The High Window Journal: Issue 3 Autumn 2016

 

Morebooks 3 bigger

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THE POETS

Carole BromleyRachel CarneyAmyon CorbouldKen CraftKen EvansTony Flynn  • Neil FulwoodRebecca GethinJohn GreeningDavid HarsentZeina Hashem BeckAngi HoldenGaia HolmesRoss JacksonHenry KingMichael McGillMaitreyabandhu • Jessica MookherjeeHelen MortJan NapierNicola Nathan • Michael Penny  • Alan PriceAdrienne Silcock •  Mario SuskoGrant Tarbard •  Claire Walker J.S. Watts •  Stella Wulf

Previous Poetry

THW2: June 1, 2016        THW1March 1, 2016

 

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Carole Bromley: Four Poems

ROS’S FROSTY STRAWBERRY SQUARES

I never make puddings. All my recipes,
my daughter says, are a bit retro. I flip through
the pages of the Good Housekeeping file
which would give any hygiene inspector a fit
and can see she has a point. Who would want
my mother’s Bakewell Tart with its bossy ps
(Food processors make super pastry!)
or my mother-in-law’s neatly typed Gooseberry Pie,
Miss Parker’s Lemon Pudding with a semi-colon
after each ingredient and the tops of all the letters missing.

The sellotape’s dried out and the column snipped
from some posh broadsheet flutters to the floor
with that seventies recipe for Pêches Brûlées
I don’t remember making. And there, between
Coffee Crackle and Blender Pecan Pie,
I spot your familiar handwriting and I cry,
I cry for the days of Frosty Strawberry Squares,
I cry for your brown ink, for your neatly rounded ‘a’s
for your ‘1 pkg. Dream Topping’, for the thought
of you in the old kitchen ‘stirring occasionally’.

HOMING

All that morning it scratted
and crooned in its cage
under my desk,

the pigeon Steven brought
as a visual aid
for his hobbies talk.

At break I locked it in
with Danny’s fishing flies
and Tom’s mountain bike.

At lunchtime Steven came
with grain and water
and a soothing hand.

Last period he stood at the front,
his voice steady at last,
no trace of the stammer,

and explained about the ring
and the loft, how sometimes
they get blown off course

and all the time his hand
with its bitten nails
stroked the bird firmly.

At the end he led them out,
a small, skinny Pied Piper,
and released it.

Thirty-five upturned faces
watched till it disappeared
somewhere over New Earswick.

CAMBRIDGE ENTRANCE

Why would you like to live on the moon?
‘You have two hours’, said the deputy head.
My mind was a blank, round and white.

The other girl’s pen set off
like a rocket; mine was grounded.
Counting down to zero.

She must have seen the moon
as a fine nail paring. Mine was fat
with a man in it having a laugh.

I don’t like cheese, never wanted to live alone.
I made my one small step
out of that room.

TEDDY DOES NOT LIKE TO BE TOUCHED

Hides in his bed when we arrive,
hates all the hugging and kissing.

Will not sit near us at the table,
picks up his chair and moves away.

Cannot be trusted near roads
because he won’t hold your hand.

Will only play games with weapons
that keep you at arms’ length.

Will not get into the pool
because of the feel of the water

but loves to go fishing, to pull
a creature from the depths,

not school where he won’t come out
from under his desk;

hates reading, says he wants to be
an artist and sell pictures.

I imagine him in an attic studio
bristling with paint-brushes

reproducing expressions he can’t fathom.

*****

Carole Bromley is a teacher from York. Twice a winner in The Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, she has two pamphlets and two books with Smith/Doorstop ( A Guided Tour of the Ice House, 2011 and The Stonegate Devil, 2015 ). She has won a number of first prizes, including the Bridport, Bronte Society, Yorkshire Open and Torbay and is widely published in magazines and anthologies.

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Rachel Carney: Two Poems

THE GREAT ACHIEVEMENT
after John Ashbery’s poem ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’

He stares at the
flat page,
breathes in its
emptiness,
licks his lips with the
effort of
not trying too hard, just
letting it flow
over him, into him, until
he is at one
with this image,
this man.

And now it hits him like a
fresh sheet of rain:
the memory of
standing there
in Vienna
leaning forward,
yearning
over the red rope
peering through
the glass box
longing to be
part
of the picture
falling
into the picture.

He has achieved
distortion: his reality
is now his
reality.

He has achieved
poetry.

THREE
after a self-portrait by Johannes Gumpp

Between the
faithful
reflection of truth

and the art that we
so admire – the artist
stands, a shadow

armed
with brush to transform
what is there to what

he wants to be there.
His eyes look in
three directions –

at himself, at his
work and us.
We become a part

of the circle, the
missing
link, included because

we are necessary,
not because
we are good.

Without us he would
be merely
himself, but

in our gaze he is
something more:
he is three –

we are three.

*****

Rachel Carney  lives in Wales. She studied English Literature at Aberystwyth University and edits a book review blog www.createdtoread.com which also features literary events and interviews with writers.

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*****

Amyon Corbould: Four Poems

BALLOON

I last saw him
floating over the sea
holding the string of a balloon.
I told him to let go inches
off the ground
but he wouldn’t listen.
He never does.

I may send him
a message in a bottle
in case he comes down
on an island in the Pacific.
He would like a message from me
or someone he knows,
telling him how to
boil an egg.
Or how many tea bags
to put in the pot.

I don’t think I’ll miss him.
While he’s away
I’ll learn to drive the car,
his baby.
Taking my friends on trips to the country,
spending money on meals
and drinks in pubs.
I’ll ring my daughter in Australia
not thinking of the cost.
I’ll learn to tap-dance …

Goodbye my darling
hold tightly to the string.
Look out for sharks.

SLUG

I had watched you
motionless by the dustbins.
A river of silver gave away
your route from the grass
and my flowers,
which you ate nightly.
You were black,
my favourite colour.
Finger thick,
ridged as knicker elastic.
I was afraid for you
exposed on the path
to a cruel foot.
Squashed as a blackberry.
Slug pellets might tempt you
or a beer trap  –
drowning in lager or Bass.
I added you to my little band
of fond-of creatures.
Not exactly loved
or bearing a name,
their lives too short.
The spider trapezing
on my wing mirror
the chrysalis I hoped would hatch.
And so it was with you.
You lay for days, hard and dry
as a twig, until I pushed
you into the long grass,
which slowly closed over your head.

HYDRANGEA

I planted a hydrangea
on the wasteland,
in my stolen garden
amongst the broken bottles
and burnt-out cars.
It flourished,
drawing nourishment
from discarded pizzas
and the remains of Chinese
take-aways.
At the end of its flowering
I cut it back.
A papery faded blue,
the flowers blended in
my willow vase
with the white moons of Honesty,
a perfect still-life.
Sometimes in the
rain and murk of winter
I thought how it would
thrive and flourish in
the Sun’s warmth.
But dandelions, thistles
and rank weeds grew.
Grass, knee-high, slowly encroached.
Wave upon wave
overpowering everything in
its path.
The corpse in the willow vase
crumbled in my fingers.
Nothing remains. Summer passes.

MAGNOLIA

Lager cans roll in the gutter
tin footballs for small boys
and look-alike youths wearing
baseball caps back to front.
Pavements spattered
not with the milky secretions
of hungry sparrows
but much chewed gum
rock hard for posterity.
I can spit further than you.
In the small front garden
petrol perfumed,
the magnolia blossoms.
Pink flamingo flowers,
hung with birdsong and peanuts.

The old man is thinking of
chopping it down.
Blocks the light he says.
His wife a few months dead,
they bought it together years ago.
It has become greedy for space,
beautiful as a woman in a silk dress,
her skirts lifting, she dances a fandango
in the strong winds.
In the cold air of the North Sea
her beauty quickly fades.

In the morning of the world
before Mars bars were invented
Sorcerers made women from flowers.
Women of wisdom, the quiet ones.
She was the other sort
a mistress of the wounding word,
but he loved her in his own way

The old man grumbles
but will relent and let it be
her memorial.
The magnolia tree.

*****

Amyon Corbould was for many years a member of local writers’ groups in Grimsby until failing health made it difficult for her to attend. These are the  first of her poems to be published in a journal.

