Illustration © Claire Palmer, 2020 for International Times.

Thank you for calling our service. You are
fifth in the queue. An operator will be
with you shortly. In the meantime, watch
the beasts in our zoo through the keyhole.
Please observe safety precautions and
remain in your vehicle. A lion born in captivity
has recently been reported missing.

Thank you for calling our service. You are
fourth in the queue. Apologies for the delay.
All our operators are busy at present. 
We are experiencing unexpected disruption,
someone will be with you shortly. For information
in your own language, access online tutorials.

Thank you for calling our service. You are
third in the queue. The operators hear
shouting and screaming outside the call centre,
high alert. Please remain in your vehicle
and lock the doors. Our clients’ welfare is
very important except in emergency situations
when staff come first. To survive the jungle,
you have to become animal.

Thank you for calling our service. You are
second in the queue. All our operators
are dealing with a serious incident.
We are sorry for this inconvenience.
The background music contains sounds
which you may find distressing.
Press zero to return to the main menu,
press one to continue listening.

Thank you for calling our service. You are
next. Please have your bank details ready.
Bear with us and someone will be with you
as soon as possible. To listen to these
options again, press star. To keep on,
please hold. You are next. You arrr…

Good morning, sorry to keep you waiting,
you are through to the Samaritans. How
                              can we help you today?

© Maria Stadnicka, 2020. Published in International Times on 24 October 2020.


Photography © John Stadnicki, 2014. Istanbul

I am seven and have committed a crime. And I am going to prison where my brothers won’t come to visit for fear of being locked up as well. I heard someone say if you stared at the classroom wall long enough, mister Williams wouldn’t be able to read your thoughts because God, hidden in the wall, had built a shield around your body which made you invisible. I trusted God to wake me up with a packed lunch I then carried to school but at breaktime all I hear is rumbling behind my belly button, followed by sharp stabs in my heart. Grandfather warned me that, when you get upset, your heart grows a claw which pokes at your ribcage until you pass out. To avoid passing out, I’ve stolen a girl’s lunchbox. I am a thief that will go to prison where I’ll die hungry. Amen.

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Thank you.

Maria Stadnicka, 23rd October 2020, UK

Wind Noose


Art work © Mark Mawer, Backwater (2019).


There is a break in hostilities.

Long enough to exchange prisoners,

embalm scattered shirt buttons.


A temporary ceasefire to inearth

our collateral losses then pause

for a live broadcast at midday.


Coloured bar charts hurry up to

catch the moment cyber runners

reach their finishing lines. Race over.


Winners grow up to have long legs,

fitted for mile-wide life hurdles.

Empty seats line up in combat gear.


© Maria Stadnicka, October 2020


© Maria Stadnicka: ‘In Vitro’, ink on card, 2018





Father they signed me up for research 

and as soon as the paperwork passed 

the Ethics Committee, they asked for

samples of tissue from my left eye. 


Sacrifice my vision in the name of science, 

check my womb for blackness but say black

only if you really mean it. Father, we all eat 

pasta with mud and no-one complains that


the earth lacks seasoning. Yes, please, I need

another portion of this, sleep-walk 

into the garden, repeat instructions

from qualified staff:  Take a deep breath!

                                    Take a deep breath!




© Maria Stadnicka, October 2020

Full version published in International Times on 10 October 2020. Available at: