A big thank you to Paul and the team at Algebra of Owls for publishing my poem – First Deaths.
“Not everyone will like you,” she said.
“That’s the way of things. Never show them it hurts.”
I looked at the iron gate before me and thought of spears. A phalanx of invisible soldiers clutching towering spears.
“When can I return?” I said.
“You must always look forward. Behind lies naught but ashes and dust.”
“Once I step through, you’ll be behind.”
She said nothing.
“I’ll miss you,” I said.
“As I will you.”
“You could come with me.”
She smiled. “The price of your freedom was more than I have.”
I looked from her face to the man in the shadows. A glint of gold flickered as he opened his mouth. “Time to go.”
“Ashes and dust,” said my mother, and shoved me into the light.
My shot missed. Dust rose in a miniature mushroom cloud.
Donny drew back his slingshot and held a rock steady. The chicken stood still. Donny released. His rock struck the chook’s head and sent it scrabbling into the red dirt of my yard.
I watched as it rose and tried to escape. The piece of rusted fencing wire Donny had wound round its leg and secured to a star picket stopped it from getting far. I wiped my hand across my forehead. Sweat and dust ran into my eyes. I blinked it away and loaded my slingshot. I missed again.
“You’re fuckin’ useless,” Donny said.
A metal bar lay on the ground nearby, left over from the shed Dad had started to build. Another project that got too hard for him and remained unfinished. The shed leaned to one side and barely stayed upright when the winds howled.
I picked up the bar and advanced on the chook. “Take this, you little faggot,” I said, and swung hard. The chook somersaulted through the air, then sprawled on the ground. Still twisted in wire, its leg pointed like a finger of accusation. I wiped my eyes, then raised the bar for another blow.
“Stop,” my mother said, emerging from behind the half-finished shed. She didn’t yell—she rarely did—but her presence was enough to make me lower the bar, and my eyes.
“Go home, Donny.”
Mother walked to the chicken, still flopping around on the end of the wire. With a quick motion of her hands—a pull and jerk—she ended its suffering. She turned and looked me in the eyes. “Untie it. Bring it into the shed.” Without another word, she walked away.
I entered the shed with the limp, bloody bird, and lay it on the bench my mother indicated.
I didn’t look at her.
“I said sit.”
She tilted her head to the side. “Turn around.”
I did as she asked.
“Now drop your strides.”
Face burning, I complied. Mother looked at my bare arse, crisscrossed with red welts the same width as Dad’s belt. She placed her hands on my shoulders and turned me around to face her.
“Please don’t tell Dad about the chook.”
“The true measure of a man isn’t his capacity for violence, but his ability to contain it. Do you understand?”
She handed me a hatchet.
“Cut off its head and pluck it. Then bring it in for dinner.”
Runner-up in Grindstone Literary Flash Fiction 1000, July 2018
I wake a full hour early
for the rare gift
of a walk in the woods
with my father.
He is a silent giant
among misty ghost gums.
I tell him, Watch!
See how fast I can run.
He doesn’t yell when I trip
and fall, but lifts me
At the end of the trail
I study my grazes—jagged
and bloody. He tells me
he’s leaving my mum.
On the walk home
I gaze at the gum trees
and fragmented clouds, thinking
they should look different somehow.
first published at Poetry Nook, 1st place Week 185
The boy sits alone
while the carriage fills
around him. It’s a V-line,
a long haul, thundering
a chipped sign fades
and Violet Town falls away.
He retreats to a paperback
kingdom, while oblivious
wheels devour miles.
Sometimes his eyes rise
to watch the landscape
grind from here to there.
Terminus halogen holds the night
at bay as a voiceover calls
At journey’s end,
crisp air whispers
possibility. Behind him,
doors hiss shut. Ahead,
a turnstile beckons.
First published in Writers’ Forum Magazine issue 159, December 2014
I looked up from my cappuccino into sparkling green eyes.
The woman they belonged to seemed familiar. She sashayed towards me, dressed in layers that made me think of spring sunshine and daisies. Her look said she knew me, yet I couldn’t place her. Middle-aged like me, she wore her years with grace. Her walk was fluid and confident. When her pink-painted lips curved to a grin, I recognised her at last.
Harlee! That lopsided smile stripped away years to the last time i saw her, and I was once more beside her on the backseat of our school bus.
“Meet me back here at midnight,” Harlee said as she stood up to exit.
“Unless you’re chicken.” She smiled her lopsided grin and walked off down the aisle with an exaggerated sway in her hips.
At five before midnight, I rose quietly and snuck out through the dorm room, doing my best not to step on any of my fellow school-campers. They littered the floor in sleeping bags and blankets, snores rising from more than one open mouth. Now I stood back by the bus, rubbing my hands and watching small clouds escape my mouth in the fresh night air. After ten minutes of waiting I realised the truth—I’d been set up. I’d suspected it when Harlee had spoken on the bus, but had to try anyway. What else do you do when the prettiest girl in school dares you to sneak out with her? I walked a circuit of the bus, peering into bushes and expecting to hear laughter and catcalls at any minute. I knew the usual crowd would be gathered to make fun of me once more.
