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.


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
………………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.

Katerina Neocleous – three poems


Time passes but my hand
reaches out to twirl
the wedding ring I used to wear;
as if it’s still there.
Its twin is lost at sea,
where the waves lapped
and that fish leapt once.

Anyway, you can sell it –
Three grams of eighteen carat
scrap gold, heavier than the soul;
if you believe the metaphysician
who measured it leaving
a dying man’s bed:
If it helps you live, husband.

Old friends

I nearly walked past you smoking a skinny roll up
waiting for me in the rain outside Sue Ryder
god but you’re looking gaunt and unhappy
mumbling through your down-turned mouth,
devoured by debt losses and insomnia
but you say you’re going to be OK and
you’re helping your friends who are in a band

And all I want now is to see you like you were before
walking with a swagger and that punk badass snarl,
with a pay packet in your pocket and some gear
on your way to see a girl at the gig
and everyone on the door knows who you are:
The whole world ahead of you,
and it can go fuck itself somewhere.

Spring Clean

There are cut daffodils left on the path
like lost gloves, laced with the lingering scent
of balled tissues, kidskin and lozenges.
When Margorie died, her bronze carriage clock

Graced the charity shop window;
surrounded by her orphaned porcelain dolls.
She’d wanted to die at home with her things,
but she passed away in a ward somewhere.

It’s possible a nurse held her hand,
even if the old lady despised them.
They paved over all her proud flowers –
The Raspberry canes leaning into the bins;

And the Spanish Bluebells, tuberous bulbs
she’d failed to rout with rancour each year:
the Council cleaned up what wasn’t landfill,
and sold the property to foot the bill.

Katerina lives in the North West of England, where she home educates her daughter. Her poems have appeared in several poetry publications, most recently Obsessed With Pipework.

Claire Walker – four poems

Somewhere between rose and black

This evening I sit on the river bank,
sun low in the sky, wrapping my back.

I think of water, how it cares nothing for deeds,
good or bad. Whoever’s chest your head rests on,
it will still smooth prickled thoughts from your hair;
still swirl the softness of your body, won’t coil away
in reproach.

I sit on the river bank, the light dropping somewhere
between rose and black.
I slip my feet inside the shallows –
know they would graze on the pebbled floor,
but feel the dusk-cooled water stroke them clean.

Watching the Ocean

Love is like trying to catch
a fish with your hands.

The glitter draws us –
each scale a silvered kiss, waiting
to be plucked from the tide.

Playing just below the surface
it looks so easy to reach out,
no need for lines or hooks.

As you grasp at a tail
flipping over waves
you see it might slip through fingers.

Better to try than spend a lifetime
just watching the ocean.

Feeding the Jays

I hung up the sheep’s breast bone –
my bird table offering for the year’s infant months.
I could sense fear when they first flew in,
cautious twitching heads as they weighed their safety.

Persuaded, their ravenous beaks set to work,
stopping only occasionally to hop, amused,
around the rack of bones. Such appetite,
despite being only the size of my hand.

This was not a selfless gift. Days lighten
when I see those green wings fly in;
black heads bobbing for the fat they are hungry for.
We are all starving – desperate to make our bodies full.

Young Robins

I thought of them as children.
He perched on his father’s shoulder,
while she rested in my hands.
Early morning, their insistent beaks
would tap the window for food,
perched on their window-sill cot.
I learned their tastes, fed sunflower
seeds from my palm.
I watched fluffed feathers grow smooth
against growing bodies.
In the skies that came,
they chose the garden’s touch
instead of mine. Paired together
they grew shy, found the hedge-lining,
jumped the border and flew to their own nest,
away from human eyes.

Claire Walker’s poetry has been published in magazines, anthologies and webzines including The Interpreter’s House, Ink Sweat and Tears, Clear Poetry, Prole, and The Chronicles of Eve. Her first pamphlet, The Girl Who Grew Into a Crocodile, is published by V. Press. She has recently become a Poetry Reader for Three Drops from a Cauldron.

