• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 02
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Brushy

My grandmother was protected by a small army.

The small army lived inside a glass display case in her living room, they watched over her, protecting the treasures that she had collected over the years. They were a tiny but formidable bunch whose life’s work was protecting priceless items such as the tea-towel my whole class decorated in 1996 and a collectable plate of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s 1982 wedding.

The army was made up of a variety of glass, pewter and porcelain objects arranged in a triangle formation. At the head of this army was “the family heirloom”, sometimes called Dusty, sometimes called Brushy, a figurine that has puzzled the family for generations. No one could quite work out what the figurine was of, what it meant, or what it symbolised. My grandmother knew, but she would ask us to guess.

Holding court in her living room, always wearing her Sunday-best no matter what the day, she would smile and laugh from her high-backed comfy chair watching her children, then grandchildren, then great-grandchildren try to work out what it was. The porcelain figure had boots, and potentially a midriff, but no other discernible human features. It had a red porcelain wing, and a huge mane made from what I think, or hope, was horse hair. As a child I thought it was a troll, my mother thought it was a bird, my uncle guessed a flower and my cousins incorrectly identified it as a ladybird. We used to beg her to end the mystery, she would laugh, the light reflecting from her brooch as her chest moved up and down. Since charging Brushy with the job of protecting her valuables in 1961, she has only ever given out three clues. It’s old, it’s from China and her great-uncle gave it to her.

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1

Story of the Flying Head

It is a night of exceptional tranquility at the hospital. In the rhythmic silence of the ticking clock, two nameless visitors devote their loyal company to her by sitting with her in her room. They don’t appear to be interested in tending to her needs. The man sitting on a chair beside the window is wearing a black suit slightly too big for his figure. The other one sitting next to her bed is wearing a military uniform, one that reminds her of the military training they made her go through when she was a kid. Their faces are evasive, but she is certain that they are her acquaintances from some point in her life.

A tide of uproar breaks the silence. “A mob is taking over the hospital!” she hears someone scream from the top of his lungs. Sensing that the turmoil is soon to creep up to her door, she fixes her eyes on it, the only connection between her room and the outside world. Suddenly, the door breaks open. Through the fissure a grenade is tossed towards the center of the room, landing right on her bed, on her white linen. Out of instinct, she jumps up from her bed and runs towards the opened window. The grenade explodes like a monstrous platinum flower blooming violently from her bed. Before she knows it, it has ended and the room resumes its silence. She is overwhelmed by a sense of joy and gratefulness for having escaped the attack unscathed, and the incident that caused her to be admitted into the hospital seems only trivial. Only when she turns around, she sees what has truly happened: where the military uniform used to end, a flood springs forth and washes the sheets wine red. What it has shot out—the ejected head—is rolling merrily on the ceramic floor.

She picks up the head. The man in the black suit is watching her. Neither of them speaks a word. She cannot stray her eyes away from it, for he is watching. If she does, he will condemn her for rejecting an old friend for his physical deformity, in this case, a severed head.
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2

II i i II

into unpolished silver waves thrashing
leaf masked figures born in mid-spin
calligraphy’d forth from some paused ceremony
where saffron blacked-out into demure moods

two i’s, unconcerned with seeing or being seen,
assemble unashamed Otherness inside an exhausted presence

Space, drunk off Time, questions
Matter, through quiet-eyed silk creatures
rising in irrelevant scorched forests
improvising themselves into simple answers, again

not a single leader left grinning after
a single opulent lie settled in Fire’s torso
liberating bevies of denied ideas & unsuccessful insults
above those two i’s who hallucinated themselves into the blank page

Rose cloaked beings arrive revitalized from forgotten mirrors
chanting in abandoned languages
of invisible gardens crowded with succulent black nectarines
dripping ash soaked harmonies hummed while
blank eyes glow hungerless vermillion vines from blank bodies
reeking of turmeric & cinnamon, not a muscle near a bone
beneath all that translucent flesh marinated in phosphorescent prayers,
held by hematite silks clinging to damp shadows after amber storms

