The High Window Journal: Issue 1 Spring 2016

High window books

 

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THE POETS

William BedfordMaria Isakova BennettCaroline BurtonJane ClarkeNick CookeMichael CrowleyIan DuhigSusan EvansA F HarroldKen HeadIan HouseAnthony HowellJacksonJudy Kendall Wendy KleinPippa LIttlePatrick LodgeRyan MadinPatricia McCarthyRoy MarshallAbegail MorleyMandy PannettLesley QuaylePeter RaynardAndrew ShieldsRichard Skinner •  Angela Topping

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William Bedford: Three Poems

OLD JEFFREY
Epworth Rectory: 1716

Something happened here:
I feel my heart strangely warmed,
defying Old Jeffrey’s blaring horn,
the poltergeist railing against heaven.

Upstairs, the thundering continues,
drowning family prayers
as Epworth moves
to the centre of the earth,

Blake’s children
chained to their machines,
skylarks rivetting roofs
to the Lord’s perfected metre.

Old Jeffrey moans on the stairs,
railing and hymning the family’s doom,
blowing his invisible horn
to warn of the shadows in the gloom.

I feel my heart strangely warmed.
Lie naked through wintry nights.
I am a brand plucked out of the fire.
You will see a brand plucked out of the fire.

SKATER
i.m. Edith Annie Bedford: 1915-1919

We waited for the end of school,
then ran to spin and glide
across a field of ice,
the ghosts of summer cattle grazing
beneath the elms.

Set free,
you wouldn’t stay to watch,
clenched fingers cold in lambswool gloves,
shivering at the risk of being asked
to share the dance. You ran for home.

Come spring,
the grass caught sun,
freewheeling birds aloft
chasing your shadow beneath the skating elms,
circling free from cold and school room bells.

GRANNIE PEACOCK

The pansies in your garden walked on water
whenever the river drowned the lawn.
Not something you intended.
They planted themselves,

flashes of colour,
real as when you saw the future.
Reading tealeaves was your special promise:
an afternoon spent telling us the future.

When you died,
I thought of them dancing,
the pansies you said were not intended,
flashes of colour turning dark as the waters rose.

*****

William Bedford is a prize-winning poet and novelist. Red Squirrel Press published his The Fen Dancing in 2014. His poem ‘The Journey’ won First Prize in the 2014 London Magazine International Poetry Competition. Another poem ‘Then’ won First Prize in the 2014 Roundel Poetry Competition. In the autumn of 2015, Red Squirrel Press published The Bread Horse, a new collection of poems.

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Maria Isakova Bennett: Two Poems

RELIQUARY

A high pitch of mandolin and bazouki,
the clack of backgammon counters;
some place drenched with mint,
jasmine, and sweet coriander;
where night is absorbed into morning,
where the sound of the tide
is soothing white noise;
where there are no borders –
streets fall to the beach,
cedar watch waves, know secrets;
where there is no distinction
between memory and dream:
I pour myself, an offertory –
wake with incantations on my lips.

OUR TABLE IS VACANT AT THE WALKER CAFE

I pray for you
before Dante’s Dream
retrace our steps
beyond The Sense of Sight
walk back past Pietà, rest
in room five, and tell you
how the cabinet of amber and ivory
created in 1700 to hold treasures
is too heavy for me now –
all riches too much to care for
when all I want is weightless

*****

Maria Isakova Bennett is from Liverpool. She has an MA in Creative Writing, currently works for charities as a poet and artist, and is published widely including work in Antiphon, Crannog, Envoi, Manchester Review, Orbis, Prole, and Southword. During 2014 Maria was highly commended in the Gregory O’ Donoghue Competition, shortlisted in the Munster Literature Chapbook Competition, and awarded first prize in the Ver Open. This year her first pamphlet was published by Poetry Bus Press in Ireland.

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Caroline Burton: Poem

THE CROSS-STITCH FARM

Kate, who spends her days asleep
or dozing, gets to her feet with ease
when I ask about the picture.

It was a gift, she tells me –
a birthday gift from Mother –
completed in her teenage years.

There were fifteen different colours,
she recalls, and a wooden clamp
to keep the canvas taut.

Kate, who’s not sure if her carer’s been
(though she’s washed and fully dressed)
knows the poppies in the cornfield

were a vibrant red before they faded.
Five shades of brown thread
made the barn, grazing cows and fence.

Smiling, she regards her handiwork.
The pattern she describes as intricate,
her attitude meticulous.

Kate, who forgets her family’s names,
indicates the sturdy farm gate.
Six black stitches form the latch;

the only other black, she says,
was for the rooks: three half-crosses
flapping through an off-white sky.

Rooks, she repeats emphatically.
Not crows.

*****

Caroline Burton lives in Lincolnshire and has been writing poetry for around 15 years. She regularly performs her work at open mic events and literature festivals in and around the region. She is a member of Driftnet Poets. A pamphlet collection, The Naming of Plants, was published in 2015.

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Jane Clarke: Two Poems

THE BELL

Let’s leave all the talk of loss
and walk this cobbled street

under balconies that flap
yellow and pink

with pillow-cases and sheets.
Let’s take the shade that’s given

on our way uphill to the square
where wax trees listen

to the bell that echoes
high over red-tiled roofs.

Let’s sip our cortados
at the foot of the tower

that soothes the sound,
mellows the note,

while the ringer
grips the sally tight,

lest the bell breaks free
to toll a grief of its own.

ZHU XIAO-MEI

she plays
into the silence

a harbour
at dusk

makes wind-ripples
over the surface

until her fingers
begin to insist

hail stones
on the breakwater

the slipway
decks of barges

she dives
like a cormorant

leaves only
a circle of bubbles

we listen
for where she’ll emerge

turning
her sleek black head

taking
our breath

she dives
again and again

returns us
to quietness

*****

Jane Clarke’s debut collection, The River, is published by Bloodaxe Books. Originally from a farm in the west of Ireland, she now lives in Wicklow. Her work is published widely, including The Irish Times, Irish Independent, The Rialto, The North, Ambit, Acumen, Mslexia, Agenda, Poetry Wales, The Compass. Her awards include the Listowel Writers’ Week Poetry Collection Prize (2014) and the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland Competition (2014). www.janeclarkepoetry.ie

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Nick Cooke: Poem

THE SENTIMENTAL FASCIST

The glistening eyes
of one thought innocent
before the music of youth
clove his heart and made him
feel a conscience coming on

betrayed not only his
crimes and misadventure
writ deep in the haunted pits
and the single rivulet
down a well-tempered cheek

but the major key of those
violins throbbing –
the boy in ecstasy caught after dark
in a monstrous forest
and trees that touch the heaven.

*****

Nick Cooke has had poems published in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Dream Catcher and the anthology Poems for a Liminal Age, as well as the Agenda online supplement and websites such as Poetry Space, Writers for Calais Refugees and I am not a silent poet. His poem ‘Process’ was awarded Highly Commended status in the Segora Poetry Competition (July 2015). He is currently working on his first collection.

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Michael Crowley: Four Poems

ILLUSTRATING A JOURNAL
Surgeon White Paints the Crested Cockatoo September 1788.

