Call for November Mss. Disasters

For our November 2022 issue, WordCity Literary Journal will turn its eyes on disasters: Natural disasters such as storms. Human-made as with Climate Change. Political. Personal. From the macro to the micro.

While we leave this theme wide open to interpretation, our hearts are looking towards Iran with grief and hope as its people protest against the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini by the regime’s morality police. We think of Pakistan and the terrible flooding, and the humanitarian needs there, while keeping our thoughts with others in the paths of storms. And, of course, Ukraine, and the ongoing war and war, and war and violence everywhere.

We thank all contributors in advance for considering us with your work, as well as our readers. Without you, there would be no reason to keep gathering and sharing the voices that make up our journal.

Submission Guidelines

WordCity Literary Journal. September 2022.

©®| All rights to the content of this journal remain with WordCity Literary Journal and its contributing artists.

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor. Non-fiction Editor Olga Stein

olga-stein89

Where We are Now

Putting together an issue that is critical of the new anti-abortion laws in the USA has been wrenching for us at WordCity. It has been exactly two years since the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and look where we find ourselves as women and as members of a society that sees so much of our present and future reflected in the politics and laws of our powerful neighbour, the United States. We are mourning the reversal of Roe v. Wade (decided in 1973) by the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling of June 24, 2022. Despite life-long efforts by activists and legal authorities like Justice Ginsburg, work that was meant to shift the social and political course of American society, the country is once again at a precipice.

          Each of us has had her own personal demons to face down in regard to reproduction, pregnancy, the risks of pregnancy, and the consequences of bearing or not bearing children. For those of us who could truly choose because our bodies were able to manage pregnancies with only minor foreseeable risks — well, that choice still left a great deal out of our control. We were still dependent on good luck, biologically speaking; we were dependent on obstetricians’ availability and their willingness to acknowledge us as people for whom pregnancy, whether our first one or not, was exhausting or anxiety-provoking, or otherwise stressful in a myriad ways; we were dependent on those, such as partners or parents, to be there after the child’s birth, and there — emotionally and financially — for the years it would take to get past infancy, then early childhood, and, following that, the tricky years of adolescence (just imagine for even a moment the frightening prospect of not having someone stable and caring to count on); we were dependent on the good will, the empathy and understanding of our employers or any individual involved in our efforts to further our careers (how often is that faith in a new and not-so-new mother absent when it comes to hiring decisions!); we were dependent on our material circumstances working out for us so that we had the confidence that we would be able not just to feed and house a child (no easy feat given the rising costs of rent, utilities, and food), but also spare the child the indirect experience of terror to which each of us would we subject if for any number of easily imagined reasons (like illness, sudden disability, or job loss) we were unable to provide those essentials.

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Fine Art

Miroslava Panayotova. A gallery of women’s moods

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Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter

Prelude

This issue is devoted to “woman”.

“Nature’s Child” by Anjum Wasim Dar tells the tale of a mother’s love for her developmentally-disabled child.

“Someone I Used to Know” by Heather Rath confronts the complexities of following one’s needs wherever they might lead.

“Bulletin” by Michael Edwards is a tongue-in-cheek tale of aliens, one that perhaps becomes plausible in today’s world.

Finally, the title of Rachael Fenton’s “While Women Rage in Winter” to my mind says so much on the female migrant’s condition.

Anjum Wasim Dar

Anjum Wasir Dar

Nature’s Child

Tied to the armchair with a broad brown leather belt, his fists clenched, muttering, gasping unintelligibly under his breath, angry at something or somebody, an unhappy frown shadowing his brow, hair cropped short, feet bare and sharply white.
She recalled the child’s first image. Everyone called him Tari, he was always around the house, trying to walk along the wall, holding on to it for support. or sitting tied to the chair.

She never saw him run.

Maybe he could not. He never went to school either. She realized this, months, and years later. Then she heard someone say, “mentally retarded child, needs treatment. Small doses of the drug, Phenobarbitone.”

It was a disturbing evening when he fell flat on his face and hit the side of the bed. Sharp cut in the forehead let out a gush of dark red blood. She was terrified, she started crying at seeing him bleed. She felt his pain. Why did she feel so?

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Heather Rath

Heather tansley 3 a (2)

Someone I Used to Know

Bounding with pizzazz across the stage in a tight bikini (or was it a superb body paint job?), she shook her bountiful breasts, wiggled her tight ass. Leaned provocatively over the lusting males in the first row.

On assignment for a small-town weekly, (you’re a woman. Visit one of those sex shows. Interview one of their stars. Tell me how she got started. Why she’s doing it. Any business angle, too, but y’know, make it titillating), I watched, captivated. ‘Raquel’ strutted her stuff to a wild and crazy Calypso beat as multi-coloured strobe lights flashed around the club’s dim interior. The smell of fried foods: greasy hamburgers, sizzling potatoes in an oil-soaked wire basket intermingled with the stench of stale beer, created an aura of debauchery.

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Michael Edwards

MichaelEdwards

 

Bulletin:  A Housewife In Scranton, Pennsylvania

A housewife in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has reported to local police that she was abducted in broad daylight last month by four-foot, gray-skinned humanoids from outer space.

After taking her onboard their spacecraft, the aliens communicated with the woman telepathically, she claims, explaining to her the following. 

  1. On their planet, an epidemic is causing all the children to die before they reach puberty.  
  2. The epidemic has been caused by a random genetic mutation beyond the ability of their scientists to control.
  3. Their race is dying out. 
  4. The aliens therefore decided they should secretly visit the planet Earth to breed with its women.
  5. They chose to visit Earth because of the beauty, fertility, and lovingkindness of its women—in each category of which, Earth-women surpass all other females in this sector of the universe. 
  6. By reproducing with Earth-women, they hope to create a new hybrid race—more intelligent, rational, and calm than the human; bigger, stronger, and healthier than the alien. 

At that moment in the conversation, according to her, two of the creatures approached the woman and held her by one arm each.  She remembers that they peered at her through enormous, glossy, jet-black eyes, which seemed “to look right through [her],” and that their touch felt dry, soft, and spongy, like that of a mushroom.

Despite the aliens’ repeated attempts to calm the woman by telepathy, she was frightened so badly that she fainted.  When she woke, she was sitting upright in the driver’s seat of her Ford Escort automobile, which was parked in her driveway at home.  She found this particular fact strange because, as she states, the aliens had originally taken her from her kitchen, where she had been standing over the sink, peeling a potato.

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Rachel J Fenton

Rachel Fenton

While Women Rage In Winter

I don’t want to occupy a place of importance. Knowing other people like to harbour their children’s swim gear safe from spray under the reef-like shelter of this plastic table, I leave one chair between me and it. In essence the seat’s already taken; there’s a small piece of putty or modelling clay, grey-white as a mushroom, moulded to the shape of the inside of a child’s hand, the curved drills of the fingers identifiable by their prints. I sit. The empty pairing now to my left hint at my isolation; I place the four books I’ve borrowed from the library here with my satchel farthest away. A small part of me thinks this shows confidence, an outward symbol of occupancy, and I can move them if I have to.

I’ve had this satchel since I was eleven. And the seats, blue moulded plastic, uncomfortable as they are and too small for my gangling frame, remind me of school. (What’s the weather like up there? peers used to shout). They amplify my aloneness to make me feel strangely small and conspicuous. It’s a peculiar meeting of oppositions. Except for one strip an inch long, thin as a baby’s eyelid, as soft as her earlobe my satchel is cracked, worn, like the soles of my feet. I should take better care of my feet but they’re at the far end of my ‘to do’ list, out of sight, far from mind. They aren’t as tired as those now padding into sight. Supported only by flat flip-flops, jandals they call them here, sun-greyed: an old woman with a small boy. He’s carrying a large holdall. I move my satchel. The woman sits. Thinking her charge might want to sit also, I pick up my books. The woman turns to me, says,

‘You don’t need to move your books, dear. Thank you.’ Her accent is neat, curt like birdsong, it’s specific yet impossible to locate. I say,

‘They’re only books; they haven’t earned their seat, the rest.’

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Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein

Angela Rebrec

Bio Photo Angela Rebrec 2020

The Thunder of Galloping Horses

 

       Sometimes a knocking at the door is just the wind. A look through the peephole will confirm this.

 

       They argue about the blood test, the requisition on the fridge held up for the past six and a half weeks by a magnet that boldly yells ALASKA in multi-coloured all-caps.

        “What’s the point,” she growls at him, “It’s not like I’d do anything about it.” She hops into the car and drives towards the lab at the local strip mall, the creased requisition on the seat beside her like an unwanted passenger.

 

       Barely a fortnight after fertilization and the heart begins to form. By the fifth week the heart starts to beat and divides into chambers. At six weeks, blood flows inside the body. By ten weeks, when she’s lying on the mid-wife’s couch and the Doppler wand comes to a stop at her belly’s bottom right side, they hear their baby’s own heartbeat.

 

       A knock at the door can be ignored for only so long. The wind can stand there for days.

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Olga Stein

olga-stein89

Religious Revanchism in the USA and that Old Antipathy for Women

Anyone committed to educating about or protecting civil rights will see the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the US Supreme Court on June 24 of this year as a severe reversal of decades’ worth of social progress. From the standpoint of legal scholars, it is an alarming trend among conservative members of the Supreme Court toward “new originalism.” They also explain that this particular — and until recently, idiosyncratic — approach to interpreting the Constitution was largely a response to civil rights gains made in the 1960s and 1970s. Originalism of this stripe is a means of pushing back against the changes that have been transforming American society since then. Moreover, as the overturning of Roe v. Wade so acutely demonstrates, the significance of this interpretative strategy is that it constitutes an attack on democracy or the founding “idea” of America, its promise of individual safety, prosperity, and liberty for all citizens.

            A great deal in the way of focused scrutiny of the overturning of Roe v. Wade is called for, certainly. Numerous in-depth critiques on the resurgent alliance between the law and religion in the USA do exist, but outside of feminist writing there’s a paucity of attempts to suss the historical roots of the anti-abortion stance in consti­tu­tional liter­al­ism (or more appropriately, “fundamentalism”). It’s imperative, then, that we acknowledge these roots and pin down some of their salient features: American-Christian patriarchy and its indelible chauvinism. A few readers may be surprised to learn here that legal scholars point to Salem’s witch trials as vital lessons concerning procedural failures to protect basic rights.[i] Yet even these experts don’t do enough to lay bare the connections between American Christian conservatism, classical Christian theology (as it crystallized by the Middle Ages especially), and the ways that the appearance and behaviour of the “second sex” continue to be categorized or typecast. I arrive at something like a historical perspective on the reactionism underlying the bans on abortion below. However, I begin with an rundown — temporally narrower — of what the elimination of a 50-year precedent is and isn’t about at present.

            First and foremost, the Supreme Court’s ruling isn’t about protecting the unborn child. If protecting children was a real concern, as countless researchers, journalists, and politicians in the US have argued, there would be far more effective legislation to limit access to firearms. More importantly, single mothers and working class families would automatically be eligible for a host of protections, including guaranteed housing. Health care would be universally available to children and parents of infants and school-aged children. There would also be legislated provisions shielding mothers from job loss or economic hardship. Broad forms of assistance for children and their parents would no doubt be an encumbrance on public funds, but wouldn’t it be only logical to offer such security (and shouldn’t all children born in the USA be instantly entitled to it?)—that is, if infants’ and children’s well-being were the real purpose of anti-abortion laws? Wouldn’t such measures make eminent sense, especially since a hefty percentage of people who experience unplanned pregnancies come from economically challenged communities, are minors, or have been subject to some form of abuse in their surrounding environments?

