Category Archives: Poetry

The High Window: Issue 20 Winter 2020

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Poets

 Nick AllenIsabel BermudezArthur Broomfield Brendan Cleary •  Oliver ComminsPhil ConnollyRose CookBelinda CookeAlexandra Corrin-TachibanaWill DauntMartin FergusonRebecca GethinAnn Gibson •  Antony JohaeFrances-Anne KingIris Anne Lewis Tim LoveSean McDowell •  Rob A. MackenzieJohn McKeownAlison Mace •  Kathleen McPhilemy  • Jenny McRobertRay MaloneSally MichaelsonMat RichesSimon RicheyJulie-ann Rowell  • Frances SackettCarla Scarano •  Finola Scott •  Iain TwiddyMerryn WilliamsMargaret WilmotMarjory WoodfieldStella Wulf

Previous Poetry

THW19: September 5, 2020 • THW18: May 4, 2020  • THW17: March 7, 2020  • THW 16: December 4, 2019  • THW 15: September 5, 2019 • THW 14:  June 3, 2019  • THW 13: March 6, 2019  • THW 12: December 10, 2018 • THW11: September 5, 2018  • THW10: May 21, 2018 • THW9: March 7, 2018 • THW8: December 6, 2017 • THW7: September 10, 2017 • THW6: June 3, 2017 • THW5: March 7, 2017  • THW4: December 6, 2016 • THW3: September 1, 2016 • THW2: June 1, 2016 • THW1: March 1, 2016

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Nick Allen: Two Poems

A DAY SPENT ARRIVING AT A POETRY READING

Merrion

between the rails of the parkxxxI watch a man
running his greyhoundxxxlong slow parabolas
describe from him to the point the dog will blur
throughxxxxxxwhat is arresting is the rushxxxthe
sheer un-ground-touching rush of the animal
as if it discovered flight in the flex of its spine
in the bunch of its musclexxxwhile the head
steady as an eagle splits the windxxxand when
she slowsxxxthe zoetrope winds downxxxthe
earth catches hold of itself againxxxand we
gaze on the exaggerated stillness of trees

St Stephen

where the rain shelters were once al fresco
hospital stationsxxxnurses staunched rebel
bloodxxxpulled colonial bullets from the flesh
of men who would die to be freexxxxxxleaves brown
everywherexxxbrittle as historyxxxfree-state gulls
scream while magpies semaphore in trees
now people walk their phonesxxxtheir dogs
and their glovesxxxxxxa man strides with
a bank managers stern moustache and cap
sees me writingxxxpurses his lips and nods
without breaking stridexxxxxxa woman chats
to a friend while the grey-muzzled mutt she is
walking sniffs before cocking his leg on Joyce

Garden of Remembrance

in rain that falls nameless on the Liffey and
upon all the living and the deadxxxpast the
spike and the spiritual heartxxxto the garden
for the fallenxxxthe cross and the swans rising
the flagxxxxxxin a café on a corner watching
successive pedestrians successively failing
to navigate the crossroads pursued by blaring
hornsxxxxxxthe wind picks up and so the rain
misting in through a window not shut above me
I finish my coffeexxxmy fruit scone and slip into
the grey lightxxxthe space between drops
theres time yet before the poetryxxxxxxI set
out to find a pub

COAST

the gannets are patrolling the point again
before folding themselves to a dart
to split the ocean with their quick death

the choughs are floating and dropping
as a pairxxxknitting and stitching the sea
to the land to prevent it drifting too far

the wren fires itself from perch to perch
bramble to treexxxprojecting a noise
many times louder than the size of itself

the larkxxxaloft on its own diversion
circles like steam from a kettlexxxdrifting
away once boiling point is passed

the lapwing the plover flips its pages
a magazine left open to the flicking
of the breezexxxthe plover the peewit

the oystercatcher frantically semaphores
marshalling the seaxxxnever forgetting
to carry his torch before himxxxin case of a fret

the shadow of the mythical cormorant
ripples silent and low over wavesxxxwhile
the real beast itself is nowhere in sight

the gulls raucous themselves to a mob
held together by greed and opportunism
they are thinking of running for Parliament

Nick Allen’s first collection the riding and his pamphlet the necessary line were both published by Half Moon Books, Otley. His recent collaboration with York based artist Myles Linley, between two rivers, was published by Maytree Press, Marsden. Nick helps organise Rhubarb at the Triangle, a spoken word evening in Shipley, West Yorkshire.

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Isabel Bermudez: Two Poems

GUARDIAN

We weren’t names to him,
we were numbers.

He spun monologues
about number 48, or number 22.
Gossiped, without malice.

His eyes so clear
and sharp:
blue slate.

He could remember the bombs,
they whistled on a wind
which blew him down our street
without a parachute,
gloveless in the snow.

A gauntness
like my father’s,
stark as a chapel
at the top of the hill.

He put out the neighbours’ bins
Just as usual. And,
like a log lodged on the weir,
was found by a carer
the morning after
the coldest night of the year.

CORMORANT

Sleekness,
out of left field

flying low and
straight,

a bullet-line
over water.

Driven,
with an
invisible cargo –

(his blackness
a trick
of the unseeing eye) –

to tell us
what it was like
back when…

Water bird
not proofed for water

who must
hang out
his cage to dry

like a man
patient,
with his washing
about his tent.

Iridescence:
silver

on the bark
of a log,

foil wrapper
snagged in bramble,

a shiver of light
(a god)
on wintry water.

Isabel Bermudez won joint First Prize in the Coast to Coast to Coast Pamphlet Competition in 2018. Another pamphlet, Serenade, poems evoking Spain and the New World, is published with illustrations by Simon Turvey and available from Paekakariki Press (2020).

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Arthur Broomfield: Poem

FUDGE

Today I want to thrash those dandelions,
the colonising buttercups, glaring at me,
the ironic beauty of the milk thistle.

I won’t dig the dun earth
with my heavy-duty mattock
or disturb the sad soil
with the spade bought for the event.

Today I’ll walk in slow time
down the bog lane,
I’ll pick a bunch of prickly furze,
purple foxgloves, meadowsweet,

listen to the double bass coo coos
of the Woodquest,
the dirge from the rookery,
and carve your name on the flagstone
where you used to lie on hot days.

I’ll sanctify the spot
with scents from our walks,
sip sparkling water
and wait for the dawn chorus,
the morning star.

Dr Arthur Broomfield is a poet ad Beckett scholar from County Laois,Irelad. His recent collection is The Giants’ Footsteps at the Rock of Dunamaise.

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Brendan Cleary: Three Poems

THE ISLAND

no boats
are sailing
to the island
under the mist
a hole
in my shoe
& the island
barely visible
the headland
acres of green
unseen
or the bar itself
Don pouring
a pint
in the shadows
on the island
I can’t get to
not even tomorrow

PERCY STREET

The Three Bulls Heads
is a carpark
& the Handyside Arcade
a giant horseshoe
under stain glass light
the curving path
full of shadows
old lamps & books
incense & vintage
scarves & drapes
sepia postcards
has been demolished
so just don’t start me
about other places
other people too
beyond Percy Street
it would only make me cry
yes cry even more
if that’s possible

REGARDING THE BLUES

the busker at the bottom
of the escalator
at Sainsburys
on the Gyratory
is playing Leadbelly
so I give him a quid
& we chat for the most part
about Leadbelly
then it turns out he knows
my ex’s ex
& I once snogged his Mum
but most of the time
we just talk about Leadbelly

Brendan Cleary has published many collections from Bloodaxe, Wrecking Ball, Tall-Lighthouse & Pighog Press. His latest collection Do Horses Fly? (tall lighthouse) is a sequence inspired the photography of Eadweard Muybridge. He is originally from Co. Antrim but now lives and writes in Brighton

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Oliver Commins: Two Poems

TRANSFER

There are four people travelling on a bus,
from On Site Parking to Terminal One.
It is mid-morning and, every minute or so,
a jet pounds West and away from here.

He is a famous novelist, accompanying
his two sons, and they are going to Paris.
Each of them has plenty to say, but hears
the others out, waiting for his turn to speak.

It would be reasonable for the four of us
to assume I am just another passenger.
A later assessment may suggest otherwise,
lifting my cover to reveal an alternate role.

If one public narrative is less than helpful,
then intimate exchanges like these matter
in a different way. As I listen to the words
they use, I can enjoy their subtle patterns.

He revels in their company, fathering
his children once again, and prompting
questions they might ask. At this moment
none of us knows what will happen next.

MIDWINTER TALES

After we have watched the sun go down
and counted the stars where they appear,
you will whisper all three of your prayers –
asking the forest for wood, the night for calm
and wind to draw the fire in our grate.

Who set the angel like that? On a wire
attached to a spiny twig at the top of a tree?
S/he is almost touching the rafters!
And there is a shadow reaching out as well,
a feathery sound from somewhere else.

