A Sketch from the Citadel by David Roden


Post-induction, she had them buckled and hooded. Their mouths seeped through ball-gags and wet strips of cloth.

The concubines had returned to their distant quarters. She was back at the Processing Yard where drugged internees were decanted over the cavernous staging area. She saw them always from a great distance, as through a long tunnel. Even in their inert state, she felt they expected something of her.

His straitjacket prolapsed red across white, petals and coils, a sour stink of stomach acids and excrement. The way he cradled his viscera so tenderly; the way blood-flecked saliva bubbled until he shook. She removed his gag, shrugged off her short silk gown, put away the gutting knife, allowing the miracle of his tongue to sting. 

He rose to the occasion, extended a cooling body. She convulsed as he died, aware of the chained eyes of the inductees egging her on; learning to appreciate her.

They had lived beyond the black bulwarks as mothers, fathers, lovers, students, artists, bureaucrats, thinkers; now reduced to anonymous toys - Citadel carrion, as she had been once. Yet she craved their attention and more. Power in the Outside was anonymous and dispersed. In the Citadel it accrued into spectacle then mutated into something else.

She relished all the contradictions this visibility entailed. For today, she appeared to them in well-fed, sore and scabbed flesh. She wanted to understand what it was to inexist. They could help each other out.

That night, she had phoned in another team from a nearby arsenal. They journeyed through the sinuous tram-shafts, burrowing in ancient catacombs webbed with gantries and girders in a substructure of pure imperviousness, Primary Matter. 

The two male concubines touched her tentatively, afraid to hurt her until ordered to. But they soon got the hang of snagging breasts in teeth, pinching, licking and raking, before they slipped into her with the modesty of their kind. The women kissed and cut, leaving her red-burning, wet and angry.

The condemned, at least, would appreciate the incongruity while the Clock Guards - heavy industrial automata with a minimal regard for human anatomy - beat a select few into red pap. They killed slowly yet were indefatigable once the order was passed. This instructional process always seemed about to plumb her capacity for horror but never exceeded it. 

At her panoramic window, she stared out across the winding tunnels and the minatory prows of Black Ships floating on Void Winds between the Dolorous Cities, rearing thunderheads from the Citadel’s prime substance. The Ships waited to drink her as they waited to drink them all, before the entire assemblage halted, screaming its insolent prayer at the final emptiness. She was changed utterly. On the Outside she had never wielded power or appreciated how it damned its possessor. Now it was a weapon for that which waited across light centuries of glacier, under the collated facsimiles of former galaxies.  

The Clock Guards stumbled out of pools of blood mash and splintered bone, gauche as baby crabs. One day, she would order them to pick her apart, then to deconstruct themselves, claw out their synthetic muscles and camera eyes. She would tell the condemned to watch carefully. It would not be justice. There would be too much pleasure in it, and death would be but a hesitation before the Ships.

And perhaps this alone bothered her. If perversion was the rule, where was she? What could she do, who came from nowhere and would never return?

From the Outside, the Citadel is finite, local, secreted in a waste quarter of every city: a baroque town house reserved for silent ritualists, a fortress, residue of a defunct police state, a chateau crumbling in the heart of a decaying steel works. Nervous magistrates concoct paper misdirections to ratify the internees’ disappearance, implicating them in corruption, theft, prostitution or child murders. It doesn’t matter if they are punished justly, only that the greater mass believes it. Yet from the Citadel, the Outside is irretrievable. An idiot loneliness.

David Roden is a philosopher and writer interested in alternatives to being human. His book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human was published in 2014. His experimental prose work has been published in Gobbet, Dis Magazine, Surfaces and Sunk Island Review.

Blind Date by Roberta Francis

I tried so hard not to wear them
stuffing the glasses inside my fleece.
A jailed throat so full of phlegm.
My slip of a coat hiding steams
Of black-ink on the shirt I had to wear.
Her and the ugly sister smirking
Their mess brushed across my cheeks.
All I could do was fumble through torn tissue,
And fix my eyes on the grey slate.
Foul words to break me
Opened their mouths they swallowed my face.
Tug at my hair like an unwanted doll,
Forced to the floor, blot becomes blood
Heels splinter glass eyes turn to mud.

Roberta Francis is a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at the Open University.  She is a spoken word poet/novelist and is currently finishing her first novel. She has been published in the York Literary Review and Spoken Word Anti-hate anthology.

INSOMNIA by Dominic Lyne


Here we go again,
sat alone
in front of a notebook.
The flat settled down for the night,
everyone asleep but me.
I hear my boyfriend move in bed,
most likely stretching out, 
but only finding space.
Gripping my pillow
he dreams it’s me he’s hugging.
scrap that,
he’s dreaming of me fucking him,
but the only thing I’m fucking is my patience.
My cock agrees with me and out of spite
shows me how easily it can sleep.
It dreams of fucking my boyfriend,
together they cum in dreamland.
I don’t even get to watch.
Brain censored
like Tumblr in 2019.

If I knew the key to sleep,
I would follow the rules,
write a poem that rhymes,
but that would be a cliché
like a French guy that mimes,
the white stripes of his tight fitting top
taut over his muscles.
I could get lost ripping it from his skin…
Snorting it clean of its lines,
I push the guy into the black void that’s left.
Even a quick daydream is torn open,
spitting me back to the awareness that
my cigarette lies smouldering on my groin.
Fucking Marlboro,
not content at shortening my future,
it wants to sabotage my present.
I don’t need that kinda shit,
and to think I happily feltched smoke out of its ass.

I blew that smoke up God’s ass.
Stole the occasional lick,
hoping my tongue would tingle His rosebud into bloom,
watered by my saliva.
Only I’m like an ant trying to fuck a body
lying naked on the grass in the summer sun.
My un-consented kiss on His butt
is punished by my continual existence;
living face up,
mouth open for the next ball of shit
He needs to evacuate from His divine bowel.
I’m not the only one.
One God,
two billion cups.

I won’t live to see the apocalypse.
I won’t live to see it
because my death will trigger it.
So whilst my soul lingers
around for the Final Judgment,
wide awake as always,
I will watch as the Four Horsemen
appear on the horizon and sashay into view,
bareback riding unicorns
and ejaculating rainbows and sunbeams.
Always knew the gays would be the end of the world.
Everyone knew.
The only fire and brimstone to be seen
will be pouring out of the prolapsed rectums
of puppet politicians once the Horsemen pull out
their well lubricated fists.

I’m still awake.
That wasn’t a micronap flash-mob of a dream.
Those were waking thoughts.
That is what keeps me awake.
The stuff of dreams preventing me
from dreaming.
My boyfriend moves again.
His sleep talk bleeds from the bedroom to my ears.
I could be in there fucking him.
I could be,
but both he and my cock are asleep.
If only I could make insomnia my bitch.
Tonight, however, I’m hers.

Photo by Sebastien Garcia

Suffering from psychosis since the age of four, as well as being on the Schizophrenia Spectrum, Dominic Lyne has been diagnosed with Dissociative Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. All of these mental health issues bleed into his work through his creation of claustrophobic landscapes and offer the reader an insight into his world, the world he has created and mutated in his physical reality. 

Paws in boots by Rishi Dastidar


I'm as jittery as a kangaroo
on a pogo stick on the San Andreas fault
who's had seven double espresso
and a diagnosis of nervous anxiety
to deal with this morning.

I am pre-distressed, and the wonder
isn't we are all like this always when
contending with the sheer impossibility 
of contemplation in a world that suggests
that it is contemptible and consumption is all.

The only solution, the ad suggests,
is to find a girl with beautifully unwashed hair,
and use her green Converse boots
to kick someone else in the head.

Well, that is capitalism, 
as we currently understand it.

Rishi Dastidar’s debut collection Ticker-tape is published by Nine Arches Press, and a poem from it was included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018. A member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, he is also chair of the London writer development organization Spread The Word.

Weidmann Appeared Before You by Jonathan Kemp


Let us say now that her carnal pleasures never made her fear the wrath of God, the scorn of Jesus, or the candied disgust of the Holy Virgin, never until…

Something makes you look up from your book, perhaps some instinct or unconscious signal - some scent perhaps, or a sixth sense you’re not aware you have. There, two seats in front, on the top deck of the 106 to Finsbury Park, your gaze falls on the back of a boy’s head, a glorious crop of luscious dark brown curls, the lick of its tail at the nape is skewed slighty off-centre & such imperfection makes the sight even more precious. You fall into thinking about the erotics of hair. Why women of certain faiths are commanded to cover their hair lest they incite men to lustful thoughts, making their minds stray to the other hair between her legs. You think about the boy’s body hair. Is it plentiful or scarce, clippered or running wild?

He has his right arm in a sling, and the injury makes him more beautiful still; even though at this point you cannot see his face beyond the quick glimpses of a Roman nose when he turns to look out of the window; a profile of most noble horniness. You find yourself abandoning the book momentarily so you can enjoy the vision before you, the random, unexpected beauty of the back of his head and neck, those well-built shoulders in washed-out salmon jersey cotton, that fits where it hits, showing off his beefy arms. It’s as if you’ve just wandered in off the street into a gallery & found a painting or a statue that you cannot tear your eyes away from. He can’t have any idea how hypnotically beautiful the sight of him from behind is, with those tempting snatches of that profile of a god. His skin is creamy, dreamy, his stubble sparse & lickable. 

You wonder if it’s appropriate to objectivize him like this but know, deep down, that it is. Or at least it is a habit so instinctive that it’s become second nature to you. You remember B saying, ‘I don’t mind of you objectivize me; go ahead’ as you gazed at him, stroked the firm furred ass, drank in the sight of him.  You’ve never bought that it is dehumanizing, or rather if it is it’s a universal experience: to objectify and be objectified in turn. We are all both subject & object. To objectify a beautiful human doesn’t rob them of their subjectivity. The recognition of another’s deep, complex subjectivity is a radical act of intimacy. It is overwhelming, vertiginous, both terrifying and liberating. You don’t know where you end and they begin, so much are you a product of their own perceptions, imagination, and desire, & they of yours. 

You look down & return to your book & read Genet’s words: “The Eternal passed by in the form of a pimp” & they seem to sing in a way you’ve never heard before. For Genet, in that scene, in his cell devising stories about hot murderers & well-endowed criminals to get himself off, “merely to have mentioned him is enough for my left hand in my torn pocket to… And the memory of Darling will not leave me until I have completed my gesture.” That ellipsis – that wank – occurs outside of language, an act only suggested, left to the imagination, rather than described. He leaves the reader (who he sees always as a bourgeoisie straight white male) in no doubt what he is up to. Instead Genet describes the fantasy that gets him off:

He appeared standing before me with the same graciousness that might have been his lying naked in a field of pinks. I was his at once, as if (who said that?) he had discharged through my mouth straight to my heart. Entering me until there was no room left for myself

Genet concludes this portrait of Darling with the statement: "If I think about him, I can’t stop praising him until my hand is smeared with my liberated pleasure.”

For Genet, to objectify a desirable male is an act of praise, the pimp is raised on a pedestal of Genet’s making, enrolled in a sexual fantasy that elevates him to the very top of the angels’ hierarchy. 

Our gaze is always slant, slight, tentative, alert to being spotted; never assertive, appropriate, though indeed it does appropriate, with eager tongue, lapping up what it sees, loving with our eyes those things they are blessed to see. We’re not supposed to look, or not like this, but still we look, still we lust. Loving with our eyes those things they are blessed to see. 

Photo by Ellie Clarke

Jonathan Kemp lives & works in London. His first novel London Triptych won the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award.

Words of Christ in Red by Esther Betts


I fucking hate alcoholics. They're weak, miserable people and should all be sterilised, reads the facebook comment.

Edwarda Elmskid

I can’t say I don’t feel defensive, after all, I am an alcoholic. At least was until about two months ago when I quit. New Years it what drove me to stop drinking, before I even got to pre-drinks I’d already had four cans of IPA and some tequila shots. I threw up on the way to the bus stop but that didn’t stop me. At pre-drinks I drank whatever I could get my hands on - including other people’s drinks - sambuca, vodka, lager. I blacked out and none of my friends will talk to me now; but someone told me it included me breaking their television. I wasn’t violent, just out of control. The fear of not knowing what I’d done drove me to visit multiple AA meetings and set me on the rocky road to sobriety.

It is also arguable that I’m weak and miserable, thankfully I’m already sterile, so that part wasn’t up for debate. Alcoholism has a way of making you feel weak and miserable in such a way that you begin to identify with your weakness and your misery. You begin to feel proud of your own self-hatred. For a bit I was proud that I had broken their television, I was proud that I was such a scumbag, it made me happy.

I was happy because I could use it as an excuse to keep drinking - but at that stage I was forced to choose between booze and everything else. I was forced to do away with that mindset and all that was left was the deep shame of everything I had done.

So I can imagine the reasons why Jeremy Udburgh made this comment on faceook which I browse absentmindedly whilst I should be looking for work: he hates alcoholics. A lot of people get hurt by alcoholics; maybe an alcoholic broke his television.

To an outsider it can look like the person who just can’t stop drinking is weak. Most people are able to just have one drink and stop; or are able to stop once they notice they are drunk; I can’t do this. I know a lot of people will not accept this but to alcoholics booze actually is just more addictive. I theorise there must be something different in our biology. It’s true I can’t stop drinking if I start but

I’m also able to drink a lot more and not get drunk.

I also never get hungover. The morning after the television incident - I felt the mindnumbing shame I always feel after drinking - but I didn’t feel hungover. I felt mildly groggy but I had some coffee and I was back to normal. Usually at that point I would turn around, open my fridge and take out a can. My sister is the same in regards to not getting hungover; I am constantly warning her to watch her drinking so she doesn’t end up doing what I did.

So I know the reasons why Udburgh might think alcoholics are weak and pathetic but as well as being a junky for alcohol I am also a junky for navel-gazing. I want to know what this total stranger who I have never met and likely never will meet thinks of me; an alcoholic. I fire back. Why do you think that?

Jeremy Udburgh

He’s a portly middleaged man, balding, Homer Simpson-esque. He comes back from getting himself a coffee and sits back at his desktop. He works from home, so he gets to browse the internet all day whilst sorting through e-mails that he gave canned responses to. Please refer to our renewal policy, yours sincerely, J. Udburgh.

It was mind-numbing work so he decides on another break and checks his notifications: Why do you think that?

Jeremy Udburgh thinks hard to himself

Fuck, where do I start? they’re alcoholics; it’s simple. I don’t know who this person thinks she is anyway? Why does she care so much about alcoholics? Nobody cares about them and nobody should. They’ve ruined the high street; I can’t even fucking get a coffee without one of them grubby, greasy, smelly little buggers mumbling at me asking me for money. You see them huddled next to the cash machines waiting to abuse innocent hard working people who are just looking to withdraw some money.

Fuck, this reminds me of that one scumbag I saw on Park Street. It was raining and I was just trying to get to the bus stop. He was sat in a shopfront and bawling his eyes out like a fucking baby. ‘Please, please,’ he cried. I was so close to punting him; please what? Please give me money so I can spend more of your hard earned cash on alcohol? The moment anyone gives him any money he’s stopping his crying and walking straight to the off-license.

I don’t believe they are truly addicts; we all like a drink, they just lack selfcontrol.

I wonder why the fuck this Edwarda person doesn’t get this. What universe are they living in? I hate alcoholics, all my good hardworking friends hate alcoholics, why the fuck don’t they agree? I’m a little bit angry at her, I’m so lost for words! I know what to do though. Everybody knows alcoholics abuse and belittle their families; their families get in the way of their drinking, so they hate them! See I don’t really care about the alcoholics themselves but I care about their victims.

Edwarda is spitting on the suffering of hundreds of wives and children by refusing to hate alcoholics. How do I know she doesn’t hate alcoholics? If she did she would have just liked my comment like everyone else has.

I have no first hand or second hand experience of alcoholics but I know enough to imagine what it would be like. I’m going to make this cow feel bad for what she has done.

Jeremy Udburgh’s actual response

I have a friend whose dad was an alcoholic. Every night her dad would come home drunk and beat her with an empty wine bottle! Then he would go out to the off-license and buy more wine. He’d force her to stand in the living room so he could throw the empty bottles at her every time he finished one. He did this every day to her until she was 16! Are you saying that she doesn’t have the right to hate alcoholics?

Back To Edwarda

I knew he was lying but I couldn’t prove it so I decided to ignore him. I don’t doubt something like that could happen but it’s by no means typical alcoholic behaviour. I don’t know how to respond to something that rests on an assumption which isn’t true. I also didn’t feel like he was making an argument; he was just trying to make me feel bad for disagreeing with him. What of my original curiosity? Why does this man hate alcoholics? Well I guess from his comment he hates them because he thinks they abuse their families.

I felt a certain sourness in my mouth and I decided to step away from the laptop. No matter how much I improve there will always be people like Jeremy Udburgh who think I’m scum who throw bottles at children. I never acted violently towards anyone whilst drunk; at least I didn’t think I had. It dawned on me that I had blacked out on New Years and that I didn’t know what I had done other than break the television. Oh my God, I could have done anything.

He had mentioned wine in his comment and that’s how I was feeling. I checked my bank balance: £0.34. I guess I could do what I’d always done and shoplift or beg my friends for a drink. I remember going into bars and simply waiting for people to abandon their drinks and then downing them. I got banned from so many places that way. One time whilst already very drunk the bartender called out my minesweeping activities. I climbed onto the bar and tried to suckle the booze directly out of the taps; then the bouncers walked in and dragged me out.

I’m never going to do that again but regardless; I can’t get away from the fact I’ve already done it. Out of impotent rage; originating from my inability to respond to such a man; I picked up my empty coffee cup and almost threw it at the wall. I stopped myself though; I’m too old to act like that anymore.

Esther Betts is an aspiring writer and university drop-out born in Scotland but currently residing in Bristol. Betts is interested in a wide range of ideas but particularly those attached to shame and identity.

Shrug—Spin—Shatter by Iris Colomb


I wouldn’t let you touch it now if you were spilling out, and even then — when I give it back it won’t — when I struck it first — wanting it there, wanting it close, before it slips — when it started to, started to spin — and as it tried to pull away — let me tell you how it feels, remind you how it felt when you — to risk the tear I closed my eyes, closed in to tear, if tearing wasn’t quite enough — give it a rest, why give — I bet you can’t remember how it howls, it howls, that’s why — skipped as it could behind my tongue, I — lost in a shrug, another shrug, mine — I’ve been trying not to waste my vowels before we break — when it chokes on itself — lost in a shrug, another shrug, mine — enough to risk it flailing out, before I quit, after I take enough to risk — and every time it chokes — these sounds I snatched, I snatched, to be mine — I didn’t ask, and wouldn’t reach, because it stings — when I stole your language — some of it left, not all of it clutched — and all of it surrounding you, surrounding me, again — I wasn’t trying, wasn’t trying, wasn’t tired — when I give it back it won’t — rings of it racing back to — I wasn’t trying, wasn’t trying, wasn’t tired — when it chokes on itself — I never rest before it’s done, and when it’s done I let it shatter me — and as it tried to pull away — skipped as it could behind my tongue, I — I never rest before it’s done, and when it’s done I let it shatter me — I wouldn’t let you touch it now if you were spilling out, and even then — enough to risk it flailing out, before I quit, after I take enough to risk — and when it caved, pretending it could still — I didn’t ask, and wouldn’t reach, because it stings — and all of it surrounding you, surrounding me, again — and when it caved, pretending it could still — the only world I wouldn’t sell, you tried to play that card, I wouldn’t say it back — when the sounds feel like my sounds I wait and — when I ripped it out, my voice an empty box, and left to draw it ripe — I’ve been trying not to waste my vowels before we break — and every time it chokes — I bet you can’t remember how it howls, it howls, that’s why — when I struck it first — although it still likes to pretend, likes to pretend it can — when I stole your language — the only world I wouldn’t sell, you tried to play that card, I wouldn’t say it back — when it started to, started to spin — all this and more before I can’t relate and all before the point — give it a rest, why give — wanting it there, wanting it close, before it slips — all this and more before I can’t relate and all before the point — although it still likes to pretend, likes to pretend it can — to risk the tear I closed by eyes, closed in to tear, if tearing wasn’t quite enough — let me tell you how it feels, remind you how it felt when you — rings of it racing back to — I said let’s take we will we have — when I ripped it out, my voice an empty box, and left to draw it ripe — these sounds I snatched, I snatched, to be mine — I said let’s take we will we have — some of it left, not all of it clutched — when the sounds feel like my sounds I wait and

Iris Colomb is a poet, artist, curator, editor and translator based in London. Her performances have involved artist books, experimental translation, metal tubes, red bins, shouting over hairdryers and spitting in books. Her pamphlet 'I’m Shocked' came out with Bad Betty Press in 2018, and her chapbook 'just promise you won’t write' was published by Gang Press in 2019.

Check out Iris' website