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Smoke magazine - issue 43  Just a Click away
The Nearly Extinct Bird Liz Atkin | House for Mr. Tiswas Daithidh Mac Eochaidh | Distances #4 (for John Lowery) Martyn J Lowery |Inheritance Owen Gallagher | Post-Modern Love Deborah Lavin | The Tempest Kevin Cadwallender | The Eating of a Unicorn Henry Normal | Slicing Aubergines Pauline Plummer | Upper Hand|Denise Bennett | The Joiner AM Forster | Last of her generation Moira Duff | Days of 1984 Ron Caldwell | Small Autumn Julian Flanagan |
Unhappy Medium Geoff Tomlinson | Brahms Trish O'Brien | Dark Glasses of Memory Merryn Williams | The Sun In Your Skin Michael Murphy
Smoke magazine - issue 42  below
For my daughter on her seventeenth birthday Richard Hill | Nante Joel Lane | Budgie Margaret J. Cooke | P is for poetSteven Blyth | Fig, 1 Michael Cunningham | Home Again Finnegan Marc Swan | Secret Letter to poets U.V. Ray | St John's Point Paul Finn | Dispossessed G.F. Dutton | Viking Cat in the Dark Helen Dunmore | Did he ever dream Mary Maher | California, Present Day Glyn Wright | Monopoly Jean Sprackland
For my daughter on her seventeenth birthday
for your birthday you should have more than this
the sky wrapped in silk
a rainbow for your scarf
and one or two oceans to swim in
you should have all the songs of all the birds
and all the music of the stars
but no gift can reach the gift you are
to those who love you
no song can sound from near or far
to touch you
the day you were born
no bigger than two hands
no bigger than a miracle
my heart turned over
and every day still spins in me
that you should be
A door under a railway bridge. Not
an impressive start. The inside
was nothing but dark corners.
At the bar, I watched them talking.
Bubbles of rumour slid from
their tight mouths. The barman
poured me a measure of shadow
that ate through the glass, marked
my hand with a love-bite. A boy
at the fruit machine pulled up
a line of clubs. I stood behind him.
When he turned, the light fell into
the holes where his eyes had been:
two empty sockets, the flesh scarred
over. They looked straight through me.
Long ago your kind were caged, and blue
Australia sank in your genes like lost
Atlantis. You do not miss the sky
Shrunk to a white ceiling, or the sun
Caged in a window-frame, or the fresh stir
Of grasslands, dried in a little pot
For you to peck. You whistle. Whirring wings
Lob you from the bough in the china bowl
Across the wide Axminister to click seeds
At plastic chicks, wallop plastic rivals,
Shuffle on sand, busy about the husks.
A flock of voices hover, radio quiz,
Gales off Rockall, news from the war, my voice.
You sidle dubious on my finger, claws
Little plucking rings that fit too tight,
Head cocked, eye disc trembling, ready for off,
But listening. Then your owner calls.
You grip her finger, shriek to be brought close.
Your eye pods shut to seal the mystery in.
Your head leans on the voice that's meant for you.
What do you think is going on, Geordie,
Among these beings that unwrap your sun
And make your world? You're talking to yourself,
Late night report before the cloth goes on,
Words, words, snatched from the world's air, scrambled
Messages half-lost in atmospherics.
Then a voice, a scratchy telephone voice
Far off, the one that knows you, seeks you out,
Now homing in like relevation:
"Where's Geordie? Where's my bird?" Message recieved.
Margaret J. Cooke
P is for poet
Numberless, nestled between classes four
And five, makeshift, and once a corridor.
Mrs Davies told us that it was down
To lack of space, but "Thicko! Dummy! Rem!
Revealed the truth. Words were my biggest problem:
Letters were missing or the wrong way round
In my exercise books, their curls and tails
Like bright kids' arms when they hid answers in tests.
Eight, and still reading books called blue, green, red,
With indigo, magenta, and violet
Like foreign place names, tingling like sherbet
On my tongue. Most mornings we had to read
Aloud. I'd mumble, grunt or sometimes cough
When I came up against tough words, as if
I had TB, this room like quarantine.
The English teacher introduces me
To his third years. He's told me I'll probably
Find it most rewarding with the top stream.
He's right; I do. Leaving, I pass the gardener
Trimming hedges, pruning trees. I remember
They said it was parents' night soon. Those blades gleam
For each school year,
each changing set of faces
you need a photograph
and a key because you forget.
You do, you know you do.
A contour drawing numbered,
reducing us to thin and fat
shapes at the whim of the wind
in a fold of clothing or an overlap
more effective than a diet.
And because you forget, against each
number a name to put the face to.
Over the years faces
become patterns as much
as the contour drawings.
irretrievably into the memory,
simplified to light and dark.
Faded blotches for a sunny day
and a list of names, not remembered
but suggested, prompted.
Figures identified by figures.
Copperplate turning brown.
Home Again Finnegan
Two years now, six trips, I've come to see him
in the second-floor room he shares
with a man I've never met. Sitting alone
by the air-tight window, he finishes
lunch. With a slice of white bread folded
in one hand, he wipes every trace of gravy
off his plate. "Wallop the dodger," he'd say,
afer every supper the four of us shared
around the red speckled formica table
in the grey shingled house on Nowlan Road.
I gave him two Twinkies, a small box
of Russell Stover chocolates,
a bag of Frito corn chips; he tells me of
the trap-door under his roommate's bed
that leads south,
the deer that eat dew-filled grass
every morning outside his window,
and Uncle Ike's house across the street. "See,"
he says, pointing to an old blue Continental,
"Here comes Ike now."
