Susan Alexander • Jean Atkin • Marie-Andree Auclair • Daniel Bennett • Miki Byrne • Stephen Claughton • Jack Collard • Gareth Culshaw • Sheila Hamilton • Richard Hawtree • Ian Heffernan • Karen Izod • Rosie Jackson • Beth McDonough • Gordon Meade • James Owens • Lesley Quayle • Elizabeth Ridout • Sue Rose • Philip Rush • Anne Ryland • Robert Selby • Adrienne Silcock • Gerry Stewart • Jay Thomas • Susan Utting • Richard Weaver • John Wheway • Jay Wickersham • Heidi Williamson • Rodney Wood • Martin Zarrop
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
Susan Alexander: Poem
And so he lost her as shadows fell across
the meadow beside the barbed wire fence.
For years he drifts between towns
working for bed, food, a fix. Every night
the same dream. Her hand reaches for his
in twilight and he is turned to stone.
He wakes to his strange body, rigid.
Always he studies faces – the waitress
at the diner, so tired, the woman
standing scarecrow in her garden.
When he drinks, he picks up whispers,
glimpses – birdsong, flower, pearl.
In the woods, tree fungus flares
like lace. Such delicate ears listening
for summer’s slow approach. What he wants
is to go back to before her eyes went dark.
In his dream, he finds Lady’s Mantle,
a leaf that cups a bead of dew.
He brings it to the school’s iron gate. A touch
and each lock springs open. Doors swing
into a dormitory of birds, silent in cages.
His arms stretch open until the sky is filled
with wings, the morning throbs with song.
She stands taller than him now. Eyes alight.
Susan Alexander is the 2019 winner of the $20,000 Mitchell Prize for Faith and Poetry for Vigil, an unpublished suite of poems. The Dance Floor Tilts, her debut collection, was published by Thistledown Press, 2017. Susan’s poems have appeared in literary magazines, chapbooks and anthologies in Canada, as well as on the Vancouver busses and in the woods nearby Whistler Village. She lives on Bowen Island in British Columbia
Jean Atkin: Poem
MADAM PIGGOTT THROUGH THE TREES
Where we go for sweet chestnuts
on Market Drayton road by Chetwynd Firs,
that’s the lay-by
where uncle used to overnight.
He drove a Morris flatbed
in the fifties, down from Liverpool.
In winter-dark, he’d haul
the wheel over, bump off tarmac.
Heave up the handbrake.
Light a fag, uncork his thermos,
unfold his Mirror, spread a rug.
While in the big house Madam Pigott
died again in childbed.
Lop the root to save the branch
said Squire, and shrugged
but their babe died too.
She walks, and walks, her babe in arms.
Uncle used to see her, pale as bones,
lilting through the trees. She’d lay
her thin cheek on his lorry door.
But uncle told me nothing was as bad
after the desert war.
Jean Atkin‘s new collection How Time is in Fields (2019) is available from IDP. Previous publications include Not Lost Since Last Time (Oversteps Books), and six poetry pamphlets. Her poetry has been commissioned for Radio 4, featured on Ramblings with Claire Balding, and added to ‘Best Scottish Poems’ by the Scottish Poetry Library. She works as a poet in education and community. She is currently Troubadour of the Hills for Ledbury Poetry Festival, and BBC National Poetry Day Poet for Shropshire.
Marie-Andree Auclair: Poem
a quiet street
past the hotel Charmant
a garage door rolled up
on a space the size of a large crate
reddish yellow and luminous
its shelves and tables
covered with little orbs
in transparent plastic bags
eight to a bag
one hundred yens
a shiny silver coin
from my purse
and eight, his hand extends
tax, he says
I fish eight un-shiny coins
tax, and I smile back
leave the garage store
my hand already curves
around a mandarin
I can’t wait to dig fingers
under the pebbled skin
fragrant, free from the flesh
I discard rind to bag and bite
the fruit, the texture of lips
a juicy kiss, sweet fullness
in mouth, a distraction
I yield to, that fills me
with a soft orange-y glow
that transports me to an orchard
where I meander between short trees
with glossy leaves, long thorns
and patient fruits
within my reach.
Marie-Andree Auclair’s poems have appeared in a variety of print and online publications in the United States, Canada, Ireland and in the United Kingdom. Her chapbook, Contrails was released by In/Words Magazine and Press/Ottawa . She lives in Canada.
Daniel Bennett: Three Poems
‘Oneness is a prison’
Sooner or later, you’ll lose yourself,
fall off the map, the route creaking
like a puzzle all stiff at its angles:
the corrosion biting the workings
of a funicular railway, the percussion
of trams, unsycopated and tireless.
White grain of stone and the ocean
waiting. An earthquake shaking
faith in God. The tributes to Pessoa,
in decals, statues and shop signs,
a table preserved in a favourite cafe.
How did he write through the noise?
The city scrawled out his aliases
in a graffiti burst, a secret network
of hardwired disguises, the audience
to a library discarded inside a valise.
He expanded towards the universe:
a constellation in the shape of a man.
A guitarist walks through Bairro Alto,
eyes blazing under a green bandana
and, to all of us, he acts as a warning
of too much solitude. I eat salt cod
to the strains of his guitar. Nearby,
a fado singer eulogises doomed love
for the tourists. Everyone can name
a thing they long for that didn’t exist.
Sunday cartoons, forgotten poems,
the continuity of family. It’s at meals
I notice you’re not here. I’d want you
taking your turn with the menu,
lining up a shot of cherry brandy.
Later, as I wander back to the hotel,
I hold your absence close to me,
an old friend to swap thoughts with,
impressions. To help keep me lonely
in all this company.
‘I do not rate this defence very highly at all…’
Weak coffee laced with vanilla.
I headed to the cafe most days,
to find a table on the mezzanine.
If travel was a series of interiors,
I liked to occupy a corner
amongst the commune dropouts
and wasters from the pool hall,
who were too young to buy beer.
The smell of patchouli and balm
filled that space, the sweet
occasional stench of kind buds.
This hippie town had grown up
into a boomer paradise
of coffeeshops and low taxes
and the sharp reality of America,
began percolating inside of me
like the Camel cigarettes,
bought from a kiosk on The Hill,
which singed my asthmatic chest
with their filterless burn. Now,
the low-spec nature of these years
is increasingly appealing:
the bag from military surplus
I stuffed with biros, books;
a Walkman and mixtapes;
a chess set in a brown pleather case.
A friend began to tag along
from a class on the European novel
who treated me as a primary source
on Mrs Dalloway and The Secret Agent
and who took delight in preying
on the the tatters of my game.
He suggested a new defence,
Alekhine, an ambitious choice
in that it entailed a lone knight
setting out from the centre.
Late one night, in a street on The Hill
I was persuaded into a camper van
by a stranger wandering the streets.
We smoked pot and talked
about global conspiracies,
and his film-producer father
who beamed messages from the elite
directly into our skulls. There I was
placed solidly into experience,
never thinking I might disappear.