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Ken Craft: Poem

HAPPINESS BOUND

Sometimes I sense happiness
as animal musk, a beast outside my windowed
life. Apollo is bound and gagged in a dark
and orderly back room
where no one’s lived (certainly not me).
Outside, happiness lopes, its graceful
muscles (I imagine) rippling under the sheen
of warm, worn fur (dun-colored).
Truth’s hot breath whispers my ear
and I can sense my extended claws—
pursuit as takedown, then—where I feel the hide,
where I ride the weight. Yes, happiness!
In its last (not lasting) gallops, alive beneath me,
falling, heavy, just before the meatiest of thumps
sends clouds of Serengeti into the air of my wishfuls.

Then I suspect a Dionysian joke, hyena
hackles (ha-ha) sharpening themselves
on the whetstone of again:
Happiness as pursuit only. Stop.
Not destination. Stop. Or certainly takedown. Stop.
And I’m in the open mundane, not the back room
over some golden-locked, dour autocrat (the lyre), safe
life on his sour breath. Stop. I’m powdering
plain yogurt (again) not with ground Serengeti
but ground cloves that itch as they climb
the houndstooth of my nostrils in search
of their own darks and their own back room
and I get the message.

Still, if I close my eyes, I can jump—
maybe land—on the back (maybe)
of the myth (maybe). The very thought is despotic,
garam dancing with masala,
and I want to get weepy with it (happiness, damn you!)
but the paradox ducts are dried gullies
and that wring slipped off
my thin, cool finger so many years ago, and I’m just
another man—both Prometheus and bound (not gagged,
alas)—who’s been left a Dear John letter (Z). Left
to his just, to his eagle, to his oh-so-dry deserts.

*****

Ken Craft  is a teacher and writer living west of Boston. His first poetry collection, The Indifferent World, is published by Future Cycle Press.

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Ken Evans: Two Poems

THE CHILL OF MELTWATER

Born from the salt lick of a cow’s warm tongue,
my father emerges from his ice-jacket; a revelation,
hair first, dripping; this is why I don’t take praise well,
the Norse myth of Buri, father of the gods and Borr,
his son, a submergence to leave me Viking-hearted.

He re-opens veins to me just once; shows neighbours,
dragged in for Christmas drinks (strangers, in effect),
photos of me on the snowy-top of Kilimanjaro. He is proud,
showing-off: ‘Look,’ he seems to imply, ‘even vegetarians
climb mountains!’  I brush off an alien compliment.

We never mention it again (he is gone inside eight years),
though he seems pleased with his breakthrough. Now I,
a father in my own Creation myth, use my salt tears
to stop ice forming, though frost is easier to build layers
against than meltwater, which trickles through raw, red fingers.

AN UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS

A newborn hangs from her hind-legs,
in a glister of afterbirth. Wound inside
the mother, the lamb needs a last tug
on an unfreeing knot, half-in, half-out,
a trapeze artist hung mid-air between
the womb and a carrion-ground.
The ravens tear and snap at the loose-end,
a flying, falling cupboard of scissors.
The mother is fear, confusion, complaint.

Cornered by the dry-stone wall,
she makes a hopping motion, rear-legs
hobbled by the pink-and-blue polyp
beneath the dags. Beaks pinch the eyes
of her young, the pulp of livery tongue,
a tiny pulse rises on a spilled stomach,
unaired blood on boulder and thistle.
Frenzied with appetite, the ravens gorge
till satisfied, neat house-clearers.

*****

Ken Evans: gained a Distinction in his poetry Master’s from Manchester University last year. His work was longlisted in the Poetry Society’s National Competition; highly-commended in the Bridport; and shortlisted in the Troubadour Competition, all in 2015.

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*****

Tony Flynn: Two Poems

NEAR-AND-FAR

There are places in the heart which do not yet exist;
suffering has to enter in for them to come to be.    
Leon Bloy

Who knows…? At any rate, I’d gladly stick
with my constricted heart for all this not
to enter in… A late sun flares

through sepia blinds,
flames these golds into the room –
… the very colour of your hair.

Rilke tells of Gaspara Stampa:
one whose unrequited love was yet
her path to God.

My German’s poor.
I have it only in translation; lines
which though they speak to me will never sing.

Interminable days, and the mind become
a burning-glass turned in upon
itself: nothing,

it seems, that doesn’t allude,
little that isn’t brought to bear:
so this, on how we fall

from grace –
‘… not a distance we create, but
letting our gaze be drawn in the wrong

direction …’
Dear God, how many times did I
turn away from what I knew was true in you.

You’ve much in common,
you and Him –: near-
and-far – hard to grasp – resolute in your silences.

FLESH AND BLOOD  

‘Why am I being hurt?’…a silent cry,
which sounds only in the secret heart.
Simone Weil

How much it seems is bearable:
another life best counted out

in breaths to mark
so short a span;  the story

of your mother’s
complicity; details

of the final blow…; but
not this, not

this: the careful
incisions,

the lifting
and weighing

of every organ:
‘Heart: 15 grams;

 a little less perhaps
than one might have expected…’

… Almost
nothing – (Too much,

too much…)
The scales are tipped

and cannot right , all’s
out-of-kilter and out-

weighed; and love
must go on

broken knees, with
begging bowl  – confounded, blind.

*****

Tony Flynn has published three volumes of poetry: A Strange Routine (Bloodaxe Books), Body Politic (Bloodaxe Books) and The Mermaid Chair: New and Selected Poems (Dreamcatcher Books). He has also received a number of awards, including an Eric Gregory Award; an Arts Council of England Writer’s Award; and an award from the Royal Literary Fund. He has taught creative writing in schools and universities, and was the Arts Council of Wales Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Bangor, North Wales.

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Neil Fulwood: Three Extracts from Numbers Station:

Numbers stations are anonymous, shortwave AM radio stations that broadcast messages at pre-set times, sometimes periodically and sometimes random, on specific frequencies. They’re notable for their unusual tone and content, as the stations can be silent for most hours of the day or week, then jump to life with a collection of artificial human voices, sounds, Morse code, short songs, or even nursery rhymes. They also broadcast in a number of different languages. If you’ve ever listened to a numbers station, it’s one of the creepiest things you’ve ever heard.  Alan Henry: Lifehacker.com, November 2012

LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER  (1)

Folk song, marching song, favourite
of the magistrate’s and gamekeeper’s nemesis;
a jaunty air with a sly bastard’s swagger,
a rabbit over its shoulder, a grin that’s smug
and appeals to the ladies creasing a face
bootblack-smeared to blend with the darkness.

Now hear it stripped of fiddle or pennywhistle;
hear it like no pub quartet or streetcorner busker’s
ever played it. Hear it as interval signal,
the tinnitus of static driving the airwaves mad
in the background. Hear its first two bars
tunelessly recycled and imagine a man

in safe house or cellar, ear to the cheap plastic
of a small transistor on a night that’s not shining
in a season of distrust and sleeplessness.

BACKWARDS MUSIC

Not the music of the spheres
Not the music of the night
Not the music of the heart

Not the sweet music
Of guys in stiff suits
And gals in crinoline

Not the soulful music
Of barflies  night owls
And the lonely

Not the blues
Waiting for you
When you woke up this morning

Not jazz
Trad or modern
Or defiantly insular

Not symphony   sonata
Concerto    oratorio
Tone poem   opera

Not even
In fact
Music

Bursts
Of data
Compressed

Scratching
Across airwaves
Knifing the eardrums

LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER  (2)

A minute, two at the most, then the interval signal
stops dead, static rustling like a restless concert-goer
in the half second between the penultimate
and final movements of a Beethoven symphony

but instead of the dark drama of the Eroica
or the fatalism of the Fifth or the peaceful offering
of the Pastoral after the storm or the epitome
of the dance that takes the Seventh from introspection

to a flinging off of all matters of mortality
or the surge of the Ninth from dignified acceptance
to hymn of brotherhood – that joyous statement
of everything alien to our man in the field –

instead of the airwaves timing this moment of silence
for maximum impact as the taut discipline
of a world-class orchestra puts to shame
the watchmaker’s precision and the pugilist’s aim,

instead of the eruption of art in its glorious shroud
of the immortal, a clipped female voice
reciting five-digit strings of numbers, cut glass
in her enunciation of the arbitrary, never stretching

beyond two syllables, each set of five numbers
recited with an upswing on the fifth as if to enquire
Are we sitting comfortably, children? Did we
jot that down correctly on our one-time pad?

Are we au fait with our instructions? Have we
pledged ourselves, body and soul, to queen
and country? Our man in the field can hardly argue.
Hers is the voice of nanny, governess, mother,

elder sister; hers the voice of headmistress. Hers
is the voice of first love, last love, lost love, failure;
hers the voice of guilt. Hers is the voice of instructor,
assessor, handler, enabler; hers the voice of control.

