Review: ‘The Woe of Roanoke’ by Mathew Horton | Annabel Mahoney

This review and the poem it discusses contains reference to violence,
cannibalism, death (including children), colonisation, racism, suicide,
sexual violence (including rape and incest), torture and murder.
Discretion is advised.


Epic poetry – in all its intergenerational, preternatural and moralistic glory –is a staple of most student literature, wherever in the world you may be. As a child, I ‘studied’ an Fhiannaíocht – a medieval Irish collection about the hero Finn mac Cumhaill and his warriors, the Fianna – and Beowulf, which made me scared of Grendel. While it would be easy to slap the label ‘epic’ on any poem deemed ‘long’ – and at 205 pages, The Woe of Roanoke more than qualifies –Mathew Horton’s account of murder and cannibalism runs so deep and so entrenched into the lifeblood of the genre.

The Woe of Roanoke is formed of nine different poems (‘books’, in the context of the collection) divided into three parts and an epilogue, all of varying length. Book One tells the story of ‘Black’ Agnes Bean, daughter of Sawney and den mother to her numerous siblings. After the murder of her lover by her mother Agnes manages to escape her family and marries a ploughman. Weighed down by guilt and grief, she is driven to confession ten years later.

The themes of grief and loss run strong through The Woe of Roanoke. Agnes’s narrative is temporarily overtaken in Book Two by Thomas Hume, ex-lover of King James VI and I [Historical note: King James ruled as James VI of Scotland from 1567 and James I of England and Ireland after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. Despite sharing a monarch under the Union of the Crowns, England and Scotland continued to be autonomous states until the Acts of Union in 1707]. Hume lost his parents to the vigilante groups searching for the Bean clan. Part of the force which uncovers the Bean cave, Hume witnesses the humiliation of the monarch at the hands of Sawney himself.

The Woe of Roanoke does not portray James in a flattering light. Historically, James was obsessive about witchcraft. Under his reign in Scotland, the first witch trials in the British Isles began in earnest. The Scottish Witchcraft Act 1563 made witchcraft and consulting with those suspected thereof a capital offence; a law which was spread to England in 1604 after James’s accession. He was known for personally supervising the judicial torture of women suspected of being witches. His ‘theological’ treatise Daemonologie, published in 1597, examined necromancy, black magic and how the implications of both justified the execution of suspected witches. Daemonologie went on to become a foundation text for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, of which James was a patron. James was also known for his same-sex affairs, most notably with George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham whose unpopularity led to his assassination in 1628.

None of this historical context is wasted by Horton. James is presented almost farcically; a pantomime villain with a sword. After the raid on the Bean cave, James begins to purge his kingdom in order to keep his reputation intact. Hume flees to London, where the death of Elizabeth later brings James. His English coronation, which takes place in Book Three, is notably Roman in its style and influence; excess and decadence offset by the background of plague-ridden London.

The plague itself is a malleable thing. While not as infamous as the Black Death of 1360-3 or the Great Plague of 1665, 1603 saw an outbreak of plague in London which lasted for eight years and claimed the lives of approximately 43,000 people.[i] In the context of the poem, the plague is implied – in the mind of Hume, at least – to be a result of a dying curse from Agnes Bean. Within his quarantine inside a brothel (itself an interesting parallel with the lack of moral fortitude associated with his nemesis James), Hume suffers hallucinations of the Bean clan. Fittingly entitled ‘A Ruined Hume and Bean’, the third book of this poem brings together the casual ghastliness of epidemic and disregard for human life associated the Early Modern period with the mystic undertones integral to epic poetry.

The second part of The Woe of Roanoke leaves Scotland and England behind as the ship of colonists The Lion makes passage to America. Book Four introduces a new voice to the narrative; wealthy merchant Humfrey Dimmock, who provides an insight into the tensions between the Puritan settlers and the mariners on board. In the middle of this conflict is a Scottish boy named Blue Bill Brown. The unrest on board is fuelled by Blue Bill, who encourages dissent between the colonists and the primary antagonists on the staff, the pilot and the cook’s assistant.

This conflict takes up the majority of Book Four, and Book Five finds Blue Bill living with Chief Wanchese, the last known leader of the Roanoke people, to whom Bill’s blue skin and red hair are a source of fascination. Given the Algonquian name ‘Matwau’ (meaning ‘Enemy’), Blue Bill stalks and terrorises the colonists’ isolated camp, who are also battling food and water shortages. Bill becomes an almost preternatural presence among them. Book Six concerns Eleanor Dare – mother of the ‘first white child’– kept chained alive inside a cave by Blue Bill, the son of Sawney and his daughter Black Agnes. Eleanor tries to keep her grip on reality by shielding her child from the worst of the cruelty that surrounds them; a parallel of Black Agnes’s narrative in the first book. As she loses her grip on sanity, her murdered husband Ananias appears to her. Eleanor begs Ananias to protect their teenage daughter Agnes as she succumbs to her fate as a captive.

