryside. My heart raced with nostalgia. I wished my father could be here with me.

It was night when the train finally reached the last town before the frontier.

The sun was still burning over the terracota roofs. Dust made the air gritty like sand paper. The view reminded me of old sepia photographs. Beige, burnt sienna and copper splashed around the walls and small paths that run towards the castle ruins.

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47

Clucking off, stage left

I wasn’t hatched to live with these clowns and a kettle masquerading as another chicken. I’d rather have ended life as a boiled egg, if I’m honest. That pretend accordion’s made of cardboard he nicked from my cage. Him on the left never played a guitar in his life – his dancing teacher’s been using it for weeks to try and get him to learn how to hold a dance partner. I think that’s their parents celebrating going down with the ship – who can blame them? Gets them out of eating the picnic too. Did no-one think to mention you have to crush grapes before you bottle them? Anyway, before the clouds finally shove the sun down and out of the picture, I’m clucking off, stage left.
48

Staycation Recipe

As the sun slips, letting in another night
and our white leghorn struts back home,
place our wooden chairs in the far field.
Light the camping kettle on an open fire.
Leave it to bubble, boil and steam so that
its tin spout whistles along with us as we
strum and squeeze out accordion tunes
shipped in, in waves, to this strange land.

Let our singing haunt us, evoking summers
in those pizzerias with red linen tablecloths,
set by lakes, by palazzi, by glistening canals.
One day, we will, once more, pile plates high
with artisan tomato pasta, served with fresh
basil on a far-off shore. Till then, let us chew
supermarket ciabatta, unscrew our bottle of
special offer vino rosso, and picnic in the rain.

49

The Old Days

Once we were all in black and white
and then the sun came up
on Kodachrome and other new technologies

Dolby sound made our ears perk up
and take notice and Surround Sound amplified
even the slightest whisper in the back of the theater

Mom and Dad missed a lot in those days
They took their pleasures simply
Wine and pies and tea after work

The old guys did not need speakers
They told tall tales with the help
of their instruments

You could never capture them on tape
and forget digital; they remain oral
and aural to this very day

Seared in living color on your retina
or in sharpest relief in old photos
you carry in your heart of hearts.

50

The Magician

All of his tools are on the table -
the tricks of his trade:
heady wine,
a rolling pin to flatten out
the bumps in the world, &
the kind of food that powers vital organs.
The magician is here,
the magician is there.
He is now,
he is then.
Now he stands cockily,
clog on chair, strumming his uncanny guitar -
and yet now he sits astride the self-same chair,
four feet to his own left,
pumping a magic accordion.
Now he IS a cockerel.
Then he was a woman.
Then he was a man.
(Then he was a small boy, all but camouflaged against the ground.)
Then he was a steamship
carrying one-thousand-and-one
versions of himself
over the ocean waves.
(Then he was the waves.)
This is a beautiful afternoon:
the magician - a kettle -
whistles a steamy spell,
and for a single moment, twelve hours long,
the sun comes to rest on the horizon.

51

If Music be the Food of Love…

There are picture postcard moments life deals you
why fight them? You've just been gifted.
The problem lies in not knowing how to receive.

Crusty bread and ion-rich wine and being serenaded
by red-blooded men in an open stretch of field
in the deep Mediterranean south.

It doesn't get much better than that.
I'd wear the moment and let it sink deep
in the grooves between my bones.

I’d savour every sup of earth-grown wine and try
and name you all the notes, oxidised, not caring
that I couldn't really. But I'd entertain us this way

I'd say: I can scent the east wind curling through the vineyard
that grew the grape. How about you? And you'd say
I can taste the tang of a nearby orange grove

its leaves intertwined serpentine with that of the grapevine.
I'd nod in agreement then help you drink the whole bottle.
Afterwards, I'd turn to you and murmur, I think it's time for a nap

and you would agree but continue your feast, while I
would be lulled to sleep by the notes of strings stroked
by Italians who know how to pluck. And the evening sun

would languorously sink, turning orange with the hours
and it would be a picture postcard end
to the promise that began.

