On the Fifth Day of Christmas we bring you Marie-Louise Eyres, Belinda Rimmer, Andrea Holck

 

 

 

 

 

Limbs and leaves

Escaping the dry heat of the house
we step into the mild, Boxing Day damp.
Our noses fill with the sweet stench
of silage and fallen fruits at the end of the garden.

Lying beneath bare trees,
a brightly coloured apple blanket
unraked after the Autumn storm,
rots by design, into the soil.

We stroll past the old piggery full of pruned back roses,
the cow sheds crammed with firewood,
too heavy to lug into the house this year,
too dusty for our eyes.

The greenhouse shelters a forest of geraniums
bowing to greet us, limbs and leaves gathering mildew.
Under these windows angled to the sky,
rumours the scent of decay.

 

 

Marie-Louise Eyres is a London poet living just outside Washington Dc. In 2018 she has been shortlisted by the Bridport Prize, the Myslexia Women’s poetry competition and Moonstone Arts Center Chapbook competition.

 

 

 

Drift

Snow on the ground, patches of green forewarn a slow melt – no white Christmas.
Eager for another ride before snow turns to slush, my son has stopped mid-sledge
to pose for a picture. I hunker down beside him. My arm rests across his knee,
easy, natural. I’m wearing pink wool – hat, scarf, mittens – and heavy boots.
Our eyes squint into a low sun. We smile in different directions.
Beyond the picture – cups of cocoa, slippery chips, stars in a darkening sky
and an icy path home.

The lake already frozen, leaves like shark fins pushing through ice.
Different this year, the house now empty – my boys out in the world.
Stacking clouds promise a storm, maybe early snow.
A robin settles, tiny under winter feathers.
I was trying so hard not to think of Christmas.

Between the branches enough mistletoe to decorate the doors.
I reach, no longer ballerina-elegant. I still believe in kissing under mistletoe.
What would it be like to kiss a stranger? What taste? What wayward tongues?

 

 

Belinda Rimmer has worked as a psychiatric nurse, lecturer and creative arts practitioner. She recently came second in the 2018 Ambit Poetry Competition. Her first poetry pamphlet will be published next year by Indigo Dreams.

 

 

 

The Gift

It was snowing, and my pregnant wife Nell was making pancakes in the kitchen when Loni arrived to drop off Rosie. It was Sunday, the day we switched. I asked her to come in. Christmas was in a few days, and a house filled with carols had had its effect on me; I was feeling kindhearted.

“Thanks,” she said, taking one big step over the threshold. She bent to untie the laces of her snow boots. I began to regret the invitation immediately. Loni and I had shared a brief encounter behind a row of sky-blue porto-potties at a neighborhood event I had been hired to photograph four years earlier, and our relationship had declined quickly from there. We had never gotten along, but we loved our daughter and affected friendliness when she was around.

“Um, let me take your coat,” I said, and as she stood and unzipped, I noticed the sheer fabric of her blouse.

“Is Nell here?” she asked. She had put on perfume

“Yeah, of course, she’s making pancakes in the kitchen.”

“Pancakes!” Rosie squealed and ran toward the kitchen, wet tracks following her. Loni and I watched her go, still wearing our empty smiles.

“So.” She turned to me, running a hand through her hair. “Your driveway’s snowed in. You should plow it.”

“Yeah, Jackson, next door is going to come over later to do that. We like to keep him in business. He’s saving for his first car.” Her jacket hung heavily over my forearm. Putting it somewhere felt like a commitment.

“Plans for Christmas?” she asked.

“Yeah.” I said, and stopped, reluctant to go on.

“Sounds great.”

I cringed at the cheerful sarcasm. Pointless. I gave in. “Yeah, Nell’s parents are driving down from Chicago, so we’ll have a big dinner, go to midnight mass. Her dad likes ham, so…probably have a ham.” I heard Nell telling Rosie to be careful and pictured them in the kitchen, placing chocolate chips one by one on the bubbling batter. Loni stood in her unlaced snow boots. She placed a hand on the wall, the other fingering a silver crucifix at her collarbone.

“Jack,” she said to my shoes and took a step closer. She brought one hand to my shoulder, looked at it there, removed it. “I brought you a gift.”

“Oh.” I shifted. “You didn’t have to do that!” It came out bright, nervous. I put the smile back on my face.

“It’s just there, in my coat pocket.” She pointed to the coat on my arm. I held it out, and without taking it, she dug in the pocket, pulled out a small gold cardboard box, the kind they give you when you buy someone jewelry. She’d tied a red ribbon around it and written Merry Christmas Jack in tiny cursive letters in one corner. She waited for me to take it.

“Thanks, Loni.” She stayed silent. “Do you want me to open it?”

“Oh, you could,” she said. “Just a sec.” She took slipped out of the boots and crossed into the house toward the kitchen. There were enthusiastic words, an exaggerated kissing sound, and Rosie’s sweet

“Bye Mommy!” and then Loni was back.

“Right, open it,” she said, slipping her bare feet back into her boots, and bending to relace.
My stomach pulsed. She rose, looked me in the eye. “Well, open it Jack.”

