The World’s Greatest Uncle | Pongwut Rujirachakorn

I thought our leader must really love music and singing, as he recently released the seventh single for citizen which he had claimed to genially write the lyric by himself as usual though someone always said that he was hiring a professional composer to do the job instead.  The new release was called ‘Diamond Heart’—telling the bravery stories of soldiers protecting our country from the mischief threat and simultaneously salutes our military government which sacrifices their comforted life to work for everyone. Still, my all-time favorite was the first single—‘Give Back Civilized Happiness’—Uncle Udom had released one week after the coup.  The most pleasant thing was the government broadcasts every song regularly every week in their own TV program—‘Freshen Country up 4.0’—on Friday evening; Now, I hoped Diamond Heart would be aired frequently in this program, so I could memorize and sing along perfectly in every verse and chorus like previous songs.

My mother adored this show; I could say her was the big fan; on the contrary, Uncle Chan despised it. I called him ‘uncle’ although we didn’t relate by blood. Practically, he would be my stepfather if only Mom has married him. However, we lived in the same house and he normally took care of me so I respected him as the father. But there also another uncle that I had respected too, Uncle Udom, our present leader. I watched him on TV every Friday during my leisure time. Besides, it was the only program my mom approved. I couldn’t watch cartoons because Mom had thought they were nonsense and could turn me to a bad kid, but I’d always had Uncle Udom.

I had been learning a lot from his program: our culture (It was preciously valuable and better than any place in the world.), our regulations (Everyone should strictly follow the government rule.), our suitable manner (Youngers respected the elders, Uncle Udom and his comrades took care every citizen like parents had a responsibility to their kids.), etc. Uncle Udom told us completely everything about how to behave as a good citizen. No harm would happen if we followed his path as Mom had said to me. My grandmother cherished the show too. She praised Uncle Udom as the greatest leader Thailand ever had so far. I agreed. Basically, because I just turned ten last month, the only leader I had known was him. That was too bad I had never met him personally; the closest I had ever got, taking the picture with a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself on Children’s Day.

“Why have you still obsessed with this shit show? It keeps brainwashing people, especially children. I’m sure they plan to turn them to be their future slave,” shouted from uncle Chan, making me averted from the program.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Chan. And sit down. You make Nid scare,” Grandmother warned him sulkily.

“It’s all propaganda. Don’t you guys ever noticing?” he angrily grumbled and shook his head.

“Shut your mouth! Or else you will be caught to ‘attitude adjusted’ at the military base for sure. The leader is better than all those politicians; he was the general, the brave warrior, so he won’t lie. He’s a decent man.”

“Decent! Listen to yourself. This ‘decent’ leader of yours has framed many people and thrown them in jail, used the military court to dictatorially punish, just because they choose to stand up against him and all his corrupted government. One of my friends has been accused of arranging the satirical play they don’t like. After the armies raided his house, he has disappeared into thin air, no idea he still lives or dies. Is this the act of a decent man?”

“That’s because your friend disrespected him and betrayed our country. Enough. I won’t listen to this crap anymore.” Grandmother banished him, but left the room by herself instead. Uncle Chan turned to me and asked,

“Nid, you won’t believe all of his lies, will you?”

“Is it a lie?” I replied lightly with a question, completely confused. Mom and Grandma had said Uncle Udom always told us the truth, but Uncle Chan said the opposite. Who should I believe then?

Maybe, my indecision had made Uncle Chan frustrated; he looked disappointed and left without saying anything. Sometimes I thought he was jealous that I seemed to favor Uncle Udom more than a family member like him. Oh! Uncle Chan, you shouldn’t compare yourself with a celebrity like our leader.

*

Next day, I heard Uncle Chan told our neighbor, his friend—whom he had mentioned to us yesterday—was dead: drawn in the river not far from our village. His corpse didn’t look good I heard some details about the wound in his stomach which had been cut open and stuffed with concrete and tied to make it sink. I didn’t see with my own eyes because Mom would never allow me to do such a thing. But, listening to adult’s gossip was enough for me; it sounded really scary.

