Categories
poetry

Freedom Day

Freedom Day!

Sweat at the club

against all the other

unvaccinated or semi-vaccinated youths,

but don’t go to France

unless you have ten days to spare afterwards,

because the Beta variant

that makes up three percent of cases

will get you

(including those islands

in the middle of the Indian Ocean

that we’d never even heard of

until last week).

Maybe we’d never even heard of them

because they’re not as troubled as Madagascar-

maybe they have roads

but no lemurs to film.

Maybe they’re not as rich as the Seychelles

or the Maldives

the island paradise(s)

oases

full of tiki huts

and smiling locals

grateful for your money

oh, so grateful-

as they pile the debris

of your single-use plastic

water bottles and sun cream

onto an island in the middle of the sea

to burn

out of sight, out of mind.

No, the Beta variant is dangerous,

oh, so dangerous,

we say

with no hint of irony

that we gifted the world Alpha

incubated Delta

then unleashed it on Europe

harbingers of doom

from our rocky little isle.

Maybe nobody looked at those figures-

Reunion Island is an insignificant speck, after all.

A speck that nobody checked.

Are we still supposed to believe

that any one of them knows

or has ever known

what they were doing?

Doesn’t it all feel like politics to you?

Point-scoring like Eurovision,

dick-swinging like Brexit

with a touch of European Championship machismo:

“You’re high-risk”

“You’re higher-risk”

“No, YOU’RE higher risk”

UK-vaccinated passengers avoid quarantine.

Yes, you heard that right, UK-vaccinated

even though it’s the same stuff.

Our airports would be overwhelmed, they say,

we wouldn’t be able to cope

we’re actively working on a solution

but we expect that Brits can

go off to Benidorm and Kos

and cook themselves

a fetching shade of lobster pink

while we turn our nose up at

EU QR codes

and airlines are gasping

absolutely gasping

for footfall.

Categories
poetry

The New Normal

Don’t make plans-

you can’t make plans

too much is uncertain

but you should learn to live with

the new normal.

Masks aren’t law

anymore

but you should definitely

maybe

think about wearing them

in all places,

most places,

or even some places.

Let’s not cower from this

he says

smugly-

the man with the mild symptoms

and the features of a bat

beams from the window of his

North London home.

He must have walked past the mural

of one hundred and thirty thousand hearts

and counting.

It’s the 2021 equivalent of saying

my granddad smoked fifty a day

and then lived

to the ripe old age of ninety-three,

so it can’t be all that bad for you,

or not as bad as they say.

Who’s ‘they’?

Who knows?

Get Covid and live longer!

Shake hands with them all

write your dissertation

from your parent’s sofa

summer school on Zoom

forget that your classmates (almost always)

have legs

or knees

or anything below their shoulders, really,

and three whole dimensions.

Categories
poetry

Sticky

Take a step back,

a long, sticky summer on hold,

not much of a summer at all,

like a hot day

when it’s cloudy and 90% humidity

you feel cheated.

It’s the kind of sticky that

clings to your skin after a shower

back to square one

hit the reset button

like waiting for rain on the forecast,

that keeps getting pushed back,

ruining plans

but not clearing the sticky.

Categories
Prose

A Short Story Told in Fragments

This week I’ve been attending the BCLT Summer School (British College of Literary Translators). I’m privileged enough to have gotten a scholarship through doing the Literary Translation course at UEA. Non-stop talks and workshops on creative translation Monday to Saturday! And somehow I’m still managing to teach and work on my dissertation in between. And what a perfect week to pick to be constantly on Zoom in the bakingly hot spare room, sun glaring through the glass? A heatwave week with temperatures pushing thirty degrees every day. I am English. Thirty degrees is ten degrees too high, if you ask me. On a beach in Crete? Thirty is splendid. On Zoom in Stowmarket? No, thank you.

