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.

Janet Dean – four poems

White Girl, Black Music
1969, 1974

Under pressure to answer. Beatles or Stones? Mod or Rocker?
A baby Mod with pin straight hair and wonky fringe,
desperate to be neat, not to sweat inside my parka.

Upstairs in the club, Wednesday nights when pop is all we drink,
under the influence of Trevor Gibson in Sta-Press and Crombie,
his Mam’s chiffon scarf round his neck,

I borrow Trev’s stone-cord Levi jacket and take it to Barry Island,
sleep with Lynne in the back of her Dad’s van on the way down.
We tumble out, almost women.

My Girl, the Otis version, is on the jukebox in the café;
a skinhead dances with the black lad from Dudley.
Lynne’s eyes are dark with felt-tip eyeliner.

Later I meet a lad from Kineton, Warwickshire.
He tells me he knows the black lad from Dudley. I call him a liar.
We lie on a pull-down bed in a caravan, studying.

Biology, Geography, Sociology.


Judee Sill is 70

Ditch the codeine, let the ache ride out
on sleighs of cocaine,
bring back Papa and his yellow cockatoos,
stay here in Oakland.
Don’t let your mother be the excuse,
make her your Muse.
Blow back her shallow breath.
Gun in your hand,
your heart packed with fear,
choose as disguise
a witch’s mole and wire-rim glasses.
Let your hair be a shiver of rain.

Under wraps, drawing blood, you craved
men who made you.
Daddy and David, warmed in a spoon
mixed in your brain.
Had you made a cleaner decision,
you would be here
with fine vellum skin, arthritic fingers,
the hair on your mole
wired and unruly, your soft eyes milky,
painted talons
picking on a steel string guitar.

 

You can read more about singer-songwriter Judee Sill at Wikipedia and watch her performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test on YouTube.


Brian Jones

I remember the day
a school trip to Lincoln
the rippled whisper
they found him dead.
It made me sad
to think of him
floating face down
but when I met him
in Barnsley Market
a week or two later
he was cheerful,
smiling,
in a way you wouldn’t imagine
from the stony concentration
of holding his guitar neck;
but there he was, on the cheese
stall in his khaki overall
his name embroidered
as proof,
his long slim fingers
spread across the marble slab,
his hand pulling tight and slow
on the cheese wire,
teasing the Cheddar
into see-through
slivers
with the skill
of a true musician.


Diverted to Lincoln

I see a child at a window, one wistful Saturday,
his time stretching out like the railway line,
he waits for his mum to finish her coffee.
She feels as rushed as this train,
needs her moment of peace,
but it’s her weekend to have the boy.

I’m diverted by the thought of a dad.
This morning he had held his daughter fast
against the rocking Tube, kissing her hair.
Between Marble Arch and Oxford Street,
I wondered how carefully he had planned their afternoon.
Would he take an escalator to a top floor café
for cake and Cola, get her home late,
exasperate his ex?
I do him no justice, his still-wife may adore
his greasily receding hairline,
she may, even now, be layering lasagne
for a welcome home tea.

It would be neat for my purpose if
Coffee Mum and Greasy Dad could meet
somewhere along this line.
It will never happen;
engineering work is due to finish soon.


Janet Dean was born in Barnsley and lives in York. Her poetry has appeared in print in a number of anthologies and magazines, including Skein (Templar, 2014), Ours edited by Maureen Duffy (Fantastic Books Publishing, 2013), Hysteria 3 (The Hysterectomy Association, 2014) and Ariadne’s Thread, and online in The Morning Star, Message in a Bottle and York Mix. She was shortlisted in the Bridport Prize in 2012, and commended in the Stanza Poetry Competition in 2015.

Sarah L Dixon – three poems

The Key

He tells me
he has an invisible key
to unlock the sky,
but not what this makes possible.

He asks me
Why he can’t have pretty things
when I come home
with a tree inked behind pink glass.

I tell him
he can have pretty things.
At the make ‘n do shop
he chooses buttons and sparkle.

We spread a bright sky
on dark paper.
With laughter and cheap gems
anything is possible.


The wisdom of a four-year old

I want this kerb for my pet.
I am going to kill the weather with a knife.
I don’t want to talk about marshmallows.
I am running out of cuddly toys to grow out of me.
I want to play hotchog.
But first, I want to pretend to be a Transformer.
I had a bath the tomorrow that was before today.
You smell like camouflage.
Camouflage smells like superheroes.
Superheroes smell like blue paint.
It is quite difficult to drive a cloud.
Is your heart in a cage so if doesn’t fly away?


A blot on the week

It leaks into Monday
like a forgotten pen
inking objects
where they aren’t noticed.

On Wednesday
you notice a blot
on the corner of a tissue.
Discount it as a solitary darkness.

By Friday the sticky black
has clogged your purse, hairbrush, keys.
Left a smear on your mobile screen
over the face of your son.


Sarah L Dixon, The Quiet Compere of Quiet, quiet, LOUD! in Chorlton, Manchester. She has toured The Quiet Compere format around 25 cities with Arts Council backing. She runs regular writing workshops. Sarah has been published in Three Drops from a Cauldron, The Interpreter’s House, The Stare’s Nest, Ink, Sweat and Tears, YorkMix, Rain Dog and others. Mum to 5-year old Frank, she is married to Philip who she re-met seven years after college (where they never went out), for some reason she was in a pink wig and sequin dress that night, just for the hell of it!

