Bleached by Rob Yates

Tide’s out, and the bones of his ancestors are gabbling in the air.

He can tell which ones belong to whom – dents in the cranium, density of a femur, thickness of coccyx and clavicle. Granny’s are the flat brown yellow of tar, gloom around the ribs. Brother’s are wispy and bend with the breeze. 

On days like today they’ll gather in the sky, jostling to form huge, skeletal imitations of birds.

Crowds by the water’s edge gasp and then pass by in the same instant, forgetting their shock, forgetting whatever it meant in the moment.

For hours, he stands perfectly still, all of it more personal for him. They’re his bones, in a sense, being juggled up there, his own remains acting like they want to be clouds.

A performance he can’t be part of, all he can do is point it out, point at the moving parts, and say – “Yes, I reckon that’s about me. I recognise those morbid shapes. I’ve seen that stain before, those floating teeth, those sockets without limbs.”

He talks to anyone who loiters about an aligning of energy, migratory patterns of failing symmetry, about how looking beyond the flesh is never what they said it would be, the diving of each generation from an ever-crowded beach, the biblical boredom in his age and in his afternoons.

Close enough to read, far enough to never touch.

But as with everything, there comes a time he has to turn away. The air may be riddled, shoals of ancestors and light, but down here it’s cold as the long dead. That bundle of old bones in the sky cares little for his watching, a hunched form under the shore lamps, delaying his departure, as if the world above him flocked with electric surge, a thunder of unclipped beaks beyond the low waves. It calls and calls, but doesn’t care if he listens.

So he decides to walk away, fingers an ivory necklace given him by some nameless, vanished aunt, thinks of a microwave meal for one, the single mattress that awaits him, turns around and, as he does so, feels his spine edge closer to his skin.

The vertebrae protrude without quite breaking the surface. They click and stretch, a bid for freedom, arching back as if they would be wings, shoulders braced like huddling birds, arthritic blades, trying to escape their slots.

Everything starts to water and wave. He’s unsure if he can stand to watch anymore, thinks of how much lighter he could live if there were only sockets left, wherever it is the eyes are meant to be.

ROB YATES — Rob is a writer from Essex. He has released a small collection of poetry entitled The Distance Between Things. He has also had work appear via Agenda, Envoi, Bodega, and other literary magazines. Some of his writing and recordings can be found through

Art by CROSS NSOFOR — A multi-medium expressive African artist(e) adept with utilizing both traditional and new age techniques as tools of expression. Voyager across several continents as Africa, Europe, US and South America alike, his sleight of hand is broad and smith of word well read. Mediums of work have been exhibited in the US, the Middle East and online galleries, respectively. More of his work can be found at and