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Folkloric by Nicholas Starkey

Nicholas Starkey writes on a fresh way of thinking about fore in the everyday in ‘Folkloric’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

It doesn’t need to be
Thinking about mirrors and windows
Of civilisation that hopefully hundreds
Know about already,
But are too polite to tell it;
Or Indian Fairies as they
Frolic through weeds of despair;
Or a farm of famous animals,
Some more famous than others,
Although that kind of farm is great;
Or even the weed growing into the tree
That sees all and knows all
Evil, like an omniscient manager of funds;
Or even a multi-conglomerate empire
Allegorised as a jungle –
It doesn’t need to be this
To be folkloric.

It can be
Listening to police sirens
Vaguely in the distance,
Thinking about the crime of someone else
As you go about your day;
Walking like a limp straw of emotion,
Congratulating friends, congregating
In essence, an ecstatic epilogue for their endeavours;
Or thinking about the uniformity of religion,
Like Stephen Dedalus favours it not;
Or sucking out the poison of
Commercialisation in literary climax
So as to make your work original; or
Languishing in interest in anything
Other than your own well-being as a
Sane delusional, same-old pinnacle of human specimen;
Or even eating toast and bread together as one,
Butter and jam, wheat and burnt sandwich, and
Drinking the lumps of orange juice
To feel something;
Or even thinking of those children
In Spender’s slum-poem, who
Need to be thought of most of all,
For they have a bleak future, which
As Spender points out, is laden with lead sky;
Or even lighting a cigarette in the morning,
And coming to conclusive and depressive thought
About the negativity of your health,
But the smoke feels so good;
Smoking like a feeling,
Freely, erasing care,
Listening out again,
Looking to hear the sirens once more,
So as to imagine the crime again,
Wondering what it was that had been committed,
It is this feeling that takes hold,
Returning to the scene of the crime,
Excited to see what you’ll find,
Walking about like Holden
From The Catcher In The Rye –
This too,
Can be folkloric.

Read this while listening to ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ by Bob Dylan.


Nicholas Daniel Starkey is a fourth year English student at the University of Strathclyde. He enjoys reading James Joyce, Alasdair Gray, Virginia Woolf and Stephen Spender. He also enjoys listening to The Strokes and The Velvet Underground.


All that I do when I write is write what I think, exactly as I think it, enjoy myself as I write, and then look over what I have written and question why I have written it. That way, I know that what I have written has meaning. This poem was no exception.

Tribute to Music by Starla DeKruyf

Starla DeKruyf writes on music’s profound ability to evoke emotion and transport you to a different time and place in ‘Tribute to Music’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

The electrifying sound vibrates, originating in ears and dancing through the entire soul. It creeps underneath anticipating skin like a welcomed constant static. It transmits a thrumming in depths, guiding eyes to close and bodies to sway. The allowance of the titillation transports to a different time, a different place. Vivid memories, tasting luscious, and sweet. Lighthearted and unyielding.

Bare toes tapping on hot dashboards while humid wind whips through hair. A jovial hand creating waves out the window. Laboring with dry dirt underneath fingertips and glistening sweat coating upper lips. Naked limbs intertwined and sweltering breath on youthful skin. Rhythm and steps in time—smiles and laughter.

Expelling to a dark time. Alone and pathetic. Aching heart—tortured and warped. It’s a melancholic sensation fresh in awareness, the old scarring crisp and raw. Transferring to a carefree time—intoxicated, walking on air, and celebratory. It conceives a desire to be resolute and courageous.

The intonation permeates bones, bleeding into veins. An unending yearning, tenderness, and fervor. The endless passion is present and organic, expressed in diversified styles and appreciation. An active necessity of breath, pulse, and existence.

Read this while listening to ‘Iris’ by The Goo Goo Dolls.


Starla DeKruyf lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband, three kids, an English Mastiff, and a rescue pup. She studied at Long Ridge Writers Group and is a member of her local chapter of ‘Shut Up and Write’. She’s an emerging writer of varying works, such as novel-length fiction, poetry published in Moonchild magazine, and short stories published in the first zine put out by ‘Shut Up and Write’.


Music has always been a big part of my life. Sometimes listening to music evokes the words to flow in my writing and other times my emotions are too vast to explain, and I rely on music to soothe me. I wrote this piece to describe how music makes me feel, as well as how it has the power to transport you to a different time and place, regardless of past, present, or fantasy.

Trying by Craig Lamont

Craig Lamont writes on conception through an almost-clean window into ordinary life with all the hints of love and pain in ‘Trying’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

One night as the sun was setting I imagined the old spires of Glasgow as the swords of knights in procession. Snaking in towards the town centre from the west I kept my eye on the Merchant Steeple, drawing me in towards the din and bustle. It wasn’t just the buildings. The names and dates gave it a life; a line you could trace. 

I wanted to put my finger on the line and see where it took me. 

The traffic slowed to a crawl and I remembered that Charlotte had made plans for the night. I was already running late. I inched closer to the brake lights in front of me, reached for my phone. The siren of a police bike blaring past made me jump. The music on the radio gave way to a chirpy newsreader relaying the huge delay on the M74, caused by an accident at a merge. The drone of a low helicopter approached from behind and in my rear-view mirror the river of traffic was thickening.  

Charlotte was never one for chasing you if you were late or making you feel bad for forgetting things. She had a way of accepting small disappointments over the years. It’s not that she stored them somewhere for safe-keeping. I could tell from the look in her eyes that she wasn’t building in her mind a cellar of message-in-a-bottle type resentments. Her look revealed something much less typical, more painful. It showed that she was letting her thoughts and worries grow deep enough to handle the small things as a sum total. 

When I made it through the traffic I tried my best not to gaze at the accident. A white 4×4 completely on its back like an upturned beetle. The bodywork was in a hell of a state, dented and scratched all over. One of the doors was actually off, lying on the road, at the end of a scrape trail. There were large, respectable gaps between all the cars in front and behind. Everyone slowed down further—under the guise of a respectable speed—to watch. With one last peek at the mirror I saw a policeman holding a small thing in a blanket close to his chest at the safe side of his car. He was patting it gently, mouthing something over and over.  

When I got home I could smell the coconut and lavender of Charlotte’s bath. In the living room the TV was paused on an advert for weed killer. I sat down with my jacket on and felt the motivation to do anything else fade completely. 

‘Do you want me to do your back?’ I shouted through eventually. 

A few splashes. ‘If you want.’ 

‘Traffic,’ I said, kneeling down beside the bath. ‘Nightmare.’

‘I can’t be bothered going out anyway.’ 


‘Traffic bad?’

‘Yeah. There was an accident. Police everywhere.’


