Mandy Macdonald – three poems

Grimes Graves

we went there decades ago
walked the pockmarked heath
in the long slanting shadows of afternoon

no visitor centre then, nor guidebook
to tell us we were looking at flint mines, not graves at all
just the inside-out tumuli, the
shallow shell-holes in dimpled grass
threaded with pathways traced out
five thousand years ago

around our careful feet
grayling and skipper quartered eyebright, wild thyme
stripes of heather
light grazed the pit rims, skimming
the grassy quincunx of circles

straight up above, skylarks
doing their damnedest to untune the sky

in the air around us, time pleated, shimmered aurora-like
it seemed things were happening just out of sight or hearing
flicking away
swift, brown things, and the faintest pure ringing
of flint on flint

to avoid discussing our failing marriage
we talked of earthworks, godstruck neolithics
that ‘Venus’ statuette they’d found probably a hoax

and four decades on
on the telly
another story

of farmers turned miners, industrial minds
knowing that the finest flint, the best for shaping
the most precious
waited for them underground

of young ones chosen to enter the earth
like lovers
climb down out of childhood
claw out warrens
forty feet deep
with stone, antler and jawbone
unimaginably slow
and then bring up with triumph
from those cold chalk-white shafts
the music of the flint


it was when she fell

in the laundry downstairs
with a sound that might have been a shout
but floated up to me
whiteish, fluting, a wounded butterfly
or a lovesong carried faintly on the wind
from several streets away

that i noticed
the egg-slicer
still in the kitchen sink
unwashed
though it was well past
lunchtime


no goodbyes

that year, in the spring,
it rained for weeks –
you remember it, surely –

that was the year we saw the last of him

surely you remember
his coming in, ramshackle, slicking
rain on the sittingroom rug

climbing the stairs, silently
before anyone could say a word –
you remember, you looked at me,
eyebrow quirked, as though
I might have a clue

then, front door clicking
quiet
brief crescendo of rainwhoosh, sharply
snicked into silence

and we never saw him again

never knew how
he could have come downstairs and past us
without our catching a rustle of him

don’t you remember?


Mandy Macdonald is an Australian writer and musician living in Aberdeen and trying to make sense of the 21st – and earlier – centuries. She returned to poetry after many years via Jo Bell’s path-breaking ‘52’ project. You can find her in excellent company in A Bee’s Breakfast, Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry (Luath Press, 2016), Poetry Scotland, The Fat Damsel, Triadae, Rat’s Ass Review, Contemporary Haibun Online, and elsewhere. When she’s not writing, she sings, sometimes while gardening.

Marc Woodward – three poems

Beeches

Before he fucked off for good with his tart,
his wife dug in a thin row of saplings
along the paddock edge to slice the wind.
Driving past this November afternoon
I saw their leaves shiver orange and gold
against a low dissolution of cloud.
Beeches. Slow growing and platinum barked:
sentinels lancing the uncaring air.

Others might have planted ash for the fire;
or a timber crop, spruce perhaps or fir?
Fruit trees? Apples, plums, pears: all could grow there.
Instead, she bunched her hair and planted beech,
that tall, proud and pretty tree which despite
the winter frost still wears its golden leaves.


Oystercatchers

Stabbing orange beaks into kelp and wrack
they collect dark weed to cover a child
lying naked where the tide licks the land.

The baby is dead but the birds can’t tell,
compelled by a biblical instinct
to hide her from some unseen pursuer.

No one knows the mother’s name, how she came,
why she strapped such a cross of pain to herself,
leaving her baby on a cockling sack.

The small corpse, layered with weed, might be just
a washed up jellyfish, a salt bleached stump.
The birds scatter to sand spars and rocks.

Long ago they concealed a different child,
cowering under a coat of seaweed
and the count of time itself was altered.

Black flags emblazoned with white crosses
tip in the cold breeze. The Mussel Pickers,
the Sea Pies, whine like a winded klaxon.


