The High Window, Summer 2022: Poetry

summer 2022 THW

*****

Jane Angué •  Loukia Borrell •  Bob CooperJulian DobsonAlan DunnettAlexandra FössingerHedy HabraChris HardyHilary HaresDavid HarmerRosie JacksonSheila Jacob Nigel JarrettMaureen JivaniFred Johnston •  Alex Josephy Phil KirbyWendy KleinAlison MaceRichie McCafferyBeth McDonough •  Gill McEvoyKonstandinos MahoneyLaurence MorrisJill MunroAlistair Noon •  Abigail Ottley  • Stuart Pickford  Les PopeGordon ScapensDerek SellenRuth SharmanSusan Castillo StreetMatthew StewartJudi SutherlandMark TotterdellCarol WhitfieldRichard WilliamsMarjory Woodfield

*****

Previouis Poetry: Update by 3?

   THW25: March 6, 2022 • THW24: December 3, 2021 • THW23: • 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


*****

Jane Angué : Two Poems

TABULA RASA

A bit like an Edward Hopper, he had no face,
but from the outside looking in I recognized him,
framed by the window, on the far side of the room.

The meeting had started next door after mine,
I hadn’t seen him arrive, but I recognized him
when I came back from the cloakroom opposite
in the atrium. The lights were on by then
as evening muscled in.

His meeting had ended when I stepped out
into a slap of cold, pulling my scarf over my nose.
The night was thin, no streetlamps, just

trying to see
where I was putting my feet
and the shape of his head
the last time.

HIGH AND DRY

Washing over the floor, tidemarks
of flotsam, swept back from time to time,

rippling pathways, table to door,
cupboards blocked, boxes of boxes,

sagging cardboard matryoshka,
tired chairs beached in corners,

like float-wood thrown up, struts awry,
repairs receding, lost in the undertow,

bottles empty, no jetsam, bottles
bobbing up a staircase, messageless,

books Pisa-piled in front of bookcases,
double-rowed, topped with stepped stacks

and bags of bags, popping jelly-fish
of bubble film, papers in and out of files,

bits of string, baling twine, bits of raphia
and worms of wire, seaweed strands

of packages past and fences patched,
no ballast jettisoned to keep afloat,

nothing cast away
in this shipwreck.

Jane Angué left England following a French degree at King’s College, London. After postgraduate research in France, she passed the agrégation. Currently living in the foothills of the Cévennes, she teaches English Language and Literature and contributes in French and English to print and online journals such as Amethyst Review, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Acumen, Erbacce, morphrog, incertain regard, Le Capital des Mots, Poésie/première, Arpa and Traversées.
A pamphlet, des fleurs pour Bach was published in 2019 (Editions Encres Vives).

Back to the top

*****

Loukia Borrell: Poem

EX-HUSBAND

I always thought he was out there, though we
were not in touch recently. He seemed to be well.
I used Google to check on him now and then.
He had retired from the police department and was
teaching people how to ride motorcycles.
Later, I saw his mom died and the next time I checked,
he was dead, too. I saw his obituary and realized
I didn’t really know him anymore. I called a woman
who knew us when we were married; cancer, she said,
and I remembered all those cigarettes and
a bit of a wheeze in his breathing, even then,
when he was young, and his hair was still blonde.

I wore a white ballgown and he was in a tux.
Off we went and made a go of it, touring Bermuda
on a moped during our honeymoon, during which
there was no sex and the hotel manager told me
he couldn’t understand why my groom sat poolside
late at night, inhaling cigarettes instead of me.
We continued through the early cracks and crevices,
saw the Florida Panhandle, drove on Daytona Beach and
explored the British Virgin Islands in a jeep.
Then, the deeper chasms, when I would watch
Thelma & Louise on VHS and cheer them on,
feeling liberated from married life, from him.
Two years after the wedding, tired of spending
the worst nights at a Hilton, I flew home with one bag,
a couple of months before O.J.’s jury said he didn’t do it.

I only saw my ex once after we split
and when I did, returning with my father
and brother to get my belongings, there
were no lingering glances or outstretched hands.

After his death, I remembered he had a port-wine stain
on his chest, but I forgot which side it was on.
I went long periods and didn’t think of him at all,
and now, wondered if it was strange to remember
a man I once loved, frozen, enclosed in a snow globe,
and forever unreachable, as if we were married again.

Loukia Borrell was born in Toledo, Ohio, and raised in Virginia Beach. She is the daughter of Greek-Cypriot immigrants and has a bachelor’s degree in English/Journalism. Her career includes work as a newspaper journalist and author. Her poetry has appeared in Cerasus Magazine, The Bangor Literary Journal, Dreich, London Grip and elsewhere. She tweets @LoukiaBorrell and has a website, www.loukialoukaborrell.com. She is married and has three adult children.

Back to the top

*****

Bob Cooper: Two Poems

O’HARA AND MELLY MEET UP IN LIVERPOOL

Frank’s signing one of his books in the News From Nowhere bookshop,
What’s your name? Carol Ann. OK, when George appears, bold as his suit,
a multi-floral silk shirt, a lily and ferns drooping from his buttonhole,
and a squidged-full Asda bag,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxI’ve just been in Oxfam, got new old clothes,
there’s someone homeless called Dave in a doorway I passed walking here.
I’ll give him these from Jermain Street. Frank smiles, picks What’s On leaflets,
buys Pauls Reverdy’s Poems, pays cash from the pocket over his heart.

Outside they chat to Dave,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxa cruise-ship chef who lives below window menus,
hear a saxophonist, see a gold laméd Billie Holliday beside him.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThey stop,
rummage in pockets, drop coins into his case which tinkle like cymbals
as Billie looks at their faces, smiles as if she’s seen what she sees many times,
sings softly and slowly into their eyes,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be?)
then the Green Man flashes and they cross with the crowd,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsso close
they almost touch as George says more about Egyptian Surrealism,
the new Exhibition,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxYou ain’t seen nothing like it where you’re from.
Frank says Lunch? Gets two hotdogs. Then George buys 99s.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThey lick
before – and this they rarely do – tell of their sailor-boy lives.
George loving the bell bottom trousers; Frank, their T-shirt’s tight fit.

So, on they walk –
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxGeorge’s hair and lily flopping; Frank’s hair-loss
hidden by a baseball cap with New York and a neon heart –
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxand talk
knowing they share familiar words, not quite hidden meanings,
until they stroll by Albert Dock’s so square water and enter the Tate.

Inside,
xxxxxxxGeorge no longer sees colours, backgrounds to raunchy blues,
Frank doesn’t hear the cool jazz only heard in New York.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxInstead
they walk slower as shapes of a new music come as an embrace.

THE FAMOUS FIVE GO ON HOLIDAY

Or when Messrs Wordsworth, Keats, Constable, Turner, and Miss Bronte,
rented a holiday cottage in Neston

It was almost five in the morning, not yet dawn,
when, one by one, they appeared in the kitchen.
No-one spoke, they stood there, smiled, watched
Willie Long Legs bend over the bread board,
slide slices into the toaster. When they sprang up
Little Johnny K pulled them out, scraped on butter,
then quieter smears of strawberry Jam.
Hot Eyes Emily picked one up, took a bite,

broke the silence,

mentioned the way heads sink into soft pillows
then Tall-Cloud John spoke of flannelette pyjama’s softness,
Light-Headed Turner, cool sheets on leg-stretched feet,
but no-one asked why they’d woken as daylight
began to reveal the cottage they’d rented for the week

because the clock

whirred then chimed as Willie Long Legs tugged a cord,
venetian blinds squeaked, quick-clattered open,
as fingers held toast they stared into the light

before Hot-Eyes Emily

stood at the door, turned the key, tugged it open,
fresh air and birdsong rushed in, hovered,
touched them, silenced them, blessed them
before she ushered them out to greet more of it,

breathe it in,

where they faced a simple yet surreal sunrise,
one that must happen here every cloudless day.
They took out their phones, ignored each other,
dropped toast – the birds would love that –
took images, jam-fingered unpredicted phrases,
then posted as they stared at its brightening light
what would get shared, re-shared, again, again.

Bob Cooper has had seven pamphlets published – six of them winning pamphlet competitions. He’s also had two full length collections published, one by Arrowhead in 2002 with another by Pindrop in 2017. See: http://www.pindroppress.com/books/Everyone%20Turns.html He lives on the Wirral.

Back to the top

*****

Julian Dobson: Two Poems

STRAGGLER

She doesn’t care. She isn’t even huffing
up that hill, her limbs swing easy
though she’s hours adrift. The finishers
wince by the other way, hobbling to home and bath.

Personal best? Sod that. Her flickering smile
declares she knows she’s failed, if failing’s
coming last. Without apparent injury
there’s no visible excuse. The sweeper bike

rolls up behind, the lycra-garbed young guy
cuts down mile markers, unties signs.
His beer and burger’s overdue. Families
sparrow around the tents, share achievements.

She plods the last few paths. Around these trails
she’s noticed conkers start to swell,
a butterfly she cannot name, a thrush
song-mapping an uncharted territory.

DINGHY

Sixty miles inland, a man
paints his boat, year
after year.

Its hull turtles
on the tarmac.
The man strides

in and out of the garage,
purposefully. He wears
a blue boiler suit, faded now.

On top of the upside
down craft is a trolley
with red wheels.

Sparrows pursue each other
between hedges. Sometimes
a spring breeze

catches the red wheels,
sets them spinning
as the paint dries.

Julian Dobson lives in Sheffield. His poems have appeared in publications including Magma, Under the Radar, and Brittle Star, and on a bus in Guernsey.

Back to the top

*****

Alan Dunnett: Two Poems

FLAMENCO (IN THE STUDIO)

I saw hands on hips advance then retreat
to the power of the stamp tikkitah
tikkitah tak blam blam BLAM. Quick feet,
however, carry you only so far.

Your chest is wet and shining from the bright
decisive claps, the shape of the guitar,
sure and surrounding, and your own sweet fight
for an agony of passion – invite
it – telling the mirror that tonight
it has a mistress, that it must be told.

