Helen Evans – three poems

A flight past Mount Aspiring

Racing through remote
unlandable mountains,
a wingspan from the rockface,

we cross the next arête,
hesitate: staring up
a 10,000-foot peak,

down dark cliffs
to a slate-green,
ice-edged lake.

I’m six again,
exploring wintry puddles
along a rutted track.

Then a weight
of sun-warmed snow
breaks and slides downslope,

pausing and piling up on
one narrow ledge,
collapsing again down the cliffs,

airblast
bruising the water
before it hits.


Perhaps

Perhaps once in a season
it lines up like today –
cold with low stratus all morning
but when you finally get to the airfield

the cloud’s burning back to blue sky
with flat-based cumulus forming
in a just-strong-enough south-westerly
and before you know it

you’re at the top of the wire,
releasing in rising air,
levelling your glider’s wings
to soar across country

up a cloudstreet that’s aligned itself
with the instant of your arrival.


The derelict churchyard

Traces of the tombstones’ lettering
are inked in by black moss, but can’t be read.
A capital. A skull. One Latin word.
What might have been a face. A date of death.

Inside the mass of pale forget-me-nots
heaped up on graves like blizzard-driven snow –
two sparrow chicks, begging to be fed.


Helen Evans is based in Exeter, Devon. Her work has been published in The Rialto, The North, Obsessed with Pipework and The Broadsheet, while her poem ‘Night Crossing’ came third in the Manchester Cathedral International Poetry Competition.

Her first pamphlet, Only By Flying, has just been published by HappenStance Press.

Her website is at helen-evans.co.uk

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Carole Bromley – four poems

Vole

That day I walked around at lunchtime
with notes for a poem in one pocket
and a banana in the other,
the larches were so beautiful,
all fuzzy as if making their minds up
and a hawk circling above
a vole who had plans for the afternoon
and was on his way home
with the vole equivalent of groceries
and a piece of news he was dying
to impart, and if he never made it
he might be consoled that I put him,
all quivering and velvet-pawed,
into this poem before I ate the banana.


That Café

I wish I could remember its name,
that café in Reading in the sixties
that was open all night. Like home,
if you went there, they had to let you in.

Sometimes it was buzzing with students
high on caffeine, pot, alcohol, love.
You’d slide onto a bar stool
and nod, knowing they wouldn’t judge,

that they’d understand this need
you had to just keep going,
to join one day to the next
without a pause in between.

Sometimes you’d go there with a lover
after the halls’ curfew, after chucking out time
at The Three Tuns, after climbing over
the cemetery wall, reciting Reading Gaol

It seemed that if you slept
the summer of love would pass you by
and you’d lie alone in your single bed
till the dull sun peered through the curtains.


Tom

The letter that never arrives,
a snatch of song through an open door,
a delicacy that’s off the menu,
that warm fur coat in Harrods’ window,
the last bottle of red from the Mary Rose.
A bed – oh yes, a bed – the kind you sink into
with sheets so white, so new they creak.
A view of an ocean with sherbet waves,
an uncut first edition Keats locked inside a cabinet;
they wear white gloves to show you it.
Winter, though. Winter. Dead silence
in a forest of tippexed trees.


The first time I saw you naked

I said, ‘You’re so beautiful.
How can you possibly want me?’

and you replied that I was beautiful too
but I think you were just saying that.

I wasn’t. I meant it. I’d never seen anything
more lovely, never wanted anything so much

and you were mine for that one night.
I held the most beautiful thing I’d seen,

the thing I most wanted.
Not many people can say that.


Carole Bromley’s second collection, The Stonegate Devil, was published in October by Smith/Doorstop. She will be judging the York Literature Festival/YorkMix Poetry Competition which opened for entries on November 1st. Carole holds poetry surgeries in York for The Poetry Society (see the website for full details). Her website is at carolebromleypoetry.co.uk/

Richie McCaffery – four poems

Andy

In the morning she comes down
and from the kitchen table sees
a robin cocky at the bird-feeder.
She shouts out his name, then
remembers there’ll be no reply.

She goes into the garage for a tab
and lighting up sees a mouse
making its frenetic chess moves
and again she calls out for him
realising even quicker he’s gone.

From then on the day just sinks,
going down as she climbs upstairs.
Tomorrow she’ll try all over again
and will forget to remember
to forget to speak his name.


A. K. Davidson Hall

They’re demolishing
my old halls of residence.

Fit for habitation back then
but not any longer.

The day I went back, the place
was all making and unmaking

the old pathways blocked off,
torn-up or already built upon.

I was reminded of a York hotel
where it’s said the ghosts

of Roman centurions march
through brick or stone,

following straight roads
they made for fear of bends

and meeting the ghosts
they became for never turning,

and the paths I knew
are becoming walls.


