Category Archives: Poetry

The High Window, Winter 2021: Poetry

Winter 2021


*****

Poets

  Denise BennettBrendan ClearyDerek CoyleJan FitzGeraldGreg Freeman Neil Fulwood Evie Groch Kate HendryJenny HockeyAlan HummDavid Hackbridge Johnson Annie KissackLeonard LambertGill Learner Edward LeePippa LittleDan MacIsaacTamiko MackisonKathleen McPhilemyRay MaloneRoy MarshallSally MichaelsonJosie MoonMaxine Rose MunroJohn MuroStuart PickfordAndrew PearsonColin PinkEdmund PrestwichSelese RocheFinola ScottPenny SharmanRichard SkinnerDavid UnderdownLouise WarrenMerryn Williams Pat Winslow

Previous Poetry

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

*****

Denise Bennett: Two Poems

SHORT CUT ACROSS THE FIELDS
after the painting by Stanhope Forbes 1857 –1947

If I listen, I can hear the clip-clop
of hooves, throb of the machinery,
jiggle of the milk can on the back.
I can feel the heat of the land.

This harvest painting, August 1921
could be a replica of your life as a child,
when you were sent to help on Granfer’s farm –
one of six, singled out; a little maid
sent to skitter with lunches for uncles,
to turn the handle of the butter churn.
You often spoke of the journey home.
The drowsy slow, slow, slowness
of the short cut across the fields.

MY MOTHER’S GLOVES

There’s comfort
in holding my mother’s old,
worn leather gloves;
comfort in putting my hand

into the empty fingers
and feeling the warmth –
her crushing grip
when we crossed the busy roads.
There’s comfort
in remembering the last
touch of her was when

I kissed her cold fingers
in her coffin –
and in seeing her beautiful hands
crossed on her breast.

Denise Bennett has an MA in creative writing and runs poetry workshops in community settings. She is the stanza rep. for Portsmouth and Havant and secretary of The Portsmouth Poetry Society. Her work is widely published. She has three collections: Planting the snow Queen and Parachute Silk by Oversteps Books and Water Chits by Indigo Dreams.Her local history poems have appeared on Portsmouth’s Literary Map, an online interactive map created by the University of Portsmouth.

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*****
Brendan Cleary: Two Poems

BORN TO RUN
for Esme

mud & puddles
then sunshine bleeding
behind the stage
over the fields
when you saw The Boss
down at Slane

I didn’t know you
but imagine you swaying
your vast cascade
of red ringlets
tied in a ponytail
your blue sunhat that day

Clarence Clemons on sax
Bruce on lead kicking in
& later in your tent
droplets of rain
as you make love
with the shy boy

he’d OD’d in Melbourne
& you never speak
his foreign name
as he haunts me now
a ghost with no face
in the sweetest of your sighs

MY CONTRIBUTION

Close Circuit TV
at York Street 76
in the station bar
there’s an intercom
so I press it
get in for ‘an auld pint’
this sunny Saturday
after my trip
to ‘Good Vibrations’
I need to examine
my new Roy Harper album
before the next train
back to Whitehead
then they approach
Mexican moustaches
denim suits
‘God & Ulster’ tattoos
& an oblong box
marked ‘Loyalist Prisoners’

Brendan Cleary has published many collections from Bloodaxe, Wrecking Ball, Tall-Lighthouse & Pighog Press. His latest collection Do Horses Fly? (tall lighthouse) is a sequence inspired the photography of Eadweard Muybridge. He is originally from Co. Antrim but now lives and writes in Brighton.

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*****
Derek Coyle: Two Poems

CARLOW POEM  #55

There are different kinds of storms.
Not all of them happen
at sea, or blizzard their way
across Alaska, or the Gobi Desert.
This one was quiet,
visiting us during lockdown,
appearing to whisk away
a little bit of us. Not quite
skin, or teeth, but maybe
something of the heart.
The best we can hope for
is that these pieces of us
have landed in a field
down by the Barrow in Milford.
I stop short of saying
we are feeding a salmon,
or a pike. You know
what I mean, even though
you don’t lift your head
from your drawing, and me
stuck in these books
you feel form some barrier
between us. I could say
it’s been a long night,
but the nights haven’t proved
a problem. At least then
we can sleep. This is hard
to pin down in words.
All the paper in China
couldn’t hold it. After
all this has blown over
we might say it never existed.
It was just something we imagined.
Our Grendel, blown in from the moors.
The smell of lamb pasanda
–turmeric, cumin, cinnamon–
keeps us in the room.
This scent that has crept
silently under the door,
and seemingly through the walls,
holds us together.
I have made it for you.
Something by Schumann on the radio
opens up a window,
breezy and bright.
I step in there for a while.

CARLOW POEM #13

I had to go out
into the garden around March
to grow the spuds myself.
Early variety Casablancas, even though
we are in the Scallionaters’ county.
I visited the local stud
to secure the finest horse manure.
Only the best
organic fertilizer will do.
The lads in Tully’s Bar
thought I was daft.
The poetry had gone
to my head.
‘I hope they have a bed
in St Dympna’s for that fella,
he’s finally gone loco.
We knew it would happen.’
I watered the early seedlings.
I fed them liquid seaweed.
I checked the temperature daily.
I sprayed them for blight, copper sulphate.
When the time came
I harvested them by hand.
I’ve learned the place
you’ll ache most is behind
the knees. You’d think
it would be the back,
but it’s the knees will get you.
I filled bag after bag.
And then that Sunday
I washed and scrubbed them
by hand, one by one.
These diamonds of Graiguecullen earth.
They were spotless.
I took the risk
of leaving the jackets on.
I added them to onions,
a bit of exotic garlic,
a tip I read in a magazine.
Some beef. Turnips. Parsnip.
The finest carrots from our garden.
They were organic as well.
But that’s another story, another poem.
Yes, a bay leaf. I had read that too.
Our own fresh parsley added last.
And then I served them.
Your favourite stew.
The salt was on the table.
I held off on a squeeze of lemon.
I’d love that, but you don’t.
It was a meal fit for Apollo,
and I served it up to you.

Derek Coyle’s poems have appeared in many journals. He published his first collection, Reading John Ashbery in Costa Coffee Carlow in a dual-language edition in Tranas Sweden and Carlow Ireland in April 2019, and it was shortlisted for the Shine Strong 2020 poetry award. He is a founding member of the Carlow Writers’ Co-Operative. He lectures in Carlow College/St Patrick’s, Ireland. Derek Coyle has published poems in The Irish Times, Irish Pages, The Texas Literary Review, The Honest Ulsterman, Orbis, Skylight 47, Assaracus and The Stony Thursday Book.

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*****

Jan FitzGerald: Two Poems

NATURE STUDY

With Teacher’s voice floating over us,
we lay back in a sea of clover,
watching a blackbird feeding her young
in a straw house held up by the wind.

In summer grass lush in its coolness,
we tracked oxalis by radar in our fingertips,
plucked those bitter-sweet stalks
and passed them around
like found cigarettes –
Never mind the colour of your skin,
Never mind what your Dad did
for a living.

Our mothers would say
Don’t put that in your mouth.
Our mothers would say
That might be poisonous,
but we lay back sucking the sour grass
like sherbet through a straw,
watching a bird
and a bag of bees fizzing above it –
immunised by innocence,
in the secret club of childhood.

VIOLETS

I know these violets,
they are family.
Not just a splash of colour
in a field of rubble
where a house once stood,
tiny pennants marking
time’s hiatus.
We share history.
This was our patch.
Invisible in the shade
of the southern wall,
anonymous as grass grubs,
we watched clouds drift by
like dandelion clocks, round portals
to another dimension.
We were quiet as mycelium,
unobliged as cast off cicada skins,
no school bell,
no appointments,
unobserved as any smeuse,
the overlooked and overlookers.
We watched bees go about their business
powdering the faces of pansies,
fussing around bonnets and bells.
We were hidden
in the disguises of beetles,
lulled by a tinkling drain behind us,
our own waterfall.
My childhood was tuned
to the delicious coolness,
the scent of violets.
I know them well.

Jan FitzGerald (b.1950) is a long established NZ poet with publication in mainstream NZ literary journals including Poetry NZ, NZ Books, Takahe, Landfall, NZ Poetry Society Anthology 2020, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021 and overseas in Poetry Australia, Yellow Medicine Review (USA), The Atlanta Review (USA), Dreamcatcher , Orbis  Acumen and The London Magazine. Jan has three poetry books published and a fourth due out in 2022.

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*****
Greg Freeman: Two Poems

WAXWINGS

Some go a lifetime without seeing them,
yet my moment always leaves me
with regret. Out of the January blue,
a flock of twenty or so arranged
in a tree just yards from my door,
silhouetted against the sky.

At first I couldn’t see their colours,
was unsure. Closer, and yes,
such unexpected callers,
these occasional winter invaders
from Scandinavia: jaunty crests,
black and white eyestripes. Head-turners.

