A Poem by Paul Chuks

Let Me Show You How To Grieve

After reading Praise Osawaru.

X
Get into your room/
Pale its light into darkness till it’s another evening in the medieval period/
Sit on anywhere bed chair floor.

X
Stroll into your memory – where fossils of your loved ones come handy/
Your mother slept & made history’s longest slumber/
Your sister died from a sanguine gas attack/
Their shadows now lurk around the walls of your memory like the seven planets does around the
sun/

X
Launch your voice at them/
Permit yourself to believe they can hear you/
Tell them the world dropped on your shoulders the moment they followed the grim reaper & say that
your bones now suffer osteoporosis/
Give them seven days ultimatum to squander in absentia & pierce back into
the cosmic curtain to prepare that sweet soup one more time.

X
Stroll back into reality[your room]/
Cry, knowing it’s not possible. Cry. Wail. Weep. Slap the wall. Cry. Wipe
your left cheek. Cry.


Paul Chuks (He/Him)is a Nigerian poet, writer and song writer studying at the University of Benin, Edo state, Nigeria. He has appeared or is forthcoming in streetcakemag, kalaharireview, Logicneuro, Afritondo, Tralitmag and was recently shortlisted for The49thstreet’s top ten poets in Nigeria. When Chuks is not reading or writing(songs), he’s criticising the hiphop game or he’s mimicking Michael Jackson.

‘For I Have Sinned’ by Bryan Joe Okwesili

It is a cold Wednesday morning. The harmattan breeze settles over the city like the heavens have come to meet the earth. It touches the earth and everything is brown and dry and cold and more brown. It is mid-November but the people on the streets have begun to talk about Christmas, its merry moments and how everything skips past with each bottle of beer. You want Christmas too. Your mother says Christmas has a distinct smell, and that fried beef tastes better then. You inhale but dust fills your nostrils. You put a palm over your nose and quicken your steps. You must meet God and tell everything.

The church is a warm embrace when you enter. It is like heaven doesn’t touch here. A statue of a bleeding Jesus stares down at you, eyes sullen from pain. The pews shimmer under the tiny bright lights on the ceiling. In a dim corner is the confessional; a space where trapped sins roam. You walk up to it, your heart clinging to your throat, ready to jump out. 

You cross yourself, then you kneel. There is a purple curtain before you, keeping you from seeing the priest. You wonder if he can see you, if he has the same clenching tightness in his stomach. 

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It is three months since my last confession.” You pause. You cannot feel your tongue. “I am a student of Biology at the university,” you continue, “This is my confession.”

You spend a few minutes going over trivial acts you knew wouldn’t count as sin; a mild quarrel, a swear, a midnight erection, but you said them anyway, because the things you truly wished to say were broken vowels, refusing to stick back together.

“Is that all?” An airy baritone arrests you. 

The church is suddenly hot. You can feel beads of sweat running down your thighs. You remember your holiday in Kano, last year, and how the sun there was always a boiling orange. When your mother asked you if you would like to visit there again, you told her that Kano felt like hell, but a busy hell. She laughed.

“Can you know a thing and never speak of it?” You ask, peering into the curtain.

A chuckle sieves through. 

“I am under oath,” he says. You bite your lips. Of course he was under oath, you have heard about the Seal of Confession.

You drag in air, a little too much, and as quick as you blink, you say, “I lust after a boy.” There is silence from the other side. You can feel air leaving your body through your ears. “Father, I look at him the same way I look at girls, and I think of us entangled in bed, naked.” More silence. “Tell me what I should do to stop this. I know this is not of God. It is the devil, Father. It is him.”

You try not to cry. You want him to say something. Anything.

The last time you touched yourself, you were alone in the bathroom, trying to hold a mental picture of him in your head. You saw his face, then his lips, and when his butt swayed in your head, you stopped and let the soap slip. That night, you invited your girlfriend over and while you were inside her, you told her you would write a poem about slippery spiders. She stared at you and for a moment, you thought she would scream and run out. The next day, she told you you were weird. It was not a compliment.