Runaway wives

I read in a copy of The Leeds Mercury
from 1797, that missing women
were known as ‘runaway wives’
as if the only reason to disappear
was to pick open the wedlock.

I am two centuries too late to join
the hunt for these fugitive brides,
having kept my eye on my mother,
decades hanging on the garden gate,
and my father happy to run off too.


A Northern accent

They say even victory does not please me
and that is true when you consider
the trophy cabinet of the cricket club –
so many cups won over the years
and no place to display them
because the joiner who built the case
made it so pessimistically small
he set the limits of our success
even before we began to play.


Richie McCaffery (b.1986) recently completed a Carnegie Trust funded PhD on the Scottish poets of World War Two, at the University of Glasgow. He now lives in Ostend, Belgium. He is the author of Spinning Plates (Happenstance, 2012), the 2014 Callum Macdonald Memorial Pamphlet Award runner-up, Ballast Flint (Cromarty Arts Trust, 2013) and the book-length collection Cairn (Nine Arches Press, 2014). Another pamphlet, provisionally entitled Arris, is forthcoming in 2017. He is also the editor of Finishing the Picture: The Collected Poems of Ian Abbot (Kennedy and Boyd, 2015).

Brian Johnstone – three poems

Markings

The shit reminds them
they are here

as trespassers. The wood
a good will lease;

the garden, by extension,
just on loan. Droppings

left in long grass,
moss banks, beds tell tales

of visits in the gloaming,
of foraging for food.

The grubbed up patch
below the beech,

a badger’s scrape;
the tufts of lichen

teased up from the path,
all nesting stuff.

A silent argument
of ownership,

a cacophony of marks.
And theirs, their steps,

the cultivated ground,
just doesn’t count for shit.


Why You Won the First Prize for The Twist
i.m. Min Johnstone 1913-1998

You’d barely dropped the 40s style,
that Barbara Stanwyck look you loved,
when in the 60s raged in all the brashness of their youth.

Bemused, you soon caught on, got with it,
went for trouser suits and flares, from bangs to perms,
peroxide in your urge to fight it,

age – the only snag. But you knew
that the beat goes on. Next summer at the golf club hop,
that Chubby Chekker hit, and you were it.

They couldn’t keep you in your seat
as one more dance craze proved you’d kept your youth.
Twisting with the best of them, you took the prize.

What was it? Did you ever say?
Truth is, it was the way you wore your years;
the grip you had upon each iron, wood; on being you:

that someone always called a girl, who lived it too.


Cramond Island

Our vessel no less than a forty-one bus,
we abandoned at stops hard by the shore

and footed it out on the causeway, steered
by cement that tied island to mainland,

tank traps flagging the route. No more
than a coastal wasteground, the detritus

of war, of industry none could remember,
smashed concrete and squadrons of rust

gave the place its allure as much as the tide
that could moor us there, trap the unwary

all of a day, ebbing long after the last bus
had gone, chippies had closed for the night.


Brian Johnstone’s work has appeared throughout Scotland, in the UK, North America and Europe. He has published six collections, most recently Dry Stone Work (Arc, 2014), and his poetry appears on the UK Poetry Archive website. A founder and former Director of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, he has read at festivals from Macedonia to Nicaragua, and venues across the UK. brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk

Geoff Anderson – three poems

Cycling

Gone two days, but the skunk
stench sticks to the curb,
splashes of bronze

where road, animal,
and darkness fused
in a driver’s headlamps.

When an odor holds
faster than gravestones,
not even a cross makes the dead

more present, wisped into the vents
of bicycle helmets, the cracked
windows of alley traffic.

It takes a block to remove
the film of memory from each breath;
what was inhaled

already a part of the blood
used to fuel the lungs again
to pump the heart once more.


Policy

When an employee asks about bereavement,
removing the splintered wedge from the door
and sitting before the computer stands by,

the radio puts down its saxophone for the news
a family member has died.
She is hoping to travel back

a few days to settle the house and service.
When an employee asks about bereavement,
the foreigner with a familiar face,

the mind trickles down cobble stones
since paved over—to a church;
casket handles gnawing

grooves into a younger palm
that surrenders the shuttered shell
to the arms of a hearse—

before a return to the question.
When an employee asks about bereavement,
the first response is a breath of memory,

inhaled and quiet like a candle
spent after the shudder of a furnace
within a waking house.

Then a manual is grabbed from a top shelf
and a distant page is found, already
sanitized and prepared to be shared.


To and From

The boarding pass
in your small hand

bears our last name,

wrinkled and worn
above the emblem of an airline
and the couplet,

To and From.
These two words
pull and part

the way an airport can fill
or empty the back seat of a car.
Those six letters let you fly

alone, the first time. To your left,
an aisle filled in Queens
files away in Texas.

