The High Window: Poetry Issue 23 Autumn 2021

autumn 2021

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Siegfried BaberMargaret Beston •  Roger BonnerPeter Burges •  Helen Calcutt •   Malcolm Carson •  Caroline Carver Sheena Clover •  Oliver DixonJohn DuffyClodagh Beresford DunneCathy GalvinArran James Grant •  Pete Green •  David Hamson  •  Alice HarrisonDiana HendryAndrew Hubbard  • Ross Jackson Tess Jolly  •  Alex Josephy •  Lanny Ledeboer •  Iris Anne Lewis  • Millie Light Kathryn Macdonald •  Audrey Molloy •  Tom Montag Katherine Parsons  • Michael Penny •  Anna Saunders •  Carla Scarano D’Antonio •  Myra Schneider •  Michael SimmsSue SpiersPatrick Wright

Previous Poetry

THW22: June 6, 2021  •  THW21: March 8, 2021 • 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

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Siegfried Baber: Two Poems

MATTI

You kept your limited edition Han Solo
in its original packaging.
Sometimes I’d come round after school
and we’d just look at it together
examining every detail through that small plastic
window — blaster pistol, snow boots,
four fully-posable limbs — like some relic
manufactured and vacuum-packed
for square-eyed devotions.
Almost two decades dead and gone, that’s now
what you’ve become to me: a strange
collectible grief; a keepsake taken down
from the attic and scrutinised for signs
of wear and tear, for loss of value.
But each time nothing changes.
Not a single day older
than all your priceless thirteen years
you remain in pristine condition.

So once more I carefully weigh the shape
and size of your leaving.
I find myself checking memories
for hallmarks, struggling
to confirm the authenticity of your absence
with an expert’s adult eye.
Because the most valuable pieces
are still always missing —
no miniature blaster pistol, simply an empty hand
clutching thin air like a child.
And like a child several galaxies away
you have left me
kneeling alone on the bedroom floor,
only words to play with.

CLARE IN THE ORCHARD

The grass turns fawn and brown
and rust-red. And there you stand with open arms,
head tipped back, face to the sky
awaiting that first fresh kiss of summer rain.
The irises bloom and fade.
Purple and yellow, mauve and silver.
Blackbirds hop between branches
of a newly-planted plum-tree, their flute of song
like some memory of cool water
dripping from the eaves after a sudden downpour.
Eyes-closed, listening for thunder
in the distance, you dream of dark skies
and chalk-streams overflowing.
Come back inside, I say, standing in the doorway,
there’s nothing more you can do.
But you stay where you are, determined,
desperate, and the apples glow
in the basket by your feet, bright as brass.

Siegfried Baber was born in Barnstaple, Devon in 1989. Since graduating from Bath Spa University with a degree in Creative Writing, he has worked as a freelance writer and photographer. His poetry has appeared in Under The Radar, The Interpreter’s House, Butcher’s Dog, The Compass Magazine and Ink, Sweat and Tears. His debut pamphlet When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid is published by Telltale Press, with its title poem nominated for the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.

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Margaret Beston: Two Poems

OSSUARY

On an idle afternoon in Paris, take the Metro
to Denfert-Rochereau, look for the black door
obscuring the entrance to Les Catacombes.
Descend the spiral staircase to where citizens’
bones, exhumed two centuries ago, shore up
the crumbling fabric of a former quarry.

A nightly procession of dark-shrouded wagons
rumbled like tumbrils over cobbles, transported
fetid remains, first from the charnel houses
of Les Innocents, then victims of the guillotine
unearthed from communal graves, all thrown
pell-mell into this Empire of the Dead.

Here femurs of aristocratic ladies dance along
walls in perfect symmetry with pickpockets
and whores; poets and philosophers strut
the corridors in company of thieves,
and assassins, while the King’s sister sits
uncomfortably with residents of Les Cordeliers.

And set with others in elaborate stacks and patterns
for the enjoyment of gawping tourists, the skull
of a lawyer from Arras, the Incorruptible,
condemned leader of the Revolution, is doomed
to spend eternity taunted by the empty sockets
of countless victims from his Reign of Terror.

THE OTHER MRS LOT

It isn’t hard to walk away
from rooms where anger buffets
empty air and grief is pasted
into every wall. Where memories
are layered in a jar with salt,
like beans from summer glut.

She ignores the voice at her shoulder
coaxing her with promises of sun-veiled
cherry blossom, evening shade of vines.
She chooses not to turn, let her crusted
eyes glance at faceless windows
staring out from a slowly melting void.

She welcomes exile, the relief
of rooms where nothing happened,
where she can kill last year’s
invasive weeds with boiling saline,
throw salt in the Devil’s eye.

Margaret Beston has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, most recently, Of Some Importance, 2020, Grey Hen Press and New Contexts, 2020, Coverstory books. She is the author of two collections, Long Reach River, 2014 and Timepiece, 2019, and a pamphlet, When The Ground Crashed Upwards, 2020. She is the founder of Roundel, a Poetry Society Stanza based in Tonbridge where she lives. www.roundelpoetrytonbridge.wordpress.com

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Roger Bonner: Two Poems

AUTUMN HORSE

An occasional plop
of apples bruising on the path,
late sun entangled in trees.

We pause by a meadow
where a speckled horse
crops grass, tail flicking
away flies.

I pluck an apple from
a drooping branch, call him.

He bobs towards us,
pokes his head over
the split-rail fence,
nostrils flaring.

I hold my hand, flat as a spade,
to his muzzle. With keen
teeth he grinds the pulpy flesh
of fruit into a swirl of froth.

As he nods his head for more
you cry out:
‘His right eye is missing!’

The horse tosses his mane
while a fly crawls from that
ragged cavity which once
blinked at breaking dawns.

We continue.
Before reaching dark woods,
we turn and see him,
his one good eye
still waching us.

CHILLI PLANT

Potted on the terrace in a grey shroud,
the plant we unwrap in spring
is withered, leaves furled,
seared by frost, the bush that fused
fiery torpedoes, spicing our palates,
our love with pungent con carnes.

Last summer, you called the peppers
‘Our babies’, clustered on branches,
blushing forth in growth
for us to split the red pods,
spill seeds pale as lunule.

We shift the pot into the sun
so the plant can revive,
warmth stiring its shoots
to bud once more
tiny green devils.

But after weeks
the stalk is still barren.

We pull it out,
burn it on a pyre of weeds,
watch spectral chillies
crackling in the air.

Roger Bonner, a Swiss who grew up in USA, has published poems, short stories in Envoi, The Drunken Boat, Delmarva Review, Ascent Aspiration, The Galway Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Offshoots 13&14, of the Geneva Writers Group. His book of satires Swiss Me and children’s book The Lost Treasure of the Swiss Alps are available online. Driftwood won the Edmund Blunden Memorial prize (Hub Publications, 1977). He lives in Basel, Switzerland, with his Canadian wife. www.roger-bonner.ch Twitter: @GRogerBonner

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Peter Burges: Poem

FROM FARMHOUSES TO CHRYSALIDS

A Response to Robert Frost’s A Brook in the City

Farmhouses, here, were ever rare retreats.
So few linger to square with our grey streets;
to state opposition to the highbrow
mansions standing where once clover-fat cows
mooed at dawn and shivered their piebald shanks
while their numbers — painted on walls, or ranked
post-boxes, or scrawled on wooden boards —
were they ever, truly, proudly moored? —
are now fallen on hard times until they rot
and nature slurps them down, mixes their lot
with the nitrous nodules that enliven
roots’ arguments in support of the lumpen
anarchies of plants. And brooks? How quaint
a word for evoking our dry old plaints
where what water flowers as quickly hides
under rocks and thirsty sand, or slip-slides
through orchards fritzed by day’s fiery hound
into artesian pools, far underground
and too phlegmatic to seek seas spooning
up to shores, or urban chrysalids cocooning
rentals alongside eyesores of those few
who can afford developers’ debuts,
or to mortgage their children’s dreams to cheats
in banks uncaring of the thoughts of creeks.

Peter Burges retired to Fremantle, Western Australia, having lived for thirty years overseas (as a Buddhist monk, teacher, company director, and business consultant), He has been published in Cordite, Poetry d’Amour; LOCUS, OOTA Anthology; Creatrix Anthology; Recoil Anthology; UNUSUAL WORK; and Uneven Floor; received a Highly Commended in Poetry d’Amour 2019 and Third Prize in The Tom Collins Poetry Prize 2019. He published his first collection in 2019, has a second one ready for the press and is working on others addressing overseas themes and his experiences in Asia and the Middle-East.

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Helen Calcutt: Poem

IT WILL TAKE YEARS

for this spider
to get from one side of the door
to the other.
Lowering herself
in silvery dimensions, between
something like exhaustion
and grace, from the wall
to the white borders,
it has taken

all the love in her body
to open
over the wood. Tip-toeing
as you might over
water or ice, lifting
and lowering;
dipping and
realigning. Kissing her own
threads. Everything is

done so deliberately,
and with such
innocence. The weariness
of her spider-body
makes me want to loop
my hands,
hold her to my heart,
beating as it does for
something keen
to start in it.

But foot-stooled beside
my daughter’s
bed, I only watch,
and then
wonder, how long
it will take this spider to crawl
from her noon-dark
interior, across this chasm of
no return,
into the daylight?

Helen Calcutt is the author of two volumes of poetry. Her first, Sudden rainfall (2014), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. Helen’s second work, Unable Mother, described by Robert Peake as ‘a violent and tender grapple with our cosy notions of motherhood’, appeared in 2018. Helen’s poetry, journalism and critical writing have been published widely, and she is the creator and editor of acclaimed poetry anthology Eighty-Four – published in aid of leading suicide prevention charity CALM. Her most recent pamphlet, Somehow Verve, was published by  Poetry Press in 2020.

