CREATIVE WRITING
a collection of November's thought pieces and poems

Taxidermy Vision

 

I keep catching visions from the shadows

Limbs and tall top hats

Someone is skulking 

Imagining that they are someone else 

While the smoke rises from chimney tops

And TV boxes chatter 

Cracks re-appear on the pavement 

And light the world from below

The rain falls with a vengeance 

To wash away the soot

This ladder he climbs starts from nowhere and ends nowhere else

He crushes a snail and his victory mocks the earth

The pavement cracks widen

The old town drops beneath my feet

And I fall into the dream 

It is real

The mechanical third dimension swirls into the miraculous fourth 

In truth as in dreams

It is bright and it hurts my eyes

There is a coin on the floor 

Light, cold and clean

To my left, there are bagpipes

The archaic swan song 

And I sway 

He falls down beside me but he is lost

The pigeons swarm and peck at his eyes 

He is not welcome 

In the Realm of Importance

Where bleached angels sing 

About the didactic end,

The taxidermy vision.

JESSIE AOIFE

SELECTED WORKS

Untitled

 

This coffee is so strong 

You could trod a mouse in 

Sat by the edge of the table 

Untouched and cold

 

The milk has separated and curdled

It has been there longer than I 

It is out of place 

Alone amongst the conversation

 

It does not belong there

It was a mistake

Collateral damage 

From someone's near-missed train

No More Bitter Tears, we look into the future. 

 

It's not long now until time stretches itself out for me and asks me to fill it. And I will fill it with African sunsets and black coffee, dark-eyed strangers and blue-eyed babies. I'll hold my mother's hand until I can't anymore and I will watch my father take to aging gracefully while I do my best to repay my debt. I will fill it with homemade bread and jam, fresh soup, and roasted lamb. Letters from abroad and postcards from nearby. My mornings will be yellow and brisk, my evenings purple and drunk. My afternoons will take many shapes, I'm sure, but I hope to eat lots of fruit. One day my youth will be stories and the smell of cigarettes will make me yearn for it. But then I will look to my right and see my life in the eyes of the one who helped me build it. We'll look from the dusty shelf of relics foraged from the four corners of our world to the fridge that leans to one side from the weight of magnets collected too. Little feet will patter in the kitchen and we will be reminded that life is circular and what once was can't always stay as what is. And then we will start to notice the stamps on our skin, the forgotten scars and countless freckles, aching knees and thinner hair. But eyes that have grown brighter with what we have seen. 

DEAD LETTER OFFICE

MADDIE EVANS

Recently I’ve acquired a penpal, perhaps a little bit odd given that we probably live about thirty minutes apart. But the endless days of lockdown are ravenous for any activity which eats up the hours. Letter writing is one of those. The shockingly slow movement of words appearing across a page, so different from the rapid fire sentences of a keyboard. Spending heaps of time alternating between coloured pens, sketching little pictures, pressing stickers between paragraphs turning it into a little art project, then tucking it away into its envelope. I’ve even enjoyed the walk to the post box, unfortunately right outside of tesco, sticking out of the pavement like a big red totem pole.

Opening up my own letter from my penpal got me thinking about something I fear quite spectacularly. Something that makes me feel the same way Ronette’s dream in twin peaks does: riddled with fear and teetering on the edge breaking into cold sweats. (any twin peaks fans will know that this is not an unreasonable reaction) I read Herman Melville's Bartleby in the winter of 2014, filling two school lunch breaks, huddled up against a radiator collecting biscuit crumbs in the folds of the pages (let's hope they’ve been brushed out). I don’t usually regret reading literature but I could have gone without knowing of the existence of the dead letter office for my entire life. Happily living in the idealism of a first-class postal service, everything ending up where it should.

The dead letter office is a graveyard of undeliverable mail; letters and postcards and parcels that can’t get to who they’re meant for.

