Ellen Bass’s most recent book of poems, The Human Line, was published by Copper Canyon Press in June 2007. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973), has published several volumes of poetry, including Mules of Love (BOA, 2002) which won the Lambda Literary Award.
Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, The Progressive, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Sun. She was awarded the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and a Fellowship from the California Arts Council.
She is also co-author of Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth (HarperCollins 1996) and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Harper Collins 1988, 1994), which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into ten languages. She teaches in many beautiful locations and at Pacific University’s Low-Residency MFA Program.
Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat —
the one you never really liked — will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours for a month.
Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up — drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice — one white, one black — scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
First published by American Poetry Review (July/August 2010).
Visit Ellen’s website.
Order The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007).
Order Mules of Love (BOA Editions Ltd, 2002).
Becky Cherriman is a Leeds-based writer, performer, single mum and creative writing facilitator who writes in a variety of forms. She was commissioned to write and perform an interactive children’s story at The Rotunda Museum in 2007, and was shortlisted for the 2009 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Award for poetry and the 2009-10 Fish Short Story Prize.
Becky works regularly for various organisations including the Workers’ Educational Association and the West Yorkshire Playhouse and is one of the facilitators for the Ilkley Literature Festival Young Writers Group. She has performed her work and traditional tales and ballads both solo and with other artists live on radio and at venues such as Seven Arts, Stage @ Leeds, Stockton Riverside Festival and Poems, Prose and Pints.
She is currently applying for funding for a one woman show which she is hoping to tour next spring, seeking an agent for her first novel, Yellow Brick Roads, and working on her second novel.
She had lived with the wolves
till she was three,
though to her time
was measured only by the period
she was with the wolves
and what came after.
To them the wolves were
because they paid homage to the moon
with their song
and tore at flesh with their
rather than cold lengths of metal.
But to her it was them –
the men who stared
at the flowering teenage girls
with the hunt in their eyes –
it was they who were the beasts.
So she narrowed her eyes
when they spoke to her
when the odiferous one
had touched her throat,
she had turned
and made a hole in his cheek
with her precise teeth,
and she was glad
that because she had
lived with the wolves,
because she spoke few words
and because of her
they never stared
at her like that.
My Paisley Quilt
There are worse rapes than this.
He did not threaten my family
or beat me with his fists;
he simply prised open my thighs,
shut his eyes to my tears.
There are worse rapes than this.
He did not bind me with Gaffa tape
or hold a knife to my throat;
he simply ignored me when I said no,
every time I said no.
There are worse rapes than this
in the comfort of my own bed
under my favourite Paisley quilt
by the man I love.
There are worse rapes than this.
Visit Becky’s website.
Aine MacAodha is a writer and amateur photographer from Omagh, situated in County Tyrone, North of Ireland. Her essays, poems and photographic work have appeared in issues of Luciole Press and Pirene’s Fountain. Her poetry has been published in online magazines including Argotist Online, Arabesque Review, Shamrock Haiku Journal, The Herald, Celtic Myth Podshow, Debris Magazine and recently in The Toronto Quarterly and Glasgow Review. She is currently working on a second collection of poetry. She has three grown up children and a recent addition, her grandson Caleb. She is a member of Saatchi Online, Fotolibra and Redbubble. Read more about Aine and her collection, Where the Three Rivers Meet, at her website and blog.
All for love
You said you never cared for walking over boggy hills
over rusty styles with bulls on the other side
only to find a crumbling stone etched in lines;
you do it out of love.
Watching in bewilderment as I spy a lone ogham stone
in the centre of a field in Mountfield in the middle
of nowhere and my spirit lifts at the sight of it.
My mind gets to work on the stories this stone carries in its aura.
My camera clicks many times.
You do this out of love you say, like I do
when the wilderness calls and I succumb to its voice.
Guth An Anam (Voice of the soul)
I carried you or we carried each other
over ancient sites and thorny bushes
to recall your forgotten voice
lost through the layers of time.
