i.m. Carla Scarano D’Antonio, 1962-2023
Ruth Aylett • Elizabeth Barrett • Peter Donnelly • Clive Donovan • Neil Fulwood • Rebecca Gethin • Mike Greenacre • David Hackbridge-Johnson • Jefferson Holdridge • Ronan Hyacinthe • Charlotte Innes • Annie Kissack • Leonard Lambert • Sydney Lea • Louise Longson • Beth McDonough • Janet MacFadyen • Linda McKenna • Christine McNeill • Ray Malone • Mark Mansfield • Sally Michaelson • Helen Overell • Norman Parker • Jay Passer • Alan Prowle • Tonnie Richmond • Carla Scarano • John Scarborough • Harriet Shillito • Fiona Sinclair • Susan Castillo Street • Robin Thomas • Sue Wallace-Shaddad • Rory Waterman • John Newton Webb
Ruth Aylett: Three Poems
Singing out there alone in the dark,
how can you carry all that weight,
walled in with words, freighted
Your trilling descants over the music
of water flowing in the stream.
Arcturus, overhead, speaks summer
without words into the rain-cleared sky.
These melodies thread the darkness,
filling the shadowed spaces
between trees that shift a little,
and rough-net the warm air.
You gather us into breathless audience.
For a moment there is only
this song outside time and change.
Yet for you a kind of chromatic breath,
announcing this is your tree,
your space, how you do life
when May arrives. Not sung
for us and our symbol-clutching.
THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII
Just one car on the forecourt,
an indeterminate hatchback,
dark grey and streaked with salt,
a solitary man driving it.
He gets out, stretches,
pushes away the motorway tedium,
head turning slowly as if its gimbals
have jammed in look-forward mode.
Winter grips the pump handle,
his hand flinches at its touch;
three am emptiness blows across
the pitted tarmac. He takes out his card
under the steady stare of lights
that run the video of never arriving.
His pump speaks its instructions,
in a phantom woman’s voice
that might tell him the executioner
will be here soon, though not to worry,
the blade is so sharp
nobody feels a thing and then it’s done.
But the only option is to fill up and go on
as if everything were still okay.
No smoking debris from which to flee,
somewhere a promised land at dawn.
WHY I’M GLAD I DID NOT LIVE IN THE PAST
Tin bath in the kitchen,
though only if you were lucky.
No toothpaste or toothbrushes.
Roman fermented fish sauce.
Pease pottage in the pot nine days old.
The Holy Inquisition.
Fines for not attending church.
Sermons on the torments of hell.
SmallpoxxxTB x polio
Diphtheria xxx cholera
Septicaemia xxx plague.
Medieval barber-surgeon tools.
Bowls for blood letting.
The rules for what respectable woman should wear.
The rules for what respectable women could not say.
The tombstones of women who died in childbirth.
And the tombstones of their dead children.
Ruth Aylett lives and works in Edinburgh and her poetry is widely published in anthologies and magazines. She has been know to turn up to a reading wiht a robot. Her pamphlets Pretty in Pink (4Word) and Queen of Infinite Space (Maytree0 were published in 2021. For more see http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~ruth/writing.html
Elizabeth Barrett: Two Poems
‘Go tell it, if your tongue can tell the tale, Your bold eyes saw me stripped of all my robes.’
He watches through the kitchen window
as she hangs her clothes on a line strung
between two trees at the shore of the loch.
Their acre of land holds back its ripple
and lap. At each side, flaming banks
of rhododendron spill themselves like blood.
Here, they are concealed. There is only the
gaze of the saffron sun. Black pines. High crags.
The tips of the trees form an archway
to the loch. Beyond, a cave of grey rock.
She reaches for a branch and swings back,
long and slack. Her hair falls from a half-
moon clip. It is turning Titian in the sun.
Like her mother’s, he thinks. Abandoned
in the grass, her things: pencils sharp
as arrow tips, a water flask, Verlaine.
The neighbour’s hound is loose again,
roaming loch and lane. She twists
at the waist, looks over her shoulder
to check the gates. She sees her father
watching her. Something in his gaze —
in the big blue of his belly swelling,
the self-satisfied half-smile.
She faces him. Holds her ground.
Her father runs out of the house,
averting his eyes. He strides sideways
bellowing Put your clothes back on.
He throws a red shawl into the ferns
and monk’s hood where she stands
in a necklace of light. Cover yourself up,
he barks. She darts past, grabs her flask,
dashes its contents in his astonished eyes.
The water clumps his hair like fur, runs
in tears down his face. He snorts and stomps.
The bloodhound calls from the shore.
She imagines her father’s feet turning to horn,
a rack of monkey puzzle bone exploding
through his brow. She dreams fingers fusing,
his long body planking as he falls on fours
to ground, the tongue slack in his mouth.
THE LOTUS SELLER
I spread the lotus bedspread
I haggled for in Cairo souk
over my living room floor.
It is decades since I carried it
through twisting streets
wrapped in newsprint and twine
across the hazy city to Al-Azhar
on to Sultan Hassan
up the external staircase at Ibn Tulun
all the way to the Citadel
and into the City of the Dead.
A thin boy threw stones at me
for looking through my camera
at his home among the tombs.
I fled with my parcel to Tahrir Square.
The bedspread is faded now, threadbare.
I have slept beneath it 1000 nights
wrapped it around my kids
when they were cold or sick.
It is time to recycle it.
As I snip the worn places
discard the thinning middle
a crowd gathers on TV.
Was it there, in Tahrir Square,
I met the man who lured me
up some side-street stairs?
A room at the top was fugged
with smoke, big as a ship, swagged
with velvet and gold brocade.
Crewel cushions on the floor.
Low brass tables.
Hookah. Crystal vials of oil.
Smell, he said, un-stoppering a bottle.
I leaned over, breathed the scent of lotus.
I knew my money wouldn’t be enough for him.
I am a student, I said. What do you think
of your President? He shrugged.
Mubarak? It meant nothing to him.
I never dreamed this man
would hurl a stone.
I thought the languid air
and lotus oil would lull him
through an always-afternoon.
Now I search the crowd for his face –
think I see him throwing stones,
taking photos with his mobile phone.
Elizabeth Barrett’s poetry is widely published in journals and anthologies. Her collections include A Dart of Green and Blue (Arc Publications, 2010), The Bat Detector (Wrecking Ball Press, 2007) and Walking on Tiptoe (Staple First Editions, 1998). She has been the recipient of an Arts Council of England Writers Award (2000) and a Northern Writers Award (2018). Elizabeth has worked as a creative writing tutor and university lecturer in education. She is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Sheffield.
Peter Donnelly: Three Poems
Did your parents know the origins
of your names, or their associations?
Wendy, invented for a story
two decades before you were born;
Joyce, also a surname, often Irish
like your own. Your sister Rose
must have been called after the flower,
for she was never Rosemary, a herb
nothing to do with roses.
Kay perhaps because your mother
was Catherine, though spelt with a C.
Shirley Williams was not the first woman
to be named after Charlotte Brontë’s
least known heroine, for so were
Bassey, Temple and all your namesakes.
Do any of you know that before that
it was a man’s name? Your father
never read fiction, especially not written
by a woman; your mother discovered
Brontë in her eighties, bought Jane Eyre
one day from Dillon’s in Exeter, picked it up
that night and couldn’t put it down.
She’s the heroine I least imagine
to look like yourself – short hair, dark
I think you say, though for some
reason I picture her as blonde.
Yet she’s the one I seem most
to identify with, though
I’m not sure why. An art historian,
not much of a reader, at least
not of Jane Austen, except
surprisingly, according to you
or one of your characters –
Sense and Sensibility,
not my favourite either.
I think it’s her single state
and her flat in the city,
though not in the centre.
But the only houseplant she has
is a potted palm, and even that
barely knows how to care for.
It could be her yearning
for the countryside,
at odds with her urban existence.
It could be her love of riverside walks,
or is that yourself – or both of you?
I didn’t know what it was like until once
near the pond at Castle Howard
Arboretum my mother said,
Can you see the meadowsweet?
Perhaps I’d have thought it was cow
parsley if it weren’t for its honey scent.
I was reminded of this yesterday
as I glanced out of the train window
and there were stalks of it along
the railway line, flashing by
like clotted cream on a fork.
Then I thought of the seeds I bought
in Wells which never sprouted,
the plant I dug up from the roadside
that was dead before I got it home,
and wondered whereabouts in a Devon
lane any of it grows, after which
my great-aunt’s cottage was named.
Peter J Donnelly lives in York where he works as a hospital secretary. He has degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Wales Lampeter. His poems have been published in various magazines and anthologies including Ink, Sweat and Tears, Fragmented Voices, Black Nore Review and One Hand Clapping. He won second prize in the Ripon Poetry Festival competition in 2021 and was a joint runner up in the Buzzwords open poetry competition in 2020.
Clive Donovan: Two Poems
And him up there with a swing ball – what a boy’s hero job!
He swipes at corners, cracks façades
– such as they are on this poor terrace.
Casual voyeurs don’t need windows to spy at a house;
the innards of the four square rooms are blatantly exposed.
Level with the crane, powdery laths and plaster flop
with unfashionable rose clusters papered to the walls;
abandoned curtains on display, indelicate as knickers
slung on a lamp pole, like some wicked kids did once
to Valerie Carter from the sweet shop.
He hopes they cleared out all the squatters;
he’s heard stories, doesn’t want to be the one to bash
some dozy junkie twat. Bricks and beams collapse.
Chimneys drop in sooty clouds. They stripped the plumbing
– lead and copper pipes, fire grates.
Not much else but beds – four warm bodies in bed
sometimes – and the memories – good and bad,
shiny coal, deal tables, big Belfast sinks, brown lino
and proudly scoured steps leading to street cobbles,
where we lost so many errant marbles bouncing down the drain.
I would like to be your companion,
ambling along all amiable,
remarking on the stonework of men
and the way the trees arch like gothic vaulting
and the spines and ribs of this many-coloured land
where pines grow and gentle streams flow,
accompanied by hopping birds, short-lived
but perfectly at home, belonging here,
in the way that we do not as we walk ancient tracks
made by historical animals no longer around
– like pygmy hippopotamus can you believe?