I saw hands turn in the Spanish heat
then taken away behind the buttock. War
is fair and your bold stride, opening mouths,
draws them through an opening door.

A DOOR

That was when I shut you out,
pushing the door, but still
you came on. In another

town, they continue to sing.
In another town, I am reckless
for you. Here, I keep brushing

my teeth and washing my hands,
measuring the changes to my face
in the mirror, remarking

upon each definition.
There is no going back.
You are at the door again

but dusk is silting up
the jambs and dripping between
my fingers. Each mouth-breath

of darkness hurts my throat, cold
as a young morning. Mist
speckles the tiles. I hear

you describing a new
arrangement. Carefully,
carefully, you whisper

of this and that. Words fall
in threes and fours. It is just
a door. Are you a person

I know? You remember
things about me, that is true.
One thing is certain. This door,

suffused with black order, cannot
be opened. It is easy,
you think. Let you be the next

to reach for the handle
and grasp it like a one-armed
bandit till the locks tumble

and catch temporarily.
Open the door, you command,
a voice behind the cascade.

Alan Dunnett has worked as a theatre director, and as a drama school acting tutor. ‘Shot in the Head’, informed by Narratives from Columbians Displaced by Violence, is in The Very Edge, Flying Ketchup Press, 2020. He wrote/voiced Interrogation, Best Experimental Film, Verona International Film Festival 2019. Poems also in Dodging the Rain, Ink Sweat and Tears, The New European, Skylight 47, Stand, The Recusant, The Rialto. His collection, A Third Colour, was published by Culture Matters in 2018. https://alandunnett.co.uk/

Back to the top

*****

Alexandra Fössinger: Poem

CPH-EDI-CPH

The highest happiness of those
xxxxxxdays was (always)

to climb up the stairs, turn (around) the
corner, knowing she would step
out of the railway building, into the
xxxxxxclear sea air,

(an instant) to fulfilment, then,
lying freed from all anthropogenic in
a bed one continent away from hers,
xxxxxx– to think of it again, anticipation

(nearly) as beautiful, where all her travels
would take her, this place, this house,
embrace awaiting her
xxxxxx (always a first one), no matter

how many homecomings, at last,
the seagulls overhead,
remembering the train would take her
xxxxxxback (first south, then east, then

airborne), up into the grey longing, an endless
solitude (again) for months, then years,
to come.

Alexandra Fössinger is a German/Italian native speaker from Italy. Having lived in Germany, Sweden, and France, she is fluent in several languages; her poems often express those multilingual experiences. Her work is published or forthcoming in Tears in the Fence, Frogmore Papers, Wild Court, The Journal, morphrog, Oyster River Pages, Feral, among others. Her first chapbook is forthcoming in Summer/Autumn 2022.

Back to the top

*****

Hedy Habra: Poems

OR WHO WOULD HAVE EXPECTED US TO LEAVE THAT WAY?
After ‘The Juggler‘ by Remedios Varo

We decided to skip the afternoon bus ride
and sneak out through the convent’s main gate
guarded by the twin Sisters.

As soon as the hunchback nun turned around
to answer her stuttering twin’s call from inside
the parlor, we jumped in unison

out the first floor’s half-opened window.
We barely caught our breath till we reached
the town square.

We knew we couldn’t remain unnoticed for long
in our gray uniform. At the sight of the juggler,
we stood, mesmerized.

his hands handled fiery balls in elliptical
trajectories bringing forth the movement
of stars and constellations.

The same energy flowed through our body
as we held hands tightly as though a single
cape enveloped us.

We had become a vessel about to set sail.
Our philosophy professor, a Steve MacQueen
look alike Jesuit,

seemed to be now wearing that juggler’s black
hat matching his cassock. His hands spinning
faster and faster,

tossing blinding lights binding us as one.
All questions
xxxxxxxxxxxxraised in class
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxburst into sparks.

OR CAN’T YOU HEAR THE HARSHNESS OF HER BREATH?
After ‘The Red Weaver’ by Remedios Varo

Seated in the corner of a room lit by a dim light, she tries to
stitch her past anew, her deft fingers set on insufflating life by
interlocking fibers. Her failed attempts, a museum of discarded
limp figures face faceless couples hanging over the walls while
her cat, once thought to be her masterpiece, unravels himself
playfully into a ball of black yarn, disregarding his own waning
existence

She’d sit for hours as the click of the needles followed a rhythm
of its own till she understood the need for change. At dusk, she
inhaled deeply out of the open window and spun yarn with the
colors of night carried by the breeze

xxxxxxmuffled notes, motes of dust flown from dark alleys,
people’s breath and clothes, the slightest waft
xxxxxxbearing plumes, dandelions seeds’ tufted tops, pappi,
broken fireflies’ elytra, cottonwood fluff, thistledown,
xxxxxxmilkweed, all the stuff birds collect to build their nests.

As patterns became her cipher, the movement of the needles
intensified like someone typing nonstop on a keyboard. An
automaton, she suffers sanguine wounds with every stitch, the
stained garment becomes corporeal, colors her alter ego in red,
turns into a silhouette that escapes her grasp. With eyes closed,
she sees herself flying out the window, discarding her ashen
colors like a worn-out envelope.

Hedy Habra is a poet, artist and essayist. Her  three acclaimed poetry collections are: Tea in Heliopolis, the winner of the Best Book Award, Under Brushstrokes, and most recently, The Taste of the Earth (Press 53 2019), which was the winner of the Silver Nautilus Book Award.  She has also written a story collection, Flying Carpets. A recipient of the Nazim Hikmet Award, her multilingual work appears in numerous journals and anthologies. https://www.hedyhabra.com/

Back to the top

*****

Chris Hardy: Two Poems

SERMON ON MOUNT HELIKON

Blessed are the poets for they celebrate the daisy and the stone
for they remember the unnamed and forgotten
for they betray confession
for they embroider life with names
for they listen on the bus
for they wear a coat of words
for they audit an abacus of trees
for they heed the butterfly of Lefka Ori

Blessed are the poets for they eavesdrop on God and nothing
for they change their tongue
for they walk beneath the sea
for they read a dish of celery
for they place silence above light
for they assess homunculus and poltergeist
for they regret Aleppo
for they attend the other side of Pluto

Blessed are the poets for they skry death and birth
for they climb to Hesiod’s hearth
for they speak with the pavement cat
for they encompass cumulus and Oort
for they find love in a laundry basket
for they fathom water
for they respect hate and fear
for they sit by the fountain in the square

RED LEB

It was the scales in the bag
with the slab that did it.

Three months for a weight.
Came out of the Scrubs an addict.

Doctor Dunbar’s prescription,
a flask of tincture, acrid green,

got you clean and stoned
a dozen friends for nothing too.

Afghan shit was the deal.
Sweating light-brown cake

covered in white mould,
wrapped in muslin, stank of goat.

Crumble in tobacco, three skins,
card tube to clear the draw,

took you straight to a courtyard
in Herat, sat on carpets

beneath the moon, mint tea,
a fist-sized lump of sugar in the pot.

And from the hills above Bekaa
dark fumes of Ishtar,

before the rockets, wars and mafia
when, if you were willing

and able you could walk
anywhere in the world.

Note: Red Leb – potent hashish resin from Lebanon  a weight – a pound of hashish resin
Doctor Dunbar’s prescription – cannabis tincture, used to get junkies off heroin
shit – hashish resin, also ‘charge’, ‘blow’, ‘block’, ‘hash’.

Chris Hardy’s poems have been widely published in magazines, anthologies and online.
He is a musician, in LiTTLe MACHiNe, performing their settings of well-known poems. The most brilliant music and poetry band in the world. (Carol Ann Duffy). His new collection, Key to the Highway is published  by Shoestring Press. A guitarist as well as a poet Chris Hardy ‘consistently hits the right note, never hits a false note.’ (Roger McGough).

Back to the top

*****

Hilary Hares: Three Poems

WHAT IT IS TO BE A STREAM

All day I lie on my cold, stone bed,
eyeball the sky which has little to offer
but its fragile weathers.

Night comes, brings stars, sometimes
a moon, sometimes a severed moon –
dawn’s the worst, so unforgiving, stark.

I used to know fish, the flash and sparkle
of a grayling, dace or trout. But now no men
appear with hand tied bait or rods or boats.

My sole preoccupation has become the sea,
how to reach it when it’s denied me by the clog
of long-discarded junk and silted reed.

The curious come, peer down. They’re seeking
absolution. I owe them nothing, return them
to themselves as pale reflections.

AFTER A FALL

the body breaks,
leaks, repels itself.

The soul, against its will,
opens like an oyster

revealing its belly,
white and gelatinous.

Wounds lap against
their shores,

flesh aches, yearns
to seal the breach.

As the soul sinks
back to its depths,

the body heals,
seals, remakes itself,

its trauma inscribed
in the runes of a scar.

THE LIGHTHOUSE

Think of me as a little god,
more monument than tower,
this cliff and everything that it
commands is mine. I have
the power to grant the gift of light.
Each day a multitude will gather
at my feet, look up with something
much akin to awe, the seals will sing
me songs and porpoises, in serried
ranks, will all perform small acts
of circus in the bay. Only the dogs
and seagulls miss the point,
all they can do is bark or shriek
or shit. At night the foghorns
of the trembling ships call out
and I beam gently back ….
and yet, the glory days are gone
and, in the gift shop on the pier,
amongst the beach balls
and the Kiss-me-Quicks,
I’m nothing more than plaster
with a coat of garish paint,
and in the end, it all comes
down to this: an epitaph that reads:
A Souvenir from Beachy Head

Hilary Hares’ poems appear widely online and in print. She has also won or been placed in a number of competitions. She has a Poetry MA from MMU and her collection, A Butterfly Lands on the Moon supports Winchester Muse and a new pamphlet, Red Queen, is available from Marble Poetry. Website: www.hilaryhares.com

Back to the top

*****

David Harmer: Two Poems

FRED, 1952

There you are, confident, still in your thirties
on the Stork Express with the other fathers
smart suit, striped tie, the morning paper
on the way to meet Joyce down in Kent.