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Domnica Radulescu

picture radulescu

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m from during a Gynecological Exam

In general, don’t ask me where I’m from, all right? Don’t tell me about my accent and how it’s cute and interesting, or that it’s so cool I come from such and such a place and how you know another person from my country or a neighboring country, who is your sister-in-law’s nanny or cleaning woman or dentist. Control yourself. Keep your selfish curiosity about my origins and accent and where I’m from. I haven’t asked you about any of that because truly I don’t give a damn. And neither should you give a damn about where I’m from. Don’t ask just so you can establish your Americanness and my foreignness; just so you can feel good about being interested in other cultures; just so you can tell the next person with an accent that you met another person with an accent; or so you can tell your sister-in-law that you met someone else from the same country as her cleaning lady. Really now. Why would you need to know about my origins and my accent, unless you are a linguistic anthropologist studying accents in the English language, and you are working on some study about the sociopolitical or ethnographic importance of accents.

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Susan Glickman

Susan Glickman

The End

A dear friend had to put her dog down recently, and in commiserating with her I found myself reflecting, not for the first time, about the inconsistency between our society’s attitude to the silent suffering of our pets and that we maintain towards the (not always silent) suffering of our human companions. Too often I’ve watched people I love endure treatments that don’t work until they are ultimately consigned to “palliative care” – which may be, in fact, neither palliative nor caring. For example, a nurse in one such facility explained that she had to ration morphine “because it is addictive,” despite the fact that the patient she refused to give it to was my dying 85-year-old mother, who had insufficient time left in which to become an addict.

Veterinarians advise us when it is time to say goodbye to our pets, confident that they can read their body language. They believe, and we usually agree, that it is truly compassionate to ease animals into a painless death rather than forcing them to carry on until whenever their bodies finally collapse. We hold them and comfort them and tell them we love them, and then we let them go. But doctors do not recommend this for our friends and relations. On the contrary, most physicians will encourage us to try whatever procedures are available to ward off the inevitable.

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Literary Spotlight.

Grandmaster in Flash!
Michael Loveday in conversation with Sue Burge

Michael-AUTHOR PHOTO 3

This month I’m so pleased to be interviewing Michael Loveday, an expert in flash fiction and, in particular, the novella-in-flash.  As a poet, I’ve often wondered if I could transition to prose, and Michael’s journey has given me inspiration and reassurance!

Michael, could you describe the moment when you first thought, “I’m a writer” or “I want to be a writer”?  Was it a gradual revelation or a sudden epiphany?

I remember having to write a book review for a journal, about 10 years after I’d begun writing, and I wasn’t especially looking forward to it. I said to myself: I will sit down for one hour in a café with a pen and a blank page and complete the review within that time. I knuckled down to it, wrote the review in what I felt was a creative way, and left the café elated that I’d completed a kind of creative “assignment” under time pressure. I remember having the thought: “Yes, I’m a writer now!” Which is kind of amusing in hindsight. I’m not sure it was the greatest review, but the feeling within me was clear. And yet it arrived 10 years after I’d first started writing. So I guess it was a very slow, gradual onset that led to a belated awakening.

You started off as a poet, establishing the only magazine in the UK dedicated to the sonnet, 14 Magazine, which is still running under a different editor.  What attracted you to poetry?  Do you still write it?  What aspects of poetry helped you to transition to the world of flash fiction and the novella-in-flash?

My first poem (as an adult, as opposed to the dabbling I’d done in English classes at school) was a response to a canal-side walk I’d undertaken with my father, at a time (back in 2001) when he’d just been through a health scare. I was going through my own health difficulties at the time and our walk really imprinted itself in my mind – both the emotions of the conversation and also the physical setting of the canal. I don’t really understand why I chose to write a poem about it, rather than a short story, or a piece of reflective writing – I wasn’t even reading poetry at the time. So that aspect of the impulse remains a mystery. Anyway, the poem happened, and I got hooked. It was a way of distracting and entertaining myself during my recovery, and then I just kept going.

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Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy

Michèle Sarde. Translated from the French by Dana Chirila

MichèleSarde

Domnica Radulescu’s Dream in a Suitcase, an extraordinary story of our time, surfing on the geography of exile

Can a dream travel in a small suitcase and eventually become reality?

To answer this question, writer Domnica Radulescu puts on paper a gripping account of her life and her writing. In the 80s, the narrator left her native Romania with a small suitcase containing a few summer things, a first volume of short stories entitled “Yes but life”, and a legal visa for Italy. Later, she will fulfill her destiny as a refugee in America, then as a global citizen of a free country. This novel about exile and the kingdom, about nostalgia for the lost homeland and a fearful, hard-earned access to a new homeland, about loneliness and the sense of exclusion, ends with that form of resilience that is the writing of a book, then its publication—a universal homeland, a planetary homeland made of all the small belongings that constitute our countries of birth and adoption. Only art can unify in an identical nostalgia each of our individual lives that we must live to the full before the Great Departure.

As in a fairy tale, the dream cooped up in the small suitcase that the young Romanian woman carries away from a country where she cannot live freely will lead the reader into a zigzag of adventures, on the roller coaster of the back-and-forth between her native country and her adoptive country, in a frantic odyssey whose Ulysses is a woman in search of an Ithaca constantly within reach, yet just beyond her grasp.

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Livi Michael

Livi Michael

Woman Running in the Mountains; Yuko Tsushima (New York Review Books: 2022)

This novel, first published in 1980, begins with a section called simply, Midsummer. On the first page, the central character, Takiko Odawa, is woken by labour pains. She sets off alone and on foot from her parent’s house without waking them, to the hospital, where she gives birth to a baby boy.

We learn that her pregnancy is the result of a brief affair with a married man, and is a source of shame to her parents. Her mother has repeatedly suggested that she should have an abortion or give the baby up while her abusive father reacts with violence, regularly beating his daughter. There are telling details of the deprived neighbourhood in which she lives, and Takiko’s refusal to walk with her head down. Thus far, we appear to be in the territory of social realism, or naturalism. Tsushima has a lot to say about attitudes, customs and regulations concerning women and pregnancy in late twentieth century Japan, the socially and legally enforced prejudice against single parenthood.

However interesting this is, it is not all this novel has to offer. In her introduction, Lauren Groff says that the text offers the reader ‘astonishing, glittering moments of wonder’ while never forgetting the darker details of poverty and discrimination. She suggests that ‘the ferocious truth of this book’ is that out of the daily struggle with drudgery ‘greatness arises.’

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Gordon Phinn

GordonPhinnPhoto

Books Not for the Beach

Books Referenced:
This Is Not a Pity Memoir, Abi Morgan (HarperCollins 2022)
A Life in Light, Mary Pipher, (Bloomsbury 2022)
The Organist, Mark Abley (University If Regina Press 2019)
The Last Days of Roger Federer, Geoff Dyer (Canongate 2022)
They Have Bodies, Barney Allen (ed. Gregory Betts: University of Ottawa Press 2020)
This Time A Better Earth, Ted Allen (ed. Bart Vautour: University of Ottawa Press 2015)
The Abortion Caravan, Karin Wells (Second Story Press 2020)
The Freedom Convoy, Andrew Lawton (Sunderland House 2022)
Solace, Eva Kolacz (Black Moss Press 2021)
Apricots of Donbas, Lyuba Yakimchuk (Lost Horse Press 2021)

Books Not for the Beach

 (Excerpt) The recent reversal on abortion rights by the US Supreme Court has returned the spotlight to civil rights issues we thought resolved decades ago.  The tributaries to this resuscitated river of raging patriarchy are many, and deserve a deeper study that I can give here, but of interest to Canadian readers is the recent account by Karin Wells of 1970’s The Abortion Caravan, where a couple of vans and  a car with approximately seventeen women, made their way across the country from Vancouver to Ottawa to alert the populace and then Liberal government lead by Pierre Trudeau to the plight of the many women dying from botched backstreet abortions and the dire necessity for the loosening of restrictions.  Such were the times, an epoch still smarting from the fifties’ commie paranoia, that these women liberationists were seen as dangerous lefties by the RCMP and their progress carefully monitored for any eruptions of threatening radicalism.  Don’t forget this is 1970, (about five months before the eruption of the October Crisis and the invocation of the War Measures Act), when long distance phone calls and the odd newspaper headline were the paltry means of news transfer as the women made their way through the prairie provinces and into Ontario, gathering more supporters along the way.

     Women’s Liberation groups were well established in many towns and cities by this point, but this seems to have been their first collective action and the growing pains of diverse competing agendas, with some looking to smash the stranglehold of patriarchy and others the complete overthrow of capitalism, now looks quaint and naïve.  Now we might man the barricades while making plans for next weekend.  Yet their bravery and determination in the face of a government satisfied with the previous year’s establishment of therapeutic abortion committees in hospitals to which women could appeal, only through their doctors of course, has to be admired.  It should be noted that approximately 19 out of 20 requests were refused.  And in the face of the US anti-Vietnam protests, huge after the shootings at Kent State, their own protest seemed somewhat insignificant, even to them in their fervour.  But they followed through and wound up in Ottawa with hundreds joining their march to 24 Sussex Drive, where they spontaneously squatted on the lawn and eventually deposited the symbolic coffin, topped with those gruesome reminders of suction pumps, knitting needles and lysol, on the porch of the Prime Minister’s residence for the grand irreversible gesture.  This was more or less repeated in the following days in Parliament, where, with fake id’s, ladylike clothing, white gloves and hidden chains they quietly occupied the public galleries and began to shout their slogans one by one, confusing security and bringing debate to a halt and humiliating headlines to the following days’ papers.

     Their efforts, mostly self-funded and what you might call barebones, certainly brought public attention to their cause, although the laws were not modified for many years, those same years during which Henry Morgentaler repeatedly challenged the status quo with his independent clinics.  With this book author Wells has served the cultural history of Canada well and with honour, reminding us of the long struggles until the repeal, under then new Charter of Rights in 1988, of the shaming and injury of women seeking to return control of their bodies from those male elites who assume they know better.

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Congratulations to Marthese Fenech on the Completion of her Knights of Malta Trilogy!

Marthese Fenech - Author

With her brave and capable women characters, Mar’s historical fiction, and Mar herself, embody the spirit and strength our September theme and we couldn’t be more proud to present not only a poem by Mar, previously featured in WCLJ’s very first issue, but this spread featuring all three books in The Knights of Malta trilogy. Congratulations to Marthese Fenech, our brilliant, fierce and unwavering friend who is also our beloved “fucking hurricane”!

Continue to poem, Knights of Malta and more about Marthese Fenech

Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea

Romana Iorga

Romana Iorga

You Never Wanted It Anyway

1.

This evening drips languorous
poison into my veins.

You tilt the blue 
shade away from your pillow.
My shadow 

leaps on all fours
onto the wall, hangs upside 
down by its nails,

sprints across the ceiling.

Outside, the sky is burning,
a mad woman in her twilit garden.

2.

Sinking deep is almost too easy.
It’s like dropping a coin
in a well. It’s like watching it 

fall, listening for the plonk 
that never comes.

Your mouth twists when you say them,
those words you rarely mean.

After the shower, I take pictures
of footprints on the floor,
a presence that takes no time 

to disappear.

3.

Last fall we strung a see-through tarp
between our cherry trees
to catch the fruit.

We caught the rain instead.
The cherries lolled about
like eyeballs
inside the sagging paunch.

And so, we lay under the pool 
of rain, stabbing its heavy 
belly to make it bleed,

the water warm, already breeding 
flies, or something worse than flies,
something without a name.

Maybe we lost it then, 
what neither of us wanted.

For it was lovely, that distorted 
sky, the two of us sufficient 
unto it. We laughed at moving 

shadows while the sun
erased the remnants of what 
nearly was, or could have been,

then wasn’t.

Continue to 2 more poems

Lisa Reynolds

Lisa Reynolds

Haiku									
his seed
planted 
without consent

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Dakarai Mashava

Dakarai Mashava

Bitter Sweet
(For my granny Mbuya Kwenda on her 92nd birthday)

What a beautiful sight to behold
You atop the giant mountain of time
Looking back into time
Aeon upon aeon
Sucking in both happy and sad memories
Remembering the bountiful harvests that made you an envied farmer
Remembering too your people who fell by the wayside
Your face turns ashen as you remember three from your own womb that you outlived

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Mansour Noorbakhsh

Mansour-Snow-2020 (resized)

forbidden fruit
A response to the terrorist attack against Salman Rushdie

pick the forbidden fruit up
even if modern slavery 
whether religious or materialist 
advertises a forever heaven 
and teaches to ignore a garden 
planted by a storm 

we all were from the mass graves
though our graves have been separated 
by barbed wires,
each mass grave on one side of that

but still, we can sing,
barbed wires never separate the songs

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Todd Matson

Todd Matson

The Knight

She shouldn’t be here?

