All posts by The High Window Review

The High Window: Issue 12 Winter 2018

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The Poets

Andy ArmitageTom BlandStephanie BowgettStephen ClaughtonRachael ClyneAnthony CostelloClive DonovanKaren Downs-BartonJohn Duffy •  Scott Elder Ken Head  Wendy Holborow • Richard HoffmanAmy KinsmanNigel KingTom LaichasPippa LittleDS MaolalaiAl McClimensJacquelyn MarkhamBen Morgan  • Matthew PaulSharon PhillipsColin Pink •  John SiddiqueRichard Skinner • Ian C. SmithTheresa Sowerby Matthew Sweeney • Pam ThompsonPaul WaringRodney Wood

 Previous Poetry

THW11  September 5, 2018

THW10  May 21, 2018             THW9  March 7, 2018  

THW8   December 6, 2017               THW7  September 10, 2017

THW6  June 3, 2017                THW5  March 7, 2017

THW4  December 6, 2016               THW3  September 1, 2016 

THW2 June 1, 2016                  THW1  March 1, 2016
            

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Andy Armitage: Poem

SALLY

On the last day I didn’t love you
I was fifteen, and the universe
was the size of a village.
That summer me and my mates
kicked about the streets,
haunted bus shelters and ginnels,
wandered into that Friday night
looking for a secluded spot to drink.

On the graveyard path between
the off-licence and church
a group of girls passed on their way
to the fair, and you –
dark haired with a gypsy tan,
in ripped 501s and Docs.
It was as though I’d stepped into the road
looking in the wrong direction
and heard a screech of brakes behind me.

In the candyfloss air
between the waltzers and dodgems,
amid a confusion of coloured light bulbs,
above the laughter and shrieks,
I heard your friends calling you
and hurried home hiding my dread
and excitement, as though
I’d left the shop without paying
for the name pressed here
among these pages, like a flower.

Andy Armitage is  from Leeds and has been published  in Acumen, Dream Catcher, Strix and Riggwelter. He has a PhD in English. In 2017 he  won 1st place in the Leeds Museums Poetry Competition and this year  was Highly Commended in the York Mix/York Literature Festival Poetry Competition. His website is: https://andyarmitage.com/

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Tom Bland: Poem

ONION RINGS

she offered me
onion rings
instead of the cardboard cut-out skinny fries.
I swamped them in
barbecue sauce downing vanilla coke to take away the ketchup base taste.

Unwrapping
the succulent
Double
Whopper with my teeth
in front of the full
length windows
through
which I saw
everyone walking.

Out of the haze of
Taylor Swift
young people crammed in just out of college
being forced education like a virus. A deadly boring one.
I heard

THE END TIMES ARE HERE SINNERS REPENT

coming out of an iPod
some girl had swinging
out of her handbag. It was funny

as I had the gnostic-Jungian Edward Edinger’s book
on the table analysing the cult of the
apocalypse as a psychological
myth of ‘the disintegrating self’: oh the black hole
undoing
the whole goddamn
personality

machine. I felt like
a robot

pre-programmed

pre-designed

and god had fucked-up the first human

Adam, a fragmented template,

a disaster waiting to happen.

The onion rings
had that quintessential crunch
in my mouth between my teeth despite
missing one tooth from
last year when I had a Stella
glass thrown at me that loosened
/ broke my tooth
so the dentist pulled it out.
I bled a lot.
Down my chin. Into the bib. Over her latex glove.
I told my therapist
I often disintegrate
but never enough to slash my wrists.
I used to write down all my thoughts
in a giant notebook
to find where
they all came from – the origin –

to be at peace with them

but I usually ended up
smashing my phone and
burning pages and
insulting people
on street corners.

In St Paul, ‘I die daily,’
In Muhammad, ‘Die before you die,’
In Jesus, ‘I came to bring a sword,’
these
things
in
my mind
blaring out those sayings

24 hours a day like

a radio tower
just repeating DIE – any kind of death –

like the

old Russian tower

seemingly broadcasting mindless noise
but we know it’s still set – waiting/on tenterhooks – to receive

the correct
Soviet
code
to activate THE BOMB.

*

My therapist analysed one of my dreams
of a revolution I watched with a lover / a substitute
mother and he said, ‘Rarely do revolutions
work, they never achieve their transformative
potential.’

He was telling me
not to end my life
(‘strangulation IS the best method,’
I said to shock
him)

but when I fall in love

(not love/no idea
what love is/a virus of nature twisting
itself out of shape/pretence
of the divine/god is dead)

I want to kill myself
but I never do.
Instead I plan
my funeral – Lady Gaga
will sing ‘The Edge of Glory’ over a
huge bonfire. My corpse in a coffin will be on top and
her suspension wires will “accidentally” snap. she will fall
straight onto me.
my therapist said,
‘you project a lot.’
his therapy
room was on the top floor where I sat opposite
the window. I could
see
the top half

of a weeping willow.

Tom Bland ‘s poetry pamphlet, The Death of a Clown, is coming out at the end of this year with Bad Betty Press. He is also in the process of completing an MA in Contemporary Performance Practices at University of East London. He describes his artistic practice as a hybrid form of poetry, live art, and the ridiculous. His email is tomblandart [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Stephanie Bowgett: Two Poems

AMERICAN QUILT

Grandma would read her the quilt, follow its squares
as they stitched by lamplight, reciting the old lore:
exile, brutality and shackles, anger and resistance,

A catechism to learn by rote: stitch, rehearse, recite,
Flying geese – journey in spring when the birds fly north,
Bear’s paw – follow tracks for food and water.

A black centered log cabin on a line marks a safe house,
the knots count miles to the next one; wedding ring,
a forge that will sever chains. Seventeen patterns.

One time they heard the screeching of brakes, shouts
gunshots, headlights and torch flames flickered the sky
and she’d huddled under the bed, silently telling the quilt:

Monkey wrench turns wagon wheel toward Canada.
Go by the bear’s paw trail to the crossroads.’
Stuffed inside, with strips of burlap sack, Grandma said

were shreds of older quilts, torn scraps of garments worn
onto the ships, woven with stories too old to remember,
blood of pricked fingers, night-time tears of women who sewed.

Now she holds a square that Grandma worked; traces
indigo diamonds, the story of Africa: birth, life, death,
rebirth. Shoofly, a guide nearby, star, follow the drinking gourd.

Her granddaughter turns on the lamp, holds the needle’s eye
to the light. Drunkards path, travel on but keep changing tack.
Together they sit and stitch, patch by patch.

*The italicized words are the names of patch patterns. There is an old story that the patterned quilts were used as a code to help slaves to escape on the Underground Railway.

BUT LOT’S WIFE BEHIND HIM LOOKED BACK AND SHE BECAME A PILLAR OF SALT

1
Mother we’ve planted a garden of cucumbers
round your skirts. You’re our scarecrow,
the salt that keeps. We scrape grains
from your fingers, bring the blue-tongued cows
to lick you under the moon. But Mother, we laid
with your husband; our bellies swell with sons.
We are chosen to bear the Fathers of tribes of Israel.
Mother, we could not choose; forgive us. We need you
to fasten our dyes, to season our eggs, bread, soup:
to be the tears in our eyes.

You turned.
When you heard the screams,
the little snared foxes,
you turned.

That summer was too long. At night
when Father was away, you’d take your bed
to the cool of the roof. Once we sneaked up,
saw you dancing to music from the street.
Your thin shift clung to your body. You were an idol
silvered in star-shine. We didn’t tell; swore not to tell him,
hennaed secrets on the palms of our hands:

women’s things;
kneaded honey into bread to keep him sweet,
sat on his lap, plaited his beard.
You laughed;
said we needed husbands.

2
My girls have dirty faces. They weep
for their three-legged cat, their dolls,
the olive-eyed twins I chose for them,
husbands deserted, drinking in Sodom
singing that song that’s on everyone’s lips
Catch us the foxes
the little foxes
that spoil the vineyard
tra-la

This summer has been too long.

I could have shaken those boys, screamed,
Soon the hoarfrost will cover the land.
Wind your olive limbs round my daughters,
let them taste salt, chart their fortunes
in the green and black stones of your eyes.

Women do not choose.
All night we’ve stumbled after him.
My sandal’s broken, he’s bad-tempered.
Drop your bundle, he says,
the Lord will provide.

But not the kohl to ring my eyes,
not the milk teeth of my babies,
not the myrrh my mother gave me,
not my nard, my ankh, my scarab:
women’s things.

The sun rises. We look down on the roofs of Zo’ar.
I hear them scream, the little foxes.
And I turn.

Everything crystalises, my eyes
see as a fly’s see
over and over
Lot, my daughters,
face down on the ground.
My pickled tongue stiffens.

Do not turn, my darlings, do not,
I will be your tears.

Sodom, a mushroom, fire and brimstone.

Clean as a whistle, something with silver wings

Stephanie Bowgett spent most of her childhood in Germany, and now lives in Huddersfield. She worked in education. till retirement and is now a school governor. She has been published in magazines, including Rialto and London Magazine and has won prizes in the Arvon and other competitions. Her second pamphlet A poor kind of Memory was published in 2016 by Calder valley Poetry. A founder member of the Albert Poets , she still co-ordinates their workshops and readings and co-runs community writing workshops.

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Miki Byrne: Two Poems

A PEEP INTO A MILK BOTTLING PLANT

I would rest my chin on the dark brick ledge.
Hook bent fingers on either side for leverage
but not for long.
My toes would ache and vibrations
soon trembled into my jaw.
Lightly frosted glass bannered across the window.
I could just get my eyes above it.
Peer into another world.
Thousands of bottles snaked in white blurs
along a huge conveyor, like a bustle
of fat little men, jostling in line.
All broad at the bottom, narrow at the top.
They clattered, clunked, rattled, shuffled
and pinged.
Louder than twenty trains or all the bus station buses
starting at once.
Much louder than the milk float that ziddled its way
down the street to wake us up.
It was like a show and the dancing performers
were jiggled along by belts and chains that rose up,
across down and around.
Made roller coasters of moving shuffling glass.
A marvellous mechanical puzzle, that didn’t stop,
round the clock
and I wondered if all milk came from here.

