The Seventh Day of Christmas

In Cold Dimensions

I study the lives on a leaf: the little sleepers, numb nudgers in cold dimensions

A strange way to see.
A stranger’s way.
Her garden is an exhibition
with lit rooms, masterpieces,
and her rooms are parterres;
the shape and size of their levels
calculated to the soil-grain,
the spaces between shadowed
gnomons; those data-breaks
called seasons hold
hallmarks and prints:
temperature’s drafting.
She explains that there are masters
as there are spadesmen,
that both are speculators;
that the gruff grafters
who break soil, sieve weed,
are the salts of creation. Yet
that is not the actual work—
this arises by intangible
skill, by flaw, flawed
experiment even, and her own
interventions. The stranger:
she must always be welcomed.
These then are her gardens.
Her four-shadowed sundial.
Scent of snow on the breeze.
Sun pawing on your shoulders.
Ripe buds quelling colour
before they broadcast leaf
as if to foreshadow winter.
A strange, constant season.
The moon sails in a wrack
of steady cirrus and sleet.
On the lip of that world
she turns to take your hand.

Now, from her black soil,
storytellers and artists
begin to erupt: cramoisy
abstracts from peony and poppy,
dripped inks of algae
igniting on a dew-pond;
butterfly narratives
of flight, where they settle
to sip, unfold wings
on illuminated parchment
on a comparison of palettes,
on the wherewithal of pattern.
There, come her rich fables
in which lacewings balance
against ground-level winds:
the viewless khamsins,
zephyrs and haramattans,
that sway towers of digitalis;
and in the foxglove mouths
humble-bees move
edgily at their easels;
dragonflies, hummingbirds
freeze and spurt above oils,
histrionic, in counter-worlds.
Now are her apprentices
to works in progress:
under the pearl pond’s surface
bent brushes of fly larvae
on canvas below a lily’s pad:
two poles of a planet –
one in loom, one in radiance –
half-conceiving of the other;
a toad hunkers over them,
a levitating Brahma,
lax tutor of the green school
of watercolour, of water.

Here, her miniatures move
into sight: the eye delves
hinterlands where the unmanaged
survive under a slew of brick
lobbed by the first gardener.
Lever the frore mortar
to parallel cities of red ants,
woodlice, gaunt generations
of black frost and feelers,
unnoticed deaths, languages,
births, ice architecture.
Their great roof falls back.
At length, among the etching
blades of spear and couch
grass, the factions of colour
freeze to clear light.
A solitary, strange season.
In her lit outline
the garden shows a wall,
then a gate to the space
where she will let you
stand apart from yourself.
At the lip of the world.
She releases your hand.

*David Morley
’s new book is Enchantment. His poetry has won 14 awards. 'In Cold Dimensions' is from his previous collection The Invisible Kings (a PBS Recommendation.) His ‘writing challenges’ podcasts are among the most popular literature downloads on iTunes worldwide. He writes for The Guardian and Poetry Review.


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The Sixth Day of Christmas

Living Yule

I was there, when men squatted on haunches

to chip flint and weave webs of belief
 from seasons
and circles of death and growth.

The stink of boar-grease stiffening my braid

and blue whorls whispering under my skin 

offered hope that darkness could end.

I put on homespun robes and tonsured my head
to walk the years when dogma stalked faith;
smoothing old ways and old faces to new shapes,
nudging builders to find safe spaces in stone arches.
Heedless of changed names for the turns of the year,
I watched the ploughman bury cakes for first cut,
crooned the song of seasons round to seed-time.

I’ve paced the years’ life and I am still here to die
ever again. Hide me beneath plastic and tinsel,
dress me in red, fatten my cheeks, sweeten my story;
the scent of old circles clings to the shade of man.

Angela France

More through a faint vibration of the air
on our skin than by the ear,
we feel his arrival and hurry out –
leave the unfamiliar house for a darkness that
to our urban eyes is solid pitch,
nothing close, no middle, no sense of distance,
just a freezing rural December night
and whatever we can feel beneath our feet.
And there he is, rear wheels slipping in the mud
frictionless as any proper god –
come with the intent of supplying us
with food and drink through the winter solstice.
Rotund, in the spill of his van’s light,
a pair of plump hands on hips, legs apart,
he stands there laughing at his predicament,
then punches away at the faint
signal on his phone but the place is too remote.
We offer to help him out –
begin to stumble to and fro in the lane,
in his rear-lights each like a crimson-faced clown –
trying gravel shovelled from the farm drive,
trying terracotta roof tiles
someone has tipped beside the bramble hedge.
We search for anything we might wedge
in the black slithering mess under his tyres,
straw, cardboard, logs, ironic prayers.
But the van still snarls like a tethered beast
and rocks to and fro like a helpless
child that fights the confines of its cradle . . .
Then he dismisses us with a smile.
He sends us back to light and warmth,
saying something like it’s what I’m here for.
We shut the door, relieved, to be honest.
We leave him to the closing vice of frost
and next morning scarves of mist
replace the dark that with him have vanished.
Wheel ruts, gravel, red tiles broken:
we laugh in daylight – did this really happen?
Outside, there is so little evidence to show.
Inside, shelves overflow.

