Artwork by Jane Burn
Edited by Louise Larchbourne
Loss is less, is more, is lace,
is filigree and net, is everything with space
in it that isn’t better filled;
a hollow bell that peals; spilled
water from a showerhead;
the stone the sculptor chips away. Instead
of hugging close a cluttered grief –
a life laundry; and underneath
a clean swept floor, a rest, a stretch.
All life ungot for me, and all I left
behind, are paper lanterns, floating into night;
let all these crippled moons take flight.
By Judi Sutherland
I return to you with the stones you gave me
to fill my pockets, the ones you’d hoped I’d count
in silence and I obediently did.
When I let go
the sound of them breaks the air with glass
and you cannot bear the shatter. While I love
the crumbling stale, you
cannot care for it.
At ten past four, you are delivered
to the gallery. I shoot you. They send you down.
Under me, there’s a buckling of knees,
an uncoupling of thought, then ease.
By Zelda Chappel
In those afterweeks, I kept
your khaki t-shirt – yes, that one
we often joked about – still sweated
with you – in our bed. I breathed
all the last of your essence, until
inevitably, it was mistaken into the wash.
I folded my comforter into drawers, neat
laundered into others’ needs. Still,
I clutched you, in the dark tear of here
smelled you beyond powderscent,
yearned the song
I can’t write.
By Beth McDonough
She’s been clinging to the branch for two hours;
she’s freezing. ‘Go climb that tree’, Rowley had said.
‘See how long you can stay, see how tough you are’.
Her bum aches. Sitting’s no good, shapes didn’t match.
Convex rump on convex branch, even allowing
for an abundance of blubber.
She twists round until she’s able to lie along the branch,
hugging it, trying for the elegance of a panther,
or even a sloth,
ending up like a hippo. There’s some sticky-out bits
pressing into her tits, but she copes. Fucking cold though.
She hugs tight, tries to find some essential warmth,
to empathise with the branch, imagines the poor, freezing wood inside,
and – oh, bollocky bollox! Wood inside!
No-no-no, don’t think like that, because this is –
this is why she’s here, because –
She hugs the tree and the branch creaks. That’s more response
than she usually gets. Three hours now.
This is stupid, a mean trick.
It’s dark, it’s raining, she needs a pee.
‘See how tough you are.’
Fuck that, and fuck you, Rowley Simpson.
She clambers down, twists her ankle,
rolls into a ditch.
Scrambles to her feet, squats,
lets out a long, glorious stream of piss.
By Catherine Edmunds
On the anniversary of her rape
she’ll want to tell you this flinch is just the ghost of him
haunting. For the most part she has learnt to chase it away.
She’s listening to the sound of her spine snap like twigs
on a loop. It’s not you, it’s the small things like light falling
through the window that way, the sound of your shoe
on the lino, the soap you bought—you couldn’t have known.
Tonight she’ll sleep paralysed again and you can do nothing.
She’ll know she’s safe when she wakes. Some days there’s
barely any pain at all. Until then, you both hold your breath.
By Zelda Chappel
In the salt sea there lies an island
and in the island, a little lake
and in that little lake, another island
and on that island a moat
and in that moat stands a tall house
and in the house, a marble pool
and in the pool, a woman
and in the woman, a fluid pillow
and on that pillow, a child
and in that child, a pulse of blood
and in that blood, a trillion cells
each one crying out for the salt sea.
By Judi Sutherland
I dreamed I was a room
above a trapdoor.
The room was very warm and dim.
Hanging on a rope I saw my sister
curling and circling slow in space.
She was so beautiful I was sorry
no-one could see how her long hair dazzled,
how her narrow legs
danced in mid air.
Just the two of us
in that darkness.
She was about to speak
with the last of her breath
when with a terrible sound and a rushing
of explosive air,
the trapdoor fell open and down she flew.
“I’m born! I’m born!” she cried,
Then all was quiet and dead
in my warm room.
By Pippa Little
A month ago, I googled my father’s name, and it felt so nice to find no trace of him.
It reassured me that he was buried and safe, his memory did not belong to this age.