Each year, something new arrives to decorate
the branches. A blue glass beauty with smoke inside.
A miniature elephant, all glittery purple.
And, now, a green crystal fish, quite lithe.
See how the tree is growing heavier.

Oliver Comins lives in West London. Early poems were collected by Mandeville Press (Playing out time in an awkward light, 1992) and Anvil (New Poets 2 ed. Carol Ann Duffy, 1995). Since then, Templar Poetry has published 3 pamphlets and a full collection (Oak Fish Island, 2018). New work in Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast, Finished Creatures, Poetry Birmingham, South Bank Poetry, Wild Court and No News (Recent Work Press 2020).

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Phil Connolly: Two Poems

THE IDES OF MARCH

Indifferent Caesars. Redundant gods.
A language nobody speaks.
Unshuttably stuffed, the mouth
of the Head of Latin’s briefcase
chokes on irrelevance. A stack
of homework crooks his other arm.
The bell delivers him on cue to 6 Latin 1.

Buttock, elbow, heel, he backsides
through the classroom door, turns
and bellows Virgil, Eclogue number 5.
We’re all at the windows obsessed
with the snow. What’s another blizzard
in a winter such as this? Whole class
detention, Friday after school.

He swivels on the balls
of his feet and scribbles the date.
The very furniture looks bored;
forty desk-lids gape an epic yawn.
There’s nothing like synchronised
slamming to smother a shot –
the singular spat of an airgun’s report.

Gaius Caligula Caesar drops his chalk.
Clawing the wall, clawing the small
of his back, as silent as the snow’s
unhurried drift, the blackboard
slows him to his knees.

THE GAUDY CLAUSTROPHOBIA DRONES ON AND ON

Sun at the stained-glass backs
of Christ and all his sinners, saints
and angels shafts indoors, highlights
half the stations of the cross
and splashes down to halo heads
and spangle shoulders, shirts and frocks.

The flock that jams the nave
this clammy Mass breathes in and out –
oxygen to carbon, ambience to heat –
prepares the stage for me:
my Sunday morning party piece.

The priest puts the Saviour’s Blood
to his lips. I slump in my pew.
Utterly relaxed, my nasal tract
and bladder drop their guards.
Minutes pass. Ash pale, I snort
myself awake; blush to the roots
of my father’s shame.

I have disgraced myself again
before the Icons.
Catching the Virgin’s eye,
I sense her empathy. She drops
her gaze and looks away.
I must be wrong.

Phil Connolly is married and lives near York. He taught for many years in North Africa and the Middle East. He was shortlisted in the Wordsworth Trust Competition and has been published in several anthologies and magazines including London Grip, The North and Dream Catcher.

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Rose Cook: Three Poems

THE SHOALING

There is a ruffle on the water,
silver fins and tails boil into a shoaling.
Forced by mackerel, a dark cloud
of whitebait rise through the waves,
break in glistening showers on the shingle
over a small child sitting at the sea edge.
Bright fish jump around her,
shine in the sun, land in her lap.
She waves her arms and laughs.

The other children leap to catch the booty,
scoop them in handfuls for buckets
or simply throw them back into the sea.
The instinct to save them is strong.
Here are wild creatures, stranded.
A boy holds out a flat stone to show me,
one small fish lies on it. Wet and still.

FRESH START

Buzzards circle above the meadow again
clearing the sky with wide wings.
Spring energises birds, busy pairing,
to sing, each with a syrinx the size of a raindrop.

Down the valley, a hundred or more raindrops
quiver songs of territory, nest building, new life
and the primroses, wood anemones, wind flowers
show themselves. We start over.

THE SMELL OF HAY

The scent of hay fills the house.
It winds through the air
with chamomile, lemon balm,
lulling and singing warm honey.

The smell grows stronger
when I open the door into to a small room:
wooden floor, bright window
and a huge nest.

A nest to fit me.
Rounded, soft, dear hay.
I fold my wings,
hop straight into it.

Rose Cook is a poet and photographer who lives in Devon. She co-founded the popular Devon poetry and performance forum One Night Stanza, as well as poetry performance group Dangerous Cardigans. Her poetry has been published in five collections, her latest is called Sightings (published by Grey Hen Press).

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Belinda Cooke: Two Poem

LOSS

xxxxxxxxxxx‘he not busy being born is busy dying’
xxxxxxxxxxxBob Dylan

xxxxxxxxxxx‘You’re a long time dead’
xxxxxxxxxxxNoreen Cooke

So, it’s down to Udrigle seeking metaphors.
You tell me to live my life, but where to live it?
Shifting waters soothe, but the mountain,
still there and fixed is too hazy to offer much.

What with this overriding, fearsome heat,
and, strictly speaking, I shouldn’t be here anyway,
except I have a right to find the right place
among the water’s small crescendos,

triggered by each relieving breeze, till it stops
and I know I must find some kind of
agitation in this virus year when all the
natural world feels like it’s been given a reprieve.

Is it God that resides in the stillness of a loch?
Certainly not in this quiet bay’s mild motions
its peaks and declines, for we know
that those we loved do not return –

yet still I hear your voice, or is it
just my own? – or, perhaps, just what remains,
in these ever- lightening breezes,
these oyster catcher interludes….

SECOND WAVE

Waking early in this silent place
your voice
so big it astounds me …

Just a little bell
so I know you’ve made it,
safe …

I needed you not to die yet.
You own my voice,
I yours:

‘Don’t worry, I’ll
be up … to get you up …

each tiny bead of my
voice-over, carefully threaded
and held by you,

till the slow lifting
of your arms, the still-life
of your half-opened lips,

when I still need you
to reach out to me here,
where there is only

that great wall of sound
that is your dying.

Belinda Cooke’s most recent collections include a translation of Kulager by Ilias Jansugurov (Kazakh N.T. A., 2018); Forms of Exile: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (The High Window Press, 2019);  Contemporary Kazakh Poetry (C.U.P, 2019). Her own poetry includes Stem (the High Window Press, 2019) and Days of the Shorthanded Shovelists forthcoming (Salmon Poetry).

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Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana: Four Poems

LOVE-LOVE DESU NE!

Yoshiteru, your name,
like ashiteru — I love you

you sang it to me at karaoke –
sweet as sukiyaki beef.

You loved my bob,
my boobs, my waist,

my heart-shaped face.
I loved your black hair,

your Harley, your Rockstar
sunglasses; the first sunrise of 1998

on Miho beach.
You loved to speak English.

For two months,
I’d answer the phone

in my best Moshi moshi – Hello!
You’d say, Hello Darling. I am Teru.

Note: Love-love desu ne! is Japanese for ‘being loved up’.

AT THE FISHMONGER’S WITH MY SON

Your eyes glisten.
The Lindsey brother sees us, heads
to the fridge for the sashimi salmon.

Far from Suruga Bay, you know little of Japan
except for Pokémon, and when you grow up
you’re going to buy a sashimi farm.

You know nothing of bowing.
Nothing of the uncle who wouldn’t hold you.
Nothing of his wife, Suzuko.

Nothing of a wooden house,
a quilted stove,
peeling winter tangerines.

Your eyes glisten,
like the sashimi salmon
you beg the Lindsey brother to cut more of.

MY FATHER-IN-LAW

Uchi no musume
was how you introduced me
to others at Nippondaira Hotel.
You drank Royal Milk Tea,
you loved The Queen’s English,
you said I looked
like Diana-san.

I called you Otosan.
I drank green tea,
ate Shizuoka strawberries,
breathed the rice-straw tatami.
Otosan is what I called you,
and I was the daughter
of your house.

JAPANESE SLIPPERS

Where are my slippers?
you say,
back from a business trip.

The sole, I’m told,
is the body’s
germiest part.

If my temperature
drops, my metabolism will fall ––
I’ll get fat.

I wear them too:
Snack-Bar Slippers,
Karaoke-Box Slippers,

Hospital Waiting-Room Slippers,
The Chef’s Slippers…
Slippers –– shooting off

down corridors,
revealing holes in the toes
of my Japanese tights.

Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana holds MA degrees in Writing Poetry and in Japanese Language and Culture. This year she was shortlisted by Billy Collins for the Fish Publishing Poetry Prize, and has been published or is forthcoming in: Fenland Poetry Journal, Tears in the Fence, Ink, Sweat and Tears (January Pick of the Month), The Ofi Press and Diamond Twig Poem of the Month. She read at the 2019 American Writers Program conference, in Oregon.

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Will Daunt: Four Poems

NANOU

That yacht’s too big for this furrow of bay
but it sends us back to tamarisk shade
where parasols frownxxxxxThe freight weighs anchor
against some myth of Greece we’d thought we knew
A proboscis slides to portxxxxxjet skis flirt
with over-board folkxxxxxand party strains shoot
up the rubbled woodsxxxxxThe tavern-lads buzz
through naps and wavesxxxxxbut fail to wake the peace
Their Dad retrieves a riflexxxxxcracks barrels
up each shorexxxxxand the plump hull blinks and leaves.

