Categories
Poetry

An Instant

By Mike Smith

AN INSTANT

Suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,
Even the squirrel on the wall.
I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

I heard nothing at all
But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,
As if there were a distant call,
Even the squirrel on the wall,
Suddenly motionless eyes peeled.
I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

Maybe there’s some message on the breeze.
I heard nothing at all.
Perhaps they’re more finely tuned than me,
But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,
As if some deity had drawn us to a halt,
As if there were a distant call
From one who had authority over us all,
Even the squirrel on the wall.
For a moment we’re like a photograph,
Suddenly motionless eyes peeled,
As if something amazing had been revealed.
I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

And the best of it is,
Maybe there’s some message on the breeze
That I can read too.
I heard nothing at all,
But we all know there are other senses.
Perhaps they’re more finely tuned than me,
Or can see more clearly,
But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I
And I’m included with them all,
As if some deity had drawn us to a halt,
Not with a command but
As if there were a distant call
Addressed to someone out of sight
From one who had authority over us all,
That we just overheard,
Even the squirrel on the wall,
That made us stop and realise.
For a moment we’re like a photograph,
Wondering if perhaps there is some deep intent,
Suddenly motionless eyes peeled,
Hiding behind this pure invention,
As if something amazing had been revealed,
Going about our proper business.
I was carrying sticks. They were in the field.

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn’s Teeth

By Jay Nicholls

PIRATE BLACKTARN’S TEETH


Pirate Blacktarn had terrible teeth, 
He kept sweets instead of a sword in his sheath,
And he ate so many, his teeth began to rot 
And as for brushing them, he always forgot. 
The inside of his mouth was greenish and grimy 
His teeth were broken and black and slimy. 

“You’re revolting,” said all the crew. 
“We’re not coming too close to you.”
Poor Pirate Blacktarn was quite upset
“What’s the matter with me?” he asked as he ate. 
“You need new teeth,” the crew replied. 
Blacktarn was hurt and went off to hide. 
He sulked in his cabin, all day and all night 
While the stars came out, very shiny and bright.
Out too fell his teeth, dropping one by one, 
Onto the floor till all were gone.

“Oh no,” mumbled Blacktarn, “what shall I do?”
“Serves you right,” said his unkind crew. 
But Blacktarn was angry and ranted and raved 
Till the crew became quite well behaved. 
“If I can’t eat, then neither can you,
Don’t think you’re going to scoff that stew,”
Said Blacktarn crossly as his stomach rumbled. 
“Now what a mess,” his hungry crew grumbled. 

The crew grew thinner and thinner and thinner.
Big Bob the Cook groaned, “We want dinner.”
But toothless Blacktarn was stern and cruel, 
Grumpy and stubborn, as bad as a mule. 
The crew were miserable, bad tempered and sad
Their empty bellies were making them mad. 

But deep in thought sat Stowaway Fay.
“I know how to make things OK,” 
She told the crew one happy day.
“We’ll make him dentures, all clean and smart. 
Come on everyone, let’s make a start.”

They caught a shark, basking close by the ship
And cut out its teeth, snip by snip by snip,
Then stuck them in jelly mould shaped like a grin
And as Blacktarn lay dozing, they popped them in. 
He woke with a start, “My mouth’s full of choppers!”
“So it is,” said the crew, “What great long whoppers.”

“Hey, I can eat,” Blacktarn cried with delight. 
“Quick, let’s have a feast, this very fine night.”
So Big Bob went down to the galley to bake 
And made sausages and stew and cookies and cake. 
Then the starving crew just ate and ate and ate.
“Oh well done Fay,” said Rakesh the mate. 
“Oh yes, well done,” they all agreed.
“Well done, well done, well done indeed.” 

Now long toothed Blacktarn looks sharp and mean 
But he takes out his teeth each night to clean.
He brushes them carefully twice a day,
So his shark’s teeth dentures are here to stay. 

“Come on crew,” he cried with a big white grin
“We’ve got all the Lemon Seas for sailing in.”

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Interview

In Conversation with Akbar Barakzai, a ‘Part-time Poet’ in Exile

Who can snuff out the sun? 
Who can suppress the light?
-- Akbar Barakzai, Who Can Snuff Out the Sun

Akbar Barakzai(born 1939)

His poetry rings with the spaces between mountains. It rushes like the wind of freedom, taking you to the heart of the land and people he writes about.  

Balochistan has a bit of the blood and bones of many cultures and people through the ages – dating back to Harappa and Indus Valley civilisations. Akbar Barakzai, the Baloch poet and activist, writes about transcending the suffering that exudes from hurts inflicted on humankind. He urges the masses to voice out against oppression.

Don’t ever bury the word 
In the depth of your chest 
Rather express the word 
Yes, speak it out. 
The Word brings forth 
Freedom and providence.
--Akbar Barakzai, The Word

He writes for freedom from injustices and lives by his beliefs and principles. Having been forced to move countries to run journals, he is an immigrant in quest of a future that will unite the East and the West. Gently opposing oppressors with his writing, beliefs and ideas, Barakzai made news when he turned down the Pakistan Academy of Literature award last year because he says; “The Pakistan Academy of Literature is sponsored by the Islamabad rulers. I cannot accept an award from an organisation that operates at the beck and call of the tormentors of my people.”  A writer who continues to emote for his people and their rights, he has been translated to English by a lecturer, Fazal Baloch, and published. 