Her website is, and she can be found on Twitter at @ClaireWpoetry

Kathy Gee – three poems

Sneaking out at 4am

It is the lark. One wake-up call.
Then more and louder,
rising notes of almost tune.
The sky’s invisible and visible,
untraceable and full of sound.

Blackbirds lead the chorus
‘leaving, leave you, lovely you’.
The pink horizon sings
‘I love you, lovely, love you’.
He pulls the car door shut,

must go back home to where
his father waits in the metal
cold of April’s early morning.

Cold shoulder

Yes, I admit, I fantasise
a touch, a hug,
a proper, friendly

Your kisses blow
in my direction.
No. It’s safer to assume
they’re not for me.

I drown in hot adrenalin.
I had forgotten
how besotted feels,
how hard it is to rein it in.

What if I dared?
What if you turned
a fraction further?
… Just imagine.

Gravitas Lost

Pretence began when I became a Somebody.
I stood up taller, lost the flippancy,
adopted dignity because I thought I should.

Acting like a leader wasn’t hard.
My colleagues, easily impressed by title,
listened, seemed convinced by what I said,
although I’d grown no cleverer.

I’m not important nowadays,
so it’s a shock to have to meet a Somebody
who’s famous. Somebody I must impress.

Those years of being tactful are forgotten.
Flippancy is back. Full on. I don’t remember
how a Somebody’s supposed to talk and don’t.
The nobody I was is who I am.

Kathy Gee grew up in a family of historians and archaeologists but decided that museums were warmer than holes in the ground. Widely published in print and online poetry journals and anthologies, Kathy is increasingly interested in collaborative projects – organising a poetry trail at Avoncroft Museum of Buildings and writing prose poems for the contemporary classical piece Suite for the Fallen Soldier. Her first poetry collection – Book of Bones – was published by V. Press in May 2016.

Roz Goddard – three poems

Field trip to Cadair Idris, 1974

We came from standing water, drownings,
the mosh of forges, silver buckets shunting.

Tipped out in first boots, under the mewl
of buzzards and the spread of clouds,

we climbed through rain. The path was pale
with stones and sand, redwoods stalked away

and after we were delicate in butterwort,
careful on slopes, we spoke of vodka.

Way up, under a marly sky, the armchair
of Llyn Cau, where Idris sat counting stars.

Someone said make a wish, as if the
five blues in its bowl was sacred water,

so we did, mink-farm Sharon and me,
leaning against the whale stone, cupping

our hands to collect the pooling rain,
and all the wind and far off sea.

Edith in the Bay Window

I spied on Edith as she sat writing letters,
full of softness, like a mother in a fairy tale.
There was no man, apart from a bachelor son
who was no bother. He brought half-decent
windfalls over and I baked an apple pie in return.

It was neighbourliness of a sort, though I never
found out how either of them felt about anything
important. She died suddenly and without knowing
why, I imagine letting myself in as a daughter would,
touching her things, holding vellum to the light.

George Dyer Slips the Afternoon Away

A robber’s moon and Chiswick foxes
strolling through the gate, dainty as you like.
I’d come from the glory hole, drinking
with a stranger for hours in the half-lit
back room, a man with the blackest
eyes I’d ever seen. He could handle me,
and me him. Skin of an eel.

Skin of an eel. Kneeling for gin.
Then the party went to ash –
wrong music on the jukebox
a blousy laugh from the street.
He said too much, started on
the romance side of it, Soho nights
meeting up, that lark.

I scarpered to your place Mr
Francis Bacon, sir, Lord of the
bleedin’ manor, Mr Painter.
Broke in through the back window
looking for silver and found you
standing like one of your own crucified
figures. You knew right then I was one
of your men wrecked somewhere and wild.
You nodded toward the stairs, smiled
and I walked on broken glass to follow you up.

Roz Goddard is a poet and former poet laureate of Birmingham. She has published four collections of poems. The most recent, The Sopranos Sonnets and Other Poems was published by Nine Arches Press. She is currently working on another collection of poems.

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.

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?

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


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

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’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.