Reluctantly I walked on to the station
to catch my train, still marvelling, exultant.
A birder colleague at the paper stared
at me viciously, almost daggers drawn,
You lucky bastard, as if I was undeserving,
didn’t understand what I had seen.

And I was left dissatisfied: couldn’t
I have followed a trail to find them,
like a grail? Those waxwings were unable
to transform the familiar: wish I had spotted
them somewhere wilder than a street
of chalet bungalows and grass verges.

ST MARY THE VIRGIN, BURGH ST PETER

Edge of counties bordered
by water. The tower takes you aback.
Place of worship at the end of a lane
deserted by villagers centuries ago.
Congregation about a dozen,
services roughly once a quarter,
if they can find a preacher.

Landmark for the wherry men.
The tower looks like a wedding cake,
modelled on Mesopotamia ziggurats.
Pevsner called it a folly;
would Larkin have been kinder?

The thatched roof needs replacing,
guardians on their last legs.
What awaits when they are gone?
Dedication, duty, faith.
The hymns at the funeral
‘I Vow To Thee My Country’
and ‘Jerusalem’.

Greg Freeman is a former newspaper sub-editor, and now news and reviews editor for the poetry website Write Out Loud. His debut pamphlet Trainspotters was published in 2015 by Indigo Dreams, and his first full collection Marples Must Go! by Dempsey & Windle in autumn 2021.

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*****

Neil Fulwood: Three Poems

COCKTAILS WITH THE BLACK DOG

It’s two-for-one on liver failure
and the black dog’s lapping up
the cocktail menu like closing time
is tapping its watch and angling
for a cab home. Lapping it up but
spitting it out. Harvey Wallbanger?
Sex on the Beach? That shit 007 orders
to impress some chiffon-contoured
femme fatale? The black dog
regurgitates these moribund mixers
and fixes the barman with a single
fiery eye and demands a Midnight Black,
demands a Depths of the Abyss,
demands a Long Dark Night of the Soul,
demands an Absence of God, demands
a Pitiless Gaze of Cosmic Indifference,
demands a hemlock with a twist
and a packet of razor blades.

THE BLACK DOG’S BESTIARY

Lambs gambol on hillsides
as if chops and mint sauce
were never the supermarket endgame

and the black dog
comes charging in at the controls
of a JCB, gouging opencast.

Kittens clog up YouTube,
every scratch and excretion
and death-mauled mouse edited out

and the black dog
gives a recitation of Blake’s Tyger Tyger
with a snuff movie playing in the background.

Zoos a continent apart
play matchmaker to pandas
on the verge of extinction

and the black dog
graffitis the enclosure wall
with an “eats, shoots and leaves” joke.

Hamsters pedal mindlessly,
achieving a delirium known only
to footballers, boy bands and the truly stupid

and the black dog
spends hours patiently spelling out
the concept of labour and its surplus value.

The black dog
passes the rattlesnake’s abode,
gives a brisk bark by way of greeting

and, receiving the world’s
most threatening tambourine solo
by way of response, keeps on keeping on.

Cod and haddock
swim in a little closer
to the tide-dragging net-thing

and strain to hear
as the back dog recounts a weird story
about potatoes subdivided into stick-like lengths.

The horse prancing
in full regalia and lapping up
that staccato thing humans do with their hands

gets a black dog visit
back at the stables: the difference
between dressage and being put down

after falling
at the Grand National
inspires a swift equestrian calculation

factoring in hoof trajectory,
weight of horseshoe and distance
between owner’s head and stable wall.

Elsewhere,
the eagle and the fieldmouse
seem to be getting along famously

until the black dog
outs the “lion and the lamb” plotline
as pure fiction, and all hell breaks loose.

THEOLOGY AND THE BLACK DOG

1.

The angels dancing
on the head of a pin
don’t notice the black dog
till it’s too late, his snout
like twin black holes
opening above them.

2.

The black dog takes an articulated lorry
through the eye of a needle
marked with a NO ENTRY sign,
a mote in one headlight
and a beam in the other. The black dog
leaves it double parked and gets a bus home.

3.

The black dog delivers
a sermon while mounting
and gets distracted.
Blessed be the tumescent?
Hosanna to the holiest of holies?
Or was he saying something about forgiveness?

4.

This is the gospel according to the black dog
and everyone is forgiven.
Except for the politicians who can rot in hell.
Except for the lobbyists who can rot alongside them.
Except for the captains of industry
who can rot between the figures of their balance sheets.

5.

The more the black dog thinks about it
the more people he has to add
to the unforgiven list. The black dog
wonders if it might be quicker to make a list
of the categorically forgiven. Or just scrap
the project entirely. The black dog ruminates

as he tucks into a hearty supper. Not his last.

Neil Fulwood was born in Nottingham, England, where he still lives and works. He has three collections out with Shoestring Press: No Avoiding ItCan’t Take Me Anywhere and Service Cancelled. He co-edited the Alan Sillitoe tribute anthology More Raw Material (Lucifer Press, 2015), and has published three volumes of film criticism with Chrysalis. 

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*****

Evie Groch: Poem

ON THE ROAD TO MARRAKESH

A highway in name only,
a line drawn not quite in sand.
Cemeteries litter the roadside
in random plots and strips.
National police in sharp grey
uniforms trimmed in red
with pilot hats stop
traffic to flex muscle.
Weariness sits beside me
on this bus to the city,
nothingness grows heavy
on my lids,
hour after hour
scenes replay themselves
I have seen my fill,
yet I fight to stay awake.
Sheep and goats
sample breakfast
under stoic, far-sighted
eyes of herders.
Burros on the roadside
pulling faded carts of produce, wares.
Overloaded transport trucks
list, drip ropes that trail them
in their wake.
Horns announce passing
on the musical staff of lanes.
Our bus weaves and passes
to prove it’s still in motion,
otherwise I could be fooled.
Vagrants disguised as
highway workers reap litter
from the median like crops-
a day’s work till the evening
break from the fast of Ramadan.
Dry lands bake till sagebrush brown
in a furnace stoked with flares.
Anticipation grows –
water for parched throats,
shade for weary souls,
couscous in the tagine for dinner.
How soon, Marrakesh.

Evie Groch has served in educational leadership all her life. Her opinion pieces, humor, poems, short stories, word challenges, and other articles have been widely published in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Contra Costa Times, Games Magazine, anthologies, and many online venues. Her short stories, poems, and memoir pieces have won her recognition and awards. Travel, language, and immigration are special themes for her work.

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*****

Kate Hendry: Three Poems

A SPELL FOR FREYA

An empty jar, nestling in window-box geraniums,
collects moon water for you, my twelve-year-old
witch. You need it to power your spells.

This morning, after a stormy night, first rainfall
in weeks, a centimetre of peaty water’s flecked
with soil. The moon has delivered the earth.

I don’t tell. I want to keep its magic for myself –
I’ll dip my fingers in its icy water, draw the tips
across the scar I’ll acquire on Friday afternoon

or dab it on your eyelids, so when you see me,
breastless, sliced and stitched, missing the saggy
cushion you cosy into, you’ll not recoil.

Freya – after surgery, I’ll be crazed and cracked,
like the baby bowl you cherish which broke
last week into half-moons, which your father

repaired with superglue, which has a crooked
yellow scar, edge to edge, which is rimmed
with a broken bumble bee, a whole caterpillar

and a divided ant, which we’ll keep for your treats,
and I promise will be full whenever you need
the sweet snap of salt and vinegar crisps.

ART CURE

For bravery, I want to borrow
Elizabeth Blackadder’s Irises
from the hospital waiting room.

I’ll hang it in my kitchen, above
the toaster, for nine months,
return it when the cancer’s gone.

The leaves are too dazzling
for real flowers but I believe in them.
Beyond the breast clinic, the same

green’s daubed on the tops
of scaffolding poles, so they glow
on foggy days. It’s as bright

as the fluorescent vests of workmen
who climb perilously
over silver guardrails, laughing.

AUTOCORRECT

I must have typed chemotherapy
so often my iPad’s decided
it’s the only c-h- word I know.

It thinks it’s helping by hijacking
my thoughts. Doesn’t believe
I want to type chain
and chink and Chattanooga.

I try to say once, as in once upon
a time or once this is all over
but it insists on oncologist.

It’s got me on c-a- words too –
gives me cancer so eagerly,
as if the word’s perched
on the tip of my tongue.

How many times must I write
cargo, cavalry, capacious
before it shuts up?

Kate Hendry is a poet, editor and teacher living in Edinburgh. Her first collection, The Lost Original, was published by HappenStance Press.

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*****

Jenny Hockey: Four Poems

EXILE
After Mary Mulholland ‘the art of daydreaming’

My father is shoes. He’s had every pair for donkeys’ years,
swears by shoe trees and polish. My father’s an RAF smile
warm in the locket my mother always wore. He longs
for harvest fields, red earth. My father is diaries, my father is
indexed diaries. He eats boiled eggs with a silver spoon
dipped in salt on the edge of his plate. He mixes mustard
from powder in a tin. His junket always sets.

