Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Still Open for Business

Despite the current fire emergency down the eastern seaboard of this parched island, Bluepepper would like to announce that we remain open for business, although the situation could change at any moment.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

New Poetry by Jonathan Beale

Thales and the stars

The latest Thales in his modus operandi
He stood beneath the stars.       
The Demonstratively, seeing the ‘state of things’.
Kant (not yet a twinkle in his fathers eye,
or indeed his mothers).
Knew then that singularity
Is meaningless – the marriage of
Empiricism and rationalism
“what use is your thought?”
“…your philosophy?” cried the masses.
With a glint in his eye, having seen
In the nights rich charm – a portent.
Those dusty old olive presses
Never forget who pays the piper
As in the vast shadow of the night
talks to those who listen
as it slips ever quietly on.

- Jonathan Beale 2019

Jonathan Beale has had his work published in over sixty journals including Danse Macabre, Bluepepper, Mad Swirl, Ygdrasil, Red Wolf Editions, Sheepshead Review, Poetry 24, Penwood Review, et al.  He is also published in two anthologies ‘Drowning’ and ‘The Poet as Sociopath’ (Scar publications). And one to be published ‘Do not be afraid’ a small anthology dedicated to Seamus Heaney. His first book of poetry The Destinations of Raxiera (Hammer and Anvil) in November 2015. He lives in Surrey U.K.

For a copy of Jonathan's book just click on the link below.

Monday, November 04, 2019

New Poetry by James Croal Jackson

Always having a crush 
makes life fun. The pining, 

as Vonnegut preached, even 
if only for a glass of water. 

It was in the parking lot, dark 
after shutting the trunk where 

we stored your viola. You 
hugged me, whispered music.

Your warmth pressed against 
mine– epiphany. A concerto 

we don’t know the notes to. How 
do you shut the trunk to a partner 

you’ve stored your notes in for 
a decade? I see the complacency. 

The spare tire in reach. Our palms 
touched each time we switched 

our beers. It’s true: one of us will 
move soon, and I want to whisper 

give me a reason not to. 

- James Croal Jackson 2019

James Croal Jackson (he/him) has a chapbook, The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017), and poems in Pacifica, Reservoir, and Rattle. He edits The Mantle ( Currently, he works in the film industry in Pittsburgh, PA. (

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

New Poetry by Rob Schackne

This meditation

This meditation
on the soul
you resisted
now I guess
the laughter
jesus what a veil
the day in the pub
football and beer
shouts and insults
stupid fights
a father at sixteen
the wrong mates
prison time
a long road
now you're back
the same town
not even your town

- Rob Schackne 2019

Born in New York, Rob lived in many countries until Australia finally took him in. He was a Foreign Expert EFL teacher in China for many years. He now lives in a small Victorian country town, and enjoys the fresh air, the birds and the sunshine. There were some extreme sports once; now he plays (mostly) respectable chess and pool. He listens to the Grateful Dead. When he's not writing, he likes taking photographs.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

New Poetry by James Walton

Full English Breakfast

I will admit I’d like to have hair like Jennifer Aniston
from that show years ago something so luxurious and wild
starlings could gobble in and out of it lost toys might
occasionally reboot you know the plastic confederate
soldier his pedestal missing and a yo-yo done in doing
the walking the dog when some kid who was supposed
to be a friend stuck his foot out and your knees got grazed
and bloody and the whoop whoop of a surfacing submarine

or that curly dirty snow avalanche of the guy from Queen
the one who’s still alive a straggle grand as an old mop
dragged through the wringers on a rusty metal bucket
you know that flick and look over the shoulder arrogance
of never ceasing growth a kind of capitalism by follicle
larger than the GDP of several nations washed by an
Olympic sized pool of shampoo where a friend’s lost
rescue cat meows out all slick and unhappy with the shine

not to have look down in the morning at the comb over
on my toes as I tumble like an unwrapping mummy
from the too small shower coffin cubicle to carefully
brush my tonsure for breakfast where the hotel restaurant
tables are spilling over with a tsunami of well-dressed suits
thinking how the combined coiffure of my shoulders nose
and ears might give Jen a run for her money when I hear
I don’t speak Mandarin but you can have the Full English Breakfast

- James Walton 2019

James Walton is published in many anthologies, newspapers, and journals. He is the author of four collections of poetry, 'The Leviathan's Apprentice' 2015, 'Walking Through Fences' 2018, 'Unstill Mosaics' 2019, and 'Abandoned Soliloquies', forthcoming.

