The days before bilingual – Zannah Kearns

The days before bilingual

I send my daughter into a room
where no one
speaks her language—
or rather she
doesn’t theirs.

Small and rigid,
she contains herself,
shrinks her fear to a furred stone,
the pit of a peach newly at her centre.

They try to be kind,
but how to play mummies & daddies
without darling or apple?

She stands at an easel,
sweeps the arcs of rainbows
until it’s time again to sit
and have words swirl around her
like paint brushes in a jar of water.

Walking home, she screams—
and I see the relief of all her day’s words

The second day,
she imagines a sparrow to fly with us to school.
In biro, I draw a heart on her palm.
She walks inside,
my heart in her hand,
a sparrow flying with her.

Zannah Kearns lives near Reading. Her poems can be found in Poetry Birmingham Journal, Under the Radar and Ink, Sweat & Tears. She reviews pamphlets for Sphinx. @zannahkearns

The Embalmer – Stella Wulf

The Embalmer

It’s a dead end job, they delight in telling me.
I laugh, pretend it’s the first time I’ve heard it,
but it’s an inescapable paradox,
the dead are my living.

We don’t choose life; like death it chooses us,
and when it does they say, that’s life,
I hope they had a good innings?
I don’t speak of the knocked-down child,
the beaten wife, the broken boy,
all the lost beginnings.

I’m charged with their afterlife
the slow letting of their being. The body
washed clean of pain and rigour,
I preserve their essence, infuse them
with solicitude. It’s an undertaking of love.

There is beauty in death, it’s an arrangement
that goes with the living. I resurrect
the warm flush of life to death’s pallor,
apply the illusion of sleep, the merest ghost
of a dream, the pathos of a long goodbye.

And when I step outside to meet with life
in all it’s throb and colour, its eternal impulse
and revolution, its magnificent insignificance,
death holds my hand.

Stella has a deep love of the natural world and a passion for politics, and the human condition—themes that she explores in her poetry. She is co-editor of 4Word Press. Her first pamphlet, After Eden, was published in

These Questions Blow, Like Leaves from a Tree – Chris Hemingway

These Questions Blow, Like Leaves from a Tree

Do birds all sleep in forgotten motels?
What is the capital of the heart?
What’s the worst new thing that could happen?

Have the lights changed again?
Which of these seats was taken?
Is this the best you can do?

When were you last in Rome anyway?
Could it be forever?
Shall I call the Hudsons again?

If a man walks the streets nodding and muttering,
does he have imaginary acquaintances?

If we took all these pictures at night
would we think any less of ourselves?

Chris Hemingway is a poet and songwriter from Gloucestershire.  His first pamphlet “Party in the Diaryhouse” was published by Picaroon Poetry in 2018, and he has also produced three self-published collections., Twitter @chemingway586

Straw Roses – Jennie Farley

Straw Roses

She was left on her Auntie’s doorstep
in a straw basket trimmed with roses,
a knitted baby bonnet on her head,
earflaps striped pin and yellow.

She knows this because her Auntie
told her. She heard them say that
she was backward. Does this mean
back-to-front, or front-to-back?

At evening time she listens
as trains whistle. Small engines
shunt among the pecking chickens
and old apple trees. In the pig shed

she kneels and says a prayer to Old Spot.
She hears her Auntie calling her.
Strawberry juice runs over her chin.
The signal-board goes up. Then down.

Jennie Farley is a published poet, workshop leader and teacher living in Cheltenham.
Her work has featured in many magazines and been performed at festivals. Her first
collection was Her Grandmother Skating (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2016) followed by
Hex (IDP 2018). She founded and runs NewBohemians@CharltonKings an arts club
providing poetry, performance, music throughout the year.

Tombstones – Nicholas McGaughey


Easter Sundays we’d go with flowers
to visit people I’d never talked to.
It was a ritual, like cleaning windows:
remembering the dead. At Cadle,

Gran didn’t spend long with her mother;
a cursory swish of the marble,
a spray of daffs in a jam jar.
No words. No looking back.

