Life may or may not be like a box of chocolates, but V. Press is very very pleased to offer readers this Valentine's online mini-selection from some of our titles.
The themed prose and poems here are a small sample of what's on offer in the bookshop
. And please do click on the link for each title below to enjoy more work by the same writer, along with information and reviews about the book or pamphlet.
I’ve been reading love poems.
All the images – falling downstairs,
memories in ruins, sleeping by an ocean –
make me want to see him,
even though it wasn’t right then,
and would be wrong still now:
an incorrect answer to a maths problem;
an image that doesn’t quite fit.
But still, I want to see him,
relive the kingfisher and the swans
and the fish and chips by the harbour
and the cinema with armchairs,
in one brief meeting; lunch, perhaps.
We would smile, and talk about our children,
while thinking of other things;
and forget all those hotel rooms.
, from Like love
If, in a bus station, two people (who will one day fall in love) sit opposite on red benches which fold like cinema seats, bus stations everywhere occupying, dropboxlike, these same coordinates in spacetime where each of us would know the same sparkling floor, remember the place gum is pressed behind pipes, or how all tiled walls are touched with dieselgrime and a crane fly endlessly expires in fluorescence, and if, because such halts are built to expel us, one of these two people (who are soon to fall in love) has sent his mind away to some peak with boulders and peat and melon-red grass, but the other, instead, only lopes his eyes, catching eventually the first’s, so distant with falcons and mist he thinks his gaze is clasped, headlong, such that he smiles a surprised smile which melts through thought, to recognition, and if, suddenly, these two people (who begin to fall in love) find themselves spanning those dimensions without knowing whose long glance first lit whose, is it—on reflection—a mistake?
Gram Joel Davies
, from Bolt Down This Earth
Finally, something works.
The tree heaves beneath the weight –
that first flood of fruit; we pick,
Windfall offers enough to deer;
the branches remain full for us.
Green, blushing red in my hands –
life dressed in September colours.
Too sharp to eat raw,
they soften at golden sugar, simmered flames.
Flour and butter crumble through my fingers,
ready to blanket the sweetness.
Much is stored away. Jars, bottles,
anything that holds.
The whole ones nestle together, stalks entwined
in the pantry’s sleeping dark.
We cannot contain it all.
Hot inside our thawing mouths, we smile
for each other, for the turning of earth.
We eat the evening, spoon by spoon.
, Somewhere Between Rose and Black
I had the identical watch to this clock, once.
Bent out of shape, Roman numerals stretching
and shrinking, melting towards the centre.
I didn't know him back then
and yet here is an object
we were both attracted to.
A perfect match.
Glass protects hand and face
but it's nearly always one.
It has no function
except it stands on the second shelf
next to the picture of him with his godchildren –
all smiling and laughing.
A natural moment captured.
Next to time
that has stopped.
, from Fragile Houses
“What Does Moonlight Smell Like?”
“What do you mean?”
“Polish? Shoe polish? No, wood polish. Lemons, but not real lemons; artificial lemons, fake lemons. Dusting cloth, artificial lemon polish. Not a fresh cloth, no. That stale cloth lemon. That musty dust of repeated disappointments and disappointing repetitions. What do you reckon it smells like? Here, take a whiff. The outside? Grass or leaves or soil or dirt or mud or rain or sand? A slight hint of ginger? Not ginger-ginger but gingerbread-ginger. Don’t look at me like that; they’re different. Moonlight smells like difficulty. It’s the opposite of triumphant – the word escapes me. It’s too passive to be resilient. You think it smells like the night? Well, what does night smell like? How do you know that the night doesn’t only smell like the night because what you can really smell is moonlight and now we’ve come to associate the smell of moonlight with the smell of the night? Which is which? Does moonlight smell the same everywhere? How about in Hawaii? I bet moonlight smells different there, or the night… Wait – wait! If the moon reflects the sun’s light, what does sunlight smell like? What is this I’m smelling? Day or night, sun or moon, light or reflection? How do we know if we’re smelling day at night-time or night at daytime? Wha–”
“Darling, it’s only a bunch of chemicals to make the candle scented. Put it down so we can go get something to eat.”