Are you referring
to how she shouldn’t
have survived being born so
premature only to prematurely
lose her mom at age 4 when she had
to go live with her aunt where she was
mentally, emotionally, verbally, physically
and sexually abused by her uncle from 4 to 14,
and not for lack of trying, failed to off herself twice?

Are you alluding to how,
at 14, she shocked the doctors
and nurses by waking up in ICU after
nearly succumbing to sepsis from the coat
hanger she used to take her life into her own
hands when her aunt and uncle deprived her of
stopping her uncle’s seed from growing inside of her?

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Paweł Markiewicz

Paweł Markiewicz

In the bewitched aviary

The sonnet according to Mr. Shakespeare

Helots muse about moony Golden Fleece of the condor.
Drudges think of the dreamy eternal dew of the hen.
Philosophers ponder on winged fantasy of the crow. 
Kings ruminate on a picturesque gold of the jay. 

Priests contemplate the dreamed, soft, meek weird of the woodpecker.
Masters daydream about nice, marvelous songs of the tern.
Soothsayers dream of fulfilled gold of the yellowhammer.  
Knights philosophize about poetic dawn of the wren. 

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Anne Sorbie

Anne Sorbie

Damselflies

What if we women
all met in the 
Garden of Eden

stretched our arms 
wide as branches 
stood together 

embracing our art
with joy

What if we flew
down to the river
to kneel

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Laura Sweeney

Laura Sweeney

MEDITATION ON CAREENING

If you are careening toward the darkness
standing at the intersection of New
Beginnings and Old Era Road, confused
about how to recover from a rut
remember bad shit happens but bitches
who are bad bounce back.  Walk the tidepool
against the current.  You do not have to 
be discreet reserved or level-headed.
You do not have to be whimsical or 
calculated.  Or thrash so hard you’d think
your arms would be buff from paddling
though you’re no closer to casting out 
into the sea.  No.  You only have to
know there’s no safe harbor waiting. You
only have to release your wild poet’s hair. 

Continue to 2 more poems

Anjum Wasim Dar

Anjum Wasir Dar

Famished Femininity

Lift the latch and
you will find cracks
in the door, scarred
traces of hot tempered
rackets-

sad sorrowful echoes of
screams, slaps and strikes,
in the tender dwellings of
famished femininity-

whose chest is crammed
with refrains of ugly curses
profane, drafted with hatred
mundane-


beauty’s blend for care
created for eternal company
stays abused spared not
why?

who will cut the strings
of human bondage
lacerant tortured
Suffering Silent Cry!

What was ancient
ignorant and abolished
made eloquent and sacred

Open the door and you will find
famished femininity current
in countless fetters

slowly visibly tabescent-

Why-

Continue to 2 more poems

Alene Sen

alene sen

control

throw a net
wait and see
       catch me
       trap me
       cage me
i am more than meets the eye
i flit
i flutter
i want to fly
you know little of what you keep
take a pause and look at me
see the tears trickle down
hear my heartbeat
      POUND 
      POUND 
      POUND
i want out! 
you hear me shout
i am not a thing to train
but a person with a brain
head lifted, i proclaim
        with thoughts
        with words
        with action
do not snuff my spirit
with ideals of perfection 
pass me the key
so i may set myself free
       from lies
       from abuse
       from disguise
i will stretch my wings 
soar to the sky
you will see
i am beautiful
being free
being me

Continue to 2 more poems

Halima Juma Adam

Halima Juma Adam

A ray of hope

A sunshine at a cloudy day
A light in the dark
A drop of cold water
On a hot-dry sunbathed skin
At the heart of a sunny day
In the middle of sandy desert
Where everything feels cruel

A hope in the misery
A relief in the pain
A breath in the suffocation
A strength in the weakness
That’s all one dreams
When the days look blur
The body feels numb
The emotions feel blue
The thoughts are harsh
The voices speak hate
And everything you touch
Feels like its rejecting
The mere sight of you

A ray of hope
Can be anything 
Anything you had given hope in
And suddenly, you get surprised by it
It can be an acceptance
That you have long waited for
It can be an arrival of someone 
Or something that seemed impossible
It can be just a thought you had forgotten about
A face in your mind that got lost
In between the dark thoughts

A ray of hope
Is what we all need
When darkness visits
And seems to not be leaving
Anytime soon

Continue to another poem

D. R. James

D. R. James

Epigraph

Poems are never completed—
they are only abandoned.
—Paul Valéry

So as I begin this one—
vowing as an experiment
not to give in to the vice
of revision, that sumo
of manipulation I so try
to apply to my life—
I wonder where I’ll leave it.

Will it be in some sun-warmed clearing,
a rocky outcropping in an old pine forest?
And will I have set out earlier
this morning with getting there in mind?
Or will it perhaps fall out of my pocket
along a downtown sidewalk
and blow a few feet
until it lodges under a parked car,
the puddle there and the dark
intensifying the metaphor:
a poem’s being abandoned?

Thus bookended by country and city,
both speculations in future tense,
the claim neglects the unfolding—
as if completion weren’t
every word as it emerges,
means and ends at once.

The cone is not container
of future tree. It is cone.
Nor is an old cone empty. 

Continue to 2 more poems

Susmit Panda

SusmitPanda

God

I found you dying of thirst in the woods.
You would not have a draught of water. Only
Thick sips of gore, the gore of kids & birds
Or human gore would slake your thirst. So, coldly,
I tore into my brother's brain & scooped
A chunk of flesh & pulped it on your lips
& yelled around your savage body, groped
My women, kept you in our bushy cribs
& lulled you into sleep. You grew in sleep,
You shed the fur upon your body, then
Ascended to the sky, from there to peep
At us with angels round you, star, moon, sun…
You disappeared. But I wait in the dust.
Your name coruscates while I die of thirst.

Continue to 2 more poems

Josephine LoRe

Josephine LoRe

bereft
in that photograph
you are standing on nonno’s knees
pyjamaed feet
his hands encircling you
steadying you 

the first boy in the family
after three daughters
three granddaughters
the first boy

        he was sixty-two

Continue Reading

Eva Tihanyi

Eva Tihanyi (1)

DESPITE EVERYTHING

For Gloria Steinem


Despite everything we keep going
backward, believe always that
we’re further ahead than we are.

We forget that if the sun hits it just right,
even the robin casts a shadow.

The story exceeds us, embitters
and enslaves, ennobles and enables,
and the darkness knows no borders.

Hope is a form of planning, you say.
Don’t agonize. Organize.

Despite everything
we’ll keep going.

Continue to another poem

Irma Kurti

Irma Kurti

Under my blouse

The child I’m holding in my arms
is not mine and will never be.
Her head leans against my chest;
her stare is fixed; she’s falling asleep.

Her hand touches my hair;
her little fingers mingle with mine.
Minutes ago, we laughed together;
under the rhythm of rain, we danced.

In an instant she moves–searching
for something under my blouse. 
I’m not her mother and I’ll never be,
I swallow my tears; I don’t want to cry.

Continue Reading

Geraldine Sinyuy

GE500

I Rise

I rise above every sickness,
I dwell in the realm of good health.
I rise above every stagnation,
I dwell in the realm of progress.
I rise above every hatred,
I dwell in the realm of love.
I rise above every anger,
I dwell in the realm of happiness.
I rise above mediocrity,
I dwell in the realm of excellence.

Continue Reading

Adela Sinclair

Adela Sinclair by Piaskowski

Leave of Absence

Born with the weight of a younger brother on his head,
dad traversed an ocean after his brother.
Piccolo sus piccolo jos -the map is made for us.
Bear witness to the geographic degradations, the erosions
in valleys and the quieting of rivers, deltas and estuaries.
All or some traces of immigrant trauma remains 
floats in my head, with neurons that fire away blatantly
to kill my vision and increase the delusions that can kill me.
From father to son to daughter, the manic-depression 
took hold streaming cascades of messages from the inflamed
brain, the over soaked brain, the underwater brain, to me.
I put an end to it. The shaman had to see me in Orlando on 
his property. I tell father that I am visiting a Christian friend
and he buys him expensive chocolates and drives me to the airport.
Assimilation of the immigrant is the burden of the children.
Ones who face it, take on the lifting of the burden and pushing 
the brother off their shoulders, so they have a chance at walking
a straight line in life. Yet nothing is as straight and arrow.
The spine curves inward at the base, from an accident at the age of 10.
Broken coccyx, and people have been trying to kill me since I was born.
I love the language of the enemy, I speak it well. I am immersed in 
transactional speech from early teenagehood. I buy my vowels and 
roll them inside my mouth to bide my time, I pronounce the truth
in the burden that buries daughters and sons, brothers and sisters,
alike. Just like neighbors pronounced our names, Pacurar, to the secret
police behind closed doors. Dad wanted a better life for us. Forgive me for
my lack of eloquence, they shot the dictator on national TV in the 80s.
Did you see it? No trial, no burial. They unearthed the tortured and we 
recognized among them neighbors and friends. The sun rose again at 
the shore of a different kind of torture and we tried to surf on our raft.
Dad, never let go of his anger and his betrayed body now fights. 
Injections of raise his white blood cell count and others for his red blood
cells. People have been trying to kill him since he was born. I am not inside
the story, never could imagined a better leave of absence than my own.
The draught comes with thirst, infinite thirst. The earth thirsts
for the blue skies to darken, to precipitate into cloud formations. 

Continue to 2 more poems

Fine Art images by Miroslava Panayotova

The Women, past and present, of WordCity Literary Journal

Table of Contents. WordCity Literary Journal. September 2022.

Letter from the Editor. Non-fiction editor Olga Stein

Fine Art.

A gallery of women’s moods by Miroslava Panayotova

 

Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter

Nature’s Child. by Anjum Wasim Dar

Someone I Used to Know. by Heather Rath

Michael Edwards. by Bulletin:  A Housewife In Scranton, Pennsylvania

While Women Rage In Winter. by Rachel J Fenton

 

Non-fiction. Edited by Olga Stein

The Thunder of Galloping Horses. by Angela Rebrec

Essay. by Olga Stein

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m from during a Gynecological Exam. by Domnica Radulescu

The End. by Susan Glickman

 

Literary Spotlight with Sue Burge

Grandmaster in Flash! Michael Loveday in conversation with Sue Burge

 

Books and Reviews. edited by Geraldine Sinyuy

Domnica Radulescu’s Dream in a Suitcase, an extraordinary story of our time, surfing on the geography of exile. by Michèle Sarde. Translated from the French by Dana Chirila

Woman Running in the Mountains; Yuko Tsushima (New York Review Books: 2022). by Livi Michael

Books Not for the Beach. an essay of books by Gordon Phinn

Books Referenced:
This Is Not a Pity Memoir, Abi Morgan (HarperCollins 2022)
A Life in Light, Mary Pipher, (Bloomsbury 2022)
The Organist, Mark Abley (University If Regina Press 2019)
The Last Days of Roger Federer, Geoff Dyer (Canongate 2022)
They Have Bodies, Barney Allen (ed. Gregory Betts: University of Ottawa Press 2020)
This Time A Better Earth, Ted Allen (ed. Bart Vautour: University of Ottawa Press 2015)
The Abortion Caravan, Karin Wells (Second Story Press 2020)
The Freedom Convoy, Andrew Lawton (Sunderland House 2022)
Solace, Eva Kolacz (Black Moss Press 2021)
Apricots of Donbas, Lyuba Yakimchuk (Lost Horse Press 2021)

Congratulations to Marthese Fenech on the Completion of her Knights of Malta Trilogy!

Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea

3 poems. by Romana Iorga

3 poems. by Lisa Reynolds

Bitter Sweet. by Dakarai Mashava

2 poems. by Mansour Noorbakhsh

The Knight. by Todd Matson

In the bewitched aviary. by Paweł Markiewicz

Damselflies. by Anne Sorbie

3 poems. by Laura Sweeney

4 poems. by Anjum Wasim Dar

3 poems. by Alene Sen

2 poems. by Halima Juma Adam

3 poems. by D. R. James

3 poems. by Susmit Panda

bereft. by Josephine LoRe

2 poems. by Eva Tihanyi

Under my blouse. by Irma Kurti

I Rise. by Geraldine Sinyuy

Adela Sinclair

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WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Where We are Now. editorial by Olga Stein

olga-stein89

Where We are Now

Putting together an issue that is critical of the new anti-abortion laws in the USA has been wrenching for us at WordCity. It has been exactly two years since the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and look where we find ourselves as women and as members of a society that sees so much of our present and future reflected in the politics and laws of our powerful neighbour, the United States. We are mourning the reversal of Roe v. Wade (decided in 1973) by the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling of June 24, 2022. Despite life-long efforts by activists and legal authorities like Justice Ginsburg, work that was meant to shift the social and political course of American society, the country is once again at a precipice.

          Each of us has had her own personal demons to face down in regard to reproduction, pregnancy, the risks of pregnancy, and the consequences of bearing or not bearing children. For those of us who could truly choose because our bodies were able to manage pregnancies with only minor foreseeable risks — well, that choice still left a great deal out of our control. We were still dependent on good luck, biologically speaking; we were dependent on obstetricians’ availability and their willingness to acknowledge us as people for whom pregnancy, whether our first one or not, was exhausting or anxiety-provoking, or otherwise stressful in a myriad ways; we were dependent on those, such as partners or parents, to be there after the child’s birth, and there — emotionally and financially — for the years it would take to get past infancy, then early childhood, and, following that, the tricky years of adolescence (just imagine for even a moment the gaping maw of the prospect of not having someone stable and caring to count on); we were dependent on the good will, the empathy and understanding of our employers or any individual involved in our efforts to further our careers (how often is that faith in a new and not-so-new mother absent when it comes to hiring decisions!); we were dependent on our material circumstances working out for us so that we had the confidence that we would be able not just to feed and house a child (no easy feat given the rising costs of rent, utilities, and food), but also spare the child the indirect experience of terror to which each of us would we subject if for any number of easily imagined reasons (like illness, sudden disability, or job loss) we were unable to provide those essentials.

          It never ceases to outrage me that all of these requirements for successful childbirth and childrearing are so often glossed over in everyday public discourse, or how often people’s physical and mental health needs are soft-pedalled or discounted altogether in debates about abortion rights. I see it as a form of ignorance or unintentional cruelty, especially when such opinions concerning reproductive autonomy are offered by men or women, usually white, with children, and with partners or parents who provide or provisioned for their economic security. How often do I have the urge to tell them to f-ck themselves and their terribly narrow, unreflective worldview. How dare they presume to know what other people can or cannot, should and shouldn’t do with their bodies and lives!

          To reiterate, each of us had at one point in our lives been frightened, profoundly shaken, or made ill by an actual, intended or unintended pregnancy. Such experiences are deeply personal and hard to write about. They expose us to judgement by strangers and family members (You had an abortion? Everyone goes through it, so don’t complain. What do you mean you didn’t want Johnny? You didn’t want to be a mother?). Yet without these testaments to the real, lived experience of dealing with pregnancy — actual or prospective — and the hardships faced after childbirth, the only voices we’ll hear will be ones coming from the supercilious, uninformed, the cold-hearted or religiously  affected, who claim to know how and to what ends all of us were made.

 

          Below is an excerpt from a recent Wikipedia article, “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.” Note the statements by medical experts and medical associations, as well as the opinions expressed by international community of heads of states.

 

Health and education

The president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, David J. Skorton, released a statement that said the decision “will significantly limit access for so many and increase health inequities across the country, ultimately putting women’s lives at risk, at the very time that we should be redoubling our commitment to patient-centered, evidence-based care that promotes better health for all individuals and communities.” …The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Moria Szilagyi, released a statement that the organization reaffirmed the policy to support “adolescents’ right to access comprehensive, evidence-based reproductive healthcare services,” including abortion. She added that the ruling threatened adolescents’ health and safety and jeopardized the patient-physician relationship.

Academics from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and the University of Colorado Boulder criticized the ruling, saying that as there is going to be an increase in pregnancies, there will be an increase in maternal and infant deaths. In 2020, there were 23.8 deaths from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes for every 100,000 births, the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country, with black mothers 2.9 times more likely to die than white mothers.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that demand for abortion medications in the United States, as reflected by internet search trends, reached record highs nationally after the draft Dobbs opinion was leaked online. Public health activists have begun exploring ways to make medical abortion more available, particularly in states where it is subject to limitations, using social media for this purpose.

 

International

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that the opinion “represents a major setback after five decades of protection for sexual and reproductive health and rights.” The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said, “I am very disappointed, because women’s rights must be protected. And I would have expected America to protect such rights.”

Western world foreign leaders generally condemned the ruling. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the decision “horrific,” while pledging, “[I]n Canada, we will always defend the woman’s right to choose.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the decision “a big step backwards,” while reassuring that there were laws “throughout the UK” for a “woman’s right to choose.” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted after the ruling that this was “[o]ne of the darkest days for women’s rights” in her lifetime. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that he was “very concerned about implications of U.S. Supreme Court decision” and “the signal it sends to the world.” French President Emmanuel Macron said that “abortion is a fundamental right for all women. It must be protected.” He expressed his “solidarity” with U.S. women. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the decision “a huge setback” and said that her “heart cries for girls and women in the United States.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the decision “incredibly upsetting” and “a loss for women everywhere.” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he was “really troubled” by the decision, saying it is “a major step back in the fight for women’s rights.” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that “we cannot take any right for granted” and that “women must be able to decide freely about their lives.”

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Olga Stein holds a PhD in English, and is a university and college instructor. She has taught writing, communications, modern and contemporary Canadian and American literature. Her research focuses on the sociology of literary prizes. A manuscript of her book, The Scotiabank Giller Prize: How Canadian is now with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Stein is working on her next book, tentatively titled, Wordly Fiction: Literary Transnationalism in Canada. Before embarking on a PhD, Stein served as the chief editor of the literary review magazine, Books in Canada, and from 2001 to 2008 managed the amazon.com-Books in Canada First Novel Award (now administered by Walrus magazine). Stein herself contributed some 150 reviews, 60 editorials, and numerous author interviews to Books in Canada (the online version is available at http://www.booksincanada.com). A literary editor and academic, Stein has relationships with writers and scholars from diverse communities across Canada, as well as in the US. Stein is interested in World Literature, and authors who address the concerns that are now central to this literary category: the plight of migrants, exiles, and the displaced, and the ‘unbelonging’ of Indigenous peoples and immigrants. More specifically, Stein is interested in literary dissidents, and the voices of dissent, those who challenge the current political, social, and economic status quo. Stein is the editor of the memoir, Playing Under The Gun: An Athlete’s Tale of Survival in 1970s Chile by Hernán E. Humaña.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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A gallery of women’s moods by Miroslava Panayotova

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Miroslava Panayotova (Bulgaria) graduated from Plovdiv University, specialty Bulgarian philology and English language. She has published poems, stories, tales, aphorisms, essays, criticisms, translations, articles and interviews in periodical and collections. She has published the following poetry books: Nuances, 1994, God of the senses, 2005, Pitcher, 2014, Whisper of leaves, 2017, Green feeling, 2018; two books with stories: An end, and then a beginning, 2017, Path of love, 2018; two eBooks: Laws of communicatons /aphorisms/, 2018, Old things /poetry/, 2018. She is a member of the Union of the Independent Bulgarian Writers and a member of Movimiento Poetas del mundo. Miroslava Panayotova is an ambassador of IFCH (International Forum for Creativity and Humanity).

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Nature’s Child. fiction by Anjum Wasim Dar

Anjum Wasir Dar

Nature’s Child

Tied to the armchair with a broad brown leather belt, his fists clenched, muttering, gasping unintelligibly under his breath, angry at something or somebody, an unhappy frown shadowing his brow, hair cropped short, feet bare and sharply white.
She recalled the child’s first image. Everyone called him Tari, he was always around the house, trying to walk along the wall, holding on to it for support. or sitting tied to the chair.

She never saw him run.

Maybe he could not. He never went to school either. She realized this, months, and years later. Then she heard someone say, “mentally retarded child, needs treatment. Small doses of the drug, Phenobarbitone.”

It was a disturbing evening when he fell flat on his face and hit the side of the bed. Sharp cut in the forehead let out a gush of dark red blood. She was terrified, she started crying at seeing him bleed. She felt his pain. Why did she feel so?

Why did she like him so much? Who was he for her? He would smile at her when she went near him, suddenly grip her arm so hard that sometimes she would shout “Let go! Please.” He would laugh and laugh. The laughter would turn into fits which made him roll on the floor. No one could stop him.

The laughter turned into tears and then moans of pain. Then she knew he could not stop himself. He would never be able to stop this laughter by himself.

She saw her father’s concerned face as he paced in the room; then heard him say “He cannot control this, it will require treatment.” She saw her father fill up a small syringe. He was a doctor. He inserted the needle into the shaking arm, the laughter mixed with cries continued. Trembling she went closer , bent over him as he lay there, his eyes closed , his face wet; she felt afraid and then knew.

“Oh brother dear”

He was only six years old. He would be fine when the laughter subsided. She played with her sister when he would be tied in his chair. He liked music. Father would put on the records on the player. Tari would scream for more.

Memories of painful cries strike sharply as she turned the pages of childhood. Mother was always working, cooking washing looking after guests and holding Tari. He was not a normal child. She never heard her mother complain about him but often saw her swollen eyes and sad countenance.

“Who will look after Tari?” That was always the question.

Tari did not know who he was.

He could not change his clothes or eat by himself but they knew when he was hungry for he would scream and cry. He wanted to be part of life itself, hold onto something.

One day she could not find one of her books. After a long search finally she saw it in Tari’s hands. He had twisted and crushed it. It could not be read. She cried, “Mama see what Tari has done to my book.” Mama was helpless. The child could not be punished.

It was hot that afternoon. As she stepped off the tonga. Coming home from school, she sensed an unusual silence. The family stood in the porch, heads bent, faces concerned.
Her heart missed a beat and then beat faster, the heavy schoolbag bag felt heavier on the shoulder. Tari! She ran to his room; the chair was empty, the brown leather belt hung loose.

 “We can’t find him. It’s been three hours now,” she heard a voice behind her. She sat down on the steps outside and stared emptily in the air. Evening turned into night, night into the next day. Three days went by. They lost Tari. Why was he in this world which he never knew nor understood?

For her, he was a bond of love, of unconscious relationship, of mystic entity, a truth, a state, a form, an image yet a shadow; she wanted to help him but never knew how.
Mother was a pillar of patience having him as a child. She could not speak of his pain and fears, wants and needs, hurts and happiness. They could tie him to a chair but could not untie his being, his self, his mind.

Tari came into their lives with laughter with hope with a divine presence; he must be in heaven. His soul was alive but his spirit, enchained.

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Anjum Wasim Dar, migrant Pakistani of Kashmiri origin. Masters in English Literature & American Studies. Master’s in history, Punjab University. Scholarship holder for distinction in English Language at Graduate level. Post Graduate Diploma in TEFL and Certificate of Proficiency in English, Cambridge University UK.
International Poet of Merit, Bronze Medal Award Winner, ISP USA-2000, Short Story Writer, Author of Novel for Young Adults, The Adventures of the Multicolored Lead People.

Former Head of English Department at Pakistan Air Force AIR University Bilquis College of Education for Women, Islamabad.

