Rose Cook – four poems

Woman and Alsatian
from a photograph by Keith Arnatt

She seems just about to move
having agreed,
one hand comforts the dog,
buried into the fur behind his ears,
but he doesn’t like my camera.

I saw them from across the street
and followed, attracted by
the slick pvc of her coat,
which gave her a beatnik look,
though practical too, I can see that.

Her dog lollops on oversized feet.
He will grow quickly,
they already work as a team.
What’s his name?
I position them by a blank wall.

Look at me. They are both unsure.
She wonders why I am interested in her –
ordinary, out for a walk, hair a mess.
She half smiles, tense. His name is Timber.
The dog barks.


Crow

The man on the train is on his phone,
telling someone that he needs help.
And I thought of you.

He has found a crow with a broken wing,
he knows how to bandage it,
but needs someone to hold the bird.

The person on the phone isn’t keen.
I can come down to you with the bird
in a box. I don’t mind the rain.

He says he bought mealy worms
to feed the bird.
He waits.

I think of the injured crow.
It sits quietly in his kitchen,
scratches at its box.


Grief

During and after my mother’s death
I left plenty of space for grieving
or so I thought.
It seems to need so much
perhaps, after all, I will need a new life.
All this brokenness and sitting still.

The cherry has been pink since December.
It blooms from dry branches,
never lets go.


Bird

We finish our drinks and leave the café.
A company of pigeon bustle on the wall.

You make a sudden sideways grab
with your magician’s hands,
hold one, soft-grey, cradled.

We peer at its bead eyes, quick face.
You raise the bird, release it.


Rose Cook was born in Halifax and lives in Devon; she’s well known in the South West as a poet and performer. Rose has read in venues such as the Soho Theatre in London, Dartington’s Ways With Words Literature Festival and the Bristol Poetry Festival. Most recently, she appeared at a Forked event held at the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth.

Her last book, Notes From a Bright Fieldwas published by Cultured Llama in 2013. Previous poetry books are Everyday Festival published by HappenStance Press (2009) and Taking Flight published by Oversteps Books (2009).

Rose’s blog can be found at https://rosecook.wordpress.com/

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Kevin Reid – four poems

To be honest

another silent night in the bedroom,
other rooms are family ghosts.

Being alone burns,
as does a hungry stomach.
By the bed an empty chipped bowl;
cereal saves cooking.

Books are closed. You too.
Friendships starting this late
can’t hug with lifelong history.

From a distance she told her, be patient,
you will meet people in the real world.


Freedom

Her red bike
Her sunset shoes
Her pedal dance

Patient
distance waits
for her arrival

She doesn’t own
a mobile phone


Taste of God to a Lifelong Atheist

Neither man nor woman,
meat or bone. Neither
ciabatta nor Kingsmill,

baguette or bagel, no,
this is a Flying Saucer
without the sherbet,

edible paper without the sugar,
a single wafer with no ice cream

If I was trying to convert you
I wouldn’t mention cardboard.


Hail Mary

after your glorious ascension,
I watched you on television;
a young girl descending
in an elevator, Midge moused
upon your shoulder,
obedient Mungo by your side.


Kevin Reid lives in Angus. He is the founding creator of the online multimedia collaborations >erasure and >erasure ii and Wordless, an image and text collaboration with George Szirtes published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. He’s also the editor of Nutshells and Nuggets, a blogzine for short poems. His poetry can be found in various online and printed zines including, Domestic Cherry, And Other Poems, The Open Mouse, Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Interpreter’s House, The Stare’s Nest and The Poetry Bus, and forthcoming in Under the Radar.

http://eyeosphere.com

Julian Dobson – three poems

Confessions of a food thief

The day I stole your tastebuds was the best.
After that, I could do anything. I slipped
horsemeat into burgers, flung the odd rat
into your ragu. Every little helps.

Sauce is everything. Splash a little spice,
inject the perfect compound, and you think
all your Christmases have come at once.
I sold you a certain shade of red,

uniformity of portions. Remember the tomatoes
your dad grew, that exploded in your mouth
like liquid rubies? I swapped them for
the taste of cardboard. You never noticed.


Control

Chickentown beckons you back, its satellites
bleached out, more grey than noir.

After the driving bass, relentless drums,
the tracks fade out. The stage lights dim.

You pace your edge of no escape. Sing
Warsaw, but your earworm’s Macclesfield.

All those domestic details. Baby clothes.
A washing line across the kitchen.

A bedroom colder than your conversation.
To be torn apart, you only need yourself.


