Gabriel Furmuzachi – Qualm

Gabriel Furmuzachi
Qualm

I bought you big, yellow sunflowers. I brought them home and cut their stalks and left them to soak in a little boiling water for a few minutes – as you taught me.

‘They will last longer like that!’, you said.

I waited for you. I waited until the food I cooked got cold, until the music stopped playing, until it turned dark outside and only the streetlights were glowing, yellow and orange.

I sat there alone, looking out the window, trying to guess where you might be, with whom you might be talking, what you might be thinking, whether you’d be laughing. I miss your laughing.

Each time I’d hear the lift doors I’d prick up my ears, like a hound catching the smell of a rabbit, ready to run and chase you back into my heart. But the metal cage would only spew out strangers who didn’t have the key to our place.

The bed felt vast and uninviting, the sheets – cold, texture like ice on a lake in winter, blown by the wind, piling up on the shore, broken into thin scales.

I miss you.

I fell asleep thinking of the morning sky and of the sun emerging from behind interminable, smug clouds, steeped in red and grey. How long until the flowers will shed their yellow and dry out? How long still? AQ

Jasmine Nihmey Vasdi – Shoulders

Jasmine Nihmey Vasdi
Shoulders

rising with sun, a low liquor
choking on lemon pulp lips
      long belly hairs
a country with it’s own onion of corruption
only privacy is in the hallways
or windowing down roads
no limits
            simply
       everyone is too tired to gaze over this still town

Pat Seman – Paska

Pat Seman
Paska

Easter. The biggest festival of the year in Ukraine.

It begins with Willow Sunday and the ceremony of the blessing of the willow, a practice that stems back to pagan times when the willow with its healing properties was a holy tree and one of the first in Spring to show signs of life. People believed that by tapping each other with a freshly blooming willow branch they could draw upon its energy and strength.

There was no sign of tapping at church that morning, simply an enormous crowd of people, everyone clutching pussy willow twigs and pressing forward into an already packed church. Once inside, standing squeezed like a sardine and peering over a sea of shoulders, I could see nothing of the ceremony. But the singing was sublime. One voice emerged in what felt like the crescendo of the service, strong and deep with an ever greater sense of urgency, till at its peak it melted into a sea of harmony, one with the rich and sonorous tones of the choir. Then abruptly, the service over, the crowd turned and I was carried with them as inch by inch we shuffled and stumbled our way out into the pouring rain.

Holy Week or Willow week as it’s called in Ukraine is a period of cleansing both spiritual and physical in preparation for Easter. In my street the women were out sweeping the pavement in front of their houses, scrubbing doorsteps, cleaning and polishing the windows till they shone. In courtyards and gardens, carpets were hung out to air. Caught up in the general fever of spring-cleaning I cleaned my flat from top to bottom. After such a long winter it was good to open wide the doors and windows and feel the first balmy breath of Spring entering. At school my students and colleagues, their figures trim from weeks of dieting and fasting, were all talking about their trips to the ‘bazaar’- an enormous market on the edge of town – and the new clothes they’d bought to wear on Easter Sunday.

The girls in my groups told me that they were making ‘pisanki’, the beautiful traditional painted eggs for which Ukraine is famous. Decorated with stylised symbols from Nature they were said to contain powerful magic, a protection against evil and natural catastrophe. Once they were painted by women only. They would gather together in secret when the children had gone to bed, singing and telling stories as with wax and plant dyes and a special stylus they created the delicate patterns of the pisanki. For centuries the tradition was handed down from mother to daughter only to be banned under the Soviet regime. It was the Ukrainians in the Diaspora that ensured its survival. I know my grandmother took this skill with her to Canada.

Now the girls have lessons at school in dyeing and decorating pisanki. In the weeks before Easter you see these decorated eggs everywhere. They come in many colours – orange and red, yellow, green and deep blue. Often the patterns are geometrical or with spiral motifs, but there are also motifs of birds, flowers and animals. One, which I saw amongst a cluster of colourful pisanki in the local market, was encircled with a chain of young women dancing.

Pisanki represent the gift of life.

At Easter they’re placed in a wicker basket of food, which is taken to the midnight mass to be blessed. In my cousin Masha’s basket: pisanki, ham, sausage, horseradish, butter, cheese and rye bread, all covered by a white embroidered cloth. And a ‘paska’, or Easter bread, a round, sweet loaf, decorated again with motifs of plants and flowers formed from dough to celebrate nature’s rebirth.

