Open Submissions poetry 2 — summer 2022

“I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still”
Sylvia Plath

From 16 July until 30 September 2022, we feature our second open submissions window. Submission is free, and selected poems are published as text, and as an audio recording if one is submitted.

Details of our second Open Submissions Window are here.

Thank you to all who have submitted, making the selection process so challenging and interesting.

Poets selected for publication in Open Submissions 2:

Abigail Ottley, Aldona Kapacinskaiteaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Angela Arnold, Alwyn Marriageaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Anpa Marndi, Ben Hatcher, Bridgette Jamesaudio symbol 2, Caroline Smithaudio symbol 2, Chris Hardyaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Chris Kinseyaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Christopher Cuninghameaudio symbol 2, Clair Chilvers, Creana Bosac, Dave Wynne-Jonesaudio symbol 2, Dominic James, Emma Grayaudio symbol 2, Emma Leeaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Emma Wells, Frank William Finney, Gail Webb, Gavin Lumsdenaudio symbol 2, Iris Anne Lewisaudio symbol 2, Jacques Groen, Jean Cooper Moranaudio symbol 2, Jennifer Duffy, Jodie Duffy, John Ormsbyaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, K. Zopa Phuntsok, Kate Copelandaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Larry Wingeraudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Louise Walkeraudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Mandy Macdonald, Marie Papier, Michael Hagiioannuaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Michele Grieveaudio symbol 2, Nicky Whitfield, Pat Simmons, Peter Devonald, Peter McCluskey, Philip Burton, Pitambar Naik, Rodney Woodaudio symbol 2, Sam Egelstaff, Sandra Howellaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Simon Alderwickaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Simone Mansell Broomeaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Theresa Goodaaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Tracee Findlateraudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2 Wendy Webb  audio symbol 2 audio symbol 2 audio symbol 2

audio symbol 2 indicates one audio of a poem read by the poet.

Aldona Kapacinskaite is a Lithuanian countryside born and bred university professor living in Italy, where she studies organisational innovation and practises individual creativity. She speaks six languages, enjoys surfing, singing, and twisting arms in Brazilian jiujitsu. Her poetry has been published in Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize and Canterbury Festival’s Poet Of The Year anthologies.
https://twitter.com/aldonakap

cover

today we enveloped paintings in soft fabric
our history in durable proofing
it may not save our walls
but foundations
can’t be looted
our sky opens like a porous sieve
while mother drains salted varenyky
but shells rain down as if murderous shooting stars
like a child i hide–cover my eyes mother with your heart

dead languages

they say
there are hundreds
of dead languages
i think millions

he and i we too had a language
secret phrases and grammar and intonations
words that sounded like something
in living people’s languages
but had a different sense in ours

dead love languages
are still remembered
just not spoken
their words become spells of enchantment
ongoing burns and itching
from colour-free, anosmic drug
they turn into a deafening poison

they become a betrayal of the present
a memory that prints the sounds on the brain
like a mad torturer
a deranged mother
a dead love language
gives birth to curse words
stillborns caught midair
illicit sounds and frozen mouths
in presence of new lovers

abstain
from practising this black magic
that like a time machine
teleports to moments
that scratch
the thin skin layer
on a healing heart

Michele Grieve is an emerging poet, and carer. Her poems appear in several anthologies, and in May 2022, she won The Urban Tree Festival Poetry Competition and was appointed Poet in Residence. Studying advanced poetry with The Faber Academy, she is currently collating her first pamphlet.
Twitter @page_soul

When 17 is Orange

It’s leaves of tumble dryer sheets you never see,
yet your duvet smells magically
of care. It’s the gig ticket assault; your favourite band,
three devices and not enough hands,
but I make sure you’re in,
because I love you,
you need the notes of life to look forward to.
It’s peeling my skin to offer you warmth,
not touching your hand when the
world is pandemonium to you,
even though I am yearning to.
Never, ever change,
never stop seeing 17 as orange,
my exquisite girl.

Wendy Webb, prolific poet, experimenting with many modern and traditional forms and reading historic poets extensively. She ran a small press poetry magazine; won some awards; and is recently published with Reach, Sarasvati, Quantum Leap, Crystal, Seventh Quarry and online through Wildfire Words, Littoral Magazine, Lothlorien, and For the Many.
Her work also features in the book Landscapes



Fathers Day, 2022 to 1993

It was the best day of the year,
that day you became a father
and I was hot, exhausted, tucked in bed,
while you made busy with phone calls – news –
before mobile phones/digital/live streaming.
Thank the gods no delivery recorded.

So proud, how you carried our second
            in your arms; cradled to the grave.
Tiny; early; late; far too late.

Proudly discombobulated – in the lift –
anaesthesia wearing thin:
you held my hand, proud husband/
father/man; that good news reigned,
running between SCBU and post-delivery ward.
You haven’t stopped since: keeping us both happy.
What a delivery (9 weeks premature),
unlike that bouncing firstborn (2 weeks late).
Sterling silver; gold; platinum;
            multiplied.

Prouder than hell (if you would listen):
this tip of the iceberg – Pluto’s –
where other men are simply lettuce.

No father – ever – did more; did better; survived
Father’s Day Breakfast at a Vintage Inn.
Nothing at all compares… You deserve an OBE
(not much competition),
as the best father;
                             ever.

Gifts in transit

Motorbikes always meant: Going home,
or holiday destinations.
So when I brought him Quality Street (or Roses),
colourful bright packets scented of chocolate,
he looked confused.
Wanted to be told what to do with them.
When I gave him full permission to eat,
the only problem was flimsy wrappings.
No long-learned duty of sharing;
I should have scoffed them equally,
Thanksgiving/or Christmas-hearty… raised a host,
Father, my Father.
Easier with chocolate buttons, or, yogurt.
All joy – no effort.

That day I brought his cap,
he grabbed it like a medal
and arthritically-Parkinson’s (and all the trimmings)
defied gravity. Scooped and whisked
and plopped on his head.
Dressed now. Presentable.
Covered the bald pate,
not T-shirt/incontinence pads/and, sometimes, sheet.
On that winning streak – odds even –
gave him a motorbike glove
            (just one, for starters),
grabbed, whisked, prised – as near as heaven/hell.
He knew his way out of there:
(no matter trousers/undies/bus pass)
            …his way back home
from a loving daughter
(son/wife/father, who cared).
Ready, so ready, for destinations.

Wired cow, crow, and a beautiful pigeon

What a day, the daisies popping everywhere,
blooming into cares of tyred journeys.
So they arrived, parked in line with dandelions,
while I, brash paeony, wilted
in the heat of an RTC.
You don’t want to know. (You do?)
A dairy cow spread wide across the tarmac;
a bemused crow sat beside a tree
(lilies gathered round to refresh him).
Debris of last year’s bulbs, corms and perennials,
holding up traffic.
Later, a brazen parakeet, vivid shades of 999.
Move on, the treasure hunt began
in town – tiny puzzling squares
of Mr Plod and Weed and rampant slug.
No matter; it was over, for me.

Finding no place to pop in coins
(pop out a ticket),
having failed miserably to wave
 -royally- at electronic installation.
A work of art (dinosaurs elsewhere):
a street sleeper raised the pigeon dead
(self, clucking and laying coins, not eggs).
Carrying my ticket like the Host
(showering praise and small change where deserved);
I went home by another route
for a bottle’s bouquet; barbed.

Rodney Wood lives in Farnborough. His poems have appeared recently in The High Window, The Journal, Magma (Selected Poet in the deaf issue) and Envoi. He is co-host of a monthly open mic  at The Lightbox in Woking. His debut pamphlet, Dante Called You Beatrice, appeared in 2017 and When Listening Isn’t Enough, in 2021.
https://rodneywoodpoet.wordpress.com/

Delirium, confusion, and agitation

I’ve been here once before after I’d left
behind the luggage of day. I recognise

the room, the smell, the way it sways,
pipes that line the walls, the dust alive

in each stammering breath — in and out,
out, in, in and out. The moon is hidden.

Shadows and lights bathe my eyes.
Hands on the clock are still. I wait for

knocks at the door. I wait for everything
to end, for Death to enter carrying an

open book, a pen, deciding whether
to put an X against my name and take

everything, even that memory of Noel
Fielding appearing from behind a door.

I like your poem, The one you haven’t

written yet he says, before running away.


Nude in the bath, 2020

Everything is a miracle. It is a miracle that one does not dissolve in one’s bath like a lump of sugar. Pablo Picasso

Black & yellow hazard warning signs covering
the bathroom door announce DANGER OF DEATH
even so Marthe sinks into the water
after a long day, she wants to unwind,
relax & stop her mind running on overtime
but her gaze rests on a shark bath plug
with rows of teeth & a smile wider than
its body. It could easily bite off
a toe. The fin says “Made in China”
& its light flashes red, yellow, green, blue,
Morse code spelling out the word “help”.
Maybe they could drown in all the bubbles.
Disappear like a glitter or bath bomb.
The radio plays a dirge instead of
the latest hits. Her robber duck leaves
behind a trail of shit. The shower head
is the mouth of a python whose body
curls & wants to strangle her with its chrome
plated coils. The pink sponge by the taps
is a leech waiting to become bloated
with her blood before being eaten by a shark.
The electric toothbrush looks innocent
but after scouring her teeth & gums
it will do the same to her soft insides.
She wants to grab the towel but thinks it could
be stitched with razor blades or the plague.
Someone rings the doorbell but whoever
it is can wait & catch their death. Water
grows cold with dead skin, flotsam, germs & sins.
She jumps out the bath, lands on the marble
floor slick with soap. It’s ready to upend
& crack her head open to show elaborate
fittings & scroll work. The hairdrier blisters
skin. The make-up mirror shows who she is:
an alien with skin like the surface
of the moon, dotted in circles of yellow,
brown & red. She looks at herself growing
stranger & stranger. There’s an oversized
mosquito on the wall. First thing she does
is reassess her relationship with nature.
She reaches for her black-reaper robe.
There’s a tap on her shoulder & she turns.

Emma Gray is a neurodivergent writer and artist from Brighton, UK. Her work has been shortlisted for the Creative Future Writers’ Award in 2021 and longlisted for the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2022.
Instagram: @em.k.gray

Ninety-five percent

Seven days after her mum dies
she arrives with flowers from her garden,
stems swaddled in damp kitchen roll and tin foil
as if they might fade in the minutes to mine.
She carries them like a candle –
paper star of white cosmos,
the butter rose, its honey scent

and teaches me the word umbel
from the Latin for parasol
that describes the spoked flowers
of caraway, Queen Anne’s lace.
I say she’s an umbel with her head of curls,
and wish (too fancifully or uselessly to say out loud)
her hair were its own umbrellaed inflorescence
to shield from what’s been making nights and waking cruel
as if what seeps through the thinnest membrane of those moments
is a rain from without.

She last gave this rose to her mum, she says
and I hold the flotsam of her, wonder
at the storm she’s survived.
Later, a memory of our girl selves
wrapped in dog towels, her blue feet in my lap
as Dad drove us home from that dark
loom of kelp below our ribbon legs.
It’s said that ninety-five percent of the oceans
are uncharted by man.
All that Vantablack,
those blind ghosts adrift.

Larry Winger is a retired scientist, erstwhile village hall chair/grantsperson/caretaker/cleaner/barperson/secretary/treasurer, diarist, social historian, writing groups member, aspirant novelist.  Also a surviving grandpa, frustrated classic Hymermobile travel-partner,  sometime wood-fired hot-tub reveller on a high North Pennines fellside.  VisualVerse contributor, and daily muser exploring new roads to joy.

https://RoadsToJoy.blog https://BiomeNE47.com https://AllendaleDiary.org

Fire and smoke

Whisky burns my throat
The things that you remember
The way that they conflate.

            Sad technician’s smile
            Close fits the guiding cowl
            Blue flames imagined still

                        I’m gagging on the diesel fumes
                        The torch ignites the hay bale
                        Backwards scramble out the tunnel
 
            Smooth glide into position
            Under the source with clicks and whirs
            Blistering  square around my neck

                        Waiting for Guy’s pile to catch
                        White pillar to the sky
                        Orange tendrils flicking through

            Concentric rings of dying bone
            Black fireworks pit pale scrimshaw
            Yellowed teeth in rictus clench

                        Raked embers in the morning mist
                        Ash and cinders blown about
                        Smoke  rasps  my throat.
                                   
Whisky brings life crashing back.                                      

It’s the blizzard I want

Enough with this dreek,
this endless soft, this wet
that splodges me with clarts,
that spits and crawls and speaks
of cloying damp, of vague-ish grief.

Enough, enough of constant rain
this waterfall of pain sustained
this mist that hovers, fast
obscures the road I’ve missed
the wipers taunt each other’s path.

I won’t have streaming tears. Give me instead
a harsh walk into piercing stabs
of winter’s knives plunged clean and deep,
the frosty bite on lowered head,
the swirling flights of darkest dread.

The agony of lovers lost;
the tragedy of life foreclosed.
On windswept moors drifts shark’s fin snow
that tells of tumult worth the cost
not saddened whimpers, wet and soft.

Only the shrieking blizzard
and the trudger who is tossed
in blasts of icy, stinging flakes
will do for now, for all of time —
for grace, beloved, once was mine.

