Category Archives: Poetry

The High Window: Issue 15 Autumn 2019

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The Poets

Claire BookerElinor BrooksMiki ByrneConor Carville A.C. ClarkeJim Conwell •   Rhian EdwardsRobert EttyRebecca GethinMike GreenacreIan HeffernanIan House Rosie JacksonRoss JacksonGill LearnerEmma LeeJane LovellMaitreyabanduRennie ParkerPeter PhillipsEdmund PrestwichVictoria PughPenny SharmanRuth SharmanLindsey Shaw-Miller Neil ShepardAndrew Shields John Short Ian C SmithAngela ToppingSydney WhitesideGareth Writer-Davies 

 Previous Poetry

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

*****

Claire Booker: Three Poems

WAKING TO ALICE

Modigliani’s Alice has been assigned
a new position in the bedroom.

Morning light pushes past the blinds,
lays the trick of a veil

down her face,
the schoolgirl blue of her smock.

Only those unruffled eyes stay lucid –
retire inwards, the better to look out.

Her mouth hovers
behind the illusion, appears to fill

with words that beat against the glass.
She is Alice – but on new terms.

AFTER THE STORM

Clothes pegs dripping in our garden –
call it trapeze wire, a vine-twisted bridge.

They shriek in red plastic, skewed by years
of limbs skirmishing in too brute a wind.

You bought them from a gypsy; never afraid
of curses or cliché. Refused the heather; ever practical.

Indoors, your shirt waits headless in wicker,
arms crossed, still exuding that stubborn scent.

The sky is clearing.
When you return, I’ll hang us out to dry.

MORNING AFTER

Cormorants hoist black sails –
this is how to fish: beak low, skimming the divide,
nock loosed – gullet, gullet in with fat
pieces of mottle and rainbow.

The moon’s a stone that’s sunk
way under, peeling the tide on automatic.
Deckchairs preen and flutter.
Children skedaddle, relentlessly harvesting day.

No whisper about last night’s
brimstone party of scorched spume – sand
buttock bare in sea spew, crab carapace, oyster shuck.
Blood yolk smashed sky.

Squadrons of gulls,
gliding their Jurassic silhouettes west.

Claire Booker‘s work has appeared in Ambit, Magma, Poetry News, Rialto, the Spectator and Stand among others. Her pamphlet Later There Will Be Postcards is out with Green Bottle Press. Her stage plays have been performed on three continents. She has recently moved to Brighton after working in London as a journalist and later a medical herbalist. More information at www.bookerplays.co.uk

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*****

Elinor Brooks: The Seedling Poems

(Some rare native Wiltshire apples saved from being lost)

‘Dredge’s Fame’ (1802)

William Dredge of Wishford is not known
to have shaken hands with a tree
thinking he greeted the Prussian king.
George planted steak in his castle grounds
and waited for the beef to grow;
Dredge raised an apple tree whose fruit
flushed red, its richly-flavoured flesh
well-balanced, his fame assured.

‘Chorister Boy’ (1890)

has lovely blossoms and bears fruit
at the tips. Its fruits are small.
Shiny, red-flushed, striped,
a hint of strawberry in a good year.
Do not try to train it
up against a wall.
It needs to spread its arms.
Leave it free-standing and see what a harvest you will get.

‘Corsley Pippin’ (1912)

Mr Latham believed in trees. He planted them
round his school. The senior boys had lessons
in gardening and woodwork. Later in life
they still remembered grafting, planting pips and
spitting them; their tongues sought out
rough tags of russet skin
snagged between teeth.

‘Mary Barnett’ (1920)

One seed is all it takes.

Take Mary Ann and the apple pip
she planted the day that she married
Mr Worthy Barnett of Steeple Aston.
It came from the fruit of Prince Albert
standing next to Lady Sudeley. Cross-
fertilisation may have occurred.
The Barnetts raised ten daughters and
one son. And this apple, its flavour
savoury, brisk.

‘Julia’s Late Golden’ (2001)

Julia, 33, takes her last photograph
in the garden shrubbery, Codford St Peter

Skin reddened with rash,
nodes swollen,
limbs stiff and brittle,
Julia raises her lens to the apples
before they are picked or drop.

There are bruises on hands
that will pack the fruit,
and the fingers that click
the shutter closed
on this late season crop.

Long after leaf-fall they hang
like Christmas baubles
golden over-head.

Elinor Brooks grew up in Edinburgh and lives in Swindon. She taught English and Creative Writing in a college of FE and, since retiring, has led a reading group for people with memory loss. Her poems have been shortlisted in competitions and have appeared in magazines including Magma. Elinor is one of six poets featured in Vindication (Arachne Press, 2018). She enjoys collaborating with artists, photographers and musicians. When not writing, she can be found in the pub playing Go.

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*****

Miki Byrne: Poem

IN THE LOFT

There wasn’t a ladder
to allow access.
You had to stand on a stool.
Foot on the doorknob.
Push up the hatch.
Reach, cling and jump.
A different world then.
Dark, cobwebby.
Dust everywhere.
And the odd reminders
of my parents’ pasts:
Papers in boxes,
old clothes,
a couple of cushions.
Broken things.
I would sit on a beam
till my bum ached.
Hands groping for treasure
I knew was there.
A small box.
Hooked shut
with a little brass hasp.
Never acknowledged
nor spoken about.
But I’d go and look
now and then.
Especially when he
hadn’t been around much.
My Da’s war medals.
A whole, different, side of him.
That little box of heroism
hidden in the loft.

Miki Byrne has written three poetry collections, had work included in over 170 poetry magazines and anthologies and has read hedr work on TV and on Radio. She ran a poetry writing group at The Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury. Her website is www.mikibyrnepoetry.com Miki is disabled and lives near Tewkesbury. Gloucestershire.UK.

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*****

Conor Carville: Three Poems

AN OLD CARVED DOORKNOCKER

The limewood hand that taps at the door
is much like my own, polished and cold,
for nothing whatever runs in the veins
that rise on the back of its flaking skin,
and the hinge that pinions it to the world
creaks and squeaks like no wrist should
as I feel the nub of the old amputation
where the index has broken away at the nail
and the white grain shows, thinking even so,
that if I am taking those fingers in hand
they’re also taking mine: asking if anyone’s
at home, knowing that this cannot be,
knocking and knocking again insistently.

ENGLISH MARTYRS

After the throats descend from upstairs,
after their table-taps and creaks,
after the pong of Deep Heat
as the celebrant retires, sneakers
squeaking on the curly parquet,
the front of the chapel commences to sway,

to sway and little by little to dance
before my eyes, to clap, to hum;
and somebody up there must have a drum,
a djembe or keteh, is palming it once
or twice, unpacking a rhythm,
as the drone puckers up into song –

the song that is sung by the faithful departed
in their camps by the coast, the sonorous psalm,
the supplement that suspends and expands,
extraneous, yes, but somehow important;
the indexical link that sustains,
like the all-but-invisible wine-stain

the verger notes on the altar carpet, a stain
that might be ash but might be blood,
that another man would get down and scrub
but over which he has chosen
to brood, revolving it all
as he repoints the lectern and draws a veil

across the implausible past, a veil
that scales to the one in your
own life, lost on its line, a lime-spattered
sheet forgotten in a suntrap, some high-walled
courtyard rife with weeds and flowers,
its classical statues blurred to their nubs, martyrs

to the elements as these wooden statues are
to time, old lags, bolted to their shadows,
not a kick in the arse from the North Surrey Gallows,
where the barrelling juggernauts shudder
and slow before picking up once more,
gunning again for Dover and the globe.

Here’s a thing: the evening crowd is global,
but all the deaths are Irish: O’Gorman,
Maloney, Shannon and Keogh. Some form
of correction there, the coursing flows
détourned, their pathways pitched
and tossed the way the networks switch

and twitch from moment to moment above
the Old Kent Road: its khat cafes
and Polski skleps and chip-unlocking offies;
its avenues of air-conditioned storage
for tulips and sushi, pharmaceuticals and art;
its start-ups and Pound Shops and its all-night nail bars.

Again the song starts up, again the dance,
again that lightning in the dome,
those faint synaptic flickers, images thrown
on painted clothes and eyes and hands
by a headlight’s pass through mullioned glass,
the moving pentagrams of energy embossed

by all the power moving in and out of London
of an evening, currents that spin
the cities of the world within
their blazing orbitals: branded, brindled,
aligned in planetary rows …
I hear them burn, and does my throat not open?

