Grant Tarbard – three poems

Lights Out in the Stroke Ward

The ward’s silence is a canvas stretched to hours.
The wireless plays the sweepstakes of tossing and turning,
a rumpus, a whorehouse of little explosions,
muscles stiff through a brisk day spent ambulating
with an NHS crutch and a collapse.
We all walk a bewitching tightrope
of pain and bottled relief, prisoners of our bodies.
Some are stripped down to their shadow,
machines breathe for them, fed through a tube,
stiff in their animation. We souls who clambered
into life boats mark each others spaces
with piled newspapers left open at the crossword puzzle,
tea cups that visitors have left with lip stick smears around the brim,
furrowed packs of jelly babies and black liquorice
spilled like the guts of a great ship
on the sea of our overhead tables.
The night nurses shine pocket torches about the ward,
unmindful of our eyes, a rapid sweep to check
that none of us have shuffled off into the night.
Cartilage clouts the too short beds, bones crack on taut white sheets
of the gestalt ward, other than the sum of our collected breaths,
spending the change of mortality, gold in the river.
I hear the treetops scrape the roof, like children whispering.
A broadcast churns the room, the old man’s fart recorded
as a gnostic gospel.


Mystery of the New York Skyline

and funfair ginger burning like a mule, hiked across the red milk / and fete geysers frothing off like a latte, ridden like a bull / and the cries of a night of failure / and stink hatred and love hatred / and stove pipe gardens of seagulls / and brick chimney stacks / and madness and madness and madness, the laughter of the balloon inflated and pricked / and the fallen tickled and racked and bloated like the dead of the Thames / and a racket like foxes squabbling over the dead rats in the garden, a seagull garden / and dread garden hanging from trees with limbs rewound, regret the rebrand / and copyright notices and board / and desalination in action, begging the extreme / and begin the beguine, a dance numbed and exotic, a Pacific cruise / and the Titanic Atlantic dragging to be let off the sink, the drain frame / and tonic water / and a explosion of dying, dying hips and dying ends / and dying kissed lips / and dying New York / and dying in state / and eyeing the skyline, to be cautious is to deny life / and song and sex and love / and the big game, versus action verse / and the dying minutes of overlap and vision par excellence / and Italy’s dying minutes / and par electrizat, come one, come all you heaving mass / and burden.

the mystery of it is where you are, where have you gone, / and what have you got? I see you but you’re nowhere fast / and far reaching sound blasts / and defending silence.

run boy run, the mystery of giants, the psychic of a gnat’s wing / and plotting the candle snuffed out.

This poem appears in Grant’s latest collection, Loneliness is the Machine that Drives this World (Platypus Press, 2016).


Leaving the House on Grub Street

The possibility of a troop of grotesques
breathing on me on the old goat bus
into town is unsettling. Do they appraise me
through my paper-thin disguise?

I’m sure that my headphones are screwed in
as the rasping doors open, eyes fixed
to the chewing gum spit on the pavement
as the unrested traffic of hawkers, swindlers,

makeshift leafleters peddling their paths
to God billow around my sickly white feet,
guarded by the sole hounds of Derby, cold
as stone. I hear strolling minstrels rhyme

their temporary poems, disposable
as beauty, needless as a description of sunset,
splendour of ended day. I barter for a poem of dusk
and this exits with me as the day coughs its last.


Grant Tarbard is the author of Yellow Wolf (WK Press, 2014), As I Was Pulled Under the Earth (Lapwing, 2016) and the newly released Loneliness is the Machine that Drives this World (Platypus Press, 2016).

He tweets @GrantTarbard

Rachael Smart – three poems

Holy

I swear on the holy bible
I want to be naked under the grit spreader
beneath its not red but yellow lorry
feel the salt stone my face
go under the wheels with Jesus
and when the sting comes, the treads and all the black stuff
that dead petroleum makes, all the fossils; the resurrected resin.
Then – only then – will you spray me out onto the pavement
rub Psalm 56 in my hair.


01: Pom-pom

‘The problem with cheerleading,’
my mother said, ‘is you need a gap
at the top of your thighs.’
She showed me how to wind wool
around a cardboard ring instead, the mohair
downy once you’d cut the stitching.
My fingernails caught on the gilt comma
of nana’s pinking scissors, a place to rest my thumb
and Dame Edna Everidge’s gob was a black ditch on ITV, another not-quite-woman.
Rah-rah red pom-poms, woolly substitutes on the sheepskin rug,
velour as the first pair of balls
I’d cupped, light in wet hands, my mouth.

I never got to try one of those pleated skirts:
nothing to whoop for.


Field

The cows fed on the top green
when the sun switched sides.
I couldn’t get over the size of them. Black as walls
velour drapes swung loose at their neck.
After, my father said we’d bought it on ourselves
what with kicking a red ball
and mother’s yawping, plus they don’t take kindly
to hairy dogs. He threw us over the stile that day
then jumped himself. I dream of the plush bump
of their noses at the chalet window
how their eyes bulged
when they came for him.


Rachael Smart is a writer from Nottingham with a thing about words. Her fiction and poetry has been published online, in literary journals and placed in writing competitions. She goes wild about poetry on ABCTales.com and is also an Associate Editor for the literary e-zine Cease, Cows. She writes best when her pencil loses its point.

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.