Category Archives: Poetry

The High Window: Issue 19 Autumn 2020

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The Poets

Edward AlportWilliam BedfordDaniel Bennett • Lauren CampRobert Etty  • Tony FlynnAnna ForbesWilliam GilsonKatharine GodaMike GreenacreHilary Hares
Diana HendryRoss JacksonSarah JamesMaureen JivaniSven KretzschmarRichie McCafferyJan NapierVivek V. NarayanKaren PetersenChristine PotterMyra Schneider Gerard SmythRowena SomervilleSue SpiersMatthew StewartPam Thompson •  Iain Twiddy •   Helen May WilliamsHeidi WilliamsonDorothy YamamotoAbigail Ardelle Zammit

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Previous Poetry

THW18: May 4, 2020  • THW17: March 7, 2020  • THW 16: December 4, 2019  • THW 15: September 5, 2019 • THW 14:  June 3, 2019  • THW 13: March 6, 2019  • THW 12: December 10, 2018 • THW11: September 5, 2018  • THW10: May 21, 2018 • THW9: March 7, 2018 • THW8: December 6, 2017 • THW7: September 10, 2017 • THW6: June 3, 2017 • THW5: March 7, 2017  • THW4: December 6, 2016 • THW3: September 1, 2016 • THW2: June 1, 2016 • THW1: March 1, 2016

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Edward Alport:  Poem

PALIMPSEST

I wrote
Over my scars.
Someone, something, somewhere drew
Lines of fire on my skin
And they hurt,
They bloody hurt.

Now I
Can’t recall when
Or who, or where, or, sometimes, even why,
And the lines don’t care to remind me
How they hurt,
They bloody hurt.

So I write
Over my scars
Let the black trace twist around the white
Shaping new words and meaning
Sniffing out new sense and feeling,
But sometimes
They still bloody hurt.

 Edward Alport is a retired teacher and occasional writer who occasionally gets published. When he has nothing better to do he posts snarky micropoems on Twitter as @cross_mouse. He also moderates the monthly @ThePoetryFloor Twitter writing event.

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William Bedford: ‘Cold Stars’

for Sarah

‘My name is Marina’
Pericles  William Shakespeare

THRESHOLDS

I carry you on my back,
like the Ibo women
walking to the river for water,

the miles a sun’s blink
in the history books
only the men write.

I hold my pen,
but it is difficult to write
when a child is crying on your back

or there is water
to be fetched from the river,
a river I might once have named

before I realised
there is more to caring than naming.

WISE WOMEN

Will you walk with me when winter comes,
a college scarf round your neck,
woollen gloves to carry the mistletoe?

These old wives tales keep us going,
so many meadows to cross, so much snow.
The wise women call the berries simples.

They will be gone by the twelfth morning.
But will you walk with me until then,
pretend you know where we are going,

listen to the ringing of the bells?
I know these are tales to keep you warm.
When I am gone, they will keep you warm.

I SIT IN THE BODLEIAN

I sit in the Bodleian
watching light ignite the windows,
a ballet of geese
dancing round the magical square,
and you, black-gowned for formal hall,
a shadow reflected in tall windows,
a thousand petals growing into cold stars.

TWO SWANS

A swan pair divide the sky between them,
no bird daring deny. When they have gone,
their music lingers, hovering between before and after,
like the smile of lovers waking to find their other away.

LADY WITH LAPDOG

You have asked me to tell you about love,
but I have nothing to say about love,
and the land across the estuary
could be Yorkshire or Manhattan Island,
in the haar you can scarcely tell the difference.

I prefer to sit on the promenade,
and imagine the lady with her lapdog,
waiting for me at the pier pavilion,
where she will bow with studied indifference,
drink champagne to make the evening go more quickly.

GUILT

The green earrings you wear
look Aztec, opaque,
mingling in your hair

like the tears you cried
when I left,
colouring the sky for years.

William Bedford’s poetry has appeared Agenda, The Dark Horse, The Frogmore Papers, Encounter, The John Clare Society Journal, London Magazine, 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. Recent collections are Chagall’s Circus published by Dempsey & Windle in 2019 and The Dancers of Colbek published by Two Rivers Press in 2020.

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Daniel Bennett: Three Poems

THE TENANTS

They offered us vine leaves and red wine
and we approved of their gesture
inside the English garden
they would never share.

We told them about the roof,
the rare slate and Croatian stone,
and warned them, gently,
of the works we had planned.

They stripped nude beneath us
and we kept our gaze level.
We disguised ourselves in the street
and accepted their news

of failing parents and work
the daily money, their ambitions
and dreams sealed inside paper,
the news of cancer scares, longing, debt.

We listened for their voices
late at night, the cries
at midnight, intimate
despairing. We accepted their tastes

as our own: the daubed painting
of pine trees, the door mat decorated
with daffodils, the music hovering
at the edges of our sleep.

And when they left, we watched
as they packed boxes into a car
and we agreed we had liked them
because they had wanted to belong.

WORKING ON SUNDAY

Who would push against the door
of everyone’s leisure?
Waking into routine
we face a white sky

bound with fine wires,
the streetlight always traced
against the angle of the underpass.
We will ache with the loss

of a treasure scattered carelessly,
limp along the tangled paths,
with the burr of responsibility
catching in our claws.

We reach for the slim change
hammered down on the rails
and capture our defeat
with the air inside empty carriages.

And interpreted from our gestures
over registers and coffee,
the smell of meat fat and factory dust,
there will be further questions

of who belongs and who doesn’t:
the gifts laid out on the table
grow stale, are barely picked at.
Our friends offer strawberries

and wine, they call us and leave
no message, they lead us
to the edge of a glorious field
but make us wait at the gate.

SAN TELMO

‘Only one things was missing – the street had no other side’
Jorge Luis Borges

Bare heat on market traffic,
the railway tracks
lead us into moss and dust.

Or we risk disease
from a late night cola
drunk from the bottle.

The lights draw us along the avenues
as we catch a pimped taxi
to the wrong end of Thames,

watching the glint of a skull decal
on a bus zipping by
all the way to La Boca.

Each step into the world
reconfigures our old lives,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxthe smoke of our futures.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxThe couple in a wedding photo
xxxxxxxxxxxxxare frozen in sepia
xxxxxxxxxxxxxinside a junk shop window.

Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His first full collection West South North, North South East was published by The High Window in 2019. He is also the author of the novel All The Dogs.

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Lauren Camp: Poem

THE FINEST LIGHT

A stone wall
against a bruised sky,
a red mailbox

and clapboard saturated
with morning rain;

sun-haunted lilies
beside a worn bench;

a day of wet wool
algaed graves on a tired acre;
the strange perfume
of trees;

towels on a clothesline;
an old woman
on a bike with a basket

and the same rider
returning
when the sun is heavy.

Lauren Camp is the author of five books of poems, including Took House, published this year by published by Tupelo Press.  Her poems have appeared in World Literature Today, Verse Daily, Apogee, and North American Review, and has been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish and Arabic. Honors include the Dorset Prize, a fellowship from Black Earth Institute and finalist citations for the Arab American Book Award and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. http://www.laurencamp.com

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Robert Etty: Three Poems

THE EARTH’S CRUST

When temperatures climbed to 80 or 90
(the figure was always Fahrenheit)
and adults were clearly too hot to be bothered
to ask was it hot enough for us,

the steamrollered tarmac on our narrow road
erupted in oozing pockmarks and scabs,
and smells of moist blackness escaped and hung
in the unmoving air, and we breathed them in

but never quite out, as if one unimaginable
day we’d want to be reminded.
The tyres of vans and cars and the dust cart
rolled slowly and stickily over the tarmac

and plucked it in clusters of glossy crumbs
that didn’t fall back but left wider abrasions
than the spontaneous bursts had made, and then
rolled on their way, printing fresh black zigzags.

Summer tar was too hot to handle
and came with emergency heatwave measures
involving avoiding smeared shirts, skirts or plimsolls.
Heat hazes outside Mrs Newton’s hedge

and up on the Wall’s ice lolly shop corner
foreshortened the world for an afternoon,
and the road our houses were built along
might completely cave in before back-to-school week.

