S. Gupta

S. Gupta was born in 1988 in the middle of a Texas snow storm. She graduated from Johns Hopkins with degrees in creative writing and psychology. She currently lives in Washington DC. Her work has previously appeared in The Talkin’ Blues Literary Magazine, and Midwest Literary Magazine.




When you are little you figure a blessing is a sort of cake. To receive it, you kneel down in front of your parents and they balance it on top of your head. As you rise you catch it and pop it into your mouth so that the last taste of home is a sweet one.

You know this because your father reads Indian folk tales to you. A lot of them are variations on the same theme: the hero goes out into the world to seek his fortune, but before that he had to seek his parents’ blessing. Mostly he gets it, but sometimes he doesn’t and then he has to resort to Drastic Action or leave home with a Heavy Heart.

You’re outraged to discover that no, in fact, a blessing is not a cake. A blessing means that your parents raise you up, kiss your forehead and say, “Go with God, my child.” You don’t understand. It’s not like words can stop you in your tracks.

“A blessing gives means your parents support your endeavors,” your father says. “A blessing can mean peace, courage.”

He would know. He was nine when he left home. His father was an engineer who hopped from city to city following blueprints to build canals and bridges, anything that would pay the bills. His mother taught her children mathematics at her knee, whacked them with a ruler when they made mistakes, and sent her children off to the best boarding school she could afford: military school where the students change clothes five times a day, run a few miles before breakfast and don’t cry for home.

Your father could not run, he came last in all the races, but in the classroom he left his classmates in the dust as he spun through mathematics, hammered away at physics until it became the lens he used to examine life, and found as he examined it, that he hated school.

But he had his parents blessing.

When he left for college, he did not have his parents blessing. He left to study physics in a place where only doctors and engineers could count on making any money, in a time where even those comfortably ensconced in the middle class worried about having enough food on the table. You’re mad, his parents told him. You’ll never be able to feed a family, they told him. You’ll starve on the streets, they told him.

I am mad, he said. I will not get married and raise a family, he said. I don’t need much money, he said. And then he trained himself to dream of a future spent living in a single room, eating very little. It was not difficult after military school where fifty boys would share one room and the occasional cockroach would be mixed into the canteen food.

As it happened, physics led him to America where he got married, gave it all up for business because he couldn’t support a wife on a researcher’s salary and then got it all back when he started his first company where he could write mathematical algorithms and found he liked it better than the political games professors, even physics professors, especially physics professors, play.

“I have found my life’s work,” he says to you when you are very young.

You have a life plan too. You are going to follow your father’s footsteps, placing your feet in the whirls and hollows he has left imprinted on the earth. First you will become a physicist. You will read his thesis, a thesis that very few people are capable of understanding, he tells you, and then you will ease your way into the company, help it lift off. It runs, it does well even, but he dreams of an empire. You will come, and it will be an empire.

Your first grade teacher is so impressed by your plans, and the stories your father tells her of how you conduct your own experiments, that she sets aside science text books for you to take home. You take them home and you and your father go through the experiments for about half an hour until you get bored.

In third grade you attempt to start your own company. You’ve got it planned out. Work out a profit proposal with your father. Your best friends are going to be your business partners. Announce the idea on the playground. They are full of ideas. Decide their ideas are stupid. The company flops.

You don’t particularly care because you’ve just discovered Sherlock Holmes and are reading your way through the complete works. Every week your mother takes you to the library and you wander in and out of the different sections pulling books from shelves, Nancy Drew, Louisa May Alcott, Tolkien.

“Junk,” your father cries. “Stop reading such junk. Read something worthwhile. Science. Math.”

Occasionally you ask the librarians for books on antelopes because antelopes are animals and animals are biology and biology is a science, but antelopes are so boring you switch to biographies and keep hitting the fiction. Read Sense and Sensibility and decide Marianne is a drip. Read Animal Farm without knowing anything about communism and decide power corrupts. Read Anna Karenina and decide men are evil. Race through your class assignments so you can read, cram homework into an hour so you can read, read through recesses, car rides, road trips, family reunions, dinner parties, read until your eyes hurt and your legs are cramped and the words on the page are more real than the sofa you’re sitting on.


Hit sixth grade. The homework starts getting serious. You can’t finish math homework while the teacher explains the lesson anymore. Slowly, so slowly, you don’t notice it, you start to lag behind. A little knot starts living in the pit of your stomach during tests and grows larger and more wretched with each test.

Read so you can forget about math. Read while you should be doing math. Read, read, read.

Occasionally write. In seventh grade a poet teaches your English class for a few days. Before she leaves she pulls your parents aside.

“You must be a writing family,” she says.

“Quite the opposite,” your father says. “I was terrible at the humanities.” He was. He likes to tell you about how he wrote one English paper in high school and turned it in year after year for a solid “B”. A “B” was good enough for English.

“Your daughter is talented,” she says.

He smiles. He is proud. Middle school is all about being proud of you, the poems you are getting published, the essays that the teachers talk about in the hallways, it is almost enough to make up for the fact that the math is getting worse each year. By eighth grade the math teacher is calling you in after class to ask you if there’s anything she can do to help improve your grades.

“You’re not stupid,” your father says. He says it often. He says instead, that he has failed you. He should have spent more time teaching you math when you were little, as his mother taught him. Instead he devoted his time to his company.

You nod and you think of all those wasted hours, the hours you spent reading about fictional people with fictional lives when you could have studied the curve of the universe, understood reality, and you want to throw up.

