Time of water light. Air and earth light
spread so thin and dirty, washes of fishscales
autumn skeletons fill the sky and fade.
This the sad time. Parents worry their pockets
children dredge dreams for real smiles
gifted this one day of happiness wedged
between heavy sleep or worn-thin insomnia.
Fill the house with anything that shines itself back to us
fill the void of old religion. Don’t be-grudge these little
blessings: fairy lights, tinsel, glitter. For some of us
drenched grey by the weeping sky, it is all we hold on to
as we dog-paddle the deep waters to Spring.
Hannah Linden is a Devon-based poet. She has emerged this year and is published by Domestic Cherry, Apple Tree’s Speak! anthology and several online poetry magazines. She tweets @hannahl1n
The Christmas Gift
They walked beside the river,
swollen with heavy sleet.
He felt the matted grass
crunch beneath his feet.
In his pocket he knew
a secret, terrible and raw.
She said that she was freezin’
and what’d they come ‘ere for?
Her white throat, silly heels
puffer jacket, trinkets gold.
She said that she was going back;
his fingers tightened on the cold
blade, eager in his coat.
They’d come a little way now
he could maybe do it here:
he’d already worked out how.
There were no angels singing
a church bell didn’t ring,
he felt no warm compassion,
(he never felt a thing).
But he eased up on the handle,
said “Yeah, you’re right, let’s go”
and as they walked towards the road
the sky began to snow.
Marc Woodward is a musician and poet based in the West Country. His work, which often draws on music and rural life and is frequently underpinned by dark humour has been published in various magazines and anthologies. This is his blog http://marcwoodwardpoetry.blogspot.co.uk
our decorations were glass
but a wagging tail
and bought down the tree
so with needles
you wove a Noble Fir
and with hooks
crocheted soft unbreaking baubles
a lovely tree
that may be bent
but never broken
Gareth Writer-Davies was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and the Erbacce Prize in 2014, Highly Commended, Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize in 2012 and 2013. He is having his pamphlet Bodies published by Indigo Dreams in 2015.Read More
The Influenza Carol
A wreath at every advent calendar door,
no room to rest the oxen in my head:
I’m fasting to rebuild my stomach floor,
and celebrate my crawling out of bed.
The spruce is green until the needles drop,
its fairy and its lights will keep us holy:
after the darkest day, the world will stop
to sacrifice a bird and roast it slowly.
Holly can prick as if it would draw blood,
but I’ve seen cattle browse on it for choice:
a taste that sharpens up the jaded cud,
pleasure that makes their brutal tongues rejoice.
Ivy can cling as if it were the hand
that holds Jehovah’s Witnesses in prayer:
they reckon times and seasons less than sand,
for little lambs shall strip Jerusalem bare.
The mistletoe is hornier than all
the gay apparel of the druid’s wife:
it is the only bough that decks my hall,
magical parasite that lives on life.
The Christmas cactus flowers pinkly sprout,
but central heating doesn’t make a spring:
rounding the year, the tougher weather’s out,
down will come tinsel, trees and everything.
So chop the yule log, light it with a laugh,
to warm us with the burning of the old:
we’ve fed the seed-corn to the fatted calf,
I’ve starved my fever, now to feed my cold.
Peter Daniels’s publications include Mr Luczinski Makes a Move (HappenStance, 2011), Counting Eggs (Mulfran Press, 2012), and selected poems of Vladislav Khodasevich from Russian (Angel Classics, 2013), which was the Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation.This poem was published a very long time ago in an Oscars Press pamphlet called Breakfast in Bed, slightly revised since]
I hate all films that start with snow,
Christmas schmaltz, the lot of them:
Bambi, White Christmas, Love Story, Frozen
The cynical director, his assistant
with the snow machine
blowing fluffy cotton wool flakes
to muffle the cries of motherless fawn,
orphaned ittle girls in castles,
a young wife breathing her last.
I’ve nothing against a good cry
and I’ll make an exception
for Dr Zhivago and the ice palace
where Yuri will make a fresh start
despite the wolves, will write poems
in fingerless gloves, ice on his moustache
even though I know it won’t end well,
that she’ll get in that fur-lined sleigh,
that he’ll breathe a hole in the ice for one last look.
Carole Bromley lives in York. First collection, A Guided Tour of the Ice House, published by Smith/Doorstop in 2012. Poems recently in Magma, the North, Acumen. Prizewinner in 2014 at Torbay, Wells, Hippocrates Prize and Manchester Writing for Children Award.
