Mannequin – Craig Smith

Mannequin

The headless mannequin surveys the back garden.
Today, she wears Balenciaga. Yesterday, Halston.
Tomorrow, Ossie Clarke.
Her empty sleeves are ruffs to the elbow.
Her three birch legs are wonky, prone to collapse.
Her neck is necklace-less, is capped
by a varnished plug of chestnut;
the grain is her fingerprint, her identifier.
Her waist cuts in, signifying she has never vegged out
on digestives to Supermarket Sweep,
has never borne children.
When I put out the light, she is still there
in the darkness, her vigil unceasing.
She will be the first to see the new dawn rise,
though it is of little use to her:
the dawn is the dawn is the dawn,
the light until the fade,
meaningless beside the promise of puffball skirts,
band t-shirts, gold-lamé boudoir gowns.

Craig Smith is a poet from Huddersfield. His writing has appeared on iambapoet and the Mechanics’ Institute Review, and in The North and The Interpreters’ House, among others. He is working toward an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University. Twitter: @clattermonger

New Lives for Old – Oz Hardwick

New Lives for Old

Oz Hardwick’s tenth collection, A Census of Preconceptions, will be published by SurVision Books in late 2022. He has won countless prizes, mostly in raffles, and feels that feeling awkward is close enough to an award as makes no difference. www.ozhardwick.co.uk

Patient Board – James McDermott

Patient Board

James McDermott’s poetry collection Manatomy, longlisted for Polari’s First Book Prize 2021, is published by Burning Eye and their pamphlet Erased is published by Polari Press. James’s pamphlet of queer nature poems is forthcoming with Broken Sleep Books. James’s poems have been published in various magazines including Poetry WalesThe Cardiff Review,Popshot QuarterlyInk Sweat & Tears and Fourteen Poems.

A Boy I Used To Know – Niall M Oliver

A Boy I Used To Know

I don’t tell my new friends about the boy
who’d blow his pocket-money on rolls of caps
to make penny-bangers, then at dark-fall,

launch them like grenades against the wall
of his protestant neighbours’ house,
driving them mad, driving them out.

I don’t tell them of the names he’d mutter
at the soldiers patrolling check-points and streets,
or the freedom songs he’d sing with his mates.

I don’t tell how the boy would feel the impact
somewhat less, when the news of another death
bore the name of a victim from the other side.

I’m too afraid they wouldn’t understand
if I spoke of this boy, and how he’d revolt
at the sound of their English tongues.

Niall M Oliver lives in Ireland, and is the author of ‘My Boss’ by Hedgehog Poetry. His poems have featured in Acumen, Atrium, The Honest Ulsterman, Fly On The Wall Press, Ink Sweat & Tears and others. 

Still Life of the Ironing Pile as a White Rhino – Emma Simon

Still Life of the Ironing Pile as a White Rhino

It emits a disgruntled air
as I keep a respectful distance
pretending to ignore it.

A rugged look of something
monumental
used to just standing there

dreaming of acacia leaves,
creases worn so deep
they concertina up like worry lines.

Of course white rhinos
are only white when a full moon
washes the savannah.

On days like this they glower
dust-baked grey, shades
of school vests and stretched elastic.

And black rhinos
are not black at all. They lurk
in airing cupboards

bleached out, faded, over-wrung,
proving the rule
all things converge to grey.

Casting a wary glance
I take a slow step or two
further back

from this brooding hulk
of household chores.
Although sometimes I dream

the hot hoof of an iron,
want its snorting steam
to smooth the tired folds

in heavy legs, ease out the ache
of all those lonely sleeves,
before it is too late.

Emma Simon has published two pamphlets: Dragonish (The Emma Press, 2017) and The Odds (Smith|Doorstop, 2020) which was a winner in the Poetry Business’s International Pamphlet and Book competition. She was been widely published in magazines and anthologies and last year won both the YorkMix Poetry Prize and the Live Canon International Prize. She has previously won the Ver Poets and Prole Laureate prizes. She works in London as a part-time journalist and copywriter.

Ascent – Ross Thompson

Ascent

Following years of taking deadly risks
and defying all the laws of physics,

it was, I regret, inevitable
that when a childhood friend finally fell

like a nest from its cradling parent branch,
this act of momentum would be his last:

gliding down past clouds the colour of salt
and the safety of outcrops of flat rock.

