Shirley lay in the bed
in her prim, backless robe,
surrounded by the breath of other mothers
and the milky scent of babies.
Her own newest child lay beside her, as wrinkled
as an apple past its prime, but active
and large in the bassinet.
It waved one hand,
inchoate and curled, at its mother
as she filled in the cards.
The labor had been easy;
as painful as the last one, but over fast.
Tom was at home with the girls-
she could trust him that far-
and though she missed him she reveled
in the eerie half-silence of the room she shared
with five other young mothers.
There was no need for pretense here.
The other women on the ward burbled softly,
to each other and their fresh spawn.
A smile from Shirley was all they required.
They left her alone.
She loved a night without drunk-talk,
a night without wariness, or a visit from her in-laws.
She did not have to worry
about red-headed Janet, her little, lying
three-year-old girl who said such things
about her grandfather. Lisping him, ‘wicked’.
Shirley did not worry about the way
Joyce shied away from treats or touching,
the way she gnawed on bloodied nails,
chipping her milk-teeth.
She did not have to think
about where the money would come from,
this month, or how they would afford
both beer and food.
She thought about her brand-new baby,
so perfect, so quiet, the round apple-head
dusted with soft black hair.
She lay her fourth-decade ear
across that five-day-old chest
and heard the stuttering beat of that small heart,
already terribly flawed.
Shirley breathed in the scent of vomit and Pine-Sol
and thought about the ache between her legs.
Her Presbyterian ethic had leeched to her marrow,
always incapable of enjoying a vacation,
she wondered when she would
be well enough to work again.
Shirley filled in Christmas cards,
her neat secretary’s hand, architectural as printing,
scribing out five names after ‘Love’.
Tom, Shirley, Janet, Joyce and our new baby, Lilly.
The letters were all stamped and mailed
before she found the body cold.
Bethany W Pope is an award-winning writer. She received her PhD from Aberystwyth University’s Creative Writing program, and her MA from the University of Wales Trinity St David. She has published several collections of poetry: A Radiance (Cultured Llama, 2012) Crown of Thorns,(Oneiros Books, 2013), The Gospel of Flies (Writing Knights Press 2014), and Undisturbed Circles(Lapwing, 2014). Her collection The Rag and Boneyard was published this year by Indigo Dreams and her chapbook Among The White Roots shall be released by Three Drops Press next autumn. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren this June.
We unpack our dead relatives
from newspaper-stuffed boxes,
revive their wooden bones
with saucers of eggnog.
They’re propped up on the sofa
as Pictionary roars along,
(we remember to involve them
in our arguments).
They are our Nativity,
carved tableau in 70s orange,
paper hats from long-spent crackers
glued to their dated hair-dos.
We study them with corner-eyes:
those who we pack away, and must become.
Ben Banyard lives in Portishead, near Bristol. His debut pamphlet, Communing, was published by Indigo Dreams in February 2016. He blogs at https://benbanyard.wordpress.com and edits Clear Poetry: https://clearpoetry.wordpress.comRead More
Is it absence that dwindles the candle
wicks I lit last year? I have to capture
vials of the pale moonlight and dip them
in the goats trough who gulp amniotic
fluid, kissing my future wounds on wrists
and ankles, laying amongst the sudor
of animals; vestal, beastial, holy.
In partial seizure I lie in my crib.
The cello bows of angels wings swooping
in like taffeta bats, their yellow teeth
peeling replies to no one. When we blow
our noses it’s like banging tornados
against our teeth. You will be a symbol,
in time the purpose of this will be lost.
Grant Tarbard works a vampire’s hours. His team of haematologists have ok’d this poem’s content.
We Feel At Home While Running
Huskies in Svalbard
We are put at the back of the sledge
to run backwards, all the six of us,
on the tips of our toes, bottomwise.
I’m the leading dog, besides győőő, hóóóó
my ears show the guys every order,
right, left, slow, fast, always at the ready.
My padded sole is tattering the slush.
Our human aims to return to
what he calls a mrrrr Christmas.
We slice the smirr of the darkscape
like the axe smashes our treat,
dried codfish with soft atlas of juice in the deep.
Agnes Marton is a poet, editor, founding member of Phoneme Media. Recent publications include ‘Estuary: A Confluence of Art and Poetry’ (winning the Saboteur Award) and ‘Captain Fly’s Bucket List.’ She has participated in an expedition to the Arctic Circle.
*Place names in SvalbadRead More
Take the stress out of entertaining
Taking our inspiration from chefs marinated in
spicy vodka we’ve got lots of intrepid sprout trends
to add a little sparkle as the centrepiece of a Boxing Day
hanging. The traditional way makes it even more
showstopping. If you fancy a sustainably sourced Middle Eastern
expert the last date for Christmas orders is 15 December.