Presentiment of Fright

[After Louise Gluck’s Parable of Flight]

White pain permeates my gums —
she pauses
as the sparkling iridescence subsides
behind closed eyelids —
‘You should get that seen.’
And life changed.

Back to a changed and unfamiliar
fellside covered, obliterated in white,
we trudged in single file
up the long and winding track,
stumbling, losing our way in the deep
until a break in the howling wind and
a rabbit huddled down the syke bank
a befuddled splotch of surprise.

Staggered shark’s teeth icicles
hanging from the guttering —
our neighbour welcomed us home.
‘Come in, come in, get warm.’
But my throat burned until
the solace of morphine,
and white dreams,
obliterated conscious thought.

When the power went, after
another screaming blizzard
and the genny failed and in the cold
like shards of ice to the heart
we faltered and fell, then
the track became a mountain path,
the burn a frozen River Styx
and our next steps sank deeper
deeper into the white
presentiment of fright.

Abigail Ottley. Over the past decade, Abigail’s work has appeared in more than two hundred outlets, most recently in Poetry Wivenhoe, The High Window, the Trigger Warning anthology and The Survivor Zine. She is a contributor to Morvoren: the poetry of sea swimming published in June, 2022. 
https://www.facebook.com/abigailelizabethottley

The Rigger

(after a line from. ‘Haar’ by John Burnside)

This cold fog over the water takes me back
to that day in late November. You
not tall but compact and sturdy. Grizzled
but nimble as a monkey.
A rigger, you boasted: a young man’s sea tales,
worked the cranes and containers down the docks.

That day we took the ferry from the riverside at Tilbury
on the windswept deck you pulled me closer.
River fog rolled in, settled in droplets on my lashes
closing the eyes that might have seen you.

You thanked me later for giving you my body.
I was fifteen. You, forty-two.

I See You In The Library

You surely must be dead by now/Or dying/I won’t say I wish it/when I think of you which is more and more often/most likely this is me growing older/I try to see you as a hollow/not a shell exactly/much too pretty for my purposes/more like a rusty tin can/something that never was beautiful/which might once have been of some passing practical use/I see you as something ruinous now/ruinous and crumbling/tumbledown like a ramshackle building/or something disturbing/even monstrous/something profoundly at odds with itself/unsteady on its feet/ I see you I suppose as a wreck of yourself/ you never did look healthy/that sallow skin/oily and pitted/the shine on your ill-fitting jacket/its cheap black fabric already turning green/flecks of dandruff on your shoulders like stars /earth under your fingernails/and the skin of  your hands still soft and pudgy/soft/soft like a  girl’s/not roughened by work like my dad’s big hands/ scrubbed clean every evening for tea/and your scuffed shoes down at heel/your hair just an inch too long/your brown eyes/your dull eyes/sad like a dog’s/ I see you in the library where I used to like to be/your back turned to the sky/in my memory the sky is always blue/there is sunlight/ streaming through the window/you are slumped like a scarecrow in a low chair with arms/reading/pretending to read/you are young in this picture/or something like/a shark lazily cruising/flat-eyed/not especially hungry/cruising through the four o’clock heat/circling/circling/one eye on the clock/circling slowly/you smile and smile/your jaws open like clockwork/your teeth up close are not white.

Bird In A Net
                       
           
Caught in a mesh of whispered words,
            wingless, beak-stifled, mute,
            my feathers are silky, smooth as your
           promises, star-lit by shivers of sky.

            Feathered for flight, I am lustrous, unruffled,
            yet mastered by your pale crooked finger.                                             
            Soon you will pucker your bloodless lips,
            coo your supper-time prayer:

            There, there chickadee, come to daddy.  
            Come lightly on your hollow bones and feathers.                                 
            Come, come. No harm shall be done.
            Nestle yourself on my knee.

Simone Mansell Broome is a Welsh-born optimist, business woman, entrepreneur, mother, grandmother, lover of stage as well as page, animals and the environment. She is a vegan living in rural Carmarthenshire, a published poet and children’s writer, who regularly performs her work and is now working on her first memoir.
Facebook – SimoneMansellBroome
www.simonemansellbroome.com

Last Samaritan in Paris

Rene Robert, a Swiss photographer famous for his images of Spanish flamenco stars, died in January 2022, in Paris, after a fall.

Nine hours.
Not stripped, robbed, beaten this time. Not left
at the side of the road that runs
from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Left for dead. Not this time.

This was
urban abandonment, half a world,
two millennia away. Nine hours
on a cold January night, between
the Place de la Republique and les Halles,
a route he knew well, his bedtime stroll,
his territory.

A dizzy spell,
a trip, a slip, a fall and a man is down,
alien, anonymous. These priests and Levites
tonight are again too busy, too wary to bend
to check. Look the other way, cross over,
pass by, lost in our own concerns.


It takes another invisible one
to call at last for aid, (maybe another
of those six hundred who’ll die
on France’s streets this year).
Help comes too late.

If we’d had time,
had known his fame, weighed up the passion
of his art, would he have seemed at last
like one of us?
No ass or inn this time.
Just absence, indifference.

Osculation

We meet by chance
in the health food shop,
gannets gathering around the last
of today’s bread delivery.

The talk, of course,
is all about the weather,
this heat we still find alien,
and the unexpected benison

of a summer shower.
‘Come into the garden, Mark,’
she says she said. Apparently,
there have been forty-eight hours

of no kissing.
Intimacy too sticky
to bear. So, the woman in front of me,
with her pain de campagne,

the unbleached white, rye
and wholemeal sourdough,
and five shiny croissants for the morning,
tells us, the queue,

how they revelled
in some luxury
of slow uxorious smooching
in the warm, Welsh rain.
                       
Summer shower

Just now, there were two thunderclaps,
that prescient pause, and then rain.
At first it seemed to be a passing shower,
but we thought wrong. The clouds
unburdened themselves. You drank
your coffee, laughing as I ran to rescue
newly pegged out washing.

These last few weeks, I have become used
to trusting the weather, to trusting the sun
to persist, to trusting that there will be
the smell of line-dried linen come the evening
What folly! I fumble with unclipping, mocked
by fat, hot, earthbound tears.

Twenty minutes and it’s over, but the air
is thick, the sky still laden, my skin sticky.
Outside the kitchen, the decking dries fast. Pets
are on shutdown, eking out energy
in furry torpor. I am a creature

of temperate climes, loving the lusciousness
of a Mediterranean summer, yet
barely able to function when it comes here.
I will need to adapt.

Philip Burton is a family man, a former Lancashire head teacher, and has also been a poetry practitioner for children. Philip received a commendation from Heidi Williamson in The Poetry Society Stanza poetry competition, 2020, for his poem on the theme of dyslexia.
His poetry publications include The Raven’s Diary (joe publish, 1998}, Couples (Clitheroe Books Press, 2008), His Usual Theft, (Indigo Dreams Press, 2017), Gaia Warnings (Palewell Press, 2021), The Life Dyslexic, (Palewell Press 2022).
www.philipburton.net 

 Quick Guide to the Philosophy behind Short Cuts

Always looking for a shortcut, they muttered
when ‘Time and Motion’ changed its name to ‘Work Study’
                                                                          Anon

White-tailed and Buff-tailed bumblebees were glued
to finding nectar in a Foxglove flower tube
but their tongues fell short. Back to the drawing board
they went, organizing flow charts and reviews

until a short cut buzzed around the hive:
a simple nibble at the base of each bloom
makes a door, a short cut to deep inside,
reaching, at last, the golden glutinous hoard.

The flower is in vain, its pollen spurned,
and long-tongued visitors, Bombus hortorum
feel diddled, bypassed, short-changed; How absurd
say the White and the Buff. Use the rat run.

The bee does not choose its behaviour
and should be admired. Life, after all, finds a way.
The shortest route home is the path of desire
for commuters in cars, even in quiet Torbay.

Peace at Last
 

 ‘Peace is poor reading’              
             – Thomas Hardy, in The Dynasts, a Drama of the Napoleonic Wars

Peace, even the odd quiet day,
is, to novelists, anathema
(a one-word oxymoron and, as such,

the nearest Peace comes to being combative).
Writers shove Peace to the last page
as a tired epilogue.

Re: that cauldron of Peace
the most heavenly spot on the River Seaton:
did a farmer self-harm here?

Did he compose a concerto for branding irons
to be hissed off-key for his funeral?
Is nothing too strange for fiction?

Having rural icing on the spiked Opera cake
plays up the mayhem:
Midsomer, Oxford, Jersey, Shetland…

The Wessex erased by King Harold 
Thomas Hardy re-drew, but industry shrank
Casterbridge even as he wrote

folk going where they would be fed,    
psyched out by mendacious
Dorset on the doorstep.

Delivery

 I swam in the thunderstorm
                                 Peter Redgrove

A lightning fist in a sonic glove
jabs the purple eye of the storm.
No bell rings, no ref’s gentle shove,
no safe laying down of norms
like, “Good clean fight from the off
cease to clinch when I tell you to part…”
just ungloved knuckles of surf
thumping my groin and heart.

The boxing ring twists, capsizes,
turnbuckles fail, ropes flop aside.
Conger eels grope the victor’s prizes.
My butterfly stroke won’t fly.

Coach is waving a terry towel.
Take a dive! Drop! Fall! Concede!
I’m spent. I inhale. I sink. I snivel.
A billion volts peel off the sea
like a duvet. Nothing moves
but a pair of forceps and the sun.
I Breast crawl, am delivered 
hungry to clinch, latch on,
drink deep.

Angela Arnold’s poems have been published by UK magazines that include Magma, Envoi, Dream Catcher, Spelt, Marble, Popshot, Mono, Dreich, Obsessed with Pipework, Cerasus, The Dark Horse and The Interpreter’s House.
Others have been included in anthologies by Templar, Frogmore Press, Eyewear and others.
Her collection In|Between will be out in 2023 (Stairwell Press).
@AngelaArnold777

Home, They Call It

Mother,
gone completely to The Never
but still, barely, stationed here, firm as a solidly 

silent sea: murmurless
without your own shore to rub raw,
not anymore.

These brand-new corridors have taken you
to their ruler straight bosom; their
unforked, speechless

lightning
sits waiting with you,
your own guard in your gone eyes,

            beside the Ever door that keeps
(and will keep) its mouth
shut.

Spun

Clicking along neighbourhoods been and done and down roads
oddly remodelled (streetview says). Staring.
Miffed at memories trashed, bundle yourself down
better threads to follow: barbered houses to not buy,
at oligarch prices. Take a deluxe dare of a trip then
(your loved one oblivious): that scenery from afar,
from above, any angle, on repeat.

Here you can dream mountains.
Outcrops, bedrock, all there.
Mapped perspectives, to take, wider. Ready to replace
a flopped life, a gutless examination,
inching and wiggling and worming across a virtual map
uncrinkled, weather-safe, like the rest.
Look: deep sea trenches are never a visit too far
when courage can stay seated.
Googling Earth in all its fragility can stay a pale hobby
that zooms nicely out of personal responsibility.
See: Tiny Orange Man, your familiar, how obediently
he swivels north or west – servant, spy,
companion, webmasterly spinning
your own bespoke web, clearly expanding

            something.

Snowshine

Album: you, supposedly,
dished up with all the seasonal
glitz – hush, flash!

Look: squeezing bears, clutching books,
aunties’ hands, the quarter, half,
then three-quarter pint version.

See – caught it: the set sicklemooning
of the lips, sugared face,
promptly snatched; and stashed. True,

a whole printed life. Untrue,
concocted. Hard handfuls of hurt
swept aside: only snowshine in your eyes

satisfying the Recording Parent.
Muddle. Album, memory…
one to own,

the other just to sting you.

Anpa Marndi has an MA and M Phil from Utkal University. He passed the prestigious UGC-NET exam in 2006. He is a professor, teaching in the department of Odia Literature at Utkal University, Bhubaneswar. Anpa has two books of poetry, Ranga Dekhi Sapa Chinnhe Samay Soren and Naamal in Santhali which went to win the Kendra Sahitya Akademy Puraskar in 2014. He was born in Mayurbhanj district and lives in Bhubaneswar, India.

Poetry translated from the Odia by Pitambar Naik



Requiem at the Death of Humanity

After asphyxiating all the facts, with chunks
of deceptive darkness, you’ve dabbed
everyone’s eyes with black kohl.

In the land of the dead—-the entire numb bodies
the unrebellious, innocent docile mind
the water-coffined secularism

in the Nile of the depth of silence  
the love of the missing humans
dabbled in all sorts of callousness.

Sir, I’m awestruck at once at your stature
and suspicious of your being human
I’m shocked at your wretched kindness.

The happiest human is the cow
and the most appalling animal is human
in your elusive Ram’s kingdom.  


The Spider’s Web and the Chopped Thumb Finger

Teacher god, I’m an innocent and ignorant tribal boy
who doesn’t understand complexities;
I don’t understand totally how the spider weaves the web
which is its leg, hand and which is its finger?

I remember my chopped-up thumb finger, I look at my
palm, tears gush out from the eyes
teacher god, I’ve not yet understood the meaning of
Guru-Dakshina, it keeps hanging like the spider’s web
of the questions of darkness.

I’m in a dilemma, teacher god, in gratitude, in wishes 
and devotion gifting the stuff in one’s own capacity
or the colourful name of taking away the coveted thing?

I haven’t discovered the reason for your snatching
my thumb finger I don’t know what was there in it
but it’s a black day for the blood that oozed from
the severed thumb finger, for the still time
the grave sky and the tearing earth.

Do you know the reason, teacher god?
My marangburu knows, my sinbanga knows and my
mother earth knows so much so there was deceit in
your demand and there was a spider weaving in your
consciousness as much as gratitude and purity
were there in chopping up my thumb finger for you.

Marangburu: God in the Santhali tribal language
Sinbanga: The sun
Guru-Dakshina: Repaying as a gift to one’s guru. This poem is based on the life story of Ekalabya from the Mahabharata, who was a tribal warrior and archer and had the potential to finish both the Kauravas and Pandavas, who the Brahmin teacher Dronacharya taught. But Ekalvya’s indirect teacher, Dronacharya, plotted a conspiracy and snatched the thumb of Ekalabya as guru Dakshina to restrain him from the war. It’s considered to be one of the great conspiracies by a Brahmin teacher in history to finish the strength of the tribal community.

The Earth      

Neither with the desire of nirvana nor moksha
no monastery for meditation or chanting
I searched for two feet of earth standing wherein
I’d have to say in the pride, this is my world.

Nothing much frankly, what I wanted was just
a fist full of rice for the stomach
to swath my shame, some ragged clothes
and to shelter, a reliable flattened bamboo shingle
to be identified as an alive human being.

But where is the earth here that I could
germinate dream as per my wish and
I could harvest the greenery in the boughs of life?

Had I understood that without my notice
the earth would have distributed inch by inch?
Where is the earth in my share? The surplus is
only the chest full of void in the chest of the sky.

No pain at all, I am a man and made of the earth
and going to merge into the earth. 

Kate Copeland‘s love for words led her to teaching & translating; her love for art & water to poetry. You can find her publications @ Ekphrastic Review, First Lit.Review-East, GrandLittleThings, Metaworker, Weekly/Five South, New Feathers, Poetry Barn a.o. She’s now assisting Lisa Freedman with Breathe-Read-Write workshops. Kate was born @Rotterdam, adores housesitting @the world.

https://www.instagram.com/kate.copeland.poems/


Home to Something Familiar

The earth turns slowly and tells me
to home near the sea, to come home
when the sea, and that’s when
I got confused, mistaken, I really thought
the greenest trees would hold me captive
long enough to be happy enough
to call the North a home
to switch from South to slow.
I remember México and the lobsters you
could choose from, ripped open
by the sailor with a smoke, and that was
far away from home,
yet I never felt closer to you.
The turn when I moved more South
without telling, though my defense
your honour, you started
this travel-business, and I just went, was
far away from home
again, and felt ever so far from you.
You threw a bag on the bed, right the first night
and I went to the pool
water to rescue and waterfalls to cross
we tried again near river sides but
I got confused, mistaken, I really thought
the world was possible.
Coffee black as coal
and chocolate black as beans
the caramel words of novel languages
sound lively fresh on Palm-Tree-Beach
and whether it’s in California or Carboneras
in Rotterdam or Rosario,
seeing something familiar in the world
feels enough like home, to me,

Atlas

Forgive me and my map-o-graphy, I am just obsessed
with maps, isn’t that how I seduced you?
Showed my public school atlas, you and me just met at my birthday
party and on Sunday you came over for tea. And stayed. We travelled,
first down the pages of my worldbook, then along with discount tickets
of my travel agent-student job, for weeks, we went along the isling coast
and I wanted to see Tintagel and Jamaica Inn, of course.
And you loved me for that, of course.
Forgive me and my memories, I am still obsessed
with you, isn’t that how you seduced me?
Your arms around the totem pole, little Yucatán children pinching your belly,
you and me all smiles all food all life, always South of your hometown and
close to the sea. I will never remember how to point out where the sun rises
and urban tours I easily forget. It is about the Plaza Mayor, us two in a speed
boat, watching the whale move her tail in a worldly motion.
There is never a wrong question when it comes to travelling.
There is never a wrong question
when you come home.

Lines | Rides

Hard to remember planned journeys, unexpected journeys, which seat
on which row, though I do remember I sat next to a Sean-Connery-voice
and we had a laugh when he shouted: It was lovely spe nding the night with you.
I don’t have any structure in life or on flights, time differences baffle me up
beyond melatonin and firewater, yet eating sweets’s an art after take-off
my mum always gave me this big bag of liquorice that I true-ly don’t eat,
yet this moving resistance ‘round food and drinks, dries up when one’s over sea,
overseas, and structures of distance, of wings and crossings blur into former
memories, the current wishes, my prayer for pleasure until all’s impossible.
The skylines of Rotterdam, London, LA – I celebrate my history and any body
else’s I meet on the air-airy-aeroplane, I always wanted to be a flight attendant
but long legs won’t weigh up to a neutral face, a job interview where he role-played
something on liquorice, ridiculous. The rides in Exmoor, Venice, BA – neon lights
and nature trails, the fireworks and nights alone, it’s all worth it, all worth it, ‘cos
any moment when Earth’s out of sight, is right, when dreaming goes, blue glows.

Frank William Finney is the author of The Folding of the Wings (Finishing Line Press). His work has been featured in Pocket Fiction, Quibble, Taint Taint Taint and elsewhere. Born and raised in Massachusetts, he taught at Thammasat University in Thailand from 1995 until 2020.
@finneyFw


Longevity & Alchemy

If you end up living
long enough

You’ll be surprised to find
the way

they look at you
when you

grow
wrinkles

in their hair
and ego

turns their heads
to gold.

Seesaw

Oh, what a daffy thing to do.
And all because

she dared me to.
Despite the fact

my love was light,
when her seat

came down
I froze with fright.

How could I
forget the way

her lunchbox
flattened like a tray?

I took a risk
and had to pay

for the lesson I learned
on the playground that day.

Things You Told the Barmaid

Even after
late hour bouts
you bet to wet
one’s money.

You sacrifice.
You cross your walk.
You talk a crosstown
walking.

You field the fields.
You yield the yields.
You kiss the crossroads
calling.

You mock the talk,
You pick the lock.
You rock the dock
you float boats by.

You clean the screen.
You flee the scene.
You end the night
without a fight.

You dream the dream.
You scream the scream.
You prance the princely
protocol.

Dominic James, from Gloucestershire, has been writing poetry for the last dozen years. Recently in Lemon Peel Press, The Lake and Marble Poetry he has two collections, Pilgrim Station and Smudge, the latter just out with Littoral Press.
http://djamespoetic.blogspot.com/
facebook.com/DJFEB6/

Last Monday at Minch Surgery

It might be gout, arthritis,
I’ll take some blood.

What for?

To test for uric acid, diabetes
and other things, he muttered.

I might have asked: Like what?
But with his box of needles out

I worked on breathing calmly,
averting eyes from the likely spot;
although there was no pain.

Even at this age there is something
in my look that makes him tell me
I am brave.

Good boy, or words to that effect.

Far from it.

Limp out, old man, on loosely sandaled feet.
You were younger, just a week ago,
now you are decrepit.

Sun Kosi River Bank

As night swam in among the trees
our paddles dipped in darkness,
long anxieties of foreign leaves,
of bristling stalks and fragrant soil,
when from the wooded hills a village
whooping out-called the cataracts.

Men trotted on the shore, kept pace.
We made on with heads bowed down –
neatly primed for sacrifice –
beneath a piglet, squealing, black
held above the bank at dusk,
the oily campfires burning.

We had come too far on the limb
of outward-bound adventuring,
dropped into the wild. We reached
a jutting jaw of the headland’s cliffs
then, the river widened: silence.
We pulled back in to shore.

Back Then

At the snowflakes first, pale fall
you stepped onto the courtyard stone
and met him where the silence drifted:
Magical, you said, adept.

Arctic was the high air’s blue
and valley shoulders locked in cloud,
what was magical was you,
fabulous in confidences.

A bold look took him back,
at first with that beauty of your own
and then, along a distant track
in January snow

to his star-filled, mountain youth
wrapped up in perfect solitude,
where warm mouths met, mingled
                           cold breath
and time had ceased on thought.

Pitambar Naik is an advertising professional. His work appears or is forthcoming in The McNeese Review, The Notre Dame Review, Packingtown Review, Rise Up Review, Ghost City Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Indian Quarterly, and The World That Belongs To Us HarperCollins India among others. The Anatomy of Solitude (Hawakal) is his debut book of poetry. He grew up in Odisha and lives in Bangalore India.  
@naik_iconoclast   

The Rival
Where you’ll be looking luminous, standing tall, I’ll stand
there diminished, piling the resemblance of meanness
though, let there be a hell-and-heaven difference
between the white grass and the trunk; I learn that
I’ll never reverse a thousand feet of the protest.

As the voice of the sea, the sunrise and the move
of the moon can’t be blocked, so also you’ll not be
able to bar my amazing self-expression
you may have forgotten that you had chopped up
the wings of that toiling bird, perhaps you’re not
aware that while sprouting, they have achieved
mastery in flying it’s close to the heart, the sky
of hope, I’ll fly and fly farther, how backward
I’m for years the pain of rebellion—-
I’m accustomed to combating since childhood.

You may remember, that I’m that ordinary human
your misdeed had severed whose palms
note this, now the two hands have bloomed and have
joined the commoners, there’s the observation of
melancholy in the backdrop of a sorrowful heart
there’s even the piled-up courage of childhood
that waded through the tides of hunger and thirst.

I’m that bruised past of your hateful chronicle
the blood strewn in the land of disgrace will
introduce me as that deprived human being
whose death has more value than the birth
that makes you earn profits, people and prestige
my lord, the more you shatter me, the more I live
demeaning the wrath and dagger born out of
your sin, you can read the scripture of my struggles
and can see the shelter of my faith. 

written in Odia, and translated, by Pitambar Naik

Bridgette James is the author of Sierra Leone in the Diaspora, a collection of poems. Her book Anglo-African Rhymes will be published by LR Price. Her poem ‘London Marathon’ was recently featured in the Fib-Review Journal. Dreich magazine will publish two of her poems in their next print edition.
http://www.ellaspoems.co.uk

Noise in Tower Blocks

What you hear through walls in Tower Blocks shapes your perception of the neighbourhood’s closet skeletons where/ They can house you

your nerves of steel shaken by the lady at number fifteen’s bloodcurdling nocturnal screams/ she must be his punchbag

teenagers tossing crushed Cider cans on tiled floors clanging / incessantly through your high riser reminiscent of fire sirens ringing when GRENFELL burnt the gone-but-now-forgotten poor.

What you hear though walls in Council housing/ is misrepresented by the aesthetically pleasing TRACEY EMIN painting: unmade beds are ones not slept in for days/ while the snoring geezer at number fourteen is on a 3-day bender.

Squeals of delighted children penetrating through your affordable Argos wallpaper/ the almighty racket when Parcel Force couriered Christmas present boxes were trapped in the lift door.

What you hear through walls in Council Tower Blocks on weekends is the husky come in/ whispered by the chain-smoking neighbour answering the buzzer to the takeaway delivery bloke

food smells waffling in through your cracked window /tantalising your taste buds- you wished you had more dole from the Social- the LOCAL AUTHORITY apologised for delayed repairs: backlog.

You dodged that guy with a swagger that winked at you in the Newsagents’ queue/ but his LOUD music is cheap entertainment when you can’t credit your meter.

What you hear through walls in Tower Blocks are distressing sobs: number thirteen’s son must’ve been stabbed as the OLD BILL have been coming over/ you heard her shouting, They’ve hurt my baby.

They must be the legendary baddies/ the punter at your local swore/ confine all the poor, migrants; ethnic residents to London Tower Blocks/ while They… frolic in the leafy Countryside.

My Country went to war over nothing

No winner here Mercutio yells, peacekeeping
citizen-carcasses laid where a free city once stood
another dispute same story: storm in a teacup:
Capulet’s tantrum erupts over Montague’s chiefdom.

Off with their chief’s head chanted Juliet stroking her fire
burn baby burn up an inferno stirs partisan Tybalt
gunpowder imported from Europe: their chief shall burn
Mercutio forewarns, peacekeeping: No winner here.

An acrimonious chief belching up expletives in intestinal gunk
festering with the stench of fermented palm wine
Off with her head, insurrectionist; effeminately mutters lady Montague.
Tribesmen mimed spoiling for a fight: off with her head.

Civil War engraved in bold by global internet scribes
Juliet’s day of reckoning. A huffing puffing chief bellows:
blow her head off slithering snake
venomous northern viper contaminating our eastern soil.

Burn the chief shall burn quipped Juliet fanning firewood flames
Two households’ long-running tribal feud.  Chief Lear engulfed in fury
-Tyson Fury. Balloons in hot Saharan air expelled in royal fart-
toxic methane engulfs a tragic Juliet history repeated.

No winner here Mercutio yells, falling on a sword
citizen-carcasses laid where a free city once stood
Capulets and Montagues disturb the quiet in our streets
by waging war in another African state.

