Subtitles: 1

Matthew James Babcock

 

This is the first in a series of short creative nonfiction pieces called “Subtitles” (where the title comes at the end). 

     I am a paid pair of eyes. I help a bearded man in ragged cutoff shorts — a man named Kasim —with his English translation of the Koran, until the director discovers he isn’t enrolled as a student and bans him from the center.  Before he gets banned, Kasim waits down the hall in a sunken room of cranky radiators and abused cubicles and prays kneeling on his braided rug of exquisite gold and maroon, and when I enter and call his name he rises and from his smoky beard his smile flashes like a shard of rare sunlight.

     I help a redheaded guy who smells of canned chili and wears black jeans, a black T-shirt with a Casper the Friendly Ghost decal, and a black overcoat streaked with powdered sugar.  Acne shellacs his forehead like a curse.  He grins and braces gleam.  Behind his greasy glasses his green eyes glimmer as he reads to me about his suicide attempt — a hanging in the garage, foiled by his dad on his way to tee off at the country club.  As if savoring a delicacy, he beams over the account, particularly pleased with the phrase “feces bulged into my underwear.”

     Midweek in the morning a blond girl in an oatmeal overcoat enters and asks for help.  I scoot over and she sits next to me.  Her stapled white paper flaps on the desk, and her hands hover over it like relaxed claws.  Rainbows ring the fingers of her fingerless gloves of white wool.  Her frizzy hair cascades to her shoulders like the hurried coiffure of a French poodle.

     “I’m not sure it’s any good,” she says, shrugging off her coat.  “I just need help with some things.”

     “Let’s look,” I say.

     The “Center”: a junction of cramped offices in the basement of the old Ray B. West Building.  Green metallic bookcases teeter against cinderblock walls, overflowing with the hardback psychedelia of a museum of style manuals.  In the hallway students thunder past like bison.  Through the door to the lab, rows of students gawk at computer monitors the size of microwave ovens.  Their slack-jawed faces glow electric blue, twenty zombies waiting for twenty frozen burritos to cook.  A Filipino-looking graduate student with Buddy Holly glasses and glistening black curls balances an apricot Danish on a paper plate and serpentines through the computers, speaking like a Cambridge don.  His belly paunch hangs over the waist of his faded jean shorts.  His T-shirt is two sizes too small.  Black flip-flop sandals slap his heels.

     “This is what they call the world wide web,” he says and takes a bite of Danish.

     “What’s your essay on?” I say.

     “Virginia Woolf,” the girl says.  “Due next week.”

     “Why don’t you read it, and I’ll listen.”

     I speak without hope because it is impossible to hear anything at this crossroads of chaos.  The graduate students work in the back room, like privileged priests sequestered in solitude, where they can close the door and meditate on the work of their young charges in the natural light spilling through a bubble-glass window.  Andrea, the center’s director, lurks in her office, her door perpetually propped open, ready to pounce on any writing heresies uttered by undergraduates.  Andrea wears plain plum cardigans, olive slacks, and pointy black pumps.  The woman has black marbles for eyes.  Her head hangs on her neck as if she’s short a few spinal discs, and her long grayish-brown bangs mask half her face, which makes her look like an aged skateboarder. 

     The graduate student in the back office is a petite blond woman — Arctic blond — with an elegantly sharp nose.  Her favorite uniform is a ribbed white long underwear top, form-fitting bleached jeans, and a canvas belt with a brass D-ring buckle.  Her masculine hairstyle — sheared up the back, short over the ears, floofy “rooster” bangs — could land her as the front man in an 80’s band.  I don’t know if she’s gay.  She’s friendly with the openly gay undergraduate and graduate students, but when she’s not working, she sits in a chair behind me, and whenever I turn around she tucks her bare feet under her in a salacious lotus position and arches her back the way women do when they pretend to stretch in order to showcase their breasts.

     I try to listen to the girl’s Virginia Woolf paper, but noise muffles her voice.  It’s also hard to listen because I just finished To the Lighthouse myself — the night before, staying late and locking myself in the graduate student office — and the book has toppled my inner gyroscope, leaving me feeling rapturously unmoored in the mosaics of Modernism.  I try to hook my thoughts into the girl’s sentences, but I can’t stop thinking: How can you write a three-part novel and have the second part be basically about the cleaning lady?  The audacious grandeur of one sentence keeps undulating through my inner ear: “Mrs. McNab, when she broke in and lurched about, dusting, sweeping, looked like a tropical fish oaring its way through sun-lanced waters.”

