The Birthmother’s Handbook
Choose another name for yourself, another city.
Prepare for the nuisance of the body,
a variegated allotment of pain and difficulty
that presages old age.
Rub your hands over your distending belly,
but not like a brass lamp, not like a crystal ball.
Rub as though you are polishing silverware,
its fine contours requiring slow work.
Listen to the doctor’s requirements as a midwife.
Insist that no drugs be given during labor
so that pain might induce anger.
Curse the fetus from your womb.
Mark time’s progress, the approaching end.
But above all, don’t sing to him.
Don’t name him.
Never let him become someone you could lose.
*American expatriate Carrie Etter has published two collections, The Tethers (Seren, 2009) and Divining for Starters (Shearsman, 2011), and reviews contemporary poetry for The Guardian. She blogs at http://carrieetter.blogspot.com/
Stars and Crickets
Why don't you come on out
to my place, baby?
Let me give you the guided tour.
Just take Old 40
five miles or so,
out past the signal-light
and Dewey's Auto Salvage,
'round Ms. Johnsons' Hairpin
and over the Princeton Wall,
through the Snake
and across Lonely Boy Bridge,
Hang a left at the old man
sitting in the broken-down truck
by the side of the road.
Go ahead and wave,
that's why he's there.
And when you come to the crossing
of Old 97 and Phantom 409, stop the car.
Put an empty long-neck bottle
in the middle of the cross-roads
(the spirits seem to favor Lone Star
or PBR, but any brand will probably do).
Go on and give it a spin
(and be sure to put some hip into it).
Which-ever way it points
is where I'll be —
waiting for you
to come on out
to my place, baby.
You bring the wine
in a brown paper bag
and I'll bring the whole night sky
on a flat-bed truck
and we'll drink and howl
and sing shining phrases
in praise of things
near and far —
things that click and chirp
and zoom and glitter,
right under our noses
or a zillion miles away,
it's all the same out here.
So come on out
to my place baby,
I got everything a girl
like you could ever need.
I may not have
no fancy car or a hundred
Brooks Brothers suits or even
a single pair of Italian leather shoes,
but, I got
an ocean of whispering wheat,
time-releasing all its secrets
in strange and mysterious frequencies,
I got long-gone-lonesome train-songs
always comin' in from somewhere across
I got galaxies
of stars and crickets, baby,
stars and crickets.
*Jason Ryberg is the author of seven books of poetry, six screenplays, a few short stories, several angry letters to various magazine and newspaper editors. His latest collection of poems is Down, Down and Away (co-authored with Josh Rizer and released by Spartan Press). He lives in Kansas City, Missouri. Feel free to look up his skirt at jasonryberg.blogspot.com
Hotel by a Railroad
The hotel by the railroad was our home, and it fit my life as though the tracks going by were the memories of moving youth and the hotel itself the stable stopping off point of maturity. He owned it like he owned other things in town and he owned it like he came to own me, so that when I felt like taking my hands from what was left of his dead hair, I just sat by the window and watched the faces in the train windows, some of which looked back, most of which were talking to the face opposite, still others just looking ahead in limitless differences of blank and buffeted repose.
So what can one say of the spectre of youth in the middle years of it forever gone away? It is to say that I was beautiful beyond what you might imagine, and everything came to me, morning and night, in a pattern of proffered flowers. It was for me to choose which of the flowers to take and why I grew old with a vase full of different ones, where the smells still lingered and the fading colours could still be retouched by the golden light of whisky, the shaking comfort of cigarettes.
I had such power over them when my eyes were bright and my hair was shining and the skin on my face and all over my body was painted in depthless glamour. To those outside the room they held all the power, but when they came in with a saloon on their lips, all hard and begging to be sated, it was I who held the cards under the covers and in my waiting, wanting eyes. Don’t misunderstand me, even in my beauty I was never one of those women that can be told, but I thought it was in my interests to sometimes seem that way, to give them the notion of power and make them feel like they had it always, but I can see now that that was because I wanted them all to be more than they could be, and without exception they failed.
Thinking back now, with the flowers in my hands, I know I couldn’t handle those choices. Most of all of them had something the other didn’t have and vice versa and, in short, I wanted to be the lover and not the beloved. That is why in mistaken and faded marriage I looked at little more than boys who came to the hotel. I saw the girls they wasted themselves with, wanted those boys for myself. I wanted my ageing body next to the shining, perspiring youth of theirs, their flat stomachs and perpetual readiness. I wanted a full head of shining, colourful hair through which I could run my hands and somehow take the wrinkles from my fingers. And I found it, one jewelled afternoon where no trains passed, and the sunlight shone against the drape, and his head moved among the pinstripes of light surrounding and my fingernails sank into his careless laughter, and I bit him through the difficulty of breathing.
But as is the wont of the beloved he got on the morning train, and I watched him with his fragrant, apparently useless beau of the moment: the gentlemanly lift as he hoisted her into his arms at the top of the steps, the bright faces of both, the seemingly guileless eyes and his golden ability. I watched to see for so much as a glance up to where he knew I was standing, but I watched his movement along the window glass, saw him sit by the window still smiling at her, and her just stupid and smiling back. And it was then that I sat and opened the book and smelt the cigarette and heard the shuffling walk.
