Letter from the Editors

It’s documented that in older versions of the Roman calendar March was both the first month of spring and the first month of the year. Whether or not that’s true, March makes an excellent time for the publication of our inaugural issue of The Wellington Street Review.

We’ve been blown away by the quality of submissions we received, and choosing which to publish has been the subject of some interesting editors meetings. The variety of subjects in the poetry and prose featured in this issue is testament to the unique voices and experiences of our writers.

This issue begins with To Wilfred, Edward Ashworth’s address to noted World War One poet Wilfred Owen. Edward captures images in his writing comparable to the skill of his subject, and sets the tone for our conversation with the past. The evocative flash fiction Count Your Breaths, by Northern Irish writer Chris Wright brilliantly captures moments of death and life in fluid prose. Closing this issue, we have Gareth Culshaw’s poem Sick Bay, based on Gusev, the short story by Anton Chekhov. Engaging with pieces of historical work of any form is something we look for, and Gareth’s poem is a vivid and direct response to Chekhov’s original piece.

We hope our readers enjoy the selection we have curated and appreciate the hard work that has gone into each piece. If you’d like to know more about our writers, look for their social media information in their biography underneath their work. Please feel free to let them (and us) know what you think!

All of our writers have given us the opportunity to publish exciting, original work and we thank them for taking the chance on a brand new literary magazine. To everyone that has submitted, everyone that has followed us and everyone that is reading, thank you. This is for you.

Yours,
The Editors

It’s All in the Execution: How Representations of Executioners Protect Hegemony | Jacob Fowler

In many examples of media, there is an unsettling figure that looms over the stage, novel, or film. The figure is often quiet, marked only by an ominous presence and domineering silence. This figure is the executioner and, of course, is rarely presented as a masochist blood-fiend who relishes in the fundamentally cruel vision of justice that is capital punishment. Rather, there is a persistent movement in media to present the executioner not as an enactor of capital violence, but carrying out a necessary task. The trope of the silent, stoic executioner helps dignify and humanize the perpetration of mass violence against the predominantly poor and vulnerable and desensitize us to state sponsored destruction. This representation is rooted in a historical moment that saw Christendom use its totalitarian power to push people away from seeking pleasure and toward venerating the pursuit of pain. As we explore the impetus of the proliferation of this trope- and the trope itself – we will track how the preservation of power and the celebration of violence is embodied by this seemingly arcane character type.

Epicurus, the Hellenistic Greek philosopher, died in 270 BCE, and although only a few fragments of his texts and three of his personal letters were spared by the agents of time, his philosophical advancements are still a dominant influence on today’s secular philosophy. Epicureanism, however, has been controversial since its early stages, and was threatened most when most culture and politics were controlled by the church. Epicureanism asserted that since everything was made of atoms, and ultimately there was no afterlife, one should spend their earthly time focusing on pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. Even this rudimentary definition of his work makes it clear: Epicurus would have no place in a world ruled by the early Church.

Since his model was incompatible with early Christianity— or as one friar stated, “Epicurus utterly destroys religion”— his influence posed a threat to the Church’s ideology.[i] Thus, something was to be done about his legacy and the church ventured down two routes to dismantle it. The first was the obvious and tantalizing choice of defaming his name. This started in the fourth century AD and has remained a surprisingly potent case against both Epicurus and his followers. Perhaps one of the most famous instances of this type of attack was Saint Jerome’s defamation of Epicurus’s most influential disciple Lucretius. Saint Jerome posited that Lucretius took a love potion and committed suicide after the potion drove him mad. Even though no biographical documentation of Lucretius exists  – and neither do love potions –  this particular aspersion has proven to be so pervasive that even twentieth century scholars have claimed that “Jerome was too good a scholar and too honest to record as fact what he would have known… to be false.”[ii]

Despite its endurance, the character attacks were ineffective at leading people away from Epicurus’s teachings during late antiquity. So the church turned course and instead focused on upending his philosophical tenets, especially those surrounding pleasure. The church labelled the pursuit of pleasure as demonic, establishing “pleasure as a codename for vice”. [iii]This, while certainly less fun than accusing people of potion-driven madness, proved more effective for the Church, since the process of convincing followers to discard pleasure as vice proved extremely compatible with the culture of early Christianity. A system with a surfeit of martyrs seamlessly incorporated the value of pain as a means of quasi-martyrdom, a way of leading people closer to God. And this doctrine of self-harm quickly proliferated throughout  Christendom, giving increasing rise to stories like a dying Saint Theresa torturing herself with nails or nuns whipping themselves so emphatically that onlookers were left with blood splats on their person[iv]. Which is to say, the plot had worked. Epicureanism had been abandoned writ large, its tradition carried on only in secret, and most of those subjected to the widespread power of the church began to view pleasure as sin and pain as virtue.

It follows rather easily that the veneration of inwardly directed, private pain would find its way into the public sphere. This mass public desire to witness pain found its logical performative end on the execution stage. The execution, embodied by the executioner, helped not only laud violence but demonstrate power, thereby simultaneously condemning the pursuit of pleasure by killing those who opposed the Church and supporting the ruling class. In the Foucaultian sense, executions are events that “arouse feelings of terror by the spectacle of power.”[v] This spectacle in reverence to— and in service of— power needed a figure to carry out the bloody business of killing criminals, since it would be poor practice for the cardinal or bishop to be the one wielding the axe. Thus, there was a need for a proxy figure. The executioner became the figure that represented power without actually having any themself.

Essentially a play actor, the executioner was expected to be an enigmatic figure whose only interaction with society was their violent duty. Executioners were pariahs, bussed in to provide their hegemonically necessary task; or as Stassa Edwards writes, “Apart from required attendance at church services, where they and their families were restricted to a designated pew, executioners only entered the city to perform tasks relating to their office.” When performing their task, they were instructed to be silent, steely and domineering, and their names were kept secret in order to destroy any lingering remnants of personal identity. The aura of the executioner became part of the spectacle, and through this presentation they signaled that not only were they performing a civil task, but they were performing the natural and necessary work of God. This aura became pervasive and is captured by many early representations of executioners.

Looking at an example from the sixteenth century we see a triangulation that proved to be dominant in most representations of executioners. This triangulation juxtaposes the stoicism of the executioner, the madness of the condemned and the awe of the spectators. The piece, titled Exécution de Gosson sur la place d’Arras, is an engraving completed in 1587 that depicts a high profile execution from the eighth century. The condemned is kneeling with a fearful expression which is obfuscated by a dark shading that consumes the face; a visual metaphor suggesting the corruption of countenance. The raised stage is accentuated by the arena-type wave that the onlookers are positioned in. A mix of soldiers and civilians that suggests solidarity between the militaristic and the private, the crowd is a collection of viewers that are transfixed on the violence. And of course, in the privileged center of the piece is the executioner, an enlarged head with a calm and stern face, his defined arms gracefully swinging an axe.

