Category Archives: Poetry

The High Window: Issue 14 Summer 2019

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The Poets

Daniel Bennett Stephanie Bowgett  • Pam BridgemanArthur BroomfieldPeter Carpenter •  Ken ChampionRenata Connors  • Kathryn DaszkiewiczStephen Devereux Sarah L DixonMatthew DugganAlison MaceRobert FordHelen Ivory •  Peter JarvisSarah JamesWendy KleinMichael LithgowPatrick LodgeMichael McCarthyThomas McCollJessica Mookherjee  • Abegail MorleyStuart PickfordWendy Pratt Lisa ReilyMyra SchneiderR. S. StewartAnthony WattsJ.S. WattsLouise WilfordNoel Williams

 

 

 Previous Poetry

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

*****

Daniel Bennett: Four Poems

THREE SCENT BOTTLES

1

Those were the white days of musk
and paraffin. No one lit the fire.
We spoke of marriages and rogue states
under the graffiti boulevards

where the freshness of ozone
hid itself under rainfall,
and the cemetery waited
beyond a twisted fecus tree.

A Brazilian man tested espresso
with maddening precision,
savouring its balance
of liquorice and chocolate.

The streets grew black as wine.
A man with no teeth
steered us through the barrio,
Madonna on the dashboard, the radio.

Orange pith and leather seats. Here:
scratch against the texture.
The dust under your nail
is juniper and cardamom.

2

Inside the limits of a corner room
we navigated traffic,
the junction of oil and tar
pouring over us as we slept.

The whiff of stinky tobacco
found us by the ocean,
the gummy pine of yellow fences
chased us past the cinema,

while our fathers painted creosote
through spring into summer,
as we set about the streets
of families and brick dust.

The night closed over us,
as we toured lavender, oakmoss,
while sandalwood wafted
through our pangs for incense smoke.

We clasped bergamot in each fist,
the peel hardened to thin wood,
like the dried limes sold
back on Blackstock Road.

3

Inside the city of fallen empires,
we sipped sharp lemon, verbena,
our hands dusted with the pith of lime,
our lives shaken inside a cocktail.

Green wood soaked in copper pans.
The concert reeked of citronella.
By the faded port, the turquoise waters
offered us iodine and fishguts.

At night, the pale buildings took over,
like elves in a fairy tale,
parading the avenues of wild thyme,
offering wedges of fat polenta.

A cannon shell smashed the lintels
of the faded public offices;
faced by the panicked bureaucrats,
we longed for roofs of bright terracotta.

Here, we tried to piece together family,
at the top of the high apartment stairs.
I still hear it. A child crying out
in the stifling cedar of the night.

MIDNIGHT MOVIES

They come in off the street
with the clammy heat of city storms.
Nearly men, chancers, clones,
mostly vile. Clothes smeared

with cocktail cherries, a smell
of pickle brine and cordite.
One thumbnail painted blue,
ponytails, though they’re mostly bald.

The glimmer of a fake horizon
works at their back, day for night,
hotdog flesh, a painted sky
but the stars are only pricks

in a paper screen. You heard
about the chained marmoset:
it choked on popcorn. The accountant
stank of horse. Their suitcase

waits in a hotel reception, stocked
with fake blood, a prosthetic penis,
a real gun. They’ll let you aim
at airplanes and passing traffic

and, bored, call up Little Bruno
ready to perform his parlour trick,
but he’s always gawping at the camera
when he should be looking at the sky.

IN COUNTRY

The border station is flooded by unseasonable rain.
On the cool veranda, we watch workers head to the fields.
It’s fine here as long as you avoid the sun. We drink pink gin
and chuckle over Graham Greene. The heat bears down

like a lover’s skin, an alcoholic’s breath, that sense
of responsibility to the industry in those fields.
The houseboy has an easy smile. I teach the parrot La Cucaracha.
Sometimes culture is only what survives.

Most of the time we wonder why we’re so indefinite
but it sounds good, like an album by Dolly Parton.
I miss home and all of its easy comforts,
and you, of course, and a more reasonable climate.

EARLY INDICATORS OF THE END

On that night, I left my house in the suburbs
and walked the long road into the city.
Lights glittered from the periphery,
and the tumult of a world tearing at itself
echoed like applause. The ancient buildings
gathered indifferently; the Roman road
slipped between them, deft as a knife.
Finally, I arrived at a bombed-out terrace
near a public square. On the sheer wall
a mural offered a vision of life in the city
as it once had been, or had been imagined,
broad and high, in a scale worthy of the sacred.
The bare London planes twisted into the sky
like wires into a battery. The empty benches
of the park lay around me. I stood alone,
like someone who had crossed a desert.
Figures lurched from doorways and alleys,
lovers looked for privacy by the Spanish bar
but I waited through those odd hours,
ready for the destination to be revealed.

Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His poems have been published in numerous places, including Structo, The Manchester Review, and Under The Radar. His chapbook Arboreal Days has recently been published by Red Ceilings Press. He is also the author of the novel All The Dogs. His first full collection will be published by The High Window.

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*****

Stephanie Bowgett: Three Poems

BLAZER

Three weeks it took her, every night after work, to cut down
Granddad’s wedding suit, pinning, tacking, stitching,
ready for the new term; first kid on their street to pass
for the Grammar, she almost burst with pride, couldn’t think
where he got his brains. He knew from the start

it was wrong, too floppy, lapels not sharp enough,
the badge on the pocket fooled no-one. They sneered
stripped it off him, pissed on it, forced it back on, smug
in their belonging, whistled as he ran down the street.
He couldn’t tell her his shame, couldn’t wear it again.

Screwed up and flung into the canal, it twirled slowly
showing off each hand-sewn stitch. He pelted it with stones
sank it, told her he’d lost it playing with his new mates,
didn’t see it go. She got one from the catalogue, stopped
her bingo, cut the fags. He taught her to say, “I love you” in Latin.

TENSION

For a neat edge, I cast on purlwise,
yarn loose over my third and ring fingers
under the pinkie so it runs free.
An even rhythm maintains tension:
too loose and it sags, too tight and I fight
to push my needle through the loop, split
the wool, drop stitches. He watches me.
We sit, not speaking. The steady click, click
ticks off time, knit one, purl one, knit one,
slip one, pass the slipped stitch over, knit one
a spell, a prayer he won’t break the silence,
won’t start. All too soon, he’ll be off again.

I hold it against him, get his measure,
click, start to decrease; begin to shape.

TIES

Grandma crocheted strings
to keep my mittens safe. Sewn
to either end, threaded through
the sleeves of my Robert Hirst gaberdine,
they dangled past my hands. My shadow
was a four-pawed monster. Invincible

She made lots of strings, many more
strings than I had mittens; posted them
to Germany, packets of rainbows
addressed to Miss Stephanie Silver Plimmer.
I loved them, hoarded, knotted, plaited,
sorted by colour, texture, length.

Grandma scoured wool-shop bins for exotica,
made each string different. The best one
sparkled had flecks of real gold, and one,
a knobbly pink yarn had special knots
I worried between thumb and finger,
to hush me to sleep each night.

Each string had a story:
This navy marl’s our Eric’s Sunday jumper;
the cherry-red angora’s from that tammy
of Edie Peedle’s; I got the egg-yolk yellow
for your Teddy’s new trews; Battleship grey,
Gramp’s boring balaclava. Chains from home

and Grandma, her hook at work
on shocking pink nylon, three ply fawn,
chunky angora, flecked double knitting,
fluffy baby blue never stopped
crocheting string after string, keeping
me and my mittens safe.

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

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*****

Pam Bridgeman: Two Poems

WHITE DOG

A Sunday walk from Poggio,
unfamiliar territory,
beyond the wildflower meadows,
of Monte Murano,
our usual trails.

We looked out for the signs,
red and yellow stripes
daubed on random pines,
the trails forking,
petering out,

lizards skittering in the underbrush.
Or snakes?
Then the map making sense again,
the glint of daylight
beyond the echoing gloom.

Then coming on this place.
What was it, this place?
Farm buildings,
but not a farm.
Deserted.

The cow stopped us dead.
Belly up by the barn .
Seething.
Was this place an abattoir?
Why leave behind one cow?

We walked on and through
the miasma.
Thunder rumbled.
And then the sudden rain.
Torrential rain.

We scattered, ran
separate
across a wide clearing,
took shelter under trees.
The rain went on and on.

When the rain stopped
it left the ground steaming
and you did not emerge.
I called your name many times,
quietly at first, then without reserve.

I could hear dogs,
barking crazily
as if at a kill.
And then I saw the white dog
at the far side of the clearing.
And I was calling your name crazily,
feeling the emptiness,
slipping into a world of omens
where a man could be set upon by dogs
and torn to pieces.

I walked down the zigzagging road
and walked back up again,
not knowing what it was
I had to do,
believing, not believing.

But you had found the right path
all the way to the village
left a note on the car
and walked back to find me
stupid with grief.

We drove back to Serra,
quiet in ourselves,
under the dull skies,
in the miracle
of the ordinary.

SEA FRET

In my brother’s garden, early September,
the fat koi gild the surface of the pool,
nudge the underside of lily pads.
In black tableaux, by disheveled beds,
cousins, ill-at-ease, make small talk,
until the shock of the coffin
and the dumb cortege, through veils
of sea fret, unusual this far inland.
Later, we’ll play Count Basie, over and over,
and full of wine, tell his story
until it has such weight and rhythm
it too becomes music.

Pam Bridgeman is a retired teacher of English Literature, living in Cumbria. Her poetry has been published in the anthologies No Holds Barred (The Women’s Press, 1985) and The Nerve (Virago Press, 1998) and in a number of magazines, including iota, Headlock, Pennine Platform, Weyfarers, Cobweb, Smiths Knoll, Fatchance, Tandem, Other Poetry, The Antigonish Review and Mslexia.

