Sarah Barr • Penny Blackburn • Miki Byrne • Lorraine Carey • Charlie Casper • Katherine Collins • Jim Conwell • Michael Crowley • Robin Davidson • Charlotte Derrick • Clive Donovan • Claire Dyer • Kieran Egan • Dominic Fisher • Evan Fowler • Marilyn Francis • Chris Hardy • Ian Heffernan • Phil Kirby • Emma Lee • Michael Lithgow • Kathleen McPhilemy • Mark Mansfield • Brian Palmer • Matthew Paul • Stuart Pickford • Colin Pink • D. A. Prince • Margarita Serafimova •Jill Sharp • John Short • Fiona Sinclair • Kim Waters • J.S.Watts • June Wentland • Jay Wickersham
THW20: December 4, 2020 •THW19: September 5, 2020 • THW18: May 4, 2020 • THW17: March 7, 2020 • 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
Sarah Barr: Two Poems
FAMILY IN THE MUSEUM
(Anglo-Saxon collection, The British Museum)
This necklace of amber and strong glass
reminds me of my mother
she served meat and turnips
on willow-patterned plates
then the family expanded
and parts of it broke off
like this broken grey pot
with three fossilised eggs
white shells still egg-shaped
they look almost edible
and here is a whale’s bone casket
no lock, intricately carved
with writing like long-limbed people
or enigmatic trees
here a lyre of maple-wood
bone, gut, gold, has six strings
I imagine music flew out
LITTLE WHITE SKATING BOOTS
It’s a square, pebbledash house
with privet hedge, clipped lawn,
bird-bath, pansies, and two people
with all the time in the world.
Uncle pedals home from the station,
cap on head, cycle clips on trousers.
Aunty makes lemon meringue pie
at the blue dresser with fold-up counter.
Their adopted niece is nine.
She’s reading the problem pages
in piles of Home Chat magazines
she found under the bed
and puzzling about the answers
‘too private for publication’.
She peeps through net curtains
at the Italian girls with glossy hair,
short skirts, snowball muffs
and little white skating boots
flung over their shoulders.
Sarah Barr lives in Dorset where she writes poetry and short fiction, runs writing workshops and leads a Poetry Society Stanza group. Her poetry has appeared in various places including The Frogmore Papers, The Bridport Prize anthologies 2010 and 2016, Templar Press, The Mechanics’ Institute Review, The New European, and online on The Poetry Society website, Ink Sweat and Tears and Snakeskin. Poems for children have featured in The Caterpillar. Sarah often writes about relationships and has particular interests in psychological, social and environmental issues.
Penny Blackburn: Three Poems
THE GRAMMAR OF CASTLES
was formed around blunt words.
Nuanced arguments lost
against plain-speak battlements
and the heavy punctuation of the portcullis.
Each stone layer which built up
stripped away another inflection.
Gender agreements were pared
on the ramparts and vigilant guards
trod heavily over the verbs.
The language was slighted,
destroyed sufficiently so that an understanding
could build between castle and land.
In the moat, in clouded darkness,
the fisc still swam in Saxon.
NIGHT SHIFT AT THE QUARRY
I ached when I woke
as if in my sleep I had carried
limestone blocks, or stood
clench-muscled on eggshells,
calcium carbonate smooth
beneath tensed feet.
Long before the trucks came,
looming ghosts through thin curtains,
I heard them grinding up the hill. After they passed
the room was darker. I strained
to hear them rumble over the crest,
where headlights would dim
against the arc light assault
that lit the sky as much as the quarry.
My stowaway mind followed them
around the perimeter of that earthen thumbprint,
waited for the descent
towards the patient rock below.
I turned over, half asleep,
felt on the pillow
fine grit beneath my ashlared cheek.
THE LANGUAGE TRAP
Caught between languages,
when he is tired the wrong words
slip through. Sharp fish
in an unruly current.
He writes a note half in German,
until the word order clashes,
beats vainly against the oak
of the English door.
He tries to dream without words,
find some way home.
But his second language
keeps calling him back.
Penny Blackburn lives in the North East of England. She has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including pieces online in Atrium, Riggwelter and Ink, Sweat & Tears and in print with Poetry Society News, Fragmented Voices and Fly on the Wall.
She is the co-host of Cullerpoets poetry stanza and is on Twitter and Facebook as @penbee8. She has pamphlets forthcoming from Yaffle Press and Wild Pressed Books in spring 2021.
Miki Byrne: Poem
A PAINTER OF SMALL TABLES
He paints small tables.
Hexagonal in shape,
glass on top.
He rigs a sheet to keep dust at bay
and shade overhead.
Kneels to work in the shape he folds into.
In this cocoon,
inspiration pours from mind to fingers.
Swoops like a bird.
Swirls over symbols, curlicues, paths.
Fluid depictions that flow
like fast white rivers, bright ley lines,
the curl and swirl of living tendrils.
His wrists are strong, flexible.
Move with subtle dexterity.
Colours are of the familiar.
Sand, ochre, red, green, sky blue.
Darker tones like night itself.
He is devout.
Interrupts his work for prayer.
Colours spill onto his robe unseen.
He sees them only when the man
in a suit arrives.
Buys his lifetime skill for pennies.
Miki Byrne has had two poetry collections and one pamphlet published. She has had over 500 poems published in poetry magazines/anthologies. She has read on radio many times and on TV. Miki was a finalist for Gloucester Poet Laureate and a nominee for the Pushcart Prize 2019.She has won other smaller competitions. Miki founded and ran In Your Own Words poetry group at The Roses Theatre Tewkesbury. She is disabled and now lives near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire UK.
Charlie Casper: Poem
7.23PM TO THE AIRPORT
We were talking about sommat that happened years before,
I kicked him, he bit me, it didn’t really matter.
Outside there was a minor scuffle between two older blokes
who looked like they knew each other.
On my mind was a type of thought that only comes across
when situations as monumental as this arise.
The street was dead until we arrived,
everyday life like a little firefly among a school of big lights.
Kebab shops and pizza places exploded into a kind of nightly
merry-go-round, littering themselves onto pisshead eyes.
A few cars drove past, casual as the last trip
to an unknown destination,
trams flitting their way in between
like extras in a cast of twenty-five.
It was alive, a mechanism of individual nothings,
culminating in a last walk
to the 7.23 to the airport.
I waved him off as the train shuffled into motion,
and it occurred to me nothing mattered.
Charlie Casper was born in Sheffield, but grew up in Stockport. He is undertaking a Masters in English Literature at the University of Sheffield. He appears regularly at open mic nights in Sheffield pubs, and his poems have recently appeared on both BBC Radio Sheffield and BBC Radio Manchester. He also publishes micropoems of the everyday on his instagram page, @charliecasperpoet.
Lorraine Carey: Two Poems
I wish you could knit
your sadness away,
purl and plain it into cardigans,
jumpers, hats and scarves.
Coil the grief in balls of wool
one garment at a time,
art, the most fluid shape-shifter.
Once, your brilliant hands
could craft double moss,
broken rib, raspberry, too,
hyacinth blossom and crest of a wave,
list like nature’s wormy harvest
wrapped in autumn’s windfall scent.
I dream of the click and clack.
Hypnotic rhythm carries me back
to the house, the to and fro
as you carried on, focused,
counting row after row.
A pattern, rarely consulted,
due to your expertise.
Your craft admired around the town
as he stood propped and proud
against sticky bar counters.
You sat waiting for him
night after night in the car
wishing you’d brought needles and skeins,
if only to while away time.
On Thursday morning
I found an adult swallow
belly down on the paving
I knelt to pick it up. It weighed
the same as the slice of buttered toast
in my other hand.
A half-loll of its dusty head
confirmed what I knew,
the body still beautifully warm.
I spread the lamp-black tail,
a perfect fork of silken plumage,
familiar with the curve
and sweep of Saharan sands,
of jet stream winds.
confined to those
with beating hearts.
Lorraine Carey is an Irish poet and artist from Donegal living in Kerry. Her work’s widely anthologised and published in Poetry Ireland Review, Abridged, The Ogham Stone, Epoque Press, Orbis, Prole, Smithereens, Porridge, The Honest Ulsterman, The Stony Thursday Book, The Curlew and on Poethead among others. Longlisted in the National Poetry Competition 2019, her art and photography have featured in Barren, Skylight 47 and Riggwelter Press. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her debut collection is From Doll House Windows (Revival Press).
Katherine Collins: Poem
THE HORIZONS LEANS FORWARD
after Maya Angelou
Yesterday I noticed that minutes and hours are longer without
interruptions and I felt the horizon broaden like in those days
when 20 minutes in Tesco without a baby felt like the most
freedom any person ever touched. I have no map
to guide me through these memories, so I will keep the hard
won wisdom but kick free of the bindweed that twines and holds
around the calves. My mother used to say don’t fall into the river
because the weeds will drag you down. I imagined them sentient,
grasping fingers like anemones but the moment they catch
you by your ankle bones the horizon becomes the flat edge
of the river as it reaches eye-level. Don’t struggle it makes it worse
they will just pull you deeper
and the horizon is the membrane between water and air,
your ears are full of green and your lungs fill with blue, your heart
beats like a bee against double glazing. That is not the horizon
I felt yesterday. Yesterday’s horizon was the cold dark resin
of evergreen against a melting glacier sky. A horizon that promised
freedom far greater than 20 minutes alone in the supermarket.
Katherine Collins is a poet from Bristol. She works at the University of Oxford and her writing has appeared in Shearsman, Finished Creatures, Ink Sweat & Tears, and Anthropocene. Her debut pamphlet, For the Apocalypse Team, was recently shortlisted in The Rialto‘s pamphlet competition.
Jim Conwell: Poem
Here’s a group of children, displaced from their homes.
They’ve lost significant others in a war
that had nothing to do with them.
