Photograph by Jane Burn
Edited by Rosie Jackson
Rosie’s first full collection The Light Box, comes out with Cultured Llama in 2016.
This poem works out.
This poem is a heavyweight
champ. She is here to bench
at least a dozen ghosts: heavy
as rain and impossible to hold,
they slide right through her fingers
every time, crush her naked chest,
eat like natural acid at her flesh.
She is still looking for grip.
This poem decides to give boxing
a go. She pulls on her gloves,
all red shine and soft leather,
like she thinks she can find
protection in something stripped
from the skeletons of the dead.
This poem punches too hard
at a blur of movement, misses,
throws off her balance and eats
This poem has hands slick with sweat,
spine shaking with the weight
of barbells that have her convinced
that gravity will let her go as long
as she surrenders. She is beginning
to understand that falling only
ever stretches the pressure over
every square inch of her body.
This poem can run like nobody’s
business. This poem has excellent
cardiovascular health after all that
time she spent exercising her heart.
This poem has blisters on her heels
from all that running. This poem
is done with running. This poem
is standing still.
By Rachel Schmieder-Gropen
you claim you know
what’s under my clothes.
does it fascinate you?
have you pictured me naked
and smelled the musk
between my breasts?
what if I told you
that’s as far as you’ll ever go?
I don’t want to tell you
the story behind my biopsy scar,
or the one under my chin
that changed my relationship
with a certain someone.
I don’t want you to see me
in my darkest hour, where,
for several hours, I become
the bellhop of my past.
I patch myself up
with my mother’s tongue,
my father’s naiveté,
and your desire to hold me.
By Shloka Shankar
The Lovers’ Exchange
He traces the scar on her knee, indigo still
from the playground’s coal dust and gravel.
She wonders at the small V over his heart:
a girlfriend’s angry scissors.
The marks on her wrist he passes over silently,
touches the hollow of a lost child.
Lets her caress the scorch on the back of his hand
from when he was eight, an English boy living
in Germany, and the man in the barber’s shop
stubbed his cigarette in the young white flesh,
said: That’s for Dresden.
She puts her lips to that place
where the fires burn all these years on,
as if her mouth, her one breath,
were enough to blow out the candles of war,
return to their bodies newborn skin
on which nothing is written.
By Rosie Jackson
Francine started to use rear-view mirrors
for walking. To start with she bound
a Halford’s Basic Bike, round and round
with tape to her left arm, found
it made her arm ache, stopped the blood,
didn’t go far enough, left a blind spot
on the right hand side.
And so she tried convex, concave,
adjustable arms and Mini mirrors
stitched to her cardi’s, but they sagged
and all was distorted in the glass.
She saw only her arse, the grey pavement,
and the holes in the road.
Finally, late night blanket stitch,
cross stitch tight, she fastened
white van mirrors, long and wide,
angel’s wings, into the seams
of her great-coat,
mounted on reinforced shoulder pads
so they wouldn’t rub.
Then they couldn’t sneak up,
she could see them coming.
By Deborah Alma
You sacrifice your spare time to me,
most usually with late night phone calls
kept short because of tomorrow and sleep,
where you tell me bedtime stories of your day,
the witches at work, another plot or curse,
our daughter’s long walk through the forest,
the knocking monster in your closet or
the dragon’s swipe from their distant cave,
I try to help you read between the lines, try to
pull apart the text and offer you happier endings,
but your castle is a long way from my lily pad
and there are suspicious guards upon its walls,
they have been told what to watch for vigilantly,
for who not to let within the sacred perimeter,
there are standards, there is a strict dress code,
so we stay in our cool, collected corners.
And when the phone call ends we hang up and I
start the conversation that I really want to have,
telling that I am always homesick without you,
that my loneliness is a house you noisily haunt.
I quietly hush all these things you cannot hear,
because I miss you sounds too much like blame,
because I want to be there sounds like pressure,
because I love you sounds like you owe me yours.
