• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 04
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American Gothic

For God's sake, don't hand me

the pitchfork. I'll nestle instead

on the porch, by the geranium

that mimics those treetops ballooning

over the roof. The geranium,

that means, perhaps, incompetence

or friendship. Maybe both.

The geranium, the sweet scent

of which, I read somewhere,

resembles faintly the smell

of the ozone layer. Let me travel up

now, far from curtains and dentists,

through the simple stroke of a leaf―

a pioneer of the deficient,

piercing the clouds as I rise.


This Land

              This land’s so full of spikes like you wouldn’t believe. Saul broke earth this spring early and found rows of them, growing like dragons’ teeth under the thin soil.

              “Come out, Alice,” he yelled. “See this.”

              Then it was a lot of questions for me. Had I happened to drop them, while I was out walking so much? I said, now where would I get a handful of spikes like these from? They were two inches long, of a thin bright metal, no sign of rust. Much heavier than they looked. The blunt ends plain and the sharp ends enough to poke through a potato’s eyes with no resistance. I know, I did it at the kitchen table, after Saul was done trying to get his answers from me. Potato with spikes through it. It looked like some kind of witchcraft, so I pulled the spike out and threw the tater quick on the fire.

              He asked around the neighbours – each a half-hour drive away on the tractor – someone should know what the last leaseholders had been doing, if it was anything so strange. The neighbours said it was our land, our problem now. Saul tried to puzzle that one out a while.

              “They seemed like good folks,” he told me, “but they went cold when I mentioned the spikes. They wouldn’t even take a look at them.”

              “All of them the same way?” I asked.

              Saul looked to heaven, “Yes, all of them, like I said.”

              I was cleaning out the barn for the cattle coming. It was a fine place, no need of repair. But in the back there was a shelf, and on the shelf I found the spikes, raised up. Free standing like there was weights in the bottoms of each, but when I plucked one up, tried the same on the floor, I couldn’t find the balance. Read more >



I try to push through

to the pitcher of milk

that waits on the table

of the mourning house


but there is no

approaching the farmer;

his grip on the throat

of the pitchfork,


nor his solitary child;

a mute stockade

of unpainted fields

and deep buried bones.



To be born with a chin

so forlorn it’s a buttress against the neck

a night without sleep

            an Emily Dickinson impression

stubbornly held to; the kind that hopes

neighbours will remark            My! doesn’t she look a poetess


It was their compromise that the pitchfork

sit front in his hand, a whole fist

around its shoulders

with finger room for spare

            it was infidelity’s price


but how she loved its delicately

tripled tongue, the sharpness

of that humour

            off-set by its cleft - into

the wooden handle      that it was upright

and while directionless - aspirational -

Read more >

Gothic Telltale

Behind the agricultural frown are olden denim overalls. : The spectacled heron woos its paramour behind closed curtains.

Craning its long neck it remembers the sleeted wheat field. : Like a presaging raven portends the eventual sunset.

They age reluctantly. : Eyes open in voided obedience.

Faded and forked years are engrafted into the mona lisa background. : The whiteness of the American porch almost frightening.


Archaic Emoting

God bless the American Insurance system.
Think: you could get some new glasses,
a thicker pitchfork that doesn't buckle
from the weight of a corncob.
A real man's pitchfork.
A pitchfork to skewer the heart
of every liberal sceptic in the country.
I could get a new dress, finally.
Or a new man. Hardship has made me
easy that way. Let’s burn it all down, honey.


I will believe the Lord is good.
I will believe the land is kind.
I do believe the fruit will fall
if not picked first and where it falls
must be controlled for fallen fruit will
surely rot and rotten fruit will sour the lawn.

My husband knows the hand of God
and God himself has made it known
that we should pick the ripening fruit
and love and keep the seeds we've sown,
we've sown. The precious seeds we've sown.

The cellar doors have sturdy locks
the windows open just enough.
Enough to let His spirit blow and clean
and keep the darkness holy, holy.
The shade that breathes in there.
Our seed that breathes in there.


Prongs of Three

He stares ahead,
face wrinkled uniformly,
shirt mirroring the pattern of the prongs.
Garden pruned, woodwork washed
over the hauntings of gothic americana.
Hints of normality pushed aside,
the window shutters slammed shut. Woollen dress, so repressed
her life that could have been.
The prongs of three held steadfast amongst old time suburbia.
The air weighs heavy on his mind.
Where did it go so wrong?

Neurosity LXXXV: meditations on triangles in the early morning rain

dead leaves float free like emotions
with an equestrian discipline, cloistering
patterns of liquid hardness lightly aligned
with the borrowed warmth from your barefoot
contessa. the momentary solitude of mental
misfires hustle rational thought without furnishing
proper connecting dots in return. the way deer chat
on people’s lawns at dusk in your home town where
rivers flow in the wrong directions and smell like sulfur;
a town full of rawboned cows and crocked roads,
twenty churches and no bookstore to be found.
on your bed, you sprawl out restlessly thumbing
my words, allowing them to permeate your mind,
and decide that loneliness does not have to be absolute,
for now, even, just for now, but the physicality of words
is stale in comparison to the acute peppery-sweetness
of freshly chopped emerald basil. let me stay,
let me stay with the ease of watercolor

That’s Right, Ain’t It?

‘When I said, Defend the Faith, I didn mean what you did, you old fool. But you gone and done the worst thing a man can do, didn you? Jis because he didn agree with you. And you call it defendin the faith. Well it ain’t. And now you’s pretendin everthing’s all right, ain’t you? But I’s right beside you and I knows jis what you done. Even ifn you cleaned that pitchfork til it shines you ain’t gonna git away with nothin, cause I’s got you by the short and you-know-whats. Cause I knows your peculiarities.

‘You kin look all serious an sorrowful and like you’s no idea what I’s talking about, but you’s been and gone and done that awful thing and you’s goin to hell for it, donchu know it. So you stop starin out into the distance as if you’s all innocent as the day you’s born. You turn to me, your lawful wedded, and give me that damn’ pitchfork so’s I can do the necessary.

‘Tek them spectacles off, that’s right. Undo that collah stud, that’s right. Look me in the eyes. Straight on. Go on, stare at me, jis the way you’s been staring all day. Jis the way you musta stared when you done this god-awful thing, with that all-sorrowful, I-ain’t-done-nothin-but-what's-right look of yours. Well it ain’t gonna mek any diff’rence. Not now.

‘Watch me while I bend these prongs together, jis a bit. That’s right. You forgit I got some strength, didn you? All that log splittin and dough poundin. All that butcherin and tenderisn. There. Now, they’s jis the distance between your eyes, ain’t they? See that? Jis the distance. And if you’s worryin where that middle prong’s goin, there’s no need. I’s got the strength to plunge it between those sorrowfuls of yours. Easy.

‘Why’s you shakin? Divine Vengeance is acallin. You’s so busy cleaning them prongs you forgit to bury him proper. That’s right, ain’t it?’


The man who had no neighbours

‘No, I’m not a Hindoo,’ he said as he explained the picture on the bedroom wall and answered the question asked by the stranger who wanted to spend the night in his house, and then added, ‘and I am neither a farmer.’ Well, the house in the background too isn’t mine, he thought, but decided not to mention this. After all, if he started counting everything that wasn’t related to him, it would also mean the woman standing beside him, the pitch-fork, his clothes and even his stern and piercing look. Nothing was his and he knew this.

The stranger went on, ‘That weapon you’re holding is what the Hindoo Gods have in their hands. I can say this as I’ve seen plenty of pictures of these Gods.’ The stranger paused and then added, ‘And Goddesses.’

He remained silent for some time and then said, ‘Do I look like one those Gods in those pictures?’

‘The expression is quite like them,’ replied the stranger, ‘but I haven’t seen any of them as bald as you are.’

‘What’s the weapon called?’

‘It has a tri which is three and…’ the stranger paused as if squeezing the rest of the word out of some fold of his brain, ‘I think it was drool. No. it was school. Nah, can’t be that. Was something that rhymed with a fool.’

‘It is ok,’ he said, ‘it is enough to know that I resemble a Hindoo God.’

‘You also resemble someone who tried to molest my wife,’ began the stranger and he put his left foot on the rim of the bed on which he sat. The bed was next to the wall and he knew he couldn’t get off the other side. Read more >


Yokeland’s Best

“Babe, I want the bacon to be more crisp next time.”

“Yes dear.”

“And not just crisp around the edges. I want the entire strip of bacon to be uniformly crispy.”

“Yes, I’m sorry, of course ...”

“And the orange juice had too much sugar. If you can’t find oranges sweet enough to juice as is, added sugar isn’t the answer. Next time consider a different fruit. Grapefruits.”


“Pineapple maybe. You can add sugar to grapefruit or pineapple juice. But orange juice should be pure.”

“Then that’s what I’ll ...”

“Please, stop interrupting me. The pancakes were too dense. Did you beat the egg whites like I suggested?”

“I did, yes.”

“Well then you didn’t use enough baking powder.”

“I see.”

“Or the baking powder was past expiration. When was the last time you bought new baking powder?”

“Well, I’m not sure. I guess I’d have to ...”

“Just throw out the baking powder and pick up some fresh baking powder.” Read more >


Monsanto Ted Talk Plan

Develop, select, pay; register, analyze, define; survey, question, invite; winnow, weed, tier; reject, stalk, shade; budget, invite, manage, nag, deal; list, research, overestimate; borrow, beg, barter, pose: regionalize.

Engage, entice, excite; rope, follow, feel; group, tweet, skype; campaign, notify, email; prompt, invite, center: mythologize.

Register, check, brand; badge, bag, feel; stimulate, stream, flow, wow; hydrate, caffeinate, feed; enfold, squeeze, reap; network, interact, spam, engage. Curate. Satirize.

Take, get, upload; request, build, touch; keep, stay, engage; upload, spread, analyze; update, send, keep; stay, post, pay. Sleep, praise, litigate.


Land-bound Poseidon

This is where he makes his stand
Against any encroachment
From us, the outsiders
No point of entry

Trespassers beware

Trident in hand
He becomes a land-bound Poseidon
A tight-lipped sentry
Preparing to repel all invaders
Barricading his life behind
Closed curtains and closed doors

None shall pass

With his cameo consort at his side
As tight-lipped as he
They are proud in their defiance
Their rejection, of a world
In which they no longer fit
But here, it is we
Who are the strangers

And we are not welcome



Sharp as metal eyesight
the iron fork is clean
as a collar-less shirt
denim dungarees
a starched pinafore
all those stern faces.
I bet if you pinched
their prayers, squashed
their long necks, tickled
the church spire that
the unsoiled couple
might contour a smile,
tis a human thing ain't it?

Pitchfork Justice.

I've told you before, they are not welcome here, Millicent.

They don't belong here with us, they are evil, foul creatures – not worthy of the name 'human.' They take liberties. They are other than us. They don't understand sensibility or sense.

Our lives by comparison, are pure, heartfelt, peaceful. There is no reason for us to change. We are innocent ones. Like finches nesting on the church – we are free. We are also free to plant grain and to sing songs of life and culture.

When you go to bed don't forget to pray for our souls, M. We are regular people, people who fear God and who are not afraid of His power.

Never forget – we are not like 'them.' We have no reason to feel guilty.

Your loving husband, P.


History of art

“What’s this?” you ask.

I take the sheet, two black and white photos, very cheaply printed. Are kids these days not entitled to a bit of colour?

“Oh, that’s American Gothic. And the other one looks like it’s by the same guy.”

“Gothic, like the ones in town?”

I smile. “No, not like them.”

I hope you won’t ask me to explain it properly. Once upon a time I would have been able to, would have been totally clued up. But that time has gone.

You don’t ask. You just give the paper a last scrutinise, brown wrinkled. Then you abandon it and run off. It falls to the floor like a feather.

I sit, overcome with a sudden heavy feeling, a kind of exhaustion but not a throw-your-hands-in-the-air one. A quiet one. My eyes slump shut, the paper blurring white and then disappearing into blackness.

Pictures jog across my vision. A Renoir-esque scene featuring a bunch of happy young things in a boat, the river green and the sky cloudless. A Mona Lisa, smiling but with that sideways, distant look, holding a scroll. Van Gogh fields with a swirly sky and a young woman wandering, attracted by the storm, by such blinding, flickering blue. Dali dream sequences, faces distorted, the world all the wrong colours and shapes and reality becoming further and further away and then – Guernica. The town bombed. Children screaming. Read more >


Aging in Place

It’s time to leave the man alone.
He’s getting old, his wife says.
He’s really slowing down.

He’s always been a man
occupied with one thing
or another.

No half way with him.
Now he finds harmless things
just to please the wife.

Three packs a day he smoked,
drank a pint every night, then
quit both for her.

Stopped chasing women too
when a widow nuts as him
called the wife.

All he does is weed
their garden beds and lawn
four seasons of the year

with the wife upstairs
at every window
keeping an eye on him.
Read more >


This is this and not that

Why people cannot see what this is and why they waste. It's a matter of liberty and the few things I have I have of my own sweat as it mixed there with my tools, the things I make and do with my ends. She says - when she sits down with me at the table after making food with her own hands - she keeps saying "we have what we have and they take it. I never wanted more than what was fair and I don't want to think about it. Not one bit."

As for me, I get up at the same time as ever and I do things careful and there it is. This is the thing, I got my end handled and why it's not working out? It's not on me. I'm not scared. I am full. Full up to my eyeballs. I don't want to make a deal. I don't want any more anything but I do want what's fair. It's got to stop. They have to stop. It's too much and I am full.


From One Man to Another

Yours is the face I recognise
Among a thousand fat-assed kings,
Drunk poets, wig-topped wankers and
I-know-you-did-last-year Christs.

