Carol Alexander • Mike Barlow • William Bedford • Kate Behrens • J.S. Belote • Iain Britton • Helen Burke • N.J. Burns • Karen Jane Cannon • Kevin Casey • Maurice Devitt • Robert Ford • John Gilham • Glenn Hubbard • Rosie Jackson • Phil Kirby • Andrew Mayne • Michael Murray • Art Ó Súilleabháin • Michael O’Sullivan • Cheryl Pearson • Edmund Prestwich • Sheenagh Pugh • Ian Smith • Marc Woodward • Stella Wulf
Carol Alexander: Poem
SHADOWS THAT ARE
Against the wall shadows grope, shadows that pin light to stone,
that are carapaces of light when sky negatives to purple black.
Sleeping rough, they fatten for the border crossing
on the fruits of rock vines; uncle who crossed too late
is a fossil in that wall. The ivy purposes to warm and shield him.
And the shadows are the bodies of dreamers deranged from bed
by the scent of the night-blooming jasmine, a plate of prosciutto,
the code of clinking forks. Languages flitter through cracks in the wall;
to the untutored ear they sound the same, but their blood types differ.
So the agents go on drinking vermouth while night bleeds the river
that is studded with fire opals cold to the tongue. They keep living
in this land that midwifed a stillborn dream. Peace does not come.
It merely lifts its shining horn and passes through indifferent stone.
Its cloven hooves crush mortar shells while evening prayer,
that dark orchid, clings fast and tenuous to the air.
Carol Alexander‘s poetry has been anthologised in Broken Circles (Cave Moon Press), Through a Distant Lens (Write Wing Publishing) and Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Vol. 1. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals: Southern Humanities Review, Soundings East, Matter, and several poetry anthologies. She is the author of the chapbook Bridal Veil Falls (Flutter Press). Her first fulll-length collection of poems, Habitat Lost, is due out in 2017 from Cave Moon Press
Mike Barlow: Four Poems
THE STUMP CROSS SYSTEM
Down in the lower levels,
way beneath the show cave
with its carefully positioned lights,
a small passage drops through darkness
at an angle steep enough
for gravity to yank you by the ankles.
But jam yourself halfway
where it opens up
into a chamber round the torso
and you hear your own heartbeat
amplified, as if you
and the earth that bore you
share the same rhythm.
I was sixteen the first time I knew
my heart as both mine
deeper through the moor’s
underbelly, its waterworn
shapes and shadows, cave-gems
and chokes, the glisten
and glow from our lamps.
Blind faith and fear in equal
measure held me awestruck.
Without a ball of string, I asked myself,
how would we ever find our way
in such a place, back up through that
stone aorta to the life beyond?
This life beyond, the one I know
as mine yet sometimes other – up here
on the surface where the heart
knows what it’s doing
but something underneath still pulls
like gravity, steadying my tread.
WALKING OVER GRAVES
Stuck out on headlands or tucked among the dunes,
walled fanks gather in the dead.
There they stand, their crosses and stones
like the chosen few awaiting the second coming.
But what they get is us – unbelievers, gatecrashers
shouldering our way through the wind’s psalms,
others’ griefs, taking advantage of the view
and knowing we can do this and they can’t stop us,
their once straight rows now humped
and sunken avenues of names – dearly beloveds
remembered always, so soon forgotten as they feed
the machair: primrose, cranesbill, trefoil.
But a war grave’s uniform inscription stands apart.
Did he feel it – Jamie Mcleod, 19 yrs, deckhand –
that brief goose-pimpling a propos of nothing
as he lay in his hammock out in the Atlantic?
If so, likely it was only us, Jamie, or others like us,
generations on from your war – so many
of our own – our brief pause
as we cross uneven ground beneath your name.
after Italo Calvino
Let us follow, as she herself follows
the leper’s horn, its bugle fart. Down
through the dusk past the very walls
from where, daylight-brave, local boys
lob stones and lizards at Galateo,
the lepers’ beggar. Down where now
only shadows jeer and night takes on
the shapes of creatures torn in half.
Let us follow her despair, this betrayed
old nursemaid driven down to the village
by the sea, where a gate shuts out one world,
shuts in another. Resigned and stubborn,
she has her herbs, salves, ointments, wily
years of service. But in this nether
long-feared place, she’ll watch and wait
for flesh to peel, saliva thicken.
But what does she find as dark descends?
Once through the clanging gate, lights
shine from all the houses, music fills the air,
the jerky dance of shadows crowds the street.
There’s wine and ale, abandonment.
But still she’s tight and righteous
as a Pope’s purse-strings, muttering
novenas, shy of every nudge or wink.
Down here days are for sleep on clifftops,
or staring out to sea, or sipping wine
and playing home-made harps and fiddles,
gardening the soul. The body rots
but in sudden orgies vanity’s dispensed with.
This indeed is the carefree world
old Galateo warns us of with his horn’s
familiar three-note punt at tunefulness.
A SIDE PASSAGE
with its red and black chequerboard of quarry tiles,
the daily clatter and scuff of hobnails and wellies,
sunlight stirring a soup of dust; and here’s the child
I become again whenever I picture it,
always drawn to the same scene, the open door
to what passes for the study, its jammed-open
roll-top desk , its spillage of rubber bands,
shotgun cartridges, piles of unattended paperwork
weighted down with dirty cups and pliers.
And here they are still, the three of them in deep retreat,
departed from this world for their post-lunch snooze.
Uncles John, Dick and Fred slumped like sacks of cornfeed
on chairs and sofa, mouths beastlike and drooling,
the snarl and drone of oblivion as they breathe.
I’m so shocked at Dick without his glasses on,
the ever-ready implements of John’s huge hands
limp and vulnerable, Fred’s paunch rising and falling
like a smithy’s bellows, I turn and run, intruder
in an otherlife no one thought to warn me of.
Back along the red and black chequerboard I go
until I’m old enough today to be their father.
Mike Barlow’s first collection, Living on the Difference, (Smith|Doorstop 2004) won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition and was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize. His pamphlet, Amicable Numbers, (Templar 2008) was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. His latest collection is Charmed Lives (Smith|Doorstop 2012). He won the 2006 National Poetry Competition. website: www.mikebarlow.org.uk
William Bedford: Four Poems from The Flitting
(i.m. John Clare)
John Clare: Glinton Vestry: 1805
I went to learn,
a cabbage kind of prince,
and nobbut soft for books and girls,
sweet Mary Joyce
my only classroom friend.
That weren’t just books when she said no.
I left with nowt,
John Seaton’s pupil lost for words,
Old Moore’s the better almanac for poets.
So every winter night
our once unlettered hearth was broomed,
a catch-as-can scratch schoolroom,
with books and pens
for scribbling nouns and verbs,
and Pilgrim chasing Crusoe down the lanes.
I went to learn,
came back to be a ghost,
John Seaton’s earnest pupil at his words.
But Seaton died,
and Mary Joyce moved on,
my classroom dreams old spiderwebs and dust.
Zig Zag and Cinderella
was all time left,
a giant beanstalk reaching for the skies.
John Seaton: schoolteacher who ran a makeshift schoolroom in the vestry of the parish church at Glinton
Zig Zag probably refers to the nineteenth century children’s story entitled ‘The Man with a Long Nose.’
A bird might fly
as high as clouds or sun,
caught in dazzling light,
to come so far inland
for grub our fields supply,
seawrack and shellfish left behind.
We can try,
but that’s not meant for us,
earthbound and tied, trussed.
Our feet were meant
for tredding down,
or being trod down. Not flight.
In woodland quiet,
we speak the creak of rooted trees.
cawdymawdy: herring gull
hartsomely: with good heart or cheer, blithely.
Thin gobblin shadows with sorcerer eyes
traipse behind my starving skeleton,
aching for Lunnon crowds,
the company of my own kind,
poets and talkers,
not sneering wopstraws,
poesy my ride to idiocy.
How wandering pains gripe me,
blistering chills, sweat of tears.
I am alone. I am the only one of my kind.
Nobody wants the gifts I bring,
the wordy woods and rambling miles,
fields where the fieldfares follow,
not traipsing but flying high.
wopstraw country bumpkin.
