Short story from Mark Blickley

“Tea-Bagged’

by

Mark Blickley

That idiotic doctor smiling down at me as if I am a Christmas leg of lamb ready to carve into my chest searching for a purse of gold and municipal bonds safely guarded by Margaret’s father cruel old bastard God forgive me bribing me to marry his obnoxious daughter crying in the corridor afraid I might live and interrupt her carnality and bastardly children dear Lord I am sorry do not treat me harshly why did you plant this Covid-19 have I not suffered through years of archaic gospel and fanatic potbellied evangelists kill Margaret’s father or my bacchanal son not me or that incompetent surgeon ready to claim my wife’s loins along with her insurance

oh Jesus remember I am sick I will die today spouting blood making nurses convulse with disgust splattering my fluids onto sterile white aprons disregarded in garbage cans as my flesh is shoved into an incinerator Blessed Mother is it hot in there will my flesh sizzle does the soul scorch damn family tradition I do not want to be cooked like spare ribs on a spring picnic I want to stay alive inhale spring’s aromas my God it will be spring in less than a week when my corpse will have entered its first stage of decay and I revert back to the existence I led ten months before my birth oh Holy Father I do not mean I have changed you are the light

why do they turn on those lights before I am under turn them off turn them off I will not have you see me like this stop stop I demand no one will see who I am I do not want to die put me back where I was do not put me under Blessed Saints I am drifting help me help me pull that mask off my face so I can tell Margaret’s old man to shove it and quit his factory to escape his grandchildren calling me old fart unloving thanks to the shithead shrink he sends them to forgive me Lord they are beginning to slice my flesh who cares I am exhausted by this reminiscence of my life the larger box preceding the smaller one fourteen years overseeing the manufacturing of cardboard boxes Margaret’s father will probably display me in number 324D all-purpose industrial container engineering breakthrough designed by contents

within the urn be displayed next to my collection of Dickens or Margaret will turn it into a night lamp flicking me on and off teasing the lovers of the loveless sweet Christ hallowed by thy name thy kingdom come shit what is the rest ha my rest eternal rest eternal darkness dear god are they dimming the lights I will not succumb to them or you Holy Virgin forgive me it is too cold I am scared you scare the man just like the boy threatening vengeful flames perpetual blindness oh merciful Lord forgive my transgressions I loved people before machines consumed my fervor

you know people are malicious untrustworthy beasts preying on you devouring gentleness defecating deceit help me everything is black empty listen to me I repent you win just help me do not leave me in the dark please leave me alone it is your fault toying with me playing my fear of darkness laughing at me writhing you sadistic creature of evil forgive me forgive me Father you do understand I see I see yes this is like birth dark frightening yet to be thrust in life light praise God on high a fresh chance to find joy forgiveness ah bullshit no no dear Savior they are hoisting my lungs put them back put them back that madman is murdering me do something I am so cold so alone a thinking piece of butchered meat presold by Prudential premiums

why why must I be punished I am a decent man unimportant undistinguished what of murderers rapists enjoying life as I am dissected I hate you give me back my lungs damn it oh Blessed Lady of Mercy grant me guidance save me from death and life’s years of suffering only to die wondering running not escaping God forgive me because I will survive this surgery and laugh at my family destroying exotic visions of cruises and cars vomiting my bile in their hypocritical faces stuffing my diseased lungs down their throats I will survive this operation if only to bring joy to Prudential my God help me help me Christ help me help me….

New York interdisciplinary artist Amy  Bassin and writer Mark Blickleywork together on text-based art collaborations and experimental videos. Their work has appeared in many national and international publications as well as two books, Weathered Reports: Trump Surrogate Quotes from the Underground’ (Moria Books, Chicago) and Dream Streams (Clare Songbird Publishing House, New York). Their videos, Speaking In Bootongue and Widow’s Peek: The Kiss of Death represented the United States in the 2020 year-long world tour of Time Is Love: Universal Feelings: Myths & Conjunctions, organized by the esteemed African curator, Kisito Assangni.

