Jackie Biggs – three poems

Holding her hands
After Letter to my Mom, a portrait by David Jon Kassan
(BP Portrait Awards exhibition, 2014).

Veins on the backs of her hands
are thick blue cords standing proud,
showing where blood runs to the end of the line.
Growing old, they hold each other now,
where once they cradled others.

How many children have they rocked,
how many babies clasped to her breast,
who have they hugged and stroked, consoled?
How many have they waved farewell?
How many tears wiped from their eyes?

How many from hers?
How many times has she covered her mouth,
to keep the words in, to silence the cries?
Her hands enfold each other now,
resigned, accepting, long-suffering, forgiving.

The veins, blood flowing down
to the end of the line.
How her son paints them.


Walls

He wanted everything painted white,
she longed for colour.
He said white is pure and clean.
She said it looks dirty too soon,
and it is cold.
It would show all the fingerprints,
where they had been,
and all their shadows would be clear.


Just dessert

She will make you a tart
like you have never tasted before,
the best there ever can be.
It will be paradise in your mouth.

The flour must be the finest, whitest,
so it drifts like mist around
fat cubes of rich, yellow butter,
squeezed into the bowl.

She will leave small pieces of fat
that will dissolve warm on your tongue.
And use egg to bind the mix,
so it is as rich as you deserve.

Wash green-skinned apples,
brighter than emeralds in a mountain beck.
She will season their flesh with lemon zest and sugar,
so the tang will linger on your tongue.

Roll the pastry until it is very thin.
It will be crisp, yet melt in your mouth.
Your senses will explode with lightness.
Cut red apples into paper-thin slices,

leaving on their deep bloody skin,
arrange in precise circles over the tart.
Heat apricot jam to make a sticky golden shine,
a fine coat of sweetness on the acid heart of your dessert.

Bake until hot and then allow to cool a little –
enjoy the scent rousing your tastebuds.
Now, you want her to fill your mouth with her perfect tart,
so she will cut a flawless portion

with the double-edged blade of her silver knife.


Jackie Biggs is a freelance writer, editor and poet. She has had poetry published on websites and in magazines and anthologies, including the The Lampeter Review, Innovate arts magazine, Poetry24, I am not a silent poet, three drops from a cauldron, the Haiku Journal and Blithe Spirit. She has been Honno’s  Poet of the Month. Her first collection, The Spaces in Between, will be published in September 2015 by Pinewood Press. Some of her poetry (and other work) appears on her blog: http://jackie-news.blogspot.co.uk

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Mandy Macdonald – three poems

Sunday morning, Tegucigalpa

full of old avocado trees
and the papery shacks of the poor
the valley floor engulfs the church bells’
hopeful messages
launched from the opposite slope

reaching between travelling clouds the sun strikes
an outcrop iced with livid grass, a tongue
of temporary emeralds in the city
of dusty white, terracotta, bitter chocolate

alone, by my high window
I stitch into memory
our meetings and partings
measured in chaste kisses
like the numbered strokes of bells


hitching on the autobahn

Nearing the ton
in a blue BMW
strobing cornfields
shimmered with summer
lightning
through the crash barrier. Rain strafed us
and i was thinking of Neruda
the taste of rain and mountains
and of making love with you
a hundred miles an hour


So I said to her, I said

’dyer see that Stevie Wonder’s expecting triplets?
well, his tottie is, haha
s’pose they’ll call them something stupid
weird names these slebs give their kids
bloody silly, ’fyou ask me
Dweezil, Peaches, Satchel, fer eff’s sake
’magine having to go through school called Dweezil
no wonder they top themselves
might as well call them Crimplene, Terylene and Dralon
that’s what my Corteena says


Mandy Macdonald is an Australian writer living in Aberdeen and trying to make sense of the 21st and earlier centuries. She has had poems published here and there in print and online, including Outlook Variable (Grey Hen Press, 2015), Lunar Poetry, Poetry Scotland, Pushing Out the Boat, The Fat Damsel, Word Bohemia, Snakeskin, Triadae, The Stare’s Nest, Nutshells & Nuggets, and I Am Not A Silent Poet. The rest of the time, she sings.