*****

Neil Fulwood lives and works in Nottingham. His poetry has appeared in Butcher’s Dog, The Lampeter Review, Prole, The Morning Star, Interpreter’s House and Ink, Sweat & Tears. He is co-editor, with David Sillitoe, of More Raw Material: work inspired by Alan Sillitoe (Lucifer Press, 2015). His debut collection, No Avoiding It, is forthcoming from Shoestring Press in 2017.

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Rebecca Gethin: Four Poems

CLYDESDALES

Waiting for winter to pass they stand, one hind hoof
tilted at rest. Heads hanging low, lower lip sagging
they submit to the cold as wind punches their sides,
rain stings their backs. They barely shiver as dawn frost
makes icicles of their whiskers. They shift position
of their hind-legs in a swirl of breath.
The hairs of their rumps and backs will tell them
when weather fronts are to change.
Their paper-thin nostrils will smell it, shaggy fetlocks
will sense it. Their ears swivel as they catch sounds
of sap rising, of rootlets starting to creep.
Inside the soles of their hooves
they feel moles churning out tunnels to hunt
worms that rise to the steaming dung.

WELL

A disc of light sways
in the darkness way below
like a moon
or like the end of a tunnel
you could fall to,
tumbling down the shaft,
sinking through water
and into the mirage,
and while you fall you realise
the white hole’s existence
depended on the position
of the observer above.

ELEPHANTS IN ROME: 275 AD

You can hear them down the centuries,
from the pages of Pliny and Seneca:
the eighteen war elephants the Romans captured.
They couldn’t know what lay ahead:
crushing no plants on the battlefield,
the first Act in the Circus was to trample
on criminals before being goaded
to fight with one another. At first, the spectacle
of large bottoms, dangling tails,
muscular trunks, mountains of flesh
with swaying bellies and long penises was comic …
but when the losers wailed, entreating for their lives,

their thin ears flapping, the onlookers wept,
rose and cursed the Emperor Pompey. Perhaps
they saw in the elephants’ eyes their own dread,
the sorrows to come in the wars
they’d be forced into fighting.
The eyes of elephants – so like their own.

DULSIE BRIDGE

is the fairy’s crossing point where peaty waters
of Findhorn moil through a gorge.  To live near there,
you needed to know how to lock your door.

Mrs M lived in the two room cottage at Dulsie: her eyes as blue
as the jay’s lucky feather, her hair like light on thistledown.
She knew to lock her door with a rowan sprig.

When she met travellers on the road she’d invite them
to go right in and take a cup of her tea at her hearth
for she only locked her door with a rowan sprig.

She brought up twelve children, adopted another
and then discovered a newborn in a box on the mat
for she only locked her door with a rowan sprig.

*****

Rebecca Gethin lives on Dartmoor. Landscape, nature and folklore often inspire her work.  She has written two novels and published two poetry collections.  Three Drops in a Cauldron is to publish a new pamphlet later in 2016 and Cinnamon Press will publish another in 2017.   Her website is  www.rebeccagethin.wordpress.com

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 John Greening: Extract  from The Silence

Sibelius lived in Järvenpää, Finland until he was over ninety. But he released virtually no music from his forest home for the last thirty years of his life and ‘the Silence from Järvenpää’ became as much of a talking point as the music. Continually pestered about an eighth symphony, the composer battled alcohol addiction, depression and above all self-criticism.

*

He’s tired of where he is, how he lives, and who he sees,
but above all tired of himself. He craves like-minded
creative company, new people, not these broken-winded
parochial acquaintances. The inner life. He knows he only has

a few more years at best; there’s no time to fret
about reputation, jealousies. The immediate concern is this shaking
in his hands. How can he write with that? Stop drinking.
But drinking stops the tremor, though not the have you finished it yet?

*

How do this couple manage to live as two creative artists?
He cannot imagine. One composes, the other sculpts. They live
in harmony, but how much (that dissonance!) his own wife gave
to answer his high calling, how much she sacrificed – a part as

leading lady, to find that now she’s only the scullery maid.
The unwritten music of a life she might have led if he
had not reached out to mould her into a silent beauty
bringing his coffee, his cream. She loves his work as much, she said,

as him, and more perhaps. Whenever he writes a courtly masque,
a grand arrival, he wonders what privilege might have been hers;
but it never occurs to him she might have become the creative force
that he (powered by her, of course) now is. Nor will he ask

if she has urges still unsatisfied – a desire to paint
or sculpt, write poetry, or compose. Is it enough to raise
daughters endlessly, to have fostered his genius, and leave hers
beneath the frozen soil, a delicate aristocratic plant

whose scent the world will never catch? She would say ‘yes’’,
and sniff: the source of her husband’s art is nobler far than any
ambitions of her own, she has not lived for nothing, no, her destiny
to nurture the word of God, which to her is simply his.

*

Skin’s electrical resistance is diminished, the pupil of the eye dilates,
respiration rate increases, decreases, grows irregular,
pulse rising steadily and (the heart, the heart) blood pressure,
tap-tap, drum-drum, physically restless as mates

before mating, or fighters waiting to fight. Leg muscles
twitch and shift. Dance-steps trace their patterns, weave her
a way out of the shadowy wings, in strings and reeds that leave her
brazenly exposed. Come, she says, drain the sacred vessels.

*

She watches over him, an English gardener. Before their farewell,
as she asks for an autographed picture – no thanks, no dedication, ‘no need
for words between us’ – he might have seen some shoot, perhaps a bud
of what she calls ‘tendresse’, confessing to a feeling ‘neither shallow

nor wanting in propriety’. Counting the hours, she says he can count on her
whatever’s in store, if it be more ‘great and beautiful works’
(as she believes), or whether that craze of tiny hairline cracks
fracturing, lets in the smoke and drink… ‘it will have no effect on our

friendship, and all that binds a lover of art to her favourite artist.
‘I’ve waited for you to break through; now the moment has almost come.
But don’t waste your energies. Your new marching orders for the summer:
to write (no drinking, no America, no trivialities), to write your greatest.’

John Greening: Poem

HELSINKI, 1907

‘The symphony,’ says Mahler, ‘must embrace
everything – it must be like the world.’
His baton raised, his Titan heart has hurled
a zig-zag Ländler for the human race
to trip on nano-steps through inner space
to outer planetary orbits, whirls
of pulsing emptiness where time skirls
Zeus’s paroxysms.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Bald, stony-faced,
Sibelius, lighting a cigar, remarks –
‘Of course, I only speak as the creator…’
Then smiles: ‘I most admire severity
of form, the profound logic of a work’s
inner connections.’ Silence.  From his throat
a length of ash falls to a chord of C.

*****

John Greening has published more than a dozen collections (notably To the War Poets, Carcanet, 2013), and several studies of poetry and poets. His edition of Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War (OUP) appeared in 2015, along with a music anthology, Accompanied Voices. This year’s publications are Nebamun’s Tomb (Rack Press) and the collaboration with Penelope Shuttle, Heath (Nine Arches). TLS reviewer and Eric Gregory judge, his awards include the Bridport Prize and a Cholmondeley. He is RLF Writing Fellow at Newnham College. www.johngreening.co.uk

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David Harsent: Twelve poems from Salt

A photograph not of her, but someone like her.
A letter she never wrote: that bold facsimile.
The way they entered the room, this woman, then this,
and made themselves known to him. The way
silk brushes silk and lamps configure shadows.

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Lines of light in woodland, look hard at this,
stand in the drench to disappear, be voiceless,
be still, leave yourself there unremembered.

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Since music is everything, he said, I would sooner wait on that –
What would it be but avoidance of harm: a place in the half-dark,
coming dark, and the sky in flood and everything in the swim?

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She puts down her book and lifts her drink, a cloud
of dew on the glass, a circle of salt on the rim;
she takes the scent of tequila first, then drinks. It might
be years before she goes back to the book, those lines
and layers, deaths and denials, that tallyman hero.

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Smell of the alley you might have to come to: piss and piss and piss.
Might have to live in, might have to make your home:
piss and piss and everything you own. Dark trench
above the brickline, funnel for rainfall, cloud-sluice, night sky
broken and running red. Time to bet your debt…

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A face peering in, a naked form set flat on a bed or bench, a hand
turning a key. The dream’s ironwork and dross, its shaft
and dead drop. You come back changed, singing the life you left.

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The hands of the puppeteer are chafed by love. His people dance
and clap and jabber, and kiss by knocking heads. Their names
are known only to him. If they lie to one another his fingers ache.
Husband and wife and lover and stranger and fool: they fall
into themselves, vita continua, common ground, go side by side.