Image result for Exécution de Gosson sur la place d'ArrasExécution de Gosson sur la place d’Arras, 1587 (Source: BNF)

This piece embodies an artistic endeavor that was common during this period wherein the usual understandings of space and size are manipulated to accentuate certain figures. The foreground objects are not the biggest but the central figure of the executioner is. By making this center figure the largest, the piece warps standard perceptions of space and creates a bird’s eye view in which the viewer is forced to view the image “as it looks to the heavenly patronage”.[vi] If the viewer is being asked to look at the piece as a heavenly body would, and the executioner is clearly placed in a position of privilege, then this artistic rendering affirms the executioner as a servant of God, acting within the defined natural order. This triangulation of stoicism, madness, and enthrallment, as well as the inversion of spatial principles can be seen throughout the art world. However, the stoic representation of executioners does not only exist in the visual arts, it also has a dominant, centuries-long hold in literature.

Let’s take a look at an example from the early twentieth century in Vladmir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading (1935). What can be seen here is the same triangularization that we see in visual art. In the final scene of the novel the madness of the condemned, the stoicism of the executioner, and the awe of the crowd are all juxtaposed as the main character, Cincinatus, tries to grasp his imminent end. The ending is ambiguous and there is room to believe that Cincinatus escaped, but there is also a suggestion that the escape was a fantasy. However, one cannot be concerned with whether the escape was “real” or not because the presence of the executioner— and the extensive power that he represents— is too dominant to escape from, and thus it does not matter if the final scene is a true escape from death or a dream-induced fantasy. Escape does not mean freedom. After his lengthy imprisonment, Cincinatus is fully aware of the full vision of dominant power. Inmuration is less dependent on the act of execution but rather the omnipresent aura of execution, embodied by the stoic executioner who only appears in the final pages. Cincinatus throughout the novel succumbs to his own paranoias that result from the fear of execution. This fear is not catalyzed by the prison warden nor his neighbor in this prison, nor even the conditions of the prison, but rather an ever-consuming fear of what the executioner will bring. Thus, Cincinatus, free or dead, is still succumbing to the natural, inevitable dominance that is carried out by the executioner. What this points to is not that Nabokov was actively writing to protect the ruling class— in fact one could present a compelling reading that he is critiquing it— but the ubiquity of this trope. By 1935, Epicureanism was no longer the subject of harsh criticism by the Church, yet the sentiment of the natural relationship between violence and power was still embodied by the executioner figure. Thus, the strands of anti-Epicurean belief are so pervasive that they still linger, if only in the representation of the power, pointing to an important aspect of the executioner figure: the paradoxical yet transcendental aura of the figure.

While the Church did not suffer from a dearth of martyrs, they did lack a cohesive story that simultaneously prioritized pain and privileged worldly power. The core tenet of the faith is centered around martyrdom, yet the story was incompatible with the cultural shift that the Church was trying to force, the effects of which we see from the Baroque to Nabokov. For the Jesus story to preserve its palpability and violence, the perpetrators of violence must be presented as a symbol of the corruption of man, not stoic handlers of justice. A reworking of the Passion to align the necessity of violence with the necessity of power would far too revisionist to serve its desired function. To preserve power through both the spectacle of executions and the artistic renderings of them, the executioner became transcendental to the execution and even to the power it protects.

Even though the executioner never actually had any power, the nominal role and fictional portrayals became figures of edification. The proclaimed naturality of execution lifted the enactor of violence, rather than the benefactor of it— the ruling class— as a dominant figure. Imagine that the ruling class is placing the executioner as a shield to hide themselves from any potential repercussion. This worked to serve the ruling class, and while it ostensibly further distanced them from the actual performance of pain, they still reaped the benefits of it. This  also allowed for an odd, if inadvertent, juxtaposition between pain and power wherein leadership could be seen as a mere event, while State violence has to be seen as natural and disparate from any lunacy or corruption that might hold power at the time. This means that even when those in power are corrupt, their office is sanctified by the executioner, or, in other words: to preserve power, violence must transcend it.

This brings to mind a rather striking scene from the Disney version of Robin Hood (1973). In this scene we see the animated fox portraying Robin Hood sentenced to death for deception. As he condemns Robin Hood, Prince John’s antics are portrayed as juvenile, with his crown sliding off his head and spittle flying out of his mouth. Yet the behavior of the condemnor is somehow removed from the violence that it manifests. When the executioner— who is a rhino, and let’s not go down that rabbithole— is called upon to carry out the task, the scene takes on a significant change. It is more ominous, but more so; it is more procedural: a rhythmic drumming begins, the expressionless rhino moves forcefully but in a controlled manner, and even the framing of the shot changes, as the audience is now forced to look up on the executioner instead of at eye level like with Prince John. In this way, the executioner’s actions are presented not as evil, but as natural. It is as if the film is pushing the viewer to accept capital punishment as disparate from the power-driven motives that promote it. Everything points to the rhythmic nature of executions while preserving the power of the king. Whether Prince John or King Richard is on the throne, the executioner will remain there to preserve power, to maintain structure and order in a regulated, natural way. This trope, therefore, can be tracked from Baroque art to animated twentieth century cartoons, a nearly unparalleled level of consistency that dominates art forms.

While it was effective for squashing Epicureanism for a while, and despite the pervasiveness of the executioner trope, and the centuries long onslaught of the Church on Epicureanism, the system has lived on. Epicureanism has retained a vitality that seems irrepressible. Philosophers, economists, and politicians have all proselytized the virtue of an Epicurean belief system. Even Thomas Jefferson said, as quoted by John Quincy Adams, that, “the Epicurean philosophy came nearest to the truth of any ancient system of philosophy, but that it has been misunderstood and misrepresented.” While Jefferson had plenty of moral failings in his personal philosophy, he understood that there was a movement actively pushing against Epicureanism through a mode of disinformation. The massive cultural shift from prioritizing pleasure over pain is embodied in the false representation of Epicurean pleasure to the false representation of how executioners embody justice. While perhaps it seems like an inconsequential battle (one between Hellenistic philosophers and Christians) this dialectic has a much larger significance.

