Tuesday, June 26, 2012

RIPE FRUIT by Ruben Mowszowski

It was that time again. 
He sat on the ground letting the dusk settle on him.
The air was dry, pulling the moisture from his lungs, lightening his body.
Why had he come?
Too long. It had been too long.
Once he had imagined a child.
Forget, forget.
He stared at the outline of the tree, its shape like an upturned hand,
beseeching or giving, he could not be sure.
Dear God, is it not long enough? Give me emptiness;
my heart is full of sharp pointed stones.
On the branches dark shapes stirred and one by one dropped off
with heavy fluttering wings.

Ungrateful wretch, he thought, at least you have life. 
He looked at his body to see that it was all there.
Thank you God; for this leg, for this arm; all the parts he could think of.
Later he would look around the stony Karoo for the rest. 
At some other time he might spread himself across the valley
casting hands and feet at the base of the twin mountains.
The silence was that of a place emptied, a place of no water save for the spring 
and the souls of ancient fish passing wraithlike through him.  
The rocks were hard on his feet; the ground was dry.
He had walked barefoot on the hard stony ground collecting thoughts scattered on the hillside.
All morning he had walked leaving dark crimson streaks behind him.
Take my heart, take my blood, he had pleaded.  
He longed for his body to be pierced, for his blood to flow and be absorbed by the dry air; to unravel himself over bushes and become picking food for birds and lizards;
to be sucked up the trunks of trees leaving his bones spring-washed pure
and bleached white. 

The tree had lost its outline. 
A shape separated itself and grew larger. 
She lay next to him, warming him.
He touched her face.
I was afraid, she said. I dreamed you built a house and it turned to sand.
He felt her arms tighten around him, dark curls against his face.
When he entered her, tears sprang from her eyes onto the dry ground.

He woke up, he was alone.  
The morning sky held a curved moon and a bright star.
New growth had appeared on the tree 
and the branches were heavy with ripe fruit. 

~ * ~

Ruben Mowszowski lives in Kalk Bay, a salt-licked fishing village about an hour's drive from Cape Point, the Southernmost tip of South Africa. One late afternoon in January, he and I met in a sun-warmed courtyard and sat in the shade of an old syringa tree drinking wine, eating almonds and olives and talking till the sun sank behind the mountain. Inspired by our wide-roaming conversation, I went in search of his work.

To borrow the words of Sam Keen - "Aristotle said 'Philosophy begins in wonder.' I believe it also ends in wonder. The ultimate way we relate to the world as something sacred is by renewing our sense of wonder."

To my mind, Ruben Mowszowski's writing renews our sense of wonder. When I invited him to send me a few lines as a backdrop to Ripe Fruit - a piece that seems to me equal parts reflective essay and poem - he replied 'I wrote the piece in Warmwaterberg - the hot mineral springs near Barrydale in the Klein Karoo. The peacocks there roost at night on the branches of trees. I'm always cautious about writing too much about a poetic piece but I'll say something about the landscape. . . the way the land speaks here and the animistic ethos that allows a tree to be imbued with the spirit of a person. The waters are slightly radioactive so all sorts of physical benefits are claimed but it's also a place where the wounded can go to heal the soul. . . " 

A few weeks ago, I posted Ruben's poem Karoo Moon on my blog. Although Ripe Fruit and Karoo Moon sound distinctly different notes, there's a raw-yet-yielding quality to both. Each piece took root - and is rooted within - the Karoo, a vast wilderness area of semi-desert that covers two-thirds of South Africa.

                ". . . Time here, if there is time, is all of time. Time space and form,
                mantis hare and moon, are but different aspects of one face.
                Earth and sky interpenetrate. Some people talk about a deeper
                breath. There can be sadness not related to anything one knows.
                Language fails. . . "

                                and a second excerpt from Karoo Moon 

                ". . . There is another story told in wind
                of wind that was once a man then bird
                dropping bloodstained feather into a pool
                among the daughters of the rain
                ostrich becoming ostrich again
                while sun thrown up into the sky
                reshapes the moon that does not die
                for ever, but reborn gathers souls,
                and clouts the hare and splits its lip
                for doubting resurrection of the dead. . . "

Bosduif, Kaaingsveld - Stephen Inggs (SA)
Digital print with archival inks on paper - 1118 x 805MM (from the series Legacy - 2009)

Ruben Mowszowski’s articles on science and culture have been published in The Mail & Guardian, The Sunday Independent, Leadership, Geographical (UK), Resurgence (UK), Style, Architectural Digest, Men's Health, Pforeword, Directions, Research Papers, Doenit, Chi, Right Stuff. Invista (Portugal), Fair Lady. He was author of the commemorative article for the launch of the Southern African Large Telescope (Click here to read SKA on the birthplace of humanitity). 