52

Picnic

a warm breeze
brushes her hair
     still tied back
by a promise
to let her help me

pack all the food
for the monthly picnic
     greasy fingers
licked clean of chutney
and samosa filling

me with a song
familiar over the years
     in lockdown
how I wish for days
before we lost so much

so soon though
the sun goes down
     light recedes
behind the old oak
the sound of giggles

or just the wind
ruffling my hair
     now loose
tendrils of a lone vine
curling around a trellis

53

git down with the folks back home

these may look like wind-em-up old-timey
automatons to you kids with nickels to spare

used to the neon flash of a Wurlitzer
blastin out your selections

but we’re not so back-beyond geetar
squeeze box they can hoe down heel & toe

do si do Alabama hay ride how di-do-di
& a Mason Jar o’mountain dew

sundown party time harvest home
grab yer man grab yer girl

got yerself a partner yee ha
123 jig & whirl reel & strut

call out caller belt out songs
go crazy mama on Cripple Creek

gumbo fish fry we go wild
this our southern-fried country style

54

Bonded

An ancient bottle, it has been used – year in, year out – for generations. The cork has been replaced many times over. So old the sides lean, giving it the appearance of having imbibed its contents.
It is pitted and has bubbles under its skin.
The label is new from the supermarket. Anonymous preprints, tiny spaces to scrawl the year, the grape.
A faux watercolour, as if handmade.

It has travelled the world. This vessel, with all its imperfections and blemishes, has crossed oceans, over and over.

Papa and Nana sailed for America and carried a drop of the Old Country with them, to toast a new beginning far away.
Nana grew all sorts of fruit in her yard and bottled cordials each year, gathering newer bottles to give away. Bottles at Christmas given to the postman, the landlord, the dustman. The priest.
Carefully labelled – ingredients translated into English – and gifted with unreciprocated respect.
Keeping the old wobbly bottle for the family.
For last.

Eventually there was enough for trips back – family parties and big events. The Feasts and Rites visits. And the bottle went too. Ritually wrapped in towels and shawls, the core of the packing with its wax-dipped cork and oilcloth sleeve.

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55

Pizz-a

British tomatoes taste like water. Grown in a cold climate, not under the heat of a fierce sun. I dream of the Napoli tomatoes of my youth, picked off the vine, smelling like grass. I am heartsick for my homeland. I came here to make a new life in the 1950s, leaving poverty and hardship behind, but this is not what I expected. I found opportunities but left behind warmth, friendship and genuine smiles.

How can I make my pizza sauce with such poor ingredients? I take the trip to the wholesalers, I return dispirited. My customers don’t notice; they scan the menu with incomprehension at these strange, foreign foods and demand the familiar steak and chips.

Unlocking the restaurant, I stagger up the stairs, a crate of sad tomatoes in my arms. I await the evening trickle of customers: young families and an elderly gentleman, who comes in at 5pm to warm himself around an endless frothy coffee, waiting for his bus.

I allow myself a quick moment of pride for what I have created here. In England I have worked long, hard hours making bricks, sending money back to my family, putting aside a little each week to pay for this dream. The painted wall tiles depict Venice, and the country accordion player who reminds me of my village. The tables are covered with bright oilcloths and wine bottles crusted with candle wax. It’s not so bad. Time to make pizza. Maybe someone will try it this evening.

The young families have had their chips and tomato ketchup again, and the old man stares into his coffee. The pizza is cooked through, warm and crisp from the oven, filling the kitchen and the restaurant with its bready redolent scent. I will cut it into slices and offer these to customers, in the hope that I can whet their appetite for more.

Read more >
56

Safety with small things

An Argentinian artist gifts us South America from Berlin
onto my white paper. I peer through the frame at artisan food
in Shropshire, small portable pockets filled with choice.

Sitting on this broken chair in the yard a visitor drops by
as tiny as a black full stop it walks the white paper.

Already I can feel the quiver of social distancing wasps
tuning up, after all the locusts announced their time to visit
and right now mice are living it up in Australian semis.

Tomorrow the rivers might rise and wash the roofs, or not
to be outdone, the earth beneath our feet rise up and burst
asunder, shaking us from our beds.

We are trapped beneath a cloud's frown and I will stay in
this halt of time while my dot walks the line heading towards
South America.

57

Sweet Summer Songs

There's music in us all. 
The way a song lightens
the step of hiking boots. 
Lyrical as an adventure,
its new sights and sounds
beyond our narrow path.

We waved goodbye to our
mamá and papá, setting off
into golden dust of rising sun.
Song took them into blue
drifts of clouds. Beyond us,

where music strums morning
air and breezes tease our ears
with ancient tales retold.

