Sentinel Literary Quarterly

Vol.2 No.2, January 2009. ISSN 1753-6499 (Online). www.sentinelquarterly.com

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Bernard Gieske
Genna Gardini
Helena Carolinska
Michael Lee Rattigan
Nnorom Azuonye
Ramesh Dohan
Sholeh Wolpé
Terri Ochiagha
Tolu Ogunlesi
Uche Nduka
Uchechukwu Umezurike
William Stephenson
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POEMS

 

William Stephenson

 

The Shape-Changer

 

In Lakota, his name crackles like a fire –

but in English, it’s soft and bitter as ash. 

He says his stories, too, must wither in translation,

like game dried for winter.  Then, Protean,

he talks his way into feathers, skins, fur.

 

Hands to ears, he’s the boy Snake,

who wriggles away hissing when his mother speaks –  

so the medicine-man hacks off his limbs

drags him to a brake thick with fallen leaves

and binds his new scales tight over his skin. 

 

Eyes peeping over his forearm, he’s a wolf

behind a log, deep in snow, watching a hunter

gut a hare.  He crawls under the gun,

but the hunter grins and throws him a strip.

So in return, he whispers see-by-night medicine.

 

The final skin he enters is his own.  At a Sun Dance,

his duty was to feed the fire for nine whole days. 

The flames drew forms – birds, mountains, trees –

then a young girl who wore his wife’s eyes.

They named the baby Stands in a Fire Woman.

 

She’s twenty-one now, at college.  I was a junky

till she came.  She could have been born anywhere

but a hundred lucky chances brought her to me

just like they brought you here.  So listen, share.

Wear your skin well.  Keep watching the fire.  

 

Corporate Hospitality

 

The wallpaper’s brilliant – surplus bumper stickers

from the A1 Print Emporium.  Coca-Cola Classic,

a font like waves.  Dunlop, black on yellow,

bold italics straining against the hand-brake. 

Tea?  Mind your head – the ceiling’s concrete. 

The underbelly of Independence Bridge.  Touch it –

that’s the rush-hour traffic shaking your hand. 

The floor’s tarpaulin, fixed with bent skewers

Dad fished from a skip behind the Bosporus Kebab House. 

 

Sometimes a container truck from the docks

thunders over and blasts us all awake. 

Anandamayi bitches and swears till Mum says

Shh, your father has work.   Look, I can spell Nike,

Ninja, Nintendo.  Nike is the Goddess of Victory. 

Mr Chao lets me surf Wiki in afternoon recess – 

he says I’m so smart I can winkle myself out

from under this bridge, find a sponsor downtown.

Then Delhi, Singapore, Harvard, who knows?

 

Like my calendar?  The man in the space suit

is Buzz Aldrin.  Suspended in the vacuum

above Buzz’s Lunar Buggy are five tyres

ranked by size, from moped-grade up to the best,

the Eagle F1.  This morning, I crossed off yesterday

on Buzz’s helmet then ran my index finger over

the blue curve of the earth, a light-second away,

where inscribed across the ocean, from here to Zanzibar,

is Good Year.  Dad says he likes that.  It’s been one so far.

 

Confidence and Freshness for Men

 

The goalkeeper’s face is four feet wide,

shot in guillotine sunlight, primped in Photoshop

to gild his left cheekbone and throw the right in shadow

as he thrusts out an aerosol with a bold Arial logo

and a silver lightning-streak down the side.

 

In Gothic Heavy across his chest, the tagline screams 

Keep A Clean Sheet.  The hoarding stands on posts

but underneath there’s no grass, no net, no white line

to mark a score – instead, just a messy heap

of old woodchip, mottled as a cork notice-board.

 

A flash catches my eye – a silver-gilled mushroom.

Thirty or forty poke their caps above the chips,

a guerrilla detachment breaking cover to strike.

I flare my nostrils and feel their yeasty bite

pierce the soggy odours of wood, paste, paper. 