Friday, October 25, 2019

New Poetry by John Grey

The Storyteller

she transposes
small lives
into wondrous events -
            a quiet woman who raised
            her own three    now grown –
they lived before,
under blankets of long ago,
fleece in colors you can’t imagine,
or simply
good and evil,
evil so dangerous
 it has become precious,
for hands to fondle -
you can tell it is well-worn
her narrative
but sacred fables never tire
(must we go to sleep)
to hear her hands
weave in such a way
that speech is forever complemented,
            (they sleep)
story ends but she is still creating,
syntax abandoned,
              for dreams -
threads of light
in the vast fabric of darkness

- John Grey 2019

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dunes Review, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Thin Air, Dalhousie Review and failbetter.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

New Poetry by Abigail George

I don't want to be a figure mothers lean their children into

(for Dorothy Dandridge)

Follow my lead. Heal me, but only if you accept the pain
and suffering of my painted soul. I wanted you to save from tortured
 loneliness, anxiety, fear, but you walked away from me on an
August day. I think of you, the golden branch bowing down
to meet me, you smell like heat, and dust, loving. I want you
to know that I've never stopped loving you. I want to feel you,
the knowledge of you, all your contours, your love, I want,
I want, I want. I'm am left by you wanting, waiting, I moved
 from city to city with my roots of grief, chapters of my mother’s life
singing in my ears like opera, or classical music, overwhelmed

by my status I am winter, and summer, and spring, but you’re a
 lake of snow in a field. Everywhere I go I see you; I feel you in a
glance, or stare. In autumn I live free. You're not here, you
don't love me either, not in the way that I predict, or, want you to.
Now I live so free, and unattached. I look for you mostly in
the television, mostly in the newspaper, and then I dream a
little dream of you. Only you know that I love you. You're the
bridges of Madison County, you're Mishka, dew, Streep, and
I am the outcast. I am the tomcat Updike, Hemingway-supreme,
Robert Lowell. Heal my broken wings. Take me into your arms,

 because after all I am yours. Yours to protect when I submit to
you. Pray for my addiction, my alcoholism, for I am a kind of forward girl,
 and interviewed. You will find me if you look hard enough. But
you're not looking hard enough for some reason. It seems that
time has stood still for some reason. Am I the survivor? The
women will do anything for you. You take them to bed, you kiss
and adore them. You don't take me to bed, you're not kissing me,
you don't worship and adore me. It's a shame. You don't know me at all.
So, I let go of vertigo. This is planting season, meat season,
weed season. I’m going to be in love with the same man for

the rest of my life. Look, at this rib-cage, patella, adrenaline,
look at me. Look at this barren body. See the measures of this
infertility in my smile, my pose, my walk, my talk, the nature of
my physical body, and yes, once I had the capacity to love.
I had flowers of it, rooms for it to grow in. I’m on my own
 again, in this world overcome with opioids, hours, overwhelmed
by the shroud of darkness, clouds like vapor in my coffee.
but there’s the stars, the moonlight, the decay of the wilderness
holding me back. I’m wiser. I’m older. Confidence is king. You said
you’d never hurt me, but it gave me wisdom in the end, king.

- Abigail George 2019

Abigail George is a South African writer and poet.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

New Poetry by Joanna M. Weston

Somewhere Else

I found my brother sitting
feet dangling into nowhere
falling off the earth
into … where?
an ocean of air
he could swim in?
an alien land?

what could he see
into the nothing
beyond the edge?
I’ve often wondered
where he went
just where is he

- Joanna M. Weston 2019

Joanna has one cat, multiple spiders, a herd of deer, and two derelict hen-houses. Her middle-reader, ‘Frame and The McGuire', published by Tradewind Books 2015; and poetry,  ‘A Bedroom of Searchlights’, published by Inanna Publications, 2016. Other books listed at her blog:

Thursday, October 10, 2019

New Microfiction by Wayne H W. Wolfson

50's Riffin

 The place was upstate & in the middle of nowhere. She had heard about it from some of her friends. No one said what actually went on there but merely alluded to it w/slightly arched brows. The boy her parents insisted she spend time w/. “I know where we can go…” The drive was mostly done in silence as the small talk that they had attempted made it seem even more awkward. For his part, the forced jocularity he had tried out made him instantly think of his father and so his mouth snapped shut with no sound but much force. The ride was just long enough for the night quiet that surrounded them to become exciting, as if they were at the start of becoming co-conspirators.
 There were some cars parked unevenly out front.
 He took her hand and they went through the door. At first they had both been scared. Julia had been so frightened that much like the accident when she was younger, she became very quiet and although she moved, radiated a stillness. All of this kicked in before she actually became calm. For his part, his nerves remained a sea whose surface continued to roil. He looked at her, she was so calm, his palm was a wet guilty verdict.