So I invert the image downside up
and it can no longer hurt quite as much:

his inhaled gasp, the dwindling avalanche
retreating back from the point of impact,

his silhouette now suspended in time,
the snow rising through a merciful sky.

Ross Thompson is a writer and Arts Council award recipient from Bangor, Northern Ireland. His debut poetry collection Threading The Light is published by Dedalus Press. His work has appeared on television and radio, and in a wide range of publications. Most recently, he wrote and curated A Silent War, a collaborative audio response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has been adapted into a series of archival and educational films. He is currently preparing a second full-length book of poems. 

The Brief – Julia Stothard

The Brief

It started out as a cavernous space
with no light source.
The brief was to make it bright and inviting,
to give it soul.
I took it, bunker and hideout,
and set about making it bright.
The clever bit
was the upturned sieves for lampshades.

The walls were too coarse to paint;
I plastered it
in paper mâché from unread papers,
back when the news
arrived from some distant place
and shot past me.
This is all about what I neglected.

Up next was colour, the season
offered up red leaves for the ceiling,
agarica xanthodermus stain
for light, a dab of moss
and a bottle forest,
whilst two fly-tipped mirrors
spoke endlessly of windows.

Such cluttering would offset
the dense silence
fizzing with anxiety. What
would an explosion sound like?
In the event, I felt it before I heard it
and I chose an intense teal
to focus on when nothing felt solid.

Stone floors are not as glamorous
as they had seemed
last season. I salvaged a rug,
a few off-cuts of carpet
from the loft, and squirrelled them
down to the basement.
Left them loose, for the dust.

Our centre-piece was an island,
half a beer barrel
dragged in at the seventh hour
to serve as a table.
It could fit eight elbows, hold four
heads when the news didn’t get through.
Next week’s challenge
will be based on the theme of Escape.

Julia Stothard lives in Surrey and works at Royal Holloway University of London. Her poems have appeared in various publications including Ink, Sweat and Tears, South, London Grip and Dempsey & Windle competition anthologies.

Fight – James McDermott

Fight

James McDermott’s poetry collection Manatomy, longlisted for Polari’s First Book Prize 2021, is published by Burning Eye and their pamphlet Erased is published by Polari Press. James’s pamphlet of queer nature poems is forthcoming with Broken Sleep Books. James’s poems have been published in various magazines including Poetry WalesThe Cardiff Review,Popshot QuarterlyInk Sweat & Tears and Fourteen Poems.

The Salesgirl says the Mannequin is Not for Sale – Nora Nadjarian

The Salesgirl says the Mannequin is Not for Sale

Marie Antoinette’s shoes are like cakes in pastel colours. She says she needs a friend, the
salesgirl says they don’t sell them here. She tries on a pair of flat shoes, her hair is flat, her
heart is flat. Then her hair becomes a bird nest, sparrows fly in and out. That’s better, she
thinks, licks whipped cream off her fingers. The salesgirl brings more finger food. We need a
splash of colour in the palace, says Marie Antoinette, I ordered hundreds of paints online.
Strawberry Sherbet, Cherry Glaze, Carousel Purple, Pursuit of Happiness, and she giggles.
Then she calls the palace: More shoe-shaped cakes, she says, though it sounds more like an
order. She turns to the salesgirl: I’d like to buy the mannequin. She’s not for sale I’m afraid,
says the salesgirl, who’s been trained to say that, to whoever. I am not Whoever, says Marie
Antoinette, I’m the Queen. She takes the shoes off the counter and starts tearing them apart,
biting them, spitting thread and buckles out. One sparrow leaves her hair, bashes against the
mirror and drops dead. Marie Antoinette picks it up, trembling with rage, starts plucking its
feathers. The salesgirl dials 911. Let her eat cake, says the mannequin. Let her eat cake.

Nora Nadjarian is a Cypriot poet and writer who has been published internationally. Placed or commended in numerous competitions, she recently won the Anthropocene Valentine’s Day Poetry Competition 2022. She has work forthcoming from Broken Sleep books and Poetry International. @NoraNadj