Poetry on Cataclysm & Mayday

Our theme for submissions in May relates partly to the word Mayday. That single word means not the first day of May — a holiday, a day of joyous celebrations — but an emergency message of a violent event, a cataclysm.

Thank you to all who submitted, whether published or not.

Poems published in this feature are by: Christine Griffin, Iris Anne Lewisaudio symbol 2audio symbol 2audio symbol 2, Sharon Webster, Wendy Webb audio symbol 2

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

Iris Anne Lewis

Iris is published on-line 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

Incantation for the Innocent

Children of Beslan, youth of Aberfan
Children of Beslan, youth of Aberfan.

May bardic rhythms rock you
From darkest dreams unlock you.

May magic spells charm you
No evil demon harm you.

May woodland spirits guide you
From unknown perils hide you.

May winter winds howl for you
May all wild beasts growl for you

May copper drums roll for you
May silver bells toll for you

May loving arms enfold you
Comfort you and hold you

Children of Beslan, youth of Aberfan
Children of Beslan, youth of Aberfan.

In 1966 a land slide from the coal tip above the small town of Aberfan killed 144 people, of whom 116 were children.

In 2004, terrorists occupied a school in Beslan in the Russian Federation, holding children, staff and parents as hostages. The siege ended with the death of 385 people, more than half of them children.

Still Life at Aberfan

The mountainside is scarred with ghosts.
Yellow-tainted grass now shows
where black tips used to loom.
But yes, the valley’s greener now.

In the hillside graveyard
two long rows of arches –
pearl-white granite, polished
with unpolluted rain.

In the garden of remembrance
there’s not a petal out of place.

The Aegean Sea, Christmas Day 2021

They called the sea wine-dark,
those tellers of the ancient tales.
At dawn, the waves glowed coral,
at night, the water glinted pearl.

Those tellers of the ancient tales – 
they had no word for sunlit blue.
At night, the water glinted pearl
as Ancient Greeks set sail for war.

They have no words of sunlit blue –
reporters of our modern tales.
Ancient Greeks set sail for war,
migrants now flee war for peace.

Reporters of our modern tales
tell of smugglers, boats overloaded.
Migrants now flee war for peace.
Boats deflate, bodies drown.

They tell of smugglers, boats overloaded.
At dawn, the waves glow coral
as, boats deflating, bodies drown.
They call the sea blood dark.

Wendy Webb

Wendy wrote her first poem, aged 11. A prolific poet, she’s learnt many rules of traditional forms, together with modern formats in free verse, acrostic, concrete, and other styles. She’s also devised her own forms, including the Davidian and Magi. Recently in: Littoral Magazine, Meek Colin, and Reach Poetry.

Showered with Praise

Forgot my pills this am;
by noon I’d stemmed Niagara Falls
with a feather/seagull/stone/and Malbec.
You understand… of course.
Eccles cake – authentic – the best.
Floribundantly blooming Ukrainian flags
(blue/yellow), and poppies (scarlet/pink),
my garden sang a Leonard Cohen
(full and ageing version).
You know – of course – and yours is worse …
what the grandchildren failed to see.
I’ve seen it all, am seasick, there’s no shore.
I rang out Hallelujahs this pm;
by 2pm the soggy loo roll was no more,
so pleased (and showered success in rivulets
of praise) to bath time/soap/a towel/drip-trail.
Yours is worse, of course they’re under five
or, God forbid, that hallowed zero-nine.
I took my pills – energy in three hours –
thyroxine, life restored; BP, sky-high.
One day, I dream – like you –
the hairdresser’s primed.
How old is yours?
                                    Well, mine is 25.

Sharon Webster

Sharon lives in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. A doctor by trade, recent years have allowed her to indulge an earlier passion for writing.

The Reality of Darkness

Her darkness had been a lover,
a velvet touch, a dare, a game.
a giggle under soft covers,
the fury held in clouds
of thunder rain.
It’s chill, just a first plunge into the sea,
an unfair shoulder,
winter, waiting for the bus,
and its silence a gift, a linger,
a savoured stillness.
But now this.
A sinking into a spiralling grey abyss,
existence a listening,
a fearful anticipation of a tread,
the clock hands turning on
choking, overwhelming,
drenching, dread.
And she had thought herself so
brave, so strong,
the first to dive into the water,
the burning building,
a leader, a protester.
She had been wrong.

Christine Griffin

Christine enjoys all forms of writing, particularly poetry and short stories. She is widely published including in Acumen, Snakeskin, The Dawntreader, Graffiti Magazine, Poetry Super Highway and Writing Magazine. She has performed her work at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival and the Cheltenham Literature Festival and pre-pandemic she regularly read on local radio.


That August day as you watered the peonies,
your back to the mushrooming cloud,
were you thinking of water lilies?
What happened when flames slammed into you?
Did you hover in a stretched moment of knowing,
between here and gone?
What happened to your subtle-layered thoughts,
your soft manners,
the way you held your head just so?

And you, high on the 65th floor
watching the ferries in the bay,
were you thinking as the drone grew louder,
of coffee and bagels?
Did time unravel lazily, holding you
as you fell through concrete canyons, shards of glass?
What happened to your soothing voice,
your poet’s thoughts,
your love of birdsong?

And you sir, that warm May evening,
jiggling your car keys in the foyer,
scanning the crowd for her red curls.
When the ruck-sacked man walked past,
were you thinking of the long drive home
a scotch and soda, the dog at your feet?
As the shrapnel tore into you
did you watch time reel back to her babyhood
forward to her devastated future?

Where now are all your dreams for her?
Where have they gone?

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