EVER

In the infants’ school with the field around it
‘ever’ was a daily word, repeated together,
but never thought about or explained:
ever, and ever, and ever, and ever,
and ever, and ever, and ever. Amen.

Sun beamed in through the ceiling-high windows
that Mrs Plant with the light blue hair
pulled open with a gold hook on a pole,
and ‘ever’ seemed something to do with the sun
and the field that you couldn’t see to the ends of

where combine harvesters blew bits of straw
through the criss-cross fence in the summer term,
and no one would ever go far from here
except Lena Nowak who went to Glossop,
and no one had ever heard of Glossop.

‘Ever’ had something to do, as well,
with Anthony, who lived down the road
in a house on its own with chickens and ditches,
and who (they said) had a poorly heart,
so he didn’t come to school every day.

And with closing your eyes in the biggest room.
And a green hill far away.

LATE

Early out of habit and choice, Grace is there
thirty minutes before appointments
in case of everything no one sees coming,

like Sheepgate being blocked by a fire engine
while firemen coaxed a cat from a chimney,
which cost her a detour the other day.

She keeps a low-maintenance house and garden,
begins weekend jobs on the Wednesday before
and stocks her cupboards an item in hand.

She puts washing out before it’s light,
puts all the chairs out at Fortnightly Bookworms
and puts several noses out of joint

at Earlybirds Club when she’s earlier
than the early birds who organise it.
Half an hour early’s early enough

for tidy-ups of emails and lists
before going into wherever she is
with senses honed for efficiency,

and sometimes she fills any gaps in-between
with contemplating gaps themselves, that they
self-generate, and she welcomed them once,

but now they’re unfiltered distraction channels
of no benefit to brain or soul,
and she’d rather count change than think about those.

Grace’s secret is how late she is.
How love hadn’t touched her the day she married,
and when it came she advised it to leave.

How jobs never mattered until she’d resigned.
How little Dad and Mum seemed to know
until she caught up with their ages herself –

but catching up’s trickier when you aren’t sure
what it was that left you behind.
Lately she’s thought she’ll start cutting things fine,

and exploring gaps as if inside one
she might arrive at what she was late for,
or be on time for the moment she’s in.

Rob Etty lives in Lincolnshire. His most recent collection, Passing the Story Down the Line, was published in 2017 by Shoestring Press. He is a long-standing member of the Nunsthorpe Poetry Group, which meets in Waltham, near Grimsby.

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Tony Flynn: Poem

BELOW STAIRS

The oils, once brought to boiling on the stove,
you’d carry to his studio
along the hall, and wait upon him there
as everywhere, while he would grind and mix

his colours for the day.
Until you lost your footing on a stair.
Six months on the ward and made to lay
flat on your back through all of it:

and the burns being scrubbed
each time a wound would putrefy.
You met my father that same year.
War ends. Then Fifties summer holidays

when you’d sit out
the hours that we went swimming in the sea.
I saw them once – the bedroom door
ajar, and you undressing there – the smeared

and bubbled creamy whorls
that looked like craters on the moon . . .
Which seemed by then
less far away than you had gone.

Tony Flynn has published three volumes of poetry: A Strange Routine (Bloodaxe Books), Body Politic (Bloodaxe Books) and The Mermaid Chair: New and Selected Poems (Dream Catcher Books). He has also received a number of awards, including an Eric Gregory Award; an Arts Council of England Writer’s Award; and an award from the Royal Literary Fund. He has taught creative writing in schools and universities, and was the Arts Council of Wales Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Bangor, North Wales.

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Anna Forbes: Three poems

ANAGAIRE

Lying flat against the sunwarmed stone
we feed the baitlines down.

Made visible
by strips of ribboned tin

the smashed remains
of limpets, pulled apart

and gibbeted; their entrails spinning clouds
of bitter juices.

Hours catch and slide
like water, as the slowly rising tide

cools beneath us. Nothing but the sense
of sudden movements testing on the line
retains its hold.

Beyond the studied absence of our forms
the boats come trailing in;

their engines cut to whispers. Calcified
in attitudes of rigour come the men,
gripping swathes of net against their chests.

The fresh-hauled weight as inaccessible as lives
played out in miniature beneath the land.

DISTURBANCE

Afterwards, they carried you out by the arms. All along
the heaving throat of the hall.

In the unnatural light you left behind
the houseplants kept on growing;
sealed-up heads

lacing the air
with bitter scent. The carmine trace
of blood through water.

Opening in time
with the delayed violence
of stigmatic wounds.

FAMILIAR

Surfacing to watch the sunlight track
around the walls. A presence
by the bedside, labouring
to keep invisible.

All the cunning beauty of its frame—
steel-cut claws concealed in velvet pads
the breadth of lilies; markings lapped and set
to mimic sun-splashed earth

is wasted here. Above the unmoved tread
the outside filters through
and dissipates.

Anna Forbes is originally from Edinburgh, but studied English at Cambridge University before transferring to King’s College London where she received a degree in Comparative Literature. Her poetry has been published in Ink Sweat and Tears, Antiphon and Poetry Scotland, and has recently been shortlisted for the Jane Martin prize.

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William Gilson: Three Poems

SPIDER TIME

It was back when I could take my mandolin
out of its case and play The Devil’s Dream,
causing Beth’s two little girls to dance.
That summer cottage by the lake,
where late at night a single loon called.
Or do I have that right? . . . we – Alison and I –
didn’t sleep over, we visited during the day.
It might have been toward the end of September,
when spiders appear. I remember seeing one
near the doorway, tiny but with a fat abdomen,
not moving, the tip of each leg touching
where the radial lines converged.
A small movement of air caused that web
to curve, bellying upward like one of those
illustrations of space-time and gravity
showing how the past is never completely gone.

APPLES,

one is enough while you are eating it
and others in the basket await.
No matter the blemished, imperfect.
The smells are another pleasure.
Alone I slice
the washed one, quartering, removing the
seed recesses, the seeds, preparing
the slices, aligning them on the bread board.

Tell me what love was like when you were young.
No – wait – let me tell you.

Difficult, the choice of words.
But the apple tree retains the mind’s
pattern, there was a form, a pledge, a feel.

The long prelude, time a lengthening,
years as if without change,
became branches. They grew, the branches,
almost strong enough to bear the weight.

NO COMBATANT, I

kept the fear for myself, thus never certain
what I’d missed. Having pretended
to be crazy, avoided death or maiming.

Joey Harland, who stole my first girlfriend,
went over, came home in a standardized
metal coffin. (His father, someone said,
wanted to yank it open, was prevented.)

That barber in Vermont, having gone
and lived, older now, describing again so clearly
how he pressed against the earth, hearing
the rounds whacking into the boy ahead.

I dip my fountain pen into the ink,
refill the little reservoir.
Future days have become these days,
these nights. It’s okay, I tell myself,
it’s all right, you’re safe.

William Gilson  is an American living in England. He has published poetry, fiction and non-fiction in magazines in both places. Poems in PN Review, stories and an essay in New England Review. Recent chapbook, Monkey Puzzle, from Wayleave Press.

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Katharine Goda: Three Poems

OUTSIDE THE POSTNATAL WARD

Beyond the turquoise door, the hand sanitiser and dire warnings,
beside the intercom we don’t quite trust to keep us safe, we pause

like four-year-olds paying for their own sweets,
a teenager in the driving seat for the first time.

Along the corridor, where we don’t see
the pictures of County Durham or the respite seating,

people march or trudge, glance at the car seat which might
at any moment take off in a breeze and be lost.

Our feet barely touch light-clean floors.
The squeak of her tiny breathing is grabbed in a rush of outside

as all our fists grip air.

THE CHRISTMAS STORY

Same design, trees aloof and rigid
against pure white.

So far away. Your faded-ink sigh
means I’d like to see you.

Recall our history, father, the darkest
part of each year.

Aged ten, I climb on the desk for
necrophile, dictionary plain as a fist.

Eleven, shy, you’d have friends,
if you were nice.

Twelve, your Christmas wish
you’d never been born.

