Stephen Elves

Three poems

An ancient tub, long lost to shoaling grounds,
nestles in the ooze by a peeling barge,
ropes slack to the task of tethering them
to an indifferent jetty. Each turn
of the tide floats the possibility
of tugging at knots, splintering restraint,
waking the devil in the engine room
and sailing away, prow-high, sea-skimmed, poles

apart, adrift on oceans of old freedoms
far from this haven, this creek that curves
its protective arm across the marsh,
frames the watercolour idyll, clasps
the landscape to its breast, keeps it grounded,
ballast for the arc of painterly sky.

But they stay: live by the moon’s rules, await
the ebb, then nudge and nuzzle on the swell,
creaking joints clinker to clinker, dancing
on owl-blessed nights, cheek to salt-skinned cheek,
to the wind-whipped gamelan of windlass
and spinnaker tinkled by yachts and cruisers
at smarter addresses along the water;

soothe days in genuflection to the joys
of oystercatcher mornings, worshippers
in a church lined with eelgrass and samphire,
sprayed with incense of gull and bladderwrack,
pray for the succour of sinking slowly
into the mud’s embrace, going nowhere,
moored together until the final flood.
(published in Acumen, Issue 53, September 2005)

Sequined silk afterbirth of a slit mackerel sky
I was dumped in the sump of Effra and Walbrook,
Neckinger and Fleet, swilled by a brigantine wind
down a winding silver ribbon on a gust of gulls
past the spiked-head tower with a traitor’s gait
to the landing stones at Wapping where I cruised
with my lightermen, I carried catbone stew in a sulphur spew,
slops from the slaughterhouse, silver from the devil’s purse
to chiding house, counting house, warehouse, whorehouse,
round the bend to Limehouse
where I carried off the mudlarks with a trumpet blast of typhus,
swayed on a belly full of eels and porter
for some sport by the gibbet at the Town of Ramsgate,
sots to the laughterhouse for Captain Kidd’s gallows dance,
lapped the feet of idols from Mithras to Murdoch,
caught your tumbling failures tender in my wash, dumped them
deep and pearl-eyed past Gravesend,
shipped my iron reach to manacled shores,
sailed my feathered dark to fire the world’s wars.
Carry me back to my trade winds.
Set my flayed winds free to chafe the chains of my hulks.
Take the winding sheets from my cranes.
Light my furnaces again.
Feel my wet bonds of blood, weigh the corpus of my
undertow, hear the drowned rats moan,
‘You are the cat’s whiskers.’ I am.
Drink, drink to my tannery stink.
Fish, sling your hook! Bazalgette, go hang!
Now is the time to take history at the flood.
Carry me back to my lifeblood.

(published in South Bank Poetry issue 4, Summer 2009)
Warning: When I Am An Old Man I Shall Wear Walnut

lined with lilywhite silk for cool extravagance
and polished brass buttons that never show fingerprints,

and an earthen hat and boots that will never suit
and alabaster armour arranged fastidiously with a wink and a grin.

I shall whisper to my mole and nematode menagerie
of unimagined places over a wormwood or two on a warm evening.

I shall practise my horizontal gait, ungainly at first,
until I hit my stride and kick the lid with rage at the grass ceiling

stifling my ambition, keeping me from rising
to my proper place as a blue sky thinker.

When I am an old man I shall hide in my wooden nest down there
long before that old woman in purple

with the silly red hat and the brandy and the slippers in the rain
stops her bloody showing off

and joins me.

(with acknowledgments to Jenny Joseph)

(Runner-up in Torriano Poetry competition 2008)
Stephen Elves is a journalist who has worked on The Independent and The Times. Born in London he now lives in Faversham, Kent. He read Philosophy and English at Kent and Oxford. He completed an M Phil in Writing at Glamorgan in 2012. His poems and reviews have appeared in Magma, Acumen, Orbis, Envoi, South Bank Poetry and Connections and he was a runner-up in the Yorkshire poetry competition in 2010 and the Torriano in 2008.

Miranda Yates

The People We Meet In Dreams

The man from the town centre post office bangs your door
in a ruby cape mouthing the whereabouts of The Prowler,
and then is gone, down to the shudder of the village stream,
where they are all scattered on the brink of a public hanging.