Ruben's literary writing has been published in Revue Noire (France), New Contrast, Vrye Weekblad, Cosmopolitan (SA). He is the co-author of Karoo Moons (Struik) and author of the short fiction collection Souls of Ancient Fish (Brevitas.) He was a prize-winning finalist in the Vita Short Story Awards, a finalist for the Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award, shortlisted for the SACPAC National Drama Award, runner-up prize-winner of the South African Science and Technology Journalism Award, winner of the South African Science and Technology Journalism Award, and shortlisted for the EU Literary Award

The Karoo

~ * ~

Claire Beynon is this week's Tuesday Poem editor. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Claire immigrated to Dunedin, New Zealand in November 1994. She has a soft spot for many things, especially birds and earthworms

                 '. . . the more since chameleons bent in gnarled attitudes 
                 of prayer have long since left my garden. . .' (from Second Nature, CB 2007)

These days, long-legged lancewoods and an old rata are home and haven to flurries of native birds that gather in her harbourside garden. Claire is a visual artist, art-science collaborator and writer of poetry and short stories. She blogs at All Finite Things Reveal Infinitude and Waters I Have Known. Her web address is www.clairebeynon.co. nz

After you've enjoyed Ripe Fruit, take time to read the other poems posted this week by members of the Tuesday Poem community. You will find them listed in the sidebar.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

BOMB by Sian Williams

As the plate-glass fa├žade of the university library disintegrated, Miranda looked up from her essay on symbolism in Germanic folk-tale and thought:
it’s true
      in an explosion



                                                                   in slo-mo.
In the blinding flash, as the Japanese history student near the window was vaporised, the relevance of Hiroshima’s thousand suns was lost upon Miranda.
And as the pressure wave ballooned into the building and that creepy astrophysics guy at the next table was reduced to his constituent particles, the analogy of a new universe created by this Big Bang and now expanding exponentially did not cross her mind.
But as the twinkling blast-front neared, and the light fittings above her desk swayed elegantly in unison and exploded, Miranda thought briefly about Snow White motionless in her glass coffin: sleeping yet not sleeping, alive yet not alive, undead. And Cinderella, the Ash Girl, leaving her glass slipper on the steps and running — running ragged — into the night.
Lastly she thought about The Snow Queen in which the wizard’s magic mirror, when dropped to earth, shivers into a million fragments. Distorting, perverting, corrupting. She was Gerda, barefoot in the snow, bent into the howling ice-storm, searching for the transparent palace where Kay sits alone with shards of glass in his eyes and his heart — and now she was Kay   trying to piece together the puzzle of a shattered frozen lake, to form the word Eternity.

First published at Flash Frontier, May 2012.
Editor, Michelle Elvy
* * *
This Friday, 22 June 2012, marks National Flash Fiction Day and I'm honoured to be the Guest Editor here this week and bring you this short short story. It's written by my co-editor at Flash Frontier, a journal we launched back in January. Flash is both challenging and inspiring. Capturing the essence of something in such a short space requires a certain skill, and flash fiction -- despite its very trim word limit -- allows both freedom and experimentation. 
Sian wrote this story for the Flash Frontier issue themed splinters. I find it a marvellous example of short short fiction -- beautifully written, simple at first glance with layers to unpack. 

I asked Sian a few questions to accompany this story (three, to be precise: this is flash, after all). The story speaks for itself, but I always enjoy hearing more from the author, too. 

ME: How did the idea for this story come to you -- this one moment in time, slowed almost to a stopping point?

SW: It started with an image in my mind of shards of glass suspended in the air slowly twisting and twinkling in a beautiful, yet sinister, way. I began thinking about explosions and remember watching slow-motion video of the nuclear tests in the Pacific. When the film was slowed right down, the individual forces created by the blast could be identified and separated --  the light, the pressure wave, the sound. The anatomy of the explosion became visible and I started to think about a story which examined these different components and presented them as a series of freeze-frame images. 

ME: The weaving of fairy tale into reality adds a wonderful element to this piece. Can you tell us why these particular fairy tales came to you? 

