Two poems by John Wheway

The Greatcoat

My grandmother leaves me
a greatcoat made from piano parts –

keys stitched in rows
like the feathers and wolves’ teeth

of a chieftain’s ceremonial mantle.
I don’t feel worthy

to carry it on my shoulders. Is this
Grandma’s reproach for my shirking

remote scales and Czerny? But when I fasten
the felt-hammer toggles across my chest,

late Beethoven cascades
from the ceiling – the windows rattle,

and the house gets so hot,
I think flames are going to burst through the floorboards.

I rush to the middle of the lawn
to a racket as complex as Prokofiev

at his most athletic. To calm everything,
I take deep breaths – the perfume of grass rises

like Debussy’s Des pas sur la neige.

(first published in The Warwick Review, 2011)


I discovered a tissue of lies
swept up with fag-ends and other
dreck in the corner of a local bar.

It could have been
something in a flat pack
with instructions gone astray

compressed to fit a tiny space,
or a womb-drenched small mammal,
or a new, furled moth.

When I picked it up, it seemed
weightless, though I think I felt a pulse
tantalise the surface of my palm.

I made it a nest of last week’s Sunday
papers, gave it sour wine to suck, and crumbs
of goaty Transylvanian cheese.

Slowly it began to crawl across the tiles,
leaving a trail so beautiful
I couldn’t bear to clean away its wake:

when the wind blew, the light
was glazed with rainbow scales.
I couldn’t tell you what it really was.

I had a special carrying case
to take it everywhere, despite
a growing heaviness. It never flew.

One day, forgetfully, I left it
on a bus, and couldn’t get it back.
I’ve no words for the loneliness.

(first published in Magma, 2008)

John Wheway’s poems have appeared in New Measure, Stand, Magma, The Warwick Review, Poetry Review, the Yellow Nib, Poetry Quarterly, Compass Magazine, South Word, Agenda, and High Window, in three Templar anthologies and in The Echoing Gallery from Redcliffe Press. His flash fiction has appeared in Flash Flood 2017, Flash Flood 2018, and Flash Fiction Festival One (Ad Hoc Fiction – 2017). Anvil Press poetry published his chapbook The Green Table of Infinity, and Faber and Faber published his novella Poborden. He has a Creative Writing MA from Bath Spa University. His poetry collection, A Bluebottle in Late October, is to be published in 2020.