We cleared his bathroom afterwards, a foreign body opened up.
Shavings speckling the sink. We took away the socks he’d darn,
string vests ironed after every wash, stole his broken mops and pails
kept in the shed in case. Felons, we looted his mantelpiece:
a marble owl, a carriage clock, the paperweight.

My father’s an old canvas rucksack, my father’s a map.
He’s king of the Cambridge Rambling Club, they say
when he’s dead. Does he still go down to the seas when he can?
Does he answer the call of the Topsham tide? He hasn’t got
our new address, doesn’t know which is our most comfortable chair.

CAFÉ DU MONDE

Freshness first thing
and I open up the big glass doors,
move stacks of tables and chairs
into pavement alignments

that suit the hurried office staff
who need to squeeze a slice of sun
from their day, the woman who wakes at 3 am
to fret about next year’s budget
and now sips a cappuccino,
dares to believe today
is a possibility.

Then after the bell has rung,
older women and men
who walk the neighborhood children to school,
just lending a hand,
order eggs in hollandaise sauce, why not,
wave a friend to a seat near theirs,
put in an hour.

Freshness first thing
but the kitchen is hot and dark —
I’m slicing courgettes by the kilo,
ribbing the lad whose butter curls won’t
hold up, planning to try my new friend,
see if she’ll come for a walk at least —

DON’T DRIVE TO WORK

cycle into the nip of East Yorkshire fields,
leaving the Minster behind —
it’s got your back. And the horse
in the paddock, nuzzling another’s neck,
only pretends to look away
as you pedal by, erasing the seethe
of hungry cats round your feet.

Now you can ride, the hero you really are,
swallowing miles alone — as daylight
pushes blue between clouds —

till you return at the end of the day,

gliding into the slow fall of night
about the level crossing,
the shoulders of farms concealing a past,
dusk weaving round pylons

till you are nothing more
than the single beam of your light
finding its way up the road’s dark sleeve.

FERAL

In the vast held breath
that recently passed for now,
badgers and deer came ambling back,
easy as sparrows squatting a roof,
came to find out what remained of their world.

Out of the forest, bog land and hedge
a clatter of claw and hoof in our malls.

Behind lockdown doors
we slipped our punctuation,
turned feral.

Jenny Hockey is a Sheffield poet and member of the city’s Tuesday Poets and The Poetry Room. She has poems in magazines such as The North, Magma, The Frogmore Papers, Iota and Orbis. In 2009 she retired from Sheffield University as Emeritus Professor of Sociology to write and read more poetry and in 2013 received a New Poets Award from New Writing North. Her debut collection Going to bed with the moon was published by Oversteps Books in 2019 https://www.jennyhockeypoetry.co.uk/

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*****

Alan Humm: Two Poems

LANGHAM

Late at night, doubled by darkness,
lamplight dribbling down his chin,
he looked like someone’s dog.
“He raped me”, my mother said.
All I remember is my brother
knocking him down;
the way they both turned
into something fiercely simple:
an abstraction.
I kicked him, twice. Not hard.
The room, so carefully disposed,
seemed to be withholding judgement.
In the morning, it was like looking
at water under glass:
his face, I mean, its shivery tint
and the expression underneath
and then, beneath that, clarity.
“I’m proud of you”, he said.

BASILDON

… was sudden decompression;
grass shrunk to the role
of sidekick; concrete’s surly footprint
everywhere: houses in lockstep;
bars whose emptiness felt as excessive
– as rococo – as a Bedouin tent.

Exhausted, I’d come home
to what felt like my own unhappiness.
Frail clotheslines
peopled an expanse as bare
as if it was repeating something:
that this dull, resounding desert
was the thing you found
when you approached love’s end.
My mother beat the furniture.
She must have spoken,
but I don’t remember
anything she said;
her face had gathered like a swarm of bees.

I drank in the bar my father drank in.
My father’s friends, mouth-breathers,
melted like candles in the dark.
My father swaggered, but mildly;
deferentially. By three o’clock
he was as soaked-through as a paper bag.
We were in tow, but then we weren’t:
he’d disappeared, and yet his voice remains;
it rumbles like an earthquake
in the house next door.
We could all hear him
foul the air;
breathing in lockstep
(were they doing it on the stairs?);
shame so much a part of everything
that you could feel it being smeared,
like butter, on your face.
I stood and stared at the estate
out of the kitchen window,
merging with it;
its remorseless disregard.
Love’s shards were beckoning
in the distance;
dithering there in space.
Not love. Disgrace.

Alan Humm is the editor of One Hand Clapping magazine. He will soon be publishing his first collection, which is called A Brief and Biased History of Love.

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*****
David Hackbridge Johnson: Poem

A LOCKDOWN LENT

i.
Lenten pastures bereft
as if seeds withdraw,
a denial of the stirring green.

So held breath of leaves
feeling their bones;
a wiring that feeds no current.

Wafer thin the husk
not yet on that dry tongue
flaking its winter throat.

A land made bloodless
by limbs that feel no sap.
Where is the one word

that stands to warm this flat earth?

ii.
The unspoken becomes fire
enclosed in its burning fist
involuted by the scorched clots.

Then the dry scabs of rent sticks
brittle with the effort
having no purchase of sap.

A swept hand of flame,
now the ash raked by the wind
a hollow prophesy echoes its nothing,

the grating of the fragile bark
some gratuity of idle teeth;
yes, something that mops up demise

and at the heart gnaws.

iii.
Spores in secret.
Is there any plotting under the dried moss
or the descent of an ice cap?

The tundra spreads its dun mantle;
stillness, but a flicker of root,
a whistling silence is the song.

Who sings it over the dim arc
that begs for the sun’s return,
the horizon’s lament at a searing edge?
Left with the fizzing viral threads?
the crown of thorns in the tract?
a doomed bolus of air clogging the roots?

The thin fingers clinging to the wind’s sheet.

iv.
If the sap moves
then the liquid force lifts that carapace
that moulded itself to stopped breath.

The last word sliced must complete;
if the grey tongue spills the ash
a rain refreshes the final syllable.

What will you say if Spring comes?
All as before the blood forgotten?
All bones healing as straight as wiped slate?
A broken flower of hands reaches out;
it has colour still – an iris memory
glowing yellow by the pond.

A word transformed by water.

David Hackbridge Johnson began composing at the age of eleven and has written works in all genres. His works have been widely performed. and include fifteen symphonies, four of which have been recorded on Toccata Classics. He is also a poet.

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*****

Annie Kissack: Two Poems

CONVERSATIONS NOT HAD

over blunt headlands
a grey sky from Ireland
the crunch of brute hail
under your feet

We raised you here among old men and stories
while lightning struck at Cronk Y Watch
and dazed horses raced on the skyline.
Here we walked to find lost wells on faded maps
and chibbyrt this and that,
and Charlotte’s tholtan, that tough woman,
the last of those who knew no English
and did not care.

We slow our step. The place the plane came down ? The film they made…?
You shrug, thinking of other things.

a bitter cold springtime
hands in a turnip ridge
the thickness of mud
beneath your nails

See, it’s still there, that barrow, as rusty as ever.
The time you fell into the midden,
an accident, you laughed- again, again!
And then, the day that nearly broke our hearts
when you said we’d lied
to let you think this outcrop rock
was all the world, its remnant speech,
a way to live.

Did you have dreams and did we break them?
I must be heading back you say.

OLD BONES

Not so much a grandmother
as a great-grandmother but what’s a hundred years?
A great-grandmother then and not the soft or squidgy kind;
I don’t think she’d leave a sweet taste in the mouth
but salt, like blood; my mother’s word on that.

What I know: she gathered bitter herbs,
plucked pennywort for ailing eyes and dealt with births.
She bore a child herself, married the hefty man
who dug the graves and intoned Dust to Dust
to keep himself in line; it failed.
When all went home she cleaned the school,
her fingers trailing down the worn piano keys.
The devil watched, alert, curious
testing for evidence of slackness, fun,
but she did not succumb.
No, straight as a stick of rock she was, no bending here.
Not for her daughter,
(Ma, there’s one I’d like you to meet),
or for her daughter’s sailor-man
with his fancy English ways,
(oh yes, the very sort of one
who’d hum that nonsense Sullivan
but couldn’t pay the rent.)

Too many in the house;
the world was wrong
and so she took to speaking Manx again,
because she could, because she was
a hard woman, straight in her ways
and cussed as they come
and though the century
spat out fire and brimstone all around,
she held her ground.

NOTE: Shee da’n annym eck is Manx Gaelic for ‘Peace to her soul’

Annie Kissack is a recently-retired teacher from the Isle of Man. Although she has previously dabbled in short stories, she came late to writing poetry. In 2018 she became the Fifth Manx Bard and has been writing (and per-forming) poetry ever since. A fluent speaker of Manx Gaelic, she also enjoys singing and writing songs for her choir.

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*****

Leonard Lambert: Threee Poems

GHOST

Will I come back here, back home,
xxwhen I’m dead,
xxxx passed on?

It has been known.
xx Surely this house will wait for me
xxxx after I’ve gone.