HODDESDON

EN11 8BJ: VE Day 2020

Coins in a coffee tinxxxxxemptied Mum’s youth
across our lockdownxxxxxher father’s Chinese
barrack daysxxxxxMalayan changexxxxxNazi francs
from 43xxxxTravail•FamillePatrie
or ten tiny ørexxxxxbranded with their cross
Mum found Europe mending through the 50s
stored a clutch of pfennigxxxxxseveral guilders
and piles of down-light lirexxxxxNow locked
requirement homes are blitzedxxxxxand we’re to watch
as children of the War re-live the fear.

SYMI HARBOUR

Life on the ledge of EuropexxxxxThose dicey
homes roll up the fruitless hillsxxxxxtheir shutters
shut like eyesxxxxxletting the ferries suggest
that classical catch of the Greece we want
all this to bexxxxxthe workaday locals
making it easyxxxxxat our deck and call
Notice the police station terracexxxxxhiding
three floors full of sleeping bag recliners
the gathering wave from Turkeyxxxxxthat looks
to see and wait and wonder about home.

LE CHAUMONT

13/6/2020

Left in the barnxxxxxand cluelessxxxxxrope in hand
I watched the calfxxxxxlarge eyes on mexxxxxweeks on
from his mother’s cowshed vigilxxxxxlowing
lonelyxxxxxand enticed him from the straw cell
of his lifexxxxxto thistle meadowsxxxxxunder
sunxxxxxand played him out and offxxxxxto hay-high
capersxxxxxyouth untetheredxxxxxIn English squares
they’re trying to quell the bolting crowdsxxxxxun-
boltedxxxxxfreed fromxxxxxdeadlocked homes and history
calling us to rankxxxxxthese rank infections.

Will Daunt has published six poetry collections with Lapwing, Oversteps and Indigo He has reviewed for Envoi, Pulsar, New Hope International and Tears in the Fence, and has had poems in Envoi, Orbis, Smoke, Anon, Coast to Coast to Coast, Iota and A New Ulster. He has also been commended in many competitions. Will is the founder of the collaborative Ormskirk Imprint, which launched its first book In January 2019.

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Martin Ferguson: Poem

CAPTIVE EDUCATION
after Blake

Early July mornings they love the best,
that dawn chorus cacophony
of goldfinch warbler and wren,
Cleveland horses in the nearby field,
such sweet and majestic assembly.

But to institutionalize
forces all pleasures aside
destined to pass their day
in mind numbing despair
under twisted sadistic eyes.

Subjugated, their heads droop down,
congeal in quarters starved of oxygen,
as tortuous black minutes drag by
and their minds cease to function,
drugged dull, saturated with repetition

Cortisone infused with incarceration.
How is a soul to think freely
when shackled to a desk and chair ?
How shall a young mind wrought with terror,
recall his motto, Carpe Diem !

O how is the spirit to fly open,
let new life, let learning flood in,
when wings are clipped, neurons shut down
and brains abstain from growing ?
Should escapes dwindle to prison yard horizons ?

How did no one dictate to those charlatan
trainers of the state, to take a leaf from Aristotle ?
Why educate the memory with fear and unease,
not the heart with spirited esteem ? Why berate –
deprive true education, to serve only hate ?

Martin Ferguson was born in West Yorkshire. His poems have appeared in numerous publications including Envoi, Iota Purple Patch,The Guardian online and more recently, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Journal, The Poetry Village Klecksograph and Runcible Spoon.His first collection was shortlisted by Against The Grain Press and published in 2018 by Original Plus last year. He lives in France where he teaches in-company business English. He occasionally gives readings at Au Chat Noir café, for Paris Spoken Word.

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Rebecca Gethin: Poem

STEPPING IN

My bare foot only just missed the glint
in the silt at the pool’s edge –
a fragment of china, an ivy leaf painted on it.
I imagined the long fall of the riverlet
from the nearest village where in a kitchen
a table was laid with a cloth.

Tea poured from a pot, milk added
from a jug with the same ivy motif as the cups.
Spoons tinkled while wind
and rain beat on the window
and lips sucked tea from the rim
as a finger and thumb gripped the handle
with brown stains at the joins. Something was said.

There was exclamation, spilt tea, apology
and a dustpan and brush swept
the pieces, then tipped them on a rubbish heap
in the garden. Tea won’t be glued back together.
Over time winter rains and rising waters
washed them downriver
as the set – a wedding gift perhaps –
gradually dwindled, break by break.

Rebecca Gethin has written 5 poetry publications and has been a Hawthornden Fellow and a Poetry School tutor. Messages was a winner in the first Coast to Coast to Coast pamphlet competition. Vanishings is forthcoming in 2020 from Palewell Press.

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Ann Gibson: Poem

TREASURE

Dad’s sea-chest,
manhandled down the loft ladder;
sea bloom brushed off,
faded leather polished to a military shine,
worn wooden slats revived with varnish.
Mum sewed linen lining,
fitted new sturdy side straps.
Proud, they looked on as I packed;
piled in books and clothes.
Half a lifetime later,
it’s scuffed and scratched,
in the back of my car,
stuffed with fabric:
lengths of vintage Liberty prints;
pieces of wool worsted;
patchwork squares
of floral, paisley, cotton lawn.
Long-loved garments salvaged,
awaiting reincarnation.
Projects planned and pinned,
some still attached to rustling paper patterns.
Opening the lid fetches a sigh of ozone,
old clothes, new-textile ammonia.
Until today, with my beat-up old banger,
someone took what looked like
a battered box of rags.

Ann Gibson spent her childhood in Dublin and now lives in North Yorkshire. She has published poetry in Acumen, Prole, Orbis, The Poets’ Republic, Dream Catcher and various anthologies. Her poetry has also appeared online in Algebra of Owls, Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Ofi Press Magazine and The Ekphrastic Review.

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Alice Harrison: Two Poems

PHOENIX

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

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

VOICES

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

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

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

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

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

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Antony Johae: Poem
A DAY IN LEUVEN

The sun dazzled down on pastoral flats
one leisurely Saturday on a Belgian train
skimming past poplar rows, low-slung farm houses,
ogee-curved roof-tiles a startling-red in the mead,
and through the glass in an instant
I saw a tent striped in circus yellow and blue
with a motley wedding crowd outside,
surely a picture to be painted
or turned into seventeen tight syllables.

In Astrid Park I saw them,
a child pushed by his tired mother,
like Sterne’s starling, wanting to get out;
couples enamoured by the day
locked in talk or eager arms;
a gorgeous girl hobbling on high heels
along the cobbled park path;
a bright ball bounced past my bench
I, like a manager, as the players pursued;
a bent pensioner fed pigeons,
they grabbed at the crumbs of this work-worn man
I tucking into my scrumptious buns
bought in the morning from a bakery in Bruges.

There’s an ample square where students lounge in cafés talking loudly in the evening;
you can smell the smoke of their cigarettes and the tang of strong coffee.
Here, in a corner, I sit writing my country haiku, revising my clouded elegy.
I have seen the slanted sun lose itself behind a stepped gable,
the square descend into shadow, café lights coming on discretely;
heard the great clock strike another hour, the church clang out its call to service,
a riot of young voices rising into the night. I have finished writing,
drink the last of my spun-out tea, beckon the waiter to pay, tip as befits him,
and leaving the teeming square, make for the station.

The way was late-calm, shops shut up,
only the thump-thump of a late music boutique
or car purring close past me
broke into the tiredness of my mind,
until at the station square
the four-four time of a tango stopped me
staccato-wise in the street.
I saw the dancers in dark dress glide past
with café people looking on in fascination,
long measured steps seeming like giant strides
punctuated by late pauses, legs stretched,
heads held in near embrace . . .
then pivots into fresh directions across the paving floor.

On the train I saw myself in the glass
get up from my second-class seat
brush aside my finished glass
draw up to her, dark-haired Argentinean,
hold her hard around the waist
and to plucked notes and piano chords
accordion blasts and sweeping strings
set off in supple dance.

Antony Johae published his third collection, Ex-Changes, with The High Window in April this year; in 2019, After-Images: Homage to Eric Rohmer (Poetry Salzburg), and in 2015, Poems of the East (Gipping Press). Lines on Lebanon and Home Poems are in progress. Antony divides his time between Lebanon (his wife’s country of origin) and the UK.

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*****

Frances-Anne King: Four Poems

UNSPOKEN
i.m H.S.

He came home with beri-beri and hair bleached almost white
after Truman dropped the bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

There was no band or bunting when his ship docked,
just his father with a manly handshake.

He rationed memories in daylight hours, but at night
the black blooms of Haruku opened again and again.

