The Bactrian Room

If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dominic Ward: Trial of an Aesthete

The warm water of the bath eased the pain that had infected my meat, the grave worms that had been gnawing at me temporarily stilled, their business with my earth momentarily halted.  But the fever was still on me.  I could feel it.  It was all over me, the water that washed me boiling in small bubbles against the goosebumps of my summer skin.  My body shook gently, creating delicate patterns in the water, ripples that went up and down the tub.  The itch that ran right through me – emanating as it was from the deepest of my fibres – was quiet, for the moment, but only just.  I knew that as soon as I took my body from the sedation of the warm water, I’d be forced back into motion.  Aimless motion.  Motion from which there was no relief.  The itch would kick my body to every corner and nook and cranny.

Another ten minutes of fevered daydreaming passed.  I saw my life as it truly was – a mess of pain, anxiety and despair comingled with the irrational hope of my longings.  I had places to be, things to do.  

I decided to finally leave the comfort of the bath.  I couldn’t hide from the pain forever; I knew sooner or later I’d have to face it down.  But before I left the tub, I made a note to describe the sunlight as it streamed in through the solitary window, large though it was.  This light was soft, winter yellow, warming and heartfelt.  It had a soothing presence, slowing down the traffic along my nerve fibres to a lazy one hundredth their normal speed.

I got out of the bath, got dry and got dressed.

As I walked by the kitchen, I saw through its large bay windows the neighbour’s Japanese homestay girl sunbathing in their backyard, only just an arm’s reach.  She was just turned twenty, a decent age for a girl, and she was all alone, set out along a blue beach towel, headphones piping her whatever music it was she liked.  She was tastefully arranged in a delicate bikini with tie-side bottoms and an asymmetrical top that gathered over her left shoulder.  She was beautiful.  Of course she was.

When we finished later, I made her promise me that she would be waiting in my bed for me when I returned from my night out.  I told her it might be a long wait but that that didn’t mean I wasn’t coming.  She should definitely wait for me, I reiterated.  Sometimes you just had to be straight out with it.

Brisbane was a horrid place in 2014.  The city itself was a total snooze and the speed and E that had fuelled us in the 90s were now long gone, replaced by bath salts and other ridiculous novelty items.  Hell, even the dealers had all been in and out of jail and had long since started families and settled down in suburbia with steady work in sales.

Fuck me!

That’s all there was to say as I looked up and down the street as it bled with battery acid and cheap wine.  My neighbours were cluck cluck clucking like battery hens and I knew they all wanted me dead.  It was just that sort of day.

My good friend Ben was an octopus, or at least he was in the process of becoming one.  Ben was my best friend, how dare you suggest otherwise.

Memories floated down onto me like a heavy February rain.  We get our weather here in February, March and even into April.  The Pleiades is in Taurus.

Islands of granite had formed where volcanoes used to be.  That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it.  Like night is dark and day is bright.

I saw this little creep walking up the street.  He was with his boyfriend.  I did my best to belittle them, coming at them hard like a soldier.  I rubbed my dick and balls as a gesture of peace.  They didn’t seem to understand this however.  Oh well, you just can’t please all the people all the time.

Should I buy a packet of cigarettes?  I didn’t smoke but it could be fun.

Which is worse – a man slapping his wife; or a man slapping another man’s child?  What happens when the evergreen forests all dry up and the lakes and the oceans are all cut down?

Asthma is a drug you can buy over the counter.  Asthma is much worse when the patient has bad breath.  Can you imagine that: you’re a nurse just entering the final hour of your third consecutive night shift and some little peckerhead comes in with asthma and breathes his foul stink all over you…sometimes life just ain’t all that fair.

I have friends who read the bible and not ironically.  I don’t get irony.  I just don’t get it.  That makes me kinda dumb.  Well, I have been robotripping every day for five years now.

The widower beat his grandson with a copy of the DSM.  Bipolar, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety rained down on this poor kid as his grandad whipped himself into a faggot-hating rage.  The child wasn’t gay – the old man simply had secrets to hide.  Bury them deep, he had.  I ain’t no faggot, he would say to himself each night as he brushed his teeth in the bathroom mirror.

Nonsense aside, it was Ben that I was meeting this night. He’d already called to confirm a time and now I had nothing to do but grab something out of the fridge and lock the door on my way out. I lived alone; that’s the way it had to be. I couldn’t stand to be in the same space as anyone else for longer than a few hours at most. I needed a lot of space and time to myself, time to go slow, waste on nothing or spend on everything.

Ben and I were going to meet in the valley.  He knew a crazy little side-alley bar just off the main drag.  It was the kind of place you could have a rum and coke, get stabbed, then order another round.  But first I had to walk my withdrawal down to the bus stop.

Dominic Ward lives and writes in Esk, Australia.  He is married with four children.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

John Pursch: The Baroness of Brickbat Bollocks

Archibald Tincture,
Turdly-Turd Precedent of ArchandTina,
tuna capital of the whirled, flexed his
artificially brawny biceps and chortled:

“Wharfore ye be stragglin’,
O mightily mangled and maniacally mangy
flesh o’ fishes on the proprioceptive proverbial
rod n’ reelin’ counterpoint pith of nylon phylum
stockyard inklings of goodly impending cacciatore
breastplate extravaganzas,
spoiled surreptitiously betwixt thine western
hemispherical mandate of manly festooned
dusty kneelers and plutocratic tinkling
carthorse capsizers of dyed heuristic
corrugated dumplings?”