The third part of The Woe of Roanoke knits together the strands of London, Virginia and the fate of the colony itself. Book Seven starts with an excerpt from Sallie Southall Cotten’s The White Doe, a 1901 self-styled ‘legend’ about the fate of Virginia Dare. The work is proudly colonialist; the dedication reads ‘To The National Society of Colonial Dames of America; WHOSE PATRIOTIC WORK HAS STIMULATED RESEARCH INTO AN IMPORTANT AND INTERESTING PERIOD OF THE HISTORY OF OUR BELOVED COUNTRY’[ii]. Book Seven’s six line quotation ends with the phrase ‘The fierce brawny red man is king of the wold’, repeated three times like an incantation.[iii] The duality of ‘wold’, an almost-archaic phrase referring to a piece of high, open uncultivated land or moor and ‘world’ is clear here. The wold on which Blue Bill rules is the world; it is the beginning and the end of the lived experience of all who come across him. It brings to mind Macbeth’s witches on the heath; the meeting of two spaces in a land deemed ‘unclaimed’. The book continues with James I still tormented by his memory of the Beans. The colony briefly thrives, before a mysterious wedding prophesises a ruination which unfolds through the rest of the book.

Part Eight – broadly told as a conversation between Blue Bill and Matwau, both embodying a separate character – highlights the script-like nature of the poem. The individual speakers and their idiolects, intercut occasionally with lines from the omniscient Narrator, feels very much like the text of a Jacobean tragedy. Horton carries this atmosphere forward into Book Nine, with the ruin of Roanoke told by Chief Powhatan – whose proper name Wahunsonacock is the title for the ninth book – to John Smith, of Pocahontas infamy. Wahunsonacock recounts the final climactic battle against Matwau, the ‘tawny cannibal King’ to bring the poem to its ostensible finish.[iv] In true epic poetry form, the defeat of evil does not mark the end. Hearing of the tragedy of the colony and the spread of the Bean clan, King James orders a sustained effort into their eradication; one of his lieutenants is Enn, one of the original raiders of Sawney’s cave.

It is not the poem’s close – the glumly prophetic warning ‘Matwau was not the last one-/Madman believed messiah/More rejects were to follow on/As sheep will seek pariahs’ – which cements its epic form, although that is certainly a part of it. [v] The cyclical nature of the narrative, of violence begetting violence and the repeating of the same intergenerational mistakes is a hallmark of the genre. Other characteristics of the epic; the supernatural, the breadth of setting, the objectivity of the central voice (in this case, the narrator) are immediately evident in Horton’s verse. Others are less so. One of the seven primary features is the hero; a character deemed to be historically or legendarily significant. Sawney Bean himself was most likely fiction – or at the very most, a significant embellishment – and many of the other characters, while being historical figures in their own right, are unlikely to be labelled as ‘historically significant’. Is Sawney, by dint of his legendary status and as the overall connecting force between the books, the true hero of this piece? Is it King James? It is not required that the hero be good.

Horton plants narrative themes within the text – colonialism, the critique of monarchy, the externalisation of evil as disease – and he manages to sustain them through the whole 205 page effort. While Macbeth’s influence is present, there is the intriguing thought that The Woe of Roanoke could be seen as the inverse of Shakespeare’s Henry V, itself a mediated metaphor for the colonisation of Ireland. The legend of Sawney Bean is believed to be a piece of anti-Scottish propaganda invented after the Jacobite Risings. The Woe of Roanoke also presents an interesting inversion of another popular propaganda myth, that of the ‘savage native’ which was used by Europeans as a pretext to invade, massacre and enslave indigenous groups during the colonisation of North and South America. The savagery of colonisation is made manifest in Blue Bill, whose very existence is used as an excuse for further invasion and terror at the end of the piece.

Other influences are visible in the scheme and metre of Horton’s work. Book Four, ‘Dimmock’s Yellow Diary’, which focuses on the voyage out to America brings to mind Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in its verses which run ‘Half a crew, no wind blew/Both boats were lagged in loiters/Lazy, for the spirits knew-/Chastisement for exploiters’, and ‘Like men morphed into mannequins/Pus coughed from corrupt lungs/Like the strangled cut from scaffoldings/With scurvy bloodied gums.’ [vi] [vii] The brief homage to Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est in ‘coughed… corrupt lungs’ – which may or may not be intentional – serves to underline the futility of the viciousness inflicted throughout the course of the text. Horton has had some fun with the historical background of the text; ‘Four cannon and some cannon shot/And gunpowder to blow their plot’, a reference to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a plan to assassinate King James by blowing up the Houses of Parliament on November 5th is just one of the historical witticisms planted in the text.[viii]

Horton manipulates the verse in a way which spares the reader none of the savagery associated with his narrative. Wahunsonacock recalls finding the corpse of his wife ‘…stripped of every sinew/Eye sockets stuffed with plumes’; the ruins of the colony described as ‘… Its corrupted sin/Like feasting on the flesh of men/Or laying with your kin.[ix] [x] The colonisers bring ‘disease, disgust, despair/Convinced us It was sacred’.[xi] There is a vivid veracity to the verse, one which does not shy away from showcasing all the horror and violence of its subject.

