Peter Armstrong • David Borrott • Alison Brackenbury • Kevin Cahill • Malcolm Carson • Kitty Coles • Ion Corcos • Anna Crowe • Rhian Edwards • Alicia Fernández • Ryan Quinn Flanagan • Gabriella Garofalo • Keith Hutson • Juli Jana • Peter Jarvis • Helen Kay • Michael Lesher • Patrick Lodge • Jane Lovell • Ray Malone • Richie McCaffery • Michael McCarthy • Jenny McRobert • Esther Murbach • Joe Pickard • Frances Sackett • Julie Sampson • Paul Sutherland • Robin Thomas • Mark Totterdell • Merryn Williams • Robin Lindsay Wilson • Sarah Wimbush • Patrick Wright
Peter Armstrong: Four Poems
our courtyard was a square of sky
and a dried vine clinging to the limestone wall,
aircon chugging through the night
like the trawlers going out
in a cloudless pre-dawn;
and up north
service is slow here
at the Pinnacles Motel
while Al from Geelong
poses with the waitress
and we count the minutes dusk takes
to silhouette the grass-trees.
Our first mirage
somewhere by Lancelin:
a ghost camper-van
overhauling a shimmering ute,
& though they’d’ve been a mile off,
pulled over by the salt-white dunes
and stepped out to let the sweat dry.
The highway stretched
through an improvised country:
one wrong dirt-turn
and you could go on forever.
I could see myself then
where the gas would give out,
the wind through the scrub-forest
like it is now through the screen-door,
a little king the gods punished
with limitless vision
EDWARD THOMAS ON THE CAMINO FRANCES
Let’s suppose you came this way, or your ghost,
to walk beneath the milky way a ghost
among ghosts, the Meseta your Downs writ large;
this via Trajana for your Sarn Helen,
this chalk for your Icknield chalk and Arras chalk
on which your body, still perfect, would be lying,
more beautiful than all the reredos saints
punctuating your way to Santiago.
The war would go on around it, and then the peace;
with April, seed would spring beneath,
and think what Jesse tree would grow,
what progeny inhabit its branches
as you slept on, or walked on past Hornillos,
past Castrojeriz, Calzada del Coto
and lonely Calzadilla; how its leaves‘
wave-song would carry to this treeless plain.
Or would you leave all that, tramping westwards
with your hurts left at the roadside crosses
like pebbles picked from one, and left
a fraction lighter for the carrying
at the next? – making sorrow that sand-grain
to set down at Finisterre
unsure by then what part was yours
and what share was another’s.
Meanwhile you’re pointing into shadow,
the first for miles, where the spring rises,
Look you say Honeysuckle, Forget-me-not,
and the ghosts sing back Madreselva,
Nomeolvides; and so, trading name for name,
stripping back the prose to poetry, coining
as the need arises Bloodless Thistle,
Cardo Palido, Estella del Rey, Fantasma
AFTER THE CAITHNESS & SUTHERRLAND COUNTRY MUSIC FESTIVAL
They are out on the Hill o’ Many Stanes,
in their rhinestones and stetsons
half way between Nashville
and the infinite,
half way from The Seventh Seal’s
last, mortal shot
to the flow country’s
ice-blue reflected skies.
Dawn comes and they are turned to stone,
each correctly in their line
and now preserved forever
in mid step,
the hand he’d asked for over
his last sip
of bourbon frozen to her side;
his, that she refused,
fastened in his back pocket.
Time will never fully part
nor quite reconcile them:
his heart won’t break
further; she won’t fathom
that sorry ache
or a lonesome age’s deep
regret; and if they sleep
let’s say they dream the evidence
behind these plangent tunes:
from the clearances
to the Appalachians’
yen for the homestead;
she, after all, is America;
he, for all his buckskin, Wick.
But step away & leave them be.
the midwinter dawn
will lay his shadow over hers
and the tears run
down their briefly-thawed faces.
Some will hear guitars
and a far harmonica, others
the pipes; and across all Caithness
and the near-empty
tracts of Sutherland
a great sorrowful empathy
like a shock wave over
the strath-floors and the heather
and the herring quays
trade forgot. A woman sways
as she hangs
washing on the line
and (come close now) sings
a phrase of Patsy Cline’s
or of Hank’s; or Friendless
Mary or I Loved A Lass.
THE FROZEN ORCHESTRA
The house being cold
its instruments grow sharp.
I play in unfamiliar keys
watch the frost form
its tin-white bracken
on the inside of the glass
and breathe on it
to hurry that unfurling.
grow tight as old mens’ ligaments
and pull the necks that hold them
as a child would pull
its mother’s face
to tell a hurt
or to confess.
Outside, the birds
are changing voices
and the myths by which
they’ve learned to live:
purr high up in the register
and will touch no flesh;
move so slowly through the branches
are printed in the bark.
we’ve only our silver fernery
and the instruments
bending like old courtiers
or thousand-year-old monks.
At night we hear
the wood splinter,
the headstocks’ whiplash
when a string snaps,
the bare rooms’ echo
and the house-frame
singing in its sleep
Peter Armstrong was born in Blaydon on Tyne in 1957 and has always lived in the North East. He read Philosophy & English before training in mental health nursing, then cognitive therapy. He worked as therapist, supervisor & trainer, before retiring from the NHS in 2012. He has been publishing poems in magazines from 1979 and in anthologies since Ten North Eastern Poets (Bloodaxe 1980). His collectionsare Risings (Enitharmon 1988); The Red Funnelled Boat (Picador 1998); The Capital of Nowhere (Picador 2003); Madame Noire (Shoestring pamphlet 2008); The Book of Ogham (Shoestring 2012). He was awarded Eric Gregory prize 1984 and a New Writing North Time to Write Award 2005.
David Borrott: Poem
Skating, an untidy walk or slide for me
with balance on red alert, the slippery
risk of the rink, an unestablished pleasure
and the crowd that can dilute experiences,
clotting, commuting the flow, but there is a measure,
a pulse, for feet to move so frictionlessly
to accelerate as in a dip, to find new legs.
The ice is clawed by moving blades,
a long groove leaving itself behind,
primitive marks over a tabula rasa,
which our actions can’t cut through to,
leave blank untouched. The crowd turns
about an open centre, Lowryesque since
the legs are exaggerated, each playing
its own stuttering tune across the recording ice.
The music helps to find a rhythm, feet
not going forward but swerving slightly to one side,
finding the crooked path direct. We spin otherworldly
around the small catastrophes and sprawled bodies,
the laughs that try to suck us in, it’s all about
the preservation of motion, a pace is stretched,
not so instant in conclusion as the boot hitting concrete,
a tagged on momentum, coaxing a little more out of each push.
David Borrott‘s pamphlet Porthole was published by smith|doorstop as part of their Laureate’s Choice series. He has a MA in Poetry from Manchester Metropolitan University and in 2015 was selected for a Northern Writers Award. He lives in Lancashire with his partner and their three sons.
Alison Brackenbury: Four Poems
3.48 A M
In years of my short sleeps I did not dream.
Now I am snatched by dreams that last for years.
Shaken awake, I wonder where they came?
That picture of crouched huts in first snow’s gleam,
the emptied camps? But through my door, like fears,
the soldiers burst, in the wrong uniform,
absurdly, almost pretty, blue and white.
It is too late to phone. Then, later on,
there is no one to phone. So day and night
we crowd high rooms. We sleep in libraries,
rolled in rare rugs. We plot, till light has gone,
whet wits on hunger. Somehow we keep bees.
A girl and mother sweep the corridors.
With dream’s quick gift of tongues I hear them say
‘The women leave at five. The men at four.’
I tell the others. No one starts to shout.
We are a ship, our peeling walls the sea.
No lifeboat bobs. We share the honey out.
Strangely, our door swings open. So we see
the men file past, their faces pale as dough.
They stare ahead. They step in prison’s sleep.
There are so many. Without fight, they stream.
I seek a flicker from one face I know.
I wake in book-lined rooms, into the dream.
PANNELLED DINING ROOM
(The Talbot Hotel, Ledbury)
The oak is black as we may be
once we make it to ground.
Its chipped rosettes arch over me,
my phone, thin toast, washed sound,
rushed four by fours. But see, round marks,
Civil War shot in wood,
too dark to give our faces back,
although it should. It should.
All I have read of him is final silence.
Why did he leave? A burnt-out mind? Lost highs?
I understand he lived alone in Ireland
where he wrote quiet. Thought rain. Read skies.
As rough as soot. As wild as wind.
There’s nowt so queer as folks,
especially family. No books,
no politics. She said
what my grandfather’s mother said
when she heard all the Board would give.
‘That will feed the children.
But how am I to live?’
Note: The ‘Board’ was the Parish Board, made up of farmers, which decided how much should be paid to labourers’ widows and their children. My great-grandfather, a shepherd, had died of pneumonia after sleeping in damp straw at a sheep show. My great-grandmother also died young, of overwork.
Alison Brackenbury’s tenth collection is Aunt Margaret’s Pudding, (HappenStance Press, 2018). Its poems were one of the ingredients of a recent Radio 4 programme and were featured in Pick of the Week. Gallop, her Selected Poems, was published by Carcanet in February 2019. New poems can be read at her website: www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk
Kevin Cahill: Two Poems
As fanatical as all of this,
and for every one, for every key
in a keyhole, for every car,
a scutcheon blazons with a cony,
and a shield with the leap of a hare.
The Medieval life goes on around us –
cubs in their toddlerhood deep underground,
curlews ensconced in the plate of the fog.
And sheep older than annals etching with hoofs
their own Agnus Dei from before God.
The fish, who fathered us, are pokered in wood,
foxes hang like arras
down monastic walls, their shirts full of aigrettes,
gouache tubes – ants in the midden,
drinking, from the pot of our shoes.
ONLY THE LONELY
I can’t go on
Going on though,
our thirsty crannies … a gypsy’s hunch
doses us with hoping,
treats our rheum
to a snatch of Ghost, Brigadoon,
Dirty Dancing, a Portrait of Jennie,
into our seduced faces.
We are able
to withstand anything
from the other side:
go with rococo
readings of bombshells
in the tea-cup’s
in the sympathetic tea-leaves,
and the black heaps of love
on the spoon we can’t
be trusted….I wouldn’t trust us
with soothsayers, elevenses, pennies
in the fountain, or the girl next door
floating up to our window
with such a bloke-swallowing
we wonder how we ever
felt alone at all.