The paska must be made with great care. When preparing the dough and during the kneading you must keep your thoughts pure and the whole household quiet to ensure the bread bakes properly. This means that no-one, not even friends and neighbours are allowed to come in during its baking lest they make a sudden noise or cast the evil eye, causing the paska to come out flat.

We arrived at the cathedral about an hour before midnight. Masha gave me a candle from her basket, then we both put on our scarves and joined a throng of women jostling to get in through the door. Inside they parted to leave a clear passage down to the altar, placing their baskets on either side of it ready for the priest’s blessing. We stood on the cold stone floor amongst the crowd of worshippers listening as the deep voices of the priests and choir intoned the solemn liturgy. The sequin-sewn white scarves of the congregation glimmered and glittered in the soft candle light, while over their heads, in the shadows near the altar hung a life-size figure of Christ on the Cross surrounded by a mass of deep red carnations.

A stirring, a murmur of expectation. Heads turned as some men entered carrying banners. Masha, checking her watch, muttered that it was now gone midnight. Still we stood waiting patiently as the priest continued his incantation. Then all at once the chandeliers went on in a blaze of electric light. Red neon letters spelling CHRISTOS VOSKRES flashed above the altar and a procession of nine priests, resplendent in white and gold followed by the choir, led us out of the cathedral with the bells wildly pealing. Out into the cold midnight air as the Easter flame was passed through the crowd from one candle to the other, then in a rambling procession we circled the cathedral three times, singing and stopping every so often to roar out a reply to the priest’s call ‘Christ is risen’, ‘He is indeed risen!’

At 6 in the morning I ate with Masha and her family as they broke their fast. All the food from the basket, which had been blessed by the priest at the cathedral, and more, was spread out on the table. We each had a hard-boiled egg dyed red which we had to hold firmly while tapping everyone else’s trying to crack them. Masha’s husband, Vasili, was the one who came out victorious; the last with his egg intact, his face creased into a big smile. As I walked back home through the early morning mist, the streets were still full of people carrying home their baskets and flickering candles. The aim is to bring the flame safely home and with it to trace a figure of the Cross on the lintel of your house. Mine had gone out in a gust of wind within minutes of leaving the cathedral.

Later in the day the mist turned to bright sunshine and the unpaved road to Vasyliv, my family’s village, was shiny with puddles and mud. Fields stretched on either side of me, empty and grey. But in the village the freshly dug earth in the gardens was a rich, dark brown covered here and there in a haze of fresh green. I arrived to the clanging of bells, drove past a group of boys taking it in turns to pull on the rope in the small bell tower by the church gate.

Masha with her parents and Vasili, their son, Pavel and Masha’s brother were all waiting for me, bunched together on two beds around a small table which was crammed to overflowing with dishes: hard boiled eggs, salads, fish fried in batter, meatballs, salami, cold pork, cheese and a sweet, creamy macaroni-like pudding. Vasili told us that he was going easy on the vodka as he was saving himself for the next day, the first Monday of Easter or ‘Wet Monday’, when he and his friends would hit the streets to douse the women passing by with water. Yet another old custom rooted in pre-Christian rites of purification and rebirth, and one which, according to Masha, is practised with an unbridled enthusiasm. ‘Never mind’, she said, ‘on Tuesday, it’ll be the women’s turn’.

Masha then told me that when she was young, on Easter morning, she and the other village girls would dance and sing in front of the church, round and round in a circle in imitation of the movement of the earth round the sun, to encourage the Spring to waken and bring them good luck and a plentiful harvest.
 
 
An integral part of the of Easter ritual which follows Easter Sunday is the honouring of the dead, when families gather at the graves of their loved ones and ancestors bringing food for them. Often they stay and eat together next to the grave, so that the dead too may take part in the celebration, the joy of Easter; the idea being that the ghosts of the dead are always with us, that the border between life and death is as permeable as a cloud.

Driving out of Chernivitsi towards Vasyliv the next Saturday I saw heaps of plastic purple and pink wreaths for sale at the side of the road and people walking along the verge with these large wreaths slung over their shoulders or on the handle bars of their bikes. In the countryside I stopped at a cemetery just outside a village where so many wreaths had been laid or propped against headstones you could hardly see the graves. Between them wooden tables and benches had been set out as for a party. The sky was sullen with dark clouds threatening rain, the cemetery empty, except for a man and a woman and two children who were sitting at a table next to their ancestor’s grave, quietly eating and drinking. Out of respect I kept my distance, but as soon as they spotted me they sent over the young boy with an Easter bread and a pisanka. The bread was ornamented with a cross made of dough, the four arms curved at their tips as if about to spin into motion – an ancient symbol of the sun and the wheel of life.