The rhyme and rhythm are varied throughout the course of the poem. Some verses are deceivingly simple in their structure, such as ‘Johnny Bright was set alight/His treachery uncovered/His torched remains were torn by kite/Dog, rat and crab and buzzard’ has an almost nursery rhyme-like skip to its structure.[xii] Similarly, ‘An English boat was spied to float/Into Chesapeake bay/Matwau slit five English throats/To scare the ship away.’[xiii] Compare this to the comparatively long opening verse of the poem, which runs ‘T’was not just the gale that chilled his skin/As he mulled on the cannibal captured within./In trembling state he clenched his cane/To rap tap the gate of the jail in the rain.[xiv] These variations are not limited to individual books of the poems either; in Book One, The Ballad of Agnes Bean from which the previous quotation was taken, is the verse ‘They say I’m a witch/Which I say to them nay!/I’m a Christian now/I know how to pray’ which echoes the ABCB structure of the fate of Johnny Bright.[xv] Within the same verse are the follow-on lines ‘I’m repented of sin lamented the crime/A new son’s arrived. A husband who’s kind’; the change in rhyme scheme abrupt.[xvi] Horton wrong-foots the reader in many such instances, allowing his rhythm to become familiar before snatching it away.

Other times the rhymes flow on and on; the verse ‘Five years in a pit with a fern for a door/A toil for food in the soil on the floor/Rat and root and dreams of boar’ describes the squalor which Sawney, his wife and their early children lived in before migrating to their infamous cave.[xvii] The verse feels claustrophobic and tight, but the rhyme does not feel laboured. There are similar moments of exposition, such as ‘He came into the world callous and brawny/Alexander she named him/They nicknamed him Sawney’, in which it would be all too easy to fall into the trap of forcing a rhyme for rhyme’s sake –  you cannot, after all, write this poem without the word Sawney.[xviii] Yet Horton’s admirable writing and eye for rhythm surmount these challenges without the reader realising there was a challenge to begin with. Horton does not sacrifice rhyme for image; the verse ‘The hangman was a man of frock/The noose was tightened by the parson/A forced recluse, now half an orphan.’ exchanges the half rhyme of ‘parson’ and ‘orphan’ for the role of the diocese in the judiciary, which is so integral to the background against which Horton is writing.[xix]

That is not to say the work is flawless. As with any poem, and particularly in a poem of this length, there are words and phrases which do not quite sit right. There are some continuity errors in the rhyming; ‘kirk’ and ‘clerk’ are rhymed on page 28, the word ‘clerk’ pronounced in the American-English manner /klɜːrk/. [xx] In the opening pages of the poem, ‘clerk’ is rhymed with ‘dark’, where ‘clerk’ is the British-English pronunciation /klɑːrk/. [xxi] However, in a work of almost 900 verses, it is to be expected that not every verse measures up to exactly the same standard. There are moments of incredible skill; the lines ‘The grog soaked ogre, half hungover/Eyed his empires’ fall; ‘They added to the mound of meat/With severed hands and severed feet’ and ‘This pulsing place that now was raw/A crucifix on every door’ were all moments of writing that I found particularly outstanding.[xxii] [xxiii][xxiv] There are moments of humour as well – the dead remnants of the Bean clan are referred to as ‘baked Beans’ at one point in the text – which manage to offset the tone of the poem from what could be an atmosphere of unrelenting gloom.[xxv]

Mathew Horton has produced something incredibly uncommon. While the thought of the sustained length of an epic – not to mention the other genre-specific characteristics – would daunt even the bravest of us, The Woe of Roanoke is plainly a labour of love for Horton. His enthusiasm shines through the text, and his thorough research into the historical background of the piece is testament to his dedication. While its subject matter and violence may be off-putting to some readers, for those interested in some of the more traumatic areas of the past (or perhaps to fill that Game of Thrones hole), The Woe of Roanoke could well be the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Paperback, 244 pages
Published May 15th 2017
ISBN 1521294194


Mathew Horton’s The Woe of Roanoke is available from Amazon.

The Wellington Street Review received a copy of this book from its author in exchange for an honest review. Neither author nor publisher are affiliated with the Wellington Street Review or its staff.

