Thank you, Allan Hudson, for your kind words about my book of short stories entitled Bistro. Allan has also set out a brief introduction to five other novelists, several of them close friends and admired acquaintances.
Bistro was one of three finalists in the New Brunswick Book Awards (2016-17). I think it was the only self-published book to make the finals. So, all of you struggling self-publishers, it can be done and we can get recognized, as we know from the results of one of this year’s major French book awards, awarded to another self-published author, much to the chagrin of all the French publishers who had already turned his book down. The message to everyone is simple: “Don’t get off the bus. Keep believing. Finish the journey.” And remember, you’ll never finish the journey if you get off the bus / train / boat / plane / tram / trolley / whatever … before you reach your final destination.
The cover photo, incidentally, is one of my cartoons that has appeared on these pages before. It shows a bird-man, beak open in astonishment, watching three ships approach his belly-button, as he sits there, naval-gazing, or should that be navel-gazing? “I saw three ships come sailing by …”
You can link to Allan’s Blog, the South Branch Scribbler, by clicking on the link. Bistro, incidentally, is available for purchase on Amazon and Kindle.
Monkey Meets An Anarchist Ant
(Memories of El Camino de Santiago)
The anarchist ant dresses in black.
He wears a little red base-ball cap
backwards on his head.
His eyes are fiery coals.
“Phooey!” He says.
“It’s folly to go with the flow.”
So he turns his back
on his companions and marches
in the other direction.
Some ants call him a fool.
The Ant Police try to turn him.
The Thought Police try
to make him change his mind.
Others, in blind obedience
to a thwarted, intolerant authority,
first bully him, then beat him,
then bite him till he’s dead.
Comment:One of the legends of the Road to St. James, the pilgrim route across Northern Spain that I walked in 1979, states that if you do not walk the road as a human being, in your own lifetime, you will come back as an ant and be forced to walk it ant form, when you are dead. I stood on the hill outside Astorga, looking back at the city. On the old pilgrim road, at my feet, and beneath the old Cruz de Harapos, a colony of ants was busy walking in a long line towards Santiago de Compostela. One turned his back on the group and started to walk the other way, but he didn’t last long. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard.” Fair enough. But watch out for the ant-police and the thought-police.
Pontius Parrot (With glorious memories of Macarronic Latin)
Pontius Parrot is very clever
and very pontifical.
He pontificates from his pulpit.
His name isn’t Polly
and he doesn’t have a pulpit
but he parrots words
in Macaronic Latin:
“Caesar adsum jam forte.”
Pontius Parrot is
perky at the podium.
He bounces up and down,
preens himself prettily,
rattles his chains,
shakes his bars:
Shame and scandal
wear him down.
A dysfunctional family
of feathered friends
until he was black and blue
and threw up copiously:
“Caesar sic in omnibus.”
He dips his wings in holy water,
calls for some soft soap,
feathers and claws.
Poor Pontius Parrot,
He can only say
“Brutus sic in at.”
Comment: Anyone who suffered through school Latin, especially if they went to boarding school or grammar school, will recognize famous Macarronic Latin quotes such as the verb bendo, whackere, ouchi, sorebum, and the one the author of Monkey Temple reproduces in the above poem. If you are unfamiliar with Macarroni Latin and have had the good fortune to have avoided both grammar and boarding schools, just read the Latin normally in English and you will establish its Macarronic meaning.
Dressed to the nines in their gala outfits,
they have come here for the tea party.
they waddle back and forth
across the temple,
then lunge for a table
with its jumbo shrimp,
scallops, baked oysters.
Faces slashed from ear to ear
by enormous grins, “Food’s free!” they say
and stuff themselves
regardless of the consequences.
Serviettes tucked into collars,
they scoff lobster and crab.
Birds of Paradise,
flown in from half a world away,
decorate the tables.
There is something about them,
gripping cup handles
between finger and thumb,
enormously pleased to be
the centre of attention,
however clumsily they walk
in their hired-for-the -occasion,
ill-fitting, black and whte
A swift death
was never their style,
the cobras, the vipers,
the adders and subtractors,
the bean counters and snatchers,
the diminutive dudes.
