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Letter from the Editor

Dearest Readers, welcome again to our pages!

"Volume 2" of Spare Parts Lit has been a delight to compose - this edition saw a myriad of voices band together and raise a joyful noise against the darkness. I have noticed with intrigue the thematic strands of identity, connection, mental health, and the mysteries of what it is to be human, all shining between these works like light between a canopy of leaves. It is a delight and a wonder to me to receive and receive from our contributors, all pouring and pouring into this new well - Spare Parts literary - I cannot underscore enough the privelige and pleasure that curating this magazine has become for me in such a short period of time. It is the conversation between our creatives and you, the reader, which breathes the passion into this project, and I can only write this, a letter of pure gratitude to all of you.

And, so, It is again with great thanks and humility that I introduce, "Volume 2".

Oak Ayling

Oak Ayling (EIC)

 

Vol 2.

WIND FROM NOWHERE

By Robert MCCarthy

Wind, extempore, winging it, welling

up as if from nowhere, from old mines,

from earth’s center. December surprise,

hurricano out of season, burly,

as if clamor had gained a body,

ventriloquized in the tumultuous

vaulting air no longer air, havoc, furor,

horizontal avalanche, a compost

of rocks and dust, meaty howls, wolves’ whistles

of unpleasure pitched at the whining

threshold of audition this wind that finds

nothing beautiful, a commotion of trees,

 matchsticks ignited, roaring, stripped from their leaves.

 

A wind to accelerate the planet’s spin,

a gyre, the day’s rotation, the veiled sun

streaking across the shutter-stop sky,

violent, flensing, a gale to rip breath

from lungs, paradoxical aspiration,

deconstructing all it smashes upon,

squalls of in-flight rubble, masonry chopped

from roads, from steel foundations, from towers

the pared, the exposed bones, the wind-cracked ribs

of concrete citadels flurry in whirlwinds,

autumnal falls of tiles, spills of solar glass,

the roof-stripped chimneys (complete with smoke) ride

the cannonading wind, stridulous now,

keening, moaning to match the storm-lost shrieks

of people caught out, gale-battered, clutching

themselves to ground, trying to magic their

bodies heavier, bulkier, a limpet-like

leaden clinging, a partiality

to gravity evinced, a hopeful emu-

immunity to flight, as the welter

peels them from shelters, winkles them into

the ravening wind, limbs splayed, rotating,

heavier-than-air kites, tempest-tossed, tempest-

lost, barques aloft in cyclonic seas land-

breached, exalted by toppling waves

multitudinous, falling to abyssal troughs.

 

This wind from nowhere has stripped away city,

locus, place, the planet’s greenmantle,

clawed the bedrock, ruptured tectonic plates,

 knocked all the outside in. . .

 

                         Now we can begin.

EXEQUIES

This dissembling body (not, after all,

as advertised; not in the least as promised,

of spirit partially comprised, some stuff

angelical intermixed with the mud,

the sludge, some substance incorruptible)

begins its disassembly; or suffers

itself to be disassembled, conspires

with its break-up into parts, junked debris,

the oxidized, the worn-to-a-transparency

components, the never-to-be-salvaged

orts and lumps.

                        Only so many strokes allotted,

only so many piston pumps, their finicky

 limits surpassed of gasps and grunts, strangled

evacuations; only so many

cell-replicants to go gentle into.

            Some tropism

toward todestrieb must have been factored-in

at the point of manufacturing.

Exhaustion, indifference,-- to let happen,

without intervention, whatever happens

next to happen; not thanatos so much

as tedium, the adventure leached from

everything, some reek exhaled from every

molecule a cloud of weltschmerz, evidence

of so much shearing of all those telomeric

tails.

Drowning not waving, a suspired

slipping-under the breathtaking water,

a final yawning mutter no mas, no mas,

flesh’s thanatopsis, not so much as even

a show made of resistance, of struggle,

the vaunted rage against the light’s surcease

gone missing, more a sighing subsidence

to the empirical, more a sinking

into the hyle, matter’s quicksand, formless,

agglutinate, stockpot waiting on new

information, ready for reassignment

perhaps (though you remain indifferent).