He only told me fragments; selling his gold watch
for a chicken, sharing snake stew with Aussies,

how a rat gnawed through his finger.
Sometimes, on summer evenings, we walked hand in hand

to the Brewery, where the smell of hops and yeast ghosted
the Sunday silence. We toured the tun room; inspected

metal vats foaming with yellow froth that plopped and fumed.
He made notes in that neat, sloping writing

I’d recognise years later in his journals. Surrender in Singapore,
passage on the Hell Ships to the white sands of Ambon

and Haruku; rare, jewel-coloured butterflies; Chocolate Royal,
Onyx, Swallowtail, dysentery, the daily death toll.

Once, walking home, we saw the bloody carcass of a rabbit;
gravely he explained myxomatosis, then resumed his quiet humming

while I launched sentence after sentence in my head,
never quite sure enough to voice them.

MOON CHRYSANTHEMUM
Spiritus centrepiece, 2010
Theresa Nguyen (b.1985)

Silver leaves with tips like tongues waiting for sun and rain
to touch them into life. A moon chrysanthemum, perhaps,
cherished by Emperors for its celestial beauty,
its movement in a breeze, swaying as if underwater –
its scent, the essence of that longed-for green of Spring.

WAKING

There are those dreams that trail behind you
days after you’ve dreamt them, when half awake,
you’re still pulled down by a magnet or current –

like the night you dream a three-act opera in a language
you know but don’t know, are left aching with something
like Cio-Cio San’s last parting.

Or that other dream, where the pale-skinned boy
shines with such dreadful beauty he scorches your mind,
leaves you wounded for days.

BARREL JELLYFISH

I find you at the high tide mark
with twigs scattered like rune-sticks.
You lie stripped of all water-grace,
jumbled and clumsy,
your huge dome dimly revealing
funnels, cogs and wheels
all stilled to ghost shades,
the scalloped edge of your umbrella
scored with an indigo line
like some ancient warrior’s woad tattoo –
and those coral pink stinging tentacles,
wantonly splayed across the sand
seem to glisten in death
with an alien decadence.
Strange survivor –
no heart, no bones, no brain –
floating down millennia,
will your kind be here
when mine has gone, replaced
by brains ten thousand times
the speed of man’s?

Frances-Anne King’s poetry has been published extensively in national and international poetry journals. A pamphlet, Weight of Water, was published by Poetry Salzburg (2013).
In 2016 she edited an anthology of ekphrastic poetry, From Palette to Pen, for the Holburne Museum in Bath where she convenes poetry workshops. She has won various awards and prizes including 1st prize in the 2018 St Hilda’s and The Poet’s House Oxford, Science and
Poetry Competition. She is currently completing a collection.

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*****

Iris Anne Lewis: Three Poems

AUTUMN MIGRATION

It felt good in his hand, the mammoth tusk –
its upward curve and slim tip
suggesting the animals trapped in the ivory.

He picked up the flint, newly knapped that morning,
sharp as a predator’s teeth.

Chip by chip,
he released the creatures, one male, one female,
hiding in the tusk

revealed their tensile grace,
the fragile strength of their limbs

incised ribs and sternum with the precision
of a butcher’s eye

showed raised muzzles, antlers sweeping along their backs,
muscled haunches propelling them through river currents
as they search for winter pasture

Two reindeer swimming,
nose to tail, in such harmony
you might even call it love.

Note: The Swimming Reindeer is the name given to a 13,000 year-old sculpture of two swimming reindeer conserved in the British Museum. You will find the image here

CAROL

Snow in desolate abundance

The village is hushed
and waiting

Helmeted in ice, three graveyard
yews stand on guard

Inside the church, a crusader lies
entombed in stone

Candles light a crib and
swaddled child

By his side a sword,
tipped with blood

Bright as a holly berry

NOVEMBER

The sky is darkening, clouds
promise rain.

I draw the curtains,
take comfort in small rituals —
the brewing of tea, the biscuit barrel
fat with shortbread.

Radiators spill warmth into the room.
I light candles scented with
cinnamon and cedar, a pale
imitation of an open fire.

These are the times I miss
the hop, skip and jump of the flames,
the clatter of the coal scuttle,
and cinder dust scraping
tongue and throat.

Outside the rites of Autumn continue —
the stripping of the trees,
the falling,
the waiting.

Originally from Wales, Iris Anne Lewis now lives in Gloucestershire. A familiar figure at poetry events in the Swindon and Cheltenham area, she has recently founded the Cirencester Poetry Group. Her work is published online and in print, most recently in Artemis and Black Bough Poetry. She has also been placed in local and national competitions.

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*****

Tim Love: Poem

SELF-HELP

My mind’s a ghost town.
I feel safe there. Don’t follow me,
don’t overtake – if you can’t see
my sadness, I can’t see you.
If a headlamp comes straight for me,
I’ll stare into its nearby darkness,
looking for your burnt-out secret.

Wandering along deserted streets
I smell each house’s evening meal,
each doorstep ashtray. A door has
a chalked number. Down the side passage
I glimpse a garden where
I used to loot abandoned memories,
the broken toys of love.

But today I feel lazy. Could you
go to the well of loneliness for me?
Just a bucketful will do.

Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance) and a story collection By all means (Nine Arches Press). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand, Rialto, Magma, Unthology, etc. He blogs at http://litrefs.blogspot.com/

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*****

Rob A. Mackenzie: Poem

SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM

Perhaps first in the comic-horror subgenre,
a show that took ineptitude to new heights
and gave hope to a generation inexplicably

turned on by demolition and impropriety.
I watched Frank continually prove himself
willing to lay standard etiquette to waste:

fashion, employment, traditional models
of manhood. No culture survived Frank’s
ardent hammer-and-chisel personality,

like the pristine hotel room he pulverised
in ten minutes’ DIY. He brought an F-Off
attitude to effete expression and made

a synthesis of trench coat and beret
iconic and unrepeatable. He hung over
a cliff, roller-skated beneath a lorry

and, within a few hours, destroyed a trove
of genuine Ponge furniture, an au courant
1970s computer, and provoked a local

mental health crisis among the innocent
who crossed his path. He’s remembered
for a line he didn’t entirely say, “Ooooh,

Betty, the cat did a woopsie on the floor”,
rough justice for such a proto-influencer:
the optimism he issued, knowledge that

no matter how many chances I’d pass up
I would always be given the opportunity
to fuck up more. I’ll never be satisfied.

Rob A. Mackenzie is from Glasgow and lives in Leith. He is reviews editor for Magma Poetry magazine, co-organises a monthly Edinburgh live poetry event, Vespers, and runs literary publisher, Blue Diode Press. His most recent poetry collection is The Good News (Salt, 2013). His third full collection, The Book of Revelation, was published by Salt in October 2020.

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*****

John McKeown: Two Poems

BOOKCASES

By this time next year the bookcases
will be disassembled; and if
they can be put back together
they’ll be elsewhere. Not with me,
with her, wherever she is;
the books will be with me,
my books, or in boxes waiting
while I save to house them
in my new flat, the new flat
I didn’t rent this year.
But next year, finally,
I’ll have undone the last screw,
taken off the top and base,
slid out the shelves, removed the sides,
broken up this life.

PEEKABOO

She looks into my eyes
as we pass, unsmilingly.

She looks into me
as if my skull were glass
my writhing thoughts plainly visible.

Motionless, opaque, inscrutable,
she passes, her eyes, hazel, mild,
clear as untroubled, standing water.

John McKeown is a freelance arts journalist, a former theatre critic for the Irish Daily Mail and Irish Independent. He has three poetry collections in print: Night Walk (Salmon Press 2011), Sea of Leaves (Waterloo Press, 2009) and Looking Toward Inis Oirr (South Tipperary Arts 2003). He lives and works in Prague.

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*****

Sean McDowell: Two Poems

SHELF-BUILDING
for Frank Lofendo

Honeyed in lacquered stain, the pine boards
Propped against the apartment wall
Looked wet in early morning light
But were dry and smooth to the touch.

You started right in, as always,
Balancing the first twelve-footer
Across rickety saw horses
And clamping it smartly in place.

Next, to break in my unmarked saw,
You soaped the blade, teeth furrowing
The new white bar of Ivory,
A coarse dust raining from your palm.

The first cut and every cut
That followed you measured twice
And drew your line with the same square
I later relied on for years.

You showed me how keeping faithful
Measures meant knowing why the kerf
Of the blade matters in choosing
Which side of the drawn line to saw.

You showed me how to coax the teeth
As lightly as a skipping stone
Across the contrary grain
To start each cut level and true.

You showed me how the span of blade
Nearest the grip was the sweet spot,
How it dug in, growling, on each
Down-angled thrust, how the steady

Hwick-hwack back and forth changed in pitch
As the off-cut began to tilt,
And how to lighten the strokes then
To stop the board from splintering.

One last nick, the new scrap tumbled
Cleanly away, clattering on
A pile beside the sawhorse.
The cuts we made were truer than

The walls we built on, remember?
Remember how we had to lift
The topmost two-by-ten over
A drywall hump and settle it

With a mallet to square the corners?
You did a chin-up then to prove
It would hold against an earthquake.
That afternoon, sweating beside you,

I learned how a well-placed screw can
Correct a warp, how a clamp can
Mimic a hand when you need one,
And how one cut can guide the rest.