I miss the oak-apple shade of their leather
most of all, its texture snagged by burrs
and barbed wire. And that shape:
a boat-like bow, reminiscent of skiffs
drifting across green waters
to find a slate island on which to beach.
Loyal friends, but how did they
reflect on our relationship?
Not well, I think. I imagine them
bemoaning my, oh, so many faults.
My penchant for puddles in hill walks,
my foot odour, my careless steps through
shit and ripe mud. They were only hostages
to my whims, helpless masochists
without a safe word in our secret game:
tongues yanked, laces pulled
and tied, mouths stuffed with my feet
like some smuttier image of totalitarianism.
And even if part of me will always reside
in that summer, when they accompanied me
through new and old routes, when I learned
the contrast of their leather against green and grey,
where I sheltered from thunder
in Highbury shop fronts, and longed
for a distant idea of family: it’s clear
that no conceit is as dumb
as expecting the things we own
to witness the passing of our slowest times,
to provide correlative. They were shoes,
for god’s sake. No, I don’t miss them at all.
Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His first full collection West South North, North South East was published by The High Window in 2019. He is also the author of the novel All The Dogs.’
Miki Byrne: Poem
Cedar Tree, Port Elliot. St. German’s. Cornwall.
She fell in love with the old cedar,
wise with wind-whisper, ancient lore.
She named it ‘Cathedral’, awed by its size.
Murmurs of earth’s heart were channelled
through it, rumbled against
her leaning ear as she sat at its base
beneath its tent of branches.
Soft green tips turned out, like ballet dancers’
hands that rested, delicate,
upon leaf mulch and cones, their lobes
peeled back by desiccation.
She wrapped its bark with her arms
and felt blood’s slow pounding
in the gentle rise of sap; trickled handfuls
of needles through her fingers;
saw them changed from green to rust
with each season’s drying. She visited
every year, hugged a hard goodbye –
keeps a cone to remind her
of her heart’s home.
Miki Byrne has written three poetry collections, had work included in over 170 poetry magazines and anthologies and has read hedr work on TV and on Radio. She ran a poetry writing group at The Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury. Her website is www.mikibyrnepoetry.com Miki is disabled and lives near Tewkesbury. Gloucestershire.UK.
Stephen Claughton: Poem
THE OLD STICKS
They aren’t bad, the old sticks,
clustered in a corner by the door,
waiting to go on walks.
There’s strength in numbers, I think,
until I knock one down
and send the whole lot clattering,
skitter-scattering over floor.
I stoop a little stiffly to pick them up,
embarrassed by their slapstick.
My grandfather’s knotted thorn,
a good-for-striking-out-with kind of stick,
a prop to help cut a dash
on his strolls round Kensington,
those last years of his life
lived out on what was left
of a family legacy won
from coalmines in Lancashire.
Something to ponder that, as I set against it
the steel-tipped, pit deputy’s stick
my wife’s grandfather would have used,
its knob-handle clenched like a fist,
the tapered shaft a yard of solid heft —
more tool than weapon,
more instrument than tool,
for measuring, testing, probing
seams deep under Doncaster.
I bundle them up
with a pair from the distaff side,
maintaining a doddery balance:
my mother-in-law’s the more modern
with holes to adjust the height —
it had the measure of her;
then my grandmother’s stick —
plain, no-nonsense like her —
she’d have cut it down to size.
Powerful jujus, ancestral artefacts,
they need somewhere better to stand
than the lean-to of themselves,
nothing outré or ostentatious,
no elephant’s foot or oversized Ming vase,
just a place to sleep standing up,
somewhere for four old sticks
to rattle along together
without ever falling out.
Stephen Claughton’s poems have appeared widely in print and online. He has recently published two pamphlets: The War with Hannibal (Poetry Salzburg, 2019) and The 3-D Clock (Dempsey & Windle, 2020).”
Jack Collard: Poem
DOUBLE TAP X
The great game begins. The loading screen, a blueprint map stained by
X`s, – 1 life left. No resurrections, no pause, no time to think or feel or
breathe. We`ve been here before. This won`t be the first or
last time. But one game`s end is another`s
beginning. Can`t be long till the next one`s unveiled anyway.
That`s right, you saw it on the news. Can`t wait.
It`s gonna be great. Your nervous anticipation bleeds into the familiar
contour of the black plastic placed in your hands, scorched by sweaty finger marks.
Fingers on triggers, the X buttons, twitching and itching to pinch.
You know the routine like the scars that snake down your back.
Dance, boy, dance for your life. Show `em what you`re capable of.
And we`re off. With rope wrapped round your body you drop down
down from the sky into the arena through the confetti
dust. Once on the gravel you pound the triggers,
double tap; X, X, never considering
Y. It`s like shooting tin cans of an alley – metallic, soulless, programmed like
bait, goons. You feel like a vigilante, no capes or kill caps.
Invincible. Next target found, fate, locked, loaded…Bingo – got `em.
Bragging points gained, just another tally on the kill streak.
Might reach the highest toll of the week. That`ll show `em.
Headshot – cool.
Isn`t this fun?
Your Mum`s call for dinner is drowned out, a distant plea.
But you promised you`d finish the mission before tea.
You promised to come back,
to the real world.
You promised you`d unplug.
But you`ve come this far, can`t have broken so many, so much, just to lose
your kill streak.
The sand`s spit and the fireworks of rubble and ruin become an eye sore.
Water leaks from your bloodshot eyes, but you mustn’t flinch or faulter.
Your mouth is as dry as the superficial sand on which you play upon.
You find a house, a shadow, and embrace it.
But there`s a noise, footsteps. You pivot to the left.
Nothing. You glance to the right. You blink. You die. You cry
at the TV IT`S NOT FAIR. You throw your weapon at the floor
and the battery falls – dead – at your feet.
It`s not fair. It never is.
Now you`ve lost your kill streak.
It`s all fun and games `till the game plays you.
Missed out on dinner tonight, but you`ve lost your appetite.
Why don`t you just give up the fight?
Jack Collard is a First Year A-Levels student at Bridgwater and Taunton College, Somerset. He is studying English Literature and is interested in looking at the ordinary as extraordinary, and how life`s subtleties can be substantial. He was seventeen years old when he wrote this poem.
Gareth Culshaw: Poem
The rookery is on repeat
crashes of bartering blare
out across rooftops, closed gates,
and parked cars.
The odd tractor brushes away
the noise, but the rooks soon
crescendo again. The leaves open
out into a muted world.
Bees are free to cross the road,
butterflies dance as surf-boarders
upon a wave. I watch from behind
The rookery is on repeat
burns away winter. Their charcoal
feathers flick up into a grapefruit light.
The rookery is on repeat.
I sit behind glass. Listen.
The rookery is on repeat.
Gareth Culshaw lives in Wales. He has two collections by FutureCycle called The Miner & A Bard’s View. He is a current student at Manchester Met. He loves the outdoors and listening to the wind in the trees.