 

Here watch the being-integral becoming

one with its parts, each one distinct, separable,

dissocketed. See them cataloged and shelved,

all the parts, the parts --  the once-elegant makeshifts,

virtuoso bricolage, harboring

such skills, such enterprise,-- abruptly

become loathly, half-rotted peripherals

preserved within oblongs of glass as once

were hand-meals in old-timey automats.

Made available for wonderment perhaps;

relics in some macabre rite.

 

Down on your plastic

patellas go,

onto your knees, your knees,

pain-pricked mechanicals,

down on the stones go,

the obdurate stones,

say your orisons, your psalms,

your home-made koans,--

 

and then to bye-bye on the bones.

                                                   Robert McCarthy is a writer living in New York City. He prefers to use formal means to achieve lyric ends. Robert has published poetry in The Alchemy Spoon and Dreich Magazine. His work has also appeared in Yours, Poetically and Neologism Poetry Journal; as well as in Words & Whispers, Celestite Poetry, Fahmidan Journal, Version(9), Madrigal, Ice Floe Press, PaddlerPress, Nymphs, The Storms, and others. @codbiter

 
 
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SCHOOL HOLS

bY dARREN j. bEANeY

The sun gambled early. Sky loaded

with mischief. July’s early bird

leads the line in badinage

with snollygoster gulls.

Today will be sequenced

danger, naughtiness, adventure

and will ramble on.

 

Morning jeopardy double dares doorstep bottle snatching, knocking down ginger, sugar speeding smoking candy sticks, doing it ourselves, skateboards, crashing Choppers, being Knievel, scaling 20 foot slides, balanced on 3 inches, ‘look no hands’, bouncing off concrete, blood & sunburn, flouting                 warnings        climbing,  swimming,  entering,  exploring,  hiding,  taking  and  sometimes breaking.

 

Just happy being gone

far and varied. Out of range.

Everything eternal. Choices informed

by heat and rumbles.

Dusk dictating reluctant return. The future

still a stranger to be avoided. Pick ‘n’ mix

summer days set for one more

reprise before the punk rock revolution

crashes the September tea party.

 

DESTRUCTION

Slow words sneak from livid lips

all sinew,

lingering ligaments

stealing toward emotions.

 

       Ferocity loiters in quarrel

       like silt in a foolish prospectors’ pan

       long after all the claims were staked.

 

              The potency of spitting spite sticks

     to the heart, like burnt milk

     in a battered old copper pot.

 

                    Loose abuse lurks with lost sentiment,

            an iron fist waiting for a fight,        

                    ready for the final push                  

                    while weeping love                          

                                        balances             

                          on a chasms                                 

edge.

Darren J Beaney is a hopeless romantic and he means hopeless! He cuts his own hair. He really enjoys a good pint of IPA. He
loves music, mainly punk rock, and old Colombian folk music, but lots of other stuff as well. He is one half of Flight of the
Dragonfly, who host a regular spoken word evening on Zoom and in a pub Brighton, they also produce FLIGHTS a quarterly
poetry, prose and flash fiction e-journal and have just set up as a small publishing press. He has had poems published in several
journals and anthologies and has two pamphlets published by the Hedgehog Poetry Press - Honey Dew and The Machinery of
Life. His new chapbook – The Fortune Teller’s Yarn (Destiny F*cks With Milo) will be published by Alien Buddha Press in July
2022.
He lives with his family and their rescue cats and dog in East Preston, which is nestled on the West Sussex coast.

T:
@DJ_Be_An
F: darrenj.beaney

www.djbeaney.com
www.flightofthedragonfly.com

 

THE PANDEMIC MADE ME MISS FEELING LIKE 1 OF 7.9 BILLION

BY KARA DUNFORD

How lovely the moment our eyes meet,

strangers on a packed subway car

as the train careens station to station.