IN THE PORCH
Tobacco for my pipe,
a rite for an old feller,
leaning in the church porch.
Bells still rime us nowt,
fields and copse
allus my choice.
I have aches
for company these days
that had poets and fine prosers,
Hazlitt and Lamb,
when he wurnt feeling down.
wrote me a letter,
sailing for a far shore.
I blow smoke shrouds
as once blew words,
neither making things better.
Hev you seen Mary?
Her smile was my home.
They say she died three year ago.
Patty is my home now,
though she don’t visit.
You can’t sing that in church choirs.
I have aches for bones,
that once made lasses grateful.
But nobody listens.
During his long years in Northampton Lunatic Asylum, Clare was given considerable freedom, and was often to be seen sitting quietly for hours at a time in the portico of All Saints’ Church, always with his tobacco, sometimes with his notebook.
William Bedford is an award-winning poet, short-story writer, children’s novelist and novelist. In 2014, he was shortlisted for the London Magazine International Short Story Competition; won first prize in the Roundel Poetry Competition, and first prize in the London Magazine International Poetry Competition. His Collecting Bottle Tops: Selected Poetry 1960-2008 was published in 2009, The Fen Dancing in 2014, The Bread Horse in 2015.
Kate Behrens: Poem
AFTER SEEING MY FATHER DEAD
Walking back, we follow the coastlineʼs curves.
Roadside flowers have changed into mementos,
gather around the sealed and cleaned-up holes
he vanished through (those were not his angel-
lips, how dare they steal his complications,
unholy pain!). Now thereʼs a line
of aloe vera, frozen gesticulations,
registering as other starving beings;
then, red and green identical twin blocks.
Still his world is fast turning edgeless,
baffles without the government of
those sudden drops of his. Baffles with
an outliving love thatʼs wiser than us.
Kate Behrensʼ two collections, The Beholder and Man with Bombe Alaska were published respectively in 2012 and 2016 by Two Rivers Press. Other poems have appeared in various magazines and anthologies including Blackbox Manifold, Mslexia, The Arts of Peace, an Anthology of Poetry and as Oxford Brookesʼ Poem of the Week. Several will be appearing in Poetry Salzburg Review and Stand later in 2017.
J.S. Belote: Two Poems
after Cesare Pavese
This evening, supper alone.
The window beside me bright,
the room almost dark.
A square of light lands on my bowl
& makes the cherries redder.
As I look at the sky, it calms me
to know the open land is just
a short walk beyond my door.
Hard work has made my body calm.
So many people are eating right now.
Already in town, among
the reddish roofs, lights shine,
& beneath them the people gossip.
Soon though, there’ll be silence.
Each thing is isolated.
I know the way I know blood
courses through my veins,
& I can accept it calmly.
Water courses through the grasses.
The open land is
a supper of all things.
Every plant, every stone
lives & rests. I can listen & hear
everything that lives on
the open land nourishing my veins.
There’s nothing that’s worth
these cherries I eat alone.
A thin span of water
we called the cut
divided the cove & bay.
It wasn’t four good strokes wide.
When the tide turned Nick & I
would swim there for fun
against the current.
The sun glued to our backs.
We tired & darkened
& floated back above
the rocks & kelp
laughing. I was fifteen.
The man was a quahogger.
At low tide,
it was common for quahoggers
to come to that cove
with marlboros & malt liquor.
The air stank.
Most of them had done time.
They’d stick their knives in the sand
& take their boots off.
They’d step into the water & spit,
& dig their white feet in the soft mud
to feel for the cheap shells.
Their backs were leathery.
Hour by hour the water would
rise up their legs.
He passed out I guess,
he rushed into his own
image in the water.
I was lying on a hammock
reading a book
when I heard the sirens.
Strange to hear them
I ran & got Nick. We lighted down
between the reeds & rocks, careful
to avoid the poison ivy.
We saw him there.
His gut big & white.
The paramedics were above him.
They went up & down like sex
but more orderly.
One body calling to another.
stood still in the shallow water
not fifty feet away.
He coughed up a little water
that ran down
his pale cheeks.
The mud left looked like hieroglyphs.
He coughed up clear water
& his arms jolted.
It was like he was
waving at a buddy of his
behind me, but I checked
& no one was there.
Then he was still again.
No one there knew his name.
In that way
he was very alone.
I walked to where a small crowd was
clotting in the shade.
Nick didn’t move. I didn’t know
what he was doing there.
He crouched down above the man’s face
& squinted. The wind picked up.
It stirred the water.
It brought the laughter
of distant men on fishing boats to me—
laughing as they hauled
lobster traps back on board.
They rose & fell.
Their boats kept disappearing
under the swells.
The crowd was starting to
get bored & disband
like after a ballgame. Then
the paramedics were wheeling the gurney by.
One held an oxygen mask
over the man’s mouth & nose.
The path was rocky
& it jostled his head free.
His head swung loosely down
to the side like an arm
slept on all night.
They put him away
in the back of the ambulance
& shut the doors.
in any particular hurry.
J.S. Belote currently lives in Richmond, Virginia.
Iain Britton: from Vignettes
the road workers
unimpressed by the white heron | the
tucked in legs | the long hook of its neck |
the man in the corduroy jacket readjusts
his glasses | sketches in miniature | the life
& loves of road workers | carving up curbs |
cutting stones | burning tar into gravel | the sun
pours hot fluids into hollows | highly visible
they control stop-go signs | the destinies
of so much traffic | the suburb catapults balls
of desiccated summer weeds amongst the
brick fortresses of state-house obsolescence |
the moon clicks its fingers & the city
goes to earth | blindfolded | the herons
lagoon-watch for fish grabbing at clouds
two nudes | gawky-eyed & built of smudges
& skin grafts | clutter a page | the man in
the corduroy jacket enters the body of his work |
his spontaneity makes surreal images of sofas &
chairs | rugs | roughly-mated | the road workers
dig deep for copper cables | ancient coins |
striated variations on an urban theme | they live
on their sweat their instincts | on the immediacy
of a cubist’s deft stroke | neighbours watch TV | &
switch channels | from one jagged horizon to another |
a woman sits at her window | curtains open |
her hair brushed out | she prefers to gaze at
the road works | the sight of political interlopers
shaking fists at slogans | she is tempted by a vision
a flower bed springs shrubs overnight |
blossoms proliferate | the road workers
mix compost with the drought-ravaged soil |
a large metamorphic feature humps upwards |
a solid affirmation of stone-talk | stone worship
a living divinity | & a politician excites
local flatterers | the biased sign-writers |
this propaganda razzmatazz | people
appear from holes in brick walls to listen to
this voice in its clean-white clothes | the woman
tempted by a vision | stripteases to her own tune
in her own privacy | she gesticulates
languorously | stripping down the rhythms
the pulses to a single metronomic tick tock
lost & found
rigorous mirroring | reflects biblical parades |
effigies of martyrs | the Sunday freight |
it reflects a climb to the top of a man-made
hill of sun-bleached bones | the church
stands amongst the residue of archangels |
the vicar in his gemstone collar calls to the lost
& found | the homeless | the elderly | the
disciples of obscure aspirations | obscure homilies
for the hard of loving | the woman
at the window sits astride her chair | airing
her body in the oppressive morning heat |
a sense of entrapment suffocates | the room
seems to shrink | & next door | a neighbour
sketches a totem pole of fabled birds
at the park | after hymns & chalice intakes |
the road workers’ children monopolise the hill
shouting white thunder | they smash
skeletons of super heroes & villains |
they throw remnants to the wind | at
the park feral vagrants hide in hedges | sleep
on benches | in concrete shelters | they
walk through illusions | follow punch-drunk
shadows | the woman listens to their nightly
frustrations | finding cracks in the moon |
the sky is lit up | a luminous territorial
concert of shimmering auroras | she sees