Sheila Hamilton: Poem
BUSES TO LIDICE
They travel to a place
that isn’t there.
At the place that isn’t there,
people get off the bus
to see what isn’t there.
The visitors’ centre
displays old photographs,
they show the place as was:
houses, people, fences, dogs.
You can watch footage of the village
being burnt off the map
till only fallen bricks were left, ashen flowers.
In time, there would be a visitors’ centre.
In time, there would be a memorial sculpture.
Sheila Hamilton is a widely published poet. Her most recent full collection The Spirit Vaults came out in 2017 from Green Bottle Press while her most recent pamphlet, Lotus Moon With Blossom, was published in the spring of 2019 and is available from 4Words. She currently lives in the NW of England and is carer to her young adult son who has disabilities.
Richard Hawtree: Three Poems
THINGS THE VICAR SAID
That angels have six wings.
That, when young, he wanted
to nail himself to the west door.
That it was time
to leave the YMCA
when the jam and marmite coalesced.
That he no longer believed.
That there is nothing more splendid
than the bathroom at a papal villa.
That we should pray
for spiders, for the sins of the church,
for everything that creeps.
ONCE YOU WERE CAIRENE
Once you were Cairene
in days of dust
the Bedouin tents
your childhood certainties.
Returning to Colchester
in dawns of slush and frost
you were still Cairene
watching for snakes, mosquito nets,
each Nile-spun sunset
in the Essex grass.
HONEYMOON BEFORE RETURNING TO WAR
They were blitzing the mainline stations
when you left on honeymoon.
In the Cotswolds (blushing in civvies)
you rode buses as petrol failed.
Sleepless, your English guilt
burnished her uniform –
hustled you back to town
still thrumming with craters.
Richard Hawtree‘s poems have appeared in literary magazines including: The Stinging Fly, The Blue Nib, Nine Muses Poetry, SOUTH, Skylight 47, Banshee, and The Honest Ulsterman. His pamphlet The Night I Spoke Irish in Surrey was published by Dempsey and Windle in 2019.
Ian Heffernan: 3 poems
MOUNT DAVIS ROAD
Looking down just before dusk
From this elevated roadway
At the already-lighted windows
I make out early evening’s
Banal, incurious rituals:
Cooking, eating, exercise.
Below occasional taxis pass
And further off, just visible
Through narrow gaps, ferries
Chase each other into the fog.
I used to run up to this spot
From Kennedy Town at 6am.
Now I stand and let the city
Retreat into the myth of itself.
I have no expectations,
Only a sense of history
Clearing away its silt,
Life beginning that process too.
I recognise again the sham
Of departure, the sham of return.
Li Shang Yin said if we trust
In words written on Indian leaves
We can hear all past and future
In one stroke of a temple bell.
I wouldn’t know. All I can say
Is if I were a mystagogue
I’d believe on death my soul
Would rise from here with all its freight,
Or stay on through dusk and dark until
It entered the heart of the sunrise.
THE ROUGH WITH THE SMOOTH
‘You’ve got to take what life decides to give –
The rough, the smooth, the lot.’ He paused again,
Pushed out loose-fitting cheeks, then sucked them in.
Archaic face absurd with dignity,
He looked like something from the 70s.
He’d caught his breath: ‘You’ve got to take it all.’
A mid-week afternoon had petered out
And dusk had smudged the street outside to grey.
His flat was overwarm and smelled of turps,
The sink was full of last week’s washing up,
The bath was full of folded plastic bags.
I’d heard his story many times before:
He’d grown up in a nearby tenement
And worked for decades on the underground
Then driving cabs (‘night-man not days, of course’).
He’d had ‘this amourette’: an Irish girl –
Belle laide, near-bawd – and followed her to Clare.
After a year or two she threw him out.
Alone and unemployed, he chose the street,
Convinced he had no flair for happiness.
Soon stranded at the margins of himself,
Surprised by certain day’s light-sharpened air
And malformed nights in park or alleyway,
He ended up in jail then ‘on a ward’.
‘Bowery, calaboose then booby hatch’ –
That’s how he traced the path of his decline.
It led him back eventually to here,
The almost-echo of his childhood home,
And preset days of indistinct routine:
Pub, café, supermarket, surgery.
I watch him as he shuffles to the stove;
Abdominous, his cheeks pushed out again.
His breathing is a foreign circus lost
On narrow, potholed country roads; his tongue
Grips language as a blind man grips his stick;
The future stalks him like a question mark.
THE GARDEN OF HIDDEN PHILOSOPHERS
Here summer hums with freedom,
Though the crows, on their bleak flight,
Do not seem to grasp it.
They gather in loose groups above the park
And harass the tattered balconies
That line its eastern edge.
The turtles and fish in the green water,
A heron on its watch, a lone moorhen,
The squirrels a near-uniform dark brown,
The rats on the banks of a lake, where water
Dislodges meaning from the stone.
Tiny and stubborn, that meaning persists.
I see those tentative tracks in the red dust,
Those fallen hairs; I catch the aftertaste
Of an aftertaste and the scent of rotting leaves.
Later, in a hollow, I find a carcass.
Death picks briskly at its entrails.
The tang of green tea, a plate of grapes.
Now there is nothing else.
There is just the slow shift of light,
The slow church of thought,
The questions which expand, then disappear.
I inherit only the answers.
They say the best of us stand
At the edge of things.
I have no opinion on that.
I spend my life – as you can see –
In this half-dreamed park, licking old wounds
Call me a human mackle, if you like.
All I want to say for now
Is that there have been times
When I’ve been closer than I understood
To the heart of evil.
A little smoke disturbs the distance.
This is the myth of flame.
This is the myth of flame;
at least, it was.
A little smoke disturbs the distance
Until the day discards itself
And the skyline shrinks to a ball.
Leaving only the ghost of a clock.
Beneath it, the ghost of these lines:
All things revolve around themselves
And something else, which we forget.
All things persist in other things.
Ian Heffernan was born just outside London, where he still lives. He studied at UCL and SOAS and works with the homeless. His poetry has been published recently in The High Window, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Cha, Antiphon, South Bank Poetry, London Grip, Under the Radar, FourXFour, the Moth and elsewhere.
Karen Izod: Poem
Will I sharpen y’knives for you? he asked,
standing at my door, tired in his eyes.
A life of cuts and callouses wrung in his hands
and the dirt of a thousand doorways.
Our neighbour would always invite them round
the back, set them up with tea and bread
for the sound of an afternoon’s tinkering.
Though our own house was less accommodating –
you’ll never rid of them, they’ll always want more.
So I felt a fear on that doorstep,
believing I had nothing to offer
but to send him on his way, my mind fretting
on that double edge that was both caution
and concern – you could at least have given
directions to the hostel, made him a bite.
Now it’s the young men from the North,
plying their dusters and tea towels,
and I’m more given to conversation.
Discharged from the army, on mental health grounds,
he said, following his father in both respects.