His whiffle bull noodnik hound pardner
in grimy guffaw-given grifter calumny,
the Crown Tessa de Vitalia cum Gloriosa
Plumb Numb Knockery Sand Twitchium
Flavius Blond Super Eggnibus Quid Prong
Fallacium Quiribonquenule E Pleurisy Magnum,
snorted justly and spoke between
successive codpiece snuff blots:

“Eye spay, bleariest Starchy,
thine semi-prevaricating quotient
of stygian handy semantic pestilence proceeds
from your dubiously effaced habilitation drift
in swarms of surviving car parts,
oily and speckled with mechanical grit
of a sooty metallic tinge,
sashaying from booty gall to totally fruity
lung compartment floss in shot pursuit
of Shetland paunchy shorthair cake and
broad stirrup crumpet stew on furlough
from terrier retrieval camp,”
tamping down another bowl of flightiest
corn-cobbian chimerical deodorant smog,
sloughed off by the tiniest of pearly inhalers.

“Quite a Cored Waiting Sea beatitude
you’ve quibbled forth and quietly quoted,
or dare eye slay, misappropriated,”
Archie’s piebald prefecture of palimpsest
and interminably insensate sectarian
somnambulance soliloquized in crap
tour house defenestration’s alluvial
bloodhound best of bestial blockage.

Her Majesty’s inestimable captivity
of hindered skimpy delectable frumpery
limped and blanched at this somewhat
tempered consequential bow shot.

Nothing for it bet to bust an altered
snuffbox slat straight up ciliated rostrum septum,
deviating periodically in frontal tune’s imperious
slim phonic towel moorings of hambone hip-check
hospitality suede.

Nasal twang in drain eruption thus excited,
she rejoined in almost cunning cannery contumely’s
costumed grace of grazing brazier bon vivant:

“Dearly bedeviled Precedent
of this fondly gored and shackled
Nubian nation of notational lotioned yearlings,
your savory disheveled world laid bare
so grandiloquently by yore and sea and
bland discomfiture’s deciphered malaise
of underbelly crouton faith and intestinal
statuary belches, strewn with filched hyena
droppings of a cranky feasibility study into
the warehouse attributes of your lately cratered niece,
the Baroness Bivonia the Blockhead of Brickbat Bollocks
(the nth Brigadier of Beauregard Broth);

how cometh you to slouched sandy screeds
of reliquary remonstrations and peculated
perspicacity in pompous pisspot tusky
swordsman currying plover unbeknownst
to simian ham sisters of hull-busting
king-of-the-cesspool stipulation headwaters?
Hansel me tryst, ewe fuelish Brahmanic stoker
of knifed heretical parodies!”

Sin deed, hit war quiet a jolly
happenstance of gustatory testament,
twitly sax per teased heirloom
nutsack crematoria whiff,
and coverall syllabic froth.

Shaven this impious oddity oven haughty
other canoe wanders howl Starchy the Piebald
clan soporifically menage a troika due reply.

Swell tan, high mired ash wheedle sled ewe know,
he took a steep breath and crumbled ride
in weed dish tyrannical pomade:

“Foist of awl, mine steer Crown Tessa,
isle dispense wit yer noose whence removed,
yes my niece two pea exultantly expectorant,”
hand hear he pawed the groin, leading fly with
nod an insignificant gob of spittle.

“Yes, that’s broth for the Baroness of Brickbat Bollocks;
be grateful it weren’t derived from beeswax behind
the bedridden trap-door blunderbuss of backside
cannonade catastrophe bilge!

“Now to spansule your ignoble and ill-timed query
as directly and synergistically as only ewe deserve:
eye come to sloppily scrunched scrotal scurryings
through phonetical decades of subtly scuttled decay,
burrowed smiles beneath the Samsonite Jungle,
swaying bank-to-blank-to-blinkered bunk bed bingo
on the good ship Lazy Popeye’s perennially
submerged poop deck, snorkeling in olive oil,
taking canned tuna for mercurial lunchbox
gruel strayed drown the plastic spigot’s
unregulated mosquito setting in set-piece
scuttlebutt rumpled two-tone unicycle stilt
machinery of baffled skimpy kin.

“Too terpsichorean for ya?
Moan adder, try these when haul hulls flails:
far above tea heady waiters hover chesty bought
antsy smattering of deified deistic tribulation
in brittle tarrying sunset trivia man-o-whore
will sever from mounted heinous crotch repeal
to kneeling mealtime Clorox infestation nibs
of Inkan festivals or Youran time-reversal blues
or Chunky de Mylar holiday binge
or national dungeon bath
or Plexiglas hamster flotilla rapacity
or sagacious lilac gristle
in flayed snore Speedo necks.”

John Pursch lives in Tucson, Arizona. His work has been nominated for Best of the Net and has appeared in many literary journals. A collection of his poetry, Intunesia, is available in paperback at His pi-related experimental lit-rap video is at He’s @johnpursch on Twitter and john.pursch on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Michelle D'costa: The Newscaster

When Dai was young she would stare awestruck at the news channel, in love with the newscaster’s confidence. How they relied on their memory to announce the news! She was bad at remembering lines. Even though later she did learn of teleprompters, the magic of the newscasters didn’t fail to awe her.