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Malcolm Carson: Three Poems

ONE WHO KNEW
Donaghadee, 1970

Donaghadee, 1970

It was no more than I often did, arriving
uninvited to their holiday home by the shore
at Donaghadee. No answer, though, as night
crept in. I donned my beret, a rag of Paris,
student airs and playing in goal, after a fashion.
A small bar, neat, respectable, quiet,
and a Guinness. I waited. A photograph, framed,
a footballer I knew, serious in tie and blazer,
from one side of the Old Firm.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxNext morning,
I found berets had been worn that day
in another place over the mourned, and was advised
by one who knew that it hadn’t been the best
the night before to wear my own.

A SENSIBLE ARRANGEMENT

‘Get the transatlantiques out,
George, before you finish the drains.’ He knew
he was hen-pecked, a joke among such friends
as she allowed, but he stood up for her

when too much ribaldry began, loyal
to his knowledge of how they’d struck a balance,
unwittingly it must be said, between
themselves since passion died. For when she started

laying down the law, he felt secure
in martyrdom of sorts. It suited him,
and giving her the satisfaction of seeing
how she ruled the roost pleased him.
And so the drains were left for now, deckchairs
arranged, each content with the ordering of their lives.

SPARES

‘Have you seen my glasses?’ he’d ask,
more times than she’d care to think.

‘Your spare pair are on the cabinet!’
Always he’d have spares, ‘Just in case,’

he’d say. ‘You never know.’ So, keys
for car and shed, tablets for his heart,

were replicated, as were bicycles, computers,
kettles and water bottles. Nothing left to chance

lest catastrophe would strike.
She’d live with it, she thought, until

the text came on his spare phone,
and she found he’d got a spare wife.

Malcolm Carson was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. He moved to Belfast with his family before returning to Lincolnshire, becoming an auctioneer and then a farm labourer. He studied English at Nottingham University, and then taught in colleges and universities. He now lives in Carlisle, Cumbria. He has had four full collections: Breccia in 2006, Rangi Changi and other poems in 2011, a pamphlet, Cleethorpes Comes to Paris in 2014, and . Route Choice in 2016. His latest collection is The Where and When in 2019. All are from Shoestring.

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Caroline Carver: Two Poems

CROSSING THE MINCH

there was a night I disappeared
into dreams from an old book
heavy with the weight of winter on it
my arm no longer resting on the tiller
but clamped to an ancient door
set into the walls of a castle a house
for the moon which sailed over us
through a skyful of stars

I was no good on the helm I realised
as I woke with a start the tiller
still under my arm a strange fortress
ahead where no fortress ought to be
not floating upside down like a mirage
but settled on the far horizon

all night the sea was full of the sighs
and voices and breathing of whales

I NEVER FORGET

how a small breeze
sets the vanes in motion
till they creak like angry parrots
but there you are

the dare’s been given
Matthew
the easiest to bully
is going to set us right

we watch his shaking knees
as he moves slowly
rung by rusted rung
up to the top

early manhood
even at eight
falling suddenly upon him

it only took one on broken step

perhaps this
never happened
perhaps 5 terrified children
never saw

a boy called Matthew
fall from the water tower
perhaps the adults thought
we were too young to remember

I can see their faces now
as they came out of the house
ice shaking and dancing
in their gins and tonic glasses

Caroline Carver is  a Hawthornden Fellow, has won the National Poetry Prize and the Italian Silver Wyvern, and was shortlisted for the Forward best single poem. She’s been resident poet with the Marine Institute in Plymouth, where some of her words are engraved in stone.  Her work’s been taken by many publishers, including Peterloo Press and University of Plymouth Press.  Caroline was born in England, grew up in Bermuda and Jamaica, and worked in Canada for many years before moving to Cornwall.

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Sheena Clover: Two Poems

CWM PENNANT

He drives me down a rough road
to a square house lit only by candles.
Outside the Milky Way is neon bright.
Stay, he says, stay, and I do
moving my things into a box room.

Always the sound of water rushing
and swirling in pools where fish hover.
Always the smell of wood-smoke
carried in our clothes, a scent of home.

He rolls English words in his mouth
as if they were pebbles from the stream,
tells how he tickles trout behind their gills
so they give their lives into his hands.

Weeks pass in thickening silence,
Then an afternoon of heat
explodes in a storm of broken feathers
as a hawk mantles his prey beside me.

Talons grip breast as he raises his curved beak.
Clothes and books fly from my window
and his ultimatums echo as the valley
swallows the sound of my leaving.

TRANSPARENT LIE

The bird has wiped his beak on the sill
as if cleaning a sword after battle.

The garden stretches its branches out,
taps an invitation on the window pane.

He crashes the glass, refuses the open door,
swirls up to the ceiling, circles the litter of books,

fills the room with crow-black beating wings.
Wild eyes refuse my help, fear forces escape.

I’ve also knocked my head against invisible barriers,
wiped my blood on thresholds I cannot cross.

Now he roosts in the October drizzle
as I try to decipher his rusted calligraphy.

Sheena Clover is a poet and artist based in Wivenhoe Essex. She is interested in how the visual arts and poetry can explore the same themes and how this exchange can stimulate and extend creative thinking. She has been published in a range of poetry journals and anthologies including Envoi, South and the New Writer. Sheena is the Stanza Representative for Colchester’s Poetry Group Mosaic.

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Oliver Dixon: Three Poems

SLOW FIRE

Slow fire is a term used in library and information science to describe paper embrittlement resulting from acid decay. The term is taken from the title of Terry Sanders’ 1987 film Slow Fires: On the preservation of the human record

The smell – as we clank down the spiral staircase
like inmates – is dust, frayed bindings, obsolescent
paper: a trapped-in pungency inert as sleeping gas.

Poetry’s always demoted to the basement,
like a long-stifled urge festering in the id.
Ranks of clenched voices who “never found their moment”;

ephemera pinned and preserved, nachlass of the dead
whose words craved deathless reach: see them dream
through their limbo of the perpetually unread,

begging for rescue, ‘Forever’s hostages in the hands of Time.’
This afternoon, my love, we form a posterity of two,
dislodging here and there a stiff, embrittled volume,

attempting a page like Francesca and Paolo
whose eyes would pas de deux as they followed the gist.
Sidling deeper – down further steps – this room gives onto

another, and another smaller huddles beyond this.
A nested labyrinth seems to open before us,
a downward spiral with oblivion at its midst,

each cell of books obscurer and less timeless
than the last, genres breaking down, prices no longer
applicable (ALL BOOKS 10P), until an unmediated mass

of sub-pulp must languish at the cold dank centre,
as unregarded as mushrooms in a disused shed
(Gary Glitter biog., Beginners’ Guide to Beta-

max, Prosody and Faith in the Chronicles of Bede).
Suddenly I flinch – part-claustrophobia, part-vertigo –
and you reverse Eurydice’s role, tugging me back toward

the upper world, glinting spring drizzle, buses, cappuccino.
I daren’t glance back to that moratorium at the core.
The ‘slow fire’ of deterioration books are said to undergo –

unlike the gradual flames inflicted on heretics in Signor
Alighieri’s’s time – cannot make them retract their words,
be they drivel or sublime ; but all these words expire

if their papery bodies moulder, and God knows we need words
to endure, to thrive, to voice the aspirations of our love.
Scaling the stairs so fast we suffer a kind of bends,

I dizzily muse that all these fragile words could be saved
on the laptop in your bag; then shiver to contemplate
how a book ends as a file in a folder on a drive

in a cloud on the web, a virtual presence when this musty place
on Charing Cross Road has long closed down, like all
the other bookshops and libraries making way for real estate.

The downpour’s ebbed in a stammer of sunlight, a squall
of pigeon’s wings, as we step out into the open, blinking, on parole
from history and dust: we have only to find our moment, embody it

in words that breathe. Here they come now as we stroll,
hatching on our lips like April fritillaries:
we have only to make them meet.

HOME

xxxThey live there in a kind
of thrift-shop Limbo, largely impervious
to our outside world: windows
form their second-best screens
airing variants of the one repeat.

xxxStuck fast, and lacking all means
to return, each day they pare down
to the bone: they operate
the remote; chain-roll their own,

as disused mugs around them incubate
grey-green leverets of mould;
malodorous cultures.

xxxShould one of them accost
you – bare feet, dishevelled shirt,
braving the intense frost
to cadge a smoke – never let him rivet
you with his stare. In his eyes’

collapsed tunnels you’ll unearth
your own fear; in his stuttered pleas
detect the faint, coded taps
of a life buried fifty years deep.

SURRENDERING GRACEFULLY THE THINGS OF YOUTH

Aspirations hatched with such fervour so many
phases of the moon ago, ideas conceived of
in the off-centre ateliers of youth, over wine-

boxes and scrawny lines of speed, in the midst
of semi-requited flirtations with women
who now email you occasionally with thumbnails

of their rugged husbands and podge-faced twins
end up now not unachieved as such – for that
would give you a concrete basis for grievance

against the Fates – but worse, belittled
by circumstance and tax-codes into gnomic
telescopings of themselves, downscaled

until all but mislaid in the textbook paraphernalia
of mere survival, like minor components of a model
you began gluing together as a teenager

abandoned in a drawer of mismatched odds
and ends. The shapelessness of life has shaped you
into just such a clattering miscellany of detritus –

all the half-done things you made plans for, all
the unbegun – it would take a forensics expert of some
ingenuity to upturn you now, to locate the long-

forgotten passcode to your battered safe of memories,
to reconstruct from this jumble the backstory
of how you come to be sitting here in dressing-gown

and jogging-bottoms, obliterating X-Box aliens
with the sound down when said to be working,
wondering if there’s time to begin again again.

Oliver Dixon‘s first book of poems Human Form (Penned in the Margins) appeared in 2013 and his philosophy guide Who the Hell is Friedrich Nietzsche?( Bowden & Brazil) in 2019. During the last year he has had reviews published in PN Review, Poetry Review and The High Window and a poem published in Tears in the Fence 73. As well as being a writer, he is also a college lecturer who lives in Hertfordshire.