Sent out to learn communication skills, apparently.
Facing up to the closed door, more like.
Karen Izod: academic and writer: wild places, thin places, city spaces, people, politics. She is published in a number of journals: Agenda, The Interpreter’s House, Coast to Coast to Coast, in competition anthologies including: Stanley Spencer (Two Rivers Press), The Wolf and Dempsey & Windle and on-line at New Welsh Review video showcase, Poetry Shed and Ink Sweat & Tears. Karen lives on the edge of the North Downs in Guildford, Surrey and is a regular at local open-mic events. http://www.karenizod.com
Rosie Jackson: Three poems
A DROP IN TEMPERATURE (PALM SUNDAY 2020)
My new man’s watching birds through his binoculars
– black cap, fire-crest – as they crisp into view
along with seas of a nearly ripe white moon,
but I’m seeing the blue wings of sorrow,
blurred from weeping and too little sleep.
Cross the stream where it is shallowest, they say,
and soul after soul is crossing now while the tide
is out, so many souls rosaries can’t tell
quick enough, even archangels struggle to keep up.
Titles mean nothing now, wifelets, estates,
nor will the arms of the kissing-gate let
anyone back through. It helps me, though,
to think of them as birds, these souls rising
in their thousands from solitary beds –
murmurations huddled in reeds of the afterlife
as they shelter each other from the unexpected drop
in temperature, land in pairs or handfuls
on telegraph wires, share how it was.
CLOTHED IN MUD AND FEATHERS
In dreams you can let yourself feel the fear
you’ve denied all day, know the virus dogs you
as you go back to the college where you taught,
break into a sweat as you try to get library books
back onto shelves before their wisdom runs out of date.
Panic rises as other staff loiter, fail to observe
the necessary metre or more, and you want
to shove a tombstone in their face, resurrect
O-level Latin with some apt memento mori –
Omnia mors perimit et nulli miseretur.
What do these women think they’re doing,
leisurely finishing admin, eating cheese sandwiches
for lunch? Why, for that matter, are you here,
putting your history of ideas to bed instead
of self-isolating? Perhaps your dream knows
something you don’t, perhaps it’s time at last
to write that letter as appendage to your will,
say exactly where you wish your books/art/
ear-rings/body to go. Let’s face it, you’ve had
many epiphanies, many opportunities to reflect
on ultimate things, yet still you carry on
as if you’re more than a bag of bones, as if
when you wake to the sound of neighbours
mowing the lawn, the light of April sun
calling you down, it matters to attend
to your own garden. You think death makes any
distinction between tasks done and undone?
You can never be ready. Trust your dream.
Death destroys all and pities no-one.
IN THIS PERIOD OF STRANGE CALM
In this period of strange calm
I have become a distant witness
to other people’s suffering,
the way a woman in Ancient Greece,
say, whose hours are spent worrying
if yesterday’s dish of food will stretch
to another meal, and how many goats
are lost on Mount Pelion, is dumbfounded
to hear what is happening skies away
in Delphi, it being hard for one
with simple ideas about goodness
to understand the necessity of sacrifice
to appease gods who have, apparently,
reached their limit of enduring human folly.
Perhaps she too stands outside
under a full pink moon, sends thanks
to white-robed figures attending
the dead, tears off leaves of oregano,
sage, wild mint, raises her hands
in prayer towards the gods hiding
on Mount Olympus, says –
This is enough, now, surely this sacrifice
is enough, we can change our ways –
then waits under the chestnut trees
for signs she has been heard.
Rosie Jackson lives near Frome. What the Ground Holds (Poetry Salzburg, 2014) was followed by The Light Box (Cultured Llama, 2016) and her memoir The Glass Mother (Unthank, 2016). Rosie has taught at the University of East Anglia, UWE, and Cortijo Romero, Spain. She won 1st prize in Poetry Space 2019, 1st at Wells 2018, 1st in Stanley Spencer competition 2017. Two Girls and a Beehive (with Graham Burchell), poems about Spencer, is published by Two Rivers Press, 2020. http://www.rosiejackson.org.uk
Beth McDonough: Poem
Who could bear to observe
this half-squashed death?
all wriggle limbed,
one small grey wing, smashed
into fanned grey veins,
fine as any pressed flower,
then smudged. A dirty indignity,
dying on a lavvy wall.
The other wing? Frizzling, but attached
to whatever hopeless grab at life
pulses that unbroken thorax.
Some misled attempt to self-propel
this insect to a better space
inside or out, light or dark? Perhaps.
Whatever you crave of life
can’t unhinge the fate
of tissued squash, the scrape and flick,
flushed into kinder oblivion.
Beth McDonough studied Silversmithing at Glasgow School of Art. After an M.litt at Dundee University, she was Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Her work connects strongly with place, and particularly to the Tay, where she swims year round. Her poetry is published in Gutter, Stand, Magma and elsewhere. In Handfast (with Ruth Aylett) she explored experiences of autism, as Aylett examined dementia. McDonough’s solo pamphlet, Lamping for pickled fish, is published by 4Word. She continues to work intermedially
Gordon Meade: Poem
A CAPITAL FOX
I wasn’t sure whether you were
a fox or a wraith. From a distance
you had the same gait as a fox but,
as you got closer, I began to have
my doubts. Your once russet coat
had become a matted black, your
magnificent brush, little more than
an oily rag, and the brightness, that
used to light up your trickster’s eyes,
had dimmed beyond all recognition.
Once, you had been a vision but now,
were even less than the proverbial
shadow of your former self. As I
entered the local shop, you stopped,
as if waiting for my return. However,
when I came out, you were no longer
there; gone, to make another unsettling
impression on someone else who would
have wished, just like myself, to have
come across you in far better times.
Gordon Meade is a Scottish poet based in the East Neuk of Fife. He divides his time working on his own writing and running creative writing courses for vulnerable people in a variety of settings. His most recent collection, Zoospeak, a collaboration between himself and the Canadian photographer and animal activist, Jo-Anne McArthur, was published in February by the Enthusiastic Press in London. The book is available at www.enthusiasticpress.co.uk
James Owens: Three Poems
There are varieties of always. The sun
burns always at the heart of space,
which won’t really be true forever.
Waves and flowers are always coming to the shore
and to the earth, in their different rhythms.
But this is the truest kind of always:
in Berlin, at dusk, an exaltation of a dozen starlings
burst low and fast over the roof of the museum,
over us, and they kept going in the sky,
a handful of fragments of the one darkness,
flying strongly, briefly clear against the last light.
Your face shone, and you gasped and even clapped,
just like some perfect child seeing for the first time
the sea or a snowflake. This miracle lasted – I measure it,
years later and faraway – three seconds and forever.
VIVALDI: CELLO CONCERTO IN D MINOR, RV 406
Like relief when she steps from the door-
way, face and hair adept with falls of sun
through late shadows of leaves.
If he were air, if he were music.