[i] Graunt, John (1759), Collection of Yearly Bills of Mortality, from 1657 to 1758 Inclusive

[ii] Southall Cotten, Sally (1901), The White Doe: The Fate of Virginia Dare (

[iii] Mathew Horton, The Woe of Roanoke, p.140

[iv] Horton, Woe, p.167

[v] Horton, Woe, p.205

[vi] Horton, Woe, p.88

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Horton, Woe, p.32

[ix] Horton, Woe, p.p. 159

[x] Horton, Woe, p.p. 164

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Horton, Woe, p.136

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Horton, Woe, p.3

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Horton, Woe, p.4

[xvii]  Horton, Woe, p.9

[xviii] Horton, Woe, p.5

[xix] Horton, Woe, p.25

[xx] Horton, Woe, p.28

[xxi] Horton, Woe, p.9

[xxii] Horton, Woe, p.48

[xxiii] Horton, Woe, p.41

[xxiv] Horton, Woe, p.36

[xxv] Horton, Woe, p.54

Sick Bay | Gareth Culshaw

(Based on the short story, Gusev, by Anton Chekhov)

Gusev lies in the sick bay. The ship breaks up
waves that are in search of beaches. The iron
groans from squeezing between currents.

Illnesses feed off his body then wait to jump
into another. His eyes scratch away the morning
as he wakes. He tries to yawn but his jaw

is a rusty hinge on a cemetery gate.
The boat goes up and down kneading the sea.
Gusev thinks of home. His family and friends talk,

he replies with unhinged words. Slobber slugs
down the side of his mouth. The ship calms down
happy at last to be on the sea. A porthole is open

allows a breeze to escape the outside. The heat crushes
the skin of the ill. Gusev grabs his knees, so they
don’t spring his body into the sea. Gusev asks

a soldier to take him up top deck. They look into nothing.
The waves try to outdo each other, manure and hay fills
Gusev’s nostrils.

‘There’s nothing to be frightened of. It’s just scary,
like being stuck in a dark forest.’ says Gusev.

Three days later Gusev dies. They sew him up
in sailcloth, fill it with iron and place him on a plank.
The priest speaks then the board is tilted.

Gareth lives in Wales. His first collection, The Miner is available from Futurecycle. His second is due in 2020. His main critics are his dogs, Jasper & Lana who prefer sticks to poems.

He can be found on Twitter at @CulshawPoetry and his website,

Fy Duw, A David Jones Pastiche | Gareth Culshaw

I said Oh! where is the song?
I looked side to side.
(He’s teased me in the past
with his shadows in sunlight.)
I knocked the door for his answer.
I have knocked since childhood
waiting to be announced.
I have walked my feet over the paltry tarmac.
I have travelled along the dead leaves
ancestry beliefs from book to song.
I have blinded my brain
searching the sky and sun.
I have sensed His bruises
in wood and stone.
I have glanced at technology.
I have listened to words
without bigotry.
I have kept my breath
when in the unknown.
I can walk past Him
when my head is in the next century.

I have gazed at the sky to see the birds in case I might
hear the voices of the earth, in case I might believe that
God is in their throats. I have sung to the oak tree, be my
father and for the grassy fields I thought I sensed some
murmurings of His creature, but Fy Duw, my ears heard the silence
of mining and the horrifying coin a coliseum-glue….O Fy Duw.

Gareth lives in Wales. His first collection, The Miner is available from Futurecycle. His second is due in 2020. His main critics are his dogs, Jasper & Lana who prefer sticks to poems.

He can be found on Twitter at @CulshawPoetry and his website,

The Clairvoyant | Patrick M. Hare


I never met Thomas Calame. As he died in 1956 – well before I was born, much less interested in art – I came to know him as we do most artists: first through the lens of their works and only later, if at all, through stories, biographies and informational placards. With Calame, however, even his works are becoming less well-known with the passing years; so much so that a painting of him (Rene Magritte’s La Clairvoyance [1936], in which a man in a dark suit is depicted painting a bird in flight while looking at an egg on a side table) rather than a painting by him is the most viewed work with which he is associated. It is perhaps not surprising that Calame’s fame is waning; he was never a master painter nor a bold conceptual artist, the two requirements for lasting impact on the canon. Likewise, he has so far failed to fall into one of the accidental frenzies that grips the art auction world. No biographies of him exist and barely a line is devoted to him in the encyclopaedias. His paintings can be divided into two groups, distinguishable not by their different techniques – for he painted simply and realistically throughout his career, favouring simple colours and bold lines – but by their subjects. Like the surrealists with whom he is grouped, many of his paintings depict impossible things: gravity-defying cities, labyrinths that were also tigers, the corpses of mythical beasts in still-life. As surrealist works go, these are generally considered rather pedestrian. His other works depict the startlingly mundane: eggs, birds, landscapes. Within this group of prosaic subjects are several hidden depictions of the unthinkable – the future.  

