Artwork by Jane Burn
Edited by Louise Larchbourne
All the gardens
The poet sat in the garden that had taken fifteen years to
make. Fifteen years was about right. Before that a garden
wasn’t ready, after that it became blowsy and overripe, like
a single flower. She looked back to the other garden, no doubt
way past its best if she could even reach it, but it was the garden
of its time. She did not think of herself as a poet then. She did
not think it was given to women to use words on behalf of others.
She left that garden and gradually, in many different actions,
created this one. And here it was. Its alignment was not so very
different from the other one, and she remembered weather like
this, days like this, birds with the same song. But it was moving
on. No garden is finished. Nothing stays still.
By Sally Evans
THE DEAD TIDE
How long have I been here caught between the tides?
I breathe in oxygen,
yet my heels are shackled with a blacksmith’s silver chain,
hooked to a swaying seabed.
At night I heard the whispers of Mermaids,
the chattering of the seafaring dead,
where beneath me a new world exists;
a world that I can hear only like a rustic pin
drifting on the surface of a vast ocean.
I’m the dead tide,
the lost and the disappeared.
By Matt Duggan
Be Still Now (For J.D.)
Be still now, the parting is over,
the rain and mist descend on northern hills,
the autumn sky is darker than before, time’s movement
ceased. The coaly Tyne remains awake, listening
for its songs, one bonny voice now cast adrift
upon the tide and carried by, unmoored but safe,
at peace now.
Rest now, lass. The hard road lies behind you.
Slip away with the old river, through far, green
acres, byres and sheep folds, the wild geese
overhead and slow smoke rising from steadfast
moorland cottages. The days must bide their hours
without this songbird soaring clear above the sun.
Be still and rest now.
By Lesley Quayle
or any other
weapon of war,
learned that they
were best kept
out of the way,
out of danger.
other hands needed
eagerly reaching out
to those in want
finding hands to hold
never raised in
By Léa Forslund
Two cock pheasants are fighting, wings flattened
like the halves of a severed butterfly.
I see the panic of separation
in the brutality of clashing beaks.
The fizzing brown river feels it, too, tries
to reel in its spate with white fingertips,
unable to fathom its fright, folding,
folding itself into a confusion.
Even the swallows’ manic scissors don’t
slice soft air for joy, but for survival.
My barren body gave birth to this Spring.
I’ve pulled it from the freshness of my wounds,
left it to weep on the fell. It glistens
like a solemn promise, a consequence.
By Catherine Ayres
Waiting for connecting flights,
I watch TV. In Baghdad a young soldier fires,
fells an Iraqi, yells triumphant, “Got ‘im!”
The fallen man attempts to rise. The boy
fires off another round. The body twitches,
shimmers, stills. “Got the bastard!”
my compatriot shouts in glee.
“It’s just like shooting squirrels back home.”
I turn away and realise Death is sitting next to me
in the plastic airport lounge. With a sideways flick of eyes,
I thought I’d summed him up:
thinning fair hair, corporate permatan
pastel shirt, diamond solitaire
probably from Texas.
To ward off conversation, I’d pulled out
a book and lost myself in alibis.
As we prepare to board, he tells me
that he’s a Platinum Flyer. “Oh really?” I reply,
in tones designed to cut off overtures. “Yes,” he says,
“I’ve flown more than a million miles but then
there’s always folks who’re eager
to buy guns.” It’s then I see the skull
that glows beneath his skin,
the pointed teeth.
By Susan Castillo
They kept us in the classroom until a masked man
rang a bell, then they took us into the yard, lined us up
along one wall and some of us wet ourselves, I was one.
Seventy years have passed, but I remember that too clearly,
the hot trickle turning icy cold, the chafing. We stood there
for hours, my knees kept locking, I tried to keep moving
but only slightly, the thought of drawing attention,
of masked men seeing the wet patch on my trousers
frightened me more than anything else that day.
We all heard explosions, saw clouds of yellow and purple
rising up, dirty and stinking, and I thought back to earlier,
a silent bare morning, of how I’d thought of pretending
a fever in order to stay at home, how I’d wanted
to make sure my mother was not going to kill herself
today, how she looked so sad when she thought I wasn’t
watching her, how she burnt the toast, and I told her
it didn’t matter, how I forced myself to eat it, to not mind
the scrape of rancid butter, the memory of marmalade.
