On the Fifth Day of Christmas we bring you Ali Whitelock, Jane Burn and Nicola Slee



the cumquats of christmas past

you hailed your taxi tuesday the eight––
eenth of february 2014 at four twenty seven p.m.
i watched it approach swerve to the kerb
its back doors fly open––if this was death i saw it
crouched behind the wheel & jaded as a night
shift driver full of red bull & no doz & cheap 7/11
coffee ten thousand cigarette butts spewing
from its ashtray’s filthy mouth
the driver bundled you in––no fanfare
no prayers no bach cantata sung in sotto voce
that might accompany you on the fresh black
tarmac of your new road ahead––& nothing
soft for you to lay your head on
just a cracked vinyl seat stale cigarette
smoke a strawberry scented christmas tree jiggling
like a tea bag from the rear view mirror.  i lay my
hand on yours leaned in whispered something like
i’m sorry made sure your pyjama sleeves were clear
of the door before pressing it closed as the first
bubbles of fermenting sadness rose in me
and i forced them down like cumquats into a jar
filled with brandy in preparation for christmas
which was still ten months away & for weeks i kept
cramming till the skins of my cumquats tore
their flesh bled out & you could no longer
tell where one cumquat ended & another
& when finally christmas came i half
decked my halls whispered infrasonic compliments
of the season too low even for a passing whale hung
empty stockings from the mantle their gaping mouths
speechless by the un-kindled fire & when finally
lunch was served & those of us left were gathered over
turkey & ham i took my jar of preserved cumquats
from the dark of my pantry, made my way around
the table & heaped everyone’s plate with a side of my
compressed orange grief.



Ali Whitelock’s poems have been published in several magazines and journals.  Her memoir, poking seaweed with a stick…. was published to critical acclaim and her poetry collection, and my heart crumples like a coke can will be released in 2018.




Merry Christmas, Mixie Rabbit

Mistletoe furls from hawthorn, apple and oak,
births its berries – each one a bubble of snow,
a blister of milk. Birds lift them off with a beaky kiss,

relish their burst of bliss. The bared timbers sleep,
hearts tucked and dreamy, inside, deep. For them,
a biding – the patient knowledge of next year’s buds,

of baby leaves. For the evergreens, a show of plush
against the spangle of frost, joy at the coming ascension
of night and the soon-wearing of stars along their arms –

a clarity of tar-blue air balanced between needled hands.
In the sharp of dusk, the drunk smell of winter haylage,
pungent dung. Bundled in a nook of roots is a hazel body,

mute as a stone. Blind and clinging to this illusion of safety,
the dogs see it long before me. Fix their murder upon it,
ask to be unleashed. As we pass, it feels the shake of the path

beneath our feet, hears our noisy breath – the best it can do
is hold still, try to un-scrunch its pink-stuck eyes. It is praying
for invisibility, for us to pass. When twilight comes,

a fox will take the rabbit, quick and quiet as flight. The trees,
bald or fleshed with green will swallow its small cry. The berries
will shine cold as moons. I hope for succour for those that hurt –

peace for hearts that beat through the dark. Let drifts be kind
to whatever lies frozen below. Let the coming year open its face
to light. May pity be shown to all defenceless things.



Jane Burn is a poet based in the North East. Her poems have featured in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies and her first collection is available from Indigo Dreams.





It’s a girl

The news spread like wildfire.
Sages were perplexed.
Astronomers recalculated their stars.
Shepherds sloped back to their charges.
Only the midwives smiled their knowing smiles.
And the angels crowded round,
singing ‘Glory! Glory!’




Nicola Slee is a poet theologian who has published 3 collections of poetry and prose (Praying Like a Woman, The Book of Mary and Seeking the Risen Christa, all published by SPCK) as well as numerous poems in anthologies and journals.

