Online Writing and Reading Festivals – Part 1: When Words Collide – Calgary

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All writers, everywhere… check this out

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

This is Part 1 in a 3-part series about annually held writing and reading festivals that have moved online this year. The good news is that these festivals are now open to readers and writers all over the world!

For this first part, I asked Randy McCharles, the brains and driving force behind the very first WWC held in 2011 to tell us about the Calgary festival. I took part in this conference during its early years in Calgary, providing displays of books by Alberta authors in The Book Room. The conference was always sold-out every year, making for crowds of readers and authors, publishers and promoters, gathering together.

When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers

August 14 to 16, 2020

Since its humble beginnings in 2011 as a regional literary festival set in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, When Words Collide has grown to become the largest festival of its…

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A-R International: Rohini Sunderam

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Once again I have the honour of being featured among Susan Toy’s international writers

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

Rohini Sunderam
Authors-Readers International

A Canadian of Indian origin living in Bahrain, Rohini Sunderam dabbles in all kinds of verse, satirical, funny, and contemplative as well as prose if the mood so grabs her. She has contributed to several anthologies by Robin Barratt.

Rohini is a semi-retired advertising copywriter. She has written two books as commissioned assignments, had articles published in The Statesman, Calcutta, India, The Globe & Mail, Canada, and The Halifax Chronicle Herald, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Her poems have been selected in international competitions for publication in Poetry Rivals (Remus House, UK) 2012; Dilliwali (Bushra Alvi Razzak, India) and Quesadilla & Other Adventures (2019 Somrita U Ganguly).

Her books Corpoetry, Desert Flower and Five Lives – One Day in Bahrain are published by Ex-L-Ence UK. Her poem Birth Pangs and her entry in a Rhyming Riddle contest (7th…

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Give me a break!

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This is a great and extremely generous idea. Many thanks to Susan Toy. Do check out potential new authors for your virtual or real bookshelves.

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

Yesterday, I published the last promotion in the current round of postings for the Authors-Readers International series that I’ve been running on this blog since Dec. 1, 2019. During that time, I have promoted 50 Authors who have lived in, or been associated with, 26 different countries around the world!

Here’s the complete list of authors so far: Authors-Readers International

I have now amended this list to include information that I had for each Author on the countries in which they were born and/or had spent a significant time during their lives. So Readers will have a good selection indeed of a very INTERNATIONAL and diverse list of Authors! Although, I do admit that the majority of Authors in this first round of promotions come from or live in Canada, but then that’s where I come from, so it’s kind of a given that I would know more Canadian Authors…

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Park Bench Stories

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It’s been a while since I had a story to post. This one’s a sequel. Something I haven’t done before. It was sparked by a Facebook post that popped up thanks to their algorithms that remind you of a post three or five or more years ago. This one was called The Park Bench, based on a prompt given by Shauna Nearing Løj. This story has been particularly popular and has twice been released in Spain, courtesy Gerry Wright.

Fast forward to two days ago when a friend from the Bahrain Writers’ Circle, Veronica Selvarajan, read the story and made the comment, “I am going to be wondering if she ever reciprocates….” Well, of course that possibility wouldn’t leave me alone untilI had written the sequel and decided if she’s ever going to reciprocate. Well, Veronica, Cynthia, Charlotte, Joy, Malini, Gerry, Ajoy, Pam, Aruna… and many others. I’ve become a romantic in my old age.

The Guy at the Park

by Rohini Sunderam

She’d never really forgotten him. The young man at the park bench who always asked her if she’d ‘found a young man’. There had been a marked electricity between them. It was palpable through book after book that she read almost every workday afternoon. All he ever did was chew a fresh blade of grass and look up at the sky. There was a quiet confidence in his cocky voice and silence. He lived in the moment. Enjoyed the breeze, the birds in the sky, the clouds, the trees. Over the years they had developed a silent, comfortable, companionship. It was a quiet hour every workday that she kept for herself, before she took the bus home. They had hardly ever even had a conversation. He had grown strong and grown up since that spring so many years ago when they first shared the park bench. She had never learnt his name, nor what he did for a living.