Essay from Jaylan Salah

Josef – Born in Grace

Interviewing Indian producer Ashok Mahapatra

Still from Josef – Born in Grace featuring Josef and Father O’Hara (Victor Bannerjee)

I was lucky enough to get an invitation from Mr. Ashok Mahapatra to watch his film Josef – Born in Grace, an independent Hindi film that won the Silver Remi for Best Christian Film at WorldFest Houston; Best Set Design, Madrid International Film Festival; Best Cinematographer, Best Screenplay, and Best Second Actor, Ontario International Film Festival and Best Actor (Victor Banerjee), India International Film Festival Boston in 2020. Also, the film was featured in the long list for the 2020 Academy Awards.  

I was struck by the breathtaking cinematography and a beautiful story about grief, redemption, and acceptance. The hero, Josef, an alcoholic, is deemed a sinner and hopeless by his community. His soliloquy with his dead mother and God is elaborate and beaded with intense meanings. What I enjoyed most about the movie was how it does not sensationalize grief or show ways to overcome it. It tells the story of someone who is not able to let go of past tragedies that transcend generations. The landscape of the Himalayan Hills and the breathtaking scenery create a powerful story that is both larger than life and iridescent.

“As regards the picking of the location, I knew that my father has written the story when he was posted in the Himalayan Hills. Hence, we scouted around the Himalayas and zeroed in on the area around Ranikhet as it was virgin territory and had not been used earlier. It was a challenge to cart all the equipment there as the communication facilities were not the best. Furthermore, accommodation for the cast and crew was also a challenge.  Nonetheless, the cast was so enamored with a script that they put up with all the difficulties to complete the film on schedule. In fact, due to their cooperation, we managed to complete the shoot with two days to spare.”

Still from Josef – Born in Grace featuring Maularam (Sudarshan Juyal)

I had the pleasure of speaking to Ashok about the intensity of the film which he considers a “passion project” that he made based on a short story titled Joseph written by his father Umakanta Mahapatra who also wrote 12 books after retiring from his government job. Mr. Umakanta wrote this story based on his experiences. Somehow the way Ashok describes his family reminds me of Egypt and how most middle-class and lower-class people postpone their dreams until after retirement. They all have stable jobs which they postpone their dreams and true selves to pursue.

“I am a retired UN Civil Servant. I started my career as a cadet, sailing out of Kolkata, in the merchant navy, and rose to Captain. After that, I came ashore and worked with the Government of India before being recruited to the International Maritime Organization. I was there for twenty years before retiring as the Director (Maritime Safety Division). Following my retirement, I decided it was time to fulfill a long-held dream and make Josef – Born in Grace, a film based on a short story written by my father, Umakanta Mahapatra. He wrote his stories based on his experiences in life. This film is a tribute to him. He was more of a friend than a father. I sincerely hope that I am 10% a father to my sons that he was to me.”

Although it is not a coming-of-age story in the true sense of the genre, Josef – Born in Grace sees the spiritual journey of self-discovery for three characters; Josef the orphan, his caretaker Maularam, and Father O’Hara the missionary who raises him,

“As regards the selection of the cast, it is a very long story. They all came along more or less on their own. It was like my father was pleased with me and guiding us all the way. Making of the film has reinforced my faith in human relationships.”

From his enthusiasm about the film, I first thought that Ashok was the director and producer of the film, but turns out this also had another interesting story,

“I am not the Director of the film. I am the Producer (though I was actively involved in all aspects in the making of the film including the cameo role as the Bishop). Susant Misra is the Director of the film. He is my first cousin and a bit of a recluse. He had given up making feature films for almost fifteen years. I had to sit on his head to make this film so that his talent is not wasted. Susant studied film direction at India’s premier film institute (Film and Television Institute of India (FTII)). His first film after graduation was accepted at Cannes Festival.”

I searched for more information about Susant since it was difficult for Ashok to talk in detail about him. Somehow, I sensed the pain in talking about his cousin who gave up his passion for 15 years. Again, the similarity between Indian and Egyptian lives became prominent, how some people give up their dreams to pursue a normal, much calmer life. When I found Susant’s notes on the website, I couldn’t agree more on some parts in which he described his movie:

Still from Josef – Born in Grace

“Although the film is set between 1960 – 1980, the period facts, people, artifacts, props, costumes, etc; had to be seen as something living and breathing. The effort was to create a sense of timelessness. The stillness and the calm the locations in the mid-ranges of the Himalayas had, gave a feeling of this timelessness and universality.”