In Vasyliv the cemetery lies at the centre of the village, a large field full of stone crosses, many of them ancient, some all but toppling over in the long grass. There were no wreaths and no tables and benches laid out when I arrived. All was quiet. A football match was going on in the neighbouring field. Every so often there’d be shouts from the small tribune alongside the dirt path skirting the graves.

I trudged through the mud and wet grass in search of Masha and her family. She’d promised to take me to our great-grand-parents’ graves and say some prayers for them on my behalf. She was at the edge of the cemetery with Vasili, their son, Pavel and Vasili’s mother. They were gathered round Vasili’s father’s grave. His mother was in tears. Vasili came to me and solemnly handed me an Easter bread, an orange and some chocolates in memory of his father.

The spot where my great grandparents lie buried is marked by two stone crosses. They stand side by side, leaning slightly towards one another, not far from a border of tall, sheltering acacia trees. My great grandmother Vasylina’s cross stands on the left, and on the right, that of my great grandfather Vasil. Their surfaces are so worn that it’s impossible to trace an inscription. The arms of each cross are decorated with flower patterns, and at the centre of Vasil’s is another pagan symbol of the sun: a circle, from which branch out four short arms like rays. Clearly engraved within the circle is a wreath of flowers, symbol of Mother Earth.

Masha and I stood silently at the graves of our great-grandparents. It started to rain. We returned to her parents’ house where her father and his family were waiting for me to join them in yet another feast.

When I left, Masha gave me one red carnation. It had been blessed in a service of remembrance of the village dead, my Ukrainian ancestors. It hangs now, dry and drained of colour, at home above my desk.

Jury S. Judge – Rubble of the Holy

Jury S. Judge
Rubble of the Holy

Jury S. Judge writes that: ‘as an artist, I create art to express myself in the pictorial language of light, colour, and linear forms. I enjoy blending traditional and digital mediums within my art because I find this combination to be a versatile method of self-expression. Through my photography, I enjoy capturing the natural beauty of my home state, Arizona, as well as the other destinations where my adventures lead me. Rubble of The Holy features the hexagonal basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The camera I shoot with is a Canon. This photograph, however, was taken with a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.’

Rubble of the Holy, Jury S. Judge, photograph, 2017.

Peter E. Murphy – Open

Peter E. Murphy
Open

The SS United States was the largest, fastest and most luxurious ship to cross the Atlantic. It served between 1952 and 1969 when cheap airfares made it redundant. Stripped to the guts, it is docked by the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia waiting to be scrapped, or with a billion-dollar investment, to be repurposed as a museum, hotel, or small city. ‘Open’ is from a series of photographs called Beautiful Decay taken onboard with an iPhone 6s on a sunny day in December 2017.

Open, Peter E. Murphy, photograph, 2017

Jayne Marek – Textures of Earth and Water

Jayne Marek
Textures of Earth and Water

Jayne Marek feels that her ‘designs should be balanced — not set in the centre, necessarily, but using well-distributed optical elements. I use mostly natural subject matter to achieve visual ambiguities, often through abstraction, to explore how objective reality can be perceived in multiple ways. I also emphasize designs by using bright or unexpected colours and by experimenting with exposures. Readers can take a closer look and enjoy patterns or shapes that might otherwise go unnoticed’. A Nikon Coolpix set at ISO 400 and 64 respectively was used for the first two photos. A Nikon D90 at ISO 200 was used for the last. None used flash.

Birch Oracle, Jayne Marek, photograph, May 2009

Colorblock Reflections, Jayne Marek, photograph, March 2011

Candy Pebbles, Jayne Marek, photograph, March 2012

Bob Ward – Touching the Surface

Bob Ward
Touching the Surface

In Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust property in the east of England, there is a statue of an urchin examining the sole of his foot to remove a thorn. As usual in museums, you are not allowed to touch but, if you were, the sensation would be of cold smooth marble unlike that of a real foot roughened by trotting around without shoes.

