December – Beth McDonough




La Caleta

Blot out the crash on rocks – tonight’s
swell oil-thicks, lit by the rind
of the year’s first moon. Erase

any orangeglare, have cottages crumble down
cliffs. Move lamps; lose a century … more,
find a hide from the wind, hear warm

tumbles of edge-burred Spanish, made
smooth by Arabic. Come close, close –
those last consonants have gone,

gulped by this Atlantic. They say
another island is out there, but tonight
rubbed it out. Strange, how joy

can come, unheralded, not in a bright
of carnival clothes, but in edited views,
and choice truths only the dark affords.


First published in Lunar Poetry 3, October 2014







Three nights running,
I hauled in coal,
and the topmost lump,
big as my fist, cleaved.

The first chunk halved to show
a scuttling creature, caught
in carbon, fringed by a fright of legs.

Next, I found my fated fish –
stilled swimmer, clamped
by millennia on millennia of fallen woods.

Curious now, I tapped the last.
Another insect, carapaced, trapped intact,
likely hewn from that same seam,
long tramped, then dug and clattered down roads,
thundered into bunkers.  Mine.

I could not know, as I rocked
these stocked stones, what fuel
I held, what ancient hearts.



Shortlisted, Elbow Room Competition September 2015







We rim a tepid slug of sea,
cross rocks, turn at the grown-over well,
meander a trace

inland, scratched by scrub, and though
we know the cave is near,
unseen, we hear it first.

A low pipe, aired through
the crack in the gorge echoes
in vastness. We learn this light,

find graffiti, pigeon turds, ammonia
stink, a dirty empty. With hope
that the hang of bats may fly, we leave.


First published in Pushing  Out the Boat, Issue 12, 2013







When Beeching stole
Glen Ogle’s lines and tracks
beside Loch Earn,
he could not shift the viaducts,
nor stop the leaching drips
amossed from bits of bridge. He left
behind the pictures framed
by spikes of unburst sloes,
the fissured countenance of hills,
of fallen rocks; he could not halt

that lucent primrose prickle up
through cracks.


First published by Ofi Press, August 2015







The very shoot to fill the space,
………..sook up the gloop of glaur,
start the garden planned from rubblebrick,
left between new house and wall.

A herb!

………to grow and spread
………year after year after year
………multiply and cast its seed
………year after year after year.


it strangled the final glimpse of light
exhausted the fund of forty nutrients.

There was no other way
but to dig and chop and rid the land
of the threatening penumbra.

He turned and rubbed his green stained hands,
airily smelling of celery; kicked the roots
with the side of his boots, and offered her
an apology.

She wasn’t sorry at all,
She just looked at the heap, and knew
if it burned, now she’d not even

piss on it.



First published in Obsessed With Pipework, No 67, August 2014






His autism in the power of rain

We cowered to the kitchen from the rainthreat.
As a glowered sky grumbled on Angus, we
cosied, cupped our comfort of tea, bit

buttered scones.

……..Heaven ripped. We lost him.

Lost him for a million terrifies of seconds –

found him. Found him out in that Kirrie garden, danced
by the hard rain, stung-skinned on his seven year
naked of self, drenched in the joy of storms,
laughed happy. Wild in flashed lightning, he spun

joys our dried-out flesh still missed.


An earlier version of this was published online by Rainy Fiction, April 2014. Published in this form in Handfast ( a pamphlet co-written with Ruth Aylett, Mother’s Milk Books 2016)






Co-operative shopping

After Les Murray

He soaks in light, opens out in air, he breathes himself happy.

At the Co-op step, it tenses him, braces him hard against the jamb, jerks his head back to fight off the closed in coming of dark inside.

Both of us unpick him, digit by Spiderman-suctioned digit, limb by rigid limb, and one by one again. Again. Tight tighttight. Dad keeps unpicking; I both arm ring-squeeze Ruari’s shoulders hard. Tight tight tight. It loosens its tension, just enough to let us spring him through the flapping automatic door.

We hook a basket on his arm, coerce his help.

It taps on every soft drink can, three times with two fingers, slides his face down the cooled steel wall, pokes his tongue on the rogue corner, crusting ice.

We try to tempt him on with the popping of mushrooms in crumply brown bags. It will not let him come. It has more ice to lick. We pull. Come on, come on. It strength roots deep into the floor, it summons fifteen years of taller than me now strength. It stays exactly there.

Clasp hands. Clasp hands.

He claps to clasp. It rocks awhile. He steps on.

He chooses mushrooms, but first he takes a bite of each one of the trio of traffic light peppers, through the plastic pack. He puts the threesome back, exactly so. Behind his back we loop and add this to his basket. He puts it back. We carry the damaged goods, without words.

He counts out 14 mushrooms for the bag, 14 being a particularly good number of longstanding worth.

He chooses bread and wraps. Another jar of pesto, as the six we store at home may not be quite enough.

Suddenly, it bangs his head back against the Fair Trade banana poster. Hard. It knows no pain. Tighttighttight. We do. He breaks free, to the interest of crisps, to put 14 bags to overspill the basket. No, Ruari, no. One. Put the others back. It walks on. We catch his arm, and it emits a scream of wheeling gulls. Basket down. Clasp hands. It flicks his head. Flick flick. It rolls his eyes. It stops his breath.

He breathes. Together, we count back thirteen bags, just so. We walk away. His arm extends back and aims exactly. Returns one to his basket. He never drops his pace.

Escape now clear, he masters his check-out by-pass. We guide him back. We pay, Ruari, we pay. We do, but the purse dig for the loyalty card is just a wait too far.

Somewhere in the shop, in a place we cannot see, there are packs of sweets in the shape of sheep. Sheep are important. Sheep are woolly. He needs sheep. Unseen he has taken two bags, tucked them into his teenaged sweated oxters. Let him, says the assistant. No, Ruari. We’ll buy one for afters, and we pay. It jacks his head, it swivels his eyes, it throws him to the ground. Sheep, sheep.

Tight tight. We tight him, pay. He runs fast fast out the door to the main road. Stops right at the edge of the kerb. Always.

He soaks in light, opens out in air, he breathes himself happy.



Mother’s Milk Books Competition, commended, March 2015