Dan Bennett • Emily Bilman • Jo Burns • Luigi Coppola • Ken Craft • Natalie Crick • Emily Davis-Fletcher • Julia Deakin • Clive Donovan • Milton P. Ehrlich • Stephen Grace • Hilary Hares • Jacqueline Haskell • Ian Heffernan • Paul Hostovsky • Jackson • Rosie Jackson • Tom Kelly • Art Ó Súilleabháin • James Owens • Joseph S. Pete • Martin Reed • Peter Robinson • Lesley Saunders • Gerard Smyth • John Wheway
THW7 September 10, 2017 THW6 June 3, 2017 THW5 March 7, 2017
THW4 December 6, 2016 THW3 September 1, 2016 THW2 June 1, 2016
THW1 March 1, 2016
Dan Bennett: Two Poems
The light from the cottage
shudders in the evening. Dark summer
blue dusk looming through the trees.
My mother calls me back.
Satellites bead above us.
Stars drift and revolve. In the garden
all the fruit trees have grown wild.
My father turns a lathe.
The tree house is an old door
wedged into the branches of a willow.
Paint splits from wood in white fangs.
My mother calls me back.
A girl removes a T-shirt
illustrated with a silver skull.
A woman in a black dress
bursts from a shotgun blast,
while on the far side of the forest
an orange car crosses the border.
Mist shrouds the barricades.
A fire still burns inside the abandoned aircraft.
The scene has a perfect objectivity
tranquil and without pain. The beat
of willow leaves in summer breeze,
a claw of branches, snug as a gun turret.
Imagination occupies these places
flourishing long after
the story has been forgotten,
those dates and incidents, the real.
The relationships begin to blur,
as one might handle a mobile phone
thinking only of love.
Blue dusk looms through the trees.
A girl removes a T-shirt
illustrated with a silver skull. A woman
in a black dress bursts from a shotgun blast.
My mother calls me back.
I’m sorry we missed your escape,
those days of calico and blue slate,
one room in a cottage, the heat
from attention and an open fire.
You hid your spark by the hearth
as you crouched to undress
and we were persuaded
by the later disguises:
the antimacassars, dolly mixtures,
a husband, four daughters and a son.
The laughter husked by cigarettes,
which filed through one tooth
and bored its long corrosion
all the way into your heart.
This sadness we captured.
And, when I think of grief,
I am seated on the stairs
of a white cottage, my first home,
spying through a bedroom door
as my mother took the news.
Now, as my daughter plays
with her pizza’s green meat
she laughs at the name you share
and we are both the weight
on the scales of your story, raised
and balanced by a spark.
Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives in London. His poems have been widely published, including in The High Window, Structo and The Literateur. He is also the author of the novel, All The Dogs, copies of which can be purchased here: https://goo.gl/Z3P9NL
Emily Bilman: Poem
As in Escher’s lithograph, ‘The Print
Display’ where buildings lean towards
The viewer’s right, her hand’s heft
Was forced to her right by her father.
Punished if she used the wrong hand,
She was afraid of dogs but loved her hand
Like the antique brooch fixed on her coat.
After her fatal fall, I could finally leave.
My heart, on the bench, beat heavily.
Dreams became streams and I
Returned from the open field, almost
Equipoised and quit Escher’s asymmetry
For Nature’s orchards, pines, and the sea.
Emily Bilman is London Poetry Society’s Stanza representative in Geneva where she lives and writes literary essays and poetry. Her dissertation entitled, The Psychodynamics of Poetry, was published in 2010 and Modern Ekphrasis in 2013 by Peter Lang, Resilience and A Woman By A Well by Matador Poetry, UK in 2015. Her work appeared in The Battersea Review, The Journal of Poetics Research, The London Magazine. TheTear-Catcher won the first prize in The New York Literary Magazine. She blogs on http://www.emiliebilman.wix.com/emily-bilman
Jo Burns: Two Poems
The Kruggerand Collector
Grandad Tommy in his lavender Woolworth’s slippers
was a slave to Coronation street and cashier of toffee pennies.
Every Friday he collected his builder’s pension.
Before breakfast, he traced graphs – Rand to Pound
while smoothing golden sweet papers flat. His fingers were stiff
but still adept (and to old Midas, loyal deputies).
He ached for his ochred vault of unused Krugerrands,
to pick each from eyes of mummified years, to spend each lifeless coin
buried in Natal bank, to resurrect them like Lazarus.
Every December he escaped the rain and sat in the front of the plane,
chasing heat to warm his knotted handkerchief crown
to become the rich man in Durban again.
Dining at tables built for elephant meat, he formed notes to old empires
and origami fans and while he may not have been a real freckled King ––
to me, nothing seemed to cost more than his laugh.
SHINRIN YOKU, THE ART OF FOREST BATHING
‘Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms…
Come now. Come now’
The forest floor my penumbra, I lie in remembrance
of what trees know of bloom and clairvoyance,
How green summer understands that to make way
for the wind is life, as Come now, is turned on its head.
Low today, in ruffle, the deer are tilt and whim.
Rustled echoes pull me back to you, the dunes,
August’s glint on car bonnets carpetting the strand.
From the Barmouth, barbecue smoke pouts overhead,
flirting with the convent rocks, looking down
on salt kisses and the shed of abandon. Years on
here I am, thinking back to us, melting in musk,
how the taste of seaweed is not unlike blood.
My fingernails rooted deep in musty moss, I see
that stale, shroud of Autumn close over our need
to be fire licked by heliotrope, to break through crust
to mantle, to flicker skyward in joint breath, to rise as one.
So far from there, I long to lie with you again,
to surrender to the blossom, unaware of season
or significance. Bone spread under bone, I believe
in transcendence and bathe in this occlusion.
The leaves above could be Zen or just middle age––
acceptance, proof, that light can’t last long,
that discovery is fleeting and only happens once.
In shade, the sun can be hanami on old but still, damp loss.
It prickles hot upon my skin but remains as distant
as dunes and your final hesitance, then pull.
Born in County Derry, Northern Ireland in 1976, Jo Burns studied Biomedical Science. She now lives in Germany. Her poems are published by or forthcoming in: A New Ulster, Crannog, Forage, Four x Four, Headstuff, Ink Sweat and Tears, Orbis, Picaroon, Poethead, Poetry Breakfast, Poetry Pacific, Prole, The Incubator, The Honest Ulsterman, The Interpreter’s House, The Irish Literary Times, The Literateur among others. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and she is one of Eyewear Publishing’s Best New British and Irish Poets 2017.
