The High Window: Issue 17 Spring 2020

•••••

The Poets

Mike BarlowMichael Bartholomew-BiggsRachel BurnsKitty ColesPaul Connolly  • Craig DobsonClive Donovan •  Noel DuffyScott ElderAnnmarie FordPhilip Gross Hilary HaresDavid Harmer Nigel JarrettValerie LynchMary Mulholland •  Alistair NoonJean O’ BrienStuart PickfordFiona Pitt-KethleyMike PonsfordJudy ShalanLindsey Shaw-MillerAdrienne SilcockFiona SinclairStella Wulf Jacquie Wyatt

*****

Previous Poetry

THW 16 December 4, 2019

THW 15 September 5, 2019   THW 14 June 3, 2019

THW 13  March 6, 2019   THW 12  December 10, 2018   

THW11  September 5, 2018  THW10   May 21, 2018   

THW9  March 7, 2018   THW8  December 6, 2017  

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

*****

Mike Barlow: Three Poems

WORLDS

you with your light meters and relaxed itinerary
Derek Mahon, ‘A Disused Shed in County Wexford’

I take my time. There is a world to see to.
Rubbish to put out this morning of soft rain.
Cardboard, paper, old lists
and a week’s newspapers with their
cautionary tales, how the world goes on
when you’re not looking, hindsight
no comfort to the disgraced, the dead
of last week’s news, the writers
of headlines, nor the perusers of small ads.

Young blackbirds learn the ropes
on the washing line, the more
they wobble and flutter the more
the line swings until they’re off
to regain their balance
in the elsewhere air, their given
element restoring equilibrium.

Behind the house the land
drops steeply to the river where
I used to swim against the current
up a trough of bedrock, stirring clouds
of sediment which clung to me
and dried as I lay out in the sun.
Moments like that I would stare
through the nexus of branch and leaf,
shadow and sunlight until
it seemed my brain took root.

Old news, old wars, the pundits’ certainties,
the sunburnt skin of yesterday,
the soft rain of an hour ago;
memory’s no camera, has no shutter speed,
no f stop, just a focus that comes and goes
and sharpens the random, the insignificant
and sometimes the momentous.
But how are we to know the difference,
each with our own world
through which to see the world?

UNSLAMMED DOORS

We stand among tea-chests, not sure
what’s packed where, contemplating
the burst bottom of a box of books;
we’re leaving naked lightbulbs,
bare boards, curtainless windows,

while out there in the street the sofa waits
beside the dresser and the bed, home’s
internal organs exposed to the acid stare
of neighbours, the vanload being assembled
like a chinese puzzle piece by piece.

A new home may await the same clutter,
but it’s what we leave behind weighs heaviest,
these everyday rooms, their tell-tale scuffs,
sprink stains, the after-bodge of DIY,
forensic detritus gathered in missed corners ¬–

crockery splinters, nailparings, maybe
your long-lost ear-ring wedged beneath the skirting.
And what of the air, its freight of chatter,
fraught silences, those impromptu passions
while the 10’oclock news droned on.

Just think; the houseproud woman whose home
for all those years we’re moving to,
may be treading on our heels for months,
while the young couple moving in after us
will have to slam the bedroom door in our faces.

SOURDOUGH

Known in the suburbs by his various names –
lawnmower man, jack the roof, rat-catcher,
sourdough (on account of the faded sign
on the second-hand baker’s van he got rid of
a few years back) – no one visits his premises,
said to be a lean-to somewhere in the backstreets.

You don’t need to. We may think he’s been around
since our grandparents’ days but he’s kept up,
business now conducted by smartphone
and cash in hand. His current van, a faded
red ex-postie’s – drain rods and ladders
lashed to the roof, ‘City’ windscreen sticker –
can always be seen on the way to or from
some blocked gutter, leaking roof, rotten window.

And were you to peer in through its opened
back doors, what you’d notice is something
of the order we always hope to find beneath
the muddle of the day by day: tools
of his overlooked trade stacked and secured;
boxes of bolts, screws, nails, grommets
labelled and shelved; pots of poison, mastic and paint
strapped in like children. A man with a mission

and a place in the world, here among us.
Though when we need to put a finger on it,
his place in our world, we must trust to voicemail
or, if we’re lucky, hail him like a taxi
as he happens by, so much a matter of chance,
these days of keeping house and home together.

Mike Barlow won the 2006 National Poetry Competition. His first full collection, Living on the Difference (Smith|Doorstop 2004) won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition and was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection. Charmed Lives (Smith|Doorstop 2012), was his third full collection. Amicable Numbers (Templar 2008) was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. His latest pamphlet is Some Kind of Ghost (New Walk Editions 2018). He runs Wayleave Press, an independent pamphlet publishing venture.

Back to the top

*****

Michael Bartholomew-Biggs : Two Poems

FLASHBACK

That memory is closing in again
behind his shoulder – always half-expected
though its lap-times are erratic –
and it’s gaining fast. It often passes
safely on the nearside – merely flicks him
with its scornful slipstream. But today
it cuts in front of him and slows
to loom and loom and fill his windscreen.

It’s not his fault – not yet and not until
he fails to brake and tries to turn away.
It’s then the second recollection hits him.
It was hiding in a blind spot
of his mirrors and it strikes him sideways
as his cringing psyche is exposed.
Now guilt colliding with resentment cartwheels
out of his control just like the first time.

All those people hurt because of one
defensive flinch and swerve around
a truth he should have risked engaging with.
He has to watch again as stored momentum
in the splintered implications slice through
blameless lives whose owners never saw it coming
and insist he has to live it all again
to help dispel their post-traumatic disbelief.

CLOSE READING

You are scarcely visible among wild roses.
I can catch a shimmer of white shirt,
as insubstantial as a hologram.
You are reading Henry James’s notebook
transcribed from his library, transported
to his strictly punctuated century
while self-immersed among the Lamb House bushes.

When a cloud drifts north the light is altered
like a page turned over to a winter picture
where you’re threading steadily through headstones
on the graveyard short-cut to your school.
You leave a seam of single-minded footprints in the snow
that’s going to keep your class indoors all day again.
You learn to jive beside the furnace in the lunch break.

You’re still as solemn as a ten year old, absorbed
in precious copied pages, taking in
old Henry’s laboured observations; he reminds you
of a jovial uncle you’re not sure of.
You want to value all the paragraphs
but some will slide away before we leave the garden,
their sense no more persistent than the scent of roses.

Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is a semi-retired mathematician who is now poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip. He has published four collections and five chapbooks, the latest of which are, respectively, Poems in the Case (Shoestring 2018) – which combines poetry with a murder mystery – and The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here (Wayleave 2017) – which speculates about the life of his Irish grandfather. With Nancy Mattson he organises the Poetry in the Crypt reading series in North London.

Back to the top

*****

Rachel Burns: Poem

ALL THE DESPERATE MOTHERS

At court, she tells me, in barely a whisper,
she would take her son back for one night only,
that he could sleep on her couch.

I think about all the desperate mothers
as I walk past the homeless man
wrapped in the loneliness of a white sheet
outside The Royal Station Hotel
surrounded by vomit & broken glass.

I stand on the platform reading the departure board,
all the trains southbound are delayed.
I think about all the desperate mothers
as I listen to the announcement
about a fatality on the tracks.

Rachel Burns poetry has appeared recently in Poetry Salzburg Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She was runner-up in the BBC Poetry Proms competition 2019. Her poetry pamphlet, a girl in a blue dress is available from Vane Women Press. Her  twitter account is @RachelLBurnsme. Her website is  https://rachelburnssite.wordpress.com/

Back to the top

*****

Kitty Coles: Four Poems

THE DOLOROUS STROKE

Mornings, he finds it open, still unhealed.
The flesh is soft like crabmeat, smells rich as death.
The blood is a wetness, extending its sticky trickles.
The pain sits wakeful, heavy with horn and hooves.