East End promise

You must live in Gooseley Lane, the doctor murmured
when we wheeled the kids in, limbs swelling
from bites we’d not seen before, that trickling
summer when the stench wound like a bandage.

Friends commented, when we moved, it doesn’t
sound much like East London, you imagine farmyards,
mists swirling from the river, bucolic scenes
maybe painted once by Constable.

The marshes have deferred to sullen semis,
the once-Norman church that no-one goes to
stranded, an obelisk in its graveyard
full of foxes gorging on McDonalds

while the turds of half a world are funnelled
down the Northern Outfall Sewer, a feat
of faecal engineering not once mentioned
by the agent who talked up the house,

but whiffed each time the sun shone, sniffed
with backyard barbecues and ghetto blasters,
police helicopters and unending traffic
on the Newham Way. And bubbling under,

the cauldrons of the capital, festering
and fetid, simmering us together
in an equality of rank, breeding a plague
of panic-sized mosquitoes.


Julian Dobson lives in Sheffield. He won a school prize for handwriting at the age of 10 and hasn’t looked back. His poetry blog is at https://52poemsinayear.wordpress.com.

Peter Harris – three poems

Crazy Stallions and Mad Balloons

Tether your dream
and when the time is right,
let that crazy stallion
jump you right out of there
on his bare back
far, far away from
the fences and gates
of your lock and key life.

Yes, tether your dream
so that when you can’t stand it any more,
that mad balloon will
lift you right out of there
in a gold plated gondola
far, far above
the cellars and tunnels
of your dustpan and brush life.

And when your youth is a distant shore,
when the dogs of time
circle, then close in,
your words, like pistols,
will come to hand.
They will be the mad balloons,
the crazy stallions,
for dreamers hungry for stories.


Before That

When she walked out, you gave yourself a grade U
and left yourself hanging at the end of a rope.
Before that you were half-way up the corporate ladder
that paid for a drive way, a semi-detached and two children.
Before that you were a tender young husband
photographed on the grass overlooking Camber Sands.
Before that you were a first time lover
watching Humphrey Bogart in blue smoke show you how.
Before that you were a school boy playing the fool
with chemicals that blew off your eyebrows.
Before that you were a small boy with cotton wool in his ear
who ate wax fruit by mistake
and caught his sister’s hand in the mangle.
Before that you were a babe in arms
beneath the tumbling bombs
whose mother went hungry to give you her rations.
Before that you were a mystery beneath the skin
tapping at the membrane of hope
and delivered before your time.

And before that
I see your father with only one lung
walk out of the trenches
with the gift of life
and your mother,
after a night shift at the machine shop,
waiting for him on platform two at Chatham station.


I Am

If I weren’t who I am
I’d be another

but I’ve
become many

like hats
on a stand

one
for each occasion.


To feed his children and pay his mortgage, Peter Harris teaches English at a secondary school; for fun he is studying for a PhD in the anti-theism of Christopher Hitchens. Peter’s most recent collection, Plenty of Water was published by Red Axe Books.

Alex Smith – three poems

Unspun

I imagine you there
swaddled in your womb.
Nestled in the folds of tender flesh
as you come undone.
Unravelled.
First, the umbilical cord.
Your link to us dissolves.
Then your little feet
in their protective curl
went toe by toe.
Your tiny arms and legs
unwoven.
Fibre by fibre you faded.
You were never here she says,
but you’ll never leave.
We lie and wonder
what would you have been?
Not even a headstone for you
for me to run my fingers through your marble name
and someone else’s work carved out
piece by tender piece.
Line by line
and inch by stitch
with that horrible delicate slowness.
Unspun unmade undone.
Your tale untold.
Unpinned.
My unspun
little
man.


Broken up

Today I took apart the bed you made me.
It stands, in pieces, some drunk against a wall.

I labelled every part carefully.
Each one a different memory.
A breath for a headboard and a look for support.

It looks pathetic now. Propped up.
An anticlimax.

The right side is longer than the left
and one support is broken.

I seal the screws into a bag.
Clip it shut, tightly.

My finger traces the wood.
Beautiful contours, grown harsher
and light wood darkened.

I discard the covers you bought
then change my mind.
I may need them to reassemble.

But for now I have nowhere to sleep.
There is no warmth.

You struggle into the back of my car.
You rattle on the windows.

I lay you out perfectly in my new room
but hesitate.

Forgot the fixings.
An old mistake.


