Category Archives: Poetry

Winter Poetry: 2022

winter 2022

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The Poets 

Mike BarlowTerese CoeRalph CulverGreg FreemanKatherine GallagherAnn Gibson Jenny HockeyMark HolihanMartha LandmanSarah LawsonGil LearnerMaggie MackayKathy MilesMichael PennyKaren Petersen • Estill PollockPatrick Davidson Roberts •  Mark RoperBob SaxtonPenny SharmanMyra SchneiderFinola ScottJohn ShortPatrick SlevinSam SmithPaul StephensonAnne SymonsVictoria TwomeySusan UttingRobin Lindsay Wilson •  Rodney Wood Martin Zarrop

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Previous Poetry

THW27: September 5, 2022 • THW26: June 6, 2022  • THW25: March 6, 2022 • THW24: December 3, 2021 • THW23: • THW22: June 6, 2021  •  THW21: March 8, 2021 • THW20: December 4, 2020 •THW19: September 5, 2020 • THW18: May 4, 2020  • THW17: March 7, 2020  • THW 16: December 4, 2019  • THW 15: September 5, 2019 • THW 14: June 3, 2019  • THW 13: March 6, 2019  • THW 12: December 10, 2018 • THW11: September 5, 2018  • THW10: May 21, 2018 • THW9: March 7, 2018 • THW8: December 6, 2017 • THW7: September 10, 2017 • THW6: June 3, 2017 • THW5: March 7, 2017  • THW4: December 6, 2016 • THW3: September 1, 2016 • THW2: June 1, 2016 • THW1: March 1, 2016

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Mike Barlow: Three Poems

ONE DAY ON THE ROAD TO BENTHAM

he walks out in front
long black coat and serious regard
walks out in front and takes a steady stride

respectful of the living
in league though
with the dead

his long black coat and serious regard
the purring hearse at walking pace
its drapes and flowers

the long line following at walking pace
as Jimmy paces out the route
ushers us to memory’s bright beyond

where does it end this geared-down cortege
is it with the white van splattered with mud
or the builders’ rattling wagon

or the bus half empty
on its weekly way to town
vacant seats taken by the recent dead

or the young man drumming
on the wheel his music thumping
loud enough to stir a corpse

for life’s an urgent journey
its blind bends chancy with adrenaline
and we all believe we’ve somewhere else to go

but Jimmy with his measured stride
he has the measure of us all

walk us out Jimmy
walk us all out

WORLDS APART

At the end of each day she goes back to the house she was born in.
It’s a long way to go, the distance of worlds, between street sounds
from an English town, the sodium glare of a ring road,
and the rainforest’s clamour, its canopied dark.

And each night he wishes he could follow, eager to know
where is it she lives. It’s not the house they share, of this he’s sure.
He closes their front door behind him and calls her name.

Sometimes she answers not in the tongue she married him in
but a language she talks in her sleep. He’ll lie there beside her,
broken awake by something she might have been dreaming.

A taxi ticks over outside, disgorging its chaos of late night drunks
while the clock on the town hall dings the hour on its quarter.
He turns to the wall, staring through small hours shadows
dense as the forest through which he longs to be guided.

IN THE SHELTERED COMMUNITY OF THE NOT-YET-CONCEIVED

I visit in search of comfort, forgiveness, a home
amongst the innocent, whose doors are always
unlocked, so they wander freely in and out

while I enter by stealth, an interloper pressed
against the back wall, moving as little as possible,
trying to lipread the space they leave around me.

At night I sleep on the beach, build a fire, hoping
they ‘ll prove curious. And indeed, they come.
I feel their darkness press against the air,

so many questions I can’t hear, and even if I could
I wouldn’t have the answers. They crowd me
but when I reach to touch them I’m diminished.

Mike Barlow has won prizes in a number of competitions including first prize in the Amnesty International (2002), Ledbury (2005) and National (2006) Competitions. His first full collection, Living on the Difference (Smith|Doorstop 2004) was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection. He has published four full collections and a number of pamphlets, Amicable Numbers (Templar 2008) being a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. His most recent collection is Hotel Anonymous (Pindrop Press 2021).

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Terese Coe: Four Poems

IN ROOMS

We live in common
with those onscreen,
far beyond touch
and intimate rush.

The paradigm says
we’re in this together
in separate rooms
emptied of means.

The paradigm says
there are wide-open spaces.
We’re in fear for ourselves
and of ourselves.

The palpable loss
in faces half-hidden.
We are the alien.

FISH OR CUT BAIT

It goes like this,
a hit or miss,
a disturbance in
your eyes before
one more goodbye,
a final lie,
another stitch,
the cutting bait,
the ragged glitch,
the endless stakes
of roguishness and raving.

CIRCUMFERENCE OF INFINITY

Time and death,
the same infinity.
Nakashima cuts
a horizontal cross-
section of a walnut tree,
turns half of it upside
down and rejoins
them in
the middle.
This he says
is The Trunk
that Married
Itself.

SIGHTING LAND

It flows cool silk,
invites you to lie down.

The dry grass is a gift
you fuse with the sky
the tree grows words.

Terese Coe‘s poems, translations, & prose appear in The High Window, Agenda, Alaska Quarterly Review, Cincinnati Review, The Classical Outlook, Crannog, Cyphers,Hopkins Review, Metamorphoses, The Moth, New American Writing, New Scotland Writing, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry Review, Stinging Fly, Threepenny Review, & the TLS, among others. Her collection Shot Silk was short-listed for the 2017 Poets Prize.

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Ralph Culver: Three Poems

VISITATION

the moon again
has made its appearance

and who am I
to scorn it

its light casting
a pale web-work of shadows

across the new snow
branches of trees

that the moon itself
appears to be caught in

and the poets of the moon
cast no shadows

standing in the snow
beneath the trees

Li BaixxxStrand surely
ShelleyxxxEmily

so many others
what could I add

to their worshipful
disharmony

gathering the fresh snow
cradled in my handsxxxthen

melting to water
that shines

in its reflection of
that fair and naked countenance

A THOUGHT

the gods should be
serenaded

especially
in times of great suffering

more than appeasement
it is a reminder

that beauty is
an achievement

surpassing
suffering

the gods then
taking steps

our lauds having
inspired them

to favor us
their children

and end
our torment

VENUS

—for Hil

How good it is,

touching the small of her back
as the room continues to darken.

Cast-off clothing. Closet
with a door slightly ajar. A dresser.
So many books on the shelves
against the far wall.

The settling of our breathing
into a rhythm. The dog makes
his sleep sounds,
paws twitching lightly
over unseen fields.

The last things: the scent of her skin,
the dog yips and whines
and then is quiet.

All of those books. And
if I never read them,
if I never read another word,
will I not still be content?
Touching the small of her back,

I fall deeper and deeper
into certainty.

Ralph Culver lives in South Burlington, Vermont in the USA. His newest poetry collection is  A Passable Man (MadHat Press, 2021), available in bookstores, from the publisher, and through all the usual internet channels.

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Greg Freeman: Three Poems

Rio Guadalmina - collage by Gillian Freeman
Torn Paper Collage by Gillian Freeman

RIO GUADALMINA

A Saturday night’s fever.
Cascading down the gorge,
over or circumventing boulders,
cauldron mixed with moments
of calm, foaming rapids
that leave you breathless,
make you gasp, dance
in the street to a local band,
rage at the end of the evening
when the Uber doesn’t turn up.

How can such mad euphoria
peter out a few miles from
the sea in a drifting,
reservoir-tamed channel
that has almost given up
the ghost? Ageing, infirm,
increasingly allowing itself
to be gently guided,
lacking the stomach to resist,
as it loses its will, its way.

FRAMLINGHAM

I sing of a castle (and so has
Ed Sheeran, as it happens).
Built by one of William’s
Normans, King John’s knights
lay siege, capturing it
In just two days, the year
after he caved in
and signed Magna Carta.

Bloody Mary sought refuge there,
rallying troops and her confidence,
before heading to London
to claim the throne, and seal
the fate of a teenage girl.
The people cheering the rightful heir
didn’t foresee the martyrs.
Perhaps they did, and didn’t care.

Next century a benefactor
purchased the thirteen towers,
flint curtain wall and Tudor chimneys;
ordered in his will that the buildings
within be levelled, a workhouse
constructed in their place.
These days the ‘Fairtrade town’
is known locally as ‘Fram’.

The mere has shrunk
since the Middle Ages.
Jigsaw puzzle of ascendancies,
misfortunes, triumphs,
fatal falls from grace.
Jackdaws patrol the jagged stones,
patchwork of history stitched
together by English Heritage.

NORTHUMBERLANDIA

Train-glimpsed, fashioned
from the earth; a bargain
made with those that dig.
Thus did your contours emerge,
sculpted from mine spoil:
green breasts, curves, hollows,
pools. We walk around, beside.

I think and dream of you
a little more each day:
your hills and beaches,
fortifications, lonely places,
borders, islands, causeways;
your Golden Age; your
pious, ravaged history.

Greg Freeman is a former newspaper sub-editor, and now news and reviews editor of the poetry website Write Out Loud. His debut pamphlet collection Trainspotters was published in Indigo Dreams in 2015, and his first full collection Marples Must Go! by Dempsey & Windle in 2021. A second pamphlet, The Fall of Singapore, was published in 2022 by Dempsey & Windle. After almost a lifetime in Surrey he has recently moved to Northumberland.

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Katherine Gallagher: Two Poems

SUMMER IN RAILWAY FIELDS
(London. N4)

Close-in, there’s lavender and a mini-forest of birch,
yew, cherry and ash: most magical,
the marriage-tree (a cherry and ash grown into a couple.)

At the chalet-door, a briar-rose, self-seeded,
is layered with flowers, surrounded by patches of comfrey
catmint, cosmos and lemon queen.

Brimstone butterflies do their flypast, then the speckled woods,
and a red admiral glides before the pond. Bees glide by.
At the back, reeds and yellow flag-irises shade the newts.

Alongside, fragrant meadowsweet carries foaming clusters
of creamy flowers; and we’re not too late for goatsbeard
(‘Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon’) this sunshiny July day.

Pass by the meadow, stinging nettles, the bird’s-foot trefoil
housing the caterpillars of the common blue butterfly; nearby, fodder vetch
with its bright purplish flowers. And everywhere, birdsong: thrush, robin, tit.

Follow the trail. past the new meadow with corn marigold,
rosebay willowherb on the left; then the playground and the New River,
the convolvulus and wild plums. Pass stinking iris, pass the Victorian

stench-pipe, the one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old field maple
and the foxes’ earth, then a few steps up to the old railway tracks, emptied now
of coal trucks, back to the chalet via woodland.
Full-circle ̶ this journey I’m part of.

THE LIFE OF BEIGE

Beige is its own country, captured in a swirl, flaunting. Grasshopper-dry on sun-baked grass.
A colour-chart fly-by, indifferent echoes of desert. Beige speaks the language
xxxxof dry paddocks, roads,
lifted by whirlwinds, gaunt busy presences whisked about like dreary-eyed phantoms, xxxxvariations on a theme,
in shades from camel to biscuit, to scorched cream.

Harsh echoes, parched skies, antipodean.

Katherine Gallagher is an Australian-born poet resident in London since 1979. She has six full-length poetry collections, including Carnival Edge: New & Selected Poems (Arc Publications, 2010), and Acres of Light (Arc, 2016). She has also received numerous awards for her work. Carol Rumens chose her poem ‘The Year of the Tree’ for the Guardian blog’s ‘Poem of the Week’ and, in 2015, Andrew Spicer made it into a film: http://www.katherine-gallagher.com

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Ann Gibson: poem

VINDOLANDA FOOTWEAR STORE

Each item in the wall display
faces front like a marching army;
single shoes, boots, slippers,
men’s, women’s, children’s,
left, right, left –
but impossible to find their pairs
in the back room boxes.

Thousands found in sodden ditches,
bog-steeped shine
in any shade of beige or brown,
variety to rival any superstore.

Sandals and bathhouse clogs
could be run up in a cobbler’s sleep.
Work boots took some skill;
leather layers stacked for soles and heels
held with hobnails; uppers neat,
one soft seam, no rubbing,
scalloped eyelets for laces.

And any craftsman worth the name
must secretly have craved commission
from the fort commander’s wife –
dainty slippers testing talent.
Craft turned to art in hand-cut latticework,
precision-pierced rouletting –
accomplished with a frisson of fear,
one slip spoiling a perfect piece.

Even then, all was not lost;
the mouse silhouetted
against the workshop floor,
a teasing toy of salvaged leather.

Ann Gibson spent her childhood in Dublin and now lives in North Yorkshire. She has published poetry in a number of magazines and anthologies as well as online in The High Window, Algebra of Owls, Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Pulsar, Ofi Press Magazine and The Ekphrasis Review.

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Jenny Hockey:Four Poems

EGGS

It’s his job to heave the blue baskets onto a trolley
— his TESCO fills my window, his job
to inch the trolley through the ferns, the peonies’
packed buds, step by slippery step. My job to open the gate

but sometimes he finds it locked and instead
takes a walk through the woods, picnics on my corned beef,
swigs my whisky and throws my sauerkraut into a pond,
works on his juggling with my free-range eggs.

It’s my job to open the gate but sometimes instead
I climb into my wardrobe, chew on a cardigan sleeve,
develop a shabbier kind of chic. And sometimes we just
stand at the door, the Tesco delivery man and me

and he tells me he’s sorry the basil got crushed
and maybe the eggs could do with a check.

SMALL TALK

I never tell the truth, not the whole truth,
nothing but. Just say that I write —

and non-one follows through with
‘Shopping lists or thrillers?’

I say I worked at the university
and no-one seems to wonder

if I was a cleaner or a vice-chancellor.
To them it’s all the same and really

I like it that way — because somehow
they may suspect a strangeness, me

a poet of bedtime and moons, me
a Professor of Death. Could be they sense

the yawning chasm of weird

where no conversation can comfortably go.
‘So what do you do?’ I ask in return

and they tell me they work in government
or Asda have taken them on. I know to nod.

THE GIRLS’ JUNIOR ORCHESTRA

were arranged at the front of the hall
from where we watched our parents filing in,
my mother in a beret she knitted for herself,
red with gold lurex thread, easy to spot
even from a squash of twenty-seven girls,
some like me cradling a violin, others
tonguing wood and brass, all about to attempt
Ravel’s Bolero — with me singled out
to step up onto the stage
at the right moment, curtsey low
and present the Lady Visitor with a bouquet.

Somehow I missed my moment
and somehow as well — as my mother later explained,
the bow of my violin poked up out of the orchestra
when everyone else’s travelled down.

Bear in mind that my story is true,
that I have remembered it all
and since given musical instruments
a very wide berth

WHEN VISITED BY WIDOWHOOD

Victoria’s gymnastic agility, her supple spine
and well-developed sense of proprioception
were a godsend.

Once divested of the Imperial Crown,
her latticed dome of skirt, several restrictive bodices
and all that black

she’d tumble across the spacious chambers
of her palaces, her back flips, handsprings and cartwheels
making the floorboards judder,

making the weighty Victorian furniture
waddle to the walls — for fear of serious damage.
Released from Albert’s tender, vigilant eye,

Victoria gave free rein
to this and many other
secret propensities.

Jenny Hockey lives in Sheffield. Her poems have appeared in magazines including The North, Magma, Spelt, The High Window, The Frogmore Papers, Fenland Poetry Journal, Iota and Orbis. She retired from Sheffield University as Emeritus Professor of Sociology to make time for poetry, now reviews for Orbis and in 2013 received a New Poets Award from New Writing North. Her debut collection, Going to bed with the moon, was published by Oversteps Books in 2019 (overstepsbooks.com, jennyhockeypoetry.co.uk, familyhistoryandwar.com)

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Martha Landman: Three Poems

LORD OF THE TABLE

Oblong table with wooden top and iron legs, cluttered —
Father at the top end, his hat parked in the kitchen
mother on his left opposite his favourite daughter.
Brothers and sisters each claim their chair
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx in no particular order

A well-worn Bible guides from the sideboard –
xxxxxxxhow good and pleasant it is
xxxxxxxwhen brothers live together in harmony.
Pity the child with wandering mind who has no
answer when quizzed after scripture reading.

A two-way radio station – big black Jaysu –
owns its space like a spectre in the corner.
Father controls the air waves from around the farm,
walkie talkie his loyal companion, secure on his hip.
Trapped in the dining room, mother mans incoming calls.
She’d rather weed the garden.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxOver and out.

