Robert Ford – three poems

Clapham Junction

Men with hairy hands are falling
asleep on every blue train picking
its way through the wasps’ nest
of intersecting lines. The manger-like
rocking reminds them, sub-consciously,
of being babies, and sends their smug
newspapers, folded with debatable
truths, sliding to the floor from their
crumpled laps. At home, in placid,
unthreatening towns, anxious wives
are fidgeting all alone, while children
wrestle elsewhere in expensive schools,
desperate to become something different.
A gaunt November evening crashes
down outside, but nothing will interrupt
their slumbering. Whole worlds, apparently
managed yet rarely understood, are
slipping by, just beyond their reach.


Christopher became a chief constable

You once went to his house and
drank milk from plastic beakers.
His mother gave you one biscuit,
and kept the small house tidy,
and you never saw his father,
although you knew he had one.

What you didn’t know then was
just how handsome he would be,
a classical kind of beauty, like an
English actor from the nineteen-fifties,
always smouldering from a uniform;
dashing, yet incapable of empathy.

But you know it now. You see,
in your memory, his elegant nose
and immaculate skin the colour
of bones, the way his brown eyes
judged the world as if they were grey,
made of impossibly precious metals.

None of you noticed. You were all
too pre-occupied with teasing, and
something close to but not quite bullying,
with his bookishness – too dismissive
of the awkwardness in his limbs
to see where they were taking him.


Leningrad, 1990

Even with only seven mutually-intelligible phrases,
we partied on the overnight express north like it was
everybody’s birthday, making a loaf out of crumbs.
Come morning, the train lurched in, to a metropolis with
two heads, neither of them facing in the right direction.

Then it rained three days, in bands of withering judgment,
from a sky heavy with itself and a marathon of history.
Ageing boulevards, redundant with missing teeth, became
tributaries. Palaces gleamed, and naked-headed citizens
in zip-up jackets, streamed along Nevsky Prospect wearing

identical tennis shoes, unaware that another revolution
was rearing like a rodeo bull, in a future already
out of touch with the present. They would soon be
renaming the city again. Back at our hotel, the lights
flickered. They warned us against drinking the water.


Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland. His poetry has appeared in both print and online publications in the UK and US – most recently in Picaroon Poetry, The Lake, Liminality and San Pedro River Review. More of his work can be found at https://wezzlehead.wordpress.com/

Scott Edward Anderson – three poems

Calculated Risk

There’s evidence accounting goes back to the days
of Mesopotamia, bookkeeping to ancient Iran,
even audits conducted by Egyptians and Babylonians.
Of course, Romans perfected rendering unto Caesar;
while the Brits made accounting a profession.

Computare is the numbers game,
compter is the one who counts.
An accountant reckons by calculation
and settles one’s accounts.

Acountancy is for neither faint of heart
nor eye; although the accounting firm
that accounts for my day job
doesn’t see fit to supply eye insurance.

Somehow, this doesn’t add up to me.
I mean, wouldn’t you want to insure
the one thing making sure all the numbers compute?

Alas, just as there’s no accounting for taste,
there’s no counting on such things as common sense.


My Friend Finch
(For Don Paterson, after his “House”)

My friend Finch visits me each Tuesday,
When he knows I ought to write a poem,
Telling his stories in an illuminated way.
A Samaritan, he once worked for Home-
Land Security, designed surveillance
Systems to guard against terrorists;
Now, a person of interest, helping freelance
In a way that, by and large, consists
Of violent measures ably performed
By three friends, Mr. Reese, Fusco, and Shaw.
And then there’s Root; she’s a nut-job, informed
By the system he created, a flaw.
Still, if I’m in danger or threat mortal,
I only hope it’s Finch who gets the call.


The Line Between Apocrypha and Truth

My mother’s parents were a handsome couple.
They resembled the young Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz:
Marjorie’s hair swept behind her ears, curly and fair, like her complexion;
Eddie’s pomade jet over hazelnut forehead and eyes of obsidian,
his rakish grin a razor, not yet succumbing to society.

(The line between apocrypha and truth is easily crossed,
but like the tree–line on a mountain top,
once you cross it, there’s no doubt…)

My grandfather’s sister told me a story
about my grandparents, about how they came together.
It seems Eddie was sweet on Marjorie’s sister,
pursued her, with his sad, dark eyes.
When she showed little interest, Eddie took Marjorie out to a dance.