love-making amongst the trees | tonight
she wears only a string of long black beads
sensing through lenses | the man isolates
his camera | the moment | the light | the shade
the colour of expressing days shot in sequence |
a self-imposed confinement | he smells love
& hate feasting from his hands | the burn off of a
well-trodden path | the fuel fix of a hypodermic
thought | a girl screams in a distant field | he smells
methane vapouring from rural ditches | the man
in the corduroy jacket has eyes shaped for angles
& visual circuits | he covers a range of topographies |
of human conditions | his camera flickers its
retractable beak | he lives for his world drawn
on a map | his place pin-pointed & receptive
to zooming curiosities & time’s blurred exposure
apparition – 1
from the garden | the mother lets the suburb
creep closer in shadows | she waits by the
letter box for the resurrection of waking up |
the reunion | the inevitable afterlife
of the wisteria | the fully lushed frocks
of purple | she redefines her place amongst
the clutter of remembrances | the memorial
prattle | the living protagonists | new clothes
are called for by star-gazers | tidying up
the streets | white herons stab at themselves
stalking the lagoon | they stab at slivers of phantom-
quick fish | they are part of the family
the reunion of family | the mother empties
the letter box of letters written to herself
apparition – 2
through heat haze | the father transfers energies
into the cosmos of a seed | images of a god
tearing apart the meaningfulness of similar
attractions | the radiance of a soul’s question |
summer resonates to the mating vibrancy of
airborne cicadas | to a nervous swarming |
one man’s distraction is to light up his incinerator
to smoke up the sky | a backyard belching | choking
the flight paths of lovers’ messages | smothering
the observations of garden gnomes | he stands
resolutely raking up the refuse | smoking signals
across a city which doesn’t respond doesn’t care
about this backyard ceremony of one man’s fatherly
theology hurtling up a stack of black stones
apparition – 3
two boys emerge from the transparent skins
of their sleep | being early is palpable | the
antennae of feeling is acutely reactive
to the morning’s murmurings | they fold away
their dreams’ spoils | fragments which populate
the palaces of their journeys | the boys
run circles around their parents | they play
dangerously in the park | climbing giant
creepers | mangy-old triffids | the brothers fight
with the road workers’ children | bones for weapons
collide above the frail anatomy of the hill |
the place where colours are unfurled |
lines drawn | last stands praised | & the
hearts of warriors are finally appeased
Since 2008 Iain Britton has published five collections of poems, mainly in the UK. His latest, photosynthesis is with Kilmog Press (NZ), 2014. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Poetry NZ Yearbook, Takahe, Brief (NZ) Meniscus (Aust) Harvard Review, Mantis, Poetry Chicago (US) Stand, Stride Magazine, Clinic, The Literateur, The Black Market Re-View, Agenda, The Fortnightly Review, M58, Poetry Wales (UK) Cyphers (Ireland) and Upstairs at Duroc (France).
Helen Burke: Poem
MIDNIGHT MASS CATHOLICS
They attempt to go to communion and fall in the
Middle of the aisle.
They look like they’re at some wedding or some funeral,
They look like anything you can’t imagine
They look like they’re in the middle of Dublin , making their way around
Molly Malone’s statue
They look like the Easter Rising , they look like the Easter Rebellion.
They look like anything you can’t imagine
They look like Tiger Bay Catholics.
They look like shutting the door with your finger Catholics
They look like needs a bloody haircut Catholics.
This is midnight mass for god’s sake.
St Cecelia , St Germain , St Jude are all with us and they limp
Their way home in the snow that comes down on my head
And I hold Mam’s hand and Dad races ahead of us
And says I’ll get a cup of tea on will I, will I get a cup of tea on
And St Jude tags on to his coat tail , and says aye Billy
Get a cup of tea on
Helen Burke has been writing and performing poetry for over 40 years. Her three collections, The Ruby Slippers and Heres Looking at you Kid and, most recently, Today the Birds will Sing, are available from Valley Press. She is also a visual artist and frequently does a radio show on www.chapelfm.co.uk which is devoted to poetry and music. She holds a masters degree in literature. Her favourite poet is Emily Dickinson.
N.J. Burns: Four Poems
THE PENTLAND HILLS IN JANUARY
The faltering city, golden nimbus, slips
From the Aboriginal ideal of the walkabout,
Causes me to abandon the environs –
And to trek beyond a sedentary tale;
Outside the citadel,
Coal-dust, rain and chill-laden fog;
The wind roves freer here –
A ripple across a dish of buttermilk.
With a square sausage in a floury bap,
A handful of laces, tightening boots,
The first step into mulch, a slip,
Grab at handfuls of air, rushes and claggy muck.
On Glencorse Dam, a cormorant-line of chorus flaps
Rise and settle back into formation.
Somewhere a grouse chirbles and cranks,
A retired judge, defrocked, in heather-scrubs.
By a Scots Pine wood, swallowing black,
Breathing, expelling a pine-needle floor –
This exhibition, they could sell in a Kensington
Gallery, with a price-tag of heft, and of more.
A veil of Galanthus nod in a silent gulley;
Roe deer, high-tailed, white bunting in tow,
Dance into a safe thicket,
Their doleful wet-noses, sniffing, ponderous;
As the wee dog with me, ‘Hamish’, barks at Dunedin,
His canine-wonder brown-eyes, elemental, circumspect.
A skirl of wind-buffs
Nag at the Pentland Hills,
The windows of Clovenstone,
The trees, ash, elm, alder, oak, maybe
Their skeletal rigging
Their dark-pitch, mechanical masts,
And as they rise up in moonlight
A golden Doubloon, nailed by Starbuck,
Threaded through a needle of night;
The loom shuttles back-and-forth
Shuntering your pleats;
A shower comes on –
Black dots of ellipsis
Rush and envelope the land
That hushy diminuendo of rain-fall –
And the rippling poplars,
Of Harlaw wood;
As ice clenches, stalls, the heather-swayed ground
I thought about an ash-plant,
A switch, pulled from the hedge,
Its scything, multiple rhythms, cutting the air
Ready to de-head Senecio vulgaris
My golden bough –
Amongst weeds, and a shepherd’s purse;
A flat leaf ground rosette
Of nettle natch;
A boom of birdcall
A russet sleeve
Slap and dash against ploughshare(s)
The colour of natural honey
Hums with intensity.
A worm rises like a trout
To break his relentless dedication;
Ah, a mind’s engine is a worm
Swimming thro’ the crude earth.
The clay is grey beneath my boots here
And I desire to sculpt mammalian form(s)
But, rebuttal, the shut fields:
The waywardness of humanity
With plastic rubbish strewn
Over the tender heart of nature.
One thinks about Clare, Wordsworth
The tendrils of dedication
Which wove over the cloth-work earth
And plumps the human dough,
The warm, yeast-laden soil.
Ah, but, wait,
What do I see in dimming dusk,
A golden nimbus,
In the lane?
Two furtive ears,
A Jack-legged Jack Hare;
Its eyes, two halves of an apricot;
A spring-loaded thigh –
A vulnerable constellation, Lepus,
Hurrying out to feed in the half-dark.
Then, nestling down in a lather of grass,
Like The Young Hare of Dürer.
A rose sleeves forth in suburbia –
Its delicate, fragrant silk folds unfurl;
And, the question is, who owns
The pink splay of a thickened-tongue, price-tag?
THE GATHERING SILENCES
A union of words like white cabbage-tops
Try to break the cabal with a granite fist;
The wet-clay sags,
Tethered to the sail-plough, keeps me from stumbling.
I know the blackened taste of roasted stout,
The head, a creamy dip,
A pronounced gulp
Hackles the back of the throat;
A single cream-drop on the beard, descends and
Onto the barroom floor delivers a satisfying pat
She wore a shawl of wintry widowhood
Black wool it was, with burrs of hawthorn,
Sage, wild garlic – a clover-leaf of coriander
Pinned on the lapel
Permeable as Hoare frost,
Tragic as a cow’s questioning breath
On an ice-lid of the water-trough.
A gathering of pebbles give way to stones
Where woodlice shunter to-and-fro;
The heavy thick silence of a mausoleum
The trail of a failed fax machine, drowned Morse,
Muttering half-beeps in Adriatic saltbluffs –
A wailing storm comes in
To shower apple-skins
To fleck farmyards and their fallen fences.