 

Constant. Familiar.

 

We don’t know where we’ve been,

the things we lost to history.

 

We let the world spin,

unsure how to make it stop.

 

What are they worth, these shared seconds

in each other’s presence?

 

What will they teach us, these minute minutes

we catch each other’s smile?

 

Seeking, and so: finding,

searching, and so: discovering,

our place on this planet.

 

Our place among the stars.

 

As if we’d known it all along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                         Kara Dunford (she/her) is a writer and nonprofit communications professional living in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brave Voices Magazine, Fahmidan Journal, and boats against the current. She serves as a Poetry Editor for Overtly Lit. Find her on Twitter @kara_dunford.

ALONE

by Tim Goldstone

 

 

The skin clung frantically to the banana

he’d found on the pavement by the bus shelter,

some bits had to be dug out with dirty nails

and inside his mouth the hard-won flesh

tasted woody, its green peel stripped too soon.

He was hungry but he was saving for later

the dangerously grey ox-heart the butcher

had handed him that morning on condition

he stopped begging in front of his shop.

When the bus came he had already positioned himself

in exactly the right place on the edge of the kerb

to win warmth from its exhaust fumes and then

the bus was gone,

a small gang of dead dry leaves scuttering after it.

A brief red glow of brake lights made him feel warmer

then they were gone too.

Then he saw the well-dressed woman

walking briskly towards him, clickety-clacking

on high heels. She looked far too thin to him.

As she got nearer and the heels got louder

he expected her to cross the road because of him

and when she didn’t

he smiled at her as she walked past 

without the slightest acknowledgment

of the proffered heart

lying in the open palm of his hand.

 

 

 

 

THE MATRESS AND THE RAINBOW

 

 

It is humid and drizzling,

there is the constant hiss of wheel spray,

an abandoned mattress is lying

in the middle lane of a motorway,

a few feet in front of a bridge.

The bridge is empty,

except for one lone figure.

Engine fumes soak his clothes.

The mattress is empty too, 

no bedclothes, no pillows, nothing,

and looks serene

even though vehicles must take evasive action

and are going too fast

for anyone to venture out

to drag the mattress off the road.

The speeding traffic

makes the sound of a catapult twang

as it passes under the bridge.

The sun comes out and the drizzle continues.

Suddenly the back wheel of a big lorry

clips the mattress in just the right way

to send it somersaulting magnificently high

into the air towards the hint of a rainbow

that is weak and grubby through exhaust haze.

The figure is still on the bridge.

After watching all this he doesn’t jump,

needing for the first time in years

to know what happens next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                               Tim Goldstone has roamed widely and currently lives in Wales. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies both online and in print, including 11 Mag Berlin, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Offing, The Daily Drunk, The Cafe Irreal, Rough Diamond Poetry, Crannóg, The New Welsh Review, Tír na nÓg, Stand Magazine, The Mechanics' Institute Review Anthology. Prose sequence read on stage at The Hay Festival. Poetry recently presented on Digging for Wales. Loiters in twitter @muddygold

 
Kara Dunford Poet at Spare Parts Literature
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DEATH'S ASTRONOMER

BY ROBIN NEAL

 

               After “The Fury of Flowers and Worms” by Anne Sexton                

 

 

constellations connect death’s potential / like roads and blades of grass / all live things lean on

dead things / astronomers, earthworms, fish  /  inside earth’s cauldron fish are swimming in

patterns  / festering water molecules connecting their movement  /  poetry’s constellation / birth

to the earthworm that thinks death is bullshit / cycle of life / enter in through the ear / She knows

of the dark sky’s night lights / constellations of dead poets’ minds  / Her words beat the eardrum

to better see you with  /  words the ghost of life  / constellations’ word envy  / connecting dead

things to live things  /  it's a thing you know

MIDNIGHT SWIM

In the beginning, we are blurry,

gentle air stirs as I unzip you.