They prefer death
their poison dart
or Chinese Water Torture,
the slow drip after drip
of poison inserted into ears
and veins, a drop at a time,
and slowly gathering …
… until their victim slows down,
ceases to struggle,
stands there, eyes open,
unable to move,
poisoned and paralysed.
Comment: with all the exciting things that are happening concerning my new poetry writing, I forgot all about my monkeys. It seems they have been bouncing up and down, fretting in their cages, bounding all over the ruined, broken-down temple, poor little blighters. Apparently, on their last visit to the rest of Bristol Zoo, they left the big snakes and decided to visit the little, poisonous ones. I guess they didn’t like them at all. Does anyone? I hope there are no ‘snakes in the grass’ near you, and I don’t mean grass snakes. And watch out for snake charmers, some of those snakes believe more in harm than charms.
PS Let me know if you want a voice text. I haven’t recorded this one yet.
Tanya Cliff, author of The Legend of the Lumenstones, is a very good friend and a skillful author whose books are well-worth reading. This book is highly recommended. Click below for a link to her page and a review of The Legend ….
LJ sat at a table in a dark corner of the Bistro. He held a plastic bag in his hands and moved what looked like dried brown fava beans, one by one, through his fingers. A priest at prayer, his lips moved in a silent mantra as he counted the beans: “… twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine.”
Robin and Will watched him closely, looking for the tell-tale signs that would announce LJ’s return to his former life.
Same-sex couples danced through the Bistro. They avoided this one corner that formed an oasis of severity amidst the gaiety and noise of Carnival celebrations.
“How much does he remember?” Robin looked at Will. Will shrugged and the two men exchanged worried glances.
A whooping conga of men dressed in garish, feathered costumes that revealed more than they concealed, approached the table where the three friends sat. The conga came to a stop in front of them.
“Now what have we here?” The leader asked. He turned to his followers flashing a white, toothy smile.
“Let’s see what you’ve got, darling,” he reached towards LJ’s plastic bag.
“Don’t touch him,” said Robin, rising to his feet.
Three large men broke away from the line and two grasped Robin while the third put his arms on Will’s shoulders and held him in his chair.
“I’m warning you,” Robin said.
“Shut it,” said the leader.
LJ closed the plastic bag that held the twenty-nine fava beans and put it in is breast pocket, next to his heart.
“Don’t put them away, darling, they look delicious,” the leader grinned his enormous grin. He was a big man, not tall, but broad and heavy. “Give them to me, I want to eat one. C’mon, I’ll just pop it in my mouth and suck it.”
The Conga crowd roared their approval.
LJ got to his feet. He was a small man, but wiry. The night-fighter, they had called him. He was the one who slipped out at night through enemy lines and knifed the sentries. One hand over their mouths, one hand on his knife, all sounds extinguished till they relaxed, lifeless, then that one quick twist of the knife and the ear-lobe severed as the dead man was lowered to the floor.
“Wanna dance?” The conga leader wiggled his hips and ran his tongue over his lips, then puckered a little kiss.
LJ’s face turned red, the veins engorged, and his eyes stood out. Nobody saw him move, nobody ever saw LJ move. He grasped the Conga leader’s windpipe with his left hand and drew him forward until they were locked eyeball to eyeball. LJ’s night-fighter knife lay flat across the man’s jugular.
“LJ, no,” Robin screamed. “Not number thirty.”
LJ kept staring at the man he held. His knife disappeared.
“You’re not worthy,” he said, leering into the Conga leader’s purpling face. “You’d dishonor them.”
Will and Robin breathed a sigh of relief.
Comment: Bistro is the title story in a collection of short stories and flash fiction. Bistro, the book, was one of three finalists (and the only self-published book) in the New Brunswick Book Awards (Fiction, 2017). Bistro (the collection) is available on Amazon. The sound recording below is my own reading of the story and the opening cartoon, Belle Bottom Naval Gazing, is the picture on the cover of Bistro, the book. It is also my own work.