I carried you to Yeats County with views
of soothing Benbulben Mountain and you
sang such beautiful tunes.
You sang out too when I located the
weather-worn court tomb at Creevykeel.
An ancient connection was made.
When birds left the trees for sunnier climes
as winter caped above the house
you were with me.
You gave me music to open my soul
again to the beauty in the landscape.
Music, you are the voice of my soul.
Jacqueline Saphra’s poetry has been widely published and her plays performed on stage and television. She has won several awards including first prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition. Her pamphlet, Rock’n’Roll Mamma (Flarestack) is followed this year by a collection to be published by flipped eye and supported by The Arts Council of England.
The Mary Rose
The naval plot’s on repeat in Portsmouth Docks.
Our rosy boys, all fired up again, restless
as puppies, wave from upper decks,
juggle caps. Lipstick girls in fishnets
and stilettoes clutch Kleenex in lovelorn fists,
hold out for heroes. More dreams of epaulettes
and white gloves, wartime etiquette.
Amid the choke and churn of history’s mess,
gunpowder’s retch, flashes of SOS,
The Mary Rose, wreck of sacred wrecks
retires with her ghosts: sailors netted
in their own defences who toss dregs
of shanties to the wind. Eternally unchecked,
our ships sail on from one fucked era to the next.
‘The Mary Rose’ was made into a short film by students
at the University of Chichester.
Six Feet of New Linen
Do you remember our first, narrow bed?
It coaxed us close, our breath mixing to mist
that hid our fears and blemishes and fed
the myth of easy love and coupled bliss.
For years, I’ve mapped your web of veins, I’ve sparred
and stabbed. I’ve braved uncharted arteries
that spat blood, lapped your tears like milk, plunged far
into your depths, sought out new strategies.
I’ll have you yet, I’ll draw you in. Not done,
the endless round of touch and tussle, heart
and mouth trying to speak in unison,
so much to hold, so little truly grasped.
In this expanse of white, you lie beyond
my reach, waiting for me to take your hand.
‘Six Feet of New Linen’ was published in Equinox.
Since we parted I have lost my red wrap. This is a symptom.
I grow pale, I want my roses, I want to be fed, I make it difficult.
You will find my red wrap on the other woman, the one who sees
only what’s in front of her, who took it from a sofa where I left it.
Crimson is not her colour but now she basks in my heat and wears
the smell of my longing on her shoulders. Salted with flakes
of my skin and yours, she is all smiles, she is always replete.
If she had the eye she would touch my mind, she would read
my scrawls, she would balk at my famished words, circling.
But she doesn’t have the eye. I have the eye and I have the greed
and she has my red wrap and she has caught you inside it.
Oh, but sweetheart, how easy she makes it for you, she who has
such appetites. I do not see you struggle as she tightens the knot.
‘Lost Property’ was commended in the Ver Poetry competition.
Visit Jaqueline’s website.
Visit flipped eye’s website.
Siddhartha Bose is a poet and performer based in London. He was born and raised in India, followed by a seven year stint in the United States. He trained as an actor, made films, and recently completed a PhD on the grotesque at Queen Mary, University of London. His work has appeared in magazines like The Wolf, Fulcrum, The Literary Review, The Yellow Nib, Tears in the Fence, Eclectica and Alhamra Literary Review. Selections of his poetry have appeared in the anthologies City State: New London Poetry (Penned in the Margins) and Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (Bloodaxe). Five of his poems are forthcoming in The HarperCollins Book of Modern English Poetry by Indians (HarperCollins, September 2010). Siddhartha has performed at The Whitechapel Gallery, The Troubadour, Museum of London, the Royal College of Art, New York University (Lillian Vernon Center), City of London Festival, West London Literature Festival, Spitalfields Festival and London Word Festival. Times Online dubbed him ‘one of the ten rising stars of British poetry’. He will be touring a solo stage show, Kalagora, from October 2010. His first collection will be published simultaneously by Penned in the Margins.