Luigi Coppola: Two Poems
ON THE BUSES WITH PHILIP LARKIN
The 11 stops at the library first, ends opposite
The Red Lion. I trace round churches,
the statues, the countless English gardens.
To pass the drive time I label my guests: Jazz-man,
Mr Warts and ‘The World’s Best Dressed Parents’,
mute as their spawn spit gum and tear seats.
I club them with regulations – ‘Behind the Line’
blown through the holes of my theatre box
while I gear up my hip flask.
And every day, in my rear view mirror,
that same old bald librarian hides behind his notepad,
guts enough to only eavesdrop, peek at lips and legs –
his finger tips blotted blue from scribbling his life away.
Nah, none of that’s for me: guitar, wife, a life around the bend.
What will survive of us drivers are the dents and dings,
the grease stains on steering wheels
and ticket confetti hurled out of the sliding window
somewhere else becoming words.
‘TEACHER LIGHTED A CANDLE IN CLASS!’
No burning bulb, no screen light,
or sunlight – instead, she held a candle
to the cracked brick wall and lit it;
the warm wax dribbled then dried
to a second skin as she spoke
of fuel, fire and forces.
Ms Morrow is magic –
the world’s workings a shadow
to her steady finger tips:
her pinkie out,
a flesh divining rod.
A wink and a nod and a smile
were all she needed
to direct on our waiting bones,
eyes and ears: all now branded
with a future recounted somehow
before it was even encountered.
Luigi Coppola is a teacher in London and a graduate of English & Creative Writing from Warwick University. He has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and his poems have appeared in: Acumen, Anon, The Ekphrastic Review, Equinox, Fourteen, The Frogmore Papers, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Iota, Lighten Up, Magma, The Ofi Press, One Sentence Poems, Orbis, Other Poetry, Pennine Platform, Poetry Digest, The Rialto, THE SHOp, Snakeskin, South, Strange Poetry and Stride Magazine. www.luigicoppolapoetry.blogspot.co.uk
Ken Craft: Two Poems
Hours on the back lot, me & a single lopper
against Asiatic bittersweet. Its nihilist vines
wrap the split rail fence, ambush birch & ash,
blanket boulders. Maybe the Audi’s next & it’s
only April. I think in terms of strategic advantage:
before its bitter hymns sweet, before the sun
jazzes its sap, while it’s not looking. But it’s always
looking. Long slender fingers learning a lopper’s
fault lines, finding the hubris inherent in human
marrow, orbiting ankles’ smooth vulnerabilities.
Soon the backs of my hands are a history writ red.
Meteoric tales. Raw hands of Ahab drowned
by vine leviathan. Hours on the back lot, me
& a single lopper buying time born to be spent,
slashing the longing, smelling the life infectious.
I can hear it still in the thin hours of night: the hungry
refrain, the rising root of earth’s warming choir.
NIGHT OF THE DYING FROGS
Wet streets and the wan smell
of drowning earthworms.
The deluge-drummed hood
on the drive to work before dawn.
Ahead, halogen slivers of silver
pin effervescent puddles
in sibilant streets.
Sound of water-hosed wheel wells.
Smell of amphibian air creeping the car’s
phosphorescent cave as headlights
pith the darkness.
Then, to Biblical beat, the rain-bloated
bullfrogs in the road. Their heavy, emigrant leaps.
Right to left.
Pond to perdition.
I swerve between slicks of them,
of green saturation, golden-eyed
with apocalypse as if pursued
by an Aesopian Stork God
stilting about the woods or a French chef
sheathed in the bog & whetstone of night.
My tires speak the quality of mercy,
slurring soliloquys beneath wet brakes
as these dark croaks of life, yellow & green, live
& die with only the briefest of benedictions,
only the reddest of blessings
in tail-lit exhaust.
Ken Craft is a teacher and a writer living west of Boston. His poems have appeared in The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, Plainsong, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Off the Coast, Spillway, Slant, Angle Journal of Poetry, The High Window, and numerous other journals and e-zines. The Indifferent World, his first poetry collection, was released in 2016 by Future Cycle Press. His second collection will appear in December. You can visit him at kencraftpoetry.wordpress.com.
Natalie Crick: Poem
GRAVEYARD IN NOVEMBER
It is early November.
Rafters and stained glass glow
In candlelight and
The eulogy crackles from the pulpit
Like frost over oak leaves.
Each snow flurry marks another
Melted year. Gone and forgotten.
The ghost trees hover.
I watch their sucked-out leaves
Rotting with moss and mildew.
The gleaming grave
Stands like a door
Without handle or hinge,
It’s only pathway through the soil.
One touch turns me to stone.
Natalie Crick, from the UK, has poetry published or forthcoming in a range of journals and magazines including Ink in Thirds, The Penwood Review, Interpreters House, The Chiron Review and Rust and Moth. This year her poem, ‘Sunday School’, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
He cuts power and chokes the phone
before driving off in one long scab of a truck
ripping up gravel at the sunset
her brother dead since March
her belly hardening round a boy
her naming people who died of a broken heart
I miss cartoons
watch shadows bruise the wall
till she is silent long enough for me
to come down
search closets and
dark slices behind doors
I find her walking barefoot in the horseshoe drive
her skirt turned up into a red bowl
sagging below her knees
I step out in socks
the screen door smacks
makes her jump
spill a collection of rocks
I hold back for her cuss
or plea to run for help
but she bends to fill her skirt again with dead seeds
as branches let go easily of birds and leaves
she stands to face his washhouse
with its rusted roof
and splintered door cocked towards
the sun’s hysteric escape through trees
a window shrieks
then holds its breath in shock
she unlocks her fist again
knocking out teeth as I come closer
to silences and screams that shatter
jars of screws chewed down with Indian head pennies
blow open cracked smiles of porcelain dolls
spill rusted coffee cans of crusted fish hooks
burst balls of burned-out Christmas lights
tear spiders from nets
stir wasps from mud hives
like pupils fleeing swollen eyes
to take in more light
than the scraps thrown over his shoulder
once a month when he sits in the doorway
crushing a mountain of beer cans
one husk at a time
Emily Davis-Fletcher earned a BFA in creative writing from Stephens College and an MA in women’s studies from the National University of Ireland Galway. Her poetry has been published in Southword, Crannóg Magazine, the Irish Examiner, and is forthcoming in HCE Review and Two Hawks Quarterly. She placed third in the 2016 Just Add Words Video Description Contest.
