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Pen-demic Submissions

By March 23, 2020Uncategorized
Fear’s Arrival
By Grant Palmer

“I know what you’re fearful of
It’s being alone”
Her words to me

Even as I am
Despite all I have been through
A danger to no one

But in my house
As if I am the deadly one
The death is invisible outside

The world visible through a screen door
A delivery on the steps
One tin of this, one packet of that

My love is distant
No touch of flesh
Or warmth of her smile

Healthy and alone
Teary and anxious
My fear has arrived

 

Canary
by Diana Pearce

Miners carry small songbirds
into the darkness,

as the sunshine fades
death is a wisp of gas.

Who makes music
in dark places?

Who sings
the last notes?
Tanka*
by Jan Dean

sunlight trumps shadow
yet depend on each other ---
free now, she feels warmth
basks for awhile, questions
long buildings against blue sky

 

*Originally Japanese, tanka in English doesn’t rhyme or use capitals. tanka consists of 31 syllables and translates as “short song” and is known in its five-line, 5/7/5/7/7, syllable count form

 

Anno Domini
by Ned Stephenson

Fra’ Gilbert wiped sweat from his brow then rested his palms on the oaken table. Below him was the body of Fra’ Gautier lying face upon a linen sheet soaked in beeswax and rosemary. Many of the red welts on the man’s torso were black in the centre and the lumps in his armpits and groin had ruptured to release rivulets of foul-smelling pus. The stink clawed at the air overpowering the normally fragrant apothecary.
       Across from Fra’ Gilbert his apprentice waited for instructions, the boy’s pock-marked face making him look older than his years. Fra’ Gilbert had found the lad a year ago climbing the cliff on the sea-ward side of the abbey. He suspected we was a runaway servant, but he was safe inthe abbey and was proving to be a clever herbalist.
       Fra’ Gilbert let out a breath.
       ‘Ad gloriam dei.’
       ‘Ad gloriam dei!’ Repeated the apprentice.
       ‘Wrap him now, Raymond, it’s time for his soul to be judged by God. Begin with his legs and leave his face to the last.’
       Raymond did as he was told and Fra’ Gilbert took up the bowl they hadused to wash the Abbott.
       ‘Master?’
       ‘Yes Raymond?’
       ‘Do you see how the fleas have treated the Abbott? His ankles are covered in their marks, and all up his legs. He has been plagued by them. Could it be that God’s vengeance is being delivered by his smallest of creations?’
       ‘What do you mean?’
       The apprentice pointed. ‘All the brothers we have buried have been marked heavily by fleas. You have told me before how they bitesome of us more than others. They seem to not like me, and you have said before that they do not bother you at all. Yet the brothers who die are favoured. Like the Abbott here, he has dozens of bites.’
       The apothecarist wiped at his forehead again, the stone room was unusually warm today.
       ‘And what of it?’
       ‘With your permission I would like to put Pennyroyal in our rooms.’
       ‘That is a dangerous herb Raymond! Do you know what it’s used for?’
       ‘Yes Master,’ Raymond blushed, ‘by shameless women who do not wish to carry child. But Master...fleas will not enter a room when Pennyroyal is used as a rush mat.’
       Fra’ Gilbert looked again at the ashen face of the dead man, willing God to speak to him. They would now be voting for a new Abbott. Fra’ Theodore was the obvious choice, but he too had just caught the plague. Fra’ Gilbert himself was not without a chance, at 53 he was one of the oldest monks still alive. Would God speak through him and end this scourge? He would strive to be a wise leader, he thought to himself.
       ‘No Raymond,I see no reason bringing that wicked plant into our abbey. Now finish Fra’ Gautier’s shroud, for we must hurry to make an arsenic tincture to help our Fra’ Theodore recover.’
The Swimmer
by Colin Mountford
“Hey Henry, I haven’t seen you in two weeks, where’ve you been?” 
      “Sydney, Gus, my brother Joe had a stroke and didn’t make it. I had to go and tidy up his affairs and see to his funeral.” 
      “Henry, I’m sorry to hear that. If there is anything I can do, just let me know, ok?” 
      “Sure Gus, I appreciate that.” 
      “Anyway, I’m here for a few laps; how’s Maggie?” 
      “Fine Henry, Look, I must get going, Maggie wants to go shopping. I’ll see you tomorrow.”  
      Joe wiped himself down with an old towel that hadn’t been washed in a decade. He got dressed and left. 
      Henry stripped down to his swimmers and moved toward the ocean baths. He dipped his big toe to test the temp. ‘not too cold, I’ll adjust,’. Testing the water was like kicking the tyres on a car, it must be done. Grabbing hold of the pool ladder and climbed down. Henry only did the breaststroke; it hasn’t always been that way.  
      Henry had been going to the ocean baths for 43 years, hardly missing a day. He had been a great swimmer in his prime and won many carnival events, mostly ocean comps. Today, he swam to forget his problems and let his mind drift away. After his wife Mary died, all his problems were solved at the bottom of a bottle. 
      He didn’t have much else. The kids lived quite a way, and he rarely saw them. They have their lives to live. His arms stretched out and he started kicking the water. Pushing his old tired body as best he could. ‘I can’t do any more than 10 laps now; the body can’t take it; at least the water is nice this time of year.’ 
      Pushing through the water and the pain, he finally finished his laps and rested at the number 3 diving block. He was breathing heavier than usual. “Hey Henry, I haven’t seen you here lately; Where’ve you been?” he looked to see Jim Merrick. 
      “In Sydney Jim, Funeral of my brother Gus, you know how it is.” Henry climbed out of the water and rested on a seat. He grabbed a towel and wiped the water off his aged and wrinkled skin. ‘I must ring up about that sunspot soon.’ Henry stood and started to get dressed. He sat down quickly as he felt dizzy. “Hey Henry, are you alright?” asked Jim.  
      This is the third time he felt dizzy after a swim. “It’s nothing, I may have pushed myself too hard.” 
      “Alright mate, just take it easy.” Jim looked at Henry and thought He shouldn’t be swimming so many laps these days. He sat on the seat longer than he normally did. He reflected on his life; staring out to sea; a large coal ship sat in the distance waiting for the next available dock to fill up and head back to China.  
      "Maybe an island cruise, the guys always tell me it’s good… 
*A TIME OF POLIO
a trilogy for Joan
by Diana Pearce