3

The Uighur Prince

I paint you mostly as I remember you my love,
Like an Uighur Prince,
Fearless and majestic.
I am hoping you will be quietly amused
For it is a caricature after all.
And I wish you would laugh a little,
Perhaps even tease me as I tease you.
Instead – and when no-one is looking –
You cover me with desperate kisses and
sometimes I feel your tears too.
Between your kisses and your tears,
Your warm whispers
Tickle my ears:
‘Don’t give up! Your talent is god-sent!’
Your tone is always grave.
In this race against time,
As our skin moves closer to our bones,
I paint you as I remember you;
With your proud velvet beard,
Your jet black hair I used to wrap my fingers in,
And that red coat you loved so much,
Stolen by one of the guards
On our first day in the camp.
I’ve seen him wear it once or twice –
He looked like a clown without a purpose.
We must laugh at him my love,
Though I know how it angers you to be here
All because our skin is darker
And they don’t like our god.
Read more >

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wild visage

wild visage announces presence
satisfy all demands before looming stature

when i was younger, i worried of brushstrokes
when aesthetics destroyed countries

the problem, there is no silver in the museum
her house, sunk through the surface

never wrote underwater, or emerged to see
amputation, the birds and the books

on the beach where we once stood together
before this silliness, and structured play

a tyrannical direction of up, and the art
of standing around after the concert

instrument thrown to the sea

5

The Lobster Considers his Options

The Lobster considers his options
Sat next to the boiling hot pan
Straightway acquiesce?
Let his guts deliquesce?
Or nip off just as fast as he can?

Each particular case has demerits:
A death that is mercifully quick,
In salt water assured,
Or a lifetime immured
In a kitchen of lino and brick.

Our poor lobster glanced up at his captor
And tipped him the wink with one eye
"I'll be a great pet
I've got years to go yet!
Let's be mates!" And he sighed a great sigh.

The captor considered his options,
A new housemate living rent-free?
With an eye on a stalk
Who would watch like a hawk
At his boiled egg…or lobster for tea?

Each particular case has demerits:
There are pros, there are cons, come what may,
But our lives have to end,
Be we foe, food, or friend.
There were shells in the bin the next day.

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EXPLODING THE CHRISTMAS MYTH

Father Christmas, Sinterklaas,
Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus. Poor old Santa
has had one hell of a makeover.
Twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks, snowy beard
now subsumed into an inky blob.
Rorschach would be proud of it.
What can you make of it? A nothingness?
A travesty of a face, unkempt beard flaring
in broad strokes; eyes on stalks, a parody
of cartoon marine creatures?
Some say Jesus was a black man.
Look again, it’s a black silk chrysanthemum,
petals curling inwards like a mother’s fingers;
an eviscerated armoured tank, metal splinters
opening like an anemone. It's a wave at midnight.
A foot-and-mouth funeral pyre;
a crushed carcass of our final elephant;
the thumbprint of a nuclear explosion.
The human psyche.

Gold; the lodestone of commerce,
the excuse for dirty tricks.
Frankincense; an aromatic resin to sweeten
the stench of war, famine, and apathy.
Myrrh; the bitterness that remains.

Poor Santa, dressed in Remembrance-Poppy Red.
His broken face dwarfs his huge belly,
bulging thighs, his leather motorcycle boots.
All around, the Christmas message, written in tongues,
lies on the air like tattered paper chains. Read more >

7

KATA

a small movement
in red silk is an option
that would cross into sinuousness
or just old fashioned sin
even if this is a brush with death
the ultimate imaginary friend
who has seen it all
has performed in most dramas
usually marks the end
for there has to be one
even if gainsay or hearsay
have a place in folk tales
when you are nothing to begin with
give favours for money
a mask is an improvement
so runs the story
where one forward step shows so much
in its speed or coyness –
though now you are frozen
your tableau a statement of intention
where silk is no longer an option
a slipstream in stasis
an idea where the first step has been taken
to an adventure in progress
that cannot now end