The gamekeeper brings me birds he has slain,
a kingfisher without its head to match.
I sought out its colours up-river and found
a crest that glows gaily against its back,

like the silver darlings that shone about
our ships all the days of the doldrums,
until with the grampus we drifted south
carried by the spawn of the ocean.

Scurvy taints the convicts’ skin sallow white.
Faces are clouds, mouths are parrot tails;
a runaway was found blackened by lightning.
The sky is bruised, it will bring more hail.
My cockatoo prances along the chair,
his black eyes in the mirror keep him there.

LEARNING THE LANGUAGE (part two)
Surgeon White on the small pox epidemic, April 1789

The woods are aflame. The land burns black.
We leave prints in ash, deeper and deeper
west from the cove. All the country catches
fire, burnt by natives, by us, and even

of its own accord. Trees become chimneys.
Now a gale of small pox blows. Boat crews
report natives dead, left without ceremony
at cave entrances and beaches, a few

we find sit alone by burning sticks,
eyes blank and sunken. A boy pours water
from a shell onto his father’s lips
broken by sores. He stands, points at the old man
his eyes on me. Bo-ee… bo-ee, he cries.
A word for death. He is called Nanbaree.

REFLECTIONS ON A RECENT EXPEDITION
Arthur Phillip, First Governor of New South Wales, about his Ablutions, March 1788

Eight miles northward to Cook’s broken land.
Captain Tench with convicts in a longboat, the cutter under my command.
Against the ebb tide all day, much slowed about the headland.

Whirlwinds and rain, pelicans in great number
then among the bluest stretch of water I have seen,
the land much higher here, within reach only to birds, covered in timber.

Natives upon the rocks, arms like raised oars.
We are bobbing about like fools on a rope’s end when

an old man points to a channel, a youth motions us in from the shore.
The old man fetches us fire, behind him the women,
one sings a song much to our liking.
All their left hand little fingers have two joints missing.

The men are scarred, wind blows beneath their skin.
They conduct us to a cave. Faces painted with pipe clay,
walls with red ochre. Tench beckons me withdraw.

The old man is offended. Two teeth missing from his left jaw,
his beard singed at its end. He helps us build
a canopy of ferns between our boats on the shore.

I present him with gifts – nails, beads, a red kersey jacket to wear.
He dances for some time then steals a cutlass, I hold him,
slap him about his shoulders. He brandishes his spear,

my men are about their musquetry, the old man vents his rage.
He is brave, they are all this way. But they will not come to camp.
Our ragged settlement. This hungry, ashen, tent.

The bush-rat comes every night, and beetles like dice
with their dogs’ appetite. The quartermaster he comes,
with news of more thefts from the supplies.

Tench comes to say the carpenters are sick,
Ruse, he comes, to say rank grass has killed the cattle,
that the gum tree, not unlike our willow in leaf, always splits,

sinks in the water. But they do not come –
the men with their shell-tipped lances, in bark canoes,
their language abounding with vowels.

Nor the old man, the smell of oil off him.
He wants nothing from us. Refuses my table,
they will not come here to our aid. His beard is burned away.

PROPOSAL
James Hudson to Jane Fitzgerald, April 1790

If we kiss again we should go and see the major.
Even if we sit close we might be flogged
if reported by a soldier.
So Jane, I say we should speak of our feelings
or else we swallow them whole.

When I was a sweep, come May
after the last fires were lit,
we were left alone till winter.
Only boys working together ate through the summer.
Like the way we bag the birds here, in pairs.

No one cries for her that jumped from the cliffs today.
She couldn’t bear the island and gave into the ocean.
She was alone. I find this no harder
than my life in London. My mind is grown,
have spirit to give away

I see through you to the bottom of the well.
When we walk in the woods, amongst the trees like castles,
our loneliness leaves in the quiet.
Just the wind on our clothes,
a scream from the ghost of a bird.

*****

Michael Crowley is a poet and playwright. His poetry pamphlet Close to Home was published by Prolebooks in 2012, his first full collection, First Fleet, will be published by Smokestack Books in late 2016. He was for six years writer in residence at Lancaster Farms prison and in 2012 Waterside Press published his textbook, Behind the Lines: creative writing with offenders and those at risk. He currently teaches creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University.

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Ian Duhig: Three Poems

ASHTRAYVILLE

Imagine a city. It is not a city you know,
although it seems familiar as you walk
towards it down a road full of pot-holes
under an arcade of colourless rainbows.

You might try to negotiate the pot-holes
but they are not open to negotiation —
the road only says, take it or leave it.
You turn yet find yourself inside the city.

In deserted avenues of birdless trees,
the houses are implausibly magnificent,
like the ghosts of old-fashioned lunatics
in costumes of ancien régime fantasies.

All the paving stones have been stolen,
so you walk down the centre of streets
till one chooses you, its second choice,
you realise, one untaken before now.

Tar glints as if with watchmakers’ quartz,
as if you have appointments and are late.
You walk faster, your feet fitting perfectly
the footprints in the ash as thick as snow.

You meet a man wearing black overalls.
He says he’s painting double-yellow lines,
but the road has never seen any traffic.
You notice the paint in his pot is black.

His shadow paints itself into the corner
of your eye, your blind spot. He winks.
His glass eye glints like the quartz heart
of the silent watch he presents you with.

The watch is inscribed in copperplate
with your name, your title, your dates,
that it’s for your long service to this city.
You weep with pride. Then you just weep.

IN HIS SHADOW

Colourful Blind Jack would see right through me,
colourless beside all his many coats and trades,
technicolour escapades my dull ink must betray.

A Froggie-lover like those he saw off at Culloden,
he’d scorn me stumbling commes sur les pavés,
how I used that line from Baudelaire for a crutch,

my fiddle with words while his own played tunes
Jack had only to hear once to know backwards.
He played to lead the Yorkshire Blues into battle.

Women fell for him too, even later on in his life
when Jack always stunk of pitch like Old Nick.
He could sweet talk alright, to get somewhere.

Testing stones to bed his roads’ black tongues,
I heard how Jack rolled them around his mouth
“like new words”. But I wouldn’t know about that.

‘COMBAT GNOSTICISM’,

Campbell’s term for war writing born
of a gnosis only being there can earn:
I witnessed it once from old soldiers
in a poetry workshop at Age Concern.

They’d lost that battle with the word,
believing too much better left unsaid
to the likes of me and not those pals
now threescore and ten years dead.

How many old soldiers does it take
to change a lightbulb? Asked one.
You can’t know if you weren’t there!
They all fell about. Now they’d won.

Relaxed, they began letting it out
into grey shades of afternoon light,
into words they feared betrayed it.
And I learned why they were right.

*****

A former homelessness worker, Ian Duhig’s seventh book of poetry, The Blind Roadmaker, has recently published by Picador and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. He has won the Forward Best Poem Prize, the National Poetry Competition twice and three times been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.