Kevin Cahill is from Cork City, Ireland. He is a graduate of University College Cork, and has been writing poetry for many years. His work has appeared in Poetry Ireland Review, Southword, The Stinging Fly, and London Magazine amongst other publications. He is looking to publish his first book of poems.
Malcolm Carson: Three Poems
NOT THAT GODRIC
Næs þæt na se Godric þe ða guðe forbeah
The Battle of Maldon
…forbeah – so Godric fled,
wretched in itself to desert
his lord, his companion
of the hearth, the meadhall,
when the enemy came,
broke the shield wall
to let in marauders
demanding gelt, servitude.
And on the steed
of Byrhtnoð, just slain,
leading many to think
the worst, their own lord
leaving the field: Godric,
cowardly son of Odda
who fled from the fight.
But it was not that Godric
who hewed and menaced
until felled by Viking blow,
no flight for him
to his fastness,
Æþelgares son, no shame
in his name who followed
his lord, courage stropped
in slaughter, no, not that Godric.
They’ll need a hard frost,
he said to himself
as he set the bulbs,
checking the right way up
before knuckling down
the soft earth bedding.
Funny that, how cold
prompts the growth.
Some chemical reaction,
I suppose. He stood up,
unstiffened his back
against his fork,
stretched and looked
towards the cottage door.
How closed to him it seemed.
It’s a shame a rime
doesn’t work for us, he mused,
start us up to loving more.
As the curtain blinked,
he knew she’d been
tending her quibbles,
in their loneliness.
Too much cold, he thought,
more like a permafrost.
No bloom’s going to break
through that crust.
I’ll cut her a cabbage.
She’ll like that.
THE SILENT SIBLING
i.m. Rosemary Carson
They never talked about her, the one
who didn’t see the light of day,
hidden from us for our own good,
perhaps, or else too painful to recall.
Only when our mother’s days
were thinning did she reveal we’d had
an older sister, that my father had cried.
And when we found the grave
– a solitary stone, no name engraved –
it was across from where
our mother lay, the silence
shared across a muddy path,
leaving us bereft between
the graves greening among
the yews and composted flowers.
Malcolm Carson was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. He moved to Belfast with his family before returning to Lincolnshire, becoming an auctioneer and then a farm labourer. He studied English at Nottingham University, and then taught in colleges and universities. He now lives in Carlisle, Cumbria, with his wife and three sons. His two previous full collections, Breccia in 2006 and Rangi Changi and other poems in 2011, and a pamphlet, Cleethorpes Comes to Paris in 2014, were from Shoestring Press. Route Choice, published in 2016, is also from Shoestring.
Kitty Coles : Four Poems
SHIRT OF NETTLES
I watch you as I sew this shirt of nettles.
You’re changed so much from what you used to be.
My fingers blister whitely. My palms are burnt.
I think these leaves will scar me with their fibres.
Heavy clouds muster, shifting their great muscles.
You quiver, cold, glisten with damp and dew.
How leathery the flesh of your feet becomes.
Your muteness disturbs me sometimes. Will you sing
before you die? And in what language,
the one we shared or a melancholy croaking?
The water’s grey in this perpetual twilight.
I’ll robe you when the dawn bleaches the air.
I pause to light my candles. They bathe your body
in rays of tenderness. Become what you were.
They press so closely. We smell wet wool,
cold sweat, the carious reek
of their gums, a hothouse of aftershave.
Their shoulders collide with ours
as they hurry onwards, a flood
of bodiless bodies, a tide of souls.
They mutter and chatter
like starlings, incessant, puzzling.
Some hoot, wide-mouthed, or croak
in rookish displeasure.
They carry briefcases
which open and litter the pavement
with a slew of paper, a tumult
Some clutch their hearts in their hands,
still pumping, a storm-cloud purple.
Some wear bandages or clasp
their fingers to wounds.
They thicken the air with a taste
of stagnant tea, of ink
congealing slowly on the tonsils.
In the park, they will tear
up the tulips and scatter the petals,
outrageous silks and sooty eyelashes.
The cats skitter under
the hedges at their coming.
The creeping things
of the dusk are often trampled.
On chillier nights, they stare
into lighted windows and pause
to mark the panes with their sticky palms.
They barge at the doors
and poke their scabby umbrellas
through letter boxes, peering
down the hallways.
The dogs’ nails click
on the tiles as they run to their masters.
The children lie awake, looking
at shadows that crawl
across their ceilings, snake into corners.
That night was balmy – there’s no better word –
the sky soft, with a buttery light, fragrant –
no doubt – with petrol and dust
and the heat of the bodies
clogging Wetherspoons, unreeling over the pavement,
swilling and jawing.
And our room was close, the door
and windows closed, and quiet,
church-like in its spongy hush,
talk creeping over the quiet like a far sea.
She descended the stairs, that CPN,
her shoes very unreverentially chopping
the yeasty air to bits,
her dress a hothouse clangour in the stillness,
announcing breathily to me and others,
‘Schizophrenia my arse: he wants attention’.
Her words hung pearl-like,
shining and globular,
and the thin woman twisting on the sofa,
with scratches on her arms, thick scabs like crackling,
snapped upright and walked out
and the door swung in
a mouthful of cooler air from the gathering dark.
Slipping between sleep and waking –
falling softly between borders –
you are here again, close
as my own skin, breathing
my breath, your pulse
moving with mine.
I feel the warmth of you
along my spine and you heat
my palms with your palms,
my lips with your lips.
Your sigh, as you shift
your hip, is the same as ever
and you gasp, with a little hitch,
at my ghastly coldness,
as if I were the ghost,
the lost one returning.
Darkness clothes us like velvet.
I know your features.
I know your bones, their lengths,
and the weight of your body,
how it holds mine still,
while your voice coils
like smoke on my tongue,
and how the scent of you
spreads through my hair.
I know the soul of you,
its swells and hollows.
I always knew you.
I knew you before I met you.
You had made me a home
in your house before
you touched me and I live
in it, sometimes, sometimes,
even now, as you inhabit
my body with your haunting.
Kitty Coles lives in Lightwater, Surrey, and works as a senior adviser for a charity supporting disabled people. Her poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies. She was joint winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize 2016 and her debut pamphlet, Seal Wife, was published in 2017. http://www.kittyrcoles.com
Ion Corcos : Two Poems
The silver sea, a red roof,
the dark green leaves of an orange tree,
a concrete ledge, a makeshift fence.
Doors with glass, a wall heater,
a divan with a navy blue blanket,
white walls. A bookshelf
filled with books on the Ponti, the genocide
of the Black Sea Greeks,
the forced marches and the forgotten lands.
The forever loss. Mottled marble floor,
bars on the window, a wooden table,
a red shawl, and the light
barely creeping through the door.
THE DARK SEA
After Courbet’s ‘The Calm Sea’
A boat stranded at low tide, the quiet
of a cold day. Outside the painting,
in the east, a tree becomes a shadow,
and I am losing the sun.
Fishing boats pull up nets,
and the sea turns grey.
Dried fish smoke in an outdoor oven,
the shingle like dark clouds.
An old man sits on a park bench;
with his beard, he looks like my father.
I eat wild chicory, drizzle lemon
and sprinkle salt. Watch seagulls drift
out to sea. If you see me staring,
standing in the sun, you know why.
Ion Corcos has been published in Grey Sparrow Journal, Clear Poetry, Communion, The High Window and other journals. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Ion is a nature lover and a supporter of animal rights. He is currently travelling indefinitely with his partner, Lisa. Ion’s website is http://www.ioncorcos.wordpress.com and he tweets at @IonCorcos
Anna Crowe: Four Poems
BEAUTIFUL DEMOISELLE, SANNA BAY
(i.m.Alasdair Maclean, who wrote Night Falls on Ardnamurchan)
Cut into glistening slabs – his back
a torment, his head a cloud of midges –
peat burned in the crofter’s hearth
for maybe two hundred years – a blink
in the eye of a pool where the peat-hag
has filled with rain: eight thousand years
in the making as sphagnum moss decayed,
taking its time, the peat is almost gone;
on moorland plumed with bog-cotton,
the pools gleam with an oily film of blue.
Just so, that underwater dragon,
the nymph of a damselfly, stalks
the burn’s bed for a whole year
before it climbs out, shucks its skin,
and flies on wings of blue-black silk.
Pinned like an emerald brooch
to a blade of yellow flag, here
where the Allt na Sanna flows through
dune-slack, green turf, orchids, it will mate
and die before the summer ends.
Gunnera in Winter
Piled-up corpses around the pond:
massive rhizomatous crowns
collapsed under sackcloth tents
of leaves, they sprawl
like warriors shrouded for burial.
And yet there’ s flowing grace of line:
Pheidias could almost have carved
and cast them for the Parthenon
as his Three Fates, one sat
spinning, the rest recumbent.
The thread of life is spun
and runs through unseen hands
but is not cut: look where brown,
reptilian skin is split wide open
by a clenched green fist.
MIRAGE IN THE BOTANICAL GARDEN
Some plants are all dazzle and shriek.
Queening it in the tropical house,
Strelitzia thrusts its bird-of-paradise beak
and spiky, yellow-flame mohican
out of a clutch of sword-like leaves
like a courtesan snapping open her fan.
Others are more subtle. Beyond the pond,
a smoky purple hovers, seeping in
through twigs of a low spreading evergreen;
then, up close, the colour’s gone;
no flowers yet, just tiny shoots, conical,
creamy yellow. Try retreating, keeping
half an eye on things, until the mystery
is re-enacted, whatever it may be.
SEDGE WARBLERS ON THE MEON
i.m. Edward Thomas
Clear chalk-stream cadences
weave around stones,
combing the dark weed free.
On the bridge this spring
we follow the play
between river-bed and surface;
how the Meon’s glitter is inflected
by deep notes of topaz flint,
braiding a path among the crowfoot;
yellow kingcup flowers open,
mouths like distant bugles calling
above the rush of water. And it’s today
and a hundred years ago, this singing
of sedge-warblers, frantic, harsh
and shrill among the willows.
THE DAY AFTER THE CRASH
we’re glad to trail along these quiet lanes
and find St Peter’s, North Barningham –
‘redundant’, vast, built when wool was gold.
Obedient, mindful of birds, we close the door.
Granaried silence. Yesterday’s din recedes
inside our heads, settles, and is received
into this dust-mote barn of storied air.