Did I tell you Uncle Chan worked as a journalist? He was. And I thought not a good one. I always heard the argument by Mom that he should find a new job. This one was not paying all our bills and foods. Grandma said he had been working for the disrespect media and should be ashamed. I questioned them in that evening, could it possible that Uncle Udom murdered that guy? Absolutely not, they answered, added the guy was bad to the bone as the villain in the movies. He deserved to die, it was just karma. 

           

“Like everybody said on Freshen Country up 4.0, if you’re not supporting the leader, then you better get out of the country. The land will be higher without the weight of traitors holding us back,” Grandmother reviled.

On the same week, Uncle Chan criticized our leader about a rude manner: Uncle Udom had just thrown a banana peel to the group of journalists that asking aggressive questions about his policies at the parliament. No one with a civilized mind would behave like that, he claimed. Surely, Grandma disagreed; said Uncle Udom was just genuine, not pretentious as all the politicians. Nevertheless, they deserved it, asking dumb questions like that, she added.

I still enjoyed the show, which seemingly, a big hit. They extended the air time, added specifically contents about children and pre-teen. Uncle Chan was apparently grumping as usual. He thought Uncle Udom was elaborately trying to hypnotize children. This’s pop-culture juggernaut in bed with tyranny. What they do is boosting the dictatorship’s image, he murmured irritably. Although, this time I didn’t definitely listen to him, in my opinion, it was better; catchier; and funnier; there were a lot of teen stars and celebrities appearing as a guest on the show. Even Prangcher, captain of the famous girl group I had idolized, also came and worked as the temporary host, promoting government education policy so it would definitely good. No way, Uncle Chan could be right.

*

One day, Grandmother and I went to the local market in the late afternoon. We met Aunt Jit, she was not my real aunt also, but in here, we called every familiar face like this—as the same family: Uncle or aunt, brother or sister, regardless of we weren’t biological relatives.

Anyway, Aunt Jit told Grandma she had hoped her son—Brother Joe—to become one of military force, explained that this was the brightest career path: big salary and a chance to be a minister in the future. There was no other career better than this. Although I didn’t know thoroughly, I thought the uniform was the coolest.

Unfortunately, Aunt Jit hadn’t a chance to tell us whether Brother Joe had gotten the job in military force because a month later, the fresh market had surprisingly gone out of business. The day I and Grandma acknowledged what was happening, she had disappeared left only the empty stall. I thought, as the owner of a vegetable vendor, she was necessarily to pack everything before closing. We were forced to switch to the other fresh market, making us wandered around for a little longer, hearing many sellers mumbled the economic hadn’t been in good shape. No buyers meant no sellers. So every day the vendor in every market seemed to be close down one by one.

Uncle Chan insisted the unfortunate incident had happened because the military government, each day our leader and his comrades were richer and richer while civilians were facing the recession and hard life.

“Damn you, democrat lunatic. I preferred the leader Udom more than any politicians so either you get out of my house or shut your withered mouth!” yelled impatiently Grandma.

A few months later, Uncle Chan’s journal was apparently closed down also. He was suddenly unemployed and was gradually grumpier as time went by, criticizing Uncle Udom every chance he could find someone listens to him, which rarely, stoked his hatred. Of course, Grandma stood at the opposite side, defended our leader would do whatever he can to protect the nation; his military government was like a country’s strong fence.

“Then why they aren’t deployed at the border when the terrorists attacked the villagers? Why did they choose to situate themselves in the parliament instead? I have told you they’ve lied. The submarine, the tank, the corrupted money, that all they care, not citizens like us.”

Grandma didn’t believe Uncle Chan, as usual. Until she went to the hospital and the doctor informed that she must pay for pills and treatment by herself soon.

“But, why I couldn’t use a healthcare benefit anymore?” She asked faintly.

“It’s the new regulation from the government. From next month onwards, patients must pay for their treatment. No more medical supports.” The doctor informed.

