Four by


Oz Hardwick





The Reflex Procedure



Dressed in summer birds, I scatter seeds to the day. Stretch out my heart: stretch my head and put the ball onto the floor. When we spend the last train, we will be no more. My phone is just a matter of getting rid of confidential information and all parameters are correct and correct and correct. Stripes strip from the viewpoint of someone else. Gas burns without any further support. Windows are crisscrossed and used by all operating systems. It’s one of those mornings when all birds are working on the same grainy shore, striped and singing for their children, singing for the first time in months. It’s one of those mornings that I’m sure I was warned about in school. Seeds beneath my skin. Some birds only live for summer.





Souvenir of Broadway



Riffing on Joseph Cornell, I have turned my icebox into a kitsch assemblage of unfinished meals, with each artefact nodding to celebrities or my mother. There’s Audrey Hepburn’s untouched breakfast and the scant remains of Elvis’ last burger, speaking to each other across the Arctic divide. The greasy bones of Albert Finney’s chicken have been articulated into a comic parody of Rocky Rhodes, voiced by Mel Gibson, and whatever it was that Meg Ryan had is sealed in a pearl-pink Tupperware box. As clear as Christo, five loaves and two fishes lie clingfilmed on a patterned plastic plate, though each viewer can choose their own preferred Jesus. Then there are the multipacks of ice cream cones and unopened microwave meals for one: shepherd’s pie, Lancashire hotpot, lamb casserole, chicken curry (mild). Postcards are available, though photography is permitted. When the door closes, I know that the light stays on. Please don’t touch.





The King of Shadows



Night is more argument than time, so we weigh all our clocks against the saws our grandmothers clucked as they rocked on the stock-scented porch. Night rinses what the day has soaped, but the scent of flowers, flowers, flowers is never washed away. When night falls, the face of the wolf lights up, but he’s stood in the sunlight till his fur’s on fire and those amber eyes shine, shine, shine like a beacon on a distant escarpment. Night is the mother of advice, but our phones won’t stop bleeding words, words, words, like a wounded king dressed in riddles and regrets. Night walks the same road as dreams, but the pavement’s overgrown, nobody picks up hitchers, and sleep’s a hit-and-run driver making time, time, time, without ever even glancing in the mirror. So, we’ll agree to call it night if it makes us feel better, or safer, or anything at all. Many seek good nights and waste good days. We will probably meet ghosts. If there are no nightingales, we must settle for owls.





First World Problems



My daily dread used to be monsters, then death, then failure, but now it’s the moment when you ask me if I have any thoughts on dinner. My friends and medical professionals tell me I should relax, but each time I open a book or press Play on a forty-year-old cassette of sounds of the Amazon rainforest, I hear that inevitable question cutting through the dripping leaves and the croak and squeak of ten thousand toucans. It’s the same when I wake in the night from a dream in which I share a joke with a childhood hero who remains in resolute monochrome as the room floods with rainbows: it’s so real that I check my phone for selfies, but even as I try to remember what he said about Imagism and electronic sound, I panic at the thought of the thought of an evening meal. With adequate water supplies, a healthy adult can live for up to two months without eating, and I consider death by drowning, accompanied by blue-scaled monsters from a medieval map. I consider blocking my ears with ripped-up cookery books. I consider writing possible answers on the back of my hand, but the words won’t stick and are nothing to do with eating anyway.









Oz Hardwick is a European poet, photographer, musician and academic.  He is author of nine books and chapbooks, including Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI/Recent Work, 2018), which was winner of the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and most recently Wolf Planet (Clevedon: Hedgehog, 2020).  His next collection, A Census of Preconceptions, will be published by SurVision Books in 2022.  Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads postgraduate Creative Writing programs. 



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