Happy-flower curtains and linoleum’s spongy feel
hold a space for the evening’s radio news
competing with children’s chatter, perpetual lessons —

Take these trees, how they bend in the wind
grow taller each summer, wider in trunk and canopy.
How they brave the ravaging storms, steadfast.

HOUSE INSPECTION

Come before the sun alliterates the streakiness
on the windows. Wipe your feet
on the welcome mat laid out like a prologue.
Use your master key, I’m out sailing

Respect my floors, clean as dinner plates
where I lie and write my lines, these lines, not your lines,
my words carried on the vacuum’s roar, a silver spoon,
haunting words, in random order.

Breathe in before you enter the bathroom,
bashful blue, where I brush my hair.
The kitchen’s to your right, a caesura
at the end of the hallway.

When your fingers trail the windowsill for dust,
when the sparkling stove blinds your eyes,
when you find fault don’t expect me
to rhyme unmowed lawns with uncooked prawns.

An anaphora addict you will do this again,
fingers trawling dust — your rhetoric.
You’ll get better at it.
I’ll be out sailing.

SURRENDER

These days I’m content
when at 6 am a ruckus of squawks
litters the morning silence,
kaleidoscope the infectious
blue sky with black and grey swoops —
deafening imitations of joy.

I want to read to those crested pigeons
Mary Oliver’s Summer Day,
tell them about her grasshopper
eating sugar from her hand.
But they’d hear nothing
above their pleasure odes.

Two galahs on the telephone line
puff their crimson chests
towards three crows opposite them,
scan the hills, ancient vistas—

See those rainbow lorikeets gather
in the trees around the pergola
where I have my coffee. How they claim
this garden as their own, screech dissent.

That’s when I raise my arms.
Today, I have no enemies.

Martha Landman writes in Adelaide, South Australia on Kaurna land. Her work appears in anthologies and journals in the UK, US, Australia and South Africa. Her chapbook, Between Us, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2019. Her collection, Scavenger Birds, is forthcoming later this year.

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Mark Holihan: Poem

CRUZ DE FERRO
At 233 kilometres to Santiago de Compostela

Cowbells. The vast, empty heavens and cowbells ringing,
defining the giddy sky everywhere.
You try to catch your breath and feel the altitude,
the gravel under your soles,
the fine-honed sun. You are marching
across the serrated top of this world.

A half hour later, through pine-filtered light,
you arrive at a simple park. The turf is ragged, rutted.
And there it stands like a telegraph pole
on the top of a dreaming hill of prayers.

So many tears are made of stone here
and laminated paper pleas are tied with ribbons,
emotions piled twenty feet high.
You are careful where you tread
but as you climb, it is impossible not to step
on an aspiration or a fear.

When you finally feel the sun-bleached wood,
follow its line up to the black iron tip
against the lightest blue, you see a jet
leading its perfectly straight trail

to touch that cross,
intersect with an incomplete arrow,
a lightning rod of so much hope.
You put down a rock, but don’t feel you should.
Despite leaving this piece of home,
your load is no lighter.

And as you descend the jumbled monument,
you know you will have to carry your baggage
for much more than the hundred miles or so you have left,
and the inescapable blisters are only a distraction.

Mark Holihan is a writer, painter and graphic designer, originally from northern California, now settled in Broadstairs, Kent. Recently published in Confluence Magazine and online in Mind The Gap. Previously appeared in six anthologies, various Canterbury Poet of the Year collections and several The Reed Magazine collections. Winner of the Phalen award for both short fiction and poetry, highly commended by the New Writer Magazine and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. First collection, There are no Foreign Lands, was published by Cultured Llama, 2016.

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Sarah Lawson: Poem

THE GREAT GATE OF KYIV
for Iryna Starovoyt

The shirtless bully on his pony,
playing Colossus on horseback,
lines up tanks on the border
where lead soldiers obey his whim.
He first fires a warning volley
across the world’s bows:
Stand back! Nothing to see here!

The volley bounces off the target,
lies blunted on the ground
while an audience waits to see
what the circus star will think of next.
Is the strut a bluff?
The answer is the mangled dead
lying unburied in the streets.

The shirtless bully
sees something in the fun-house mirror
that we have missed—
the puny horseman
wishing to be the fifth,
augmenting the famous four,
the knight in cardboard armour
dreaming of supine dragons
on which he can place a boot
for waiting cameramen;
hail the shirtless hero of the circus.

The Great Gate of Kyiv
was a Picture at an Exhibition
and was never built in stone,
but trumpets have played it all the same.
The Great Gate will never let him in,
whatever scorching happens on the ground.
The Great Gate lives in Mussorgsky’s trumpets
and in patriotic in hearts,
invisible therefore indestructible.
It cannot be breached
against the will of forty million keepers
who hear the trumpets,
who guard the gate.

Sarah Lawson is an American-born Londoner, educated at Indiana University and the University of Glasgow. She has been widely published in small magazines and has two collections of poetry and a translation of Jacques Prévert with Hearing Eye. She has written numerous reviews and essays in British journals and has translated work from French, Spanish, and Dutch.

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Gil Learner: Four Poems

FRONT LINE

How do they do it, the Adies, Bowens,
Guerins, Keanes? Time after time,
they hurtle towards conflict, stand
resolute in Kevlar vests, and deliver
cold facts from the wreckage
of another people’s lives.
Aleppo Beijing Kabul Belgrade
Against a backdrop of fire and smoke,
a soundtrack of sirens, or mortars
much too close, they do not flinch.
Around them work the rarely seen:
sound engineers, cameramen and
-women, drivers and interpreters.
Baghdad Grozny Kosovo Gaza
Each night in a hotel room or safe space
below ground, do they peel away clothes
powdered with death, or fall, emptied
but still fully dressed, onto a makeshift
mattress or a bed?
Beirut Kharkiv Falluja Kyiv
How do they sleep?

GREEN FINGERS

The smell hits me at the door: the sweetness
of apples, strawberries and cake underscored
with earth, garlic, cabbages, I’m whisked back
from this thronged marquee to street-markets
in France where scrubbed vegetables and glossy fruit
are piled in a paint-chart pyramids.

Katya hugs me: So happy you come. She waves
a bronze certificate My beetroot have done good;
tugs my arm Come, meet friends. Unfamiliar names
rush past, my hand is crushed by hearty grips.
Later, I struggle to recall: was it Selasi who won gold
with leeks the thickness of my arm? Alesha
whose balsam pears were voted ‘Most Exotic’?
Winston or Janine whose sweetcorn drew applause?
I know Dmitri baked the winning sponge but
was it Brian or Talitha whose salsify was best?

Now you must see growings. Katya leads me out.
Behind the tent spread acres of freshness. Beans
hang thick fingers in purple and crimson-mottled ivory;
peas rampage over wire-strung frames; kohlrabi bulge
from beds; tomatoes are yellow, black or cream.
Some plots are edged with chives or thyme, others
sing with marigolds, violas, lavender. No sign
of the chickweed, bittercress that plague my patch.

Next week, we have feast: gazpacho, baba ganoush,
marlenka. You come? I smile: If I’m allowed,
yes please. Katya grins: You will be honoured guest.
After a cup of tea I leave, turn at the gate, marvel
at the love, the industry and notice, tall above
the leafiness, a solitary sunflower shining down on all.

FOR OTHER FEET

Here Saba can forget for while all she’s left behind –
explosions, rubble, burials. In the tent she sits
at her loom, studies a printout of the design. Above
hang hanks of wool in different shades. She teases out
a length and winds it round the taut warp threads,
cuts, repeats, along the width. At the end of each row,
she whispers a prayer of thanks that she is safe, has this.

Now she takes the heavy comb, rams down the knots
to tighten the pile. The patterns are centuries old;
the outlined shapes build tuft by tuft. As fingers fly, the air
around vibrates with chatter, laughter and the thuds
of tamping down. Here the women learn this ancient craft
and fight the sameness of the days.

Winding and tugging chafe her skin. Before sleep,
Saba recalls her grandma weaving carpets
in the peaceful times. The old lady’s hand felt rough
as it stroked her baby cheek. Jadda died long ago
and Saba offers a prayer of thanks that she was spared
this exile and Adiyaman camp.

WAR FOOTING

Is this how it felt in 1938: doom just
over the horizon; wisps of hope raised
on Chamberlain’s return from Germany?
It was already too late for many but
ten thousand lucky young were brought
from Europe to our safer shores.

By August 1939, this country could no longer bear
the growing threat. Parents packed essentials
into little suitcases and, children at heel, trailed
to the station with reluctant steps. Photos show adults
smiling bravely, youngsters simmering with excitement
or uncertainty. This was a journey into the unknown.

Nearly a century on, forests combust;
the caps of the world are dissolving; rain
is just a memory, or falls with such force
that houses, streets and island countries drown.
How can we save our children, grandchildren?
There’s nowhere we can send them now.

Gill Learner’s poems have been published in print magazines including Acumen, Agenda, 14, The French Literary Review, The Interpreter’s House, North, Orbis, Mslexia and South; and online in The High Window and Canvas; in a number of anthologies e.g. from The Emma Press, Grey Hen Press, HappenStance Press, Second Light Publications and Two Rivers Press and won prizes. Her three collections: The Agister’s Experiment (2011), Chill Factor (2016) and Change (2021) are from Two Rivers Press (http://tworiverspress.com). Web pages: www.poetrypf.co.uk.

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Maggie McKay: Poem

AND HOW BRAW IS THAT?

red-letter days, west coast sunsets, birthday treats,
and how braw are they? How braw?

virgin snaw, a new dress of bluebells,
a settling hug, silent air, how braw?

summer meadow, herringbone tweed,
singing through winter chill, legendary stories, how braw?

swan on a still loch, a wee paradise of your own,
a friend’s fierce words, the book that spoke to you, how braw?

I’m going back to the braw days, months, years
of green and talisman, braw, braw spaces to let go. How braw?

Maggie Mackay’s pamphlet The Heart of the Run, 2018 is published by Picaroon Poetry and her full collection A West Coast Psalter, Kelsay Books, is available now. In 2020 she was awarded a place in the Poetry Archive’s WordView permanent collection. Her poems were highly commended in The Liverpool Poetry Prize and longlisted in the Yaffle Poetry Prize. She reviews poetry pamphlets at https://sphinxreview.co.uk (Happenstance Press) and for The Friday Poem.

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*****

Kathy Miles: Four Poems

THE ART OF CONSTRUCTING A SEAGULL

Seagulls are easy. The blueprint is simple;
a folded origami of quills, an avaricious
disposition. Think clatter of dustbin lids,
the cry of a hungry kitten. Ice-cream muggers,
litter-lovers, they work the seafront in pairs,
their chatter a clickety-clack of fruit machines.
Make them out of paper, and they’ll hurl
to the sky like a kite, whirl round and round
the thermals. You can watch for hours.
Paint the eyes as greedy as you like,
they’ll always astonish. Add a bag of chips,
the remnants of a burger, you’ll be
mobbed by friends for life. If you use
a strong enough glue, they’ll last for years.

A VISITING PHEASANY LEARNS THE RULES OF JOUSTING

Present yourself in the brightest garniture.
Enter the lists, enclosed by mulberry hedge
and filled with beds of lupin and penstemon.

Preen your surcoat to burnished copper, swell
the wattle to angry red, push out the paunch
of a stomach to show that you mean business.

Sharpen your leg spurs for battle, polish
that lance of a tail. Do not be distracted
by sparrows; their dullness will bore you.

Run full-tilt at the enemy. Don’t hesitate
or lower your beak. A glancing blow is enough
to chase a rook from a tasty morsel.

Flush out the biggest fat balls, raid the earth
for seed. Strut like a newly-dubbed knight
as he faces his first challenge.

The female whose favour you wear on your breast
will peck you gently, simper at your valour.
Treat her with chivalry. Win her feathered heart.

WILT

The wind is lippy, inflates the sails of trees, drowns
out the sound of bees with his mithering tones.

Sun oven-dries the honesty, kindles withering
roses which have stayed too long without water;

petals languish in their scorch, a scatter
of pale pink fondant. Fireblight has killed

the apple-tree, honey-fungus the lilac. We erode
together in this dieback; the rings in my skin tell

a story of age, brown patches spread like canker.
My body has weathered storms and creeping spores,

is ready now for burning, but I’m waiting
for this rain, which boasts of oceans, spins yarns

of shipwreck, horizons not yet dreamed of, says
that falling off the world is harder than it seems.

HOW MEMORY SMELLS LIKE BIRDS

What prickle beneath the skin are snatches
of starling, orange-blossom; a blackbird’s
bitter liquorice, the fragrance of linnet.

Their scent drives him out through the door
that rarely opens these endless days. His nose
finds jackdaw, sharp as the lash of a strap.

Sun slouches by the fence. The wind is talking
marram grass, but today he won’t talk back
to it. Notes of blue tit, delicate as freesias.

Rook is feverfew; musky, not elegant.
Woodpecker’s smoky tones. His mother’s
wrist, small dabs of eau de cologne.

He shuffles up the road where he’d meet
the lads for a crafty fag, chat up a girl,
her breast as soft as feathers.

Someone had loved him once. Hints
of lavender, a jay. The swallows’ apple-tang.
From the sycamore, gingery spice of owls.

Over by the shop-that-used-to-be-field,
a collared dove, all salted caramel;
trapping rabbits on a summer night,

crouched in waist-high wheat. There was
a terrier, he thinks. A brown absence.
The offie where he’d buy cider, sit on the bench

in the park, return alone to a single room.
Here, magpie is overpowering. His chest clenches
as he breathes them in, hemlock and gardenia.

Birds slip through the latch in his head.
When his wings fail, there’s no-one to notice;
he’s always been a man-who-isn’t there.

But the scent! Rose and honeysuckle; squabbles
of robin, chaffinches. The lilac of nightingale.

Kathy Miles is a poet living in West Wales. Her work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and her fourth full collection, Bone House, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2020. She is a previous winner of the Bridport Prize and the 2022 Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival competition.

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*****

Michael Penny: Two Poems

MY PAPERCLIP

is bent
but not corrupt
as its aim

is to unite
the free-floating
into chapter piles

that survive reading
until the clip slips off
into my hand

and I bend it into mere wire
as I work on the words
straightening them out.

SUPPORTING CAST

You’ll find my name
at the end of the credits
if you stay long enough

to read them, as the lights
go up and the audience
shuffles to their parking.

It could be dire
if I were to take action
against the many ahead,

but even if I’m lower
than the alphabetical
my name’s there. Please find me.

Michael Penny was born in Australia but moved to Canada early on. Since then he has published five books, and his work has previously appeared in The High Window.

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*****

Karen Petersen: Four Poems

MY SALAMANDER

I always knew you were a salamander
capable of living in the crucible of life
immune to the most fiery of tempers,
even mine.
Your skin was invariably cool to my touch,
as we lay together, bodies flowing around
our old striped sheets like running water.
But you were elusive: I had you one moment
and the next you were gone, able to move on,
like some kind of slender marsh creature,
hidden, feigning death among the grasses,
hoping to trick the unsuspecting into being
your next meal.

OBSCURITÉ

It’s deep night, I’m restless, lost
among the many bed sheets,
pillows, duvet, and oblivious cats.
The dog, twitching and barking in her dreams,
is suddenly awake, alert, couchant,
hearing something real outside.
Then her tail begins to wag;
the night wanderers have gone now,
and the house is back asleep, released.

LEAVING LONG ISLAND

The 5:57 hurtles past fields of darkness
its mournful whistle-cry heard only by
tom cats on the prowl in the dare of night.
I’m seduced, and want to leap off the train
run toward the small lights of slumbering towns,
the twinkling connection
of separate lives and a little peace.
But drunks and babies fast asleep
are all that’s left of innocence
The sky is now yellow, the darkness electric
The city is coming, no one knows anyone there.

EPISTOLARY
— for James Finnegan

Her nouns were real.
Her nouns were sighs.
They rose in the air
like lullabies.
That Sunday afternoon
she set her trap
from innocent dreams,
and discarded vows,
Rising,
rising now.
Her verbs were real.
Her verbs were cruel.
Arabesques of pain,
finely wrought jewels.
We parted in silence
angry shadows, interrupted,
and the afternoon grieved,
undone, and corrupted.