They spend their days sifting garbage in a landfill
and that’s how they survive. Their hands are filthy
and their faces not much better. They sing
as they work and are still not beyond mischief.
The camera person gives them wrapped rolls
and, if they were not so hungry, they would surely stop
to marvel at those clean packages – a
pristine outer bag with more unmarked tissue inside.
It’s crazy, isn’t it? It doesn’t make any sense.
My privilege, I mean. My sitting here writing.
The walls of my room are solid. The
helicopter I hear in the distance is not
moving this way. Even if it did, there would be
no reason for my pulse to quicken.
We try to find meaning in these things and
it was easy when there was a God.
But there is no meaning, I am afraid. I am afraid of that.
I’ve never met those kids.
They do not know I exist.
I do know that there is a small group of them
and they have spirit still and they spend their days
doing enough to just survive
and do that again the next day.
Jim Conwell’s parents were economic migrants from the rural west of Ireland and he was born, and has lived most of this life, in various parts of London. He currently has had poems published in various magazines including Shot Glass Journal, South Poetry, The Coffee House Anthology, The English Chicago Review, The Fenland Poetry Journal and The Fenland Reed. He has had two poems shortlisted in the Bridport Poetry Prize. He is married to Annemarie van der Meer and they have eight grandchildren.
Michael Crowley: Two Poems
Rats are crawling under the skin of our house
between the brickwork and the plaster
the ceiling and the loft,
hesitating between one sound and another
moving quickly, close to me,
I shout and they pause, close my eyes
they lick their whiskers, claws
clenched on blue cables.
The rat-man comes, puts down poison
says they are suspicious creatures
calls them neophobic, and
we wonder if they have met him before.
We itch, are unclean, are barely-slept
refugees traipsing about with pillows,
they run alongside us behind walls.
Come morning the rat-man scratches at our door.
HOLD THAT THOUGHT
You are marched into the square
under a drum roll, a jury of Jackdaws
and upstairs windows.
Epaulettes torn from your shoulders,
your sword is improbably broken
across a journalist’s knee.
Tied to the back of a funeral carriage
they drag you through television studios
scroll you across screens.
While you stand stooping in the stocks
screwed-up lines stuffed in your mouth,
you realise the ground you stand upon
was born and raised upon,
was only a scaffold after all.
A policeman will call
to discuss your thinking
because you were the first to stop clapping
the last to speak out of turn
out of time, sync, order, step,
and out loud you fool
what were you thinking?
Whatever it was or will be, don’t.
Splay your fingers away
from the biro, the keyboard,
bunch them up in a pocket
then hold the thought,
squeeze it until it lives no more.
Michael Crowley’s first collection of poetry, First Fleet was published by Smokestack Books in 2016. His drama has been performed on stage and radio and he is artistic director of The Brutish Multitude Theatre Company. He has taught creative writing at university and was writer in residence at a young offender’s institution. He is the author of a criminology textbook and two novels. His second collection of poetry, The Battle of Heptonstall, will be forthcoming
Robin Davidson: Four Poems from Mrs Schmetterling
MRS. SCHMETTERLING BURIES HER MOTHER
Mrs. Schmetterling has spent much of her life trying to bury her mother,
but now that she’s actually covered her casket with eucalyptus, white roses,
seen her laid deep in the ground, her mother has begun to appear everywhere:
In the way Mrs. Schmetterling opens a package of mint gum, chews it leisurely
at first, then nervously as she rides in the car beside her husband as he drives.
In the most surprising exclamations studiously avoided in her former vocabulary:
For Pete’s sake! Whose sake is this? A child’s, a neighbor’s, the beloved saint’s?
In the way her nose detects the smallest waft of household odors,
bursts into sneezing at the faintest manufactured floral scents,
or in the many Kleenex boxes she’s begun to place throughout the house,
the previously dismissed tissues appearing like tiny ghosts in her hands, her pockets.
In her morning call to the green anoles weaving themselves among the jasmine
or the watch she keeps for hummingbirds, their wingbeats frenetic,
nearly invisible, what a soul-in-miniature must be, passing through the garden.
In the toes of her right foot where one begins to cross the other, an involuntary
braiding, soon to rob her of the smooth-fitting shoes she’s loved for years.
In her own face, a familiar curve of mouth or cheekbone she can’t disguise
even with the most expensive powders. A face whose crooked half-smile
she misses now, but is returned to her each morning in the mirror.
Mrs. Schmetterling has left home for a forest near
a stratovolcano, to stand on the porch of a cottage built of oak.
The sun rises among cedars in a reddening sky.
She has come here for long walks in silence. No,
she has come here for birdsong, the sound of moving water:
brook-song. That these might enter her blood.
She follows a path through hellebore and ivy to
a fallen tree, a bench of sorts, where she listens for her mind’s
voice grown mute in the cadences of city traffic.
Mrs. Schmetterling wants to remember beauty in a
world bereft of grace, to watch fern fronds ripple among grass
in peace, where human presence is subdued by wind,
sea waters, the height of cedars. She wants to release
in the cells of her body a brightness like starlight, not the human
form burning, but a radiance attributable to the gods.
She watches an owl overhead, sees the wingspan
of the great bird as the transcendence she seeks but has not yet
found. She bows her head, waits, as the wings glide
upward. Mrs. Schmetterling knows she is small here,
seated before a pond overgrown with rushes, willow branches,
their fountain of golden limbs. She wades among
these willows in her mind, wanders the smoldering
wilderness within her, listens for the magma of a subterranean
truth, its murmur.
With her sewing basket open, sprawling,
she searches for thread to match these old silk pajamas,
their slick fabric covered with tiny birds of paradise.
Most of the thread is rotten, will not hold the seams
that pull, split with age, what her adult children call vintage.
She doesn’t care. This stitching and restitching
is the work of prayer. An ancient call to the body to remake itself
as mind. She works the aqua thread into the nearly invisible
needle’s eye, pulls it gently until she sees it pass through.
This, a morning’s victory, she finishes her mending,
packs her basket away, waits for the miniscule whirring
at her window, hummingbirds among the blue-violet salvia.
LIMBO AT THE EDGE OF AN ABYSS
Mrs. Schmetterling has developed a fever. She reads the morning paper,
watches the evening news, and all she can see are hospital corridors—
a flurry of doctors hovering above supine victims at a hospital in Queens.
The floors lined with men and women huddled on makeshift beds
in Spain. Red Cross hospital tents and ventilators stationed in a parking lot
in northern Italy, where medical staff in hazmat gear tend
those who cough, burn with fever. Mrs. Schmetterling imagines
her own lungs filled with hundreds of tiny crowns, each an empire, warring
for possession of her breath. But she feels no such battle in her chest
beyond the paralysis of her own fear. She props her head against the pillows
and recites the few poems and prayers she can remember from childhood,
not as healing but as distraction from the images of illness that haunt
her when she closes her eyes. She tries to imagine a garden filled
with heather and milkweed. Her hands, sunk in soil, tether her to earth,
to the lilies, cannas, her neighbor’s gift of fire bush, while her fever
burns. She begins to see Monarch butterflies circling the ceiling like fan blades.
Mrs. Schmetterling is named for butterflies, and is as fragile. She, like
the world, is restless, waiting for an end to the limbo at the edge of an abyss
she knows exists but is hidden, an unknown she does not know
how to contemplate. She sinks into her pillows and the damp of sweat
along her neck. She’s at home, after all, not in a tent or on a cold hospital floor.
She promises herself she will survive. She will no longer live like a stone,
but will break her stillness, rise up: Lupines grown wild among cedars.
A whole meadow opening into sparrows, ascending.
Robin Davidson is a poet, translator, and professor emeritus of literature and creative writing at the University of Houston–Downtown. Twitter @RobinDavidsonr
Charlotte Derrick: Poem
THE PIGEON MAN
i’d see him every morning on the way to work,
no sooner than 10:03 and no later than 10:05
standing there in his boxer shorts and grubby
undervest throwing bird seed to the flocks
perched on his roof.
he could differentiate each blue-grey blur;
he scolded frederick for eating too much,
berated demitry for eating too little,
and praised dionysus for eating just right.
they were the best fed pigeons in belfast –
then the feedings stopped.
he’d taken a stroke during the night
and was buried in balmoral beside his wife,
an ornithologist who specialised
yet eager beaks still flocked to his roof,
waiting for the weathered hand to deliver their seed.
when the hand never came, their numbers dwindled
till only a loyal few were left, pecking
at grit and dust.
Charlotte Derrick is an emerging prose writer/poet from Belfast, Northern Ireland. She was the winner of Spread the Word’s Life Writing Prize 2019, and her work has been featured in The Honest Ulsterman, The Open Ear, Wards Lit, The Esthetic Apostle and Coming Out.
Clive Donovan: Four Poems
THINGS I LIKE TO DO WHEN ISOLATED
I love to scrunch my eyes and look at the colours.
There’s a lovely sulphur yellow in there
for me to bathe and wallow in and purple blacks
and afterglows of sunny skies or bedroom lamps
– you don’t see such on wallpapers or clothes or tins of paint.
But what I like the best on those imprinted retinas
is the dance of opposites – red/green, for instance.
Of course you can compound the effects by blinking
or compressing eyeballs;
clenching and relaxing enhances psychedelia,
the subtle textured swirls of blood under skin:
Outside, the sun, father/mother of every earthly thing.
Inside, what looks like genesis of universe
and the orange, unrhymable orange of it all.
AHMED THE REFUGEE
Ahmed, let us call him, man/boy
And his friend, Rigosh, spin a plot
To swim the English Channel.
Through the waves they go, the roiling waves;
Say goodbye to Calais.
Exhausted knees and elbows scrape on grit
of a pleasant plage de Picardie
Bemused families watch
Between paused volley-ball shots.
Sun-tanned and languorous,
They examine this brown refugee, Rigosh,
Call the police, chatter excitedly,
Welcome this holiday novelty break.
