On the night
that I was born,
the bells rang out
across the world.
In Coventry, in Dresden,
the cathedral bones sheltered
worshippers with candles,
witnessing the ruins.
the story goes,
the death’s-head guards
sang, “Stille nacht,
heilige nacht”. Their voices
slid across the Polish snow.
The sweetest tenor was Ukrainian,
the man they called Peter the Silent.
He never spoke and he killed
with a lead-filled stick.
In the Union Factory, packing shells,
they dreamed of Moses.
In Horton Kirby, fields froze
and ice deadlocked the lanes.
My father rose in the cold
and cycled sideways,
wreathed in silver mist,
to the hospital. Each turn
of the track betrayed him
and scarred by thorns and gravel,
he bled by our bedside.
My mother laughed, she remembers,
as the nurse administered.
“Been in the wars?” she asked.
Outside, across the Weald,
from out of a cloudless dawn
the buzz bombs crumpled London.
Outside a town in the Ardennes
Private Taunitz hung
like a crippled kite
high in a tree.
A cruciform against the sky,
he seemed to run forever
through the branches,
running home for the new year.
Outside Budapest three men
diced for roubles
in the shelter of a tank.
Fitful rain, a moonless night.
Sasha struck a match
across the red star
on his helmet, the red star
that led them to this place.
Extra vodka, extra cigarettes,
a rabbit stewed,
the tolling of artillery
to celebrate the day.
The blackouts drawn,
December light invaded.
We awoke, slapped hard
by the early world.
Our siren voices
climbed into the morning,
a choir of outrage,
insect-thin but passionate.
Through tears our parents
smiled: within the song
of our despair they heard
a different tune.
And as our voices
sucked the air, swallowing
the grumble of the bombs,
only the bells survived.
In addition to thirty-five years of teaching drama in progressive schools, Dick Jones has been an avid musician all his life, playing bass guitar in rock, blues, and folk bands. He lives outside London with his wife and children, and blogs at: Dick Jones’ Patteran Pages.
First published in Ancient Lights by Dick Jones, Phoenicia Publishing
Christmas? Xmas? The New Year?
The symbols, words, for these days are stars,
Gliding in the stratosphere, abating the cold
& not letting us sleep the winter away.
The pig’s foot, the goat’s face, the fox’s twitter –
All these are a reversion to human plunder
Of other creatures’ identity, even the mule
On which Mary is supposed to have ridden
To the manger – to give birth, what else?
I am less sure of the story than of my capacity
To believe what I was told by those with cons
In their heads, outrageous fables of glued references,
Mortification, glorious state-induced suicide.
I celebrate with everyone else, but not the death wishes,
The inferred damnation of dissenters’ red-&-white faces.
James Naiden’s third novel, The Chafings of Mortals, was published in 2011. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is a regular reviewer for IS&T.Read More
(delete as appropriate)
Dear: Uncle/ Cousin/ Nephew/ distant friend ,
How are you? Where’s this year gone? Already at its end
and Christmas upon us. Please excuse the lateness of this note
I’ve had a bad: shock/ memory/ dream/ bank balance/ throat.
Doesn’t time fly? Next year I promise I’ll write
and arrange to meet up. How about: Wetherspoon’s/ Tesco’s/ The Isle of Wight ?
Jason/ Kevin/ Tara/ Kate did the GCSE’s this summer,
got: twelve/ six/ none/ other. Well done to him/ her! / What a bummer!
Family hols. were in: Tenerife/ Tenby/ the Transit/ Korea.
We: swam/ golfed/ argued , got: lucky/ arrested/ lost/ diarrhoea.
Peter/ Alice/ Richard/ Jill says she/he loved/despised it there
so we’re: suing the company/ emigrating/ buying timeshare.
Mother is still: living/ grumbling/ snoring in her: chair/ attic/ retirement gîte,
but I suppose none of us are getting any: younger/ older/ nookie/ vegetables/ meat.