Usually down to incomplete or incorrectly written addresses, people leaving or moving, an untraceable sender and so on. Bartleby is profoundly affected by working within the dead letter office, a place where his day is spent destroying unfinished conversations, being the hand to cut the lost and desperate lines of communication forever. Bartleby becomes so wrapped up in disconnection that it burrows its way into his own life, eventually becoming utterly detached from the world. Though my reading of Bartleby did not lead me down the path to complete apathy and bewildering emotional detachment, I do feel a heavy sadness being made so aware of so much failed communication. People desperately trying to reach out and connect through language but to no avail, their words dissipating like sugar in water into the postal void.

Right now the world feels very quiet, which has left many of us desperate to just hear another person’s voice, to speak, to be among the imperfect melody of the everyday; the ordinary. Snippets of small talk, a child wailing in its pram, buses gasping for breath lugging their huge bodies across tarmac, horns and bikes and alarms, the heavy clunk of 9.a.m. Life without other people is savagely hollow and the current climate has thrown that into sharp relief. There feels a huge disconnect and I've found myself thinking back to Bartleby often, trying to ignore the parallels between his reality and mine. I am so afraid of ever living in my own dead letter office, sitting with all the words I've left much too late to be said.

The system must fall, read one of the writings on the walls of Westminster Underground Station – the ink still fresh, the letters vividly shouting their message. I’d passed by a million graffiti in my life, each one of them telling a story, usually someone else’s story from someone else’s time. I’d always wondered what it would mean to live in a time of upheaval, until I got thrown into it; the system seemed to have been crumbling down for months now, with prime ministers all over the world desperately trying to make it look like it still stood on its feet. They kept reassuring their people that everything was going to be alright – words stolen from a Bob Marley’s song which definitely wasn’t referring to the system. Bun Babylon was written on the wall opposite the system must fall, the two graffiti looking like a mirror reflecting the same concept in different languages. British, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Italians, Turkish, Spanish didn’t want everything to be alright again. The veil of Maya had been torn: there was no more above and below, black and white, right and wrong. What was going to be alright? Who for? What did alright even mean? Maybe that was alright, the realisation that we all were part of the same system, and that it wasn’t working. Who was man to decide what was what if a simple viral cell had proved to be able to control him, change his lifestyle, and turn his views upside down? And yet, what could man do now that he’d acknowledged that the silliest of his actions, like drinking from a friend’s cup, could completely alter the course of things on the other side of the world? He didn’t have control over the world, but there’s no doubt man could control what he could do with the world.

It was 10 p.m. of the first Sunday of June 2020. I got out of the station walking through a corridor filled with cardboard signs left there by Black Lives Matter protesters. That morning I’d joined them in a march towards the US embassy in London, following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others, committed during this century and the previous ones. Or, at least, that’s what the media said the protests were about. But the protests were not just about the killings, they were a scream in the night. In the blankness in which the world had been plunged during the pandemic of Covid-19, man had finally been able to see things that had always been there. Proof of this was the fact that me and many others had got out in public for the first time in months to join a crowd marching for a basic human right: the right to breathe. This seemed almost ironic, if we think that the virus that had spread all over the globe at the beginning of the year caused respiratory problems; people had started to wear face masks and gloves, and they kept social distance in supermarkets and in the streets, lest they catch the fearsome Covid-19. Only a few months later a video had emerged of a black man being suffocated by a police officer’s knee in Minneapolis. That’s when the motto if one of us can’t breathe, none of us can breathe had come out. And that’s when man had to choose between staying home and fight for his own breath, and taking to the streets and fight for black people’s breath, everyone’s breath. The streets had been flooded with people.

Outside of the station that night the atmosphere was the same as when your house party’s over and you’re left with the remnants of it. And yet, you probably sit in a corner instead of tidying up. You stand there, thinking of the highlights of the evening, how it went, and you wonder what’s gonna follow – because a party is always the start of something new. I could feel the tension, in the air, between what had just happened and what was about to. From the corner where I stood I could see Churchill’s statue covered with cardboard signs, which I hadn’t noticed when I’d taken a photo of him farting pink smoke that morning from my perspective in Parliament Street. Now he gave me such a grumpy look that I could hear him say “look here, look what they’ve done to me!”