We sway. Clap. A tapping foot
knows freedom. A campfire's
flare orchestrates its own beat.

And the hen joins in, plucking
percussion, as if the grass is her
guitar, and then up pips the old
kettle - it whistles its harmony
to the tunes we know from yore.

And we will drink wine, sweet as
summer's whisper, and eat buttery
pasta, rolled and fingered into
bows and strings and accordions.
And the air hums with our music.

58

Immigrant

They came from many lands,
with dreams of a better life,
lured by the promise of fortune
if only they worked hard enough,
fame if they hit the immigrant lottery.
Humble folk, they settled for quiet pretense,
masked disappointment with hard work,
banked hope for future generations,
clung to memories of a homeland
abandoned for a better life,
that languished in sepia-toned images.

Two battered suitcases couldn’t hold much,
totems and talismans were left behind,
roots anxiously traded for wings.
Their nostalgia was food – a link to
happy times and family bonds
that lingered in the senses,
a tangible loss, and enduring love,
gifting them courage through storm-tossed waves.
Sun-soaked harvests and wine,
the fruits of their industry,
their thank you to their new home.

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59

The Departed

They took the old away, once every decade, to the Island for centralised care. Efficiency demanded all communications ceased, but in any case with technology banned they could not have called, or emailed. We knew they were fine. Once a year we celebrated the Departed with a feast of the best the New Age permitted. Nothing processed, nothing requiring electricity or the evils of the Atomic Before. No. Simple music, simple foods. An image taken at the Departing on the shrine, with their favourite foods as an offering. Once a decade the steamship sounded its horn. We brought it our newly old. And dreamed about the day it would be our turn, and we would see our parents and grandparents again.
60

Good Night/Buona Sera

they insist we drop the hyphen
and cover our accents in sandpaper
while we learn to hold baseball bats
and build new empires
our tongues turning Romantic vowels
to hard English

but the accordion still squawks
her sorrow
over piazzas and shadows descending
the clickety-clack of carriage wheels
the honk of Signor DiCenzo’s new motorcar

while the lady in lavender
bids bona sera
from a balcony every night, the sad woman who lost
a child to a fall, like so many of us. I whisper those words again
waving across shimmering lights and the whoosh of tides
but now the words are in English

61

Together

We gathered all outside
picked up drinks and kids
balanced on knees
jiggling absent-mindedly

chatted about weather
life events missed, and passed,
grateful to be
here, together, finally.

We passed around the youngest
wide eyed and quietly
taking in the faces
of old friends in new places.

The sun broke through
warmed backs, eyes scrunched,
suncream stained
some shifted into shade

it had been too long - it always was
would likely be again
but friendships like mine
are stronger than time.

62

A morning under the sun

Father strums the guitar and sings our family’s favourite anthem. ‘The more we get –together…’

Uncle Shiv supports him ably on the accordion. They sway to the beat of the song and step-tap, step-tap in time with the landing notes. At the end of their little gig, both father and uncle are flushed.

‘You should pause a second longer after the third line,’ uncle advises father.

‘F sharp, C sharp, G major and pause?’ father asks, twanging the strings with the plectrum.

They are practising the song for later in the day, when the guests – my grandparents – will arrive to celebrate fifty years of marriage.

I feel a slight thrill at this change from my usual classes-homework-classes routine. The sun drifts through the golden morning and settles on my skin.

Mother and Aunt Pooja have decided to cook in the open today. The perfume of wood smoke is strong. ‘The pulao is cooking now,’ says mother. ‘Right, I’ll prep for the salad,’ Aunt Pooja says and begins chopping the cherry red tomatoes.

I uncork the tightly lidded half-empty Arabian grape juice bottle and take a large swig. ‘Too much sugar is bad for teeth,’ my mother raises a forefinger in warning. I acquiesce and restore the bottle back to its place. I am more than happy to just to caper around on the green grass under the umbrella of a blue sky, like the breeze that weaves between trees and rustles its leaves.

‘Mama, can I please help you dice the paneer?’ I ask.

Read more >
63

Cooking With Mother

My love, remember you are the finest of flours, the silky-soft baby powder heart of your family. Take your time as you beat the eggs, and when you drip them into the centre of the board carefully bring him into you with just your fingertips.