Dust rises from the earth in teasing eddies.
The trees are tinder, black hulks mourning their leaves.
The river-bed is a tumble of stones and litter.
Nights, the moon is hard, unholy mother.
The mending words are far away as stars.

HATCHLING

Kept it close, balanced
in the warm space by my heart,
a speckled egg,
incipient, delicate,
nursing its folded wings,
its beak, its head,
tiny skitters of claw.

Felt it roll
against my skin, ceramic-smooth,
when I leant forward,
lay back on the bed.
My locket tapped
its top sometimes – click-clock –
as if telling the moments
till it split
and out the hatchling came,
flightless and blind.

MISSING

That night, when we walked in the woods,
watching a distant flame high in the air –
its function unknown to us, unguessable –
burn blue-yellow, yellow-blue,
some unseen piece of myself must have been mislaid.

I walk, now, in those woods
and try to retrieve it,
searching under dead leaves, in the cobwebs
that hang from the branches.
I imagine it a dry curl,

like the husk on a daffodil
that winds round the stem just under the bloom,
a wisp. It misses
me too, I think.
It chitters and mutters

and the night is cold as it scuttles
deep in the undergrowth.
It moves like a mouse,
its tail whisking behind it.
It hides in holes and waits for footsteps to pass.

When the cat got out,
she hid under the hedge and was silent,
still and uncalling each time that I walked by.
It reminds me of my cat
in its ambivalence,

wanting me but hiding from my torch.
I wonder if it is yours now
and does your bidding.
I believe you may welcome the phantom
that grows in its absence.

Perhaps you, too,
are stalking under these birches,
your green eyes lighting my path with an owl’s ambiguity,
hearing my voice and keeping
my soul in your pocket.

WITCHING

Observe the changing phases of the moon.
Steep yourself in its substance, marinate.

Watch the year cycle, tilting through the dark,
from birth to death and back to birth again.

Tend herbs and dry them, hanging, in your kitchen
so their balm medicines each niche and corner.

Scratch symbols on the lintels, by the sills,
and weave a ward to keep the worst away.

Light candles on the hearth. Their lilting flames
will bear your supplications to the sky.

Read signs in trails of geese above the lake,
the way the squirrels chitter in the birch.

Send spirits out on errands, clad as cats,
and let them suckle, mewling, on your blood.

Use words like thread to bind all this world’s hurt
tight in its place, unpick the other’s seam.

Kitty Coles has been published widely in magazines and anthologies and has been nominated for the Forward Prize, Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her debut pamphlet, Seal Wife (2017), was joint winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize. Her first collection, Visiting Hours, has just been published by The High Window. www.kittyrcoles.com

Back to the top

****

Paul Connolly: Two Poems

WORLD

He stopped, momentary prisoner of the weather’s
unreasonableness: heat behind him – he thought
his hair would ignite – but slipperiness ahead –
for despite the heat, the slope remained soppy
after yesterday’s storms. So he abandoned
his usual route along the sheep field
and turned onto a faint erosion into the woods.
He sauntered the drenches of murk cool
where the air retained rainfall vestiges,
sprinkles of warmth, and occasional baths
hot plunges where marked footpaths
were clearances at ground level reflected
in jagged enlargement by upper gorges
craters of air in the treetop landscape,

and saw a thin felled tree,
weather-split along its spine filled with
fantastical harps and zithers. His inspections
rotated these looms, interfaced them, swirled them
with oil-on-water pigments. They refined
and combed themselves out in wefts
of Haversham hair and gossamer, pulled
Hepworth and Maholy-Nagy strings taut,
oscillated White Heat’s waves,
and then uplifted platforms of light
bejewelled and spangled through with ever-changing
radiance offering hope or oppressing
with impossible hope the unseen inhabitants
in the dark canyons and chambers below.

MERCY

His ageing Wittgenstein face
was vacant. His brown suit billowed
from the rope-belt and tight-rolled sleeves
as he played football with them at the care home
and they avoided their aunt’s wrecked
and sputum-inspissated grins.

His round down-street bowl
was Napoleonic in haircut. He buzzed
Beethoven’s Ninth, jumpered
like Rupert Bear, an endlessly
mummied middle-aged boy,
side-flicking at the knowing whispers.

Kids laughed at them, then Beckett
counselled despairing pity,
but now they menace, we shepherd
our giggling children away,
while they’re gently led or walk
lone and blind into their groves.

Paul Connolly’s poems have appeared in Agenda, The Warwick Review, Poetry Salzburg, The Reader, Scintilla, Dawntreader, Dream Catcher, Orbis, The Journal, The Seventh Quarry, Sarasvati, Envoi, Obsessed with Pipework, Southlight, Foxtrot Uniform, Guttural, Nine Muses, Canada Quarterly, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Northampton Poetry Review, Piece Magazine (USA), London Grip, and The Cannon’s Mouth. Shortlisted for the Bridport and Charles Causley Prizes, he was highly commended in the Sentinel Quarterly and third in the Magna Carta Competitions.  

Back to the top

*****

Craig Dobson : Poem

A POST-IT NOTE BIOGRAPHY

The first bore its I ♥U boldly,
pressed to my jeans on your bedroom floor.

Hungover, I folded it and smiled,
kept it a while.

Next came Rock ’n Roll, then Dream Team, Babe!
And Once a night was never enough,

the ormolu of our early feeling
brightening each yellow frame.

Later, though still playful,
the emphasis shifted:

Re. Wednesday (our anniversary),
ask your boss if you can have it off!

Information stronger now,
ornament declining.

Eventually, just facts prevailed,
objective, bald, efficient:

Don’t let the cat bring anything in;
Dishwasher man at 3.

Which didn’t change in style
after my indiscretion,

though I came into focus again
in each glaring frame. Nothing more

about what the cat dragged in, just:
Last of your stuff by the door.

Craig Dobson has pub lished poems in The London Magazine, North, Rialto, Agenda, Stand, New Welsh Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Under the Radar, Orbis, Butcher’s Dog, Interpreter’s House, Poetry Salzburg Review, Frogmore Papers, Boscombe Revolution and Bad Kid Catullus pamphlets and Poetry Daily website.

Back to the top

*****

Clive Donovan: Poem

DYING WISH

I knew it then already as a uniform
I really didn’t want to wear,
– smarting in my itchy Sunday cloth;
too chokey, hairy, thick, respectable,
– and the tightness of that tie and the forced cap
rituals of touch and doff, touch and doff.
Restrained at Belisha beacons by the
fierce orders of her glove,
the button-busy fingers tugging
ever upwards to the church of love.

Oh, my immaculate mother!
As she in her dying lay,
she thought she’d get her brother to recant and pray
for her immortal soul.
An atheist, request denied, he kept
the staunchness of his faith. Then she
entreated me to get a short haircut.
Shocked, bemused, and therefore cruel, I refused.
But as the priest anointed her and spoke his solemn words,
I seized a fierce sort of hope she didn’t blow it
on her third wish
and that she met Jesus the Jew
who removes all burdens
and that at least He didn’t disappoint.

Clive Donovan devotes himself full-time to poetry and has published in a wide variety of magazines including The High Window, Agenda, Acumen, Poetry Salzburg Review, Prole, Stand and The Transnational. He lives in the creative atmosphere of Totnes in Devon, U.K. often walking along the River Dart for inspiration. He is hoping to entice a publisher to print a first collection.