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Her spittle was wine and salt. Later, he took salt
from the tip of her breast with the tip of his tongue.
They could eat whenever they chose, they could go
from room to room without having to say why, or sit
in total darkness close enough to touch but never touching.
They thought they might cut each other’s hair to get
the sudden lightness in that, the flow, the naked neck.

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Sloe-light sometimes, or the plainsong of flies as they crowd
a slather of shite, or the sea with its nag-nag-nag.
No one comes, in that final hour, to warn or console.
Things move on in the way of things: strange slow-motion dance.

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In one version he died in ungovernable pain,
in another she held him as he ‘slipped away’.
Something like a wolf, something like
a figure in cap and bells, laughter from the room
beyond that room (wild laughter), something like
the song she might sing. The night sky ran in clusters.

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To live in silence; to write a white book, to go
touchless from place to place,
to shuffle-off your skin, the mask of your face
under its hank of hair, still placid and empty-eyed.

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A place where the sun never quite comes up, where birds
are white-eyed, where all water is salt-water. They go naked,
the ‘inhabitants’; their voices might be machine-made, a sweet
soft hum that will draw you on before you’ve had time for that.

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*****

David Harsent has published eleven volumes of poetry. Legion won the Forward Prize for best collection 2005; Night (2011) was triple short-listed in the UK and won the Griffin International Poetry Prize. His most recent collection, Fire Songs, won the 2014 T.S. Eliot Prize. He has also collaborated with a number of composters, most often with Harrison Birtwistle. David Harsent is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton.

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*****

Zeina Hashem Beck: Three Poems

MOTHER, KA’ABA

I moan and the nurse reminds me, The Prophet said heaven is under the feet of mothers.

When mothers give birth, the heaven under their feet is dark. The first milk, called colostrum, isn’t white, she explains, places the pump on my breast.

*

Your mother then your mother then your mother then your father, said the Prophet, says the nurse. She insists I change the feminine pads regularly. Warm baths help.

 *

The blood, the days—they don’t stop. The pads irritate me. My husband gives me his white cotton undershirts to cut and use instead. Each shirt, a small offering. Each shirt, as white as milk, then dark.

*

The nurse tells me she missed her prayer rug after her first delivery. Because we can’t pray until the bleeding stops. She peels the tape off my skin to remove the IV. She says mothers, too, are a kind of Qiblah, the direction in which we all pray in the end.

She presses her thumb into my arm. Mothers, a kind of Ka’aba. Removes the catheter. Final pilgrimage back to where we came from. Alcohol pad, gauze. Mothers, a first temple. Give thanks, circle seven times, counterclockwise. Mabrook, she smiles, what a beautiful baby girl.

HIYAM

My grandmother, Hiyam, whose name
means love, had none, gave none. Locked
her refrigerator door so her children wouldn’t
make a mess in the kitchen, sat them down,
fed them their sandwiches bite by bite until
they got bored and said they were full. Brushed
the tassels hanging from the sofa. Cleaned
the faucets until they shone like silver
flamingo necks. Beat anyone who ventured
to sit on the beds after they were made. Forgave
no one, not even her own skin. Drowned
herself a little more each day in the lake
of her mirror, dropped a pill, two pills, ten pills
in each morning—goodbye, goodbye,
most beautiful girl in Damascus. Retreated
when she noticed the wrinkles around her eyes—
first to the sofa, then into her bedroom, then into

her own mind. A week ago, she crouched
next to her bed, screamed
at the shadows to leave her alone,
told them she didn’t want to eat chicken,
promised her dead son she would tell everyone
he said hello, took off her clothes, accused
her husband of stealing her new skirt,
the one she had bought
twenty-something years ago—Where is it, she asked,
Why, you fool, did you take it away?
Calmed down when Mom arrived and told her
she’d taken the skirt to iron it, would bring it back
tomorrow. Went out on the balcony
for the first time in years, looked outside,
I know this thing. It’s called a street.

UNTOUCHED

Years later, Mom would explain—
my aunt just wanted to give “that dog”
a scare. I wasn’t sure whether she meant
the husband or the father.
My aunt had swallowed rat poison,
thinking she would take a dive and emerge
on either side. She somehow managed
to emerge on both. (I can still see her
in our corridor, smiling. All teeth
and short curly hair, like a poodle).
I don’t know who found her, don’t dare
ask, take in only what Mom mentions.

Like how my aunt woke up
from her coma one day,
hungry, dying
to see her little boys.
How Mom left the house
with a bar of soap (square, wrapped
in brown paper) and a shampoo bottle,
saying she was going to clean
her little sister up. I remember her back
with the soap and shampoo

untouched, declaring she was happy
her sister had woken up for a day.
Because this meant she hadn’t
killed herself, her death was merely
a doctor’s mistake, she would surely
be allowed into heaven.

*****

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her first collection, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. She has two forthcoming chapbooks: 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and There Was and How Much There Was, a Laureate’s Choice from smith|doorstop, recommended by Carol Ann Duffy. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Forward Prize, and appears in Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Rialto, among others. Her website is www.zeinahashembeck.com.

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*****

Angi Holden: Two Poems

MONTANA

Montana clings to the back lanes behind
the clothing factory, watches the women
head home when the five o’clock horn blows.
Her hair, once plaited neatly, hangs in tangles
over the shoulders of her snaggled jumper,
the cuffs pulled down over clenched hands.
She is waiting for a glimpse of him
locking up, wending his way home.
She is listening for his footsteps on the cobbles.

CORPORATION GARDENS

They are pressed together, tête-à-tête,
this pair of old ladies whispering,
sharing secrets as they sit on the park bench
watching their grandchildren play.
The sun speckles through the beech leaves;
in the distance the threat of rain.
They dig into their leather handbags,
pull out crackling bags of forbidden toffees.
The children promise not to tell their mothers,
whoop as they aeroplane away across the clipped grass.

*****

Angi Holden is a freelance writer. Her work includes prize winning adult and children’s poetry, short stories and flash fictions, which has been published in online and print anthologies. She brings a wide range of personal experience to her writing, alongside a passion for lifelong learning.

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*****

Gaia Holmes: Four Poems

AND STILL WE KEEP SINGING

Up here the hours go backwards
and we’re closer to the edge of things.
Up here you have to know the language of the wind,
you have to understand the manners of mist and riptides
in order to go to sleep singing,
in order to wake up
on the brighter side of life.

Some days sunlight sugars the island.
Cats lie on their backs bleaching their bellies,
seals bask on the rocks, braise their lovely fat
until it’s close to boiling point.
Orange crocosmia burns gently
around the mill dam.
Every kitchen smells of bread .
The world hums as it hangs out its washing.

Other days we gag on the reek of drift tide rot.
Broken gulls and fulmars
float in the harbour like oily rags.
Damp socks and dresses
freeze and stiffen on the washing line.
A furze of  haar blots out our thin and precious light.
The glow of the mainland, that cosy grail we cling to,
that glimmer of cars, buses, shops and  living,
disappears in to the dark, monstrous mouth
of the island where lightbulbs shatter and fuses blow
and we’re left with singed fingers, the thick stink of wax
and candles whose wicks are too damp and weak
to sustain a flame.

Note: ‘Haar’ is a cold sea fog.

PORTENT

He might live to be 100,
get a letter from the queen,
but he doubts it
because last night
after the fat pigeons
had gorged on his offerings
and bedded down
in the gables,
the bird life
suddenly became
more vivid.

He was sure he saw
a turquoise glimmer,
the gleaming greens
and golden eyes
of a peacock’s tail fan
flashing away
from the mound
of mealworms
he’d left on the lawn.

He was sure he smelled
burnt wood,
He was sure he saw
the bird table
smouldering in the wake
of a phoenix.

PLEASANTRIES

Yes, I’m fine thanks
but there’s a whiff of the bear cave about me:
damp straw, bone-mash, guts and feathers.
You’ll find me at the back of things
through the third set of shadows
on the left.

Winter has whittled me.
Clots of dried blood bead my hair
and I’m not what I was.
My voice has become rusty.
Sun rays no longer coil in my throat
waiting to shine from my mouth.
I stopped scrumping stars
and stalking light months ago.

Now I live with the crows.
We compete
with each others blackness,
see who can sustain
the darkest minim.

NOCTURNE

The piano wouldn’t fit
through the sitting room door
so it lived in our claggy kitchen
where happy potatoes
threw out a  spaghetti of green shoots,
little mushrooms
bloomed beneath the cooker
and  weevils gorged on peelings.