, from There's Something Macrocosmic About All of This
Trying too hard
When I was younger trying too hard was a good thing;
being “too helpful” wasn’t even a phrase.
I spent my childhood days trying too hard
to stitch trying too hard into my DNA
because trying this hard was thought admirable.
But when he, narrow-eyed and sharp-tongued,
tells grown-up me that I’m trying too damn hard,
he hurls the words like hardball insults.
My best quality is now the one that tests him
and his patience the most.
So I peel back skin, pull out parts
of myself and begin to unpick their stitching.
He catches me, shakes his head, laughs, and leaves –
on his way out he tells me how typical it is
that I’m trying too hard. Again.
, from A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache
I go to him when the lakes are quiet,
when blossom holds its breath
in bluest south.
have strung up their miles
and collect inwards towards the light –
and all the dim world’s glow,
this earth-meal and dust
and glittering in this autumn’s constant.
All the flames that go up
are a mortal shout.
The gardener’s burn,
its heat and grain
reveal him in his awfulness
tending the ruined mass,
this mode of a man
I’ve learned to love
tackles leaf, and loom, drags
the swollen bosom of wood
from a belly of wire
and bluish thistle.
He wants it all to burn.
We drain the lakes,
their glass up-sends in fume,
their iris codes
flurry, and whiten the air
to our killing conditions –
in this blood-red insistence
The horses walk on
like women through fire.
As I peek through the gaps in the lattice fence
I see your face; you are looking back at me
from your seat in the park. There are tears
on your cheeks, which you do not brush away.
You raise your hand to your lips
and blow me a kiss; there are many reasons
why I can’t respond, many reasons
why I should not be here. Your perfection
draws me to you, still. Now, close to my head,
a ladybird walks a ridge, senses my shadow,
senses my breath, before opening its wings
and flying to you. All I can do
is stand here and wish,
wish I was with you
on that seat in the park.
, from The boy who couldn't say his name
Since Lisa said she wanted to separate a year ago, Nick had seen the word divorce at the edge of his vision; he’d heard the word when other words beginning with D had been spoken — division, divvy, detain. He’d been upset, of course, but not devastated. He’d see Lisa whenever he saw Crystal, and he felt that once they were broken up properly and time had passed, they’d have a chance to get together again.
Now, from inside his prison cell, Nick feels the finality of the word, of the act. His three-year sentence changes everything. Divorce means throwing him out like rotten vegetables, unusable, unhealthy. Divorce will quadruple his solitude, his fear, his loneliness when they were just bearable before.
So he lifts weights at rec time, limits himself to half a pack of cigarettes a day, doesn’t complain or even grimace as he mops the vast kitchen. He brushes his teeth after every meal; he’s reading for the first time since high school — just the newspaper, but he can’t believe how much happens, how much is always going on that he never thought of before.
He works on his answers. If she says divorce, he’ll tell her about the prison’s family counseling program. If she asks how he’s doing, he says he misses her and Crystal. If she says she’ll stick with him, he won’t cry. He’ll kiss her hands before he kisses her mouth.
When the day comes, Nick catches himself eating quickly and slows down. He imagines the softness of her lips and tries to remember details from the newspaper article on the fundraising drive for the zoo, so he can show he’s been reading, so he can talk about taking Crystal. He counts his steps as he walks to the visiting room, pulls his shoulders back as he enters.
It’s Eddie, in a blue Cubs t-shirt and jeans. They sit across from one another, and finally Nick asks, “Where’s Lisa?”
“Sorry, Nick, she got called into work at the last minute, so she asked me to come. Lucky I had the day off.”