A brewer’s haul, barley, wheat, yeast and hops,
I know artifice – the mash
Go open-palmed with grains
Sweeping aside seed-husks
The roughened hands of the man I could become,
I feel ghosted, smote in evening half-light;
A forest of intimacy, symmetry, sprouts between the vowels
And consonants throw shadows of their insistent penumbra
Across the open fens, where a grouse chirbles and cranks.
Grass, peppery, papery, hot
Folded considered in a near half-dark.
A slit, black bat stirs in the eaves –
The night harvester feeding under lunar savagery,
Trickles, lapping, at a red buttery emulsion
The warmth of life, ebbing and flow/floe
I go to the potato barn, skirt back the doors on their tracks;
Inhale the waxy golden silence(s) of oval debutantes;
Feel clod and earth coalesce in the cleft of mild urgency –
I am a writer. I am not a writer. I am. I am no one.
And no answer comes. No one comes.
The form of a poem arrives in different dimensions,
In altered angles, it falls like a dying immolation;
But you catch its mythology, its empty gallery,
And breathe a star’s spark-life into its history and bones.
We are alone. All and each, alone –
A shivering coat, flung onto the bed,
This is your sprawling millennia,
A beating heart’s mind of mechanical starkness.
SEAMUS HEANEY FLOATING IN OUTER SPACE
The ship’s after-burner from, The Helicon
A carrier, a frigate, roars past,
The wry, warm smile of a decent canon
In the craft’s window, waving cast –
Let it be Cicero or the Robot Giant
From Forbidden Planet – Robby –
Softly spoken metrical foot to Anahorish
Which swells flare-light upon the tongue,
An education at standing by a bridge door.
And Heaney, a gallant Galacticus Finch,
A handful of chalk-dust from the moon’s floor
Amongst the foothills, a capite ad calcem.
On from a Holocene winter field-byte
Galvanise his words in our own landscape;
No ulterior motive but to write
For the endured harvest of Art’s sake –
A palimpsest of text, between pewter,
Drowned Morse mutter, coaxial cable,
Now read from the USB-fed computer –
(Mossbawn Sunlight drying on the platen)
An elegiac mosaic of introspection sway
Blobbing black, billowing in Wicklow night
Not just my screen-saver rippling as, I too, float away
Punctuated by alder-dripping buds of unwavering light.
N.J. Burns has been published in The North, The Rialto, The London Magazine, The Honest Ulsterman. He has also had a short story, ZOOM accepted in an American magazine (hard-copy) about which he is very happy.
Karen Jane Cannon: Poem
THE WEIGHT OF GRASS
The cat came in and dropped a tiny shrew—
all squeak and fright—it shot under the bed,
so small, yet made a din like scrabbling rats.
A pinch of fluff, its nose a Roman spout,
its eyes as bright as glinting poppy seeds.
We filled a box with grass and popped the shrew
inside, a jam jar lid of water too.
We didn’t hear a pip all night—next day
we peered inside to find the shrew was flat,
just like a coin, embossed. At first we thought
that death had made it flat, it’s lungs empty
of air. But then we saw it was the weight
of grass. Incredible, species fragile
as this, ever survive our weighted world.
Karen Jane Cannon’s poems have appeared in a variety of print and online journals, including Acumen, Orbis, Obsessed with Pipework, The Interpreter’s House, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Prole and Popshot. She was commended for The Flambard Poetry Prize 2014 and has an MA in Creative writing from Bath Spa University, and is editor at https://silentvoicespoetry.wordpress.com/
Kevin Casey: Two Poems
I had grown a bean plant earlier that spring,
xxxxxxsprouted on the kindergarten windowsill
in a towel-lined cup, so when my uncle warned
xxxxxxthat an orange seed washed down with my juice
would grow a tree inside of me, I pictured
xxxxxxthe buff pip cracked apart, blanched cotyledons
splitting somewhere within that wet darkness,
xxxxxxthe warm humus of organs clutched in a tracery
of rhizomes, a relentless taproot
xxxxxxsnaking down a leg toward the earth.
Still, in this the kernel of a stark homily:
xxxxxxthe hardened rind that shields the seed,
our flesh that feeds what grows inside,
xxxxxxlush and impatient, at last will give way
to a crown of leaves that erupts like wings,
xxxxxxand then the blossom’s nodding head
that reaches toward the sun–the memory
xxxxxxof its color and fragrance all that might remain.
We walked along the stream into a field
that bristled with small spruce, while the sun
lingered on its perch atop the mountains
to the east. Two abreast, our shotguns
pointed into the wood-reed like oars.
In the grainy air, the shape in the branches
might have been a porcupine or twigs
tangled into a witch’s broom. Our minds
drew out a partridge neck from the downy mass
that bobbed and dipped, then dissolved into nothing
as we waited, whispering. Barrels raised
and lowered, and raised again. Finally,
the top half of that form turned like a turret
as the sun stirred the waves of seed heads,
and we saw the white mask and onyx depths
of a saw-whet owl’s eyes. And from the twilight
of that cool morning we crafted our account,
to the score of the stream and the wind through
sage-green needles, of how that beautiful thing
was saved, and we its rescuers, and how
that autumn day was ripe and heavy
like the game bags at our backs, filled by noon
with its own pinioned softness grown cold,
and the dull slits of eyes that stared into nothing.
Kevin Casey is the author of And Waking… (Bottom Dog Press, 2016), and American Lotus (Glass Lyre Press, 2018). In 2017 he won the Kithara Prize. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Rust, Moth, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Ted Kooser’s syndicated column ‘American Life in Poetry.’ For more information visit andwaking.com.
Maurice Devitt: Poem
Unsettled by the silence,
a dog barks at the white noise
of evening, longs for the company
of bells, clanging out
through the powdery dusk.
Garden walls grow higher as the voice
of a neighbour becomes a whisper
echoing from the bottom of a well
and every house turns inward,
seduced by the scent of cooking,
eager to eavesdrop on the stories
of the day. Unnoticed, the dog slinks
beneath the kitchen table, silenced
by the tangled skeins of words and food.
Maurice Devitt was selected in 2016 for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series and shortlisted for the Listowel Poetry Collection Competition. Winner of the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland Competition in 2015, he has been placed or shortlisted in numerous other competitions including the Patrick Kavanagh Award. His poems have been published in Ireland, the UK and beyond. He is curator of the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies site and a founder member of the Hibernian Writers’ Group.
Robert Ford: Three Poems
THE MARTIAN VIEW OF EARTH
No lines are drawn in their way of perceiving things
between seeing, hearing, and everything else, so
we appear as short bursts of frantic energy, obsessed
with purpose and radiation of certain wavelengths.
To them, the Earth is not, of course, The Earth,
any more than Mars is Mars’ Words; just another
endearing quirk we get so excited about. They are
puzzled by our fixation with the idea of the nation state,
and its attendant border security, flags and anthems,
but also by lawnmowers, and by the peculiar concept
of fish fingers, there being neither fish nor even fingers
as such on their planet, the one we think of as red.
He ran with his arc of chest pushed out in front;
like the bold hood of a car, always arriving first.
In time, his breast-bone itself grew outwards,
in a cartoon fashion, his ribs appearing to poke
curiously through the skin, reaching like a grasp
through the curtains of undivided air ahead of him,
as if for some distant finishing line only he could see.
The rest of us shuffled, leaden, watching him doing
exactly what it felt we were doing ourselves,
only without all those extra dry, desperate breaths,
stolen from the deep, and the shackles of gravity
about our ankles. He shrank inevitably out of sight.
No-one shadowed him through those late-night,
early-morning hours, the lonely circuits, all the
countless rounds of alleys scarred with broken glass,
teeth of every hungry frost eating into his toes.
We couldn’t fathom that rope of steel in his heart.
Then fifteen chased and finally caught us all, with beer,
cigarettes and trap-doors in the school curriculum,
and a cruel, cramping ache, neither caused nor cured
by running, that wouldn’t be outsprinted anymore.
By December, the sycamore leaves have fallen,
gathering ankle-deep at the edges of his grave.
On Christmas morning she’ll sweep them all away,
and into a harmless pillow over by the kissing gate,
between the staring yews, blurred with poisoned fruits.
