A poem by Adam Horovitz

 
Fire-voices

What is religion?
A shared dream of landscape
fenced with simple rules

by which to live a life of listening
for the quivering fire-voice of hope;
            some spark of kindness
in the desert’s inward creep.

*

Does it still the hand
that wields a knife? No,
not always, but it is built to do so;

at least until some chancer learns
how easy it can be to throw
their voice into the fire.
Thereafter, watch the fences burn
and as they burn, watch
how the gentler truths they held mutate
into a cancer-rush of fright;

how people begin listening
to any siren song that panders to their fears,
in a flame that someone else has set.
New fences (ten feet tall and charged
with panic by the lightning bolt) will soon spring up
and then there’s nothing left except
to be livestock in someone else’s bonfire,

screamed at till you cannot wake,
until all that’s left of thought
is the desire to fight.

*

What is faith? The tending
of empty places where structures
fail to find a foothold.

The act of reaching out
for a quivering fire-voice of hope;
            some spark of kindness
in the desert’s inward creep.
 
(A link to related poems, published on Open Democracy   here).
 
Adam Horovitz is a writer based in Gloucestershire. His first collection of poems, Turning, was published by Headland in 2011 and his poetry-driven memoir, A Thousand Laurie Lees, about growing up in Slad, was published by The History Press in June 2014.

A poem by Kevin Reid

 
They Said It Would Change

School bus fare was a three penny piece,
or as grown-ups would say, a thrupny bit.

Kathy, the school bus conductress, the familiar
bundles of brass coins in her verdigris hands.

School rulers were wooden with black lines. Mrs. McCourt
had a thing about pencil’s being sharp when used with a ruler.
I couldn’t decide which side of the line was the true measure.

With a folding ruler, and a pencil behind his ear,
my dad questioned me in feet and inches. I didn’t
understand eighths and sixteenths till my late teens.

At school, it was a kilogram and a litre,
at home, a bag of sugar, a pint of milk.

These days, road signs still read miles-per-hour,
and it’s ok to say I’m five foot seven inches tall.

Brass became copper, the portcullis remained and
piggy banks are not the same; some not even pigs.
 
 
Kevin Reid lives in Scotland. His poetry has appeared in various online and printed journals, such as Pushing Out the Boat, Ink Sweat and Tears, Amaryllis, The Interpreters House, The Open Mouse. He is the founding creator of the >erasure and >erasure ii projects, and Nutshells and Nuggets.

A poem by Niall Firth

 
A remarkable life

Once they’d hoiked out her irradiated
heart it powered
steam turbines to keep us warm.
Her titanium sternum, dripping
in parsley green, was lowered carefully
into a cove off Dubai
where scuba divers dart in between
her curving ribs like tropical fish
and pause to take photos
wrapped in her chest cavity.
Her glorious mouth, now safely de-barbed,
was mounted on a plinth
in Hartlepool. Birds nest where those icicle
teeth once glinted.
Now and then, we throw her voice to scare the kids.
We tell them it’s thunder.
 
 
Niall Firth is a journalist with New Scientist and lives with his wife and daughter in Walthamstow. His poetry has appeared in The Reader and Ink, Sweat and Tears among others. @niallfirth.

A poem by David O’Hanlon

 
Cusp

It was taken by James that first summer.
The angle’s pretty low
but you can still see the river:
that thin dark crack through the background.
We’re both sat cross-legged -
me knotting grass, you saluting the sun -
our knees almost touch
like God’s hand and Adam’s…

I use it as a bookmark (for now
it marks my whereabouts in Fournier’s
Lost Estate) because with each look,
each dose of it, my tolerance increases.
It has a few nicks, a few folds.
It’s about to begin to fade.
 
David O’Hanlon is a writer based in Northumberland with recent work in The Ofi Press, Ink Sweat & Tears and Material, and forthcoming from Dream Catcher and an anthology from Appletree Writers.

A poem by Michael Rosen

 
Don’t mention the children.
Israel bans radio advert listing names of children killed in Gaza
(Guardian 24.07.14)

Don’t name the dead children.
The people must not know the names
of the dead children.
The names of the children must be hidden.
The children must be nameless.
The children must leave this world
having no names.
No one must know the names of
the dead children.
No one must say the names of the
dead children.
No one must even think that the children
have names.
People must understand that it would be dangerous
to know the names of the children.
The people must be protected from
knowing the names of the children.
The names of the children could spread
like wildfire.
The people would not be safe if they knew
the names of the children.
Don’t name the dead children.
Don’t remember the dead children.
Don’t think of the dead children.
Don’t say: ‘dead children’.

