excerpts: the written word

From the poem, “Conversation”, first published in Idiolect.

im like changing my name you probably wont like it
the idea of it or the name
both
oh i didnt know you didnt like our name
my name
right
you and mom gave it to me so its mine to change if i want
i see
im sixteen you know
i appreciate that
dont you want to know what it
im not sure
see you dont even want to know
well i do sort of but

ibis
pardon
its ibis now you know

ibis
yeah ibis

thats some kind of bird
uh huh
well it rhymes nicely with wallace hmm ibis wallace
no dad its just ibis

i dont understand
it doesnt need to rhyme with anything
sorry im not
its just one name like beyoncé

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From “Jim Begins to Consider Himself: A Performance in Ten Degrees”, first published in A Lamb:

My gross sales have grown, year over year, 9%
on average since 2015.
“That’s impressive.”
I’m in the Double Sapphire group now and I have a shot
at Double Diamond this year.
“I’m glad to hear that. That’s great.”
Can’t you do something for me?
“It’s not that simple. Sales performance in your business
is cyclical, but mortgage payments remain
the same over the whole renewal term.”
Someone like me shouldn’t still be living
in a poky bungalow in Port Moody.
“You’re too big a risk. Have you asked your parents
about co-signing?”
Don’t fucking insult me.
“Get out.”
I’m—
“I said get out.”…

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From “Mush-a Ring, Dum-a Do, Dum-a Da”, first published in Idiolect:

…One’s lying dead in the Cullingtree Road.
Another’s lying softly into a telephone receiver.
Still another—X—is lying in a different confessional,
   a crumbling host in his sweaty hand,
for he were a bold deceiver.

Given gaunt ones, stout ones, blood ties, marriage ties, Fathers,
daddies, His Grace, the push, the fall, the hole in the ground, a feral
corruption of the mystery of faith:
   Solve for X (if you must) but, in ainm Dé, do not
send for Captain Farrell.

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From the poem “Single Helix”, first published in Easy Street in 2016 and subsequently in A Lamb:

…Before dozing again, his eyes fall to his lap where
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man lies open
at page 127—where it had lain when he’d said a husky
and slurred “goodnight” aloud to the news anchor hours earlier:
At page 127, where he had underlined
Joyce’s reference to sin being a “twofold enormity”
a thousand days before at 2:00 am on another
desolate but sofer and rightly forsaken couch
in loamy Kerrisdale.

The CD player has been programmed to repeat.
The Lark Ascending makes its sixteenth quiet round,
like a weary postman. True sleep returns, if only fleetingly.
Then his BlackBerry alarm sounds: 6:00 am.

Day one of his trial awaits, as does the plaintiff’s written
submission that weakly responds to his carefully prepared
motion for summary dismissal. The plaintiff’s document lies
unopened and unhighlighted on the kitchen counter.
But there is time enough remaining for a mind like his—
time enough for a mind that can gear up from sorrow to law,
a race driver shifting confidently from the loud,
over-revving whine of third to the settled rumble of fourth
when the road straightens out ahead.

On this stretch of road, at least, he is Watson—barrister
and winning machine. Conqueror.

So begins another day.

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From “An Abecedary of Love.”, first published in Idiolect:

A moment is reached when the
Banbury cake that is fondness at last
catches fire. Admiration remains, as
does respect, as does high regard, as does the fine
embroidery of mannered speech. But this
febrile thing—a slow burn—glows and
grows, taking hold tentatively by quarter- and
half-inches, nurtured by small intimations, inching, inching,
igniting at last in mutuality…

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From the flash fiction story, “Shotgun Wedding: 1960”, first published in Litro (NY) in 2016 and subsequently in The Four-Faced Liar.

Ed and Giovanna should have paid Mrs. Pinsky’s fee.

The postcards reached their parents the same day the couple set sail on a cargo ship bound for Hong Kong, their bodies stuffed into a refrigerated container in a lower hold labelled “salt pork” in both Chinese and English.

Norman watched the Empire Peiping slip its lines just as his shift on the docks was ending. A tugboat nosed the vessel slowly out into Vancouver Harbour. It was a Wednesday and, as was their habit, Norman and Mrs. Pinsky would soon be nestled comfortably beside each other on her faded green sofa with their TV dinners balanced on their knees, waiting for The Honeymooners to come on.