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Susan Evans: Poem

BARCELONA

Like a child, I plead ‘are we nearly there?’
on the Barcelona boulevard that Poet Lorca
wished would never end. La Rambla then,
all tree-lined promenade; no tourist tat.
We’re in search of La Boqueria, where our dear
Food-writer friend, Kat said we simply must go
devour the best seafood in all the world…
we twirl past theatres and bars; tickled by the
temptation of `show-time’ yet famished, too
aware of seafood fare on the horizon ‒ pause now
we might give in to a dirty burger. Third of way
down, side street leads to seduction of the senses,
a kind of Covent Garden food hall; stalls cascading
fruits, and there our seafood promise – a grand
design of the cockle shed. Bar-stools surround
shutters down ‒ we’re too late, yet strangely happy
to have found this. Head across to tapas bar, wine
produced an hour away. Partake of the grape with
authentic lid-sized bread, cheese, olives ‒ we stay
a while; feeling like true artisans. Before swaying
back to boutique hotel, loving Lorca’s La Rambla ‒
sated, inebriated; happier now. We bimble into
Beethoven’s store; listen to every score on tiny, tin,
tune drum; endless fun. Our giddy hearts carry
home Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

*****

Susan Evans is a performance poet and facilitator from North East London, living in Brighton. Her poems have featured in numerous small presses in the UK and online, including: Ink, Sweat & Tears, Prole and Proletarian Poetry.

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A F Harrold:Two Poems

CIRCULAR

Though I’ve lived in the same place for more than a decade
increasingly post arrives which isn’t for me.

I take great delight in writing on the envelope:
not known at this address, please return to sender.

It’s a graffito with direction, with purpose.
I’m allowed to do it, but still it feels subversive

accompanied by the thrill of popping the altered letter
into the pillar box without a stamp,

knowing it’s retracing its route,
respooling the thread it unravelled while reaching me

and that it’s doing this without a penny of thanks.
It’s usually junk mail.

How happy they must be in their offices
when their lost paperwork lands back in their in-tray,

crumpled, hungry, travel-worn, knackered perhaps:
the first letter to survive its long round migration.

THE MOTH & THE NEW MOON

The paper globe rattles, rustles and falls silent.

This is my study. This is late in the evening.

I look at the me looking back at me from the window.
From behind him endless blackness looks in on both of us.

The lampshade bursts back into brief life.
Dry paper shaking. A black-grey flutter inside.

I wonder how moths were before the lightbulb.

How did they feel unable to get to their goal,
the old bright moon untouched in orbit?

Is life more fulfilling these days, these nights
when the light’s within their wingbeats’ reach?

No moth knew this stark white warmth before.

The paper ball rattles, rustles and falls silent.

*****

A.F. Harrold is an English poet who writes for both children and adults. His poetry collections are published by Two Rivers Press and Burning Eye Books, and his children’s novels are published by Bloomsbury. These and other things can be found at www.afharrold.com.

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Ken Head:Three Poems

DIAMOND HARD

Horror has a face … you must make a friend of horror.
John Milius & Francis Ford Coppola:  Apocalypse Now Redux

World leaders, the kind who look good at global summits
in seven-star hotels, but whose cynicism mires
the planet, ought to spend more time in war zones
getting to see first-hand what decisiveness really means.
Take, for example, the woman on the balcony
staring down into the street, a student as it happens
and, if my information’s honest, still very young.
Notice the way she braces her left hand against the railing
for balance, bends her legs at the knee, the right
a stride behind the left, poised like a runner waiting
for the gun. See how she lifts the heel of her right boot
to bring downward pressure to bear on her toes,
look at her right arm crooked into an angle
at the elbow and raised above her head – muscles flexed
inside her coat, mind and body focused, a cricketer
throwing in hard, an athlete launching a javelin,
a hunter hurling a spear –  then at the grenade cupped
in her hand, pin out, ready. Now that’s moral certainty,
being clear about what to do and having the will to do it.

PATHS

Scrub and bramble,
overgrowth
of root, a path.

What intrigues him is how chance encounters
embed themselves so firmly in his mind.
Strangers meet on an overgrown woodland trail,
a few seconds only, but the imprint
endures, becomes one more link in a chain
too intricately made to be understood.
Like the time he’d followed a stream all day
along a valley filled with lupins
the colour of amethyst in sunlight.
Since dawn, he’d been alone with concentration,
changes to the rhythm of his stride and breath,
the pleasure of contemplating flowers
in numbers too great to count, the business
of walking thought and feeling into shape,
until out of nowhere had come voices,
a dog called back before it reached him
by laughing children he couldn’t see
and beyond a twist in the track, two men
splitting logs and clearing a stretch of ground
who’d leaned on their axes and nodded
as he came up with them.  Later, he’d passed
the derelict house they were rebuilding,
a long, grey-stone, slate-roofed barn of a place
with scaffolding still battened to the walls,
he’d seen their caravans, heard a baby crying
and ever since, he’s used those images,
so clear and sharp he’s kept his faith in them,
to tread a way his boots won’t touch again.

BROKEN BLADE circa 1914

An douar so kozh, med n’eo ket sod.*

He discovers it by chance, watching ants,
long, black columns of them, crossing the ground
under his chair, following their leader
blindly through a maze of clefts and fissures
to the top of the wall, then vanishing
into a darkness all their own. The knife,
a rusty, earth-stained, cheap and cheerful thing,
blade snapped half-off, stares out at him.

In the sun, each cracked stone block strikes hot
against the skin. A yard away, the well,
long since concrete-slabbed for safety’s sake,
is keeping its cool interior to itself.
He imagines a woman there, standing at a table,
working, peeling potatoes, enjoying
the peace. From habit, not needing to think,
her hands tuck away the knife until tomorrow.

There’s no wall left now, people want space
for garden furniture and parking cars.
Just a couple of mown-around remnants
propped one against the other, deadweight,
the whole lot gripped by grasses, lichen, weeds,
a root and branch invasion, scrubby, wild,
overhung and shaded by a fig tree
that every summer drops its fruit too soon.

*Breton proverb:  Earth is old, but it isn’t mad.

*****

Resident overseas for a good many years, Ken Head now lives in Cambridge, England, where he was, but is no longer, a teacher of Philosophy and English Literature. His work, as author, poet and reviewer, has appeared regularly both online and in print throughout the last decade and 2013 saw the publication of Prospero’s Bowl (www.overstepsbooks.com), his most recent poetry collection.

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*****

Ian House: Two Poems

PER SAECULA SAECULORUM
Luca Signorelli, Man on a Ladder (1504-5)

Any day of the week you’ll see him,
a bald guy in a red jersey,
a sun-tanned, wind-hardened workman
descending a ladder,
right hand gripping a rung,
feet planted securely.

The iron nails he clenches,
bulky as cathedral doorkeys,
were hammered into flesh,
sustained the down-dragging body.

He has no idea that he’s necessary
to whatever is here unfolding.
He’s earthbound, intent on his safety,
on avoiding the heads of a mourner
and of the sprawled Christ
who bears the painter’s dead son’s face.

LAST LINES

What I want to give you
is a statement of undeniable, extraordinary fact,
a kiss, a window,
a surprise that’s the poem’s fulfilment,
a vibration that reaches at last
too high and faint for human hearing

and what you get
is a rabbit pulled, desperately, out of a hat,
a slash of lipstick on a dirt-plain face,
the day’s improving thought,
a flippant shoulder-shrug,
the plughole down which the poem drains,
a door slammed in your face.

*****

Ian House taught in England, the United States, Moscow, Budapest and Prague and wrote nothing. On retirement the floodgates opened. He has published two collections with Two Rivers Press: Cutting the Quick (2005) and Nothing’s Lost (2014). He lives in Reading because it’s close to Oxford and London.