Martyn Crucefix

*Angela France has had poems published in many of the leading journals, in the UK and abroad. She has an MA (with distinction) in ‘Creative and Critical Writing’ from the University of Gloucestershire and is studying for a PhD. Her second collection, Occupation is available from Ragged Raven Press and a third will be out with Nine Arches Press in 2011.

*Martyn Crucefix's  prizes include a major Eric Gregory award and a Hawthornden Fellowship. He has published 4 collections, including An English Nazareth
(Enitharmon, 2004). His translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies was
published by Enitharmon in 2006, shortlisted for the Popescu Prize for
European Poetry Translation. His new collection,
Hurt, has just been published by Enitharmon. 

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The Fifth Day of Christmas

Bad Quarto

It seems my Folio’s out of joint
with the version that you scribbled down
while sub-plots drew the spot from kings
and courtiers waltzed on from the wings
or were bottled off by groundlings.

My favourite scene? The woodland spree
when, sappily, I carved your name
into the bark of every tree
and vowed I’d never love again
if love were sundered by Act III.

But in the Quarto that you stage
you leave the bloody business on the page:
of how I called the surgeons round
to hack the lumber to the ground,
revealing five pale rings per trunk,
scorching the salted earth’s black stumps.

Simon Barraclough

An everyday liturgy
I wouldn’t want to be you now, not even now
At this festive time of year, when you hit the headlines
In glitter and guilt, and with our sins of omission we trudge
Into dank stone gatherings of the annually faithful.
I wouldn’t want to see all this through your eyes, this life
Of shoppers, sinners, squanderers, and savers (but few saviours;
It’s not a well–paying position these days and we tend
To hack at the clay feet of former gods and nearly all idols).
I wouldn’t want to feel what you feel, or what you ever felt,
That height of altruism being beyond me, my days mostly spent
Keeping heads above water and wolves from the door,
Making ends meet and not meeting my maker just yet, but
Wondering all the same if you are somewhere, still, like me,
Clinging to a cross and hurling imprecations at the sky.

Brett Hardman

* Simon Barraclough is the author of the Forward-shortlisted Los Alamos Mon Amour (Salt Publishing, 2008) and the limited edition boxed mini-book, Bonjour Tetris (Penned in the Margins, 2010). Bad Quarto'  is published in 'Bonjour Tetris'

*Brett Hardman is a
British-Canadian. She recently completed the Bath Spa MA Creative
Writing, lives in Wiltshire with her husband, and is writing a
collection of short stories based on her experiences working at
racetracks in North America.

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The Fourth Day of Christmas

Another Christmas


Last Sunday before Christmas. Blue sky, transparent afternoon moon.

Plasma screens are flying off the shelves of Woolworths.

On the hill, brown smoke billows from the hospital incinerator;

body parts, foetal matter.


Dan Wyke

28 December
At shadowless noon
every fence post has a muffin top,
rooks have phoned in sick,
huffed up like draught excluders,
and even the ivy can't be arsed
to scavenge the grey photons.
A buzzard is quartering her day,
checking the thank you letters
of small creatures, whose best joined-up
smokes out of novelty pencils;
when she finds a phrase that pleases
she'll stoop to put a red tick on the snow.

Nick MacKinnon

Mum's Garden
Okay to the thirteen green parakeets
on the bare apple tree
still noisily celebrating their ancestral
break-out from the bird sanctuary.
Okay to the woodpecker
with red cockade
feasting on lawn grubs
for over an hour.
Okay, of course,
to the usual thrushes, magpies,
crows and reservoir-seagulls –
But, Mum, you have to be kidding –
at the very top of the tallest fir tree,
one ungainly fairy
on the green xmas tree,
hunch-perched heron surveying
the edibility scene –
(no garden hereabouts
without its goldfish pond ) –
of  crows and  seagulls
ganging up to shout –
No Herons Allowed!
taking his time,
then launching, all gateleg-table foldable legs,
long beak and greybeard wings,
into the breakfast-time sky,
grace under pressure indeed…
Who’d think this treetop gawk
would have such ballet-work in him,
our light-fantastic visitant?

