Olivia Tuck




Lullaby for the Child I Will Never Have

Sometimes, in my dreams, I sing to you
of mice running up the clock, of four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
I love you too much for fledglings severed by magpies:

I found a chick once – feathers matted with cherry cough medicine,
blood vessels ground to pulp, the killer crowing from the ash tree’s birdcage veil.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I press my lips to your hair

and remember the coconut fibres of my newborn sister’s head;
wonder if yours will turn daisy-centre gold, as hers did the day she started school.
I love you too much for the playground’s incantations – its scrabbling hands,

its tights-tearing kicks, its blows to the face, its chewed gum, its spit –
and for the girls’ toilets’ Impulse reek; their collective ache to be nourished.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I lift you to my breast.

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. Where are the parents?
Are they there, standing outside the rhyme’s frame, jaws hanging in screams?
I love you too much for fires, floods, bone rattles of tectonic plates –

or worse, a mother that howls when someone switches off the light.
Don’t cry, little one. Hush. I promise I won’t bring you here, but
sometimes, in my dreams, I lay you down to sleep.
I love you too much for uranium skies. For earth scattered over mahogany.


Olivia Tuck‘s poetry has appeared in print and online journals including Under the RadarThe Interpreter’s HouseLighthouse and Algebra of Owls. Her pamphlet, Things Only Borderlines Know, is out now with Black Rabbit Press. Find her on Twitter: @livtuckwrites

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DL Shirey




Sunday Dress

Ileana loved to make clothes. Afternoons after school she sat at my worktable, arranging patterns like jigsaw pieces to fit a length of fabric. These skills I taught her, daughter of my daughter, because her mother was not around to do it. Ileana made better choices. Ileana was a good girl.

It pains me now to sew, my fingers stiff with age. I can abide with the ache for my granddaughter, imagining the light in her eyes when Ileana slips on the dress. Every year, come winter, I make her one for spring.

The fireplace needs tending first because the workroom is cold. I strike a match and kindle wood, waiting for the flames to lick up and catch hold. The heat is a tonic for my hands. I rub them together, then search beneath bolts of unused fabric to find the old wooden crate. Ileana’s patterns, each tucked away in careful folds inside a paper envelope. I pull out Sunday Dress, the words printed in her exacting hand.

It hurts to hold scissors and cut the shapes. But when the task is done, I warm my palms once more. I trained Ileana to put things away before starting another step, so I fold the pattern into its envelope and place it back next to the others: Easter Dress, School Uniform, Summer Frock and a half-dozen others.
White seashells on a bed of ocean blue, off-white for the sleeves and waistband. I know she’ll like it. The fabric is crepe de Chine, light as ash, silky smooth. Working the crepe is easy and it feels good against my skin. I tack the panels together with a simple basting stitch. Dressmaking is like a life, I remember saying to Ileana, with care, all those pieces will fit together. It will be done in no time, but no matter how old, you should wear it with pride. Everyone will see when you’re happy, for all the buttons and bows you’ll add. Or if the occasion is solemn or serious, the cloth can be darker, the hem longer. Nothing fancy.

“She loves the beach. She’ll wear this to a party,” I say to the room, holding up my handiwork. It hardly weighs anything, the fabric as fine and fragile as time itself. I drape it over the bare, well-worn torso, a dress form shaped like my little Ileana. Looks like a good fit. She’s such a tiny thing; it’s a wonder she can hold that big a heart.

Ileana made so many dresses with this pattern, for church, her best friend’s Quinceañera, a funeral. That’s the trick about sewing, simple changes can make it look like a completely different outfit: the material, the shape of the collar, maybe add a few pleats. Whatever is appropriate.

Carefully, I fold the new Sunday Dress at the waist and in half again, tucking in the sleeves just so. It’s a present, so I find some crisp tissue paper to wrap it in and a piece of pink ribbon long enough to fashion a bow.

How can a package so small mean so much? I pray my granddaughter will like it.

I leave the worktable as neat as I found it. Then kneel before the fire and place the dress atop the flames, watching the smoke rise to heaven.






DL Shirey lives in Portland, Oregon, where it’s probably raining. Luckily, water is beer’s primary ingredient. His stories and non-fiction appear in 40 publications, including Confingo, Page & Spine, Zetetic and Wild Musette. You can find more of his writing at www.dlshirey.com and @dlshirey on Twitter.

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Maureen Kingston




Hooking Up

Civilization writ large shouts “all roads lead to Rome.” Civilization writ small builds the roads. The paper clip’s one of the latter, a civilizational bit player that resembles all the other clips swimming in the jar. Its thrill-seeking kin—safari cotter pins, mountain climbing pitons—aspire to great heights, but the paper clip rarely ventures beyond the bureaucratic pond. Occasionally, though, some DIY fool experiments, tries to make it a star.

An old man enters a pink bathroom, arranges his tools just so on a yellow towel: reading glasses; bailing cups; an uncoiled paper clip. He stares into the void before plunging his hands into cold tank-water. After considerable sunken wrestling, the old man successfully loops the paper clip, bowties handle to ball chain. It’s what he can still do to bring a smile to her face.

shotgun wedding . . .
wild horseradish spreads
barbarian roots



Maureen Kingston’s poems and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in B O D Y, Akitsu Quarterly, Contemporary Haibun Online, Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Gone Lawn, Gyroscope Review, KYSO, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, and riverbabble. A few of her poems and prose pieces have also been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart awards.