Self-flagellation, sacrifice, and austerity are all ideals that the capitalist class imposes on its workers. While often any religious overtones have been effaced— although certainly they have their place, especially in rightwing rhetoric— the principle of pain as more virtuous than pleasure is certainly still dominant. People are asked to place their pleasure to the side so that some greater system can survive. Whether the issue is healthcare or housing, those in power are quick to claim pleasure as vice and self-punishment as preferred. Additionally, we are instructed to see violence not as a means of oppression but as a natural component to our system. The execution is just one of the many cultural and political modes in which power is preserved and violence is venerated. Often, events that are presented as basic issues that should be respected by all, regardless of ideology, are centered around violence. Some examples include the death of Osama Bin Laden and the deluge of hagiography surrounding the police. Even if no one in government wields an axe anymore, they still depend on the presumed natural order that privileges violence as a means of communication with the people. The intertwined role of media to preserve power is essential to understanding the relationship between power and media. From CIA-funded Jackson Pollock to superhero movies that are little more than military worship propaganda, the implementation of media as a tool to preserve power is well-documented and well-alive. The executioner is just one of the more historically prevalent examples, but as the figure’s prevalence dwindles in the age of lethal injection and hopeful abolition of capital punishment, rest assured it will be replaced by something else.


References

[i] Roberts and Donaldson, 490

[ii] Gain, 545

[iii] Greenblatt, 102

[iv] Greenblatt, 108

[v] Foucault, 58

[vi] Arnheim, 168


Works Cited

Adams, John. Memoirs, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Philadelphia, 1874

Arnheim, Rudolf. New Essays on the Psychology of Art. Berkeley, University of Berkeley Press, 1986

Foucault, Michel Discipline and Punish (trans Sheridan). London, Penguin, 1979

Gain, D.B. “The Life and Death Of Lucretius.” Latomus, vol. 28, no. 3, 1969, pp. 545-553.

JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41527500.

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve. New York, W.W Norton and Company, 2011.

Roberts, Alexander, and Donaldson, James. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951.


Jacob Fowler (he/him/his) is an elementary school teacher living in Oakland, CA. He recently graduated from Pitzer College with a BA in World Literature. His work has appeared in Barren Magazine, Selcouth Station, Soft Cartel, and The Sunlight Press, among others. You can find him on Twitter @jacobafowler.

Literary Landscapes: Characterizing Space Through Dreams and Reality | Margaryta Golovchenko

It is easy – if not natural – to think of space as a material based, geographically rooted term. At the same time, there is sense of intimacy associated with the term which registers on a subconscious level, entailing a system of accepting and refusing entry, whether to people or objects, which is based on predetermined criteria. The mind, meanwhile, is capable of correlating the physical shell of space with the bodily presence waiting to inhabit it; the presence serves as the creator who curates a tableau through movement and manipulation. As a result, the idea that space is empty becomes problematic, for objects never simply end up where they are and instead are always undergoing some form of conscious or subconscious accumulation and arrangement. While in Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Sign of Four the idea of emptiness is dispelled by material excess as a form of “filling”, the poems of Louise Glück’s A Village Life present the individual in the dual role of object-creator; occupying and embodying the space as well as manipulating it. It is in the movie Inception that the final aspect of the problem is seen through the close coexistence between object and subject, in which the dichotomy of creation and recreation is mediated through personal meaning. The result is a redefinition of space as a concept that is conceived within the mind before it obtains a physical form, the goal of which is to subvert the strange until the foreign becomes the familiar. In the process space is dominated by emotions, which shape space based on an internal sense of rules and eliminate any possibility of neutrality.

The physical entity of space is the first link in understanding the effect human presence has on their surroundings through personal intervention. This is often manifested in the form of arrangement and the ordering of objects which, in the case of Thaddeus Sholto’s room in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, manifests itself in the form of overabundance. Watson’s amazement at his surroundings is evident from his catalogue-like account of the details in the room which, “[i]n that sorry house […] looked as out of place as a diamond of the first water in a setting of brass[i]. These objects are meant to engage all of the senses, as he points out the “lamp in the fashion of a silver dove […which,] [a]s it burned[,] filled the air with a subtle and aromatic odour[ii], suggesting that it is not enough simply to fill the space. Rather, the goal is to create an atmosphere, an experience that would assail the visitor in an almost transcendental manner, inadvertently transforming the room into a microcosm which appears as if ripped out of the Orient through its desire to imitate, yet simultaneously shows no real attempt to integrate into the London cityscape beyond. This appeal to the senses is, according to Jan Švankmajer, the very difference between curation of a formal space of the museum and the informal space of the bedroom, where museums are the objective and rational form of organization whereas a bedroom is a subjective cabinet of wonders, driven by the emotions[iii]. The objects reconstruct the narrative Sholto has transposed from himself, as a patron of artists and lover of elegance, onto them, making them difficult to admire due to the presence of an almost overbearing context, preventing the viewer from “reading” them in isolation. Furthermore, Doyle uses the room as a physical, albeit distanced, presence of the imperial mindset, which saw “[t]he Orient […] not [as] Europe’s interlocutor, but [as] its silent Other[iv], the objects selected not so much due to their aesthetic values as much as what they are capable of representing. The physical space is akin to “a shell [that] is not merely a being that once lived, but one that is still alive[v]; stagnation prevented not only by the fact that items can be moved individually, but also due to the fact that rearrangement also changes context and, as a result, a purpose.

There is an immediacy to objects as a result of their maneuverability, made more significant when occurring on a larger scale of an entire room. However, they simultaneously evoke a sense of distance and anticipation by indirectly referring to a human presence, whether past or future, which engages with them by deciding what goes together and what is taken out. This gives space the status of a threshold, like in the case of Bartholomew Sholto’s chemical laboratory, with its “double line of glass-stoppered bottles […and table] littered over with Bunsen burners, test-tubes, and retorts[vi]. In contrast to Thaddeus’ room, Bartholomew’s should instead be read as a form of characterization, as it gives the reader a first impression of the man before he can be “encountered” through the page, using visual language to indicate how the environment was manipulated and interpreted through the human body. While a room is not always occupied, the human presence within it is always felt either through the presence or absence of certain objects, the way a modern stove “without the red glow of the coals […eliminates] the whole mood of winter […] and with it the pleasure of family gatherings round the fire.”[vii] The individual is the catalyst in the life of physical space, determining the movements of the objects as well as their overall “lifespan”, resulting in “the house’s virtues of protection and resistance [being[ transported into human virtues […] acquir[ing] the physical and moral energy of a human body[viii] that is like the breath of life which makes space feel lived-in.

At the same time, space is also governed by a second force which is, for the most part beyond the influence of the human hand; specifically, this is the relationship that exists between objects and the natural elements. In this case, human presence is essential as a means of acknowledging the presence of nature as an important companion to the physical which, in the case of things like dust, can be further manipulated as extensions of it. Watson’s description of the neighbourhood in which Thaddeus Sholto’s house is located, with its surrounding “[l]ong lines of dull houses […] relieved by the course glare and tawdry brilliancy of public-houses at the corner[ix], while looked down on by Doyle, is exactly what Tanizaki argues for, believing that the process of deterioration as well as the presence of the elements are necessary to the existence of space. He sees them as forces that dictate how objects are appreciated, for “we do love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and sheen that call to mind the past that made them[x], although he later follows this by distinguishing between Oriental and Western taste, the latter constantly concerned with “bettering his lot[xi]. Human presence in space can be felt before the physical occupation takes place, instead felt through objects which serve as visual histories of movement.