With a little love and plenty of sweat you need to work that dough.
There is no secret here; we all know what needs to happen, and you my darling, have the arms and passion to keep him here.
It’s the squishing and pushing and pulling of two breaking down, the bringing together of another life into your refined soul.

Stop when you feel a smoothness, you are combined now, it’s time to rest. Wrap up warm, to avoid drying out and breathe.
He will serenade you in an evening and you will drink wine and wonder how you got here.

Wait until the boiling water whistles and you will finally be ready to lay bare. Take up your shape-shifting beauty.
This is your time, choose wildly, be brave.

64

Want

Sometimes I forget you are not here.

I never forget on days like this, though, when the sky is a stupefying blue and a pale chicken walks across my garden. I lay out pasta shaped like dainty bow ties, faultless apples, blackberry wine, leftover pot pie. I sit alone and feast.

The hours are gentle, even dull, far from that electric stretch we spent on the internet, those many months of being radiant with outrage, believing we had to be offended by everything, demanding that famous people apologise to us, perform for us. I got sick of it eventually, didn't I? Then you said reverse sanctimony was still sanctimony, only with less polished teeth, and then I got up and threw things. You watched me with the abiding sangfroid of a person who understood madness, especially when I smashed the framed prints. I knew I'd done too much, yet I didn't stop.

We circled each other in the living room. Or rather, I circled you, breathing fast while you barely moved. I said you didn't know me well. I said you didn't know me at all. Your 'okays' were calm at first, then over-contained. And that was what annoyed me most: your deceptive assent, your refusal to unbutton yourself and argue with me. Even the warm light from the window became an irritant. What right did it have to be so warm? I went upstairs and took my passport, my favourite shoes, my stepmother's gold. You didn't speak when I opened the front door.

Now two large men face me, one with a guitar, the other an accordion. I don't care for their music - it's a little too sombre, a little too slow - but I'd rather listen to it than keep humming that old lyric you adore: This world has only one sweet moment set aside for us. I've been trying for weeks, but I can't remember whether it's from a song by The Rolling Stones or Queen.

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65

Painted Swirl with Green and Blue

Everything is about a chicken, a chicken, a chicken
Searching for chicken songs
One that goes something about plucking feathers
(Mama said) she learned how to break their necks in the yard
Grandma came from Lodz to Boston
My mother went to music school (in Boston)
Hair tonic, apple pies, chairs, portraits inside portraits inside frames.
My brother, eccentric, painted edges of frames with Van Gogh-esque midnight Northern Light swirlies.
I am full of noodles, noodling, and apple pie.
Put on another kettle for the accordion player’s pipe.
The sun is setting, rising, setting, rising the Titanic’s a new last chance action series,
on a streaming channel, open the hand made grape wine, leave the hair tonic.
Rolling pins, bowling pins, huff and puff alleys walking up the Mountain with polka tunes in a worm hole,
My feet on the red tiled floor of the public swimming pool,
Thrown in, no life raft, no chickens, no chickens in the pool, or on the road, or on the way back --
Just painted trees, the painted trees, the twang and spill, the spirit of the Cajun record washboard reel,
And painted clouds, and grandma’s painted moustache, and a million giggles
for Halloween, for a summer picnic, for a ghostly memorial get together singing ancestor songs.

66

Campania

She looks up her family tree
To find something other than ghosts
For company through the hours
Through a pile of dishes and a load of laundry
Whilst the child was at school
The playground filled with familiar faces
She has run in that playground too
Unafraid and carefree
Conquering the climbing frame
And from it she saw the hills
It could have been Campania
It could have been Oscor
She could have been born in that house
Where she would be sat at a table surrounded
By laughter and voices
Singing songs in her mother tongue
And from every window a view
Grounded in Time
There would be no need to escape this time
She would be already home

67

Getting Back to Romania

After their parents jumped ship
they scaled the wall, escaped from the prison
whose jurisdiction convicted them, not
on tax and insurance, but on race,
because they could not speak English.

Busking paid for tickets back to Dolhaska
the eldest repeatedly clamped and unfolded pleats
of the blue accordion, broad as himself
until pent-up music blared out of it,
the younger, though drowned, strummed his guitar
whose hourglass figure reminded him
of the mother he sang for.

The kettle, always singing between them
conjured tuneless memories: chickens pecking,
in their yard, a football made from pig's bladder,
had each man recall (but out of respect not share)
how their mother without fail overcooked
the pasta their Italian father painstakingly made.