The newer stones slotted around and about his,
with their black angles and gold italic lettering,
will have been sprayed with plastic bouquets of
incongruous pinks and yellows, grinning awkwardly
through the frost, like hopeful boys at the school dance.
Counting the melted-away years is futile game.
Instead, she’ll scrub a season’s beard of moss
from the dirty marble, and trim the tufts of grass left
behind by the council mower. In the soil below, the worms
are turning everybody into stars, one by precious one.
Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland. His poetry has appeared in both print and online publications in the UK and US, including Antiphon, Clear Poetry, Homestead Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears. More of his work can be found at https://wezzlehead.wordpress.com/
John Gilham: Poem
The Lord commands it – and the land obeys:
the country settles, huddling against a long winter –
the trees bend for an evil time.
Our world is ending, yet the curve of hills
and breadth of plain and valley will endure:
they remain when our time is done.
But who knows where our earthworks,
our hillforts, our fields and forests
will be in the new world ?
The bramble grows fast, the badger digs,
and leaf-mould, unswept, buries deep the encircling ditch.
All may be forgotten
Yet Arthur reigns as if his peace will last for ever;
He rules by fear and holiness,
And how shall I tell him?
that tonight he shall see the Grail and then no more
nor any man across this land
until they all are gathered in.
John Gilham is the editor of Dream Catcher Literary Magazine. His most recent collection, Learning to Breathe, was published by Stairwell Books in 2015. Among his enthusiasms are jazz, railways, London, cycling, European Travel and pubs.
Glenn Hubbard: Two Poems
BLACKBIRD SINGING IN OCTOBER
There’s a blackbird in our street and he’s doing the subsong
of a morning when I close the gate and step out.
The big Spring flirt is still a long way off
so this not your full-on lung-busting belter, no,
not your Josef Locke heart melter,
ringing out from the roof of some block of flats
or the end of a branch of a tree just made for two,
with diaphragm fully engaged and due attention paid
to getting just the right profile against the brightening sky.
It’s more of a subdued, self-effacing, don’t-mind-me kind of song,
like he’s trying out a few chat-up lines, trying the voice on for size.
Kyra and the cat were snoring gently
when Konstantinos slipped out at dawn.
He’d a long trek to the small cove
where the bass came in on the tide,
the fat bass Kyra and the cat both loved.
And setting out early meant keeping his secret
from those blasted nosy neighbours.
Out went the line, whirring from the reel
till the bait sent up a small splash
in the old man’s favourite spot.
Spreading out a blanket,
a comfy cushion for old bones,
he sat down on a warm rock
to wait for the bass to bite.
In the deep water further out,
where malign currents quickened and conspired,
a lop-sided boat spun into view and flipped,
tipping a screaming blur of bright yellow into the water.
There were so many of them!
They thrashed about, churning the surface
like terrified netted fish.
Konstantinos rose and started forward
but tripped, fell and felt something crack.
Unable to heave himself up,
he could only watch and witness.
He too was helpless,
all alone on the beach
in the place he’d always kept a secret.
Note: Many of the life jackets on sale in the Turkish seaside town of Izmir have been fake, more likely to drag you down than hold you up.
Glenn Hubbard was born in Fulham, London, in 1956, did a degree in German and worked as a social worker for six years in Belfast. Then he went to live in Madrid, where he teaches English. He is fluent in Spanish, but poetic only in English, especially about birds. He has been reading poetry for years but only started writing in 2012.
Rosie Jackson: Three Poems
HILDA WITH BLUEBELLS
after Stanley Spencer, ‘Hilda with Bluebells’, 1955
Still awake at 4 a.m. she thinks of herself
as one of those ruined abbeys – Tintern,
Rievaulx – her armpits arches that no longer know
how to hold up her shoulders, her head
a huge stone lying like a canon ball
by the high altar. She’s once more walking
down the nave on her wedding day, a woman
who will never stop painting, who wonders
if she should have chosen the other brother.
So many invisible lives threaded
through the eye of this one – children
she might have had, different sunsets –
but, for now, grief which has pushed her off
the shelf of herself, anger which has seeded
cancer. God appears in a maelstrom of gold,
long tentacles of light trying to yoke her back
to a sun that has forgotten how to hold
things together, everything in pastel,
easy to erase or smudge. When she sleeps
she dreams of Stanley, of dying before him,
hauling him through gardens of love – even,
perhaps, forgiveness – and he paints her solid
as a mother who has crawled back from death
to kneel amongst bluebells in her yellow dress,
soil sticking to her legs, hands foraging
for something she’s lost, her heart of a face
as accepting as a canvas of whatever comes.
HILDA IN WONDERLAND
After their divorce, Stanley Spencer’s first wife Hilda Carline spent nine months in Banstead Mental Hospital, 1942
Her other life is a world of picnics
and donkey rides, hymns and daisy chains,
trust, moon babies, cock-a-doodle-doo.
Her other life is the one Plato evoked,
without clouds or shadows, its template
drawn from whatever Paradise
human life began – a man and woman
walking by a stream, trailing their hands
in fountains by a rose garden,
knowing the smell of jasmine in winter.
Her other life is the light she lived in once,
before desert and dry mouth,
before two girls inherited her wistfulness,
before her mind raced so quickly from loss
it fell down a rabbit hole into the darkness
beneath Odney Common, met there a woman
she’s sure she knows, hair parted down the middle,
searching for wire-rimmed glasses.
IN THE WARD OF CLIPPED WINGS
Hilda Spencer, Banstead, 1942
Not all mothers take like ducks to water.
But I love my girls: Shirin, Unity.
Stanley should have helped me keep one daughter.
Age seven, Shirin lodged with Mrs Harter.
I was stressed. This was nineteen thirty-three.
Not all mothers take like ducks to water.
But Unity went too, six years later,
and I was distraught, missed them terribly.
Stanley should have helped me keep one daughter.
He said they’d be safer from war’s slaughter
with her, in Epsom, than Hampstead with me.
Not all mothers take like ducks to water.
Then I dreamt Mrs Harter was Hitler,
who’d just bombed my friends, Constance and Eddie.
Stanley should have helped me keep one daughter.
I would have killed Harter if I’d caught her,
the second woman after my family.
Not all mothers take like ducks to water.
Stanley should have helped me keep one daughter.
Rosie Jackson lives near Frome, Somerset and is a Hawthornden fellow, 2017. She has taught at East Anglia, Nottingham Trent and West of England universities, Skyros Writers’ Lab and Cortijo Romero. She is widely published. What the Ground Holds (Poetry Salzburg, 2014) was followed by The Light Box (Cultured Llama, 2016). Prose books include Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, The Eye of the Buddha, Frieda Lawrence, Mothers Who Leave and a memoir, The Glass Mother (Unthank, 2016). www.rosiejackson.org.uk
Phil Kirby: Two Poems
THE ALCHEMY OF LIGHT
She tells him he’s like Bonnard, seeing
only surfaces, how things used to be,
and not what’s really there.
Perhaps the morning flatters or deceives
as it washes their room, passes through
and draws a hazy lilac shadow
of one hip against her cotton nightdress.
To divine exactly what this moment brings
he’d have to break the laws of light,
stumble on another mauve, invent
some kind of scope, a prism to refract
the meaning of her standing there.
THE PORCH WATCHERS
At the stroke of eleven we’d steal to the dark
of the porch, where time had clotted into black
beneath its small pitched roof, and sit to watch
the wraiths come by on St Mark’s Eve.
In the cold, slowly shapes defined themselves:
angels, crosses, scroll-carved slabs; yew trees
stirring in the wind, churning up their patch
of night before the first one showed.
A thickening of mist, like breath on glass, soundless
it would move towards the locked oak doors,
sharpening in form until we saw the face and knew
the name. We’d shiver as it passed into the church.
One by one, sometimes in wedding pairs, they’d come:
the dun old men, and matriarchs, the scantling kids,
some lovers on a midnight tryst – a milky pale
and mute procession of our village folk –
and, as an hour passed, we’d count the ones to reappear.