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*****

Arthur Broomfield: Poem

OCTOBER EVENING IN CLONREHER

The sky hung high above the silent moon
beyond Venus and Duffin’s Cross.
It was time, before The Archers
and ‘Radio Newsreel’,
to run across the yard
toward the horse field gate,
past the sleeping hens, the hushed ducks,
the munching cow house and hay-filled haggard
teeming with countrified rats and mice,
themselves fulfilling the narrative that made them,
each believing in its particular
subterranean crevice,

to clutch the tingle from the expected,
the cameo appearance of the beet train,
performing its drive-on part
to the chug chug impromptu
of cymbal clashes regulating belches of steam
and hissed acknowledgements of love
to an audience of one,
staged to a backdrop of glittered stars
in Mrs Delaney’s field.

Arthur Broomfield is a poet, short story writer and Beckett Scholar from County Laois, Ireland. Among his publications are The Empty Too : language and philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett [ Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing ]and his poetry collection Cold Coffee at Emo Court   [ Revival Press ]. His poems have been published in journals in Ireland, USA, India and the UK.

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*****

Peter Carpenter: Four Poems

THE OLD WOMAN
after Thom Gunn

Something approaches — she’s not sure
who or what. She tries to sit up straight
in bed, prinks the thin curls of her hair.
Time to study those veins, bulging under
the plastic tag loose round her wrist – to wonder
if ‘opal’ is the right word for their colour.

It makes her think of that ring Pete bought her
for their twenty-fifth, oh, way back. A squeeze
on her hand – mouth’s dry, too parched
for speech. Someone is dead keen to whisk
her away, just in dressing-gown and nightie,
to exit via the lift through the reception area,
to make it to the Skoda before the machine
demands more coins.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWho in heaven’s name is it?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxShe blows
him kiss after kiss, purses cracked lips against
his insistent gentle hand.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxNow, even the darkness,
that long drive home, the cold – even these hold no terror.

DRIVING DOWN FRANCE
for Amanda

In our veteran Skoda Octavia the only air con
is the vent latéral which renders debate
impossible. A sign for Vignobles de Champagne
is seen too late, remaining a trace
of another missed turning – but those turbines,
wow, look at them, you yell, how could anyone
possibly object, they’re beautiful… lost
in the tremor and surf-roar of a Renault van.

There’s a scrunched sun hat in the footrest
and in the glove-compartment our lives
thus far together, mottled with harvest dust —
another shudder of freight leaving us
for dead in its slipstream, before a glimpse
of hay gathered in Wellington Squares.

BILL NIGHY

xxxxxxxxxxxxgets on at Chislehurst, not fazed a jot
by half-drunk flat whites, the rustle of Metros,
smart-phone ring-tones. Knee-length Crombie,
gingham button-down Ben Sherman, designer
cheekbones. Cool, insouciant. ‘Hi there,’ he intones,
chin down. Hither Green, that recycling centre
by the New Den. Hair like straw, nose into
an orange-spined Penguin. ‘Emma’. Chatting now

across a fold-up bike with the skinny hipster – ‘Miss Bates …
you haven’t heard of the row on Box Hill ?…You haven’t lived, man.’
Signals on red outside London Bridge. Now Bill’s a
scarecrow conductor at the Proms. ‘You don’t know
Vera Lynn ? Man, you haven’t lived…’ Across the Thames.
The hiss of automatic doors, ‘There’ll be bluebells over
the white cliffs of Dover’. The whole bloody carriage.
Bill is gleaming, cheeks pipped with two scarlet buds.

TO LEICESTER INFIRMARY

About as ‘accessible’ as Lear’s heartstrings.
Please, explain yourself. Just what gives
with your carpark come visiting time. Cars idle
in neutral back round the Welford Road.

Where is Ward 18, Balmorel Building ?
‘Via the Windsor reception…’ We follow dutifully
your shin-high yellow lines and still end up at A&E,
reversing ambulances all action stations, porters

hoiking trolleys up dimpled ramps. How do you
ever hide them – your true horrors? (Bed-pans,
the stench, your never-ending ‘And-how-are-
we-today?’ constructions.) How is respite given

to those ‘moving on’ through ‘Trauma’? Wash your hands,
you exhort us — use the alcohol-based foam provided
in the dispenser by the slide doors. Fresh off the A6
we traipse up and down your inclines, calculate

poundage, eager for your blessing, inside cursing
ourselves for our easy annoyance. When will the final trip be?

Speak again.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxAh, that’s where you’re coming from. I see.

Peter Carpenter is co-director of Worple Press. He has had seven collections of poetry published, the most recent being Peace Camp from Maquette; another one is due from Two Rivers in 2020.

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*****

Ken Champion: Four Poems

CARPET

Bully boy cousin says it’s twelve by ten
and though he doesn’t want it
I still have to pay him
and we drag it from his loft
down the stairs through the door.

I timidly suggest it’s too big
so he rolls it across the road
demanding the size of my room
razor knife clenched and poised.

He stands as he did when we were six
and I could smell the putty on his hands
as he chopped and shaped a little house
pulling the roof off, pushing it into my face.

A car glides round the corner
and neatly bisects us as we step back.
It’s okay I say, it’s perfect.
The tyre marks exactly match
the chevrons on my Art Deco tea set.

MARX IN THE PARK

He bumps into a bench, jumble of books, papers
under his arms, sits beard on belly, stares at a tree,
found himself in Starbucks an hour ago looking across
to a golden M, people dressed oddly, shouting at things
held to their ears, giving strange money to bargirls,
bitte, wievel kostet, proszę , familiar accents, looks
at a book, frowns, shakes his head, it’s the translation,
No, he didn’t say that, picks up a newspaper, stares
in disbelief at page three, on four a picture of Bush
on his first visit to Asia and somewhere before
Gazza ‘Aza Dazzler two lines that say India
gets a McDonalds – did he not say the state is but
a committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie?

Thinks back to his coffee, gazing out the window,
vehicles flashing past posters my ipod my music
my life smiles, lips shape the words technological
determinism, looks up, pink clad chavs all around him,
aggressive blind eyes, tight pony tails, point at him,
loser, they chant, loser, fuckin’ loser.

REWIND

At dawn I draw the curtains and roll into bed
where I dream till the previous evening
of old trains sucking smoke from the sky
and stopping when the man
lowers his green flag.

During the day my shaver
plants bristles in my chin
and my teeth produce foam
which I remove perfectly with a brush
after backcombing my hair into disarray.

Looking at where I’ve come from
I ease into a classroom
where students ask answers
before I give questions
and make notes before I speak.

And I feel the pain before I see you
silently pass along the corridor
and remember that soon
I will bump out of you again.

ANTHROPOMORTHINY

I once read a poem written by a wall
and how the squeezed mortar felt.
And one from a pond telling how
it was when a child drowned in it,
His mother churning my depths
with his name. And verses
by a hyena. I’m not laughing,
a hyena, I trot, I lope, I slaver.

I’d like to write one about being
a tortoise and what it’s like
to have hares gallop past
and the triumph of just beating one
that started three days earlier.

Or perhaps some stanzas
from the Woolwich ferry
as it diesels across grey water
and dreams of gliding into Rio.

I’m not going to though.
It’s silly.
And anyway I can’t.
I’m a sideboard.

Ken Champion is a poet, writer, novelist and reviewer whose work has appeared in literary journals in the US and extensively in magazines and anthologies in the UK. He has published two poetry pamphlets, three full collections, a volume of short stories, two novellas and four novels.  He  has worked as a signwriter, commercial artist and, until recently, lectured in sociology for 20 years. Of Course, the Yellow Cab, New and Selected Poems was recently published by The High Window.

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*****

Renata Connors : Three Poems

NO ONE

Fog so thick you could have cut it with a knife.
But you didn’t.

You zombied your way through another afternoon.
The tea went cold
and you nowhere.

Enchanted by the air-borne water
you had to grope for signposts
that are lurking at obscured crossroads
so aptly saying nothing,
pointing at nothing…

or was it at you?

A RUSSIAN STORY

In St. Petersburg there’s a park
where melancholy silver birches
stand
brandishing their golden leaves
in late October.
Fading sunrays flicker through them
the pictures
from every single romantic story ever written.
They project
onto the joined hands
of Irina Ivanovna and Pjotr Sergeyevich
who walk there every year
and talk about art and philosophy,
There are shy smiles
and the promise of a kiss in the air.
They keep their hopes hidden.
They fatally misunderstand each other.
The leaves blow away
in the November wind

The end.

ON THE BEACH AT FLOOD TIDE

Isn’t it ironic
how after many bittersweet years of searching
for some arcane knowledge
I can’t even always remember what I thought
half an hour ago?

I stop
and the boats keep coming in.
I watch
the water closing off
the only escape route
for me.

Last night
I listened to the lines you were singing,
they were beautiful.
I didn’t wonder what they meant,
I just sang along.

Renata Connors is a poet and songwriter based in Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear. Her poems were published in webzines, e.g. Ink, Sweat and Tears, ‘The Fat Damsel’, Rat’s Ass Review, Riggwelter. She has performed her poetry and songs at many different venues around the North East. She likes learning and teaching languages. Some of her song lyrics can be found here.

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****

 Kathryn Daszkiewicz: Poem

GINNEL

(i)The Space Between

Ginnel, ennog, alleyway
jetty, jitty, vennel
snicket, tewer, gulley, chare
passage, wynd or gennel?

(ii) Collage

The early sun can’t make it
down the ginnel

that runs north from the main road to
an 80s cul-de-sac. So ice

is ice for longer. Today

the giant pockmark
in the unkempt tarmac
is smoothed by it:
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxa living Braque
all glittering facet
angular prismatic

over haphazard leaves – ivy
torn sycamore

a smattering
of hawthorn.