The banana boatman almost crashed; Mon Dieu!
– A most dangerous floating obstacle!
But Ahmed drifts to the tip
of a cold Norwegian shore,
his salt and nibbled bones
In his rubber suit for ever more.
Mauled by the suck of sea,
their edges sheared away,
ordered as weary subjects
of a tyrant’s grim regime,
worn altogether smooth by obedience.
Compliant in ranks arranged on shores,
higher up than smaller brethren,
so they may view their pebbled future,
raucous in the shove and pull of waves,
reduced at last to sludge of sand.
But these lively cobbles have been saved,
bagged by hand, hauled and sold,
to be set in streets and yards and squares,
compressed by horses, iron wheels, clogs
and all the trampling commerce of men.
And in times of oppressive might past remedy,
mutinous subjects loosen and lever
these perfectly shaped fortuitous stones,
to fit just so, in furious fingers and slings, to throw
as they surge to the rock pile palaces of kings!
She weeps in the tangled forest
for every suffering life;
frees strangled flies from webs,
the fretting moth stuck to sap,
stranded bee, wounded ant…
She might pet a struggling worm and bury it,
then watch a lost chick, famished, dissipate heat in her hand.
To the blind and plaguey rabbit proffering leaves,
she is a terrible angel of anti-death
– head nurse of a terminal ward she maintains…
I say, do not weep, for the wheel turns
crushing you, me, and butterflies equally all.
But she walks on, anguished and weeping.
Nobody thanks her
and the flowers in her hair…
Clive Donovan devotes himself full-time to poetry and has published in a wide variety of magazines including The Journal, The High Window, Agenda, Poetry Salzburg Review, Prole, Sentinel Literary Quarterly and Stand. 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.
Claire Dyer: Two Poems
After the dry, rain deluges the dawn;
I hear our brittle lawn ease into it
and the laurels, the clematis, the Virginia
creeper on the back wall of the house.
Later, in the garden, by the Judas tree,
I think about ways to describe petrichor:
roasted sweet chestnuts perhaps; or
summer riverbanks at dusk
thick with midges; or that August evening,
dust on the piebald’s back
as I led him to the lower field,
his tail swishing flies,
the day’s heat in the tenderness of his hooves.
We are no good at drought you and I,
nor are our roses. I lift my hands
to catch the air, catch that false silence after rain.
The paving stones are damp, my feet bare,
the scent of rain under my nails, and I think
of you and me and the flood, how
to survive the dry, should it come again.
See the girl at the end of the hopscotch drive –
head at a cautious angle – waiting
for Clive Washbourne and his
Raleigh Chopper to arrive. Then, here it is!
Here he is! Blaze of yellow tank top,
yellow bike. He stops briefly:
dark curls, dark eyes, smudge of freckles
across his nose, but she cannot speak,
so turns, turns in the impossible quiet
of that quiet afternoon where he remains,
is there still, in the silence of these impossible days
of hopscotch drives, pear blossom, grief;
her childhood surging back in birdsong,
in butterscotch on her tongue.
Claire Dyer is a poet and novelist. Her novels have been published by Quercus and The Dome Press. She has two collections published by Two Rivers Press, with a third, Yield, due for publication in February 2021. She teaches creative writing, runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service, and helps curate Reading’s longest-running poetry platform, Poets’ Café. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London
Kieran Egan: Two Poems.
SUCH A JOURNEY
Not the season we would have chosen for such a journey,
the fear of snow on the higher passes,
the car with its undiagnosed rattle,
and your arthritic parents complaining
of the cold, the hardship, the cost of those motels.
On the fourth day of the three we’d planned,
the snow locked us into a mountain village.
The motel staff hostile, the owners unfriendly,
the scummy garage across the street
could fix the rattle, smugly smiling, with,
for the price, a new timing belt made of gold.
Your parents sigh regrets at setting out,
folly to have come all this way, and now to be too late.
The next morning we risked an early start,
coming down to dry roads below the snow line
and made good speed racing
for some time beside a mile-long train
carrying god knows what to the interior.
The lakes with hardy boaters, kayakers,
bare vine rows waiting for summer sun,
meadows with black and white cattle,
a horse and foal cantering away from us.
There was still no phone reception, but we continued,
arriving at evening as the sun slid behind the mountains.
I parked, your parents tottered hastily
to greet the incarnation and epiphany
of their new granddaughter,
held out to them by your exhausted and exalted sister.
The family is transformed;
each child brings a new dispensation.
We now go forward in the world unknowably changed;
empowered, enlarged, enriched.
We returned to our homes
exhausted and exalted in our turn.
THE PAST REACHES FORWARD
Looking at the house where he’d once lived —
confidently standing four-square still —
somehow makes what has happened since
seem less substantial.
His real life, the old house asserts,
was what had happened here,
with the children on the swing,
laughter round the table, TV movie nights,
her flower garden, his vegetables,
the daily rush of noisy life.
However vivid, however happy
his present life, its better house,
its new and cheerful children,
he cannot suppress resentment
of the life his new love lived before they met
and fears that she must feel the same.
Does her remembrance of her past
drain substance from their present,
as it seems inexorably to do for him?
Do the colours of her life now
seem less bright
than remembered colours then?
And is this love inescapably second-hand,
comparatively worn and tired,
as the past reaches forward
with its claim of greater authenticity?
Kieran Egan lives in Vancouver. His chapbook, Among the branches, was published by Alfred Gustav Press, in June, 2019. He was shortlisted for the Times Literary Supplement Mick Imlah prize in 2017 and the Acumen International Poetry Competition, 2020, and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The High Window, Orbis, Envoi, Acumen, HQ Poetry Magazine, Interpreter’s House, Dream Catcher, Dawntreader, Sarasvati, and The Poetry Shed, and in a number of Canadian and U.S.A. magazines.’
Dominic Fisher: Three Poems
A rosechafer is a box of clockwork
its head and feet the movements of a watch
that show from underneath the lacquered case
It tick-tocks green-blue as it winds in deep
towards the heart of a rose. It flashes
as it motors through a thistle or air.
No other true beetle purrs through the air
that I know of, turning up like clockwork
in July, or that you might say flashes.
If say, one long evening you stopped to watch
stag beetles flying straight into the deep
they’d be unchanging black in every case.
They are all vanishing in any case.
Our dominion on earth was all hot air.
We went too far, too high, got in too deep.
Why didn’t we stop at clockwork?
The tip-tapping in our heads is death watch
chewing through. No wonder we see flashes.
The night sky is stiff with beetles, flashes
and gods who gave up on our hopeless case.
Crabs dogs fish-tailed goats creep and crackle, watch
unconcerned with the burning in our air
the unwinding of our stuff, our clockwork
the sinking of our filth down to the deep.
Our leaking ship of fools is out too deep
it unships ballast, it smokes and flashes.
Remember how it once ran like clockwork
when museums kept beetles in a case
and there were insects thick in the twilight air?
All going down, abandoned on our watch.
THE DREAM SEQUENCE
Because the director came of age
on 60s LSD this black and white sequence
is vividly tinted in particular sections
Really it’s just a holiday from the plot
that lets the extras have a crack
lets the orchestra go rock-and-roll
which is why when we dive
into the blue lagoon or forest pool
we come up in a lake in mountains
why a figure with a bandaged face
turns on the steps in a courtyard
as a cello plays a saraband
There’s a glam-rock thread in which
boys and girls with peacock eyes
shimmy in and out of smoke
to attend the usual golden orgy
in a hell of masks and velvet
chaise-longues red leather banquettes
There are temples of cumulo nimbus
where they converse in Old Norse
and Early Modern English
then shots of the Royal Crescent
in Bath since there always are
and the director grew up in that city
But you go along with it all
because the dreams you usually have
with their reminders of childhood or work
their tedious non sequiturs
and occasional terrors are mostly
the colour of rain on a pavement
because now your day is handed to you
with its contradictory agendas
piled high on a black and white plate
is a depository
of crusts and rinds
a secret facility of moulds
of abandoned milk and butter.
It is grimy and flaccid
in the seal round its door.
It is vivid in what remains
in peeled-back plastic trays
fabulous with cold furs
clogged in its slots
thick with spatterings and seepage
swamped to an inch in the floor.
And I will clean it
hot water, disinfectant
make surfaces squeak
and shelves translucent.
I will set about
this feast of self neglect
here and now, not stop
until we have a white box
that shuts tight
on the bacon and cheese
the packets of sandwiches
you will put there again
Dominic Fisher has been published in a wide variety of poetry magazines, and his collection The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Dead was published by The Blue Nib in 2019. He is a co-editor of Raceme, was winner of the Bristol Poetry Prize 2018. and was recently shortlisted in the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. He often performs as an IsamBard, has broadcast on BBC and other radio, and there are foxes and goldfinches on his allotment. www.dominicfisherpoetry.com www.thebluenib.com
Evan Fowler: Two Poems
Through all the wood the leaves are full of voices
whispering die, die, be with us. Behind them
glows a blank blue wall. There isn’t a single god in the sky
today, it’s too cool for them now. The little wings
on their feet have shut down, thermals petered out.
Nothing we need survives Autumn‘s end
despite the Mysteries, those easy promises.
The leaves in their sour-ball colors are dying too,
maybe they’re lonely. Time has been falling out of them
since they were babies, they have almost none left.
And no more years will sprinkle on your hair, sugaring you silver.
Of unimaginable events, only that one can be guaranteed
not to slip like heirloom crystal through your hand
and shatter on the floor in screams. No. The leaves know.
Now, now, the so-often misplaced gift shines
just where it always was, beneath the wrappings of the everyday,
quietly ticking away like a bomb in a birthday cake.
You have so often tried to unwrap it without knowing where it lay.
All the cycles are tied into one knot:
no further. The pearl, moon-bright, is stitched in
facing the empty sky. The leaves know.
