Photograph by Jane Burn
Edited by Rosie Jackson
Stay with me.
There are window screens to pull free
and rooftops to climb onto and leaves
to throw from high places so that they
slowly, while the warm air catches
them on its currents and puts them down
in soft places,
like a lifeboat, like a friend who wants
to skip rocks across gravel and laugh
at the way they bounce and skitter
like small wingless creatures with
springs in their feet,
like waiting for a care package from
your friend in Mississippi, like asking
your old babysitter to send you pictures
of the butternut squash risotto she just
Stay with me the way the leaves stay,
even broken, even mostly dead,
even on the ground —
Stay. Stay. Stay, like autumn, like
I’m not asking for constancy but I am
asking for renewal,
like the time I asked you how you
have survived so long and you said,
Stand with me on the rooftop of this
world and throw yourself off like
leaves in late October
and trust that the wind
will find a way to let you down
By Rachel Schmieder-Gropen
MONA LISA – A conversation between subject and artist
“My lady, describe what you see”
On a mission for the
sea, I find poppy fields and vine
with honeysuckle; a
ruined farm, covered in ivy;
river with a branch for a
makeshift bridge. I perch on
a large boulder with bits of
quartz in it, being careful not to
muddy my dress.
“My lady, Try not to smile”
I throw pebbles and look
where the river reflection
breaks. From the bank,
I extract a blade
of grass and crack, to form
a whistle. I remove my
stockings to step
into the shallows and a
pike touches. Thunder is a black
knife dividing the
raindrop falls into
“Stay still my lady. Try, please, holding onto your arm”
By Marie Lightman
A luxury of fasting
Her house was a cornucopia, oilcloths
on tables printed with gold plums, purple
cherries; roller blinds dripped straw
and raspberries. To think of the spice drawer
was to feast–– thin bottles filled with continents
of sensation: fennel spikes, coriander balls;
slick bends of liquorice. Grain she stored
in octagons of glass where polished rice
glowed by the matt patina of couscous.
Oh, she was wealthy and she knew the weight
of each of her treasures. Those who buy
the produce rarely balances the dead
weight of harvest work. She could count
the famines too: there was emptiness to go
round and round, and round and the knowledge
was the seeping scar she hid. Any
abstinence, any fast on her part
had the grandiosity of farce.
But, there was the question of a famished
soul; an exhaustion that was the squeeze,
warm, seductive, of having of having choice to burn,
and the ashes of it in her eyes. There was
the imperative to prepare for something
un-buyable, un-cookable, un-throw-up-able.
A time to starve complacency and its mean
twin, doubt. A time to give up giving up,
to prepare, in that abstinence, a little hope.
By Rebecca Bilkau
Days Like These
On days like these
the world’s just asking
to be seized
by the heartlips
and kissed into submission.
browned off by sky
as blue as
on a day of catchless fishing.
And nights like these
should be bottled,
when life is empty
and loneliness is wishing.
By Harry Gallagher
Old, Not Irrelevant.
You may speak over me.
Cut my words mid-sentence.
Leave me demoted to nuisance,
the one who needs fussing over.
Yet within my clock-ticked accumulations
I have more knowledge than you have years.
Experience has been gathered, weathered,
collected like artefacts and my wisdom
has been put to the test, consolidated
into well worn truths
that have been rolled through the mills
of a long life.
You may patronise, dismiss,
refuse to hear my voice.
Assume that I was born old
with no previous knowledge of the world.
You may dismiss my view as worthless,
the mumblings of a past-it ancient
left from a previous generation
yet, like the only sober person at the party,
I am often the one
who sees with the greatest clarity.
By Miki Byrne
Much in Common with Megan
I’d tried to find out times the night before but the internet page was down. It was a cold morning. I hoped I wouldn’t have long to wait. The young woman who sauntered to the stop was of average height, slim, androgynously dressed; cargo pants, trainers, beanie hat, nose stud: the uniform of youth as I’ve observed. She kept her distance as people do these days.
“I suppose,” I opened, “there is a bus due?”
“The twenty past, yes. I always come and wait in case it’s early.”
“It’s annoying when they do that,” I said and explained my problems with the internet. “Or maybe it’s just me.”
“No. That site is always down,” she said.
Then we got onto fares and schedules, services and cuts, health and welfare and the working class and how austerity affects Us not Them; step by small step moving closer as we talked.
By the time the bus arrived we knew each other’s names. Between us we’d plan a workers’ revolution where everyone would down tools in protest until the system favoured the majority against the rich and where the planet mattered more than money. And she announced that it had made her day to find someone of my generation who held such views.
“We were once the beautiful people too,” I said. And perhaps we had more in common that we knew.
enough gaps to generate
By Oonah Joslin
Picture the copper beech tree at school,
the one we trailed our hands through
on the way down to The Dell for games.
The night we queued to rock with Rod,
mirrored in each other’s white flares,
silver and orange slinky tunics
(what were we thinking).
And that day we hitch-hiked to Bath,
bought bronze puzzle rings and gold leaf
pendants on Pulteney Bridge.
Picture when you flew in tanned
from Cape Town to be my bridesmaid,
mocked my unfailingly pale skin.
And the sun-scorched visit,
ten years on, when you struggled
to admit the diagnosis,
how grey each day became.
Now I sit by the tree planted
in your memory, breathe in
its strengthening purples and browns.
By Nicky Phillips
The New Year snow that wrapped itself around
…the church has gone, and those inside, who warmed
…themselves with grief, have now returned, informed
about the man we sadly miss, to lives
where he is barely known and un-renowned.
For them there’s little now that still survives.
The stoic world moved on and left me there,
…pointing out the flowers that remain;
…the kind of thing you did to entertain
my daughter with your natural, time-honed skill.
She’s looking now, though only half aware
of you, to spaces that I’m yet to fill.
By Paul Wooldridge
Snow in a changed light
It landed in silence one mid-December
night, snowflake on snowflake.
Rising light glistened on crystalline coat,
pure white unmarked blanket that
challenged journeys to your bedside.
As a child, I trampled the snow,
crunched it in my home-knitted gloves,
catching, holding, rolling, throwing.
I’d lick it, to see how quickly it melted,
till tongue and fingers ached with cold.
And you were only ever a call away.
You watched my first tentative steps,
picked me up when I fell, brushed me
down, wiped away my tears.
Outside, now, paths and roads have cleared
but where you are, I cannot go.
The snow drifts and banks in my head,
conceals the safe ground I need to find.
I grapple and slide, up, down, around,
frightened my numbness will let you fall.
By Nicky Phillips