Then tonight, I found a dissertation, written by someone I once knew. She uses
my father’s life story in her study of the intellectuals in Beirut during the war
and post-war period – tries to read my father’s death and depression in his writings.
We were simply not interested in knowing what other people think
of my father’s death. Because we were the ones who lived it.
Hour by hour.
We were the ones who did not perceive his depression, his death
as romantic. Depression is not poetic.
My father did not die floating on the water. I was the one who discovered him,
broken on the rocks.
Death is not poetic. His corpse was lying in front of me with a bandage
around his broken skull, and stains of blood on it. They asked me for socks and
when I wanted to get the nicest ones, I was told he was dead and
it did not matter if they were matching or not.
‘Writing melancholy’ is the title of the dissertation.
I don’t even know any more what this means.
I had therapy to get rid of my attraction to imbalanced people, and to hear
several times that yes, I can lead a normal life.
So, for this person who wrote about my dad’s characters, I would like to say:
My father did not die as an intellectual.
He was a fragile, sensitive being, deeply unsettled and
looking for something. His search had nothing to do with
the war or the city or
what other intellectuals want to think about it
He was born a frail child and stayed that way. He cried the night before he died
when I asked him if he wanted to eat.
This person is real. His death was real.
It was not your writing.
It felt like liberation at first, for a teenager who just wanted to have fun.
Then it felt like murder. Then it felt like guilt. Then it felt like
anger, and poison, and fear. Then it felt like
I could not bear the warmth of the sun. Then it felt like
Then I missed him.
Then I killed him again.
Then I missed him more, and I buried him even deeper.
Then I found hope, in faces around me.
Then it was ok for some time.
As I surfaced, so did the pain; the suffering was not gone.
I knew it could be transcended. That the possibility is there, at least.
So I wake up each morning and I watch my breath.
And I have glimpses of what life is without all these impressions.
Those glimpses guide me.
One day I know there won’t be glimpses any more.
And the darkness I am so afraid from, I will become part of.
By Samar Rizkallah
She expected moments – like the missed slow
sink into shared sleep; the memory hurl
of striped lit afternoons. Their
shoulder braced support, of course,
red wet-cheeked double kisses
and the too long hold
of hands on steps. What she hadn’t seen
was how she would need that
stranger on the cold platform, to hug her
so tight in his big ganseyed warmmansmell,
to wrap her tiny and just dark out
everything, make her almost believe
it would be all right.
By Beth McDonough
I have not been back to you since and on the whole, there is no regret.
I will not miss the bird-blue door they broke in the middle of the night
for a laugh. I will not walk in the park, feed the ducks with our babies.
Without you I bind myself more loosely so I’m not aware of the curvature
of my spine and hips. I am all fur and teeth, breathing with flared, wet
nostrils; watch me break new air with steam, measure it if you like.
I’ll leave you harmonicas of birds playing all at once, no particular order
outside the third floor window. We could have been on their level daily
and in discord, we were. It’s all I remember. I’d have been a mountain
bird some day, but I chose the wolf instead and I am happy. I know
that yesterday was forever, but today, I am somewhere else.
By Zelda Chappel
After you left
I painted a wall with Tea
And Just A Splash Of Milk.
Just how you never liked it.
I sit up against it eating
lemon drizzle cake.
I bought some hot pants
(in platinum) to show off
the blue vein up my thigh.
You called it the M74
(as it’s always cooler up north).
I ditched your old bike
for a penny farthing.
You’ll see me speed
past your house. A blur
of blue and heavy metal.
By Gillian Mellor
South Bank, 2015
A queue for soup; the make-
believable bodies of women,
girls in their frail ascendancy,
doped, and glutted on air; girl,
a bespoke grotesque for Saint
Laurent, and there but for
the grace go I. It’s mad, and we
have talked about leaving, out
for the oceans or margins
of barley; anywhere green.
But you would miss, you say,
all this: the river, the bedlam,
our irreplaceable gridlock. I
feel as if I’m losing you. Each
day we are a little more reduced –
sightlines, circuitry, faltering
schema. I am afraid. I’m afraid
of social media, quack geometry,
blood and its agile pathogens,
human malware; earthworks,
metalware, holes in the ground.
