With poems from
Mendes Biondo, William Doreski, Pepper Smith, Anders Carlson-Wee, Kitty Coles, Diana Rosen, Aziz Dixon, Beatrice Preti, Ma Theresa Ysai Jabar, Pat Edwards, Mark Farley, Margaret Adkins, John Grey, Paul Summers, Oz Hardwick, Courtney Lavender, Tom McColl, Caroline Hardaker & Mohamad Kebbewar.
A word from Editor, Louise.
Here it is! Keenly awaited (not least by your editor), the 11th Poems to Survive In. The number of submissions this time was so high and the quality so good that again we have a Part 1 and Part 2. I love it! I am beginning to be familiar with a few poets, to greet their contributions like good friends, always teasing me to look further, think sharper, feel deeper and stranger. I thank all of the poets who submitted for opening themselves up so honestly and willingly. This selection actually takes my breath away. I hope you love it too. And that your appetite is whetted for the further delicacies and strangenesses of part 2. Watch this space.
The lights turned the garbage around the dumpster into a moonscape, like the crawl space in January when her dad realized the toilet was flushing into the dirt under the trailer.
“Straight fucking piping,” he called it.
He slammed a toolbox on the empty counter top. A wave of beer cans crashed into the wall.
Handing her a flashlight, he said, “Follow me.”
The frozen clumps of toilet paper ran like mountain ranges. The tiny peaks circled from the mouth of the broken pipe, waves frozen in place. It wasn’t just toilet paper puddled in frozen dams. A year’s worth of tampons stuck in the sludge. Even with the cold she breathed through her mouth. The slopes of the mini mountains tugged long shadows from her imagination into dark corners. She lifted the flashlight higher, illuminating the broken pipe.
The nylon string around her father’s fingers sawed into the plastic. The sweet smell of a struck match swirled around them.
That night her door banged open.
“It’s not your room.”
Stale breath settled on her neck. “It’s not what you think,” he said.
He slumped into her bed.
Her mind joined the shrikes at her grandmother’s house. They pulled out the pretty feathers of the goldfinch, leaving their soft bellies open in the air.
The next day, after her father replaced the pipes, she helped him spread the lye. They crawled through that space to cover the mess with ash, a falling snow on the dumpster at the gas station parking lot. She liked it when it snowed. It hid the bare, ugly things on the surface, even if for just a little bit.
The Same Kiss of the Morning
let’s go and leave
without a motivation
because I can’t breathe here
in this tight pond
let’s take a train
you know one of those shining and long ones
those with the good smelling seats
and comfortable corridors
not those rusty and dusty ones
that make us meet sometimes
when things are going well
when we feel that we can not
let’s go and paint a flag
and let’s put it out of the window
of those shining an beautiful trains
watch out for the controller
and let’s call all those who are in love like us
without a meaning
without the fear of the street
without the fear of the rails
without the fear of all those minutes passed
sighing to the phone
let’s call them all my love
and let’s create a place
where there are no distances
let’s create a garden like Eden
let’s go and leave
with the flag out
and let’s do the revolution
in the moment when you give me
the same kiss of the morning
Scraping Along in Shallows
A rip tide caught my rowboat.
I drifted for a day and night.
Although you called the Coast Guard
they searched too far out at sea for me,
while I scraped along in shallows,
barely a leap away from shore.
The day passed expressionless.
The night whispered like a shell,
smelling of fish oil and seaweed.
The moon puckered up for a kiss,
but never delivered. On the beach,
bonfires fueled by paperback books
from my undergraduate years:
Sartre, Kierkegaard, Bartlett,
Conrad, Kafka, Tolstoy, Maugham.
At dawn I reached the white resort,
that infamous sepulcher planted
in the cusp of a bay so placid
I could finally row to shore
and drag my boat onto the sand.
Ascending with shaky little steps,
I met you with your latest lover,
the fat man of my nightmare
whose intestines are rattlesnakes,
whose brain is a fist of steel.
So you gave up on me and found
a man so bloated with wealth
he could soak up half an ocean,
then towel himself with treaties
signed by all the world’s worst leaders.
So we’re no longer an item. After
a breakfast of pebbles and slime,
I returned to my boat and shoved off
into the latest current and drowned
my grief in baggy yellow sky
with gulls and terns applauding.
