Two poems by Kate Noakes

Salomé in the mirror

I find myself calling for your head
on a brass platter from Bernese
the kind I can make into a table

I smile
I smile
manic       delighted

There will be no church
or mosaic shrine
on the spot where this happens

I smile
I smile
manic       delighted

I’ll take just your cheek       slashed
The slip of your occasional razor
will do it       for now

I smile
I smile
manic       delighted

You are no saint
and my veils are not translucent
I can’t dance that way anymore.
 
 
 
Penelope: identity theft

I chose the hardest fibres
to strip my skin
jute, copra

to slice the whorls
from my fingertips
hessian, raw flax.

I am weaving lead.

Forth, back
the shuttle flies
the cloth wefted red.

Right, left
the pedals tread
my legs, my legs.

Sundown, yards done
well, not yet.
I sink on my bed
my head, my head.

The clamour from
the waiting boys too much
“Wed me.” “No, me instead.”

In darkest night
I cut the warp and pull
unthread, unthread.

My new skin
pricks with dread.
 
 
 
Kate Noakes’ sixth collection is Paris, Stage Left (Eyewear, 2017). She was elected to the Welsh Academy in 2011 and her website (boomslangpoetry.blogspot.com) is archived by the National Library of Wales.

Two poems by John Challis

Horses in Upton Park

I hadn’t expected the horses, splendid
in their yellow smocks and welder’s visors.
What they must have thought of us.
They lived in stables in the field. In scrapheaps
by the motorway, stunted ones, peppered white,
wore ornately coloured saddles,
were tied to little caravans with cardboard
on the windows. Deep down a country lane
a sudden swift galloping blind to ambler
and canine comes. These were different.

Working horses. Pitifully tame. Strangers
to fording polite streams under full moons,
they must dream of acting as statues to anger.
And why they still choose them over
armoured vehicles? The wildness of horses.
How their hooves can crush a man’s
temple with a kick. How, when you’re
close enough to look into a horse’s eye,
there’s something of the past. I’d reach
to stroke a mane but there is sudden news

of an engagement with away supporters,
and when what seemed born to stillness moves,
there’s fear beyond language that sets itself
amongst your bones as though someone’s
suddenly there in the back of the car,
at the foot of your bed, rearing like a horse
on its hind legs. And the terrible sound
of braying penetrates and freezes
and the dark and wild stare is the night before
the first of us found the gift of fire.
 
 
 
Arcade Britannia

Since birth I have been spending here
on rally driving and shoot-em-ups,
on Pac-Man, hockey, and beat-em-ups,

but now, as even the arcade shuts,
engineers (ex-union men) have arrived
to unplug the lot, to wipe the scores

and our initials from the leader board.
Friends, although I haven’t texted
or knocked for you in years, do you

remember how we spent every
weekend of the nineties, and found,
as we left the graphics sharpening

their focus (the almost-perfect hair
and skin), with the bug ignoring
calendars, our hormones fully loaded,

that somehow the game we played,
shooting balaclavaed men in Middle Eastern
markets, had become the actual news?
 
 
 
 
John Challis is the recipient of a Northern Writers’ Award and a Pushcart Prize. Poems have appeared on BBC Radio 4, and are published or forthcoming in magazines including Butcher’s Dog, Clinic, Iota, Magma, Poetry London, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Rialto and Under the Radar. He lives in the North East and works as a Research Associate at Newcastle University. @Keyholesurgery

Two poems by Kathy Pimlott

The Rookery Redux

The rain collects by drains stopped up with fatbergs from the eateries,
in cracks and trips of slabs laid slipshod and craftless. Step carelessly

and soak your shoes. Do you belong here? Do you loop grey nets to foil
the suck and growl of traffic’s heat? Do you open your windows at all?

At night the seven streets pinball each drunk chorus, each deal undone,
each spat. Roused sleepers turn and mutter vows to flee to Harpenden

Peterborough, somewhere normal. Let’s not forget it always was about
money, this star conceived for dosh, more rental by the frontage foot

than squares. Cute schemes, smart ideas leap and crash, leave logos,
hidden eglomise, blind windows. The crack crowd keeps its ground, Soho

to St Giles, between cameras and lights. Watchful, unbranded and urgent,
heads over cupped palm, with sudden limping dashes, they shout, feint,

twist and turn, wry faced and pissen pants, hopeless and eternally hunting
for that one good deal among the pop-ups, the fairy-lit trees, the bunting.
 
