Writing Advice. Sue Burge with Jenny Pagdin

Jenny Pagdin

WRITING ADVICE

This month I invited poet Jenny Pagdin to give advice to writers on how to protect their wellbeing when writing about trauma.  I was bowled over by Jenny’s words in this sensitive, generous and searingly honest article.

In the snow globe of trauma

 

When my son was newborn, I was hit between the eyes by a serious mental illness, postpartum psychosis, which broke my ties with reality just at the time of adjusting to new motherhood. This was eight years ago, and I have gone on to write both a pamphlet (Caldbeck), and the manuscript for a full collection (In the Snow Globe), about my experiences then and since.

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While not a teacher or psychologist, I can share a few tips about writing trauma from my own experiences.

  • Self-care

My first advice would be to practice general self-care: watch that your internal monologue is gentle and compassionate, and meditate/run/nap/phone friends/do whatever you normally do to take care of yourself, and do it even more than usual. Especially if you have no time. Especially if you have small dependents.

  • Accept the gifts of time

I didn’t start the Caldbeck poems until three to four years after that initial illness, and even without having an infant son to look after and my mental health to recover, I don’t think they could have come any sooner. I needed time to process what had happened, time for them to filtrate through the rocks of my psyche, time as a protective wall between me and the fiercest memories.  

  • Make your community

I went to a very productive (free) trauma-poetry workshop led by Helen Calcutt a couple of years ago. Helen, whose has written into the space left by her brother’s suicide, created a truly safe space for us as workshop participants: supportive, confidential, expansive in time. Without the space that Helen built for us I would never have had the confidence to tackle the material I looked at that day. I would recommend working with sensitive supporters like Helen if you want to explore difficult histories.

Writing the In the Snow Globe manuscript, I had the privilege of a lifetime – in being mentored by the wonderful Liz Berry (poet and President of the Republic of Motherhood!). I told Liz that she gave me the keys to my own writings – her warm understanding made me unafraid of some of the uglier experiences I was chronicling and I will always be very grateful for her insights and encouragement.

“The hospital material looks prettier now,

….as if time might be forgiven”. (Making a memory quilt).

 

Workshops, courses and mentoring can be big investments – but there are also accessible ways to build your supportive writing community, such as attending poetry events locally and further afield, or joining “Stanza” groups through the Poetry Society. And you have much to give, as well as to absorb. Writing about the psychosis gave me an alternative and more desirable identity than “mad mother”. I was a writer again, I could share work at events and online. “Speaking up” through poetry initially made me self-conscious. But I found my poems helped others to talk about the similar experiences that they’d lived through, and in this small way the stigma and misunderstandings cede slightly. 

  • Protect yourself

Mostly I have avoided writing about things that would have really hurt to explore – in both the pamphlet and the book manuscript. Those things I most wanted to avoid – the impact on my family life, the nature of my delusions – I have permanently steered away from. As poets it can be powerful to remember we have full control over what we share. 

  • Nudge your comfort zone

There is one poem in In the Snow Globe where I broke my self-protection “rule” and chose to move certain “difficult” material, which I barely wanted to look at, into the public realm. The poem that I wrote in Helen Calcutt’s workshop, Ursa Major, was originally titled Ugly Verse, telling you everything I felt about its content at the time. Here is a flavour of the chaos:

“the police were in our bedroom, the neighbours at the door with deckchairs, and Noah’s 

little voice below and Orion’s belt re-forming in the Velux, and the WPC saying he was fine he was having his tea and

        in between

my coarse screams a rubber black bar over me in the ambulance like the Big Dipper

Over time I have come to feel proud of this “difficult” poem.

  • Come at it from different angles

Approaching trauma from different angles (including the rueful, even the wry) makes for both easier and more compelling writing, I think. In my pamphlet and book I have tried to use a variety of forms (both received and new) and moods, from mildly funny through to livid, mournful and confused. As I wrote the later poems for In the Snow Globe, I found that they/I were moving more towards healing. The recurrent water imagery was changing shape, with hard rains and turbulent oceans giving way to healing baths and seas. Poems earlier in the book had alluded to Lorina Bulwer, the C19th needleworker who was an inmate at Great Yarmouth Workhouse. When textile imagery recurs later in the book, it’s in the form of comforting patchworks and crochets rather than Lorina’s angry embroideries. Towards the end of the collection, the poems shuffle-step towards an acceptance of motherhood and disability: “Say that my illness were a fairy child / …what was there to do but embrace her?”

 

About postpartum psychosis

Postpartum psychosis (PP) is a severe, but treatable, form of mental illness that occurs after having a baby. For more information about the condition, go to the Action on Postnatal Psychosis website:

https://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/

 

Jenny Pagdin’s pamphlet Caldbeck, which tells the story of her postnatal psychosis, was published by Eyewear in 2017, shortlisted for the Mslexia pamphlet competition and listed by the Poetry Book Society. Jenny was longlisted for the Rebecca Swift Foundation Women’s Poetry Prize 2018. Her work is featured or forthcoming in Smoke, Magma, Wild Court, Ambit, Ink, Sweat and Tears and Finished Creatures as well as the Emma Press Anthology of Contemporary Gothic Verse and The Mum Poem Press Anthology.

jennypagdin.co.uk / Twitter: @PagdinJenny

More details on Caldbeck here: https://blackspringpressgroup.com/products/caldbeck

Sue Burge, Contributing Editor of Literary News and Writing Advice

Sue Burge author photo

Sue Burge is a poet and freelance creative writing and film studies lecturer based in North Norfolk in the UK.  She worked for over twenty years at the University of East Anglia in Norwich teaching English, cultural studies, film and creative writing and was an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing with the Open University.  Sue is an experienced workshop leader and has facilitated sessions all over the world, working with a wide range of people – international students, academics, retired professionals from all walks of life, recovering addicts, teenagers and refugees. She has travelled extensively for work and pleasure and spent 2016 blogging as The Peripatetic Poet.  She now blogs as Poet by the Sea. In 2016 Sue received an Arts Council (UK) grant which enabled her to write a body of poetry in response to the cinematic and literary legacy of Paris.  This became her debut pamphlet, Lumière, published in 2018 by Hedgehog Poetry Press.  Her first full collection, In the Kingdom of Shadows, was published in the same year by Live Canon. Sue’s poems have appeared in a wide range of publications including The North, Mslexia, Magma, French Literary Review, Under the Radar, Strix, Tears in the Fence, The Interpreter’s House, The Ekphrastic Review, Lighthouse and Poetry News.   She has featured in themed anthologies with poems on science fiction, modern Gothic, illness, Britishness, endangered birds, WWI and the current pandemic.  Her latest pamphlet, The Saltwater Diaries, was published this Autumn (2020) by Hedgehog Poetry Press.  More information at www.sueburge.uk

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Matthew. A story by Sylvia Petter

CrankySylvia

Matthew

I didn’t know my son was born until the day after. I didn’t know if I’d even wake up. It was three days before I dared go up to his room. From the first day, Jack had gone to the room our baby shared with ten others like him in the intensive care section of the maternity ward, but I couldn’t do it straight away

‘It’s over 30 degrees,’ the nurse said. ‘We can take them out for a bit. It’s warmer in here than in the incubators.’

It was clammy in the August heat as I watched through the paned door. I didn’t know which baby was mine. I couldn’t hear any of them crying. But the one closest to where I was standing scrunched its closed eyes, stretched out its froglike legs and opened its tiny mouth in a soundless wail. My breasts wept.