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* Attention *

Please stop throwing toothpicks in the urinal.
The crabs have learned to pole vault.
They are just as lonely as you this holiday season,
and are looking for a loving home.
They have feelings too, and they're getting desperate.
We've been finding these pamphlets all over the bar.
Apparently, this one's name is Phil.
Male, 2 1/2 weeks old.
Likes long hikes in the jungle.
Nondiscriminatory about blood type.
Likes to role play (as you can see he's dressed as Santa).
We've also been getting several complaints from our patrons,
and posted an attention letter in the women's room as well.
The crabs can also rope climb...
They're clever little buggers!
Be careful who you take home.
Be safe and Happy Holidays.

Thanks,
Management
The Golden Horn
A Friendly Place

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It Could Also Be Laughter

The bald man waves his arms, chanting
sacred curses he makes up himself,
while the chorus of his hair attempts Mahler
—thick and thin in surprising spots that fascinate,
here misdirecting the truth of what needs saying.
Red tie, red Christmas trees, red pockets laden,
but at a particularly vigorous gesture, the heavy gold belt
his girth requires falls away to reveal the old script,
once tucked out of sight, that gives cues and bells
to deputize ignorantly brutal devils. We’ve seen it before.
He isn’t embarrassed, so I am embarrassed for him.
One wing sprouts from his side, but aerodynamics
(he was too impatient to learn) state he cannot lift off.
His whirligig shouts and satellite dishes focus and
refract back his own words, his own spectacular
crucifixion about to drill down. Again the curses, but they
are smoke and mirrors, his art the broken embers that
burn the palace down around him.

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red coat soot hair

they said say the ending
was coming coming came.
slowly sticking in dark sap
under splintered trees
or climbing waist deep
through mudslides and ash.
walk-wading through rubble
and shattered bones.

everyone saw seeing it
becoming when it came.

now the warm time wind
blows salty
sweeping away
the dull gray heavy air
that brings
coughing, weak limbs,
stillness.

picking gathering
in dead woods ash pit
tasting with tip of tongue.
store sweet bitter and smoky
in rag bag for sharing time.

sit sitting near fire they toss
no-use clutter aside.
no purpose. they say saying
now and then again
into forward time trash
does not feed not warm not build. Read more >

11

The Coming

Hearts beat fast in those ferocious times,
feet feared to linger, faces to swap warm smiles.
Frantic mothers searched for clues, wondered how
to keep their children safe. Fathers sized up fallen wood
for hiding-huts and barricades. Former neighbours
closed and locked their doors, fast against intrusions.
No-one talked any more: isolation, silence, fear
paved the way to war. And yet, this was not all.

Today, a stranger's infant, born beyond the city wall,
wails for comfort, streams sounds none can ignore.
Her cries scythe the air, call out clear to empty hearts,
to every desperate citizen. 'Come, my dearest people,
gather round my cradle.' And so, barriers tumble.
Fascists slink away, faced with people holding hands.
Today, at last, hate is routed, love's respect holds sway

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dark flower

the dark flower
of your character
above a red bole

brush-stroke petals
sweep the page
stamen black-tipped

other characters hug
the edges and speak
a language I cannot
like a crowd of visitors
arriving at Terminal B

characters crowd
the plane we inhabit
together but distinct

together but distinct
we create a text
crammed with life
like a fruit ripened
that splits and bursts
the limits of its skin

13

A Mute Tenor

Outside my window,
the children of the city
are discovering the night.
A cheer for the children!
A cheer for their discovery!
One big drunken chorus
belching out in unison
through mouthfuls of beer
and salted flesh.

While I, refined and resplendent
in red dressing-gown
write these words,
a mute tenor
practising in the wings.

The idols may laugh
from on top of Mount Olympus,
but I choose to spit in their faces
and bless my own morality.
Cheer with all your thunderous fools!
Cheers for the thunder clap that snaps the heart!
The gods empty
when faced with the dilemma
of a man posturing
for entertainment.