And I regale you with interesting anecdotes
about conflicts and settlements in this region,
rich in obsidian, valuable cactus medicine
and fresh-water pearls – I would love to find one for you
but killing an oyster?
We will eat some back at the hotel tonight, no doubt,
where descendants of slaughterers of the indigenous
serve entertaining experiences
from white cement blocks.
We booked this holiday when we were more solid.
I am trying to give you a good time.
I hold a special place for you in my heart.
Why do you keep climbing out?
Clive Donovan is the author of two poetry collections, The Taste of Glass [Cinnamon Press] and Wound Up With Love [Lapwing] and is published in a wide variety of magazines including Acumen, Agenda, Crannog, High Window, Prole, Sentinel and Stand. He lives in Totnes, Devon, UK. He is a Pushcart and Forward Prize nominee for 2022’s best individual poems.
Neil Fulwood: Four Poems
THE ART OF DIPLOMACY
Canteen talk turns to politics.
Opinion muscles around the place,
sleeves rolled up, the tattoo
of somebody’s prejudice
misspelled and looking rough –
a cheap backstreet job.
Outside, the dull steady insistence
of a reversing horn, banksman
shouting instructions, a bus
backing slowly into a bay:
“Keep going, keep going, right
hand down a bit —“ the slap
of palm on bodywork “— you’ll do!”
SIX LADS AROUND A PUB TABLE
They’re interchangeable: shorts, hoodies,
bony knees angled out, legs spread.
They suggest the collective noun “a sprawl”.
Their table is a disaster zone of ring stains,
half-eaten food, glasses of coke
or orange juice unfinished. For the last half hour
they’ve glugged water. Much of it has slopped.
They have held their glasses as if unsure
of design and purpose, picked them up
and set them down with the exaggerated care
of the deeply hungover or the still pissed,
hand-eye coordination inoperative, vision
unconducive to accuracy, as if there were
three of everything floating before them
and saving face hinged on not choosing
the phantom article. One zoned out
at the water dispenser, forehead resting
on the cool surface; took a micro nap
until his buddies, scratching around
for his name, finally roused him,
one eyelid slowly peeling back. It’s noon
in a ‘Spoons just outside the city centre;
St George’s Day. Six lads in a weak attempt
at sobering up, the rest of the afternoon
stretching out ahead of them like a challenge.
It has shuttled for several minutes now
between skylight and open window,
room thrumming with a spiky drone
that is simply the movement of wings
two hundred times per second,
but sounds like frustration. Glass
bamboozles it, framing a perfect view
of cloudless sky and still sea
yet cutting off the point-A-to-point-B
simplicity of the journey. All it needs
is to reverse an inch of two, descend
an inch or two more, then full speed ahead.
It takes instead the path of greater resistance,
repeatedly head-butts the glass. There’s
something in this of the human condition.
There’s a cycle trail signposted
with hand painted cartoon characters
of a vaguely threatening aspect.
A tree is hung with oversized acorns,
obviously fake. More of the garish
figures are nailed to the trunk.
The effect is equal parts infantile
and unwholesome, Beatrix Potter
by way of The Wicker Man.
Further into the woodland, a folly:
huge slabs of stone arranged
in Druidic fashion, the centrepiece
a monolith on which Aslan
might well have been sacrificed.
Tourists mug it up for selfies,
looming out of shadowy openings
like horror movie villains.
The occasional cyclist huffs by.
Neil Fulwood has published three collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It, Can’t Take Me Anywhere and Service Cancelled. A collection of political satires, Mad Parade, is published by Smokestack Books, and he has two pamphlets, Numbers Stations and The Little Book of Forced Calm, out with The Black Light Engine Room Press. Neil lives in Nottingham where he works as a bus driver.
Rebecca Gethin:Two Poems
We kneel and cherish the smallest signs of life.
Then, while breathing on its fragile body
give it a tower of sticks to climb. Soon
it licks the fallen ones, consumes
our offerings and thunders to escape.
But it’s kept fast in a cabinet of cast iron
and we won’t open the door to let it out.
We look it straight in the eyes as the heartwood
burns however hard it claws at the glazed pane.
On entering the tent at the end of the day’s work,
reindeer herders tossed their longed-for tot of vodka
in to its heart. It hissed and sparked. Old ones knew
how to read the auguries. To befriend it myself,
what should I feed its flames?
Note: In Siberia it was believed the fire (Tog) contains a spirit (Tog Muhoni).
KEPT HIDDEN AWAY
but I carried you in a box to the marketplace
to be sure of attracting a crowd.
I’d removed your fangs, polished your scales
and fed you nothing to keep you weak.
When I opened the lid and breathed
eerie tunes through my gourd-pipe
your head emerged before your body unwound.
As if in rapture you shimmied to my music
that you couldn’t hear. You raised your hood
and your tongue flickered at the threat
of the waving pipe. To enrage you
I shook the folds of my lungi so that
you quivered like a living question mark,
eye to eye. I slowed the tune and stepped away
so your body dwindled into the dark
of the box which I shut with a snap.
Rebecca Gethin has written five poetry publications. She was a Hawthornden Fellow and a Poetry School tutor. Vanishings was published by Palewell Press in 2020. Messages was a winner in the first Coast to Coast to Coast pamphlet competition. Her next pamphlet is to be published by Maytree Press in Autumn, 2023. She blogs sporadically at www.rebeccagethin.wordpress.com.
Mike Greenacre: Two Poems
WORDS TOUCHING NERVES
for Peter Jeffery OAM
A hundred word review
seems like a long way
to the journey’s end
and yet ‘A General Much
Tired of War’ leaves words
searching for more
fishing out lines from his
early life, we see the poet
phrases and references
to the ‘Old School’
that pull you in deeper
to a life placed somewhere
between the “billy cart”
and the “thumping pistons
and hissing steam” of
engines driving imagination
from childhood to adulthood’s
endless mental stream
sometimes out of our depth,
in awe of his rich lifetime
of words, touching nerves
those tender places
before the last turn.
THE COURSE BEFORE
A poem about a meal? I pause
before diving head-first
into a pool of thought,
spreading so wide around me.
Where shall I start?
that doesn’t wash away
all those tender moments
that made the connection
as if there’s visions
that can be too revealing
like a nude portrait
before a knowing voice
of what came before.
About a meal? I can’t
think past the night before
we ate together
as two searching souls
that collided in the
right space and time,
we would still be here
in thirty years or more.
Mike Greenacre has published three collections of his poetry and the latest, Nocturnal House was published by Ginninderra Press in 2020. He has won prizes for his poetry and has judged entries for journals and competitions. He is a Committee Member of WA Poets.
David Hackbridge-Johnson: Poem
i. Kessingland V
Kessingland and the long undertow
hauling reluctant pebbles into
the sea’s net. A shingle wail; the veins
of minerals bleed their frozen blood.
And when the whipping wind scrawls lament,
wheeling the gulls off course, rising to
a scream of metal, the beach is rent,
speared on ebb and flow no mercy shown.
Once a balm of sun and there we lay,
a pledge to sky and tide of our hearts,
as pulse of water washed by pull of
moon and song of echo flung by birds.
Grating land as biting salt invades
and wipes the imprint of our lay, no
single turning rock can mark the place
where what’s sung and loved is far away.
ii. Chapel of Unrest (Bishop Wolfstan at Bradwell-on-Sea)
Not on this headland is seen the dove,
nor an olive branch to still the waves
that bay for blood and flash their swords of
foam. Exile, but not from bitter thoughts.
Every cove hides a new treachery;
a hand in a rock-pool comes bitten
to the bone by hidden pincers, the
boastful king has Bloodaxe in his net.
Riding the sediment a coin from York,
silver spat out from a livid wound;
how rubbed by salt and sand that kingly
face; a smooth flat finish to his reign.
Troublesome prayers in screeching weather;
an answer sifted by the wind’s knife.
Over on the moor a funeral pyre:
distant smoke of lords that lay them down.
iii. The Black Isle
Ringed by hammered silver, sparking waves
that ruin by centuries the rocks, cut
from every voice the incipit of
its calling, and cull the wings of birds;
monks clung here in wooded ridges of
prayer; faith in fern and cock crow preening;
the horizon fingers joined where sea
and sky meet on the sightline of hope.
No white virgin stayed for long as peat
and bracken besmirch the winter’s coat;
fire and woodsmoke are the earthen mark
of gods that spit the snow from sere lips.
Silence is a roar of waves that rear
and swill their mouths in eternity;
a maw of ages where all the runes
are wiped by silver glinting scales.
David Hackbridge Johnson is a composer and poet. His most recent opera will be performed in Spring 2022 by Welsh National Opera. The Toccata Classics label has released three volumes of orchestral music conducted by Paul Mann. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, PN Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and The Fortnightly Review. He is currently writing a three volume prose work called The Austerities and a new stage work for Surrey Opera and their conductor, Jonathan Butcher.
Jefferson Holdridge: Three Poems
Self-taught artist you had painted the sky
With a vertical instead of horizontal brushstroke,
But listened when the art-instructor spoke.
The lighthouse looked solid. Its sharp border
And sun-washed blue distance led the eye
To disappear upward. There is an order
To the New England clarity of the scene,
Which brings me back years to Cape Cod
And those childhood vacations at Truro.
Later a national seashore, but then our cottage
Was perched among dunes we ran between.
Sitting here now, that seems so long ago.
You loved it there, but mom complained to God
That all she ever did was cook and clean.
This was true, you later would acknowledge,
But the painting was done only twenty
Years after the war, and you, an ex-GI,
Having returned from Europe’s theatre of war,
Sicily, Naples, Corsica, bombers on high,
Had a new perspective but couldn’t yet see
How nothing could be as it had been before.
The cottages would eventually have to go.
But your landscape of the lighthouse at Truro
Is next to our door, today left open wide
Upon a horizon, you’d now paint side to side.
For Matthew Gaddis, in memory of painter Alexandra Zevin
The watercolors on the sunroom wall
Are all that remains of the white birches
We planted on both sides of the driveway.