     “Because of the evils of men,” the girl reads.  “We see . . . ”

     “Evils of men?” I say, snapping back to reality.  “Why are men evil?”

     Andrea’s upper half flaps into her open doorway like a hinged vampire figure in an amusement park ride.

     “Because they have strong backs and tiny minds,” she says, vanishing into her study.

     The girl and I gaze at her paper.  She holds her hands like a pianist unsure of which chords come next in the concerto.  I glance behind me.  The blond graduate student sits with her knees apart, hands clasped behind her head, back arched, breasts shooting for the sun as if painted on the nose of a B-52.

     Then Andrea’s upper half swings into the doorway, a swollen smile on her lips. 

     “Matt,” she says.  “When you get a second, could you help me move this bookcase to the other side of my office?”

Introduction to Feminism

 

Matthew James Babcock: Professor.  Writer.  Failed breakdancer.  Lived for two years in Great Britain. Books: Points of Reference (Folded Word); Strange Terrain (Mad Hat); Heterodoxologies (Educe Press); Future Perfect (forthcoming, Ferry Street Books, 2018).

Geography

VINCEN GREGORY Y. YU

Tonight, my lover promised we would go places:
edge of the sun or rim of a lunar crater,
circle the burst of stars in our patch of sky,
hitch a ride on a spinning asteroid
and feel how space invades the distance
straddling two electric bodies.

Here was our house, next to Moscow
and the frost that permeates its empty squares.
Every morning, we woke to bells ringing
from the onion domes of St. Basil’s,
sounds we imagined mailed to our window
by melting snow, the hurtling wind.

My lover believed in all things real and imagined,
and I, the rest that hover in between.

In the place where they sell coffins,
I first saw her, looking from beneath the glass
reflecting the whites of her eyes, her body
a lazy shadow supine in its polished casing.
I took her, there and then, on a trip around the globe,
painting portraits of ruins and walls, hillside
trees, a field of wildflower, mountains.
She devoured the sights, the moving pictures,
down to the final shred of celluloid.

Stop—Touch this acre of soft earth.
Here was the place for the invention of promise:
bend of the harsh ray of light
and spark of the first gleam of life.
Notice how everything collapses to its core,
how nothing seems able to withstand
the pull of gravity. This is also a place
for broken things, and for things to be broken.
Shards of glass collect on the bleeding feet,
wounds refusing to close with every washing.
Here was where we landed last night:
not in Zurich or Oslo, balmy Barcelona,
the lofty heights of Denver or swampy New Orleans,
but a house of stone and fog, both solid and wisp,
like whispers inhabiting the space between our mouths.
Here, our words are nothing but air.

Shapes

VINCEN GREGORY Y. YU

The lemon tree makes a curious shape
in the way it bends to the sky: stooped,
slight dent along the delicate stem,
as if praying to heaven or asking

what shape the rain takes as it plummets
in a raging storm. To be old and still bear
fruit—yellow, flock of children navigating
an empty museum at daytime; sour,

the aftertaste of troubled marriages—
is quite enviable. It means the capacity
to create is still intact, like looking
beyond the window and asking the glass

what shape the moon takes at midnight,
hoping to imitate its spectral glow, the curve
where darkness meets the light.
This morning, the lemon tree travelled

one inch farther from its mound of earth,
but also, nearer to when it shall finally stop
trying to outgrow the rest of the garden—
the nonstop pendulum of bamboo stalks,

the roses blossoming in summer—
and learn to let go of the one perfect fruit
hanging from the one perfect branch,
the shape of sadness trapped in the bubble

of tears, when a father’s face has turned
away after his daughter’s wedding.
Tonight, the lemon tree stands content
with the geometry of its place—the triangle

of leaves moist with dewdrops, the parallel
branches bearing weight of the future fruit,
the shape of the unborn seed in its watery
womb, where even strangers tend to its needs,

and an old man’s need to see circles and squares
take the form of boisterous grandchildren,
like saplings breaking through the soil
for the first time.

After Larry Ypil.

