Richie McCaffery – five poems

Legal alien

Running dangerously low on petrol
we’re driving to visit my family
home and spend Christmas.
We seem to be getting by on air.

Passing all the petrol stations,
not wanting to stop even once
we at last reach my old house
where I refuel and ignore the car.

When we go back to Belgium,
we’re going to live in your home.
At the border I worry whether
my ticket will be accepted –

it’s valid only for one
but I’m two people now.


Spots unknown

In the Black Bull,
there’s a Georgian
steel engraved map
of the British Isles.

Many years of boozy
breath and sweat
have got under the glass
and foxed the paper.

These blotches look
like little ghost islands,
perhaps the places
where pub regulars

who’ve not been seen
in years have gone.


Filling in forms

Are you happy here? No.

Then why did you come? To make someone I love happy.

Do you intend to stay? Yes.

Are you sure?
Your answer to the previous question was shaky.
Please give details.

Yes, I intend to stay. It was this wonky table
and not my resolution that wobbled.


The plume boom

Never usually careful, crossing the road
carrying only my life. But I am when
I carry a box of eggs that will never hatch.

Well over a century ago, when Darwin
walked the earth, people were shooting birds
out of the air for feathers to make hats

to wear to a church that was beginning
to be shot down itself. It’s hard to believe
we’ve ever done any good. Whenever

I applaud a songbird it flies off in fright.


The ark

From the raised beach of the loft
a Victorian wooden ark with carved
animals covered in lead paint.

The whole menagerie’s there
but the children who played with it
have not been spared the flood.


Richie McCaffery is from Warkworth, Northumberland but now lives in Ghent, Flanders (Belgium). He has a PhD in Scottish literature from the University of Glasgow. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets, including Spinning Plates (HappenStance, 2012) as well as the collection Cairn (Nine Arches Press, 2014). A third pamphlet is due out this year from Red Squirrel Press and he is working on his second book-length collection.

You can read Richie’s previous contributions to Clear Poetry here.

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Robert Garnham – three poems

Beard of bees

I wore a beard of bees.
Eight hundred of the
Buzzing bastards.
Admittedly dozy on
Vented smoke but still
Startling nonetheless.
Beard bees bees beard
Crawling swarming bee beard
Bees beard chin accumulation
And it is for this reason
I wasn’t allowed through
Airport security.


Misread Signals

At night
The lighthouse syncopated flashes she translates
In morse.

Irregular yet beautiful words,
Strange juxtapositions,
Poetic devices and
Postmodern cut-ups
Beamed to her coastal cottage.

Who might be this
Mysterious lighthouse keeper?
This poet of the senses?

Enthralled,
She strikes out across the shale
In a trance-like state,
Those breathtaking words
Spurring her on

Only to find
An automated lighthouse
And a restless cormorant.


2 Abbey 1

Frost-clung sun and scratchy ear splitting aircraft
In the cold winter morning.
The thrum and hum of motorway traffic
Filtered through sliding 1980s Windows,
Chalk dust swirling in a low slung sunbeam.

Darren arrives first with his spiky hair and
Ever present grin, all new and fresh,
Baby of the class.
Not terribly bright he swore blind that
The current US president was Abraham Lincoln
And he couldn’t understand why people in Dublin
Spoke English.

I look like a ghost,
Feeling old even then.
These kids will soon be men
And I’ll never see them again.

Then the lads come in,
Fresh from a morning kickabout,
Justin, Justin, Paul and Justin,
Big mouthed lairy lads smelling of hair products,
Diesel exhaust from suburban bus rides,
Cheap aftershave even though
None of them shave,
All with the same hair styles modelled on
Pop music heart throb Rick Astley
And kids tv presenter Andy Crane.

Others filter in,
Jocks and sports officianados,
Deep throated spotty Jack the lads,
Male bimbos and the terminally odd,
Random souls thrown together by
Secondary school scheduling,
Quoting football statistics and carrying
Sports equipment emblazoned by
Various London team logos,
The air thick with teenage hormones and
Estuary accents, mock cockney,
Strange sudden americanisations they’ve learned
From watching The A Team.