Anyway, the creative writing workshop this morning was on fragmented short stories: short stories that the reader pieces back together by reading several subjective accounts. We worked small groups and had to pick a situation, and then write four police testimonies from different people in different voices, each not telling the whole truth or with something to hide. We picked a situation: a protest, during which a shop burns to the ground. I was the shopkeeper. This is my testimony. What am I hiding? That’s the question:


Shop burns down in Greytown: Shopkeeper’s testimony 

I was watching the situation unfold out of the front window of my shop all morning. People were wearing dark clothes, balaclavas and waving clubs and knives. It was all quite terrifying, really. Of course, I didn’t open up the shop that day, I wasn’t going to invite trouble. I sell furniture, so nothing was going to spoil if I stayed closed for one day, if you know what I mean. Of course, I can understand why they were angry, why they wanted to go out onto the streets that day, but whatever happened to peaceful protest, no masks, out in the open? 

I was inside, with the lights off, making used of the shop being closed during the day to do an inventory in the back room when, all of a sudden, I heard a humongous thud and a crash from out front. I’d pulled the bars across the shop window, so the brick hadn’t been able to completely smash through, but it’d made sizeable fractures in the shatterproof glass, like a spider’s web.  

At that point, I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t call the police, no doubt they were all busy with what was going on across the city that day – and, anyway, even if I had called you at that point, how would you have gotten to me in time? The protestors, or rioters by this point, were thick outside my doors like sardines in a tin and moving so slowly it could have been the highway to Woodstock! 

That was about when I started to smell the smoke. Lightly at first, like someone had burned toast. Then more and more strongly, like a BBQ gone wrong, and then I knew that someone had set fire to my shop. My shop, full of flammable, priceless antique furniture! I couldn’t have been more devastated. The shop was my life’s work, my father’s life’s work, my pride and joy! 

The fire was set at the front of the shop, around the door and the wooden windowframes. That’s where the smoke started pouring from first. I immediately knew it had to be one of the rioters. I tried to keep it at bay with the fire extinguisher on the wall, I emptied its whole contents, but the fire was just too strong for it. It greedily devoured all of that tinder-dry, antique wood. I had to abandon my shop and escape through the back door before things got too dangerous for me in there.  

The alley behind the shop is quite quiet, but I could still hear the distant shouts and screams of the protestors from the Main Street in front of the shop, like a pack of wild hyenas. I called the emergency services, I tried to get through to the fire brigade, but of course the line was always engaged. It was chaos all over the city that day. I had to watch as my livelihood burned to the ground.  

By the time the fire brigade arrived hours later, there was nothing left to save. There’s nothing left for me now but to just pick up the pieces and move on, I guess. But I hope your catch the bastard that did it. 

Categories
Prose

Microfiction: Metamorphosis II

I watched it happening from afar. There was no other way around it, no way to stay close to her.

She would cook in the sun, unabashed, unhurried, turning the bright pink of a ripe lobster. Her thin blue veins turned green and bulged from her skin like the ropes of a ship, and she shuffled prison-inmate circles in the garden. She would shush me to listen to the bees when I took my newspaper outside and tried to make conversation. She would close her eyes, tip her head back and smile at their low, robotic drone. I kept leaving bowls of food at her feet like offerings to the gods, but she wouldn’t even look at them. They went cold, solidified and attracted flies until I gave in and took them away again to save myself the tragic sight.

She used to be beautiful. Her eyes were like downturned almonds, peppered at the edges with a blush of freckles. Her hair was the soft, dark brown of ground coffee, her smile like opening the tin. She’d always hated her visible her ears were when she put her hair up in a ponytail or a bun, so she hardly ever wore it up. But I always liked it because it made her look like a forest mouse.

Categories
Prose

Microfiction: Metamorphosis

Somehow things just started getting slower. I found myself spending more time in the garden, stretching my arms out towards the sun. Instead of drinking, I found it much more refreshing to soak my feet in cold water, especially on those hot summer days when the heat seems to echo all around you. I inhaled all day and exhaled all night. I didn’t sleep, or not exactly, but I liked to rest standing up and, by the first light of dawn, my fingertips were often wet with dew.

I stopped eating, but I’m not sure when. Food just slowly became a memory. My stomach turned at the thought of scrambled eggs or even a banana. At first, he would still cook for me and leave the bowls close to where I stood, but then whisk them away again, days later, untouched.