 Julia looked all around. A few people were holding beer bottles with the necks between their fingers like a piece of sporting equipment for a game with which they are only vaguely familiar. Antonella was slow dancing in the middle of the room. She had never been one of the pretty girls, the group within the group of burgeoning women. But after summer vacation word got around that she had done more than any of her better looking peers and this was parlayed into a type of popularity. All the times that she was ignored, she was now getting hers, insisting that her boyfriend dance with her.
 Some of the boys sit on the lip of the fireplace, cigarettes dangling from their bottom lips, nudging each other with their shoulders and giggling.
 In very little time Julia realized that there was nothing to be frightened of, this was just a giant playhouse with children playing at being adults. An entire night of watching the behavior of others, the effect similar to someone trying to describe a movie which they had not seen but merely had heard about, adulthood. Her date never fully relaxed and for the rest of her life Julia always gravitated towards men who were more frightened than her.

- Wayne H W. Wolfson 2019

Thursday, October 03, 2019

New Poetry by Jean Bohuslav

Majenka’s Account

My name is Majenka
Resident of Vine Street since birth
Wendy Smith flew her kite in my street
I could have caught her by the ankle
as she rose overhead, but didn’t
It was her business, her new kite
Her frilly dress and patent shoes 
she wore to play

She smiled at me before I
watched her float over houses 
Golden locks stretching 
She must have planned it …
Why dress like that in gusty weather

I caught her teardrop on my apron
Its stain spoke of recklessness
I tried to wash her tear from my pinafore 
But I couldn’t bring myself to turn the tap
This was a significant stain

I am Majenka, Goddess helper 
of this blustery world
Not harnessing a skinny ankle 
was the right thing to do

- Jean Bohuslav 2019

Jean attends a creative writing group in Torquay Vic.  She has found growth in not only in her writing but also in other areas of life from being a part of the group.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

New Poetry by Doug Holder

A Veteran's Back, Carson Beach, South Boston

There was nothing smooth about it.
Grizzled in a sea of sleek.
Brown sun spots--
burst across
his wizened map.
A teamster tattoo
his union label
on his right shoulder--
no New Age serpent
snaking around
a green fantasy

A depression
in his skin
where he took a shiv
in some red light, 
near Andrew Station.  

The muscles still asserting themselves
below the slack skin
rolling under his flesh
his back unashamed
of its sin.

- Doug Holder 2019

Doug's work has appeared in Constellations, Sahara, sPoKe, Toronto Quarterly, Sub-Terrain and many others. Holder is the founder of the Ibbetson Street Press in Somerville, Massachusetts. The " Doug Holder Papers Collection" is being processed at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, NY.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

New Poetry by Matt McAlpine

Light Spots

Seminal fluids,
frogs marching sideways
to the pond. 
In the trees sing song
birds unseen the air
brazen in the hum
of the forest,
a small boy sits
in the mud by the pond
watching frogs hopping
under water, since
perturbed by amphibious dance
the water stills
and there, a small boy 
sits himself
cast in the shadow of the sky,
muddy hair boy watching,
boy watching frogs
laughing here, the boy
in the mud hears the trees
singing shaded by the canopy above,
casting sunlight sprinkling
pepper-spots across the dust
rays amidst the jealous
trees aside boy,
streaming light across 
the trees and smiling pond. 

- Matt McAlpine 2019

Matt McAlpine is a 21 year-old poet from the Blue Mountains, Australia. He is currently working on his first book of poetry Views from the Mountaintop. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

New Poetry by Les Wicks

Cooking Up Down Farm

Under my guidance
apples slice the sun into child sized segments
which cool on the loosebark kitchen shelf.
The lawn offered to help 
though passionfruit vines were dismissive — thought 
who works when you’re busy with Beauty?

Down here in my dustbowl
where I grow the crop.

On the basalt balcony I make resolutions
to be “successful” while calling home
to my dead parents every Thursday.
The lilli pilli drops berries
which I mistake for accolades.
The sugar gliders will eat well tonight
while I don’t mind.

Tried aw shucks
it didn’t take.
I love youse all was flowery
but the fruits turned bitter.

Don’t tell me all those locusts are psychological,
I ate one once
as you do
just to be sure.

One has to plough
but too deep & biome is destroyed.
Too shallow the seeds gasp.
I was eaten once,
someone had to be sure.