And yet, all these years later, she remembered the look on his face the day she told him she had ‘found a young man’. He wished her well. But his eyes went dull grey like an autumn sky suddenly robbed of the sun.  And something in his face crumpled. But he didn’t say anything to her when she broke it to him. She wondered, ‘was all that electricity just in my head?’ She’d risen from the bench and had disappeared from his life for twenty years in the big city.

Twenty years, she said to herself. Why did I put up with ‘my young man’ for that long! There’d been that early euphoria of being married, being in the financial centre of the country, of looking after a house. But she and Bill had never really had much in common. He constantly wanted to go to this party and that restaurant, spend a fun time with his friends, anything but come home to an evening of quietude, an hour of  reading or listening to music.

He’d come back from work and it was, ‘Right, where are we going tonight?’

Her responses, ‘but I’ve just cooked this lovely dinner, I thought we could enjoy it together,’ were usually overruled.

Occasionally he’d agree and then it was a sullen silence they shared, nothing calm and companionable like it was with the guy in the park. That was a magical hour; the park was a Tom Thomson painting, the colours fixed and immutable. Instead, the meal she had so carefully prepared was wolfed down without a word of thanks and then he’d want to go out for a nightcap. Being a lawyer meant he could afford all that as well as the house. After a few years he went out on his own. Leaving her to her still pool of solitude that bordered on loneliness and her books that transported her on their magic carpet pages to other possibilities.

The miscarriages hadn’t helped either. Her mother had assured her things would improve once a baby or two arrived. After the first two losses, when she felt her world had been wrenched from inside her, her soul and heart shattered into a myriad shards of glass that cut her every time she saw a couple with a baby in a pram, Bill had grown more distant. The doctors said she wasn’t likely to have any more. Bill’s night-time forays became more frequent. Then there was his affair. Secret and sly, sordid and so typically with his secretary. Sinning is hard only the first time, so it wasn’t long before there was another affair and another.  Finally, the divorce and when her mother died, she decided to move back to the small city. The house was hers and she could easily get a job, perhaps even her old job at the library.

It was a cloudy day in November when she thought of going to the park with her book. ‘For old times’ sake’ she said to herself, he’s probably not even there any more. The years had flown like the clouds overhead. She was as nervous as a teenager as she walked in her high boots and her camel trench coat down the path towards where she remembered the bench used to be. It was four o’clock, her usual time from force of habit.

There was a man on the bench. Sitting where he used to sit. He looked at her. Her face implacable she looked at him out of the corner of her eye. She made a small harrumphing sound as she settled in her corner of the bench. He turned and looked at her again. Then he looked away. She was sure it was the guy. The same sinewy arms. That firm jawline and clean-shaven face. His nut-brown hair was streaked with silver. A small smile twitched at the corner of her lips. Then she whispered, “Did you never find a young woman, then?”

His voice was hoarse, as he all but whispered back, “Don’t be silly, I don’t want a young woman…” and then almost inaudible but she caught the last few words, “I only ever wanted you.”

She bent down to pull up a blade of grass, then turned to look at him as twenty summers and winters, autumns and springs melted away like snow. “But you never said anything.”

“What could I say? We hardly knew each other. I still don’t even know your name, young lady!” He grinned and the old cocky look came bouncing into his face.

She smiled, a clean, honest, unguarded smile. “We can rectify that, it’s Louise.” The first fat raindrops began to fall, “what’s yours?”

He grabbed his jacket and flung on the hood, “Al, for Alistair. And we’d better find some shelter soon. Before the wind an’ the rain carry you away, eh?”

“We’d need quite a strong wind to carry me away,” She laughed.

“Oh, aye,” he said like an old friend. He put his strong arm around her waist and they hurried out of the park. She realised he was a good bit taller than he appeared when he was seated. She liked the way his pace matched hers. And then they dashed across the street to a café.