Michael Bartholomew-Biggs – three poems

Sharp Objects

A slim serrated blade of panic
penetrates your rind and bacon body
as the bookshop café table tilts
beneath your elbow and your plate
and lunch and cappuccino
are about to slide and smash
in front of all these well-bred readers.

You gasp and grasp but nothing’s moving
only you and this small moment
has not started a calamity.
Yet some calamities are started
by one lurch of failure: when a corkscrew,
exiting a cork askew, impales
a thumb, the bottle falls and breaks.

Once a skewer of alarm goes in
the flesh beneath your shirt gets seasoned
with salt and pepper specks of sweat.
Imagined rows of razor gazes
shave away the blushing layers
of your nerve-rich epidermis
into ragged flakes like Parmesan.


Passengers & Crew
RMS Mongolia, Indian Ocean, June 1917

A music teacher and a theologian
were strolling quietly on deck
ten minutes into afternoon.
They were thinking about lunch
and landfall only hours away
when they felt the first explosion.

Three engineers, a quartermaster and a winchman
perished – with a boilermaker
caught up in the second blast
when furnaces and steam pipes split.
Also killed were some fourteen
native members of the crew.

A Parsee passenger was saved from utmost danger
and the parson-theologian
jammed his fingers as he clambered
in the lifeboat; but, by staying
self-possessed, the music teacher
salvaged all his valuables.


Unsafe House

I wake up feeling bruised by dreams.
Last night was full of clattering –
a pebbledash of hail
on windows. Sashes rattle still.
My rituals with match and gas disturb a battered kettle

whose mumble-whispering sounds like
soft wind made thicker by fine rain.
Coffee keeps its promise
better than most manifestos:
after me, the sewer rats will get their caffeine rush.

The kitchen’s contents disappoint:
my nose recoils from chlorine scents
of pears gone past their prime.
Tepid fruit-drink cartons boast
they’re not from concentrate then split and spill juice on my hand

so when I slip the sugar pot’s
white slotted lid around the spoon
my finger prints remain
as forensic evidence
suggesting I’ve been bleeding from some undiscovered wound.

I ought to blame the absent landlord
rather than the former tenants
for the choice of pictures.
Each portrait is an alias
and landscapes are all alibis no one should believe.

A moving target has to deal
with what’s not happened yet. I trust
the telephone to bring
routine recorded messages
which say if I should be allowed, or be afraid to leave.


Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is the current poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip. His most recent full collection is a narrative of love and aviation, Fred & Blossom (Shoestring 2013); and more recently he has produced a chapbook, Pictures from a Postponed Exhibition featuring images by the artist David Walsh (Lapwing, 2014). His website is at http://mikeb-b.blogspot.co.uk/.

Susan Jordan – three poems

And Karl Marx Said

My dad said if we were like Russia here
nobody would need elections; we’d all
agree with everything because everything
would be for the best. We’d have the latest
medicine, everyone would be educated
and there’d be no unemployment. Women
would do the same work as men (only
with blonde beehive hair) and we’d be
putting people into space. And the music
would be good. Progress would be non-stop
and in a while the state would wither away.
What would happen after that he didn’t say.
He took us to the exhibition and we saw
the photographs: spaceships, machinery, farms
and a monkey with a huge cancer on its face.
The best bit was, he bought me a Russian doll
with eight smaller dolls inside, the tiniest
a green speck. You didn’t get those here.


Chocolate

Sometimes you break it
into neat squares
suck on each fragment
as it coats your mouth
unctuous, bittersweet
then swallow, probing
residue from your teeth
with agile tongue.

