Water’s edge – Jay Whittaker

Water’s edge

Every path has two lives:
one without you. Beyond furrowed fields
the farm’s spine leans against sky.

As talisman, I choose a twig
the length of my hand, every knot
and twist of bark alive with moss.

How much more I see in silence:
a seam of carmine leaves
tracing the contours of the bank;

the steel of a heron’s wing lifting
into air, as though it understood
being blown back on course.

 

Edinburgh-based Jay Whittaker’s debut poetry collection, Wristwatch, was published by Cinnamon Press in October 2017.  She writes about transition, resilience, grief, breast cancer, and LGBT+ lives (including her own). Her poems have been published in a wide range of magazines. www.jaywhittaker.uk

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Grace – Robert Nisbet

Grace
 
“There’s nothing more inspiring or – beautiful than
the sight of a mare and a new colt”
(Biff Loman, in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman)

And you, Biff Loman, right out there
on prairie, in open air, we all of us
see and share your moment’s grace. But we
who’ve taught in schools, a pasty-faced kind
of livelihood alongside your Texas ranch:
a tough guys’ register would rank us
pretty low. We are seen as indoor men.

And Biff, I notice too you hesitate,
you check before the simple beautiful.
Biff, in all those years I taught
in classrooms, nothing, nothing at all
(not learning outcomes, grades, initiatives)
was ever as inspiring or
………………………………………..beautiful
as the simple sight, in a Silent Reading class,
of a child, a pupil, twelve maybe, thirteen,
quite, quite absorbed in a book.
Witches, midnight gardens, winds in trees.
The page would turn, rustling (the child
unaware), so very, very slowly.

 

Previously published in Roundyhouse

Robert Nisbet is a poet from Pembrokeshire who does not see himself as unduly competitive, but who has recently won the Prole Pamphlet Competition. His entry, Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes, appeared last year from Prolebooks.

Oystercatchers – Jean Atkin

Oystercatchers

So, I squat down by his still-perfect stripes. Lift him, warm and limp
…………..and the vehicle has wrecked the other side of his head.
…………..Try not to look in his ruined eye.

A robin and a blackbird sing, a tractor grumbles half a mile
…………..away. Already I am in Wood Field, planning a shovel
…………..and thinking what words can take his place.

After school he’s stiff and fully gone. The children white
……………with shock, they’ve not yet seen the death
……………of something young. We stand in Wood Field round a grave.

The nights are drawing in, it’s getting late. I lay him good eye up.
…………..Their sobs stream on and on over the hills, and shudder
…………..off the trunks of trees. The distant village listens to their grief.

Up there the clouds are dark and racing. Here, we are in this day.
…………..For keeps, in all our heads, the sobbing and
…………..the oystercatchers whistling.

 

Jean Atkin has published ‘Not Lost Since Last Time’ (Oversteps Books) also pamphlets and a novel.   Her recent work appears in Magma, Agenda, Ambit, Envoi, The North, Earthlines and The Moth.  She works as a poet in education and community projects.  www.jeanatkin.com  @wordsparks

On having enough messages from the dead – Abegail Morley

On having enough messages from the dead

Your name is paperweighted to my tongue.
Each time I try to lift it, it bangs to the floor
of my mouth, heavy as a sandbag,
or an iron girder from that old advert.
Your name trundles on wheels, heavy
in its criss-crossing skids, but like a glass
memory is always reflecting something else.

I decide to pin your name to the notice board,
stick another to the fridge with a magnet,
to loosen you from me. This morning I find
they’ve slipped off, parachuted down
and are hissing on an unwashed floor ‒
paper sun-torn, unbearable to touch.
I watch ink vacate itself from the present,
silently bleeding as it disappears.

 

Abegail Morley’s recent collection is The Skin Diary (Nine Arches). Her debut, How to Pour Madness into a Teacup, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize. In the Curator’s Hands is new from IDP. She’s “One of the Five British Poets to Watch in 2017” (Huffington Post), blogs at The Poetry Shed and is co-editor of Against the Grain Poetry Press.

I used to think if I ate an apple core, a tree would grow in my belly – Stephen Daniels

I used to think if I ate an apple core, a tree would grow in my belly

Day 1
A pip nestles in my stomach,
finds a fertile space to settle.

Day 2
Sprouts appear,
show signs of growth.
I send down much needed water.

Day 5
It craves sunbeams
and other apple saplings –
at what point does it become a tree?
They say an apple tree can take 20 years to grow full size.