An early successional, they seem about to fall
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxOne is a stump, while another
On the left, the largest one, lurches
Out of the frame as if trying to say
That the bed of lilies of the valley
Amid birches standing like daughters and mother,
Curved leaves and bells, ladies of the wood,
White bark and delicate leaf,
Were never meant to last.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxYet they had stood
For a landscape that would outlive the wind
That eventually felled them,
Who colored the scene or we in our grief,
Observing them on the forest’s edge,
Are early successionals, each destined
To die in the shade of the next generation,
Fostered by the unconditional pledge
Made for us, and by us in kind, one
For a future we will never be part of.
We bought a watercolor secondhand
Of white birches on a hilltop high above
A lake, caught at the peak colors of fall,
To match her summer birches in their stand.
One was unfinished…
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxFor suddenly the sun
Had moved and new images were made
As moments passed. “You cannot paint them all.
With watercolors,” she said, “what’s done is done.”
The artist must be fluent in sunlight and shade.
COTTAGE AND STREAM
Gainsborough’s women sit or step lightly
Into the prime of their beauty and out of reach
Of a poor landscape and portrait painter.
A desperate suitor with a long-handled brush
That trembled between limbs, eyes, and lips
Of women he could only vainly beseech.
A painter perhaps so smitten as to faint
There at the feet of models in dresses so lush.
One imagines the paint as it hovers and drips
Onto the canvas, before tormented he’d rush
To be among those as marginalized as he.
For after studying these rich young women, nightly
He’d go to the brothels, to those, like him, for hire.
Sometimes the expressions he draws from a sitter
Suggest a gentle understanding of his plight.
Perhaps sympathy, the simmering of desire,
However condescending, however dimly
Felt. Or merely just reflecting back the light
And shadow of landscapes he would always prefer
To paint. Thought to have changed the terms of sight.
Techniques that somehow “brought tears to the eye,”
Constable said, “and we don’t know why.”
Cottage and stream that set the world to right.
Director of Wake Forest University Press and Professor of English at WFU in North Carolina, Jefferson Holdridge is the author of two volumes of poetry, The Sound Thereof (2017), and The Wells of Venice (2020). He has been published in Prairie Schooner, Poetry Ireland Review, Southword, The Irish Times, among other venues. In 2017 he co-edited and introduced Post-Ireland? Essays on Contemporary Irish Poetry with Brian O’Conchubhair. His most recent critical work is Stepping through Origins: Nature, Home, and Landscape (2022).
Ronan Hyacinthe: Two Poems
JARDIM DA ESTRELA (Lisbon Logbook 1)
So this is it.
When its back’s
enabled to rest, and
its planks have been
still stretching them
cracked at the end
by redolent rain.
That’s freshened the
blades, at the edge
of the path where it
lies with a now red
and white stripe.
RUA DAS CHAGAS, 12
— even that house wouldn’t get
— what’d happen to her?
xxThe sun setting down, she rolled
on her back: his stretching his arm
to join the
xxThus gleams set upon the
street’s cobblestones all speckled
xxWarm, they rose on the quoins
and smoothened his neck.
xxHe stretched it again, this time to
the left: circling his nose, the lime
of the quoins’d almost inflamed…
After studying philosophy both in London and Paris, Ronan Hyacinthe began to write in Rome. He now works in Lisbon. Some of his poems and haikus have appeared in mainly British magazines such as Stand, the London Magazine, Envoi and others.
Charlotte Innes: Three Poems
Tall narrow spears of blue, they line the driveway,
green at the tip, like proud young fighters capped
and ready. She’s six, with a red tricycle,
riding up and down, up and down,
in love with space and air, and blueness she wants
to touch. She brushes her hand against a lupin,
hoping the thick stem will bend towards her.
Snap. The stem’s more fragile than she’d thought.
And the flower hangs there by a thread. Quickly,
she tries to put it back. It sits for a sec–
then tips and breaks right off. A fallen soldier,
dying on the ground. She’s shaking, afraid
of what might come. Sure enough, a window
opens. “Who did that?” Thunderous,
enraged, the general’s voice attacks the air.
In the kitchen, her stepmother’s making jam.
“I did it… I didn’t mean…” Her stepmother turns.
“Thank you for owning up. I’ll talk to him.”
In the stillness, the child sees a field of lupins,
blue on blue, bending towards her. And always will.
IN THE CAR
He’s probably driving, as always,
too close to the middle of the road.
We kids watch from the back:
the police, pulling him over.
Yes, officer. Yes. Of course.
He’s staring straight ahead.
The police suggest, be a bit more
careful, then let him drive on.
I’m so embarrassed, I want
to yell: you look like a snail
about to be stamped on! Oh why
can’t you be more dignified?
In the country he came from, police
might well have dragged him out of the car,
or even killed him.
But I am an English child
of the Fifties. I don’t understand
how a man with a temper like his at home
can shrink to a pinhead outside,
how hurt ones beg to be loved,
how they haul out strength to survive.
Last night, a friend spoke sharply.
And a knot twisted inside.
He’d had a terrible day,
with a friend about to die.
I understood the pain—
and the anger that gave it voice.
My face in the mirror looks tired.
I haul out strength. I survive.
HERON IN THE MARSH
When you land in the reeds,
your feathers fold so tight
you might be wearing a chic
grey coat, with the black streak
on your head suggesting the brim
of a hat, like a city gent
alighting from a bus.
But no, that small bright
button, your wary eye,
your outstretched neck,
your beak held high, implies
a different route. And off
you go, flapping slowly,
in search of fish or mouse.
What are we? Gods?
That I dare to recreate
a bird in my flightless
image, dressed up in gaudy
words or whittled down
to neatness, to plain truth.
Heron. Water. Reeds.
To simplify brings comfort.
But simple we are not.
Like whales enmeshed in nets,
we get confused, we think up
strange ideas. We praise
your heron’s grace then drain
the marsh you need to live.
Charlotte Innes is the author of Twenty Pandemicals (Kelsay Books, 2021) and Descanso Drive (Kelsay Books, 2017). Her poems have appeared in many publications, including The Hudson Review, Rattle, The Sewanee Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review and anthologies, such as The Best American Spiritual Writing for 2006 (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). A former newspaper reporter, freelance writer and teacher, she has written on books and the arts for many publications, including The Nation and the Los Angeles Times. Originally from England, Charlotte Innes now lives in Los Angeles.
Annie Kissack: Four Poems
ALONG THE PROM
I’m peering out through bleary glass
rehearsing the hotels:
the first-and-foremost Metropole,
Milnes Waverley of majesty,
superior Sefton sitting proud
beyond the Colonade.
I’m on the bus; it crawls and fumes
and sighs and stops a lot.
Rumours of a Saturday night
are straddling the stairwell or lingering
lost in red-gold undergrowth
where burn marks mimic clearings.
The window is stuck shut;
odours of sick and smoke still lurk.
Cold flows down the runnels
past each stubbed-out cigarette,
past women, bags and bunions
and pug-faced baby boys.
Better to drift and dream of lives
much lovelier than these.
Oh splendid Esplanade,
most elegantly-faded Empress.
I greet your pale facade,
my fair Modwena.
GIVERS AND RECEIVERS
Living in the house, a little apart, were the two aunts;
one exuded prickliness, one exuded style.
According to my mother, both dispensed largesse
for which we must never, ever be truly grateful
while remaining prompt in our thank you letters
following the receipt of gifts:
How are you? The weather is fine here.
Thank you very much for the lovely present.
The prickly aunt gave us improving books;
we were, I hope, improved.
The stylish aunt bought us London clothes,
dark-blue her favoured shade.
Our mother read us poems and knitted cardis.
She even gave our jumpers fancy names:
‘It’s Golden Gorse for school today,
your sister’s taken Heather Hill!’
But she could not knit, not really.
Those bright and baggy garments
were love and imagination.
There would be tuts from the aunt
who gave us books of useful facts.
There would be frowns from the aunt
who bought us clothes from proper shops.
‘To think he could have done so much better,’ they said,
drawing the heavy curtains of the house
which should have been ours.
Early and quiet in the narrow street, no motors.
Only a man on his way to work.
and a well-wrapped boy in his father’s socks,
alone and staring at the window opposite.
I think he’s stood there seventy years.
This is the way a street should be in early morning,
waiting on the application of colour,
contemplating its pristine streetdom
before the hordes descend.
Already, light spills through gaps in shop fronts,
trailing along the sides of cobbled gutters,
lying at the feet of the staring boy.
It is pooling in ungainly patches
below scrubbed steps, leaching away to where
the tallest buildings narrow and shrink
till they too lose all shape.
Beyond, the blunt grey slope of the Howe rises
like the broad back of an obdurate grazing animal,
slowly sealing the exit.
UNCLE GEORGE WAS A NAUTICAL MAN
Above the door like a charm,
strange words picked out in dark blue thread
and the sun, a thirsty, golden king
swallowing the ocean:
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.
‘Tennyson,’ explained my aunt,
‘but George did the embroidery.’
I vaguely remember him, genial in a gansey.
That his eyes did not in fact line up
was, I was told, ‘the war’.
Their cottage watched the coast but from a hill.
Inside, those maritime reminders
sitting proud on every surface:
ten-a-penny scallops, stiff limbed starfish,
that smug abrasive sea urchin we stroked uneasily
Best were the booming conches of exultant orange,
roaring from the glory of the mantlepiece.
And quiet little ships in bottles
long-berthed in deep dark parlour sills.
‘Good with his hands, your Uncle George!’
Annie Kissack is a poet from the Isle of Man who enjoys writing and performing in English and Manx Gaelic. In October 2022 she published Mona Sings, a collection of poetry inspired by the languages, stories and landscapes of her homeland. This was supported by Culture Vannin who have extensive recordings of her reading some of her longer, folkloric pieces on-line. Check availability here: www.bridge-bookshop.com
Leonard Lambert: Two Poems
Days like these,
with a doubtful sun and a jittery wind,
the town seen through leaves
is a patchwork affair,
and so, it seems, am I,
and apparently overdue for a clean-up
– a breath of fresh air.
There’s a kind of nostalgia ban in place:
you’re quickly taken through
all the long times of your life,
the whole crazy parade of it,
the parts you played in it,
the lost nerve and the found friends,
sad cameos of the far and dear –
away with it all, say these winds,
Now is here, and better than Before!