Barakzai calls himself “a part time poet” – but his poetry moves our hearts and minds – it makes us think, imagine a better world. Is he really a part time poet or a major inspiration crying out for mankind to move out of ‘messiahdom’, dogmatism and take charge of their own lives? In this interview, Barakzai not only reveals his life but also his sense of freedom from oppression, his love of human rights which forced him to move countries to conserve the voice of his people.

Since when have you been writing poetry? What set your muse going?

I started writing poetry in 1954 when I was still in school. I was inspired by our people’s long struggle for freedom and justice against the Pakistani and Iranian occupiers.

Your poetry mixes many strands of thoughts and many lores. Can you tell us what influences your writing? Books, music, writers?  

My writing has been influenced by many poets and writers from different languages and cultures. The lasting influence on my art has been that of classical Balochi poetry. However, I must mention some great names from diverse poetic traditions who have had an impact on my poetry, such as the Persian poets Hafiz, Rumi and Nima Yushij; Urdu poets Ghalib and Mir; English poets Shelley and Keats; Russian poets Pushkin and Pasternak and the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

Your poem ‘Waiting for Godot’ depicts the theme of the play by Samuel Beckett. It has a beautiful mingling of East and West. What led to it?

Beckett’s Godot is perhaps the most mysterious character in modern (world) literature. My poem is a reminder that the so-called Messiahs never return to this world. Mankind has to find its own solutions. East and West are two different aspects of the same coin. Unlike the infamous poem by Rudyard Kipling, that great apologist of Western imperialism, the East and the West are slowly but steadily inching towards each other. Despite enormous odds “the twain” are destined to “meet” and be united to get rid of the geographical lines created by imperialist powers.

You deal with both the political and the spiritual in your poetry. How do you attune Che Guevara with the God who even if ruthless exists in your poetry?  

I made peace with God quite some time ago. I hope we understand each other better now. I do not believe that God is necessarily ruthless. It may sound strange, but my spirituality is not religious at all, it is based on humanism.  Your interpretation of my poem is different from what I had intended. I am not sure if such a dichotomy exists in the poem. However, it appears that poetic curiosity in the end has succeeded in detecting some kind of duality. With regard to Che, he symbolizes the primordial fighter for justice. He embodies all those millions of people who have fought against the forces of darkness. Hence the allusion to Phoebus Apollo and the ever-conquering brilliance of the sun.

Do you write only in Balochi? You must be fluent in English having lived in England for many years. Why do you not write in English? Or translate your own poems?  

I used to write in Urdu and Persian in my younger years, until I discovered that I could write a lot better in my mother tongue.  As far as writing in English is concerned, I do not feel confident enough to write in it.

Your poetry, the little I have read, takes on elemental truths and uses nature, intermingles those to arrive at larger truths toward the end. Is it all spontaneously expressed? Or do you need to work on it? Tell us a bit about your poetic process.  

My experience of the poetic process tells me that it is spontaneous. Design and architecture of the poem occupy a secondary position. After a poem is formed in my mind my main concern would then be to revise and improve its language. This process may take any length of time. I must confess that I am an obsessive reviser. For example, one of my longer poems took many long years to complete.

As a poet, you continue shrouded in mystery. Tell us about your life.  

My life is and has always been an open book. I don’t think a few random poems are sufficient to reveal the life story of any poet. However, without these fistful of poems, I would have appeared to be a greater mystery. My life, like the billions of ordinary people in this world, is indeed very ordinary. My great grandfather migrated from Western (Iranian) Balochistan as a result of the brutal military operations in the early twentieth century in which thousands of old men, women and children were killed and injured and thousands of others migrated to Sindh. My great grandfather was a small-time farmer. As a result of the Iranian atrocities, he was forced to abandon his land and livestock and move to Eastern (now Pakistani) Balochistan and finally to Sindh. In 1928, Reza Shah of Iran ultimately succeeded in occupying our country. Once they settled in Sindh my great grandfather and grandfather worked as labourers until they saved enough to buy a small shop.      

My father had a basic English education. He had left high school when still in the 4th or 5th grade to support the family with odd jobs. A few years later, he opened his own shop, a ration shop. These shops had mushroomed all over during the war as the English authorities introduced a food rationing system in India. I believe with this background I must have belonged to the lowest rungs of the class system. But my family worked hard to improve their lot.

When I was ten or twelve, my father thought I was strong enough and responsible enough to work in the shop. I would go to school in the morning. As soon as I finished school, I would rush to the shop to help my father. 

A few years before I finished high school, my father got a job in the Directorate of Civil Supplies as the manager of a warehouse. He rented out the shop. With two incomes our lot did improve a little. I was now in high school. I didn’t have to work in the shop anymore. During this period, I became interested in books – any books. These were mainly Urdu, Persian, Sindhi and Balochi books. I read a lot, but my reading wasn’t systematic. I wrote a few nondescript poems during this period and became interested in politics, particularly in Baloch politics. By then I was in college reading literature and related subjects. However, I was more interested in politics than in my studies which meant I wasn’t a good student. Despite this I somehow managed to graduate from Karachi University. My father wanted me to study further and enter the Civil Service. But by then I was completely radicalised. I think I disappointed him then by refusing to continue my studies in order to take competitive exams to join the civil service. However, a few years later as a result of the escalating Pakistani military operations in Balochistan, he told me that although at the time he was not happy with my refusal, he confessed wholeheartedly that my decision was absolutely right. I was so proud of him that he had finally approved of my decision. Although he passed away a long time ago, because of this confession I do love him and miss him more.  

This rather lengthy snapshot of my life should be sufficient to explain why my poetry is expressly concerned with social and political issues.

What led to your move to England?  