Back to the top

*****

Noel Duffy:  Four Poems

NIGHT WALKING

I set out each night for the darkened streets,
a camera my instrument of choice, a hipflask
my company. I walk the sometimes busy,
sometimes deserted places, the tree-lined roads
of red-bricked houses, the sycamores overhanging,
the backstreets and marketplaces. I go where
my feet lead me and seek out the secret nightlife
that the city hides in its enclaves: to see what I might capture
in the iris of my lens, life stilled and recycled
by my finger’s impulse, to suffer a chemical genesis.

REFLECTION IN DARKNESS

I get up in the middle of the night, stumble
my way to the bathroom, open its door
to a familiar creak, the tiles of the floor
cool to my feet. I leave off the light so as not
to wake myself, relieve myself into the waters
of the bowl, glance sideward and catch the shadow
of my face in the mirror, the sockets sunk, the skull
and bone-house that traps and cradles the mind
in its sleeping library of half-forgotten scenes.

DARKROOM NOTES

The print lies in the tray, the image of the hotel
emerging in the red gloom of the darkroom,
the filigree of the ironwork window boxes painted over
in the double-exposure of memory’s flashbulb
and the rust of time passing. What stories lie behind
these boarded-up windows overlooking the promenade,
the sea still washing up against the harbour wall,
yet forgetful of everything: the women in their
tightened corsets and flounce of tresses, attended upon;
the men in their bowler hats and spotted neckties;
the reliquary of old, faded postcards of the silver-nitrate
past as the ghosts of maids continue to walk the corridors
ascending and descending staircases that lead nowhere
in the stopped watch of someone else’s afterlife.
And the figure of a man caught in the scene, standing
beneath the spotlight of a streetlamp, staring back at me.

THE FADING SMILE

The image scrolls slowly from the machine,
the photograph of you emerging, blurred
to a ghostly black and white by the facsimile.
Is this all that is left? You grip to the edge
of the pool, your knees pulled up tight to your chest,
the water forming a skin about your shoulders
and arms. There is nothing to be frightened of.
It is summer. The future hasn’t happened yet.
For a moment time is held back in a smile.
But we move too fast. No film is quick enough
to catch us. The shutter clicks, and it is over,
your face bleached to epitaph in my hands.

Noel Duffy was born in Dublin and has published three collections to date with Ward Wood Publishing, London. A fourth collection, Street Light Amber, appeared in autumn 2019. He was shortlisted for the Strong Award for best first collection by an Irish poet in 2011 and, more recently, was the recipient of the Patrick & Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in poetry. For more information about Noel and his work visit: noelduffy.net.

Back to the top

*****

Scott Elder: Three Poems

CHESSMEN HAVE THEIR WAYS

after Debussy’s Prelude No.4
‘Les sons et parfums tournent dans l’air du soir’

On the board a ragged knight
a worn-out steedxxx a mare

he’s listening to the ‘cree-cree’
of amorous cicadas

a day ill-fit for war
he longs for sleep

and glimpses his daughter
piecing through notes

(silences cut them short)

he whispers something gentle
in his mare’s ear

(she’s gentleness itself)

her look runs fathoms
they step off the board

a field of melons awaits
and just beyond the cliff

the sea

HERE, TOO, THE LIGHT

Is this your profession
to run and runxxxyet
to be perchedxxxx as now

on the horizonxxxsuspended
while the moonxxxat midday
wanes to perfection

do you listen to the cicada
to that low roar
here, too, the light xxxit whispers

your beast is sleeping
but dreams you whole
downs a year in a single swallow

your privilege:xxa widow’s grip
a dead man’s lyre
to pluck from its strings

a forgotten tunexxxan unborn child
a black bird’s flight
through falling snow

QUEEN OF SPADES

How gently she shuffles the deck
cards respond in purrs
three spades fall on an oaken table
try not to blink or look aside
would you like a drink xxxshe’ll whisper
I’m fine xxxyou must say
the cargo’s moored in the harbor
its silhouette pulsing dawn

she’s French and new at this
but obviously not at cards
feign belief to give her confidence
and she’ll go on for an hour or so
about transforming shite into gold
of course, you’d prefer a heart or club
but the spades will keep falling

when the harbor emerges the ship will be gone
don’t show surprise
she’ll help you to the door
and you’ll say goodbyexxxgoodbye
as you’ve said countless times before

Scott Elder lives in France. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines including The New Welsh Reader, Southword, The Rialto, Wild Court, Poetry Salzburg, and The Moth. Publications: Breaking Away Poetry Salzburg 2015, Part of the Dark Dempsey&Windle 2017, My Hotel will be published by Salmon Poetry 2023. Website: https://www.scottelder.co.uk/

Back to the top

*****

Annmarie Ford: Two Poems

WHO OWNS A HEART

Now that I have caught your heart
I have no idea what to do with it
For the time being I have placed it in the corner,
along with a plant that has somehow learned
to survive neglected
Perhaps it will teach your heart to do the same
You see, like a child at a pet shop window
I had gazed so long
at what I could have, what I wanted to have
Now I have got it, do I feed it? Where shall it sleep?
How does one look after a heart?
And I can’t ask you,
who knows what false information you would give me?
and perhaps I’m not the right person
to own a heart
to own such a delicate piece of matter
But I do like how it feels and
it looks at me and makes me feel alive
And like the puppy from the pet store,
It’s already pissed and left its mark

RESENTMENT

I opened the refrigerator this morning
and stale emotions poured from it
I found your resentment in amongst the cheese and vegetables
and though your eyes never quite meet mine
I know that if they did
I would probably be left feeling more invisible
I don’t know if you ever had an ideal of what I was supposed to be like
but it didn’t work out that way
and as a cockroach runs across the dirty linoleum floor
I watch it
and realise
it belongs here more than me

Annmarie Ford lives in Glasgow where she studied Philosophy and Literature. She currently teaches English in a high school and spends any free time she has reading, writing or daydreaming.

Back to the top

*****

Philip Gross: Three Poems

CANBERRA RISING

That basketball trick: to spin the globe
on a fingertip
xxxxxxxxxxxxxagainst the black
of space… So Google-pitch
it to me, reel me in

to when? It could be long enough ago
that it, that blur,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthat speck
revealed mostly by its shadow
in its other morning

on a street ten thousand miles from here
could possibly,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxcould passingly,
could nine months past,
be me

in a suburb that’s mapped by the stars,
a suburb in a family
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxof suburbs
cast over a hillside like a loose-
coiled net,

made of old names, Wayal, Chuculba,
and, Fornax, Antares,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxnew. Where else
to turn once we’d exhausted the colonially
good and great

but to the sky? The dark. The twinkling out
of languages
xxxxxxxxxxxxxthat vanish when we look
(yet always in the corner of our eye,
whispers of light.)

For days, for weeks, the place was hiding
from me in plain sight,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe rational capital
whose logic was that it was neither
here nor there,

something in transit, like a circus tent
slung between tips:
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe mere idea
of a spire on the parliament building,
the Telstra tower,

the red-eye night-light on Mt Ainslie.
We could wake to find it
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxhauled down
leaving nothing but a bare patch,
some lines of desire,

Lake Burley Griffin drained. Even with blue
sky on it, and civility,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe lake that’s here
seems less real than the one that isn’t:
Weerawa,

Lake George, in its rousing and sleeping,
its dreaming itself
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxback up, or under,
out of nowhere we can track it.
On a shore

shrunk to a notion, it left boats like toys,
a thwarted jetty
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxand a paddle steamer,
ghosts of cruises nobody
would wave from anymore.

My last night, and we climbed through close
twists of eucalypts
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxour headlights
wove closer, up into the mountain
that had paced

around the city, waiting for me at the end
of every street, until …
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxyes: Canberra,
the fallen constellation, at our feet… As if
only as the place

forgot itself, by night, great symmetries
could rise like groundwater
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxfrom a time before
streetlight, or time. As if we could remember:
we slept naked

once, next to the nakedness of space.