But wait a minute, you say, you
might call it clutter but tell me,
where and who am I when all that
is swept away and gone?
To which the fitful wind
has no answer, or the fickle sun.
At the far end of autumn,
the very edge of winter,
the last of the leaves are a-skelter –
a horde of panicky late-goers,
some aloft and wind-mad,
the bigger ones, brown & brittle,
skidding along crab-wise,
clawing their way south…
It looks almost directional,
but the end, we know, is only dust,
soil for the new, and among those
will not be us, my love,
neither me nor you.
Leonard Lambert is the author of seven collections of verse spanning almost as many decades. A recent highlight was a short-listing in the 2020 Bridport Prize. His Selected Poems, Somewhere in August, (Steele Roberts) appeared in 2016, and his most recent publication is a chapbook, Winter Waves, (Cold Hub Press, 2018).
Sydney Lea: Two Poems
…the traditional maxims of old … have often so little effect on the conduct of life, because their meaning is never… really felt, until personal experience has brought it home.
In the ancient photo, its yellow corners curled,
an adolescent grins. In the room behind him,
there’s a quaint Victrola, needle flush with the vinyl.
Who took the picture? Who knows? I found it by chance
at the recycling center, among the mountains of paper.
Someone else’s trash might have covered it over
or I might have left it there in the bin, of course.
But I brought it home. Whatever my motive, I’ve studied
the image over and over, more than its due.
Its due, if I think about it, was likely none.
But I’m always grateful to have my imagination
sparked in whatever way, and the picture serves.
I see the boy at school. Long day. In his final class,
he was half-asleep and only came awake
to watch the lips of a cranky old English teacher.
Amazing. They actually quivered as he read
from a book called A Farewell to Arms, in which a woman
dies in childbirth and breaks her lover’s heart
and boo hoo hoo. A ray of sunshine slants
from an unseen window above our youngster’s head.
It glints off the phonograph record, which doubtless blares
some early rock n roll, perhaps by Fats
or Jerry Lee. “I’m Walkin,” maybe, or maybe
“Great Balls of Fire.” He knows he should be excited:
he and some friends will all be getting together
for the dance tonight at school. But he sighs and wonders
if he really wants to go. He curses acne.
His best friend Billy, whose dad is constantly sloshed,
will smuggle in liquor, thank God. It may provide
our hero the courage to walk right up to a girl
and ask for a dance. A slow one. He won’t dare
to jitterbug till he’s drunker. He’ll be waiting
for tunes like “Eddie, My Love.” The cautious embrace
of a slow dance may help him sense which partner, if any,
finds him funny or “cute.” A gulp or two of liquor
will make him another person, or so he hopes.
He’ll shuck the shyness and avoid cliché
in character and speech. Am I the one
I remember here? Who else? That guy in the picture–
he’ll be disillusioned, out of his league. Again.
To borrow a shopworn phrase, I stood in his shoes,
ones he’ll do his best to keep from stomping
on his partner’s shoes, an effort that may well fail.
But even if he could dance like Fred Astaire,
things wouldn’t change. No matter how cool he plays it,
even before he gets there, he envisions
some apple of his eye who’ll lead him on,
then drop him like a hot potato. That tune:
it’s trite and he’s heard it before and vodka won’t help him.
Would anyone blame her? he breathes. Is it over the top
to tell you the poor kid’s little heart will be broken?
Go ahead, scoff. But the poor kid’s heart will be broken.
I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT NOW
The moon seems unwilling to climb.
It hovers like some fat bumblebee
just over the white pines’ feathery tops,
orange as– well, an orange.
I think, You can surely improve on that.
Why insist on saving invention
for things beyond mere fact?
Earth’s atmosphere lays on that color
but I’m claiming it might be better
to explain such things a little less deftly.
An idle notion but that’s my bent.
Don’t tell me I need to purge
imagination, however foolish.
What would become of my poems, after all?
And doesn’t the whole human race, anyway,
stick like pitch to its follies?
We’re still referring, say,
to bears in the sky, just as ancients did,
which was silly, and is,
or put more gently, is drenched in fancy.
But it may be too easy for a person to seek
the transcendental, to moon over lyric
while turning away, say, from war all over,
or even away from my old friend Wes,
who can’t turn away from the sheer, brute wall
of his wife’s dementia.
Those two married sixty years back.
Of course, there’s so much more. And yet–
yet nothing. Nada. Niente. Nichts.
Busy old fool, unruly moon
(I paraphrase Donne, la-di-da, la-di-da),
haul your big old bloated ass
up to those bogus bears and stay there.
A former Pulitzer finalist and winner of the Poets’ Prize, Sydney Lea served as founding editor of New England Review and was Vermont’s Poet Laureate from 2011 to 2015. He is the author of twenty-three books: a novel, five volumes of personal and three of critical essays, and fourteen poetry collections, most recently Here (Four Way Books, NYC, 2019). A fifteenth book of poems, What Shines?, is due in February. In 2021, he was presented with his home state of Vermont’s most prestigious artist’s distinction: the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Louise Longson: Two Poems
DROWNING ON DRY LAND
We go in a drought-year, and she remembers
a sacrifice that was made to the god of Water,
when the village was buried under the flow
that ate the river and the broad pale fillet
of rock where she used to bathe and fish.
Huge metal bulldozers rumbled like tanks,
planes practised overhead for a dam-busting raid
over the water, unaware of the irony. Twisting
streets she walked to school and clean white stone
houses became slack and rubble. The foundations
of her childhood crumbled away with them.
In this dry summer of baked mud, the reservoir breaks
its silence. The village has come up, gasping for air.
Her memory gushes out in a flood of nostalgia
that is hard to bear. It is a hunger, remembering.
An ache that hurts more than all the forgetting.
By Spring, they will slip back beneath the water
and she, too, will be gone; only a pile of sad stone
remains; the shaped and faced remnant
of a former beauty. History will hold them;
both no longer existing and existing at once
in an ellipsis of space, a lacuna of fluid time.
PUTTING THINGS IN PLACE
This is really important. I need you
to understand where things go
wrong is when you don’t put them
where they belong.
Such a small
space, not unlike living
on a narrowboat or caravan
where the walls are close and thin.
Because, if you put the knife in
where the soup spoons actually go,
things could get
That glass in your hand
lives on the top shelf.
Only one of them left,
since the night we became too
This weekend, we should try
The ice has got so thick.
Louise Longson started writing during isolation in lockdown 2020. She is published by One Hand Clapping, Fly on the Wall, Nymphs, Ekphrastic Review, Obsessed with Pipework, Indigo Dreams Publishing, Dust Magazine, Modern Haiku, Dreich, Black Bough Poetry, The Poetry Shed and others. She is the author of chapbooks Hanging Fire (Dreich Publications, 2021) and Songs from the Witch Bottle: cytoplasmic variations (Alien Buddha Press, 2022). She works for a charity from her home on the fringes of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. Twitter @LouisePoetical
Beth McDonough: Two poems
5th of March 2022
Four nautical miles south of her last creaked breath
she’s below the Weddell Sea’s now thinning pack ice.
Still upright, but suspended in a grace apart,
detached from the Antarctic Ocean’s hard bed.
Just one cracked mast, a folded funnel to sign
her suicidal dive to the world’s floor.
Every letter of her name remains intact
under the unbroken taffrail’s long line.
On her well deck the unturned wheel’s star
owns every spoke. Though nobody walks
her companionway, passing that port hole
from the leader’s cabin, paired doors flap ajar.
A single boot. Some wandered crockery, lost
from the yet-perfect galley. One anchor holds,
another eels its broken chain yards off
to string along silhouettes of rocks.
All is clear, viewed through the coldest blue,
where nothing exists to eat timbers.
Endurance, found, exactly a century after
they lowered Shackleton into black.
AN OLD WOMAN COOKING EGGS
(looking at the Velásquez painting, NGS, 1618)
A postcard half of Scotland has received or bought,
that Velásquez, now propped on my kitchen table.
Painted when he wasn’t even twenty.
Forever, a start of imagined narratives,
a record of immaculate chiaroscuro
character, picked out detail in portraiture.
You might say he made it his calling card,
a display of textural virtuosity,
of compositional command. Indeed
that and other bodegones surely
brought in the bigger jobs, those
aristocrats. Perhaps the odd Infanta.
Yet, his watched Seville light gives
unfettered brilliance in the everyday,
the miracles of people.
I take the woman’s gaze out to the garden
with the washing, hear my neighbour Anna
clatter Spanish Scots across our wintered fence.
Beth McDonough’s poetry is widely anthologised and published in Magma, Gutter and elsewhere. Lamping for pickled fish is published by 4Word. She swims year round in the Tay, foraging nearby.
Janet MacFadyen: Three Poems
In the sea-wind’s turbulent currents;
in the roiling breakers and rolling clouds, air full of dipping and yawing swallows;
among the dunes stacked one against the other in long breakings of sand;
and waves pressing tight against them to yield up their bodies —
sweeping, redistributing, plowing under, sanding
again and again to a perfect
untouched plane —
Sharing the rolling breath with red-winged blackbirds;
the rolling embrace of the twisting oaks, elephantine, whirlwinded;
the sun pouring down on the shining grasses, the shining water,
on beach plums, daisies, oak seedlings, and the painted
turquoise stone in the oak crook
lovingly placed —
Seablood, sun-soil, flux; the cedars
stunted and spreading their deepest greenest swirls
in ones and threes, all blowing, transitory— this—this
is what love is —
Half turned away I wanted to keep walking
but the family veered back for the lighted houses.
It was twilight; the gap between us widened as when
one has gone a long time across the flats
and then the tide comes in
thick and fast.
When did I awake? Figures
stepped out from the shadowy surf
and hunched among the breakers.
My family was there, and others,
and for a long time we looked at the sea, not speaking.
The men were old, the women were tired,
and the children had left.
I pulled the deep current
around me like a shawl. A cloud of swallows
unfurled a long twittering swath
and swirled away to the south.
They had no questions. We
had no answers.
Brothers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers —
a circle of men around a dark table
in a narrow, high-ceilinged room —
a place I almost remember but I am
in this time and they in another, the view
from the wrong end of a telescope,
hole in the sky —
How generations shed
one after another, like skin
off some huge animal whose hooves
thud in the night, that fierce
male energy enough to stop me in my tracks,
And he who is absent,
I knead his flesh into my flesh, his muscle
and sinew, claim his hunger
to fuel my endurance, and his rage
to fling myself into the future,
and from his own self-hatred
I fashion my grief.
Janet MacFadyen is author of five poetry books, with a new collection, State of Grass, forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Honors include a 2022 Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, a Fine Arts Work Center fellowship, and Pushcart, Forward, and Best of the Net nominations. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in CALYX, Crannóg, Naugatuck River Review, Osiris, Soul-Lit, Scientific American and elsewhere. She is the managing editor of Slate Roof Press, a publisher of art-quality chapbooks, and lives in western Massachusetts.
Linda McKenna: Poem
THE UNLOCKING OF A HEM
The Pope took one of his keys and unlocked
Limbo, freeing all the unbaptised babies,
who floated upwards, perhaps afraid,
having forgotten the smell of their mothers,
their low-voiced lullabies. Did he use
the gold one for heaven or the silver one
for the world, or a tiny, secret one, delicate,
with a filigree bow, fetched from a drawer
that was itself locked, a brief fuss to find
that key? Or, since Limbo was the hem
of the afterlife, did a seamstress mending
the fraying embroidery on a stole or mantle,
hunt in her sewing box for a seam ripper,
show him how to unpick the tight stitches.
Linda McKenna’s debut poetry collection, In the Museum of Misremembered Things, was published by Doire Press in 2020. The title poem won the An Post/Irish Book Awards Poem of the Year in 2021. She has had poems published or forthcoming in, among others, Poetry Ireland Review, Banshee, The North, The Honest Ulsterman, Crannóg, Acumen, Atrium, One, The Stony Thursday Book, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Skylight 47. She lives in Downpatrick, County Down and is working on her second collection.
Christine McNeill: Two Poems
I dust books on the shelves where minute
spiders have woven their webs.
They scuttle into dark recesses
from where they will re-emerge
to do their job again,
living obscured until disturbed.
Some crawl over my fingers –
a sensation that brings back those nights
when our bodies were ready to write on;
turning afterwards into the sanctuary of sleep,
we re-entered new pages in dreams,
until all was exhausted, and we began to read fiction.
The walls weep
raining plaster on her hair
greyish-white on the floor
wet on her cheek, no blood no tears,
hands clammy, wide-eyed
to the whispers of mice
taking their time to surface and stir
then dash across her vision as if mishandled.
The walls weep, exposing their grief
their insides of crumbling brick – the blast
of bombs, though there are none tonight
the detonation in her brain
stumbling away from death
stumbling, running, falling –
skeletons of mice, no hiding,
no fleeing, no crying –
husks of sunflower seeds like miniature flattened hats,
her vision deceives, she knows
but lets it come, a reel of unstoppable stills
while the walls weep into her heart
into her soul spiders weave space with time –
she thinks of green grass where there’s rubble
of rivers where there’s mud –
her fingers grope towards the other side
of thought, feeling dust:
Christine McNeill has published six collections of poetry – the latest Sehnsucht by Shoestring Press, 2020. A selection of translated German verse, Across a Sheet of Paper, was published by Shoestring Press in 2022. She’s currently working on a new collection.
Ray Malone: Four Poems
Who heard it, the clock’s
sudden stop, every breath
held on to, every step to be made
missed, in mid-tread, the silent
memory gathering itself together.
Who heard the word it spelled,
let slip from its sentence,
the sound of the space it filled,
the endless pause it proposed,
the rest it left in the score?
You heard it, at the edge there,
where the sea silently fused to the shore.
Neither knows, not he nor I,
though we share the same breath,
the tenuous in and out of air.
Who sees that something between us,
the daily holding on
against the daily
Hand in hand.
Neither knows how, without the other,
a world is made:
of so much nothing.
Who sees them walk away,
into your distance.
You drew a line with your mind
& went no further.
Remembered the number of steps to there,
the stumblings, the grazed knee,
the roar of thoughts
that roused you from sleep, the dead
from theirs, then raised the day
to your ears, your eyes wide with fear,
the fear of forgetting.
Read the hours away,
the doors and windows, the echoes
every foot fall at every laid stone,
every sound of what may one day stop.
By now you know, my words
are where I wake, when sleep’s
done with me, when life calls
for answer, for the sound of
a sort of understanding, a swerve
away from self, from solitude,
to find a feeling in the earth,
the earth your mind, bitten
by the light, bites into, the grit
between your teeth, the taste
to be savoured,
as so much sand, there
on the tip of your tongue,
as measure of the time, time
still to be spent, urgently
to spit them out, the grains,
the few grains the day gathers
into sleep, you know, so as
to wake to the words again
Ray Malone is an Irish writer and artist living in Berlin, working on a series of projects exploring the lyric potential of minimal forms based on various musical and/or literary modes/models: to bring new ones into words or find new ways with the old. His work has been published in numerous print/online journals in the US, UK and Ireland.
Mark Mansfield: Poem
They’d stand at the edge of the stage,
their faces beaming up at ours.
Sometimes, I’d wink at one, or two.
And some winked back to say “Just ask.”
Our ship came in on nights a crowd
yelled out for more or bellowed “Rock!”
Each encore bursting to applause,
my cup ran over. And I drank fast.
Those bands and bars vanished like notes
from a half-done tune which no one heard
except who wrote it, and a few
shadows as dawn crept through the slats.
And those girls like doves huddled on a bough?
They’d scarcely recognize me now.
Mark Mansfield has been widely published in magazines and is the author of four poetry collections: Strangers Like You, Soul Barker, Notes from the Isle of Exiled Imaginary Playmates, and Greygolden (all published by Chester River Press). He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee and is a former musician and publications specialist. Currently, he lives in upstate New York.
Sally Michaelson: Poem
MY PART OF THE SHOW
Coming out of Brigadoon
Mum vomited in the street
realized she was pregnant
hoped the baby would grow up
to dance Gay Gordons
in a phantom Scottish village
wasn’t there when he died
in his hospital cot
imagined he’d flown off
in a swirling Highland mist
to reappear on a zipwire
a hundred years later
needed an understudy
for the show to go on
gave birth to a girl
who didn’t fit the bill
Note : Brigadoon (1954): a musical romance. The village of Brigadoon, by virtue of a powerful prayer, only awakens for one day every hundred years.
Sally Michaelson is a retired conference interpreter living in Brussels. Her poems have been published in Lighthouse, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Algebra of Owls, The High Window, London Grip, The Lake, The Bangor Literary Journal, The Jewish Literary Journal, The Seventh Quarry, Squawk Back and Dreich. Her debut collection The Boycott, was published by The High Window in 2021.
Helen Overell: Three Poems
MY WALK THAT NIGHT
My walk that night took me through the field,
distances foreshortened, trees in silhouette,
sky ablaze with breath-catch startle of stars,
my footsteps slowed to a standstill, cares
fell from my shoulders, troubles diminished,
time paused so as to gaze on this wonder —
constellations mapped out as though some scribe
with quill and diligence and ink of molten silver
had placed small neat marks in the firmament
that flared and burned with dancing flame.
You breathe a country,
fill your lungs with geographies –
river-bed, mud-flats, outcrops of rock;
each beat of your heart,
balance and flow of lulled song
nuanced with lilt and shoreline, repeats
until pebbled sounds,
cumbersome on your tongue,
(these the young take on with ease, make new)
begin to spell out
how boundaries define us,
and yet, within the smallest glimpse
more words are indwelt
than handfuls of earth lifted
and sifted from the least plot of land,
and our differences
no more than matter and grasp,
measures of this or that grain of sand.
Francis of Assisi
Recollected, mindful, steeped in prayer,
as though a tree rooted deep in the earth,
giving shelter — there is about him light,
kindliness of countenance, unhurried
recognition of what is good, whole, true,
whether this be the least glint of beetle,
nimble of foot, clumsy on the wing;
the smallest of songbirds who takes part
in giving praise at the break of day;
the sore-tried wolf, befriended, forgiven,
clasp of paw in hand as sign of pact;
and the people of Gubbio, reluctant,
hesitant, taking turns to give food
to this unexpected mendicant
with grey fur coat and yellow eyes,
who pads, in gratitude, about town.
Helen Overdell has been published Orbis, Scintilla, The Frogmore Papers and Acumen as well as in anthologies. Her publications also include the collections Inscapes & Horizons (St Albert’s Press, 2008) and Thumbprints (Oversteps Books, 2015) and a booklet Measures for lute (The Lute Society, 2020).
Norman Parker: Four Poems
BOY WITH A TRUMPET
Grandmother meant well but
Never got it quite right.
I had a tin trumpet that Christmas,
Tasting of metal, scratching
Against my teeth. I said When I
Come in from the scullery you say
Why, it’s a military band! And
Content with my scenario, I went
Into the cold little room
Smelling of damp tea-towerls,
Squaring my shoulders and adjusting
My shako I marched out. Why!
Said my grandmother, It’s a boy
With a toy trumpet!
Since then most of my entrances
Have produced the wrong reactions.
When I come in you will see
The gifted painter, suave lover,
Popular writer, exciting young actor,
But somebody usually says Why,
It’s a boy with a trumpet, and
I don’t really knmow why I go on
Blowing the bloody thing except
That I like the noise, and that
Someone, someday, will play the game
According to my rules.
Every playtimne for three years
He crouched in a corner
Dealing out death, as he led
Commando raids or parachuted
Into enemy-occupied urinals,
For three years he shot
Stabbed or strangled,
Filling the jujior boys’ entrance
With dead Germsans.
His aim was deadly, his knife
Lethal, his neck-lock fatal.
One day he picked up a small
Bird in the playground, asking
What hew could do. It was
Obviously injured, and gently He carried it to the allotments
At the end of the street – at
Least there was grass there, and trees.
Is it alright? I asked when
Her came back. His lip quivered,
It died sir, he said.
Wanting a design for a Christmas card
I found an ikon of St. Nicholas, from
Nicula in Romania, where the book said,
He was reputed to bring good luck.
