New Trees – Ian Glass

New Trees

There were other trees on this street,
then one day stumps
and the next just patches of tarmac.

They were the wrong sort of trees.

Their roots flexed like toes in sand
and cracked the pavement.

Their branches stretched wide like daybreak
and threatened the road.

Their leaves danced shadows over shopfronts
and could not be controlled.

Now we have the right sort of trees.

They stand obedient in solitary planters,
opposite Poundland, their branches cut
into economical cubes.

 

Ian lives in Worcestershire where he works as a programmer while studying for an MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University. Ian’s first pamphlet ‘About Leaving’ was published by V. Press in November 2019.

Omaha – David Calcutt

Omaha

I walked the length
of Omaha Beach
where the killing took place

there were old men
in baseball caps smiling
in front of the monument

a woman crouching
at the sea’s edge
pressing her hand
into the wet sand

a man who sat cross-
legged on a stone
eyes closed, palms out
in meditation or prayer

as I walked on past
the lines of sea-blackened
wooden piles

sticking up out of the sand

sandpipers skittered
across the beach
and the grey waves
foamed and broke
on the rocks

it was a day of wind
and sunlight
and shadows that flickered
along the sidelines

and up on the terrace café
my dead son
was sitting at a table
eating and drinking
and having a good time

and beyond him
the dark blue line
of the horizon
ran straight and clean
and was empty of ships.

David Calcutt is a playwright, poet and fiction writer. Many of his original plays and
adaptations have been broadcast on BBC radio, and his plays for theatre have been performed in both professional and community settings. Several of his plays for young people are published by Oxford University Press, as are three of his four novels for young people. His poetry appears widely in print and online magazines, and he is the author of four poetry collections.

 

Christmas Voices – Nicky Phillips

Christmas Voices

I hope the carol singers come back tonight,
with pure songs, tales of joy, family, inclusion.
Their voices are so much sweeter than Tom’s,
the strong one in my head that tries to control me.

My parents spoke to me, they’re away for Christmas,
I must stand on my own two feet. Sam, our spaniel,
helps calm me, but when I wanted to call round,
they told me they’re packing, taking him to kennels.

Tom’s always here, never stops talking, wakes me
by shouting, tells me what to do, says I’m worthless,
a burden, no use to anyone. I turn on Christmas radio,
watch films on TV; they help, a little, sometimes.

Even the doctor can’t see me till January.
And the team aren’t available over the holiday.
Perhaps they would all be better off without me.
I do hope the carol singers come back tonight.

 

Nicky Phillips lives in Hertfordshire. Her poems have been published in magazines
and online. In 2017 one was nominated for Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Her
pamphlet Jam in Aisle 3 was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2018.

Remembering Eggshells – Sarah James

Remembering Eggshells

Every year with my son’s birthday cake,
I relive hours of pushing, the rush to cut
me open. My boy alive but in neonatal care,
with nasal drip and encased in plastic.

The years too since Mum’s diagnosis.
She could only hold him later,
after her radiotherapy; her head
dressed up like a cosied teapot.

Her baldness was softened by baby fuzz
as his hair grew free of fluffy chickness.
We watch together as he blows out
his fifteen candles. He’s taller than us now,

but I still feel the eggshell thinness
of both their bared scalps.

 

Sarah James/Leavesley is a poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Her recent titles How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Poetry Press) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press) were both shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Awards. Her website is at http://sarah-james.co.uk.

Featured Publication – Going in with flowers by Avril Joy

Our featured publication for December is Going in with flowers by Avril Joy, published by Linen Press.

‘The women of Low Newton live in me. They are written here, in these poems. Every time a poem is read, their voices are heard, and the voices of women in prison everywhere.’

A collection of poetry and prose which chronicles the hidden lives of women locked behind bars – the deadening routines broken by dramas and crises, friendships and conflicts, hopes and fears. Based on twenty-five years working in HMP Low Newton, County Durham, Avril Joy writes of the going in through gates to meet darkness and pain as well as laughter and love. Her words echo the women’s voices with authenticity, compassion and humour and transform them into poems written with breathtaking originality.