AT HOME WITH THE STARS

More at home with the stars, these nights,
and with their strangeness, still
I’m stopped by this: he steps up,
all a vacant glitter, in the gable window,
too perfectly framed to be true:

Orion. It’s that breath’s-length
hesitation half way down the line,
in the identity parade. Eye to eye.
That teeter on the edge of recognition.
He’s a nothing, I know,

and no ‘he’. Chance collocation. The old
poser. Shift our vantage point in space,
he’d dissolve to unrelated particles,
vacant light years between.
That much we have in common.

Still, I look. To be placed. I know
where to stand, and most nights do,
most weathers, in whatever cold: the one
spot by the gate-post that places the Pole
Star on our roof-top (ours) – as willed

and as wishful as Christmas. Hear the creak
of the star-wheel… us falling away
and away as… look: through a crack
in the cloud cover, in a bleached-out dark
depleted by our street-glow, here’s Orion,

all the weary glitterati and a threadbare
Bear or two, the whole variety show,
the old turns coming on for one
last encore. (Take my hand, love,
we’ll step out together.) One last. And again.

MISSING THE ECLIPSE

Slipping in from the landing, back in
xxxxxxxxto the dark of the room

I wanted to tell you: there’s a moon
xxxxxxxxout there; it’s in the house –

we’d left the curtains open – a moon
xxxxxxxxjust a little too full,

leaning close, as if to its own face
xxxxxxxxin the bathroom mirror,

moon like a seepage, a contusion (was
xxxxxxxxthe light on dark or dark

on light the bruise?) – moon forgetting
xxxxxxxxitself, as a slow recollection

leaned across it. This, I wanted to say,
xxxxxxxxis the Once-in-Twenty-

xxxxxxxxYears, so it might be our last. I slipped in

to the steady in-out of your breathing,
xxxxxxxxeach a slight sure swell

spreading into the bay of your sleep
xxxxxxxxas if from, somewhere,

wider ocean, each painting a stripe
xxxxxxxxof nearly white against

the different nearly white beside it:
xxxxxxxxin, out, white in a thin

wash over something darker, less
xxxxxxxxdisclosed. The depth.

How could I wake you? (Even now
xxxxxxxxI’m not saying this loud.)

I might have slipped back to the landing
xxxxxxxxwith news for the moon

but didn’t. If there’s something be known,
xxxxxxxxI think it knows.

Philip Gross has published some twenty collections of poetry, including The Water Table which won the T.S.Eliot Prize in 2009. He is a keen collaborator, most recently with Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (Mulfran, 2018), and his science-based collection for young people, Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry Books) was shortlisted for the CLiPPA award, 2019. A new Bloodaxe collection, Between The Islands, is due at the end of March, 2020. http://www.philipgross.co.uk

Back to the top

*****

Hilary Hares: Three Poems

DRY STONE WALL

How should man come to stone?
With a yearning for what’s familiar,
with an open palm.

It’s the simple process of lift and place,
each stone putting its shoulder
against its neighbour.

Instinct has taught stone well. It slips,
shifts its hip a little into comfort,
settles into what feels right, like clan.

It pillows its angles with mosses and lichen,
invites small creatures in, stitches together
an unbound world.

Alone, man slips through life like hope
through quicksand but man and stone,
leaning in, shoulder to shoulder, transform.

SEARCH FOR VILLA CANDADO

Directions say: From the airport
head west towards the obelisk.

We pass its bulk. An hour in,
the monument, again.

The car, lost, webs across
a bundled net of road,

the children doze and scrap.
At last, the vast Tomato Plant!

We risk a scrat of track at The Brothers Five,
arrive in fading light.

It takes two days before it settles in:
we’re still on the wrong road.

NEWTS

We were dappled then: with youth, with summer,
with soft shade from the burled oak.

The newts were dappled too. They clung
to our fragile nets, then rose, like dragons,

from the murk in your mother’s Kilner jar,
making us catch our breath.

We carried them home to a new life in a tin bath,
stumping along, keeping time to our Swallow Song.

Behind us the pond returned to itself, water-boatmen
sculling their way to freedom on bent metal legs.

Hilary Hares’ poems have appeared in anthologies and magazines including Amaryllis, Antiphon, Bare Fiction, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Magma, South, Stand, Obsessed with Pipework, Poems-in-the-Waiting Room, The Interpreter’s House and Under the Radar.
She has an MA in Poetry from MMU and was shortlisted for the Grey Hen and Paragram-Paradox Prizes 2016 and won the Christchurch Writers Competition 2013 and Write By The Sea Competition 2018. Her pamphlet, Red Queen, is forthcoming from Marble Poetry in 2020.

Back to the top

*****

David Harmer: Poem

ON BLACK HILL

The wind from Wales murmurs a story,
childhood hours crouched with my brother
in the varnished hall of a house, so narrow
it throttled the joy from any daylight
foolish enough to disturb its dust,
like a tin-roofed Ebenezer at prayer
stuffed with psalms and disapproval
of my mother’s wasted years in England.
I listened through the half-open door
of a front parlour heaving with family
they wrapped her tight in webs of Welsh,
when would she come to her senses?

My father, not understanding a word,
checked his watch, gave her the nod.
They both stood, cleared their throats,
duty done it was time to leave.
The congregation muttered condolence
hoping home wasn’t too happy,
that guilt dripped like rain in our gutters,
they needn’t have worried.

Turn to the east, just below us
half-hidden by trees in the crook of a lane
is my cousin’s home next to the farm
my uncle once owned. One holiday there
I remember our daughter howling with ear-ache,
her sister distraught, my frantic phone calls
through dials, wires and two-toned green plastic
to summon a doctor, a saint in a Volvo.
Later the four of us walked on the common
reaching the bridge by those pollarded willows,
we all dropped our sticks into the stream
just let go. The current took them.

You tell me you’re cold, the sunlight up here
is edged with ice, clumps of snowdrops
crammed beneath a stand of birches
jiggle and bounce in the late afternoon.
We need to be getting back to the car
call up the kids on their busy mobiles
ask how the day’s been, how’s the new job?
The grandson’s first steps, ask about that.

David Harmer was born in 1952 and lives in Doncaster. He is best known as a children’s writer, with collections from Macmillans Children’s Books and Frances Lincoln. He now regularly reviews for Orbis is once again seeing his work appear in poetry magazines.

Back to the top

*****

Nigel Jarrett: Two Glenside Poems

Note: Glenside, formerly the Bristol Lunatic Asylum, is now
the Fishponds campus of the University of the West of England.

THE PLACE

This is the place. Do you see the doves
and the blotched pigeons, ferals imitating
pale chastity and corruption, souls
of the ones who would never leave?

This is the place where they roost
and perform their broadbrush circuits
around the clock around the clock
that tells the wrong time. It’s still home
to them, its boundaries invisible still,
a circus life subsuming high leaps
of trust. Here they come, inswinging
to a ledge in shadow. This is the place.

A hawk will hit a straggler grown
complacent of the ever-alert: see the blackout
between take and tear; the double squall
of feathers; the gang of magpies gathering.
Safely perched they neither know nor care
that one of them is missing: the bird-brain
brain of a bird is its own parameter, a sparkler
of instincts not to be disturbed; a threat
is a spiked synapse, not a hawk picture.

This is the place that was always taking
the mad dead away from the unknowing,
who for an hour were live statues, staring
at absences; or biting hard on leather
in the plush sanctuary, frozen in jackets,
turned from the world’s careless turning.
Yes and yes and yes. This is the place.

