The Gallery

Footsteps pass in front of them first, the workers:

the milkmaid carrying two urns of milk under a glowing moon,

the farmer leading his cows down to the river, burning in the heat of the rising sun,

the watchful shepherd, shivering, hungering, and waiting.

Through the glass doors, the girl stares from under fifteen layers of petticoats,

curious as to the events taking place on the other side.

Her brother scorns her, young though he is, knowing that their role is in this room,

talking to the old man and woman whose powdered faces lead them to an early grave –

they all look down their nose at the glass doors.

The dog by the girl’s feet yaps, yearning to break free and paddle in the untamed stream

that passes through the workers, sick of the neatly trimmed grass

being the only outside beneath his paws.

These huge oil figures are immortalised apart,

destined for years of separate rooms, seperate lives,

no matter where their gazes may lead.

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Angel Wings

‘Congratulations to the graduating class 203!’ The angel that had taught us everything we needed to know to be guardian angels stood in front of the waiting crowd, basking in their cheer. From where we stood at the side of the stage, I couldn’t see a single space for anyone else to cram themselves into.

Alicia grabbed my hand and squeezed it, and I smiled at them, trying to appear reassuring and naturally cringing away from the sweat pooling between our palms.

‘After a rigorous training program, these students have risen to the occasion, and have now earned their wings!’

Alicia looked at the wings on their back, red and black striped with ‘training’ plastered across them. ‘What if my wings look ridiculous?’ They chewed on her lower lip as they whispered, muffling everything they said.

‘I have been to every graduation since I could toddle around, and that has never happened. You’ll be fine.’

They screwed up their mouth and frowned. Before they had a chance to respond, our teacher began to call names.

Alicia was first, and their training wings disappeared with a flash. Left in their place were blinding white feathers that stretched from their neck to their lower back. Everyone cheered as they blushed, their innocence proudly on display. Nathaniel followed, and they roared as their wings flamed behind them. Nor’s strut was rewarded with glistening peacock feathers, Danni got peach pink wings that sparkled, and Greg got red racing stripes down black feathers.

My name was called, and I stepped on to the stage, ears ringing. I knelt down on cue and closed my eyes. I felt my training wings changing, morphing on my back. I waited a second before opening my eyes for the cheer that had followed everyone else’s transformations. The room remained silent.

I opened my eyes and looked around to see wide eyes and slackened jaws. I turned my head away from the mirror and reached up to feel the feathers, but the range of textures and sizes I felt only confused me more. Turning to the mirror, I saw an amalgamation of feathers; different sizes, colours, and designs sticking out at such different angles I couldn’t take it all in. I looked for Alicia, hoping for some reassurance, but they just stood with their hand over their mouth, eyes wide.

I looked up at my teacher, whose face was ashen. They made a motion with their hand for me to leave the stage, as they clapped and cheered. The audience half-heartedly joined in, and then began murmuring as soon as I was out of their sight.

Alicia had their arms outstretched for a hug. I walked straight up to them, wrapping my arms around them and putting my head on their shoulder.

‘It’s going to be okay,’ they said, squeezing me tight.

‘I look like an idiot,’ I said. The tears found their way free of my eyes and soaked into Alicia’s jumper.

‘Come on.’ Alicia broke the hug, took me by the hand and led me away from the stares and the whispers.

 

I couldn’t escape the weird looks no matter where I went. Word had got around about the disastrous ceremony, and the wings weren’t exactly easy to cover up. It wasn’t so much the looks or the muttering that I minded, it was what the wings said about me. Why were my wings, the things that were supposed to reflect my soul, so disgusting to look at?

Alicia was the best friend I could have asked for, staying by my side whenever they could, and helping to distract me. Whenever we had a spare moment, we sat in the library and tried to find out if there was any way that I could change my wings.

It was on one of these research sessions that I just gave up. ‘There’s no point anymore, Alicia. We’re going to get assigned to our protectees in two days, so I’m just going to have to get on with what I’ve been given.’ I gestured to my wings, but Alicia was ignoring me, their finger sliding over the pages of the book in their hand. ‘Alicia, I said give up.’

‘Hold on, I think I’ve found something.’

I sighed, preparing for some nonsense about wing transplants.

They closed the book, holding their finger inside it to bookmark the page. ‘Close your eyes. Put all of your energy and focus into your wings.’