Go, go… how did we ever imagine time was creeping,
edging slow as a stone sleeping-mask down our faces?
Now it races. The leaves fold themselves around nothing
and let go. Maybe they’re trying to help you, having
never known age good or kind. Unwind, unwind.
Pull your arms in, you spin faster. The leaves frown
and whisper spread your arms, slow down.
RAISED IN CAPTIVITY
Your shadow is a black wedge
on the snow, its own canyon,
blisteringly deep. Like certain scenes of history
the sight of it kills. You will fall in, simple hiker,
raised in captivity, for all your skills.
From every angle, nothing but edge!
Raised in captivity, for all your skills
the sight of it kills. You will fall in, simple hiker,
and burn as you fall. Like certain scenes of history
—asteroids all— it brings its own canyon,
a sign saying run, the end of history
You cast a perfect permanent canyon
on the snow, simple hiker.
Nothing for miles but that black ledge
and you, raised in captivity.
Evan Fowler: Poem is am a semi-retired Texan enjoying life the only way possible, as Micawber. I have love and poetry, and the rest sorts itself out. Like anyone else, when the world approaches him it passes through a veil of words that cling to it and reveal its form. He just take notes.
Marilyn Francis: Two Poems
RAGA ON RAGLAN ROAD
It was early
and it was late. Glasses empty
fire down to ash. You sang a poem.
A gift, you said, a present without strings.
When day came
white and sharp as razors
we walked to where the road began
and turned our separate ways.
I still have that song
sometimes it catches me
when I’m walking somewhere
or looking out the window
on rainy days.
It’s like finding a pebble
in an old overcoat pocket,
tasting salt, smelling of the sea.
You sang me a poem.
A gift, you said.
BY THE WAY
there’s a cat asleep in the bushes
well, not sleeping, more birdwatching.
I never sit in this part of the garden
wearing the straw hat from Cyprus
the old man, Harold, he sat here
with a knotted hankie on his head.
He was sketching the back of the house
rendering each stone in HB. He was worried
about the old woman who was burning up
because she couldn’t remember sunbathing
only cooking and washing.
By the way, this cat
is not our cat
our cat is dead.
Marilyn Francis lives and writes poems near Midsomer Norton in, what was once, the Somerset coal field. She has been writing poems for some time now. Some have been published. Some not. She had a collection of poems, red silk slippers, published by Circaidy Gregory Press. For the past year or so she has been studying philosophy with the Open University, but has now returned to writing poems.
Chris Hardy: Poem
WHAT WE CAME LOOKING FOR
She might remember to tell you,
though she is busy
running the café.
Also she is young
and might not know
what we meant
when we told her how
we came here
and camped on the beach
before she was born.
We met fishermen,
a woman driving a bull,
the Chief of Police, children, and you
who’d once made pastries for Farouk
and gave us coffee, water,
cakes and wine for breakfast.
We watched above the shore,
swam, picked up mail,
rubbed olive oil and vinegar
into our burnt skin,
and waited for something
Something came –
a slow accumulation of weight
to hold us in one place
and press us into shape.
Many others bought
your powdery confections,
spent enough to turn the track
into a road and line the fields with
shops, apartments and a gleaming,
We didn’t knock to wake you
when we had to leave again.
But we told the girl our story
and if she tells you I think
you will remember us and know
what we came looking for
After years in London, Chris Hardy now lives in Sussex. His poems have been published in the North; the Rialto; Poetry Review; Blue Nib; High Window and many other places.
He is in LiTTLe MACHiNe, ‘The most brilliant music and poetry band in the world’ (Carol Ann Duffy).His collection, Sunshine At The End Of The World, was published by Indigo Dreams. A poet as well as a guitarist ‘Chris consistently hits the right note, never hits a false note’ (Roger McGough).
Ian Heffernan: Two Poems
A VISION OF OLD LONDON
Through long straight streets, past weatherboarded stores
And disused pubs in mourning for their signs;
Past timber yards and harsh-browed tenements
Whose vague interiors disclose no life;
Through bright dishevelled squares and antique lanes
Where drunken windows, luminous with spring,
Hold men who rest their elbows on the sill
And monitor what’s happening below:
There, cloth-capped children trip on cobblestones,
Half-arsed attempts at birds regain their flight
And groups of beggars gather and disperse;
Past churches with their stark and patient spires,
Their helpless tombstones and their tinct of death;
Past brick-blunt clearings, lines of hansom cabs;
Past drinking fountains, street urinals, troughs
And down towards the jetties and the piers,
Each one end-on to absence, and from where
Unthought-out alleys struggle off inland
Or dart and thread between dull warehouse walls;
And then returning north, back through that world
Of random spats and random decencies,
Ornate unprivate lives which overhang
The poverty in courts and passageways,
Days spent at tender tangents to the real;
And noticing new details everywhere:
The stale-edged smells, the fresh-coined epithets,
The gentle repetition of the songs;
Returning now through slanted shafts of light
Beneath an unprotesting evening sky
You sense the near-forgotten core of things.
THE MYTHOLOGY OF MAN
It was here – we’re taught – that a god
Planted earth and sky, then sat back to watch
The minerals expand and change their form,
The arcs and whorls of nascent light;
Here he saw the continents unfurl,
The seas and rivers nuzzle into place,
And set the weather running:
Summer’s heat, then ice and snow’s retort;
And here, among the wind’s leavings,
That mankind emerged; here men cradled
Their new-caught names, formed stunted vowels
And stunted consonants, and persevered
Until their words astounded language
Or crumpled to a question mark;
Here they first experienced
The routine magic of a kiss,
The irreverent spasms of love,
Or led instead a life of solitude;
Here they inscribed their subtle laws
And set in train their wild festivities;
And here their restless instruments,
The machines that invent themselves,
And reinvent themselves, whose coarse music
Torments and confuses, rebelled.
Centuries later men crouched
Beneath exhausted constellations.
Flecked with lice and undefended,
They parried half-imagined blows,
Hunkered further down and told themselves
Passivity and deference are strength.
Their dull unintimate glances, their shame
And anomie showed their age had ended.
Nearby their wailing abstract dead
Had congregated – they showed it too.
We learnt all this; we see men failed
To survive their own myth, that’s all.
Ian Heffernan was born just outside London, where he still lives. He studied at UCL and SOAS and works with the homeless. His poetry has been published recently in The High Window, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Cha, Antiphon, South Bank Poetry, London Grip, Under the Radar, FourXFour, the Moth, Acumen and elsewhere.
Phil Kirby: Poem
That tiny urchin fossil gathered
from the cliffs at Folkestone
in our early days. We were awed
by its perfection, its shape and size;
were dizzy with attempts to grasp
the time it took, the processes,
the chance that brought it to
my unbelieving hand that day;
or the lapis song thrush egg
we found last week along the path.
It stood out like a precious stone
amongst the dun of leaf decay;
broken, of course, but so blue
it made you sad to think
some croaking jet-black corvid
might have robbed the nest.
Science says we’re happiest
when walking. These days, it seems,
however many miles we’ve come
between the fossil and the egg,
however many things we’ve found,
it’s those we’ve lost that make us
tread more carefully, for fear
of breaking something else.
Phil Kirby’s collections are Watermarks (Arrowhead, 2009) and The Third History (Lapwing, 2018). Poems have since appeared in Poetry Ireland and various UK and international magazines. He ran Waldean Press in the 90s and currently organises the Writers at The Goods Shedprogramme in Tetbury. Writing as P.K. Kirby, a teen novella, Hidden Depths (Applefire, 2016), is available on the Kindle platform.
Emma Lee: Three Poems
THE LONG REACH OF A SHADOW
(Edward Colston 1636-1721)
You didn’t know the name Pero Jones,
born into enslavement and never freed.
You held your pose, head bowed, chin in hand,
as you were toppled into the Floating Harbour
near the bridge named after him. Bristol shifting
its heritage. Eighty-four thousand is too many
names for you to remember, although you had them
shipped from Africa to the Caribbean,
those who perished en route thrown overboard.
You founded almhouses, a hospital
and a school to enhance your reputation.
You didn’t believe in education for girls
but left a legacy for a girls’ school to be built
after your death, on the Cheltenham Road, away
from your boys’ school. A private school obliged
for its charitable status to provide bursaries.
What would you think if you learnt it enabled
a working-class girl to reach Oxford?
Your girls’ school was built in the neighbourhood
of the Black and White Cafe where riots erupted
after the M32 split St Paul’s and Easton.
When your boys’ school moved to the suburbs,
the concert hall built on its site used your name,
but will be rebranded after refurbishment.
St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School now
have a Katherine Johnson house, no longer yours.
Imagine how many more you could have shipped,
if the civil engineers had managed to tunnel
under the city centre sooner, meaning ships
didn’t have to wait for high tide to dock.
For decades your statue’s removal
was requested, periodically anti-slavery
slogans had to be scrubbed. Now your effigy
will stand in the M Shed complete
with graffiti. Your toppling teaches
more than your hollow stance.
WHO REMEMBERS THE COMMON DAISY?
When your memory’s shot to pieces there’s only
so much you can be asked to remember.
I let him call me Violet. We weren’t supposed
to let them call us by name, but Violet wasn’t
actually my name and it made him smile.
Changing someone’s dressings daily is an act
of intimacy that’s sometimes mistaken for love.
But I liked him, teased the night-sweats from him,
pushed him in physio. Offered time and tenderness.
I didn’t stop at Armistice. The injuries changed:
crushes from car crashes, burns from chemical spills,
breaks and splits from industrial machines.
Wards lit by technology instead of candles.
But it’s still busy, I’m still wanted.
My children grew up. I nursed by husband
through his terminal illness. Each autumn I lit
a candle for my soldier and offered a silent prayer.
Didn’t know whether it did any good.
