On the Ninth Day of Christmas, we bring you Sarah James and Laura McKee

 

 

Unspilled

Midnight strikes London’s moon face,
the new year cheered in with a sip
of sparkling wine, and time’s old friends.

Forty years of Auld Lang Syne in our bones,
we dance and laugh as our great-grandparents
danced and laughed, as our children

will come to jig and giggle.
Their youth now pours our fizz then
through faster-flowing veins: ghosts

in every bubble, every bubble
a gasp sharp with life.

 

 

Sarah James is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer and journalist. Her latest collections are plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015) and The Magnetic Diaries (KFS, 2015), highly commended in the Forward Prizes. Her website is www.sarah-james.co.uk and she runs V. Press.

 

 

 

shall I call this waiting for snow

snowflakes formed in clouds
usually take about half an hour
to reach the ground

be ready for them
wear diamond tread soles
spread bicycles out on patios

let them take on another interesting shape
before they melt

if only to soften their fall
know they are coming
offer your tongue

 

 

 

Laura McKee hasn’t put the sprouts on yet. In other news this year, she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and nominated for Best Single Poem in the Forward Prizes. She also had a poem chosen to be on a bus for the Guernsey Literary Festival.

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On the Eighth Day of Christmas, we bring you Ruth Aylett and Susan Jordan

 

 

Visitation

“And Lo! The Angel of the lord came upon them..”

It wasn’t like that. Summer stars
not winter, the stir and mutter of
the flock, some grazing, some asleep.

I lay in the warm night, breathing
the bruised smell of cropped grass, the
dry pepper of garrigue scrub.

Nor was it singing that roused me
perhaps a bright folding in the stars
or a silver aurora come south.

I saw neither heads nor hands though
a slow wing-beat echoed in my head,
bat-high music vibrated my bones.

My sheep heard better: their panicking
mill of woolly bodies and legs
made a scramble down the mountain.

Where the flock goes the shepherd
must follow, feet sliding on scree
bare shins scratched and prickled.

And was it a message? Then not of birth.
My ears still ring with the warning
of time running out for this small Earth.

 

 

 

Ruth Aylett lives in Edinburgh where she teaches and researches university-level computing, thinks another world is possible and that the one we have is due some changes. She has been published by Envoi, Bloodaxe Books, Poetry Scotland, Red Squirrel Press, Doire Press and others. For more on her writing see http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~ruth/

 

 

 

 

Christmas Tree

 
I put it up earlier than usual
my plastic tree that saves real ones
from being cut down, its harmony
of red and gold welcoming you
into my home. I thought you’d like
the dangling fairies in sexy red,
the painted star, the flowered globes,
the cross-eyed elephant. I put up
paper chains, arranged my cards
along the piano, started sorting
the piles of junk left from the last time
a visitor roused me to tidy them.

And I knew, so when you rang,
voice soft with trying not to hurt,
a stone dropped smoothly to the bottom
of a pool that had already filled.
‘That’s all right’ – the necessary lie,
our quiet good wishes, your unconvinced
‘Maybe another time.’ The welcome
folded in upon itself as I stood,
hand on the hoover, doing things now
only for myself. I’d see you later
at a party that wouldn’t be mine.
You’d only said you might come.

 

 

 

Susan Jordan writes both poetry and prose. She has had poems published in a number of print and online magazines, including Obsessed with Pipework, Prole, The Journal, Snakeskin, The Poetry Shed, Clear Poetry and  I S & T.

 

 

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The Seventh Day of Christmas, we bring you Carole Bromley and Joanne Key

 

 

Rendezvous

after Dennis O’Driscoll

I am in Stonegate
expecting to meet you at 4

You are in The Shambles
expecting to meet me at 4

I have shopping bags that lengthen my arms
you have Jonathan on your shoulders

It’s Christmas and I’m Dreaming
blasts out from Ye Olde Starre Inn

In Giovanni’s doorway a busker sings Jingle Bells
flat cap at his feet

It is five past four
and no sign of you

It is five past four
and no sign of me

You may have forgotten your watch
I may have bumped into someone

You may be in A&E
I may be under a bus

A White Christmas
is on a loop

The busker has been moved on
flat cap on his head

You have got the front door key
I have got the supper

We must stop not meeting like this.

 

 

 

Carole Bromley lives in York where she is the stanza rep and runs poetry surgeries. Her second collection, The Stonegate Devil, was published in October 2015 by Smith/Doorstop. Currently judging York Literature Festival/YorkMix competition. www.carolebromleypoetry.co.uk

(this poem is published in The Stonegate Devil)

 

 

 

Watching Tai Chi in the Park in December

She casts her spells
under weeping trees.