THE FLIP-FLOP

Cast off at the door,
and kicked into touch,
coming to sit, beached
on the laminate floor

of this pastel hotel room
where a ceiling-fan
murmurs its rounds,
and the thing sits on

riding its own dim glow,
a plain base gripped
by a translucent strip
of resin. I’m wholly

given over to its insistent
stillness: a peasant’s shoe,
but far from the boots,
rucked and truculent,

shucked off at the end
of the day to gape,
dog-eared, in Vincent’s great,
hallucinatory painting.

No. It’s slim as an insole,
clean as a Polo, with only
the faintest hint of a toe-tip
tainting the moulded foam

like a smudge in plush
or the painterly trace
of a pentimento face
beneath a shallow wash.

Conor Carville was born in Armagh, N. Ireland. He is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Reading University. His first collection, Harm’s Way, was published by Dedalus Press in 2013 and second, English Martyrs, will appear in late 2019 from Two Rivers Press. Other publications include Samuel Beckett and the Visual (CUP 2018) and The Ends of Ireland: Criticism, History, Subjectivity (MUP 2012). He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

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*****

 A.C. Clarke: Three Poems

OBITUARY
He was a good fighter; he never hurt anyone
– overheard on a bus

Three times running bare-knuckle champion,
he was a good fighter – a bunch of fives
delivering the coup de grace
with the inevitable truth
of lightning finding its target.

He never hurt anyone: if they got in the way
his right hook was as free from malice
as rockfall, weighty as an argument
with logic on its side. They carried young Jimmie
out of the ring, his cheek a purple bloom.
Not the last. He was a good fighter.

He was a good fighter big as a tree
mild as a carthorse. Before a bout
they’d tank him up. Even in drink
he never swore. After a knock-out he’d eye
his meat-red hands like they were friendly dogs
hard to keep down. He never hurt anyone.

ABOVE GLENFILLAN

In the Golden Shovel form, using these lines from Rachel Boast’s  ‘Already someone’s set their dog among the swans‘: ‘For nothing withstands this coolness / closing in so constantly remote. / I’d [live] the night out /on [the] dark hymnal lake, [to] hear it talking’

Up here above ruined shielings, the hills seem larger for
there is nothing to stop them. Nothing
to scale them down. Only the sky withstands
their boast, the sky which is above all this
and now shakes out a small wind whose coolness
shivers my naked arms. Rainclouds are closing
the far view from sight. The hills move in
like bodyguards on the alert, so
endlessly watchful, so constantly
there. The farm’s a half-mile down, remote

as hope. I’ve dreamed adventure, how I’d
climb like goats, keep my breath, tent from the night
under tight-rigged canvas. Hills find me out
each time. Will I ever find myself on
flatlands again? It’s bright noon but the dark
hides underneath. All nature is a hymnal
to the deceiving sun. Field, forest, lake
all celebrations, but in their voice I hear
defeat. Hills have the best of it.
They’ll stay, close-lipped, when everything’s stopped talking.

THE RECKONING

Friday was Judgement Day. Sheep and goats
were herded into assembly by nuns whose faces
were set like dull stones in the goffered frills
of their wimples. Their habits breathed black dye,
stale food, infrequent laundry. No talking in line.

No talking in line. We all stood silent
in navy uniforms furtively eyeing each other.
A morning hymn, a prayer. Then Reverend Mother
whose birthday gift we funded every year
rose from her throne like the avenging angel.

Like the avenging angel she held a scroll
in which were numbered our good deeds, our sins.
It would have taken half the morning
to read them out. They were condensed to cards
each with the image of the Sacred Hearts –

the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, pierced
with a single sword. As Reverend Mother called
each name, each child would come to take her card:
pale green for Very Good, blue Good, cream Fair,
Unsatisfactory, buff. To get that twice,

twice in a single term meant being excluded.
Mostly we got blue, the moral status
of souls in Purgatory. Cream verged on Buff,
for which the only true redemption
was a Good Death: one of us managed it.

A C Clarke is a poet living in Glasgow who has won a number of prizes over the years and been widely published in anthologies and magazines. Her fifth full collection, A Troubling Woman (Oversteps Books), came out in 2017. She was one of four joint winners in the Cinnamon Press 2017 poetry pamphlet competition with War Baby, which was published in January 2018.

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*****

Jim Conwell:Poem

DROWNING

When you drown, you drown,
there is no telling.
Only the dirty, bubbled water as
it finds your open mouth and then your nose.
Only the grey rush of its force as
your feet reach for nothing that
can ever be there.

You go under with
your last thoughts frantically looking
for a safe place.
They know that when you return, they
will not be there.
They are bound for the cold stillness.

No use to come back with
your small craft to mark
the spot with a buoy.
The horizon looks the same,
buoy or no buoy.
It even looks the same
when there is no-one looking.

Jim Conwell’s parents were migrants from the West of Ireland and he was born, and has lived most of this life, in various parts of London. He worked as a psychotherapist for 35 years. He  has had poems published in various magazines including South, Under the Radar, Allegro, Bluepepper, Convergence and  Crack the Spine, He has twice been shortlisted in the Bridport Poetry Prize.

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*****

Rhian Edwards: Two Poems

HE IS THE KIND

of man who clicks his fingers at the radio,
discards teabags on the draining board,
despite my navigations to the compost bin.

He is the kind of man who wears nothing
in the morning except an unruly cardigan, quotes
Winnicott while stirring honey into his porridge.

He is the kind of man who makes a beeline
for my bookcase, wears his silent
reading like an invisibility cloak.

He is the kind of man who calls me ‘baby’,
divining my mother’s caveat that only
the unfaithful bless you with a pet name.

He is the kind of man who is languid
in his crumbling Audi, sheds his seatbelt
like my bra strap, when compelled to reverse.

He is the kind of man who eats only half
a banana, bandaging the needless remainder
in the blackening of its skin.

ALL THE TERRORS

are gathered in this portmanteau,
this Hammmer House, this Ealing-made.
The razor cut of Cushing’s cheeks,
hollowed eyes, RP that belongs to the Raj.

How I long for Christopher Lee, his oil-slicked
widow’s peak, badger grey, immaculate cravat.
I would give the earth, mortality
to be the trussed brunette in Regency.

Could my generous décolletage invite the screeches
of a fishing-rodded bat to my Juliet balcony?
Or could the punctured cloud of my negligee
summon an unseasonable wind to my French doors?

Behold the jagged cloak, crimson lining, arms raised.
Regard as I back away in mugging fear,
mesmerised by the bloodshot white of his eyes,
all a swoon to the preachery of his pearly fangs.

Rhian Edwards is a multi-award winning poet. Her first collection of poems Clueless Dogs(Seren) won Wales Book of the Year 2013 and was shortlisted for the  Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2012. Her pamphlet  Parade the Fib, (Tall-Lighthouse), was awarded the PBS Choice for autumn 2008. Her poems have appeared in the Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, New Statesman, Spectator, Poetry London, Poetry Wales, Arete, London Magazine, Stand and Planet. Her second collection The Estate Agent’s Daughter (Seren) is due for publication in 2020.

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*****

Robert Etty: Four Poems

THE OUTLOOK

Dempsey’s house wasn’t fit to live in,
even when Dempsey did. Now there’ll be one
in his kitchen garden, two in his orchard, three
in the field, and access across the crew yard.

You might think it’s going to mean change for the worse,
when the latest going’s been fairly good,
but Dan the Man reckons change never fails,
and Dan’s the man paying a man on a digger

to dig holes he’s planting small fortunes in.
Soon windows will frame the way the wind blows,
with implications for gains and losses,
coming to terms with terms and conditions

and levelling everything up. Still, a man might
stroll past with a sodden-pawed spaniel,
humming a hymn he’s known since school,
and someone happening to hear might hum along.

If sadly you miss him, don’t despair:
the scales of the changes will fall from your eyes
and you’ll weigh amounts against quantities
and holes against sums of the parts.

Parts of this poem fall short of the mark
and the rest of it falls nearby. But
the final full stop will be placed perfectly,
and after that comes the outlook. Look out.

BEXHILL, FOR INSTANCE

The man with the Japanese girl in blue
who’s slicing a pain au raisin in half
is saying he’s formed an emotional attachment.
‘This place is in me – if you know what I mean …’

He’s too earnest to mean if she doesn’t,
it isn’t. She nods in assent, in any case.
He’s not asking me, but I’m answering yes,
at this table with tea in a city

I didn’t select as the setting
for unforgettableness, any more
than the places anyone visits
and senses no special attachment to.