‘Poetry is a natural place to express the most intense feelings. But for it to work it has to be more than just expression; it has to be transformational. Avril’s poems have that quality. Skomm is an absolutely shattering poem and it’s not going to leave me.’ Clare Shaw

cover GIWF

 

Skomm

The girl with the goose on her head sits by the window in the corner of the
classroom,
there are others with her – among them her sister – their geese barely a wing
less visible.
The weight of goose swells the air, the room is ripe with the scent of goose shit.
I put down my bag, take off my scarf and coat and wonder about the snow
covering the road. Outside the wind is up and the yard is frosting over.
Better make a start, I say. They pick up pens, open books. The girl with the goose
on her head declines to write, says she cannot concentrate
for the load, the poundage, her shortened neck, compacted spine,
for centuries of carrying: scamu, skomm, shame, the bird force fed, gavage-pipe
in the oesophagus, on its back, legs splayed, neck craned, half-buried in its chest
the words whispered in a father’s bed.
She says she cannot stop thinking, None of us can Miss, the nights are the worst,
corralled, wings beating, they leave their bodies, fly up in a blizzard,
a captive murmuration.
Jesus, look at the snow. Will you get home alright Miss? What about the kids?
I look out at the fattening flakes, the absent ground. I taste the goose,
all twenty pounds of it, sweat and stink.
Snow falls on my tongue the lightest it’s been.
I’ll get home alright, I say, now close your books. What will it be?
A story, say the girls with geese, and they fold their arms, lay down their heads.

Skomm won the York Mix Lit Fest competition

 

The Karaoke Queen’s survival kit

lived in the stationery cupboard,
back office of the education block
in a plastic crowned H.M.P. bag
smelling of old roses and cheap perfumes.

Your cosmetic lucky dip,
our remnant offerings: foundations, eye shadows,
mascaras and blushers, glosses and lipsticks,
oh, those lipsticks – your street walking,
pay for your wrap, keep the pimp off your back,
red.

Your cock sucking, lip syncing, Amy Winehouse
sing like a demon, I told you I was trouble,
you know that I’m no good,
pink.

Morning movement over
classroom doors pulled to
you crossed the central area
like a child alone in the playground
and mouthed at the office window
Can I? Can I Miss?

Previously published in Snakeskin

 

Stone Dress
Any imposition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture.
Juan E. Méndez, United Nations

Her body is covered with a skin as hard as rock
they sometimes call her Stone-Dress.

The sharp finger of her right hand is spear, the knife
she uses to dissect herself.

They keep her behind doors in the petrified forest
of the inhuman, unfit,

left to rot, thin mattress on a concrete platform
steel toilet, colourless brick.

They keep her in Deep Custody, but for an hour
or less a day in the yard

high-wired and featureless, a rhomboid sky.
Out here her weapon leaves no scar,

out here she builds bridges in air, mountain
pansies bloom in the small cleft of her, clinging

like alpines to rock. Her dress folds to spindrift.
If she could, she would lie on her back and hum

at the hidden stars. Five years she has lived like this,
Stone Dress, scaring the birds from the forest.

 

Before becoming a full-time writer, Avril Joy worked for twenty-five years in Low
Newton women’s prison in County Durham. Her short fiction has appeared in literary
magazines and anthologies, including Victoria Hislop’s, The Story: Love, Loss & the
Lives of Women. Her work has been shortlisted in competitions including, the
Bridport, the Manchester Prize for Fiction and The Raymond Carver Short Story Prize.
In 2012 her story, Millie and Bird, won the inaugural Costa Short Story Award.
Her novel, Sometimes a River Song, published by Linen Press, won the 2017 People’s
Book Prize for outstanding achievement. Her poetry has appeared both in print and online. In 2019 her poem Skomm won the York Literary Festival poetry competition.
Avril lives with her partner near Bishop Auckland, in County Durham and posts
regularly at http://www.avriljoy.com
Going in with flowers is available for purchase from the Linen Press website.

