The Swan Maiden – Stella Wulf

The Swan Maiden

I was reared in a cob and straw clutch
a plot hatched from a jaundiced yolk,
laid on the hollow of her dead belly,
or that’s what he told me.
‘No one wants an ugly duckling,’ he said.

Pinioned by his earthly needs,
I lumbered to his call. Night
after night, I let fly my bombilations,
a trumpeting lament, taken up
by the wind, threshing on a wing chord.

A dawning sun rises in my gorge,
sears the salt lakes of my eyes,
beats at my body’s cage.
My gut unravels – knots to a skein,
catching my breath in its mesh

as I lift from his battered chest,
a pellicle of white skin and down,
a pleated vane of coverts,
the earthy scent of summer rain,
pulsing a madness through my veins.

Slipping back into the stolen shift,
I open my wings, stretch out my neck,
taste the iron in the spreading pool,
observe my reflection in the slick.
‘See now, how fair I am?’

 

Stella’s poems have been published both in print and online magazines and appear in several anthologies including, The Very Best of 52, three drops from a cauldron, and the Clear Poetry Anthology.

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Imagining a Changed Place – Margaret Adkins

Imagining a Changed Place

If it’s me that ends up alone
at our breakfast table

I’ll still eat an apple, slowly baked
the night before, with honeyed

nuts in yogurt. But I’ll focus on the wren
outside, finding tiny fragrant

spiders tucked up in rosemary
blooms – and when she sings, I’ll watch

her nebule of breath
evaporate.

I will set your chair
far enough back – for you to fill it.

 

In 2017 Margaret Adkins’ poems featured in The Fat Damsel, Algebra of Owls and three anthologies: This Is Not Your Final Form (Emma Press) A Bee’s Breakfast (Beautiful Dragons Press) and Physic Garden (Palewell Press). She had a poem commended in the Welshpool Poetry Competition.

Salt – Cheryl Pearson

Salt

The deer steps slow like a creature
new to legs. I know that kind of care,
watch as she delicately lifts and settles
each stem of herself. I could pour
into her. Those stars on her back
are the freckles that rise – the dipper,
the bear – on my shoulder. And now,
see, as she stops by the lick of salt
I left at the fence: a slice of sea for her.
How she curls her tongue around
my world as I hold my breath in hers.

 

Cheryl Pearson lives in Manchester. Her poems have appeared in publications including The Guardian, Southword, Under The Radar, The High Window, and Poetry NorthWest. Her first full poetry collection, “Oysterlight”, was published by Pindrop Press in March 2017.

Prayer for Italian Restaurants – Daniel Bennett

Prayer for Italian Restaurants

What happens to the ancient bottles
of Chianti and Barbaresco
congealing into stalagmites of wax?
Where shall we congregate
after the blackboards are repainted
and red sauce rusts
on discarded whites?
These portals have greeted us
beyond that regular dream
of an indifferent city. Puttanesca,
pesto, focaccia, let us count
a well-seasoned Bolognese
as a universal welcome home.
Allow us inside the glass counters
lined with cheese and salami,
bedding beside plastic onions
tomatoes and parsley sprigs,
wrapped forever in tablecloths
of red oil cloth. In Soho,
Camden and Holloway, throughout
the subtle lanes of Highbury,
leave us to the easy choices
of our younger days,
when they waited around us,
regular as sonnets on our streets.

 

Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His poems have been widely published, most recently in The Best New British and Irish Poets 2017 from Eyewear Books. He’s also the author of the novel, All the Dogs.

The Worm Man of Dungeness – Dan Stathers

The Worm Man of Dungeness

He scatters boot-prints
across a soggy moon,
trudges his sled on blistered sands,
clouds curdle at his feet.

Nabbed from their burrows,
he lands the salty lugs,
coils them into shreds
of yesterday’s news;

all yellow tails,
fat middles
and a squeeze
of muddy innards.

Some sell fresh
to the cod man’s bucket,
others shanked through hooks
on seaside fronts,

neaping tides
to dupe
their drownless bodies.

 

Dan Stathers is a writer from South Devon who hasn’t given up on his first poetry collection.

Featured Publication – The House of Ghosts and Mirrors by Oz Hardwick

Our featured publication for October is The House of Ghosts and Mirrors by Oz Hardwick, published by Valley Press.