You are covered in a green forest;

the white of your glassy owl eyes

stands against the surrounding midnight.

Will we dance around the edge of it?

Or dip right into the deep black paint

of night’s rippled water, spraying drops

to purple sky cast by the hidden moon.

The vibration of our atoms align,

twisting the surface of everything.

 

After fucking, we float like otters,

our skin cooled by night's shed of the day.

Turn our heads from the lure of beauty,

begin our story in wide-eyed match

ignoring questions of new love's hope.

Robin Neal is a graduate student at the MFA creative writing program at Lindenwood University. She has been previously published in The Raven’s Perch, Filter Coffee Zine and The Wild Word. She resides in Spring Hill, TN as a mother, wife, woman, creative dreamer, and writer. Most importantly she writes for all women who have something to say and know there is a meaning to their lives. For the past 17 years she has worked as a nutritional scientist and this influences her work today.@robinnealpoetry
 

 

THE INSECTS OF THE SOIL

By Ashwini Kumar  -   Translated by Pitambar Naik

 

 

He didn’t have a container full of paddy to grow a morsel

for his stomach, nor did he have a piece of land of

interdigital folds; the sixteen houses he had built in the

chest of the land, at the end of the village for his

sixteen ancestral deities don’t belong to him anymore.

 

The land where he was born and grew up as a kid playing

keli badi and hide and seek, the land where he started a 

life after getting married under a pandal of boughs and the

traditional earthen pitchers around it doesn’t belong to him;

the land alone was his deity, god and provider of

subsistence, today that doesn’t belong to him anymore.

 

The land which was tremoring by the nissan around his waist

and the jingle bells on his ankles with the rhythms of the

drum and wind instrument doesn’t belong to him now,

the land for which his ancestors died and merged into the soil

doesn’t belong to him but belongs to someone else; the land

from where he was growing crops doesn’t belong to him.

 

As he’s landless, he’s a labourer on someone’s farmland

he goes out to another state as a bonded labour for his

stomach; on one hand, he’s known as a landless man on

the other hand, he’s an elephant for the king. I remember

even today, before he became a ghost, he kept saying

we are the insects of the soil, bow down to protect

our father's land even at the cost of your blood and life.

 

 

Notes: Kelibadi is a game played by children in rural Odisha

using two sticks, one is very short and the other is long. The shorter

one is hit with the big one from a certain circular post to score points.

 

Nissan is a very old and traditional musical instrument of the

indigenous people in Odisha, that's played on every occasion.

 

Translated from the Odia by Pitambar Naik

Ashwini Kumar is a teacher in a Government Upper Primary School.                         

He writes poetry in Odia and his work revolves around socio-cultural                        

issues in India. His work in Odia has appeared in various journals.                             
Currently, he’s pursuing his MA in Odia from Sambalpur University.                               

 

                                         

 
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Pitambar Naik is an advertising professional. His recent work appears or is forthcoming in The McNeese Review, The Notre Dame Review, Packingtown Review, Rise Up Review, Ghost City Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Indian Quarterly and elsewhere. The Anatomy of Solitude (Hawakal) is his debut book of poetry. He grew up in Odisha and lives in Bangalore India. He occassionally Twits @naik_iconoclast    

TIME HAS PASSED.

BY IVAN DE MONBRISON

Time has passed.

The world has changed so much in thirty years.

I don't recognize anything anymore.

But it is logical that the world changes.

Humanity continues its headlong rush through time, which it has created itself, and cannot stop.

Our billions of neurons locked up in our hairy skulls, like microbes, are making the machine go crazy.

One day, I imagine, the car it drives will go off the road, to end up by pulverizing itself on a tree.

Then it will be a day to celebrate ...

 

LAST NIGHT, EVERYONE WAS HAVING A PARTY IN THE CITY.

Last night, everyone was having a party in the city.

Human beings forget at night their lives of slavery suffered during the day, it is indeed a clever

solution.