Gashed and broken metal, shock, surrender
to pink-washed walls, to windows’ tracery –
their branching stems of stone still flowering
with hops in the hedge, campions in grass;
October sun leans in through clear glass
to burnish a brass knight and his lady:
mediaeval Palgraves, she holds a rosary;
a line of seven children pray for their souls.
In pleated cap and ruff of goffered marble
Sir Austin Palgrave and wife with firm expression
kneel on the other side of the Reformation.
A wealth of folk with their rich flocks, all gone;
now, only two people live in North Barningham.
The wheel-head cross in the floor, a mystery
in brick and flint, is given a further twist
outside, overhead, where a red kite wheels,
scanning, then dismissing us from its fields.
Anna Crowe is co-founder and former Artistic Director of StAnza, Scotland’s Poetry Festival. Her work has been translated into several languages, and includes two Peterloo collections and three Mariscat chapbooks. Awards: Peterloo Poetry Prize; Travelling Scholarship from the Society of Authors; Callum Macdonald Memorial Award; two PBS Choices. She is the UK’s foremost translator of Catalan poetry.
Rhian Edwards: Four Poems
Did I contrive the whole thing?
Banjo Jims on the corner of 700 East
and Ninth? Did I confetti sawdust
on the planks, strew the shavings
like morning grain for hens?
Was I the one who ivied the fairy lights
around the baroque mirror? Slopped bordello
red on the walls, dragged the salvaged
pew to the back of the stage. The Polaroid
montage at the bar, was that my own doing?
When I spun on the high stool
in my signature Charleston frock,
drinking bubbles in the afternoon;
was I the one who axed the ice
and remembered you first?
Was it me who tore the Duck Tape,
made a crude cross for your standing mark?
When I asked to borrow your guitar strap,
did I reverse angle on the lens, close in
on your John Cusack face pretending not to watch?
Did my vocal training pay off when I Merchant
Ivory’d my accent, morphed into a familiar
foreigner for you? Was it you who tortured
the cliché and offered to buy the first drink?
Perhaps I fed you the line.
The wedding queue at Worth
Street City Hall, Manhattan
is akin to the wait
at Alton Towers.
We are given a butcher’s ticket,
the usherette has a handgun.
We keep watching the screen
for our number to come up.
I tell my imminent sister-in-law,
this is just like Argos.
Who knew you could buy a wedding
bouquet from a vending machine?
Our witnesses are your Bronx ice hockey team,
your Minnesotan sister.
I am the only thing here
that belongs to me.
I clap shut my compact, shatter
the mirror inside. I laugh
at the seven-year hex I’ve divined,
minutes before our half-hearted vows.
The armed usherette orders the witnesses
to get out of line. Most of the marrying
are dressed in sweat pants. Still they glare
at me, cradling my splintered mirror,
as if I have cursed this conveyor belt
of non-committal brides.
THE ABACUS OF STAMINA
There is the me who diarises her day
by rationing the stair climbs;
who strews pillows like mock stepping
stones to the sirening of the cot.
There is the me who hangs her hands
under the scalding water tap;
to recapture the fingers frozen
perpendicular in the night.
There is the me whose wrist vein bulges,
whose knuckles have swollen vague,
who cannot hoist a mug to her lips,
uses the pram as a Zimmer frame.
Where is the me who was a sprinter,
a district tennis champion, a climber
who could scale the Mile End wall and slink
up the rope in gym like a coconut cutter?
There is the me who flounders with buttons,
who cannot shell a tampon of its plastic,
is unable to dangle her daughter by the ankles,
barely leaves an impression with her pen.
THE ART OF FASTENING
These fingers are chopsticks, decrypting
the riddle of buttoning your school blouse.
My fumbles fall down the ladder of your shirt,
trying to remaster the trick of twisting,
flipping four-eyed moons through a hole.
My three-year-old tenders a helping hand,
a starfish, ham-fisted, yanking
at discs and thread. This only kindles
the dread of these gutless fingers making
stabs at sewing the buttons back on.
Who knew the coiling of bobbles
around plaits could capsize me?
The cat cradling between index and thumb
could collapse under an elastic band’s tension;
now that hair must be tied to ward off lice.
Before your wardrobe was painless,
your hair given free rein. It now takes
a dexterity; a smiling sticker
you have yet to earn, while my art
of fastening fritters away.
Rhian Edwards is a multi-award winning poet. Her first collection of poems Clueless Dogs (Seren) won Wales Book of the Year 2013 and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2012. Her pamphlet Parade the Fib, (Tall-Lighthouse), was awarded the PBS Choice for autumn 2008. Her poems have appeared in the Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, New Statesman, Spectator, Poetry London, Poetry Wales, Arete, London Magazine, Stand and Planet. Her second collection The Estate Agent’s Daughter (Seren) is due for publication in 2020.
Alicia Fernández: Two Poems
MY EARWIG MOTHERS
The best thing about our flat burning down
was abandoning the dust-dominated mess of it,
the padlocked silence of my prison-room.
My mother carried the shame with her.
We moved our burnt-branch selves
into a relative’s empty house,
reserved for summer like carelessness.
The cold of December was brutal.
Earwigs gathered at night under the duvet,
at the end of the bed.
Their pincers tugged at the shame
I had inherited from my mother,
that of my parents’ worn-out marriage.
I’d pick them up, one by one each night,
their skin wings tickling my fingers, awakening
my pit-trapped sadness with the strength of seashores.
Further into winter, I gave up on the ritual
of emptying the sheets at bedtime.
The plucks of their tweezers on my ankles were soothing.
What did I even know about comfort?
Every night I closed my eyes and imagined
that those forceps were your hands, mother,
that you had found a shelled creature to inhabit,
from which to guide me.
You had gathered more of them for me.
I’d wake up to your army of seeing eyes,
your dark-brown bodies shiny like jewels at my feet.
To my grandfather Alberto, who fought in the Spanish Civil War
You readied your body,
battle-bruised and consumed,
to run across the firing line
in your muddy boots,
carrying your musket
on your shoulder.
As your tattered skin
sustained the sultriness
of a haywire July night,
you took a leap of faith
through a mist of bullets
that whizzed by and landed
decades from where you were.
Your heart raced with you,
as you traded your copy
of the Manifesto for a Messiah’s
promise of no lack of bread.
As you lurked in the shadows
of a new world, the light of the
world you had abandoned wept,
and the silence of the barricade
was only blemished by the sound
of shotgun shells falling on the dirt.
The future then was no further
than the frontline. It stank
of your own piss. It was close
like the monochrome photograph
that you pressed tightly
against your chest.
Alicia Fernández was born in Spain. She currently works in Leeds as a translator and is also a PhD student in Comparative Literature. Her poems have appeared in various anthologies and magazines, including Riggwelter and Strix. Her debut pamphlet If Moments Were Places was published by Half Moon Books in 2017. That same year she won the title of Chapbook Champion at Ilkley Literature Festival. In 2018 she was longlisted in Mslexia’s Women’s Poetry Competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy. She is co-editor of the online poetry journal Algebra of Owls.
Ryan Quinn Flanagan: Poem
He throws this black garbage bag of clothes
over his shoulder and tells me that
this is the last time he falls
I don’t ask him what happened
because something always happens,
but he tells me anyway.
It is long and involved like an escaped
Boa constrictor in the walls.
I’m a shrink without a couch.
There is this floral loveseat throwaway,
but that hardly counts.
I always hated flowers indoors.
Like toothpaste in a wax museum.
The way the taxman always finds you
when hope cannot.
And standing over the sink
I throw water on
Let the cold of it run down
over everything like a personal
Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage. His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Setu, Nerve Cowboy, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review.
Gabriella Garofalo: Poem
AND THIS IS THE BLEAK TRUCE …
And this is the bleak truth, the grim diagnosis,
The sister who holds her head high
As you watch the moon laying a cloth of white
And eavesdrop the last screams of days –
The hell with random sparks,
With magenta stains on the fruits,
No way out for you if blue funk blows
In blue excitement, only the leaves
Shall find escape, maybe breathe –
They said it was a haunted house –
By the forests beyond sparks of light, perhaps? –
Nearby the forceful roots made trees
Break up the cement, more power to them,
An old lady lived there with her mate,
A silent illness who would get mad
At the chiming bells, at the laundry
Dancing to the beat of gales –
Such airheads those bells, those gales!
You crept in holding in your hands
The musty raindrops exiled from Heaven,
You crept in looking for demise,
Sorry, way too late, she was hiding
Among the summer trees –
But who cares, he died –
Demise, tell her you didn’t bury his soul
By the green flame of the hawthorn trees,
Trust me, demise, unlock his soul,
So she’ll never tumble in love again,
Never run riot, never get wild,
Look, give her a loan,
A blue height with a handful of stars,
Let nights wail in their deep cello timbre,
Out of tune, but who cares as long as light
Bends time and two souls can rest in spheres of infinity –
Trust me, c’mon, they’ll never betray love or seasons,
Nor the blue shadow echoing through the rain –
Come to think of it, was that blue love yours or mine?
So sorry, but I can’t remember, my dear demise.
Gabriella Garofalo was born in Italy some decades ago but fell in love with the English language at six, started writing poems (in Italian) at six and is the author of Lo sguardo di Orfeo; L’inverno di vetro; Di altre stelle polari and Blue branches.
Keith Hutson: Two Poems
THE HARD STUFF
i.m. Joseph Frank ‘Buster’ Keaton 1895-1966
Not played with, till his parents tipped him up,
arse over tit, at six: The Human Mop!
Jesus! This kid could save the act! A gift
for keeping rigid as his head was dipped
into the bucket wrung possessive pride
– a new-born soppiness for what they’d made –
from two who, in the dock as child-abusers,
stripped their asset to reveal no bruises
and the rest we know: once on his feet,
Buster tumbled to success, got wet
a lot, which may be why his greatest trick,
he said, was crawling from a bottle, more dead
than alive … I sweated myself dry, instead
of drowning, an old soak, like father had.
i.m. Beth ‘Flotsam’ Jones c.1830
We knew it wasn’t true she’d been thrown
overboard One hundred years ago!
by Blackbeard’s crew, off Blister Bay. You can’t drown,
spend a breathless century Three leagues below!
then, washed up, tasting air again, look
such a catch. Gentlemen, King Neptune took
me. Satiated now, he’s tossed me back.
