Happy as...

Larry hits a bar after work. Hits
it hard, like the punchbag
at the gym he doesn’t go to anymore.
Face blotched and veiny, eyes sore
from dim interiors and neon lights,
he groans at his reflection: the sag
of his belly over a belt loosened
to its last notch and still tight,
shirt buttons straining, his suit
wearing as thin as his excuses.
The next round of redundancies,
he’ll be gone. He’s a liability:
no contacts, no customers, no clout.
He’s got nothing to be happy about.

Would Larry’s lot in life recalibrate
if a glance back in time (to foggy
Victorian streets) showed him a sandboy
labouring with barrow? Larry works eight
hours a day, considerably less than
this chap; adjusted for inflation, his take-
home pay is better; his back doesn't ache,
or his shoulders; blisters don’t scar his hands.
Manifold differences. What hasn't changed
is the ritual that ends the working day:
pub, ale. Our sandboy downs his first
pint, staves off thoughts of tomorrow,
of the hours behind the barrow,
the sand, the heat, the day-long thirst.

But Larry and the sandboy are living
the good life (all correspondence
c/o Easy Street) if the existence
of our next subject is anything
to go by. No formal introduction,
I’m afraid: he doesn’t have a name.
The farmer calls him ‘pig’. His home,
the mildewed walls of a sty.
Bred and fed and fattened just to die,
he’s bacon, sausage, breakfast for a nation.
Though appetites would wane, he thinks,
if they saw the squalor, inhaled the stink.
The end is near and while he waits for it
he wallows unhappily, a pig in shit.

Neil Fulwood (UK)

A Priest and a Bandit

(i.m. Eli Wallach)

Where we came from, if one did not want to die
of poverty, one became a priest or a bandit. You
chose your way, I chose mine. Mine was harder.

— TUCO: ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’
Tuco and his brother. The key scene in The Good,
the Bad and the Ugly. Pare back the iconography
of ten-gallon hat, poncho, holster, gun; streets of mud,

huge vistas juxtaposed with close-ups of gimlet eyes
narrowed against the noonday sun, Civil War
deployments, bridges blown to matchwood, the brutality

of the prison camp, a cemetery like an amphitheatre,
a noose around a neck. Strip away the retro-cool
of the opening credits, the Ennio Morricone score.

This isn’t about the Man with No Name, he of ‘my mule
don’t like you laughing’ in A Fistful of Dollars;
he of the spat-out stream of tobacco; he of the quasi-duel,

shooting his antagonist’s hat along the street in For
a Few Dollars More. And this isn’t about Angel Eyes,
who is anything but angelic. It isn’t about il buono or

il cattivo — no, no, no. This, señoras y señores,
is about il brutto, about his transformation from
grizzled comedic sidekick making poetry of curses

to something defiantly and recognisably human.
This is about the distance between one thing and another.
The cross and the six-shooter. Belief in the kingdom come

and avoidance of the rope and the drop that gets you there.
The distance between the high wall of the monastery
and the view from the mountain vantage point where

undefended villages display themselves like easily
picked off targets at a shooting range; where huts
and shacks will yield up their pittance of food, money

or livestock; where resistance will meet with the butt
of a gun — or the business end of same. No remorse,
no hesitation; shoot to kill; ride away. This is about

the distance between childhood morality, the discourse
of padre and parents, the simple definitions of right
and wrong, the Bible’s teachings, chapter and verse;

the distance between catechism that was black and white
on paper but hard to reconcile with poverty, hunger,
death; the distance between communion and the first night

you stole or cheated at cards or lied to your mother,
the first night you paid to go with a woman, or spat
and challenged a man and raised your fist in anger,

the first night you pulled your gun and proved that
you were faster. This is the distance between the Word
of the Lord and the sins of man, a wanted poster at

a sheriff’s office, a hanging tree, the jeers of the crowd.
This is about the distance between two brothers,
a priest and a bandit, and what set them apart; how

each made their choice and one choice was harder.