In the deepening mood of long past noon,
there are moments like the lighted pause
between movements of a concerto,
spacious and stilled into her grace,
a hold for gathering breath, then the turn,
release, those first notes a new arrival.
A FEW OLD BUILDINGS AMONG THE FALLOW FIELDS
As if sunlight were the shadow
of an abyss that would deepen
the horizon in us, this dying afternoon
soaks the walls in coppery glow.
Ivy glimmers and thinks
when a breeze in the trap of vines
seeks meaning like shards of glass.
Crows darken the barns.
One hoarse, whetted vowel names
our return to the throat of the earth.
James Owens‘s most recent book is Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015). His poems and translations appear widely in literary journals, including recent publications in Adirondack Review, The Curlew, The Honest Ulsterman, and Southword. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in a small town in northern Ontario.
Lesley Quayle: Two Poems
Tap water’s brown again.
Reproved for being anything other than
a cliché pure and clear as crystal,
glacial meltwater beneath the fell,
not this sepia stream,
discoloured as old men’s
tobacco silted spit. Sheep piss.
The shepherd winks. Down through the grykes
after a deluge, and into the reservoir.
Muddied water, bitter cold,
leadens hills, puddles rough tracks,
stains the river’s swagger bronze.
It’s odd how so few images
can place you; remembering
voices, moving between rooms;
that view, noticing the weight
and grace of sky, the film of mist
which haunts the river.
In that gentle home, where no clock presumed
to remind us how late it had grown,
that we might have overstayed our welcome,
days, nights ticked by with neighbourly cheer,
unassuming doings and sayings –
the anxious, ever assiduous man and his warm-hearted wife.
Now they’re gone,
ghosts at the table,
crouched by the fire on a small stool,
the basket still full with well-seasoned wood.
Now the heavy curtains are unclosed
at the slow fade of day.
Lesley Quayle is a widely published, prize-winning poet, an editor and a folk blues singer. Her work has appeared in The Rialto, The North, Tears in the Fence, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Angle, Interpreter’s House, Pennine Platform and many other poetry magazines and journals, as well being featured on BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please. Her latest pamphlet Black Bicycle was published by 4Word.
Elizabeth Ridout: Poem
POLAROID OF A PARTY
There is a looming shadow
on the edge
of this Polaroid
It has pale hair and a dirty dress.
It is present in the half moon void
around the flame tips – it
sits at the end of the table
in a burning party hat –
throwing hard bright confetti,
scattering mirror shards
around the room.
It is peering round
the photograph edges,
the horror of it
wrapped in a blanket
of brown paper,
left with no note,
after this flimsy portal
was thoughtlessly conjured
from a push and a spasm.
It is not enveloping,
it is not welcoming,
not like the light
on this crowned face.
It is spiked and bony.
It curls around
half open doors and it
breaks its waxed fingers
crawling across the lawn,
climbing through cracks in walls
and slithering through vents.
A postcard from the suburbs of Hell.
A headshot for a failed audition.
A play watched by only one reviewer.
Elizabeth Ridout has published her poetry and reviews in Agenda, where she was recently Broadsheet Poet, and in various other publications. Elizabeth’s debut poetry collection, Summon, is part of Myriad Edition’s Spotlight series and will be published in January 2020
Sue Rose: Two Poems
There’s no taming the unruly cells—
they mutate like a group of lads
on a drunken night out
coming home black-eyed, half-cut,
a danger to themselves
till they wake to the sober dawn
and the unholy hell of a headache.
The damage is done—no sorries
can put the shadow back
under the sun-pierced oak, return
us to the playpen of striped lawns,
dwarf strawberries. We must contend
now with each potential last meal,
the bruising glory of sunsets.
In the night, he covers me
with darkness. I am stone;
alive and no more, locked
in place, betrayed
flesh. Beneath my skin
blood moves, my heart races
and cells bloom
into existence only to die.
During the day
my skull is a white quarry
in sunlight, endless light,
as people come and go,
easy fags smoked in the rasp
of cold in the street, easy,
the scratch of an itch,
casual word, touch.
All the animate will
of the world outside, creatures
in the air or in the soft ground
or trembling through the tangle
of undergrowth, has been
lost to me. My eyes blink
a message in my marble head.
No one understands.
Day and night, he is
pressing down on me
with the full weight
of a thousand pages
on a flower;
Sue Rose is a literary translator and the author of two collections from Cinnamon Press: From the Dark Room and The Cost of Keys. Her third Cinnamon Press collection, Scion, is due out in 2020. Heart Archives, a chapbook of sonnets paired with her own photos, was published by Hercules Editions (2014) and Tonewood, poems with photos of trees by Lawrence Impey was published by Eaglesfield Editions (2019, https://www.eaglesfieldeditions.com/tw). She won the Troubadour International Poetry Prize in 2009.
Philip Rush: Two Poems
to be walking one year
in the Sierra de Gredos
the tree line.
In a meadow there,
a handful of traditional
for the benefit of visitors —
small, simple structures in stone.
We made a beeline
dropped to our knees,
ourselves to the dark
and sat on a narrow ledge.
There are times
when good words
are best left unsaid.
ODE TO THE BASS VIOL
Years of tobacco
xxxxxxin half-timber inns
xxxxxxxxxxxxyour deep voice
with the timbre
You echo the sound –
xxxxxxand its uneasy
xxxxxxyou echo the sound
(such as those
Your clean syntax has
xxxxxxfrom the Latin.
xxxxxxin your rhetoric,
in its insistence,
xxxxxxin the way
it works up
xxxxxxgriefs and sadnesses
xxxxxxand a call
xxxxxxYou are varnished
xxxxxxthe mirrored halls
and with the smoke rings
xxxxxxwhich chain them
to the sky.
Philip Rush is an English teacher who likes to play the violin and explore foreign lands on foot and by bus. He now lives in a small Cotswold cottage in a small hillside village where he runs a small publishing enterprise which helps local poets both to see their work in print and to share it at readings and elsewhere.
Anne Ryland: Poem
Gulps of night are sharp and woodsmoky.
I’m running faster than my muscles
and bones have given me permission,
each gasp a miniature trumpeting;
half-sprinting towards the last memorial,
I cross the black bridge over the river
and here, moving through a foggy cocoon,
I remember Helen, Evalyn and Lorna,
the sisters unable to walk or wave goodbye,
who shooed their daughters out
into the world to climb and run.
The anguish of leaving a mother stranded;
the yearning to be gone.
The contract; the stretch.
The keeping going while breaking down –
doggedness, wrought into dignity.
Under the hood my face is sleety,
my nose needs to be mopped and mopped
as I pass and pass –
this lifelong overtaking.
Anne Ryland’s Autumnologist was shortlisted for The Forward Prize For Best First Collection, and The Unmothering Class was selected for New Writing North’s Read Regional Campaign. Her poems have been published in Poetry Review, Magma, Long Poem Magazine, Agenda and Oxford Poetry, as well as in The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry and The Result Is What You See Today – Poems about Running (Smith Doorstop). She lives in Northumberland and leads writing workshops in community settings.