Sometimes you take
the whole bar in your hand
bite hard, leave scars
from your rapacious snatch
chew into rubble
then let it liquefy
prolonging the moment
of mouth ecstasy.


Enraptured

He looks at me across the table, confides:
‘This train is not scheduled to stop.’ ‘What?
Not here, not anywhere?’ He looks away
walks grimy fingers along the plastic edge.
‘It says…’ His eyes meet mine, no flicker
of doubt staining their lucent faith. ‘It says
this is the last train. No more to come.
They’re taking us-’ ‘But this is Bromsgrove.
What about…’ Slow as an owl he blinks,
stares out of the window. ‘No, not even…
Not even Birmingham.’ His gaze bores through,
far beyond Birmingham. ‘Of course you’ve heard
about the Rapture?’ I think of mountains, poets,
ice cream, sex. ‘Sadly you, who are not…
not one of us… will not be taken today.
I wouldn’t like to think what your fate might be.
So this is fate. I ask, ‘But how–?‘ He knows,
his smile is lit with his knowing. Just then the train
slows, halts at what you could take for a platform.
He shakes his head. ‘I can’t believe the wickedness
of this world. Or maybe I’ve got the wrong train.’


Susan Jordan has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and writes both poetry and prose. She has had poems published in several magazines and anthologies including The Journal, Obsessed with Pipework, Prole, Snakeskin, South and the Agenda online supplement.

Phil Wood – three poems

Ghost Story

After the Sunday shift on Blaina Wharf,
keeping a tally of hot rolled coil
loaded into the holds, my fingers were
so cold I heard the crack of bones in graves.

I guess that’s why I saw the lad who looked
like a younger me, kicking a ball against
my door. And when I picked the scab on my hand,
I heard my voice calling pass, pass the ball.


My Neighbour’s House Is For Sale

The whiskered face bristled like the dry grass,
his gardener’s worried eyes combing the sky
for rain. The clouds, of course, a dogged fluff
of unbothered white not bound to season.

Like an arthritic oak, bark weathered,
his arms unwrapping for splendid rainbows;
his legs now rooted in the cracks of clay
until muddles of puddles clouded his eyes.


Shropshire

In Ludlow we found distraction
in a tea room, consumed apple cake
beneath Tudor beams. I offered
chit-chat, about painting rooms;
through stained glass you saw a boy
splash puddles. Happiness is hoarded
close-by, not bothered by rain. It nests
in webs beneath your sleepy eyes.


Phil Wood works in a statistics office. He enjoys working with numbers and words. Published work can be found in various publications, including: Sein und Werden, The Centrifugal Eye, London Grip, The Open Mouse,  Ink Sweat and Tears, The Lampeter Review, Three Drops from a Cauldron.


Katherine Waudby – three poems

Letter from his Widow

If you were Benedict Cumberbatch and I were Renee Zellweger
do you think you’d still be alive?
If our shambles were laid on a screen
millimetres thick,
there’d be no room for grit.
They’d miss out the episode
when I caught you with leggy Lucy.
Your laughter winded me.
At first I could only see her
legs waving in the sunshine.
The scene revealed to me
as I entered from the passage,
motes glistening around you.
You looked up, smiling,
still smiling,
no flutter of disappointment.
I never believed you hadn’t been in her red skin-tight shorts.
I saw her in Aldi last week, you know.
Her smile as wide as ever
but teeth grey as her hair.
If she’d not called my name
I’d not have recognised her.
She’s a grandma now.
We mentioned you of course.
She said how kind you’d been to her and her boyfriend
that summer.
I didn’t remember him at all.
Since seeing her, I’ve not been able to get your expression out of my head,
that day when I walked in.
Now I know
you were innocent.


The Big Cheese

Across the valley,
in neat green acres
a six-windowed farmhouse
glows like a stately Stilton.
As we drive past, my passenger
cuts herself a slice,
“I nearly bought that, y’know,”

but for convenience sake she prefers
the three-roomed flat over the chip-shop.