Neil Fulwood (UK)


As kids, it was open to debate
which was the higher form
of human endeavour: astronaut,
racing driver, or centre forward
for Nottingham Forest (this
was during the Cloughie years;
no son of mine would say that now).
But one thing was sure:
when you were back from the moon
or Silverstone or the pitch,
you’d sink a pint
in the Robin Hood Tavern
or the Tap ‘n’ Tumbler.
That was a term we learned
from our dads — ‘sink a pint’,
like summat out of Battleships,
only you got bladdered
instead of deep-sixing
someone’s aircraft carrier.
‘Bladdered’ — another linguistic classic
picked up from dad, uncle
or older brother. ‘Pissed’ earned you kudos
in schoolyard or backstreet
and a clip round the ear
if your mam heard you use it.
We were snot-nosed little boggers,
just over halfway to our teens
and talking like we knew it all
and didn’t rate it. We’d have despaired
if we knew how far in the future
they were, the twin promises
of sex and booze. They seemed
just round the corner. There was
always a cousin or someone a mate knew
who’d got served, got bladdered,
puked his guts up on the hall carpet
and caught hell off his folks
the following morning, but somehow
found time to chat this girl up,
get her number
on the back of a fag packet
and boast to anyone who’d listen
how he was on a promise.
Over a cribbed cigarette
or an incomplete deck of cards
that we spent more time shuffling
than dealing, we’d disparage this cousin,
this someone a mate knew, scoff
at his boasting, but secretly hope
he’d made it happen. It was his bullshit
we put our trust in.

Neil Fulwood (UK)

Personal Improvement Plan

So here we are. This is where a sense of humour
and ambivalence to the internet use policy
has got me. I would like to thank Oscar Wilde,
Dorothy Parker, Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks
for showing me the way. I would like to thank
Facebook, Buzzfeed and IMDb for using my time
productively. To every meme and e-card
on the internet, a debt of gratitude. To every
website that traffics in NSFW, a tip of the hat.

So here we are, me and some guy in a bad suit,
some guy who’s never read Dostoyevsky
or seen a film by Werner Herzog, who doesn’t
know Monet from a Google doodle, who never
rose as part of a standing ovation after Haitink
conducted Beethoven’s 9th. Me and some guy
who speaks in TLAs, his job title stanchioned
with the word ‘manager’. That guy. I sneak
a glance at my watch when I know he’s looking.

Neil Fulwood (UK)

Horror movie with chicken

Chicken caught in your main beams
at the side of a country road,
late at night with jazz on the radio
and tiredness setting in…
you wouldn’t give it a second thought
except it was wearing shades
and a leather jacket.
                                        Wearing shades.
At night.
                        And as you ease off
to take that sharp curve, it’s there —
in the middle of the road — the same chicken,
though God knows how it moved
so fast, how it got in front of you.
The steering wheel wrenches itself
from your hands. The brake’s been cut.
The treeline strides forward to meet you.

Neil Fulwood (UK)


Open the file marked ‘your biggest fear’:
watch the paper disintegrate, leaving

a void. Step into it. Fasten the seat belt
that’s not provided; feel free to scream

on your way down. Here’s everything
you staked against the certainty that death

was the end. Here’s Charon as croupier
scooping the coins from dead men’s eyes —

the house always wins. We apologise
for the loaded dice, the stacked deck

and the fact that your cocktail waitress
has just revealed herself as the reaper.

We regret the banality of your experience,
the absence of that shimmering white light

Hollywood conned you with, the lack
of pearly gates or stairways to heaven.

No wings or harps or fluffy white clouds,
and long before you relinquish

the definition of eternity and accept
the meaning, you’ll relinquish also

the fascination of fire and brimstone,
the promise of pain and pleasure

in exquisite ratio. There’s no hell. Sorry.
There’s only this: a place to reflect

on the life we loaned you and what
you did with it. Welcome. The floor show

has been cancelled. Your credit’s no good
at the bar. The go-go dancers have gone.

Neil Fulwood (UK)

My preferred funeral

Play Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’

or ‘Zadok the Priest’.

As you enter the building

take a scoop of my ashes

and throw me in the guts of the stale church air.

Jump up on the altar and conduct like madmen.

Every one of you.

Dance however you like.
Drink whatever you please.
Kiss whomever you desire.

Don’t mope around,


faces hung

like wet socks.

Smile —

you miserable bastards

— or I’ll haunt you

Anna Bonetti (Victoria)