Penelope Shuttle

* Dan Wyke
is a winner of a Gregory Award for poetry and his new collection Waiting for the Sky to Fall is available from Waterloo Press

*Nick MacKinnon is a teacher in Winchester. His audiobook Storytelling
read by Stephen Campbell Moore and Juliet Stevenson appears in the new
year. His poems have won major prizes in the Bridport, Plough, Edwin
Morgan and MacLellan Festival competitions.

* Penelope Shuttle's
last collection Redgrove’s Wife
(Bloodaxe Books,
2006), was shortlisted for both the Forward Prize and T.S. Eliot Prize.
Her latest collection is Sandgrain and
(Bloodaxe Books,


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The Third Day of Christmas

The pilgrims watch us as we go about our work in the temple of shine. It is not yet the appointed hour and so they must wait in the greying snow and biting wind and, for now, but look in upon our preparations.
You may think that cruel, that we are warm and they must wait. But that is the way of things.
We must prepare ourselves and our temple so that in their worship they may reach a new zenith. Our god has many faces and many places of worship, and so his temples must be palaces of seduction; we must use all our charms, both subtle and bold, to bring in the congregation and separate them from their prayers.
It being the festive season our priestly robes are red. We must set ourselves apart from the thronging masses, that worshippers may pick us out and we may ease their aching minds.
We find the prayers that suit them, the wishes that will please their loved ones most.
They take their turns at the prayer posts and make their offerings in pretty metals or promises of the same.
Acolytes thank them for their worship and we close with ritualistic speech.
“Would you like a bag with that?”
“Have a nice day.”

John Xero

Family Christmas Haiku

Every single year
we gather around the tree
opening old wounds.

Martin Figura

And What Will Become Of Me?

Hair of tinsel, a nose like Santa
and greying beard to match
arthritic limbs, spindle & spruce
reddened, green & gaudily silver
obsolescent. Of little use

I am Christmas decoration.

Tired, broken and slightly out-of-fashion
temporarily exciting
and secular to boot

Annual. Perennial. Commercially obtainable
a necessary evil
like baubles

A spent fuse, a flickering fairy light
out of my box
for a short festive season
antiquated, perfumed with booze
and synonymous with tedium

I am Christmas decoration.

Yanny Mac

*John Xero is a graduate of the Norwich School of Art and Design creative writing degree. In-between studying he has spent the last ten years selling books; other people's books. One day he hopes to be able to sell you his own. In the meantime he publishes new micro-fiction every sunday at

*Martin Figura has two new collections Whistle (Arrowhead) and Boring the Arse off Young People (Nasty Little Press).  He is an Apples and Snakes Associate Artist, and will be touring a live version of Whistle in 2011.

*Yanny Mac is a performance artist from Suffolk. A founding member of
the poetry collective
Aisle16, he has performed shows at the Edinburgh
Fringe, Glastonbury, Latitude & Port Eliot Literary Festival.  In 2005
he took his one-man show 
Searchin For Me Chav Princess  to Edinburgh,
where it received critical acclaim. He is a regular contributor to
disability magazine Mobilise. His collection
Suburban Myths & Misses
is released in 2011.

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The Second Day of Christmas

Christmas Day

Blackbirds here again,
hopping across the lawn,
signal that this is
a day like any other
and all is right with the world –

despite water,
coming through the ceiling,
and grandma directing my wife
and daughter with her stick,
with boxes to catch the drips.

Back and forth they hop,
pecking clean upturned apple halves,
turned to coracles of skin;
stripped to the core and skewered,
as by a mast.

The female has brown feathers
and is more diffident than him.
He runs, hands clasped behind his back,
chasing away all competition,
however familial; beak thrust

out in front, its orange
the means of telling him apart,
as if its orange-ness
is what is left when black
is washed away by apple juice.

We set off, belatedly, for lunch,
a plumber having finally fixed the leak,
Dad, head down, nose pushed
confidently in front, hands behind his back,
re-buoyed by alcohol.

Phil Barrett

Jingle bells and Highballs

it’s colder than a snow angel on PCP right now.
I’m trippin so hard. Jimmy is laughing because
I’m making tiny  pimento cheese sandwiches
in my underwear. Jimmy’s kind of cute when
he laughs. He has this wicked grin and his
nose wrinkles up. Sometimes he laughs so hard
he nearly hyperventilates. We’ve been drinking
gin and tonic out of art deco highball glasses
I stole from an old lady I used to work for.
I take a bite of the sandwich after I pick off the
crust and Jimmy wipes some Pimento Cheese
from my mouth. Karen Carpenter is singing
a Christmas song on Jimmy’s flat screen.
Merry Christmas Darling… she croons.
Karen didn’t want Pimento Cheese sandwiches,
I tell Jimmy. She starved herself.
That’s her tough luck, he says,
eating another sandwich in practically one bite.
hey, I’m the queen of tiny sandwiches,
I tell him. Wheres my crown? where’s my
damn crown? Jimmy starts laughing again.
He grabs the remote and changes the channel.
Unfortunately, it’s another crappy Christmas re-run.

