Showing posts from 2016

Sunday Breakfast

The waitress, a smallish girl with heavy makeup, came with the menu to take my order. She dropped it and made to turn away. If she was familiar with me, she would know I place my orders immediately. I’m a regular here. 
“Please, wait. I am placing my order straight away.”
She had the figure of a runway model. I didn’t recognise her. I opened the menu and ordered Purr Double Breakfast.
“But, please, make it omelettes instead of eggs.”
“This is a standard menu, sir. It has to be eggs.”
I peered at the nametag on her blue polo shirt. 
“Kathie, please check with your chef. I’ve had it that way before here.”
“OK, sir. I will check and be back.”
She strode off. Cyndi Lauper crooned Time After Time from the speakers hidden in the ceiling. I shut my eyes to savour the richness of her voice. The waitress came back.
“I apologize. You can have it your way, sir.”
“It’s OK. With coffee and water. All to be served at the same time.” 
That instruction was important. I didn't like drinking coffee without ea…

A Mockery of Tears

Grass, grown tall, cuts at his arms. He swipes back, but blade after blade they fight him, drawing lines of blood that serve only to feed the gasping soil. Poppies parade past him as he runs. Their stems erect, their heads tilted back, they watch him leap and fly, tearing through the endless green. 

A shout: Captain! Captain! The call, it twists around him, dizzying in its antiphony. Pulled forwards and then back by the words, he stumbles in confusion, then rights himself and continues to trample through the virgin field. Decapitating poppies as he passes, petals dance like the damned around him, fluttering to the ground to form a blood red pool. Black seeds scatter across the mass of petals, only to be crushed beneath the Captain’s feet as he pounds on and on. 
Again, there is the call. This time closer but he doesn’t hesitate. On he runs; faster and faster, until he trips. There is the sensation of falling, a velvet thud resounds as he hits the ground, then black. How long he lies the…

Lantern Festival, Qining, 1928.

With ribbons in her hair,
Quan went out to view the lights
and commemorate the dead.

In the cold, she called to a boy
whose face was a flame
in a bakery window.
They whispered together
a blasphemy, a dare:
we shall ride on yellow dragons
past the river.
Later she drew pictures
on peach-colored paper
while her mother spoke
of Chiang Kai-Shek.
The world was far from them,
but the lanterns swung
like faces and the dumplings
on the table steamed.
Each imagined love, each the road, which ended at Lanzhou.

by Carl Boon


Amelia did not have the sort of mind that could compass the richness of Byzantium—the gold leaf halos encircling narrow, dark-eyed faces, the scent of dried roses, the black-skirted priests, all crushed together on a narrow strip of land that tied the dregs of Europe to the promise that was Asia.

Her own aesthetic had been shaped in a colder, harsher land. She worshipped in tiny chapels built from raw pine boards on free-flowing prairies far from any sea. No gold glinted behind her father’s pulpit. No saints were allowed within town limits.
On most days Amelia enjoyed her job, driving her chocolate-coloured truck, placing birthday presents wrapped in brown paper and fat Amazon parcels in the mailboxes that lined the county roads out of town. But she wasn’t having much fun this January day, not with the winter wind blowing waves of sleet across the prairie. By 4 PM she had to turn on her headlights. As she headed back to town, a swirl of snowflakes obscured her windshield. 
She slam…

a sad stretch on chromosome 11

blind from birth, she
could tell the difference
between the odor of chrysanthemums and tulips,
and remember her first whiff of both

she could identify
the scent of her brother
in a groping group
of sweaty brutes

she knew
her nose was her biographer
collecting memories, visions
her eyes could not

she studied biology
only to discover her compendium
of smells originated in a space infinitely
smaller than a fly's eye

a few molecules
devoted to identifying ham,
the rich smoky meat
of her first Easter

another clump to help her hold
the faint smell of perfume which lingered
in the room hours after
her mother passed

and who knew what atoms, what cells, what curse
of chemistry forced her to recall, most of all, the sweet scent
of her newborn's hair, the few seconds she held him,
after his tiny heart stopped.

by Jim Cunningham

The Other Side of Darkness

Ever after this night of the East New York joy ride, Johnny would have a recurring dream: he would be walking in a very deep darkness on a street pushing a gurney toward intersections, watching for traffic lights to see if they remained green, but instead of turning to red they would fade into a blackness and yet he always managed to get over to the other side, and just then an American-Black man whose grandparents were the first real cheap labor slaves - a father to his children - began walking to his side and just as suddenly on his left appeared an African-American cop - a hating "inferiors" kind of guy - walking along a bank slightly above the sidewalk and coming toward him were two young American-Black boys smiling happily, similar to the youngsters he was teaching near Myrtle Avenue close to Bed-Sty, where he told all his students education was a possible door to getting out of their rat-infested slums, and behind them walking slowly with an angry face was another man …

Cafe Aphra November Challenge!