For them, this is freedom.

Illness and old age are for others, who are locked up elsewhere.

It reminded me of that very bad movie, "Planet of the Apes".

Except that in the American movie the apes are dressed and talking, so, no doubt, they are human

beings disguised.

Maybe in the mind of the racist America of the time, the apes were their former slaves, now finally

free, and they were still so afraid of them.

 

 

                                                 Ivan de Monbrison is a French poet and artist living in Paris born in 1969 and affected by various types of mental disorders, he has published some poems in the past.

 
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THE DAWN PARADE

BY MAThEW GOSTELOW

Oh. This one is wakeful.

 

You must be muddle-much bewildered. Yes? What whereabouts is this, your eyes implore. Don’t fluster so. Your scrawny nerval systems could not fathom out the depths. But be not frightstruck, little moppet-pop. Your continuance is paramount to us.

 

You're abuzz with query-questings, I can see this much. How to express, that you may make some sense of what I speak?

 

Did you ever wake bone-weary with exhaustion? More slumberish than when you went abed? Or stir around with some new ache or groany torment? An over-hang unearned and undeserved? Oh, yes? I thought it so, my pretty poppet-pie. It is not at all uncommon, by the by.

 

We need your hands and feet, you see. We lack your prehensility. Our thumbs and toes do not oppose. Bereft of suitability. You are the lowly cogs within the clockwork of our world. Without you we are nothing. There. This is veracious truth, unclothed and stark. We make you work for us when it is dark.

 

From rise to set we let you go about your bumbly ways, with nary but a minor interrupt. Most handsomely benevolent, we're sure you will concur. But in the fall of night we need your hands for our travails, those hours would be wasted othersuch. Your feet must step the dawn parade to work on our behalf. You labour while you slumber, so that we may live delicious well, like queens. Your hands bake all our honeycakes and churn our creamy butters. Your feet march on our battlefields and trample out our wines. You venture down our airless mines and bring us back the riches. You stitch, and fetch and carry heavy things. You entertain like tumbling marionettes, our little poppets, pretty pretend peoples propped by strings.

 

We are not akin. You're lesserly, but serve our purpose flawlessly. We antecede most longwards, back before you first began. And our living will surpass your dusty end, all crumblebones and tears. We snuggletuck from view of course, deflect from our existings. You won't see us outside a glimpse, all cornerwise and hid. You won’t recall this chinnywag amid the morrow’s din. The hubble-bub and squeak of your most busy being drowns it out. We will make doubly certain of this much.

 

Night’s end we put you backaways, the places whence we found thee, before your sleepy lids rise with the sun. No harming done, no malice meant, those hours are our belongings. So get back to your droney buzzing snores. Yes, sleep now poppet, back to sleep. Slumber long in drowsy deep. And when you wake, with tire and ache, don't recollect this chinnywag. Just go about your beeswax, normalwise. And next time, if you open eyes, be not so poppetsome afraid. It's just the secret march of dawn's parade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                              Mathew Gostelow is a dad, husband, and copywriter, living in Birmingham, UK. Some mornings he wakes early and writes strange tales. His stories have been published by Lost Futures, Myth & Lore, Soor Ploom Press, Cape Magazine, and others. @MatGost

 
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OVERTHINKING

BY MAT BLUNT

He’s overthinking overthinking

He was thinking, thinking, sinking to where no man had been before.

Now became then and next-no future Said the pistols

 But they all crowded in- the now stopped -right now

He was thinking, thinking, sinking to where no man had been before.

The past filled the future

Now was virtual insanity-

People wanted more

Put on a happy face

The great British Fake off began

He was thinking, thinking, sinking to where no man had been before.

As each layer added, more taken away

More, more, more-how do you like it x2

Dr Jones Dr Jones here cone the magic beans

He was thinking, thinking, sinking to where no man had been before.

“Tears dry on their own,” said Amy

But lucky man had a hand to hold

Tears on a pillow, the beans grew and the phone rang.

