William Bedford • P.W. Bridgman • Ion Corcos • Matt Duggan • Robert Etty • Kathy Gee • Geraldine Green • Oz Hardwick • Ian Heffernan • Keith Hutson • Karen Leeder • Paul McDonald • Beth McDonough • Sean McDowell • Jude Cowan Montague • Jan Napier • Tim O’Leary • Gillian Prew • Lesley Quayle • Sue Spiers • Matthew Sweeney • Christina Thatcher • Sunita Thind • Iain Twiddy • Jean Watkins • Rodney Wood • Martin Zarrop
William Bedford: Three Poems
‘I would climb up on to the roof. Why Not? Grandfather used to climb up there too.’
I spent my childhood devouring horizons,
seeing angels in the pattern of a carpet,
spring rain waltzing the hessian curtains.
My mother said I was like my grandfather,
warning me of the hunger hiding in colours,
the graveyards at the end of rainbows.
My grandfather never talked of rainbows,
feared the ghosts dancing in graveyards.
He was the synagogue’s favourite cantor,
with a voice melancholy as a Moscow choir,
eyes seeing history in a Cossack’s spurs.
I could paint my brothers and sisters,
cousins and neighbours sullen with envy.
I could imagine my mother’s sorrows,
my father burned down like a used candle.
But my grandfather climbed higher,
seeking warmth and comfort by his chimney,
eating carrots and inventing dreams,
watching the red shadows on the horizon.
THE DEAD MAN 1908
‘I was wakened well before dawn by the sobs of a woman running down the street, calling on the neighbours to help save her dying husband. She was afraid to stay alone with him. It was others who calmly lit the candles in the silence and began to pray aloud over the dying man’s head.’
Her crying woke me before the cockerel’s cry,
like a wind sobbing among blackened leaves.
She was flying wildly from the dark’s eyes,
screaming to the neighbours to help her man,
her dying man, spluttering out like a tired candle.
She was afraid to stay and watch him dying.
Preferred the yellowish-green of the sky.
Who knows the dybbuks accompanying death,
grinning as the emptying body stiffens,
eager to shuffle off in a dead man’s shoes?
So her dying husband was dying alone
while she wept and danced in the blank street,
flinging her distress against our windows.
It was neighbours who calmly lit the candles,
put the shekels on his closed eyes.
They say there was a smile on his clenched lips.
They say he was glad to be up and gone.
I have sat with the dying and seen their smile.
God’s smile, the holy men of the village say.
Love, the gossips whisper. His cry for freedom.
‘My youngest brother was seeing the light of the world.’
Why is the house full of dybbuks and demons,
black-shrouded figures dimming the light,
gossips and swindlers from the watchful town?
A butcher shushes the eager crowd. He tells me:
your brother is seeing the light of the world.
I see a strange woman stretched on her bed:
my mother, half-naked, drenched in sweat,
her swollen breasts seeking a mouth.
The sheets are stained with red.
I see how the red of the stained canopy
heightens her pain. My heart stops at such words.
But my brush moves on. There is a story to tell:
the wise-woman holding the new-born baby,
the herdsmen standing round like shepherds,
the shuffling, whispering awe of the neighbours.
Then suddenly, the piercing cry of a baby.
I can see all this as you can see all this,
but the man crouching beneath the bed
is my bearded father, and the watchers
are farmers and butchers and shopkeepers,
and the old man leading a cow is our cantor,
the singer who owes my father a week’s work.
In a birth, the village sees its own future:
a pink baby boy then a cheder schoolroom;
a neighbour’s daughter and a first kiss;
a white-haired figure on tomorrow’s horizon.
I too see a drama that’s been acted before.
But I make notes, and then I turn away.
I wake in the night to a voice screaming.
In the morning, I must go on with my drawing.
William Bedford‘s poetry has appeared Agenda, The Dark Horse, The Frogmore Papers, Encounter, The Interpreter’s House, The John Clare Society Journal, London Magazine, The Malahat Review, The New Statesman, Poetry Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Tablet, Temenos, The Warwick Review, The Washington Times and many others. Red Squirrel Press published The Fen Dancing in March 2014 and The Bread Horse in October 2015. He won first prize in the 2014 London Magazine International Poetry Competition.
P.W. Bridgman: Poem
STILL LIFE, WITH TRACES OF MOVEMENT:
ST. JOHN’S WOOD, 1931
A midnight branch scraping at the window;
an enormous pitcher and bowl on the washstand.
The priest in a hard chair, crossing and uncrossing his legs.
The rest of us on our feet.
The counterpane’s dark brocade brooding against a stained white sheet;
Great Auntie’s hands held low, fingers laced together as at a lieder recital.
A shaft of moonlight angling in, its zigzag pattern of silver light
crossing the foot of Great Uncle’s bed, the fraying carpet, the toe of the doctor’s boot.
The priest crossing and uncrossing his legs again,
his breviary mutterings barely audible.
The dull flicker of the coal fire, glinting off the horse’s head
atop Great Uncle’s mahogany walking stick leaning idle against the wall.
The blue, sulphurous flash of a match as the doctor lights his pipe;
jaggy shadows cast by his eyebrows dancing on his forehead.
Great Auntie standing next to me. The gentle rise and fall of her bosom;
her nasal breathing, the thin, recurrent whistling sound it makes.
Great Uncle’s craggy profile at the head of the bed, his eyes and mouth open wide.
I dare not look:
XXXX Fearing the tattered sound of his next cough and the newly startled exclamation
XXXX it inevitably will provoke from Great Auntie: “Mother of God!”
XXXX Fearing the sight of tiny droplets of blood slowly descending afresh—
XXXX a rosy mist settling onto the starched white sheet beneath his chin.
XXXX Fearing most the vague skein of thin silver filaments that,
XXXX more sensed than seen, will soon rise up and out of him and,
XX XXafter pausing briefly, drift heavenward (as Mother’s did)
XX Xwhile the priest, distracted, continues to cross and uncross his legs,
XXXX muttering into his breviary.
P.W. Bridgman writes poetry and short fiction from Vancouver, Canada. His work has been published in The Honest Ulsterman, The Glasgow Review of Books, Ars Medica, The Moth Magazine, Poetry Salzburg Review, Litro UK, Litro NY, Praxis, PiF Magazine, Grain, Ascent Aspirations, The Antigonish Review, The New Orphic Review, Easy Street, London Grip, A New Ulster, Section 8 Magazine, Mulberry Fork Review, Aerodrome and other literary periodicals and e-zines. You may learn more about P.W. Bridgman by visiting his website at www.pwbridgman.ca.
Ion Corcos: Four Poems:
The blue of a stone,
like the cobalt stoplight inside the bus
when I was young,
the ceiling of the Greek church in Rose Bay,
the green sea.
The stone is not heavy;
its blue always shifting like the sky.
Nothing is permanent.
When I was young I thought red
was my favourite colour, but I was never sure;
I didn’t know how to choose,
what I would say about myself
when asked who I was. Now, I say
I don’t have keys anymore.
Brown bear cub
taken from its mother;
its mother shot,
left to die.
Nose pierced with a ring,
threaded with chain,
to yank it hard,
to train the cub; it sits in dirt,
It will never see the ocean,
never walk into salt,
its mother again.
Brown bear cub
on its hind legs,
paws on a hot metal plate;
it shuffles, dances
to the song of a tambourine.
its nose bruised,
to the song of a tambourine.
never to live in a forest,
never to see the ocean,
never to see its mother again.
You are fading away
into the bones that hold you up,
that will soon turn frail, and not hold you.
I hear your last roar,
your dying growl,
and why things are as they are.
You are a woman who has stopped eating
for thirty years,
who cannot find a doctor
who sees through what you tell them.
You are a woman
who gathers men who cannot help,
men who let you fall
into your shadow,
as they become obese and unmoved,
because they cannot
help a sick woman. Can no one else see
that everything starts with dying,
your dying, thirty years ago?
Can no one see
the death you started, even though
it began before you knew,
when men touched you,
and you went wild?
A jackal lurks
behind you, waits for you
and your frail bones.
How do these men not know, not see
your face, feel your death?
How has no one helped
in all these years? Is your heart still whole,
or is it broken, like mine
when I hear your news, hear that
you are dying, and that you cannot see
why, that you cannot see
all those years you starved yourself
It is misty through the open door,
sparse trees empty, but
for winter nests. You mutter about,
the morning drifting off
with the high clouds. Yesterday
we saw herring gulls, a raven
on a stone covered with seaweed;
the tide goes out fast, like your energy,
and you fall. Blue shells scatter
over stones, left behind like guilt;
the distance a mud flat
full of spotted birds. The tide will come in,
draw back; it will be full of fog,
my mind, your talk;
we will be on the train again, soon;
we will talk, together.