It seemed an ideal subject.
I made several drawings, the line was
Deceptively simple, and I had expected no problems. In the end
I succeeded up to a point, and knew a little about Transylvania, and
A little more about faith.
It was in a way, my best Christmas.
At ten-thirty in the Corso venucci
The Milton Urbani Quartette plays
A jazz standard with obbligato
Of feed-back. Someone applauds the squeal
Assuming it to be a solo – which in a way it is.
The thin girl in the purple dress
Falls out of it for the fourth time,
And Rudolph Valentino the Third
Runs a proprietorial hand
Along the thigh of the blonde girl
In the blue pyjamas.
The music which should have been cool
Is not cool at all but con peperone,
And the crowd is mostly Americans looking Italian,
Or Italian shouting “Go Man” and looking American.
And I am an Englishman drinking Amaro,
Amo, Amaro, Ho Amato!
Norman Parker was born in 1927 and, as far as the editor of THW is aware, published one collection of poems, Boy with a Trumpet (Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts, 1983). The poems included above have been selected from that collection.
Jay Passer: Three Poems
SONG FOR ADRIENNE
my mother plays mah-jong with angels
and eats pickled herring on wafers of cloud
she resists directly communicating with dreamers
like myself wandering in base consciousness
and don’t let the Walgreen’s reading glasses fool you
my mother can see through concrete walls
sometimes her voice ekes out through the radio
as I listen to a Giant’s game in the bottom of the ninth
with the bases loaded and the crowd on their feet
her faithful Goldens licking their bowls clean
in heaven even dogs sprout wings
my eyes are leaking
my ears are leaking
my tears are watering the garden
you can hear the brushing of the leaves
against the pane glass of wind
and the stone pathway circling
and the gardener sweeping
the koi in the silent pool
my eyes closed in unison
with the scent of jasmine
I mimed the dog,
the stepmother, scowling, cleaned up
and phoned the father
home from school not unlike
back to jail from parole,
that halcyon era preceding
walking off jobs like tightropes
stretched across goalposts
of the DMZ.
I climbed a tree
in the middle of a field
as the mountains shook
off in the distance,
not a fire truck around
for a million years.
the world imploding,
the girls looking twice before
resuming disdain for other men,
a black cat streaking between
native of fear.
I got slapped
for painting the lunchbox black.
for drilling holes in my shoes
outfitting the soles with light rail,
way ahead of my time yet
still too late for grace.
Jay Passer‘s work has appeared in print and online since 1988. He is the author of thirteen collections of poetry and prose, and has currently published his first novel, Squirrel, in 2022, from Alien Buddha Press. Passer lives in San Francisco with several imaginary cats and three very real houseplants.
Alan Prowle: Poem
JUBILEE AT BERNEVAL
(Extract from a letter from Oscar Wilde to the editor of the Daily Chronicle, May 27, 1897:
Sir, I learn with great regret through the pages of your newspaper, that the warder Martin, of Reading Prison, has been dismissed by the Prison Commissioners for having given some sweet biscuits to a little hungry child. I saw three children myself on the Monday preceding my release. They had just been convicted, and were standing in a row in central hall in their prison dress, carrying their sheets under their arms previous to their being sent to cells allotted to them…They were quite small children, the youngest – the one to whom the warder gave the biscuits – being a tiny little chap, for whom they had evidently been unable to find clothes small enough to fit him.)
In Dieppe the English made it clear he wasn’t welcome,
so he went instead to Berneval, where no one knew him.
At the Hotel de la Plage they gave him their best room.
Above, a French lady and her two boisterous boys,
always so noisy but having such fun.
It was spring, the orchards in blossom,
cows ambling among apple trees, some lying down.
He thought of the soot-smeared beeches in the garden
at Reading. This, he was sure, could be home.
But he needed more space for the visits of friends
and to write. He would look for a chalet to rent.
The Bourgeat was free. He soon settled in.
The diligence went to Dieppe once a day
and cost him a shilling; there were still some people there
not unhappy to see him. In the coach on the way
he would chat with the coastguards and holiday folk
who rented their beach huts near his,
charming them all with his elegant manners and dress,
the yellow pocket handkerchief, the flawless recherché French.
He favoured the bustling Café Suisse, by the quay.
He’d been told early on at the select Tribunaux
to drink somewhere else.
He got the idea for the party from Notre Dame de Liesse,
the little chapel he passed on his way to the beach.
Our Lady of Jubilation. In June it would be the old Queen’s Jubilee.
He imagined the pageant, the crowds at the Abbey.
He wondered if Cyril and Vyvyan would be there.
Their photo that Constance had sent him had reached the hotel
the day after he wrote to the paper.
How he wished they could come to his own celebration,
but he knew that they couldn’t. Perhaps just as well.
He told the chef pâtissier at the Plage, Lauvergeat,
that he needed a cake, an enormous biscuit de Savoie,
always a favourite with children, so spongy and sweet.
For adornment some red and green ropes spun from sugar?
And in icing round the cake could he write
in an elegant script ‘Jubilé de la Reine Victoria’?
He invited the young boys from the school
and their teacher, a Monsieur Hosein. 4.30 precise,
and finish at 7. He would like them to sing
the two anthems and eat as much as they could, but he hoped
they would not try to light up the lanterns
that the carpenter, Monsieur Bary, had agreed to put up.
Flowers and flags and an impromptu band: out of a chest
they fished an accordeon that no one could play,
a trumpet, a bugle, a drum.
Before the grand Savoie there were strawberries and cream,
and chocolate and cakes, with lemonade, cider and grenadine to drink.
‘God Save the Queen’ turned out to be ‘God Save the King’,
and at seven on the dot they filed out of the chalet,
each with his basket of bonbons and cake.
But as the summer wore on things would change.
Rumours came back in the coach. It was only a matter of time.
Inviting no girls to the party increased the suspicion.
Even the priest who had made him so welcome,
offering him for the rest of his life
his own seat in the church,
now began to avoid him.
Then there was the inevitable boredom and Normandy rain.
He went south, to Naples, and would never return.
The fierce tides and storms of the Channel
have taken their toll,
sweeping away the old sandy beach and the huts.
Bomber Command removed the old church,
the Hotel de la Plage, the jubilant chapel, the chalets,
most of the town.
On display round about are old sepia photos; we read
an account of how proud they all were
that at Berneval-le-grand throughout that whole summer
such an eminent writer had stayed; it mentions
the seat in the church.
We find the path he would take to the beach,
and the sign ‘la sente Oscar Wilde’.
Named at last, and with pride.
I hear a squabble of gulls. They seem to cry out ‘vive la Reine’
and then ‘God Save the King’,
and from over the cliffs
comes the sound of the wind’s beating drum.
Allen Prowle was born in Aberdare in 1940. Education took him to England where he has lived ever since. He began writing poetry at Sheffield University where he graduated in French. His poems have appeared in many journals, his first collection, Landmarks was published in 1973. He has translated French Italian and Spanish poems, for Magma, MPT and The High Window. In 2009, MPT published his translations of Rocco Scotellaro. He was awarded the Stephen Spender prize for translations of Attilio Bertolucci.
Tonnie Richmond: Three Poems
I am king of the Corvids.
My regal scarlet beak and matching hose
proclaim my clear superiority.
I have more grace than sturdy cousin Raven
who likes to throw his weight about
at the Tower of London but lacks finesse.
I am, of course, considerably more regal
than my plebeian relatives, Rook and Crow,
with their noisy squabbling lack of manners.
And foppish cousin Jay with his gaudy clothes
is – what shall we say – a little vulgar.
I hesitate to mention those two relatives
with criminal proclivities – Jackdaw and Magpie
– well known for thieving. Most families
have kin of whom they are ashamed.
I don’t care for towns and cities
where my poor relations choose to dwell.
I stay aloof in coastal castles
upon the cliffs of Cornwall, Wales,
Ireland’s wild Atlantic shore.
It’s there I practice with my closest kin
our airborne athletic acts.
Some human creatures call me Chough.
But no. I am the great King Pyrrhocorax.
THE GOD OF RACKWICK BAY
I made this secret bay
purely for my delight,
tucked it away
just around the corner
from the Old Man of Hoy.
He used to be my lover
but he abused me,
cast me aside.
I sought revenge,
turned him to stone,
fixed him to the Earth
out of my sight.
Later, I created for myself
ten thousand multicoloured stone balls
to play with, alone, in the sand
along the waters edge.
I hide away here,
masking my loneliness
in the beauty of this place.
Mortals sometimes visit,
the lost souls, the broken hearted.
They feel my breath,
gentle upon their cheeks,
hear my laugh on the gulls’ cry
in the thin northern sun.
I’m cleaning back a trench, taking care
but not really concentrating, it’s my hands
that notice when your trowel scrapes something
that might be something…
but not today. It’s cold and the wind smacks
across my face when I stand up, stretch,
hump my spoil from bucket to barrow.
I’m in a trench with people I don’t know well,
they’re quiet, dull, with little conversation.
I wonder what the fuck I’m doing here,
it’s my annual holiday and here I am,
seventy years old with creaking knees,
grafting away from nine to five scraping mud.
My supervisor wanders over, stares at my patch,
tells me to take it down another centimetre.
Nothing. Even the tiniest flake of flint
would break the tedium.
A metre to my left, another digger shouts;
Shit, I’ve found a stone axe head!
People gather round,
the boss man come to look.
I sigh. Seethe a little. Carry on.
Tonnie Richmond is a retired local government officer who has spent the last couple of decades as a volunteer archaeologist, working on digs in Cheshire and on Orkney. Many of her poems reflect her archaeological experiences and love of Orkney. She has had poems published by Yaffle, Dragon/Yaffle, Driech, Leeds Trinity University and others. She is currently working on her first collection.
Carla Scarano D’Antonio: Two Poems
My grandmother’s kitchen was her kingdom
you could trespass only to give a hand.
She never left dishes or pots unwashed,
all was scrubbed clean –
the old domestic duty.
She cooked for the whole family,
breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
There were eight people, then the children married
and there were only two.
Then granddad died, and there was only one.
When we gathered for Christmas and Easter,
we were more than twenty.