“I once loved a boy in the way one loves a girl too,” the priest says, finally. Your heart skips, a painful thud. You want to snatch the curtain away and slap the priest. You do not know why. 

“How did you overcome it? How did you win against the devil?” You ask.

He chuckles again.

“There is no devil. It is natural. One can only manage it, for love is of God. And God is love.”

“How do I manage it, this love?”

Right. Wrong. Just. Evil. The priest is saying so many things you do not understand. You nod. ‘Love is a thing with faces’this is how you would write it in your diary. Or perhaps, a poem.

As you step outside the church, the sun sits in the sky blurred by the harmattan fog. The earth is now warm, heaven ascends slowly, you can see the full stretch of palm trees in the distance. 

You walk to a corner beside the ixora hedges in the church yard and remove your phone from your pocket to call your mother. You tell her you can smell Christmas and that you can’t wait to see her again. Then, you begin to cry. She doesn’t tell you to stop. She only says, she understands. You cry the more knowing you cannot know a thing and never speak of it.


Bryan Joe Okwesili is a chocolate-loving realist. A poet and storyteller keen on telling diverse African stories. His art have appeared and are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Brittle paper, Lunaris, Expound, Kalahari review, African writers and elsewhere. He is currently a student of law at the University of Calabar, Calabar.

Yusuf Akman

Like Someone in Love

so much for banking on
what’s taken for granted –
floating at the bed of a deflowered giant mussel,
the foam-tinged slut’s wool
occupying the corners of my emptiness;
I wet my moss-coated lips
in the remnants of your salt –

ah!
to be the same boy
who used to spread his legs
to be tidal
and feeling your withdrawal,
while listening to “Blonde” by Frank –
o/shhhhhhh/n –

a wave
engulfs
in my head –

then I recall the cursed early morning
heavy with silvery spring
there the clouds tricked our eyes
and we laughed, and we laughed like fools
with the quiver at the tip of our noses,
sun-kissed screens under our lids
mistaking a disaster
with what it is not –

waves
loop
in my stomach –

Amphitrite (my trident):
hold my hair back
while I’m bringing him back
out of this maelstrom.


Yusuf Akman was born in Denizli, Turkey. They are a senior philosophy student at Boğaziçi University whose literary focus revolves around what having a queer identity in Turkey is like. Their works appeared in the online journals Trampset, Raised Brow Press and Resurrection Magazine. Twitter: @Akman_Yusuf_

‘The Return’ by Kim Fahner

The boat left the pier and headed out beyond the bay, to open ocean. So far to go before they reached Ireland’s Eye, Maura thought, as she pulled her sunglasses from the swirl of her hair down over her face, to cover her eyes. In her mind, she was Grace Kelly, but a Grace Kelly without a floaty chiffon scarf billowing in the wind. The image was ruined when the wind took her hair, shoved a stray lock into her mouth. She grimaced. This was not the cinematic affair she had intended, booking the trip off the coast of Newfoundland to return something that needed returning.

The captain looked archetypal, all seaworthy and salty. She squinted through the sunlight to see if there was a stray whale off in the distance. No whales, but one errant iceberg. 

She yelled across at Brian. “Can we go out there? To see it?” He didn’t seem to hear her so she pushed the sunglasses back up onto her head, as if that would help—to make eye contact—and then yelled, more loudly, and much more slowly. “Brian! Can. We. Go. Out. There?! To see the iceberg?”  

“No way, missus. That’s further out than you’d think, that one. If we did that, I couldn’t take you out to the island to see where your people lived. So. Iceberg or island. Your choice.” He tilted his head, smirked. 

She tried again. “If I gave you more money? Would you take me out there, too? Could we go there first, and then to the island on the way back?” He could hear her, she knew. He was just being an asshole.