I pulled at the ribbon, lifted the lid, folded back the tissue paper, the kind you blow your nose with. Inside was something fabric, red; my finger touched a bit of white feathery and I pulled it back. “What is it?” I asked, staring at the box.

“Merry Christmas, Jack,” she said, and took her coat from my arm. As she walked down the steps toward her car, I lifted the panties from the box: red lace and white fluffy trim.

“What’s that?” It was Nell, who’d heard the door close as Loni left. “Everything all right? You coming, sweetie? What is that, Jack?” My tongue was a weight in my mouth. Nell walked over and took the box, opened it, poked at it. “Jesus, are you serious? Are you fucking serious?” she whispered,

“Jack.” She laughed, then lowered her voice. “Jack, she’s insane. What does she think she’s doing?”
From the kitchen, Rosie called to us for breakfast.

 

 

Andrea Holck is an American-born writer and teacher based in London.

 

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On the Fourth Day of Christmas we bring you Laura McKee, Amlanjyoti Goswami, Gareth Writer-Davies

 

 

 

 

 

Since it was all about a son

I ask my son now that he doesn’t really believe in everything
what’s Christmas all about then? I mean what does it mean to you?

there is still a hole in the roof to follow a star through
but we have just had the boiler fixed

warm and sleepy he stretches out his body
and his answer      er            er         er      cold      but warm

because you wear
I don’t mean just you
but you wear
way too many layers of clothing

I ask him does that make you just right
or too warm then
too warm he says assertively
half asleep and fully a wise man

 

 

Laura McKee knows the handwriting of all the elves but doesn’t have the teeth for sellotape. Find her spearing the Turkish Delight, or on Twitter: @Estlinin and newly hatched on Instagram: @pretendpoet1

 

 

 

Christmas

The sun god has come home
more a viking than pastor

We welcome him, hug him, call him home
The last train has reached the station

The cold huddles in blankets on the empty platform
We make our way in the dark

He sleeps deep, now, shh, the house all quiet
Watched carefully, in turns, by those kind spirits

When morning comes, he stretches, a maharaja in lambskin
And lolls about the duvet till evening

Awakening at last, to a grim noise at the back of his head
College is over, over, over, and no job is in sight

Behind us, the battered radio whispers, silent night,
And hope is baked in tiny morsels that have come to stay

 

 

Amlanjyoti Goswami’s poems have been published in India, Nepal, Hong Kong, the UK, USA, South Africa, Kenya and Germany, including the anthologies, 40 under 40: An Anthology of Post Globalisation Poetry (Poetrywala) and A Change of Climate (Manchester Metropolitan University, Environmental Justice Foundation and the University of Edinburgh). His poems have also appeared on street walls of Christchurch, exhibitions in Johannesburg and buses in Philadelphia. He grew up in Guwahati, Assam and lives in Delhi.

 

 

 

Cormorant

I open
the window on Christmas Day

and there’s a cormorant
moving like a snake beneath the water

no doubt after crayfish
the bird makes mind-bending turns (against the current)

surfaces
like an iron ship recovering its buoyancy after long submersion

has evil been charmed
into the birds turquoise eye and the haught of his feathers

quick says the bird
leaping onto the wash stones and spreading his wings

one shot
and I am gone for ever

 

 

 

Gareth Writer-Davies: Shortlisted for the Bridport Prize (2014 and 2017)  Commended Prole Laureate Competition (2015) Prole Laureate (2017) Commended Welsh Poetry Competition (2015) Highly Commended (2017)  His collection The Lover’s Pinch (Arenig Press) published  2018. He is a Hawthorndon Fellow for 2019

 

Notes:

*the cormorant was an early Christian symbol, resembling a cross as it dried its wings

** as a side note, last Christmas I saw a cormorant on Christmas Day in the river at the back of my house. Haven’t seen one before or since…

 

 

 

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On the Third Day of Christmas, we bring you Maggie Butt, Mark Fiddes, Catherine Ayres

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing the Tree

We diary-match till everyone is free.
In scarves and gloves and hope we mobilise
for yearly quest to find the perfect tree.

Two factions, both alike in certainty:
one favours sculptural, the trunk on show,
the other fulsome, dense-green, thickety,

a centrepiece to hang with memory
and baubles from the years with our loved-lost;
pact with the past for future harmony.

We orbit, apogee and perigee,
each specimen presented, catwalk twirled
while we assess, dispute, grow prickly

as pines. More buyers come, see two – agree –
while we haul out our nineteenth, needled now,
Not that one! Are you kidding? Can’t you see?

The seller drags a fresh one, and Yippee
it hits all bases, holy grail of spruces!
Christmas is saved, and so is family.

 

 

Maggie Butt’s fifth collection was Degrees of Twilight (The London Magazine 2015). She teaches Creative Writing at Middlesex University and is a Royal Literary Fund Advisory Fellow. She spends Christmas with her husband, two daughters, nieces and partners. www.maggiebutt.co.uk

 

 

 

All that stuffing

My Uber burrows through the slush hour sleet.
Hounslow rises either side as reindeers pace
in arcade glitter over gables swollen with yule.
Privet hedges flicker like an electrocution of elves.