Your planned suicide
a thirteen-year-old’s fault.

Fourteen, scuffing blind summits,
ready to die.

Fifteen, sandpaper hands tight
round my neck.

Dawn of my sixteenth birthday,
I left with no-one and nothing.

I rest your card in the recycling,
message lying between the lines.

HOLDING IT TOGETHER

I begin
to knit
and write.

Colour,
silent words
noted, admired:

homemade evidence
of tangible improvement.

No-one mentions the fragile edge
beyond the dropped stitch, the lost
idea, the way the whole is a patchwork

of endings.

Katharine Goda’s work has appeared in blogs (including YorkMix and Diamond Twig) and anthologies, most recently Play (The Broadsheet) and The Result is What You See Today (SmithǀDoorstop). She was awarded Highly Commended in the Blue Nib Chapbook competition 2019 and the Otley Poetry Prize 2018, and Commended in the YorkMix Poetry Competition 2019 and Settle Sessions Competition 2018. She enjoys participating in writing workshops and is passionate about developing creative writing opportunities, especially with people who’ve never tried poetry.

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Mike Greenacre: Poem

WHERE I’M FROM

I am from the H.M.S. Strathaird
in October ’57 flooding Fremantle docks
with a thousand Ten Pound Poms

father, mother and four of us from nine
to fifteen months were soon absorbed
into the Australian way of life

with its mind-bending heat
that strangled Summer days
and tortured nights.

I am from the Jacaranda streets
of Applecross lined with mauve
cushionings that crept up to

the Primary School, classrooms
crammed with 50 odd kids in straight rows,
silenced by the teacher’s ruler strike.

I am from the Private School ‘drop-outs’
who fought the regimentation of life
with school ties and mental suits

and the caning of free thought –
skipping class until there was nothing
left for them to hold on to.

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

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Hilary Hares: Three poems

LIFTING THE CROWN

He told me about the oak,
how he stood witness
as it broke its back
across the gable end.

He didn’t mention,
when I rang up to ask
about the storm, and he said
everything was fine,

its severed crown
had trapped a car
upon our drive
that wasn’t mine or his.

The oaktree didn’t crack
a single cup, he said,
but when the wind

was at its height
the music box struck up
its deconstructed tune.

When I got home
a crane was lifting off
the crown.

It weighed a little over
twenty tons; it looked like
a discarded ballet skirt.

A sapling filled the gap
and everything
was just the same.

The music box
still played its
Clare de Lune,

the ballerina
twisting on her
her awkward stalk.

NOVEMBER WEEKEND IN GRANADA

Dusk’s a little earlier each day.
In the half-light, the Alhambra
pulls a ghost-moon close.

In every tree a Christmas cornucopia
has yet to be lit. A fountain wakes
at the peal of the cathedral bell.

I’ve brought my grief with its sharp
brass tongue, softened it with tinto
and flamenco in smoky bars.

Beside the chestnut sellers, cellists
and a marionette have drawn a crowd.
I reach for the magic in the children’s eyes.

As autumn pebbles the streets with leaves
I make a slow climb to the top of the town
past peasant houses – caves with painted walls –

but despite the whitewash, a cave is still a cave,
grief still grief.

VINAIGRETTE
after Heartburn, Nora Ephron

The evening he came back I made him Uncle Simon’s Borscht
and yesterday my sour peppered shrimp.

I’ve unpacked both his bags. His shirts are in the wash.
They’re tainted with those last fraught days of lust,

and now he’s asking for the secret of my vinaigrette. He’s never
asked before. I wonder, should I tell or will he take off with the jar

of Poupon mustard – where the secret lies – melt into an endless
stream of salad-laden sunsets that he garnishes for her?

Hilary Hares lives in Farnham, Surrey. Over hundred of her poems have found homes online and in print including Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Stand and South. She has an MA in Poetry from MMU and her collection, A Butterfly Lands on the Moon sells in support of Loose Muse, Winchester. She won the Christchurch Writers’ Competition 2013 and Write By The Sea Festival Competition 2018. Red Queen a new pamphlet, is available from Marble Poetry. http://www.hilaryhares.com

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Diana Hendry: Four Poems

THE OCTPUS

Aristotle was wrong to call it stupid, as was
Linaeus refering to it as singularum monstrum
and the Bishop of Bergen as a Kraken
and Victor Hugo as a devil fish. Meanwhile,
the habit of Cretan restauranteurs to whack
an octopus against a wall is unnecessarily cruel.
Wiser folk know the octopus to possess craft
and mischief, to be gentle, inquisitive creatures
with a talent for mimicry, deception and humour.

The octopus has three hearts and eight arms.
The slime of its skin is a cross between snot and drool.
The octopus can unscrew the lid of a jar from outside.
The octopus can unscrew the lid of a jar from inside.
Can escape from almost any tank; change colour at whim.

In considering the evolution of consciousness
the octopus is one to watch.

DEAR MR AND MRS X

I am sorry not to come downstairs
to welcome you and maybe express
neighbourliness by way of cups of tea
or however much sugar you might
need to borrow. I know I could offer
to feed the cat if this was needed or
keep a spare key and yes, I do have
the names of plumbers, electricians etc
and which number bus is best into town.

These are all gestures I have been known
to offer in the past plus always a cheerful
wave and a howareyou? in passing.
But you see there has been so much
passing, or rather so many passing, so
that now I kind of anticipate loss before
it happens. Perhaps yours is the sort of
flat where no-one stays long? Maybe
there’s something wrong with it or
the rent’s extortionate. Whatever, I
just want to say that if you are still
here three years from now, I’ll pop
down and say hello. All the best.

CABBAGE WHITES

In this summer’s heatwave
white butterflies are everywhere
flitting about my garden
little elegies
or a trailer for how our souls
will be, lost of their dross.

My children
called my homebody mother
Cabbage Grandma.
I expect she’s that one
schmoozing over the buddleia.

THE LIGHT COLLECTORr
for Talia at Hanukkah

When the days grew short and the nights grew long
the Light Collector gathered his traps – his luminous
nets and capacious bag, his hooks and rods and rakes
his brushes, spoons and combs – and set to work.

On the first night he combed the ocean
for glimmers of moonlight.

On the second night he raked the skies
for speckles of stardust.

On the third night he unhooked a moonbeam
caught in a tree.

On the fourth night he spooned a rainbow
out of a puddle.

On the fifth night he borrowed a strip of light
from under Talia’s door.

On the sixth night he unspooled the silver thread
from a spider’s web.

On the seventh night he netted a lightning flash
from out of the clouds.

On the eighth night he caught a will-o’-the-wisp
on the tip of his nose.

And then, when it was very, very dark
and he was very, very tired, the Light Collector
opened his capacious bag and scattered
light and blessings all over the world.

Diana Hendry‘s most recent collection is The Watching Stair (Worple Press). She’s published six other collections including The Seed-Box Lantern: New & Selected Poems (Mariscat). Diana’s the author of more than forty books for children. Harvey Angell won a Whitbread award and her YA novel, The Seeing was short-listed for a Costa Book Award. Diana has worked as a writer-in-residence at Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary, as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Edinburgh University and has co-edited New Writing Scotland.

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*****

Sarah James: Four Poems

COCKTAIL DREAMS

An old friend asks about my dreams. I have none.
Joseph’s coat gaped at my neck and wrists.
My friend doesn’t show surprise; she’s lived
with death and ghosts, has Neruda’s Chili
in her blood and family flung across the globe.

I’ve tried to piece and stitch my own dream-cloak:
Friday-night neon, wedding-band gold, baby blues;
my personal patch of grass-greenish green
with snatches of wisteria threading its seams…
then hope of retirement silver, one day, maybe.

But this garment won’t button across my bloated heart.

The human body replaces its entire skin 900 times
in one life. My old old friend and I have been through
thousands each already. We sleep-walk and sleep-swim
in shape-shifting dream-pelts. The ocean that swills inside us
is the same, though we spill different shades and flavours

of loneliness. Hers is spiced with hot peppers
and Antarctic ice. Mine is tequila with lime slices and a rim
of crusted brine. Swallowed as cocktails, our lives slide down
easier than pain, less beautifully than the sun
resting its evening pastels on stilled water.

