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

‘Kyrie’ by Seán Hewitt

Kyrie

Purple blush of sky and lilac drooping
by the greenhouse. The last heat of day
rests in the grass, and from the shadows
under the conifers, there comes a moaning,

a pain riddling from the undergrowth,
a voice caught out after dark. And my mind,
closed off from sight and the body’s reading
of the world, convinces me it is the crying

of a child left out in the yard behind ours.
Naked, its soft fat limbs and wet mouth open
and wailing and helpless. And I stand frozen
by the back door and the quiet house,

trying to listen, receptive and distrusting
my body – the ring of light from the kitchen
over my shoulders making of the garden
a more solid darkness beyond the patio,

like the darkness that lives behind eyelids.
And I swear at first the crying seems to stop
my heart as I think of it, sends my mind
whirring outwards into the night. Trance-like,

I begin to step further from the light
of the window and into the garden, slow enough
for my eyes to reinterpret with each step
the shapes of bushes, the forms of shirts

hanging on the line, but still I can not imagine
the sound as anything but a child cursing
in the pitch-dark conifers, and as I walk closer,
my hands white in the garden air, a sudden

panic breaks in the bushes, a brawling,
and I see the darker shapes of two cats
mating. It is here, by the swaying conifers,
away from the glow of the house,

that I realise I have found myself at a place
so close to life, to its truth of violence,
that my mind has wired out, but even now
I could not say which was the truer thought:

the cats or the lost child; and I think again
of calling home that night from Sweden,
of hearing my mother’s voice and telling her
what you had done (tablets, rum, calling

to say goodbye), and how I made
an animal sound, a noise so primitive
that I felt inhuman, how I cried
like something new-born

because I had found myself
in a world where all abstract things
(death, fear, loss) had been born in my mind,
and what is a parent to a child but a god

who we turn to when we still believe
that everything is fixable, a god
who we weep to as we grow
into the world, as we age into it

and each abstraction comes closer.
And wherever I have found myself now
seems somewhere other than my own body,
and each living thing is a child, and our parents

and gods are only children and again
I am in the garden thinking of standing by the lake
in Sweden and considering all the ways a mind
can uproot itself, of all the short-circuits

left in the world. I am thinking of the shadows
under trees, the lives of animals, the places
where words extinguish themselves and leave
all the things that cannot be fixed or forgotten.

 
 
 
Seán Hewitt won a Northern Writers’ Award in 2016. His poetry has been published in POETRY, The Poetry Review and the New Statesman, amongst others. @seanehewitt