I stared as the limp body drew its legs up, then rolled over to one side. A white capillary of milk ran into its nostrils. The nurse looked over to me; she held up five fingers and pointed to the small round watch pinned to her breast pocket. I nodded dully. I watched as she slipped each tiny body back into its Plexiglas box. Then she waved me in and pointed to the incubator by the door.

‘You can touch him,’ she said.

I eased my hand through the hole in the side of the box and with an unsteady finger stroked the down on my son’s head.

‘He’ll be in here till he doubles his weight,’ the nurse said.
And till I heal, I thought, clasping the drip holder that I dragged with me. Maybe longer. ‘Come often,’ she said. ‘Your husband comes every day.’ I nodded and said, ‘I know.’ Then left.

It was all meant to have been so different. After the age it took to get pregnant. Sex more than just pleasure. Sex with a reason. The contortions, the full moon, the food–alkaline, acidic–the gyrations. How we laughed with my legs up on the door of the cupboard next to our bed. We’d tried it all. The thermometer, the stopwatch, timed to ovulation. Then, after we gave up, it happened.

I loved being pregnant. I was never sick. I spent all my money on parenting magazines, read all the books. Jack even quit smoking. Why, I was going to have my baby, our baby. I might even have him squatting in the garden, maybe underwater, like those Russian women. It was all just so perfect. I grew rounder and rounder and everywhere I went I saw women like me– full, juicy, fertile. I sank my teeth into dripping figs and salty fat gherkins and thick oozing cheese. My baby would tickle my insides with the flutter of butterfly wings and I bathed in Jack’s gaze.

My mind drifted to our first meeting in Cannes ten years earlier. The blue sky. The blue water. The sun. The red and white striped umbrellas. I craved aphrodisiacs.

‘Let’s take a week in Cannes,’ I said. ‘Share some of that sunshine? We can eat oysters again.’ ‘You and your oysters,’ Jack said and tousled my hair. ‘Please, let’s go.’
‘The Med’s not the place anymore. Too much slick. Too filthy.’
‘The Atlantic, then?’ ‘Brittany? It’s colder.’

‘Don’t care,’ I said. ‘The oysters are fresh every day.’ Jack stroked my belly. ‘Won’t gherkins do?’

I wriggled under his touch. ‘No,’ I said. Then I smiled at him tenderly. I was in my sixth month.

Jack and I hadn’t wanted a baby straight away. There were so many things we had wanted to do. Wanted to explore. Not that we did all we had wanted, though. Then out of nowhere it was time and we both knew it.

We booked a week in La Baule on the bracing Brittany coast.
We ate oysters. Fresher than fresh. It was heaven.
When we got back to Geneva I was rested and bright. Jack went with me for my checkup. He covered my hands with his as they rested on my belly while we sat waiting for my turn.
Then Dr Lafont called me in. Jack stayed behind. Dr Lafont took my blood pressure.
‘We’ll have to keep you in hospital,’ he said. ‘Do some tests.’
‘But I’m perfect! I feel great!’ I said.
‘It’s for your baby.’ Then he called Jack in. ‘It may be toxoplasmosis.’

Toxoplasmosis? It can’t be. Oh, sure, I’d read about avoiding raw meat, and we didn’t even have a cat. It was all in the magazines.

‘She may not go to term,’ Dr Lafont said.

Suddenly I thought of the oysters, of a colleague who wouldn’t touch them. ‘It’s not because of my religion,’ he’d said. ‘My friend died. They’re filthy.’ How could I have forgotten. I thought of my mother. ‘Only ever eat oysters at the seaside,’ she’d always said.

‘Take her straight to the maternity ward,’ Dr Lafont said to Jack.

They put me in a room by myself. In the first week, several times a day, the nurse would prod my belly with a wooden trumpet, like a primitive hearing aid, to listen for the baby’s heartbeat. A few days later they hitched me up to technology and when I woke every morning the quiet red blinking would tell me we’d gained another day. Then they’d spike my belly daily with cortisone jabs.

‘To speed the baby’s development,’ the nurse said. I raised my eyebrows.
‘The lungs. Once the lungs are OK. Now get some rest.’
I had never rested so much in my life. I was flat on my back all the time. I was trapped and my baby was trapped inside me.

Well-meaning friends would tell stories about siblings born into cotton-wool cushioned shoeboxes. How they were stronger than all the rest. How they were survivors. ‘You’ll see,’ they said. I didn’t believe them.

The magazines spoke of the wonders of childbirth, the attendant fathers, the bonding, the love.
‘It’s not your fault,’ Jack said. ‘We didn’t know.’
‘We should have known. Dammit!’ All those magazines and perfect worlds. Why hadn’t I remembered my colleague’s words? God had his laws. They were laws of hygiene. Why hadn’t I believed him?

When I was at 32 weeks, Dr Lafont said, ‘We can’t wait much longer.’

Jack was home mowing the lawn when they rang him. ‘She’ll be in theatre at six this evening,’ the nurse said to him on the phone.

I went in alone. I wasn’t scared. Somehow I’d stepped outside of it all–the baby, Jack, outside of my life.

When I came to, Jack was by my side. ‘Thank God you’re OK.’
‘Did you see the baby?’ I said.
‘No.’
My voice caught in my throat. ‘But they must have passed you from the theatre…’
‘A trolley raced by. An aluminium bundle,’ Jack said and stared at me. ‘That was our baby?’
‘They say it’s a boy,’ I said as tears ran down my cheeks.
Jack didn’t cry, but his eyes were watery. ‘Our son,’ he whispered and kissed my forehead.
‘I’m scared,’ I said.
‘So am I,’ he said.
We sat in silence, his hand wiping my cheek.
‘The main thing is you’re all right,’ he said. ‘Do you want to see him?’
I shook my head. The tears wouldn’t stop.
‘Take your time,’ Jack said.

Our son weighed one kilo at birth. Jack had weighed five and now weighed one hundred. When they took off my drip, Matthew was still in the incubator.
On the day I left hospital they moved Matthew into a room full of cots. I would come in each day and learn how to change him. I’d bathe him in a washbasin, so small was he.
‘I’m frightened I’ll drop him,’ I said.
‘They bounce,’ the nurse said. ‘Don’t worry. Babies are tough.’
Yes, Matthew was tough. He was so tough that I felt he didn’t need me. He refused my breast.

He’d become used to the liquids dripping directly into him through a tube so I’d pump my milk for him to have in the bottle.

‘You’re not trying hard enough,’ the ward nurse said. ‘You don’t really want to breast feed.’

‘I want to, I want to,’ I said. ‘It’s just that he doesn’t. He cries.’
‘He feels you don’t want to.’
Matthew had to stay two months in hospital, the two months that I couldn’t keep him inside me. I’d healed on the outside, but I’d cry every night. Jack would hold me.

When Matthew came home, I wanted to hold him. I picked him up and he cried. I gave him to Jack and watched as my husband settled down on the couch, our baby splayed over his belly, contented. Soon both were sleeping.

When Matthew was three months old he began to fill out the baby clothes I had bought for our newborn. Jack fed him and rocked him. I went back to work. I missed Matthew, but he didn’t want me. What was I to think when he cried when he saw me?

‘I’ve failed as a mother,’ I said to Jack one night.

