I am reading a book for work
and you are checking
the camping equipment,
the tin saucepans
nestled into each other,
plastic shapes of
spoon and fork.

A sleeping bag has a rip in it.
I am still reading.
You tell me there is a hole
and I tell you where the sewing kit is –
a rabble of threads, needles half in, half out
of packets, you are amused
by the show of how much I care, how
often I sew.

The next time I look up – you had gone quiet –
you are sewing the tear
with neat stitches

with each stitch I feel something rip a little
as I read, and you sew.

Soon you will nestle
the children into
bed because
I have a
conference call.

Stella Hervey Birrell

By the Roadside

As he waits for his turn
at a dingy barber’s shop
called ‘Lovely Saloon’,
he watches the road,
people moving up
and down:

An attractive girl, her left hand on her left ear,
looks directly at him
and exclaims, ‘Shut up!’

A young man, his left
hand holding his left ear:
smiles and smiles at no one.

A lone woman, her right hand on her left ear,
her face to the sky, asks, ‘But where?’

Another woman, her left hand on her left ear,
suddenly thumps the air: ‘Yahoo!’

A girl with long hair, her left hand on her left ear,
briskly nods at the ground.

A middle-aged man, his left hand clutching his left ear,
raises a finger,
and with eyes blazing,
twists his lips agitatedly.

Seeing these people,
he recalls two old
Khasi* sayings:
‘Do not talk to yourself
like a lunatic’
‘Do not mumble all alone like a sorcerer’.

He thinks,
either the maxims
have lost their relevance,
this is an age
of ear-clutching lunatics.

* Khasi tribe from Meghalaya, Northeast India.

Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih


Across her lips, dark
shiny locks interlock like
a venus flytrap.

Nat Steinhouse

Melted Girl

Mixed girl microaggression
at multiracial family gatherings.
Mixed girl model America’s
melting pot. No hate crimes
if everyone melds into one.
Golden hues pronouncing
“This is your diverse America,
where we lose all identity
till our colors become one.”

Christina Gayton

One of them caught him on the leg

One of them caught him on the leg, one of the birds with the razors attached, when they were released into the ring. At the time he thought nothing of it. Just a little nick. He’d put a plaster on it later. Not going to distract him from the thrill of the fight and the lure of the money. And in the thick of the action, among the cheering and jeering, the pushing and shoving of the crowd, he completely forgot the slight twinge in his calf. Ironically, it was his bird that did it; the one he had backed, the one that won big for him.

It was only later, when the crowd had dispersed and the adrenaline wore off, that he realised the extent of the damage. Someone applied a tourniquet, helped concoct a plausible cover story. They’d clear up after him, don’t worry. Just another bloodstain in the sawdust.

Someone dumped him in a lay-by, far enough away, where he counted his money and tried to persuade himself he was only shivering because it was three in the morning. He went over the details of the cover story in his head again and again, but by the time the ambulance arrived he was in no position to tell it.

Nick Lord Lancaster

Domestic bliss

He gave her his name
As much a gift as syphilis
A tattoo that nobody wants
Blood beading around pools of black ink.

She lost her sense of humour
He’s hidden it away between folded towels
In the airing cupboard.
He always apologised
When she snorted
As if laughter on the lips of a young woman
Was a bad smell at the dinner table.

In amongst the pots and pans
She’d left her dignity somewhere
Because now she acted out the scenes
‘Put it in there, then in there, then in there’
The ones that she came to recognise
After work on his computer screen.

She missed her allowance for two months
When they bought a new bed
That they’d spent three Sundays
Admiring in the Pine Warehouse
Searching for a conversation.

But when he said ‘this is where
We will make our family.’
Bile rose in her throat and stole her tongue
She spent three hours boiling the sheets
Hoping that she too could stay
Clean clean clean.

Maggie Dye

Dying is a warm beer

A snap of the glove
the curve
of the latest finger

my pearls
turn into
black pools.

With every thorn
I squirm
like the new child
my pink face
crumples like paper.

Blue, blue
this costume is mine
until I’m new.

I lay awake
on my sticky bed
with all my neighbours

I’d never known so many
shades of white.

Dan Stringer

Dream sequence

‘Just do me a favour,’ he said
‘Check over my figures –
Something just won’t add up.’
I fix it
in three hours
and press my lips together.
My smile is as convincing as his
Toilet-bowl white teeth
Mashing together
Falling over his tongue
As he races to affix it to
A board member’s behind.

Is who I am now
It’s embedded in my genes
Maybe if I tried
I could read this report in Latin
But instead I make notes in shorthand
A revered ancient language.

‘Whose report is this?’ ejaculates Mr Board.
A nervous brown tongue flicks over
Those toilet-bowl teeth
I am silent.
‘It’s mine,’ he says.
Mr Board turns to me –
‘Just do me a favour’
‘Get that in the notes,’ he says.
I press my lips together.

In the doctor’s surgery
My lips are parted
For the third time this month
In his endless quest to fix my insides
By gently chipping away at them.
I hand him the chisel,
but he looks up, annoyed.
‘Just do me a favour,’ he says
‘And try to relax.’

At home
I try to relax
but the phone keeps ringing.
My mother is calling
to check that I still cook her recipes.
He asks: ‘do we know what we are having for tea?’
We do not.
He comes behind me
and links his arms around my waist
face in my hair.
He says
‘Just do me a favour.’

Meg Russell