“But…”

“If you ask me. It must have been the new expensive submarines and the tanks the military just brought. The government has cut the national budget for health care supports then adding to the Ministry of Defense instead.”

This time Grandma didn’t defend Uncle Udom. She was quiet all the way home. Finally, I heard she mumbled to herself.

“He must have had a good reason. Yes, it must be.”

*

Uncle Chan’s new job was an online journalist. He said it practically the same only change from print platform to online, adapting for surviving. All the people who had shared the exact ideology invited him to work with them, surely, he accepted. At least, now, he wasn’t a grumpy, unemployed man so I guessed everyone was happy, including Mom.

One day, I was back from school and noticed a strange vibe. Uncle Chan was alone in the house and acted differently than any day. It occurred to me he looks serious and sad than usual. Ultimately, he said he wants to discuss something to me—like an adult.

“Listen to me, Nid; you shouldn’t believe any words the authorities have said, okay?”

“What do you mean, Uncle Chan?”

“They’re not a good man. Unlike your mother and grandmother, I know the truth. Actually, they might know it either but stubborn then chose to deny it.” I didn’t understand but I keep my mouth shut, didn’t want to upset him. “The military has taken advantage of political chaos to control us, spread the lies, although they are the real villain.”

“Then why Mom and Grandma loved Uncle Udom?”

“They had been hypnotized by propaganda: making them hold a grudge against the politicians, the democracy, even the concept of using their right to vote. These things used to be good and normal in this country, but after the coup, they have forced dictatorial to be the new normal, promoted it as the way to bring peace. The leader and his force made sure it would have been like that because they could control everything, every way even neutralize the opponents”

“Uncle Chan, I don’t understand.”

“You’re a child, Nid, still have a chance. Promise me one thing, when you grow up, run as fast as you can away from this place. There are future and hope, just not in here,” his voice was trembling made me scare.

No, I didn’t afraid of the dystopian he had described. At the precise moment, I didn’t believe for a bit. In Uncle Udom’s TV program, our leader assured the government had a 20-year national strategic plan ahead—the future is here—not anywhere else. Grandma told me the only thing I must do was being a good kid, obeyed the elder, and we would be fine. Uncle Udom dedicated himself to us; he couldn’t be a bad guy like Uncle Chan tried to accuse him.

One week later, Uncle Chan was arrested by the military. They came to our house in the late evening. I confused and scared, crying. Mom comforted me; said Uncle Chan had violated the law; something about violations of the Computer Crimes against the government. He wouldn’t come back for at least three years or maybe more for slander. Anyway, while hugging my mom very tight, I momentarily felt relieved.

Grandma was right all along. Uncle Chan was the real villain. I felt sorry for him; it was like the twist ending in a movie: sometimes bad guy conceals themselves near us.

But our country and our family would be better without the one with a bad attitude like that, Grandma said. 

Thinking of Uncle Chan, I decided to forgive his foolish. Trying to look on the bright side, after this entire incident, I might have a chance to meet Uncle Udom one day because in the end every villain would be slain by the hero.


Based in Bangkok Thailand, Pongwut Rujirachakorn is a Chinese-Thai fiction writer who published novels, short story collections, and numerous anthologies. He received several literary awards from his home country including the Thailand National Book Award and PEN Thailand Center Award. Some of his works had been translated into other languages. Currently, writing his English novel along with short stories to introduce the sense of Thai literary scene and mirroring the cruelty of junta government to an international readership.

Joan Again | Stephen Mead

It wasn’t a dark dream which crept over me,
not like my mother warned, but a real war
& what had to be done. No,
how in the heavens could I possibly escape
the prophesy which chose me, though,
when it came, that’s what I desired,
to be useful, in love with the land,
the people, swamped, not the bloodshed,
not the blood.

I saw no one as enemy really, in the beginning,
before accusations. I saw only suffering
& tried hard to listen for an angel’s voice.
Long through nights it wailed, whimpered
of potential stakes, & yet even while paying heed
to go on was my part, the part which meant lead.

My god, but I hated the violence, the triumphant waste,
as so many fell & fell thinking we are right, we are right,
convinced of that on both sides.