The way things feel to our hands, feet, or tongue is an important part of human experience. That impulse to reach out and touch whatever seizes our attention is very strong and similarly we speak of ‘being touched’ by poignant events. We stroke friendly dogs; the physical contact creates a bond. When people are buying clothes, they finger the fabrics to judge what they might be like to wear. After all, the word ‘texture’ derives from the Latin ‘textura’ for weaving. A couple of centuries ago an ancestor of mine was apprenticed to a cloth-dresser, a specialist in improving the surface of newly woven bolts of woollen cloth. In the City of Leeds there were fifty tradesmen practising that craft. However, should you ever be wracked with remorse, one garment you won’t find on an outfitter’s rail is a hair shirt. Fashions change, even among penitent sinners.

Upstairs at Felbrigg the four-poster in the master bedroom is adorned with sumptuous hangings. You need to restrain an urge to let your fingers flirt with the tassels that dangle from the fringes. At a humbler level you might recall that Rupert Brooke in his poem The Great Lover celebrated both

. . . the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss / of blankets . . .

These days we have created a culture of tactile keyboards and touch-screens that makes us even more ‘hands on’. Through our finger-tips we enter the world. Just now my right hand rests on a mouse that controls my computer. But as a photographer I have long enjoyed recording the visual quality of different surfaces beyond what textiles offer. In my pocket I carry a small camera capable of taking good close-ups wherever I go. Etched by salt-water the blistering paint on a fisherman’s tractor can be revealed as an abstract masterpiece. Or I might see the spiky hoar-frost edging dead leaves, or a discarded viper’s skin, part of a creature you otherwise would not dare to contact.

Tree trunks bear close study and appreciation for their subtle variations between species. Scots pines have bark that breaks into islands, richly coloured especially when wet, whereas the bark in sweet chestnuts is incised with dramatic swirling ridges. In my garden there is a kind of birch where, as the trunk expands with growth, paper-thin bark peels off in curls tinted green by algae. In the creviced surface of trees lurk spiders and beetles, often the prey of small birds. Springtime snails venture upwards across this rough terrain in a search for the succulent fresh leaves in the woodland canopy. Ivy, of course, constantly exploits trees as a passage-way towards the light. Even when torn away the ivy’s clinging roots get left behind as tracks across the bark.

Walls too are worth inspection. In the area where I live, East Anglia, bricks were in short supply and those made in the region weathered badly as time passed. So many buildings were faced (and still are) with flint cobbles dumped by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age. The resulting walls are full of character, supporting small ferns, moss tufts and colourful crinkly lichens.

Text itself literally acquires ‘texture’ on the spines of leather-bound books, where the lettering may be embossed in gold leaf. However, you could say that a printed page assumes a virtual texture arising from the nature of the typefaces used in all their different forms, serif, non-serif, italic, bold . . . Contrast ‘Impact’ with the refinement of ‘Palatino Linotype’ or the eccentricity of ‘Crazy Loot’. As you read, let your eyes, as it were, caress the words. For the non-sighted, they are trained to feel words through the medium of Braille. But in doing so, I wonder, can they ever hear the surfaces they touch by the process of synaesthesia? That’s an attribute known among small children but mainly lost in adulthood, whereby a stimulus to one sense raise a response in another.

By analogy, music may be described as having texture. Performers touch their instruments with their hands or lips and we talk of being touched. How running your fingers across harp strings evokes the ripples in the surface of a lake. Composers meld complex layers of sound, fabric for the ears. Harmony relates to smoothness, discord to rough edges. The ‘minimalists’ Steve Reich and Philip Glass arouse one’s feelings with repeated phrases in constant variation that manage to haunt the soul.

Human sensations are richly textured. Do keep in touch.

Four-poster bed hangings, Bob Ward, photograph, 2017

Amina Imzine – Zemestan 1836

Amina Imzine
Zemestan 1836
A Work in progress from the Shahrarah Garden Chronicles
 
Rumours of war have slowed down as the cold and bitter winter has wrapped Kabul in a thick coat of snow. Katsumi looks up to the pale orange light that flames from the Asmai Lighthouse and feels relieved that the makeshift dispensary there is provided with Aleppo soap, eucalyptus, balsam and Chinese green tea so the guards, mainly Kashmiri Lancers, can safely rest until the next shift. “Welcome in the Zemestan season” would joke Javaad Khan, his friend, born in some remote Srinagar valley and pleased enough with his position, assigned to the Bibi-Mahroo Garrison, where two lighthouses stand above Kabul city.
 