Vincen Gregory Yu obtained his Doctor of Medicine from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital in 2016. His poems have appeared internationally in Pedestal Magazine, Stone Telling, Bacopa Literary Review, Popshot Magazine, and Diverse Voices Quarterly. He is also a theater reviewer for Philippine Daily Inquirer, and was a fellow for Fiction in the 56th Silliman University National Writers Workshop, the longest-running creative writing workshop in Asia.

Lethal theory

NOEL WILLIAMS

 

The IDF in Nablus walk through walls

eviscerating living rooms, inverting geometry.

Where streets prickle with barricades

walls become the easy street, mapped

by laser, admitted by C4.

 

Terror strides through bricks,

tramples floors, metastasises

house to house, performing its laparotomy

under the civil skin.

 

Our home is theoretical, a thoroughfare

for RPGs, bedroom Ops Centre for an hour.

For our wellbeing, mother and child trussed

under the camo of convenience.

 

That’s not mud on the carpet.

 

“Lethal theory” by Noel Williams won first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2017) judged by Oz Hardwick

  

Noel Williams publishes internationally in magazines such as Envoi, San Pedro River Review, Wasafiri, Iota, The North and The Rialto. He’s won several prizes, with four nominations for the Forward Prize and one for the Pushcart. He was the first Poet in Residence at Sheffield’s Bank Street Arts Centre, where he’s also exhibited several times. He’s co-editor of Antiphon magazine (antiphon.org.uk), Reviews Editor for Orbis (www.orbisjournal.com), a mentor for other writers and Professor Emeritus at Sheffield Hallam University. His first collection was Out of Breath in 2014. A pamphlet, Point Me at the Stars, is due in 2018. Website: http://noelwilliams.wordpress.com

In transit

GRETA ROSS

 

with a trunkful of history inside you  

readied for the always questions of why

and what and how while the guard sits

like a checkpoint at the locked gate

to the hard-fenced field of words

 

as you struggle to blacken

the blanks on the dotted line,

fearing the shadow behind his

“where you from?” smile and touch

while his mates eye gender and dress

 

and judge your way of saying “I”

as if origin lies in the curve of face

or faults of the tongue and eye

before opening a hand, an ear or heart

or instead some knuckle-fisted rant,

 

yet you unlock the skin you hide in

to lay yourself out for their vetting

with the always hope of maybe

just maybe this time

your feet will root in another place

 

 

“In transit” by Greta Ross won second price in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2017) judged by Oz Hardwick.

 

A retired doctor, Greta has been writing poems as long as she can remember. Born in Australia, she now lives in England and is a member of the Canterbury writing group SaveAs. Greta has published a first collection ‘Facts of Life’ as well as poems online and in anthologies. Her poems incline towards the political, but she tries to avoid being judgmental. She is married, and both she and her husband continue to enjoy exploring different cultures. Perhaps if science enables humans to live to 150 she might succeed in getting through all the still unread books on her bookshelf.

 

 

 

 

Vanitas

after ‘The Penitent Magdalen’ by Georges de La Tour

GABRIEL GRIFFIN

Nothing like a skull
to keep you company
on a night with no
clients; wolves
howling in the wind,
the window slammed
tight to stop the flame
from dancing
and nothing left
of Him
but your thoughts
like all the years
dropping with the wax
thick and wrinkled.

“Vanitas” by Gabriel Griffin won third prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2017) judged by Oz Hardwick.

Gabriel Griffin lives on Isola St Giulio, Lake Orta, Italy (isolasangiulio.it ). From 2001 she organises Poetry on the Lake events and competition www.poetryonthelake.org. Her poems have often been prized and published in journals & anthologies: Temenos Academy Review, Orbis, Scintilla, Aesthetica, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, et al.(poetgabrielgriffin.com). Author of Along the old way: a pilgrimage from Orta to Varallo in the company of Samuel Butler (Wyvern Works 2010); St Giulio’s Isle, (Wyvern Works 2015), L’uomo verde nel Cusio (Le Rive 2001), Videomanual (Hoepli 1980). Her novel The Monastery of the Nine Doors won 2nd in Yeovil this year (2017).

The Softening

DIANE COOK

How my lover became less elemental is hard to say.
The day the fire melted from his bones and the sweat
on his brow turned to sugar, fell beyond calendars.
I noticed it when we stopped talking of dragons
and the sex on TV made him cry.
I would hold on to him, hold him by the shoulders, narrower now,
hold him by the hand in case he thought
he would whirl away like a bewildered leaf.