He was thinking, thinking, sinking to where no man had been before.

Pressure pushed down, the bean stalk grew above the clouds

The sun shone (on TV)

The phone rang

The hand held, the whisper began

He was thinking, thinking, sinking to where no man had been before.

He spoke, he choked, he caught the eye rolled but 99 problems don’t fit just one

The climb had begun

He was thinking, thinking, sinking to where many men had been before.

The beans grew away, the bow still crowded House but the futures bright, he’s got to wear shades.

He was thinking, thinking, sinking to where many people had been before.

He’s overthinking, overthinking.

MULTIVERSE OF MY MIND

 

Sometimes it’s a train out of control, avoiding all possible stops, life passing by, no reason why

Overdue, late it’s true

I would suggest the emergency break if I were you

 

Then other times like a cheap hotel, don’t stay too long, if you think it’s well lit, you’d be wrong

Dimly lit corridors reveal the horrors that await, some you won’t believe

 You can check out anytime but you can never leave

 

Sometimes tuned into multiple channels, attempting to drown out the noise from the others

Then one dials in and you get your focus on a tune but then it’s gone again too soon

 

Then, every now and again, the train switches on the radio station and arrives at the  hotel, the multiverse closes down

Freefalling through existence, the multiverse closes with haste

The mind is a terrible thing to waste

The next train arrives at platform 3……

Mat Blunt I began writing in April 22, so it’s still a learning curve. I work in education, have 5 boys , a
grandson and the most amazing wife.
Spare Part Lit chose to publish and that gave me the courage to pop stuff on Instagram as

@rimetime_fiftynine and also facebook, plus read out my words at open mic events.
Thanks for choosing to read.

 

 

SCREAMS IN VAIN

BY HUGH BLANTON

 

His scream sounds like a cross between

a growl and a bark - he repeats it many times.

It's 12:00 AM on a Sunday and a frustrated

crackhead lets the world know he is unhappy.

 

But the growl-bark communicates nothing.

Is he angry that he doesn't have a lover?

Maybe he wishes he had a nice car.

I'm sure he wants a nice place to live.

 

He has none of it - so he screams.

His body odor infuriates him.

His missing teeth humiliate him.

There's nothing to do but scream.

 

There's been many just like him -

screaming in the alley all night.

None of them ever ask -

What would make it all better?

THE STINK

 

There are too many poems coming out of my printer.

It's something to do while I sit here drinking.

I live alone in this rented room

gulping the booze and pounding out poems -

I think 11 in one night is my record.

Then I go to bed - even though

I never remember going to bed.

 

In the morning - as the coffee gurgles -

I lift the sheaf of papers out of the printer

and take some joy in the ones

that spark a vague memory of writing them -

and even more joy in the ones I have

no memory of writing at all.

 

I'm well past middle age now -

still pounding this keyboard

and one of these days I'll keel over -

hit the floor and rot as the flies eat me -

to die like a Moses in sight of the Promised Land.

 

The neighbors will complain of the stink

and the landlord will be forced to investigate.

 

At this moment - I'd like to think

the landlord and the city employees

will see artistic value in the thousands of poems

in dozens of folders throughout the room.

 

But they'll do what should have been done long ago -

toss them in the Waste Management Dumpster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                   Hugh Blanton is the author of A Home to Crouch In. He has appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, The Scarlet Leaf Review, As It Ought To Be, and other places. He can be reached on Twitter @HughBlanton5

 
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CAHOOTS

BY BUD STURGUESS

Our hearts are heavy today:

our muse finally dried

We wander at the mausoleum

hanging on the knowledge that we tried

We sleep side by side

in cahoots

 

We could have been sober Steinbeck

Bipolar Capote

but the well ran dry after only three poems

Dylan stole our thesaurus

and our journals burned in Rome

Our thoughts are in tact

but they wander like bums without homes

They wander in cahoots

 

Every day we read the Book of Luke

and remember the disciples

sleeping from sorrow

We'll ride out into the sunset

the day after tomorrow

 

We close our eyes for the camera

and sleep in cahoots.