That’s all from me here at home. I’m ready to send
from your loving: nephew/ niece/ cousin/ uncle/ auntie/ friend
wishes for a Christmas that’s: joyous/ fantastic/ festive/ neat,
and stuffed with seasonal: love/ love/ love (no need to delete)
Jeff Phelps has recently co-edited The Poetry of Shropshire for Offa’s Press . His novels, Painter Man and Box of Tricks, are published by Tindal Street Press. His poems and stories are widely published. He lives in Bridgnorth. This is his website.
Compulsive of December
He tries to stop, never succeeds.
Always red, with a white trim.
Relations reason with him, friends hint
all his free air miles used up,
but every year he does it,
same day, same suit.
Even when the kids are grown
he’ll be flying through the night,
stumbling on the roofs, breaking tiles
getting caught in chimneys,
still asking “If not me, then who?”
Won’t even consider wearing blue.
Seth Crook taught philosophy at various universities before moving to the Hebrides. He does not like cod philosophy in poetry. But he does like cod, poetry and philosophy.
Veronica Von Pegg is a mixed media artist, a photographer and writer, who expresses a past life through images and words. She collects second hand items, and is a firm believer in reincarnation.
Charlie Brown is Sad
Charlie Brown needs a slap to bring him to his senses
dragging his baseball mitt through the snow
like a reanimated, headless rabbit on an A road
I can’t be doing with your black cloud Charlie Brown
It’s all me, me, me with you, you, you
little sad American boy with Christmas in blue
Walking across my television like a headache
Your pumpkin shaped head haunting all my bulbuls.
I have tinsel and paper chains to hang in the hall
I have a child in thrall to Argos tat
I have a fuck-off turkey to baste and bake
elderly to ferry, carpets to shake and vac
This is no such thing as good grief, Charlie Brown,
But a fuckety-fuck you! should bring you round.
Andrew McDonnell has published various poems in various places and is a director of Gatehouse Press and steering editor of Lighthouse Literary Journal. He is working in his first collection
‘They came back, all the dolls’
Midnight.They rise from
their presentation boxes
with hard, painted smiles.
One walks stiff as a great aunt,
another lifts her posable arms,
the fairy doll rubs at the hole
in her hand, wailing for her wand
while the wee-wee doll
curls up with shame.
A naked Queenie opens
and closes her mouth. Mute
since I bathed her,
her drowned voice
mama, mama, mama,
one eye-socket empty.
The nursery-rhyme doll jerks
towards me, the key in her back
spinning, mouth tight shut Mary, Mary
And what has my love done
to the sailor doll? His cracked
grin is terrible, his bitten off ear.
Carole Bromley‘s first collection, A Guided Tour of the Ice House, was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2011. She blogs at www.yorkmix.com and will be judging the York Literature Festival Poetry Competition (deadline 28 Feb) website www.carolebromleypoetry.co.uk
Note: This poem was previously published in A Guided Tour of the Ice House.
the orphan child
waited on sundays
at the gate
boggled by the hinges
a self-employed hugger
he has the hard agile hands
of a maker do
pheasant in the sack
footsteps rolling across the snow
going home for Christmas Day
Gareth Writer-Davies is a gardener from Letchworth. Widely published over the last few years and runner up and short-listed for a couple of prizes, he hopes to get his first pamphlet published in 2014.
The last Christmas carol
She sits on the cold asphalt -
In the middle of a square,
Strumming a wooden guitar
That will brittle soon.
Velvet poles are dazed,
A copper centaur listens
And the glimmer of distant houses
Are her thousand spotlights.
Perhaps this would be the last year
She’ll breathe the icy air
Or see the stars melt
Across the silky sky.
Life is the tiny candle
Flaring beneath her face
But tonight her music will reach -
The edges of the winter moon.
Romalyn Ante is originally from the Philippines but now live in the West Midlands. Her works have appeared in The Wolf (University of Wolverhampton Magazine), the anthology We’re All In This Together (Offa’s Press), The Cannon’s Mouth Issue 47, and Blakenhall Words. She has also performed her poetry at Wolverhampton ‘City Voices’ and Stafford Arts Festival 2013.
Whatever happened to Cain?
The bad son
the one who killed
the good son,
broke the family, appalled the neighbours,
got thrown out in to a hostile world,
walked the earth homeless, loveless,
followed the Majii (at a discrete distance)
stood on the road outside the stable
holding a small lamp beneath a sky of stars,
his clothes ragged
his tears tasting of salt.