The book “Begins with an ending and keeps on subtly subverting our expectations on every page – glass houses, mermaids, a bloodshot moon, vampires on the staircase, the ‘indescribable’ breath of leaves. These are unsettling, memorable, subterranean poems that walk the line between dreams and waking, finding a language that nestles ‘somewhere / between science and sleight of hand’.” Helen Mort

“These rigorously considered, sturdily constructed, lyrically written poems contain sharp personal and social insights. They display a romantic maturity which resonates long after the book has been set aside.” Michael Moorcock

“These are poems that deal with the magical and mystical while firmly rooted in the detail of memory and history. Here are acutely drawn pictures of the ways we all manage, or fail to manage, our losses. Sad in the best way, tender and hopeful, these are poems in which we can all find ourselves.” Antony Dunn

 

Cover Final

 

Leaves

In that summer I discovered leaves,
explored their textures, drew in
their citrus, amber, indescribable
breath, like a lover sleeping close.

I clothed myself in leaves, weaving
too many shades to learn the names
of parent plants, dressed myself
in rippling green finer than light.

And I slept deep in leaves, nested
like a mouse, bird, snake,
the phoenix rising from burning leaves,
fire blazing behind summer eyes.

 

Afterparty

It was a big house, a lot of land,
and I couldn’t remember who’d invited me.
There were tyre tracks on the lawn and the carpet,
but the party was winding down, tangled
bodies on couches, on the landing,
in the flower beds, leaving just
a few of us, jittery with crystals and capsules.
Someone said Read us one of your poems
so I pulled out a couple of books and flipped
through dog-eared pages. But I didn’t recognise
any of the words, and my eyes blurred
over unfamiliar phrases, and there was
an awkward, jerky silence, until
someone said Look, are you a poet
or what? But by then my mouth was dry
as I licked my sour, powdered finger,
leafing frantically through hazy titles
I couldn’t focus on, everyone getting restless.
And all I could think of as the room spun sideways
was your smile as you’d left, hours earlier, your arm
resting lightly around someone else’s waist.

 

The Miracle of Flight

– for Harold Walker

As a child I always wanted to fly.
Air displays thrilled me,
promised a future of wings and winds
above the arc of the earth,
freedom from petty gravity.

In my grandparents’ room I studied
scrapbooks – you as a young man,
clear-eyed, looking to the sky
and to a future you never saw.

Too young to understand, I held your wings,
envied you the clouds, your easy confidence
in shaky crates, flying over a foreign landscape
I had yet to see, but would come to love.

I still have your photograph, your scorched diploma,
a letter from the palace. I think of you on this short hop
to Brussels that I almost take for granted – see
an open cockpit, a young man falling from the sky
like a comet to lie, unmarked, in Belgian soil.

Then I imagine you here, sitting beside me.
You tell how it felt to challenge the sky; the noise,
the adrenaline and cold air stealing
your breath, the broad grin
of knowing yourself alive.

We toast each other with complimentary beers,
share stories about your sister – my grandmother –
and then fall silent, both in the aerial moment
we dreamed of as boys, looking down
on the peaceful fields spread out below.

 

Ice

It’s something as simple as a January night,
hands deep in pockets, and wool
tight against your chin, echoes
of your steps marking years,
as your unthinking feet remember
shortcut lanes to old homes.

Then it’s over the bridge, barely a stride
across the beck, past the bland pub –
now boarded up – that you only visited
once, in that darkest of all winters,
with friends who gathered for the final time;
and you woke next day, surprised
by the perfect clarity of the morning and your mind.

And the ice winter air tastes
of a drunken New Year’s kiss
that never ended, and remains, still,
the most honest thing you ever did.

 

Previous publication credits for the poems are Visual Verse, Black Light Engine Room, The Book of Plans, Hopes and Dreams (Beautiful Dragons Press) and Reach Poetry, respectively. 

Oz Hardwick is a York-based writer, photographer, music journalist, and occasional
musician, whose work has been published and performed internationally in all manner of media. He is also Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the
Creative Writing programmes.
Website: www.ozhardwick.co.uk

The House of Ghosts and Mirrors (Valley Press, 2017), may be purchased from: http://www.valleypressuk.com/book/91/the_house_of_ghosts_and_mirrors

Medlars – Stephen Bone

Medlars

From the cupboard under your stairs
you pick one from its tray.
A sort of apple, open-ended,
on the turn.