At Caersalem, Grampa’s parents lay
overgrown with sally rhubarb
thrusting through the sandstone
like Japanese pipe-work. Here,

we hacked a manger ‘round the slab
of their little lives, and read-out the words
carved in Welsh, with more love than all
the tidied quiet on the good side of town.

Nicholas has new work forthcoming in Scintilla 23 and The Atlanta Review. He has had work recently in Popshot/Prole/Poetry Salzburg/Acumen/Marble/Poetry Scotland and “Poems About Running” (Smith/Doorstop.

Dusk to Dawn – Fiona McPhillips

Dusk to Dawn

As the evening burns
to dusk, its glowing embers
flushed across the sky,

we fill our bellies with
sharp wine and bitter words
spill into the scorched air

between us. Lines are drawn,
guy ropes taut with blame,
designed to trip us in the

silence. Words are written on
the body, red welts under
eyes, shoulders slumped in

shades of pink and orange,
descending into darkness.
In the moon’s quiet presence,

just a canvas width away,
our son’s breath rises
and falls, the before and

after, blood red sky and
silver shards of night that
scatter in the glint of dawn.

Fiona McPhillips is a journalist and author of two books. Her work has appeared in The Honest Ulsterman, The Galway Review, Litro, Brilliant Flash Fiction and other publications. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Dublin City University. You can find her at @fionamcp

The church’s oak creaks into a silence – Simon Maddrell

The church’s oak creaks into a silence

the green carnation sea already pink
a mother’s blood carries a ship of griefs
leaking as it drifts on a stained aisle carpet
speckled with stained glass sun.

The organ plays its satanic hymn
self-appointed saints jostle in choral pews
wooden faith echoes in an empty tower
dirty water churns in an empty font.

The eulogy spills over a row of logs unseen
weeping on dark suits & rose-printed tissues
as if I care about badly drawn ties
& pinholes where poppies never die.

The orphan’s cup swilled with bitter almonds
brown-fringed lilies held on a broken swing.

Simon Maddrell a queer born Manxman, thriving with HIV. Brought up in Bolton, Lancashire he recently moved to Brighton & Hove after 20 years in London. His debut chapbook, Throat Bone, published by UnCollected Press (June 2020).

Featured Publication – Letters to Rosie by Ross Wilson

Our featured publication for September is Letters to Rosie by Ross Wilson, published by Tapsalteerie.

‘In the winning simplicity of these recent poems, Ross Wilson charts all the freshness,
exhilaration and imaginative extension of first fatherhood in tones as clear as the new
consciousness of his baby daughter. In its unabashed humanity this pamphlet marks a
bright addition to his more politically engaged work; irrevocably changed by the birth of
his child, he strikes a note here as full of hope and potential as a thrush’s song on an April
Gerry Cambridge

Letters to Rosie is a beautiful thing, a joy of a pamphlet. It chronicles Rosie’s growth
from first scan to toddler, mirroring in words the string of images hung on the wall by her mum. With their spare, contained language and acute observation, these poems are both funny and poignant… they gleam with light and tenderness, but there is never a scrap of sentimentality. Such acute observation is surely the very essence, always, at the heart of love. Letters to Rosie is a must-read, a gift of a book.
’ Sheila Templeton

In Letters to Rosie, Ross Wilson has written a compelling celebratory record of the first
two years of his daughter’s life. Bridging time, generations and place, these intimate,
joyful and loving letters are poems full of wonder and light
.’ Gerry Loose

Birthday, 20th September


In eight days I’ll be thirty nine.
Two hours ago, you were born.
Rosy face scrunched in a girn,
tea cosy hat keeping you warm.