The lazy hum of bees filled my days. And the sunlight. I would bask in its glow. Small animals would shelter in my shade. The bees would throb their way through the blossoms slowly replacing my hair.

When it rained, small drops would filter through my fingers and gather into larger drops before falling to the ground. Sometimes they would land on an insect like divine intervention. When it rained, I could feel my roots shifting, spreading downwards, searching.

That was after I’d stopped moving. My roots stopped me moving, pulled me towards the earth. I was enmeshed, a sentinel. My arms, my branches, would tilt slightly. My leaves would unfurl in the East first. I was a sundial.

At some point, I must have closed my eyes, but when I closed them, I could only see the universe, stretched out before me like a carpet or a Torah roll. A vast nebula, a tight weave of knots. Some of them were burning, some were growing, some were dying.

Categories
Uncategorized

Asymptote Issue: Summer 2021

The Summer 2021 issue of Asymptote has just dropped! (here)

There’s new free-to-read world literature in translation, with a focus on an ‘Age of Division’ for this edition. It’s the first edition of Asymptote that I’ve personally been a part of making, so I’m really excited.

Image preview

The Educator’s Guide we’ve been working on over the last three months will also be out in the next week or so – Free-to-download lesson plans on fiction, poetry and non-fiction for high school and university students, all based on contributions on the website!

Image preview

More than any other issue in recent memory, “Age of Division,” our Summer 2021 issue, also speaks to the current divisiveness of our times.

In Ethiopian writer Mulugeta Alebachew’s fiction, childhood memories are betrayed when the narrator returns home after a long time away only to find his friends “intently drawing family trees and working out ethnic background of people as if they worked for the cartography agency, and it was their task to draw boundaries.” Meanwhile, at a “time of infinite sadness,” diasporic Palestinian poet Olivia Elias speaks to us of “a life in the eye of the hurricane” and of “a country / engulfed in a fault of history.”

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see a country’s divides. This is the case in Lusine Kharatyan’s fiction comprising tweet-sized vignettes delivered in a brilliant deadpan, such as this zinger of an opening: “After 9/11 my American family decided to learn about other cultures. This is how I appeared in their home. I tell them about Armenia, they tell me about the Chinese guy they hosted before me.” It is also the case in Hwang Sok-yong’s memoir, in which he tells us of his return to North Korea “some forty-odd years after pretending to leave on a picnic”—but only after recounting at length his visit to a divided Berlin in 1985.

A name such as Abdushukur Muhammet’s in Sweden can be cause for ”unverbalised anguish” even as it recalls the “circular naan” of the poet’s homeland. For Bouchaib Gadir, however, names are a contested site of exile—that most painful of divisions: “When you live in a country that does not resemble you, / Your name becomes: Those ones.” Newly transplanted in Brooklyn, Chinese artist Zi Yi Wang recalls being “pulled between Eastern and Western ideologies . . . [longing] for belonging and identification”; as a result, both hybridity and a sense of history inform her beautiful assemblages of trash. Also an assemblage of sorts, Marius Ivaškevičius’s staging of historical figures like Chopin and Balzac in conversation with one another suggests that belonging can yet be cultivated on foreign soil.

Categories
poetry

Editing

Grey skies,

a mist of rain

as I rework my words-

open new tabs

close them again,

like re-rolling biscuit dough

when it splits in the middle.

Categories
Book Reviews Historical Fiction

Microreview: Hillary Jordan’s ‘Mudbound’

Mudbound: Amazon.co.uk: Jordan, Hillary: 8601404815065: Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Think To Kill a Mockingbird, add a few more convincing African American voices, and a lot more mud. Spellbinding.

Categories
poetry

Transit

In transit

Shuddering, shaking

Balancing my laptop on one knee

In transit

at a crossroads

as the summer refuses to warm up

and my words stilt themselves on the screen

What chance do I have?

Half-Romani

no family money

Brexit, COVID

torn from the continent

stuck between two worlds

in this green and pleasant land.