Space comes to life not only through the interaction of various components of the object landscape, but also from the “metaphorical” layer of emotions that is inevitably added when people are present. In her collection A Village Life, Louise Glück captures the way human presence is not only an influence but is a landscape in its own right that is shaped instead by social rather than curatorial rules. The “clusters of metal tables [around the fountain] / […] where you sit when you’re old / beyond the intensities of the fountain […] / [which] is for the young, who still want to look at themselves. / Or for the mothers, who need to keep their children diverter[xii] are imbued with connotations of age, reflecting the lives of their users not through physical wear but through associations they are imbued with. It is this very “use value” that determines “what you can do in a place[,] / but after a while you exhaust that place, / so you long for a rescue.”[xiii] The captivity and freedom found within a space are difficult to imagine if it remains empty of human presence, in a state free of interpretation. The captivity that arises from transposing one space onto another, capturing both in an isolated bubble of time, results in a space “of organic habits […] recapture[ing] the reflexes of the ‘first stairway’ […] push[ing] the door that creaks with the same gesture[xiv] which cause one to see space not for what is there but for how it compares to the habitual, making the foreign into the familiar without giving credit to what is physically present before the individual at that very moment. It is this subconscious comparison that is the greatest “threat” experiences by the physical space from the individual, especially if they are like Baudelaire’s flaneur, for whom “it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite[xv]. This difference in seeing space, “the seeing of things, which belongs / to the science of optics, versus / the seeing beyond things, which / results from deprivation[xvi], is characteristic of a space that has come fully under the control of the social space, which determines how it is to be read as well as who is privileged enough to do so, initiating the segregation and restriction that is to follow.

While the idea of private and public spaces has been hinted at so far in the essay, it is significant to consider this characterization of space separately, as it affects both the object- and people-scape as well as serves as yet another form of contextualization. The works of Doyle and Glück find themselves in a relative center between these two terms — neither present the reader with any clear rules regarding the movement of objects or people, yet both create some semblance of boundaries that can be found in any space one considers to be, in some way, personal. While Sherlock and Watson need the approval of McMurdo to enter Pondicherry Lodge, Glück’s poems focus on the personal bubble of daily life and the decision to interact with others or with one’s environment voluntarily. Just as Švankmajer distinguished between formal and informal collecting, there exists an equivalent pair of private and public space, which is similarly centered on the concept of collecting. The historical “transition from exclusively private or royal collections to public museums was slow, made possible only by a huge conceptual leap in the thinking about the relationship of the private and public sphere, and by the emergence of the modern state[xvii], demonstrating that the underlying feature of space is that it is, first and foremost, always owned by someone, an individual or a collective, who, like the curator mentioned earlier, is privileged with deciding what kind of “life” the space will lead and how it will evolve. The outsider is thus faced with the questions of whether or not is beneficial for them to change the space and, more importantly, whether such a change is possible and what measures need to be undertaken, as the owner of the house has the power to exert their will and arrange their haven as their please, until “think[ing] of the wall, [one doesn’t] think prison. / More the opposite — [one] think[s] of everything [they] escaped, being here[xviii]. Due to the nature of a collective space such as a museum however, it has the greater added responsibility of serving as a mediator and a representor of the social in the material and, particularly in modern society, this implies that the individual has a say in how this representation is to occur, as well as what context is appropriate or desired.

Context, as well as an overarching narrative, is significant for both forms of space presented so far, especially if one considers what is omitted in its creation. While the term exile is typically used to refer to people and their social space, it can arguably be applied to the material as well, to objects that have found themselves in a similarly out-of-place state and “compensate[e] for disorienting loss by creating a new world to rule[xix]. In fact, the dependence mentioned earlier that objects have on human presence, which is necessary for creating and defining the relationship that exists between them, can be classified as a sort of kinship, a “nationalism” with a similar intention of integrating that arises from a condition of estrangement.[xx] Naturally, there is a question of severity and the extent of harm when it comes to this kind of dislocation and decontextualization, which varies from the individual to the object. It is instinctive also to ask which of the two suffers more, and while such a question is difficult to answer with a generalization, it draws attention to how such an issue can be overcome; through a reconstruction of space not by creating an exact replica, but through an amalgamation that results in a hybrid form.

Reconfiguration is the defining feature of the dreamscape, which presents the aforementioned shuffling of information but does so subconsciously rather than deliberately. More specifically, the spaces of dreams are subject to “the condensation of elements of different places in one dream location […and] the selection of a few elements of a totality or the representation of one part of the setting only[xxi], at times making it difficult to trace the original source, as was possible in the case with Doyle. They also heighten what Glück portrays as an emotionally, even personally, charged space that is the construct of the individual. This concern with originality and origin is found in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception, for not only is “the subject’s mind […] always [able to] trace the genesis of the idea […but] [t]rue inspiration is impossible to fake”[xxii], the element of curation now given the more specific goal of replication. Saito’s assertion that his carpet, while “stained and frayed in such distinctive ways […was] very definitely made of wool […whereas now he was] lying on polyester[,] which means [he is] not lying on [his] carpet in [his] apartment[xxiii]. While space- and objects specifically- maintain an aspect of the personal which has been explored so far, it becomes highly individualized and almost secretive in Inception, to the point where Arthur’s explanation of Totems to Ariadne is followed by a refusal when she attempts to hold his own. This newfound element of danger, imbedded in the role of the Architect who should “never recreate places from [their] memories […as] building from […] memory is the easiest way of losing […] grasp on [reality]”[xxiv], implies that personal space is a form of the private, that it is eternally found at the crossroads between the real and the imitative, just like a dream is the disguised wishes and internally supressed conflicts of an individual.[xxv] The added distance that is created between the spectator and the actors in the medium of the film, which, as Benjamin argues, causes the camera “not [to] establish a realm apart from the physical world, but instead [to explode] the prevailing world into rubble, piercing the veil of dissimulation[xxvi], presents the dreamscape as a space that remains governed by the very same dichotomies of public and private, object and person, as the waking world, except there is a greater fear of failing to dissociate the signifier from the signified. The mind is a space that is not independent from society or its influences, and while Inception proves that there are aspects of it that remain untouchable and isolated even from a foreign presence, the emotional and private is dependent on the physical for its manifestation, which can then, with some reconnaissance, be decoded.