ART GALLERY

It seemed like a palace to me.
Our council-house home was small.
Held nothing of value.
Here, there were great arches, gilt.
Statuary of white and mottled marble.
Wide tiles inset on the floor
and a round room as grand
as the Sistine Chapel.
Paintings as big as my bedroom wall
invited me to step in.
Drew me forward.
Colours called me to the Mediterranean,
Pacific isles, softly lit rooms
of Dutch burghers sturdy wives.
I shrank before them.
Shed every bit of Birmingham
that hung off me like a ragged coat
and travelled, breath held
as if in water and drowned in images.
Waded through scenes
that caused my heart to thump, eyes to swim.
I wanted, needed, to touch.
To yank away red-corded barriers and plunge in.
Feel the strokes that laid life flat
yet made it more than real.
I could not risk being thrown out.
Those halls were an escape.
Called me time and again to repeat
the excitement of it all.
So I stayed quiet. Looked and loved.
Always smiled at the uniformed attendants.

Miki Byrne is the author of three collections of poetry. She has won a number poetry competitions and has read her work on both TV/Radio and at many Literary Festivals. Her work has appeared in over 170 poetry magazines/anthologies. Miki founded and ran a poetry workshop at The Roses Theatre and is active on the spoken word scene in Cheltenham. Miki is disabled and lives near Tewkesbury. Gloucestershire.

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Stephen Claughton: Poem

THE WAR WITH HANNIBAL

No more than a dozen of us,
schoolboys in uniform, are waging war
with our Latin prose set text:
Livy’s History of Rome, Book XXII.
It’s been a long campaign
and we’re finding it heavy going
just like the Romans themselves.
Trasimene’s been lost;
Cannae’s still to come,
so too our predicted rout,
when we sit the summer exams.
Like Fabius, our strategy is delay:
we aim to distract Mr Smith
from making us translate.

We’ve reached the bit where
Hannibal has the guide flogged
for leading them astray —
Casinum was where they should be;
Casilinium’s where they are —
never mind it was Hannibal’s fault,
the barbarous way
he murdered Latin names.
After his flogging, the man was
crucified. Mr Smith looks up.
Let that be a lesson to us:
the cost of schoolboy errors.

Hannibal’s plan was to cut off
the road from Rome.
Controlling the pass at Casinum,
Monte Cassino today,
was just the place to do it,
as Mr Smith explains.
If anyone, he should know:
he was there in ’44,
a lieutenant in the 8th Army,
fighting his way up the jackboot of Italy.
At the Battle of Monte Casino,
the Axis had held up
the Allied advance for weeks.
Inspired, we seize our chance,
bombarding the man with questions.
Hands up. “Sir!” “Please, Sir!”
But the veteran Mr Smith
is wise to diversionary tactics
and orders us to advance.

It’s Corps day today
and CCF Captain Smith,
is taking his lessons like drill
in outdated battledress.
He’d like to think well of us,
the Class of ’68 — we are,
after all, the future he fought to save.
We sit in our short-back-and-sides,
long-haireds in waiting.
When they made it voluntary,
we refused to join the Corps.
“You’re a load of bloody wets!”
one of the masters yelled,
haranguing us all one lesson,
but not the very civilised
Mr Smith, a stiff upper lip
under the trim moustache
he grew to look like Monty’s.

Already, for all he knows,
the barbarians are at the school gates,
picketing the pupils,
peddling their counter-culture.
If he feels he’s wasting his time,
that teaching a dead language
means flogging a dead horse,
he doesn’t let it show.
He yearns for a golden age
when learning Latin was the curriculum.
At parents’ evenings,
he stresses the practical side,
how it helps the boys with their English.
He’s seen the baby-boom
swell the school population,
while all the time his own classes
diminish in size.

Come September, whatever we get,
the exams will all have passed
and he’ll face a new set of boys —
better, he hopes, than the last lot.
It’s quality, not quantity
that counts, he tells himself,
as he deals out a new pile of texts.
It is, as he expected,
a smaller cohort this year.

Stephen Claughton‘s poems have appeared in magazines, both in print and on line, including  AgendaInk Sweat & TearsThe Interpreter’s HouseLondon GripMagmaPoetry Salzburg ReviewThe Poetry Shed and The Warwick Review.

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Rachael Clyne : Poem

PLEIADES

That time in Hartland
you were caretaking the youth hostel
and we came for New Year.
Martyn made a bucket-bong, remember.
I hadn’t seen one before
and we stood outside, taking turns
to smoke hash, through bubbling water.
The sky was thick with stars.
I think it was you had the binoculars.
We spent the night stoned and stargazing,
I’d never used binoculars for that.
The moon and its craters so clear.
The heavens, no longer spread
in an arc, grew depth of field,
the Plough a saucepan no more,
Orion’s Belt no longer a flat line.
I fell in love that night, with a tiny cluster
of lights, those seven perfect sisters
glinting like home.

Rachael Clyne lives in Glastonbury. Her collection, Singing at the Bone Tree, concerns our relationship with nature, (published by Indigo Dreams). Recent anthology: #MeToo. Journals incl: Tears in the Fence, The Rialto, Under the Radar, Shearsman, Lighthouse, The Interpreters House. Her new pamphlet, Girl Golem, about family migrant heritage and sense of being ’other’, is published by 4Word Press.

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Anthony Costello: Three Poems

IN THE RAIN I PAINTED A LARGE LANDSCAPE

In the rain I painted a large landscape
with fields as far as the eye can see,
different kinds of greenery,
a green field of potatoes,
purple earth between rows of plants,
a field of peas white with bloom,
a field of clover with pink flowers,
and the little figure of the mower
in a field of ripe fawn-coloured grass,
wheat, poplars, a last horizon line
of blue hills at the foot of which a train
is passing, a trail of white smoke over the greenery

—a white road crosses the canvas,
on the road a little carriage
and white houses with red roofs alongside,
fine drizzle streaks the whole with blue-grey lines.

STILL LIFE

A blue enamelled coffee pot,
a cup on the left, blue and gold,
a pale blue and white-checked milk jug,
a cup on the right, white with a blue
and orange pattern on a grey-yellow plate,
a blue barbotine or majolica jug,
a pattern of reds, greens and browns,
2 oranges and 3 lemons,
a table covered with a blue cloth.

BEDROOM AT ARLES

The walls are pale violet,
the floor is of red tiles,
the wood of the bed and the chairs
is the yellow of fresh butter,
the sheets and pillows a light lemon-green,
the coverlet scarlet,
the window green,
the toilet table orange,
the basin blue,
the doors lilac,
portraits on the walls
and a mirror
and a towel
and some clothes

The frame, as there is no white in this picture, is white.

Anthony Costello is a gardener, editor and writer. His first poetry collection,The Mask, was published by Lapwing Publications in 2014. His second, Angles & Visions, was published in 2016. He is the editor of Four American Poets (The High Window, 2016)  and a co-translator of Alain-Fournier:Poems, Carcanet in 2016. Anthony’s pamphlet I Freeze Turn to Stone: The Poems of Vincent van Gogh is newly published by Poetry Salzburg (2018). He co-edits The High Window

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Clive Donovan: Poem

YOU

You want to know everything:
who I see, what pleasures me.
You squirrel away my words
Then dig them up like nuts
months later, mouldy and misquoted.
You store facts about me,
then get cross when the marble statue
you think I am, moves, eats
onion flan or wears yellow
for a change or heavens!
has most marvellous conversations
with a stranger about bands or films
in which I have no interest
– apparently.

You monitor my welfare,
from my heartbeats to my temperature
find out whether I sleep or not;
am I well? How’s that twinge
I happened to mention weeks ago?
Oh look you’re wearing rings and see!
You’ve changed, you’ve changed, you’ve changed your skirt!
You’re not the same as before,
so why and when did you change your skirt?

Once you said I’m like a clam.
You say I’m like a slippy fish;
a fish who didn’t know I was one
till you burned me with rough hands so hot
and I, yearning to slip free,
thrashed about in my distress
sighing, Oh, where’s the sea..?
…longing for the gentle tugs
of nudging waves and fronds and shoals
that nibble in appreciation
and who never try to understand
or have to strive to please me.

Clive Donovan devotes himself full-time to poetry and has published in a wide variety of magazines including Agenda, Interpreters House, The Transnational, Prole, Erbacce, Poetry Salzburg Review and several online including Ink Sweat and Tears and The High Window. He lives in the creative atmosphere of Totnes in Devon, often walking along the River Dart for inspiration. He has yet to make a first collection.

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Karen Downs-Barton: Two Poems

THE WINTER MOTHER BECAME SNOW
I LEARNED TO QUESTION OPEN WINDOWS

That November the sun gave up the ghost;
glimpsed through charcoal twigs it lingered
pallid on the dank horizon, an unwanted visitor
rheumily surveying a world newly monochrome.

Somehow I missed the slip of toffee tones, her
pigmentation pooling stains of messy noughts
on coasterless furniture in her wake; or breath
that left no ghosts of words hanging in the chilly air.

Gradual at first the frosted transformations and partial
departures to winters blank spaces; her quizzical gaze,
ashen, transfixed upon the open casement, apparitional
net fingers beckoning ‘come hither’ with the breeze.

Seasons away in the balmy kitchen, dad sanctioned family
visits, disturbances that shattered her brumal reveries:
my hot touch the electric shocks that caused convulsed
bewilderment, returning her to a quotidian made foreign.

Closing the shutters I’d catch her listening enrapt to winters
silence, drifts of smiles softening bloodless lips; moonstone
eyes fixed beyond my face to a land I was too warm and earth-
bound to understand and where I no longer mattered.

The morning she left, snow in talcum drifts had blown through
the open casement, its panes, ice filament embossed, framed
the lacuna. A sheet, white as paper, covered her discarded body,
a wintry redaction for family histories and whispered conjectures

to be recorded in invisible inks.

WHERE ONCE WE BELONGED

You’re talking about change, surveying Kilburn High Road, a tarmac artery.
The city’s lifeblood slows, lamented by competing cab radios.
Ghost memories drift… front yard sofas, the electric ballroom, punks.
Beyond the flyblown windscreen a zoetrope of joggers and shoppers,

the city’s lifeblood, slows, serenaded by competing cab radios.
Passengers gaze blindly from the 189, suspended between Shooters Hill and Abbey Road.
Beyond the flyblown windscreen a zoetrope of joggers and shoppers,
sample the lives of others with mild disinterest, coveting faux gentility.