Julia Deakin: Four Poems
ELIZABETH I AT FOURTEEN
Today a month’s rain lifted and she rode
to hounds at last. Bleeding now behind the arras
she counts down the ladies’ slippered feet until
they’re still, then conjugates amer, amēris, amētur …
the rhythms soothing as a papist’s beads, wondering
if she will ever love, and of whom – to whom –
as a princess she may speak, in truth, nothing forbidden her
but everything. She hears her heart. How like a beast’s,
she wonders, are these innards, and how like a king’s?
Beheadings she has seen, though not her mother’s.
Spillage. Grallochings. If she must bleed let it be
no sword wound but God’s. Rigid she lies
in the snuffered dark, fast as a swaddled child,
tempering her torso like a breastplate,
filling her quartered self with stones.
EVERY JUNE 10th
the only birthday card Dad ever gave you appeared
in its dog-eared envelope on the bureau, more or less
on cue. Embossed with a bunch of blowsy roses,
it must have cost something and been quite special
in 1952, but had yellowed and borne grey smudges
for as long as I could remember. To my Wonderful Wife
read the printed text, with All my love, Derick
beneath in blue-black Quink.
xxxxxxxxWhich clearly he meant,
for he never bought another. I guess it served
as a Valentine as well. And when urged
not to buy Mother’s or Father’s Day cards either –
that we should appreciate our parents every day –
my brother and I dutifully saved our cash. Only now
can I see the gaps on the windowsill: gaps
no stack of rosy cards to a hospice could ever fill.
A muttered thank god and out of the blue
a deep voice in my ear’s going No, I insist –
thank You. Without You I’d be nothing, nowhere.
You didn’t always believe in me, but You made me
believe in myself. Here’s a nice card signed by us all
and no Papermate pen but a whopping bouquet
no chrysanths and the rest of the whip-round
to spend as you please.
Some seraphim stomp and whoop,
one yells Speech! but the Boss bats on: Not only me
but everyone upstairs saw how you slogged away
all those years so Thank You, thank You. And no
it’s not time for your pearly gates yet: go and live
a bit longer more happily, with the karma
of One Who Has Been Thanked. Thank You,
says God. I owe everything to You.
for being a kid
for not shutting up
for crying out loud
for sucking your thumb
for biting your nails
for chewing the sheet
for wrecking the place
for taking up space
for wetting the bed
for making a noise
for getting a bruise
for banging your head
for burning yourself
for breaking an arm
for not being tough
for costing us
for crying out loud
Julia Deakin was born in Nuneaton and meandered north to Yorkshire. The Half-Mile-High Club (2007) was a Poetry Business Competition winner and her full-length collections, Without a Dog (2008) and Eleven Wonders (2011) are both authoritatively praised. Widely published, she has read on Poetry Please and won many prizes.
Clive Donovan: Poem
IN MEDITERRANEAN STYLE
It is all in plain view,
This Mediterranean life:
A village of evenings
When shuttered stores re-open
Selling blouses and wine and ham,
Elbows lean on window sills
And the square begins to hum again,
Its restaurants and bars spilling out flavours
On to the indigo road
And all are welcome – young and old.
This show is a great vintage play,
Self-conducted and produced.
The generations watch each other,
Debts and rivals, feuds, un-hideable love…
The games of girls:
So organized, elaborate
The lads can only gaze in awe
Before they charge to smash it up
In envious sabotage.
Never will these ten year old girls
Have such potency again.
Three years on and they will start to
Give it away – playing coy
With some unworthy boy,
Flaunting for his oil of attention.
And the casual culture of centuries proceeds
Under these crumbling balconies,
Witnessed with historical languor
In the Mediterranean style.
Clive Donovan devotes himself full-time to poetry and has published in a wide variety of magazines including Acumen, Agenda, Interpreters House, Prole, Salzburg Review, Erbacce and The Journal. He lives in the creative atmosphere of Totnes, Devon, often walking along the River Dart for inspiration. He has yet to make a first collection.
Milton P. Ehrlich: Two Poems
FATHER DOESN’T ALWAYS KNOW WHAT’S BEST
Just when I got comfortable
using our double-seater outhouse,
Father said it was time to move again.
We piled into his new Model A Ford,
and he began to yank at the crank
to turn over the motor— but it wouldn’t start.
Returning to the front seat of the car,
the psoriatic rash on his face flared
flaming red when he saw my smudged
fingers had lingered on his windshield.
Growling like a rabid mongrel,
he lunged for me—calling me: A DIRTY KIKE!
The name ricocheted off my soul,
driving a spike into my heart.
In between sobs, I confronted him
with words that made no sounds.
As the only Jew in my class,
all I ever heard was : CHRIST-KILLER!
In later years, I realized how much Father
was trying to pass for “White,” working
in a waspy corporation for 36 years.
He identified with the enemy,
like Kapos at Auschwitz and Treblinka.
In The Bridge On The River Kwai,
Father could well have played the part
of Alec Guinness—helping the enemy
build their bridge.
HOW HE LIVED AND HOW HE LOVED
He resided in the library
when he wasn’t roaming
a supermarket parking lot,
pushing carts back to the store—
the only job he ever had.
He never shaved, cut his hair,
or replaced missing teeth.
He refused to ware a belt—
used a rope around his waist.
He never touched another
human being—lived alone
in a furnished room.
A cadaver, only an incantation
of abracadabra could awaken
his sleeping soul.
But when he recited
the erotic narration
of Nora Barnacle’s soliloquy
in James Joyce’s Ulysses—
it was almost like a fervent prayer,
written on a full-length mirror
in Ruby Woo red lip stick.
Milton P. Ehrlich, Ph.D is an 85 year-old psychologist. A Korean War veteran, he has published numerous poems in periodicals such as “Bombay Review,” “Descant,” “Wisconsin Review,” “Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow,” “Toronto Quarterly Review,” “Off The Coast,” “Christian Science Monitor,” “Huffington Post,” and the “New York Times.”
Stephen Grace: Poem
At this distance they’re little more
than smears on the horizon,
an arc gusting in
and out of view like the tapered
chevrons that measure the gap
between our front and their back.
Still, though, less bloody
than the other forms of divination –
extispicy, say, or hepatoscopy,
the crowds gathered round in a circle
as the haruspex waits
for a listing bull
to sink its reds and blacks
into a shrivelled earth,
to give some inkling
of the twists and turns
that future events might take. Burnt
rubber, broken glass and a sheet
of warped metal
twitching in the glare
of an emergency light. She looked pale,
I remember thinking, pale
and empty as she stared
from the other side of the ambulance.
In between the medics wore bright yellow
jackets that shone like halos
as they worked furiously to revive
him, and every once in a while
someone would try to gauge
their progress by the shapes
their frost-bitten breathing
had made in the early morning air –
flat and hard like a hawk gliding,
or frantic and scrabbling
as the flap of sparrows
as they drove
heavenward, the higher the better,
like our desperate prayer.
Stephen Grace lives and works in York, where is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Related Literature. He helps to edit the poetry journal Eborakon, and his poems have appeared in The Literateur and Honest Ulsterman.
Hilary Hares: Three Poems
If you own a stout stick, have sixty days to spare
and believe, your soul’s survival will be guaranteed
as you trudge between Shikoku’s eight-eight temples
each granting the absolution of a particular sin.
If you’re old, or ill, or do not have sixty days.
If your stick’s been burned for firewood,
send a small dog, tie your sin and supplication
round its neck.
The temple roads are packed with dogs and pilgrims
seeking alms. No-one knows if the dogs will make it
to the shrines. No-one knows what happens to their sins.
Sister and brother, they’re sharing
a long-planned weekend to celebrate
a milestone. They’ve brought two cars.
He’s been alone for close to three years,
has learned to boil an egg, seems perplexed
about dentists and birthdays.
At first they attempt the familiar climb
to Castle Drogo, turn back after 500 yards,
settle for Polly’s Olde Tea Shoppe.
By Sunday they’re content to stay in,
share the crossword, stare at the rain.
Last morning at breakfast she watches him
eat his egg. She’s heading west,
he’s heading home, along the arterial vein
of the coast road. He looks up, asks,
Do I turn left or right at the end of the drive?
Outside the window she can see the mill-wheel
held at a moment in time by its mosses and silt.
On Naoshima, the Arts’ island,
we sit in a blank, black space,
are asked to focus,
to see what we can see.
For some of us the void begins to grow
shapes, for others colours. For some
entire scenes form and re-form
on the screen of a sepia-tinted movie.
Slowly we comprehend that once we accept
darkness, we start to see the light.
We’re told we’ve been looking at
a blank, black space.
Hilary Hares has an MA in Poetry from Manchester Metropolitan University. Her poems have found homes in over fifty magazines and anthologies including Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Obsessed with Pipework and Under the Radar. She is currently putting finishing touches to her first collection, Re-inventing the Red Queen.
Jacqueline Haskell: Poem
the house is to be sold complete with bluebell wood, lying due west between the Nine Springs and the White Tor, seventeen acres all told, by private treaty
The Somerset Echo, May 2010
We were lonely childhood scholars then,
stepping through that minefield of fecund bulbs,
pollen dusted, pushing through garlic, wood anemones,
celandine, their shadows dark and still
We read – so says Ovid – of how Apollo made a flower with his tears,
lamenting the shed blood of the dying prince Hyakinthos;
Ai, ai, the wail of mourning, staining the new-formed petals,
turning them inside out with grief
You would have made light of such blues,
that small part of you, that Dorian god,
that lived and died with the seasons of the wood,
like the bluebells that came and went in a blink of pale stars
In what was the formal garden now I hide-and-seek you,
our rope-and-bucket swing, our fingers chains, no trace – but oh! Oh!
one rotting lime-green thread of you –
with chocolate stripes – our mother’s knitting! –
and the air bursting forth with the fizz of two small hearts melting
Palma Violets, held beneath our tongues
like communion wafers
Kiss me True love Be mine
Walking in our wood – what’s left of our wood –
our gleaming wild wild ghost of a wood
manured fields encroach upon it,
dams call away the water from its stream, and suddenly
suddenly I am washed by the sound and the sea of you,
the smell and the thread of you,
the lime-green and the chocolate of you,
by garlic as crushed and wild and past as you …
Back in the Great Hall I sign away the house;
my signature dawdles on the vellum
of the notary’s lonely final page:
ai, ai, my mark, ai, ai,
an Orpheus in his upper world.
Jacqueline Haskell began writing poetry, drama and short stories at the age of 12. She graduated from Birkbeck with an MA in Creative Writing in 2009. Last year she was mentored by Tim Pears in the Gold Dust scheme for promising new writers, and has just finished her first novel, The Auspice. Her work has won writing competitions in England and Ireland, and has been published in numerous anthologies.
Ian Heffernan: Two Poems
GRADUATION DAY, GAZA 2014
As I watched the clip I felt the breath
Twist a little in my throat:
The dark-gowned young were ranged in rows,
Citrine-headscarved girls and suited boys,
Each face a newly-loosened knot,
Each smile the beat of a hoopoe’s wing.
A saltus brought a father on a stage.
Dark-clothed too, his face antique with pride,
He held an outsized photo of his son,
Together with his son’s certificate.
Loud music played, he smiled, and just before
The video’s defocused end
He raised the photo and the proof
And looked up to the ceiling’s plain expanse.
THE TRUTH GOWK: HIS FLAT
The Truth Gowk is there on the topmost floor,
Thick-bearded, looking sidelong at the wall
With vague and nervous eyes. In his high room
He holds a blackthorn derby cane and smiles
A docile smile, then hawks, then mussitates
In English, French and Latin; each of these
Inwoven with abortive grunts and sighs,
A slew of fricative and plosive sounds
And scraps of misremembered 80s tunes.
Up to his knees in oblivion all his life,
He’s up to his neck in obesity now.
Awake since half past five he’s watched the world
Recast itself, heard laughter from the stairs,
Shop doorways, alleys and the common’s edge.
Subdued or unrestrained, to him it seems
The jangle of loose change in others’ souls.
His mind, his mind is…
Rain falling out at sea or snow on flames,
A slackened rope, reconstituted light,
A bookshop short on stock or, truer still,
A bra abandoned under a settee.
The afternoon will find him still indoors,
A metal pail of urine by his side
(Which, disinfectant-doused, gives off no smell),
A near-full dosette upturned on his lap,
But dressed now, mostly unremarkably,
Excepting an electric pink cravat.
Ian Heffernan was born in 1965 and grew up just outside London, where I still live. I studied at UCL and SOAS. I work with the homeless.
Paul Hostovsky: Poem
When Lafferty asked to join the band
we asked him what instrument he played.
“Ka-zoo,” he sneezed, smiling as big
as a small horn section. It was 1967, the British
Invasion was underway and the sexual revolution
was in full swing. The submarine-shaped Kazoo
was being mass-produced by the Original
American Kazoo Company of Eden, New York,
but none of us had ever seen one before.
“Kazoo?” we asked in a rising iambic chorus.
“Kazoo,” he echoed and it sounded vaguely
like “Shazam!” as he suddenly fished it out
of his shirt pocket with a flourish, smiling as wide
as a conjurer holding it up for our inspection.
“What is it? It looks like a toy. Is this some kind of
joke?” We were a serious rock band after all.