Jack cradled my face with his hands. ‘You’re just trying too hard. Don’t think ahead,’ he said. ‘Thank God for each day.’

‘It’s not God,’ I said.

Jack stroked the hair from my face. ‘One day at a time,’ he said. Then he drew me close and rocked me. ‘Let’s bring Matthew in with us. Lay him between us.’

I pulled back. ‘I’ll roll onto him. Squash him.’
‘You won’t,’ Jack said and kissed me.

That night the fever came. We woke to the hot twitching of Matthew’s body.
‘Strip him down,’ Jack said.
I was about to protest, but Jack had already gone to phone the hospital. He called from the hall: ‘They said strip him down.’
I held the naked baby against me as we drove through the dead town. The hospital lights glowed yellow. We rushed through the entrance. Matthew convulsed again. Then he was still.

Jack went home at three and I stayed through the night by Matthew’s bedside, just watching him breathe. With the first light of day our son opened his eyes. I swore he was smiling at me.

‘Take him,’ the nurse said.

I held my son close, held him and held him. He snuggled against me and sighed into sleep. All was quiet and warm. I was still standing there with Matthew in my arms when Jack arrived an hour later.

‘One day at a time?’ I said.
Jack nodded. Then he took us both in his arms.

First published online in The Edifice of Literature and subsequently in Back Burning, IP, Australia 2007, forthcoming in Collected Stories

Vienna born Australian Sylvia Petter trained as a translator in Vienna and Brussels.  Founding member of the Geneva Writers´ Group, she is a Humber College Toronto creative writing alumnus, holds a PhD in Creative Writing from UNSW (2009) and is a member of the Australian Society of Authors, Sydney, and GAV and IG_AutorInnen, Vienna.

Her stories have appeared online and in print since 1995, notably in The European (UK), Thema (US), The Richmond ReviewEclecticaReading for Real series (Canada), the anthology, Valentine´s Day, Stories of Revenge (Duckworth, UK), on BBC World Service, as well as in several charity anthologies, and flash-fiction publications.

Her latest book of short fiction, Geflimmer der Vergangenheit (Riva Verlag, Germany, 2014), includes 21 stories drawn from her English-language collections, The Past Present (IUMIX, UK, 2001), Back Burning (IP Australia, Best Fiction Award 2007), and Mercury Blobs (Raging Aardvark, Australia, 2013), and translated into German by Eberhard Hain, Chemnitz.

She has led flash-fiction workshops in Vienna and Gascony, France. Writing as AstridL, several erotic stories appeared in anthologies in the US (Alyson Books) and the UK (Xcite) and subsequently in her collection of 17 erotic tales, Consuming the Muse, (Raging Aardvark, Australia, 2013.)

In 2014, she organized in Vienna the 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English.

In March 2020, her debut novel, All the Beautiful Liars was published as a Lightning Bolt eBook by Eye & Lightning Books, UK, and came out  in 2021 in paperback and audio.

In July, 2020, she served on the jury for English-language flash fiction for the Vienna Poetry School’s second literary magazine “Gespenster” issued in October. Her antifa novelette in flash, Winds of Change, was published in April 2021 under her imprint FloDoBooks Vienna-Sydney. Sylvia works part-time at the University of Vienna in education science, and blogs on her website at http://www.sylviapetter.com where there is more on her and her writing.

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Mother. A story by Kelly Kaur

Mother

Gurbir thrashed her torso in grief on the lime green sofa, the one covered in thick, shiny plastic to keep it permanently clean. Her muffled sobs added to the unlikely squeak of friction of her bright pink silk suit against the sticky plastic. She beat her forehead with both her palms. Her twenty-four heavy, shiny gold bangles, twelve on each arm, jangled. Unable to contain her emotions anymore, the sounds of anguish punctuated the humid afternoon air. Suddenly, Gurbir paused in mid-grief and stared at the messenger of bad news. Her brother tried to touch her shoulder, to encompass the grief, but it only made her start another bout of convulsion. “Dead?” she uttered, over and again. Gurcharan nodded. “Heart attack. Gone. Just like that.” A shard of pain shot through her own thirty-year-old heart. Her husband was forty. How could he die? Leave her with eight children? How to survive? Disjointed thoughts flooded her head. That’s all she knew. Ma. Mummy. Ma-ji. She only knew how to reproduce. Give birth. Nurture. Feed. Bathe. Cook. Comfort. Scold. Discipline. Love. Endless cycle of children since she was thirteen. A girl child was only taught to marry. Not to survive. She recoiled as she remembered women ancestors long ago who were expected to walk into their dead husband’s funeral pyre.

One by one, the children ran out of their rooms, confused, drawn by the heart-wrenching wails of their mother. They encircled her, the youngest daughter pushing through to find solace in her mother’s lap. Except there was none.  Gurbir was frantically removing the gold bangles from her wrists. They made a loud clanging sound as they hit the top of the glass table. She took the corner of her shawl and wiped her lipstick and removed the red streak in the parting of her hair. She wiped the large red dot in the middle of her forehead. She, unwillingly, transformed into the outward marks of widowhood. Symbols removed. No more colour. No more joy. The room was now eerily silent.

The children formed a circle around their mother, silenced by her grief, holding her spirit up in their unity. They didn’t fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. She was mother. She was here. That’s all they could grasp for the moment. Papa was never home, anyways. He was, mostly, absent. Gone to Indonesia. Gone to India. Work. Businessman. That’s all they knew of the tall, gentle man with his flowing black silky beard and long hair, well-oiled and coiled, tied in a knotted bun under his trademark red turban. The oldest children couldn’t fathom that Papa would never come home again. The oldest son was devastated to see mummy in distress. He pushed through, sat at her feet, and leaned his puzzled forehead against her shuddering knees.

Gurbir stared at her children. How had she carried eight of them? She blinked. A woman. A wife. A mother. Now, what? Being a wife was eliminated in that split second of death. Not even a woman, anymore. An outsider. A dreaded widow. To wear white in perpetuity. But a mother – what now? Who would feed her children? How could she even do that? She had herself, if uneasily, become a wife as a child. Married from her village in Punjab, her long, lonely journey to Singapore at thirteen had been fraught with isolation, confusion and loneliness. Now? How was she to survive with eight children? Rent? Food?

Despite the iciness that plunged through her veins and the fear that rummaged in her belly, she held out her arms and as many children as could fit clambered around her. She sank her wet face in the tumble of hands, necks and torsos. She needed, in that moment, to be soothed by her children, to be that frightened, lonely thirteen-year-old who had become a mother before she even knew how. When the midwife thrust the wailing baby into her arms, her motherly instinct – or whatever that was that ran through the veins of women like the blood that nourished them – had taken over.

Gurbir’s brother left, promising to return in the morning. Darkness fell and the night felt eerily calm. Gurbir hadn’t moved from the sofa. The thick plastic continually creaked even with her minute movements. Her children dispersed to their rooms, the older ones instinctively nurturing the younger ones. Gurbir’s mind raced. Grief clouded her thoughts. Her husband had been a beautiful soul. Never a harsh word from him. Always a loving embrace. Always a longing for her when he returned. Eight children to prove it. She reluctantly heaved herself out of the sticky embrace of the couch and stared at the twenty-four gold bangles on the table. She knew she would have  to  go to the goldsmith to sell them first thing in the morning. Everything she owned.