It cowered and softened
under the tyranny of damp,
its varnish blistering,
its slender keys
fattening,
its felt hammers soaking up
the cabbage sweats and gravy steams
of kitchen life.

Most nights you sat in the darkness
and played.
The rotting piano
made Chopin’s smooth nocturnes
clunky and psychotic.
You played for hours
then came to bed
goose-pimpled and shivering,
those bad notes still humming
on your fingertips,
those bent melodies
seeping into my skin.

*****

Gaia Holmes lives in Halifax. She is a free-lance writer and creative writing tutor who works with schools, libraries and other community groups throughout the West Yorkshire region. She runs ‘Igniting The Spark’, a weekly writing workshop at Dean Clough, Halifax. She has had two full length poetry collections published by Comma Press: Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed (2006) and Lifting The Piano With One Hand (2013).She is currently working on her third collection which will, amongst other things, deal with gaps, sink holes, taxidermy and broad beans

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*****

Ross Jackson: Two Poems

TRUDGE

those who have seen the scorpion paralyse the lizard
who have seen the scorpion swallowed by the bird
who have seen the skeletons

each isolated woman    each detached man
who has trudged through scrubland
in a quest for becoming

who know there are no horizons
yet expect to reach an horizon at any hour

those light weighted explorers who have trudged
in fuming noonday xxxxxxxxximpressed with burning soles
scorched by sunsets     charred noses no longer smelling fire

those solos roughened by saw blades of banksia leaves
and grevillea spines    who have washed in dust baths
under moonlight

who during the long grey wait for becoming
have grown brittle as the scarce trees they pass

it is they who come to know that in the purifying
kiln of their trudge there is something
not a somewhere, nor an arrival

but when they no longer look for it
their becoming may begin

I SEE FROM A WINDOW
i.m. Una Martin

Something of her mother’s
in our narrow garden
saffron flowers
from modest pots
transplanted years ago

Unsteady stalks in cross breeze
there’s bravery
in the way they blow

I never knew her with polio
but as I walk outside
I remember her
sun lover each morning

thawing
once twisted legs
in the East facing chair

*****

Ross Jackson Ross Jackson lives in Perth, Western Australia and his poetry has appeared in many literary journals in his home country. He has also had poems in Poetry New Zealand, in Brain of Forgetting (Ireland) and forthcoming in Poetry Pacific (Canada).

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*****
Henry King: Poem

SIC TRANSIT

It happened on your only holiday
as a couple. Driving back after a daytrip
through Breton villages, each with its own cathedral-
sized church, you crested a hill to see
the sun going down across the valley,
and stopped to take pictures. When you started again,
turning the headlights on as darkness gathered
(a country road, no barriers or streetlights,
just scrub on one side, a stone wall on the other)
you soon climbed the ridge you’d seen on the horizon
and there it was again: the sun, like a red-faced runner
who’d paused to catch his breath, and let you catch up.
More pictures. Nor was that the last: was it three
or even four times you watched it sinking
north-west towards England? Had it not been
for the Channel, you might have prolonged that evening
indefinitely, the world unrolling before you
like a map of an empire on which
the sun never sets. You told me all this
and forgot, leaving it with me to remember;
then I forgot too, till it dawned on me again,
brought back by a phrase in a history book.
Civil, nautical, astronomical: there are many degrees
of twilight. When was the last time you saw her?
And whatever happened to those photos?

*****

Henry King  studied to Ph.D. level at the University of Glasgow, and currently teaches English Literature at Malmö Högskola, Sweden. His poems, essays and translations have appeared in PN Review, Stand, Modern Poetry in Translation, and elsewhere. He blogs sporadically at henrymking.blogspot.com

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*****

Michael McGill

THE GHOSTWRITER

I am the ghostwriter.  I’ll take
your thoughts, distort them,
put them through a blender,
(a cooler temperature chills
the cadence and the clause),

and I’ll spill the beans, pour
forth the freshest squeeze
that tastes like decaf but feels
like a threat.  I’ll swallow you
whole like a python with a piglet

and I’ll re-arrange your words
like a set of colour crayons;
a different shade for each
emotion.  I’ll stylise your
thoughts as a crystalline

figurine, a car-boot sale charm.
And I’ll leave your words,
air-brushed, re-arranged
and bleached like the cruellest
transcript, the saddest bouquet.

*****

Michael McGill has had poetry published in New Walk, RAUM, Glasgow Review of Books, Northwords Now and HQ Magazine, in anthologies by Ragged Raven Press and on The Open Mouse and Hot Tub Astronaut web sites. He has also appeared on the Lies, Dreaming podcast and The Verb on BBC Radio 3.

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*****

Maitreyabandhu: Five Poems

THE HOUSE OF THE HANGED MAN

There are no cityscapes in Cézanne, no artist
holed up in a hotel room to catch the metropolitan buzz
on the Rue de Beaux Arts and the Rue de Bac –
carriage clatter, horse manure, men in stove-pipe hats,
salons replaced by Accessorize, Café Nero and Sports Locker.
Electric light appalled him, the noise and crush
sent him back to provincial Provençal lanes, the quarry
at Bibémus and for bad weather, a compotier of pears.
Today, in early March, the sky is blue over the block of flats,
the school with its bluetacked pictures of mummy.
The sidelong light is strong enough to cast an elongated shadow
of chimney battlements but there are no tree-lined avenues
or café interiors, no billiard tables, absinth drinkers
or prostitutes – only his son dressed, improbably,
as harlequin, and the House of the Hanged Man.

ANGELS IN PECKHAM

Nature has no Outline, but Imagination has
William Blake

And Blake saw angels clustering like raindrops
in a tree on Peckham Rye; he saw their wings
and felt their love, the rush of their erotic mouths.
His feet stood on the verge of non-existence
‘For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things
thro’ the narrow chinks of his cavern.’ He saw himself
as a nothing left in darkness. Then God pressed
his forehead to the sky, breathed on the glass
and rubbed it with his cuff where Cézanne – belligerent
and ignored – worked ‘agonisingly slowly’ weighing up
each twisted branch the mistral swept between –
the threshing leaves, the hill’s camber – pushing
towards a sight beyond his sight, elbowing away words,
shadows, tone, modelling, outline and answering
Nobodaddy with blue, blue-grey, violet, red.

SUNDAY BELLS

And (like van Gogh) makes his “saints” out of such things..
Rainer Marie Rilke

A wine bottle, plums on a plate –
each a glimpse of God
and radiant in their separate heavens.

The clouds part to reveal:
a man carrying leeks, someone
moving a café table.

Rilke might have said
the God-maker is sunlight
or ‘What’s seen fully is eternal’

but Rilke was working towards
the ‘sublime dictation’
of the Sonnets

just as Cézanne was worshipping
pine shadows and grapes.

THE PARADE

To build some better notion of this life,
of what it needs and aims towards, to fetch
a final thought from the morass of thought
among the muddled bric-a-brac and pools,
some better purpose or some greater gift,
might, now evening cools and sunlight strafes
the listless trees, might fail and show its hands,
empty, like the jester’s or the clown’s.

Rehearsing purple speech and aspirations,
discoursing on a world of slight perfumes,
of bells and Sunday lessons, scraping at some
meaning in this many-angled light,
the sadly lifting sea, the conch-blast shrill
against the cliffs, the lover’s yearning eyes,
won’t be enough: words are merely words,
insensible as birdsong.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxBut just before
despair sets in, or dissipation, along
a narrow passage dimly lit and low,
you reach a door, unremembered until now
(you’ve hammered at so many on the way),
and when the latch slips open with a breath,
you find yourself – for how many timeless moments? –
outside the bright, phenomenal parade.

THE RETURN OF MAEIA MOSKOVITS

Well, I’d been away so long I decided
to stop on my way home in that brown café
next to the canal with the funny ceiling
like it was made of packing cases. I thought
I’d sit and listen to the coffee grinder
clearing its throat and the buses going by.
I noticed a few people beyond the windows
smoking, so I noted it down in my
‘special book’ to show I’d been observant –
well, that’s what I told myself anyway.
I wanted to leave a gap, you see, for all
the feelings to come through, one by one.
They’d say I was ‘adjusting’ but it wasn’t that
and anyway, deep down I knew the sadness
of the world is as deep as the world, despite
the boys in colours, the girls in slacks.

******

Maitreyabandhu‘s first pamphlet The Bond won the Poetry Book and Pamphlet Competition and was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award. His second pamphlet, Vita Brevis won the Iota Shots Award and is a PBS Pamphlet Choice. His debut collection, The Crumb Road (Bloodaxe) is a PBS Recommendation. His new collection Yarn was published in autumn 2015.