Euler’s Identity

E to the power of i pi plus one equals zero.

This absolves sin.
Like a moment of prayer
the message gets through
I see beauty not as an artist stands back,
but as a hiker sees upland valleys,
not proud of his legs and lungs
or mystified by his eyes
but open-mouthed,
mind-swept.
To walk for miles along a rock-strewn cliff path
doubting my destination
imagining wrong turns
fearing nightfall or snow
to see the glow of camp light
and find a three course meal
on a table set for one
is a lesson
in truth.

I didn’t venerate maps or
nail men to finger-posts.
I took the walk and
saw the view for myself.


Katherine is a 53 year-old teacher living in the Peak District. Her work has appeared on various webzines such as The Beat and Cathy Galvin’s Word Factory. She published a book of short stories in 2005 but has been lying low until stirred anew by membership of Jo Bell’s 52 gang.

Rachel McGladdery – three poems

some days

some days it was glade and mr sheen and the floor would be misted with freshener she’d sashay in her tight jeans twanging hips with the radio on in the kitchen and a fag in one hand smiling

some days it was Buddy Holly on repeat and a hill of bed and she’d just fall and rise with sweat and sour

some days it was washing sadly on the backs of chairs and rain condensing on the fingered windows, gas fire smuggling heat while the grand prix whined

and some days it was leave the pots and maggot cat food and we’ll go out it’s only money dazzling me blind

with other days all piled and threatening to fall in dumped up heaps with all sharp edges curtains to so the neighbours couldn’t see


Mrs. Pill

…liked mine more
I’d never seen one outside of the Grattan
the pram set high above the navy sheen
and shoved my head straight in to sniff the plastic novelty of Baby Born and Silvercross
she bounced it smartly, made me jump – chrome singing in the light of boxing day
with a shout from her mum to not go through puddles
(said with a curving smile)
those white walled wheels, the rattle of the tray
I found my own old pushchair corpse
mottled up with rust pulled from its nest of sleeping thorns
set it up with two brown boxes that the ladies brought from Church
emptied now of tins and Fussell’s milk
in rough approximation of a base and hood
and nestled my doll on a folded towel so she’d sit up nice
her moulded hands in unreal pink grasping the cardboard


Magic Colouring Book, 1974

the cricket’s on, a low murmur
sweating men in white
and nan and granddad rest their eyes
but
here it rains,
the skylight’s tropical
with little drums
cold grey on colder grey
cross-legged
she’s tip tongue concentration
with her water pot and splayed out brush
numb bum on carpet, squares of neon brown on
brown, itch shifting
sets the water to a totter then
a flood of colour eating up the page.


Rachel McGladdery is a poet living and working in rural Lancashire. She was the winner of the inaugural Liverpool Lennon International Poetry Prize. She has been published in several anthologies and journals, most recently in the anthology Parenting (Mother’s Milk, 2014). Rachel was a member of Jo Bell’s highly popular ’52’ poetry group.

Zelda Chappel – three poems

Nepal

There are parts of us that still smell like her.
On a back street in London we find places
to remember. At dusk, I’m a five rupee note
between your thumb and forefinger, moth
wing thin, breathing in the Nepalese dust
and monsoon rain alternately. In Shadwell
we recall the roof we sat on eating momos
drinking lemon tea, say nothing. When I
kiss you, it’s all I can taste. Going home
I long for coloured silk and gilded rayon,
ache for static and weighted air. We give up
our silver easily as the N15 jolts us home.


Moth

Tell me again how I cannot wear their stains
make wings dust-soft, precise, mere shadow.

I want to be your copper but you see only
earth. I know you’ll never change your mind.

In the dark, I still crave the sun. I’m frantic
with my search at times, can’t help but pound

the air frustrated. You’ll laugh but still I long
to nestle amongst your soft things, lie dormant

build casings in your pockets for weeks, pick
your threads. I imagine your unravelling

like a carousel’s spin. I cannot leave my word
so I leave holes for you to stitch, my scent.