Halcyon

A sleight of blue across a clouded pool,
carp concealing, overhung by catkins.
Maybe where an antique river curls through
hoof-poached meadows past the vapoury end
of an oxbow moon? Or hung on a cord,
imprisoned in a House of Blown Glass
diving forever at goldfish jigsaws?

I would take you to see her, watch her fly.
The bright azure would quicken your heart,
the orange warm the palette of your eye.
But I dreamed my fabled halcyon
over sleeping waters I haven’t known.
Kingfishers mostly live in dreams.
I’m sure one night you’ll find your own.


Marc Woodward is a musician and poet living in rural Devon. This line is the one with something pithy or enigmatic. Oh well.

Anyway, his chapbook A Fright Of Jays is available from Maquette Press and he’d be happy if you liked his page on Facebook.

Susan L Leary – three poems

The Visitors

It would have been nice had someone talked about it
when the world declared its second war.
For all the women, the headline might have read:
Truman will drop an atomic bomb so that more men
may drop in on doorsteps.
And they will drop in:
in the morning, in the evening, in the afternoon,
tomorrow and for decades—
to visit the grieving wives and mothers
who have words for God but no words for all the suicides
by strangulation,
the exhaust pipes shimmied through windows,
nor the pills, scattered like bullets, on nightstands.
It will be the right thing,
the Nazis might have said, for men to stop by for a warm meal
made by the hands of a self-composing woman
who will take their coats and hats and hang them
properly in the closet,
before showing them where to go.
In the kitchen, she will get out the good china
and the good glasses
for a brandy, or a coffee, or a whiskey sour.
So that it’s not much unlike how it was before:
because sitting in a distant room,
in the good chair, is one more man—looking around,
waiting for his peas and carrots and slice of pork
chop—who won’t ever talk about it.


Another Cup of Water

It is an incredible fiction made by the feet of fathers
who walk unendedly into night’s open
mouth. From the sink to the bed and back to the sink,
for their daughters: they have agreed to another
cup of water.
The floorboards quiet and creak.
The tap rushes on and off.
Every sound is sacred—so girls, who cannot bear
to fall asleep,
can plot and scheme with the changing silhouettes of men.
The stars: they too are sacred—playful they are,
pretending to be peeved.
The stars: they make girls feel close to God.
Never, then, can there be a last one: because one day,
we will all be going to bed.
So daughters remind themselves to drink slow,
to drink into the morning,
to make the water last—and they do:
because a good father understands what his daughter
doesn’t know she means
when she says that, still, she is thirsty.


Before She Died

It’s grown more difficult to place her in my mind
……in her own house,
where she sits—with knowledge,
……or maybe not that
but thought itself,
……and how it gets away and just is,
and might, in fact, be more like inhabiting a mood
……or an act of becoming.
So then, the rocker,
……the one at the foot of her bed,
or maybe she is in the kitchen,
……at the table, where the air conditioner sticks out
from the window too near her head,
……or the lawn chair, yes—a few feet out from the garage,
the kind that is actually a chair and not low
……to the ground,
because she has just pruned the bushes
……and cleaned out the poison ivy,
but no—she is too old for that.
……So I’m thinking she is tucked into the couch,
exactly where the arm meets the back,
……feet propped,
slippers strewn beside the stool,
……half-overturned so you can’t fully see the satin,
but you know it’s there,
……the ones, that, in Filene’s we’d find them,
hanging,
……in maybe August or September
but for Christmas,
……and pick from the back the one in the best box.
And how she looks sitting,
……that I know:
the image, to describe it—it’s so severe, almost
……brutal—the first jut
of the knuckles,
……and then the roll of her fist,
like a track within the gear, pushed hard
……though it goes along its path,
and into the side of her face,
……how unforgiving the knuckles are,
right away and after a while, against the cheek bone,
……such a dull ache,
and how she keeps it there
……so aware of her gums in her mouth,
not moving,
……and how it’s somewhat self-persuaded,
but also a little innate, so that a few days before it happens,
……with:
Karyl, You don’t know how hard my life has been—
……That, just that,
is what she means,
……and just that,
…………is saying something.