Try, you urge, a spoon waved
like a hypnotist’s chain. Reluctantly,
a child braced for medicine I open up
to be fed a scoop of decay.

Good? You ask, moist rot melting
to the cusp of sweetness. I tremble a nod
as you slough off your snakeskin boots;
coil yourself into a chair.

 

Previously published in The Interpreter’s House

Stephen Bone’s work has appeared in various magazines
and anthologies in the U.K. and U.S. First collection ‘In The Cinema’
published by Playdead Press 2014. A pamphlet ‘Plainsong’ due from
Indigo Dreams Publishing 2017.

Somewhere a doorbell rings. – Finola Scott

Somewhere a doorbell rings.

A waspish drone cuts
my headphone cocoon.
Crisps pause on way to lips.

We regret the delay of this train.
A person has been struck on the line.

Not the wrong kind of leaves.
We glance at the hanging station clock,
resume Candy Crush, say nothing.

Hours later on yet another train
laughing beered-up lads roll into
their seats. The weekend’s begun.

 

Slam winning granny Finola Scott’s poems are published in The Ofi Press, Raum, The Lake, The Poets’ Republic, And Other Poems as well as many anthologies including Aiblins and Umbrellas of Edinburgh. Liz Lochead is currently her mentor on the Clydebuilt Scheme.

 

An allotment of minutes – Matt Nicholson

An allotment of minutes
 
There is a man here,
working a walled garden.
Turning soil,
he makes decisions about the weeds,
about what is fit for compost,
to grow better weeds next year.

He fights the kettle in his shed
and conjures unpotable tea,
he remarks upon you and me,
under rusting, screw-thread breath,
that we are the wasters of days,
trespassing on his hours.

The blister on his spade hand
is at that point in its journey
where it might harden to a callous
or burst like an angry star.
Pausing, he spits into his ringing palm,
rubbing filthy hands together.

By noon, when the birds sleep,
he has forgotten about us, watching.
He is lost in the version of the world
that he governs as best he can.
Executing febrile plans,
he makes allies of the elements.

His day, the old man working,
unlike ours, the wasters watching,
will end up with an aching back
and a tale of unused time.

 

Matt Nicholson is a poet from East Yorkshire…where the culture comes from…His collection “There and back to see how far it is” was published by King’s England Press in October 2016. (http://www.kingsengland.com/there-and-back-to-see-how-far-it-is-c2x21548033) Twitter:@MattPoetHull

Cottonmouth – Susan Castillo Street

Cottonmouth

Mama takes me fishing.
At dawn, we go out to the garden.
The earth is black, teeming,
full of purple worms.

We put them in a Mason jar,
set off in her two-tone Chevrolet.
On the radio, Hernando’s Hideaway
sings tunes of dark secluded places.

We drive through haunted woods,
sun filtering down through
trees dripping Spanish moss,
ghostly beards of lost grandees.

Then we reach the river.
The Mermentau is thick and brown.
Roiling currents whirl.  We take out
cane poles, bait our hooks, wait.

When fish strike, the shock of impact
ripples up my arm. We haul them in,
bream, perch, red snappers,
the occasional tough old gar.

Mama threads a line through gills,
puts the stringer in the water at our feet,
A thick coiled form rises up, primeval dragon.
Its mouth yawns nightmare white.

The cottonmouth strikes at the fish.
I run into the forest shrieking.
My mother beats the snake away,
laughs, pulls out our catch.

That night she cooks them for our dinner.
I look out into the dark, shiver.
What about the poison, Mama? I ask.
Nothing can hurt us, honey, she replies.

 

Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London.  She has published three collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade (Diehard Press, 2003), Abiding Chemistry,  (Aldrich Press, 2015), and Constellations (Three Drops Press, 2016), as well as several scholarly monographs and edited anthologies. Her poetry has appeared in Southern QuarterlyProleThe High WindowInk Sweat & TearsMessages in a BottleThe Missing SlateClear PoetryThree Drops from a CauldronFoliate OakThe Yellow Chair ReviewPoetry Shed, and other journals and anthologies.