Were they then? Are they now?
Lives lost in cannon’s fire or hand to hand,
face to face, the combat of swords, even the one
which I carried, slaying no one, though arrow-pierced
& advancing high as a rippling, a certainly torched
& tattered flag.

It can yet be found, that riddling belief,
purely symbolic in the stones, the pellets flung
through headlines. You know the names,
the territories & how many are coming forth?

How I would like to place my ear on each wrist
to hear the priceless booming heart
& have that humble echo amplified.
The I’d return to who I was
before all the wars & the voices, I confess,
the voices deaf deaf & blind to the outcome.

(Recorded as sound-collage, not in print)


A resident of NY, Stephen Mead is an Outsider multi-media artist and writer.  Since the 1990s he’s been grateful to many editors for publishing his work in print zines and eventually online.  He is also grateful to have managed to keep various day jobs for the Health Insurance. In 2014 he began a webpage to gather various links to his published poetry in one place, http://stephenmead.weebly.com/links-to/poetry-on-the-line-stephen-mead

We were never going to die | Ian C. Smith

‘Only trouble is interesting’ – Janet Burroway

Cold December.  A rental on the Kentish coast where I unscrew the meter to recycle some 50p coins but we still shiver, hiding ourselves away, my addiction to the magic of being elsewhere waning, Dungeness nuclear power station squatting on the horizon seen from the pebble beach where we walk alone, gulls’ cries forlorn.  Ramshackle tall buildings, perhaps bleak boarding houses, shadow the foreshore skyline staring towards France.  Beyond our rear fence at the edge of Romney Marsh a miniature green passenger train whistles along a single track.  Near the line a tethered billygoat crops weeds, nettles, eyeballing us, stench rank.  The area of marshland across the railway we shortcut to New Romney’s shops, stepping on pebbles like those on the beach, was once ravaged by the Black Death, and rife with malaria.  Smugglers, owlers, for their nocturnal signals, prevailed in dark, dank villages, some now gone forever.

Twice, reminders of what turned out to be those indelible days, alerted my senses: reading Paul Theroux’s account of travelling right around the British coast, his reference to that train rousing memories of its whistle’s echo; and Michael Portillo’s televised rail journeys crisscrossing Britain, also about the train, and the past, when I was both far from home, and yet home, born in England, partly growing up in Australia.

Eighteen months after setting out we moved to the coast, having researched an episode of a TV programme climaxing in my feckless family members’ reunion following an age of separation.  Deceit, tragedy, bad blood, bigamy, and shame enough to blood an Elizabethan play revealed, the deeper we dug the sadder we slumped, genealogical archaeologists mired in misery.  The sun seemed never to shine on those Spartan days, security in havoc, when our wardrobe consisted of whatever could be stuffed into backpacks, yet we were briefly buoyed by our achievements culminating in a frisson of glamour at a London television studio.

I can’t stop wondering how I would fare if I could burst back through time to land in the midst of winter on that beach in the throes of overseas days, Channel wind ruffling my hair, almost broke, collar turned up on my sailor’s pea jacket I wore constantly, an unmoored man on a moor with anchor motifs on his buttons, the brilliant red lining keeping me warm instead of lurking unworn, unseen on a hanger, no more cold wind for that coat now, no gulls’ cries, coat as memento.  Despite humdrum comfort, why these echoes like tinnitus, this unease?


Ian C. Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Antipodes, cordite, Poetry New Zealand, Poetry Salzburg Review, Southerly, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

Obituary for the Canon | J. Sean Rafferty

Acta est Fabula, Plaudite!

It is with genuine remorse
that we acknowledge the passing of
the Literary Canon
after a long painful life—
well, painful for us at the very least.
The cause of death was as grand and
predictable as they always were.
Found Thursday evening in their estate,
deceased and rotting for quite a few decades
now. Autoerotic asphyxiation.
That is to say, their head was firmly
shoved up one of their own orifices.
Despite numerous University and critical bodies on hand
to attempt resuscitation, (that is say, they stuck
their heads up the Canon’s orifice) that
great literary body was announced dead at the scene.