NOTES & OBSERVATIONS

In the orderly room, men pretend
to play chess for posh visitors.
No moves have been made

Padded cell
a cheapskate
bouncy castle

Ward nurse glows at night, amid
her constellation of own worlds

Anne gives an ad hoc alfresco recital,
both pitches unsteady and imperfect

Bill Beesley, physio, on a visit
to the mortuary, tries on
Lund’s Skull Coronet for size

Gert Parker’s father ‘always
carried a sadness within him’

Benny Smith’s narcolepsy
barred by ‘Mutt & Jeff’,
the Dexy/Drinamye two-hander

Maisie Wilhelmina Brockenhurst
(‘Monomania of Pride, with Epilepsy’).
Q: Where were you born?
A: Mollycoddle
Q: Are you happy here?
A: Chicken’s egg
Q: Where do you feel pain?
A: W. Tasker & Sons

Priscilla is sending a letter,
‘guaranteed unopened’, to
her chosen Judge in Lunacy

A loo called The Deluge

The town of Geel, in Belgium,
‘welcomes the mentally ill’

A history of the hypodermic
syringe: chronology of pain
dwindling to a pin prick

The chapel organist’s repertory:
Elgar, Bantock, Wolf-Ferrari,
a deck of cards spread fan-like

Mr B can recite In Memoriam,
each verse chosen randomly

Mick and Montmerency:
straitjackets locked tight
in a glass case for display

Freddie M. shakes on the floor,
plugged to the mains voltage;
his Dracula face post-prandial

The chess match begins: King
to dozing Queen’s Rook Six; pawn
takes Bishop, Knight, Queen,
second Knight, in that disorder.

Nigel Jarrett lives in Monmouthshire. A recipient of the the Rhys Davies Award  and the inaugural Templar Shorts award, he has written short stories, a novel and one collection of his poems: Miners At The Quarry Pool. He  also writes regularly for,  inter alia , Jazz Journal, Acumen, and the Wales Arts Review. His most recent publication is A Gloucester Trilogy, a pamphlet of his stories (Templar 2019.)

Back to the top

*****

Valerie Lynch: Four Poems

GRANDFATHER

Muscles rise as he rolls his barrels from cart to street,
and passing women pause.

Today’s the City Show. He lifts the gleam of medallions
around the neck of his Suffolk Shire,

polishes every muscle below the Shire’s
black skin, revealing to all who have eyes to see

his own unseen magnificence.
Tomorrow he’ll be lifting barrels again from cart

to street, the Shire’s flanks reflecting the light
that shines in autumn rain.

OPENING THE EARTH

Only below where a bank and ditch of the hill-fort
fall away does anything move, roots tunnelling
down amongst the ancestors for last week’s rain.

Grandmother said I must never open the earth
for it would tug itself round me, never letting me go.
But earth is welcoming, it holds the voice of the dead.

THE GERMAN BOY

My father went Over the Top
bled through rolls of wire
where the German boy

stared at dad’s bayonet
and held out his hands
Father told me this bedtime story

when I was seven or so.
I took over the burden
of those hands, the voice

with no sound. Carried them
over the years, the hands still
desperately reaching.

OTHERS

In dusking woods we wandered,
and sang in the dark.

Suddenly
a far-off voice alighted in our song,
astounding evidence of others in our world.

Valerie Lynch was born in Hertfordshire but now lives in a Guildford. After completing a degree at Oxford she worked as an archaeologist, a teacher of economics and a psychotherapist. Now ninety years old, she has been writing  poetry all her life. So the Sky, her debut collection, was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2018. Her second , In Time of Rabbits,  was published in June 2019.

Back to the top

*****

Mary Mulholland: Three Poems

THE TASMANIAN CAVE SPIDER IS A GOOD MOTHER LIKE YOU

She’s as big as a dinner plate, but hides
at home, four hundred metres below,
a humid habitat where light can’t get in.
Shrimps in this dark zone no longer have eyes.

She will kill if she can. To avoid her fangs,
her mate makes love to her upside down
once he’s pinned down her legs – so many legs.
The complex cocoon she weaves for her eggs

keeps them protected long after they hatch.
And she’s not to blame if they escape
to the next zone, drawn to its starry sky –
from glow-worms vibrating with light;

in these webs the spiderlings get trapped.
Since dinosaur days these spiders have lived here
eschewing the forest for the safety of caves,
descending through twilight and transition

to set up home in the darkest zone,
where of course there’s life, you just can’t see it.
Here human breath would melt the limestone.
Humidity’s so high you can’t survive.

Living for so long concealed from the world
it’s easy to forget that the dark we inhabit
is going to be equal to the light we hide.
Easy to forget there was ever a choice.

TWENTY-SEVEN

It’s not only a club for musicians or artists
it’s the number of bones in this hand that wears
the ring you gave me of sapphire and cobalt
whose atomic number is twenty-seven.

It’s all those years we lived together,
the roads we followed to our El Dorado,
our future laid out in Indian star signs,
my Feng Shui coins to create good karma,
the New Testament books that sustained me in prayer
where agapetos (G27) means beloved one.

The cubed root of twenty-seven, though, is three,
and I know you’re with her, as well as with me.
Before our relationship meets its 10,000th moon
I’ll follow the way of the artist, unbeloved one.

BY ANY NAME

Silent as spirit I sweep the night,
an eye for mice, mole, vole, shrew,
might chase fifty on a good flight.
Swallow them whole. Spew out remains.

I am predator, lord of the dark hours –
centuries past was twice my size, yet
still I’m a ghost dancing on gravestones,
sign of the underworld, harbinger of death.

See my face, a snowy heart –
they say I’m the devil, a witch’s spell,
they’d like to hang me in church doorways.
They say I suck babies’ blood.

Bird of doom because I don’t hoot:
I hiss, I whistle, I screech, I snort.
Hear my eerie rasp, my sharp, shrill scream:
one shriek will slice open your sleep.

I’ve seventeen calls, as many names:
barn owl, church owl, demon owl, death owl,
ghost owl, stone owl, screech owl, white owl –
God Owl answers to none.

Mary Mulholland came to poetry after much travelling and careers in journalism and psychotherapy, and has been published in several anthologies and online. She’s been shortlisted or commended in many national poetry competitions, including Bridport and Sentinel, and recently finished a Masters in Poetry with Newcastle University/the Poetry School. She lives in London.

Back to the top

*****

Alistair Noon: Two Poems

EXTRACURRICULAR

No song remains the same. For that, we’ve scales
to roll along like endless, even rails

till you glimpse the buffers, and there you halt
before your slow-mo backward somersault.

Sometimes you stutter. Let’s begin again,
a deeper voice repeats. Is this good pain?

Hm. As you gain the grades, the sharps and flats
come tumbling from high drawers like unloved hats,

and those around you sense you through their walls,
wincing when once again that left hand stalls,

your fingers like boots on ivory snows,
between dark logs. Give me arpeggios,

one-handed, two-handed hopscotching tunes,
the spaced-out phrasings of their phasing moons,

the labour learnt in trills and trials of notes,
teaching the line a larynx one day quotes.

COMICS

Screaming outside I demanded War:
commando knives on a midnight hunt,
tanks bobbing off to the playground front,
clustered helmets, the lunchbreak shore.

A weekly parade of paper flicked by,
I learnt silhouettes, met the Tiger and Sherman.
This was the class where I caught my first German
from pilots bursting out of rough, matt sky,

as flak and flames dragged them down onto Kent.
My father rendezvoused with agents for supplies.
And me and my mate with the stiff-twitching eyes
morse-coded by torch in the two-boy tent,

warrior kids in a cold, wattle hut,
discussing the culls and kills of the tribe,
trainees training themselves to describe
the whistling and fizzling artillery shot.

The News reported the Ministry of Defence.
Among my boxes and bubbles, my taste
bore towards clashes and colonies in space
and switched its subscription to Future Tense,

ditching the Spitfire for the starship fin.
With their ribbon-inked covers and lettering in black,
the Victors tanned, trussed up in a stack,
a wreck gone brittle on the bed of the dustbin,

until – Achtung! – in the fathoms, remote,
a sea-smudged, skeletal outline might near
the dangling armlets of my bathysphere
repeating the Arctic route of a U-boat.