Jodie Duffy lives in Gloucestershire. Her poems have been published in a number of online and print publications, including Capsule Stories, Free Verse Revolution and Blood Moon Journal. Much of her poetry is inspired by motherhood and nature. She is a Chinese Studies graduate and works as a publications manager.
@jodie_duffy

Pumpkins

The first fruit to form find shade
beneath inside-out umbrellas, the early leaves
are fatigued, have lost their deep greens
a bee clambers into the lap
of an oversized yellow flower, a tiny tendril
spirals into the grass entwined in the blades
vein-like, vines feed fresh buds

they say pumpkins will be smaller this year

each morning I look out of the window
at the fading garden
will them to thrive

We have seen the light

We have been lured out without
a winter coat too many times
by the promising sunshine of early Spring
only for the harsh wind to scrape our bones

we have been sold a programme
that creates a roaring fire on our screens
while we shiver in our extra jumpers
and leave the energy bill unopened

we know the meaning behind
the neon signs and their promises
the shop fronts glowing red inside

the beams that scan the Channel
are not always the eyes of lifeboats

so, when you illuminate the buildings
across the capital, know this:
we no longer mistake light for warmth

K. Zopa Phuntsok was “Born, experienced the world, wrote a few poems.”



Leather Kisses

for Muntazer al-Zaidi

You came to my land, my home,
bringing your planes, your tanks,
your bullets, your bombs.
You said it was in freedom’s cause
that you came, but I knew better.
I knew it was because of my country’s blood,
the black blood you covet so.
Now you’ve come again, to say good-bye,
to wish us well, and to receive our thanks
for the thousands of boots
that pushed our faces into the sand.
And I, too, have come to say good-bye,
a final parting of old friends.
And like old friends, we must embrace and kiss.
Yes, we will remember you,
your uniforms and your mercenaries.
We won’t forget you.
Your name will be in our hearts
a thousand years; we won’t forget.
So, I kiss your cheeks, old friend,
old leather kisses, worn and unpolished,
save for the tears of the widows
and orphaned children.
I kiss your cheeks, old dog,
sick with the rabies of hubris.
Your name will be remembered
a thousand years, but the memory
of my kisses, my old leather kisses,
will last forever.

The Butterfly and the Moth

You said that he gave to you a picture,
One he had made himself,
Of a butterfly and a flower.
He was the butterfly and you the flower.
Our relationship is, however, different;
You are fire and I a moth.
And whereas a butterfly and a flower
Share a moment of sweetness before they part,
A moth wanders in the darkness
Until attracted to the flame,
Into which it enters and is consumed.

Nicky Whitfield lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.  She has spent her whole life working with words, from teaching English as a foreign language to working with communication-impaired adults as a Speech Therapist. Recent retirement offers more time to express herself in the written word.

The waitress who didn’t like to serve

We tried to catch her eye, she turned her back sharply
I’m not your servant, she seemed to say
I’ll keep you waiting                                           annoyingly long
Then I’ll come back to serve you            some time today.

I’m above all this, thoughts cross her face
as she asks, Have you had enough?
I’m not your servant or your skivvy
can’t you see I’m made of better stuff!

I’ll give an inch, if I must
but not with a smile.
I’m a taker, not a giver
serving’s not my style.

The moment after saying goodbye

Torn from the rock like a barnacle,
Raw edges exposed,
Left unattached and drifting,
Trying not to get caught by the current
That’s dragging me out to sea.

Looking round for familiar routines,
To repeat everyday jobs,
To avoid stillness
Until I adjust to a life without you
And dare look forward to your return.

Iris Anne Lewis is published online and in print. As a competition winner, she has been invited on several occasions to read her work at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. In 2020, she was the Silver Branch featured poet on Black Bough Poetry https://www.blackboughpoetry.com/iris-anne-lewis
Twitter: @IrisAnneLewis

Gásadalur

A gaggle of houses clusters
on a stretch of flat land

circled by steep mountains
and cliffs that fall away
in a sheer drop to the sea.
Outhouses, open slatted to the wind,
store hanging shanks of mutton.

In cord jeans and woollen jumpers
we follow the rope-marked path
through hayfields, green and lush
from rain, to Múlafossur.
A surging ribbon of water,
wind-whipped and white, plummets
into the Atlantic Ocean.

This is our land, the oystercatchers
warn us, go away. Their angry piping
fades to silence as we stroll
back to the cafe.

We sit under sun-patched cloud,
the wind benevolent, almost warm,
eat rye bread topped with black,
fermented lamb.

Pat Simmons, after obtaining a degree in English, became a copywriter, mainly in the voluntary sector. She began writing poetry with commitment when she retired. Pat has had poems published in a number of magazines and anthologies and has performed at the Bristol Poetry Festival.

Life’s Rotten Shabby Trick

Gloucester Cathedral: memorial to Mrs Elizabeth Williams, died in childbirth aged 17

The alabaster bow first hooks my heart,
neatly signing off a life never begun,
stone baby stone-swaddled, staring blind
up from its chrisom shroud.

After their nine months together these two
should have met, been snuggled close.
They do not touch; her hand
clasps a prayer book.

Did their eyes meet briefly? Did she notice
its dimpled chin, so like her own?
Its smile is mysterious, unconnected.
She stares unseeing across the nave.

Death has clothed her decorously
in fold upon fold of decency,
covered the torn and fevered flesh,
closed her legs.

The Stinking Warmth of the Minotaur

She loved her labyrinth
hugged it round her like
a musty tweed coat.

Had boarded up the entrance
built a roof to keep out
sunlight, preferred to grope.

Mistrusted roads that led
direct from anywhere
to somewhere known,

preferred to follow paths
that wound to their beginnings
or to crouch in dark dead ends.

They came to rescue her
shouted love and logic
through the cracks,

shone torches slid maps
under the door told her
the world was green.

She’d none of it. Ran
muttering round her maze
huddled hands over ears

found her comfort
in the labyrinth’s core.


Looking For Fairies At The Bottom Of My Garden

It was a bribe of course, but they had me fooled.
Ten minutes I sat, silent not moving
as they’d told me. Watching for that glimpse
of silver, listening for their tiny songs.
I wanted to see them in their daisy skirts,
drinking bluebell juice from acorn cups,
riding their ladybirds, perched on toadstools.
But nothing moved as I stared at the grass.
No music came from beneath the bushes.
The garden stayed blank

Years on they urged me to open my heart to Jesus
so I did my best, inviting him in
to change my life, fill me with joy and love,
hold me, send peace flooding through my veins.
I did my best but I wasn’t sure how
to open my heart. Couldn’t find a key, and discovered
my heart was made of cotton wool and cement.
And Jesus seemed to have gone elsewhere.

Turn away from the pleasures of this world, they said.
Friendships perish and beauty fades. Warm baths
grow cold, and banquets turn to shit. Flowers wither.
Children turn mean and mad and plain. Anyway
the most vivid geraniums disappoint. Tulips
are never as tulip as they should be. Or willow
as willow. Don’t trust this world. But I did. Leant hard
on what I could see. And in spite of decay and death
it’s all turned out pretty well.

Emma Lee’s publications include The Significance of a Dress (Arachne, 2020) and Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015). She co-edited Over Land, Over Sea, (Five Leaves, 2015), was Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, reviews for magazines, and blogs at https://emmalee1.wordpress.com.
@Emma_Lee1

Unhelpful Captions: Ambient Music

An SUV is driven along an avenue
scattered with cherry blossom,
the advert’s caption states “ambient music”.
Not the throb of cellos as a carburettor
purrs because the vehicle is electric.
Not the sighs of wind since the branches
are static in the dark. Not the exhale
of thousands of small deaths of petals
crushed by tyres. Perhaps
a Madame Butterfly-style yearning
for the blossoms’ return, long after
all the cherries have been eaten.


The Melt of a Foxtrot

(Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice dance a foxtrot to James Horner’s “Rose’s Theme” from James Cameron’s film “Titanic”.)

He gives her his hand to signal start.
She has to tame freezing waves to a smooth
rink’s surface with all the confidence
of the engineers who believed the ship unsinkable,
and the grit of musicians who kept playing.
In position, she can’t see her partner’s movements,
trusts his lead, remembers his instruction
to not look a mess in her pearled white gown.
Diamante undulates as she melts
the ice-hearted judge who signals excitement
and says amazing. Her clutched fingers
loosen revealing a heart the colour of sunlit sea.

Even small flames can be fierce

Lighting a candle felt feeble in a week
when wind wolf-whistled through eaves,
stalked around drainpipes, battered
against windows and left a familiar fear.
A woman’s remains were found.
A serving police officer arrested.

The flame gutters, leaves a shadow
at its base, unsure of its foundations.
Police warned a vigil would be against
the law. The court found otherwise.
The Duchess of Cambridge left
a bouquet. As other women
followed, the sun’s glow dimmed.

The later image all over the media:
the flare of Patsy Stevenson restrained.
The Met responded that enforcement
was needed because of women’s actions:
the ‘look what you made me do’ excuse.
It brings to mind Wilde’s quote “Each man
kills the thing he loves.” The thing he loves.

On Clapham Common bandstand, flowers,
yellow from the Duchess’s daffodils, orange
dahlias from women offering condolence, red
roses from Sarah Everard’s friends, form a blaze.

Louise Walker’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in anthologies by the Sycamore Press and Emma Press, as well as journals such as South, Oxford Magazine, Acumen, Foxglove Journal, Artemis and Dreich. Commissions include Bampton Classical Opera and she was Highly Commended in the Frosted Fire Firsts Award in 2022.

Embouchure

The camera loves her cheekbones,
each gleaming wave, the deep V
at her neck; his face is shadowed
as she looks down, her smile sardonic,
tender, then sits for a moment
across his knees as on a throne
to kiss him thoroughly (twice)
to see if she likes it. Pausing
a moment at the door: you know
how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?

Often I think of her now I’ve begun
to learn the flute; it won’t respond
to either smile or kiss: just put
your lips together and blow
.

Seurat

Bright vibrato shimmer,
with each brushstroke
a note of pure colour  
creating form and space:
legato phrases on the flute.

Legato phrases on the flute
creating form and space; 
a note of pure colour
with each brushstroke:
bright vibrato shimmer.


The Flute Speaks

you hold
me tight,
too tight;
your hands
are cold.
You’re tense,
distracted;
it’s hard
to connect.
You’re not
listening
to me, so
I can’t speak.
Frustrated,
you curse,
you put
the blame
on me.
Surely
you know
I’m in your
hands, it’s
up to you?
I wonder
why we
started this.
At last
your lips
relax,
shoulders
fall
and now
we’re warming
up, as mouth
to mouth
you breathe
life into me,
fill me up
from head
to foot,
wave
after wave,
till I shiver
into song.


Sandra Howell. After retiring due to ill health, Sandra began writing flash fiction in 2016, theatre reviews in 2017 and poetry in 2020, when her trilogy of poems was published by Collage Arts on YouTube and Soundcloud. Her poetry was shortlisted for the Lascaux Prize in 2022. Read https://blog.writingroom.org.uk/2022/05/16/get-to-know-sandra-howell/

The Wee Small Hours

The wee small hours of the morning are infinite.
It’s so quiet you can hear the low hum of appliances.
Or is that ringing in my ears?
My body breathes stealthily
The rise and fall of my chest is visible and lightly felt.
The nib of my pen scratches across an empty landscape.

Small sounds are amplified and muted at the same time
There is a gentility about the lavender perfume of my hand cream, on my bedside cabinet, and the crisp smell of freshly laundered sheets.
A faint whiff of bleach from the bathroom, mingles with the floral and citrus notes of the many bars of hand soap, stockpiled on the shelves.

How many different sounds do I miss during the day?
How many senses do I stop using?
This quiet is heavy, like a waiting room of relatives filled with dread.
No, that’s not it.
There is no pregnant pause tonight. The atmosphere is weightless, there are no thoughts or emotions crowding in, hemming me in.
I know what it is to live with a pulsating terror, switching from a dull ache to a toothache that has you screaming out in pain.
It isn’t like that lying in bed tonight.

Where is the stray car crawling along the road?
Or the shrill caw of vehicles shaken and alarmed?
It is too late for birdsong, but not for the squawky screeches of courting foxes fighting in the street.
The earth turns, lifting the inky sky a few shades lighter, as it peers through a gap between my curtains.

There is a slight chill this early in the morning.
The air seems cleaner. It is easier to breathe, the other sounds and smells prevalent during the day, do not feel the need to compete for my attention. They have been given the space to do their thing.
They show up at a leisurely pace, one by one.
And leave just as languidly because there is plenty of time.
It’s not as if I am doing anything else other than lying in bed, watching the rise and fall of my chest, feeling my lungs fill and empty, taking centre stage.
As my heart abates from its roaring waterfall of sound crashing in my ears, to the comforting beat rocking me back to fatigue and hopefully sleep.

Music was my first love

It was my mum who introduced us
Singing, playing records or the radio
Her love for you helped gain my trust
With older siblings putting on their shows

You were my first real love
The things you made me do
There is so much you remind me of
I cannot live without you

You move me and stop me feeling blue
You make me reminisce
It’s all a song and dance it’s true
Remembering moments I forget to miss

You fill the world with sorrow, joy and beauty
You let us cry, laugh, sing and dance
Inspired by the magic of your melodies
This really is a fine romance.

Getting to know you

Doesn’t it make you feel good listening to
talking and joking with a friend?
Something first pulled you towards them
humour, kindness, interests and beliefs in common

There’s a frisson about getting to know a new friend without the complications of
sexual attraction
or the daydreams of romantic longing
with
intense emotions and intellectual curiosity
connecting like magnets
compelling you to invest time in cultivating them

I want to please and impress friends
because I like and admire how they think, express themselves and treat others
They make me feel good about
myself
when I am with them, I am free to be
me
no filters
I can be witty- well tell my worst jokes, sing silly ditties and they laugh along or affectionately eye roll me.