SW: I was thinking about materials which splinter, and in particular about ice and glass, and their relationship to each other. Ice and glass are recurrent motifs in many fairy tales, and the three fairy tales mentioned in the story all feature glass: Snow White's glass coffin, Cinderella's glass slipper. The Snow Queen begins with the breaking of the broken magician’s mirror, and later snow and ice feature strongly. I'm interested in how the themes and motifs used in fairy tales relate to our lives today, and it seemed to me that Miranda's experience in the explosion was in many ways an infinitely condensed version of the children's experience in The Snow Queen.

The glass coffin is interesting because it's an example of a serendipitous moment in writing when everything comes together. In addition to being made of glass, the coffin introduces the idea of suspended animation (an idea which crops up in a number of fairy tales including Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) and is the perfect image for this story as Miranda sees herself momentarily in suspended animation, caught motionless in the space between life and death. 

ME: In this very short story, you question in subtle ways the relevance of history, of science, of time itself -- and whether these are best viewed as a whole or as fragments. Tell us, do the fragments matter more, or does the whole?

SW: In this case the fragments are important; this story is about splinters, fragments of lives, things blown apart. What I tried to say here is that the way we experience life, even a shattering moment like this one, perhaps especially a moment like this one, is shaped by our own particular frame of reference, our context and place in the world. The Japanese history student experiences the explosion in terms of the bombing of Hiroshima, the astrophysicist in terms of the Big Bang, and Miranda in terms of the fairy tales she is studying. We all experience the same event in different ways, we are individual fragments.

* * *

You can read more about Sian Williams, whose recent accomplishments include being short-listed for the Flash 500 Competition and the Fish Publishing Flash Competition, here. Or you can meet her in Auckland on Friday, 22 June -- National Flash Fiction Day.  

Visit the NFFD site and find out about the competition's Short List and also events happening in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Whangarei. 

And please do enjoy the poetry and flash posted this week by other members of the Tuesday Poem collective. You can find their posts in the sidebar to the left. 

* * * 
Michelle Elvy lives and writes on her sailboat in Northland, but she's in Auckland much of this winter, researching and writing a collection of flash fiction set across the landscape of New Zealand history -- thanks to a grant from the NZSA and Auckland Museum Library. You can find her at National Flash Fiction Day on June 22 or at Poetry Live on July 17, where she will be the Guest Poet.  Michelle is also online at: Flash Frontier / Blue Five Notebook / A Baker's Dozen / 52|250: A Year of FlashAn Aotearoa Affair: A Blog Fest from Kiel to Kaitaia

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Cheese Room by Judy Brown

Here it is, on the back of the menu.
How, instead of a pudding, an extra fiver
will buy you the choice of the Cheese Room.
It shines in the corner, a treasury,
the moony glow of the cheeses walled round
with glass. As soon as she sees it, she's lost.
Before anyone spots her, she strips,
soaks a sari in buttermilk, wraps herself up
and goes in. She shivers to think of the air
full of spores, the shag-pile that fluffs
on things that slip your mind for a moment –
green islands on milk, jam lidded with wool.
A couple who've paid to pick slices of Reblochon,
Vignotte, Manchego, tap on the glass;
they can't believe how she stands,
drenched in whey, her hair wet to strings.
How she touches the rinds – dusted
with charcoal, or soft, that hidden-flesh bloom
you get on a Brie. There's the tightness
of smoke in some of the cheese, the fissured
and granular rock of a Parmesan split
into wheels. Then the diners lose interest,
return to their claret. Despite how oddly
she's dressed – the flimsy sarong,
the milky place where the muslin pulls into
the crack of her arse – perhaps they assume
she's some kind of expert assessing
the cheese? But she won't even taste,
pulls the cheesecloth over her face
and curls up on the floor. She's happy
to wait, passive like milk, for the birth,
for the journey from death into food.

©Judy Brown

The Cheese Room comes from Judy’s 2011 collection Loudness.
It appears here with permission from Judy and her publishers Seren Books.
Thank you both.

Editor Helen McKinlay

The first three words of this poem, ‘Here it is’… propel us into a lavish sensory experience.  Resist and be left tapping on the glass. Like a fine camembert cheese, rich and creamy in the centre but well contained within its rind, The Cheese Room’s  magic is spun within a well-crafted structure. I particularly admire the way Judy uses line breaks and caesuras to halt the momentum before her next piece of unexpectedness, for example:
'Despite how oddly
she's dressed – the flimsy sarong,
the milky place where the muslin pulls into
the crack of her arse – perhaps they assume
she's some kind of expert assessing'
The Cheese Room is capable of deep analysis and surmise.  For myself, I am happy to delight in it for its own sake, a reminder to let go, take a leap, enjoy. When asked to comment, Judy replied, ‘the trigger for it, a visit to a restaurant, no longer has any connection to what the poem becomes.’   I like it that she said 'becomes' … Nice to think of it as still becoming!
It was GK Chesterton who led me to Judy Brown.  I was researching his comment, ‘poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.’  Of course GK died in 1936, well before the power of the internet, which now abounds with cheese poems. Cheese, like love, crosses boundaries.