An installation
courtesy of cold

remnants of autumn
in a shifting frame.

(iii) Rib

The closed-in scent is rank
though has a certain sweetness. Bluebells
are past their chime. Someone has tried

to strip the ivy off a wooden fence,
but, like the torso of an ancient beast,
its leafless ribs cling on. While flat,

and lacking heart
a dream of Eden
lives in each grey bone.

(iv)The Lovers

I come upon them from the south.
Today the scene could be a Tarot card:

a girl and boy who’re crouching face to face,
absorbed. I have to step around them.

Cypress and holly arch in green union
of leaf and branch and twig above their heads

while opportunists – bindweed, snaking ivy –
weave through the failing fence; last autumn’s

leaves lie brown along the sides although it’s nearly Beltane;
nearby, the broken eggshell of a dove.

I do not glance behind, but know the sun
will frame the entrance as it’s moving west.

(v) … and the Wardrobe

Left to themselves bindweed and ivy and their straggly crew
would make short work of tarmac, of weathered timber. Though
every now and then the council intervenes
to strip or spray each straying green,

time is irrelevant. It’s written
in the pink stars of Herb Robert
how that rotting kick board
will soon detach. A tiny leaf turns

as if by magic on spider invisibles
and maybe, through that jigsaw gap,
spanning at least three boards, some children
charmed by Narnia

will find a doorway.

(vi) Silver

All along the fence lean lanky plants
which, by their very stance
(despite dark leaves like elongated hearts)
let it be known they’re weeds.

Their yellow flowers are mean for their size
too pale to pass as gold. And it annoys me that
they don’t quite match an illustration
in my pocket guide, so I can’t name them.

There’s litter on the ground
and a fetid scent of pent-up afternoon
but a night visitor who is long gone
has crossed my path with silver.

(vii) Being Watched

Stalks of honesty
have cashed in purple
for newly minted coin;

sluttish rosebay leans
toward passers-by –
twirls seed into the air;

above my head
cypress and damson
interweave

while a white cat
sails by my feet, slinks up
the left-hand fence

regards me from
the vantage of a shed
through ivy and unnerving

yellow eyes.

(viii) Seventy-seven Steps

Here

my footfalls
have a different energy

shadow and green
create a synergy

and I discover
(numerologically)

that seven stands
for magicality.

Kathryn Daszkiewicz was born in the north east of England but now lives and works in Lincolnshire. She was awarded a writer’s bursary by East Midlands Arts in 2001. In the Dangerous Cloakroom, her first full-length collection, was published by Shoestring in October 2006, her second, Taking Flight followed in 2012 and her latest volume, A Book of Follies, was published in 2017.

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*****

Stephen Devereux: Poem

SOPHIE BRZESKA

I met him in the Bibliotheque Sainte Genevieve
in that great reading room beneath those curving beams
of iron behind the green shade of a reading lamp.
He’d been watching me for days. I saw his dirty hands
grip a pencil as he drew me without my permission.
I didn’t mind but I pretended to, thought him the vision
of an angel with sad dark eyes that had known sin.

We talked and talked. I was far too old for him
but he did not seem to mind. Or notice. I asked to see
his sketchbooks and we walked back slowly to his filthy
room. The Fifth Arrondissement. He laughed at my feeble
attempts to talk about art, said I was far too cerebral.
I had been thinking of killing myself. I had become inert-
a poet with no readers. But no one had seen his art
then, except for me. He said my eyes were pure.
He said I was his beauty à la Baudelaire.

And soon we fell in love. Or love fell on us. But I
could never let him see me undressed. He’d drawn lithe
nudes in his sketch books- lovely, supple, young.
I could never be like them or bear him children.
I was twice his age, nearly. I would be his mother,
his charming, brilliant, loving, poet mother.
But he did not yearn for that. Artists need their boudoir
belles to draw in the bath, on the bed in the nude.

He thought the English wouldn’t let us live in sin so we
said we were homeless orphans- he French and me
A Pole? Me six foot and he but five feet three?
And twice his age. But I hadn’t told him that yet.
Yet they believed us! Or they did not care. I guess
that’s why he joined our names. I’d be his sister,
he my brother, Sophie and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.

But then the deluge came. He wanted me, of course,
called out to me in his dreams of dying in a war.
A letter came from France as I had feared. Not news
of his death. He wished us to marry. And yet he knew
I never would. I wept all day. And all the next night.
Then I wrote back, said how I could never be a wife.
But told him just how it was I loved him. Body and soul.
Before he could reply a bullet pierced his tender brow.
Then nothing. Because I was neither sister nor widow.
They never let me see his corpse, that pale flesh I’d never known.

Stephen Devereux  is a poet, essayist and short story writer who has been published widely in UK, Ireland, Europe, USA and Australia. He as won won or been placed in many competitions, including runner up for the Elmet Trust Ted Hughes Poetry Prize. He has collaborated with the late Felix Dennis, Liz Lochhead, the Mary Evans Picture Library Poems and Pictures blog, the Priestly College Poetry Wall project and the Poems Under Water project.

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*****

Sarah L Dixon: Poem

AND STILL I DON’T KNOW
after Clare Shaw

And still I don’t know
where flying ants find
their wings,
why woodlouse armour
is so soft.
How the valley trees
retain their green
as the heat leaches
colour from the grass.

And still I don’t know
how families of six
make it through a round
of norovorirus
that returns
and returns
stealing sleep, health and logic.
How chilies store so much
heat in an inch
or how their flesh shines
like marble.

And still I don’t know
how to play chess
without sacrificing my pawns
or how a rook moves.
How scoring works in rugby,
the best knot to tie up a boat,
the optimum hook
to catch
stickleback.

And still I don’t know
how fell-runners
don’t fall
or break bones
on uneven earth
or grass-grown stones.
How time passes fast
when you want it to slow
and speeds by
when you’d rather
stand
still.

I still don’t know these things.

Sarah L Dixon is based in Linthwaite and tours as The Quiet Compere. She
has been most recently published in Riggwelter and Domestic Cherry. Her
first book, ‘The sky is cracked’, was released by Half Moon Press in
November 2017 and her book ‘Adding wax patterns to Wednesday’ is due out
with Three Drops Press in late 2018. Sarah’s inspiration comes from being
close to water and adventures with her son, Frank (8).

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*****

Matthew Duggan Poem

THE CITADEL

Metal spikes made from blue glass and silver
unhooked – pierced inside shop entrances when closed
like dystopian fly- traps laid out to deter the homeless;

Shopping mall and arcade are pitched and layered
in stolen quilts, tents, and corners of toy cardboard
where between thin cracks the elevator rests.
A dead blues singer – her rasping tones
filter through corners like light on flash white algae;
Towers in settler red and gold paint a self-portrait of this city,
finger- prints are used to milk tongues in clear digital chloroform.

Outside the diner I see an angel of disparity
walking in green squares – eyes are like a mad bear chained at a circus;
A sign attached around her head that reads…

‘No WIFI, Just Smiles and Good Conversation…….’

A Starbucks beaker swirls in the bleached sun shining of dimes and quarters
where bodies are armed with designer shoes that step over empty cat litter trays;
I look onto a world as a stranger in a very familiar and unequal land –
Enforcement officers dressed in lap-top black – eat chilli-dogs
monitor the latest headcount at Camp Hooverville;
Now let’s move them on – make more space at the Citadel.

Matt Duggan Poems have appeared in The Journal, Ink, Sweat, and Tears, Osiris, Algebra of Owls, The High Window, Black Light Engine Room, Ghost City Review, The Seventh Quarry, in 2015 Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry with his first full collection Dystopia 38.10 and in 2016 won the Into the Void Poetry Prize with his poem ‘Elegy for Magdalene’, Matt has a new collection out called One Million Tiny Cuts published by New York Publishing House http://www.claresongbirdspub.com

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*****

Alison Mace: Four Poems

SKUNK, FOX

A quite indelible stench:
sunny morning, skunk on the interstate
dead on the centre lane, not spread
but as we straddle him with caution
punishing several acres of air anyway
and still humming away at thirty yards
when we return much later.

Later, back on home ground,
fox on the M62 at midnight –
tan flash from the right, in the beam,
then the bang, not loud, then nothing.
Late, and a long day; so forward
till the car checks, sobs to a stop.
Our steps meet in front, before her
sleek torso wedged fast in the grille
and stirring, heaving. Still with us.

‘Awaiting rescue’ we sense a curt convulsion,
shirk it. Glare of the blunt breakdown van
shows her dropped free, stretched, done for.

All through the wet tow home
she keeps pace, streaking along
taut jangling wires from where
we left her, barren at a blow,
cold-shoulder stiffening,
to me here – warm pulsing bulk
that thrusts past eye-sockets,
whams in to cram the whole gulf
of my creaking skull,
lodged here, still with me –
me her loud gleaming predator,
blinding-eyed, fast beyond nature.
The scalding spittle puckers her cheek,
the fire-breath stifles her,
an indelible stink.

SONNETS FOR MY MOTHER

i  Wartime picnic

The gap in the hedge is thorny, but we’re through,
sitting together in long rough grass, a bright
blessing of sunshine everywhere, and you
lying back, laughing, making it all feel right,
forgetting the bombs, your flags across the map,
our house half-full of strangers, and our man
somewhere unknown in Europe. You unwrap
tomatoes, bread – doing the best you can
with home-grown, queued-for, scarce; for me it’s bliss
unbounded, the perfect day. Later I see
how brave you were that morning, and why this
is almost my only unstained memory
of you, of us. How soon it came about
that you stopped laughing, and the sun went out.

ii Coming Closer

Years later, when my neighbour did it too,
with rope and beam in his case, and his son
came in from school and met him staring – Ben,
his charge, his pride, his pal – I came to know
how all-eclipsing pain can be, and how
this was the way of it for her too, when
she threw her handbag down and faced the train
and leapt out of my world. Learn to allow
such pain more pressing than my need of her.