68

Lore Declared

It is the crop of family trees,
uncut, not pared, that fruits the screen,
plans pattern of our laid out field,
a sampler, pueblo village life,
from pampas plain to Staffordshire.

Foreshortened, clay, mosaic tiles,
farfalle or fusilli bake,
from pasta bowl, framed farewell quay,
in waves, blocked angles, strings, shared fugue,
a ramrod pin on ballet point,
to roll towards both chicken lay,
spout kettle steam, sward play, no fret.

Aorta branches, shaded leaves,
corona shine at set of day,
a cloth of gold, hid battle scars,
as if in Hanseatic league,
companion guild in gilded craft.

This concertina, valued things,
with border of patina curls -
the art of folk whose lore declared -
though men relax, selves entertain,
what women work behind the scene?

69

Off-shoots

They left their birthplace,
Mama's Mama's Mama and her man.
They sailed seasick, homesick, determined
to sing freedom, build a brand new life. They landed,

laboured, loved, and in time died, like all of us,
each one called at their allotted end. They wave through
framed sepia, remind descendants what they braved
to give opportunities, to us. I barely see the photograph

it's sat so long on cardinal tiles, by the streaked window, gathering dust, sunset to sunrise, in our family kitchen.
Yet when we eat, at table or outside in our cramped backyard, Great-great-grandmama sits alongside

great-great grandpapa, raised again. Olive oil, pasta
dishes, pastry flattened by an ancient rolling pin jig
with riffs and shanties, accordian tunes, songs
in tongues now lost. Their natal countryside flares,

in our shanty town, I almost hear a cockerel
and his three cockadoodle-dos challenging us
to own allegiance to our roots. A mouthful
of fresh rosemary, our sacrament to sacrifice.

70

Remains

A perfect send-off, though we'd expected otherwise,
our goodbye grew colourful, noisy, the way you
would have chosen if you’d had chance. Too sudden

your departure, no time to prepare, days monochromatic,
as though colour / sound / desire ripped from the world
with you. Only silence felt right, until loaded with urn and ashes,

we strayed upon them: two musicians, their babbling kettle,
a feast pressed upon us. As we forced pasta / herbs / wine
into our sad maws, the polka reached out, insistent, weeping

into skin / bone / blood, basil-sweet, grape-tart, memory-laden.
We sought each other’s eye, let frantic notes overwhelm us
and soothe. As the song hit its crescendo, we poured you out

into grass / dirt / dust, watched particles of you float treeward,
a tiny chunk of bone glowing comet-like in the sun’s confident
rays – in that moment, assured – you’d never be truly gone.

71

Resurgence

Our bodies emerged from caution’s silhouette
where good health practices curtailed activities;
with Covid’s grasp now beyond current reach, we
celebrated expanding circles of friends & family.

Sucking honeycomb candies, chewing beeswax like gum
we lit hickory wood chips, left sandalwood incense inside;
fingers strummed guitars, hands squeezed accordions, people
swayed to midsummer melodies like wheat in the wind.

Backyards buzzed as before, parks filled to capacity
bar-b-cue pits sizzled as we inhaled welcomed odors:
grill tattooed ribs, burgers, sweet corn & bangers,
dark clouds like smoke signals heralding community.

Picnic tables reset, the old world meets a new normal,
neighborhood children run through sprinklers & squeal
as we reclined in lawn chairs, sipped beer, wine & soda
glanced at our past preserved in an ocean voyage photo.

72

Your Spaghetti

I worked it out.

552 days.

Or – 1 year, 6 months, 4 days.

And when I think about it too deeply, my belly aches and my eyes fill up.

And I don’t know what to say. The words won’t come.

So I decide to fill my mouth up.

Garlic, lemon zest, fresh basil.

Olives in oil, not brine, that you brought over so long ago. The jar is almost finished.

I measure them out carefully, sparks of glossy darkness.

A pinch of sugar to bring out the best in the slow-cooking tomatoes, just like you taught me.

They will never taste as good as the ones from home. But we work with what we’ve got.

I sit down to eat, and I send you a picture, and I look outside at the grey sky, and my eyes fill up again.

I twirl the spaghetti around the tines of my fork, and think about all the times we sat around a table together without a second thought.

I will never take a second of time together for granted ever again.

I will savour every bite.