Anarchy in the nursery

My love of punk has turned on me.
Bitten hands and ironic anarchy from
my non-conformist,
Dada artist.
I put biscuits in the fridge again
as I watch you pour supper away
in bedtime demonstration.
Mini anarchist.
Stuckist.
You’re at year zero, unemployed,
whilst I’ve worn the wrong suit jacket again,
only noticed half way.
Anti monarchist.
Nihilist.
There’s a three chord beat of a sippy cup
as you threaten the hippie
poseur giraffes with your breadstick baton.
Iconoclast.
Spray paint fashionist.
Your working lunch a wall collage.
You spit and drool your breakfast tattoo bricolage.
Surrealist.
That Mohawk’s the tiniest.
You’re only happy when you’ve destroyed the TV.
Your own fashion, safety pinned porridge vest.
You’ve eaten the shopping list.
Terrorist.
You refuse and you deny; I’m pretty sure some of those noises are obscene.
And green. So much green.
Sadist.
Suppose I asked for this.
My pickpocket magician,
a morning spent pulling banana from hair,
appearing like clowns from a car.
Opportunist
Nudist.
Gonzo lo-fi buzz saw drone.
Off on your search and destroy
my pogo moshing; proto headbanging
ideologist.


With a foot firmly on each side of the Irish Sea, Alex Smith was raised in troubled Northern Ireland during the 80s. Educated in all things English and Spanish at the Queen’s University of Belfast, Smith comes from that stable of pared-down, plain-speaking poets such as Muldoon and Armitage. When he’s not busy teaching his beloved English Literature he can be found reading, enjoying and playing music and trying his best to learn foreign languages. His poetry has been published in Carousel County Down, online at Clear Water Poetry and in The UK Poetry Library.

Beth McDonough – three poems

The Blotting Paper Woman IX

In which she gives medical assistance, and recognises her affinity with a nurse of page and screen.

She drives her husband to the Doctor’s
on the other side of town to sit and baulk
at needless, bad stained glass
which casts light on the waiting room, thinned
with peely-wally people.
All baseball capped and track
suits, they don’t appear to exercise
other than their nimble texting thumbs.

Her husband returns, supported by a lad
(perhaps the doctor’s twelve year old )
who sends them straight to A&E.

On the way they pass the Vet’s. The Blotting Paper
Woman wants to stop, and can explain exactly why – it’s

a far better designed building, devoid of parking issues. He will be seen by a team of highly qualified medics who will ask their questions only once. Process the answers. Do whatever must be done. Immediately. It’s cleaner too, with a better smell and the other patients are so more appealing. Less complaining. While human waiting rooms are now all Readers’ Digest free and so there’s no enhancing of the word powers…the kindly Vets provide sheaf upon sheaf of glossy publications, full of finely coloured diagrams of fetching parasites in cows.

Drive on, he growls. He thinks they’ll put him down.

Six hours on, still seated, airless in the plaster room,
he knows his huge mistake. He’s taught everybody there.
They’ve pulled his knee, they’ve taken out
some viscous stuff, which looks like playgroup orange squash. They
want to keep him in. Possibly an operation, certainly for observation
and for rest. Rest? That seems unlikely.

He dozes off on the wheelie couch, while she learns so much
about the Nurses’ last night out, and how they need to cut
and paste notes for their annual appraisal. Their Superannuation.
Luckily, The Woman has befriended the demonstration skeleton.
Despite his dearth of conversation, he has such a lovely set of teeth, and she is minded
to ignore the sellotaped repair now grubby on his skull. A few hours on
she waves her fleshless friend goodbye.

At Visiting Time the Woman returns wardwards
with her son who whoops a lot. She tries to steer him
past places posted Cardiology, really, really fast.

She brings a bagful of overnight provisions
for her man, and a copy of
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as he’s little left to read.


Out of her depth

In a menace of goggles and a too tight
cap, one woman strides to her first
Deep Water Aerobics Class. She breathes
in big attitude, puffs out chlorine, looks
for weights and floats, sees none. In she plops

bumps her knees, to find herself ensconced
in waft-alofts of blue-rinsed hair. FAME!
Five minutes strapped in the spotty-dog
dance, the clap of the FAME, she knows.
She’s become the woman she bubble snicker mocks
from lanes. FAME! Six steps to the right, three
claps overhead, and she tries to forget
the infinite corn-plaster churn.


Cultured

Those fissured rocks have gone.
Ton on ton of gold imported sand
is burnished into the crevices where shell-
nailed boys once poised
to prise great mussels. Landed, knifed,

open nacre lids gave up
their waste of flesh, scooped
for bait and hopes of tiny beads.

Rounds of regular factory pearls fill
up shops now strung along the front.

Over even sands, without boys
to feed them bread, forgetful fish
reflect whatever lies below.