You have begun to panic about your future. The math isn’t working out, the writing is, but everyone knows writers don’t get jobs, and somehow you know already, that you will never be a writer. You were meant to travel other paths.

Take a deep breathe. High school is around the corner. In high school there will be real science class, and there you will learn, oh you will learn.



In high school you load up on physics and chemistry and math. Your father looks through your textbooks each summer.

“You’re going to love these courses,” he says. This is the sort of thing he wishes he had when he was your age. “You should study over the summer,” he says.

You try. You sit with last year’s text book and the coming year’s text book and you tell yourself you’ll do two hours a day, but sooner or later you reach for your pile of library books and the calculus, the chemistry, the physics lies forgotten, and then the school year comes around and there again you’re taking home grades that steadily sink lower and lower.

Stay up late to finish problem sets, drink coffee on test days until you vibrate in your chair, start having nightmares about failing months before each exam. Write in your blog about how much you hate school. Get a small audience. Keep writing in your blog. Write. Write. Write.

“Be careful about your blog,” your father says. “You’re going to be someone running a company one day and you don’t want your blog to haunt you.”

You try.

In eleventh grade you take Calculus. In the hallway at school a parent stops you. Her son is in your Calculus class.

“I used to work for your father,” she says. “He’s a genius. I’m so excited that my son has the chance to be in class with you. He keeps telling me about there’s freshman in his class who is setting the curve. That’s you right? ”

Smile. Back away. Later in the day the Calc teacher hands out the mid-semester grades. She gives you your first fail.

That year your father makes a mathematical break through. His best friend is over at the time, and when your father shows him the math, he gasps and drags you over.

“Have you seen what your father has done?” he asks and graphs and formulas pour out of him and you shake your head and back away.

Your father shakes his head and smiles a little painfully, the smile of the perpetually isolated, “Stop. You’re not being fair to her. She hasn’t studied that. She can’t understand.”

“A pity,” his friend says. “Such a pity.”

“Physics is about seeing and understanding the world in its precise truth,” your father will say periodically. “It’s not like the humanities or the arts, where nothing is known, where nothing is precise and you can build nothing.”

You envy the scientists, the mathematicians of the world— people who are born seeing the truth, people who can slice through the multitudinous deceptions of ordinary mortals, and reveal the bleached bones of truth.

What would that be like?

You can not imagine it. You are not capable of it.

Tell your college counselor on whim you want to go to a place with a good English program.



The summer after you graduate from high school you run into that freshman, now sophomore, who was in your Calculus class and dazzled the teachers. “I don’t know what to do,” her mother says half laughing, half afraid as if this girl’s talent is bright enough to burn.

Your father writes down his telephone number, rattles off books and techniques, says, “You must call me if you need anything.” Later he shakes his head and smiles. Oh that girl, that girl, he sees his younger self in her eyes.

Then he tells you not to sign up for Calculus III in college.

“Don’t torture yourself unnecessarily,” he says.

Despite your best intentions you become a writing major in college. Spend three years dissecting books, ripping up your writing style and piecing it together again, learning that you know nothing. Hate the stuffy professors, hate the redundant syllabus, hate the pompous students, get high on Neruda and Eliot while you do your homework, fall asleep dreaming of libraries. Send your father all your stories. He reads them and tells you he’s not the best person to give you feedback: this is not his forte.

Then it’s your last year of college and you have to go job hunting.

No one will give you an interview.

“If you were an economics major or an engineering major you would have a job,” your father says. “They see writing major and toss your resume out. This is the price you pay for following your passion.”

“This is the price,” you say.

“It’s just the writing major,” he says.

“It’s just the writing major,” you say.

No one will give you an interview.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “You can always work for me.” His company is beginning take off, it is expanding, these days all he can speak of is the latest algorithm, how it is dynamite and unleashed it will change the world.

After seven months, the government offers to hire you. Your friends laugh. “Good luck accomplishing anything there,” they say. They had expected more from you.

You call your father.

“Come work with me,” he says. “We need you and we’re growing and we’re at an exciting place.”

“But what about this job?” you ask. “What do you think of it?”

“God, when I compare what’s going on at my company with a shitty little government job…oh, it’s frustrating.”

“It’s a shitty little job,” you say.




The job isn’t bad as far as shitty little jobs go. You get up, you go to work, then you come home and you write, you write, you write until you think you’ve used up all the words in the world, and then you fall asleep and get up and do it all over again the next day, and sometimes there isn’t enough time to write, and you think, maybe you could be a writer, only there’s never enough time, there’s never enough time and meanwhile all you have to write about is what happens inside the gray cubes of the government.

You can’t stay here forever. But you don’t want to go to business school, you don’t want to get another job that will take away even more of your writing time.

“I know at the moment writing is very important to you,” he says when you tell him this, “But think. Probably, you could do well, even pick up a few hundred every year, but is that enough to live on? To bet your life on? I know you. You wouldn’t be happy without the kind of success I have.”

The next day you go to work and your boss calls a staff meeting. You sit with excellent posture in your crisp white shirt and neat black skirt. You have a notebook full of questions and you ask them in a crisp little British accent. You think about how this isn’t bad, and how in ten years on a morning like this when a fresh breeze is blowing through the room and the air smells like sunlight you will still be wearing a crisp white shirt speaking in a crisp little British accent in some office somewhere. A good life.

You go back to your cube and pull out your assignment, only your head aches so you think perhaps you will sit for a while. And as you sit, you think, ah, you will go home, you will write. But what to write? And you imagine that you are a stranger, picking through your own stories, bidding on them, and you want to gouge out your eyeballs.

