In the Garden After Storms
When you love someone, you’re curious about them. You long to ask questions, hunger for answers. What’s your favourite food? Bath or shower? What’s the last movie you saw? Do you read in bed? Do you like wine, gardening, knitting, boxing, country walks? You rehearse these questions carefully, because so much, for you, depends upon the answers. These questions are full of promise, pregnant with possibility.
So here’s how it should have gone.
It’s early, still cool, the light uncertain. I like to walk in the garden at this time of day because you can still breathe, and the light doesn’t knife through your eyelids the way it does once the sun is fully risen. The shadows soothe, console, and god knows, I needed consolation that morning. That morning after storms.
As I enter the garden I notice the damage done by the weather, the tall plants stooped in the dust, the olive leaves lying along the paths like slivers of silver. Fish scales. Shavings of coins. I make my way to the gardener’s shed, where stakes are kept, and twine, and a rake to comb the gravel. I will occupy myself making repairs, with simple, restorative work to ease the soul. As I pass the cave, I avert my gaze. After all, there is nothing to look at, just a smooth, blank stone.
So I see him straight away, sitting outside the gardener’s shed, nursing a mug of tea, and I run right to him, and fling my arms around him, probably spilling the tea as I do so, but that doesn’t matter. I apologise, he says he’s known worse and we laugh. ‘How did you escape?’ I ask him. ‘How are you anyway? What will you do now? Where will you stay? Can I get you more tea? You could stay with me. Why don’t we stop pretending? Why don’t you just stay with me?’
But that’s not the way it goes. I do go to the garden, in the cool morning light that feels like blinking underwater. The broken plants are there, and the olive leaves scattering the paths, but I don’t notice them, not really, because I have come to look at the cave; I can’t help myself; it is like a scab on my heart I have to scratch. So what I notice is nothing, the space where the stone was last night, the cave mouth speaking its emptiness back to the emptiness inside me. There is a mist, I think, and a small broken-branched tree, and the sense of dread swelling in my throat like a scream.
And then, before I can utter a sound, the mist seems to solidify, or perhaps the tree begins to move, and I know he’s there, even before my senses are ready to perceive him. And I stand, my arms hanging loose at my sides, my jaw dropped, and I ask him nothing. Because the ones we love are ineffable, the ones we love are figments. We are entranced by them and only once they’re gone do we return to ourselves and remember what we intended to ask them.
Sarah Bower is a novelist and short story writer. Her first novel, The Needle in the Blood, was Susan Hill’s Book of the Year 2007. Find out more about Sarah here.Read More
Still Bird on Goose Island
the remains of a picnic
in advance of refreshment
“when you’re young and in love”
arrives as it did last year
Photo: the heart-shaped boating lake
new air in their sails
swans arrive separately
at a period of exploration
blue shoes circling the lake
a heron stood hours on one leg
entrances into relationship
as a flower’s green inwardness
unclenches on the lawn
*Stephen Waling a published poet from Manchester (Travelator, Salt; Calling Myself On the Phone, Smith/Doorstop; and Captured Yes, Knives Forks and Spoons Press). This poem was written for the 50th Aniversary of Platt Field's Park in Rusholme, Manchester.
The Woman in White
I’ve planted double lilac Mme Lemoine
(that name itself redolent of French perfume,
white lace and elegance down a long ballroom)
twice now, in different gardens, different towns,
and had to leave each place. I’ve never known
how either tree has made her début, come
of age in beauty, filled her promised bloom.
For all that I can tell, they’re both cut down.
Each May, I see where other lilacs stand
in other people’s gardens; but for me
the glimmering light, the heady scent that scours
my heart with sadness out of some lost land
drifts from those vanished hopes. Beyond each tree,
always, each May, a spectral lilac flowers.
*Joanna Boulter, shortlisted for the Forward First Collection Prize (2007) for 24 Preludes And Fugues On Dmitri Shostakovich, (Arc Publications), has recently completed a collaboration with composer Andrew Webb-Mitchell on a major symphonic song-cycle, Songs of Awe and Wonder.