Soothed by your Mum’s sweet tone,
your tiny fist curled my thumb;
our pulses ticked in time.
Clock hands caught the moment –

seven minutes past midnight,
seven pounds in my arms.
A birthday bundle delivered early.
Premature but perfect in every way.

For Rosie

How could you not have been here?
Smiling, giggling in your chair.
Seven months old, wee hand
thumping your table with pleasure
like a man slapping his thigh
in a comedy club, mouth-full of laughter.

Daddy plays the fool for Rosie,
a jester in the court of Her Cuteness,
jumping, hopping, pulling faces;
making the rattling caterpillar go
up high in falsetto,
down low in baritone.

Your eyes follow my movements.
Your ears pick up my shifts in tone.
A year ago the space you’re in
was empty and I, almost forty,
had no memories of you at all.
Now they go into me fast as you grow

into the space you make
in home and head.
And all I can think of is
how could you not have been here?
From nowhere to this chair into air
as I lift you, into my arms.


You’d haul yourself up
on my leather foot-stool
and sway, thumping
a chubby fist like a gavel,
erupting baby babble.

The stools slanted angle
made an ideal lectern
for a mini-preacher
pontificating in her pulpit.
Fluffy toys along the couch

were your assembly.
With no words to say
you preached word-sounds,
a-ga! a-da! da-da-da!
in a sermon on pure joy.

Ross Wilson comes from Kelty in West Fife and works full-time as an auxiliary nurse. The recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Clydebuilt Apprenticeship, his book Line Drawing was shortlisted for the 2019 Saltire Society Poetry Book of the Year award. Letters to Rosie is his third poetry collection.

Letters to Rosie is available to purchase from the Tapsalteerie website.

Why Not? – Tessa Foley

Why Not?

Why not be your biro?
And be held between your dryish fingers
On a Tuesday, on the train
When you do your quickest thoughts
Over clues in black and white,
Be rattled on your teeth,
Sit on your diary, on your desk and
Wait for you to use me.

Why not be your fancy shirt?
And be fluttering against your chest expensively,
When you are feeling great at dinner till
You spill black, vein wine on my stitches,
And swipe at me but leave a mark,
Be thrown in to the dark, hanging
Till you’re too fat
To take me out.

Why not be your holiday?
The space that you lie down in,
Be the time that you exhale on windows
With pretty scenes beyond,
When everything goes fast and messy,
Be the place you laugh and sleep the most,
Or the place you wish you hadn’t come,
The plane you missed to Gatwick.

Why not be your wedding ring?
Slide up and off your hand
When it’s time to soap the bowls,
Call out in a cinema when the movie light
Bounces off you and your popcorn,
Be dumped off the bridge over the creek
And dwindle to the silt
When you can’t stand the sight of me.

Why not be your sorry?
The thing that appears when you are weak
And tired and when your skin is bad,
The thing you feel deep in your lap
But can’t quite put your lips to,
I’d make you a torch of embarrassment
And strap you to a lifetime,
Of looking like a fool.


Tessa Foley is a writer whose work has been featured in Agenda and the Fredericksburg Literary Art Review and been recognised in several competitions such as the Verve Poetry Competition and the Bristol Poetry Prize. Her debut poetry collection ‘Chalet Between Thick Ears’ was published and launched by Live Canon in November 2018

To all of us – Karen Hodgson Pryce

To all of us

what if one night
my brothers and sisters, each
being miles apart, got up
took a mug, heated milk
in that same moment, thinking
of the others

what if one night, each
stood barefoot in a kitchen
a mug in our hands
a clock behind us, blinking

what if we thought of all the things
that had happened
in all the kitchens
in all the rooms
and from our mugs of milk
we drank
to all of us


Karen Hodgson Pryce lives in Aviemore, Scotland. Her poetry is in LighthouseNorthwords NowBlack Bough PoetryThe Poets’ RepublicButcher’s Dog and Ink, Sweat & Tears. She won 3rd Prize in the Café Writers Open Poetry Competition, 2019.