It is no use, you think. It is a hobby worth a few hundred a year.

You sip some caffeine to fill something in your chest that has gone hollow and funny and go back to work.

You know what a blessing is now. It is a stone compass, round and heavy that your parents slip into your hand when you are born. Pray that you have the strength to carry it, pray that you are able to follow the direction of the arrow easily and effortlessly so you will never discover how relentlessly it tugs you forward.




Heather Taylor Johnson

Heather Taylor Johnson moved from America to Australia in 1999 and since has received a PhD in Creative Writing, has had a poetry collection, Exit Wounds,  published, and has discovered that reviewing poetry is a fantastic genre to work with. She spent all of 2010 living in the Colorado Rockies with her husband and three young children and though she couldn’t leave the subject of ‘home’ alone in her writing, she also found that mountains were very difficult to ignore.   


While A Flock Of Seagulls Flies North

Tree stumps wide as the length of my body

and as long as yours

touching mine

from head to toe

scatter this beach;

its perimeter the outline of a powerful tide.


Without you there would be no ex-pat.

Without me no working visa.

We inhabit this earth as if it were our own.


Trying to imagine this ocean carrying

great trees of small forests in such a rush

of movement and moons

depositing them on foreign soil…

sand, not soil


but then you and the beauty of this drowned-out colour

and washed-out texture, how the stumps broke apart

from roots and limbs to rest on this beach

are just the reasons I am here.

The reasons I move, then rest.




Amongst It


Our nine year itch moved us to the mountains.

Small town, big earth

we breathed it every day:


snow falling

snow sifting, resting, misting upwards

from a sexy wind.

Our waterless lips

were constantly parted

constantly wanting to lap it up.


We became so spontaneous the frozen waterfall

we walked upon, ad-libbed and perfect.

And the night in the lounge after Sunny’s party,

the mess, wood stove, us.


Riotous snowballs melted down

the backs of our knitted necks 

and the jolt, the stagger, the interchangeable

skin and liquid ice (liquid ice

and incredible skin).

Something fleeting about it all.


And those mountains –

their permanence.

When we finally looked away we breathed;

it was evergreen, deer dung and snow.

In the end we became asthmatic

because after the mountains

my    eyes    found    yours

and then we gasped

forgetting to breath

forgetting the snow

forgetting even

the mountains.


Jee Leong Koh

Jee Leong Koh is the author of two books of poems Payday Loans and Equal to the Earth (Bench Press). His new book of poems Seven Studies for a Self Portrait will be released by the same press in March 2011. Born and raised in Singapore, he lives in New York City, and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter (http://jeeleong.blogspot.com)


In His Other House

In this house there is no need to wait for the verdict of history
And each page lies open to the version of every other.
—Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, “In Her Other House”
In my other house too, books line the floor to ceiling shelves,
not only books on stock markets, self help, Singapore ghost stories,
but also poetry, Edwin Thumboo, Cyril Wong, Alfian Sa’at,
and one who moved away and who wrote Days of No Name.
My father comes home from the power station. When rested
(and this is how I know this is not real) he reads to us again,
for the seventh time, Philip Jeyaretnam’s Abraham’s Promise
in a sweet low voice, unbroken by a frightened young supervisor.
When he closes the book, my dead grandfather stirs from a dream
and says a word or two, that really says he has been listening.
And my beloved, knowing his cue, jumps up from the couch
to clear the dishes, for, as he says, dishes don’t wash themselves.
Softly brightened by a feeling I do not hurry to identify,
I move to the back of him and put my arms around his waist.
His muscles twitch like the needle on a motorboat’s dashboard
as he turns a porcelain plate against a rough cotton cloth.
The light from the window looks like a huge, blank sea.
In this other house there will be time to fill it but now
the bell rings with a deep gold tone, and here, on a surprise
visit, are my sister and her two girls coming through the door.

The Hospital Lift

The Virgin was spiralling to heaven,
Hauled up in stages. Past mist and shining
—Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, “Fireman’s Lift”
My mother is the aged Queen of the spin
of washing machines. Her body sags now
but when she was young eyed and toned
she washed St. Andrew’s Children’s Hospital,
whose best feature was its old hotel lift.
I would close the brass grille with a clang,
thump the big black top button, grow up
watching the concrete floors drop to my feet,
the bowl that glowed in underwater green
the babies crying, startled by the light
in blue gowns the boys chasing the clown
the professional look of clean white smocks
before arriving on the roof, the air
smelling of detergent, wind and sun,
the sheets flapping like giant birds.
When my mother turned to greet me
with a tight smile (now loosening indefinitely),
how was I to guess the magic act
of hauling up an ancient lift
by spinning modern wash machines?

The Bowl

I made a trip to each clock in the apartment
—Elizabeth Bishop, “Paris, 7 A.M.”
One clock is short. Another clock is a dog
that bounds round every twelve years and barks
at dogs not yet born and dogs gone before.
The good clock in the kitchen is a bowl.
The one I check to go in step with New York
rests in my pocket, next to my penis,
and rings with a ringtone called Melody.
So many clocks! How does one keep time?
I have lived here long enough
to have had three loves, one of whom
is sleeping in my bed, a ghost from the west coast.
He ticks softly, this clock. The second
goes all the way back to the Mayflower, he talked.
The third is striking fifty-one today. He sounds sad.
How do I sound to him?
How do I sound in his tall apartment of clocks?
My collection of clocks
in that apartment, and that apartment, and that apartment in the city?
First visit to an airport, I was rapt by the world clocks,
Jakarta, New Delhi, Tel Aviv, Berlin, London, New York,
steel round-faced timekeepers, all different and all right,
their hands ringing in my ears
the sound a wet finger makes rubbing round the rim of a water glass,
and I felt like a dog that is trying to catch its tail.
Dizzy, yes, but filled with so much joy
I think I have not left the spot.