1

I know the bleakness
of late autumn skies

I get off the school-bus
collapse
my legs don’t work

there is great pain

I am alone in an ambulance
through its windows

starless skies

my mother rings every morning
I survive each night

limbs bandaged
full-splinted body

there is great pain

slowly my winter passes
spring becomes
my seaside rehabilitation


2

One girl fell ill
at my school
dormitories emptied
contacts sent home;
prescribed a daily walk
in the open air.

My father and I
strode our farm’s boundaries
for two weeks,

checking the fences,
treading single file along meanders
of well-marked sheep tracks,
inspecting dam levels and rock salt,
setting and re-setting rabbit traps
outside burrow entrances,
penning calves for
overnight separation.

Unspoken words
hid my father’s anxiety,
an intimacy never repeated.

3

She bounds across the playground
iron-clad leg swinging,
a beaming smile
stops in front of me.

Tell me about your friend
who had a leg
like mine.

My friend
studied at university
holds a senior
personnel position
raises her family
walks without an iron.

She listens
smiles contentedly
swings towards tomorrow.

*the inspiration for this poem came from Joan’s own account of her polio experience I’ve used her words in part 1

Pluviosity
by Phil Williams

A mysterious sound on midnight tin;
A possum? gum nut? prickly skin!
Hush now listen and conceivably
it may be the promised pluviosity.

There it is again; again and again;
widespread, resounding, arousing my brain.
After a minute the roof is a-thrumming
the deluge creating a melodious drumming.

Plunks to a bucket perfectly placed;
thuds on the canvas like a good bass.
A susurrus of wind the humming fulminates
all over the suburb roofs orchestrate.

Torrents streaming into guttering;
down pipes gargling with noisy stuttering.
Guzzling and gurgling they thirstily drink
decanting to the tank in bubbling sync.

Subterranean stirrings with the souse;
plants activating after the dowse.
Xylem cells syphon, seeds tumesce
rainbows and sweetness - we are blessed.

Ridges gowned in morning mizzle;
petrichor rising with the damp drizzle.
Trees aquivering in anticipation
leaves erect in moist expectation.

Cold drops, warm skin, such delectation;
summer rain brings exhilaration.
after infernos drought and insanity
soak us Pluvius for our humanity.
Day Four 
by Grant Palmer 

So isolated and alone
Distance from my daughter
Living at opposite ends
Isolated in our own home
Her possible exposure
A threat to my life

My lover and I
Destroyed by isolation and distance
Tepid at best It feels like it is over
Dreams of a future
Feeling shattered, alone

No hope in my heart
Breathless and anxious
How do I cope?
Drugs that addict?
Try sleeping for ever I just don’t know

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