“Give me the mike,” he said, rubbing his hands,
the smile gone now. So we plugged him in
and he started to wail: a cross between a tenor sax
and a swarm of bees. Man, the kid was good.
He was better than good. He was virtuosic. He had
the line and he had the rhythm and he blew
us all away as one by one we joined in and started
to jam. But it was right then, in that moment when
he saw it written on our faces–that he was just
what we needed to be great–that he stopped playing,
resubmerged that submarine into the shallows
of his breast pocket, dropped periscope, raised
anchor, and on his way out, fired one torpedo:
“I quit,” he said before we could ask him to join.
(Paul Hostovsky is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Is That What That Is (FutureCycle Press, 2017). His work has won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net awards, and has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter and Braille instructor. Visit him at paulhostovsky.com)
ONE, TWO, THREE
The child can’t do a cartwheel.
She can do a headstand, a handstand,
but a cartwheel needs momentum, a swinging centre
of gravity. The child doesn’t know
momentum, centres, gravity.
She blames her mother’s
ski-slope lawn, fenced off in the middle
of a hillside farm. Far below the river lurks
among giant trees. Far above is the boundary fence
and the forested climb she completed once
to peep at the house on top. Her father calls
its owner mad. When she does a handstand
the child doesn’t think of the river,
the trees, the mountain, the madman.
She thinks green blades,
under fingers. Ants. Beetles.
Her father mows the grass
infrequently. It spreads thick runners, yellow-white,
with bright chlorophyll arrowheads. Her father talks
war at them, but he’s not a fighter. The child
can do a headstand, a handstand
but never thinks to think
if I can do that
I can turn a cartwheel. A cartwheel is only
a moving handstand. At school she sees the others
cartwheeling freely on the flat lawns.
Her father is the gardener. He keeps it
well, wanders in it like Wittgenstein. The others
make fun of him. The child watches
their cartwheels. Asks. One, two,
three, they laugh. But the child is not co-
ordinated. She doesn’t have her count
together. The numbers come
in space, away
from tummy, hips,
knees. She tries again. Runs,
throws her hands down
to the grass, heaves her bottom over.
It isn’t a cartwheel.
Never that flinging feeling.
Her legs will not go up and over. It needs
more force, she thinks.
Runs faster, heaves harder.
It never works.
Never at school
on the flat lawns in front
of everyone. Never on the scraggy
home slope, where the shape of things pulls her down,
away from the mountain and the madman’s house,
down, down to the river,
and her mother is framed in the kitchen window
saying Be careful! Oh, do
Jackson was born in Cumbria, England. She lives in Western Australia, where she is undertaking a PhD at Edith Cowan University, and online, where she edits Uneven Floor. In 2013 Mulla Mulla Press published her second book lemon oil. Her work appears in the Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry.
Rosie Jackson: Three Poems
I often dream of meeting you somewhere,
floating along in the soft afterlife
above Cookham, pushing your pram of paints.
We talk of all we’ve had in common: love
that’s failed, leaning on the sweetness of work,
waiting for revelation to begin.
I ask what you’d choose if you could begin
again, now your soul’s taken stock somewhere.
Do the scales balance? The weight of your work,
your knighted achievements, against a life
so clumsy in relationship, in love?
What is he to you now, this man who paints
his wife and lover with the same brush, paints
happiness always about to begin,
as near to the dead as the living? Love
so much part of your solitude, somewhere
off the map, unaccountable, like life
in that first garden where man’s only work
was to be sexy and grateful. But work,
you say, was a salve for loneliness, paints
your doorway to a more sanctified life.
You tell me that when you saw war begin,
twice over, you thought art would be somewhere
safe, a white heaven that wouldn’t fail love.
And you use the image of snow, of love
as falling snow seeking a home, its work
a blizzard of kindness. It lands somewhere
close to us, and you find brushes and paints,
a ghostly canvas ready to begin.
Yes, you say, if you have another life,
you’ll do all this again, life after life,
will do your utmost to undo unlove,
by loving what you do. Then you begin
to move back towards the world, and your work
is all you left undone in love, in paints.
So you arrive in a new self somewhere.
When Hilda dreams of the afterlife,
there is no baggage of desire,
none of the babies, brides, anecdotes
which weigh down Stanley’s heaven.
She opts for a more limited palette –
woad blue, argentine –
the effect of light on water,
one snowflake, a moving cloud.
Let them be buried separately.
Let Stanley be woken by pilgrims
walking over his grave,
seeking the tombs which open
to revenants and midnight orgies.
She’s tired of hyperbole,
tired of the whole world
of ideas, wants something less earth,
more tide and air – the simplicity
of breath on a window, an absence
of narrative. The nirvana, say,
of one of Whistler’s Nocturnes,
the Thames in moonlight.
RE-READING STANLEY SPENCER’S LETTERS AND THINKING OF HILDA
How boyish his love of bread and butter and marmalade,
his worship of beehives, ants, tortoises.
How often he meets himself in an ‘unexpected way’,
able to climb lamp-posts, rise from the dead.
And how ‘chunkful’ he is of the Holy Ghost, ‘the performance
of his love’ upon him, the glory of his Lord all around him.
I hear Patricia saying to him ‘Stanley, you are not balanced.
Hilda is more balanced.’ And here’s Hilda sitting in her room
in Pond Street, trying to make sense of it all, talking
to God, with moons and visitations no one knows about.
She slides into depression the way a wife of Moses
might take refuge behind a waterfall to escape
the struck rock, the burning bush. She rarely paints,
but often remembers what Henry Tonks taught her
at the Slade – the need to keep drawing eggs and ovals,
and how they take a lifetime to perfect.
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
Tom Kelly: Poem
DEATH OF AN ENVIRONMENTALIST
Auckland harbour is a lovely place –
a nest for boats and high towers,
with a statue pulling tight his kaitaka cloak.
And out beyond; the bay of islands
and volcanic cones, cold for now.
Though far from the tui and hoiho,
the air full of burnt petrol,
all the books agree
this is a beautiful spot
The first mine sent the ship sinking,
but he wanted to save his cameras.
Share this breath with me –
the cars queue and the lights
from the Zurich building never go out,
and the sick taste of sea water
trapped in your cheeks.
As they go, they leave ringing
the contradiction of our time –
for prosperity we must grow
endlessly in a finite world.
This is why, from hill to forest,
they are hunted down.
Each month, one more gone
and us wanting them back.
They always seem bigger
when they die –
like they are figures
from the age of exploration
marking some grid point.
‘They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me; they threaten my family.
That is what we face.’
