Paul Mortimer – four poems

Empty Spaces

What if there was no-one in your life.
I mean

no-one.

How would you fill those empty spaces
crackling with tension?
Silence that isn’t
because noise is always humming
from sources beyond you.

Then you would realise that a clock
actually ticks somewhere in your house –
a metronome marking every vacant moment
as you sit watching the weather
shapeshift beyond your sash window.


Jackdaws

Harsh chatter cuts through the baking
air seething across our roof tiles.
They are arrogant, ice-eyed, chopping up
a blackbird’s melody that’s been flooding
the river’s beat. Theirs is not birdsong,
just nature’s practical edge.
Functional. A rooting in the ordinary.
Like that faint rocking of traffic.


Wembury Beach

You are down there by rock pools
and the hard-packed muscle of sand.

A gentle surf swishing memories at your feet,
taking them away, bringing them back.

This steady heartbeat
teasing you with the past.


The Fire Has Gone Out

The fire is black as night,
even the ashes give
nothing back. Embers
lie dead on cooling ground.

We sit in quiet while
the spit and crackle
of bark is still alive
in our minds.

I want to hear anything,
but even voices
find no resonance
in this dark silent air.


Paul is a Welshman now living in Devon and a regular performer on the South West circuit. His debut collection, Fault Line, was published last year by Lapwing and is the inspiration behind an exhibition of 40 works of art by four artists which is touring the country throughout this year. https://welshstream.wordpress.com/

Stephen Daniels – two poems

The first person I ever hated…

was nine and had serrated breath
her vice like wit held me captured

O! The tearing of personality
she inflicted with each prod

left me chasing her charm
around the playground like a dog

there were times when she
would sew my social status

into the skins of my enemies
continually provoking a chase

I caught her one day
and my hands felt her shoulders

after years of pursuit
my position was now fixed

in retaliation for all the ridicule
and embarrassment she now dismissed

we scowled at each other
then shared our first kiss


You lay on the floor, waiting for me

When I accused you of being dead,
I thought you’d smile.
I thought you’d look up and mock me.

When I accused you of being dead,
I looked at the coffee table,
I threw the coasters at you and waited for a twitch.

When I accused you of being dead,
I touched my arm, the way you sometimes did.
I closed my eyes with your fingers.

When I accused you of being dead,
I pulled at the rug,
I waved its ripples towards you, waiting for you to give up your pretence.

When I accused you of being dead,
I took the deepest breath, inflating silence.
I released the moment slowly.

When I accused you of being dead,
I pointed the remote control at your head.
I pressed the buttons – on, on, on, volume up, brightness up.

When I accused you of being dead,
I shivered, a back of the neck brush.
I let the cold linger on my words.

When I accused you of being dead,
I tickled your toes, your still toes.
I waited for you, you could never resist laughing.

When I accused you of being dead,
I coughed, rasping reason.
I clung to my trembling.


Stephen Daniels is the editor of Amaryllis Poetry  and the Secretary for Poetry Swindon. His poetry has been published in various magazines and websites, including The Interpreter’s House, Ink Sweat & Tears, And Other Poems and The Fat Damsel. You can find out more at www.stephenkirkdaniels.com and @stephendaniels

Sue Kindon – three poems

Murmuration

Starlings all the rage
corkscrew binocular cloud
pirouetting libertine waltz
uncorseted
a wasp-waist flotilla
swingboats off their rocker
swirling jitterbug migraine
on the rampage

bringing a tear behind the lens

for the lone toddler
who made landfall.

Small island:

everyone loves a pretty pattern
written in tea leaves but
we don’t have room in our sky.

Put the kettle on let them dance
in some body else’s horror film
birds of a foreign feather swarm.

Roll out the silver biscuit barrel,
the astronomic wire fence.
No room.


Answering to my Married Name

When they summon me as Mrs X
in some magazineless waiting room
with wooden benches, I half expect to smell
her peppermint-tobacco breath behind me;
when I turn, I see her flicking ash
as she anticipates my next dropped aitch.