Mingled with heartache, her mind raced. Suddenly, Gurbir darted out of the living room upstairs and scrambled down the rickety stairs to the ground floor of the pre-war house. She trundled down the long, dark narrow hallway to the unused back portion of the house. She stared at the big, wide-open space where the children played hopscotch and with their skipping rope.  The three squat toilets and two bathrooms were lined on the right. Silently, she took the tape measure and pencil from the drawer of the sewing machine in the corner of the room and started measuring the space. She wrote the measurements on the wall with the pencil.

Her sons came bounding into the back of the house. Four strapping teenagers. “Mummyji?” She heard one of them call out in alarm. She handed him the tape measure. She motioned the boys to work. Measuring narrow spaces, like coffins. Writing on the walls. Drawing boxes and diagrams. The boys were puzzled. Gurbir’s forehead was tense and furrowed in thought. They obediently followed her instructions.  “Six rooms,” she murmured under her breath. Tamil labourers from India loitering in the alley were always looking to rent rooms. Many times, she had shooed them away when they came knocking door to door, looking to rent a bed to put their weary heads upon after a long day hauling bricks and stone at the construction sites.

What else could a widow even do to bring in money? There were no jobs for women. Not in 1950. Her motherly will to survive was stronger than the other option of prostrating at the feet of strangers to beg for help. Thoughts raced haphazardly. How would she even let men into the house as a widow amidst the prying eyes and wagging tongues of neighbours, friends and family and other people from the gurdwara? Survive or succumb?

Silently, she put her arms around her sons and propelled them up the stairs.  Each step felt like lead.  Each step was shrouded in darkness. Heartache. Anguish. Trepidation. Apprehension. Puzzlement. Defeat.  Bewilderment. Suffering.  The strong arms of her children gave her strength. Gurbir entered the living room an unwillingly transformed woman. She recoiled from the familiar essence of motherhood that viciously coursed through her veins, one she recognized since she had been thirteen.

She bravely threw her head back and whispered a fervent prayer to Babaji.  Standing tall, she put her arms out to her anxious brood. They all dashed in, and Gurbir felt in the core of her womb a fleeting moment of clarity – she would be a mother who would surrender to no one and nothing.

Kelly’s poems and works have been published in SanscritWest CoastSinga, CBC, Mothering Anthology, New Asian Short Stories 2015, Short Story Dispenser (Central Library), online YYC Portraits of People, Time of the Poet Republic, Canada, WordCity Monthly, Best Asian Short Stories 2020, Blindman Session Stories, Anak Sastra, The Rucksack Project, The Contemporary Canadian Poets Program, Namaashoum and Understorey. Her first novel, Letters to Singapore, is set to be published by Stonehouse Publishing in Spring 2022.

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Still Life. A story by Irena Karafilly

author's pic 4

STILL LIFE

The obstetrician looked menacing. He looked like a shark, with his small eyes and wide mouth, and all those teeth when he opened his mouth to speak. He had given up trying to breathe life into her child, and was now leaning over her under the blinding lights. For a moment, nothing came out of his mouth but a puff of stale breath. And when at last he told her, muttering a word she didn’t understand, Lydia’s own lips felt stiff, as if numbed by novocaine. She had become aware of silence, abrupt and furtive, and a sudden scuttling through the haze surrounding the delivery table.

Dr. Minnaar had left the room, followed by his colleagues. Except for a very young nurse, the room was suddenly empty, like a deserted theater following a bomb threat. The nurse approached, and, her mouth twitching, asked whether she wished to hold her baby. Lydia was still grappling for coherence. Only a short while earlier, gazing at herself in the overhead mirror, she — a theatrical agent — had the feeling of participating in some odd stage production: elaborate costumes and scenery, herself at center stage, supine, obedient to the director, while a part of her kept struggling to wrest itself free of her possessive flesh.

She had been good, had been wonderful. They had all said so, urging her to push, push, push. And she wanted to go on being good; she dreaded being abandoned in this vast, antiseptic chamber. And so at last she accepted the stillborn child, but her hands on his head registered no sensation. She held him stiffly in her arms, gazing into the bloodless face with dream-like detachment. Mine? The room was spinning around her. The child bore a striking resemblance to her husband.

But where was her husband? Someone had tried to call him after her admission, but John was a surgeon at another hospital, unreachable when they’d wheeled her to the birthing centre. He had been summoned for a weekend emergency, but was now on his way, the nurse assured Lydia. “He’ll be here as soon as he possibly can.”

Lydia’s heart was a wild bird, trapped inside a chimney. She held the inert infant for another chaotic moment, then, all at once, thrust him back at the nurse, who looked doomed, having failed to escape along with the others.

“Do something!” Lydia heard herself shout, her body shuddering, as though subjected to electric shock. “Do something, please!”

“You’re still young, Mrs. Gabriel, you—“

She was thirty-three going on thirty-four, but did not argue. All she managed to spit out was, “No!” The word reverberated in the empty room. “No! No! No!”

Another nurse came in, checked her pulse, took her blood pressure. Then, murmuring words of comfort, shot a sedative into her vein. By the time her husband arrived, Lydia had been moved out of the birthing centre and into the bustling maternity ward, where she slept for several merciful hours. It was early afternoon when John entered her room on that rainy Labour Day weekend. They had been married exactly eleven years.

“Help!  Help!”

She had been awakened by a kicking sensation deep inside her womb. Slowly, Lydia rolled her head toward the window, groping for clarity. It was an overcast morning, with winds flapping at the windows. She was in an unfamiliar room, her right arm painfully lodged under her head. For some reason, she was unable to free it, feeling herself totter on the edge of a dream.

It was not until her eyes fell on the I.D. bracelet that full awareness struck. There was a moment of gouging pain, through which, dimly, she began to feel a rising perplexity. Her cries for help had come out of her dream, but she was no longer dreaming. She was certain of that, though increasingly bewildered by the persistent kicking in her womb. It was a familiar enough sensation that, right now, made no sense.

 Am I going mad?

She forced herself to review yesterday’s events — the rushed delivery, the first moment of slashing comprehension. Stillborn.

And yet, though she was now fully awake and lucid, the kicking in her womb remained as indisputable as the weather. For some reason, both her arms ached — as if, hypnotized, she had carried some burden only her muscles had a memory of. She found the other pain, the one between her legs, almost reassuring, for she remembered its origin well enough; she recalled the OBS resident’s balding head, bent over his patchwork like a weary tailor.

It was the kicking that finally made Lydia reach for the telephone: the kicking and the lurking fear that she might indeed be going mad. She had an aunt who had been briefly institutionalized, and a father whose behaviour had always been a little erratic.

The morning nurse came in and Lydia hung up, gasping in pain as she rolled over to face a diminutive Filipina with impossibly long eyelashes. Charmaine Syn, said the name tag. Lydia became acutely aware of her own odious body: swollen, slashed, malodorous, oozing blood and sweat. She wished she could summon the strength to fling open the door and holler into the hectic corridor:

My baby has died; he died and they won’t even tell me why!

 The room was spinning again.  She shut her eyes, letting her mind drift back to the last time she held her lifeless child in her arms. On a sudden impulse, she had begged John to have her son brought back after she awoke yesterday afternoon. He had rushed to oblige her, watching her caress the baby’s lifeless body, fingertips lingering on cheeks, white and still as wax, on tiny, translucent earlobes.