Robert Selby: Four Poems
Lightly tapping on the gloss-blue backdoor
with knuckle or car-key, my mother
says ‘coo-ee!’ (A ‘come here’ bush-call
Tommy heard Digger use in the Dardanelles
from across death’s peninsula, evacuated home
and patched-up parish-proper to mean
It’s only me, so don’t start;
I’ve let myself in to meet you at your hearth.)
Inside, water on the gas, simmering gently.
The clock correct on its long-life battery.
From his low armchair by the partition
he shakes my hand, as if I’m a man.
His hands dwarf mine.
I already know this won’t change with time.
Suffolk reserve in his ‘Hello
Robert’: words are weeds that don’t fall to the hoe.
Wet-cheeked from my grandmother’s kiss,
I take the chair by the window where Moggie sits.
No. 15’s tortoiseshell, she’ll materialise
in the shed’s shadow as two neon eyes,
alley-tense to reclaim her throne.
All the while muttering about her rightful home,
grandma will place out a saucer
of full-cream milk on the back step for her.
WE MAY ALLOW OURSELVES A BRIEF PERIOD OF REJOICING
Their table couldn’t accommodate us all
when my brothers were also there: he’d eat
from a tray across his knees, in his armchair
next to the gas fire and the record player
that, later, became a CD player.
After the doctor told him ‘things aren’t exactly
one hundred per cent the way we’d like them to be’,
when canned water became heavy,
an outside tap went in so he could hose his beds
with still-judicious rain.
To drown-out the drilling
he sat in the armchair with headphones on
listening to remastered big band and swing,
black-and-white characters in victory rolls
or pomade, singing him back
to that walk up the garden path
when he was blind to the barren beds,
kitbag over one shoulder,
about to press play on a paused life,
a spit-and-polished husband returning to his wife.
The sun had burned mist off the hills,
revealing German POWs at their ploughs.
Spring’s breeze silvered the birches
burgeoning greenly behind The Duke’s Head.
He was at the bus stop with Doll
when the V-bomb came over, its low growl
forged deep within Hell’s foundry.
Then it stopped. Silence.
The hedge birds, the linnets and larks, stopped.
Spring’s breeze darkened to a draught.
He pulled her down, throwing himself on top of her.
‘Any excuse!’ we quipped
to lighten her funeral reception –
she a munitions girl
who became a doting wife and mother, and grandmother,
whom he couldn’t shield with his body
the final time.
THE PEACE THAT PASSES HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
I don’t visit him in hospital,
preferring my last memory of him to be
the strength in his goodbye handshake
his gauntness belies,
able to think a little while longer
the coil can unwind forever, not end
in the soul’s release through the discreet door
in the great walled garden.
Robert Selby edits the online poetry journal Wild Court. His poems and reviews have appeared in Areté, The London Magazine, New Statesman, PN Review, The Spectator, the Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere. His debut pamphlet was published in 2017, in the Clutag Five Poems series, and his debut collection, The Coming-Down Time, is forthcoming from Shoestring Press in 2020.
Adrienne Silcock: Two Poems
How succulent the heart and sweet the breath,
rich soup on the table pleading.
Anticipate your satisfied belly
the warmth in your bones,
easy conversation when the meal is done.
And yet, beneath your plate a single basil leaf,
round and bright and green. To test.
You know what they expect.
Push the plate away, deny the appetite.
Go unsatisfied to bed.
Better, perhaps, to deny the eye.
Eat with lust and guilt
– provided guilt allows enjoyment.
Invest in Hope. Lift the spoon to your lips –
the leaf will wither to a crumb
which a maid will come to
sweep away unseen.
You know what’s being asked.
You know the choice
which is no choice.
When heads are turned,
slip the leaf along one place
beneath his lordship’s plate,
ask if he enjoys the soup.
Note: in the 17th century, women at a table would refuse to eat from a dish if a basil leaf was placed beneath it, as a mark of their chastity. It was also thought that a fresh basil leaf would wither in the palm of the impure.
Stem’s curve of a bracelet
starred with cobalt jewels.
Musk tempter of bees.
Our hungry search
yields to serendipity
arcane healer of the spine.
Cold teas, hot infusions ease
moisture from the body,
sweat ointments against skin’s heat.
Culpeper suggests Venus’s darling –
why not hold these flowers to your heart,
eclipse the darkness? Then,
fresh chewed, spit into
a serpent’s mouth and it will die.
Or use as antidote to Mars’ bite.
Infuse stems and root to create
Al-khenna for magical ink,
write secret messages of love.
Adrienne Silcock’s work has been published widely in the independent press. She has self-published two poetic sequences Flight Path and The Fibonacci Sequence. Mudfog published her poetry pamphlet Taking Responsibility for the Moon in 2014 and she is a featured poet in Arachne Press’ 2018 collection by six women poets Vindication. Her first novel Vermin (Flambard) was published in 2000. Her second novel Controlling Aphrodite was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize 2009. Her third novel The Kiss is published on Amazon.
Gerry Stewart: Three poems
THE GREEN-EYED POET
My gut would twist
when I heard her name
connected with a project
or saw her in the waiting room
as I exited an interview.
My imagined rival.
For years, our careers ran in sync,
tripping over each other
in the limited creative space,
My choices moved me on,
created a gulf I couldn’t bridge.
On location, she has scooped up
the morsels of roles I’ve dropped.
I watch her from a distance
move up the rickety poetry ladder,
taking those chances
I can no longer touch.
She’s not underserving
or a lesser poet,
it’s all knotted in my head.
I can’t help but compare
and beat myself
with that offending yardstick.
Your dreams never weigh you down,
swinging free on your trapeze
above the bright fruit of New York.
You offer me a bite,
but my attempts to navigate
even the thinnest paring of your world
leave me lost and blistered,
of no use for the poetry
expected of me.
We stand together on my last day,
Coney Island flatly glinting
with tin excitement before us.
Little reward for my wrung-out imagination.
We have traded countries
like baseball cards,
unwilling to back out
on our pinkie-swear deal.
Ready to say a sincere goodbye,
I head for home.
leaving a family behind.
Their mother continues on
as if he never slept beside her.
The daughter reads
to the neon lights of Roy’s Bar
splashing through her window,
its red flicker not hiding
her forbidden book.
Midnight mass plays over the radio,
‘give up your worldly goods’
lulling her into uneasy sleep.
Drunks bring the morning light
with showers of glass,
the flowerbeds bruised.
The children’s lost treasures
revealed in the branches’ embrace,
wet and broken.
She and her brother slip
between house and hedge,
trading their personalities for new.
Under condemned buildings,
red brick chalk and rust
coat their play-clothes.
They bicker until cornered
when they fight like friends,
unable to express
what holds them together.