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John Duffy: Three Poems

ONE OF THOSE THIRTY YEARS WARS

Last month’s rapists lurch, sobbing and bleeding,
back through our streets, running east.
They don’t stop. They look at us
the way they look at our stumps, burnt
homes, dead beasts. We look at them.
Nowhere to hide, no will to run. Our priest
has told us that we have all died
and now we are in Hell. The sullen widows,
counting bruises, counting the days
of the month, decide they might
as well believe that. What else
can we say, they say, to our dumb children?
There is nothing to say to that.

The women know what to expect
when the westerners arrive.
They might get thrown a crust,
some scraps from one of the men
when he’s done. Young Rose
hanged herself: her sister prays
she’s found a better Hell. The ritual
starts again: women spew, troopers grunt,
cheer each other on; old men are questioned
where our sons have run to; hooks,
hot irons, one or two cut throats.
And then the reverend commissars:
their eager eyes, their prurient
catechisms their files. We know that
our answers will never be enough.

HINGE

on which the door
xxxxxxswings
to ease our passage in,
out, through, room to room,
or on to the wide world
beyond,
xxxxxxswings shut,
cuts noise, blocks
draughts, stops
mice, rats, rain
brought in on wind
that rattles slates,
window panes;
xxxxxxoverlooked
device that sometimes
squeaks, that strains
through screws, screwed
tight to take the weight,
to hold the heavy
door (that solid
sheet) upright –
to you, this ode
xxxxxx is owed.

THUMBED

Bold red cast iron
machines, firmly fixed
to post office fronts;
in black and white –
Damaged coins
must not be used.

A thruppenny bit, hot
bit of brass in your fist,
(portcullis or that bunch
of thrift on the tails side)
thumbed snug into the slot,
clunked into the dark.

Then out slid a stamp,
slight as a cat’s tongue.
Tongue tipped in teeth,
you eased it out, tore it
neat along its frilly edge:

lick, stick, press; post.

John Duffy is one of the founders of Huddersfield’s Albert Poets (now in its 27th year). He has retired from his varied careers as civil servant, social worker, childminder, community worker and bibliotherapist, and has run writing workshops with community groups across West Yorkshire. His most recent collections are Glamourie (Calder Valley Poetry), The Edge of Seeing (High Window), and A Gowpen (Calder Valley Poetry).

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Clodagh Beresford Dunne: Three Poems

THE BULBS HE PLANTED

When in June his alliums
surprise you from the soil
it’s as if the spheres
are suspended from above.
He stashed them away
that busy October day
when you forgot to ask
where he was planting.

Now the triumphant globes
link the earth to heaven.

YOUR FATHER’S AUGUST APPLE TREE

These days you are a river flowing beside your surname
and the Angelus bells ring out across the valley,
their Ave Marias carrying themselves on the breeze.

Fir trees huddle and fill the spaces in a line of poplars
and when you type too fast the missing p in ‘poplars’
places fir trees among polar bears.

You’ve tried to find happy poems about apples, about autumn harvest,
but all you can think of is Frost and his exhaustion and his empty basket.

LIKE CHIN STUBBLE

the blades of grass
pierce the snow
that lays itself out
flake by flake
on the garden
and the radio plays
Jim Reeves, The Blizzard.

The stalactites on the car’s radiator
are icy fangs
and they’re all saying
this will be the worst snowfall
we’ve had since 1982 –
that time you put us in an old fish-box
and brought us tobogganing
on the hill in Ballyknock.

You waited at the bottom
and we flew
over and over again
into your open arms.

Clodagh Beresford Dunne‘s poems have been published and broadcast in Ireland, the UK and the USA, including Poetry Ireland Review, The Irish Times, The Stinging Fly, The Moth, Southword, The London Magazine, Vanguard Editions, Poetry (Chicago), The Woven Tale Press and Pittsburgh Poetry Review. Her poem ‘Seven Sugar Cubes’ which first appeared in The Irish Times was voted Irish Poem of the Year at the 2017 Irish Book Awards. She was chosen by Edna O’Brien as the recipient of the 2019 Clarissa Luard Emerging Writer Award. She was also awarded the Arts Council of Ireland Emerging Writer Bursary. She lives in southeast Ireland with her husband and four children. She is currently finalising the manuscript for her first full collection.

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Cathy Galvin: Three Poems

BLUNT NEEDLES

Inward, rowing in, I come as a thief
to steal your knowledge, like a collector.
Outward, rowing out, your gift to me is scented

island wool, meadow-salted. You know the depth
of blunt currach oars, the warping frame’s long stretch.
Inward, rowing in, I come as a thief.

Embers heat an iron pot of indigo, limpets baked
on their backs. Ash singes my sketch.
Outward, rowing out, your gift to me is scented.

You speak of fishbone stitches, honeycomb and cable,
how women’s fingers pulled dark nights over their needles.
Inward, rowing in, I come as a thief.

Glass un-breaks from your floor to re-jar rusts and golds.
In the light, a quilt of webs, dried ribbons of weeds.
Outward, rowing out, your gift to me is scented.

Your designs chevron a scalloped storm-shore,
collaging threads I touch yet have no skill for.
Outward, rowing out, your gift to me is scented.
Inward, rowing in, I come as a thief.

COYNE’S BAR
For Caitlin Maude

Above the Bistro door, the black fringe,
serious face, caught with other shots
from history – the sheaves of hay,
Indian face of a Connemara woman
selling her black horse.

When the poet who made love to her
and left, learned of her literary acclaim,
and came to claim her back with a kiss –
she politely shook his hand.
Wanted to go away.
Wanted to stay. She said:
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxIs triantán mé
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxTriantán comhchosach.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx I am a triangle – 32 -34- 36.

Knew, to some degree, her body’s measure.
A few fields from Casla
In the heat of a lover’s bed,
the compass point of geometry
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxhovers.

CRANIAL SPECIMEN

This skull is real
dug up by men who could not build
a house, a boat, a coffin

but built from the classics an ideal
of mankind, of noble and savage.
This skull had land, a stake in the world.

Open-mouthed: taken from the chapel
at Boffin to sit on a shelf at Trinity.
Waiting, watching, behind glass.

Cathy Galvin is a poet and journalist. Her awards include a 2021 Arts Council England DYCP bursary, a Hawthornden Fellowship and a  residency at the Heinrich Böll Cottage, Achill Island. Melos Press published her first two pamphlets, Black and Blue and Rough Translation. More recently, Guillemot Press have published, Walking The Coventry Ring Road With Lady Godiva. She is founder and director of the UK’s leading promoter of short fiction, the Word Factory and co-founder of the Sunday Times Short Story Award.

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*****
Arran James Grant: Three Poems

EVERYTHING FIGHTS

the lion circles something innocent
and the bee hovers over a flower
and the spider hangs in its web
and somewhere a sport is being played
somewhere a boxer is trying to make it to the next round without dying
somewhere a man is fighting for his life in a hospital bed
somewhere a woman thinks her husband is cheating and is powerless
somewhere a homeless man begs for change
somewhere the rain is falling and no one believes in sunlight or forgiveness
somewhere
the lion circles

everything
fights.

SCARED OF FALLING

there was a quiet turbulence
I knew something was coming
I could see it in the distance
she was quiet and sullen
chose her words carefully and slowly
whereas before they flowed naturally
a lot like this poem
and then it came like thunder
she was angry and I am not a smart man
so I didn’t know why

there are bees outside
quietly dropping dead
nothing can hold them up anymore

I realised holding your hand was the only thing holding me up

I am not a smart man
but at least I realised
that.

I WROTE HER NAME FOR THE LAST TIME

I had her full name
address
and telephone number
but the black book it was in was years old now
from I don’t remember when
I went to her house and a for sale sign sat outside
brand new
I went to the door
I should’ve brought flowers
a man answered
well dressed
neatly combed hair
I wondered if he had ever lived
I asked for her
I told him her name
and explained
I wanted to ask if he had ever been in love
he told me she had moved
a long time ago
he bought the house from her
and now he was moving too
oh well I said
thanks
I left
he got sick of the house just like she did
that little black book
damn its memories
and every page
I kicked the sign
down.

Arran James Grant is an an emerging poet from the north east of Scotland. His poems and short fiction have been published in print, online and his poetry has been featured on the radio. He can be found wasting the time he should be spending writing at @arranjamesgrant on social media.

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*****

Pete Green: Two Poems

HOLDING OUT

We’ve made a makeshift dormitory of Pete’s through-lounge. This wasted distribution of limbs and duvets suggests some aftermath – debauchery? disaster? That was some night we just had. Downstairs from the show one-time colliers stood on, to nurse bemusement with a dark brown pint. It’s the glitter on our faces, now the ringing in our ears. It’s mercury in our artery: fleet-footedness, slow poison.

Or it’s the impossible nature of the enterprise. Brooklyn accents borne across a venue purpose-built for other things; a bassist from Kyoto in an A-line tartan skirt, in the bingo caller’s place. In duffel coats and plastic beads we’re somewhere on a scale between stoutness and denial, curfew holding no more sway than fashion. Her power cut, the singer caterwauled unto a nosebleed.

Hours and miles from now we’ll blink away this beatific jetlag, as if Emma’s 8-bit synthtone and its stories haven’t stripped us down like clapped-out engines, reconditioned us, purring and permanently changed. We’ll resume the motions of responsibility, the school run, the washing of faces, back in our own cities to perform the languid dice-roll of the 9 to 5 with our superiors: voracious champions at the game whose rules they make.

And this time they’ll be furious at how we ride on through untouched, still stardust-girded from this show, this aftermath, impervious, the ludicrousness of it all laid bare by those neon overdriven chords and synchronicity and the love – I’ll call it love – strung out like a paperchain or coda between the line of mattresses I glance along, between the fall of strategems to banish wakefulness.

Now this phone is flashing up a Wiki page about those soldiers holed up in the forests, hostilities long having ceased: the last was Private Nakamura, found on Morotai in 1974. Now a toss and snore from the drummer I shared whisky and vegan brownies with. This is something more complex than bare subsistence; but perhaps one day the authorities will fetch us back, honour us, and do their best to settle every one of us back into society.