Susant graduated from the Film and Television Institute. His directorial career spans over thirty years of notable films such as Nischal Baadal, Indradhanura Chhai, Biswaprakash, and Dharini. His films received acclaim at various film festivals such as Oberhausen, Cannes (Un Certain Regard section), Sochi, Moscow, Rotterdam, Montreal, Cairo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris, IFFI, MAMI, and MIFF.

It would never have occurred to me that the film was set in an earlier era. The story is a tale as old as time, and yet has a freshness to it that made it believable either way. Whether Josef – Born in Grace took place in the 1900s or the post-millennial world, it didn’t show. The creators couldn’t care less about the time in which the events took place. All they wanted was to create a picturesque life

Ashok’s views were no different from his cousin which explains his passion for as well –

“I am a very simple man who likes to explore the conflict between instinct and reason as well as the value of human relationships. Life has given me so much that I felt that I should give something back for it. Hence, I thought I would start with a tribute to my father by putting pictures into his story. We are presently writing another screenplay based on another of his stories once again based on human relationships. It relates to a woman’s conflict between her need for a career and her passion for art.”

Still from Josef – Born in Grace

Speaking of women, I had to ask him about the lack of central female characters in this movie (the characters of Dona and Rajula are simply tending to the male protagonists). One of the characters that piqued my interest was Josef’s mother figure. From the moment we see him, Josef is an orphan, but his obsession with his absent mother is insurmountable. Although we don’t see her onscreen, her presence is deep-rooted within the narrative through Josef’s various monologues-

“While the film does not have a central [female] character, one has to understand the symbolism of Rajula’s role. If you recall that when questioned by Father O’Hara as to whether the child is his, Josef replies “it is God’s Child”. This subtly links her to Mother Mary. This is further amplified by Father reciting Ave Maria. Thus her role is central to Josef finding a purpose in life.”

Religious symbolism is prominently featured in the film, and Ashok reinforces that through his insistence that, “It [the movie] symbolizes that always from the ruins there is a fresh beginning. This is the circle of life.”

Still from Josef – Born in Grace featuring Josef (Subrat Dutta)

This comes at a critical time in the history of our universe. With the world shifting towards a new normal, a post-pandemic reality has shifted all that we took for granted, with its immersion in nature and deep focus on emotions and compassion, Josef – Born in Grace sounds more relevant than ever for our modern times,

“This film was shot and completed before the pandemic. However, the pandemic has made the world look back and reflect as to whether the present pace of life is sustainable. The movie is paced in a way that reflects the times and the innocence of the period. There is a haunting beauty that is captured in detail and delight – as one sees Father O’Hara go about tending to his patients. At home, his caretaker, Maularam, helps the priest look after Josef, a baby who was abandoned, a baby that O’Hara finds and brings home.”

Josef – Born in Grace is by no means a lazy film, it is not made for fans of Hollywood or Bollywood, but dreamers who immerse themselves in the film experience through the lens of someone else. Think of Jim Jarmusch meeting Ritesh Batra and you get yourself a film about faith, humanity, forgiveness, and acceptance. I recommend Josef – Born in Grace to those still willing to dream in a heartless, uncertain world.

Jaylan Salah, film critic, poet, novelist and essayist

Poetry from Henry Bladon

Future Version of Myself     

What if the tragic future version of myself

has never experienced happiness and joy?

What if the beautiful future version of myself

grows old and frail too soon?

What if the bored future version of myself listens to Mercy Me

and decides that things ain’t what they used to be?

And what if the anxious future version of myself is forced to choose

between a better life or a better death?

What if the future version of myself never exists?

Lay-by

polystyrene cup/ fast food wrapper /

broken glass from an accident /

a stray L-plate / a crushed tin can /

along with / forgotten memories /

of past liaisons /

Bio: Henry is a writer, poet and mental health essayist based in Somerset in the UK. He has a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Birmingham. He is the author of several poetry collections and his work can be seen in Pure Slush, Lunate, and Synchronized Chaos, among other places.