Those to wed would rush out first and fade, followed
by the ones who’d live. And only then we made a note:
a morbid list of all that would not last another year.
Phil Kirby worked in the family carpentry business before becoming an English teacher. He has published widely in magazines and journals, won a Regional Arts Board bursary, and ran Waldean Press between 1994-2000. His first full collection, Watermarks (Arrowhead Press 2009), is officially ‘sold out’ but the last few copies are available through his own website, www.waldeanpress.co.uk
Andrew Mayne: Poem
SMALL ONE THE VERY LEAST YELLOW
Did it figure in any stories or mythologies?
Did they attribute to it medicinal qualities?
Did any very gifted member of the tribe invent
a song suggesting how it looked to them and what it meant?
Well, I won’t go on asking – maybe by now you get the gist.
Which is: you’d have to leave a blank
to represent the presumably unique sense
a remote Himalayan tribe, the Tongwimi,
ascribed to a rare small yellow flower
that blooms in spring for just two weeks
along the mountain pass that runs through their land.
Mind you, I am not suggesting this flower
must have been deeply rooted in their lives –
grew as some kind of badge of who they were.
Perhaps it was ‘just there’ for two weeks
xxxxxx and they took it entirely for granted.
(Which, in itself, might be suggestive.)
Either way (if it can be reduced to two)
we shall never know: the last Tongwimi
died in 1997. It is a certain good that just
in time a professional linguist had compiled
a grammar and dictionary of their tongue
(previously without a written form).
He records that their name for this flower –
“in shape looking somewhat like buttercup” –
translates as, roughly, ‘small pale yellow one.’
(Literally ‘small one the very least yellow’:
adjectives denoting colour are always postpositive
when the stronger of the two diminutive forms is used.)
Andrew Mayne has published several textbooks (Considering Prose; Considering Drama; The Language Book), some critical writing (a study of Conrad’s The Secret Agent) and also editions of plays (The Winslow Boy and Loot). He has published one collection of poems, Always Our Likely Finale. For further information see website andrewmaynepoetry.com
Michael Murray: Poem
VERMEER’S ‘WOMAN POURING MILK’, 1658
The light dripped into milk, spots of sun;
to watch it twist, pool – a deliberation.
The wheaten loaves stand ready, but first this:
‘To not drip, nor crumb, work from quietness.’
Her body’s concentration; and see this measured
decline of arms, neck. A privacy; treasured.
She is full of grace, contained; the sun
just chances on her. She allowed this portion.
Siege-towns, and women sluiced ribbons of red
from cobble-stones; to break dykes drowned
the corn in the field, the Spaniard at the door.
Her grandfather’s street games of ‘goos en papen’:
the catholic magistrates driven from towns;
and the smashed saints.
The Duke of Alva’s daughter pining pinned
a ribbon of milky white to her sleeve,
like the sky of that far Northland;
pricked her finger, stained her ribbon
Michael Murray has had poetry published with Magma, Rialto, Stand and Pennine Platform. Online he has published with Antiphon, HandJob Magazine, Ol’Chanty and Zoomorphic Magazine. Also, he has had works performed on Artslab, RedShift Radio.
He has completed a study in the use of chiasmus and ring structures in texts (see Amazon kindle: Gifts of Rings and Gold), and is currently engaged on a novel.
Kate Noakes: Poem
THE WENDY HOUSE, ADELAIDE
Indoor air, thick with motes
and the smell of hot wood, creosote seeps
from its bones, oil puddles the boards
leaf flakes, scent of faint eucalyptus
mixed with tar, smudges of wattle pollen
yellow the floor, soil dust, windblown
into the corners of the old playhouse
curtains at the tiny windows, translucent
gingham hanging in threads, home
for paint-chipped, broken furniture
headless dolls. We party afternoons
without cloth or cake, careful not to slice
our fingers, make tea with dirt
from the foil-lined chest, but
water from the roasting yard-pipe
doesn’t brew. You can play hide-’n’-seek
if you want to be in there alone
can trust yourself not to peek
through the back window on chicken days
not to see the axe off its block.
Kate Noakes’ most recent collection is Paris, Stage Left (Eyewear, 2017). She was elected to the Welsh Academy in 2011 and her website (boomslangpoetry.blogspot.com) is archived by the National Library of Wales. She lives and writes in Paris and London.
Art Ó Súilleabháin: Two Poems
THE BOY WHO WAITED
for Art óg
They used to swim cattle on the lake, out behind the boat,
to Inisdawee – island of the brindled cow, with a hill of grass,
where a stone hut sits above the east-shore winter waterline.
A boy sheltered from the wind there, a summer minding calves.
Now it hosts a flock of sheep rafted out to chomp the pasture,
overgrown with bracken, the low walls serve no purpose.
A small tractor has been floated out to keep weeds in check,
where we pull the boat and light a fire for the sake of it,
near what was once the supply quay for a boy booleying cattle,
expecting visitors to bring fresh brown bread or new potatoes,
or bacon or talk of ordinary things in Dooras, waiting,
like us, standing around, stoking the heat of contentment.
booleying: the English equivalent of the Irish ‘ag buachailleacht’ – meaning ‘a boy minding’, predominately cattle.
There is a lake in every man’s heart – George Moore
You can see into the distance any day on Corrib
looking west at mountains or east to the plains
the distant self is there calling back to you
from moods of lake, reflecting the calm of deep,
or turning to white horses, to ride a shallow anger.
You touch the hills, wonder at their immensity,
finger the trees on the myriad of small islands,
trail your hand gently in the cool playful water.
It touches back, gathers you into its wonder,
calls to you, assembles a lake in your being.
You hear bass sounds rolling over the surface,
snatches of a conversation in a distant boat.
It whispers from bushes, from rocky shores,
but it talks to you too, whispers dark secrets,
burns with a stillness that overcomes loneliness.
And then from nowhere a curlew flights and cries
singing the wistful, mournful notes of the dying,
‘whoooo’, ‘whooo’, ‘whoo’, a trailing diminuendo,
haunting a note into the recesses of the mind,
another lake to be awakened later in thought.
Art Ó Súilleabháin lives in Corr na Móna, in north Connemara, close to the Mayo border. He has published a number of poetry books in Irish for children. He is currently working on a collection of poems for adults about Lough Corrib which straddles counties Galway and Mayo. This is his bilingual website: http://www.artosuilleabhain.com/home_english.html
Michael O’Sullivan: Poem
A SULTAN’S DREAM
( in memory of Sultan Khaleefal Abdul-Magid 1 and his attempts to help the Irish people during the famine holocaust.)
My ships were chained, my bows attacked,
But they broke free, followed the bone-spattered estuary,
Beyond Cork, beyond Cobh, despite more taunts and volleys,
Until we seemed to disappear near Drogheda,
Only to return by stealth,
With food for those far passed the act of saving.
I could commune with them, in this, my sleep.
My sailors told me of skeletons on the coastline,
Some drowning in seaweed to reach us,
As they choked in mid-cry and surfeit of hope,
Others waving like distant stars, as they clambered over rocks,
Of cries so piercing even sea-gulls fell silent above the masts,
Circling in vigil where lost bodies floated out to the horizon,
Their bellies round and beautiful like deep-sea jelly-fish,
Eyes staring in the gluttonous Summer haze.
But we forged on, fed both by purity of purpose,
By greater shame. Once emptied my ships grew full again,
This time with spirits of the dispossessed, all trying to eat
Each other helplessly, where no carnival existed,
While ancient languages hovered as judges,
Hugging each wood-carved echo,
Back to the primal pulse, where yet my vision feeds.
My ships delve on, propped by the milk of seas,
Into the vault of this, my ancestry.
Now we must burn our ships into the sea.
Michael O’Sullivan‘s many collections have won national and international awards, and are displayed in libraries throughout the world. His work has also featured in numerous anthologies, compilations, magazines, and journals in many countries and languages. His website is: michaelosullivan59.weebly.com
Cheryl Pearson: Three Poems
911 MEMORIAL MUSEUM
Past the blue wall torn from the blue sky, past the stopped escalator
peeled of its steps like a tongue stripped of taste by too much salt,
past the fire truck that crumpled and goes on crumpling somewhere,
forever, the aerial lists like a ship’s mast listing from a wreck of flags.