So it's that time of year again......

......  as I was reminded at the weekend, when I went for lunch with some friends and saw that the table next to us had been reserved for a NaNoWriMo "Write-In" group!

Yes, November is here again.

Some of us will be taking up the annual NaNoWriMo challenge, but some of us may feel that we just don't have enough time, headspace or energy to turn out 50,000 words or more in 30 days. 

If that is the case for you, and you fancy something a bit more personal and tailor-made, or just not quite so much pressure, then why don't you take us up this year on our annual Cafe Aphra November Challenge?

Here's how it works:

YOU get to choose what you want your writing challenge to be for this month. 

You set your own goal, whether it is a daily wordcount, an overall wordcount to reach by the end of the month, or simply a writing project you want to get FINISHED by 30th November. 

Sometimes we all need deadlines to motivate us to get it done, an…

Welcome Home

I know I'm late. In my battered car, I watch the second hand on my watch jump with every palpitation of my heart. The delicate metal of the second hand is trembling, as if it might get stuck. Mom doesn't like it when people are running late. It makes her usually patient nature run wild. A light is gleaming through the windows, yet nobody has bothered to look outside. They are probably busy. I cannot seem to convince myself to leave the car. Having to apologize will at least provide me with an opening line. For a moment I fear that I might have lost my voice. "Hello?" I hear myself asking. My voice sounds unfamiliar. 
Time seems to evaporate. In the rearview mirror I try to fix my hair, aware of how greasy it is. "Bazooka Joe" dad used to call me, when I would wear my hair with my bangs falling over one eye. Yet I have never found any resemblance between the reflection of the fragile young woman in the mirror and that chubby-cheeked little cartoon boy.

Autumn Comes Early

Autumn has come.
I see it in your icy eyes -
you long for leaving.

Summer's hazy heat has passed.
Now, October's winds sadly sigh
through golden trees.
I knew one day you would go,
but how was I to know
it would be so soon?
As the last russet leaves
fall to the ungrateful ground,
nostalgia haunts me
like evanescent shadows cast
by a waning moon.

by Martha Magenta

Welcome, Death

Bullets fly. From the arms of men they are received by the bodies of boys. Those too young to experience a woman’s love but too old to be shielded by a mother’s. They drop beside him. He stands and watches; viewing the final expressions of those he could once have called friends. Overarching disappointment, that is what he sees. Disappointment in their training. Disappointment in their Führer. That He had not prepared them. That He had not taught them how to meet death. How, when faced with an unyielding enemy, you welcome death as if he were your friend.
Pools of white appear from the darkness. Lights of the enemy, they search for him. Waltzing across the forest floor, red flashes zipping from their core. Gunfire. Forgetting his orders, he begins weaving as the Wehrmacht officers had taught him. But the crimson sparks, they chase him. Through trees, through undergrowth. When he shoots they swarm and so he scrambles, forcing his tired legs on.
The wings of a beech tree open up offering …

Quite Contrary

Chelsea, 1966: 
I was just leaving school when Kaffe Fassett and Bill Gibb set up shop in the King’s Road, designing clothes based on what young women like me with no money were wearing. On the train back from Aberdeen after visiting Bill’s parents Kaffe saw a woman knitting and asked her to show him how. After that, he was off. Never use 2 colours when 29 will do. And if you’re stuck, add another colour. I’ve been known to call him evil. All my attempts to knit one of his designs have ended in disaster.

Plymouth, 2006: 
I only went to the conference to please Jane who’d organised it. She gave me a ticket as a thank you for baby-sitting her Gran in the run-up. To be honest an afternoon with Gran was more my cup of tea. You could knit properly, let the still-only-slightly-confused conversation float past. But Jane’s brother, the grandson, was coming for the weekend and I wasn’t needed.

I collected my goody-bag from reception then perched on a stool to choose my workshops. Kaffe’s was …


The moss stuck between my toes On the riverbank. Fish nibbled,  Tickling me And the laughter  Made ripples. People on the other side of the river Wondered how  My net caught minnows I told them it was All in the toe jam.

by Mary Bone

Nice Girl

The girl - the other girl - is pushing the stripy pushchair along the pavement. Aldi carrier bags swing from both handles. She almost walks into me. The baby is playing with its feet. The eyes of the child in the pram are his eyes, green and bright. 