Maidstone, for instance. Lives are designed
for unattachments in order to keep them
manageable. Attachment to places
like Maidstone because of life-modifiers

that happened there despite or because of
it being Maidstone (or Bexhill, or Chorlton-
cum-Hardy) in multiples of visits made,
a life doesn’t have room to accommodate:

the heart and brain couldn’t cope. What’s happened
here is enough for a person, I’m always
convinced when I come again. How many
roads must you walk up and down before you leave

them behind? Yes, and how many thoughts
can you think in a day before there’s a load
on your mind? Yes, but how many isn’t exactly
the point. It’s more the effect than the number.

I knew what he meant, and she knew as well:
something out there beyond definition
(conveniently, given the time allowed).
He meant dear, special things, in a manner of speaking,

which speaking of seems to diminish.
So don’t tell me and I won’t tell you.
The answer, my friend, is pastries and tea
in a place that’s in you, if you know what I mean.

PAUSING TO WORRY IN A SPINNEY NEAR ALFORD

Late this September afternoon
there’s nothing downhill you mightn’t expect,
only fences, wood pigeons, brown cows, rolled fields
and several part-houses aspiring to wholeness.

In here’s a felled oak, ash veined with ivy,
a love heart still growing ring by ring
and a ditch hibernating for summer.
A dragonfly dragonflies backward

and forward, whirring into green light and out.
This is where nature rehearses enduring
and labourers fall sadly short.
When a wren alarm-calls, the spinney’s alarmed.

Dragonflies fly (without knowing how long)
for a measure of weeks or months.
Measured in spinneys, worries weigh differently.
Measured in dragonflies, different again.

WITH HIM

With acknowledgements to Ben Darvill, BBC Radio 4

‘I’ve never heard it again, that song,’
he says of a rosefinch he heard when waking
once in a tent by a wall on an island.
“And yet it’ll always be with me.’

Much makes no connection, or drifts apart,
but the notes of the bird come with him through
all things, although he doesn’t explain.
When all the rest fails, there might still be singing.

Rob Etty lives in Lincolnshire. His poems were first published in the 1980s, and he is the author of several collections. The most recent of these, Passing the Story Down the Line (Shoestring Press, 2017), was reviewed in THW. He is a long-standing member of the Nunsthorpe Poetry Group, which is based in Grimsby.

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*****

Rebecca Gethin : Two Poems

CHARCOAL BURNERS

We keep to ourselves – they won’t stand our reek.
We don’t lack company, speak a language of smoke.
Burned and blackened, our men look like twigs
from out of the rick. They have power over smoulder,
know how to tame it, have words for its nature
for wind can madden it, heavy rain sadden it.
Our clothing and hair smell of char, faces smutted
and furrowed. The men are a brotherhood,
sworn to the fires and to be vigilant for one another –
walking with flame is to walk with death. We have fire charms
and prayers, speak mainly of coles. When he lies with me
I am smirched in smuts, his throat is cinders and ash,
his words singe. His breath rasps, the cough one day
will end him. Scring ƿu alwa col on hearde

Note:
The last phrase: ‘May you be consumed as charcoal in the fire’

MARIE-THERESE – 1932

Picasso paints her asleep
as if she isn’t to know
his attention is on her,
as if he can’t bring himself
to look into her eyes, needs
to avoid her expression.
Deeply asleep she curls round her curves
smiles into her dreams, not watching
but aware at the same time
how his hand delineates her.
The bulk of her stretched out
across the bed or the chair
as feelings flit across her mouth and eyelids –
she is her own becoming.
And he watches this.
He works fast – draws
nose, breasts, legs,
their parting.

Rebecca Gethin lives on Dartmoor in Devon. In 2017 two pamphlets were published: A Sprig of Rowan by Three Drops Press and All the Time in the World by Cinnamon Press who published an earlier collection called A Handful of Water and two novels. She has been a Hawthornden Fellow. In 2018 she jointly won the Coast to Coast Pamphlet competition and has been awarded a writing residency at Brisons Veor. www.rebeccagethin.wordpress.com

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*****

Mike Greenacre : Poem

VAGABONDS

I don’t know where
these poems
come from
but their constant
tramping
across the brow
of tomorrow
keeps me
at arm’s length
from sleep.

Mike Greenacre is a Western Australian poet who has had his poems published in literary journals and anthologies in Australia and overseas. Mike published his first collection of poetry, Kimberley Man, in 2002. It was followed in 2010 by Beacon Breaker.

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*****

Ian Heffernan: Poem

THE ROAD OUT

I.

Pausing at the northern end
Of the high terrace I watch
Splay-footed harlots ply their trade,
Small-time heresiarchs accost
Plainclothes policemen or the elderly,
Hear drunks applaud the airburst
Of their song, and laughter
From a disused army base.

Down there is untranslated life
But here there is just
The quiet circuitry of thought.

Behind us golden pheasants strut
And antique lanterns gutter out.
Inside our blind librarians
Fumble among the shelves.
They are now the space
Between two pages.

We could try to fool ourselves
There’s magic at the margins,
A fire at the edge of things,
But we know we are an old wound
Hushing itself to sleep, history
Scribbling on its own backside,
A dying civilisation
Stammering prayers into a cloth.

II.

All things resolve to absence
In the end. It’s time to leave.

We disinherit no one, let the past
Suppress its faint falsetto,
Let the calendar forget the date.
We will become a monument
To distance. Bring your bags.

A child cries to the trees;
An owl responds. They could go on
Till dawn like that.

But we must use our wheels to trace
The contours of the map,
Feel the road lean out into the wind
Then reassume its cautious curve,
See lights along the ridgeline drift
And tiny lanes veer off to nothingness.

You cough, your eyes reflect
A blacked-out mirror. We are gone.

III.

We disinherit no one, and we’ve learnt
That blame will tend to gravitate
Towards the blameless, that the wise
Are punished for their wisdom,
And how deep human cruelty runs.

So we will make for where
The world folds back upon itself,
And we can look at everything
Through the prism of amnesia.

Timid anchorites at first
We may in time become
New nations sketching out their shape,
New phrases forming on the tongue.

 Ian Heffernan was born just outside London, where he still lives. He studied at UCL and SOAS and works with the homeless. His poetry has been published recently in The High Window, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Cha, Antiphon, South Bank Poetry, London Grip, Under the Radar, FourXFour and elsewhere.

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*****

Ian House: Five Poems

NOW YOU SEE IT

Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn
(triptych of black-and-white prints) 1995

Would you want –
this is not a rhetorical question –

to balance between your finger-tips
a Han Dynasty Urn,
the flaring lip, the swelling body

to widen by an insignificant distance
the gap between right hand and left

to thrill with your own helplessness
at the urn’s irreversible descent
past chest, thighs, knees

to stand, hands apart,
the fragments at your feet

to have done something irretrievable,
autonomous, wicked?
*
Couldn’t you admire the man
who had the balls,

who did it
who presents himself, the guilty party

before the firing squad of our eyes
with his crazed abracadabra?
*
We wanted a recuperation,
to see it reassemble

piece by piece
rise through the air to the hands’ nest

wanted someone to tell us
the photograph was doctored,
the urn a cheap modern fake

that we share no genes with the millions
who’ve shattered statues, burned books.

GETTING THROUGH

Days are what we live for,
then wonder where they’ve gone,
are at last what we get through

and that’s why I shall found a religion
not on the implacable sun or the moon’s delusions
nor even on all-seeing, one-eyed Odin,
master of runes, inspirer of poets, who hung
nine days from the branches of Yggdrasil

but on the workaday hammer and iron gloves
of flame-haired, blunder-prone Thor,
who smashed the land into chasms,
would have drunk the sea dry,
and died fighting. We shall need

his strength, his sheer bloody-mindedness
when all that’s left
is to measure pills, minutes, yards.

LAWS OF NATURE

That afternoon the breeze flopped along,
expired on their faces like a damp flannel.
The sky gathered its weight, forced them indoors
to a room that had shrunk, a room that glowered
as clouds blackened, indelible, fire-fringed.
She flounced, he sat with a book, they listened:
the clock counted their injuries. Crystals collided,
charges built. Words passed, had to,
the return bolt brighter, deadlier than the leader.

AFTERLIFE

Stored in a plastic lunch box
in a job lot of clodhopper boots,
nothing’s more delicate
than OBJECT NO: 52/345/1&2
CLASS: Personal Clothing/ Footwear.

Found in a farmhouse bedroom
sealed two hundred years ago:
a mother’s treasure
or left-over hand-me-downs
or sturdy little kickers to ward off the evil ones.

Hand-stitched, with stacked wedge heels,
cracked and shiny,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe leather dried-out,
it’s someone’s life I have in my hands,
the shape and sweat of the foot
of a six-month child,
holes bursting the sides with her outgrowings.

I could hardly be closer to her
nor further off. Under cotton gloves
my fingers yearn
for the feel of the leather her fingers touched.