This was the busiest period of my political activism. It was the time when General Ayub Khan had imposed Martial Law in Pakistan and was trying to consolidate his rule by hook or by crook. In Balochistan he had re-ordered the military to crush the Baloch resistance once and for all. But the resistance has outlived Ayub Khan, and his military might. It has grown stronger and stronger with the passage of time albeit with huge sacrifices sustained by ordinary people. The rulers treated the Baloch people like dirt and our leaders as traitors who “deserved” to be hanged. By 1965, the military government stepped up its operations in cities and towns, especially in Karachi where the Baloch formed a sizable minority and naturally supported the struggle for freedom. By this time the majority of our leaders were imprisoned in various Pakistani jails. Hundreds of young activists were also put behind bars. I was constantly harassed by the secret police. They raided my house three times and confiscated all my books and papers. These included some precious manuscripts left by a maternal uncle of mine. I was told that they would be returned “in due course”, but I never saw them again. 

In those days, at least in the big cities, the government showed that they believed in the legal system. However, things would soon change. They started arresting people at will, without producing them in a court of law. People would languish in prisons for many years without any charges brought against them. They kept on introducing new forms of brutality, including bombing the population and “disappearing” activists and ordinary people. Under their “kill and dump” policy, they to this day torture and kill activists and then dump their bodies in the periphery of a town or village. So far, they have “disappeared” about 5,000 activists and their family members. Recently they have started abducting young female activists and then dumping their bodies. Almost all of these victims have been assaulted and raped.   

I was picked up twice by the secret police. The second time they brought the great poet Gul Khan Naseer (the Baloch Nazrul) from prison. We were both delighted to see each other. We hugged and exchanged greetings in Balochi. We were told firmly not to speak in Balochi. We protested at this suggestion. Without reacting, they started the interrogation which took about three or four hours. Naseer was taken back to prison. I was told to go home but be prepared for further sessions.

I was advised by our leadership to go underground and eventually leave the country and head for the Gulf region to organise the Baloch migrants working in that part of the world. I did exactly as I was instructed to do. Because of visa problems, I could not stay in the Gulf for long. I therefore moved to Syria, Lebanon and finally to Iraq where in 1973-74, I was joined by some other friends. Together we used to edit a monthly newspaper in Balochi called Tipaakie Raah (Path of Unity). In fact, this used to be the Balochi edition of the paper which was also published in Arabic, Persian, Azari (Azarbaijani) and Kurdish editions. We also managed a daily radio programme in Balochi. Additionally, we published a monthly newspaper in English from London which was called People’s Front. This task was assigned to a senior friend who moved from Baghdad to London for this purpose. Our stay in Iraq would soon be short lived. After Saddam Hussain and the Shah of Iran met in North Africa to end the dispute over Shatt al Arab waterway, the situation in Iraq changed drastically. We were told very politely that the “world situation” had changed. We would still be welcome to live in Iraq, but the publication of the newspaper and the radio broadcasts must stop. It was therefore decided I should move to London. With the help of a doctor friend, I obtained a British visa and moved to London.

Your poetry still cries out for your motherland. Do you want to return? Is a return possible?

Who wouldn’t want to go back to the country they love? But it is not possible. I am only tolerated if I keep silent and remain as far away from Balochistan as possible.

Why did you turn down the Pakistan Academy of Literature award?  

The Pakistan Academy of Literature is sponsored by the Islamabad rulers. I cannot accept an award from an organisation that operates at the beck and call of the tormentors of my people.    

You have published very selectively — do you have more writing which you have not published? If so, do you have plans to publish those?

I have never been a prolific writer or a poet. I keep on telling people that I am a part-time poet.

What message would you like to give to emerging writers?

As a part-time poet I don’t feel I am in a position to advise young writers. I can only say this much to them — be honest to yourselves and your art.   

Thank you very much for giving us your time.

Click here to read translated poetry by Akbar Barakzai.

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.)

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Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn & The Worm

By Jay Nicholls

PIRATE BLACKTARN AND THE WORM


Pirate Blacktarn, Terror of the Lemon Seas 
Was feeling so hungry he ate three teas
And even after that he still wanted more.
He ate cookies and cakes and puddings galore.
But though Big Bob the Cook kept cooking and cooking
Blacktarn ate parrot food when Tim wasn’t looking.
He ate sea weed and star fish and slippery eels
And doughnuts and dumplings, all between meals.

“You’ll burst,” said Mick, “this is rather a worry.”
“No I won’t,” answered Blacktarn, eating barnacle curry. 
“This is ridiculous,” said Big Bob, feeling cross,
“You’re eating more than the great albatross.
The ship’s stores and supplies are vanishing fast,
These barrels of food are meant to last.”

But even though Blacktarn still ate and ate
He went on being hungry from morning till late.
In the middle of the night he crept out of his hammock
To try asking for crumbs from the wild seagull flock. 
And he stole Big Bob’s stew that he’d d only just made 
In a secret and stealthy, dark midnight raid.
But strangest of all, he grew more and more thin.
His cheeks became hollow and sunken in. 
His legs and arms looked like sticks on a twig 
And only his tummy stayed round and big.
“I’m fading away,” cried Blacktarn, eating some more,
“I’ll be nothing but a belly with the food it can store.”

“Something very strange is going on here,”
Said Bob to Rakesh, who was standing near. 
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“What?” asked Blacktarn, his fearful heart sinking.

“Worms!” said Bob. 

“WORMS!” cried Blacktarn. “HELP! HELP! I’ve got WORMS!” 