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Entotsu sōji hito

煙突掃除人

The chimney sweep faces the pagoda
From the top eave he reaches for the sky
Wearing a red robe which blows in the wind
Fearing naught, not even an iota
A slip and he knows he will die
Honor in his work he will not rescind

With a great beard and a top knot he sets to task
Slowly covered with black dust as a mask

The work is dirty, dangerous and hard
As brave as a Samurai he attacks with stealth
The wind whips his blackened beard about his face
Humming Chim Chim Chimney as if he were a bard
He performs his duties without glory and wealth
As a grand chimney sweep he has found his place

Slowly covered with black dust as a mask
His bright red robe now a blackened basque

With the grace of an Angel he appears in the height
He wistfully holds the horizon in his hand
A button for luck he keeps on his waist
Working methodically from morning to night
When completed with a sigh he does stand
Smeared with charcoal you can no longer see a trace

Read more >
15

Stunning Names for Cats

When Hitoshi was born his parents argued over what to call him.

As chief of the palace mousers, Yoshito wanted something correct. Something to reflect well on his lineage. Like Yoshiro, ‘righteous son’ or Taichi, ‘large first son’. He was enormous. But Katsu favoured, Hitoshi. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘I pushed out the large first son. I feel my perineum should have the casting vote.'

Yoshito’s blushing protests fell on deaf ears, and Katsu was victorious.

Large first son, Hitoshi grew into a motivated person. He was motivated to eat well, catching the fattest mice. But not by stealth or speed. Oh no. His large frame was not built for such actions. Hitoshi was motivated to be a leader of cats. In pursuit of this, he grew handsome moustaches and held himself with the most marvellous carriage.

By these means Hitoshi commanded an army of devotees, who were happy to be deployed about the imperial palace, hiding behind plinths and drapes. They waited, still as still could be. Long into the night they waited, until the mice – silly mice – grew bold. The devotees, trained to their tasks, stilled their quivering whiskers and continued to wait. On a nod from Hitoshi, hidden behind the throne, they leapt from their positions to drive the squeaking creatures towards his jaws.

It was not long before it came to the emperor’s attention that his cats were behaving in uncatlike ways. He set his major domo to watch and report. When the report was delivered his imperial majesty declared, ‘This cat surpasses all cats. He must be immortalised.’

Which is how, Hitoshi – a motivated person indeed – came to have his portrait painted by the finest artist of the dynasty.

16

He Wears the Eyes of a Stranger

He wears the eyes of a stranger
Though once we were close
Anger and madness blazing bright
Across my blood brother’s face
Hate robed in the Devil’s red
Dervish, Assassin, Berserker
As the mood takes him
A warrior yes, and a murderer too

There was a look he wore
Before he delivered the killing blow
It is the one I see now
As I kneel before him, murmuring prayers
Of the belief he – we – abandoned
Words that no longer have any meaning
To either of us
He will not let me finish
It is of no matter
Better the reality of his sword’s ‘amen’
Than the misery of a faltering faith

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Brushstrokes

she's gifted, you know?
that's what the administrators
at our school say of her.
she's "exceptional", "amazing"
"vibrant" and "eclectic".
she has her own style.
I've watched her work,
watched her splay the brush
back and forth, making art
quicker than anyone I have ever known.
with simple brushstrokes,
an inanimate object
comes to life.

I envy her,
green as I can be–
I want her gift. I want
to be able to slap my hand
on a canvas and leave my mark.
it's her legacy,
it's going to follow her down
the line of years ahead of us.
her children's children will be
stamped with her genius.

isn't that what artistry
is all about?

18

The future belongs to insects

Those are not ladybugs,
she said
as I brushed the insects
from my arm,
they are
instead
tiny red men.

I looked and she was right.

They snarled and flew
angry circles
carrying tiny skewers
and taking
martial arts poses
before alighting
on me
once again.

What do you think they want,
I asked.

What do any of us want,
she said, sighing.
Just a place
to call our own.

But that's my arm,
I said.