Aimee Norton

Aimee Norton is a research astronomer with a PhD from University of California, Los Angeles. She is a lecturer and researcher at James Cook University in Queensland.  An emerging poet she has published in Many Mountains Moving, Paper Wasp, Byline and Literature in North Queensland (LiNQ). She was a featured reader in 2008 at Edge: A Reading Series of Emerging and Young Writers hosted by Casa Libre en la Solana in Arizona and a finalist in the 2005 poetry competition hosted by Many Mountains Moving as judged by Marcus Cafagna.  She enjoys the parallel ways in which physics and poetry can compress great, big experiential truths into small spaces.


On the Road to Sexual Freedom

I’m grateful to lovers, every one, who flashed me the salt in their eyes

or Morse coded me in pleasure text to say passion

is a part of compassion. But my memories are pocked on all sides

by girls in tight cotton wearing NO on silver necklaces, 

bank tellers of reproduction, these ascetics sat upright

with books covered in the brown, grocery-sack paper of thrift. 

They insisted I do the same. Fear rose from them like startled birds.

The No-girls quick-syllable words were bought behind counters

stocked with lottery tickets and plastic saints. 

I pitied such shortsighted chastity.


What they called a one-night stand was transformative. 

Sex dissolved pain in the detergent of time. How empowering

to be chosen, even neon-light briefly, by another. 

As a genius teenage fuck, I won the Nobel Prize for loving

several years running. My talent was seeing each brittle yeoman

for who he really was. In return, I was dubbed as easy, gained

a reputation spread by the fire tongues of the No-girls,

I threatened the sexual economy. Brigitta called me Slut  


in her strangled pigeon voice. So I played parade music,

straight-ahead drum and bugle, and marveled on the downbeats

at all the No-girls didn’t know. This: a talisman against loneliness

is an old lovers name spoken aloud. And this: even a memory

of being held remains strong against the bowhead of time. 

So here’s my note to the sanctimonious: Stop dinging

the sides of my dreams with fictive piety. Up ahead,

I see the Romeo nation, where Latissimus Dorsi curve

into the small of men’s backs  and a chorus of stories

are sung as forearms become blunt instruments of bliss.




Somewhere here,

a spell of indifference


This body, it could be any body.

Rather, any body could be mine.


And the town, well, it is any town –

the street names wiped clean at dawn.


My husband, an arbitrary man,

is no less and no more than other men.


The children, small dear loaves of life,

are randomly being drawn out by time.


Anywhere, with any one,

any me could be.


I can’t tell if the sentiment

is laudable or laughable,


whether I’ve attained enlightenment

or disillusionment.


But clearly, it doesn’t matter.

The menu is always the same.


The apples arrive with

their leafless stems,


and the bird outside my window

is the same one outside yours.



Lara S Williams

Lara S. Williams is a British/Australian writer who has been published or has work appearing in over twenty international literary journals including Voiceworks, Cordite, Antipodes, Islet, Blue Crow, page seventeen, Magma, Island, Agenda, MiPOesias, Blue Fifth Review, Orbis and Neon. She is currently living in Seoul, South Korea, and spends most of her time writing and eating kimchi. She plays the saxophone somewhat haphazardly.



A Fugue To Happy Moments In Time

‘Son, your mother doesn’t understand like I do. You need this.’
            ‘I didn’t even apply, it’s a scholarship.’

            ‘So you’re looking a gift in the mouth?’

            ‘It’s to look a gift horse in the mouth.’
            He concedes with a wave of his hand, sips his absinthe and lets out a loud exhalation. His foot taps to the beat of Paul Desmond’s ‘Take Five’ crackling from a stereo above the doorway; he gears himself up.
            ‘Hundreds of people apply to this school and ninety nine percent of them spend years beating themselves up because they didn’t make it. Waste money on extra tuition, books. But you don’t need that! They’re giving it to you on a plate. “Didn’t even apply”, good god, boy!’ Another sip of absinthe. He never uses the accompanying sugar.

            ‘You drink far too many of those,’ I wince.

            ‘Don’t change the subject. I won’t watch you turn them down.’ He slams the table with his fist.

            I smile into my less abrasive vodka, turning the glass in the sun and watching smoky rainbows strike the cement. ‘Calm down. You know I‘m going. It‘s mum.’

            He considers, tilting his head at an angle. Past his ear I see the café sign winking to a bookshop across the street.
            ‘Lie,’ he says.

            ‘I cannot lie to my mother.’

            ‘But I can.’

            ‘I don’t want to tell her some story. I want her to be happy for me.’ I kick at the ground. ‘There’s only so long she can use the same excuse to keep me here.’

            ‘Now that’s unkind,’ he replies. ‘You know how she feels. She lost her son.’

            ‘We all lost him. But I can’t stay home with her forever. I’m not him. I’m not a replacement!’

            ‘She worries. And you should be more understanding.’ He is flustered and I regret upsetting him.

            ‘Will you come visit me?’

            ‘Never.’ We are silent for some time and my father raises his hand and clicks, signalling for another drink. I smile and shake away a second vodka.

