Murder Bear liked to disguise himself as the ghost
of a small boy when it was time to walk among
the spirits and enquire which did homeowners prefer,
tragedy or terror? They would lean down to correct him,
‘I think you’ll find it’s trick or…’ – only to see ichor
start to pour from the child’s eyes and nose and ears,
and hear behind them the scorching hiss of tar
slumping its way down their stairwell like a tongue,
unscrolling itself in pops and flickers, squeezing
between the banisters like mud through smoking teeth
and curling around their melting slippers – ‘…terror!’
the now-decayed urchin would conclude, before
reforming and heading next door. He loved our games,
and would often slip a drowned kitten or two
into the basin where the children dooked for apples,
or thread a libertarian’s liver onto the string
of treacle-dunked scones. Nothing delighted him more
than substituting for a pumpkin the flaming head
of a much-loved teacher, or intricately carving a neep
into an anatomically correct inverted platypus.
Come midnight he would lead a dancing host
of rot-shrouded skullheads through town as
the sky filled with ghost riders trailing horse guts,
and daub the splintering doors of cowering householders
with a paw replenished by dips in a boiling tureen
of blood and borscht, borne on the back of the skeleton
of a giant turtle raised by his necromantic skills,
while bellowing theatrically, ‘Bring out your living!’
W.N. Herbert is the Dundee Makar or laureate. He teaches Creative Writing at Newcastle University, where he’s Professor of Poetry & Creative Writing. He is mostly published by Bloodaxe. Recent and forthcoming titles include Omnesia, The Third Shore (with Yang Lian), Whaleback City (with Andy Jackson), and, of course, Murder Bear (Donut).
*Hellbeareen does not appear in the Murder Bear pamphlet, but if you love Murder Bear as much as we do, read more about his exploits here.Read More
The jaw cracks wide
like a sun-drunk lily,
a gasp of steel
in my talon hand
as it reveals a puckered gullet.
I thumb the flint trachea
till it coughs up blue flame
orange with soot.
A smoulder of Golden Virginia
taints the butane air
as I imagine black coals
seared to chalk
and a brunette in silk
through brown weeds.
Joe Castle is a writer living in Milton Keynes with a First Class honours from the University of Northampton.Read More
I do want romance –
seeing it in the boy’s hair
espresso dark, dirty,
pulled back from his brow,
the luck of his youth in the sweeping stroke
he takes of the soft flop that falls over the front of his face
He doesn’t know
the taste in my mouth,
that I’m sucking raspberry laced white chocolate from the deli,
that I’m thinking about crystal lamps and glass door knobs
for the flat.
Cream linen for the bed.
The boy doesn’t know
so many things.
of his fisherman’s jumper,
the hole in the sole of his boot,
the way he once said
was just the thing
for my bruises.
Rita Johnston is an Edinburgh based writer of fiction and poetry. Her work has recently appeared in the online magazines FeatherLit and Metazen, and is forthcoming in Octavius 2.Read More
This poet was born in July 1943 in New York State and so will soon be 70. For graduate school, McCullough moved to Iowa City, Iowa, where he earned his M. F. A. degree and then began a university teaching career in Montana. He also traveled intermittently and widely – all over the United States, and to Mexico, Italy, the British Isles, Ireland, Colombia, India (where he lived for a time and did manual labor), and eventually took a teaching job in Winona, Minnesota, in 1996. When that ended, he became a college administrator at a different university in the same town, where he is now. He fathered two sons along the way and married fairly late in life to Lynn Nankivil, a playwright.
His poems have always reflected his myriad adventures. Broken Gates is his latest collection, bringing poems together from the last fifteen years or so. The book has three arbitrary sections – Driftless, then Westering, and finally Portals. McCullough’s questioning, searching tone has always had fervor, as if the poet is amazed that he’s still alive and energetic enough to create art through disciplined lines, taut images, not overwhelming the reader but instead offering portraits, some short, others longer, of those he has known or situations where he’s instinctively looked for the affirmative instead of negatives, for the latter are always around – as we know too well.
Here is cogent memory of a friend:
In memory of Kay Louise Amert
You, sitting on the back steps smoking, glass
of lemonade, as cicadas start up
in the trees. Sweet breeze jumps up from the ravine:
faint bouquet of plum just as the sun sets.
An infrequent lapse into banal metaphors (“Diet for the Small Planet”) does not deplete from the verve of superior poems such as “The Cottage” (the marriage of two friends), “Remembering Bill” (for another lost friend), and “Wolf Point” (for Lynn, his spouse). Or indeed “Abbey” – with the epigram for Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his final days:
I saw the black shirt of the oracle
disappear into elderberry shade,
shadow of three trees on the barn opened
for a flock of purple-black marauders:
“unk, unk, unk, talulah,” they exploded,
“wittgen, wittgen” in response – oh, holy
afternoon. Never saw him face-to-face,
his words like frozen bliss in the air,
every word an impossible challenge.
A tinge of old leaves, a slow riverbank –
a chance to fall in familiar steps.
And snow falling in the iron light.
There are many longer poems here, shorter ones, all adding up to a fine distillation of a lifetime’s passage in different places. Not that at the end of seven decades an artist’s life is done. No, for some it’s merely a continuation of what one started out doing when young, invariable digressions along the way, but poetry always pulls one back and says: Write – for you are not a brick or a tree! You have the ability to describe this! Do it! So Ken McCullough’s conscience and natural inclinations have never let him not write – and we are all the better for it. Broken Gates is a gathering, a rich harvest, of poems to savor.
Order your copy of Broken Gates by Ken McCullough published by Red Dragonfly Press. Northfield, Minnesota, here.
When I wake I look like
the wild child of Borneo,
freestyle and newly created each day.
Roll me in your arms when I wake you,
a plasticine boy; a malleable,
morphing creature, learning by osmosis.
My fingers are curled round scissors loops,
cutting round arcs, paper rainbows,
with snippets like a ticker-tape trail.
I’m Hansel through the rooms.
As a former Norwich Art School graduate, Carrie Patten more typically stitched stories through visual art. Currently studying Creative Writing with the Open University, she imagines two narrative paths may at some time meet.Read More
as it shuffles
he picks up
the dog shit
keeps it alive
if you could call it
his wife did
S.Black: Finding the pot of gold at the end of his arc of underachievement. Resides near Reading.Read More
I hadn’t seen the girl in years
she had lost a lot of weight since then, and her virginity as well
told me she lost it to a man she met in Mexico
her virginity, I mean
the weight she lost on her own when she gave up meat
and took up yoga
she looked good, really good
after our second date she broke her ankle and I bought her a reaching stick
it cost me thirty-five dollars
looking back, it was too much
on our third date we watched a movie and laughed
her big eyes were blue, naive and beautiful
she glowed when she smiled and had great legs
even in that huge plaster cast
on our fourth date she tried to sell me Amway
I didn’t see her again
these things happen, I guess
Bernard Barnes was born in Canada and began seriously writing while bartending in Vancouver.Read More