I hold my broom to match your pose.
I have more hair than you. Har har.
No glasses, too. I'm fatter, though.
I wish my belly wouldn't grow.

These people never understand
How life is for the likes of us.
Their hands are good for dollars, dicks
And danishes but that is it.

We know the way of callouses,
And dreams that fade to darkness but
What did you dream of, buddy? Sir?
About how you had married her?


Stay Steady

The found her body by Forkfly Bridge, folded in two on the riverbank, a dismantled easel: limbs all over the place.

“She’s Bill Nightwalk’s girl,” the sheriff said, as he flipped her like a catfish, and she turned to face him: blue eyes clear as truth, hair draped round her neck like a lady’s choker, arms and legs marked by a mutter of bruising. A whisper that ended in silence.

“Who murdered her?” they cried that night: the man from-out-of-town in the idle suit, the fat bachelor drunk in the bar, the four-eyed kid in the steaming backyard, the greasy-haired mother by the too-hot kitchen stove, the bitter pin-thin lady at the Laundromat where Betty Nightwalk came to wash her clothes; A-line skirts, nylon blouses and cotton underwear. No nonsense. Betty was a bank clerk, a plain-faced girl, Bill and Annie Nightwalk’s only child.

Sheriff was the one to tell the family. Travelled to a dirt sprung farm, twenty miles from town. A journey so dry his tongue forgot to speak. Said words like a shot dog, a burnt house, a revolution:

“Betty’s dead.”

When he left, Bill took his pitchfork. He walked out of his house into a silence that swallowed the horizon, ate everything that had ever come before.

“Stay steady,” Annie said, “stay steady.”


“Beautiful Day, Sheriff!”

Ma couldn't help but nervously glance in the direction of the police cruiser pulling up the driveway.

Pa, on the other hand, stood stoic, steely eyed, and unflinching.

Ma worried they might have come with a warrant in hand.

Pa knew there was no way in hell he was going to allow those prying swine in HIS house, warrant or no warrant.
Inside their quaint, unassuming, farm house, the pile of bodies was still warm.

Back to back draughts and the two years of failed crops that accompanied them, mixed with the possibility of losing the farm that had been in their family for three generations. This had taken its toll on the two.

Pa had concocted a country-bumpkin conspiracy theory - he blamed the continual bad luck on the farmhands that showed up looking for work.

Ma and Pa were kind enough to give the guys a job when they appeared at their door after hoping off a freight train, but their tempers slowly boiled over as task after task turned into disaster.

Everything these guys touched turned to shit.

Pa began to think that the hobos were sent there by the bank to ensure they lost the farm.

Earlier in the day, Jimbo, the worthless worker/hired saboteur, ran the tractor into a culvert out in the field, rendering it useless. Pa had had enough.
Read more >


My Name is Dominika

If my icy stare startles your pitiful glare,
it's because of my empty living tomb -
My internal eternal gloom.

Let my lily-white complexion not divert
your eyes from my shameful family
connection – As his pursed determined
lips harden with each painful grip.

If my Siberian glinting orbs conjure up
tales of icy warmongering wars, then
drown in my lifeless fading frown -
As we guard this forlorn beastly town.

Don't be fooled by the pristine homely
ordinary facade, rather try to hear my
beaten beating bleating bleeding heart -
For my traditional pristine pressed dress
hides his painful camouflaged cursed
carnivorous caress – Each daily chore
ends with his vodka vomiting lustful
roar, this beast whose once saintly
heart is no more.
Read more >


American Gothic

Everything points to heaven,
roof finial and ridge tiles,
arched window centred
on the clapboard house’s face,
porch pillars, modestly turned,
the woman’s hair, pinned
to make a steeple of her brow,
twin furrows above her nose,
ric rac binding her apron’s neck,
peak after peak after peak,
the pitchfork’s three prongs
in the lofty man’s firm grip.
The peep holes of his spectacles.
The black holes of his eyes.

The Upstair Neighbors

The daddy must be gnawing at the bones
of the mommy who coos, coos and coos
over the crying baby who makes a boo-boo, like all nocturnal families

do, oh they do, don't they, they do

the clunkity-clunk, the yakity-yak,
and the bibbidi-bobbidi-boo,
the happy rigadoon and a mouse at two

in the half-moon bedroom. I'm running out of
sleeping capsules, my tricolored silencio!
Red, white and bright starry blue. Saviors of America.
I mean, insomnia. No, really, I do
mean my nebulous wakefulness
at half past two.

Tell me what I should do, do, do
to stop my roof from – boom! boom! -
falling down. The woeful spinster clomps, clomps, clomps

clomps down on my papery skull. Why wouldn't she take off
her wooden shoes? Is she masking the echoes

of the owls' raucous hoots?

Up, up, up
into the reddening sky
I see them go.

They are all in cahoots!


A Garden of Beauty

Hank took his pitchfork and turned the soil. Insects and pebbles came to the surface while flies buzzed in his face.

“Will you remove those spectacles; you’re going to knock them clear off your face,” Hank’s wife Mary said from the front porch.

“Do I tell you how to cook? Go back inside and take that cameo off your blouse. You shouldn’t be wearing that in the house. I gave that to you to wear on special occasions.” He wiped the sweat from his face and sighed.

“Like we ever have any special occasions. It might as well sit in the box then.”

“Oh, go cook some dinner and leave me alone so I can tend to the garden. I do this for you, you know. I could have one of the neighbor’s sons do this instead of me breaking my back.” He touched his lower side and grunted.

“Yeah, like you’d pay someone to do gardening. That’s a laugh.” Mary tapped her knee and chortled.

“Don’t you have to cook dinner? Go inside and make stew or some other horrible dish that makes my stomach churn.”

“Keep it up and you’ll be eating outside with the cows tonight.” Mary slammed the door behind her.

Hank shook his head and continued with his work. After he finished with the soil, he pulled some weeds and planted a few yellow marigolds and pink begonias. His back ached, his knees throbbed and he was thirsty, but he stood tall in his blue trousers, filthy with dirt, and admired his small garden of flowers. He hoped Mary would appreciate it.
Read more >


A Modern Interview

"Are those glasses real?"
"What do you mean, 'real'?"
"You know, like, are they lenses?"
"Why wouldn't they be?"
"Because other people wear them without lenses."
"Do they?"
"Are they Dior?"
"Where did you get them from?"
"The thrift store."
"Really? Cool! Where's that?"
"Not really, I got them from Hank's Opticians."
"Oh. I like your dressing gown. It's very 'now'."
"It's a jacket."
"I see. Sorry. I can't see below your waist."
"Probably a good thing."
"What's that?"
"A pitchfork."
"Oh cute! Do you work on the city farm? I heard they do a great vegan breakfast."
"No, I have my own small holding."
"Like an allotment? That's so sweet. I've always wanted one of those. I like your dungarees."
"Thanks. I have seven pairs of these."
"Are they different colours?"
Read more >

The Guardians

Hardware store's clean out of fiery swords
so my good old fork will have to do
to guard, at God's behest, our garden gate
from sinners and all uninvited guests.
(It also makes a handy-dandy tool
for opening a can of worms).

It falls to her, meanwhile, to bake
the fruits of all these labours into pies
according to the family recipe.
Perfect prizewinners every time,
they scream when she cuts them.



We were born and brought up on this land. Our roots have been here for always. Back and back – our tree grew, inked in the front of the family bible. The book got swept away in the great flood, along with Grandpa and half our steers, I can remember it clearly.

We married young.

Seasons and years turned by, births and deaths, the sun always rose again. Crops grew, crops failed; one step sideways, one step back. With the clash of metal on stone, we dug our tears and our seed into the ground.

Pain and joy – the earth took all, twisting and queering our efforts.

Perhaps we might have migrated, but our roots were deep and entwined and we had been there too long. With no stone to step towards, we endured.

We became worn.

Sweat and tears grooved our faces. We weathered. Rain and sun bleached out our clothes and skin, and the wind blew the very fat from our bones.

Our marriage is a pitchfork, the middle tine stabbed into the dust so far, that we twist and turn in the earth’s breath. Together, we married the land – an unequal trinity, until the end.



They said he had crazy eyes, I didn’t
stand a chance at normalcy

but the gothic veneration of the air
that circled his head

the aura over the unnatural
that he exuded control

there was something about him;
his eyes didn’t comfort me like a lover –

they stirred my threshold of stability –

I could wear my prudence right up
to my neck and clench my chest
in corsets from alarm

his superficial glance at my face
would set off;

fantasies of his deft, warm fingers
around my restrained neck

I’d wonder how true his arms were
to the muscle of pitching and tossing;

wearing his heirloom medallion
on my collar like a nun from a harem,
Read more >


American Gothic

Holding the morning on the prong of a pitchfork
isn't as easy as it looks. That sudden spring
throwing its weight around, these shadows
of house on the lawn like a broken church.
I know no art but the rake, unearthing straw
by the barn, a festering gold buried under old rain.
God help me, I find my life there, flashes
of the woman I once hand fed raspberries, shrouded
by age. Bun the colour of sackcloth, she approaches,
all wife, whatever she wanted buttoned to her throat.
She sidesteps nibs of daffodils like painter's brushes
wrapped in brown paper, and simply watches me
compost. This man with a rake, dragging
his shadow closer again and again on Groundhog Day.


Playing Games

They don't always hold so still,
only when someone looks their way.
Close your eyes and listen
to the pinch of her fingers
on his chin, how his lips
crack and twist like barley sugar.

The handle thumps her foot, chipping
sequins from her thrift store sneakers,
and if you look again you'll see
tears pooled in the corners of her eyes,
how he presses on the handle,
how she can't quite stop her trembling chin.


O Master, you shall pay!

It’s such an odd thing to lose
Time has come to give Master some blues.
How dare he put the blame on me?
So easily he asked me to be on my knee.

How he forgot the service of all these years?
He made me cry and gave only tears.
How he yelled before his clan the other day?
I promise you dear, for what he did, I’ll make him pay!

The way you served everyone in the house
Be it his mistresses or his spouse.
The line was crossed when he tore away your blouse
I still can’t believe he’s such a rude louse!

I begged him, I pleaded him, I even prayed
He promised for mercy and then betrayed
One day his body will be decayed
I’ll destroy him and the message shall be conveyed.

Using my instrument, we’ll kill him first
For that’s the only way, to quench away my thirst.
We’ll bury him down and then get dispersed
Nobody shall know of our act done unrehearsed!


The New Gothic: Marriage

We resist
the pull of time;
resist being
too weak a word.
How easily
we fell in
love; as easy
as hitting
the floor. Dust
crawling by—
shed skin
exposed wood.
There is so much
work waiting
to be done.
We’ll get to it.
Just keep staring
straight ahead.

We Picked a Bad Time

She has come from the kitchen
(still in her pinafore)
to join him. He has pulled on
his coat, dignity enough
to meet whoever we might be:
company or intruders.

His eyes are fixed on me; I
shift position awkwardly
to ease the discomfort
of his piercing, rock-sharp
stare, but I cannot shift

enough to shake them
loose. In the periphery
of my vision, I escape
to wonder at the perfection
of the tiny stitches, each
precisely the same length,

that fix the strip of white
rickrack to the top of her
brown pinafore so that it
lies flat against the somber
black of her everyday-best
Read more >


Sweet Home Chicago

Jayden’s slumped on the bench staring at his feet when Mrs Jacobsen sits down beside him.

‘So, what do you think?’ she asks him.

She means about the painting. Jayden’s slumped in front of ‘American Gothic’ but he can’t make eye contact with it and I can’t say I blame him.

You know the painting, right? The guy with the pitchfork? There’s some serious tight-lipped weirdness going on in that painting, especially when you see it up close. It’s why Jayden can’t look at it. Neither can I.

Anyway, he says nothing to Mrs Jacobsen, just shrugs and makes a little grunting sound that’s barely audible.

The sort of answer the guy in the painting might give if you were to ask him how things were going.

‘Good harvest this year, McKeeby?’


Mrs Jacobsen pats Jayden on the shoulder.

‘Well, just write down whatever comes into your head. Go with your gut and see what you come up with.’

Jayden nods and looks up at the painting, but I can tell he’s looking past it at the wall.

When Mrs Jacobsen leaves I go over and sit beside him.
Read more >


Farmers Almanac

House like a church. Dour. Ribbed. Centered between these two corn-fed Iowans. Man in overalls and his Sunday best. A hard man. Look at his mouth. Woman in apron and cameo. Look at her shadowed eyes. Imagine the bedroom. The bed. Does she wash the sheets often? Maybe. Notice the one escaping tendril from her bun. Notice the barn. Barely there. What does that say? Ask yourself, whose hand is on the pitchfork?

On the Psychology of Quantum Mechanics

So many sighs, those pitchfork smiles
from “farmers of physics,”

there’s much uncertainty about these mechanics,
though someone said, God doesn’t throw dice!

However, I say that the whole prospect
of mining the field is suspect, a huge gamble.

Like some people I know, every particle
of substance suffers schizophrenia.

One moment it’s a wave, the next, a particle
bouncing off walls. I didn’t know that

studying bipolars might make me manic. Still

there’s nothing gigantic about quantum leaps,
just discreteness of encounters.


American Gothic

They were made of stern stuff, the Flemish masters. No smiling in those portraits. Immortality was a serious thing. Everything was painted in the light of eternity, even lemons on a plate and still life studies of bread and cheese.

Grant Wood saw the rolling fields of the heartland, black dirt rich from retreating glaciers produced such plenty, too, before fields dried up in the dust bowl, and tears fell on bank foreclosures.

In the American galleries in the Art Institute of Chicago, you will find American Gothic, by Grant Wood. The man and woman stand together in that painting on the wall. You have seen it before. It is so familiar, you can't remember when you saw it for the first time. You have seen it, but not really seen it. It looks like an old painting, from the 1800s maybe, but it was painted in 1930. It is painted in the light of eternity and the Great Depression. There is a seriousness. These people stand their ground.