Digital Artist with Focus on Ekphrastic Poetry. 
Poetry Blog: http://poeticoceans.wordpress.com
Short Story Blog: http://storiesmiracles.wordpress.com

Three Poems published in A Bouquet of Triple Colors. Anthology of Bangladeshi Pakistani and Indian Poets 2022. Amazon.com

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Someone I Used to Know. fiction by Heather Rath

Heather tansley 3 a (2)

Someone I Used to Know

Bounding with pizzazz across the stage in a tight bikini (or was it a superb body paint job?), she shook her bountiful breasts, wiggled her tight ass. Leaned provocatively over the lusting males in the first row. 

On assignment for a small-town weekly, (you’re a woman. Visit one of those sex shows. Interview one of their stars. Tell me how she got started. Why she’s doing it. Any business angle, too, but y’know, make it titillating), I watched, captivated. ‘Raquel’ strutted her stuff to a wild and crazy Calypso beat as multi-coloured strobe lights flashed around the club’s dim interior. The smell of fried foods: greasy hamburgers, sizzling potatoes in an oil-soaked wire basket intermingled with the stench of stale beer, created an aura of debauchery.

Tossing her tangled platinum blonde mane like an untamed beast, Raquel brazenly showed off her lithe body, with what looked like surgically enhanced breasts, in a jungle- patterned support bra and thong, moulded to her skin like a wet t-shirt.

It was hard to keep my eyes off her.  Besides her stunning dance number, something about the turn of her neck, her face, her hands roaming up and down her curvaceous athletic body, was vaguely familiar. From my vantage point sitting in the back, she reminded me of someone. Fat chance any of my safe, staid friends would lead a double life like this!

As a journalist, my first instinct was to watch the crowd. See whether they were engaged.  Most were men but a sprinkling of women, all ages, studied the performer’s every sensational move. Before throwing away her thong and flinging her bra into the hungry audience, she seduced with her pole dancing prowess. Her height on the gleaming pole led my eyes up, up to the dusty coils of a blackened pipe ceiling dotted with fake twinkling stars. Sliding provocatively back onstage, she locked eyes with a wealthy looking patron in the front row. He was already reaching for his wallet.

I didn’t notice the bar owner, Sweetheart Roxy, when she slipped into the booth beside me.

“Well,” she said, “what d’ya think? She’s our star.” I nodded slowly. Despite the raucous music and fried fatty smells from the back kitchen, I continued concentrating on Raquel. She mesmerized me.

“Let’s go to my office to discuss your article. I’d love the publicity. In fact, I need it!”  Roxy chuckled. I instantly liked her: no pap. She was a slightly overweight former exotic dancer who still had to hold men at bay. ‘Roxy’s Room’ was her business idea to make money when she could no longer collect her bucks on the dance floor.

“So what’s it like to be in the strip business in a lunch bucket town?”

She snorted. Lit a cigarette. “You mean an exotic dancer business, sweetheart,” she corrected. 

I smiled, nodded.

“For starters, sweetheart, this club is a bona fide business. I pay property taxes, employ security, hire fifteen dancers, some from around here. Our suppliers are local. Every product we use we try to buy in this area. A local photographer gets lots of business putting together the girls’ portfolios. A local seamstress gets our business to sew exotic costumes…”  she paused, that chuckle again, “’course, some costumes don’t take much material.” She laughed, deep and hearty. “What else you need to know, sweetheart?”

“Where do the girls learn their craft?”

“From me. Mostly. These are clean green girls, some housewives, some students, who need money, are good looking, good bodies, healthy, willing to work hard during strange hours. Noon to midnight mostly. I warn ‘em about drugs. Can’t use ‘em while they’re with me.  If they do, they’re gone. No dating customers. At least not while I’m around. Do a lot of training cuz the working life of a dancer is very short. Oldest here is twenty-six. Youngest, eighteen.  Feature dancer’s usually from a big city. Others do a short routine on stage but make their money as table dancers. They all own bling-bling costumes, wear five-inch fuck me heels, and know how to strut their stuff. Flamboyant. Confident. Edgy. We give the customer what he wants.”

She inhaled her cigarette, exhaled. Smoke drifted throughout the room. Her messy office reflected a jumbled state of mind: hodge-podge of piled papers in odd places. A computer, cell phone, printer, each competed for attention among the stacks on her desk, on the floor. Stale smoke emanated from an overloaded ash tray. A half bottle of Absolut sat on the lone bookcase that held no books but lots of girlie photos. An out-of-date calendar with exotic dancer paintings hung above the bookcase. The sole window to an exterior alley was dressed in old-fashioned ivory lace curtains. Like grandma used to hang.

“So, there’s still room for this sort of business to thrive,” I said.

“Damn right, sweetheart.  Exotic dancing has been around for centuries.  Provides a service whether or not Suburban Wife thinks so. Get lots of business men in here on lunch hours. Could name a few well-knowners but we’re discreet. Always.”  She dragged on her cigarette again, blew out the smoke. “Even Head of the Cop Shop comes in. Course, he says he’s here on business—our headliner then was accused of stealing money from a regular—but he coincidentally walked in just before her show so’s he could watch.”  She snorted, blowing smoke rings to the ceiling. Winks.

“Would you say your dancers are exploited?”

She coughed, looked me straight in the eye. “They provide a service and are well paid for it. You call that exploitation?”

“I’d like to interview one of your dancers for this article if possible.”

            Sweetheart Roxy lifted her brows. “Well, now, that depends. If the girl comes from around here, then no, you can’t. One of the out-of-towners might take up your offer.”

“Raquel….is she local?”

“Nope. From the east coast. And she won’t be interviewed. Many have asked. None have succeeded.”

“Okay I ask her?”

Sweetheart Roxy looked me up and down. Shrugged. “You can ask but I’ll tell you this.  Raquel is one mysterious lady. She’s experienced. Bin a feature dancer here for a few weeks. Draws in the rich guys. But as soon as she’s finished dancing, she disappears upstairs to her room.  Tried to ask about her background once but she’s silent. Do know she’s had body surgery. Nose and boobs. Somethin’s happened in her past. Don’t go messin’ around in places I don’t belong.  She brings in the customers and I’m happy. She gets paid well, gets left alone, she’s happy.”

I decided a one-time visit to Roxy’s Room wasn’t enough to grasp the complexity of this business, its patrons and clientele. I mean, maybe there’s a place for this kind of entertainment after all. Better an oversexed guy come here than grab a female runner in the woods. Or break into her apartment and rape her. So, I needed to return to digest this hormone-charged atmosphere…explore its heartbeat. Wanted time to think about the direction and format of the story. That was fine with Sweetheart Roxy.

Out in the sultry summer night heading for my car, I mulled over this centuries-old business. Sitting alone behind the steering wheel, my thoughts focused on Raquel, the headline dancer. She reminded me of someone I used to know, someone once very important to me: my first love at a summer camp when I was a teen.  My heart and mind immediately slipped back to Silver Lake.

Never noticed Rachel—or any girl for that matter—until long after we were settled into our cabins and assigned duties as counsellors to young campers. We were hires from different city high schools after successfully completing wilderness training, grateful to land a summer position with the Y. Not working a boring job in the hot city as a salesclerk or fast-food order taker.

Busy during those first days settling our young campers, some homesick, some brats, some scared, others genuinely nice kids, I barely noticed my fellow counsellors. Except Rachel. She immediately grabbed my attention. Was aware of her presence during meetings, camp activities, meals.  Whenever I glanced her way, her eyes met mine. Eyes that captivated me because of their large pupils and unusual colour: violet. Like Elizabeth Taylor, the famous movie star.

Long and lithe in body, Rachel wore her short black hair in a pixie style that framed her oval face and showed off those exquisite violet eyes. Like a Roman Empress. Or Audrey Hepburn.  Rachel—or Rache—as we called her, epitomized beauty and health to woeful ugly duckling me.

Studying her from afar, I couldn’t explain my emotional pull. Maybe because of the intriguing way she waved slender hands and arms when she spoke, the dainty way she ate, the way she laughed: spontaneously. Or the way she played basketball with athletic ease during R&R. Maybe it was the joy of life she shared with her peers. Her every move thrilled—and frightened—because she stirred a deep, forbidden yearning within me. And those violet eyes held me captive.

Finally, I admitted to me that I had a mammoth crush on her. And it was the first time I felt gloriously alive.

One afternoon, with no planned camp activity, she yelled across the open field where we gathered each morning for Wake-Up call: “JEN…round up your cabin. I’ll get mine! Let’s hike!” She couldn’t possibly hear my pounding heart.

Walking next to Rache, herding our charges along the trail: watch out for poison ivy, keep your eyes out for garter snakes…! I was in heaven. Tongue-tied in heaven. 

“What’s your high school?” she asked in her melodic voice. “What’re your plans after graduation? Boyfriend? Family….?”

Gradually over the summer, we got to know and trust each other. Only I was careful not to reveal too much. Was so in awe of this raven-haired beauty with the violet eyes I didn’t want to say anything that might alienate her. 

I’m in love. As simple and as complicated as that. Always on heightened emotions with her. A deep swollen throb in my gut.

Because I thought it wrong to feel such passion for a girl, I controlled my adoration. 

Until one of the last nights….

Near the end of our camp session, following a raucous Skit Night at the Main Lodge, Rache and I remained the only staff members for clean-up. Much later, stepping onto the wrap- around wooden verandah facing Silver Lake, we watched a full moon pop out of the black sky from behind clouds. Like a spotlight, splashing its reflection on the still black water. Magic touched us.

“Let’s go to the dock.”

I nodded, tingling.

On the well-worn grey wooden planks, we sat side by side, four youthful legs dangling in dark lake water. I could smell the sweet golden grass from the field. Inhaled the musty dampness of tall cattails. Heard the deep rumble from nearby bullfrogs on lily pads, a lonely loon call on the lake’s belly. My soul drank in the fluorescent moon reflection rippling on the water.

 Rache dipped her hand in the lake, flung water drops on my thigh. I shivered deliciously.

More water drops on my skin.

Shivered again. Exquisite excitement churned down there.

Then her fingers did the unthinkable. Slowly, deliberately, they walked up my thigh to my crotch. Held my breath. Fire raced through my veins.

“Like that?” she crooned softly, dropping her head on my shoulder.

I purred.

“Guess you do,” she whispered into my ear.

Pounding blood.

Fearfully, hopefully, I turned to face her. Mighty roar of emotions. Her brows arched. Violet eyes searched my blue ones. Closed mine. 

We kissed. Gently. Softly. Innocently. Preciously. Then broke. I ached with desire.

Moving closer, she moaned. 

“Can’t,” I barely said.

“Can,” she corrected.

We did.

Returned to Roxy’s Room a few times, at different hours, over the next weeks. Each time I learned something new from Sweetheart who began welcoming me like an old friend. And she was right about interviewing Raquel who refused to see me.

“Managing a place like this has its pitfalls,” Roxy confessed. “Have to change locks a lot for security reasons. Sometimes the girls have accidents on stage, fall in awkward positions. Need a doc. Dancing on the road takes its toll. Easy to get tired, sloppy with your personal safety.  Sometimes girls are robbed of their savings if they haven’t had time to bank. Sometimes costumes are stolen. Sometimes they get sick. They know they must always look great. Hard when you’re not on top of the world. My girls have problems like everyone else. Some have sick kids somewhere. Not an easy business. So, when a Raquel doesn’t want to talk about her personal self, I’m actually relieved. And not surprised.”

Raquel was about to dance for the first time this evening. Deliberately timed my visit to coincide with her performance. Roxy suggested, “Sit up front. Watch her act up close.” She studied me for a second. “Know what? You must be about her age! Big difference in lifestyles, eh, lady writer? Compare lifestyles! Now that would make a good story!”