A scrap of a thing but solid,
at the heart of a mist of conjectures,
the lives she might have had:
cankered at the root
or blossoming and many-branched.

I cradle a shoe in my hand,
slip it over the wriggling foot,
gently fasten the vanished buckle.

Note: Certain personal items, such as shoes, were often preserved,
sometimes walled-up, to protect a house against evil spirits.

PROFESSIONAL

In the breathless and absolute dark,
her face close to mine as a lover’s
(is the after-life like this,
an unsensed awareness of bodies?),
she searches with a gimlet light
to the back of each eye, murmurs ‘lovely’
and ‘lovely’ again she murmurs,
her voice velvety as the dark,

and though she has seen right through me,
through the window, to the macula,
she knows nothing about me
but for an orange bugaboo
and the blaze of crimson and gold
that fences the inch between us.

Ian House, now happily retired, taught English in England, the United States, Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. His collections, both with Two Rivers Press, are Cutting the Quick (2005) and Nothing’s Lost (2014). A third, Just a Moment, is due in 2020.

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*****

Rosie Jackson: Two Poems

EACH DAY A NEW UNEXPECTEDNESS

Hilda’s staying in Hampstead with her mother,
who wears black and complains about the money
Stanley owes, wants to know why the girls are not
invited to be bridesmaids at their father’s wedding.
They both drink tea, lots of tea, eat cherry cake,
listen to the news. It’s hard for Hilda to keep track –

Hitler’s on the rise in Germany; there’s civil war
in Spain – 4,000 children have arrived in boats;
three weeks ago the Hindenburg blew up;
two weeks ago, a new King; and today, Saturday,
29 May 1937, the man she took to be her husband
is marrying for a second time.

Hilda picks at the chintz of her armchair.
She would like to forget their own small ceremony,
that wedding present from the Behrends –
a tea set covered with parrots. She stacks the cups,
turns down the music, ‘When Did You Leave
Heaven?’, crackling on the wireless.

She walks to the window, looks out over Pond Street.
The last of the May blossom is drifting to the ground.
How can she know it will be worse than this,
much worse, a week from now, after the new bride
has tricked her into adultery with this bridegroom
who is no longer hers?

She thinks of her children, the daughters
she and that once-husband made. Thinks
of the thousands of children caught in losses
not of their own making, sent away,
not knowing where they are, who they are,
what strange language they must now learn to speak.

HE TAUGHT THEM MANY THINGS BY PARABLES
after Stanley Spencer’s ‘Village Life, Gloucestershire,’ 1940

Rationing has begun. And he paints himself
with two women (always two) –
Hilda, staring out of the frame,
and Daphne, dominatrix, taller
than them both, her arms folded in disdain.

He captures pin-stripes on his suit,
Hilda’s sideways scowl, the golden tassel
fringing Daphne’s sweater; captures the inertia
of the sleeping dog, the waiting cart. The way
they all ignore the old couple folding up washing
that could be the white shirts of angels; the child
who lifts a signpost finger to the blessed skies.

Paintings, thinks Stanley, are like dreams:
their meaning not always in the foreground
but in some telling detail rarely noticed
at first glance. He remembers his first real oil painting,
Two Girls and a Beehive (always two) –
the way the holy ghost slipped in behind the railings,
easy to confuse with clouds and sunrise.

Just as, now, a camouflaged figure,
who must have wandered over from his canvases
of Christ in the wilderness, bends his corpulent body
behind a tree, clears stony ground, plants
row after row of leeks and cabbages.

Rosie Jackson has published two collections of her poetry: What the Ground Holds (Poetry Salzburg, 2014) and The Light Box (Cultured Llama, 2016). |She has also published her memoir The Glass Mother (Unthank, 2016). She won 1st prize in the Stanley Spencer competition 2017, and 1st at Wells 2018. Two Girls and a Beehive (poems about Spencer, a collaboration with Graham Burchell) will be published by Two Rivers Press, 2020. www.rosiejackson.org.uk

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*****

Ross Jackson: Poem

ANOTHER’s SUFFERING IS ANOTHER’S MOOD

The car in the garage is cold.
My sadness from the trip two hours ago.
Who claimed that living space by the road
along that pipeline
between sagging trees?

What ventures collapsed in
those sheds of overlapping tin?
Savings blown, credit cave-ins most likely.
Hopes and hearts which failed.

Why do I assume their desolation?
As if I’ve motored through their lives
scattering their concerns?

At the masthead of the native frangipani
cloud xxxxxxwithin cloud xxxxxxwithin cloud.
The car within the garage is cold
but thank God the dogs at least, are glad
to sit beside my garden chair.

Ross Jackson is a retired school teacher and long-term resident of Perth, Western Australia. He has had poems in The High Window, The Honest Ulsterman, Abridged, Poetry New Zealand, The Australian Poetry Anthology, Westerly, Cordite Poetry and many other Australian literary journals and poetry websites. He writes about the experience of aloneness in the suburbs, about aging, the companionship of dogs, visual art and other topics.

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*****

Gill Learner: Four Poems

BITTER HARVEST

Dark limbs twisted into runes, dowager hair
unloosed to capture shine, the tree stands firm
on roots screwed deep into Vaucluse rock.
Indifferent to myth and symbol, patient
of man and mistral, frost and drought,
it offers gold in tiny packages: gifts
for generations who can read
next Monday’s weather on the wind,
know cailletier from tanche, sow and
harvest according to wax and wane.

Down centuries baladi trees have given
food and light, material for carving, polishing.
Now their roots are clutching Hebron air
as the bulldozers retreat.

PRELUDE

Give a kid a violin and she becomes a citizen
– José Antonio Abreu, Founder of El Sistema

Lila loves to hear her mother humming as she rubs,
rinses, strings her clients’ clothes across the street.
Lila sings ‘El Gavilán’ to her baby sisters, toddler brothers,
while she bathes them in the laundry tub. She sings
‘Muchachita Sabanera’ as she stirs black beans, grills
evening arepas. When her eyelids droop in a maths
or grammar class, she shakes herself awake.

But at the nucleo, each nerve is on alert as she slides
a bow over pressed-down strings. Notes float up the scale
to carry her high as the hawk and lark she sings about.
Every night she prays that one day soon she’ll be chosen
for the orchestra, will see the world’s cities,
concert-halls; that music will become her life.

Yet she knows that, if her prayers are not ignored,
returning home will make her belly quake. She’ll fear
her brothers are in gangs or taking drugs; her sisters
might be earning in the easy barrio way. Meanwhile
she practises … sponges little limbs … practises …
does her schoolwork … practises … tries to fatten
scrawny bodies … practises … to win her key to liberty.

CANICULE (NOUN)
after Jen Hadfield

Scorcher, heat-wave.
To be blinded by
the pierce of light.

To feel the air
too thick to fill
the lungs.

To smell scorched grass,
herbs without sap.

To see the merest
sigh of wind
swirl dust
into the air.

To watch dogs crawl
long-tongued
into shade.

To feel a brazier’s heat
between
the shoulder-blades.

To wonder what
this punishment is for.

NIGHT VISITOR

We woke to the mellow flutes of golden orioles,
the hum of ivy-happy bees. Later, we ambled
to the village between vines, picked up the pripple-prrip
of bee-eaters, watched their aerobatic darts and twists.
We splashed, read, dozed the afternoon away
while swallows, unfazed, dipped to the pool.

By evening we were tingling, sun-sated, drunk on heat
and wine. We’d sloughed our northern skins, almost
silenced the tick of worry about parents, children.
We lounged in semi-dark inhaling through open doors
the scents of hard-baked soil, pine resin, browned grass.
The last chords of a Prom on France Musique faded away.
During wild applause the familiar voice from Radio 3
was overlaid by French. You stretched, stood,
climbed the rickety spiral stairs to bed.

I stepped outside. Above, infinity was carpeted
with stars. Cicadas ratcheted their rasps to maximum,
a distant Scops owl mimicked Meantime pips.
I fastened shutters, doors, turned on the light.
A black blur made me gasp. It streaked from wall
to banister to central light but wouldn’t land.

Supressing memories of myths and horror tales,
I opened up once more, unfolded Midi Libre, held it
wide and high. Many times I tried to urge the creature
safety-wards but a wingbeat before liberty it swerved.
Finally, it swooped into its proper element.
I locked the darkness out again and went to bed.

Gill Learner’s poems have been published in  Acumen, Agenda, The High Window, The North, Mslexia and South. They have also appeared in a number of anthologies and won  several prizes. Her first collection, The Agister’s Experiment, appeared in 2011 from Two Rivers Press (tworiverspress.com) and her second, Chill Factor, from the same press in 2016. Both have been pleasingly reviewed. More information  will be found here: www.poetrypf.co.uk.

