Welcome to the first of our two December issues – the penultimate issue of 2016. (Also a reminder: we are going monthly with the web journal from January, so get those submissions in to be considered for Issue 12 onwards!)
This issue has running themes of time, and darkness (literal darkness, for the long winter nights, not grim-darkness – though if you look close enough there’s probably some of that, too), and freedom… amongst other things.
Featuring poetry and flash fiction by Jessica Mookherjee, Elosham Vog, Nico Solheim-Davidson, Maggie Mackay, Belinda Rimmer, Hilary Hares, Kemal Houghton, K.M. Ross, Pete Green, and Kitty Coles.
Stripped and stabbed,
pierced with growing fingernails
turned into wood, after years
of lying covered in green flesh. All holes in you,
relentless in sucks and blows, on and on.
Fires elf-shot into you to the sound of peeling.
The world is ants, mites and funerary rites,
the scurrying sound of disintegration
burns copper green, saved for winter,
from heartache, a namesake.
Jessica Mookherjee is of Bengali origin, raised in Wales and now lives in Kent. She has had poems published in Interpreter’s House, Agenda, Under the Radar, Obsessed with Pipework, Brittle Star, Tears in the Fence, the Journal, South, Antiphon among others. She has a background in biological anthropology and her first pamphlet called The Swell is published by Telltale Press. She has recently won the Paragramer Poetry Prize 2016 with her poem; Beast.
That night something fell. He crushed it gently,
its pulp the dust of wings on temple stone.
He brushed away its eyes and opened his own
on Trojan promises, drunken treachery, moonlight
streaming through storm, a dark silhouette
looming above. He’d read of alien abductors,
victims beyond understanding, interrogated,
probed, deposited in distant bus depots,
hearts mounted sideways. Minds filled
with an absence that haunted thereafter.
He closed his eyes on the chiseled moon,
a neo-caveman competing with ancient nightmare.
Elosham Vog came of age in the surreal spaces of the American midwest and west coast. He now lives and writes in the UK and Greece. He is currently editing his verse novel Volcano, which plays with myth and legend; Volcano poems have appeared in a variety of places including Lighthouse, The Interpreter’s House, The Istanbul Review, and The Missing Slate.
The Night’s Lover
Dark mist crowns her head
Emblazoned with distant stars
From eventide’s passing
to Hemara’s rising
She reigns high in Heaven
Nyx, my heart’s desire
From Hades she ascends
Upon Stygian wings
Crepuscular, her domain
As shades of dusk, she leaves
Painted in her wake
Honest is my love for Nyx
Ever fearsome in her wrath
Even Olympus quakes before her
The Mother of Sleep and Death
And dreams and Fate she birthed
From her sunless womb
Oh sable Nyx, I long for you
As dawn breaks in eastern lands,
Led by majestic Apollo,
Her reign comes to an end
And I am left waiting
To embrace Nyx once more
Within her darkened hall
Nico Solheim-Davidson is a proud Yorkshireman, residing on the coast of East Yorkshire. He has been writing poetry since he was in school, many, many moons ago. Nico is very passionate about Yorkshire Tea and will probably cry if anyone insults it. Or get angry – If there’s a full moon.
Name him Buck, Maugrim, a shape-shifting creature,
walking Canada’s remote tundra world,
or Sikko, Pukak, Masak, delighting in dark winters.
A myth of our making we dream
his electric presence, green-emerald
fur humped with muscle, forty-two teeth blood-reddened.
We fear his stamina. He eats it all,
large chunks, down to bone, barely a chew, a gulp and swallow.
He is hunter, explosive, fire.
A three horn Prokofiev call
alerts the European explorer who spots
the canine profile, as David Jones’ eye
might look sideways through a window frame. Wolf slinks into a
Greenland vista of northern lights
icebergs, big as Sicily’s isle.
goes unheard. Arctic hares bound, model thick coats.
Ptarmigan – the Gael – blinks his black eyepatch.
Caribou twitch, sense Wolf is on the prowl, on crusty snow,
across scrub, sedges, the purest
lichen. Snowy owls take flight, stretch
on the high rigging of an ocean steamship.
The six-month summer supplies eco-soup,
poppies, seaweed thickets, cacophony of coastal birds,
fulmars, green-petrolled cormorants.
Wolf can snap a cloudberry fruit
from its branch.
Sea ice bears witness to white geese whir above white
like window blinds. Walrus, the rare white crane
cohabit with Inuits, hunters of reindeer across the steppe.
Fungi flourish on rich orange moss
patchwork. This wondrous terrain endures,
Maggie Mackay, lover of jazz and whisky, lives on the east coast of Scotland and is enjoying life as a final year Masters Creative Writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University where she is currently working on her poetry portfolio. She has work in various print and online publications, including Amaryllis, Bare Fiction, Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Black Light Engine Room, The Interpreter’s House, Prole, Indigo Dreams Publishing and in several Three Drops Press anthologies.
