Partial Illumination and an Update on the Demographic by Oz Hardwick

A Zippo flicks in a lonely room,
each spark illuminating a different detail.
Sheets rumpled back on themselves.
An unread book. A scattering of bright pins.
A teacup stained into a limnological chart
of the Styx. The flame doesn’t catch but
each snatched glimpse is a Kim’s game
of consequences, a flash of a collage
collapsing into chaos.

Whose room is this, that holds such absence?
Whose thumb is this, blistering on the stiff wheel?
A fine flower folded from purple paper.
A purple taper that has never been lit.
A mirror reflecting a mirror, with a flicker
of a face, too fleeting to read. A numb thumb,
forever wheeling. Don’t ask whose room this is.
Don’t pretend you don’t already know.

An Update on the Demographic.
Despite the displacement, I’ve become
used to narwhals and polar bears at the office.
They gather outside in the hour before opening,
in the weak sunlight, in the wake of tragic circumstances
I’ve read about in the broadsheets but which, in all honesty,
I can’t fully imagine.

They share cigarettes and stories, speaking serious and low,
and they rarely laugh, though when they do, it chimes
like church bells from one of those legendary drowned villages.
When we open, they form a neat line at the counter,
each clutching their folders of storm fronts and worrying statistics.

I won’t lie: it’s a hard job, and I wish I didn’t have to do it –
hell, I wish nobody had to do it – but the queues get longer,
and the days get longer, and all I see is the longing for ice
in bloodshot eyes, until shots ring out and there’s blood everywhere.

I’ve become used to it all, just as I’ve become
used to seeing them passing round a bottle by the 9-11,
or queueing at the foodbank, looking for anything
that doesn’t need a can opener, looking for anything
that doesn’t taste of plastic.

Oz Hardwick is a European poet, photographer, occasional musician, and accidental academic, whose work has been widely published in international journals and anthologies. He has published “about a dozen” full collections and chapbooks, including Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018) which won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and most recently A Census of Preconceptions (Dublin & Reggio di Calabria: SurVision Books, 2022). He has held residencies in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia, and has performed internationally at major festivals and in tiny coffee shops. Oz is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University.