Marjorie got pregnant. Eddie’s mother threw a pot at him.
“Vergonha! Shame on You!” she shouted. “You gotta marry her now!”
Some months later, Marjorie had a miscarriage.
(My own mother waves me away when I repeat this story.
I can tell I’ve crossed the line, but on which side do I stand?)


Scott Edward Anderson is the author of Fallow Field (Aldrich Press, 2013) and Walks in Nature’s Empire (The Countryman Press, 1995). You can follow him on Twitter @greenskeptic and check out more about him at scottedwardanderson.com.

Gus Peterson – three poems

Prom

We rent a limo to take us
to the dance,

guys jockeying bravado,
girls leaning into each other.

Maybe it was a sly draw
of curl over your ear,

the dark coffee of Cuban eyes
beneath long lashed lids.

Tangle of tongue and cherry lips.
Gown blue as winter sky.

A week from now you’ll be gone.
Who else will remember

your brown hair,
the smell of plum blossoms?


Another Dollar Store

The day before
they break ground
I see a man onsite
digging up lupines.
He’s done this before,
the way he binds
each ache of dusk
and plum in burlap,
a bruise of beauty
secreted away
in the trunk
of an old Subaru
I’ll see parked
the next morning
by a bulldozer.


Florida

They come here to wilt
under an endless sun,
caravans of high buckle slacks
clustered in kaleidoscopic groves
of tucked in polo around
oases of sterile pools
and manicured putting green
with names like Valle Verde
or Casa Bonita,
spicy names full of vida
rooted in a soil of slowing,
as if there was something here,
subliminal in the purr of golf carts,
the unlined smiles of staff
that makes one dig in,
blunder on through a jungle
chasing myths.


Gus Peterson’s work has appeared recently online in Rattle and the Aurorean. He is still in Maine and figuring out a full length collection.

Matthew Dobson – three poems

Ark

The Natural History Museum, London

The bison skull behind the glass — as dense as iron
with rusting, pitted horns.
It’s an anchor
that stops the museum — this ark
for the dead — drifting off above headlights and rain.

The sperm whale skeletons soar like birds
plucked from the seas; spines quake;
tusks sprout beneath
the stag’s skull pinned to the wall:
its antlers spread and twitch like large antennae

tasting the air our bodies haul behind them.
Shark jaws quiver when
our throats walk past —
they’re biding their time as the building lurches,
tugs at its anchor. Warm crowds surge on board

and our breath steams up the cabinets of oysters,
fool’s gold, butterflies,
and feathered beasts
splayed on a slab of slate. Our ribs,
like restless wings, muscle against our skin

as though we had once learnt to fly but are now
keeping it secret from ourselves.


Rain on the Island

And through the darkness
my father follows his torch.
He’s found a lamb —
as lumpy as a spent candle,
sodden black
wick-neck.

His hands are stroking its ribs
as though a pulse
were smouldering inside,
as though his heat
could spark one.

He kneels, unsure
of whether to drag it in
or leave it cold
among the damp crow wings
and fox eyes shining like fairies
in his torch beam. He stands,
looks past the beach to the sea,
the sea gently closing
door after door.


Screens

Our spreadsheets have colour-coded
the names of diseases
we may die from,
formulated the mean
of our daily breaths.

Our inboxes have collected names —
an algorithm
will show us their thoughts
like when you hold a finger
to a lamp
and see the bones.

Our photographs,
when we touch them,
live again.


Matthew Dobson lives in Surrey, England. He has been published in numerous print and online magazines, including Butcher’s Dog, Neon, and Agenda.

Gram Joel Davies – three poems

How Can I Mourn a Man Still Living?

At the edge of my ears, a single nerve
rings like a tungsten bulb.

All I have done is mention the orchard
where my dad would take us to buy from a man
who measured sugar into cider flagons.
Through planted rows awash
with a slow syrup of photons, I hear
the apple fallout of the branches.

Only a mention—but my dad looks to have witnessed
a flash over the horizon. A bottled
ferment from his centre rushes
staggered trees.

His face is fruit complete with rot
as the blast goes through but leaves him
standing, as himself, comprised of ash.

When his whimper finally breaks,
a ring of light hides everything.

First published in The Moth (ed. Rebecca O’Connor)


Die Back

Downpour. Over his ale,
he tells me, Ash wood burns wet.
Trains in disarray, villages
silenced. The English—
forever unprepared. To reach
a bus stop we needed waders.

That website showed us
how to spot the rot: patches
in bark like porter soaking
shirtsleeves; twigs’
black fingernails bared
above canopies.

We fought flash floods
on roads which closed like zips
behind us, to this inn fire
under these ceiling beams.
Some things appear changeless;
there are no tales of tomorrow.