Calame’s works are now scattered throughout the world, filling out the surrealist and modern galleries of provincial museums. The museum in Canton, Ohio has one and so I must have seen it growing up, but it wasn’t until I chanced upon one of his canvases (Self-portrait IV, a weedy lot with drifts of trash piling up against a peeling fence) in the Kunstmuseum Bern that I became interested in his works. A docent saw me puzzling over the painting one day during my lunch break and we fell to talking. She mentioned that one of the museum’s retired conservators, an Australian by birth, had known both Calame and several of his colleagues. In town for a conference followed by a week of vacation, I asked if it would be possible to meet the conservator for coffee. From that meeting and the several that followed it, I have assembled the following information/biography/sketch.


The Thomas Calame depicted in La Clairvoyance seems to be an accurate representation, for those who had met him described him thusly: tall, thin, even for the times, with a mushroom-like head, an impression only heightened by dark hair that seemed to have slid off his crown to lie clustered about his ears. The painting is also a good representative of his sartorial preferences – black suits with simple straight lines. While he and Magritte looked very similar at the time of the painting (which Magritte, with characteristic humour, described as a self-portrait), their appearances diverged as they aged: Magritte filled out, Calame did not. Magritte kept more of his hair, although it all whitened. Calame’s thinned and whitened on the crown of his head, but it stayed thick and dark below, giving his head its fungiform aspect. Among the things not captured in the portrait: Calame was partial to French cigarettes which he smoked continuously; he moved quickly with a very quiet step; talked little but when he did he would gesture emphatically with both hands. He was excitable, not given to socialising much. He had few friends, but he was fierce in devotion to those he did make.

Calame was born in 1907 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, a small manufacturing centre in the mountains along the French border. The only child of a reasonably well-off lawyer and distantly related to the 19th century painter Alexandre Calame, he showed an early aptitude for art. Unwilling to bring an instructor to their house because of the cost, his parents did begin sending him to study in town at the age of eleven. His education was challenging, as would be imagined of one with his ability, even though the precise nature of that talent would not be recognized for many years. Instead, adults described him as overly imaginative, prone to fancy, and unable to focus on the task at hand. His talent lay hidden so long because while he could easily draw or paint from his imagination, if asked to paint or draw from a model, be it a person, still life, or landscape, his brush or pencil would produce an image of the scene unlike that in front of him. Childish drawings of the view outside the classroom in the morning would depict a night scene during a different season. Houses in the distance would be shown in ruins, or new houses would appear in empty fields. Still-lives were grotesqueries, full of desiccated corpses and rotten fruit, or they showed bare tables, or piles of unrelated clutter. When asked if that was indeed what he saw, he could only respond with incomprehension. Demands to repeat his work would produce a different image. Thus obstinacy and stupidity were added to his list of character traits. Despite this, by the time he came of age, several of his paintings had made it into regional shows, and he developed a reputation as a promising young painter.

Catalogues record 137 paintings and drawings by Calame, of which thirty-one have been lost or destroyed. Seventeen of these, comprising most of his early output, have the distinctly dubious honour of having been destroyed in the first V-2 strike on London in 1944. Of the remaining fourteen, most went missing during the war from friends’ homes when the home was destroyed, or were presumed stolen or sold. To date, none have resurfaced.

The painting of the bird shown in La Clairvoyance (egg III) was one of only two series of paintings he is known to have produced: eggs I – VII, and a series of works titled ‘self-portrait’ that were discovered posthumously. It is unsurprising that neither series depicts in an obvious fashion either an egg or Calame. Both series are now distributed among half a dozen museums throughout the world. The egg paintings (two of which were destroyed in the V-2 strike) depict, in addition to the mature bird in flight in egg III, an omelet (egg II), a fluffy chick (egg VI), a cat with the broken body of a bird in its mouth (egg I), and a single feather stuck in the crook of a tree (egg IV). It is not clear if multiple paintings depict the same egg or if each canvas was created from a different model.  This point would reasonably be considered vital, as it would settle at a stroke the debate between determinism and free will. Calame, though, seemed uninterested in the question, relying on servants to remove and do what they would with his models. The supposition that an egg, or the egg depending on your philosophical bent, ended up breakfast for the servants is irresistible. The series was produced in Paris between 1933 and 1936, where Calame had moved in 1928 to gain more exposure. There he met Magritte, Max Ernst, Miró, and others active in the surrealist scene. He found a ready home with surrealism and its depiction of realities that are impossible, or at least very improbable. It was an easy field in which to paint purely from imagination. It did not afford enough of an income to live on, though, so for a time he painted by commission. This came to an end after he spent three months in 1935 working on a portrait of a prominent Jewish family. He refused to paint portraits after this, and indeed no more paintings of any subject are recorded until he moved to London in 1936. He appears to have spent most of the intervening years closeted in his rented room.