The essay has focused on defining space as location-based, with the different spaces of the three texts similar to stations on a subway map — the individual travels from one to the other, creating a feeling of definitiveness.This travelling is important to consider- albeit briefly -, at this point in the essay, as it raises the question of whether mobility, due to its function of going rather than arriving or being in, is capable of being a “neutral space” as a result of this in-betweenness. While walking lacks the set boundaries found in Doyle’s novel, confined space is dependent on the act of walking as a way of amassing, which one must then traverse in order to enjoy it, much like one does a garden, “designed to be experienced in motion as a series of compositions dissolving into each other rather than as a static picture.”[xxvii] It is more akin to the general landscape of Glück’s poetry, which exists as a backdrop for the social relations which establish themselves in its forefront, particularly if the act of walking is considered as a semiprivate space like it was in courtship.[xxviii] In fact, walking is hardly the neutral form of space that it appears to be, arguably even more gendered than an enclosed space due to the fact that “[i]t makes women’s sexuality a public rather than a private matter[xxix], while the act of following an existing path is a recombination of the past with the present, serving as “a record of those who have gone before, and to follow them is to follow people who are no longer there[xxx]. By moving, especially walking, one is inevitably undergoing an act of cross-pollination, carrying over aspects of previous spaces which get broken down, some kept while others are discarded. Movement is the anticipation for the arrival to a structured space, for which the social structures of the road serve as a preparation.

Space, in whichever form it takes, is dependent on the process of planning and execution, but also requires an agreement on the part of the decision makers regarding what it will look like in the end. It is the efforts to structure the physical landscape and then fill it with association and the subconscious which points to the primary role of space as a container for the personal and emotional, which manifest themselves differently based on the person and thus eliminating any chance of a complete uniformity. Yet it is the element of anticipation, the feeling of incompleteness which arises from the possibilities of filling and replacing, which makes physical space definitive and the subconscious space endless, for the latter is constantly finding ways in which to mediate the physical.


References

[i] Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (London: Spencer Blackett, 2000), 48.

[ii] Ibid., 49.

[iii] Jan Švankmajer, “Cabinets of Wonders: On Creating and Collecting,” The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists 11, no. 2 (2011): 103.

[iv] Edward W. Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002), 202.

[v] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon, 1994), 113.

[vi] Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (London: Spencer Blackett, 2000), 85.

[vii] Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, trans. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker (London: Vintage, 2001), 8.

[viii] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon, 1994), 46.

[ix] Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (London: Spencer Blackett, 2000), 45.

[x] Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, trans. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker (London: Vintage, 2001), 20.

[xi] Ibid., 48.

[xii] Louise Glück, “Tributaries,” in A Village Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), 6.

[xiii] Louise Glück, “In the Café,” in A Village Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), 13.

[xiv] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon, 1994), 14-15.

[xv] Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon, 2012), 9.

[xvi] Louise Glück, “Bats,” in A Village Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), 34.

[xvii] Philipp Blom, To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting (London: Penguin, 2003), 112.

[xviii] Louise Glück, “Olive Trees,” in A Village Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), 55.

[xix] Edward W. Said, Reflection on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002), 181.

[xx] Ibid., 176.

[xxi] Christina Iosifescu Enescu, Christina M., Jacques Montagero, and Lorenz Hurni, “Toward Dream Cartography: Mapping Dream Space and Content,” Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization 50.4 (2015): 225-226.

[xxii] Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan (2010; Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Pictures).

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Christina Iosifescu Enescu, Christina M., Jacques Montagero, and Lorenz Hurni, “Toward Dream Cartography: Mapping Dream Space and Content,” Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization 50.4 (2015): 226.

[xxvi] Gertrud Koch and Nancy Nenno, “Cosmos in Film: On the Concept of Space in Walter Benjamin’s ‘Work of Art’ Essay,” Qui Parle 5, no. 2 (1992): 66.

[xxvii] Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (New York, NY, U.S.A.: Penguin, 2001), 90.

[xxviii] Ibid. 232.

[xxix] Ibid., 235.

[xxx] Ibid., 72.


Margaryta Golovchenko is a poet and reviewer based in Toronto, Canada. Her poetry has appeared in publications such as The Hart House Review, Acta Victoriana, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Contemporary Verse 2, while her reviews can be found or are forthcoming in Alternating Current, Adroit Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, and Empty Mirror. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks and is about to begin her MA in art history at York University.

You can find her on Twitter at  @Margaryta505

The Sunset Over San Diego | Hollis Rigney

How do I write a goddamn
gay poem! How can I not
write the word gay, where are
the others! Why do I know
one or three names, their queerness
a nail on their fourth finger,
a thing like an earring loose
in a purse, why can I not
claim them, say Hello! You’ve
not been lost! You are mine!
You are ours! You can call
yourself whatever you want!
You can help me write all of
the words you could not!
We can put them in a goddamn
poem together, you & I!

 


Hollis Marguerite Rigney is a non-binary queer poet who lives and works in Orange, CA and San Diego, CA. They have published work under the names of Hannah Teves and Hollis Teves. Their work has previously appeared in Calliope, Sapere Aude, The Messy Heads, Neologism Poetry, Eudaimonia Press, Ghost City Press, Bone & Ink Literary Magazine, and Blanket Sea Arts & Literary Magazine. They are also the editor-in-chief of The Fruit Tree, a literary magazine for LGBT+ writers. They enjoy listening to folk music and snuggling with their kitten, Tofu. Contact them at hnteves@gmail.com or on Twitter @unisexlove.

Sonnet for Gay History | Keaton St. James

Along the crimson threads of history must stand one
of my long-dead gay predecessors: rainwater in his hair,
hunger in his eyes, his mouth shining golden with laughter
as he tugs at me, tugs at me to remember him.

I imagine him seated on a half-dry park bench
near the cobblestone streets, his and his lover’s tailcoat-
clad shoulders brushing as they talked Euripides
under the gaslights. He knew too well how they both

savored whatever quiet touches the public allowed
them. And I imagine how, after he had climbed
into their shared bachelor apartment, my predecessor pulled
his lover close and kissed him hard enough to uninvent

the word indecency. Did loving a man feel as warm to him
as it does to me? Like light bursting through stained glass?

 


Writer’s Commentary

When you’re in the closet, it can be a complex process to eke out a space for yourself where you can have that privacy but also have your pride at the same time. For me, one of the biggest sources of comfort I find as a gay man is to read stories of real-life LGBT history, as well as classic literature featuring non-straight characters. This poem is meant to be a loving speculation on the ways in which gay men of another century may found solace in each other, and how we can find traces of ourselves in the legacies of those who have come before us.


Keaton St. James is an American graduate student studying science who loves to write poetry and prose in his spare time.

Dr. Alan L. Hart, Connecticut State Tuberculosis Commission, 1955 | Keaton St. James

The white-haired patient sitting in front of him has three
tiny lesions in her lungs. On the x-ray film they glower at him
like blackbirds poking their heads out of sun-warmed
fields of Oregon wheat. As he prepares to get her the anti-biotics
she needs, she tells him a story of her girlhood, milking
cows on her father’s farm, filling wicker baskets with ripe,
sweet peaches, the back of her neck peeling from sunburn.