*Neil Campbell was born in Manchester, now studying for a PhD at Northumbria University. Short story collection, Broken Doll, published by Salt. Poetry chapbooks, Birds, and Bugsworth Diary, published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. Short story, Barren Clough, in the anthology, Murmurations. Short story collection, Pictures from Hopper, forthcoming from Salt.
This piece is based on a painting by Edward Hopper
Vintage Sea by Marion McCready, Calderwood Press, 2011, £5
McCready has a strong and confident voice, especially so for a first collection. The poet hails from the island of Lewis and was brought up in Dunoon, Argyll, consequently her poems are imbued with landscape and way of life, with gentle overtones of magic and mythology. The writing is three dimensional, visceral, synaesthetic – it brims over with concrete detail, colour and texture. McCready has the uncanny ability to imbue even the most mundane, common place things with mystical properties, for example a pair of boots hanging from a wire in Boots:
I looked up to them,
like caught crows.
from the North Sea.
Whereas poems such as I Carried my Sand Freckled Face weave a charm about the reader – they carry you along on the spell of their language.
McCready favours short lines and short stanzas and this suits her subject matter. She allows each image the space to breathe and to develop itself in the readers mind, and whether intentionally or not one gets the sense of the space and remoteness of the Scottish coast from the layout and sparseness of the poems as well as from their content.
There are echoes of other writers here too – if not by intention or influence,then by similarity of subject matter. I couldn’t help but hear the voices of Jen Hadfield and also that of Robin Robertson (The Wrecking Light.) That is not to say that McCready is in anyway an imitator; she has a fresh and unique voice and she has a far lighter touch than Robertson – the violent undercurrents underpinning her work are far more subtle. But still there is an underlying violence: a sense of things bursting forth (as the blossoms do in Cherry Blossoms or the Tulips in Black Tulips). This is nature turned mythical and extraordinary, there is an acute awareness of life-cycles, weather patterns and things coming to some kind of fruition or ending. And through it all there is a deep running smouldering sensuality, a delight in the beauty and unpredictability of nature and a sense of place and of rootedness.
McCready’s book is peopled with characters who have a symbiotic relationship with the elements (e.g. The Cockle Picker’s Wife, The Herring Girl). It is also full of meditative moments:
The pier lights glow like gas lamps
in the darkening twilight sky.
Silver railings slice the Firth
into manageable bites.
My pockets are packed with leaves.
Not a breath of air to breathe.
Some of the poems here put me in mind of other poets who have brought alive the landscape, for example Alice Oswald. But Whereas Oswald’s work speaks very much in the voice of the south and west, McCready’s voice is a voice of the north. Her poetry is infused with a very Scottish landscape and way of life. There is a darkness here, a loneliness, a sense of struggle against the elements and the human condition and beyond all this the collection is immersed and steeped in the tides and moods of the sea – you can almost feel the cold spray on your face as you read. McCready brings a heightened awareness to her subjects that make her poems a joy to read.
he stalked thru the world
feeling the flowers as he ran
every time he lost it
it was usually found under his bed
in the evening as the sun went down
he looked up
the birds were melting in the trees
David Mac is a poet from the Bedfordshire Hell. He has collections out with Erbacce Press and Knives Forks & Spoons Press. His new poetry magazine is called Meat Songs and is open to submissions:
MEAT SONGS. New UK poetry magazine. Words must be meaty, beaty, like a raw nail, a dirty tooth, a mean blues, urban, street, sweaty groin, outcast, rebel, punk, unwanted, underground, beery language, mind dribbles, fast, sudden, spontaneous mad talk, sexual groanings, bar blurs, strangeness, poetry eating itself, plus also tiny poetry pips, head blips and trinkets, like modern town haiku. Darkness. Eternal sighs.
Submissions should be 5 pages of poems and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org as one Word attachment.
Issue 1 & 2 featuring Bobby Parker, Geoff Stevens, Paul Tanner, Simon Robson, Chris Guidon, Henry Blake, and David Mac, available from email above for £2.50 each.
A small story
By standing on each others' shoulders it was possible to escape, but that was far too straightforward for our heroes.
One shone a torch and the others crawled up the beam. Then the last one reached down and gave a hand to the girl who shone the torch. The girl who shone the torch had escaped from a minimalist play. She repeated “Over, it's over”, and refused the hand. The others left her in the light, and they all crawled out the window. Outside the window it was dark; no imagination, you see. Like the wings of a theatre that has been locked up for the night. They could barely make out stars in the distance. The girl flashed the torch on and off, and repeated “Over”, to herself – then, in a whisper, “If there was only one. Only one silly friend…”
*Beth Jellicoe is a writer and performer from Birmingham, UK. She writes songs for mandolin, dresses colourfully and has a wall covered in postcards. Beth has been previously published in various magazines including Rialto, Cadaverine and Delinquent. She also edits the Crocodile ezine
after sneaking onto the roof of the apartment
my friends and I
break out the scotch and cigars
they drink from fancy glasses
like my dead relative had
while I drink mine from a used soda bottle
that still contains traces
of high fructose corn syrup
I think about how nineteen years ago
I was nursed from a bottle
and now I nurse a bottle
and in seven years
I’ll nurse someone who drinks from a bottle
but that’s merely the cycle of things
and to make anything more out of it
would be overly sentimental.
*Maxwell Baumbach is a poet from Elmhurst, IL. His work has been featured in Elimae and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. His first full-length collection, At Age Twenty, will be released by unboundCONTENT in early 2012.