READ OF THE DAY
Peregrine by Mark Totterdell
She’s the brooch that pins the sky’s blue cape together,
a kink-armed cross of tarnished silver.
Her calling rends the afternoon.
And now she’s an anchor, falling through fathoms of air,
faster than gravity, an angel breaking
the spine, piercing the heart of a dove.
Now she’s poised in her trefoil window,
an eclipse-eyed gargoyle with flesh caught
in the keen contraptions of her golden feet,
warrior queen of the parapet, armoured in keratin,
her chest barred tight, secure now in this chamber
of sticks and stinks and bones,
though the all-seeing lens in the corner
transmits each blink, every twitch, every stretch
to us, who watch the screens like powerless gods.
Peregrine by Mark Totterdell was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition March/April 2020 judged by Mandy Pannett.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Twist – a short story by Farai Mpofu
He is sat on the fringes of the pushing crowd. The crowd is in labour. He pulls out a twist and prepares to smoke it. It is called a twist because of the khaki paper used to wrap it whose edges are twisted before the smoker imbibes. It is the same khaki paper that saves many a ghetto kid, from their teachers’ sadistic whips, as they use it to cover their school exercise books. It is the same paper that is used by many as toilet paper as they cannot afford soft toilet rolls. The City fathers have been complaining that this paper is causing blockages in the sewer system. They have pledged to donate decent toilet paper to residents. It is also the same cheap khaki paper that is used by vendors to cover their fly tormented, cream doughnuts as they sell them to passing factory workers. On that evening, on the fringes of the crowd, he carefully unfolds the twist and unveils the golden green marijuana.
The cheap Chinese imported, matches scratches across the rough brown side of the yellow match box and bursts in to huge flame. He holds it towards the twist and it ignites. A bluish smoke reminiscent of oriental incense in a human sacrifice temple, overshadows the cocktail of stale of downtown smells. Downtown smells usually constitute of the crowd’s sweat, an occasional fart, choking home made perfumes, the stench of urine and steaming fresh brown faeces in the graffiti ridden alleys .He breathes it in and the marijuana invades his body like Napoleons battalions .The intoxicating particles conquer his brain cells .Then the world slowly turns in to a surreal existence a broken fragment of his distorted imagination and a specimen under his distorted magnifying glass. He laughs . A dry, hungry and desperate laugh. He laughs at nothing in particular.
‘The problem with most people is that they have two mouths and one ear, they never listen’ A voice in the crowd shouts out loudly.
‘Who are you?’ he replies nervously.
‘Have you ever imagined Hiroshima and Nagasaki your twin sisters, North Korea donating its nuclear arsenal for the new year’s firework celebrations, AIDS a disease for chickens, or Bin Laden and Bush stripping in a homosexual nightclub?’ shouts the voice from the crowd.
‘No!’ he responds trying to stamp his authority.
‘Well, well, welcome to the world of khaki paper and marijuana, my name is Twist and I am going to be your hostess in this terrific journey. Please don’t forget to fasten your seat belt’ says the voice with the seductiveness of an air hostess.
‘Who are you? Are you me or you’re in the crowd?’ he asks feeling very confused. But then the world goes round and round, he is engulfed by a horrible feeling of nausea falls and vomits uncontrollably.
‘Human social existence is filled with all kinds of injustices. It is corrupt. However, listen and don’t talk, I am proud to tell you this nonsense. This country is a jungle. Do I sound racist? Like Joseph Conrad and the Heart of Darkness? A jungle full of naked savages – niggers – who feast on human meat! You call them cannibals or Caliban? You think I am going to waste my time crying about the injustices of the Mud Island Empire? Listen and don’t talk, Listen to the wisdom of khaki paper and marijuana I’m not going to talk about that racist shit, I have better nonsense to chew my cud upon. Every black Jack and Jill in Africa is using the racism tramp card to get rich .Racism is a tired cliché. Listen Mzala… the wisdom of the khaki paper is smooth, brown and natural. Like the trees it comes from it refreshes the soul. Just listen carefully because I’m gonna talk about the city and its crowds’ shouts, with a wild madness, the voice as if it were the voice of Legion in the cemetery of Gadhara.
‘Who are you? What do you think you’re saying?’ He screams out biting his tongue, accidentally, and spitting a mixture of saliva, blood and curses.
‘Listen, mzala, I don’t see concrete and tarmac. I see the plain grasslands of the savannah and acacia trees. I don’t see skyscrapers and drainage drains. I see the mighty Kilimanjaro, with its ice caps, the great table mountain, the valleys with the singing, golden brown, elephant grass, that looks like kinky dreadlocks on a Masai virgin girl, and flooded the roaring demon possessed Nile and Zambezi rivers. The rumbling thunder, flashing lighting, and violent storms that bring dew on the poisonous forest mushrooms. I don’t smell the automobile exhaust fumes, but the dry, ashy, smell of burning winter grass. The burning veldt that smells of death and anxiety.
I see the herds of animals, not human crowds walking aimlessly, herds of galloping giraffe, stripped zebra and elegant antelope, grazers and browsers. They work tirelessly forever optimistic about tomorrow. Feasting and reproducing. And when the dry season comes, with its dry and dusty winds, the land begins to mourn. Then the sun is relentless and tans the grasslands into a beautiful ugly brown. They despair and search for greener pastures. Their minds are always preoccupied with the basics of life. Feeding and reproducing. Give them food and they go silent. Little do they know that they are being fattened by the predators? The lions, cheetahs, gregarious wild dogs, leopards, pythons and crocodiles. The elite of the jungle.
The giraffes, zebras and various type of antelope head towards the greener pastures. They are excited but have only one hurdle – it is the turbulent flooded brown river – infested with vicious Nile Crocodiles. The gigantic reptiles wait on the banks, like huge tree trunks, looking harmless, mouths ajar and swarms of files flocking into their fatal Mecca. The grazers and browsers leap into the waters of demise, they believe in the power of numbers, physical strength! But the Crocodile prefer to use the intellect – the gang up and target one animal at a time. Their nail like teeth tearing into the stomach’s of their victims like papers in a shredder and the brown water turns red with blood. The blood of my totem.
Then we have the drooling hyenas and hideous vultures. Nature’s hideous looking cleaners. Bootlickers and opportunists. Never to be trusted as they can attack a weak and defenseless dying animal. Vultures are known to peck out the eyes of weary greedy tomb raiders lost in the desert. The scavengers always follow the predators and there is a symbolic love – hate relationship between them. The scavengers follow no rules, they thrive on anarchy, and they enjoy chaos. Crisis breeds gold and diamonds, Mzala!’
shouts the voice in the crowd.
‘Hours later magnifying glass gradually fades away, into other dimensions he cannot perceive. He realizes it is now dark. The crowd has gone back to the townships- to regain more strength – so that it comes back to the factories tomorrow. Only a tramp works, on a refuse bin, with a great amount of concentration that would make a yoga teacher green with envy. He feels very hungry but knows he has no money. He has to walk home – ten kilometers from the city centre. He sighs and looks at the evening stars but finds no answer. Living under tyranny is a painful existence. He begins the great trek home, afraid that he may be mugged on the way. Putting his hands in despair into his trench coat he realizes that he has touched something. His heart misses a beat. He is not sure whether it is a dollar note he could have forgotten or the phone number of an old time friend. He pulls out the object and realizes he has another twist. Another one for the road. SLQ
Farai Mpofu is a young Zimbabwean short story writer and poet.