Ion Corcos has been published in Grey Sparrow Journal, Clear Poetry, Communion, The High Window and other journals. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Ion is a nature lover and a supporter of animal rights. He is currently travelling indefinitely with his partner, Lisa. Ion’s website is http://www.ioncorcos.wordpress.com and he tweets at @IonCorcos
Matt Duggan: Two Poems
Never would we see through the wood of truth
hear the guarded secrets of the whispering worms;
the ashes of documents held in black vaults
becoming the eyes to a pendulum of silenced voices.
They dropped madness into a glass of water
wanting to direct the arrows that pulled our strings,
when you feed the mad even more madness
only secrecy in locked rooms would remain.
A guardian of secrets can kiss a fool in front of a god
reveal to the cupbearer the midnight that the sirens forgot to sing,
change the colour and texture of the sea for one day,
make fierce dragons come to life in twinned rooms with mirrors.
We see the damage it’s done on the surface
never see inside or beneath the carnage it unleashed,
the men with black hats who had fingers like camera straps
would distract our focus from the main decisions of the day.
Once our dollar and pound became the gold stitching
in our pockets with coins made from petroleum
now the stitching is unthreaded and the fields a black pocket left bare
replaced with the rattle of red bullets these metals to the economy of repetitive wars.
If we were to show you from the moments you wake
the daily prompts of ideological strategies
immersed in the dust that cakes the western lung,
you might catch the face that’s hidden in the cracks of splintered wood.
SHINY OBSOLETE SILVER OBJECTS
We are distracted magpies made of skin and metal
slowly building our own prisons brick by brick
absorbed inside the world of a small black case,
that wields our knowledge and power.
We fly between truth and lie a bird without a final destination;
our calling for the silver that detracts us is the lighting glint
in a city is more powerful than the empathy inside our being;
We collect shiny obsolete silver objects replacing them every other year
Our behaviour is engineered as is our desensitised response
to blood soaked image
to go out and buy more useless shiny goods.
We are distracted magpies made of skin and metal,
slowly building our own prisons brick by brick.
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
Robert Etty: Poem
LIKEWISE WITH FRANK
Frank hasn’t time to elaborate
and I haven’t time to respond, so I tell him,
‘Likewise,’ which probably isn’t adequate,
but days don’t last long, and listening attentively’s
quite demanding, even when a speaker
contrives to hit the right phrase smack between
the eyes when the listener’s tuned in
and not waiting tongue primed with words on its tip
that the optimum moment for’s passed.
Frank hasn’t time to hear me explain
or to warn me against the idea of a poem
on the theme of mutual unspokenness
that might have the most brassy of brass necks
to pass itself off (if a poem at all)
as a thing of truth for a reader to ponder
over and say, ‘Mmm, likewise, a hundred per cent,’
and email it to their contact list,
so I’m taking the warning for granted.
Skill in apparently understanding
something language is stumbling over
measures the kind of relationship
that relationships are measured by,
which is why ‘likewise’ is such a fine healer
of rifts that still cling at a point of contact,
and why I first borrowed it from Frank,
who understood (or apparently did)
why he shouldn’t show he was flattered.
Apparent relationships often don’t last,
but mine with Frank has, in the manner of people
who met about twenty-four years ago
but don’t know each other from Sitting Bull,
and laugh and say, ‘That’s what I call common sense,’
and share opinions they like the sound of
on subjects they’ll need to Google later,
and wish they had other friends they don’t know
to say ‘likewise’ to when it’s time to be going.
Robert Etty lives in Lincolnshire. His latest collection is Passing the Story Down the Line, published by Shoestring Press in 2017. He is a member of Nunsthorpe Poetry Group, which meets in Cleethorpes.
Kathy Gee: Three Poems
I MARRIED THE MOON
I love a circling god, a fairground showman,
shines his magic lantern through the dark:
illusion, romance, mayhem, fade to darkness.
Then he turns his face towards my door.
A slender version of himself, he bows
a greeting, takes a chunk of cheese with pickle,
polishes my skin to shades of pewter.
As the nights grow bright his body spreads
across my bed, as warm as clotted cream.
I always knew what I was taking on.
This, my ever-changing mirror.
This, my song, my rock.
VENUS IN FRONT OF THE MIRROR
Her head inclines towards a looking glass.
I know she’s watching me – reflected eyes
stare into mine who might be lover, painter,
critic. She can’t see herself as I do,
from behind, and I can’t weigh her breasts
and belly, out of sight and out of fashion
now that sex is thin. I pause to relish
flesh, commune across the ornate frame.
Her wealthy buttocks balance on red velvet.
Cleft and dimples lead to ample curves,
a hip caress, a waist which bears no trace
of corset. Brush strokes line her quilted spine.
She whispers ‘Be like me, you know you want to.
Be a goddess – plump, seductive, lush.’
AS THE BLACK DOG SLEEPS
Reclaiming life in three dimensions,
xxxxxxshe finds that each tomorrow fills
with promise, half-forgotten light
xxxxxxas clear and sharp as lemons.
She’s back in love with escalators,
xxxxxxthirty seconds rest on a busy day,
the way her sister throws a laugh
xxxxxxas doors fly open to the sea.
She loves the smell of vinegar on chips,
xxxxxxa promenade, an empty bench,
how surf advancing onto shingle
xxxxxxdrives the clutter from her head.
She loves her open sandals, feet
xxxxxxdew-drenched on marram grass,
her wind-rough, sanded skin,
xxxxxxthe roll of lotion over burn.
She tilts her black-bowed hat. She even
xxxxxxlaughs at blind-side seagulls
nipping prawns from mayonnaise.
xxxxxxShe loves how thunder rolls away.
Kathy Gee studied history and archaeology and turned this into a career in heritage and leadership coaching. She wrote on the local history of South Devon and Cornwall, but only started writing poetry in 2011. She now lives in Worcestershire, UK. Widely published online and on paper, in 2016 her small collection was published by V. Press http://vpresspoetry.blogspot.co.uk/p/book-of-bones.html and she wrote the spoken word elements for a contemporary choral piece – http://suiteforthefallensoldier.com/ .
Geraldine Green: Poem
I gave her the deep greened heart of Savoy,
curled, crinkled, its outer leaves milk-veined.
She gave me the swede, thick-skinned,
purple, its flesh sweet orange, its taste, earthy
I gave her the sweetheart, tender, open
dulce cor recalling the legend of New Abbey
She gave me neeped fog, raw and rising
from stubbled fields of Norfolk’d November.
She offered me dreams served up
on platters, chipped and broken. I
offered her the blue green of
January King, brushes of purple
dapples of turquoise. She offered me
the knife to carve a Jack o’ Lantern
to place on the stoop –
stop the dead from returning.
I offered her my bed so she
could sleep in safety, goose-
feathered pillows to give flight
to her dreams.
She gave me swedes to feed ewes homed
on February fellsides, to nourish the unborn.
Geraldine Green has two full collections: The Other Side of the Bridge and Salt Road, both published by Indigo Dreams Publishing, and four pamphlet collections. Her work has been widely anthologised in the UK and US, and translated into Bulgarian and Rumanian. In 2011 she gained a PhD in Creative Writing Poetry from Lancaster University. Her third full collection, Passing Through, will be published in 2018 by Indigo Dreams Pubs.
Oz Hardwick: Four Poems
Cop cars sleep in the drowned city, dreaming of open roads. They huddle at blackspots, stoplights, all-night diners where the only customers are coelacanths who remember the good times but forget where they’ve gone. Blue lights sway like partners in a dance marathon, ready to drop, and nobody’s noticed that the band left hours – maybe days – ago. We drift through a world we know from TV documentaries and fantasy movies, with effects by Ray Harryhausen and a voiceover by David Attenborough: it’s not how we imagined our 15 minutes of fame, but we wait for the searchlight to pick us out, listen to the sirens waking.
TRÈS RICHES HEURES
Fields grow secrets, a crop of misunderstandings, emerald in their prime. The rails bisect the neat nap, the plunging babble, each careful landscape an impersonation of itself. There are plants that never find light: I once met an artist at a bus stop who told me about the mycelium mesh, stretched like a safety net to stop us falling into the Earth’s core. Since then, my every step has been a tentative exploration of slack, invisible lines slung between the forgotten and the unpredictable. To my right, labourers with scythes gather for the harvest: to my left, metal detectorists spread out to sweep stubble, in search of war or religion, while the train pushes on like a young deer breasting wheat, day-dazzled and alive.
The cupboard under the stairs was stacked with cans and Cold War memories: beans heaped in cartons, a dozen a time, spam and sardines with rusted keys. Corned beef and dried milk, pies and peanuts, all piled in the darkness. Behind them, Royal Game soup left over from Christmas hampers, cling peaches and custard from Sunday lunches, Double Diamond and Red Barrel, Jackpots and Party Sevens from teenage parties. There were a couple of cans containing underwear; novelty gifts, though the joke had worn off before they were opened. When the call came, I curled myself into the card and metal nest, recalling drills and emergency procedures; ducking, covering, painting windows white. And I thought of my father’s steadying words, but couldn’t quite summon his voice; only the chatter of ghost radios, cut wires, canned laughter.