The Winter Fisherman
Every night all winter
there’s been a man out on Back Bay Biloxi
in a skiff the size of a coffin.
You can follow him
by the little white light over the motor
as he trawls the bottom from one side to the other
to snag the big specks you can only catch in winter.
Even in Biloxi it’s damn cold in January and February,
especially out on the water.
One hand wrapped around a flask, the other on the throttle,
from late night ‘til early morning
ever since his son died last summer.
He waits until he’s close to shore before reeling in,
an old habit, so no one crowds him.
You walk all night and into the next day
to survive the sudden October snow.
You have no money or hope of money.
Your backpack is a cloth sack with duct-
tape straps and safety pins in place
of zippers. Your gloves have no thumbs,
just holes, just unraveling half fingers.
You’ve come inside for the heat,
for plastic spoons, mayo, salt and sugar
packets, hand-napkins you’ll ball later
for insulation beneath your clothes.
You’ve come for the bathroom––soap
to scrub your face, your neck, your pits,
toilet rolls for kindling flames as you camp
alone tonight in the woods or in a silo.
Mirror for popping your zits, hand-dryer
for drying your hair, your musty coat.
You’ve come to run warm water
over hands you can no longer feel,
come to sit and rest and do nothing,
and think nothing, and be no one.
You ask the boy at the counter
if you can have some water. He nods,
tapping his foot to a bluegrass tune,
slides a paper cup toward you
with a smooth memorized hand, asks
out of habit if that will be everything.
The Way Out Is Through
If you didn’t remember the signs,
they’d pass without comment,
at least the first few; the beginning
It starts with sand where
another taste should be.
It starts with the clock freezing itself at three,
failing to move, however much you stare,
till suddenly it flings itself at seven
and light pours over the sky without adequate warning.
Then comes the change-about beneath your ribs,
your heart replaced with some dickey impostor,
its beating spasmodic, unreliable.
Then the big flick off
in the brain, the empty skull,
where sounds reverberate and shadows move
and dust accumulates in sheeted rooms.
At this stage, when touched,
you cannot feel the touch.
Their hands slide through you.
Their arms encircle air.
They entice you to the bath.
You stink like a fox.
The water never runs hot enough
to warm you.
You wait, resistless as the moving water,
realising now the place that you’ve gone back to.
This time, how much of the darkness
must flow over,
how deep will you have to go
Moscovites hold hot potatoes
in the pockets of their thick woolen coats.
Their heads, turbaned by fur hats, dream
of daffodils dancing around the dacha.
Their hearts long to sail the Black Sea,
to bask on the sun-soaked Arcadia beach.
Warmed by bottomless shots of vodka,
unaware of snow drops lost under icy white
blankets, they trudge toward still another bar,
thinking only of spring.
* Snow drops is a Russian phrase used to describe corpses
only revealed with the thaw of spring.
Walking in grief
If you but knew how dark is now my soul
you would not question why I stand and stare.
A light I see – and it could make me whole,
but I am lost, and cannot reach it there.
You would not question why I stand and stare.
The water laps beneath my troubled feet,
but I am lost, and cannot reach it there.
I think to jump, and so my death to meet.
The water laps beneath my troubled feet.
From Beachy Head I see for many a mile.
I think to jump, and so my death to meet,
but I will stop, and sit, and breathe awhile.
A light I see – and it could make me whole,
but do you know how dark is now my soul?
Twenty Different Ways
The Devil tried to kill me
in twenty different ways.
He watched me overnight,
he stalked me every day,
he came at me with knives,
with guns, with hearts, with lies,
he came at me with love
and with everything I despise.
But I could see right through him
no matter what he tried
and though he tried his hardest,
I managed to survive.
And now I walk in daylight
and bask beneath the sun.
I do not feel his presence.
I have learnt to fear no one.
My heart is barricaded
and now he can’t get in
and though he tried to kill me
I know he’ll never win.
i feel as vast
i feel as vast
as a city street
with no lamp posts
in the middle of the night
to the emptiness
breathing down my neck.
a walking crime scene
must have left its fingerprint
on something and now
every gaze cuts
here i stay safe
in your peripheral
i am as apart
as a city street that misses
the feel of wheels and the reflection
of orange light.
and a lamp post flickers
Ma Theresa Ysai Jabar
There has to be something over your head,
call it a roof if you like,
in order to call this
Without a roof, the elements can mess up your hair,
make you wet, generally expose you to the whole gambit.