Today, people come to the museum from all over the world. "Where's the farmer?" they ask. It is one of the most frequently asked questions. They want to see the famous painting by Grant Wood. Everyone sees something different. They want to know what it means.

In the gift shop, there are many versions of this image – mugs and postcards, note cards, prints and posters. There are books on the art of Grant Good. Maybe the visitor will buy a postcard, or a magnet, a memento of this place, their visit to the city, gleaming by the lake. They will take the magnet home to Saint Louis or Paris. They will put it on their refrigerator, where it will secure a shopping list or a child's drawing – a house, and a family, with a cat and a dog.


Bloody Where the War Is Waged

It’s OK to scowl
when things ain’t right
with the world

No fake cheese
for the camera
in the cornfields

I’ve got a weapon
you’ve got a weapon
we’ve all got weapons
so let’s go to war

It’s the only rational
for a Puritan
dressed up on Sunday
in a tight-buttoned
sun-splashed hallelujah

parted straight
down the middle
of a blood red sea
ready to spill...


Abe the Storyteller

Of course, it would have to be his idea; he liked knowing what others could only guess at. Abraham was like that; he liked to play games.

Just the other day, he asked Mary Miller over; such a plain, dowdy and simple creature with mud-brown hair and cloud-grey eyes. Recently turned thirty and still a spinster.

I was particularly annoyed with Abe showing Mary our vegetable patch like that, talking about it as though it had won first prize at the county fair. There weren’t many vegetables to show, just rows of shoots pushing their leafy heads through the recently ploughed earth.

Of course I knew the reason for the slow growth of our vegetable patch. (Thankfully Abe kept this little nugget of knowledge to himself.)

I studied Mary Miller’s expression from the kitchen window; she wasn’t sure what Abe was showing her. Bless her little cotton socks. She nodded politely and listened to the great storyteller feeding her lie upon lie upon lie.

After she left, Abe came inside and poured himself a glass of cold lemonade.

‘So, what did you say to her?’

He didn’t look at me. Instead he took a long gulp of lemonade and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

‘Nothing important Lizzie, so there’s no need to worry.’
Read more >


Refused portrait sitting

In tradition there's safekeeping
in lordly fear the meek may yet thrive.
Fasting for austerity, neatness in all
manner of goodly godliness.

Engage ye must in pitched battle with
the wicked's work... purest living against infidels
has need of ready buttresses. Shoring up all
walls with faith, persistently.

One prong for every three wrong
delivered with forked-tongue.
There is no time, leisurely, to smile sitting
- even less for trivialities.

The land inherits all souls after harvest.


Our Home

We cleaned the place before the cleaners came
Not wanting them to sense the slob
Our hearts had became

Our home lingers over us,
Like a spaceship that owns us.
We stand under its spell as ornaments
Needing a good dusting

We watch quiz shows in the day
And the news each night
Simultaneously keeping us fearful
Of outsiders winning our jackpots
Or raping the kids we forgot to make

We’re the fork in the road
That scares destiny away
‘Leave us alone,’ you scream
To the wind blowing the scarecrow’s hair

Our minds are crippled by routine
If anything alien comes between
We will make sure to vomit it clean

Remember, without hope there’s only fear
And without humans, guns remain aimless


Anamosa, IA

When I was seven the
neighbors across the street
scared me. They
kept to themselves most
of the
time. They
had no kids,
no nearby kin,
no car,
no criminal records,

He would
on the porch, rocking
back and
in his chair as his
bones cooked
in the sun. She would
stare from
behind intricate stained-
glass windows, gritting her
shark teeth to tiny
nubs against the
Read more >


Her Comic Valentine

She's on her knees, hands bunched beneath chin, eyes shut. Muttering.

He can't drag his gaze from the fields outside, rows of brittle brown. Don't matter what she asks for, crops are charred.

He takes a stick to Samuel, beating like the sun. Says he'll knock sense into the lad, but all she sees are ticks on ticks, stammers and fits. And falling down. And still he blames her God.

Next year, only the harvest spills across his hands; their girls nudge and pinch through grace, on a rare day spared of chores.

She consents to stand beside him, between meals, whilst a likeness is sketched.

The artist frowns, something's off: bring a pitchfork, he says.


Cumin of Agen

'Glanhd don't no messin' no - he tells er stright in thee cumin of Agen,' Frabd said, all beemso and pleesed. Lil shiften and sqkern, the cait's needles were duggin in right and true into her leig.

'Missy doen't do thit, thows sharps wuld maken the waater comes in at bathin' tyme.' Lil put Missy downe inter box-box but she'en cud never stay her place. Frabd pointed duwn at Lily's beluw spacen.

'Dos it hurtend? I member myne, fair red spurtin' hadta catched it in a pan-pan - Ma luked at me lik shesa gonie cooker-it up for dins!' Frabd chucked and squyer louder, Lil red-dener n cheiks. Dullen acke groins and a spotten knick-knucks wasna new, but shein ne'er tolden Glanhd or Planhd efore. Frabhd clappen and chucked seeing Glanhd and Planhd druking the paff towards they twoen. Lil fayre winken and fained at seein the three-sharpen stedl in Planhd's pinks and the blanken bare-ace of Glanhd.



She glares her distaste and anger
Into the back of his right pinna:
Emotions of the model
Encroaching on the character.
She doesn’t like dentists.

Artist slouches behind the easel:
Canvas concealing his grinning face
As wry he reproduces
Each crease of her disapproval.
Adds mother-in-law’s tongue

To porch of Carpenter Gothic:
Borrowed pretentiousness he mirrors –
Pitchfork in uncalloused hands;
Potted Med and African plants;
Starched suit on dungarees…
On beaverboard.


They are gone far

they are gone far
out of this country
out of this county
our children are gone

to reach the metropolis
they left their mother
to gain a new patriotism
they left their father

they are gone far
to forgot about farms
to find a new warm house
no more wheat
no more straw

there is no sweat
on their foreheads
there are no scars
on their hands

the ground is left
and so the wound
and the ancient traditions

but we will wait
we will stay here
working with hands
sweating with foreheads
Read more >


Mourning Ms Pyrex

Let's give Ms Pyrex
something to remember
something to take home with
as she journey peacefully to yonder

Let's give her something
to look at and say
I was here

The grave indeed is a fine place to be
and I wish Mr Pyrex
had had enough money to call in a gold hearse
but drought visited his farm
and his wealth travelled with the wind

Let's give Ms Pyrex something
to remind her that her struggle to keep the house in order
was not in vain
as she goes straight to the throne of grace singing
glory unto the lamb

Let's give her something
to give her hope
Read more >


Simple is Not Enough

Simple folk, with simple beliefs, simple habits
and simple lives.
Hard working, God fearing, narrow minded and
often cold blooded.
To live a life so closed and empty of human warmth
must be so soul destroying.
Living by your principles and your delusions.
There has to be more,
There is more,
You could have so much more.
A life that is fulfilling.
A life that contains warmth of human feelings
and love.
Reach out!
Drop your pitch fork and principles,
Grasp a life you are missing out on.
Before it is too late.


Gothic Guignol

The pitchfork’s pale/the church is paler
faces steely, occult violence/palest still
all gothic grimness in the American shale

you can see how the overtmurderousness
can spill and then refill,
these are not undertones of unintended massacre

this is an undivined madness
a cult of deadening souls
determined to be devoted to excess

so why do we love its expressiveness
the death upon death and death
of the destroyer zealot-a'-threatess

the warrior queen Kali the skull-wearer
who loves her man-o'-god
the battleship bully with Poseidon's rod

why do we hail them
these quasi-sacred Shiva shems
perhaps just apothegms

why don’t we name them/not myth
trump and bush and hoover
jefferson and his Monticello slaves

doyens of depraved democracy
why don’t we shame them
these acolytes of a-dolts and the reichs?


Nobody’s Dream

Two people pitchforked into,
A world of endless work,
Joy and love bleached out,
Worn and faded with drudgery,
Toiling, day after day,
To make ends meets,
To feed a family, created in love,
But raised on,
Home grown produce and sacrifice,
No Gothic horror can compare,
With the haunting, ghostly fear,
Of hunger and homelessness,
A spectre forever on the horizon,
Shoulder to shoulder,
With grim determination,
They face adversity,
Sharing, forever, always together,
The humdrum and eternal human nightmare.


We won’t sell

I don't know when he balded, it must have been a while. When we married, he still was a kind man, good-hearted and of hopeful spirits. That was before the crisis, as the paper calls it. I do not complain, we are getting along. There is work for two other men on the farm, the boys learn the word of God every Sunday afternoon.

As far as I can think, times have never been easy around here, but we wouldn't worry, wouldn't allow sorrow in our honest home. The Lord may lead us, he used to say. Now he speaks of rougher times, I see them deepen the lines down his cheeks and his chin. We don't sell a peck of wheat for what we used to.

The Bickermans have given up, he groans, sold their land to the corporation. What's a man without his land, he shouts, where should he live? We won't sell, I calm him, as he's forcing a laugh. We've tilled this land in four generations, we won't sell. Let the boys learn a profession, we can endure.

We are getting older, he objects, harsh fingers rubbing his forehead. Yes, we always have, and we've always strived. It is a new time, a new land. Let the boys learn, we will settle with what we have. We won't sell.



Express lunch tomorrow, pitchfork confit pork belly, green papaya, curry sauce pitchfork,
but you probably knew that?
I just bought pitchfork tickets to a pitchfork fuc*ing Tame Impala concert in Israel,
but you probably knew that.
It’s not pitchfork hard to be ahead of pitchfork in the music game,
but you probably knew that?
Jon Bunch pictured pitchfork center,
but you probably knew that.
Pitchfork news: Matmos share pitchfork psychedelic Excerpt Three,
but you probably knew that?
Watch the trailer for pitchfork Don Cheadle's Miles Davis pitchfork film,
but you probably knew that.
Big Boi pitchfork announces year-long Las Vegas pitchfork residency,
but you probably knew that?
Bernie Sanders ends Iowa Caucus speech with David Bowie's Starman pitchfork,
but you probably knew that.
Sicko Mobb pitchfork drop Super Saiyan pitchfork,
but you probably knew that?
Pitchfork sick of watching George con my fellow hard working Albertans with pitchfork guru-isms,
but you probably knew that.
Some pitchfork smoked shoulders and cardio at courtesy of pitchfork the deer,
but you probably knew that?
Read more >


What will the neighbours say?

This is the last straw for Mary.
He knows it, too.
They stand there anyway, the semblance of innocence.
It won't last.
Word gets out like it always does.
Even when nobody ever says anything.
People used to smile when they walked by.
Now, steel eyes send shivers.
Still, they stand firm.
She smiled actually, once.
It was like a rainbow under a waterfall.
Not built to last.
Words aren't spoken in this house.
As if meaning didn't matter; only doing.
The turning over of hay.
Until the last straw.



That’s what he reminds me of.
Hard. Inflexible. Implacable.
She’s only a child, I plead.
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child,
And the rod of correction will drive it away.
His stoic response.
Her eyes water as it dawns on her.
He will never forgive me will he, Ma?
I wring my hands and speak again.
At least let her in.
Let her put her feet up,
And have a cup of tea.
She looks terribly weary.
His grasps his pitchfork tighter
And my heart constricts.
If I cannot reach him with my words,
Then all is lost, for my hands have lost their touch.
Her belly heaves as she backs away,
Sobs echo from deep within.
Her hands reach out to steady herself,
As she staggers down the unpaved path.
I have no more tears left.
I utter pleas no longer.
For what difference would it make?
He is what he is.



all the bits collected,
gathered up. the waste is the environment now
and remnants of life are the thrown away left-overs.


washed and polished, artists bundle them together, or
create little pieces of reclaimed
realness from how the world once was.


here we are. the penultimate existence.
sculptures of nature,


Forks are sometimes

other peoples' daughters -

other peoples' daughters

turned into forks.

Forks that stand with

parents for a photograph,

prongs raised up like hallelujah.



This is going to sound weird, she said, the first time
I met her. I have a photo of me at that age
and we look exactly the same. We were the same
age, so it was reasonable, given
fashions, that our childhood photographs would share
a look; two eight-year-old girls would share
some resemblance in the 80s. The only difference was,
I was cradling my baby brother
in the photograph, she was about to marry him.
But it was God's will. Same as it was
God's will when they moved into my house
until they could find a place together.
And it was God's will I slept in the lounge
so that they could have my bedroom,
her coming down with her hair
disheveled, like she owned the place. His
will we were at each others' throats.
But now I think, thank God
she came between us to save me
from fraternity.


there were the lean
years, wrecked
nights, fevered
infants, blighted
fields, harrying
winds, we grew
twinned, slender
as needles, abraded
then smoothed,
upright as oaks,
silent as drapes,
my heart breathes
a hum that you,
sympathetic tine,
vibrate in reply
a ventricle beat,
a rod against
the lightning.


We are not to be distracted or negotiated with.

We are settled in our utility.


If you have come here to broaden our minds,

With your questions and your silence doing the work,


You will feel something you did not expect.

You will carry away the marks on your skin.


What did you think we were going to say?

Look at us. Look around you. This is it,


My friend, the point you turn around,

Go home to spread the word of our welcome.


We want to share it with everyone.

We want to teach the world our ways.


We are done with being alone.

We are done with being alone.


American Gothic

Unspeakable, the past,

but he won't be here long.

Yellow as an old quince

and she knows why.

He's got the shakes

and she knows why,

But the pitchfork helps.

Malice clutches her heart.

Sundays are hard,

church is hard.

but she hasn't got long to wait now.


My wife is Althaea

Yes sir, we live right here in Hayesville Iowa.

Lived here all our lives, never ever left the State.