And in nightmares spent fumbling off the sheets
to the crêpey curl of his moaning,
I loved him more,
folding him twice at first, then later three times to me
in remembrance of how it used to be.

On evenings of fierce moonlight
he was calm, when the garden reflected
his similar insubstantial shadow.
All was the same then.
Even the trees looked familiar.

“The Softening” by Diane Cook was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2017) judged by Oz Hardwick

Diane Cook is a poet, playwright, short story writer and a founding member of Congleton Writers’ Forum, a Cheshire-based group which has just celebrated 25 years of productive writing. She has gained awards for plays, short stories and poetry, including First Prize in the Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition 2015. As well as co-writing and editing a poetic narrative Slaughter by the Water based on the true story of the Congleton Cannibal, she has also directed her own psychological drama Splinter; and her tragi-comedy We Would Have Noticed The Moon has been filmed as a black box TV play was screened in 2016.

Frozen Ringtone

MARIA ISAKOVA BENNETT

Only one thing fills me now

         the lit screen

                        that tells me you thought of me. I try to fix things –

                                                             everything goes wrong.

                                                             I close the door, drive north

                                                             open Spotify and listen to Hozier.

Lithium operates us in slow.

            This is what you know

                        and this is what you don’t:

                                                            in the light of which

                                                            I make a wish

                                                            I see your face

I love you.

            Shhh …some things you can’t say

                        even if they make you better.

                                                           This is the language of love:

                                                           touch and no words

                                                           out of our mouths.

I won’t speak because

             this is the language of love.

                          Can you stop loving me for a moment and speak to me?

                                                           I need you to stay away from me.

                                                           No. I need you to stay with me.

                                                           Steady me. Stay.

I love the scent of you.

            I won’t shake when I spend my last kiss.

                          I will wait one whole season –

                                                         I will try to wait too

                                                         and when the time is right

                                                         I’ll be with you and I won’t speak

because someone blessed us.

 

“Frozen Ringtone” by Maria Isakova Bennett was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2017) judged by Oz Hardwick.

Swinger

KATHLEEN STRAFFORD 

His flat nose pressed against his face, 

he slumps wearing his Sunday-go-to-meeting

tie      fed up   with yowsam bows   

he dreams to own his own 

bootlegging gig     kickin’ it up with some doodah.     

But for now he’s a tap dancer

He feels like nine foot tall when he’s five foot five

                 all the hepcats dig his jive

or they wouldn’t

                     let him in this speakeasy

                         this den of flapper

                                    flora-dora dizzy

                                            hoochie-coochers

Little does he know the dame             

                             with a silly name & crimson hair

            will lace her fingers      

                             into his     grooving

                             a sweet

                             boogie woogie beat

swaying with a swing

                    swinging with a sway      

 Later in the alley-way

                   he will find himself

                                 doing just            that.

 

“Swinger” by Kathleen Strafford was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2017) judged by Oz Hardwick.

Your Windows

L THOMPSON

Your windows are not like my windows;
your windows care nothing about public opinion.

Your windows are high-born and sashed,
flung up wide, spurning net and blind,

silly little louvres and prissy gold keys,
and small sad stickers saying I Check ID,

and every cringing and conscripted and servile
curtsey to respectability. Your windows stretch

and arch, greet the seasons like cats,
quiver for spring, shimmy for summer,

bristle for autumn. Your windows
wear the rain like goose pimples

on skin rubbed at odds to the grain,
and smell cold and sooty as snow.

Your windows are single-glazed, Georgian,
lethally dangerous, clear-eyed.

They admit the sun to rows of books,
they yield a field of wit and knowing.

My windows are glass in name only;
they are deaf and nearly mute. They muffle,

bend light, repel glances with a plastic glare.
My windows are swagged with drapery,

and yours are shamelessly, brazenly bare.
I display some nylon flowers in a vase,

craving approval from all quarters,
and your window laughs and laughs and laughs.

“Your Windows” by L Thompson received a special mention in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2017) judged by Oz Hardwick.

Thompson lives in Belfast and has been writing for a number of years. She has had poems published in Cannon’s Mouth and Ware poets.