And the random lean-to of boards
Grew into shelves sturdy enough
To hold all the books I cherish
And all the books I need to write.

BIRTHDAY WISH

Gusting, whisking, pilfering, the wind
would make a kite of every loose thing.
See how it riffles oaks and maples,
how yellow leaves spring free and firefly,
butterfly in streams across walkways.
You were born during blustery change.
See now how the season celebrates:
the trees offer you their brightest lights
to dazzle your eyes, cushion your feet.

CLOCK

Defunct there on the wall
in an ambient corner,
it has forgotten the sound
of its cuckoos, the heartbeat
of its gears, the cluck and sway
of its light pendulum
struggling to keep time.

Both chains hang in loops
over a wooden maple leaf
on gabled branches like a scarf worn
more for fashion than for warmth.
Both counter-weights—iron pine cones—
are tucked snugly down below
like the legs of a perched hawk.

It gathers dust and silence
in equal measures, an heirloom
stowed safely in plain sight.
Its Roman numeraled face
peers out from leaf and bird
carvings like a Green Man:
3:17, time stopped for fourteen years.

But not for good. Unhook
the long chains, send the pendulum
softly swinging, turn the minute
hand to twelve: a knock and whir,
the little door swings wide,
the little bird chirps
its bell-clear notes as if brand new.

Sean McDowell‘s poems have been published in Poetry Ireland Review, The Lyric, Scintilla, Clover, Vine Leaves Literary Journal (and The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal), Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim, Fragments, and of course, The High Window. He continues to teach literature and creative writing at Seattle University as well as edit the John Donne Journal: Studies in the Age of Donne.

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*****

Alison Mace: Four Poems

PHILIP AT SUNDOWN

The sun rides down the winter afternoon
and casts on rug and hearth a glowing square
that flows up stonework, course by course, till soon
it floods with glory every surface there,
then bathes the mantelpiece, slides upward – fast
beyond it, fast – until the plunging sun
is swallowed by the land; and day is past,
bright hearthstones faded, sombre night begun.
The old man sits and watches, smiles, and calls
his son to marvel with him at the sight;
he loved the day, but even as it falls
accepts with equanimity the night:
he knows his own day’s dark will not be long
in dawning; and his faith in light is strong.

LIFEWARE

Nine glasses – sherry, wine, water; side-plates, three;
dinner-plates, soup-bowls, Grandma’s Spode tureen,
delicate cut-glass dishes; the cutlery –
heavy, ornate, antique – items, eighteen.
And now the saucepans, this greasy tin; a cup
or two, and the gravy-boat – how can there be
so very much to do, in the washing up
of a Sunday lunch for Philip and you and me?
Well, we needed to do it right. It’s the only meal
he enjoys, and he loves to see his fine oak table
rich with the family stuff – it helps him feel
his life is still as it was. And if we’re able
only to give him that, it makes his day.
So, shift yourself! – all this is to put away.

UNCLE, GOODBYE

Edwardian, comical, he looks like something
out of an early Punch: shaky old man,
spread stance to steady him, his slept-on hair
too long – but there’s no scissor sharp enough,
in this old house, to shear him – wearing a vest,
loose, long – his shimmy, Grandma would have called it –
and nothing else except a crooked smile.
‘Alison wants,’ I hear my cousin tell him
carefully, slowly, trying to penetrate
without indignity his plastic ears,
‘to say goodbye. She’s leaving.’ ‘Well – she can!’
He edges forward, hand on the bedroom rail,
to kiss me: these days our cheeks, our eyes, are level,
his noble height deformed and shrunk to mine.
I glimpse him, back in fifty-something, mowing
his parents’ lawn, as now we do for him –
sports jacket, neat moustache, the handsome head
of dark-brown backswept hair: he valued that,
he paid me then (an avaricious child)
ha’penny a hair to pull the grey ones out.
For years I kept him dark, and no-one knew –

HEARING A ROBIN

May. And it’s hailing here. I text my friend:
Just off 2 hospital w Aged P
4 modern hearing-aids.
Well, she texts back,
I’m sitting in my garden in the sun
watching a robin. Hearing it too, no doubt.
Will digital technology, I wonder,
let Philip hear a robin?
Hope so, she taps.
And so do I. (If so, we’ll have to watch
ourselves, not talk about him while he’s there.)
Philip and robins . . . every year he’d tame one
to eat out of his hand.
Waiting outside
now. And he’s hobbling out, and beaming too!
Hope it’s still sunny where u r – cos here
the sky has cleared, the sun is beating down.
Robins are opening their beaks to sing.

‘Part of the sequence ‘Centenarian’ in Alison Mace’s collection ‘Last of the Cake’, published by Dempsey & Windle (2020) https://www.dempseyandwindle.com/alisonmace.html

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

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*****

Kathleen McPhilemy: Two Poems

INSIDE OUT

When the broad beans failed to germinate
I poked my finger into the compost:
down there, something was happening
but later a kiss of mildew
appeared like guilt on the surface.
Insides should never be seen:
the finger, the forensic knife
is always a violation.

So when the wrecker’s ball lays open
the upper storeys of buildings
right at the heart of the city
and all who pass can stare
at the intimacy of abandoned wallpaper
at the doorframe wrenched awry
our innards shiver and cringe
at such casual berserker violence.

BATS

The last one I ever saw
was so small, light like a leaf
dried up, its limbs and wings
the design of itself.

Five summers now without them
the sky empty at dusk
and the swifts that darted and circled
in the higher air, also fewer.

But it’s the bats I miss most
their different, shadowy lives
dwelling among us quietly
harming no-one.

Kathleen McPhilemy grew up in Northern Ireland but now lives in Oxford. Her poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies. She has published three collections, the most recent being The Lion in the Forest(Katabasis, 2005).

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*****

Jenny McRobert: Two Poems

A SMALL MAN

Nana is telling one of her stories, while we take sides
in the war between her insane silver hair and its shackles.

Brown eyes flame-flicker above his neat moustache.
‘Grandpa, why aren’t you laughing?’ We didn’t know

his sad childhood, punctuated by blows and boxed ears, until
he could no longer hear, made to sleep on workshop rags

by a father who wanted a tall son. To us he had always been ‘Grandpa,’
mysterious behind a newspaper, his sanctuary from boisterous clambering.

When energy raised the white flag, I was drawn to Grandpa’s temple,
content to sit at his feet, hoping for my time in his eyes to spill over me,

take me in. Grandpa carried his silence like a candle,
illuminating what was never said.

DANCING WITH NUREYEV

When he gave her his flowers, was he laying them on the grave
of his home? Or was it just because a girl with a pretty face said ‘pozhaluysta?’
If you were young in the nineteen-sixties, you would know.
He was the ‘George Best’ of ballet, all gloom and glamour,
carrying his talent like a child’s bucket and spade.
‘I want to stay.’ He only had to say it once.

Covent Garden was a fruit market then, we lay down
among rotting apples and mashed orange peel – a pretty teenaged-girl
and her little sister, queuing all night for tickets high in the gods;
a heaven of velvet – scarlet brushed, cherubs – fat cheeked gold,
orchestra vibrating the air. Is it possible to describe Rudy? His presence lighting that enormous stage – and then some, the pent-up grace of his dancing, riding the air as if he could decide when to touch down?
Then the stage door ritual; ‘I not sign, not for no one.’ But he did for us;
my sister said ‘pozhaluysta.’

He walked with us to Leicester Square, his Mercedes following behind
like the tail of a dream. Afterwards, we stood for an age; frozen
with the flowers between us. We missed our train home,
became sad knowing that this was something he could never do.

Making the transition from Psychologist to poet has been Jenny McRobert’s most pleasurable journey. Now she has migrated to a land that she loves. Recently poems have appeared in Picaroon Poetry,  Ink Sweat and Tears, The High Window andWords for the Wild . Her poem  ‘Silver Samovar’ was also highly commended by Winchester Writers Festival.