She woke up at dawn to make
brimful tortellini in brodo
gnocchi, tagliatelle and lasagne
in thick tomato sauce and abundant parmigiano.
Then juicy roast chicken and lamb,
coniglio alla cacciatora that I tasted in horror
imagining the cute rabbit still chewing
herbs and carrots in his cage,
the loosening of his life slayed by her dear hands.
When I went to visit her
she made my favourite food just for me:
white cabbage with olive oil and black pepper
and salad with blood red oranges and Sicilian olives.
Her voice white and infinitely clear
in the light of the French window
as the day spiralled down
and crashed into the sink.
THE LIGHT CHANGING
Give me these years again and I will
spend them wisely.
John Burnside, The Night Ferry
Had I been fitter, I would have
travelled around the world
when blossoms bloom,
and snow rages.
Motels and hotels are home
not heavy luggage, the few essentials
and wait for the light to change.
I could have trusted the sparrow
repetitive, chattering sounds,
be inspired by the ordinary instead,
settle, while the light pierces.
Give me more chances
diverse phases of life –
light and shadow switching,
the next one, moving forward
waiting for the light to change.
Carla Scarano D’Antonio obtained her Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and published her creative work in various magazines and reviews. Her short collection Negotiating Caponata was published in July 2020 by Dempsey & Windle. She completed her PhD degree on Margaret Atwood’s work at the University of Reading and graduated in April 2021. Her first full collection, Workwear, was published by The High Window in November 2022. Sadly Carla died unexpectedly at the age of sixty earlier this year.
John Scarborough: Four Poems
‘THE LONELINESS THING IS OVERDONE’
After ‘Gas’ – Edward Hopper
Dusk, the last car passed by an hour ago,
heading out for the sunshine coast.
A man at the roadside locks the pumps,
wipes down the bright red paintwork.
He switches off the neon-lit Pegasus,
walks the line to his room on the lot.
In forty years, he’s never left the state.
He studies glossy pictures in Life Magazine:
big city skyscrapers, Yellowstone,
the blue-green Pacific; dreams up
open road adventures in a cream Cadillac,
marking every stop on the company map.
He had the chance of a ride to California,
Okies in a pick-up, desperate for gas,
but too many dust-bowlers came back,
broken, half-starved, drained of faith.
He offers second-hand tyres, a rest room,
fresh water; hope for a safe journey.
Best of all, he likes the long evenings,
nothing but the wind’s song in the trees.
A new cycle begins, a team event:
blue on blue, the flower-heads of wild
thyme, colonies of complicit red ants.
A tale of the Large Blue butterfly,
extinct in England for decades,
resurrected by a miracle of science.
Blue eggs from the island of Öland,
a trail of Battenburg crumbs
and a patient professor in Oxford
unravel a butterfly’s intricate cycle.
A story of tenacity, deceit, seduction,
a caterpillar’s parasitic consumption
offers gifts of fairy-tale blue, flitting
across the grasslands of Somerset,
dusky wings catching a June sky.
What hope now for our species,
against raging storms, rising seas,
anger in the sun’s fire?
If we become extinct across the African
continent, the middle east, or islands
in the Pacific, can we be resurrected
brought back from the dead
by an ‘ology, a global team event,
colonies of complicit white humans?
Note: Professor Jeremy A Thomas is credited with the return of the Large Blue butterfly,
extinct since 1972.
A language teacher from Penza
takes a hammer to the propaganda.
She dares to question.
It begins in a village kindergarten.
Children lie flat on a play mat,
in tricolour Z formation.
In secondary schools across the land,
Pavlik is resurrected, to listen
and whisper from hushed rooms.
Most remain silent as they grow,
await their rite of passage
under a symbol of scarlet sails.
It’s an old story, retold.
If you don’t believe there’s a war,
On tv screens and social media,
the viscera of smashed buildings,
bodies abandoned in the streets.
With no objective lens,
we can only magnify an image
fashioned in the mind’s eye.
An eagle looks East and West,
fears silence in the Motherland
more than the latest chain of islands.
It takes five days for the summoning,
before a curtain falls. Her name?
In my version, you never stand
in the dock, leaning on bandaged arms
towards an old man in a red robe.
You don’t enter your father’s room
at three am, full of drink, to check if he
sleeps, can’t ask yourself once more
if the devil has finally left him.
You don’t pour spirit on crumpled
bedsheets, strike and toss a match
watching it flare through the dark,
ignite a blue wall of flame across his body.
In my version, you never close
the door, walk outside to sit alone
against the brick wall of the house,
or begin to think of yourself as free.
You haven’t cut yourself diagonally,
a tallying on each wrist,
like some prisoner’s calendar.
John Scarborough focussed on poetry more seriously after his retirement. He is a member of Louth Poetry Group and the Nunthorpe Poets. His poetry has been published in Black Bough, Orbis, Reach Poetry, The Dawntreader, Spelt, Acumen, Dreamcatcher and Ekphrastic Review. He was shortlisted for the Indigo Autumn Poetry Prize 2022. He is currently preparing his first collection.
Harriet Shillito: Poem
Tonight, the Queen is alone,
her priceless pearls slung like quoits on the nightstand
and fingers shimmering across her pleasure’s wick –
hairpins hurled against the stone walls
that stifle each creak of the ancestral bed.
She flares through the night and the guards hear nothing:
not her lavish moans that stroke the numb silence
or the spasms of glass when her bracelet arcs wide
kneading her hips to the stammer of light.
Solitude melts into liquid gold,
as she deadbolts the night, and blazes alone.
Twilight, and the Princess is out of bed,
making love to her duchess on the ballroom floor
through the gloomy lens of their final night:
lips wash hungry, unfaithful lips
and she kisses the vase of her lover’s body –
her breasts spill over her corset like bubbles,
jewelled with tears, and the words, bitten back.
They skim her engagement ring across polished wood
to the lands of her affluent tomorrow-husband:
at dawn, the princess will weep, don her costume,
and tuck this moment up her skirts:
pressing the pearl, watches her lover’s core convulse
breaking the sea that soaks the last night
and coming like a boat crash, fucking goodbye.
Harriet Shillito is a poet and short fiction writer, currently studying Creative Writing at Lancaster University. She has been published in issue 34 of Lancaster FLASH Literary Journal and has work forthcoming in online literary journal The Cardiff Review.
Fiona Sinclair: Two Poems
Medusa and her kind not monsters born,
but beauties once and amiable even.
Just not knowing how to manage their talent,
and a propensity for foolish conduct.
Consequently, got lost in a maze
of wrong moves, with no oracular advice
from family members or friends.
Inevitable entanglement with the deities,
agents of fate, who threw spite in their faces,
laying waste the superficial grace,
penetrating deeper than skin to corrode
their natures until monsters made.
Sickened by their own reflections,
they sobbed for their spoiled looks.
Solitary confinement on some remote rock,
they lost sight of the girl with the coquettish giggle,
burned with the realisation, no miraculous reversal
of their monstrous misfortune. No prospect of a hero
detouring their odyssey to rescue,
so threw themselves into perversion,
embraced every obscene compulsion.
The public chorus, like some salacious tabloid,
edited out the backstory, swelled the myth of her
with lip smacking headlines ‘Monstrous Maneater’.
The gamble began in February, when
hands in pockets, signature whistle,
he would walk the orchards,
evaluating the blossoms’ promise.
In March, the plain adolescent fruit
gave no hint of its eventual glamour,
but he could still estimate each cluster’s count.
Always played his cards close to his chest
at the fruit auction in the rear of the George pub.
Answered mates’ ‘What do you reckon Reg?’
with a knowing touch to the nose.
Staked all his savings on the fruit yield
with a wink. Afterwards in the bar,
would raise a glass to kind weather.
In Spring, showers and sun collaborated
to plump and paint the fruit.
But in a wet summer’s relentless rain
the cherries would fatten with water,
split their skins, rendering them unsellable.
These years my grandfather would sit
on an empty box in a makeshift shelter
shotgun primed at his feet,
not for suicide but thieving starlings
who took the piss. Roll up in mouth
he would shake his head and grin at the cherries,
whose gashed flesh grinned back at him.
Cany enough to have laid off the bet though
with the hard fruit harvest, Coxs and Conferences,
whose skins were tough as his hands.
And seeing him through the winter,
contract pruning the same fruit trees.
Saw boning dead limbs, then deft
as a surgeon snipping just above buds.
Building up his stake money for next season’s crop.
Winter evenings, he studied the Vauxhall catalogue,
Suggested a Bournemouth B and B to grandmother,
if the gamble paid off the following year.
Fiona Sinclair lives in a village in Kent with her husband and a feral garden. Several of her collections have been published including most recently Second Wind by Dempsey and Windle press. Her ambition is to write a poem good enough to be nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Susan Castillo Street: Poem
The air is woven thick with sound.
Background telly noise, newsreaders’ drone
Tanks firing at tower blocks
Children wailing as they’re thrust aboard a train.
When it all starts humming in my skull
I go out to the garden, prune roses, swear at weeds
Turn, ambushed by a blast of daffodils
In one corner, shouting yellow life.
Two magpies alight, squawking, close at hand.
Old Pollyanna witch in quest of omens,
I am cheered by living sounds
Of hope and jubilation.
Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London. She has published five collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade, (2003), Abiding Chemistry, (2015), The Gun-Runner’s Daughter, (2018) Cloak (2020) and Braiding (2022).
Robin Thomas: Four Poems
AFTER MANY A SEASON
all the things she was
and curtains closing
was just getting to know her
THE COUNTRY STATION
The train stopped at one of those country stations
with benches and tubs of flowers on the platform
and not much else. There was a stream nearby
that you could see from the train, or maybe a river
almost out of sight. There was white fencing,
a horse in a field, a cow, or sheep. The sun shone
or rain pelted down like a handful of gravel
thrown at a dustbin lid. A road led somewhere.
She got off, saying she needed to do something
but would follow me by the next train. Ours
began to move and I leaned out of the window.
We smiled at each other and as the train gathered speed
she got smaller and smaller, both of us making
‘see you soon’ signals until she was a tiny dot,
still not walking away as the train rounded a bend
and only trees could be seen.