I don't talk of deer living in the middle
of a city, but I do ask if he can still do his favourite
trick. He stares out of the window, waiting,
I guess, for the next dead relative to arrive.
"I'm going now" I say. When I turn to wave,
his ears wiggle.
Secret Letter to poets
i see very little sincerity
in any of the poets i've met:
of course, they would vigourously refuse to accept
that writing is no more
than a slow form of show business,
or that they're too full of their own importance
to ever write a damn thing worthwhile.
but since even a charlatan
can occasionally stumble upon a fragment of truth
and inadvertantly offer a hand of guidance
to the helpless, deceived or potentially suicidal
then it is of paramount importance
that we keep our big mouths shut
and say nothing of this deception
we seem to have established.
St John's Point
your hands shivering alone had a sudden weight
ready to drop like a stone that knows its name beyond the nets,
the seaweed, into the frozen waters; don't look among the shadows
for a lost face, a lost coin, what does it matter?
here on St. John's Point with the dog keeping me warm at night
I dreamt of you there in your dress, your uncombed hair. I said
`Soon it'll be dark. Our friends have left us.'
I looked at you, your eyes closed.
unforgiving, at this table, I have been writing you letters. They
we have abandoned our lives, that we have found bones, shells;
murmur of the sea is what is left. And stars to study.
Do you remember Domenikos Theotokopoulos?
No one writes me now. I have to live alone
without a soul to understand.
so much has passed before our eyes
is there anything left for us to consider? memory
was like the white linen sheet at the Hotel Bologna. did I ask
write your name if you can on my hand: it would have changed our
And to think before I saw you
I lived without hope, without life.
these same things again, I offer you this.
At the foot of the hill
a boundary wall a moraine
of bronze age man
of tribal will,
of rough stone after rough stone
hand after hand in a chain.
the stones are falling apart,
emptied of heart, drawn
drunk with their origin
back to the centre, the hidden
I, out of humanity,
as this afternoon's assertion
as my part in the procession
to kneel and replace
one two three of them
into some chosen space.
Gathering doubt, guessing at loss.
Or maybe just give way
to the rubble of certainty
the downhill pluck,
step back myself and kick
as randomly about
all that I see of them
Viking Cat in the Dark
Viking cat in the dark
is paw-licked velvet, sinew of shadow,
a thread of smoke bitterly burning,
a quiver of black like a riddle.
The huts lie low
a hoard half-hidden
a clutch of eggs
in the dune's hollow
and horned helmets
are nightmares to wake from
shapes cut from dreams
- but the cat leaps.
Like rain falling faster
the shadows whisper
and rain splatters
like death's downpour:
`Fight for me, dawn-slayer,
wake with me, sleep-sower,
keeper of dreams,
the dream we came for.'
There is no noise.
Only the quick
paws of the cat in the dark
like feet on the stairs,
but the cold grey hands of the sea clap
on the beached long-ships,
and a shape pours itself flat
to the chink of sword music.
Viking cat in the dark
is paw-licked velvet, sinew of shadow.
A thread of smoke, bitterly burning,
quivers her body like a riddle.
Did he ever dream?
In fact once in bed did he ever turn over
What disturbed his night
Stars crowding him, not giving him enough dark
A world made entirely of sheep
Would carpenters or their apprentices make crosses on the side
A missing tree
Always drawing the donkey with short legs
Little children with chunky crayons like spears
Being alone with God
Words. Which one was he
Tripping over someone at his feet
Pop up cacti in the desert
His mother cursing him for being rude
Afterwards her face
Something going wrong on Ascension Day
The arms of women
Being a gardener for ever and ever
California, Present Day
The narrow fire burns along
splashed out lines of petrol
and the man inside the bandage
talks about some devil
who puts the fear of God deep into
anyone who crosses him
and the piano notes fall slowly
oh so slowly as we watch
as the robbers dig a grave
with their fingers in wet sand
and the notes just go on playing
oh so softly as the ship burns
there's a shoot-out in the garage
and a murder on the stairs
there's dead men on the quayside
and the hallway in the sky
and the piano plays these muted
very spaced out little notes
as the barrel spins the bullets
kind of lyrical but cool
while the mayhem gets more heated
as the ship burns in the harbour
and the cars are set on fire
and the bullets blow the locks off
and the lookout man is shot
and this guy behind the killings
who's supposed to be some kind of
old fashioned almost likeable
arch villain of the screen
strolls away to freedom
down some sidewalk in the sun.
Hey, Mr. Piano player.
He was the sort of man
who beats his kids
night after night.
When he pulled off his glasses
in the middle of an anecdote
and thirstily sucked the earpiece, his eyes
glinted with confidence, he knew
he could do it easily.
He thirstily sucked her in.
He was the sort of man
who buys his wife
a cookbook for Christmas,
year after year.
When he leaned towards her
making a tightly argued case
and stroked the line of his jaw, his eyes
lingered, invited, she knew
he could do it easily.
He stroked the curve of her thigh.
He was the sort of man
who tells his friend
the final score at half-time,
game after game.
When he steered her like a ship
on the busy midnight street
and mounted the stairs to her flat, his eyes
restlessly searched out others, he knew
he had done it too easily.
He mounted her briefly, and left.
Copyright in these poems is © the individual poets 1998