She tried again, tapping at the bohemian bag that she’d slung diagonally across her chest. “For. More. Money?” She smiled, maybe even thought about loosening the top two buttons on her shirt. She wanted to see the iceberg, as well as the island, and she wasn’t one for taking no for an answer. 

Brian shook his head, sadly. “Nope. No doin’ today.” He looked skyward, searching the cloudless sky. “Might be some bad weather coming…” 

In her mind, Maura rolled her eyes, but in reality she just put her hand up to her neck, then dropped it down to loosen the top two buttons. Shameless. Watched his eyes drop down, then slide back up to meet hers. Her grandmother would scold her, if she could see Maura now. Such a hussy.

“Listen. Brian. I’ll give you more money. Out there to the iceberg, then back to the island.” Batted her eyelashes, and then patted the bag again.

He waffled, looking at his watch. Pretended to check the time. Cleared his throat. Yelled at her. “Okay, okay. A hundred more, and you’ll see the iceberg. But we aren’t staying long…” 

Maura turned then, face towards the sea, so that she could pretend he wasn’t in the boat with her. Listened to the sound of the boat’s motor roar, the way the water churned itself up ‘something fierce,’ as her grandmother would’ve said. Her hand drifted to the bag that sat in her lap. Felt it in her gut, then in her heart.

Brian knew, he did, why she was coming out here, to the island. She’d told him when she’d called. A friend of a friend of a family friend had connected her. “No worries, Maura. He’ll take you out to the spot, put the boat against the rocks, and let you scatter them on the land. No worries at all.” 

She looked off to the right, saw the island passing by, and felt her heart sink. They’d left there about eight years before she’d been born. She’d never seen it, but only heard stories of what life had been like there before they’d been forced out, to the mainland. Fishing, some gardens leading down to the water, the church, and the black rock in the tickle, the one you had to steer around to get into the harbour. She’d only seen the pictures, so it all seemed unreal. 

Brian yelled at her over the motor. “See that? Over there? The eagle?!” He slowed the boat.

She turned, then, but couldn’t see. She shook her head. “No. Where?!” 

He pointed with his arm, with his whole body almost. “Follow where my fingers go. There. On that tall point of land? It’s up there.”

She caught it then: strong, carved almost, and somehow defiant. 

Brian yelled. “They used to watch their littlest ones, you know?” 

“What?” Maura yelled back, confused.

“The eagles used to swoop down on the cod, and then one or two took a small lamb or chicken. But then the islanders were worried about the children…” He shook his head, his eyes going wide. 

“Kids? Eagles taking children?!” 

“Never let them on that side of the island alone. Always with an adult in tow.” He pulled his sunglasses over his eyes now, ending the conversation, and revved the motor again. “Just eagles here now…”

They got to the iceberg before the half hour was up. He slowed the boat, killed the motor, let them drift at a safe distance. 

“Do you want to put some of them here, then, too?” His voice was quiet now, uncertain.

Maura shifted in her seat, closed her eyes, thought about it. Felt the ice breathing next to her. She shivered. “Yes. So much of her came from here that some of her should be here again.” 

Brian nodded, looked away to give her privacy. She unzipped the bag, pulled out a pill bottle. Everything was dust, including memory. Maura steadied her legs, leaned over the edge of the boat, and emptied half of the bottle into the sea. 

She blew a kiss to the waves. 

She heard Brian clear his throat, anxious to go. She nodded, sat back down. He started the motor. 

What was left, Maura would scatter on the island. 

What was left, the eagles would help carry up and away.


Kim Fahner lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario. Her latest book of poems is These Wings (Pedlar Press, 2019). She was the fourth poet laureate of Greater Sudbury (2016-18). Kim is a member of the League of Canadian Poets, a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, and is the Ontario representative for The Writers’ Union of Canada (2020-22). She may be reached via her author website at www.kimfahner.com

‘A Hibiscus for Adam’ by Timi Sanni

Hibiscus

I watch Hawwa water the hibiscus in the garden this morning like she had been doing for a week now, every day since Adam died.

She said it was her way of remembering him, of not fully losing him.

“Uncle liked hibiscuses,” she said. “He lined the fence of his home in Lagos with it.” A day after news got to us that Adam had died, she had defied the lockdown order to trek two miles to the park to cut a hibiscus stalk. She planted it by her window.

I did not tell her that Adam loved books and writing more than he could ever love a flower, that the hibiscus planted in his home were genetically modified species from his lab. Telling her would mean sharing our little secret—mine and Adam’s.

Manuscript

A month before he contracted the virus. He gave me a dog-eared jotter. A manuscript of a book he was writing. There was no explanation.

We had been sitting together in the balcony of his house gazing at the stars in silence, that very silence of his I loved, because it spoke more words than his talking did. When he stood suddenly and went inside, I was surprised. I thought of anything that could have upset him in that tiny moment. ”Was it something from work that he remembered?”

It turned out to be nothing. He came back with the book and handed it to me. He clasped my hand in his over it for what seemed like an eternity. When he finally spoke, it was only two words. “Forgive me.”

The book turned out to be a manuscript of stories from his life. It was mostly sad. At first I had mistaken it for a novel, but when I got to page three and read the part where the sixteen year old boy, playing football in a street tournament had fallen right before the opponent’s keeper, clutching his chest as he wheezed, only one shot between him and a goal, I recognized him immediately. He had told me this story before when he was telling me about his asthma.

I had asked about the small spray he always carried and he laughed and told me this story. I didn’t recognize an inhaler.

The story didn’t seem really significant at that time, but in the manuscript it read that he was the best player in the whole town with a promising future as a footballer. The nation’s football team were going to sign him, but that day in the field was the last time he played ball. His doctor said he shouldn’t, if he wished to live long.

Void

I read and reread every bit of the book, my only way of understanding the parts of Adam he never let me see, the ones he hid behind a façade of silence and goofy smiles. But every time I reached the end of the manuscript, a gaping void threatened to swallow me in its incompleteness. I wanted to know what had happened after we said our last byes in front of the university gate three months ago. I wanted to know what had happened in the taxi as he travelled through the night. I wanted to know his thoughts when he first started feeling the symptoms of the virus. I wanted to share his last moment in the early hours of that Friday morning when his soul finally betrayed his body. It was painful to imagine that he died alone.

Pain

When Mama came home two days ago on her leave from the hospital where she and the other nurses and health workers were working around the clock to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, I listened with all my heart to her stories. I had been trying to grasp onto anything that could help me understand how Adam had felt in his last moments. Mama’s stories wore a garment of pain. She said for the first time, she couldn’t test a patient outside of a fully covered apparel and a screen. She couldn’t touch a patient and tell him, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ She said even with the measures put in place, with the media representation of health workers as heroes, it was difficult not to feel the anxiety. The fear was palpable in the air of the health centre like a billowing fabric.

In the early days, before the reality of the virus had fully dawned on everyone. The NCDC report had a certain kind of distance to me. It was hard trying to put a picture to the words and numbers. But now, I live knowing that Adam’s short life is summarized in a number on the death column.

Closure

I call on everything I knew about Adam, every memory we shared to fill the space in my heart. I imagine myself lying in a hospital bed in a health centre in Lagos, a cannula on my nose, the sound of my breath wheezing through the ventilator. A plethora of emotion are running amok within me. I can almost smell death.

I imagine him replaying the memories of his whole life. Did he think of me? The moments we shared? I tell myself that he did, that he thought of me a lot.

I blink the tears clouding my vision and watch Hawwa for some time. Then quickly, I wipe my eye with the back of my hand. She shouldn’t see me cry. I join her by the hibiscus and she hands me the watering can to heap more soil to its root.