- Les Wicks 2019

Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication in over 350 different magazines, anthologies & newspapers across 29 countries in 15 languages. His 14th book of poetry is Belief (Flying Islands, 2019).

Sunday, September 08, 2019

New Poetry by Bharti Bansal

Lost Identity

There is a bird nest near my window
Everyday the mother goes around flying 
To find a little worm to feed its babies 
And I watch from inside
The world which builds itself around my home
Every dawn at 5 
And goes to sleep when the dusk meet the dying sun
I try to be the bird too
Imitating voices of the little sparrow
Because it's easy losing identity
Like throwing the sea shells back into the sea
And watch the waves jostle and take them to the new shore 
Where a kid awaits to hold them and listen to the little voices trapped inside.
I have become more layered over the years
As moon waxes and wanes with the shade of my skin
And the sea rises with each breath I take
I am the mother who has listened enough to the cries of her infant 
To differentiate between the pain and hunger
But I have never been the one to fly
So I build my wings from the rags of the thatched roof of my home
And take a leap of faith from the terrace 
Only to find that sometimes winds dictate the choreography of falling bodies
I let the wind decide
Where I crash
Like the mother sparrow 
Who didn't return home one day in the winds
So I kept making voices just to let the little sparrows know
That their nest will always be the womb 
A safety drenching their hearts
Because you see lost identities are stuck to the rear of the trees
Ululating out loud how their skin melted to the ground 
And horizons stood knocking at their doors
To gift them the lost light of the fading sun
But when none returned
The trees became the ghost graveyards 
Standing large with their branches hanging over the fences of the decaying bones
And when the night comes
The sparrows learn to fly by themselves
Sometimes after all the generations that never bade a goodbye to handwritten customs
It's better not to become 
Same as father or mother
Sometimes it's better to leave home
And fly across the naked skies
Just to find that the most one can get through vulnerability is not death
But the fear of sailing too far to the place of no return
And when that happens
Know not to look back 
To the ancestors who demand pain to be felt
I know this because
The little birdies made a choice after their mother died
They don't return anymore after they flew far away one day
To the place where identities aren't lost
To the place where they knew there mother would have wanted them to be
And I am happy
Because I too have learnt to fly.

- Bharti Bansal 2019

Bharti Bansal is a 21 year old poet from India. She has been published in four different Indian anthologies and wishes to write her own book someday.

Friday, September 06, 2019

New Poetry by Judith Nangala Crispin

Elegy for a Thylacine in the National Museum

The last known thylacine, a female named ‘Benjamin’,died alone in her cage at Beaumaris Zoo, on September 7, 1936. She had frozen to death– the zoo keeper having forgotten to put her inside for the night. Her body was thrown into a rubbish bin.

All the others are gone, erased¬–
their slanted gaits, their pelts banded fire
and venus blood.
They are erased–and nothing left of them
now but names: Ghost Tiger
Wurrawana, Corinna.
They will not come again,
come eddying over grasslands,
star-stippled, will not
leap, rock to rock, or stop
in a clearing behind the houses,
rotate an ear in some gigantic night,

in all the sounds of those black hours–
waking pardalotes,
quolls return to wild shadow,
galaxies carried on their backs.
At dawn, the alpenglow
will flood a country without thylacines–
over Cradle Mountain, a new sun
lifts over conifers like hackles.
How many days has she paced
this perimeter fence?
At dusk the zoo keeper moves her inside,
into a box, a place of straw
and concrete, light spills under a door.
Dead light.

She is a hooded falcon, sees only
this leaden interior. In the late watches
she presses her head against the wall,
listening for storms, for the ice winds
to founder in across the snowfields,
bringing the scent of pines.

She remembers needles
blackening into snowbearing clouds.
And her memory is a vein extending
over this whole landscape, a story repeated
so often it distorts to ripples, murmurs,
something running on its toes like a fox,
and what remains are only
cadavers hanging in a tree,
pelts nailed to a woolshed door.
In tussock weighted with weed,
she is hidden– her shape barred in barred light.
The zoo keeper’s eye passes over so easily.
Floodlights in the enclosures go out.
The buildings darken. Wire fences
are harps in the jaw of wind.

She emerges into the yard,
winterbright, and the night raining stars¬–
Lupus, Sirius, the constellations of her life.
In that cold living air,
her breath hangs

They found her frozen in grass,
in hoarfrost,
white on white–
just something dead in a cage.
And later, locked in their houses at night,
with their skinning blades, with their fear,
their hunger to own everything,
they will say she was not the last.