That guided my eyes down to the pedestal where his surname had been crossed off. Right below someone had sprayed the words “was a racist”. One might wonder why they’d crossed off his name if they were about to add something to it. But to them it had never been Churchill’s statue, it was just a racist’s – so they’d crossed off a name and replaced it with a noun. Nothing had been taken from or added to that statue and to history, everything had just been exposed and admitted.

Statues of slave traders were being torn down all over the world, and the names of centuries-old institutions and departments were being changed and temporarily replaced with blank spaces. As if that silence could make it up for all the years a plaque outside a building had been honouring the name of some slaver. As if all those who had baptised those places and erected those statues didn’t know those were the faces and the names of slavers. As if people all around had known nothing about it up till then. Everybody knew, yet no one was aware.

Thankfully, though, Churchill was still there, defaced. And I thought this editing of history was better than the censorship that was being imposed on it all around. Churchill said “courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen” – so I sat in Parliament Square and listened to what was being said, looked to what was being manifested.

I wondered “is everything gonna be alright?” And I felt like it would, because the world just needed people to become aware of things and let things act upon them, as I let Parliament Square tell me its story that night. Maybe man didn’t control the world, but he could listen to it. The silliest of his actions, like listening, could change the course of things on the other side of the world.

After all, what we need is to turn on and tune in before dropping out.

EVERYTHING'S GONNA BE ALRIGHT

PRUDENZA LACRIOLA

MOLLY ROSE DONE

SELECTED WORKS

i watch her stretch

beautiful

and enormous as the moon

white and dimpled she spills into my hands like spring water

i try and hold all of her

bundled in both arms with such blissful effort

each laboured breath heaves the landscape of her body

and my lips meet the horizon

as i make my amorous pilgrimage to each peak my tongue unfurls like a red flag

i feel no ebb to her tide as i explore the pools filled by the rain dance of my own fingers

encouraged by the zephyr breath liberated from her lips

i help her climb

then let myself lay open mouthed to the sky as her cloudburst of rain streams over my

parched rocks turning my cheeks dark

Photography Lyu Rui

blackberries have a deeper sweetness

like me, you said

like you

they arrive back when you miss them

let yourself enjoy more than last time

seasons before

purple lips

bruised but sweet

to sit with you near hedgerows

would be more than poetic lines

EXCERPT

LYNN SHEIKH MOUSSA 

I would like to think that my grandmother is an immensely patient woman. For much of my time with her, with amounts to almost all of my childhood, she has chosen me nothing but a calm, collected appeal. That is, until I set foot in the kitchen.

To her, there are three absolute untouchable things in her life: Her children, her grandchildren, and the order she sets and maintains in every aspect of her life. If I come too close to her cooking station, she will make sure to reveal to me every dark, cynical aspect there is to her. In fear and most certainly with much respect, I recede a few steps and head back into my sitting room.

On the days where my mother and father were at work, this was what I did mainly. In the mornings, she’d turn on the cartoons for me as she scooped up cereal with steaming hot milk. I was attentive and under control during these first few hours, but at the time when my least favourite shows I came on, I found it necessary to occupy myself with other things.

I knew me spiralling out of control bothered her, but I felt it necessary early on to prove myself in life. I felt unnoticed and hushed away, and my mind had so many bold statements running through it my physical body felt it necessary to express something, even if it wasn’t necessarily what I was thinking.

I would stand on the balcony and dream of taking a long walk by myself to the store just downstairs. I could easily do this, with the help of a nanny, but I wanted to do it by myself. If I didn’t get to go, my dreams would vividly picture the crushing feeling of jumping down from my grandmother’s fourth floor apartment down. I never made it to the shop in my dream, because the rush of falling and the complexities of landings jolted me awake. This was how my fear of heights and falling first started.

As my grandmother beckoned my aunt to take me out of the kitchen and away from the genius she was cooking up, I would stumble into the halls and loose myself on the way to the bedroom. I ended up in grandmother’s. I found it to be prettier, more intimidating, and even as a child, I thought of growing up and sleeping in it one day. I pictured myself in long white robes, awakening to the smell of tea.

