On the Fifth Day of Christmas we bring you Ali Whitelock, Jane Burn and Nicola Slee



the cumquats of christmas past

you hailed your taxi tuesday the eight––
eenth of february 2014 at four twenty seven p.m.
i watched it approach swerve to the kerb
its back doors fly open––if this was death i saw it
crouched behind the wheel & jaded as a night
shift driver full of red bull & no doz & cheap 7/11
coffee ten thousand cigarette butts spewing
from its ashtray’s filthy mouth
the driver bundled you in––no fanfare
no prayers no bach cantata sung in sotto voce
that might accompany you on the fresh black
tarmac of your new road ahead––& nothing
soft for you to lay your head on
just a cracked vinyl seat stale cigarette
smoke a strawberry scented christmas tree jiggling
like a tea bag from the rear view mirror.  i lay my
hand on yours leaned in whispered something like
i’m sorry made sure your pyjama sleeves were clear
of the door before pressing it closed as the first
bubbles of fermenting sadness rose in me
and i forced them down like cumquats into a jar
filled with brandy in preparation for christmas
which was still ten months away & for weeks i kept
cramming till the skins of my cumquats tore
their flesh bled out & you could no longer
tell where one cumquat ended & another
& when finally christmas came i half
decked my halls whispered infrasonic compliments
of the season too low even for a passing whale hung
empty stockings from the mantle their gaping mouths
speechless by the un-kindled fire & when finally
lunch was served & those of us left were gathered over
turkey & ham i took my jar of preserved cumquats
from the dark of my pantry, made my way around
the table & heaped everyone’s plate with a side of my
compressed orange grief.



Ali Whitelock’s poems have been published in several magazines and journals.  Her memoir, poking seaweed with a stick…. was published to critical acclaim and her poetry collection, and my heart crumples like a coke can will be released in 2018.




Merry Christmas, Mixie Rabbit

Mistletoe furls from hawthorn, apple and oak,
births its berries – each one a bubble of snow,
a blister of milk. Birds lift them off with a beaky kiss,

relish their burst of bliss. The bared timbers sleep,
hearts tucked and dreamy, inside, deep. For them,
a biding – the patient knowledge of next year’s buds,

of baby leaves. For the evergreens, a show of plush
against the spangle of frost, joy at the coming ascension
of night and the soon-wearing of stars along their arms –

a clarity of tar-blue air balanced between needled hands.
In the sharp of dusk, the drunk smell of winter haylage,
pungent dung. Bundled in a nook of roots is a hazel body,

mute as a stone. Blind and clinging to this illusion of safety,
the dogs see it long before me. Fix their murder upon it,
ask to be unleashed. As we pass, it feels the shake of the path

beneath our feet, hears our noisy breath – the best it can do
is hold still, try to un-scrunch its pink-stuck eyes. It is praying
for invisibility, for us to pass. When twilight comes,

a fox will take the rabbit, quick and quiet as flight. The trees,
bald or fleshed with green will swallow its small cry. The berries
will shine cold as moons. I hope for succour for those that hurt –

peace for hearts that beat through the dark. Let drifts be kind
to whatever lies frozen below. Let the coming year open its face
to light. May pity be shown to all defenceless things.



Jane Burn is a poet based in the North East. Her poems have featured in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies and her first collection is available from Indigo Dreams.





It’s a girl

The news spread like wildfire.
Sages were perplexed.
Astronomers recalculated their stars.
Shepherds sloped back to their charges.
Only the midwives smiled their knowing smiles.
And the angels crowded round,
singing ‘Glory! Glory!’




Nicola Slee is a poet theologian who has published 3 collections of poetry and prose (Praying Like a Woman, The Book of Mary and Seeking the Risen Christa, all published by SPCK) as well as numerous poems in anthologies and journals.

Note: First published in Making Nothing Happen: Five Poets Explore Faith and Spirituality by Gavin D’Costa, Eleanor Nesbitt, Mark Pryce, Ruth Shelton and Nicola Slee (Ashgate, 2013)

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