Travis... and my wife is Althaea.

Met at school, so long times now.

Sure, we saw them posters and heard a lot on the radio.

No sir, we never had no television.

Republican all our lives.

No sir, Caucuses ain’t for plain folk like us.

We just finished toasting some marshmallows.


Acts of Silence

I watch you look at me. Your eyes say nothing that I will respond to. I am a student of your pupils so in this knowledge of the unseen we are equal.

I feel her eyes swivel with the choking of suppressed speech that is not kindness, regret, pity or even indecision. She taught me the word inchoate. Her carefully punctuated not-looking sprung between my words from my offset. When she folded the clothes of rebellion without comment. As she counted the lashes of punishment without numbers, whilst mentally choosing the menus of reflected choking that surged from my mouth in silence. When she was made into you.

See your eyes. See her eyes. I cannot use my eyes to unsee the unsaid. I cannot speak to puppets or mime artists even if I can understand the artifice, translate the gestures. We share the same lips. Thinly disguised as family bonds. Invisible assertions of nothing. For you can look and not look and still I will not speak.



The artist suggested her husband hold a pitchfork: the artist wanted to paint a portrait of authentic hard working people. She fetched her husband’s pitchfork from the barn, but before she carried it out she scrubbed away the rust.

She prickled with delight when the artist positioned them beneath their arched window. Asked to find a comfortable position she placed her calloused hands against her black dress, underneath her apron. It suited her husband to be silent while the artist painted: since their daughter died from the fever her husband only spoke in his sleep.

As she stood in the heat she heard horns crack through dry skull bone.

That night, upstairs, her husband stripped to the waist, scrubbed the dirt that wasn't there. She raised the pitchfork and beat his arms and back. Moments later she guided him to the chair, bathed the welts in cool water by the light of the arched window.

Downstairs she snapped the pitchfork across her legs. Her face burned as the wood spat and the spikes blackened in the fire.


Common Sense

Her father had always said
one must look forward, not back,
and with steady eyes,
bearing the facts in mind, and probabilities,
making a plan and a second plan,
putting a little aside for tomorrow,
wasting and wanting not—
and although one stray
lock curled often out towards
what was not
(some romantic dream)
nevertheless she did her duty as was proper,
combed her hair and kept the house and tried faithfully
to take no thought for today.

The last fork

I was shifting the books
From shelves to shelves
Those letters from the first cry, growing black to grey
With dusts of emotions

Slowly I shifted the whole house
One by one
All rooms
Nothing left as mine
Or yours…
Except the last feelings
Lingering in the lost mind

Did I forget something,
Or I just remembering now?

When did you last say?
We are alive
Alive from the birth of time

Just like
The house becomes the grave
Grave becomes the temple
Temple becomes the vast blue space

And then comes alive the rain

Then me

Then you

Read more >

Re-imagining a piece of property

Rural Iowa, late nineteenth century,
A tiny house stands unremarkable like the others
And largely forgotten in the community.
Then a painter is shown around the town and finds it inspiring
And worth painting.
This property gets immortalized as the American Gothic House
By Grant Wood, in the August 1930.
The small Dibble House imitates/modifies the Gothic style
By incorporating new features like a window in a light frame house
Mixing tradition with innovation.
The improvised style suites their purpose for showing novelty.
Wood re-imagines the commonplace and paints the house
As per his inner dictates.
His sister and dentist model for his artistic eyes
The pitchfork
The clothes
The stern expressions of a hardy couple
Working on the earth for survival
Capture the dust from national architecture and history
In a single frame than the archives.
Two different segments of time get blended on this vibrant canvas.
And so is born, out of this careful fusion and selection, a great piece of popular art
That has put Iowa on international artistic circuits.


I’s tell a story of failed tongues

Not anyone lived in tall-house behind sleep town.
With gossiping silence and curtains twitch frown.
Nobody said murderer’s sh(r)ine.
Kids changing sides, no ginger-knock down-time.

Then someone didn’t post fear through their box.
Said faceless enigmas, swallowing frogs.
Nobody set fire to barn hay of life.
Folks ignored smoke, polished fork and sharp knife.

When no-one shout came in red angry face truck,
Sheriff a smirking smiles shot out of luck.
Nobody scuffled with translation that cost.
Inmates made space another youth lost.

That anytime passed aged wrinkled skin bent.
Jailors blind to misjustice life solitary spent.
Nobody’s wife came release day to love.
Back to that house – pigs, straw and ring dove.

Let sometime prove whispers, trust seeping come.
Truth fighters pride – help to those some.
Nobody’s victim, a lesson too late.
Community language, difference love hate.


You Can’t Go Home Again

You can't move in again.
Of course I'll give you a meal. Wait here with Howard and I'll make a picnic and we'll eat on a blanket on the front lawn.
No, I'm sorry but I rented your room out to Howard.
The couch is not available. Why? It's just not. You should have stayed in school or at least kept your job until you found your direction.
Tough love? No, I wouldn't call it that. I would call it 'Tough Life" and we all have to go through it.
I can give you money for the bus and a meal and also a stamped postcard so you can keep me posted on where you light.
No. I can't give you your thirtieth birthday check early.
It's because I love you--not that I don't love you.
What about the picnic?


I See Everything

With each tine, I have plucked the trinity of you.
Heart, mind, life - I have dug at your wildness,
uprooted the plagues of desire. A puritan life
does not flourish in wildflower meadows,
is not Godly, not seemly, of no proper use.
With the eyes in the back of my head, I see you,
droop lines round the killed blush of your tight mouth.
You look at yourself in the lenses, vain as Cassiopeia,
mourning the time when your hair spilled down
your spine like sin, I bet. I feel you, hating me
behind my back, much good may it do you.
Later we will talk about the lace you have put
at the upstairs window. Inside the pinched slit
of my lip-less trap, I am grinding my teeth to dust.
I will cure you yet, woman. That loose curl, making
a serpent behind your ear - I know you are taking
pleasure from its touching of your neck.


The Bed Chase

“She stabbed the cleaning lady so I had to take the fork off her.”
   “Not hard. She blamed her for breaking the plate.”
   “And did she? Break the plate?”
   “I don’t think so, but I’m putting the knives and forks away. We’ll stick to spoons.”
   My father looks me full in the face. He looks ashamed. So this is old age. This is the shit that happens.
   Mum won’t meet my eyes. She’s not ageing well. Not a 21st century, trimmed grey hair, licence fee paid for, free bus pass, full pension, glucosamine tablets and a cruise booked for summer type of ageing. Her grip on reality is twisted and everything else is stiff, unbending, angular. Rigid fused spine, stiff neck, right hand locked inwards at ninety degrees where she broke her wrist and the doctors didn’t do a good job setting it - why bother with the demented ones when there’s so many young sane people in the waiting room.
   My mother is now sullen, fiddling with a lock of unwashed grey hair escaping from her ponytail, wanting to row with her husband but already forgetting why she is angry. My father holds onto the fork with white knuckles.
   I need to erase this ridiculous moment in time. Because moments become memories and I don’t want this one. I say: “Mum, remember how we would make make the beds together in the morning when I was little, before we got the duvets? How we stood opposite each other and pulled up the sheet to meet the pillows then we’d race round to the other side and whoever pulled up the eiderdown up first was the winner.”
   I say: “Mum remember when we did the bed chase?”
   But she won’t look at me.


As Clean as Wright’s Coal Tar Soap

I know a woman who actually
cleans the dirt off a bar of soap.
Her husband is a clean man, too;
always smells of Wright’s Coal Tar.
Spends his days on knobbly knees
planting seed against the will of
God’s own wind. His only mistress
is the land — widely indifferent
to his wife, who dreams of the day
when his manhood ploughs more
than silty soil. And there they stand,
the strangest of company, waiting
for the other to make a first move.


The Proposal

Although the sky was blue, the clouds hung heavy as lead, and the air was close and oppressive. Gus felt as though his collar was glued to his neck, and could scarcely breath, but composed and cool, Marina and Mr Allen seemed not to notice the heat. Marina stood slightly behind her father, and Gus smiled at her, assuming a bravery he did not feel. Marina stared back at him, her expression unreadable. Saul Allen waited silently: his spine, like the pitchfork in his hand, erect and rigid.
          Gus swallowed convulsively, his mouth dry with mounting fear. Finally he summoned up the courage to speak.
        'I mean no disrespect, Mr Allen, sir,' he said, his voice sounding strange in his ears. ‘I…I love your daughter: I believe she loves me. I’d like to marry her. I've come to ask your permission, and, I hope, receive your blessing.'
      For a long moment Mr Allen gave no sign that he had even heard what Gus had said. When he spoke, his voice was as dry as dust swirling over barren land.
    ‘Love…love…you come here and talk to me of love? My daughter is a respectable girl: d’you think for one minute I would hand her over to a no good hill-billy like you?’
      Ignoring the strangled sob from behind him, Saul Allen’s hand tightened into a fist around the pitchfork. He shook it in Gus’s face. ‘Dare to set foot on my land again, and you’ll answer to this,’ he snarled.



He wakes up in the early parts of the morning,
When the rest of his house is sound asleep
So he can put in the extra hours for the sweet dreams of his family.

His children never sees his defeat
Nor his wife sees the pain.
He masks his troubles
in front of his family
Trying his best to hide his discomfort.

When the barns are empty
and the livestock is dying,
The smile upon his childrens' faces
And the full stomachs in his house
Gives this man another reason to go on.

As he lays down to rest
He looks to the corner of the room
Where his pitchfork stands
Unsure if he will have the energy
To go on tomorrow
He bids a goodnight to his companion
For today his work was done.


Now We Both Know

Not once did her eyes break from distant look.
Nor her head move with the slightest of twitches.
Here I stand transfixed, frozen it time with the truth.
My eyes see her every non move yet they pierce this painter of ruin.
Everything has changed and nothing will be the same.
Darling I want to take an art class, she said.


Death of a Marriage

There was a time when I looked at you
with eyes full of adoration--full of innocence.
But now the light in my eyes has dimmed
with the darkness of our murdered love.
How can I say that I love you
when I cannot bear your touch?...
when I cannot meet your eyes?
How can I go on living this lie?
I must confess--
The love I had for you is gone,
banished, forced never to return.
We cannot forget the past
any more than we can predict the future.
And when we said, "Until death do us part,"
were we thinking of a physical death?
or of a death of the spirit--a death of our love?
Because I have been dead for years
inside the cold recesses of my heart.
In that powerful chamber,
so full of the ability to circulate life throughout the body,
I feel--nothing.


The Life You

The life you live is up to you.
The life you make is one you choose.
The life you live can make you ponder.
The life you live is full of wonder.
The life you live is all your own.
You can be a doctor,
a lawyer,
a writer,
an athlete,
a musician,
But whatever you choose,
The life you live should be the life you want to live.
The life I live is quite my own.
My wife, my farm, my children, my crops.
The life I live may be simple.
But the life I live is all my own.


The Attic

The stranger makes his way back to his car. He holds his phone up to his ear as he walks. The way his shoulders slump, and the anxious way he keeps glancing back at the old couple seem to communicate his defeat. Still the old couple stand, seemingly ready to defend their simple home from what little threat the stranger could muster.

"I don' like it, father. This is the third time he's a come askin'," Mother whispers leaning towards him.

Father is silent, as always. Father watches as always.

Mother waits until the car fades from view before glancing back at the attic window. The faded gray curtains, broken only by the now cream-colored sun worn dots, remains still.

"He stares too hard for my likin'. She knows a better than ta raise a fit when company is by. Do ya think she was at the window?"

Father turned his stare to the window. He watched, and listened.

Mother nodded after a moment.

"Ya righ' Father. She know betta, and if she had shown her pretty face I'm sure we woulda seen it in that stranger's eyes..."

Father began to walk towards the house. Mother knew he was upset, but it was no use trying to reason with him. That stranger had been by three times now, he must of known something.

"Now father, you know she hae so little to spare these days. You only go takin' what she can give you now."

Father put down his pitchfork and went inside.

Read more >


Soothing sounds of wind coasting through the trees. Leaving no leaf or branch untouched with its soft touch. The farmers life comes with labor intensive work, but the reward is peace of mind. Nature all around. Unlike nature in other areas of life when it comes to the life on the farm nature is how you learn about the world. Everything that people know about the world comes from these simple ideas that have been around since the start of what we call life. These lessons taught by dirt, trees, wind, moon and sun. Timeless lessons of patience and virtue. All of the seasons play their part, all various types of weather and all temperature. Understanding nature means to understand ourselves. These are the ideas we were bred on. To know these things is to understand the timeless wisdom that is the world.


Lost Love

She could not love him
Like she once did

When May blossom
Drifted through the Orchard
Starred the green carpet
Their embroidered bed

Or in the first summer
Hidden by the maize
A Pale green veil
Enclosing each kiss

He had held her hand
While she wept in the chamber
And the nurse left them quietly
For long hours and long days

But the snow came
And coldness found its way
Through thin slats
And thin lines grew

For nights without a lantern
Don't show in the alley
A lithe frocked figure
Stealing embrace

Read more >


'Ignore them'
'They do not belong here'
'They should not be here'
'What are they doing here?'
'Why don't they go back to where they come from?
- send them back!'
'Don't encourage them'
'Close the curtain'
'Lock the door'
'Turn on the TV'
'What are they doing?'
'Where do they thing they are going?'
'What do they want from us?'
'Why here?'
'Can't they stay in their own country?'
'They look strange.'
'They look different'
'What is their God?'
'What kind of language is that?'

('Oh, he's crying.'
'He's a father.'
'Her son has drowned as they escaped the war'
'So has his wife.'

Read more >

The Negotiator

“This pitch-fork will bring you prosperity and food,” declared Boris, handing his son, Frank, the tool he would use for the rest of his life.