To meet me as well, as I wail and wriggle
bleary-eyed, out of focus, like a late night drunk.
You light a pipe, smoke curls in a haze
through the carriage window to mix with steam.

Under the jokes and blokey banter
you’re quite nervous, after all
it’s been two days since they whisked her away
now a baby’s arrived, a bit of a mystery.

Your thoughts shift back just a few years
near Monte Casino, that Italian field;
shimmering heat, just two in the jeep,
your binoculars glint, give you away.

In unwanted reply a mortar thumps,
braced by two bombs you expect the third.
Dive left, he leaps right, just like a goalie
saving a penalty, you guess well.

But this morning has announced a birth,
the train jolts into Paddock Wood station.
Climb out, share a cab, get to the hospital.
Here I am dad, just take my hand.

JANE AND JERRY

I didn’t know them well, two kids from school
fifty years ago. But we were there together
our lives a back-pocket memory of each other,
now social media tells me they’ve gone,
after years in Scotland. A photo shows
a cheerful Edinburgh pub. I wonder
if they ever spotted my posters, laughed
‘That’s the gobby kid we knew in Mexborough.’

This morning, walking beside the Don,
our grandson sees his favourite heron
stalking the bank, deep in reeds and irises.
When Jane and Garry knew this river,
it stank, smothered in dirty-orange floes
of sickly detergent, as steel mills and pits
poured heavy chemicals down its gut.

I recall the clever boy behind me in class,
a Beatle fringe over his glasses, Jane’s smile
in a crowded sixth form common room,
her Julie Driscoll hair, her Mod cool.
Perhaps at this moment
I know them better than ever. An ache
for the past nudges my back
but I’m better off facing forwards
as summer arrives just downstream.

David Harmer lives in Doncaster. Although he is best known as a children’s writer, his work is again appearing in poetry magazines.

Back to the top

*****

Rosie Jackson: Three Poems

ROWING TOWARDS GOD

There you are, on the edge of the world, rowing
across a vast lake. You thought you knew the water,
but now the sun sets earlier, the distance seems blacker

and your courage has shrunk. You are tired of having
to re-invent yourself, to remind yourself of your decent
human contours. Some things, you think, you should

be able to take for granted: that place you imagine
most people start from, the block of love they push
against and start sprinting.

It astonishes you that so much seems to work –
your marriage, family, friends – as if they see
something in you that you don’t.

You rest the oars of your boat. You are weary of acting
out of fear. If the bird of night comes, let it come.
Speeding to the far side will make no difference.

You can just make out the ridge of a mountain range.
The night is still. In woods at the edge of the lake
owls call. To your surprise, you like it here,

the water beneath you the depth of several trees.
How long is it since you did this, sat in a boat
and studied the textures of darkness?

The night closes over you like an eyelid. You feel
you have rowed into the centre of a tear.
You remember the Sufi saying that God sees

a black ant on a black stone in the darkest night.
How long is it since you were at peace with your own silence?
You have shed so much, your wardrobe is empty.

You surrender the boat to nocturnal tides.
But you must have been sitting longer than you knew,
for light is leavening the sky, you’re cold with the dew.

Everything looks different after a good night
without sleep. Your hands have waited for hours,
ready to drag you from trouble,

they seem such miracles on the oars, you feel
so grateful to your body, steering you here.
And for just a moment you glimpse what it is

to be without judgement of yourself, of others,
to row as if you’ve shed decades, desires,
able to outpace all that would catch up with you.

Note: The title is borrowed from Anne Sexton’s The Awful Rowing Towards God

AMONG MORTALS

i.m. Sophie Sabbage, 1966 – 2021

On the train down, I listened to The Song
of Achilles, thought how hard it is to unlearn
a sense of destiny. You always expected gold,

I was a lesser mortal hired in to hone
your words, blunt some, whet others to hit
their distant mark. We had many battles

over the years, long periods of silence.
Only when the oracle foresaw your death –
deferred many times, never cancelled –

did we manage a lasting truce.
And now the other mourners have left
I stay behind, watch October sun cling

to your hollow in the ground. You seem
to strike there like a tree rooting,
like Achilles planting his feet to target

his shimmering spear. And when arrows
hit me in the chest – fire, light, ferocious
gratitude – I know it’s you, asking for more,

like those gods who are sick to death
of perfection and want only to slide
into bed with the hunger of a mortal.

THE WOMAN WHO LIVES AT THE BACK OF THE QUAKER MEETING HOUSE

crops her hair like spikes on a scrubbing brush
stands on her head so she can know the rush

of emptiness, hangs prayer flags in the rain
like sanguine laundry, knows that a plus sign

is made up of two minuses, does not
berate her body, does not separate

the world into giraffes and foxes, lets
her fridge-top serve as a Buddhist shrine, sits

in her doorway to sew a quilt as white
and green as fields of daisies, does not eat

much, does not fear the company of the dead,
spends her days pulling weeds in the graveyard,

clearing grass from half-moons of graves that gleam
like rising planets, does not want to seem

younger than she is, does not own a car,
does have a smile I would sell my house for.

Rosie Jackson is a poet and creative writing tutor recently whose work has been widely published in journals. She recently moved to Devon after many years in Frome. Her poetry collections to date are: Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird (with Dawn Gorman, Hedgehog Press, 2020); Two Girls and a Beehive: Poems about Stanley Spencer and Hilda Carline (with Graham Burchell, Two Rivers Press, 2020; The Light Box (Cultured Llama, 2016); What the Ground Holds (Poetry Salzburg, 2014).

Back to the top

*****

Sheila Jacob: Two Poems

IN THE FILM OF MY MOTHER’S LIFE

After Moyra Donaldson

She remembers her starring part
in the Christmas pantomime
at St.Clement’s church hall.
She steps up to take a bow,
wears a Cinderella ball gown
her Mum made from old curtains.

Backstage, she’s hugged by the troupe.
The Vicar pecks her cheek,
warns her to think twice
about becoming a Roman Catholic.

Fast-forwarding, she flips
her hair behind her ears.
Her flared skirt’s cinched at the waist.
Sun glides across the boating lake,
warm her peep-toed sandals
as she walks beside her husband,
wheels their daughter around the park.
They’ve been to Sunday Mass,
had eggs and bacon, afterwards,
at the Parkfield Café.

She’s happy, very happy, she told
her waitress friend.
The babby’s nice, makes us laugh.
Her husband’s back at work
though always seems tired
since his bout of flu.

She didn’t say how much she misses
the Book of Common Prayer,
the Clementines, the Girl Guides;

worries she’ll spend every night
next winter spooning linctus
onto her husband’s tongue.

SOMERSET SUMMERS

After What Music by Joy Harjo

I’d love to have seen you
when you lifted your face
to a smog-free sky,
trod bramble-hemmed lanes
a hundred-odd miles
from the city’s factory hoots.

I wish I’d known you then:
hair rippling down your neck,
no stays under your frock,
hands blackberry-smudged
as empty buckets fattened
at your sandalled feet.

On Sunday mornings,
you, your sister and Mum
admired a haze of blue cliffs,
strolled to the harbour,
doubled back for cream cakes
in an esplanade tea room.

Later, you all eased stockings
over your sun-pinked legs
and walked to Evensong
at the Norman church.
You remember tombs, effigies,
brass figures set in stone;

how your hat almost toppled
when you bowed your head
for the final blessing.
Tonight, Neville Chamberlain’s
spoken on the wireless,
told the country it’s at war.

Your Mum’s dabbing her eyes.
Mum, who never weeps,
turns a working holiday
into the year’s highlight.
You’re nineteen tomorrow
and suddenly,bab, you’re afraid.

Sheila Jacob lives in North East Wales with her husband. She was born and raised in Birmingham and finds her childhood and ancestry a source of inspiration. Her poems have been published in a number of U.K. magazines and Webzines. She is working on her first pamphlet.

Back to the top

*****

Nigel Jarrett: Poem

CARE HOME

Barney’s at the window again, looking
xxx for his other names; or anything really:
the wedding day, that Moonraker night
xxx he fell in the brook, or the evening
she just had to be told it was all over.

Behind him’s no help, just that crescent
xxx of slumped traitors executed as they sat
while the harpist played on, oblivious
xxx to the clink, clink of falling tambourines.

Yesterday he had his first full house
xxx but didn’t shout it. Look! – those crows
are strafing the whatstheirnames again,
xxx them circling to heaven. Buzzards.

She’s due to today, with the other one;
xxx and here’s the bloody sky-pilot in his Merc,
so there’ll be a ‘Dickhead!’ to be pocketed
xxx and two faltering hymns to chivvy.

He can laser through the wall to the place –
xxx – the thingamajig – where the Phyllosan is mixed,
burnt fish fingers are scraped, and plastic cups
xxx are pinged with their tiddlywink tablets.

Yonder the motorway’s moving silver strip
xxx and the blue unremembered hills. You see,
he taught English and can still falsify
xxx Housman to the poet’s invited detriment.

But he took his walking stick to whatsisname,
xxx the big fella, some Shropshire lad with a lisp,
and they had him pinned to the floor, crying
xxx out for home as light from the New Jerusalem
shone oblivious on all their deserving cases.

Nigel Jarrett is an award-winning writer and journalist. Among his books are: Funderland (stories – Parthian); Slowly Burning (a novel – GG Books); Miners at the Quarry Pool (poems – Parthian); The Day’s Portion (as co-editor: an Arthur Machen miscellany); Who Killed Emil Kreisler? (stories – Cultured Llama Publishing); and A Gloucester Trilogy (a trio of linked stories – Templar Fiction).

