Poem, Poetry

Ciarán O’Rourke

Shadow Play

Through solid weeks
of plague and rage, the earth

a drowning weather-dome,
my private liberty, at home,

has been to rest, mid-
morning, squinting,

as the swallows dance
above me, and beyond –

their shadow-play made whispery
by the bog-reflecting gelatin

of Shannon-water waves,
pushing, slow, and placid

as a dream. Far
from here, the fires scream

inside the mind of redwood trees,
an ashen sigh of sound.

I scan the skyline peaceably,
a grey-

winged, rainy-eyed
dishevelment of cloud,

and count the beeches jutting out
to snare the floating sun.

Stare too long, the colours run.
I lose the plot, and wallow

as loneliness begins –
my sin an outer circumstance

festering within.
O distant reader, skeptic,

take me intimately in:
my meagre, waifing wonder,

my belly-
aching thunder,

as if distilled
poetic anger

were another shade of hunger,
or remorse.

The voice I speak
was built on force.

But ghosting memories

with buried gentleness.
Before the nurses

flurried round, her fingers
fretted softly under sheets:

she fluttered on
in quietness and chitter-talk

to stem all worrying,
then slipped below

to sleep, and final things.
The stone of hers I keep

is lavender, and fleet,
the falling weight

(I adumbrate)
of a wren’s heartbeat

or breathing seed:
a whisper that takes flower

wherever there’s a need,
like the spring-

returning showers
as I stooped to kiss her cheek.

Ciarán O’Rourke lives in Leitrim, Ireland. He has won the Cúirt New Irish Writing Award, the Westport Poetry Prize, and the Fish Poetry Prize. His collection, The Buried Breath, was published by Irish Pages Press in 2018. (www.ragpickerpoetry.net

Poem, Poetry

Rachel Bower

Toxic Blooms
330 Savanna Elephants, 400 Pilot Whales

the whales tiny \ in the aerial footage
silver black mackerels \ shore litter

the elephants \ sleeping toys
trunks greyish \ ready \ for play

bluegreen waterholes \ stunning maps

but on the ground
biologists retched \ wept \

at the bulk \ the curves \ the unbearable weight
rotting \ luxuriant \

the shining \ beaching \ bleaching

herds \ pods \ families
all slacked into sand

Rachel Bower is an award-winning writer based in Sheffield. She is the author of Moon Milk (Valley Press) and a non-fiction book on literary letters (Palgrave Macmillan). Her poetry and short fiction have been widely published, including in The London MagazineThe White ReviewMagmaStand and New Welsh Reader. Rachel is currently editing an anthology with Simon Armitage (Faber & Faber).

Poem, Poetry

Number 1 – Nigel King

Huge congratulations to Nigel King whose poem, The Good Friday Sheep appeared to go viral in November with thousands of views from America putting it firmly in to first place.

The Good Friday Sheep

The nave echoed with bleating.
Sheep crammed into pews;
shaggy Wensleydales, tidy Suffolks,
Blue Texels, Portlands, Border Leicesters.

The air was thick with lanolin
and fresh droppings.
Ryeland wethers nibbled on the hassocks,
a Herdwick Ram scrambled up
to drink from the font.

The sheep looked around
in semi-darkness, saw statues
of bearded elders clutching crooks,
a mural of a younger man
cradling a lamb.

They spotted more lambs,
carved on pillars, headstones,
painted high in the sky
above the multitude, radiant as the sun.

This was their place, built in their honour,
kept from them for centuries
until this day, when they found
the paths and precincts empty,
the great doors swung open.

Neither man nor dog
can take it from them now.

Nigel King lives in Almondbury, Huddersfield. His poetry is shaped by family memories, myth, history and science fiction (amongst other things). His pamphlet, What I Love About Daleks, was published by Calder Valley Poetry (2017). In his day job he is Professor in Applied Psychology at the University of Huddersfield.

2020 top 5, Poem, Poetry

Number 2 – Jonathan Humble

In the lead for so long, Jonathan’s post from August celebrates two poems from his wonderful debut pamphlet, Fledge.