 
 
Makeshift

When you’re drowning in blah and good knife skills
so much depends

upon

believing the promised
pops of

a red the greater for being half forgot When the wheel skews
and sweating outweighs the ease

of trundling the barrow

make it a bed for Mara de Bois
a support for those exploding

                                                       cucumbers

for these are makeshift times when every chink’s
needful
                When you’re thrown back on sand

grit and the nous to gouge channels

wipe your glazed eye so you might see to guide rain
to the right place

Water
your stiff heart for though the world’s

beside itself the Middle White’s
still entirely useful except its squeal and

chickens

too of course in all parts
even their gurgle’s balm
 
 
 
 
 
Kathy Pimlott’s pamphlet Goose Fair Night (The Emma Press) was published in 2016. Her poems have appeared widely in magazines, anthologies and on-line. She lives in the Seven Dials corner of Covent Garden.

Two poems by Richie McCaffery

The white horse

I was born to curses, my hooves
headed the wrong way and I know
I will die to the sound of blessings
the way I was broken with both.

So many once believed in me,
they all backed me. I was worthy
of their faith because I never
arrived or ever proved myself.

To be a white horse lost in snow,
the snow which I love, for it falls
with such a sure fresh sense that
it is needed somewhere on earth.
 
 

Back for Christmas

All over Christmas, I think on how central
the tree is to us all, and how rootless too.

I walk along the river, in a hawthorn hollow
I see a wreath for a dead angler and feel
a sudden, sharp tug that doesn’t let me go.

I was born in this village, yet even now
I’m not sure which path will take me home
 
 
 
Richie McCaffery lives in Gent, Belgium but is from Warkworth in Northumberland. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets as well as the collection Cairn from Nine Arches Press, 2014. His next pamphlet is forthcoming in 2017 and his is busy working on a manuscript of poems on specifically ‘Belgian’ themes.

Two poems by Dean Atta

April Evening in Cyprus

Your grandfather draws
your attention to the news;
the story, a black flamingo
has landed on the island.

An expert on screen
explaining it is the opposite
of an albino. Too much
melanin
, he says. Camera pans

the salt lake full of pink
but the eye is drawn
to that one black body
in the flamboyance.
 
 
 
Vegans Inc.
after Brian Waltham

We’re a righteous lot or that’s how we’re perceived. Ringing ahead, asking about ingredients. Not a simple “no thank you” when offered something we cannot eat but a declaration “I am a vegan.” A badge of honour, a t-shirt we wear with pride. We may as well put it on our CV; you can’t work with us without hearing about it. Our grandparents think we are ridiculous and say so. Our friends think we are ridiculous but stay quiet. We do not know how to stay quiet. We believe we are saving the Earth one meal at a time.
 
 
 
Dean Atta‘s debut collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger, published by the Westbourne Press, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. He is currently working on his second poetry collection The Black Flamingo. Twitter @DeanAtta

Two poems by Kaddy Benyon

The Blue Hour

This intense, clear pristine blue
that in any other mind could be turquoise,
aqua, a warm clear sea around a Grecian

isle. Here, lodged just under the arctic,
where temperatures quiver
between untouched and ruined,

this particular blue is of loss, absence;
of warped and distorted reflection.
This blue: my unasked for familiar, rises

and swells – thick liquid in a frozen
weather ball, bent on measuring
the blackened seasons. This murderous

blue that unnerves and disturbs, snuffs
out the family on the other side
of the door: their candlelit laughter,

dish-clink and squabbles; the scents
of spiced wine, baking leipäjuusto
and luke-warm cloudberries collapsed

in their golden syrup. My guts growl
like a forest animal; a lone roaming
she-wolf severed from her young, loping

beneath a slice of frost-cut moon. Don’t
let me circle this version of blue,
stray too close to the hunter’s track,

get trapped between brackets of gunshot,
silence. Don’t let me fall in snow-
drifted white, knowing no other colour.
 