But, in reality, you haven’t found this to be true;
a roof is the least of your worries.
It’s the slipping through
joining the dust, the litter, the stuff of shoe soles and pavements;
…………………it’s the vanishing
You know these pavements, every camber.
You have paced and shuffled
……………………….to kill the checkyourwatch time,
………………………………………to counter the freezeyourbollocksoff cold.
While you’re walking, you stay on the move, so there is no arrival.But at some juncture you have to……….stop
or your burning feet will leave a trail of ash they can trace you by,
the weariness will spread like metastases.
So you force your knees to bend in supplication to the ground.
With just layers of cardboard, textiles of clothes and sleeping bag to cushion you,
(cushion – joke)
you curl up ammonite, Fibonacci, close your eyes.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxYou turn, slowly, trying not to let the cold back in.
Then it is the early hours.
As the day starts without you,
………………everyone walks by,
……………………………walks on by.
The ignorance is stones in your hat, eyes straight ahead, invisibility.
There you are,
……………vanishing before your eyes,
………………………………….without a roof over your head.
I have more breath than necessary.
What once was me is split between crows
perched among the branches of broken
oaks. All leaves are wilting, except one.
The crows roost in a castle courtyard.
Dismantled cannons rust in puddles.
Blind Buddhas grasp their thighs. Charcoal walls
are cradled by stitches of bracken
and thorn. Almost midnight. Time to fly.
Our beaks give voice to yesterday’s dust.
Our wings thrash golden crowns from the fog,
and talons tear eight white horses from
the moss. Crowns fall but crows can dance. We
rise to form a moon-cold shield, casting
billows of black over hunchback fields,
toothless cliffs and wrinkled swamps, over
a cottage – full to the beams with
ex-lovers and violent men. We
are the ripples of an ocean cast
on seas of sky. The fields are burning.
Before The House That Clive Built
Mum stands in the margin of adulthood
at the foot of the funicular railway.
It is her last holiday before her marriage
and she smiles at the camera.
She does not know
that after forty summers, she and Dad
will live in the architect’s house
made of red cedar – not yet sown –
close as a herring gull’s keow
to the rising cliff.
Her shoulders are relaxed and supple
and free of malignancy.
I nervously crawled by a cop car.
I didn’t text or use my cell phone.
In the fast lane, I was impossible to repress.
I saw a sign that read “Akron Next Two Exits”
for the one and only time in my life.
I complained to the car radio about the lack of rock stations.
I remembered someone named Sandra
but had no idea why.
I sang some more.
I rolled down the windows.
I rolled them up again.
I saw farms and silos. Lots of silos.
And fences. Mile after mile of fences.
As I was alone, I kept my opinions to myself.
I passed a point where it was only five miles
to the next McDonalds,
You wouldn’t believe how loud I sang.
I was witness to an air balloon but no UFO’s.
There was something in my eye so I wiped it.
There was nothing in my head
so I kept right on singing.
grieving in outer space
once, still raw,
incapable of framing
the finality of death,
i told them you’d inhabit
the brightest of the stars.
today, i am frail
with the newest grief;
they pay me back
with a lie of their own,
dragging me gently
towards their world.
we build a spaceship
from half a dozen cushions.
a squeeze but functional;
a frantic communion
of limb & breath & soon
we are orbiting an unnamed
moon whose surface glows
titanium white, we wave
on each pass, our memories
resisting the freedom
to be weightless.
Self remains calm. The precarious room listens
to the caller: the movement of the id within the heart.
Write down the hawk’s exact abstraction.
Swim to the location of any device; hand over reasons.
Arm for soft detonation, knowing the pained templates
of a panting phone. The Supervisor’s hair informs faces,
managing security, calling and chanting … as this is fresh
in my memory, record as many hours as possible.
Soul makes attachments, forms questions.
The police will retain this as evidence.
I was suddenly on the wrong side of dad all the time.
It was like he had no patience with me any more –
always short-tempered, irritable –
quick to strike if I said the wrong thing.
It probably didn’t help of course that I had my mother’s eyes.
Well, I did according to gran.
She kept saying that –
both in front of dad
and whenever I was alone with her –
and, more often than not, she liked to add:
‘Didn’t stop her from abandoning you, though, did it?’