“Miles the stud! How did your midnight hookup with Harlee go, Romeo?” Why did I always put myself in the same situations?
Instead of the imagined teasing, I heard a soft, “Boo!” as I rounded the front of the bus. I turned quickly and, rather than the expected gang of leering jocks, I saw Harlee. She stood by the bus, wrapped in a blanket and moonlight.
“Harlee!” I said
“Ssh, not so loud. Miss Smythe will kill us if she finds us out of bed.”
“Sorry. Why are we out of bed, anyway?”
“You’ll see,” she said and offered me her trademark lopsided grin.
Harlee bent down and reached under the step of the bus. I caught a glimpse beneath her blanket as she bent and saw a hint of black lace as the long t-shirt she was wearing crept up. She must have flicked a switch or something and the bus door hissed open. Harlee skipped up into darkness. With a quick glance around, I followed.
I found her on the back seat. As I approached, she opened her blanket and beckoned me in. I paused, still half-expecting laughter and the joke to be revealed. Although she’d never picked on me like most of the other kids in our year, Harlee and I had never spoken more than a few words to each other since she’d arrived at school at the start of the year.
“Come on, Miles, don’t be shy.”
I sat down next to her, dumbfounded. She wrapped us both in her blanket.
“Wha-“ I began, and stopped as Harlee pressed her lips against mine.
After what seemed an hour, she moved back slightly and gave a small laugh. “Have you kissed a girl before?”
“No. Does it show?”
“A little.” Another laugh. “Go slower, softer. Like this.”
The windows near us fogged over, adding to the night’s otherworldly feeling. Rain pelted the bus as a storm broke outside. I imagined the back of the school bus was a cave, warm and far away from the cold world outside. In the darkness I discovered I could kiss for two hours straight — surely some kind of record. My hands explored Harlee’s hair and her face. I found a place where neck became shoulder that caused her to shiver each time I brushed it. Her breath quickened to gasps as my hand stroked her thigh, yet she deftly parried when I wandered too high. But she followed up with a smile and a laugh. I hated the dawn when it came.
“We have to go now,” she said.
“Five more minutes?”
“No, they’ll be up soon.”
I knew she was right but I didn’t care. Let them find us here, wrapped together. Let the whole world see. But Harlee stood up and the spell was broken.
“Come on,” she said.
“Harlee. I. I lo—“
“Ssh.” She reached out and took my hand, pulling me up.
We stepped off the bus and Harlee closed the door. She turned and placed her hands on each side of my face. The most beautiful girl I knew stared into my eyes. “You’re special, Miles. Never doubt it. Never forget it.” Harlee brushed my lips with hers, then turned and ran off into the dawn.
That was the last time we spoke. No matter how I tried to get time alone with Harlee on the last day of camp, she was always surrounded and wouldn’t meet my eyes. Camp ended and holidays began. When I returned to school, Harlee was gone. They were a military family and never settled anywhere long.
And now here she was, walking towards me as I sat in the mall with my wife beside me. I opened my mouth to say something, but Harlee lifted her finger to her lips and mimed, “Ssh.” She continued past and I half turned to watch.
“Perv,” said my wife, following my gaze.
“I know her.”
“Sure you do.” A laugh. “Come on, we need to pick the kids up from school.”
As I picked up my wallet and phone from the table, I glanced back the way Harlee had walked. Once again, she was gone. I turned back to my wife and took her hand.
One drunken night, he lay on the coach road
and she lay beside him. He pictured a truck
descending–wobbling around corners,
gaining momentum. They spoke about crushes,
first kisses. He told her of an older woman
who’d stolen a thing he couldn’t replace.
He tried to describe the weight of lost things.
She listened until he stopped,
until I stopped
hiding behind he. I felt small,
watching the cosmos churn
while I lay on the coach road
one summer night,
speaking of big things
first published at Algebra of Owls, November 2016
Republished for dVerse poetics – Poems That Could Save Your Life – this friendship saved mine.
remember school days and how we would play
like there was no tomorrow?
now the castles we made
are the price we must pay
or flounder in oceans of sorrow
roaming wild and free, building houses in trees
as worlds waltzed to discordant tunes
like a zephyr through grass,
gilded summer days passed;
left us flayed under Cheshire moons
wooden sword fights and valiant knights;
pirates, the Pan and his Bell,
faded from dreams,
rowed ungentle streams,
to where the real monsters dwell
I’ve climbed faraway trees, seen fair Honah-Lee,
never never thought I’d grow old
now the pied piper calls —
before the last curtain falls,
leafless, I’ll trip into the wold.
First published by Wolf Publishing June, 2015