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*****

ANTHONY HOWELL: Two Poems

LA CHAISE TRÉPIDANTE

Grass flows through the universe
While stainless morning panels the wall with sunflowers.
Africa is just over there, nearer than your dreams,
Nearer even than the subconscious,
But don’t sacrifice too many of your secrets
Out of a penchant for oneness.  Memorise that glance,
Or the palm crowns, or the spray of a eucalypts’ leaves.
Music has its absences, and though it may seem clear
That where I am is linked to where you are,
Only in quantum mechanics can things be so far apart,
And yet respond as if a single entity.
To love me never speak of you and I,
Speak instead of the mountains or the sky
As if we toured a foreign land;
So love by indirect and underhand,
For are we even going in the same direction?
You, for instance, may be walking
Through some lovely country,
And on the other side of the valley
You may see some even lovelier country
Fenced off from where you stand
In your own country which is merely lovely.

*

All this, whatsoever that moves in each moving world,
Is encompassed by the self.  And that which is not expressed
By speech but that by which speech is expressed,
That is also by the self encompassed,
And he who desires the world of perfumes and garlands,
By his mere will perfumes and garlands come to him,
And having obtained the world of perfumes and garlands,
He is happy.  But not me.  Deign therefore to take me out.
In this world I am like a frog in a dry well.
The material is unreal; while the immaterial
Is all too real and the lotus is the same as space.
All I can hear is the wind. Wind, with the taunting sound
Of running water – hot, dry wind.
We both miss the passionate thickets and the cold plunge
Into what overflows as fast as it is flowed into.
Are they erecting these buildings or tearing them down?

*

Secrets are an essential part of the intricate lotus
That desires nothing but the highest reality
And wills nothing but its own wholeness, although,
As we know too well, there are always words left over.
Yes, and the temptation is to fit them in.
But leave them, leave them alone.
The waters of non-existence can accommodate the unsaid
As they can the dancing girl of Mohenjo Daro.
Shun the therapeutics of exposure:
It is like peeling back those anatomical fugitive sheets
That conceal our inner workings.  One is politely
Flayed alive. There are white villages
Where retired criminals are quite ready to recommend
A restaurant or two.  What are their crimes to you?

*

They can hardly be expected to explain everything,
As if they could, as if we ever could!
We have found these flaps, this serpentine pipe,
These heavy disks, this wall.   But aren’t we in the dark
About the elephant?  And indeed about everything else,
Or at least a significant part of it.  Quasars,
Inadequate fold adduction, Lagos, in my case.
And so it’s back to depth.  If all is an illusion
Then even the awareness that it is is an illusion.
Invariably when playing games you hope
That your strategy remains undetected,
But then there is that breath of confession – doesn’t it
Send shivers down the spine, especially if
You’re the ghost of a night?   Yet different aspects
Of a single theme should not deter one from learning
How to wriggle the toes independently.

*

Time’s arrow may turn out to be a pendulum;
As when, to return to the threshold,
You walk away from the door.
We are all caught up in Samsara – eternal becoming –
Otherwise known as the endless knot:
Cold ash in the grate at intervals,
Then grimaces, unnecessary tension, especially confronting
Cool enclosures.  The clichés, the poses, the deep sinkings…..
And later the capes and the fanfares….

THE WIND AND ITS APPEARANCES

Someone has leant a genuine board
Up against the sky-blue cafe with the palm-tree and the wave
Painted on its side:  a shack that is part of the sky
Behind its parasols, which are themselves
The colour of the dunes, here on this minimal
Stretch much favoured by surf-bums.  The break
Runs along each wave from the end already
Nearest the beach, and the breeze prevents
Boys notching up their best numbers
At bat and ball but doesn’t deter a little girl
From repeatedly jumping her towel.
She’s wearing sky-blue swim-pants – when she jumps
Really high she becomes two little brown bits
Jiggling independently of each other.  Near her,
Behind the lolly sign, the plastic recliners
Are vacant.  People are busy with the waves today,
Or with their boards, which they slap with their sandals.
An older girl, thin, with a ring through her navel,
Smears cream on her nose, as each flag strains at its mast,
And kites tug hapless owners along the coast.
People are getting goose-bumps now, and the little one
Has retreated beneath her towel where she lies
Giving her thumb an intensely serious suck.
The girl with the navel-ring packs up her belongings
And heads home along the tow-path, holding a scarf
To her ears.  She passes the barbeque spot
With its patches of blackened earth spreading like
A disease under the willows by the water’s edge.
On the other bank, men with huge bellies
Race their model autos round a small dirt track
Sheltered by thorn-bushes from the wind that sweeps
Down from the reservoir, then past the lock,
Intensifying under the double flyover near Chingford.
Still protecting her ears, she follows her old man
Past the bus-depot, the self-storage and the discount
Tyre-centre.  Under the sludge-pipe they go, as he points
To sofas perched on the roofs of residential barges.
Too chilly to sit out on them though.  The thin girl
Feels the cold for all the sunlight glittering off ripples
And splattering the backs of leaves blown awry by the blast.
Then the wind dies, but the sun goes in as well,
And it’s cold still, as they turn away from the canal,
Hoping for a tavern, but find absolutely nothing
Apart from that vast rectangle of darkness
Into which birds vanish – the entrance to the works.

*****

Anthony Howell is a poet and novelist whose first collection of poems, Inside the Castle was published in 1969.  His poems have appeared in The New Statesman, The Spectator and The Times Literary Supplement. A former dancer with the Royal Ballet, and now a respected teacher of the tango, he is currently curating The Room, a space for dance, poetry and visual art in Tottenham.

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*****

Jackson: Poem

ENOUGH

Bananas sound like chop chop chop.
My daughter (18) with her stick-insect wrists
cutting them up to freeze and blend.
My kitchen is full of their fat-free sweat.
I don’t know how to talk about it.

I pick one up and touch it
to my nose. Close, the skin
has its own dun scent. Some creatures

consume the skin, I think.
I tried that once to see. Between the teeth
a stringy density. On the mouth’s membrane
a drying, withering chalk.
The banana in my hand is cool and smooth

like a wax effigy. My fingers wrap it
with just enough of a lap
to feel secure. Its body

is firm and curvily slim
like the limb of a well-made woman,
the woman my daughter might
become, if she eats
bananas enough.

*****

Jackson lives in Fremantle, Western Australia. She seeks poems that work whether declaimed loudly or whispered in the mind. In 2014 she won the Ethel Webb Bundell Poetry Award. In 2013 Mulla Mulla Press published her second collection lemon oil. In 2015 she commenced a PhD in Writing at Edith Cowan University. Jackson was the founder of Perth Poetry Club and is the founding editor of Uneven Floor poetry magazine, unevenfloorpoetry.blogspot.com. Visit her at proximitypoetry.com.