‘Yeah.’ I massaged some soapy stuff onto her back and rinsed it off slowly. When we were younger I would already be in the bath with her. ‘Wine?’ I asked. 

‘Soon,’ she said. ‘I need painkillers first, and I’ve not ate.’

‘Sorry, yeah. Want me to put something on?’

‘It’s okay, I’ll get it. I’ve got soup.’


‘Can I have the towel up?’

When I reached for the white bath towel I remembered the wee bundle the traffic cop was holding. The reality of it was only sinking in and I felt my soul swell up, but I didn’t mention it. 

I poured myself a whisky and put on the sports news. I dropped two ice-cold stones into the glass to chill the Ardmore without diluting the taste. They came from a wee island off the west coast, the same place they get the stones for curling. A footballer I’d never heard of had been bought up for nearly £100m. He had his Instagram name shaved into his hair. He’d be retired and sitting on a beach by the time he was my age. 

I heard Charlotte blow-drying her hair in the bedroom. I wondered what we’d watch tonight. What we’d not talk about. I wondered about that wee island. I wondered if it was getting smaller over the years and if they’d have to stop mining it. 

With the bars open again we’d promised to make a night of it at least once a week for as long as we were trying. It had been over a year. The doctors had tested us both and they were almost certain the blockage was at my end. Apparently my body was producing antibodies to protect me from my own sperm. It was a flaw in my immune system, they said. Rare, but treatable if confirmed. It could be a very lengthy process, they said, and the tests never turned out as conclusive as they’d have liked. ‘Keep trying,’ they told us. ‘It can’t harm your chances.’ 

I could see the hope in her eyes desaturate. In certain lights her eyes are green, blue in others. But recently they’d taken on a piercing grey. It was mesmerising, daunting, and somehow nostalgic. I put it down to our recent attempt at keeping a strictly candle-lit house. We’d joke with friends about saving money on electricity but in truth it was a last-ditch attempt at textbook romance. 

I went to light the candles on the fireplace. 

A picture of me and my dad on holiday. I was about six or seven (he still had his hair). I had always prided myself on being like my mum (calm, laid-back, sociable), and so I had never really noticed how similar we looked. I scratched my head, looked as close into his eyes as the old photograph would allow. He was holding me up on his tanned shoulders, the glint of his gold cross around his neck catching the sun. My mum must have taken the picture. 

Charlotte came into the room.

‘I love that photo.’

I turned round.

‘It’s the only one of just you two.’

‘Is it?’

She came closer. The scents of the bath oils and the candles clung around her. She put the glass of wine she was holding onto the fireplace and took the photo from me. Her eyes fell down onto it and I could see them filling up.

‘Do you know what really gets me?’ she said.


‘No-one ever tells you how hard this can be.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘This.’ she said, as if it was obvious. ‘Everything, all of it. At our age.’ 


‘The pressure. People change, look at you differently.’

I put my arm on her bare shoulder.

‘I mean,’ she said, ‘our parents just did life. It just happened to them. We’re struggling to even plan one.’

‘I know.’ 

‘You’re a lot like your dad in this.’

‘You think?’

‘Yeah. The double.’ She took my hand and put it on the nape of her neck. A breeze came in from the open window, prickling my skin. 

With one motion I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and kissed her. Again. 

I don’t remember being so much as an inch apart from her for the rest of that night. 

Read this while listening to ‘Non Prophets’ by The Cure.


Craig Lamont is an academic and writer working at the University of Glasgow. Besides Craig’s research specialisms are Scottish Literature and cultural memory. Before his PhD on ‘Georgian Glasgow’ Craig completed a Masters in Creative Writing. He writes short stories mostly.


A lot of my stories have similar titles: ‘Smoking’, ‘Flitting’ etc. I didn’t have a title for this piece, it was actually part of a longer work (a novel, which I almost finished but lost direction with). I went through it and rescued some of the best moments, revised them, and turned them into short stories. It is with short stories where (I think) I’m most effective. Since this one centres around conception, and the fear of not being able to have children, the title ‘Trying’ came naturally. Above all, I hope this story reads like an almost-clean window into ordinary life, with all the hints of love and pain on show for all to see, but with that little smudge of obscurity we need in good writing. 

Fairy by Caoimhín de Paor

Caoimhín de Paor writes on Irish folklore and malevolent creatures in the home in ‘Fairy’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

The cries were wretched. 

Gráinne struggled in the soldier’s arms as they tied her mother to one of the trunks in the circle of trees. She looked so frail then, reaching toward Gráinne, her arms thin like branches. She looked like she belonged among the trees, her smile a gouge in the wood. The congregation was shouting. Their raised torches crackled, spitting hungry flames. Above it all, her mother’s screams circled them. Halfway between anguish and laughter.

The Constable stepped forward and read from a paper decree, in English. His voice was dispassionate.

‘Eilís Ní Thuama. For the crimes of blasphemy and witchcraft, you have been found guilty, and are hereby sentenced to death.’ That was all he gave to the gathered. He nodded to the soldiers, who set their torches to the ring of trees.

Gráinne cried silently, beating her fists into the red coat of the soldier, who restrained her until there was nothing she could save. They left her in the dirt and she stayed there until the sunrise found her, kneeling before the burnt carcasses of the trees.


Gráinne awoke, sitting up in the night. She clutched the blanket to her chest, feeling it soaked through with sweat.

She had been woken by something; a sound, escaping from a dream. It echoed through the room around her. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness. Deep moonlight filtered through the net curtain, painting the room in shades of blue.

She peeled back a corner of the curtain and looked outside. The moonlight etched the yard: the stone walls, the clothes line, and the cattle shed at the far end. Inside, the cattle were calling out in wild noises, noises she had never heard, never conceived that animals could make. Their cries overlapped endlessly, high into the night.

Gráinne lowered her feet onto the cold stone and left the bed, rubbing her eyes. In the kitchen the last cinders of the fire waned softly into ash. She must not have been asleep for long. She found the lantern on the table and struck a match to it. The single flame did little to brighten the stone walls. She took down her coat and pulled on her boots, but hesitated at the front door. Instead she looked into Roisín’s bedroom, through the narrow gap in the door. Roisín was asleep still, her tiny body making a landscape out of the blanket.

‘Go gcoinní Dia i mbos A láimhe thú.’ Gráinne muttered, absentmindedly made a quick sign of the cross. The makeshift prayer her mother had taught her, to ward off the bad spirits. May God keep you in the hollow of his hand. She meant it as thanks, but she thought too of her mother. She had been sentenced a week ago. The loss was raw still as it had been that night.