ON WATCHING THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION PASS OVERHEAD DURING
THE INDIETRACKS FESTIVAL

We have departed a planet which was never ours
and we are remembering how weightlessness feels.
Guys, gals and non-binary pals, we have a lift-off
neither aeronautic nor psychedelic. For three pearly
radiant nights, apps flash prompts to dash for bands
and watch the skies: the only bulletins we need.

If gravity wins, wi-fi goes down, the internet breaks
and Earth takes a retrograde spin, we will all fall
back on each other. Sunglassed nonchalant veterans
of fanzine scenes will nurture beans and oversee a
calm and ordered reversion to analogue media.
Strange signals are carried in cosmonauts’ handshakes

and look at us rock this blue dot, our othernesses
worn like sturdy aluminised micrometeoroid suits,
cueing the curious gaze on induction days. They see
we carry heavenly knowledge. They edge around us,
prepping decontamination zones with every sideways
glance. The lifespan of our mission is unknown:

some days it’s all we talk about. Touch down
and our quarantine will never really end; burn up
on re-entry and we will outshine supernovas,
PowerPoints and Mercury awards. Bring on the cosmic
dust, the campsite disco, bring on the long hangovers.
If ever the plug is pulled we will go full acoustic.

Pete Green is a poet and musician who grew up in Grimsby and lives in Sheffield. Their themes include place, identity, marginality and finitude. Pete’s pamphlets Sheffield Almanac (2017) and Hemisphere (2021) are published by Longbarrow Press. Their poetry has also appeared in journals including Under The Radar, The Fenland Poetry Journal, The Interpreter’s House and Ink Sweat & Tears and The High Window. Pete’s work was shortlisted for the 2019 Brotherton Poetry Prize and longlisted in the 2020 National Poetry Competition.

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*****

David Hamson: Three Poems

WEST COAST MORNINGS

Buttered light fumbling through cloud
and this sense of having left somewhere
a long time back
to return now
to dunes of grass and rugged westerlies,
to what is not yet land-heavy.

We walk the beach, hand in hand,
still uncertain of each other
and my nerves are sunlight
scattered over the water,
my mind a finger
run along the rough,
crooked edge of the world,
unable to fathom
what spindrift chance
left us these days

to do nothing with
but feel suns smoulder
across our backs
then deepen and cool
like footprints in the sand

and to watch boats
come and go
dragging sails over the horizon

a whole landscape
fallen through with this sky
and what its stuttered promise
might trail behind.

IN-BETWEEN MOMENTS

The in-between moments
come back most:
how on long walks
he’d herd us if we lingered,
retreading scummed
bridleways.

Or when a bird’s cry
would distract him,
how he’d freeze,
his mind a stem of wheat
swaying on its truth,
till a flash of colour
gave way to his need.

And in summer
rock pooling with me
deep in afternoons,
squatted lock-kneed
over wet and slip of lichen,
feet set against
the incessant roll of brine,
ankles buried
in all that pent-up time

how he poised, hero-patient,
ducked in the sun
spinning off pools,
net in hand,
and – struck.

WHEN YOU THINK OF ME

Maybe you will think of me sometimes
the way a hand fumbles for keys:
a sudden urgency for validation,
scattering everything
but what you sought.

But I think more likely
it will be on afternoons like these
when you find
they have revealed nothing
and the radio is telling stories
about people you’ve never heard of
finding peace,
while rain smudges points of mist
across the windows
and you are thinking of nothing
that will ever nod in the breeze
of who you thought you might be.

Or late at night,
close to sleep,
surfacing unexpectedly
in tangles of thought
which float and diffuse
but never spark,
just curl on beyond reach
out of sight.

David Hamson lives in south London, and has been writing for several years. His poems have previously appeared in Agenda Broadsheets and Marble magazines.

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*****

Alice Harrison: Four Poems

IN THE SQUARE

Emotions ran high all that year.
Mama took against one of the maids
and enjoyed humiliating her.

Papa was away a great deal and Miss Morgan
had acquired a Gentleman Caller which meant
she was always laughing or crying.

Once, late, after Mama had swept past,
I found the maid weeping in the linen cupboard
and took her to her cramped attic room.

The others, wary at first and preparing for bed,
were soon persuaded to talk of their home lives,
lived hugger-mugger in squabbling families;

how their houses had no gas and but one tap,
warmth only in the kitchen, and noisome
outside privies shared with drunken neighbours.

Here they are mostly happy, three to a room
with heat rising from downstairs. Sundays
they ride on trolley buses and walk in the park.

Next morning I woke early and lay abed listening
to the birds, the tradesmen in the Square, carriages
along the street and the distant hiss of steam.

I imagined my new Friends, laughing and teasing
as they dressed and I waited for my curtains
to be drawn and my fire to be lit.

PHOENIX

I dreamt of our mother last night.
She arrived at my door, her hair
like a fluffy white halo. I
found my heart sinking. How angry
she’d be we’d had her buried was
what I was thinking. But her face
beamed so I knew we weren’t blamed. I
asked, “How on earth did you get here?”
“I just climbed out and the army
happened to be near. They gave me
a mack and put me on the bus.”

Only in a dream could our mother
be resurrected with so little fuss.

VOICES OFF

The first time consumed her
convinced her she was a saint
remembered stories from Sunday school
spoke in biblical language
tried flagellation
was sectioned

Medication gives some distance
and understanding
it isn’t a conversation
there’s no volume control
or off switch
if she does as they say it’s
inappropriate behaviour

Faint in the bus station
loud in the library
sometimes they sneer or bully
never comfort or console but often
wheedle and cajole

She’s learnt to resist all their commands
except for the cutting of her arms.

IN PRAISE OF HER LEFT BREAST

It droops there, minding its own business,
Acting its age.
For all these months it has caused no pain,
Has not demanded attention, not required to be
Felt, prodded, massaged, measured,
Marked, discussed, photographed.
It hasn’t needed needles
Or desired to be surgically raised
To the out-thrusting, perky position
Of its youth.

It is content with its brownish,
Knobbly nipple, has no wish
For the slightly, pinkly, swollen look.
It didn’t actually want to recline
On couches, beds, tables
In peek-a-boo gowns
But through all has behaved stoically,
Remaining its usual self:
Private, modest, dependable,
Comfy and comfortingly familiar.

Alice Harrison is a retired teacher living in Rhyl, North Wales. She began
writing seriously when she joined the Open University Poets in 1992. Her
poems have appeared in several magazines.

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*****

Diana Hendry: Two Poems

A DEATH IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

Because we can’t go to the crematorium
for the funeral of our neighbour, Rex,
we gather in the street – a long line of us
in a cold March wind – watching for the hearse,
waiting to clap Rex on his way. His
partner Ian’s not well, shouldn’t be out,
is ‘shielding’, but stands alone in the cold
socially distanced, grief distanced, wearing
his best linen jacket. The driver of the hearse
has instructions to stop in front of him so
he can pay his respects, bowing to the lilied
wreaths on the coffin, bowing and bowing
and bowing, his hands in prayer while the rest
of us clap and clap and clap, standing apart together.

It’s a very long street. As long, it feels, as
a life, as Rex’s long life. We shall never
get to the end of this death. And Ian?
Ian is going to watch the hearse diminishing
to the very end of the street. Do I remember it
wrongly, or was he waving? Waving as
he might have done if his love was just
going away for the weekend. Seeing him
off. Waving and waving and we’re clapping
and clapping until the hearse vanishes
round the corner and we all go home.

MULLIGAN

His pièce de résistance
was nosing open the window
of our Renault 4,
oozing himself out and legging it
round the zoo until he found
the hippo’s pond.

It began as soon as his legs
were long enough to leap
the garden wall and head down
to the butchers. Who could resist
him, all fiery fur and Irish glamourie?
His plume of a tail would
have graced a knight’s helmet.
Our toddler followed it
like the flag of freedom.

Ah but did we truly try to keep him home?
Wasn’t it rather that our hearts went with him
over the garden wall and away?
His escape ours?

Of course he paid the price,
prancing down the middle of the road
as if he owned the place.
The knock-down a shock
he’d never get over.

But oh the flash of him,
the blag and brag of him
the not-of-this world wild of him.
RIP not the style for him.

Diana Hendry has published five poetry collections – the most recent being The Watching Stair (Worple Press) and four pamphlets: Where I Was (Mariscat Press 2020).  Diana has won a Whitbread award and a Costa shortlisting for her YA novel, The Seeing (Corgi). She’s  been writer in residence at Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary, a Royal Literary Fund Fellow based at Edinburgh University, co-editor of New Writing Scotland and currently assistant editor of Mariscat Press.

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*****

Andrew Hubbard: Poem

EXTRAORDINARY

He wasn’t any kind of metaphysician
just a small-town cop,
but we’d gone to school together
and played on the soccer team.
Yet now, as the years chip away,
we’ve settled into the certainty
we won’t ever be rock stars
or get on the board of directors
and never sleep with a model,
punching metaphorical clocks
— me in a high school
and him with the cops —
until we lie in a pretty plot
in the Sacred Heart Cemetery.

And so we’ve reached an equilibrium
where once or twice a month
we share a quiet evening
at the deadest bar around:
a remodelled body shop
just outside of town
with no-nonsense lights
and a million bugs whirling.
The parking lot
is crushed white rock —
spacious and clean enough
except for the dusty dandelions
and odd patch of vomit.

Inside, there’s blessed quiet:
no stupid TV sports
no bad country music.
Just a row of guys like toadstools
hunching over drinks,
and the tight-lipped barkeep Max.
Weighing close to 500 pounds,
he used to be well known
as an arm-wrestling champ.

There are small tables laid out
where the work bays used to be.
Taking our seats, we order
nachos and beers , then settle down
to what he calls a ‘psychic de-tox.’
The third beer opens him up. He’s off —
kind of rambling, kind of focused
about whatever his mind is streaming.

I sit back, mostly, and keep him primed
with beer, listening with envy
to a mind that’s sizzling.
‘Of course I cherish those things
I love and understand.
but think I’m starting to learn
how to cherish those I don’t –
it’s mostly emotions and kind of hard
to prove they even exist,
though we know for sure they do …

Lemme tell you what I mean.
I was walking home from work,
kicking piles of leaves,
when a dust devil comes up
and past me, and just for a second
I was in a cone surrounded
by a million swirling leaves.