Someone found a tooth on the escarpment,
a scrap of fur against the sound barrier
of some new freeway.
And while they speak
the ash of thylacines will drift over cities and roads,
the wasteland of industrial farms,
and find no place to settle.

- Judith Nangala Crispin 2019

Judith Nangala Crispin is a Bpangerang poet and artist living near Lake George. She has two published collections of poetry "The Myrrh-Bearers" and "The Lumen Seed", and is currently Poetry Editor of The Canberra Times. 

Thursday, September 05, 2019

New Poetry by James Walton

I play the perfect cover drive

Easing on to my back foot
Saturday early early Summer, elevenish
a sound of cork like popping
the axe fall of linseeded willow
throughout the mowing suburbs

My spine straight as a lithe picket
Plane trees shady stalled on shutter
a mottled reminisce of Cazneaux
our border/kelpie Sophie
trotting back the drooly ball

Her jet coat a reel
in stoppled light from Van Gogh’s head
a thwack in the fence holding on
the still of tactile breeze
my children, Shot, wanker, 

can we have lunch

- James Walton 2019

James Walton is an Australian poet published in many anthologies, newspapers, and journals. He is the author of three collections, the latest being 'Unstill Mosaics'. He lives in Wonthaggi, Gippsland, in a Federation house, which was once a maternity hospital. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2019


Sydney, September 4 2019: For immediate release

A new exhibition at Maunsell Wickes Gallery will feature the work of three Australian women artists with deep connections to Country. Gallery Director Dominic Maunsell has brought these artists together in order to underscore the fragility and beauty of our natural landscape, and the importance of women’s voices in Australian culture. The exhibition will present Judith Nangala Crispin’s Lumachrome Glass Prints honouring fallen animals and birds, Juno Gemes’s photographs of life on the Hawkesbury River and Ana Pollak’s sculptures reflecting the myriad natural forms on Dangar Island. The work will be on display from September 17-October 5, 2019.

Judith Nangala Crispin is an artist and poet of Bpangerang descent. Her lumachrome glass prints are deeply rooted in the practice of honouring fallen animals and birds. Judith’s materials are drawn from the landscape­–cadavers, ochres, sticks, grass and leaves­. Exposed 24 to 40 hours in natural sunlight, this body of work is a genuine collaboration with Country. Her work is “layered with intellectual and spiritual meaning . . . the images are in an active relationship with the environment to which she is responding. Her images tell, and are made from, stories: of her family roots, the lives and culture of her people, and of the living things that are part of her physical process.” (James Burnett – MONK art and the soul | an imaginarium, Spring 2019).

Photographer Juno Gemes has spent four decades documenting the Aboriginal resistance in Australia. Her current exhibition features work from her book “The Language of Oysters” written with her poet husband Robert Adamson. These images are a quiet account of their life together on the Hawkesbury River. Gemes’s work, much of which is held in national institutions, has been a major contribution to Australian photography and a lasting historical record. “Artist-photographer Juno Gemes’s lifelong consideration and love for the land and its peoples is present in all her work. It is also an affirmation of an active female presence in the landscape and the character of the photographer behind all her work. This exhibition of a photographer with a ‘loving eye’ offers a rich and engaging experience” (Rod Pattenden – The Australian, 9th May 2019).

Dobell Prize winner Ana Pollak works in sculpture, drawing and film. Her work has  grown out of her love for the environment and Chinese calligraphy, focusing on the huge range of textures and lines in the Hawkesbury sandstone country where she lives. Ana Pollak’s sculptures are made with the twigs from the Blackbutt forest on Dangar Island. As in the marks and structures made by birds, animals and insects her work. The comparable work of birds, animals and insects “points to the universality of Ana’s expression. It reaches from the devastation of war-torn Europe across the Australian isle to our Asian future”. (Tony Twigg, SLOT, January 2018). 

Contact information:
Maunsell Wickes at Barry Stern Galleries
19 Glenmore Rd, Paddington NSW 2021 Sydney
Director Dominic Maunsell
T: 61 2 9331 4676
F: 61 2 9380 8485

Judith Nangala Crispin
Artist, Juno Gemes,
Artist, Ana Pollak,

Friday, August 23, 2019

New Poetry by John Rock

River of Dawns

With wind in my arms
All I’m writing is dreams I can’t remember
You’d know I been knifed by a friend and resurrected
By the way I listen to ravens
And climb them into each dawn 
How I saw a fox stand on a deer’s antlers
Digging a den of stars
And helped the deer in too
In this myth of books
I curled up with the sleeping children
And we grew silver-tipped fur of the saviors frosted fire
Of our dreams
Reading palms
But our real cloaks were earth
Were air
Were things you can’t take
You can’t give back
You can’t remember

- John Rock 2019

John Rock grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan in North America and now lives New Mexico's high desert.  More poetry and novels at 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

New Poetry by Terry Wheeler


those years
between a

charles manson
and ted bundy 


stations of
the cross

played out
on tv

black and white

the colours

dolour of

- Terry Wheeler 2019

Terry worked in the public service for decades and was inspired to write after seeing Michael Dransfield poems in The Australian newspaper when a teenager. Terry has been published in Australia and abroad since retiring. He lives in Brisbane when not travelling.

