Reshma Ruia: Overheard at The National Portrait Gallery – Funny Pearls, 15 August 2019.

The bold lip that sneers. The curled eyelash. The body gift wrapped in feather and flounce, demanding your gaze. Cindy Sherman hangs on the walls, bouncing from Beverly Hills to Cape Cod donning disguises that titillate the senses. Madonna, Monroe, cocktail waitress and bored housewife. She’s been them all. She is a chronicler of a gilded age. But, you’re not listening. You wear sensible flat sandals and short grey hair. Your mouth has not kissed a lipstick in a hundred years.

You’re talking. Loud, urgent. Fish words swim out of your mouth, gasping for oxygen. The museum guard raises an eyebrow, buries a yawn. Shifts one buttock cheek, then the other on the folding metal stool. You are two kind ladies of late middle age. He won’t disturb you. He’ll let it pass.

This is what you have to say:

‘Brother Richard is still being a dick. He forgot to ring mother on Mother’s Day. Sister Margaret has hit the bottle again. What about your allotment? Did you catch the thieves? Who would’ve thought courgettes were so prized. Not courgettes? Sorry did you say runner beans? My hearing is not what it used to be. You got the smear test back. Yes, my knees are playing up again. That homeopathy woman you suggested. I think she’s a quack. Three pounds fifty they charged for a measly cup of coffee in the café upstairs. What did I tell you? Greggs would’ve been better. I worry about Paul most days. The other day he left the crossword unfinished. Again. Most unlike him and yes, did you visit the grave? Can’t believe he’s been ten years gone? And the kids? Mark’s planning on emigrating to Australia. You mean immigrating. No, I meant emigrating. It’s what rich folks do when they set up home in another country. This country is going to the dogs. Just look at that guard, lazy sod, not doing his job.’

A Mrs. Dalloway Kind of Day published in Lost Balloon, 24 April 2019.

Nose buried in a bouquet of flowers. She strides through the park. The distant hum of traffic. A bee’s snore in her ear. Easy enough to be happy. Toss a coin. Swipe a card. Buy the dress. The shoes. The jewels. Clap away spider web shadows. Lurking in the rooms. The hurt. The bruise. The dripping faucet of an eye. They belonged to another day. If only she could run back to her ten-year-old self. Chasing butterflies on the village green. Cheeks freckled with sunshine not age. A heart somersaulting in joy. Limbs dripping youth.

Recipient of the 2019 First Collection Award by the Word Masala Foundation and SkyLark Publications.

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A Love Story published in The Good Journal Issue 3 edited by Courttia Newland.

The Good Journal is a quarterly literary journal showcasing the very best writers of colour in the UK. It was founded by Nikesh Shukla and Julia Kingsford.

The Ballad of the Accountant

He wakes up next morning in a black and grey world.
Reduced to a matchstick figure in a Lowry painting.
Sucked clean of breath and bone, he feels
Entirely made up of memories. Of her. Of them.
The empty pillow by his side carries the weight
Of her absent head. She has stayed and been gone
A few hours but he has already
Built a lifetime with her. The wedding altar.
The kids. The summer holidays on the beach.
It is a mistake he will keep repeating.
With every one-night stand he picks up.
‘You have a homesick heart,’ they tell him.
Cupping his baldhead in their hands. Stroking his cheek
And his face where the wrinkles run deep
With absent minded fingers and upset voices
They plead
‘This is a business transaction Mister, please, don’t anchor your heart in us.’
His heart. He sees it like a balloon-untethered, unmoored, flying aimless.
And him running after it, outstretched arms and weeping skin.
That was it – the dream that startled him awake.
Him skipping and tripping
And falling as he chased his heart; it floated out of view.
The alarm clock shrills into life.
He checks his watch, and dresses in a hurry.
And reports for work
Where he spends his days filing returns for sad-eyed divorcees
And gas utility companies.

Asia Literary Review  Poetry – No. 32, Winter 2016, Southall Blues

Asia Literary Review Poetry – In Memory of Flight MH-370

The cockpit dashboard blinks
A thousand eyes
Each dial a finger
Spinning him somewhere
Far beyond the star-rimmed sky
His head in a twist
Which way should he turn?
The continents whirl a dervish dance
The roar of the engine becomes
A soft insect bite on his ear
He slips a hand inside his pocket
And pulls out a feather
Puckered, grey-blue
Tender like an early-morning kiss
He presses the feather against his cheek
And the day comes back
The wounded bird
From a long-ago childhood
He’d knelt by the roadside
Knees powdered in dust
Deaf to his mother’s impatient tugging hand
Carefully he’d plucked the single drooping feather
His stare never leaving the bird’s stone-hard eye
That even then foretold his death

Saudade. A Quarterly magazine of modern and contemporary poetry. Issue 2. 2016.

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Still-Life in a Room

There are lives and lives
Circling out of reach
Dervishes dancing away
Leaving empty rooms behind
My body throws its arms
Around every friendly voice it meets
This ache to be understood
This ache to belong
Will someone step forward
And fill with sound
The silence growling in my ear
Will someone step forward
And smash the hands
Of the clock scratching
The graffiti marks of time
On my face.

Anthology in Italy. 210 Giovani poeti in 9 lingue.