Alistair Noon‘s translations of Osip Mandelstam, Concert at a Railway
Station, were published by Shearsman in 2018. His other publications include
two collections from Nine Arches Press: Earth Records, 2012, and The
Kerosene Singing, 2015, and a dozen pamphlets, including QUAD
(Longbarrow, 2018). He lives in Berlin.

Back to the top

*****

Jean O’ Brien: Two Poems

YOU CAN NEVER GO HOME

Laid out, almost wantonly arms akimbo,
I am being prepared to enter the narrow tube.
Surely I have been in corpus uteri before? The machine
whirrs as the bed trundles into a limbo of dark space.

I hear my pulse slow and my heart steady itself,
as the dye delivered through a plastic umbilical
lubes my veins and constellations strobe me;
taking my measure the scanner paces.

Magnetic waves probe, hauling up resonant images
from the deep that are washed up on a screen
somewhere outside this shaded passage.

I am conscious of the gurgle of blood, a rush of heat
as the stretcher unfurls slowly returning me
blood-dazzled to my known and netted world.

DISPATCH FROM THE ATTIC

(Pepper is a humanoid robot developed by a Japanese
company in 2014 and designed with the ability to read emotions)

Time has moved on since my last communiqué
I escaped, fled the attic, did my own thing.
Earth spun counter-clockwise on its axis
as it will. Then tilted a little more
than normal, when it righted itself
earth as I knew it had moved on
and here I am,

In one corner a ghost-like figure stands,
white, plastic, shiny. It emits a whirring sound
like a bad bearing in a Bentley engine.
Meet Pepper, new generation Bot, a humanoid;
his purpose is to be my buddy, to interpret
my emotions. I am his interlocutor —
Interlocutor — spare me!

I am a poet for God’s sake, Wringing out my soul,
my heart, my innards to a virgin page.
Not to a shiny white Bot. They insist he stays,
say he will help me. Help me!
My thoughts are as fingernails on a blackboard,
respond to that, give me a sign.
Do your little android walk to that if you can.

Sometimes just for fun I put the kettle on
to whistle and my phone to whine which makes the cat call
like a banshee. That thing — Salt, Pepper, droid whatever,
goes purple and puce and windmills trying to adapt
his silly screen to my perceived mood.
They tell me I am deviant. I keep penning my epistles
and hoot like a klaxon.

Jean O’Brien  has five collections of poetry, her latest Fish on a Bicycle, New & Selected Poems was published by Salmon Poetry (Irl) in 2017. An award winning poet
she was the winner of the Arvon International (UK) and the Fish
International, as well as being Highly Commended in the Forward prize and
others. She was a Patrick Kavanagh Fellow and holds an M.Phil in creative
writing from Trinity College, Dublin and tutors in creative writing/poetry
for many years. http://www.jeanobrien.ie.

Back to the top

*****

Stuart Pickford: Poem

SILVER SPOON

The apples are from the tree, says Mum.
I’ve not had to buy any all year. You don’t
lose many if you lay them down in the dark.

I clean my plate but pass on thirds.
When the time comes, don’t let anyone
take the sideboard without looking inside.

She brings out a wooden canteen, opens it
on the linen tablecloth—a dessert spoon,
its glass handle a painted edelweiss.

Next to such skill, one with a frilly basket
for sprinkling sugar on strawberries. The word
delicate was shaped for its twisted stem.

Then a tiny spoon pitted with sodium.
The Romans called salt white gold and paid
their soldiers with it, she says out of the blue.

Finally, a cake knife, her mother’s present
for her silver anniversary. Its blade winks.
She probably won it in the club at bingo.

All odd, they’re a set laid out in a row
polishing the light. If no one wants them,
melt them down and spend the money.

Stuart Pickford lives in Harrogate and teaches in a local comprehensive school. He is married with three children. His second collection, Swimming with Jellyfish (2016), was published by smith/doorstop.

Back to the top

*****

Fiona Pitt-Kethley: Four Poems

SPECIAL DELIVERY

The man from Amazon just knocked then ran,
driving his Christmas load through narrow streets,
easier to leave a note than knock awhile.
I hope that he´ll come back another day.
Eventually, I´ll get my ordered goods.

Fortune´s a bit like this. You must be there
and not expect a ringing of your bell.
Fortune won´t wait. It´s there and then it´s gone.
No thunderous knocks and no appointments made.
No second chances with its package though.
No option to collect your missing luck.

EID MUBAREK

The end of Ramadan. It´s party time.
Moroccan families all celebrate.
The smallest kids trade in their shirts and shorts
for silky robes and wear them on the street.

A disapproving woman on the train
asks two young boys why they are not at school
as her kids are. They cannot see her aim.
Their mother sits in silence by their side.
Her little Spanish isn´t up to it.
She can´t defend. Her world is in her past
trapped in the language that she grew up with.
The future´s theirs. Bilingual happy kids,
unwary of the prejudice outside,
they chat excitedly about the feast.

TEACHING

Just 5 per cent were good at what they did.
And 5 per cent were total psychopaths.
The rest just plodded on doing their job.
It´s much the same in many fields of work.

At Art School, in the Life Room drawing nudes…
A teacher came in drunk and spoke his mind,
Told us how crap we were, all without hope.
I went to see his show, was half-prepared
For some great talent on the gallery walls.
But no. What he had said of all of us
was pretty much what we would say of him:
old-fashioned, lacking any special touch.

These days, occasionally I teach a class.
They´ve no idea what books lie in my past.
Some kids are good, perhaps the 5 per cent,
some arseholes, though not quite full psychopaths.
The rest, just like the teachers in my school,
muddling along, one eye trained on the clock.
Teachers and pupils, waiting for the end,
surviving, learning, hoping for the bell.

MONSTERS

A friend once told me that his best friend liked
dwelling on pictures of horrific wounds,
corpses from car crashes and accidents.
I met this man, an English lecturer.
He just looked sensitive, doted on Keats…
No Fred West leer, no tattooed 666,
Nothing to mark him out from other men.

Monsters that look like monsters are on films.
The rest go out to offices or schools,
Work through the day, turn to the net at night.
Hyde surfs alone while Dr Jekyll sleeps.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, who calls herself an alpha female these days, has published more than twenty books of poetry or prose as well as much journalism. She lives in Spain with her family and nine feral cats.

Back to the top

*****

Mike Ponsford: Three Poems

ABADIA, BATALHA

This morning, I want them to try their hands
at comparison and contrast; I ignore their cool
looks, their young faces blank as chiselled stone,
and suggest a piece describing how a street changes
between day and night, perhaps, or a couple
of pages contrasting a city now and many years

before. Suddenly I recall how, some thirty years
ago, we were in Portugal, walking, holding hands
through the cloisters at Batalha Abbey, a couple
on late honeymoon, in love, Lincolnshire’s cool
summer left behind. Did we see then that changes
were to fall on us, that marriage was not stone?

Those three decades ago, only the intricate stone
of Manueline arches shadowed us. How the years
have turned! Remember the heat, the changes
of sunlight and sudden shadow—and how our hands
touched lightly in the water, clear, green and cool
in the Royal Cloister fountain? A newly married couple,

how easy we were moved by that Batalhan couple,
King Juan and his English bride, celebrated in stone
above their vaults. As if not even death could cool
the heat of love, building through their thirty years
of marriage, in effigy they are almost touching hands—
as if the cold grave itself could bring no changes

to them. The Abadia bells clamoured their changes
as we looked; and then along the cloister came couple
upon couple, a double line of children holding hands,
their voices breaking into fragments on the stone
walls, their faces oblivious of what the broken years
might bring. One girl, aged seven or eight, in cool

English, offered you a kiss of friendship; your cool
face dipped like a bird to hers, then to others. What changes
would these children know, in all their gathering years?
I saw, as each girls’ lips touched your face, that a couple
of your top buttons were undone; as if in stone
your neck was sculpted, your intricate young hands.