Day 274
I have these lines
and blemishes on my face.
Lemon trees can develop needing
only a little light. An apple tree cannot mature without
sunlight. My body obliges. As I fall asleep, I feel the bark forming.

Day 4,222
I can feel the branches
rustling around my lungs.
I coughed yesterday: a leaf appeared.
The roots irritate my knees; I woke this morning
and moved too quickly leaving a crick in my neck –
I could hear my twigs snapping. Appetite slows as more apples fruit.

Day 7,300
My skin feels thicker,
rougher. Teenagers often visit,
spend their afternoons kissing under
my cover, carve their initials into my torso
before they depart. My head feels hazy, I struggle
to peer through the blossom in my eyes. I will keep them
closed today. They say apple trees can live for over 100 years – 36,500 days.

 

Stephen Daniels is editor of Amaryllis Poetry. His poetry is published in numerous magazines and websites. His debut pamphlet ‘Tell mistakes I love them’ (V. Press) was published in 2017, his second pamphlet will be published in 2018 (Paper Swans Press).www.stephenkirkdaniels.com

Nightwalk (Moped Emptiness*) – Chris Hemingway

Nightwalk (Moped Emptiness*)

The Honda C90 is not an iconic machine
at the best of times.
And when the engine splutters out
at midnight,
it’s not the best of times.

For reasons of personal safety,
this has to be a pavement trip,
to wheel it back to Manchester
before dawn.

Skirting Altrincham,
it’s 1985,
streetlights are low priority.
Past Manchester Airport,
where automorphic grounded planes
give Disneyesque smiles of encouragement.

In Wythenshawe,
telepathic youths flicker in the shadows,
assessing the scrap value of man and machine.

“Smiths fan, leave him, he’s not worth it…”
they mutter.

I pass a sign welcoming me to Gatley,
my 12th suburb,
this could have been
the world’s most downbeat calendar.

Now I’m home, and it’s 6 a.m.
An hour later, set off for work,
relieved, for once,
that there’s no water cooler,
and very few moments.

 

*from “Motorcycle Emptiness”- Manic Street Preachers

Chris Hemingway is a poetry and prose writer from Cheltenham.  He has a pamphlet “Party in the Diaryhouse” to be published by Picaroon in April 2018, and has previously self-published two collections (“Cigarettes and Daffodils” and “The Future”) through lulu.com.  He has read at Cheltenham Poetry and Literature Festivals, and co-runs the Squiffy Gnu Poetry Prompt blog and Facebook Group.

First Date at the Natural History Museum – Alice Allen

First Date at the Natural History Museum

We give the animals voices
make a handbag of the pangolin,
comment how The Walrus
on its polystyrene ice
peers down at us like Pavarotti.

All afternoon we laugh at similitudes,
cannot stop ourselves seeing
not what the animals are,
but what they are like

and later, on the station platform
are silenced by what we see:

two seagulls, delicate, trembling,
one treading air above the other.

 

 

Alice Allen’s poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies including most
recently, The Moth and Envoi. In 2014 she won the Flambard Poetry Prize. Alice is a
poetry reviewer for Sabotage and a writing mentor at The Ministry of Stories.

The truth about cats and courgettes – Hannah Stone

The truth about cats and courgettes

My cat spurns laps and hearths,
shuns stroking;
wefts her tail with sluts’ wool
under the spare bed.
Spine retreats into corrugated peaks.

I do not speak of these signs
when I call my mother.
In turn, she neglects to mention
that the vegetables I left prepared in her fridge
last month are slime in the salad drawer.

We exchange scripted comments,
about meals to be enjoyed
and the companionship of cats.
Like her hand, holding the phone to her ‘good’ ear,
mine now has freckles which outstay the summer.

 

Hannah Stone co-edits the poetry ezine Algebra of Owls and convenes the poets/composers forum for Leeds Lieder Festival. Her first collection, Lodestone, was published by Stairwell Books in 2016 and Missing Miles by Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2017.

Featured Publication – How To Parallel Park by James Davey

Our featured publication for April is How To Parallel Park by James Davey, published by V. Press.