Karen Petersen has travelled extensively, publishing poetry, short stories, and flash both nationally and internationally. Her poems have been translated into Persian and Spanish, and she has been nominated for numerous prizes. This year, her chapbook, Trembling, won the Will Mills Award, judged by Annie Finch. More information can be found here: https://karenpetersenwriter.com

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*****

Estill Pollock: Two Poems

SNOW SNAGGED IN HEDGES

Snow snagged in hedges, through hairpin lanes
A democracy of drifts quells ragtag geometries
Of hawthorn, tyrannies of ice
Against acre walls

A lost sheep hugs the stacked stone ledge, grey
On grey

Low over hills, a quad bike revs, bucks frozen furrows

The shepherd leans to the ewe, pulls her
Across the lap of wool and waterproofs

In the distance, through gloaming cloud
The farmstead, lights freckling early dark

SPIRIT ANIMALS

Spirit animals, two by two, returning

In low light, wet and cold in caves
The searchers kneel to tusks matted white
In limestone wash, etching shape
From ash and drip-fed crusts

Mammoth bones, hides
A grassy rust, in the scroll-work folds
A spear point lodged to killing depth— across
The joints the butcher-trace of axes

Outside, the sun, the same sun obliging
Lost moments another rite— in the museum, the hulk
More like sculpture now
Than overture to extinction

The world is frail, each breath the last
Until we wake in older light, in the counterfeit of days our
Lasting memory, fire— the fall from grace
That ends as it began, our shadows flickering
Across cavern walls

Estill Pollock‘s first pamphlet selection of poems, Metaphysical Graffiti, was published in England. This was followed by a principal collection, Constructing the Human (Poetry Salzburg), which was later developed into the book cycle, Blackwater Quartet. Between 2005-11, in collaboration with Cinnamon Press in Wales, he published a second major book cycle, Relic Environments Trilogy. His latest collection, Entropy is published by Broadstone Books (2021) in the United States. A native of Kentucky, he has lived in England for forty years.

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*****

Patrick Davidson Roberts: Two Poems

PHILIP

Even headfirst the earth seems far away. Even when dived at.
Not everything can be so inverted. Your words came out the same today,
are forming the right-way-up even now, but something
about you has changed. When you reach up to the earth
you do so in stasis, and hit the street. Your sister cries out
and turns from the window, running to jump the stairs and come down.
Even spraddled on the paving stones, arms outstretched and feet together,
you do not want to go back. Better to finish here, surely.
Remembering now those days of their pleading with you to return
to the group, but you had set out to the work, and as a speeding ship
could only turn slowly, if you had to turn at all, took a full arc to comply.
She cradles your broken frame in her hands now, her own face bleeding,
and gently presses the raw tattoo of the steel square on your wrist.
‘They’re going to let me go, now,’ Then, sister, do the same.

JAMES THE LESS

Dear Cousin, sometimes I think that I disappeared into you, as if
the sun was made flesh when you stood at the end of the bed
to ask if I were warm enough. So few mentions I receive, in your letters,
your book tour, your interviews across the sea.
I pick my way through your words as if they will seal me to you
but with the lock on the other side. I am told by doctors that I dreamt everything.
Even now, here, as if to prove them all correct.
I did not dream the feel of you nor the morning as you dressed
beside the bed and I sat to hold your bare thigh for a second, see
the hair fall to your waist and the tracery of a smile dart across your lips.
I must leave for a long time to climb out of such silence, and so
that is why I write now. I will tell everyone about you when I speak again.
I know that they do not believe me; you don’t, but for one night I was heard
and even if you lied then I believed you. That was enough. And this.

Patrick Davidson Roberts was born in 1987 and grew up in Sunderland and Durham. His debut collection The Mains was released in 2018 and he co-founded Offord Road Books in 2017. His poetry has been published in Magma, Ambit, The Dark Horse, The Rialto and Wild Court. The Trick (a second selection of poems) will be published by Broken Sleep Books in 2023.

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*****

Mark Roper: Two Poems

BALLOON

The field was full. So slow and soundless
our descent, those eyes and ears
never sensed we hung above.
The hares went about their business,
running, sleeping, feeding, throwing shapes.

Soon our shadow would block out the light
and they would scatter and we would land
with a bump and be thrown from the basket
and laugh and whoop and drink champagne,
a balloon’s bright skin flaccid around us.

But not a muscle had moved when we’d spied
the hares. We might have thought we were falling
into a world unwounded by words –
that we could meet those creatures face to face.

THE DUKE OF ARGYLL’S TEA PLANT

Sent to the treemonger Duke in 1730,
labelled by mistake as a tea plant – it went
from garden to back garden to wasteland.

I’d been searching for orchids
in the sand dunes at Bunmahon
when I came across the scrawny shrub.

I remembered it from Bongville,
a ruined village through which we’d pass
on our way to the sea for a swim.

A village between Seaford and Peacehaven,
blown up in case of German invasion.
Among the broken bricks, the plant flourished.

Strange how the name arrived from nowhere
and only then was the meeting complete,
only then did I lose track of time.

I turned around to tell you what I’d found.
You were long gone. But who was I with
if not you, in the house of that found flower.

Sunlight and windfall and breaking wave.
Our footprints on the eternal beach.
Washed away, always they well up again.

Mark Roper is an English poet, living in Ireland for some forty years now. Bindweed, (Dedalus Press, 2017), was shortlisted for The Irish Times Poetry Now Award. A Gather of Shadow (2012) was also shortlisted for that Award and won the Michael Hartnett Award in 2014. A new collection. His latest collection is Beyond Stillness. With photographer Paddy Dwan, he has published The River Book, The Backstrand, and Comeragh, books of image and text about the natural history of County Waterford. www.mark-roper.com

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*****

Bob Saxton: Poem

THE ROW OVER NERO’S THEATRE

after Tacitus

I
Nero’s idea is this: every five years
Rome will host a drama competition
on the Greek model, with free admission
for all, state-funded, run by volunteers.

Objectors yell from platforms in the streets.
How can his Imperial Excellency commend
keeping Romans idle for days on end
in a permanent auditorium, with seats?

Old ways are best, head-shaking fogeys say.
In times gone by a makeshift theatre was built
whenever a praetor fell for the latest trend.

There was hardly any danger of affray,
since merely being there proved a person’s guilt.
Nobody was required by statute to attend.

II
Into our beloved capital would flow
everything corrupting and corruptible
if this project were approved – a terrible
influence on our young men, never slow

to be inspired by a really bad example.
They’d all too readily turn into shirkers,
perverts or gymnasts – the filth of the circus
choking the commandments of the temple.

Recruited to fight with boxing gloves instead
of joining the army, our aristocracy
would be gravely at risk. How could this focus

on effeminate prancing, playing dead
in tragedies or flaying us with poetry
be anything but pernicious hocus-pocus?

III
The Emperor and Senate’s egregious blunder
of opening the gates of our noble city wide
to Infamy – a nincompoop astride
a donkey – disgraces us. No wonder

merciless critics are sharpening their tongues!
How does pretending to be someone you’re not
ease the impoverished citizens’s lot?
How is justice served by singing stupid songs?

Over all Seven Hills vileness would spread its blight.
Decorum could not enforce its right of way.
Libertines in the promiscuous crowd

would perpetrate, under cover of night,
monstrosities they’d dreamed up in the day.
Profanity would speak its shame out loud.

***

IV
On a podium in the Forum there’s a speaker
with a different tale, of how the Eternal City
for lack of culture warranted our pity
till Nero encountered drama. Eureka!

Our ancestors were never shy of spectacle,
importing dancers from Etruria
and horse-racing champions from Thuria.
These virtuoso stars won over the sceptical.

And noble Romans often played a part
in tragedy, oratory, movement, mime.
A stage was built and dismantled for each show –

cost-wise, of course, a practice far from smart.
A permanent theatre, dark some of the time,
would greatly improve upon the status quo.

V
And when the state endows such undertakings,
the private individuals once courted
to splurge their wealth on otherwise unsupported
ventures now have the cash for other things,

more charitable perhaps – helping the poor,
the enslaved, the sick, the blind, the lame.
State-sponsored prizes would propel to fame
fresh talents that hadn’t come to light before.

Now, what’s degrading, even for a knight
or judge, in listening to heart-stirring speeches?
A theatre’s aims are totally respectable.

Remember, when its lights were blazing bright,
there’d be no cloak of darkness for moral breaches.
The lighting would make any crime detectable.

Robert Saxton is the author of seven books of poetry: from Enitharmon, The Promise Clinic (1994); from Carcanet/OxfordPoetsManganese (2003), Local Honey (2007) and Hesiod’s Calendar(2010); from Shearsman, The China Shop Pictures (2012) and Flying School (2019); and from Angle Shades Press and (online) Six-way Mirror (2016). See www.robertsaxton.co.uk for more information.

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*****

Myra Schneider: Two Poems

LEEKS

Reading his words about the radish plants
he dug up hurtles me back from today’s
worrying world to the year I grew a few leeks

in our heavy clay soil. There I am in anorak,
wellingtons, woolly hat topped with a pom-pom,
armed with a hefty fork and trowel hurrying

down the garden on a day when snow threatened
to fall on the frostbound ground. Leaning
over the largest leek, I force the fork an inch

into the soil but, mulishly, it refuses to penetrate
any further and, infuriated, I thrust it aside,
pull up my sleeves and, crouching down,

shake out lumps of ice nested in the leaves.
Then I scrabble with the trowel and my hands
until I dislodge a flinty stone and at last,

fingers aching with cold, ease the shank
of the plant trailing hairy earth-clogged roots,
out of the ground. Of course, a leek doesn’t offer

the drama of a radish’s boisterous pink,
a colour which has the glamour of a film star
but hunched there I’m not thinking about radishes,

I’m gazing at the bulbous base of the vegetable
I’ve grown, the white shine of its immaculate skin.
I stroke it gently and it makes my heart leap.

FIRST NIGHT OF THE PROMS
1
The untidy room slips off my shoulders
and folds away as we discover we’re in the Albert Hall.
The air is taut, we are taut. We are mesmerized

by the face of the conductor who is weaving together
the sounds of many instruments,
bringing the singers to life, drawing them

into the tapestry. Somehow, we are part of this
and somewhere I sense Vaughan Williams.
He is leading us through the nooks, dells and pools

of Shakespeare’s dream islands. The music falls away
into silence. A timeless gap, then the audience
comes to life, fills the air with applause.

2

Now we are in a world of electric reds, luminous golds,
marine blues and great volumes of sound led
by the organ which is as majestic as the prow of a ship.

All eyes are on the player who pulls out stops
and commands two rows of keyboards and pedals.
A mirror connects him with the orchestra

and their passionate conductor almost floating in her gown.
A glinting army of pipes assaults the screen
and the whole world it seems, only exists inside the music

even when it sinks to almost nothing
before rising up again and again in massive waves
until finally it retreats into the huge silence of the audience.

Myra Schneider has had eleven full collections of poetry published, including Siege and Symphony (SLP, 2021). Other publications include books about personal writing, notably Writing My Way through Cancer, (Jessica Kingsley) 2003 and Writing Your Self with John Killick (Continuum 2008). Her work has been broadcast on the BBC. In 2007 she was shortlisted for a Forward prize. She has co-edited anthologies of women’s poetry and she has been a poetry tutor since the late 1990s, mainly for The Poetry School.

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*****

Penny Sharman: Two Poems

PATIENTLY WAITING FOR GOD

Down on my knees, hands in the usual sublime pose
and a mouse crawls out from under the cupboard door

I can’t wait for the rain to feed my plants

but mouse gets up on his soap box, speaks as loud as an ogre
about starlings in the garden, their gathering on the copper beech,
songs unfathomable, and that the arrangement of twigs is an oracle,
as if the I Ching had shaken itself into the WORD.

I talk to the doctor on the phone, as face to face becomes history.
I wonder how I can explain the lump in my throat, if he will pick up
my malaise beyond the plastic in his hand, the pauses are memorable.

I can’t wait for the sun to settle on my cheek

I stand up and try to frighten mouse away, stamp my foot, scream etc.,
but mouse doesn’t budge, he saunters into the bedroom and leaves
with a bow through a crack in the wall.

I wonder why he’s so calm when I’m a tsunami in my own living room.

Behind the cupboard door is a wreck, a box of cherry liqueurs,
each wrapper gnawed through, and I realise the mouse is pissed.

Good idea, I think. I turn on iTunes and blast Electric Ladyland
on the sound bar and pop open some fizz.

I realise that each moment on the dance floor really counts
and that The Nothing is always gathering, just like in that movie
Never Ending Story in the land of Fantasia, or when the truth hits home,
like the replay in my mind, when my brother told me a year ago today,
I’m done sis, I’m done.

DODO

In my island life I’m flightless.
Here gravity keeps me shackled to the dirt
and nothing but seeds nuts and berries
quench the thought of freedom.

My mind dreams of wings that work,
feathers with shafts of air and feet
that bounce into the slipstream of belonging
to any tribe of bird that will haunt my days,

but down here on terra firma I flap and flap,
invoke feather magic, but I am alone with a beak
that taps out an S0S, alone with a heavy heart
that longs for flock time.

Here days are clumsy filled with jokes like
does my bum look big in this,
this
my island life,
and I gaze at you out there
and wonder what made you so

Penny Sharman is a widely published poet, photographer, artist and therapist. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University. Penny’s books are Fair Ground, (Yaffle Press, 2019), Swim With Me In Deep Water, (Cerasus Poetry, 2019 ), The Day before Joy, (knivesforks&spoonspress, 2021 ), Catching the Heather, (Cerasus Poetry, 2022 ), The Ash of Time,   (Hedgehog Press, 2022), all available from her website: pennysharman.co.uk.  She is also co- editor of Obsessed With Pipework.

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*****

Finola Scott: Poem

MAELSTROM
Camas Cuil an t-Saimh, Iona

Columba returns, his curragh shuddering
on the angry tide. As oyster-catchers wrestle
the whipped air, he gives thanks to this ancient highway,
to this rosary of isles and sea that links all supplications.
Alone now, he will rest and speak to his God.

Soul lightened, feet solid, he blesses the deep shingle,
the sweet dulse of this rock. With wind-tangled shells
rattling his shins he praises the hungry cries
of south-skeining geese, sings halleluia
to the watery gift of this isle, his sanctuary.

He doesn’t know to pray against the Warming,
that will shift the Stream over time. He knows
the heavens, the promise of light. Knows nothing
of ozone layers, of coral reefs dissolving, of the whirlpool
of plastics swirling, of oceans rising, of drownings.

Finola Scott‘s poems are found on posters, tapestries and postcards. They have also been published 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. Her most recent collection is Count the Ways (Dreich).

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*****

John Short: Two Poems

VIRTUOSO

Athens

Preternatural with ability,
he heard the pulse of rhythm
in music’s hallowed spaces
while still womb-cradled.

And then a watery welcome
to the world – now many
crave his miraculous sparkle
just to wear a little magic.

Any instrument he touches
is immediately transformed
like base metal into gold
as they attend in reverence.

But as the years wear on
in smoky nightclubs
he grows fat and unwell;
worshipped to an early grave.

STREET FISHING

Buskers of Athens

The French girl in a ballerina dress
and lacquered silver angel wings;
that suited man who dances with dolls.

Vera from Bosnia waiting stoically
to sell her copper candle shades,
carefully chiselled through the day.

Leonidas down from Moscow suburbs
via a string of eastern monasteries,
crooning to a balalaika or an old guitar.

The earthquake survivor from Iran:
his music school was buried deep,
in acoustic streets, plays zither nightly.

A living statue sprayed in gold,
his trick to move for every drop;
an Englishman who plays bouzouki.

And if the police arrive by chance
they all vanish in a flash, but re-appear
some minutes later, hungry for cash.

John Short lives in Liverpool and is active on the local poetry scene. A previous contributor to The High Window he’s also appeared in magazines like Dream Catcher, London Grip and Poetry Salzburg Review. He’s published four books, one of stories and three of poetry, the most recent being Those Ghosts (Beaten Track 2021). He blogs sporadically at Tsarkoverse.

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*****

Patrick Slevin: Poem

THE TEMPORARY JOB

It went on longer than expected. So long
it felt permanent. So long I had to stick
with the lie I’d invented that first week
to get out of the Friday nightshift
when I said we had a baby, a girl. Probably
I named her the same as your friend’s,
the one who kept taking pictures –
it’s the small details that make stories
believable – so while you worked
the bar at the Nelson every weekend,
I had her. I could see myself holding her,
whispering sweet words in her tiny ears,
inventing make-believe worlds. Even now,
too many decades later to be true,
too far away to comprehend, I spy
our outline behind the roller blinds
of that third floor sublet from the pavement
on a distant night. But that old me
doesn’t look out and see this old me
in the shadows – my imaginary past
can’t dream up this future, not on his own,
not without you. Forever he’s waiting
in silence, listening for your footsteps
on the loose-fitted carpet
rushing up the shared stairs.