The taste that lingers on lips and tongue
has a hint of something dreamlike.

UNCAUGHT

Nine years old in our small garden:
wind grabs my ball, flings its gravity
at the wall. It twists across the roof,
then off the far edge.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxI throw my voice after it;
shouts eddy in red-leafed tornado-flurries.
The world spins around me,
the wind’s breath a lung-force

that turns coat sleeves to wings,
flying me almost skywards
until my ball hits the greenhouse.
Laughter snags, broken off.

My hollow sphere is nested
in shattered glass. I feel the shock’s
sharpness: fear and my parents’ anger.
Or perhaps that too was really fear.

Thirty years later, new storms shake
their windows. I try to share this recollection
with them, my long-term keepers
of baby shoes, first teeth and family anecdotes.

The memory bounces back,
uncaught:
xxxxxxxxxxxxanother moment
that falls with the autumn leaves.

Outside and in, the world
is turning to winter.

NANNA DANCES

For twenty years I’ve sprayed
her mist on my neck, a hint
on wrists less fragile than hers.

The perfume’s overpowering
smell drowned her softness. It clogs
my nose now with ethanol

but her habit still clings.
The scent wears me, twisted
all elbows and thumbs back

into the party dress
she picked: sleek bodice, frilled skirt,
my hair only slowly

falling out of curls,
while hers stayed tightly coiled
through hours of turns and spins.

That night and her smile are lacquered
into my memory. She dances
my dreams per fumus, through smoke.

TIDEMARKED

When the river casts off its banks,
telegraph poles graze in fields of water.

Reflected streetlights float like orange stars,
quietly shoaling in lakes of night sky.

The town’s surface smooths, varnished
by the silk gloss of weeks of heavy rain.

As the flood subsides, hedges reclaim
their un-moored fields, roads return

to muddy grey, but the town is subtly altered.
Lost stars linger in the last small puddles.

Sarah James/Leavesley is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Her latest titles include How to Grow Matches (Against the Grain Poetry Press) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press), both shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Awards. She was delighted to be The High Window Resident Artist 2019. Website: http://www.sarah-james.co.uk.

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*****

Maureen Jivani: Two Poems

ALMA DREAMS ABOUT

the time sadness seeped under The Big Top and crawled into the clown’s oversized shoes and his upside-down smile. She sees blue in the air after the ringmaster cracks his whip and in the leotards of the swinging artistes on the high trapeze; it is in the lion-tamer’s chair and in the deep well of the lion’s mouth. She sees it in the fall of a child’s ice cream cone – the child whose mother is forever holding on.

ALMA’S ANNIVERSAY

Her mother baked her a cake so tall its cracked meringues almost reached the clouds so that all of its candles harangued the blue and then because Alma went on sleeping under the morning clouds her father carved out a border collie from a doting heart he once entertained but no longer used so that the dog might keep her company, keep her safe.

Maureen Jivani’s poems have appeared in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, New Zealand and Australia both online and in print magazines including Frogmore Papers, The Glasgow Review, Magma, nthposition, Orbis, Peony Moon, The Rialto, Seam, Smiths Knoll, and The Wolf. Her first full collection of poems, Insensible Heart, is available from Mulfran Press.

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*****

Ross Jackson: Poem

NIGHT SCENE

you’re leaning out
atop a sloping backyard
hands gripping cast iron railings
scanning from night filled verandah
the old house, mostly behind you

your cat’s eyes shimmer
in the dark valley of the suburb
the swimming pool’s electric
blue glow coming up
from the garden immediately below

tiers of neighbouring houses
banks of shadows
rooflines in silhouette
shoreline obscured by
ranks of threshing trees

animated reflections of all that’s high lit
flowing over
far side river glass:
apartments, cars, cranes, beacons of the CBD
transmogrified into
silver whiskers/ bobbing gold logs

two lines of electrical tape worms
passing on a rail bridge
those superimposed night riders’ lives
bleed into your thoughts
for the few seconds they’re crossing over

anonymous inhabitants of ho-hum beds
switch on and off marigolds
as they fall and rise
gold and orange flowers
on the motherboard
of riverside surrounds

when you look up into the beyond
airships of the night blinking
amidst vast black lacquer sea
red flashes in dashes and dots
atop where in daylight, hills would be

looking straight down again
from peak of sloping backyard
eggwhite moon’s hypnotic shimmer
side stroking
in the swimming pool

a reason your verandah gaze
held still, so long past midnight
it’s something in reflections
moves your old furniture
around inner space

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

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*****

Sven Kretzschmar: Two poems

CURATING THE SILENCE

Icy puddles reflected a low, orange afternoon sun when I entered the woods,
horses had been out and about earlier treading

frozen ground. In the sloping field it was almost silent –
the birds’ chirping disturbed by the hum

of a nearby autobahn. I thought of how to curate the silence,
my breath blooming in the cold

as the sun sank behind a distant, disused power plant I spotted
through undergrowth. Rain gathered in startling

mud-brown puddles and ended all reflection
that there had ever been. I sought

shelter, but all I found was fungi
growing on mouldered wood

and trodden-in foliage of a bygone autumn. At the end of the teens
of the twenty-first century

I can no longer pretend that nature
mirrors the goodness of being.

FIRE OVER DUN AENGUS

I remember gorse growing
rank along the east coast railway
and the sky full of fire over Dun Aengus
on a mild Atlantic afternoon in spring
when we hastened over
coarse gravely ground, uphill,
to see the sunset from that old ring
of stones on Inis Mór;
when the isle seemed authentic –
despite our presence.

Sven Kretzschmar is a prize-winning poet from Germany. His work has appeared in a number of magazines, journals and anthologies in Europe and overseas, among them Writing Home. The ‘New Irish’ Poets (Dedalus Press, 2019) and Turangalîla-Paltestine (Dairbhre, 2019). Shortlisted for Allingham Poetry Award 2019, Over the Edge New Writer of the Year 2019 and Saolta Arts Annual Poetry Competition 2020. New work is forthcoming in Ropes and Fly on the Wall. Blog: https://trackking.wordpress.com/ // Instagram: @sven_saar_poetry

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*****

Richie McCaffery: Two Poems

THE ROAD

For some it’s short, smooth as tadelakt,
for others it’s potholed and long
but it’s the same road.

With old vans towing conked out
new cars it reminds me how
my parents carried me and now you
carry me to where I need to go.

The distances on the road signs
have been altered, the mappers
must have thought the journey
longer or shorter than it really is.

My father used this road as a teen,
just shot of school, driving
his Triumph bike to the Harbour Bar
in Scarborough on a whim.

His best friend came along
on his Norton but at some point
he decided to take a shortcut
leaving Dad to follow this road.

When Dad got to the café
his friend wasn’t there.
He bought him a coffee in pyrex,
sure he’d arrive anytime soon.

It stood on the gaudy counter
like an obelisk, cooling until
its surface grew a hard skin.

CEDAR OF LEBANON

We walk all the way uphill through Wooler
to get to this giant Lebanese cedar–
I could be a pilgrim if it’s a journey
to a special tree and nothing more.

You recall the great groves in Lebanon
as we stand under its huge prickly umbrella
gathering cones hard as green grenades
that we take away to try and grow elsewhere,

to be thrown into the future and explode
in mushroom clouds of resinous canopies
and I could be a soldier if it only involved
this task and nothing else.

Richie McCaffery lives in Alnwick, Northumberland. He’s the author of two poetry pamphlets (including Spinning Plates from HappenStance Press in 2012). His poetry collections are Cairn (2014) and Passport (2018), both from Nine Arches Press. He has also recently published a new pamphlet collection forthcoming with Mariscat Press in 2020 and has  edited a collection of critical essays on the poet Sydney Goodsir Smith (Brill / Rodopi).