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*****

Ray Malone: Four Poems

SOUNDINGS 32

the details fade

were you ever more
than the shapexxxyour shadow made
the faint other of a figure
forming itselfxxxagain

and again

while the sun shonexxx the light on

shading the wayxxxyou went along
the bright edge dulled
the flower’s eye dimmed
the dark street itself darker still

ever more than your own darkening shade

LINE

I turn again to number
number of lines
number of breaths breathed
number to come

holding my hand up to my eyes
its fingersxxxfour
and a thumb we say

and the linesxxxhow many lines
how long how deep
how strange the shapes they trace
how richxxxthe rhythms made

how many lines to write tonight
inscribe
to add
to all that’s written there

I turn awayxxxto hear
what happens when I breathe

there is no number there
no more than is there measure
in all the stars that pass
or in the line

the dumb moon tonight is hidden from me in the mist

THE WAY TO

Think of the way to goxxx hinged
as you arexxx to home

untie yourself from the tree

go quietlyxxx not to wake the walls
from sleep

let them

the dead did all to earn their settled dust
why begrudge them

best
xxxxx entrust them to themselves

a wave will be enoughxxx wonder enough

a remembered walk will doxxx for memory
the hand once heldxxx enough

to warm you

once free the light itself
might find you

mind go wandering on
where no walls are to hide you

no doorsxxx to shut behind you

and think

no way to goxxx from home xxx but yours

NO MAP

No mapxxx no trackxxx no print of other foot
no sign
no step aheadxxx heard
to be hint or harbour of what’s to come

no sound of other breathxxx but yours
no moan but memory
remembering ill
the lessonsxxx left all behind

no shadow but your own white
on the white wastexxx of the ground
you’re walking on
no way but your towards

your whyxxx whereto

no wisdom but your will to breathe
the burden of your being there
to trail your whence wherefrom
further and further on

no rhymexxx no reasonxxx no sense
but one
to find in your wandering mind
the wordsxxx to come

Ray Malone is an artist, writer and translator currently living and working in Berlin. In recent years he has been dedicated to developing a highly-reduced aesthetic, in a number of projects exploring the expressive (lyric) potential of minimal forms, based on various musical and/or literary models. His work has been published in a number of magazines in the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland.

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*****

Sally Michaelson : Six Poems

FOOD WAR

My sister wants Mum to be Nil By Mouth
so she’ll die quicker
and be out of her misery,
(If she could she would put her down)
there’s something about starving her
I can’t stomach,
so I feed her a yoghurt,
she won’t open her mouth
(I try doing the aeroplane)
She opens it but clenches her teeth
on the spoon,
we are locked in the struggle
at the dining-room table
when I ate alone with her
(pacing the rise and fall of cutlery
to an identical rythm)
as though we had one digestive tract
and too much history.

OPPORTUNITY

Dad wanted to study history
But left school at fourteen
sat crosslegged sewing suits

until the war marched him off to
EL Alamein, a sandy playground.
In Italy, he flirted with mimosa-bright girls
did a roaring black market
in stockings and chocolate
spoke fluent Italian( all verbs in the infinitive)

went back to match suits
for the next forty years
without ever studying history.

BREAKING THE NEWS

When Dad’s unit got sent to Russia
he used the excuse
of a carbuncle on his bum
not to go with them,

He stayed behind in Italy
instead of catching them up,
(preferring wine and sunshine
to those wooly mittens)

When his Dad got the letter
that his son had gone missing
(was a deserter or worse)
he dropped dead from a seizure.

Mum always relished telling
that Dad had killed his own father.

FREUD’S BILINGUAL BIBLE

The Hebrew column
he read right to left
the German from left to right
the footnotes down to up.

It helped him to know
how to worry a dream
this way and that
until a meaning fell out.

DOING THE ROUNDS

Dad took me on his calls
to Grandma Hill’s factory,

the spinning mule
made a wheezing racket

even worse than me
(asthmatic)

I found a cat with kittens
while Dad was rolling bales,

we called it Smokey
because it was grey

and because of the Woodbines
the women were smoking,

when it was weaned
we took her home

Mum told me
It had gone for a long walk down a short alley

her way of saying
she’d put it out on the main road

like our other pets
there was a lot of blood

in the morning.

FOR THE OCCASION

You sewed the velvet dress
with the lace bodice.

You were a tailor
but that wasn’t why.

You did what a mother does
because she couldn’t.

You took my measurements
by simply looking.

When I tried it on
I couldn’t raise my arms.

I got my English prize
one hand emerging timidly

from a straitjacket.

Sally Michaelson is a retired Conference Interpreter living in Brussels. Her poems have been published in Ink, Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse, Algebra of Owls, The Bangor Literary Journal, Squawk Back, Amethyst, and The Lake.

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*****

Mat Riches: Two Poems

SELLING THE TRAMPOLINE

You belong to someone else now, the hassle
of assembling frames and jumping mats
has just driven away, pin money
folded into my back pocket.

We spent almost five summers watching
you make Florence happy, killing off
our lawn like a magnifying glass
on bare skin. You were a giant sundial

that clocked the shifts in her bravery levels
and displays of derring-do. We observed
performances of forward rolls
and nearly-flips, heard the dry springs

in dance routines. Always on the cusp
of getting out the WD40,
we used the noise as a sign she was safe
while we got on with dinner or work.

It took us at least three drinks to deign
to be tagged in and rattle around
like roulette balls, only stopping
when we bounced against the protective cage.

A SHORT SURVEY

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your browsing experience. Thank you and

congratulations on qualifying.
Your responses will make a difference.

Standard screener questions don’t apply: sex,
age or social grade aren’t an issue here

Your data is safe and will not be shared
with anybody else. Now, let us begin.

How would you rate your experience
so far on a scale of zero to ten?

How much do you agree or disagree
with the answers you’ve been given to date?

Please rank the thoughts contained inside your head
in order of importance to yourself.

Imagine, for a moment, life had changed,
how likely would you be to go forward?

When the tables are turned round are you happy
with your statistical significance?

Please take a moment to add further thoughts
in the space left below for comments.

Mat Riches is ITV’s poet-in-residence (They don’t know this). His work’s been in Dream Catcher, Firth, London Grip, Poetry Salzburg, Under The Radar, South, Orbis, Finished Creatures, Dreich, Fenland Poetry Journal, Wild Court, And Other Poems and Obsessed With Pipework. He co-runs the Rogue Strands poetry evenings and has a pamphlet due out from Red Squirrel Press in 2023. He’s on Twitter as @matriches and blogs at Where The Fox Hat.

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*****

Simon Richey: Poem

TRAGIC

After it had happened
the word tragic
was used of his life

visiting for the first time
the conversations
we had about him,

so grave a word
that it sat oddly
among the other words

we used of him,
everyday words
that were out of their depth

in its company.
We spoke it
with such certainty

as if we knew for sure
what tragedy looked like,
as if whatever was needed

for the word to be summoned
from the language
had happened.

Simon Richey’s work has been published in magazines and anthologies, as well as in The Independent. He has also read his work on Radio 3. His first collection, Naming the Tree, was published by Oversteps Books in 2014.

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Julie-ann Rowell: Three Poems

UNO

They play Uno every day in the lounge
for hours, while Joy and I huddle on the sofa.
Joy has Parkinson’s and is wired
to a machine slung around her waist
which pumps drugs into her duodenum
but it’s on test, and sometimes it flunks.
She’s seventy-five and I love her.

The Uno group eye me with caution,
the posh woman with the peculiar neck –
I’m skewed to one side as if someone has
hit my head with a spade like in a silent farce
but it won’t reset. ‘Oh they’re so noisy,’
Joy sighs, though she’d never complain.
They don’t ever invite us to play.

They stare as I edge round with mugs of tea
or beakers of water, trying so hard
not to spill, trying so hard to be the ablest,
though none of us are except that they can
look straight ahead. I’m permanently
distracted by something over there, in the corner
just out of sight, my neck straining.

There is no one remotely like me here,
and once again I’m deemed an intelligent sort.
It’s a curse in the wrong place and time.
I grew up pretending I was otherwise. Now
I’m doing it again. I smile and say hello to the Unos.
They murmur hello then tip briefly into silence.
Silence is a killer, it closes down the room.

Except for Joy. We giggle as we watch
her favourite soap, Emmerdale.
If she falls asleep I can keep her up to date.
I’ve memorised the characters, the storylines –
the little boy who was trapped in a car
with the engine on inside a garage. Oh God,
but he survived; rescue’s always at hand.

Joy is leaving on Monday. I dread it.
She trusts me to read a letter she carries
in her handbag from her husband’s daughter
over her wedding costs: it was unkind. Her husband
was dead, and her sister on holiday in Benidorm,
her son too busy at work. She has no visitors,
says, ‘Hello Trouble’ when I show up.

On the morning she leaves, Joy and I play
billiards though she can barely stand.
We laugh like children. I watch the clock.
Then her son and grandson arrive,
both frowning with little to say. ‘We played
billiards!’ Joy tells her grandson, who snorts.
They wheel her away, she looks forward not back.

STUART

Stuart joins me at the table, mild faced,
in his fifties, Parkinson’s, though you’d
never know it. His repartee, his
open-handed joviality frees the company,
sets us all chatting – orange juice
cartons we can’t open, tiny pots
of ice cream, just a lick and the fun’s over.

‘I’m here to see if I’ll benefit from
this new treatment.’ He smiles like
a child and I know, though I don’t say it.
‘Just overnight, tests in the morning,
Can’t abide those.’ He’s still smiling.
The door to the garden is open;
a breeze passes over caressing –

well, yes, I’ve grown sentimental,
stirring the pot of my courage and
I’m not dying, just trying to live
which is sometimes as tough.
Darting down the corridor, I pass
Stuart and his nurse. Stuart can’t
see me, and his smile doesn’t work.