In moving to London, Calame was following Magritte, who was living under both the patronage and the roof of the poet Edward James. It was there that Calame asked Magritte to paint him. It was also during this time that Calame exhibited the egg series, as well a number of typically surrealist paintings. When war looked to be inevitable, he fled England for Australia, where the unchanging nature of the landscape provided him with a chance to have his brush produce the same scene others saw.

It is not known when he produced the series of paintings titled self-portraits I – IV. Some have suggested that they were produced in Paris after his failure at portraiture, but there is no record of their storage or shipping to Australia. I believe it more likely that he only painted them after arriving in Australia, having had a chance to come to peace with what they would show. The series is composed of the following subjects: An an open packing crate with the lip of a dark green jar lid just visible inside; a single tree off-centre in a level grassy field with farm-covered hills in the background; a broken body in dark cloths lying, head at an impossible angle, at the bottom of a set of marble stairs, a pool of blood spreading to encompass the body; an empty, weedy lot in front of a peeling wooden fence. Many people assume that these were titled whimsically in keeping with the proclivities or of his early friends. Those sympathetic to New Age mysticism and certain forms of Buddhism assume they are meant to show the universal connection between all living things. They are not these things, though, at least not fundamentally. He was simply being honest in the naming.

The paintings were not found until several years after his death, when a manager found them in a storage room he had taken out in Perth. He died in his small house outside Perth in 1956, following a fall down a full flight of stairs. He appears to have simply tripped. The fall broke his neck and fractured his skull. His will dictated that he be buried in his native Switzerland, but his estate was unable and his relatives unwilling to pay for transportation of his body from Australia. He was cremated, his ashes deposited in a small, simple urn, and this was shipped to his hometown. A proper burial was also out of the question. A cousin who had met him only once scattered his ashes on a field outside Columbier. I visited it before leaving the country, and while the field is intact and the tree is still standing, albeit with a number of rotten branches, it is only a matter of time until the growing town overtakes the field, leaving a peeling fence bordering a weedy, trash-filled lot in its wake.

Patrick M. Hare writes fiction and photophysics. He lives near 
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

He is on Twitter @NKUPMH

Black Tuesday | Holly Salvatore

cheap and dirty
I break bottles in the driveway when I’m angry
our house sinks a little more each day
we reinforce with I beams
bats colonize the attic
I stain my skin orange with ore
bathing naked in the creek

I want to tell you a story about a boy selling newspapers, breathing ozone through his paper mask The streetlights are on and I can’t breath I love you
I want to tell you a story about infidelity, but instead I tell you a story about smog
so thick I cut words in it, my hands are stained black
You tell me to go wash them without even looking

“There is no royal road to the solution of smoke.” — St Louis Post Dispatch
on November 28th, 1939, we all go blind as an inversion chokes the city
I blow the coal dust out of my nose until my sleeve is ruined
Remember this? How we tamed nature and killed it? We said we were sorry, we just didn’t know
it couldn’t live in captivity
when the sun doesn’t come out for the 9th day in a row
I think of you kissing me and nothing else

carbonite solarite
this can’t go on forever
you call me your dirty girl and I think “high-sulfur, bituminous,
I’m your dirty, dirty coal”
back at the house we replace the floors
crooked windows and doors
I tell you about my past life as the smoke commissioner
how I did my best
but it wasn’t enough

St Louis







A cartoon from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, November 26th, 1939, pg 18

Writer’s Commentary

On November 28th, 1939, St Louis, MO had what Wikipedia calls “a severe smog event.” In actuality, St Louis had been having air pollution issues almost since its founding; the city passed its first smoke ordinance in 1893. By the 1930s, St Louis was the most polluted city in the country. In large part, the smog was due to the use of “soft” high-sulfur, bituminous coal mined from southern Illinois just across the river. Bituminous coal burns “dirty,” but it was cheap and there was tons nearby, so everyone used it.

Seventy years later, my parents bought a house that was built on one of the old Peabody coal strip mines in the area. Each year, it sinks approximately 1/16th of an inch into the improperly re-filled mine, resulting in slanted flooring and crooked doors/windows. Set something round down and it will make its way across the room.

So, this is the history of a city that brought itself back from the brink and the history of my life there.

It’s also a way of self-soothing about climate change, because I feel powerless.

Holly Salvatore is a farmer in Boulder, CO. They tweet @Queen_Compost, and are excellent at naming chickens. Find them outside.