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*****

Jan Napier: Three poems

SLIDING

Sudden in low sun, a dugite on the beach path,
olive and dun like string flung but not so thin.
I whistle my shepherd Here! Now! clip collar to lead.
Double leather around my fist. Breathe out. The snake
raises its head slightly, flicks a runic tongue, slides,
slides like the not alive, like pouring oil, like quicksilver
spilt, impossible to pick up and immediately lethal.

Adrenaline floods, sky washes in and out, is tidal,
and I am naked in skin too thin. I step back, back.
Tug the dog behind me. Stay. Eyes scan for escape,
my body pulsing soft and pink, spasmic as that throat
stabbed by Cleopatra’s asp. The bitch barks once, whines
to chase this exciting stick. I jerk her choke chain.
NO. Hold harder.

Enclosed only by the fragility of distance
this serpent offers no injury, skims frictionless
across grit into scrub, rippling into tea tree, flowing
into shadows as if it has never been. I stare mesmerised
at its track. The snake has gone but still I stand unable, bare.

Bike riders ting ting, swoop past all orange lycra and fluidity,
gasping out cardio rates, and pb’s, checking fitbits.
A hover hawk skreeks and winnows air. My head steadies.
I kneel, stroke tawny fur, good girl, and breathe and breathe
and breathe.

WALKING A SHORELINE

Cars crossing the bridge switched on headlights.
Street lamps came on.

Streamers of yellow fell on the river.
Shadows shrank like my doubts.

A sudden dolphin leapt. Ripples spread.

I decided. Ditched the pistol. A splash.
Now there was nothing to connect me with anyone.

Moon jellies floated in stony shallows
clear and hard to see

and I noticed how it was

that the dark illuminated
not the light.

SWIMMING IN MOONLIGHT AT EIGHTY

she’s
a pale lotus
floating
head back long hair fanning
slow yoga
of limbs unfolding
lulling blue
smoothing frailty to grace
a loosening
hands scoop water
and
one white petal falls
through
windless air

Jan Napier is a Western Australian writer. Her work has been showcased in journals
and anthologies both within Australia and overseas. Jan’s poems have appeared in previous issues of The High Window.

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*****

Vivek V. Narayan: Two Poems

BLURRED VISTAS

I
The car was a fugitive
careening on the freeway,
crying for freedom.

I looked out onto blurred
vistas as we swerved and skidded
to salsa music.

Time rushed on,
late for a meeting with
the end of the world.

II
Through the blurred windows: sitting
on benches, eating popcorn,
watching electric poles
playing football, were small
houses. An epic match played
on slopes refereed by
skyscrapers. Windmills were skeletal
guards gazing over desolate
grey-green and grey-brown hills.
The small houses cheered across matchstick fences,
with fishnet stretched between them, separating
them from the electrifying presence of
the wind on grey-green and grey-brown
football fields.

As a quick breeze passed up the slope,
A low murmur of approval: the small
houses liked the pass. Windmills, those silent stone-faced sentinels,
turned to gaze this way and that to maintain decorum.
Their gaze threatened the small houses with
deportation to the other side of Legotown:
where houses were tombstones.

There,
buried next to each other
was a family of
Shows.
Cheap, identical,
red, blue and white neon
headstones
spelled their names:
Cat Show
Gun Show
Dog Show
Strip Show

III
As we descended into the pits
of the country,
alongside once-green grasslands,
we saw, to the bumpandthud of hiphop,

an American flag wilting at the
highest point on the slope:
a black family – man, woman and child – shuffled past the flag.
Tired, the man sat beneath the flag post, and
shielded the child in a hug.
Man and woman sought the future in the other’s eyes,
until the turning windmills cried “Time!”

After the mother and child left,
the man found in his pockets,
between the coins and the matches,
a pair of handcuffs.
He sat there, shackled, waiting for
the bus.

We too waited, at a traffic signal where a procession
of prisoners joined the man beneath the flag.

IV
When the bus finally arrived,
it carried, like a fractured arm,
an Indian man slinging on the footboard.
He sang cheerily, refusing the shackled prisoners entry:
“I don’t know what San Francisco looks like,
but for sure I know what it sounds like:
gugle gugle google google Google Google.”

As the traffic lights turned to yellow,
the bus slowed down ahead of us for a tall white woman,
baseball cap carefully askew,
who walked across the road
reading Travel & Leisure,
speaking too loud, too fast,
like a drowning woman
trying to finish a joke:
“I have a forty-foot pool
filled with wine.”

V
Below, at the foothill: a foundry.
On its walls was carved
a mural drawn in
blood
coloured with
dreams
that came to life
as we sped past.
The sound of tinkering rose
from within
followed
the handpainted sign announced with a flourish
Aztlan Iron Works.

VI
Inside the car,
a group of white preppy boys and girls
made conversation resembling football matches:
quick passes and lurking violence.
The only way to get anything done was to sneak it in.

“I will text you the same thing every Tuesday,”
said one boy dressed in a bleeding madras shirt
(he had never bothered to ask why it was called that)
to another dressed in a white tshirt.
“It will be our thing,” said the other, as the car reached
a dead end.

Another, a woman of thirty, made an attempt at a joke;
everyone laughed ardently.

VII
The car swerved on,
shaking its hips
hustling along the freeway,
a fugitive looking for land
that held more than
dreams and promises.

A QUALITY OF LIGHT

a warm bright halo
around tired trees
and gravel grey

bushes browned by
the too-hot
sun that burns

necks not shaded by
a lover’s palm

a halo, warm bright,
to some: love is
a quality of light

Vivek V. Narayan is a writer, performance-maker, and performance scholar, currently serving as Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India. He is an alumnus of Stanford University, California; Royal Holloway, University of London; and St. Xavier’s College, University of Mumbai. His writing has appeared in J-CASTE, AZURE, The Caravan, The Hindu, and Fountain Ink, while his theatre work has been staged in India, the UK, and the US.

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*****

Karen Petersen: Two Poems

MING DECEMBER

Blue within deep blue the old vase stands
Shrouded in shadows, whispers, faint cries.

You were brought to the Emperor,
‘Take it away it is cracked.’
Retrieved by the court records-keeper,
‘My son shall use it to keep brushes in.’
(Finally discarded, he could afford jade.)

What then, of these dry tea stains inside?
Ah, that was the old man
in his weekly raid of palace garbage
spotting a potential
tea container.
His wife was pleased.

And I,
I sought you out in winter
just after the revolution.
The old man was gone, there was a daughter.
You held wild flowers, some of which stuck to your sides,
and you stood in a sunlit window,
a gift of friendship.

Now, I stare at your blue and white
defining realities
Fading with dust and forgetfulness.
You stand alone and small in an alcove’s shadow,
history’s beautiful envoy.

SUDAN

Last night I dreamt of the Sudan,
all night I am in its great desert
in the roiling, soiling heat.
The sky is no longer blue
but a pale washed out grey
and there are no points of reference.

I wander from clay baked village to village,
the local people in their vibrant clothes
giving me water and the cool shade of their homes.
The phosphored ghosts of Christ and Mohamed
also roam these open wastes, the birdless margins,
looking for a place to lie down side by side.

But the pitiless spaces make room for nothing
except the shimmer of hallucinations and
there are no small-shadowed places.
Beyond Khartoum there is only the desert
Beyond Meroe there is only the desert
Beyond the horizon the Nile has no tears.

Karen Petersen has travelled the world extensively and has been widely published.  Most recently, her poems, short stories and flash fiction have been published in the Peacock Journal in the USA, The Bosphorus Review in Istanbul, Antiphon in the UK, The Blue Nib in Dublin, and A New Ulster in Northern Ireland.  She holds a B.A. in Philosophy and Classics from Vassar College and an M.S. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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*****

Christine Potter: Poem

HOW HATE SPREADS

Like the seasons change—a little
and then a lot. The way the trees
start out naked but suddenly the
7 AM light ripples with shadows

of baby-green leaves. Just like that.
Like something so pretty it slides
right past you. Eat it in the sun with
your brother at a hamburger stand

on the road you’ve driven happily
forever. The breeze through your
thrown-wide windows may be
sweet as the first beach day on a

long vacation, but hate beats like
a second heart in everyone’s chest.
The day after the election, you
felt a hundred funerals at the desk

where you still work today. That
was before things sprouted. Now
you’re angry when you’re not angry.
Now, the news is on at four and six

and nine. You think of the woman
you saw begging between lanes of
jammed-up cars on the FDR Drive.
Your phone’s traffic app labeled her

a hazard. You looked away. You want
to rip out hate like bindweed, but here
it comes again in the tight-wrapped
purple buds of lilacs, all ready to bloom.