I wouldn’t stay, though,
xx if too much had changed,
xxxx but neither would I grieve;

I’d sit in a patch of late sun,
xx look around me one last time,
xxxx then leave.

T H I N G S

says my simpler mind
do not get lost or mislaid:
xxxxxxxx they hide.
The lifted carpet
xx the upturned sofa
xxxx the shifted chest –
domestic archaeology
exposes them,
the clips and pens and pins,
screws buttons coins
half a ticket
the edge of a note –
they are not found
but found out,
a negative memorabilia,
every smaller when,
not lost but
xxx i m p i s h l y
xxxxxx withdrawn.

FREEZE-FRAME

The elderly artist returns to his studio
after a prolonged post-exhibition break…

To my gradual mind
xxxx it seems a sudden thing,
the way our worlds, our lives wear out –
dust gathers unseen, a tin of paint
only lately stirred, has set rock-hard,
and the rust on lock and latch
xx cannot be all salt air…
Old clothes (not so old) are thinner
than I recall, and leather,
so long to last, frays.
Cobwebbed overnight,
I watch this man in his shed
spinning out wonders, and wonder
to myself: was that ever me?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx What days!

Leonard Lambert is a long-established NZ poet with a publication history stretching
from A Washday Romance (John McIndoe, 1980) to Somewhere in August: Selected Poems 1969-2016 (Steele Roberts, 2016). He is represented in Essential NZ Poems (2003 and 2014), Swings & Roundabouts (2008), and Poems from the Pantry (2017). His most recent publication is a chapbook, Winter Waves, (Cold Hub Press, 2018).

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*****

Gill Learner: Two Poems

IF I COULD STEP INTO THAT PHOTOGRAPH

I’d feel pebbles bruising my insteps. I’d shuffle
into the soothe of water until coarse sand
pumiced my feet. I’d smell bladderwrack, hear
the shush-shushing of the sea’s breath.
It was in these shallows I learned to dog-paddle,
my father’s hand under my belly, buoying me up.
Sometimes I’d thrash as a wavelet filled eyes,
nose, mouth. The photo shows the setting sun
painting a gold path across the bay. Maybe
I could swim along it.

If I turn I see a crumbling cliff which once
supported concrete steps; now a knotted hawser
tied to a stile-post serves instead. At the top
is a mushroom-speckled field: it slopes up to the line
for the Cambrian Coast Express we were not
supposed to cross. But how else to reach
the steep bank to the shabby bungalow, rented
every August, with no bath and a rickety balcony?
At the shriek of a whistle, we’d rush out to wave
at driver, fireman, passengers.

I used to take my mother there and a handful
of her ashes was scattered on its scrubby lawn.
That childhood paradise has gone. Asbestos-lined,
it was pulled down and a house, all mod-conned,
built instead. But our memories live on.

SECOND HAND

Like glimpses into houses from a train – you catch a moment,
ponder. Wedding dresses in the Oxfam shop: a frou-frou
crinoline, a satin sheath, a high-necked gown in yellowed lace,
surely from a century ago. Perhaps it was passed down
and brides were proud to be walking down the aisle
in heirloom style. What happened in those marriages?

Books: Seven Modern Poets, with the owner’s name,
underlinings and round-handed pencil notes – a set text?
Does ‘Tessa Cornwell’ ever reminisce on those balmy
summer days: revision, tension, then relief? Sometimes
there’s a dedication, from the writer, or a friend, occasionally
both – did that friendship founder? on what rocks?

The CD from e-bay: the Lindsays, Beethoven Opus 131.
On the front a label, partly torn away. What’s left says
… (fade when ready to begin) service for Ralph Cooke.
So, walk-in music but who chose it and which movement?
Why? Assuming it meant much, I hope the dead man
would be glad to know a stranger loves the music as he did.

Gill Learner’s poems have been published in magazines including Acumen, Agenda, The North, Mslexia and South. They have also appeared in a number of anthologies e.g. from The Emma Press (https://theemmapress.com), Grey Hen Press http://www.greyhenpress.com) and Two Rivers Press (http://tworiverspress.com); and won a several prizes. Her first collection, The Agister’s Experiment, appeared in 2011 and her second, Chill Factor, in 2016, both from Two Rivers Press (tworiverspress.com) who are to publish a third, Change, in October 2021. Web pages: http://www.poetrypf.co.uk.

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*****

Edward Lee: Three poems

THIS HOUSE WE BUILD

This house we built
still has some
unfurnished rooms,
like secrets we know are there
but do not need to know,

and we keeping building
with every kiss
and tender touch,
every silent moment
of contentment
as we lie beside each other at night,
not needing to be anywhere else
but in this house
we have built
around ourselves,
rooms both unfurnished
and furnished, secrets both
silent and known.

FOR YOUR LOVE

My shadow shifts
on the beach
as I stand immobile
searching for a single grain of sand
different from all the rest,

a grain of sand
you asked me to find
before you washed
the all too similar sand
from your skin
in the ever-changing sea,
its cold tide raising goosebumps
on your skin already red
from the sun.

I DO (NOT) REGRET
I do not regret
the leaving,
though I regret
how I left,
confrontation and
deserved explanations
never my strong suit.

But how else
could I have left,
without not living?
Neither of us
would have won
on that one, though
I know you wished for my death
in the years following, anger
the bedrock
of your new reality.

I do not regret
the leaving – my
last lie to you, I swear – but
I hope you see,
when the lives lived after
are measured, that I,
foolish and forever selfish,
lost more than you.

Edward Lee‘s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, The High Window, Acumen, The Blue Nib and Poetry Wales. His play Wall was part of Druid Theatre’s Druid Debuts 2020. His debut poetry collection Playing Poohsticks On Ha’Penny Bridge was published in 2010. He is currently working towards a second collection. He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Orson Carroll, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy. His blog/website can be found at https://edwardmlee.wordpress.com

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****

Pippa Little: Two Poems

WHY HE LEFT
After Paul Muldoon

The newspaper swaddling that last fish supper
(stuffed now, cod and ink both, in the bucket
under his sink) was, by pure chance, only a week old
and from another county – The Leinster Times, perhaps,
dreary weddings, cattle marts, ads for suppositories – but,
crumpled open around his spat-up bones, didn’t it offer him
an invitation not for the refusing? He did refuse, though, all evening,
all night through, tossing and sweating so his throat glowed like an eel
in the dark till he couldn’t bear to lie like that, electric,
needled almost to distraction – so,

no good, next morning he strode over his mother’s and father’s graves,
jumped, in fact, the stone-cold plot between them, ran
through the blue-white furred March grass,
called a halt to the plod back-and-forth of hoof and foot prints,
waved the yapping gulls away with the flat of his hand
and some said by the far end of that day he was seen as none
had ever clapped eyes on him before: there was talk of him pushing mermaids
in a squeaky pram down by the harbour wall, a veil
of wet sequin mirror-scales stuck squint to the side of his bald head
but that was nothing compared to the white-hot version:
a man of his description flying round the Wall of Death,
incising into the singing bowl beneath his wheels
his vanishing name, rubbed out over and over but rising
again in a reincarnation, each letter steaming.

LAST TRACTOR
for Beni

Dusk in October falls softly like the petals of old roses
the sky is washed warm pink
and in the dark rolling waves of the huge field
the last tractor sails, tacking to the wind
while the moon will be winsome soon
a new-boiled egg
wet and cooling to a shine
I think of you curled and sleeping
five weeks old, someone
whose skin I don’t know yet.
Seen from the farthest reaches
a glimmer of light as it is lost
turns the heart over, motor and gears,
towards you.

Pippa Little‘s third collection, Time Begins to Hurt, comes out from Arc Publishing in January 2022. She is part of a project which will display uplifting and encouraging poems for a post-covid world on Metro trains and in stations around Newcastle later this year.

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*****

Dan MacIsaac: Poem

FLIGHT INTO EGYPT

We were hunted. Herod’s spies watched from shadows
and his cutthroats staked out the crossroads.
Swaddling my beast’s cracked hooves with old cloths,
I led the ass and his burden across
rough ground away from the little hill town.
At dawn, a vulture took flight and followed.
Hammer on anvil, the sun beat down
but my betrothed did not speak or even moan.
Pale, she gripped her cloak tightly at the throat
while her son squirmed and mewed beneath her robe.
The donkey and I stumbled, lurching
on loose stones, under the buzzard’s wings.

Dan MacIsaac writes from Vancouver Island. For ten years, he served as a director on the Environmental Law Centre board at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. His poetry appears regularly in UK literary magazines including The Interpreter’s House, Stand, Allegro and Magma. Brick Books published his collection of poetry, Cries from the Ark.

