J.S. Watts has been widely published as a poet and novelist. Her books include: Old Light (novel), Vagabondage Press – ISBN 978- 1946050205; Witchlight (novel), Vagabondage Press – ISBN 9780692406908; A Darker Moon (novel), Vagabondage Press – ISBN 9780615706528; Cats and Other Myths (poetry), Lapwing Publications – ISBN 9781907276644; Songs of Steelyard Sue (poetry), Lapwing Publications – ISBN 9781909252028: NOMINATED for BOTH SFPA and Saboteur Awards Best Poetry Pamphlet 2013; Years Ago You Coloured Me (poetry), Lapwing Publications – ISBN 9781910855157; The Submerged Sea (poetry), Dempsey & Windle – ISBN 9781907435591.
Things Not to Do
Some of these things I have done. Some I haven’t. All of them I have been told not to do, at one time or another. Although, some of the following are lies.
Flaunt myself. Smile. Look miserable. Be fat. Be bossy. Be a blue stocking. Come across as too knowledgeable. Be lazy. Be boring. Be a party pooper. Be too pushy. Be flippant. Ignore housework. Ignore personal depilation. Mention I’m bleeding. Admit I bleed at all. Confront things, people, obvious untruths.
Begin a story with a dream. Eat cheese before going to bed. Take risks on Friday the thirteenth. Spill salt. Kiss a black cat, however lovely. Sleep with married men. Sleep with a married woman (well, no, actually I’ve never been told not to do that). Tell lies. Write. Create poetry that does not rhyme, scan or have appropriate line breaks (see what I’ve done there?). Break through the fourth wall. End stories with a revelation that it’s all been a dream.
I could tell you this is nothing but an extended dream, but who dreams lists? And if it is a dream, where’s the revelation, the secret, hidden, bleeding heart, raw and exposed, skin peeled and pulled back, that talks only in bloody truths. Salted and licked by a surreptitious but very beautiful black cat on a Friday, the thirteenth day of the month, the crucial and talkative muscle discloses all there is to write about an adulterous love affair with a man, or a woman, that almost certainly doesn’t involve cheese.
Less dream perhaps, more random, instructional nightmare about things I have been told not to do. Some of which I have not done. Some of which I have.
© J.S. Watts
Self Portrait With Cold
The pale canvas frames me.
semolina pudding skin
run-down red berry spots.
Nose flesh throbbing strawberry.
Sick, unwell, a recognisable sketch,
simple if unappealing.
Under the surface, being not well
is a complex recipe
of confluences and absences.
A raw unreachable rasp clings
to the grated edges of the throat.
Sour treacle bubbles
behind leaded eyes,
a snot-dammed nostril.
Salt-stained, heat-drenched meat
frays at every touch.
Dry grass scratches across pink,
tinted eyes, eye-sockets
sting from aching.
Insulating felt, the heavy grey industrial kind,
wraps tightly inside
a vice-clamped skull
keeping reason out.
So closely swaddled, old walnut wizened brain,
perspective has no room to breathe.
Thoughts skit and flutter
round perception’s edge.
The brain-nut lacks the agility
to see or recognise
let alone catch or
translate them towards meaning.
Strength turns into memory,
memory turns to temporary,
temporary cedes to forever.
Four walls locked together
framing the world.
© J.S. Watts
A Game of Russian Roulette
I thought I saw him then, gun smoke outline,
back in 1917, or maybe 1912.
Years blasted into the tattered bark of history
for ostensibly different reasons, heavier and harder
and with a higher body count than what he did
or didn’t almost do.
Uncertainty is the important shifting thing.
An inconsequential click in an empty chamber.
A hollow laugh. An empty grave-pit thud.
After ’37 the sound grew louder
as the act claimed itself a name,
a greasy repetition in the echo of others
triggered by reasons of their own. Perhaps
they glimpsed something through the dark of his eye,
a thing he knew or half-heartedly and uncertainly surmised.
Life itself is one huge game of chance
played in variable shades of red and black.
Do you die today or bleed tomorrow?
What odds on any one spermatazoan race?
Which white bullet, if any, hits the target?
How will the DNA fall as it twists its line?
We called them one-armed bandits, back in the day.
The years the casino appears to favour you
are matched by the decades when it doesn’t.
Doors exclusively barred in frustration’s tensioned face
are sometimes thrown wide to invite
the world and its snack munching partner to the tables.
If his number had not been called
he’d possibly recognise the incalculable odds of 2020.
Who gets the virus is just the opening shuffle.
Do you get it mild or black armband bad?
So you survived the first dose, assuming you had it.
Do you know? Will you transcend the second?
History’s bark is a pockmarked raw and bleeding spring.
Daily we scrutinise the rising numbers
without comprehending the unknown odds.
Flailing our exposed vulnerabilities,
white rooted and woodenly unresponsive,
in the icy fluidity of future will-one-day-be truths,
we proclaim heroes to fight to a maybe death on our behalf,
but this is no war. It’s just a loaded game.
In the nano-second between the clench and the click
when all bets are off and possibilities balanced
we need to remember –
in the end, the house always wins.
© J.S. Watts