“This should be fine for now.” He said as he led her, still clutching her book and bag, to a table near the window.

For the first time, she was sitting across from him. He had grey-green eyes and that unstoppable slightly amused, cocky expression; crow’s-feet eyes probably developed over the years from staring at the sky. His hands were strong and slightly calloused. ‘What did he do for a living?’

The coffee arrived, hot and steaming with a doughnut on the side. She was grateful for the steam that arose between them. It allowed her to look at him more closely.

“So tell me about yourself,” he said after a long deep gulp of coffee and a swipe of his cuff across his mouth.

“But, I want to know about you,” she said fingering the edge of her book.

“We have enough time for that later. What happened to the ‘young man’ then?”

Between sips of coffee and the doughnuts that the café boasted were amongst the best in the country, she sketched a quick outline of her life. “Now, it’s your turn.” She said.

The cocky smile and the amused look in his eyes deepened. “I’m a plumber by day,” he said.

“And what do you do at night?”  A nervous tremor caught at her throat.

By now he was grinning, “I write.”

“What? Books? Articles? Stories?”

“What kind of books do you like to read?” He asked getting up.

“All kinds,” she replied, “but that doesn’t tell me what kind of books you write!”

“Doesn’t it?” He grinned again. “I really do have to rush now. I’ll see you at the park again, tomorrow?” And he was gone. Striding down the street in the opposite direction of her bus ride home.

‘What do you like to read?’ What kind of a mysterious response was that!

When she got home, she was still mulling over it as she opened her book where she’d left her bookmark. It was another tale of lost love and might-have-beens. Her favourite kind. ‘What do you like to read!’ No! It can’t be. A. Hunt. She’d always assumed it was a woman and there was nothing about the author’s life that suggested plumbing.

-end-

Bombay Monsoon

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Today, the skies in Bahrain are covered in grey bulbous clouds. They look pretty impressive but have only sent down a light, albeit steady, drip. The attempt is a reminder of my years in Bombay and a typical rip-roaring monsoon.

Bombay Monsoon

It was my first experience of that awe-inspiring force of nature – the Monsoon and its annual, passionate affair with the Arabian Sea.  Ms Monsoon flounced in on smoke-grey clouds shot with the gold and corals of a fast-fading sun. Even that celestial superstar turned and ran when Monsoon bore down on Bombay. 

I took one look at the clouds and decided, “I am not going to let those dull grey clouds get me down.”

Off to Colaba I went, walked into the first Monsoon-is-coming-wala shop and bought a red slick raincoat with bright red wellingtons to match. Red Riding Hood on a Bombay street! “Haha” I said, laughing at the storm. “Come down as hard as you like, I am ready to tackle you!” 

Monsoon let fly her tempestuous passion on the hitherto languid sea. Waves seethed in ecstasy frothing and pounding the seashore. Water rushed back up sewers, blew manhole covers and flooded the streets near Bombay Central, where I lived.

Up in Colaba, on higher ground I had no idea of this treachery of the water closer home.  I waited a big smile on my face, wondering why everyone looked so glum! This is magnificent, I thought and caught the big red BEST (Bombay Electric Supply and Transport) bus that would take me home. Three stops before mine, the bus driver refused to go any further.

“How will I get home?” I pleaded with him.

“Not my problem,” he replied.

By now the grey clouds had begun to intrude on my mood.  

There’s only that long that a red raincoat and red wellingtons can cheerily defy a Bombay monsoon. I was determined to continue smiling as I set out at as brisk a pace as wellingtons-squelching-against-a-pavement-flowing-with-rainwater will allow. 

The closer I got to home the deeper the water got.  Soon the water level rose hip high, the wellingtons weighed me down as they filled with water and the raincoat floated around my waist – a red stain in the murky water around me. I had to drag my feet, as by now the weight prevented me from taking the wellingtons off. 