She plied this bilge beneath a dark green
spotlight, half-abandoned by a dress cut
from a net; fine-boned and woebegone, eel-thin,
sea-urchin-chic; undrinkable – Taste it –
saltwater coating her, a silver shine,
skin-lick … Oh yes, Beth spun a see-through yarn,
but raging thirst damped our derision down.
Keith Hutson has written for Coronation Street and many well-known comedians. His debut poetry pamphlet, Routines, was published in 2016 by Poetry Salzburg, where he is now a member of the editorial board. His latest pamphlet, Troupers, published by smith doorstop, is a 2018 Laureate’s Choice publication. His debut full collection, Baldwin’s Catholic Geese was recently published by Bloodaxe.
Juli Jana: Two poems
GIRL WITH BLUE TURBAN: VERMEER
is it the blue of your turban
the high cut neckline
a clean washed face
showing the warmth of blood
that draws the eye to the ear
its sensuous lobe cradling a pearl
that he placed there to catch
your delight the direct gaze
was he more than the master of the house
the loved artist of the guild
asking you to pose not in finery
nor against fine interiors as backdrop
or with the delight of a temptress
but as the girl who knows her name is Griet
sensing a slight lingering of the hand on her earlobe
mount Vesuvius did not smoke
only the smell of volcanic ash
crept along the foothills
old lemon trees brought by Hebrews
dot the mountain base
yellow spots in the shadow
olives fill pots to overflowing
leaving oil for dogs to lick
dark pine trees emerge from the mist
pick up the mountain’s edge
against the lengthening sun
he lies there asleep on the grass
slightly lifting an ear as I whistle
an emaciated dog living on the scraps
of an expired existence
I have no bread to give him
Juli Jana Completed M.A. Creative Writing at Rhoehampton University, have published in various magazines as well as a pamphlet, ra-t, with Shearsman and co-presented More Poetry for 10 years with Ken Champion in London
Peter Jarvis: Two Poems
Old sun, this cloudless morning
you’ve resumed your winter dance
stepping across the grassed plains
and their patches of thorn scrub,
skipping over the long arc
of last night’s dying veld fire,
burning off the river-mist.
Now at my roof ridge you’ve paused
to peep at my window tree.
This green monkey-orange tree
has a leaning, corky stem –
foliage dark, with hidden spines
yet browsed by starving cattle,
its globes of woody-shelled fruit
long matured to yellow-brown,
rotten ones fallen…
From the left, a wild crashing!
Through dry grass and fallen leaves
across the scene a huge pig
fleeing – its belly low-slung,
tail comically curled – bursts in,
dashing by the orange tree.
In pursuit a ragged boy
yelling with a brandished stick.
Sun, you’re blessing that small tree,
in your moments picking out
a triple bird miracle:
an iridescent sunbird
with red patch and down-curved bill;
a golden oriole, male,
his whistling call loud, liquid;
a cardinal woodpecker
working a branch upside down
tapping fissures for insects.
Old sun, you’re laying pools of light
by the bare mangetti grove
where early students huddle
warming themselves before school.
Bell-time! You must move…
Out of the bush from the right
races back the little boy
howling and without his stick –
after him charges the pig.
Slapping sounds of sandals
down the long verandah.
Two widows enter shyly.
Helen and Cecilia
take their seats side by side
to relate Helen’s tale.
Ovambo their language –
Helen, strained, sits stiffly
in her faded blue shift,
gentle voice faltering,
Cecila’s hand on her arm:
I can no more see light,
now all ahead is dark.
My husband lied to me.
I think I have been witched.
This sickness gnaws at me.
I steal my days from death.
My children are all dead.
I tried to kill myself.
I live now on my own.
One sister helps me still,
brings mahangu and meat.
I have groundnuts, some beans.
A year passes before
my return to that town.
Cecilia will guide me
to Helen’s distant shack.
We drive down sandy tracks,
along paths, ever south.
Land the colour of heat.
Dust devils whirling high,
stick fences, starving goats,
at last a hut – Helen’s.
She comes out, beckoning
towards a camel thorn –
beneath that canopy
the only patch of shade.
(The time she’d tried to kill
herself, was this the tree?)
We wander up and fetch
plastic chairs blown over.
I have something I need
to show you. Wait for me.
She comes back with papers.
Death certificates – six.
So I meet her family:
Frans-Simon, her husband
and all the children next –
Fransie, Elena, Hans,
Simon, and Lydia last,
all here in Helen’s hands.
A fierce gust seizes them.
They fly above our heads.
We scramble in pursuit
to save and return them,
placing all in cupped hands
held out in gratitude –
sweet and formal gesture.
(Oshakati, Namibia 2006-8)
Peter Jarvis was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in Africa before settling in Scotland where he worked for 25 years as an English teacher. He returned in the noughties where he enjoyed teaching posts in Botswana and Namibia and immersed himself in African village life. His poems have appeared previously in Poetry Scotland magazine and he was runner-up in the James Kirkup Memorial Competition in 2011. His debut pamphlet Nights of a Shining Moon was published by HappenStance Press in 2015.
Helen Kay: Two Poems
Inside rounded number eight
there are four twos, a typical family.
two up two down to be.
Your brother was the only son
You stole that from him so he displays
a real man anger you haven’t acquired.
Dad gave me flowers today. Suspicious.
He must want to keep the bean plants
on my desk in the dining room.
I tried the vase in different positions
I blame my affair with Semiotix
who was Getafix’s long lost father
I say ‘I will die one day’ you say ‘spoiler’
I did not mean it, but I’m that age
when friends wait in the chemo queue
You are right of course.
I must find a reason for living first
neat as the way twos go two by two
into eight and when they leave the arc
they make more twos.
Things never did add up here did they.
DRIVING TO A CONCERT IN MANCHESTER
Going there the Qash Qai casket held in
our stories and end-of-a-hard week jokes
about heated seats and twiddling knobs at odds
with the Sat nav’s rural Cheshire route
conducting us smooth as a dusk prelude.
But the road home was urban, molten with lights.
Humour melted to deeper amber minds.
The car’s glass ceiling exposed our doubt.
You lifted up your phone to show me photos
of your mum at 20 and just before the death.
They were bright as the smooth eye of the moon
amidst the dashboard’s blurred reflected lights
You cupped the moment in your palm
even though you know that screens, lights,
moons must all change. The music is in this.
Helen Kay‘s poems have been accepted by magazines including Stand, The Morning Star and The Rialto. Her debut pamphlet, A Poultry Lover’s Guide to Poetry, was published in 2015 (Indigo Dreams). She was runner up in the Cheshire High Sherriff’s prize for Literature (2016) and winner of the 2018 Rosamond Prize.
Michael Lesher: Four Poems
THINKING OF GAZA FROM THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY
If I were to be born again,
it might be as the white moth
whose slow, flexing heartbeat
declares its pittance
in a vast anonymity of snow…
It might be as the spore
borne on mimosa tendrils
in an uncertain breeze,
alone in a tiny pivot of air,
all the earth a mystery hovering below.
For I am my place, and
I have nowhere to go,
and all hearts are my heart,
and none knows me,
every breath shakes my world
though not a syllable is mine –
not a glance my glance, yet in every one
I disappear behind its silence…
And where a petal drops onto the fixed eyes
of the child whose bracts are
already in earth,
is cold with death, her eyes
blue and blank
as the flower that was –
at dawn, a boy rises from another tear
to test the blue air
left behind by the bomb,
and cannot find any path
to a door, or womb, or nightmare
clearer than smoke
or louder than a shroud,
and not even the first word
of mourning can be said –
I also rise;
That is me.
Because I am not dead.
Because I am not there.
Because I cannot breathe
the air motionless forever
in the child’s breast,
and cannot touch the sky
that is all that’s left
to the last boy’s famished eyes.
Because I wander that sky unseen,
never to touch their earth.
whatever I touch,
it is their faces I will feel,
their silence my breath will trace.
for Amira Hass
The sea is lover to the sand,
the sand’s the refuse of a stagnant day.
All earth’s a captive of the sky.
You dip your hand into the waves
to feel the slow, eternal surge
that drives the water on. Unaware,
it breaks against the shore to sigh,
caress, fall back unsatisfied
all day between the beaches’ thighs.
This beach is empty as the heart is wide.
Will anyone come to taste its plight
under a pitiless sky that pins
it here, dead or dying, as the earth
turns brittle and every sorrow dries?
No one will come. It’s worth
their lives to try to run away;
they stay in Gaza, helpless as the sand,
where the sun’s a sentry tower, and a gun
takes aim at anyone who drinks.
No use. There’s no relief in salt or tears,
and only the sea’s too slow to think
of anything but out, and in, and out
in its dumb mockery, silent mimicry,
a mouthing rape that makes a fool of care.
DEAD GOD, DYING GOD
This one’s on a pedestal,
all marble and glare.
A marvelous pair of shoulders, a frown
that could shame every brazen whisperer
and tamp loose tongues down.
But I don’t care what anybody ever felt for him,
or for the orations he might have growled
through those stone lips, under those raised hands –
not even for the storm
that slathered sea-spray at his command
and flayed the faithless beaches
while priests hung their heads, and Hellas howled.
I don’t even care when the other one
stares at me with soft, reproachful eyes
from that splintered perch,
and bids me honor his silence with my own.
His blood is fantasy, his wounded flesh never
bone of my bone,
no matter how he suffers, no matter how I try
to feel, to think of him as something real,
no matter the despair, no matter the calm.
Let them both die.
All that matters is what starves inside.
And that one dies every day,
the carking infant’s born in each dream, to die at dawn.
That’s the one that never survives
and never goes away,
doomed every tomorrow with tomorrow’s bomb.
PINES IN THE SUICIDES’ WOOD
(see Inferno, Canto XIII)
‘If there is no future, there is no hope.’
– Adel Hamdona, speaking of his son’s suicide attack on the Jewish settlement of Netzarim
Tread lightly, stoic, these needles bleed.
Wonder – if you must – but ask no question.
If the mute corpses shock, it’s you that need
more than they can bear: not even groans
from them but move in fresh wounds, flow of pain –
their grief has no words, their night no moon
and souls that died with them won’t rise again,
for death’s all those who die for death can know.
Revenge is their root, blood their only rain.
Mortal, you dare not follow where they go,
nor they explain themselves except in pain
written in a language known to the few
who died as they did, embraced as kin
by strangers who killed them; forever joined
in loss, they break now just to break again –
as in death, they threw arms around
a hopeless love, so now it cuckolds them
in shame, as you in shame invade their wounds.