Back to the top

****

Maureen Jivani : Three Poems

COMMUNION

The flaky paint on the railings of St Alphonsus
Primary School resembled the blue-grey steel

of my father’s eyes. Fathers seldom came to sneak
a peak at us at play though mothers often did, pushing

Rainbow Drops, Black Jacks, Lemon Bon Bons
or other such treats through those sky-poked gaps

into our mouths. My own hazel-eyed mother
once appeared with a palmful of Flying Saucers,

violet, blue, and white that would dissolve
on my tongue like The Body of Christ, swallowed

each week beneath Father Raven’s watchful eyes,
though I knew these wafers, full of sherbet,

flew me faster, and oh so much closer to heaven
being so much rarer and three times as sweet.

ALTERNATIVE SCENES

My mother rises,
shakes off her dream of cockerels
and their morning song, the shadowy
cardinal over the far tree.

xxxxxxxA glass door slides open
another space. Her father enters,
sets down a tray, pulls up a chair,
studies his Time.

xxxxxxxMy mother pushes up
her arms, opens a window, leans
out towards the waving wheat;

a movement slowed to a requiem
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsways in her ears.

If I could reach him…
she says, to no one, as she glimpses
him now, her distant father
at the edge of the fields,

then hearing his cup
hit the floor like a stone
she turns anew to the sky-filled room,

sighs, if only for an hour
to mend the cracks,
to set the table straight.

BIRD-SHIP-MOTHERSHIP

Jay found it in the garden,
xxxxxxthe day October threw its showy
wraps around our close.

It had fallen out of sky,
xxxxxxbroken into several jagged pieces
with twigs, feathers, mud and stones.

She picked the biggest up: light blue shell,
xxxxxxa nestling’s beak poking
through her toddler fingers.

Maybe a baby wood pigeon, or
a collared dove,
I said.

She looked back up to me, nettles
in her eyeballs, head abuzz,
tongue alive wriggling with all the why?

Maureen Jivani is published by Mulfran Press and has an M.Phil. in Writing from the University of South Wales.

Back to the top

*****

Fred Johnston: Two Poems

ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
 for Tricia D.

Take me to the Go-Go Club, down the mad stone
Steps and cruel iron railings drying in the neon air
Into the mystery of music loud in a small room where
Damp walls propped up nervy accomplices
Past the glowing impossible soft-drinks bar, the cone
Of plastic cups, bright and clean as chalices
In time, only just, for Honky-Tonk Women to possess
Us, the city to dissolve, clocks to go out, false promises.

Up from its mirror-fog and its rules of awkwardness
Its rage of tank-tops, cheap small handbags on the floor
Up from the babbling sweat of a nylon shirt and fear
A waltz of grim erections when the music slowed
The nipple’s shock in cheesecloth, a shy forward press
Into the last-bus midnight, pairs of us in ritual rode
That tidal surge moon-urged and hot and salt as blood
Arced tongue to tongue and tongue-tip to tip, as it should.

CAIRO

The sort of thing that fascinates a child
Is, for example, my uncle Walter’s sola topee
(Solar, mangled the impatient Brits)
Which dulled the Egyptian sun on his head
But did little for his toes, which froze by night.

It floated around my child’s head, yet
It’s batteredness made me a Tommy in full kit.

Where, then, Egypt? Where Cairo?
A child does not know. The topee
Did not convey that sort of knowledge.
It saved him for a featureless housing-estate
In Birmingham, a desert by other means.

My uncle limped for want of his toes
You could spot him in the pub by the lopside
Rhythm, track him through the crowd
By the trickle of sand trailing out of his
Trouser leg. Drunk enough, he’d head for Cairo.

Fred Johnston’s most recent collection of poetry is Rogue States (Salmon Poetry, 2019)

Back to the top

*****

Alex Josephy : Poem

HERD

They were muscle
for the I-Oh man, heaving scrap
through town on rusty wheels,
weightier every hour,
more awkard at the turn.
Transport for hopeful travellers,
they marched from village
to city until their shoes
wore thin as new moons
and the streets pounded
up through their feet.
Some were mowing machines,
circled the Common at the ends
of tethers, stopping to accept
Polo mints from children lifted
to the steaming heights
of their mouths.
Miners, they descended
into cold galleries, drudging
wet black cargo
up the glistening tracks
to feed and feed again
acres of hungry hearths.
Dancers, they skittered
sideways, one hoof planted
across another. Trusting,
they leapt through fiery hoops,
curved their necks
to remind us of swans.
Some were enlisted, slogged
blind through smoke,
pulled corpses from craters, slept
standing up to the knees in mud,
their steady eyes open
behind leather blinkers.
Opportunists, they snatched
at tasty vetches wherever
they walked; chewed till the metal
in their mouths frothed green.

Before and afterward
and always, they were
a hill herd, raced together
under rainclouds, bucked
explosively at every ridge
for their own wild reasons.

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

Back to the top

*****

Phil Kirby: Four Poems

CHERRIES

You gave me a handful of cherries.
Some were cool and hard as buds,
others, when pressed even slightly,
stained my finger-tips with crimson
so dark it was almost black; the colour
of the fruit itself so deep, its skin so
polished, glazed with light, I thought
some natural law had been defied.
Sweet red drupes of flesh placed
on my tongue, I worried them to find
the stone beads at their heart, which,
plucked from my reddening lips,
were laid aside, in hope one day
of bringing our own trees to flower.

A KIND OF GRACE

That there was never any suffering,
as I understand it to be, here’s thanks.

That there always must have been
love – unconditional, unstated –

and milk, potatoes by the sack, cheese
and bread to feed us all and animals,

as if four kids were not enough
to fill the house, we owe another debt.

Beneath the fiery threats, a caring
woman, tempered by a quiet man;

an evenness, a lack of highs and lows
aside from loss, and we too young

to really feel the meaning of bereft until
right now, now both of you are gone.

YELLOW

Mostly I recall the colours: woodwork
satin-painted grey as slate, the topaz
gold-brown sleeves of beer, his face turned strangely
yellow, like a fading bruise; and outside
autumn’s banners – red and orange – flaming
in the trees and gardens. Now-forgotten
conversations couldn’t touch the simple
black and whiteness of that final meeting.

Only after shaking hands, and looking
eye to eye while saying one last ‘See you’,
did I feel just how inept and hollow
words could be, expressing something useless,
something other than what really mattered,
then: the muted fear of what was certain.

MAKING ROOM

Not really being nest builders
in that way, we made the room
little more than functional;
no frills or flounce, no lace,
though Nottingham was nearby.

The ‘eighties grey and pink’
was neutralised with primrose
but we kept the carpet, coloured
like a sea-swallow’s wing;
put up melamine boards

for books and toys. Those shelves
collapsed one night – remember? –
and we couldn’t see why.
I walked around for days
convinced it was a portent.

You made pictures in gouache:
a dancing frog dressed as a jester,
Mary in her garden of empty shells
and Little Miss Muffet, leaping
away from a smiling spider;

the stuff of fairy tales and rhymes
to liven up the walls. We have them
stored away somewhere. Like that
Teddy money box; the pieces
of elm wood cot in the loft.

Phil Kirby’s collections are Watermarks (Arrowhead, 2009) and The Third History (Lapwing, 2018). Poems have since appeared in Acumen, Poetry Ireland and various UK and international magazines and he is now working towards a third collection. He is a member of the Fire River Poets in Taunton. As P.K. Kirby, he is also writing a teen novella, Hidden Depths (Applefire, 2016), which is available on the Kindle platform.

Back to the top

*****

Wendy Klein: Two Poems

MY IRISH UNCLE

She served him ice cold beer
before he was out of his work clothes,
first moistening the rim of the glass,
then dipping it in a saucer of salt, tipping it
the way he’d taught her, so as not

to spill a drop. We held our breath
as he took the first sip, brushed a callick
of ginger hair off his forehead, wrinkled
his prize-fighter nose, grinned, exposing the gap
where he’d lost a tooth in a drunken scuffle

or maybe just sparring at the gym. Once we saw
that grin we could breathe out, even speak; there’d be
no trouble for now – he’d go straight into the shower;
and she’d laugh at the first splash, his off-key tenor,
the opening bars, of Molly Malone.

AFTER SCHOOL CLUB

When he starts to look bored,
I show him a picture from the box,

ask him to tell me what’s happening in it,
hear him fumble at first for words,

I betcha’ someone’s dumped p-paint…
in the ocean – yellow, pink and… purple.

I ask him why and he shrugs, looks away
so I enquire about the loose buttons,

the dangly earrings, the gold chains, and
he says there’s gotta’ be a boat up there

purses his lips, screws up his eyes, looks
hard for what comes next, then shouts:

and somebody throwing jewellery down
for the mermaids. Such certainty –

I’m ready to see them – squabbling,
grasping, thumping their flashy fat tails,

flaunting their punk piercings, but I see
he’s lost interest now – wants to paint

a picture of his own. I put out the paints –
wish him a reliable muse.

Wendy Klein is a retired psychotherapist, born in New York and brought up in California. Since leaving the U.S. in 1964, she has lived in Sweden, France, and Germany. She has published four collections: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013), Cinnamon Press, Mood Indigo (2016), Oversteps Books, plus Out of the Blue, Selected Poems from the High Window Press. Her pamphlet, Let Battle Commence, (Dempsey & Windle), based on letters home from her paternal great grandfather, Robert Tarleton, a Confederate soldier in the US Civil War, is on film: https://youtu.be/L2JlbpAdUcU

Back to the top

*****

Richie McCaffery: Two Poems

THE BARREL

Always tried to keep my chest under 40 inches –
not quite the tun shape of bigger, hearty men.
Spirit has been smouldering inside me years
and none of it’s been shared with any angels.

My clothes have been my cooperage, keeping
the flood of me together. But every so often
people urge me to get it off my chest, to let
just a little of me spill out. They want a noggin

but get barely a sniff – once the mystery liquor
of me is gone the dry cask just falls apart.
All I am is a man caught over a barrel
trying to tread the water of his own blood.

SANDCASTLES

Trust it to be glorious weather
the day I met my old lover
on our favourite beach
for the post-mortem talk
about our failed relationship.

I was ready to hate her
for leaving me but instead
felt my old love waxing.
Sitting and talking in the dunes,
I began to dig a hole by hand

and as we reached some sort
of understanding I filled it back in
but am unsure if it was a burial
or exhumation, a planting
or a reaping, or all of the above.