Dandelion Sun

A child’s sun finds a dream in young eyes.
In blinks of dandelion eclipses, 
refracted light reflects on retinas 
holding warmth in ragged leaves 
below a flower standing up and out.
Ryegrass and foxtail for company,
a golden head of petals, 
swaying and slight, 
is there and gone and there again.

The wings of friends unfold to test the air
with thoughts aloft in stretching skies,
days that lift and soar with matchless views.
They seek what hawks perceive as truth 
yet still count the faces that look familiar.

And dipping hands in search of clues, 
a box of sights, 
of scent and sound,
they choose a shade and wear a skin, 
fit in and lose themselves as one of many. 

But this child blinks dandelion eclipses;
hawkbit tinctures bathing open eyes
with picture sun now placed behind an ear 
while looking up and out.

A trust in truth is not weighed as cost
and light in ragged leaves endures. 
Though slight, 
as scythes descend and sweep the dream,
it will not fail at dusk.

Invitation To Move On

I am small in the sea, pushed around 
by waves that care not for any grain of sand
or stuff that floats in a broken head.

Arms held wide and high, that reach and cling
like a child to a parent when things get rough,
when routines fail and muscles waste. 

I hesitate, recoil, cower; skin so thin 
these cold water blades could spill these guts 
for waiting gulls and wash away this name.

I am caught like the Sun, falling 
and hoping to rise again, the horizon watched 
from a base of arched feet, soft soles and toes 

exposed to the hidden sharpness of shadows. 
And though these whispered sea breezes 
with caresses would show the way, 

for that bastard time waits not for me,
until I learn to surrender, immerse this body, 
allow these legs to float and lay back this head, 

could I ever take in the whole of the sky?

2020 top 5, Poem, Poetry

Number 3 – Amanda Huggins

Congratulations to Amanda who not only won the Saboteur Award for best poetry pamphlet in 2020 but also made it into our top five at number three with two poems from this wonderful award winning book.

The Names of Seaweed and
Collective Nouns for Birds

When I saw Da’s salt-licked boots,
frayed cap tossed over the peg,
I’d throw down my satchel,
punch the stiff latch
and crash through the scullery,
knowing he’d be
hauling coal from the cellar,
cheeks smudged with black dust,
strangely clumsy out of water.

The tug of the tide left him breathless
when he stayed too long on the shore,
and he lived among us only half-listening
to our land-locked talk,
always waiting to set sail again.

Sea child, he called me,
his slip of a fish,
as we dived down deep
to the coral beds
where mermaids sang
and jellyfish danced in puffball skirts.

Mam hoped he would turn his back on the tiller,
be coaxed ashore to the herring sheds,
be anchored down by kipper and creel.
Yet Da would never trade his fins for feet.

And when I lie awake on summer nights,
the last of the light
holding out in the western sky,
I hear him recite the names of seaweed
and collective nouns for birds.

In dreams I’m deafened
by a clamour of purple claw,
lured by a charm of oyster thief,
double-crossed by a deceit of devil’s tongue,
chased by a scold of landlady’s wig,
outwitted by a gaggle of dabberlocks.

Then at dawn he slides beneath the waves,
drowning with the names still on his tongue,
leaving me alone once more
to run aground without him.

Chris Clarke-with-an-e

I see you by the bar at Amy’s wedding,
an almost-stranger in your married skin,
much taller than I’d thought you’d be:
my all grown up Chris Clarke-with-an-e.

The boy whose kisses stung my lips
with the tang of sherbet lemons,
sharpening my colours behind the vaulting horse.

‘You’re my bird for keeps,’ the love note said,
scrawled with a cheap dip pen
and smudged where you’d folded it too soon.

Now you call my name as I turn to go,
I feign surprise, blush as we gush our shy hellos
and you say I’m looking well.

Then we both walk away, suddenly unsure,
perhaps kept apart by things unsaid,
half-curious to know our different ending:
grown-up me and Chris Clarke-with-an-e.

The Collective Nouns for Birds by Amanda Huggins is available direct from the author, on-line from Maytree Press via the shop link below, Amazon and all good bookshops.