Susan L. Leary is a Lecturer in English Composition at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL, where she lives with her husband, Sean, and their sweet wheaten terrier, Ellie. Her most recent creative work appears or is forthcoming in Steel Toe Review, The Copperfield Review, Cold Creek Review, The Big Windows Review, Dying Dahlia Review, Lady Blue Literary Arts Journal, and After the Pause.

Ahrend Torrey – two poems

You Know

You know the way it goes —
you’re sitting at work and a coworker comes to you,
or you are at the start of a reception,
or even a party (if you go to parties),

and while sipping a glass of chardonnay, or merlot,
or while drinking a bottle of beer,
a random person starts a conversation
that you seem to enjoy at first,
until they take over the wheel

and veer you right into the wall of a theater,
and start talking about a movie
they think is hilarious, with actors
you can’t even pronounce, that they
assume you’ve watched a thousand times over.

And as we all have,
you stand stuck in the middle of a conversation,
about a movie you’ve never seen,
that you couldn’t care less about —

cramped in a corner like a clueless ape,
you nod and laugh: “Ha ha!” “Yep, yep!” “I know!”


My Partner’s Mother

for Ms. Susan

is from the Philippines —
Manila to be exact. She loves giving us snacks
from Hong Kong Food Market, shrimp chips,
siopao from Dong Phuong Bakery, and the occasional
bag of leftover donuts. She’s not able to visit much,
but when she does it’s always a treat — sometimes
the sweetest oranges of the season. Other times
a half eaten tangerine.


Ahrend Torrey is a poet and painter. He is a creative writing graduate from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. When he is not writing or teaching English in New Orleans, he enjoys the simple things in life, like walking around Bayou St. John with his partner, Jonathan, and their two rat terriers Dichter and Dova.

Annie Fisher – three poems

Paper Girl

I never spoke about the naked man in Castle Street (number 32).
I’d only seen him through the door’s thick-frosted glass, but still I knew
he knew that I knew he was willingly and wittingly undressed.
His was the last house on my round. He took the Western Daily Press.
In the quiet half-light of a school day dawn, my black-inked hands
would slip each morning’s tidings through the gilded slot to land
at his imperial pink feet. Only someone posh could be so rude.
No-one from Hamble Close would fetch their paper in the nude.


Spreathed

Not ‘chapped’
for that infers
a rougher splitting
of the skin.
‘Raw’ is closer
but not right.
What I mean is
‘spreathed’
which blows its
icy kisses still
on winter days
reminding me
of walks to school
that patch of skin
on inner thigh
between short skirt
and knee-high sock—
a crimson, coarse-grade agony
a throbbing shade of pain
my grandchildren
one in leggings
one in jogging bottoms
cannot understand.


Ghost

She’s weighed herself again.
She’s six stone three and finds this
satisfactory. Tonight she’ll have
two eggs (hardboiled),
one orange and a cup of tea.

Midsummer and she’s sitting on
the college lawn, a notepad on her knee.
He’s told them to: Enjoy the sun.
Write anything. Come back at four.
But she can’t write at all.

The page gapes like an empty plate.
She tries to calculate the calories in birdsong,
the fat and carbohydrate in a flower.
She watches as her shadow on the ground
grows more obese with every passing hour.


Annie Fisher is a storyteller and a member of Taunton’s Fire River Poets. Her pamphlet Infinite in All Perfections was published by HappenStance in November 2016.

Jonathan Humble – three poems

Man Without A Pullover

He wore his usefulness like a threadbare garment,
an image of time eroded mettle, twenty years’ experience outmoded,
rooted outside the woman’s door, all action lost,
while overwhelmed, his daughter wept alone.

Time was, on these occasions he would don the knight’s armour,
have the skills to see off whatever demons had surfaced,
become the arms and chest in the woolly pullover;
a dad pillow for a sad head.