Richie McCaffery is the author of two collections from Nine Arches Press as well as a handful of pamphlets from Mariscat Press, HappenStance Press and others. He is working on his third book-length collection now.

Back to the top

*****

Beth McDonough: Poem

ABOUT A BINK

Nothing grand like a fully-flounced dresser.
Certainly not a press, this with its open shelves:
no hinges, locks. No doors to close of any sort.
Simply this. Somewhere to fill with bits,
selected exhibition invitations,
one unannotated notebook (handmade)
inscribed, and with a thank you card inside.
My name, accidental, unexplained
stamped on a beach-worn stot of pottery.
My name, deliberately printed,
on a tim’rous beastie Burns Night badge.
Three terracotta saucers, topped
by two remaining espresso cups, bought
four decades ago in student Tuscan times.
A flower-carved bangle and box from an old boss.
Mum’s Japp’s Essence bottles, saved
from her precious baking sets, but
none of this is of interest to anyone else.
I need to dust down all the things,
although first I have to add
one tiny chink of yellow sea glass
(with wee etched flowers in the light),
and think what this really is.
I’m not sure it isn’t a bink.

Beth McDonough‘s poetry is widely anthologised and published in Magma, Gutter and elsewhere. Her first solo pamphlet Lamping for pickled fish is published by 4Word.Fairly soon, her site-specific poem will be installed on the Corbenic Poetry Path. She swims year round in the Tay, foraging close by.

Back to the top

*****

Alison Mace: Three Poems

ARTIST

Now that the village is behind you
and you can smell the sea,
you come to a meadow,
neat and sweet. You could stop here,
go no further, build and be safe
among flowers and fences.

But the sea calls, and you walk on –
a stony path; thrift, brambles,
a sharp keen breeze;
gulls wheeling ahead, and a swelling sense
that this will be your place. Here
your life can be what it should.

Here is the cliff-top edge, and you stand
knowing the wind’s pull and buffet,
the wind that will tear
truth from your soul and offer you
wisdom, stature, grace.
You brace yourself at the brink.

You need not stay; turn about carefully,
go back the way you came.
The path lacks colour now,
and that faded patch, so hemmed in, so small –
can that be your lush meadow?
It seems you have made your choice.

A SUGGESTION OF LIGHT

It doesn’t occur to me to wonder
if it’s a dream. It feels real enough.
I’m struggling over a dark lumpy field
towards a tangle of bare black branches
that never get much closer.

I trudge on through the field. Sometimes
it rises to rocky humps and peaks
where I’m clinging too frightened to move
but the dream continues the way dreams do
and now I’m back on flat ground.

Other people are not exactly absent
but silent and small in the distance
and I can’t see their faces
as we all move slowly towards the wood
which has somehow come much nearer.

Suddenly we’re together, the field at our backs
and beyond the dark lattice blocking our path
see something shining, just a suggestion of light
that shrinks and swells. Our eyes meet in hope
but the dream’s still dragging on, the way dreams always do.

FINGERPOSTS

Nothing so obvious,
no signs, nothing spelt out
in my life. Rather,
crossed sticks in the dust –
a patteran left pointing
down the less-beaten way;
a brief view of the sky
through trees – offering hope
of coming out into light;
or simply something magnetic,
a sense, an inclination
guided my choice of path.

But here I am anyway:
wherever you find yourself
is where you were going to be.
I might have got here by
a different set of paths.
But now I’m looking around
for a small signal or sense
of where I’m going next.
No need to worry,
I’ll know it when I find it,
I’ll know which way to walk.
Not much further now.

Alison Mace has always written poems, more extensively since retiring early from school-teaching. She has spent more than half her life in Yorkshire, but now lives in the Forest of Dean. Her first collection, Man at the Ice House, was published by The High Window Press in December 2019, and a pamphlet, Last of the Cake by Dempsey & Windle, in June 2020.

Back to the top

*****

Gill McEvoy: Three Poems

THE WORD NO MEANS FORGIVENESS

My mother had been darning socks –
she would never let a hole get the better of her –
and for some reason I held the long sharp needle
in my hand as I sat beside my grandad
on the red rexine settee.

He was wearing his leather work-trousers,
shiny with long use and wear. He was
like a large and comfortable saddle I leaned into
as we sat there, the needle still in my hand
when suddenly I plunged it into the gleam
of his leather-clad leg.

He started up with a cry. Instantly my father stood,
his face a blood-flush of rage,
his belt unbuckling.
But Grandad put out his hand “No” he said,
“No, she didn’t mean to hurt.”

And I didn’t,
I only wanted to see if the needle could pierce leather.
And in that moment I learned that forgiveness
could come from the word No
when I’d always thought that everything good
began with Yes.

WINTER NOW

No transformation now of grass and tree
to fractured ghosts of feathered white,
no crystals clinging to the underside of twigs,
no hedges draped in snow like linen spread to dry,
no crack of cat-ice underfoot.

Day after day, insufferable rain.

Winter’s frost-rimmed world once drew us out
to walk the newly marbled paths, to breathe
the crisp-edged winter air, footing carefully
on ground stunned hard as stone.

Day after day, abominable rain,
suck and squelch beneath our boots,
the sole-and-heel gouts of mud
we bring back home.

POWDER PAINTS

Red:
the poppy frill of skin that rings the eyes
of pheasants dad brings home from shoots.

Blue:
sky that comes at the fade of light,
blue as monkshood, dark as night.

Yellow:
egg-yolk burst
in sunshine rivers on my toast.

White:
high-piled clouds of summer days,
new-bought envelopes for mum.

Green:
soft and fresh as beech leaves in the spring.
I want to dip a sampling finger in,

and taste, not spoon them out on palettes
as we’re told to do.

Five lids levered off
five tall tins;
five strong colours
take my breath away.

Gill McEvoy was the winner of 2015 Michael Marks Award and a Hawthornden Fellow in 2012. Her recent collection Are You Listening? was published by  Hedgehog Press. A ‘selected’ edition of her poetry will be forthcoming fromthe same publishere in 2022. Gill lives in Devon and is a member of Simon Williams Company of Poets.

Back to the top

*****

Konstandinos Mahoney: Two Poems

BREAKING BREAD

Fierce, lean, he walks into a fast food shop,
two wide-eyed shaven-headed boys
at his side.

Souvlaki, how much?
Waiter shrugs, it’s on the menu, on the walls,
One euro sixty.

They climb high metal stalls.
He sits between them, head of table,
moves an ashtray, chips and dog-ends,

slides over a bottle of sanitizer,
pumps lotion onto their palms.
They rub their hands together.

Tight-wrapped pita cones of shaved lamb
arrive on a tray. They eat neatly,
wordless concentration.

He hands out paper napkins,
they wipe grease from lips and fingers.
He pays with a fistful of brown coins.

Outside he pauses, looks this way, that,
boy on each hand, sets off towards the square,
U-turns, disappears.

DON’T

Hot, heavy August afternoon,
building still, neighbours asleep.
Footsteps on the marble staircase.

Bell rings. A group of friends.
We’ve come to tell you something.
They file in, sit him in a chair,

settle cross-legged on the floor.
Staring at him, through him,
one speaks,

Don’t, she says, Don’t.
Don’t, the others chorus,
Don’t.

But he will
because they’ve told him not to,
because he’s young, stubborn,

because he’s programmed
to self-destruct.

London based Greek-English-Irish poet and playwright Konstandinos (Dino) Mahoney, won publication of his collection, Tutti Frutti, in the Sentinel Poetry Book Competition 2017, and is winner of the Poetry Society’s 2017 Stanza Competition. He is also part of Dino and the Diamonds , a group that performs his poems as songs. He teaches Creative Writing at Hong Kong University and is Rep for Barnes & Chiswick Stanza. Recent poems have appeared in in Perverse, Butcher’s Dog, Live Canon, The New European.

Back to the top

*****

Laurence Morris: Two Poems

MORNING SWIM OVER BUTTERMERE

Morning swim over Buttermere,
no cloud in mind or sky today,
just a pool within a high recess
and the space to breathe again.

A cold and vital clasp of shadow
held safe in velvet arms of green,
their balance rarer than alchemy,
light and dark in just proportion.

DRIFTWOOD

You should have left me on the beach,
xxxxxxxsays the Edwardian pier support,
I did not ask for salvaging
any more than cutting and hauling
xxxxxxxhalfway around the world.

It would not happen now, of course,
xxxxxxxovert plunder is frowned upon,
the locals are better organised
and even this government concedes that
xxxxxxxtrees look better in the forest.

But, since I have been set adrift again,
xxxxxxxlay me down in a walled garden
where the birdsong could be tropical
and morning light and evening laughter
xxxxxxxdance like children by the sea.

Laurence Morris is a librarian and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. His poems explore interactions between people and place, and have been published in Confluence, Snakeskin, Shot Glass Journal, Dodging the Rain, 192 and The Broken Spine.

Back to the top

*****

Jill Munro: Two Poems

BIRDWATCHING WITH OLD LOVERS

Look, there’s the tree-creeper soft-shoe silver-birch bark shuffling / magpie in his black and white business suit waiting for a triple salute ready to steal a silver heart or three / the wagtail – oh how he loves to wag that tail / the deep-throat croak of a shag / the oil-slicked-back starling feathers gelled spiv-stepping across the lawn / the black-headed gull ocean-sweeping but never low enough to catch the fish / tail-splayed peacock only with eyes for himself / the plumped-out pigeon bill and cooing / the ptarmigan who disappeared into the Scottish snow that winter / the pair of great tits that old joke / then there was the summer of swallowing / cheery robin bobbing along close by bringing wormy gifts / an unidentified breed who reverses the binoculars, should be caged / crow so close he can pick the flesh from your bones / the ever-present buzzard always hanging in the background waiting to drop / the tawny owl with kind eyes the one who roosted.

YO-YO

There are days we live as if
what we eat and drink don’t matter –
when the farm café’s flaky steak and kidney pie

is too tempting, the evening glass of Chardonnay
too large, the slice of fucking fruit cake (long story)
won’t matter on our hips.