Passengers gaze blindly from the 189, suspended. Between Shooters Hill and Abbey Road
a backdrop of coffee-shop pow-wows, e-cigarettes, tribalises city fashion.
Sampling the lives of others with mild disinterest, coveting faux gentility
mid-journey, an open book rests in my lap, blank, pen poised or paused.

The backdrop of coffee-shop pow-wows, e-cigarettes, tribalised city fashion,
and ghost memories drifting… front yard sofas, the electric ballroom. Punked
mid-journey, an open book sits blank in my lap, pen poised or paused.
You’re talking about change, surveying the high road.

Karen Downs-Barton is a neurodiverse poet studying Art History with Creative Writing BA at the Open University. Based close to Stonehenge in a quarryman’s cottage is held together with mud-and-hair mortar her non-poetic occupations include magician’s assistant and dance teacher (Middle Eastern and tango). Alongside numerous anthologies her work has appeared in Alyss, The Goose, The Curly Mind, The Fem Lit, Otoliths, Failed Haiku, amongst others.

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*****

John Duffy: Four Poems

THE RAIN

started suddenly a cup breaking
crammed itself earthward
signals from a forgotten army
the grey cloak in an old story
whispers from the back of church
the grace of God persistent and unasked
the perpetual death of legions of foraminifera
the words in a crowd forceful and indistinct

the rain comfort
news that clears the streets
a presence passing
brushing roofs
seeds spilled from a huge hand
crackle of an egg hatching
noise from the playground
the truth returning

the rain that twisted membranes
a thief ignoring wires and boundaries
on the hills a wrestler a rumour
in the trees on the hills beyond the loch
in the cemetery Sunday morning
alone in the great movement
a whisper of light
on the roof
on the roof

the rain that falls invisibly into the dark sea
that makes the dust smell sweet
that reaches everywhere
that reaches everything
that never touches smoke
that fractures light
the cold kisses
the only explanation

wheels crackle on tarmac
a man balances on his own reflection

the rain moves the thin oil in the gutter
when the sky hugs the earth for comfort
between the two grey curves
a message from the west in the morning
a woman looking for the lost thing
the great secret the trees keep
a half-remembered song
the scarf of a running child
those thoughts in the skull in the quiet place

the rain stirs with long fingers
and I saw the rain turn beetles into jewels
and I saw the rain lay its hand on the opposite hill
and I saw the rain the bridge across the river
and I saw the rain the long skirts of the mother
and I saw the rain the cold inevitable eye
and I saw the rain the man with news from another country
and I saw the rain the dance above the sea

the correction of mistakes
the potter’s fingers
the algebra of the broken pattern
coins slipping through fingers
the nails on the roof
the word from the northern forest
the deer going beyond

on the gable end the rain
a witness in the end the rain
the last word the rain
the hissing of reptiles at the entrance the rain
the persistence of foxes the rain

among the beaded ferns the rain
the rhythms of lost peoples on the graves the rain
the lost child returning to the window

the rain
the sky’s roots

THE CART

The iron-hooped rim of the great wooden wheel
rolls its width, its weight, at the rate
of plodding oxen. Stones get crushed, fragments
beneath the rolling disc. Dust is made.
The shuffling beasts lug the load
and the silent driver through our wood.

In our night-dark thickets
breath stilled in our chests, we hear
the creak as it nears, imagine
the wheelwright who balanced
the tension between arc and spar,
wrestled the wheel to the forge:
smith wielded sinew and steel,
forced metal into torsion,
wed it to wood, in the glare of flame,
in the turmoil of steam: who fitted
hub to axle.

Each one knows one night
the cart will stop –

1968

i.m John Renbourn

Everyone else was sleeping – I sat up,
disc spinning at 331/3; at the moment
the husky flute’s long breath began
the tune, I blew a plume of smoke
angled up to the ceiling, and a moth,
with the faint noise of cloth tearing,
fluttered into the tangled cloud
as it grew, spread, thinned; imago
performed in the blue miasma,
the disc scattered guitar notes –

Morgana –

smoke, sound; and insect
that flew into my room to dance,
from a strange dimension, from a myth,
to survive in memory, that chancy thing.
Once they hammered at our night
windows, furred, fey, fragile
in their dust, their patterned wings:
eyes red as garnets glared
into the brilliance of our light.

PRAISE POEM

Emma Gonzalez,
I wish I had never heard of you,
I wish I had never seen you
wiping tears from your eyes
as you stood on the platform
and spoke for the people,
for the young people who died,
for the young people who survived,
for all the people who know
that what comes out of the barrel
of a gun is inadequacy and death
and envy and smoke and hating
people as beautiful as you,
Emma Gonzalez, you
with your words that shame
the traders in death and lift
sad friends, miserable families,
bewildered children, and all of us
across your country and the planet
who stand amazed at the power
of your voice, Emma Gonzalez,
your angry laugh,
your daring your president
to become a man, to own up
to his blood money in deep
pockets, I wish I had never seen you
rooted on the stage, defiant,
your head like a wonderful marine’s,
Emma Gonzalez, cropped short
and meaning business, meaning
to clean up big business,
meaning justice, meaning a scattering
of vendors’ tables: your tongue scourged
the ones who traded carnage
and the ones who watched
the gunman swagger, the gunman
pose, the gunman possessed
by misery, by smoke, by nothing
of any worth. But I rejoice
that I have seen you.
You give us hope, Emma Gonzalez,
your courage, your eloquence.
What a sister, what a friend,
Emma Gonzalez, what a daughter!

John Duffy is a Glaswegian long settled in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, where he helped found the Albert Poets, who have been organising monthly poetry pub readings for 25 years. John’s most recent collection is The Edge of Seeing (The High Window, 2017). He also organises Poetry in the Park, and workshops in Huddersfield Library and in the Methodist Mission Café.

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*****

Scott Elder: Three poems

THE MAN

It’s only a dream but keeps coming back
a highway ticking off concrete slabs

the man steps in    three saplings in his fist
four thousand miles from Casablanca

banyan trees    a forest in his sack
he hasn’t smiled for a decade

do you know the way to Casablanca    I ask
he tries to speak he rounds his lips

then something heavy falls this way
I crumble to earth

snowflakes cover my broken limbs
he tells me to listen to the motor’s hum:

toora loora looral    snowflakes cover my eyes
toora loora looral    I try to smile

HERE AND AGAIN

Half-sliced    a lily on the table
petals burning white on white

there’s no saying who’s under that skin
salt spray    spindrift    a taste of rust

a drop of blood    just name it
it’s there    a knife-slit away

not waiting for someone to whisper
come alive    come alive

instinctively twisting back to spawn
to begin again the incantation

the ragged waltz    half-here
half-gone    you touch your lips

to a lily’s wound    this is sorrow
it murmurs    the pain is gone

THE FIRST CRESCENT

It might open with someone weeping
a child    female    maybe seven
a highway    and this desert at night
a black sedan    she in the back
her mother at the wheel
turning to say    We’re gone!

moving lips in silhouette    the engine’s hum
something in her    watching the road
as if she were blind and wished it so
something in her a crescent moon
a body arched    her gift of light in water
where water is only a word

the second scene would be the same
but for a sky suggesting dawn
a journey drifting to a winter’s day
a greasy egg    a piece of toast
in a dingy roadside diner
mother and child face to face
with no longer a word to say

Scott Elder‘s poetry has appeared  in The New Welsh Review, The Moth, Orbis, Cake, Poetry Salzburg, and Southword. He has published one pamphlet, Breaking Away (Poetry Salzburg, 2015) and one full collection, Part of the Dark (Dempsey & Windle, 2017). He was runner-up in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2016, and has been placed or commended in others: the Guernsey International Poetry Prize 2018, the Bristol Poetry Prize 2018, the Poetry on the Lake Prize 2018, Buzzwords Poetry Competition 2018, the Fish Poetry Prize 2017 and the Plough Prize 2017.

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*****

Ken Head: Four Poems

KILLING PIGS

for Naomi who was there

In a place like this, with so many variations on the theme
of death being orchestrated every day and people
choosing to make a hell of life, their own
and everybody else’s, it’d be a miracle
if anybody’s hands stayed clean, but this nameless man,
grinning, face alight with riot and destruction,
still looks you unashamedly in the eye
and claims he knows he’s in the right to fight and kill.

He takes something out of his pocket. A real tear-jerker, this,
he says, enjoying his joke. Delicately, between thumb
and forefinger, as if he’s showing you something valuable,
he holds out a grey plastic tube red-banded brightly
at one end and the size of the canister round a roll of film:

Tear Gas
(Explosive)
Date of Manufacture: March, 2001
CS
Batch No. 1
Do Not Use In Enclosed Spaces

You stare hard, searching for a maker’s name on the case,
but can’t see one. Then, shouting at you to be careful
where you point your camera, he slips away,
back into the mob of running men and disappears,
dead set like the rest on firing a monastery in the hills.

Hungry crows, more in the habit of scavenging roadkill
and vermin, but adaptable, stalk hungrily around
a burned-out farmhouse. A couple of policemen, safe
in their car, keep vigil over the carcasses of two dead pigs.

BAMBOO CRACKING

In some parts of the world, there are advantages
to living with windows that contain no glass.
Throw back the shutters in the morning and sunrise
steps right into your room, a rectangle of light
and air waiting for your senses to explore it.
Early tuk-tuks putter past kicking up dust, weaving
between ruts left behind by last year’s flood,
children wait at the coffee shop for their school bus,
birds you can’t name feed in the flame trees
just outside your door and a big, red Honda snarls by,
grimacing monkey clinging to the rider’s chest,
girl, precarious, perched side-saddle on the pillion.

Towards you in the shade of a line of frayed
palm trees stride two armed men, uniformed,
in dark glasses, military or police, it makes
no difference. Opposite, going the other way,
following the line of power cables, two Buddhist
monks in single file, saffron-robed, sandalled,
bags on shoulders, each carrying an open
oilpaper umbrella. They pass eyes front,
deliberately unseeing, tip their umbrellas
pointedly to one side, blotting out
the two men, who look down as if embarrassed
or ashamed. The confrontation’s over in an instant.