Not that you are you and he is him exactly, but there’s
always the hard seed of a person through which we recognise them.
That, for example, is absolutely how your mother would shout:
“The steeple is burning! Take your wives and tie them to the chairs!”
and that is quite the way she would run la-di-da down Coal Pitt Lane.

We brush them with our eyelashes as they rear into the half-dark
before we have the chance to follow the trail of crumbs
that might bring us winding back to roads taken and taken and taken.
(first published in Smiths Knoll, Issue 49)
Miranda Yates is a primary teacher who lives in the High Peaks with her baby son, partner and dancing step-daughter. Recent work has been published in The Rialto, Poetry Review and Under the Radar.

Michaela Ridgway

This year
for Katy and her son

January will hold the door open for you
and you’ll carry him in, under an oak moon;

a blue garnet in his small, clenched fist
will throw light into that forest of lengthening days.

In February, the snows will melt and freeze,
form pearls on its branches: he will wear them.

Your girls will cut wood and swim under water,
fetch mermaid’s purses and stars for him.

As the earth dries, begins to show itself again,
March will grow him a birch wood cradle.

In April, your hearts will open.
Love, like water, will find its level.

May will bring summer to you,
flowers and shells to decorate your windows.

June, July and August will warm him, warm him;
set your hearts aflame.

Then the last of the crops are gathered in,
acorns are falling; only a few flowers left standing.

Calendula. Sweet September. Winter is coming.
October’s bells will ring you safely home

and you’ll sing your way into November,
pick berries together: such days are these!

December wraps him in mystery. You light candles,
make pumpkin soup; he dreams of dragons.

Michaela Ridgway lives in Brighton. Her magazine credits include Magma, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Orbis, Other Poetry, The Frogmore Papers, Antiphon, Tears in the Fence and The
Interpreter’s House
. She hosts the monthly Pighog Plus! poetry night at the Redroaster in Brighton.

Dan O’Brien

Three poems

The War Reporter Paul Watson Lost His Camera

Vacationing in Cape Town, longing to purge
yourself with Stellenbosch and lobster. Waves
lash the scapular limestone. Unshouldering
your camera on your molt of clothes you dip
into the bay while it sways till you might
let yourself get carried away. Onshore
a baboon. A dog’s trot. His ponytail
-like tail sweeping the coral wash. Fumbling
your camera with spidery paws, weighing
your self in his scales. Found wanting. Champing
canines into the salt-stained strap he climbs
into the thorny strandveld. Where a breeze
bothers his pelt as he squats like a thug
-gish Buddha. Jaundiced eyes and gun muzzle
-like muzzle daring you. To holler. Hurl
skipping stones from the sliding tide. He ducks
behind a tree. And here comes your camera
sailing the daylit half-moon, exploding
off the exposed, foam-flecked table, spewing
guts that had fixed the souls of so many
undone by man. Baring your fangs you howl
your thanks as much as your dread. But it’s just
a camera. Remember.

(From War Reporter, CB Editions (UK) & Hanging Loose Press (US); published in
Poetry Review, 102:3)


The War Reporter Paul Watson and the War on Drugs

Like a movie killer the drugs hunter
keeps snapshots like trophies. As if playing
a losing hand of cards. Pakul, kufi
skullcap. Crooked Afghan policemen cuffed
beside their grenades and guns. A half ton
of opium in a tanker, musk masked by
the sweet rot of canary melons. Not
a man in jail. Kunduz is half an hour
from Tajikistan, 24 hours from
Moscow, Milan, London. Pluffing pompoms
and brass bells jingling on ponies pulling
carts through dusk. The sergeant with iconic
eyes like Alexander wheezes closing
his basement window. The informant says,
Most families have a dozen barrels and
a pressing machine, cotton filters and
acetic anhydride for refining
paste to powder. Enough poppies have been
stashed in wells and rusted tanks to outlast
a lifetime of crackdowns. In the lobby
of the station Ziploc bags smeared with tar
-like opium gum. Hash blocks. Pouring the pure
heroin across tiles, granules finer
than sand. Like trying to clear the sand from
the desert, and we all laugh. Our government
is no government, they say. We hope and pray
for that day when our invader becomes
our boss. Bulgarian rose seedlings poke through
sulfurous soil that used to yield gladsome fields
of flashing blood and cash. Now when the wind
bruises new roses they’re rendered worthless
to French perfumiers. Farmers have only
a day to decapitate and express
their romantic oils. If this idea works,
one farmer tells me, then Afghanistan
will be famous for flowers like Paris
is famous for whores! His face a skull from
years of smoking the fecal, floral ball
grins in the sun. The smuggler in his cell
shrugs his shoulders at me. The more smugglers
in jail, the more others will make profit.
The professional businessmen will remain
because of connections. Whoever works
hardest in business will always endure.

