Your responses to bi-weekly prompts


Grass is Greener on the Other Side (Newsletter #4)

It’s Not Always Greener on the Other Side, Dear by Tahira Siddiqi

‘Pack your bags,’ Mamma said in a quick manner. 

‘But, Mamma why? What’s going on?’ I asked, confused. 

She walked up to me from the other side of the room; it wasn’t a distance, barely four metres wide and six in length. A sort of desolate look was her expression, not usual for her pleasant countenance. She had motherly hips and a hearty face, something the villagers considered a blessing because we lived in near-absolute poverty and it wasn’t typical. You’d think why she would ask me to ‘pack my bags’ when the reality was I had very few possessions. I couldn’t quite grasp what had become of her today.

‘You’ve been sponsored by a very generous, wealthy businessman,’ she said, her tone adjusted to fit the glad tidings, juxtaposing her previous command. ‘I’ve been waiting for a miracle like this to happen for God knows how long! And now look what’s happened.’ I wanted more context before I enquired any further, so I listened. What she explained was the following: I was going to the city to be educated and sustained by a western charity called ‘Hopes Are High’ thanks to a kind sponsor. It’s exactly what we needed after the disappearance of my father who was a clothes labourer. With him out of the equation, we had no stable income bar sporadic donations from locals and the little earnings from my mother’s cleaning job. I leapt up from the floor and embraced Mamma. ‘It will be greener on the other side, Mamma. I’ll work hard and we can get out of this hardship.’ 

Two days later the ‘baby-taxi’ arrived outside our hut. Mamma lent me her best jute bag, a little tattered here and there, but it still retained its strength. Not that I needed a quality bag to carry my belongings. ‘Now,’ she put her firm, dry hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘When you come back with money in your pockets, you can buy me a new bag. What a thought!’ Our toothy smiles mirrored each other and I got into the taxi. The engine started and I was off and the further we drove, the smaller my Mamma got until she was no longer visible. 

Here I am one month later in a child-labour camp manufacturing garments for businessmen. Upon my arrival, I realised that the sweet prospects of greener grass was a fallacy. A total fallacy. If only Mamma knew. It bears me with more anguish than I can say that I cannot contact her to inform her of my whereabouts and my situation. But perhaps it would be better that her euphoria not transform into despair.  If only a wise owl turned to her and said ‘It isn’t always greener on the other side, my dear.’


Magic and the Occult (Newsletter #3)

Magic and the Occult by Vandarika Kolton

The dead leaves cracked under her boots as Adora hurried along the barely visible path, her scarlet  cape billowing around her. The sun was setting on this Autumn afternoon, shedding its last golden  rays through the trees. It was her favourite time of the day when you could not distinguish between  dusk and dawn. Chestnuts, acorns and flame-coloured leaves were scattered on the forest floor like a  mosaic and the scent of wood permeated the air around her. A gentle breeze ruffled her red curls  and accompanied her steps as she headed deep into the forest. Although she could not see them,  she could hear the crows hovering over her head, their ominous cawing reflecting an impending  sense of chaos. For each step the girl took, the thorns and tree branches seemed to part and make  way for her. Nature was bowing to her. 

After climbing over a fallen tree trunk, the girl suddenly stopped in an empty meadow and knelt on  the ground. Placing her palms firmly on the rich soil, she closed her eyes and began mumbling in  some unknown dialect. As if on cue, a strong icy gust of wind blew around her petite figure and the  leaves and pebbles responded to her touch by lifting and swaying in a whirlwind. A shrouding mist  slowly seeped through the trees, blinding and chilling any lonesome wanderer. By then, a silent  darkness had settled, the sun had completely vanished, allowing the Moon to rise and cast its rays  upon the creatures of the night. As she got to her feet, Adora brought her hood more tightly around  her face and with a flick of her wrist, she conjured a green flame in her hand. Something mirrored  her action and a purple will-o’-the-wisp appeared, dancing in front of her eyes as if it were greeting  its burning kin in her hand. A moment later, it dashed away before materialising a few metres away  to the girl’s right. Fascination and curiosity won her over and so she followed the wisp’s lead. Making  no case of the misty veil blurring her surroundings, she strode forward, her emerald green eyes  darting around her, all senses alert to any peculiar sound or movement. 