Chinatown, New York
A nose for paradox
Made me read Chuang-Tsu
On a late autumn afternoon
In Washington Square—
From his butterfly dream
I too emerged with wings,
A flowing gown of red and green,
A taste for wet fingertips.
I wafted down Mott Street—
Bees in my hair,
Pollen on my tongue,
Rain coiling in my eyes.
From your curious castle, heavy,
In a bowl hammered out of lapis lazuli,
You gave me thick soup
Cooked in the entrails of a fatted fish.
In it, strands of the Milky Way
Welcoming, cradling me
From the sluggish approach of
Snow, heating bills, a fading lover.
Previously published in The Wolf and
Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century.
Swansong, Mile End
Pigeons on a tiled roof.
Foreground—bus stop shines in the rain.
Swans—patches of cloud—
float long Regent’s Canal, its
skin, moving fish scales.
Shirt of sky opens.
Hair of stars sprout.
Plastic bags crackle like
pellets of rain in a tin can, like fire
bled on wood.
A southbound train lunges over a
The night is radioactive.
The two swans screech their song of love,
shake their manes, become
proud as horses.
Previously published in The Wolf.
Visit Penned in the Margins.
Marilyn Kallet is the author of 14 books, including Packing Light: New and Selected Poems (Black Widow Press, 2009). She directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee, and teaches poetry workshops for the Virginia Center in Auvillar, France.
Lines I Can’t Cross
When I don’t enter the lava tube,
I’m my father, stalled
at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel,
sweating and praying,
my Grandma Anna
locked in steerage, then in her airless apartment
on Coney Island, yellow paint peeling,
When I don’t enter the lava tube,
I’m me, December 28, 1946.
They took me from my mother.
My bassinette, a hospital drawer.
There are lines I can’t cross.
Kapu, Hawaiians say,
when the Marchers of the Dead
When I don’t put on kneepads
and a helmet,
when I don’t crawl back in,
when I don’t enter the dark tube,
I’m still closed in.
God of spaces open and
narrow, God of desert
sun, sunless places,
help me be less narrow.
Let my daughter
live more fearlessly
than me. Keep her
resilient like the o´hia
first to grow back out of lava,
waving red blooms
over the shoulders of ghosts.
The neighbor’s baby goats wail like human infants,
bawl for milk, sound off
when they’re afraid, when I run by.
They can’t see their mother.
Louder, they bawl for milk, sound off
as I jog by the wooly sirens.
When they can’t see their mother,
these babies freak out. I’m their Godzilla.
As I jog by the wooly sirens,
my nipples tingle, hot
with milk-needles. I freak out—I’m 62.
Can’t be! But this is summer, Hawai’i-nei!
When they can’t see their mama, I’m Godzilla.
Neighbor goats wail like my long-ago baby girl.
At Red Cinder
“The only man in the house
is Mr. Coffee!” the director says.
We women laugh with her.
At sixty-two, we think,
“That’s okay.” Or pretend to.
Here on the Island women’s
bodies hold sway.
Pele appears barefoot at
the geologic station,
helicopters try to rescue her
have seen her move
in murals, have given
a white-haired woman a lift
on the loop road. Her hair
brushes against bodies
in the tropical air, her dreaming
wafts through screen doors.
fix their eyes on her.
Not that they want to
sleep with their mothers, no—
they speak a language of respect,
let down thick waves
in the presence
of loved ones, enter the
hula, calling with bodies,
their hands echo
full hips in play.
The old men with ukuleles
croon to American women
someone is dreaming of us, too
We are kin to undulant
pines in the trades,
to green, white, black sand,
to Pele, who one day
will take back not only night
the land that is hers,
shacks and houses with good bones,
the red cinder road,
on her way back to Namaka,
Pele is dreaming back,
before men invented her jealous war
with the sea,
dreaming of Women’s Time,
sisters draw stick families in sand
and laugh like shore birds,
call dream visions
in the spirit of hula, weightless,
fragrant as plumeria.