They Josh and joke and joke and Josh
Joking about football
Joking about football managers
Joking about football teams and football players
And football supporters
And I tell them that I’d like to join I’m
With all this football based jocularity
But I don’t know anything about football
So when it comes to football jokes
I’m stumped.
None of them laugh.

Next would arrive Omar,
Sensitive intellectual who, unlike me,
Would mug up on the football results the
Night before so as not to be left out.
And Alan, anonymous Alan who
Was just one of the lads,
And Jesus Christ, whose dad was big in the city,
And Phil, who in all of our four years
Never once did or said anything remotely noteworthy.
It seemed our class had ever conceivable type
Of the sail stereotypical representations,
Except that there were none of those slightly camp
Nerdy types you often see.
Though hang on a minute,
That was probably me.

Not exactly the class clown,
I was seen more as a sage, a
Prototype Alan Bennett, not least because
I’d memorised comedy one liners,
My speciality being New York Jewish stand up
Delivered in the poshest Surrey accent.
Even then i was pretty weird.
But it saved me from getting beaten to a pulp
Every break time.

Frequent laughter and boisterousness.
One of the Justin’s would break wind
And all of the other Justin’s would laugh as if
It was the funniest most whimsical amusement of the decade,
And then Jesus Christ would make something levitate,
And Darren and Wayne would argue because
They couldn’t remember the name of the family in
Big Foot and the Hendersons.
It was the Hendersons.
I hated these losers with a passion.

I hated Justin’s hyperactive shrieking.
I hated the way Paul would belch and then
Everyone would laugh
And others would then start belching
Getting bigger laughs than I got with one of my
Carefully constructed Neil Simon-esque one liners.
I hated the way that Alan would copy everything
That Justin did
As if Justin was a philosopher of the age
Even when the thing that Justin had just said was
‘I think Spain are in with a chance this year ‘.
I hated the way that the whole lot of them
Would laugh and laugh and laugh if any word
Sounded like it might rhyme with nob, bum, tit,
Wank, anus, butt or boob
And yet when I’d point out that Arsenal
Started with the word ‘arse’
They’d just nod blankly and say,
‘Your point being?’

I hated these kids.
I hated these muppets.
Gary with his mullet.
Dan with his beef flavoured crisps.
Wayne, who smelled like beef flavoured crisps,
Jesus Christ, who obviously went on to bigger things,
Justin with his runny nose,
Paul, who swore that wrestling was real,
I hated them all apart from Darren, who
I would dream about every night, and for whom,
Twenty five years later whole on stage as a performance poet,
I’d copy his spiky hair style just for him.
I hated them, and I wanted to escape.

As I say, these kids
Became men,
I see them on Facebook now,
Old and fat and bald and married,
None of them ended up playing for Arsenal,
None of them made it as a professional wrestler,
They’re now plumbers, managers,
Dads and grand dads,
And that’s when it strikes
They think I’m still sitting there
In that tutor group room
And they all escaped from me.


Robert Garnham is a comedy spoken word artist from Devon. Although light in tone, his work deals with LGBT issues and social representation and has an undercurrent of seriousness.

Over the years Robert has headlined at the top spoken word nights in the UK such as Bang Said the Gun in London, Evidently in Manchester and Hammer and Tongue in both Bristol and Brighton. He has won or been placed second at slams in Exeter, Wolverhampton, Edinburgh, Swindon and London. He has recently headlined at the Duplex in New York and the King Kong Klub in Berlin. He often appears at comedy nights and has supported John Hegley and Arthur Smith.

Robert has appeared at festivals such as Womad and London Gay Pride, and his one hour show Static recently featured at festivals in Bath, Guildford and the Edinburgh Fringe, where he has performed for the last three years.

His first collection, Nice,  was published in 2016 by Burning Eye Books, and he was long listed for the Saboteur Awards in the category Spoken Word Artist of the Year. He is currently working with the musical jazz improvisation group Croydon Tourist Office, and has narrated and appeared in a short film, ‘Professor in the Bathroom’.