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*****

Tamiko Mackison: Poem

SAYONARA

I saw you from the waiting room
Through the glass window
Leading to the white ward
You tipped your hat to say sayonara

We were sitting on those wicker chairs
With the faded pink cushions
Staring at the minute-hand and waiting
For Dr Tanaka to give us some news

That was when you strolled down the corridor
Clad in your finest three-piece suit
Tweed waistcoat, trilby and umbrella
Your hair jet-black, its former hue

After five nights’ stay
The nurses had been so gentle with us
We knew it couldn’t be long

You paused by my chair and smiled
I saw you consult your pocket watch
The gold chain swung gently
You turned to leave through the double doors

When Dr Tanaka approached us
Ushered by two nurses with heads bowed
I knew what he was going to say

I saw you from the waiting room

You tipped your hat to say sayonara

Tamiko Mackison studied Latin and French at New College, Oxford. She is raising two young children. When there’s no pandemic, she’s hired as a wedding pianist from time to time.

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*****

Kathleen McPhilemy: Three Poems

THE WRECKED DRAGON

My father kept a dragon under the hill
behind his house though it wasn’t
his own dragon, and he
wasn’t my biological father;
he never showed it to me
but I saw the key in his attic
when I climbed there
through a long tunnel of books.

I went out one day to find it
into the hills on horseback;
I saw nothing except for a haze
that might have been dragon’s breath
hiding the huts of a vanished people
who lived under its scaly wings.

THE NET OF LIGHT

Reticulated patterns on the sand
under blue and green waters
fish untrammelled swim through;
a lacery of branches holds the light
casts its shadowy network
and all of this though nothing
is a hammock holds me up
is a safety net delights me.

My strawberry net ensnared
entangled, trapped a female blackbird;
through thick protective gloves
I felt her beating heart;
the unresisting seabed
is scraped and scoured by nets.

SLEEPING ALONE TOGETHER

There’s a crazy man on the headland
staring at the scribbled sea
paying out lines of syntax
and talking to himself

all night long he’s afraid
to go back to his lonely bed
where his words aren’t her words
where she curls away from him

round the kernel of herself;
he puts his trust in the mind’s ear
the voice only he can hear
hauls in his catch

of silvery slippery shiny things
and takes them home to her.

NOTE: The titles of the poems above have been taken taken from the poetry of WS Graham.

Kathleen McPhilemy grew up in Northern Ireland but now lives in Oxford. Her poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies. She has published three collections, the most recent being The Lion in the Forest( Katabasis, 2005).

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*****

Ray Malone: Two Poems

WHERE

Where did he go the wanderer
with his songs
without a word of why
one night

up and left and no
luggage
but what was on his mind

what autumn was it lured him
to its yellow
its slowly tumbling tower
of gold

its near to wintering
with its snows
its silent white

and what was he frightened of
the ghosts at home
or the bright button of desire
being dulled

the habit of a little spit
and polish
petrifying all

Where did he go with his songs
is he wandering on

we miss him still and wonder
whether he sings the same
or in some winter hence
slips without a sound away

SONNET 43

He drags his mirror through the streets
meets himself in windows wonders
passing on who it was who passed
whose sidelong glance it was swept on

from self to conscious self one sad
among the mannequins one paused
to find the title of his life
reflected in the spines displayed

as if some single him one day
might be mirrored there some other
passing cause to pause to see himself
as self to self and smiling stay

to set his leaden mirror down
and wander with himself away

Ray Malone is a writer and artist living and working in Berlin. In recent years he has been dedicated to developing a highly-reduced aesthetic, in a number of projects exploring the lyric potential of minimal forms: to bring new ones into words or find new ways with the old, based on various musical and/or literary models. His work has been published in a number of journals in the US, the UK and Ireland.

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*****

Roy Marshall: Three Poems

BEE

Breaking into the silence of my reverie,
an intermittent zizzing. And I am glad
for the intrusion of this bee
in all its bumbling, humdrum glory,
as it skates across the Velux above me,
a distraction from this memory;

her lips, eyes, a cascade of auburn hair,
the night we caught each other unawares
and jumped into each-others’ lives
like strangers who decide to share
a midnight skinny dip. So, I leave the past
and climb the chair, and while I’m there
thank the bee, then spin the glass
and free all three, into a welcoming wind.

POEM IN NOVEMBER

Not at the going down of the sun
nor in the morning, but on autumn afternoons
like this, when the sky stays dim,
the last tenacious leaves
surrender to the wind,
and the track through the woods
becomes a shallow stream.

Then, I remember them, when I feel exposed
on the breast of the hill, though no one sees my silhouette
but a carrion crow, and the wind
brings nothing but rain and the cries of rooks
in a staggered line of oaks,
and there’s nothing underfoot
but flint, stone, mud.

NOTRE DAME

We lit a candle for no-one
because no-one had died yet
then blinked out into sunlight,
eighteen and in love, though
forgive me if I’m not sure now
if that’s what it was.

I’ve lost the photograph-
you in a lemon-yellow dress,
me in Chelsea boots
and black cotton cap,
but I remember where we sat
when I watch the spire collapse,
hip to hip on the wall, the buttresses,
the rose window, behind us.

Roy Marshall‘s first collection The Sun Bathers was shortlisted
for the Michael Murphy award. His other books are The Great Animator,
(2017) and After Montale (2019). Roy has been employed as a nurse
and has also worked in adult education.

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*****

Sally Michaelson: Two Poems

CAIRO GENIZA

Through a hole in the wall
of the eastern gallery

paper, cloth and vellum
are posted for burial

volumes so heavy
they fall like corpses

love poems so light
they float unrequited

court rulings gavel
in favour of Aziza

who sues her husband
for her own quarters

so her sister-in law
will be out of her face

and sues him again
sixteen years later

for not giving her a handmaid
for her separate household

the same judge
in his spidery Arabic

upholds her claim
if she promises not to come back.

WUSHA THE PAWNBROKER

A plain gold band
mounted
by an amber solitaire,

a perfect chaperone
for its turbulence
of orange and yellow.

Wuhsha, whose name
means object of yearning
also wild one,

reverses desire
but remains impassive
wittling down the dinars

the woman wants
until her stronger will
wins by abrasion,

tossing the ring to one side
she counts out dinars
when the woman has left

she tries the ring
on each of her slim fingers
delighting in the light hissing

tonight Hassun will visit her
bright as a songbird
in a pomegranate kaftan

tied with a pistacio sash
her ring will rake his naked back
until it’s gazelle-blood red.

Sally Michaelson is a recently retired Conference Interpreter living in Brussels. Her poems have been published in Ink, Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse, Algebra of Owls, The Bangor Literary Journal, Squawk Back, Amethyst and The Lake. Her debut collection, The Boycott, is published by The High Window Press

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*****

Josie Moon: Two Poems

BOX
After Idiot Wind by Bob Dylan

I avoid the box with Warning scrawled in red Sharpie.
I’m still not ready.
You packed everything, planted bombs in books,
grenades amongst gewgaws hastily wrapped.

I left but you controlled the leaving.
Years on I still find remnants,
reminders of the time there was no doubt,
what we had was love.

People planted stories,
filled minds with scarlet images that stuck.
I blew out on a May night when the hawthorn was high,
and our wedding felt like a wound.
It was nobody’s trouble but ours.

I fell through months seeing stars,
fighting with truth few believed ,
facing idiocy previously unimaginable to me.
Neither of us can know each other’s pain,
only guess at it like fortune tellers
reading the cards of another’s fate.

We were idiots babe.
The hurricane that blew down the house
took years to blow out.

One day I will burn the box with Warning scrawled in red Sharpie.

PINK MOON

The pink moon broke cloud last night,
I asked it for good dreams.

I asked it for good dreams
but woke high on a bridge,

a bridge, miles from the earth,
above a dizzying city below.

In the dizzying city below
I walked for miles with a stranger.

Over the miles with the stranger
we shared a secret so deep it is lost.

That deep lost secret
led us all the way to the bridge.

High on the bridge above the dizzying city
I asked the pink moon for good dreams.

Josie Moon is a poet, performer and community arts practitioner based in North East Lincolnshire. She has published work through La Luna and has had recent poems published on Ink, Sweat and Tears. Josie wrote Fish Tales, 2016 and A Requiem, 2019 with jazz arranger and saxophonist Alan Barnes. Both pieces are available here. Josie’s collection The Ninth Wave, 2015 is available on Amazon Kindle. Her 2018 collection Poems from the Swamp is available via her website: www.josiemoon.co.uk https://twitter.com/la_publishing

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*****

Maxine Rose Munro: Poem

RAPUNZEL IS SHIELDING

Over the winter I grew so very white
I could only wear blue,
it set off these veins,
the ones in my narrow wrists, beautifully,
now I’m becoming thinner than ever before.

On my own for a long, long time, I pace
circular rooms in circular paths,
fall apart over and over and over
through a lack of anything new.
I touch everything in this place again,

and it’s all broken, busted, mildewed, mouldered.
Here there are old books on shelves
and in piles, their tales told now
only to damp seeping in through windows
too dirty to see out.

And I’d forgotten about the world till a rusted catch
snapped and the frame sucked right out
into storms bellowing and blustering round my tower.
I’ll brush my hair in the drafts,
watch split ends fall, drop, drop, dead and brittle.

I’ll eat those mushrooms from the bathroom, the ones
budding along blackened grout. Drink
brown tap water. Watch repeats on the tv.
Try to sleep in a bed I don’t know how to make,
I’m not allowed a cleaner.