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*****
Jessica Mookherjee: Poem

AMRITA

There were gods in our cupboards.
A family of cosmic giants, shrunk to fit,
in our airing cupboard.
The vastness of Brahma’s celestial omnipresence
infused our sheets, our school uniforms,
with the glory of Atman.

She lit incense and fed him milk,
said Bengali prayers under her breath.

Krishna leapt from the piles of jumpers
and folded towels to her delight.
He closed the cupboard door and shut it tight,
winked his god-eye and skipped
his musical way down the stairs, into the kitchen.
She followed him laughing, laughing.
Kali, the cutter, had stolen out,
tripped quietly behind them,
tongue out, arms poised, ready to fight.

Mother danced around the house with Krishna,
oblivious.
Until she bumped into the black face of night,
whose thousand eyes gripped her,
hundred hands slapped her and whispered
where are your children?

Neighbours brought us fish and chips that night,
as the doctors’ drugs turned the gods to ghosts,
mother slept, she didn’t know
that the gods did not look after us.

*****

Jessica Mookherjee is originally from Wales, but now lives in Kent. She has been published in Agenda, Prole, The Journal, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Obsessed With Pipework, Antiphon, Gold Dust, Lampeter Review, Clear, Paper Swans and Interpreter’s House. She was shortlisted for Fairacre First Pamphlet Competition 2016.

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*****

Helen Mort: Three Poems

KINDER SCOUT

Gold light. I wish the day
could break me like an egg

so I’d ooze the same colour, flatten
on the skillet of Mam Tor.

I’d like the summit path to be a knife
that pared me, skin

like apple skin, saving
just my necessary parts.

Surely the best northwesterly
could whip me into lightness,

sugar me, admit the air
so something of this landscape

could be folded in:
September bracken, lichen, stone.

I don’t know if I’m ready
to be taken

but I’d like to lie prepared:
unnoticed, important as butter,

softening
on the hill’s plate.

ALPORT CASTLES
for J.W

The wind let the landscape move
how it always wanted to,

leaned us together
like ferns, or upper branches

and we walked the slope
believing we were part of the scenery

talking about music and summits,
places we’d never go again.

Then the rocks finished my sentence –
tall and architectural:

their moat of grass
their keep of clouds,

more intricate than any human fort.
We sat up high and praised

like two off-duty gods
as if a view was something

made. And the clouds
over Derwent mended

and we were briefly glorious,
though neither of us had

built, would build a single thing.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN
for Katherine Switzer

If I run too far, too quickly, my breasts
will drop to my kneecaps and my uterus will fall out.

My light hair will grow heavy,
My hips will drag along the floor.

Don’t I know the rules of gravity?
Didn’t they teach me what my body was

at school? I should be stowed
away from direct sunlight, saved from rain.

Who told me it was possible
to run out of my skin,

outsprint the stewards,
on the Boston sidewalk

breathless, waiting
for the world to catch up?

*****

Helen Mort was born in Sheffield. She has published two collections with Chatto & Windus, Division Street (shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and Costa Prize) and No Map Could Show Them (a PBS recommendation). She is a Cultural Fellow at The University of Leeds, a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and a judge for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

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*****

Jan Napier: Poem

TREE RUBIES

we called them, globs and gouts of gum
that shone like dragon’s blood, or strawberry cordial,

stuck on trunks of Marris. We prised them off, hoarded
our booty in a Milo tin begged from mum,
buried it at X, dug up gems to glue on crowns
scissored from Kellog’s boxes, used them to ransom
maidens or sucked them soft, gobstoppers for the poor.
Trees bleed and grow, years leak like sap, each lessening

the sum, and the world teaches us, perhaps too late,
that wealth is not ingots in vaults, but childhoods spent
like threepences, like tree rubies sucked soft.

*****

Jan Napier Jan Napier is a Western Australian poet, and lives near the Indian Ocean. Her work has been showcased in Westerly, Prayers Of A Secular World, Maintenant,(USA), Poetry New Zealand, (NZ),  Valley Micropress, (NZ), Famous Reporter, plus other anthologies and journals.

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*****

Nicola Nathan: Four Poems

THUMBELINA AFTER THE FIRE

The place was wrecked so she looked away –
maybe she hoped what was left of the beams,
of the shattered glass and fallen steel,

would fade to white and white become
a soft dull ache: the same weak pain
she sensed in rooms where figures sit

in wingback chairs, or rock themselves
on shallow beds. Perhaps she was old.
She was certain of rain: it clung to itself

as mist or cloud, or broke at a slant through cracks in the glass,
disturbing the ash. In dreams, she felt
some great descent: a sudden drop

from floor to floor, a flight of steps, a concrete slope,
a slipway that led to a deep black sea.
The sea was cold. She moved with the rain.

II

The rhythmic grace of footfall on stone;
by day, by night, in the last of the smoke,
through the pall and debris of dreams. He stared

as though she were blurred or yet to appear
— or perhaps he looked into the spaces behind:
the fragments of glass, the driving rain.

THUMBELINA’S MEDITATION ON APHRODITE

….but the best gift was a pair of beautiful wings, which had belonged to a large white fly and they fastened them to Tiny’s shoulders, so that she might fly from flower to flower…
Hans Christian Andersen, Thumbelina,

She’d heard of a girl who liked to stroke bees:
they arched their backs to meet the tip of her nail,
the air was pleasured by the press of wings.
All summer, lavender rocked under their weight, and herbs

self-seeded in fields of bitter canola. Twilights ached.
That year (the girl said) nothing had been out of reach:
her eye could sense the long pink line of early dawn
her temples rang with the sound of gulls, her mouth

grew full with the thick salt taste of her lover’s tongue.
Something in this of Aphrodite’s risk: crazy with love,
touching men’s skin, lifting their backs with a flick
of her thumb. Dealing in strokes. Numb to the sting.

THE MINISTRY OF WATER

To Liz Berry

She watched from a room entirely of glass
winter sun on narrow water

bright shapes rolling on the surface
so dense she might step onto them and live.

Water as herald, as omen, as angel.
The flashes of white seemed to pull back

a dream in which the river was deep and wide:
she rose to watch the morning light

run straight towards her on the tide
a band of sharp, brilliant white

lifted by waves — a succession of heaves —
the way breath shortens after tears

arriving under the arch of the bridge
like the tip of a knife or a sudden kiss.

DECEMBER VIOLET

The memory of winter kept her awake:
the thrill of frost on barbed wire
smoke lifting against a brittle sky

sharp ice at the gutter’s edge, where now
rain gathered in droplets, quivering.
The eaves were thick with a lurid moss.

For her that may not slepe for sickness:
seeth violets in water — soke well her ancles.
Bind of this herbe to her wrists and temples.

In the woods, under leaves, she’d found
the dumb face of a single sweet violet.
Two crows shadowed a baffled kite.

Take the blew flowers and clip off the white.
Pound well with water, a cup of loafe sugar.
This, the daynty sirrup of  violets.

She dreamt a lake of heliotrope. The water was warm.
Of the sleepless, the love-sick, the mother-in-mourning,
the willfully blind, none could be cured.

*****

Nicola Nathan   grew up in South Wales, lives in the Chilterns and has worked both as a lawyer and English teacher. Her poems have been published in journals including The Edinburgh Review, Poetry London and Ambit. Her pamphlet is scheduled for publication in 2016. She is working towards her first collection

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******

Michael Penny: Poem

DREAMING IN COLOUR

Then came the night after a long day
of living in black and white.

I slept, ignorant of the world.
And these things happened:

a sky reddened
over a green sea,

clouds sucked up grey
and dropped it as rain,

yellow birds flew
in their transparent air

and furry things
growled in brown.

Politicians claimed
their purple

while activists ignored
the orange cautions

and pirates overtook
the peaceful in crimson.

Poets insisted on blue
and those more ambitious

strived after cerulean
not knowing heaven claimed it.

Those I loved took
the perfume and colour of lilac

Morning came and brought me back
to our lives fading in the sun.

*****

Michael Penny was born in Australia, but moved to Canada as a teenager. He has published five books, most recently, Outside, Inside, with McGill-Queen’s University Press. He lives on an island and makes a bit of a living as a consultant on professional regulation.

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*****
Alan Price: Three Poems from Mahler’s Hut

STORM CUCKOO
after Mahler Symphony no 1

It was a melody he had to break.
A two note motif of cuckoo call
to challenge the bird’s uniform pitch.