We get each other
They get my humour, even if it is pierced with cruelty when referring to politicians’ misdemeanours or judging mutual acquaintances
I admire and want to absorb their ability to forgive
to let go.

I am at my most relaxed with friends.
There’s a mutual appreciation and desire to be kind and honest with each other
And yes they’ll call me out on the rare(?)
occasion I make an outrageous remark or lack empathy
Thank God I am not on Twitter

We cheerlead our successes and commiserate our losses
We hear and feel each other’s sadnesses and joys
We try to give space for reflection and growth
Hmm but in my over excitement I often bombard friends with my ideas and writing

I attempt to acquire their superpowers
hope
carpe diem
I wish I could be more like them.
But then
would we be friends?

Simon Alderwick lives between West Wales, UK and Northern Luzon, Philippines. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in magma, Alchemy Spoon, IS&T, Anthropocene, Poetry Salzburg, Acropolis, Poetry Lab Shanghai, London Grip, Eye Flash, The Telegraph, and elsewhere.
@SimonAlderwick

guerrilla gardening

at one point i honestly believed
i could carve a piece of myself
out of the earth. i did everything.
i woke up early in the morning, crossed
the highway to an abandoned patch

of grass. i planted rows of vegetables.
i nurtured seedlings of fruit trees,
which i planted when they were ready,
dreaming of one day standing
in the shade of a forest.

i didn’t have a plan as such,
just did what i felt was right.
maybe it would have been better
to glue myself to an airplane
or set myself on fire,

but i felt the earth was grateful
& i loved every moment; until the day
the bulldozers came in, tore down
everything i’d spent my life tending to.
i sat in the middle of the road & wept

as the earth cried out in pain.

lucky number seven

every seven years
every cell in your
body is replaced.

in the same way,
i regularly feed
my notebooks

into a shredder.
i take the shreds &
hold them in a ball.

whisper some
remembered line,
the one most

painful to forget.
i hear a rustling
inside the nest.

i hold it
tight against
my chest.

another seven years
of this. another
seven days.

Gavin Lumsden lives in North London and has been writing poetry for five years. He has had one poem published in Cake magazine and would like to have more see the light of day!
@GHLumsden

Gone

Guilty:
me and my sister
glance up from our phones,
catch the last breath
twitch an end
of your mouth,
twist its lined upper
lip into a sardonic half
smile disappearing
as it sets.

We shout, ‘George, Matt!’
who rush to the room,
join in shock round
the still-whispering bed,
witness your engine
stopped. The long-
long, short-short
gasps of two days
gone.

We hug, waiting done,
slip past your gaping ‘O’,
convict hair, gummy eyes,
and drift, brimming,
to the landing,
gaze down as drools
of mist evaporate
in the Thames valley.

I think of your blotched
face flushed red,
then grey, soon yellow.
Notice I inhale, exhale,
like you, the sound
I know, not dodging,
but running up to death.

Chris Kinsey grew up in Herefordshire but always wanted to head for the hills and landed in Mid-Wales. She has been BBC Wildlife poet-of-the-year and has had 5 collections of poetry published, her most recent: From Rowan Ridge was commissioned by Fair Acre Press https://fairacrepress.co.uk/these-poems-are-a-love-letter-to-the-welsh-countryside/

Small hours with a long dog

Here we are again – your discomfort driving us out.
The driveway’s trailing periwinkles and nightshades
lack the power to make you pee, so we go beyond.
Maybe the twitch plumes
waving at Huw’s gate will be the cue?
Not even tonight’s bright moon
can raise the dead – no more getting caught
in the headlights of Huw’s taxi at pee-time,
or catching an arm and helping him up his steps.
No more rude joke exchange,
Pyramus and Thisbe-style, through the thick hedge.
I think of nicking some of his wild flowers,
planting hawkweed and bugle for a memorial
in our wannabe meadow-lawn.
We cross to Duncan’s bank –
mock orange blossom answers the moon 
with a pallor and a perfume so intense
I sample the magnitude of lurcher sensing.
Only at the corner, past Carol’s rain-flopped
poppies, do the streetlights make me shy about
being out in pyjamas.
We plunge down the big dipper of the lane –
wheeeeee- past hedge garlic and goose grass,
past the white terrace that looks like
it’s moved in from the seaside.
I hope the quest is cats and quickly turn my
head torch from the glass marble stares
of those waiting in ambush under parked cars.
Past midnight, lockdown leaves more lights on
than before. Netflix flickering behind slats.
It’s delicious to pause under a cascade
of elderflowers casting tiny stars at the threshold
to the park. Again, I feel self-conscious
about my pyjamas – is it just a kind
of mindful disinhibition to think that at a glance
they might pass for day clothes?
We wade through long grass and buttercups
for you to find just the right clump of cocksfoot
amid Yorkshire fog and meadow foxtails.
Owls fall silent as we trespass on their hunt.
The night is the colour of barn owls
yet tawnies dust the moon with silent flight.

Honeysuckle

I wanted honeysuckle to 

                                      atomise our summer nights

with moth-lure perfume     –
                                                best sleeping draught.


The night before your first operation we bought the plant.


It’s never flowered well till now.

                                      This year I was quicker to spot wilt

sprayed soapy water into crevices

                        where clawed buds clasp

                                  greenfly like engagement stones.  
                               
Honeydew seeps and June rust sets in.

                No berries ever ripen to shine songbirds’ eyes.


Tomorrow, you go for your ninth op.
                                                     
                
                                 May the last of your sight stay alight.

Standing under this fountaining bush

                                 I take big drags of scented darkness.


Australia

“To find old sites, you must look in old dirt.” Jonathan O. Davies archaeologist

All half term Helen was part of our gang
scavenging wood for the bonfire,
stuffing a parliament of Guy Fawkes
and throwing flaming leaf fights.

On Sunday, when the dark caught us out,
she cut our chorus of See you tomorrow with
“I’m going to Australia.”
Too stunned to say goodbye, we struck home.

I stamped out the syllables Oss.Tray.Lee.A!
over and over on the spotted hands of sycamore
leaves scrabbling after me along paving slabs.
If I stopped, they piled up clawing my ankles.

Next day Helen wasn’t there for register. No one
called her name or sat at her desk. No one dared
to lift the lid to see if her stuff was there. I wondered
what she could see, see, see, over the deep blue sea.

Dad said Australia was down under.
So long as I didn’t behead any cabbages
I could dig in winter. With my red tin spade
I set off to discover Australia.

Sprout skeletons bent leafy heads over my digs.
How did gran’s grave digger go so deep and get
such mud-perfect sides? My holes failed.
Overnight soil creep half-filled the best pits.

When clods bared frost fangs, I knew I was way off
Earth’s molten core. No need to sneak dad’s welding mask.
Mum got me to look up Australia in her old encyclopedia
I forgot Helen in my craze for marsupials.

I wanted a pet wombat, a possum and a platypus –
closest was a brush with a startled mole.
I made friends with worms, learned not to jump
when whiskery roots writhed into centipedes.

When my spade broke, I consoled myself riddling
Willow pattern and stained remnants of clay pipes.
Did they drop from the mouths of the dead?
Were they fragments pushed up by Australia?


Alwyn Marriage‘s fifteen books include poetry, fiction and non-fiction and she’s widely published in magazines, anthologies and on-line. Her latest books are The Elder Race (fiction), and Pandora’s pandemic and Possibly a pomegranate (both poetry). For the last 14 years she’s been Managing Editor of Oversteps Books. 
http://www.marriages.me.uk/alwyn





Fig Tree

Last year’s knobbly miscarried fruits
still cling to the winter-bare branches.
They had their chance, could have plumped
and ripened with the others, in the sun.

They really should have been removed
in autumn, allowing strength to return
to the parent tree. But I love to see
their pert shapes, their stubborn optimism

through the depths of winter. Sometimes
our least successful efforts are worth
preserving, might even encourage the hope
that we can survive the darkest days.

Chain reaction

One moment walking in the gentle dusk,
the next, a heavy body tipping me off balance,
foreign fingers clutching round my throat.

I glimpsed the golden chain that trailed from his hand, 
catching and reflecting sparks of borrowed light
like a glittering comet disappearing into space,

and watched as my attacker, also,
faded into darkness, dodging through
the heavy traffic, evading his pursuers.

As the imprint of his fingers faded,
my neck, exposed to evening air,
felt bare, my body jittery.

I checked behind me every other moment
to see who might be following; while he,
lithe and triumphant, left not a glance behind.

Recovering from shock, I felt a surge
of gratitude that he didn’t really hurt me
or threaten harm on anyone I love.

He was skilful, swift and agile,
had work to do
and did it rather well.

He didn’t take my camera
or the notebook with the only copy
of the poem I wrote today.

And the exchange rate really wasn’t all that bad:
I lost a favourite necklace,
he gained a broken chain.

Bikers

Crows congregating in the car park
cut their engine noise, dismount,
strut stiffly round each other
in leather to resist all weather;
pause in rapt appreciation, stare

at mighty beasts which though as huge
as bears, can sing and soar
as gracefully as winged gazelles
that follow freedom in its flight
from dreary city sameness.

Power has purred between their legs
sparking connections between reality and dream.
Ear rings glint as polystyrene cups
tilt their caffeinated contents out
to lubricate communication grunts.

From time to time two police officers
nose a jam sandwich round the covey
scattering stun gun silence:
reminiscent of a leopard seal
idly contemplating his next penguin meal.

Christopher Cuninghame – east London stroller, fiddler and scraps merchant, interested in attempting to put together the pieces he comes across on his rounds.

Perpetual motion

Near fragments of dodo’s skeletons
Butterflies’ limits remained,
Dust-reduced, hoarded specimens

Caught, smothered, triple A-rated
And pin-stuck in the presence
Of a moment they had scintillated.

But, from wormy mahogany frame –
Crutches throwing legs away,
Contesting zimmered futures – came

The past unassisted. Unneeded here
Any apparatus to help it along.
By copperplate order, ‘don’t interfere’;

Flint-headed minds slashed deep,
To grasp fistfuls of flowers
To fast forwards their eager leap.

Skewers of time made up the sights
Of forest, track and barley top
And boarded homes under failing lights.

Wherever they turned they saw again
The footprints baked into clay
To shape answers back to the question;

What else might there be, what more
Curiosities to dream up,
Were kept hidden away, locked in store?

They contemplated this until they felt
They’d found themselves
Beings overtaken by a conveyor belt.

Theresa Gooda is a Sussex-based poet. Her work has appeared in The Cannon’s Mouth, Sentinel Quarterly, English in Education, FMN and the South Downs Poetry Festival. She is also the ghostwriter of a series of books about foster carer Louise Allen (Trinity Mirror/ Welbeck Publishing).
@TedGooda

Cards on the table

Some Sunday evenings 
in the seventies shaped 
by playing card games 
with my parents, a surprise 
treat. The grownupness 
of rummy. Counting, 
remembering, keeping score.
Happy families for a moment. 
That game where play 
continues until no family 
members are left 
separated. Master. Miss. 
Mr and Mrs. Imagine. 
Patterns to aspire to, 
then fight against. Snap.

Holding hands

That child once knew 
the instruction to
‘hold out your hand’
and how it never had a happy ending.
The child also knew
how to recite in order 
Genesis to Lamentations
(alongside the Periodic Table) 
so she didn’t have 
to hold out her hand.
This child knew that to come 
home late to a locked door 
might be cloudy in that moment
but was probably argentum-filled
and she held on to that.
The child should not have known
the language of the bookmaker
but she was fluent, and saw
what was held and changed hands.
This child well knew that when
ten pound notes were burned in the grate
it wasn’t time for a hand out.
That child grew 
and learned to handwrite 
her own happy endings.

Breasting the wave

Twelve week ultrasound scan:
womb with view and calendar 
of extra visits for geriatric mother.
Small lump, lower left breast. 
engages a different type of scan. 
Less congratulatory. Frowns 
replace smiles. Biopsy, 
mammogram, McMillan nurse. 
Precancerous cells: 
also called premalignant. 
That little prefix disquiets.
Prenatal, one believes, leads to birth.
Preschool isn’t the end of education.
Premeditated is with intent.
Should one be preconcerned?
Severe dysphasia. Atypical 
lobular hyperplasia

Long words that might turn 
into a long sentence.
How tricky you’ve made things
the surgeon accuses. Ducts 
everywhere: engorged 
breasts. A nightmare under
the knife for him – as if
I have engorged them 
out of spite. I weep milk.

Jean Cooper Moran is a scientist, traveller, poet and writer based in Gloucestershire. Her poem ‘Walkabout’ won the 2020 Hammond House Poetry Competition, and she was runner up in the GWN poetry competition in 2022. Short story published work includes ‘Ariel’ in Resilience anthology 2020 and ‘Silver and Light’ in Graffiti magazine.
http://deanwriterscircle.com/dwc-writers

The law according to mermaids

On a glory night in Hicks’s Bar
We drank to the sound of a tamer surf,
Our catch iced and readied for the far tables.

And someone said, ‘We’ll go again,
They promise calm seas and fair weather.’
We laughed and drank and made a pact between us.

Next morning the sun shone like brass,
Wilderness waves heaved to heaven.
We cast out our nets and hauled in a goldmine.

Old Gunny said, ‘We’ll pay for this.
(Face long as a Hicks’s bar bill).
‘Unless we give a good share to the singers.’

Gunny was lore-hung with legends.
We cackled like seagulls, cast again.
The old man muttered of laws of the sea.

Burdened with bounty, we close-hauled
as the skies swelled with a purple storm,
and the challenge of thunder made hearts beat fast.

That foul night we failed to return.
Our sails drenched in hard spray, we fought –
fought so hard, but sank to the sound of singing.

Old Gunny and others survived,
Safe in the lifeboat launched from the cove.
As captain I stayed, and my helmsman with me.

The waters broke my boat in two,
Drowning, we clasped hands and heard their song.
It shattered our hearts; ice-waters filled our veins.

Down in the darkness we saw them.
Submarine will-o-the-wisps, they seized us,
Subject to the law according to mermaids.

De Beauvoir

I look in the mirror these days and I sigh,
lamenting the truth of my reflection.
It’s my soul you see here, a canvas face
brittle, knotted like an old tree
rooted deep in the earth.

My flag-waving youth, sharing with Sartre
our battle-cries springing from the barricades
“All oppression creates a state of war.”    
Held in my mind so dear to me,
the bright-light things we did.

If I were reborn, now, I’d be an eagle
for love of the wind-rush, the sky my map,
prairie sky alive with gusts, my wings my soul.
In my old age no parrot-cage
perched on a coffin lid.

Michael Hagiioannu  has worked in adult social care for the past 20 years; predominantly with people who have struggled to engage, or be accepted, by mainstream services. Prior to that he worked as an academic and wrote Chaucer’s Dream Visions (Ashgate, 2000) and Giotto’s Bardi Chapel Frescoes and Chaucer’s House of Fame (Chaucer Review, Vol 36, 2001).
These poems, from a cycle ‘The Ballad of Harry Hames’, show an ‘innocent’ who couldn’t function in his world.

The Ballad of Harry Hames
1 Prologue

At owl-o’clock, ‘Cuckoo, cuckoo’
At cuckoo time, ‘Twit-ter-woo’.
At blackbird’s hour the robin sang
A dove called out with the song of a wren.
Just as it was with his clock on the wall
So it was in his life from the day he was born.
The things that he loved just one step ahead
Taking flight from the grasp of his innocent head.
And so, when you’re frightened, alone in the woods
And you live by reactions to what threatens your good
It is easy to seem like some dangerous thing
When really you are nursing your own damaged wing.

2 MDT

An ambulance crew
A pair of police
A nurse, psychiatrist
And social work lead
All the king’s horses
And all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Harry
Together again.

They spoke of all they’d done
To try to help him get on
How he’d gone right downhill
Since the death of his mum
The last time in hospital
When he lost half his foot
He smashed up a table
Then grabbed a piece of wood
He shook it at the consultant
And if that was not enough
He grabbed the knife from his plate
And threatened no good.
The hospital has a policy
So charges have been brought
But there isn’t a date yet
For the case to go to court.

3 Snow Leopard

Snow describes the gravity that haunts and cleaves to rock
Where the snow leopard stalks down ledges, listening
Between the echo of wing and wind for breath
When I notice
That you have stopped eating.
Laying with fish and chips on your chest
In your bed in the front room
Now that you can no longer walk or sit,
But watch the leopard there
On a ledge in the snow
Its prey just below it, unable to know
That it has been seen – when the leopard begins
Death’s chase down
                     through gravity’s
         flow
                           broken
 By
         paw padding
                      snow science
Just
          to the right
Of oblivion.

And I do not want you to go.
But I can see
That you aren’t really eating but watching
These things through your kinship with prey.

Take these Mike and put them in the fridge
I’m not hungry. I’ll have them tomorrow.
So, I do as you say and take them away to
The kitchen, that the council finally
Managed to finish
Just before you left hospital
Willing you to make it down
Just one more ledge
But realising now
Your fear at the edge
Is gone.

Clair Chilvers has published two collections: Out of the Darkness (Frosted Fire, 2021) and Island (Impspired Press, 2022). Her poems have been published in print and online poetry magazines and has had a couple of commendations in poetry competitions. She was a cancer scientist and lives in Gloucestershire, UK. www.clairchilverspoetry.co.uk   https://www.facebook.com/clair.chilvers   twitter@cedc13

The Cost of Love
Seven pounds, two shillings and sixpence
dinner at Hatchetts, Piccadilly
proposal of marriage
a diamond ring

Eight choristers at two guineas a head
the bells of St Clement’s for just eight pounds
on a wet December day

Twelve pounds for a wedding night
room with a view of the park
champagne, steak tartare
breakfast in bed
Fifty pounds for a week
in the middle of nowhere
time to imagine a future
that lay in her own two hands

Hiding Behind Dark Glasses

The Dominican Republic? I can’t believe you went there
isn’t it full of those ghastly all-inclusive resorts where people
get terribly drunk every night
and look grey in the morning and all they can do
is lie by the pool and groan.

But yes, you told me why
the children could run wild safely
gathered up by jolly girls in short pleated skirts
to go sailing or I don’t know what but it doesn’t really matter
as long as you could lie on your sun bed, and read and read
all the books that you had been saving up all year

and nobody would know that back home you were
a very important person
that Ministers listened to you
permanent secretaries quailed before your downright
condemnation of their prejudice, delays, excuses
of why things couldn’t be done.
For you everything could be done
it just needed you to shake people
out of their lethargy, their narrow confines, to just imagine.

Caroline Smith‘s most recent book, The Immigration Handbook published by Seren Books was shortlisted for the 2016 Ted Hughes Award and in 2020 published in Italian by edizioni dell’asino. She is shortlisted for the 2022 Keats/Shelley Poetry Prize. She lives in Wembley and works for a London MP.
www.CarolineSmithpoet.co.uk
@csmithpoet

Bike

Thrown into the long grass
at the end of a garden
a century ago,
I’ve stumbled upon the story
of my grandfather’s bike.
Wheel buckled, pedal jutting up
it has lain in the tasselled nettles
latched over by ivy –
its heavy black paintwork slowly corroding.

The yellowed imprint as I pull it
from the weeds, is the one
left on my grandfather’s life – 
a young lad with a shiny new bike.
His brother Philip, had begged him for a ride,
just once, before he went off to war.
My grandfather had refused
and when the telegram came
stamped his foot through the spokes.

John Ormsby is a high school teacher, ABBA groupie, Shih Tzu rancher and joke teller.
MrOrmsbyAtLarge.com



Soup For One

I don’t remember what I wore
Or who sat next to me
I don’t remember who cried more
And who came just to see

I don’t remember hymns they played
The readings that were read
Or why he paused before he said
That you weren’t really dead

I just remember how you looked
When you slept next to me
The Sunday dinners that you cooked
And how you sipped your tea
Those corny jokes you always told
Which rarely made me laugh
How next to you I looked so old
In every photograph

I don’t remember telling you
To leave me all alone

I don’t remember telling you
I’d be fine on my own

I don’t remember

Ode to a Toad

Even at your throatiest
You’re not the least melodious.
The truth, my precious toady, is
You’re positively odious.

Dressed to Empress

Laughing, blue-eyed girl
Reconciled to fate
Ermine laced with pearl
Elizabeth The Great

Marie Papier is a French poet-novelist. She has lived in England since the seventies. A member of Stanza Bristol, she has published her poems at Arvon/Daily Telegraph, The North, Agenda, Stand, The Lighthouse, London Southbank Poetry, Fly-on-the-wall press; Smith/doorstop anthology Poems about Running; Online; Calyx, Weather Indoors, Bristol Stanza anthologies, Snakeskin. The Poetry Place.
mariepapierpoetry.uk

The Acrobat                                                                           
As I stood on my head
watching the world upside down –
paradise on earth     hell
hanging from the rope –

I discovered a pout had turned
into a smile
tears into laughter.

And, from an angle only acrobats
can reach, I pondered over the crowd
below, people no bigger than peas
who think:

Will he tumble … will he not?
visualising my fall.

I became the king of the acrobats
standing on my head, bottom up.
I lived, it seemed, forever in spring.

I took the fancy of the crowd who
assuming the world should be seen
upside up, allowed their reason
to be turned inside out.

I died as an acrobat
when the people, weary
of seeing me on my head,
applauded a horse instead.

God in my Bunions

And God said to me
‘I need room in your small body,
in your feet and arms
in your belly
I need to be in your ears
your skull, your nose’

and I was born
with a big round nose my father named
the village church.


God’s feet grew into mine
pushing    pushing …
my feet ended up with a bunion each;
but God said ‘Good!   Let me put

my ears into yours’, and they
were half-opened shutters, bells,
children called me Trumpet.
But God hadn’t yet finished with me.
‘The Holy is a mother too’ He said, and filled
my breasts with cream, made me airborne,
took three steps back    and said

‘I’ve missed the eyes’ and He gave me four
two to look out
two to look in

and God said ‘Open your eyes,
what do you see?’

‘Two worlds’   I said.  

Court Case
Three days before the hearing
he got his wedding suit
out of the attic

the ironed pleated gabardine trousers
replaced the six pockets
dirty beige denim frayed at the ankles

the jacket, the mousy cardigan
too short at the sleeves.

He wore a tie on a starched
white shirt instead of
the open polo neck

had a close shave
cut the straggly hair jutting
from his ears.

Smitten his wife proposed
to renew their marriage vows.


Emma Wells is a mother and English teacher. She has poetry published with various literary journals and magazines. Emma enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories also. Her debut novel, Shelley’s Sisterhood, is due to be published in 2022. 

Tigress

Burning fire fur
shimmers as headlights
brandishing bright:
a liquid fire
swimming across bars
like tangerine paint
flecking with nighttime stripes;
the darkened orbs of my pupils
dilate amidst silken shadow
morphing to one skin:
a merging beating soul
where kindred hearts
are struck ablaze.

I breathe when near his cage;
pulsing fingers yearn
for his furred frenzy;
my fingertips desperate for claws,
retractable daggers,
that hide in caged concealment
beneath burnt-orange paws…

I’m alive here.
Panting.
Fierce.

Absence from him
cords my heart:
it becomes a frozen river
where pentacle shaped icicles
rotate in clutching grief –
restricting to narrow channels;
feminine flesh, when released,
is allowed to melt on the surface:
its frigid hue of blue death
discordant with blistering sun-rays.

My feet find me back at his cage,
camouflaged shackles pulling tight:
binding my flesh to fur
as a wedding ritual;
my heartbeat quickens
in his leonine presence,
viscerally bestial,
dripping sensual saliva
from crimson-kissed jaws;
I yearn to touch his fatal fangs,
to enliven my vixen flesh
so ruby rivers rise beneath:
startlingly sacred as alabaster saints,
or pure, virginal skin.

Tenderly, I caress his manly mane,
losing my fingers in his depths;
the bars between us melt
as I morph to his shape,
bending fleshy layers,
malleable yet mortal bones,
to ferocious, feral fur;
a drumming heart christens me
while I swim in new, virile veins:

those of a newborn tigress.

I prowl, pant, pounce
upon paws of marmalade darkness
no longer held by cage bars,
but able to proudly pad her way free
like a crackling, charred fire
into the kindling flecks of dawning night.

I am reborn.

Feline.
Feral.
Fiercely free.

Miss Autumn

I swoosh my squirrel-hued tail,
bristling fierce as porcupine spines,
scattering bruised orange leaves;
they pitter-patter as raindrops
folding as autumnal letters
within the building breeze;
a smidgen sun-kissed
with drunken dapples
from summer’s vivacious lips.

Shaking my leonine mane
awakens the nearby trees
summoning them to stand sentinel,
hunkering deep roots for upcoming winter
where icy winds will bite boughs
wrenching as stubborn tooth extractions.

My swirling skirt
is a cacophony of leaves:
gingerbread, maroon, sunset orange
rotate in harmony,
merging to a tapestry,
as methodical mosaic tiles
creating a complete picture:
a portrait of autumn.

Two rival lovers make claim,
Summer and Winter,
butting heads as fighting stags
endeavouring to overpower the other:
showcasing masculine strength,
wrestling with phallic prowess
aiming to woo, to tie my heartstrings.

Coursing ruby rivers revolt,
rising from my throat;
against male admirers
whose hold tightens
as a jewelled choker,
restricting the swells of my skirt,
dimming my artistic vision.

My breath stifles; eyes squint,
narrowing to mute, limiting horizons.

Rebellious leaves course,
coating the forest floor:
uninspired, deplete of poetics
as clutched too tight.

Restlessly, my autumnal spirit pushes on,
resiliently searching for more…

Unchained from a suitor,
creative thoughts churn
fermenting to fluency
where I paint poetry
with the swirl of outstretched toes
as inky pen nibs;
stanzas form upon tattooed branches
with a unique calligraphy:
my feral, feminine scripture.

Spring breaks forth,
out of her season,
disjointed but freed,
inspired by autumnal art;
she joins an artistic revolution
where women paint words,
scribing novellas on tree bark:
a natural parchment,
joyously impregnating poignant prose.

In the distance, two male stags battle
for love’s luscious locks,
heedless of their impotency
as I hold Spring’s awoken hand,
invigorated by her muse-like presence.