 

Rain begins.  As they storm the goalposts 
the mushrooms start to shine – stealthy, unsaved, 
rising, spreading spores like propaganda. 

The keeper stares on, oblivious, as thick drops

bullet his forehead, leaving a row of oozing holes.
 

The Revenge of the Simile Ninja

(dubbed from the original Japanese)

 

As lithe as the panther padding through the cloud-forest

as swift as the falcon slicing the rain

as patient as the praying mantis

as graceful as the gliding crane

 

as taut as a bowstring

as sharp as a katana

after twenty years of Zen, Jet Li flicks and kickboxing

I’m back, to avenge the stain you cast on my honour

 

with your lukewarm review of my haiku in 1983.

For that, evil rogue editor, I’m gonna beat you into sushi.

First, a time-lapse sequence where our fists thrum

like alarm-bell clappers, then taiko drums boom

 

as we box in slow-mo.  I am the finest budoka

in all Nippon, you scream.  I laugh my defiance.

Whips crack on the soundtrack as every punch lands.

Lip-synchers shout unnh, aieee, hi-yaaa.

 

Suddenly I spring thirty feet into the air

hover like a hawk above the dojo hall

land lightly as a dragonfly on lily-rich water

fire my toe-cap into your unsuspecting balls

 

then smile inscrutably before I sprint up the wall

backwards, somersault over the parapet

alight on a cloud, fold my legs and just sit –

like a monk who has stepped off the wheel

 

of worldly desire and waits, detached, for satori

But come Monday I’ll crouch by the letter-flap

hissing O treacherous one, cower before me:

for with my bare hands I can crush any rejection slip.
 

Krazy Johnson

 

It was 1983, I was eighteen, and I stood staring

at an album in the reggae rack: the cover said LKJ

which I thought must mean an American politician –

but instead, as the needle dropped on the vinyl 

the bass made my air-cushioned soles shudder

and a voice even deeper than the bass intoned dread

irie, murdah in a patois slow, measured and vengeful –

a righteous zombie come to judge the politician’s soul.

 

I suddenly found myself by a twilit dock

cracked by booms and crashes, its container ships

filled by stevedores who spoke an argot unfathomable

to a grammar school boy.  I sauntered in, whistling,

jemmied a crate and waited to be transported

to an electric Africa of one-drop and skank.  As if! 

A pimply white pupil with the Forces of Victory LP

clutched like a passport to alterity. 

 

Dub comes from the Jamaican duppy, or ghost – 

I met several that afternoon in the shop,

haunted for twenty minutes till the needle rose,

having discovered that although some spirits

toast in the inferno, others patrol the tropics

under the skull, within the skin, firing up

the mixing-desk of the brain, hips and spine

where the slow reworking of the rhythm begins.

 

Quality

 

His viscose-rayon jacket shines at the elbows

like the upholstery of a second-hand hatchback. 

The stitches in his armpit stretch, as teetering

on a plastic chair, he gooses the data projector.

A shaving cut marks his jaw like a cat-scratch:

a bloodstained shred of flesh-toned luxury

bathroom tissue still clings to the scab.

 

He’s come to brief us about Quality

and to facilitate this he turns on the fan

that drones like a distant vacuum cleaner

as the crimson bullet points of Slide One

stain our retinas like a rash.  Four hours later

we chant: We will project-manage, enable,

cascade.  We will talk to pieces of paper. 

 

Outside, as we stumble into the sunset

the Quality cars in the Quality car park

radiate silver, gold, ruby.  My shoe slides

and I gasp – the freshly squeezed dog turd

smeared across my heel has the shiny

tapered Quality of chocolate Mr Whippy. 

It’s so beautiful, so sweet.  I want to weep.

 

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William Stephenson is based in Lancashire. He teaches English at Chester University. He has published two books
of literary criticism and several journal articles, and has poems forthcoming in Envoi and The Interpreter's House.

 

Sentinel Literary Quarterly

 Published by Sentinel Poetry Movement

Editor: Nnorom Azuonye

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