 
 
Midnight Trees

I watch you kick off your pumps,
peer inside the havoc of your room

to enjoy you drinking a blue glass
of milk so urgently, noisily, it dribbles

down your neck, makes you sputter.
Later, in the garden, we dress

our midnight trees until snowfall
makes dust of our chattering.

You blink twice, link my arm, whisper
Sauna? I nod and you sprawl

on the wooden ledge beside me,
all barely there breasts, a new dark

between your legs, each pale limb
lengthening, sapling-strong,

to ladder the slatted walls. Your hot
upturned face may be smiling

as I touch your damp hair sticking
to my thigh. Treasured girl;

middle child, how I envy the handfuls
of snow you hurl on the wicked-hot

coals; that flicker of relish in your eyes;
the steam-veil you draw between us.
 
 
 
Kaddy Benyon’s first collection, Milk Fever, was published by Salt in 2012. She was subsequently funded by Arts Council England to write her second collection, Call Her Alaska, written during a residency at The Polar Museum in Cambridge. Kaddy is currently editing Call Her Alaska, which is a contemporary re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen. Many of the poems where written during a research trip to Northern Finland. Twitter @KaddyBenyon

Two poems by Sally Evans

Seeds

I go outside to my hens, while fifty miles away
thin men in Edinburgh are feeding birds.
They are always thin, and the birds crowd round,
starlings, pigeons, spugs, vying for crumbs
of love and humanity, on the bleak squares,
the paving where they are tutted at,
both birds and men, by hurried passers-by.
From the calm, grassy, choice environment
around my flock, I feed those men
with quiet eyes these seeds of words.
 
 
The Sleeping Poet

The poet who went to sleep
dreamed impossible dreams.
The poet who stayed awake
wrote impossible words.

The poet who went to sleep
dealt with the situation.
The poet who stayed awake
wondered what to do.

The poet who went to sleep
kept all his secrets.
The poet who stayed awake
spilt hers on the floor.

The poet who stayed awake
became exhausted.
The poet who went to sleep
saw all the colours of leaves.

The poet who stayed awake
sang such a melody
that like a bird disturbed
the sleeping poet awoke.
 
 
 
Sally Evans lives in Callander, Scotland. Recent books include Bewick Walks to Scotland (2006), The Bees (2008), The Honey Seller (2009), Poetic Adventures in Scotland (2014), The Grecian Urn (2015) and Anderson’s Piano (2016). She also edits the broadsheet Poetry Scotland and the blogzine Keep Poems Alive. Facebook https://www.facebook.com/sallyevanz

Three poems by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

The House of Rest
A History of Josephine Butler, feminist and social reformer, 1828-1906

Eva

Then you were here
real as a wound.

They placed you in my arms
with such care I thought you a parcel of feathers

that might fly away.
I stroked your face –

Your eyes were midnight blue.
Time bended to you,

language re-strung its instruments
to sound your name.

Visitors admired your lace-
ears, your peony fists, but they

could not see you as I did –
you slid from your skin

just as you had slipped out of me
and became a shard

of morning light, turning
cobwebs to crystal thread,

the windowsill to a gold bar,
dew on hedges constellations

of delicacy. I knew then
this love was alchemy.

Our bond is not made of that loose
wet rope they cut

but of instruments that show
the unseen and sound the silent,

the heart’s infinite missions
harnessed in flight.
 
 
 
The Telling

Lord, I told Charles this morning about Eva.

Lord, is there anything in this world worse than a boy of seven
watching his beloved sister, his almost-twin, fall
to her death during a game, and learning that she later died?

Lord, his beautiful face was the face of an old man’s,
still as a saint’s, emptied of childhood.

Lord, I pleaded for you to fill my mouth with words to heal
his silence, and I held him tightly and promised him that You
were holding his sister just so.

Lord, he asked if there were games in Heaven.

Lord, I thought on this and told him that yes, there would be games
in Heaven.

Lord, Charlie asked if Eva would be fine during the games in Heaven
or if she would fall as she had fallen yesterday, and the terrible
shriek that had pierced me rang again in my ears, and I jumped.