I couldn’t breathe, and I felt …
I don’t know how I felt.
There isn’t a word for it…
Hey, I need a piss.’

When he came back, he was pale
and sweaty, a little confused.

‘Can we go home now?’ he said.

I held him up with his arm
laid around my neck.
In the parking lot he said,
‘I think I now know more
about what I don’t know
than anyone else I know.’

Then he fell asleep.
He was snoring and walking at the same time
I’d never seen it before.

Extraordinary.

Andrew Hubbard was born and raised in a coastal Maine fishing village. He earned degrees in English and Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and Columbia University. He has published prose and three collections of his poetry. He is a casual student of cooking and wine, a former martial arts instructor, competitive weight lifter and a licensed handgun instructor. He lives in rural Indiana with his son, his wife, a giant, black German Shepard, and a gaggle of semi-tame deer.

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*****

Ross Jackson: Three Poems

TRAILING THROUGH A TWILIGHT

when you were young and at play in twilight
you never noticed sunset coming on
through scrub
now, not far from the last station
descending to path along river flats
gold patches of river shoreline faded by six o’clock

a trail of lime cement furred with moss
follows a trickling side-long ditch
a broadcast of many small noises–
swishing water fowl, frog chant
shadowy forms, life rustling about
in the low running bushes

those clumps of knotted club rush
like bar mates
hunched shoulder to shoulder
dark green hedgehogs
sipping from the bog
encircled by midge-swarming reeds

quills of sunsetting silver
slivers of river
fired between trees strung
with purple morning glory
one faint moan from the railway line
such unseen bends in gloom ahead

all it takes for a ragged piece
of your past
to wash under Windan bridge
to drag you to the Red Castle Hotel
where looking out on
ripples of lamps and stars
you’re lost on eroded shore

THE OLD GUITARIST
Picasso

a portrait, a great one
makes me think
broken chair left out by the road
a goatskin leaking vinegar
Picasso’s mood on a bad day
when music
would have done no good
for any of the women
he ill-used

A PREY TO THE SENSES

a lover of pictorial art
she’s lain on a sofa chair in the sun
when her coffee table book
blows open on her naked lap
to a page of monochrome
photograph

how steeply
The Titanic loomed
above those stick figures
congregated on that day
in coats and hats
for one grainy spectacle
at the wharf

dreamily looking up at
wind tossed crowns
of her neighbours’ trees
slow movements of the gantries
conducted across Belfast’s
smoky skyline

time divides and divides until
stretched out like a pinkish cat
she half turns over on the sofa
imagining her long, bare back
tattooed like that Cello, Man Ray
would have plucked

time divides and oh so sensually
it divides again and again
a prey to her senses
an ethereal, slowly incoming dusk
enough for her to see
what’s beyond the beyond

Ross Jackson is a retired teacher who is a long term resident of Perth, Western Australia. He writes poetry and short prose fiction. Ross has had poetry published in many literary journals and poetry websites across Australia. He has also had work accepted in Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Time alone on a quiet path was published by University of Western Australia Press in 2020.

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*****

Tess Jolly: Three Poems

DOCUMENT MAP

My author knows I can’t hear her
as she paces the midnight house
seeking inspiration at every door

but there is more than one way to elaborate:
she moves through my blood like a current,
stitches her fevers into my skin.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you this
and not the others who asked;
I’m not sure why I carried on walking

beyond the story and into the forest
insisting the darkness was real,
that her words were the same as before –

leafmulch, frittermoss, bonestick, seed,
heartsong, nettlehusk, smoke.
I’ll wash the mounds of bones

in the moon before she buries them
deep in the folds of my thoughts, but nobody
mentions the graves anymore.

ELLIPSIS

Have I said too much; have I crossed another boundary?
How much is the right amount to say?

There’s always this taste of bile in my mouth
and the memories of sweat

spilling like cream across Miss Crowley’s satin blouse
as she flicked the whisk of her baton

into the awful reverberant chant
and my friends obediently clapped to the rhythm

of Stop talking and get on with your work! –
their voices as clear and bright

as this butterlight shining on gold beads dipped
in her clavicle’s resonant hollow …

ENDNOTE

This silver light
at the end of the road,

this ghost, this grey,
this uncanny light

layering dreams
into decades

while down in the valley
children are still

constellating
their starlit lives

amongst the fool’s gold
and polished stones –

approach without
looking it in the eye

and the herd will move
aside for you.

Tess Jolly has won the Hamish Canham Prize and the Anne Born Prize, and has published two pamphlets: Touchpapers (Eyewear) and Thus the Blue Hour Comes (Indigo Dreams). Her first full collection, Breakfast at the Origami Café, is published by Blue Diode Press.

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*****

Alex Josephy: Two Poems

THE REED-CUTTER’S COTTAGE

My blue rain jacket has a square pocket
you can sink your arm in, halfway to the elbow.
Sealed with two metal studs, it expands
and expands, in concertina folds. My hand
slides down, tangles into a knot of oak apples
from the steep wood above the house,

a mossy pebble gouged from the waterfall bank,
stowed in a squirrel’s skull. Here’s damp velvet,
hazel nuts we picked too early. Here’s the collie’s
cold nose, and here’s pins-and-needles,
the red ants’ nest on that stump the shape
of a comfy chair, where Jamie sat and nearly

fainted from the shock. And here, a swayed peak
– the asbestos roof, sealed with a lead lip
round the chimney stones. Here’s the eroded spout
of the black iron fountain that swung on chains
over the fire, heating buckets of spring water
for the tin bath, and oh, here’s a rough slit

where my fingernails clutched and snagged,
the day Maya was lost up on the moor, the day
she thought the hill sheep were calling her name
over and over. Curled inside my palm, a bracelet
she plaited, green reeds and straw. Upturned trotters;
the last surviving pink plastic hog from the game

of Pass the Pigs we played for hours on end
when rain sluiced the valley. Deep in the dark,
an owl’s feather I don’t recall. Brittle, hooked
flight fabric, it feels lucky, lighter than you’d imagine;
must have kept us all safe from something.

RITES OF PASSAGE

They knew where they were going,
my son and his mate,
riding the upper deck like royalty
from Bow to Oxford Street,
to the Eat-As-Much-As-You-Like
Buffet Diner. Had the fivers scrunched
in their pockets. Already they’d fixed
on the first plate, sticky-sweet,
could almost smell the starch lifting
from rice, feel the delicate shells
of prawn crackers melt on their tongues.
Not one scoop of greenery
would darken their bowls. No-one
would question, How was school?

Your plans for the future? Princes
in the banqueting room, they could stay
as long they liked, eat as much
as they liked, talk about whatever
they liked, swear with their mouths full
if they liked. They were allowed,
now they had backpacks, homework,
skateboards, bus passes.
For my birthday, a mystery tour:
tickets to Oxford Street, a little place
he knew. He in a No Fear sweat-shirt, me
flaunting white swatches in my hair.
We sat all afternoon, watched the time
roll by. Took as much as we liked.

Alex Josephy lives in London and Italy. Her collection Naked Since Faversham was published by Pindrop Press in 2020. Other work includes White Roads, poems set in Italy, Paekakariki Press, 2018, and Other Blackbirds, Cinnamon Press, 2016. Her poems have won the McLellan and Battered Moons prizes, and have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the UK and Italy. As part of the Poetry School Mixed Borders scheme, she has been poet-in-residence at Rainham Hall, Essex, and in Markham Square, London. Find out more on her website: www.alexjosephy.net

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*****

Lanny Ledeboer: Four Poems

2020

Our ancestors understood a year like this.
Summer days watching the hunger stone
climb the bone-dry bank of the river.
Winter nights waking to the tossing
and coughing of the children.
Pests in the corn, a pox on the cattle.
Raiders camped in the hills.

The elders met trouble with a candle
and a shovel. Go to the temple
and light a flame at the altar.
Offer the priest a basket of wheat
to say a prayer of increase.
Then take up arms with a garden spade
and dig a ditch, dig a trench, dig a grave.

DISASTER

‘Folks would rather flirt with disaster than flee temptation.’
(Bartender at Martha’s Inn)

Disaster I imagine as a ghost town in Nevada,
a stack of clapboard ruins
propped against a plundered hill.
Wind sweeps the streets
as the desert knocks at crooked doors.

The emptiness is old,
all echoes of tumult long faded.
Whatever words were sharpened here,
whatever deeds could not be undone,
whatever wounds were carved in the mirror,
all that’s left is the hollow hill
and the company of weather.

A handful of sand at the door.

DECEMBER

That afternoon, in an overgrown corner
of the garden, near where we found
the arrowhead, I dug the grave.
Wrapped in the quilt you made him,
the dog waited on a garden stone
as the shovel sank through icy turf
and the chalk line of the volcano.
Then came the river rock cobble,
skeleton sandbar of ice age floods.

Years ago you unearthed the arrowhead,
planting our first garden that spring,
a relic we treasured for a month
and remembered for a year,
then buried in a kitchen drawer.

It was dark when the hole was dug.
I lowered the dog in his blanket
with the arrowhead tucked inside.
Under an evening star I put back the earth,
the rocks and the ash, the mat of frozen grass,
and stood the garden stone to mark the moment.

FOR BILLY’s 50TH BIRTHDAY

At fifty you learn to walk again,
to appreciate the animal fact
of your tracks in the sand.
You buy the same Swiss army knife
you got for Christmas in 1975.
You reach a peace with barking dogs
and notice eccentricities of light
in the corners of familiar rooms.
You realize that a bathroom scale
can tell your fortune. You eat aspirin
and read the Greeks and listen to games
on the radio. You let your footprints
point the way as the mechanics
of understanding begin to unfold
like a six-blade knife. Pointed
as a leather punch and square
as the head of a screwdriver.
Sharp as a factory edge

Lanny Ledeboer is an old high school history teacher in the state of Washington, USA. He has been reading and writing poems ever since he took Mr. Powell’s Intro to Poetry class back in college.