Christine Potter is a poet and writer from the lower Hudson River Valley of New York State. Her poetry has appeared in Rattle, American Arts Quarterly, Eclectica, Snakeskin, Fugue, HOOT, and has been featured on ABC Radio News. Her third collection of poems, Unforgetting, is published by Kelsay Books. Christine’s time-traveling young adult novels, The Bean Books, are available through Evernight Teen.

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*****

Myra Schneider: Three Poems

GOLD

March, and the tricksy morning has crystallized every
grass blade on lawn and verge. Unfazed as the cows
of my childhood on the loose, a low mist is meandering

down the lightless street but the crescent moon
is a brooch pinned to a whitish sky – how it glints!
Soon the eager sun starts licking up the frost

and there’s such a sense of unwrapping, of shedding
winter’s layers that even indoors I can feel expectation
stirring inside the park’s taut buds. I close my eyes

and see fluid gold pooling. Its kindly warmth trickles
through my body and though my past is beyond
my reach, though the world is knotted with friction, fear,

though hardship, sharper than knife points is rife,
I glimpse Stanley Spencer’s newly-awakened dead
emerging from swung-open tombs, bewildered

by daylight and their unstiffening limbs. Suddenly
I’m there, sharing in the glory as they fling their arms
round loved ones, exult in finding they’re alive!

(Stanley Spencer, ‘The Cookham Resurrection’ )

TREES

To shake off the racket of voices, to escape engine-roar,
brake-squeal, drill – all the ear-splitting noises
human beings fabricate, noise which drowns
rain-patter, birdsong, thought – I go to my suburban park,
make my way into a thicket
and in moments
I’m immersed in a silence so deep it releases
the ache in my head. I breathe in the russet sweetness
of long-fallen leaves underneath new buds,
green sycamore layers, frilled orange fungi
clothing a damp stump, hawthorns in snowy
white flower scrambling up earthy slopes, tree roots
in silent conversation underground
and it’s as if
I’m in the heart of an ancient wood in a distant place.
I press my hand against a beech trunk, whisper
a prayer for forestfuls of trees to heal the planet.

LAKE ORTA

If you’ve wrenched yourself from the swaddle of first language
and the home which has always kept you, your feelings safe,
knowing it was too exposed to gunfire to mother you any longer;

if you have lost someone who mattered and everything you touch
is devoid of colour and meaning; if you don’t believe
you will experience happiness again in the welter we call life,

then you will wander through countless months of wilderness
unable to shake off the weight of despair. But at last you may come
upon water – not a muddy pond, a lake of many blues,

a glinting jewel set in a ring of mountains. You will wake
at dawn and as mist rises you will watch an early waiter
feeding swans and listen to the lip-lapping below your window.

At midday the ferryman will appear and row you to the small
enticing island. You will revel in the sun’s glitter. The silence
of depthless water will fill you and hope will leap scattering spray.

Myra Schneider’s tenth full collection, Lifting the Sky, was published by Ward Wood (2018). Other recent poetry publications include Five Views of Mount Fuji (Fisherrow Press 2018 and Persephone in Finsbury Park, SLP, 2016 . Other publications include books about personal writing. Her poetry has appeared frequently in newspapers and journals and it has been broadcast on Radio 3 and 4. She was shortlisted for a Forward Prize in 2007 and she has co-edited anthologies of poetry by contemporary women poets.

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*****

Gerard Smyth: Five Poems

MOSQUITO

Bitten by a Baltic mosquito your finger ballooned
into something resembling a horror
movie special effect. In the Tallinn hospital

the doctor who might have been a remnant
of the old regime, a man for the brutal facts, said:
“Madame, this could mean amputation”.

Five words that fell like a courtroom sentence,
an imperious memorandum to someone expecting
a shot in the arm, a white bandage.

BURNING THE MANUSCRIPTS

‘Manuscripts don’t burn.’ Mikhail Bulgakov

My first manuscripts vanished in the fire,
the stuff of early days, metaphors and similes.
Only the ash remained, the embers and flakes
of rough drafts given to the flames,
pages that could never be reclaimed.

It was a day in winter that needed fire
when I threw the cadences of lovesong and elegy
where I could not save them.
A wilful act and as they burned
they became like voices lost in radio static.

The blaze was exuberant, it consumed
the whole songbook of my youth,
my imitation-odes, beginner’s syntax.
Ghost sonnets rose up the chimney,
the blue ink became ash-grey.

A WRONG WORD

or irony misunderstood,
a wayward thought
whispered in a low voice,
a sentiment the regime doesn’t like.

That’s all it takes to offend the ministry,
for the jailer to shackle the hand that writes,
smash to splinters a poet’s limbs,
make him dig the pit into which he’ll disappear,
stripped of everything except his conscience.

They are in the poetry cage
or in the place next to nowhere – the poets
who were marched through blizzards,
banished like Ovid;
who died between the walls of prisons,
sent there by the killers of language,
those who decide who’s next to vanish.

AVAILABLE LIGHT

Like childhood hurts the short days are behind us.
The operatic high notes of the birds
have returned to backyards, treetops,
the laundry line and garden bush.

The longer days might bring great surprises,
reveal to us the harvester working late,
taking advantage of the available light.
He must mend his broken gates,
patch boundaries that have holes and gaps.

He has waited for the stretch in the evening,
the glow of dandelion season;
for the summer rainbow in the fields
like a halo over the scarecrow dressed in ragged tweeds.
His new-mown hay will lie flat and dry,
so dry it might cause a fire like Carthage
if someone lights a match.

SAFE HOUSE

The flowered paper on the wall was stiff with age,
a holy picture showed
a serpent at the foot of the cross.

And the window to the rustic yard was so small
it took longer for morning to pass through,
the benevolence of light to fill
the room and everything there to take shape again.

The smell of New York seemed to cling
to clothes in the wardrobe,
cast-offs sent by the emigrant
or left behind in the traveller’s trunk.

The night lamp was a red heart in the dark
when I listened for the latch to lift
and the midnight rambler to come in.

He knew the kettle was always hot,
that the kitchen had an empty chair for visitor
or stray, a fireside place where he sat and dipped

the tongs to clasp a red-hot sod of turf
or smouldering log.
Then drew it to the tip of his Sweet Afton butt.

Gerard Smyth is the poetry editor of The Irish TimesThe Fullness of Time: New and Selected Poems, was publishedd by Dedalus Press, 2010 His most recent collection is The Sundays of Eternity.

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*****

Rowena Somerville: Four poems

BEAR

I dreamt we had this
bear which sat between
us like a pet and it was black
and white just like the
dog we used to love but
huge and noble like a
king and in the dream
I knew that it was
old and wounded had to die
I knew we had to do it though
the beast was so
immense and looked so
fine and then you put
some liquid on its
face which ran into its eyes
and so the bear just raised
its paw as for a fly and then you
jabbed the needle and the
bear slumped over like the
dog did at the vets and I
thought oh I hope it’s dead
it is so big and strong and
what if it’s still breathing
feeling pain but then I
was distracted by a tiny
polar bear cub running past
its feet cut off and leaving
round red sponge prints on the floor
and I thought who the hell
has done that is it you
or me and I don’t know and
never will be sure but one
thing is for certain that
it hurts

BIG CATS

Owners of big cats
have certain civic duties
They are responsible for public safety
Innocent people must be protected
from surprising meaty odours
and unexpected teeth

Big cats
should have their paws buttered
to prevent straying
Must have their appetites sated
or damage may ensue
Unleashed
Unsequestered
they may prowl the streets
ravaging flower beds
howling at Rapunzel casements
insinuating horny claws across
vulnerable thresholds
thrusting their broad wet snouts
into unprotected crevices