It will take only twenty steps
to reach the door,
1,500 miles away

from the hand
that pulled your suitcase,
the arms that held you

and released,
the checkpoint, and
the tremble of a wave.


Geoff Anderson has an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. He helps foreigners say “beach” without offending people in Columbus, Ohio. His work has most recently appeared in Modern Haiku and Rust + Moth.

Mark Totterdell – four poems

Shrike

Plumage as grey
as the smoke in the valley,
patched black and white,

bird-bits dismembered,
stuck back together;
a hawk’s hooked beak,

tail of a magpie,
woodpecker wings…
that’s a shrike!

Treetop-mounted,
it keeps the heath
within its scope,

then launches into
a sparrow-kestrel hover,
then strikes.

Fears arise
over the fate
of each small subject;

each unseen victim,
initially wriggling,
stuck on a spike;

then radiate
as up from the valley
plumes the grey smoke.


Parapet

I’m balanced on the parapet.
Beer has been drunk. I’m hoping to impress
a woman, but she hasn’t looked back yet.

Or it’s a bet.
The cars below are tiny. Then I fall…
and wake up in a sweat.

What spins my head
is thinking of that universe
just parallel to this one,
where I’m half a lifetime dead.


The Turf

The haunt of otter, the haunt of avocet,
the fields half water, the water opposite
half mud, its outer edge a habitat
for all of these utterly elegant black-and-white

waders. The other? All I have of it,
all I can get, a far glimpse of a set
of pawprints. Bitter? Thanks, I’d love a bit;
a half of Otter, a half of Avocet.


The Double Locks

The thin lane, the towpath, the green field paths
by the river, the water road; there are ways
to come here. There are ways to be elsewhere.
Intersecting the cycle track, there’s a hint

of another trail, where something I imagine
wet, whiskered and fish-breathed has passed by,
through the long wild grasses from the wetlands,
and printed faint signs in mud onto the tarmac.


Mark Totterdell’s poems have appeared in many magazines and have occasionally won prizes. His first collection, This Patter of Traces, was published by Oversteps Books in 2014. His website is at marktotterdell.moonfruit.com

Kevin Casey – three poems

Retread

Southbound, chasing mirages that ebb
like waves of mercury — a black form blossoms
to the right of the broken center line’s semaphore.
It might have been a skunk or porcupine
before it paid that final toll, but closer, its edges
flare like wingtips poised in a parody of flight,
and so it was perhaps a raven or a crow
whose blasé gait was just a single hop too slow.
But closer still it shows itself instead to be a scrap
of retread, remains of a tire shredded and discarded —
never living, yet no less lifeless — a relic dejected
and framed in my rear view mirror, diminishing.


Too Heavy to Bear

Far too large to lift, it grieved me to leave
behind the soapstone stove that held
my house fast to the hayfield’s edge,
when the storms of December
sought to pry up shake and shingle.

And I had to forsake the bordering pond,
and the gauze of billowing stars affixed
across its face with ranks of cattail spikes.

I found no way to pack the embered
sumac hedge the autumn frost ignited,
its banked colors stirred and brightened
by the twilight to reignite the sun.

In the end, I disowned all those memories,
assembled in bundles too heavy to bear,
box flaps left fluttering in the dooryard
as I cast off that frayed line of driveway.


And I Kissed Them Both, Then Drove to the Office

When our first was born, there was a day of waiting
that swelled beyond hope and worry in the small,
unnumbered hours to an ecstasy where I saw myself
standing beside a hospital bed as whispering nurses
rushed by, pushing machines on chrome casters.

In two years’ time, we had cultivated the mundane,
weeding out both joy and terror, and left that child,
chubby and diapered, to play with his grandparents
on a bright morning while we gathered his little sister.
Pink and punctual, we collected her like a houseguest;
by noon both mother and baby were fine but tired,
the two having rushed to keep their appointment.


Kevin Casey has contributed poems to recent editions of Green Hills Literary Lantern, Hartskill Review, Rust + Moth, San Pedro River Review, and other publications. His new chapbook The Wind Considers Everything was recently published by Flutter Press, and another from Red Dashboard is due out later this year.

He blogs at andwaking.com.

donnarkevic – three poems

The Smell of Rain

From the assumed safety of our front porch,
my sister, brothers, and I watch a storm
blacken the Ohio River Valley,
rubbing out even steel mill smokestacks.

Lightning crackles the sky
like scratch art, God’s nails black with India ink.
Thunder rumbles. My bones rattle,
reassembling as they will.

When the wind ruffles the leaves
of Ciocia Olga’s pear tree, I taste
the smell of rain, pure as holy water.
With each breath, I fuse with the cycle of continuity.

And as we wait for the tempest
to reach us, I study my sibling’s faces,
never so filled with amazement and fear,
and I wonder if this is what it is like to be an adult.