Beth McDonough first trained as a Silversmith at Glasgow School of Art. She is published in various places including New Writing Dundee, Poetry Bus, Under the Radar, Interpreter’s House and Gutter. She finds poems whilst swimming in the Tay, and foraging nearby. Many of her poems centre on a maternal experience of disability, and she enjoys riddling with Anglo-Saxons. She is currently Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Mary Norton Gilonne – three poems

Before

In this between day we fold worry away like old thin napkins,
feign a serenity worn lightly as linen, try to lower our voices.
Your garden never shadows till late, small talk adds up to nothing.
Waiting for illness to shrivel the apple of you to peel and core
we tally the years in gold and dross, drink too much, too little.
Dark makes us watchful as windows, and I know that each of us
is counting, gathering breath. August night hangs there, rustling,
dry as papery honesty, fragile silvered coins. Your sky is full of stars.


Afterwards

How I pull open each dark drawer flowering dust to day.
Your pastels are in faded rows like piano keys,
thin tuneless sticks of hidden blanched hours, no tones
but those of the pith of lemons, powdered skin,
or tinned pale salmon Sunday tea. I must pencil you in.

How your red coat hangs like a homing flag hooked fast
behind the kitchen door, pockets still full with your hands,
and the blue scumbled sky washed as it always was
with Norfolk flint and slate, slips down to the Bure.
I need to shade in your leaving, draw the curtains tight.


Balloons

On the day I nearly left our future,
it was in a wicker basket on ascending currents,
breath tipped with trees, looking down and away.

Morning had seen me dressing, edgy as an insect,
a fleeting reflection of wings multiplied in mirrors,
trying to hold back flight, abandon thinning bedroom air.

We’d billowed taut from the downs, tongue-tense, autumn
blight browning fields, and both of us full of louring sky.
Grapes of balloons rose slow, like rainbow bursts toward the sea.

Lifting. I believed leaving could be as simple as this, almost
an easy sigh of slipping land. How to explain that sudden shift
of light, the necessary weight of you, how close I came to falling.


Originally from Budleigh Salterton, Devon, Mary has been living in France near Aix en Provence for 45 years  and is a freelance translator. Poetry holds an enormous place in her life; she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2010 and 2011 and has been published in online magazines.

Brett Evans – three poems

Kings, Castles, Rascals

This stone bridge was once a castle.
From here we rained down missiles;
or as jeering warriors stormed
full pelt up the grass bank, our flailing
branches ready to knock the crowns
right off each others’ cocky blocks.

How long ago your fighting spirits died.
No laughter or battle cries from you today:
just the cosy life far away from campaigns raged
across schoolyards, fields, then towns and pubs. Dutifully
glued to whatever trite shite is watched by wife
or sprog, you lie on fat sofas – the glorious dead.

Now the parapet barely reaches my knees
and the river a much less formidable moat
than I’d have sworn; though the Gele’s tears
still pour over the weir, sad to lose identity
in the vast, salt Irish sea. And me?
I haunt our stomping grounds, my shadow striding
out before me: a giant ghost, coat flapping in the wind.
And the water before the weir forever lapping at the child.


Teaching Jesus to Dance

It’s hard, you said, when the Devil’s on your back;
you climb up his gnarled sequioa spine
vertebrae by vertebrae, your glass
steady; do not spill a drop. Lupine
being the order of this and every night,
sink your teeth into that toughest cut
of meat: the neck. He’ll writhe, so grasp your pint,
employ your weight till the bastard breaks; enough
of this should see his hooves are shorn, have bled.
Once his tail’s been dragged out the dance hall door,
it’s time we tucked the moon into its bed
and howl in another unexpected dawn.
And let’s not dwell upon the Devil’s faults,
tonight we’ve a date with him for another waltz.


Over Macallan

Whilst propping up my favourite bar,
swilling Guinness by the jar
and eyeing the svelte, blonde-haired Ishtar
who works the afternoons,
I think about my life, my lot,
and everything I haven’t got –
right down to that proverbial pot
to piss in – quite jejune

of me to dwell upon all that
when there could be flirtatious chat
with that most sexual acrobat
who pours another pint.
So as the Lethe’s liquid settles
I try to summon all my mettle,
hide my Hyde, display my Jekyll,
and ask her if she might.

Before I start I’m forced to halt,
an agèd customer at fault
enquiring after single malt,
“Ten year old Macallan?”
As Ishtar pours his single dram
I throw my toys out of my pram
and cast him with the worst of Man;
Saddam, Hitler, Stalin.