And now I meet her dreaming. She is young,
smiles gently as I’m trying to explain,
‘I’m not a child now – fifty, sixty, more
than you were, mother, ever.’ But my song
flows by her, and we shall not meet again.

TROUBLES

Careless, I let my kit-bag
fall open to her view;
told her what this parcel,
wrapped, taped round securely,
holds, that I’ve had to carry
but hardly notice now.

At that her bag split open,
gaped from top to bottom,
releasing bloody rags,
harsh unsugared pills,
bandages stiff and soiled.

And now we can’t repack them.

Alison Mace’s poems have been appeared in  Artemis and About Larkin, She has won prizes in an international sonnet competition in 2007 (published in the collection Hand Luggage Only), and in Second Light’s competition for a long poem in 2018 (published in ARTEMISpoetry).  Her first full collection is schedule for publication by The High Window.

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*****

Robert Ford: Two Poems

THE LONG DRIVE NORTH

The journey was already many hours old as
we crashed abruptly through the wall of the night,
car headlamps tearing at the seams of darkness.

While your furious hands crushed the clock-face
of the wheel, I drummed at the door panel,
the dashboard – anywhere – gripped by a worry

that our lives will pass too quickly by, end up
nothing more than a footnote of bullet points.
I prayed for you to leave a space somewhere

between the rage and disappointment, a space
for breathing, promised us silently that tomorrow
would be better, would offer more than just

a shifting murmur of outlines and their shadows,
and the horror of ourselves, the over-stuffed
suits we’ve somehow become so comfortable in.

Morning would bring us the ocean. And mountains,
throwing their ancient shapes across the skyline,
leaving us life-sized, making us human again.

REMEMBRANCE DAY

When they silence the radio show at eleven,
leaving empty, unimprinted airwaves to spill

sideways from the set, I’m cupping rosehip tea
in two wounded hands. But there’s no peace.

The crumpled ringing of a ceremonial cannon-shot
slaps around the mile-away harbour,

while in another room, the washing machine
grinds on, water-falling, buttons and zips

drilling at the glass porthole as they circulate.
Children – innocent as wind – shriek outside,

their insensitivity frightening off death, if only
for a moment. Settled in the mug, my over-stewed

brew exhales, wine-like. When I finally drink,
its flood over the ploughed field of my tongue

is fruit-red, blood-warm and unapologetic,
each mouthful a release of winter from its prison.

Robert Ford‘s poetry has appeared in both print and online publications in the UK, US and elsewhere, including The Interpreter’s House, The High Window, Brittle StarButcher’s Dog and San Pedro River Review. More of his work can be found at https://wezzlehead.wordpress.com/

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*****

Helen Ivory: Three Poems

ZOO OF THE ABANDONED CITY

With the biddable and winsome gone
the zoo is a graver place of sharp eyes and fangs.
The small and portable are piqued
they’ve been deserted here,
and funnel spiders have long memories.

Cages were left unlatched
(the keepers were not beasts after all)
so everyone is free to come and go
at their own leisure and, well, peril:
caimans have made Monkey Walk a no-go zone.

Inmates are balanced on their nerves
like high-wire acts within a wide cupola;
are scrappily made effigies of themselves
held out to the rain that leans in
before continuing its rounds.

SLEEP

The city is old.
It pulls furs about itself,
hunkers down and draws archetypes
on the insides of its eyelids with chalk;

a staircase stopping to consider
if it is going up or down;
a bed empty as a ploughed field,
a discarded sheet miming snow.

These days there is nothing
you can say to bestir the city.
No seraphim or hooded minstrel
to pour music through its underground trains.

DUSK

At the amusement arcade
an out-of-date fortune teller
keeps pedalling her cards
inside her electric booth.

Nobody thought to unplug her
so the future is pushed forward
on lavender cards
with a fleur-de-lis motif.

A stranger will call with tidings from afar.
Beware a man in a velvet cloak.
One of the light bulbs is out
casting her left side in shadow.

Helen Ivory’s fourth Bloodaxe collection is Waiting for Bluebeard (May 2013). She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is a tutor for the UEA/NCW creative writing programme. Fool’s World, a collaborative Tarot with Tom de Freston (Gatehouse Press) won the 2016 Saboteur Best Collaborative Work award.  A book of mixed media poems Hear What the Moon Told Me is published by KFS. A chapbook Maps of the Abandoned City is forthcoming from SurVision Press, The Anatomical Venus is due from Bloodaxe in May 2019.

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*****

Sarah James: Three Poems

WOODLAND WALK
Forest of Dean

Oaks and holly, ferns and foxgloves,
the twisted ropes of ivy hearts swinging
like jungle vines – nearly everything
has grown bigger and taller than me,
except the mosses by my feet.

Their light and dark greens soften
stone edges, brighten dead wood,
feather worn tracks, speckle and star,
spike and crust rough surfaces,
like lichen, yet not.

We classify and label moss as plant,
the other fungi/algae. Lichens
make this place of mainly plant and animal
a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’.
But these lichens need the holly to survive,

while bees and flies buzz pollen from stamen
to stigma, and mosses conserve water…
I often miss the intricate details
that hold life together. My father’s stories
return at last to find me.

Tread softly, this forest might release
strange magic: a haunting scent, sudden flowers,
creatures like I’ve never known before.
Even now, somewhere in the undergrowth,
more childhood is hiding. Coming, ready or not!

I listen for secret breathing.

BARK

Forest of Dean

When I touch the oak’s bark,
I want to know the strength
of four hundred years of history,
not track the grooves and ridges as burst
river banks, oceans flowing
thicker than sap through the cracks,
pushing chunks of land further apart.

Light filters, rain patters,
green patterns. Osmosis balances;
cells swell, release oxygen.
Each year new leaves
of what I needxxxxxxto believe
is the story of my children’s children
alive and thriving.

Even at my feet, a sapling’s first growth
alongside darker shades.
Lighter tones unfold
symbols of new life and hope.
But still my palms feel
pain in the ancient bark
as surrounding trees hollow, losing

their tales laid down in rings.
I want to kid myself they’re passing
to a state beyond normal time and aging,
but my fingertips read rough treatment
xxxxxxand the rain
xxxxxxxxxxxxtrickles from my skin
xxxxxxas if afraid

of its own
xxxxxxxxxxxxwet braille,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwarning
xxxxxxat the white softness
of forest roots,
xxxxxxxxxxxxthe splintered flesh
xxxxxxon human bones

& oceans, oceans, oceans / oceans of everything / but time

WEARING REAL MIST

I spray myself into this
as other women do
a tan, perfume, glitter…
glisten with secrecy.

Though the mist clings
to my curves with the soft
thinness of lustrous silk
– forcing the light to kiss it –

this is the only dress
that beguiles the tongue
to lick it, yet defies
too tight a hold.

Taste its summer rain,
essence of mountain dew,
river-dipped valleys… My tremble
is not just his lips’ touch.

As his mouth reaches deeper
and need presses harder,
fear that he’ll start
to see more clearly.

Revealed beneath the mist,
the bones of what I am:
so hollow he could breathe
right through me.

Sarah James is a poet, fiction writer, journalist, photographer and editor, who often lives in her mind but loves being outdoors. Winner of the Overton Poetry Prize 2015, her latest collections include: How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press, 2018) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press), both shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Awards.

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*****

Peter Jarvis: Two Poems

A BRIEF LECTURE ON ELEPHANTS
after Pliny the Elder

To tame a captured elephant, a basinful
of barley juice should do the trick. It will sniff
at it first, with its hand, then venture cautious sips.
Soon it will take to learning useful social skills.

Elephants can be tutored in the shapes of Greek letters.
According to consul Mucianus, one wrote:
“I myself write this to dedicate
all these spoils I helped win from vanquished Celts.”

Drawn by the heady aromas of a banquet,
an elephant will kneel to the host, offering a garland,
then thread its way delicately through the dining room
never upsetting the drinkers or feasting guests.

We all know an elephant can climb up
and down any rope in front of it. Together
four can walk a tightrope, holding a litter
bearing a woman pretending to be in labour.

One tusk is sharper, reserved for fighting.
The other is for digging, for shifting heavy masses.
Hunters pursuing ivory may dig pit-traps,
or pin down with javelins the very soft feet.

Its desire for affection sometimes means
when it encounters a man wandering lost
upon a remote plain, an elephant
with kindness, may even point out the way.

But if it comes across a man’s single footprint,
it will tremble in fear of an ambush
before catching any sight of the man.
Trumpeting, it will stop to pick up this scent.

It does not tread on the footprint but digs it up
and passes it to the elephant behind
which does the same to the one following, until the last.
Then they all wheel about in battle-line.

Should a drinking elephant siphon up a leech,
this may lodge in the windpipe to cause horrific pain.
All elephants are terrified by squealing pigs.
They hate mice most and back away from them in fear.

IMPERIALISING

Tennis their game . . .
Prior to leaving the Butana merkaz
all set for the Abyssinian trip,
his camel loaded with tent and a gallows
he breakfasts with the DC and his wife.

“Now, Charles, you should take this HO manual.
It shows the length of rope required –
depending on the weight of the culprit –
for a satisfactory hanging.

Allow me to show you our tennis court –
cow dung over bricks – the prisoners built it.”
Above their dining table, suspended
over each place drooped a flypaper.

Whilst eating, the two compete to see which paper
collected most flies, scoring as in tennis.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. . . Cricket his
Back in his house – three rooms, verandah
and house of manners with seat and bucket
he ponders: Should I have a cricket net?
Cow dung is packed over pounded clay bricks,

an enclosing fence erected from grass.
The DC was a decent cricketer
and some of the young officers joined in.
An old carpet unfurled sufficed for a mat.