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*****

Judy Kendall: Poem

HARRIED

harried on the coldchested light war
path sunk to switch
dean-shaven flashes of passer-
by the city tinged with deals of
buzz bright rivers blooding
towers in through the skin
they jostle, thrum and glow
a-done-deed sultry
<who is that towering poppy?>
Solus na Madlann
bepapered savvied lapnaphappy
cleaned-out the stretch
that mildmanned brace
too far from the moon
a sheening gentlemaddened
dead seal keening
torch of fife

*****

Judy Kendall is an award-winning writer of haiku and visual poetry. She has four collections published with Cinnamon Press, The Drier The Brighter (2007), Joy Change (2010), Climbing Postcards (2012) and insatiable carrot (2015). Her poems are informed by meditation, Japan (where she lived and worked for seven years), mountains and climbing, and, most recently, by vegetables and gardening. She also works as a full-time lecturer in English and Creative writing at Salford University.

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*****

Wendy Klein: Three Poems

MOOD INDIGO

When I am too old to tickle, your fathering falters
and at a loss for what to do next, you tell me tales

about your dancing days: soft-shoe, tap – waiting
for your turn to audition, hanging out

with other chorus boys back-stage Broadway, your face
flushed as you explain how your bottom got pinched

once or twice by guys you guessed might be too young
to shave. You take me to wild parties in Greenwich Village,

fuggy dance halls in Harlem, your sheepish grin at the near scandal –
the sexy black woman you said once, in your cups, might

have been my mother, which sent a jolt through our kitchen
at suppertime. You drop the names of the sultry singers:

Ivy Anderson, Lena Horne, Billy Holiday — her white gardenia –
the scent of it filling our living room. You pull out

a scratched 78 of the Duke; put on Mood Indigo, and start
to gentle me around in time, say you’ll teach me the Fox Trot –

hands down, the easiest dance of my generation, to teach,
to learn. Talking about the Duke lights you up, makes you forget

your sad remedial English class. You take me round the waist,
count out the beats, hum the tune in my ear, your aftershave

still strong despite the five o’clock shadow on your cheeks,
your chin, as we move around the floor avoiding chairs,

throw rugs, the coffee table, the glass with your second
or third Jim Beam on the rocks, waiting nearby.

YOYO SEASON

I never had a silver one like this
its string beguiling
as a sleek black snake  it begs
to be unwound
to teach me old tricks
in new ways
invites me to slip
the loop over my middle finger
as long before   feel
the playground’s tug

No   I never had a silver one
even at the height of the season
when we all had two or three
out there swapping our own
for better ones
ones that would hop the fence
loop the loop
walk the dog   the sides
scuffing up the warm tarmac
the most skilled handlers
keeping them on the ground
to a slow count of ten
then reeling them out
to send them orbiting round the world at full-stretch

But no one could yoyo like Eldred Clark
whom I loved  with his pale hair
and weak eyes  his round
rimless spectacles
smiling his shy smile  walking the dog
for longer than anyone else
even after he broke his arm
had a cast and a sling
but still sent his yoyo round
and round the world
round and round my world
and when I signed his cast
I drew a little heart
where he’d never see it

ON THE PALE

Remember the 1880s?  Wringing out
the Torah Scrolls when the Dnieper flooded;

you trying on Zeide’s Streimel, earning
a frown because you were a girl.

Were you there when Tatti sent the tickets
for America;? Bobbe so excited she performed

a little hora, appalled when her Sheitel fell off.
How surprised were we at her hair underneath —

sticking up in soft white tufts. But you were there
with us down in steerage: coughing, puking,

farting like beasts. Will you forget the smell, or the first
sight of the Statue of Liberty, the way the guy in uniform

couldn’t spell our name, so we ended up with something alien?
Alien, what they called us, and Bobbe shaming us –

on her knees, kissing the ground — schmutz around her lips –
the way she licked it away, rolled it over her toothless gums,

sampling the earth that would be her new home,
as if savouring the strangeness, its faint taste of hope.

*****

Wendy Klein was born in New York, but left the U.S. in 1964 to live in Sweden, and on from there to France, Germany and England where she has lived most of her adult life.  A retired psychotherapist, she is published in many magazines and anthologies and has two collections from Cinnamon Press:  Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013) with a third collection, Mood Indigo, out from Oversteps in spring 2016.

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*****

Pippa Little: Three Poems

BLUE DUSK
For the antique horse marionette
in a Prague junk shop

Taking a back street
is how I find you, looming
among gnarled spoons, imperial tureens.

Does it matter now
that snow is beginning, like feathers
or wedding roses, to fall for real,

and the Karlovy-Vary trains are leaving hourly
with soft exhalations of breath:
that I would offer anything,

the rest of my life,
this moment, now,
to ride you blue as bone through the knots

and mazes of this city, to be your echo of sparks
vanishing corner after corner
in clean neon twilight?

GREY BERBER

He thinks he’s unobserved
in his lonely grace
circling the huge field
fence to fence –

he is a running cloud,
a fast flowing river,
ripples of mist or smoke.
I scent him on the wind,

imagine how the nap rises on his spine:
don’t want to bridle
or fetter him, just watch
and watch how life

loves him whole,
muscle and bone.

PIP

There’s a church on the salt marsh
with its handkerchief of cemetery

mists most days taste of tin
and the wind has rot of the prison hulks in it

but the gravestone’s soft, every letter
deep-edged for comfort of a finger

drawn by a small boy over his mother’s name.
Cold, uncared-for child in cloth too thin

for this forsaken place, hungry
home. An apron stuck with pins, a sister’s

flat hand instead of mercy. Not unhappy,
he keeps company with his dead,

more benevolent than the living;
this is all he knows, this floating

shifting present, grey, whispering, tidal,
then the world throws its shade

down across him, and he turns his head –

*****

Pippa Little lives in Northumberland and is working towards a second collection, following Overwintering (OxfordPoets/Carcanet) which came out in 2012. She is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newcastle University and currently guest editor for Butcher’s Dog magazine.

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*****

Patrick Lodge: Two Poems

YIANNIS IN HIS BAR

Yiannis in his bar is restless; counting
covers, cradling a cappuccino, he watches

the impossibly taut, tanned staff make money
for him, in accents from the steppes.

He stares at the waitress’s legs, remembers
wild nights, drinking with cockney spivs,

dancing film star syrtaki with peroxide women;
flips his worry beads like an impatient groom.

Yiannis lights up, his one for the night; rests,
where old men smooth the pebble seat.

shiny as an ossuary. Eclectic house leaks from his bar,
sound-tracking the mute satellite football;

Yiannis conjures the punch of rock ‘n’ roll, the smell
of patchouli and lust in the backstreets.

Bells toll from the Panagia; the choir chants,
incense coils from a censer.

Yiannis recalls village girls in their innocence,
foresees his spotless wine-washed bones.

He spits and flicks his butt into the churchyard;
no pain, nor sorrow, nor suffering.

VE DAY 2015

What brings you to mind
is not the celebration
of a remembered war,
it is a late-night film:
Private Buckaroo (1942).
The Andrews Sisters –
aglow with tempera smiles,
razor-sharp WAC uniforms,
pageboy rolls – tug
onstage a model tree.
Harry James’ trumpet wails,
the band swings,
the girls finger pop, sing out
Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree.

I bought you The Very Best Of…
When the house was cleared
it was on the bookshelf, cellophaned;
like the war, you became history,
chose not to speak for yourself,
resisted – kept mum.
In the space I make a simulacrum;
a daydreamed man,
who liked American swing
who drove bren-gun carriers
who hit a cricket ball out of Europe
who guarded other people’s palaces
who, for fifty years, quietly
watched an apple fall close and root.