Sometimes I hold your face, cool in my careful hands.
Why ask the young to write of changes wrought by years –
they who’ll turn lovers, couple, hope to outlast stone?

AT QUILMAS

After Alice Oswald

These evenings my son takes me to look at clouds
late-blooming in the sea’s mirror toward Lobeiras; I
take my camera, as he does, and standing together we can
see the pinpricks of streetlamps in the far-flung town, watch
the last light at Europe’s end, the cumulus in their
dark unfolding. Mornings, he makes these little films
of sea-sway sighing on Galicia’s beaches, the green in-
side the falling waves, the sky glimpsed in rain-strewn puddles.

Then he puts them out on Instagram. Strangers are passionate
in their Likes; across the globe they speak their grief and
talk of families they left, old men and women in their slow
persistent lives. I am like the fishing boat without anchor, without
safe harbour, says one; another, I know my obligation
to the person that I love and left. Always time in some part of
the day to let the aperture do its work, to find the shape
of boat-hulls, shadows from the mountain, or clouds, or
deep-forged waves, to turn motion into stillness.

NOW

He’s stopped looking for scraps of moon
touring the coastline at night; or standing
in his yard to choose himself a dozen
stars, each with name he’s already forgotten
or never known. He’s stopped taking his car
to the top lay-by to see the way these hills unfold,
letting late light point things out to him.

Instead, he stands at the Golden Lion’s cold bar
and talks to strangers about that time in Cuba;
how he speaks four languages, none fluent;
how his daughter on her wedding day ran away.
Jagger on the ancient juke-box with its blaze of stars
sings “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”;
and he shoots pool, one eye on the pocket
of every move the barmaid makes.

Michael Ponsford was born in Cardiff, and has published poems and short stories in various small press magazines, and a children’s story, Bessemer, with Gomer Press. He works as an English teacher in Wiltshire, but has also taught in the USA and Latvia.

Back to the top

*****

Judy Shalan: Poem

A MINDFUL WALK

A looking outward, a looking inward.
connecting, disconnecting,
a gentle warp and weft
as we thread our way down the hill.
No trudge or march, just a
slow pacing forward, crackling and
crunching along the path.

There is no silence on our silent walk.
A smile, a nod, a leg-up, standing
sideways is how we say it.
We stop. In our grandmother’s footsteps,
mindful of our moment in time.

White light is charging off the water.
Old crones, hidden behind their tidal hair,
twist and turn in the shallows, but there is no danger
for the small doe watching, alert, seeing eye to eye.
Only when she has her fill, arching swiftly
through the ferns into the deep green.

Sheep are chewing us over and over,
young bullocks muck about, nudging and
pushing, hot-breathed against the fence to get a better look.
The rooks start agitating.
A herd is passing through below.

Judith Shalan grew up near Cambridge. She worked in London for the BBC Arabic Service and Radio Drama before moving with her family to Kent and Sussex. She worked as a journalist and subeditor travelling widely in Britain and abroad before freelancing which freed her up to do more of her own writing. In the past few years she has been able to concentrate on writing poetry. Poems have been published in Agenda in the main issue and online.

Back to the top

*****

Lindsey Shaw-Miller:Three poems

AND THEY WERE BEHIND US, REFLECTED IN THE POOL
(T.S. Eliot)

a slurry of leaves, once glossed and firm;
and now the sheen is something else
through which the shapes of bodies,
once white and shimmering,
ghost, as traces of sinew connect.

Above, dawn pushes through.
The effort is tremendous.
Weighted with form, the paint hauls up
something trawled and something true.
Turns us away
from that blistering, overbearing sun.

Note: Painting: Patrick Hayman (1915–88), Captain James Cook in New Zealand, 1980, oil on canvas, 70 x 94 cm]. Painting associated by the author: Leon Kossoff, Study for a copy of ‘Cephalus and Aurora’ by Poussin, no. 2, 1976, oil on board

DARK SIDE

It’s November, and the middle of the war.
colour creeping daily from the landscape,
trees leafless and drooping, as if they know

they are not the only dead.
This November doesn’t drip, but looms;
blackening hulks shunt in the sidings,

doors, dull and blueing in the dusk,
slide shut, sheer and galvanized,
waiting for something white, or just blank.

Hills are where the wind resides,
scratched, sinuous lines of human forms
plaintive against the masonry of the dark.

Turning the corner,
you think you are back with colour;
great swathes of pigment, straight from the tube –

but an after-image lingers, stays your eye;
the crystallizing focus of the years between:
The South-East Corner, Jerusalem, 1926

Note: [Paintings by British artists in a display at the Holburne Museum, Bath, April 2015: Roger Hilton, November, 1955, oil on canvas; Graham Sutherland, Dark Hill – Landscape with Hedges and Fields, 1940, watercolour and gouache on paper, and Landscape with rocks, 1944, gouache on paper and hardboard; Ben Nicholson, Composition in black and white, 1933, oil and gesso on board; Walter G. Poole, Aircraft Factory, Blunsdon, 1942, oil on canvas; David Bomberg, The South-East Corner, Jerusalem, 1926, oil on board.]

LEONARD BASKIN’S HANGED MAN

Even as you hang
your orchestrated tangle
of muscle and fibre
is still a concert.
Lacking its lightning conductor,
tension and spring
are ghosted in the cat’s cradle
of surrendered sinew.
Your limp-legged dangle
a bleak pastiche of suspension
in a ballet dancer’s jetée.

Lindsey Shaw-Miller is coming to terms with being a retired art historian. She worked as a museum educationist and curator, and latterly as a university lecturer. She still writes about art for magazines, including The World of Interiors and Print Quarterly. She has had poetry published in The High Window, in The Book of Love and Loss (ed. June Hall and R.V. Bailey), and in Dendokron, a limited edition, hand-printed collaboration with the artist Serena Smith. She lives in Bath.

Back to the top

*****

Adrienne Silcock: Two Poems

CHIVES
Allium schoenoprasum

I’m wondering about a clump of purple-flowered chives
on a silent morning in May,
a small child in a garden bending to gaze
her mind full of questions,
the hem of her nightie lifting the dew
like small thefts from the night
and her wet wellington boots beginning to shine
in sun’s first strength,
her daddy adding the musical scratch of his hoe
between rows of this year’s vegetables
which at last begin to grow…

And I wonder how a scene such as this
the child in her long nightie flowing
and her daddy staring hard at his labour and the shoots,
the skin of his forehead folding…
how all this connects to years before and to come,
such as to the gypsies this daddy once sang about to the child
the gypsies who crouched around a fire not far from here
telling fortunes with green chives spread across the ground.

And I wonder too how it is that this daddy closes
his mind to the child’s chattered curiosity
about the stalk so slender it can support
a flower with a head like a lollipop
and about how heavy the weight of purple
and the way it centres into dark.

So I wonder if there’s an explosion or the crack of gunfire
in his head, or the murmur of speculation by
the khaki-clad men gathered at the checkpoint up the road
from where he imagined the gypsies may once have been…
if it’s that he hears and not
the silent May morning disturbed by the hoe
or the buzz of a bee as it alights on the flower which
the child has picked and holds in her fist.

Is this the reason her daddy doesn’t pause to answer
or try to explain why the bee doesn’t slip
as it works its way amongst the bloom’s contours –
the bloom that reminds the child of the globe she has
back in her room. Which if her daddy just looked up at her once
– just once – she would rush in to fetch, and smile as she showed him how
the shape of the world is exactly the same as the flower
and ask him was that why the gypsies used a wise plant like the chive
to tell what would happen in the years ahead,
though already the questions slip from her mind
with watching the bee and wondering
if it tastes onion in the nectar it sips.