Patrick Slevin has appeared in Poetry Review Ireland, Skylight 47, The Poets’ Republic, The Cormorant, The Manchester Review, The Blue Nib, The Interpreter’s House and others, and has been featured on RTE’s Poem of the Day.

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*****

Sam Smith: Poem

A COMMON HISTORY

Taking a graveside moment
I do my duty by the newly dead,
pin their butterfly lives
in my memory.

Closing the drawer I move on,
go ever forward like the wind;
cannot imagine
my life without purpose.

What next?

Even so I know that
by closing the drawer
and
disremembering the making past
I dishonour the dead,
delude myself to the worth
of my own brief being.

Sam Smith is editor of The Journal (once ‘of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry’). Author of several novels and collections of poetry – http://samsmithbooks.weebly.com He presently lives in Blaengarw, South Wales, and blogs here – http://thesamsmith.net

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*****

Paul Stephenson: Two Poems

HAND PUPPETS

Whenever I stop and think of you at your youest,
the nights are drawing in and we’re both at home
in our two-bed rented flat on Mount View Road.
You’re in the front room. I’m sitting in the kitchen.

Behind me, the giant poster of Kikker in de Wolken –
Frog in the Clouds, advertising a children’s play
at Maastricht’s Vrijthof theatre. You loved frogs.
We had a piece of glass cut. It took up the wall.

I’m working away when, I don’t know what it is –
a reflection in the laptop screen or small movement,
something in the corner of my eye. I turn my head
and there in the doorway, half-way up the frame,

I have a visitor – Turtle or Mouse, peering round,
come to see me. Turtle, with long neck, wide mouth,
Mouse, his whiskers sniffing the evening air. I say,
Hey there, how are you doing? What are you up to?

I lean over in my chair, shift to catch sight of you –
you of the hand, you of the arm, you of the grin
behind the wall. I can see you – when you were you
at your youest and we were us, in good hands.

HIS BATTLESHIPS

I must sort his room, a room as full
of boats as any room could be.
This bedroom is not a boat room
but two navies have sailed here,
an armoured flotilla, its ballast uneven,
locked on my feet, closing in on my knees.

Picking up a boat, I cup it, poor target,
slide a knife in the cracks between boards
to extricate others. I see them,
christened one summer afternoon
sliding off their slipway with ribbons,
ironclad onto polished parquet.

Mile-long boats in the full moon
through a white sash bedroom window.
His red and blue boats strewn –
metal vessels with misguided missiles,
shared out and played with,
ludic battles waged on open sea.

No mayday for his boats in trouble,
his boats dropping from the sky.
Floored boats. Boats that lean, lopsided,
their muzzle blast exploded,
done distorting the grey plastic surface.
I try but I can’t stand them upright.

His steady boats, his once sailed boats.
I bag them up and think charity
for the scuttled and sunk, the damaged
and wrecked, the boats reported missing.
No more torpedoes in crossfire – hit!
His room a tidy horizon, the radar blank.

Paul Stephenson has published three pamphlets: Those People (Smith/Doorstop), The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance) and Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press). He co-edited Magma issue 70 on ‘Europe’. He co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh and lives between Cambridge and Brussels. He interviews poets at paulstep.com. Instagram: paulstep456 / Twitter: @stephenson_pj

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*****

Anne Symons: Poem

NOAH’S WIFE

He cannot bear the damp these days,
his joints seize up. I hear them cracking
when he shifts in bed, loud above the snores.

His eyes are sunken, eyelids half asleep,
I sweep away the stones in case he falls,
make sure his staff is always near.

He lives on memories, like we all do now,
the project that was meant to save the world
cleanse mankind, and us the chosen ones.

Fetid and closed in grey creation
we argued and fought, bled and cried
little room for love on board —

stench and screeching forty nights
with little sleep, rolling in the rain
shit sliding across the decks.

He tells a cleaner tale to passers-by,
draws pictures on the ground, points out
the splendid roof, the massive ribs.

He doesn’t talk about the Deluge
those who drowned; we pushed them off
uncurled their fingers from the sides,

children too. I see them in my sleep
hear their screams and so does he.
Those are the nights we need a rainbow.

Anne Symons: After a career teaching deaf children and adults Anne began writing poetry in retirement. Her work has appeared in a range of poetry publications, both online and print. She has recently completed an MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University and the Poetry School in London

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*****

Victoria Twomey: Two Poems

COLOR BLIND

this glimmer of a memory once began
with a path to a blue lake

mother’s orange flowered skirt
ahead

I am almost certain I saw her tuck all the colors
of my recollection into her troubled pocket

secure it with a round fuchsia button
leaving behind only the images she preferred

more and more these days
this memory comes only in a color-blind dream

a path to a gray lake
mother’s gray flowered skirt, ahead

in these pale remains
she is happy at last

she is patient and calm
as she turns and waits for me

extends her hand and smiles
her eyes as bright as white summer clouds

we walk to the shore
leave our footprints in moon dust

at sunset, we watch droplets of quicksilver light
glitter on the gray waves

she strokes my hair, the color of smoke
and asks me to remember her as kind

GLIMPSE

you are lying on the side of the road with silent eyes
having wandered away from the arms of the wild

I am uncertain how to name you
little child of nature

thick coarse fur, the wrong color for a fox
not dog, not beaver, not weasel

do names really matter
now that you are empty of your prancing and hunting

your joy
of field, of tree root and stream

the day is warming
the wind is gently lifting your limp tail

as if a wandering spirit has slipped inside you
in search of purity

what ceremony shall there be for your silent body
so close to the spires of the fragrant cathedral

what sacrament for a sinless creature
in no need of forgiveness

the crows know best
how to sing the hymns

the flies will dance and pray with folded wings
prepare you for the cleansing rain

in mutual silence, let us share this momentary clarity
this starlike blinking between the whispering leaves

this glimpse
of something calm and true

this acceptance, that one day we will meet again
move from simplicity to simplicity, as one

Victoria Twomey is an award-winning poet and artist. Her poems have been published in several anthologies, in newspapers and on the web, including Sanctuary Magazine, BigCityLit, The Long Island Quarterly, the Tipton Journal, Verse-Virtual, and the Trouvaille Review. She is the recipient of the 95th Moon Prize given by Writing In A Woman’s Voice. Her poem ‘Pieta’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. https://victoriatwomey.com

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*****

Susan Utting: Three Poems

FOX UNDER THE BLOSSOM TREES

The fox doesn’t know it’s meant to be nocturnal,
just as the pear tree doesn’t know to wait its turn
to blossom – this year it’s duetting, or is it vying,
with the cherry for the loveliness rosette.

and the red kites cross and swoop

The fox is basking in a patch of sunlight
in the middle of the lawn, narrowing its eyes
with what, were it human, would be pleasure.
It’s sitting neat and tidy, upright, front paws

as the red kites swoop and cross

ten-to-two together like a well-trained
household pet. Every day it’s there, plump,
bristling bronze in the early morning sun
under the Disney gorgeousness of blossom.

and the red kites cross and swoop and cross

Then two dull days with no fox; gales have
snowed the lawn with pear and cherry petals.
Has the fox remembered, slunk out in the dark
to scavenge, kill, to gorge?

and still the red kites swoop and cross

On the third day the fox is back, leaner,
sitting passive in the rediscovered sun
while two cubs tumble, roll, play-fight
underneath the half-undressed fruit trees

while the red kites swoop and cross, cross and swoop.

PAROLE

And The Women stretched out their scarred arms,
shook out their scrubbing brush knuckles, their
dishwater hands. And the doors were all locked,
bolted, secured, electronically slammed.

And the doorkeepers jangled their keys on the chains
at their waists as they strolled, eagle-eyed chatelains,
tight-belted, clodhopper-booted. And the air was a nail-biter,
cliff-hanger, taut as a cats’ cradle stretched between
amber-stained fingers, down-to-the-quick bitten thumbs.

And The Women lay down, counting, holding,
breathing out for the one who was missing, the one
who was up, hanging on by the clench of her fists
for a nod, for the P-word that nobody spoke, for fear
of a jinx, the mockers, for fear of a curse on their sister,
her once-in-a-life-sentence moment, her chance.

THE HUSH

He told them he was going
and they didn’t know what to say,
so they said nothing. They might have
been sorry, or relieved, or wished him all the best,
or luck. But no one spoke for a long and heavy stretch.

The dresser didn’t move,
the blinds gave up their open window
clatter, the door handle didn’t turn, the tabby cat
played dead on the sofa. Only the overhead strip light
kept on its steady, buzzy hum, not knowing silence was expected.

I wanted the fridge to click,
start up, kick in, to hear the rhythmic
up and down of a mower, even the sound of a car horn,
impatient, angry, vulgar. I felt the hard seat of the kitchen chair,
the rough wool of my skirt against the back of my knees and I wanted

Jenny to do her silent giggle,
that delicate, shoulder shake she did
at pin-drop times like these. I wanted to catch
her eye, press my lips together and look away, quick,
to write her name and mine, in the mantelshelf dust, in noisy capitals.

Susan Utting’s poems have been published in The Times, TLS, Forward Book of Poetry, The Poetry Review, Poems on the Underground, and broadcast at London’s South Bank Centre for Poetry International. Her latest, fourth poetry collection, Half the Human Race: New & Selected Poems, is from Two Rivers Press. www.susanutting.com

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*****

Robin Lindsay Wilson: Two Poems

THE GOOD FIGHT.

I enlisted for your writing class
because you had a clipboard
and wrote with a fountain pen
but my pledge was provisional,
and dependent on your praise.

I tried to liberate a true story
but it hid behind the screams
of pixels from war journalists
and a background head-roar
of rival self-serving testimony.

I joined the winning mercenaries
and went east to fight for justice
but I couldn’t find the good guys
just a trail of broken rotor-blades
and sucking rags on dry bones.
I went north to fight for honesty
but it never spoke your name
or used your words for mercy.

I conjured up some brave deeds
to leave behind in trouble spots
with NGOs and orphan refugees
until my hotel ran out of Pinot Noir
and I had to switch to Chardonnay.

I went south to fight for beauty
but came back scarred for life
needing skin grafts and surgery.
I went west to fight for heroes
but they were selling image rights
to Hollywood, Coke and Nike.

I went back to your writing class
where you taught to exaggerate
the importance of my evidence
until an audience could believe
the pity inside my metaphors –
the anger of my simple verbs.

ON READING BILLY COLLINS
(the Most Popular Poet in the USA.)

Nothing creative repeats itself,
but gather a lifetime of poems
between A-to-Z hard covers
and they write a loose signature
of themes and attitudes. Years
of zigzag world travels looping
into a Mobius strip of metaphors.

I was boundless. Feeling inspired
when Billy Collins read my folder
of doubt, correction and reflex.

He said, I need to live a war. Or
risk an affair. I must learn Catalan,
visit Burkina Faso, take up politics,
or beekeeping to ruffle the alpha
and omega of his expert attention.

I believed him on every continent.
My source material was discovery,
translating novelty to hopefulness,
experience to simile and antithesis.

But spontaneity is only exclamation,
wonder has a limited vocabulary.

Inspired in souks and harbours I
found new words by appropriation
of callow poses and boyhood fears.

On skyscraper viewing platforms I
wrote simulacre memories until
I only heard the past speaking
when I attempted the future.

Robin Lindsay Wilson is a lecturer in Acting & Performance at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. He is an award winning playwright and poet and has had three collections of poetry published by Cinnamon Press. His work has appeared in many UK literary journals and magazines, including  The South, Dream Catcher, Magma, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, The Journal and Brittle Star.

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*****

Rodney Wood: Two Poems

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS DELIVERED AT THE MELCOMBE MERCHANTS GUILD, 1340
‘those who survived and stayed solvent were ideally placed to make sizeable profits.’ Merchants of Doom, Robert Blackmore, (July 2021), BBC History

I’ve been reading Consolat De Mar, which has recently
been printed in Valencia, and is concerned with the law maritime.
For laws there must be to settle disputes and nautical issues
if we are to trade with the lands of Europe.
Our great ships are built in Spain with axes and adzes, with planks,
rove plates, caulking with tar and hair from horse, sheep and goat.
They only last a few decades before they depart and we’ve had to say goodbye to
Holyghost, Godisgrace, le Blythe, Margaret, Cog John and le Cok, among others.
This past year we have been known as merchants of death,
been unfairly blamed for carrying plague to each port
touching everyone with the bony finger of death including
Sir Tom Moore, Larry King, Phil Spector, Dave Prowse,
Lee Konitz, Princess Teresa of Bourbon-Parma,
Joan Plantagenet, John de Ufford, William Ockham and Richard Rolle of Hampole.
Look around, family, friends and customers are no longer here
but with Charon, the sordid and unkempt ferry man,
who carries souls over the Styx to the underworld on his,
as I like to call it, Punt of No Return.
Imagine the pile of gold he has accumulated but what has he done with it?
Bought more boats? Thought of making the trip more comfortable or safer? No.
He should get one of us to run his business,
keep his boat in good order as it goes back and forth, back and forth,
the way ships go to France with wool, cloth, tin, grain and fish
and return north with wine, dye, honey and iron.
Our ships carry 160 tons of wine burden and we no longer fear monsters
but are still at the mercy of rocks, currents, tides, the gods of the four winds
and pirates such as Jean de Clusson, John Crabbe and our very own
Mayor of Dartmouth, who is detained elsewhere at the moment,
and cannot therefore attack our neutral merchant ships or listen to these words.
He calls himself a privateer with Acts of Grace from the Crown.
We also need the protection of the law. Forgive me. I do not like any man
who gets in the way of business. You should know that the recent Government ordinance
saying that sellers should not make excessive gains is merely gesture policies,
a sop to democratic accountability that can safely be ignored.
As we know, goods can be smuggled or we could always seek exemption
owing to certain royal or governmental connections.
There is good news for everyone here. With God’s grace we have survived
the past year of plague and can return to normal in an even stronger position.
Loose the cables and lower the mainsails. The price of wine has doubled.
From now on it will be plain sailing. I hear the turning of the weathervanes
and it’s gold blowing in our direction for all the time we have to come.

ADVICE FROM THE PLAGUE DOCTORS

‘To say people didn’t know much about the plague was an understatement. From its origins, to its spread, to its cure, the physicians whose sole purpose was to treat this infamous killer knew little more that those whom they were treating. They did, however, understand one thing with perfect clarity: the fact that it spread quickly and easily.’ Jackie Rosenhek (21 July 2020), Doctors on the Black Death, Doctors Review.

It happened & is happening now. In either case
no one knew how to treat the disease, what herbs
they should buy from the supermarket or corner shop.
If chopped up snake, pigeon or ground unicorn horn

(that had been captured by a virgin) is available.
If shelves are stocked with onions, mangoes, teas,
the necessary 60 varieties of essential oils & vanilla
ice-cream. If there is a supply of Four Thieves

(cider, vinegar, wine with wormwood), crushed
emeralds, paracetamol, arsenic, soap & hand-gel.
If a delivery slot is available. There could always
be something in the store cupboard, ten year old treacle

for example. It is also worth buying amulets & charms.
Your local dealer could also supply the necessary opium,
perhaps in a handy wrap. Celebrities swear by taking
six deep breathes then coughing into a cotton rich napkin

or taking warm baths in clean urine on a daily basis.
Priests advise people to pray, fast, attend mass, football
& race meetings. Also to persecute those responsible,
take part in demonstrations, marches & processions.

Self-harm is also popular. But the best advice is to stay
at home to avoid God’s wrath, which can be pretty brutal.
Keep windows open so angels can fly in. Each room
should be be strewn with flowers, incense sticks (jasmine,

wild berry, lavender) & diffusers or burners should
be used with the essential oils you purchased earlier. Despite
the hot weather, always light a fire, especially under witches

or 5G phone masts. It will drive out the devil. Maybe.

Rodney Wood lives in Farnborough. His poetry has appeared in The High Window Press, The Journal, Morphrog, Magma (where he was selected poet in the deaf issue), and many other places. He is a Stanza Rep and joint MC of a monthly open mic at The Lightbox in Woking.

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*****

Martin Zarrop: Two Poems

D-38

No, I’m not as refined as my brother;
I’ve been treated like trash,
but developed a hell of a kick.

I can punch a hole through armour,
lethal as a dagger, a fiery finger
to incinerate unseen enemies.

I don’t last long, but long enough
to poison your blood, rot your lungs,
your brain, torment your babies.

No, I’m not as powerful as my brother,
just a thug, not a mass murderer,

just a sonofabitch high up
in the periodic table

but I’m your sonofabitch.

TWITCHERS

Reeds whisper
as rivulets cleave mud
beneath an infinite blue.