Until today. I got an email asking to meet
in the hospital cafe. He hadn’t found me sooner
because he’d remembered me as Violet and forgot
what I was really named after. I can forgive
that. He went back and survived, sustained
and led back to peace by a small flower.
HER REFLECTION ISN’T A MATCH
Normally in a meeting, she sees
her jacket, unbuttoned, the blouse beneath,
stray strands of hair, the tip of her nose.
The expressions of others act as a feedback
mirror, smiling or in thought, reacting
to what she says, not how she looks.
Now all meetings are by video conference,
she can see the face she was told was hideous,
the inherited chin line, her father’s brow,
her mother’s shape. The childhood insecurities
return. The expressions of others no longer
a reassurance. She sees Daisy’s heart-shaped face,
Mike’s thoughtlines, Dave’s weatherbeaten eyes.
She tries re-angling the camera, softer lighting,
different make-up, another background.
No matter how much she tries to focus
elsewhere, her attention is drawn back.
An avatar is unprofessional She is stuck,
can’t wait to leave the meeting. Until
she remembers that blank screen
when the others have gone reflects only her.
Emma Lee’s publications include The Significance of a Dress (Arachne, 2020) and Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015). She co-edited Over Land, Over Sea, (Five Leaves, 2015), is Poetry Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, reviews for magazines and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.
Michael Lithgow: Three Poems
Little bits of me are perishing everywhere – at the supermarket,
for example, and despite the wonder of aisles arranged like barracks
lined with boxes and plastic bottles of food, and the wonder of money
tossing in my pocket like ill-starred opportunity. Burying dead baby rabbits
also takes something away. I found their bodies under the apple tree,
one whole and one half-eaten – the head half – a high summer’s prize
for a clearly, on occasion, feral feline. The mice, I saw every day,
gnawed at in different places in the yard, or their bodies left intact
in unmown grass. Who grieves for mice? But the rabbits – their skulls
and half-bodies filling with wasps – changed the colour of the air.
I rushed to bury them, that’s when I discovered tarps in the soil
placed there apparently by landscapers to keep things from growing.
As I was sawing a hole in the plastic sheets, the sunlight seemed
too bright. They fit the hole, and I dropped in dirt. There was a slight,
brutal sorrow in it all, and I didn’t look at my cat the same for a week.
A few days later, another rabbit, and then a squirrel. An urban slaughter.
Which is why I keep thinking about the supermarket, the shrinking
that happens under my skin, pushing a cart through fluorescent light
past piles of sad vegetables and unripe fruit, rows of tin & polymer,
my knuckles white from holding onto something.
I’m there because I belong, I know, and I sense a little of my own
desire for death in the shelves – a chance to reap the spoil, take my ice cream
home. But the dead rabbits expose a furnace. The yellow clusters of wasps
burrowing in the open wounds at the bottom of the rabbits’ throats
remind me of fire. I’m just a gravedigger here,
my scut work to keep sadness out of sight, return remnants of vitality
to their source. All this machinery of death. My neighbors tell me
they haven’t seen a mouse in their house since we moved in, my cat
keeping his end of an ancient bargain. And my wariness softens
to something else, a feeling I get sometimes placing my hand into cracks
in stone on a mountainside. Some kinds of death are different. In the aisles,
machinery whispers from among bags of potato chips, the jam jars
and pepperoni sticks. It’s OK, I whisper back, to feel this hesitation.
I bury myself in a backyard hole the size of a dinner plate. I bury myself
at the supermarket, my sadness a cape I won’t be denied.
WHAT I DID WITH MOURNING IN THE MORNING, AFTER MY FATHER DIED
The old gravel road was a perfect place for grief
that turned in my stomach like a cold fat snake.
I stretched my arms wide like a child’s airplane
and walked through dense webs of cricket sound
above waist-high grass on hillocks folding gently
down to a winding creek below the road.
The mesh of sound everywhere seeped into that part
of me now emptied where love for my father
had apparently been rootbound in the shape of a mask
molded from a child’s admiration. It was the wrong
shape altogether, but pacing over the two or three
kilometers of that rural space, what was hard broke
on brooms of grass and light swaying on low hills
humping along a thin waft of moving water,
then scattered into a million notes of birdsong floating
against a sky so high and empty and blue it seemed
like something shatterproof.
SHUDAR AND THE CROSS
A dirty white cross in dead brown grass beyond the ditch
said: Shudar. Some flowers, now dried, were placed at the base
and tied to where the lateral meets the vertical – the node, I suppose,
in some god’s dangerous net/work. It reminds us, as we zip past
of Shudar’s death. A car accident. A shadow now and barely that,
but the stark cross makes ground all around and the asphalt vibrate
a little with horror. Someone died here. There’s not much else to see,
an early spring forest of leafless wickerwork, low scrub, a dirty sky,
our car. “The groundswell shook the beds of granite,” Jeffers wrote.
Here, too, when death becomes information – a name etched
into the palimpsest of rootsgrasstrees&grey, something to interrupt
the millions of deaths holding up the landscape, a big data situation
if there ever was one. This node modulates me, the car, my seatbelt
and the desolation of a family marking this lonely spot
with a couple of painted sticks that eat at the rock. The information
will disappear eventually, unless someone thinks the death matters.
The information is that my death matters. I turn my head away
as we pass. I’ll forget all about this soon enough, but the sadness
Michael Lithgow’s poetry has appeared in various literary journals including the Literary Review of Canada (LRC), The t/E/m/z Review, Canadian Literature, Existere, The Antigonish Review, Poemeloeon, ARC, Contemporary Verse 2, TNQ and Fiddlehead. His first collection of poetry, Waking in the Tree House (Cormorant Books, 2012), was shortlisted for the A.M. Klein Quebec Writers Federation First Book Award. Work from this collection was included in the 2012 Best of Canadian Poetry (Tightrope Books). His second collection, Who We Thought We Were As We Fell (Cormorant Books, 2020), will be published in the spring.
Kathleen McPhilemy: Four Poems
All the queen’s seahorses won’t take it from me:
sand and the sunset path on the water,
dunes I have trodden, yellow archangel,
oystercatcher margin where I placed my ante,
closer than that gave all to the tide.
All of it named in a half-hidden language,
fragments of fragments, forgotten stories,
medleys of memories: salt sea coal
caves and tunnels and rusting jetties
sliding sideways under seagulls into the sea.
Once there was a railway and habited nuns,
forbidden flirtation on the links, on the rocks
there were bathing boxes, boys in togs
poised for the camera, face carved in stone
under an impossible inaccessible brow.
However far inland she chooses to bury me
I will always be there: rain on her windows,
squawk of the gulls, spume from the waves,
light that winks and blinks from the island,
rattle of pebbles on the shore below.
COUSIN GERTRUDE’S PAINTING
Why does the boy have his feet in the river?
Why does he look like a stripling Jesus?
Wearing clothes, he’d just be a wimp
but she’s masked his extremities with grass and reeds–
not prudery so much as artistic uncertainty
on the disposition of male limbs.
Strange for a woman with a house full of sons
locked down with their father for the growing years
she bears on her soul the chains’ indentations
and the hours she lost are ghosts of herself
wandering the rooms with long empty fingers
in search of an easel or paintbrush or paint.
I think it’s Jesus with his feet in the Jordan
a very young man with a love of carpentry
his shoulders rounded by parental expectation;
glumly, he stares at his face in the water
(What if she’d never turned up at the altar?)
as he regrets and accepts the life laid out for him.
‘Not from round here, are you?’
‘I was born here,’ you say.
They look at you, disbelievingly:
‘You’ve been gone too long
you’ve travelled too far
your accent is wrong
you were never from here,’
they think, but don’t say.
Pub on the junction
between city and coast
never stopped there
people and music
nowhere to park
bad people drink there
bad things are planned
go in and they watch you
from the door to the bar.
They know who you are
(even if you don’t)
from safe spot to safe spot
never from here
wherever you are.
Wooden doors centuries thick
beyond them are stairways
beyond them are gardens
wonderful rooms of gold and marble
damask and crystal
the keys are weighty
thick as your arm
they are only used
from the inside.
Kathleen McPhilemy grew up in Northern Ireland but now lives in Oxford. Her poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies. She has published three collections, the most recent being The Lion in the Forest( Katabasis, 2005).
Mark Mansfield : Two Poems
THE GRAND HOTEL
You did my make-up for our Senior Play—
Inherit the Wind, and I was playing Drummond.
Our world then half a world away: Taipei.
In a crash pad a block off Dupont Circle
that summer we first made love one afternoon.
Recently back Stateside—you, to one school;
I, to one school after the next. How soon
those temples and dragons and runic gates unspooled,
and what happened once happened only then.
The taxis on Zhongshan race through the night,
as I slowly hike up Yuanshan where the lights
of the Grand still trace its gilded tiles. A wind
flares up, and near a path by the entrance lawn,
a gui po* grins, her teeth bloodred, or gone.
Note: a ‘gui po’ is the ghost of an old woman
Always the hairpin curve,
the tracks up to the stalls,
the whisper like a shadow,
the shot, and then a lull.
Always the half-blurred face
seen somewhere before;
the bar down by the docks,
the porthole on its door.
Always the chance some stranger
found where it got stashed;
the STOP sign like a ghost
after the fatal crash.
Always the storage tanks
along the railroad yard,
the broken playground swing
tapping in the dark.
Always the same few notes
a girl hums like a spell,
or whistled melody.
No one will ever tell.
Always the crossing signal,
the day that never comes—
the figure on the platform
who turns and is yourself.
Mark Mansfield is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, Strangers Like You (2008, revised 2018, Chester River Press) and Soul Barker (2017, Chester River Press), and a chapbook, Notes from the Isle of Exiled Imaginary Playmates (2020, Chester River Press). His poems have appeared in The Adirondack Review, Anthropocene, Bayou, Fourteen Hills, Iota, London Grip, Magma, Measure, The Opiate, Salt Hill Journal, Sarasvati, Tulane Review, Unsplendid, and elsewhere. He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee. Currently, he lives in upstate New York.