(From War Reporter, CB Editions (UK) & Hanging Loose Press (US); published in The White Review, No. 6)


The War Reporter Paul Watson to the Readers from Aleppo

Humor’s as common as blood on the street
outside the restaurant Al-Quds. Arabic
for Jerusalem. Bat-like chickens roasting
in respiring flames. For broken spirits
without power. The shape in the doorway’s
bellowing, Every time reporters come
al-Assad bombs us! Forgive me! I cry
before noticing the shadows laughing
at me. This man also. While delivering
this bundle like a football through the door
wrapped in greasy newspaper. Bones sucked clean
of their measly meat around the corner
at a desolate clinic. When a snarling
boom shifts the room, my translator suggests
the cellar. I say we have a saying
in Canadian: Lightning never strikes twice
as the door explodes open and barking
men are delivering the lowing heap of
that joker who gave me chicken. Like Christ
salvaged from the crucifixion. Naked
feet micturating blood. Eyes in the gas
-generated fluorescent light don’t see
me, his double, focused between shoulders
on track suits, stonewashed denim. Blood that’s spat
onto linoleum tiles. Snailed ointment tubes,
husks of gauze wrappers. Crushed Bufren boxes,
saline bags depleted. Two-way radio
squawks the driver’s hand to life. Blood-brined cheeks
had been bobbing as if dozing. A gay
nurse in his pink-collared sweater swaddles
the chicken-man, heel to ankle. Stanches
a hemorrhaging mother. Whose firstborn pales
in its father’s arms while the grandmother
spots through her threadbare hijab. Dear readers,
I would remind myself to remind you
to pay attention. But I was the one
lusting for chicken. Which is why I missed
the point of a joke in the dark.

(From Warwick Review, Vol. 7 No. 3)


Dan O’Brien is a poet and playwright in Los Angeles. His debut poetry collection,
War Reporter, published by CB Editions in the UK and Hanging Loose Press in the US,
received the 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. The Body of an American, his play about war reporter Paul Watson, received its European premiere at the Gate Theatre in London in 2014.
Website: / Twitter: @danobrienwriter

Carrie Etter

Three poems from Imagined Sons

A Birthmother’s Catechism (September 11, 1986)

What is the anniversary of loss?

A national day of mourning

Really now, what is the anniversary of loss?

My mother and I watch TV well past her usual bedtime

What is the anniversary of loss?

Where the swan’s nest had been, widely scattered branches and some crumpled beer cans

What is the anniversary of loss?

Sometimes the melancholy arrives before the remembering

What is the anniversary of loss?

Some believe it is impossible to spend too much on the memorial

What is the anniversary of loss?

When I say sometimes the melancholy comes first, I know the body has its own memory

What is the anniversary of loss?

The wishbone snapped, and I clung to the smaller piece
(first published in The Times Literary Supplement)
Imagined Sons 6: Introducing Myself As His
(The First Supermarket Dream)

His hand strikes my cheek, and I shudder and sting. His eyes tear and close, his mouth sucks in his lips. The okra and the mangoes are watching; the stock boy and the trio of cheerleaders consider plots. Reflexively I reach toward him, but what reflex is this, so long unused? “My mother is at home,” he stammers as he recoils. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper to the yams. “Yes, your mother is at home.”
(first published in PN Review)
Imagined Sons 7: The Big Issue


As I climb the steps to Hungerford Bridge, I feel in my pocket for change—I’ll be asked to buy The Big Issue before I reach the other side.

A blind man could discriminate between the Londoners and the tourists: the former hurry on as the latter loiter and stare. I weave my way at a leisurely pace.