*****

Patrick Lodge retired from an academic career teaching American History several years ago and now writes full time. He lives in Yorkshire and is from an Irish/Welsh heritage. His work has been published in many countries and he has been successful in several prestigious poetry competitions. His first collection, An Anniversary of Flight, was published by Valley Press in 2013. His second, provisionally titled Shenanigans, is due out in 2016.

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*****

Patricia McCarthy: Extract
from Letters to Akhmatova

Second Letter

Akhmatova,

And what of the roses you threw –
into another man’s upstairs open window –
that fell as if carefully arranged
by your hand; the unspoken affinity
in the Jardin du Luxembourg that grew
into a haunting as you sat – O
so close on a bench, estranged
from passers-by, reciting Verlaine’s poetry
to one another, not a sou for the chairs,
under a battered black umbrella.
Modigliani, a vagabond, dark, troubled,
a loner, like no one else, his stare
into your soul, your body a dancer’s
in his veins, each of you doubled.

*

Did you tell him you could dream
his dreams, think his thoughts, know
with a sixth sense how the drawings
you inspired – that he wanted hung forever
on your walls – would, in the screams
of the first revolution in Tsarskoye Selo,
be lost? Or did you heed a warning
from rumours how, in Montmartre,
he would strip himself naked
in cabarets, quoting Nietzsche,
when the hashish and absinthe, his habit
long-term, left you behind? Your head
he sculpted into an Angel, your figure
into an elongated African Queen. But

*

as you moon-walked in your sleep
along the ridge-tiles of your house,
your body disappeared into the wraith
of your white nightgown, back
into the gambles taken by a leap
of trust in a man. One year a spouse,
one year a lover in the trapdoors of faith.
No one knows why you decided to pack
again for Russia. Did your husband
confront him; or Modigliani’s drunkenness
increase until you no longer found fun
in his nonsensical rants, and
shook at imagined threats of violence
stuffed into the barrel of a gun?

Postscript

You would have given him all the poems
not yet written and have rewritten
old ones around the letters of his name.
You would have sent him peaks
of the highest mountains made from
moments already shared –

had they not all gone up in flames.

You would have climbed with ropes
of your hair, his breath in your lungs,
away from old despairs; have shown him
himself rising and setting on you
a hundred times daily and yourself –
since that first touch – made of air,

echoes blown away of mourning hymns.

You would have stood on the sky, above
clouds turning pink to pronounce him –
the way children do with a recovered magic.
But he belonged elsewhere,
not to the theme of your songs.
And you had to renounce all thoughts of him.

*****

Patricia McCarthy, winner of The National Poetry Competition 2013, is the editor of Agenda. She is half Irish and half English. After Trinity College, Dublin, she lived in Washington D.C., Paris, Bangladesh, Nepal and Mexico. She has been settled for a long time in East Sussex. Recent collections are: Rodin’s Shadow (Clutag Press), Horses Between our Legs, Letters to Akhmatova (2015). Shot Silks is due from Waterloo Press 2016.

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*****

RYAN MADIN: Poem

APHRODITE

On the beach picking stones
flat for skimming, I spied her:
straw hat, floppy, peeking
above the rocks, it shadowed
the outline of her face. Eyes
staring fixed toward the horizon,
her skinny body outshone
wild orchids on the hills above.
Her breasts beaded with sweat
and spray, I wanted to nestle
her in my arms and, as Poseidon
did with Aphrodite, bundle her
away into an island cave.
She caught my eye for a second
and, as if she beckoned me,
called out my name in some
half remembered language:
The waters are warm
then dove deep into the blue.
I swear, I never saw her
come back up for air.

*****

Ryan Madin, who is twenty four years old, is an up and coming poet and writer from Doncaster. So far his work has been featured in The Doncopolitan Magazine, The Don & Dearne: Collected Poems Volume 1 and Now Then Magazine. His debut pamphlet; Where The Wild Orchids Grow (Glasshead Press) will be out in February 2016.

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*****

Roy Marshall: Two Poems

CASSIS

I stop to change my shirt at the top of a track
that runs down to the barn. Sheep stare as the car rolls
to where you’re picking blackcurrants. Later, a fire
in a square of bricks, and at midnight, bangers, bottled ale
and the last of a clear spirit you brought back from the East.
A bed of embers glow larval under a feathering of ash
and tomorrow we’ll make light work,
prising stalks from glistening blackcurrants,
the long and short cobbled roads of our spines
stooped and aligned, jam-handed
as you funnel sugar through a thick glass neck,
upend vodka to unfurl purple-blue ribbons from the fruit,
steeped and left to ferment for God knows how long,
capped with a bang of your juice-dyed palm.

OYSTERS

Exposure to air would wreck this frame
emerging twenty-two feet below
the Ground Zero excavations.
So they soak the white oak and hickory keel
that rises through scatterings of animal bone,
ceramic dishes, blue and green bottles
and dozens of shoes, then ferry the timber
to the Earth Observatory, in Palisades, New York.

They dry the wood slowly in a cold room,
slice ribs and match the rings
to the signature patterns of a living tree;
find this ship was most likely built
in seventeen seventy, in a shipyard
near Philadelphia. How clever
we’ve become, and how resilient
those oysters, their shells
glued tight to the hull.

*****

Roy Marshall lives in Leicestershire where he works in adult education and writes poems, poetry reviews and the occasional story. His collection The Sun Bathers (Shoestring, 2013) was short-listed for the Michael Murphy award.

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*****

Abegail Morley: Three Poems

LAST NIGHT

The rain is all but gone – I can’t tell
if it’s just the trees dripping now.
I push my hand upwards as if to catch
a drop, but really I’m looking

at the lit window three flights up
where you’re drizzling oil into a hot pan,
a glass of Merlot poured, a cheap
Waitrose candle, slightly too white,

sputtering from the table. I stand
in this much-loved place, in the view,
our view, the one that made us
buy this house. I’m part of the street

we strolled down at night to make sure
it was safe, drove past at rush hour
to check traffic, ambulances, road rage.
But there’s a huge silence tonight,

so quiet I can hear myself walking
up those three flights, an end-of-day
weary tread, the kind that makes you think
your lungs won’t inflate, your knees

can’t bear your weight. In your wallet
I know there’s a photo of me
taken at Salthouse last summer –
I know you creased it slotting it in

under the plastic, cursed yourself
as you did it. I know other things too,
but I’ll save them with the rain I can feel
in my palm as I wait to feel you.

A SMALL JOURNEY

This morning as light strips roof tiles
drags shadows down sleep-heavy streets,

draws the ache of dawn from brickwork,
she heaves her first breath. Shocked by

the sun’s blaze, she cries like a vixen
torn by hounds, mourns the dark forest

of the left-behind womb, the familiar
warmth of its core. She hears the call

of birds, instinctively knows how
the spread of sky bears their weight,

that wind-weary wings thrash air,
berry-sized hearts thump as if thunder’s

worrying clouds. At noon rain clatters
on windows, wings tip for the final time

and when she closes her eyes she sees
a path through the trees, feels

saturated leaves wet her skin,
chooses to hide her face in their gift.