I tilt the can as the flower bobs under the touch of the water, I remember Adam’s favorite prayer and mutter “Amen.”


Timi Sanni is a Nigerian writer and literary enthusiast. His works have been published or are forthcoming in various literary journals like Radical Art Review, African Writers, Rather Quiet, Praxis Magazine and elsewhere. He recently won the SprinNG Poetry Contest and is the recipient of the Fitrah Review Prize for Fiction 2020. He is an editor at Kalopsia lit.

Sophia Mold

Kept To Remember

A room well lived in
Sits around me
Surrounds me
With memories
Cards pinned
On the notice board
Messages of feelings
Felt for one another
Receipts from dates
Collected forever
His and her shoes
Lined up together

Curtains pulled back
A small window
Throws dull rays
On the spots
Of imperfection
Papers strewn
Across the desk
Clothes bundled
Left on the chair
A thin cover of dust
Lays on the surfaces
Easy to wipe clear


Sophia Mold is a university student from the UK, studying English and Creative Writing. She also works as a poetry editor for The Lincoln Review. Sophia is an emerging poet and has previously been published by The Lumiere Review, Vaughan Street Doubles and Siren Magazine.

Three Poems by David Barrick

House Band

Boris Karloff invented all the instruments we play. They sound pitchy and strange. Erratic intonation. There’s no Hal Leonard manual, no standard tunings; our fingers need extra time to find the holes and fret the strings. We need to open windows, have a cross breeze on stage feeding the big-mouthed reeds. Don’t be shy, move up the dance floor—these songs harmonize at just the right angle. Tilt your head, listen. Hear the counterpoint of crickets, creaky sepulchres. Hear the tides rushing in to join the band. Come up, try these oblong instruments—no roadies, no bystanders here. We long since did away with firm boundaries.


Chapel Head

His eighteen stained-glass
lancets glow: oil paint mosaics
locked in lead. Brass bells
dangle, sing in the lofts
of his steeples, one eyelid
blinking over a rose window
planted in a broad white face.
He kneels at midnight, chin
resting in snow, choir filing
through his tall oak doors.
The snap of sheet music:
euphonic carols echo, chime
up through his rafter sinuses.
I am but a humble vessel.


Omens

A cauldron of cloud stews
the sun’s puckered eye.
Weathervane cockerels point
to the town’s oldest elm tree.
Birds sing low strings of notes
sounding like vowels. The wells
toss up clots of crimson moss.
Walking home, the magistrate’s
knees jolt and lock, dropping
him in the road, bags of eggs
and milk bursting in the dust.
The whole town gathers
in the square by the churchyard.
Rain sizzles on dry headstones.
The children have no questions
about any of it.


David Barrick’s poetry appears in The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, EVENT, Prairie Fire, Train, The Dalhousie Review, Juniper, perhappened, and other literary magazines. He teaches and writes in London, Ontario, where he is Managing Director of the Poetry London reading series. His first chapbook is Incubation Chamber (Anstruther Press, 2019).

Two Poems by Chris Blexrud

Songs in Space

The tick and trill
of longing, of hearts
baptized in the cool unknowing
of this new nothing
between us

how vanished throats
do not forget their prayers
but merely let them rest


Viridity

A stretch of sidewalk
so overgrown
it feels like jungle
like hate on the skin
like eyes in the night
like bodies trapped
beneath sheets

All that heat’s got nowhere to go
but into our lungs
past dry throats
to that blank space
at the end of your last sentence,
the dead air at the bottom of the page


Chris Blexrud is an editor and writer living in New Orleans.

‘The Problem with Loving Temporary Things’ by Evelyn Maguire

I watch my sister dig a moat. She is unbothered by the sand encrusting her legs, her torso, her arms. She spears her plastic shovel into the sand over and over, tossing it aside and getting in with her hands when the spade isn’t working fast enough. The moat is being dug around a crumbling tower, poor in construction because none of us wanted to help, really. It is more of a mound of wet sand than a castle, lopsided and distinct only from a single seashell, a near-perfect sand-dollar, placed on top. 

My sister is five and I am seventeen. She was an accident, but we call her a miracle. 

Every now and again, I hear her calling to me, beckoning me to aid her in her doomed fight against the ocean. I pretend not to hear, or I offer a half-hearted wave and a thumbs-up, hoping that placates her so I don’t have to join in. After a while, she stops calling, but she never stops digging. 

The surf fills her moat, over and over. The water rushes in and she shrieks with displeasure as it leaves the moat a little shallower, a little more reclaimed with each pass. She buckets out the water. If she is lucky, she’ll get a few minutes’ head-start before the next wave strong enough to reach her. But as the sun dips lower and the wind feels cooler, those breaks are ever more brief. 

My sister was born with cerebral palsy. She may live to benefit from the free senior beach pass, or she may die before college. Despite the doctor visits, we aren’t sure how severe it is yet. We’ll have to see how it plays out. 

She performs this ritual every time we visit the beach. She must remember how it will end, with the remnants of her castle as a mushy, indistinguishable mound and with her in fitful tears. Yet the castle is still built, the moat is still dug, and the watery siege is still fought to the bitter end. 

Now, the moat is more often flooded than dry. It is the beginning of the end. Her flower-shaped yellow bucket is no match for the tide. I picture myself leaping up, my father and mother behind me, buckets in hand, joining her. Together, we would keep the ocean at bay, deepen the moat, raise the gate, guard the turrets. As the moon rose overhead, the tide would be diverted around one lone sand castle, protected by its tireless family of sentries. But I stay on my towel. 

Finally, a curling wave crashes. This is it. My sister sees it, too. She stands in front of her lumpy creation, skinny arms outstretched against the coming onslaught. She screams a guttural war-cry. But it is no use. The foamy surf floods the moat and storms the castle, collapsing the tower back into the sand, all in the span of a few seconds. My sister looks back at where her castle once stood. She picks up the sand-dollar and drops to her knees. 

As I watch, she starts to cry.


Evelyn Maguire is pursuing an MFA in Fiction at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the literary magazine Overheard, and was a fiction finalist for the 49th New Millennium Writing Awards. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in North American Review, The Foundationalist, and Sink Hollow.

Three Poems by Lucy Whitehead

Spirals

Everything grows from the heart.
We curl around ourselves,
ancient sea creatures
spiralling out like Catherine wheels
from the moment of conception,
voyaging in the womb
from that unknown place
where worlds are born,
beating against the warm walls
of our shoreless oceans
in our translucent skin,
our unpigmented fur.
We are all water people,
liminal mermaids.


Antirrhinums

After gardening
my husband tossed a torn packet
of snapdragon seeds onto the bed.
Forgotten pinpricks of darkness spilled
onto sky-blue Egyptian cotton sheets,
worked their way into crevices. One
crept into the corner of my eye
danced like grit in an oyster shell,
scratched its way into my dreams,
split my skull into two
soft shadowed petals of
sculpted moonlight
sprung so tightly
they snapped back
and swallowed him.


Stranded

I want to throw this body back,
this body with its net of pain
where I flap and flounder
day after day, year after year.

Look beyond these sparkling scales,
this rainbow gleam, these sequin eyes.
My cells still remember
the dance of the sea.


Lucy Whitehead‘s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Amethyst Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Barren Magazine, Black Bough Poetry, Broken Spine Artist Collective, Burning House Press, Clover and White Literary Magazine, Collective Unrest, Electric Moon Magazine, Ghost City Review, Kissing Dynamite Poetry, Mookychick Magazine, 3 Moon Magazine, Neon Mariposa Magazine, Parentheses Journal, Pink Plastic House, Pussy Magic, Re-side, and Twist in Time Literary Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @blueirispoetry.