She stoops to pick it up and gives it back,
plucking a stray hair from my cardigan.
She flounces into the consulting room
ahead of me and lies down on the couch.
I cower in the chair and gird myself
to speak of women’s troubles as discretely
as I can. The doctor booms his verdict.
The older Mrs X lights up and smirks.

She walks me to the chemist’s, fag in mouth,
lecturing me on the ouch of sex.


His ‘n Hers

My other half – as good as dead now –
once said to me – and he wasn’t joking –
that men and women
feel emotion differently.
My love’s not the same
as yours, he’d claim in spring.
And we’re not talking physical here
or are we? That prickly chestnut.

Maybe he just paid lip service
to the hearts and flowers thing,
for fox scent in high summer.
Was nothing sacred, for fuck’s sake?
Did he have the decency
to close his eyes when we kissed?
My seasons didn’t shift, but there was he
winking over my shoulder at the next.

I know women like that, too.
I know women who get angry,
as I am now. Is that so different
to your Man Anger I want to shout,
before he goes to ground.
I want to knock our seed pod heads
together. He just nods.
Like I told you, he’s dead.


Sue Kindon lives and writes in The Pyrenees. She graduated from Hull University in English and French and became a bookseller, specialising in botanical books. These days, she and her husband run Valier Illustrated Books, giving her the opportunity to handle some beautiful tomes, many of which are “Livres d’Artiste” illustrating French poetry.

Sue’s work has appeared in Magma, The North, Obsessed with Pipework, Rialto, Antiphon, Prole, French Literary Review, Popshot and others.

Miki Byrne – two poems

View From the Lake House

Rain falls in dismal curtains.
Defies slicker and sou’wester

but tumbles like nails
hammered into the world.
Puddles reflect fractured grey shades,
rippled, metallic,
like the drip-wriggled window
that overlooks the lake.
Where swans make snowy arcs
of neck and wing,
huddle into wind-rattled reeds,
that bend under the torrent’s force.
He sits by the window,
gazes at smeared green expanses,
droplets bouncing high and harsh,
the slanting slash from sky to water.
Rain drums its incessant beat.
Echoes the thump of head and pulse,
the hollow ring of loneliness.
He closes the blind,
cuts off the grey wet of it all,
opens a bottle of cognac.
Proceeds to drown himself.


Crossing the Water

The name he left behind
held the green flow of the Liffey.
Tight Gaelic syllables
with Guinness-breathed gab,
O’Connell street shops,
the sting and salt tang
of the harbour.
It lilted with a harps’ plucked melody,
the rush of Dublin streets,
weed-bearded jetties and the chill
of cold stone on bare feet ,
as he shivered dockside,
dived for pennies
to raise smiles on tourists.
The name he carried travelled
across the water, was shaped
like whittled wood to fit a new life.
Anglicised, it smoothed edges,
eased the friction of sliding into a uniform,
joining the lemming-rush fight
for his new country.
It guided him towards post-war jobs,
marriage, fatherhood.
The name he gifted to his wife,
passed to three children who dispersed,
grew his line, entrenched it deep
as a transplanted tree,
diffused him into further
blood-tied generations.
This name was kept, even through marriage,
by the daughter who would not abandon it,
spelled it a thousand times
to unfamiliar ears.
That name lives on, strong, rooted,
enduring.


Miki has had three collections of poetry published and work included in over 170 respected poetry magazines/anthologies. She has won a few poetry competitions, been placed in others and read on both Radio and TV. She was a finalist for Gloucester Poet Laureate. Miki also runs a poetry group at The Roses Theatre Tewkesbury, and is active on the spoken word scene in Gloucestershire. She contributes to Poems in the Waiting Room and began reading her work in a Bikers club in Birmingham. Miki is disabled and now lives near Tewkesbury, Glos.