The scene-setting’s irrelevant: icy
pavement, fogging breath, buses
grinding up through the gears;
the point is, I push open the door
and walk into my local, already
shucking my overcoat off,
and it’s not like I’m expecting
my own leitmotif or a smattering
of studio audience applause
(there’s a reason ‘Cheers’ wasn’t
filmed in Nottingham) but a path
to the bar would be a damn good start
without battling the six-deep battalion
of office-disgorged twenty-somethings
locked in self-competition
to determine what’s loudest –
the decibel level of their conversation
or the offence to the eyeballs
of their Christmas sweaters,
of reindeer and elves, rendered
in the blocky graphics of an arcade game
circa the year most of them were born,
as if their grans had used as pattern
a misremembered picture of Pacman
and decided to lumber him
with an alkie’s nose and a pair of antlers;
and in the instance of the door
clunking into its frame
and the swivelling of eyes
imparting the diametric opposite
of being where everybody knows
my name, the pop-culture radar
blips from the environs of Sam and Diane
and Norm and Cliff, and a real ale pub
on Canning Circus shifts dimensions
to a ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas special
where rat-a-tat sci-fi exposition
posits reindeer-centric sweaters
as the vanguard of a global invasion,
the Cybermen having reflected on
their abject trouncing last time round
and formed a new and fiendish plan
based on this year’s John Lewis ad.
Neil Fulwood was born in 1972, the son of a truck driver and the grandson of a miner. Nobody’s quite figured out where the whole poetry thing came from. Neil is married, holds down a day job and subsidises several public houses. He hopes one day to be recognised in the New Year’s honours list for his tireless efforts in this respect.Read More
Little things catch in my throat at Christmas:
noticing more cracked mugs, the concrete
corner of our kitchen which is still unlinoed;
the matchsticks that still prop white tiles.
At the table, I lose tally of our daily
uneaten fruit: a still life of shrunken apples,
hardened oranges and dented melons.
The ghost-thin space between them widens.
We no longer need to count places.
Sometimes now it’s easier to pretend
tears are invisible. Unleashed words
stop laughter; absence grows bigger.
But when I hoover this year’s tinsel
from the carpet, the vacuum refuses
to choke down its silver glitter
with the tree’s loosed needles.
Later, I choose a persimmon and cut
the crisp-skinned flesh into thin circles
that reveal their petalled hearts.
I lay them out just as my Nan used to:
an offering of sliced stars on each plate.
Sarah James is an award-winning poet, short fiction writer and journalist. The Magnetic Diaries, a narrative in poems, is published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press in April 2015 and her fourth poetry collection, plenty-fish, by Nine Arches Press at the end of 2015. Her website is at www.sarah-james.co.uk and she is editor at V. Press
Star of Light
The moon came ten miles home with me
after Aladdin at the Alhambra.
Must have left Bradford in the dark.
And later she followed me back two hundred miles
from King’s Cross, gliding past lit kitchen windows
and the glimmer of villages, reappearing after every station.
A comet sailed alongside Finnair when I flew to you
across Siberia, eight hours of dark snow,
and vanished as we met in the morning light of Kansai.
On the Anatolian plain I understood
only fixed stars are beacons, landmarks
between us and Infinity.
Sarah Watkinson is a scientist with a 2012 Oxford University Diploma in Creative writing. Her poetry can be found in Pennine Platform, The Poet’s House Oxford The Morning Star online:
Nutshells & Nuggets and The Stare’s Nest. She tweets @philonotis
The Light Collector
You wait in shadow, face upturned
and luminous, resting in the palms of a day.
I hope the first pale kiss of sun wakes you
before morphine finds work for an idle mind
and calls you deeper in, to follow the arc of a falling star.
Last night, I dreamt of you as a Light Collector.
You told me how you loved your work, how happy
you were trapped inside yourself. God only knows,
it broke my heart to see you grabbing at thin air
for every glowing rat’s tail that scurried
past your eyelids, away under the door.
I cried when I saw you, waist deep, wading out
to skim that thin skin of varnish off a body
of black water. In the dark field, your frantic hands
rubbing the floor, looking for buttercups.
How skilled you were at splitting a straight line
of shine from every rod of cold steel, expertly
bending it back on itself, making a grappling hook
to swing out into nothingness.
Later, when the worry inside me
became rowdy with neon monsters,
you slipped through that small window
in the bowl of my wine glass and I watched you,
so strong and tiny, casting yourself out
onto every bubble making its own way up;
those small balloons of light, popping,
and me topping-up just to watch you drop
back down to the bottom, start again, no end in sight.
Joanne Key lives in Cheshire. She writes poetry and has recently completed an MA in Contemporary Arts at MMU Cheshire.Read More
Instead of a short poem
a sonnet say or a villanelle
I’m writing a very long one
perhaps about Christmas
forged out of iron words
and when I send it to you
it will arrive not by email
but stashed on a big low-loader –
you’ll know my poem is on the way
by the swirly blue watch-out lights
of its mile-long police motorcycle escort
Penelope Shuttle has published ten collections since 1980. UNSENT: New and Selected Poems, 1980 – 2012 appeared from Bloodaxe Books in October 2012. Redgrove’s Wife, (2006) was shortlisted for The Forward Prize and for the T S Eliot Award. In the Snowy Air (Templar) is her most recent publication
Not three wise men
There’s more we know about what
they were not, than what they were.