He watches her walk across the sand, soft, elegant limbed, in a yellow headscarf to protect her hair from the sun. A bright light slithers across the sea and slaps her bare legs. He wants to reach out, touch the places he knows he shouldn’t, the dark places beneath her dress. In the shadows of the beached boats, underneath nets and anchor chains, he waits. The water laps the pebbled edges; the tide on the turn.
She calls his name: ‘Tom, Thomas.’ Urgent.
He twists, tumbles, races to meet her.
Arms around his neck, she says, ‘We best go home.’ She smiles, slow and sad, as if she doesn’t want to think about home.
Their eyes meet, both grey-green.
If only she would lay her head on his shoulder. If only he could put his arm around her waist. He imagines them falling together into the ocean, swimming far out. His strong hands would hold her down until she came up gasping for breath, laughing.
She forges ahead. He notices the impatient rigidity of her back, the rapid swish, swish of her dress, the flick of a stray lock of hair. There are things she has to do, she tells him, urgent things that won’t wait. They must hurry.
Partly to annoy her, and partly because he can’t help himself, he unearths a white pebble and nestles it in the palm of his hand.
Without turning, she calls his name again: ‘Tom, Thomas.’
He clambers over a crop of rocks. Falls. Blood oozes from a grazed knee. With her handkerchief, she dabs away the terrifying redness of him. He knows her touch well, her finger tips. He holds on to this moment, the pain in his knee forgotten. Clouds are forming in the distance, stealing the colour. He slips his hand in her hand; scent of day long perfume, sunshine warmth of skin.
Nearing the house, he sees the blue light in the window, the one that never goes out. He covers his eyes but the light slides through the gaps in his fingers. Past the street sign, corner-shop, tumble down church, across the courtyard, to home.
At the gate, a man waits, as he always does. He kisses the woman on the lips and lifts his son over the gate. ‘And how is my best boy?’
The best boy clenches his fist until the pebble bruises his skin, until he feels the quickened pace of his heart – thump, thump, thump. A great sadness falls upon him.
‘It seems our son is a day dreamer,’ the woman says to the man. ‘But what of his dreams, I wonder?’
Belinda Rimmer has worked as a psychiatric nurse and counsellor, dance/drama and creative writing practitioner, and for a time as a university lecturer. Her poems have appeared in magazines, including, Dream Catcher, Obsessed with Pipework, ARTEMISpoetry, Sarasvati, The Broadsheet and Brittle Star (pending). Some poems have made it online – Poetry Life and Times, Open Mouse, Writers Against Prejudice and Ground. She enjoys writing short stories (especially fairy tales) and recently won the Gloucestershire award for the Cheltenham Story Prize.
They caught one once, puzzled over its dappled scales
beneath their microscopes. Why don’t he sing?
the women asked, and, where’s the tail?
A great debate was held about a tank to put it in
and if they should provide a rock and how much
they should charge and what to do about the stench.
It never thrived although they tempted it with
Finnan haddock baked in milk.
And when they fell to bickering about its prowess
some ambitious jack fired up the local trawler,
towed it along the creek to watch it swim.
It dived and slipped its tether like an eel
and these days when the tide is turning
lobstermen tell tales of how they caught one once.
But was it real? the children ask, their fingers tugging
cloudy tufts of beard out from between the reeds.
Hilary Hares has an MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from Manchester Metropolitan University. Her work has appeared in anthologies and magazines including Amaryllis, Antiphon, Bare Fiction, First Time, Ink, Sweat and Tears, South, Obsessed with Pipework, Orbis, Poems in the Waiting Room, The Beacon, The Interpreter’s House, The Fat Damsel, The New Writer, Under the Radar. She was shortlisted for the Grey Hen and Paragram-Paradox Prizes 2016 and won the Christchurch Writers Competition 2013.
The Time Fairy
The Time Fairy
removes the hours
from busy days
and dumps them
you least want to be.
She steals whole weeks
in the run-up to Christmas
then spreads them,
a dark slush
in the lassitude
of the winter’s night.
She snatches time
from the lips
of parting lovers
on railway platforms
you may see her
skipping round bus queues,
especially in the rain,
and lengthening grim faces
on autumn homeward journeys.
Gardeners know her
best as they await
their most prized blooms,
for all about
the weeds grow double-quick
in lengthened mornings
sparkled with dew.
Her meanest trick
is to the old
whose years flash
as a day,
but to the very young
she gives an age
between each high
The time fairy:
she wrings the moments
from all life’s pleasures
and drips them into
the waiting hours
when we are most desolate
(Previously published in Spaces by Cestrian Press 2012)
Kemal Houghton lives on the Wirral. He is Chair of Chester Poets, a co-presenter of “First Thursday” in Heswall and presents the fortnightly internet radio show “Poetry Roundup” on Vintage Radio.
A Towering Tale
“Oh, how disappointing,” Rapunzel gasped.” My name means salad—wasn’t expecting that!”