The meat cooks on the bone but lifts away for easy carving.
If it’s the wow factor you want we’ll deliver more than
1000 different Belgian bakers to your door: they’re
soft and fluffy, wrapped in chocolate and impeccably traditional.
All over the UK and Europe small family firms lightly
dusted with gold are hiding in the middle, but
our selection of hand-picked Banana and Bacon Trifle
specialists can take care of everything. Cheers!
Rosie Miles lives in Birmingham, where her poem ‘You enter’ is etched into King’s Heath Urban Village Square. Her debut pamphlet CUTS was published by HappenStance in 2015. She doesn’t like Christmas pudding but does like jelly.
Note: Take the stress out of entertaining is entirely constructed from the Waitrose Christmas Festive Food Guide 2016.
then at the end of the year
she had all of these words
that she’d never said
she could hang them on a tree
that pretended to be alive
in the living room
in brightly painted coats
some that shone
reflected the needles
one with a name
painted on in glitter glue
a string of lights
which stopped working
if one of them popped
Laura McKee started writing by mistake. Her poems have turned up on postcards to friends, in journals, on a bus, and in two anthologies. She has been shortlisted but hopes to get taller. Contact her via Twitter: @Estlinin.Read More
Damascene describes the field in moonlight
we have to look the word up in the dictionary
to ornament (e.g. iron or steel) with wavy patterns.
Your sister is colouring SpongeBob
in her SpongeBob Christmas colouring book.
She sits at my desk in the swivel chair and I tell her
she looks like a real professional. She concentrates
on keeping the felt tip within the lines
colouring the tiny fairy lights on the Christmas tree
and I carry on reading the bedtime story.
Your dyslexic mind understands words
like damascene but can’t read them on the page.
I was always hiding in books, hiding from things
my nine year-old self could not yet begin to comprehend
and I learned from reading.
Watership Down taught me about survival
that strength and resilience can be found
in the unlikely of places. I watch you, my children
learning the hard way, chipping away at words
like little birds trapped under the ice.
Rachel Burns is a poet and playwright living in the north-east and published widely in literary magazines including South, Brittle Star, Ambit, Obsessed with Pipework and The Interpreter’s House. In 2016 she won second place in The Writers’&Artists’ sonnet competition judged by Ruth Padel.
The ice has shifted
opened up a hole.
Glass hangs heavy
from the rooftops.
Small feet skate
in circles of time
as Siberian winds
the edges of snow.
Sue Wallace-Shaddad now concentrates on writing poetry after a long career with the British Council. She is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society (SPS), has had work published in anthologies, SPS and British Council in-house magazines.Read More
in memory of Frau L.
This blanket of dark; perfect conditions
for our latest trip to the siding together.
A woman can’t see what’s next to her nose
as we clamber down, clutching bags and each other
by the elbow. Mind out,
it can’t be far from here. Shush.
There’s the pump. Our luck’s in alright:
we missed it by that much….
Move on again. Ducking and diving.
That stretch of cobbles
and then the passage. It’s lit up for once.
Now we inch along the middle
of the road, feeling our way forward
step by cautious step
till we reach the brewhouse by the gate.
Will the guards be asleep yet?
Better hang fire. See how the land lies.
Oh hell! Here comes the thunder
of great big boots. If we’re spotted,
let’s say we just fancied a little saunter.
Finally the coast’s clear
and we’re at it without wasting a second.
Already our bags are half-full
when a sudden door swings open.
Pure deadly light leaps out
all round us and we’re done for.
Hearts pounding in our throats, we run
for it. The game’s well and truly over
unless… Could there be extra time?
Thank God – it seems that no one’s spotted us.
Should we be content to slope away
with our bags half-empty? Don’t be ridiculous!
We’re getting straight back to work.
A Berlin girl doesn’t admit defeat.
She stands firm, sticks to her guns
and never surrenders. We shall not retreat.
Taking new heart, we edge up a second time
(isn’t Fortune supposed to favour
the brave?) towards Coal Mountain
that magic jewel-heap. And there we savour
victory, stuffing our sacks right
to the brim with hard-won treasure. Such
heavy riches. Staggering, arms almost breaking
with the sheer weight of our catch,
we reel home. Where everyone’s gobsmacked
to see the glorious loot that we’ve brought back.
Rose Scooler (1881-1985) was a German Jew, whose early life was one of privilege and material comfort. She wrote this poem during the winter of 1944-5, while a slave labourer in Theresienstadt
Sibyl Ruth is Rose Scooler’s great-niece. Her translations of Rose Scooler’s Thereisenstadt poems will be published by Five Leaves Press in 2017. She sometimes tweets at @SibylWrites.