Outside the night was bitter. Cold found its way beneath her coat and constricted her muscles. The cows were crying harder now. She swore she could see the shed cladding rattle. She felt hollowed with fear, but pressed on across the yard. The soil was slick and she almost went over, her lantern swaying wildly as she caught herself. Dangerous shadows danced back and forth.

She came to the shed and reached out for the latch. The ground shook as though the cattle were trampling in their pens, their cries reaching an unbearable height. She remembered her mother’s laughter as she burned. She thought she could hear it then, among the cattle’s screams. Flakes of rust came away at her fingertips as the bolt slid back, and the shed gate swung open. Gráinne brought the lamp up to the darkness, and –

– the crying stopped. 

The cattle were silent and still. They were all standing in their pens, fixing her with their beady eyes, reflecting the light. They didn’t make a sound. Gráinne’s fear turned to embarrassment. As though she had inconvenienced them. She walked slowly past their pens, feeling their eyes follow her. She crouched down and reached through the bars of one. Her finger tips ran gently through a cow pat, carving out a scar in the dung. The animal watched her silently.

She backed up and closed the gate quietly. The cattle were all still watching her, until they were locked in the darkness again. She crossed toward the cottage, walking backward to keep the shed in view, looking for any sign of a disturbance. She expected it to come alive with nightmarish cries again, but all remained still and calm. The wind in the trees sounded like rain.

She paused then, halfway across the yard, to look east. There in the neighbouring fields was the circle of charred trees. Without them, the field seemed barren in the moonlight. Though far away, she could see the ruins of unnatural black bark. It looked as though the night was drawn out from them. 

She stepped back inside, closing the cottage door behind her, and froze. There, in the middle of the kitchen, stood Roisín. Her little frame was traced in the lamp light. She was staring off into the dark corner of the room, where the light of the lantern did not reach. Gráinne felt a true terror then. She could not bring herself to look upon it.

‘Roisín?’ she whispered, loud as she dared, keeping her eyes firmly on her sister. Roisín did not answer, still as a stone. Grainne inched closer, reaching out with her soiled hand.

‘Roisín!’ Gráinne tried again desperately. Her sister looked at her then, snapping out of a trance. Gráinne seized her by the shoulder, and rushed them through into her bedroom. She shut her door behind them. 

‘Mam?’ Roisín whimpered, confused, rubbing her eyes.

‘It’s me, Gráinne.’ She reassured her. She bent down, face to face with her. There were tears in her sister’s eyes, glistening in the lamp light. Gráinne smeared a line of the drying dung down Roisín’s forehead, muttering her mother’s prayer.

‘Go gcoinní Dia… i mbos A láimhe thú.’ She drew another line. The sign of the cross. She quickly did the same for herself, repeating the prayer, then lifted Roisín onto her bed and lay beside her. She hoisted the blanket above them and they huddled together, shaking with fear.

She heard skittering claws, grating across the stone floor on the other side of the wall. She could not move but to hold Roisín closer, covering her sister’s mouth, and to clutch the blanket tighter above her head. The claws came to the bedroom door, and she heard the creak as it opened. 

Time might have stood still in that darkness, if not for their hearts beating. Through the thin blanket Gráinne could see the outline of the frail figure, reaching toward her, its arms thin like branches. Desperate to touch them, but it could not.

How long passed like this, Gráinne could not know. Eventually, the sunrise found them, and the world outside the blanket brightened. She lowered it slightly, mustering enough courage to peak over its edge. Then she sat up.

They lay in the circle of the burned trees.

Read this while listening to ‘Attestupan’ by Bobby Krlic.


Caoimhín is a geology graduate from Cork, Ireland based in Edinburgh. He works primarily with flash fiction, short stories and visual poetry. He can be found online @ kevinjuly.


Fairy is heavily inspired by Irish folklore, where fairies are malevolent creatures, especially upon any intrusion or damage to their homes. They can adopt any form, often the image of those closest to you. When colonial forces destroy the nearby fairy fort and take her mother, Gráinne finds herself with a newly inherited motherhood, and dangerous entities all around.

A Mermaid Returns to the Sea by Jenny Lester

Jenny Lester writes on rape culture, transphobia, the climate crisis and elemental women in ‘A Mermaid Returns to the Sea’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

It’s tough to be a mermaid in the bath.
The taps dig in to my fin
My tail doesn’t quite fit
The water doesn’t move without me
And I can’t move like I could in the sea.
My voice has no echo through currents here

My skin longs for the kiss of salt
The taste of wind
I miss that dark abyss
I’m displaced and thinned and remiss

But I know that I need this

The unkindness of the ocean
chased me from my home, to hiding
A kraken-sized beast rests
Writhing beneath the surface

Its face plastic, ‘Smile’ it says
Its lips oil spills, ‘where are you going, love?’
Ice melts and swells, ‘Hey I’m talking to you’

The cat called for fishes and I found myself on their plate.
Through my cheek a hook, a line,
Sink Her.
Gut the fish and eat her.

We resist, some frozen in stillness
But they persist
More hooks, and lines, more broken tales.

Each of my sisters has a story to sing of such a soul stolen from us.
Until the ocean I once knew is filled with empty ghosts.
Each coral reef a remembrance wreath
I knew I needed a break from this space.
An escape so

I left

Wrung the hopes out my hair
Ripped the shells from my scalp
Peeled scales from skin
Let flesh creep over my gills
Let air breathe in –


Cocooned in porcelain

Until I can find the sharpness I need
To cut myself open at the neck
Let it all stream out
Salt and blood.
Return to the sea
To the battle I know it will be
Newly cut gills sting
But I will return to sing
From the heart
They will not
Drown me out.

Read this while listening to ‘Breathe Easy’ by Rachel Sermanni.


Jenny is an Edinburgh based poet, feminist activist, Gaelic learner and D&D player. This year she won the Glasgow Women’s Library Digital Slam. She has previously been published by BBC The Social and Lies, Dreaming. She has performed at various nights across Scotland, including: Loud Poets, Inky Fingers, She Grrrowls, and the BBC Edinburgh Fringe Slam. She organises International Women’s Day poetry events and has created a zine of her poem Ode to the Clitoris which you can buy directly from her or independent bookshops Lighthouse and Typewronger.


I wrote this poem in response to the prompt ‘Elemental Women’ for the Glasgow Women’s Library digital poetry slam.

I find it very difficult to relax in a bath. My mind just starts making lists of all the things I have to do. I prefer to swim to relax, it gives me something to focus on.

The voice of the poem is restless, tired and defiant. It is about knowing you need a break, but finding it hard to have one. It is about rape culture, transphobia, and the climate crisis and how much fighting these things can take from you. It is about feeling surrounded and overwhelmed by these issues; feeling powerless to do anything about them. But, after some respite, deciding to do something anyway.