Even the wild boars lie down drunkenly
on banana leaves.
Here fire is for roasting
and warmth. In the Dreaming World,
before the descent beckoned.
Pele’s sister Kapo possessed a detachable vagina,
unlike us. We can’t distract
wild boars by flinging decoys. In high school, though,
I dated a guy with ADD, bristles, and pig eyes.
Unlike ours, Kapo’s twat was detachable.
She could fling it like a Frisbee. Kamapua’a, the pig-eyed god,
never caught on. I dated a guy like that, dumb, bristles
on his back. One day he was buying me a charm bracelet,
the next, snorting, boring, pig-eyed and dirty.
I’m not saying he was a gigantic eight-eyed hog like
Kamapua’a, but those black bristles down his back,
mood-swings and his rooting around my pants, marked him,
son of a pig. At South Side High, boys grunted like wild boars.
Lucky Kapo, unlike us, she possessed a detachable vagina.
Visit Marilyn’s website.
Visit Marilyn’s Red Room blog.
Order Packing Light: New and Selected Poems
(Black Widow Press, 2009).
Read Marilyn’s ‘Fireflies’ at American Life in Poetry.
Since completing her MFA at New College of California in 2004, Elizabeth Kate Switaj has published Magdalene & the Mermaids (Paper Kite Press), Shanghai (Gold Wake Press), and The Broken Sanctuary: Nature Poems (Ypolita Press). She is currently an intern for Irish Pages and a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University Belfast. Visit Elizabeth’s website.
“At the heart of this comprehensive collection lies the Biblical character of Mary Magdalene whose presence is prominent in many of the poems and who haunts those which are, ostensibly, departures from the subject matter that dominates. However, departure and digression are not the hallmarks of this work and each piece of writing represents a different incursion into the topic from angles and perspectives that are startling, original and engaging. By adopting an overarching motif, the author is able to align more personal topics and themes with the main focus, at times appearing to move into territory not evidently covered by the title but always providing the vital connection somewhere in this sequence of compositions.”
– Martyn James Colebrook
No one writes
biographies of average mermaids
You know our lives
by our exceptions
tails sliced to legs
by loss of voice or cloak no– skin
You know us– foolish & afraid
choosing cold ocean lovelies
over warm-haired arms
keep their damp inside
at least for most of life
but would not carry
these creatures born with scales
that pinch skin between them
and smell of other fish
Soft Coral Siren
I didn’t feel when you cut out my spine
I’d been throwing up all night
couldn’t even smell the rust
until you told me hold your hand
or make you leave
and I just rolled in setting stains, ecru sheets
Creatures bendable as me only safe in sea
& still devoured Every night
I rise to breathe
& hear you
drop fire on my vertebrae
You do not hear me sing you
I do not smell singed bone
or whatever sort of tear you give
to keep my nerves encased in . . .
dye my hair red with wine
dye my robe red with wine
dye my flesh red with wine
& say I sinned of it
dye my lips red with wine
dye my name red with wine
dye my nails red with wine
& forget these hands lifted
your legs to let you breathe
as you died nails through your wrists
from Magdalene & the Mermaids (Paper Kite Press, 2009)
Order Magdalene & the Mermaids.
Visit Paper Kite Press’s website.
Visit Elizabeth’s website.
Visit Irish Pages.
Pam Thompson’s first full collection, The Japan Quiz (Redbeck Press, 2008) includes a sequence of poems from the out-of-print pamphlet, Parting the Ghosts of Salt (Redbeck Press, 2000) which comprises a series of letters between a mother and daughter, both of whom are married to sumo-wrestlers. In 2005 Pam was one of the winners of the Poetry Business Poetry competition and her resulting pamphlet, Show Date and Time, was published in 2006. Other pamphlets are Spin (Waldean Press, 1999) and Hologram (Sunk-Island Publishing, 2008). Pam’s work has been successful in competitions and has been published in magazines such as The North, The Rialto, Smiths Knoll, Magma and Mslexia. She is one of the organisers of Word!, Leicester’s longest-running spoken word event and is an experienced freelance teacher of creative writing besides working as Senior Lecturer in Academic Professional Development at De Montfort University.
