I’ve never told anyone this, but – Beth McDonough

I’ve never told anyone this, but

he was the dragon that no-one believed in,
ensconced on his too-grey rock.
Quite huge, in a gap of mazed whins,
doing his blinkless, very lizard thing. At me.

I was seven when we stopped, somewhere
in Dumfriesshire I think, coming home
from a Lake District stay. A picnic spot,
time for wander alone. Perhaps a pee.

He was the fat lizard who should never have been.
Escapee dragon, or mythical reptile, but
not your average, just over the border beast.
That’s a lamb. Or a shy adder maybe.

He was the dragon that no-one believes in,
because when you’re seven you have sense.
You wash your hands, go back to the car,
tell no-one of all the great dragons you’ve seen.

Beth McDonough’s work is often Tay-centric. She swims there, year round, and forages nearby. Her poetry is in numerous places; she reviews in DURA. In Handfast (with Ruth Aylett) she explored autism. Lamping for pickled fish is published by 4Word.

Burned – Bill Richardson


i.m. Seán

You always were the one to make the most of things.
You set your wit to work on little tales of village life:
the way the postman knew the form
of every greyhound sent to race in Harold’s Cross,
the local pair who kept a hundred cats,
the puzzle of a tarpaulin-covered car never unparked behind the ancient pub.
When you told tales, our hearts warmed to them,
until the last occasion you regaled us, supine in the public ward.

With all your small-town lore and all that faith,
we never thought you’d choose the path of being burned –
but then news came that you had signed up for cremation.
Puzzled looks passed between us, our certainty about your zeal
for Catholic tradition was upended – and with it went
the seeming-solid knowledge of ourselves.

Bill Richardson lives in Galway, Ireland, where he is Emeritus Professor in Spanish at the National University of Ireland Galway. Poems of his have been published in Irish newspapers, Galway ReviewStony Thursday Book and the Fish Anthology 2020.

Explorers, Antarctica, 1901 – Pam Thompson

Explorers, Antarctica, 1901

The leader sits on the sledge.
He never does this.
It’s against the rules of the expedition
but now there are no rules.

Two huskies – the two
remaining huskies, they ate the rest –
sit either side like imperial lions.

The ship is stuck in frozen waves.
The crew are starving or dead
but this photo will be evidence
that they reached their destination.

The photographer in the black hood.
Stepping back. Pulling the cord. The flash.

Pam Thompson is a writer and lecturer based in Leicester. Her publications include The Japan Quiz ( Redbeck Press, 2009) and Show Date and Time (Smith | Doorstop, 2006) and Strange Fashion (Pindrop Press, 2017). She is a 2019 Hawthornden Fellow.

Night Feed with Summer Solstice – Luke Palmer

Night Feed with Summer Solstice

Are they different, the winter’s children?
Held tighter in the diurnal maw? Light
stirred less thick in the blood?

Two hours across the squandering dawn
I’ve tricked this ounce of milk to the small cave
in the pebble of your gut, and what luck
the day we’re growing into

― the peach of it, the dove coo’d size of the thing
rearing up improbable as a giraffe’s head
all eyes and wide cheeked in her stall.

and somewhere else night falls
on the other side of the year. Our days
lessen while theirs unfrond.
Things tip inevitably back to the centre

this room, the hour. Awake
my long breath in your ear calms you.
Yours is hot and short in mine.

Luke Palmer’s debut pamphlet, Spring in the Hospital, won the Prole Pamphlet Competition in 2018. He won third prize in the Winchester Poetry Competition this year, and his debut YA novel, Grow (Firefly Press), will arrive in July 2021.

The Big Sleep – Matt Pitt

The Big Sleep

Everyone smokes and the smoke never gets
in your eyes. The music bebops and swings.
The girls wear tweed. The boys wear trilby hats.
Buildings are big, bold Art Deco-y things.
I get up late. Pack a Colt. Ride the Olds
to somewhere nicely lit. I drink a shot,
crack wise with the barman, punch a guy cold,
then snarl and slouch through the rest of the plot . . .
Of course, you’re not there. I do this alone.
But if sometimes in my bachelor pad,
I pour a scotch, plug in the gramophone
and dream about the life we never had,
well, sister, that’s the price I have to pay
for solving the clues and saving the day.

Matt Pitt is a poet and screenwriter from Brighton. He has published in Acumen, Ambit, London Magazine, Prole and Under the Radar. His second feature film, Man of Sorrows, begins shooting in 2021.

Small Worlds – Paul Waring

Small Worlds

Clearing his warden-assisted flat
days after the funeral,
this creased Box Brownie holiday photo
I find is enough to flood memory.
Sister and I, milk tooth smiles,
either side of Brylcreem-gloss father
in his prime on clifftops at Land’s End
and those words before we left:
we’re going to the end of the Earth.