Twists of brutal silver. Like biting foil with filled teeth. A drill
of uncrackled current. A bit stilled of spark. Where once language and feather
sizzled, and information lapped, now radio silence thickens. You feel it in the wrists:
a quickening, the way dowsers claim to feel the zap of water. Bone-deep.
Electric. The violence of it. The quiet .A doe meeting teeth in the forest,
spilling wet metals in a rusting flush. Then nothing. A silence like that,
where death has opened like a trout’s mouth on a hook.
You want to apologise. For what? Being human, elsewhere.
Glad of the fact of continents, your accent. Sorry for the airports
lacking winks, and the sticky sandals gaping without feet.
No. Think of the men in the sky that last morning, chasing coffee
with light. If their voices were pressed in the metal, like flash
recordings. Listen to that. Fear yes, under your hand, but love,
mostly. A pulse fluttering, persistent, at the throat.
POEM 3: INVENTING THE SEAL
Perhaps begin by studying the moon.
The scars and rocks, the pitted beauty
of its back. Take notes.
There are maps which cater
to nothing else but the lunar
landscape. Where it breaks open to far light.
Where it keeps its secrets dry.
The ocean, next. Not the life in it: just the water’s
animal self. The sense of endlessness
in your swallowed toes. The foam begun in other countries
spending its last salt on your skin. Listen:
you need to know how it feels
to be a world
before you can make one.
Remember things. That time, the first, you fell in love,
and shook apart like a continent
on a fault. The kindnesses you’ve kept
like conkers in your pockets, rubbed to a gloss, warm to touch.
That day in the country when you watched as a swallow
cut the air to shreds, then lit
like a blessing on the patched back of a cow.
The cow’s calm as her jaw switched on grass.
Your god daughter. Milk-smelling,
drunk at the breast. Hanging, glazed, from her mother’s
star. Thickly lashed, her chubby fists opening, closing.
The round rise of her belly in the bath.
The petal silk of her skin.
Take out your sketchpad. A lick of salt. Begin.
POEM 4: KINGFISHER
Falls like a rainbow wrapped
around a comet, a flash,
then gone –
a streak that shatters
of itself and vanishes in a spool
of empty circles,
echoes travelling out and further out,
to the earth and
to the earth
What counsel is kept
in that roving dark, where striped fish
follow the current’s pull
like the run
in a jumper, unravelling to a final spill
at cuff or collar?
The impossible comet re-enters
The air’s electric,
a heart shocked back
into rhythm, riverwater streaming
from the tropical back,
hanging from the cracked beak,
and if the sky was lacking a star,
the bird has replaced it –the fish
is tumbled by the gullet, yes,
the moon will find the scales, a gift
in the branches, attend their lights
with her lights; perhaps there is
no better fate than this.
Cheryl Pearson lives and writes in Manchester. Her poems have appeared in The Guardian, Envoi, Crannog, Neon, Prole, and Southword. She won first prize in the High Sheriff’s Cheshire Prize for Literature 2016, and third prize in Bare Fiction Magazine’s national poetry competition. She was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Her first full collection, Oysterlight, was published by Pindrop Press in March 2017.
Edmund Prestwich: Four Poems
German South-West Africa
A dump on the desert’s edge –
no green of grass or tree –
but the whores’ Green House
on a stony hill
looks down at the cold blue bay.
It blazes through the night,
a furnace of desire.
With singing, shrieking, laughter,
bottles shatter, tossed
over moonlit rocks.
In the still dawn
daylight edges in;
finds corsets and a boa
entangled on a sofa,
the wagon drivers gone.
The girls are in their rooms:
heavy bodies, soft
with cream cakes and champagne,
lie sleeping like the dead
six thousand miles from home.
Outside, in hazy light,
sea fog shimmers, dewdrops
with blues of the dawn sky,
while rosy pink above
ghost-clouds hover, elusive
fantasies of water drifting
over bone-dry pans,
gravel, and the endless dunes
where wagons drown in sand.
DANCING IN THE NAMIB
The desert bloomed: dream houses
rose over naked sand,
a butcher’s shop, a bakery,
sweetshops, a school, a band,
drinking water shipped
five hundred miles from the Cape,
the hemisphere’s first X-ray,
a clubhouse/ theatre / gym
with state of the art acoustics
where touring stars could perform.
One party lasted three days.
They set up the dancing floor
as a liner’s deck, the stage
as the captain’s bridge. Champagne
flowed like foaming water.
Caviar! Pea soup!
Sauerkraut! Floods of beer!
walzed with their wives, who shimmered
in bright silk gowns from Paris.
Wind howled and screamed outside;
windows darkened; grit
spattered them like spray;
until on the fourth day
when the hooter for work blared,
the last men staggered out,
still sailor-suited, to stand
unsteady on dry land,
on waves of glittering sand,
stone still in the desert glare.
KOLMANSKOP: HIGH NOON
Nothing moved in the violent light.
As if on the floor of a fantasy dead planet,
dolls’ houses gleamed, Bavarian cottages,
transplants, where miners’ families
could shelter from the heat, be cool
as trapdoor spiders in silk-lined holes.
Children rested for the dull hour.
Women sipped crushed ice, their blonde
flesh sweating in silk, and their flowers
drank water shipped five hundred miles by sea.
Nagged by headaches and prickly heat, they dreamed
of homes five thousand miles from the sand.
On white hot sand, or in gales
when the desert heaves like a driven sea,
half drowned between breakers, looming high,
or sliding off down receding hills,
their houses wallow with splintered spars,
flotsam drifting back as a wave withdraws;
like bones of the murdered Nama when mass graves
blow open in those restless waves;
like struggling wagon horses, drowned
in sandstorms, dried by sun and wind;
like husks of dangerous scorpions:
harmless chitin blown on the dunes.
Through the day’s brutal heat,
the blinding light on stones,
eyes raw with glare, dry-throated,
searching sand in vain,
he crawled on into moonlight.
Diamonds glittered then
like insects’ eyes, tiny
ice cubes of dew, a trail
to the luminous hotel
where Klara danced with glittering eyes
and fevered body. Soon
he’d fill her mouth with stones.
Edmund Prestwich grew up in South Africa but has spent his adult life in England where he taught English at the Manchester Grammar School till his retirement. He has published two collections: Through the Window with Rockingham Press and Their Mountain Mother with Hearing Eye.
Sheenagh Pugh: Poem
Meden agan, he says, in the hollow voice
of a reed-pipe: all air, all music,
and the florid king, face of the sun, is struck
at table, falls forward, rich sauce dyeing
his silks. His poet, numbed, is trying
to believe in the end of the story
he was in: he was here yesterday.
Sometimes the arrow does not kill
but leaves a half-life: no taste, no smell,
everything slowed, colours bleached out.
Too much world can over-excite
the senses. The god watches the man
struggle to speak; leans in. Meden agan,
Apollo whispers: nothing in excess.
Sheenagh Pugh lives in Shetland now but is still Welsh. She has published many collections with Seren, plus two novels and a study of fan fiction. Her current collection is Short Days, Long Shadows (Seren 2014) and she is working on another.
Ian Smith: Four Poems
A fragrance, city noise shielded by shaggy scrub
beyond a ruined building, a pond, dragonflies,
we spread your rug, death still a distant wonder.
I want to cradle that time, revisit love.
Our exact spot might house an estate, mod cons,
sounds of life crashing ahead into the future,
children, gardens tamed, dragonflies eloped.
My only way back is to shove against memory’s door.
Speaking to you, unsettling after such an absence,
you spoke jargon, phrases like bodies corporate,
denied remembering any cameo I brought up,
including my obsession with your hippie hair.
Speeding back to responsibility, separate cars, late,
you followed, perhaps thinking of a new excuse.
A truck changed lanes. I steered into the skid.
The pound of silence, smoke, facing the wrong way.
I see you, face in hands, smell of burnt rubber,
after watching me in a spin, slo-mo dread looming.
Churning, I laughed it off. Braggadocio.
Now, nothing remains? All that? Our quickened hands?