Mick Corrigan lives in County Kildare with Trish his loving lifer, Molly and Ben the eight legged groove machine and a large collection of pork pie hats. He regularly has ideas well above his station.
Boxing Day, and when asked what you ate
for Christmas dinner you say,
‘I should remember’.
You are slumped in a high-backed chair,
covered with a name-labelled blanket:
We are told that at the Christmas party
you boomed out the unerasable hymns,
rallied the others to sing.
Today you remember your daughter’s face,
not her name; and of your son you inquire,
‘Have we met?’
You search my face much longer than you
would have thought proper if you were not
as you are.
I am introduced, again, as ‘Rob’s friend.’
You scan from son to daughter,
and back again,
the half-formed thought refusing to set
like jelly made with too much water,
and you shout, ‘I’ll have to think about that.’
You’ve slipped further in your seat,
as your grandson does when watching TV.
Now it’s Roger Moore as James Bond and
the woman in the red sweater wanders
in front of the screen and demands,
‘Does anyone know what’s supposed to happen?’
Your hands are bony thin; your thumbnail
thickened like a split hoof; and as you slip further
your shirt breaks free from belted trousers.
I have seen old photos, tie and jacket,
dapper. A care worker says
‘We do put a tie on him,’
‘But there’s health and safety to consider.
Joggers, that’s what they need
when they get like that.’
Your skinny bottom changed by day
from too-loose pyjamas
to baby rompers.
Time to sit up for the latest snack: soup,
two triangles of bread and ham.
You are lifted by three tabarded women,
one at each arm, a third at your waist.
You growl as you are raised.
You want to be left to slip down.
Maria C McCarthy is author of strange fruits (Cultured Llama 2011). Her collection of stories, As Long as it Takes, is forthcoming in 2014. She writes in a shed at the end of her garden in a village in north Kent.
Note: ‘Slipping Down’ is published in strange fruits by Maria C McCarthy (Cultured Llama and WordAid 2011)Read More
– I was a charming and respected teacher,
an influential man with everything
to lose by speaking out. I spoke. Now, who’s
for Astro-Psychics class, Messiah Theory,
or Further Myth? This crock of frankincense
was my sardonic way (I’m famous for
those wry asides) of saying: well, yes, frankly
it’s all nonsense.
– In dreams…
– And may I add
(as world authority on processes
of mummification from the earliest
Dynastic to the Ptolemies) it’s good
to have escaped the lab, to sleep beneath
the stars – one hangs there so seductively
impelling us as if she’s telling us
through wink and hint and dark suggestiveness
our necessary route – and see a way
that promises to bypass bodily
decay without the need for what I’ve brought
the child (wrapped here): embalming oils, the best
and purest treatment for mortality
humanity has yet –
– For miles and miles
my only podium has been this hump.
And in it – all a beast requires. My friends,
we wanted more. Yet, far from your arcane
retorts and flasks, your glazed fork lightning, minds
made fit by study to confront the cosmos,
like me, do you begin to feel that you
have found some secret in this gentler sway,
that cloud-free sky, a sandscape of repeating
– Let’s rest.
– In dreams, I reach
a shining building where the gold’s not stacked
but scattered, so much of it that it’s left
for goats or stuffed in scarecrows, valueless,
and all that’s rare and longed for in that place
is wood, rough cross-beams, all their dreaming hung
with iron nails.
– Can you feel this too, friends?
A wholeness, wholly blinding you to all
but one star, one clear scent out of the west?
It’s growing dark. The desert ends beyond
that ridge, I’m sure of it. And if these moths
are not archangels, I’m… But I’m afraid
I have no dazzle left. An early class
tomorrow then, you magi, so good night.
John Greening has won the Bridport and TLS Prizes and received a Cholmondeley Award. He is a judge for the Eric Gregory Awards. His 2013 collections are To the War Poets (www.carcanet.co.uk) and Knot (www.worplepress.com). Poetry Masterclass (2011) is published by www.greenex.co.uk.