Philippa watched her new husband take the fork and press the points with his thumbs.

“You’re the man of your house now,” continued Boris. “With this you will always be able to find what you need in the land.”

“Yes Papa,” nodded Frank.

Philippa couldn’t help but notice the tears welling in Frank’s mother’s eyes. Were they tears of joy that her son was married? Or tears of sadness that he was leaving? She held out her hand to the woman as Boris pulled Frank aside to embrace him.

“I will look after him Nancy,” she said, smiling and hoping to reassure her. Philippa’s mother had gone to great lengths to explain to her the new duties that as a wife she would have to learn – being a peace keeper and a diplomat.

“If you want to look after my son, take him away,” whispered a teary-eyed Nancy.

“Pardon?” whispered Philippa.

“Throw the pitch-fork away. Make him a suit and follow him to the city. He’s meant for more than turnips,” she hurriedly explained as her lips neared Philippa’s left ear. Read more >


We Dream

I was young and believed all the dreams young girls are told. My pictures books were filled with beautiful princesses rescued from lives of servitude by handsome princes. And, as children… well, as children we dream. We are taught to believe in Santa Claus, or if not Santa Claus then God, and Jesus, and the Disciples, and Moses, and burning bushes, tablets of commandments the defiance of which will leave us burning in the dark unknown.

My childhood was early mornings in the shed. Wrapped in my father’s overcoat, the scratch of wool against my neck, I blew smoke rings in the cold morning air. On the darkest mornings, I stumbled from the cot I shared with Celia, to the basin where I scooped just enough water to wash. Then out to the shed for milking. On the days when my fingers stopped working from the cold, I would press my palms against the animal’s side, my cheek against hers, and take her warmth. I was waiting for my prince.

It was I and Celia who ran the farm after Mama died; yes, Papa was in the field, buying cows, selling pigs, taking harvest to market, but it was us girls who made things go. We drove the wagon to town to get the provisions and animal feed, the flour, milk, sugar, medicine for papa’s cough. No longer going to school, our classroom was now the barn: our lessons those of survival. Miss Pratt had begged Papa to send us back, but “What good would school be?” he asked. “A waste of time for girls.”

Read more >


their sons' names
are on World War 2 memorials
in small towns around Pocahontas
they were miners
they had no mountainside grave
where endless coal trains rumbled



Howdy, my name’s Clarissa. I’m Ma and Pa’s favourite. The representative of the three pronged trinity - truth, justice, redemption. They keep me clean, shiny and sharp. Just like the day they bought me. I know my Ma and Pa are the righteous ones, yes siree. Every Sunday they go to church without fail. Their clothes may be worn, but nothing is ever out of place. They don’t whoop and holler, not like some of their far flung neighbours. They utter their prayers under their breaths. The Lord likes it that way. He can tell who’s the most deserving. He’s not deaf.

I got a couple of brothers, but they don’t scar as good as me. They know their place and I know mine. That’s what Ma and Pa say. It’s a shame other folks don’t act this way too. You know, like the ones passing through, who think they got the right to stare at my Ma and Pa. I don’t like it one bit.

But the worse kind, are those sneaky property prospectors claiming to be the lost. Knocking so hard on our door when Ma’s in the middle of her daily chores, making it shudder. Pa’s out back, the pigs all the company he needs, breaking his back with one of my brothers. Scraping and digging, digging and scraping until the soil's just right.

They think Ma’s house is quaint. Looks like it’s outta some old movie. Beady eyes scanning and calculating. Ma says nothing. Silence is her weapon, learnt that long ago. She enjoys it when they start to get twitchy, giggle to themselves. A thin film of sweat on their greedy brows.

Read more >

American Gothick

That lancet window
under the tympanum
with its Y-tracery–

Not so much Gothic,
with its 'barbarous German style'
(cf. Chartres, Salisbury, Rievaulx)

As Gothick:
Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole,
The Castle of Otranto.

For this man,
believing he has fashioned his house
after the worshipful stone monuments of his forefathers,

It must have come as a shock to find
his wooden villa has become
a horror story.

See pitchfork,
the black pall curtain;
Strawberry Hell?


American Gothic Century

He remembers when his mother’s geranium was the homestead’s only grace. She grew it from a slip she brought out from Sweden, when she and his father arrived, way back, just after the war between the states. Its purple blotched leaves, like fading bruises, have survived locust swarms, tornadoes, the plummeting price of wheat.

She will remember a blue and cream Chevy, rounded in front, sharply finned in the rear. It hulks in the dooryard, shrinking the farmhouse further into the background. There’s no room in the picture anymore for the geranium, but it might have disappeared anyway. Lately it hasn’t flowered so much.

He remembers returning home from the fields the day his mother hung the lace curtain in the second story window. From afar, it appeared like snow falling and drifting, fluttering a cool ghost-like welcome.

She will remember how the second story window looks like an eye, aging, growing milky and sightless. It makes her feel as though God is watching her, malevolently or benevolently, she is not sure which. She could hang new curtains, something brighter, more modern, but they would not alter the church-like certainty of the window itself.

He remembers his mother’s cameo brooch that she wore on Sundays, even when the weather was too stormy to go into town for church. She used to let him hold it for a brief moment, while she was still fastening her white collar under her chin. He liked the weight of it in his palm, the chalky topography of the figured head under his thumb.

Read more >

American Paradox

Thousands of miles away,
In another place and another time,
Familiar in its austerity,
Portrait of hard labour and domesticity
Of colonial farmers - and yet
The grim-faced puritans,
Small-town bible thumpers
That scared me as a child,
As an adult
With a love of horror
And a distaste of kitschy Americana,
Present me with questions:
Who are these tintype people
From an obscure family album?
A satire of small-town life
Or a reassuring image
Of steadfast pioneer spirit?


What The Eye Don’t See

Rats - in the bathroom
in the tack room
in the back room

in the shower, in her bed
unstuffing her pillow
unpicking stitches in his quilt

down in the kitchen
in the saucepans
in the drawers

sniffing out a bag of flour
licking out the dripping bowl

their whiskered features
in her granny's silver spoons.
However, in the smaller picture,

not one spot of rat's blood
on the windows
on his pitchfork

in her hair
or on his specs.
Not one flattened rodent

underfoot. Not one
small expiring body
on the threshold. Ah!

but what those rats don't know
is that this solemn couple
have recently bought shares in Warfarin.



"Now Priscilla, you go on now and plow the fields, y'hear? I'll be moving the hay."

"If you want, I'll be chopping some firewood too, Pa."

"You don't go doing that... that's men's work." A sigh. "And since we don't got no other men around, I guess that just leaves me."

It's always like this. Every day we tend to the earth surrounding our small home. Pa does chores he considers 'men's work', and gives me what he deems the lighter task. Was hard enough trying to convince him I could plow the fields, move the hay, rustle up the cattle. Anything to get out of fixin up the house all damn day.

He was getting old, Pa. But he was so stubborn to realize all these activities were straining him, before he finally relented.

"If only you was a boy..." I know he never said it, at least to me personally, but I could feel it sure as anything. Havin no sons or no man willing to be my husband, I assume Pa was at a loss of what to do with me, except be a farmhand.

Must've been embarrassing for him. Being seen by our neighbors as "Tom, the man who couldn't marry his daughter off and find a decent man to inherit this plot" or "Tom, whose life was so unfortunate as to give him a girl and nothin else."

He was cursed with a me, and thus no legacy in his mind.

Or maybe I was the one who was cursed, having to live my life as a constant reminder that I only survive to keep my father unhappy.

Who knows? Perhaps it's both. One and the same.

Read more >

Prudence and a Pitchfork

We came here to be free,
My mother said. They
Trekked to this place
To farm and to leave me
Landlocked. He
Took me up. We
Persevered and ploughed.
I thee'd and thou'd, as expected.
He grew spare and dessicated,
I was young once and fair
Like the old county.
I knew how to smile once,
Now I am hardly there.
You see him, and work
And church and barn
And sacrifice.
My mother said we came here
To be free.
That did not happen,
For her or me.


The Cameo

He had given her the cameo brooch on their wedding day, pinning it at her throat, piercing the fabric of her wedding dress with its high-necked lace ruffle, his hands not yet roughened and reddened by decades of clutching a spade, a pitchfork, a horse's rein. It had been a warm day, the clouds heavy and low over the church's pointed cross, and she had been embarrassed by the sweat that trickled beneath her white dress; hot from the weather, and from the eyes on her, and from something else too, not yet recognised.

It was my mother's brooch, he had told her. She knew it to be true from the photo of his mother he kept in the ornate and oval frame that stood on their mantelpiece. In the studio portrait, the cameo brooch was pinned at the neck of his mother's black bombazine dress, beneath a face that stared out so stern and severe that she could never picture her dead mother-in-law as anything other than cross and in black and white, although according to her husband the woman in the photo had been a happy soul who had smiled often and sang to him and favoured bright colours.

It belonged to my mother, he had said, and one day it will belong to our daughters too.

But the daughters had died, one after the other. Born pink and plump with a piercing scream that matched her own, each one grew pale and pinched and pitiful. They slipped out of her arms and into the churchyard to join the grandmother they had never met, while she wore the cameo brooch at the neck of her black linen dress.

Read more >


The huge isolation marquee with fitted airlocks tinted the pale pink of the Beaux-Art architecture with a sort of cyan opalescence. He stepped through the first seal and nodded to the camera, itself encased in protective plastic incorporating electromagnetic and radiation filters. They were taking no chances with this one: biological or emission-based, this could not be allowed to become and epidemic.

Anthony Zale, PsyD, looked around at the decontamination array and took a deep breath, something he had been schooled not to do. He had to fight off the momentary dizziness.

“You did it didn’t you?” his ex-wife’s voice on the communicator accused. He chose not to respond and stepped through the second lock, careful to seal all behind him.

The protective suit was just off the rail so the visor did not impair Zale’s view of the inside of the Art Institute of Chicago Building. He had to tear his eyes away from the Dali exhibit and the African art. He’d always had a penchant for the exotic and surreal …or vice versa. He made a note to come back for the Van Gogh exhibit in February …if it was clear by then.

He went through section by section, looking for clues of the dispersal device of whatever agent had caused a teenage couple to sink into a mumbling fugue and left eight regular patrons in a coma. The teenagers had been lucky they had been escorted out for making an exhibition of themselves: kissing in quiet corners was not frowned upon, but there were standards. Those in a coma were not looking good.

Read more >

The Suffering of An Old Art Lover

His friends had warned him, and rightfully so. She disrespected him in any way imaginable. Slept with his enemies, hissed a tssssss after every opinion he expressed, ironed horizontal folds in his clothes. One day he insisted they had their portrait painted. Without him noticing it, she posed staring at a random point in space. When asked why he stayed with her, he said What she does is art.



I count the wood knots in the walls as they commodify my womanhood.

Father baits the line with posture and daughterly compliance and loads the hook with masculine hands and a strong ancestral spine. The suitor commends my inconspicuous bearing and cracks his passionless countenance to lecture on the righteous utility of spades.

My inherited vertebrae swing the balance. An amendment is drafted with five additional Spring-green squares of good grazing. I learn of my betrothal beating bedsheets in a summer shower. Such is my journey to love.

I am exchanged for the immutable squares and articulate my pledge to honour and obey with a dutiful joylessness. Father leaves before the vows to resettle his hungry herds. My blessing is a sanguine sermon on the fates of wilful women.

I blossom bodily in a province of unremitting piety. My husband is beguiled by an altogether different budding. We scourge the flesh of the land with imbalanced utilitarian zeal. My ungentle fingers fatten and scar.

We suppress the passions of our bodies through the exhausting labours of the day. I am commended for the consistency and vigour of my hours and discouraged from inferring opinion in company.

Read more >

Hard Remainders

It must have been bad
whatever happened
to pull your lips
so thin and tight
to pare you down flat
as paper dolls
standing against
a painted house
nothing in your faces to suggest
you might have once
been children
running loose-limbed and easy
through uncut fields
of weeds and wild flowers
even your clothes are flat
without fold or dimension
no hint of any ease
allowing movement
your eyes trust nothing
offer nothing
but suspicion and refusal
and I'm sure if you spoke
your tongues would be
as thin and sharp
and unforgiving
as the tines of that pitchfork
you hold like a promise
of worse to come


You Make Me Feel Un-American

You make me feel Un-American – Norman Rockwell and Grant Wood, Georgia O’Keefe and Andrew Wyeth. I don’t know these places you’re painting. I don’t. They’re foreign to me.

I see farms in movies, small town Main Streets on black and white TV. The tumbleweed and sun-bleached skulls of the west are backdrops for skittering cartoons.

I come from a place where you can only see a grove of buildings, windows facing brick, soot-smeared walls, asphalt and concrete. English is not our native language. We only use it to shout at one another on the street.

Don’t tell me about your wheatfields, your windmills, your pitchforks, your pickup truck, your cows, your pie cooling on the windowsill, your front porch.

You make me feel Un-American. I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me, what you want me to say back when you show me these people on their land, in front of their houses, under the big sky.

We don’t own any land. We don’t have a house. We hardly even have any sky.

We draw grids in chalk on the sidewalk, and we throw our bottle-caps down, and we hop and hop and hop, hoping we don’t fall onto the wrong square. We double-dutch. We sing: I’m cool, I’m fine, I’m Soul Sister Number Nine. We go to the middle of the road and pretend to be tying our shoes when the cars come. We get in trouble for playing chicken during recess.