A small sneaky worm living in a ship’s biscuit 
Had jumped right out when Blacktarn bit into it.
It had slithered down his throat and settled in his stomach
And once it was there, it couldn’t believe its luck, 
For so much food kept coming its way,
Chocolate and cake, sweets and biscuits, day after day,
That the worm grew bigger and bigger and bigger 
While Blacktarn shrank to a small, thin figure. 
“Help,” groaned Blacktarn, so scared he nearly cried, 
“I’ll starve to death with this worm inside.”

“Don’t worry Captain,” said Rakesh the mate,
“We’ll see this worm has a nasty fate.”
And he took out his pipe and started to play
In a wiggly, weavy, wormy way.
And the worm stopped eating and started to listen 
To the magical music that made his eyes glisten. 
The tune sang of sea serpents swimming through the waves
And electric eels in undersea caves 
And the gleaming glow worms that light up the deeps
And the huge ocean snake that never ever sleeps. 

And the worm uncurled and started to rise 
In Blacktarn’s stomach which burped in surprise. 
And Rakesh played on, in his wriggly way 
And the worm began to squirm, then started to sway
Forwards and back he wriggled his body about 
Till he reached Blacktarn’s mouth and peered right out. 

Then fast as a dart swooped Parrot Tim 
And grabbed the worm and pulled and pulled him. 
Until out he wriggled all pink and squirmy 
And Tim quickly snatched him and dropped him in the sea,
Where he swam away most unhappily. 

Hurrah, hurrah Captain,” everyone cried. 
“Hurrah,” exclaimed Blacktarn, “that worm’s not inside.
But I’m feeling so hungry I really need a feast 
Now I’ve got rid of that slinky slimy beast.”

Big Bob groaned but began cooking again
And they ate huge helpings of cake and sugar cane 
And mangoes and melons all firm and ripe,
While Rakesh played more tunes on his marvellous pipe. 
And they danced the dance of the greedy little worm
Until Blacktarn spoke, sounding very firm,
“Of course no worm could last long in a pirate like me 
But now I’m worm free and I’m not even hungry,
I think we should sail again, across the Lemon Sea.”

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn is Nearly Blown Away

By Jay Nicholls

Pirate Blacktarn is Nearly Blown Away


Pirate Blacktarn was feeling dizzy,
The winds above his head were being very busy.
They were roaring altogether in a contest of blowing,
Till the pirates didn’t know if they were coming or going.
Whooosh! went the West Wind, warm and wet.
EEEssh! hissed the East Wind in a fuss and a fret.
Rruusssh! went the North Wind, cruel and cold,
Swisssh! blustered the South Wind, burning and bold.

The pirate’s poor ship was spinning round and round
And the crews’ ears buzzed with the rush of sound.
“I’m going to be sick,” moaned Blacktarn yuckily.
“I’ll look after you,” said Big Bob pluckily.
“Eeeehow!’” blew the East Wind, “these Lemon Seas are mine,
I’m the wind to rule over this lemony brine.”
“Rubbish,” whooshed the West wind, “it’s me they need,
To bring them the rain, it’s obvious indeed.”
“Oh no,” niggled the North Wind, “oh no, no, no,
The Lemon Seas need me to bring them ice and snow.”
“Shusssh,” blew the South, “what’s needed is my breeze,
To bring the breath of warmth to the lovely Lemon Seas.”

The pirate’s ship tilted from side to side,
The crew fell on the deck and began to slide.
They clutched at the ropes and the yardarm and the sails,
Rakesh the mate grabbed at the rails,
Stowaway Fay tied herself to the mast,
Tim Parrot perched on her shoulder and held on fast.
It was the worst of storms the Lemon Seas had ever known.
“We’ll be blown to bits and pieces,” cried Blacktarn with a groan.
The ship tilted one way and the mast almost snapped
And then tipped the other as the great sails flapped.

The North Wind blew hailstones that clattered on the deck
And the West Wind whirled rain that poured down Blacktarn’s neck.
The East Wind blew a fog that hid them all from view
Till the South scorched it away, “Phew, phew, phew.”
“We’ll drown, we’ll drown,” moaned the terrified crew.
But all of a sudden the sea began to glow,
And a magical figure surged up from below.
Sea horses danced and sea nymphs sang
And all on its own, the ship’s bell rang.
For Neptune himself appeared on the scene.
He shook his trident which glittered gold and green.
For he was very angry and his face was very stern.
The Winds went silent and looked down in concern.
“What do you think you’re doing, blowing like fools
Over some stupid argument about which wind rules?”
“Puff,” muttered the West wind in great alarm,
“We didn’t really mean to do any harm.”
“I didn’t start it,” stuttered the East wind in a hurry.
“Nor me,” whinged the South, “I just blew a little flurry.”
“No, no,” fluttered the North, “it was only just in fun,
We didn’t really mean any harm to be done.”

“It’s just not good enough,” Neptune told them in a rage,
“You’re causing problems for sailors at every stage.
Ships are lying stranded in oceans far and near
Because you rowdy lot are all quarrelling here.
There’s no wind for any ship to sail, not even the smallest,
Everyone is stuck from the littlest to the tallest.
Now you just stop huffing and listen to me,
I’ll have no more rows over who blows on the Lemon Sea.
For a quarter of the year, the West Wind will bring rain,
To make sure the Lemon Seas are full of water again.
Then the next quarter the North Wind shall blow
And sometimes, not too often, bring the sleet and the snow.
The quarter after that shall blow the breeze of the East
And in the final quarter, last but not least,
Shall come the South Wind with the heat of the sun,
So all winds shall have their turn when my will is done.”