“Pam Thompson’s world is a compelling, understated, often sad, slightly surreal modern Britain, full of people celebrating Divali on the Belgrade Road, sitting in pubs “Way past Auld Lang Syne”, wearing hoodies, and George Best “booting the ball through the screen/ after scoring for the first time in colour”.
In ‘Night Interiors’, Santok (the man at the petrol station) displays Easter eggs and sorts out the flowers on display:
under blue strip lighting. Going and coming,
redoubled in the chestnut flank
of a customised Subaru,
he steps towards himself; breaks away …”
– Sue Butler
“There are twenty poems in this fine collection (Show Date and Time). Pam Thompson has a voice that should echo through our minds and should, through her skill, remind us ‘who we were’. It is a voice I look forward to hearing again and again.”
– John Cartmel Crossley
“Well-judged demotic language, particular imagery and an uncompromising focus on the emotional currents behind everyday events and thoughts give the poems in Show Date and Time a memorable immediacy and power. Pam Thompson’s voice can be both compassionate and tough, the world it describes vividly real, haunted by difficulties and pleasures.”
– Mike Barlow
“Pam Thompson’s collection (The Japan Quiz) is bold and quirky consisting of five main sections that work to form intense, fascinating narratives. Many of the poems are arranged as longer sequences, a technique at which Thompson excels. The reader becomes deeply invested in the unfolding stories and desires of the characters contained within these. I enjoyed the collection immensely … There’s a great range to this work, and a sense of the celebration of language … Thompson’s characters impress. They are believable, seeming to lead real lives of work and desire beyond the pages of the book … The darkness appeals … and evoking darkness, both emotional and physical, is where Thompson’s strength really lies … that very notion of a ‘thin skin’ between two worlds. Thompson’s words are at their most powerful where she considers the intersections, the tensions, the matches and mismatches between differing worlds: cultural, emotional and psychological. In doing so she reveals their lightness but their compelling sense of darkness too. This book is a trick and a treat, I recommend it.”
– Abi Curtis
That my good reputation
Be lost, is nothing –
But that surely, without it
You’d not love me anymore.
– anonymous (16th century)
Sleek as rosewood, a buddah,
he folds his arms,
the stitches on his sash blow kisses.
This ceremony, alive, my hands
perform the rites, uncertain,
then assured, pour tea,
drop petals in his bath, warm fragrant oils;
light candles, press them into nests
of quartz, scoop waxen tears.
Be proud, he says, this samurai,
and spins, unwinds,
my wraps as fine as gold leaf fly,
spins me like a dancer, shedding fire
until dizzy, unwound, exposed,
I am a white grub whose wings beat wild
through skin. My heart is sealed,
a trapped flame leaping
in its casket for my oyakata.*
If he is rough, it is his custom,
he knows no better,
his clumsiness moves me,
his noble weight,
the terracotta perfume of his skin.
This is not a night of silence,
A night of no moon,
our cries could tear down the stars,
drown the cicadas’ envious song
and as I ride, feel his body surge
faster, faster, I am galloping back
through history, am the lady
of the water-lilies hitching up her skirts
for an octopus, not the lesser joys
of a man’s embrace.
He slips a towel around my waist,
A harness, to stop me falling, you understand.
The Fishing Competition
I want to sit on a canal bank
but nowhere near those fishermen
and their triumphal arch of rods;
their stinking jars of maggots;
their cans of Long-Life.
Before a fish is dangled
like a dark dripping slipper,
I want to be away at the next lock,
helping a pleasant elderly couple
prise the gates apart
then with them, pass, oh so slowly,
through the tidy, lovely water,
upping the engine’s disruptive growl
so that the winning bite
and the maggot on each line’s untasted
though the pool we leave behind
will be stared at, sifted,
long after the women at home
have packed up and moved on.