New Poetry by Jean Bohuslav

People I met through work

The solicitor who hired me without giving me a typing test

The officer in charge who employed me after the typing test
saying, I could only get better

His secretary who swung her legs and high heels from his desk

The girl who left work eight months pregnant and thought we couldn’t tell

The stockmen who hid seven leverets in my office
and then thought a dead snake in a paper bag might be fun

The accountant who saved me from a pack of farm dogs 
when we went to tell a labourer’s wife her husband was in hospital

The elderly woman who kept driving shoes in her car

The young lad who pulled his false eye out in a frenzy 
after running over his foot with the lawn mower

The men full of alcohol and sexual innuendos who laughed,
elbowing each other as they chose day old chicks

The Headmaster who was wary of meditation
even though he taught philosophy

The shifty Vice Principal who liked the ladies and bolted his office door

His colleague who pulled her top up to show us her new bra

The old lady with no formal education 
who made the hierarchy dance to her tune

The Principal who gave a bad reference to keep a prominent staff member

The supplies officer whose children had left home 
and was nervous about going on a holiday with just her husband

The intelligent Headmistress with great morals and integrity 
who died in the face of unwanted change

The young school boy who visited reception every lunch time
because he had no friends

The gardener who took things slowly because he wasn’t paid enough 

- Jean Bohuslav 2019

Jean enjoys meeting up with the Torquay (Victoria Australia) creative writing group each week and is interested in the philosophy of mindfulness.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Call for Submissions

Bluepepper has altered its submissions policy ever-so-slightly, and thus we are currently seeking submissions to test the murky waters as per the (slightly modified) submissions guidelines in the right sidebar. The new policy does not guarantee any kind of editorial feedback or idle gossip with all you indigent time-wasters, but it will make us feel important for a few hours each week and, well, what's more important in life than feeling important. So go ahead, launch your paper boat on our wine-dark sea and let us see what you've got.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

New Writing by Robert Steward

The Hand of Padre Pio

Naples, Italy 2003

I walked along the old, cobbled street of Via della Sanità to the clamour of church bells. The shops had their shutters down, and there was hardly anyone about. The streetlamps and electric cables dangled above me, and the cool morning sun cast long shadows under the wrought iron balconies. On the left was my local café: Bar Moreno, with its outside display cabinet full of croissants and pastries. Next to it were two shrines: one of the Virgin Mary, and the other of the Napoli football player Diego Maradona. Both equally revered. 
 I went in for breakfast. 
 Inside the café the barista was cleaning the coffee machine. He wasn’t the usual guy who worked there. He was smaller and chubbier with a stubble beard. Behind him was a shelf full of spirits and liqueurs, and on the wall hung a black and white photograph of the comedy actors Totò and Peppino drinking coffee. The photograph always made me smile. The only other customer in the café leaned against the bar, reading La Gazzetta dello Sport, his lips moving as he read.
 ‘Buongiorno,’ I said to the barista.
 ‘Prego,’ he replied.
 ‘Un cappuccino e un cornetto al cioccolato, per favore.’
 He handed me a chocolate croissant, wrapped in a serviette from behind the glass counter and started the coffee-making ritual with a familiar clanking sound. The noise made me wince. Each bang went straight through my aching head. The effects of another hangover. I could still taste the Cuba Libre from the night before--Gabriel’s favourite drink. He was one of the teachers from my language school. He knew one of the barmen in Bar Giusy, who supplied us with rum and coke all night. With his glistening brown eyes and trilby hat sat forward, I remembered Gabriel telling me in his Gibraltarian accent: ‘Hey Rob, we came here thinking we could conquer Naples, but just look at us! It chewed us up and spat us out! We’re nothing, man--nothing!’
 His Neapolitan girlfriend had just left him. 
 Today I wanted to do something more cultural, more spiritual--the godly kind, not from the bottle. I was going to visit the Cappella Sansevero, to see the Veiled Christ.
 Sculptured from a single piece of marble, the body of Christ lies covered with the most delicate transparent veils, I read from my travel guide, while waiting for my coffee. The photograph looked impressive.
 What could be more enlightening on a typical Neapolitan Sunday? I thought. 
 ‘Prego,’ the barista said, handing me the cappuccino.
 ‘Grazie,’ I replied, and slid the customary five-cent tip over the counter.