Ten minutes later, her floating fiery friend halted and vanished into thin air. Adora was standing in  front of a five-metre high obscure silhouette. The fog gradually receded to reveal the most unearthly and sinister-looking tree one could ever lay eyes on. The robust trunk twisted around itself, as if a  laundress had wrung it like linen, and its thorny branches expanded into unnatural shapes. Bulging  roots sprouted from the earth and stretched out like grasping tentacles. Apart from a couple of rogue  bats fluttering around the wooden erection, no being sheltered here. A mystical power drew the girl  to the structure, her legs no longer obeyed her as they carried her forward until her boot hit a  gnarled and protruding root. As she gingerly lay her blazing hand against the trunk, instead of  consuming the wood, the flame extinguished itself. Under its lifeless appearance, Adora could feel  the tree’s strong power humming against her fingers and resonating through her. A burst of magic sent a jolt through her body, permanently binding her to the tree. An instant later, the trunk opened  with a shuddering crack, displaying an abysmal staircase spinning down towards a forbidden world.  The girl smiled, wonder and mischief twinkling in her irises. The Samhain festival and the Season of  Darkness were welcoming her. Let the Magic and the Occult begin.

Horcruxes by Kirsty Goodman

Sometimes I worry
about the state of my soul.
I wonder
if it’s fractured
by the infinite fractions of me
left behind along the tracks
where I have wandered.

Like a trail of breadcrumbs
in case I got lost trying to find myself.
I find myself now never quite content
whenever I land on a new continent.
No longer able to reach such merriment
I think of the soul of Tom Riddle
and hope mine’s not as riddled;
emotionally crippled as it’s chiselled
by a dagger to something withered and haggard.
Because, I’m no Dark Lord of the Dark Arts!
No one to keep my secrets nor an army of wizards to
command can’t make it all better with a flick of my hand.
Just a measly muggle. So, I struggle to fake it
find myself again
crumbling, increasingly Flakey
like a Galaxy Ripple
as I splintered apart and left shards of heart in faraway places. If
you’ve a strong sense of smell, you might catch a whiff of the traces
of a soul that is wasted and decaying, emaciated;
stretched thin by the tethers to each place I’ve been
resulting in the dehiscence of my being
the essence of my soul no longer whole, after
paying a bit of me for each place I was loved in.

But, my savings are running low and there’s no life vest on this
raft— What happens when I reach the bottom of my overdraft? How
many of my Horcruxes are hidden yonder?
Were they worth the price I paid in sacrifice?
I ask myself these questions
as I ponder
the state of my soul.

XXIII by Freya Le Lann

October to November
I die on my way to Tiphareth.

I am but a fish in the primordial ocean of the unconscious.
Nun, my birth sign, and my moon,

Dark child, you shadowed many of my woes.
I walk on a thousand stings of scorpios.

Putrefaction turns my tears to gold,
My skeleton - a seed in the night of Da’ath.

Time and movement are your domain. Serpent to eagle,
In balance, we beget out of old conditions. 

Supermarket (Newsletter #2)

Supermarket Blues by Weronika Brzezinska

If we got stuck
in this Tesco’s overnight
and they switched off the lights,

could I use your lighter
to set fire to the cereal boxes
so the aisle fills bright with Frosted-Flakes-blue
and Lucky-Charm-red and Sour-Patch-green
clean neon iridescent shadows
and in-between
us
flames moving nirvanawards.

Could I gently
scratch out yesterday’s purple from
below your eyes
and rub the pale off your cheeks
with pomegranate seeds?

We could bleach our hair with lemonade
and drink all the milk our mothers didn’t give us
unapologetically straight from the bottle.
We could learn to unsubtle
the cherry juice inside our veins. 