Read more >

The Wrinkle

Times change in wink of a second, it was just yesterday, when we met for the first time, and today we have crossed half a century. Wars, famines, boom, children, growth and health, we saw it all, but still it seems melancholy and solitary today. The difference between today and the day we married is only one, we do not have anybody near to us. Our children moved to the big city in the East Coast, gold rush you see. We live here alone in this country side, the environs near us have changed, but little did we change during the course of time. We are like the rock which stands tall at its place, its towering height and majestic look has faded away with each passing day. The wrinkles on our face and hand, made it difficult to get ready, but still we dressed in our best. It is morning ten, but we have not got any letters or cards yet, nobody seems to care about us, or we are getting what we did in our youth, when we got busy in our lives, forgetting about our old parents. People nearby us say there is some black device, which connects you to the world, it is really amusing, maybe we may buy it, but who will like to talk to us and whom shall we talk to, in this busy world, nobody seems to be interested in waiting for the people who have stopped.

But, today is our anniversary, and we both are content amongst ourselves, probably we do not require anybody. As, I see the sun rays pierce through the wrinkles of our face, I feel like singing the tune of Frank Sinatra's My Way. 'Yes, I did it my way'. We do not know how long we can escape death, but we both want to live happily till that time. He says, 'There seems to be a party going on nearby', she quietly looks at the right, it is getting noon now, they head back to their home.


American Gangster

The pitchforks in my eyes will sear the fear of god right into you.

My dress is the curtain that hangs in the window like a dark ghost that guards the secrets skulking through our hand-sewn house.

We are the OGs - Original Goths, with our ashen skin and austere miens. We are portentously plain and we live in the plains of your American nightmares.

We travel through labyrinths of maize, flaying husks like the skin of the blasphemous.

We look to the pitchfork for answers. The devil is in the details: He is the needle in the haystack that will sear crosses into your eyes.


Her One Condition

I don’t wonder about you to the same degree the police do. Shameless, I know. Mother said I was lucky bagging a Doctor. She told everybody long before I was even ringed. A Mother worries I suppose. I daren’t start blaming her. I’ve had the curtains drawn all month out of respect. Respectable curtains. You got down on one knee and proposed, remember, Dearest? Even then I could see the reticence about you. The idea of dirtying one knee of your trousers for me. It was too much, wasn’t it? Mother said I was lucky to be dating a man who wore such fine suits. The quality of fabric that now congests all the wardrobes gave Mother many peaceful sleeps. I shouldn’t criticize that. Everything, even suit fabric, has its place. You orchestrated us towards the thick tuft of weeds, away from the dirt road. Dirt gets everywhere out here, be it dry, be it wet. Into all our fissures. You got to root it out before something gets infected. Such fine suits. You found somewhere clean and you got down on one knee and proposed, but I wrong-footed you. Disgust in your eyes. I shouldn’t dwell on the bad stuff. Disgusting eyes, respectable curtains. Shameless of me, I know. I wrong-footed you right at your moment of glory. You could’ve stood up and walked away and nobody would have been any the wiser with that unsullied knee. An option of a clean escape, that’s what the thick tuft of weeds meant. Smarter than me, that’s what Mother meant. I was lucky bagging a Doctor. Still, I wrong-footed you, I said “On one condition.” You were about to scrunch your nose and say “Huh?” I know that now, but you knew enough to suppress it until you got that ring tight round my finger.

Read more >


Does he love me?
Does he care for my existence?
We’ve been unhappily married for 30 years

He never acknowledges the sacrifices I’ve made as a wife and as a woman.
Would he care or notice if I was to simply disappear?
Would anyone notice?

I’ve been living as an unimpressionable person for 60 years.
What’s wrong with me?
Why can’t I just snap of this feeling?

Do I love myself?
Do I exist just for the sheer fact that he feeds me and calls me his wife?
Who am I?

Where do I go from here?
Should I just stay put for another 30 years - just to croak.
No, Helen run!
Run as fast as you can.

It’s never too late to do what you want.
Love and live for yourself.
Escape from this place before that man snaps the picture and become the person you want to be.


Every Morning

High summer
The impossible green of the cottonwoods
The bright sweep of the sky
I see God's hand
The cup of our joy overflows then
With solemn gravity
Into toil
Bright mornings
In their sacred starts
Point in one sweating direction
The north of work
The north of prudence
The north of thrift
The north of faith rewarded
Or grace withheld


Now, Turn

Face looking this way
face looking that, who's
hiding behind the curtain?

Solemnity sets in
and hangs for as long
as the portrait will last,
is she looking at
the pitchfork, trepidation,
or down the road
at some returning
prodigal, afraid of what
he might do?

The cameo on her neck
adorns her, but he is
plain and grave, a farm
where crops grow
with little sympathy.


Long Way

Find out what kind of wood they have,
and paint it. I didn't come all this way just for this.

It really was a long way
to watch your head from behind on the ship and on the wagon, aging and lolling in the lags between waves and wheel rolls until we arrived
and you were totally bald.

Germany to here, Hamburg to Hamburg USA
a long way.

I can still see it when I look,
the old spires, worn thin as tines
on your pitchfork, the stripes on your smock.
Lines pull your face downwards, our house down.

Get the whiter paint next time, the next time,



Derek was once taught by a professor with an impressive cranium: a devout Catholic who encouraged the reading of Bunyan, Defoe, Blake, Conrad, Joyce, Beckett, Roth…

During lectures, Derek would find himself drifting off from what was being said and imagine opening up the skull, to see if he could really understand.



Standing slightly behind her husband,
something she knows hidden beneath the depths
of her apron, a misjudged decision.
Two upstanding figures,
believers in the Bible, hard working.
Miserable expressions born from exhaustion.
A haunted stare, her weak blue eyes
unable to look directly.
Furrowed lines of unspoken truth, chapter and verse
uttered in silence, penance of hard wood on knees.
A thought of flight
trailed by the escaping blonde curl that whispers
on her neck, he is in control.

He is in control, knows she will not leave him.
The pitchfork is sharp and his temper flares.
She needs looking after, guiding. He provides that.
His grip on her firmer than the pitchfork handle.


Times Like These

You can give me a pitchfork,
Stand me beside a woman
I barely know, ask me to
Smile for your work,
And I will not oblige.
I am not up for
Sale, no cause to recreate
My life should be in session.

However, Martha. Margaret.
Mary. Maude. Missy, I
Forget her name, may
Smile for you. And, then again,
Maybe, she won't.
Times like these, we are much
Too busy for shenanigans
And faint resemblances of art.
We are content tilling the land,
Harvesting crops.
But, you wanted to
Paint us with your whimsy
Brushes, eyes bursting & nosy.

So, here we are.
We are at your disposal.
Treat us with respect.
Give us a voice or
Leave us alone.



I know nothing of line and form
the fine interplays of skin and shadow
Why, that single tendril of hair, those smoky clouds in the sick blue sky.
Composition is a mystery, perspective but a magic trick.
A brush in my hand? Mere instrument of destruction. A pitchfork in yours, inheritance.
Accusation in your eyes, your judgment merited. Decades of tending the land, that fierce mistress, waking before dawn in the frozen dead air, longer than I have lived.
I sit and lament the loss of internet connection, and you, you harbor sorrows sharp as spires.
I shall love, find my own constant companion. I shall live, locking moments into thousands of tiny squares, laughter and sunrises. You will wait, clutching always your three pronged livelihood.
I shall suffer loss, enough to split my small beating heart, tissue and blood, unprotected by oil paint. I shall expire, a small fire extinguished. And as the coals smolder, you will stare still.

You are eternal, a joyless, joyless fate.



I’m looking, long into
The distance, to see who’s coming.
The cotton flag flies
high in our yard, flickering colour onto the white porch.
But the curtains upstairs, pulled tight against the day
Fit wrong.

A thin, green line of trees leads up to our land.
I would have asked him to plant more
Had any children been born here.

After seven years hoping, he said a simple life would
Save us. Love for our country, God and work would be the three
Points of our purpose.

I comb my hair each morning, put an apron over my dress,
Wear his mother’s brooch like a badge at my throat.
Childlessness has made me hollow.

The woman looked very near her time. From her bruises, I think
The baby's dead. She takes the stairs on her hands and knees.
Her husband tries to hurry her, as if that could help.
When I brought them back with me, the long line of trees
Played a silent rhythm of shadows on us. I pulled the curtains
In the room upstairs, not wanting her to see who’s coming.


The Visitor

We are old and we stand
at the gate of our farm
on land dusty with bones
ground from our youth
to fertilize the fields
and grow the corn and wheat,
each sheaf a memory
of summer's careless warmth
and honeysuckle light,
before old age came and
took harvest of our hearts.
Now our faces are creased
like fallen autumn leaves,
and our love is barren
like naked winter trees.
Our eyes are old
and unsurprised
by anyone we see
at the door of our house,
even death.



It is altogether grotesque, the way he cannot entreat me with even a crumb of affection...
We pose in front of the house he built, but there will never be a home here, on this cold foundation.
The heavy, frightened heart I hold will be alone until my last day,
unenlightened, loveless... Gothic


Mother-in-law’s tongue

I read somewhere that flattery's the food of fools. My flattery came in brown envelopes and contained solicitous inquiries of my health and home. My parents having died, I rented a small flat and worked in a library.

We carried on our inky friendship, Clement and I, for one year, exchanging grainy, sepia photographs. He informed me that his wife had 'hitched a wagon' and disappeared years ago. Eventually he invited me to work for him on his farm; enclosing directions and a few dollars.

My new employer stood on his porch near a rocking chair containing Ma Harris, his mother. Shyly, I approached them, shaking hands and smiling.

His voice was dust-dry. 'Welcome Abigail, I have prepared some refreshment, after your long journey.'

'Before eating, you would do well to change clothes, to wear something more serviceable for work.' Her voice was icy, quite commanding, for someone her age.

This set the pattern of my new life. Dusty work in the fields, household chores inside, with rare trips into the nearest town by pony and trap. Clem and I tried to establish a friendship, but he always deferred to Ma Harris. I realised the reason why his wife had hit the trail.

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Carved from stone with your head turned
and one lock set free, look to your muse
pulsating at your throat

she will release the swallowed words deep
in your closeted breast.

Run naked through wet grass sister,
taste the siren's scream.

Your father will never rule by fear
devoid of linguistic skills.

A smallholder with false clothing and polished tines
rooted in barren soil, doomed never to turn.


The Trip to Banaras

What are we doing in Banaras? We are carrying Shiva’s trident, can’t you see? We will pitchfork it into the sand, just like he did, and wait for miracles to happen. Maybe I will become a God, like him, and she, this one by my side whom I have known since she was a child in knickers, and have been married to for donkey’s years, maybe she will become my Parvati. Beauteous and bountiful, and me a Shiva, handsome and dark, and a dancer to boot, my body filled with cosmic energy. What a transformation it will be. I quite fancy the look, anything better than what we look like now, dragged up versions of our younger selves, not that we had that much energy even then, we just did the everyday work. Part of it did involved working in the garden, we have done it all our life. And that is where just a few days ago we found this invitation, to Banaras, to participate in the biggest ‘dig and dance festival’ contest, and lo and behold, I won it! There are many contest winners of course, but it could be that my ‘trident’ did the trick, symbolic thing and all that. It did bring a smile to my face then. Now I am here, and waiting. It’s a change from life in a small farm in England, that’s for sure. And once I transform into Shiva, and she into Parvati, I may not go back at all. I dig this space. Ask me to hold my trident higher and dance a jig, and I will. Already, I feel suffused with newfound courage and hope, some youthful swagger has come to my hips. And yesterday night, my Parvati actually hugged me, despite the heat. There is something here in Banaras, I tell you. Happy to be here, trident and all.


Oh Henry

You know your doctor said to lay off the bacon
The Doctor told you to drink your water
He also told you that you can wear contacts
But you still carry that pitch fork around
Waiting for the hay that will never come


A Metaphor

The trident of triumph
With flatness of fright
Signs of sufficiency
An Emir in his right

Neat and clever
Bright and mean
Disbelief and pride
Looks of a queen

Pristine climes
Soundless nights
Silent storms
Wuthering heights

They look for folks
That went to stars
Or the kids
Floundered far

Those defenseless looks
Guarded fear
Of never seeing
Never meeting


“Children of the Wheat”

September 3rd, 1981. A still frame from the set of "Children of the Wheat". Actor Herb Donithan and Actress Sophia Chuster laugh before shooting the final scenes. This romantic comedy takes place in south east Washington state where Jack (played by Herb Donithan) and Jules (played by Sophia Chuster) build a life together on a small wheat farm. Jack and Jules have chosen to sell their condo in the city to give farming a real 'go'. The adventure begins when some local children decide that these 'city folk ought not be in the country' and begin to sabotage everything, Jack and Jules can't grow a damn thing and they don't know why.

- I can only think of 20 or 30 movies funnier than this one. Definitely worth watching, if you have nothing happening in your life. --- Seattle Post Review .



These stares will
melt your lips for
simulating the silence. Don’t
do it

—the sharps are curled and thin, the
language between the space cannot whisper
what has occurred—

and these hands: most are hidden for the reason, upon hiding, the crow spoke dream into the moment’s allegory for leaving

—this home has old hands,
alabaster cool clarity: you are
not allowed within, and its shadow
runs to birth safety behind the trees’
contemporary conceal.


Good People

He grips his pitchfork like a crozier
his glare direct,
ready to stare down all comers.
She looks

"We are Good People here,"
he says,
"tidy, clean,
every furrow ploughed straight
everything in its place,
every weed and wild flower
She says
drops a wilting posy
in the bin.

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How many babies have we buried here? How many fluttering hearts laid to rest beneath this dry earth, under restless heads of grass? The hay never fails to grow, though rain rarely comes these days, except on Sundays when we listen to sermons of floods and redemption that stab me like that old pitchfork you use to turn the hay every third day. Once I looked for clouds, but now I know they will not come and the fodder will be stacked high over my dry cheeks and the cows will flood their young.