Then I pull the clouds of lost sleep tight about me,
try to ignore the perched murder of crows that
crush the violets upon the rail at the foot of my bed
and fluff good night to my lumpy pillow here, unshared.
By Lindsay McLeod
The Doll’s House
On Christmas evening you punched a hole
by accident, through the kitchen floor
of my new doll’s house. I pulled open
the hinged front, revealing a perfect family, plastic smiles
and a hole like an Oh! You promised to fix it,
but it stayed like a dropped bomb.
And we never talked about your other family,
the other kitchen table where you sat,
or the coded phone rings.
We just lived with the hole, walked
round it like it wasn’t there, trying
not to fall in.
By Karen Jane Cannon
Then in June
The cuckoo comes in April,
sings a song in May,
then in June another tune,
and then he flies away.
The cuckoo does not know itself to be a cuckoo
and is to be pitied.
It cracks its own egg
and pushes out its bloodied head,
opening and shutting its beak
just like the tiny others.
Sweetheart, I say,
Just move over, you’re stopping their breaths.
I cannot stand it
and so, in my own kind of pain,
push the big baby over the edge.
I see it fall on the concrete,
see in the blood spreading out
that it is still alive.
But I have worms to catch
and other fish to fry.
By Debora Alma
English folklore, 1869 (Hazlitt)
The Room Where Nothing Happens.
Is that mysterious place that appears
after a disaster, after something should
not have happened. Where nobody put their
chocolate covered fingers on the cushion.
Where nobody fell asleep and let
the dinner burn. The room where no one
ever jumped up and broke the precious
ornament and where no one ever spilt
a cup of coffee . A room where there was
never endless crying or a pool of urine
on the carpet. Even the room where
no one ever punched a head and bruised
an eye, or slapped an arm until it broke.
Where no one ever raised a finger in retaliation.
By Keith Parker
Single parent evening
A term forgotten Here
Frame like a chair upturned Here
Face like an ill-lit corridor Here
Aches for a helping hand Here
One responsible parent Here
Earth, sky and horizon Here
Holds the line on both axes Here
Sustains the empty nucleus Here
The theorem no child remembers Here
A scuff mark nobody sees Here
By Lee Nash
Had We Known
when you climbed into bed with wet hair
that night, we would have memorised
the poems we read, looked at each other
longer, burned the retina.
But we never know it is the last time
before it happens, walking out and out
next morning on flat grey sands,
the tide already fled.
And now, unwittingly, thousands upon
thousands are doing these same things –
kissing mouths they will not meet again,
drinking from cups they will no longer share,
the exodus sudden –
marriages squashed into rucksacks,
babies into pockets,
thoughts of prey as absolute as death
hanging over them
like those dark birds Nostradamus prophesied
arriving from the east,
the shadow of their forked wings
spreading into Europe –
leaving beds empty, temples without gods,
unlove spilling its cargo
along motorways and fields.
None of us could see this coming:
crowds on the move, bodies in the jungle,
heads needing pillows,
our unready laps.
By Rosie Jackson
‘Whereby you may see, that the river of Lethe runneth as well above ground as below.’ Sir Francis Bacon
When eventually we met in Moscow, we spoke of how our great great grandfather had swum across an unknown river with virtually everything he owned to escape a Pogrom. My relative skirted round questions about how it was for Jews now. And when I pushed, it felt like I was leading him. Occasionally, he said something I thought didn’t follow my question at all
or what I envisaged his answer might be. He was learning Hebrew; his daughters worked on the Sabbath and preferred crepes to his latkes; he barely saw his parents or four siblings, none of them living in Moscow; supported
Chelsea and loved early 1990s American films. Often, I found my eyes meeting our translator’s. The way she held my gaze or diverted her own, spat out her words or said them softly, and varied her register, I tried not to let affect me. But when asked a question, I heard it answered by someone I didn’t know.
By Tristan Moss