This piece was first published during Glasgow Women’s Library’s digital poetry slam at Open the Door 2020.

Hove by Andrés N Ordorica

Andrés N Ordorica explores the blurred lines of experiencing life in the present whilst imagining how it will be remembered in the future in ‘Hove’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

We are on a train. You and I. Heading in one direction in unison, but you are facing backwards, and I am facing our destination head on. These have become our roles. You, comfortable with the unknown, and me, the one who needs to be in the know.

You are trusting of the universe’s will. You always have been. I must, however, be prepared for what could come. I have never been at ease with a life unplanned. I must account for what probably won’t happen. But, if it did, I will have a plan. These are our differing personalities. It is only a train ride but to someone who knows us it reveals everything about how we exist as a unit.

So, as you sit with cerulean light adorning you from a computer screen, I sit watching you. I often am watching you. You used to tell me how my watchful gaze intimidated you. This was early on in our relationship which was many lifetimes ago. As I take you in, you tell of political news that is of great interest and importance to you. You have always been this way; someone with a distinct understanding of what is right and wrong. You list off the names of MPs and secretaries, people who for a moment of my life exist within our shared space. These names and laws and opinions will sit at the back of my mind. 

I will go about my life as normal but now and again these things will come up. When watching the news or reading a broadsheet, I will remember how you were the first one to share their names with me. I will think of you and the white face painted blue. How you explained how you wanted to be part of the change and how you wanted me to be part of it as well. How you believed that I could create waves and be a changemaker. In my mind, you will be remembered as the master and I the pupil. My call to action. My revolution. This is all happening before me, but already I am planning how I will remember it all.

Out the window green is melding into other colours of the landscape as we zip down to the seaside. That is where we are going today. Announcements are made over the intercom. Such interesting sounding English towns and cities. Hove? Hove is a word that perplexes me. Origins of nautical yesteryears. Heave, ho, heave, hove? It brings to mind images of muscular seafarers battling storms and crushing waves, pulling ropes and manoeuvring sails, all the while praying that Neptune will be forgiving. 

I envisage a bright city on the coast, but today it will not be bright. Too early for summer brightness, so instead I will see it as grey, shades of grey painted over Regency architecture. But I will go on to misremember it in yellows and bright blues (for that I already know). I will remember heat adorning us. Will you remember that? Will you remember our rented room of whites and crystals, worn floorboards and the ermined blanket? I will remember it all.

You leave me at the beach, as you go to an archive to do research. On the stony beach, I write you into stories that fill my notebook to keep you forever. I create new stories for us to make real one day, weaving future truths for us. In this story, I am a stranger in that place, left alone and so I wait for you. I wait, thinking words and dreaming you in metaphor. Making you a hero. As I fill pages with new words, I long for you to come back to me. I wish for you to come back, so that we can make real memories for just this day. True memories that I won’t misremember or try to rewrite. 

As I wait, I recall how earlier I heard the word ‘Hove’ for the first time. Heave, ho, heave, hove. Yes, I remember it now. I am the boat and you my seafarer. You are steering us evermore off into the distance. Over unchartered waters, where we will write a new story together. When you are frail and can’t remember, I will tell you our story. The story of the day I waited for you on a stony beach and wrote you into metaphor. 

Read this while listening to ‘Rising Water’ by James Vincent McMorrrow.


Andrés N. Ordorica is a queer Latinx writer and educator based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He creates worlds filled with characters who are from neither here nor there (ni de aquí, ni de allá). His fiction has been featured in Confluence Medway, The Acentos Review, Gutter, and 404 ink Magazine. His work has been anthologised in Ceremony (Tapsalteerie Press), We Were Always Here (404 ink), and The Colour of Madness (Stirling Publishing). His non-fiction has been published in The Skinny, Bella Caledonia, and Medium. He serves as the Programme Manager (Community & Events) for The Scottish BAME Writers Network.


Hove was originally written as a poem six years ago. It has had quite an evolution to its present state. I wrote most of it in one sitting on Brighton Beach as the story alludes to and then tucked it away for a few months. Later that summer, I had the honour of workshopping it in a poetry & performance masterclass with Anthony Anaxagorou and I remember him telling me that the ending read as sad. The comment really stuck with me as I intended it to be a love poem. The more I worked away at it and turned it into a short story, there was a sense that maybe the ending is sad, but that is okay. So much of my writing is based on personal experiences and with this piece I wanted to capture the blurred lines of experiencing life in the present whilst imagining how it will be remembered in the future. Perhaps the temporality of life is as joyous as it is sad. Maybe that is what it is to be human. So, in the end Anthony might have been right! It is a happy, sad, temporal story about my day at the seaside.

Big Date by Jeff Alphin

Jeff Alphin writes on unconventional romance in ‘Big Date’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

There were a total of eight frog legs. Bigfoot experimented with the presentation, first stacking them across each other like a speckled log cabin, and then laying them out like the spokes of a wheel. Eventually he leaned them against each other to create an amphibious wigwam, binding the feet together at the top with a thin vine of honeysuckle. He spread the webbing and toes out into the shape of a blooming flower. A gooey anemone. Fresh blood puddled at the arrangement’s base like a raspberry glaze. 

His decision to carry the picnic table from the Welcome Center to this remote corner of the pond had been a good one. Bigfoot had to admit, with the sunlight on the water, a soft breeze wafting scents of moss and pine through the trees, and a string section of crickets and bobwhites providing dinner music, the setting was pretty damn romantic. 

And yet Bigfoot was nervous. He’d watched campers set up to eat before, but never from a close enough range to grasp details. Had he forgotten anything? If Reserved for Game Warden was on her regular schedule, she could be here any minute. 

It was a longshot, he knew, but with nothing to lose, one worth taking. He’d woken from his last hibernation to find streaks of silver in his pelt, and could feel the sun beginning to set on life’s big adventure. He’d cannonballed over waterfalls, bellowed from the top of giant sequoias, played hide and seek with paparazzi, made tabloid headlines and spooked countless day hikers, but he’d never known love. Lust, maybe. Infatuation sure. But the beating of the heart that makes a beaver mate for life, a lone wolf howl, or a barn owl return to the same barn night after night? No sir. At the age of 46 winters, his dips in the hot spring of amour were few. A mistaken obsession with a turkey hunter in a ghillie suit. An ill-fated autumnal interspecies fling with a brown bear. 