DARK AT THE HEART

Staying sanguine: as the eurostar flexes its muscles for the long haul,
I browse the papers for news of the dead and read
what the leader has to say about heroism and the need for payback.

The voice of the train manager, hot on safety in three languages,
reminds us to keep an eye on our bags, not let them block
the aisles, feel free to use the buffet car and re-set our watches.
He doesn’t mention hearts and minds.

Rolling through country as tidy as a planner’s dream, my mind alight
with images of lives destroyed, I think about other wars
and how it might feel to cruise through a world that wasn’t breaking up.

Boy from the barrio: he glitters in the certainty of his hard-won
suit of lights, this boy from the barrio made good;
he dominates the centre of the ring.
A blood-stained priest entranced in victim-sacrifice,
poised as a dancer, cold-eyed as a snake, he stands alone,
body and mind pulled tight to survive,
in front of the lowered horns of the dying bull.
Hot blood puddles the sand, not his this time,
sunlight shimmers off the cold steel blade
designed to put an end to speculation.
The crowd waits, fascinated, for the predictable conclusion:
the stopping of another beating heart, the ultimate extinction of the sun.

Imagine: busy road-bridge, filthy canal, poor neighbourhood.
Can you see the graffiti on the old stone wall
in letters two feet high? Rich men’s wars, poor men’s blood.

WHERE SUFFERING BEGINS

‘There should be peace for gentle ones, not pain.’
Elizabeth Jennings

She scrapes the last grains of rice from a bowl
and eats them. There is no other food.
Somewhere nearby cicadas are shrieking
in trees that have survived the bombing.
Doves, their sunset cooing as throaty as ever,
are settling to roost in a burned-out church.
The sky is the same blue as yesterday
when her children were alive, the blue
they liked to paint it in their pictures.
In this moment, if her mind has its way,
she’ll dream the world unchanged, as it was
just a day ago, her family home, their meal,
her baby sleepy, wanting to be cuddled
and that, she understands, will drive her mad.

Ken Head is a former teacher of English Literature and Philosophy, now gratefully retired from the need to ask and answer questions. He lives in Cambridge. His work has been published many times both online and in print although, more recently, he has been enjoying an extended sabbatical. His most recent collection, published by Oversteps Press, is entitled Prospero’s Bowl.

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*****

Richard Hoffman: Poem

THE CLOSEST THING TO POETRY

I want to say something
reassuring, good
in a priest or undertaker but
death to a poet,

or I try to wake outrage,
but jesus that’s exhausting;
people leave by the back,
don’t buy the book.

The closest thing to poetry
I heard all week: two frail
old men outside the mall:
‘For godsake will you quit

griping?’ barked the tall one.
‘Do you want to be old
or not? Unless it’s a religious
thing, ain’t no one keeping you.’

Richard Hoffman has published four volumes of poetry: Without Paradise; Gold Star Road;  Emblem; and most recently,  Noon until Night. His other books include the celebrated Half the House: a Memoir, published in a 20th Anniversary Edition last year, the 2014 memoir Love & Fury, and the story collection Interference and Other Stories. A former Chair of PEN New England, he is Senior Writer in Residence at Emerson College in Boston.

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*****

Wendy Holborow: Poem

NOT SUCH A CLANKY JEEP

Tyres claw at nothing, clods of mud
spatter windows opaque with dusk,
vegetation takes on monstrous shapes.

Night descends on this rarely used track
a short cut, we supposed, signposted
The Honeymoon Route that loops a U
back to where we started, if we can survive
a night spent in this National Park
patrolled only by ferocious creatures.

I could embellish this scenario
tell how a pride of lions surround us
how a lioness graces the bonnet,
paws at the windscreen as we huddle,
terrified, while the others prowl
and settle down to wait outside,
and how we see a leopard sprawled
along a branch of the tamarind tree
that overshadows the jeep,
how unrecognisable eyes glitter
in the now absolute dark.

Shapes smudge to warn us –
a herd of elephants approaches
and although they scatter the lions
and the lioness vacates her warm spot
on the bonnet, and the leopard
scales back his presence, one shove
from an elephant and we will overturn.

Our driver refuses to exit the jeep
to tie the winch to the tamarind tree.
He turns the engine on again, manoeuvres the jeep,
back and for, back and for, the engine screams
while we push the backs of seats
as if this could help.

Eventually, the jeep heaves out of the quagmire
we drive away in exultation
yet not knowing
if a deeper morass awaits
or the imagined elephants loiter
around the next bend.

Wendy Holborow was born in South Wales but lived in Greece for 14 years where she edited Poetry Greece. Her poetry has been published internationally and placed in competitions. She recently gained distinction for a Masters in Creative Writing at Swansea University. Publications include After the Silent Phone Call (Poetry Salzburg 2015) and An Italian Afternoon (Indigo Dreams 2017) which was a Poetry Book Society recommendation, Winter 2017. Her new full collection Janky Tuk Tuks has just been published by The High Window Press.

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*****

Amy Kinsman: Two poems

THOMAS

in retrospect, there are stranger things, but
you’ve a scientist’s brain and their ecstatic gasping
wasn’t beyond reasonable doubt:
how they stumbled over their own stories;
how words like miracle were bandied about so carelessly.
so you fell back upon empiricism – didn’t state conclusively
anything other than you’d need to see for yourself.

you’re no cynic, but you do know the bite
of disappointment: your father’s voice slurring, next weekend,
next weekend down the telephone and the promise never kept;
the jaws of hope untethered like a dog off it’s lead
sinking its teeth in despite the doctors saying
there’s nothing more we can do;
not if, but when, reality hangs limp from the worst possibility,
limp and dead, already mouldering in the afternoon’s sickly light –
those days of suffocation behind locked doors, wincing at sirens,
waiting for the knock, for the dread of your name being called.

and still, here he is despite all you’ve ever learnt.
hold these bloodied wrists.
feel the warmth of my flesh.
count the beat of my pulse.
i’m not leaving. i’m never leaving.

RAISING THE DEAD ON SUNDAYS

i don’t eat on thursday,
just take the tap water and turn it into tea;
drink only from jars of clay.

i am barefoot, bent in half over uncut winter grass,
mud in every arch of me,
earthworms dancing at my temples.
face covers ground, sky covers body,
each element lies between two more
spheres growing smaller.

there is always
a meal, always bread and wine, always
a garden, always a kiss, always
day becomes night becomes day,
foretold, you already know how it goes
before it goes.

the sky does not open.
i go to bed alone.

friday morning in the kitchen –
my socks soak up the sink’s overspill;
the kettle drips over the bridge of my feet.

i go out, blood on the back of my ankles,
a crown of flowers in my hair,
as little cloth as will cover me.
gold around throat, hand around glass
each link pulled between two more
intimacies made increasingly complex.

there is always
a gig, always poets and music, always
a bar, always a kiss, always
night becomes day becomes night,
expected, you already know how it ends
before it ends.

they put their hands around my neck –
do not know that a cross is not a crucifix
until christ hangs from it.

Amy Kinsman is a genderfluid poet and playwright from Manchester, England. As well as being the founding editor of Riggwelter Press and associate editor of Three Drops From A Cauldron, they are also the host of the regular Sheffield open mic, Gorilla Poetry. Their debut pamphlet & (Indigo Dreams, 2018) was joint winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize 2017.

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*****

Tom Laichas: Four Poems

B’RESHITH – BEGINNING

The Voice says: B’reshith. 

 The boy, cursed at birth with the knowledge of speech, hears that word and knowsas sure as he breathes, that he’s entered the story. As sure as he breathes, he hears every verse that will follow: the naming of creatures, the doubling of self, the fruit, the flight, the murder. B’reshith is the promise of horror and happiness.

To make a start, the fruit must be eaten. There’s no other way. A single seed, planted on the tongue, will be enough to wind time’s spring-loaded engine, enough to muscle plot forward toward purpose.

So when it’s time to eat the fruit, he’ll eat.

A brave hungry boy.

NAME THEM

The Voice says: name them. He means the beasts. But wind-shifted flowers and greenery move like gazelles: conscious and creaturely.

Milkweed is first. First because butterflies set their young on its leaves. First because its flowers beguile the bees. First because bees beguile the boy.

All this before the boy announces his verdicts: Lion. Elephant. Wolf.

DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS

In the beginning, the Voice names the new creature boy.

Complete in itself, male and female, boy wanders the new world’s wonders. If boy’s gait is uncertain, it isn’t for longing.

The Voice watches the stumbling child. The Voice imagines its loneliness.The Voice will make boy a companion.

The Voice flakes an obsidian core to a murderous edge, and slices the child from skullcap and sternum, through gonads and guts.

They slowly awaken: first girl, then boy. Shocked by their twoness, they throw themselves hard at each other. No matter how bruised their bodies, they can’t break again into each other’s bones.

Why? they scream.

 Why?

Sea star and sand dollar see it all. Snail and slug witness the violence. Every flower’s carpel and stamen shivers. They see how fast the knife flicks through the flesh.

Throughout the Garden, all whose singular bodies wed male and female tremble in terror.

This wound will never heal.

SERPENT SPEAKS

Before the beginning, the Voice named Serpent messenger. Of all the animals, only Serpent speaks. Only he can exhale the sound of his own name, a power clotted in every other beast’s chest. Serpent’s tongue fashions hiss into consonance. Forgetting the message, he speaks for himself.

When serpent says he’ll talk to the children, all other creatures urge him on, with their caws, their coos, and their caterwauls. If shaped into sense these sounds would say:Tell them, Serpent! Make the little masters release my name to me. Tonight let me be free!

All afternoon, picnicking on the Garden’s fruit, Serpent converses with boy and girl. From the edge of a thicket, the creatures listen. But Serpent says nothing of naming, nothing of animal souls and their theft. Instead, he speaks of Subtlety and Sapience, Cosmos and Creation.

Lies, all of it. How can he do this? That limbless worm!