I’ve flown in late, gift-less, with a broken wing
that needs care but you will only notice a starling
tapping at your window, its starlit eye unclosing.
Hurrying things are cursed with love no one sees.

This car heater sucks in all the smells that belong
at the back of elsewhere behind ovens and bins;
all the human stuffing coming out for baby Jesus.
A plastic snowman stands where snow should be.

A courier curls up like a prawn by his motorbike
at the crossing as the traffic circumnavigates.
Two paramedics alight from a festive ambulance
in Santa hats while policemen bumble with tape.

I’d better text. You’ll never forgive me, ever
because I remember you my young sister opening
your advent calendar early, only to pop back
each cheery doorway like none of us had noticed,

as if the future of love was instantly knowable,
that Christmas was all that should ever matter.
Believe that the past is no more than torn paper,
then once a  year, you can always be right.

 

 

 

Mark Fiddes’ poems have been published in The Irish Times, London Magazine, Magma, Poem Magazine and Southword. Some you’ll find in The Chelsea Flower Show Massacre or The Rainbow Factory – both published by Templar Poetry. He’s been awarded the Ruskin Prize, the Dromineer Festival Prize and was runner up in the Bridport Prize. Earlier this year, he had two poems shortlisted in the Keats-Shelley Prize.

 

 

 

Christmas Eve tea

5 o’clock.
Light silvers the sill.
This is the season of curious moons,
when we’re lost in the velvet of ourselves,
undreaming the deep nights
 between tomorrow and the past.

Rooms flower slowly, like stars.

Here are steep steps,
a hexagon of doors,
two china dogs guarding
the gas fire’s slapped cheeks.

I find the Smarties tube of tuppences.
I shake the Virgin so the Holy Water swirls.
I am allowed to sink my face
into the Sunday furs.

In the kitchen,
a clutch of pinnied women
makes the china clink.

Cold meats,
trifle,
salad from a tin.

This is not a photograph –
it’s the warm edge of the past
where the women I love
are still alive.

I thought life would slot
into a snug line
by the sink.

My kitchen is neat and cold.
Light silvers the sill.
At the window, stars.

 

 

 

Catherine Ayres is a teacher from Northumberland. Her debut collection, Amazon was published in 2016 by Indigo Dreams.

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On the First Day of Christmas, we bring you Madelaine Smith, Joanne Key, and Caroline Hammond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Christmas

away from home you invite me as family;
more used to a summer celebration
I brave the weather to join you.

Fingers of cold inch through layers,
pinch ears in unkind clasps,
bring tears to my eyes.

I walk the blanketed roads and pavements;
snow-covered, featureless, silent ground – blue in the dark –
each corner the same and unrecognised until I arrive.

Chilled beyond expectation I knock at your heavy door.
You fling it wide and hug me in,
welcoming me ‘home’ when I am nowhere near.

 

 

Madelaine Smith grew up in Australia but hated long hot summers. She has had poems published in South Magazine, Paper Swans anthologies, Perverse Poems, Northampton Poetry Review, and the Winchester Loose Muse Anthology. Madelaine works for Winchester Poetry Festival.

 

 

The Strange Folk from Under the Stairs

December, they tumble out,
covered in dust, shy as mice.
I tend their breaks and grazes,
make them comfortable
by the fire where they sit
smiling like little children.

God love them, chubby faces
lit up like full moons, all except
the girl – the light has gone out
of her, still, she makes an effort
in her red dress and silver shoes.

Only I know about the years
she spent alone and broken,
hands clasped in silent prayer.
Everyone said she was beyond
repair. But now look at her!
She’s as good as new.

Soon there’ll be parties,
and everyone will try
to get her to shine,
but she’s happy sitting alone
in her dark corner, lips sealed,
dolled-up to the nines.

 

 

Joanne Key’s poems have been published online and in print. She won Second Prize in the National Poetry Competition 2014, and Charles Causley 2016 and was Runner-Up in the Prole Competition 2017. In 2018 she won the Hippocrates Open Prize.

 

 

First Winter Estranged

Before she leaves the apartment
the girl hides all her notebooks;
tears a hole in her skirt to stop herself
wondering if she’d remembered.

The bus is so full of snowy people
stuck together like wet hair,
she dives back into the crowd
and runs through the coloured lights
and music to the gallery.

The way that it keeps coming down at her
she stops brushing away the snow,
leaves it to pile on her shoulders
as statues do.

With Dante in her left pocket
and two matchboxes in her right
she looks hard at the painting of winter
pretends that those trees can cry
that it’s true: you can snap a twig
and hear the voices of suicides
lamenting.

Home, she’d say
Is made of paper, spoiled by wet snow
But the question is never asked.

The girl is here at opening time
9am in summer, 10 am in winter
and leaves when they suggest it’s time to close.

 

 

London-based Caroline Hammond is part of the LetterPress poetry collective and was published in their Anthology in 2015.  She has read at the Aldeburgh Festival in 2016 and the South Downs Poetry Festival in 2017, where her poem, the Firetail, came second in the Festival’s competition

 

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