Prospectus for an Interim Catastrophe
Volunteers fill vials with brine, collecting the sea for later consideration. This is how we do things now: bird voices folded into blue paper packages; the silent songs of fish bagged and numbered in clear plastic, all to be measured, recorded, and released back into the wild as soon as omens are propitious. It's taken time to attain this state. It's taken time to build the superstitious infrastructure to make our actions count. Above all, it's taken time to engender an environment conducive to the recruitment of the best volunteers. Bring us your sweat and your spent breath. Bring us your children lost in dreams. Bring us your inventories in red, red ink. No one sleeps until we capture lightning. No one sleeps until even the sunbeams are pressed between glass.
The Same Old Story
The prodigal son outstayed his welcome, lording it over his sibling and, frankly, taking the piss. He'd sleep till midday, then slob in front of the TV with a beer and his phone, calling out for fatted calf and over-tipping the delivery driver on his father's card. Dad had words but, this being the Bible and the moral having been done and dusted, they had no effect. They fell on stony ground, you might say. Forty days and forty nights stretched until a day was like a thousand years and strict doctrine slipped into superstition and fairy tale. Once upon a time, the father married a wicked stepmother, who stamped her foot and said Lazy Jack – which the Bible doesn't mention was the parasitic sack o' shite's name – had to go. So, she called the cook and they made him into a pie, and when Dad came home from a day of being a cypher for divine forgiveness – or maybe he was a woodcutter – he plonked himself like Desperate Dan at the head of the laden table. Mmmmmm, he said, wiping his chinny chin chin, Smells like fatted calf.
The Hidden Economy of Sleep
I dream about money again: not in terms of luxury, or the happiness it may or may not buy, but in its simple material form, raised print on polymer. It feels like a sturdy carrier bag for books or vegetables but, when I open it, there's a vintage carriage clock, stopped at 3.46, a time in which I see no significance whatsoever, though I instinctively know it's a.m. rather than p.m. and make a note of it for later. The notes are blue as jazz or a quiet stranger's eyes in a pulp romance. The plot's always the same: a tense young woman wants something and gets it, while the pages in between feel like a bundle of old fivers, back when they were suitable for vegetarians. I slip formulaic love and a stand-up bass into a sturdy carrier bag, along with the last vegetables my mother ever bought from the Saturday market, and the stopped clock, which has now given birth to a brood of pocket watches, ticking to be fed. Time flies and one day they will stretch their polymer wings. I wake up to a rabbit thumping on a mound of loose change, which amounts to £3.46, or nothing but a hill of my late mother's beans. It's 3.46 am.
Oz Hardwick has published nine collections, including Learning to Have Lost (2018), which won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and, most recently, Wolf Planet (2020). He has also edited several anthologies, including The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (2019) with Anne Caldwell. Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the postgraduate Creative Writing programmes.