Apparently, gran was saying it for my own good,
trying to wean me off this idea of mum
as someone to idolise,
like some distant omnipresent God
who, despite allowing hunger and sadness to reign,
and providing no logic,
was still revered.
But, despite having reached the age of reason,
I was becoming more superstitious than ever before.
Well, in any event,
I as usual didn’t want to go to gran’s,
but dad had to go to work.
The standoff ended with me being punched.
‘Your dad’s been having a hard time of it,’
said gran, upon my arrival still crying,
and continuing to cry after dad had left.
‘Try to understand that he’s the one who’s there for you.’
But then, at bed time, it started again.
‘You have your mother’s eyes.’
Every time she said that, it was as if she’d only just realised –
but now, while washing my hands in the sink,
she realised something else:
‘You have your father’s hands.’
Gran was mad.
Everyone around me was mad.
And all of it was driving me mad.
‘You have your mother’s eyes.’ ‘You have your father’s hands.’
Even then, I knew that that didn’t sound like a good combination.
Composition for Earthquakes
There is something in the echo,
the wave of the room,
the billow of bass and
the vibration of solid architecture.
I have built temples from simple lines,
beat upon beat upon beat,
the inevitability of tides; and now
it’s time to plant gardens, children,
In another life, I fell by a hedge
at the edge of a rough field
that compassed my world, struck
by flaws in my imagination,
but though I may still be a puppet,
I have new strings. Sound sweeps back,
shudders, climbs into finials, gables,
grotesques. The obvious thing
would be to compose hymns,
but instead I shape storms.
(on the refugee crisis)
It seeps through any timeworn cloth –
this bright wine.
Listen to it, crisping, already
the middle distilling –
marking stages out, in sight.
Rings, tree rings, ley lines,
layers like hills. A map;
been here, there, here
and wherever the rag goes, a tracer
there, and here, seeping
from where the bullet met beef;
a touch away from a tenderer touch
but came to meet me anyway.
It split me.
A fine wine
listen to it, crisping, already
the middle distilling,
riven into mountains and miles
and the sea in between.
desert hands, dublin heart
i am one part desert,
parched dirt and
the deep, sweeping
of the contented
i am one part isle,
rolling green and
bogged with tears
ripe with words
a tugging, wanting
……….the east and west of separate lands
and one forgets
forgets i am
the cincturing sky
desert hands, dublin heart first appeared in Live Encounters Magazine in October 2016.
With blood we write ourselves into consciousness
Writers pay more attention to the form
Words are chiseled into perfection
but empty of meaning like a town square after a bomb
The poetic is lost
Oil is pumped
Governments are changed
People are massacred
Perhaps the land was the problem
Fresh air was not free of charge
Birds’ feathers fell from the crown of the minaret
Farewell Aleppo, farewell my people
State of absence
State of siege
The garden filled them with aroma and peace
Dead leaves fall on the pavement
so too fall the children of the city
Missiles fired like hail on drought land
Maps redrawn with fire and steel
Dreamers crushed under the heavy barrel bombs, Blitzkrieg
They swept the ashes at the marketplace and went to the funerals
The phone buzzed on the table
Thirty-seven people killed in the candy store explosion
They carry their wounds on their faces and pray to God
A droplet of rain soothes the hungry soil
Hope is reported missing
In the age of ignorance or Jahiliyah freedom was sexual
The rubble suffocates the jasmine tree.
Those that made weapons sat up in fancy hotel rooms
buttoned up in silk suits to discuss peace
The hearts of our children bleed on their way to school
How will they love?
Blood streamed on barricade roads
A field of mothers
Birds sing on a broken branch of the lemon tree
Fire burned my olive tree
Maysonati, my love who is God what is God?
In the market place I look for God
I write my home in the depth of the AlQasidah
With every word my beloved asks me why do you write
Come along and hang out with us
Forget the world
I write myself on a blank page, into a poem
I write to stay alive
I write because writing is the beginning of humanity
Because without writing there is no history
Without a record a debt cannot be paid
No proof of blood or a mother’s tears
I roam around the walls of Aleppo
Through centuries and empires
Here an Ottoman house, there a French church
A history full of blood and ammunition
Piled up on the sidewalk
The elderly and children weep
Even stones and steel cry
Words bleed inside my veins