Logs are still piled from last winter. When the sun strokes them, they appear to blaze, appear to bleed. It’s so quiet that you can hear the dust settling, the cat dreaming, the rain butt gathering itself to become ice. The yard breathes the memory of dogs, the handprints on worn tools. The sky reflects the light of newspapers spread in mothballed drawers, and our shadows smell of seasoned doors.
Oz Hardwick is a York-based writer, photographer, music journalist, and occasional musician, based. His work has been published and performed internationally in and on diverse media: books, journals, record covers, programmes, fabric, with music, with film, and with nothing but a slightly West Country-tinged voice. He has published six poetry collections, most recently The House of Ghosts and Mirrors (Valley Press, 2017). Oz is also Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University. http://www.ozhardwick.co.uk
Ian Heffernan: Two Poems
THROUGH THE GLASS AGAIN
Alice went through the looking-glass again
But this time in a much more violent way –
It shattered to a wilderness of shards
To leave her on all fours without her band;
And standing up she found no chessboard scene,
No flowers that could talk, no portly twins,
No Humpty Dumpty heading for his fall;
Only three overlapping adult worlds –
A world of words that wince and shy away,
Complexities of eyes, trust unrepaid
And friends’ receding coughs; then one of screams
In disused rooms where phthisic criminals
Instruct the innocent to bow their heads;
Then, money laid like darkness on the land,
The slow consistencies of home and work
And lives that taper to a hollow belch.
No waking in an armchair this time though;
For her no going back, no going back.
I’m washing my hands of myself.
I’m throwing off the wry deceits,
Half-certainties, half-doubts and flaws
That interlace to form a life.
So let the ‘faith-drunk rump’ recite
Their clumsy angelus; I failed
To find the love I never sought.
I know the fault was mine alone.
I must go deeper into light and stone.
Ian Heffernan grew up just outside London, where he still lives. He graduated from UCL and SOAS. He works with the homeless.
Keith Hutson: Two Poems
i.m. Richard Burbage 1568-1619
Hit me again! I love it. Let me rise,
then beat me back. Make it my fault: a plague
of tortured Moors, Macbeths, Hamlets and Lears
on me! The drop, from deity to knave,
so steep my stomach, crown get left behind;
that rocket ride designed to crash; the hope,
fear, hate on board, the sorrow: I was born
for this. Bi-polar fortune on a loop.
So dig me up, cast me in plays about
the brief but great your killjoys denigrate
and bury. Hancocks. Larkins. Bests. Relight
my fire to fight and lose for them: I’ll take
success and turn it sour, to entertain
the lucky dull, the smug. Hit me again!
i.m. Charles Olden 1905-1977
As Wigan’s Own Musician-Raconteur
Charles Olden, ten years in, had got nowhere:
even the Krusty Krab cancelled on him.
So he reversed his surname and became
Nedlo, Gypsy Fiddler! and the rest
is history. Out went the formal dress –
winged collar, dicky, cummerbund – in came
a red bandana, buckles; Beethoven
was ditched for jigs, flat anecdote for cheek,
which got him lots of sex as well, despite
his weight. Try it – identify what’s wrong
and turn it back to front. Treat all you’ve known,
held sacrosanct, with utter disrespect
and we may take you seriously yet.
THE HARD STUFF
i.m. Joseph Frank ‘Buster’ Keaton 1895-1966
Not played with, till his parents tipped him up,
arse over tit, at six: The Human Mop!
Jesus! This kid could save the act! A gift
for keeping rigid as his head was dipped
into the bucket wrung possessive pride
– a new-born soppiness for what they’d made –
from two who, in the dock as child-abusers,
stripped their asset to reveal no bruises
and the rest we know: once on his feet,
Buster tumbled to success, got wet
a lot, which may be why his greatest trick,
he said, was crawling from a bottle, more dead
than alive … I sweated myself dry, instead
of drowning, an old soak, like father had.
i.m. Beth ‘Flotsam’ Jones c.1830
We knew it wasn’t true she’d been thrown
overboard One hundred years ago!
by Blackbeard’s crew, off Blister Bay. You can’t drown,
spend a breathless century Three leagues below!
then, washed up, tasting air again, look
such a catch. Gentlemen, King Neptune took
me. Satiated now, he’s tossed me back.
She plied this bilge beneath a dark green
spotlight, half-abandoned by a dress cut
from a net; fine-boned and woebegone, eel-thin,
sea-urchin-chic; undrinkable – Taste it –
saltwater coating her, a silver shine,
skin-lick … Oh yes, Beth spun a see-through yarn,
but raging thirst damped our derision down.
Keith Hutson has written for Coronation Street and many well-known comedians. His debut poetry pamphlet, ‘Routines’, was published in 2016 by Poetry Salzburg, where he is now a member of the editorial board. His latest pamphlet, ‘Troupers’, published by smith doorstop, is a 2018 Laureate’s Choice publication. His debut full collection, ‘Baldwin’s Catholic Geese’ will be published in February 2019 by Bloodaxe.
Karen Leeder: Three Poems
Not the quick, dark girls, all angles and answers,
who can pick a man clean with their clever hands;
nor the white wives, in floral skirts and blond
to the soul, who phone like seals in their sleep;
but the pair I saw for a moment, sudden and shed
as the leaves I hoard about the house for years,
in make-shift presses, patient books, and which
surprise me sometimes, searching for something else,
when they’re given up to the day again as ghosts.
Like that they came from nowhere: emanation
of the place, or of a better self, shock of wick and flame;
pale, thin-wristed wraiths, inclining to each another,
fusing by degrees, but unaware of how they were,
implicit with themselves, as though a spark had gone
between them, fired a halo of their souls and left them
burning: the aftermath of something holy, a trick
of rain and light, that might imprint itself upon a page,
like love, perhaps, but not like blood, never blood.
AFTER THAT IT WAS OPHELIA
the one the river would not keep,
the one who slipped in late beside me
as I slept, left a slick of grease and weed,
the reek of tide-mud on the sheets.
By then she was in her element, I guess,
though I’d lost the plot, later heard she’d
tried her hand at Macbeth, a stab at Juliet,
ad-libbing with a mouth of glass, but careless
or hopeful, had left the crack of a window.
In my dreams I’ve always seen her
winging it: felt the rush of air, coat
bloated like a sail, a shock of hair,
seen her treading space with just a pause
to steal the scene and plenty more besides.
But since I’m the one telling the story,
only one of us will survive.
WHY I TURNED AROUND
Because I felt her tugging at my sleeve,
one pale dream stepped forward from the dead
that huddled in the darkness hoping to leave,
awkward suitcases and hats like refugees.
Because my hairs bristled as the air raced
through the tunnels and I was a thief
caught empty-handed at the gate.
And because, if I’m honest,
though I’m never one to lose my head,
my mouth and ears were already filling
with water, the slime of the river bed,
language was already leaving
me, the babble rising in my lungs.
Because I was walking into myth
and didn’t want to get it wrong.
Because she never asked.
Because she never asked.
Karen Leeder is an academic and translator of contemporary German poetry into English and leads the project ‘Mediating Modern Poetry’ (mmp.mml.ox.ac.uk). Her translations have won numerous prizes and appeared in MPT, PN Review, Poetry and The High Window. She has recently started submitting some of her own work and has had poems published in various magazines and anthologies, including, most recently, Under the Radar and Brittle Star.
Paul McDonald: Four Poems
THE ANATOMY LESSON OF DR NICHOLAS TULP
(After the painting by Rembrandt)
They save autopsies for winter
when canals are silver rectangles of ice,
stench trapped by blinding cold.
Indoors a book stands open at the feet
of a cadaver, a narrative of gore.
A frozen moment frames the willing seven,
the spectacle, a prone two yards carved of chilly lard.
No one asks his name, or even sees a face,
the pallid skin of undissected parts.
All eyes are on the shredded limb, its vivid worms:
flexor carpi radialis, extensor digitorum.
Whispered Latin makes it worse than true.
Nerves are held as tendons strain
like fiddle strings against a bow of steel,
testing elasticity for fun.
Behold the puppet’s fingers:
how God can have them make a fist,
or open like a flower, bestowing gifts of nothing.
VENUS AT HER MIRROR
(After the painting by Velázquez)
You rinse your hair from blonde to brown,
and what do Mars and Vulcan do?
Mistake you for a peasant
shedding clothes for cash.
No need for jewels, expensive oils,
swathes of scented myrtle;
still they dream its fragrance,
through the restless hours.
I like this human version,
watch you from behind,
preening in the mirror Cupid holds;
you watch me watch: your naked shape
repeated in the satin sheets and drapery,
lines that tongue the length of you.