Brian Palmer: Two Poems
Morning bright and sunny, then some storms turned up.
Rained hard and soon red water poured from over lips
of canyons, water ladders, water full of gravel,
near, far, high, low, shushing. Think of locust pods
that we’d collect to shake the seeds in long dry husks—
that’s the sound it made but times a thousand. Then the sun
came out. It seemed the rocks and cliffs were washed in nacre.
Noon today was hot and bright. I took a turn
and found myself on some old road with weeds that grew
up through the pavement. I felt lost but found myself.
I parked behind a barn in cool green quiet shade.
Some signage spoke for those who’d made a living there,
then died. I slept with them in light and sighing winds.
I thought I heard your voice, but it was just an owl.
The sky’s been wide and blue. I took a rented boat
out on the lake complete with cabins and wood smoke.
I motored easy, slow and safe, and thought of you
with me as small green waves thunked on the boat’s thin bow.
I cast my line all afternoon and waited for
the tug of fish. I heard wind chimes in slanting light
and made for shore in shadows. Hadn’t caught a thing.
These flowers grow on banks of rivers near this place.
And by the way, I’m still amazed that you once fished
those giant northern rivers, what you called “big water,”
eyes filling, flashing in the telling . . . Well, I’m off.
The weather, maps, and roads all call to unknown places.
I promise, I will not keep time, and not rely
on signs or floods or ghosts or shores to live. I’ll try.
Another evening. Sunset view. Coyote clouds
are sailing through, red, yellow, blue. The neon sign
out front reads in the dusk: “THE –AGON WHEEL.”
One planet’s in the sky already. Perfect. You
should see the store (and diner) down this blacktop road
with bait and fuel and fresh-made pies and cans of beer.
You’ll have to come with me sometime. Wish you were here.
THE OPEN WINDOW BRINGS INSIDE
the open window brings inside
the sound of water silver
shining in the afternoon
and tree trunks early March are
and heron skies
are coming back
all blue by rivers tall in thawing marshes
the open window lets them in
our strange ancestors silver
floating in these dusky rooms
and fenceposts in bent grass are
and owls resurgent
thrive despite the now descending shadows
the open window frames in here
the night out there with silver
fragile edges in the night
the moon in every month is
and cranes and larks
fly into dreams
that tell of change migration stories chance
the window at this moment opens
space for living breathing
in these timeless hours
by the dawn your back is dusted
and rising falling
I close my eyes and I am silver too
Brian Palmer writes poetry about the undeniable and dynamic intersections that exist between our physical and mental landscapes. Lately, his work has appeared in Ekphrastic Review, Small Farmer’s Journal, Light Ekphrastic and Amethyst Review. He is the managing editor of THINK, a literary journal of poetry, fiction, and essays. He currently lives in Fruita, Colorado.
Matthew Paul: Three Poems
BLUE BABY: BLITZ OVER BRITAIN
after Edward Burra
Clifford ‘Sniffer’ Bristow dips Dora’s auburn pigtails
in his ink-well. Dora’s mother, Olive, scorches
the ‘horror’ for causing arm-breaking scrubbing,
which doesn’t quite obliterate the Prussian-blue shame
from Dora’s white blouse. The prospect of bombing
means Olive, Dora, Richard and Pat, plus the Plummers—
three other Dagenham children—get packed off
to Somerset for use as unpaid farmhands. Word arrives
that a stray incendiary has orphaned the Plummer three.
Dora’s father, Gil, a nurse at St Thomas’, switches
from the Clap Clinic to Casualty; between shifts, fire-
watches on the roof. The blue baby shits across London
for nine months. Gil helps the ARP to dig out neighbours.
During the let-ups, he cultivates potatoes and curly kale.
By the end of ’43, Gil tells Olive it’s safe to return.
She’s pressed into war work, cutting balsa for fuselage.
Everyone must fend for themselves: always home first,
Dora puts up the blackouts, builds a fire and prepares
the vegetables. Then the doodlebugs drop. Olive insists
they all sleep in the shelter Gil dug deep in the garden’s
London clay that blazing summer of ’39, as she can’t
bear the dash through the polyphonic phantom mewling
of Bingo and Duke, the last dogs not to be put down.
On VE Day, mirth thrives like fireweed. Gil performs
Stanley Holloway’s ‘Brahn Boots’. Pat’s dolled up
as Britannia, in bedsheet and helmet, and holds upright
her dad’s polished pitchfork for a trident—even when
the whole road’s Hokey Cokey collapses into fits.
You can see Edward Burra’s painting ‘Blue Baby, Blitz over Britain’ here
KAOLIN AND MORPHINE
I could taste the china clay of Cornwall
In every bilious plastic-spoonful:
A double-act as crazed as Bill and Ben,
Or bumbling Peter Glaze and Don Maclean.
Mum shook and shook the noxious gloop until
The opiate tincture and alkaline
Took on the colouring of calamine—
A gunk, to my mind, interchangeable
With kaolin. ‘It’ll bind you,’ she’d grin,
Without mercy. Who knew the origin
Of ‘kaolin’ was Frenchified Chinese?
So many blackboard chalks crushed to pieces
For each bottle. Kaolin and awful.
The price to be paid for a day off school.
MÉNAGERIE À TROIS
As per usual, Sinéad notices every creature first:
floundered Nile crocodiles, eyes flickering opal;
a Clipperton’s crab clopping out from a crevice on cue;
snow leopards, yonks before Ray spots them padding
on reinforced-glass-shuddering boxing-glove paws.
Ray guffaws at a Himalayan vulture’s resemblance
to his previous mother-in-law, its lemon head hunched
into shoulder pads. Hyacinth macaws shriek dissent.
When Sinéad and Ray make it round to the Singerie,
what do all the primates think of them? Jean-Jacques,
alpha-male orangutan, hangs one-handed off the rope
dangling from his chichi loft. Sinéad can’t stop herself
perceiving an awful lot of Ray in the lounge-lizard way
that Jean-Jacques swings—while Ray, for his part,
instantly develops a man-crush, which no amount
of distance or time will ever serve to diminish.
Matthew Paul’s first collection, The Evening Entertainment, was published by Eyewear Publishing in 2017. Matthew is also the author of two collections of haiku: The Regulars and The Lammas Lands, and is co-writer/editor (with John Barlow) of Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (2008), all published by Snapshot Press. https://matthewpaulpoetry.blog
Stuart Pickford: Two Poems
THE GLASSBLOWER OF LIMEUIL
It’s not yet dawn when he lights the furnace,
blows down the pipe to make the glass grow.
Later, my sons and I jog the lanes;
they sprint off but notice and come back.
A deer becomes trees when we shout,
Look, deer. Always the sky remaking itself.
There’ll be undiscovered caves, paintings
of aurochs running free of the wind.
We stroll to the chapel, pick an apple,
a Pink Lady. The river carries the sun
to meet the sea. In the walled garden,
we try to photo the hummingbird moths.
A deluge. Exotic ice creams in the gift shop;
cagoules over our shorts, wet below the knees.
We stop at the glassblower’s, watch the annealing,
brightness turned until the moments set.
Like every Saturday,
I drop Jack at football.
The radio reports
three men in a hearse,
all wearing face masks,
are collecting the dead
from the Bataclan theatre.
I sit at a junction unable
to pull away. The pips
sound for nine o’clock.
Ashley rings on Sunday:
her final bit of news,
tickets for the fireworks—
New Year along the Thames.
That night, the wind
won’t leave our house alone,
runs back to front,
looking for a way in.
I latch the gate,
bolt both doors,
sit by the hearth.
The heat’s draining away.
I glance at Ashley’s goldfish
wait for something
like light at the window.
Stuart Pickford lives in Harrogate and teaches in a local comprehensive school. He is married with three children. His second collection, Swimming with Jellyfish was published by smith/doorstop.
Colin Pink: Six Poems
On your death bed you summed it up
when you said: I don’t know what to do.
Neither did I. There was nothing to be done,
that was the problem. Solutions come to an end.
Every rung of the ladder is another painful step
but yet, once ascended, all we can do is let it go.
Afterwards, they came and dismantled your bed.
It was special and could tilt in any direction;
you could lower it all the way to the floor. Now
they’ve packed it away it seems surprisingly small.
As they carried it out to their van it reminded me
of when the undertakers came and took you away.
MY FIRST BIRTHDAY
It was my first birthday after my mother died.
I was one card short. And felt strangely alone.
After all, your birth is a memorable event
for your mother too, not easily forgotten.
Now I’m taking some fresh tottering steps
into a world without that familiar safety net.
Lamentation: in memory of Ernst Barlach (bronze relief)
by Käthe Kollwitz 1938*
The grief is for you and the grief is for me;
the grief is for the times. The grief is frozen
bronze. The grief is cupped in strong hands
clamped across the mouth and over the eye
and holds everything in its place. The world
teeters, swollen with grief, until it topples over.
The bird has flown the nest; no longer
confined in the mind cage, the brain’s
soft matter quickly decays like a fleeting
thought. Orbits stare out facing front.
Mandibles unhinge a strychnine grin
that painfully exposes old dental work.
On entering heaven you will be given
a bacon sandwich and a nice cup of tea.
Later, you can visit the champagne bar.
Don’t forget to use the library where,
suddenly, all the things that puzzled
you in life begin to make perfect sense.
Note: *You can view Kollwitz‘s sculpture here
Colin Pink’s poems have appeared in a wide range of literary magazines such as Poetry Ireland Review, Acumen, South Bank Poetry, Magma, Under the Radar and Poetry News and online at The High Window, Ink Sweat & Tears, Blue Nib, and Ekphrastic Review. He has published two poetry collections: Acrobats of Sound, 2016 from Poetry Salzburg Press and The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament, 2019 from Against the Grain Press.