Who are you to tease out the final flame
of souls that burned, to thumb shut eyes
whose tears you’ve never touched? Your home
is with the strong, your step too coarse for dry
twigs, ashen bones that bear their weight
in moments lost, loves spurned, lies
like bloody tendrils where lips once met
to close forever, yet never to forget
the grieving that kills, the hopes that hate.
Michael Lesher is an Orthodox Jew living in New Jersey. Besides poetry, he has published short fiction, many columns and freelance articles, and a nonfiction book about sexual abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities, Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., 2014). As for Gaza, he has written about it because it’s impossible for him not to.
Patrick Lodge: Three Poems from Remarkable Occurences
SONG OF GEORGE DALTON
I was his shadow, close, opaque;
his mirror too, flaunting the pale face
of better. With me, he shone radiantly;
his ascension was my eclipse.
A servant-slave, living in his pockets,
strutting the streets, acting the gentleman.
Never the mungo, never sulky, I ate
from his table, slept in his beds,
wore his clothes, all with a frozen grin.
I was comfortable – but a silver collar
chafes worse than any iron one.
Now laid out in snow, a shade cast
by no man. I am stolen, lost to myself,
now abandoned. Another swig of brandy
warms briefly, like the ripening sun,
better than the ruby-red sweat of my yoked
brothers and sisters that I have drunk.
This land of fire shrouds me with wintry ash.
My bleached bones will layer with snow,
hard frost will make an icy cairn of me.
I am dying, nothing remarkable in that.
I take hold of the darkness…damn them all…
Note: Geroge Dorlton was a field assistant of African descent and servant to Joseph Banks during Cook’s First Voyage (1768-1771). George Dorlton died of hypothermia on a collecting trip in Tierra del Fuego when the party was caught out at night in a snowstorm without adequate shelter.
SONG OF THE TUPAPAKU
There is a seal in the bay, or,
there is a mermaid in the bay.
You may believe anything here,
when even the light of reason dims.
A body, female, unbound, bellying
in the swell. Well, we are told
there are no graves here;
no pomposity of ceremony.
Death is a secret place;
a corpse tethered to a stone
splashes into the bay’s depths,
that might be it for eternity.
An image is disconcerting me:
the seabed of the bay, and beyond,
gravid with the weighted dead
pinned like underwater kites.
All float upright, roped by ankle;
all look seaward, vibrating
imperceptibly in the slack water
as if tuned to a higher wavelength.
Nervous, they flutter, shy virgins
on the edge, hoping to dance
a slow undersea cotillion.
Waiting for partners…waiting for us.
Note: Tupapaku means ‘deceased, corpse’.
SONG OF WILLIAM GREENSLADE, MARINE
Here, I crave those purging moments
when I hang between past and future.
The cold scraping air will rasp me clean;
a scaled fish leaping back to the water.
My Sunday devotions this holy day –
to step from the ship in prayer,
shriven spotless. No stain of thief,
no William Greenslade, no Marine;
not striped, not broken – all sloughed off.
My service is over, sin is pardoned;
again a raw lad who watched soldiers drill.
Still my duty must be done. Sentinel
at the steerage door, a soldier boy,
alone as always on this passage.
Baited and bullied by my comrades,
an outcast shunned or mocked.
In my pocket is the mark of my sin –
a sealskin patch, stolen for a purse,
smaller than my palm it drags me down.
I will be made to pay in full for my shame.
They say land is near but no honour
comes of desertion, a life with heathens.
Soon enough I will take my ease,
offer myself for the voyage’s good luck,
stride out from the forecastle into the water,
dazzling as ice. I will float in my purgatory
long enough to watch my life fade into shadow.
Not lost overboard but found again.
And all that remains is the limitless sea.
Note: William Greenslade was a member of the detachment of Marines on the Endeavour.
He was bullied and accused of theft. He committed suicide by jumping from the ship.
Patrick Lodge lives in Yorkshire and is of Irish/Welsh heritage. His work has been published widely in the UK and abroad. He is currently working on a sequence commemorating captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. His collections, An Anniversary of Flight (2013) and Shenanigans (2016) both published by Valley His third collection, Remarkable Occurrences – will soon also be available from Valley press.
Jane Lovell: Two Poems
CIMITERO DI SANTA MARIA
Beyond the wild gardens
and tumbled walls of Via dei Spironi,
a hidden graveyard for dogs
and seagulls unveils it bones:
atrophied remains of levrieri,
crouching volpini, folded carcasses
of gulls from St. Elena, wings stripped
to stalks, the eggshell skulls.
There are shells strung from trees,
an early sun and mist rising
from the tousled grass, rosettes
of lichen in pits of weathered stone.
The light is blown glass, sea-rinsed
You can taste the salt in the air.
When no one is watching, shadows
chase the paths and soar across
the belfry; skinny cats jink through
on a breeze and a prayer.
It cannot last; the seas are rising.
Our city is a fortress
but the Earth is drowning;
the monastery, its fractured walls
festooned with cinquefoil, ivy,
flaked with cocci dug from shores
of mud and sand, is sinking.
Listen to the angels’ watery voices.
Listen to the trickling of water
lifting the bones.
Beneath the sleeping giant, bones white as hazel,
Godolphin’s stallion shifts and twists
with the turning of the Earth, the slow creep
of rainfall through the hillside,
crawling, burrowing subterranean life.
Lost in the soil:
the rush of wind against his face;
startled partridges and pheasant airborne
like winged bottles, birds of Phasis ringing the silence
with their fat rusty bells;
deeper still, his master, long since rotted in his satins,
face drawn to a ghastly leer,
reins, a curled rind, grasped by the bones
of his hand.
The gods remain only in the spines of gorse.
Late June, early mornings, some say,
they flinch at the thundering hooves, the salt
and stench of champed grass as the stallion passes,
eyes wild with triumph.
Jane Lovell has been widely published in journals and anthologies. She won the Flambard Prize in 2015 and has been shortlisted for several awards including the Basil Bunting Prize, the Robert Graves Prize and the Periplum Book Award. Her most recent publication is Metastatic from Against the Grain Poetry Press. Jane is the Poetry Society Stanza rep for Mid Kent. She won this year’s Wealden Literary Festival Writing Prize, the Terrain.org Poetry Contest and the Wigtown Poetry Prize.
Ray Malone: Four Poems
there is yet time the old trouble
ticking away from rage to rage
the painful prick of there it is
and there it’s not
of all that fails your eye
fades from earshot
time to ease your way from here
inch by inch incline
to tell of the lost miles done
and the dust to come
for every tick the token of a smile
the gift of a giving tongue
nightlight left there lit there
night thoughts threatening
the hordes the wide-eyed horses
the roaring earth
made into mares
you were the place where the worst was
where the wild eyes were yours
or seal in peace
you were the one awake with all your thoughts
of day and days to come of
lit there in sleep
the ditch well
there is no ditch
a dip at most or mild depression
to dream in
a rill rimmed with flowers
so deep a rat might drown in
or boy be drawn
to dabble his fingers find
his frightened wayward thoughts in
there is no ditch no dream
no drowning rat
the ditch insists
to be one day found in
every word a try a fingertip
inching across the fields
for the touch
of the tip of yours
every word a cry
called from its ever was
towards your ear to be
every one its way
through the stones
every one its own worm
urging through the earth
every one the hope
of a hand held out
every one a poor prayerless palm
still to be read
every word willed
to be heard
every word wished
to be wondered at
to be dug from the dirt
Ray Malone is an artist, writer and translator curently living and working in Berlin. In recent years he has been dedicated to developing a highly-reduced aesthetic, in a number projects exploring the expressive (lyric) potential of minimal forms, based on various musical and literary models. His work has been published in magazines in the U.S., the U.K., and Ireland.
Richie McCaffery: six poems
FIRST DREAM IN EXILE
There were nights we slept together soundly
with the window open and the breeze
making the curtains flap like a flag
against its pole, but neither of us
could ever quite tell the place
it was supposed to represent.
After I was thrown out of her country
I went back to the place I was from
to sleep in my childhood’s bed.
Too much drink inflamed my mind
and I began to dream again, smuggling
memories from shipwrecked sleep.
The first was as mundane as life –
my favourite shirt beginning to tear,
taking it off to find the cloth threadbare.
My mother couldn’t help, she was busy
with others. I nearly chucked the thing
but instead vowed to learn to fix it myself.
THE BOY WHO WANTED
On my bookshelves, the forgotten novels
of George Friel, one title should read:
The Boy Who Wanted Peace
on the spine, but sun has faded Peace
invisible. It’s like the book’s
been rewritten for our times,
simply: The Boy Who Wanted.
I wanted our life in Belgium to work
but our street was like a bookshelf
of tomes too tightly packed
for my foreign story to fit in at all.
On your parent’s bookcase
a huge book on small gardens
and a pamphlet on faith.
I once gave you Plath’s poems,
an old copy someone had gifted
in the past, scratching off the price
on the back so no-one could tell
how much the verse cost.
The typo in your most recent email
wishes me ‘live’ not ‘love’.
THOUGHTS AFTER BANISHMENT
Northumberland to Ghent and back again –
not a holiday, but my life.
It’s summer, dappled sunlight on a tarmac road.
How disappointing it must be for the rays
to come so far only to spill on asphalt
like rabbit blood.
I want to roll up my shadow, tuck it under my arm
because I worry it’s overstepping the mark.
We drove into town behind a very old man
whose car was painfully slow – each
corner he slammed on the breaks
scared of what was around the bend.
At first, when I was told I was to be deported
I thought of all the churches and sanctuary
in olden times, but that night when
it had sunken in, the skyline of illuminated
spires looked like used hypodermic needles.
The tall, thin houses of our street
always seemed to me like fence posts
knocked in the wrong way, the tapered end
sticking skyward. Most people succeeded
but we hammered vainly on hard earth.
That time we walked on the beach, sinking
in the soft sand, you followed my footsteps
and when we turned around there was only
one journey to see, like we were one person.
STUDY OF HAIR
My bags are packed
and there’s only a night
before I leave here for good
or bad. We lie together
and stroke each other’s hair.
Mine grows straight
and falls out
but yours meanders
lavishly like it hates
to leave you, as I do.
Even now, far away,
I find your red hairs, coiled
like rusty cogs in a broken
pocket-watch some stranger
IN THE DAYS AFTER
I watched a field tilled
the old-fashioned way –
Clydesdales pulling plough,
working a patch
they’d never be allowed
to graze in.