“Dad have you noticed ‘Priya Mirza’ is no more reading news for DTV.”, Dai said this and looked behind her shoulder at Mr Rathore who was having his evening tea, the tea cup precariously balanced on the teapoy.

“Yes I have. Why do you think she left?”

“No idea. Maybe she got poached. Anyway, Let us google it. I’m sure others have noticed it too and are wondering about it.”

‘Former newsreader of DTV, Priya Mirza is keeping a low profile nowadays after she left the leading news channel. We wonder why.’

Dai frowned, she had missed her so much already.

 ‘What could have happened to her?’, she asked her Dad who was now peaking over her shoulder, at the mobile screen in her hand.

‘For all you know she’s doing it for publicity, making others worry for nothing.’, he said and shrugged.

‘She is famous Dad,’ Dai rolled her eyes. ‘Besides she didn’t do anything controversial…. she just disappeared. And that’s a big risk. You can get easily replaced and forgotten nowadays.’

‘You think she will be replaced so soon? Not if people like you keep her alive through media.’, he winked and left to change for work after glancing at the grandfather clock they had in the living room.

Dai’s brother, Jayant, was a regular viewer of Priya’s show. He missed her too.

“ She had a pleasant face. It was easier listening to her. Her replacement sucks.’’, he said.

A day passed….then two….Priya was forgotten…she was occasionally remembered by her loyal fans…like Dai…

 Dai was at Kol’s- her favourite ice cream parlour.

Its blue and white exterior reminded her of Twitter’s theme and she felt at home there.

Dai got out of the parlour with a strawberry scoop dripping from the cone, snaking down her fingers.

She had her eyes fixed on a group of people crossing the road approaching her side when she saw Priya or she thought she had seen her...

She had heard that Priya lived nearby.

Priya crossed the road cautiously and the veil from her face slipped just enough for Dai to spot her tarred cheek. Dai recognised Priya from her thick fringe and cloudy eyes right below the veil’s hem. She didn’t look very different from TV except for her cheek.

But before she could shout out or say anything Priya slipped into a car and disappeared from sight.

Dai cursed her fate, on days when she had to reach somewhere urgently, the traffic had a stubborn match with her but today when she had just spotted her idol, she had been betrayed by it.

But she didn’t give up, her eyes couldn’t have played tricks on her, could it?

She hailed an auto rickshaw and on the way she tried to digest what she saw.

She was so pre-occupied with her thoughts (Priya’s tarred cheek kept flashing in her mind) that she forgot to pay the rickshaw walla and sprinted off as the rickshaw halted by her house.

The driver came out of the vehicle cursing about how customers were always ungrateful for all that the drivers went through, a long list.

She had almost reached her gate when she heard him, she wasn’t in the least embarrassed as she was still pre-occupied, paid him and said, ‘Have a nice day!’

He stared at her as if she had just apparated from thin air.

She reached her main door and slipped her slender fingers into her pocket when she realized her pocket was flat, where was the bulge that her key bunch created in her pocket? Oh damn!

She must have forgotten it in the rickshaw?!

But she didn’t run after the rickshaw.

Her fingers were itching to find the truth about Priya.

Atleast she still had her phone with her.

She sat down on the stairs, the sun rays fell directly on to her eyes, she rose a bit and parked herself on the step above.

She checked for the wifi connection. It was on. Thankfully, once when she didn’t regret not switching it off before leaving.

Her weapon-Twitter was accessible to her. She immediately tweeted


She instantly received various reactions from her numerous followers who enjoyed media as much as she did or even more.

So no one knew the real reason. Was she attacked with acid by a jealous viewer? If not what had happened suddenly?

Maya started a twitter campaign to force DTV to reveal the real reason for her resignation and that her supporters wanted her back.

After millions of followers and appeals, DTV arranged to have a live session with Priya just for her viewers.

Live On air,

‘What is the real reason for your resignation?’

The planned answer was ‘I suffer from a skin disease and I wish to stay at home.’

Instead she said, ‘I was asked to leave as I look hideous now.’


‘I would love to continue to be a newsreader as long as I’m allowed to.’

This brought out a cheer from her fans as they didn’t mind her scarred face. She was the best at her work.

However the rest of the world protested, ‘How can she? She’s so ugly..’

Anyway thanks to social media she resumes duty.

People got used to it or they didn’t. Life went on and Dai realized the change that she had created.

She thought it would be the right time to send her C.V. to news agencies to apply for a newscaster role.

She did and one agency replied, ‘You need to be good looking for this role. You will be the face of our agency. Sorry you do not fit the criteria. Maybe consider using a fairness cream or maybe a surgery, that is if you really want the job that much.’ 

Michelle D'costa has had her work published in journals such as The Bombay Literary Magazine, Hackwriters International Magazine, The Commonline Journal, Big River Poetry Review among many others. She blogs at

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Richard Hartwell: Last To Take Flight

Bronze canvas overspreads angular bones,
patchy in places as if small dead leaves
adhere to cheeks, forehead and neck;
within the wrinkled canyons of her face
are told the true myths of her many lives.

There is so little water in the canyons:
            not on her face,
                        not in the land,
                                    none to waste.

After nine decades of intense desert heat
she is used to this, she no longer sweats;
still, there is an almost copper sheen to
her skin, like hard-worked oiled-leather
sold to tourists traveling the asphalt trail.
Selling goods by the side of the road:
            leather goods,
                        leather lasts,
                                    she lasts.