Gardens are for burying secrets | Nikkin Rader

don’t let him in your house,
so I dug a hole and put our found corpse in it,
but he began to sprout,
a lazarus taxon I can’t unmouth,
reappear in fossil record–
phoenix fire or witch inspired.

he wept like my father under blue TV lighting in the dead of night,
but redhead deadman risen, made only to unearth the crops–
miraculous lies spewing from liquored lips

besides magic protection for the openings of his body, man has equal need for the magic protection over openings to his dwelling, roofs of holy places, windows of holy places, a lust for strong protection more important than ordinary domestic windows. Without chimney, smoke from fires can sustain you. Travelers cannot escape the stoking, the he-smoke and she-smoke, other-smokes ignored.

or, liveth and believeth in the rise and fall of sun, to street dance on uncut rocks by moonlight days after the tomb-vowels: he who thou lovest etched over planty arcadia or echoed near our abode. no more plague on these stems from nearby death sea, just pesticides to keep the undesirables out, wrongdoer bugs exiled, sickle backs of heathens, tying all hoe down, hose ‘round tree, enmity rising from rosebeds–

he came in grave-cloth and stunk of wet shit, a beetle dwelling in his eye, black as soil, its iris wisp or sea-wine. ever since he came here the fungal curse returned, tainting berries and roots buried. sulky vision intrusive on tongue. you are not the same man born from below, no, you

became something else when under the earth, skin rotting, mind melting, in want.
wishing instead for him to shed his skin for me to wear, then go disappear back to–
from whence did you come?

I tell creature to hop o’er my fence made of dogwood tau,
but he leaves behind crushed butterflies,
worms crawling over aluminum can tabs, chewing plastic. if only
I could ground his bones into compost until we are all barren land-selves.

bodies bore of gender yet we do not make for lovers, taking to empty dirt hole.
keepers abstaining roamers thru bay of salt circles and needle thread traps,
we tire of them and spike faucet, water spew & shout:
let me cultivate the trance that burns cloudy– wets our palms splayed over fire–

sleepy somber would you drop arsenic down wishing wells or fleece wool ‘round neck
cool in early morning light? seen uphill: the man reborn of unwanted might
running down towards town before children wake.

remember, not all dead things stay lying and
not all living things simple kept– breaking bread–
shaking off what thoughts of you burrowed into my peach–

Nikkin Rader has degrees in poetry, anthropology, philosophy, gender & sexuality, and other humanities and social science.  Her works appear in Occulum, the Mojave Heart Review, peculiars magazine, littledeath lit, and elsewhere.  You can follow her twitter or insta @wecreeptoodeep

Bonnie | Steve May

Guess who came to the factory this morning…Steve McQueen. To pick up his new Bonnie. He had this girl, Maureen, from the office, sitting on the back for some photos. You should have seen her face. What a sight. Steve McQueen and our Maureen!

Me dad made motorbikes at Triumph Engineering in Meriden. He had a hand in the Bonnie from the word go. He’d come home knackered but buzzing from the factory and talk like a kid about this great new bike. He felt he had a stake in it even though he was only on the shop floor.

The original Bonneville, a thing of beauty, a classic. A work of art in tangerine and blue separated by a single hand-painted gold pinstripe. Stripped down fenders; 115 mph; a real hot rod for for the US market. “The Best Motorcycle in the World” said the blurb. Who could disagree?

I was never a biker, me, but in 1974 I bought an ancient Honda 50 that managed 50 miles from Stockport to Leeds in just under 8 hours then clapped out, kaput.

It was Honda that eventually killed off Triumph; too heavy, too expensive. Though the Bonnie lived on, it was never the same as in those early days, when me dad raved about its sculpted tank and sturdy frame.

The Triumph Bonneville, a mythical machine, famed for jumping that barbed wire fence in The Great Escape. McQueen on top and a little bit of me dad in its battered frame.

 The Triumph Bonneville was first produced at the Meriden works in 1959. Steve McQueen visited the factory to pick up his new bike in 1964.

Born in Coventry, UK,  Steve May has worked extensively in the field of drama-in-education, including winning  an Edinburgh Fringe First with Wigan Young People’s Theatre and leading a Performing Arts Department at Sunderland College. More recently, living in Sunderland, he has worked as an acupuncturist and returned to his original passion of poetry. He regularly performs his work around the NE of England and further afield. He has had poems published in The Writers’ Café and the anthology Mixed Emotions and won the 2019 Shelter Poems for Home Competition, judged by John Hegley. He is a Poetry Society (UK) member.

He is on Twitter at @s_may_uk

An Arkansas Airwoman Cheats Her Death | K. T. Slattery


I am sure I saw you outside of your house-
But memory refuses you any other backdrop,
A never changing world,
Except at Christmas when four angels
Spelling N O E L adorned the never played piano.
Every year the obligatory Christmas visit
Brought three little girls racing in-
To be the first to play the big joke
Switching them round to spell L E O N.
Your stove and refrigerator as old
As your wooden leg
You refused to have refitted.
All the fixtures in your house
Including your hair and wardrobe
Frozen in decades past.