Spring Lament by Douglas Robertson
Take this spurred
from the spread
of cordate leaves
under the willow –
five petals and a stab of light
hooked on a pin
Keep it pressed
to the place you are now
where for the very first
time the lovers
and no-one's hurt
“The Woods are Knitting New Clothing for Spring”
The woods are knitting new leaves
into the Great Book of the Year,
ancient oaks wind us in
among clever branches
twigs plucking at buttons and sleeves
to turn into acorns and new shoots
until we tremble
like a new-strung orchestra.
We may think we can walk away
unchanged in the moon-made evening
back to our shingled homes
on lamplit streets
but we are woven into the trees
like threads of fine fabric –
you may hear us singing
among the deep dark roots of spring.
*Douglas Robertson is an artist who divides his time between his home in Hampshire, and researching and traveling in his native Scotland. He regularly works in collaboration with poets, and was recently artist-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. To see more of his work, go here.
*Anne Berkeley’s first collection, The Men from Praga (Salt, 2009), was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize. She edited Rebecca Elson’s acclaimed posthumous collection A Responsibility to Awe, and is one of the poetry group extraordinaire, Joy of Six.
*Caroline Carver has won or been placed in many competitions including the National in 1998 and a commendation this year. Both poems draw on her Jamaican childhood. She’s a Hawthornden Fellow, has published three collections and is resident poet at Cornwall’s Trebah Gardens.
My favourite tea shop girl
Has a hooked nose, a dirty laugh
I'm trying to fathom Heidegger
What is is?
The butter-split cherry scone
Later sitting with peach iced tea
Eyeing legs, bags , Selfridges, Next
Spring tarts, fruit flavours
This morning the first wasp
Dozed through the kitchen window
I load apricot jam on the knife
*John Calvert is a poet/musician/ performer based in Manchester
Pale blue would waver in spring's breeze;
grass-green guard, with jealousy, lush pastures;
chocolate brown stick fast in squelching mud;
prickly pebbledash skitter by shingle beach;
matt primrose nestle in sand dunes;
whereas unrelenting grey-white merely seem
to stretch mile on Mile on MILE on M1.
*Nicky Phillips lives 30 miles from London in a village with no gas, no shop and only the odd bus. She has had poems, short stories, 60- and 100-worders published in magazines, anthologies and online.
ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta creak crack CHEEP CHEEP
ga ga ga gr kre dup kredup kredup kredup kredup geroooosh SPLAT
oh oh ooohh aaaaaaah uuuuuuuu yeah yeah yes yes yes oh oooooooh ahhh oh NO! Sploosh
Concrete poems first three for children key :
flower to be read from bottom up ,
cracking of egg
frog crossing road to mate
adult poem – making love – premature ejaculation
*Stephen Pain is a zoosemiotician based in Denmark. He has written poetry over a period of time and has had poetry published in hardcopy and on the internet. If he were to describe the school or genre of poetry he belongs to – it would have to be the maverick i.e. crossing over borders.
The pigeon is nesting in the hawthorn.
If I lift my eyes from the lap top screen
I can see her sitting on a mess of sticks.
She watches me closely, cocks her head,
as if the sound of the keys were visible,
small fears to put her on the edge of flight.
She sits whilst I sit, whilst the rain falls,
she sits through cold brightness, the dark.
Out there a clutch of the future warms
under the press and nestle of feathers.
The hours heat my lap, word by word,
as my fingers peck. She waits it out,
I type on, both of us tuned for a crack,
the moment when something opens.
*Andrea Porter’s collection A Season of Small Insanities is published by Salt. She is also a member of The Joy of Six Poetry group. She has completed one novel and is up to her eyes in the next.
To Melissa Who Complains about Being the Youngest
They say the blossoms are more beautiful this year
because, though winter dragged, a slow spring saved them from
the frost. Like you, they’d waited in the dark so long
perhaps they doubted that their cue would ever come.