Neck sinews, corded like hemp rope,
coil into the dirty collar of a drab shirt,
black cotton, cinched snug at the waist
with a silver and turquoise belt, color
in a somber sea of secondhand clothes.

She focuses on the twisting asphalt:
            occasional cars,
                        occasional sales,
                                    irregular pay.

From beneath the shirt, a drooping skirt
greets the mounting leather moccasins;
outlaw black hat – low crowned, wide
brimmed, ancient, functional, like her –
borne by two gray braids, one on a side.

Twisting braids, neck, skin:
            framing her face,
                        framing her culture,
                                    heritage pictured.

Surroundings rain-bowed in dry dun hues,
only soft-gray dusty-drab green for relief;
contours of the pan, arroyos and road are
broken by majestic mesas, or low shrubs
and dead yucca, seen askance not directly.

Casual breaks in the southern horizon,
            not oriental,
                        not occidental,
                                    merely accidental.

Above her extends a vault of blue so startling white at mid-day as to sear the eyes until only black stars dance on the retina. No relief except in the shade, except there is precious little shade and will be no shade until much later when the back rampart of the mesa will see a shadow extend from the base running fast as the setting sun toward the shimmering eastern horizon.

Only then will the ancient one, named Sorrows in the Stream so many years ago but known now only as Old Woman, rise from beside the roadside stand, place her Indian Artifacts and Curios for Sale sign under the low split-wood table, and amble slowly to the next shadow, relief, and the perilous climb, made numbly, to the top of the mesa.

It is not that her body has given out, at least not completely, or that her mind has given up, it is that her nature can no longer contain the colors of her memory and the sunburst of her soul.

She knows this, every day, and today, earlier, had prayed that no tourists would stop to barter and bluster nor would any sheriff, from on or off the reservation, stop to hassle her about permits or to rage about her son. None had, tourist or cop, and she only had to steel herself against the intrusion of passing cars seven times during the day.

She didn’t really need the occasional money to live, not that she would turn it down, but had all she needed from the land and her snares, the pool at the base of the mesa, and in the hut above. She wouldn’t turn the money down; she would use it to drink and use it to get drunk and use it to try to forget. It was good that she rarely made any sales. It was very good that she made no sales today. Since she last had gotten drunk it had been . . . how many days? She can’t remember, which she takes as a good also.

Sorrows in the Stream finds the small pool at the base of the mesa nearly full and takes the gourd from off her shoulder, sinking it into the tepid depth beneath the spring’s outcropping. This is the water source, life itself, she shares with so many others: prey and predators, mammals and reptiles, birds and insects. Almost all of them drink at night as she sleeps above them on top of the mesa. Sometimes when she descends in the early morning she spooks some small piece of fur or feather. Only rarely in the afternoon does she hear the warning stutter of a late rattler. She lives with all of these, is a part of them and the desert.

She picks her way up through the split in the side of the mesa, a split that has been here these many generations. Footholds and handholds have been carved and shaped and enlarged by numberless ancients before her. She adds her miniscule aid to this process without thought, plan, fear, or sight. Her eyes are closed. She knows the niches and knobs so well and climbing up out from the brilliant plain and into the crevasse she knows her shadow-blindness will last until she is almost at the top. She relies on the mesa wall to hold her up rather than trying to see what cannot be seen clearly in shadow.

At the top of the cleft, the edge rounds out to two steps worn from the hard rock. She takes only two or three deep breaths and then sets off to her right to the wood and woven lean-to. Years ago she built this home resting against the crumbling wall abandoned by a previous desert race.

She doesn’t know who they had been, whether related to her own people or not, whether they had been an enemy or not. Occasionally she finds an arrowhead, a flint, shards of pottery – but is not able to identify them – and climbs down the next day and adds the piece to the Indian Artifacts and Curios for Sale.

When younger, a few years back, before her son was sent to jail, she enjoyed making up stories to tell the tourists. There would be always some truth, some truth drawn from her childhood or early marriage, but she would twist and stretch and chew on the stories like a plug of tobacco until they were soft enough to sell to even the most highway-hardened tourist.

Now, when she has to respond to a stopping car and would-be customer, she just grunts and shakes her head, playing at language illiteracy, and only nods and holds out her hand when the price seems right. She no longer cares about dispelling the myth of civilization. For several days now she has had no need to play television Indian.

When she thinks about this play-acting – which she doesn’t do often, but is doing tonight as she goes about her few chores in and around her hut on top of the mesa, on top of her world – when she thinks about this pose of the stoic Indian woman, she tries on all the cultural garments, the mental trappings, she has borrowed from tourists’ expectations. She tumbles them over, throwing on one after another: Indian, squaw, Native American, indigenous person, even redskin and savage. Each and all fit her, or one part of her or another, but she eschews them all. For her, there is only one raiment that fits. She is One, One of the People. Not people, but People. She knows this from her uncle and from her grandfather before him. She wears no mantle from her long-gone husband and not from her son.

She finishes this reverie and sees that all tasks are completed, in much the same manner as she climbs the mesa. She sits on the low stool outside the blanket door and stares west where the sun has finally dropped behind the horizon. The surrounding mesas are now various shades of purple and the shell of the sky is washed in streams of yellows, oranges, reds, and then into similar shades of purples as the mesas had been.