The child seemed to be sleeping. Lydia went on fondling the tiny toes, peering between buttocks, thumbing the spine, the skull.

“There’s no flaw on him anywhere,” she whispered to John. “I’ve checked.”

A nerve was beginning to pulse in John’s brow. “He has your beautiful lips,” he said.

They sat wrapped in silence then, alone with their dead child, while out in the corridor, a supply cart rattled by, and two men stopped to chat just outside Lydia’s door, braying with glee. At length, a bespectacled English nurse came in, flushed and breathless, trailing a faint, medicinal smell. She paused on the threshold briefly, then trotted toward Lydia’s bed, blinking behind her heavy lenses like a startled owl. A moment or two went by. The nurse extended her arms, eyebrows raised questioningly.

“No. Not yet, please.” Lydia levered herself on an elbow. “Is it all right if I snip off a bit of his hair?”

“Why not? He’s your baby.” The nurse achieved a smile. She pulled a pair of scissors from one of her pockets. “He looks an awful lot like his Daddy, doesn’t he?”

“He does.” Lydia glanced at her husband. On the street below, an ambulance siren wailed but did not quite drown out what the nurse said next.

“We could have a picture taken—if you’d like, Mrs. Gabriel.”

“Yes! Oh yes,” said Lydia. “Why didn’t think of that?”

She was still cradling her baby, vaguely aware of a cold draft seeping through the window. The child had been brought to her wrapped in a soft blanket, but he was naked now, and, instinctively, Lydia found herself casting an anxious glance toward the open window.

And John — her supremely rational husband, who thought all theatre people impetuous, often irrational — had seen her do it.

“I need a cup of coffee,” he suddenly said, rising. “I’ll be back soon.” 

*

“What are they going to do with him?” she asked without preamble. It was late morning, Lydia’s second day at St. Margaret’s. She was speaking to her husband on the telephone.

“Do with him?” John, who had stopped to see his parents, took a moment to answer. “Cremate him, I guess.”

“You’re not sure?” Lydia swallowed hard. “Didn’t you ask?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’ve signed release forms. I hope that’s all right with you.”

“What do you mean all right?”

He said, “I mean my taking care of…you know, all the formalities.” He cleared his throat. “They said it had to be done yesterday.”

A small, incoherent sound escaped Lydia. “So he’s going to be cremated today?”

“I believe so.  I hope that’s all right,” he repeated.

And again she asked, “What do you mean all right? Was there anything else we could have done?”

“Well.” She heard his heavy sigh. “We could’ve had a burial, I suppose.”

“Burial,” she echoed, like a foreigner practising a new word. “You mean a regular funeral, a gravestone?”

“I suppose,” he said. “Some people do choose this option but— ”

She broke in, breathless. “Would I be able to attend?”

“I don’t know. It would depend on your doctors.”

“He could’ve had a gravestone,” she said musingly. “I could’ve gone to visit.”

John said, “Oh, Lydia, please.” Then:  “It’s not as if —

But she broke in with sudden heat. “You could’ve asked me, couldn’t you? I’m his mother! The least you could’ve done was asked me!”

“I’m sorry, Darling,” he said, exhaling into the phone, “but…I wanted to spare you, I—” He paused, then went on more briskly, “I thought you weren’t ready…that it would be thoughtless of me. You understand, don’t you?”

“No. No, I don’t,” said Lydia. She hesitated, swallowed hard, then hit the OFF button without so much as goodbye.

Rain was pelting the window, sifting down from a bruised-looking sky. A stranger was standing at the foot of her bed: a middle-aged man in a white coat, studying a chart.

 A new doctor.

Lydia’s lips tasted salty. She had fallen asleep again at some point. Through the wall came a baby’s muffled cry. When she pulled the white sheet up to her chin, the doctor raised his gaze. He was very tall, with wiry hair and dark, melancholy eyes. 

“Hello. I’m Dr. Seager, Dr. Minnaar’s associate.” He smiled down at her, vaguely apologetic. “I’m very sorry.  Dr. Minnaar— ”

“Yes, I know,” Lydia broke in on his explanation. “He told me before he left.” Had said, that last time in his office, she would have to hurry if she wanted him to have the honour. She had been nine days overdue; he was scheduled to leave for South Africa.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Seager repeated. He put the chart down. “I know it must suck, having to deal with a perfect stranger at a time like this.”

“Yes.” Lydia closed her eyes. In the sudden silence, the wind could be heard, flapping and moaning.

“How do you feel?” the doctor was asking. “A ridiculous question, I know, but I…I hoped you might like to tell me.” He sat down beside her, clutching his stethoscope but looking grave and patient, as if he had dropped in for nothing more than a friendly chat. “You must be angry,” he stated when she failed to answer.

“Yes.”

“Well,” he said, “you’ve got every right to feel cheated: nine months of waiting wiped out in one day.”

“Barely two hours,” she said, more or less to herself. “I don’t suppose you know anything…?” She had raised her eyes to him, only to fall abruptly silent. The smell of smoke—real or imaginary, she really couldn’t tell—was rising in her nostrils.

He shook his head in mute sympathy. “No, but — ”

Afraid she might lose her nerve, she did not let him finish. “There’s something wrong with me.” She spoke in an odd, mumbling voice, her heart wild.

“Tell me.” His gaze held her patiently, dark and sorrowful as a Basset Hound’s.

“I think I’m going mad.” She let the word slip out, then raised her hands and hid her face behind them. The wind rose and fell, whistling at the windows. She said, “I keep feeling the baby kick.”

“Well…it does sound kind of crazy, doesn’t it?” He sighed, raking his hand through his wiry hair. “Actually, though, it’s not at all unusual.” His dark eyes implored her to trust him. “Have you ever heard of phantom legs—amputees’?” he asked.

“I guess so.” 

“It’s the same sort of thing. You’re not going mad.” He looked at her closely for a moment. “Anything else you think I should know?”

“I don’t know…yes…I keep…smelling smoke.”

He let out a long, weary breath. “It happens sometimes. Listen: whatever you do, don’t be afraid to talk about it. It’s all…perfectly normal, believe me.”

Normal then: to feel that some part of you, some indispensable organ, like your heart or your liver, was suddenly extracted from your defeated body. Bitterly, she said, “I guess it’s also normal, even banal, to say that I want to die but…I really do.” Her voice cracked. “I — ”

“Mrs. Gabriel — Lydia — ” He touched her arm lightly. “Look, I don’t want to sound pompous, but there are actually times when it takes more courage to live than to die, you know. Please believe me, you’ll get over this. In time.” His glance fell on the empty tissue box next to her breakfast tray. He held out his own pack of tissues.

“Thank you.” Though she wore nothing but her hospital gown, Lydia’s body was perspiring profusely. Blowing her nose, she said, “The thing is, I can’t…I just can’t imagine picking up where I left off—can’t bear the thought of going home empty-handed.” A tiny sound, like a child’s hiccup, escaped her throat. Her eyelids fluttered. “When am I going home?”

“Well,” he stood up decisively, a dent between his eyebrows, “I’ll have to examine you.” The apologetic note was back in his voice.

“Right now?”

He smiled sadly, pulling out a pair of rubber gloves. “I’ll try to be gentle.”

“Okay.” She was swept with gratitude for his kindness. Dr. Minnaar had been so hasty, so arrogant! “I’m sorry,” she muttered vaguely. Her legs had begun to tremble. She fought the urge to sit up, to run, to hide the empty mountain of flesh rising beneath her breasts.