The fielders were prisoners still in leg-irons.
With seeming enthusiasm they dashed about
regardless of duvveltjies – those devil’s thorns
with triple spines stabbing bare legs to the knee.

There was only one bat and when it cracked
“I bound it with the belly-skin of a young crocodile.”

Peter Jarvis was born to an early-settler family and grew up in Southern Rhodesia. After university in South Africa and Scotland he taught in Scotland for 25 years, returning upon retirement to Africa to work as teacher, trainer and adviser for the British Council (Botswana) and VSO (Namibia). In 2015 his pamphlet Nights of a Shining Moon was published by HappenStance. A new collection will be brought out by Red Squirrel Press in 2019. He runs a U3A poetry group.

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*****

Wendy Klein: Four Poems

IN THE KENZI MENARA PALACE

Princesses are born in this place
where we are marooned; royalty
blossoms poolside
in Marks and Sparks beach wraps,
as we await check-in,
watch British heads
bow over tagines
and all-inclusive Moroccan wine.

We sit among potted plants —
a fig tree, touching in its determination,
a sagging palm, its trunk stalwart
in the heart of its drooping branches,
watch as mosaic-tiled tables from breakfast
are lined up regimental-style
against the painted railing —
black wrought-iron filigree;
standing firm, awaiting
another influx of stranded passengers,

while a small dun-coloured bird
pecks at the suggestion of crumbs
before the onslaught of a cleaner,
clad in the hygienic white
of a hospital surgeon, her scarf
of modesty reinforcing
her seriousness of purpose,

though flies are undeterred by a bucket
the same green as the latticed windows,
brimming with disinfectant
and imposing brushes.

Above us a prickly pear stands guard.
Its sabra blossoms bristle
against a grey sky,
a dash of hope against
the long wait predicted by BA:
green tiles, green leaves, iron railings
where a fierce gardener lops off branches
with a horticultural machete.

A DISCERNING FERAL CAT
Marrakesh 2017

In the late evening souk
she didn’t scorn
the scrap of chicken tagine
I flung on the pavement
close to where we sat,
though the shred of fig
stuck to it was browsed
and rejected.

In a different life
she might have been
on her fifth
or even sixth go-round,
and her coat, tortoise-shell,
would’ve shone
as it didn’t today,
just hung
from her skinny frame
like worn calico,

and when she looked up
from the pavement
tonguing away
the last scrap
of her national dish,
she gathered herself up,
began stalking
my sandaled foot
with intent,
licking my big toe,

spiralling her Velcro tongue
round and round
before setting about it
with her still-sharp-teeth,
teaching me.

SYNDICATE OF MOTHERS
Marrakech, 2017

The half-open eyes of sleepy infants
are elfin stars at ground level

as the last lights in the alleys of the souk
are snuffed out for the night.

Veiled mothers settle them under
bright shawls tucked in tight

around their wriggling forms as shopkeepers
sweep up daytime litter, steer brooms

around the strew of bundles and bedrolls,
leave a narrow margin of dust

as if to acknowledge their presence.
The eyes of the mothers are cast down,

while one hand stretches out, palm upward
toward the straggle of evening tourists

stumbling back to their hotels to rest,
or strolling out to eat at the rare venue

where alcohol is served. Are they here
every night I wonder – cast out wives

or widows? No homes to go to, no roofs
to sleep under? The guide book warns

of sham beggars who share their takings
dishonestly, form syndicates, work

for gang-masters. I want to believe
that no willing mother would camp out

in the souk for a syndicate, pay out
to a fierce-eyed hag in a burqa,

a grizzled fence in a Djellaba.
So I grabble for change from my purse,

to scatter meagre coins into dark palms,
but hold back a sticky, crumpled note.

THE WHY OF THE DOWAGER’S HUMP

Walking in the High Atlas,
you plead with me to straighten up – defy
the advance of a dowager’s hump.

I recall recent photos, the tilt forward
I once assured an osteopath was the result
of a long career in psychotherapy –

the leaning in that signalled total listening,
active listening, the skill of tilting forward
just enough to stay in touch,

on task, in the moment, in the room,
on the planet. A woman in a field nearby
is bent almost double under an alfalfa load

the size of a small haystack, humping
it home at a brisk trot to feed her livestock.
I argue that the angle of our posture

is the mark of being grounded, taking the weight,
while staying aware of what’s ahead, what’s below.
Hearing raised voices, she lifts her head as high

as she can under the bulk of her grassy burden,
looks our way, grins – which I see
as clear support for the dowager.

Wendy Kleinwas born in New York, but left the U.S. in 1964 to live in Sweden, and on from there to France, Germany and England where she has lived most of her adult life.  A retired psychotherapist, she is published in many magazines and anthologies and has two collections from Cinnamon Press:  Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013). Her most recent collection is Mood Indigo published by Oversteps (2016). She is currently preparing a volume of her selected poems which will be published by The High Window.

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*****

Michael Lithgow: Three Poems

INDIGNITY OF DESIGN

Have you ever walked around a traffic circle?
An orbit of asphalt turning with cars
and all the frustrations of its drivers. The curbs
are breaking (no one tends pedestrian desires
in these places). Each step down to the road
reminds you of appetites, as if walking into clockwork
of empire long forgotten because it works so well.
Faces of drivers drift by quickly and angrily,
on another plane altogether. It’s hard not to feel
poor walking the curves, a kind of indignity
even if we say it isn’t. One shrinks pacing this wheel,
how small I’ve never tested, but half a circle
takes me down considerably. There’s no joy
in this symbol of infinity. The air is dreary
with achievement. So little for a body and yet
so much humanity. A useful way to pass each other by.

A REVOLUTION AFRAID

There’s a layer of ice over grass I just noticed shoveling
snow away from my house. It’s fool’s work moving water
with a shovel, but I needed to bang at it – hard as dry leather –
long enough for lumps of sod to appear in chunks
tossed across the yard, long enough for the yard to be exposed,
to increase the melt, alter hydrology by speeding up
evaporation at low spots near the house on this side of a small
but significant watershed in my backyard. It’s so boring
I could scream.

What isn’t is the hunger I once had for upheaval,
every tremor of instability attracting me like a moth. Even now,
they often augur beauty, altho’ my angry hacking of a winter lawn
probably makes me the tremor around here. My neighbours
are more like flypaper than winged, doomed vessels of hunger.
But something feels doomed around here, that’s why
I’ve attacked the ice. I can’t shake feelings I used to have about
pounding at the foundations of things looking for a crack,
wanting to see castles in the sky falling. But here my hands get cold,
and I sweat through my clothes if I’m at it too long.
How am I going to stop all this water? Why do I think patterns
furrowed in snow will save anything?

Each night the horizon of black roofed, mid-century bungalows
behind my house sucks the sun down into dusk. When only
half a bright yellow ball is left above the shingles something
extraordinary happens briefly, then this quiet grey light begins
to seep over everything. This time of year it brings the cold back.
Damp skirts of the afternoon’s warmth, freeze. The moonscape
of ice chunks strewn in my yard glows a little in the dimming.
I stand in the kitchen watching darkness drag shadows
evenhandedly around me. The window flushes with the day’s last light,
my bungalow settles. The walls tick. Traffic chuffs faintly
through the insulation. A distant train sends a forgiving shiver
through the dark. A revolution never afraid
of cracked foundations had so little to fight for. And now
I have so much.

DIFFERENT SOUNDS

This house is different from the last. The sun
in morning mist looks pressed under layers of shellac,
and ravens argue across my front lawn like old men
bickering about love. I have settled in a vast forested suburb,
a hamlet where bears rummage the compost at night
and neighbours have heritage names that tether their Subarus
to mythical settlers. But it’s the trees that get to me,
a phantom mob of wood. Not like my last home
where forests were beside the point, and sirens wailed,
and my neighbours’ private agonies and pleasures seeped
through the plaster. Here, the trees are legion with their menacing
silence. Their dense weave means some damn thing
and I wish I knew. I sense roots coiling under everything,
slithering around the foundation, into pipes. I may go crazy
in this half-settled woodland, this coy borough. There’s
so much space to fill, such an insufferable hush.
Like falling from the edge of the world. The soliloquy
of stars. The hectoring sound of irrelevance.

Michael Lithgow’s poetry has appeared in various literary journals including the Literary Review of Canada (LRC), The t/E/m/z Review, Poemeloeon, ARC, Contemporary Verse 2, TNQ and Fiddlehead. His first collection of poetry, Waking in the Tree House, was published by Cormorant Books in 2012, and was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers Federation First Book Award. Work from this collection was included in the 2012 Best Canadian Poetry in English (Tightrope Books). He currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and teaches at Athabasca University

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*****

Patrick Lodge: three poems

THE GREATEST OF THESE
York Minster, Summer 2017

A couple came out of the darkness
under the arch; chatting non-stop,
maybe flirting. The great East Window,
scaffold-free, transfigured in the sun.
Without a pause in the chit-chat,
as if compelled, one raised a phone,
like an oblation, clicked off a shot.
I was dismissive; how could pixels
comprehend the moment she was in;

a stockpiled image was no substitute
for her being there, completed, true,
senses, spirit, soul as one. Then,
the ultimate cliché, a gurning
selfie against the soaring cathedral.
But as she leaned back, the better
to frame gargoyle or saint, balance
was lost and intuitively her escort
steadied her with a hand to the back.

There was the beginning and end of it;
an act of almost sexual choreography
carrying such a sensation of love,
such intimations of profound intimacy,
that all who witnessed must be humbled.
They walked on past my café table,
laughing and arms linked, in step,
so close they must seem to each other
to be holding on to themselves.