With the passage of time and the sun gone and the moon not yet appeared, the sky above has become a speckled black felt like a jeweler’s display of turquoise. The other mesas have faded to indistinct shadows outlined by starlight alone. To the west and southwest runs the great loop of highway, almost a noose thrown into the reservation.

If she looked down, a lonely car, lights on high beam, might be seen once or twice each night. Old Woman no longer looks down. Rather, this One of the People, lies down on one of her blankets and starts naming the animals above: Two Snakes, Dog Who Talks, Running Chicken, Rabbit, and so many others.

When she was very, very young she went to the school on the reservation. She learned about others in the sky that she could not see. Others, not of the People, had different names for their pictures in the sky. Along with most else from the school, she thought that had been a lie, too. After two or so years, she stopped going.

It does not matter. Nothing matters that is left behind. She knows these pictures. She takes pleasure in their flight across the sky. She can name them all. Her mind flies easily to this. But this night Sorrows in the Stream does not finish the naming. Black felt fades to blue. Animals wheel overhead, unseen, unnamed, finally chased over the horizon by dawn. Western shadows beneath the mesas shorten to meet day. At the base of the mesa, fur and scales and feathers are left undisturbed at the spring. Tears from the mesa continue to collect.

The first car of the day passes the Indian Artifacts and Curios for Sale without sign, without notice.

Michael Ceraolo: Free Speech Canto XXXVIII

Scott Nearing redux,
after his firing by the University of Pennsylvania,
this time he was at the University of Toledo,
           true to his stated principles,
he was again active politically,
this time on whether the U.S. should enter the war
                                                                            War was
"uncivilized and should be abolished"
"We need protection"
                                "but not against
          or London,
                          or Paris,
                                       or Petrograd,
but against Wall Street"
some newspaper headlines
soon after the U.S. entered the war:

"Draft Success Puts New Life in New York Market"

"Year's Best Prices Reached")

Nearing's speeches inspired
Reverend Patrick O'Brien to say:
"I feel tonight like taking by the nape of the neck
and hanging him to the nearest tree"

though Nearing narrowly escaped that fate
he was fired by the University of Toledo
shortly before war was declared

again that didn't stop Nearing from speaking out;
he published a pamphlet titled
The Great Madness:
A Victory for the American Plutocracy:

"The declaration of war
was a slap in the face of democracy----
the censorship bill bandaged it eyes,
plugged its ears,
                         and gagged its mouth"


"The American plutocracy was no more interested
in establishing democracy in Germany
than they were in establishing democracy
in the United States
They did want to see German industry crushed"


"The plutocratic brand of patriotism
won the endorsement of the press,
the pulpit,
                the college,
every other important channel
of public information in the United States"
many other pages in a similar vein

the Federal Government took notice of his work,
and eventually indicted him,
in April 1918,
the marvelously mismonikered
Espionage Act,
                        a law
less designed to combat espionage
than to quash dissent
wasn't even brought to trial
until February 1919,
a few months after the war ended
Showing the true purpose of the law
the prosecutor's case consisted of
citing Nearing's words,
he readily admitted were his
they made no attempt to show that those words
had actually had the prohibited effect,
a fact Nearing pointed out:

"The prosecution has not been able to show
a single instance in which recruiting was obstructed
They have not been able to show a single instance
in which insubordination,
refusal to duty was caused"

Nearing was acquitted,
the censorship provisions remained

Nearing continued to speak out,
and to write,
he lived to be a hundred,
he never worked in academia again

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Donal Mahoney: A Previous Life

It was their wedding night and Priya didn’t want to tell her new husband all about it but Bill kept asking where she had learned to walk like that. Finally she told him it was inherited from a previous life, a life she had lived many years ago in India, not far from Bangalore. She had been a cobra kept in a charmer’s basket.

When the charmer found a customer, usually a Brit or Yank, he would play his flute and Priya would uncoil and rise from the basket. Her hood would swell and she would sway as long as the customer had enough money to keep paying the charmer. She never tried to bite a customer but some of the men weren’t the nicest people in the world. You think they would know better than to tease a cobra.

Being a charmer's cobra was Priya’s job for many years until she finally grew weary of the tiny mice her keeper would feed her so she bit him and he died. His family had Priya decapitated but she was born again later in a small village, this time as a human, a baby girl. After she matured into a young woman, she had a walk, men said, reminiscent of a cobra's sway.

Priya told Bill she had been married many times in India, England and the United States but always to the wrong man. She would give the men time to correct their behavior but none did. As a result of their failure, she bit them with two little fangs inherited from her life as a cobra. They were hidden next to her incisors. Death was almost instantaneous.

No autopsies were ever performed. Death by natural causes was always the ruling. Priya, however, would move to another state or country before marrying again. 

She told Bill she hoped he would be a good husband because she didn’t want to have to move again. She wanted to put down roots and have children. She was curious as to whether they would walk or crawl or maybe do both. But Bill had heard enough. He was already out of bed, had one leg in his tuxedo pants and soon was running down the hall of the 10th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel. He had his rented patent leather shoes in one hand and an umbrella in the other in case he ran into a monsoon.

Roy Dorman: It Could Have Been Anybody

Eleanor liked to tell people
that she knew everybody in town.
She would tell anybody who would listen
that she could never live in a big city.
“You wouldn’t even know
all of the people on your block,”
she would exclaim with a theatrical shudder.

