Snide – Ava Patel

Snide

I hear ‘I do’ and choose to roll amid some confetti filled gold balloons,
the confetti pieces smaller than I remember in the gold balloons.

Something will go whoosh past my ear soon,
maybe the helium let out of a small, gold balloon.

I see nothing at this wedding but hear badgers humming the truly madly deeply tune.
My mother and I had no one to dance with because soon

we’d be left alone with the empty bar, the two of us all on our own.
My gnarled fingers promised to always be alone,

even in her slightly less gnarled ones—
the whale fell through into our fourth moon.

Wrecking ball, helium wrecking balloons
wrecking wedding cakes, I am the ruins.

The snide rabbit mutters, his voice high from confetti filled gold balloons.
‘Always the bridesmaid,’ he says. ‘I’m never the groom.’

Ava Patel graduated from the University of Warwick with a First in an MA in Writing.  Her debut pamphlet ‘Dusk in Bloom’ has just been published by Prolebooks and she runs an Instagram poetry page: @ava_poetics.Her pamphlet is available to buy here: https://prolebooks.co.uk/

Stallion – James McDermott

Stallion

trudging through norfolkfieldsI find
a lone horse a bag on its mouth
and I’m thirteen again
in the farmyard of the school changingrooms

a tall muscly stallion
kicks me to the floor I land on all fours
he forces myheadinto hisgym bag
to sniff his salt sweet shorts

he snorts stamps brays trots off
to the showers I hear the slam
of locker doors and picture prisons but
it’s a gate being closed

in this field I walk on thinking of that
animalprayinghe has been put down

James McDermott’s debut poetry collection Manatomy is published by Burning Eye. James’s poems have been published in various magazines including The Gay and Lesbian ReviewThe Cardiff Review, Popshot QuarterlyInk Sweat and Tears, SpeltConfluence, Bitchin’ Kitsch and Dawntreader.  Twitter: jamesliammcd  Order copies of Manatomy here: https://jamesmcdermott.bigcartel.com/product/manatomy-signed

Advice – Neil Fulwood

Advice

Come on, give yourself
a talking to. Bad thoughts
are the playground
of other types, those

you were told to keep
away from. Your psyche
is the clean reception area
of a village constabulary

where you popped in
with something home-
made for your uncle
the desk sergeant

not this ungodly precinct
smelling of piss
in a broken neighbourhood.
This isn’t who you are.

Look at yourself. Repeat
the mantra: good family,
good school, good
prospects. Now turn round,

go home. Breathe slowly.

Neil Fulwood lives and works in Nottingham. He has published two collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere. His third, Service Cancelled, is forthcoming in June.

Inside Out – Sheila Jacob

Inside Out

So you’re not from this way?
a new neighbour asks
though I’ve lived in the town
for thirty-odd years,
tell her the bus times
and when the bins are emptied.

She’s spotted something
and I’m aware of it, suddenly,
like a petticoat hem
blushing below my skirt.
Soon she’ll know
all my underclothes

are labelled Made In Birmingham
though I won’t mention
the hiraeth I feel
when I recognise the accent.
I won’t mention last week
and the delivery man

who stopped to ask directions.
His depot was in Telford
but he came from Great Barr
where my Uncle Fred used to work.
Things weren’t the same, we agreed,
since they rebuilt the Bull Ring.

I deciphered his invoice:
the village typed first
above the misspelt road
and the road a cul de sac.
He still puzzled the names.
I explained that Maes

meant field, Hyfryd meant
nice or pleasant and Rhosrobin
was a red robin.
So you’ve learned the lingo?
he laughed and I laughed too,
said I supposed I had.

Sheila Jacob lives in North East Wales with her husband. She was born and raised in Birmingham and uses her childhood, adolescence and  Brummie ancestry as a source of inspiration. She has had a number of her poems published in U.K. magazines and webzines.

Featured Publication – Night Shift by Jonathan Totman

Our featured publication for May is Night Shift by Jonathan Totman, published by Pindrop Press.

Jonathan Totman’s debut poetry collection is a bag of exquisite gems. Lightly, discreetly, he takes us by the hand and shows us owls and fireworks, chores and spreadsheets, architecture, lichens and encounters with wild animals, in ways that make us see the world through fresh eyes. Poems about the grief of losing a parent are woven through others exploring the joys of new fatherhood – and ultimately about what it is to be human. Delicate and hauntingly beautiful, this is a collection by a poet who is going places.