 But soon this moment, too, had passed. She felt herself grow resigned under his probing hands. Somewhere in the distance, a dog was barking; clouds drifted across the autumnal sky. She lay back, she rolled over; she followed his commands in silence. What if I hadn’t gone into labour yesterday, but waited until Minnaar had left and this kinder doctor took over. Would everything still be the same? She trembled under the stethoscope, his gloved fingers palpating her flesh. The tone of her bladder was impaired, Dr. Seager said; her urethra was swollen.

“Why?”

 He sighed, folding his stethoscope. “Big baby, quick delivery—nothing major.”

 He spoke soothingly. She would have to stay, though, till the problem cleared up. “I’ll put you on medication…hopefully by tomorrow — ”

She bowed her head, echoing bleakly. “Tomorrow.”

“Yes, but…one day at a time.” He stood regarding her with his mournful eyes. “I’ll drop in again sometime after lunch.”

“It could’ve been much worse, you know,” John was saying. “He might have been born with Down’s syndrome, or spina bifida, or—”

“But he wasn’t!” Lydia interjected. She regarded her husband with blurred eyes, bitterness clinging to the roof of her mouth. “It must have been something the doctors did!” she blurted. “Something went wrong — I’m sure of it! Why else would Minnaar look so evasive?” She began to weep noisily, talking through her tears. “We can have an official inquest though, can’t we? Maybe sue them…the hospital?”

“Lydia.” John stroked a stray lock away from her face. “I’m sure Minnaar…I’m sure they all did what they could, believe me.” He took her hand, looking tired but earnest. “It was probably lack of oxygen,” he said after a moment. “That’s what it is most often.”

“But why?” she insisted. “Why, when he was so perfect?”

“Oh, my dear,” he said.  “I wish I had the answer.”

She turned away then and hid her face in the pillow, shaking with unleashed grief.

“Lydia, darling,” he said. “Listen…please listen to me.” He paused. He licked his lower lip.  “We’re still young enough, you know.  We — ”

She jerked herself upright. “Oh — !” she let out, seeming to choke on the utterance. She meant to add something, but then, overcome by unbearable fatigue, fell back with a moan and resumed weeping. 

Soon, the P.A. system announced that visiting hours were over. Lydia raised her head.

“How will I tell my mother?” she suddenly asked. Her widowed mother was at home with a retired nurse, recovering from a varicose vein operation.

“I’m going to see her right now,” said John. He leaned in, planting a kiss on Lydia’s forehead. “Please try not to worry.  I’ll take care of everything.”

*

Dr. Seager arrived right after lunch, as promised, his arrival a small gift from some merciful deity. She told him about her abortion at the age of twenty, a miscarriage she had two years later, her failure to conceive in the years that followed. All this was probably in her chart, but last December, before finding out she was finally pregnant, she’d had too much to drink on at least two occasions.

“I mean, it was Christmas, it was New Year’s Eve. My period had always been kind of erratic, so — ” She paused. She raised both her hands and covered her eyes.

 “You’re not responsible,” Dr. Seager stated. There was nothing she could have done — or not done. But there was something they should look into: the possibility of a genetic factor. “We’ll do blood tests on both of you…you are still — ”

Lydia registered only fragments of what Seager was saying, for one word kept echoing in her head: genetic. So it could still be that; there could still be an explanation.

“We’ll try a new medication,” Dr. Seager said, gloved hand probing her battered flesh. He talked gently while she lay, passive, her breasts swollen with a superfluous substance. She told him about the painful lactation, surprised to learn that she had been given a suppressant.

“Why isn’t it working then?” she asked. “What’s the matter with me?”

 Seager spread his hands. “Nature can be stubborn. We’ll give you new tablets.”

“More tablets?”

“Might as well — they’re on special this week.” He grinned at her boyishly, then patted her hand. “Try to be kind to yourself,” he said. “And, please, go for a walk. Doctor’s orders!”

Dr. Seager had ordered exercise, so Lydia finally ventured out of her room, waddling down the corridor with her mangled bottom, her useless, engorged breasts. It was nearly visitors’ time. A woman in a quilted robe came out of the solarium, talking excitedly on her phone. She glanced up and smiled.  Lydia dropped her gaze. 

Outside the nursing station, half a dozen babies were laid out in tiny cots, waiting to be claimed by their mothers. Most of the infants were asleep, clad in blue or pink blankets, I.D. bracelets dangling from their tiny wrists. There was a small lounge next to the nursing station, and, as she went by, Lydia could see a circle of mothers dressed in street clothes, getting last-minute instructions before going home. In one of the cots, a newborn began to fret, his fists batting the air.

Something stirred in Lydia’s chest. She paused for a moment, undecided, pressing her hand to her chest in a gesture of distress she had picked up from her widowed mother. She glanced toward the head nurse, who was on the phone, writing something on a pad, then again, at the mothers huddled in the lounge. They were all intent on the bespectacled English nurse, who was busy demonstrating something. Lydia gestured toward the head nurse, but the woman only raised her hand like a traffic policeman, signalling her to wait.

Lydia waited. For one chaotic moment, she stood bent over the tiny cot, making soothing noises, filled with violent longing. The child went on wailing, but an inner voice was suddenly hissing in Lydia’s ear. “Don’t!  Don’t you dare touch him!”

The baby was growing frantic, his pink face quickly turning purple. And still Lydia wavered, casting a helpless glance toward the distracted nurse. The moment seemed interminable, but finally, anxiety having given way to panic, she found herself leaning into the cot, picking up the howling bundle. 

At once, the newborn stopped shrieking and gazed up at her, his face gaining a more natural color. Another moment, though, and his frantic mouth began to search the exposed skin around her neck, making small, greedy noises. 

Lydia rocked the baby, crooning in his ear. But the hungry infant, failing to find satisfaction, screwed up his face and resumed howling. She tried stroking between his eyes. It was a trick that often worked with kittens, but the baby went on protesting, shuddering from head to toe. 

A few moments went by. Lydia had stopped thinking; she had stopped trying to get the nurse’s attention, and was now shuffling toward the solarium, cradling the newborn child. There was laughter wafting from one of the rooms, music from another. Two youngish men had stepped off the elevator, chuckling, both of them bearing flowers.

The solarium was deserted; the only sound to be heard was that of cars speeding on the street below. The weather had been fickle all week. After days of rain and wind, the sun had emerged and the bright room seemed unbearably over-heated. Lydia could feel her armpits grow moist and her breasts start to leak. The baby in her arms was still screaming, still flailing, but no one came. No one thought to investigate.

 Lydia lowered herself into one of the lounge chairs. It was a vinyl recliner, standing in the corner, away from the entrance. Robbed of will and reason, she shifted her thighs and drew the baby closer. Out on the street, an impatient driver kept honking his horn. The P.A. system came on, drowning out both street traffic and the newborn’s frenzied cries. Lydia was fumbling with her pyjama buttons, grappling with her new maternity bra, her whole body quivering with anticipation. It seemed to take forever, but at last she was ready. The whole world had come to a standstill, resigned, while she shifted her weight, let her eyelids drop, and quietly, blissfully, surrendered.  

__________________________________________________

Every year, one in every 125 Canadian pregnancies ends in a stillbirth; in the UK, one in every 219; in the US, there are said to be nearly a million birth tragedies.