What should he tell her of his boyhood? How he crawled
on his belly to reenact Civil War stories and tumbled
back inside with mud smeared all over his heavy jacket
and crusted into his long hair? How he reveled in the sweat
dripping down his back as he chopped wood late into lavender-
tinted evenings, the air crisping as it cooled?

He settles on the pocketknife collection kept under his bed
in an emptied Ovaltine can. He doesn’t mention how he carried
them in skirt pockets, doesn’t mention how his mother
reminded him, her voice as smooth as cold cream, “Maybe
young girls shouldn’t carry those things.” And yet
there they were anyway, the weight of them thumping
through linen against his legs as he ran.

Later, after the clinic closes for the day, he’ll drive
home in his sputtering Chevy, put potato soup on the stove
to heat, and take his wife’s storm-damp coat for her
when she comes through the door. He’ll kiss her blushing
cheeks, her soft jaw, the side of her neck while she laughs,
sound of it as golden as light glimmering on a lake.

And later still, when grasshoppers croon from the moonlit
Hartford meadowsweet and his wife sits up in bed
reading Dickens, he’ll be at his desk, testosterone syringe
clutched in hands. The needle will sink into cleaned,
exposed skin: sharp pinch in the thigh, push of the plunger,
synthetic hormones oozing into the muscle. Evidence,
like the hysterectomy scar on his abdomen, of how far he
journeyed to build in himself this river-swell of confidence.

Then, hormone treatments finished and cleared away,
he will change into candy-striped pajamas, take his place
again at his desk. Rain will gavotte on the roof to autumn’s
burnished music. His typewriter glows with a waiting
page from a half-drafted radiology lecture, and he wants
to stay up working on it.

 


Writer’s Commentary

Dr. Alan L. Hart was an early 20th century radiologist whose pioneering research on the use of x-ray technology to detect tuberculosis would go on to save thousands of lives. And in 1917, he also had the distinction of becoming one of the first transgender men in America to have a hysterectomy. He had to fight to be seen, enduring transphobia, harassment, and being outed in the struggle to be recognized as his true self. But through it all, he remained passionately dedicated to his work, confident in himself, and so generous and kind. As a trans man myself, his story helps give me the pride to stand up and be who I am today, so I wrote this poem in honor of him.


Keaton St. James is an American graduate student studying science who loves to write poetry and prose in his spare time.

DEPRESS | Hollis Rigney

Just tell me I am brave! Just tell me
I am good for going on as long as I have.
Rub circles on my back this time.
Am I not better than Christian soldiers?
Am I not better than pilots diving for
the fish? Because I have stayed here,
because I have remembered the
small divot I have made in your bed
to come back to. Am I not brave for
how long I have remained, dull as I am?

 


Hollis Marguerite Rigney is a non-binary queer poet who lives and works in Orange, CA and San Diego, CA. They have published work under the names of Hannah Teves and Hollis Teves. Their work has previously appeared in Calliope, Sapere Aude, The Messy Heads, Neologism Poetry, Eudaimonia Press, Ghost City Press, Bone & Ink Literary Magazine, and Blanket Sea Arts & Literary Magazine. They are also the editor-in-chief of The Fruit Tree, a literary magazine for LGBT+ writers. They enjoy listening to folk music and snuggling with their kitten, Tofu. Contact them at hnteves@gmail.com or on Twitter @unisexlove.

Génératrice | Elspeth Wilson

The hall of mirrors
is not the place for me

I already see
myself drawn
a million times over
in other people’s faces

Caged but still singing
my mind prances within its confines
knowing enough to know
that I am contained but not to know how to traverse the boundaries
or to look for holes to shoogle through
one tendril at a time

A palace can be a prison
the opposite can be true
for if I was able to let my body rest a while
unnoticed, locked away
my mind would seize the freedom of the unobserved
and trill from heights that this flesh will never see.

 


Writer’s Commentary

The bodily and performative reflections of the hall of mirrors made me think about gender now and in the past. A place of such pride and status where you cannot escape your own self-image gave me pause to consider the ways that we can become trapped in our bodies through societal expectations of and projections onto the corporeal. It is often easy to regard history as a clear line of progress but writing in a voice that is somewhere between the past and present made me think about how some of the more fluid aspects of different eras and places are overlooked in an attempt to fit narratives around gender and sexuality into a sanitised, linear arc. Seeing myself over and over again is one of my worst nightmares and yet thinking about reproduction, of the image, the self, the body, made me feel connected to those dotted throughout the past whose bodies have been weaponised against them, just as we struggle to live in small, uncomfortable boxes now.


Elspeth Wilson is a researcher and writer interested in all things gender and sexuality related. She is a big believer in blurring boundaries between ‘art’ and ‘academia’ and always looks for creative ways to approach research. She prefers to write poetry, essays and short stories and is currently working on a project about the experience of pleasure post-trauma which you can see more of @propleasurable.

Beneath the Hawthorn | Alastair Brady

It was spring when I first laid eyes upon him in that way, this particular way, his oat blonde hair glowing in the sun like honey swept back in a neat wave, trimmed tightly down the gentle slope of his strong neck until it reached the crisp white of his collar. Those deep russet eyes, lowered at their outer corners, flicking between soft faces and lacy dresses; his pearly smile, those delicately carved features of David unbound by stone, had the village girls swarming like hopping finches.

I had seen James Everleigh like one sees a ghost since I was a boy, from the dusky framed window of the bakery at the centre of our village as he passed by. It was as though he was the subject of a painting I could only enter in my most fantastical dreams, subdued in waking life to mere observance. Some days looking up from the dough my father gave me, I half expected to see him clothed in white crowned with a halo, followed by some vast feathered wings, floating across the cobblestones in my windowed work of art. And all the while, I was begging for this portrait of a young man to step forth into my realm; perhaps if I was lucky, I would be offered a chance to be allowed inside the recesses of that frame which had trapped him for so long, to see him in the flesh.

And that lovely spring day was the first time I saw him outside the captivity of his own canvas. The lush sage walls around us, towering oaks speckling light upon the grass, blushes of peonies and hollyhocks, ivory washed tents and trays of silver, tiny china cups and dainty cakes, alabaster suits and stark white gloves: at long last, his painting had consumed me, made me a part of it. And from the moment his eyes locked with mine across the Earl’s garden, my life unfolded into an enchanting, dreamlike haze.

He perfumed the air with the fragrant scent of roses as though he carried some hidden bouquet; the raw freshness of an entire garden somehow embedded itself into his skin. And it was roses all the same which soon guarded us as we sat for hours amid the leafy sanctuary on a fountain, whose lily-padded water rippled in crisp rings while dappled sunbeams sprinkled us with bronze. His gentle voice was warm as day, tender and smiling, quite apart from the ostentatious prattling far beyond the foliage.