 Outside, the street was coming to life, with people chatting on street corners, riding scooters, going for a stroll, taking a coffee.
 I walked down Via Arena della Sanità, past Palazzo Spagnolo, past the clothes market and past the church of Santa Maria dei Vergini. In the alley leading out of Sanità stood a small statue of the saint Padre Pio. It was customary to touch his hand when you walked past. Maybe it was for good luck or safe passage. Sometimes I touched his hand and sometimes I didn’t. I remember telling my girlfriend Manuela about the custom when she came to Sanità one night.
 ‘Che scemità!’ she said, which means, ‘What rubbish!’
 But when she saw how dark the alley was, she ran back and touched his hand.  

 On the other side of the main road stood Porta San Gennaro, the entrance to Centro Storico. I walked under the huge arch and entered the old city. In the mazy narrow alleys, the buildings looked as if they belonged to a different time; they all looked similar, different, old. Even with my travel guide map I became disorientated and decided to ask the way. 
 ‘La Cappella Sansevero?’ I asked a man, taking a walk with his family.
 The man shook his head, looking at me as if I was an alien. I asked a couple of other passers-by, but they didn’t know where the church was either. Going round and round in circles, I stumbled upon another church and went to ask inside.
 The first thing I noticed was the size of the church. Tall grey and white columns ran either side of the wooden pews, supporting gold and white arches, and on the ceiling, row after row of elaborate gold square carvings, so high it made me feel dizzy, and at the far end of the church, above the marble alter piece, hung a large wooden crucifix, which must have been over two metres tall.
 A young priest in white robes was trying to usher the tourists out of the church.
 ‘Signori, la chiesa sta per chiudere,’ he said gently.
 I didn’t know churches closed at lunchtime on a Sunday, I thought. Then again, everything closes for lunch in Italy. 
 I approached the priest in the main aisle. He was about my height and probably the same age. He had short dark hair, dark eyes with high cheekbones and a dimple on his chin.
 ‘La Cappella Sansevero?’ I asked.  
 ‘La Cappella Sansevero?’ the priest replied. ‘Are you English?’
 ‘Yes, I’d like to visit La Cappella Sansevero--to see the Veiled Christ.’
 ‘Ah, yes. The church you’re looking for is just around the corner,’ he said, holding his hands together. ‘Are you alone?’
 ‘This church also has some wonderful treasures. Would you like to see our cloister?’ 
 Why not? I thought. A lot of churches in Naples had hidden treasures, never seen by the public.   
 ‘Okay,’ I replied.
 ‘Come.’ He opened out his hand, showing me the way, his white robe hanging from his arm.     

 He led me through an old wooden side door to the entrance of a cloister. It was dark and secluded with a familiar smell of damp. It reminded me of my basso studio flat in Sanità. The old iron gate was locked, but you could still see through to the courtyard inside. It looked more like a gothic crypt than a cloister with its ribbed vaults and pointed arches.
 ‘Can you see the statues in the alcoves?’ the priest asked, putting his arm round my shoulder. ‘Look how beautiful they are!’
 He held me so close that I could feel his stubble on my cheek. Sweat glistened on his forehead and nose, and there was a sharp heady smell of body odour in the air. I subtly tried to pull away, but before I could do anything, he pointed to the other side of the cloister, holding me even tighter, his large hands like a clamp.
 ‘And look at those over there!’ he said, breathing into my ear. ‘Wonderful, aren’t they?’
Santo cielo! I thought. What the hell is going on here? 
 This was way beyond being tactile. I had the impression he wanted to do more than just show me his blessed masterpiece! 
 The dusty white statues stood in the corners of the cloister, draped in haunting shadows; their faces looked on in horror as if witnessing a sickening crime, their eyes aghast, their mouths open. The whole scene started to spin round in my head. As he explained the history of the cloister, I tried to prise myself from his grip. 
 But how do you disentangle yourself from a member of the clergy? I didn’t really want to start wrestling with a priest! 
 ‘Look how thin you are!’ he laughed, rubbing my belly. ‘A guy like you should eat more!’
 When he finally let me go, I became aware of the space between us. I wanted to run, escape, cry for help, but I was speechless. He looked at me as if nothing had happened. The word untouchable came to mind, sinister, dark, depraved. I felt sickened. 
 ‘I have to go to lunch now.’ The priest smiled, opening the side door to the church.
 ‘But if you come back at four-thirty, I can show you more.’
 Outside the church, the sunshine was sudden and bright. I was even more disorientated than before. I didn’t know whether to continue on my journey or to... or to... I just don’t know. What do you do in a situation like that? I tried to piece together the images in my head; it all happened so quickly. 
 I should’ve said something, I thought. I should’ve done something about it. I should’ve... I should’ve... I should’ve touched Padre Pio’s hand!