Whip hand

He was not, at first, a mean man, just cold. His father was too, and I didn’t know any better at fourteen. They saw I was strong, and that was fine by them, and it was fine by me too, mostly.

I was like a whip, strong and lean and he cracked me with a mere flick of his wrist in whatever direction he chose. I was powerful alright, but never without his hand. Directing my strength to be used for his will.

It seemed, for years, that until he moved me I stayed still. I saw a ventriloquist dummy once, sitting on a bale at the local fair. Without its master, it was unmoving, but not lifeless exactly; the face a distortion of its human owner. I felt like that when he didn’t tell me what to do. I did what I was supposed to, for all those years. Then I didn’t want to do it anymore.

I can tell you exactly why, what it was that changed in me. I learned to read; that was the start of it.

When we went into town, I could read the newspapers and the posters, and the advertisements. The world was bigger than I ever imagined. My mind became elastic, stretching and looping its way round all the information I could now see.

The things I learned about, well, they were impossible and fantastic. Apparently there was a woman in the city who became a doctor. Can you believe it? Also, a sheep with two heads.

I tried to talk to him about the things I saw, but he was a stone, where I felt like a sponge. He seemed to repel this world and its fascinations, where I was sucking them into me like my life depended on it.

Every time I said something, right from my own head, he would get so angry. That was when he became mean, and I felt it every night. He kept me back, locked me away.

The pitchfork was rusty, and when he tripped and the fork went into his arm, he would not let me fetch a doctor. I tried, I promise you, I really tried to explain that I had read about infections.

But of course he stood firm, monumental in his rejection of knowledge to the very end.



I told him no good would come of it but he’d never listen. Like so many things over the years that he’s paid no heed to. All my words gathered in the lines of his face, sitting there like grey dirt that washing won’t shift.

He says let this man paint us. He says this man will give us money and we can go to the hospital. He says if they can’t sort you out, then hell knows we can buy us a baby. I hate it when he cusses, told him that many times too.

I told him no picture. I told him no painter is going to give us that kind of money.

Still he made me stand beside him, in front of our own door. Years ago when momma gave me that cameo brooch and helped me stitch a white ribbon trim on my work apron, I thought one day I’d be happy. I thought I’d have my own little girl to teach to sew, to pass that brooch on to, to teach to sing. Whether it was him or me, I couldn’t tell you. No babies come.

We stand side by side and painter comes and pushes us around like we’re nothing but bread dough. Then painter gives him that pitchfork with the tines so clean and shining. Not a thing that’s ever been put to work, that’s for sure. I get nothing to hold. And then we stand there for hours so it feels.

Painter says we’ll love it when we see how it turns out. I think about the chores that aren’t getting done. Painter says we’re doing so well, holding still. I think about how much money we’ll get paid, but I’ve lived long enough to know, money ain’t everything.

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American Gothic

I clasp my mother's image to my breast,
pin it to the mourning ground of a rickrack yoke.
He holds her in the barn, rakes up memories
brittle as straw, forks them over, pitches them up,
ricks them into a gold dust chapel.

Lord knows, I tried to carve him some relief
but his grief is tempered hard, sharp as tines,
he wears it in the lines of his buttoned-up shirt,
the steely set of his jaw, the torn lapel of his coat.
But I carry the ghost of her in my bearing,

it is I, in the blind-drawn gloom, I against
the tracery, the wedding lace curtain,
the dead-spit behind shuttered slats,
it is I who haunts him, a pale silhouette,
a likeness passed on, a cameo to catch at the throat.


Gothic Americans

We were both smiling just a minute
Before this was painted.

Still laughing at that joke I told
The night before,
When we drank cider and stretched out
On the floor, ever so slightly pissed.
In this we look so stern!
And I'm not even looking at the artist.

You'd just buttoned up the top buttons on your shirt
When they began to paint.
It's cold, you said.
And I made a joke about your bald head
And it took ages for us to make our faces serious again.
I guess we tried too hard.

If that artist had painted us from a bit further away
Perhaps it would have shown
My hand resting in the small of your back.

Straight faces! The artist kept telling us.
We were laughing too much
At first.

But we got there in the end.


Victorian values & black fingernails.

Romance is a rumour
Lost in time
When William Blake wrote about those dark satanic mills
Limewash with Victorian values
Cream coated certainties
Black fingernails grasp
Dirty thumbprint in bread.



Laugh? We used to be almost hysterical. Meal times were our favourite. We’d sit down at the old kitchen table, a hearty meal in front of us, and we’d talk over the events of the day, and there was always something to laugh about. Ma and Pa would see the funny side of everything - animals getting loose, washing flying off the clothesline, antics of their children. No-one I knew was happier at home than us. We all brought friends back after school to play in our yard because they all loved it - the crusty bread speed thickly with creamy butter and jam, the water fights, my parents’ stories. They were in love with each other all their life, and they had plenty to spare for us kids, and anyone who crossed their paths.

That photo? That was one of their favourite jokes and caused a chuckle every time they passed it hanging in the parlour. The young man from the city, on holiday taking photos of country folk, stopped and asked if he could take theirs - a typical farming couple. They posed themselves, in clean clothes and their new fork, serious as they could manage, and he was delighted. Shows the hard life of good folk on the land, he said, and sent them a copy. They were fit to burst telling the tale later, assuming the grave faces and the tragic pose. Only the family could detect the slight twinkle in the eye, the imminent shake of the shoulders, as the rumble of laughter tried to escape.



Once the idea of killing my father entered my brain, nothing could get rid of it.

A proper Daddy’s girl, I loved my father. Always at his side, he took me fishing and hunting. I was happiest in his shed, covered in sawdust, steadying a plank of wood as he cut.

The notion entered my head like a rusted spike the morning I walked in on my mother getting dressed. I knew they fought when he came home drunk. I’d cover my head to drown out the thuds that peppered the darkness. This was the only time I saw the bruises.

She stood by the mirrored door of her open wardrobe, flicking hangers across the rail, searching. She didn’t see me but I noticed that her entire body was mapped out in overlapping, multi-coloured bruises. The fresh black and purple imprints of his fists sat on top of the more faded yellow and green ones like the pattern of his camouflage jacket he wore when we went hunting or fishing.

The sight of her mottled skin aroused a primal duty in me which I didn’t fully understand. It existed beyond language, part of my every breath and heartbeat. I was once part of that battered body, it brought me to life and she kept me safe in its core. My intervention was as unavoidable as the pain of childbirth had been for her.

That evening, I found the rusty old pitchfork that had been replaced by a new one that summer. I left it to one side in preparation. He went to the pub as usual. I listened and waited for the familiar creaks of my mother getting into bed. When the house was finally silent I retrieved the pitchfork and hung around like a ghost amidst the shadows at the front of the house.

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In God We Trust

The clothes we stand up in
And this trusty pitchfork
Half an acre of land
And one barren cow
And the seeds didn't sprout
The deeds at the bank
The loan can't be paid
But we are determined
Our dream will come true
Have faith in the future
What else can we do?



It was the dullest of days. Not a single shadow seen, not a sound heard. All there was to know, was that there was a man with a pitchfork and a wife that was powerless to stop him.

It was only a matter of time. Amidst all the uncertainty, there was a strong sense of tyranny, yet only he knows the plan. With the ferocity in his eyes and the patience which takes discipline to keep, long did he wait for today.

Rusty as the pitchfork, his joints began to maneuver.

Not so swiftly.
Not so wild.

He took a deep breath, and shut his eyes one more time.

All that was left to happen was inevitable.

Little did we know, that behind his back, a dagger so sharp and shiny was in place. That if for one wrong move, he would meet his maker.

Dropping the pitchfork, he thrust the dagger in. So deep, his thumb went in.

To the delight of the lady, she took the pitchfork and beat him.

Hopeless and waiting to die, one final blow before the thin lady sang.

"Why?" he asked
"I have nothing left to say to you -"
"But -"

Before he could utter another word...

The pitchfork, right through his neck.


Our Gothic Dreamhouse

This was their dream.

A beautiful Gothic homestead in the suburbs.

A place where she could cook him meals, knit him sweaters, satisfy his every need.

It was only fair; after all, he had worked for so long for this moment.

Thirty years, in fact.

Thirty years of his life toiling in a field where nothing dared to grow.

Thirty years spent dealing with dry spells, locust plagues and suspiciously poisoned crops.

Thirty years of having her tired blue eyes staring down his back as he walked out of the door to work every morning, only to have the same reception when he came home every night.

Thirty years without intimacy, thirty years childless.

Thirty years in the same country, in the same state, in the same house.

But not anymore.

Now, for the first time in thirty years, they could spend their days side by side, locked in unending holy matrimony right here.

A beautiful Gothic homestead in the suburbs.

This was their dream.


I See You

I look at you from far away.
Your eyes spell years of labored life,
half its existence, yet still full of hope.

I am here beside you.
Yet my presence is far from noticed.
I am your wife, the mother of your children,
a friend foremost.

Words from my lips are tangled.
My touches are cold and trembling.
Love awaits its call... I see you.


csi gothic

no, sheriff, sir
we ain't seen nobody
least not like that
wouldn't have let 'em stay
even if we had, 'cuz
there's grandma's english silver
grandpa's gold railroad watch
and ma here to watch out for
we don't take to visitors
no, sir

and no, my tight pinched frown
don't mean a thing
cold stare neither
that's exactly how i look
every dang morning in the mirror
before and after a clean shave
same look after my oatmeal
no, don't be saying i look guilty
i been like this since i was
seventeen or so

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My mother said
he wasn't a vengeful man.

Sure enough,
there are photos where he's laughing,

holding us,
me and my brother.

That was before our land
shrunk to the size of a hymn sheet,

before they bought the church.
My room's the one above the porch.

Now she can't look me in the eye.
The paint's dry. I nearly ruined his mouth.


Conjuring and Remembrance

The conjuring of what-could-bes and remembrances of things that aren’t restrain me in my woe,
Out of the mist they arise; in their nefarious claws they clutch me, pulling and tearing to and fro,
These brutal behemoths – these titans in tandum! – with me whither I go, Necromantic in their appearance, unkempt robes athwart their forms; the latter black, the former white,
Ghoulish in twain with caustic eyes that wreak pain, upon me to perform the rite.
They bound and suppress, convolve and restrict, and induce the dream of the dead:
In a harrowing chamber I stand hearing only my heartbeat, seeing nothing but thy glowing frame caged up ahead,
I reach to touch but thou’s intangible, ethereal; and neither key nor lock to break the dread,
A reverberation of cackles, devilish and raucous, further enervates my strength to endure,
I look thou in the eyes and fortitude fully wanes; thou’s too enrapturing in thy august allure,
To the cold granite I fall whilst away thou slowly fades, an unreachable apparition who holds the cure.

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This House Between Our Ears

HE: This house between our ears, dearest, is mine.

SHE: Is it not the Trinity's domain?
I see how you look- but you must know!
Nothing is ours; nothing is ours.

HE: Oh, relent!
Relent falsifying ourselves, ourself.
There is no Trinity but my fork!
But we are.

SHE: "But we are." Of all the pitch
You could speak, that is the most defiling.
This house between our ears, darling, is cold.


Beside Him

She blamed him.

Her only son, gone, fleeing a whirlwind of angry words, running with his dreams held close to his chest so they would have a chance to see daylight. So they wouldn't be shut up in this backwater, being strangled slowly, like she was.

Thomas was the only reason he had ever given her to smile. That little bundle of joy she had birthed and held and nursed and loved to strong hopeful manhood.

And now he was gone. Gone and she would likely have to wait until the old coot died before she could see him again.

Cora was mad. And wracked with grief. And tired of the way her mean-spirited husband trampled every frail shoot of joy her heart dared to tend.

But there was planting to do. Or there would be no harvest. And there was no living without a harvest. Nothing to eat and nothing to trade or sell. No, this was the time to plant. Time to dig in and do the necessary.

She would sit by the window that night and weep bitter tears, praying and asking God to protect her boy out there in the world. She would give in to the hurt and the anger and cry over how unfair life was as she stared up at the sky, the multitude of bright stars bearing witness.

But now, she would plant. Beside him. As she had promised to live beside him under that old oak tree all those years ago.


Josiah, Rebekah and Ruth

The tines of the pitchfork stabbed deep into the hay bale pulling strands of grass free of the compacted mass. With a practiced flip of the implement, hay was sent flying over the wooden stall door to scatter across the stall floor. There was no doubt that farm work was harder with just one. Thankfully, tomorrow a new bride would come home with him. Pausing in his labor he leaned on the handle of the pitchfork, wiping at the sweat that beaded his brow. It had been a long time since Josiah had help on the farm. His first wife Rebekah, God rest her soul, had been a good worker. Right up until the unfortunate incident with the Bishop.

A good woman, Rebekah had the unfortunate habit of gossiping. It didn’t matter what she talked about, so long as she was talking. For a man as taciturn as Josiah it had been a relief to have a home full of life and chatter. That was, until Rebekah turned her gossip towards the Bishop’s wife, Sarah. A good woman, plain, hard working, everything an Amish woman should be. Rebekah, well she was a hard worker, but she was undeniably attractive and she knew it. Hidden in the bed chamber were the pots and tubes of skin cream that she used daily. A vanity, one that Josiah reprimanded her for. Rebekah refused to listen to him, instead arguing that they kept her beautiful for his eye.

He regretted it, his heart ached each time he thought of it, but it had to be done. The Bishop said so.

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Perfect Hit

"Do you think anyone saw?"
"I hope so, now let's get these masks off."

With that the assailants went their separate ways, leaving a devastated, wholesome American town in it's wake.

Neither had any remorse as the stories circulated, the media descended, a dark history dug up.

The horror.

"This sort of thing just doesn't happen here." "Clearly a random attack by a sick couple." "They just went at him with the pitchfork."

As the story progressed.