Mab Jones – three poems

Butcher

She fell in love with a butcher. Master
of meats. Strimmer of limbs. Arms which dealt death
daily, as a routine. They carried her
‘cross the bloody threshold, into a bed
patterned with hearts, frilled at the edge with white
like toque blanche. He was a seasoned lover –
salt-tongued, sweet-chop’d. Killer by day, at night
he cleaved her body to sweetness, covered
her ribs with kisses stronger than pepper.
Hooked on him, her yesses were a given,
assumed, even when the edges of his temper
frayed, his hands serving hell, not the heaven
she had known. But, she stayed. Was never freed.
Cut her teeth on his love, and learned to bleed.


Silent Night

She placed the baby gently in the bin,
and closed the lid, and quickly walked away.
She’d wrapped her hoodie – bloody – round the thing,
the Snoopy one she’d got on Christmas day.
The bricks stared blindly at her as she left,
then listened deafly as the baby cried.
The bin, a plastic cradle while it slept,
would also be its coffin if it died.
Some people passed but were not close enough
to sense the baby where it had been lain.
Later, a couple who had stopped to fuck
made too much noise to hear it as they came.
Amidst the bricks and refuse, in the cold;
a still, small infant, nearly one day old.


On Sweetness and Lies

Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear:
tell me what is true, not what is nice. Do
not whisper words of comfort in my ear,
I want hard facts not tender lies. If you
want a woman who smiles at sweet nothings,
well, try someone else and save your spiel. Words
to me are instruments more than playthings,
not a ball to toss but tools to wield. Cursed
are lover’s lips when lies falls from them, even
when those fruits are so pleasant to taste. I
desire a partner who’s above them, one
for whom fibbing is disgrace. Flattery
is meaningless when falsity’s entwined.
Insults, when honest, are far less unkind.


Mab Jones has read her work all over the UK, in the US, Ireland, France, and Japan. She is the author of Poor Queen (Burning Eye Books, 2014) and take your experience and peel it (Indigo Dreams, 2016), which won the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize. Her website is at mabjones.com

Annest Gwilym – four poems

Five Spice

Outside is not much to see:
pavement studded with fag ends
from the pub next door;
rosettes of chewing gum in bloom.

The daffodil-yellow sign:
Chan’s Fish & Chips Chinese Takeaway.
Perfume of five spice, refried fat
and blackbean sauce drifts from the open door;

inside, a red and gold money cat waves hello.
Fish swim endless circuits in a bowl,
copper flashes to bring gold,
while a silver Buddha watches.

Silence is punctuated by the hiss of chips frying,
groan of a bus at the stop outside.
He translates my order into calligraphy
while a single damp feather of hair

falls over his forehead in the heat.
Deftly manoeuvres food
from a small white bowl into his mouth
with chopsticks, a snatched meal

handled as precisely as an artist.
Packs my meal for one, smiles,
says ‘Thank you, lady.’ The steaming
parcel like a warm hand in mine.


A Beginning, An End

She arrives at St Paul’s in a fairytale carriage
filled with a froth of ivory silk and antique lace.
Where the hell’s my dinner?

The door opens, she emerges like a butterfly
but her long silk train is crumpled, an old newspaper.
You’re never bloody here, you’re always in the pub!

Face down, she steps out, nimbus-veiled,
and glances up from under her fringe.
Do you blame me with all your nagging!

Slowly she walks up the steps,
taffeta ripples behind her in a wake.
Come on girls, pack your things, we’re leaving!

Euphoric crowds scream as the jewelled tiara
catches the light like broken glass.
But we haven’t seen her face yet.


across the road is a house I watch

where men come and go
stay an hour or so
young old fat thin
there are four some afternoons

today one came early paced the sea wall
each man slides in straight after the other
her skin still smeared with sweat from the last one

blinds are drawn day doesn’t break there
house full of the smell of strangers
bedsheets crusty with sex

she fakes orgasms like a porn star
puts on a different carnival mask
to suit each customer

I study her face for signs
but she looks down at the floor
or up at the sky
one day she is gone


Dead eyes of my street’s windows

dark or shuttered, hide strangers
who move in for a year or two,
go from car to front door,
don’t say hello, move on.