I’ll float like a lady in a tower should, pale, interesting.
I’ll hide my hands, their fingers worn bloody by
clawing at walls. I’ll spiral down to a locked door.
I’ll grow my hair; I’ll grow it and I’ll grow it.
But it never will reach the ground.

Maxine Rose Munro is a Shetlander adrift on the outskirts of Glasgow. Her poetry has been widely published both in print and online, exhibited at Stanza Poetry Festival, shortlisted for the SMHAFF Awards, and nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She runs First Steps in Poetry feedback programme, which offers beginner poets free feedback and support. Find her here www.maxinerosemunro.com

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*****

John Muro: Four Poems

THE SISTERS

And so please be merciful unto them
Greeting each spirit with grace
Arriving well-preened in lavender calm
And draped in a quarrel of white and black.

They may come humbled, seeking amends,
Round rosaries clutched in their embrace,
Like a child’s puddled cheek or gangly arm,
Wine-worn beads brightened with shellac’s

Crackled glaze. By all means, extend,
With the inexact delicacy we traced
The alphabet or the intricate forms
Of angels clinging like silk to our backs,

Forbearance. And hospice patience when
They coldly speak of disobedience and retrace
Their deft use of rulers, pointers, backsides of hands,
But spare those compassionate few who lacked

Bridal-white habits pressed and hemmed
To the wafered crispness of a eucharist.

SOAPSTONE
for sister Mary

I considered it a thing of beauty at the time
A tiny tympanum that could have fallen
From an ancient pediment, its mottled surface
Of wheat yellow paling to olive green, a florid
Composition engraved with ornate carvings
Of amphoras and urns, delicate as parchment.
Fluted nooks evoking whimsy and a sense of
Motion with leaves forever frozen in wind-drift.
After years adorning bookshelves, it was placed
Inside this tattered box, below the shifting strata
Of sepia-washed photographs and candied dust.
Now, decades from her passing, the light she
Brings through these wide, western windows is
Well-timed, and helps to diminish this desolate world
Of ice and wingless snow; the tangled motifs created
By long-withered vines on our trellis glistening
In a type of fractured glaze and so, too, all other signs
Of the world’s tenderness or feeble attempts at life.

FOR BOBBY
In Memory of Robert S. Smith (1954-2008)

Having made a wrong turn
A few miles back, I find myself
Among empty farms and haggard
Fields when a song I had unremembered
Calls you back from those rough-hewn
Places you still inhabit and I try to once
Again make sense of your passing and
Your shorter share of life. And how,
Even as the years piled up, torn and
Broken between us, I still carried
In my heart our easy crimes of child-
Hood and the beautiful betrayals that
We were committed to keeping, though
Even then endings were to be found
Everywhere, even before you left
For a further coast, and with eyes
Grief opened, I dreamed of you,
Spirit dissolved, burdened by illness
That hollowed out soul and bone,
And left but a soft upheaval of hands
Like these plumes of dust rising
Behind me that will follow me home.

AFTERRNOON AT THE ATHENEUM
(Hartford, Connecticut)

Remembering those silent
Sundays when I could read
Chapters between patrons,
And the slow glide from
My station into the far-
Gone galleries, past the
Sullen statuary tucked to
Margin, to take in the flood-
Lit angels by Caravaggio
And Fra Angelico; Renoir’s
Depiction of Monet
Painting in his garden;
Or the haunting landscapes
By Claude and Inness,
While gold-buttoned
Guards with indulgent
Eyes turned back to dozing,
Silent as Etruscans, and
Thinking how it was they
Came to know I often
Asked myself which works
To plunder and hang at
Home long after they
Drifted down dusty
Stairwells and the last
Quarter sighed silver
In the museum store.

John Muro lives in Connecticut. His professional career has been dedicated to environmental stewardship and conservation. In the Lilac Hour, John’s first volume of poems, was published last fall by Antrim House, and it is available on Amazon. His poems have been published or will soon be published in numerous literary journals, including Moria, Euphony, River Heron, Sheepshead, Clementine Unbound and The French Literary Review. His poem ‘In March’ was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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*****

Andrew Pearson: Three Poems

BURIED

We clambered the high brick wall,
dropped into a small grey arena

of tilted stones, limp grass and weeds,
yellowed with shade. Ivy fingered

up graves, scarred with lichen,
a single harped angel at the centre

rising from its grasp. Against
the wall a long-necked rusted shovel,

a broken pick. Heavy padlocked
iron gates filled our adolescent minds

with tragedies of pale forgotten
lives, as we traced soft-edged

names and dates with fingertips
and our imaginings of spirits

like buried secrets and the certainty
or our own indelibility.

POSTSCRIPT

I didn’t think you would be seated when I came,
face raised, as if in expectation. There is awkwardness.
For a while I do not speak. Your hair’s been brushed,
hands (open any jar) folded in your lap, eyes closed
as if a stranger hides behind the crinkled lids.

At seven, you taught me how to shake, clasp another’s palm,
stand straight, look them in the eye, which is what
we always did, clear men shook hands, women kissed
and rehearsed, my hand engulfed, squeezing
to demonstrate my worth,

my manliness. It served us long, father-son flowing
through our grip – farewells, greetings, celebrations,
resolutions, pride, though during family photographs
you would sometimes hold my shoulder, unfamiliar touch,
heat which lingered

even in the frame, so, at fifteen, when you embraced my shaking
teenage tears, I stood stiff, arms loose, fingers twitching,
didn’t even raise my head, went quietly back to supper.
At nineteen, when I left home, I clasped your outstretched hand,
carriage rolling, faces ashen, as you and Mum

receded. Your grandson never learnt the ritual; I saw pleasure,
hugs unhindered into adulthood, leaning down as you once bent;
then shuffles tripped your feet, slowed you, stooped you, trapped
in a care home bed and still he bent and hugged,
still I shook your hand.

I missed your death. Room smelled of disinfectant, hints of you,
clothes, photos, my watercolour but you were smoothed away, bed
flat as stone. When I asked to see you, thought you would be supine,
but here you sit. Words lurch to silence. And now, I do that which
I ever feared. I bend and kiss your cheek.

ALMOST PRAYER

With summer sweat I peel the tent flap back
to countless stars, Milky Way’s hazy grin
across a sky, forgotten through city lights.
I rise, night’s breath gentle on my skin,
grass, cool and damp between my toes,
raise my face to rumbles of infinity,
forever, balanced on my shoulders
and darkness over silvered fields,
broken only by a tawny’s distant cry.
How could I have forgotten this?

I walk slowly to the lake between the pines,
as others sleep, air thick with heat
and mosquitoes, whining at this unexpected meal,
perfect universe suspended in reverse
beneath its skin, mayflies above
its endless depths, as fleetingly a shooting star
unzips the sky. I stand before a miracle,
squandered to the trivia of every day,
raise my gaze to almost blank indifference,
almost laughter, almost god.

Andrew Pearson, born in India in 1956, lives in St Albans with his wife. A successful watercolourist who started writing poetry after he retired, to find a different way of making sense of things. A background in the armed forces, diamonds, group and organisational behaviour he has lived and worked in different parts of the world and is a keen amateur rock climber.

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*****

Stuart Pickford: Two Poems

THE WOMEN

You see them early in the morning
up to their shoulders in the waves,
arms moving back and forth
as if calming the tide.

Along the broken coastline,
they walk from the foothills
to the turquoise coves.
The women never swim.

A few sit where the land ends
and cup and weigh the sand.
If they find a patterned stone,
they don’t take it away.

Nobody asks anymore
about the artillery holes,
the orchards and farms, the name
of the village teacher; questions

they wish they couldn’t answer.
The women don’t wear jewellery.
Their hair’s short. Years back,
they gave up on their bodies.

The surf says, Hush, hush,
like they did to their boys.
The mothers don’t believe
that stroking the sea flat

will show them their sons.
Yet there they are, the women
with arms wide, smoothing
the water around them.

COVEY

My son stops his bike, points—
there they are mooching about
with their orange faces, ovals
for bodies and chestnut tails.

One tests out its whirring wings
then glides away, not looking for
a pear tree but the long grass,
the cover at the field’s edge.

He’s keen to cycle on
but we linger. From the museum,
he’s recalled these ground birds
with their rasping calls at dawn.

Survivors of no man’s land,
gun-metal bars on their flanks,
they thrived among the poppies
that fed on potash from shells.

We read in Vallée de la Mort,
the colonel said, Attendez mes enfants,
and ordered his sergeant out
to shoo them away to safety;

grey partridges, clods of earth,
their coveys staying together
all winter, only straying
a few fields all their lives.

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

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*****

Colin Pink: Two Poems

WEIGHTLESS IN THE BIG TOP

The stars in the big top shine down on us, illuminate
our little lives for a time before the show moves on.

The lion is on sedatives and so is the lion tamer;
it’s not surprising, both are trapped in the same cage.

The elephants sleepwalk into the ring, holding each other’s
tails; counting their moments to freedom like piece workers.

Kids are expected to love the circus. To me the big top was
a place of fear, a nightmare world of temporary insanity.