I am thinking of one such
one careless lady owner
and surely
she is to blame
surely
she is culpable
She could have buttered his paws
She could have tied him with a leather strap
She could have shackled him with clanking chains
and then at least the rest of us
would hear him coming
and we could turn our backs –

as if that might help

UNDERWATER

A day under water
as snow on the velux
casts murky grey shadows
across darkened walls

I’m slowly submerged
beneath bruise-coloured clouds
hurling crystallised bullets
at whitening hills

Alone in the fish-tank
I stretch out my fingers
to gauge the dimensions
and measure the glass

The guards have gone home now
Their footsteps abandon
this sea-life attraction
that no one would miss

I crawl to a corner
and gently untangle
my tentacled limbs
re-aligning for change

Then rest in the knowledge
eventual sunlight
will serve to uncover
just how I’ll emerge

WINDOW

I’m looking out the window
as silver washes blue
Bagayogo from the kitchen
warms the grey, indifferent view

The sea is flat and glassy
It’s implacable and cold
It looks weary of perfection
It’s a million sea-years old

I see Jesus in the car park
Look – he’s talking on the phone
I don’t know who he’s through to
but I’m glad he’s not alone

The new rug by the fireplace
is very nearly right
The whole room looks quite tasteful
in the sinking winter light

And though I won’t be calling
still my head is full of you
Can you feel me through the ether?
as silver washes blue

Rowena Sommerville  has written poems and made things all her life, the last thirty years of which have been lived in lovely Robin Hood’s Bay. She has worked in a huge variety of community settings and arts organisations. Having left full-time work in 2017, she is now freelance, both as a creative and as a project producer. She also sings with and writes for the acappella band Henwen which has been performing locally and nationally for a long and harmonious time.

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*****

Sue Spiers: Two Poems

BARBED WIRE

The seaweed, if it was seaweed,
draped itself over bladder-wrack.
It was a pale, dried out skin,
something more like scum,
estuary cobweb stretched
over fences, rusted barbed wire,
rotted stumps of once-posts.
In the runnels between cream, tufted grasses
green algae coated the river-bed.
Where the water pooled,
half open cockles surfaced,
picked to emptiness by red-legged,
black-skulled gulls,
their bright wingspans
clean against the unveiled sand.
Translucent crabs nestled
between pebbles, imitating
dead things. The fat man
pulling his look-alike pug
greeted us, blocked the way
briefly while his dog
was engrossed by clump-scent.
The pink ferry couldn’t reach its jetty;
passengers lumbered across silt,
muddied their summer footwear
on its first spring outing.
We turned away, across a low-tide
bridge to walk between riverside
houses, to marvel at the number
of garages they needed.

HYDE & SEEK

She hunts cupboards,
lifts plates, tips up cups.

The tea-towel drawer is yanked open
and rummaged, bad words spat.

Her granddaughter flinches,
glances to where the pack is hidden.

Simmering, the oven door slams.
The pressure cooker almost dry;

that stink of blackening pan.
She finds them, lights up

dragging back the stale air.
She sinks into the settee;

Gollum with his precious.
Her granddaughter as witness.

Sue Spiers was highly commended in the 2019 Yeovil poetry competition and awarded 3rd place in the Battered Moons competition. Poems have appeared in South, Stand and, Obsessed With Pipework and on-line at The High Window and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Sue is Treasurer for the Winchester Poetry Festival and reads regularly at Loose Muse in Winchester and Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth. Her collection Jiggle Sac is available on Amazon and she Tweets @spiropoetry.

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Matthew Stewart: Three Poems

THE DRINKS CABINET

It whiffs of never-to-be-repeated
attempts at unpronounceable cocktails;

of a grandmother’s sworn-by remedy
for a nasty cold;

of a first visit
from some dead-posh prospective son-in-law;

of inappropriate leaving presents.

Talking of leaving, you left it behind
and me as well —

left me lined-up bottles,
the landmark-laden toasts

we never made,
never will.

5D

In the music box on your mantelpiece
I find them, torn and brittle to the touch,
a pair of 5d London bus tickets.

There’s no way of knowing why they’re kept here,
where they started or where they were headed,
only that their journey’s come to an end.

THE FOLDER

When to renew the insurance,
which radiator’s prone to drips,
why there’s only one set of keys,
where to find our photo albums,
what to do if the boiler fails:

You left me a cardboard folder
packed with your copperplate writing,
section after numbered section
tailored to my incompetence,
preparing me for your absence.

Matthew Stewart works in the Spanish wine trade and lives between Extremadura and West Sussex. Following two pamphlets with Happenstance Press, both now sold out, he published his first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, with Eyewear Books in 2017.

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Pam Thompson: Two poems

THE STALACTITE TREE

my branches
drip calcite
then freeze
I expand
into each
damp space
in these caves
under Malaga
I make the roofs
dangerous
I glow prehistoric
with green algae
If you slip
don’t clutch
any part of me
I am ice-burn
and hollow
with your
desperate voices
echoing
inside me

CAUGHT
after Giacomo Leopardi

I wandered away from the party
with white wine in a plastic tumbler,
past the fish shack, the lifeboat station
and down the granite steps
to the beach, hearing the crunch
of my shoes on pebbles.
It sounded as if someone else’s
footsteps were disturbing the substrate
of time, tide and weather.

The night swam in soft vapour.

To my left, the Plough dipped
bright and low; above me, cinematic clouds.
had stopped moving. When the moon
set sail its best rays, and far was near,
I could have walked out
on that silvery trail, in my winter coat –
a shred, a lit speck – being,
not for the first time that day,
held and seen – a welcome
surveillance that filled me
on the drive back to the city
and its floodplain
of concealing electric light.

Pam Thompson is a writer and lecturer based in Leicester. Her publications include The Japan Quiz ( Redbeck Press, 2009) and Show Date and Time (Smith | Doorstop, 2006) and Strange Fashion( Pindrop Press, 2017). Pam has a PhD in Creative Writing and is one of the organisers of Word!, a spoken-word night at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester. She is a 2019 Hawthornden Fellow.

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Ian Twiddy: Two Poems

NO POETRY

There was no poetry at school.
No one spoke like that, it was suspect,
it was so far removed from us:
no one cared about foxes or tramps
or one about mewling kittens that seemed
to the lads to be really scraping the barrel;

it was a duty, an imposition
that turned up in exams, a chore,
like cleaning a weapon like a pen,
testing your knowledge of parts of speech,
an inspection meant to keep you on your toes,
which entrenched ever more resistance.

I remember one class only.
You had to pick one from an anthology,
read it out, say why it was poetic.
It was pathetic, mumbling, stumbling,
mechanically ploughing through,
people fake-coughing to throw you.

The cheekiest boy, his hair in a bowl
like a halo, chose Keats,
‘Hyperion’, could it have been,
the longest one, the most wrong,
that would have taken the rest
of the class, and sniggeringly spilled over

into the next. He split the spine,
ahemmed, uprighted like a choirboy,
and lofted angelically into the waffle,
whereupon the teacher, fully lunched, half-asleep,
ruffled up and said No, no, stop,
choose another, you’re not doing that.

We were never friends.
So it’s not like we lost touch,
in the darkness of the following years,
before I heard of the lift he took
at Christmas, his first term at university,
when no one could say exactly what happened —

a streak or a shriek, the ditches ice,
some neglected connection underfoot,
a scratched barrier, stretch unchecked ahead,
the nativity glimmer of nearly-there lights,
the flow cut off as it was just getting going.

NAZARETH

Mary was standing on the roof of her house
when the bright-haired angel Gabriel appeared,
and said that to her a child would be born.

That’s where they slept on hot and rainless nights.
Or kept a flower garden. Nazareth.
That place was all wide-eyed incantation,
a magic command that could throw the world open.
We too had a flat roof, the garage, and sometimes
I’d scrabble up there on summer evenings.
I remember the touch of strewn gravel
that left sharp prints in the palms pulling up,
and the guilty, delicious smell of the tar sheet.
When I was up, I lay back and waited.
The clouds gilded and swelled into pregnancy
and sailed east, as the grass and asparagus
slowly lifted me into my immanence.
Any moment I could be chosen . . . called forth . . .
You’ll fall through the bloody roof, she roared.
I thought then every boy saw his mum as Mary,
and himself alone never measuring up.