‘Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades’
A boy, age unknown, I roll down a grassy slope
gathering speed like an unrolling carpet,
space, ozone, gulls, freedom, blue white green.
I have always known this was the Isle of Wight.
My father had a fantasy Defoe thing about islands.
Our first car was a second-hand grey Vauxhall.
Boys like cars, pirates swashing buckle on islands,
but except for my dizzy roll, our journey from London,
the entire rest of that day, is a fogged window.
Back in England, careworn, arid, after leaving aged ten,
I do what revenants do, investigate old haunts,
street to street, fizzing on a zigzag memory trail,
classrooms, neighbours, back lanes, unknown cousins,
the whole panoply of pen to paper discovery,
new precincts yet old at the same time, bone-old.
Seeking heritage to cherish I read plaques to writers
who shaped tales long ago, quills scratching parchment
beyond stout doors, brick facades, busy thoroughfares.
Solent crossing, then a green double-decker to the B&B
striving unsuccessfully to seize that boyhood day,
my thoughts turn to Tennyson’s Light Brigade charge
we did at school before my admiration of poets,
before everyday reading became a solace.
Later, I walk this chalky knob where dinosaurs trod
imagining doing so with my parents, windblown.
Near the memorial I stop at my rolling spot.
Mind awhirl with my elusive past, I should roll again.
East of morning, a working district, bayside Melbourne,
leaning in like a figurehead, wind a wild sea beast,
I walk miles to be on time this half-starved winter.
Another bakery, like my first job after school
emulating my nagging father’s work start. A worry.
He began at thirteen, a year younger, in his country.
I extend a thumb in hope on a hollow stomach,
expect food in bakeries so save meagre rations,
some foraged, back in my freezing caravan.
Eking pennies with little enterprise or nous
I scissor Situations Vacant early on Saturdays.
My flimsy experience has been of survival,
cackhanded, with no index of crafts or phone skill.
Now I toil, pastry-slap, dodging swearing bakers.
Fingers, toes, ears, tingle a warning of chilblains,
nose, mouth, in thrall to an aroma of baking bread.
Penitent before ovens, I scrape crusted grunge,
rat shit, cigarette butts, filth. In the dough.
Knackered, I finish with a hint of further work,
laden with so much baked goods I watch my feet,
a crisp pound flattened in my back pocket
comforting my scrawny arse in threadbare purple jeans.
On the ground outside a bank I spot another pound,
lose a moment glancing about, true to nature.
Screened by coffee scrolls, Vienna loaf, date scones,
deftly dropped, Houdini-like, I palm that pound.
I can cheer my underdog team if I hitch-hike later.
UNDERNEATH THE LAMPLIGHT
He never got around to telling her his back story,
a freezing wolf-chased freight train that was youth,
time irretrievable in YOGS – Young Offenders Group,
sounding now like an acronym a progressive
looking to boost a career in social sciences
might create for a prison of tattooed boys
squatting in an upright, uptight community.
They always met under a soft glow of anxiety,
waft of patchouli, body heat, her car’s upholstery,
sheepskin jacket, biro-scribbled boutique jeans
over thighs he caressed after her art classes
he could only imagine. The emptiness later.
As he fords the brimming years thoughts pull,
elegy to her fervid breath, her hurry, the husband.
Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in , Antipodes, Australian Book Review, Australian Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He lives in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, Australia.
Marc Woodward: Four Poems
Hard through the cotton grass and boulders
she climbs up Whitehorse Hill to find you –
a ‘high ranking female’ in a moorland cist –
she: a shaman of tools and trapped lightning.
Four thousand years of mute separation
led to this singular co-incidence:
the peat hag collapsing, your tomb open
for a trowel-poking archaeologist.
She tweezers through your ashes, picks apart
your embers, removes your winding sheet
(cloth: nettle fibre); inspects your bracelet
(neatly woven cow hair, tarnished tin plate);
rolls your collection of precious trinkets
between her university fingers
(smooth spooled ear studs turned from spindle wood,
consistent with the local flora).
In your lime-bark basket nestle amber beads
from Baltic woods beyond a skylark’s sight.
Who would travel such a way to find you?
She turns the beads, imagines wearing them.
i.m. Dr Rose Polge
Persistent waves come shipping their cargo,
plastic bottles scrubbed clean of all labels,
hanks of rope, branches and boxes hanging
on the underside of bullying foam
their buoyancy almost giving up its ghost.
The sea curates the dead. Spring tides wash up
torn boughs, anonymous bones, ammonites.
The dual planes of the tide, in and out,
up and down, suggest it stays close. Your sea,
rotating detritus from your river.
It’s not like that. The sea flows slowly east,
a cortège for flotsam and surrender.
In seven weeks a lost doctor traversed
Lyme Bay from Anstey’s Cove to Portland Bill.
Along the waterline a daybreak fox
scavenges through the tidal remnants.
Chinoiserie egrets alight and wait.
It’s a black-stump dawn for cormorants.
With wings outstretched, a new divorcee
mimes tai chi on her water-front lawn.
Her husband bunked off with a sailor
now she’s marooned in a fogbound home.
She’s looking to sell her boat house off
declaring she’s moored to the riverside.
Villagers snort that it’s a London sum!
The birds materialise with each low tide
unruffled by escalating prices
or how fishing shacks have been removed,
replaced by architectural fancies:
hardwood decks, patient hot tubs, sedum roofs.
Slack water reveals the dark skeleton
of weed hung pilings where mussel chains
were once the locals’ livelihood. Wings wide,
black cormorants surrender to the change.
A squall from nowhere chased us off the beach
to a ruined lime kiln’s musty shelter.
Mossy walls curved up to an open mouth
which once vented sparks. A natural skylight
Pantheonesque with the rain tumbling in.
At least we are out of the wind you said,
your wet hair beach-tangled, your chest rising.
you lifted your face to the ring of light,
and the diamond raindrops showering down.
Chin raised your siren’s throat sung to be kissed.
A jade necklace of foliage clambered
down the brickwork. I leaned in to your heat
and that moment of ignition moved us
through quick and slaked – to smoke flailing in wind.
Marc Woodward is a West Country- based musician and poet who has performed and taught internationally and been widely published. A Fright Of Jays was published by Maquette in 2015 and he has just completed a full collection The Tin Lodes written in collaboration with the poet Andy Brown. He blogs at www.marcwoodwardpoetry.blogspot.co.uk
Stella Wulf: Two Poems
THE STARRY NIGHT TREE SPEAKS TO VINCENT
‘Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.’ Vincent Van Gogh
The little lives of little men hunker
in the blinkered shadows of the valley.
They look no higher than the spire
that funnels their notions of mastery
into the church and the worship of habit.
No one comes to warm themselves at your fire
yet you throw yourself open, invite them in,
offer up your fiercely burning universe,
a restless ferment, a cosmic gyre,
spinning in the corona of a meniscus moon.
You render me as a dark church, pointing
a godlike finger at the blazing stars.
Men can’t see through their monochrome lives
to the spectrum of your elemental flame.
You’re outside the field of their vision,
consumed by a spiralling dark.
A GASCON DAY
An upstart breeze puffs over Monsieur Dubois’ potager,
licks the trussed tomatoes, ruffles the heads of lettuce,
chicanes the rows to blow at raspberries.
Bored with the apathy of legumes it wafts off
to tug the beards of barley, tickle the whiskers of wheat,
until the heat takes its breath away.
Hay bales, round and robust as a bon Madiran,
settle their bulging girths on a grassy divan,
slump woozily on spreading bottoms.
Cows muse under an awning of oak, to the croak
of basking frogs – whisk at flies that suck
from the brown pools of their eyes.
Even the birds are indolent – lolling in nests and hedges,
glutted with seed, plump grubs, fat bugs.
All of nature is snoozy.
Monsieur Dubois, seasoned to the wilt of his salad days,
sweats it out in his bleu de travaille,
pulls radish, plucks string beans, turns beetroot.
Note: Madiran is a wine producing region in South West France
Stella Wulf lives in South West France. She has an MA in Creative Writing, from Lancaster University and her work has been widely published, both in print and online. Her poems have been included 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