Ben Ray – three poems

Night Visions

Outside, empty night air: fingers tingling
with the first buzz of feral, biting cold.
A hilltop, a farm gate, leant against a wall
of newly-built, blanketed black. Then –
suddenly, the night is pulled back, gliding
on unseen curtain rails- far lights on distant hills,
a pinpricked streetlight town as scattered
as my own thrown, blown thoughts.
Around, an epiphany of pines holding them tight:
a lover’s mess of dark and still and wakefulness,
as if the town is staying up late and reading in bed.
Slowly, a pair of headlights join the glow worm dots,
the distant engine softening the sharp silence of sleep.
My dull legs are rooted: arms stretch out to touch the cold
and I know, of all the endless, hidden nights on this earth,
this spot is where I want to be: alone, a slight speck
in the seven billion, given the earth for this reverberating moment.
I will leave: I will eat dinner, I will watch telly, I will read
but, for now, it is enough to see this, to be here:
a surprised witness to the vaulted leap of an invisible sky
above the secret sleepwalkings of the unconscious earth.


Survival of the Fittest

It jumps from the telegraph pole on that lane we sometimes walk down
(the one that traces the hill like a pencil round the earth’s spread hand) –
it falls, tumbles, plummets to the ground, seeming to give up halfway down
as if its skull’s already broken in anticipation of the deadening crunch.
I can hear your voice in my mind as I watched its first and last flight:
“It’s only natural.” you say. “Some don’t survive the first attempt.
They fall from the nest, the mother can’t help them. Only the strongest wins.”
The metaphor positively seeps through the evening air towards me.
And as I turn away from the roadside, and begin the walk back home
I glimpse a baby owl skidding along the earth of the field, wings hardly moving,
off to hunt mice you had thought were safe.


The Unquiet
(after ‘Adlestrop’ by Edward Thomas)

No, it was not quiet there.
There, wrapped in the sound of the stream
(water on rocks on water, the clack and gargle of time)
the world was unmistakably, unstoppably alive.
The fidgeting of birds flitting blindly above the path,
their calls mixing in chorus with the deep, shoe-felt thud
of a distant tractor somewhere down the valley.
And then, the everywhere creaking of talkative trees,
subtle and constant at breath, whilst the world seemed
wrapped up in the all-pervading odour of wild garlic.
No, it was not quiet there. But nor was it noisy.
Instead, it was unquiet. The rhythmic, regular sound
of a morning 4.5 billion years in the making:
of the world’s daily, shy jubilance and thrum.
If you stood very still, you could feel the Earth turning on its axis.
From somewhere nearby, the sound of a woodpecker
floated, disembodied, through the trees.


Ben Ray is an accomplished young poet from the Welsh Borders. His work has been published in various local journals and newspapers. He was previously Herefordshire Young Poet Laureate, and currently publishes Slap, a journal of poetry by Oxford University students. As well as studying History at Oxford University, Ben was recently shortlisted for the 2016 Martin Starkie Poetry Award, and has just published his first collection of poetry, After the Poet, the Bar, with Indigo Dreams Publishing, having won the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize.

Jane Burn – three poems

Last of the White Star Liners

Forty eight thousand and eighty tons. More
magnificent than her older sisters. The third,
final part of an ocean triptych –
Olympian, Titan and Giant. Begun
with behemoth Olympic, impotently parted
by miles of cold sea from her cracked,
plunging sister. Doomed to endure and ignore
her fading calls – the desperation of Titanic.

Last but not least, she was meant to be
christened Gigantic. This did not convey
the patriotic, it was claimed, though in truth
this name would bring too readily to mind
association with desperate, drowning deaths.
So Gigantic was rebirthed Britannic
last of the White Star Liners. Born and built
in changing times, she never carried

her dancing rich, in swooping skirts
and dickie-bows, nor a hold full of third class
hope for a better life. Sank anyway, her doom
to join her sister in the deep. Met the Herz horn
of a sea-mine. Took thirty souls with her.
Answered her kindred’s lonesome song.
History would remember that at least
she had enough lifeboats.