AGIOS IOANNIS O MAKRA TALAPORIA
St John the Long-Suffering

It is an Ionian wind
brought by a sky
so blue, so transparent,
that to conjecture cloud
would be an apostasy.
It brings layers
of warm herbs –
oregano, thyme, basil –
the bake of hot sand,
of hot skin, of promise.

It brings Piz Buin too,
from the Greeks
on the adjacent sunbeds
whose classical profiles,
coruscating hair,
heroic poses with Frisbee
and beach bat,
channel the spirit
of this place

better than the Attic
antics on the mini-market
tourist-tat pottery.
Etched in black
on red clay, furtive
sunset shadows
appear to couple (and more)
to the limits of ingenuity,
of flexibility. Racked
promiscuously
on pine shelves,
they are a window to the mythic,
a high-octane romp
of Olympian proportions

but still, they set me dreaming…
whitewashed cubes
hanging off the slope
to the bay, bougainvillea,
a blood spatter of geraniums
around the door,
window frames so many attempts
at blue, as if a painter
with no words,
compulsively sought
to speak of the sea
through them
shimmering heat
making unreliable witness
to everything beyond
these shuttered, cave-dark rooms,
parched by unmoved, imprisoned air
furnished like hermit cells
smelling of sex and sweet resin
almost sacred
cicadas
the serpent hiss
of an old fridge cooling wine,
tangled sheets,
discarded pillows
what shades have exchanged
themselves here
what shades might still…

The wind drops,
the corset heat clamps tight like a glove.
A single bell tolls
from the tower of Agios Ioannis
O Makra Talaiporia.
There may be storms tonight;
there is hope of lightning.

THE VOLTA CINEMATOGRAPH

Another piss into the chamber pot
tinkles its pretty music to eternity
and makes me no richer, no wiser.
Here was the conundrum: Trieste,
full of cinemas; Dublin, not a one,
and me puffed as the first tycoon,
Ireland’s bright cinematographic star.
I owed the sisters something but this work!
Am I a writer or a Mr. Ten Percent?
A ghost of myself? A mere lapwing?
Sandwiched and bored,
between Scylla and Charybdis, I am
a wanderer wandering, a hesitating soul
always seeking out adventures.
Here’s a proverb for our time:
a bicycle shop owner and other foolsheads
do not a picturehouse empire make.
James Joyce is not to be the Dublin mogul,
though a man of genius makes no mistakes.
I’d rather swallow a crab than admit
nothing can be done here,
that once again my city has failed me,
has scarred my heart with its name.
Time for a quick about turn – lead me forward!
Life will become art! I will be a hero!
Chamber music…Chamber music…
Could make a kind of pun on that
diddleiddle addleaddle oodleoodle…

Note: In 1909 James Joyce was involved in setting up and managing the first dedicated cinema in Ireland. The venture followed sister Eva’s comment on the number of cinemas in Trieste compared to the absence of them in Ireland. It never took off and Joyce pulled out quickly from the loss-making venture. The final three lines are broadly Leopold Bloom’s from the ‘Sirens’ episode in Ulysses.

Patrick Lodge  lives in Yorkshire and is of Irish/Welsh heritage. His work has been published widely in the UK and abroad. He is currently working on a sequence commemorating captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. His collections, An Anniversary of Flight (2013) and Shenanigans (2016) both published by Valley His third collection,  Remarkable Occurrences – will soon also be available from Valley Press.

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*****

Michael McCarthy: Two Poems

MORIARTY HALL
Patrick Moriarty: 1805-75. Carlow College: 1817-22.
Founder of Villanova University: 1842. President: 1851-55.

This used to be the billiard room,
Though I was never a billiards man myself.
Acki was the king of the billiard table in our time,
He could score canons or pot the red from every angle.

Villanova was where Ronnie Delaney went to study
And win his gold medal at Melbourne Olympics in 56.
I was eleven. Delaney was my hero, my secret friend.
We trained together, running around the corn field.

We were evenly matched. He’d always let me win.
I never took the next step up. It wasn’t in me.
I could run fast in my head but couldn’t pass it
To my legs. I was no better than I was at billiards.

Years later I read something Delaney said:
‘I wasn’t a graceful runner, but I had these
Extraordinary legs, and when I ran to my best
I was like poetry. In fact I thought I was poetry.’

Thank you Patrick Moriarty for founding Villanova.
(And thanks to Jumbo Elliot who coached Delaney.)
I’m pleased to see this lecture hall dedicated to you.
Billiards doesn’t come near what happens in it now.

THEOLOGY

This used to be the junior chapel, the altar
There at the front where the smart-board is,
Long wooden seats with the kneelers attached
Replaced by these blue chairs with adjustable shelfs.

We gathered here for meditation each morning at 7.00.
I hadn’t much idea what meditation was. They said
It was prayer, but not recited prayers. All I knew
The half hour seemed to go on and on.

Barry Hall they call it now, the Freshers do theology here.
They’re the same age we were, with the same uncertainties.
As they wait for the lecturer they consult their iPhones and chat.
It’s something to do, it beats putting your hands in your pockets

And taking them out again. There were no iPhones then.
Some students had Crystal sets, though they weren’t allowed.
An earpiece with two wires, attach one to the bed frame, earth the other
And, Radio Eireann. You could tell who had them: fellows who knew

The scores as we lined up for Vespers on Sunday night.
The lecturer, low key, sets up the equipment, introduces the class.
He shows us a video clip: Traditional, from Fiddler on the Roof.
We split into groups, discuss the layered meaning of the word.

After the break he slips in another word. Conventional.
Compare and contrast! We’re being led deeper.
Back then theology taught us what to think.
Now it is teaching us how to think.

Michael McCarthy grew up on a farm in West Cork, Ireland. His first poetry collection Birds’ Nests and Other Poems won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, and his latest collection – ‘At the Races’ (Smith/Doorstop, 2009) – was the overall winner of the 2008 Book & Pamphlet Competition and The Healing Station (smith|doorstop, 2015) was chosen as a Book of the Year by Hilary Mantel in the Guardian. He worked as a priest in North Yorkshire. Fr Michael died in July 2018.

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*****

Thomas McColl: Poem

INVISIBLE TWIN

I am a conjoined twin.
My other half is the invisible man.
We’re joined at the hip.
Pretending to lean against an imaginary wall
is my party trick.

In any event, I’m required by law
to make any person I talk to fully aware
that my twin brother is also there, attached to me.
This relates to an apparently blank section
in the Mental Health Act,
which isn’t blank at all
but printed in invisible ink,
invisible to all but specialist lawyers
with their ultraviolet eyes and, as ever, hidden fees.

But despite the fact that, in legal terms,
he’s attached to me
(as opposed to me being attached to him),
it’s my invisible brother
who, relatively speaking, is free.
It’s me, in plain sight, who’s imprisoned –
with all my ‘profiles’, ‘cover pictures’
and ‘featured photos’.

And sometimes I wonder is social media
simply the latest trick being employed
to fool people into thinking
that they’re always going to be visible,
and that, like religion, it’s simply a trap
and, sooner or later, we’ll all be hit by the terrible truth…

…that there really is nothing any of us can do
to avoid the same oblivion
that my invisible twin is forced to face up to
every single day of his life,
right from the moment he wakes up
or, indeed, is woken up,
as he often is, by me, in the morning,
anxiously tapping away on my phone,
already having to embark on yet another daily round
of updating all my social media platforms –
one by one (then over and over again) –
as ever, desperately trying to remain in sight
and, as ever, desperately trying to ignore
the increasingly insistent tapping on my shoulder
from my peeved brother who wants nothing more
than to simply rest in peace.

Thomas McColl lives in London, and his poetry has been published in magazines such as Envoi, Iota, Prole, The Fat Damsel, London Grip and Ink, Sweat and Tears, and in anthologies by Hearing Eye, Eyewear and Shoestring Press. His first full collection, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, was published in 2016 by Listen Softly London Press.

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*****

Jessica Mookherjee ; Two Poems

THE BRIDE

Bulbous and fragmented – there are leaves growing
inside my mirror. Mother keeps two jars of bitter herbs
on her dresser, Penny Royal and Queen Anne’s Lace,
just in case, she says. She saw me awake that night,
her breasts uncovered. Remember when you were a girl,
she whispered, when Jesus came to you that night, told
you to hold him in your hands until you glistened with pearls.
There is nothing left in the mirror, no fear left.
I have disappeared into my cells. For God’s sake eat something!
My mother screams at me while I smile, transfigured.

BARK

When I was a tree, in a forest of infection
I developed a skin disease, the salve
was a concoction of amnion and saliva.

I didn’t want to be touched with injections,
So I armoured myself in a wound,
It cried for sweet things, tears in epidermis,

rips in cuticles, in a bag of saline, so big
it punctured and lies fell out. I fed them
to you bit by bit, with a plastic silver spoon,

I kept glitter in my pockets and polaroids
of the moon and some playing cards for tricks.
I got pretty good at sawing the girl in half,

Chopping off fingers and the one
where you think I’m floating. I was great
at predicting which card you had in your hand

and all the time I was itching to know
how I felt and what was under my skin. I kept
myself locked in the bathroom all morning,

cutting and scraping you back in. I opened
the window and called death in to clear out
the chests of clutter, where I kept the tricks

that I didn’t use, the ones that didn’t work,
the dice, the tarot cards. You patted me and
said everything you learned your whole life,

handed me a box of words, thousands
and thousands and thousands. Cover your skin
with these – you said, choose carefully.

Jessica Mookherjee has been published widely in print and on-line poetry magazines and anthologies including Agenda, Antiphon, Rialto and the North. She was highly commended for best single poem in the Forward Prize 2017. She has authored two pamphlets, Swell (Telltale Press 2016), Joyride(BLeR Press 2017) and her first full collection,Flo od (Cultured Llama). She is working on her second collection.