It was here when we fell in love.

Like the painter enraptured by the divine subject of his canvas, I fell deep into the depths of his eyes; swept away in the brush strokes of his hair; the earthly, delicate March palette that was James Everleigh. Feathery touches across my fingers linger still, the tap of his knee ebbing at my own, the way our heads drew closer as we laughed until I could feel the soft wisps of his locks brush mine. Steadily we grew quiet, allowing a silence to settle between us like that of a petal floating down.

My lashes fell by the gentle puff of warmth against my cheek; the last thing captured before that moment was nothing but the profound brilliance of a young man and the glow of his enamored face surrounded by a garden which remains to me so vast and enigmatic, I could only think to close my eyes to feel what I simply could not describe. There, far from the village party, I felt the tranquil lips of James Everleigh against mine. And never again was I to forget them.

*

Days later, I learned the flowery scent anchored to his clothes pursued him from the flower shop at which he was employed. I visited him there, and James came to visit me, quite to my mystified wonder as he deviated from his usual window-framed path and entered the bakery. I felt a sense of privilege to be in his midst. Soon, it was just about every day.

We would often take long walks down the rivering white road, columned with trees woven above our heads to the lake not far from the village. Cascading each other in magnificent splashes of water radiant against the summer sun, we would swim for hours in the water within the arborary refuge, between the banks overflowing with green, the canopies teeming with birdsong. With the water gently lapping at our smooth, glistening chests with so little space between us, our curious hands would explore the other’s skin as if in the dark, breath wavering, captivated by the sheer presence of one another. And presiding above this haven was a tremendous hawthorn, under whose braided trunk James and I sat against, gazing up at the great, verdant branches meandering towards the sky. Here, I would nestle myself under his arm so he could lay kisses to my cheek. Other times we read aloud from books, imagining what it would be like to have a place of our own; even once or twice I wove him a crown of the fresh white blossoms.

This tree became a place of solace for us both, far away from the inescapable confines of provincial society, blind to the threats of ignominy. Here nature forced no such commandments, asked nothing of us, provided shelter from the outside world with God the only witness to my worship of the saint whom I deemed most worthy of my devotion. From the leaves drawn in light, to the dimples in the soft white fabric of James’s shirt, nature itself was magnified the way I picture it would appear before one dies; this amplification to all the details of existence.

Sometimes, I would say, “James, what will happen? As we grow old, how shall we live? Will I be forced to leave you?” for the thought worried me greatly.

And James would always say, “This world brought us together, and it shall not tear us apart. But if it does, I promise I will follow you and in every life, I will love you, again and again, until the world will let me call you mine.” And he would place a kiss upon my temple, the roses instilled within his skin intoxicating me, subduing all uncertainty.

Then the war came.

*

I remember the world fragmented piece by piece, falling away like brittle and rusted leaves. I felt I clung to James harder then, while slate grey suits turned to rough khaki wool as the beast of war lured young men marked by tall tales to its claws; flashy scales and hell-red eyes, an inferno erupting seven levels down. Flags flapped on every corner, paste stuck the horrid words to every stone and day by day, we watched them all march blind away. James and I vowed at our hawthorn never to join, my slender form encircled by his embrace shrouded by the old tree, vainly hoping nature might keep the beast at bay

It did not.

*

That November, we were whisked away in carriages packed full of village boys barely outside their schools or their mother’s arms, faces deepened from laughter as incessant as the engine roaring down the tracks. Under a bag I held James’s hand, the passengers all too careless to see as I watched our village shrink further and further behind me.

Then came the camp, the sergeants so severe, driving their lessons deep within our brains, screaming on while the bayonets plunged deep within the burlap, the stultifying marches wearing down the soles of my cumbersome army boots. Our bodies ached each night they grew stronger and leaner. Even the hand of James with which my fingers were intertwined, bridged across the space between our beds at night, felt calloused and rough. And though his body grew hard and sinewy, his mild eyes persisted in their compassion. One could always recognise the kindness still laden in his smile no matter how much of that ardent youth was stripped from us during those habitual, dreary days.

It wasn’t long until those jagged pewter waves embossed with foam thrashed against the sides of the vessel slicing through the sea, England now a distant memory lost somewhere in the phantasmal fog beyond the rails.

And despite knowing of our destination – James was so beautiful then –  the way his hair whipped errantly about his face turned towards the bow, the iron sky billowing behind his finely traced, fair silhouette.

As the water gave way to sand, the land dipped to drab fields and tiny stone cottages peppered across the countryside. James and I rocked and swayed with the other boys venturing down the uneven road in the back of the ragged little military motorcar on our way to a camp not far behind the frontlines. It was there when I saw for the first time the devastation ravaging the landscape, torn asunder from the craters impaled into the flesh of the earth, the trees like spindly, black veins jutting up through the mud devoid of all life; my stomach became twisted as another portion of my reality, painted in the works of James and our time in the village in a dizzy spell of green and burning white, succumbed to disillusion. It felt as though my nightmares had bled from my mind, having crept along the barren terrain and consumed all in its path.

No amount of our singing and comradery could account for the horror we could feel rising like the tide, growing closer each night. Not even the bare, knotted tree James and I found ourselves under from time to time could offer the same sort of security as our mighty hawthorn skirting the edge of the corrugated lake, its naked arms powerless to the rain which would pour down upon us. In a feverish yet sweet attempt to recompose familiarity, James and I wrote each other letters which we read aloud to the boys sometimes, saying they were from girls back home. Those nights were always enjoyable around the fire, the men hooting and whistling after we finished, telling us how lucky those girls were to have us.

How different would it be, we wondered, holding each other’s gaze through the whipping flames, if they knew the writers of such things sat across from one another? How happy for us would they be then?

Suddenly, a rhythmic stampede of feet. A long streak of khaki, dotted by ashen, metal olive. To the ears of birds there came songs never heard in this part of nature, untouched by the hands of man and were now echoing down the sombre road like the melody of ghosts.

Oh how my memory muddied like the maze of trenches we lined, backs to the sludgy walls, James’s clammy hand gripping mine all out in the open, bits of dirt already freckled on his cheeks, his pitch brown eyes boring into my own. He said not a word, but I could tell what he was thinking for he squeezed my hand once, then twice. I clenched my jaw, spit becoming thick, my throat made tight as if by a stone. Our helmets softly pinged together in these few beats of stillness.

Then came the solitary whistle, piercing the air with a fearsome shrillness. And in one swift movement, we were clambering up the ladders to the hellacious sounds of rapping guns scything down our lines, the singing shells bulleting through the air and striking down against the black earth in monstrous blows of fiery smoke.