Those are the eyes that I once fell into, coiled together on that old sofa with the stuffing bleeding out, our hands exploring one another for the first time.
Their baby has snot snaking down towards its lips. They’re his lips, too. His warm lips on mine on that sweaty sofa, the teenage mingle of sweat and aftershave, stolen from his dad’s bathroom cabinet. 
I’ve replayed this scene a thousand times – bumping into him, or bumping into her, bumping into them both. Showing him I’m fine, I’m over it. I’ve done all right for myself, thanks. But the baby, this baby with his eyes and his lips has stalled me.
He was a big fish in our small home town, once. He reeled me in, threw his affection around for a while. Before unhooking me, letting me go. N…


Sarité is dead again. Nearby, a mother kneels at the side of the road in loud lament for the shattered child in her arms. An old man leans in the doorframe of his soot-blacked house, watching me. Leaning is the best option after the landmine took his leg and his livelihood. Images surface when I’m not looking, in idle moments when I’m tempted to believe the world is a safe place again. But it never was.
I see Sarité again, turning to smile at me as she walks away, adjusting the child on her hip. “See you tomorrow,” I call out, but she doesn’t answer. Perhaps she knows that I will see her in an eternity of tomorrows, but not she me.
The moments fade, stealing my energy like a receding wave sucking sand off a beach, and I am left incredulous that life is mundane.
I move through each day, get on with my life like I’ve been told to. I get up, I do my job, I drive through endless stop-start traffic. A car backfires in the middle of Reading and I’m in Baghran again, running, stumbling from the…

After Terror

There will be a pile of sand
flanked by 31 stones
where a sister died. She
was carrying coloring books
and boxes of crayons
in her backpack
when the bomb came,
her final breath a question,
not a goodbye. She
was carrying them for those
who died before
in similar blasts and fear.

Now there are lies,
speculation, calculations.
What'll happen when
it comes here.
A girl on the subway
cups her hands to alert
her mother she's hungry.
A boy plays with a toy
machine gun. In each I see
postures becoming
prayer, notes for us
who haven't yet fallen.

L.M. Hurtado

by Carl Boon


Ellie stared from the stands, dreaming of the goalkeeper. He was diving around, squelching the mud into his body. It wasn’t the first time she’d gone to watch him play; she knew there was something about him, something that entranced her.

A tap on her shoulder broke the spell; she'd forgotten that she wasn’t here alone. Ellie could tell Chrissy didn’t want to go watch a local football game in a soggy field; she’d been promised shopping and calamari.

“Which one is he anyway? The one you fancy.”

“I never said I fancied him; he’s just, he’s interesting.” Ellie pointed as discreetly as possible at the goalkeeper. “Him.”

Chrissy huffed. “He’s a six, a seven at best - what’s so interesting about him?”

“Just watch.”

They watched him in silence. He jumped and floundered; he wasn’t a good goalkeeper, and he was getting desperate. He was letting in goal after goal until one rebounded straight off him like a cannonball being f…

A Penny For Your Thoughts

‘A penny for them,’ Agnes says, just as she had some thirty-plus years ago when out on their first date. She’s said it many times in between too. It became their thing.

And whenever she said it, Jimmy’s thoughts returned to the icy winter night of big city bright lights – to the Italian restaurant – to the night he tried a little too hard – to the night he got himself into a tongue-tied tizzy that caused the wrong words to come out in the wrong order.
Jimmy had retreated to the sanctity of his shell, sure only of one thing: that he’d blown his chance. He felt marooned sitting there, alone amongst a hubbub of happiness.
So they ate in silence. 
It was Agnes who broke the spell.
‘A penny for them,’ she said, ‘for your thoughts.’
To anyone else he would have replied with a little white lie: ‘Oh, it’s nothing… really… I’m fine… just a little tired.’ 
Her voice was gentle, soft, and calming, so he told her the truth.
Agnes listened, and her eyes smiled at him. She let him finish; then told him she…

In Kowloon

In my mind there is a bed,
starched and white and you lie there, stirruped. I can’t
look. Standing at the window
my eyes fumble for a view,
and fake a movie cityscape:
the glamour of a highrise
Hong Kong skyline, non-specific
urban sprawl; hanzi hurled
across the fishstink of a market-
place in alien humidity.
They have sapped your strength,
tapped you with their needles,
drugged you blind in this
British military hospital.
The pain is a balloon; you
let it go, watch it bump across
the tide-washed sands of
Perranporth, puddled huge
with sky, float over the black
rocks at Gwithian, the littoral
of home, hang at the limit
of a cliff edge, where the thrift
cling on for dear life to their
babies bonneted in pink.
It is September; those lanes -
bordered with a cross of hedge
and granite bank - are beaded
red with bryony; sand between
your toes, walk down them now
and knock. It is tea-time
at Trevalga and they wait
to hear the answer: boy or cheel?

by Rachel Thanassoulis

Waiting to meet Dylan Thomas

They mill around the desk, crotchety wasps, all of them, calling to the receptionist, making caustic asides, until finally relieved of their luggage by capable young men in tall hats, they stretch their livid lips into smiles and cross-fade to their rooms.