“What a good idea,” cried Blacktarn and his crew,
While the Winds huffed and puffed and wondered what to do.
But they daren’t defy Neptune, the Emperor of the Sea,
So grumbling and rumbling, they had to agree.
“Good,” said Neptune, “I’m glad we’ve settled that,
Now I’ll board ship and see Blacktarn for a chat.
Let the South Wind stay now and the rest of you go.”

So the West and East and North roared away in a tornado
And set the ship reeling in the last awful storm.
But Neptune raised his trident and the South Wind blew warm
And calmed the angry seas till all was at peace
And the waves whispered with relief that the storm would cease.
“Now let’s have a party,” cried Neptune once aboard.
“How useful,” said Blacktarn, “to be friends with the Sea Lord.”
So they danced and sang all day and all night.
But when they awoke at the sun’s first light,
Neptune and his sea nymphs were nowhere to be seen.
“Was it a dream?” wondered Mick, “what did it all mean?”
“Never mind,” called Blacktarn, “I stopped those winds all blowing,
Now set sail crew, it’s time we were going.”

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Nostalgia Slices from Life

Cyclists

By Mike Smith

Two men on cycles. Photo Courtesy: Mike Smith

This is a photograph from my childhood. It is of a roadside cottage and a fine, unidentified tree, on what was the edge of a Midland town, as they both were over sixty years ago. I’d guess it was taken in the mid or late nineteen fifties. It shows the front wall of the cottage I grew up in, and the road outside. It was a road that, when the photograph was taken, led out into the Staffordshire countryside. You might have called it a road to nowhere.

In the foreground on the left, if you ignore the old gaslight, is an upright object with a white top. You might recognise it as a petrol pump, probably a ‘Shell’ one.

The cottage had been the gate-lodge to a substantial house belonging to a successful Burton-upon-Trent brewer. That was demolished sometime between the two World Wars. A short flight of stone steps, overgrown, and the rumour of a lost cellar, both at the far end of our plot, were all that was left of what must have been the house and its ornamental gardens.

A pale blue gate, permanently open during my childhood save once when I recall cattle being driven along the road, stands out of sight closer to the camera than the lens captures. It bore the name of ‘The Lodge’ if memory isn’t playing me false. A short drive led down past the bay window of the cottage – an oval rose garden edged with stone alongside – to old stables, coach houses and outbuildings. All had the same steep, slated roofs, blue weatherboards pierced with fleur-de-lis designs in which swallows nested, and tall, pointed wooden finials. You can just make one out on the visible gable of the cottage, not quite merged in the foliage of the tree behind. There’s the shadow of another on the roof, presumably above that bay window. These were the buildings that I described in my only published novella, A Penny Spitfire, and the greenhouse that features in my daughter’s animation Giant’s Puddings leaned against one of them.

The photograph shows more, and pricks memory beyond what it shows. I can just remember that gas lamp being lit at dusk by a man who, Wee Willie Winkie-like, ‘ran through the town’, carrying his long pole, hurrying to light the lamps before true darkness fell, or at least, I think I can. I found a coal miner lying beneath it once, or the lamp that replaced it, and thought him dead, rather than dead drunk, and wrote a poem about it fifty and more years later.

The tree is in full leaf, beneath a Simpson’s sky, which would have had no meaning when the photograph was taken. And the shadows are long and to the east of north if my internal compass points true. This makes it a summer evening, I guess, or maybe late afternoon. Those cyclists, small as they are, seem unhurried. I imagine them enjoying the warmth, chatting, side by side as they ride.

Above the stub wall, beyond the petrol pump, you can see the top of what used to be the front door. Unseen to the right of it, but the shadow gives the clue, steps led up to road level and an opening with, back then, a gate.

Further along the road, even at this angle, you can make out a window and beyond that another door. This didn’t open into the house but was a yard gate through which you stepped down to outhouses, though I never saw it used: a washhouse with a boiler in the corner, a room with running water from a tap – dad fixed it up as a darkroom for photography. He was a hobby photographer all his life and taught me to develop and print in black and white. This photograph, of which I have several prints must be one of his.  There was an outside toilet too, in that yard, lit by starlight and protected from frost by a paraffin heater, with a store shed alongside, both backing onto the road. The shed was eventually hollowed out, its roof left intact and propped up at the corner, and a fuel tank for central heating was installed in the space beneath.

The cottage was tiny. The room with the bay window had an open fire, and opened onto a short corridor, to the left of which was a scullery kitchen with a gas water heater by the sink. The bath was underneath the kitchen table, which was fixed to the wall and hinged up, secured to a hook. And yes, I was told, it did once fall down on me in the bath. The room with the window onto the road was a bedroom. The room with the window showing to the left of the petrol pump must have been some sort of reception room. I can remember it with a desk, being used as an office and shop-front, but not for long.

Because dad was an inveterate builder, and demolisher. That single pump turned into two, and perhaps three. Their swing arms carried pipes across the pavement to serve the cars. At the back he extended the kitchen, and added a bathroom and indoor toilet, nibbling away at other outbuildings to make space. He added a bedroom. Some called them the golden fifties, though I remember them as grey, and the sixties they called the silver sixties, because things got better.

Reminiscing about my mother recently, I realised what a catalogue of disaster blighted the first forty years of her life, and dad’s. Born before the First World War, mum, the youngest child, was sent to queue for food at the shops – there was no rationing (until 1917?) in that war, and when it was gone it was gone. Then there was the Homes Fit for Heroes that didn’t materialise, the inflation caused by the war, the crippling debt it imposed, the General Strike, the Wall Street Crash, and the next war after that. No wonder mum was content and counted herself lucky all the years of my life. She knew her place, and knew it was better than she’d had before, and bore it without aspiration, with the stoicism of some unspoken disappointment. She might have truly asked though, who could want for more?