Avocets sweep salt water
scrapes with upturned bills.
Geese squawk their V.

Figures in waxed camouflage
sport lenses big enough
to pierce the hearts of galaxies

listen for the songs of divas
buried in saline beds
as the east wind bites.

The path is turned by tides
thrusts its way to the sea,
retreats to cobbled cottages.

Men mutter incantations
to passers by, stare
at distant horizons.

Martin Zarrop is a retired applied mathematician who wanted certainty but found life more interesting and fulfilling by not getting it. He started writing in May 2006. He has published three pamphlets: No Theory of Everything (Cinnamon 2015), Making Waves  (V.Press 2019) and To Boldly Go  (V.Press 2020) and two full collections: Moving Pictures  (Cinnamon 2016) and Is Anyone There? (The High Window Press 2020).

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*****

Susan UttingRobin Lindsay Wilson •  Rodney Wood Martin Zarrop

*****

Previous Poetry

THW27: September 5, 2022 • THW26: June 6, 2022  • THW25: March 6, 2022 • THW24: December 3, 2021 • THW23: • THW22: June 6, 2021  •  THW21: March 8, 2021 • THW20: December 4, 2020 •THW19: September 5, 2020 • THW18: May 4, 2020  • THW17: March 7, 2020  • THW 16: December 4, 2019  • THW 15: September 5, 2019 • THW 14: June 3, 2019  • THW 13: March 6, 2019  • THW 12: December 10, 2018 • THW11: September 5, 2018  • THW10: May 21, 2018 • THW9: March 7, 2018 • THW8: December 6, 2017 • THW7: September 10, 2017 • THW6: June 3, 2017 • THW5: March 7, 2017  • THW4: December 6, 2016 • THW3: September 1, 2016 • THW2: June 1, 2016 • THW1: March 1, 2016

*****

Mike Barlow: Three Poems

ONE DAY ON THE ROAD TO BENTHAM

he walks out in front
long black coat and serious regard
walks out in front and takes a steady stride

respectful of the living
in league though
with the dead

his long black coat and serious regard
the purring hearse at walking pace
its drapes and flowers

the long line following at walking pace
as Jimmy paces out the route
ushers us to memory’s bright beyond

where does it end this geared-down cortege
is it with the white van splattered with mud
or the builders’ rattling wagon

or the bus half empty
on its weekly way to town
vacant seats taken by the recent dead

or the young man drumming
on the wheel his music thumping
loud enough to stir a corpse

for life’s an urgent journey
its blind bends chancy with adrenaline
and we all believe we’ve somewhere else to go

but Jimmy with his measured stride
he has the measure of us all

walk us out Jimmy
walk us all out

WORLDS APART

At the end of each day she goes back to the house she was born in.
It’s a long way to go, the distance of worlds, between street sounds
from an English town, the sodium glare of a ring road,
and the rainforest’s clamour, its canopied dark.

And each night he wishes he could follow, eager to know
where is it she lives. It’s not the house they share, of this he’s sure.
He closes their front door behind him and calls her name.

Sometimes she answers not in the tongue she married him in
but a language she talks in her sleep. He’ll lie there beside her,
broken awake by something she might have been dreaming.

A taxi ticks over outside, disgorging its chaos of late night drunks
while the clock on the town hall dings the hour on its quarter.
He turns to the wall, staring through small hours shadows
dense as the forest through which he longs to be guided.

IN THE SHELTERED COMMUNITY OF THE NOT-YET-CONCEIVED

I visit in search of comfort, forgiveness, a home
amongst the innocent, whose doors are always
unlocked, so they wander freely in and out

while I enter by stealth, an interloper pressed
against the back wall, moving as little as possible,
trying to lipread the space they leave around me.

At night I sleep on the beach, build a fire, hoping
they ‘ll prove curious. And indeed, they come.
I feel their darkness press against the air,

so many questions I can’t hear, and even if I could
I wouldn’t have the answers. They crowd me
but when I reach to touch them I’m diminished.

Mike Barlow has won prizes in a number of competitions including first prize in the Amnesty International (2002), Ledbury (2005) and National (2006) Competitions. His first full collection, Living on the Difference (Smith|Doorstop 2004) was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection. He has published four full collections and a number of pamphlets, Amicable Numbers (Templar 2008) being a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. His most recent collection is Hotel Anonymous (Pindrop Press 2021).

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*****

Terese Coe: Four Poems

IN ROOMS

We live in common
with those onscreen,
far beyond touch
and intimate rush.

The paradigm says
we’re in this together
in separate rooms
emptied of means.

The paradigm says
there are wide-open spaces.
We’re in fear for ourselves
and of ourselves.

The palpable loss
in faces half-hidden.
We are the alien.

FISH OR CUT BAIT

It goes like this,
a hit or miss,
a disturbance in
your eyes before
one more goodbye,
a final lie,
another stitch,
the cutting bait,
the ragged glitch,
the endless stakes
of roguishness and raving.

CICUMFERENCE OF INFINITY

Time and death,
the same infinity.
Nakashima cuts
a horizontal cross-
section of a walnut tree,
turns half of it upside
down and rejoins
them in
the middle.
This he says
is The Trunk
that Married
Itself.

SIGHTING LAND

It flows cool silk,
invites you to lie down.

The dry grass is a gift
you fuse with the sky
the tree grows words.

Terese Coe‘s poems, translations, & prose appear in The High Window, Agenda, Alaska Quarterly Review, Cincinnati Review, The Classical Outlook, Crannog, Cyphers,Hopkins Review, Metamorphoses, The Moth, New American Writing, New Scotland Writing, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry Review, Stinging Fly, Threepenny Review, & the TLS, among others. Her collection Shot Silk was short-listed for the 2017 Poets Prize.

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*****

Ralph Culver: Three Poems

VISITATION

the moon again
has made its appearance

and who am I
to scorn it

its light casting
a pale web-work of shadows

across the new snow
branches of trees

that the moon itself
appears to be caught in

and the poets of the moon
cast no shadows

standing in the snow
beneath the trees

Li BaixxxStrand surely
ShelleyxxxEmily

so many others
what could I add

to their worshipful
disharmony

gathering the fresh snow
cradled in my handsxxxthen

melting to water
that shines

in its reflection of
that fair and naked countenance

A THOUGHT

the gods should be
serenaded

especially
in times of great suffering

more than appeasement
it is a reminder

that beauty is
an achievement

surpassing
suffering

the gods then
taking steps

our lauds having
inspired them

to favor us
their children

and end
our torment

VENUS

—for Hil

How good it is,

touching the small of her back
as the room continues to darken.

Cast-off clothing. Closet
with a door slightly ajar. A dresser.
So many books on the shelves
against the far wall.

The settling of our breathing
into a rhythm. The dog makes
his sleep sounds,
paws twitching lightly
over unseen fields.

The last things: the scent of her skin,
the dog yips and whines
and then is quiet.

All of those books. And
if I never read them,
if I never read another word,
will I not still be content?
Touching the small of her back,

I fall deeper and deeper
into certainty.

Ralph Culver lives in South Burlington, Vermont in the USA. His newest poetry collection is  A Passable Man (MadHat Press, 2021), available in bookstores, from the publisher, and through all the usual internet channels.

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*****

Greg Freeman: Three Poems

Rio Guadalmina - collage by Gillian Freeman
Torn Paper Collage by Gillian Freeman

RIO GUADALMINA

A Saturday night’s fever.
Cascading down the gorge,
over or circumventing boulders,
cauldron mixed with moments
of calm, foaming rapids
that leave you breathless,
make you gasp, dance
in the street to a local band,
rage at the end of the evening
when the Uber doesn’t turn up.

How can such mad euphoria
peter out a few miles from
the sea in a drifting,
reservoir-tamed channel
that has almost given up
the ghost? Ageing, infirm,
increasingly allowing itself
to be gently guided,
lacking the stomach to resist,
as it loses its will, its way.

FRAMLINGHAM

I sing of a castle (and so has
Ed Sheeran, as it happens).
Built by one of William’s
Normans, King John’s knights
lay siege, capturing it
In just two days, the year
after he caved in
and signed Magna Carta.

Bloody Mary sought refuge there,
rallying troops and her confidence,
before heading to London
to claim the throne, and seal
the fate of a teenage girl.
The people cheering the rightful heir
didn’t foresee the martyrs.
Perhaps they did, and didn’t care.

Next century a benefactor
purchased the thirteen towers,
flint curtain wall and Tudor chimneys;
ordered in his will that the buildings
within be levelled, a workhouse
constructed in their place.
These days the ‘Fairtrade town’
is known locally as ‘Fram’.

The mere has shrunk
since the Middle Ages.
Jigsaw puzzle of ascendancies,
misfortunes, triumphs,
fatal falls from grace.
Jackdaws patrol the jagged stones,
patchwork of history stitched
together by English Heritage.

NORTHUMBERLANDIA

Train-glimpsed, fashioned
from the earth; a bargain
made with those that dig.
Thus did your contours emerge,
sculpted from mine spoil:
green breasts, curves, hollows,
pools. We walk around, beside.

I think and dream of you
a little more each day:
your hills and beaches,
fortifications, lonely places,
borders, islands, causeways;
your Golden Age; your
pious, ravaged history.

Greg Freeman is a former newspaper sub-editor, and now news and reviews editor of the poetry website Write Out Loud. His debut pamphlet collection Trainspotters was published in Indigo Dreams in 2015, and his first full collection Marples Must Go! by Dempsey & Windle in 2021. A second pamphlet, The Fall of Singapore, was published in 2022 by Dempsey & Windle. After almost a lifetime in Surrey he is moving to Northumberland.

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*****

Katherine Gallagher: Two Poems

SUMMER IN RAILWAY FIELDS
(London. N4)

Close-in, there’s lavender and a mini-forest of birch,
yew, cherry and ash: most magical,
the marriage-tree (a cherry and ash grown into a couple.)

At the chalet-door, a briar-rose, self-seeded,
is layered with flowers, surrounded by patches of comfrey
catmint, cosmos and lemon queen.

Brimstone butterflies do their flypast, then the speckled woods,
and a red admiral glides before the pond. Bees glide by.
At the back, reeds and yellow flag-irises shade the newts.

Alongside, fragrant meadowsweet carries foaming clusters
of creamy flowers; and we’re not too late for goatsbeard
(‘Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon’) this sunshiny July day.

Pass by the meadow, stinging nettles, the bird’s-foot trefoil
housing the caterpillars of the common blue butterfly; nearby, fodder vetch
with its bright purplish flowers. And everywhere, birdsong: thrush, robin, tit.

Follow the trail. past the new meadow with corn marigold,
rosebay willowherb on the left; then the playground and the New River,
the convolvulus and wild plums. Pass stinking iris, pass the Victorian

stench-pipe, the one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old field maple
and the foxes’ earth, then a few steps up to the old railway tracks, emptied now
of coal trucks, back to the chalet via woodland.
Full-circle ̶ this journey I’m part of.

THE LIFE OF BEIGE

Beige is its own country, captured in a swirl, flaunting. Grasshopper-dry on sun-baked grass.
A colour-chart fly-by, indifferent echoes of desert. Beige speaks the language
xxxxof dry paddocks, roads,
lifted by whirlwinds, gaunt busy presences whisked about like dreary-eyed phantoms, xxxxvariations on a theme,
in shades from camel to biscuit, to scorched cream.

Harsh echoes, parched skies, antipodean.

Katherine Gallagher is an Australian-born poet resident in London since 1979. She has six full-length poetry collections, including Carnival Edge: New & Selected Poems (Arc Publications, 2010), and Acres of Light (Arc, 2016). She has also received numerous awards for her work. Carol Rumens chose her poem ‘The Year of the Tree’ for the Guardian blog’s ‘Poem of the Week’ and, in 2015, Andrew Spicer made it into a film: http://www.katherine-gallagher.com

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Ann Gibson: poem

VINDOLANDA FOOTWEAR STORE

Each item in the wall display
faces front like a marching army;
single shoes, boots, slippers,
men’s, women’s, children’s,
left, right, left –
but impossible to find their pairs
in the back room boxes.

Thousands found in sodden ditches,
bog-steeped shine
in any shade of beige or brown,
variety to rival any superstore.

Sandals and bathhouse clogs
could be run up in a cobbler’s sleep.
Work boots took some skill;
leather layers stacked for soles and heels
held with hobnails; uppers neat,
one soft seam, no rubbing,
scalloped eyelets for laces.

And any craftsman worth the name
must secretly have craved commission
from the fort commander’s wife –
dainty slippers testing talent.
Craft turned to art in hand-cut latticework,
precision-pierced rouletting –
accomplished with a frisson of fear,
one slip spoiling a perfect piece.

Even then, all was not lost;
the mouse silhouetted
against the workshop floor,
a teasing toy of salvaged leather.

Ann Gibson spent her childhood in Dublin and now lives in North Yorkshire. She has published poetry in a number of magazines and anthologies as well as online in The High Window, Algebra of Owls, Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Pulsar, Ofi Press Magazine and The Ekphrasis Review.

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Jenny Hockey:Four Poems

EGGS

It’s his job to heave the blue baskets onto a trolley
— his TESCO fills my window, his job
to inch the trolley through the ferns, the peonies’
packed buds, step by slippery step. My job to open the gate

but sometimes he finds it locked and instead
takes a walk through the woods, picnics on my corned beef,
swigs my whisky and throws my sauerkraut into a pond,
works on his juggling with my free-range eggs.

It’s my job to open the gate but sometimes instead
I climb into my wardrobe, chew on a cardigan sleeve,
develop a shabbier kind of chic. And sometimes we just
stand at the door, the Tesco delivery man and me

and he tells me he’s sorry the basil got crushed
and maybe the eggs could do with a check.

SMALL TALK

I never tell the truth, not the whole truth,
nothing but. Just say that I write —

and non-one follows through with
‘Shopping lists or thrillers?’

I say I worked at the university
and no-one seems to wonder

if I was a cleaner or a vice-chancellor.
To them it’s all the same and really

I like it that way — because somehow
they may suspect a strangeness, me

a poet of bedtime and moons, me
a Professor of Death. Could be they sense

the yawning chasm of weird

where no conversation can comfortably go.
‘So what do you do?’ I ask in return

and they tell me they work in government
or Asda have taken them on. I know to nod.

THE GIRLS’ JUNIOR ORCHESTRA

were arranged at the front of the hall
from where we watched our parents filing in,
my mother in a beret she knitted for herself,
red with gold lurex thread, easy to spot
even from a squash of twenty-seven girls,
some like me cradling a violin, others
tonguing wood and brass, all about to attempt
Ravel’s Bolero — with me singled out
to step up onto the stage
at the right moment, curtsey low
and present the Lady Visitor with a bouquet.

Somehow I missed my moment
and somehow as well — as my mother later explained,
the bow of my violin poked up out of the orchestra
when everyone else’s travelled down.

Bear in mind that my story is true,
that I have remembered it all
and since given musical instruments
a very wide berth

WHEN VISITED BY WIDOWHOOD

Victoria’s gymnastic agility, her supple spine
and well-developed sense of proprioception
were a godsend.

Once divested of the Imperial Crown,
her latticed dome of skirt, several restrictive bodices
and all that black

she’d tumble across the spacious chambers
of her palaces, her back flips, handsprings and cartwheels
making the floorboards judder,

making the weighty Victorian furniture
waddle to the walls — for fear of serious damage.
Released from Albert’s tender, vigilant eye,

Victoria gave free rein
to this and many other
secret propensities.

Jenny Hockey lives in Sheffield. Her poems have appeared in magazines including The North, Magma, Spelt, The High Window, The Frogmore Papers, Fenland Poetry Journal, Iota and Orbis. She retired from Sheffield University as Emeritus Professor of Sociology to make time for poetry, now reviews for Orbis and in 2013 received a New Poets Award from New Writing North. Her debut collection, Going to bed with the moon, was published by Oversteps Books in 2019 (overstepsbooks.com, jennyhockeypoetry.co.uk, familyhistoryandwar.com)

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*****

Martha Landeman: Three Poems

LORD OF THE TABLE

Oblong table with wooden top and iron legs, cluttered —
Father at the top end, his hat parked in the kitchen
mother on his left opposite his favourite daughter.
Brothers and sisters each claim their
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx in no particular order

A well-worn Bible guides from the sideboard –
xxxxxxxhow good and pleasant it is
xxxxxxxwhen brothers live together in harmony.
Pity the child with wandering mind who has no
answer when quizzed after scripture reading.