The birds told me stories of paths in the sky

Us wrens keep stump-tailed secrets. Hedgerow dabs
in their doily baskets – Home Sweet Homes to peep from,
dainty, plump as busy fairies. We will show the art
of quick-flits, how to snip posthaste from hedge to tree.
Come sit with us passerines! The dawn opens to our throats!
Beady fatlings we, little smut of herringbone on our wings.

Go higher! Crows have more ambition – you will find us,
unkindness grouped in twig-tops. Fed on feasts of flesh
and scrap – any chance to get our beaks down, stuff our guts.
Stick with us – survive! We do not wait like tits, for cats
to make lunch of or meats! Our bills is smirking slate –
we ain’t got no fears. Is suckers for shiny and sweet.

Go higher still! We are white in the air – how beautiful!
We are poetry. Even our deaths are blood and snow.
In perfect love, we will tell you of staying together for life.
Such fairness! All water reflects us, Children of Lir. Our flight
is song! We advise you trust in love. Be elegant, as you land
on glass. Make sweet hearts of your necks.

Are you brave enough to join the Gyps Rueppellii? In days way back,
man cricked his neck, called us angels. Fly where air meets ozone –
come to troposphere! Beauty matters not when you can bite through bone.
Heads bald as blind-worms, scapula lugged like menhir on our backs.
No other bird gets up so close to heaven. We see the dots on Earth.
Go from carcass to sky, rot to redemption, hunch to halleluiah!


Bad-Luck Bird

One for sorrow.

One little piebald augur of doom,
loafing the road, a shiftless portent.
It knows what it’s doing – bracing its ribby toes like jacks,
stilting on tinder-stick legs, cocking a snooky beak right at me.

Sorrow for you lady –
touch your face, touch your hair.
You cannot deter this sadness
with saluting. One of us. One

in your rear view mirror, one
scratting along your morning pavement. One
dropping gutter-moss on your clear, plastic porch roof. Thunk.

Look at me.
Two for joy –

winking their marmalade harbinger
eyes over jam-sponge carcass – wiping sticky rabbit fur
from greedy beaks, licking round their smiles
with devil’s blood tongues. Joy indeed,
on this carrion feast, you monsters.

Joy?
Yes! We are happy, gorged on maggot meat
and mated for life – we know what we are.

Why this happiness in pairs? I have had my woe
from being doubled up and I have sat alone,
feeling that bit closer to the stars.

Pinto oracles of roadside fate – eaters of eggs,
stealers of chicks, robbers of nest-homes.

All the doffing in the world will not spare your fortune.
Three for a girl –

you already wasted your shibboleth on me.

Four for a boy!
Don’t you dare turn your sight to my son –
I tell him nothing of you. Your anathema
will end here.

Five for silver, six for gold –

robbed from the very eyes of the dead
should you wish to collect it, I bet.

Seven four our secrets?

I already know that you are night and day,
a thief who will peck out the eyes of a sheep.
I know the meaning of your solitary forms,
know that if I see you on your own,
then you have lost your loves.


Jane Burn is a writer and illustrator based in the North East of England. Her poems have been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including The Rialto, Iota Poetry, Obsessed With Pipework, The Interpreter’s House, the Black Light Engine Room Literary Review, Beautiful Dragons and the Emma Press.

Jane has published two pamphlets to date, Fat Around the Middle (Talking Pen, 2015) and Tongue of Fire (Black Light Engine Room Press, 2015). Her debut collection, nothing more to it than bubbles, will be published by Indigo Dreams in November 2016.

She is also the founder of the online poetrysite, The Fat Damsel.

Robert Nisbet – two poems

On the Bus to the Wedding

Ivor checking the pigeons are secure,
Joyce gathering a piece of Madeira cake,
popping it in the bread bin,
and then they catch the bus, 10.25 to Cardiff.

They love the ceremony’s stock loveliness,
the spouts of sentiment and hymnal,
and on to the reception.

This is Ivor and Joyce,
they’ve come from Abercynon on the bus.
How sweet, how very sweet ..
(…lived in our terraced house for fifty years,
says Ivor…)

Then Steve to John, We must remember, old boy,
that the markets won’t like this Budget.
Social advances are fine and dandy, of course,
but our leaders need a dash of realism sometimes.
Canapé?