Poetry from John Sweet

[no loyalties, no rules of war]

have these maps of yr sleeping mind but the

sunlight in this town still spills through my fingers

one room for magritte and then one for

ernst and the one

for your father in his bed of flames

                                  dali

at the edge of the picture

frightened old man with faith only in himself

and once he’s dead he no longer matters

last of the warm days and already cold in the

shadows of these subtly collapsing buildings

already shadows spreading over everything i say

jessica’s father

born to live in a shack at the

edge of the desert with the barrel of a

gun in his mouth

the song he sings and the one he doesn’t and

the failure of words in general

the need for both threats and apologies

                                                but listen

                                            bottom line

not enough time in this life to break every law

made to protect the wealthy from the rest of

us, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try

fear is the weapon to turn back against

those in power

all blood tastes the same to

dogs dying of thirst

just keep licking it up as fast it pours

from the mouth of every false savior

the holy age

these overgrown lawns in the

last bitter days of summer

this cold white sun in its pale blue sky

dogs tied to trees in

front of abandoned houses

prayers on the

lips of luminous ghosts

drove north past the trailer park where i

saw you for the first time 25 years ago

then 80 miles further to the water’s edge

sacred ground in some small way and

when i’m tired of the

truth i still have my memories

when i forget your name

i can still imagine your body

can still believe in the

promise of redemption

[flower, choose the sunshine]

or your lover wearing the

mask of your enemy and

what if you can’t tell them apart?

what if all possibilities fade before

the trigger is even pulled?

the choice between fuck and love,

or the distance

the idea of hope,

which waxes and wanes

i meet her in the wrong room,

in the wrong age,

and we have known each other forever

an impossibility, yes,

and a reality

a glass overflowing

and the best stories, i think,

can never be truly expressed

cannot be spoken out loud

or written down

i will tell you i love you and

then the moment will pass and

what we’re left with is doubt

what matters isn’t the future but

the path we choose to get there

the lies we tell to

help show us the way

a reflection of fire

the bad news is a fistful of

tiny fingers grabbing for your heart and

your heart is only a faulty machine

it believes in ghosts and in

the neverending now

writes letters to god in

silver ink, but listen

the junkies here all spend their

days digging for brighter truths

the carrion eaters want your vote

or at least the

chance to fuck your children

at least the privilege of dropping your

babies from 14th story windows

can’t keep crying about the dead when

all we’re fed from birth is

the unavoidable necessity of war

small miracles

step out into the sunlight

without prayer, without hope

with the idea of salvation,

which won’t be enough

10 degrees and dropping and

all of these children left for

dead by the sides of too many

                     windswept roads

tell them sorry or tell them

it’s your own goddamn fault

or maybe just drive on by

without a word

there isn’t enough room here

for all of us to survive

there isn’t enough humanity

i sit in a dark room and

think about suicide, which

isn’t the same thing as

considering it

i would like to tell amusing

stories about my father,

but i have none

it isn’t immediately clear

whose fault this is

a lifetime filled with clocks running backwards

or my own lies

which i cherish

a lifetime taking

small breaths of poison

laughter both

heartfelt and hollow and that

we will die separated by years,

by thousands of miles, and each of us

alone and forgotten by the other

that there are open windows

in maria’s house through

which the ghosts travel freely

doors locked against

obvious violence

walls painted white,

rugs thick with dust and

how many months do you spend there

waiting for a message from

your father?

how much silence does it take

to fill an empty room?

don’t answer that

John Sweet sends greetings from the rural wastelands of upstate NY. He is a firm believer in writing as catharsis, and in the continuous search for an unattainable and constantly evolving absolute truth. His latest poetry collections include A FLAG ON FIRE IS A SONG OF HOPE (2019 Scars Publications) and A DEAD MAN, EITHER WAY (2020 Kung Fu Treachery Press).

Poetry from Ian Copestick

White man lying down next to a dog
Springtime Nighttime

The springtime nighttime
sky has turned a strange
shade of blue, mixed
with a rainy grey.

Now that it's cooled down,
the soft air feels like the
remembrance of a lover's
kiss, so soft upon your brow.