When I finally reached home the ground floor of my building had water sloshing in through the door. I sat on the steps and dragged those wellingtons off tipping them over to empty them of the filth of the streets outside. I should have let them float away.

I kept them both. The red wellingtons stood for a whole year on a mat drying out and were eventually tossed. The red raincoat was worn only occasionally. Reminders that no one tackles a Bombay monsoon with rainwear created in the west. 

They were replaced by the only practical wear: rubber flip-flops and a black umbrella. 

And what did Monsoon say to me? ”I shall decide what you wear,” and the echo of her laughter rumbled as the grey clouds rolled. She was the only one who wore diamonds flashing in her hair, lighting the sky and chasing away the colour

A Journey to myself – writing my autobiography

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Guest Post by Seumas Gallacher
with a few personal interjections

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For authors, the old maxim is often quoted, ‘Write about what you know.’

I’ve been at this writing game properly for over a decade now, with a back list of five crime thrillers, a book of my poetry, a self-help marketing and promotional guide for authors, and almost 2,000 blog posts. Add to that a catalogue of half-a-dozen ghostwriting assignments for other people’s ‘autobiographies’, and it’s of little wonder that the thought occurred to put my own life story and experiences to print. ‘Write about what you know.’

What happened next was a sometime bewildering, sometime painful, sometime joyful, but always exhilarating, writing trip of discovery. I now understand more clearly than ever before just how much I am truly an amalgam of everything, everybody and everywhere with which and with whom I have ever been associated.

Were there regrets? Of course. Probably far too many to register. I doubt if more than a handful of people on this planet have led a flawless, blameless existence. But I do know that every single incident and experience, good, bad and indifferent, was necessary to bring me to this moment in my life. And I would not seek to change one second of it.

It is amazing how memories bring back not only the plain telling of the story, but for me, it also recalled the feelings and emotions that I had in most of them. I felt them again, and again, and again, some with laughter, but also many of them attended with a quiet tear.

I believe, at this age, finally, I am aware of who and what I am as a person. I like the man I see in the mirror each morning, although it was not always thus. I have acquired a tolerance of myself and my own shortcomings, but more importantly, I have learned to ‘live and let live’ in relation to others whom I meet day to day.

What surprises me, is that having published the book just a few weeks ago, I find that I am remembering many other things which could have been included in the memoir. I will resist the temptation to edit online the Amazon Kindle version, which is easy to do, on the same premise that once I finish writing my novels, I leave them finished.

To all my author friends and even those who have not yet caught the writing addiction, you may want to consider a similar project. It is a wondrous journey to yourself.

Here’s the book blurb for Strangely, I’m Still Here:

smallerFact is often more incredible than fiction.

Seumas Gallacher has survived long enough to savour places, characters and events for more than forty years in the Far East and the Arabian Gulf.

He started life in Scotland, travelled far and wide as a wannabe Trainee Master of the Universe, but the Universe had other plans for him.

From a career in banking, he escaped to become a corporate trouble-shooter.

He discovered the joy and torture of becoming a wordsmith, writing five best-selling crime novels, a book of poetry, and being hyper-active on social media.

‘Strangely, I’m Still Here’ is his story.

Jack-Calder-Series

He discovered the joy and torture of becoming a wordsmith, writing five best-selling crime novels, a book of poetry, and being hyper-active on social media.

And here are some other books by Seumas… he’s quite multi-talented as you can see!

cover2 poetryCOVER copy

Remembering

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poppyMy cousin Ajoy David’s old school-mate, Lt Col Rajendra Singh from the Scinde Horse of the Indian Army sent him an article about a battle in which my cousin’s father (my maternal uncle) at the time Lt. Noel David played a critical role. Militarily it was a daring plan and there are many references to it as the Battle for Srinagar. I was going to post it here today, but, it being the 11th of November, a day that celebrates “armistice”, which the dictionary defines as truce. Armistice. From French or modern Latin: “armistitium”;  arma, meaning arms and “stitium” meaning stoppage. A stoppage of the use of arms.