Stark, poised, precisely observed, James Davey’s poetry well demonstrates how much more emotion is conveyed the greater the restraint. The poems also exhibit an impressive musicality, from the lilting to the percussive. Each poem rewards rereading.” Carrie Etter”

These poems by James Davey are vivid, articulate and entertaining. They evoke the peculiar intensity of childhood fears, the angst of adolescence, the tremors of first loves. Davey has a gift for clear-eyed dramatic presentation, as well as an often-humorous take on human condition and a true empathy for the various characters he comes across, be they ‘pyroman’ a down-and-out who accumulates trash to burn, the terrified child taken on a hunting trip, or the lover discovering the ‘colours’ of a girlfriend. This is a promising and well-wrought debut.” Amy Wack

Davey’s work is confident, crafted, elegant in its simplicity. The poems are full of moments of recognition for the reader, subtle emotive power balancing understated humour. I trust him to show me something worth seeing with no fluff around the substance.” Anna Freeman

HTPP

 

Pyroman

We often see him through the playground railings,
arms loaded with odds and ends rescued from scrap heaps

and rubbish tips: a floral lampshade, three-legged chair,
and hanging round his neck, pairs of tatty trainers

tied together by their laces. He shuffles past in his grubby mac,
a scabby dog yapping round his ankles

and we rush to taunt him – Filcher! Filcher!
but never cause a flicker

in his thousand-yard stare.
Sometimes we see him through our classroom windows

and stand on our chairs for a better look
at what he’s salvaged, each time his treasures more bizarre.

One day he stutters past dragging a soiled mattress,
the next carrying a child’s plastic kite.

On a tinder-dry morning in July, a pillar of black smoke
rolls above his rooftop across the street.

The playground freezes – our heads back, mouths wide open,
the smell of burning plastic heaving toward us,

the crack and burst of flames merging with the long high
whine of sirens in the distance.

Six months later I pass him on the street, his soot-grimed face
aglow, carrying a wooden crate, a cricket bat, a headless doll.

 

When You Want it 
Late night alcohol and cigarettes…when you want it

Perform a U-turn when possible, says the woman
in my sat-nav – I call her Jane.
So I swing across the road
in one practised motion,
the sweep of my headlights
igniting the fine rain needling the pavement.
Bottles of Cab-sav, cans of Carlsberg,
and a kaleidoscope of Alcopops
rattle in the boot of my Fiat Panda
as Jane directs me to my next customer.
Drive three hundred yards, then turn left.
Only the restless and the homeless
wander the streets at this hour.
A girl collecting cardboard boxes outside Asda,
plastic bags wrapped around her shoes,
pulls up her hood and takes a swig
from a plastic bottle as I drive past.
At the next roundabout, take the second exit,
says Jane – and as she speaks
she appears in the passenger seat,
plump with her third child,
her hair cut shorter than normally – it suits.
She tells me the latest on the children
and her husband, Derek, an accountant
with a confident moustache,
describes their new house in Hampstead
with a gravel driveway and bay windows.
The baby is kicking; last week their cat
burned its tail in the toaster.
I can smell her perfume, citrus bloom.
The hairs rise on my arm.
In two hundred yards, turn right, she says.
You have reached your destination.
I pull into an unlit cul-de- sac,
park between a wheel-less car
propped up by four small pillars of bricks
and a soiled mattress dumped by a fence.
A slice of light splits the darkness
as someone inches open their front door.
A sallow face peeks out from behind the chain.
I’m waved forward.
Perform a U-turn when possible, says Jane.

 

How to Parallel Park

My instructor takes me to a country lane
to practise my parallel parking.

I slip the stick into reverse and start backing up
into a gap between two parked cars.

I take it steady, work my clutch control.
I rotate the wheel clockwise through both hands.

I check my mirrors. Listen to the engine’s rev
ticking over nicely.

I draw even with the rear of the first parked car
(a red Clio with a nodding dog on its dash)

notice a bare foot pressed against its window;
a bare arse bobbing up and down –

a muffled chorus of love-moans bluing the air.
My instructor insists we abandon the manoeuvre.

I restart my stalled engine. I pull away nice and slow,
making sure to check my mirrors.

 

Previous publication credits are The Interpreter’s House, New Walk and The Echo Room, respectively. 

James Davey grew up in Bristol and currently lectures in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Before returning to the U.K. in 2014, he spent three years working in Catania, Sicily, as an English-language teacher. His poetry has previously appeared in journals including Poetry Wales, New Welsh Reader, Stand, The Warwick Review, Ambit, New Walk, Agenda, and The Interpreter’s House. How to Parallel Park is his debut poetry pamphlet.

How To Parallel Park is available to buy from the V. Press website, here.