But look at you now, half grown, playing in the sun,
rampant in this tree where our bright blooms celebrate
the light in pinkly fat profusion. So. Now you're here
and every blossom too, though all of you came late:
more loved for being born at last, and worth the wait.
*Jacqueline Saphra's pamphlet, Rock'n'Roll Mamma was published by Flarestack. Her first full collection, The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions, developed with funding from the Arts Council of England, will be out from flipped eye in Summer 2011.
It was as if we had ensnared ourselves:
the way your little boy hands
pushed the acorn into the soft loam
and your face looked up to mine
with the unspoken question.
And later a green finger
pushed itself out of the earth
and you measured it year by year,
until gradually the slender stem
became entwined with the fence
and the only way to separate them
would be to take a knife and cut them apart.
*Julia Webb lives in Norwich. She has just completed an MA in Creative Writing at The University of East Anglia. She runs The Norwich Poetry Book Group, writes reviews and is working on her first collection.
Moving along the track, head full of images of buckskin-shirted
braves ghosting through ancient forests, the boy walks
into sunlight. Swiftly, he steps behind the shadow-line, stock-still,
leaf-dappled, heart singing songs of morning in his ears.
Nothing moves, there’s no birdsong, time hangs by a thread,
like dry leaves spinning in a web as empty as the sky.
The boy watches, feels his world stop, sees rise out of the dewy
glitter, a solitary, golden-haloed hare.
* Ken Head is a regular reviewer for IS&T. Here is his website.
i eat her lungs, in a dream,
while she lies beside me. no,
not eat, but inhale out of her
body. she says: i am tired.
she says: i am tired, and then
we lie in a bed and talk, talk
nonsense – as if we knew
each other. her hair is colourless.
her hair is colourless, like bleached
scarab legs kept airless in a jar
on the windowsill; like the undreamt,
harsh memories of serotonin.
memories of serotonin flood
the cavity of her. without touching
comfort becomes papal – she
sinks into the sheets as if she loves.
as if she loves, too, the potential
of neural pathways, or the bleak mystery
of a spring famine in the horn of africa,
where the goats can graze on sand.
goats can graze on sand, still cannot
die without dreaming. when i look
at her, and when she speaks, i see
my own lips shiver. i eat her lungs.
*marcelle olivier is a South African-born writer and archaeologist living in Cambridge, UK. You can read more of her poetry in, amongst others, Oxford Poetry, New Contrast, and Carapace.
The Year Strikes the Rock
The year strikes the rock
with one spoilt-child glance, like Athene,
the world’s first olive tree
springs up, millions will follow,
their rough grey bark like lions’ tongues,
their little squab branches
striving for sky at the year’s command,
ankle-deep in poor thin dry soil.
The year is sleepless on her mother’s side,
wants to live where a lake
lies quietly under the spell of its own name,
where evening makes a quiet copy of everything,
the year wants to live in
a leaky green caravan in Cadiz
or in an attic some place
where the world won’t think of looking for her…
The year makes many an arduous journey,
one day scaling a mountain range,
the next scanning a flat mirage-ridden
monotony of sea ice,
now the year wears bird-feather gloves,
bluethroat, greenwing teal, swan of the tundra,
her sealskin boots are lined with caribou fur,
her cape sewn from the pelt of the arctic hare…
At night, in the tent,
by the faint shine of the lamp,
the year carves maps on tablets of walrus ivory…
Poor year, her maps are out of date before the dawn…
She knows her work is never done,
she’s a realist,
tucks all her weathers
under her humble hairy marvellous armpit,
just watch her making sunshine
from the gold of Frau Luther’s wedding ring.
* Penelope Shuttle's
last collection Redgrove’s Wife
2006), was shortlisted for both the Forward Prize and T.S. Eliot Prize.
Her latest collection is Sandgrain and
Hourglass (Bloodaxe Books,