I’m mortal too, understand your vanity,
the ribbon loose across the glass
our veil from such distractions,
spur for moistened lips, palms, fingertips.
Blindfold, I’ll re-robe you with caresses,
the bliss that blushing skin confesses.
LES DEMOISELLES D’AVIGNON
(After the painting by Picasso)
When the dancing began
musk rose slowly like charmed snakes
on brothel afternoons, heat folding women
into shapes you might not recognise as human.
No music, just slaps of callused soles
on dusty floorboards, a dance to
the gong of your arrival.
Flames of female Africa, Iberia,
seventh veil afloat about the five of them,
one blue eye regarding you.
Some reach for shoulder blades, elbows high
like women scratching itches:
one wears her face behind her head.
Prism limbs, burnt sienna skin,
kaleidoscope of women formed of fish fins,
autumn leaves spiraling on thermals,
unconcerned with all but your
accelerating heart, the coiling mists of art.
(After the painting by Edward Hopper)
Sadness is best experienced in bedrooms:
outdoors there’s too much freedom.
It should be nurtured by the daylight:
night is too forgetful, like a mattress,
sprung to reshape itself forever.
Sadness should slide you from the bed to the floor,
naked from the waist down, shaming you.
Be sure to have a clock fully wound,
chimes to mock your tears,
loud ticks to break against your hunched shoulders.
Slumped beside the bed’s wooden frame,
sadness will illuminate things you rarely notice:
a hand held fast between your clamped thighs,
young white skin, so beautiful and perfect;
be struck by the pointlessness of this,
and every other fact of ruined days and nights,
here where the scent of sadness stays:
you’ll dream and wake to it forever.
Paul McDonald is Course Leader for Creative Writing at the University of Wolverhampton. He is the author of several novels, critical books, and has poetry collections with Flarestack, Cinnamon Press, and Indigo Dreams Press. His poems and stories have won prizes and been shortlisted in numerous competitions including the Ottakars/Faber and Faber Poetry Competition, The John Clare Poetry Prize, The Sentinel Prize, Bedford International Writing Competition, the Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize, and the Bridport Prize.
Beth McDonough: Two Poems
YOU’D BETTER STOP WRITING ABOUT POPPIES
Why bother? Burns warned you
of all those pleasures, already spread.
As did every hymning artist.
After three day’s rain
they’re pretty spent. Alas.
But if anything
can manage acceptably smashed
slightly shambolic glamour
a stylish morning after –
surely poppies do?
All translucent silks, backed
by that quiet, silvery-hairy band –
they still give it Blondie.
OK, a bit collapsed to earth
but watch those heads
Bill Gibb on, all slattern
pouts, their punky-thick mascara
run. Kohl bled on red.
Those purple hearts hold tight
in wait to pepper decadence
to big them up?
A RIDDLE OF STRANGE STATES VII PERHAPS
For whole nights, you haunted, hunted my spirit
to steal hopes, stall thoughts constrict my dreams.
Once, I wanted to take your wicked shape
as if your skin and style could seem my own.
Briefly, I became your bones
your pulse, your power your purpose and heart.
But you have no heart, so when I meant to move for you
I could not be your breath nor could I share your soul.
You cramped me in, you chafed my skin cut into my every limb
rubbered out, wronged all I recognised at sea.
I swam trapped in my own sarcophagus.
Beth McDonough has a background in Silversmithing and teaching. Recently Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts, her work is published in Agenda, Causeway, Poetry Salzburg Review and elsewhere, and her reviews in DURA. Handfast (with Ruth Aylett) explores parallels in family experiences of autism and dementia. Currently much of her work is concerned with swimming through the Firth of Tay’s winter.
Sean McDowell: Three Poems
for Jeanne Zychowicz
It smells of worms and straw,
the duck egg she fishes from the chain-linked pen
my uncle built beside her studio.
It is tarnished, too—
not the creamy white of stationary
or salt or store-bought eggs
but the everyday dun
of sand on fine-grained sandpaper,
a thing still close to ground.
She taps it with a spoon
so lightly she coaxes a hairline crack
around the middle,
then splits the shell in two,
each half a cup a small girl might use
to ply her doll with tea.
Next, she passes the yolk
from cup to cup like a jellyfish
jostled at the waterline.
The jagged eggshells
shave off more whites
with each pass
until only the spongy round
remains—orange, slippery, whole,
ready for use.
So it might have been
in quattrocento Italy as Old Masters
before the advent
of oils. But we are in Toledo, Ohio,
the old Polish neighborhood,
in the backyard of the house
my great-grandmother gave her granddaughter
because a home should have roots.
Her studio door is open.
The trellis creaks under the weight
of breezes through grape leaves.
Yolk in a halfshell,
she wets the bristles of a medium brush,
bleeds excess water
against the lip of a jar,
and pierces the membrane with the tip.
She will color away
all hints of duck
from this rich base with dabs
of Payne’s Grey, Prussian
Blue, Burnt Sienna,
Cadmium Yellow, Evergreen – pigments
for a New England lighthouse
fresh in memory:
tapered white tower, rocky coastline,
exploding in foam
against crags of tan quartzite,
sea gulls like kites above.
She swirls a circle
of yolk onto the center of her palette,
then trails in a little blue,
a little white, a little grey.
Her colors cream together.
She lifts her brush.
A sky needs
painting. A wave must crash
before our eyes.
HOMEMADE WINE ON 4TH OF JULY
Fireworks downtown above anchored boats
And crowds clotting both sides of the Maumee.
Cracks of gunfire, cannon shots, thudding booms,
Pops and blooms of flamed confetti,
Ring forts of false daylight drizzling
Into darkness above rooftops miles away.
And closer? A world-weary watchfulness.
Ducks murmuring uneasily in their pen,
Lone howls of neighborhood dogs sounding
The shoals of city streets. Stray cats and rats
Hiding under steps, porches and hedges,
Eyes everywhere yet nowhere to be seen.
Whether it was before or after you
Brought out the jug of plum wine you made,
I can’t say. But you told tales from books by
Ruth Montgomery, metempsychosis,
The souls of dear ones sky-dancing together
In murmurations lasting whole lifetimes.
And I drank your wine, sweet and syrupy,
Like a communion from out of nowhere,
Yet directly from a shelf in your mudroom,
At home here, at night, where we were shadows
In the shadow of a trellis heaped with vines,
Our faces unseen, our talk full of pauses.
Whispers from the trenches of eternity.
Or just stories. The trellis swing creaked.
Pale light flickered on the neighbor’s white wall.
The distant crackling built to a frenzy,
Then ceased. Silence in the yard. All things end.
Must they? Your cigarette flared one last time.
Speak again of lives passing, and to come.
MY AUNT SKETCHING
She hated making portraits but couldn’t resist the cat,
XXXXXsprawled and squint-eyed in a grid of sunlight
on the faux marble counter. Air flowing in was feather-light
XXXX against our skin. So was the touch of her tip.
She recalled the old exercise: never lift
XXXXXthe pen, fashion the whole through one
continuous line. Even on the back of an envelope,
XXXXX the only scrap on-hand, she couldn’t stop until
all the furrows of personality aligned into whatever
XXXXX likeness could be had in blue ballpoint.
Not even the cat’s whiskers stymied her. She merely
XXXXX backtracked, hardly thickening the line. Then,
she wound inward, bunched the line gatherings,
XXXXX filled the white space with what looked like fur.
Sure, slow migration of her hand. Steady
XXXXXslope of the shaft between thumb and finger. Silky,
faint scritch of the point doing its work. Simple
XXXXX pleasures of a lazy doodle one long afternoon.
Scents of oregano, rosemary and thyme
XXXXX waft in from the garden. I want to hold
this moment, keep my pen moving,
XXXXX from margin to margin, down, down
down across thirty years of page toward
XXXXXthe spider-silk sheen of the tortoise shell face.
Sean H. McDowell teaches as an associate professor of English and creative writing at Seattle University, where he also directs the University Honors Program and leads an annual writers’ workshop for students traveling to Ireland. Previous poems of his have appeared in The Lyric, Scintilla, Fragments, The Vine Leaves Literary Journal, The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2014, and Clover, a literary rag. In addition, he has published numerous essays in academic journals and edited collections and serves as the editor of the John Donne Journal: Studies in the Age of Donne.
Jude Cowan Montague: Two Poems
ACCORDION IN ATTINA
CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST
Christmas is never coming unless we play the zampogna
in Luigi Ciccini’s. A whole sheep is the bellows, a hat on the drone
to mute and muffle. Slabs of steak and racks of sausages,
home recipe, and his mother’s ricotta. Matt (Scott) and I,
clutching the book of local tunes, enter. Good morning,
we’re going to play you a song, again. Sing how Jesus
was born once, not very far from you. How his mother
doted on him and sang special lullabies, the great piercing
huge mutton pipes accompanying Mary. Matt’s fizzharmonica
flisps and putters, pogs and jutters for the smiliest, friendliest
warmhearted butcher. It can’t be two years since I came to your farm
and stood locked in your shed, flies flipping right up my nose,
sketching curious pigs and the queen sheep in a blue collar;
she outlives her flock as she leads them along the best paths.