I see a scruffy boy of a man selling and approach him. “Two-fifty, isn’t it?” I say, and he nods while extending a hand for my coins.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he says, and I’m surprised to hear a familiar accent.

I tilt my head, trying to see around his long fringe, to see his eyes. “You’re American, too,” I say, shoving the magazine in my bag. “Where are you from?”
Carrie Etter’s third collection, Imagined Sons, is published by Seren this month and can be purchased from directly from the publisher. You can learn more about Carrie Etter and her work on her blog.

John Greening

Three poems from Iceland Requiem by John Greening.
Author’s note: First published in Iceland Spar (Shoestring Press, 2008), this sequence is at the heart of a collection about my father’s time as a wireless operator in Akureyri during WW2, just after he had met my mother back in Kew.

Requiem aeternam

A world of light comes through the curtains
across the battlemented outline of the Nýja Bió
Cinema. There is nothing else to see

of what they saw here. Gone With the Wind.
In Which We Serve. Things to Come
Fire gutted its interior, but the building,

circa 1929, is where the ‘W.Ops’
all flocked each night. Fantasia.
To Be or Not To Be.
I am in touch with three.

One sketched me the wireless operators’ hut.
One summarised the system of night watches.
One spoke of how you must keep the braziers going.

By being here, a son, in this perpetual light.

Tuba mirum

The long horn of the fjord and what god
up in the highlands summoning Götterdämmerung.

The trumpeting cloud of the first atomic bomb
announcing an end to the war to end war to end war.

The harmonica playing in the small hours, fanfares
of a lost empire, the sun not rising.

The call in imagination, which brings all peace
and freedom avalanching down on top of us.

Quid sum miser

Moon that knows it has power over waves
of bombers, but not rockets; over mind,
but not this reader at Victoria Gate:

the very moon that’s making glaciers glow
in her imagination, Gullfoss shimmer
and mock all forward motion as she walks,

that casts its iron moon-frost on those curves
nestling in censored passages that keep
the lunacy of war from surfacing.

She listens to this moon, the man who cries
through nerve-ends on each single specimen
of green behind the high forbidding wall

she walks from hospital by moonlight home:
a golden apple from the north, its sweetness
piercing the blackout. Immortality,

it mouths at her. Look to your honeymoon:
the war will end, the men return, and all
their rockets be directed to Apollo.

John Greening received a Cholmondeley Award in 2008. His Hunts: Poems 1979-2009 was published in 2009, followed by Poetry Masterclass (2011). Last year, two further collections appeared: To the War Poets (Carcanet) and Knot (Worple). He is a regular reviewer for the TLS and one of the judges for the Gregory Awards. His website is ; he is @GreeningPoet on Twitter and he is on Facebook.

Lesley Martin

Three Churches
I. Augustinian Priory

St Augustine, patron saint of brewers,
printers and theologians, is depicted holding a quill,
poised to write, in a stained glass window
overlooking the shrine of St Jude,
patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.
To light candle insert coins into slot
and press button on candle of choice.
II. The Collegiate Church of St Nicholas

The guestbook is filled with prayers for sons and daughters
and dying mothers. Everyone is selfless where anyone and God
can see. Then we spy, in tripping English, a plea:
Please help me to be love.
III. Galway Cathedral

In the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven
and St Nicholas the alabaster saints rest in alcoves,
languages they could never imagine flurrying around them.
Using the St Killian’s Candle System we pick up
a candle each and light them for our future children.
I choose the blue section, for isn’t forget-me-not the mother’s colour?
We leave, declining to pay, quiet and blasphemous.
Lesley Martin is a graduate of English and Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast, where she studied under Ciarán Carson and Sinéad Morrissey. She is currently studying for an MA in Arts Management. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

Judi Sutherland


I had to make a false leg for the toucan
from a strong brass spring, to take the shock of landing,
the first and fourth toes turned backwards for grip.
I saw from the way the bird regarded me, beak cocked
to one side, that it was grateful. My next project

a throat-pouch for a pelican, from fine ostrich leather
and a purse-clasp, fixed with tiny rivets
to the bird’s smooth bill. My confidence grew;
I fashioned plumage for a peacock’s tail
from fine embroidery silks and spun gold thread,

fanning out brilliant shields of turquoise.
I made an eye for the barn owl; a lacquered bead
trapped in a sphere of blown glass; a fly-by-wire system
for a flock of avocets; how they dipped and lunged
in unison at my command.