"No one knew a thing." "WE just can't believe it." "We'd know if that sort of thing was happening in our town."

As the story progressed.

"Everyone sort of knew." "We always had doubts about him." "I'd heard rumours, but nothing concrete." "He was always weird."

As the investigations took place.

"Town complicit in covering up systematic abuse."

In the beginning.

"Here is the money. Here's his name. Cover your tracks and I'll expose the rest. Make him suffer."


Thoughts on being led by a title

Yes they’re almost certainly American;
his denim dungarees, her pinafore,
their, slightly puritanical, faces
tempered by early morning milking
and harvesting ‘til sunset.

But the only hint of ‘Gothic’
is that window, something of a frippery
in a clapboard farmhouse,
with its blind pulled down
so no one can see
what lies within.

And somehow,
one word conjures
a third inhabitant,
the daughter/dragon,
son/shape-shifter, safely
shielded from the baying hordes
by a lace-edged blind,
a mother’s love,
and a father who’s pretty nifty
with a pitchfork.


American Gothic

Weathered as the barn behind them,
hard-eyed and narrow, this pair
has a history that never needs to be spoken—
all the bad harvests, floods, ill fortune.
A few sparks shielded between their palms.
What little they own they built themselves.
No patience for roses. When they look
at the golden fields, they see only
what those sheaves will buy—a new roof,
some boots, a mule. If they could speak,
they would say we must wrestle this angel,
the earth, until it yields, must take what we can
before the storm comes, before we return to dust.


When we Walked with Jesus

Dear Mr Pitchfork, I used to love a
girl from the A1 corridor who looks
just like Mrs Pitchfork. I was always
a periphery man, preferring the
atheist cookbook, to anything Godly.

She loosely believed in Jesus Christ her
Saviour, made it clear if we had kids then
each and every one would have their head wet
in a font. I asked if she understood
the concept of original sin, if
she believed that kids were inherently

evil. Oh no, she said oh no, I'm just
a girl from the A1 corridor and
that's what we do, we drive with Jesus. Fine
I said, fine, but I could feel the keys to
my car burning deeply in my pocket.


Mountain Folk Tale

It was chilly up the mountain.

There the man used to have a long beard,
& as he walked his long hair
used to touch the ground.

Once in a while a woman went to see him,
they made love quietly, the world
below alien, cold, distant & grey.

The man would bring the logs for the fire;
the woman smelled of dew
and the river when it’s spring.

The clouds were like wallpaper
with the colour of pale rocks.

To talk they didn’t use words;
they used their eyes instead.

It was chilly up the mountain,
but all they wore were their own skins.

Time passed. She moved in.
He lost his hair & lost the beard.

Time passed. No one else would come
& see them. They lived in happy silence.

One day, the debt collector passed by.
They lost the house and all.
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Stale, gritty, bitter and tough, that's the way my parents were. They followed a philosophy stricter than any alcoholic follows the drink and were as straight as any row of corn. It was a reputation that most scarcely attempted to believe, but it wasn't because they didn't believe me but more so they didn't want to. It's difficult to find the correct order of letters to convey the emotions that they attempted to instil. I was told that the sky was fused with the ground and the moon was nothing but a rock. Stars were lights to which were never looked at more than once a night. I left for the city a while ago and attempted to drench myself in colour; resurrect my mind and carve something out of the stone it had become.

There was love, of course, but not in the way you think you understand. It wasn't tough love. Tough makes it sound as if it were chewable. That with enough gnawing of teeth it would break down into something possible to swallow. No. This love was a ghost. It was there but it took a certain amount of persistence to believe it existed. And it did. Don't get me wrong. They allowed me to leave and made sure I had their thoughts as I left. 'No time will dissolve the way we think of you. Go live but remember you live wrongly.' That's what they said as I left with my small leather bag to leave for the train station. It wasn't surprising to hear them disagree with my decision but it hurt nonetheless. It's like when your parent say, 'I'm not angry, just disappointed.' Anger can be wiped away, disappointment is like a stain.

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Veins and Calluses

The sun stared down at him as Harvey took out his towel and wiped his brows. It was an especially hot day. The wells were drying up and people were migrating out to other states and greener fields.

“Daddy, come inside, the food is ready,” Bethany called out from within the house.

Bethany and Henry: his two kids were all the motivation he needed. He could endure everything on the Earth. It wasn’t a responsibility, but a drive, like a lion providing for his pride.

He went in, looked at the clock. It was 1pm. His life had been like a broken record, repeating itself endlessly since Emily passed away, since thirteen years.

He looked at his hands; they were that of a veteran full of calluses from the pitchfork and shovel that he used for work daily, just like his father; that made him look up at the picture on the wall of his father and mother. His father would always wield a pitchfork as if it were a weapon.

He sat down to eat, looked at his children. In them he remembered Emily. They had her eyes, so lively and blue, like the azure sky after a rainy morning.

Rain, when had it stopped raining? The dry spell had gone on as far as he could remember, quite like his life after Emily passed.

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It’s tote-bag art-print T-shirt-worthy now
re-done by Family Guy, Riff Raff and Magenta, The Simpsons and myself

in a similar dress I wore the day we buried mum
with my tie-less ex covering his crap teeth with his top lip

while I gazed out to sea instead

I thought he looked like Robin, my old boss, and she resembled Caz from cross the road, and that’s ok, the fitting in of people that you know,

replacing faces that we’d raise an eyebrow to if down the shops, and say

Hello. Like seeing someone famous in the street and greeting them then feeling stupid later. Not much chance that that would happen with these two. Paintings very rarely come to life.


Ain’t No Wall High Enough

I'm gonna build a twelve foot wall
around this here homestead – Mary Lou.
Ain’t no one gonna stop me.

I am sick and tired of those pesky
kids running through ma property.
Fetching their goddamned balls.

But they are only children Donald.
There’s no real harm in them.
A wall ain't the solution.

Don’t you contradict me wife.
I told you before – this is ma property.
My name is on them their deeds.

I own you as well so just
mind who you are a talking to.
Watch your language woman.

And listen up no pastor ain’t
gonna lecture me about
building bridges and not walls.

I’m a God fearing Christian.
I love ma Country and ma people.
But I will take a pitchfork to the rest.


A Little Light

The soil yields
as God allows it
to yield,

but there are
certain things
He will not give:

a little light
to soften
the sun,

a gentle breeze
to cool
my brow,

a sweet word
to make
me turn

and nod
and know
that I can rest

and savour
the sun
as it sets;

a song to follow
my shadow
home to,

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When he died, grey drapes were drawn
in the empty schoolroom.

Twelve boots drummed dust
from bare floorboards.

Somebody read second-hand words, drearily
quoting chapter and verse.

As the mourners went off, one woman’s eyes
smiled in the sunshine, as she rehearsed

plans for young Seth from the village
and coloured curtains . . .


Simpler Times

A rooster’s crow
cracks the dawn,
much too early for
a city brat like me,
used to a snooze
button, wanting five
more minutes of
sleep, then five more.
Here, a guest in a
place out of time,
swaddled like a baby
beneath a patchwork quilt
on a featherbed,
centuries from the Serta
waiting for me at home.

The air is delicious with
the aroma wafting from the
kitchen where “Ma”...
everyone calls her that…
makes her famous
oatmeal, not the kind
from a Quaker Oats box,
but from the fields outside
her window, where the
grain dances gently with
the prairie breeze.

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In Optimism

What can you see in my eyes?
Echoes of the past, stories of the present, future hopes?
All of these, but nothing. Deceitful anticipations of moments lost.
We travel together but alone. My neighbour, my friend. My thoughts – a place for curious indulgence. Fused with dreams.
In optimism.
And here I am. Living my life. Enclosed by the saccharine melody of the world’s disappointments and realisations.
I am a fragment of my existence. Unfulfilled. Insignificant. But still my fragile choices loom with the quiet determination of an orchestra’s prelude. I can follow my heart and make the voracious decisions I once flouted.
So determined in my ways. So convinced. I am exceptional. I am the one who can reason with the untamed dances of the world.
Why should it ever be too late?


Family Portrait

Kathy's scrolling through photos of Jem and me. My daughter Sal sent them from her iPhone after her recent 'duty' visit. Kathy points at an unsmiling one of us standing outside the house. Jem's holding his pitchfork like a trident.

'I'd delete that one,' she says, although I haven't asked her which pictures she thinks should go. 'Is he trying to look even more like the Devil?'

'He'd been putting fresh straw in the sty ready for the new pigs,' I say. 'He was probably longing to get back to work.'

'Jem's rearing more pigs?' Kathy looks incredulous although she knows very well it's his retirement hobby. 'I don't know how you can stand it when they go to the abattoir.'

Jem calls my sister ''the rabid vegetarian” – says even the mention of his pigs makes her foam at the mouth. Sometimes I wish they'd get on but you can't expect anything of families.

'Pigs are extremely sensitive animals,' she continues. 'Their brains are more like ours than any other creatures, apart from chimpanzees.' She carries on looking through Sal's photos. 'There isn't one of these where you don't look as if you've swallowed vinegar – bitter. What was Sal thinking?'

I reach for the leaflet I'd been reading earlier about Kathy's new gadget – the Nutribullet. She blended us some spinach, seaweed, blueberries, melon and chia seeds it in earlier for our midday meal. Not my idea of a liquid lunch.

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Manifest homestead

We stripped back, we shook,
we prayed – for what? For everyone
coming after us, chasing along
the Eastern seaboard, coming up
unchecked from dusty Latin badlands,
to put their stakes and claims down –
trump us! on this land that is our land,
though we know it was someone
else’s land first, but God made it
manifest and who are we to question
Him, now that he has come back even
with this unorthodox spelling of His
name? He tells me that when I lift
my fork in anger I am right.


Those Not Here Any More

Their daughter is missing.
See it in her eyes, askance
as they grew into as habit from not long
ago, the weeks after her youngest left.

He knows forthright, straight
at you as the way to handle herding dogs,
daughters, dawn, and raccoons
clawing at the chicken coop.

He cannot yield over what he said
to the girl who sought the dancing,
lights, late night rides to town
so much to climb out windows.

He is so certain of what he knows.
She wishes her daughter knew
how his kindness burned away
in drought, bad seed, and the boy

who left first, after stealing
from the lawyer’s office in town.
She loves her husband still
as women come to know men

over the long haul.


You Are The Woman Behind The Pitchfork

When he’s working in the field,
with the pitchfork
you are in the kitchen. Steam
catching your face and skin
covering this place –
a room you never asked for.

You go to the acres yourself
the lands you both apparently
own. What is yours and his
is divided in the rooted trees
and carrots and potatoes –
his grown treats, brought
to you, to prepare, a ritual,
a thanks, an upheld agreement,
an abiding of a contract.

The land is soiled and treated
you step on an onion. It cracks
and weeps. Its tears remain
under your boot. You break
a small part of him, only
he will never know it. You
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The Louder Silence

His thin lips sealed a silence that I could only guess at. What secrets did the house contain? What drove his grip to grasp with such firmness that polished trident? Boldly, his eyebrows raised, unafraid of confrontation. Within the honesty of his bare head were the thoughts and reflections that he would take with him to his funeral day.

Her silence went unnoticed.



This is the silent
life we used to know
only briefly

I was old and she was
old and you were the pitchfork

We kept you in the barn
and deeply apologize
No, really

We tended the earth
and grew the crops just
a few yards from the Denny's

I once grew a cucumber
in the shape of a tomato
unless I just mixed up the seed

Growing and living
until a man in a bright
yellow hat came and told
us to stow off

Dragging us from our home
back to the institution.



After church she’ll see to lunch
as he finishes cleaning out the barn,
where the sounds of clucks and moos
have been replaced by the solitary buzz
of a fly in the low-hanging heavy heat of a summer afternoon.
The bank said they’d be sending someone out
around 3 to inspect the property.
The front yard’s been mowed
and all the dead flowers cleared
from what used to be the garden.
Old children’s toys and dog bones
turned up out of the dry, cracked dirt
and it seemed like fifty years were erased
just like that.
Standing in the kitchen over a pot of beans,
watching her husband’s tired descent
toward the front door,
she remembers the preacher’s words
about how God makes everything
work out good for those who love him.


Don’t do it

Her eyes said
Her voice lost
in the fog that descended upon them
She followed the tight lines upon his face
Skin stretched, nailed by piercing eyebrows
His jaw, a geometrical figure
she learnt nothing about
But the instrument in his hand
was familiar
A murder weapon
Three-pointed like his fear, anger
and paranoia

Somewhere flesh leapt and grew sated
under humid blankets
unaware of its ephemerality
It would later that day be
into a unpleasant memory


Another One

'So we are being put out, aren't we? Oh, wipe off that surly look from your face! It's your fault, drinking away the profit from the land. How many times have I warned you? Now you act like you are being martyred, yet you went looking for it. I am losing everything and its your fault, you just had to drink every last drop from the tavern! So what you planning to do with that pitchfork? Y'all wanna hack these poor men from the bank cause they didn't warn you last night when you were buying them booze? Serves you right!'


My Husband

The sky is mottled with a dusky brume of smoke hanging guiltily over the church, clinging to the shingles trying to disguise itself and the deed it has done. The pitchfork. The blood. The screaming. He used the pitchfork to prod and to push and to skewer them onto the flames. Doing great works for the glory of God. He has no doubt what he did was right. His face taught, his mouth set, his lips tight. 'This is what we have to do to protect our children,’ he shouted as he rallied the other faithful around the pyre that morning. She, however, has doubt now. Doubt in this man who could do these things, that could drive others to do those things. This man, her husband. The vacancy behind her eyes doesn’t leave, each new week, each new pyre, each new death haunts her. Although nothing would ever compare to the hurt of those three sharp pitchfork tangs as in one final push he hefted her onto the pyre that late summer morning.