ON LISTENING TO A BRAHMS PIANO CONCERT
… the windless hills of Heaven
That I have no wish to see
EDNA ST VINCENT MILLAY, ‘THE BLUE FLAG IN THE BOG’
How she would have loved it:
the power, the expression,
the tenderness … h’mm, let’s try again:
the thunder, the sweetness of rain,
mild, fresh mornings, impenetrable
night … well, anyway: its shape,
the compulsiveness of it, its
If there’s a somewhere
she’s gone to,
there’ll be anything like it.
Where you will next be
pull back the curtains, look
at the sky, switch on the radio,
start making breakfast.
get out your Chopin, pick out
a book, look at yesterday’s sketch;
and if I’ve been out,
there’s no welcome home
as I come through the door.
As I lock it behind me I don’t
keep you safe.
Robin Thomas has had poems published in Agenda, Envoi, Orbis, Brittle Star, Poetry Salzburg, Poetry Scotland, Pennine Platform, The High Window, South, Stand, Rialto, The Interpreters House and North. His pamphlet, A Fury of Yellow, was published by Eyewear in 2016. His collections Momentary Turmoil and A Distant Hum were published by Cinnamon in 2018 and 2021. His pamphlet Cafferty’s Truck was published by Dempsey and Windle in 2021 and his The Weather on the Moon by Two Rivers Press in 2022.
Sue Wallace-Shaddad: Three Poems
THE COAT I NEVER WORE
was a beautiful thing,
chestnut brown, slinky soft,
stylish chevron pattern.
A purchase to ward off
long Russian winters,
it fitted me rather too neatly,
no room for layers beneath,
its sleek caress, sheath
against the cold.
I glossed over the fact
it was mink I’d never
dare to wear at home.
I still remember the luxury
of that second skin, being
wrapped in the glamour
of a Hollywood star.
My daughter wore it once
when practising the piano.
After ‘The Swing’ by Fragonard
It’s a froth of a painting
xxxxxxall petticoats and long limbs.
A young man is enjoying
xxxxxxthe view, hoping she’ll slip off
the seat into his arms.
xxxxxxBack and forth, back and forth,
she mocks his longing.
A rush of air rustles the trees.
xxxxxxShe leans back with abandon,
pushing down to fly forwards,
xxxxxxthe ropes tight in her fingers.
She kicks out as she reaches
xxxxxxthose joyful dizzy heights,
her shoe tossed clear.
She’s a creature of the air
xxxxxxand in that moment, hangs
like a brilliant hummingbird,
xxxxxxthe tinkling of her laugh
a promise of honeyed favour.
xxxxxxShe knows the power of her charm.
The young man is fated.
SELF-PORTRAIT AS CHARDIN
After ‘Self-portrait as Chardin’
by Sir William Orpen RA
At first glance I see a woman,
her hair corralled in a white scarf
tied with blue ribbon on top.
Then I read that it’s Sir William
dressed in homage to Chardin
down to those identical details.
The stance is firm, eyes
penetrating, his small spectacles
perched low on his nose.
He — and not the portrait he’s half-
finished behind him — dominates
the canvas, letting the observer
know he should be measured
a great artist in his own right.
He’s worth a second look.
Sue Wallace-Shaddad has an MA from Newcastle University/Poetry School London. Her short collection A City Waking Up was published by Dempsey and Windle, October 2020. With several pamphlets recently shortlisted, her poems have featured in London Grip, Artemis, The High Window, Poetry Scotland, Fenland Poetry Journal, Ink, Sweat & Tears amongst others. Sue also writes poetry reviews for Sphinx Review/Happenstance Press, London Grip and The Alchemy Spoon. Her new poetry and art book, Sleeping Under Clouds, was published by Clayhanger Press April 2023. She lives in Suffolk and is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society.
Rory Waterman: Two Poems
THE TWIN OAKS
Then they moved you to a home
that still wasn’t home. ‘Why
am I in this fucking place?
Nothing’s wrong with me.’
So I’d tell you all over again,
but only the easy part (‘You’re
not remembering things well
at present.’ ‘Yes I fucking am’)
and you relearned that you’d
never learn – mindless torture,
until I stopped it. Your
silences were trains departing.
But there were better times.
When? I must remember.
Some days we’d laugh then
you’d be cut off by yourself,
but still, we’d laughed ourselves
raw, and I’d been the child again,
as you’d wanted, forcing
myself into mind, weaving
in and out of your grasp. At
once. ‘You’re a good lad, son.’
‘Do you think, Dad?’ ‘Yes.
What? I don’t remember.’
And there was no pressure
to repay what I couldn’t.
Ah – this must be the place! I thought,
pulling up on my mountain bike
at ‘A. J. MOODY, CHIROPIDIST’
above the door of a side-street semi.
It didn’t look much like
I’d thought it would. But anyway,
the woman on the phone seemed nice,
reassuring. I dismounted,
ambled up the weedy drive,
knocked twice then stepped away
and smiled at Mrs Moody’s smile,
which coaxed me through. ‘You’re somewhat late –
I’ll fit you in’. I nodded, sat
at her command. My boot came off.
‘Yes, I’ll handle that’
she said, like a mechanic, as
my big toe pulsed, its red bulge raw
in feeling air. ‘You might want this.’
She handed me a rough pink towel.
‘What – what’s it for?’
‘To bite, love.’ Metal clinked. A drawer
was opened, shut. I leapt up like
a startled hare and lolloped out –
relieved of two crisp twenties, sure,
but… oh, and of my bike.
Rory Waterman’s collections with Carcanet are: Tonight the Summer’s Over (2013), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for a Seamus Heaney Award; Sarajevo Roses (2017), shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Prize; and Sweet Nothings (2020). He has also published several books on modern and contemporary poetry, and co-edits New Walk Editions. Rory was born in Belfast in 1981, and grew up in Lincolnshire. He is Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Nottingham Trent University.
John Newton Webb: Three poems
I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL
“I have said that the essence of the belief that bats have experience is that there is something that it is like to be a bat.”
Thomas Nagel, ‘What is it like to be a bat?’
I closed my eyes, exchanged a treasured shirt for new binbags, decided I
had always known, hired an ultrasonic transceiver from Maplin, and tried
to rewire my brain. I drank some blood, drained some fruit
and wrote pipistrelle on the label in the hood
of my jacket. I needed to find myself.
Transfigured into black, I haunted milkmen,
stopped late dog-walkers in their tracks, rented
a cave in an official habitat, joined the vet, became a stalker,
tapped on windows like the raven, but quoth nothing to terror-struck
children, merely blowing the special whistle I had taken from the pet shop.
My inner life grew fangs and shrieked, and with a blood-filled head I started
to compose a study for Thomas Nagel. But five thousand words in,
unable to choke a creeping voice, I paused
my berry pen on the easeled sheep skin,
and knew my inner life would displease him.
O, Thomas, am I such a terrible sinner?
Alone apart from fleas, I abandoned my profession,
gave my man’s belongings to the National Trust, filled
a new Thermos, and sealed the will and testament of my possessed
self: Now do you understand me? I want to feel like I’m like one like them.
I ran round lakes, contracted rabies, and was rescued from a gutter by the RSPCA.
I created a scheme to make nocturnal life better, but all I can say is
it got some backs up. I begged and begged to meet David
Attenborough, telling him it was my childhood dream.
Each night I wrote gothic fiction and tried to forget
forty-eight years with myself.
I met a former friend one night
and thought I’d made sense of things. I needed help,
so I caught a short-sighted author crying by the Job Centre
and a pavement artist who stated he only needs three hours sleep.
Curled up by the hearth with party rings, bagels and cheap rosé, I beat my heart’s
wings, and together we composed a beautifully illustrated plea to Thomas Nagel.
His job is to pick up placards
after protests and demonstrations:
he has made his house a half-temple, the murmuring of slogans
a fitful prayer, and he its fallow-heart priest.
‘We won’t forget you Jim’ ‘Justice for Howard’
He doesn’t know these men or their situations
but he will not forget. And he will not reject broken
signs of irredeemable outrages. Some have been defaced,
scrabbling to recall the descent of power.
‘We won’t’ ‘We will’ ‘It’s time to’ Revelation
keeps its wounds tender, warm and open;
each new sign complicates his already factioned faith.
Sometimes he wonders if this will do for truth:
concentrated love and fear, non-negotiable rage and abuse.
AN AGED THRILLER WRITER READS A REVIEW OF HIS LIFE’S WORK
we must have a cause.
His books refused
I am already in the past tense.
In the past, tense,
His books refused to simplify
Will they simplify me?
Or simply forget?
His books refused to simplify
the anatomies of guilt.
I can’t even understand my own.
In all his writings,
he grappled with the meaning
of the human condition
I write to kill
time before I’m killed.
And now my time has come.
He lived for death
And loved for what?
And cried for what?
I have no creed, no meaning;
cause is not meaning.
What do I mean?
We miss so many clues.
Traces remain of a soul,
soiled and stiff,
stuffed into a bewildered confession.
I’m glad they quoted that,
though God knows what it means.
If it means anything.
If God reads my books.
When all his books are read
Will judgement fall?
I will not say I’m afraid;
I will phrase it with more comfort.
If words will come for me.
What does come after the dead?
The laughter of the pen?
The laughter of the penitent?
The pit and the pendulum?
Pity for those who miss?
What am I missing?
Perhaps his most celebrated work,
‘A Miscellany of Terror’,
explores a con-man’s
Or are we all conned-men?
In ‘Rites of a Dead-End Passage’…
Still my favourite title
…we are left to guess
whose thoughts we are hearing,
the murdered man’s, the murderer’s
or the mourning wife’s.
And if you heard my thoughts?
What would you conclude?
What would you be left with?
Can you guess who I am?
Who I have become?
What will become of me?
Here’s what they say –
who believes what they say? –
I’ll leave behind:
An exquisite terror
A million happy fans
Refined expositions of darkness
Yet another corpse
A family, a fortune
A life in mystery
John Newton Webb is the author of a number of plays and his poems and translations of Japanese poems have been published in a variety of magazines. You can read some of his work and occasional blogs about modern Japanese poetry at johnnewtonwebb.blogspot.com. He lives in Sapporo, Japan.
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