Never Walk The Same Road Twice

GOAT SKULL

Never walk the same road twice, Dadda used to say, always with a stutter and a bit of spittle on the chin; one hand waving a short, crooked finger, the other hand clutching a bottle of gin.

Taking a big swig (our Dadda could make spirits gloonk), his eyes widened and his cheeks would glow in hellfire oranges and reds in the fading light of the paraffin lantern’s show.

They’ll learn your every move. Never walk the same road twice.

Sound advice, but only in theory, of course, for I had not a clue who they were – who exactly to be on the lookout for – and, from our neck of the woods led only one road to school, the sheriff’s office, and the grocery-cum-liquor store.

Dadda had ‘moods’, and he was quite adamant that my little sister and I (Both apples of your mother’s eyes!) follow his orders, because his mind was ‘shaped’ and functioned like those of the military kind.

At the break of dawn, (Look, the moon’s still snoozing!) after a thorough inspection
of our uniforms and patched little knapsacks, (Only three boiled eggs and last night’s chicken bones!) we saluted and started our march, armed to the teeth with sticks and stones.

Not allowed to travel the conventional way, Lucille and I, hand-in-hand, would start our ‘stroll’ at the edge of the forest, where the eucalyptus stands tall and towers over
the black swamp that stank of decay.

We marked each path, using Mama’s old ribbons on tree trunks and bushes; we were on our guard not to cross paths, so we named them all, from Sugar Cube Lane to Sunset Boulevard.

When the trees changed colour and the leaves came down in delicate feather-falls, our ‘roads’ became muddled—we were confused; pretty soon we were strolling on Sunset Sugar Lanes and Boulevard Street Cubes.

Every time we strayed, they would come up behind us.

Lucille spotted one first, a goat-headed creature in a flowing white dress, on hands and knees, darting from tree to tree.

GOAT HEADS

Three times I was hit in the back, each time with the same range weapon, a fist-sized white stone, covered in peculiar scribbles and characters, black, and also blotches of tree gum and peacock feathers.

Our morning march soon turned into a morning mission, for Lucille was petrified;
most days Dadda and I had to
(‘restrain!’)
get her dressed for school, sometimes inside-out, sometimes back-to-front.

At the start of winter, the creatures seemed to have grown in numbers; we spotted them regularly through the branches, reflections in cracked mirrors, some with deer skulls and big old antlers, others with god-knows-what-fur, and on some occasions, even a few dressed in shiny black leather.

I plugged Lucille’s ears with mud, grass and, leaves so that she wouldn’t hear their haunting breaths, their hooves over broken branches and twigs that went off
like a thousand little explosions in my head.

On the first day of spring I came down for inspection, but Lucille wasn’t there; Dadda sat by the window looking awfully lonely in his rocking chair, his bottle was empty and his eyes moist with tears.

You’ve walked the same road twice and now they’ve taken my daughter; my dear little Lucille is gone, she’s disappeared.

You can imagine my distress. During the last few weeks of snow I had carried her to school, for she refused to walk where they go, she couldn’t even bother; and although she ‘forgot’ how to speak, and she seemed to have shrunk, she held onto me like I was our mother.

Insomnia embraced me with spiky white arms, feeding me phlegm, overwhelming my daydreams with all of its usual charm, helping me plan my final revenge, pulling me through each day closer to them.

After inspection one morning, the sun was already hot, I sprinted away to get a head start, but stopped at Mulberry Road. I hadn’t gone too far. Making a left at Wolf’s Paw Street, I circled back home, only to find that I wasn’t alone:

Dadda emerged from a door in the floor, dressed in Mamma’s bra and her favourite silk night gown. Even the deer’s skull on his head seemed to frown.

I gloonked his spirit with the empty gin bottle, getting in a kick, and also a throttle; four times I cut him, one for each season, and oh! what a feeling when Lucille jumped down from where I’d hidden her in the ceiling.

Imagine the look on Dadda’s face when she ‘kissed’ him on the jaw with his military-style binoculars. His face wore an expression of shock and awe.

‘Listen to me, Dadda, because I’ll only say it once: never come between a brother and his sister—and one more thing: never walk the same road twice,’ she said in a paraffin lamp whisper.

words by Ramon Ramirez

art and photography by Craig Hopson

A Game of Cricket in the Bombay Slums of My Head

SIX IN BOMBAY
Stepping out to watch the rain,
refrain
from screaming, an angry schoolboy
holding up a cricket bat
at an approaching storm,
slipping,
rolling
down the garbage hill –
let the heads roll,
let them roll on down this way –
I need the practice, anyway,
I’ve got four arms;
thunder it my way
down the cement pitch,
red stains on my clothes,
my skin is blue
you know my weakness;
bring it on
and don’t slip on your follow-through.
Under the floodlights,
our protective gear
paper-thin,
our wickets made of tin;
cans stacked
like midnight stupas
enlightened:
Tendulkar
is half-god.