And though, given the choice, he would be that man again in an instant,
on these bitter days, these later days on the outside of the room,
he had no dad’s pullover to hand.


Then It Rains

You ask on my behalf to rise and leave,
to dress without the hindrance
of bootlace worms returning at our feet.

In vain we anticipate permission from spiders
who watch in shadows, spinning webs
that constrain all action.

Standing, squatting, sitting, we are opposed,
resisted. We are tangled marionettes,
linked with quantum string, each responding
with confused counter movement.

Blink my dears; so many eyes feel the tension
of our unseen bonds. These rainmaker thoughts,
connected across a web of reverberating nonsense
and countless coils, speak to me with jaded explanations;

there are no options again today. So you tell me
that we have to stay and wait.
And I have to listen. So I listen.
Then it rains.


How Bad It Is

How bad it is when every note you play upon the keys
sustains the void within the waiting soul;

when it is accepted that this flow will not stop
and bring an end to all these helpful faces;

when your scent assaults my senses like a bludgeon
and takes me to a day I want to bury;

when an empty chest refuses to give way
under the repeated blows of expectation

and all experiences in time coalesce into
a returning and enduring disappointment.

How bad when the abiding thought is that at this point
it could get no worse and then to be proved wrong
and wrong and wrong.


Jonathan Humble is a deputy head teacher in Cumbria. His poetry has appeared in The Big Issue In The North, Poems For Freedom, Ink Sweat & Tears, Obsessed With Pipework and on BBC Radio. His short stories and poems for children have been published in The Caterpillar and Stew Magazine.

Mat Riches – three poems

Slarver

I don’t mean to run on like a two-bob watch,
but when it hit me, I knew what I had to do:
I had to climb the railway bridge
at the bottom of the loke.
To ascend the embankment;
prove myself and go for broke.

Raiding the stores for supplies I came up empty
but cobbled the essentials together:
An old cycling helmet, a length of rope that went on forever,
a map folded to blindness, of the nearest town,
a life jacket in yellow,
and breadcrumbs to find my way back down.

All packed and ready,
the gate to the road remained closed;
the basecamp plans replaced by tea and toast,
no brio, too young for all the climb entailed.
My own personal Eiger
remained resolutely remote, and un-scaled.

Earlier, having put on my parts
over a load of old squit, after a cuff round the lug,
I declared I was leaving, to no one big.
Snuck out a single sleeping bag-
blue on the outside, pink in the middle –
my only luggage; nothing to drag.

I set off to the overgrown field behind home, unmissed.
Setting up camp, wrapping myself
amid the Cowslips and Lady’s Smocks, adrift
like a sobbing Thumblina, on my own.
I floated home later on a rippled corn breeze,
at my stomach’s call, to forgive everyone.
 

Notes on Norfolk dialect:
Slarver – Drool, dribble- talk rubbish; Run on like a two bob watch – babble; Loke – Short lane, alley way; Putting on parts – display of bad temper; Squit – Rubbish, inconsequential; Lug – Ear; Lady’s smock – Cuckoo Flower


Kübler Ross

I’m only now just starting to think
we made a mistake
in not burying you, marking a spot,

in committing you to the fire
and floating your dust
away and away to the Broads’ cold bed.

No place left to visit, to be sure,
or bones to check on;
be sure you’re still there, not gone off elsewhere

Stay there as something to remember
and mark with phone calls,
a brief hand held down on distant shoulders

Before the fog rolls right in again,
obscures the view, the way
forward in any direction at all

One solid gust with gusto to clear
and come to our heads.
We breathe in all of our ghosts constantly.


Horsey Seals

We disembark, desperate to air out lungs,
get ourselves halfway down this track.
Seagulls offer a pencil line shrug
on the skyline, following the last trawlers back.

The seals are writing hieroglyphics
on the cold sea-stretched canvas
spread out along Horsey beach;
a constantly moving language.

It’s hard to tell between rock,
driftwood and new parents.
We are kept at a distance
to protect the innocents.