D. A. Prince: Two Poems
Though the state rolls its tarmac straight
out of town, heading for the capital,
the job’s only half-done. Glance sideways,
between houses squatting in their dust,
and the roads crumble to gravel;
two-car lengths in and they’re back
to the age of cart ruts and pot holes,
when wagons lurched under the apples’ overhang.
This road ignores them, working along a net
of new-build offices, half-built, punched through
with gaps where windows might go. Someday
they’ll ripen into frames, their polished glass
matching their pillared porticos. Someone
has plans for cabling and computers,
the future’s office furniture. Somehow.
Today their flights of stairs go nowhere,
end mid-air. Fifteen feet up,
too high for chance, one has a rope of garlic
swinging in the draught. On the bend,
another wears a ram’s skull,
the ridged coils of its horns wedged
in a tangle of rusty rebar, standing too long
without its cloak of concrete.
Ask, then. The answer’s wrapped up in a shrug,
a look-away, that old response to change:
for luck, perhaps, or to avert the evil eye.
The skull’s rage glares from empty sockets.
The garlic’s rotted in the rain. And the guide—
eager to show his country’s roots, explains:
yes, they will hang anything. Anything, really.
ALL THERE WAS TO DO
take turns, leaping out, to open each gate
and drag it tight-shut behind the car;
pull sheeps’ wool from rusting wire
competing for the fattest bundles;
build dams from stones and rushes
across the icy headlong of a stream;
be brave across the slatted bridge, water
too visible, the only way to the farm;
sit quietly at table, waiting for crusts
to throw to the dozen yellow-fanged dogs;
dabble in the river, fast and shallow,
hurrying down through summer;
eat its trout, pick red currants,
scratch the hard bright flea bites;
go to bed by candle light, dream
in the rapid language of the river.
D. A. Prince lives in Leicestershire and London. Her poems and reviews have appeared widely in magazines. Her second full-length collection, Common Ground, HappenStance, 2014, won the East Midlands Book Award 2015. A pamphlet, Bookmarks, also from HappenStance, was published in 2018.
Margarita Serafimova: Three Poems
THE COUNCIL OF THE TREES
Dark, magnificent, under clouds
in a semi-circle before me,
they were saying:
Hold your head high.
I looked up at the world.
Yes, I was kneeling before it.
It was crowning me.
THE NUMBERED DAYS OF JULY
Were a chakra:
The dark mornings and the light evenings,
and I amidst love, standing as if in a field
of cosmic poppies.
Margarita Serafimova has won many prizes for her poetry and has been widely published in in the US and UK. She has four collections in Bulgarian and a chapbook, A Surgery of A Star (Staring Problem Press, CA: https://bit.ly/3jDU793). Her digital chapbook, ‘Еn-tîm’ (Wilderness), is forthcoming as well as a full-length collection, A White Boat and Foam.
Jill Sharp: Three Poems
LAST OF THE REGINALDS
He takes it steady in his tweeds and tie,
Immaculate brogues and gilt-topped stick –
His few thin strands of hair combed
To precision grooves like tracks in snow.
Pausing at every Portland stone, he notes
Its regimental crest, inclines his head;
Moves on to where the Nevilles, Ernests, Reginalds
Rest beside their Ethels, Gertrudes, Mauds.
Here, boundary kerbs and sculpted headstones
Topple, algae-stained, though still
One gleaming obelisk on its plinth
Raises a dark, admonitory finger.
Its shadow, marshalled by the sun, marks time
Across the sweep of bristling grass
Where unnamed thousands lie, and dogs –
Forbidden on the gate – roam free.
He ventures forward – nothing to be lost –
Treads an uneasy pathway down the slope
And there – a buckled vase, a mossy stone –
Half-hidden in the bramble’s barbed embrace.
Steadied by his stick, he wipes his shoe,
Regains the gravel path, reaching the gate
As a laughing couple enter, unaware
Of his courteous step aside, his haunted face.
Ignoring the sign on the gate, he pushes
through and pedals down the path.
Nothing to him, this field of death,
these scabby, lop-sided stones.
He picks up speed with easy
rhythmic motion, lets go
the handlebars, freewheels
bare-headed through the trees.
Full of the forward rush his thoughts
race on, hurtling down
byways in his head, till he’s reached
the farther side before he knows it
and doesn’t hear the reverberation
as the gate clangs shut behind him.
Mid-summer heat. Cars backed up, waiting
XXto pass through the tunnel under
XXXXa low bridge on this sizzling heath.
We inch ahead, blindly, into the dark
XX interior, nosing our way. Ignorant
XXXXof what’s going on, we follow the one
directly in front, nudging forward, wondering
XXwhy we’re in line, what could be
XXXX happening up ahead.
Then we see her, unperturbed, chewing
XXand chewing, her sleek bulk,
XXXXthe calf behind her.
Sarsen of flesh, she stands
XXher ground, gazing beyond us
XXXXto the heath, the grass.
Jill Sharp’s poems have appeared most recently in Acumen, Envoi, Prole, Stand and Under the Radar and online at The Lake and the Mary Evans Picture Library poetry blog. Her pamphlet Ye gods was published by Indigo Dreams in 2015 and she was one of 6 women poets featured in Vindication, an anthology from Arachne Press, 2018. Her poem ‘Cemetery Crow’ was placed joint-second in the Keats-Shelley Prize, 2020.
John Short: Three Poems
CANAL DU MIDI
Off the train at Castelnaudary
I passed its park and recalled
how we sat there years ago
with barrelled rouge, Gauloises,
endless anecdotes of the road.
We stayed for Bastille night,
the sky ablaze with celebration.
Last night I camped by loch gates,
brown water churning dreams.
Today I scrunch the towpath grit
as conscripts clown in canoes.
Nothing changes on the canal
the poplar trees are endless
but at each bridge a gatehouse
with a chance to ask directions
if there’s anyone poking around.
East towards the sea and in Bram
I picnic in the park, then siesta
under Lebanese cedar, shaded
by its generous foliage. Notice
how all the trees now have plaques.
Laying new gas pipes
beneath the village graveyard
a preserved young woman
exposed to modern air
decays in a rasp of seconds.
On local burial sites they discover
ancient sandals still attached;
a second skin, experts conclude,
he was clearly down at heel:
fragmented soles, woollen upper.
Putrid gold of archaeologists,
the weave a subject for analysis
as inconsistent with existing records.
How could he have ever guessed
one day he’d be so popular?
Here comes the pony-tail
after parking his car, underfed
and ragged as a mongrel,
not worked a day in ten years.
As a child he’d sit poised
in the upstairs window.
People thought he was about to jump;
they tried to call his mother
but she was out with a new hair-do
and an elegant Dalmatian
that was never allowed
inside the house.
Now she waits expectantly
for the growl of vintage engine:
promised visits that will punctuate
the endless lonely hours.
John Short spent years in southern Europe and now lives near Liverpool. A previous contributor to The High Window he has appeared recently in The Lake, One Hand Clapping, The Blue Nib, Sarasvati and Poetry Salzburg. In 2018 he was a Pushcart Prize nominee. His pamphlet Unknown Territory (Black Light Engine Room press) was published in June. He blogs sporadically at Tsarkoverse.
Fiona Sinclair: Two Poems
You must trust him, he knows what he is doing.
So I wrench my eyes from on-coming cars,
avert my gaze as buses scrape past us,
look at the sky whilst you negotiate doddery cycle riders,
allowing you to lead me in this riotous quick step.
Until, an argy bargy with white vans on roundabouts,
I simply smile and shrug He’ll sort it,
giggle as at traffic lights we weave past stationary
four-wheel drives, as if waved through like VIPs.
Follow his shoulder line on corners and, at first, I talk myself
through each curve as if to a nervous child,
but over time given the snakey or dual carriage way option,
I chose the Herne Bay twists that over the weeks
we take lower and faster like our personal TT.
And sometimes we blast up the M2 doing a ton,
wind rattling my lid, battering my jacket,
in the wing mirrors, grinning at each other in cahoots.
Our diaries are torn up that March.
Your internet searches to find some way to mark
my 60th are all dead ends.
But, in the two months since you got the motorbike,
I have learned to take corners so low I could tag the tarmac,
compensate for shunts at junctions and lights
by leaning back against the sissy bar,
adjust my position when pot-holes wind, with a wriggle,
even chat at raucous night club volume, as we motor along.
So, I decide a blast down to Margate,
for chips and ice cream on the seafront, is gift enough,
because your coaxing me at 60,
on the back of a motor bike, is the new adventure,
every bit as exotic as my eyes scaling
the great pyramids, and still part of you,
pivoting my life 360 degrees.
Fiona Sinclair is the editor of the on-line poetry magazine Message in Bottle. Her work has been published in numerous magazines and online. A Talent for Hats, her sixth collection, was published in 2017 by Dempsey and Windle. It was followed in 2019 by The Time Travellers’ Picnic which was also published by Demspsey and Windle.
Kim Waters: Two Poems
UFFIZI GALLERY, FLORENCE
What do we, blameless Gods and Goddesses,
Who have stood pedestalled in our glory
For so many years, make of the multitudes
Who shuffle past our feet at eye level?
What do we, with our marbled veins and
Ivory drapes presume of the upturned faces
Staring blankly into our frozen gazes?
There’s no warmth here. Only silence.
Why do they come? What do they want?
Why do they bother us with their barren sighs
And somnambulistic gestures? Haven’t we earned
The right, after all these years, to be left alone
With our regrets, obsessions and desires?
Instead, each day they roll by, a turnstile of
Tourists, topping up their travel cards
From a guidebook checklist of culture.
What can they really understand of our lives?
The sacrifices, the jealousies, the imperial
Desire to conquer another’s land, violate
Another’s love or try to defeat the minotaur
Who lies at the centre of a cunning maze?