Melanie Brown

Romance in Middle Age??

I should like to have been the ghost at your feast,?
to have beckoned to you with a long, white,?
red-tipped finger, to come with me, away, away.??

Me in my red silk dress flowing to the ground,?
swishing as I walked, cut to the waist at the back?
framing my luscious curves, the delicate pearls of spine;
?my jet hair loose and sleek. ??

I would have taken you?
to the roof to swirl in a waltz far above the city,?
your hand firm on my waist. We would have been magnificent. ??

You would have come with me willingly, leaving?
your dull company. You wouldn’t have minded the roof.??

The red dress would have drawn favour. Revellers
?in the street below would have pointed at the couple
?roof-dancing in winter, domed by stars.

Angela Topping

*Phil Barrett trained as a visual artist, with a career spent largely
teaching Art and Design. Since early retirement he has led poetry
workshops in Primary and Secondary Schools. He has won prizes for his
poetry – most recently 2009 Barnet Open and joint 2nd Prize 2009
Ravenglass Competition  – with a poem in the 2010 Word Aid Anthology
‘Did I Tell You?’ – 1 31 poems for Children in Need.

*Melanie Browne  writes poetry and fiction. She is a former art teacher
now raising her three children with her husband in Texas. She is the
founding editor of a new online journal The Literary Burlesque.
She has writing at various places on
the web such as  Bartleby- Snopes,Word Riot, and 34th Parallel.

*Angela Topping lives in Cheshire and has four solo collections, including The New Generation, for children, (Salt 2010). Forthcoming in 2011 is a chapbook, I Sing of Bricks from Salt, and a sequence from Rack Press called Catching On.

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The First Day of Christmas





‘Let his path be covered all in red, so Justice
can lead him back into his home’


Welcome home, husband.
At last. Observe,
I spread this,
a red carpet
at your feet.
Greet your pretty children.
Walk with me and watch me work.


Our ancient oven hisses dark fumes
as the Christmas goose spits in its pan,
a pudding steams in the heat of my breath
and I am sweating kerosene into the gravy.

The presents you pile high as mountains,
these are not apologies or offerings
or even hunting trophies, but
funeral pyres. I dream of midnight arson,
wrapping paper kindling,
multiple explosions of triple-a batteries
as glass-blue eyeballs combust
and helpless, disfigured heads
roll towards my waiting lap.
Jacqueline Saphra’s poetry has been widely published and her plays performed on stage and television. She has won several awards including first prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition. Her pamphlet, Rock’n’Roll Mamma (Flarestack) will be followed this year by her first collection The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions (flipped eye – supported by The Arts Council of England.)

The Desert

I’ll colour a colley bird black as my heart,
black as your heart, blacker than love,
and give it to you, and its blue-black coat
will hold you in its feather mirror and prove
that light is in the dark, that pigment augments
the auguries of light by being their opposite:
that dark is bright. In the bleak desert
it’s the blackbird will see you home, not the dove.
The dove would come to pieces at the first dart
of unrefracted light, his pearly breast
no match for the shaft of truth on the native hearth.
I say native – all of us live there who must move
our hearts to find a place for them to stay
when staying still is never still enough, when still
makes of the heart a target. The blackbird
will lead you forward under camouflage,
under cover of night, lit by the flares of starlight,
along the path of Kings who, by a faith
even than coal more impenetrably dark –
by which I mean ‘more richly pigment-stuffed’,
seamed with being, alive with particles,
each particle housing a mystery; not just ‘more light-deprived’ –
who, as I say, found themselves by faith at the start
of everything. On the other side of the desert you will come –
holding this black, sleek, mirror-shining, solid
being, whose heartbeats will splinter off in your hand
and fall on the sand, so fast, so small, so hard,
the enchanted flower, the elixir, the fountain, the infant –
at last to the reflection of your own beating heart.
That will be, if I can give it to you, my gift.



Katy Evans-Bush is the author of Me and the Dead (Salt) and Oscar & Henry (Rack Press). She edits the online literary magazine Horizon Review, blogs at Baroque in Hackney, and tutors independently and for the Poetry School. Egg Printing Explained is due from Salt in spring 2011.

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