Not anymore, she answered.
Look, they've planted a flag.

19

Warriors are Grown

They battle for a space beneath the sun,
faces pointed to the sky,
defiance blossoming on the tips of tongues.
Warriors are grown,
beaten into the earth and molded
with fingers skilled in the art of cruelty.
Terror is braided into the skin of girls
who aren’t allowed to feel afraid,
held like glass in the pits of their throats.
Rage is rubbed into the eyes of women
who will eat fear and loom fiercely
over those who touch without asking.
Their voices become a storm that conquers silence,
a clap of thunder that cracks the fist of subjugation.
They refuse to sit pretty,
be quiet,
stay down on the ground.
Rising from the bruises of captivity,
a single word of protest hums through the earth,
shakes the rubble from the mountain tops.
NO.

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Ghazal, Alexander of Macedon

Alternate Universe Nutcracker: Fritz, instead, is the one who goes
To the Kingdom of the Sweets, marries the soldier, gets the final dance.

The Roman army camp is a perfect grid, Polybius tell us,
The lines, the soldiers, the eventual city—all an exacting dance.

Alternate Universe Iliad: everybody goes home early, saffron garlanded,
The javelins and cuirasses never do their bloody and enervating dance.

Ballerinas, horses, losing armies: these are the three things, I tell him,
Whispering close, afraid of their own shadows’ dance.

Alternate Universe Persia: the conqueror, having seen the known world,
Borrows the words of the Persian boy, the one he kissed at the dance.

For kohl-eyed he would lie in my arms, his eyes two cool mints, sugaring,
And I, his defender of men, final dancer of the cruel dance.

21

Nagasaki Turnip

The grinning turnip pulls itself
from the irradiated earth
in a field on the outskirts of Nagasaki.
Its crustacean limbs claw dirt—
search for purchase.

If it had eyes to see
the wasteland of ash
spread out as far as eyes might see
in 360 degrees,
its mischievous smirk might shrivel
into an uncomprehending pucker
of confusion: what queer reality is this?

Abandoned footwear litters the landscape
below stilled shadows it dumps debris
from a pair of stylish suede riding boots.
It drifts in bipedal forms
before continuing an oblivious journey
toward oblivion.

Turnip pots oddly-arranged toes into each shoe,
takes root amidst discarded nutrient dust—
clicks new heels, teaches itself
to whistle and walk toward water.

22

Beard

when you drink
you strut like a ronin
blurting out stupid things
no lord or master
could tame the hedgerows
tufts of broom and bristle
ungroomed, imperial

your rugged insistence upon
growth, your belly extends
in layers and years
of insulation, and yet—
your thicket is yet dark and black
the follicle spice and musk
alive, and pungent—

not the anodyne sterility
of the emasculate hairless,
the length of your organ
hidden under vermillion folds
grows long as
a winter solstice shadow and
still I want you

23

lobster man

thousands of hollow black shafts
of prickled bristled whiskers
slicing through the still air these
hollow whispers shape his name

fixed upon a rectangular orbiting
of forbidden language between
black and white and red
the exile was the making of him

The vacuous ocean of white moves
with collected gradual logic strong
ceaseless descent in pieces
and this one claw god takes form

as if his image could be the fullness
of being among mortals a half-brother
bump paddling in a fish tank
itching to announce itself

24

Soul

You are nothing except
The broken letters and
Lost words.
Human figures that made you up
Are aligned through generations;
But you stand still–
In your red burning coat
And erect moustaches.
People brush and stroke you
With meanings
And you laugh out loud
In the red burning coat–
Of your
Soul.

25

Dreams of a Samurai in Red

The princess dreamed of a virile lord,
a swirling spectre of berry red
with a thick brush of ebony hair and beard
and lethally sharpened swords,
skilled on the battlefield and in bed,
with weapons and with words.

She was the model of compliancy,
with her tidy, modest femininity,
a submissive lover but passionate,
a future wife waiting at the gate
for the samurai of her wildest dreams
in a bed not as empty as it seemed.

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