A bird once tried to build
a nest in a gap between the handle
and the door of an old car –
but the moss fell through
so it tried endlessly, failing
on constant repeat
until the story teller
plugged the gap with cloth
and the bird in turn
filled it with life and mouths.
It’s not a small thing, to decide to move,
to stand up and intervene.
They shot her shortly after she moved house.
And all I can say
is that every time I see her picture
I think of that story.
Have you ever licked your finger
to feel the origin of the wind?
Have you ever licked it afterwards
to taste the flavour of the air?
And has that taste been
nothing but sulphur, ashes?
2014 was a bloody year –
bodies dropping daily
and the frighteners weren’t just
frightening any more.
They were doing all the things
they said they’d do.
How many died, nobody knew.
They fell like apples shaken from a tree,
and they dropped and bruised
and rotted in the dead leaves.
Nameless people in nameless graves,
just a few lashed sticks for markers.
José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva
‘A month from now I might have disappeared.’
They took his ear –
ripped the whole thing off.
They have to have some proof.
José was not a prophet,
but he knew they’d probably come,
and you should feel the mass
of that courage.
No help for miles.
Courage broad as a buttress root,
decked in lianas,
that reaches up and emerges,
towers into the wet air
far above the forest roof.
Courage so tall you can’t even see
its uppermost leaves.
We know those shoes
will be filled again –
not by the same shape,
but filled again,
and that is a kind of rallying cry.
There is much left to save
and those shoes will be filled.
Tom Kelly is from Nottingham and has a PhD in Amazonian wetlands from the
University of Leeds. His work has been published in magazines such as Envoi,
Orbis, and The Frogmore Papers, and his pamphlet ‘The Hoopoe at the Execution,
Villebois’ was published by Templar Poetry in 2015. In 2017, he won The
Interpreter’s House open competition.
Art Ó Súilleabháin: Two Poems
The u-shaped bay is a shelter from the west wind,
we lunch in the clearing and marvel at the stillness,
hear only the ‘plop’ of wild brown trout rising to the fly
in a shallow inlet, where submerged trees hide timid fish.
Bird-sound and our personal thoughts, disturb the quiet,
the island becomes a third space in our lives,
harbours the mess of our other existence. We breathe,
suspended on a spearmint shore, at one with the place.
In a woody cove we wrap ourselves in an interlude,
to recharge the complications we have generated.
On Creenilaun, we feel the easy passing of time,
envy the eternity of presence, before we push off gravel,
take the boat out around the stony east point,
to ride the waves back into the whisper of living.
He had been fishing with three flies for the first time
cast in a dignified loop behind his head,
made the ‘whishing’ sound that indicated all was right.
Let the wind run the line through the rings.
The noise was true and the fly line landed,
no splash disturbed the wave, with the one o’clock
eleven o’clock, stop and drop, that catapulted just right
onto the lake surface, enticed the fish to rise and take.
A momentary lapse of concentration ruined the mantra,
a line tangled, settled into itself, cracked against the rod,
broke the spell, split the nylon and rippled onto the lake.
I wanted to disentangle it for him, to build a new leader,
but that had to be done by the tangler, to learn a lesson,
to engage his mind in repair and rebuild, to undertake
the act on water, in the drift of mind and wind and wave.
I thought of times when I broke a forgotten repetition
of living, of wanting too much, and awareness
broke an unseen rhythm, kinked some deep thoughts
into a disarrangement that unsettled life’s patterns.
A fish rose to my fly, a Claret Bumble with a touch of flash,
Eytan put away his rod to ready the net. The trout played,
twisting and running, and I relaxed into flow, again.
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.
James Owens: Two Poems
AN ACHE IN THE PAUSE JUST BEFORE
Portents smoked at the border. She dreamed birds
hovering miles out at sea, waiting to tear the flesh
of the slow mammals that rolled to the surface.
He was dazed for hours in a familiar city.
They knew nights longer than normal, aware
of a pressure, a gaze that might have been
themselves, later, watching back from some far
afterward, with longing or horror. They waited
like an example looked at — a painting
holding its breath all the rainy afternoon,
while the wondering or bored file past, faces
tilted up into the drenching, ahistorical light,
and winsome Eve proffers the maimed world forever,
and Adam wakes beyond the giltwork edge, in time.
Whenever wind leans on
the walnut tree, it brushes
a few nuts loose, the strikes
muffled and close, a hammer
the walls of a bad year.
Spring mornings, luna moths
sheltered there, walking
the undercurves of branches,
clever swatches of green silk
spun from leaves and fog,
like ideas about an afterlife.
Now, between world and dream,
I pick one up, let it wander
the back of my hand, hesitating,
wings soft as the inside of an eyelid.
James Owens‘s most recent collection of poems is Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015).. His poems, stories, and translations have appeared in The Fourth River, Kestrel, Tule Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Southword. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in northern Ontario.
Joseph S. Pete: Poem
HOW TO BURN SHIT
Outside Mosul on the hill, we guarded radio towers
That supposedly relayed signals clear to Baghdad.
We were just grunts with guns looking off into the horizon
Who didn’t really need to know the particulars
Of what were there to defend.
Orders, all that.
That intel was above our pay grade.
We were just there to point our carbines
Off into the distance and scan for threats,
Until the next guy came to relieve us.
It was a remote outpost, so remote that we were tasked with
Disposing of our own waste.
The larger forward operating bases had port-o-potties
That were routinely cleaned and serviced by contractors
KBR pulled from across the third world,
Who were ostensibly in such desperate economic straits
They were willing to do menial work in a warzone,
Someone else’s warzone,
A million miles from home.
They maintained great banks of port-o-potties
Where soldiers lived behind the wire when they weren’t out of patrol.
We came from such a FOB and would be dispatched to another,
But for now we were responsible
For our own crudely constructed wooden outhouses.
All the urine and shit and nastiness
That’s expelled from the human body
Went into a sliced-off burn barrel,
Which could pulled out the outhouses and burned.
Burning fecal matter is far more difficult than it sounds.
It’s a precise cocktail. Too much gasoline, and it singes your eyebrows off.
Too much diesel, and it doesn’t burn at all.
It festers and it doesn’t burn even a little bit.
Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, an Iraq War veteran, and an Indiana University graduate. He was named poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest 2016, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His work has appeared in Rat’s Ass Review, The Grief Diaries, Chicago Literati, Dogzplot, shufPoetry, Blue Collar Review, Lumpen, The Tipton Poetry Journal, Euphemism, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Pulp Modern, Zero Dark Thirty and elsewhere. He’s okay at hyperbole, he guesses.