Out of a thicket came
a blackbird, the way
a monosyllable comes
from the mouth in answer
to a difficult question
such as: How are you?
and forage as you might,
all you can find is Fine.
Richie McCaffery hails from Warkworth, Northumberland. He was a Carnegie Trust Caledonian scholar at the University of Glasgow where he earned his PhD in 2016. In 2014 his published his first full collection of poems, Cairn from Nine Arches Press. His second collection, entitled Passport is due out from Nine Arches Press in July 2018.
Michael McCarthy: Four Poems from John Joseph Therry 1790-1864
MASSACRE AT CARLOW
‘She took and kissed the next flower thrice and softly said to me.
This flower I found in the Wicklow hills, in Glenmalure said she.
The name I call it is Michael Dwyer, the strongest flower of all.
And I’ll keep it fresh beside my breast though all the world should fall.’
From the ballad of the 1798 rebellion, The Three Flowers.
When I walk down Tullow Street I can smell the smoke
And the burning flesh. It was seventeen years ago this week,
I was only eight. I imagined it all on Shandon Street,
The Yeomen firing the houses and the rebels running,
flames streaking out of their hair and clothes
And Commander Dennis shouting: ‘spare no man.’
When my father told us about it my mother asked him to stop.
‘You’ll give them nightmares.’ But he said we had to know
What happened, to make sure it would not happen again.
I picture them at the Potato Market, their pikes gleaming
Their eyes alight, and Hayden going around in a whisper,
Telling them: ‘Carlow will be ours before the morning.’
Come the morning they were slaughtered.
Massacred by gunfire and shot. Running into
The houses down Tullow Street, being burnt out
And bayoneted, I still cry at the thought.
It was never found out who opened the College Gates
Or whether, as was claimed, they were forced.
It was whispered, that one of the French priests,
Mr Chabaux or Mr LaBrune, were capable of it.
They had seen the like before, in Paris. Mayhem,
Bloodshed, Beheadings. This was not new to them.
Five hundred rebels escaped that night and lived
To fight again at Wexford and Vinegar Hill.
The rest, God help them, dumped in the Croppy Pit.
The torture and hangings went on for weeks.
Paddy the Pointer was brought in here four times.
He could point out no one. They would have liked
To close the college down. They had no legal right.
It was lucky they didn’t send it up in flames instead.
Like every boy in Cork who had a father like mine
I would step into the ranks when my turn came.
Michael Dwyer was my hero, more than Emmet
Or Tone. The way he held out for five long years
In the Wicklow mountains. Sleeping in that cave,
Wrong footing the yeomen time after time.
That’s what I would do when I was old enough.
In the end, there was an agreed surrender,
But they broke their word. Instead of a free passage
To America, they transported him to New Holland
Where he is today. My hopes and plans have changed
But not that much. Talking to John England has brought me here.
‘Forget about armed Rebellion,’ he said. ‘There are better ways.
So here I am, a rebel all my life if God spares me. I can’t watch
Harm being done. My father gave me that, my mother too.
Mostly I stand my ground, refuse to budge. It’s got me
Into trouble more than once. ‘Calm down,’ the lads tell me,
But there are times I can’t. The truth must never be put aside.
The President had me in the other week. He told me
My temperament gave cause for concern. Professor Doyle
Is the teacher I admire the most, a friend of Daniel O’Connell.
Peaceful agitation, look for what can be done within the law.
Argue our way. No more bloodshed. I can live with that,
Though Michael Dwyer will always be my man.
Student Report April 1815 John Joseph Therry
Thank you for your report on student John Joseph Therry
Received on the 11th inst. While I disagree with nothing,
-It is exactly as you say it is- I wish instead to offer
An interpretation which looks in an opposite light.
Therry is without question headstrong and stubborn,
Outspoken to a fault, argumentative and contentious.
He is oversensitive in his emotions, sees a slight
Where none exists, and lacks sensitivity to others.
May I say in mitigation, he is as yet a young man.
He also hails from the city of Cork, where thriving
Against the odds is a necessary rule of survival.
You add that he is blunt and without nuance.
That too, I am sorry to say, is undoubtedly the case.
My concern regarding his suitability for Holy Orders
Echoed yours exactly when I first came to the College.
I have, since that time, profoundly changed my mind.
I’ve watched closely and noticed, he argues only
With those above him. You, for example, or me.
He does not take advantage of anyone beneath.
The opposite in fact, he stands up for such.
While disputatious in the extreme and takes correction
With bad grace, he does have a passion for the weak,
And is fearless in the face of those who exercise power.
He will not let a perceived wrong go unchallenged.
I have watched him carefully these last two years.
He is ferocious on the field of play, I have noticed
When facing opponents blessed with superior skill
Or physical advantage he refuses to yield an inch.
May I humbly suggest, knowing that his preference
Is for a missionary assignment, with a leaning towards
Those who have been forced to leave their homeland,
Transported for moral failings or political engagement.
Who better to stand up for those deprived of justice,
Birth-right, loved ones, Religious Faith itself, and who
Languish in a hostile climate ten thousand miles away.
Therry is indomitable. He will not fail to take their part.
Your humble servant,
Professor James Doyle.
The day before we were due to sail
I was a bag of cats. I would let no one near me.
My father was quiet, my mother hovering
Around the edges, sniffling, trying to get close.
I hate good byes. I am alright at giving sympathy,
I’m not good at taking it. I did give her a proper hug
Before I climbed the ladder. I let her cry on my shoulder.
Her last words: ‘We will not see you again in this life.’
The ship looked solid enough, but when we got on board
The sight of the poor women and children in cages
Got the better of me. Captain Mowatt called us
Up on deck before we sailed.
He told us the journey would be arduous
With many hazards. Our first landfall would be
Rio Janero in six weeks or so. We could expect
To sail into Botony Bay in about five months.
We had a choice: make it easier or harder for ourselves.
A well run ship I thought. The captain is clearly a man
Of authority, with no little charm. How wrong I was.
The Mizen was barely out of sight before it started.
The captain invited Mary Long, ‘to do his washing.’
She being the best looking woman on board, and
With a wandering eye. Two weeks into the voyage
The barrier locking the women in at night was breached.
A blind man could see what went on. I challenged the Captain
On the question of immorality. He told me I was imagining it.
Over the following weeks I challenged him a number of times.
I had to give up in the end, it being a complete waste of time.
Meanwhile the nightly concourse continued. After we sailed from Rio
It got worse than ever. There was not even the pretence of good order.
Each crew member had taken one of the women to his personal service.
Some of the women were clearly carrying a child. Mary Long included.
When Governor Macquarie asked if I had anything to add,
I said I did. I pointed out to him how difficult it is
To wash clothes in the dark, and how impossible
To conceive a child by washing clothes.
‘Can I see your passports,’ I joke, as they line up
To register. The four young women join in easy banter.
We haven’t brought them,’ they tell me, as they stand
On the threshold. As I did in 1963.
Later, in the Cathedral where I was ordained
A surge of emotion rises. A lifetime ago.
Fragments of memory flicker onto my radar
Things I did, and did not do well.
A sheltered eighteen years old come to study for the collar.
There were no young women walking these corridors then,
Just two hundred male students, us new arrivals wearing
Borrowed cassocks while our own were tailored.
We’d wear them for six years. These women
The knees of their jeans split in the current fashion
Fuse me to who I was. Meeting my history backwards
I surrender to the moment, embrace my younger self.
Michael McCarthy grew up on a farm in West Cork, Ireland. His first poetry collection Birds’ Nests and Other Poems won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, and his latest collection – ‘At the Races’ (Smith/Doorstop, 2009) – was the overall winner of the 2008 Book & Pamphlet Competition and The Healing Station (smith|doorstop, 2015) was chosen as a Book of the Year by Hilary Mantel in the Guardian. He worked as a priest in North Yorkshire. Fr Michael died in July 2018.
Jenny McRobert: Two Poems
The brown Bakelite radio had a single yellow dial,
a cat’s eye winking and whining night music.
Before the fingers of dawn stretched out the sky
she was elbow deep in silky, white flour,
the radio her only companion, foreign words
like acrobats tumbling through her mind.
Her hips swayed their own language:
‘Some day he’ll come along, the man I love,
And he’ll be big and strong, the man I love…’
A heartbeat of excitement, of possibility,
breaking out of the morning ritual
like a prisoner over the wall.
She expected no other love –
sea-foam batter rolled over her spoon,
baked to a fluffy climax that left the tongue wet.
Stuffed cabbage, sharp, savoury,
the perfect mix
of sweet and sour like a girl’s first kiss.
In the steamy hours, she made
soups and stews stirred in huge vats,
trays of crisp biscuits,
brandy rich wedding cakes,
for other people’s kitchens,
not for her own children.
Best of all, the blintzes,
parchment fine and sweet,
filled with creamy cheese, hung
in muslin for days over the bath,
its sour smell a visitor lodged
in the tiny sitting room.
When her children rose,
the ‘Bakelite’ blintzes were theirs.
Hardened hands cupped their chins,
then wiped away the
‘somewhere else’ in her eyes.
It sat in a corner
burbling volcanic self-talk,
hissing and chuckling manically,
enjoying some private joke.
Sometimes it poured out
acerbic jibes and grumblings.
Was it even English, Russian, Yiddish?
Who could tell? Not even Grandma
whose ungrateful child it was.
Other times it spat spite-steam
onto her time-mottled hands,
thwarting her thirsty lips,
her amber memories
brewed in pain.
into head-nodding silence,
her eyelids moist, half-closed:
I snatched you quickly as the city burned;
you squealed steamily not to be left.
My Cyrillic longings jotted in vapour breath,
written in strange foreign-tinged air,
all that I brought with me
and all that I left behind.
Grandma, Samovar and I
communed in silvery silence
through the long-ticking night.
Breaking the morning
with hot lemon tea,
we freed the locked down past,
in the furrows of our brow,
raised a toast to our lives.
Jenny McRobert Changing from Psychologist to poet has been Jenny McRobert’s most pleasurable journey. Despite being taught it at school, poetry has been her lifelong passion, though career demanded writing of a different sort (Psychology textbooks and articles). She has migrated to a land that she loves -developing as a poet. Some of her work has been shortlisted (Fish Anthology) and ‘Highly Commended’ (Winchester Writers Festival). Her poem ‘Touched’ was published by Picaroon Poetry Issue #12 May 2018.