THE POSTAL SYSTEM AND YOU

The package is securely wrapped.
I’m eating buttered toast looking
at its string, Sellotape, a date blurred
in the top right corner.

It circled Queen’s Square at least four times
before you dropped it in the post box,
let it fall from your grip, two hands, one hand,
gone. You probably took a detour

at the Coach and Horses, Dutch courage,
so somewhere between windmills
and drop dead drunk you’d tossed it,
along with your broken heart

(you tell me this later) into the first
post box you saw. So now, when I open it
you’re there next to me astonished
that its arrived today when you’ve changed

your mind about leaving. I cut the string
and you wince as if considering
your options, fling back the sheets
in some tiny cotton protest –

I tip out the contents, let them curve
into the folds of my bowl-shaped palms.
You say you hate inflicting pain.
Somehow I don’t believe you.

*****

Abegail Morley’s fourth collection is forthcoming from Nine Arches Press. Her debut, How to Pour Madness into a Teacup (Cinnamon) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize Best First Collection. Snow Child and Eva and George are published by Pindrop, and The Memory of Water is an Indigo Dreams pamphlet. She is Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year and co-founder of EKPHRASIS. The Poetry Shed: http://www.abegailmorleywordpress.com

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*****

Mandy Pannett: Two Poems

ALEMBIC AT SUNSET

I am intrigued by the idea
of alchemy in the landscape
pulsing underneath the soil, a sense
of something eldritch in the light.

You could do it, go deep-mapping,
lower than any drill that fractures earth
for oil and gas. We could be
alembic at sunset

and distil questions, symbols, sediment, myth,
secrets in the scent of rain
as it moves through the air from molecules
in rose or tar,

and we’d remember long-dead men
who’d smell thunder in an early breeze and say
‘there’s lightning soon’.

I feel bewitchment in this wind,
prickles and berries in the dirt.
Touch me, touch my skin, share
my cells of skin. It’s a beginning.

A CALF FOR ALL THAT

He had a name:
Asterion;
a star-like fruit of love.

Not as his enemies tell it:
a gruesome half and half
rutting in thick bovine skin, a monstrous,
murdering hybrid thing –

See how tenderly he’s curling,
cradled on his mother’s knee.
An aberration – yes,

but a calf for all that.

Here’s a thicket by a cave
where sweet elderberries rot
white-spotted in the mouldy damp
of propaganda’s tales.

What if we stand on a different hill,
glimpse the green and spacious meadows
where the girl with lustrous hair,
Ariadne

dances  and the morning air
moves with her.

Listen, there’s a piper’s tune
as Cretan ladies dip and swirl in swift
meander through the maze and feathers
of the curtseying crane
grace the courtship dance.

He had a name, this tiny
deus, offspring of a pure white bull,
too beautiful to kill.

*****

Mandy Pannett is the author of a novella and five poetry collections. She works freelance as a creative writing tutor and has led residential and day workshops across the country and at festivals. She is poetry editor for Sentinel Literary Quarterly and editor of the anthology Poems for a Liminal Age (SPM Publications). She has been placed in several national competitions as well as acting as adjudicator for others.

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*****

Lesley Quayle: Two Poems

IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME

We came upon the house as thunder clouds growled
round the pink-roofed valley, ragged as starving wolves,

massed black against the horizon’s shining edge,
hot rain like stones. This was the place, here,

to put down roots, this foundering, rotten carcass
of a house, with its damp and inhospitable heart,

its canker blooms, abandoned to a dozen greedy winters,
a shipwreck of lichen and ivy on a spiralling stench

of feral cats. Awake in the dark, the shadows belonged
to monster and myth, the tented gloom a constellation

of fears, migrating piecemeal until morning crept
from its hiding hole. Owl cry to cockerel, nothing else

to hear but creaking, sighing, wind decanting arias in chimney
breasts, the drip and drip and drip from cisterns and taps,

the mutterings of rodents – night roamed about
the house, stole through brick and wood and water.

We uncovered vanished lives, peeled them from
walls, uncoupled their presence from rusted iron

and fractured clay, trod the same steps,
dished and smoothed by trooping feet,

soaked off the faded camouflage of limewash
and found them, quiet as dreams, in hieroglyphs

beneath. They lived for moments in our days,
like butterflies, glimpsed and gone, brief flickerings
of colour, light and empty air.

A TEATIME MIRACLE*

We watch to see if their hearts’ bitterness
can unconsume itself, to see if it will breathe

and take its bearings on the premise of restraint, the public
telescope of duty –  private purgatory exiled in handshakes,

fingers folding, gripping, holding tight, releasing, holding tight,
past torments clenched, unbearable in the avoidance of eyes,

afraid of looking lost perhaps, of seeing through the careful
packaging of State and exposing the same old guide book,

same old torn out pages. Too much for words, other than
the ones which settle on the lips like humdrum flies,

a kind of rain which blurs the mind, overlaying history
with foggy palimpsests. Over a cup of tea, the past

affronts the present, old men shake hands. We are
the mute spectators at a teatime miracle.

(*Title from an extract in a Guardian article by Jonathan Jones
about the historic meeting between Prince Charles and Gerry Adams.)

*****

Lesley Quayle is a poet, author and folk/blues singer currently living in Dorset. Her work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies and on BBC radio 4 and local radio. A former editor of Aireings, Leeds poetry magazine, she has read at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and performed at the Poetry and Jazz café. Her latest collection is Sessions published by Indigo Dreams in 2013.

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*****

Peter Raynard: Poem

WHEN KARL MARX WON X-FACTOR, OR DID HE?

Yes, yes, I’ve seen all the poster boys of communism.
Marx & Engels, Lenin & Trotsky, Guevara & Castro.
Read each of them all, an’ all, an’ all,
like ripped out pages of a porn mag found
down the fields. Tucked them up in a book
of scrap hidden under the bed. Watched
endless clippets of their icon-you-not
speeches, unfurled egos from the fat throats
of Mao to Chavez. Agreed with a lot
of the wind, caught up in their sails
flapping like a butterfly’s wing. Saw them
cult-like, occupy the minds of disciples stood
outside High Street brands flashing
indoctrination with no gloss but full
of emulsion to slip between the cheeks
of passers-by. I’m from those masses, full
of coke and free of opium, watching Kentucky
fried mind-fattening programmes where the cult
of personality is wrapped up like cheap bikini-clad
mags you stick down the front of your pants
on your way to the tills, along
with breath fresh mints and full strength condoms.

I’ve been in the pubs & clubs, shop floors & sites,
school gates & libraries. Been on protests & campaigns,
took part in witch hunts of posh cunts
we never managed to kick the fuck out of.
I’ve been with all those beings, holding kids
& sickles, books & shovels, remotes and Molotovs.
But I never could decide whether to stick
with the pack or twist my arms back
and let them hang, broken by my side, as God intended.

*****

Peter Raynard is the editor of Proletarian Poetry (www.proletarianpoetry.com) and a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen (a collective set up by Malika Booker). His poems have appeared in Under the Radar, The Morning Star, South Bank Poetry, HappenStance, New Left Project and CALM Magazine. @peter_raynard.