            ‘Why not?’

            He chews his cheek and thinks. ‘I said I’d never go back to Paris.’

            ‘Bad memories?’ I ask.

            ‘No, my son, good!’ he replies explosively. ‘Good memories, excellent, the very best of my life.’

            ‘Then why stay away?’
            He is serious now, eyebrows almost meeting at the bridge of his nose. A new absinthe appears and he pushes it aside, fearing the distraction.

            ‘Have you ever felt so utterly happy and content that you want to lie down and die, just to finish on a high?’

            ‘Not exactly. I think it would put a rather sour note on things.’

            ‘I have!’ He leans forward, eyes fixed on something beyond my ear. ‘Years ago in Paris, I played flute in a tiny restaurant. I don’t recall where it was.’ He waves his hand impatiently, continues, ‘blue window shutters upstairs. It was called ‘L’amour’. I met Gabriella, a Spanish student visiting for a study break.’ He looks at me. ‘She was sensational. Dark and quiet, didn’t ask questions. I finished playing and drank wine with her and the moon came out over the top of her perfect head.’ He pulls a white handkerchief from his pocket and lays it on the table, showing me the embroidery of a woman’s figure in light blue thread.
            ‘I always liked this.’ I touch the corner
            ‘You ever wonder where I got it? She gave it to me. One kiss and an eternal memory.’ He stops and shivers. ‘Paris will make you.’ He finishes the drink and I think for a moment he means to stay longer, get drunker. Instead he tumbles two bills onto the table and gestures to the book store opposite us. ‘Come with me. I’m getting you something.’
            I’d been there many times before, always finding unpriced copies of penguin editions in boxes at the counter. I watch my father disappear in that direction, then return clutching a sheaf of lined paper.

            ‘I knew they had this here,’ he says. My fist fills with paper and he ushers me out onto the street. ‘Beautiful on the flute, that.’ As I look he digs in his pocket and unwraps a chocolate cigar.
            ‘Satie? Ah, Trois Gynopodies.’ I point the music at his mid-drift and nod my head. ‘Thank you.’

            ‘You can play that at your final performance.’ He sprays cocoa smoke around my ears.

            ‘I might not get that far.’
            He backs away, jabbing his cigar in the air. ‘Course you will. You’ve got Satie.’

            ‘Can we go home?’ I walk beside him and finger the corners of my sheet music to sweat.


            I arrived for orientation on the third of February, early on a snowy evening. My bags, bursting with music sheaves and polishing oil, slapped against my father’s flute, all pressed tightly to my thigh like a child. Already students milled around the entrance hall dragging cases, stands, trunks, coats and naked instruments. A rumble of languages filled the quiet spaces in the air. As I made my way to the dormitory a black boy with coloured beads in his hair dropped a saxophone and I heard the squealing snap of valves.
            My room was a twin, the room mate not yet arrived. I put my flute on a narrow metal-framed bed and inspected the pine shelves above the head board. After lining up a few books and unpacking my pressed clothes I went to explore the grounds.

            Outside I buttoned my overcoat and turned the corner of the building, heading for a varnished wooden gate set into the surrounding fence. Slipping through I entered a small courtyard dark with pine branches. Bird feeders and bony rose stems dangled from the wood and tangled together until the two became one impenetrable force. Fresh snow sat on the grass like carpet free of footprints and rain stain. A paved ring of brickwork clawed through, its only adornment a rusty iron bench.

            Seated was a young woman tightening the string of a viola. She drew the bow across its face, listening closed-eyed. I thought her beautiful; haematite hair wound around the neck of her instrument, knuckles pink in the cold, finger tips white with string pressure. I approached, watching the slender arm slide back and forth. Her eyes opened when my heels clicked on the bricks.

            ‘Bonjour.’ She lowered her viola.
            ‘Don’t stop,’ I murmured.

            She smiled and put the instrument away. I looked at the shape of her coat collar against the white throat. Her eyes were wet with large irises that rolled around the line of my face. I wanted to say something about her playing.

            ‘Embrasse-moi,’ she breathed in melodious baritone.

            ‘I’m sorry?’

            Snow settled on my head, melt running behind my ear and traversing the hairline to spread at the nape of my neck. Her breath clouded into my nostrils and I smelt cinnamon and tasted tiny speckles of snow on her cheeks. Her left elbow was remarkably warm, sheltered as it was in the curve of her body whilst playing.


            The spotlight swoons across my flute and ignites trickling mirrors in the valves. I see a man, short and portly, standing at the front. He waves a familiar white handkerchief and his presence gives me a pleasurable jolt.
            I hold the flute like a fine sword, feeling a brassy thrum beneath my fingers. The lights dim, signalling my introduction.

            ‘This piece,’ I announce, ‘is for my father, the flautist Albert Pewty who has come here, at great risk to himself, to hear me play Satie.’
            He remains standing, a tweed apostle, and the smile he illicits transforms my piece from perfected mournful practises into notes bent warm and sweet. The performance is long, accompanied by piano. I dimly hear my own playing over the roar in my head.
            Behind my body the concert‘s highlight appears: an enormous silver moon born from moulded ceramic and tiny shards of glass, thick like the bottom of a vodka tumbler. It lowers before the backdrop and lights hit it on all sides, sending moonlight in every direction.
            I see my father sit abruptly. His face is shadowed and he lowers his head to rest on his chest. I end my piece, arms lifted level with the flute, an unusual and ungainly stance but one that allows my body help the music collapse into finish. I lower my shivering arms and bow.