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*****

Iris Anne Lewis: Poem

ABERFAN
‘I have been asked to inform that there has been a landslide at Pantglas. The tip has come down on the school.’ Emergency call received by Merthyr Tydfil Police at 9.25am on 21st October 1966.

The Tip

Looming in black grandeur
seven heaps of slag
arrayed like a mountain range.
Tip number 7
above the junior school.

Three weeks it rains.

The manmade mountain moves,
pours water into waste and tailings.

An act of God, the Coal Board says,
of the dark and glistening wave.

And where is God in this?

The School

Last day before half term.

Assembly over, teachers marking registers,
dinner lady collecting money,
children squabbling in the wendy house.

Lights flicker, sway, and then
a rumble, a roar, a drumroll like thunder.
The mountain slips and hurtles down.

At 9.13
the classroom clock stopped ticking.

And where is time in this?

The Baptist Chapel

A makeshift mortuary, chapel cold.
Nurses and young Salvationists
wash the filthy-coated corpses.

With cards and coloured pens
policemen note details of the bodies,
cross-index them to clothing, small possessions –
ribbons, sweets, handkerchiefs,
a wellington boot
with chicken feathers stuck to it.

Sandwiches, steaming mugs of tea,
wet macks, a fug of slag
and disinfectant, soap and brandy.

Outside, parents line up
on the steps and down the street
waiting to identify their boy or girl,
find their child not there,
rejoin the queue again,
father relieving mother
as rainy day gave way to rainy night.

The day shift over, the policeman
with a tender whisper
tucks up blankets
covering each little body
to keep them warm
through the long dark hours ahead.

And where is warmth in this?

The Fish and Chip Shop

A hand-scrawled notice
pinned on the chapel door.
Cremation and burial certificates
will be issued at fish shop.
And so amongst the deep fat friers,
salt cellars, ketchup, vinegar bottles,
the bureacracy of death takes place.

Makes sense, you see, close by
and known to all, they say.

And where is sense in this?

The pub

Closed to customers
but busy with parents,
two clergymen, six undertakers,
asking questions, completing forms.
Name? Age? Faith? Communal or private grave?
Buried next to friends?

And where is faith in this?

The Cemetery

The sky wet-weather grey,
the mountainside black-cloaked
with congregation.

Silence.

Columns of families, ministers, bishops
wind up the steep and twisting road.

Prayers,
a brass band playing,
two thousand voices singing hymns
whipped away by wind
only to return again –
a wall of sound as vast
as the wall of sludge
that hit the town .

And where is song in this?

The memorial garden

A garden of remembrance,
where once stood Pantglas School.
Low walls and flowerbeds mark out
where classrooms used to be.
Here’s Standard 1 and Standard 2,
there’s Standards 3 and 4.
No children there, of course,
but wooden seats and scented shrubs –
a rose-petalled place of peace.

It took all the roses and left the thorns behind,
a surviving child was told.

So where is peace in this?

Iris Anne Lewis is riginally from Wales, but now lives in Gloucestershire. She has written short stories and a couple of radio plays (which were broadcast on Corinium Radio). Her main focus is writing poetry. Her work has been published online and in print, most recently in Artemis, Black Bough Poetry, Ink, Sweat and Tears and The High Window. In 2020 her work was showcased on the Silver Branch Series on Black Bough Poetry. She also won 1st prize in the Gloucestershire Poetry Competition and made her sixth appearance at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival as a prize winner.

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*****

Millie Light: Two Poems

SIX YEARS

(1982)

You’re home
smelling of engine oil and grease. I put the grill on,

heat Mum’s cottage pie. In the gap
between her shift and your return

I practise spellings, watch TV.
You bring dip-dabs,

add to our secret stash
of liquorice pipes. I cycle round the streets

while you run. We tank it
up Hill-Head, by the duckpond, past my school.

Pedalling beside your rhythmic feet,
I sync my breathing to yours.

(1988)

You’re home late,
smelling of cigarettes and beer. Mum’s casserole

congeals in the soup tureen. In the gap
between her leaving and your return

I cut my thighs, scoffed Woolworth’s pick-n-mix.
You lie on the couch knocking back whiskey

from work trips abroad. I re-arrange my books
alphabetically, ignore you

right until the limits of your rage. Hold my breath
as you exhale.

ZERO HOURS

He decides
not to begin
adult life
fifty grand in debt,
flunks his exams like a maestro,
smokes spliffs, and chokes
on a pill each day.

He decides
to join a workforce
of shelf-stackers – cycles in
at 5 a.m., wheels spinning
like plates, for a shift that’s often
cut short. This keeps him
on his toes.

Millie Light lives in west Cornwall and is a member of Falmouth Poetry Group. She has been writing poetry for a few years, partly as an antidote to the academic writing required for her ongoing PhD at Ulster University, Belfast. She had her first publications last year in both poetry and academic writing.

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*****

Kathryn MacDonald: Three Poems

WILLY NELSON SINGS STARDUST

and I’m smitten, after a day of Saint-Saëns
Debussy and Liszt, by Willie’s smoky
voice stalked by Winton’s lithe horn –
my shoulders swinging
low-down, smooth, my feet barely
stroking the floor, easy, easy like the sun
when it clears the sky and makes way
for dusk, ushering in the ghosts
of Monk, Miles, Coltrane.

And when, not far from Park Plaza
in a cluster of narrow bars,
I first learned to drink Scotch,
the music rose and fell and swirled
in wordless improvisation, reaching
ever deeper into the cavernous
streets of late-night New York.

I remember summer evenings
when a stream of greying jazzmen
crossed the river from Detroit
to a cozy downtown club ‒
your hand seeking mine,
your fingers tapping heartbeats.

Now the stars are shimmering
above another river on this clear fall night
and shine above the city’s lights,
letting stardust fall
on lovers and dreamers beyond this loft,
where your image has come to rest,
and memories prowl
plangent as our yesterdays.

TWO GARDENS
— Baracoa, Cuba

The man across the street wears baggy pants
and a loose shirt that flaps in the breeze.
With a machete he twists a hole in damp earth
squats to place a seedlingxxpresses it firmly.
A light rain gathers on the brim
of his red capxxxglistens on his brown arms.

I remember you in our vegetable garden
weeding rows of spring onion
red lettucexxxpeas and beans sprouting
tomato plants staked and potatoes slumbering in hills
among other things I came to this island to forget.

The garden across the street is a tangle
young banana treesxxxtomatoes
two brilliant-yellow squash blossoms
and much I cannot identify
so many leaf shapes in a tangle of green
inviting trespass.

I walk on
welcome ocean spray upon my wet cheeks.

UNDERSONG

We tramp the worn path
pass the apple tree in blossom
walk the margin of pussy willows
to the stone-lined pond in the woods
where the red-tailed-hawks nest
and our feet rake last year’s leaves
shatter silencexxxstartle partridge
into low flight. We lie in a patch
of sunshine filtered through green
and your breath brushes
my earxxbreath without words
crescendo of pleasure.

Too soon the height of summer
parches with its drying heat
and like the earth you wither
like the brittleness of grass.
We trade our days of woodland
odysseys for picnics
on the porch until
that too is lost.

I cry for youxxxthen cry for me
for intimacies turned to ash
and listen for breath’s undersong
caressing my ear
but find only solitary silence
and empty path
to rock-edged
haven.

Winter buries windfalls
path and pond. Soon
the world lies stark-white
barren. Silent
stillness reigns
without your song.

I take flight
flee scars
of mourning.

Kathryn MacDonald’s poetry has been published in literary journals in Canada, the U.S., England, and Ireland. Her poem ‘Duty / Deon’ won Arc Poetry Magazine’s Award of Awesomeness (February, 2021) and ‘Seduction’ was short-listed for the 2019 Freefall Poetry Contest. She is the author of A Breeze You Whisper (poems, 2011) and Calla & Édourd (fiction, 2009). Website: https://KathrynMacDonald.com.

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*****

Audrey Molloy:Three Poems

AGAINST RENOWN
for M

In the pitch black of the stratosphere, a sudden spider of lights, an earthly constellation, and I ask my love, sitting next to me watching an old spy movie, what city this is, spread out beneath us, and he utters an unfamiliar name, population six million, bigger than the city I live in, my borrowed home. Below, in this place I’ve never heard of, people are eating prawns and rice, and throwing wooden balls at other balls, and making quiet or noisy love, and talking in whispers in overrun houses or abandoned houses, and reading books of instructions or holy books or secret books of poems, oblivious to a plane far overhead. And I think of the time I sent you that poem by my favourite poet, and you said, good God, I’ve never even heard of this poet; how you sat down, heavily, and kept reading, your mouth moving silently and your hands suspended in the air as though you were offering a blessing, or surrendering: Will we ever write like that? And who will discover us?

AFTERLIFE

Four days passed before I realized I was dead,
invisible to the living, though my senses remained
xxtuned, sending canisters of texture and form
xxxthrough pneumatic tubes of my nervous system.
xxThe leaves of the plane trees spoke
through pale-green Rorschach mouths
and for the first time I understood.
xxThe air was cool and, amid the ground mist,
xxxsapphire spears of damselflies shone with dew.

No one nodded as they moved through parks and streets.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when I knew
xxI’d no longer catch a stranger’s glance
xxxlike a Cabbage White
xxin the fine, nylon weave of my occipital lobe
for pinning to the what-if board of fancy,
would never feel again
xxthe faint calligraphy of fingertips
xxxon skin still damp from loving.

It could have been the instant when I paid
the old chai wallah at the kiosk and he looked away,
xxor when I couldn’t smell the cardamom,
xxxor hear the knocking of a blowfly serving aces
xxto its double in the counter glass.
These things I noticed only slightly
just as a rhino sees the silent silhouette
xxof its assassin, downwind.
xxxBut I observed, acutely, other things:

the strand of once-brown hair that fell across my eyes—
transparent as the wing-glass of a demoiselle;
xxmy eyes reflected in these crystal strings,
xxxpink as an albino’s, no trace of green remaining;
xxthe blue that had marbled my inner wrists
for nearly five decades had disappeared.
I wandered on, fading, becoming—now—
xxthe sodden tea-leaves, the jewel-rich insect,
xxxthe shantung ball-gown tree.