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*****

Andrew Shields: Two Poems

ARSONIST

In my nightmares, I was always on fire.
Running from the burning school, I would
achieve the liftoff I’d been longing for.
Or I would whimper as they lit the pyre,
or from my bedroom floor I’d look up at
the crescent moon I’d never travel to,
the broken window only letting in
the air that fed the flames consuming me.
I’d dream of accidents at auto races,
the drivers rolling free not quite in time,
the cars careening into bales of hay;
of burning books and shelves collapsing on me.
I’d even dream I was a just-struck match
lighting up a smoker’s face at night;
he’d blow me out and throw me on the ground
to sputter on the sidewalk wet with rain
and wisp away my last few foggy breaths.

One night I woke from dreamless sleep to hear
sirens speeding ever closer; I saw
the orange and yellow flicker on my wall,
and through the window, right across the street,
the Neumanns’ house engulfed. The rain was nothing,
the water from the hoses much too late.
Down in the street stood Benjamin and Jude,
the brothers I had played with all my life.
Their parents died that night; they moved away
to live with relatives in Washington.
The ruined house still stood for weeks, the fence
around it useless: every kid who could
would slip inside. I looked for where I’d played
the day before the fire, but nobody
could tell the rooms apart with so much damage.

I didn’t start my first one. The raked-up leaves
were smoldering—a cigarette, perhaps.
I simply helped them on their way; the birch
they had been piled under caught the flames
and spread them to the roof, which burned with all
the fury that had once burned in my dreams.
I watched the family watch their lives in flames
and knew that I would make things burn again.

GONE

The girl sits in a corner of the gym,
her Game Boy on her lap, its charger gone.

He watched the shanties all cave in,
but didn’t stay, with all the others gone.

The sun shines on her face and on the Rhine.
She’s forgotten that she’ll soon be gone.

At ten, they take the clothes from number nine.
When he gets them back, his T-shirt’s gone.

She put on all her wraps to shovel snow
and hoped that it would soon be finally gone.

He told them everything he did not know.
They beat him anyway, till he was gone.

They’re the only ones who go inside.
How many years until they all are gone?

He has a gun and justice on his side.
He’s sure he’ll be remembered when he’s gone.

*****

Andrew Shields was born in in 1964 in Detroit, Michigan, and thereafter raised in Michigan, Ohio, California, and England. He attended Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania (where he finished his PhD in Comparative Literature in 1995). He now lives in Basel, Switzerland. His collection, Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong, was published by Eyewear in 2015.

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*****

Richard Skinner: Four Poems

ISOLA DI SAN MICHELE, VENICE
(“to step on an island is to die…”)

It took me an age to find you,
your final port of call
obscured by a turmoil of long grass and eucalyptus.
On the mossy slab, the words:
EZRA POVND.
Each glyph sharp as a knife,
cut to the bone.

The sun beats, peacocks cry,
pansies shrivel in the heat.
Each of these cimiteri is like a Chinese character
legible only from the sky.
Who reads them now?
Just the birds, who, passing over, break flight
and drop like a stone to the ground.

‘IL RITROVAMENTO DI GIUSEPPE’
—a painting by Lazzarro Bastiani (1449-1512)

Voices raised in unison,
hands held in prayer,

they kneel and feign fealty
to the ghost, eyes blank as coins.

Their black pantaloons are amazed, ochre
on ochre. In the fading light,

they see no beauty, only opportunity.
Behind stand oleanders. Further still,

on a faint horizon, the miry earth, half-
eaten skulls lay whitened in marigold-fields.

MANGANESE IN DEEP VIOLET

Down on the waterfront I watch
Africans in green overalls

sweep and clean the quays,
further out on the Thames

boats bring syphilis and smallpox
upriver from Dutch colonies.

Much further downstream I step
into Tate Modern,

look at the Heron and feel the unease
overlapping water colour, in the Hall

the footfall of probable futures
quickens, and fear comes rushing in.

ECLIPSE, SALISBURY PLAIN, 1903

Standing by the Scot’s pine,
looking back at the house,
he knows he’s been here before—
a slight flutter in his heart,
a panic in his throat,
when he sees the frosted windows
blind with unknowing cloud
looking at him indifferently.

His hands do their tremorous thing
as he winds up the contraption
and sets it off to the air.
All measures and weights calculated,
it is really his moonsick heart
that lifts and drifts to other skies.

*****

Richard Skinner’s poems have appeared in numerous publications and have been longlisted for the National Poetry Competition. His debut collection, the light user scheme, was published by Smokestack in 2013. His new pamphlet is Terrace (Smokestack, 2015). He is also the editor of two poetry anthologies: #1PoetryAnthology (Vanguard Editions, 2014) and The Echoing Green: Poems Inspired by William Blake (The Big Blake Project, 2015). He also runs Vanguard Readings and its publishing arm Vanguard Editions.

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*****

Angela Topping: Two Poems

SALGADOS WETLANDS

We’ve puzzled over maps to travel here,
arrive to a hotel complex moored in the wetlands –
a cruise ship rooted into earth, locked in a bottle.

Can’t find our way to the bird reserves for this brown hulk
squatting in scrubland, with boardwalks to the beach,
balconies stacked like cardboard shelves, palm trees

keeping its secrets, every gate except one, locked
against short-cut seekers. We walk through car parks,
past security fences, in relentless heat

while, like the tick of a bomb about to detonate,
cicadas keep up their crick-crick lament. The hotel
is silent, a film set for some post-apocalyptic drama.

I wear my nowhere-is-too-posh-for-me face
as we stop for sandwich and coffee in a pool bar,
the only part open to the public.

Beyond the fish tank of doomed lobster,
the toilets are all limestone and marble.
I snoop through forests of parasols to blue water.

The wetlands were worth our walk. Green water
is rich with turtles we lean on the bridge wall
to photograph. The lake’s shores show us

spoonbills and avocets. Grebe ruffle the surface.
I wonder whether hotel vacationers come here
on their blank days, remark that the birds

are not as pink as they are in zoos, while
off in unreachable distance, going about their business,
a flock of flamingos congregate to fish.

AGNES

Midwood Street, terraces not fit for humans,
is where she’s always lived. It’s twenty years
since she last climbed the stairs.

Layers of dust stifle outdated ornaments.
Each sloughed-off cell deepens the pall.
Gas lamps are chandeliered with webs.

Her body‘s a bent stick, wrapped
in a flowery pinny, stained with grease.
Even her voice is a husk, a wisp of dried grass.

Nothing can grow here now. Her skin
is fissured as earth denied its dew,
ingrained dirt highlights every line.

Eggshell eyes are barely blue, faded
with each passing year
of servitude to parents now long dead.

Boyfriends had not been allowed. Each ovum
shrivelled inside, like dried walnuts,
her sex not her own to give.

To this drought her whole life has brought her.
Her purpose ended with Father’s final breath,
Mother’s last soaping as she laid the body out.

*****

Angela Topping’s eighth poetry collection is forthcoming from Red Squirrel Press in 2016. She is also the author of four pamphlets and was a writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library in 2013. She also writes critical books for Greenwich Exchange; the most recent was on John Clare’s poetry. She works as a freelance poet and educator.

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7 thoughts on “The High Window Journal: Issue 1 Spring 2016

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