Ivor and Joyce, now in their wall-seat eyrie loft,
but loving it, smiling at blank smiles, the bride,
the descent into drink, as the marriage of Don and Dawn
sets off on its voyage of thirteen years.


Term Time

It’s going into March and Jeremy,
the history boy, is dreaming
of his Cambridge scholarship, of buildings,
stone’s wisdom and the man he met,
from Corpus Christi, who’d lived
in Marlowe’s room.

Denny, for uni too
(get a good job, of course, mumble, mumble),
dreams of the fizzing of dancehall lights,
the beer pumps’ reassuring depths.

Karen whirls like a vinyl record, spins
with Kinks and Mersey’s Pacemakers,
the future a haze to be wondered at,
but jabbed in dream by quirks and fears.

For Sarah, art.
Now. And next year, at Hornsea.
The paints, the easel, the mornings.
All of it. The now of art.


Robert Nisbet was for some years an associate lecturer in creative writing at Trinity College, Carmarthen. His poems have appeared in his Prolebooks pamphlet, Merlin’s Lane (2011), have been published widely in magazines in Britain, and in the USA in magazines like San Pedro River Review, Red River Review, Constellations and Main Street Rag. One of his short stories was featured in the Parthian anthology, Story II.

Sheila Jacob – three poems

The Shell

Yours was the first corpse I’d seen
though I wince at the word: harsh,
impersonal, which in a way it was
when I stood in the Viewing Room

that midwinter morning, half-afraid
to kiss you, say a final goodbye.
I recognized you at once, pleased
they hadn’t lacquered drifts of white

hair, replaced pyjamas and pink cardi.
But your arctic face chilled my lips
and I knew if I knelt close, pressed
the curl of my ear against your breast

I’d hear no crash of waves trawling
the coral and driftwood of ninety years,

no echoes of a gushing, hushing ocean
scooping your sacred breath in its tide,
turning at the moon’s far rim where
your soul left its shell and took flight.


Days Like This

We sat together
at the old drop-leaf table
pulled out and laid
with white linen cloth,
square cork place- mats,
green plastic cruets
and silver mustard pot.
I ate my bubble & squeak
pretending not to care,
watched Mum and Dad
exchange knowing looks.
There’d be more days like this.
Not speaking until spoken to,
not spoken to until the father
I loved relented, accepted
my promise to be a good girl.
Was I a bad girl?
Obstreperous Dad proclaimed,
hung the name around my neck.
I carried it to bed,
slept with it on my pillow
while the need to stifle and deny
shadowed me upstairs
then tangled
beneath my eiderdown.
Dad died a few years later.

Almost fifteen, I’d learned
to stitch and mend;
tacked and hemmed my grief
inside the smart new suit
I wore at his funeral.


Moonstruck

Mid-December, the day dusk-blue
by mid-afternoon, the moon
a crescent of spun gold
silvered in ice.
I watch how steadily
it hangs, so close
I could climb plaited ropes,
curl in the spine-curve
of its surface.
I knew this moon
before Dad named it
one bedtime, pointed to
a peeled-apple face
familiar as my own
sugar-mouthed and smiling
between garden trees.

I thought it lived next to us,
came on holiday
to the Isle of Wight,
returned when it saw
our ferry leave.

*

Smog fell swifter than darkness
in the Winter of ‘38,
bandaged the turrets of Villa Park,
muffled turnstiles and footsteps
after Saturday’s game.
Street lamps wore gauzy masks.
Yellow buses crawled, bleary-eyed.
Dad turned up his collar,
rolled a cigarette and walked,
the moon opening the sky
with its glinting coinage:
a sixpence, shilling, half-a-crown
shining over a railway bridge,
beyond the gasworks,
down crabbed alleys,
ballooning into silk
above the back-to-back
he called home.


