Monday, December 5, 2016

Lantern Festival, Qining, 1928.

With ribbons in her hair,
Quan went out to view the lights
and commemorate the dead.

In the cold, she called to a boy
whose face was a flame
in a bakery window.

They whispered together
a blasphemy, a dare:
we shall ride on yellow dragons
past the river.

Later she drew pictures
on peach-colored paper
while her mother spoke
of Chiang Kai-Shek.

The world was far from them,
but the lanterns swung
like faces and the dumplings

on the table steamed.
Each imagined love, each
the road, which ended at Lanzhou.

by Carl Boon

Friday, November 18, 2016


Amelia did not have the sort of mind that could compass the richness of Byzantium—the gold leaf halos encircling narrow, dark-eyed faces, the scent of dried roses, the black-skirted priests, all crushed together on a narrow strip of land that tied the dregs of Europe to the promise that was Asia.

Her own aesthetic had been shaped in a colder, harsher land. She worshipped in tiny chapels built from raw pine boards on free-flowing prairies far from any sea. No gold glinted behind her father’s pulpit. No saints were allowed within town limits.

On most days Amelia enjoyed her job, driving her chocolate-coloured truck, placing birthday presents wrapped in brown paper and fat Amazon parcels in the mailboxes that lined the county roads out of town. But she wasn’t having much fun this January day, not with the winter wind blowing waves of sleet across the prairie. By 4 PM she had to turn on her headlights. As she headed back to town, a swirl of snowflakes obscured her windshield. 

She slammed on her brakes, just missing the robed figure that was faintly visible in the growing dusk. Her headlights illuminated the Patriarch’s narrow face. He raised his right hand as if to push her truck away, or maybe just to bless her. When she cut off the engine and opened her door, he called something out in a deep bass voice. But it was all Greek to her. 

She was not the sort of person to meet a lost saint, an heir to Constantine himself, in a snowstorm on Rural Route 3.

Back when she was in Sunday school, her father had taught her to pray. But she had no words with which she could address this icon of a man. All she could do was stumble out of the cab of the truck and kneel down in the snow. She bowed her head, allowing him to place his ghostly hands on the ice crystals clinging to her hair.

by Frances Hay

Monday, November 7, 2016

a sad stretch on chromosome 11

blind from birth, she
could tell the difference
between the odor of chrysanthemums and tulips,
and remember her first whiff of both

she could identify
the scent of her brother
in a groping group
of sweaty brutes

she knew
her nose was her biographer
collecting memories, visions
her eyes could not

she studied biology
only to discover her compendium
of smells originated in a space infinitely
smaller than a fly's eye

a few molecules
devoted to identifying ham,
the rich smoky meat
of her first Easter

another clump to help her hold
the faint smell of perfume which lingered
in the room hours after
her mother passed

and who knew what atoms, what cells, what curse
of chemistry forced her to recall, most of all, the sweet scent
of her newborn's hair, the few seconds she held him,
after his tiny heart stopped.

by Jim Cunningham

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Other Side of Darkness

Ever after this night of the East New York joy ride, Johnny would have a recurring dream: he would be walking in a very deep darkness on a street pushing a gurney toward intersections, watching for traffic lights to see if they remained green, but instead of turning to red they would fade into a blackness and yet he always managed to get over to the other side, and just then an American-Black man whose grandparents were the first real cheap labor slaves - a father to his children - began walking to his side and just as suddenly on his left appeared an African-American cop - a hating "inferiors" kind of guy - walking along a bank slightly above the sidewalk and coming toward him were two young American-Black boys smiling happily, similar to the youngsters he was teaching near Myrtle Avenue close to Bed-Sty, where he told all his students education was a possible door to getting out of their rat-infested slums, and behind them walking slowly with an angry face was another man coming toward him as the man who was Johnny in the dream continued to push forward, crossing every intersection whose light would go from a green to a blinking darkness and when Johnny in the dream looked to his left, lying in the burnt brown grass was the severed head of an African-American.... Johnny always awoke at this point of the dream and recalled vividly how that night upon returning to their apartment overlooking the Flatlands of Brooklyn, surviving the big East New York joy ride when three Black guys wanted to kill a White guy who they thought looked like a Calhoun from South Carolina - since all White guys looked the same to them - he had gone to his four month old son's crib and placed his finger into his hand and only after the baby's tight squeeze and loving smile did he allow himself to cry as a full man.

by Jerry Vilhotti

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Cafe Aphra November Challenge!

So it's that time of year again......

......  as I was reminded at the weekend, when I went for lunch with some friends and saw that the table next to us had been reserved for a NaNoWriMo "Write-In" group!

Yes, November is here again.

Some of us will be taking up the annual NaNoWriMo challenge, but some of us may feel that we just don't have enough time, headspace or energy to turn out 50,000 words or more in 30 days. 

If that is the case for you, and you fancy something a bit more personal and tailor-made, or just not quite so much pressure, then why don't you take us up this year on our annual Cafe Aphra November Challenge?

Here's how it works: 

YOU get to choose what you want your writing challenge to be for this month. 

You set your own goal, whether it is a daily wordcount, an overall wordcount to reach by the end of the month, or simply a writing project you want to get FINISHED by 30th November. 

Sometimes we all need deadlines to motivate us to get it done, and here is a perfect opportunity. :)

What do YOU want to achieve in your writing by the end of November?

If you feel like taking part and fancy having a bit of support along the way, post your personal Cafe Aphra November Challenge as a comment below, and we will chivvy you and cheer you along every step of your journey! 

Keep us posted as to your progress and we can all support each other.

Good luck and good writing!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Welcome Home

I know I'm late. In my battered car, I watch the second hand on my watch jump with every palpitation of my heart. The delicate metal of the second hand is trembling, as if it might get stuck. Mom doesn't like it when people are running late. It makes her usually patient nature run wild. A light is gleaming through the windows, yet nobody has bothered to look outside. They are probably busy. I cannot seem to convince myself to leave the car. Having to apologize will at least provide me with an opening line. For a moment I fear that I might have lost my voice. "Hello?" I hear myself asking. My voice sounds unfamiliar. 

Time seems to evaporate. In the rearview mirror I try to fix my hair, aware of how greasy it is. "Bazooka Joe" dad used to call me, when I would wear my hair with my bangs falling over one eye. Yet I have never found any resemblance between the reflection of the fragile young woman in the mirror and that chubby-cheeked little cartoon boy.

I'm not so sure anymore if today is the best day for me to break a two-year-long silence. It has taken a while to get their voices out of my head. I suddenly feel silly sitting in the car and staring at the house. There are coffee stains on the sleeve of my sweater. Why didn't I see them or notice the bleach spots on my jeans as I got dressed this morning? I tell myself that the hair and the stains don't matter... or the ringless finger on my left hand. By now they have probably given up hope that I will fulfill their expectations. 

It has been such a long journey, why rush in? "They miss you!" my brother told me on the rare occasions I got hold of him on the phone. The fact that he has noticed at all makes waves of guilt wash over me. He is not a very sentimental person. The idea of being missed and needed holds the promise of something warm and embracing, yet somehow smothering at the same time... 

Urged to take action by the rumbling in my stomach, I hastily collect my cell phone, my glasses and my wallet and stuff them into my purse. In one fell swoop, I exit the cozily heated car. Outside, it is so cold that I feel naked despite the itchy sweater I have on. My cheeks burn. I take one step at a time. Wiping the dried mud off my shoes, I ring the doorbell. Light floods the porch; I hear footsteps approaching. The door swings open and I'm blinded by the broad smile on my mom’s face as she flings her arms around me.

"Welcome home!”