Away in lanes, overhung by ashes’
banana-bunch branches, comes
a creeping flame. Another ale—
he tells me there were fewer
floods, back in his day.

First published in Bolts of Silk (ed. Juliet Wilson)


Sid is Material

Today, Sid is net curtain,
which is to say, he is flesh.

He steps from his doorstep
into light frost, as a man

billows into him, heading
for the launderette. The frost

is light, the man’s duffle bag
only shines. Today, Sid

is flesh, which is to say,
he is bus ticket, frozen to kerb.

He passes the window where now
the bloke loads a drum

among turning drums. Sid is 80%
water, which is to say, machine

turning memory of pavement—
of peppered suds—of light to net

memory of flesh. Some days,
all Sid can do is remember.

He turns toward the bus stop,
mechanical, which is to say,

a line scored into glaze. Someone
taps his arm like white pepper,

asks if the number 10 just passed.
Today, Sid is bus stop signpost,

a shadow across the path.

First published in Bare Fiction (ed. Robert Harper)


Gram Joel Davies lives in Devon. His recent poetry appears in The Interpreter’s House, Dark Mountain and The Fenland Reed. His first collection Bolt Down This Earth is to be published by V. Press in April.

Alongside fellow poet Hannah Linden, Gram will appear at Cheltenham Poetry Festival on the 9th of May, with a workshop beforehand.

This year he is also touring with #Trios2017 poetry/art project in the Southwest.

Stephen Bone – four poems

Sundews

Like something
you might find encased
in a paperweight’s glass

or snorkel over,
shimmering angelfish
in tow.

Ruby Slippers, Red Ink,
Pale Rainbow, each name
an exact fit

for these wetland lovers,
hungry
for a luckless gnat
or damselfly;

each primed leaf
sprouting quills
tipped with a glittery deceit,
a viscous hell

disguised as a dewy heaven.


Victorian Jet

In the jeweller’s window,
an assortment of Victorian jet,

brooches and lockets
laid out

on a velvet tray,
like small fossils

of grief.


Moonflower

Coaxed into flower by a May full moon,
you bloom for just one night,

flood
busy tropical air with a scent

more pineapple than floral.
Intoxicate

hawkmoths for miles around,
desperate to reach

your nectar offering, petals
opened to a laundered freshness,

white as seed pearls or the pallor
of a short-lived heroine.


Titan Arum

Colossus of Sumatran forests,
who’ll have no truck with honey bees, fritillaries;

instead
with a stench of rotted corpse

tempt sexton beetles, flesh flies,
grim connoisseurs of carrion,

into sultry powder rooms.
A hothouse sellout, crowds swarmed

to your once in a blue moon flowering,
on your arrival at Kew.

Frock coated gentlemen turned crimson
as your pleated spathe,

at your raw priapic show,
while whale boned matrons pressed

to their faces fragranced silk,
to mask a surging thrill.


Stephen Bone’s work has appeared in magazines in the U.K. and U.S.
His first collection, In The Cinema, was published Playdead Press in 2014.
A pamphlet, Plainsong, is due from Indigo Dreams Publishing later in 2017.

Jack Little – three poems

Ancke

Plautdietsch banking billboards rear up
against the mountain desert backdrop of northern Mexico.
Ice-white Mennonite blondes serve pizza–rich cheese,
ranch palaces dominate a land of bare branch apple trees
where Tarahumaras beg at traffic lights, cloaked in
primary colours on gravel

Ancke, was semi-forbidden to talk to men
except to take orders, her Spanish rough and accented
rounded and sliced in ways different to mine,

her words an efficiency, a stubbornness of five colony generations
this island on a highway leaving Cuauhtémoc
and enveloped in faraway lyrics – Europe, America
in the like-me, not from here – home.


Remembering Carlotta

It’s been several years since you died,
since you scratched an entrance with your voice.

I wonder how you were sculpted?

How your smile lines grew like roots around your eyes,
your mouth – your generous hugs learned from years of

……………..‘love is better’


Fasting

Between you and me – and God,
an empty gut from dawn ‘til dusk
is a brick sinking to the ocean floor.

The smells of tortillas, goat meat frying
on the street corner are stinging petals
on the tendrils of jellyfish… I pray

beyond my immediate space, I try to be reflective,
those less fortunate are murky in my mind and light
barely breaks the water’s surface… the ripples of my fast

less a transformative process, more a guilty silence in place
…………..of a loud and greedy swallow.