Note: First published in Making Nothing Happen: Five Poets Explore Faith and Spirituality by Gavin D’Costa, Eleanor Nesbitt, Mark Pryce, Ruth Shelton and Nicola Slee (Ashgate, 2013)

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On the Fourth Day of Christmas we bring you Alwyn Marriage, Megan Pattie and Jenny Hill

Sensing the stable

New-born eyes don’t focus for a while,
but warmed by the breath of animals
and the love of a young girl,
the baby gradually became aware
of a cow that woke him when she lowed,
a donkey nibbling straw, the breeze
whispering through the door to ruffle his hair,
clouds of sparkling dust that made him cough,
the fragile peace pierced as anobium punctatum
punctured the wooden feeding trough
that was serving as a cradle.

He smelled the stable’s bitter pungency,
laced with the sweet scent of hay;
heard scratchy rustles as a mouse
dragged a husk of corn across the rough
stone floor, warm mumbles of a dove
shifting her feathers in the rafters.
He felt straw prickle on his skin, tasted
the sweet milk of a mother’s love, cried
for the lost Eden of her womb; then chuckled
at the donkey’s bray and cockerel’s fanfare,
the chuntering of chickens, two butterflies
that fluttered by and the ant that tickled his toes.



Alwyn Marriage’s latest two books were published in 2017: a novel, Rapeseed, and a poetry collection about mediaeval women, In the Image. She’s widely published in print and on-line, gives readings all over the world and is Managing Editor of Oversteps Books



The Innkeeper

I watched them into the barn
thinking, at least I had not turned them away
wholly. I heard nothing as he was born.
I was blind to the star’s rays
that brought the kings gift-laden.
No angel came to bid me prepare
for the babe born to a mother-maiden,
so I had no room to spare.
But as I watched from my window
the perfect scene arranged as if by rule,
I knew that this is just how these things go,
and every story must have a fool.


Megan Pattie lives on the North East coast of England. She was a Foyle Young Poet in 2009, and her work has appeared in several online and print publications, including Snakeskin and The Emma Press Anthology of the Sea.




after Rembrandt’s ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’

Time has its own pulse in the pastures,
where he can dovetail into the hush,
allow the night to swallow him
into her expanding rooms.

He has lost count of the births he has seen
under the passionless stare of the moon;
he has no fear of the smell of blood,
the slime, the seething afterbirth.

But here in this stable, he finds himself shy
as the light of this child’s nakedness
draws the darknesses out of him like stillbirths,
and re-animates them as light.



Jenny Hill was first published in the Netherlands in 2003.  2016 saw her first full collection Voices of the First World War, (Available at Amazon) which raises funds for Help for Heroes.  Jenny has appeared in Orbis & Strix journals, and is a recent winner of The Poetry Society’s members’ competition.

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On the Third Day of Christmas we bring you Nikhil Nath, John Paul Davies and Maggie Mackay




Growing gifts

A church spire
pricks the dull

sky and it
starts snowing

birds have gone
into hiding,

the flowers
will wait till

spring, the milkman
finds his,

a thankless job
and the snowman

is forced outdoors
while the coniferous

comes indoors
growing gifts

in its branches
on the night of

twenty fourth.


Nikhil  Nath has been writing poetry for eighteen years. He has been published in various magazine in India, the USA and the UK. Nikhil Nath is his pen name. He lives and works from Kolkata, India. “Write rubbish, but write”, said Virginia Woolf. This is Nikhil’s maxim for writing.  Allegro, Aji,  Laughing Dog (Poem of the Month), Ehanom, Ithica Lit, Germ Magazine, Leaves of Ink, Linden Avenue and Pif Magazine have recently accepted his work



A Commuter’s Prayer

In the frosted dark of Market Square,
hours before Supermac’s opens,
the camel-backed Magi spark to life.

Stealthy council workers drape streets
with pearls of light, flashing Santas, sleighs;
star of Bethlehem crowning a twelve foot tree.

Beneath the Chemist’s neon crucifix
a hooded commuter sways,
cradling a polystyrene cup.

Gazing at the electronic display,
he offers up a silent prayer
that ‘Delayed’ might defer to ‘Here’.