A two-way radio station – big black Jaysu –
owns its space like a spectre in the corner.
Father controls the air waves from around the farm,
walkie talkie his loyal companion, secure on his hip.
Trapped in the dining room, mother mans incoming calls.
She’d rather weed the garden.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxOver and out.

Happy-flower curtains and linoleum’s spongy feel
hold a space for the evening’s radio news
competing with children’s chatter, perpetual lessons —

Take these trees, how they bend in the wind
grow taller each summer, wider in trunk and canopy.
How they brave the ravaging storms, steadfast.

HOUSE INSPECTION

Come before the sun alliterates the streakiness
on the windows. Wipe your feet
on the welcome mat laid out like a prologue.
Use your master key, I’m out sailing

Respect my floors, clean as dinner plates
where I lie and write my lines, these lines, not your lines,
my words carried on the vacuum’s roar, a silver spoon,
haunting words, in random order.

Breathe in before you enter the bathroom,
bashful blue, where I brush my hair.
The kitchen’s to your right, a caesura
at the end of the hallway.

When your fingers trail the windowsill for dust,
when the sparkling stove blinds your eyes,
when you find fault don’t expect me
to rhyme unmowed lawns with uncooked prawns.

An anaphora addict you will do this again,
fingers trawling dust — your rhetoric.
You’ll get better at it.
I’ll be out sailing.

SURRENDER

These days I’m content
when at 6 am a ruckus of squawks
litters the morning silence,
kaleidoscope the infectious
blue sky with black and grey swoops —
deafening imitations of joy.

I want to read to those crested pigeons
Mary Oliver’s Summer Day,
tell them about her grasshopper
eating sugar from her hand.
But they’d hear nothing
above their pleasure odes.

Two galahs on the telephone line
puff their crimson chests
towards three crows opposite them,
scan the hills, ancient vistas—

See those rainbow lorikeets gather
in the trees around the pergola
where I have my coffee. How they claim
this garden as their own, screech dissent.

That’s when I raise my arms.
Today, I have no enemies.

Martha Landman writes in Adelaide, South Australia on Kaurna land. Her work appears in anthologies and journals in the UK, US, Australia and South Africa. Her chapbook, Between Us, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2019. Her collection, Scavenger Birds, is forthcoming later this year.

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*****

Mark Holihan: Poem

CRUZ DE FERRO
At 233 kilometres to Santiago de Compostela

Cowbells. The vast, empty heavens and cowbells ringing,
defining the giddy sky everywhere.
You try to catch your breath and feel the altitude,
the gravel under your soles,
the fine-honed sun. You are marching
across the serrated top of this world.

A half hour later, through pine-filtered light,
you arrive at a simple park. The turf is ragged, rutted.
And there it stands like a telegraph pole
on the top of a dreaming hill of prayers.

So many tears are made of stone here
and laminated paper pleas are tied with ribbons,
emotions piled twenty feet high.
You are careful where you tread
but as you climb, it is impossible not to step
on an aspiration or a fear.

When you finally feel the sun-bleached wood,
follow its line up to the black iron tip
against the lightest blue, you see a jet
leading its perfectly straight trail

to touch that cross,
intersect with an incomplete arrow,
a lightning rod of so much hope.
You put down a rock, but don’t feel you should.
Despite leaving this piece of home,
your load is no lighter.

And as you descend the jumbled monument,
you know you will have to carry your baggage
for much more than the hundred miles or so you have left,
and the inescapable blisters are only a distraction.

Mark Holihan is a writer, painter and graphic designer, originally from northern California, now settled in Broadstairs, Kent. Recently published in Confluence Magazine and online in Mind The Gap. Previously appeared in six anthologies, various Canterbury Poet of the Year collections and several The Reed Magazine collections. Winner of the Phalen award for both short fiction and poetry, highly commended by the New Writer Magazine and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. First collection, There are no Foreign Lands, was published by Cultured Llama, 2016.

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*****

Sarah Lawson: Poem

THE GREAT GATE OF KYIV
for Iryna Starovoyt

The shirtless bully on his pony,
playing Colossus on horseback,
lines up tanks on the border
where lead soldiers obey his whim.
He first fires a warning volley
across the world’s bows:
Stand back! Nothing to see here!

The volley bounces off the target,
lies blunted on the ground
while an audience waits to see
what the circus star will think of next.
Is the strut a bluff?
The answer is the mangled dead
lying unburied in the streets.

The shirtless bully
sees something in the fun-house mirror
that we have missed—
the puny horseman
wishing to be the fifth,
augmenting the famous four,
the knight in cardboard armour
dreaming of supine dragons
on which he can place a boot
for waiting cameramen;
hail the shirtless hero of the circus.

The Great Gate of Kyiv
was a Picture at an Exhibition
and was never built in stone,
but trumpets have played it all the same.
The Great Gate will never let him in,
whatever scorching happens on the ground.
The Great Gate lives in Mussorgsky’s trumpets
and in patriotic in hearts,
invisible therefore indestructible.
It cannot be breached
against the will of forty million keepers
who hear the trumpets,
who guard the gate.

Sarah Lawson is an American-born Londoner, educated at Indiana University and the University of Glasgow. She has been widely published in small magazines and has two collections of poetry and a translation of Jacques Prévert with Hearing Eye. She has written numerous reviews and essays in British journals and has translated work from French, Spanish, and Dutch.

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*****

Gil Learner: Four Poems

FRONT LINE

How do they do it, the Adies, Bowens,
Guerins, Keanes? Time after time,
they hurtle towards conflict, stand
resolute in Kevlar vests, and deliver
cold facts from the wreckage
of another people’s lives.
Aleppo Beijing Kabul Belgrade
Against a backdrop of fire and smoke,
a soundtrack of sirens, or mortars
much too close, they do not flinch.
Around them work the rarely seen:
sound engineers, cameramen and
-women, drivers and interpreters.
Baghdad Grozny Kosovo Gaza
Each night in a hotel room or safe space
below ground, do they peel away clothes
powdered with death, or fall, emptied
but still fully dressed, onto a makeshift
mattress or a bed?
Beirut Kharkiv Falluja Kyiv
How do they sleep?

GREEN FINGERS

The smell hits me at the door: the sweetness
of apples, strawberries and cake underscored
with earth, garlic, cabbages, I’m whisked back
from this thronged marquee to street-markets
in France where scrubbed vegetables and glossy fruit
are piled in a paint-chart pyramids.

Katya hugs me: So happy you come. She waves
a bronze certificate My beetroot have done good;
tugs my arm Come, meet friends. Unfamiliar names
rush past, my hand is crushed by hearty grips.
Later, I struggle to recall: was it Selasi who won gold
with leeks the thickness of my arm? Alesha
whose balsam pears were voted ‘Most Exotic’?
Winston or Janine whose sweetcorn drew applause?
I know Dmitri baked the winning sponge but
was it Brian or Talitha whose salsify was best?

Now you must see growings. Katya leads me out.
Behind the tent spread acres of freshness. Beans
hang thick fingers in purple and crimson-mottled ivory;
peas rampage over wire-strung frames; kohlrabi bulge
from beds; tomatoes are yellow, black or cream.
Some plots are edged with chives or thyme, others
sing with marigolds, violas, lavender. No sign
of the chickweed, bittercress that plague my patch.

Next week, we have feast: gazpacho, baba ganoush,
marlenka. You come? I smile: If I’m allowed,
yes please. Katya grins: You will be honoured guest.
After a cup of tea I leave, turn at the gate, marvel
at the love, the industry and notice, tall above
the leafiness, a solitary sunflower shining down on all.

FOR OTHER FEET

Here Saba can forget for while all she’s left behind –
explosions, rubble, burials. In the tent she sits
at her loom, studies a printout of the design. Above
hang hanks of wool in different shades. She teases out
a length and winds it round the taut warp threads,
cuts, repeats, along the width. At the end of each row,
she whispers a prayer of thanks that she is safe, has this.

Now she takes the heavy comb, rams down the knots
to tighten the pile. The patterns are centuries old;
the outlined shapes build tuft by tuft. As fingers fly, the air
around vibrates with chatter, laughter and the thuds
of tamping down. Here the women learn this ancient craft
and fight the sameness of the days.

Winding and tugging chafe her skin. Before sleep,
Saba recalls her grandma weaving carpets
in the peaceful times. The old lady’s hand felt rough
as it stroked her baby cheek. Jadda died long ago
and Saba offers a prayer of thanks that she was spared
this exile and Adiyaman camp.

WAR FOOTING

Is this how it felt in 1938: doom just
over the horizon; wisps of hope raised
on Chamberlain’s return from Germany?
It was already too late for many but
ten thousand lucky young were brought
from Europe to our safer shores.

By August 1939, this country could no longer bear
the growing threat. Parents packed essentials
into little suitcases and, children at heel, trailed
to the station with reluctant steps. Photos show adults
smiling bravely, youngsters simmering with excitement
or uncertainty. This was a journey into the unknown.

Nearly a century on, forests combust;
the caps of the world are dissolving; rain
is just a memory, or falls with such force
that houses, streets and island countries drown.
How can we save our children, grandchildren?
There’s nowhere we can send them now.

Gill Learner’s poems have been published in print magazines including Acumen, Agenda, 14, The French Literary Review, The Interpreter’s House, North, Orbis, Mslexia and South; and online in The High Window and Canvas; in a number of anthologies e.g. from The Emma Press, Grey Hen Press, HappenStance Press, Second Light Publications and Two Rivers Press and won prizes. Her three collections: The Agister’s Experiment (2011), Chill Factor (2016) and Change (2021) are from Two Rivers Press (http://tworiverspress.com). Web pages: www.poetrypf.co.uk.

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Maggie McKay: Poem

AND HOW BRAW IS THAT?

red-letter days, west coast sunsets, birthday treats,
and how braw are they? How braw?

virgin snaw, a new dress of bluebells,
a settling hug, silent air, how braw?

summer meadow, herringbone tweed,
singing through winter chill, legendary stories, how braw?

swan on a still loch, a wee paradise of your own,
a friend’s fierce words, the book that spoke to you, how braw?

I’m going back to the braw days, months, years
of green and talisman, braw, braw spaces to let go. How braw?

Maggie Mackay’s pamphlet The Heart of the Run, 2018 is published by Picaroon Poetry and her full collection A West Coast Psalter, Kelsay Books, is available now. In 2020 she was awarded a place in the Poetry Archive’s WordView permanent collection. Her poems were highly commended in The Liverpool Poetry Prize and longlisted in the Yaffle Poetry Prize. She reviews poetry pamphlets at https://sphinxreview.co.uk (Happenstance Press) and for The Friday Poem.

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*****

Kathy Miles: Four Poems

THE ART OF CONSTRUCTING A SEAGULL

Seagulls are easy. The blueprint is simple;
a folded origami of quills, an avaricious
disposition. Think clatter of dustbin lids,
the cry of a hungry kitten. Ice-cream muggers,
litter-lovers, they work the seafront in pairs,
their chatter a clickety-clack of fruit machines.
Make them out of paper, and they’ll hurl
to the sky like a kite, whirl round and round
the thermals. You can watch for hours.
Paint the eyes as greedy as you like,
they’ll always astonish. Add a bag of chips,
the remnants of a burger, you’ll be
mobbed by friends for life. If you use
a strong enough glue, they’ll last for years.

A VISITING PHEASANY LEARNS THE RULES OF JOUSTING

Present yourself in the brightest garniture.
Enter the lists, enclosed by mulberry hedge
and filled with beds of lupin and penstemon.

Preen your surcoat to burnished copper, swell
the wattle to angry red, push out the paunch
of a stomach to show that you mean business.

Sharpen your leg spurs for battle, polish
that lance of a tail. Do not be distracted
by sparrows; their dullness will bore you.

Run full-tilt at the enemy. Don’t hesitate
or lower your beak. A glancing blow is enough
to chase a rook from a tasty morsel.

Flush out the biggest fat balls, raid the earth
for seed. Strut like a newly-dubbed knight
as he faces his first challenge.

The female whose favour you wear on your breast
will peck you gently, simper at your valour.
Treat her with chivalry. Win her feathered heart.

WILT

The wind is lippy, inflates the sails of trees, drowns
out the sound of bees with his mithering tones.

Sun oven-dries the honesty, kindles withering
roses which have stayed too long without water;

petals languish in their scorch, a scatter
of pale pink fondant. Fireblight has killed

the apple-tree, honey-fungus the lilac. We erode
together in this dieback; the rings in my skin tell

a story of age, brown patches spread like canker.
My body has weathered storms and creeping spores,

is ready now for burning, but I’m waiting
for this rain, which boasts of oceans, spins yarns

of shipwreck, horizons not yet dreamed of, says
that falling off the world is harder than it seems.

HOW MEMORY SMELLS LIKE BIRDS

What prickle beneath the skin are snatches
of starling, orange-blossom; a blackbird’s
bitter liquorice, the fragrance of linnet.

Their scent drives him out through the door
that rarely opens these endless days. His nose
finds jackdaw, sharp as the lash of a strap.

Sun slouches by the fence. The wind is talking
marram grass, but today he won’t talk back
to it. Notes of blue tit, delicate as freesias.

Rook is feverfew; musky, not elegant.
Woodpecker’s smoky tones. His mother’s
wrist, small dabs of eau de cologne.

He shuffles up the road where he’d meet
the lads for a crafty fag, chat up a girl,
her breast as soft as feathers.

Someone had loved him once. Hints
of lavender, a jay. The swallows’ apple-tang.
From the sycamore, gingery spice of owls.

Over by the shop-that-used-to-be-field,
a collared dove, all salted caramel;
trapping rabbits on a summer night,

crouched in waist-high wheat. There was
a terrier, he thinks. A brown absence.
The offie where he’d buy cider, sit on the bench

in the park, return alone to a single room.
Here, magpie is overpowering. His chest clenches
as he breathes them in, hemlock and gardenia.

Birds slip through the latch in his head.
When his wings fail, there’s no-one to notice;
he’s always been a man-who-isn’t there.

But the scent! Rose and honeysuckle; squabbles
of robin, chaffinches. The lilac of nightingale.

Kathy Miles is a poet living in West Wales. Her work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and her fourth full collection, Bone House, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2020. She is a previous winner of the Bridport Prize and the 2022 Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival competition.

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*****

Michael Penny: Two Poems

MY PAPERCLIP

is bent
but not corrupt
as its aim

is to unite
the free-floating
into chapter piles

that survive reading
until the clip slips off
into my hand

and I bend it into mere wire
as I work on the words
straightening them out.

SUPPORTING CAST

You’ll find my name
at the end of the credits
if you stay long enough

to read them, as the lights
go up and the audience
shuffles to their parking.

It could be dire
if I were to take action
against the many ahead,

but even if I’m lower
than the alphabetical
my name’s there. Please find me.

Michael Penny was born in Australia but moved to Canada early on. Since then he has published five books, and his work has previously appeared in The High Window.

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*****

Karen Petersen: Four Poems

MY SALAMANDER

I always knew you were a salamander
capable of living in the crucible of life
immune to the most fiery of tempers,
even mine.
Your skin was invariably cool to my touch,
as we lay together, bodies flowing around
our old striped sheets like running water.
But you were elusive: I had you one moment
and the next you were gone, able to move on,
like some kind of slender marsh creature,
hidden, feigning death among the grasses,
hoping to trick the unsuspecting into being
your next meal.

OBSCURITÉ

It’s deep night, I’m restless, lost
among the many bed sheets,
pillows, duvet, and oblivious cats.
The dog, twitching and barking in her dreams,
is suddenly awake, alert, couchant,
hearing something real outside.
Then her tail begins to wag;
the night wanderers have gone now,

and the house is back asleep, released.

LEAVING LONG ISLAND

The 5:57 hurtles past fields of darkness
its mournful whistle-cry heard only by
tom cats on the prowl in the dare of night.
I’m seduced, and want to leap off the train
run toward the small lights of slumbering towns,
the twinkling connection
of separate lives and a little peace.
But drunks and babies fast asleep
are all that’s left of innocence
The sky is now yellow, the darkness electric
The city is coming, no one knows anyone there.

EPISTOLARY
— for James Finnegan

Her nouns were real.
Her nouns were sighs.
They rose in the air
like lullabies.
That Sunday afternoon
she set her trap
from innocent dreams,
and discarded vows,
Rising,
rising now.
Her verbs were real.
Her verbs were cruel.
Arabesques of pain,
finely wrought jewels.
We parted in silence
angry shadows, interrupted,
and the afternoon grieved,
undone, and corrupted.