Not everybody liked it
that Eleanor shared information
she had about anybody with everybody.

“Well, if you don’t have anything to hide,
you don’t have anything to worry about,”
she would spout while looking you in the eye.

Tonight, while getting ready for bed,
she was stabbed in the heart
by one of the town’s anybodys
who had been hiding in her closet.

Even as she was dying,
a satisfied sigh escaped her;
she had known her assailant all of his life.
Why just this morning
she had been talking about him
to his pretty wife, Mary.

“I’m glad I had the chance to talk to her
about his foolin’ around
with that hussy, Melissa Baines.”

As to who killed Eleanor?
Everybody in town knew
that almost anybody could have done it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Anuradha Bhattacharyya: The Story of a Banana Tree

I was two feet tall when I stood surrounded by my brothers and sisters in the backyard of a deserted house. My mother stood huge and protective over all of us. There were mango trees and guava trees spread protectively near us.

In winters I was protected from frost and in summers from the severe sun. Whenever it was unbearably dry, it rained and I soaked in as much water as I could, to keep me alive during the issuing dry months.

One day the doors and windows of the abandoned house opened and we could tell that a family has moved in. There was a young lady and a little girl who stood at the door and gazed and gazed thoughtfully at all of us. We stood huddled together in the middle expectantly.

It was still winter. Two weeks after they arrived, in the middle of a sunny afternoon there came a hoard of men with axes and climbed up the mango trees.

Within a few hours almost all the branches of the mango and guava trees were chopped off. They carried away the logs and brushed aside the evergreen leaves in a huge pile just outside the boundary wall.

They left only the tops of the huge trees green. But it was not enough for us. We were now open to the cold blasts of the winter months.

As winter gave way to spring the ground around us was covered with many saplings of mango, guava, Jamun and many unnamed shrubs. The balsam and canna plants turned up and there were tiny shoots of tomato and brinjal too. It was a thick growth of foliage all around us.

The man of the house surveyed the backyard often. He prodded the small saplings with his big foot with curiosity. From his expression we could tell that he was trying to make up his mind.

Then our downfall began.

They hired a gardener.

The gardener came twice in a week with his sharp spade and large scissors. He began by attacking the bushes with his scissors. Then he trimmed the hedge.

One day, early in the morning, he brought along a friend and a couple of ploughs. The two of them hit the ground with vehemence and within an hour, cleared the ground of all its tender saplings. We stood there shivering with fear, but he spared us and the small litchi tree.

That day, the gardener and his friend planted selection grass all around us. The owner of the house watered the ground and very soon the grass spread all over the place in a lush green evenness.

The little girl and her mother played around us and took out garden chairs to sit near us.

We were very happy.

But our happiness lasted only for a couple of months. I noticed that the gardener was hostile towards the banana trees in particular. We heard him arguing with the lady that we were untamed plants and we did not allow the grass around us to grow thick. We sucked up all the water and hardened the earth near us.

The lady protested in our favour. She said we were venerable and we would bear fruit one day. So the gardener offered a compromise. He took her permission to remove some of us.
We stood huddled together is utter despair. It was a lonely night with no one to come to our aid. We waited for our doom.

The man of the house surveyed us the next day and pointed towards me. Leave this one, he said and went back into the house.

While I stood panting, the gardener uprooted all my brothers and my aged mother and flung them over the boundary wall, right before my eyes. That day my leaves drooped with sorrow but no one cared.

My leaves. A banana tree has a tender trunk and much of its strength depends on the balance of its leaves. I stood alone, next to a litchi tree which was just a baby. I drank up as much water as I could and shot my leaves in all directions for support.

But the horrible gardener loved the grass he had planted and hated me. Every now and then he chopped off one of my leaves with his sharp spade. Every time he cut off one of my limbs I tottered and swooned.

I was growing taller day by day. It was when I stood eight feet tall that I felt the first pangs of pregnancy. I took more nourishment from the earth. I could not bear more leaves. I leaned a little on the still tender litchi tree. It was the beginning of the rainy season. All my strength was drained in giving birth.
Finally, next to my heart there emerged a large fruit. It contained the grain of a hundred bananas. My entire focus was to give them as much nourishment as possible. My skin grew rough. My arms toughened. My roots spread out. I towered above the guava tree and stood braving the rains.

It was not easy. With no leaves to prepare my food and no shelter from the mango trees, I had to lean more and more on the little litchi tree for support. As my fruits grew bigger, I was bent by their weight.

I cried out to my brothers and sisters in agony when the rains drenched me for nights without reprieve. I pleaded with god to protect me and my fruits from imminent disaster. I prayed for more strength and more nutrition. My entire body ached with the load and everyone in my surroundings could hear the groans of my labour.

Finally, in the last days of fruit-bearing, my feet gave way and I fell during the raging storm in the middle of the night. The members in the house heard a loud thud and lit their lamps. But in the storm no one came to my aid.

I lay there till the next afternoon, when the gardener came. He and the owner cursed me, spat on the ground and hit me with their feet. They said, I was useless. I was unfit for fruit-bearing. I was a burden on the ground.

They cursed and cursed. The gardener gave vent to his pent up anger. He said, it ruined the hedge. It ruined the grass. It spoiled the beauty of the garden. It was wild.

And it hurt me most when he said that my fruits would have never been edible either.

But there I was lying helpless. A neighbour came and advised that I could be made to stand up on crutches. My roots were still alive and they may find ground again if I stood up.