The cyclists – there are two more in the distance – emphasise the emptiness of the road. I can just recall it like that, though I wouldn’t have noticed at the time. Dad spoke of that petrol pump as being modern. Earlier ones were hand operated, and before that petrol was sold in two-gallon cans. But the times were changing. They started to build what was said would be the biggest coal fired power station in Western Europe a few miles up the road. Conveys of vehicles passed by in both directions day after day for years and several times a day, calling in for fuel. The private car was on the rise. By the time I left school they were predicting 20 million of them. Dad knocked down the extended cottage, put the pumps a little more than a car’s width back from the pavement, and a new building a tad more than a car’s width back from that.

There was a showroom, a shop, office and stores on the ground floor, a staircase bolted on at the back – overlooked in the original thumbnail sketch – and a four-bedroom flat with enormous rooms built on above. For a time, my old new bedroom had a steel girder down through the ceiling, a tarpaulin on the roof. I played on the scaffolding after school.

And not just our place: the road changed too. Just beyond the last tree on the right-hand side, a hillside we’d sledged down to the hedge was opened up. A road network spread over the ridge that we’d called the Cow Pastures. I learned to drive on it. Before that we had slid on metal trays down clay ski-runs where they later bumped out the hillside for houses. I went to school in a brand-new building on land I’d seen bulldozed flat, frogs, newts, plants, and water spilling from the ponds as they trashed them. The houses were slow to arrive, one by one over years, like reluctant weeds along the crest and on the reverse slope. After working hours, after school, we roamed the building sites.  

Below them at the slope’s foot, opposite to us, an Aunt and Uncle, dad’s sister with her second husband, lived in a bungalow stuffed with dark furniture and suppressed resentment. He was a tee-totaller with a fine palate and tasted the beer for one of the breweries. It might have been Bass. A taciturn man, he told me once, that if I practised long and hard enough with a tennis ball in my pocket, I could crush it flat with one hand. And he demonstrated.

Dad fell out with her, over a petrol mower he decided to sell when the last piece of our grass was concreted over for the business. I’ve no money, my uncle had said, surprised to be asked. She crossed the road, threw banknotes on to the kitchen table and didn’t speak to him again for years.

Next door to them, another bungalow, more modern and with a tennis court – both plots had been the grounds of the house you can catch a glimpse of at the photo’s far right edge – and a retired policeman lived there. He always wore a fag, unlit, dangling from his lips. Offer him a light, dad said. I’ll get one later, he’d reply. When they were too worn, I suppose, to dry out and re-use, he’d buy another pack. Twenty Players.

There’s an old red phone box in the shot. We used it, until we got our own. What we see arrive seems always new. What is there already seems just furniture however recently it arrived. I recall our, first fridge, first image on a TV screen, even our first phone perhaps.

Go back there today and you’ll find the road, I suspect, much as it was, save for the cottage and perhaps the tree. It’s full fifteen years, as I write since I visited the spot. The pumps had gone. The showroom had substituted furniture for cars. The old red phone box might be a garden ornament by now. Cyclists will move a little faster, pumping Lycra, no doubt.

The power station’s come and gone, been swept away, its working life complete. Built, used, demolished, all in the blink of a life’s eye.

Fleur-de-lis

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn Cleans the Ship

PIRATE BLACKTARN CLEANS THE SHIP


Pirate Blacktarn, Terror of the Lemon Seas 
Was feeling cross because he’d lost his keys. 
“This is a most untidy ship,” he grumbled,
As he tripped on a rope and staggered and stumbled. 
“This ship must be tidied,” he shouted aloud,
“I want a smart, clean ship, so I can feel proud.
I want lots of space where I can put my feet. 
The deck should be spotless and shiny and neat.” 

Bosun Mick was sleeping soundly in his hammock
But when Blacktarn said “Clean,” he fell out in shock.
Rakesh the mate was strumming his guitar
And singing a song about lands from afar.
“Cleaning,” he hummed, “No, I don’t think so.
Cleaning? I don’t like that idea, no.”

“But Captain,” said Fay, “your cabin below,
Is the untidiest place on the ship, I know.” 
Big Bob the Cook was feeding the mouse
On sea snails and eel’s cheese, to eat in her house. 
“You’re making crumbs,” said Blacktarn, annoyed. 
“Crumbs,” said Bob, “are things you can’t avoid.” 

“That’s not the point,” said Blacktarn in a huff. 
“I want this ship to be clean enough
For Neptune himself to eat off the deck,
I want no more dirt, not a single speck.”

The crew all sighed, feeling very sad, 
“Our poor Captain’s gone completely mad.
You don’t clean pirate ships, they’re meant to be grimy,
A little bit grubby and a little bit slimy.”

But fearsome Blacktarn wouldn’t let them rest,
He was determined Neptune must be impressed. 
So Rakesh the mate began a cleaning song, 
And they sang as they swept all the dirt along.
“YO HO HO! This is a sad, sad, day,
WOE WOE WOE! We must clean the dirt away. 
YO HO HO! This is hard, hard work,
WOE WOE WOE! Our Captain’s gone berserk.”
Parrot Tim lurked on top of the mast
Till Blacktarn noticed and he flew away fast. 

Then Pirate Blacktarn began to tidy his cabin
But all he really did was dump things in the bin.
So Big Bob the Cook came to sort it all out 
And worked and worked till it was clean beyond doubt.
Everyone swept and dusted and polished
While the seagulls watched, utterly astonished. 