Sat at a table in the second row. A noisy crowd surrounded the stage. Mostly men. A few women, too. MC switched on the mic. Frenzied music thumped, bright lights bounced, all eyes riveted on Raquel winding her way to the front from the back in her skimpy, jungle-patterned bikini. Wanted to study more closely this intriguing woman who unwittingly unlocked a buried memory.

Writhing along her path to the stage, stopping along the way, touching a patron here and there on his cheek, sending him into glorious spasms of lust, she passed me. Paused. Turned. Studied my face. Violet eyes seared into my soul.

As if in a dream, action in the bar wound down to slow motion while rock music banged in the background. Cocking her head, her tangled blonde hair cascading down her back, one piece falling over her forehead, her eyes bored a hole into mine. I couldn’t breathe. Feeling that familiar zing.

Approaching, she offered her hand. Her long, red-manicured pointer finger touched my forehead, traced my profile. She looked straight at me. Raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow over a violet eye. Winked.

“Rache?” I whispered absurdly. Leaning forward, frowning. Entranced. Hopeful. Intrigued.

Was that a millisecond flicker of recognition in Raquel’s violet eyes?

She blew me a careless kiss, turned away.

Helplessly—longingly—I watched her tight ass graze the face of an orgasmic guy in front of me as she shimmied her way to the stage.

Return to Journal

An award-winning writer, Heather Rath began her career as a reporter, editor of a weekly newspaper, and a monthly regional business magazine, before heading communications at a multi-national company. Her work has been published widely in various publications. A member of CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators & Performers), Canadian Authors Association, and an associate member of Crime Writers of Canada, she invites you to visit her at www.heatherrath.net 

RathHeather

@RathHeather

heatherintransit@hotmail.com

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Bulletin:  A Housewife In Scranton, Pennsylvania. fiction by Michael Edwards

MichaelEdwards

Bulletin:  A Housewife In Scranton, Pennsylvania

A housewife in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has reported to local police that she was abducted in broad daylight last month by four-foot, gray-skinned humanoids from outer space.

After taking her onboard their spacecraft, the aliens communicated with the woman telepathically, she claims, explaining to her the following. 

  1. On their planet, an epidemic is causing all the children to die before they reach puberty.  
  2. The epidemic has been caused by a random genetic mutation beyond the ability of their scientists to control.
  3. Their race is dying out. 
  4. The aliens therefore decided they should secretly visit the planet Earth to breed with its women.
  5. They chose to visit Earth because of the beauty, fertility, and lovingkindness of its women—in each category of which, Earth-women surpass all other females in this sector of the universe. 
  6. By reproducing with Earth-women, they hope to create a new hybrid race—more intelligent, rational, and calm than the human; bigger, stronger, and healthier than the alien. 

At that moment in the conversation, according to her, two of the creatures approached the woman and held her by one arm each.  She remembers that they peered at her through enormous, glossy, jet-black eyes, which seemed “to look right through [her],” and that their touch felt dry, soft, and spongy, like that of a mushroom.

Despite the aliens’ repeated attempts to calm the woman by telepathy, she was frightened so badly that she fainted.  When she woke, she was sitting upright in the driver’s seat of her Ford Escort automobile, which was parked in her driveway at home.  She found this particular fact strange because, as she states, the aliens had originally taken her from her kitchen, where she had been standing over the sink, peeling a potato.

There are no witnesses to the abduction.

The woman has undergone psychological testing and has been pronounced sane, though under some stress from a troubled marriage.  (Her husband is a mathematics teacher and assistant football coach at the local high school.)  

The woman has also undergone a gynecological examination and is not pregnant.  However, an unexplainable fresh incision scar, approximately two inches long, was found on her abdomen, to the right of and somewhat below her navel.  

The woman stated that “the only way I have to prove what happened to me is real, is the scar I have on my stomach.  But even that is starting to go away.  Every week it gets whiter and looks fainter.  I can barely see it any more.”

The woman reports that she often dreams about the incident and sometimes awakens in a cold sweat, unable to get back to sleep for hours.  “I don’t know why,” she stated, “but I think they’re coming back to get me.  Something about my menstrual cycle—but I’m not sure what.  And I’m not sure why I think this.”

She believes she is not the only woman who has been approached by the aliens, and in desperation, she urges all Earth-women to quit wearing any make-up, perfume, or eye-catching provocative outfits.  Perhaps then, she argues, the aliens will go elsewhere to mate.  Referring to the Islamic custom of covering women head to toe except the eyes, she said, “Maybe the Arabs have the right idea, after all.”

The woman’s name has been withheld at her request.

Return to Journal

Michael Edwards teaches English at Santa Fe College, in Florida.  His most recent publication is a story titled “The Mountain Pathway,” in The Dillydoun Review.  

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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While Women Rage In Winter. fiction by Rachel J Fenton

Rachel Fenton

While Women Rage In Winter

I don’t want to occupy a place of importance. Knowing other people like to harbour their children’s swim gear safe from spray under the reef-like shelter of this plastic table, I leave one chair between me and it. In essence the seat’s already taken; there’s a small piece of putty or modelling clay, grey-white as a mushroom, moulded to the shape of the inside of a child’s hand, the curved drills of the fingers identifiable by their prints. I sit. The empty pairing now to my left hint at my isolation; I place the four books I’ve borrowed from the library here with my satchel farthest away. A small part of me thinks this shows confidence, an outward symbol of occupancy, and I can move them if I have to.

I’ve had this satchel since I was eleven. And the seats, blue moulded plastic, uncomfortable as they are and too small for my gangling frame, remind me of school. (What’s the weather like up there? peers used to shout). They amplify my aloneness to make me feel strangely small and conspicuous. It’s a peculiar meeting of oppositions. Except for one strip an inch long, thin as a baby’s eyelid, as soft as her earlobe my satchel is cracked, worn, like the soles of my feet. I should take better care of my feet but they’re at the far end of my ‘to do’ list, out of sight, far from mind. They aren’t as tired as those now padding into sight. Supported only by flat flip-flops, jandals they call them here, sun-greyed: an old woman with a small boy. He’s carrying a large holdall. I move my satchel. The woman sits. Thinking her charge might want to sit also, I pick up my books. The woman turns to me, says,

‘You don’t need to move your books, dear. Thank you.’ Her accent is neat, curt like birdsong, it’s specific yet impossible to locate. I say,

‘They’re only books; they haven’t earned their seat, the rest.’

She laughs, humouring me.

‘He doesn’t need to sit; he will be swimming in a few minutes.’

I nod. Smile. My own child is nearing the end of her training session and will be getting out of the pool as the boy gets in.

The boy is small, slightly built though well fed. He glows with health. He drops the holdall to the tiled floor, unzips, rummages inside, pulls out a fin.

‘These are not mine,’ he says. The fin, yellow and blue, is almost as long as his arm. ‘You have brought the wrong things.’

The old woman leans forward, elbows on thighs. One arm goes out to the boy, to his arm.

‘I’m sorry, dear.’

The boy turns over the flipper in his hand as if considering for the first time a dead pet.

‘These are no good,’ he says, and puts the flipper back in the bag.

‘Don’t worry. Felicity will give you some. Go and ask her.’ She’s already on first name terms with the coach.

The boy’s chest puffs up and he hurries. He trips on the strap of the bag. I hear my own intake of breath. He stumbles, regains his balance, and carries on towards the coach without looking back.

‘My grandson,’ the woman says. ‘I’m from Singapore, dear, on holiday. I have brought his brother’s things by mistake.’

It is kind of her to recognise my interest, inform me. She has a kind face. Her hair, though grey and frizzy at the ends is dark and glossy at the roots, so that both sides appear to be a reflection of the same wave flowing out from the centre of her head, crashing into curls with invisible force.

‘I’m Anna, dear.’

I smile. ‘I’m Jenny, from England but you probably already guessed that.’ The way I say it sounds like a confession and I put out my hand half expecting absolution as a substitute greeting.

Anna’s hand feels like a bird wrapped in Kleenex. Her wrist is crackled like my satchel, but unlike my satchel the cracks appear lighter, are smooth. And even though it’s warm inside because of the pool, warm outside for November because this is New Zealand, she’s wearing a thick red cardigan.

‘England?’ She sounds pleased.

I’m embarrassed; there are still people who think being English is impressive in itself, people who can be easily read, who like the books Amazon suggests based on their purchase history: if you enjoyed the Treaty of Waitangi you may also like the English.

Anna goes some way to relieving my colonial guilt.

‘Which part?’

‘Yorkshire.’ I resist being specific, it invariably leads me to an impassioned one-sided debate about Thatcherism, the Miner’s strike, going without; I can’t say I have known hunger to Anna without sounding trite, without sounding more English for all I insist on being less. I identify with fifteen thousand dialect speakers yet find myself lumped in with a whole nation of generic English. Regional and class differences are irrelevant to anyone from overseas.

‘Ah, yes,’ Anna nods, ‘I have family in Bedfordshire.’

I don’t know what to say to this so I smile and nod as my eyes travel an imaginary map of the United Kingdom, and before long I am staring at Anna’s flip-flops.

My father once made flip-flops from an old floor tile for me and a friend. She never called on me after that.

Anna, pulling the holdall between her feet, tucking the carry strap to the back, says,

‘I tell him not to leave his things in the way.’ She pushes the fin, tries to zip it in. ‘Last week, I came here and a boy, Dion was his name, you know that boy?’

I shake my head. There are so many kids who train with the swim club at this leisure centre. They all look the same in togs and swim caps, like safety matches.

‘I only recognise my daughter,’ from the shape her hand makes breaking the surface of the water. She’s a very elegant swimmer, careful in her movements, precise. She makes the rigour of an hour and a half’s exercise appear effortless.

‘Well, Dion came and took this bag, emptied it out, shook everything out onto the floor.’ Anna’s gesticulations bring my focus back to her. ‘I didn’t say anything, I didn’t want to say. Then he kicked it all across the wet floor, you see?’

I look at the tiled floor to show I see; I understand what it means to have dry clothes scattered across the chlorine soaked floor.

‘And then he saw it wasn’t his and he kicked it back, kicked it under this chair, and then I said something, I said, “Please, don’t do that, don’t do that to other people’s things, it’s rude.” He looked, ah –’ she puts her hands to her mouth, widens her eyes, ‘he looks shocked, you see, like this,’ and she shakes her head.

I say, ‘They have no manners,’ knowing her understanding negates prefixing ‘kids today’, though I think Dion is a nice sounding name and can’t reconcile how a child with such a small and gentle name could act against it, but then I remember it’s derived from Dionysus, the god of riotous indulgence, who had a man chained and torn apart by horses and drove women mad in Argos.

‘Manners,’ she nods emphatically, ‘always say please, and always thank.’

‘Always be polite,’ I concur.

Her eyes flicker with delight.

A woman I see every week comes in. Her hair is white, bleached that way. It’s slightly more noticeable than when it was grey. I don’t know her name. She’s been power walking, as people who don’t have to walk like to do. I saw her when I arrived, jogging the last few yards to the leisure centre from Lake Pupuke. The lake is really a crater. This tickles me, the fact that she runs a circuit of a volcano. Another thing that tickles me is the fact that there’s a lake right next door to the pool. Then I remember I’m on the volcano and paying for use of the pool too. She wears fluorescent clothing, is well nourished and is difficult to miss. Like lava, she gets everywhere slowly. Now we’re entering summer, she wears shorts and her legs are surprisingly fit though her knees wear their own shroud. They look sad which is ludicrous because they are only knees. She stands by the table looking at the chair with the putty on it. Looking like her knees.

I say, ‘Hello,’ because I am feeling confident, because I am clearly engaging Anna in conversation and this proves I am sociable and worth talking to. I pick up the putty.

She stretches her mouth into an anorexic smile, sits, and turns her back to me. Like lava, she is best avoided. She pulls a bag out from the pile under the table, puts it on top. Over the promontory of her shoulder, I look at her knees now smiling at me as if their tragedy was only an act. Perception is like knees, I think. And friendship is.

I lean over the gap between myself and Anna, whisper, confidentially,

‘People talk to me one week here and ignore me the next.’