Sheila Jacob is 65 and three-quarters, was born and raised in Birmingham and lives with her husband in North Wales. She resumed writing poetry in 2013 after a long absence. Since then she’s had poems published in Sarasvati, The Dawntreader, The Cannon’s Mouth and in the first issue of Dotty and the Dreamers.

Jonathan Taylor – three poems

Mr. Riley in the Library

“I’LL CANE YOU, BOY,” his back’d boom at us
now half-heartedly, as we passed the jammed door
then reversed: “I’LL CANE YOU …” and faster: “I’LL …”
though his future tense was two years late to catch us
in 1989.

………………………….Too old to readjust
to the new discipline, he’d been semi-shelved
in library limbo, armchaired in perpetuity,
incredulously watching TV test matches
as England were caned by ex-colonies,
the ball sent soaring for another six
as if lofted out of Trent Bridge.


May 2008
For R.

Born premature, as if in the red,
we dreamt you a compensatory future
in the black, your incubator
a mini-limousine chauffeuring
you away from broke Leicester,
hapless father, ill mother,
softer twin who preferred sleep to shares,
your eyes white open with dollar signs,
a sleep-suited Sugar,
a scratch-mitted J.R.,
with only two pounds to your name.


This poem is too neat

The end of this poem will be too neat, too pat.
It will do that circular thing of coming back
to an image or memory at the start, of connecting
something very early with something sad
years later.

……………….The start of the poem will describe
my very first memory of leaving the outdoor
Art Deco lido in Trentham Gardens
which was full of dozens of mummies’ bare legs
and was apparently closed when I was four.
I recall all of us shivering in towels in the car
and asking my father what pneumonia was
because he’d told us he’d get it if we didn’t
leave right away. He explained what it was
and many years later he did get it and died.

I told you the end of this poem would be too neat,
too pat, as if a poem can lock you into a pattern
and there’s no getting out of it.


Jonathan Taylor is an author, lecturer and critic. His books include the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015), the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007), and the poetry collection Musicolepsy (Shoestring, 2013). He is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is jonathanptaylor.co.uk.

Bethany W Pope – two poems

Market Day in the Children’s Home

There was a room full of donated clothes
sticking out from the Admin Building’s gray
stone sides. It resembled a garden shed;
cheap vinyl siding and a rickety
plywood door pointing to the parking lot.
Local Presbyterian churches sent
black plastic garbage bags full of worn shirts,
high-waisted, stone-washed jeans, and disjointed toys
which were sorted into piles according to kind.
We called what we did there shopping, as though
we had a choice beyond approximate fit,
as though we were not picturing the groins,
the breasts, the lives of the bodies who filled
these forms before us, breaking them down.


In My House-Mother’s Office

Once a month I’d lie flat on my stomach
(cigarette ashes and polyester
carpet fibers blackening my hip bones)
and write thank-you notes to the church members
who donated my allowance. She said,
‘They sent you fifteen dollars this month. Tell
them you spent half on a CD and gave
the rest as your tithe to our on-campus
church.’ The carton near her hand was empty.
She plucked another from the pile and shook
free a pack of unfiltered Marlboros,
lighting one from the hot butt in her fat,
red hand. ‘Sweet talk them. You’re good at big words.
Maybe next month they’ll send more. The taxes
are so high on these things I need every cent.’
I lied pretty well to those church women.
It was easy. All I had to do was
pretend that I had enough energy
to want more than escape. Besides, having grown
up in churches, I knew what kind of story
my audience preferred; grateful, and sweet.
On TV, the fickle Wheel of Fortune turned.
It was a pleasure to mask my life in words.


Bethany W Pope is an award-winning author. She has published several collections of poetry: A Radiance (Cultured Llama, 2012), Crown of Thorns (Oneiros Books, 2013), The Gospel of Flies (Writing Knights Press 2014) and Undisturbed Circles (Lapwing, 2014). Her collection, The Rag and Boneyard, was published in April 2016 by Indigo Dreams and her chapbook, Among The White Roots, will be released by Three Drops Press in Autumn 2017. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in June 2016.