For instance, they were not from
the West, were not completely
uneducated, and rather than existing
in real life, they might have been
metaphors or symbols.
The bible story certainly doesn’t claim
that there were three of them
or any other number.
The plural noun is used, and so it’s fair
to deduce that at least two were involved.
But any number of people can arrive
bearing three sorts of gifts. Maybe half a dozen
were needed to carry the gold – or perhaps
a single individual gave the baby a golden ring.
The original idea of giving frankincense
to suggest a priestly function could have occurred
to several romantic, rather religious visitors,
while others just liked the smell. As for myrrh,
it was probably borne by someone who suffered
occasional deep depressions. I only hope
it didn’t frighten the child’s mother.
It all depends how wise you think it was
to set off across the desert, following a star.
Certainly the gospel story would suggest
that despite the difficulties and dangers
the choice they made turned out to be
a wise one.
But wise in the conventional sense?
No, I don’t think so.
There’s no suggestion in the bible
that all these eastern visitors were male.
If they were sages, astronomers or intellectuals,
then it’s more than possible
that some of them were women.
After all, which gender is more likely
to travel miles to visit a new baby,
and shower him with gifts?
It’s a great story, which like the magi
has travelled down many years
picking up various particles
of dust along the way;
but whatever else it’s all about
it’s surely not three wise men.
Alwyn Marriage’s poetry and non-fiction are published widely. Following an academic career and nine years travelling the world as Director of international NGOs, she is now Managing Editor of Oversteps Books.
Early evening dusk
was closing minds up
when we found a door
in the wall which could
always keep a secret.
The garden was deserted
except for us and we
stepped into in-between
times, rushed through
bushes, you tripped up
skidding on silver tinsel
stones under branches
filled with flimsy frost
where red bauble berries
hung, clung like a life-
blood laden laquer,
the air, new words
the sky, we rolled them
up on our tongues,
you blushed. Well, it
wasn’t like that really,
until our imaginations
collided and it was.
Julie Hogg began writing poetry following an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Teesside and can’t stop. Published in magazines and anthologies in her native North East of England, she also is featured in a chapbook from the Black Light Engine Room Press.Read More
On the first day of X-mas a kid-gang brought to me
a mirror printed with the reflection
of supermarket special offers, half-price happiness.
I scrubbed at that mirror till my arm ached.
On the second day the sun played hide-and-seek.
I tried to lasso its light with a frisbee,
almost strangled it. It was at its weakest.
On the third day I unwrapped
the morning slowly, peeled the curtains
from stupor’s surface, stuffed them into a recycling bin
set to overflowing; smouldered.
On the fourth day of X-mas they carried me down to the park.
‘You need some fresh air!’ They pranked me
onto a makeshift raft on the lake
and watched from the bench
as I grabbed at the ducks’ bread
and they ate turkey sandwiches .
On the fifth day I sawed off several fingers
with a breadknife to spite my left hand
and melted down the remnants of five relationships.
The next day I tried to mop up the blood
with a crust of bread, but it had already congealed
on my workbench. Photographs. Fingerprints. Bad dreams.
On the seventh day I had a bloody good time
on the proceeds of the rings.
By the eighth, I’d cooked my landlord’s goose
in the fat he’d creamed off the land, served
Day 9: needed a new leaf
to turn, ordered a half-price calendar
to skip, watched it fall flat on its face.
Years as young as this just pick themselves up.
A night on a park bench. I fish the moon out of the lake
and share it with the early joggers.
On the eleventh day, I wonder if anyone cares enough
to burn me in effigy. I light a candle in the shape of an angel
which arrived in the post from my uncle, misaddressed,
after a year’s detour through the badlands round Bethlehem.
I think I attended his funeral in August.
Our revels now are ending. I’m standing on a stepladder
with a megaphone, surrounded by my cheering neighbours,
handing out 12 bottles of bubbly confiscated by AA
and sold at Oxfam for a song. I sing it again
as the corks pop – someone records it,
posts it into thin air. Has it arrived yet? Check the air.
Check your dreams. Check that mirror.
Chris Fewings lives in Birmingham and writes poems, stories, rants and reflections. Other poems on Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Earth, The Sea and the Human Spirit and Wayless .
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Stuart Murphy has been writing poems for two years without any formal training or planning. He has had poems published in thecadeverine.com and in messageinabottlepoetrymagazine.com.
He lives in Scotland currently.