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*****

Emma Lee : Two Poems

LEARNING TO SPEAK

You assumed silence was compliance,
thought not saying anything made me a doormat
and didn’t see that it was resistance.

To speak was to be told I was wrong,
I was stupid, I’d forgotten, I didn’t know
what I was saying. It was better to say nothing.

But silence isn’t just sound’s absence.
It’s space to listen, a gap others fill with words
because they overlook non-verbal resonance.

You saw my silence as a wall to breach,
you thought you had to get me to talk.
I had a library of words my tongue couldn’t reach.

I had to unlearn my default muteness, my tongue
had to learn to feel words, give them freedom
and discover that my voice sounded OK to some.

ANOTHER ‘ISOLATED INCIDENT’

He was someone who opened doors for people
and gave up his seat on public transport,
according to character witnesses.

She was nineteen.

He stole her house key,
broke in and watched her sleep,
which earned him a caution.

She made four complaints to the police.

He phoned her from a withheld number,
breathed heavily down the line
and got labelled as ‘low risk’.

She was nineteen and penalised
“having caused wasteful employment
of police by making a false report.”

He claimed he found her body. He did not call 999.
He did not check for vital signs.
He went to work. He hid his bloody trainers.

The police’s apology can’t
age her beyond nineteen.

Emma Lee’s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, UK 2015). She also co-edited Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge, (Five Leaves, UK, 2015). She is a regular reviewer for The High Window, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews. She blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.

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*****

Jane Lovell: Two Poems

FINDING THE HIDDEN PATHS, MILITARY CANAL, HYTHE

We hike west to Hythe.
It’s freezing and blue, the mud slick with sky
and everything is steaming: the brume of silage rising
from the cow yards, breath-clouds of cattle grazing
the flats, a train blustering along the skyline.

There is our own breath, exhaled.

At the edge of town we find the crypt, its cobbled wall
of femurs, shelves of skulls stacked cheek to cheek,
sockets blown by sickness rising from the swamps.
A clutter of jawbones, molars plugged with dirt,
lies like some abandoned puzzle by the door.

You remember Chiese dei Morti: a shrine of the exhumed
stooped and red from clay, sucked dry by mould:
the cataleptic buried as he slept, the dancing boy
knifed as the fiddle unravelled its notes through the dusk,
the cripple with the snapped hip

and, hanging from its vaulted ceiling, the ornamental lamp
built from human bones and bolts of chance.

On the way back, sheep regard us with alien eyes, stumble
along the canal, dreadlocks of filthy wool bobbing
from their rumps.
We listen to a lark tweedling through the vastness above us,
its song scribbled from driftlight and landscapes of rushes
and broom.

You lie on the freezing grass and look up at the endless blue,
the endless space that has no boundaries.
I am mesmerised by the shape of your jaw,
the curve of your brow.

Happiness is inhabiting your body, you say, knowing how
to find the hidden paths, remembering.

I think of all the vapour rising to the stratosphere,
the loneliness of bones boxed and buried in the earth.

SEARCHING FOR DEAD RELATIVES, KERCH, 1942

They lie as they fell, the remains
of frost in the creases of their clothes,
coats charged with mud,
fingers ringed with melt-water
as if another’s hand, a child’s, a friend’s,
a mother’s, had been eased away.

Above this bleak peninsula,
a stormy Moscow sky is pasted.
A moment founded in another world
hung like a flag above the space
where dead men lie.

Twenty years held silent,
the grieving bear these foreign clouds
upon their shoulders,
make their way across the wastes
below an alien horizon, skirting pools
that capture a forgotten sky.

Note: The photographer, Dimitri Baltermants, captured inhabitants of Kerch on the Crimea searching for bodies of relatives after the snow had melted. Finding his negatives were damaged, he inserted another sky. Baltermants’ assignment had been to document the heroic deeds of the Red Army; the photograph remained unpublished for twenty years.

Jane Lovell has been widely published in journals and anthologies. She won the Flambard Prize in 2015 and has been shortlisted for several awards including the Basil Bunting Prize, the Robert Graves Prize and the Periplum Book Award. Her most recent publication is Metastatic from Against the Grain Poetry Press. Jane is the Poetry Society Stanza rep for Mid Kent. She won this year’s Wealden Literary Festival Writing Prize, the Terrain.org Poetry Contest and the Wigtown Poetry Prize.

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*****

Maitreyabandu: Four poems

Il ÉTAIT PLUS GRAND QUE NOUS NE LE CROYIONS

Consider now his anti-type, the impeccable Manet –
jacket nipped in at the waist, English jodhpurs,
slender feet and walking cane, whistling

at the scandal of Olympia, her maid and cat, flowers
wrapped hastily in newspaper. Compare
Cézanne’s itchy green with Manet’s etiolated grey

and gentlemanly black; set the music of the Tuileries
against Les Grandes Baigneuses: buxom girls who squat
to wash their feet or comb their Magdaleney hair.

Then imagine Manet, that polished man, with gout,
suffering fulgurating pain, unable to walk
to the studio, attended upon by Doctors Tillaux,

Siredy and Marjolin who discuss amputation
in the living room, Manet’s condition so critical
the nails of the foot come away when touched.

Picture Manet (his rectitude and cut-glass dragon vase)
squinting and frowning, feeling surpassed
no doubt, making the best of it with final flowers.

FOR THE ARTIST OF ANAHORISH

Listening while I cook to archive footage
of Heaney reading his poems, the poet
is interrupted, mid-recitation, by the telephone,
the one he’ll later use to contact Brian Friel.

Then whoever’s recording, a voice just out
of shot, stops him, mid-Troubles,
to ask for a pause while a lorry goes past –
the coalman with his coal-bags in Magherafelt

or a heavy payload for the bus station.
It’s so here-I-am-at-home I’m startled
when he begins again with ‘I loved the thought

of his anger’ for there’s that draft-dodger
Paul Cézanne, painting unmolested at L’Estaque
despite the know-it-alls and sods and nincompoops.

THE THREE INSEPARABLES

‘Do you remember the tree that leant
and talked confidentially as Baille, you
and I bathed or lay naked in its shadow?’

Baille became professor of optics and acoustics,
Cézanne went back again and yet again
to bathers under trees (no one wanted them)

and Zola, after talking for half a century,
living, as one biographer put it, a life
as conventional as a retired grocer, died in bed,

murdered if the deathbed confession
of a stove fitter can be believed. ‘Soon, mon cher,
we’ll go out fishing again, if the weather holds.’

BURNT LAKES

Old, angry and mistrustful (on every side
exploitation and nitwits), the Master of Aix
sets off early, sur nature, a carriage ride
to the river where he says ‘I could make
studies for months just by turning my head
now more to the left, now more to the right.’
Sheep come and drink under the outspread
Trois-Sautets Bridge. ‘I am more clear-sighted
in front of nature. It is superfluous to say
I am always painting.’ He asks his son
for marzipan, complains about the delay
in receiving ten tubes of burnt lakes no.7,
rebukes the colour merchant ‘It is eight days
since I wrote, an answer please and hasten!’

Maitreyabandhu has published two collections of poems with Bloodaxe, his third, a fifty-six poem sequence entitled After Cézanne is forthcoming shortly

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*****

Rennie Parker: Poem

SPEAKING AND LISTENING, LEVEL 1

Four months later they are still not talking.
Memories of the banking sector:
girls doing paperwork, all they are fit for.
I’m just not organised he says
with that calculated laugh.

The cluttered office topples with files.
Pots pile, the great unwashed.
Other staff bend their backs,
heads toward screens.

Stranger things have happened –
flowers on a windowsill –
but now they have taken their flowers away
we must all begin again.

He blooms red, looks finished.
Stay off the booze, mate I tell him:
there’s always more where you came from
thinking whenever you blag your way
some girl will be convinced.

Mr. Talent, he brims:
I’m a glass half full kinda guy
always on the offchance
the students believe in him
but the careworn staff, they don’t.

Expect he stays: so real, disarming
gladhanding the populace
like a smalltown elected mayor
even though he’s flunked the lot

missed his deadlines, forgot his gear,
lost plans, exams, the evidence.
His class will have to sit their test a second time
happy, even grateful, in the dark.

Rennie Parker is published by Shoestring Press, and her latest collection is The Complete Electric Artisan, (2017). She has often taken part in readings and festivals around the Midlands, and sometimes writes novellas too. She has a research degree from Birmingham University, and published on the Georgian poets (British Council Writers and their Work series) in 1999. Twitterings @rennieparker.