Then shouting, closer, a barrage of shooting, and we,
just twelve years old, a line of us up against the wall,
the masked men waiting, then Peter went berserk,
he lunged forward out of the line, and one of the men
cracked his skull with his rifle butt, Peter crumpled,
I thought of his story he’d read last week about his sister’s
hamster, how funny it had been, I thought of how his
shirt tails always came out of his trousers, how he managed
to get ink on his knees. He lay in the school yard, broken.
By Catherine Edmunds
Gorge du Loup
Cloud shadows, sunlit hamlets
and the curve of a damaged viaduct –
from this high view point my eye
follows its form, from intact line
to the bombed remains –
impossible to think of war here
now, as all around, in the tangible
depth of air there are swifts
flicking, flitting, back and forth
in their element. They shriek
and swirl. For a moment
I feel my centre clench;
I am filled with the urge
to launch out
over the parapet
to soar with them,
wide open, screaming.
By Sarah J Bryson
house of correction
behind the sharp sharp white fence,
praetorian guard of hypocritical zinnias
the house stood, a deadly phalanx
she, the general, was its shadowless
unbending mind inside behind
the frowning veranda where i parked the bicycle
borrowed from next door
if you opened the french doors, frogs got in at night
and in the daytime, jehovah’s witnesses
if you were lucky, when you were sick in bed alone
but even with the french windows open, you couldn’t get out
cemetery field of crucifixes, the lattice
is too powerful a pentacle
she was the house
spirit of the lattice
let me out
let me out into the sunlight
grant me its
By Mandy Macdonald
An earlier version of this poem, entitled ‘exterminating angel’, was published in Poetry Scotland, Winter 2013–14
Life cycle of a hyacinth
Starts slowly, roots
a cautious wormery,
spire of fingernails praying
green in the dark.
No one notices.
Pushes her head through
hands, stands primly
in her own limelight, robust
echo of ultraviolet curls.
Throbs with filthy secrets, smears
thick whispers on kitchen walls.
Gouges the sky with nodding
cotton bud, blows a glass
cathedral bleeding handspans of blue.
Aches at the window, heavy
with absence, a singed
lamb’s head full of lies.
By Catherine Ayres
has been elbow deep in me
I imagine my intestines lilac blue
and steaming gently in the unexpected air
unravelled they can stretch
the whole way round a tennis court
they told us that in school
I never thought I’d put it to the test
the bowel reacts to being handled
can be skittish might flounce
peristalsis – that squeeze that starts as swallowing
then ripples sweet and regular right through –
must settle down into its proper rhythm
meanwhile strange surges flutter
as if a trout is netted in my belly
and now it flexes slippery and strong
I think of Mr Brough
of skill honed by practice
the sly gutting of a fish
By Jan Dean
Blurred thoughts and a head banging
with shame. A rhythmic thump
from the numbing slurs
unsteady and slumped strides
across a reflecting floor –
a cold bed, to recover from the eclipse.
My side split open from the lack
of humour. A weak link
in my pathetic body.
A grey blocked sun seeks refuge
whilst no-one is around
to hear my silence.
My vomit is unknown only to me.
Others clean the filth
of my functions.
I stir to find a head so full
of nothing, only religion
could make sense of it.
By Stephen Daniels
Once a decade
in the waning.
tighter of the spring,
the pinching of pleats.
To wake counting ribs,
at the deflating
To walk more quickly,
yet slowly now
past store windows
to admire not
la dernière mode
but la nouvelle derrière.
To stride boulevards
counting ticks, crosses:
thinner than that, fatter than that
until the day,
that sod-it day,
when rebellious child
meets feckless adult,
fails to inject
a moment’s pause
The rapid unravelling,
an uncoiling spring,
the easing of seams,
By Sharon Larkin
previously published by Cinnamon Press in the May Day anthology, 2014, ed. Jan Fortune.
MUM AND DAD
In my mother’s kitchen was a small fridge and a derelict cooker;
already I have slipped from what I think I know
to what must be said. That cooker is long gone, its inner glass
baked brown, door hanging at an angle, looped back with wire,
to permit the accurate immolation of birds.
The lino tiles, laid with black Bostik when I was ten, have gone, too –
so have the patches from my clothes, my arms, my ears, my knees.
I used to clean that cooker. She would pay me ten bob – a horrible job,
but it suited a drive I had, to remove all corrosion, let the secrets
of the dark places be exposed – the chickens slowly crinkling in full light,
walls no longer sticky with undigested substance, food untaken,
dross, bad memories. In my mother’s kitchen were secrets. Stuck, they were,
with the Bostik under the floors, in the sticky heat of the killing oven;
invisible in the layers of my innocent skin.