At night, the only motion is that of cats
intent on a rat or competitor,
in alleys where trash festers
beside sour cracks and corners,

lit by jaundice-yellow sodium light.
The rhythm of my neighbours’ lives,
those strangers, vibrates through the wall
and is condensed to the thump of bass,

whine of Chris de Burgh,
percussion of a washing machine,
a distortion of human voices –
the only ones I may hear for days.


Annest Gwilym lives in North Wales, near the Snowdonia National Park. She is a native Welsh speaker. Her writing is often neurotic, obsessive, disturbing and uncanny. Her work has been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. She has been placed, highly commended and shortlisted in several writing competitions in recent years. She was the winner of firstwriter.com’s Fifteenth International Poetry Competition 2015/16. Her interests include beach-combing for that elusive chunk of ambergris, and making her own jewellery, which she sells.

Charlotte Ansell – three poems

At the Bluebird Hairstyling Salon

Now magazine proclaims:
“It’s war between Jen and Angelina”
“Dieting has destroyed your looks”
bluebirds flutter round Hollywood bulbs
basking in their fake suns,
the retro lamp, the genteel stacks
of china tea cups; shelved,
the trainee stylist all seeing
like an owl, with those big framed specs
all the young girls wear.
They talk kettle bells, ex-best friends
and getting toned for Ibiza
while I just sit, pretend to read.

She can’t find her scissors,
says I swear there’s gremlins in here
stuff’s always getting lost – its odd”
and it is; when you misplace
something important,
like the girl I met at art college,
with the bluest eyes,
who could lie for England,
who was by turns a hand model
or an international spy
who glided up to her wedding
to ‘Dream a little dream’ in
a boat fashioned into a polystyrene swan,
rocking vintage lace,
who made plaster casts of her belly in pregnancy,
giant sunflowers out of crochet,
who saw me through the years
of broken hearts, impermanence and regret
and was so effortlessly more
everything than anyone I’d met
but who no longer buys gifts for my kids
at Christmas, or returns my calls

and is lost to me now,
like the mysterious world of women,
or a pair of scissors that couldn’t be traced,
that had somehow slipped
between another lady’s bag and the wall.


Looking for crocodiles

This is the river that looked so calm until she stepped in because she was tired and closed her eyes on Halloween when all the gauze of her witch’s costume fanned around and held her up (or the time before when she was looking for crocodiles)

And this is the call from school on the first day back when I believed his assurance:
“there’s no need to panic, she’s absolutely fine…” to arrive and find a tooth knocked through her lip where she’d fallen off the climbing frame.

While this is the open hinge of the safety pin, perfectly picked out, sitting bone white
inside her stomach back-lit on the X-ray slide, that soured her dad’s marathon triumph,
after she swallowed it just to see what “it tasted like”.

Or this the gap between the old diesel tank and the wall with the frog and mucky puddle where she got trapped when she somersaulted down the bank unseen
while we tried in vain to work out where she’d fallen, from her screams.

And this the hospital that couldn’t find any cause at a week old despite her temperature rising to 104, the lumbar puncture, the endless tests, the lack of rest or any kind of peace, with not even a cup of tea allowed on the children’s ward.

This the day that she was born when nothing foreshadowed the way ahead, when she slid out within an hour or so, no pain relief, this dream birth, this elfin girl
who ever since has made us beg,

for ordinary.


This is why we can’t have nice things

It took just weeks to demolish the Bohemia,
the billboard’s silhouetted ladies writhing around poles
now buried beneath rubble, consigned to the dirt

but I wonder if they will rise in the night
in their heels, to dance on the bonnets of cars;
or if they too accepted defeat.

Outside Ferham School a woman boasts
“They won’t get me to work, can’t mek me”.
Aspirations are lost between Steel St, Holmes Lock

as generations draw dole cheques,
forget what it is to bring home a wage
as shame settles and stains like coal dust.