‘Act like they don’t know you.’

‘Yes.’

She understands but doesn’t tell me what I suspect, that I would be popular if I had a boat.

‘I have old fashioned values, Jenny.’

Encouraged, I say,

‘Manners cost nothing.’ Then, to test our budding friendship, I tell Anna what I have told every other parent at this swimming club, ‘I’m from a poor family; I had to be polite to get by.’ Here they just brag. I have nothing to boast about, assume this is why nobody speaks to me. People who have never been poor think poverty is a disease. It’s worse than being English.

‘I am from a poor family also; married a lovely man, well educated, a lawyer.’ Her eyes fill up the way condensation gathers on my bathroom mirror.

I look away, not embarrassed by her tears, because she’s remembering her husband and I don’t want to intrude on the memory, because I am polite. Also I’m considering my own life. I glance and see her features soften further. She’s lost. When she appears to be finding her way to the present, I say, ‘I only mention it because a lot of the children around here are spoilt; they have everything they could possibly want, yet complain. They can never be pleased.’ I used to make mental notes, a moral tally of the things they said, here or on school trips, when we first arrived, but I have lived here five years now and have lost count.

‘I am a Christian,’ Anna says, smiling so widely I can see for the first time she does not have her own teeth.

I take a breath in. Hold it there.

‘A Catholic,’ she adds, ‘though that’s no matter to you, all I say is, be grateful for what you have.’ She makes a canoe from her hands, raises it.

I feel my eyebrows rising, roofing my alarm.

Last week an Indian woman died in Ireland because abortion’s illegal there, and I can’t stop feeling angry. Women like me rage in winter on the other side of the world. On this side of the world, my hands are being assailed by a Catholic Indian from Singapore whose eyes mist with devotion. My thoughts swim.

‘Gratitude is important,’ I say, trying not to get caught up on the religious aspect, and sailing past the awkwardness of it all. I imagine my voice detaching from my body, the sound waves floating out, saying I don’t believe in God myself. Then I imagine her face after I’ve said it and I can’t bear to take the happiness away from her, rift her trust; can’t bear to see my thoughts puddled by words.

I have a lot of conversations where the intention is lost in the listening, saying only enough to keep the words flowing from the other person: one-sided conversations. I have over the years developed a skill for cultivating them.

‘My daughter.’ I point to the lane she’s in. It occurs to me some people may think I simply come here to read, poolside each week, that I don’t have a reason to do so other than to sit somewhere indoors after the library’s closed; arriving as I do towards the end of the lesson, an hour after my husband and children, I must appear a disconnect, a vagrant or a weirdo. I dismiss the thoughts and focus on my daughter. I don’t attempt to point her out specifically. ‘She was once at a party,’ I say, ‘when she was small. She’s eleven now. But when she was five, there was a magician at the party.’ I almost break off again to explain details of how the party invite came about but decide against this, preferring instead to let the memory roll like a film clip as I voiceover. ‘And the magician asked her to say the magic words. He was expecting Abracadabra,’ I over explain, fearing she won’t get the punch-line otherwise. ‘And my daughter said, “Please and thank you”.’

Anna has the good manners to laugh. A small laugh but generously given. I’m grateful for it.

‘And sorry is just as important though few people ever say it,’ she says.

I see sorry people clutching tight the tiny visible part of a very large iceberg floating in a cold sea. I’m overthinking. My thinking voice escapes.

‘It is important for our kids to hear us say sorry when we’re wrong.’

‘I have five children, all boys.’ She waits for my surprise to register. I wonder how she found time to read. Perhaps she learned only by listening.

‘Five?’

‘The first, I had no choice. I had him; I just got on with it.’ She wings her hands. ‘The second one: another boy.’ One hand flies up: Peter. ‘The third, I had some choice, another boy. I wanted a girl.’ Her other hand’s flown: Paul. ‘The fourth: boy. I cried.’ Her hands come together over the bridge of her nose, sit there like doves. ‘When I had my fifth son, I lay in the hospital bed and cried some more. The doctor said, “Why are you crying?”’

She looks at me, unblinking through her fingers. I think I can see the bars of the cot: white enamel over iron, peeling off.

Because you wanted a girl to help look after the boys, I want to say. I had to mother my brother, when he was young. I had to bath him and dress him, read him to sleep, take him with me when I went shopping, as well as cook, iron, clean. If he cried, I got spanked. All he was expected to do was grow.

Anna shakes her head: something else.

‘I worked at a police station, taking fingerprints. In nineteen seventy-five, when I was pregnant with my fifth child, the police went on strike. I didn’t get paid. I sat on a chair outside the station worrying how I was going to take care of this child when three little English children walked by. “Lady, are you alright, have you food to eat, somewhere to live? Are you in trouble?” I said, dears, I am alright. Thank you. They pointed to my stomach, and I said I am expecting a child. And the eldest, a beautiful boy said, “What do you hope your child will be like?” I said, dear, I wish for a child like you, and I put my hands on his face, like this.

‘When the doctor told me, “You have a perfect child, a beautiful child,” I didn’t believe it. I looked and I saw him for the first time, how pale his skin; how they all admired him; I took him and tucked him between my knees to keep everyone away from him, protect him, you know?’ She has her hands on the holdall. ‘I realised then what a gift I had. God had gifted me that child. My other four are Indian looking, like me,’ she points to herself in case I hadn’t noticed, ‘but the fifth is as fair as you, dear: a gift from God.’ She rolls her eyes upward, tilts her head like a saint, and I see the salt water rising over brown irises like mist, see the whites are really blue.

I take her arm in my hand – she isn’t afraid – push up her red wool sleeve, and gently rub her skin so that the looseness of it travels up and down with my hand in small waves. There is nothing I want to say.

‘Ah,’ she starts, pausing to think. Expressions flicker through her eyes like sunlight through fast moving cloud seen at great distance. Just as I think she is about to cry, she breaks into a smile.

There was an eclipse earlier in the week. I had forgotten about it. On the day I didn’t know. I thought how cold it got, how the light turned suddenly strange, almost as if my house were a stage; I looked outside half expecting to see the audience peering back at me through the glare. Everything seemed to be bathed in silver, like an old film or photograph. I couldn’t work it out; so bright and dark all at once.

‘Ten of thirteen children,’ Anna repeats.

I haven’t been listening. I was wondering about foxing.

‘My parents were wonderful. They died twenty-eight years ago. They were in their eighties.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I say, and repeat it, meaning it the second time.

I haven’t spoken to my father in twenty years, since my grandmother died.

After the Miner’s Strike my father had no job. What he lacked in wages he compensated with rage. We all dealt with it differently, the poverty, the fear. My brother found comfort in heroin. Mother retreated inside herself. I ran. Someday I’ll stop, catch my breath long enough to talk both ears off a conversation. But I can’t tell Anna my family isn’t wonderful, can’t disappoint her.

‘My husband was a wonderful man, a kind man, he was very good to me; an Anglo-Indian, it took five generations for the white to come out. He died twenty years ago.’

I feel uncomfortable about her infatuation.

‘My husband is up there,’ I say, pointing to the balcony overlooking the pool. ‘My son’s with him.’ I add ‘Chatting,’ just in time to prevent her misunderstanding, redirecting her sympathy.

‘My youngest son is marrying a Japanese woman; my grandchildren will look Japanese. Imagine that,’ Anna says.

Inevitably there is blossom in the picture, pink, from a cherry orchard in misted hills overlooked by mountains. There are volcanoes in Japan. The children wear kimonos and hold hands like paper dolls and are loved. And love is as simple as transfers on pottery. But love like pottery breaks when the temperature changes rapidly. Then I wonder if she thinks my husband is Japanese too. I try to see him through her eyes.

When I first met him, I thought he looked Egyptian like King Tutankhamun in profile. The first night we spent together, I leaned on my elbow and watched him sleep. He slept on his back but didn’t snore despite having had too much to drink. When he woke, he smiled, nothing more, and we looked into each other’s eyes and both saw eternity, if different kinds. After, he told me my tears were the most beautiful things he had ever touched. I hadn’t been aware I was crying.

He has black eyes – black brown that is, not bruised – and still looks boyish, clean shaven, smooth as a golden casket, even with his bald head.

I look at Anna, say,

‘You are taking over the world.’

She is laughing too much to answer.

Calm resumes.

‘Three of my children live in England, one in New Zealand, and one in Canada. I love England, for the transport. In New Zealand I can’t go anywhere on foot. For everything in New Zealand you need a car.’

I miss English trains.

‘Trains.’

And shops.

‘High Streets, so friendly; England was made for people.’

I should talk, these are all things I know about, but Anna intuits my unspoken side of the conversation, the part that can be shared. She reminds me of my grandmother.

She insists I take her address.

‘You can visit me when you come to Singapore. Do you like curry?’

‘I love curry.’

‘You can come and stay with me. I have an apartment. Modest: five rooms, but plenty big enough for you to stay. I’ll cook you a curry.’

I visualise her apartment occupying the fifth floor of a five storey block; but the image in my head is one I’ve seen in my magazine, of Vienna. The building’s front is curved and colourful and every room has a balcony overlooking narrow streets. I try to superimpose tropical trees, palms, soften the whole thing with humidity rising from the hot pavements like laze. I imagine it collecting on the windows like the tears in Anna’s eyes. Then I imagine it shrunken like Lilliput because I am tall and need five rooms. I’d like to see where she lives, where Anna calls home.

‘It might be a while,’ I say, not wanting to explain how broke we are, how unlikely travel anywhere beyond my head is in our current financial circumstances, knowing talk of money trouble is internationally impolite.

‘I am seventy-five.’

I open my satchel. I have printed cards with my name and email address on one side and my artwork on the other. My art depicts a naked me. Anna might think it inappropriate. My grandmother would if she were still alive. In any case it isn’t the image of me I want her to be left with, it’s not the kind of polite I’ve cultivated, so I take out my notebook and leaf through to find a rare empty page. I keep my conversations in waiting in here.

‘Are you sure I can write in here?’

‘Yes.’ I watch her write her name. She has a child’s hand. My grandmother looked like a child the day before she died.

‘Do you want my address too?’

‘Your number’s fine.’ I tear the empty remaining half of page, write my email addresses on there, two, to show I am being encouraging, that I want to give her several options and therefore opportunities to get in touch. A moment later I realise if this were the case I would have given her my phone number also. EyebrightFamily [@] ihug.co.nz (personal); JennyEyebright [@] outlook.com (work); the email addresses are genuine and I would like to keep in touch, I say this: ‘Do keep in touch,’ as if we are old comrades.

She takes the torn slip from me, folds it; closes her hand over it.

We look at the swimmers, at the emptying public lanes. The swim class is moving to the near end, and the aqua-aerobics class is starting in its place. Generously built women jog, make waves, their laughter punctuates the music.

‘You can go on reading your book,’ Anna says.

‘The book can wait,’ I say. Then my face reddens as I realise the conversation’s over. Trying to reignite talk now is to strike a wet match against my head.

My daughter’s waiting for me. She stands over me, dripping water all over the cover of my book. It’s backed with clear plastic so I won’t have to say sorry to the library. I’ll be able to put it in the returns bin and walk away. She puts her fins down beside me. I pick up her kit bag from where she’s dropped it at my feet, and work to fit the equipment back in while she ignores my introduction to Anna and goes to the changing rooms. I pull my cardigan over my fist to wipe where the water has gone on the books, the seat. Someone may want to sit there, closer to Anna to not have to lean across to hear her speak. I gather my books, fasten my satchel. I smile as I get up but I do not look at Anna’s face. I walk over to the changing rooms, then upstairs to my husband and son.

My husband says, ‘You didn’t have to come up; you could have shouted us from downstairs.’ He stutters badly. His tongue protrudes at unexpected moments and he avoids words beginning with the letters P and S for this reason. Most people have to listen carefully, patiently, to understand him like I do.