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*****

Abegail Morley: Three Poems

LAST NIGHT

Nothing happens like winter. Not even
the clock’s slow tick next to your hospital bed
can deaden like snow. Its long, sleek crucifix
hands still drag themselves as if through drifts,
ice’s fog, to carve time’s unsteady voice
in this half-darkened ward, on this sterile night.

I walk into a whirl of flakes, mouth wide as a hole
chipped through ice so I can fish and feed you.
I think I’ve been an Inuit at some time past,
culled a seal, pulled its pelt from shoulder
to cheek just to keep warm. I check on my children,
burrowed in furs, every hour of their waking.

When they’re asleep I still pinch and poke them
with an ungloved forefinger and thumb,
know I love them more than time itself –
know time isn’t forever, that it can melt
any day now and I’ll lose myself in a river of you,
slide behind in slippers of melt water.

You breathe frost on the clock’s face. And it stops.
My veins are blurred with cold, skin just a mist in air.
Is it you who is leaving my touch?
I can’t take my hands from you, though the nurse tugs.
I can’t take the way you are thawing
when I’ve shut the blinds to keep out morning’s light.

THE TRUTH OF MY BIRTH

I can take it, I say, and ghost somewhere in you,
in your depths, or some long unwritten place.

I’m there now, eyes blinking in the strain of light,
tip-toeing through women’s voices

that move across furniture of a soulless sitting-room
and I settle my gaze on one lamp’s light that pitches from

a standard lamp ‒ just because it seems to own
the wood of its stand and knows how to breathe.

She tells me about aspen and oak, talks about hedgerows,
blossom and berries, how in moonlight a hawthorn

might glow as much as the moon herself. I want to shine
like that; slice the spine of me in two, watch how

waters redden as if sap is flowing, slit myself in half, run
like a child skipping cracks down the street.
Run and keep running.

PARTING GIFT

So, you turn up with roses when my body
screams for lilies and I know you knew it.
You jiggled keys in your pocket,
drove the florist mad and she packed them
stem-too-tight-to-stem in her panic.

I take each pock-marked stalk to the sink,
twirl them in cold fingers under the tap;
its flow mesmeric and I commit to heart
the name of each flower you have ever
bought me. I alphabetise them, shift them

syllable by syllable so they bob and dip
in my mouth like a body in an estuary,
fish-picked, know its lips and mouth
are manicured by the sea, snipped free
by its salt, so they can’t talk.

They’re mute as pearls. I plunge stems
underwater, let its slippery grip suck leaves,
tiny fronds I failed to snip. I leave them
gutted, sorted, and you break through
the water’s lip, the glass vase, the front door.

Abegail Morley was named as one of the five British poets to watch in 2017 (Huffington Post). Her most recent collection is The Skin Diary (Nine Arches Press) and her most recent pamphlet is In the Curator’s Hands (Indigo Dreams Publishing).She is co-editor of Against the Grain Press and editor of The Poetry Shed.

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*****

Stuart Pickford: Poem

THE TRAY

In the quiet days after Dad died, Mum asked,
Did your dad ever tell you about his dad?
Grandpa Bryn could smell where the money
was hidden; Nan stashed her housekeeping
under the stair carpet or in her bra.

There was a knocking at the door: three bailiffs
demanding the bedroom suite lost at poker.
That night, Nan and Bryn slept on the floor.
The phrase your dad used was “wall to wall.”
Bryn picked her off one, beat her to the other.

Then did it again. Thing was, he was good
with his hands, made all sorts: that tray
in the kitchen, fruit bowls, a cricket bat.
He smelled of wood. Looking away, it seemed
Mum wasn’t telling the story to me.

He once rang Nan, said if I can come home
by ten in the morning, I’ll change. He surfaced
in Birmingham, remarried. After his stroke,
he couldn’t speak, only sing his favourite,
‘The Gypsy:’ “she knows your heart is full of tears…”

Near the end, we visited. Your dad didn’t want
him to think he’d won. As I stood by his bed,
Bryn looked me up, then down. “At it again?”
your dad said, “you old bugger.” Bryn stared straight
at your father. His snort seemed like a laugh.

That evening, I took Mum tea on her lap.
Later, I cleared her tray and she caught me
in the kitchen, inspecting Bryn’s handiwork.
He’d scribed the joints. The fingers of his dovetails
were silk, though I looked for the glue, the nails.

Stuart Pickford lives in Harrogate and teaches in a local comprehensive school. He is married with three children. His second collection, Swimming with Jellyfish (2016), was published by smith/doorstop.

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*****

Wendy Pratt: Poem

SHARK

and all of us asking
did you start, yet?
Each playground-break we slid
to the loos and checked
our gussets. I touched myself,
checked my fingers,
listened and palpated,
waited. When one girl left French,
limping between the desks,
a staggering martyr to womanhood,
we rolled our eyes. But we longed
for the cramps, the pity, the nurse
and her two aspirin, a cold flannel,
our mothers at the gate, understanding.

When it came, in the school holidays,
a red-bright shock of myself, I was
suddenly strange. The smell
was so strong.
I thought of sharks.

Wendy Pratt is a poet and freelance writer living on the North Yorkshire coast. Her poems have been widely published in magazines and journals and she has won several competitions of note. She is poetry correspondent for Northern Soul and the coastal columnist for Yorkshire Life. Her latest collection is available from Valley Press.

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*****

Lisa Reily: Poem

STRANGENESS AND THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

Turkish music on a rickety bus
filled with toppling bags, old furniture
and three fat ladies in black scarves;
snow on distant mountains, shepherds
among them with their dirty sheep,
and bells that break the silence of winter.

A man sweats beside his peasant wife,
who plucks a loose thread from her seat
and proceeds to floss her teeth; baby
at her ample bosom, the sour sweetness
of her heavy cardigan in the heat;
the man watches over them, thin from life.

Passing cafés and city streets, a goat,
tan-brown, is dragged by its feet,
the sound of its small rear hooves
scraping the concrete behind it;
its startled eyes meet mine
as the farmer offers him for a price.

A white mosque cuts the black sky,
the earth broken by its godly glow;
delivered like an unwanted baby, we step
from our dolmuş into the hit of hail
and rain, salvaged by men in blue uniforms
with sugary tea and only one word of English.

Hope surrendered, we wait in the chill
of night, lost on a platform of unfamiliar faces;
unearthed by a colourful stranger,
a man from Trabzon, whose gold coins
transport us through the rusty turnstile,
whose smile guides us through grimy streets.

Two roosters, dead, thrown at our feet,
baklava and rose loukum at our mouths,
we order glasses of tea, but get cakes,
biscuits and more tea we did not ask for,
from people who have nothing; we stand to pay,
waving hands and money in broken languages,

but we are guests in their country;
they will not accept our money.

Lisa Reily is a former literacy consultant, dance director and teacher from Australia. Her poetry and stories have been published in several journals, such as Panoply, Amaryllis, Riggwelter, River Teeth Journal (Beautiful Things), and Magma. Lisa is currently a full-time budget traveller and her writing is often inspired by her journey. You can find out more about Lisa at lisareily.wordpress.com

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*******

Myra Schneider: Four Poems

RESURGENCE

Four days they take to cut down
and pulp the sycamore they labelled sick,
four days of ladders, of hurling instructions
to roped men chain-sawing upper branches,
of machine-whirr as the chopped body’s ground
to dust.
xxxxxxxxOnce, it was a singing tree for starlings,
now, sliced, it’s flat, a table-top.

A mean wind from Siberia has blown in
and when night lops off day I hurry to the window
to banish weather with a single swish of curtains
but a burst of luminous red in the park
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxarrests me.
The stump’s on fire, its greedy tongues are licking
air – the beauty is shocking. Rough sleepers
seeking warmth, idlers bent on destruction?

A porcupine’s been sprouting from the circle of trunk
but next morning I expect the tree’s remains
to be ash, find it’s only charred
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxand the spines
have grown into a crown of spindly branches
notched with buds which promise green leaves.
I’m so moved by the resolve to live in this world
my heart rises to the sky as if it’s a songbird.

VENICE ON ICE
after Peter Blake, ‘Venice Fantasies’

Look, an architectural feat in ice floating
across the Grand Canal and dreaming itself
as cathedral with those pinnacled towers.

That galleon, its companion, is a mystery too –
the furled sails could be outstretched arms
or seagull wings. Even stranger, the flotilla

behind them: islets peaked with vanilla snow,
a coracle which thinks it’s a white cloud carrying
two cherubs and a raft bearing a bewildered family.

Irresistible, the feast for the eyes on the near bank –
immense icicles descending in beautiful series
of glass organ pipes from the palace balconies.

How bizarre that beyond the ice Venice is bathed
in lemon light the sun’s shed on walls, dome
and legs topped by shorts. Is it simply a dream,

the Arctic invasion into this city idling
the afternoon away beneath the lavish blue
or should the dark galleon be read as a warning?

What has scared the mediaeval figures huddled
on the raft. How can the coracle cherubs
ignore their plight and enjoy each other?

But why dig for meanings? It’s always easy
to see signs of disaster. Why not seize the chance
to enter this otherworld, celebrate extravagance!

THE PRIZE

I’d achieved something momentous – what was it?
Opening the door to language for a man with none,
saving African tigers from extinction, devising

a way to feed the hungry which would go further
than the biblical miracle of feeding five thousand?
Surely it wasn’t winning a medal in the Olympic Games?

