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Index: Poetry & Fiction

61 The Shepherd

‘IF YOU MAKE a hit movie about a shepherd’s wife in Romania, the next role you’re offered will be a pig farmer’s wife in Spain.’ (anonymous film actress) His grandfather called things by their Norse names: ‘mowdies’ (moles), ‘mel’ (posthammer). He screams at his dog, swears at his son, curses rain, forms, hikers, pen pushers. […]

60 The Word

‘WORDS RECEIVING THE gift of happiness; words conferring the gift of happiness. What a day of wonders!’ (ancient Chinese picnic scroll) Some words are skins of wild beasts, others satin or gold. Some fly, some crawl, shrivelling upon inspection; others stay majestically still. One will clamber from the rubble of collapsed temples, safe in a […]

59 The Apple

‘AN APRON SAGGING with apples, red and green: the well-beloved, the Eve of the fair, the promise.’ The apple draws the earth as much as the earth draws the apple. Grafts were taken from the gravity park where genius found sanctuary from lawlessness. One scion growing outside college gates gives a moment’s foothold to a […]

58 The Stairs

‘Building codes usually treat alternating tread stairs as ladders: they are allowed only where ladders are allowed. You can’t turn around on them.’ Ladders make for a treacherous descent. From a staircase you can aim a pistol or survey your admirers – and they you, head steady over a cascading dress, descending between hidden friezes, […]

57 The Teacher

‘INSTEAD OF TASSEL and button, a mourning mortarboard is topped with a saltire of two black ribbons and, in the centre, a black ribbon rosette, grosgrain or satin.’ Having gathered up the grammars, she pushes the desks aside to clear a judo floor. First it’s boy against boy, girl against girl; later she mixes genders. […]

56 The Village

‘THE BRAVE LIVES of the roundabout people, sharing the seasons and the stars, and keeping their smaller dramas to themselves.’ One village has farms down the main street! Another, a duck pond the size of Leicester Square. Advent is the yellow glow of windows in the year’s midnight – curtains are paranoid. Twilight is the […]

55 The Lie

‘TRUTH FLUTTERS ON the mountain in the winds of change: all that matters is the pole, and the flag where it’s tight at the pole.’ To secure the one remaining slice of pie you say there’s a grub in it; then the inconvenient irony wriggles its little white finger, rejoicing in your double bind. All […]

54 The Dog

‘LITTLE FLAGS OF the type more usually seen on sandcastles have been left atop piles of poo, bearing humorous yet caustic aphorisms.’ The heath is yours when upturned eyes implore. Outside it’s suddenly your element. Grimly a weekday professional clutches his five-string bouquet of hybrid athletes, as if vacuuming the land. Off the leash there […]

53 The Map

‘TIME TRAVELLER SEEKS part-time assistant with traditional humanist values: must be good around old maps. Non-smoker. Sense of humour.’ Contours are ignored until they squeeze together. Brown is tough and closest to the sky; green may flood at any time; blue is the idleness of perfection. Instead of a church, an ecumenical shield brandished by […]

51 Hospital

‘THEY KNOW HOW people feel about their bodies. They know what things are used just once, then simply thrown away.’ If one or two fields are hollowed out for healing, surrounding ploughlands look anaemic, uninvolved. Surgeons and farmers rarely meet – though a tractor may slither down a mudbank. Brilliance is called for when the […]

50 The Father

‘UNCONSCIOUS FATHERS, A diaspora of wanderers at large on the sea of souls, share a bond known only to the pantheon’s patriarch.’ Those who have never witnessed birth are an antique tribe with a second chance if the daughter is willing, as she might be if she truly understands. Generations fold into themselves, an asymmetric […]

48 The Rose

‘A YELLOW ROSE means: “Don’t you love me any more?” A rose with blackfly means: “I wash my hands of you!”’ Flower losses are easily dealt with. Pull the affected petals off or snip the whole head. Ignore the complacent camellia, smiling unarmed at its enemies. War can shake up any court, dress uniforms slashed […]

49 The Elephant

‘MAY YOU FEEL the loving presence of Ganesh on his birthday (1st September) and on yours. Namaste.’ Using trunks to test unsafe ground, these Atlas elephants were surer than mountain goats. They widened the passes for the army – contrary to popular belief. Their problem was lack of browse. Napoleon may have found a few […]

40 The Musician

‘EVEN THE MOST abysmal performance must be endured without anaesthetic, since you need to be sure the nerves are still alive. Applause may be muted.’ Few instruments, even cheap ones, end up in landfill – far more in the attic’s parc fermé, where superstition keeps them somnolent. Spiders float in strung lairs of trumpet, tambourine, […]

47 The Actor

‘CALLING THE DIRECTOR a vampire, in rehearsals, won for her the love of all the cast, except his mistress, playing Snow White.’ Inhabiting a tree is formative. From fingers browning and falling you progress to almost visible roots, then later to cruelly self-examining in the round, the bourgeoisie undressed, shielded by a dustbin lid. A […]