Lord, I told him that she would never fall again
but was in Your arms. He quietened at this,
looked away, and asked in a voice that wrings my soul:
How could He have let her fall?

Lord, as Thou wilt: answer him.
 
 
 
The Women In My Bed

I am no suffragist
but a womanist, and if there is anything
I cannot abide it is the selling
of virtue for tuppence, and if there
is anything I abhor it is the selling
of virtue for tuppence else a woman will die
of hunger, and if not hunger, she will die
of cold in the street, her feet bare,
her soul too heavy for her body.

                So they are here: five destitutes under our roof,
                five incurables, as we explained to Cat,
                Henry and Charlie. Our friends think me
                quite mad and George even madder
                for permitting it. It is obscene! Five
                prostitutes! They are girls, I replied,
                children of God, and they are dying.
                An acquaintance of George refused to cross
                our threshold in protest. Where are they? he
                demanded, and
                I could not help
                myself. I said,
                upstairs, I should imagine,
                asleep in my bed.

The irrepressible flicker of zeal before
he turned on his heel.
 
 
 
Carolyn Jess-Cooke is a poet and novelist published in 23 languages. Her latest poetry collection Boom! was published by Seren in 2014.
 

Two poems by Ali Thurm

Home birth              

 

Sun seeps through
crab apple blossom

and I lie on the sofa
exhausted but complete.

She’s sleeping next to me
wrapped in her blanket.

It feels like birthdays
when I was a child

when the whole day
was entirely mine.

 

 

Newborn                                                      

 

The first night he was mostly mouth,

a hole of noise

to stopper, a picture book chick

beak hinged wide open.

 

He couldn’t get enough of me,

wanted to suck out bones,

dissolve teeth down through that O –

loose change spiralling.

 

And when lights dimmed

to yellow pools above each bed,

he watched me with his old blue eyes –

a new intimacy, I’d learn to lose.

 

 

(both previously unpublished)

 

Ali Thurm‘s poetry has been published in anthologies, on the Tate website and in magazines. Her poem ‘It only takes ten minutes’ was highly commended in the 2016 Aurora poetry competition. She is working on her second novel, Jacob’s Ladder@AliThurm

Two poems by John Siddique

Orpheus as a Child

Everything is bright to his eyes.
The spaces between the connections of life.

Each sound is music, whether it is
factory thrum, or spider web vibration.

He loves raindrops falling into puddles,
tiny ripples, reflected skies.

Rocky outcrops and tree silhouettes
outlined against the light.

The sun reminds him of his father,
both powerful and distant simultaneously.

He dances in rainstorms, dances with the thunder,
loves blue and grey equally, without reservation.

The loneliest hills surrounding his early life
burst with different colours everyday,
as the grasses ripen and die,
and the sun goes round the earth.
The purples of autumn, the gold of winter,
the dark black of spring,
the rapid confusion of summer.

Using his difference to learn about people,
landscape and birds are not enough for a life.
He keeps his mouth quiet, his heart open,
he holds each moment’s hand.

Daring in friendship and love, though he is told
that he is too extreme: he thinks too much,
feels too much, speaks too openly,
loves too passionately.

He spent his days thus, and spends his moments
like this still. Seeing what is real, writing
the best words he can. Placing them into
the music of a line, creating a verse
in the song of the life of these times.
 
 
Rose

The sun is a painting. The child walks home
in the afternoon light of late spring,
or early summer. Schoolbag at his side,
heavy but not heavy with reading.

He sees the reddest flower in the breathing light,
and for a second, a lifetime:
air, sun, flower, schoolbag, and boy.

Looking closer he sees the flower is
a crushed up Coke can, and life shines in him
as he accepts this gift from the God of all things.
 
 
 
Meditation teacher and poet John Siddique is the founder of Authentic Living, and the author of a number of books. His work has featured in many places, including Granta, The Guardian, Poetry Review and on BBC RADIO4. Siddique is the former British Council Writer-in-Residence at California State University, Los Angeles, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow, and the Honorary Creative Writing Fellow at Leicester University.