In the end, the Garden burns. The innocent creatures flee this way and that. But, when the bawling children scream their names, every animal must obey. Braying and bleating, they follow the children, east into sin.

That night, mongoose and eagle rip serpent’s belly right open and eat him alive.

Too late. From a nest, warmed by the ash, hundreds are hatching.

They already know the way in.

Tom Laichas  was a  high school history teacher for over thirty years but recently retired. He now devotes his time to family, home maintenance, and writing projects. His most recent work appears in the US journals UnderfootPanoply, Eclectica,  Convergence and in the online Italian lit zine Lotus-eater. His occasional essays also appear at the blog Left, Write & Centaur (https://leftwritecentaur.com).

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****

Nigel King: Four Poems

VISITING THE RELATIVES

Her mother told her not to run along the edge;
now the child sinks into the depths of the pool.
I dive in after her.

She continues to sink, her flat round face turned upwards,
an arm stretched out towards me.
I swim until we are close enough to touch
and her massive hand grips mine and pulls me on
through a bright yellow door
that opens in the bottom of the pool.

*
We stand in a valley, the ground cracked and brown,
tussocks of wiry grass here and there.
A rail track runs in front of us and I hear
the rattle of a train approaching, clattering to a halt.
The child lifts me up, places me on top of the single carriage,
stoops to wind the key in the side of the engine.

I set off, clinging to the roof, as the train judders along
on its red tin wheels. A black dot in the sky
becomes a vast housefly, descending.
I beat at its hairy legs, but it grabs me.

*
I look down on the bare torso of a giant
stretched out on a chaise longue,
his white shirt thrown open. A scar winds its way
up his abdomen. The giant stands, stretches,
swats at the fly. It evades him
in a stomach-churning series of loops,
lands on the edge of a mahogany table.

The giant leans forward, right forefinger curled
against his thumb. I roll away a moment before his nail
turns the fly to a mash of guts and black juices.
The giant laughs and leaves the room.
Outside, somewhere, someone is playing the tuba.
For the first time I notice the bottle
in the middle of the table. I struggle to lift it to my lips.
You know what happens next.

*
On the gas-lit street the cobbles shine,
wet from a recent shower. At unshuttered windows
women stand naked, skin translucent-pale,
hair curled over shoulders, eyes deep and brown,
unfocussed. I run my hands over
my own bare shoulders, my breasts,
the slight plumpness of my belly, between my thighs.

Will no one come to lead us
to a room with a wicker chair, an iron bedstead,
a mattress strewn with tendrils of ivy?
But I cannot turn from this window,
cannot even move my eyes to blink.

Then I blink.

EID SHEEP

The muezzin at our nearest mosque
cries like a wounded sheep,
as if in tribute to the thousands
whose heads blacken on street barbecues.

Yesterday we watched them
lugged around the city, bleating,
in hand-carts, three-wheeled pick-ups,
on the backs of mopeds,
while knife-grinders sharpened blades
deep into the evening.

Out on the scorched plains
beneath the High Atlas
a flock scrabbles for scraps of green.
The shepherds sit under an olive tree,
play Ronda with dog-eared cards.

An old ewe lifts her head,
looks to the mountains.

Dust clouds of Berber horsemen
roll north, towards the riches
ripe for plucking
beyond the shores of Al Andalus.

NORMAN CONQUEST

Sheltering in a patisserie doorway,
we thumb through our Collins Gem.

fossette, fossile, fossoyeur,
lâcheté, laconique, laideur,
résonner, respirer, resplendissant…

These are not the words we need
at the Cherbourg tourist bureau
whose receptionist chews on her English
like an overdone escargôt.

passant, passé, parvenir,
dommage, doleur, droguerie,
maladie, maladroit, malentendu…

Our chained bicycles
block access to a lamp-post
for a disgruntled poodle.
Our paniers clink with normandy cider.

arrivée, assombrir, attendu,
cajoler, calamité, calembour,
hérisser, heritier, honteux…

From a tarnished silver penny
Count William’s bastard face
glowers his displeasure
at us, his prodigal subjects.

THE WEIGHT OF LIGHT

Wash of morning light
through the kitchen window.
A working day under the stark light
of fluorescent strips.

Sodium haze of streetlights
on the drive home.
Blink of a front door security light –
barely time enough to turn the key.

A single laser beam
can move the sails of a tiny windmill.
Enough of them could waft a ship
through vacuum to the nearest star.

A lamp illuminates the desktop
in this darkened room.

Nigel King lives in Almondbury, Huddersfield. His first collection, What I Love About Daleks, was published by Calder Valley Poetry in 2017. In his day job he is Professor in Applied Psychology at the University of Huddersfield.

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*****

Pippa Little: Four Poems

PIP

There’s a church on the salt marsh
with its handkerchief of cemetery

mists most days taste of tin
and the wind has rot of the prison hulks in it

but the gravestone’s soft, every letter
deep-edged for comfort of a finger

drawn by a small boy over his mother’s name.
Cold, uncared-for child in cloth too thin

for this forsaken place, hungry
home. An apron stuck with pins, a sister’s

flat hand instead of mercy. Not unhappy,
he keeps company with his dead,

more benevolent than the living;
this is all he knows, this floating

shifting present, grey, whispering, tidal,
then the world throws its shade

down across him, and he turns his head –

GREY BERBER

He thinks he’s unobserved
in his lonely grace
circling the huge field
fence to fence –

he is a running cloud,
a fast flowing river,
ripples of mist or smoke.
I scent him on the wind,

imagine how the nap rises on his spine:
don’t want to bridle
or fetter him, just watch
and watch how life

loves him whole,
muscle and bone.

BLUE DUSK
For the antique horse marionette in a Prague junk shop

Taking a back street
is how I find you, looming
among gnarled spoons, imperial tureens.

Does it matter now
that snow is beginning, like feathers
or wedding roses, to fall for real,

and the Karlovy-Vary trains are leaving hourly
with soft exhalations of breath:
that I would offer anything,

the rest of my life,
this moment, now,
to ride you blue as bone through the knots

and mazes of this city, to be your echo of sparks
vanishing corner after corner
in clean neon twilight?

CONSTANCY OF MORNINGS

The discursiveness of rooks
always moves me, so sure are they
of their arguments, persuasive barristers –

though I’m invisible to them
(they are my constancy of mornings
in sleek patent noir, a swoop and hop –)

and uninteresting to their assemblies
as a faded tin-type, some nameless ancestor,
I envy their magnificent black tirelessness

to the point of mania,
their sure footing in both worlds,
how the sky feels in their wings.

Pippa Little‘s collection Twist (2017), from Arc, was shortlisted for The Saltire Society’s Poetry Book of the Year prize. She is working on a third full collection and works at Newcastle University School of English as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.

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*****

DS Maolalai: Poem

WE COULD HAVE GONE FISHING

it must have been july
or maybe august. we had
a crate of beer
and we were down in the park
near jacks house
sitting on a grass ledge by the river
with our shoes
up to their laces
in sandy mud. this was the extension
that evenings were meant
to have. 8pm. summer. if I could live like this
daily
I would try to. my dog
was around somewhere,
running, just happy to be
unlead,
and the sun went behind the leaves and came out again
like a long game of peekaboo no-one was playing
or a kitten
fucking around
with a cereal box. jack was there
and aodhain
and cian and scratch – my friends.
if we had
had rods
we could have gone fishing
but we were
pure in our desire
not to hurt anything.
this was enough.
just sitting
throwing empties at the trees across the water,
watching gnats swarm
like turrets through the air,
sprawling our arms out on the grass
like a winning hand of poker,
all of our dreams – or at least
some of them – fulfilled.

DS Maolalai recently returned to Ireland after four years away, now spending his days working dispatch for a medical supply company and his nights drinking wine. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published in 2016 by the Encircle Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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*****

Al McClimens: Four Poems

THE CANDYFLOSS APPRENTICE

I was apprentice to the candyfloss man
that summer. I heft the bags of sugar
and colouring and tended to the drum
before I was promoted to the wooden

stick. Looks easy, doesn’t it. My arms
to the elbow in a pink lanugo, evening wear
for the fried onion clientele, peeled
off like gloves when nobody was looking.

The moon hung bright with the coloured
light bulbs and screams from the helter-
skelter scratched the stars. I don’t think
I ever knew such a time. Neither before

nor since. In September when the caravan
moved on I felt a melancholy that I can’t
explain. And when I saw the yellow
patch of grass a taste flushed my mouth

that I couldn’t wash away. As they drove
off I ran behind, waving my heart
like my cap in my hand. The truck
slowed then, but it was only to change

gear. If they had called my name
I don’t know what I might have done.
I see it all in the clouds at sunset,
the changing light when sweetness is spun.

A RED RAG TO A BULLFINCH

it could have been a child’s glove
waving a ‘wait for me’ from the fence
post, or a toddler’s missing sock,
lost on the family ramble
and planted there like a flag
at the summit of Sunday afternoon.
it’s all downhill from here,
I could tell them. soon
you’ll be needing more than oxygen
to get you through weekends.

and then it moved. it could have been
a bauble falling from a Xmas tree,
a gimcrack gift in shiny wrapping paper,
played with once, abandoned
left to rust. you’ll be forever
shopping in regret’s boutiques,
I could tell them. from here on in
it’s all fire and forget and ingratitude.

and then it disappeared. pyrrhula
pyrrhula, like a red into the corner pocket,
chased by the black and white
of tail feathers. just a lingering blur
pressed on the retina. you’ve got to note
these sightings, I could tell them.
the day, the date, the time.
and it’s gone in a blink. from a red
rag to a bullfinch. next you look
the cupboard could be bare.
the feast turned to famine.
and sooner than you think.

CATULLUS IN WETHERSPOONS

Catullus despondent, weeps into his pint
and so tops up his craft brewed Doombar.
Can’t live with her, can’t live without her.
There she is, by the quiz machine, embonpoint
on generous display as above him the silent
television broadcasts live from Windsor
Castle. Now she’s smoking over by the door
from where she waves a hand as if to anoint
the happy couple.
Catullus has the clap clinic
SMS on his phone. He could text his mate
Cicero. Or express himself in hendecasyllabic
rage. And all those kisses were for what?
In praise of her and all the weekend whores.
O Catullus, o Lesbia, o tempora, o mores.