LOVE AND JUSTICE
People have to know.
Our suffering is their suffering.
I do this not for myself, but because I must.
You understand my heart is broken beyond repair.
Even if I will only hurt myself
I still tell everyone in the street.
that if you came back, I would always know
that you would leave me again.
I have been alone since my mother
left me outside in the rain.
I sat in the courtyard for two hours.
sneezing, but I stayed because I had nowhere to go.
Try that way, I was told. And now I am lost
and anyone who follows me gets lost too.
You think I was crazy, don’t you.
Yes, is the only answer.
This is only poetry, like the verse I wrote
as I sat in the kitchen with a glass of steaming milk,
after I came inside having I made my point.
I wanted to be special. But you
you, you don’t care.
I stamp my feet and clench my fists
while you watch birds having a bath
listening to their wings in rapture.
Society has fallen
down the cracks of your tongue,
tasteless, and I’m over, so over your mouth,
more restless than Jericho’s black bullet.
Jude Cowan Montague worked for Reuters Television Archive for ten years. Her album The Leidenfrost Effect (Folkwit Records 2015) reimagines quirky stories from the Reuters Life! feed. She produces ‘The News Agents’ on Resonance 104.4 FM. Her most recent book is The Originals (Hesterglock Press, 2017 and her poems have been published in Rialto, Under the Radar, Offcourse, Menacing Hedge, Revival, Ink Sweat and Tears, Sandspout, Crannog, Moth, Dawntreader and Oxford Magazine.
Jan Napier: Poem
Below my window streetlights string yellow beads
along avenues threaded by potholes a casual gull
wing tips wind rumble and beep of orange street
sweeper roughs away the hush drizzle stipples
walls and roofs into Seurat beery heroes
in hoodies slur down alleys a junkie’s moon
backlights whores too cold to trick and across the bay
xxxstones of melancholy set in platinum
and silver the bridge clean lines lonely with water
xxxsteel grace of cranes skylining city towers
of glass and chrome empty within. Coffee forgotten
xxxI watch a shooting star sear air glacial
as last words flung before the door banged behind you
xxxpull down the blind.
Jan Napier is a Western Australian poet. Her work has been showcased
In The High Window, plus other journals and anthologies both within
Australia and overseas. Jan’s first collection Thylacine was launched in 2015.
Tim O’Leary: Poem
With the draught of my arrival
after these ten years
scent of hyacinth zephyrs
down the hall to fade in the kitchen’s reek
of Jeyes and badly-Duraglitted silver.
Her life has moved downstairs
with the vase of shrivelling daffodils
and the empty pill-dispenser
on the side by the sink where
expectorated cornflakes harden
next to Colgate smears, Camay lumps
and blue, disintegrating Wonderloaf.
She never had fame, tending
against difference, demonstrable
believer, week in week out,
in her accommodating god
even as she feigns to lose her will,
white bone beckoning red flame.
Nothing is hidden now,
There are no tatters of the veil she wore.
Under an alcove the tortuous
tick of her retirement clock conducts
the constant ‘What!’
and the commentary on what is not echoes
around the sweating breeze-block walls
those post-war tricks of utility
tokens of a self-built,
lost on the offspring’s dreams.
But — the scattered are re-seeding
here and whether out of duty, etiquette,
or a need to care, they return to sing her praises
at farewell and hello, thrilling her with something
hugging the weathered bone-pouch,
the plaintiff limbs a touchstone still
not letting arms pass through.
Tim O’Leary is a photographer and former archaeologist from London. His first poems appeared in 2010, since when he has been shortlisted in several competitions including Live Canon, Munster Lit Fest, Poetry on the Lake and Strokestown. The poem ‘Sea of Jazz’, an homage to Eliot, won the Wild Atlantic Words competition in Cork in 2015. His work has appeared in Poetry Salzburg Review, inksweatandtears, andotherpoems and numerous anthologies including the tribute to Hildegard of Bingen.
Gillian Prew: Three Poems
POEM FROM THE EDGE OF DISQUIET
and while the cloud assumes a bird printing
the sky with a swallow I inhale the land
until I am green-lunged have bright insides
have roots and reeds my old wounds without
gravity my arms two flesh stems in the blinter
the wind skirling inside them like calf ghosts
and the rain sudden a tearing gulp
these days are deaf
all close-up snow, my eyelids fixing
back to the dead water, mid-January
two flung plovers amid a ruby stain
two white wing-beats along the shore
a widow and a wild ruin of a swan
even in this holy loch
where war once swam beneath like whales
in the the owl-light/ the mouse-light
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxflight upon flight
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxu n r a v e l l i n g
beneath a cloud of trees
xxxxxout for the night in her red coat
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxand bursting with babies
finds a fox-sized hole in her heart
her cubs not yet closing it
her brush not brushing it away
coming upon a small ruin of a crow/ a needle-bone
hooking a battered black fan/ a wormhole
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxfor an eye/ a rush of weather
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxa veil of rain
xxxxxxxxxxxlessening the half-light
xxxxxxxxxxxinto one tiny chrysalis of light
and the wind
at first whispering
is becoming all mouthy
xxxxso that fur and feathers are objecting
xxxxas if the world is ending
Gillian Prew’s chapbook, Disconnections, can be purchased from erbacce-press (2011) and another chapbook, In the Broken Things, published by Virgogray Press (2011). Her collection, Throats Full of Graves, has been published in 2013 by Lapwing Publications. A further collection, A Wound’s Sound, was released from Oneiros Books in 2014. Her latest chapbook, Three Colours Grief, was published by erbacce-press in 2016. She has been twice short-listed for the erbacce-prize and twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Lesley Quayle : Four poems
that driving back through Bradford might alleviate
the pain. Its dialects of stone and slate, a slab sky
steamed open on a spout of sunlight.
the narratives of ‘mucky oyl’ and soot stained mills,
like teeth gone bad, would sabotage that other,
keener hurt, remind me why
it would be fine to leave my greener bailiwick
of fells and sheep, hay meadows,
black skies wheeled with stars,
there’s not enough bairns’ tea in all the world
to comfort and my heart’s a blade in my chest.
Back, south, through Bradford
to dissolve the ache, like copper pennies
in Coke. But it’s maudlin beneath my skin,
overwhelming affection – protective.
to unpick all the echoes, bridge both
hemispheres – oasis/inner city, National Park or
I truly thought, that driving back through Bradford
might alleviate the pain.
THE RED-HAIRED BOY
sat down beside me, ill at ease,
weighed down by rucksack, folders,
a heavy waterproofed embrace of papers,
safe from the teeming rain outside.
Sat down beside me, a pencil in his teeth,
and rocked – forwards, backwards,
our shared bench lurching like a carriage
on a cobbled track –
he rocked, a silent testimony of distress,
his agitation palpable. On the stage
a poet ended a dark sojourn into verse,
eyes downcast, chin on chest,
a flock of hands to applaud him home.
The red haired boy unwrapped his folders,
opened one, began to scribble, a furious
burning scrawl – illegible,
eating up the page like acid,
eyes screwed thin, lickspittle harnessed
to a sneer. Scabs fruited on his knuckles,
fat and ripe, nails blue-black blisters.
He scribbled till another poet stood upon
the church-hall stage. The red haired boy
packed up his words, careful to replace them
in their rain-proof scabbard, leaned back and rocked.
MEETING MY ESTRANGED GRANDFATHER ON THE TRAIN
I recognised you.
On a train that smelled of jumble sales,
the mouldering clamp of 80’s disco nights,
whiffs of sweat, spent glamour, cheap perfume,
you brought your old man fag-and-whisky
pungence to my carriage and set it down
like a sacrament.
I stared out the window
at your back and forth reflected
glances from me to her – this new,
ex-mistress-not-my-grandma wife –
your silent movie conversation
a rhythmic blur of blinks and cues,
semaphore from the last chance saloon.
I had thought you were dead. Not the dead
imposed by your sons and daughter, a banishment,
a terrible unmentioning, all baggage sealed
and padlocked not to be undone – but deceased,
one for Old Nick, for the Bad Fires. Yet there you were,
grumbling about arthritic knees in your old man’s voice,
a dry wind rattling husks of wheat.
You tried to unmask me, wondering aloud
about your son, my father, who still bore
scars from boot tacks and the buckle of your belt
forty years after you choked and thrashed him
for being ‘too clever,’ a grammar school scholarship
no use to you, who vowed the brick works
ambition enough for a council house brat.
Into a tunnel
and your ghost face possessed the window,
a gauzy imprint over mine, a familial likeness
spread over our mutual flesh like sheets of frayed linen,
your providence marked in my face – from your son.