“Totman has a gift for marrying the natural and the human – sparks of life from every source flare and soar into the darkness, scattering their fine traces on the imagination. Night Shift is a collection to warm the heart – a book rich in humanity, tenderness, colour and light.” Clare Best

These bravely tender, beautifully intimate poems speak of the presences and the voids that shape our apprehensions: of ‘the prayer-deep dark’ and the heart’s private lanterns’; of ‘the rich soil of the night’, and of ‘the light // crashing through’. Whether ‘trespassing’ into the ‘rickety barn’ of fatherhood or acquiescing in a wood’s ‘rough shelter’, Totman treads softly, inviting us to bear witness, to feel ‘the flutter and kick of imagination / pushing against absence’. Night Shift is a vigil, and it is also an incitement to attend: to embrace life’s ‘grit’ and ‘balm’, its ‘slip and scrape’ and the everyday ‘kindnesses that stick like burrs’.” Rebecca Watts

With an appropriately skilled language of poetic sensibility, and an often understated tenderness, Jonathan Totman with an open generosity invites the reader to share his experiences of Nature and family. ‘Night Shift’ is an impressive first collection.” John Lyons

Sett

In the car’s close warmth,
the long tunnel of the night,
a memory surfaces:

glimpse of fur and motion,
grey hind too low and large for anything
domestic, caught in the headlights as we

bumped down the drive.
Curled in the back and half asleep, I saw
the arrow of him

spin towards earth,
the safety of a hole 
and the knowledge of having strayed too far.

He’ll be long gone now.
His chamber sealed,
the complex passed to his offspring’s offspring.

New entrances, perhaps, new passages
ending in moss and the scent of a mate;
a tumble of cubs deep at the heart.

And I’m gone too.
Driving my own clan down different routes;
the black and white road

and the grey, grey panic at the verge.

Expecting

Crouching to inspect the sweet peas –
tendrils coiled round wandering stems,
purple flowers like crinkled summer skirts,
laden with dew – I spy, behind the blue
ceramic pot, some stray, domestic tangle:
a pair of maternity tights, gusted from the line,
leaf-light and ghostly, stretched with a memory of body.
I bundle them in a palm and think of
that little life, flexing its shoots of limb:
all those clothes to be worn, the picking up to come.

Previously published in the pamphlet Explosives Licence (Templar Poetry, 2018)

The Damage

Slung up, she is an eager tourist,
little limbs dangling from the trunk of me,
head against my too-fast heart.

What’s that, what’s that, what’s that
old oak kneeling on spread limbs,
the billion open doors of its bark.

What’s there beneath that high-rise of pine,
its drop zone of nibbled husks
a triumph of collectibles.

She wants to know about the damage:
the wounds where branches were,
the smooth table tops of stumps –

their human angles.
I tell her how the place mends itself,
the small machinery of decay

moving in to mould and remould;
this sodden rug of moss and fungus,
woodlouse, worm and all

the fingertips of the forest
reaching in until eventually
the heartwood gives way;

the giant and tiny bodies
leached into soil. I tell her how
seeds unzip in the mud, grow

down, spreading through the rot.
I tell her there is life, and life,
and she listens, throbbing like wood,

brain branching into all those possible worlds.

Who

And then that pause-in-the-wind moment
when his notes fall out 
of the background music of sky,

a rattled coo, toy-like, close 
and shapeless on the walk home,
the thought of a feathered warmth,

musty with chick and pellet, the kill 
waiting to happen on some dark edge
of field, the thought of other

owls on other nights,
and what you never quite see,
a sense of size, of story,

a faith in what a parent said
taking off into the woods
in the fledgling light.

Previously published in The Fenland Poetry Journal

Jonathan was born in Sussex and now lives in Oxfordshire. His pamphlet, Explosives Licence, was joint winner of the 2018 iOTA Shot Award and was published by Templar Poetry the same year. Jonathan is a former Fenland Poet Laureate and co-edited poetry magazine The Fenland Reed for several years. This is his first full collection.

Night Shift is available to purchase from the Pindrop Press website.

A Boy with Parrot-blue Hair – Natalie Scott

A Boy with Parrot-blue Hair

and parrot-red trousers
is juggling three balls
as he walks down the street
smiling because he hasn’t
yet let one fall.

They are the special kind
which might tear but never
break, filled with little beans
that, if you held them, would
wear the shape of your palm.

This boy with parrot-blue hair
and parrot-red trousers

is comfy in his own skin
if that’s even still a thing.
He’s the epitome of it;
no-one can hurt him,
at least not with words.

He takes your insecurities
and tests them for firmness
in the twilight of his grip,
then tosses them into the air.
They make pleasing shapes.