“That Ralph Kramden—he’s such a card,” Mrs. Pinsky would say the minute the laugh track kicked in after the first gag.

“Isn’t he just, Ma,” Norman would almost always reply, never exactly sure of what “card” signified in this context but reflecting, this one time, that—like “honeymooners”—the word must carry more than one meaning.

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From the flash fiction story entitled “Unilateral Declaration”, one of six finalists in the flash fiction competition that ran in conjunction with the 2020 Bray Literary Festival,  Co. Wicklow, Éire. “Unilateral Declaration” was subsequently published in The Four-Faced Liar.

Facing northwest from Elver Avenue, our parlour window offered the most paltry of views. Red roof tiles luminous in the faint distance. A wee sliver of a glimpse really, nothing more. Roof tiles in the McCorley Road, Toomebridge, barely noticeable one street over, but enough still to register on my pulses. Red tiles keeping the rain away, holding the heat of the turf fire in, capping the small slap-brick house that wrapped its walls around Molly Mackeen in a warm, protective embrace.

I turned my young hand to poetry because there was nothing else for it.

Every week at Mass, a press of coats, scarves and boots carried us over the threshold of Our Lady of Lourdes, Moneyglass, both of us swept in on the same lumpen tide of simple faith. With good timing, I could join the surge and land up near enough to her to cough out a weak “Hullo, Molly Mackeen.” Near enough, yes. But every time I started to open my mouth, my pummelling heart would knock the voice right out of me. Just as it did when I passed her, vertiginous, in the corridors at St. Olcán’s High School in Randalstown…

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From the short story entitled “No Writers Were Harmed in the Making of this Whiskey,” first published in the Glasgow Review of Books in 2016 and subsequently in The Four-Faced Liar:

…Losing interest in his cartoon, Téadóir sets off for a wander, a red plastic ball clutched in his hand. The telephone rings. Looking up, startled by the sound, he remembers what must be done. The boy runs unsteadily to the kitchen, points to the telephone on the wall and pulls on Granda Jack’s shirtsleeve: “Ello! Ello! Ello!”

         Pointing earnestly at the “ello”—his word—he keeps on, more loudly: “Ello! Ello!” But there is no waking Granda Jack—or Uncle Art, whose cigarette has burned a glowing red hollow into the kitchen table. The smoke from it joins the greasy fug that is beginning to rise up from the blackening bacon in the pan on the cooker.

         The ringing finally stops, as does Téadóir in his effort to wake Granda Jack. He looks up at the smoke furls beginning to obscure the ceiling, then back at Granda Jack, and points again: “Uh-oh? Uh-oh?” Unheeded, his little brow knit with worry and incomprehension, the boy resumes his travels…

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From Ceann Dubh Dilis, a prize-winning short story that was first published in 1998 in Pottersfield Portfolio and which also appears Standing at an Angle to My Age:

For as long as I could remember, Mr. Pound had lived in the back bedroom. He wasn’t family (as my dad was quick to point out to anyone who came by). “He wasn’t family until we made him family,” my mother would always add. Mr. Pound was already eighty when he’d first come to live with us in Portaferry. It was 1952, the year I was born and the year he’d left the kettle on the gas ring, sending his own house up in a fiery blaze while he dozed, oblivious, in a shady spot in his back garden. Even the pumper trucks didn’t wake him—an old bachelor, his mind going queer, without a living soul to care or look after him.

“Some’d be content to take in a stray cat, but not your mother,” my dad would say, within her earshot.

“Catch yourself on, Lorcán,” she’d say back to him, gently. “Is that the example you want to be setting?” These were good-natured exchanges. Sometimes there were harsher words; low, muffled voices on the other side of a door.

Mr. Pound spent all of his time either in bed or in the pushchair my dad built for him with little cast-off wheels he’d brought home from work at the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast. In his more lucid moments Mr. Pound would ask me to manoeuvre him to the window so he could watch the birds. He would sometimes have me sit up on his lap and then point to them and tell me their names. He would also sing little snatches of old songs, bits of his own childhood dislodged by some stimulus not apparent to anyone around him.