SLEEP ON THE WARD

Five nights now and I am embattled,
still not used to the buzzers sounding
for help, here, now, then, suddenly
studding the corridor with sound
followed by the scuffle of feet:
someone needs turning over,
or a trip to the loo. Me, I long
to be deaf to the knocks and pings
just as I am settling on the hard
thankless groove of the bed,
my sheets salty with sweat.

I’m just beginning to drift
when the cleaners arrive, sluicing
buckets, firing taps, night shift
handing over to the day, updates
gossip, goodbyes. At 6am a nurse
charges in with a plastic jug.
I’m on my back, eyes slack,
parched, and yet unable
to face the chlorinated water.
‘Morning,’ she chimes. The ward
is awake, the chance for oblivion
over, time for endless day.

Julie-ann Rowell’s fourth poetry collection, Exposure, was published in September 2019 by Turas Press, Dublin, and is about the Orkney islands. Her first pamphlet, Convergence, (Brodie Press) won a Poetry Book Society Award. Her collection Letters North was nominated for the Michael Murphy Poetry Prize for Best First Collection in Britain and Ireland in 2011. Her pamphlet collection, Voices in the Garden, about Joan of Arc, was published by Lapwing Publications, Belfast in 2017.

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Frances Sackett: Four Poems

BORDERLAND

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx‘Listen, my child to the silence,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx‘It is an undulating silence
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx‘A silence
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx‘In which valleys and echoes slide
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx‘And which bows heads to the ground’

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx Lorca. ‘Poema del Canto Jondo’

The distance between us
has become vague.

As vague as the moth-like
patter of leaves
clouding the dark window.

How to reach you…
knowing the sharp ring
of a phone will violate
hours of isolation?

When you were here
I peeped through a slit
in the open door,
and through that narrow
view your narrow body

sat on the edge of the bed,
shoulders dropped,
unconfident breasts that
you didn’t try to hide –

and called me in
to tend your flesh
which required washing,
bones that needed rubbing.

I dressed you, as you sat
with minimum movement,
until you slipped a necklace
over your head yourself,
applied lipstick without a mirror.

And I, your child,
was like a child again.
Not the assured handling
I’d used with my own babies
but a faltering contact,
an approximate nearness.

And now as I dither the phone
silence slides between us,
only broken sounds of night call.

Listen, when I speak to you next,
I will use other words
than the ones haunting my head.

PENELOPE

I didn’t recognise him –
an old man, hunched and weary
ambling up to the courtyard,
the dogs were almost on him
when someone saw
and called them off.

I think he expected me
to fall into his arms, but
there had to be some talking
and sly looking.
He was different –
I was very different.

He touched my face,
I pulled away.
He stank.
It wasn’t just the sea;
the salty years ingrained
into his skin, there were
other things.
I didn’t want to know.

He began the story of our bed,
fashioned around an olive tree.
Such a craftsman with his voice.
Half-way through we took
each other’s hands
and lay in it.

A CHOIR OF BIRDS

The sirens have stopped wailing
across the valley. The sky
untraced by contrails.
You try hard to remember
what this stillness feels like.
A wren, a thrush and robin flit
into the garden, and stay
to peck at worms and gather moss.

So much less pollution –
it seems a different world.
Such a feel of déjà vu whispering
through the bushes – stay here –
reject the perils of the world outside.
Until you suddenly remember,
this all enveloping warmth
is like your childhood after war.

LOST AT SEA

The wind is howling through the trees tonight,
the oak shedding leaves only a month old.
I move through the rooms
wondering which bed to lie down in.

I am no stranger to nights like this,
restless, unable to sleep
for some niggling worry.
I always knew the cure.

Now, my mind overtaken with grief,
I listen to the great trees
threshing; tearing the world apart,
like a storm on the ocean:

like we once survived on the Bay of Biscay,
lying in each others’ arms
on the narrowest of cabin beds,
waiting for safe harbour.

Frances Sackett has been published in many poetry magazines including Poetry Review, Acumen, The North, Orbis. Her poems have also been included in anthologies on many subjects, most recently in For the Silent (Indigo Dreams Press). She has two collections of poetry: The Hand Glass from Seren and Cradle of Bones from The High Window Press.

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Carla Scarano: Two Poems

PARSLEY

The fringed leaves look like shredded shamrocks
packed in plastic bags from the supermarket,
its freshness fades in the fridge
better to let the stem drink in a glass of water
to last longer, give it a chance to survive
before you chop or tear it to pieces
to season fish, mushrooms or boil in ragù;
its flavour warms the evening light
when the shadows grow deep and we sit
our faces over the steaming soup
talking about the day
how did it go, any news?

ONLY A CAKE

‘Nonsense,’ she said. ‘It’s only a cake.’
The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

It is in the beating of the yolks plus sugar,
the egg cream where frustration releases
its poisoning stings,
in the whipping of the whites stiff
that soften strained strings.

Drops of vanilla essence perfume the substance;
the cup brims of impalpable flour
and sunny butter froths under the wooden spoon
dulling the blobs and bubbles.

The mixture is alive,
grows in the heat of the oven,
a spongy edible thing
sweet and tender,
then cut and shaped in a lady-like cake:
cochineal lips, piped cream for hair
and glossy hot pink dress.
The top is lucid with glaze and sprinkles,
delicious.

Carla Scarano D’Antonio lives in Surrey with her family. She obtained her Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and has published her creative work in various magazines and reviews. Alongside Keith Lander, Carla won the first prize of the Dryden Translation Competition 2016 for their translations of Eugenio Montale’s poems. She is currently working on a PhD on Margaret Atwood’s work at the University of Reading.
http://carlascarano.blogspot.com/
http://www.carlascaranod.co.uk/

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Finola Scott: Poem

THE AULD COUNTRY

Huddled in a doorway off Poolbeg Street,
James Joyce rakes the bins, falls into Madigins
for hot port with three women drinking for ten.
He insists on lemon and that it’ll snow tonight.

I swear the folk here borrow each other’s faces.
They share them out on Sundays, stuffing boiled ham
and scallioned mash into fresh mouths, new words.
Requests welcome if the harmony is known.

One of the Dubliners, I forget his name, brings
our Atlantic platters, asks if I want sauce. He knows
I want sauce. In a thick voice he sighs Fair play to ye ,
leaves to bestow chicken wings on the folk at the bar.

On the Ha’penny bridge in soft drizzle
that man in Donegal Tweed, with my father’s face
calls over to me. I wish I knew what he said.

Finola Scott‘s poems are found on posters, tapestries and postcards They are published and anthologised widely including in New Writing Scotland, The Fenland Reed, PB, Orbis and Lighthouse. Red Squirrel Press publish her pamphlet Much left Unsaid. Makar of the Federation of Writers (Scotland), her poems have twice won the Uist Prize and been placed in the Coast to Coast and Blue Nib pamphlet competitions. Stanza Poetry Festival commissioned work for a multi-media installation.

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Iain Twiddy: Two Poems

THE NAVIGATION OF THE SLEA

Under the footbridge, on the shallow slabs,
the last step was always into suspense,
when you had to hold steady, and then let
yourself in to a plunging buoyancy.

He rowed, as I watched the clouds weighing in,
felt the summer weed clutching at the oars,
the clear chemical smell of the water.
You couldn’t go far, only past the baths,

the sluice, towards the mill and the willow,
where there was always the dread of being
sucked in to a sudden lunge of current
and dragged through the waterfall’s drop-jawed rout.

Still, that wouldn’t drown out a deeper call,
like some muddy god stirring below, to go further,
and feel the flow drawn umbilically out
through the gasping panels of the flatlands.

But past the lock were more falls, pipes, barbed wire.
And where could we have ended up? Bonemill,
Kyme Eau, by the samurai tower, besieged
in a far eastern sun? I guess nowhere

but where I now dredge and level, gouging
a channel back to a stretch that’s never
really let go; back to him and me,
back to when all we dreamed of was leaving.

PASSING

Summer evening, the bushes flittering,
the road clear, the broad boughs assuaging the breeze,
with him to the big give of light that was the rec,
where, relenting at last, he’s agreed to play.

Where the ball gets smacked and scudded, skyed —
then daisycut, instepped, sidefooted like a putter,
dinked and caressed, curled extravagantly,
where it juds chunkily back off tree trunks.

Where, as the leaves plush like settling birds,
and the conker trees advance across the grass
and the tennis court lock clicks like a clock,

my last pass (it seems) is always lofted,
as if with that slightly longer lasting lift
there were more earthly chance it would be returned.

Iain Twiddy studied literature at university and lived for several years in northern Japan. His poetry has appeared in Harvard Review, Salamander, Pedestal Magazine, The Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, The London Magazine and elsewhere. He is the author of the critical studies Pastoral Elegy in Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (2012) and Cancer Poetry (2015).