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*****

Peter Phillips: Poem

HEAT WAVE

DAY 10
“Two minutes longer,” the weather girl said,
daylight had been two minutes longer.
Then she said June sun was very strong.
Where’s the science I thought?
Had she been told any?

Sky was a brilliant blue, gleamed
its blistered smile, air was a dry breath.

Weather girl giggled off to the Serpentine,
to row in the cool of the lake. Parks were full,
stripped workers simmered on the grass.
Skin reddened. A swan’s neck flopped
into the water.

Headlines caught the news late, or dropped it.
I hunted for Evian, but any brand would do.
Too late. At Asda, daylight stood on empty shelves.

DAY 19
Heat grew. I noticed white vapour wriggle
in the air. The parks boiled. The beach at Brighton
was empty of deck chairs. A battalion of gulls bobbed in the sea.
Sun block was getting low.

The Royal Marsden’s skin man broke first,
on a Panorama special, talked of covering up, long sleeves,
veils. Where do I buy a veil?
He spoke like an uncle, in plain weather, big numbers:
Fahrenheit not Centigrade, said something weird,
that weather would improve.
He knew, wasn’t telling.

Cold air units, electric fans became daily bread. Lorries
on delivery to Argos were mobbed.
Ice cream was treasure. I found two cases of Evian,
padlocked the shed.

Air was blowing on a thirsty setting,
the sun was growing colour,
became the darkest shade of orange.

DAY TWENTY THREE.
I thought a lot, imagined two weeks ahead,
then a month, shivered with the heat of it.
Glad I had no children.

I phone Kate. Reception was breaking up.
She cried.
“But it’s just sun,” she said.

Pigeons hopped on hot pavements, kept to shade
of thinning trees.
News was anorexic,
still lacked real science.
I checked the lock on the shed.

DAY FORTY.
Someone said earth’s spin had slowed, minutely,
would correct. Someone else said that couldn’t happen.
Everyone’s being awfully clever.
But still no expert opinions are broadcast.

Clouds were now thin sheets, worn nylon.
Sun’s rays pelted the reservoirs, gulped my pond.
Grass was yellow, died back.
Heat went up another two notches on the hair dryer.
My canary died. I’d forgotten fresh water.
A squirrel fell from my tree.

DAY FIFTY FIVE.
I phoned BA, hung on, tortured by four hours
of muzak, menus, unhelpful advice,
should have phoned Quantas.
I booked two to the other side. Transferred savings,
cooling as they whizzed: London to Sydney into
Australian dollars. I’d bought a few months.
Felt… can’t explain.

That evening Kate kissed me, her mouth clinging
to mine. Her breath sizzled, her skin was scorched
and outside sister sun blazed.
I stroked her neck, shoulders, arms,
kissed her eyes.
She broke away.

“There are degrees of love, aren’t there?”
You can’t argue with climate,
persuade what is there to shine.
She left me.

DAY SIXTY
Off to Heathrow, Check In, then Passport Control.
We all gasp the air conditioning, drink it down.
Temperature outside is 117 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hazy heat has a troubled stare.
Police usher us to the plane, two hundred metres
from the terminal. A queue jumper is bundled to the back.

I spot a fox giddy with heat, paws stuck to tarmac,
his what’s happening eyes are blurred,
tail a shadow.

On board we wait and wait.
A stewardess has a smile sellotaped to her mouth.
Her eyes are empty.

Some joker wants a poem for his time capsule.

Peter Phillips has six collections, four with Hearing Eye, two with Ward wood Publishing. His seventh, Saying it with Flowers, is forthcoming from Ward Wood in 2019. The poems imagine the strange lives of flowers, birds and animals, ending with climate change poems. Peter’s recent stage play, The Return of George Meadows, explores the reasons why the fictional poet George Meadows faked his death. Details of Peter’s poetry and the new play, can be found on his pages at www.poetrypf.co.uk

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*****

Edmund Prestwich: Four Poems

BITTER END
(The Anglo-Boer War, 1902)

Three thousand mounted men, with carts and limbered guns,
lumber through dust, “sweeping” for De Wet’s guerillas.
They’re sweating, tired and thirsty. Now and then,
they ease their cartridge belts. A round falls out.

Five miles behind, if they look, there’s a tattered figure.
He limps in broken boots. He drags a gaunt pony, stooping,
like Death on the trail, or a deadbeat gleaning a gutter.
Alert for each bullet glittering in the dust,
he’s a Boer guerilla with an empty gun.
Every shot he finds could bring a trooper down.

NGUNI CLANCHIEF’S BURIAL

He squatted in his leopard skin kaross.
To tend him in the grave, two men
were laid among full cooking pots.
He wore his ivory armbands. Assegais,
keen as razors, bright
as running water in the sun,
lay ready at his feet.As earth
fell in, their shining died.

THE RETIEF COMMANDO

How high their spirits were,
riding out with Retief,
the big dogs running by the horses,
heads full of Dingaan’s promises,
the power of guns and the power of God.

By firelight under the stars,
they thought of their wives unpinning long hair,
their night-shirted children climbing to bed
in wagon camps where they’d left them,
homeless wanderers still.

They’d build them houses soon
in the country Dingaan gave –
shanties of wood and reeds, at first,
like Zulu huts; but then
good homes of brick on measured farms,
a schoolhouse and a church of stone.

They never thought they’d have ended
here, on a stinking hill,
obscenely tumbled in the sun,
torn by vultures, gnawed and pawed
by moonlight, when hyenas came
with phosphorescent eyes
to feed on them.

MSUNDUZE

The river through our town, the mudbrown river,
was called the “Umsindusi” in our youth.

We climbed its dusty banks. We looked for snakes.
We studied frogspawn in its cloudy shallows,

but weren’t allowed to touch the muddy water:
our father dreaded its bilharzia snails.

When white men came, the century before,
they’d christened it the Boesmans / Bushman’s River.

The Bushmen were our country’s oldest men.
They hunted everywhere with arrowpoints of stone.

Clinging to old ways when others came
they’d hunt farm cattle with their poisoned arrows.

The cattle-loving Bantu killed the Bushmen.
Dutch cattle farmers hunted them with guns.

We knew the river by its Zulu name.
The little Bushman hunters were long gone.

(The anglicized spelling Umsindusi, current in my youth, has been replaced by the Zulu one of the title.)

Edmund Prestwichgrew up in South Africa but has spent his adult life in England where he taught English at the Manchester Grammar School till his retirement. He has published two collections: Through the Window with Rockingham Press and Their Mountain Mother with Hearing Eye.

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*****

Victoria Pugh: Poem

PARGETING

I like to think before the workmen came
to scrape him off the side of the house,
that he twisted his antlers out of the wall,
let them spread like a Christmas tree
freed from its net; that as he leapt
close-carpeted velvet sprouted out;
that he shook his sharp-tipped coat
pranced for a moment on cloven feet,
before he was whitewashed from history.

That he raced away into the trees,
keeping his ability to stop mid-bound,
his deer-smile, splashed across his face,
and the joy so carefully moulded in him.
Bits of the past were tied to his legs,
like tins attached to a ’just married’ car,
that jangled and sang a passing song
of all things that must keep on running
until every memory of them Is gone.

PEELED

My right wrist burst apart
and then my left. My brain
became too big for my head –
and I was swelling up, full
of love, or I don’t know what
and my outer body lifted off.

I slid from a gap, in my back,
scuttled away; left my shell
there, a replica, to travel round
on the 85, at first glance, seeming
almost alive, looking through
windows at rain-blotted lights.

I hid beneath my bed. No one
should see me this naked.
But the thought of him kept
slinking in, slipping through
my frail skin, filling me up until
I was nothing but tenderness.

I wanted to get back inside,
but my carapace had a happy life,
on the bus, untouched by love.
So I scuffed my skin, to make it
rougher; though I knew I could
never toughen it enough.

Victoria Pugh  has lived in Reading for 30 years. Her collection, Mrs Marvellous, was published by Two Rivers Press in 2008. A poem from the collection was highly commended and published in The Forward Book of Poetry 2009. She has been successful in competitions and has had poems published in magazines and anthologies. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University.

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*****

Penny Sharman: Poem

SPRING SANDWORT

I like it here where it’s not neat and tidy,
where it’s rugged and open to the sky.
I do my best to carpet and clump myself,
show the world my white flowers, my purity.
I tried being good when I was a girl, I always
brushed my teeth and put my toys away, but
I found my voice under the stairs and in the
old lead-mine spoil heaps; I changed, I became
vernal and limestone. I longed for love, yes,
the kisses from boys lips, I longed for love.