Lesley Quayle – three poems

A Woman Who Writes
‘A woman who writes feels too much.’ Anne Sexton

There’s a price to pay,
always trying to outstare the sun and not go blind.
This handful of words, skin peeled from flesh,
spreads out like a stain, is the genie loosed from a heart.

You spotlight life or death
but the passion is never simple, you are as inward
and as outward as a maze, your voyages smash
against stars or slip beneath rolling oceans.

It’s a strange house you live in,
not hostile, full of embryos and ghosts,
where men and children, food and dust,
the friendly, confessional company of women,
are not enough – are much too much.
Each day breaks over you with startling light,
nights clasp you in their shuddering dark.

You are chameleon, the invisible eavesdropper,
who hears breath beneath whispers as bombs or choirs.
Fill your ears with lead, your mouth with salt,
cast out your eyes – you will still feel too much.


The Fire-bell

The nurses wouldn’t let me take her into the dry garden,
where wan, heartbroken flowers shrivelled among stones.

They said she’d thrown her meal, smashed
the plate to smithereens – then set the fire-bell off.
They shaded their anger with anodyne phrases.
“She’s been a naughty girl and now she’s overtired.
She’d best stay in and rest. No garden today.”

I sat beside her, on the stone hard floor, held her hand,
stroked fragile, dappled skin, reptilian with age.
“They won’t let you out, Gran. Did you press the fire-bell?”
Faded eyes ignited. Her laughter split the cold day’s side.


Some of us had gathered

Some of us had gathered as she lay sleeping,
small and white, toothless, almost bald,
new born in death.

One held her hand, another stroked
her dry, cold cheek. The rest of us stood,
sat or loitered awkwardly around the bed.

There was no raging, she simply settled,
as if it were a Sunday afternoon, to dozing.

In the early hours, through the ascending light,
some said she opened up her eyes. I didn’t see.
We held our breath, and heard only silence.


Lesley Quayle is a prizewinning poet whose work has appeared in many magazines and journals, including The North, The Rialto, Ink Sweat and Tears, Tears in the Fence, The Fat Damsel and The High Window amongst others. She has two collections – Sessions (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2013) and A Perfect Spit At The Stars (Spanna in the Works, 1999) and a poetry pamphlet – Songs For Lesser Gods (erbacce Press, 2009),  and was a featured BBC Wildlife magazine Poet of the Year. A former editor of Aireings, the Leeds-based poetry magazine, she is also a folk and blues singer.

Neil Elder – three poems

Colouring Book

A blue dog beside a green cow,
the world my son creates is all his own.
To him the grass is red.

He bends the laws of nature
yet does his best to stay within
the confines of the printed shapes.

With rigid concentration
his tongue works upon his lower lip,
hands stiffened to ensure
the colours do not blur.

A beige dog beside a brown cow.
I stay within the lines,
my world obeys all natural laws.
To me the grass is always green.


Horse Drawn

The sadness on the faces of the horses
that stand by the hedge separating
field from A-road, scurve my journey
and swarm in my sleep.

To stand all day and watch
is not enough;
such soul deep sorrow that
grows between folds of skin,
then spreads to take over the being,
can only hint at what is known.

In my rear view mirror
heads move, nostrils flare.
Some days I see myself
staring from amongst them.


Your Poem
(after M.R’s. ‘Frost’)

On the journey home I read your poem
and felt bad for not having read it before we met.
But of course it was too late to tell you
how much the poem meant to me
because I did not have your number.

The email that I’m sending this morning
about your poem will not quite convey
the feelings I had in the moment
that I read your poem, but perhaps
sometimes second is best;
and all we can hope for.


Neil has had work published in a number of magazines and journals (The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, Prole and Acumen among them). In 2015 he was a winner of the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Competition – Codes of Conduct is available now from Cinnamon Press.
Neil is part of Herga Poets and he occasionally posts at https://neilelderpoetry.wordpress.com/
He is @Eldersville on Twitter.

Helen Evans – three poems

The stranger

I’m on the rocky shore at Kaikoura,
the furthest I’ve ever been from home,
when I notice the seagulls mobbing him
above the wide bay where he’s dived
to bring back whatever he’s found.

He’s just finished cutting away
the guts from the edible flesh,
and is rinsing a Paua shell clean.
It’s bigger than my cupped hands
and shaped like a coracle.

He tilts it until the sun
catches the iridescence inside:
purple and green and blue,
the sheen and the gleam
and the dazzle of it,

and I’m already thinking of keeping
my few small treasures in it
when he hands it to me with a half-smile
and tells me it’s a present,
knowing, he says, I’ll pass the kindness on.


Documentary

Abandoned by its owner
or the burglar
next to a seven-barred gate
into a rural valley
where the pasture’s singed brown
and the wind plucks single oak leaves
and whirls them down,
the Goodmans telly’s
squatting in the angle of the gatecut,
square on to the lane.
Its dark grey plastic’s
pockmarked with candle grease;
its screen’s scuffed
in two places, a lifeless green.
I stand watching it for ages.


Carduelis carduelis

I wanted to capture the spirit of the goldfinch
sunlit against dark cloud
left over from last night’s rain

its white-beige-yellow-red-black presence
perched loud above
the hornbeam’s May-green leaves

but while I fiddled with the lens
to focus on the bird
it flew.


Helen Evans’s pamphlet, Only by Flying, drawing partly on her experience as a glider pilot, was published by HappenStance Press in 2015. She has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of St Andrews. Her website is www.helenevans.co.uk