When the garage got built on I wondered how
so much had blown over my head: the watered seed,
the king who would reign over the house of Jacob,
and the fact the winged words had to be close
to what would be holding the walls together,
or what would slop on the ground in winter.
But still, that riveting beginning was rooted
in truth – those cool, flat roofs people really sleep on –
in a practical magic that has been
miracle enough, ever since, to fill me.

Iain Twiddy studied literature at university and lived for several years in northern Japan. His poetry has appeared in Harvard Review, Salamander, Pedestal Magazine, The Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, The London Magazine and elsewhere. He is the author of the critical studies Pastoral Elegy in Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (2012) and Cancer Poetry (2015).

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Helen May Williams: Two Poems

HARBINGERS OF AUTUMN

A small child stands in the doorway, cranes her neck
scans the chill horizon for wisps then plumes of smoke.
Clouds flock the evening sky, begin to detach themselves
little atavistic bands loud above her head
the sound of rusty bicycles heading northwest.
V-shapes emerge shift and regroup above the mansard roof.
Darkening tracks fill the upper atmosphere wave upon wave
veering unerringly to wetland Mere, tipping the air
from out their wings, whiffling, then dropping down
to the night-time lagoon
xxxxxxOctober since ten thousand years.

FROM A LETTER FOUND IN MY MOTHER’S BELONGINGS AFTER HER DEATH

[Postmark Blundellsands Liverpool 9.30 A M 20 June 39]
17th June 1939
Dear June
It is the time of haymaking
but the rain hinders it
and so the grass still stands
full of poppies
and campion
and blue rocket
and lots of other flowers
I cannot prevent myself from thinking of you
though I do not look upon your face
xxxxxxxxxxxxMichael
P. S. Please excuse the ink — it has no strength of character
xxxxxxxxxxxxMichael
P. S. Please excuse the ink — it has no strength of character

Helen May Williams is the author of Catstrawe (Cinnamon Press 2019) and The Princess of Vix (Three Drops Press 2017). Her parallel text translation of Michel Onfray’s Before Silence was published later this year by The High Window Press. Her debut novel, June, will also be published this year by the Cinnamon Press imprint, Leaf by Leaf.

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Heidi Williamson: Two Poems

WHEN WE WERE STONE

We were fine-grained, sedimentary.
Our bedding planes were fissile.

We slept at the bottom of a river;
when it dried we basked,

when it froze we waited.
The stars were further

when we saw them through water.
The river’s bed near-buried us.

Its silt suppressed
or collided against us.

Over the years how worn we grew.
So many elements fused between.

The fish eyed us with suspicion.
And when we drained in the sun

dragonflies alighted on us
as if we would always be there.

PASSING

London, where I’ve failed to live
for forty years, rises out of the rain
above Highgate, where just now
it rains on the dead.

I walk between headstones,
mindful of funerals, as the wind
blows against stone. The grass
at my feet is dirty and bare, and I miss

skies where you can see rain coming:
rain coming and passing,
miles away, across the next town,
silently passing, then gone.

Heidi Williamson is an Advisory Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund and teaches for the Poetry School, Poetry Society, National Centre for Writing and The Writing Coach. Her first collection, Electric Shadow, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize. The Print Museum won the East Anglian Book Award for Poetry. Return by Minor Road (Bloodaxe, 2020) revisits her time living in Dunblane at the time of the Primary School shooting. @heidiwilliamson http://www.heidiwilliamsonpoet.com

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Dorothy Yamamoto: Three Poems

THE AIN SAKHRI LOVERS

‘The image is also phallic in all aspects’
(British Museum website)

Turn it in your hands—this calcite pebble
lifted from a stream bed—

and see the two lovers
who cannot be drawn apart.

Whether hers and hers
or his and his

their bodies are generous as bread—
warm loaves risen
on wild yeast.

One way, yes, a phallus
but keep turning

and new shapes appear,
new valleys, folds, entrances

which invite you in
until the movement of their limbs
is yours too—

yours and every lover’s.

IMAGINARY NETSUKE

It is brown, clenched,
a stubborn nut.
It’s not the Buddha, because
there’s tension here.
Under my thumb it
conceals its history
like my father, who,
coming home late,
shrugged off bruises,
rolled himself a cigar.

WHORTLEBERRIES

Stopping on Dartmoor, we were told
to go and pick whortleberries.
I knelt on a doormat of prickles,
pulling them one by one—so tiny!
Meanwhile our father, who was not expected to help,
lit a cigarette and lounged against the car.
Did we wonder what the berries were for
as we picked and picked, licked juice from stinging fingers?
(We were not a family who made pies or jams.)
My sister’s handful daubed
her mouth like a clown’s.
Back in the car, she leant across our mother
and sicked them up, on her fur-coated lap.
Her fur coat! On Dartmoor. Again, a mystery.

Dorothy Yamamoto grew up in Barnet, north London, where her Japanese father and English mother settled after the war. That divided background is the source of many of her poems. She now lives in Oxford, and writes non-fiction books about animals as well as poetry. She has edited an anthology in aid of the charity Freedom from Torture, Hands & Wings, and her pamphlet, Honshū Bees (Templar Poetry), came out in spring 2018.

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Abigail Ardelle Zammit: Two Poems

SONG
Armila, San Blas Islands

The sea churns its music into a storm.
There’s no light in the neighbouring jungle
but the unwavering call of cicadas,
the slipperiness of frogs. And more frogs –

like words, waking grass to a new green
somewhere beyond emerald, filling
a salty river with tadpoles, their wet crochets
dancing one brief dance before leaping
away from a sea that is never turquoise here –

never what you want it to be, but grey-brown,
turning purple with seaweed, scavenging
for buried words, phrases woven
from the not-so-blue of the sky, its torrential rain,
sudden, quickly doing away with itself.

The huts seem sealed inside their prayer,
but the sea’s mouth is insolent with howl.
It makes a woman’s hair turn mud-green
in one night so a man can reach far
inside her scalp looking for jade and silver.

She says the jungle has the colours
of her heart. And she gives herself
completely. The man reaches for her mouth
but there’s no light in the jungle.
Not even her eyes can save him.

DOOR WITH A VIEW
Armila, San Blas Islands

No glass on this island, not even a mirror –
doors have trellised bodies,
the painted wood chiselled into squares, rectangles,
or animal shapes – iguanas, fish, turtles,
wild cats jumping towards the next opening,
leaping into a river painted in cobalt,
or steel-grey, opaque,
beyond the reach of the houses,
but always at their heels.

Kids play on the river bank, carry
hand-carved surf-boards, swim
against the current to a narrow strip of sand,
then wade into the shallows, coaxing
the Caribbean to send them wave on wave.

From our studio rooms, everything is split –
framed and reframed within the cornices of
geometry and mythic creature.

Yet everything is indivisible, the sea
merges into the flanks of the river,
the river enters to leave again –
the washer-women stand in pairs,
their molas replicating the landscape – [1]
endless patterns of fish, jaguar, iguana –

We are here, behind the door, no glass
to shield us from fleas, mosquitoes, the whiff of seaweed –
but still there in the body, the sea’s, the river’s body,
the village’s three-hundred souls,
walking barefoot,
feeding us rice, plantain.

Their wedge of warm Atlantic
takes us whole and shaking –
we’re this view upon which we lean,
hungry and still,
an old canoe etched red and green,
another stirring the water’s surface.

[1] molas – skirts and blouses embroidered with bright flowers and mythical creatures from Guna mythology.

Abigail Ardelle Zammit is from the island of Malta. Her work has appeared in various British poetry journals and she has published two collections of poetry, Voices from the Land of Trees (Smokestack, 2007), and Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin (SPM, 2015), which won second prize in the Sentinel Poetry Book Competition. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing (Lancaster), and is currently working on a collection of poems exploring the connections between place, text, body, and the female experience.

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