It’s entirely Zen, this waiting. It’s the quality
of waiting that counts in the end,
to tame the monkey mind,
the human tendency to shake, to twitch.
The synaptic response to a flicker of wind
on a line, the mock bite of weed, tease
of a current.
Let your mind flow and flower
like the hawthorn blossom on the bank.
He who waits will be rewarded.
People on narrow boats call:
Caught any yet? or What’s the point?
You’ll explain yet again that the point
isn’t in what’s pulled out
but in what’s thrown back.
You’re reassured when your neighbour
a few feet away does exactly the same as you.
And the light fades. And the midges
dance stir crazy across the skin of things.
You want to feel it one more time.
You can’t even see the end of your line.
You suspect this is the nearest you’ll ever get to love.
Waiting for the Bulls
The first comes tamely like a saint.
His eyes are calm. His fur is white
as sanctity. He licks my palm and a faint
sound of birdsong, a smell of earth, rises
from where his hooves have been. Gentle.
Not like the second. His horns have a scythe’s
curl. When he stamps and snorts the land
buckles, olive groves burn. Tell
me, I entreat, of your pain. But there
is no reason in him. The third walks
like a dancer, is womanly yet
his man’s heart is visible like a lit-up globe.
The last is a typical bull. He dies at my feet.
from The Japan Quiz (Redbeck Press, 2008)
Order The Japan Quiz from Pam at email@example.com.
Visit Pam’s blog, Heckle.
Visit The Japan Quiz’s Facebook page.
Norbert Hirschhorn is a physician specializing in international public health, commended in 1993 by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero”. He now lives in London and Beirut.
Hirschhorn received a Master in Fine Arts degree from Vermont College in 1994. His poems have been published in over three dozen journals, seven anthologies, four pamphlets (the most recent: The Terrible Crystal, from Hearing Eye, London, 2008), and two full collections: A Cracked River (Slow Dancer Press, 1999) and Mourning in the Presence of a Corpse (Dar al-Jadeed, 2008). A third collection, Night-Time Shadows, is out to publishers. Visit his website.
Abecedarium for the Workers of the World
Rich men dine on artichokes
Poor men choke on beans
Rich men quaff Krug champagne
Poor men swallow dreck and dregs
Rich men rub elbows
Poor men soak their feet
Rich men throw garden galas
Poor men shelter in cardboard hovels
Rich men collect illegal ivory
Poor men jailed for stealing junk
Rich men’s wealth swung by karma
Poor men’s bread wrung from labor
Rich men’s lives a Mozartian melody
Poor men’s lives a never-done noise
Rich men’s wives show off black opals
Poor men’s wives make do with paste
Rich men sleep at ease under quilts
Poor men lie rigid under rags
Rich men work the poor like slaves
Poor men prepare their Thermopylae
Rich men exploit unremitting
Poor men their short-lived victims
Rich men take the waters in winter
Poor men queue for soup at Xmas
Rich men own yachts
Poor men own zilch
Beggars of Beirut
Something smashed his hips – a bomb, a building –
leaving him jack-knifed, bent square, a large brown dog,
with flip-flops on his hands to pad home with.
He teeters in the roadway, one hand offered
to passing motorists. Sometimes a thrown coin
rolls into the gutter, a bill flutters off
in a breeze; never mind, he’ll retrieve them later,
all in an honest day’s work.
A lumpish woman, huddled, muttering,
someone’s mother, put out each morning
on a camp chair, all weathers. On her lap,
a ‘poor box’ holding a handful of Chicklet packs
no one dare buy: just leave money,
no pennies either. Her business is rage.
Clubfoot, big smile, thorny moustache, crutches since youth;
he trawls the Corniche at sunup for walkers,
for joggers who know him by name: Walid.
By midday he’s working the crowd at a falafel stand;
at evening rush-hour on a roundabout median.