Reserved for Game Warden was not exactly a match on paper, but who was? As far as he knew, he was a genus of one. And having spent the last five seasons in the park, there was no denying Reserved for Game Warden had it going on. She smelled like soup, had a snorty laugh that boomed through the canyon, and sometimes wore a super thick winter parka that gave her a figure to die for. He would lay in his cave, picturing her fully clothed. She made it hard to hibernate. 

Bigfoot surveyed the table. Walnut and pine cone salad. Berries, bark, and other foraged nibbles. Box turtle tartare, served in the shell. Followed by his favorite (and what he hoped would be hers too), the frog legs, so fresh they were still twitching. 

A nice spread, but a little light. Enough? Bigfoot counted the ducks on the pond in case she wanted a second entree. 

Shafts of last sunlight filtered through the big trees, filled with floating bits of shedding forest. A loon sounded from the misty dusk on the other side of the pond. If Reserved for Game Warden didn’t get here soon, she might not find him in the fading light.

Catching fireflies was a drag. Bigfoot’s twilight vision wasn’t great, and half the time he’d grab too hard and smush the damn thing, coating his palms with phosphorescent goop. But tonight was special. Bigfoot leaped and lunged, making frenetic circles in the long grass, until he caught enough to fill one of the leftover decapitated bullfrog heads. He brought the skin of the neck to his lips and blew, inflating the rubbery chin pouch into a diaphanous balloon and twisting it off with a knot. Bigfoot centered it on the table in a bed of tree moss, a throat bubble dancing with foxfire. 

He was running a forked stick through his hair like he’d seen people do outside a KOA shower when he noticed the signpost was leaning a little to the left. Bigfoot straightened it, beaming at the metal sign with her name on it. Yanking the post from the space where she parked her rolling contraption and bringing it here had been a real stroke — of course she’d come looking for it. The trail of sticks he’d left would lead her right to a private table for two at Chez Footsie. 

Bigfoot’s nostrils flared. Love, and Reserved for Game Warden, were in the air. He could smell her. Bigfoot put on his warmest smile. 

And then, pushing through a thicket, she appeared. The soft yellow of the sun on her face, a bramble in her hair. 

Bigfoot gasped. Adrenaline roared. She felt the same way he did, her open mouth a reflection of his. Her eyes were wide. Yes, she’s as excited as I am. 

The encounter played out in slow motion. Grunts were unnecessary. They were speaking a language of the heart. Bigfoot opened his arms. She took a step back, reaching for her belt. A gift? Yes, she wanted to give him something, extending it towards him, an offering of hello. She too, was overcome. Her hand was shaking!

Bigfoot heard the zzzzt of a winged insect and felt a small sting. He looked down to see a weird dragonfly stuck in his belly, bright orange with tiny tail feathers. He swatted it away, annoyed at the distraction from the moment. Returning his gaze to his newfound mate, a swoon overtook him, buckling his knees and blurring his vision. He fell forward onto the table, scattering berries and bursting the frog throat. A tiny squadron of fireflies flew up into the night like campfire embers.

With dreamy half-shut eyes, Bigfoot looked up at Reserved for Game Warden’s name in reflective paint, going in and out of focus, trying to put a big finger on this new, strange tranquility.

It must be love.

Read this while listening to ‘Alligator Wine’ by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.


Jeff Alphin lives and writes with his wife, Jane Brettschneider, in the salty waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point, Baltimore. Check out more of their work at Get in touch at


‘Big Date’ is what happens when you accept a 48-hour flash fiction challenge to write a romantic comedy set near a pond featuring a reserved sign, and then lock yourself in a beach motel room with a bag of chilli dogs and a pint of tequila. I’m happy it’s found a home at Silk + Smoke. For more curiosities, visit

Fusion by Larissa Reid

Larissa Reid writes on the tug of place on memory and the romance of mythic-like encounters in ‘Fusion’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

The tug and heave of a place,
a place of intricate histories,
your name carved with hers in secret,
a pearl of fantasy preserved.
A summer of exploration,
of cornfield and woodland beds,
of coming-of-age, in synchronicity.

Years pass.
You wander braided paths that meet
with a static fizz of tension,
And a memory flit of naked kisses and curated climaxes.

When these tight bindings release,
she might meet you there
behind the oak tree’s green veil;
You could entwine her fingers with yours,
and seal a flickering thought with a kiss.
A broken eroticism healed with the gold glint of sunlight,
an eggshell of porcelain pieced back together,
forming a whole more beautiful than its younger self.

Read this while listening to ‘Ophelia’ by Karine Polwart.


A freelance science writer by trade, Larissa Reid lives in Fife on Scotland’s east coast. She writes poetry and fiction, with notable publications in Northwords Now, Nightingale & Sparrow, and The Darg, and a poem shortlisted for the Janet Coats Memorial Prize 2020. Larissa runs the Hugh Miller Writing Competition, a national competition that invites entries inspired by Scotland’s geoheritage. Larissa is a founder member of the Edinburgh-based writing collective, Twisted::Colon.

Twitter: @Ammonites_Stars
Blog contributor: /


‘Fusion’ stems from several roots – the persistent tug of place on memory, the romance of mythic-like encounters, and learning about the ancient Japanese art form of Kintsugi or ‘golden joinery’. I had written a first draft of the poem and I was struggling with the ending – I knew I wanted to refer to porcelain, being both at once fragile and stunningly beautiful, but every thought I had was turning to cliché. I remembered hearing about Kintsugi, the art of repairing Japanese eggshell porcelain with gold, and decided to look it up. Having already played with the poem a fair bit and made the woodland setting prominent, the first reference I found online stated that Kintsugi uses a particular lacquer made from tree sap, dusted with powdered gold, to repair antique pieces and given them a chance at a second, even more beautiful life. I still remember the shiver of delight that ran down my spine on reading that – one of those gorgeous coincidences that helps a piece of writing click into place.

Interviews with Trump Supporters by Fred Pollack

Fred Pollack writes on politics, inequality and longing for utopia ‘Interviews with Trump Supporters’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

Eventually climate stabilizes; farming revives.
Across the fertile belt, wherever it is,
patriarchs get what they always want –
obedient murderous sons, livestock women.
No racism – everyone’s café-au-lait – but
they’ll find someone: nightsoil collectors,
tanners … Strongpoints, empires,
slaves slaves. Monotheism:
He combines all persons of the Trinity,
the Hidden Imam and the Goddess Kali;
has helmet-like gold hair and from
a distance looks congenial:
if you sacrifice you’ll do well;
if not, well … Philosophy – not by the sea
this time, and there’s too much
gene damage; it’s mostly
reiterations of the obvious. But there’s
lots of engineering, so there’s hope –
we may yet see, before the oceans dry,
my utopia: scientists, artists, robots.