Suspended between penitent streetlamps,
a fibreglass angel traipses across
the tinted windows of a bus – not his.

Angel unbound in departing Plexiglass,
the 104 lumbers towards its guiding star.



John Paul Davies was born in Birkenhead and has been published in Crannóg, Manchester Review, The Frogmore Papers, Orbis, Smoke and Grain.  He was runner up in the 2016 Cheshire Prize for Literature, and placed second in the 2017 Waterford Poetry Prize.




Malawi Christmas

Evening meal shared, sun bled beyond the horizon,
the stone step draws you to the shuttered night.

One poor candle emits yellow light. Christmas stars soak it up,
leaves you sightless and as off-balance as a one-year-old.

Generous hands guide you. The air fills with giggles and hyena cackle.
Under Paul Simon’s African skies you squint as the space grows,

falls into your whiteness, close enough to touch,
a blur of radiance, a liberation. You know not what is below your feet.

Above a perigee moon sheds a spotlight, the inky black a backdrop
to silver fury and smoky glow. Flighty besom, stretch out forever

parallel to the heavens, counting stars, drawing constellations,
walking on your back, drunken with possibilities. You long for a star bed




Maggie Mackay, a jazz and whisky lover, has work in Algebra of Owls, Amaryllis, Atrium, Prole, The Everyday Poet, Southlight and Three Drops Press. Her poems have been nominated for The Forward Prize, Best Single Poem and the Pushcart Prize in 2017.

Note: A version of this poem was published on Angela Topping’s blog: Poetry about Hygge, 29/01/2017

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On the Second Day of Christmas we bring you Carole Bromley, Stuart Pickford and Pauline Rowe




Boar’s Head

We were passing through Borley
and I was thinking, as I changed gear
to go up the hill, woods either side,
of the wild boars that lived there
and gave it its name and whether
there are still boars there and, if so,
how big they might be and whether
they have tusks and if they are shy
like bears and, if they can, steer clear
of man and, when they sense one,
gallop off, cloven-hooved,
into the depths of the forest.

And I remembered Jantac
that first Christmas
and my long pink dress
from Richard Shops and how
I never noticed the cold
as we followed the boar’s head
across the quad, singing that carol
and how sorry I felt for it,
its mouth stopped with an apple.



Carole Bromley lives in York and has three books with Smith/Doorstop, the most recent, Blast Off!, a collection for children.






Grey children are moving across no-man’s land
on the astro. I turn back to Alistair catching up
with ‘Lord of the Flies’ coursework through lunch.

His tanned face is smiling: Have you ever
been to Antigua or island hopping? I look out
at the rehearsal of the truce on the Western Front:

During that Christmas, the Queen’s Westminsters,
wearing top hats and with umbrellas up, cycled across
the frozen sludge to the German trenches, but

after they’d exchanged gifts of Tickler’s jam
for schnapps—or, in our case, bags of Haribo
and Sainsbury’s commemorative chocolate bars—

they scouted the snipers’ positions so next day
they’d be ready for when the Hun raised his head.
Alistair’s staring at a present stuffed in the bin.

What’s that? he asks. A brown paper package
tied up in string is, in this case, just a prop,
I explain. There’s nothing in the battered box.

Can I have it? I shrug. As I check my diary
for our next catch-up session, Alistair holds it out
in both hands. Sir, your Christmas present.



Stuart Pickford is the recipient of an Eric Gregory award. His first collection, The Basics, was published by Redbeck Press (2002) and shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection prize. His second collection, Swimming with Jellyfish (2016), was published by smith/doorstop. Stuart lives in Harrogate and teaches in a local comprehensive school.




The Confusions of Father Christmas

The spring morning smugness in his ears
full of humming pigeons on the roof.

His mouth is dry and though the copper kettle
is still warm to touch, it holds no water.

Tears of dirt negotiate his beard,
he searches with his fingertips

for the small cruel lice he feels
dancing on his face.