Would you make me
a cling foil dress
to wear walking down the frozen foods section
while fountains of shaken cocacola explode
as we pass them by
holding hands beneath the freezer lights.

If I could
I would
smash all the pretentious
glass kombucha bottles
and barehandedly hang the broken pieces
into a transparent mirror for us
to look past our reflection.

If I could
I would
make the smell of the bakery section
into a necklace of cinnamon beads
and sunflower seeds, for you
to wear when you’re sad.

If I could
I would
water the vegetables
hoping they can sprout through the plastic boxes
they were planted in
for customer convenience.

I could spend all night
counting your freckles, like stars,
or the dropped copper-coloured coins
glistening under shop shelves, forgotten.

I could spend all night
eating oranges with you.

but

In the morning, when the
overexposed lights flicker on,
the door would slide open
letting in grey noises
from the street that’s been watching all along.

The fat boy with the slim woman’s voice
who opens up every day at 5:59 am
would have to pull our bodies
out from beneath carton ashes, broken glasses and
potato pieces.

Our skins tainted
                          with all the hues of supermarket blues 

in our cling foil wrapping
we would look so glamorous,


We could almost be a colour of our own.

(I think as I pretend to be reading into the contents of an avocado powder on a 2-for-1 deal for loyalty card owners, for the second hour before closing).

Palaces of damned souls by Kristaps Kallaste

Palaces of damned souls
have green neon text frames
standing sideways like arches;

divine arrows, they guide
the paternal flunks, the tar-soaked offspring,
the lonely and the business bunch.

Here in these palaces, all sin is a freeze, all
lust is a spin.
Fairy lights are often flagged in a net,

to catch mischievous mares flinging
themselves against the glass displays 
of overpriced clothing shops.

One finds when wondering the perpetual
lines of restaurants and cafes, the vastness of them
having a motherly touch, for

these palaces, they stretch like the sky and
they spread like the shepherded 
fire ants of Gaia herself

And when ones welcome is overbid
they need only to follow  the
evenly laid out,  sorrow yellow street lamps

and bite their cheeks and bare the frost
for soon the polluted lux will lead them to
an overnight joint, a limbo of sorts,

where they can breathe anew.
On those red leather sofas- fast food
or the district kind- when the night seems

to crawl on its final limbs,
they’ll lay and slip into sleep.
Some say they never do wake, that they 

wither with the moon and then
haunt the attics of the dance halls
where they swirled and laughed and lived

in a previous life.

Broken soul on aisle four by Ana M. Ivanus

I look in your eyes, empty, cold, and no longer do I find a will to breathe,
As you took all hopes away from me, a rabid creature grinding its teeth.
All that is left of love is crushed bones and glass shards on the floor,
As I crawl, you watch me with spiteful words and one foot out the door.

You are torture, you are mould, you are ashes in the burning sun after a disaster.
I am weakness, I am chaos, I am my heart’s force in the battle when I let you be my master.

Shattered as I lay, tasting my thoughts like bitter wine in a crooked store,
A sweetly growling voice whispers the song of a broken soul on aisle four.


Handle with Care (Newsletter #1)

The Privilege to Say Goodbye by Catherine Yuefang Tang (extract)

Catherine filled in all the extenuating circumstances forms on a computer in the LASS library and noticing the tissue forming a mountain of snow in front of the screen, though silently, the girl sitting next to Catherine would ask her if she was alright. Catherine would smile at her. That was the first time she smiled since hearing from Susan. In the next month she would smile many more times to thank her friends and Elizabeth’s who expressed their condolences and other kind words. Catherine’s favourite ones were those recalling how great Elizabeth was: a dedicated doctor, a kind friend, a role model in the army.

In the afternoon she went to attend a talk organised by her department, at which her lecturers took turns to explain the necessity of the UCU strike. Catherine wanted to show full solidarity. She asked, however, if she could be knitting at the same time. Her lecturers laughed and said of course. Catherine listened and knitted.