Then there are days we live as if
what we eat and drink are all that matters –
the green salad dressed with lemon, the fruit raw,

fresh and not in a fucking cake,
sparkling water the only thing twinkling
in the glass, lentils the only protein to pass our lips.

It is probably for the best we intermingle
how we live, are not rigid in our every days,
how we can leap from indulgence to denial

when all the time the thing that lingers
in the background doesn’t care how fat, how slim
we are, only whether our hearts’ arteries are furred

with something other
than long-term love.

Jill Munro has been published in poetry publications including The Rialto, The Fenland Reed and Popshot Quarterly, amongst others. Her first collection was Man from La Paz’ published 2015, Green Bottle Press. She won the Fair Acre Press Pamphlet Competition with ‘The Quilted Multiverse’ (2016). She was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2018. She lives and writes in the depths of Ashdown Forest, East Sussex.

Back to the top

*****

Alistair Noon: Two Poems

THE RUSSIAN CLASSROOM

I swung through the seventies’ lumbering doors,
appeared and faced a peering faceless guard
shifting and tilting. His eyes were working hard
at filing me while tasked with being bored.

“Come on,” I thought, “my finger must slip through
this aluminium ring: I bear no bombs.”
Nearby, the latest shots from distant Homs
floated across the flatscreen. “Mozhno? Thank you.”

The broad foyer: the vault of exhibitions,
where cosmonauts sign prints, and tsars of chess
pinch pawns, where youth can have its congress,
authors applaud their audience. Mymissions

require I take a slowly launching lift:
within that wordless capsule, time seems to stall.
Then I step out into a sunlit hall
and find my module. Under Gogol’s quiff,

the Dostoevsky beard and Pushkin sideburn,
I slip my sheepskin coat off, scrape my seat,
all actions here complete or incomplete,
the novel rules I never fully learn.

Prefixes? Don’t get me started. The suffix?
Finished with that. To get this verb compact,
I need to know if it’s a cosmic fact
or just one barking cosmonaut’s specifics.

KOŞUK OF PHYSIOTHERAPY

Once weekly I’m glad of the chance to place
my limbs down onto a padded rack
and sense it against my stomach and face
as a helpful inquisitor studies my back.

It’s comforting – aaaahhh – to follow a thumb
rubbing your muscles, long since numb,
from nape to a spot at the upper bum
and again. “Breathe out!” Along my back,

lethargic molecules start to bustle.
Psychologically speaking, too much fuss will
harden the tarmac of hidden muscle.
No visible particles emanate back,

but the message I get from these objects is stark:
it’s time to direct my arse to the park
and onto the galvanized bars whose arc
will hone the biceps and lower back.

Aware of how all life begins
the physio pre-empts the flesh’s sins
without implanting titanium pins
and looks ahead so we can look back,

and not to forget the lips at phones,
adopting their deft conciliant tones
for forms to conform to the tuning of bones.
I’m glad the physio’s got my back.

And while my fascicles slowly detense,
I hear their ballads, odes and laments
for flats that had unstressful rents,
the hoods to which they can’t move back,

restorers who over decades will grapple
away at shapes in a derelict chapel,
trying to make its cross-vault supple
till glossy anatomy stares them back.

Alistair Noon‘s publications include Earth Records (2012) and The Kerosene Singing (2015), both Nine Arches Press, and a dozen chapbooks from various presses. His translations from the Russian of Osip Mandelstam, Concert at a Railway Station: Selected Poems, appeared from Shearsman Books in 2018; two further volumes, The Voronezh Workbooks and Occasional and Joke Poems, have just appeared from the same publisher.. He lives in Berlin.

Back to the top

*****

Abigail Ottley: Two Poems

PERSEPHONE REMEMBERS THE HOUSE OF HER HUSBAND

He was not, as they said, loathsome, most monstrous.
He had a strange and sinister beauty. His eyes were
obsidian, shot through with gold, a ruby burning in each.

A noble brow, such magnificent cheekbones. You might imagine them
chiselled in marble. Sharp and high, as clean as my
kitchen, glinting with the promise of new knives.

He watched me constantly: wherever I went,
his panopticon gaze was upon me. I felt
his attention on my naked shoulder, burning
like a brand.

He didn’t go out much. No surprises there.
He wasn’t popular at parties. Our guests felt
uneasy speaking his name and he wasn’t one for a joke.

Though he had many brave epithets:
The Hospitable One, The Receiver, The Host of Many People.
Some more foolhardy souls with little left to lose
liked to call him The Rat In The Hat.

I don’t think he cared to be in company much.
I’m not certain now he even liked me.
Oh, he loved me, in his fashion —or said he did —
but mostly he preferred to be alone.

He liked to sit with his shades on in his big black chair
while his henchmen and capos did business.
Pitiless. The poets were right about that.

I’ll admit he had a soft spot for the dog.

DEMETER TALKS TO HER COUNSELLOR

The first night I couldn’t rest.
I drank a lot of coffee.

But the second night was harder. I think
I had wasps in my eyes.

Next morning a friend came.
She searched my fridge,
made me a ham and pickle sandwich.

All afternoon, its pale crusts curled.
At ten, I slipped it in the bin.

Before she left to go home we talked and I grew angry.
She was sitting right where you are sitting now.

I told her how how pretty my daughter was and
how I said I didn’t like her skirt.

I wish I hadn’t said that now. But it was tiny.
You know, how short they wear them.

When I saw all the reporters I cried again.
My friend tried to send them away.

That’s all I can remember. I have
nothing else but — gaps.

My friend says I threatened to kill him.
I might have said that, I suppose.

Abigail Ottley writes poetry and short fiction. Over the past decade, her work has appeared in more than two hundred magazines, journals and anthologies, most recently in Impspired, Poetry Wivenhoe, and Ink, Sweat & Tears. A Pushcart nominee in 2013, 2021 saw her shortlisted for both the Cinnamon and Three Trees pamphlet competitions and is represented in Invisible Borders: New Women’s Writing From Cornwall. (2020) She is currently working on her first novel. She lives in Penzance.

Back to the top

*****

Stuart Pickford: Poem

BALANCING THE WEIGHT

I tell him, glasses first.
Rubbed, each squeaks
according to its shape.

Knives in the pot,
blades down or someone
could get hurt.

Heavy traffic comes last,
pots needing elbow grease,
not a dunk and go.

Jack listens, leaves
the hot tap running
to save changing the water.

In the rack, I move
plates to face pans
to stop it all

capsizing. My son
abandons mugs anywhere
like around the house.

Come morning, I inspect
cups washed in sand,
dredged up cutlery.

Hands warm, I stare
into the bowl. Shapes
slide across the bubbles:

a rainbow lorikeet’s wing,
a southern right whale,
Wineglass Bay.

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.

Back to the top

*****

Les Pope: Three Poems

ARROWHEAD

Lodged in vertebrae
turned up by the plough;

bone and iron that fused
as flesh decomposed;

the remnant of a story
waiting to be told;

the history of a man
and new forensic insights

picked up by a small boy
and flung into a ditch

for another thousand years.

AFTER WE INTERVENE

A failing currency and bribes,
A black-market, epidemics,
A regime that shoots and hangs,
A marginalised majority,
Insanitary hospitals,
Factions and clans and gangs
And a plague of warring tribes.

AK-47

Elegantly designed
to maim and kill
automatically
at a distance,

cynically produced
to maim and kill
indiscriminately
and line pockets,

sinisterly purchased
to maim and kill
intoxicatingly
around the globe . . .

an iconic must-have,
a no-frills tool,
a dismal reminder
of where we are.

Les Pope is a retired social worker. He’s had poems in lots of magazines over the years but still likes to write and contribute.

Back to the top

*****

Gordon Scapens: Four Poems

A BEAUTIFUL TRUTH

This bird is a salesman
using the language of sky
to sell demonstrated evidence
his freedom is a dictionary.

He drives the days
without recourse to memory,
the flair of improvisation
is that of a ballet dancer
who needs no floor.

He can sing the story
of a beautiful truth
that despite coronavirus
could be relevant to us
and is slipping through fingers.

A lesson not ours to keep
but available on request,
asking the real world
where it’s hiding
and what ways
are we as yet unaware
of flying our lives free.

True freedom is always
the last place you look.

A FAMILIAR DRAMA

The leaf thinks it`s a bird
effortlessly swooping, gliding,
rising on playful winds,
escaping for just moments
from the cage of its being.

This is a big step
from a humble background,
no chance of flying lessons,
never having left home,
but ambition is a driving force
for this single, unchangeable action.

This situation holds the definition
but not the meaning of freedom
and it’s harder coming down.
All too soon the slow descent
swallowing the good times,
the landing without compass.

After the fast life
it now views the sky
through a closed door
that will never come again
for a dying passion.

All too apparent to see
is that forever consists of now.

YOUR OWN SPRING

Lying in the hospital bed
as flat as any defiance
from a departing winter,
disturbed dreams taunt you
with wild geese flying
a highway on the ceiling,
a reach for the unknown.

Unfinished sentences hang limply
on the washline of conversation,
because what you want to say,
and what I want to hear,
cannot yet fit our lives.

Your past determination,
as restless as your face,
now supports future hopes.

You’ve missed the swallows
arriving complete with excuses
for the lateness of their air show,
but new days are ahead of us.
The operation was successful
so time will sink this period
into the haze of some yesterday.
This moment is ripe for you
to have your own spring.

I can leave you now,
confident my thoughts
can bear your weight.

HOW SOON IS NOW

Mourners watched him into the ground
dispatched with conversations
that examined each other
for memories that inflated.
The burial began to boast
their shining eyes reflecting
what they thought was the now
of his life’s message.

More than a funeral to ensure
death was proud to receive him,
they huddled in a hum of dialogue
needing no confirmation
of his so-called famous exploits.
While on his way to wealth
with victims in his wake,
there were incidents that easily recall
the extremes of his actions
now enhanced in individual tales.