The circus band played crude and brassy music, a knuckleduster
for the ears; all their rhythmic bluster made me anxious.

The clowns popped up, like a recurring nightmare, brandishing
frozen smiles which couldn’t disguise the sour tang of sex

and violence that clung to the canvas like mould. But among all the
sinister antics one pleasure could still be sipped from this fetid cup.

The weightless beauty of artistes of the high trapeze, they swung
above our heads, entrancing us with lyrical grace; their spandex

clad limbs, arms outstretched, in fearless parabolas of trust,
while far below my leaden feet stayed glued to the sawdust.

HORSE DRAWN

The rag ‘n’ bone man’s cart, rolling its
shambolic load down the street, while
calling to bring out dead belongings.

The brewery wagon barrelling along,
giant dray horses’ frilly hoofs flying,
pounding like drunkards at a bar.

The paraffin seller’s pony sniffing the air;
the rattle of purple firewater dispensed
from a spigot into narrow clanking cans.

The coalman’s horses’ foggy breath as he
inspects neatly stacked sacks, each bigger
than his own back, on which they ride.

Stamping hoofs, nodding heads, sneezing into
nosebags, cascades of dung, round then flattened
into straw flecked pancakes by inorganic traffic.

Colin Pink has published three collections of poetry: Acrobats of Sound (Poetry Salzburg, 2016) and The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament (Against the Grain, 2019). Typicity, his most recent collection, has just been published by Dempsey and Windle.

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*****

Edmund Prestwich: Two Poems

‘THE GARDEN CITY’
(Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal)

Stupid with heat,
gardens lie
dusty and still.

Their fences are sharp
steel palisades, hedges
jagged with thorn.

A black and white
mongrel uneasily
wanders in one.

Only the birds are at home –
a shimmering swarm
of sunbirds falls on a shrub;

oop-oop-oop, a hoopoe
giggles, flashing his crest.
On a swimming pool’s rim,

bulky, stocky-legged,
a hadeda carefully
crouches to drink.

As he bends in the light,
mauve beyond fantasy
flames from his wing.

RIVER

A kingfisher flitted above the river –
swift ungraspable blue
lit up the green-gold shadows of trees.

Under the trees, long swaying weeds
moved with the water as sinews of light
rippled, rippled over the stones.

Watching light and shadows on stones,
and tiny fish flitting between them,
I sat in my kayak, half sunk in a dream,

till somebody shouted upriver.
White water: strident colours
bore down as a fleet of strong paddlers

flashed past. Left silence, birdsong,
ripples crossing the river,
a long white feather rising and falling.

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

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*****

Selese Roche: Three Poems

REMEMBERING TO FORGET

Habib is from Tunisia, doesn’t talk much,
looks after my computer and understands

the need to keep things simple.
When I tell him I once went to Hammamet

on a holiday with my mother, he smiles,
says nothing.

Today, as I was leaving the shop, he reminds me
I haven’t paid, ‘I’m so sorry, I forgot …’

whereupon he confides that he too forgets,
was advised by an older man that to survive

in his new country he must learn to forget,
that he works hard at forgetting,

wakes up each morning in a place cold as ice,
unable to remember anything.

SOMETHING ELSE

Early summer, mornings pale with mist
trailing sheep and grass, time to forgive
everything,

meadow sweet, a sudden flare
of ragwort and Cullen’s cattle lounging
in the corner field.

So easy to imagine forever here,
no beginning or ending coming or going,
along the road nettles nod their ladylike heads

and as evening comes on
you wonder if it will rain. We light a fire,
watch the news,

tonight, a moon will appear behind the poplars
and across the fields shadowy arms are raised
to draw down the night.

AFTER ALL

Last creak
and ache
of arctic ice
last breath
of the bog
summer moths
like faded flowers
crowding
to the light
seeking light
or death.
On our way
to a single point
of infinite density
souls of bits
of stars
falling in love
all over again
faint memory
or dream
the geometry
of a daisy
on a lawn
the inscrutable
scent of a cow-slip.

Selese Roche born in Dublin and works as freelance editor. Her children are grown up and she divides her time between Co Kildare and Amsterdam. Her poems have appeared in The Stony Thursday Book (Limerick Arts Council), London Grip and Skylight 47 (Galway).

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*****

Finola Scott: Two Poems

IN THE PALM OF THE LAND

Coltish you skip the lane to the Clydesdales
who shoulder history. Once they bore burdens
of righteous knights, ploughed furrows and
hauled cannon through blood-soaked loam.

Dreaming of scaling them, riding through time
you gift greeness, feed then stroke the fabric
of their noses, praise iron-loud hooves.
I marvel at you marvelling, love your gentling.
Here above the motorway’s rumble we catch
the gossip of robins, the soar of buzzards.
As you whisper promises to stallions, icy wings
of migrant geese haul in sharp northern air.

NATURE NOTES

A thought scrawls my wall
skims the lawn,
a flash
streamlined
cinnamon, ginger, brown.
The cream river of its underbelly
ruffles full in spate.

This shadow-surprise weasel
claws, parts soft blades, downs daisies
Frantic-hearted it scrabbles loam.
snakes its slender sentences
to one conclusion.

In late autumn thinning, it hunts
for mouse brain.
This one-track mind knows
its destination
and needs. Ever alert
for owls and foxes
it leaves its signature
for others to puzzle.

Finola Scott‘s poems are found on posters, tapestries and postcards They are published and anthologised widely including in New Writing Scotland, The Fenland Reed, PB, Orbis and Lighthouse. Red Squirrel Press publish her pamphlet Much left Unsaid. Makar of the Federation of Writers (Scotland), her poems have twice won the Uist Prize and been placed in the Coast to Coast and Blue Nib pamphlet competitions. Stanza Poetry Festival commissioned work for a multi-media installation.

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*****

Penny Sharman: Two Poems

DARED TO IRON HER HAIR

My twin walked on pavements with naked feet,
felt soil between her toes.

She avoided broken glass and cigarette ends
that would blacken her aura.

She wore her maxi, deep blue voile covered
with flowers from the field.

She`d cut the cloth, hand-sewn her flow
into each seam. She would dare to iron her hair,

straighten the kinks to become the trend,
a Cathy McGowan image, a Ready Steady Go dancer.

My twin was a misprint of free love. Her belief in
Romeo and Jackie scenes torn about the terry-towelling squares,

her singleness a routine of made-up faces, except for
the nights of black eyeliner, King Crimson on the turn-table,

amethyst dropper earrings and a black velvet cloak;
her boa feather heart still floating, always holding out for more.

THIS IS NOT CALIFORNIA

it’s Titford pools
and sobbing hearts
I live with dark oaks
the shaking of copper
in the beech trees
there are no golden beaches
this is Curdsworth
and Wightwick
it’s Codsall to me
in this Black Cock shop
there are no gold mines here
just junctions
Ogley
Catshill
sleeping rough
and water water water
Rushall locks
and I’m crying
at Selly Oak
and Spon Lane

this is not California
it’s a coven of black rocks
a Dog and Doublet
it drags me back
always to Hempole
feet walking
feet clogging
down to
Fazely canal
the river river
the Blythe
Blythe the air
song of water
my Titford pools

Penny Sharman was born in Oxford and brought up in Burford in the Cotswolds. She  now lives in the Pennines and is a poet, artist, photographer and complimentary therapist.k. She has an MA in Creative writing from Edge Hill University and has been published in many magazines and anthologies. Her pamphlet Fair Ground (Yaffle Press) and her collection Swim With Me In Deep Water (Cerasus) are available from her website: pennysharman.co.uk

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*****

Richard Skinner: Poem

‘THE DEERHUNTER’— IN CAMERA

i. Robert de Niro—deep fake

In the mirror, his ghosted face
looks back at him in scorn

as if to say ‘Where is the lightning
you used to summon daily?’

Now in the bottle, he thinks,
and a tremor splits his vision.

He holds his breath, the sea rolls in—
granular, material—then breaks.

He touches his temples, content at least
with this delay in glass.

ii. Christopher Walken—rush fade

This weight is really a kind of forgetting
but he must struggle on,

finding a way through the water
to the bright light behind buildings.

His life is really
only a shadow, the truth

lies elsewhere. He must make the punishment
fit the crime though, as he turns

to face the white light,
he is already blind.

iii. John Savage—tilt shift

Let go of the pin. Hear it drop
onto the flat slate. Let us collect the sensors—

translucent ping pong balls—scattered
across the fields. Let’s gather the spume

the sea makes as it crashes onto
the shore. At night, let’s harness all

the light that the fireflies emit,
turn tornados into mouths

that feast on words
flowing endless from the east.

iv. Meryl Streep—whip pan

‘You must always keep a part
of your mind separate,’ she recalls.

Her life and work are pure graft, always distant though,
like a review of a film of a book. Third hand.

The flowers of romance are in full bloom
tonight. Always so hard to find the source material.

