dew on the stalk (excerpted from Blood a Cold Blue)

Never saw it coming, the peregrine out of the deep blue sky, outstretched legs, talons glint, the young snakes oblivious. This is the order of things, how the pyramid works, the chain of command, a glass ceiling of Linnaean exactitude. Look back, through the door with the chipped paint and the broken lock.

Once, it opened onto an ordered field, an orchard, rows of apple trees, cookers, granny smiths, beauty of baths, day-old snail silver tracked here and there. Under pressure, the bank tightened its grip, the trees wildened, tall grass sprang up where before order ruled. In the Carmelite convent the nuns sang Terce and the bishop let out his belt a notch, the dried egg yolk yellowed in his whiskers.

In the field, unseen by most, the stoat licked first the left, then the right paw, fastidious, aware of every small movement. Soft underbelly, the hairs stiffened by its saliva, both eyes black beads, the writing snake caused the stoat no sense of loss, or dismay. Instead, ablutions over, it turned around and chose a path through long grass to where an earthen burrow opened in the shade of a wall. Gone, not forgotten, much in the manner of a late-morning dream, one of those that remains in the memory for fleet moments, before the mind awakens fully and the dream recedes like dew on the stalk.

Over the tabernacle, the masochism of perpetual motion, fingers to forehead, to breastbone, to heart, to rib-cage, all the missing children running around playing hide-and-go-seek in the church grounds. Plainsong, The apple of a mother’s eye, straining to count to thirty. Possible that the house next-door is full of ghosts, hand-wringing, whispering, colluding specters of motes, transmigrating from rotting flesh to fleeting view in a window. The finial should have told the story, but the ivy grew around it and spoiled the clue. Tallow lamps lit the rooms at night, the shiver of curtain, the flicker of white, empty steps on broken boards.

Arabesques turned in air, midnight show-time, no attendees, save the broken chairs, the dusty tables, a lone rat hugging the wainscoting, the dancers unwatched, uncared for. If the peregrine flew at night between the apple trees, wing-whispers and trained eyes, no creature would avoid the scrutiny of the sleepless hawk. Percussive angels, feasting on moted souls pass one another by and nod politely, the hidden meaning clear to all but the soulless. In a corner, an abandoned violin slumps against the wall, its strings frayed and unfingered.

Collapsible Horizon by Tantra Bensko

horizon

Collapsible Horizon by Tantra Bensko is filled with stories that mesmerize, provoke and engage the reader in a roller-coaster ride through an illusory, yet familiar world. The collected stories are all fragments of a unified whole, tumbling towards the black hole of the “event horizon,” of which Bensko writes. What excited me about the stories was the energy surrounding them, the creative fervor involved in creating such Dystopian and otherworldly landscapes onto which the narrative is projected. There were moments I thought I was reading Beckett, and other moments when I thought I was reading Roald Dahl channeled in a most unique manner, and this chameleon-like quality of Bensko’s writing really worked for me in this collection.
Three of my favorite passages are listed below and they encapsulate the quality of the prose in the collection:

1: I feel like one of Grandpa’s hallucinations, as I hide my real self from him and his caregiver. My beliefs are not their beliefs. My words are not their words. My secrets are not their secrets.
I spray them with neem against scabies. I bring them apple cider vinegar to drink. I read to them of physics. The sound of her catalog page by page turning, accompanying my words. Grandpa snores while awake. (“Really” p. 61)

2: Teeminhoffer was late, but no one held it against him, as he was dead. He hadn’t been dead long, so didn’t know the ropes. He hadn’t been to the training session of how to change diapers by rolling them up under the guy, and then sticking the new diaper up under the old one, rolling him back over. So, he was going to be a little nervous when faced with doing that right off the bat. (“It’s Time” p. 93)

3: Nothing. No story at all. It sparkled.It was clean. It was good.The ground was becoming solid and stable underneath me. I breathed more deeply. My lungs breathed more deeply into me. The world breathed me. In and out. And out, out out. Icy white. (“Anti” p. 205)

If you’re looking for an escape from the territory of the everyday, craving a journey into a familiar, yet unfamiliar world, then Bensko’s collection will be a fine guide book for that journey. Pay close attention to, “Where’s my Androgyne?” the collaborative story she wrote with Owen Kaelin, editor of the excellent web journal, “Gone Lawn,” as it’s a keeper.

preorder for Blood a Cold Blue now available

I am pretty thrilled to announce that pre-orders are open for my collection of stories, Blood a cold Blue. You can click HERE to take you to the page where you can buy a personally autographed copy of the book, and for good measure I’ll add a little something to the signature for early-bird orders.