When he comes home from school, my son
perches on a workshop stool, and leans his elbows
on my bench, among crusted paint,
pots of glue and pages of gold leaf, and watches
as I work. I can make him fly. I’ve studied

flight feathers – the remiges – for thrust and lift,
the primaries, secondaries, tertials. I’ve collected
everything necessary; a sackful of gull feathers
pewter, white and black; a harness
of buckled leather straps; a slab of wax.
Judi Sutherland spent more than 20 years in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry
before taking redundancy and concentrating on her writing. She currently lives in South Oxfordshire but is planning to move to North Yorkshire soon, with her husband and two cats.

Jane Commane

Two new poems
Seven Horse Secrets

The horse’s heart is a grand mansion of piston-firing chambers.

A horse sees a world blurred in the two-tone flourish of the photo finish.

Look into the amber planet of a horse’s eye and a refracted universe forms there.

Horses turn the turf of an ever-moving, never-quite-touched earth beneath their hooves.

Horses laugh at our expense; lips peeled, ivory-gravestone teeth bared, domino pieces as yet unplaced.

Horses are melancholic humourists; they know of the pending darkness beyond the five-bar gate, beyond the green paddock. Hancock learned all he knew from horses.

Horses tramp the ancient treadmill of our whims, trot to our biding, broken, bought and sold, but only ever possess themselves.
Odds On

Where do the racehorses sleep?
Red Rum, Dawn Run and Arkle
sleep now, the broken neck,
Aintree grave, front-page obit.

Himself, Ireland, no longer
a twice-a-day Guinness-drinker
but a museum curio, steeplechaser
skeleton strung out in a glass stable.

Time and form. The Liffey awash
with good tidings, tigers sighted
out near Connemara. A Japanese
4×4 and a racehorse in every drive.

Going good-to-firm. New estates
finicking up on the hills in a rash
of prosperity. The money-men
talk a good sport, their pockets empty.

Who pays when the rains come?
The going’s none so good, the
economy shot and bolted,
the abattoir the only game in town.

Where do the racehorses sleep?
Red Rum, Dawn Run and Arkle
long gone under the sod. Mass graves
for the trophy ponies. Sleep now.

Jane Commane is a poet and writing tutor, and editor at Nine Arches Press. She also co-edits Under the Radar magazine and has run a variety of writing workshops, everywhere from castles and museums to allotment gardens and riverbanks. Her work has been published in Anon, The Warwick Review, Tears in the Fence and The Morning Star and anthologised in The Best British Poetry 2011 (Salt) and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam (Cinnamon Press). Born in Coventry, she lives and works in Warwickshire.

Stephen Boyce

Two poems
Marking the Place
The red route of the A5 lies across
the pages of our life like a silk ribbon
marking the place: Betws,

honeymoon rained off; Wrexham
snowed in, out of work, in love,
you fixing the roof at Llanarmon;

Bridgnorth, changing nappies in a lay-by;
the chiropractor cracking bones
in Shrewsbury. Returning again by

road across these hills – soft rain
in summer, moonlit frost in winter.
The ribbon’s faded now, the end frayed.

I ease it gently from the leaves:
Criccieth, November,
stalking dippers on the river.
(from The Sisyphus Dog , Worple 2014)
Worlds Apart

I dig a round hole
and plant a tree.

You dig a square hole
and bury a child.

I fill my hole with scoops of loam,
tamp it with my heel
and water the soil.

You fill your hole with coffin wood,
handfuls of red clay
and mother’s tears.

My tree bursts into life.
Your child lies still.

I watch the cut worm flail
before it heals.

You’ve never seen a worm
and have no word for healing.

(from The Sisyphus Dog , Worple 2014)

Stephen Boyce is the author of two collections, Desire Lines (Arrowhead 2010) and
The Sisyphus Dog (Worple 2014). He lives in Winchester and is a trustee of Winchester
Poetry Festival. Twitter @boyce_stephen