The Watcher – Helen Ivory

The Watcher

She walks backwards into the sea;
shingle gives ingress to her feet
before removing any word of her.

At her shoulder a scrappy halfmoon
of grey seals pause their morning hunt
to study this rum spectacle.

Her cotton shift loses a little pigment
day-by-day, so the dark blooms
are an unreadable cloud below the surface.

From the cliffs, you can see her, if you wish it.
And when the wind drops just enough,
seal-song will act like a balm.

Go to her now, she will send back your dead,
salvage your bedazzling treasures.
She can feel you are heartsore.

Helen Ivory is a poet and visual artist.  Her fifth Bloodaxe collection is The Anatomical Venus (2019). She is an editor for IS&T and teaches creative writing online for the UEA/NCW. Her New and Selected will appear from MadHat (US) later this year.  

My mother contracts streptococcus as a child – Fiona Cartwright

My mother contracts streptococcus as a child

Fiona Cartwright (Twitter @sciencegirl73) is a poet and conservation scientist. Her poems have appeared in various magazines, including Magma, Mslexia, Under the Radar, Interpreter’s House and Atrium. Her debut pamphlet, Whalelight, was published by Dempsey and Windle in 2019 (Fiona Cartwright).

Severed – Kate Hendry

Severed

Blood has soaked her pyjama top when she appears,
holding out her hand – four-fingered – as if it’s no use
to her now. My instinct’s to save the severed part,
so I hoist her onto my hip and run to the kitchen
where she’s chopped an apple under the spotlights
hidden beneath the cupboard. The rest of the kitchen’s dark.
Outside is dark, with flickers of frost light when the moon
breaks through scurrying clouds. She’s heavy-limbed
and helpless in my arms, but the finger’s there amongst
half-moons of pink-fleshed apple. I swivel from worktop
to freezer, thrust it in with the tubs of raspberries
from the summer, collapse on the lino. She’s still offering me
her hand – half wanting the whole thing gone, half wanting
it fixed. Where is her pain? I’m wrapping her fingers
with crumpled tea towels pulled from the middle drawer
and she’s resting her head against the crook of my arm,
staring at a distant point by the door, as if at the doctors
for her jabs. I’m screaming for help, for someone to phone
for an ambulance, wanting to haul us both into the freezer’s
silver body, to be closer to the finger, the part of her
that’s permanently broken, permanently gone.

Kate Hendry’s poems have been widely published in magazines including The Rialto, The North, Mslexia, Under the Radar, Gutter, and are forthcoming in Poetry Wales and New Welsh Review. Her first pamphlet, The Lost Original, was published by Happenstance Press. @hendrykate

The mattress – Janet Hatherley

The mattress

Sometimes they sleep in
though the daylight is broad.

Two young people on a single mattress
under the bridge, the quilt up to their chins

still as dolls,
heads touching, black hair intertwined.

Sometimes the bed is empty,
quilt pulled back—and they are gone.

Pigeons on the girders, orange eyed,
nod and coo, a fluttering of feathers.

A bus brakes, each passenger absorbed
in their own music.

People’s feet splash by through puddles.
They glance down at a bed in the open

scuffed, dirty, damp
as they emerge from the bridge

to catch their connection.

Janet Hatherley’s debut pamphlet, What Rita Tells Me, was published May 2022 (Dempsey & Windle).  She has poems in Under the Radar, Stand and otherswon third prize in Second Light competition and was highly commended in Ver competition. 

Why We Leave – Gill Barr

Why We Leave

We children are told that we are moving
to the Waterside not far from our cousin.
We are pleased when we see the new house,
feel the scale of it, clatter up and down
the many stairs, lie on the new carpet,
smell the fresh paint, enjoy the airy rooms
without furniture, eat our lunch
like a picnic on the floor, but something’s
not right. Mammy is unhappy. She is crying.
She does not want to leave. She has lived
in the same streets all her life, no matter
that she is moving to a better house,
a bigger house – and safer.

On moving day we use a green van
that isn’t meant for removals. Mammy
is upset. In the van, she says out loud:
We are flittin’. She seems ashamed,
as if she has let the side down after all
these years. She doesn’t explain why
we can’t stay. We children cannot know
that our daddy has been threatened
in repeated late-night phone-calls,
has been told to get out
or face the consequences – he has been dragged
into an alley off Maureen Avenue and told at gunpoint
to get out or be shot.

Gill Barr’s poems have appeared in Bad LiliesThe Honest Ulsterman and The New European. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast and is appearing at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in July 2022.

Skinned – Antonia Kearton

Skinned

The tomatoes are naked,
five of them, blanched, skinned,
a little indecent, something

not meant to be seen. The knife
is sting-sharp, dissects them
into precise quarters.

The recipe dictates de-seeded:
I push my thumb against the secret flesh,
feeling its moist resistance. It gives,

I scoop. Pulp, warm to the touch,
slick and tender, slips
between my fingers, seeds suspended

in umbilical sacks. I half expect
it to start pulsating, a stranded creature
straining back to its sea.

Detritus now, discarded, it’s swept
into the food waste, where it bleeds
among egg shells and onion skins, pale, lost.

Antonia Kearton writes, parents and is training as a person-centred counsellor in the Highlands of Scotland. She has been published in various journals including AcumenNorthwords Now and New Writing Scotland, and is intermittently on twitter as @AntoniaKearton.

Survival Guide – Mark Czanik

Survival Guide

Keep a conker in your pocket to protect against broken bones.
Plan escape routes and learn to tie double knots.
Let yourself be guided by the mazy braille of garage walls
whenever wearing a patch outside, and refuse to take off
your Mighty Dynamo T-shirt on piping hot days for fear
of getting a tan as golden syrup brown as your Dad’s.
Practice jumping your garden gate and turning the front door key.
Should your dream heavy legs weigh you down when pursued,
throw yourself onto the grass and curl into a ball.
With luck your enemy will fall badly. Timing is crucial.
Go down too soon and you will look like a toddler playing peekaboo.
He will turn you like a fox turning a hedgehog.
Offer no resistance if he does, and do not worry
if the finer points of his instructions escape you when struck
by the whites of his Peter Lorre eyes. Sit up.
Notice how the rooks jostle for space in the silver birches.
The shadowboxing kite’s struggle to free itself.
Develop a stoical attitude towards lineups and take refuge
in alternative fictions. Stay home on test days with your cat
watching Mr Ben and The Red Balloon instead.
See the way the balloon follows the lonely boy from street
to street like a stray thought bubble only he can understand.
Harbour secret loves. Sarah Miles’s stutter. The roof of your mouth
where your thumb rests snug as Cinderella’s slipper.
The blue eyed girl in the opposite house
whose gate springing shut is a glass thrown into a fireplace
every time she leaves and returns. Cherish small freedoms,
most of which you will gawp at in astonishment in the blink of an eye.
The gap in the hedge. The open playing fields. Unlocked doors.
Your mother’s voice calling you in just before dark.
Try not to hog the background in photographs.
The first time you drink too much and are sick in the nut bowl
at Aunty Edie’s Christmas party, seize the opportunity to ask
your father’s silhouette to hug you as you lie on your deathbed
in the borrowed light from the landing,
knowing that in the morning, if there is one,
you can always deny the memory. Be careful with islands.

Mark Czanik was born in the sweet borderlands of Herefordshire, and now lives in Bath. Recent poems, stories, and artwork have appeared in MIR, The Rialto, Riptide, ROPES, Porridge, Pennine Platform, Morphrog, Black Nore Review, and 3AM