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Hannah Hodgson’s poem ‘Death Rattle’ is the Pick of the Month for February 2020

We live in uncertain times, and that voters chose ‘Death Rattle’ by Hannah Hodgson as the Ink Sweat & Tears Pick of the Month for February 2020 not only indicates their overwhelming admiration of the poem and the poet but is also an acknowledgement of the fragility of us all.  ‘Death Rattle’ is ‘moving and powerful, stark and black’ yet also ‘effortlessly beautiful and effective.’

Hannah is a 22 year old poet living with a life limiting illness and disability. She writes about these themes as well as hospice, feminism and other topics. Her first pamphlet Dear Body was published in 2018. www.hannahhodgson.com.


Death Rattle

Back in the day, everyone loved a good hanging –
curiosity gathered in the town square, red-nosed,
waiting for the theatre of mortality to end.

Today I attract the equivalent crowd –
have to untangle my vocal cords
from intrusive questioning.

Hospice is an experience with the brink,
as near the cliff edge you can go without falling.
Natural death isn’t quick.

It begins with a storm brewing in the chest –
thunder of increasing intensity,
crackles of lightning in the airway.

It ends with a moment of clarity,
final words like a rainbow
slowly disintegrating.



Other voters’ comments included:

It is simple, a little sad but also calm in the face of death.

It just connects with me in a way that the others don’t

Such a tricky subject matter, but this poem also manages to be beautiful. The “untangling vocal chords” is such a powerful image and the whole poem gets across the idea of intrusion and desperation. I was left speechless the first time I read it.

Such a massively powerful poem that nails its subject matter with great force

I love the line about crackles of lighting in the airway.

Very moving poem and I love Hannah’s economy of expression.

Powerful, spare and thought-provoking

Insight, honesty, economy, essence.

So powerful – and that ending…

I like this poem’s clarity and its lack of sentimentality

Hannah Hodgson’s poem is powerful and emotive without straying into the realms of cliche. The final image of the disintegrating rainbow is one that will stay with me.

Extremely well written

It’s a stunningly honest and clear sighted poem

I love the overlap between sound, physicality and natural phenomena in ‘Death Rattle’, particularly the lines: It begins with a storm brewing in the chest – thunder of increasing intensity, crackles of lightning in the airway

Very moving and yet not sentimental poem, well done to her.

Words that evoke Hannah’s reality.


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Aaliyah Cassim





with careful fingers
i fashion
blood vessels
into nets that haul life to the surface
over and over again



Aaliyah Cassim is a twenty-one year old university student who enjoys writing poetry and prose.

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R.G. Jodah




The View From the Ambulance

is limited, by design.  Strapped securely
the dislocation, the shabby franchise-
ification of high street, signage blinking
by, the discomfort: this wasn’t here before
is dulled.  Everything looks old already,
except the crew, blue-lit by their screens

Last time, close to midnight, a decade almost gone,

I was thinking of my mother, as urine
from a woman in her eighties runnelled closer.
Her carer finished yawning, said: Missus,
I asked you if you needed to go before we left.
Nightgowned Europe meeting Africa,
the bump of continental drift.

All three lanes are worse now, as we off-road
on the flyover, gritted teeth, grimacing
past the tumorous growth of shopping centre.
I imagine that the phone-in’s about council tax
and potholes, but I don’t speak Punjabi,
and it’s Ramadan, so more than likely not.

I want to marvel at the weather, because the air,
the wind, is Ocean, and I almost have a memory

of what it was to swim.  The hairs along my arm
act like light is gravity, pulled towards the unseen
sun, I’m aching in my heliophilic skin.  And I wonder
how I can still smell the rain above the diesel,
and the smokers,

as the automatic doors close with a hiss.



R.G. Jodah, a cispontine citizen enjoying metropolitan anonymity, has recently appeared in London Grip, Three Drops from a Cauldron, PORT (Dunlin Press), Dawntreader.

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Rachel J Fenton





I drive from your apartment to pick up a friend
of a friend from the train station, take them to Muriwai
to see the gannets. It is a warm day but there’s a bite
in the air. My passenger is dressed for winter.

She removes her seatbelt on the way
to peel off layer by layer. She has a gift for me.
I have made sandwiches.

She tells me the correct pronunciation of her name
Rhymes with margarine. I imagine a plastic tub but
laugh as seems expected of me.

The wind on the west coast is strong, feels cold.
A tourist has collected pink starfish
from the sea and put them in a rock pool
by the car park, his friends pose

with them for photographs. My friend’s friend calls them
Morons, and black sand blows iron into our eyes
as we walk from the beach, up the wooden stairs
to the cliff-top look-out.

A woman in a pencil skirt is leaning over the edge
of the barrier to get a better view of the gannet
chicks. Grey downy fluffs

with heads so big in comparison to their wings
they must find it an effort to raise them
to feed. It’s only later, when I take her place,

almost to the point
where falling for someone with my legs and lack of grace
seems inevitable, that it becomes possible then essential
to take in the dead.



Rachel J Fenton is a working-class writer from South Yorkshire, living in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her poems have appeared in English, Magma, and The Rialto. Rachel is on Twitter https://twitter.com/RaeJFenton and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/rae.joyce.5.

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