But my ears rang terribly as if I were underwater, drowning in soil and the grey, heavy fumes lurking along the desolate stretch of mud. With my weapon raised, I found nowhere to shoot, the strange fog having engulfed the battlefield and beside me, boys dropped liked flies with a spray of crimson. Everything seemed… slow… and languid, sounds and shouts all muddled together in one eerie, capricious roar. And as I dragged my face to look at James beside me, I saw he was yelling, about what, I didn’t know. Taking his rifle in one hand, he trudged towards me, grabbing clumsily at my side during which I dropped my gun, helplessly trying to make sense of his words.

He yanked up the bag at my side, fumbling for the buttons. Only then, as my eyelids pulled back in horror was I finally able to make sense of one dreaded word.

Gas.

James crumpled to the ground like a ragdoll, his blood splattering against my discoloured webbing, and I lurched for him, one hand still clutching my tube helmet now sticking to my palm, the other frantically grasping for my love writhing in the mud. I could see the hole in his hand, the wound in his leg, caught in the tail end of machine gun fire. His name escaped in one sharp cry before I too was ripping the mask from his own bag as I began to cough and hack, my eyes growing blurry, my head spinning from fear, his hands still weakly struggling to fit the cloth over my head, and my hands trying to do the same for him. And suddenly, all at once, I collapsed, fainted, shadows beginning to swirl around us.

And a mantling silence consumed me.

*

I remember waking up to darkness, feeling my eyes open, something soft against my hands and my head. Gradually sounds came back; the gentle voices of women, the murmurs of men. But the blackness sent me into a fit of terror and I began to shout out, shrieking first for James, floundering atop the cushioned surface, until a hand caught my own.

“Victor!” it said breathlessly. It squeezed my hand once, then twice.

“James,” I mumbled, my voice breaking.

Carefully, I took hold of his arm, my feet just grazing the cold, stone floor, and wrapped my heavy arms around him, felt the heat of his chest and his warm breath.

I knew I was alive then, for I could feel hot tears pouring out of my eyes and smearing under whatever cloth was wrapped across my face, the thump of his heart drumming firmly against my ear.

*

Days later, the two of us were discharged from the hospital all the way back to England, hands guiding me this way and that, but I always knew James was near for I knew his own touch against the small of my back. Of course my family was happy to hear I was home, safe and sound, though blinded. My sight never did return. It was recommended I stay with my aunt, my uncle having died in the Boer War, and was told she would take good care of me. But I wanted nothing more than James.

And so my wish was granted. My family purchased a tiny cottage near the lake for the both of us—minus the innumerable visits from my mother and sister—the almighty hawthorn just visible from the front door, or so James described to me. He described everything to me, from our home to trees, while seasons passed us by. The trickling of rain beading down the windows; the colours of flowers he would bring home from the shop, that scent of roses following him again. And as I grew older, he described more things to me. How London changed, how the world was changing, and how it was remembering the boys who never returned home. But I knew of the things he wasn’t describing to me, too. About the people who stared at me and those like me, marked by the consequences of war, with antipathy as I walked blindly through city streets. About people bloodthirsty for revenge against those who stole their sons… and about the tears in his eyes when we would lay in bed at night, saddened I could no longer see the gorgeousness of life. But with a strangled smile, trying to see the light in all, I would always tell him the world seemed all the more beautiful with him to describe it to me, how love felt all the more powerful when one could not see, for the most profound things in life can only be experienced when closing one’s eyes.

And one spring evening, just before the sun was set, James and I decided to have a walk to our hawthorn tree, as we did less those days in my later age. So I took up my cane in one hand, my other in his, and we walked down that rivering white road columned with trees woven above our heads.

And upon reaching the tree, he helped guide me down to the plush grass beneath those twisting braches now blooming with the fresh white blossoms. I leaned my head against his shoulder so he could press a kiss to my temple.

As I closed my eyes, I wept at the image of his handsome face in my memory, still surrounded by the garden, the one whose light speckled face laughed with me among the roses, whose face I always remembered the same way. The one whose face never changed, the one who never grew old. Whose body I was forced to leave an ocean away.

And as my frail, quivering fingers traveled down his body, tracing over his words from all those years ago embedded deep within the stone set between the aged roots of the old hawthorn winding through the grass, I could feel his soft lips fade from my skin.

“I promise too,” I whispered.

And a mantling silence consumed me.

 


Alastair F. Brady is an aspiring illustrator and writer of early 20th century fiction for adolescents and adults and has had numerous recognitions for his moving and imaginative pieces of art and literature. Alastair is currently working on a full length novel as well as illustrated young adults’ books. He is also a WWI re-enactor and freelance photographer.

He can be found on Instagram at @alastaircreates.

The Posture of Trees | Judy DeCroce

unexpectedly, a year has spilled
its worn days along the path

breaching a stand
where years lay
where colors shuffle
autumn tags beneath and above

like the posture of trees
I stand as straight as I can
feeling taller
going on

 


Writer’s Commentary

Tough times can bend you but persistence and pride can weather anything.


Judy DeCroce, a former teacher, is a poet and flash fiction writer.

She has been published in Pilcrow & Dagger, Amethyst Review, The Sunlight Press, Cherry House Press- Dreamscape:An Anthology, and many others.

She is a professional storyteller and teacher of that genre. Judy lives and works in upstate New York with her husband writer/artist Antoni Ooto. She can be found on Twitter @JudyDeCroce

Authentic Love Letter From Angel to Saffron | Harley Claes

Angel,

It’s a matter of letting go of any prior preconceptions, fears, and anxieties. And is it so easy letting go of that fear? Are we starting over or beginning from the ruins that were left to us?  ‘Love should be a safety net to fall into, comfort-like.’ I think I indulge in that fear more often than not that it has become my poison. I don’t want to be scared of what an us can do to my heart. Cause if it’s as true a love as we believe it is, we need not fear an end, never completely.

I love you like I feel your sentiment left on every place you’ve touched, like your perfume stains the cavern of my heart and soul, love like a thought that never ceases, and tick tick ticks at the back of your head. And it’s terrifying. But it shouldn’t be.
We need to fight for the highs and the lows and every limbo in between. I have the courage, it just has to be unraveled from its bundle and nursed truly. I know you feel much the same.

I’m ready to hold your hand as we step away from the inferno into the eternal light.

With love like a revolution, forever and always, Saffron

 


Writer’s Commentary

Authentic Love Letter from Angel to Saffron was written as a thread to reassure one another of the genuine love between them. A man had come between them and threatened to bust their love up. There was the fear of social backlash and the man’s physicality that kept their bodies apart but their minds tethered.


Harley Claes is a prose poet, perfume maker, and novelist from Detroit, Michigan. Her work is oftentimes anachronistic, mystical, philosophical and holy erotic. She also happens to run the Beat-inspired press ANGELICAL RAVINGS. Her first self-published anthology is titled ‘Pity The Poetics’ and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 30+ literary journals. You can find her at harleyclaes.com