Bud Sturguess was born in the small cotton-and-oil town of Seminole, Texas. He now lives in his "adopted hometown," Amarillo. Sturguess has self-published several books, his latest being the novel Sick Things. Total sales for his books since 2015 are slowly approaching forty copies. He lives on a disability pension and collects neckties. @SturgesVerses

 

TEA-ROSES

BY GRACE EVANS

 

Guide the heart homeward-bound, into the gardens,

Accepting, healing

Gather noon-time’s crystalline tears from your skin,

            Nourishing

And pluck the putrescent tea-rose petals of yesteryear,

            Tenderly

With still-frail fingertips, although the phantoms

Grating their teeth against your spine continue

Their lament, remain

            Focused on what awaits you –

Thrust the petals into boxes, cardboard

Dampened with bygone regrets, weak like the limbs which carry

Them towards the sun, up the staircases

And staircases

Treading towards

Forgiveness and revival.

 Grace Evans (they/them) is a non-binary poet and spoken word artist.

 

MYSTERIES

BY PEGGY HAMMOND

 

In the dream

I hurry down aisles

packed with paper,

stationery,

legal pads.

My father is

wandering.

I call out

which one

do you prefer?

He smiles

over his

shoulder.

Each notebook

I pick,

filled

with his

writing.

How has he

stretched

sloped letters

along

unpurchased

lines?

I know

there must

be a message

he is trying

to send

but I cannot

break this code.

Not in life.

Not in death.

And yet,

I am warmed

by his smile

as if I’ve

lingered too close

to the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                              Peggy Hammond’s recent poems appear or are forthcoming in The Blue Mountain Review, Sangam Literary Magazine, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Pangyrus, Burningword Literary Journal, The Hyacinth Review, Thimble Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. A Best of the Net nominee, her chapbook The Fifth House Tilts is due out fall 2022 (Kelsay Books). Find her on Twitter @PHammondPoetry or go to https://peggyhammondpoetry.com/

 

 
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NUNS & ROSES

BY ANEETA SUNDARARAJ

        Stop it, Sister. I can’t even look at you right now.  

       I wanted to scream, but no sound came out.

       The memory of all my lessons in Phonetics with Sister Alphonse pales in comparison with what happened during this one lesson on a sunny day in 1980. It was just us in the airy classroom next to the vast playing field of St. Nicholas Convent, Alor Setar.

        Mercifully, the bell rang. I gathered my books and escaped from this torture chamber.

       “What did you learn today?” Mummy asked during our drive back home.

        I ignored her. It was some months later before I shamefacedly admitted the real reason I refused to return to those one-to-one lessons with Sister Alphonse.

        My dilemma at that time was, in hindsight, relatively simple.

        How could Sister Alphonse, who was ‘the bestest of the best of all the Sisters’ say this bad, bad word?

        How could she?

        And of all the people, to me.

        Pray tell, what was this God-awful word?

        Sex.

        In my defence, in 1980, I was all of seven years old and didn’t know how to tell Mummy that Sister Alphonse had explained that to know if something was male or female, I needed to know its gender or sex. It was a lesson in English grammar and nothing more. Still, the thought alone of the word was too much for me. Saying it out loud, would have cast me into a world of sin without absolution. Forget redemption.

 

        After this, the time lapse increased between when I sinned and me confessing said sins committed in this home-away-from-home for eleven years that was my primary and secondary school. In one particular case, it was twenty-five years.

        Imagine.

        It was a dreary day in September 1981. At about 10.25 am, an announcement was made over the PA system. The unfriendly voice said, “Tara in 3 Green, go to Sister Joseph’s office now.” Classmates who dared to, looked at me as though they were commiserating with a death row inmate about to make her final journey to the gallows.

        Five minutes later, I stood before our headmistress. On Sister Joseph’s table, that horrible thing called the Report Card was open as she scanned my marks for the month. I swallowed the lump in my throat.