As following days add spice
and often- retold stories fatten,
colleagues wait in expectation
for the inevitable blooming,
as they turn him into a legend.

The truth is a small echo
in an empty room.

Gordon Scapens has been widely published over many years in a variety of magazines, journals, anthologies and competitions. He lives in a suburb of Preston with his wife, who’s friend, critic, muse and editor.

Back to the top

*****

Derek Sellen: Poem

THE ANGELS OF ARARAT

Creatures of cumulus and cirrus,
air-feeders, companions of eagles,
we offer only the hospitality of rock.

An Ark appeared from the dark billow,
a cargo of survivors at the rail.
The keel whimpered as it scraped.

Now a shambling troupe disembarks,
a menagerie of suddenly unstifled
appetites, eager, fearful, bold, timid.

Released from horizons, unsteady,
the rain still beating in their pulses,
the people tune themselves to the land.

Even a lichen engages their eyes
– we tweak the visible,
xxxxxxxxxxxintensify light –
until they shrug away to other things.

Our gossip sounds to them like the wind.
Perhaps it is. Often, we ourselves
have doubts of our existence.

Do shreds of on-board fellowship
remain to help them mourn
as the floods recede on the lower slopes

baring the drowned? Are hug
and song enough? The numbers
are terrible. We do not intervene.

We have seen this and worse,
know that some who have voyaged
will want to fence Ararat, others to create Eden.

Derek Sellen has written poetry, stories and plays over many years. He has read his work widely and has won various poetry awards, including Poets Meet Politics, the O’Bheal Five Words and the Canterbury Festival. His poems have been published in Arts Council, Poetry on the Lake and PEN anthologies among others. His collection of poems inspired by Spanish art The Other Guernica (Cultured Llama 2018) was a finalist in the Poetry Book Award 2020.

A rich and giddy tour of poems inspired by Spanish Art. The Other Guernica

Back to the top

*****

Ruth Sharman: Four Poems

IN THE DOORWAY

My father, camera shy as usual, is looking at the ground
and my son is peering intently at my father’s mouth,
his fist stuffed into his own, his round cheek dimpled
in what could easily be a smile. Neither has much hair –
some soft down on the back of the head, reddish blond,
and grey – and my father is wearing his charcoal sweater,
one of those dependable items he’s sure will see him out.
His hands are wrapped around the solid little body
in its chequered blue-white dungarees and his skin is dry,
deeply crinkled, weather-beaten, the veins prominent.
Everything about those spread hands, the down-turned
gaze, speaks of gentleness. You wouldn’t say a good photo.
But who cares if the light’s all wrong, my father’s face
barred in shadow, as they pause together in the doorway:
an old man carrying his grandson into the sunlit garden.

THE CHESTNUT TREE
for Jonathan Hills, 1954-2020

Just the look of the leaves reminds me of the touch
of my father’s hand when I was ill as a child –
how his fingers, calloused from feeding leather
through a slot and grasping the handle of a spade,
would skim so lightly over my head, hardly there.

And when no one’s looking, I’ll stand underneath
and stare into the branches, trying to take it all in –
the trunk like a dark river, that kaleidoscope
of leaves turning as the wind blows, each leaf
a rose window and, between the leads, glints of sky.

I think of the owner of this tree, a woman
I never even knew, who flew to Switzerland to die.
And your body doing something similar to hers.
My voice is getting lighter, you write. Not so clear.
I’m still walking and drawing. Trying to understand

how quickly… although this spring must surely
be your last – this Covid spring which everyone agrees
is lovelier than most, the blossom thicker, birdsong
louder. Or are we simply paying attention,
slowing down enough to really see? Like you

who’d be drinking in this tree if you were here,
wanting to capture the miracle of its being. Maybe
we talk with words, you write, meaning write
not talk, and now so many little words are going,
free to use the big ones like wisdom, beauty, soul.

EMPTYING ‘THE ART CUPBOARD’

It was where we kept the stencils,
the bundles of balsa wood and pipe cleaners,
shiny card and packs of fluffy balls,
his paint-splotched overalls (age 5-7),

all the stuff for making things –
cards for birthdays and Christmas,
posters asking have you seen our cat
the year that Tiger went missing.

What use are these things now?
The cut-out clowns and turtles,
ballet dancers and hot-air balloons?
The miniature stars and smiley faces?

And what to do with all his pictures
of squiggle birds and sickle moons,
pointy Rapunzel towers and trees
sprouting fruit like cactus flowers,

the pages of pencil hatching
and pastel smudges where he notes
in careful capitals (missing out the R)
that he is TESTING COLOUS?

I’d forgotten this homemade boat
with a penny – treasure? – stuck to its hull,
and the Build Your Own Stonehenge
(we never did) in its 4-inch box,

this tub of tiny crystals – amethyst,
fool’s gold, peacock ore – and the model
of a human body with half its organs
missing from their slots.

We could do with the space. So why
am I dusting, rearranging, putting it all back?
Rolls of creamy paper spotted with mildew,
empty cigar boxes from his dad,

watercolours hard and shiny as sweets,
rigid oils in cracked tubes. Crimson Lake,
Chinese White, Rose Madder, Radiant Green.
Their names so lovely they almost hurt.

THE UNFINISHED PAINTING

Think of the still life. Its artifice.
This glass bottle, for instance,
carefully set beside a cyclamen,
a jug, a lady’s fan unused
except as ornamental prop

in a painting such as this,
whose limited palette of blue,
white, brown, repeated greens
holds the whole thing in place,
but only just… the jug

being merely outlined,
stemless leaves and flowers drifting
from their pot, the background
a hasty wash with bits
of canvas showing through.

What’s important here
are volumes, structures, lines,
the way each thing relates
to others in the painted space:
there’s no attempt at detail,

none of the busyness
of those earlier works – the swirls
of curtain fabric merging,
say, with lily stems
and lemons on the table top.

Does the starkness speak
of simplified routines,
how hard it is to focus
eyes and mind as the end
of life approaches?

Or is the artist looking
beyond the objects,
reaching for something –
a kind of stillness, silence –
our eyes can’t even see?

Ruth Sharman was born in south India and came to live in England when she was six. She read Modern Languages at Cambridge and now lives in Bath, where she works as a French translator. Birth of the Owl Butterflies, her first full-length collection, was published by Picador and her second, Scarlet Tiger, won Templar Poetry’s Straid Collection Award for 2016. Her most recent collection, Rain Tree, focuses on two recent trips to India in search of her roots.

Back to the top

*****

Susan Castillo Street: Three Poems

NEW KID

The new kid on the block has a weird name.
Not sure if they’re a boy or girl. Omicron sounds like
a tech startup, a strange new deity, a souped-up sports car.

I try to size them up, wonder what they’ll look like.
Will Omicron be an inoffensive girlie, poking her nose
in everybody’s business? A bore, but harmless really.

Though Omicron might well turn out to be a bloke,
a bruiser, a toxic macho ASBO thug
who breaks through walls, perhaps a killer?

PROM NIGHT

The gym is festooned with paper streamers,
orange and black. School colours.
Teacher/chaperones lurk in the bleachers, glower.

In half light, we jitterbug to Little Richard,
wish we were on a Surfin’ Safari.
gyrate to Chubby Checker.

My date is a rice farmer in a stiff linen jacket.
He brings me a corsage of pink roses.
I give him a pink boutonniere.

We feel so suave and glamorous. Redneck royalty.
I wear pink tulle, ruched around the neckline.
Underneath, hooped petticoat, Scarlett O’Hara sway.

SUPERMOON

Above black roofs she hovers, unearthly.
I am tempted to let out a howl.
Such things are not encouraged
on this sedate London street.

She has her own dark side,
her realm of secret screams
and spells where she-wolves roam free,
drawing magic from the night.

They say that she reflects the sun.
I don’t believe it for a bit.
Selene glows with her own light,
coin suspended in city sky,

shedding waves of silver shimmer
on staid Victorian roofs.
She doesn’t need Apollo’s rays
to give her purpose, meaning.

Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London. She has published four collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade, (2003), Abiding Chemistry, (2015), The Gun-Runner’s Daughter, (2018) and Cloak (2020), as well as several scholarly books. She lived in Portugal for 25 years, and is now based in London and in the Sussex countryside, where she owns a vineyard.

Back to the top

*****

Matthew Stewart: Poem

THE PALLETS

Slouching on their fork-lifts,
the warehousemen watch me
trying to tell them why
40,000 bottles
must be shifted by hand

from normal, everyday,
fit-for-Europe pallets
to fumigated ones
they only used to use
for other third countries.

I’m the one to blame now,
of course, británico,
a reluctant spokesman
for my country, supposed
to explain our folly.

But how can I explain
the inexplicable
to these warehousemen here
in Spain, when I’ll never
understand it myself?

Matthew Stewart works in the Spanish wine trade and lives between Extremadura and West Sussex. Following two pamphlets with HappenStance Press, he published his first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, in 2017. More recent poems have appeared in The Spectator, The New European, Stand, Acumen and Wild Court.

Back to the top

*****

Judi Sutherland: Four Poems

BRIGHTON IRISH
i.m. Bill Roche

Then even the priest broke down at the funeral mass,
bowed his head, and had to take a moment,
seeing another of that generation passing.
A Dublin lad farmed out to cousins when his mother died,
who took the boat from poverty and worklessness
to rebuild bombed-out London. A labouring man
who rented digs on Charlotte Street, washed his shirts
in the bedsit sink, hung them to dry on picture rails.

Who clung to the walls in an Irish club in Deptford
or maybe Lewisham, but met a woman anyway –
a Galway girl who tired of being the daughter
left at home, in a town she called Ballygobackwards.
Who raised three boys in a bay-fronted semi
here on the south coast, if you can call it raised,
after fifty hours a week on the building sites
and most of the weekend drinking with the lads.

The communion wafers are shared. One by one
the ould fellas and grand girls approach the priest,
shuffling in clothes that are far too big for them.
Liam Clancy sings The Parting Glass as the coffin
leaves the church. At the graveside, we greet Jim,
overcoated and mufflered against the wind.
The ground he stands on, next to his friend and countryman
is the plot that, one day, his family will put him in.