His father left him alone in the forest.
Youth’s magic horn was blown out of tune.
The cuckoo cried you must be reborn.

The darkness falling when abandoned.
The giddy way you waltz to the ditch.
The funeral procession marching to your death.
The fox wiping tears from its eyes.
The hunting boy buried as lightning comes.
The ditch filled in as your other self stands up.
The bad joke lifting up your head to look elsewhere.

“Are you well? said the father when collecting Mahler.
“I think so” he replied, feeling his life story had begun.

MAHLER’S HUT
after Mahler Symphony no 2 ‘Resurrection’

You foolishly entered the summer hut
to write music you imagined was pure.
Such discipline working the long musical line.
You said the programme was “a crutch for a cripple.”
Yet you’re strong, fit and walk by the lake.

Horns, trumpet, flute and piccolo.
There’s the last judgement sounding.
A “cry of disgust” as you clear
up the hut’s work-table.
Musical lines over for the day.

Everything judged explodes.
Out of the ruins I speak.
I’m through. I’ve arrived. I’ve changed.
We know and are.

The earth shakes. The wood throbs.
Return the music paper to the wounded tree.
How insignificant you feel.
A routine of cataclysms.
Raining Mahler.

ECSTASY NOTATES
after Mahler Symphony no 8

Your image is hidden
in the grains of sand
that make up this mirror
facing the hut’s window.

I spread out my fingers
as a leaf and wet my skin
on the glass, Alma.
I love you as the mirror
becomes sand again
and I see who you are.

Goethe keeps shouting
the eternal feminine.
Veni, Creator Spiritus!
I must return to hot work,
igniting my Alma music.

Alan Price: Poem

THE THICKENING HOUSE

Pectin. One, two, three, four.
Pectin. One, two, three, four.
A little jam for the Germans.
Fortifying the rations of the marching Wehrmacht.
A secret agent setting firm all the fruit,
even father’s little business with the enemy.

So small an annexe. Those darkened Dutch rooms;
gelling the family together. Pectin found the girlish Anne,
thickened her puberty, firmed her growing breasts,
starched her hips and tried to dam first blood.

One, two, three, four. You’re taken away in their car.
No one, including Otto, your father,
was prepared for your fate.
Nervous, yet as firm as an apricot stone,
Papa survives to edit your diary.

All womanly chunks of Anne removed
and the Jewish jam scooped right out.
A less frank book now, runny with universal truth.
Nothing left to stain its huge impact
nor the confident photograph
of your severely innocent face.

Anne, agent of history. Iconic necessity.
Solidified saint. Living every diary minute
of a captured teenager, as we now queue up,
troop round, make more crowded,
than your family ever did,
the thickening house.

*****

Alan Price is a London poet who has been published in  Envoi, Orbis, Poetry Monthly, The Interpreter’s House, Obsessed with Pipework, The Delinquent and the RSC Website. His poems have also featured in the poetry anthology Poets in Person (2014)  Alan’s debut collection Outfoxing Hyenas was published by Indigo Dreams in 2012. His pamphlet Angels at the Edge will be published by Tuba Press in September 2016.

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*****

Adrienne Silcock: Two Poems

VESICA PISCIS WINDOW, ST JOHN’S CHURCH WHITBY

(i)
Bricked in, this fish
conjuring
an intersection between
spirit and matter:
two worlds, two lives,
Christian, Pagan,
birth, death,
fish bladder, eternity.
Do the maths –
Venn, and Christ’s catch of
one hundred and fifty-three
according to St John.
It’s a window,
an almond ready to drop
between the breasts of some Turkish nymph,
or the Virgin Mary,
the same shape between the legs
as the whore on a Saturday night
lost in Sambuca and Sex-on-the-beach
who no longer knows the meaning of love.

(ii)
Mandorla

I could be kinder to her
– that whore on a Saturday night –
I could help her up
and gather her shoes,
commiserate on the hole in her tights,
give her water to drink
help her home.

I wouldn’t ask her to look at
church windows,
or the difference between
the vesica piscis and the mandorla,
only listen to the sound of
the last sweet almond
in some distant land
as it clings to the quiet branches
and the soft unfolding
of petals in the spring air.

BETWEEN HERE AND THERE: MEDITERRANEAN ALMOND

(i)
All rib and elbow the almond tree in winter
pursing already new year’s growth –
small lips of spring begin the cycle,
fertility’s annual rush,
as if a drop of rain the shape of an almond
had fallen, or been placed,
(who knows if it was chance or fate?)
between the breasts of branches
as in the old yarn
about the pagan nymph Nana,
giving rise to a virgin birth.
And there a single drupe remains,
hangs in the still, opaque air
brown husk pockmarked and weathered,
yet dry, as if there never was any rain.

(ii)
Who knows if the last almond
is bitter or sweet?
It could make all the difference,
couldn’t it,
opening up the wooden husk
to savour the small fruit
that may, or may not,
have turned rancid with winter,
or has always been rancid.
Its creamy flesh tempts,
having slept beside spring’s
first full leaf.
Yet cyanide is the difference
between life and death

*****

Adrienne Silcock’s writing has appeared in the independent press, including Miracle and Clockwork (Other Poetry) The Clock Struck War (Mardibooks), and The Other Side of Sleep (Arachne Press). In 2014 she published her first poetry pamphlet Taking Responsibility for the Moon (Mudfog). Her first novel Vermin (Flambard) was published in 2000. Her second novel Controlling Aphrodite was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize 2009. Her third novel The Kiss is published on kindle. She has written poetic sequences Flight Path and The Fibonacci Sequence. http://www.adriennesilcock.co.uk 

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*****

Mario Susko: FourPoems 

A SHORTCUT

I woke up one night to find
an angel sitting at the foot
of my bed and holding my coat.
I came to take you with me,
he said. You have suffered enough.
It’s time you have some peace.

Was it necessary for you to come,
I asked. He smiled, or so I thought,
And said, Would you like someone else?
Snapping his invisible fingers, he
turned into a reddish burly man
I met in a bar once who claimed war
was a historical necessity to clear
the air. Truth, he exclaimed, is
at that point completely irrelevant.
He raised the glass, his little
and ring finger curiously hidden.

I can be your father, the angel
said and I heard the shoes click.
His torso swayed in the air, my coat,
over his shoulders now, resembling
the wings of a giant bat. The shoes
go click-a-click, the angel chanted,
and save the owner’s life, your life,
my life, in the steamy Obersturm-a-
sturm-and-bon-a-bann-fuhrer’s office.

There suddenly was humming behind me,
and, turning, I saw camouflaged trees
advance toward me, the ghosts
dancing to the beat of his song.

Let us go, the angel said. We have
a train to catch, so we’ll take
a shortcut. I looked at the mine
field ahead and then at him again.
Don’t worry, my friend, he whispered
and winked, or so it seemed to me.
Nothing ever killed a man twice.

I took a deep breath and followed,
my airy legs almost waltzing.

CHECKPOINT

at the checkpoint made of tree
trunks and barrels filled with sand,
a group of pale bus riders standing
in a meandering line depends
on one man whose belly will
soon have his blouse buttons burst.

am I a Jew, a Muslim, a Catholic,
which one does he wants to hate more
today: will my name on the soiled piece
of paper confuse him or make him
pull me out by my shirt sleeve
as if I were a disposable part

of the human race, deemed perhaps
to be worthy of living or dying,
as my uncle used to say, by the look
of my penis: am I saved or doomed
if he suddenly remembers, or I do,
that we went to the same high school:

as I try to keep my sternomastoids
from twitching. my mind from being forced
to accept that someone who has no power
over life is a bigger coward than someone
who does, he positions himself before me,
his sourish breath becoming my breath:

Do you know if Maria’s still there:
his words burn on my face like amber:
there, meaning in the city: and I feel
cold sweat run down my spine: am I
done for if I say yes, or if I say no,
pretend I did or did not recognize him:

but he just grins and hands me back
my papers, moving to a young woman
next to me and motioning with his hand
for her to step out, still glancing at me,
while I rock back and forth, staring
past him, past my life, at the jagged line
of skeleton trees on the mountain ridge
where the dying daylight still lingers.

PLOTS OF LIFE, PLOTS OF DEATH

my dead mother undoubtedly did not
have money to rent her grave for good,
and I have never been there to know
which grave was hers, which bones
now in a common grave to which she
has been exiled could be hers, and
even if I did, would I be able to verify
that, or simply take someone’s word for
it, Here’s your mother’s rib and the rest,
not much is left, things get misplaced or
even lost during moving, but you can
do with these whatever you wish.

throughout her life she was patiently
buying foot by foot of her cemetery
plot, monthly payments neatly recorded
in her book, and come each Christmas
she’d let me know, Most people die
at this time of year, isn’t that strange,
but if I go I have my final resting place.