I did as they said, muttering under my breath about how stupid and futile this all was. ‘Alright, now what?’

‘Think of doves, and only doves.’

I did as she said, thinking of flying doves and letting them cover my mind’s eye.

I heard Alicia squeal. ‘It worked!’

‘What worked?’ My eyes flew open and I tried to look at my wings. My hand stretched behind my back and instead of the mess that my fingers had found before, my hand was met with smooth, soft wings, all carefully arranged to point the same way. ‘How…’

Alicia opened the book and showed me the page. ‘You have chameleon wings! Pretty rare, super cool, you can change them into whatever you want them to look like.’

‘Anything?’

They looked back to the book. ‘Anything made of feathers, it seems. It’s weird, now that you have your proper wings it makes perfect sense. You do tend to blend with any situation you’re in.’

‘Um, thanks?’

‘It’s a good thing! Anyway, no-one realised because chameleons are super rare, and the wing granting ceremony usually gives them whatever wings they think they should have. Look, it explains it all right here.’ Alicia pointed to a paragraph about halfway down the page, and I took the book off them and started reading the passage.

‘What do I do now then? Do I have to tell anyone about this?’

‘I guess you would have to tell whoever is in charge of assignments – they assign you based on whatever place’s idea of angels, in case you’re seen.’ Alicia moved in front of me and gently closed the book over my hands. ‘But for now,’ they said, eyebrows wiggling with mischief, ‘I reckon we can just have some fun with it. After all, you need to know the limits of your power before you use it, right?’

‘You do have a point.’ I grinned, put the book down, and focused on transforming my wings into the most ridiculous things I could for the next three hours, having the most fun I could remember having for a long time, happy to finally be able to celebrate who I was.

Under the customer service smile

The clock on my car

(which is always seven minutes fast)

tells me that I am three minutes late

and I sigh

the click of my seatbelt unfastening

making my heart flutter and thrum. A new day

in this hellscape begins.

The next time I get in this car, I will be

exhausted, probably

will not have eaten for ten hours,

and have been standing up for

just as long, and unless

my boss has had her 9am pinot grigio,

will probably have been yelled at at least twice.

The gravel slips under my feet

I sneak a glance through the window,

I don’t see them,

I am relieved, for a second.

I greet my colleague, who is clearly high, again,

greet the chef, already busy chopping –

he inhales his way to an early grave regularly

in pursuit of five minutes of peace.

We all brace when the boss walks in,

wanting to be a victim of just a patronising word

and a smile, rather than face her full wrath.

I give a rueful smile to the regulars in for lunch who say ‘it must be wonderful

to work here.’ I clock out

at half past six, stomach growling, head misting,

and drive home along roads stained with tears.

© Alyx Hurst 2017

Rapunzel

The bottom step is a barrier

Her boundary with the outside world.

I watch her every day, she stops

On that last step

As one would were they leaving somewhere very dear to them.

 

She waits for around ten minutes

Before a screech emanates from inside the hotel

(Difficult to hear, unless you focus

On the panic that transforms her face

As she runs back up the steps.)

 

Today is summer, and the breeze blows, gently

Lifting the curtain at the window

And the edge of her dress,

it floats up to expose her knee.

Traffic – and life – goes on.

 

But each day I stop.

Observe. Take a second.

Look at the world the way

I think she does. The bright grey

Of the outside, ripe for exploration.

 

So entranced is she that I notice

A cat, black from nose tip to tail,

Slink past her, into the hotel.

I wish him luck, and that he may

Leave more freely than she.

Find a cosy room.

 

I see in her face – just for an instant –

A flash of uncertainty. Surely she sees

How easily she could step down

Off the step, past her boundary,

And join the rest of us here, in the ever moving present.

 

Just as she raises her toes, right on cue,

Comes the screech. I hear it through

The fear that spreads across her face as she turns,

Runs back up the steps, back inside,

Her dreams of rebellion put away again, left for another day.

 

A recent task in creative writing was to write a poem inspired by a painting by Edward Thomas, to demonstrate the ekphrasis that we were learning about in our poetry lectures in a more hands on way. I chose his painting Summertime. I was intrigued by the woman in the painting lingering where she did, and this is what came of that intrigue.

 

I would recommend trying to write a poem from this sort of inspiration, as it was really interesting to see how so many of us in the class interpreted the same painting in so many different ways, despite being asked the same questions.