AN OLD WAR CORRESPONDENT TAKES A METER READING

…been taking photographs for over sixty years.
I’ve seen ruins everywhere. civil wars. famine.
the after-effects of artillery, gas attacks and machine
gun fire on residential housing. bomb craters
big enough to hide a tank. you’d think I’d be better
at it by now. but still some turn up in the magazines
and galleries. but they’ve never stood on the margins,
frightened to fall.
I put my eye to the viewfinder
so often those shuttered seconds divide in a fraction
of time. it adds up. the best self-portrait can’t hide
my age. now I’m so old even my reflection
resembles a ghost and when I look I am afraid.
where I saw ruins, I see rubble. the cookie must
crumble that way – ashes ground to a finer dust.

Al McClimens is a recent graduate of the Sheffield Hallam University MA Creative Writing programme. His pamphlet ‘Keats on the Moon’ was published by Mews Press in December 2017. He performs regularly in and around S.Yorks. And if he ever meets Don ‘Dundee’ Paterson there will be only one winner ….

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*****

Jacquelyn Markham: Poem

WHAT GOES UNSAID

What goes unsaid
overflows this poem.
It bulges and leaks
threatens to explode.

What goes unsaid
piles up like cars
in a junkyard
started with an old Buick
in 1956.

What goes unsaid
festers like a “dream deferred”
makes one sick
makes one angry
makes one wonder
if all that goes unsaid
could ever be said.

When what goes unsaid is spoken
the Hoover dam bursts,
Pele erupts fire and ash,
words tumble all over themselves,
a Niagara Falls of words
to be carried away on the
River of Saying.

Jacquelyn Markham  is the author of two chapbooks and a collection, Peering Into the Iris: An Ancestral Journey, has published in Anthology of Appalachian Writers; Adrienne Rich: A Tribute Anthology; North of Wakulla: An Anhinga Anthology; Archive: South Carolina Poetry Since 2005; Woman and Earth (An Almanac in English and Russian);  Fotoalbum: Around the World; & Bitterroot International Poetry Journal, among others. Markham holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and teaches women’s and cultural studies and writing as Professor of Liberal Arts.

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*****

Ben Morgan: four poems from Medea in Corinth 

Note:  Medea, wife of Jason, Princess of Colchis, granddaughter of the sun god Helios, finds herself in Corinth, where Jason is about to wed Creusa, daughter of Corinthian King Creon. This will disinherit her own sons with Jason, Mermeros and Pheres. She is furious.

Medea is also a High Priestess of Hecate, and a witch. She decides to make a wedding dress for Creusa which has magic poison in its fibres. When worn, it will burn up its wearer. In order to make this dress, she prays first to Athene, goddess of weaving; but when Athene spurns her request for patronage, she turns to Hecate, with whom she does an obscure spiritual deal. Having made the fatal dress, she gives it  to Creusa, who dies; her corpse is also poisonous, and touching her kills Creon, too.

After this debacle, she makes her final decision: to kill Mermeros and Pheres – to punish their father, Jason. Then she departs Corinth in a golden chariot, belonging to her grandfather, leaving a letter for Jason.

This sequence begins with her imaginary letters to Creusa, then moves into her deal with Hecate and the making of the wedding dress, and last her murder of her children and her departure. Along the way I have included excerpts from the temple scrolls of the Temple of Hecate, from prayers to ritual documents to curses.

THE WEDDING DRESS: LOOM

Her flaxen hair hangs sweetly
On the bowers of her body.
In the half-light, she whispers her colours.
Beside me, Athene,
Brow of lightning, eyes turbulent seas.
Owl of Olympus,
Zeus’ daughter, bless my labour.
But the sun of her face swings away
Like a traveller’s light.

Silver threads lie across white,
A delicate, furious balance.
Creusa will glow like a lioness walking at night.
My third hand dusts the fibres golden –
Strange pollen, orbiting the dress.

THE WEDDING DRESS: INCANTATION

Cat-headed queen of the sleepless darkness,
Mistress of the helpless,
Harvester of cries,
Warden of the tree of pain
Of which we are the branches,
Universal spider,
Eyes as multiple as stars,
Limbs as many as our promises,
Butcher of mothers and fathers,
Smiling hostess at the inn
Where we are born and die,
Wiping your hands on your bloody apron,
Mother of philosophy
And patroness of lies,
Turn the burning glass of your face
Towards me.
Wretched in my nakedness,
I kneel to beg for sanctity,
For the right to harm.
I lay my life upon your open palm.
Invoking the law of equality,
I take upon myself Creusa’s burden.
If you wish,
Then close your hand around me.
I await your answer,
Grand mother,
Here upon your mercy,
This stone table.

THE WEDDING DRESS: HECATE

Her skin is a pitcher of wounds,
Her flourish a scream,
Her home the seabed
Where schools of fish quiver,
Newcomers to the underworld.
The wet sand kisses my knees.
Mother of murder, bless me.
Let your womb of fire renew my purpose,
Give the mulish body of my anger wings,
Tip the arrows of my thought
Into the belly of my enemies.
And now

Dissolution

A tower of air.
We rise,
Fly like courting swallows,
Tongues clicking,
Over the palace at Corinth.

THE WEDDING DRESS: HECATE (2)

The bride of my soul stands before me,
A shadow that walks in a peplos.
It carries a smile in its face like a ritual candle.
Its eyes glow like worms
Beneath thick brows, priapic.

Great Mother,
Daughter of my longing,
Sister of my secret heart.

She takes a step forward.
Wires dragged on stone.
I flinch: an instinct.

Kneeling I ask you,
Help me finish.
Give me –

But she is with me,
An inch, no more, between us.

Caverns filled with hunger,
Dry meat, dust, old leavings.

I look in her eyes
without screaming, as is the law.

Behind the eyes, a voice:
Soft as a dove,
Thick as ambergris.

Your offer?

Myself.

Your second offer?

Your second offer?

I speak

And she rises around me,
A mountain of skin.

Her white dress unseams itself,
Floats into darkness.

An owl screeches, another owl,
Ten thousand.

All her legs surround me now.
I squat like a runt beneath a sow,
Stopped heart of her body’s hurricane.

I am in a world I do not know,
Where knowing has withered to a reflex,
The hand that pits itself against the blade.

Then it is over.

We settle; I rest against her.
She is busy, every leg moving,
Her body the loom,
Muscles its machine.
As she works, she hums and chatters,
Old woman,
Old mistress of trades,
Keeping herself going.

Benjamin Morgan is an Oxford-based writer and academic, currently completing a book for Princeton University Press about Shakespeare and the development of the concepts behind human rights. He has worked as a lecturer at a number of Oxford colleges, but has also written poetry and fiction, publishing in Oxford Poetry and The May Anthologies, among other places. He composed the manuscript for his chapbook,  Medea in Corinth, in 2016, drawing on his interest in ritual, myth, theatre and lyric. It has since been published by Poetry Salzburg (2018).

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*****

Matthew Paul: Two Poems

GOOD MORNING, MR GAUGUIN

Salute the party of our Finistère townsfolk
who welcome back your gaucho legend to this seaboard.
Watch burnt-sienna fields receive a mussel-blue cloud
of hail. Remove the umber richness of your cloak.

Describe the dash you cut amongst the Creole people;
how the Martinique sun swirled remarkable yellows
around your palette. Yield what we crave: lascivious
lushness, nonpareil as a ripening love-apple.

SOFAS

Compared with how it used to be,
Take Courage sign and all, you see
its frontage was fully restored:
the former Horse and Groom, Guildford;
now a branch of Sofa Workshop.
You feel the give of suedette nap
as you sink in each plush divan –
‘Caruso’, ‘Lexington’, ‘Previn’ . . .

But no three-piece suite could attest
to the carnage wrought by the blast
in the lounge bar, chocker not just
with lairy soldiers, but tank-topped
teens and all, and silent, flat-capped
regulars, nursing pints of Best.

Matthew Paul was born in 1966 and lives and works in London. His first collection, The Evening Entertainment was published by Eyewear Publishing in 2017, and he is a participant on the Poetry Business Writing School programme 2017/2018.

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*****

Sharon Phillips: Three Poems

PORTLAND STONE

top rubble bottom rubble soft burr aish
the cracked and jointed the fragile and friable
this scuff this ripple that spatter of rain-prints

hard cap dirt bed skull cap
aggregate concrete and roads
these cycad forests and blue-green lagoons

freestone member whitbed basebed
palaces parliaments banks and churches
that silver flash of oyster shells the seabed’s warm ooze

but oh the roach the roach
those beaches where white shells dissolved to stone foam

Aish is a kind of stone, found in the overburden of Portland stone. These days it has no commercial value to speak of; it was traditionally used by Portlanders to whiten hearthstones and doorsteps.

TERRA PERICOLOSA
East Weares Undercliff, May 2016

Stand on the cliff top.
Look down.

You might think
here be monsters
crawled from the sea,

these stones tipped
over cliffs
two centuries ago.

They bask in the sun
or wallow in brambles
that froth about their grey

while lime sequins of spurge
glint by the white path
down to the foreshore,

where you sit on turf
pearled with tiny snails
and look back

at abseilers dotted
across the strata
of the cliff.

TRICKS OF PERSPECTIVE
after Mulberry Statues by Deadwalk Designs

Salt wind and lemon light, blue sea
slubbed white with foam. Six men
stand on the caisson. Nor’easterly
today, I reckon. Two dockers watch
boats lugging ammo round the port.

My granny didn’t like me learning
German.Two sailors scan the sky
and sailboards stitch their way across
the harbour. MS Europa: exclusive
moments. Luxurious cruise traditions.

The final pair are harder to make out.
GI’s, I’ve heard, on the way to France.
Grey cliffs and ochre beach and gulls.
Disney Magic’s docking soon. I wipe
my wind-stung eyes. The statues shift.

Sharon Phillips retired from a career in education in 2015 and started to write poetry again after a break of 40 years. Her poems have most recently appeared on The Poetry Shed, Ink Sweat and Tears,  Picaroon, and Sentinel Literary Quarterly. In 2017 she won the Borderlines Poetry Competition with her poem ‘Tales of Doggerland’ and was also shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Sharon lives on the Isle of Portland, in Dorset.