Together we go back down. I fall behind to let two children pass so that they don’t have to let go of each other’s hand crossing the narrow poolside. My daughter’s kit bag drips water on my leg, soaks my clothes, and the drawstring is tight around my hand. I don’t wave at Anna as I pass to go outside, the tiled floor is very wet, I could fall, get hurt, and she isn’t looking. I step on my husband’s shadow, attempt to hold him. The door swings to in my face.

On the drive through Takapuna, I stare out the window and listen to roosting birds’ song overlaid with my daughter’s complaints about the other children in her swimming group. How rude they are.

‘They never talk to me,’ she says.

I imagine conversations underwater, meaning inferred only through the widening of eyes, the release of air. I understand what she means. A writer I admire wrote “The most significant conversations of our lives occur in silence.” But my daughter isn’t addressing her complaint to me.

‘Awe.’ My husband’s making appropriate noises.

I wonder how old I’ll have to be before someone like me talks to me.

‘But why doesn’t anyone want to be my friend?’ my daughter asks.

They do, they want to be your friend so much.

My daughter hasn’t yet come to terms with human complexities, how we sometimes can’t speak. To her, everything is as simple as putty (I am a thief). How can I tell her that experience can’t be reshaped, made smooth again like the mould of a child’s fear I’ve squashed in my hand? Everything adults say is coloured by their own hurt. It’s difficult to have more than a stock exchange with anyone but ourselves.

I look for the flowering trees; this is my favourite time of year, and my husband driving affords me the luxury to view without responsibility. It is starting to rain. The droplets manage to find each other on the glass leaving blurry tracks like a badly drawn family tree. They gather momentarily at the bottom of the window until the force of the car against the wind sends them away, into spray.

Takapuna means Falling Spring, in Māori. It refers to the water they found here, but I like to think it can also mean the beginning of summer because I’m English and it’s in my nature to corrupt another’s language to suit my own. The English language, for all its antiquity, its borrowed properties, is supple as young wood. But I also like this saying because it combines two seasons in one, like the lemon trees I’m passing now. I have one at home. My home is here.

Sometimes I think of England, but then it doesn’t feel like a country but a room where my grandmother shook me, hard, said ‘Crying doesn’t make a difference.’

I’d run for miles to get there when my brother beat me because he was high, because I talked too much. Life gave me lemons though they don’t grow on trees in Yorkshire, it’s too cold there. Now I grow them in my garden. The scent alone can make me weep. It never fails to awe me; while the lemon blossoms, last year’s fruit ripens on the same branch. I look out to see the green lightening each day.

First published in Short Fiction #7, now out of print. 

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Rachel J Fenton is a working-class writer living in Aotearoa. Winner of the 2022 NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize for Between the Flags, her novels have placed second in the Dundee International Book Prize and been listed in the 2022 Mslexia Novel Competition, the 2021 Text Prize, the Micheal Gifkins Unpublished Novel Prize, and the Cinnamon Press Debut Novel Prize. “While Women Rage in Winter” won the University of Plymouth Short Fiction Prize. 

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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The Thunder of Galloping Horses. memoir by Angela Rebrec

Bio Photo Angela Rebrec 2020

The Thunder of Galloping Horses 

         Sometimes a knocking at the door is just the wind. A look through the peephole will confirm this.

         They argue about the blood test, the requisition on the fridge held up for the past six and a half weeks by a magnet that boldly yells ALASKA in multi-coloured all-caps.

          “What’s the point,” she growls at him, “It’s not like I’d do anything about it.” She hops into the car and drives towards the lab at the local strip mall, the creased requisition on the seat beside her like an unwanted passenger.

         Barely a fortnight after fertilization and the heart begins to form. By the fifth week the heart starts to beat and divides into chambers. At six weeks, blood flows inside the body. By ten weeks, when she’s lying on the mid-wife’s couch and the Doppler wand comes to a stop at her belly’s bottom right side, they hear their baby’s own heartbeat.

         A knock at the door can be ignored for only so long. The wind can stand there for days.

         The doctor’s voice from the other end of the telephone reminds her of a pre-recorded message: …quad screen results positive…no need to worry…at this point doesn’t mean anything…because of how far along you are… schedule you in immediately …hospitalamniocentesis.

         The heart rate of a healthy baby in the womb ranges from about 120 to 160 beats per minute. A heartbeat that’s much faster or slower than that may signal a problem. [i]

         On occasion, the wind will let itself in with its own key.

         He leans over to her and exclaims, “These odds don’t look so bad.” The genetic counsellor nods as she preps them with stats, diagrams, outcomes, results.

         A one-eighth chance, she thinks, unwilling to speak it out loud, as though that act alone will make it solid, breathe into it a life all its own. 

         Cells duplicating and splitting and joining up again like starlings in a murmuration, pulsing and then cinching together like a belt at the waist. When chromosomes don’t separate the way they should, sometimes they get stuck together, to travel in threes or to travel all alone. Everyone’s chromosomes are a little bit different; but sometimes, cells get it all wrong.

         The texture of the room sticks to her body like fly paper. Every speck of dust, the pea gravel the children have carried in their shoes from the playground that now lies under the rack, the whites soaking in bleach in the tub, the sun stretching its fingers through the laundry room window, all chafe her like the sound of hornets.

         She sits on the laundry room chair as she answers the call from the doctor.

         The sound of hornets.

         The channel between the pulmonary artery and the aorta in a fetal heart diverts blood away from the lungs as prenatal blood is already oxygenated from the mother. After birth, this channel usually closes on the first day of life. If it does not close, it results in a decreased flow of oxygen into the body.[ii]

         A cool breeze staggers through the room while the door is left gaping.

         He argues: “Isn’t it obvious? It’s the right thing for our family. There isn’t even any question.” It’s an argument she knows she cannot win.

         It’s what mothers are supposed to do.

         In the hospital she asks the doctor. Just in case. In case they got it wrong.

         She almost makes him cry.

         Following the diagnosis of a genetic anomaly, some couples choose to have a legal abortion. However, following later abortions at greater than 20 weeks, the rare but catastrophic occurrence of live births can lead to fractious controversy over neonatal management. To avoid this situation, a fetal intracardiac potassium chloride injection is administered to cause fetal cardiac arrest before induction of labor.[iii]

         The walk to the hospital room. The longest hallway. The framed canvas photos on the wall of wide-awake or sleeping babies. The hallway at its narrowest. Families passing them in the tightest corner of the hallway, squeezing them out with their laughter and mylar balloons. The hallway and its photos. Baby sounds funnelling into the hallway as if from a soundtrack. The photos. The hospital room in the quietest corner of the ward. The longest walk. The noisy ward. The longest walk.

         In their hospital room, the nurse arrives with several painted boxes made by ladies from the auxillary. “You can choose one,” she says. “For keepsakes…footprints, photos…the ladies make them for families…like yours.”

         Not until the nurse shows them the last box does one finally speak to them as an overflowing riverbank: a blanketed baby asleep on a crescent moon, and behind, a blue-black sky filled with stars.

         She tells her husband “Run.” She tells him “Go get the nurse.” She knows childbirth and this is too easy, too soon. She squats over the toilet. The half-dose of Demerol begins to kick-in, and suddenly, she’s alone in the bathroom with her motionless baby.

         Sounds held up to the light. Clouds shuffle past as a procession, peer into the hospital window, witness a bed centred in the room, the chair with its back to the glass, the closed door failing to bar the scarring sounds from the hallway. From the door’s vertical glass panel: flash of purple scrubs, a jean jacket, mylar balloons, flowers cradled in arm. Sounds embrace after pacing in the hallway. Murmurs. Whispers. Hush, hush. Meadow flowers blooming in the hallway. Dappled clouds now peering in through the door’s window, push forward through the hallway’s mist, hold flowers up to the florescence. Teacups rattle on their saucers. Kittens mew at the door. Elbow through the sound. Light and its noise held up so high. Hush.

         She remembers it like a dream. Laughter in the midwife’s office and the fetal Doppler rolling across her belly. Too much laughter. “Quiet,” chuckles the midwife as she turns the volume up on the Doppler’s speaker: the unmistakeable sound of galloping horses. Their thunder rises in the room, joins the laughter already jumping on the ceiling like children tumbling in a carnival bouncy castle.

         The first rule of the door: always look through the peephole for what awaits outside.

         Nurse barges into the room, breaks the ice-quiet like a pick. “She’s so beautiful,” she whispers, as a crocheted-blanketed and flowered-layetted bundle floats across the room. Nurse takes a seat on the bed, and with joy on her face, hands the bundle first to him.

         Not really a bundle: a baseball handful, a kitten, a bouquet of freshly picked dandelions, a teacup and saucer.

         She wonders through the Demerol-half-dose haze: Why so much joy? Were they wrong after all?

         She held her right here, like this. And then she placed her in her palms. Like this.

         He indulges her everything—even the chaplain and the blessing.

         She wants to kiss baby’s feet one last time, but they are covered in knitted booties.

         “While you were asleep I went downstairs,” he confesses. ”What kind of cheap dad would I be if I never bought my daughter anything?”

         From her seat in the far corner of the office she watches rain fall onto cars parked in the lot outside the floor to ceiling window. It’s the third week of August and even the month seems to understand.

         The funeral director explains their policy: “We don’t charge parents anything for our services. You only have to pay for the casket.”

         She sits, trying not to crumble to the floor as a cracked teacup.

         “We’ll take the most expensive one,” he tells the director.

         The emptied room: where friends came and carried the baby’s things away.

         She walks to Safeway because she knows the fresh air will do her good. Moments through the automatic doors and already she is the fine lines of porcelain: the music piped through the store composed in D minor; the aisle with fishy-crackers and arrowroot biscuits; the customer who rifles through the apple bin as her toddler, strapped-in to the buggy’s seat, whines and reaches for a banana bunch.

         It’s all she can do to keep from chipping, piece by piece.

         She grabs a loaf of bread and milk jug by the handle and heads to the checkout.

         As much as you try, some locks cannot be changed.

         There was a knocking at the door.

         She stands at the threshold of the doorway, looks out to the bricked walkway that leads from the front steps of her house towards the sidewalk. In a neighbour’s yard, a tabby attacks an insect under boxwood hedges, misses a robin pulling at a worm on the lawn. Two bicyclists wiz by and soon afterwards a mini-van follows. Petunias wilt like summer butterflies from the patio planter as the garden hose suns itself serpentine underfoot.

         At the threshold of the open doorway, she allows the wind to walk past her and enter, to pace about the rooms of the house, a cold wind that reminds her of galloping horses, a sound that magnifies within the empty upstairs bedroom.

         She whispered, She’s so beautiful. Asleep on a crescent moon.

Notes

[i] Moore, Thomas. “When can I hear my baby’s heartbeat?” Baby Center: Expert Advice. n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

[ii] “The Heart and Downs Syndrome.” National Downs Syndrome Society. 2012. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

[iii] Fletcher, John C. PhD., et al. “Fetal Intracardiac Potassium Chloride Injection To Avoid The Hopeless Resuscitation Of An Abnormal Abortus: II, Ethical Issues.” Obstetrics and Gynecology Vol. 80, Issue 2 (August 1992): 296-299. Web. 22 Sept. 20 2015.

This memoir was first published in PRISM International, Summer Issue 2016.

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Angela Rebrec is a multidisciplinary artist whose poetry films have been recognized at the Barcelona International Film Festival, FilmmakerLife Awards, and Phoenix Shorts. Her most recent writing has appeared in Vallum, Prairie Fire, GRAIN, Cathexis Northwest Press, as well as the anthology, Voicing Suicide (Ekstasis Editions, 2020). Angela’s 2020 collaboration with composer Mickie Wadsworth for ART SONG LAB  has been included in NewMusicShelf’s Anthology of New Music for Trans & Nonbinary Voices, vol.1. Her writing has been shortlisted for several awards and contests including PRISM International’s Nonfiction Contest. Angela facilitates writing and expressive arts workshops for kids and adults of all ages She lives in Delta, BC on the unceeded ancestral lands of Musqueam, Kwantlen, Stolo, and Tsawwassen peoples.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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