Karen Petersen has travelled extensively, publishing poetry, short stories, and flash both nationally and internationally. Her poems have been translated into Persian and Spanish, and she has been nominated for numerous prizes. This year, her chapbook, Trembling, won the Will Mills Award, judged by Annie Finch.  More information can be found here: https://karenpetersenwriter.com

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*****

Estill Pollock: Two Poems

SNOW SNAGGED IN HEDGES

Snow snagged in hedges, through hairpin lanes
A democracy of drifts quells ragtag geometries
Of hawthorn, tyrannies of ice
Against acre walls

A lost sheep hugs the stacked stone ledge, grey
On grey

Low over hills, a quad bike revs, bucks frozen furrows

The shepherd leans to the ewe, pulls her
Across the lap of wool and waterproofs

In the distance, through gloaming cloud
The farmstead, lights freckling early dark

SPIRIT ANIMALS

Spirit animals, two by two, returning

In low light, wet and cold in caves
The searchers kneel to tusks matted white
In limestone wash, etching shape
From ash and drip-fed crusts

Mammoth bones, hides
A grassy rust, in the scroll-work folds
A spear point lodged to killing depth— across
The joints the butcher-trace of axes

Outside, the sun, the same sun obliging
Lost moments another rite— in the museum, the hulk
More like sculpture now
Than overture to extinction

The world is frail, each breath the last
Until we wake in older light, in the counterfeit of days our
Lasting memory, fire— the fall from grace
That ends as it began, our shadows flickering
Across cavern walls

Estill Pollock‘s first pamphlet selection of poems, Metaphysical Graffiti, was published in England. This was followed by a principal collection, Constructing the Human (Poetry Salzburg), which was later developed into the book cycle, Blackwater Quartet. Between 2005-11, in collaboration with Cinnamon Press in Wales, he published a second major book cycle, Relic Environments Trilogy. His latest collection, Entropy is published by Broadstone Books (2021) in the United States. A native of Kentucky, he has lived in England for forty years.

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*****

Patrick Davidson Roberts: Two Poems

PHILIP

Even headfirst the earth seems far away. Even when dived at.
Not everything can be so inverted. Your words came out the same today,
are forming the right-way-up even now, but something
about you has changed. When you reach up to the earth
you do so in stasis, and hit the street. Your sister cries out
and turns from the window, running to jump the stairs and come down.
Even spraddled on the paving stones, arms outstretched and feet together,
you do not want to go back. Better to finish here, surely.
Remembering now those days of their pleading with you to return
to the group, but you had set out to the work, and as a speeding ship
could only turn slowly, if you had to turn at all, took a full arc to comply.
She cradles your broken frame in her hands now, her own face bleeding,
and gently presses the raw tattoo of the steel square on your wrist.
‘They’re going to let me go, now,’ Then, sister, do the same.

JAMES THE LESS

Dear Cousin, sometimes I think that I disappeared into you, as if
the sun was made flesh when you stood at the end of the bed
to ask if I were warm enough. So few mentions I receive, in your letters,
your book tour, your interviews across the sea.
I pick my way through your words as if they will seal me to you
but with the lock on the other side. I am told by doctors that I dreamt everything.
Even now, here, as if to prove them all correct.
I did not dream the feel of you nor the morning as you dressed
beside the bed and I sat to hold your bare thigh for a second, see
the hair fall to your waist and the tracery of a smile dart across your lips.
I must leave for a long time to climb out of such silence, and so
that is why I write now. I will tell everyone about you when I speak again.
I know that they do not believe me; you don’t, but for one night I was heard
and even if you lied then I believed you. That was enough. And this.

Patrick Davidson Roberts was born in 1987 and grew up in Sunderland and Durham. His debut collection The Mains was released in 2018 and he co-founded Offord Road Books in 2017. His poetry has been published in Magma, Ambit, The Dark Horse, The Rialto and Wild Court. The Trick (a second selection of poems) will be published by Broken Sleep Books in 2023.

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*****

Mark Roper: Two Poems

BALLOON

The field was full. So slow and soundless
our descent, those eyes and ears
never sensed we hung above.
The hares went about their business,
running, sleeping, feeding, throwing shapes.

Soon our shadow would block out the light
and they would scatter and we would land
with a bump and be thrown from the basket
and laugh and whoop and drink champagne,
a balloon’s bright skin flaccid around us.

But not a muscle had moved when we’d spied
the hares. We might have thought we were falling
into a world unwounded by words –
that we could meet those creatures face to face.

THE DUKE OF ARGYLL’S TEA PLANT

Sent to the treemonger Duke in 1730,
labelled by mistake as a tea plant – it went
from garden to back garden to wasteland.

I’d been searching for orchids
in the sand dunes at Bunmahon
when I came across the scrawny shrub.

I remembered it from Bongville,
a ruined village through which we’d pass
on our way to the sea for a swim.

A village between Seaford and Peacehaven,
blown up in case of German invasion.
Among the broken bricks, the plant flourished.

Strange how the name arrived from nowhere
and only then was the meeting complete,
only then did I lose track of time.

I turned around to tell you what I’d found.
You were long gone. But who was I with
if not you, in the house of that found flower.

Sunlight and windfall and breaking wave.
Our footprints on the eternal beach.
Washed away, always they well up again.

Mark Roper is an English poet, living in Ireland for some forty years now. Bindweed, (Dedalus Press, 2017), was shortlisted for The Irish Times Poetry Now Award. A Gather of Shadow (2012) was also shortlisted for that Award and won the Michael Hartnett Award in 2014. A new collection. His latest collection is Beyond Stillness. With photographer Paddy Dwan, he has published The River Book, The Backstrand, and Comeragh, books of image and text about the natural history of County Waterford. www.mark-roper.com

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*****

Bob Saxton: Poem

THE ROW OVER NERO’S THEATRE

after Tacitus

I
Nero’s idea is this: every five years
Rome will host a drama competition
on the Greek model, with free admission
for all, state-funded, run by volunteers.

Objectors yell from platforms in the streets.
How can his Imperial Excellency commend
keeping Romans idle for days on end
in a permanent auditorium, with seats?

Old ways are best, head-shaking fogeys say.
In times gone by a makeshift theatre was built
whenever a praetor fell for the latest trend.

There was hardly any danger of affray,
since merely being there proved a person’s guilt.
Nobody was required by statute to attend.

II
Into our beloved capital would flow
everything corrupting and corruptible
if this project were approved – a terrible
influence on our young men, never slow

to be inspired by a really bad example.
They’d all too readily turn into shirkers,
perverts or gymnasts – the filth of the circus
choking the commandments of the temple.

Recruited to fight with boxing gloves instead
of joining the army, our aristocracy
would be gravely at risk. How could this focus

on effeminate prancing, playing dead
in tragedies or flaying us with poetry
be anything but pernicious hocus-pocus?

III
The Emperor and Senate’s egregious blunder
of opening the gates of our noble city wide
to Infamy – a nincompoop astride
a donkey – disgraces us. No wonder

merciless critics are sharpening their tongues!
How does pretending to be someone you’re not
ease the impoverished citizens’s lot?
How is justice served by singing stupid songs?

Over all Seven Hills vileness would spread its blight.
Decorum could not enforce its right of way.
Libertines in the promiscuous crowd

would perpetrate, under cover of night,
monstrosities they’d dreamed up in the day.
Profanity would speak its shame out loud.

***

IV
On a podium in the Forum there’s a speaker
with a different tale, of how the Eternal City
for lack of culture warranted our pity
till Nero encountered drama. Eureka!

Our ancestors were never shy of spectacle,
importing dancers from Etruria
and horse-racing champions from Thuria.
These virtuoso stars won over the sceptical.

And noble Romans often played a part
in tragedy, oratory, movement, mime.
A stage was built and dismantled for each show –

cost-wise, of course, a practice far from smart.
A permanent theatre, dark some of the time,
would greatly improve upon the status quo.

V
And when the state endows such undertakings,
the private individuals once courted
to splurge their wealth on otherwise unsupported
ventures now have the cash for other things,

more charitable perhaps – helping the poor,
the enslaved, the sick, the blind, the lame.
State-sponsored prizes would propel to fame
fresh talents that hadn’t come to light before.

Now, what’s degrading, even for a knight
or judge, in listening to heart-stirring speeches?
A theatre’s aims are totally respectable.

Remember, when its lights were blazing bright,
there’d be no cloak of darkness for moral breaches.
The lighting would make any crime detectable.

Robert Saxton is the author of seven books of poetry: from Enitharmon, The Promise Clinic (1994); from Carcanet/OxfordPoetsManganese (2003), Local Honey (2007) and Hesiod’s Calendar(2010); from Shearsman, The China Shop Pictures (2012) and Flying School (2019); and from Angle Shades Press and (online) Six-way Mirror (2016). See www.robertsaxton.co.uk for more information.

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*****

Myra Schneider: Two Poems

LEEKS

Reading his words about the radish plants
he dug up hurtles me back from today’s
worrying world to the year I grew a few leeks

in our heavy clay soil. There I am in anorak,
wellingtons, woolly hat topped with a pom-pom,
armed with a hefty fork and trowel hurrying

down the garden on a day when snow threatened
to fall on the frostbound ground. Leaning
over the largest leek, I force the fork an inch

into the soil but, mulishly, it refuses to penetrate
any further and, infuriated, I thrust it aside,
pull up my sleeves and, crouching down,

shake out lumps of ice nested in the leaves.
Then I scrabble with the trowel and my hands
until I dislodge a flinty stone and at last,

fingers aching with cold, ease the shank
of the plant trailing hairy earth-clogged roots,
out of the ground. Of course, a leek doesn’t offer

the drama of a radish’s boisterous pink,
a colour which has the glamour of a film star
but hunched there I’m not thinking about radishes,

I’m gazing at the bulbous base of the vegetable
I’ve grown, the white shine of its immaculate skin.
I stroke it gently and it makes my heart leap.

FIRST NIGHT OF THE PROMS
1
The untidy room slips off my shoulders
and folds away as we discover we’re in the Albert Hall.
The air is taut, we are taut. We are mesmerized

by the face of the conductor who is weaving together
the sounds of many instruments,
bringing the singers to life, drawing them

into the tapestry. Somehow, we are part of this
and somewhere I sense Vaughan Williams.
He is leading us through the nooks, dells and pools

of Shakespeare’s dream islands. The music falls away
into silence. A timeless gap, then the audience
comes to life, fills the air with applause.

2

Now we are in a world of electric reds, luminous golds,
marine blues and great volumes of sound led
by the organ which is as majestic as the prow of a ship.

All eyes are on the player who pulls out stops
and commands two rows of keyboards and pedals.
A mirror connects him with the orchestra

and their passionate conductor almost floating in her gown.
A glinting army of pipes assaults the screen
and the whole world it seems, only exists inside the music

even when it sinks to almost nothing
before rising up again and again in massive waves
until finally it retreats into the huge silence of the audience.

Myra Schneider has had eleven full collections of poetry published, including Siege and Symphony (SLP, 2021). Other publications include books about personal writing, notably Writing My Way through Cancer, (Jessica Kingsley) 2003 and Writing Your Self with John Killick (Continuum 2008). Her work has been broadcast on the BBC. In 2007 she was shortlisted for a Forward prize. She has co-edited anthologies of women’s poetry and she has been a poetry tutor since the late 1990s, mainly for The Poetry School.

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*****

Penny Sharman: Two Poems

PATIENTLY WAITING FOR GOD

Down on my knees, hands in the usual sublime pose
and a mouse crawls out from under the cupboard door

I can’t wait for the rain to feed my plants

but mouse gets up on his soap box, speaks as loud as an ogre
about starlings in the garden, their gathering on the copper beech,
songs unfathomable, and that the arrangement of twigs is an oracle,
as if the I Ching had shaken itself into the WORD.

I talk to the doctor on the phone, as face to face becomes history.
I wonder how I can explain the lump in my throat, if he will pick up
my malaise beyond the plastic in his hand, the pauses are memorable.

I can’t wait for the sun to settle on my cheek

I stand up and try to frighten mouse away, stamp my foot, scream etc.,
but mouse doesn’t budge, he saunters into the bedroom and leaves
with a bow through a crack in the wall.

I wonder why he’s so calm when I’m a tsunami in my own living room.

Behind the cupboard door is a wreck, a box of cherry liqueurs,
each wrapper gnawed through, and I realise the mouse is pissed.

Good idea, I think. I turn on iTunes and blast Electric Ladyland
on the sound bar and pop open some fizz.

I realise that each moment on the dance floor really counts
and that The Nothing is always gathering, just like in that movie
Never Ending Story in the land of Fantasia, or when the truth hits home,
like the replay in my mind, when my brother told me a year ago today,
I’m done sis, I’m done.

DODO

In my island life I’m flightless.
Here gravity keeps me shackled to the dirt
and nothing but seeds nuts and berries
quench the thought of freedom.

My mind dreams of wings that work,
feathers with shafts of air and feet
that bounce into the slipstream of belonging
to any tribe of bird that will haunt my days,

but down here on terra firma I flap and flap,
invoke feather magic, but I am alone with a beak
that taps out an S0S, alone with a heavy heart
that longs for flock time.

Here days are clumsy filled with jokes like
does my bum look big in this,
this
my island life,
and I gaze at you out there
and wonder what made you so

Penny Sharman is a widely published poet, photographer, artist and therapist. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University. Penny’s books are Fair Ground, (Yaffle Press, 2019), Swim With Me In Deep Water, (Cerasus Poetry, 2019 ), The Day before Joy, (knivesforks&spoonspress, 2021 ), Catching the Heather, (Cerasus Poetry, 2022 ), The Ash of Time,   (Hedgehog Press, 2022), all available from her website: pennysharman.co.uk.  She is also co- editor of Obsessed With Pipework.

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*****

Finola Scott: Poem

MAELSTROM
Camas Cuil an t-Saimh, Iona

Columba returns, his curragh shuddering
on the angry tide. As oyster-catchers wrestle
the whipped air, he gives thanks to this ancient highway,
to this rosary of isles and sea that links all supplications.
Alone now, he will rest and speak to his God.

Soul lightened, feet solid, he blesses the deep shingle,
the sweet dulse of this rock. With wind-tangled shells
rattling his shins he praises the hungry cries
of south-skeining geese, sings halleluia
to the watery gift of this isle, his sanctuary.

He doesn’t know to pray against the Warming,
that will shift the Stream over time. He knows
the heavens, the promise of light. Knows nothing
of ozone layers, of coral reefs dissolving, of the whirlpool
of plastics swirling, of oceans rising, of drownings.

Finola Scott‘s poems are found on posters, tapestries and postcards. They have also been published 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. Her most recent collection is Count the Ways (Dreich).

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*****

John Short: Three Poems

VIRTUOSO

Athens

Preternatural with ability,
he heard the pulse of rhythm
in music’s hallowed spaces
while still womb-cradled.

And then a watery welcome
to the world – now many
crave his miraculous sparkle
just to wear a little magic.

Any instrument he touches
is immediately transformed
like base metal into gold
as they attend in reverence.

But as the years wear on
in smoky nightclubs
he grows fat and unwell;
worshipped to an early grave.

STREET FISHING

Buskers of Athens

The French girl in a ballerina dress
and lacquered silver angel wings;
that suited man who dances with dolls.

Vera from Bosnia waiting stoically
to sell her copper candle shades,
carefully chiselled through the day.

Leonidas down from Moscow suburbs
via a string of eastern monasteries,
crooning to a balalaika or an old guitar.

The earthquake survivor from Iran:
his music school was buried deep,
in acoustic streets, plays zither nightly.

A living statue sprayed in gold,
his trick to move for every drop;
an Englishman who plays bouzouki.

And if the police arrive by chance
they all vanish in a flash, but re-appear
some minutes later, hungry for cash.

John Short lives in Liverpool and is active on the local poetry scene. A previous contributor to The High Window he’s also appeared in magazines like Dream Catcher, London Grip and Poetry Salzburg Review. He’s published four books, one of stories and three of poetry, the most recent being Those Ghosts (Beaten Track 2021). He blogs sporadically at Tsarkoverse.

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*****

Patrick Slevin: Poem

THE TEMPORARY JOB

It went on longer than expected. So long
it felt permanent. So long I had to stick
with the lie I’d invented that first week
to get out of the Friday nightshift
when I said we had a baby, a girl. Probably
I named her the same as your friend’s,
the one who kept taking pictures –
it’s the small details that make stories
believable – so while you worked
the bar at the Nelson every weekend,
I had her. I could see myself holding her,
whispering sweet words in her tiny ears,
inventing make-believe worlds. Even now,
too many decades later to be true,
too far away to comprehend, I spy
our outline behind the roller blinds
of that third floor sublet from the pavement
on a distant night. But that old me
doesn’t look out and see this old me
in the shadows – my imaginary past
can’t dream up this future, not on his own,
not without you. Forever he’s waiting
in silence, listening for your footsteps
on the loose-fitted carpet
rushing up the shared stairs.