            When there is relative quiet on the other side of the curtain I return to the stage. Looking down I am surprised to see my father still sitting in place.

            ‘Dad!’ I call out. ‘I can’t believe you came.’ I rush to the edge and drop down, sit beside him. ‘Did you enjoy it?’

            He doesn’t look at me. I reach out and touch his lapel, run the finger down his body, feel the warmth of flesh under his clothes.

            ‘Answer me.’ I look down and see his handkerchief on the floor, a footprint across its body. ‘Dad?’

            He is dead at sixty three, captured in the final happiness he feared. I bow my head and press it into his neck. I wonder why he is so warm and I so cold.

            ‘I’m glad you came,’ I whisper.


            The jazz saxophones were swinging, punching out a fast paced version of Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker’s Street’. The vocalist, a young man, was perched on a green stool, thin black moustache pointing at the drums balanced across his knees. I sat, head on chest, nodding out of time.

            ‘Vous desirez?’ The waitress repeated herself three times to my silence before giving up and leaving a menu on my table.

            A woman opposite me lifted dark eyes to meet mine. She was wrinkled and very beautiful. There was an aura of contentment around her greying hair.

            ‘You’re sad,’ she said in a thick Spanish accent. ‘Would you like a drink?’

            I lowered my head and nodded weakly. ‘Thank you. A vodka.’ I paused. ‘Actually, absinthe.’ The woman called to the waitress and she soon appeared bearing two glasses and a bottle.

            ‘Voila, Madame.’

            ‘Why aren’t you with other young ones, enjoying such a beautiful night?’ She looked up at the moon, now full, hanging above her silver-tinted head. I took the absinthe in my fingers, steeled myself, and swallowed.

            ‘I’m not much for company tonight. But thank you.’ I gestured with the empty glass and she dipped her head.

            ‘Drink, talk.‘ She sipped and threw a hand across her glowing head. ‘After all, you’re in ‘L’amour’.’
            I turned my head to look at the peeling wood sign. The blue window shutters banged in the breeze. I clapped my hands together and laughed. ‘Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be?’

            The woman went to refill my glass.

            ‘No!’ I cried involuntarily, placing my hand across the rim. ‘One is enough. Just one.’

            Her tongue reached out to caress her bottom lip in slow contemplation. ‘It is a beautiful night,’ she sighed. ‘I have met a beautiful, sad man. But I am happy. If I were any happier, I would die.’

            I don’t hesitate. ‘You probably will.’

            ‘What an end to the world.’

            The drums fell away and one single saxophone carried the tune. The same rough voice sang only to me. Felt only me.



Daniel East

Daniel East is an Australian writer currently working in South Korea. His work has been published in Voiceworks, Cordite and the 2007 Max Harris Poetry Award, “Poems in Perspex”. He was a member of
Australia’s only poetry boyband, The Bracket Creeps and co-wrote “Sexy Tales of Paleontology” which won the 2010 Sydney Fringe Comedy Award.




How Korea is Old

Three months in a city of red night

waking in a colourless cold dawn

where stumbling children stop as buses crush past

& with half-formed fingers linked, blink & move on.

Schools of tailor belly-up in tanks, bleached scallops,

finless cod,

octopus like phlegm writhing on the glass;

this scaffolded street an aquarium

shopping-bagged in smog.

Chillies & bedsheets set to dry by the road,

beggars hiding their stumps beneath black rubber mats,

plucked melodies of a geomungo blasting from a Buy-The-Way.

11 p.m. on Sunday Gwangmyeong market begins to shutter.

Cider-apple women peel garlic cross-legged on newspapers,

pre-teens return from night school

playing baseball on their touch-screens.

A plaque reads:

this market is three hundred years old.

Yesterday I watched cuttlefish butchered

in pools of scarlet & cream – tonight I drink beer on my roof

as neon crosses strike out across the valley

& the city starts to scream.



Writing After The Goldrush


On a yellow day in August you’ll find yourself alone

a coverlet twisting in your toes

& no more see his smile

but by an exact shadow.

There’ll be one green apple in a clay bowl

& to your thin fingers it will be

the smoothest thing you ever held –

but by a park on Parrish avenue

when your bare feet were cold,

he pressed a lily pad into your palm

the pink-white lotus beyond reach in clear

black water. It will be August,

& a nameless thing will go.



Nabina Das reviews Aria translations by Sudeep Sen


translations by Sudeep Sen


Yeti Books, Kerala, 2009, 152 pages, Price Rs.399/599 (pb/hb)
Mulfran Press, Wales, 2010, 152 pages, Price £11.95/14.95 (pb/hb)

 Reviewed by NABINA DAS


That Sudeep Sen’s strikingly diverse book of translated poetry is titled ARIA, brings to mind the significance of the music analogy. Just as the different movements in an opera would hold together a singular musical piece for a sublime impression, so do the selections from various language and literary traditions in this book create an array of poetics. From Jibanananda Das of Bengal to Hebrew poet Avraham BenYitshak and the Persian poetess Shirin Razavian – with the expected names like Tagore – Sen’s collection is as rich and nuanced as the collographs and art plates displayed throughout the book.


What makes Sen choose poetry the way he has, for translation, especially in the geographical arrangement? He answers that, saying it was merely the way he went about courting work in various workshops. Looking at the South Asia section, one finds India repeated twice, with Bangladesh sandwiched in between. The next major section is East and West Asian, Middle Eastern, European and South American Poetry. Workshop opportunities apart, the sheer spread makes one wonder if representation weighed heavy on the poet’s mind to organize the book as a smorgasbord. Then notwithstanding the arrangement, one concludes that the samples he presents are each unique in their thematique and yet connected to the overture the book aims at.