I CAN HEAR LITTLE CLICKS AT SEA
After an opening line by Anne Carson

From a cabin, the tac-tac
of halyards when the wind picks up
and roughs the bay; sanctuary.

Grey skies in Skerries, stirring
a mug of tea on the salty lawn,
watching windsocks swing; contingency.

Six glasses clinking on a tray
when the race is over,
sails flaked on the grass; reward.

A mouse beneath the berth,
holding a Smartie in forepaws
that resemble tiny hands; audacity.

The epiglottis in my sweetheart’s throat,
moving as it only does
in deepest sleep; contentment.

The unloosed heart
sliding back and forth
inside the bilge; conformity.

The gavel of the conscience,
brought down in judgement
of the body it inhabits; guilt.

And the milli-seconds
counted backwards
to our unmooring; acceptance.

Audrey Molloy is an Irish poet based in Sydney. Her first collection, The Important Things, is published by The Gallery Press (2021). She is the author of the chapbook Satyress (Southword Ed. 2020). She is pursuing a master’s degree in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her work has appeared in Poetry Ireland Review, The North, Magma, Mslexia, The Moth and The Irish Times.

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*****

Tom Montag: Four Poems

From THE WOMAN IN THE IMAGINARY PAINTING

Far off, the hills of her childhood.
We cannot see them: the artist

did not paint them. It was other
smooth shapes he laid in color. It

was another stage of her life
he wanted. Those hills are there still;

there are dry grasses moving in wind,
as if her mind is its motion,

as if the world is leaving her
trembling in its last, hard moment.

*

Look away
from her

long enough
perhaps

she will paint
herself old

and broken.
You must have

the patience
of God. You

must believe.

*

The painting sat
on the artist’s easel

for months while
he waited to see

if it was finished.
That rawness in

the lower corner
seemed to want to

stay raw. The un-
finished texture

of that wall — did it
need something more?

When the artist is
uncertain, patience

is the only hope.
Another smudge

is all that was
needed, then

she raised her
naked splendor.

*

Those girls pushing now
against their blouses.

The boys who experience it
as pain before it is pleasure.

The woman in the painting —
she remembers what touch does.

The rising. Desire. That silver
burn. And she sees in their eyes

they know, glancing past her,
returning, they know.

Tom Montag‘s books of poetry include: Making Hay & Other Poems; Middle Ground; The Big Book of Ben Zen; In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013; This Wrecked World; The Miles No One Wants; Imagination’s Place; Love Poems; and Seventy at Seventy. Two new collections, The River Will Tell You and Maybe Holy: Six Old Monk Poems are forthcoming. He blogs at The Middlewesterner. With David Graham he recently co-edited Local News: Poetry About Small Towns.

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*****

Katherine Parsons: Two Poems

TILL DEATH DO US PART

I do not believe that death will bring me to those I’ve lost and loved.
They are no marble monuments; no poetry; neither heavens nor fantasy;
they are not here; they are not there:
in death they are not:

I do not believe I will see them again when death comes for me—
or see anything again—
or be anything again—
or be in “when”—
or miss them

When we both are gone, love,
and we do not meet on the unshared plane of non-existence
although I won’t be with you
I won’t be without you
and won’t that be enough?

IN THE MORNING

I wake and touch my love at the nape of her neck—
she, sleeping, increases the upper limit of my capacity for love
then, turning, takes the sheet with her.
I will lie in the cold only awhile,
then crawl into the fabric of her dream
and sleep in the creases there
pull on the loosening threads there
and ravel

Katherine Parsons is currently based in the UK, undertaking doctoral research in literature at the University of Birmingham. Her poetry expresses the balance of private intimacy and public threat in romantic love.

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*****

Michael Penny: Two Poems

MY EATING UTENSILS

are under the illusion
that they are
the muses of food

as they dance around
their creations, inspiring
taste and ingestion.

They are especially proud
of the things that require
elaboration and time

and how, after creation
they become extension
and vehicle. Essential.

To me, it’s simply
that they do the doing
that’s needed for me to eat.

But my utensils grip
my hands, choosing
a convenient letting go

only when I open my mouth
to instruct and chastise
(yes, I’m sure they do know.)

OCTOBER

A rock sits flat and solid
at the top of my garden
and is now my place to rest.

I hear the wind in the trees
say leaves must fall
and the wind will insist

before the earth accepts
with comment enough
what it must.

My presence bothers none
of this now happening
until I startle a wren

that flies off, tail panicked.
It recovers its aplomb
as it perches on now bare stem.

Below it, in the sun, a snake
lifts a body-head, stares,
decides to say nothing,

then slips skin over leaves
its sibilant curves away.
I also try silence

but the sky is cacophonous
with cloud, and distant rain
shouts it’s on its way.

I count leaf, bird
and even one small snake
as reasons to remain

and remain quiet;
It’s the space between
sounds that makes the song.

Michael Penny has published several books and previously in The High Window. He lives on an island near Vancouver, British Columbia.

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*****

Anna Saunders: Three Poems

THE WIND PHONE / KAZE NO DENWA

In his country love is an active labour –
a plate of rice,
the willingness to build a house again
after it is smashed by storm or
the act of assembling a booth
in which the bereaved call their dead.

He has built his wind phone
on a grass hilltop
the line goes nowhere
yet after the tsunami, thousands come
to make their calls.

Glass panel booth full of ghosts
the sunlight streams through
and the rain slips down like a shroud.

School boys scamper up the hill
phone Grandad to say how tedious
they find school
but how big they have grown
since he died.

Even the farmers visit, using their overalls
to mop tears,
the black phone
like a charred crescent moon
cupped between shoulder and mouth.

The words do not come down the wire
in his phone box,
but travel on the wind.

Callers say to their dead
I’m so lonely now.
Is it cold there, are you eating?
I’ll build a house for us again,
in the same place.
Is our son there with you too?
What is it like? Will you come home?

Note: A Japanese man assembled a broken phone so he could call his dead cousin, and after the tsunami thousands came to use ‘the wind phone’.

ALL THE FALLEN GOLD

During the pandemic
the galleries are closed again,
but what gold we have lost in the rooms of the Louvre
we find everywhere at our feet.

It is autumn, the season for largesse.
The oaks are munificent gods
throwing their coin everywhere.

Gold where we walk – large palms
of saffron, sun-yellow on grey stone,

fissures and cracks of the dun earth
concealed by the glinting pages
of leaf litter which gleam like lacquer,
cauterise the dark of a November night.

I lift a leaf and hold it aloft.
Here is a token I will take home –
the trees’ gilt lamellae,

passport for the dead,
lodestone for the afterlife.

I will keep this precious leaf
until the underworld gods call for alms.

Will let the winter wear it, a gilded
amulet, antidote, and talisman for the dark.

MOTHER TONGUE

linguistic matriarch
restitcher of all the tongues that
god tore apart
when he smote the tower of babel
the son has inherited the hyper,
and the glot –

but is not, unlike his mother
‘a gifted and massive language accumulator’
speaking 8 different languages
call tell you what
sea is, in all of them, or rain, or blossom.

He was one who learnt formal Italian
weeks before Venice and sounded as wooden
as the Pali da casada,

stumbled with Dutch,
as if each syllable were a sticky sweet
cloying the roof of his mouth

decided instead to pluck only the illicit
from each language
like a magpie that picks at the filthiest stones

whilst
his mother savours language like truffles
and eats
mare, mer, mar, zee
or
fleur, fiorire, florecer

he smelts pene, typpið, piemel, chatte
on his hot and clumsy tongue.

Anna Saunders is the author of Communion, (Wild Conversations Press), Struck, (Pindrop Press) Kissing the She Bear, (Wild Conversations Press), Burne Jones and the Fox (Indigo Dreams), and Ghosting for Beginners, (Indigo Dreams). Her new book is Feverfew. (Indigo Dreams). The collection has been described as ‘rich with obsession, sensuousness and potency’ by Ben Ray, and ‘a beautiful and necessary collection’ by Penny Shuttle. She is also the Executive Director of Cheltenham Poetry Festival and works as a creative writing tutor and mentor, communications specialist, journalist, broadcaster and copywriter/editor.

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*****

Carla Scarano D’Antonio: Poem

HOW WOULD I DRESS FOR MY DEATH?

She approaches casually
hands joined feet apart.
Her dark skirt hanging heavily on black laced leather boots
white chalked face and smiling red mouth.
Glass bead Murano necklace against white lace blouse
and a Rolex to check the time.
No hurry, it will happen anyway,
I feel lost.
I wish to be dressed correctly,
I hope I will,
not naked or dirty with fluids my body fails to hold,
but clean ironed clothes.
I would like to keep the last bit of time
to say goodbye to the dearest ones
in a clean, long dress
the colours of the rainbow,
I’ll be barefoot
beady earrings will match Death’s necklace;
she’s murmuring a prayer, a slogan or a welcoming speech to the underworld.
The smell of dirt from the melting snow.
I didn’t know I was gone.

Carla Scarano D’Antonio lives in Surrey with her family. She obtained her Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and has published her creative work in various magazines and reviews. Her short collection Negotiating Caponata was published in July 2020. She is currently working on a PhD on Margaret Atwood’s work at the University of Reading.
http://carlascarano.blogspot.com/  
http://www.carlascaranod.co.uk/

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*****

Myra Schneider: Two Poems

PLANTING

November, and without leaving the house,
without trowelling into finely tilled soil,
without lifting a watering can,

simply by pressing keys on the computer
I plant an avocado tree in Kenya.
How powerful, how useful I feel.

December, and in the pit of night I dream
a cord passing under the ocean is linking me
with the embryo tree because I’m its mother.