Nick realizes he’s shaking, his whole body trembling before he wills it to stop. The voices of other prisoners and visitors rise up around them.
“So you’re looking good,” Eddie says. “You been working out?”
Nick shakes his head. He can’t do this. He can’t make small talk. “You,” he says at last, glancing at his wedding band. “Tell me about you.”
he presses the code she gave him
into the panel, fumbles
in the dark hallway
hearing his own heart quicken
as he taps at the door
tracing the sound —
that move towards him
then seem to slow
there’s time for both to turn
Seeking Miss Aether
“To the woman of my dreams:
I’m a mature, single male
who enjoys the pleasures
of classical physics.”
You’re out there somewhere,
everywhere. I need you
to make sense of my world.
I accept I’m old-fashioned,
It was good enough for Newton.
Young Albert insists
that you’re past it
but what does he know.
Forget about relativity,
the expanding universe.
This is bigger.
Darling, I’ve seen the light
bend, space contort
and I worry.
Where are you, lover?
Invisible siren, sing to me;
there’s still time.
, from Making Waves
A version of Seeking Miss Aether appeared in The Journal (2018)
Their flesh meets like a wolf nearing water
just before dusk, its breath unmuzzled musk
as it nuzzle-greets its shape, then falters…
Eyes dip, its jaw unhooks, muscles tauten,
back arches, as fur sleeks to fluid lust.
Their flesh meets like a wolf nearing water.
The parched beast drinks deep, wide-throated, alters
stance to uncloak her taste from its red husk,
nuzzle-greets her warm-blooded shape, falters,
as nature’s leafy-scented young daughter
lays out her earth bed with its moist wood crust.
Their flesh meets like a wolf nearing water.
And so she blends, just as nature’s taught her:
two forest torsos, soft-mossed and fern-brushed.
As they nuzzle-greet, their wild shape falters –
a raindrop slides from its red-leaf altar,
a wolf’s tongue laps up the soft-falling dusk.
Their flesh meets like ripples across water,
nuzzle-greets its wild shape, doesn’t falter.
, from The Vaginellas
at the door
he leans to the sound
of his own hand
tapping the dusk
skimming the music
just within reach
of her tinting her eyes
with blue shadow
, from These nights at home,
with photos by Keren Banning
Sometimes a heart can break.
Not dropped on an unyielding tile-hard floor
to shatter into gem-sized fragments
Not splintered into the knife-blade-thickness
of rifts in unseasoned kindling
Not like the unearthing of a pit of bones
all with fractures from soldiers’ rifle-butts
Not bread broken into mass-sized pieces
for a line of Sunday half-believers
Not the clean snap of a KitKat bar
between the V of ungloved hands
Not the cracking of a pensioner’s skull
with a baseball bat from JD Sports
Not the curtain of night-cloud parting
for a glimpse of the moon’s borrowed sunlight
Not the unisoned break-down of black-clad mourners
as their loved one finishes dying.
Sometimes a heart can break, but no,
not suddenly like that – a heart can break
like the crazing lines on a fire-glazed vase,
where the ping
of the creeping fractures
goes on and on for ever. A muttered no
a lingering so what
, a flicker of hate
in a sideways glance, the unworn ridge
in the middle of the bed, the days
of making-do and the nights of fake-believe;
two trapped half-lives, no longer a whole.
Maybe, sometimes, things can unbreak –
the kindling and the rifle-butts and the baseball bat
are restored to a tree and the dead wake back to life
and in my dream of all dreams you can’t wait
to break the silence with an i-love-you;
yes, I want more of you and you want more of me
and in every crazy day together
there’s a carnival of things unbroken.
Sometimes, a heart can unbreak. Maybe.
, from The boy who couldn't say his name
The first change was the milk –
the bottle half-full the day after
its use by. In time, I could make choices:
a scarlet coffee mug from eBay;
a hand-made wooden bed
with a mattress that moulded
to just my shape; daffodil-yellow paint
for the bedroom walls.