They said so many untrue, unkind, unfair
Cruel things behind my back
And later on even to my face –
Always three or four of them,
At least, better to make their point …
Afraid, more like, on their own,
I might for once have made other use
Of my work-hard hands.
Their close-up, riled breath whisked
The sawdust from my brows
Till I was almost wooed by their threats,
Frightened and confused and still
More than a little old-fashioned
In my unskilled ways and means.
Yet when I thought again how brave
And pure she was, so fragile, defenceless,
I realised love is not so much something
We feel but all told what we give.
So I let them say whatever they cared –
For the life of them they could not begin
To understand my smiling silence –
Heeding her and the boy to be born
Whose perfect, painful innocence
Became my burden and my joy.
Peter Eustace has published two books of poems in English and Italian (Vistas, 2006, and Weathering, 2010) and an English-only pamphlet (Brink, 2009) with erbacce press, Liverpool. He has been a guest at the Valpolicella, Verona, Monte Baldo and Nogara poetry/literary festivals (Italy), as well as the Small Press Day as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the World Academy of Poetry based in Verona and set up with the patronage of UNESCO.
When temporal lobes
ignite like Christmas lights
down High Street
she is upright in a bentwood chair
Can’t see or hear
Not a sound
Normally susceptible to suspense
/Can’t seem to shake it/
Never expecting a good thing
to come of it
the crate of her skull
a pulse of epiphanous bliss
She thinks in tongues
of a thousand angels Gabriel
Couldn’t imagine a suicide
bomber or serial killer
Knows everything about us
Some days she takes little walks
past hospital wards with white views
a clipped, aching feel about them /to us/
carrying out her marvellous plan
over crumpled pages, musical scores
Child of the cosmos
Jesus lives! /for five minutes/
Julie Maclean is the author of Kiss of the Viking (Poetry Salzburg) and When I saw Jimi (Indigo Dreams) and e-chapbook You Love You Leave (Kind of a Hurricane Press, US). She is published in The Best Australian Poetry (UQP) Forthcoming in Poetry. Blogging at http://juliemacleanwriter.com/Read More
Nikolaos the Wonderworker
Asthmatic pipe smoker, gift giver,
you wear a crown of holly fixed
on your Medusa strands,
beard of clouds stuck fast on top of wire.
A pile off of the tinker’s cart in the crook of your arm
resting on your cauldron belly,
a painted rocking horse, a wooden doll,
a Union belt, a pocket watch stuck on 6.20,
pouches of tobacco and a cutlass sheathed.
You started as a pore and grew,
leaving dead Christmas trees
in your wake. Secretly you crept
like a pantomime villain placing
a coin in shoes left for tomorrow’s feet.
Grant Tarbard has worked as a computer games journalist, a contributor to football fanzines, an editor, a reviewer and an interviewer. He is now the editor of The Screech Owl. His work can be seen in such magazines as The Rialto, The Journal, Southlight, Sarasvati, Earth Love, Mood Swing, Puff Puff Prose Poetry & Prose, Postcards Poetry and Prose, Playerist 2, Lake City Lights, The Open Mouse, Miracle, Poetry Cornwall, I-70, South Florida Review, Zymbol and Decanto.
The Bay Sleigh
Green as the present, green as presents, green as old St Nick,
the leaves tumble out of their branch, curved as a sleigh –
and at its back, a little broken bit where it was torn from the tree,
which any sleigh must be, if it’s to fly. The pulsing sap
has given over to the power of metaphor and the curving leaf
that sits among the others, in the middle of the sleigh,
as if it’s leaning back, but really it’s bellying
forward into the sky and into the timeless night
of Christmas, the night of the year when the sky’s most spangled with stars,
and the air is clear and remembers when the earth stopped spinning beneath it,
inside it, and just for a tiny moment stood still. Still, all over the world
little branches like this one are growing – small conveyances –
and old St Nick sits in the bushes, laughing and hiding.
Katy Evans-Bush‘s two collections are Me and the Dead and Egg Printing Explained (both from Salt). She writes the blog baroqueinhackney.com and reviews widely. A collection of her essays will be published in 2015.
The least accessible place
It’s what the reindeer talk about
in Spring, when he’s still sleeping,
after his labours, the genial old boy,
the super athlete who breaks all
human records in one night. Marvel,
they marvel, at how he leaps from
continent to continent, remember
how he accidentally dropped a package
in Hong Kong, so then leapt back
to pick it up from far Peru. But when
he squeezes into toothpaste tubes
just to make the gift of paste all red
and white. How they roar. Bravo.
Still the best, Sir. Still the ace.
Seth Crook taught philosophy at various universities before deciding to move to the Hebrides. His poems appear in recent editions of Magma, The Rialto, Envoi, Gutter, Southlight, The Journal, Prole, New Writing Scotland, and on have appeared on-line in Antiphon, Snakeskin and Ink, Sweat and Tears.Read More