I’m afraid of London – lock,
stock and slanging match.
You do not understand,
you’ve never known cruelty,
hobgoblin poverty; the evil
vigilance of ministries.
You’ve never known the baulk
and schlep of having just enough
for them to take away. I long
for space, for air, the low
sodium taste of rain. Coffee
and listless convo, the dailies
the glossies, our stumbling
talk. I feel as if I’m losing you.
There’s a dust on the backs
of my hands like chalk.
By Fran Lock
I had to be an optimist,
happy through and through,
to perpetually smile
and swing along with you.
What times we had,
some good times, glowing, vivid, new,
remnant embers shining
with sultry amber hue.
Remember the embers?
the soft and stifling glow?
Now crunch along life’s ashy path,
mind how the cinders blow –
they’ll cut your eyes and make them bleed,
for love has teeth that bite.
These wounds will never ever heal,
there are no words to help congeal
or close those cold love bites.
By Polly Robinson
© 2015 First published in On the Words of Love (Brian Wrixton & Poets with Voices Strong, 2012)
Six a.m. and the Alarm
I stand too fast, spray my view with glitter,
heart pumping stars around my head – I am giddy.
Six a.m. and the alarm – I am up, squinching grit.
When do we ever lie in, us mams, us workers,
scrubbers of floors and pots, us muckers out,
herders, odd-jobbers, do-it-alls?
These eyes, they take the out into my brain,
they cry when I need tears – blink when I need
to feel amazed. They see the ins and outs
of everything, lock pupil to pupil, dilate
to darkness – become dots, tighten to the head
of a pin. They are blue, do not like the light –
are all for shade. They carry bruises, dusted
from looking too much at the sun.
When they have had enough of open
they close – give me hiding,
switch off the moon of your face,
take me to dusk,
fool the night into thinking I sleep.
They give me veins on the backs of lids –
show me to myself as living still
and under the cover of them, I rest,
ready for views of tomorrow.
When dawn comes, they are windows.
By Jane Burn
they have taken small houses
fringing this ocean
on ordinary beaches
beneath enormous skies
there once was money here
and the aftermath of singing
there is an aroma lingering
salmon broom or grass
my panic sucks in now
is this the last summer;
her voice is full of kindly lies
why did I ask her first?
By John Mackie
All that glitters
You are obviously a very keen miner,
picking away down here in the depths.
Each breath a cough drop cupped by dust
a million years thick; pick in hands
too refined for prizing fossil from rock.
In search of your diamond; testy, edged
as landslip, sweeping innocents off feet
rooted enough to look for stable ground.
None around here, only burned heart
spoilheaps, overgrown with omens.
Fingers flicking off ingrained grit,
bedazzled at first glistery sight.
Glitterballed into trance by an ancient
necromancer, all sparkle and star.
Move on, graceful jewel collector.
For this is no diamond in the dark;
place its soft, giving mould back
where you saw it. Walk to the light,
sturdy-steady as you go. I am pyrite,
a fancy trinket fit for fools.
By Harry Gallagher
The Final Loading
The old dog flies.
A last, perfect outrun.
Circles, wide and low, behind the ewes;
a tight lift, half on his belly, wired to the whistle.
The flock mother pitches into the raw wind,
towing her cargo of followers from the quick eyes,
sure-footed through the bog with its tang of heather
and the sidling dog, working them, rhythm for rhythm.
Balancing them, pace on pace, holding them to the man
who waits, still as flint, in the valley’s lair.
They are poured down the mossy hide of the scarp,
rolled like stones into the holding pen
where the wagons are marshalled,
ready for the final loading.
The man, rooted muscle and bone in the barbarous hills,
hangs his back on the rungs of wind,
strides away from the last gallery of his life,
the shouldering ewes packed in tiers,
with never a look behind. The winter day swings shut
above him. Shadows embrace the stiff lines of pain.
The old dog lies patient, kennelled by loyalty,
rises like a wolf to the snap of the barrel and the final loading.
God is as close as the descending sky,
in the crook of a finger which burns on the trigger.
Sheaves of birds soar,
assemble on the wind in curious mourning.
By Lesley Quayle