 
Michael Rosen is the author of 140 books. He was the fifth British Children’s Laureate from June 2007 to June 2009.  YouTube clip of Michael reading this poem at a national demonstration organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in London on July 26th here and an animation of the poem here.

Two poems by William Bedford

Two poems i.m. Florence Winifred Bedford 20.10.1915 – 09.09.2008


 
Early Arrival

She came a mite early by the calendar,
fuelling gossip and glee in spiteful eyes,
an autumn surprise for court fourteen
in rack-rent Brightside’s cuts and ginnels.

The landlord thrived on stolen lives.
But the horses she saw pulled carts of flowers,
and early morning milk hot from the cow.
The neighbours jeered behind her back,

a child born the wrong side of the sheets
like a music hall chorus-line high-kicking
into a blind future. So she lied to change
the picture. Told stories of better dreams.

Even the landlord might have preferred
her dreams to his own: early morning moors
and tors windswept by a cloud of skylarks.

(published in London Magazine, June/July 2013)
 
 
The Bell

They couldn’t afford to buy you a bike,
so bought the bell instead, a Christmas present
wrapped in last week’s newspapers. It still rang.
You clanged it round the house for hours,

then up and down the cobbled yard outside,
excited by all the promise a bell implies.
They never managed the bike. Lost interest.
Forgot it then said you were too old.

You kept the bell instead of photographs.
Photographs can tell lies, those summer smiles
on Sunday School outings, picnics with no cider
and sandwiches of bread and margarine.

You did buy a bike, the year you married,
and kept a promise nobody else knew,
riding the long clouds of purple heather.

(published in The Warwick Review, July 2011)
 
 
William Bedford’s selected poems, Collecting Bottle Tops, and selected short stories, None of the Cadillacs Was Pink, were both published in 2009. An essay on ‘Ted Hughes and Translation’ will be coming shortly from the Ted Hughes Society Journal. A new collection of poems, The Fen Dancing, was published in March 2014.

Two poems by Brett Evans

 
Scarecrow

Reaping nothing from what’s been sown,
arms outstretched, forsaken,
he wears his unkempt crown; king
of the hand-me-down. Dressed
forever in the same tattered rags

that suck the wind through or hang
from his frame with the weight
of the morning’s rain, he sways;
a metronome to an orchestra
of gale and sleet. This son of Man

is blind to purpose, rooted in solitude
and cannot find a voice to yawp
back into the squall; no sermons,
no parables, no disciples or flock.
Not even the birds.

(first published in Other Poetry series 4, number 4 Oct. 2011)
 
 
Poem for Larry McMurtry

My John Ford of the page, it seems our heroes
have always been cowboys. And whenever Ramblin’ Jack sang
I’m sure we rode with him on the trail of the buffalo.
Yet the crew I hooked up with knew nothing of Mustangs,
could sing lonesome songs but broke no broncos,
and their faces, though aged by weather, were reddened, not tanned.
They never chewed tobacco while riding the Llano;
the furthest they dared to move when smoking was banned
was to slide their arses off barstools and head out westwards
(the young and the old, the able, the fat and the thin)
to be silhouetted in doorways like Ethan Edwards.
Your Texas towns and this Welsh one could be twinned.
If I rode west, would adventures wait for me
in Colwyn Bay, Bangor, Holyhead, Dun Laoghaire?

(first published in The Interpreter’s House #51 Oct. 2012)

 
Brett Evans lives, writes and drinks in his native North Wales. His poems have featured in various small presses and he was a runner up in the 2012 Cardiff International Poetry Competition. He is co-editor of Prole.

Two poems by Amy McCauley

 
Avocado

It’s the most confidential fruit,
though it may not be a fruit at all.
This is the source of its delicious androgyny.

It will part with itself in ways we can’t.
The exterior self and interior self are compatible.
It behaves privately and makes a rich oil.

When the time comes it loosens,
a ripe piece of soap, clean and medicinal.
Its final word is the perfect stone.

(first published in The North (Issue 48: December 2011)
 
 
No, Mon Amour

My breast
(the right one)
shrinks inside its pouch.
It is pale,
toadhearted.
The lesser breast
suffers the most.
Poor relative
of the breast with the franchise,
specially commissioned theme tune
and gift shop.
How often people presume
that the agony of the breasts
is double!
No, mon amour.
While the left
is crushed and petted,
the orphan right
silently hungers.
The animal slopes
back to its room.
If only the scenario
weren’t so
laughable.
If only the left
didn’t swell
with each hard twist
of the nipple.