Look down.
You landed here by chance,

lured by the festive glow
of a ruined bandstand,

caught up in a honeytrap
of peeling paint and decay.

You both come here
to comb the air for ghosts,

but only her hands
have learnt to say,

Stop. Don’t leave me. Stay.
Christmas creeps in

and you must be content
with nature’s way

to balance the books.
Watch how she fills

her pretend envelopes
with love letters

written in breath,
then slits the air,

posts them nowhere.
Her body knows instinctively

when to let slide,
when to side step,

when to push, let slip,
and when to line up

all the open doors,
in order to gently

kick them shut. She turns
the key, locks you out,

leaves you behind
with your black dog

chasing its tail
and the crying babies,

as her own body relaxes
back into the glory

of the fall of summer,
the slowing spin,

gently moving emptiness
from one place to another.

 

Joanne Key lives in Cheshire where she writes poetry and short fiction. Her poems have appeared in various places, online and in print. She won 2nd prize in the 2014 National Poetry Competition.

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On the Sixth Day of Christmas we bring you Ralph Monday and Bethany W Pope

 

 

Holy Theotokos Save Us

 

In the cathedral empty of true feeling,

the icons are beautifully silent: blue and
green hues, golden halos, the choir in
perfect harmonies taking us across time,
space, to the beginning days when the
naming began, where we began that which
brought us here—

Why is it that we cannot remake

childhood myths into adult
acceptance?

Why are we broken and torn by stories

of the damned?

The Trinity intoned and like rote childhood

conditioning, I murmur most Holy Theotokos
save us—

from our own evil we are taught,

from the two that ate the forbidden,
the ban passed down from birth to death
like stars that never cease shining

so we are broken on the rack

signs everywhere: in malls or
bedrooms or social media or all
the flickering images passed by like
kaleidoscope snapshots which define
the words sung out in church hymnals

of that mythic time when we were never

given a chance—

but perhaps salvation is

loving those outcast, like us,
pardoning the unforgiveable,
accepting all that is broken by
broken words,

knowing that we are really plucked

as a wet body from
wet earth,

that if the words are cast off

they cease to matter.

 

 

 

Ralph Monday is an Associate Professor of English at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN., where he teaches composition, literature, and creative writing courses. He has been published widely in over 50 journals including The New Plains Review, New Liberties Review, Fiction Week Literary Review and many others. His poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Houghton Mifflin’s “Best of” Anthologies, as well as other awards. A chapbook, All American Girl and Other Poems, was published in July 2014.

 

 

Self Portrait at 19; Christmas in Kansas

Pacing the hard-packed dirt floor of the basement,
my bare feet blackening, I’m desperate to block the
howling storms in my head. The house is silent
above me; my family asleep in their innocent beds, content
in their ignorance. I’m falling apart; unpicking my history.
Pacing the hard-packed dirt floor of the basement,
burning my body down to a gray wick — scented with sweat —
I use pain, as always, to prove my reality.
Howling storms rage in my head. The house is silent
as the manger — three days after Herod. Heaven sent
no bright angels to warn me.
Pacing the hard-packed dirt floor of the basement,
I can’t outrun the memory of the draughty barn I spent
my blood, died, and was reborn in when the rapist’s shovel struck me.
Howling storms in my head; the house is silent.
My father won’t talk about why he sent
me to the orphanage. He won’t speak the phrase to set me free.
Pacing the hard-packed dirt floor of the basement,
howling storms rage in my head. The house is silent.

 

 

Bethany W Pope is an award-winning writer. She has published several collections of poetry: A Radiance (Cultured Llama, 2012) Crown of Thorns, (Oneiros Books, 2013), and The Gospel of Flies (Writing Knights Press 2014), and Undisturbed Circles (Lapwing, 2014). The Rag and Boneyard has been accepted by Indigo Dreams for release in 2016. Her first novel, Masque, shall be published by Seren in 2016. Website: http://bethanywpope.com/

 

 

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On the Fifth Day of Christmas we bring you Derek Adams and Julie Maclean

 

 

 

The Devil Makes Work

The bouncing bomb Superball
missed the enemy Action Man,
the day after Boxing Day, to snap
a scarlet leaf from Mum’s poinsettia.

Sap bubbled from the break
white as PVA adhesive.
Hiding the leaf, I wiped away
the evidence, nobody noticed.

Later, prising a second leaf
from the plant, to check I’d seen
what I’d seen, to see once more
its milk white tear appear.

I returned, again and again,
took a penknife to the stalk,
watched fascinated
as the tiny drops welled out.

I remembered this on a hot
August night, years later,
the first time I drew a red line
across my arm with a Stanley knife.