Living Above Ground
to have bird feeders
on the balcony
I am withering
down the main drag
on humid nights
squealing tires anathema
to my wintering heart
a skyscraper cages
the harvest moon
freedom comes sooner
for some than for others
my third floor window
with snow on their backs
the warm blood of stones
Debbie Strange is an award-winning Canadian short form poet and haiga artist. Keibooks released her first full-length poetry collection, Warp and Weft: Tanka Threads, in 2015. Debbie’s haiku chapbook, A Year Unfolding, is forthcoming from Folded Word.
They arrived overnight, gossip
fogging the lane in muffled footsteps,
heavy breath. Silver-tongued
and ice cool, the knitting club
cast off Mr Snow as another fool
who could break the heart of a mirror,
turn the sky into a swan’s feather
and have the neck to whistle it down.
Beautiful, wraithlike, the wife wafted
around town, rising and falling like water.
She never spoke to a soul. It was clear
what flowed through both of them. Some said
they’d seen The Snows drifting naked
through their gardens. There were rumours
of translucent skin. Two hearts fluttering
like lovebirds, half starved, snowed in.
All winter they worked on the dream house,
tore its doors off, ripped up floors, stripped
everything bare. The body of the old boiler
laid out on the front lawn while sterile fibres
webbed the windows. On the coldest nights,
neighbours watched for signs, reported
silhouettes grabbing handfuls of each other
before falling to the floor, tall shadows
melting together. Women sat and cried,
rocked themselves silent in the corners
of warm kitchens infused with whiskey
and cinnamon. Men stared at the moon
through bedroom windows, and later,
tucked deep inside the fleece of Christmas Eve,
they all dreamt of rolling downhill
with The Snows. Tumbling with them,
they unwrapped their bodies from sheets
of white silk, only to find them gone,
slipped through the fingers of first light.
By morning, all that was left were teardrops
frozen and scattered on the lane,
flickers of wings looking for skin.
Joanne Key lives in Cheshire. Her poems have appeared in various places online and in print. She won 2nd prize in the 2014 National Poetry Competition.
The Spectral Penguin
He is almost invisible, silvered in plain sight;
feathers glisten in ultimate camouflage white
– we forget his eyes as they track
our trudges through bleakest
austerity. He rather fancies a tasty fish.
We muse on turkey, stuffing , who will spear
that coveted last roast parsnip. Tell children
Father Christmas will know each sneak pinch
of their little brother’s arm, each choccie filched
from Nana’s Milk Tray – but they’re savvy,
the kids, they know a bribe.
The spectral penguin waddles against adversity
– no matter to him the failed John Lewis audition,
and that Attenborough chap cutting his finest work –
he bobs strong from webbed foot to webbed foot
outside fake-snowed windows, ready to plunder
unguarded fish fingers. He watches – his time is nigh.
Holly Magill is from Worcestershire. Her poetry has appeared in various publications, including Poets’ Republic, Clear Poetry and The Morning Star. She has no shelves for any elves. Twitter: @HollyannePoet
Follow the Star
How you were wished upon
in your stella nurseries,
luminous heavenly bodies,
your play held in thrall.
How brightly you twinkle
in the eye of the gods.
‘Come to us, little stars,’ they cajole
‘we’ll teach you to bend
your fervent untrained light,
funnel your pool to a beam,
to slant on your goals.
Come, play our beautiful game,
bring us the glow of your dreams
to cover ourselves.
We’ll wrap it around us
like a winter coat,
buttoned up tight,
to the throat.
How you are wished upon!
Come to us, little stars,
come, play our beautiful game.
We’ll set you at the top of the tree,
you’ll dazzle like supernovae.’
And when your light slowly fades,
you’ll teeter on this spinning point,
collapse in on yourselves,
grist of the gods.
Stella Wulf lives in South West France. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her work has been widely published. She is also an artist and her work can be seen on her website: stellawulf.com
I come from the north. You won’t see me
wrapped in fur on mild days. My skin
is thicker than most. Your harpoons will not
quickly bring me down. I walk a straight path.
I come from the south. I find you hard
and hostile. I bring warmth into your nights
and colour to your shrouded stares.
I bring history and sand dunes.
I come from the west. My horse has faced
a long and painful journey. Listen, there is danger
at every turn. I follow my own guide,
although I do not know the way.
I come from the east. People are different there.
I balanced on a tightrope, traversed high cliffs
to reach this place. I bring understanding,
wonder, books and spices. I bring fear.
I come from nowhere. I am invisible.
I crouch here, still, in half-unrest.
I wait for the alarm.
David Van-Cauter is a personal tutor and editor who lives in Hitchin, Herts. He has long been involved with Poetry ID in Letchworth and Ver Poets in St Albans. Recent publications include the London Progressive Journal. A new pamphlet is forthcoming.Read More