Resignation has been ingrained; trodden
into pavements like the puce stained floors
in the covered market loos can never quite get clean,

even the river’s going nowhere, silted up
with Farmfoods plastic bags, Tennents cans,
and shopping trolleys, the burden

it can’t shake off, while outside The Bridge
the lads are going two’s on fags,
waiting on jobs that don’t exist.

Midnight, Tesco’s car park, a woman
pulls down her leopard skin thong over
carcassed thighs, squats between cars for a piss.

Oh they can pretty it up, planting wild flowers
outside the Minster but it’s not enough,
the playgrounds are held together

with rust, graffiti, broken glass,
bus stops smashed in, litter bins
burnt to shrivelled black stumps,

a generation who believes
this is all they deserve, smash up
what even in the first place wasn’t much

with no honest way
of getting what they want;
austerity just means more of the same.

At a pub across town, on a broken window
in the ladies loo, a sign asserts:
“this is why we can’t have nice things”

preferring to announce the problem
than mend the broken glass.


Charlotte Ansell has two poetry collections published by Flipped Eye with a third forthcoming in April 2017.

Publications include Poetry Review, Mslexia, Now Then and Butcher’s Dog and anthologies including The Very Best of 52 anthology (Nine Arches Press, 2015) and WordLife (Wordlife, 2016). She was the winner of the Red Shed Open Poetry Competition, one of 6 finalists in the Fun Palaces Write Science competition in 2015 and winner of the Watermarks Poetry Competition 2016.

Anthony Watts – five poems

Amniotic

Green couples share
their bathwater. She naturally
is first to enter (dirty man-water
holds no appeal for her).

He, on the other hand, is pleased
to yield to her water’s warm embrace.
He sinks back with a sigh, closes his eyes –
is again a baby in the womb.


A Wasp

Sleek machine, quarrying
for cider in the apple’s flank – lean tiger,

squeezed into a bodice, unable
to articulate its roar,

but still fearsome, still
flying its colours.


Wren

When wren flew
from the carpenter’s chisel

she ricocheted

from cover to cover
amongst the flowers

for just so long
as her momentum
lasted.


Wood Pigeon

With a flap of his cassock, a plump
cleric lands on the lawn.

He picks it over
for tasty morsels of scripture.


October

I am a passive smoker
of bonfires. Find me
standing downwind, eyes closed against the sting,

inhaling deeply,
letting the sweet ghosts
of summer waft through me.


A member of the Fire River Poets, Anthony Watts has been writing ‘seriously’ for nearly 50 years. He’s won prizes in poetry competitions and had poems published in magazines and anthologies. His latest collection is The Shell Gatherer (Oversteps Books, 2011). Anthony has lived in rural Somerset for most of his life and has no plans to leave.

Belinda Rimmer – three poems

Agnes

Agnes, in her front room
turning up bars on an electric fire,
telly on full – someone screaming blue murder –
as the last light of a winter’s afternoon fades.

Agnes, her skin sprouting potato spurs
the size of old threepenny bits.
Gnarled fingers round needles
busy making baby bonnets.

Agnes, in cheerful woollen stockings,
tartan slippers, out in her garden
in search of loose frogs.

Or at her stove stirring blancmange,
rice pudding, plum jam.

Agnes, aged one hundred,
remembering her daughter
who would have been eighty-five
if she’d been allowed to keep her.


Marilyn

The boy stopped clearing leaves
to stare at the woman. Her hair white
as his mum’s best tablecloth,
lips, brighter than any baker’s icing.

When she rested her hand on the window,
he saw inside her skin: life lines.

Not caring if he came to grief,
the boy picked his way over.

What’s your name? she said. Don’t be afraid.

It was as if he’d only been sleeping;
the way those silvery waves came –
electric and forbidden.


Aftermath

Fourteen men
around a town square,
sprawled on marble benches.

Useless rumble of ordinary life.
Heat, and they shed jackets,
but not hats.