In the evening she went to attend a talk Cristi gave, on combining astrophysics and photography. She had knowledge of neither. But she loved him and wanted to go support him. Cristi was already fiercely cried to that morning about Elizabeth, so of course he would not mind her knitting. Catherine occupied the whole first row of the hall, her already-long scarf extending even further on the desk. She bought a bouquet for Cristi to congratulate the speech. Elizabeth loved flowers, too. Since childhood, whenever Catherine wrote about flowers, the imageries were closely associated with Elizabeth. This would go on for the rest of her life, or for the rest of her writings – General Bouchart and Lady Clarisse could perhaps provide references for the latter fact.

When Catherine and Cristi walked to the Tube station later, they’d have a huge poster of Frozen II intruding their vision. Catherine actually planned to watch it that weekend. But she never got to. She never wanted to after this encounter, either, though she loved Princess Anna.


That night she kept knitting. Sleepiness did not come and naturally, neither did sleep. She watched a favourite cartoon as she wove the night loosely together. When she was living with Elizabeth and Edward, she watched these episodes. Elizabeth was talented at knitting – people’d say all grandmothers are, but Catherine detested such generalisation. Elizabeth was the one and only. She would be happy to see the scarves.


She surely would. She might even be looking forward to them if Catherine did
not decide to keep it a surprise. Susan said Elizabeth had very little chance of
regaining her consciousness. Catherine never wanted any surprise again. She regretted a lot about not making it explicit to Elizabeth at the beginning of the project that two scarves would come home in Christmas. She only announced that she was joining the Knitting Society. She never wanted any surprise again.


Authors by Mara Dinu

You are new.

Read these places carefully,

turn the pages like you close a door,

fold the corners at the end of each street 

and maybe you’ll find the people behind red bricks,

fallen through the cracks in you cement path – 

the authors of the cities.

But if you ask for an autograph 

you’ll get a permanent tattoo,

there will be the old dirty world

and a stained you.

They unsewed the outlines 

defining walls and locks and ships with docks,

painted them on a piece of time,

some shops and crops and keys,

just to mix a bit of material border into the abstract

because materialism spreads like a disease.

You start reading on the trees,

it’s the only text that makes sense

so you put them all in a glass ball,

your personal snow globe in the middle of autumn,

you place it on a shelf and stay away.

You’re afraid the authors will rewrite you too,

so you never go through its pages and streets again,

you wouldn’t dare.

You send it by post with a single note – 

“handle with care”


Handle with Care by Claudia de Miguel

Horizon-bound the sails breathe in,

Air caressing the ivory canvas’ pleats.

Nothing but the moon-kissed

Drowning crests swaying in between.

Let not Fortuna betray our game- he says,

Esoterically, she knows how to play,                 

                  Faded eyes that lead astray,

While handling us with exquisite care.

I won’t forget that Providence has got us

Tied.

                  Like in a spinning wheel,

Heaved as the Parcae’s pride.

                  But,

Come usque ad finem mundi

And fly

Remembering that originally

Even we,

                  come from the sky.


