Issue 1.20


Mudlarks

We were born to the Thames,
to the watery banks.

Under old London Bridge
or further East, in Rotherhithe,
its ramshackle jetties fixed up
with whittled whale bones.

This stretch is all needles and pins
so each footstep is cat-careful.
Eyes kept down in low light,
we read only with our feet.

We see what has dropped
carelessly overboard,
fallen through cracks,
sacrificed to the tide.

A chunk of coal or wood,
licked round by the waves
and discarded, we pick
and prise into new life.

It is heat, aye but to us,
who went out empty bellied
at dawn, it is dry straw,
a spoon, milk and bread.

We were born to the Thames,
to the watery banks.

To this job of waiting,
watching the tide,
barefoot and patient
as the water recedes.

Lucy Heuschen is a poet, former lawyer, breast cancer survivor, avid reader, and anti-plastic blogger. Born in London, she now lives in Germany. Lucy is Founder of The Rainbow Poems and Sonnets For Shakespeare initiativesHer poems have appeared in Irisi, Covid Narratives, and Unlimited with further work due in Beyond Words and Near Window this year. Lucy was a Lord Whisky Competition shortlisted poet. Follow Lucy on Twitter @Rainbow_Poems and Facebook @RainbowPoemsUK.


Godless, Manfearing

I wait for my neighbor to go back inside
then hustle to my car

I pick up my dog and duck inside
to avoid late-night words  

I stand in the corner
on the other side of the waiting room

I apologize and say, I’m tired
or I have a headache

I dissect each interaction
in case they could have taken it wrong

I tell myself I am wrong
because we play by different rules

I struggle to fall asleep
taking down my scaffolding

I wake up and rebuild
unready for the new day

I fix myself in the bathroom mirror
trying to know what the other may see

I sit alone at night again oscillating wildly  
between solitude and desire

I do not look out the window or around
and try to avoid what is within

I tell everyone what I’m thinking
though none of my concerns

I pretend I can feel our magnetism
as the crows speak to me by collective

I play the game of ritual
so I make myself impossible

I convince myself I am ready
while no one is around to disagree

Mark Danowsky is a Philadelphia poet, author of the poetry collection As Falls Trees (NightBallet Press), Managing Editor of the Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Editor of ONE ART poetry journal.


In the Absence of Colour

The flowers kept dying.

The sour, wheaty smell of them seeped through the house, wringing out the walls. The sunflowers wilted in their vase, yellow faces drooping, stems bowed like broken necks. The roses shrivelled into crumpled paper versions of themselves, and the baby’s breath puckered as if gasping their last breaths.

I threw them out and bought more, arranging them carefully around the house so that the colour splashed against the bare walls and worn furniture, the drab greys and browns of standard council housing. I cut the stems and watered them carefully, positioning them so they could catch the sun’s rays just so. The first day, they greeted me cheerfully, the sweet smell and soft petals like a sigh against my skin whenever I passed.

By the next morning, they were dying again. 

I wondered if I was cursed. What was the opposite of a green thumb? The colour seemed to bleed from the house, until I was walking through a black and white movie, Humphrey Bogart with a cigarette dangling from my lips and a bitter, cynical squint. I tried turning on the radio, but the sound came out garbled and muffled, as if we were underwater.

It became tiresome to keep throwing out the flowery corpses, shuttling them down the garbage chute into a black abyss. I kept sweeping petals off the coffee table and the windowsills, vacuuming up dead leaves that clung stubbornly to the carpet. I don’t know why I kept buying flowers. It became a relentless, stubborn battle of wills with the house, which persisted in chewing up beauty and spitting it out defiantly.

I painted the walls, great swathes of reds and greens and blues like the inside of a Moroccan mosque, where the stained glass created miniature rainbows on the floors. The colours ran into each other, blending into an ugly muddy brown. It faded and chipped, bits of it falling into my hair even as I tried to paint a fresh coat. I hung up paintings to cover up the stains and they leapt off their hooks, smashing face-first into the floor like suicide jumpers. 

I threw open the curtains, but the sunlight never seemed to reach past the windows, stopped by an invisible barrier. My sunflowers strained and strained, seeking life, and eventually sighed and gave up and withered. 

I felt as though I had a hostile, invisible roommate, silently working against me, creating mess whenever I cleaned, breaking whatever new and beautiful things I brought into the house. I could almost hear his stomping footsteps and heavy breathing when I was in my room, and there were days when I crept out as timidly as a prisoner in my own home.

Desperate, impulsive, I bought a gramophone off eBay – one of those obscenely large standing ones which you had to wind up. The man who sold it to me, an eccentric with too much time and money on his hands, threw in a box of free records, and I put one on at random. The needle kissed the edge of the spinning disc and something smooth and jazzy filtered out. The house reacted: the needle scratched, the sound turned garbled and demonic. 

I put on another record, and then another. And when the music grew corrupted, I sang over it: off-key and tuneless, making up words to a melody I’d never heard before. I sang as I cleaned, drowning out the dust that gathered relentlessly on the countertops, the mould growing on week-old dishes. I sang to the tune of the vacuum cleaner as it swallowed up bits of broken glass from the fallen paintings. 

I was alone. I was so alone. My misery had crept out of me like a living thing and taken up residence in my home, a squatter hell-bent on making me miserable. The loneliness had drained the colour from the house and killed the flowers, but I could still sing, and like Dorothy I stepped out into the technicolour brightness of Oz. 

I bought a new bouquet of flowers the next morning. Only half of them wilted. It was a start. 

Shehrazade Zafar-Arif grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and currently lives in London. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Untitled: Voices and FEELS Zine. She is on Twitter @ShehrazadeZafar and Instagram @sher.zafar.