Next week, if you see him,
he’ll be exactly the same
boy with parrot-blue hair
and parrot-red trousers
but you will have changed.

Natalie Scott is an internationally published poet and Creative Writing lecturer. Her latest award-winning collection Rare Birds – Voices of Holloway Prison, published by Valley Press on International Women’s Day, 2020, received ACE funding for a West End performance. www.nataliescottwriter.com @NatalieAnnScott

Olga – Kayleigh Campbell

Olga

was once about to walk down
the narrow, anticipating aisle.

She turned to her mother
who was attached to her arm
like an umbilical cord to a belly button:

Mother, this life is not for me.
………………………………………Well darling, let’s go!

So they left the betrothed
waiting at the alter as a life-size
cake decoration.

They left guests
whose bodies (it was later found out)
became pew-shaped.

They threw confetti
into the empty courtyard
and drank champagne from the bottle.

The latest news is that Olga is a painter
living in Barcelona. Her newest lover
is an oncologist named Maya.

Her mother is also in Barcelona.
The betrothed and the wedding guests
ended up in a museum.

Kayleigh Campbell is a third year Creative Writing Ph.D candidate at The University of Huddersfield. Her pamphlet Keepsake is with Maytree Press; her work has appeared in the likes of Butcher’s Dog and Ink, Sweat & Tears. 
@kayyyleighc – Twitter @poetrykayleigh – Instagram

Ministry Of Waiting – Neil Elder

Ministry Of Waiting

Of course there are no clocks, or windows,
that might allow guests to track time.
And these days only people over forty
wear a watch, and we’re less concerned
about them. Mobile devices?
We block network signals so that guests
can go unbothered by distractions.
The décor is always neutral;
if anyone asks, which they don’t,
we tell them the colour is August Wheat,
but you and I can see it’s beige.
A pastel shade here or there,
a couple of abstract pictures,
nothing too involving, nothing too fussy.
New arrivals are the most tricky to placate,
a lot of pacing often occurs,
they fret about why they are here,
and for how long; adjustment can take time,
but every guest comes round at some point:
notice how their bodies mould themselves
to the shape of the furniture.
Now, let’s leave this Department
to look at another Ministry;
Suffering is near-by, or perhaps
you’re interested in Broken Promises?
Truth be told it could be some time
before anyone is called from Waiting.

Neil’s collection, The Space Between Us, won the Cinnamon Press debut collection prize;  his Codes of Conduct won their pamphlet prize.  Also published: Being Present (2017),  And The House Watches On (2020). In 2021 Like This will be published by 4Word. Occasional Blog   https://neilelderpoetry.wordpress.com/ Twitter @Eldersville

Shelter – Padmini Krishnan

Shelter

You will find her in any secluded spot;
a dark corridor or
in the farthest corner 
of a bus stand. Her body
is a room for many men,
some cruel, some scornful,
but all tigers in their world,
leaving their mark
as she lies down,
her hand like
a sticky paper attached
to bones, her legs
clamped to the sheets
and her heart like a 
delicate worm
in its last throes

She lives to see the dawn’s tender
glow on the waiting earth,
a dewdrop trickling down
a tiny bud, chocolate bars
shared with her friends,
a printed dress with big flowers
and hope that her body
would be a shelter to
someone, not just another room.

Padmini Krishnan was raised in India and now resides in Singapore. She writes free verse poetry, haiku, and short stories. Her recent works have appeared in the Stardust Haiku, Ariel Chart, Mad Swirl, Page & Spine, and The Literary Yard. She blogs at www.call2read.com.

Diminished Responsibility – Niall M Oliver

Diminished Responsibility

So, you are saying, when your son is sleeping
his legs bunch up by his sides like those on a roast chicken,
and when you hold him to your cheek
the hairs on his head prickle like a kiwi fruit.
Furthermore, his breath has a hint of buttercream,
and his chin is always dripping wet
as if glazed in a coat of honey.

“That’s correct. I would also like to add
that his little toes have even begun
to smell of camembert cheese”.
And these are the reasons you felt compelled
to tell him that you could eat him up?
“Yes, I’m afraid so”. And when you carried him
to the kitchen, did the boy cry out?

“Yes, Your Honour, he did. Tenderly
like a spring lamb”.

Niall M Oliver lives in Ireland, and is the author of ‘My Boss’ by Hedgehog Poetry. His poems have featured in The Honest Ulsterman, Fly On The Wall Press, Ink Sweat & Tears, Black Bough Poetry and others.