They have no context. They are like lambs,
Herded and mustered past the statued
Heroes of a hazy, transcripted mythology.
In the past, they came to look with their own eyes,
Sometimes a monocle for closer observation.
Now, they hold up devices, a filter for their
Delayed viewing pleasure. Or a stick, which
They waft aloft as though conducting themselves
Into an orchestral moment, with us providing
A family puppet-portrait, background material
For the real show, their sightseeing extravaganza.
How drear they seem. If only they could look
With clearer eyes. If only they could awaken
In their souls a piece of darkened schist
Which would help them grasp the nobleness
Of a kingdom where life was lived in action,
Not in the shadows of a gallery display
Of Greek and Roman fossils, who resent
The need to be treated as holiday fodder fare.
ANTICHE FIGURE, VENICE
Cappuccino? Cappuccino? At Antiche Figure
He watches through a geranium-potted window
The stripe-scarved gondoliers passing under
A concertinaed bridge upon which tourists,
Arriving from the station, drag their suitcases
With bird-caged heartbeats. This hotel loves
Its quiet hour, the breakfast room filled
With the twilight company of those
From places with undetectable horizons.
It’s as though the shadows that people
The colonnades of the hotel, with their
De Chirico lineality, have lost their edge
And the waiters that linger in the doorways
Have slipped sideways from a silent film.
Resolved, he hands over nine euros for an
Overpriced cup of coffee, not questioning
What value can be placed on a view. Beyond
This spot it’s one big maze of cruise ship seekers,
Gelatos in hand, trying to find their way back
To the Mothercraft. Not for him the makeshift
Joviality of other passengers. He’d prefer to
Keep company with a book of auto-fiction,
Which is why there’s something off-putting about
The Venetian mirrors that record his every move.
Suddenly the head waiter at his side, repeating
The story of a great beauty, who once sat on the
Balcony opposite, her languorous hands bewitching
The gondoliers below. Antiche Figure. The
Sort of place where romance turns to tragedy.
As the waiter attends to an insistent bell, he leans
Over to recover his napkin, fallen to the floor, and
A sausage dog hot-tails it between the tables,
Chasing a cat that leaps onto an upright piano
Where she grooms her fur like a gymnast
Licking her wounds. Picking up crumbs of
Toast with the pad of his index finger-tip
He plans his day, which he knows will match
The template of every other day, a rodeo ride
Of Renaissance art and sculpture in which
The averted eyes of an angelic Madonna
Will make him wonder what he has missed
And the marbled limbs of a long-ago lothario
Will remind him of his creeping age. Although
He’ll try to avoid the ring master hum of
St Mark’s Square, he knows that something
Will inevitably lead him there and staring up
At the Campanile with its golden weathervane
In the form of the Archangel Gabriel, he’ll wait
To receive her trumpeted message. Meanwhile,
Draining the dregs of his coffee, he hears the
Familiar refrain of Cappuccino! Cappuccino!
As the beauty on the balcony opposite
Opens the shutters to reveal a darkened
Room and a reality TV show beyond.
Note: ‘Antiche Figure’ is the name of a hotel in Venice.
Kim Waters lives in Melbourne where she works as teacher. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories. She has a Master of Arts degree in creative writing from Deakin University and is studying at La Trobe College of Art and Design for an Advanced Diploma of Visual Art. Her poetry has appeared in many journals including The Australian, Going Down Swinging , The Shanghai Literary Review, La Piccioletta Barca and Nine Muses.
J.S.Watts: Two Poems
Last year I accepted the gift of silence,
wrapped in cold white like a winding sheet,
surveyed my own personal snowfield
without shiver or qualm. Dispassionately
watching the deep white stretch forward
into each repeated tomorrow,
blanketing my world like freshly fallen snow
on an unmarked grave,
quenching every sound I made until I learned
silence is a beautiful thing
and very becoming for one like me.
I came to cherish the tranquillity of absence,
the absolute peace of absolutely nothing.
Stuffed dumb with white I became just eye,
gazing blankly at unwritten words eddying like snow flakes.
Perfection maintained regardless of price.
No dubious stains to blemish
or distract from the totality of now.
I no longer remembered what there was to recall;
amnesia mastered until I forgot to forget.
Now the year stretches only backwards,
virgin canvas, notebook sans notes.
An opportunity to make my mark, to say
I’ve had enough of silence; you can take this present back.
A protest of vermilion to cauterise the white,
the gunshot retort of cracking ice.
I shout at top of lungs, announcing I am here,
but I have forgotten the promises,
white wrapped and frozen in the permafrost,
returning with the advancing thaw.
IN PRAISE OF NOT NECESSARILY SMALL THINGS
I do not need your microscope to see,
can hear time rush past with my own two ears,
taste life’s salt with this sharp tongue.
Why shrink the word’s horizons
to dry circumscribed routines
daily narrowing us?
Life’s a big place; the World and what lies beyond.
Who ever said snow has too much white;
the black night, too much dark?
Rothko didn’t stare into the abyss
to find it staring back
a sable 000 in its searing grasp.
There is girth to both dark and light
that needs embracing or it will bind
in unrelenting, constricting circumference.
I do not begrudge small. It has its place,
but it’s a limiting space, a holding in,
not a letting out, rationing
the multi-coloured hours by each minute’s dull grey breath
between the World stretching wide
and the final reducing spasm.
I do not choose to pin down life,
its naked, flailing limbs dissected
for the molecule-counting crowd.
I want to run, fly, flow, bask
in its broad sun-open spaces,
wherever its un-netted currents lead,
watching the limitless colour-field of sky
pass over and around my finite forever.
J.S.Watts comes from London, but lives near Cambridge. A poet and novelist, she has written seven books: two full poetry collections, Cats and Other Myths and Years Ago You Coloured Me, plus two poetry pamphlets, the multi-award nominated Songs of Steelyard Sue and The Submerged Sea. Her novels, A Darker Moon – dark literary fantasy, Old Light and Witchlight – paranormal, are published in the US and UK by Vagabondage Press. See www.jswatts.co.uk .
June Wentland: Two Poems
On the main road, he arrives
with the morning tide
of early buses – the slipstream
of shredded bird song.
Infested with familiarity,
hair writhing with lilac. Eyes
the colour of hyacinths and heaven.
Their touch turns you green-
stemmed, though you know
how it’ll end – pork pies, tinged
blue by the first month
with no ‘R’ – in the station
café. His nose already peeling,
a little, the ferocity of heat
not in his nature, coolness
not in yours, his backpack
stowed with light clothes – cotton
jumpers for the evening breeze –
all talk about his planned
trip to the Antipodes.
As he speaks, you’ll watch
the implausibility of the perfect
bud of his mouth but, for now,
he’s heading North while you
cling to your fixed latitude
and the planet tips South.
We’re the colour of old lemons
amongst the greens: soft-spoken spinach
grown butch and biblical beneath
the moon, rhubarb leaves
turned benevolent under our hooves.
We might stalk the stars
across the fells and heaths,
for on the breeze, we’ve heard
the bleats of sisters –
rolling the cattle grids to roam
like gypsies. And later,
should some carnivore ingest
our flesh, there might come upon him
an otherness –
as dusk leans upon a hill –
the earnest touch
of leaves on flanks –
to rush for freedom –
under the rubber hooves of trucks.
June Wentland’s poems have appeared in magazines, such as Poetry Ireland, Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review and One Hand Clapping online magazine. She has also had poems in anthologies. She has an MA in Creative Writing and is boundlessly proud of being a product of Hull. She currently lives in Wiltshire and her first novel Foolish Heroines is to be published by Valley Press in 2021.
Jay Wickersham: Two Poems
I shrink with every step into the swamp.
Many-fingered ferns and folded green
blades of arrowheads, loosely clumped,
that brush my knee or waist by northern streams,
here grow head-high or higher. Everything
grows here. From the crotch of every tree
thrust pineapple spikes of leaves, or dangle
down grey-green wisps of moss,
to show where rivulets of water run
and pool. I wander lost
in a layered world, where hook-billed kites
swim swallow-tailed through air, and curling fish,
shocked into script at the least ripple, glide
in six inches of liquid atmosphere
on the forest floor. Which way is up? I might rise,
crested and raucous as a woodpecker,
or plunge, blinking like a frog, into the muck.
Or, an intruder, will I disappear?
In twig-filled treetops the storks
stir stiffly on their nests, feathers drifting
down. Heads tilted back, their bills clack-clack
together as one, shuddering, mounts his mate.
ON THE CONCORD RIVER
Barely paddling, I ride
downstream on the river’s back.
A month ago, the flooding
waters sacked the woods,
a soft invasion that left
the hollows occupied:
wet earth and fiddleheads.
I pass from shade to sun
and back to shade. Warblers
sally from the branches,
lilting dabs of light.
A heron arcs its neck.
The river bends its spine,
and the current sends me off
against one bank; I’m snagged
by a snapping turtle
clawing at the dirt.
It braces over the hole,
then drops a dozen eggs,
each half the size of a hen’s,
yet big enough to cup
all that I see: coiling
river, fertile marshes,
petal and claw and wing.
Is that thunder, promising rain?
The noise solidifies:
a jet from the near-by
air base, just above the trees,
broad wings and full belly
layered in sheets of steel.
The sound breaks the air
into a pile of rough
blue pebbles, pursues
me back upstream.
I’m straining now,
The season has turned around.
A heron spears a frog;
the warblers have fallen still.
The soil wears late-summer flowers,
acrid, dry to the touch:
thistles, Joe Pye weed, vetch.
The bank heaves. A squad of baby
turtles unearth themselves.
They scrabble toward me,
advancing in dusty armor.
Jay Wickersham‘s work has appeared recently in Agni, The William & Mary Review, the Poetry Porch, and The Powow River Poets Anthology II, and is forthcoming in Orbis. He works professionally as an architect and lawyer, addressing problems of urban sustainability and climate change