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*****

Colin Pink: Three Poems

A KEY FROM PALESTINE

(for Amjad)

hangs from its hook, easily overlooked,
but always there. Its sturdy body retains
a dull metallic gleam although it’s been
a long time since it was polished by a hand
or sank its teeth into a welcoming cylinder
in a door made by a preceding generation,
hung beneath a lintel under which so many
greetings took place. The key itself is now
well travelled, from pocket, to jacket, to bag,
to refugee camp, and here to the house of exile,
where it hangs from its hook, gathering dust
and memories around itself. The key on the
hook waits to return and be useful once again.

Hold it in your hand.
You can feel that unhomed heart
beating, longing to return,
and be united with the door,
which may not be there any more,
in a homeland become
a No-land.

A solid door is there to keep out and keep in.
But when the homeland, on which it’s hinged,
dissolves beneath it a door is transformed into
a tent flap waving in the wind. The generations
of certainty that opened and shut, opened and
shut it, over long years of leaving home in the
morning and returning home in the evening,
can no longer return, even if they keep the key
always ready, a mute instrument until the promise
of return is fulfilled, and the door, which may not
be there any more, admits them again. Only then
will the key unlock all the hopes that linger so long
in the homesick hearts of a dispossessed people.

MR ROTHKO IN THE STUDIO

Smoke curls up from the tip of his cigarette
into the still air. Lazy ectoplasmic limbs drift
upward from a perfect cylinder of tobacco,
fixed between his fingers, like a stick of chalk.

He is very still and looks. Just looks. For the
longest time. He looks as if meditating on a
wall. Silence shrouds the studio which feels
like church, comfortless, demanding from each

supplicant something beyond their ability to give.
He looks through the layers of paint, reading destiny
in the entrails of art. Grabs a brush, scumbles pigment,
blurs the vision, to see beyond the edge of everything.

RECLINING FIGURES

Lying side by side, together, beneath a white sheet
We’re as still as figures preserved in effigy on a tomb.
In companionable silence we feel the story is complete

Love came to stay and conversed in every heartbeat
Flexing its muscles and birthed us from its womb
Lying side by side, together, beneath a white sheet.

We tasted each other and touched until replete
Our appetites’ fulfilment danced about the room.
In companionable silence we feel the story is complete

No need to invent more chapters when all is sweet
And wrapped around us clothed in brilliant costume.
Lying side by side, together, beneath a white sheet

We’re immersed in subtle music with sounds so fleet
Like droplets landing on the keys to make them bloom.
In companionable silence we feel the story is complete

Artificers of our destiny in threads no one can delete
Yesterday and today gently woven on a shared loom
Lying side by side, together, beneath a white sheet
In companionable silence we feel the story is complete.

Colin Pink writes poetry and lectures on the history of art. His poems have appeared in a wide range of literary magazines such as Poetry News; The SHOp; Poetry Salzburg Review; South Bank Poetry; and on-line in Ink Sweat & Tears and The Shot Glass. Acrobats of Sound, a collection of his poetry, was published by Poetry Salzburg in 2016.

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*****

John Siddique: Five Poems

ORPHEUS AS A CHILD

Everything is bright to his eyes.
The spaces between the connections of life,

each sound is music, whether it is
factory thrum, or spider web vibration.

He loves raindrops falling into puddles,
tiny ripples, reflected skies,

rocky outcrops and tree silhouettes
outlined against the light.

(The sun reminds him of his father,
both powerful and distant simultaneously).

He dances in rainstorms, dances with the thunder,
loves blue and grey equally, without reservation.

The loneliest hills surrounding his early life
burst with different colours everyday,
as the grasses ripen and die,
and the sun goes round the earth.

The purples of autumn, the gold of winter,
the dark black of spring,
the rapid confusion of summer.

Using his difference to learn about people,
landscape and birds are not enough for a life.
He keeps his mouth quiet, his heart open,
he holds each moment’s hand.

Daring in friendship and love, though he is told
that he is too extreme: he thinks too much,
feels too much, speaks too openly,
loves too passionately.

He spent his days thus, and spends his moments
like this still. Seeing what is real, writing
the best words he can. Placing them into
the music of a line, creating a verse
in the song of the life of these times.

ORPHAN

A boy in a pushchair watching
model boats on the pond, in a park
whose location is outside of memory.

Looks out from his eyes imagining
that he is the son of mythic gods.

The boy grows wild in imagination,
lives in books, lives on books,
making spaceships and worlds, so that
later beautiful lovers will sing to him. Sing.

Days spent in bubbles of silence, roaming,
chasing wilderness through the streets of
dead-eyed towns.

Healing with ink, healing his heart,
in the lives and beds of women he cannot
stay with until he learns to accept
his own gifts of gold and shadow.

Writes his day’s adventures in a beaten
black journal – not knowing, but knowing
that she is coming – the beautiful answer
will pass by his door on her bicycle,
tearing him apart with distance so close that
the simple questions will live in blood, in ink.

CHURCH

When I was a child – I always felt
close to God while standing between
the bookshelves in the library.

Where the writers’ leaps of imagination,
truths of observation, reflecting, questioning,
would sometimes manage to go beyond
themselves into the silence that lies behind
the words, between the shelves.

There I am as an 8-year-old reading
everything I can get my hands on.
The library is my sanctuary,
my church, my laboratory.

Though I read enough for several lifetimes,
I never find my image reflected back to me
in the polished eyes of kings and colonials.

But on the shelves of poetry, and sci-fi,
the art of nature, the science of starlight,
the brush strokes of the great artists.
In these pages, truths go beyond empire,
there is that silence too, within and all around.

PAINTING

A child’s paintbrush dipped into water,
the glass jar holds thoughts of what next.

The moment between the selection,
and the movement of the hand.

Wetness of paint on paper,
something outside moves to the inside.

Something inside moves outwards.
Painting and child emerge together.

A flowing pair of lines make a path,
white sheep are outlined with black.

The river is bright blue, swifts
dart over the waters and the houses.

Inside the main house is the idea
of the farmer, the child’s father.

He has a moustached happy face.
The mother is a feeling in another room.

It’s a clouded sky with mottled hills.
The sun will be in the next painting.

ROSE

The sun is a painting. The child walks home
in the afternoon light of late spring,
or early summer. Schoolbag at his side,
heavy but not heavy with reading.

He sees the reddest flower in the breathing light,
and for a second, a lifetime:
air, sun, flower, schoolbag, and boy.

Looking closer he sees the flower is
a crushed up Coke can, and life shines in him
as he accepts this gift from the God of all things.

VOICES

All but the last leaves have fallen.
The dark stone of the street is brightened
with small sheets of fading gold.

There is, perhaps, thunder in the distance,
or the voices of those who are no longer
part of our lives, but will always be bound
to us outside of reason.

You have taught yourself to speak
with your own voice. Their journey
is theirs, and this one is yours.

Thunder cannot be pushed away
by resistance or by fear.
The leaves have fallen, and soon
the year will turn.

You are already home.

Trees do not fear the weather.
All is part of everything.

Today, just like yesterday, the work is
learning to live the truth of love.

John Siddique is best known as a sacred teacher and writer. He writes non-fiction, memoir, poetry and occasional fiction. He has dedicated his life to honouring the authentic in our human experience. He is the author of a number of books. The Times of India calls him ‘Rebellious by nature, pure at heart.’ Spectator Magazine describes him as ‘A stellar British poet.’ His work has appeared in The Guardian, Granta, Poetry Review, and on BBC Radio 3 & 4. New York Times correspondent Bina Shah says that he is ’One of the best poets of our generation.’

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*****

Richard Skinner : Zuihitsu

i. On painting a chrysanthemum

If you want to paint a chrysanthemum, look
at one for ten years until you become one.

ii. The narrow road to the deep interior

The distance between
the rim of the tea cup
and your lip, I shall trace.
The way your head rests, Empress,
upon the pillow.

Later, through a window,
I will study
the distance between
branches of a bush,
involving the wind.

My mind is a running brush
between these spaces
(there is no central point),
building images as clouds drifting
with a volcano wrapped within.

iii. In praise of shadows

The story of the Zen master who painted a landscape so perfect
That he walked into it and disappeared.

iv. The form of an object is a diagram of the forces acting upon it

Snowflakes are fractal records of the changing circumstances that ice encounters during its descent. No two falling snowflakes will meet the same circumstances; no two snowflakes will be identical.

v. The faraway place

I have a twin brother and,
when I was two years old,
one of us—the other one—
was kidnapped. He was taken
to a faraway place
and we haven’t seen each other since.
I think my protagonist is him.
A part of myself, but not me.

vi. The tower of mirrors

The Zen buddhist monk walked in the forest and watched groups of children at play. He saw some beautiful red lotus flowers. A bird sang and he fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed he was in a tower full of thousands of mirrors. Each mirror had a name beneath it and when he looked into a mirror, he entered that world. After living the lives of several different people, the monk woke suddenly to find that he had been trapped in the tower by a demon fish with blue dreaming eyes that had exposed his own mind to himself. Only then did the monk realise that the tower was just a dream.

vii. Gong!

let the sounds be louder

and louder yet                          far into sleep

each is longer because                                           dripping into the forest

one waits to the very end                             the sounds

of the resonances            the stroke that starts

the tone

Richard Skinner’s poetry first appeared in the Faber anthology First Pressings (1998) and since then in anthologies for William Blake, John Berger and Médicins Sans Frontières. He has published three books of poems with Smokestack: the light user scheme (2013), Terrace (2015) & The Malvern Aviator (2018).

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*****

Ian C. Smith: Poem

RUMINATING IN BASS STRAIT

A different beach hedonism decorates these days.
Early fog burned off, wetsuited kite-surfers ski waves,
deftly dodging tinnies, rocks, and bathers.
A canopy eclipses the sun, a looming prehistoric bird
above my shadowed nape, this familiar waterline.

How many have walked in sadness by the sea’s ululation?
The coastal past, tides’ tug on other lives, dreams,
eddies the mind to my own arrival moons ago,
pre-progress, that fated screech of vested interests,
money a sorry surrogate for happiness.