Handle with Care by Rahul Sinha

She sits across the table from me with a look of concern etched across her face. The way her brow contorts and head tilts makes me want to burst into gratuitous laughter, but I know that I can’t. Not tonight.
“Why the fuck do you keep doing this to yourself?” I shrug. The shirt on my back travels further up my torso, in an attempt to keep up with my sloping trapezius muscles. Her eyes dance from mine, down to bare flesh and veins that run from torn sleeves.
“Something to do.” I sniff. When my eyes open, I see that hers are filled with emotion; probably searching for some similar sentiments in mine. I wonder if the blankness will disturb her. The thought succeeds in spreading a wry, but wide smile across my face.
“This won’t end well,” she whispers. I nod, with the grin still firmly in place.
“Okay,” I reply, inwardly combusting at how much she loves me. I run a hand over the edges of my jaw and conclude that I will break her heart tonight. I don’t see any reason not to, and furthermore – it is something to do. There aren’t many better reasons for doing things, than pure merriment derived from the doing itself. In the meanwhile, she has inched her hands closer to mine, and I take a second to enjoy the contrast between them. Hers are dainty, caramel; mine are dark, calloused, with ripped skin exposing the flesh beneath. She rubs a hand over a destroyed knuckle, and this time, I really can’t help it. I laugh harder than I have ever laughed before. Tears are streaming down my face and with the way hers is carved into open-mouthed confusion makes everything seem funnier to me.
“What’s – what’s so funny?” she asks. I wipe the tears from my eyes. The laughter has stopped, and now, there is small chance I am sobbing.
“You.”
“Me?”
“You.”
“I – I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t.” I sigh. She has a pretty face, and this is something I can’t deny. A part of me that I work hard to suppress asks me to relent; to handle her with care. Or reverence. Or maybe respect. I can’t be sure. It isn’t a part I’ve ever tended to consult with.
“Is something wrong?” My eyes droop.
“I slept with your sister. And your best friend.” I laugh, because I never slept with her sister, or her best friend, but the grimace on her face suggests she believes otherwise. “Also, I don’t think I love you. Actually, I’m positive I don’t love you. I never did.” I rise to leave. Her hands remain clenched upon mine, and I have to use a great deal of force to ring myself free. I hadn’t expected that. I’d figured her to be the type to lie down and deteriorate. But she isn’t doing either of those things. The insults and plates she hurls at me from across the kitchen cause my blood to pump a little bit faster, and soon enough; I am running through the streets. On the way to my dive bar of choice, I cross Santa, Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and, I think, the Tooth Fairy. All of them are crackheads, and Jesus asks me for money with a great deal of aggression. Keeping my eyes down, and making my way past him, the nauseous feeling of euphoria that overwhelms me flows throughout my bloodstream – making nights like this all the more worth it. Pain precedes pleasure; and this is how it will always be for me. The small feelings of isolation and emptiness begin to creep their way through, but it is at this exact moment that I muscle my way past a hapless bouncer, who resembles Paul Blart more than John McClane, before taking a seat on the stool.
“What you having, boss?” Jim moves over towards me, and pretends that we don’t know each other. The cockney slang and the dishtowel he slings over his shoulder give him the air of an honest man. Perhaps he was, once.
“Gin and tonic,” I whisper, and he nods. The girl next to me is sitting alone, looking around the bar for someone she can try to understand, tame, resolve: fix. In our conversation, I try my best to come off as aloof and apathetic, which is only a sure-fire path to success.
“There’s something about you,” she slurs, after our third shot, “that I just can’t figure out.” I nod. Hook. “Like, um,” she burps, “through your exterior, you’re, like, this big, tough, guy, but – “
“You think there’s more than meets the eye.” Line. She grins. I look at the glass in front of me. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with her face, but the sight of her happiness repulses me. I want her and everyone in this bar to die.
“Yeah! Like, I don’t know.” Her head turns sideways. “You’re so complicated.” I scoff.
“Fragile, maybe?”
“Yeah,” she coos, “you need to be handled with care.” I down my gin and tonic, because she is mine now. Sinker. 


My Lady by David Simon

Handle with care my heart you have there…Handle with care.   

Handle with care the memories we’ll share, please handle with care.    

I walk with you and talk with you, and time, I’ll spend my fair share.   

Dare I say to you my most precious gift is with you, and second as well; 

My darling, my dear my time is precious as is yours I can tell.  

Let us not waste another minute then, for we have it not to spare.  

Let us spend our time together and see how we will fare.

Take time out with me and be patient my dear, we have nothing to fear.   

I have faith and miracles abound for I feel the magic when you are near.  

The past collapses behind us and the future arises as if to steer, 

Our dreams and goals to completion resounding like a golden bell, 

A cacophony of heavenly vibrations like a symphonic crescendo swell, 

My dear, our happiness has come to meet us our path together is clear. 

My dear our future has come to greet us; our happiness is here.