We ask in this time of momentous mourning
that you think of The Canon as it were in life:
often white, primarily male, upper-middle class of course,
a proud Anglo-Saxon protestant who’d not
dare speak of religion, such a frivolous novelty,
but was forgiven their prejudice all the same
when they did. Although your grief may inspire you,
we ask you please, do not send flowers.
If one would like to celebrate this behemoth
of classics, send instead verses from their most
diligent students: Pope, Eliot, Yeats.
After all we shall need something to blow
our noses into at the funeral.
A solemn, somber ceremony shall
be conducted next Sunday, after which
The Canon shall remain lying in state
for the next decade or so in numerous
Institutions of their teaching; First
Oxford, Cambridge, of course
and then on to the Ivy Leagues.

What can one say of a classic?
Truly a product of their time, their time
ending roughly in the 1940s.
A staunch believer and protector
of the literary caste system,
only they were true literature.
They are survived by their traitorous children,
Modern, Contemporary and Alternative Literature
As well as their illegitimate grandchildren:
Free-verse, Graphic narrative, Erotica…
I could go on but I shall spare The Canon the shame.
Needless to say, these frivolous youths
shall not be in attendance.
We, the Canon’s loyal followers would not allow
Such bastardized riff raff through the doors!

The King is dead. May god have mercy on their soul.
BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE WILL


Sean Rafferty is a redhead, a godfather and an eejit. He is an MA English Lit student at Ulster University and his work has previously been featured in Gravitas, Sage Cigarettes, the Alcala Review and Capsule Stories. When not losing games of pool he, sometimes, writes stuff.

‘Anyone for a drink?’- 1965, Regatta Hotel, QLD | Angela Costi

Rosalie and Merle clasped their ‘cold ones’,
forced their smiles, relaxed their chained
ankles – a little, pretended to ignore
the brewing of outrage and fear.
Their beer had a balanced, bold flavour
with a hint of bitterness,
it wasn’t that weak mix of spirit
confined to the Ladies’ Lounge.

The law arrived that hot day,
blue uniforms sweating and quibbling
about batons and saws,
retreating and re-entering
with troups of specialist authority
endeavouring to remember
the exact section of what Act?

It wasn’t easy for Merle to discipline
the tremor rifling her body
when the ‘bag-man’
who carried the system in his back pocket
breathed a threat in her ear,
but she was married to her vision
of woman and man speaking
about their day at the office
together, at the bar,
clinking their glasses
to thoughts of work and life entwined.

Pauses of thought
bought the women more drinks,
and a chance to shift
the spaces
between public and private,
gender and sex,
culture and custom.

When the hammer came down
like a judgement
to smash the chain’s padlock,
two women were free
to speak to wives, mothers, daughters…
waiting on pub verandas
for their blokes to finish
shouting their mates.

 


Writer’s Commentary

A photo of Merle Thornton and an interview with her in a book triggered an obsession to pen that moment in Australian history when Merle chained herself to the bar at the Regatta Hotel. In the interview Merle states: ‘It was 1965. I should preface this by saying that I felt a sense of outrage when I first came to QLD at seeing women sitting in cars outside hotels with their children, waiting while their menfolk had a drink.’ So Merle was railing about women not being able to drink alongside men. This poem has something of a bush ballad about it inspired by Banjo Patterson’s sweeping narratives.


Angela Costi‘s poetry collections are: Dinted Halos (Hit&Miss Publications, 2003), Prayers for the Wicked (Floodtide Audio and Text, 2005), Honey and Salt (Five Islands Press, 2007) and Lost in Mid-Verse (Owl Publishing, 2014).

An award from the National Languages and Literacy Board in 1995 enabled her to study Ancient Greek drama in Greece. In 2010, she received funding from the Australia Council to work on an international collaboration involving her poetry and Japan-based Stringraphy Ensemble. Her formative languages, Cypriot and Greek, influence her poetry. Both her parents are from Cyprus, migrating to Australia to escape poverty and war. Her poetic lens is drawn to urban existence, highlighting those moments of connection among routine and struggle.