“Clitherty,

Clatherty,

Out upon a Saturday,

In upon a Sunday morning.”

This particular fragment brought my mother running into the lounge from the kitchen, her hands red and dripping from the washing up, her face alight with excitement. “My father sang that to me, Ben! He was a weaver. They would sing that song at the beginning of each week when they changed the webs on the looms.” I could see that there was magic and mystery locked up inside Mr. Pound.

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From the short story entitled “Our Secret,” which was first published in Standing at an Angle to My Age.

“Stop squirming and sit up straight.”

Ron Downie was obsessed with posture. He loathed Bea’s sloping shoulders and the way she leaned over her plate (“like a squirrel with a nut”); he could see that Astrid was well on her way to developing the same habit.

“I’m sorry, Father.”

Astrid could not make herself comfortable on the shiny plastic seats of the hospital waiting room. She flipped the curled pages of a year-old Time magazine, half-reading an article about Duane Eddy and his favourite guitar. She wanted just to go somewhere and apologise to somebody for something.

With his thick, lumberman’s fingers Ron Downie turned the flimsy pages of his Bible slowly, a page every two or three minutes. He sat in his seat, his spine arrow-straight, the habitual set of his jaw grim.

Astrid could tell by the way the pages were piled higher on the right side than on the left that her father had sought refuge, as he so often did, in favourite passages from the Old Testament. More at home with swarms of locusts, floods and hellfire than with miracles of redemption, Ron Downie seldom consulted the pages of the New Testament in the supple King James that, through long years of travelling to and from the woodlot in his black lunch pail, had gradually been moulded by his thermos into a crescent shape.

Astrid looked up again at the clock. Like the clocks at school, it lacked a second hand but when she watched it closely she could detect barely perceptible movements in the minute hand that traced the impossibly slow, forward march of time and with it the endless wait for news. She tried to will the hand to move more quickly until it occurred to her that these minutes could be her mother’s last. She shifted in her seat and turned her head so that her father could not see her crumpling face.

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From a short story entitled “But No, Nothing” which received an Excellence in Contemporary Narrative Award in the 2014 Leonard Koval International Short Fiction Competition.  “But No, Nothing” appeared in the 2014 Gem Street anthology published in August, 2014 by Labello Press of County Tipperary, Ireland, and subsequently in The Four-Faced Liar.

A tap in the kitchen dripped with a merciless regularity. Its time signature differed from that of the equally regular ticking of Fr. Diarmuid’s old, hand-wound alarm clock. The ticking and the dripping merged and separated, merged and separated, contrapuntally, laying down a structure to which the priest’s disquiet could attach itself—a disquiet that consisted of doubts and reassurance that ebbed and flowed and ebbed and flowed within his troubled and sleepless heart and head.

He got up to urinate. He then shuffled into the kitchen and twisted the cold-water tap more tightly closed. He placed a balled-up dishcloth in a small saucepan and positioned it in the sink beneath the tap before making his way slowly back toward his bed. The cloth was soon sodden.

As a result of these ministrations the dripping took on a muted sound—a funereal sound—that wove its way still, in and out and in and out of synchrony with the ticking of the clock, the concordances coming now at more widely spaced and stately intervals.

Settling back into his bed, Fr. Diarmuid squinted at the clock face and saw that it read twenty past three. I could just take it to the far side of the canonica, he thought (“canonica” being the Italian translation for “rectory”—an exotic adornment to his vocabulary that he had proudly brought home with him from Rome after his priestly studies there many years before). But of course he couldn’t remove the clock to any distance. Lauds commenced at six-thirty and without it ringing close by he would run the risk of sleeping through, of not beginning his morning office punctually, as always, with these portentous words:

“O God, come to my aid.

 O Lord, make haste to help me …”

And so Fr. Diarmuid turned onto his side. In time an uneven, fitful sleep settled upon him. It continued until the hammer on the alarm clock sprang to action, provoking its little iron bells into an insistent fury of metallic sound, bringing the stub end of an unsatisfyingly short sleep to an abrupt and profane conclusion.