The Irish Quarter: A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1
Two Original Stories by John Sexton
Please consider participating in the Irish Quarter. All you need do is post on an Irish short story or related matter and let me know about it. Guests post are very welcome.
The Inner Text Of Stanford Lessington
By John W. Sexton
"Milo Hennessy's Work With Invisible Literature"
(a) Milo Hennessy discovered the concept of invisible literature at the age of seven. He had spent an afternoon writing his first name, over and over again, in the condensation of his bedroom window. After he had finished he wiped the condensation away, removing as a consequence the 20 repetitions of his name. Two days later, when condensation reappeared on his window, he noticed that his name also reappeared with it. The grease from his finger had preserved an invisible record of his writing upon the glass, which was revealed whenever the condensation reformed. Milo took this to mean that written words were immortal.
(b) One morning at breakfast, at the age of thirteen, Milo found a piece of newsprint inside his boiled egg. On it were the words “am ov.” Milo claimed that this was a message from “the inner consciousness of the cosmic mind.” He recalls that his mother told him to stop messing about and eat his egg. On hearing this he was struck with the notion that this was in fact the correct response required and he ate the words.
(c) At the age of twenty-three Milo began to experiment with “discarded language,” tearing words at random from newspapers and arranging them into arbitrary found-poems. His most significant found-poem created at this time is “eat ripper vietnam london nil.”
(d) In his late twenties he began taking words at random from radio broadcasts, changing stations erratically and recording what he heard. It was also at this time that he began destroying his poems as soon as they were written, in the belief that poetry excels only when repressed.
(e) In 1991 I was with him at Newgrange when he performed an interactive poem with the Newgrange capstone. To achieve this we had to climb over the perimeter fence in the early hours of the morning and carry out our work in secret. Milo had brought with him a bottle of water and a plastic bag full of brandling worms. After thoroughly wetting the stone he placed the brandling worms in the circular markings on its surface and we retreated about twenty yards. It was just a while after dawn and the sky began to blacken with crows. Before long the crows descended on the stone and began fighting over the worms, pulling them to pieces between them. When the crows had finished and the worms had been totally decimated, Milo returned to the stone and began examining the marks of pus and ichor left over from their rendered bodies. Looking at the marks several letters were discernable and Milo made a record of them. The letters quite clearly formed two words, “canc cosm,” which Milo wrote onto a piece of paper and posted to a complete stranger whose name and address he had taken at random from the phone book. With this act Milo claimed to have “published” the poem.
(f) Milo has not published any poetry since, and claims that all poems bearing his name are lies, even the ones that he has quite clearly written himself. He further claims that he has never actually written poetry and has no interest in it. When asked what he does he will always reply: “I am a poet.”
"The Inner Text Of Stanford Lessington"Stanford stretches in his chair. He feels an itch on his forehead and scratches the place with a fingernail. Immediately he draws blood.
Going to the bathroom he sees that he’s got a spot in the middle of his forehead. Not being able to contain himself he begins to pick at it.
It’s now a deep hole and he discovers that his little finger fits exactly inside it. On closer inspection, and much to his astonishment, he realises that it’s a keyhole, right there in the front of his head.
At that moment he glances downwards towards the sink, and sees a key on top of the washing basin, beside the soap-dish. He’s never seen this key before, he has no idea where it’s come from. Looking into the mirror he places the key into the hole in his forehead. The key is a perfect fit.
Stanford turns the key. Immediately his face slips a bit, as if on a hinge. To his horror he can open his face like a door.
Inside his face is a space like a small cupboard, four shelves one on top of the other. On the top shelf, right under the roof of his head, is a tortoise. A tortoise, its own tiny face looking out at him. On the shelf below are two beetles. He doesn’t know how he’s doing it but he’s seeing out through them, for they are his eyes. On the third shelf, inside where his inner nose should be, is a mouse. And on the bottom shelf, behind the opening of his mouth, is a bird. A tiny sparrow, its body trembling almost imperceptibly.
Suddenly, without any warning, the sparrow flies out of Stanford’s face, flutters about the bathroom. Stanford gives a shout, but no sound comes out. The bird is his voice, and now it is gone from his head. Just as quickly the mouse jumps to the floor, runs behind the pedestal of the sink. In a panic Stanford closes his face, turns the key. He cannot speak, he can barely breathe.
There is a sudden tightening in his skull as the tortoise begins to move.
End of Guest Post
I am very honored that John Sexton has agreed to allow two
of his flash fiction works to be published on The Reading Life.
I will publish two more next week. As you can see from his official
biography John has a long and distinguished creative career.
John W. Sexton was born in 1958 and lives on the south west coast of Ireland in County
Kerry. He is a poet, short story writer, dramatist, children’s novelist, radio scriptwriter
and broadcaster. He is the author of four collections of poetry: The Prince’s Brief Career,
Foreword by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, (Cairn Mountain Press, 1995), Shadows Bloom /
Scáthanna Faoi Bhláth, a book of haiku with translations into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock,
Vortex (Doghouse, 2005), and Petit Mal (Revival Press, 2009). A fifth collection, The
Offspring of the Moon, is due from Salmon Poetry for Spring 2013.
He also created and wrote the science fiction comedy-drama, The Ivory Tower, for RTE
radio, which ran to over one hundred half-hour episodes. His novels based on this series, The
Johnny Coffin Diaries and Johnny Coffin School-Dazed are both published by The O’Brien
Press, and have been translated into Italian and Serbian.
He has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons
Of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records. He has been nominated for a Hennessy
Literary Award for his short fiction and his poem “The Green Owl” won the Listowel
Poetry Prize 2007 for best single poem. He was awarded a Patrick And Katherine Kavanagh
Fellowship In Poetry for 2007/2008.
He is one of the most requested writers currently working under Poetry Ireland’s Writers-In-