I do not smile. I’m waiting for Dylan Thomas. Feeling distanced from my own narrative, as if reliving a demoralising flashback, I’m waiting for a poet whom I love more than life itself, in order that we can speak, soul to soul, artist to artist. 
Yesterday, the managing editor of Mademoiselle introduced Candy Bolster to him. To Dylan Thomas! Over lunch they talked poetry and the rights to Under Milkwood. Candy mentioned all this with a breathless flourish in the elevator at eight this morning and a sob crawled from my throat before leaping, lemming like, into the space between our feet. Tears brimmed as I slid through the yawning lift door and sped towards the restroom.
I’m in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, waiting. Perhaps he is too …

Grave Robber

I found a grave. I came on the evidence one day, in a forgotten file, randomly numbered by my camera. 

I remember walking through white snakes of sand, lifted by the wind. It blew straight off the North Sea; ice in its jaws.
Always seeking I had strode out, looking for messages in bottles, finding only crackled plastic. Holding my camera with numb hands, it had been too cold to take many photos.
Further up the sand, I passed through the iodine egg-stink of seaweed, then, crunched through broken shells to the path, up and away from the rage of the ocean. The wooden steps were filled with sand, an oil company’s unmaintained project. Corporate social responsibility ravaged by the elements.
On the cliff above the beach, marram grass, pink campion, gorse and broom, grew, holding the sand together with their roots. The fierce wind had stolen my breath as I looked towards the new horizon.
Crumpled red and orange petals had led me through the grass, past the remains of a fire-ring of stones,…

The Man With The Negative Charisma

You see him now and then buying pizza
He ain’t one of life’s experimenters The man with the negative charisma Who darkens every room he enters

Someone told me he was married once Now he makes no impression on life The man to whom no one responds Who reckons he doesn’t need a wife
Naturally his colour of choice is grey He’ll nod a “good morning” as he passes But he’s the man with nothing to say Who blinks behind his plastic glasses
His name in the Book of Life’s a misprint His face on the page a careless gaffe He’s the man who leaves only footprints Who takes undiscovered photographs
Though you’d notice no lack of gaiety If he vanished in holy ascension To another world where he’s a deity Who vibrates in the fifth dimension
Wouldn’t that be a kick in the head If he swooshed skyward every night? The man who flies while you’re in bed Who dances in the yellow moonlight

by Derek Dohren


‘You’ve got something under your nose.’

With a giggle, Trudy wiped a finger under her nose, inspected the white powder there and sucked it clean. ‘I always get a bit nervous when it’s live.’

Hamish smiled thinly. He didn’t like live tv either but didn’t need any stimulation to get through a ten minute slot in the Blue Peter Garden; his ambition was enough. Ambition which would take him, if all went to plan, to Hollywood within five years.

They straightened as the director, a terrifying platinum blond with ambitions to move into Sunday night drama as a stepping stone to HBO, arrived. ‘Right, let’s get on. Where are the brats?’ Half a dozen small children, all wearing brightly coloured wellies and Blue Peter cagoules, emerged from the shed, led by a production assistant.

‘That’s no good! Give them shovels, or hoes or something. We need them doing something useful in the background. Hurry up Sally, for God’ sake!’

Sally rushed back into the shed, emerged with a handful of shiny new tools, app…

Green Man

A group of people huddles around a man lying down on the cobbles, turning green. The people are looking over each other's shoulders, not knowing what they would want done, had they been in his position.

A woman in a brown cardigan is hysterical. She is sat on the cobbles next to the man with her legs sprawled out, like a marionette. Someone from the theatre café has brought her tissues and water in a plastic cup. The woman weeps, but all she can think of is how now she will never see the waters of Sharm El Sheikh or puff shisha sitting on satin cushions in overpriced seaside bars. She won't see the pyramids. The thought of not seeing the pyramids in particular makes her give off a high-pitched wail.

The traffic policeman is tired. The bribes he's collected today aren’t enough to get that lamb shank his wife’s ordered. He should be on the road, fining Mercedes drivers for making the wrong U-turn, restriction sign obstructed by a birch tree.
“Where the heck’s the ambulance?” th…