Excited legs and feet in Woolworths’
plastic sandals behind the Zephyr’s bench seat.
White-hot beaches, sunburn, night scents
of calamine lotion, itching for Land’s End.
Mum saying cheese, and us, staring at nothing
but waves, folding and falling like skittles
behind the horizon. Father, I never did tell you –
when you said we’re at the end of the Earth,
for so long I believed you.

Paul’s poetry is published in Prole, Atrium, Obsessed With Pipework, Ink, Sweat & Tears, London Grip and elsewhere. Awarded second place in the 2019 Yaffle Prize, commended in the 2019 Welshpool Poetry Competition, his pamphlet ‘Quotidian’ is published by Yaffle. www.waringwords.blog Twitter: @drpaulwaring

The Shed – Hannah Linden

The Shed

Mother is getting a new shadow
for her shed door. It fits in beneath
the keyhole where the latch-cover
falls. If, in the middle of the night,
someone rattles the door, the shadow
would curl round their curious fingers.
Some things she keeps tucked in, out
of doors but under cover. Darkness
finds its pattern amongst them, a naked
light bulb pushing it into corners. Mother
has spent more time in the shed since
Father left. She piles more empty boxes
on top of the mess he left. She promises
to let us help her sort through it, one day.
She locks the door but we hear her,
after she says goodnight, opening and shutting
opening and shutting the door.

Based in Devon, Hannah Linden has been published widely. She’s working towards her first collection, Wolf Daughter about the impact of parental suicide. Twitter: @hannahl1n

Featured Publication – Inhale/Exile by Abeer Ameer

Our featured publication for June is Inhale/Exile by Abeer Ameer, published by Seren.

Inspired by the many stories and parts of stories she heard as a child and visiting family in
Iraq as an adult, Ameer has written a book that celebrates the resilience of her forebears and
extended family in Baghdad and around the world. The book presents a range of characters in
a mixture of political and personal poems; ordinary people living in extraordinary
circumstances; those who remain in Iraq, those who flee Saddam’s regime or the civil strife
subsequent to the US-led Invasion and its aftermath. The grief of those in exile is keenly felt
as they yearn for the place and people they have left.

This remarkable debut offers us a treasure-chest of 50 stories that lift the wraps from the
personal and the public, the domestic and the political, revealing a hoard of complex tales,
deftly, powerfully told. Abeer Ameer’s poems weave a series of mesmerising journeys back
and forth between Iraq and the UK, exploring the interstices and convergences between
cultures, between atrocity and hope, faith and dogma, language, silence and love. Ameer tells
it bluntly, sometimes wryly, but with surgical precision and composure: each poem vibrant
with the smells, tastes, textures, muscles and heartbeat of authentic experience, ‘in the search
for home between two rivers’.
” Robert Walton

This debut collection by Abeer Ameer is a moving, impassioned exploration of human
resilience in the face of political upheaval, state persecution, the violence of war and the pain
of exile. Intimate and personal, rooted in history that is at once ancient and contemporary,
individual and international, these poems remind us that even in the darkest times, there is
light, and there is love. Inhale / Exile insists that the reader doesn’t turn away from suffering,
like the photographer who must ‘share what the world needs to see’, and in return we learn
the stories of lives lost and lives saved, witness tremendous acts of courage, and understand
how faith ensures survival.
” Katherine Stansfield

The Reed Flute and I
after Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi

As the reed flute sings you weep your sorrow;
your heart still beats in the place you left. The weight
of your yesterdays that were once tomorrows
halves you, just like the day the reed was cut
pulled from its bed, carved to carry the breath
of the carver to ears held far. Its inhale
is your exhale; as if straight from your own chest.
Its wails redden your eyes. Its larynx speaks your exile.

The same parting that split the reed from its bed
brings you together and you can’t know until
you’ve always known; when they said farewell, you bled
so long, knowing you would not fare well, and still
only long for the place your heart comes from.
Reading in tongues; all music yearns for home.

Previously published as a commended poem in the Troubadour Poetry Competition for 2020

Photographer in Halabja, 17th March 1988.

He shoots everything he sees before him:
families gathered in alleyways,
birds fallen from their nests,
that day in Spring.

In front of steps
the figure of a man rests
wearing Kurdish turban and baggy pants,
a large sash wrapped around his waist,

face down in the dirt,
holding a baby in his arms.
Muted earthy tones around a pink blanket,
a white, glowing face, chin-up to the sky.

The photographer
holds his camera tight
to capture this perfect still life
of the just-dead.

Hands shake as he takes the parting shot:
newborn face towards the camera.
This exposure burns
his right index finger, his retina.

He’ll share what the world needs to see
though no image can show the pungent air
thick with sweet apple and bile.
No shadow dark enough.

Previously published in Poetry Wales, Spring 2020

The Diver

It’s no coincidence that he was born in March:
Pisces, romantic who loves to swim,
he’s been called by the government for his services again.

He keeps coming back, no matter how bad it gets.
He loves the rivers and oceans. Despite no-go zones,
barriers and metal nets, he can’t help but return to the Tigris,

and marvel at how she can give and take,
bend and curve, kiss the Euphrates at the Marshes,
cry at what they hold.