 

Irena Karafilly is an award-winning Montreal writer, poet, and aphorist. She is the author of several acclaimed books and of numerous stories, poems, and articles, published in both literary and mainstream magazines, as well as in various North American newspapers, including the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.  Her short stories have been widely published, anthologized, and broadcast, winning literary prizes such as the National Magazine Award and the CBC Literary Award. She currently divides her time between Montreal and Athens and is at work on a new collection.

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Prayers for Aisha Lulu. A review by Darcie Friesen Hossack

Rokiah - prednjica ZA TISAK

 

Prayers for Aisha Lulu

As I write, tensions and violence are once again escalating between Israel and Gaza. People are dying. Hatred is rising. And caught in the middle are the children.

This conflict, for all the years and decades of its existence, is the reason for Prayers for Aisha Lulu, an anthology of peace poems, dedicated to one young girl, and by extension, all of the children lost to mistrust of others, to hatred, to war.

And yet, in the words of Carin Makuz, one of my favourite bloggers, “This Is Not a Review.” Not exactly. It is also not a political essay or opinion piece.

It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to critique this anthology. There are, after all, two poems of my own in Rokiah Hashim’s latest offering.

My reason for wanting to write about this collection, is because I am someone who remembers being a child, separated from her mother. I want to tell you about Aisha Lulu herself.

Aisha Lulu was five years old, a Palestinian girl from the al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. She required complicated surgery in Israel to treat her brain cancer and, potentially, save her life.

When she was finally granted permission to travel to Jerusalem, though, Aisha was forced to travel, and undergo her terrifying surgery, without her mother or her father by her side. An unrelated woman was approved, instead, as her only support.

This little girl, sobbing for her mother, survived the operation. She was returned to Gaza unconscious, only to die a week later.

A press statement by the Palestinian Minister of Health, Mai Alkaila, read, “Aisha had to fight her disease alone, in a blatant disregard to international agreements, covenants and treaties on…children’s rights.”

As it always does, conflict, the inability of grownups to act in the best interests of children, whether personally or politically, stole away Aisha’s comfort and quite likely her life. Aisha, it is believed, died of a broken heart.

Hashim herself writes, in part:

Though Aisha Lulu was fighting for her life
From a chronic brain tumor

Only an unknown woman
Allowed to accompany her
For love and compassion of a small orphan
Who doesn’t know anything
About political game of the mighty and the powerful

That’s the pinch of humanity
Shown to Aisha Lulu
The orphan from Gaza

And Aisha Lulu died
Crying to the end of her life

This poem, and the collection in its entirety, is, as Hashim describes, an Alfatihah: prayers in Islam recited for the dead.

Today, as more shots are fired, as tanks and troops amass, we look to those same gates and wonder at the children, at their mothers and fathers, whose necessary passages will only be made more difficult, or made impossible altogether. How many more will die this way? How many more will die in explosions and incursions?

How much more time will it take before leaders understand that every child is a singular miracle, to be cared for and nurtured and loved?

Already, there are far too many Aisha Lulus.

And so, those of us assembled in these pages have come together to hope, pray, plead, through poetry, for a solution to this crisis and others that cause so much suffering to children and their mothers, their families, their communities.

As for the anthology itself, while there are as many themes as there are poets featured, the ones I wish to share for this, WordCity Literary Journal’s (M)othering issue, are those connected by threads of child-parent bonds and the hope for a better world for children everywhere.

There are, after all, some things that should transcend history and borders, politics and even fear of one another, and this excerpt from Biljana Bilhanovska’s poem, I Wouldhas become our collective hope:

"I would like with warm look
to embrace all children of the world
as our own born,
and to not feel differences among strangers.
I would like to say to all the nations of the world
To speak only about peace
Understanding and caring"

Biljana Biljanovskaborn in Skopje, 1948 is a professional freelance translator, journalist, writer and poet. Most of her schooling was in the Serbo-Croatian language, in Belgrade, where she finished elementary and high school, and part of her university education. She graduated from the State University, ” St. Cyril and Methodius” Faculty of Philology in Skopje, in Romance Philology, where she also studied French and Italian, Literature and Culture. She went for courses in Italy to improve her translation and interpretation skills to the High School of Translators and Interpreters in Milan. She translates many books from Macedonian into the Serbian language, from French and Italian into the Macedonian language, and from Serbian and Macedonian into French and Italian.

We Change
by Jose Luis Rubio Zarzuela

If you want to live in peace
Throw the weapons into the river.

Do not teach the child to play
with sabres or shotguns.
Teach him to plant roses
and to talk with people.

Was is a game
that destroys without mercy
And you don't have to play.

Let's change tanks for books
set down knives
and bombs for verses.

Let's replace bullets
for fine brushes
or colored pencils
and paint flowery fields
or calm seas
full of multicolored fish.

We sow heaven and earth
of white doves
and live in peace forever.

It is perhaps illusion or dream
but I want to dream
that the doves of peace
They nest in all countries of the world.

Born near the sea, in the Barrio de la Viña, in Cádiz, Jose Luis Rubio Zarzuela became a teacher and an indignant poet who rebels against injustices. He has published twelve poetry books, three were written when he was a teenager during the dictatorship of ??. His work appears in ten anthologies and his poems are published in national and international journals, on paper and in digital form. He runs a poetry magazine that is published online.

A Leaf  Has Kept Out All the Winds
by Zhang Zhi

Someday
For something
A hot quarrel
Happens
Between my wife
And me

"Don't quarrel
You are married
And you should love each other"
My three-year son
Who is doodling
Suddenly says

My wife and I
Face to face ... wordless

A leaf has kept out all the winds

January 8, 2014

Born in Sichuan province in 1965, Zhang Zhi is an important contemporary poet, critic and translator in China. His pen name is Diablo, and his English name is Arthur ZHANG. He has a PhD in literature and is the President of the International Poetry Translation and Research Centre, executive editor of Rendition of International PoetryQuarterly (a multilingual publication), and editor-in-chief of the English edition of World Poetry Yearbook. He began to publish his literary and translation works in 1986. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages and has won poetry prizes in many countries. These include, RECEITA, SELECTED POEMS OF DIABLO , POETRY BY ZHANG ZHI, Selected Poems of Diablo, A Jigsaw Picture of the World, قَرَوْىلََعٍرْعَشْنِمٌةلْصُخ(Arabic), a collection of poetry criticism entitled, Series Essays on Avant-Garde Chinese Poets. He has edited Selected Poems of Contemporary International Poets (English-Chinese), Selected New Chinese Poems of 20th Century (Chinese-English), and, A Dictionary of Contemporary International Poets (multilingual).

Death in the Aegean Sea
by Hilal Karahan
	
With its claws, death caresses
rubber boats crossing Al Sirat
certain hopes drop into fire ocean.
The world, whose sough
is disappeared, waves at
backstage like a curtain

2.
When morning has dawned,
refugee children trundle
into the middle of mettle:
Europe is looking blind, listening deaf.
If they can reach to doors,
It will accept 400 thousand refugees
to make voluntary toothpicks
for cogwheels of capitalism.
They will be hungry, thirsty
but still alive
if they can pass Aegean waves,
Greek police batons,
Hungarian wire fences,
Macedonian railways,
if they can reach Europe.