Silence as a Second Language

I don’t know what to say,
so I watch Mom and Dad
weave without effort
through the crowd of people,
some over-perfumed,
some smelling of whiskey
shots from the tavern next door,
some making talk smaller than ants.

From the rear I see the head
of the body, hair combed for church,
ear pale as a goldfish kept in the dark.
The image fades in and out
like jittery 8mm film
as mourners zigzag
the small viewing room.
I gasp for air.

Dad gives me the high sign.
I join my parents in front
of the coffin. Beside Mom
on the kneeler, I bow my head
and sneak a peek at the neck,
look for rope marks, wonder why
the branch didn’t break.

To leave we must address the grieving,
the inconsolable. Inaudible
condolence. I extend my hand
to the father of that boy who hanged himself,
and he yanks me toward him,
my teeth grinding against vest buttons,
cutting my lip as he squeezes.
In the quivering of his belly
I feel the dammed tears of a grown man.
I don’t say a thing.

When he lets go, I feel the escape
momentary as a kiss.
Before leaving, an attendant points
at the registry. I sign,
a drop of blood spotting the page,
recorded proof that I am here.


The Nature of Kites

Before daily Mass, Monsignor
expects altar boys to make Confession.
One by one, like a firing squad,
six wait in the servers’ sacristy
as each boy takes his turn kneeling
in the priest’s sacristy
in front of the seated Monsignor.

The nuns taught us
that we confess our sins
to Christ himself,
the Monsignor, God’s Vichy.
Through the trapdoor behind my head,
he cleans out the transgressions
of a nine-year-old, cobwebs
cleared by Manus Christi,
the hands of Christ,
fingers sticky with cotton candy sins.

As I kneel in surplus and cassock,
I repeat the same secrets,
but in the end I am absolved
like a spoonful of Tang in water.
When I rise, I feel no shame,
like Adam and Eve before the fig leaves,
like a kite soaring toward God
until moments later I see Roxanne
in the front pew,
the girl who sits across from me,
her dark hair, her Lip Licker’s gloss,
her voice when she asks for a piece of paper,
and I feel the string pull,
the kite tailspinning back to earth,
too late for do-overs,
Monsignor placing the wafer on my tongue,
my hands already dirty.


donnarkevic lives in Weston, West Virginia. Recent poetry has appeared in Bijou Poetry Review, Naugatuck River Review, Prime Number, and Off the Coast. Poetry chapbooks include Laundry (2005), published by Main Street Rag. Plays have received readings in Chicago, New York, and Virginia. FutureCycle Press published Admissions, a collection of poems, in 2013.

David Cooke – three poems

Le Petit Parisien 1952
after Willi Ronis

A small boy running, but not for his life,
as all can see in his fearless smile
and the sense of freedom

that lights his eyes. This is the day
he will always remember,
important only because of an errand

and the small coin he didn’t drop,
holding it up on tiptoes
across the counter of a baker’s shop,

disregarding for once
the glass-fronted shelves of pastries
laid out on a lower level.

The still warm, unwieldy baguette
stowed beneath his arm,
he races homewards.

At his feet his shadow,
foreshortened, inscrutable,
can only just keep up, one step behind him.

Shape-shifting, a demon,
it seems momentarily a cat –
its back hunched, its dark pelt bristling.


La Nue Provençale
after Willi Ronis

She is like Eve in exile,
awakening each morning
when the sun has risen
then rising herself,
shackled to the day’s routine.

She opens a shutter,
and the light sweeps in
across the uneven stone floor –
her summons to the tasks
that lie before her.

But first a strip-wash,
the astringent purity
of her ablutions. Leaning over
a basin, the chill water
unseals her eyes.

Still only half awake,
she takes in the tarnished
mirror, a chair; and sees how little
is needed to live
on the far side of paradise.


Les Amoureux de la Bastille
after Willi Ronis

By the time they have reached
their vantage point they know
for certain that this is the day,
fixed in their memory
as their image is fixed in mine.

Across the city’s foundering
skyline, its chaos of roofs,
they see how in wintry light
Notre Dame is holding out
like an island under siege.

For a few moments longer
they’ll stay, as one by one
beneath them shutters close
and the day’s work ceases
in shops and ateliers.

Groomed for the afternoon
he has spent with her, he leans
over and whispers something
he has maybe said before –
some foolishness or a vow.

All we see of her is her back
in a tailored suit, her stance
and its hint of purpose. Knowing
the world for what it is
she will seek her place in it.


Note: with his poetic photography, Willi Ronis (1910-2009) was responsible for some of the most celebrated and iconic images of France in the mid 20th century.


David Cooke won a Gregory Award in 1977 and has been widely published in the UK, Ireland and beyond. His most recent collection, A Murmuration, has just been published by Two Rivers Press. After Hours, his next, will be published in 2017 by Cultured Llama Press.