So I have decided not to talk about battle. But to talk about my uncle and his bravery. According to the account “Lt. David was tasked to advance on the move the route (sic). At 7.30 a.m. on 7 November, David left for the task with No.2 Troop (armoured cars) and No.5 Troop (a reinforced Rifle Troop under Dfr Jage Ram.) No.3 Troop reported contact with the enemy numbering more than 700-800 at Shalateng.” Although the force being commanded by my uncle Noel David was small and hugely outnumbered they were able to reach behind “enemy lines”. Needless to say they retook territory that had been lost. My uncle was awarded a Vir Chakra, one of the highest gallantry awards for acts of bravery on the battlefield. he was, I understand, barely 19 years old. As a side note to this, I need to add that Lt Col Rajendra Singh has an uncle, Col Sharak Dev Jamwal (Retd) of the 7th Light Cavalry is 90 years old. He is, to use Rajendra Singh’s words, “an unsung hero of the battle of Zojila.”

Bravery, I believe, comes in many forms. My uncle’s last and final act of bravery that I know of came many years later when in peace time he was on an army exercise and suffered a heart attack. They were in a remote part of UP (Uttar Pradesh, India) and the terrain was such that they couldn’t get an ambulance to the place. He was taken in a 3-Ton truck which, when it reached a particularly rough crossing broke down. They then had to wait for another truck and my uncle had to walk from one truck to another. This time he perhaps knew he wasn’t going to make it. He shook his commanding officer’s hand and said, “Break it to Olleena (his wife) gently.” He died at the young age of 37.

And so today I remember a brave man in battle and in life, my uncle Noel David.

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In respect of the Bard…

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A nostalgic trip back to William Shakespeare, definitely my all Time favourite writer.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

With the Silent Eye’s annual workshop just weeks away and based around the idea of a fictitious final play by William Shakespeare, we decided to take a trip to his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon to pay our respects. With his back to the river and surrounded by some of his most memorable characters, the Bard surveys the life of the town, watching from his pedestal as he would have watched in life.

It is said, although there is no record of either event, that Shakespeare was born in Henley Street, on 23rd April, St. George’s day in 1564 and died on the same day in 1616. It is plausible, as although records were not kept in those days of births and deaths, his baptism was recorded on April 26th 1564 and his burial on 26th April 1616, at Holy Trinity Church.

His father was a successful glove maker and his mother the daughter…

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Oh Woman…Oh Man!

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This first appeared in Robin Barratt’s collection of prose and poetry titled What Women Really Want, it’s been re-published under the title The Challenges of Finding Love: and why men sometimes get it so wrong. I hope reading this inspires you to download the book. It’s enlightening, amusing, provocative, and even heartbreaking.

For now, enjoy this one.

What do women really want?

How does one answer a puzzle that’s supposedly haunted humanity from the dawn of time?

Looking back as I can, to more than sixty years of memories, loves unrequited and imagined, friends and their amours, apocryphal stories from legend, lore and gossip, I do believe that the answer to the question has not been found.
How can there be one answer to a myriad minds?

Look through the kaleidoscope of life. Turn the scope. What do you see?

The well-known tale of King Arthur, Sir Gawain and the old witch, who ostensibly solved the puzzle by saying a man should “give a woman her autonomy”.

Turn the kaleidoscope again and look at it in the mirror of today:

What’s that autonomy thing? When was it taken from Woman or a woman? And by whom?

Am I allowed to believe that most modern women – barring those who live in severely disenfranchised communities (and for them I feel we need to campaign) – are self-thinkers, self-determiners and strongly independent? It’s a feeling I get when I look around and see so many women in so many parts of the world – in top jobs, in construction, driving taxis, striding in high-heels and smart corporate style suits as they catch a bus or a train or glide through automatic doors prepared to smash glass ceilings.

