Contributors are Liz Berry, Robert Selby, Harriet Moore, Lydia Macpherson, André Naffis-Sahely, Alan Buckley, Declan Ryan, Malene Engelund, William Searle and Rory Waterman.
The Sea of Talk
That last Summer before school robbed language
from my mouth and parcelled it up in endless
Ladybird Books, you made me a boat of words
and pushed us off from the jetty into the Sea of Talk.
You let the waves navigate. My fingers stroked shoals
of nouns in the chatter – goosegog, peony – ,
verbs slithering, electric as eels in the seagrass.
All August we sailed, the vast shadows of stories
trawling below us: ‘ow the lights waz out the night
you waz born … the secret in the marlpit up Batman’s Hill …
then further out, deeper, those first vowels we’d spoken,
filmy and shapeshifting as jellyfish in the dark.
You let me swim in the shallows until the moon drew
the murmuring tides to her breast. Then you made a net
of your arms and hauled me in, kissed your thumb
to my small mouth, my barnacle ears, whispered:
Bab, little wench, dow forget this place,
its babble never caught by ink or book
fer on land, school is singin’ its siren song
an oysters close their lips upon pearls in the mud.
The Burning of the Pets
Today they start the burning of the pets.
The wind is in the right direction,
the sky is blue and flecked with larks
and fighter planes, the weather’s set
and it’s as good a day as any to burn pets.
There are economies of scale and pets
who die before the rest must wait in piles
like fur coats on a party bed until
the latecomers catch up, collarless
and stiffening, for the bonfire of the pets.
They come in unmarked vans and pets
who, living, would have bickered now sleep
easily together, the Dobermans and flopsy bunnies,
tabbies curled with mice and gerbils, paws and claws
and hooves and tails, a jumbled bestiary of pets.
There are no funerals for the pets:
the forklift hoicks them down the chute
like laundry in a hospital, a button’s pressed,
a fat man settles with his Daily Sport and tea
to wait for the incineration of the pets.
Tomorrow they’ll box up the pets
in plastic urns of varied size:
a lucky dip of bones and teeth,
which, parcelled out to owners,
will complete the burning of the pets.
Previously published in The Rialto.
An Island of Strangers
The roof was the place to be. I was fifteen
and in love with ash-cans, pigeon coops,
women hanging their laundry. There was a fifty-
foot portrait of the King – always smiling –
by the sea, overlooking a busy junction;
like an ad for toothpaste or mouthwash.
At night, the shore on the west side of town
was the quietest, where hotels, natashas and haram
coalesced into parties. Every half-lit room
was a sure sign of orgasms and the passing
of money from stranger to stranger. Anything
interesting and pleasurable was haram. I envied
the King, and his sons, all eighteen of them.
The King was virile, a patriarch, Abraham on Viagra,
the rest of his people were on Prozac. Everywhere
the eye looked was money, the nose, meanwhile,
hit only sweat: acrid, pugnacious, pervasive.
Most of the boys I knew sucked Butane, smoked,
saved up for whores, waited for their parole in the summer:
each back to their own country. Come September
the dissatisfied return; misfit mutts, at home every-
and nowhere. A friend compared cosmopolitanism
to being stuck at summer camp, to waiting for parents
who never showed up. In the twentieth year of his smile,
the King finally died. His mausoleum is a meringue: wavy,
white, empty . . . His sons have gone on squabbling, playing
‘whose is biggest’ with bricks; one by one, they die in car crashes.
Days of heat strokes, kif and blood-thirsty Ferraris.
Although your mobile must be lying still
and unblinking on a bedside table,
or stuffed in a bag with a pointless diary,
tonight I ring it one last time, and hear
your voice, clear, unwavering, as you ask me
to please leave a message after the tone,
and then I try to pretend you’re busy,
writing songs on your scuffed acoustic, or down
in the lush, quiet county you were born in,
hands on the steering wheel’s leopard-print cover,
casually speeding south through a warren
of hedge-bound lanes, stone bridges, up over
Eggardon Hill, to the place you’d go to stare
at the waves, and breathe the incoming air.
First prize, Wigtown Poetry Competition.
From Alun Lewis
There is nothing that can save today, darling,
you not being here. You MUST write.
It’s impossible to breathe otherwise.
I’m only talking of the things I really NEED.
I’m so tired of travelling away from you.
I think of you all the bloody time. Do you mind?
This isn’t an answer or a letter –
it’s only a cup of coffee after lunch.
Many things I’ve been unable to remember
came to me last night.
You sitting like a babu at a desk
in the bowels of the G.P.O.
You standing in the quartier latin corridor
of the Hotel Marina on Sunday afternoon
after the cinema saying ‘Alright, pay the taxi. Let’s stay.’
When I saw you on Saturday July 24th
you were the flash of a sword.
Now I’m hopelessly shut into the camp life again.
A soccer match, a disjointed conversation at dinner,
a visit to the reading room to see how things go:
oh and a longing beyond words.
There’s a fat dove strutting across the lawn
by the bougainvillea.
I wish I could be strolling with you
looking at the rose moles all in stipple
in your little stream.
One way or another I make a lot of shadows where I go.
Don’t worry over the hairs on my head.
May you not be tried harder than you can bear.
Let there be an again, New Year. Save us.
Previously published in Poetry Review.
from Days of Roses II.
Days of Roses II is available in London at Daunt Books and Foyles.
Order Days of Roses II.