Back into light, you stood to go, unsteady, skeletal,
a broken reed on the arm of your wife.
Anger squats in your bones,
from cocoons of doubt
till we lay eyes on it,
are sure of it,
the dreadful imago –
its season come again.
You deny the dead-eyed dog
which sits like stone
at your threshold,
instead you cultivate wasps,
have need of their flick-knife
unpredictability. We’re trapped
in a lift with them,
up and down until
we’re raw and spent.
Strangers inhabit your words,
honest brokers you say,
without an agenda – then
you stamp on our castles,
kick sand in our eyes,
hold a loaded pistol
to your head and say
that Russian roulette
feels more authentic.
You pull out our hearts,
and cry ‘surprise.’
Lesley Quayle is a widely published, prizewinning poet, editor and a folk/blues singer. Her work has appeared in print and online in magazines such as The Rialto, The North, The Interpreter’s House, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Angle, The Lake, Riggwelter and Strix among others. She has a pamphlet: Songs For Lesser Gods ( erbacce) and a collection: Sessions (Indigo Dreams) and is currently working on a pamphlet, due out later this year.
Sue Spiers: Two Poems
Richard MacDonald Sculptures at the Bellagio, Las Vegas
The near naked performer’s body
is like none I’ve ever touched.
Its musculature is stand-out;
anatomy beyond biceps,
defined deltoids and quadriceps.
One foot is planted for balance,
one foot is pointed elegance.
The arms stretch broadly,
curve upwards in supplication.
The head is bowed, nestling
one of three balls at the nape,
another at the fingertips,
the third about to launch
into the arc of juggling.
The gallery is full of them;
artistes with wild cheekbones
in impossible positions.
posed in hoops, on high-wire –
balletic, energetic, stretched,
contorted. The weight of clay
flying, leaping, teetering;
bronze turned into elves,
capable of magic, enigmatic.
In photographs, their stories
show the hours set in one stance,
the sculptor hard at work,
both barely resting — to capture
the moment an audience
audibly catches breath.
Peeling off sweat-stained leotards,
faces cleansed of greasepaint,
the clowns and tightrope walkers
saunter home in jeans and t-shirts.
47 RECREATION LANE
‘Dressing gowns and gas masks!’
Mum had strapped on her callipers,
raked us girls out of the shared bed.
Karin and me dug our feet into school shoes,
I felt down the bed for the satchels
but we couldn’t rouse Gwen.
The siren hollered and we had to leave her
but covered her head to toe in winter coats.
I grazed my elbow tripping over laces
down the stairs, out through the kitchen,
the tin bath clattering the back door,
rattling past granddad’s carrots and spuds.
The sound changed to a doodlebug hum
that made mum shove us in the shelter.
She crushed our hands with her cook’s grip.
Karin began to cry, she needed a wee
and she wanted her dolly and she was cold.
We all flinched and ducked at the roar.
We trailed behind mum after the all-clear,
saw the backlit silhouette of the house.
Wardens were dousing the crater in the rec.
We picked a path over broken glass,
pickle jars and shattered crockery
and crept up the stairs.
Gwen’s body was covered in window,
under shredded black-out curtains,
coats and counterpane; at peace, snoring.
Sue Spiers lives and works in Hampshire. She is SIG Sec for British Mensa poetry and treasurer for the Winchester Poetry Festival and gained a BA (Lit) with the Open University. Sue’s poems have appeared in Acumen, Dream Catcher, The Interpreter’s House and South, online with Little MS and Ink Sweat and Tears, and in the Bloodaxe anthology Hallelujah for 50ft Women and the Paper Swans Press Anthology Best of British. Her first collection is called Jiggle Sac.
Matthew Sweeney: Two Prose Poems
I’m not a doctor. I have an old friend in Berlin who is one, and I’m friendly with my own doctor in Donegal, but I’m a writer. Not of much use to society, really. Yet one night when I was walking back home down Boulevard de Clichy, en route to Rue des Martyrs, I was accosted by a young woman who put her arm through mine and asked if I was a doctor. ‘Certainly not’, I said, I’m very sorry.’
I appraised her. She was tall, and not especially pretty. Was slightly dark-skinned, clearly of North African extraction, and not too made-up. She was well enough dressed.
‘Yes, you are a doctor’, she said, switching to English. ‘I’d know one from a single glance. Come home with me.’
‘I might come to see you, after you’ve found a doctor.’
‘You’re funny, you are. I’ve met others like you, but you’re the best. Come, let’s go.’
I was mildly intrigued, that’s the only way I can explain it, but I allowed myself to be led away. I was not remotely interested in her sexually, or that’s what I told myself. Her English was unusually good for a Parisian, and it didn’t sound American, so I suspected she’d spent time in Britain.
We came to a street called Rue Darcet, just after Place de Clichy, where we went upstairs to a squalid little apartment. It was hardly an apartment, more a bedsit. I was surprised, however, to see three reproductions of what seemed to be portraits of eminent doctors hanging on her wall.
She opened a bottle of quite a decent burgundy, and offered me a cigar, which I declined. Undeterred, she lit one for herself and helped me with the wine.
‘Make yourself at home’, she said, ‘And allow yourself to float back to when you were a young intern. You had no grey in your beard then. I remember you well, coming out of serious operations, flushed with having handed that great surgeon his instruments – I forget his name. There was a man who loved to cut, snip and trim. You were in awe of his ability to do amazing things in such a short amount of time. Admit it, my sweet. You are a doctor.’
‘I certainly am not.’
‘I’ll prove it’, she said.
She took a bundle of papers from a cupboard, photocopies of old headshots of famous
surgeons that we all might have heard of. She pointed to one and asked me if I recognised him.
I said I did – his name was written on the bottom of it, but I’d actually met him at a dinner-party in Hampstead in the mid 70s.
‘Aha’, she said, ‘I knew you were a doctor. And this fellow is another surgeon who called your acquaintance a monster who wears his black soul on his face. Why? Because they disagreed on a diagnosis, and the patient died. This other one’, she said, pointing to a third headshot, ‘gave the names of the left-wing protesters he was treating in the hospital to the police. It was the time of the rioting. He looks too nice, doesn’t he, to have been so treacherous? I saw him once when he gave a talk at the Sorbonne.’
She then removed a large brown envelope from a drawer, and withdrew half a dozen or so
black and white photographs. They all showed young doctors working as interns but none of them looked remotely like me. To my surprise, she didn’t try to claim one of them did.
‘When we next meet I hope you’ll give me your photograph’, she said.
‘Why do you think I’m a doctor?’ I asked.
‘Because you’re so good and kind to women.’
‘That’s daft logic’, I said, but the word ‘daft’ puzzled her. I tried ‘bizarre’.
‘Oh, I’ve been proved right many times. I’ve known many doctors. I love them so much I go to see them when there’s nothing wrong with me.’
‘And how do they react?’
‘Sometimes they see straight away there’s nothing wrong with me, and ask me to leave. But others are kinder. They sympathise, and I slip €10 onto their desk. Once in the Pitié-Saltpêtrière Hospital I came across a young intern, so handsome, polite and hard-working. I gathered from a couple of his colleagues that he was broke, so I invited him to come and see me as often as he liked, and ask for whatever he wanted. I told him I didn’t need money. I conveyed this to him indirectly. I have a fantasy, you see. I’d love him to turn up with his surgical instruments, and his white coat all bloody.’
I was told this very frankly, as if it were a normal admission.
‘When did this obsession start?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know… I can’t remember’ she said, turning her eyes to the floor.
I made my excuses about the hour being late, and got up to go. I thanked her for the wine
and the conversation, and made my way down to the street. The sad people that are loose in the world, I thought. If there’s a God there, why doesn’t he protect them? I was given the taste for horror so I could stand the world, as a knife leads to healing. Is there such a thing as an innocent monster? All mad people should be protected. Who is to say why some of us exist, and why some of us might have been better served by not having come into existence.
THE MIME ARTIST
Le grand Meneur hardly seemed to come to Paris anymore, since the terror attacks had started. He stayed in his redoubt in the Hautes Vosges on the slopes of Storckentopf, although to call his dwelling a redoubt was insulting it. No, it had been erected by the best Alsace builders to have all the grace and impregnability of a small medieval castle. It was so elegantly made that some said the best German builders had been inveigled over the border to assist the French craftsmen.
What was there to bring le Meneur Joubert back to polluted and now dangerous Paris? Well, a head of state, even one self-appointed, had occasional matters of state to account for and the parliament was unfortunately still in Paris, a juicy target for any ambitious terrorist, of which there seemed to be a growing number. His fearsome force de police noire (well there were some white policemen in that strike force but they were in the minority and could only be part of it if they agreed to go under the black umbrella) did their damnedest to keep the country safe but bombings and shootings still took place. So le Meneur got into his bulletproof silver Mercedes very reluctantly, and as seldom as possible, and allowed his psychopath chauffeur Erik to burn up the autoroute to Paris.