Kit bags slung across shoulders.
Newly shined shoes,
no trace of desert.

Among them,
a black clad woman.
It happens

after the loss of a son;
refusal to go down,
tug to be in the aftermath.


Belinda Rimmer has worked as a psychiatric nurse and school counsellor, taught dance/drama, creative writing and poetry in schools, and for a time lectured at a local university. Her poems have appeared in various magazines, including, Dream Catcher, Obsessed with Pipework, Sarasvati, The Broadsheet and Brittle Star (pending). Some poems have made it online too – Poetry Life and Times, Open Mouse, Writers Against Prejudice and Ground. She enjoys writing short stories (though not as much as poetry) and recently won the Gloucestershire award for the Cheltenham Story Prize for a story about the town’s infamous Banksy painting, GCHQ.

Stella Wulf – three poems

Engagement

Some days you gatecrash,
sweeping in like the headline act,
in a glitter ball of dust,
turning your spotlight on my grimy windows,
flooding my floors with your aura.

Even on the grimmest of days,
you try to engage me,
sliding under my kitchen door
like an illicit proposal,
insinuating yourself into my darkest niches.

Today, you shimmied in on twinkling toes,
hip-hopped the popping suds to dance the tap,
strobe the dimpled bottoms of washed up pans.

You are one that embraces curves,
slips with an easy grace
around the shoulders of chrome,
flatters the obduracy of stainless steel.

I’ve seen you leap on a knife edge keen as a laser,
slide down the blade of a cleaver.
I’ve watched you play in ladles,
loom in the scoops of spoons.

Today, you beamed at the moon
of my face in the kettle,
gave me back to myself in parody.

You dazzled me with wit,
lit me up – then balanced a diamond
on the rim of my cup.


Briar Patch

She left me on the floor to moulder,
like an odd sock rolled in on itself.
A finger of sun pokes through the shutter,
stirs up a corkscrew of glitter,
pulls me out to a sparkling day.

Strung out on the line crows hunch,
mute as tar babies,
unshakable in the ruffling air.
Maybe I caught a glimpse of her,
there – in the rainbow
of their oil-slick plumes.

One by one they lift,
wing to a sky buffed clean
by a rag of cloud,
their cries snatched
by a whippersnapper breeze.

While I languished,
the upstart swept the dead skin of winter
under a gaze of ox-eye daisies.
Fresh blood springs from the humus;
poppies, scarlet flax, red campion,
an insouciant host of dandelions.

I vagabond forgotten lanes,
like an errant mutt, nose to the ground,
following her breadcrumb trail.

A hare breaks pell-mell from its hollow,
flushes a partridge from the ditch,
a whirring snitch, startling
the whiffle of horses cropping clover,
skimming the backs of knuckled down cows,
flurrying the white flags of egrets.

My heart surrenders to the day,
stops beating itself to submission.
I found her there, in a patch of briar
bristling with sparrows,
a passerine choir whistling
a score of promissory notes.


Madame Dubois’ Confiture

A wedge of sun squeezes past the shutters,
drenching the room in an orange glow.
Monsieur Dubois resists the press of his dreams,
throws back the covers, rises
with the levity of proven dough.

He picks for his wife, a petit déjeuner,
plump figs ripened by a fine promise.
Madame Dubois doesn’t care for muesli,
coddled eggs, kippers or kedgeree,
she likes to pluck from her husband’s tree.

She craves the flesh of his Mirabelles,
devours his juicy Bergerons,
until she’s overcome with the yield.
Touched by his tenderness, she preserves
his sweetness to spread over winter’s long denials.

When the orchard sleeps under a duvet of snow,
and the brassica beds have lost their allure,
she’ll screw the top from a pot of summer,
fall back on the comfort of bread and butter,
nourish their love with her confiture.


Stella Wulf lives in South West France. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and her work has been widely published, both in print and online magazines and journals. She has poems in several anthologies including, The Very Best of 52 (Nine Arches Press, 2015), three drops from a cauldron, and the Clear Poetry Anthology. She is also an artist and her work can be seen on her website: stellawulf.com