Esther Murbach:Two Poems
He had done his time
seven years and four months
the rest remitted for good conduct
When the prison gate slid to the right
for the impostor’s release
a crowd was waiting outside
In front the yellow press
armed with recording devices
behind the Catalogue Aria of women scorned
all sizes, shapes and ages
perfectly painted socialites
even a couple of business barracudas
and Japanese escorts
who should have known better
Some ladies carried bunches of roses
others guns in their garters
the geishas discreet daggers
between pink sakura twigs
the old crooked smile
on his face
same carpet bag
in his hand
Both had always been
his useful instruments
silently wailing the tune:
take me in
I’m the lonely babe in the woods
oh lady be good
In his hands all females
became Polly Peachum
The waiting Pollies
shining hope and burning hell alike
in their hearts
fought to take him home
for revenge or redemption
In the end they all did
each holding on to
a small part of his body
after splitting him up
The press had a field day
REFLECTIONS ON SILENCE
When Hamlet said
‘The rest is silence‘
what he was talking about
the tip of the sword
which killed him
being the truth kept silent
in a maze of betrayal
Silence can be
the deepest sea
the highest mountain
the hottest fire
the thickest ice
the sharpest knife
Living in silence
where questions are scorching
is choosing slow torture
over instant death
the weapon of him
who knows no way
to defend his deeds
Silence can sound
louder than cries
when no help is near
Silence may be
consoling and soothing
where words are too much
to deal with
Silence gives you
rest and revival
unplugging your ears
from the endless din
of the barbarism
we nowadays call
In the end
silence is always
Esther Murbach, a former journalist and translator, lives in Basel/Switzerland and Galway. She writes fiction and poetry in German and English. Her work contains several novels as well as short story and poetry collections published in Switzerland. In Ireland, her short fiction and poetry have appeared in The Galway Review, The Galway Review Printed Edition, The Galway Advertiser and Crannóg. http://www.esthermurbach.ch
Joe Pickard Poem
A fox’s tail skirts the ground
like the conductive strip
of a bumper car,
producing white sparks.
Searching for food –
the streets are an empty arcade –
illuminations or street lights,
a frontier pier, a fish and chip stall,
pages of local papers discarded
little England letters pages-
shorthand Encyclopaedia Britannica –
it can lick the grease
and taste the stories
through the blurred ink.
Joe Pickard works as a journalist in London. He studied English with Creative Writing at the University of Chester. He has had writing published in Confluence, Prole, Flash Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. He has recently established an online literary journal, Pulp Poets Press, which is currently looking for submissions.
Frances Sackett: Five Poems
It was that day when one season
changes to another – when Venetians
hang their winter coats on high
lines above narrow courtyards
between their tall houses.
And we were lying in a hotel bedroom,
on a bed, where the coats – mainly furs –
hung outside our open window, sending
in a warm breeze and slanting sun
to tantalise our naked flesh.
As we turned on the bed, the chandelier
on the high ceiling caught the light
and dripped patterns on your arms,
as though your skin was the lagoon,
dappled by evening sun.
Then, even in the heat of Venice,
where the only sound was water
from the fountain in a nearby square,
one strong memory came back to me:
the coldest night of winter
in England, when we were first lovers,
when you piled the frozen bed high
with all the blankets you could find,
and your long winter coat
to make us a cave.
BLACKBIRD & ROWAN TREE
Pewter clouds turning to rain,
rolling traffic through the town.
Then, in the rowan tree
edging the filling station,
a blackbird, mouth wide open,
to contain an enormous red berry.
Red berry against orange beak
as the bird holds its jewel,
savouring its moment of feast.
The dismal day suddenly ecstatic.
You spot them as you drive through English counties,
ghostly survivors of nature’s accidents.
Sometimes solitary in a field
they attract you with their danse macabre.
In driftwood colours, fake arms
point long witches’ fingers.
Some are lightning-struck; headless skeletons,
blackened through their core.
Reminders how our dead are always there,
inhabiting the memory of a place.
Like Doggerland was once discovered
off the Norfolk coast,
and violent storms revealed
a Bronze Age forest above a beach in Wales.
Ancient trees lie petrified, dreaming
of the time they lost their footing,
slipped beneath the waves.
HENRYK GÓRECKI AT AUSCHWITZ
It was a school outing –
they took us to Auschwitz.
Walking the rail track
we boys didn’t dare
place our feet on the paths
shingled with human bones.
What was their reasoning –
bringing us by bus
from our grey suburb?
I cannot shake it off .
Some of the boys skipped on the tracks,
calling to one another,
their names like bells
in the heavy air.
When the music came to me
it was from words scrawled
on a cell wall: Oh Mamma do not cry –
a soaring that built and built,
but silent. My eardrums almost burst
before I laid down the first note.
Then, a single tone repeating,
became sorrow in all its forms,
that if you closed your eyes
you could smell it
and never lose that smell.
‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ was composed between October and December in 1976
In 1992 it topped the classical charts in Britain and the United States
THE OPEN WINDOW
After Pierre Bonnard
As dusk fell
I kept the window open,
the shutters pushed right back,
watched everything changing
as the sky gloomed over the trees,
mixing its dense blue
with shimmering purple and green;
the sky floating into the room, deepening
the red of the walls, as though
the breezeless night
enveloped my lethargy.
Yet there were still two elements –
the outside aloof in its grandness,
the open window no more
than an impossible invitation.
I wait for the white planet to dip
into view, feel its power
to hypnotise –
even if I pull down the sheer
black blind and fall asleep.
Frances Sackett’s poetry has been published widely in magazines and journals. Most recently in Acumen and The Pre-Raphaelite Society Review where her poem ‘Two Faces of a Daughter’ won third prize. She tutored poetry for Manchester University’s ‘Courses for the Public’ and was one of the founder members of Marple Writers. She contributed to Welsh Women’s Poetry 1460 – 2001 (Honno Welsh Women’s Classics) and many anthologies. She has published two collections: The Hand Glass (Seren. 1996) and Cradle of Bones (The High Window. 2018).
Julie Sampson: Poem
skims & dips
its lightening zip
through blue ether.
It is calm here.
High behind haze
St Mary’s spire
is a florilegium,
its beaded loops
trace the track
from Five Fords
then meanders along
river’s edgeland margin.
We can not name them all,
we need to consult
our virtual oracle
to leaf old books
label un-ravel intricacies
the occulted texts of this
valley’s referential lands
Each is unique,
a few sharp-
don’t believe in
would lash out
if we dare to step
toward sun’s reflecting water
– a nettle-slash,
or sting of great willow-herb
are rimmed with spikes –
others though might seem to bite are
nature’s true blessings
dead nettles’ rim of hidden white
whose exotic essence is only to be found
by the stretch of long-tongued humming bumble-bee.
Julie Sampson‘s work has appeared recently in Shearsman, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Journal, Dawntreader, Noon, Pulsar, The Amethyust Review and The Algebra of Owls. She edited Mary Lady Chudleigh; Selected Poems (Shearsman Books, 2009). A full collection, Tessitura, was published by Shearsman, in 2014 and a non-fiction manuscript about Devon’s women writers was short-listed for The Impress Prize, in 2015. A pamphlet, It Was When It Was When It Was was published by Dempsey and Windle, in 2018.
Paul Sutherland: Four Poems
THE DAWN SWEEPER
Outside, somebody chops for their cooking pot –
and now her two sons take over the routine.
Under sky-notched greens she bows and starts
to sweep her path-way of rust-coloured earth
gripping tied frond ribs like her predecessors
she swishes back the grime – and crimes
both grandma and granddad killed fighting
the British rifles with staves and axe handles.
Her blue scarf fluffed in a varied-petalled form
she shifts, tucks her lungi in her forbears’ way.
Their twin deaths enshrined on the chunky red
laterite wall, close by the government school yard
where the slender tarmac twists and high palms
extend shade to end-of-day children.
lungi is a sarong in Kerala colloquial usage.
1921 is the year in which about 640 local people were killed opposing British occupation of India – an off-shoot of the Malabar Rebellion [the British called the Muslim fighters Mappila lahalas] in which many thousands were involved. Most Muslims were not against the British but their Hindu landlords who tended to oppress them. In 1971 the government of Kerala acknowledged and honoured the nsurgents as ‘freedom fighters’.Recently another site of unmarked graves have been found near here the poem’s subject lives. And a programme has been initiated to discover the identity of each freedom fighter buried in that location.
A LITTLE GIRL BY THE LAKE
at Biyyam Kayal near Ponanni
My guide notes, there’s not
a wrinkle on the lake, I
peer at these aged hands
a white crane lights on
debris: a fisherman goes by
in his long narrow boat
the hanging foot-bridge
ripples – wishing to become
the water below
on the span, half-way,
I meet a girl – colourful
as a fanned peacock
‘She doesn’t act like
a Muslim’. My guide replies
her age, they’re like this.
Her eyes stare up straight
seeking contact; each small step
reaching for salaams.
And leaving the place
she’s there by the car with her
last wave through the glass.
My kind guide relates
Poets sing of this mirror
a face from its depths.
A MAN PREPARING TO SLEEP ON A KOLLAM STREET
He elects a place below a lit streetlight
to bed down close by a wire-fence with gate.
A scattered troupe of wild dogs pass near
with cold lope and tails rigidly curved up –
they can’t be bothered to trouble him.
He spreads something out like a blanket
on to the concrete, where there is distance
between him and the now motor-less road.
It’s past midnight. He’s not a young man
and his preparations imply this is a routine
of many nights, and for another, stretches
in his garments – inside and above his cover.
He doesn’t seem cocooned. Perhaps feels more
secure beside the partition in front of a shop
that minutes ago closed its see-through doors
to customers. He rises on his elbows and greets
its watchman, then slides down, then stands tall
to address a fast-walking gentleman who without
alarm or care angles away. He lowers once more
trying to shape his body into a restful posture.
I watch him from a chair on my hotel balcony
after about twenty minutes mosquitoes chase
me inside. I’m looking through a third storey
window. He might be asleep now, I’m unsure.
Is he on good terms with all night’s creatures?
Morning he won’t be there. Perhaps he stays
until first eagles start to circle the Kollam streets.
Looks reposed now, tilts his head towards qibla,
Oachira Temple, or St Anthony shrine, or none –
turns his face towards the place of his birth.
THE ROTI MAKER
I came upon his village lean-to
that first morning here in Kerala,
grey-white camouflage of smoke
rose from his burning coconut husks
thrilled me and I thought that fire
fragrant as his soon to be tasted bread.