What is this here? A setting? A plot?
What joins us? Her mother always claimed

her mind was touched by the moon, the flowers now
mere inklings in the pitch-black night.

v. John Cazale—smash cut

Now don’t forget, he says to cut on
the opening door, not the wide-open space.

‘I’m gonna smash your face in,’ he thinks
with gusto. Put your back into it.

When you fall, don’t fold, roll. Roll
with the punches. Punch the clock.

I’ve got myself a real nice deal,
sweetness and light. Don’t blow it, don’t

wake up one morning, open your eyes
and, before you know it, you’re dead.

Richard Skinner has published four books of poems with Smokestack: ‘the light user scheme’ (2013), ‘Terrace’ (2015), ‘The Malvern Aviator’ (2018) & ‘Invisible Sun’ (2021). He is Director of the Fiction Programme at Faber Academy. He is also the founder of Vanguard Reading/Editions and is the current editor of 14 magazine.

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*****

David Underdown: Three Poems

TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY FEET

Over the years there must have been hundreds
but the one I saw, just one thank god, lives on
in mental debris trawled up today
by no more than a few words from a book.
She lies still where she fell
on that morning I saw her sprawled
across the mud of the retreating tide.

Spreadeagled, legs all wrong, her body
harnessed gravity but lost its proper shape.
At thirty-two feet per second per second
she fell through half a furlong of air.
Think of it in cricket pitches or the breadth of motorways.
Think how ground sped up as she dropped
past wooded cliffs and hulks of boats.

Looking down, her arms outstretched
as if to save herself, she would not see
Brunel’s fine towers framed against the sky.
Did she hesitate? Was there a hopeless cry
for help that did not come, or was her short flight
silent, like a photograph, black and white
and never in the family album?

She was the first dead body I had seen
and half a lifetime later I am hoping
I am not the only one to wonder;
whether in a quiet moment
there is someone to imagine
the grandchildren who never came.
Or telling a child you had an auntie once.

FURROW

I lean my whole weight on the spade
and slice its blade through claggy earth
until I feel the jolt of iron on iron.
And no, it is no treasure chest or Viking hoard
but, corny as a Christmas cracker, a horseshoe
to be cast aside. And back to the lunge of boot on lug,
the driving knee, the lift and swing.

I lean my whole weight on the spade
and see across the swell of grass
its history, the ploughman and his share:
the single blade that broke the ground,
the soil that rose and fell to a new straight furrow,
the hooves that drew the coulter on
along the Clydesdale’s line of force.

I see that ploughman and his share,
his view across his great beast’s massive rump,
its patient head that rose and fell to reach
the turn at stump or post and start again.
He would have set his line between its twitching ears
as through the sight of some great ordnance.
I pick the horse shoe up and feel its weight.

And clean the holes where nails slipped that day.
And hang it on my door, to keep my living straight.

NOTES ON HOW TO PACK

You may be leaving, but that van, those cases
cannot take it all, so choose with care:
the table where you sometimes see their faces
from all those years ago, the rocking chair.

You cannot take it all, so choose with care:
the bed of course for its loving and grieving.
From all those years ago, the rocking chair,
but not the leaky tap. And chuck the sofa. Heaving

the bed downstairs, keep it for loving and grieving.
That corner window? Leave it with the creaking stair,
the leaky tap. And chuck the sofa, heaving
at the stink from when those mice had babies there.

That corner window? Leave it with the creaking stair.
Pack all the books, although you know
the mice have nibbled some. Who knows where
you’ll store the milk jugs and that vase with its green glow

but pack all the books, although you know
you’ll never find the day to read Ivan Denisovich.
Bring the milk jugs and that vase with its green glow
but leave behind the year when she fell sick.

You’ll never find the day to read Ivan Denisovich.
For god’s sake leave the strimmer!
And leave behind the year when she fell sick.
The piano is a shame, but take the sea, its shimmer.

For god’s sake leave the strimmer!
No laughing matter to shed the best of all your days.
The piano is a shame, but take the sea, its shimmer:
past and future travel separate ways.

No laughing matter to shed the best of all your days
but you’re leaving with the van and all those cases.
Past and future travel separate ways
so take the table where you sometimes see their faces.

David Underdown’s poems have appeared in a number of anthologies and journals including The North and New Writing Scotland. He has two collections published by Cinnamon, Time Lines (2011) and A Sense of North (2019) with a third, Jigsaw, planned for Spring 2022. A pamphlet, Snig, will be published by Calder Valley Press. He was an organiser of the McLellan Poetry Competition on the Isle of Arran for seven years and now lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.

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*****

Louise Warren: Poem

FLINT

After I had dug it up
from the field behind his house

that piece of my heart
untouched for two winters
finally came loose.

The small flint lay in my hand,
one end sharp
the underneath flat and worn.

There was a vein running through it,
raised on one side
like an old hand,

on the other side exposed
as if dissected.

From above it was also a map,
the line of a river
dwindling to a stream.

I kept turning the thing over and over
feeling its bumps and scratches
its roughness and alabaster gleam.

It was many elements to me
but after all it was just a stone.

Louise Warren’s first collection A Child’s Last Picture Book of the Zoo won the Cinnamon Press Debut Prize and was published in 2012. Her pamphlet In the scullery with John Keats also published by Cinnamon Press came out in 2016. Her pamphlet John Dust was published by V.Press in 2019. She has been published in many magazines incuding Ambit, Butchers Dog, Rialto and Poetry Wales. In 2018 she won the Prole Laureate Poetry Prize.

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*****

Merryn Williams: Poem

HOMAGE TO VERA MENCHIK

Washed up from Europe, speaking only Russian,
landed in Hastings, Vera, aged fifteen,
picked her laborious way across the pebbles
by that grey sea where I walked later on.

A round-faced teenager, living with her mother
and sister, English a pebble on her tongue –
but chess is a universal language, her absconding
father said. Hastings Chess Club let her in.

Smiling rather than speaking, she caused astonishment.
Men fell before her and were much annoyed.
They mocked but they were out-manoeuvred; various
reluctant males joined the Vera Menchik Club.

Hastings Castle looks down on figures that come and
go, and the endless movements of the sea.
None who played her are left; that board is empty,
kings, queens, black and white pawns all swept away.

Vera, her mother and her sister Olga
died together beneath a German bomb.
Her games were written down, and I can play them.
Vera Menchik, outstanding champion.

NOTE: Vera Menchik (1906-44) was the undisputed Women’s World Chess Champion and one of the greatest woman players of all time. The Vera Menchik Club was a name laughingly proposed for the men she defeated.

Merryn Williams lives in Oxford and was the founding editor of The Interpreter’s House. Her fifth collection, The Fragile Bridge, New and Selected Poems, is published by shoestring press, who also publish Poems for the Year 2020: Eighty Poets on the Pandemic. A new revised edition of her translations of Federico Garcia Lorca’ s Selected Poems will be published by Bloodaxe Books in autumn 2021.

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*****

Pat Winslow: Poem

THE MISSING

The missing turned up one morning in our streets
and on the concrete walkways of housing estates.
They didn’t move. They stood for hours and stared.
That afternoon one of them took a step forward.
A news team was there to capture the moment.
Later, on TV, we discovered the same event
was happening all around the world. They showed
the barrios of Buenos Aires and Santiago, a long road
in Erie, Pennsylvania. It was an endlessly repeating scene –
Delhi, Moscow, Athens, Cape Town, Basra, Aberdeen.

No one knew who they were or where they were from
or why, after all these years, so many of them came
to watch us live our lives. It was like an accusation.
We would drop our knives and forks and listen
for their footfalls. Neighbours we’d never spoken to
phoned in the middle of the night asking what to do.
The truth is, no one knew. Their stillness baffled us.
Their presence made the details of our days pointless.
We stopped shopping. What interest were luxury goods
now they were standing on our thresholds?

They came closer. And closer still. We had no choice.
We let them into our homes. We longed for a voice
to give shape to our anxiety. They shadowed our halls
and kitchens and sitting rooms. They kept to the walls.
We left our lights on. We couldn’t bear to leave
them standing in the darkness. That winter we gave
them blankets. We draped them across their backs.
In spring we took them off again. There were shocks.
Our children began to play around them like they
were the coat stands of our great-grandparents’ day.

It was inevitable. The missing became as familiar to us
as friends. Their clothes, a certain look, a stance, a face.
By now, some had been posted and identified and claimed
and put on planes. But most of them remained unnamed.
Governments and armies were strangely quiet on the matter.
And there were those who disappeared and turned up later
with injuries and fresh scars to stare at their abusers.
One by one, the camps closed down, treaties undid wars.
We were shamed by their nakedness, their innocence.
No one was untouched by their simple act of silence.

No one, it seemed, could escape their benign presence.
Our world had changed. Their coming was our conscience.

Pat Winslow worked for twelve years as an actor before leaving the theatre in 1987. She has published seven collections, most recently, Kissing Bones with Templar Poetry. A winner of several notable competitions over the years, she has been enjoying commissioned collaborations with filmmakers, composers and artists both before and during lockdown. Pat also works as a storyteller and is a celebrant for Humanists UK. For more information see http://www.patwinslow.com

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