Assuming that that is the demographic that we’re addressing, the answer is as multi-faceted as women.

I think we all, men and women, go through phases.

At some point – once we’ve moved away from the parental aegis – we rely on someone else. Or perhaps a group of ‘others’. Depending on our levels of self-esteem that reliance could range from self-affirmation through that individual, fitting in with a group we feel drawn to, sometimes subordinating our sense of self in order to find acceptance. And here is where a problem could begin.

If a woman subordinates her ‘self’ to such an extent that she loses focus of it, then she starts to have issues. Now I’m no psychologist but through observation of human nature and looking back, clinically at my own life and the lives of those to whom I have been close, I can state that this is the crux of the trouble.

Turn that kaleidoscope. We have another image.

Is it love when a woman is so ‘in love’ with a man that she thinks pleasing him in every way is her raison d’être? I’ve also seen men equally besotted.

Is it love when a woman leaves everything that she holds dear to be with one man?

Is it love that drives her or anyone – to pace the street on which the loved one lives? To forget all else and wait only for his call? To be blind to all else and deaf to all other sounds?

That is passion. And it has its place and time; its flaring moment – the firestorm on which many an epic has been written.

The good news is, that that’s a phase too.

Put the kaleidoscope away. Look at life in all its beautiful reality.

Most people outgrow this ‘desperately in love’ passionate phase and learn to start loving themselves. And that, as all the pundits and gurus, Cosmo type magazines and pop quizzes will tell you, is what you must do in order to truly love another person and realise ‘autonomy’.

Now to the issue of two people sharing a life together. If a man is looking to ‘please his woman’ through reading a book like this, my first suggestion is change your attitude. She’s not ‘your woman’. She’s a woman with whom you wish to spend the rest of your life. Stop possessing each other and start recognising each other as individuals.

Be honest, but not rude. Sometimes what you say mayn’t make her happy, but that isn’t the end of your life together. Share your concerns with her. She wants to be a partner. Don’t leave heavy decision-making to her alone either. As every self-help column and book states, discuss things together. Don’t make decisions that affect both of you without consulting each other. That goes for women and men.

And as for those joke questions that women are supposed to ask men to which they profess they’re so nervous they feel there’s no right answer: “Does this dress make me look fat?”

If it does make her look fatter tell her. But really look at her and be honest. If it’s a special evening help her with the decision-making earlier in the day so that you’re not going through wanting to say ‘yes’ just so that you leave the house on time.

And to women I’d say, stop asking men silly questions. If you want ‘autonomy’ start making decisions yourself. He looks at other women? Sure! You look at other guys, don’t you? You can agonize over this question or keep the following poem in mind:

Khalil Gibran On Marriage:

“You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.

Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

 Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

 Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Now, toss a coin. What do women really want? It depends on the day, the time of the year, and the time of her life.

Your guess is as good as mine.

— end —

Clap your hands and we are gone

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Flipping through my “work” notes I came upon this poem. Procrastination hits my work assignments too, sometimes. Many were the mornings I’d play a game of solitaire on my computer or do the cryptic crossword to get the cogs in my brain moving. In Halifax a young friend, Crystal, taught me how to do the ‘Cryptoquote’ a good solid brain-teaser, perfect to start the creative juices flowing. And now what do I find among my notes…

We are stardust, we are ephemera
Is that why our lives are so shallow in every way?
Unconsidered, unthought out, unplanned
There was a time when spontaneity
sparkled, lit up our unplanned lives
Today it’s lost its sparkle
Today everything sparkles
Flat, planned permanence and stability
Rock-solidity are spurned
Labelled boring, dull, unexciting
So we chase another dream
And yet another
Flickering flames of fantasy
Chimera
Forever just there
Just out of reach.
And so we are forever running
Like Alice, twice as hard
Not realizing that Time and Space
Run with us
So we get nowhere
Our eyes always on tomorrow
We don’t see today
Nor realise that the here and now
Are a gift
That the ancients called
The present.