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Merryn Williams: Two Poems

THIS PLACE

This place had a large shifting population –
a summer school, a holiday destination.
Loud parties lasted late into the night.
They warned you, lock your door when you go out

even for a minute. Men roamed around the campus
and it was no one’s job to ask their business.
The couples lurched back underneath the moon
and put their heads down in a rented room.

Yet this time, there was more to fear than theft.
A woman was attacked. A child was left,
deep sleeping, comfort blanket in her cot.
They warned them, lock your door, but they did not.

IT DROPPED SO LOW IN MY REGARD …
(Emily Dickinson)

When you smashed my loving cup
ancient terrors started up.

Treasured earthware hit the floor,
a friend whom I could trust no more.

Others – yes, I could defend,
but not my own familiar friend.

We glued the bits together, but
something in my mind snapped shut.

Something, with those words you spoke,
slipped between our hands and broke.

Ponder that immense mistake,
and search for gold, which doesn’t break.

Merryn Williams has published five volumes of poetry; the latest is The Fragile Bridge: New and Selected Poems (Shoestring Press). She lives in Oxford and is collecting poems about corona virus and the lockdown. She is literary adviser to the Wilfred Owen Association.

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Margaret Wilmot: Two Poems

A SHELL GLEAMING

The cupboard was packed – boxes, folders of ink-prints
she had made, a leaf, a fish, grasses. A tent
lay folded like a dusty chrysalis . . .

A whole life we were sorting, dismantling,
putting in colour-coded bags hung from
the horse-shoe sculpture until

they were so heavy they stood alone.
She had a rock-polisher too, fine rocks.
As if in search of a first world

not yet touched by human pain,
a world where heart and eyes are one, and you know
the weight of love as you hold it in your hand –

I took a silver dollar dated 1921, the year of her birth,
a box of shells. See her on a white beach, returning
to her tent, light catching in her wet palm.

DANCE
after Winslow Homer

Two women dance in moonlight by a sea
where lead-white rides the waves like foam. Silks glow.
The stage is set for a human comedy,

a beauty-and-the-beast complicity.
Rough brushwork complements the fine which shows
two women dancing in moonlight by the sea.

Umber with Prussian blues add mystery.
Does a white whale surge beneath this flow?
The stage is set for a human comedy

A lunar tool sculpts solidity,
but the waves lie flat for all the rush and glow.
Two women dance in moonlight by the sea,

and the dance is all, the sea is all – this free
clash of silk on wave, slim ankle, ocean-flow
on this stage set for human comedy.

Dark figures watch entranced, ourselves maybe.
It seems so simple, artless, a tableau.
Two women dance in moonlight by the sea.
The stage is set for a human comedy.

Margaret Wilmot. Born in California, MW lived abroad teaching before settling in Sussex, England in 1978 and raising a family. She has been published in various British poetry magazines including Acumen, Artemis, Assent, Cinnamon, Frogmore, Magma, Oxford Poetry, Nottingham, Rialto, Scintilla, Smiths-Knoll, Staple, Temenos. Smiths Knoll published a pamphlet Sweet Coffee in 2013. Man Walking on Water with Tie Askew, a full-length book of poems, was published by The High Window in June 2019.

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Marjory Woodfield: Poem

SANCTUARY
A’ Chomraich

Their neighbour died last month
men carried the wooden bier over hills
singing the old hymns.

Rop tú mo baile, a Choimdiu cride:
ní ní nech aile acht Rí secht nime.

*

Betsy cuts kale from the garden. Makes soup. Alexander’s boat
is tethered on the rocky foreshore beside empty lobster creels.
A weathered sign: Applecross Temperance Inn. Shore Street.

She helps with repairs to the church. Curtains for the manse. Plans meetings
with the young people. Her own small room. Remembers Overseas Missions.
Spain, South America, Armenia. The Girls’ Auxiliary. So much wrought by prayer.

The Post Office sells Alexander’s postcards. Beyond Milltown there are heather
thatched cottages. Black-faced sheep. Betsy carries a basket, walks bracken-lined
paths. Hears a small boy’s catechism. Sits with his mother. Tea and oatcakes.

*

Clachan Church has cold flagstones. Pipistrelles under eaves
and neat rows of tombstones. So many names erased by wind
and rain but we find hers.

Elizabeth McCrae, wife of Alexander.
Loved by all.

Note: The two lines in Old Irish have been taken from the hymn ‘Rop tú mo baile/ Be thou my vision’:

‘Be thou my vision O Lord of my heart
None other is aught but the King of the seven heavens’

Marjory Woodfield has been published by the BBC, Raven Chronicles, The Blue Nib, London Grip and others. She’s been long-listed for the Alpine Fellowship, won the 2019 Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature Robert Burns Poetry Competition, received commendations in the 2019 Hippocrates Open Awards for Poetry and Medicine and the Proverse International Poetry Competition. She appears in Pale Fire – New Writing on the Moon (Frogmore Press), Best Small Fictions 2019, (Sonder Press) and with one eye on the cows (Bath Flash Fiction Volume Four).

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Stella Wulf: Three Poems

In 1968 the port of Hull was rocked by the loss of three trawlers in the space of less than a month. The St. Romulus, the Kingston Peridot, and the Ross Cleveland, all sank in Icelandic waters in the worst weather conditions ever witnessed. 58 fishermen lost their lives. 28 year old Harry Eddom, mate on the Ross Cleveland, miraculously survived. Lillian Bilocca, Christine Jensen, Mary Denness, and Yvonne Blenkinsop, set out to change the industry and strengthen safety legislation with their Fisherman’s Charter. Their demands were fully implemented.

THE FISHWIFE
‘Big Lil’ Bilocca

I’m a woman of ample ballast,
but news of the Ross Cleveland keels me over.
Fifty nine souls tipped into the sea like small fry.
Aye, we’re all grieving, but aggrieved besides!

Our lives are gutted, families wrecked, our men counted
in fish, baited by the trophy of silver cod. Flesh and blood
is no match for the savagery of ice. By god, I pledge
my life, our boats won’t sail if our men aren’t safe!

Silly women, this is not your business, they say.
Go home to your kids and kitchen sinks.
To talk of sinks at a time like this! – they know nowt.
This is our business, and its heart’s ripped out.

They call me coarse, too loud, a trouble monger.
I’m no pin-bone dainty, no spineless urchin neither.
The gaffers tried to scale me down … sod ’em,
this Master and Servant act is over!

We all launched in – wives, mothers, sisters, aunts,
a headscarf army armed with a Fisherman’s Charter.
I’m their mother ship, their channel, their flare,
I’ll go to prison before I’ll falter.

But the poison pens get under me skin,
they know how to slide the knife in,
they’ve left me flayed. We lasses battled
the storm, but I’m washed up, high and dry,

a clapped-out boat trawling empty seas,
all I have to give is handkerchieves.
A fishwife’s voice is both a blessing and a ruin,
it’s been my undoing.

THE OPTICIAN

He’s doesn’t know that I can see
through him, that I don’t need a lens to read
his deceit, discern the blurring of his movements.

I’ve watched the focus of his attention shift,
there’s a new curve in his wandering eye,
an astigmatism that distorts his judgement,

refracts his view. He thinks I’m blind
to his oversights, doesn’t know I have contacts,
that I apply my nude lipstick with 20/20 vision.

The glasses that framed him glow rose tinted
in the telling tales of the dishwasher, a pink kiss
lingering in the evaporating steam.

I have opened his eyes, he can see now
that a woman with foresight has sharper vision,
that a clouded glass can be elbowed clean.

LA COIFFEUSE

When I leave this life of permanent waves,
its hellos and goodbyes, their feathered layers
of fancy, I’ll break from the blunt cut of habit,
return to the flower-woven tangles
of my hippie youth.

I’ll converse with trees – Chestnut, Ash, Copper Beech,
and baptise every autumn leaf as it falls. I’ll comb
the remotest golden beaches, the palest desert sands,
for a glimpse of who I am, and on that new horizon
I’ll stand alone in my reflections.

How I’ve ached for beauty, its perceptions and deceptions.
All those exposed white necks bent to my blades,
such exquisite trust weighs on the shoulders.
I brush it off, show them a side of themselves
only others see. Goodbye. Hello.

When the sun slants through the blinds,
I’ll leave my shoes on its razor edge,
walk barefoot through the dead ends,
the sheared illusions of people’s lives,
and sweep out through the open door.

Stella Wulf has a deep love of the natural world and a passion for politics, and the human condition—themes she explores in her poetry. Her work has appeared in many anthologies including the award winning #MeToo. Journal publications include: The New European, The French Literary Review, Prole, IS&T, obsessed With Pipework, and many others. She has an MA in Creative Writing, from Lancaster University and is co-editor of 4Word Press. Her debut pamphlet is After Eden, published in 2018.

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