Read this while listening to ‘No Place To Go But Around’ by Frederic Rzewski.


Author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both Story Line Press; the former to be reissued by Red Hen Press. Two collections of shorter poems, A POVERTY OF WORDS, (Prolific Press, 2015) and LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). Pollack has appeared in Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Magma (UK), Bateau, Fulcrum, Chiron Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, etc. Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Mudlark, Rat’s Ass Review, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, etc.


I reject religion, loathe Trump and his supporters, and like to speculate about the future. After the seas rise, deserts spread, and billions die, T. would be a very plausible god; already he IS the coronavirus.

First Day in Nanchang by John Grey

John Grey’s poem ‘First Day in Nanchang’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2 explores people watching and absorbing culture through the joy of quotidian moments.

A good way to spend time,
sitting outside a tea-kiosk.
contemplating the engraving of a lotus flower
halfway up the side of the local Bank Of Communications.
It’s my own temple,
surely worth a couplet or two,
in homage to the ancestors
of all who pass me by.

A camphor laurel blows its siren scents my way.
Children practice their calligraphy on the sidewalk.
I could visit the cultural center
but there’s enough culture here,
in the open air, the cobblestone streets,
from the old, bearded man puffing on his pipe,
some serious Mahjong players,
a painter in the traditional style,
and walls bedecked in photos of local VIPS,
and quotations from Chairman Mao,
direct from the cultural revolution.

I do have tickets to the opera in my pocket.
And I’ve planned an afternoon at the museum
with some artefacts from the middle and late Ch’ing Dynasty,
where ancient Emperors rule the past,
and a blue-water pond ripples in the garden.

But, for now, I’m willing to watch
the swallows in their nest,
listen to a young girl sing in a high shrill,
sip hot tea that’s as green as I was yesterday.

Read this while listening to ‘China Nights’ by Kyu Sakamato.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in Plainsongs, Willard and Maple and Connecticut River Review.

In Memoriam (for K. M.) by Yvette J. Green

Yvette J. Green writes on womanhood, shared personal stories, strength and faith in ‘In Memoriam (For K.M.)’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

(They said antioxidants were weapons.
Prayer, positive thinking,
community and antioxidants.)

She showed me her battle scars:
how they cut off her left breast,
described where the port was positioned,
how she fit the prosthesis into her bra,
her belief in the prophet,
when he said she would be healed.

She was majestic,
a warrior
with knotted roots:
her husband left
but still expected her to show up at their church as his wife,
and she did.

A solid trunk:
she stood beside me
when my husband left,
shouldering some of my burden
as her own bones began to deteriorate.

With branches
that reached to the heavens:
Before I went to the courthouse
for the divorce proceedings,
She had me praise God for his favor.

Her crown began to slip:
When I had bronchitis,
the cells had multiplied,
invaded her lungs.
Between sips of green tea and a return to the earth,
She prepared me for war.

Read this while listening to ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, performed by BeBe and CeCe Winans.


A native of Nashville, TN, Yvette J. Green has lived in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. for the last 20 years. Two sons, 11 and 16, make her a proud mother. She completed her MA in English at the University of Maryland, College Park. She has had a short memoir published in the Seasons of Our Lives-Winter: Stories from Her first poems have been published in Indolent Books: What Rough Beast, 45th Parallel Magazine, and one is forthcoming in The Mark Literary Review.


She wore a wig because chemotherapy took her hair. I sought an image that could represent her strength, from her rootedness to this metaphorical stand-in crown that marked who she was in the present and her fading. She was majesty. She shared with me very personal stories and held onto mine, while lifting me up during the pain and trials of my separation and divorce. I never fully honored her for that. I hope that holding her confidence, bearing witness and being present were enough for her to know how I felt while she was alive. In retrospect, I could fully see how she helped me grow stronger by being rooted in her faith, her sense of self and by standing with me. This poem was that way to honor who she was to me.

On Body Snatchers, Peat Bogs and Invisible Things by Regina G Beach

Regina G Beach writes on discovering the hidden stories behind places during the onset of the Covid-19 crisis in ‘On Body Snatchers, Peat Bogs and Invisible Things’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

The bread went off, I noticed it yesterday as I was about to make toast. The last quarter of the loaf from Morrisons is speckled with grey-blue mold that’s nestled itself among the flax seeds and whole wheat. Craig asked if I couldn’t just tear away the bad bits and eat it anyway. He was having cereal; the milk upsets my stomach. No, I told him bluntly. You can’t pick away the moldy bits. For every visible speck of fungus, there are untold numbers of invisible spores buried deep and spread wide transforming the loaf from the inside out.  

Well, keep it anyway, he said, we can feed it to the ducks. Except you can’t – rather, you shouldn’t if you’re at all fond of ducks. The ducks don’t know about the miracle of mold, that it has the power to heal (hello penicillin). But it can also be deadly and causes aspergillosis, a fatal lung infection in unexpecting fowl, who, lacking scientific training, will gladly eat bread, moldy or not.  

A year ago, in the before times when the only restrictions on travel were the depths of one’s pockets and number of vacation days one accrued, Craig and I spent a week boating on the Norfolk Broads. One morning he came back from a grocery store in town with sausages, butter, eggs and a little cardboard box of duck food. I thought he was foolish to buy it, and then I discovered the joy of sprinkling the brown pellets overboard as we meandered through the water. 

Swans and ducks, their ducklings, coots and geese followed the boat. I was the Pied Piper of water fowl leading a parade through the wetlands. Once when we were moored, a huge white swan jumped onto the deck looking for food. Honking and tapping his beak on the windows he made quite a spectacle before giving up and jumping back into the water. 

To the untrained eye the Broads look like a meandering natural river but it is in fact a man-made landscape. A thousand years ago Norfolk was covered in woodlands. The timber was logged and carted away to be used in building and burned for heating until there were no woods left. In the 1100s monasteries started excavating peat and selling it to city dwellers to heat their houses, before coal or industrialization, and long before electricity.  

The turbary right to excavate peat lasted 200 years, leaving the channels deep and wide. Rising sea levels flooded the pits, the industry pivoted and 125 miles of waterways and the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey were left behind. Instead of being known as a place of piety and backbreaking labor, the broads transformed into a luxurious getaway from the Big Smoke. The railways brought people and the towns of Acle, Wroxam, and Ludham thrived on holiday maker’s big spends on boat rentals, food, and booze.  

Craig brought a crate of home-brewed ginger beer on our boat the Tropical Gem III. The recipe couldn’t be simpler, ginger, sugar, limes and champagne yeast. Fermentation is as close to alchemy as humans have got. We can’t turn lead into gold, but harnessing the transformative power of yeast to eat up the sugar and turn it into alcohol is at once magic and mayhem. 