73

Redwood and the Sky

The possibilities of one's faith are unbound and limitless,
As the nature of each one is different;
Same as the stars twinkling unfathomably
In the wide expanse of space,
Guiding their shine to move forward,
meant for all of us. 

It's the audacity in acts and thoughts,
The admittance to the courage and confidence
That forges the excitement to one's life,
Full of uncountable adventures and existence,
Like a redwood's canopy in the sky.

74

Look We Have Come Through

Gather round the camp fire
there’ll be music and dancing later
but first, a picnic!
What a spread!
And none of it from a factory,
none of it well travelled
over turbulent seas
or skies
so eat and enjoy
then we’ll show you
how to make it for yourselves
and after, we’ll celebrate
how we have come through
with such joy.

75

Al played the banjo

under the expanse of an ancient Salerno sky
our bisnonna regaled us with tales of the old family
painting times of nurture & culture
war & division
strife & tyranny
unpalatable times of poverty & final departures
late evening celebrations mark harvest home
stained with red wine & fleshy tomatoes
melting with the signature of roasting chestnuts

her call mesmerises across four generations

the power of a canvas across chasms
distant figures never met yet always known
sharing blood and scars
music palpates the soul
Luca's fingers dance on his guitar
Giacomo works his accordion
pumping the very lungs of heaven
invoking the gods to delivery another good crop
molten history radiates their bones
narcotic incantations drift from their lips
honouring those washed away in hard times
restless shadows quit our shores
rebirthing, reinventing in the Americas
finding fortune, shame or notoriety

from our vertex we see

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76

UNAPPRECIATED

Long we journeyed
and crossed an ocean,
zither and melodeon in hand.

Yolk of oppression at our backs,
beacon of hope ahead –
an emerald lady. Well … poetically so –
siren of promises
to a world of wounded souls.

Aspirations on transparent faces,
Ready to work hard and sleep little.
Diligence and commitment were our
standards – flags of our fealty.

I still wear the same suit to Mass on Sunday,
and to my grandchild’s wedding -
the reception in a public park,
the grape cheap and the melodeon wheezy.
Filipo plucks the wrong strings,
but he’s not alone.
Is he, people?

77

Pueblo

In the green of Shropshire a  home away from home 

Transported to South America, less alone

The tastes of my  childhood are relived once again

In this place  I can live both in the now and then 

Our migration stories  interconnected 

They must be celebrated not rejected

There's  more to unite us than to tear us apart

Embracing our different cultures is just a start

It takes a pueblo to raise a child and nurture

And here, these tastes and aromas  I can savour

The bonds that bind us are wrapped  in the  food we eat

Breaking bread or empanadas with those we meet

Breaks down barriers, brings us closer together 

Embracing our multiculture  makes us better

In this painting in this place, memories flood

Thinking about my elders, my loved ones, my blood 

A hidden gem, heart of the English country

That makes my heart glow and allows me to be me.

78

Senses

She had said the recipe did not require writing down. It did not require ink or paper, for that would be a waste of time. And time is of the essence. Only the senses are required to be used in creating. Get the feel of the mixing, the smell, the touch, the rise and fall. She advised common sense applied most of all. Watch the chef: the flare of nostrils, the movement of the hands, the darting of the eyes... always watch the eyes. She had said, “together it is all like a dance.” The raining of the flour, the judgement, watch the control of the hands. No this does not require words. On a good day she spoke and she rarely spoke. But danced in her kitchen in a rain fall of flour. The recipes passed from her senses to ours. And she always reserved judgement, silently watching our rise and fall.
79

Like a Sip of Wine

do you hear the melodies of the
days that went by like the apricating pale
pages of an old book with the caress of the wind?
do you remember the serene places we used to walk
and our eyes would look like the shore
of a sea where waves flop melting into
a scatteration of foamy glitter?
do those memories of listening to soothing
music and retrospecting about the
halcyon days of youth still linger
in the crevices of your mind,
and in the chambers of your heart?
does your heart still smile gloomily
blending with the crests of the tones
of the lullaby that your mom sung you
as you rested your head in her lap?
does your mind still float in the
mist of the moments you coloured
with your friends as your eyes mirror in the
glass of the frame that stands before you
holding the glimpse (now withering) of
your past grey-hued
in its palm? isn't this music that rings in
your ears an envelope of the moments
that chant like thrushes in your heart? isn't
it like taking a sip of wine
that paints your world with happy tears,
sunshine, and love?

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