In my father’s absence was a streak of distress. In his towers
of empty tobacco tins, as they accrued like debt behind cupboard doors,
was fear. When doors were opened, they crashed out – when I opened the doors.
In the pit of the stomach, the expectation of sudden noise. Of a crash,
of a scream. Of emptiness.
By Louise Larchbourne
The Forest Seamstress
My mother is making my clothes.
I hide behind a screen and trade my shoes for leaf and bark.
I tread more softly.
Brrrch, Brrrch. She feeds her material through blood and branch.
Brrrch. The birds stop to listen. I hear the rustle of skin.
A pool of leaves breathes at her feet.
Mother climbs from bark to twig. She lifts hair from my face,
lets me see. She tells me to climb. She wants the stars. I shake my head.
My mouth is packed with velvet-warm earth.
My mother laughs and rubs my skin with fresh-spun sap. I am her daughter.
She tugs my gut. I climb to please her. My intestines wind through bark and bough.
She rips satin ribbons from remnant skies and lines hidden pools; eye deep
and as watchful. I sense my soul take root.
Some days her belly growls, I run for shelter. She shakes the ground.
The sky fills with swallows’ purple light. I hide to find my way back in.
I emerge to fallen leaves. She smells of age and earth. When she dies
I become her. By winter I dress in icy armour. It keeps my heart soft.
By Jenny Hope
previously published Petrolhead, Oversteps Books, 2010
move too directly and with a rhythm
unmatched by the breeze.
A raggedy tab of weasel
zips the bleached and cropped pasture.
Buffered by a grey-pelted prize
worn like a moustache,
(perhaps the unfortunate shrew
obstructs its view)
it heads straight for the
The lurcher begins to levitate with
to shade the point of pounce.
He knows not to run,
not to telegraph his presence
but just as it seems
weasel and shrew are his,
the ragged bullet
ricochets off a grass blade
right from under his nose.
Now he chases! Skittered
pebbles fly in the sunshine
like drops of river water
scattered by a kingfisher
but gangle bows to rick-rack.
Hunter out-dashes hunter
snapping out of existence
at the base of an old stone wall.
In the air, hangs a pungent musk
like the scent of passion fruit
By Mavis Moog
The Phantom Lead-swinger Strikes Again
He’s had enough
of half-job Henrys.
He doesn’t deal
in tired excuses.
If he had his way
the workers of the world
wouldn’t start the job
to begin with. He’d leave it
to the admin johnnies
in their clean collars
to churn out the paperwork,
sign the chitties, issue the requisitions,
rubber stamp and copy in triplicate,
and he’d sniff at their in-trays and invoice spikes
and slope off for a fag round the back
or a hand of cards with the apprentice lad
in some work-free corner of a disused hut,
nicely off the gaffer’s radar.
By his leave, the words
productivity and logistics
would do the decent thing
are no friends of his.
By Neil Fulwood
All the secret things
All the children’s pictures rubbed off the board,
chalk dust too, caught in a jar.
Fairies calling from silvered plates,
the secrets of magic and every sleight of hand;
all of Houdini’s great escapes,
the wonder still intact. Take a look.
Here, every tooth the fairy mouse has paid for,
see the whole castle with its ivory bathtubs.
Imagine you lived here, you’d take tea on the lawn,
while just here, a ladybird has taken off all her spots.
She has them jittering in a box on the floor:
her bare red wings, the missing piece
of the puzzle you made and unmade again,
the invitations not sent,
the thank yous ditto,
the parties not held,
the uprising of socks unpaired.
By Natalie Shaw
Below is my Fat Choice – a poem that did not make the guest ed’s cut, but had something about it that I liked.
I watched you yawn a universe into existence
I witnessed as you sang a cosmos into style
I saw you sigh, and the heavens roared
then you smiled, and the gods came alive
I felt you move, and the stars fell into rhythm
then you danced, and the planets cycled into their place
You closed your eyes, and the full moon shined
and when they opened, the sun blazed hot
Your passion flared, and the earth shook violently
but then you laughed, and all grew calm
You said Yes, and the gates flew open
Your power coursed through every wave
You spoke the Word, and the gospel was born
Your vibration, a serenade of the holy symphony
By Scott Thomas Outlar