In January I read storm clouds of locusts
are eating their way through East Africa.
I picture the invaders devouring my plantlet

and stare at images of Kenya, shorn of vegetation.
This is not God punishing the land
with a plague as long ago He punished

Egypt’s pharaoh, but our doing. Utterly empty,
I press keys to send money for the hungry,
stand at the window drinking winter’s greys.

Still grieving in sun-drenched April,
I plant a fig tree in the garden and will it
to grow, to open hundreds of green fingers

and bring forth tiny knobs intent on
swelling into soft purple pouches crammed
with sweet flesh, hordes of seeds.

LET US

throw open splattered windows
and allow light to stream into rooms,
not shine dimmed to a sullen grey
by a skyful of cloud, not the mean rays
of reason which enumerate facts and faults,
kill compassion and make us hide fears
in cupboard dark, not bright beams
chilled by hatred with more bite
than the east wind –
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxnone of these. Let us
open ourselves to today’s unstinting light.
It’s bringing the warmth of ripe apricot skins,
the happy go lucky orange of marigolds,
the clarity of extra virgin olive oil,
the glory of sun alighting on the waters
of Chania.
xxxxxxxxxxLook, it’s kindled the kitchen walls
and awakened cushions in the living room
so let us breathe – let us breathe it in
as it glides up the stairs, smiles
on worn carpets, calms worried beds.
Listen, it sounds like bees murmuring
to the rampant brambles out in the garden.

Myra Schneider’s tenth full collection, Lifting the Sky, was published by Ward Wood (2018). Other recent poetry publications include Five Views of Mount Fuji (Fisherrow Press 2018 and Persephone in Finsbury Park, SLP, 2016 . Other publications include books about personal writing. Her poetry has appeared frequently in newspapers and journals and it has been broadcast on Radio 3 and 4. She was shortlisted for a Forward Prize in 2007 and she has co-edited anthologies of poetry by contemporary women poets.

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*****

Michael Simms: Two Poems

THE SUMMER YOU LEARNED TO SWIM
For Lea

The summer you learned to swim
was the summer I learned to be at peace with myself.
In May you were afraid to put your face in the water
but by August, I was standing in the pool once more
when you dove in, then retreated to the wall saying
You forgot to say Sugar! So I said Come on Sugar, you can do it
and you pushed off and swam to me and held on
laughing, your hair stuck to your cheeks—
you hiccupped with joy and swam off again.
And I dove in too, trying new things.
I tried not giving advice. I tried waking early to pray. I tried
not rising in anger. Watching you I grew stronger—
your courage washed away my fear.
All day I worked hard thinking of you.
In the evening I walked the long hill home.
You were at the top, waving your small arms,
pittering down the slope to me and I lifted you high
so high to the moon. That summer all the world
was soul and water, light glancing off peaks.
You learned the turtle, the cannonball, the froggy, and the flutter
and I learned to stand and wait for you to swim to me.

WHO WILL TELL THEM?

It turns out you can kill the earth,
Crack it open like an egg.
It turns out you can kill the sea,
Poison your own children
Without even thinking about it.

Goodbye passenger pigeon, once
So numerous men threw nets over trees
And fed you to pigs. Goodbye
Cuckoo bird who lays eggs
In the nests of strangers.

Goodbye elephant bird
Who frightened Sinbad.
Goodbye wigeon,
Curlew, lapwing, crake.
Goodbye mascarene coot.
Sorry we never had a chance to meet.

Who knew you could kill
Everything? Who knew
you could crack the earth open
Like an egg? Who knew
The endless ocean
Was so small?

Right now, there are children playing on the shore.
There are children lying in hospital beds.
There are children trusting us.
Who will tell them what we’ve done?

Michael Simms is the founding editor of Vox Populi and Autumn House Press. His latest collection of poems is American Ash (Ragged Sky Press, 2020). He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

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*****

Sue Spiers: Two Poems

DOORSTEPS

Our first doorstep was a hired house in Limassol.
The parasol over my pram in a dusty garden
where our mongrel chased lizards and locals.

Army surplus paint coated the Lyneham step
where the lawn rolled steep to a stream;
no good for paddling pools or a vegetable patch.

In Kings Lynn we had a flat over a coach house.
Upstairs our landlady played Rock-A-Hula,
let me keep her record player when we left.

Mother and Maureen sat on the broad front stoop
smoking and trashing army wives, officers, NAAFI.
Pilsey Island cockles in jars in the larder.

My father laid the doorstep at Mitchell Avenue;
at last a thirty-foot garden to plant; beans and roses.
Just as they settled, I left, repeated our gypsy life.

I chased promotion, moving for each new post,
rootless and tied to no one; come and go friends,
short-term lovers, until I became a third wife.

I drive an hour from in-laws who never moved,
receive buttered tennis shoe bread for tea
at the house my mother refuses to leave.

After father’s death she fears new walls,
lives with his old clothes, gardening tools
and photo albums of all the places they knew.

THE MADONNA OF THE BOOK OF KELLS

Bráthair Eoin is asleep again, at his easel.
Candle stumps gristle their clay holders.
Her red mantle is fresh with gypsum snow.

Against the abbot’s law I stroke his forehead,
see his paint-stained hands soft against
the pillow of his desk, he opens his eyes.

‘Are you well the day?’ He blinks an unsure
yes and stretches off the night, takes himself
away to the kitchens and breakfast.

I lay out woody stems and peel yellow
flowers, collect the dried twigs, to pulverize
into fine powder, and the water closet pails;

to soak indigo from the plant’s remains.
He’s begun the outline for angel’s wings
and swirly vipers round the portrait’s frame.

After matins bráthair Eoin returns, clean
and shaved, pale as a snowdrop in grass,
says to fetch corcur for her lips and skirt.

I traipse to Clover Hill to the outcrop,
south of the town, where fairies trespass
and sensible girls dare not dig up lichen.

I get back to the cottage after evensong.
Finian stinks of dead calves, their scrape
staining his hands. He grabs at my waist.

He lies panting, with his head at my breast
just as the virgin’s child, whose painted face
looks like bráthair Eoin adoring his mistress.

Sue Spiers was commended in the 2020 Poetry Society Stanza competition. Poems have appeared in Artemis, Dream Catcher, South, Stand and, Orbis and on-line at The High Window and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Sue is Treasurer for the Winchester Poetry Festival and reads regularly at Winchester Muse and Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth. Her collections Jiggle Sac and Plague – A Season of Senryu are available on Amazon and she Tweets @spiropoetry.

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*****

Patrick Wright: Four Poems

PORTRAIT OF KATHERINE MANSFIELD
After Anne Rice

I never dreamt of coughing blood the colour of this dress.
Nor spending the English winters abroad. I only dreamt
of ending stories abruptly, using words the way a cello rises
and falls. As a girl my dreams were an atlas. To escape windy
Wellington, leave on a liner, find my urban future. I wrote
of jazzy palettes, a low neck bohemian garb. How life could
be all syntax, experiment. From Wilde’s prose and a Maori
breast, I adored the fetish, torn between gestalt and imago.
My red dress fills most of the canvas. As an émigré, I’d share
a cigarette, strut in a kimono. At parties, I’d laud suffragettes
or write vignettes in bold strokes like the Fauves. Aroused,
I’d return from the colonies, my personas piling like a house
of cards. I’d be polyamorous, endless rhythm. I’d embody
the fleeting and contingent. In the end, I’d ride a falling star.

ARCHIVE
Before Anselm Kiefer

Before his landscapes scorched by war and history, paintings of straw
and glue, your golden hair, Margarethe, before ‘Death Fugue’, I was back at
school, deep winter. In the yard blew a few stray crisp packets; seagulls
pecked at crumbs. The annex and fence had the look of an abandoned
camp, in Polish hinterlands. Through a cloakroom window I peered,
looking for a ghost of myself, then at a ghost of myself, as the sun
poked out from a cloud and the contours of bulimia gazed back, in
greyscale. I saw the bullies too, with razored eyebrows, piercings, fists in
my gut, spit on my shoulder, the stench of Lynx, using queer as an insult.
With my SLR, I clicked more in hope than expectation. I fumbled with
fixative, the stop bath, the gelatin swell. My negatives solarised. I kept
revisiting as a witness – my dark tourism before the phrase became a
thing. Those days, I bit the inside of my lip, stubbed cigarettes out on
my arm. When the dysmorphic class photo was framed, still as that
winter, your golden hair, said the Kiefer print, your golden hair, Margarethe.

THE MISOPHONIC BRAIN

would prefer the colour blue,
a world curled inside a swirl
like Kandinsky’s canvas, blue
gyres, lines forming a syntax, a blue
haven inside a spectrum, a blue
triangle or river-walk to infinity,
or tangles like a blue disco wig,
electric blue flicker to the tunes.
The path he pursues towards blue
is heading to the absolute, the blue
star shining brighter white like Rigel,
the clue of the divine. I am blue
under birdsong, when baby shrieks
pierce me in cafés. In the blue
I hear no chord sequence, rhythms
or E minors. I listen, though blue,
towards the still crystal blue
of a pool, towards the blue
of its sky-mirror, where blue
lifts me now beyond measure.

VANISHING POINT
After Hiroshi Sugimoto

I’m staring across a lake of tar — perhaps on Titan
where the lakes are made of diesel, where the lakes
are a dark carpet once seen from a foetal position.

This line I liken to a veil. It separates our lives —
unlike the veil you wore churchless on Primrose Hill.
We shared an organza canopy draped over love-smiles.

Sleep is a flurry of shadows. I keep voicemails
about lost keys, while the sirens unsettle you.

This is how our relationship endures: you exist
behind a firewall
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx where a montage of our movie
xxis playing somewhere over the curve of a satellite.
xxxxxxxIt seems to be saying that the dead are here,
xxxxxxxxxxxxwatching us,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxbut they cannot interfere.

Patrick Wright has a poetry collection, Full Sight Of Her, published by Black Spring (2020). His poems have appeared in several magazines, most recently Agenda, Wasafiri, The Reader, and Envoi. He has twice been included in the Best New British and Irish Poets anthology, and has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. He currently works at the Open University, where he teaches English Literature and Creative Writing.

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