LOT’S WIFE TAKES THE STENA LINE FERRY

I could have looked back.
I could have stood on the deck and watched
the last of England, although, by then
it was Wales we were receding from –
and England long gone in the rear-view mirror.

I drove out of England at about the time
the text came through, confirming
that our house sale had completed.
And it wasn’t thoughts of home afflicting me
but of the hold, where two bewildered cats

in baskets on the back seat of my car
had less idea what this voyage was about
than I did. So I just sat there, in my mask,
in the swirly-carpeted café, with a sandwich
and a cardboard cup of coffee, trying

not to think of Sodom and Gomorrah
because I know some decent people there
whatever Jahweh thinks. Lot does his best
and doesn’t like to think he’s running away –
just seeking better opportunities.

The decision wasn’t mine. There was a taint
of fire and brimstone back in England
when we left. But, no, I won’t look back.
A pillar of salt is not a lifestyle choice.
I am already brittle enough, and crystalline.

MY MOTHER-IN-LAW WAS A NUN

i.m. Marion Roche

My mother-in-law was a nun,
her habit a floral apron, her hands
floury from soda bread,
her rosary enough Hail Marys
to bake a good crust,

her confession, that she’d missed
a morning’s mass to peg the washing out
because sure there aren’t so many
drying days this time of year.
She told me not to work faith out

like a sum, just simply trust
that all things work together for good
for those who love the Lord.
But her stigmata were in her lungs –
she lost one to the TB she caught

while nursing at the chest hospital
and, although there were antibiotics
in London, they sent her home
to Galway to a cure of damp air
and mustard poultices.

And her penances were
her husband and three boys;
caring for them had stopped her
serving God, and didn’t they hang
around her neck heavy

as a pectoral cross. Sometimes
in the garden, she would just drift off
picturing herself in black,
pinning that veil on over her hair
as easy as sliding sore feet

into slippers. How she wished
for an altar rail to kneel by,
the host upon her tongue,
a simple vocation for
the housework of prayer.

PAINTING AT LOUGH SHINNY

When the summer comes I’ll drive to Loughshinny
along the estuary with the sea at my shoulder
and when I get there I will sit by the harbour
with my watercolours, thinking how to capture
the tilt of fishing boats at anchor, the web
of nets and the stacks of creels for lobster.
If the dogwalkers and swimmers ask me, I will answer
that I’m leaving blank paper for the laughter
of sunshine on water, because it’s the white
space in a picture that lets the light in.

Perhaps a small dog will bound over
to watch me fill my jam jar with seawater
and begin to mix some pigments; vermilion
cerulean and ochre. By the time summer comes
there will be so much silver
in my hair, which I haven’t coloured over,
and if anyone asks me, I will answer,
even though things seem to be getting better,
however long we live hereafter
we will never think of ourselves as young again.

Judi Sutherland is an English poet who married into an Irish family and is currently living in North County Dublin. Her first full collection Following Teisa was recently published by The Book Mill Press.

Back to the top

*****

Mark Totterdell: Two Poems

BRAWL

It’s going down somewhere across town. The police cars
that split shoppers are checked blue and what should be yellow
but is the hue of sunlit park grass. Seagulls adjust
the dark dome cameras of their eyes. You once almost
witnessed one swallow a pigeon whole. Bird-in-a-bird.
Footage was posted on YouTube. It’s a brawl among
‘street drinkers’, but reports are confused. ‘Seagull’ is no
species. Larus argentatus is lairy, white, grey.
They claim unroofed storeys at the tops of office blocks.
The action stays offstage in the sketchy news reports.
Waveforms of more yelping sirens bounce off buildings and
mingle, jangle with the pulsing boasts of gulls. Brickwork
reddens from a messy old stab wound of a sundown.

CAMPION

It greets my eyes this low-sunned afternoon,
the green bursting into December’s wasteland,
one campion plant growing two seasons wrong,
a freak mistiming, out by half an orbit.

Some substance, I think, has been over-produced
within the tiny factory of its cells
to grow these few frail stars, the colour
of cottage walls, whitewash mixed with oxblood,

bright tokens pinned to winter’s unravelling rags,
scraps of sweet past that flash in this bitter present.
The shock that somehow you’re a decade dead.

Mark Totterdell’s poems have appeared widely in magazines. His collections are This Patter of Traces (Oversteps Books, 2014), Mapping (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2018) and Mollusc (The High Window Press, 2021).

Back to the top

*****

Carol Whitfield: Two Poems

A POEM CAN’T PROVIDE AIR COVER

So I put it down because I can’t bear
its hard shining adjectives,
and there are desperate people
at Kabul Airport and I am waiting, waiting to hear
that my nephew Tom, leave long overdue,
has got a flight out, and everywhere there are fences
and bullets; parts of the world are aflame.
I want to switch off the TV, but can’t:
charred villages, camps at the airport gates.
I learn later from Tom, who’s now home,
an American friend had his arm blown off,
another was killed, and Tom won’t talk about it
except to say, surely we weren’t meant to leave
all this wire and broken glass behind?

BANKSY’S GIRL

Hula-hoop child, twilight grey,
twirl on the wall of the beauty salon,
swivel that Raleigh bicycle tyre
guard the frame, and Ilkeston Road.
Little girl, used to ‘making do’,
shake your hair, spread your arms,
swizzle for Britain’s forgotten towns,
for the damaged, the not quite whole.
Swish hips for the queue who must
chat apart, and extra hard
for the boys who scrawled over you.
Twizzle for children out of school,
for chances lost, lost exams,
spin for dads and spin for mums,
move your hips and go again. Stop
when the need for spinning is done.

Carol Whitfield was born in the East Riding of Yorkshire, but moved to Nottingham 25 years ago. She has been writing for over 20 years, and in 2009 completed an MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam university. Poems have been placed in magazines, anthologies and online, sometimes under her maiden name of Beadle.Carol is a member of Nottingham stanza, and two superb writing groups: one based in Leicester, and the other in London.

Back to the top

*****

Richard Williams: Two Poems

LINES ON HILSEA LINES

Brick will return to earth
as trees uproot our history,
the walls we point with so much care,

the journeys of our construction;
all we thought that we had built,
all such strength it gave.

Can you feel the ramparts,
still somewhere beneath our feet.
That exposed rib-bone of stone,

all that has been lost,
all we’ve left to still let go.

UINSOLICITED NEWS

How heavy weighs the tree
in a fly-post take-away leaflet,
that you will never read.

A way to pay some bills,
to nearly make ends meet;
we all do what we have to do.

I fold more ghosts of forests,
the sky now sunset lit.
And how the windows gleam,
so bright I cannot see.

Richard WIlliams lives in Portsmouth has had work appear in a range of print and online magazines, including Acumen, Envoi, Frogmore Papers, One Hand Clapping and Orbis. Others have appeared on radio, including the BBC. A first poetry collection, Landings, was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2018. He has a blog at http://www.richardwilliamspoetry.com

Back to the top

*****

Marjory Woodfield: Three Poems

YESTERDAY, THE FUNERAL

Once my parents woke us, led us outside
to stand silent in darkness beside the pool
where water crashed onto the ground like ocean waves.

The storm hit about the time she died. Battering
waves. Cold Antarctic air dragged up the coast,
a sting in its tail. Kapiti, Manawatu.

At Palmerston North airport we felt ourselves almost
lifted off the tarmac. ‘Bring extra layers of merino,’
I messaged my daughter. ‘The wind is wicked.’

We followed tracks of gulls at Foxton Beach.
Limpets, brachiopods, bright red hermit crabs, all
left clambering on the high tide sand. She held
a cushion star in her hands. Sea stars. Patakaroa.

Yesterday was the funeral. Small children followed
the casket outside blowing bubbles. We hugged
over the asparagus rolls. ‘Take something to remember,’
she said. I chose a necklace. Marcasite brooch.

In Manawatu Estuary the godwits are returning.
Waka kuaka.

Note: In the Māori language patakaroa is a ‘star fish’. waka kuaka is a ‘flock of migratory bar tailed godwits in flight across the sky’.

JESUS WALKS ON LAKE ROTORUA
(from a window etching, Te Hāhi o te Whakapono)

One foot in front of the other. Easy does it. Your eyes on mine. I can read
your moko. Hear the wind catching the edge of your feathered korowai,
playing with it, just a little. One more step from water to shore
and you’ll be here, inside this chapel. I’ll shuffle along,
make room for you on the wooden pew.

What’ll we talk about? The men you left behind on the Galilee shore?
Boats upended, nets discarded. That last meal of freshly caught tilapia
cooked easily over a fire on the pebbled shore. A sort of picnic.
Give it all up, you told them. Go fishing for men. You left,
and they followed. Did you see Zebedee, their father,
standing alone, staring into the distance?

Outside, the women are preparing a hangi, placing fish
in flax baskets. The men had a good catch
this morning. Nets teeming.

Note: moko – traditional Māori facial tattoo, reflecting lineage and identity
korowai – cloak worn by a Māori chief, symbolising prestige and leadership

CLEARING

My white flowering dogwood
is under planted with
lavender and alyssum.
In the crook of two branches,
a nest made from dry grass
and twigs. I have seen it
through summer and winter.

Behind our house, men
level ground. Trees
older than us have been
felled. The last one went this
morning over tea and
toast. Green leafed, soft

in its falling. Tomorrow I
will plant tomatoes on
our side of the fence. Rows
of lettuce. Wait for spring,
and the hour of nesting.
Under cover of leaves and
flowers, there will be fantails.

Marjory Woodfield is a New Zealand teacher and writer. Her most recent work appears in The Pomeganate London, Orbis, Pennine Platform and The Lake. Awards include first prize in The New Zealand Robert Burns Competition, and placements in Hippocrates, Yeovil, Ver and John McGivering writing competitions. She is currently working towards her first collection.

Back to the top

*****

1 thought on “The High Window, Summer 2022: Poetry

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s