 When we walk through the town of Great Yarmouth, it’s shoulder season and raining. The boardwalk is closed. The rides aren’t running. I try to imagine the beach covered in hundreds of sunbathing families but come up short. Between the seaside and the harbor where we’ve moored the Tropical Gem is St Nicolas Church and the attached graveyard. We cut through the church yard trying to make out names on grave markers that have withstood more than 100 drizzly British springs. We emerge on Bodysnatchers Row and among streets like Northgate and Fuller’s Hill it feels out of place. 

In the 1820s discovering how the human body worked from the inside out was all the rage in the medical community but the idea of donating one’s body to science was a foreign concept. The church told its parishioners they ought to be buried with all their parts. Germs weren’t understood, the inner-workings of bacteria, viruses and fungus chalked up to the will of the devil, the fault of the sinner or the curse of a witch.  

Surgeons were only permitted to dissect the bodies of dead criminals and there weren’t enough to go around. An enterprising Mr Thomas Vaughn had a solution. After the eulogy was said, the flowers laid and the last tears of mourners cried, he crept back to the cemetery, opened the coffins and snatched the body to be sent by train to London for a pretty price.  

At least 10 graves lie empty in St Nicholas Cemetery, nothing but dirt 6 feet under: a socially appropriate distance decreed by the Mayor of London during a plague outbreak in 1665 to keep the sickness from spreading. Before science discovered germs, intuition told us a 2-meter span would keep them at bay. 

During the plague, doctors wore masks with long noses stuffed with herbs. Said to ward off death, they also helped to mask the stench of dead bodies. In the Norfolk village of Hellesdon, a teenage boy has been roaming the streets as a plague doctor, much to the citizens’ chagrin. It’s not illegal to don a 17th century plague outfit while taking government-approved exercise outdoors, but some residents said the outfit was terrifying the kids and inappropriate. The fear of what we cannot see has magnified. When else is it more appropriate to wear a plague doctor outfit than during a global pandemic?  

We’ve swapped Black Death for Covid and even with all the science in the world, we’re still full of fear and misinformation. In this pandemic you can’t just tear away the bad bits and leave the rest. For every positive test of virus, there are untold numbers of invisible cases lingering deep and spreading wide transforming life as we know it from the inside out.

Read this while listening to ‘Bodysnatchers’ by Radiohead.


Regina G Beach is an American writer and former art teacher living in Bristol. She specializes in writing related to the arts, culture, travel, wellness and the unique people and places in those spheres. She is most at home on her bicycle or on her yoga mat. Read more of Regina’s writing and listen to her podcast at or following her on Instagram @saturn_returns_podcast 


I was in England in spring 2019 including the week on the Broads that inspired this piece. I moved to the UK full-time in March 2020, a mere week before Coronavirus changed entirely the ways in which we work and socialise and put all travel on hold. As someone who loves nothing more than discovering the hidden stories behind new places, the restrictions of sheltering in place hit me hard. I wanted to continue to explore my new home and had imagined weekends away, drives into the countryside and meals at new restaurants. Reminiscing about small pleasures (such as feeding the ducks) I was compelled to compare my current confines to the freedom I felt a year prior. Much of the anxiety surrounding COVID comes from the lack of concrete data and the seemingly ever-changing science. Since I couldn’t travel out of the house, I decided to travel through time and did a deep-dive into the history of pandemics, medical science and our knowledge of the microorganisms that make us sick; we don’t often think about the billions of fungus, bacteria and viruses that surround us unless they are wreaking havoc.

Collective Nouns for Corvids by Samuel Best

Samuel Best writes on the sinister side of nursery rhymes as a gruesome scene unfolds in ‘Collective Nouns for Corvids’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

We were walking in the park when we saw the birds. They were gathered up in a tree ahead of us, shrieking loudly and hopping from branch to branch. Quite often one of them would swoop down, circle around, and then land again at the top of the tree. As we got closer, we saw that they were magpies. Loads of them. I tried to count as you said the rhyme.

One for sorrow,

two for joy.

Three for a girl,

four for a boy.

It was easy to see that there were more than four, but that many of them were flocking away from the tree and then returning that I couldn’t be sure I hadn’t counted the same one twice.

Five for silver,

six for gold.

Seven for a secret

never to be told.

You paused then and asked me if I knew where the rhyme came from. I said I didn’t know but that I had never liked it. You carried on chanting.

Eight for a wish,

nine for a kiss.

Ten for a bird

you must not miss.

Ahead of us on the path, closer to the tree, a family were stood watching. A man, a woman, and a girl aged around nine or ten. The woman was pointing and the man was bending a little to speak to the girl.

Eleven is worse.

Twelve for a dastardly curse.

As you finished the rhyme I was pretty sure I had counted them properly. Eleven magpies, all rasping and hopping and flying in distress. We drew closer and the reason became clearer. In the centre of the tree, deep within the branches, was a raven.

We were level with the family then and overheard the man explaining that sometimes birds fought, just like people, and that it was all part of nature. I looked up to see the raven pecking at a magpie, the twelfth magpie, which lay tangled in a mesh of smaller branches, and was shrieking wildly. The other magpies were trying to scare the raven off, I figured, but it wasn’t working. The raven would look at them and then peck, then look at them again, and then peck. His sharp beak was like a dagger among the feathers. One time I thought that the raven looked at me before it pecked the magpie, but who could really tell at that distance? 

‘Should we do something?’ you asked.

‘Like what?’ I said.

‘I don’t know. Something to stop them?’

I bent and picked up a stone. It had rough, sharp edges, and left my palm smeared with dirt. I hefted it up into the tree but it rattled off one of the branches a way below the birds. The magpies kept stirring but the raven persisted. Peck, look, peck, look.

I picked up another stone and so did you. The family looked at us, concern in their faces, before moving off further down the path. The dad’s words about how things like this were part of nature stayed with me for a while. We threw stones and sticks and I even tried my shoe, which reached nowhere near. Nothing seemed to scare the raven, which continued its rhythm with an upsetting calmness.

It was as I was hoisting myself up through the lower limbs of the tree that I noticed that the magpies had stopped. I called down to you and you told me that the raven had gone. The magpies were quiet on their perches, just the songs of smaller birds in other parts of the park filling the air now. I climbed back down and scratched my hand on a piece of bark.

Walking back over to you, I knew what I was going to see. Something in my chest told me and the expression on your face confirmed it. You had that look that said you were going to try and shield me from it. Just like the man had done to his little girl. Explain it away as something normal, regular, and not the cruelty it was.