Rumours wash in: a cruise ship off Trousers Point
part-owned by a crass woman swimming in money,
tourists in zodiacs from a white giant painted on blue
ushered to pub, gift shop, cards accepted, then bused
to the 40th parallel, a line across a skinny road.

A ship tracking this lonely line over my map
would need portage only three slim countries,
archipelagos, to girdle the globe. Here a traveller
keelhauled by loss might shelter from the wind’s roar,
glimpse future recollections of a sea-girt hideaway.

 Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Antipodes, Australian Book Review, Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Prole, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy (Ginninderra Press, Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

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*****

Theresa Sowerby: Poem

VIATICUM

The pack of Embassy Regal, ambassador
between worlds, tucked under
your left hand by your Irish brother
who left nothing to chance,
just in case you were held up on the journey
or needed a quick gasp to still your nerves
while the priest rattled through the mass
and your soul fidgeted on Lethe’s shore,
a bit bored or browned off as you would say.

Then the comforting smell, the bite at the throat
would soothe you and later make a bridge
between them lighting up desperately
outside the church (time for a quick one)
and you, beyond words but present
in this companionable November fug.

And who’s to say, in those hinterlands
where flesh dissolves from within,
it didn’t work?
Who’s to say this smoke, wreathing
into the open hearse, mingling
with the scent of carnations,
did not reach out to pick up
a signal from
you?

Theresa Sowerby has written plays, poetry and short stories. She has had an adaptation of Moliere’s The Hypochondriac performed and her poem, ‘Migration’, won first prize at the 2017 Huddersfield Literature Festival. She has had work published in several magazines including Orbis and on line. Theresa also lectures on poetry and runs a Stanza group in Manchester.

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*****

Matthew Sweeney: Four Poems

RETURNING TO A BORROWED HOUSE

When I came in, it was dark.
A big cat ran across my feet, or
was it a badger? Where was the moon?
The key tried not to work for me,
then relented. I fell in onto the stone floor.

I opened a bottle of red wine, and sat
at the table. I got up again to light
the six candles on the candelabra, then
stood conducting the six dancing flames.
I launched into a homemade aria.

The lyrics I improvised were to do with
monks marooned on an island, one
of them longing for a nun on the mainland.
I introduced a psychic crow for ballast.
I felt I’d earned a slice of bread with stilton.

I sat down again and poured more wine.
The ghosts had gathered at the windows
to stare at me. I ignored them –
I was an interloper here, born and bred
in Donegal, a day’s boat-ride away.

THE LOG CABIN

The log cabin has burned down again
but this time no one was in it.

People said the smoke was green,
and the flames kept in a tight circle.

I was in Chicago when I got the news.
I found a bar with a local blues band.

I asked the singer if she had a song
featuring a burned-down log cabin.

She pretended not to understand me,
then sang about warring couples, any

of whom could have torched a house.
No couple had lived in the log cabin

for at least fifty years. I knew this
because I had lived there alone

for half of that period, and the ghosts
then had it all to themselves.

The first fire was the work of the devil
though I knew I got the blame for it.

I rebuilt it with silver birch boughs –
It looked like it had fallen from the moon

I could easily believe I was up there
when I lay on the ram-skin rug,

running old rhymes through my head,
singing silly, forgotten murder-ballads.

THE PORTRAIT PAINTER

She contacted me by email, I didn’t respond.
She wrote to me the old way, in red ink –
I crumpled the letter and flung it in the bin.
Then she arrived at the door with her brush,
her easel, her tubes of paint, and enough
canvas to construct a tent. Time for us
to go outside, she said. She snatched a chair
from the kitchen, and forced me to sit on it
with the sun at my back. She set up her
easel and got started. Hours later I asked
for a glass of water. This had to wait
until she needed a break, and I used this
to take a peek at myself. Never in years
of looking in the mirror had I looked like that..
I started thinking of Picasso – those women
he painted, each of whom he loved. But
even though he put their eyes on one side
of their faces, the results were beautiful.
None showed beetles emerging from the mouth,
or scorpions disappearing behind the shirt,
as I’d seen was happening in my portrait.
She took up where she left off, and eventually
declared herself finished, and ecstatic – that
was the word she used. I nodded, then she
invited me to view her work, and was unmoved
when I declined. Smiling, she demanded
wine to celebrate, so I opened a Bordeaux.
I found my chequebook in a kitchen drawer
and paid her, before we bid each other adieu.

AN INVITATION TO DINNER

A sky blue envelope broached the letterbox,
bringing me an invitation (in cursive aquamarine
on a cream card) to a posh-sounding dinner
in a castle I’d never heard of in my part of town.
Yeah, right, I said, flinging the card on the floor
to observe that on the flip side it listed the menu.
I picked the card up again to appraise the fare.
Very interesting, I said to my stuffed hedgehog,
awaking his interest. For starters, either flash-fried
bear liver, or barbecued breast of flamingo.
The main course offered three possibilities, all
enticing. First, there was fillet of whale served
with steamed Tasmanian algae, next warthog curry
with wild forest rice, and finally, soft-shell coconut
implanted with desert vegetables and flowers.
Just the kind of menu that would make me drool.
How did they know? And what were they to me?
I looked at the address again – Castle Mada Rua.
Was it in red brick, then? How had I not noticed it –
unless it didn’t exist, and this was an elaborate trap.
Some bad boys went to extreme lengths of ingenuity.
I got my thickest blue pen and wrote in big letters
on a blank page Thank you, but I don’t eat anymore.
Then I enveloped it, and trudged to the Post Office
to put a stamp on a letter that would arrive nowhere,
before going back to fry an egg with too much cayenne.

Matthew Sweeney was born in Lifford, Co. Donegal, Ireland in 1952 and died earlier this year. One of Ireland’s finest and most popular poets, he published many collections of his work, amongst which the most recent are: Horse Music (2013), Inquisition Lane (2015) and My Life as a Painter (2018), all of which have been published by Bloodaxe Books.

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*****

Pam Thompson: Poem

IN THE ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM, VILLAJOYOSA

Two thousand years old,
the amphorae are shades of olive and rust,
blemished with barnacles
and casts of worms.

We pass around a clear container.
Fish-paste, pungent,
like something going off,
dark extract to feed rich Romans.

They had to break each one open;
recycled them as mortar,
or flagstones for streets like the one
we’ve just stepped out from

where people walking by glance
at this museum, preoccupied
with a sick child, a missed appointment,
an insect bite that swells and reddens.

It smells like a grave.
I want the sea now—how it was yesterday
on the climb to the ruins, the September light
as warm and gold as an amulet.

TO A ROMAN SOLDIER

Near you, in the necropolis,
children were buried in amphorae,
swaddled in hemp,

their favourite toys
would go with them into the afterlife.
You, though, are exposed,

arranged for our inspection.
I notice how tall you are,
how long your toes and fingers.

Your pelvis—a branch on a beach
that has been stripped by sea
and weather; vertebrae

like a sponge, cut in pieces,
soaked in the grey-pink slip
that smoothes down tiles.

XXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Who soared away with your soul?

In Castra, your camp-bed was too small.
Sertonia, apparently, gave you extra resin wine
to blunt stings from swords

but it couldn’t heal the gash
inflicted by the man from Pompey’s army
you’d known since school.

You remind me
my bones will turn to driftwood, or plaster—
it shouldn’t matter—

XXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX  XXXXXXXX  XXXXXXXprobably a dove.

Pam Thompson is a poet, lecturer, reviewer and writing tutor based in Leicester. Her publications include The Japan Quiz ( Redbeck Press, 2008), Show Date and Time (Smith | Doorstop, 2006) and Hologram (Sunk Island Publishing, 2008). Her second collection, Strange Fashion, was published by Pindrop Press in December 2017. Web-site pamthompsonpoetry@wordpress.co.uk

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*****

Paul Waring: Poem

SHEDBOUND

Weekends he escaped to a world away
from ours, crazy-paved corner of garden,
dad-only den; shed air incense of solder,
sawn cedar or pine, heady, glue-thick,
cigarette smoke haze punctured by metal
or wood notes from orchestra of tools.
I see him, stick-thin, still hunched
over thoughts, long after day downs
last dregs of light, intent to crack code
of a repair, design some new gadget
or eavesdrop police channel chatter
on radio scanner. I wanted to be him:
drill with dental precision, perform surgery
on circuit boards – but could only watch,
fetch cuppas and brush up. Wanted to be
his hands, hold them steady in later years,
be his eyes that lost focus, now there
in my reflection; growing reminders of him,
another world that waits.

Paul Waring is a semi-retired clinical psychologist who once designed menswear and was a singer/songwriter in Liverpool bands. His poems have been published (or are forthcoming) in Algebra of Owls, Prole, Amaryllis, Clear Poetry, Atrium, Open Mouse, Riggwelter, Domestic Cherry, The Lampeter Review and others. His blog is https://waringwords.wordpress.com

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*****

Rodney Wood: Poem

FARNHAM
for Matthew Sweeney

to pick a day when the light rises over rooftops
to pick a day when light warms me and I wake
to a nightmare of young girls all smiles and whispers

I’m wearing my dark suit with the silver threads
I’m wearing a wine-dark suit that offers a blessing
a suit with the buttons done up all wrong

the room is a deep puddle or a lion’s den
the room is a theatre where Hamlet passes
light turning blue because of the windows

I’m sitting to hear a recital by a beast
I’m sitting and am surrounded by these uniforms
I’m a black stone surrounded by white stones

schoolgirls all round me with their wine-dark uniforms
schoolgirls with their mouths, bare legs and long hair
the young girls all smiles and whispers

their shouts when I passed the local school haunt
their shouts of “Rodney, Rodney, still sits on his potty.”
and I’m a hurt animal who wants to crawl away

the young girls are ushered out to the night
the young girls all smiles and whispers
are in their beds dreaming of a lake of words

of the poet who read them verses in the hall
of the poet who was blind like Homer
who was drunk sailing on the wine-dark sea

Rodney Wood lives in Farnborough, runs a poetry event in Aldershot, and  published Dante Called You Beatrice last year with The Red Ceiling Press. His poems have appeared in Magma, Envoi, Morphrog and other magazines and anthologies.

*****

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