bird cover

nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (in lieu of flowers)

Closed my eyes and realized, thirty years ago in fall (we called it autumn), I was wandering around the leaf-strewn roads and avenues of Dublin’s suburbs. red-bricked houses, ornate streetlights, yellowbrowngreen carpeted parks, slow-moving river water, electric-feathered Mallards afloat, the range of cloud patterns everchanging. Times past, available only as skeins to be grasped and pulled back to the forefront of the present. Kitchens with new-fangled microwaves, popcorn and pizza and cups of tea before embarking on the journey towards the ribbed sand down at Sandymount Strand, the tide unavailable unless you walked the half-mile towards far-off England’s coastline. Take my hand and turn so the sun can strike your hair and fling sparks to the tide pools, sing the song under your breath for fear of embarrassment, the relentless teasing of younger brothers, the sharp yip of dogs spoiled by butcher bones and ground beef. Horizon spreads in front of us like the opening of the greatest theater curtain in history, announcing our stage debut as star-crossed lovers. I want to watch the drama unfold again, to listen to the words naively mouthed, to glimpse the moments of firsts: handhold, kiss, fight, break-up, make-up, false pregnancy. The reel stutters and the light flickers on and off as the projector in my mind works against the rust caught between the cogs. Cinema seats, velvet curtain, smuggled wine, thick limbs, shushed lips, raw mouths. Temperamental, different to the others, ping-pong echoes on a rainy day. First. Second. Names matter. The power to name wasn’t appreciated in those days. A passage in Marquez’s “Cien Anos” spoke of that same privilege. Signs, labels, lost memories: Odlum’s flour and the owl on the packet, Carr’s Water Biscuits, Old Time Orange Marmalade (thick-cut), Daz, Persil, Goddard’s silver polish. Letters sent from provincial towns, stuffed animals as peace offerings, angry words, burned pizza, cracked fingernails. Talismans. Rings found, bracelets stolen, mix-tapes held together by Sellotape, Maxell C-90 and the list of artists and songs printed in capital letters:

Heaven 17 We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang
Cabaret Voltaire Red Mask
The Little River Band The Night Owls
Quarterflash Harden my Heart

maxell

The Police Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
OMD Joan of Arc
J. Geils Band Centerfold
Elvis Costello A Good Year for the Roses

Rain and snow and the hunger strikers dying and the Penlee lifeboat sinking off Cornwall’s coastline, and the Inter Cert exams, the green school coat, Sandford Park and the school play, and the Christmas lights on Grafton Street, the Dice Man mumming his way up to the top of the street across from Stephen’s Green, and then down to the bottom across from Trinity College, Alice in Wonderland chess sets and thin silver bracelets, the scent of Anaïs Anaïs perfume and the sophistication of Sisley’s long skirts and wool scarves. Chicken McNuggets and french fries in McDonald’s in Rathmines, walk to town through the slush, the leather boots soaked through, the toes colder than the grave. And in the new year they banned teacher’s from bashing their students any more, and the nuns cried, the priests groaned, and in the spring they started burning bodies in Glasnevin Cemetery as we kept walking the streets, hand-in-hand. The falling rain on the tin clubhouse roof muffled things best left unsaid, the rattle of a key in a door, the creak of a loose board threatening to destroy something secret and speculative. Stone statues over wooden doors, the vibration of organ music, the pennies spent asking for a second chance, the eternal optimism of the Vatican Roulette, and the anxious wait for the water to turn to wine and all to be right with the world once more. Far away, the middle now, centered, bone weary, face lined from the sun, and more miles and years from the opening curtain than can possibly be explained.

a wobbling arc

Ship in a bottle, rolling on plastic seas, the waves eternal, the wind currents in forever updraft. The old hands twiddle and fidget with the fragile lumber, the magnifying glass as large as a dinner plate, allowing him to place each spar and strut exactly where it needs to go. Under the table clumped hair in puffballs rolls soft in the evening air, and from outside, the rising call of a downy woodpecker drills into his patience. One slip, the glue semi-set, and the netting crushed between shaky fingers, sets him off.

On the back steps he scans the trees for a sight of the bird, but the low sun in his eyes make it hard to pinpoint where the woodpecker perches. The long trill again and this time he thinks he spies a black-and-white blur on the low branch of an avocado tree. Again the call, again a flash of white throat. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” he yells into the garden. In mockery the bird calls again. He hefts the bottle in his hand, fingers tracing the raised letters, and lets it fly in a wobbling arc towards the tree. The vessel hits bark and a cloud of disconnected leaves float to the ground. One hand on the water heater roof, he wheezes as the woodpecker flashes through the orchard.