3.
Middle East has shaken out
the tablecloth, paradise and hell
are under feet
Everyone lives in a heart's cage

Turkish poet, Hilal Karahan, was born in Gaziantep in 1977 and is a medical doctor by profession. She has also translated many collections since 2000. She has joined bilingual poetry almanacs and organizes many international poetry festivals. She has published 6 poetry collections, 3 prose books and many selected works published in a number of languages. Hilal is a member of Turkish PEN, the Turkish Ambassador of UNESCO-linked World Institute of Peace (WIP), Secretary General of UNESCO-linked Writers Capital Foundation (WCP), and the Turkish Director of the World Festival of Poetry (WFP) organizations. She has many national and International Poetry awards. Since 2017, she has been a member of the publishing council of international bilingual poetry magazines of Absent and Rossetta World Literature. Since 2016, she has organized the annual Feministanbul Poetry Festival.

Father Figure
by Darcie Friesen Hossack
	

600 kilometres
a dozen powdered doughnuts
a stuffed cat for comfort
the seventh row of a bus
crowded to the back

with smokers

men
who watch each time I
pass their seats

at six, seven, ten years old
to see you

-
I bleed into my bathtub
a dozen bottles of pills by the sink
a cat sitting by as I silent-
scream against pain
I’m told will never stop

in the emergency room
I see you there

which is how
I know I’m dreaming

Darcie Friesen Hossack is the Commonwealth Prize-shortlisted author of the short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance (Thistledown Press). She is member of The Writers Union of Canada, and is the managing editor of WordCity Literary Journal. She has lately completed a novel called Stillwater.

Song of a Child
by Abu Bakar Ishaq Eazy

Tell me, where are the tears that won't be shed
When all eyes have refused to go to bed;
Eyes that are swollen with fear and become red?
Now it seems, worthless is the human head.

Where is that man who has refused to cry
After beholding dead bodies piled up high?
Look up and see the sad face of the sky
Too many loss of guiltless souls but why?

Yesterday was filled with tears and sorrow,
Today, we fear the exploding arrow,
How can we then be sure of tomorrow
When the fate of our lives, we do not know.

'Mother is gone...father's no more...' Says child,
'I'm left alone. With whom shall I abide?'
Vultures of the human souls are around
They've taken the sires and won't spare the child.

Daddy, let's move our things and start leaving,
Tell me mummy, why are we still waiting,
We either stay and die, or start running,
Make haste for Boko Haram is coming.

Because yesterday, it was Sanni's house,
Today I fear the same fate for our house,
Bombs are lying about like the human louse,
So many roasted meat, but not of cows.

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy is a poet, short story writer, editor, book reviewer, and essayist. He holds a degree in English Language and Literary Studies, and has written myriad critical essays on literature, most of which are published online. He currently teaches ESL/EFL at Qalam Educational and Technical Centre, Hargeisa, Somaliland. His published poems include, ‘Song of a Child’ in Sunset in the Confluence, a student anthology published by the National Association of Students of English Language and Literature (Nasell), Kogi State University, and ‘Overdue,’ which first appeared on http://www.memorila.com

When I Drink Tea in New Jersey
by Faleeha Hassan

Like a girls who writes poetry about a boy she has never
seen
My day sits with all this disappointment
Counting her fleeting moments
I remember my mother using the smell of onions
To shed her tears in the kitchen
For the absence of my father
Who climbed his life war by war
Whenever he wore his military belt
He wished that war was just an old shoe
He could take it off whenever he liked
And he didn't need to think of fixing it at the cobbler's
shop
I remember my brother
Who asked in his letters-
When will the war understand that we are not good at
dealing with death?
I remember us forty years ago
We were kids, very much kids
With colorful clothes and hearts
It was enough for us to see a balloon
To drown in big laughter
I remember all this now
When I drink my tea
And
I practice my loneliness

Faleeha Hassan is a poet, teacher, editor, writer, and playwright born in Najaf, Iraq, who now lives in United States. Faleeha is the first woman in Iraq to write poetry for children. She received her master’s degree in Arabic literature, and has now published 25 books. Her poems have been translated into English, Turkish, Bosevih, Indian, French, Italian, German, Kurdish, Spanish, Korean, Greek, Serbian, Albanian, Pakistani, and Malayalam. Faleeha has received many awards in Iraq and throughout the Middle East for her poetry and short stories. Faleeha has also had her poems and short stories published in a variety of American magazines. Faleeha received a Pulitzer Prize Nomination in 2018, and a Push Cart Prize in 2019. She was appointed IWA Cultural Ambassador to Iraq. She now lives in the USA.

The Abyss
by Luka Boskovic

Have you looked upon the darkness?
Have you seen the utter murk?
That blackness, that emptiness?
Have you felt how through the pores
Ender under the skin the, cold, the hunger?
Have you felt ice travel through your veins,
that cold, travel to your brain?
Have you asked if you dream of if you wake up
the sole moment you close your eyes?
Have you remembered your birth?
No, not when you left your mother's body,
But long before. That birth
that caused you to be in this body?
Have you questioned if you know the people around you
Or if you only know what you draw from them, know only
The mask you put upon your face?

Luka Boskovic was born on the 12th of June, 1997 in Sarajevo, Bosnia -Herzegovina . He is currently studying Archeology and History for a Bachelor’s degree in the Faculty of Philosophy, at the University of Sarajevo. Luka speaks English, German, and Bosnian. He has written 100 poems, a philosophical horror-novel, and a collection of horror stories.

Siti Ruqaiyah Hashim (Rokiah Hashim) from Malaysia is a poet, prolific film critic, and translator. She started writing in 1987 in literature magazines and newspapers. She has published a film critic book (2015), a bilingual poetry book titled Catharsis/Katarsis (2015) and in Spanish in (2016). Her bilingual World 1st Peace Poem anthology, titled News From Strasbourg, was published in 2017,and  her second bilingual World Peace Poem anthology titled, Peace Be Upon You Davos was published in 2019 in Zagreb. Her own collection of poems were translated and published in Albanian by Ditet E Naimit 2019 titled Rerat E Sri Lavender. She published translations of Shaip Emerllahu’s poems in the Malay Language and in English titled, Epal Tetovo/Apples of Tetovo, in 2019 . Her bilingual poetry collection titled: BETWEEN STOLEN GLANCES/Antara Mencuri Pandang was published recently in Zagreb. Her works also appear in numerous international anthologies. Her poems have been translated into 16 languages. Rokiah has attended poem festivals all over the world. She is an associate author with International magazines Diogen Pro Culture (USA), Poetrybay (USA), Greenwatch Bangladesh, and Campus 247. She is also involved with WordPress (Ghana), Atunis Galaktike Poetry (Belgium), and Time of The Poet Republic. Her film article won an award in Malaysia in 2006, and her poem (which one?) won Best Poem in Croatia in 2019. Rokiah has received numerous international awards.

Rokiah - korice ZA TISAK

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WordCity Literary Journal Expands into its Second Home!

Beginning in May 2021, WordCity will take up residence in this new, dedicated space. We are still part of the Time of the Poet Republic, in partnership with UNESCO-Rila affiliate poet, Mbizo Chirasha. Here, we will continue to bring together a global community of readers and writers, collecting and compiling the exceptional content you’ve come to know and expect.

Stay tuned, our anticipated (M)othering issue, in partnership with guest editors Anne Sorbie and Heidi Grogan is coming soon!