Topics range from the discovery of one’s inner cheese to a comparison between the qualities of cheese and humans. And what would GK have thought of his contemporary, James McIntyre (1828- 1906)?  Sometimes referred to as Canada's Worst Poet-thanks, it is said, to his cheese poems, James is remembered and anthologised still and is the inspiration of the annual Ingersoll, Ontario, Poetry contest.  James aside, I think GK would have been as thrilled as I was to discover Judy’s poem. The silence can be declared well broken!

Enjoy Gk’s short essay on Cheese from his book of essays,‘Alarms and Discursions’ here.


Loudness    The Worst Journey in The World   Passenger     

and Best Drink of the Day a youtube clip

Judy Brown was born in Cheshire and studied English at the universities of Cambridge and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She has lived in Northumberland, Cumbria and Hong Kong and now divides her time between London and Derbyshire. Judy’s first book Loudness (Seren, 2011) was shortlisted for the 2011 Forward Felix Dennis prize for best first collection. She has been widely published. Her awards include the Manchester Poetry Prize 2010, the Poetry Society’s Hamish Canham Prize 2005 and the Poetry London Competition 2009.

In November 2011 'The Cheese Room' was selected as Poem of the Week in The Guardian.

Before you go, leap into the side bar and enjoy the wide selection of 30 Tuesday Poets who live there.

Helen McKinlay is a published children’s author and poet  from New Zealand.  She blogs at gurglewords

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

'Joseph' by Michael Woods


It was all tension
in the delivery room,
and you still seemed
glimpsed galaxies away,
pouring your heart out
in the automatic writing
of the foetal monitor's pen
that traced its racing.

I heard each beat
as an outside broadcast
through a squeaky speaker
live-wired to your scalp.
These electric things made
more than a potential difference
as the nurse noticed your distress.
The machine plotted nothing
and found its origin.

Shocked into memory
all I recalled was our first
virtual meeting in those
early scanning days when,
searched for like fish by sonar,
you showed up shadowy
in your secret space, waving a hand to me
that could be a plesiosaur's paddle,
a coelacanth's fin - semaphore from
an oceans away womb-home,
moon distant where you had landed.

Then, in the blink of an aeon,
you broke radio silence,
translating yourself again
into the language of graph lines.


I saw you born from water
into air as you barged
into the summer.
You were an astronaut to my eye,
space-walking from the mother ship
but blood-roped still,
already miming our every voyage.

It was the quick slow motion
of it all that lives in me -
you coming from your sea of tranquility,
washed up by the amniotic tide;
that suspended second when you looked
and held me in the forever of your face,
before you drew breath,
before you cried.

Copyright Michael Woods
from 'Absence Notes',  2011,  Templar Poetry
Reproduced with permission

                                                Editor:  Kathleen Jones

I've just been reading  Absence Notes - the first collection from Michael Woods - and this poem really stood out.  It's a beautiful poem about the birth of a child from the father's point of view rather than the mother's, and that's what makes it unusual. We don't often hear about birth from a man's perspective - aren't often reminded that bonding is just important for them as it is for the mother.   I like the images and metaphors, 'blood-roped'  - the womb astronaut. 

Several of the poems in this collection are about family relationships - Carol Ann Duffy in a review noted that it 'maps the events and connections which shape our lives - childhood, parenthood, friendship and love.'   Michael is an authority on Gerard Manley Hopkins and there are echoes in some of the poems (particularly the title poem 'Absence notes') which link back to Hopkins.  Apparently every collection should have at least 3  'Wow!'  moments.  This is definitely one of them.

"Michael Woods was born in London.  He is married with three children and teaches English and Drama in Malvern, Worcestershire.  His poems have won several prizes and have appeared in a number of anthologies.  As editor of Tandem poetry magazine, he has sought to promote the work of young writers.  He also runs live poetry events at the Lamb and Flag pub in Worcester."

Kathleen Jones is this week's Tuesday Poem editor, currently living in Italy.   She is a biographer and poet, whose first collection of poetry  'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21'  was published in November 2011.   She  blogs regularly at 'A Writer's Life'.

Once you have enjoyed "Joseph", take some time to enjoy the other poems posted this week by members of the Tuesday Poem community. You will find them all listed in the sidebar.