Jack Little (b. 1987) is a British-Mexican poet, editor and translator based in Mexico City and Palma de Mallorca. He is the author of Elsewhere (Eyewear, 2015) and is the founding editor of The Ofi Press. He was the poet in residence at The Heinrich Böll Cottage on Achill Island in the west of Ireland in July 2016.

Emma Simon – three poems

The Periodic Table

This isn’t just a grid of everyone you’ve loved
listed by initials: the first kiss,
the woman you should have married,
the man you did. For key elements
– the ones you need to breathe
the very building blocks of life –
jot down a single letter, S or K or B.

You are Mendeleev. Arrange the squares
in interlocking rows to map out
the properties within. A catnapped Wednesday
with Ml shouldering Jv –
from the column of friends you’ve lost.
Consider how the memory of each
burns with the same peculiar lilac flame.

Expand it outwards: work through
a litmus test of second cousins,
the half-lives of exes, all the unrequiteds,
latticed like the brickwork of your favourite home.
Follow its predictive power: hypothesise
tomorrow’s strangers. From this synthetic yearning
you’ll learn to recognise
the exact weight of their smile, it’s degree of spin.
Slot each one into place, the white box,
like a blank face, waiting.


How To Fly Kites On Wordless Days

Find a hill, a view to make your lungs ache,
run with time stitched to your heels
unspooling your cloth-yards of hope
until polka dot ribbons stream behind you.
Do all you can to keep these colours airborne.
Be the friend who’ll chuck the cross hatch
high into a blue tomorrow,
laugh at the swerve of sky,
and roll out picnic rugs from rain clouds.
Ignore those holding a finger up
to taste the air. Grab the ropes of days
and sail the bright pendant of them, far as you dare,
in spite of pylons. Don’t count the starlings
gathering there, like isobars on nearing horizons.


My Mother’s Other Kids

would be summoned when required:
the boy who won the wheelchair marathon,
two with flayed leather jackets and smashed smiles,
one with a neck tattoo. And that girl who clawed
into her arms and chest trying to dig out spiders
underneath her skin. She’d sneak back into the night,
juggling scissors, whisper round the fingers
in my ears all she knew of nightmares.

They hovered at the periphery of our lives
with their worries, sent boxes of Maltesers
at Christmas, had trouble spelling Beryl.
Fully-fleshed they’d crash into a Saturday
afternoon, in Boots or Menzies, with their jobs
and prams and five-year’s worth of getting ons
offered up like spit-spot apples.

My mother grew a little taller then, among
the racks of toothbrushes or puzzle books,
crackled with a smile of satisfaction
I’d yet to understand, lit from within;
while we kept our fidgety ledger —
measuring each time they made her late,
the hours they took, against the weight
of these strange gifts, with the hooded
exactitude of stunted misers.


Emma Simon’s pamphlet, Dragonish, will be published by The Emma Press in March 2017. She has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, including The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, and Writing Motherhood (Seren). She was an active member of Jo Bell’s 52 project, and was selected to take part in the Arvon/Jerwood mentoring scheme in 2015. She lives in London where she also works as a part-time journalist and copywriter.

William Stephenson – three poems

Maria’s

You don’t say Mar-rears. This isn’t
The Sound of Music. You say Marriers
to make a rhyme with barriers, Asif
at work told me. So I weigh down
the first syllable when the wife asks
where I’m going. Harriers? she says.

Maria’s is where I learned curry leaves
pinch your tongue like lime, but methi
bristle on the palate like sawdust ground
into Marmite. Cumin seeds taste best
toasted till they crackle. Don’t use oil,
the bag said, in English and Punjabi.

On the PA a bloke wails like toothache
over hand-drums and a pump organ.
Spiky red cucumbers out of Star Wars
jostle aubergines fat as black puddings
and okra rough as sandpaper to the touch.
I’d buy chillies but the wife hates the burn.

The till girl says, Samosas on offer today
and because she’s smiling I take two.
I cook korma with cream but the wife
bites into her pastry and snaps, Jesus.
You’ve got to stop going to that Maria’s.
No, love, I say. It rhymes with barriers.


The Lion

God, did you feel that? The whole deck shook.
We’ve hit something. A rock? I’m getting up.
I’m going to find out. I am going past the door
studded with numbers, hashtag and plastic eye.
Everyone quick we’ve run aground, I shout.

Japhet slinks up smiling and says, Easy now.
I’ve been waiting seven fucking years to set
paw on land, I reply. He says, This is Leeds,
mate. The sea’s miles away. Don’t make me
restrain you. I blurt, you wouldn’t do that.

