WHEN THE OCEAN CALLS
We woke up with the sea at our door, slightly apologetic, but insistent in its tapping. At first we pretended we weren’t in; kept silent in our attic room, modulating our breath to the house’s natural sighs. Eventually, though, we had to eat, sneaking to the kitchen beneath windowsills, preparing odourless food in silence. In our dark duvet cave, we texted excuses to work, family and friends, cancelled appointments with doctors and hairdressers. We let the post gather, brine-damp, on Edwardian tiles that crusted with salt, took on the aspect of a winter ballroom on a pier destroyed in the last war. And all the time, the tap tap tap of the sea at the door haunted us like a blind woman’s cane in a cavern, oblivious to beasts daubed, glowering, on the walls. After time lost meaning, its shapes began to shift, constantly slipping the rug from under our perceptions, until after meant nothing at all. Just once, I risked a glance between blinds, took in red brick houses, parked cars, a straggly hedge and flowers that erupted with colour in spite of neglect. I couldn’t see the sea, but we knew it was there, and that night – or perhaps it was another night, or maybe it wasn’t night at all – we held each other close as we listened to the tapping, and whispered of the ship that we knew must one day come.
THE POETIC CRUX
Cold fog, and the frogs are getting lippy round the park pond, pumping themselves up and stretching their sinews for the twang and plop that launched a million haiku. Just a drop of sake and each one will claim it was him; that on that white-sunned morning, there was the boy Basho, fret-faced and fumbling over some sonnet or sestina, nibbling his pen like a rabbit with a carrot, when he chanced upon a glance of the twitch and ripple of adductor longus, sartorius, adductor magnus, triceps femoris, gracilis major, gracilis minor, gastrocnemius, extensor cruris, tibialis anticus longus, tibialis posticus, tibialis anticus brevis, all perfecto between green slippery skin; and before he could count seventeen heartbeats, he’d forgotten why he’s ever tried to rhyme. They puff their throats and tap flappy feet, their vocal sacs wracked with indignation over lost royalties, demanding a credit on every student notebook. out of the cold fog the laughing ghost of Basho calls frogshit – kerplop!
THE LAST REFUGEE
The bus rolls on like a toddler’s song, with flat vowels and no sense of time. To the left is the blue, blue sea, with tattooed dogs and mermaids blowing kisses; to the right is a city under siege, with burned-out cars and desperate parents howling as they sift the rubble, and up ahead is a bridge formed from a child’s interlaced fingers. Each time the conductor shoulders his way down the cramped aisles I have lost my ticket, and each time he charges me more for the replacement. I’ve sold the shirt off my back and the skin off my back, and the fat man jammed next to me is eyeing up my memories and my sense of self. To the left is the blue, blue sky, with talking birds and bright-winged sprites; to the right is a fist of fire and blind eyes weeping smoke, and up ahead is a gate the shape of a child’s lips as it mouths its first word. Each time the driver barks an announcement it’s in a different language and other passengers’ expressions give nothing away. I’ve sold my eyes to the highest bidder, but there are no windows anyway. To the left is darkness; to the right is darkness, and up ahead is darkness built from dog skin and desiccated wings. The bus rolls over and plays dead.
Oz Hardwick is a York-based poet, photographer, occasional musician, and accidental academic, whose work has been widely published in international journals and anthologies. He has published nine full collections and chapbooks, including Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018) which won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and his most recent publication, the prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet (Clevedon: Hedgehog, 2020). He has also edited or co-edited several anthologies, including The Valley Press Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2017) with Miles Salter, which was a UK National Poetry Day recommendation, and The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2019) with Anne Caldwell. Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the postgraduate Creative Writing programmes.