Martin Reed: Poem
TRAINS OF THOUGHT
The Station Master
stroked his Darwin beard and swept
aside his frock coat, checking
the universe was running to time.
A prompt departure from the wrought cathedral,
under arcs of glass, brass band fanfares,
everyone knowing where he was going.
That’s how it started, this great metaphor
begun in certainty but dividing
in a thousand branches.
For me trains meant waiting in a meadow
by the singing wires, hearing chords
the iron way was vamping,
pulsing music of the Paddington express.
Gaudy posters promised sun
and beaches – Dawlish Warren,
Slicked with sand and salt
inside the drumming box,
I was afloat above the hayfields,
pistons soothing me to sleep.
Then meetings and departures,
lovers’ goodbyes over chipped white mugs
and Chelsea buns, not knowing if we felt
the loss – or just relief.
Parents waving me away to higher education
in a northern town they’d never see
and later in a wheezing-gas-fire waiting-room
hoping for a train behind its single light
to bring the prodigal for Christmas.
But there were other lines
where your unlucky DNA could buy
a different ticket, so you’d come
by cattle-wagon, marched beneath
a flag that terrified,
embankments made of bones,
a jaundiced sky and circling crows,
shunted to a siding no-one would want to know.
This destination wakes me
though I know the engine
is only neural junk that clogs a synapse,
chaotic network of nightmare connections.
My life is more like Arley’s picture-perfect station
where I’m shocked by some old scent
of sulphur smuts and grease.
I’m giving thanks for a lucky life,
whose chances brought me here,
pausing to hold the moment as it disappears
like wisps of steam in the poplar trees.
Martin Reed, a Somerset native now living in Malvern, won the 1988 National Poetry Competition . His most recent collection is The Two-Coat Man (HappenStance).
Peter Robinson: Two Poems
ON A WALK TO SONNING
If you believe you’re a citizen of the world,
you are a citizen of nowhere.
Theresa May, 5 October 2016
What with all the unacceptable faces
in group portraits of an era,
their demonic industries
for a carpe diem or a sauve qui peut,
words of another vicar’s daughter
are urging us to ‘seize the day’ –
which we do now on a walk to Sonning
in earliest autumn, while our talk’s
of children raised in other countries,
both their parents aliens there,
third-culture kids’ grass roots, a tree’s
torn at by the air …
For everyone’s got to be somewhere:
on undermining subsidence
in fracked Lancashire, for instance,
their real, their local amor loci, mine,
though it be a flagpole or mown lawn
or forlorn estate …
Yes, everyone’s got to be somewhere:
when flown above Siberian wastes,
through cloudscapes of a Baltic day
or stuck in traffic, at a stop-light
as only space crawls on forever,
peace talks are in disarray,
we’re vulnerable transients, all of us,
so near yet far off littorals,
Europe’s shores on which to lodge –
or rescued from the mid-sea waves
in need of shelter, safe house, home
and who are you to judge?
for Matilde & Giulia
As at Verne Point, above the broken curves
of breakwater piers, wide harbour walls,
with Weymouth Bay below, its waves
flecked by Sunday dinghy sails
tacking about, and Chesil Beach
disappearing off into a haze,
I have felt foreign everywhere –
been driven away from a thing like home
to earn my living, raise children, love
like others do, and come back too,
to so much dereliction –
this see-through concrete honeycomb’s
eyesore of unfinished rooms
(more long abandoned speculation),
and to your words much less than fair
on UK passport holders, those
with other languages and friends
in different time zones, not bereft
of anywhere, your spoken words
for those the policies had left
behind, as on steep-sloped estates –
since first you drove them to despair,
then used resentments, rage
for a coup and putsch … Now, here,
wave-lines are faintly vorticized
along this seaweed-reeking beach
cross-cut by groynes at Swanage,
more seaside surrealist ordinary life:
it’s like an insomniac’s nightmare.
Peter Robinson published Collected Poems 1976-2016 with Shearsman Books in February 2017. His first novel, September in the Rain, appeared from Holland House Books the previous autumn. ‘On a Walk to Sonning’ and ‘World Citizens’ are from a new book in progress called Ravishing Europa, projected to appear in March 2019. He is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading and poetry editor for Two Rivers Press.
Lesley Saunders: The King’s Dance
‘How does one make the four-year-old son of an ineffectual figurehead one of the most powerful kings in European history?’ – David Shuly
A curtain is to sunlight as poetry
is to ceremony, gilded Apollo
fine-spun into knowable matter,
drape and drift of long afternoons
before the ballet de la nuit. We lift
our faces to the stage, to our own
radiant selves in dress rehearsal,
painted large, performed in gold.
ACT I : Dieudonné
Array the brat in lamé and goldwork,
toile encrusted with pearls; instil
strict etiquettes for the stately carriage
of his greenstick body; cultivate
routines of daily horseback riding,
duelling in the new Italian style,
fencing with words; choreograph
his free hours with fireworks
and water fountains; compose
him elegant, agile, taut, fantastical
– till, backlit by goldleaf and torch-flicker,
voilà le Soleil levant hoisted aloft
in a cloud of glory, majesty ascending!
ACT II: The Hall of Mirrors
Well, Mazarin has a way of making people dream:
divine young men with cheekbones to die for,
pirouetting out of the shadows like SPADs or assassins,
pouting at their own shapes, all profile and high heels –
when it comes to their sissonnes soubresauts
these boys can’t get enough of their own reflections;
and here floor to ceiling in the house of glass
are three hundred and fifty-seven of them,
as dazzling as a castrato’s aria, knife-edge
high notes threatening every moment to shatter
the angled pose, the unfurling leg, the arched foot.
Dismissed from his presence, the dancers mirror
themselves with backward looks, taking their beauty
with them: their performance of self is paradigmatic,
the spectral science. These are his étoiles – all his.
ACTIII: In which Louis draws down the moon & the Cardinal risks all
How do mirrors really work?
Placing one hand on the regal solar plexus
the other in the small of the royal back
Mazarin in the manner of a dressage master
raises the youth to his long-limbed height,
tilts his chin a little more toward the heavens,
with a finger on his lips forbids him smile,
twirls him round to face the looking-glass,
his spectacular specular self –
alors, je vous donne vous-même! But
le petit prince aged fourteen is no horse
to be taught the caracole or courbette,
trained on a long rein, made to take the bit.
What he actually wants is the moon.
And Mazarin (France’s most hated man)
always wants what Louis wants.
He personally will stage-manage this,
the feux d’artifice, masks, tableaux,
the hundred coryphées, the painted blaze,
the sun and moon, the glitz and bling:
the whole extravagant fantaisie
a masterclass in what it takes to birth a star.