This is his job. He does it well.
A waddly old woman, anyone’s grandmother,
dropped off each morning by the seaside,
sits lengthwise on backless stone; in her lap
a shawl, an umbrella, an apron to catch charity.
To each and every she cries, “May God bless you,
your family! lengthen your life! give you well-being!
you are full of taste! God bless your eyes!”
She will levitate. Her work is rapture.
Visit Norbert’s website.
Victoria Field is a writer and poetry therapist based in Cornwall, United Kingdom. She has two poetry collections, Olga’s Dreams and Many Waters – the latter based on a one year writing residency at Truro Cathedral. Her latest publication is a pamphlet in collaboration with Penelope Shuttle and Caroline Carver, October Guests. Her third co-edited book on therapeutic writing is due from Jessica Kingsley Press in November 2010. She is an Associate Artist of Hall for Cornwall who have produced two of her plays.
Tree of Doors
Ancient oak tree at Trelissick … Hen dherowenn orth Trelesik …
Centuries ago, someone’s father thumbed an acorn,
still cradled in its cupule, into the yielding earth,
to be part of a Cornish hedge undulating over fields
in time to the tides below. Now, you stand alone,
trunk hollow as old bone, tip-toe on phalanges
of roots, tilting on the hillside, gateway between worlds.
When I open you, Tree of Doors, men come rushing
towards me, holy and worldly. (The secret name
of the oak tree is father). You’re sacred in every forest,
grove and garden of the world, branches grasping
sky-god Jupiter, thunder-god, Thor. Here, earthed Druids,
Men of Oak, love moss and damp, this milky sun and you.
Mistletoe is the divine touching your trunk, turning planks
to boats, connecting Cornwall to the sea-kingdoms
of the setting west. St Columba prays to the wind like a gull
in his oak-built chapel. St Brendan strengthens his coracle
with oak and, God-tossed by waves, conjures New Worlds.
Emperors, victorious in Rome wear crowns of your leaves.
Like any father, you stand like a God in the field
so thunder touches you first, lightening thuds through you.
Like any daughter, I suffer too. Are they your long fingers
grasping the ground? Bysow hir ow talhenna an dor…
Or my own, half-wood, half-bone? I’m thirsty for roots.
Syhes, syhes rag gwreydh. And I close you, my Tree of Doors.
First published in Poetry Cornwall (October, 2009).
St Marys, Isles of Scilly
The high bracken is full of spirits – its prehistoric
scent takes me home to childhood in Kent,
blackberrying, beating back the sap-filled stems
to reach brambles no one else can be bothered with,
fearing, and longing to see, the deft flick of an adder.
The spirits of that village are here now,
clear as day in the island light that’s half sky,
half water – Nanny, old Nunc, Mrs Noakes
and Mr Palmer, Mr and Mrs Monk, those girls –
Michelle and Maureen – none living now –
(not as the mainland understands living), but present
in these dense acres of green where I’m lost,
surrounded by sea, not knowing
where I’m going – nor quite where I’ve been.
First published in Quadrant (Australia) (June, 2010).
Willows never forget how it feels to be young.
A single rowing boat moves slowly through
the silted shallows of a river once welcoming
ships of the world. Your name was a byword for tin
and abundance – now the guidebook calls you
‘much decayed’, a place for walking old dogs,
antique shops and early closing. How
does it feel when history has harvested
the best of you – to be a basket of memories
too long for the living? All around, willows bend,
graceful in their sleepy fullness. Lazy ripples
fade away. Nothing is ever as it was –
these passing ghosts, my sad, reflected face
in stilling waters and, on my fingers,
the unexpected tang of salt.
First published in Acumen (September, 2008).
Dead Beech Tree at Trebah
Trebah is a sub-tropical garden in Cornwall, situated on the
Helford estuary. On 1st June 1944, a regiment of 7,500 men
of the 29 US Infantry Division embarked from Trebah Beach
for the D-Day assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy, where
they suffered grievous casualties.