Each being shelters the other
like a Russian doll.
I pull you closer;
spell it out in full.


By day Mat is a researcher for ITV. He has been published in And Other Poems, Obsessed With Pipework, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and was longlisted for Primers 2 via Poetry School/Nine Arches Press.

Blog: https://matriches76.wordpress.com Twitter: @matriches

David Coldwell – two poems

High Summer

They found her by the canal
…..beneath the thicket of shrubs
……….that crowded the opposite bank.

Yellow flag iris, now smothered by a rush of bees
…..or hoverflies, I couldn’t tell which,
……….softened the edge of the ditch where

buried by sky, spikes of green disguised
…..pewter skin wet with rain
……….and the flush of red from a newsworthy coat

that the tabloids had copied for click bait.
…..The water was peat black. This was high summer,
……….the busiest time of the year.


DIY

Fact one – Morning
The early bird catches the worm.
Listening to birdsong but seeing
only magpies as passers-by watch mist
disappear to sky.

Fact two – Rust
Hinges made from an unacceptable alloy.
Knowing that rust is alive and making
a guess as to how long paint will survive
before red oxide makes another appearance.

Fact three – Letter
An unopened letter left on the dresser.
My name in black on white with no capitalisation
or sender information. The haves and have-nots of household maintenance
and a history of human kind in lists.

Fact four – Sun
The birds are now quiet.
The sun has moved to where I’m standing and the day has become
too hot to paint over rust. The colour, anyway,
I would suggest, would only be temporary.


David Coldwell is an artist and writer based in the South Pennines. His poems have featured in a number of journals including, The Rialto, Butcher’s Dog and Prole. His debut pamphlet, Flowers by the Road was published by Templar Poetry in February 2017.

www.davidcoldwell.co.uk
Twitter: @d_coldwell
Facebook: @davidcoldwellart

Emma Lee – three poems

Turn Up the Volume

She plays the same CD in her car,
matching junctions to specific songs
to monitor her speed to the same daily pace,
the volume always on a prime number.
Everything on her desk has its place.
She watches the soap operas and reads Glamour
so she can talk to colleagues.
Her wardrobe is divided between
pencil skirts and blouses, and block colour shifts.
Make-up from a neutral palette.
She holidays at the same hotel,
sunbathes after breakfast, shops in the afternoon.
Meals are weighed and measured
from a restrictive menu.

She turned down his restaurant invite.
But he knows she’ll marry him.
All he has to do is make small
adaptions to her routine, offer protection
and become familiar enough to be allowed
to undo the zip on her dress.
He thinks he knows what will be revealed.

But doesn’t know about the scar
under her left breast, under her ribs
or what might happen when a mouse roars.


Butterflies at Breakfast

The delicacy of the pattern
on his tee shirt contrasts
with the sleeve tattoos
hardened muscle tone
and callouses from labour.

She has wrapped a spacious
brown cardigan over an LBD.
Hair tugged into a scrunchie.
Make-up shows smoky, smudged eyes,
possibly last night’s toned down
then retouched. Her shoes the flats
that can be squashed into a handbag.

They order a full English:
brunch and a hangover cure in one.
The butterflies on his tee
crowd along the hem
and drift up towards
the neckline where they
become singletons in flight.


All Emmas have a tragic end

at least in pop songs: suicide, overdose,
injuries from a car crash, an empty house
left behind after drowning, sentenced
to hell and silence, the end of an affair
with the lover who saps her strength.
Emma found herself incommunicado,
falling like rain under grey cloud,
a red, Christmas flower under acid tears,
silenced in drunken streets and misunderstood.
She was a blonde angel, a princess, a blue-eyed baby,
who wanted to be a star, who wanted better
who couldn’t see she was all she needed to be,
who wanted to be human, to be loved.
Emma’s the girl known by everyone.


Emma Lee’s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2015). She co-edited Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). She reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews and blogs at https://emmalee1.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.