Gerry Stewart is a poet, creative writing tutor and editor based in Finland. Her poetry collection Post-Holiday Blues was published by Flambard Press, UK. In 2019 she won the ‘Selected or Neglected Collection Competition’ with Hedgehog Poetry Press for her collection Totems, to be published in 2020. Her writing blog can be found at http://thistlewren.blogspot.fi/ and @grimalkingerry on Twitter.
Jay Thomas: Poem
LOST AND FOUND
The phlebotomist bleeds patient
number: six six six. A child’s plastic
toy phone left by the lift. A sign on the
wall lists a key with a charm, a
gentleman’s fob, an animal farm, all
lost in the lobby.
Some scissors, an earring, a bracelet,
and tin foil, in X-ray, found the Tuesday
just gone. The items are the residues
of life. Minute shorthand for the strife,
minutes before and after the
Or tsunamis make landfall and cast
debris aside. The chaplain does a
brisk trade and a watch in the atrium
no longer keeps time. In urology a
neat silk scarf is placed on the desk,
and discarded aromatherapy vials
stand in line on a shelf in the cardio
suite. Sad plastic flowers wilt in a
vase by the door. And loud curtains
keep out the low-slung sun in the blue
ward where the guilty phone rings and
the waiting is done.
Jay Thomas hase been published in a number of poetry magazines including Poetry Wales, Stand, Dreamcatcher, New Welsh Review, Orbis, and Planet. He has worked as a lecturer, but now owns a brewery.
Susan Utting: Three poems
after Susan Hefuna
The walls of a cage are not solid,
remember this when you consider
palmwood lashed together into crates,
tables, seats, mesh-sided packing cases.
Grids are beautiful, they let in air –
however close the latticework of wires,
of cane or iron bars, it can be unpicked,
disassembled. Work will be slow, tricky,
painful, yes, but it is possible.
Go slowly at it, dogged, careful,
for whatever has been made,
what’s held together can be unmade.
Cage walls – know this – can be
unwoven; can be breached.
INTERIOR WITH ROSEWOOD PIANO
after Vilhelm Hamershøi
I have grown weary of this quiet,
of its holding on to secrets, of this room’s
bitter, uncommunicating walls.
I want him to fling open the big,
panelled doors, to whirlwind in
and break the spell that’s lasted too long.
Days drag. I long for the sun to set,
for darkness to allow the lighting
of lamps, the flicker of fire in the hearth,
Moonlight Sonata picked out on the piano.
I want to be back in my homeland
where they keep doors and windows
open, call to each other as they pass,
drop in, day or night, to talk
of nothing much, or something deep
and touching, something sad
as a moonlit night, as a woman waiting
in a room with all its windows shuttered,
waiting for her man, who never comes.
And no, it didn’t rain. Why do you ask? What difference
would it have made?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThe sky still would have hung
like a winter coat flung in a gesture of sulk: tetchy,
touchy, giving nothing away.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThe moon would have
risen, its fat face an insolent stare, defying its subjects
to find it romantic, or lovely.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxAnd we did as we pleased, idled
like anarchists on a day off, like plutocrats free of their
shackles, light of the weight of their ownership.
We slipped off our rings, let them fall where they might,
into cracks in the floor, skirting-board gaps,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx or cryptically under the fringes of rugs.
Then we set light to the fire, stretched newspapers over
its fireplace mouth, waited to hear, the suck-and-draw
roar into flame;
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and we screwed up our faces, crumpled
our billets-doux into tight balls, tore up our souvenir snaps,
fed our mementoes,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx our burdensome lives to the heat,
nourished the flames with our sorrows, our shame, until
we were warm, warm to the bone, to the marrow.
So no, there was no rain.
Susan Utting’s poems have been published in The Times, TLS, Forward Book of Poetry, Mslexia (as a prize-winner), The Poetry Review, Poems on the Underground, and broadcast at London’s South Bank Centre for Poetry International. She performs together with Claire Dyer and Lesley Saunders as ‘High Wire Act’, who wowed Poetry in Aldeburgh Festival in November 2019 with their latest performance of Lolita Paints Her Toenails. Susan’s fourth, latest poetry collection is Half the Human Race: New & Selected Poems(Two Rivers Press).
Richard Weaver: Poem
For years I’ve been waiting, knowing
this moment would come, must come,
and I must be ready to perform. It’s one thing
to stand in front of strangers and recite
my lines, interspersed with time-tested
anecdotes, and a spot of what I think is humour.
I admit I am not a comedian. But I do know
my lines. And I expect I will be able to utter
them on my exit from this world. After all,
no rhyme is required. Meter will no longer
matter. I will have nothing left to say except
“I am going to the inevitable.”
Richard Weaver lives in Baltimore City where he volunteers with the Maryland Book Bank, CityLit, the Baltimore Book Festival, and acts as Archivist-at-large for a Jesuit College. He is the author of The Stars Undone (Duende Press).
John Wheway: Three poems
She can’t decide which way to go,
one day in their kitchen, the next flying
somewhere he’s never travelled –
and there’s nothing he can do,
though he’d like to hold her
to the promises they made
as if they’d meant something
stronger than the years
they lived in one another’s skin.
Now she’s into something
he can’t fathom
with her long, dyed hair, makeup
that she always resisted. A look
that’s not for him.
Sharpening the knife, there’s murder
on his mind. He tests the blade
on an onion, watching its halves relax
as gently as the portions of an ox
in Chuang Tzu’s Butcher Parable –
no moaning climax, no gouts of blood,
yet tears come to his eyes, with double
vision until he blunders against the sink
and splashes his face under the tap,
its cold torrents of lustration.
Back in focus, he chops mushrooms, trims
the yellow fat from well-hung flesh –
what he lifts from the slab is red meat.
Without her in the passenger seat
he enjoyed driving most
in the rain. It wasn’t less lonely
with the blower full on, shrinking
mist on the windscreen,
but in the close-up drumming
of drops on the car roof
there was something intimate.
At slip-roads and junctions,
in the tall glare of lights, the face
of a total stranger might loom,
maybe a hitch-hiker,
no-one who could take her place,
but some girl to be nice to
for a mile or so – nobody he’d miss
at the end of the road.
John Wheway’s poems have appeared in New Measure, Stand, Magma, The Warwick Review, Poetry Review, the Yellow Nib, Poetry Quarterly, the Compass Magazine, South Word, Agenda, the High Window, And Other Poems. He has also published flash fiction. Anvil Press poetry published his chapbook The Green Table of Infinity, and Faber and Faber published his novella Poborden. His collection A Bluebottle in Late October will be be published by V Press in 2020.
Jay Wickersham: Poem
I sat blindfolded one summer morning
tying sailors’ knots my father made me learn:
half hitch, clove hitch, rolling hitch,
sheet bend, and the bowline:
a knot that tells its pattern through a story.
The squirrel comes out of its hole, around the tree,
and back down into its hole. I practiced and
practiced until I got it right. Rain gurgled
in the downspouts. Why a squirrel?
I wonder after fifty years.