Like a respite from a fever.
A soft, slow kiss, so full of
tenderness, and love it
almost reminds you of the
goodnight kisses bestowed
on you by your mother, when
you were a small child. A kiss
from the woman who you
know will love you for
an eternity, and more if it
was possible.

The orange streetlights
cast down a mystic glow,
upon the pavement,
in which you cause long,
creepy shadows of you
and your dog, as you head
towards home for a night
of sweet talk, and even sweeter wordless understanding with the
woman who you love. 




Mid-Afternoon, mid-March


The sun is showing
weakly in a watery
pale blue sky.
The threat of rain
is never far away.
In England it rarely is.
It's a Tuesday, mid
Afternoon, mid-March,
nothing to make it special,
or extraordinary.
Unless I can make it so
in my mind.
I walk past run down
garages and lock ups,
all rust and corrosion,
and peeling paintwork.
There are two late
middle aged men
tinkering with a car
that will never legally
be on the road again.
In the background
Radio One is blaring
out it's usual banal
bullshit.
DJs that sound like they've
been lobotomized, and
some of the worst music
that you can imagine.
Yes.
It's a normal mid-March
Tuesday, in the middle of the
afternoon.
Nothing to make it special,
or extraordinary.
Except that I wrote this poem
about it.


The Moon And My Mistakes


The moon is
a silver sliver
against the
black velvet
of the sky.
A crescent of
light against
night, the stars
glisten in their
infinity.
What am I ?
A tiny mass
of atoms that
doesn't mean
a thing, and
never will.
I gain some
comfort from
this thought. If
me and my life
have no meaning
then any of the
stupid drunken
mistakes that I
make aren't even
worth worrying
about.
In a hundred years
we'll all be dead,
and none of it will
matter anyway.
In a billion years
the insects will
probably be our
rulers, and no one
will be able to read
this, or make any
kind of sense of it.
I don't know why
but I love this thought.
Me, you our so proud
leaders, all gone.
Buried beneath a
billion years of dust.
Yet there will still be
that silver sliver of
moon, shining down
on the insects and us.

Queues And Covid 19

As I stand in Covid 19
caused queues, waiting
as only one person is
allowed into a shop at
a time. What was once
a five minute trip to the
shops can now take over
an hour. Your hour is
really taken over, too.
With impatient curses,
sheer hatred, implausible,
inexcusable hatred aimed
at the back of the head of
the person who is in front
of you.
I hate the bloody face-
masks too. Within about
30 seconds of putting
one on, my glasses start
to steam up, and I become
almost blind. This causes
serious problems when I
am trying to count my
money in a shop. So I take
my spectacles off, place
them on the counter, then
the odds are even on
whether I remember to
pick them up again, or not.
I've been lucky, most of
the time, and the person
working on the till reminds
me but I have to admit that
there's been more than one
occasion when my wife
has had to drive me back
to each and every shop I
have been in to find them
again.
Of course, this makes me
feel even more useless than
I usually do.
My battered self esteem
doesn't need any more
knocks, but life keeps on
supplying them anyway. 







Poetry from Paul Cordeiro

Don't Wait Up


I'm off to Hawaii,
Hold my hat!


He Needs More Outside World


He never did poisons
Like absinthe,
But a corner view
Gets Dickensian
By a prison-brick
Fireplace his keepers
Don't let him use.
He orbits the town green
Three times a day,
Dislikes the crow stares,
Would like a go-free-pass
To the library stacks.
His single visitor
Most days, who brings
The fire to his belly,
Isn't the Mistress Lovelace,
But an anonymous mailman.


Vanity


The best practice after sixty
Is to pass by mirrors with a shrug;
As mirrors punish viewers
Who expect someone younger.


The Jesuit Priest


He lived a double life
As a clergyman
And gay-nudist-activist.
He was disloyal
By carefree lifestyle, detested
Misogynist scripture
And the afterlife angel hierarchy.
He paid for an Irish wake,
Then had drunken friends
Bury his ashes at sea.


2020, a Quatrain, After e.e. cummings


Nature is kind 
When graves
Mount the stairs
And heroes die.