There were also the constant visits of foreign heads of state to be dealt with. As much as he could he tried to get these to meet him in his Vosges palace, but many of these dignitaries wanted to see Paris. The city’s history and fame were a scourge. And there were the increasingly infrequent performances of his favourite actor, the mime-artist Mathieu Séverin. He was loath to miss any.
What he liked most about Séverin was his outlandish height. The man must be more than two metres tall. The name he got was la girafe. And whether it was because the French word for giraffe was grammatically feminine, he incorporated a female element to his performance – the fluttery eyes, the bum, he did not go so far as to wear fake breasts but his mime made the audience believe he was endowed with the shapeliest of breasts. Whistles were not unknown to greet him on stage.
A shock and a huge disappointment were waiting for le grand Meneur when Monsieur Yount, much-feared chief of the black police force, came to the Vosges to give a report. He walked into the drawing room, took off his black cap and sat down at the round, walnut table. Basically, he had cracked a lethal terrorist group, he said, and took from his blue leather briefcase a list of names printed out in bold which he slapped on the table just as the coffee was arriving. The top name was Mathieu Séverin, and Yount put his finger on it at once.
Joubert shook his head immediately.
‘This cannot possibly be right’, he said. ‘Someone must have been telling lies about Mathieu Séverin.’
‘Au contrare, mon Meneur. He is the ringleader. The brains of the terrorist operation’.
Several more stapled pages were placed on the table, and le grand Meneur snatched these
up and read through them rapidly, shaking his head. When he’d finished he laid them face down on the table, sighed loudly and closed his eyes.
‘What do you suggest we do?’ he asked.
‘I can round him and the others up at dawn tomorrow. They can be executed in the evening, or the following morning. Whenever you think best. Or do you think we should turn the execution into a public spectacle, and make an example of the treachery?
‘Maybe. Let me think about it’.
Le Meneur remained perturbed long after Yount had departed, but the evidence had seemed irrefutable. He rang for his valet and asked for another coffee, and a glass of cognac. What, or who had taken over Séverin? He had thought of him almost as a friend. Had he not showered favours on him – to be rewarded with this apparent treachery? No, the word ‘apparent’ had to be sadly deleted. The worst thing was the question of how he was going to do without Séverin ever again.
Then a small voice that rarely ever spoke to him reminded him he was le Meneur of France and could do what he wanted, could pardon who he liked. Who gave a damn about how Yount would react to this? He felt so much better he pushed away the glass of cognac unfinished. The valet would enjoy it.
The following afternoon le grand Meneur got into the back seat of the Mercedes and asked Erik to get him to Paris as quickly as possible. All the other cars on the autoroute bound for the capital were in danger.
At 6pm they drove up Boulevard Voltaires and soon after, pulled into Rue Nicolas Appert and stopped at the Comédie Bastille. The poster on the wall of the theatre advertising tonight’s show had been pasted over with the announcement of a replacement show, a rare performance by the great mime-artist Mathieu Séverin. Twice on the way in to Paris an advertisement for the event had been aired on the radio. And Paris has always been great for word of mouth news of a show spreading quickly.
Le Meneur put on his dark glasses and he and Erik went into the theatre. The latter was carrying a bulky grey canvas bag. They asked to be let go backstage.
At 8pm they were sitting in the box reserved for important members of the audience. Erik was the only other occupant of the box, the other seats remained empty. An open bottle of a decent Medoc sat on a small table, beside one glass
A burst of Mozart’s jollier music introduced the mime artist, who sashayed into the spotlight. Immediately one was put in mind of two things – a tall elegant woman, possibly Japanese, who liked to dance, and a giraffe swishing through branches in the evening, the eyes in the high head looking for the choicest leaves. Séverin was really on form tonight. The music had stopped, and the audience was truly being treated to his art of silence. The soul of each person there was being spoken to. The secrets of their lives were being re-opened. The artist grimaced, smiled, spun in a circle, laughed, and cried real tears. He was every beautiful woman who’d existed. He was not just the last giraffe, but all the lovely animals who’d ever gone extinct. And when he did his famous party piece – the climbing of the invisible ladder – he went higher up than ever he’d gone before. The audience went wild, le Meneur heartily joining in. How Séverin climbed the empty air was a secret he’d never revealed, despite being begged to do so.
He must have been three metres up when the deafeningly loud hissing noise came in stereo from both sides of the theatre, meeting in the ears of the artist. At the same time, two blinding pencil-thin beams of light attacked his eyes. He froze in mid-air, then somersaulted as he fell, landing on his head on the stage. He lay there unmoving.
For a moment absolute silence filled the theatre, then the uproar grew. Le Grand Meneur sat through it all, without uttering a sound. He was poleaxed with sadness. He poured a glass of claret and took a deep draught of it. He knew he’d just lost the most supreme artist he’d ever known, and one of his few reasons for living.
Matthew Sweeney was born in Lifford, Co. Donegal, Ireland in 1952 but now lives in Cork, where he was writer-in-residence at University College Cork in 2012-13. He has published many collections of his work, amongst which the most recent are: Horse Music (2013), Inquisition Lane (2015) and My Life as a Painter (2018), all of which have been published by Bloodaxe Books.
Christina Thatcher: Three Poems
We had 48 hours to produce
exact numbers after
xxxxxxxHow many forks?
xxxxxxxHow many pairs of underwear?
xxxxxxxHow many items in the fridge?
We guessed—could not remember
every object, only certain
of what we’d lost:
xxxxxxxour uncle’s stained glass window
xxxxxxxour grandmother’s turquoise necklace
xxxxxxxour grandfather’s homemade bricks
We cried out for these things,
our voices echoing: Who are we
without them? Who are we?
Only the inspectors’ answering back:
But what were they worth?
What were they worth?
TAKING THE LEAD
Use the bailing twine to make a bridle,
you don’t want the leather to get wet.
Get a leg up from your brother: jump high
because you’re heavy. Take the mowed path.
Watch out for the underground wasps
and the snapping turtle—she has just laid eggs
and she’s angry. Enter by the flat stones and stay
close to the embankment. Your horse won’t see
the leaning oak so be sure to guide him
with your legs. Feel his hooves move to the edge
of the swimming hole your father made
with dynamite. The horse will back away,
afraid of biting eels, the too-deep water.
But it is hot, and you know swimming is good
for the muscles, so you must push him in,
push him in, until the creek rises up to his neck.
For Edvard Munch
Something spoke to me
there at his luxe-walled
museum: the acidic colours,
serene visitors slipping like seals
through rooms, the lit shock
of his canvases. It was not words
I could hear, but a persistent earth
rumbling reaching out with tectonic force,
inevitable and slow, thrumming
in my gut until everything clicked
into place and I could finally see
where I really was, what was there,
what’s at stake: we were both doing it,
Munch and I, he with his art and me
with my poems, searching through
this wilderness, yearning
Christina Thatcher is a PhD student at Cardiff University. She keeps busy off campus too as the Poetry Editor for The Cardiff Review and as a freelance workshop facilitator. Her work has featured in over 40 literary magazines and her first collection, More than you were, was published by Parthian Books in 2017. To learn more about Christina’s work please visit her website: christinathatcher.com or follow her on Twitter @writetoempower.
Sunita Thind: Poem
Brown on the outside
White on the inside
Said the Coconut Girl.
Jewelled doll in a salwar kameez
A gemstone bindiya on her forehead.
Said the Coconut Girl.
All mini skirts, glitter, and cinnamon legs
Whiskey Sours and chippy butty
Fondled by that Gaura boy.
Said the Coconut Girl
A spangled head scarf gagging her
You are so dark, lah. You must lose weight, lah.
Tusee Karli. Tusee Muthi
Did you see her niece? She got a place for Medicine.
Chirps from the harpies, the banshees … the aunti jee, the mummy jee …
The Dadima, the Nanima …
Meera Naam …
Said the Coconut Girl.
Bejewelled lengai crystallized, hot pink and burnt gold
Frenzied diamonds in her hair
The perfect bride.
Said the Coconut Girl.
A Mac cosmetic façade, her stretched rhinestone hot pants,
Holographic, stiletto boots …
And Whiskey breath.
(Her dad saw her with that white guy.)
The Coconut Girl was mute
Manacled to her chura
Her dazzling bangles
Terraformed to her tika
Feasting on a banquet of curries:
A Panjabi paradox
Our sad little Coconut Girl.
Sunita Thind I have always been passionate about my writing and now I have the time to concentrate on it fully. I have dabbled in many things including being a model, primary and secondary school teacher and trained as a make up artist. Make up, poetry and animals are my passion. I have recently suffered from Ovarian Cancer and am grateful I have survived it but I am not in remission yet. All these experiences have coloured me as a person and enriched the poetry I write.