The green velvet jacket does not fit
over his frayed and friable shirt.

A creature lows at his door
but does not know the designation – guide.

Without any care, how might he gather
these many sacks of sanctifications,

sufferings in every room
all over the house, if this is his house?

He sets a most reluctant course, closes his front door,
leaves an arc of unpaid bills around the mat.


Pauline Rowe works as Writer-in-Residence at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool and as Poet-in-Residence at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust.  She is a Creative Writing PhD student at Liverpool University and has 2 full collections.

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On the First Day of Christmas we bring you Gareth Writer Davies, Gillian Mellor and Joanne Key



Christmas Lights
after Anne Sexton

is turning on the Christmas

I am waiting
for my diagnosis

crowds have gathered
on the memorial green
for the white

explosion of light
with a ho-ho-ho baritone

thumps down the switch

I will try to be good

please don’t send death
in his fat red suit



Gareth Writer Davies was Shortlisted for the Bridport Prize (2014 and 2017) and the Erbacce Prize (2014) Commended in the Prole Laureate Competition (2015) and Prole Laureate for 2017. Commended in the Welsh Poetry Competition (2015) and Highly Commended in 2017. His pamphlet Bodies, was published in 2015  by Indigo Dreams and the pamphlet Cry Baby came out in November, 2017.





Mrs Winter Comes Home

A whisker above zero, she appears
on Slaughter Lane. Glass-winged
in the glow of fairy lights, she falls to Earth
as a dark, silk slip of a thing, drifting in,
soft as baby breath. Poor lamb.
Her body pools on the floor
outside the Christmas Factory door
where she hardens into the dark mirror
we daren’t look into. At sunrise,
I watch her come alive. Bright eyed,
she sharpens her icicles into knives, polishes her hooks.
Some folk try to chase her away.
They glove up, crack their knuckles
and salt the lane, and counting the days,
they shudder at the thought of her star-flecked
footprints on the factory path,
a sackful of feathers left on the step.
The factory steams day and night, spewing
warm light from its windows and tinsel
from its chimneys, but still she slips in
through the systems – a constant lowing that moves
through the pipework, refusing to be bled out.
Poor cow. She hasn’t got a clue who she’s dealing with.
As glitter fills the air like blossom,
her fingers tighten their grip on me. I creep down
to the cellar and open my chest for her.
Come now, blue wisp. Feel free. Fold yourself
into my cold storage, sleep
with the dead meat until it all blows over.



Joanne Key lives in Cheshire. Her work has been published online and in print and won prizes in competitions including the National Poetry Competition, Charles Causley, Prole and Bare Fiction.)





All the little humans were graded by size and behaviour
in the small assembly hall decked out
as the Large Hadron Collider.

Walls were plastered with tin foil and draped
with copper tinsel. Accurate? Who knows,
but Mrs Boyle hadn’t had so much fun in years.

Today we’ll be hearing about the detection
of the Higgs Boson said the headmistress. The God Particle
was Martin’s cue to begin: And it came to pass

that the parents were trying hard to follow the story,
but it was so long since any of them had studied
particle physics that they couldn’t remember exactly

who had annihilated who, which gifts the protons
provided and what flavours the quarks were.
It colder in the collider than outer space,

but this, sang Year 6, is how it all began.
Each kid waved a magnet in the air
(the parents joined in with their smartphones)

and the consequence of a billion collisions
were repeated as Gospel. Even Gospel has different versions.
So when Lindsay came on as antimatter

in a tea towel he was booed like a pantomime villain
though no-one could remember if this was appropriate
and the Supercomputers continued on glockenspiel

until the announcement that Higgs boson was found.
By the time the He had been wrapped
in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger

He had already disintegrated. (Applause.)
With a lifetime of 1.56×10-22 seconds
we keep faith the data proves He really exists.



Gillian Mellor wrote this poem because it was fun. And because it was about the kind of nativity she never knew she’d always wanted to be in.

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