Patrick Slevin has appeared in Poetry Review Ireland, Skylight 47, The Poets’ Republic, The Cormorant, The Manchester Review, The Blue Nib, The Interpreter’s House and others, and has been featured on RTE’s Poem of the Day.

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*****

Sam Smith: Poem

A COMMON HISTORY

Taking a graveside moment
I do my duty by the newly dead,
pin their butterfly lives
in my memory.

Closing the drawer I move on,
go ever forward like the wind;
cannot imagine
my life without purpose.

What next?

Even so I know that
by closing the drawer
and
disremembering the making past
I dishonour the dead,
delude myself to the worth
of my own brief being.

Sam Smith is editor of The Journal (once ‘of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry’). Author of several novels and collections of poetry – http://samsmithbooks.weebly.com He presently lives in Blaengarw, South Wales, and blogs here – http://thesamsmith.net

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*****

Paul Stephenson: Two Poem

HAND PUPPETS

Whenever I stop and think of you at your youest,
the nights are drawing in and we’re both at home
in our two-bed rented flat on Mount View Road.
You’re in the front room. I’m sitting in the kitchen.

Behind me, the giant poster of Kikker in de Wolken –
Frog in the Clouds, advertising a children’s play
at Maastricht’s Vrijthof theatre. You loved frogs.
We had a piece of glass cut. It took up the wall.

I’m working away when, I don’t know what it is –
a reflection in the laptop screen or small movement,
something in the corner of my eye. I turn my head
and there in the doorway, half-way up the frame,

I have a visitor – Turtle or Mouse, peering round,
come to see me. Turtle, with long neck, wide mouth,
Mouse, his whiskers sniffing the evening air. I say,
Hey there, how are you doing? What are you up to?

I lean over in my chair, shift to catch sight of you –
you of the hand, you of the arm, you of the grin
behind the wall. I can see you – when you were you
at your youest and we were us, in good hands.

Paul Stephenson has published three pamphlets: Those People (Smith/Doorstop), The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance) and Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press). He co-edited Magma issue 70 on ‘Europe’. He co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh and lives between Cambridge and Brussels. He interviews poets at paulstep.com. Instagram: paulstep456 / Twitter: @stephenson_pj

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*****

Anne Symons: Poem

NOAH’S WIFE

He cannot bear the damp these days,
his joints seize up. I hear them cracking
when he shifts in bed, loud above the snores.

His eyes are sunken, eyelids half asleep,
I sweep away the stones in case he falls,
make sure his staff is always near.

He lives on memories, like we all do now,
the project that was meant to save the world
cleanse mankind, and us the chosen ones.

Fetid and closed in grey creation
we argued and fought, bled and cried
little room for love on board —

stench and screeching forty nights
with little sleep, rolling in the rain
shit sliding across the decks.

He tells a cleaner tale to passers-by,
draws pictures on the ground, points out
the splendid roof, the massive ribs.

He doesn’t talk about the Deluge
those who drowned; we pushed them off
uncurled their fingers from the sides,

children too. I see them in my sleep
hear their screams and so does he.
Those are the nights we need a rainbow.

Anne Symons: After a career teaching deaf children and adults Anne began writing poetry in retirement. Her work has appeared in a range of poetry publications, both online and print. She has recently completed an MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University and the Poetry School in London

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*****

Victoria Twomey: Two Poems

COLOR BLIND

this glimmer of a memory once began
with a path to a blue lake

mother’s orange flowered skirt
ahead

I am almost certain I saw her tuck all the colors
of my recollection into her troubled pocket

secure it with a round fuchsia button
leaving behind only the images she preferred

more and more these days
this memory comes only in a color-blind dream

a path to a gray lake
mother’s gray flowered skirt, ahead

in these pale remains
she is happy at last

she is patient and calm
as she turns and waits for me

extends her hand and smiles
her eyes as bright as white summer clouds

we walk to the shore
leave our footprints in moon dust

at sunset, we watch droplets of quicksilver light
glitter on the gray waves

she strokes my hair, the color of smoke
and asks me to remember her as kind

GLIMPSE

you are lying on the side of the road with silent eyes
having wandered away from the arms of the wild

I am uncertain how to name you
little child of nature

thick coarse fur, the wrong color for a fox
not dog, not beaver, not weasel

do names really matter
now that you are empty of your prancing and hunting

your joy
of field, of tree root and stream

the day is warming
the wind is gently lifting your limp tail

as if a wandering spirit has slipped inside you
in search of purity

what ceremony shall there be for your silent body
so close to the spires of the fragrant cathedral

what sacrament for a sinless creature
in no need of forgiveness

the crows know best
how to sing the hymns

the flies will dance and pray with folded wings
prepare you for the cleansing rain

in mutual silence, let us share this momentary clarity
this starlike blinking between the whispering leaves

this glimpse
of something calm and true

this acceptance, that one day we will meet again
move from simplicity to simplicity, as one

Victoria Twomey is an award-winning poet and artist. Her poems have been published in several anthologies, in newspapers and on the web, including Sanctuary Magazine, BigCityLit, The Long Island Quarterly, the Tipton Journal, Verse-Virtual, and the Trouvaille Review. She is the recipient of the 95th Moon Prize given by Writing In A Woman’s Voice. Her poem ‘Pieta’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. https://victoriatwomey.com

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*****

Susan Utting: Three Poems

FOX UNDER THE BLOSSOM TREES

The fox doesn’t know it’s meant to be nocturnal,
just as the pear tree doesn’t know to wait its turn
to blossom – this year it’s duetting, or is it vying,
with the cherry for the loveliness rosette.

and the red kites cross and swoop

The fox is basking in a patch of sunlight
in the middle of the lawn, narrowing its eyes
with what, were it human, would be pleasure.
It’s sitting neat and tidy, upright, front paws

as the red kites swoop and cross

ten-to-two together like a well-trained
household pet. Every day it’s there, plump,
bristling bronze in the early morning sun
under the Disney gorgeousness of blossom.

and the red kites cross and swoop and cross

Then two dull days with no fox; gales have
snowed the lawn with pear and cherry petals.
Has the fox remembered, slunk out in the dark
to scavenge, kill, to gorge?

and still the red kites swoop and cross

On the third day the fox is back, leaner,
sitting passive in the rediscovered sun
while two cubs tumble, roll, play-fight
underneath the half-undressed fruit trees

while the red kites swoop and cross, cross and swoop.

PAROLE

And The Women stretched out their scarred arms,
shook out their scrubbing brush knuckles, their
dishwater hands. And the doors were all locked,
bolted, secured, electronically slammed.

And the doorkeepers jangled their keys on the chains
at their waists as they strolled, eagle-eyed chatelains,
tight-belted, clodhopper-booted. And the air was a nail-biter,
cliff-hanger, taut as a cats’ cradle stretched between
amber-stained fingers, down-to-the-quick bitten thumbs.

And The Women lay down, counting, holding,
breathing out for the one who was missing, the one
who was up, hanging on by the clench of her fists
for a nod, for the P-word that nobody spoke, for fear
of a jinx, the mockers, for fear of a curse on their sister,
her once-in-a-life-sentence moment, her chance.

THE HUSH

He told them he was going
and they didn’t know what to say,
so they said nothing. They might have
been sorry, or relieved, or wished him all the best,
or luck. But no one spoke for a long and heavy stretch.

The dresser didn’t move,
the blinds gave up their open window
clatter, the door handle didn’t turn, the tabby cat
played dead on the sofa. Only the overhead strip light
kept on its steady, buzzy hum, not knowing silence was expected.

I wanted the fridge to click,
start up, kick in, to hear the rhythmic
up and down of a mower, even the sound of a car horn,
impatient, angry, vulgar. I felt the hard seat of the kitchen chair,
the rough wool of my skirt against the back of my knees and I wanted

Jenny to do her silent giggle,
that delicate, shoulder shake she did
at pin-drop times like these. I wanted to catch
her eye, press my lips together and look away, quick,
to write her name and mine, in the mantelshelf dust, in noisy capitals.

Susan Utting’s poems have been published in The Times, TLS, Forward Book of Poetry, The Poetry Review, Poems on the Underground, and broadcast at London’s South Bank Centre for Poetry International. Her latest, fourth poetry collection, Half the Human Race: New & Selected Poems, is from Two Rivers Press. www.susanutting.com

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*****

Robin Lindsay Wilson: Two Poems

THE GOOD FIGHT.

I enlisted for your writing class
because you had a clipboard
and wrote with a fountain pen
but my pledge was provisional,
and dependent on your praise.

I tried to liberate a true story
but it hid behind the screams
of pixels from war journalists
and a background head-roar
of rival self-serving testimony.

I joined the winning mercenaries
and went east to fight for justice
but I couldn’t find the good guys
just a trail of broken rotor-blades
and sucking rags on dry bones.
I went north to fight for honesty
but it never spoke your name
or used your words for mercy.

I conjured up some brave deeds
to leave behind in trouble spots
with NGOs and orphan refugees
until my hotel ran out of Pinot Noir
and I had to switch to Chardonnay.

I went south to fight for beauty
but came back scarred for life
needing skin grafts and surgery.
I went west to fight for heroes
but they were selling image rights
to Hollywood, Coke and Nike.

I went back to your writing class
where you taught to exaggerate
the importance of my evidence
until an audience could believe
the pity inside my metaphors –
the anger of my simple verbs.

ON READING BILLY COLLINS
(the Most Popular Poet in the USA.)

Nothing creative repeats itself,
but gather a lifetime of poems
between A-to-Z hard covers
and they write a loose signature
of themes and attitudes. Years
of zigzag world travels looping
into a Mobius strip of metaphors.

I was boundless. Feeling inspired
when Billy Collins read my folder
of doubt, correction and reflex.

He said, I need to live a war. Or
risk an affair. I must learn Catalan,
visit Burkina Faso, take up politics,
or beekeeping to ruffle the alpha
and omega of his expert attention.

I believed him on every continent.
My source material was discovery,
translating novelty to hopefulness,
experience to simile and antithesis.

But spontaneity is only exclamation,
wonder has a limited vocabulary.

Inspired in souks and harbours I
found new words by appropriation
of callow poses and boyhood fears.

On skyscraper viewing platforms I
wrote simulacre memories until
I only heard the past speaking
when I attempted the future.

Robin Lindsay Wilson is a lecturer in Acting & Performance at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. He is an award winning playwright and poet and has had three collections of poetry published by Cinnamon Press. His work has appeared in many UK literary journals and magazines, including  The South, Dream Catcher, Magma, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, The Journal and Brittle Star.

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*****

Rodney Wood: Two Poems

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS DELIVERED AT THE MELCOMBE MERCHANTS GUILD, 1340
‘those who survived and stayed solvent were ideally placed to make sizeable profits.’ Merchants of Doom, Robert Blackmore, (July 2021), BBC History

I’ve been reading Consolat De Mar, which has recently
been printed in Valencia, and is concerned with the law maritime.
For laws there must be to settle disputes and nautical issues
if we are to trade with the lands of Europe.
Our great ships are built in Spain with axes and adzes, with planks,
rove plates, caulking with tar and hair from horse, sheep and goat.
They only last a few decades before they depart and we’ve had to say goodbye to
Holyghost, Godisgrace, le Blythe, Margaret, Cog John and le Cok, among others.
This past year we have been known as merchants of death,
been unfairly blamed for carrying plague to each port
touching everyone with the bony finger of death including
Sir Tom Moore, Larry King, Phil Spector, Dave Prowse,
Lee Konitz, Princess Teresa of Bourbon-Parma,
Joan Plantagenet, John de Ufford, William Ockham and Richard Rolle of Hampole.
Look around, family, friends and customers are no longer here
but with Charon, the sordid and unkempt ferry man,
who carries souls over the Styx to the underworld on his,
as I like to call it, Punt of No Return.
Imagine the pile of gold he has accumulated but what has he done with it?
Bought more boats? Thought of making the trip more comfortable or safer? No.
He should get one of us to run his business,
keep his boat in good order as it goes back and forth, back and forth,
the way ships go to France with wool, cloth, tin, grain and fish
and return north with wine, dye, honey and iron.
Our ships carry 160 tons of wine burden and we no longer fear monsters
but are still at the mercy of rocks, currents, tides, the gods of the four winds
and pirates such as Jean de Clusson, John Crabbe and our very own
Mayor of Dartmouth, who is detained elsewhere at the moment,
and cannot therefore attack our neutral merchant ships or listen to these words.
He calls himself a privateer with Acts of Grace from the Crown.
We also need the protection of the law. Forgive me. I do not like any man
who gets in the way of business. You should know that the recent Government ordinance
saying that sellers should not make excessive gains is merely gesture policies,
a sop to democratic accountability that can safely be ignored.
As we know, goods can be smuggled or we could always seek exemption
owing to certain royal or governmental connections.
There is good news for everyone here. With God’s grace we have survived
the past year of plague and can return to normal in an even stronger position.
Loose the cables and lower the mainsails. The price of wine has doubled.
From now on it will be plain sailing. I hear the turning of the weathervanes
and it’s gold blowing in our direction for all the time we have to come.

ADVICE FROM THE PLAGUE DOCTORS

‘To say people didn’t know much about the plague was an understatement. From its origins, to its spread, to its cure, the physicians whose sole purpose was to treat this infamous killer knew little more that those whom they were treating. They did, however, understand one thing with perfect clarity: the fact that it spread quickly and easily.’ Jackie Rosenhek (21 July 2020), Doctors on the Black Death, Doctors Review.

It happened & is happening now. In either case
no one knew how to treat the disease, what herbs
they should buy from the supermarket or corner shop.
If chopped up snake, pigeon or ground unicorn horn

(that had been captured by a virgin) is available.
If shelves are stocked with onions, mangoes, teas,
the necessary 60 varieties of essential oils & vanilla
ice-cream. If there is a supply of Four Thieves

(cider, vinegar, wine with wormwood), crushed
emeralds, paracetamol, arsenic, soap & hand-gel.
If a delivery slot is available. There could always
be something in the store cupboard, ten year old treacle

for example. It is also worth buying amulets & charms.
Your local dealer could also supply the necessary opium,
perhaps in a handy wrap. Celebrities swear by taking
six deep breathes then coughing into a cotton rich napkin

or taking warm baths in clean urine on a daily basis.
Priests advise people to pray, fast, attend mass, football
& race meetings. Also to persecute those responsible,
take part in demonstrations, marches & processions.

Self-harm is also popular. But the best advice is to stay
at home to avoid God’s wrath, which can be pretty brutal.
Keep windows open so angels can fly in. Each room
should be be strewn with flowers, incense sticks (jasmine,

wild berry, lavender) & diffusers or burners should
be used with the essential oils you purchased earlier. Despite
the hot weather, always light a fire, especially under witches

or 5G phone masts. It will drive out the devil. Maybe.

Rodney Wood lives in Farnborough. His poetry has appeared in The High Window Press, The Journal, Morphrog, Magma (where he was selected poet in the deaf issue), and many other places. He is a Stanza Rep and joint MC of a monthly open mic at The Lightbox in Woking.

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Martin Zarrop: Two Poems

D-38

No, I’m not as refined as my brother;
I’ve been treated like trash,
but developed a hell of a kick.

I can punch a hole through armour,
lethal as a dagger, a fiery finger
to incinerate unseen enemies.

I don’t last long, but long enough
to poison your blood, rot your lungs,
your brain, torment your babies.

No, I’m not as powerful as my brother,
just a thug, not a mass murderer,

just a sonofabitch high up
in the periodic table

but I’m your sonofabitch.

TWITCHERS

Reeds whisper
as rivulets cleave mud
beneath an infinite blue.

Avocets sweep salt water
scrapes with upturned bills.
Geese squawk their V.

Figures in waxed camouflage
sport lenses big enough
to pierce the hearts of galaxies

listen for the songs of divas
buried in saline beds
as the east wind bites.

The path is turned by tides
thrusts its way to the sea,
retreats to cobbled cottages.

Men mutter incantations
to passers by, stare
at distant horizons.

Martin Zarrop is a retired applied mathematician who wanted certainty but found life more interesting and fulfilling by not getting it. He started writing in May 2006. He has published three pamphlets: No Theory of Everything (Cinnamon 2015), Making Waves  (V.Press 2019) and To Boldly Go  (V.Press 2020) and two full collections: Moving Pictures  (Cinnamon 2016) and Is Anyone There? (The High Window Press 2020).

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