(In the watches of the night Phoebus
walks softly inside his own shadow.
The land is quelled, peace descends.
Enter Selene, silvery and new, slender
as a nerve, severe as bone. He lifts her
in his arms, she’s borne on his back, clasped
to his breast, held to the earth, offered up
to the sky. He is the light, she his mirror.)
This is l’état spectacle, the gala opening
of the grand siècle. At dawn the boy-king
will wait at the top of the palace stairs,
a performance of absolute power.
ACT IV: Objets de grand luxe
Looking-glasses are such sad things (répétez 357 fois).
ACT V: ‘Plus brillant et mieux fait que tous les Dieux ensemble!’
He’s perfectly ravishing. It’s his light,
not his warmth, that they reach for
as, slowly, he turns on the spot:
his gold is of young leaves in April,
copper-bronze iridescing to crocus,
full of sap and shine, cool to the touch,
untouchable. He stops stock-still
for the image to fill the eyes and minds
of his watchers. Only then will he step
on the ball of one foot, raise one arm
at full stretch in the newfangled arabesque
before cancelling gravity with a grand cabriole,
the double leap that will carry his name.
And now the light passes right through him,
his shadow only a deepening of brightness,
his bright hair streams like knowledgeable flame,
he’s Shiva, Darwish, all spangle and blaze,
the Lord of the Dance, at last King Sun.
ACT VI: Objets de grand luxe, reprise
The king’s touch,
stroking the sick and scrofulous
with a dancer’s supple wrist.
Washing and kissing the feet
of the chosen poor,
and disposition of the hands
de haut en bas.
Those red leather purses
stuffed with Louis d’or
plump as kidneys.
His heart in a silver locket
mummy on the tongue
of an Englishman.
(Such sad things.)
The whole garden stills itself
so the dead can bask here,
summoned by a cri de coeur
in their own handwriting
that’s been lying between the leaves
of librettos unperformed
for decades; or conjured for you
by a play of sovereign sunlight
through a film of willow,
unlike anything else in this life
you could think of.
Lesley Saunders is the award-winning author of several books and pamphlets of poetry, most recently The Walls Have Angels (Mulfran Press 2014). As well as holding honorary academic posts, she works as a reviewer, editor, mentor and workshop leader , and has recently embarked on some translations of Portuguese women’s poetry. Lesley was awarded first prize in the Stephen Spender competition 2016 for her version of ‘Poema’ (‘Poem’) by Maria Teresa Horta – which was subsequently featured as Guardian Poem of the Week. For further information see: www.lesleysaunders.org.uk
Gerard Smyth: Poem
Fair winds and summer tides were in command
and the June sun was hanging
like an apple from the branch.
Trusting our captain to be steadfast
I was leaving Dover, on a ship for France –
first time to cross the Channel that seemed
a great expanse of so many leagues already travelled
by fathers and sons going to war.
I was leaving Dover, land of Malory
and because the coastline was a white flag
radiating from the darkness
I hoped that it would guide us back
to the gravelly shore, Shakespeare’s language.
And on the day that Dover turned its back
on Picardy, I was in the crypt of Donne’s cathedral
looking for the Iron Duke.
I have seen his far-fetched monuments
in London, Dublin, Trim – that obelisk,
that grand sarcophagus, the resolute look
in portraits that hang among treasures of England.
Gerard Smyth has published eight collections of poetry, including, A Song of Elsewhere ( Dedalus Press 2015), and The Fullness of Time: New and Selected Poems ( Dedalus Press, 2010 ). He is co-editor, with Pat Boran, of If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song ( Dedalus Press, 2014).
John Wheway: Four Poemss
I visit her without you, have to explain
you’re having an affair.
She says, I know she’s supposed to trim my hair
Where is she then?
She has misheard. I say
I think she’s with her lover.
She pulls a face. I know I’m not her mother,
but that’s no excuse, she’s married
to you, my son. Again she doesn’t get
the message. I try a different tack.
She’s left me. I’m not sure she’s coming back.
She says When I have lumbar pain,
I’ve got a liniment that does the trick,
tell her to rub this where it hurts.
I try not to be rough
when I take out her hearing aids.
THESE NEED A CLEAN, I mouth –
she concentrates, lip-reads, and nods.
I take them to the sink,
she says, While you’re over there,
fill up that vase, your daffodils
are going to need a drink.
I pour us both a double gin,
once more attempt to say why you’re not here –
it’s when she takes my hand that it sinks in.
She listens as she washes up, as tired
water slurs in the bowl – she lifts a dish,
inspects glints of her face in its surface.
Outside the window, stripped for winter,
the ash tree is where it was, creaking
on a field of frost. Crow on a bough.
In winters like this, he used to steal
behind her, pull up her dress – she’d hold on
to the edge of the sink, cold air on her thighs.
Later, she’d be wearing something warm,
his hands on her belly, his lips
teasing her nape, her chuckles, her refusal
to stop rummaging for sunken cutlery.
She dries her hands on a tea-towel, pulls the plug
on the radio. The silence enters.
I ask my mother about the dents
in the wall next to her bed, prints
that fit the lump hammer flaked
with paint on her night-table.
She denies it is her work, but insists
the racket of a male voice choir
in next door’s flat, belting out carols
at three a.m. would be enough
to drive anybody off their head,
it’s a nightmare. We know
no-one has lived next door
since her friend Lily departed,
but make a tape, being sure
to edit out her grunts and wind.
At playback, total silence, until she bawls,
There it is, that bloody awful hymn –
Why can’t you hear? The pair of you –
you want hearing aids, like God.
With all that skin folded over her face,
enough stuff to fit a mastiff’s head,
it’s hard to be sure what she is saying
in tiny grunts and whines, which could mean
sympathy or puzzlement.
Nudging open my bedroom door
retroussé muzzle glistening
in the landing light, she stands,
a piece of darkness cropped
out of thin, yellow card,
and blinks beneath her lid-flaps,
frowns, or at least intensifies
that frown she will never iron out,
before she sighs and waddles to me.
Her first leap ends in a belly-flop,
the second leaves her hanging,
her claws caught
in my mother’s old satin bedspread.
John Wheway’s work has been published previously in New Measure, Stand, Magma, The Warwick Review, Poetry Review, the Yellow Nib, Poetry Quarterly, the Compass Magazine, three Templar anthologies and ‘The Echoing Gallery’ from Redcliffe Press. His chapbook ‘The Green Table of Infinity’ appeared from Anvil, and Faber and Faber published his novella ‘Poborden’. He has a Creative Writing MA from Bath Spa University.