It strikes the reader that Sen spans his translating skills not merely across geographical space, but across different times. In this time-space confluence his chosen themes are turmoil, sexuality, desire, politics and poetry itself. Quotes from Wislawa Szymborska, Mark Strand, Gulzar and Kaifi Azmi on the title page and the dedication page illustrate this cosmogony of Sen’s shimmering translation of poetry. On one level we can argue that the book could have done well to include the source texts beside them, not an altogether unexplored idea. Then, about the superior quality of the work presented, there is no doubt.


Sen’s growing up as a tri-lingual has played a significant role in his act of conscious “literary translation” even before this book was conceived, as also his association with other poet-translators he met in various poetic settings. It is interesting to note Sen’s account about the process of this project, at once a daunting and marvellous one. Obviously, the mathematical mapping of the rhyme scheme and prosody, to whatever extent it is employed, is not apparent to us as we read his work. Despite the fact that the methodology he talks about is a rigorous one, especially if the poet has gone to the length of trying to produce an end-rhyme matching that in the source language, the result is of high poetic elation.


In this context, I would like to cite my favourite “Banalata Sen”, an iconic poem by Jibanananda Das, that Sen re-etches in our memory. It is not too tough even for those outside of contemporary Bengali literature to see and hear the end lines of the three stanzas as they occur in the original. The tone is sombre-blithe and true to the original, and Sen let’s his lines flow like the speaker’s long, weary and expectant trudge. What perhaps cannot be achieved in the translated lines is the surprise that Jibanananda had thrown in his readers’ way in Bengali:


… Gently, raising

her eyes like a bird’s nest, she whispered:…


(Banalata Sen)


We have a word as close to the original in “nest” (Bengali: neeR; meaning: home, abode), unless a compound creation like ‘birdhome’ would be the eccentric preference for the original “paakhir neeR”.


I keenly read the Urdu poems in this collection, for the language fascinates me and provokes me to write my own poems in English with the sounds that create imageries of their own. Kaifi Azmi’s “One Kiss” is where the excellence shines forth in each couplet. The clever end-assertion of “glow-and-glitter” in the first couplet and “collect-and hover” in the third is evocative. And the end rhymes “crime/smile” in the last couplet complete the musicality for which Azmi was well-known.


In Gulzar’s short poems Sen shows us the modern voice of the romantic lover that Gulzar nurtures carefully, his tongue-in-cheek humor lacing a last line or a couplet ending a quatrain.


Taking cue from the Urdu poetry, it is indeed a treat to the senses to read the nature poems of Abraham Ben Yitshak:


Lights: dreaming, pale,

            fall at my feet

Splashing soft, weary shadows,

            Tracing my path.


(Autumn in the Boulevard)


and the crispness of winter:

in the distant



where the sun’s birth

            melts the snow’s solid


into liquid.

            I shut my eyes,


The blood

within me whispers –


(Bright Winter)


Sen’s poems here give us the elemental, the objective and the form-specific footprints of Yitshak’s Hebrew verses that we have no knowledge about, but see in the effective arrangement of the dimeter or trimeter lines.


Yitshak fulfils the need for lyricism in his poetics as much as Rabindranth Tagore does. Yet Tagore appears after Jibanananda Das in a curve that represents the contemporary Bengali literary scene, the sweep of the two names constituting a poetic psyche which Sen recognizes well. In this book, Sen has selected the lighter verses of the master poet, the nonsense rhymes. I see much usefulness in Sen’s using first lines of each poem as the title, for all the four translated ones are originally untitled poems. Nonsense verses, sparkling with wisdom nonetheless. As Motilal Nandi, dying of boredom in school, tears off pages from the textbook, dispersing them in the Ganga:


Word-compounds move

            float away like words-conjoined

To proceed further with lessons –

            these are his tactics.


(‘In school, yawns’)


This translation resonates, given Tagore’s nonsense verse aimed not merely at gibberish with its underlying tone of “tactics” and philosophy.


Tactics, and poetic craft are evidenced in the translation of Sergio Claudio F. Lima that begins with three epigraphs. The poem itself is written in eighteen sections marked by Roman numerals, each a single line, hence eighteen lines. A list poem in appearance and didactic in tone for some of its lines, it may seem to have been an easy candidate for translation. Quite the contrary, for each line is condensed statement. Especially for sections V, VI, XIV, XV, and XVI, the relation of a word to the next one is a complex semantic one. For example:


V. The act of acting: “Only the one who knows this, the

one who does not know, does not do.” – (REX)

VI. The sense is the tension (in tension), one which

forms, broadening …


(The Body [of a Woman] Signifies)


This is redolent of the 20th century American Objectivists’ tradition. Craft transports beautifully again in a poem by Bangladesh’s Aminur Rahman. The piece written in four column-stanzas could be read column wise or cross-column, even laterally within the last column. The last line (word) of each column-stanza visually appears like descending steps, creating a destabilizing effect that captures the source poem’s despair and irony. (Hai hai) Reminiscent of the experimental nature of Language poetry in English, I read these poems (by Raman and Lima) as an inherent challenge to the art of translation. Sen’s patient ear and expertise with forms bring about the resolution.