He takes the barstool to my left
so any chance of casual sex
now victim to his measly theft,
I don’t feel quite the Christian.
“You don’t look very full of cheer
for one who has a pint of beer,”
he says. “D’you want to bend my ear?
‘Cos if you do I’m listening.”

It’s not his ear I’d like to bend;
his spine I’d most like to offend,
or maybe let my brow descend
abruptly on his beak.
I’m silent, trying to decide
on GBH or homicide,
then single malt with cyanide
or murder more unique.

“Daytime drinking’s for the old,
or those who’ve gladly pawned their souls,
or those who thought they broke the mould,
but if you have your troubles
sit with me an hour or two,
don’t speak if you do not wish to.
Perhaps you’d like a whisky too?”
“Ishtar, make them doubles.”

As soon as they have been drunk down
he gestures for another round.
I think, “This guy’s a fucking clown,
but who cares if he’s buying?”
The old man grins, he’s read my mind,
ironically I’m less inclined
to nut his nose or snap his spine,
be party to his dying.

“I’ll get these,” I say in haste,
donning my best poker-face
like buying rounds is commonplace
in the George and Dragon.
“You’ll thank me when the bottle’s done,
for I was your age once, my son.
But now I’m drained, all best songs sung,
like you I dream of shagging.”

“No,” I say. “I’m taking stock
of all I have and haven’t got,
is that some kind of culture shock?
Keep quiet and drink your scotch.”
This grey-haired goblin smirks, “Your lust’s
as plain as tattooed on her bust,
and life being short I think you must
tell her you’ve the hots.”

I drink, admiring Ishtar’s curves,
trying not to look the perv,
convinced at last I’ve found the nerve
to ask if she turns tricks.
Then suddenly, at lightning speed,
the apple of my lust’s relieved
by troll-in-residence (named Niamh)
and so ends Ishtar’s shift.

“Follow her into the street
and bare your want down at her feet,
be brash about it not discreet,”
commands my agèd friend.
But I enjoy his company,
his charm and style and bonhomie.
And what’s lost love to him or me?

I offer “Same again?”


Brett Evans lives, writes and drinks in his native north Wales. His poetry has featured in various UK journals and online ezines, and his debut pamphlet, The Devil’s Tattoo, is forthcoming from Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2015. Brett is co-founder and co-editor of Prole. http://www.prolebooks.co.uk/

Marilyn Hammick – three poems

A sketch of light

From the terrace I watch a green haze
spread between the rows of cut wheat,

and I have a notion of paint box and brush
playful strokes of envy quenching the usual,

of creatures, like light motes in my eye,
plotting to draw me out, into the field.

I go, I walk the familiar, one foot then
the other between the broken frames

of harvest, tread on prickly edged weeds
from seed, wind blown, favoured

by an equal measure of rain and sun.
I follow the coppice of stalk,

along byways of resilience, going
where chance intersects the ordinary,

attending to difference for some small time
before the plough churns it all to dust.


Be vigilant

The meteorologist mapped the storm
from Aquitaine through Auvergne to Ain,
an amber streak across the country,

that doesn’t plan to linger in any place,
but to sweep through like a boy racer
in Daddy’s birthday gift: all flash and crash.

With its path predicted people thin back
into their homes, away from air thickening
with the weight of plum stained cloud

that rolls and shelves in the sun’s
last puff of light before the sky turns
to cavernous concrete,

before the woods become a leaf sea,
tree trunks stoop sideways,
tables tip, buckets upend.

We shutter doors, windows
stack chairs, unhook the chimes,
call the dogs in, uncork the wine.

Come morning we have our first sight
of green woodpeckers foraging for ants,
their colours splashing the dull of today.


Looking back

I wonder if their homes were like mine,
where little girls should be seen
and not heard was served
as regularly as the Sunday roast.

My lessons began in a Silver Cross,
fully sprung, polished chrome,
me dummied quiet – just in case
the neighbours were resting

and there I am, party ready,
pink smoked dress and bolero,
black patent ankle straps
you mind your p’s and q’s now

I’m off to school, beret straight,
gym-slip regulation length
no talking until you’re outside,
hands up if you know the answer

soon new words became routine
you’re not going out looking like that
scrub that muck off your face
words that trailed behind me

all the way to growing up and wondering
if, when he put one finger on his lips
and another in their knickers,
they thought no-one would fix it.


Marilyn Hammick writes at home in England and France, and can also be found stitching, walking or on her yoga mat. Her poems have appeared in Prole, The Linnet’s Wings, The Interpreter’s House and in other print and online journals.

Follow her on Twitter @trywords and at http://glowwormcreative.blogspot.co.uk