I like it here where wild weather tickles my anthers,
where my greenness is prized by worms and skylarks.
I love the music of rain and chiff-chaffs, the wheatear
and meadow pipit, the big dipper of it all going on
around me. But most of all I crave the fissures,
the grikes, the swirling hollows underneath me.
It’s a buzz all right for the ferns, and me, for any
life that attaches itself to this rock face of white
and grey ancestry.

On the days of blue, white and yellow I forget
about the losses, the poison in the hills, my scars
that reach into the centre of this earth.

Penny Sharman was brought up in the Cotswolds. She ventured north in the 1960’s and remaines in love with the Pennines where she lives. Penny is a poet, artist, photographer and therapist. She has had poems published in  The Interpreter’s House, Strix, Obsessed with Pipework, Beautiful Dragons and Coast to Coast to Coast. She has an MA in Creative Writing. Fair Ground is Penny’s debut pamphlet.

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Ruth Sharman: Four poems

ARRIVING IN CHENNAI

What am I doing in a hotel
where soup is poured from a teapot
and the houseboy flattens himself
against the wall to let me pass?

Fifteen floors below the sea-view infinity pool
and potted frangipanis
lie piles of rubble, paving stones rearing skywards
like graves shattered

at the Last Judgement, endless hoardings pointing
to a better life. Why dream
of two bedroom when you can have three?

On the pavement two men sit plugging
the gaps in a cardboard peacock,
their hands full of white marigolds.

We do it differently better.
You can have perfect wedding.

Even the dog resolutely asleep under the flyover
is getting on with his life
and that couple signing across twenty feet of air
know just what they mean.

What am I doing, searching for a house
on the old road to Madras,

that dusty bullock track lined with banyans,
this four “lane” highway
where the only way to cross is to launch out

against the flow
not even looking, palm raised
like Moses parting the Red Sea.

BLUE MOUNTAIN EXPRESS

No one’s in a hurry.
As Ivan Baxter says, time’s not a factor here.
And it’s still the slowest train in India.

A rack and pinion engine shunts
four wooden carriages, blue and cream,
up twenty miles of track

through Runnymede, Lovedale, Fernhill…,
their names harking back a century,
the slopes as wooded still

as in those photos from before the war,
no bigger sign of change
than the odd abandoned shack.

Were you told to sit on the left
for the sake of the view? Besieged by monkeys
who knew the timetable – where

the train stops and for how long?
And did the passengers scream
in every tunnel (all sixteen)?

At Hillgrove I saw a moth
nestled among twigs and debris,
wings as colourful as a carnival mask:

the same moth you saw,
that first day, when you walked
across the maidan

and talked of kicking up scores
of crimson-speckled footmen,
whose name in Latin means beautiful.

LOST

The grass cuts when I brush too close.
Tall stands of it.
And a brilliant yellow pea
I recognise uselessly as senna.
And if there was a path,
it’s petered out now,
leaving the ground littered
with little rocks.

A likely place for snakes.

The hill in the distance ought
to be a landmark.
But it’s not the holy mountain.

And when I reach this village
it’s not the one I know.
On the edge are tiny fields
of beans and chillies
with neat embankments
of tamped-down sand.
Pompom marigolds
and cluster chrysanthemums.

And two cows tethered
in the shade of a tree, horns
painted blue for Pongal.

Women and children
smile and shake their heads.
One small boy comes running:
What is your name?
Ashram? I ask. Ashok Tree?
He beams and sings it this time:
What is your name?
What is your name?

THE HUNTSMAN

Even the language of spiders …
pedipalps, chelicerae,
those jack-knife and scissor jaws,

the male’s spoon-shaped cymbium
that stridulates in courtship,
the palpal bulb that passes her his sperm …

and how they move, these huntsmen,
how they run down a baby skink
or gecko, and not just run

but jump, performing handsprings,
cartwheels even (Carparachne aureoflava),
dispensing with the need for webs.

How can you say adorable, John,
or call that “juvenile” afraid
when it leapt towards me, not away?

Only a lunatic, surely,
could love those churning legs
articulated like a crab’s

but fear the nine-inch birdwing
or the bombycid moth, its furry body
solid as a fat cigar?

Ruth Sharman Ruth Sharman was born in south India and came to live in England when she was six. She read Modern Languages at Cambridge and now lives in Bath, where she works as a French translator. Birth of the Owl Butterflies, her first full-length collection, was published by Picador and her second, Scarlet Tiger, won Templar Poetry’s Straid Collection Award for 2016. She is currently working on a third focusing on two recent trips to India in search of her roots.

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Lindsey Shaw-Miller:Poem

DINNER WITH MIKE AND JAMES (AND THE LIMITS OF DISCLOSURE)

The very cusp of alteration,
you white and faint with it;
we walked beneath rock and cleft,
experienced innocents,
trusting the old ones,
surrendering to the shallows,
to the warmth on head and face.

Retreating then to slumber,
wooden pews,
vaulted space.

At night, though, the wind was wild on the headland.
Long trees bent to its parrying pace.
You clung on, fended only,
by my own dark meandering,
my deepest perceptual scoring.

Young, limber, locks lapping his shoulders,
he opens a gate, a path through the keening trees.
Places his hands on my upper arms,
– mindful, considerate, effective –
‘I’d do anything for you’ –
and with brief, brushed kiss, seals my lips.

A dog barks.
A siren sounds.
It’s unreasonably loud.

Note: Lindsey has supplied the following:  ‘Beautiful Secrets: Poetical Disclosure in the Work of Michael Sweerts (1618–64) was the title of a book I did not publish and the PhD I did not submit. After years of mind-searching, I concluded that some subjects are not served by academic methodologies, and that to plough on trying to explain the complexity of the artist’s life and work based on fragmented documentary evidence, would be to add no meaningful truth to the literature that existed. Lack of proof does not necessarily entail lack of truth, and publishing a story based on the evidence you have, just because you have it, may be the wrong story with the wrong emphases. In leaving certain truths enveloped in his paintings, I felt that Sweerts was complicit.’

Lindsey Shaw-Miller grew up in Derbyshire. Leaving  school at 17, she then worked for ten years on farms. At 30 she read Theology and History of Art at Cambridge. This was followed by a ten-year career in national museums and galleries. Lindsey Shaw-Miller has published one essay on the artist Michael Sweerts in Cambridge and the Study of Netherlandish Art, The Low Countries and the Fens, M.M. Hale (ed.), (Turnhout: Brepols, 2016, pp. 124–135).

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*****

Neil Shepard: Two Poems

LINES WRITTEN AT TYRONE GUTHRIE I
(Tyrone Guthrie Arts Centre, Ireland)

The wind is up: it wipes that placid look right off the face
Of the lake and turns to frowns and wrinkles all content.
Times like this, I’m bent on fame, embarrassed as I am
To say it, and all my equanimity goes slack or turns
To grimaces as the wind comes up: the last flowering
Trees are blown to hell. A bell in the wind signals the start
Of the hell-hound race. My mind makes them lap the track
And howl when only one can win: the rest conspire to eat him.

One angry down draft: ripples start on the far shore and fan out
In vectors violent as a temper tantrum or a Chinese fan
On whose face one reads a hundred years’ war: cherry blossoms
Scattered onto blood trails; a flock of storks disordered in the air,
Buffeted upside and down, tumbling under boot-heels
Of the marching army. Oh, how my mind makes a mess
Of something simple as a springtime gale! You’d think
That reputations were for sale, and not earned the hard way:

Word by word. There is no grace. The wind hurries the clouds
Along at a pace too fast for thunder or the lightning strike.
They’re just wild, like leaderless, spooked stallions or grey-
Hounds who’ve lost the track, the comfortable oval upon
Which their brilliant speed begins to look like art, like smart
Intention, and not some useless burst of energy that blows
The whole pack in a frightful, confused tumble off a cliff,
The wind whirling in their anxious, dying ears: if, if, if, if.

This morning’s world is wild with wind: if we’re not rooted deep
And stiff with a resistance, like trees surviving by the shore,
We’re blown to hell and back before we know it. To bend
Is also useful, and to bow, and to let the wind blow itself
Out through the shaded spaces between our ribs where a clinging
Nest might be. Let the wind blow away, let it bundle its violence,
With no mind at the reins, let it blow over hills and down to the sea.