Why not a ship’s cat? What I do know is
what I was taught: the bowline is the king
of knots because you always can untie it –
even when the rope is wet and kinked and hard,
and the boat is pitching in a cross sea, and
it’s night, and your fingers are cold and stiff –
it always comes undone.
Jay Wickersham‘s writing has appeared in the Harvard Review (an essay on having Seamus Heaney as a teacher), The Formalist and Yankee. He is a member of the Powow River Poets in Newburyport, MA, and recently studied with Craig Morgan Teicher at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. He works professionally as an architect and lawyer, addressing problems of urban sustainability and climate change.
Heidi Williamson: Four Poems
‘The things I do not want to write about
become the things I write about.’
Mid-winter or spring, sometimes
the Balvaig floods Balquhidder Glen;
gives rise to a short-lived body.
This uncommon water hosts
fresh species that feed and breed there:
sculpin, caddisflies, pearl mussels.
The flood may recede
as rapidly as it arrived. Landslides
may follow. This too, opens up
the canopies, the strata of soil.
Buried nutrients, seeds,
live plant matter is scattered.
Silt beds down. The surface
tension levels. The landscape
is transformed again.
Sudden creatures enrich the area
or deplete it. Fragments enter
the disturbed ground. Waken.
Spring or mid-winter, at other times
too, the silt of what happened rises
and drops with the level of days.
Sometimes it covers all daily tasks
with an oily sheen that dimples
when pressed, then releases
the surface tension, the water’s skin.
Forced out to the edges of itself,
all becomes water.
It may recede, but the days
are not transformed. The days
are delayed, waiting for the water
to come back, to scatter
live matter back in its place.
The occasional endures.
Child in the doorway who appears
and disappears around the edge
of my open book, how do you find me?
The landing light stutters in your presence,
the pale carpet shifts and shapes
around your boneless toes.
Child in the doorway who appears
each evening without footsteps,
I can hear you – breathing.
Still as a frame, you hold
yourself up softly.
Your clothes resist sight.
Child in the doorway who appears
a creature or chrysalis
of fugitive dust – your presence
fills my mouth with the tang of blood;
I daren’t move or swallow
for fear you might withdraw.
Child in the doorway who appears
when the scent of wood-smoke drifts
onto the duvet, cautious as mist,
will you never step forwards?
Note: Title from a line in ‘understory’ by Craig Santos Perez.
TONIGHT MY HEART IS OPEN SO HARD IT COULD SHATTER
There is enough of the air to go round but I sip it slimly in
and out, in and out like a small fish flapping out of water.
Even the worms in the ground hear the rain better
than I do. Over the whine of the TV, the cars noising by,
it’s so hard to hear the heart thinking. But here,
now – how thought breaks into it,
on and on.
THE RAIN IN THE NIGHT
The past is falling on the house
with its own unnameable scent.
I can’t tell when the first mist
of it began to drift down,
lifting itself gently – down.
It wasn’t there, then it was
all around the house,
moving across the roof
with a patterning I couldn’t recognise.
In a way there wasn’t much of it,
but such slivers
bear down over time.
The roof gradually succumbs
to a fresh deepening colour.
The night insects bed down
out of the spattering.
The wisteria darkens,
Even a light scattering
leaves its mark in the morning,
even if the surface dries.
The soft past of rain
has shaken itself on the house.
The house – defenceless
against its lightness.
IN PRAISE OF RAIN IN A TIME OF LOCKDOWN
It’s true it makes turtles of us,
scuttling beneath canopies
poking our spokes at others.
But as our upturned hulls
scull the downpour, the sound
of surviving something settles:
softly, softly, breaking up, then gone.
Heidi Williamson is an Advisory Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund and teaches for the Poetry School, Poetry Society, National Centre for Writing and The Writing Coach. Her first collection, Electric Shadow, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize. The Print Museum won the East Anglian Book Award for Poetry. Return by Minor Road (Bloodaxe, 2020) revisits her time living in Dunblane at the time of the Primary School shooting. @heidiwilliamson http://www.heidiwilliamsonpoet.com
Rodney Wood: Poem
THE SAGA OF HERKI
Everyone knows the story of how the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods & gave it to mortals. For this act of disobedience, he was chained to the side of a mountain. Two vultures came each day to rip out & eat his liver but since Prometheus is immortal his liver grew back each night and the process repeated itself the next day & the next.
The Viking Saga of Herki tells of a voyage to the Black Sea where a trading ship stopped at a Greek island to take on fresh water & fruit. The captain, Herki, heard a terrifying cry & immediately gathered some of his crew to discover the source of the noise. They found Prometheus who told them his tale in Old Norse.
That night, Herki waited for the vultures to come & while they were devouring the liver he crept up & sliced off their heads. He then released Prometheus & returned to the boat with the vultures.
The latter were cooked & shared amongst the crew who were unaware that the birds were magical & that they themselves now possessed the creative fire that Prometheus had stolen. Although they were old & feeble, the gods had a trick up their sleeve. As the Vikings passed on their genes, they passed on also an intolerance to gluten.
Rodney Wood worked in London and Guildford before retiring. His poems have appeared recently in The High Window, Orbis, Magma (where he was Selected Poet in the deaf issue) and Envoi. His debut pamphlet, Dante Called You Beatrice , appeared in 2017. He is joint MC of the monthly open mic nights at The Lightbox and is also the Stanza Rep for Woking. You can find more information about Rodney and his work at rodneywoodpoet.wordpress.com
Martin Zarrop: Three Poems
What would the tidiest room look like?
When I return from a week away
I know the dust will have settled,
a thin layer under my probing finger,
to be wiped away by the weekly cleaner.
I open my suitcase and do the washing.
Everything goes back where it was,
as least at first glance.
Structures settle, grouting ages, cracks;
the garden wall needs repointing
a little more each month. So do I.
You can’t fight entropy.
What would the tidiest room look like?
Perhaps a sphere of uniformly dense matter
at the centre of an otherwise empty cosmos.
I wouldn’t want to come home to that.
No time to meditate
on gravity’s dumb force;
you’ve gone to ground,
faster than a thought
can pass from toe to brain,
that instant when a shoe
is lifted (but not quite enough)
to graze the root, the rock,
that unseen stick-note
telling you that time is up
and you are down
Feel the pressure of CO2
moving your body,
an unseen masseur
at a bespoke suit.
The wind is your enemy
a firing squad with no blanks
poison gas that rips soil
into missiles, bullets
at Beaufort Ten.
The tide is out
and the world billows
with red, waiting
to take your
Martin Zarrop is a retired mathematician who started writing in 2006. His poetry has been published in various magazines and anthologies. His pamphlet, No Theory of Everything (2015), was one of the winners of the 2014 Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition and a first full collection, Moving Pictures, was published by Cinnamon in 2016. His pamphlet on the life and science of Albert Einstein, Making Waves, was published by V.Press in 2019. His latest collection, Is Anyone There?, has just been published by The High Window Press.