Excavation – Ian Stuart

Excavation

Curled on her side,
freed from the weight of earth,
her skull a creamy eggshell.
Ribs cage nothing, for the bird has flown
this eighteen hundred years and more.

I’m sorry that they dug her up,
picking at her bones
with toothbrushes, gushing into microphones.

Better to have left her,
snug in the packed dark, unknown
but suspected.
She could have whispered then,
hatched her thoughts within our skulls.

Bones are too explicit in the sunlight,
too easily explained. Leave her now.
Fill the pit.

 

Ian Stuart is a writer/storyteller in York, where he has lived for twenty years. His poetry has been published by Pennine Platform, Sarasvarti ,Mycor and Selwith Station. He had a collection  “Quantum Theory for Cats” published by Valley Press. https://oddlinessinspades.wordpress.com

Trying out suits – DS Maolalai

Trying out suits

I feel like a scarecrow –
everything flaps. fabric
slaps my bones,
falling like sails
on a mast in no wind.
I try one – try another.
the store is lit
very distastefully
and this is a decision
which I don’t want
to make. I want to get
this right.
I try one
in pure black –
it’s too black.
try gray
and it’s not
black enough.

 

DS Maolalai has been nominated for Best of the Net and for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, “Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden” (Encircle Press) and “Sad Havoc Among the Birds” (Turas Press)

 

 

 

Au’um – Ross Wilson

Au’um

I pointed to leaves
scattered in the gutter,
and branches in the trees
they’d fallen from.
In autumn, I said,
leaves turn golden
and are shed
like feathers in a breeze
whipped-up by wings
beating into flight.
I didn’t mention nights
drawing in. Or time
flying. I kept it light
as the leaf lifted from
the gutter in your palm,
as you uttered, au’um.

 

Ross Wilson works full time as an Auxiliary Nurse in Glasgow. His first full collection was published by Smokestack Books in 2018. His poems have appeared in The Dark Horse, The Honest Ulsterman, Edinburgh Review, and other publications.

Three Minute Burrito – Nicola Heaney

Three Minute Burrito

He’s lost the run of himself again,
gone somewhere we can’t follow.
There’s a flint grey in his unkempt beard
that glitters in his eyes
as if he’s hardened to stone.

The first time, it was a shock, but now
I spring into action. I know what to do.
Or at least I thought I did,
but this time, there’s no chink of light –
I’ve lost sight of him in the fortress of his mind.

I’d help, if he’d open the door
to let me in – the image of him alone
in his bare flat with the door broken
down by the men I called to retrieve him
drips on the back of my skull.

Between calls to the police and crisis team,
hand poised over my phone waiting for news
that he’s safe, I find time to eat,
wolfing the burrito down in three minutes,
resenting him for dragging me away

from the earthiness of the black beans
and the tanginess of the salsa verde
as I rush back to him, guilt
rising with the acid in my throat.

 

Nicola Heaney’s poetry has appeared in The North, Honest Ulsterman and Riggwelter Press. Originally from Northern Ireland but now living in the West Country (via Scotland and Spain), Nicola has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University

Circus Girls – Jennie Farley

Circus Girls

I’m sitting at the top of the fire escape
in my pyjamas, thinking it’d be fun
to abseil down. With Pamela.
Pamela is Head Girl. I adore her thighs!
As she gallops along the hockey pitch
something inside me fizzes
like a Roman candle.

We will tie ourselves together
with dressing gown cords,
rope them to the topmost step.
Clasping each other’s waists
we’ll glide down through watching stars
and land in the middle of the Big Top
at one crack of the Ringmaster’s whip.

 

Jennie Farley is a published poet, workshop leader and teacher living in Cheltenham.
Her work has featured in magazines including Prole, Under the Radar, The Interpreter’s House, and been performed at festivals.  Her first collection was Her Grandmother Skating(Indigo Dreams Publishing 2016) followed by Hex (IDP 2018). She is working on a short pamphlet The Gymslip Girls.