She sat in her ivory tower flicking through a strange glossy book titled “Cosmopolitan”. The book belonged to the witch, she’d conjured it from a future world looking for better gardening tips; she forgot to take it with her. The thin paper pages filled with rich coloured pictures and tight scripted words fascinated her. The stories, though odd, were engrossing.
Rapunzel came upon a quiz, dutifully she answered each of the confusing questions, added up her score, and the read the results. “Oh, dear, this isn’t good either—I’m a lettuce, and a doormat, and unlikely to succeed unless I start making drastic changes! Seriously? I’m stuck in a tower, the tree outside isn’t tall enough, I can’t climb down my own plait—there’s no other way out …”?
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,”—it wasn’t spoken by the witch, but an unknown man.
Peering out her window Rapunzel saw a handsome young man beside the tree that reached halfway up the tower.
“Rapunzel, I overheard the witch’s call and the moment I saw your face I knew I loved only thee.”
“Really?” Rapunzel scoured through the glossy pages to the story titled in large letters: What men really mean when they say it’s love at first sight.
“Umm,” she said studying the young man, “I just need to ask a few things.” “But, I’m a wealthy prince and I can take you away from of this.”
“We’ll see. What is your mode of transportation, a Porsche, a Ferrari, or a Honda Civic?”
“I do not know what those things are, but I posses the fastest and most handsome steed in the land.”
“Right. How do you feel about premarital sex?”
“My lady, my intensions are honourable. The moment we are wed my heart, my body, and all that I posses ’tis yours evermore.”
“That’s nice. What about dress sense, traditional, modern, or high end fashion?”
“Mmm, and my hair, do you prefer it long or cut short?”
“Cut thy hair—milady, ‘twould be a crime against humanity. A woman’s locks are her crowning glory.”
“Right … I’ll be back soon.”
She went to the dresser, rummaged through the draw, and found some scissors. She opened the book to page fifty-three. Rapunzel tied her tresses into a ponytail, lopped them off, and admired her reflection. She liked her hair sitting neatly upon her shoulders and she carefully styled it the same as the woman who was pictured on page fifty-three.
She secured her severed plait to a bedpost, threw it out the window, it held fast as the prince climbed up. He appeared at the windowsill but Rapunzel clambered past him and she slid down the braid. Startled the prince followed but the braid tangled him upon the tree.
“Bye, prince,” she called.
“Wait, Rapunzel, I love ye!”
“Oh, you won’t be hanging too long—the witch will return.”
And Rapunzel lived happily emancipated forevermore.
K.M. Ross lives in Newcastle, Australia, with her husband, three boys, golden retriever, and she’s also a bellydancer.
The Night We Set The Clocks Back
We speculate that these Jurassic
sandstone flats below our soles
were scored by boulders borne along
in glacial spate. Striations run
amok, akin to wrinkles strewn
round some old seadog’s salt-cracked chops.
The borrowed tools of expert
lexicon swing, unwieldy, in our hands:
moraine or till might be the word
we’re looking for. And while our backs
were turned, high tide and dusk have
ghosted in and rendezvoused and
time become a thing again, yet the idea of
ten past six musters exactly as much
purchase as the thrills of surf that
fling against these cliffs, then founder
back into the depths.
Tonight we’ll set the clocks back,
open up October’s lock-gates,
(next week watch the fill of winter’s
darkling inflow, ride the jolt of
this strained step-change in the season)
but if we could choose it, that won’t be
the hour that we’d live twice.
Pete Green is a Grimsby-raised, Sheffield-based poet and musician who writes about coastlines, islands, edgelands, railways, walking, football, love, whisky, rock and roll, underachievement, and getting lost. His poetry is published by The High Window, Route 57, Pankhearst, and A Swift Exit, with a debut pamphlet Sheffield Almanac forthcoming in 2017 from Longbarrow Press. Pete’s second solo album We’re Never Going Home was released in July 2016, with music enhanced by field recordings taken in Sheffield, Lincolnshire, and the Orkney Islands. Read and listen at petegreensolo.com.
When they cut down the tree, it cried aloud,
a long, low groan expressing pain and grief
and, where the blade had entered, white blood ran,
marking the bark like paint, smelling of iron.
The ones who did it sickened, shivering.
Their limbs grew weak and twiggy, faces pale.
And, when they died, few mourners came to watch
their bodies lowered into stony ground.
The grass around the stump crumbled like ash.
The birds were silent there, seemed cowed and skittish,
except the ravens, screaming maledictions.
She who had lived there must have left the place.
They say she sometimes comes again at dusk,
the quarter days, when light and dark are mingling,
when substance thins and becomes substanceless.
We leave lamps lit, to welcome or to warn her.
Kitty Coles lives in Surrey and works as a senior adviser for a charity supporting disabled people. Her poems have appeared in magazines including Mslexia, Iota, Frogmore Papers, Envoi, The Interpreter’s House and Obsessed With Pipework. www.kittyrcoles.com
See you all again on Christmas-Eve-Eve, or Two-Days-Post-Solstice-Day, or Eight-Days-Left-of-2016-Day (however you like to look at things).