JIMSONWEED
Datura Stramonium

What’s in a name? You came from distant lands,
seeded the way names seed in the spirit of our times.
Shall we call you Thorn Apple? Or Devil’s Breath?
Who’s to say you are wrought of evil?

Soldiers in Jamestown, 1679
crazy after your soup of leaves
settled for Jimsonweed
marking both geography and survival.

Tales of poisonings and madness
permeate the years, feed quiet curiosity.
Extravagant trumpet flowers, startling white
tempting as sirens against green sea of your snagged leaves.

Alchemy lines you up with Venus.
Maybe Aphrodite encouraged her winged boy
to dip arrow tips into your juices to ensnare love,
though they also call you shape-shifter.

Under your influence how to know
if moonlight is bright as day
or darkness only contained
by a scattering of light?

Once asthma’s cure, and Saturn’s unsettler of borders,
they say you’re an expert of disguise.
Who are you then? Devil’s Snare?
Prickly Burr…or Moonflower?

Adrienne Silcock’s work has been published widely in the independent press. She has self-published two poetic sequences Flight Path and The Fibonacci Sequence. Mudfog published her poetry pamphlet Taking Responsibility for the Moon in 2014 and she is a featured poet in Arachne Press’ 2018 collection by six women poets Vindication. Her first novel Vermin (Flambard) was published in 2000. Her second novel Controlling Aphrodite was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize 2009. Her third novel The Kiss is published on Amazon.

Back to the top

*****

Fiona Sinclair: Four poems

CALL

Proximity treats us to a full throated Adhan
that fades across town like a child’s echo.
For me, similar to opera, it is improved
by being in an alien language,
where sentimental libretto or prompt to prayer would detract.
Instead like bird song, it becomes pure sound.
Christian bells are just local colour now or
the sound track to wedding cinematography.
But the frequency of this call ,
interrupts shopping mall racket, social media gibberish,
and summons up my devout atheist’s soul-
as I close my eyes to listen.

CUCKOO

This real cuckoo song
reverses time .
I close my eyes at the call
to pagan prayer,
that takes me back to the beginning-

IN OUR FACES

Nattering in permanent soliloquy,
street lady pushes her ‘found’
supermarket trolley
down Canterbury high street,
heaped with hoarded
bags of treasures,
magpie-lifted from dustbins.
Outfit, chaotic and vivid
as a Zandra Rhodes,
face painted like Punch’s Judy,
she snags our sight.

OPTICAL ILLUSION

Although life has not laid waste her face,
She daily redefines time’s blurred edges
with cosmetic pick me up. Locks are still
long and thick as the Botticelli Venus,
that an alchemist hairdresser monthly
transforms from grey to gold.
Wardrobe a fusion of high fashion
and classic minis and stilettos
triggering Mutton alarm bells.
Perpetual motion of mornings shopping,
gossipy lunches, afternoons
with her younger bit of rough,
keep her running smooth as an Oyster Rolex.
Only occasionally, like the little girl glimpsed
in her wide-eyed cake selection,
or something in the shoulders’ stoop
when struggling up from a shallow chair,
does the 70-year-old briefly surface,
Blinked away like an optical illusion.
She is a woman in her prime again.

Fiona Sinclair work has been published in numerous magazines, including: Snakeskin Poetry Webzine; Obsessed with Pipework; London Grip: Prole; The Lake; The Journal; The Peeking Cat: Ascent Aspirations; and Pulsar. A Talent for Hats is her sixth collection, published in 2017. The Time Travellers’ Picnic was published in 2019.

Back to the top

*****

Stella Wulf: Two Poems

BAYEUX TAPESTRY

This is woman’s work, filling in the blanks
of man’s design, unravelling carnage
in hanks of green, terracotta, buff,
earth colours, nature dyed.

We ply our needles, work the battles,
diligent, until we’ve conquered
every laid horse, every split skull, every link
in the chain of a soldier’s mail.

We stab, thrust, push through, pull back,
until borders overrun with myth and fable,
the ground fills with bodies,
fingers burn, eyes hot as ashes.

What can we learn from tragedy
if we can’t feel it? We embroider war,
relive each death in this crewel work,
stitching life to husband, father, brother, son.

A book falls open on the same page,
its spine broken, binding undone,
words fragmented. A forgotten story,
fallen out of time, crumbles to dust.

Fibre endures, sustains the slings
and arrows of war. We join sides,
tie loose ends, make glorious
this endless warp of bloodshed.

But for all our efforts there’s a dark thread
that winds through history, twisted
by those who fly flags, who value land
more than humankind.

This is woman’s work, unfinished, waiting
for men to outline the final chapter.
We have long been committed
to the ground, but we lived
in sure and certain hope
that this was the war
to end all wars.

SPENDING THE DAY

The day is a bright penny cast
from a generous hand, begging
to be seized, bitten on, invested,
a spit’n-shine day to be counted.

The cockerel struts his assets,
crows about his plucky hens,
laying odds on a daily deposit.
The day unfolds its promise,

appraises the gold of orioles,
the notes of countless birds,
rendered to the tune of a tractor,
tedding the year’s growth.

Overhead, copper kites bank,
toss and flip, heads and tails,
speculating on the plunder
spilled from under the mattress,

of turned hay, the loosed change
of mice and voles, a jeopardy of adders,
accumulated riches to fatten cats
and line the nests of raptors.

The morning weighs its treasures,
pools its cache of sunlight
on the day’s treasure trove,
a fortune that is mine to spend.

Stella Wulf has a deep love of the natural world and a passion for politics and the human condition—themes that she explores in her poetry. Her work has appeared in many anthologies including the award winning #MeToo. Journal publications include: The New European, The French Literary Review, Prole, IS&T and many others. She has an MA in Creative Writing, from Lancaster University and is co-editor of 4Word Press who published her first pamphlet, After Eden, in May 2018.

Back to the top

*****

Jacquie Wyatt: Two Poems

FOUR STAGES OF COPD

Last summer Emphysema ate away
half Pete-the-plumber’s lungs,
his features became steroid-bloated
a threatened puffer fish.
I thought to pop in for just five minutes
but he’s wearing his best shirt.
It feels weird, him dressed-up,
confessing he pisses in the sink.

This year Elodie hasn’t seen
the new cygnets swoon to
their parents’ wing music.
Belgian, she’s our Whooper Swan,
who came for the winter, trumpeting:
been stuck here forty furious years
while her body mugs each breath.
Says she hasn’t changed her sheets in months.

Ambulance, a loyal dog, outside Mr Smith’s,
my favourite neighbour, the bird man:
The long-tailed tit’s nest
is a masterpiece in moss.
Now it takes him air-thin hours to climb
two flights of stairs so I can’t tell
when I’ll need to be at the top
so we can thumbs-up each other
should the birds return.

GRACE

I’m only at your weird mother’s
memorial through a random hook-up
with your older sister weeks before.
She now lives half the world away.
You’ve been in Canada for years.

You say my name as if you saw me
last week, as if it’s no surprise
to find me here. I say yours
as if astonished at your presence.

The earth rotates but I sense only
our own stillness. You show me your old
frantically-patterned cufflinks because
they match my just-bought scarf.

I am crying because it’s ridiculous,
of course it doesn’t matter anymore,
but we always had such grace.

Jacquie Wyatt has been published in South, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Clear, Structo, Morphrog, Golddust, The DawnTreader and Rollick amongst others while reluctantly pursuing a marketing career (lying for a living). She dwells in deepest, darkest Kent.

Back to the top

*****

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s