 

 

Derek Adams is a professional photographer. He has an MA from Goldsmiths in Creative and Life Writing, and has published three poetry collections Postcards from Olympus, Everyday Objects, Chance Remarks and unconcerned but not indifferent: the life of Man Ray

 

 

Chicken was Golden

There is order here
 between laminate
and wood veneer

 knots in the heart
winding out in this
theatre of roasting pans.

Prepare for the sacrifice and
in the depth of field
acres of embroidered cloth
to keep us pure.

It’s homemade everything.

But this home has settled
in an unsettled place.

Lights are never still
but flick the switch

to a table of nine
clicking knives and forks

clucking tongues and party hats
-ghosts from my past,

now down to one    solitary mother
plus the empty chair
of my never returned nor forgiven.

Julie Maclean s third collection Kiss of the Viking (Poetry Salzburg) was published in 2014. As joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Poetry Prize, (Indigo Dreams Publishing), When I Saw Jimi was published in 2013. Her work appears in places like Poetry (Chicago) and The Best Australian Poetry (UQP). www.juliemacleanwriter.com.

 

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On the Fourth Day of Christmas we bring you Katherine Stansfield and Reuben Woolley

 

 

No room at the inn                           

All the animals in the animal basket
wanted to go: Stegosaurus,
polar bears, Lego dog.
We let in a camel and a donkey
only on sufferance. They watched
from the back, blocked by pandas.

The crib was crammed: shoe-box
size, wooden, cotton wool snow
glued to the tin-foiled top. Our desert
in the dining room was cold.
Stacks of straw kept everyone
warm but because we wouldn’t do wisps
we lost baby Jesus early on.

The angel with a ‘gloria’ sash lashed
to the stable door was meant to be
ever-descending. We spent Christmas
knocking her off on the way
to the kitchen and having to rehang
her chipped china robe.

Each night we said sleep tight, Lego dog,
sleep tight, panda family, sleep tight,
Joseph and Mary, but when
we’d climbed the wooden hill
disaster struck our Bethlehem: the cat –
crib-fancier, straw-lover, jealous, always,
of religious icons – pushed
herself in, knocked everyone out.

 

Katherine Stansfield’s first collection, Playing House, was published by Seren in 2014. Her poems have appeared in various publications, including The Guardian online poem of the week, Magma and Poetry Wales.   Blog: http://katherinestansfield.blogspot.it/

 

 

promised an advent

we reached out for new days

said mary.it wasn’t

a question of comfort

&john came through

in tumult        a repeat

of doors
opening

he locked his steps behind him

said

grass will cover
the old & pissed on.glitter
distracts & distracts
we don’t see

the rusty times

i have

no doubt

he said        turning off

lights & carrying
candles

this will be

a final        strategy     to hold
& fuck
our bastard heads.lie

low

& let them play in sand

 

Reuben Woolley has been published in Tears in the Fence, The Lighthouse Literary Journal, The Interpreter’s House (forthcoming) and Ink Sweat and Tears among others. A collection, the king is dead, 2014, a chapbook, dying notes, 2015. Runner-up: Overton Poetry Pamphlet competition and the Erbacce Poetry Prize, both in 2015.

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On the Third Day of Christmas we bring you Lesley Quayle and Sally Long

 

 

Christmas Morning – Wharfedale.

We had to travel early along deserted lanes,
the mist a gauzy cloth on fields and river,
light thawing, promising little but a milky drift.
Ghost trees harnessed the fell, frost rigged,
quicksilvered, cutwork on the iron sky.
The tops, ice-laden, unreadable beneath
a smeared wash of cloud.

You stopped to photograph the frozen woods,
the river, stalled by scales of ice, stiff reeds,
as if from a glass blower’s crackling pipe.
Cold drove you back, stamping, to the car,
your breath, lung-fog.  Home, you said.
The road ahead a constellation of sleet.

 

 

Lesley Quayle is a folk/blues singer and poet, living and working in deepest, darkest rural Dorset.

 

 

 

The Door

There is no door.

How then to make an entrance?
Perhaps a dramatic appearance;
enter angel stage left,
maybe flying in
through the open window,
or else strolling,
nonchalant
from the garden,
surprising her as she sits
at peace on the portico.

But there is a door.

One essential entrance,
the threshold and boundary
between two spheres,
where space is shrunk,
time and eternity
collapsed into one,
the passage between
earth and heaven
flung wide open
by her words.

 

 

 

Sally Long has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East London and is a PhD student at Exeter. She has had poems published in magazines including Agenda, Haiku Quarterly, Ink, Sweat and Tears, London Grip, Snakeskin and has work forthcoming in Poetry Salzburg Review. Sally edits Allegro Poetry Magazine and is a member of Ver Poets.

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