I want you to know me. I’ll bide my time.


On being lost

Not against the loss itself but the phrasing
that makes me careless, you misplaced

and the words that make it seem as if you
might be found one day, might yet return

might yet appear between the grass guided
home by the petrolled wings of magpies

forked tails of martins, sea sounds echoing
through these four walls and windows

that I might yet feel foolish for knowing
that wherever you are lost, I am too

that the ashes we gave the ground mean
nothing, nothing concrete at all.


Zelda writes, often on the backs of things. Her work can be found in several publications both online and in print including Popshot, Obsessed with Pipework, Lampeter Review, HARK and The Interpreter’s House. Her debut collection, The Girl in the Dog-tooth Coat was published by Bare Fiction in July 2015.  She tweets, sometimes a little too often, as @ZeldaChappel

Meggie Royer – four poems

Aubade for Uncle

The year following her husband’s death, my aunt learned
how to forgive ghosts for beating us to the punchline.
The joke about the tumor is that it came on suddenly,
like feeling a step give way beneath one’s feet
or the exquisite momentary belief
that a harvest moon is close enough to touch.
In some other life I imagine the autopsy:
everything catalogued and shelved into something
no longer meaningless.
The soft vitreous humor of his eyes,
elbow bones arranged side by side like utensils,
brain quivering on its stem, all those ruined cells
steeped in their own fluid.
I wonder if when grief pulled out my aunt’s spine
it left anything behind to hold her up.
If she ever cupped his head in her palms before the end,
readying its measurements
for the coroner.


Saudade

My grandparents live in a haunted house, or at least this
is what lonely people tell themselves
when even ghosts are more welcome than absence.
The doors rattle and shut, the stairs creak; sometimes
the chandelier even sways back and forth like a good waltz
when wind is nowhere to be found.
They say my grandfather’s father died of fright
when the barn burned down, the sun breaking itself open
like yolk, all the horses running wild into the streams
and past the silos.
Sometimes the graveyard next to their house looks like love
the way a good strong storm can unearth ashes
from where they’ve been scattered like birdseed.
Is it that what haunts their bedrooms
wants back the life it had before?
Or is it waiting for the time to come when it will take their hands
and carry them both into whatever comes after this
some candle in their window still waving?


Amen(d)

Used to be you’d place coins over the eyes of the dead,
fill their pockets with orange peels to sweeten the soil
when it knitted itself soft over their heads.
All the men that once loved me have since passed on,
leaving behind cedar chests of bullets and some hatchet
still singing with the sap of the tree it once buried itself in.
Left in a room full of only their mothers
I’d serve drinks to the ones who never asked
why I fell for their no-good sons.
There was one man, some seesaw of fists and apologies,
who walked off into a cornfield and never came back.
All that golden closing over his head,
the way the drowning let the ocean take them
when the gift of air has served its purpose.


Song to Memory

Eventually, they say, the neurons just give up,
and suddenly everything is new like a birthday,
the names of the families across the street,
why to put milk in the fridge and keys in your purse
instead of vice versa.
Memory runs its course, follows the shadow
of whatever takes it away like the Pied Piper,
some slow forgetting that turns to loss.
We couldn’t convince you it was all going to dust,
that it wasn’t just loneliness
that caused you to stand beneath the streetlight
late at night, luminescent like a moth,
wondering which road
would take you home.
That when you forgot our faces
love wouldn’t grace them back.


Meggie Royer is a writer and photographer from the Midwest who is currently majoring in Psychology at Macalester College. Her poems have previously appeared in Words Dance Magazine, The Harpoon Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, and more. She has won national medals for her poetry and a writing portfolio in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and was the Macalester Honorable Mention recipient of the 2015 Academy of American Poets Student Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection is Healing Old Wounds With New Stitches (Where Are You Press, 2013).