At Twelve, My First Flood | John Grey

The coffins aren’t popping like corn
despite what some kid at school says.
Sure, the water level’s rising
and there’s pressure from below old skeletons
but the dead are cocooned
in six feet of dense earth.
They’re not going anywhere.

It’s the cars that float like coffins
down Main Street.
And it’s everybody’s trash,
the bones of the way we live,
that is swept up by new currents.
Two days of solid rain
and the river’s overflown its banks.
The natural’s out of order.
But departed loved ones
play no part in this catastrophe.
Sure people weep…
but over ruined furniture and carpets.
It’s a flood not an exhumation.

From our second-door window,
we watch a disaster movie unfold.
But it’s not a horror show.
That’s for the hearts of the ones
who have to clean up this mess.
And our understanding
is only what we see.

 


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dalhousie Review, Thin Air and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Qwerty, Chronogram and failbetter.

For Lewis | J. B. Stone

When Toni Doherty, a grandmother of seven,
took the shirt off her back, bundling your sweet body away from the flames
amid the crackles of my faith, a tide of relief, for a moment
washed away in sea of viral video memento, a montage of everyday heroes

like Toni, who at the end, like so many of us, didn’t want to see
another innocent creature burn. I know you lost so much
Ellenborough, When I read the news of the day
When they put you to sleep, I knew my nights would leave me sleepless.

 


Writer’s Commentary

In the poem, For Lewis this was written based on the same week of last Sumatran rhino went extinct in Malaysia, was the same week of the Australian Brushfires where many, many, many Koala habitats were lost as well. One of the most intense days a local, while evacuating rescued a koala who was caught in the flames. She named the Koala after one of her grandsons, as Ellenborough Lewis. Unfortunately, a day or two later personnel at a nearby animal hospital had to have him euthanized due to the excessive worsening of his burns would only have him living in prolonged suffering.


J.B. Stone/Jared Benjamin is a neurodivergent slam poet, writer and reviewer from Brooklyn, now residing in Buffalo. He is the author of the micro chap, A Place Between Expired Dreams And Renewed Nightmares (Ghost City Press 2018). His work has in or forthcoming in PANK, Five :2: One Magazine, Crack the Spine, YES Poetry, Riggwelter, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. He is the Reviews Editor at Coffin Bell Journal and the Founding Editor at Variety Pack. You can always check out more of his work at jaredbenjaminstone.com. He tweets @JB_StoneTruth

Only In Sleep | Michael Igoe

First published on detritusonline

We run roughshod over them,
those displays in faded tents.
A chance from the Zodiac,
might set them all free
resurrect their challenge.
But that only occurs in sleep.
Awake, the chance of answers,
permits a complete cosmetic,
the sun embarks
on a grisly journey
arcs past you in torrents
to confronts you at midday
like an old man’s time spent planning
four days in bed.


Michael Igoe Chicago, now Boston USA. Numerous publications in journals online and print. National Library of Poetry Editors Choice Award 1997. Recent: cabinetofheed.com  dreamnoir.art  Avalanches In Poetry Anthology @ Amazon. poetryinmotion416254859.wordpress.com

Twitter: MichaelIgoe5. Urban Realism; Surrealism. I like the night.

Letter from the Editors

Almost a year ago, the Wellington Street Review was unheard of to everyone including us. Our fourth issue brings us through the full cycle of the year, and it seems both a long time ago and only yesterday.

Our fourth issue brings us from the 1600s through to modern-day Australia; from Devon to Flanders to dreams. When we decided on the theme Epoch, to be released on New Year’s Eve on the final day of the 2010s, we had vague notion of new beginnings and decade-specific zeitgeist. As always, the range and imagination in the submissions we received has completely taken us aback. Tellingly, the spectre of climate change runs through this edition, more so than any other theme.

But whether you’re reading this in 2019, 2020 or years into the future, best wishes to all of you for the next year, decade and all the time ahead.