        Was it true that Sister Joseph ate naughty girls?

        Maybe, she’d cane me instead.

        No rotan in sight, though. How I hated that malleable bamboo stick that I am still convinced the gardener also used to kill snakes.

        Something wasn’t right.

        She looked up, pushed her straight hair behind her ears and said, “Tara, are you interested in learning Mandarin?”

        Interested? In Mandarin?

         I stared at her and cocked my head to one side, puzzled.

        She turned the Report Card so it was the right way round for me, pushed it closer and pointed to the column marked ‘Mandarin’. That month, I’d achieved a grand total of 10 marks out of 50. Previously, my average was 45 marks.

        I can’t remember my response. In fact, I wonder if I said anything at all. Decades later, though, it was time to confess this sin.

        “Sister Joseph,” the 30-year-old me said during a visit to her home in Penang, “I didn’t dare tell you that the girl who used to sit next to me wasn’t there. She was sick and didn’t come to school that day. So, I had no one to copy from.”

         She looked at me with a benign smile and said, “Yes. I knew what you girls were doing all the time. I just wanted to see what you would say.”

         Oh, dear God. I was mortified.

         Reflecting on all these stories reinforced my long-held belief that these women, though cloistered and unmarried, were not dumb, stupid or out of touch with reality. Street-wise, knowledgeable and business savvy, they were strict with us, but incredibly kind.

         In fact, almost every day, my classmates and I, a group of precocious girls, each born into religions that were so far removed from Catholicism, visited her at Sisters’ House. Sister Alphonse guided us to the Chapel where we dipped tiny fingers into a bowl of holy water, bent the knee at the altar and made the sign of the Cross. She listened intently as we shared our grievance of the day which was invariably something monumental like who used whose rubber eraser without permission. On occasion, we would steal roses from our gardens and bring them to her to place at the altar for Jesus because she told us that “When you love someone, you shower them with gifts, like roses or flowers.” 

        The highlight of my school years was the celebration for the Golden Jubilee in 1984. One of them included a production of The Sound of Music at the Dato’ Syed Omar stadium in town. Although the entire school was involved in this, I recall that members of the larger Catholic community also gave of themselves to help make this a joyous occasion. For a few days in August 1984, members of the Kedah Royal Family and the public watched as we morphed into tiny, Malaysian Maria von Trapps. Singing our little hearts out, we serenaded everyone about the ‘hills being alive’, momentarily forgetting that Alor Setar was surrounded by flat paddy land.

        In spite of these happy memories, many of us bore witness to a brutal reality of a covert education policy to undermine the mission schools. For one, the large Cross above the office building was pulled down because the very sight of it might influence students to embrace Catholicism. The spirit of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus who served at our school was whittled away until one day, fighting back tears, one of the nuns said, “We have to go. Our mission is over.”

        By the mid-1990s, the nuns left the home they’d known for more than 50 years and Sisters’ House was razed to the ground. Gradually, all the buildings in the school were also destroyed. Today, the site of what was once the premier school for girls in Alor Setar is a non-descript supermarket.

        That said, no truer is a statement than this verse from the Holy Bible: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13). I speak for the majority of former students of St. Nicholas Convent, Alor Setar when I say that we carry in our hearts an immense gratitude and love for these Catholic women who made it their mission unto God to shape the women we have become. I pray that the intangible values they inculcated in us will live on in future generations.

Once upon a time, Aneeta Sundararaj created a website and called it ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. She has contributed feature articles to a national newspaper and also various journals, magazines and ezines. Aneeta’s bestselling novel, ‘The Age of Smiling Secrets’ was shortlisted for the Book Award 2020 organised by the National Library of Malaysia. Throughout, Aneeta continued to pursue her academic interests and, in 2021, successfully completed a doctoral thesis entitled ‘Management of Prosperity Among Artistes in Malaysia’.

Social media handle: @httags