The Bomb Maker from Kabul

Kabul

Ruminative silence pulsates
over the disquieting drone,
on a wine crate
a vibrating smartphone.

The susurrus of branches
over the rooftop now;
a four-fingered hand,
wrinkled,
nails red and polished,
reaches out.

The greeting is brusque,
the voice gruff;
the breath, mothball musk,
steams up the grimy glass.

Outside the breeze picks up,
and the snow whispers
secret communications
against the window.

A red nail taps the red tab;
the phone disappears
into a parka pocket
draped over a chair;
on the backrest a name
engraved in bronze:
Sergeant S.C. Grear.

The bomb maker sighs,
remembers her first bomb.
Like her first kiss
in a back alley in Kabul.

Goggles, face mask, gloves;
she returns to work,
to what she loves.

Tonight she controls the
the storm in the West;
she’s an Afghan goddess.

words & photography by Ramon Ramirez

Pub Religion

DRUNK RAINBOWS

His brow grows thoughtful at my question –
vexed, even,
if you take into consideration his high forehead,
now crumpled like the pages of a shithouse magazine.
Tasting the venom on his tongue –
forked, no doubt –
he mulls over a response by biting down on his bottom lip.
He downs his drink and belch-orders another whiskey and lime.

The bartender’s eyes flash brass-belled pleas,
Go home already, lads!
but there’s no way in the deepest pits of hell I’m heading home,
not before the man with the magazine frown responds.

A heavy-set barmaid senses trouble;
she’s wiping away –
authoritative strokes –
the impregnated smell of cigarette butts
and stale ale from empty tables.
The front door jerks open –
the wind, thin,
yet strong enough to breathe life into the dying embers,
smoking to light the fireplace with devilish fire tongues.

The silhouette of a man appears the entrance –
axe in hand –
shower curtains of rain behind a set of shoulders so broad,
he could be a walking brick shithouse
wearing stained magazine pages for clothes.

He shuts the door.
The windows rattle.

A raven,
nestled in the neck folds of the giant’s leather coat,
cocks its under the man’s long, matted locks;
the bird registers its new surroundings
with a flash of intelligence
in the black marble of its whip-smart eyes
before grooming its weather-greased feathers.

My drinking partner breaks the ice
by choking on a cube;
spewin’ and spillin’ the rest of his beverage
down the front of his shirt,
over the cherry wood counter.

His face is pale,
his lips the colour of dead maggots;
no need for him to reply to my query;
the answer I’m looking for walks toward us,
growing larger with each echo of his heavy boots,
hand crafted,
the finest crocodile leather money can buy,
shining like the silver of his whiskey flask
reflected in the raven’s eyes:

Bacchus is alive.

words by Ramon Ramirez

art by Craig Hopson

Goodbye, Soldier

Morning on the Mine

Goodbye, Soldier

No trace of alacrity
in the young soldier’s once gregarious manner;
his once beaming smile
now a gruesome grin
or grimace
when he dismounts the steed;
his once booming voice
now a mumble and a stutter;
and beneath the war paint,
his skin a deathly pallor.
Rifle slung over his shoulder,
he loosens the girth,
takes of the saddle,
straps,
stirrups in a tangle.
From the trenches
the reek of death and decay,
burnt flesh and gunpowder,
gaping wounds
that pulsate,
suck
at the teats of the corrupt,
swallow,
wallow in sorrow
for yet another war
gone to fuck.

words and photography by Ramon Ramirez

The Man with the Mermaid Tattoo

INKSHOT

The Man with the Mermaid Tattoo

He can feel gravity’s pull
tonight
deep in his heart
a graveyard echoes:
Not much to live for
now the kids are gone,
wife hooking somewhere in the city streets.
He pours a double vodka,
mixes it with the pulpy bits
in the bottom of a grape juice carton;
stirs it with a plastic Chinese take-out chopstick.

“No need to drink from a cup.”

The syringe is cracked;
the ashtray full;
the scabs over the mermaid’s nipples
on his forearm itch.
He leans forward,
kisses her full on the mouth:

“Never have your eyes looked so alive, my love.”

When the rat poison burns his blood,
he clears his throat, and coughs up bile;
he straightens his tie
because he’s got style.