Hair

In memory of Mahsa Amini

Freed, chopped, jagged hair
is a strong symbolic rebellion
beating a thwarted heart song:
weightless, bloodless
where no veins spill;
no skin is bludgeoned
but hearts beat again, louder,
echoing a lost sister.

Scissor points scan
looking to cut out misogyny
like a twisted cancer
weaving into hidden, luscious locks;
patriarchal paint drips its horror
as macabre highlights.

Cut it out.
Feel the breeze
upon warrior scalps
that do not bend
or nod as dutiful students
to the horror of police cells
where a 22 year old died alone.

I stand with the so-called rebellious
lucky enough to unfurl each strand
allowing it to breathe,
taking the weathering wind
embracing it, lacing it tight
to strands of resistance
that animate in the piercing cold.

Women, we are flags:
flags of rebellion,
let our femininity,
that affronts so many,
rise as phoenixes against oppression;
let your hair aflame,
escaping to equality
where hijabs burn to dust
and headscarfs flutter free
dissipating to sandy dust
that trickles through collective,
feral-fierce fingers.

Jennifer Duffy is a writer based in Edinburgh. Graduating this year with a first class BA (Honours) in English literature, she is currently creating her first poetry pamphlet exploring themes of mental illness and witchcraft. When she isn’t writing, Jennifer can be found reading fantasy novels and tarot cards.

The Visitor

I catch its shadow as it comes
scattering from its hiding place.
Darting across the floorboards,
it freezes with the turning of my head.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Eight splinter thin legs carry a
bulbous, fuzz covered body towards
where I sit. Locked
in fear, I
watch as it inches up
my leg.

Steadied on my unfeeling knee, the
spiders’ forelegs twitch and twine over
each other like knitting needles
fashioning a scarf for a
chilly grandchild.

An image of a red-nosed boy
proudly wearing a homespun scarf
springs
to mind.

Gently,
I present my hand, fingers shaking slightly.
She skitters onto my palm.

Champion

Exiled
in my own home, a trick
of my mind. Doubt
slithers into the cracks
of my confidence.

Grasping the front door, my breath quickens,
I can’t do it. I can’t –
Leave!
Frozen. I let go. Retreat.
Stripping off my coat, my shoes, they lay
crumpled on the floor. The glacial walls
hold me up.

A wet snout nuzzles my hand, a warm body
presses itself against mine. I try
again. ‘Let’s go, Champ. You need a walk, don’t
you?’

A Dissociative Lens

My likeness captures a dance macabre,
                floating
smile to smile, searching
mist like people with
eyes red;
glaring nightmare
unrecognisable as human, as I
                disembodied.

Peter McCluskey is a fiction and poetry writer from Dublin, Ireland and has published 4 contemporary novels to date. His first anthology of poetry, The Flickering Tide is due for publication Autumn 2022.
www.petermccluskey.com

Chopin’s Last Piano

Earlier:
The piano is sounding Chopin in the salon.
I hurry to take my seat to swim, to float, to be immersed.
A few zloty for a beer, a few moments to daydream in Warsaw.
She plays a nocturne and the traffic outside the window fades.

Now:
His last piano is a metre away, beyond the rope.
I stretch.
I hope.
No one comes.
My finger touches middle C.
The ivory key is cool despite the museum lights.
I count fours beats.
No one comes.
I hear Valse Opus 64 Number 2.
I release and step back.
I sway – the beer, the zloty, the music, the piano all a-swirl.

Later:
In the old town square, the boy turns to the girl.
He tells her she deserves more.
He tells her she deserves magic.

Venetian Kingdom

I stare at the ripple on the curling wallpaper
And your image appears as a youth
resting on the steps under the portico of The Ponte Di Rialto.
The fresh breeze plays a trick on my ears.
I’ve walked the Grand Canal side-streets for you,
watched the bustlers blunder about the Square, the locals agape, aghast, amused.
You vanish, you break to atoms of silence and I begin to drown on the journey home to Murano.
I am unsure. I am listening for you.
The boats on the water tell me Kingdom is approaching from Treviso and Padua, the population cloaked in silk and spice.

Chris Hardy’s poems have been published widely in print and online magazines and been commended by and won poetry competitions. His latest collection, Key To The Highway was published by Shoestring Press. Chris is in LiTTLe MACHiNe, ‘The greatest poetry and music band in the world’ (Carol Ann Duffy).
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010267067066

The gift

After many years
what to buy for my wife’s
invaluable birthday?

Fine oriental jewellery
from Opium at World’s End?
I’ve emptied the place.

I used to ask our daughters
for advice on sizes, shoes,
perfume and once bought

satin nightgowns and lingerie,
trying to avoid the assistant’s eye.
I’m beyond shyness now,

we both know
there’s nothing more
that we can give each other

and what we have been given
we will hold onto
for dear life.

God made everything out of nothing,
(But the nothingness shows through).

(Paul Valéry)

The army waiting beneath the reeds
rattles its spears.

I’m searching for a place on this pinhead
with the angels.

We will all be together
when the world’s tree is cut down,

everyone who ever lived,
every creature, plant and stone.

A mouse can see you but
you cannot see yourself,

someone else looks through
the mirror’s window.

On the wall the calendar
sheds pages like a tree.

The moon opens its tearless eye
and winds the tide’s wet clock.


Battersea

A few rooms up some stairs.
Through the kitchen
a small flat roof
enclosed by walls, bins,
overlooking backyards
along Queenstown Road
where a blackbird sang
each evening.
A nightingale
our Italian friends
in the off-license said,
recalling springs of melody
in the Alban hills.

But no, a London blackbird,
black as moonless night,
gold beak spilling song
across the gardens
and into the street
where the 137 and 345
carry workers packed
in yellow fog
behind wet glass.
They press the bell,
stop by the shop
for a bottle, not knowing
there’s a knuckle duster,
air gun, baseball bat
beneath the counter.

One night, putting the girls
to bed, I was standing
beneath a single bulb,
inside its cheap
down-pouring halo,
while you stroked heads
turned on pillows,
stories told, rhymes sung,
then turned to me and said,
our life is good.

Mandy Macdonald is an Aberdeen-based Australian poet who firmly believes that poetry CAN change the world, but is cultivating an allotment just in case. Her work is widely published in journals and anthologies in Scotland and beyond. Her pamphlet The temperature of blue is available from bluesalt.co.uk. She is a 2022 Pushcart nominee.

Dream doll

Someone has left me with a baby doll. Not a real baby: I know that because of its chilly, salmon-pink surface, its terrible hardness, its lack of genitalia, its utter silence.
Its eyes are loose in its head. They wobble. When I shake it, or even move it gently, they open and close with a kind of click, but never glance from side to side. It can only stare ahead. By shaking, I can make the eyes blink in time to the ‘Ode to Joy’.
It is naked. I have nothing to clothe it with. Its pinkness is awful, its clicking eyes nightmarish. I have always feared these rigid, jointed dolls with nothing but dead air inside their crustacean limbs.
This doll is an arthropod, a trilobite. Or Omnidens, ‘All-Teeth’, one of those ancient, savage creatures higher up the Cambrian food chain. For there was a food chain even then; you would think there was a god who had created the poor little scuttling things on the ocean floor just so the bigger ones would have something to eat.
Will the doll become a fossil too? Is it already a fossil? Its plastic body is indestructible. Old dolls are always being brought out of landfill, fifty years on, still dressed in their pink-for-girls-blue-for-boys Terylene outfits. This one has no outfit. It has no gender. It is a prawn. Or a poppet, fashioned to do me harm. A devil dream doll.

Unboxed

Like Odysseus in Polyphemus’ lair,
I am Nobody.
I can pass you in the street
a hundred times without your knowing it.
My voice is a thread of silence.
I am colourless and odourless.
I can be weightless when I choose
and float like spores on the wind,

a fern in the making.
I do not know where this poem is going.
It is not a riddle, though it looks like one.
It drifts, unboxed like breath, looking for a theme,
foraging for images, distrustful of form.
Its title is ‘Nopoem’.


Garden visitor
No black or spotted beast, half-glimpsed on moorland
or slinking out of focus through dusk-encrypted birches;
no blinding flash, no skimming light-source, no minatory mothership
over there on the horizon, or anything else of the third kind—

but you, vast, taller than the trees in my garden,
standing among them, over them, or rather hovering
just above the ground, your feet unseen
under cream-white robes flowing tidal,
moving, though there’s no breath to disturb
the golden September leaves, no petal
unhoused by your arrival.

I know what you are. I recognize
your upward-pointed wings, flowing hair 
à la Botticelli, Piero, Fra Angelico,
the deep eyes that look down at me,
or through me, or both – who knows what angels see? 
We see each other, you and I, through some thinness
where universes almost collide.

What is your message?
Creatures like you always have a message.
That is your purpose. Say what you have to say.
Shout, sing, clang, blare, announce.

But there is no announcement, only a thickening
of the air, only a kind of roaring in my ears,
a sound like lions’ wings, if lions had wings. 
And you are gone.

Probably, they’ll say, a blade of evening sunlight,
flashing from under the clouds,
blinded me for a moment.
But I saw you. I saw what I needed to see.
What my wilder heart was missing.

Tracee Findlater lives in Norfolk, England, and writes poetry and fiction. She is a member of the Wisbech Stanza Group and supports the King’s Lynn Poetry Festival. She particularly enjoys found and collage poetry.
@traceefindlater

Delamination

Crackling over splints of wheat
spat from clustered earth,
nonchalant time wrests apart
weary stone,
wounded surfaces,
a voiding line
to separate remembrances.

What would this place be
without the aging scars
of bombs and bullets?
Where perishing towers punctuate
the brackish reedbeds,
stubborn fields.
A landscape made of fracturing glances.

Summer Frost

He remembers
the bend in the road
but not the wayward curve of the sea
framing gently dancing wheat
since pale legs stuck to vinyl seats.

He remembers
the jewelled arc of sunlit sprinklers,
polythene over strawberries,
those sing-song chants to their mother
over and over:

Look, it’s like frost!
A summer field all covered with frost!
Look at it!
Look!
Look!

He remembers
drawn out vowels and shrill voices,
sees at last her tired eyes
and wonders only now
how she could bear it.

The White House (Collage Poem)

After The Story of The Amulet, E Nesbit

Winter holidays
looking out the gloomy window
of the parlour
with father gone to China
and all his boxes
left in the care
of the British Museum.

Our quailing hearts
date memories
of wild thyme air
and painted tambourines,
haunted by ghosts of cherry trees,
of wilderness
that was once an orchard.

Dave Wynne-Jones taught poetry for 20 years before leaving for health reasons to complete an MA in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, publishing “Kidstuff,” a booklet of children’s poetry and a book about Alpinism. Poems have also been published in magazines like Envoi, On the Edge, and High.

Pissed Off.

Tate St. Ives, 2022,
welcomes us all to The Unisex Toilet Queue!
That’s a modern novelty for men
who, long ago, surrendered the luxury
of full-length porcelain stalls
where only boots are splashed
for urinals shrinking steadily towards
the size of egg-cups, having to exchange
the inevitable splashback on thighs and knees
for the convenience of NOT queueing.

Together now, exchanging rueful glances,
we wait for locks to click from red to green
then take possession of cabins spacious enough
to quietly consummate an arty hook-up
(braced against the disability fittings)
lingering over the measured soap dispenser,
the way, at a few passes of the hands,
magically water gushes from the faucet,
or the contained ferocity of blown heat
threatening to strip the flesh from drying hands.
We take our time before abandoning
all that empowerment engineered so that
the men that want to identify as women,
the women that want to identify as men,
can stake a claim of their own in
the territoriality of toilets.

No place here for the Brotherhood,
pissing hastily, shoulder to shoulder,
or solidarity with all those souls
with pelvic floor damage from difficult childbirth,
suffering from spinal injuries, prostate problems,
or the inevitable incontinence of aging;
all struggling since Austerity has closed
95% of Cornwall’s public toilets.

Jacques Groen’s work has appeared in Twelve Rivers magazine, Ripples magazine, Ink Sweat and Tears, Cathalbui-2019 anthology, Lighten-Up-Online, Dempsey & Windle Newsletter; was runner-up in the 2019 St Petroc’s competition; can be read on the firebirdwriters.org; has been chosen for Poetry Cafe, poem-of-the-month Jan/Feb.’20

You .  .  .

They were all wrapped, tightly
those delicate ones, tissue-papered,
squared down from the bottom. And my head
full of it. One straight line straight
to the ceiling. But the raw of it is still visible,
oozing. Stored, straight. Bar that one.
And me, having shards for brain, I had to tease it
straighter, didn’t I, head-space it,
just a little push. Picking
at its billowing scab, lay it bare, till
sure enough, they came all tumbling down
at me. Treacherous. Screaming. Me,
me in that porous place. And that worse
one, tender one, back. Tumbling. But I cannot.
Could not, no, not again, and me raising my voice.
The tissue paper, now as razor blades, coming
for the slash. And I am back in the middle
of it all, shouting. My voice still raw, ears
bent, bulging full of gravel, sharp flints, razor
wire, screwdriver, hammer; and you, gone. The slam.
The invisible pane now in full view. Our distance
clear. And me, stilled, no voice left but memory. And you
back to spit, grab your things, the final slam, and the last of
what I saw of you.