But the vengeful gardener, who loved his grasses more made a wry face and declared: the tree is as good as dead. Let’s uproot it and throw it away.

The lady hurriedly said, maybe we can wait till its fruits grow big enough. But the man shook his head thoughtfully and said, No, the fruits would not be worth the price we’d have to pay. Do as you think fit. The gardener nodded with triumph in his eyes.

Anuradha Bhattacharyya is a poet of long standing. Her first book of poems was published in 1998. Since then she has been widely anthologized. Recently, she has published several short stories and a novel The Road Taken. The novel discusses many features of contemporary life neatly packed in the plot of a love story. Her other novel is titled One Word; an excerpt has been published in Indian Review. Both the novels have been published by Creative Crows Publishers, New Delhi, INDIA. 
Apart from two academic books, titled The Lacanian Author and Twentieth Century European Literature, she has published Fifty Five Poems, Knots and Lofty - to fill up a cultural chasm from Writers Workshop, Kolkata, INDIA.  She is Assistant Professor of English in PG Government College, Chandigarh, INDIA. She lives with her husband and daughter in Chandigar

Friday, February 27, 2015

Donal Mahoney: In the Wake of Technology

Forty years ago, David Germaine had been an editor with a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in a large city. After that, he had worked at many smaller papers in smaller cities because if one wanted to work for a newspaper, one had to go where the work was. And David loved newspapers.

As computers took over the newspaper business, reporters still wrote but often it was some new software that “edited” their copy, checking for spelling and grammatical mistakes but not always with accuracy. At some papers not yet fully transitioned to computers, human editors were still needed. More and more, however, as the software continued to improve, editors in cities, towns and villages grew fewer in number. And mistakes in newspapers became greater in number. 

David is now retired and living on a small farm, "far from the madding crowd," as the title of a novel by Thomas Hardy once put it. He was surprised, then, when he received an email from a publisher whose books he had arranged reviews for over the years at different papers. Once again, the publisher was seeking publicity for a new book. This time, he wanted to know if David could get in touch with some of his old friends at that Pulitzer Prize-winning paper to see if someone would review his book and generate some potentially profitable publicity. As with newspapers, book publishers, those still in the business, exist to make a profit. 

David thought about how long ago he had worked at that paper and he wondered about the people he knew there. He hadn’t heard from any of them in years. So he turned to the Internet to see if he could find some of them. What he found made his response to the book publisher easy to write in some respects but not so easy in others. 

“Mark, I’m afraid the book editor I worked with at that paper has been dead for years. In fact, an Internet search indicates the movie critic, television critic, features editor and Sunday magazine editor are dead as well. 

"The editor-in-chief, however, is still alive. I made a few phone calls and found that he is on a respirator in a nursing home in New York and will move into hospice soon. He always hired the best young people he could find and then worked them to death until they left for a better or lesser position. He was a brilliant editor but a miserable human being. Still, I’m sorry to see him go.

“I thought maybe the paper’s gossip columnist could help but he’s passed away too. He was hit by a truck while crossing an intersection. It’s true he ruined many a reputation and was mourned by few. There was no funeral according to the news item I found. His wife had him cremated. But he’s still thought of by many as the best gossip columnist ever to work that vile beat.

"Everyone else on that paper, I suspect, is dead as well or at best retired. Except for me out here in the country and the editor-in-chief on the respirator, I don’t know of another survivor from that staff. It’s still amazing how many Pulitzers they won.

"For some reason, I’m still in pretty good health, free of stents and joint replacements, perhaps because I quit drinking and smoking in 1959. That was the day I married a woman who bore five children in a little more than six years. She’s dead now too. She had a stroke in the kitchen making waffles two days into her retirement. She never got up. I saw her arm move on the floor but she was dead by the time the paramedics arrived. It’s just me in this big farmhouse now but I’m pretty good with a microwave. How did we live without microwaves in the old days, another miracle of technology?

“Although I’d love to help with the book, you can see I’m not currently in the swim of things at any paper. And as you know, it’s not a good time for newspapers. Many of them have died and others are on a respirator. People get their news on the Internet now or on television although some folks buy a paper just to read the funnies, obits and sports scores.

“If anyone I worked with back then is still in that newsroom, I’m afraid it’s because co-workers haven’t caught the stench yet or found the dust.

"I wish you the best with the book. In the attachment you sent, I can see that it underscores the role euthanasia now plays in end-of-life care. In the newspaper industry, there’s no need for euthanasia. Papers are dying regularly as a result of technology while the lives of people are sometimes saved by it. Even though I subscribe to the one newspaper still published in our area, I go online first thing in the morning to check the obituaries and sports scores. But I never did read the funnies.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

John Pursch: Miss Rhoda Dendrite

“I feel a tarantula of sartorial toroidal backplane
Beauregardial conclave contamination girth-wide
propeller notions crawlin’ up muh backside
et this very momentous hocked-up caisson,”
mumbled Roto Stellar Plebeian Monocle Head,
the Second Pearl of Dirty Sandwich Skylight
Seashore Pasture-Blaster Quotient Filth,
alias Forthright Frankfurter the Unknown Goblet-Spewin’
Canned Testicle Tumbler From Bicuspid Salad Slouch Control.