LINES WRITTEN AT TYRONE GUTHRIE II

Gray weather – a little salt-and-pepper in the beard
Of this sky – but don’t say it out loud because a faux
Sun, pasted on, thinks it’s still shining, though really,
Just in fits and starts, as clouds mass and billow by.
It’s the old story, told again, how six-foot-six Tyrone,
Sixty-five to a day, still sleek in form, to celebrate,
Swam the whole damn lake. They told this story
At his wake. And how his wife, Lady Guthrie, flustered
In her late-fifties, appeared in the dining room one night,
Her New York guests fresh from shopping sprees at Macy’s
In their elegant threads, but Lady Guthrie came down dressed
For bed, a ratty gown she wore “around the house,” as she said,
Though the house was a manse that might have asked for
Evening gowns, but no one frowned at her six-foot frame
Entering the room (like a sleek tree wrapped in moss).
She dined with all the rest and made the most brilliant
Conversation. I have it on the word of an Irish actress
Who attended her cremation. These stories shine
From the fabled past as if they could push the dying
Gloom away and show us how to live with gray. Gray
Weather? I’ll take apocrypha at its word and let them
Rise for an hour and glimmer, weakly, behind the clouds
I’m banking on. They bank in: the gray is almost uniform.

Neil Shepard is an award-winning poet who has published eight books of poetry, as well as essays, book reviews, interviews, and poems in numerous literary magazines, Outside the literary realm, he is a founding member of the poetry and jazz ensemble, PoJazz. ​

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*****

Andrew Shields: Poem

QUARTERS

for Selena Gomezxxxx

He shows her his quarter collection,
xxxxa coin for every state.
She sees herself looking for change
xxxxas a child of eight.

xxxxShe still knows where she could find it:
xxxxxxxxunder the seats in a car,
xxxxbetween the cushions of couches.
xxxxxxxxShe’d never looked very far.

A dollar was only a dream
xxxxshe felt for every time.
She smiled at every rare quarter
xxxxand laughed about each dime.

xxxxShe picked up so many lost pennies
xxxxxxxxand put them in a jar.
xxxxOne morning she counted them out –
xxxxxxxxthey didn’t get her far.

And now he has all of these quarters
xxxxarranged in tidy rows.
And she knows that she never can tell him
xxxxso many things she knows.

xxxxIf she’d known each state had a quarter,
xxxxxxxxshe’d have put them in a jar
xxxxand counted out twelve-fifty.
xxxxxxxxEven that wouldn’t get her far.

Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland. His collection of poems Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong was published by Eyewear in 2015. His band Human Shields released the album Somebody’s Hometown in 2015 and the EP Défense de jouer in 2016. Twitter: @ShieldsAndrew

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*****

John Short: Poem

POEM FOR RODOS

I’d like to relive the days
when I lounged in those bars
near the fragrant Turkish shrine,
watched local women pass,
their dark hair fine as silk
while barrel-bellied fishermen
cursed over ouzo and cards
and the fading amber sun
made harbour wavelets dance.

Drinking in cement-stained
work clothes as evening strollers
gradually acquired an extra head
or body to tease my vision;
sea fish smells drifted inland
and aromas of grilled meat filled
the old town’s cobbled streets
but sadly that was years ago
so what I do is watch grey rain
attack a window pane then
flood the melancholy garden.

John Short studied Religion at Leeds university then spent some years in Europe finally settling for a long period in Greece when his grandfather died and left him a small house. Poems and stories have appeared in many magazines such as Frogmore Papers, Prole, Dream Catcher, Barcelona Ink and Step Away.

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Ian C Smith: Poem

GHOSTS OF SMOKOS PAST

A quiet man who drinks too much, aware of the little ticks of time, fetched up in his own Eden raising his boys while their mother works, organises morning tea with care, heats milk for coffee, using leftovers he dubs ‘special toast’. In a corner of the barn where his boys watch tapes on their TV, picking holes in ruined couches, they respond to his theatrical roar, Smoko, from the back porch, barging inside to the aroma of steaming coffee and spicy toast like a gang of noisy workmen knocking off for a smoke. Smoko indeed.

Before one of those boys starts university he finds a part-time job in a vegetable packing plant, delighted to join the workforce welter like his father as a boy, earn his own money, share worldly talk dodging forklifts, loving slangy rejoinders. On his first morning work ceases abruptly with the foreman’s guttural, Smoko. Our lad laughs at this surprise echo from his earlier boyhood, explaining his amusement to intrigued, tattooed new mates. He relates this to his pleased father before lasting just one week enduring repetitive toil peppered with half-arsed opinions, disappointing his father the way sons often do, then moving on to better things.

The father, those little ticks of time winning, ekes out drab days in a narrow town far from the district that occupies his mind, memory an embroidered cloth: the cavernous, dilapidated barn where parties were once held, the way light pierced its loose boards like a blessing, the shadows that fell late in the day, the whistle of the night train borne on warm air. He still uses the same coffeepot, thinks of the redolence of sun-dried tomatoes’ oil in hot bread, pared down happiness, how he is sensitive to noise, anticipating his son’s calls when the landline’s ring of life jolts him from his couch by the woodstove, disturbing dust, up from his dolorous, incident-soaked dreams like a tonic.

Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Live Encounters, Poetry New Zealand, Southerly, and Two-Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

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*****

Angela Topping: Poem

MY SISTER POSES AS A BEATNIK

That summer my sister chopped her hair,
swapped her pony tail for a bob
exchanged dirndl flounces for slacks and sweater.

The photo fooled her boyfriend into asking
Who’s the hot chick? He drove a Cortina,
ice blue, pale as summer skies.

I was still a tomboy, playing outside
endless days on my trike, or running wild
dress tucked in knickers, skinned knees.

My sandals skirted rubble, as I picked dandelions
on waste ground left from bombed-out houses,
hands stained from muck and jubbly drip.

For a moment, I envied her the sophistication,
but then turned back to dolls and books,
shaking my head over the shallowness of men.

She smoked cigarettes with a long holder,
wore pearls, spoiled her white leather handbag
indenting a CND logo in blue biro.

I carried on being twelve years younger,
that gap between yawning ever wider.
Now I see my future in her face.

Angela Topping is the author of eight full collections of poetry and four pamphlets. She is a former writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library. Her poems have won several prizes and featured on Poetry Please, and in journals including Poetry Review, Magma, The North and The Dark Horse.

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Sydney Whiteside: Two Poems

DIALYSIS

You filled the gaps that summer
with metro rides and museums,
dumplings from the market,
chalk art, park walks, picking plums.
Like the Sumerians devising zero
you made something out of nothing.

But still they were there,
the absences.
They were in the flowerbeds
pocked brown with empty spaces,
places once filled with lavender stalks
and gold-rimmed hostas—
‘a garden is a full-time job, you know’—
but now just soil.

I could hear them in your pillbox
at the end of the week,
the last day or two rattling
as you’d shake the capsules
into the O of a cupped palm
like ritual.

I felt the faltered guilt in your voice
as you’d peek your head back
through the front door to say
‘be back at eight’
then leave for that other place,
leaving silence, questions,
a hollow space.

You’d return with talk
(in kitchen whispers not quiet enough)
of creatinine levels and Kt/V reports.
I knew zeros hid in the crux of a curled
IV line and the mad swoosh of
a fistula in use, but played Scrabble
with you on the living room floor,
sipped mint tea on the steps of the porch—
like we would any other summer—
and pretended not to notice.

MORUS ALBA

Do you remember
when you taught me
the Latin names of
every tree and flower
in your garden
while I traced the ridges
on their leaves—
it was warm for October
in the city, I remember—
then we sat in the
blue shade of the porch
and ate mulberries
till even our wrists
stained indigo?

Sydney Whiteside is from Navarre, Florida, and currently lives in Cardiff. She is in the final year of her English literature degree at Cardiff University and has been writing poetry throughout her time at university. She loves travelling throughout Wales and the UK and hopes to continue publishing her poems in journals and magazines.

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Gareth Writer-Davies: Poem

COWS

I trudge past the smallest megalith in Wales
then back

to trace my finger
along the furrows and curlicues

which could be Latin
or archaic Welsh, for ‘may the Gods go with you’

more likely
the recent cattle have sharpened horns upon the stone

leaving behind
their monoglot scratchings, defecating as they did so

which is no surprise
for we have the absurd idea that nature improved, should be grateful

to be trapped in a field
and enhanced by cruel and unusual masters

we stand stones and dress them in unnatural poses
like we are not hurting

anybody
the cow looks at the stone and goes about its pneumatic business

Gareth Writer-Davies is from Brecon.  He was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize (2014 and 2017) and the Erbacce Prize (2014), commended in the Prole Laureate Competition (2015) and Prole Laureate for 2017,  the Welsh Poetry Competition (2015), and highly Commended in 2017.  His pamphlet Bodies, was published in 2015 by Indigo Dreams and another pamphlet Cry Baby came out 2017. His first full collection, The Lover’s Pinch, (Arenig Press) was published June 2018.

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