A plane fell from the sky
Crashing through the Live Oaks
Adorning itself with their Spanish Moss
So it hung like tinsel from the wreckage.
Gators scrambled away from the impact
A propeller gradually slowed
Until the words Banks-Maxwell
Revealed themselves upside down.
For four long days the propeller stood still.
You kept your life, but lost your leg
And with it your spirit.


When you put on your old jazz records
Did you imagine yourself whole again?
A woman who saw U-boats in the Gulf of Mexico
From a cargo ship bound for South America
Beheld the birth of jazz
Saw Satchmo’s cheeks puffed out like two Frigate birds
Accomplished pilot
Training the men deemed worthy to join the cause.


Unsung, you sacrificed your leg and more-
Then returned to Arkansas
To a piano that never made music
In a house where time stood still.

Writer’s Commentary

From the moment I started writing, I have wanted to compose something that pays tribute to my great aunt, Adele Thorell – a woman who was ahead of her time and witnessed so much history first-hand. I remember a woman who listened to jazz incessantly and never left Stuttgart, Arkansas. However, she was so much more than this. Attending Tulane- she was in New Orleans for the birth of jazz. Whilst travelling to see her brother in South America, she and her parents were forced to stay below deck for most of the trip when U-boats were spotted in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, an accomplished pilot, she trained fighter pilots during World War II. Her adventures came to an abrupt halt when she crashed in the swamps of New Orleans and lost her leg. She returned to Arkansas and never left again.

K.T. Slattery was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up just across the state line in Mississippi. She attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, where she studied English Literature and Philosophy. K.T. now resides on a mountain in the West of Ireland with her husband and an ever increasing amount of rescue pets.

Find her on Twitter at @KTSlattery1

The Litigator | A. M. Walsh

Attorneys study every letter;
in smoke and stench they hone their stings– Osip Mandelstam

My desk is                    a paper armoury:
the keys clink              like a chain lifting ordnance
into                                my keyboard
but there is no            boom
my broadside              is
just a                             swoosh.

I am a hired gun         for different faces,
a professional             chameleon.
I’ll name the price      for you to become
my temporary             enemy.

A. M. Walsh is a poet and lawyer who lives in York, UK and started writing poetry in 2018. He has been published in the web magazines Chaleur and Royal Rose and has work forthcoming with Drunk Monkeys. He is presently working towards publishing a pamphlet.

You can find him on Twitter at @amwpoet and Instagram at @amw_poet

 When People Ask Me So How Do You Feel About the War in Ukraine? | Nicole Yurcaba

Contains references to violence and rape

A Ukrainian can be pushed down for a long time, but when his forehead touches the ground, he’ll rise up and no one will stop him.— an old Ukrainian saying

I think of Evgen, who, five years ago emailed a picture
of his grape-eye and the blood-creek cruising his face.

My father, 75, was in his bedroom, searching for his passport
and packing his suitcase, determined to die in the mother

country. I, at 26, postponed studying literature in Kyiv.
I think how many times I cancelled and re-planned.

It’s too unsafe, my father says. Listen to your father,
my mother pleads. Listen! I am always denied

home, return, chance, existence, identity. I am a woman
of two countries, but in one tanks roll through my wheat-

fields; my sunflower fields, now snow-covered, are imprinted
with artillery and bomb blasts, are stained with the lives

of brothers, of cousins, of sisters and century upon century
of rape and enslavement My willows bend and creak,

and I remember my grandmother, how she wiped tears from my cheek
and said You, like Ukrayina, are large and beautiful—

 a mystery no one’s meant to decode.

Writer’s Commentary

In a Ukrainian family that came to America as political refugees, I learned vast amounts of history. My family is very political, and from a young age I learned to debate not only American politics and history, but also international politics and history, specifically Russo-Ukrainian relations. Because of my family’s history in Ukraine and America, and as many of my family members were imprisoned in Nazi camps, I have a deep interest in World War II. Thus, I admire people like Horace Greasley who defied camp guards and high-ranking Nazi officers. More recently, because of my own desire to return to Ukraine—a return that has been delayed more times than I can count due to the current Russian invasion of Ukraine—my poetry has focused on what “home” is to people like me who live as part of a culture’s diaspora on soil where we don’t necessarily feel we have an identity.

Nicole Yurcaba, a Ukrainian-American writer, teaches in Bridgewater College’s English department, where she also serves as the Assistant Director for the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival. Her poems and essays appear journals such as The Atlanta Review, The Lindenwood Review, Chariton Review, Still: The Journal, OTHER., Junto Magazine, Whiskey Island, The Broadkill Review and many others.  When she is not teaching, writing, or traveling, or dancing to Depeche Mode and Wolfsheim in goth clubs, Yurcaba lives, gardens, and fishes in West Virginia with her fiancé on their mountain homestead.

 She is the Assistant Director of the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, on Twitter at @bwaterpoetfest and  Facebook at (Bridgewater International Poetry Festival).