(first published in The Stinging Fly (October 2013)
 
 
Amy McCauley’s poetry has been widely published and in 2008 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Her current project involves reworking Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus as a collection of interlocking poems. She is studying for a PhD at Aberystwyth University, where she also teaches.

Three poems by Lesley Quayle

 
December 2010

He’d been clearing snow from the path.
Others, younger, grunting curses, smashed ice
thick as his wrist with car-jacks and crow-bar,
their breath draped over the air like gauze.
I’d waved through a window feathered by frost,
glad to be inside with the stove and hot, sweet tea,
content to watch an old man shovelling snow.
That was the year when water froze in pipes
beneath the road, when rabbits came down
from the fell and died, crouched in their shrivelled
skins like refugees, the year that eighty-two
stopped in its tracks and an ambulance
couldn’t make it up the dale.

 

Gold

gold – noun:

a precious yellow metal

a glint, scattered like pollen grains, glittering constellations panned from a creek’s sandy scree.

Symbol – Au

a creeping seam, this ochre ore pinioned between platinum and mercury, bedrock-bullion, wild nuggets for hammer and pick-axe to harvest.

Atomic weight – 196.967

clank of anklet, cuff and torque, spill of sovereigns, doubloons, pieces-of-eight, the chime of rings struck for love, ingots for eternity, a heart, a fever, a fool’s rush for dust, the elusive crock.

Specific gravity – 19.3

a shallow lake full of moonlight or the emerging sun working its metamorphosis over dark hills, eagle feathers cast on purple moors, the eye of blackbird, shimmering gorse flowers, the one exquisite seed.
 

The Gatherer

He leaves no tracks
in fields laid flat by winter,
this way and that
over bare, black soil,
pulling his coat closer
to fend off the cruel wind.
He carries a lantern
and a scythe, a sack slung
lightly, rolled and tied
with thin twine.

He moves like fog,
quiet and cold, and each night
field mice, rabbits, voles,
freeze in his wake, hares shiver,
bats and owls retreat
to barns and steeples
as he steps into the air.

The old ones tell of the Gatherer,
come to rob you of your light;
he’ll say he’s a young man but,
if you dare to meet his sloe-black
gaze, you’ll see what he’s seen –
a thousand snows, a thousand, thousand
moonless nights, the wheeling stars
dissolving, bearing witness
to his harvesting eyes.

He’s the ragged shadow
hung, fluttering, between
darkness and glass, the shapeshifter,
night-visitor, come to steal day,
to erase the shining ledge of morning
leaving only endless sleep.

(first published Aesthetica Anthology 2013)

 

Lesley Quayle is a poet and folk/blues singer. Widely published in magazines, including Tears In The Fence, Pennine Platform, Prole, Acumen etc., she was co-editor of Aireings Poetry Magazine for ten years. Now living in rural Dorset, she has just finished her first novel and her most recent collection Sessions came out last year, courtesy of Indigo Dreams Press.

A poem by Dan Stathers

 
Yellow Man

The last time I saw you out of bed
you were searching for fossils,
two hundred million years of them -
older than the stone they were found in.

We were half the sum of each other,
the weight of your footprints lessening
as bones began to surface
and the distance grew in your voice;
light
still hurtling across galaxies to find you
and air still rushing to soak your lungs.
Outside your window
the wisteria sulked in your absence,
wild flowers frowned and bees refused to dance.

When the last of the colour abandoned your cheeks
you remained cordial; writing your dreams,
sipping on oranges and listening to the world
through a bedside radio. People would stop me
to ask how you were, expecting the worst,
knowing your age better than I did and saying
it was no age at all.

We skinned your medicine,
placed faith in roots not doctors,
pouring morphine down plug holes
and running you shallow baths.
Dogs were allowed on your ward;
dogs, shamanic healers, herbalists
but definitely no travelling relatives,
they would be as welcome as the jaundice.
I’d visit you with bowls of brown rice,
finding you drifting on the cut grass breeze.

The morning you didn’t wake up
the whole house shook and we all began digging.

They carried you away in a cardboard box
through the blackberry lanes to a quieter place
where people remembered you well,
and we left you there, behind stone,
for the next two hundred million years.

(first published in The New Writer 2014)
 
 
Dan Stathers is from Kingsbridge, South Devon, and currently a poetry MSc student at The University of Edinburgh (distance learning).