I duplicate our steps to ease the pain.
There is no comfort in the coffee shop we met.
I saw you walking down the road the other day, not
alone. It didn’t bring it back to me. No. I did not
hurt. It just yanked at me ever so tenderly; remembered your
hands, your tongue, the things we would say afterwards,
afterwards . . .

Transient Me, und Deine Rote Hosen

I step out into their foreignness, aloft suspense and curious,
and walk into their town and along their Gaßen and
Straßen
, three inches above the Planken pavement, impervious
cellophane perhaps, maybe somewhat imperious, and
certainly the detached new boy on the block. And then
I persuade them with my every word of my non-knowledge
of their language till the rough and clip lead to smoothness
in their ears that matches their tongue, flash and flawless,
and that bit is easy. And I don’t know why that is; a knack.
But immersed chameleon-like is not the same as
one of them – nein, ich bin ein Holländer – parentally
pre-warned – Deutsch bin ich nicht – and we have history,
us and them, or you and me, though history is not
the present and now the present gives me one of my
greatest loves, you, which puts an old hatred in a strange
place. And I love her, meine Gabi, ich liebe dich
mit meinem ganzen Herzen.
And you are the seamstress, me the yuppie Dutchman hippy
and I don’t need to search my memory as we step from
the tram in Kaiserring, you in your newly made trousers, red,
deine rote Hosen, me even prouder than you, to go dancing,
Club 2000, Bismarckstraße, and we go to many places, me
and you, meine Gabi. I take you home with me, to my parents. And now I run our Swiss branch. We manage, you and me.
You didn’t come – a few years too young to leave home. Till,
come Easter, chocolate eggs in a bag, flowers in my hand,
I knock on your door, en route with a day to spare – yuppie, eh.
And your mother answers, tells me that you are out, must learn
to fly, just as I must work, and I must forget as must you. And
I leave you the chocolates eggs and flowers, and I move on.  
Aber, meine Gabi, forget I cannot, ich liebe dich doch.
And ten years pass or more, when my mother hands me that
letter, your love letter, that letter to me that’s nine years old;
all that time spent. Her head hangs too low to scold; and me,
I’m committed. But I write to you anyway with only half
the new address from the tear on the envelope, and the tears
and all the hope, and I never see you again, hear nothing back,
not in fifty years, and yet, ich liebe dich noch immer,
mein Schatz Gabi,
in those beautiful red trousers, unforgotten,
as a million red roses fresh in my eyes.

Notes on: Transient Me, und Deine Rote Hosen
Und deine rote Hosen = and your red trousers
Gaßen = narrow streets/ allies
Straßen = streets
Planken = the central shopping street in Mannheim
Ich bin ein Holländer = I am a Dutchman
Deutsch bin ich nicht = German I am not
Meine Gabi, ich liebe dich mit meinem ganzen Herzen = my Gaby, I love you with all my heart
Kaiserring = a street in Mannheim
deine rote Hosen =
your red trousers
Club 2000, Bismarckstraße =
a dancing club in Bismarckstraße, a street in Mannheim
meine Gabi = my Gaby
Aber, meine Gabi = but, my Gaby
Ich liebe dich doch = I love you after all
Ich liebe dich noch immer, mein Schatz, Gabi = I still love you, my treasure Gaby

Creana Bosac has worked as an Open University Associate Lecturer and now edits and writes creative writing critiques. Having written mainly scientific documents before, she is enjoying writing creatively and has appeared in Lucent Dreaming and Briefly Zine, amongst others. She has authored a guide to giving and receiving feedback.

Additional Needs in the Seventies

It has a name now,
but I recall
a bulk of a boy
who couldn’t count,
or keep letters in his head.

It was said
he was a farmer’s son.
We imagined his care
for fluffy chicks, like those
in our incubator,
fragile life held gentle
in stiff hands called clumsy.
Or pictured his smile as
he followed cows, waving
a stick clasped in chunky
fingers, swishing a path
through the dry summer grass.

Words were few,
but when the whole class was
in trouble: paints unwashed,
reading books scattered, mud
trailed thick on carpets, he
couldn’t bear the tension,
put his hand up, owned up,
took the blame for us all.
When I went to high school
I didn’t think of him
again. I hope he found
that path with grass and cows

now that I know the name
but cannot recall his.

Ben Hatcher
@benhatcher



June in Cleethorpes

My grandad was 21 years and 8 months old,
when he stood on The Kingsway balcony
with his best-man-kid-brother
and the Parrotts,
of whom I’m beginning to form a picture in my head.
The coarse hands of the shrimpers held Champagne flutes.
Careful not to crush them with the same force
used to haul their braided nets.
Trading smocks for suits and frocks,
they overlooked the North Sea and Spurn Point.
Inching into view
on a perfect day.
As another bottle popped on Cleethorpes Beach,
the irresistible bleak spray inspired a smile beneath a wrinkled nose,
and he caught the Meggie eyes
of his bride to be.
Now, aged 21 years and 8 months myself,
I stand beside him beneath a yew tree.
The spray clings to our trouser legs and forms ‘dew drops’
under the same wrinkled nose.
Wiping 16 years from the surface of her grave,
a Malteser melts in his mouth
for the first time in half a century.
We’re buoyed by the presence of 11 other revellers,
all under the same influence of her gravitational pull.
Mapping it out in our formation,
we lay roses to bloom
in the summer months,
June.

Sam Egelstaff lives in North Wales, UK. She has performed at the R.S Thomas Literary Festival and is published in Counterpoints: In response to poems by R.S Thomas (2015). Her MA Creative Writing led to her collections ‘On the Couch’ (2015) and ’Carneddau Colours’ (2017). She tweets as @SamEgelstaff and her blog is samegelstaff.wordpress.com.

The Pirate of Llandoger Trow

Don’t look at me with your downturned face,
your horned mouth and wetted eyes.
I am free and I can topsail the streets,
unanchored while you are shrouded with sameness.
 
Don’t mind my missing leg, for I am a pirate,
and I roam the cobbled seas amongst the schooners
of homeless sailors. Press-ganged by landlords, 
to embark upon the austere squall.
 
For I have fought the kraken in a hailstorm. 
My callouses have seen time and tale.
I have a blackened foot, as a farrier’s unshod bounty.
My bare skin sails the earth and yet
it is you, that is shackled by heel and cloak. 
 
At day we dock, but at night we roam.
Ripping down rough sleeping posters, evading 
spiked doorways. With no prosthesis I can pick up speed,
and hoist above, like a clipper slicing surf.
 
In my wheelchair, my empty jean scuffs the dirt.
I circumnavigate the city, there are no traffic jams or bags. 
For they make me static and I must soar 
as the Captain’s favourite.
 
My call rasps like a cobra and you may wince, 
but I will not beg upon these British seas.
For our colours have been hoisted, 
and we are a multitude, an ever-growing fleet. 
 
My smoking beard keeps you away, Stranger.
Yet you may still throw your doubloons, 
that heat your pockets, and I will then warm 
my hands and foot.
 
For no matter how you look, I will still end 
upon the cobbles by Llandoger Trow.
In the blurred night, under the five gables 
as the docklights smear the ships, 
like a rain scarred watercolour.
 
My stare, the only thing fixed, 
peering into the salty air, 
 
waiting for my next embarkment.

The Dove Called Peace (Picasso, 1949)
Your attempt at realism is contrast. 
White feathers protrude before charcoal, 
dark as the hands in the shadows
we cannot see. 
Then hope is cast and you exude your soul. 
Splashed symbols of colour
          upon wings outstretched,
                      that fly away from us. 
Your final form is sold.
A canvas commodity
now a tired reproduction.
Oil upon water is unable to mix. 
At what point did you lose your way? 
You are no more peace
than the knee upon the neck,
the noose from the bough, 
the drone upon the market, 
the mortar upon the child. 
You are but lines and shade.
                      A simple form upon the complex 
                                page of life evolving, yet still 
                                                       holding out the branch.

 
 
Durham has fallen 
How dare you rip out our tongues with your lies? Your rampant bolstering around our red streets, running like wolverine myths around the doors, quaking children in their sheets, blaming our coal-mining roots for the blackened feet of our own babies. 
You scurry down starved cobbles, while those in job queues
lose their sanctioned cheques and pray for their vacant shelves                                                  to be soulfully stocked up by the foodbank churches. 
How dare you offer them the earth with a cross on the ballot?
Your slithering words dribbling like the prose, off my lips so that we’re drowning.
Drowning in our pavements with our own red blood. 
How dare you wrench out our histories of our fathers’ seamed hearts?
So we hang our heads in shame, again and again.                                                                             As you lift up those letterboxes
and cram in those crafted lines.                                                                                                                   with your nostrils creeping so close to your gargoyle eyes,                                                                           you skittle like rats,in gutters and back. 
How dare you promise a wealth created by severing our own arms?
As you are holed up in your mansions with your la de da                                                           and force-fed foie gra.
You stuff our gag cloths with our manacled arms down our own throats,
till we are a hobbling torso, struggling to keep upright,                                                         propping ourselves up against 
a crumbling wall
                           of our own building. 

Gail Webb won Nottingham Playhouse’ Reflections, Poetry Award, in 2021. Gail has a pamphlet, “ The Thrill Of Jumping In”(pub. Big White Shed 2021). She was Poet In Residence, Lady Bay Arts Trail 2022, is published in several anthologies. Gail has fibromyalgia but finds writing is a powerful tonic.
Facebook: Gail Webb, Poet



Blackberry Crush

Blackberries crush, stain,
imprint on eager hands;
purple rivers flow along arms
and all I see are your curls.

Abundant, dark fronds fall
down a neck not used to bowing.
I want to lick the juice slowly,
feel it’s fruity kick on my tongue.

In The Next Life

I will be cake –
lemon meringue
shortcrust pastry
and if I can
a crisp bottom.

I am squidgy
in the middle
sharp citrus tang
jelly giggle
set in a smile.

To top it all,
soft sugar clouds
float, tantalise
and I am proud
to sweeten life.

Peter Devonald is a Manchester poet/ screenwriter with 50+ poems published including Artists Responding To…, Forget-Me-Not Press and haus-a-restx4. Heart of Heatons best poetry winner. Featured in The Poetic Map of Reading. Five group gallery shows for poetry. Children’s Bafta nominated, 50+ awards (Gold Remi WorldFest winner) and former mentor Peter Ustinov Awards (iemmys).
http://www.scriptfirst.com @petedevonald

We’re all witches here

They used to call the dispossessed witches
and they’d gain power from it
right up until the moment 
they were hanged 
or drowned 
or burned.

Now the dispossessed are vilified in different ways
millions go to food banks and gain food from it
right up until 
Tuesday
when we’ve run out
and starve. 

We think progress makes us better
than those that have gone before
we can articulate the universe
more profoundly aware
of just how badly we destroy it
blind to our profound failure.

Everyone believes their time is
unique, improved
wiser, more advanced
as if time and progress are 
linear 
and everything moves forward in straight lines.

History repeats itself or rather
man repeats itself. 
History is written by the victor
stuffed full of hubris, pride and cultural appropriation
don’t believe a word of it, sometimes
clichés hold truth.

Time is a ghost
and if we don’t do better
we are all ghosts.
Witches change names and shape and form
but still disenfranchised all
martyrs to humanities ability to repeat history. 

Mesmerising Netflix now


​TV flickers in darkened room
angels with dirty faces
and bad memories.
Streetlamps shine brighter than the moon
hide the stars in a shroud
broken promises
clouded minds.

White suits lose all meaning now.
Glasses reflect dreams and despair
hidden insights into souls
beyond repair. ​
Eyes dilute, scars flare
replaced by tattoos of childhood memories 
twinkling delights.

Photos come alive like cartoons 
in syrup fish tanks
layered in gold.
The lie detector screams false logic
as we strive and struggle 
for meaning.
Are we strong enough?

Our realities twisted
torn
turned upside-down seductive and slippery
our lives marked by shows
turn up tune in switch on
awaken network, embrace empty euphoria
drown senses, open mind to beautiful noise.

Binge watch life
instead
bookmark memories
explore everything
rate unique existence
look around
inspire.


Addicted to progress
Do you remember?
When all this was shopping malls and retailers
​not coffee shops or charities
when people would come for miles around
to mooch and browse and buy.

Debenhams was the centre of our lives
each floor filled with increasingly random
goods ​and oddities​
you never knew what you’d find
in the empty vacant shopping floors.

So many memories of browsing around Blockbuster
or the video store
to find some b movie that these days you’d mock
all for a price you’d now want a box set
of memories, rather than a ​flickering ​broken screen.

Do you remember when
we’d marvel
at how Woolworths survived
when all most people brought there
was light bulbs or pick and mix.

And now we miss it all
like even those desperate times
still require our nostalgia
BHS, Thomas Cook and Ratners
graves to the High Street of their corporate desire.

Mind the Gap or you’re gone for a Burton
no longer a Topshop or an Oasis​ in the city​
not even a Warehouse
or a Mother​care
Laura Ashley no longer lives here anymore.

The names like lost forests of our minds
like the great oaks they cut down
on a whim
to build the latest highway
or give more light for the nimbies.

Do you remember? Do you recall?
The time we had it all?
What next? What now?
Can coffee shops and charities stand in the way of loneliness?
The isolation of progress never ends.





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