There are many favorites of mine in this book, Mandakranta Sen, Mangesh Dabral and Zoran Anchevski being a few. All of these make one realize that translation has, for each of these poet’s works, been a separate sword to sharpen, a distinctive overture to compose. In that the collection is a beacon for future works of such nature, creating truly what is a world vision of poetic languages. The last two poems are original English compositions of Sen, a veritable feast of poetics and lush musical assonance.



NABINA DAS is the author of Footprints in the Bajra, a novel (Cedar Books, India). Her poetry, short stories and essays have won prizes and have been published in a variety of literary journals and anthologies in North America, Asia and Australia. A bilingual with a Linguistics Masters, Nabina writes in three languages and is currently pursuing an MFA from Rutgers University (Camden).

Mani Rao

Mani Rao is the author of Bhagavad Gita – A Translation of the Poem (Autumn Hill Books, 2010), and eight books of poetry including Ghostmasters (Chameleon Press, 2010). She has essays and poems in journals including Cordite, Meanjin, Wasafiri, JAAM, Printout, Takahe, Iowa Review, Fulcrum, Zoland Poetry and anthologies by WW Norton, Penguin and Blood Axe. www.manirao.com has updates.




Ding Dong Bell

The jetty’s out
Who’s at bay
War-mongrels Hera Athena

Stout Menelaus
Slender Paris
Homer leads the charge

Imperfection haunts beauty
So imagination can rule
Helen haunts imagination

In the center of her forehead
Bloodthirsty star of the sea

Iliad Blues

I like battles out at sea
Hot spur
Cold water
Blood swimming both ways
Salty meetings
Sharks due 
At the end
Level blue


Peace Treaty

What if Helen died

Cuckold crows
Husband recalls
Body  face  rites

Once broad Trojan devils
Now cower in the shadows of walls
Fearing skywitnesses
Quaking at birdshit

Our boy came back
From overseas with a
Souvenir egg that ticked

A runaway wife’s a rotten prize
Unwanted alive
And dead


Yusa Zhuang

Zhuang Yusa lives in Singapore. His poetry has been published in Sargasso (Puerto Rico), ditch, (Canada), The Toronto Quarterly, Ganymede, The Los Angeles Review, nth position and elsewhere. His poetry has also been anthologized in Ganymede Poets Vol. One (Ganymede Books, 2009) and Smoke (Poets Wear Prada, 2009).


Thoughts In An Easier Time


Isn’t torture

at heart a refusal

to get used to

a compromised life?


The acceptance is not

the pardon:


the flesh is weak; the tormentors

hold the proof

by the joints of its limbs

and a hammer – 


The mind is weak; the flesh

poisons with its blood

in easier times.


The spirit flees the body

with a scream

that isn’t heard.


The spirit enters the body

without pity

when it is broken enough.


You are dead to me, the beloved says

at the final parting,

for in my heart you live –


When my aunt chewed bark in China

to kill the hunger

of exile, who did she turn to


and did the memory

sustain her enough

to let it go?




A Suicide




Coffee is brewing.

The neighbour’s car engine.

Jason’s cat

steals back from the hunt, tripping past the shoes.


Somewhere a door. Somewhere else

another door – 


The clean-swept pavements outside

once again

astonished by leaves, some still falling. 




Off Day


A world without heroes, says the action hero

on TV, is a world without suffering.


Yes, it is tiring, I say to a friend

who bothered, but it brings in the money.


The past is a mirror

shattered: in pieces, like the heart.

We remain mysteries to each other,

even so.


In love, the heart


like a bomb –


And mother,

placing the autobiography back onto the shelf, says –

no one served time longer than he did,

for political reasons – as if refusing to say more.






Mark O’Flynn

Mark O’Flynn has had eight plays professionally produced with such companies as Q Theatre Co, La Mama, MRPG, The Mill Theatre Co and Riverina Theatre Co. His play Paterson’s Curse was published by Currency Press in 1988. He has also published a novel, Grass Dogs, which was one of the short listed manuscripts in the Harper Collins Varuna Awards program. He has also published two collections of poetry, reviews and short stories. His new collection of poetry, published by Interactive Press, was published at the end of 2007. Mark was awarded a residency at Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland by the Australia Council in 2007 to work on a new novel.



The Great Slime Kings


After much rain

the congress of frogs

summoning each other

sounds like frying bacon.


The creeks and puddles

shrinking to their usual drains

pulse and sizzle

with the electricity of frogs.


From the foetid mud they hatch,

on the prowl,

as grateful as I to snatch

a break in the weather.



Calligraphy of Moss


The wayward letters my son scrawled with his finger

in wet cement all those years ago have every day

reminded me of his name.


Not that I would have forgotten.

Silly observation

Their presence is like the presence of air.


After the rain and the opportunistic streak

of living things; (the mosquitoes, the leeches),

the misshaped letters have filled with a calligraphy


of moss. The green is startling,

adapting to the concrete vagaries of the host.

Moss too has a toehold in our lives.


It is like the presence of air,

the presence of earth. The green

footprint of his name existing beyond the odds.



Wallowing like a dog in gravy

the great blue groper, king

of Clovelly Bay, rolls on his back

for his tummy to be rubbed.

Floating over sand like a dirigible

with fins he eyes the snorkellers above,

silhouettes against the bright sky.

One of them, he knows, will dive down

soon to scarify the sand, loosening worms,

or else dismember for him a tasty sea urchin.

All the vivid little fish dart in like hyenas

or frenzied gulls, but it’s the big blue

groper, neon as a burglar alarm

that we have come to see

to measure, in the breathless safety

of the bay, how far out of our

element we are.