Then in the evening, when they could clean no more,
A huge wave came with a great wild roar
And swished and swashed all over the deck 
And rinsed off the dirt, to the very last speck.
And then the sea turned red and then it turned gold
And they saw all the sea nymphs, lovely to behold. 
And Neptune appeared, surrounded by light. 
“What a fine, tidy vessel,” he said, very polite. 
“Now we must celebrate this cleanest of ships,
How about some crab cake and seaweed chips?”

“Good idea, we’ll start cooking,” agreed all the crew.
“Include us,” called the sea nymphs,” we’re joining you.”

So they ate and danced and sang and had a lot of fun
And forgot about the cleaning they’d all just done. 
It wasn’t till the moon left the early morning sky
That Neptune and the sea nymphs waved them goodbye. 
And then the sun rose and gleamed very bright
And shone on the shambles they’d made in the night. 

“What a disaster! Look at all the mess and murk!
We’ve ruined all yesterday’s hard, hard work,
Now we’ll have to clean all over again.”
The sorry crew groaned at the thought of such a strain. 
“Nonsense,” said Blacktarn, “that would be a pain.
Pirate ships are meant to be a little bit grimy,
A little bit grubby and a little bit slimy. 

Now come on crew, don’t start dawdling and dusting.
Let’s set sail before this ship starts rusting.”

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn meets the Siren

A strange tale in verse by Jay Nicholls

PIRATE BLACKTARN MEETS THE SIREN

Pirate Blacktarn was sailing around
When all of a sudden, he heard a sweet sound,
A marvellous melody, wafting on the sea.
“Let’s go and see what that sound can be.”
“No you can’t,” said Tim Parrot anxiously,
“That’s the Siren’s song, turn back quickly.”

“Nonsense Tim, don’t be such a bore
Full sail ahead, I want to hear more.”

“No, no,” said Tim, “the Siren’s song’s a trap.
She’ll sing and tell tales till you doze and nap.
And at last you’ll fall asleep and never wake again.
Don’t you know the Siren makes statues of men?”

“Rubbish, don’t make a fuss, we’re brave and tough
And we’re not afraid of Sirens,” said Blacktarn in a huff.

So they sailed at speed to the Siren’s shores
Following her enchanted music’s lures.
“Welcome,” called the Siren as they finally came near,
“I have a tale or two, perhaps you’d like to hear?”

Her hair was shining silver and her eyes were glinting green,
The most amazing creature they’d ever seen.
Her lilting, laughing voice was rich and sweet as honey.
Mysterious and serious, fantastical and funny.

“Don’t listen,” cried Tim, flapping his wings with worry.
“Oh be quiet Tim, we’re not in a hurry,
“We can surely stay for just a little while.
Pleased to meet you Siren,” said Blacktarn with a smile.

Then the Siren gave them all a potion to drink
And they drank and drank and forgot to think.

“I see you pirates have come a long, long way,
You must stay here and rest,” they heard the Siren say.
Then she told them tales of the people of Mer
And of sunken ships full of long-lost treasure,
And the terrible battles of the squids and the whales
And the shining sea fire that never ever fails,
And the undersea caves that glitter with diamonds
And the eels that weave through the waving fern fronds,
And the ghosts of dead pirates all shivering and cold
Still seeking their hoards of silver and gold.

Their heads began to nod and their eyes began to close
And one by one they fell into a deep enchanted doze.
They hardly knew if they were waking or dreaming
For all was hazy and magical seeming.
Blacktarn’s mouth opened wider and wider
And he didn’t even notice when in jumped a spider.

“Wake up! Wake up!” cried Tim in agitation,
But the pirates were lost in their imagination.
“Time for drastic action,” thought Tim, very worried,
And away to his friends the seagulls, he hurried.

“Help me, please help me, I don’t know what to do,
The Siren’s enchanted Blacktarn and all his crew.”

Then the Lord of the Seagulls held a meeting of his flock,
They all gathered together on his great grey rock.
They didn’t like the Siren, she turned birds into stone
And wore necklaces and rings made of seagulls’ bones.

“What we’ll do is hold a seagull’s chorus,”
The Great Gull decided, “and we’ll make such a fuss
That the Siren’s voice will be silenced and unheard,
Then the pirates will wake,” announced the Great Bird.
The gulls all agreed this was a very good idea
For a certain sort of seagull screech is hideous to hear.
So away they flew to the Siren’s shores
And saw the pirates and heard their snores.
The Great Gull himself let out a wild cry
Then the seagull chorus screamed through the sky.
The din they made echoed round and round
Till the Siren’s voice was completely drowned.

“Wake up Blacktarn,” called all the birds,
“Wake up, don’t listen to the Siren’s words.
Wake up Mick and Bob, wake Stowaway Fay
Wake, if you want to live another day.”

Tim went round pecking at the dozy crew.
“Wake up Captain and Rakesh and you and you.”
Then the crew stopped hearing the Siren’s voice.
They only heard the gulls, they didn’t have a choice.
“I must have been napping,” said Bob opening his eyes,
“I’ve had some strange dreams,” said Mick in surprise.

Then they stared at the Siren in horror and dismay
She’d turned purple with rage, now she couldn’t get her way.
She frothed at the mouth and her eyes went red
And writhing snakes twisted round her head.

“Run,” yelled Fay and at top speed they fled,
And didn’t dare stop, they were so filled with dread.
At last they reached the ship and sighed with relief.
That was an adventure quite beyond belief!”