Today he holds his breath
in his hands, feels the skin-to-skin connection
as he finds another body. This time with no head.

He loosens it from the Tigris tangles.
Baghdad 2007 has been difficult.
The man with no head

will be buried tomorrow in an unmarked grave
if no family comes for him.
Another lonely Janaza prayer.

Dragged up, it shows hands tied behind the bullet-ridden back.
The diver will probably find his family,
or head, downstream somewhere.

The diver’s own family wants to leave Iraq.
They say he’s a dreamer, tell him there is no hope left,
no point in holding his breath hoping for peace.

But he knows the Tigris has been black and red,
seen much worse than this yet forgives.
Besides, he says, I can hold my breath for a…. very…. long…. time.

Previously published in Prole, Issue 27

The Baker

The baker kneads and comforts the dough to make this day’s bread
Pats it to a diamond eye, pinches both ends, to shape this day’s bread.

Muezzin calls to each mourner that they’ve been blessed
By the God who is always greater, who gave this day’s bread.

Inner and outer canthi dry of tears the baker sheds.
She loved samoon. From his crushed airway, this day’s bread.

Dormant seed once breathed as wheat, died to give grain’s dust.
His hands knock it back to rise again, this day’s bread.

His fingertips flatten each ball of dough, newborn soft,
Palms lay each one to rest in burning clay, this day’s bread.

It puffs up like chests of angry men, is wrapped in white cloth to stay warm.
Broken just like the breaker, it sighs steam of age, this day’s bread.

Opens to the oath of mint and holy basil. The baker knows
It’s perfumed with the nectar of each sealed fate — this day’s bread.

Previously published in Envoi, Issue 180

Abeer Ameer’s poems have appeared widely in publications including: Acumen, Poetry Wales, Planet and The Rialto. She is a member of poetry performance group, The Spoke. Her debut poetry collection, Inhale/ Exile, in which she shares stories of her Iraqi heritage, was published by Seren in February 2021.

Inhale/Exile is available to purchase from the Seren website.

Coming Out – Maddie Forest

Coming Out

This secret wants to escape through my vocal cords,
so I hide it in my underwear drawer.
Then I give it to my dog for him to hide it
like he hides the pigs’ ears we give him.
I get a step stool and hide it between bed sheets
on the top shelf of my parents’ walk-in closet.
Or I stick it in the back garden, in that little crook
at the foot of the big spruce tree.
Maybe I bury it under a begonia when Mum and Dad
plant them in the flowerbed under my bedroom window.
I place it with the dust under the grey couch
that hasn’t been moved in ten, fifteen years.
Finally, I wrap it in shimmery red paper,
tie a green ribbon around it,
then write a name tag, For the whole family,
and place it under the Christmas tree.

Maddie Forest is a writer and poet in her early 20s, originally from Finland but currently studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. When she is not completing assessments, you will find her either talking to animals in parks or singing Taylor Swift songs in her room. She tweets @ItsMaddiehbu

The Pissing Contest – Charles G Lauder Jr

The Pissing Contest

Little boys with their penises in hand
gathered about a porcelain trough,
the drain a silver dome,
when all they know of politics
is what they overhear their parents declare,
so though they know nothing of Watergate
and eighteen minutes of missing tape,
nor of Ehrlichman and Hunt, Mitchell and Dean,
they know ‘Nixon’, with its hard ‘ks’ lump,
and Congressional hearings, the long, droning table of men
in a dark wooden-panelled room
and the high smack of a gavel,
broadcast on all three TV channels,
stealing away afternoon cartoons
and Mothers’ soaps for weeks on end,
they stand there, penises grasped in little hands,
following the biggest boy’s lead
and aim their streams at the silver dome drain:
Look at me! I’m peeing on the Capitol!
Only a few of the arched golden flows
have the strength to splatter against the dome,
burst through its holes like a water cannon
against windows, offices and corridors flood
with desks and sofas floating away in the foam,
interns and PAs swim to get clear.
It doesn’t matter if they really meant
the White House, or Congress,
or Washington in general,
this is for Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck,
and, if their mothers were here,
The Guiding Light and As the World Turns,
little boys peeing until penises run dry
and the pee drains away,
leaving a stink and a stain,
the little boys are proud of their new game,
as penises are waved and shook, then tucked away.
This before the days of separate urinals,
like older brothers and fathers already use,
where they’ll stand, distracted by size,
and brag to one another that the water is cold,
and the biggest boy will reply, And deep too.

Charles G Lauder Jr grew up in Texas and has lived in south Leicestershire since 2000. He has two pamphlets Bleeds (CCC, 2012) and Camouflaged Beasts (BLER, 2017). His debut collection is The Aesthetics of Breath (V.Press, 2019): https://vpresspoetry.blogspot.com/p/the-aesthetics-of-breath.html