You have nothing to worry about
while I’m around, my assurance no
more than a naïve insurance that life
and death were part of an orderly
though not fully predictable plot.

she ended up dying at a place
of her exile where that little book
was of no value, and I live at a place
of my exile without a book or a plot.

and that’s pretty much it, the whole story
about planning for one’s future after
death or hoping death will pass by if one
does not have anything to plan for.

CONDITIONING QUESTIONS

shall my mind’s eye angle the words
then go blind and presume everything
will at the end fall in its place (?)

if the course of thought can no longer
conjure up a vehicle that would
make the memory of dying fade
away with the decay of memory –

shall I again find myself trying
to reason with fate whether too much
has been said to forgive now or
too little unsaid to forget hereafter (?)

if time has turned a blind eye
to itself and the words uttered are
nothing but still-born signs in space –

*****

Mario Susko, a witness and survivor of the war in Bosnia, now teaches in the English Department at SUNY Nassau Community College, New York. A prolific, poet and translator of international repute, his most recent collection is The Auxiliary Time of Being (2016). He has also been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Nassau Review Poetry Award and the 2003 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, In 2012 he was named Long Island Poet of the Year and was also elected member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

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*****

Grant Tarbard: Poem

FORMS OF BYZANTINE TRANSPORTATION

The night coach from Istanbul, with its smoke
and mirrors and mystic marketplaces,
to Bodrum was interspersed with pit stops
at petrol stations and one grotto, lit

by fairies of the hills where the sound of
water was heard but not found. We drove till
the sun rose to our holiday home, ran
by a German expatriate, scented

with Egyptian musk. She had a local
man working for her, she thought of him as
a skivvy. He used to wake the household
every morning by diving in the pool,

doing the butterfly expertly. He
got his revenge by doing a moonlight
flit with all the money from her lockbox,
there is nothing so bloodcurdling as a

ferocious woman cursing auf Deutsch.
I woke with the doves one morning to hear
the yelping pleas of a fallen brawler,
it was the owner’s pugnacious mongrel

scurrying away from a sawbones but
avoiding nothing. The mutt walked with a
limp the rest of the time that we were in
the land of figs with a cardinal heart.

My father scooted my baby cousin
through the thorn-cushions, avian tourist,
through the pomegranate hued wild flowers
hunting for chickens. The minibuses

to town were stuffed with the detritus of
travelling humanity, satchels, shawls,
notebooks, cameras for snapshot albums
waiting to be rife with recollections.

Appropriately named a Dolmas (to
be filled with), they swallowed wallets and lost
children. Luggage went scattering as we
played Wacky Races down bluffs and patchy

roads. One day, an argument erupted
between a grizzled gray man and a lush
hoary woman in that drenched sardine can,
a form of Byzantine transportation.

The woman answered in the dialect
of liquor, the language of Babel. Her
paint thinner halitosis made the fresh
pilgrims squish to the windows. The squabble

had the feeling of minutes that were years
behind two faces, crumpled like wrappers.
Falling out the other end we were the
bumbling Key Stone Cops, the wheezing filling

of a dispute on the spice route. In the
evening my uncle and I ran through a
long, linear hotel, old and fancy.
I’ll always recall that intangible

feeling of liberty, of being air,
touching the gilded walls of history.
Blood pheasants sashayed in the blurred courtyard,
that was the freest I have ever felt.

*****

Grant Tarbard is internationally published. His collection As I Was Pulled Under the Earth, published by Lapwing Publications, is available here: https://sites.google.com/a/lapwingpublications.com/lapwing-store/grant-tarbard

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*****

Claire Walker: Poem
SYDNEY COVE, 1788

In 1788, the first British convict settlers arrived in New South Wales, Australia.
 
It drops at our feet as a sign,
the beak-woven basket landing the right way up.

We do not know what birds it houses,
those bright tiny wings that spin through sky
as we watch, clipped.
We do not know creatures on this side of the world, yet.

Yet, we feel what it means.
We admire the weave, its intricate under-over;
the smoothed-well insides.
That you say is how to build a home.

A home. This hand-sized pocket for young.
If dust can rear this, who knows what might thrive?

*****

Claire Walker’s poetry has appeared in magazines, anthologies and websites including The Interpreter’s House, Ink Sweat and Tears, And Other Poems, Clear Poetry and Crystal Voices. Her first pamphlet, The Girl Who Grew Into a Crocodile, is published by V. Press. Her website is clairewalkerpoetry.com. 

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*****

J.S. Watts: Poem

DAY NOTES ON GRANITE

I step too near the sun
on granite days, on grey slate days,
when my head weighs more than life
and the World hangs weightless,
drained of all light,
so that nothing is left, not the slightest glimmer
or plausible murmuring of a glow,
and I need to curl up round a spark
to feel warmth on my soul.

Where does the rain find the space to breathe
when the air is awash with water
and all the words are rammed tightly packed
in the rock cradled core of the dark?
Even if it is not raining here, it is raining somewhere
because the rain cries everyday, somewhere,
anywhere, because if nowhere we would all drown
from want of water, though the rain is bitter
and has no hope in it.

Cat fur has a depth of kindness to it
that granite does not know
but the heart of a cat is hard.
A cat does not cry and thinks only
of the chase, catch, kill of life,
the next meal, a patch of warmth,
a space to sleep and remember warmth,
the shiny thrill of death.
If a cat purrs it is only
because you are one of these things.

Rain-purged stone, the water still chasing a hope,
ripples like the night
or polished black granite
hard-buffeted smooth by twice-planed softness
until it gleams like a midnight sky
pin pricked with snowing stars,
each one an emaciated sun, glinting like an eye
anticipating a long awaited kill
as life gives up its warmth.

Look too long into the eyes of the night,
or the soul of a cat, and
you will see things best left unseen;
a frozen gleam cradled in eternity’s heart,
the stone horizon of life’s raw granite,
comfort that comes warm lapped by blood,
the price we pay for forcing each breath
through the chest’s rock wall, over
and over. Enough perspective
to drive a world iced with life
to curl round the hard solace of the sun.

******

J.S. Watts comes from London, but lives near Cambridge. A poet and novelist, she has  two full poetry collections, Cats and Other Myths and Years Ago You Coloured Me, plus a multi-award nominated poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue, all published by Lapwing Publications. She has also published the novels, A Darker Moon – dark literary fantasy, and Witchlight  – paranormal romance. They are published in the US and UK by Vagabondage Press. See www.jswatts.co.uk for further details.

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*****

Stella Wulf: Two Poems

RESOLUTION TO FEED MY CHILD

My child woke up with me this morning,
roused by the whoop of the wind flinging
a snatch of rain at my bleary windows,
whisking up the remnants of last year’s leaves.
She opened my eyes, pulled me from my bed
to show me a down of hares, scudding
the sweeping tundra of a scoured sky,
the spit-washed slate of an unwritten year.
A murky winter’s day to the blinkered,
but my child gives me a kaleidoscope,
a chattering pulsation of starlings,
glossed in the wax of a resolute sun,
the copper spiral of a mounting hawk,
the knuckle-bone crack of the cedar.
If I can hold her in this Brigadoon,
I’ll feed her tonight on a slice of moon.

MOON MILK

An expectant moon came to earth last night,
so close I could have crept under her skin,
tapped in and milked her for all she possessed,
lapped up her aura, her potent allure,
if I were deft enough to skim her cream
and churn out more than a rondel of cheese.
It takes a versed hand to express the moon,
Giraud, Calvino, Ed Lear, De La Mare,
all syphoned her traits with masterly ease.
There are those who say her image is stale,
she’s a fickle romance, a hackneyed cliché,
a clotted culture, a curdling whey.
I say moon milk is beyond the pale,
an absinthe madness, an illicit brew.
As bonded as a mother at her baby’s birth,
I’m as hooked on her charm as she is to earth.

*****

Stella Wulf lives in South West France and is currently studying towards an MA in Creative Writing with Lancaster University. Her work has been widely published and has appeared in several anthologies including The Very Best of 52, Three Drops from a Cauldron, and the Clear Poetry Anthology. She is also an artist and her work can be seen on her website: stellawulf.com

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5 thoughts on “The High Window Journal: Issue 3 Autumn 2016

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