- Robert Steward 2019

Robert Steward teaches English as a foreign language and lives in London. He is currently writing a collection of short stories, several of which have appeared in online literary magazines, including: Scrittura, The Creative Truth, The Ink Pantry, Adelaide and The Foliate Oak. You can find them at:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

New Poetry by Abigail George

Stepping into a winter sun while the spaghetti sauce cooks

People will always talk. Learn to forgive. Life
is hard. It rains, even in summer it rains. Questioning
life is complex. Her identity was like a calm
breakthrough. Apollo of Africa take note of
the human life of our fallen struggle heroes, of the
wasted potential of liberation, the political
way. The shine of the afternoon has its own
tapestry. I think of Mishka and her husband
in Paris. I think of making love in Paris. I think
of Sylvia Plath in Paris with her beau on her
arm. I'm alone again. I'm on my own again. I'm
the Outsider in this vast unknown, undoing Max,
haunting ghost in a summer wonderland, and
I want to move away from this place where I don't
quite belong. This place of hurt, of pain, of
an eternity of suffering. This place where people
like Julian, and Michael do not love me. Go back,
my soul whispers to me. Years of silence
have followed me from swampland to city filled
with blood, and water, and marrow, and land
and sea. All I wanted you to say was that you
loved me. All I wanted was to survive, find the
exit out, make plans to marry you. All I wanted
was for you to save me, call me sweetheart, call
me darling, have a honey child, a breathing lesson,
but in this age of painting fruit in a bowl, and
baking sweet potato you found another girl,
while I was drinking tea, and thinking of Sylvia
Plath and Ted Hughes. While I was thinking of
Bessie Head, and a man called Max, another man
who did not love me. Another man who did not
care if I lived or lived on in death. Call me by my name.
Call me a parenthesis, call me girl, or virgin, call
me ex-lover. I desire to be bone-thin again. I can't
get this stain out, Can't get the stink out. It has been
there for days. Suffering begins with her. The
woman I call Mother. I eat peaches from the
can hungrily, she's the ghost from a childhood
view, star-my-eye to the telescope. In Mother's
world I was a stranger. Nobody loves me. The
sea meets the world in her brown eyes, the drawing
of a map, matter is only conjured-up myth. Don't
look at me. Look at my heart picking up the pieces.
I went up a hill, and came down a mountain. Mikale
understands, but he loves another. I am always
letting them go, talking about my generation, about
King and country, about surrendering lovers to the
stars, to Updike, Rilke, Hemingway. There is ice

in my veins now. There is the dream of fields, the
perspective of snow, of adrenaline, the hardiness
of years spent in therapy, and everything is fragile
here. Mother is ominous. And I am the future glory of
woman, an illustration of marriage, silence dances
on my fingertips. Everyone ignores my cries for help.
I don't know how to love, how to translate lovemaking.
Spoonfuls of sugar, a show of dust in the desert,
flesh, dawn, stain. I look for you, but you're no longer
there. You're dead to me, but not to another. Here's
a waterfall, a shroud to cover up their laughter. Flux
is flexing his muscles through the night as he loves
another. They laugh at me, they laugh at me. Mother
takes me by the hand, pushes me into the sea. Watches
all of my sin drown into the channel, watches me
not ever coming up again. This makes her happy. I'm
epic. I'm legend. I'm finally loved. The sea loves me.

- Abigail George 2019

Abigail George is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated writer. She is the author of eight books, recipient of two National Arts Council grants, one from the Centre of the Book, and another from ECPACC. She briefly studied film at the Newtown Film and Television School in Johannesburg. She is the poetry editor for African Writer, editor at Mwanaka Media and Publishing, and she has two chapbooks ("Of Bloom and Smoke" and "The Anatomy of Melancholy") forthcoming from MMAP and Praxis Magazine. Her latest book is "The Scholarship Girl" which is available from African Books Collective in the UK and Amazon in the States.