“I wish I could remember the stories she told,
 I wanted to hear those magic tales unfold,”
Said Stowaway Fay, with a rather sad sigh.
“Me too,” said Bob. “Yes” said Mick, “so did I.”
“You be grateful you haven’t been turned to stone,”
Said Parrot Tim crossly, “then you’d really moan.
If it wasn’t for the help of the gulls of the air
You’d be trapped forever in the Siren’s snare.”

“Nonsense,” said Blacktarn, “we were dozing a while,
We weren’t caught up in the Siren’s guile.
I told you no Siren would get the better of me,
Now come on crew, get sailing, across the Lemon Sea.”

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Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Musings

The Source

Mike Smith drifts into nostalgia about mid-twentieth century while exploring a box of old postcards. What are the stories they tell?

In the days when I used to give live readings of short stories I was often asked where they came from. It’s a question writing buddies know better than to ask. Obviously, they already know that stories come from wherever you have found them. But to the non-writing reader it seems to be a mystery.

V.S.Pritchett said that they came from a ‘poetic impulse’, and life can and will prompt that impulse without warning. Even something as simple as looking at postcard can do the job. I was recently shown one such card, sent in the mid nineteen-thirties from Algiers. On the back it’s titled as number 12: Alger. Rue Bab-Azoun, and on the front of it carries a black and white photograph of a street scene. I’ve never been to Algiers, but the image evokes memories and associations with travellers’ tales, articles, TV shows and movies, and by no means all of them directly related to that city.

The image is full of life, locating itself at a precise moment in place and time by its buildings, its street furniture, its traffic, its advertising posters and its people, more than a dozen of them in several distinct groups. Each of those groups might imply a tale, and in combination a more complex one. That dead centre café with its two arches, ‘La Vieux Grenadier’ makes me think of Rick’s place in the film Casablanca. And could the ‘Au Grand Bon Marche’* up above it on the wall be an ironic comment? On the dapper man in the dark jacket and tie, his straw boater subtly tilted, his thumb stuck in his belt, say, as he strides towards us. Is he known to them, rejoining them perhaps after an assignation? And what about those two characters in white suits whom he has just passed? One of them is glancing across. Is it at him, and if so, why? Could be somebody’s brother, and the start of something. Or is his line of sight slightly ahead of the man, towards a couple partially obscured by the little knot of tourists nearer the foreground? Has something been done, or said? And who is the man standing on the back of the tram vanishing into the shadows? Has he just boarded at the stop? It is a stop, I’m sure, just close by that nearer group, because we can see the tracks reverting to single from double lines, that would form a passing loop for crossing vehicles. Further to the left there’s a mixed group: a man in robes reaching out, for what? Two men in solar topees: are they the police? Off duty soldiers? What sort of vehicle is it? Are they demanding to see papers? Is that luggage on the roof?

And on the far right, a couple, casually dressed. She is just visible behind him. They are heading towards the ‘Parfumerie’, if I have read the lettering on the wall above them correctly. They are moving quickly, I think, and with no eyes for the others in the scene.

Every still photograph catches a moment in time and place and holds it motionless, which, almost word for word, is what the writer Arthur Miller told us short stories do. Each picture is a segment of the arc of some imagined or remembered story, and for the would-be writer the trick might be – I offer no certainties – to know which segment: beginning, middle or end? So that the whole arc might be created.

And every momentary image brought to our eyes, upon the street or in a building, or from a vehicle, every sight and every sound, each whiff of wind off the sea, or waft of coffee from a café, each faint smell of smoke or blood from an alleyway or open door, offers us the same potential. And so, the answer to that question, asked or unasked, must always be: stories? They come from everywhere!

12: Alger. Rue Bab-Azoun. Snapshot of the postcard by Mike Smith

Where to start?

For I know only the ending of the story. That lies in the box of old postcards and photographs, of dinner menus and an itinerary of the liner, The Laconia. It was a Cunard Line ship and came to an unwanted fame a few years later when, in 1942 it was sunk by a German U-boat. A flotilla of German and Italian submarines attempted to rescue survivors, but were later bombed and strafed by American warplanes, forcing them to dive, sweeping those survivors into the sea.

The Mediterranean cruise recorded in those old postcards took place in the mid-nineteen thirties and was a honeymoon trip. The postcards show Algiers, Jerusalem, Valetta, and unknown views. Petra, city of the rock is in there. Photographs show bustling streets. Western tourists in period costume to us now, smile, raise glasses, chin-chin, gaze from balconies and terraces. The menus show us what they dined on, the itinerary, where and when they made landfall. They are printed on a stiff card, Art Deco in design and near to what we might think of as A5 in size, but which in those days would have carried what seems now a more Imperial label: crown quarto, small demy octavo.

There’s even a folding diagram of the ship: printed on flimsy paper but still good, even along the eighty-year-old folds. It shows the steel hull, the cabin walls (Not walls, an old naval friend mine would have corrected. Those are bulwarks, matey!).

The young bride was my mother in law’s mother. Her husband was an English farmer, a cut above her in class. She was a Londoner, a nurse, he a Norfolk country landowner. But tragedy struck. Before even the Laconia sank, he had died.

And through the twists and turns of life she’d kept the box of postcards and old photographs, and the dinner menus, the itinerary of their trip, the folded diagram of the ship, their cabin black-inked and arrowed in someone’s hand; perhaps hers, perhaps his.

I never met the lady. She died the year I met my wife, but I could weep for her now, knowing the ending of their story.      

Glossary

Au Grand Bon Marche: Literal translation, a great bargain, French. Could also refer to a French Department store Le Bon Marche.      

Parfumerie: A place where perfumes are sold. French.

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Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL