Raven Crow

Midnight Feast

Oz Hardwick

We  are  seated at a long table, neat as children in   a  ghost   story,  quiet  as  pawned  musical instruments, silverware winking in candlelight. This isn’t the world any of us were born to, but with   each   tock  of a clock that sounds like it’s beneath    the    floorboards,    it’s    harder   to remember  a  time  before.  At  the head of the table  sits  a  raven. In spite of appearances, it’s no  Edgar Allan Poe  harbinger of the Freudian unheimlich, but is no less strange for that; four imperial  pounds  of  black  eyes  and  feathers, cocked  to  music  no  one  else  can  hear.   I’ve

read that ravens can imitate human speech, but it’s   still  a  shock  when  my  own  voice  cracks from  that  shellacked  beak  to  remind   me  to

wash  my hands,  keep  my distance, and wear a

face  covering  at  all  times.   A  straight-backed waiter  with  lavender  palms  circles  the  table, placing  empty  mismatched  plates  in  front of each of us, and I use  the distraction to scan my fellow  diners  across  yards  of  polished  wood. Each  face  is  covered  –   some  by  masks  and some by feathers – and when I open my mouth to speak, all I can say is kraa and caw.

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Crisis Management

When   the   ghosts   won’t  leave,  I  phone  the

Crisis  number  I  carry  for  such  emergencies.

When   they   ask    how   many,  I   explain  that

windows  and  mirrors  are  one  and  the  same,

and  that  all  my  reflections  are just a little out 

of  sync.  There  are  ears  pressed  to  the  other

sides  of  all  surfaces.  When  they ask how long

this  has  been  going  on  for,  I  tell them about

the   drawer   full  of  stopped  watches  and  the

sundial  in  the  cellar  that  keeps  perfect  time.

The fingers drumming on the chair arm are not mine.  When  they ask  me to rate intensity on a scale  of  1  to  10,  I  describe the first time I saw

limbs  and  faces  in  trees, and how even silence chants  its  own confessions. The head in my lap could  be  a  dog  or  a  devil,  but  I’m  afraid  to

open  my  eyes.  When  they ask me to call a cab

and  check  myself  in  as  a  matter of urgency, I

tell   them   I  can’t  find  my  birth  certificate,  I

can’t  find  my  phone,  and  the  only map I own shows   bomb   damage  to  my  hometown  after

the  last  war.  A  large  black  bird  spars  with  its shadow   on   the   scuffed  wooden  floor.  When

they  ask  why  I  am speaking to an empty room,

I can’t answer.

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Oz Hardwick is a UK-based poet, photographer, occasional musician, and accidental academic, whose work has been widely published in international journals and anthologies. He has published nine full collections and chapbooks, including Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018) which won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and his most recent publication, the prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet (Clevedon: Hedgehog, 2020). He has also edited or co-edited several anthologies, including The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2019) with Anne Caldwell. Oz has held residencies in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia, and has performed internationally at major festivals and intimate soirees. Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the postgraduate Creative Writing programmes.