Before you could do anything though, I turned back to the tree and looked up among the branches. The sun was coming out from the clouds now so I had to squint but I could still see it there, right in the middle of the tree. The raven had left the magpie draped like a ruby necklace, each broken feather either side of the body a delicate link in the chain glinting in the sunlight.

Ahead of us, further into the trees, I saw the raven fly down to sit on a branch. It called into the air, this awful triumphant sound, and snapped its beak like scissor blades.


Samuel Best’s short fiction has been published in magazines in Britain, North America, and Scandinavia. His début novel ‘Shop Front’ has been described as ‘A howl and a sigh from Generation Austerity’ and he founded the literary magazines Octavius and Aloe. You can find him on Twitter @storiesbysamuel.

Annie by Bryana Joy

Bryana Joy’s poem ‘Annie’ takes us to a small Black Sea village in Northern Turkey and explores the complex tensions and pettiness of childhood.

They brought her home in hazelnut season,
the sweet sad end of summer, and I knew
we weren’t going to be friends.

In the orchards the raspy branches
were browning with clustered nuts. Annie
couldn’t make pancakes,

her pancakes were fat and stuck
to the skillet and grew black spots. Mom
spoke to her warmly and laughed

like it didn’t matter. Between the bookshelves
they drank coffee and talked about things
I wasn’t old enough to hear.

September came on like a scent on the air,
the sky growing heavy, a promise of rain.
On the hillsides, hazelnuts

in their pale green husks. The sun. Annie
wanted to come too even though
she didn’t know how to do anything,

didn’t know how to fill a feed sack with
spiny leaf casings or bear sunburn or sit
in a shaded circle of heat and hijabs

eating salty goat cheese and tahini helva in
tiny slivers, cherishing the sugar on her
tongue. When she asked if we could

leave soon, I smiled on her benevolently
like an indulgent parent. All night the neighbors
husked hazelnuts on the concrete

outside their house, downing red tea
from fluted glasses. When the clouds broke,
bringing the cold, blue tarps came out

like umbrellas. My dreams were full
of their laughter. Of rain. Annie
took a plane out of Istanbul

back to where she belonged. When I think
of her now, I remember how she wrote
letters to her boyfriend every night

in big loopy print with hearts. The next year,
a great orange husking machine
with a hose like an elephant’s trunk

rolled through the village and spit out
smooth nuts, a fountain of marbles,
a job one woman can now do in an hour.

Read this while listening to ‘Gece Kraliçesi’ (Queen of the Night) by Sertab Erener.


Bryana Joy is a writer, poet, and painter who works full-time sending illustrated snail mail letters all over the world. She spent her childhood in Turkey and is currently in the middle of a one-year sojourn in York, England with her husband. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in an assortment of literary magazines, including The Adroit Journal, Ruminate, and The Sunlight Press. She has a thing for thunderstorms, loose-leaf tea, green countrysides, and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.


When I was twelve, and living with my family in a small Black Sea village in Northern Turkey, a seventeen-year-old American girl named Annie came to stay with us for a few weeks. I was the oldest of four kids and felt extremely threatened by the seniority of the intruder. I’m afraid I was a bit of a snob towards her, although for all I know, she was probably a delightful person. Not too long ago, I was flipping through the journal I kept in those days and I found an outraged entry about Annie, penned by my jealous twelve-year-old self. I began to laugh at little me, and I laughed and laughed. Then I wrote this poem. I wanted the poem to convey the complex and painful tensions between Annie and I, and the aggrieved, hilarious pettiness of childhood. As I wrote it, I found that I also had a lot to say about being a third-culture kid in the Middle East, and about the lingering sense of beauty and loss that accompanies us everywhere we go.

Instagram: @_bryana_joy
Twitter: @_bryana_joy

A Hebridean Body by Karen D’Arcy-Kernan

Karen D’Arcy-Kernan’s poem ‘A Hebridean Body’ explores the wild and rugged landscape of the Scottish isles and their innate connection to the human body for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

First, Mull;
dusky diorite, xenocrysts,
dark silver gashed, wounds across salmon pink granite,
amalgam filling forced against palpitating pulp.
Sand burning, glowing, white as manicured nail tips,
blazing eyelid afterimage; all bleached blue with exposure.
Here brings the freedom to inhale – gasping, scrabbling sea air into me,
salt bite and fish tang scorching through throat and suffering lungs.
These sad dank sponges, burbling and bruised bronchioles,
sodden, soughing with city reek and dust, now vital, heaving;
the spaces between breaths breaking, like the crash of waves.

Later, Iona;
gneiss surging, dappled,
settled in inevitable bulk, a verdant colossus sleeping;
swirling green epidote like the striae of my thighs, my stomach.
My distant branches of sea green veins and stipple of burst capillaries.
Scree of the shingle shore shattering knees, feet, fingers; juddering pain,
the pain all pilgrims must go through, I remind myself.
The turquoise water a tremendous jewel, abundant, coruscating,
mirroring oceans of my eyes, spasmed in strabismus, glinting.
My body pulverised, a marine creature crushed, sifted sand and shells,
a graveyard still living; machair growing fertile, low lying, wild and rare.

Ultimately, Staffa;
basalt monolith, volcanic,
looming sober from the brine, a titan, an executioner;
eldritch colonnade, hexagonal hierophant; audaciously extant.
An Uaimh Bhinn gapes black, sings in its symmetry, a cavernous cathedral
of ribs, intercostals, eerie organs; a swelling sea symphony.
This condition has no famous overtures; acoustics heard only in my tissues,
in too-sweet notes of theremin strain, in ostinato paroxysms of pain.
But still, life amongst the ash and debris, flourishing flora, sea birds nesting.
Cackle of fulmars and revving chainsaw of puffins, raucous and free;
a shipwrecked, salt encrusted heart, coarse and throbbing, untrammelled.

Read this while listening to ‘The Shanty of the Whale’ by Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy.


Karen D’Arcy-Kernan is a practising counsellor by day and a reader and writer by night. Having grown up in Glasgow, she now writes poetry and short stories from her home near the Ochil Hills. Her work explores identity, nature, and chronic and mental illness.


I visited the Hebridean islands of Mull, Iona and Staffa in 2017 and was awestruck by their beauty, their wildness, and their incredible geology. I was diagnosed with joint hyper-mobility syndrome a few months later, having struggled with physical pain for years. This poem is a processing of that pain, of my understanding of my own chronically ill body, and of the solace to be found in nature and wild places. It connects the landscape of my body, with all its pain and potential, to the awesome landscapes I encountered on these islands; both with the beauty and struggle and freedom of dying and living interwoven, and both with endings and beginnings existing simultaneously.