Iain Twiddy:Two Poems
The library was fire-brick red, with grey railings,
a slate roof, and a belltower with thin gill-slits.
When you entered, there was a clean feeling
like a vast forest breathing out after rain.
Leafing through the books left every sense freshed.
On the stairs you could look out on the precinct
and the boat slope the ducks took – where the Slea
slowed – and imagine the sludgy magic of trout
ghosting the shallows. And I knew that just
round the corner, I would fall in once more
with black-bearded Jonah; I knew that just
after the splash off the coast of Tarshish,
I would touch again that colossal tongue,
slip in the slop under the cathedral ribs,
and drift into sleep in the hush of the lungs.
I would read it there, in the deep red chair,
but loved just as much the thump of the stamp,
the four-week bliss of permission, the test of faith
already passed in the asking. But no matter
how many times I took it out, I was never
ready to be spat back into the market’s clatter,
the babble and flash and upsurge like Nineveh;
or when the library got gutted like a whale,
for the hollow that would swallow me whole.
Some loved you in summer. Barley, ox-eyed
daisies, cow parsley freshed by a lick of rain,
all spilling down the banks to laze at your water,
pulsing and riddled and lissom with light,
the breath beading through the clutch of the weed
till the saturnine silt of the Witham.
That was all flit and flirt, a kingfisher dart.
I preferred the sore underneath, the channel
a cut of rain-cloud grey, the sky furrowed.
Sogged banks. Blasted grass. Stalks sucking the mud,
the stink of scowling boughs in the river’s lea.
Not arresting. Not beautiful. But Slea,
like a swan-foot I loved your slump, the slur
I wouldn’t disturb for all the world.
Iain Twiddy grew up at the edge of the fens in Lincolnshire. He is the author of two critical studies of contemporary poetry, and lived for ten years in northern Japan.
Jean Watkins: Three Poems
after Vermeer 1669
He has pushed back the table’s rich cover
to make room for his drawing board, stoops over it
dividers in hand, his gaze oceans away.
The leaded windows cast their sideways light
on his dark padded gown but we feel sure
his eyes are narrowed against tropic sun.
Behind him his globe hangs in a timber frame,
a rectangle inscribed deep in its southern hemisphere
perhaps the outline of his next map, next voyage.
These rolled-up charts now lying on the floor
will be packed in the sturdy wooden box, carried
aboard a creaking ship in Amsterdam
together with the sacks, crates, bundles, barrels
of the expedition, his compass, telescope,
sextant, theodolite, surveyors’ cross, rods and pegs.
When, in a cloud of gulls, sailors climb the rigging,
haul out the heavy canvas, catch the wind, he
will be relishing the salt spray, looking far ahead.
It is a night over the Baltic. My cruise ship
purrs across its quiet pond. Programmed
for darkness, I stare at luminous sky.
It is a bedsheet, clean and starched,
stretched on a mattress, waiting to be creased
or torn or stained with piss, blood, semen.
It is the blindness of a blizzard in New York
which hurries all to shelter, fetters taxis, cars;
pinions synapses, deep-freezes my thoughts.
It is that moment when you’ve had the sedative,
been wheeled along a corridor, through rubber doors
to men in masks who prick your hand, ask you to count
and now I’m counting minutes since I first
stared at this white desert. Do I dare become
a tribe of ants to set out tracks just visible from space.
The moment the scales tipped
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwas in County Kerry
after our cars slow-slalomed
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwandering roads with
wandering cows, tractors
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxpuddles, traffic lights
in 2-bar towns. After
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthat track to the farmhouse
switchback with first-gear
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxgradients, elbow bends
snarled at by dogs
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwe went in to find
daughter and boyfriend
in the room with a view
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxof the lake.
Jean Watkins was born in West Yorkshire and has lived near Reading for many years. Her poems have been widely published in poetry magazines and anthologies and she reads regularly at Reading Poets’ Café and venues further afield. She was short listed for the Poetry Business Competition in 2008/9. Two Rivers Press published her first collection Scrimshaw in June 2013 and her second collection Precarious Lives is forthcoming from them in September 2018.
Rodney Wood: Two Poems
SCOUTING BY NIGHT
The television wheeled from the lounge
so he can watch football, the Red Devils,
and father’s eyes drift to that direction
as once they drifted in the direction
of my mother with her brown hair pinned up
in a bun, selling Player’s from her shop
or me crawling over the floor, pulling
myself up to look at clear glass sweet jars
that rested on shelves just out of reach.
I wet father’s lips with pineapple juice
and turn out the light, sleep in the next
room, a deep, dreamless sleep.
I’m ready for anything except this
seeing father as a saint, a marble
statue of a saint. He’s cold as marble
when I kiss his forehead. I curl beside
him to be near that body that took me
to football matches and gave me
comics, paper bags packed with sweets.
I curl up beside my father to breathe
his last breath over and over again
to properly be with him before collecting
his pension from the West End Post Office.
GUIDE TO OBTAINING CIVIL EMPLOYMENT
My parents owned a sweet shop during the war
and hadn’t given much thought
to African slaves gifting their lives
for this most valuable commodity.
Flying saucers, sherbet pips, black jacks, water bombs,
space dust, milk gums, wham bars,
love hearts, super candy whistles,
sugar mice, jelly babies and pint pots.
They didn’t know sugar leads to mood swings, fatigue,
headaches, obesity, heart disease,
a belief in aliens, zombies and
that Coronation Street is immortal.
They also sold tobacco. It wasn’t rationed during
the war, morale I suppose. Old Holburn,
Three Nuns, Digger, Barneys, Capstan,
Erinmore, Afrikander, Shag by the ounce,
cigarettes – Craven “A”, Kensitas, Gold Flake, Woodbine,
Senior Service, Player’s Navy Cut and
Weights, Park Drive, machines for roll-ups,
Rizlas and snuff in twirls of paper.
No doctors then to tell you how the Devil’s Weed
gave away lung cancer, hammered
nails into coffins – mahogany, oak
veneered with soft velvet interiors.
Years later us three innocents in front of the heat and roar
of the fire. Outside street lamps freckled
like stars and people stare at us.
The light and our smiles so perfect
we could be waiting for somebody to come and take
our photograph. It’s in black and white.
The past we can’t escape. Paradise.
The sins of Adam. How sweet it was.
Rodney Wood lives in Farnborough, runs a poetry event in Aldershot, and published Dante Called You Beatrice last year with The Red Ceiling Press. His poems have appeared in Magma, Envoi, Morphrog and other magazines and anthologies.
Martin Zarrop: Four Poems
If the doorbell rang at odd hours,
it was probably the Hungarian,
with a suitcase and the words:
My brain is empty
an invitation to the universe of mathematics:
topology, number theory, algebra, etc, etc,
mathematics, any maths, all maths
and he would stay for the duration
however long it took to find solutions,
eyes burning like lasers into white sheets.
It is said he never had real friends
or sex, except in theory,
but we are all connected to him.
Six degrees of separation
implies I’m ranked Erdös #6,
although I never met the man.
In the end, everyone told him
to leave and he packed his battered case,
a shabby vampire searching for his next fix
leaving a trail of numbers behind him.
Odnoliub* –Someone who only has one love in their life (Russian)
Joseph Gamgee 1801 – 1895
When a coach and six brought the news
of Waterloo, you held the horses’ heads,
felt their sweating flanks under your hand,
admired the elegance of structure.
Dear Grandpapa, a peasant lad then,
you could read and add, not multiply,
yet there we were, fifty years on,
a vet and a boy, watching them
toil up the long slope of the Lothian Road
as we stood at West Princes Street Gardens,
recorded the frequency of their lameness,
observing, tabulating, discussing.
Grandpapa, I wanted to follow you
everywhere, a nine-year-old learning
everything, realising we were scientists
although I hardly knew the word.
The wind down North Street is strong today,
flooding the cobbles like an invisible cataract
turned by force through ninety degrees.
The old man leans forward into the torrent,
his beard, frosted to a straggled whiteness,
arranges itself into ornate shapes.
Interesting, he mutters, and his mind moves
to the curve of trees bending in the breeze
over imaginary stone walls.
On a spattered shoulder, the parrot hangs on
to his every word, its body angled to the vertical
as sparks of thought are glittered away in the icy air.
After almost forty years of silence
I heard it again on the radio
in all its inevitability
the din of Mosolov’s Iron Foundry
a Stakhanovite tribute in raw sound
to the onward march of Stalinism.
In those dark days, there was no stopping
this rolling thunder of the general line
machine music for the great man of steel.
I still enjoy its savagery
its cold certainty, its optimism
the sforzando stab at the last.
Martin Zarrop is a retired mathematician who wanted certainty but found life more interesting and fulfilling by not getting it. His pamphlet No Theory of Everything (2015) was one of the winners of the 2014 Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition. His first full collection Moving Pictures was published by Cinnamon Press in October 2016.