There was no sign of the amazing prize but I revelled
In the warmth of satisfaction. An extra award
was on a shelf beside me, a book bound in leather

and though I was in a dim, low-ceilinged place
I opened it, gazed at delicate drawings of gazelles
and hands. The artist’s name was on the tip of my tongue

when I woke up. The light was thin, the room chill
as the problems which dismay us every day,
the prize was out of reach yet the satisfaction

persisted, and the tin of mints I bought yesterday
came into in my mind: the pleasure of lifting
the neat lid, the relief it wasn’t made of plastic,

the rows of white buttons, each ingrained
with flecks of green leaf. No explaining
the bonbon taste in my mouth, a taste unspoilt

by over-sweetening, nor the goldish glow
the lid emitted although I knew it was matt blue,
nor the certainty that my prize was this tin of mints.

SPECTACLES

He hands them to me and even before
I put them I know they won’t dwell
on the mundane. Sure enough the lenses

summon the ambers of sun bars
on autumn lawn, the golds of cider,
molten glass with the glow of honey.

He tips me back and the tooth that’s howled
for days begins to quieten down.
I discover I’m gazing into a luminous eye

perched near my face – its’s hypnotic
as an owl pupil, draws me into a cavern
crammed with a crown jewellery of emeralds,

clusters of diamonds, glinting leafery.
Faraway the quicksilver of Chopin.
Gladness grows, it fills the room.

Afterwards I wonder how the eye freed me
from acute pain, dream it has found
the power to soften the world’s suffering.

Myra Schneider’s tenth full collection, Lifting the Sky, was published by Ward Wood Publishing (2018). Her other full collections are mainly from Enitharmon, most recently, The Door to Colour (2014)). Also recent is the pamphlet Persephone in Finsbury Park, (SLP 2016) Other publications include books about personal writing novels for young people. She’s consultant to the Second Light Network. She tutors for the Poetry School in London and was shortlisted for a Forward Prize in 2007.

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*****

R. S. Stewart: Poem

OBJECTS
A thing of beauty is a joy forever
John Keats

An obvious object
can turn obscure
with a simple stare, an attitude
that asks, perplexed,
what is its function,
why is it here.
In our homes, in our museums
we gaze at objects on the floor,
on the walls, in cupboards and drawers,
soothing our fingers and brains over their fragility,
saying aloud more than whispering
that it is their nearness that we love
and not their loveliness, their strangeness, their obscurity.
We conclude soon that objects include
what we excluded before,
material and matter not evenly seen,
insistent on their own invisibility.
We close a darker eye on obscurity,
opening it again when we think the way is cleared
of objects, the sight and size and shape of them.
Do we desire only the one thing of beauty?
Obscure objects can turn obvious overnight
with a prolonged stare
pure as the object that lures us away
from the sharp look and loss of it.

R. S. Stewart is a native Oregonian who taught English at Christopher Newport College (now University) of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where he also directed two seasons of plays. Among many other journals, Canary, Poetry Salzburg Review, 2 Bridges Review, The Same, Serving House Journal, The Journal (UK), the Avatar Review, PIF Magazine, Ink, Sweat & Tears (UK), Brittle Star (UK), and The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review have published his poems.

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*****

Anthony Watts:: Two Poems

SUBSONG

For Saffron

In their first few months of life young male birds are much looser and more experimental in their singing. This is the sensitive learning period, when new sounds can still be learned. The sounds that come out were once called whisper song, and W.H. Thorpe christened it ‘subsong’ to suggest its role as a stage on life’s way to learning the song that matters.
(from ‘Why Birds Sing’ by David Rothenberg)

Small, insistent creature,
unfledged in the heart’s nest,

your subsong, your whisper song,
fills my head like tinnitus.

Where are you going with this?
What species are you anyway?

Soaring on outspread wings, will you ever
release at last the song that matters?

The buzzard circles with fists full of knives.

POETRY IS

… the fortune stuffed in the old mattress,
xxxxxxxxxxbiding its time (everyone rushing around,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxlooking in all the wrong places).

Poetry is the land beyond the wardrobe. You know very well it’s there –
xxxxxxxxxxyou’ve been there before (you complain to the unyielding wood),
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxlsmall and alone among the heavy coats.

Poetry is the midnight drummer, the bedmate from hell,
xxxxxxxxxxhammering out his rhythms in the dark. You may find in the morning
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxlthe surprise gift of a line.

Poetry is teeth and tongue and lips, acting for once as a team.
xxxxxxxxxxYou are so proud of them –
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxltheir brand new dance of breath.

Poetry is the baby on the doorstep (don’t ask).
xxxxxxxxxxGive it a home, a name.

Anthony Watts has been writing ‘seriously’ for about 40 years. He has won prizes in poetry competitions and had poems published in magazines and anthologies. His latest collection is The Shell-Gatherer, published by Oversteps Books. Rural Somerset has been his home for most of his life and he has no plans to leave it. His main interests are poetry, music, walking and binge thinking – activities whichhe finds can be happily combined.

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*****

J.S. Watts: Poem

LANDMARKINGS
with thanks to Robert Macfarlane

To know a land
you have to walk its miles
place your footsteps inside its own
feel its seasons on your skin
its years marching silently beside you.

To know this land
you have to learn its language
translate its sameness and its change
allow its words to form within you
and be born again within its words.

To be the land
you must surrender to it
lay your bones on its stone and soil
allow yourself to shreep like roke at early dawn
your feetings to melt in new sunlight.

J.S.Watts comes from London, but lives near Cambridge. A poet and novelist, she has written six books: two full poetry collections, Cats and Other Myths and Years Ago You Coloured Me, plus two poetry pamphlets, the multi-award nominated Songs of Steelyard Sue and recently The Submerged Sea. Her two novels, A Darker Moon – dark literary fantasy, and Witchlight – paranormal romance, are published in the US and UK by Vagabondage Press. See www.jswatts.co.uk for further details.

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*****

Louise Wilford : Two Poems

STENCILLING

Years ago. A day school on stencilling walls.
Cheerful chatter coasted the crowded table.
I remember the smell of oily stencil card as we sliced
through its sepia skin; butterfly fragments of gossip and giftwrap,
confetti of magazine pictures we’d used to inspire us
stuck to our fingers, caught on our shoes,
on our breath.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxMy design was a bird, looking back
over its shoulder, listening to something we couldn’t hear.
Spray glue made me feel like Spidergirl; splayed stencil brushes
dabbed on a firework of colours, layers of sea-mist rolling
into each other.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxAnd later, when we moved into our flat,
I stencilled fish on the bathroom wall – swimming
out of corners, slithering into edges, sliding out,
slipping in, darting and diving, a shoal of rippling sparks
of colour, some vivid, others indistinct. They drifted through steam,
like a mermaid’s dream, as we lay in the bath. Everyone
loved those fish.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxI’d given up stencilling
by the time we moved here. The brush sits unused
in a coffee mug, chrysanthemum bristles stained
with carnival colours. My last tin of spray glue has long since
dried up – now I don’t think the joints in my fingers
could handle the craft knife, or my eczema
endure the paint.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxBut that bird is still there,
at the back of the cupboard, colours diffuse as desire,
still looking back over its shoulder, listening to something we can’t hear.

THE MAN WITH THE FISHBONE CROWN

There he is, the man with the fishbone crown,
stinking of blood and sweat, long hair plaited
with henna streaks. That’s wolf-skin round
his neck. This island always was unreal.

He’s sitting on a throne of rock. Can you hear
the honeyed voices sweetening the breeze?
He listens – Ca – Ca – Caliban – his life piled
high against the hillside – spears and spades

and knives. Some left by father all those years
ago, though some are newly-made. He’s kept
them well, smeared their blades with fat
and constant tenderness. Hear him howl

at the white moon! No words. He’s long forgotten
what we taught him. His hair gleams like a cat’s.
Here’s your father, my son. Hog bristle skin
and black-hole eyes, a fish-bone crown

twisted in his shining hair, a smell that meets
you at the door. The witch’s seed, though magic
never stuck to him. Her power passed him by.
They say that’s how it always works.

A skip and a jump. You got his looks at least.
He seems content enough, spitting into the fire,
ripping the flesh from a boar’s bone. His black
eyes roam the shadows. Slip back between

the trees, boy. Still and silent, that’s the way.
You wouldn’t want to draw those eyes to you.

Yorkshirewoman, Louise Wilford, is a teacher and writer who has had around 100 poems and stories published in magazines including Agenda, Acumen, Dreamcatcher, The Stinging Fly, Southword, OWP, Lyonesse, Orbis, Pushing Out The Boat, Tears In The Fence, and Popshots. She is currently working on a fantasy novel.

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Noel Williams: Two Poems

ABSOLUTION

Although you never jack-knifed in the Cam,
collided with a concrete bus-stop,
plucked letters from a postbox, shoplifted
Aeschylus, broke into a stranger’s caravan
at 2 a.m. or pitched a raincoat bivouac
upon a roundabout within the moat of the A41;

although you never dented a vow,
raged at the unjust cumulo-nimbus,
never crawled to a god
you didn’t believe in, let inertia
smother friendship, abandoned any child,
whined at the nit-picking of the wind;
although you say, you don’t understand,

you do. You’ve lifted this heavy pen,
cradled the conundrum of
what else to give. You’ve cross-stitched

forgiveness, nudged every planet
into an easier configuration. You’ve
created out of nothing, life,
raked dead coals from the fire grate,
laid a soft rug out on a winter night.

MARCH

This is the month of starting again
as if rain hitting the asphalt
where sycamores used to be
will break open tar and grit,
and water become seeds.
The month of noticing, for the first time
what has always been there:
the green of the bay tree against
rags of broken roses, the scent
of new earth dragged into the house,
this woman at the foot of the stairs.

Noel Williams lives in Sheffield, UK. He’s the author of Out of Breath (Cinnamon, 2014) and Point Me at the Stars (Indigo Dreams, 2017). He’s published quite widely. He’s co-editor of Antiphon (antiphon.org.uk), Associate Editor for Orbis (www.orbisjournal.com), reviewer for The North and Envoi and an occasional writing mentor.

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