I don’t need to be told not to sow
for three days at the beginning of March –
all my days these days are blind days, the moon’s
face, blank and white, looks in from time to time –
doesn’t say a word, so I don’t hear her come
and don’t hear her go – night and day are all
the same shade of grey in this country
of the dead. Winters never end in the garden
where everyone’s blind, standing stock-still
on our shallow roots each side of the valley,
aching for spring. None of us speak though
we hear signs of life – voices of people and birds,
distant hum of boats and planes, wind
stroking the leaves. They tell me I’m naked
but how would I know – with no limbs left to wrap
round my trunk to test the touch of my skin or feel
for the moss-covered heartbeat of the tree
they can’t name or to prise loose chunks of bark
from the Monterey pine, let them fall heavy as slate,
cold as old armour from tanks rumbling down
the rapidly-poured concreted track – nor can I shake
a rich head of hair like the evergreen willow –
nothing moves in me now – no sap rises, no leaves fall,
no swinging branch to lift then drop a child down
to where things might go better – as we wanted them
to in nineteen forty four. Then, sunshine pulled desire
up from my roots, my leaves quivered and rose.
Girls of Cornwall bloomed all around, opened
to the young oaks of soldiers so full of promise,
responding with beauty – their thighs pink and silken
as spring magnolias, they flounced lip-sticked and frilled,
filled with the red lust of sudden rhododendrons –
whole minefields of blonde daffodil heads
on the slopes of these gardens – everything flourishing
until those goodbyes when hundreds of handkerchiefs
from a tree full of ghosts dropped sodden into the grass.
One uniformed man, tall as a pine, mysterious
as an ash tree in March, was mindful of memory.
He scarred me with his pocket knife – sap bleeding
through the date he wanted none to forget – gouging
my skin, sharing the pain of being here now, then,
a year soon only trees will remember, before running
from the enclosed garden of innocence, down to the sea
crossing to another world, one of lolling heads,
heavy as araucaria seeds, shrapnel sharp
as monkey puzzle leaves, the squelch of bodies
soft and open as toads in bamboo, tight knuckled
as bone on old branches – and beyond, furnaces
where people burn easy as seasoned wood,
jungles where, like the sudden death of a million
healthy oaks, men fall under the blows of those
who love cherry blossom. I don’t need to be told
not to sow for three days at the beginning of March –
I’m limbless, silent, scarred, dead from the neck up.
All my days are blind days. I can’t see the sun nor feel
on my branches the blood red of a passing robin’s breast.
First published in Artemis (May, 2009).
Opening the Gate
In five years, we had just two, true conversations.
The first expansive, outside in sunshine, marriage
on both our minds – we were wedding guests
on a perfect May day, everyone joyful, dressed up,
bubbling with mild hysteria. You acknowledged
a wistfulness, too, for those of us not, or not yet,
(and, now, never can be) – happily spliced.
At least that’s what I read between your easy banter
and serious discussion of churches and religion – like me,
you seemed on the edge – half in half out
but yearning too, wanting to know more about
that one-way gate, the jewelled road tumbling towards
an amazing light and open arms. The second time
we talked one-to-one, was in winter, a cold, dead day
between Christmas and New Year. Kind friends
brightened the darkness with a party and games
but you, subdued, were not quite there –
told me it had been a dreadful year.
More and more, you said, you’d been in the cathedral
asking the questions it understands so well
but finding no answers. ‘A permanent solution
to a temporary problem,’ someone said, afterwards,
not seeing the solution’s already a given –
the dilemma’s not why, but how, what and when –
the why-nots of love, work and friends, irrelevant –
they’ll all soon be gone, in any case. Not a moment of madness –
you choreographed a small theatre of action – and then?
Was it a drop through cool dark to a nothingness of total peace?
Or did you spiral skyward past blossom and birds
to the embrace of a bride, and the blue of her miraculous eyes?
First published in Scryfa Volume 10 (2007).