So Japhet does that. And as my good arm’s
popping out its socket I’m screaming,
I am the Lion of Judah. Noah chose me
to propagate my species on the reborn Earth.
Until Ham stalks across holding a needle

and the waters peel away like cling film.
The pissy fibres of the carpet spring up
Serengeti grass. I’m bounding, paws out,
mane back, watching the God-delivered
herds of juicy wildebeeste flurry like fish.


Wild Rocket

Strong, shout the letters on the bag.
A dark green leaf with a distinctive
peppery flavour. This pack provides
two servings. But the plastic’s pearled
with droplets from your breath. Rocket,
you’ve lasted ten days in your oxygen tent.

Your topmost leaves are green. Promising.
But you’re black as slurry at the bottom
where leaves and stalks soften into slime.
I open the bag and dare to breathe in,
hoping I can snip your top, eat the shoots
to honour the cadaver that shoves them up.

You reek of brambles and bracken sagging
with damp, the smoker’s lung of autumn.
Old mushrooms, wilted ferns. Can I bear
to bin you? Definitely. Try Me Love Me,
wheedles your pack, moist and shrunken,
as appealing as a second-hand condom.

I shake you into an old margarine tub
to join a lemon scrofulous with penicillin,
an apple wrinkled as a goblin’s scrotum.
Bitter leaf, you are compost to me now.
Watch me unscrew the lid on the garden bin,
deciding where to dump you among the worms.


William Stephenson’s poems have appeared in Envoi, Iota, Magma, Orbis, The North and The Rialto. His first collection, Travellers and Avatars, was shortlisted for the Live Canon First Collection Prize and will appear in 2017. His pamphlets are Rain Dancers in the Data Cloud (Templar, 2012) and Source Code (Ravenglass, 2013).

Steve Xerri – three poems

Lament With Birds / Blues For Jon

As I walk past your old house a trio of starlings
in gold-dashed livery, perched on the pantile ridge,
percuss their beaks like castañets and witter
their streams of otherworldly code. Up a level,
gliding in lilac light, shrieking swifts trace
the curve of the sky’s bowl, and trawl
moist banks of air for insect shoals.

Seems I can’t stop noting sound
and colour, any more than birds
can cease their noise : but all day long
the years that you have not
strapped on your Les Paul gold-top
and strummed well I woke up
this morning have lodged in my belly
like a meal of lead.


In the margins

We are used to this falling below notice
when the stories come to be written.
No embellished initials for us, we
are walk-ons in the calendar, wielding
broom or flail or billhook
in fields not ours while the high-born
dressed in cramoisy and fox fur
trot by on caparisoned horses,
heading across the gilded page
for some warm chamber, for their
appointed place in legend.

Our accents are unheard, but we
burst out ink-sketched in margins
alongside dogs with bagpipes, cavorting
monsters, whales and mermen. We
catch the eye – we gurners, we barers
of arses and turners of cartwheels. But
the book knows nothing of our little
smack of grace, inward as bright lining
smuggled inside rough gloves : says nothing
of how we lived – with the sun on loan to us
a few years, a bit of love if we were lucky,
and skin as able as anybody’s
to feel the touch of both.


Home

Again today she saw, was sure
she saw, her little boy, stood
alone at the garden’s edge : but
as she turned to wave, he merged
with the shadows in the hedge,
or was swallowed by the dark
scooped out in the centre of her sight.
Why do they not come to see her,
the boy she gave birth to and the boy
she married? And how did the world
become so worn it went in holes
for coins and combs and rings
to fall through out of reach?
Names won’t stick, nor faces
from the TV, nor conversations
they tell her she had yesterday
in the lounge. It’s no good :
general dusk has settled over
everything
………………till someone plays
one of the old songs, and all
is recomposed about her, stood
in front of the hallway mirror
listening to the wireless
as she adjusts her hat, then
closes the door behind her
on the hiss of the gas, the kettle
wheezing up to sing, the quiet clack
of her sisters’ wooden bobbins,
weaving yards of gauzy lace
out of next to nothing
……………………………….and now,
the only sound in a muted world
is the crunch of her ankle boots
on the velvet skin of snow
as she tramps uphill to the big house,
gently holding in her mittened hand
a square of her mother’s sugar-crusted
sly cake wrapped in greaseproof.


Steve Xerri lives in Cambridge. He has variously been a teacher, musician, illustrator, digital imaging trainer and web designer but now splits his time between writing poetry and making pottery.