 
Sirius heads between the Asmai Height and the Pushta Lighthouse. Curfew will soon start. Katsumi steps down with his snowshoes and quietly treks through the icy Shahrarah Lane. How long lasts friendship when our world is devastated by cholera or plague epidemics, and grief? Lady Alexandrina, whom he’d met in Tehran, passed away as soon as she returned home to St. Petersburg, for her nineteenth birthday celebration. She was his first English teacher, taught him Latin and both shared a passion for Central Asian Herbarium books — dried plants and seeds they collected from Tashkent and Balkh when landslides or sand dunes have not yet fully submerged the fields, orchards and gardens — Katsumi recalls as he tries to cope with the fresh snow that caps his Bactrian camel wool shield.

The rum is warming up his mood. Katsumi couldn’t forget her pale sapphire eyes that brightened up her delicate face, her vivid passion for collecting and editing war veterans’ reports – “I will not teach you French!” she proudly said. At the Shahrarah literary lounge, she loved reading light verse poetry, the modern tales of Alexander Pushkin — and such strong beauty in her calligraphy strokes, first in Russian then in English: As long as there is one heart on Earth where I still live, my memory will not die he received as her farewell gift.
 
 
He shakes his head as to remove the fresh flakes that stick to his white silk face mask. Would poetry bring us some kind of relief? He learned a lot with Lady Alexandra too, when she lived in Kabul. She became his second, friendly English teacher, even if she had soon forgotten her cousin Alexandrina. Like the white, petrified Shahrarah trees lane, there is a silence that doesn’t need to be awoken, so Katsumi treks quietly.

The rum will lift up his mind, as Charles Masson promised. Was he too safely back in London? For the nine-month journey is full of unpleasant surprises, as Katsumi recalls Lady Alexandra that pointed out. Far from his British friends and the Thames he would never visit, Katsumi feels safe here in the upper valley of the Kabul River, safer than in any of the European cities. He looks to the bright sky, and silently thanks the tough quarantine that he and the Afghan doctors-in-chief teams have set up. Aldebaran is going to cross the Pushta Height. Katsumi then notices a snowy, soft blanket that wraps the foothills, the crowded worker dormitories and the tent shelters for shepherd communities. How many will be alive tomorrow?
 

***

 

Snow showers keep burying Kabul in a bitter silence, while the pervasive fragrance of balsam floods the Hanzalah sanatorium. Katsumi quietly moves in and out of rooms, patients are sleeping. “Kurimoto-jan, tea is served”, whispers the nurse-in-chief. Katsumi frowns his delicate eyebrows, smoothly shakes his long blue cotton dress and heads towards the study.

Carefully, he removes his grey latex face mask, the grey latex gloves, and then washes his large and pale hands with the Aleppo soap. The nurse brings the china cup of qehwa but Katsumi’s face doesn’t smile — by the way no one has ever seen him smile, except perhaps Lady Alexandrina. The nurse is one of the few who copes with his dead, calm, beardless face.

Katsumi’s skilled hands return empty the warm cup. It’s time for the monthly report, in English, as requested by the Colony Police station. Katsumi picks up his favourite slim brush and unrolls a blank, silky sheet of paper. As he writes, his brown eyebrows turn into thin moon bows:
December 1836.

Two hundred casualties of pneumonia — 30 from Bibi-Mahroo foothills, 80 from the Shahrarah Women hospital, including 50 infants, 30 from the Pushta Workers Dormitory… Silently the nurse leaves the quiet coroner alone in the fragrance of balsam now mixed with cardamom.
 
 

***

AKaiser – Fireflies

AKaiser
Fire Flies

Illuminated around a fire
our cold backs to the night
feet half-buried in cool sand
bird-heads cocked we stare
at lanterns passing.

We wonder why they were launched
why these human-made fireflies
were sent off to wander
the blue black pre-night air
past the still moon.

Papyrus paper
spirited by the lighted candle.
Ancient skin and flame.
The remembrance of someone gone
soul symbol adrift.

With the ashy end of a stick
we attempt to write our names
on the circling stone –
the feeble boundary between us
and burn –

discover that right angles ease
while curves resist
maneuvering, drawing out
to meaningful loops
on mineral – and sky.

AQ22 – Texture