His isolated bulb above his head
before a shred of dawn, illuminated
dollops of fawn-coloured dough
his bowl, atta flour, aligned utensils.
His work-roughened hands busily
involved, his sleeves rolled high,
head bending down; he sheltered
behind a discoloured plastic screen.
I came on him at the breakfast table:
on a floral plate a layered stack of his
gold, patchy, moreish rotis
– even one almost more than I could eat
my hands soon sticky with its touch.
The second week, he was there
at his earlier-than-sunrise labour,
his black iron plate starting to heat.
A breath away in a small mosque
I listened how the Imam at fajr
ladled out in portions the suras
of the Qur’an each time beginning
Al Fatihah every verse-line discrete.
Some aspect more about that roti-swirler
claimed attention, who turned
raw beginnings into pleasurable food.
It seemed, when I watched him at work,
on his iron my doughy heart sizzled
there after the years it had tried
to digest unfathomable truths
to love excruciating persons
when each time afterwards
I’d had to rake out its ashes.
Paul Sutherland is a Canadian-British poet who has lived in the UK. since 1973. He has published eleven collections of his own poetry and edited several others. The founding editor of Dream Catcher, a popular international poetry journal which is now in its 35th issue, Paul runs creative writing workshops, seminars and writers’ retreats. Since 2004 he has been a Sufi Muslim, a factor of crucial importance to any assessment of his work.
Robin Thomas: Poem
What have we done to deserve trains:
their hereness and goneness,
their doors open to let people off and on
and closedness, their swish of greeting,
roar of farewell, their sheer presence, at least
of the grand, important ones that go
to places like Truro and Lostwithiel?
When a train stands throbbing with easy purpose
in an Edward Thomas country station
like Castle Cary set in an unpeopled valley
demonstrating the law of perspectives,
twice if you stand in the middle,
there’s a frisson, a connectedness.
Then clouds of blue-grey diesel
where it isn’t any more
and birds settling back into trees.
Robin Thomas completed the MA in Writing Poetry at Kingston University in 2012. He has had poems published in a number of journals including Agenda, Envoi, Orbis,
Brittle Star, Poetry Salzburg, Poetry Scotland, Pennine Platform, Stand, Rialto and The Interpreters House. His pamphlet A Fury of Yellow was published by Eyewear in November 2016. His collection Momentary Turmoil was published by Cinnamon Press in 2018.
Mark Totterdell: Four Poems
Where did the sparrows dwell
before we built spaces
by chance for them
in the chinks of our houses
and homed those tiny spirits
of our safe places?
How did the sparrows fare,
what did they feast upon,
before they took their tithes of tithes
of our stored corn?
How will the sparrows fend
once we are gone?
The snail has drawn its trail, unthinkingly,
across stone traces of its long-lost kin.
All forms evolve.
That reach of ours, to dive the depths of time,
to grasp the breadths, life as a billion riddles
for us to solve;
the best of what we are, the naming, knowing,
while in the warming oceans, all the shells
start to dissolve.
THE RAVENS IN THE LIBRARY
One day, the ravens forsook their moor,
left squishy lambs’ eyes and spaghetti guts,
and aimed and fired themselves at the heart of the city.
First they put on a slick black arrow display
upside-downside-up above the flat roof
of the shoddily refurbished central library,
then they dropped anchors to our level,
where their dark dense matter triggered the wheeze
of the automatic doors, and they were in,
a havoc, scattering the clients of the café,
piercing the fading ghosts of redundant librarians,
their kronk-kronks ricocheting off bare walls.
They flew dead straight to the flimsy shelving,
began to peck and tear at all the books,
got high on the glue of the bindings.
They ripped the innards out, they tore and swallowed
chunks of encyclopaedia, a Collected Poems
and more, eating paper, ink and all, as if
thereby they’d somehow absorb the sense, the meanings,
become human-wise. As if this is a fable.
As if there’s more to be read into it.
Their acids did their work, and in an hour
the tacky carpet tiles were constellated
with stinks of their soft, blank, papier-mâché shit.
News travels quickly through this medium.
You need to see it so you can say you saw it.
Half an hour later you’re bombing down the ring road.
From half a mile away up on the cliff top,
it’s greyish, sluglike, a smudge against the sand.
The swarm of midges round it must be people.
Close up, you join an ambling congregation.
You orbit the great dead planet of the body,
its ridges and valleys, the craters and erosion.
You want to touch it so you can say you touched it.
The baleen is made of thick black plastic plates,
components of a machine that you can’t work.
Its eye is tiny, piggy. Your nose is open
to molecules of decay. There are officials.
It’s a massive headache for the local council.
Mark Totterdell’s poems have appeared widely in magazines and have occasionally won competitions. His collection, This Patter of Traces, was published by Oversteps Books in 2014. His second collection, Mapping, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2018.
Merryn Williams: Poem
Now all the things they wished concealed
are spread before our eyes.
Embarrassment, too weak a word.
Unveiled, the trivial lies.
We empty drawers, we send for scrap
the clothes in which they died.
The paper trail leads back to much
that they forgot to hide.
Pick up, ignite that feeble torch,
clutch Ariadne’s thread,
and cast a wavering light upon
the chambers of the dead.
Merryn Williams has published four volumes of poetry and her Selected Poems are due to be published by Shoestring Press in 2019. She is literary adviser to the Wilfred Owen Association and has edited two anthologies, In the Spirit of Wilfred Owen and The Georgians 1901-30. She was the founding editor of The Interpreter’s House magazine.
Robin Lindsay Wilson: Poem
THE WAY WE ARE NOW.
we listen to the small talk
of sea-loch and shore –
we cannot help but smile
when the conversation
sounds like we do now
the consonants click
pebble against pebble –
our noises are precise
vowels stay and rinse
the silt from friendship
we journey to the point –
to the broken crab shells
turning green in the tide
and launch our chatter
of complaint and fear
onto a fluster of waves
and an apology of blue
crunching stones speak
of certainties in the future
the microscopic spill
of death and desiccation
tell us a different story
we look across the loch
and lapse into silence
Robing Lindsay Wilson has published in a number of UK literary journals and magazines, including Iota, Brittle Star, Magma, The Rialto and The Interpreter’s House.
He has also had two collections of poetry published by Cinnamon Press: Ready Made Bouquets (2005) and Myself and Other Strangers (2015).
Sarah Wimbush: Two Poems
Sometimes he dug the ditches out on Serlby Hall Estate.
And thrashed his sister’s man after he’d slapped her ‘cross the face.
And often carried water for his mother from the Ouse.
And thieved ten shilling Great War pension off his brother Hugh.
And sang like an angel and played grass like a tin whistle.
And rarely missed a fisticuffing down the Old Blue Bell.
And that time calmed the lady’s filly bolting up the road.
And couldn’t write his name but nose-to-tailed a bookies board.
And got away with it that night those skewbalds went amiss.
And took a fair old beating ‘cause he loved the married lass.
And didn’t give a monkey’s or ailed one day in his life.
And always wanted chavvies but never fancied a wife.
First to rise for threshing, last in a cock-fighting wager,
the man named after kings and coins and a dragon slayer.
The caravan nods
the tilly lamp pendulum –
a Traveller rhythm.
Now and then lodger
Noah, rises from the floor.
Slips away. Returns
with ten partridge eggs
in his trilby: stokes the stove.
Tapped. Split. Blubber spits.
Stripped from knife to plate.
Shared between eight. Each bite fresh
as today’s sunrise.
Sarah Wimbush was born in Doncaster and now lives in Leeds. She won the Red Shed and Mslexia Poetry Competitions 2016. She has had poems published in The North, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House and Brittle Star and belongs to York Stanza.
Patrick Wright: Two Poems
REVIEW OF THE TITANIC MUSEUM
All is negative space, perched on the stern, face out to Belfast harbour.
Everything to scale. The slipway’s rib cage with stanchions of a gantry
that once gave flesh to this. I pace the keel, a ghost. White lines imply
dimensions. I imagine soap in the runnels, imagine tonnes of soap, oil
for the gigantic hull to slide, a public cry and celebrate with streamers.
Nothing in the dockyard. Just the odd seabird, shadow on the plaza.
A lonely funnel, like a de Chirico. No souvenir, though I ask myself
what I’d give for a rivet? What would I give for a rivet? All I find is a
shell tossed by the tide. I make my way along and back to the tour
guide, to the group on segways in expensive suits. I dig the architecture,
how the facade is the same height as the bow and the same shape; how
its windows glitter like fish scales. Behind me they’re dancing on graves
in replica clothes, staged photos. I wonder if Auschwitz is like this.
I wonder if Auschwitz is full of merchandise and Disney rides and
babyccinos. I wonder what kind of toll there is. I prefer air outside.
I prefer this cast-iron sunlight. I prefer my dark tourism of strolling
this length, this width, imagining myself on deck, the promenade by
lifeboats, knowing something everyone else didn’t. The sombreness
of cabinets in old fashioned museums: I prefer the childlessness, the
inwardness, unsmiling interiors.
BLACK MIRROR –
How changed since the tain was a bedroom portal –
a tilted dimension just as real, a land to be lived in –
the mind enclosed in my boyhood photo, far wall.
Now a mirror, dark as the life I made for myself,
a gift bought on day-release from a psycho ward –
fears of geopathic stress, parabens, bad feng shui –
which sits here studded with a Swarovski tree.
Of all things why this? The absurdity of opulence,
a square of licorice; something that will cheer us
like mums buy sweets after accidents. Gone awol,
gazing in sync, faces, folie à deux, fused under sun;
androgyne, unsure who sported the stolen peejays
out a cell we escaped, of nurse patrols, intercoms …
Same in the lounge plasma screen or the window
starting to turn pitch and inward – phantoms all –
the sky now dimmed: as Chinese lanterns morph
to a lampshade, I ask what’s there behind the eye,
whether it’s me or if in fact we merge and it’s her
through such vertical lakes, shades of noir, inside
the bezels of all glass surfaces around the flat.
Patrick Wright has a pamphlet, Nullaby, published by Eyewear. He has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and his poems have been published in several magazines, including Agenda, The Reader, Brittle Star, Ink, Sweat and Tears, and Iota. He is a lecturer at The Open University and teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. He is also working towards a second PhD in Creative Writing at The Open University, supervised by Siobhan Campbell and Jane Yeh.