I stood in the mirror and intently questioned my features. I didn’t question their beauty per se, but their form. I thought of how they came to be or for what exact reason. I wondered why our features were 3D and how inside, there was something that could think, talk, feel. I could not understand why I was an existing entity, and what would become of me if I no longer existed. What did people think of me? Why did I think of people?

My grandmother should have let me stay in the kitchen. I wouldn’t think as much in the kitchen. My aunt plays in the piano at the Eastern extremity of the house. While the room is tucked away under folds of rustic furniture and vintage couches, the sound is very distinct. You can hear fingers sway above the keys, touching each one gently with every bob of her head. Sometimes she’ll subconsciously sway to the sound, indulging in her favorite past-time before she returns to indulge in the sound of her toddler’s screams.

She’s taken care of five children, only one of which is hers. My cousins have now grown past their years of math tutoring and potty training, and she thought the job had ended when the third middle child graduated from college. It didn’t.

That was around the time my mom had me. My aunt thought she had enough yelling and fighting to last her for a lifetime, and didn’t intend on having a child just yet, but then I came along and she couldn’t refuse. She was unable to refuse.

My mother never knew how to care for herself, so caring for a child proved to be quite difficult. She was unaware of the perils of motherhood and had yet to learn how to put a baby to sleep, so the childrearing load fell on my grandmother’s and aunt’s shoulders.
They fed me, bathed me, and taught me how to walk before anyone even considered putting a baby on two legs. I spent most of my childhood at my grandmother’s house rather than mine, and for the first few years of life, this drew lots of confusion. I wondered why we left at night to sleep, because it felt more appropriate to fall asleep in the warmth of my grandmother’s lap than in the coldness of my bed. At night I would lay and think of how the long walls at grandmother’s house seemed more welcoming than those in my room. The gigantic dressers that panned her walls seemed like undiscovered houses for me, while my own closet felt like a cave that would consume me. The safety of my grandmother’s frail hands were more welcoming than that of my own mother’s because they were more familiar, gentle, and caring. They carried me from bath to bed and I knew them to be the safest hands that will ever hold me.

While I knew this to be true and while I felt it to be much more comforting for me to stay at my grandmother’s than my own house, it was impossible.

My parents owned an apartment, so we had to live in it. Yet that did not prevent me from enjoying and savoring every minute I got to spent in my grandmother’s house. It was everyone’s sanctuary, since the days of the civil war. My mother hid here, my cousins spent their summers here, and I was growing here. So while my mother was off at work, trying to keep a household she feared would die afloat, I spent my days with my aunt and grandmother, and we three loved every minute of it.

My aunt taught me how to press a few keys on her aged piano, and my grandmother fed me raw meat long before my stomach could handle it. It was blissful. My preschool days are a blur, but I remember coming home with the distinctive feeling of satisfaction and happiness. My primary school years proved otherwise. I cried on the first day of school drop-off, and thought myself strong enough to stand in front of my dad and push him off. My dad just kept walking and my feet slid across the pavement before I almost tipped over. He grabbed me from my armpits and carried me on his side. I cannot remember what he exactly said to me, but I knew it gave me goose-bumps. It frightened me, as he always has.

The first few days were rough. My school principal saw me cry my eyes out so much she took me in to her office one day to inquire the reason.

“Why are you always crying so much?” she asked.

I couldn’t answer. My heavy breaths were dominant after two hours of wailing, and she decided talking might not be the best method to go about things. She begged me to instead write down my thoughts, and handed me down what would become my school journal.

The first words I wrote down were “I miss my mom and dad too much.” I didn’t see them enough, and I had somehow created this bizarre idea that when I was done with preschool, I would be done with school forever. That would give me more time to see them, and maybe the room would feel a little warmer.

My principal called me in a week later and opened up the book to see what was wrong. She read it, nodded in my direction, and told me to go back to class. My parents found out and put in much more effort to spend time with me over the weekend. They took me out to wherever I asked. I ate pizza every Saturday at my favorite restaurant. Our community of three felt more like a family of three.

One day, my classmate picked the journal up and read what I wrote. He bullied me up until we reached 5th grade. I felt like missing my parents was the act of a child and I could not be so stupid as to do that. I wanted to grow up. I was 7.
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