“Whale, my simian approximation ova
hand-crampin’ crampon stew stoolie pageant
runner-up from East Side lechery’s societal embargo,”
began his sun-kissed sidekick,
Miss Rhoda Dendrite Hand-Tendon Calling Saucepan
Deliciosa en Triplicate per Furry Hound Ferocity
(told separately to flashy underarm decortication
mist enforcers from healthy huffing sway
hosiery haunts clear acrostic the floozy’s
frozen Hindlegian Hannibal Quartet
of Quicksand Island Onset Sheen).

Bet before she could even squirm out
an altered whirl of ordinary concocted syllables,
why thet thar Second Pearl of Hamwich
he chest bolloxed his fat yap clean open
and opined at tweed the spice of soundly
graven adversarial traduction:

“Queued a lewd lead-in
if I does spay so meshelf,
heaven fur such a wobbly
wand wieldin’ beautician has yerself
from lonely isthmus carrion kits
in deepest pie land tractor ruts,
whad bean owned and solid sold
so mangy times to turd party semblances
of actuarial merchant magazine salesmen
on chunky vomit junkets from Nude Hexagain
stakeout border parole confabulation trysts.”

Rhoda tugged her happy popcorn tourney t-shirt,
courtesy of curtseyed biplane miscreants
in leering Cheerio outfits
(wad with skirts clear up to their
so-balled navel engagements
in entrecotes fer fuzzy vestibular henchmen
wrench socket routines gone crampy
this dime-droppin’ time o’ the slippery old
toothless mouth of Trenchfoot March);

well, she dud indeed shabbily grab
the hopalong copper tune’s itsy bitsy flashpoint’s
iterative gerrymandered periscope ground
to say her hairpiece afore randy ole Rotating Frankfurter
could fart up another blast o’ heated peanut heresy,
but wad weed this adhering gushy preamble
tokin’ up so much oven smoke,
well I just overwrote her familial diatribe
strayed into its own redaction mythos byproduct!

Wade, wade, canoe ya nose that jest wooden be fair,
Ferris, or even felicitous, of antsy heft sway
descending author (latter loan spittle bowl me)
so here comes Rhoda ‘round the human cartwheel
of fortunate imbibement circumstellar
Punic brothel wax retardant
smothering bottle hamster tongue…

and hair’s wad she had to slay:

“Firstly, lemme tank hallow the tropes who fought
so bravely at the Battle of Scuttlebutt Bridge last night;
heavenly swan o’ ewe deserves a metallic udder
of condemnation and savory mystical
counterparts to clover fer your assets
in the hairy after partisan heifer warfare
(known farcically and wide-eyed as the
Glorious Cavalcade of Ascending Doughboy Holes).”

Here she paused to truncate
each and heavy ivory-collared short arm,
wad amounted to over a thousand headless corsets
and bloomin’ corsages of anything but bloodless
strumpet soup tureens, wet with spurtin’ sallow pustules
flowin’ ground the cock crow’s towering sin fer nose guards,
cantaloupes, and miraculously whipped
shaving crematoria vacuums.

Ceremony thus completed,
she canned her retinue and curried comely on:
“Snow whar wuz I? Whoa yeah: puddin’ that
Goblet-Spewin’ Testicular Tumbleweed
name o’ Roto Frankfurter the Second
Pearl of Sandy Hamwich
in his proverbial placemat burial clown!
Howitzer coulda hand one sever forget-me-snot
wince they gut such a juicy target inner sleight o’
ninety-nine tracer bullet bonanza blunt?”

At this admittedly long-drawn
and quarterly bastardized sled ride
of a sledgehammered lead-in,
Frankfurter couldn’t help but blanche,
quail, crap his boots, ooze the rankest
postprandial demitasse of heavyweight insipidity
known to mangy breasts from hair
to Chatty Mandarin Duplicity’s Two-Bitten
and Distraught Conquered District
(Flea to Bituminous Cuckoldry).

Bet croppin’ his hairline
black to the stunned saga
wooden-a-shaved him from
the compounding garter-foundling
(nod to menschen fondling)
tat war crumblin’ his whey.

And so good Rhoda,
Miss Dendritic Overshoe herself,
in truly dewy dime-droppin’
drag-crazin’ beer-quakin’ frenzy,
filially delivered whad can homely be culled the cure de crass,
mire than sham biologically loppin’ luft the swollen head,
green-sleevin’ that pure solid Frankfurter
oozin’ moustache mustard, mumbly-Peggity moutardant
sand feathered featurettes of sighing gland solipsism
from pier to shinnying wharf rat riot gear
in cheesy cold townhome Cleaverland,
bakin’ the eyeballs clean outa Cistern Butter Frack-along’s
snowy grifter populace entrainment camps,
‘cross burbled wire in wizened tertiary sailor nuts,
flossed to geese retainer continental scum tracts
and foul-weird thrivers on repast immortality
deduction fruit encampment drool.

John Pursch lives in Tucson, Arizona. His work has been nominated for Best of the Net and has appeared in many literary journals. A collection of his poetry, Intunesia, is available in paperback at His pi-related experimental lit-rap video is at He’s @johnpursch on Twitter and john.pursch on Facebook.

Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


This tavern invites original and previously unpublished fiction of between 1,500 and 7,500 words.

All bactrians, ghosts and travelers on the Long Silk Road with a story to tell are welcome.

Send a single work per submission as a word attachment in an email addressed to:

See Submission Guidelines for the details.

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