We’re told we repair and renew our cells
until the end of the end day, when
we don’t. For now, I’ll top up
the salt we kept in the old wine bottle,
never knowing how many grains
remain from the day he left the house.
In matching North Face jackets
they sit side by side, still as herons,
talking in whispers as if a lovers’ tryst.
He: a single-handed hold
on an up-market scope,
one eye on the birds,
the other tightly shut.
She: two hands grip binoculars
as though they hold a secret;
scuffed and chipped
but doing the job.
On the fringe of the wetland,
two grebes declare themselves,
shake heads, ready
for their elaborate tango.
In the hide, she touches his arm,
code for have you seen?
He thinks of her in that blue cotton dress
at the dance where they met,
and nods his head.
This is no awkward silence,
this is it. Their safe word is teashop.
Not what they dreamed of,
but it’ll do.
standing by her door
waiting in the dark
listening for her footsteps
she walks towards him
all his selves uncovered
all the king’s horses
there is no other moment
We are made from beautiful atoms
After Keiji Nakazawa
Remember, my sister,
we are made of beautiful atoms,
up there in the doll-eyed darkness,
our world is a teardrop from God,
no water is anywhere else but here –
remember, my sister, we are made from beautiful atoms.
Remember, my brother,
we both were born and wiped unclean
that blood of birth could connect us –
our mothers are portals to beautiful atoms.
Hold on to me, brother, I shall carry you.
Remember our world was once a beautiful eye
none of us
, from The Nagsaki Elder
A phantom haunts the universe,
a quantum thread that binds our lives
to distant mass, refusing to let go.
Astronomers hold to another truth:
as bodies move apart, attraction fades
and memory weighs nothing out in space.
Shut up and calculate
they tell the homesick astronaut
I thought I saw her yesterday
Martin Zarrop, from Making Waves
Entanglement also appeared in Moving Pictures (Cinnamon Press, 2016)
Now and then, Faith likes to switch on her smoke alarm in the middle of the night to wake Denholm. Summoning him next-door to read the electricity or kill her spiders just hasn’t got his attention. She always gets going at about four a.m., because she wants to give Denholm one restful sleep cycle, timing her disruption such as to disarrange him no more than necessary. She leaves her windows closed and switches on the fan oven, dishwasher and tumble dryer simultaneously, since she has discovered that the combined increase in temperature is enough to trigger her temperamental heat-sensitive kitchen alarm, a method that she considers altogether more stylish than resorting to burnt toast. And, once this little monster has begun its relentless middle-of-the-night ear-pain, she leaves it screeching, ignoring the dismay of her only cat, Rupert, until the connecting alarms in the hallway and bedroom are also kicking off. The triple effect of these in the pitch of night is usually enough to rouse her dutiful neighbour. If he is sleeping quite soundly, she nudges him further by clattering chairs and slamming the stick of her broom against the adjoining wall, in a pretence of dealing with the blare. When she’s heard his first tentative step down that creaking staircase, she removes all but a trace of make-up as if caught off-guard; tangles her braid bun into a just-out-of-someone-else’s-bed look; then puts on her lilac slip, which she is certain is his favourite. She does this even though she is a happy widow now and Denholm is fifteen years her senior. She does this even though he struggles down those stairs at nights to get to her with his gammy leg. She does this because she can’t resist her need for these performances: when his fingers press her buzzer and she swings the door open, she’s always beguiled by that look on her own face.
, from Three Men on the Edge
There was a time for volcanoes,
when lava burned through veins
and sparks spat from my eyes.
But now, I am ready for the sofa of him,
for the thousandth run on his TV
of Toy Story or Love, Actually;
for the sleep that I slip into
as easily as his cats;
for his cats, his cushions, his biscuits;
for his non-explosive central heating.
He should think himself lucky.
Volcanoes are much easier to live with
when they’re dormant.
, from Like love