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Smoke magazine - issue 46  Just a Click away
Exit Howard Wright | There comes a moment in anxiety Trisha Newbery | Paper Folding Sue Dymoke | Pieta Dickon Abbott | Point Lisa Hannah | Just Rewards Mandy Coe | Another Ordinary Landscape David Bateman | Written in water Merryn Williams | Sharp suited magenta Robert Furze | untitled Joan Poulson | The decorated room Pat Marum | On the interpretation of dreams Daithidh MacEochaidh | The pillow book Elizabeth Howkins | Found on the shores of Connemara Solomon Blue Waters | Stoat Simon Kensdale
Smoke magazine - issue 45  below
Committal... Matt Simpson | Piano S. McDermott | Bite Jennifer Copley | Strictly Tempo Pauline Plummer | Markings Andrew Hawthorne | Waiting Zoe Skoulding | The Uncertainty of Angels Paul Donnelly | Watching Denny Derbyshire | Arrival Linda K. | Cormorants Brian Mackey | Towers Rebecca Goss | Knowledge John Hilton | Nine Months and Five Days Alison Eir Jenks | Lipstick Janice Fixter | Second hand Souvenir steve sneyd
like tumour, terminal,
another of those words
that chokes back
contradiction; and yet
an upright man
is talking at
the lectern sensibly
of hope and how
our brother found
a joy in it.
Heads nod as if
passport, visa at
the crossing point.
At the press of a button
our brother's ferry
slips its ropes
Through the window we saw you
in the auction room's semi-darkness.
You had your back to us
but we could tell you weren't playing.
Tired of watching your old space
we came here to see if you minded
and you did. Your poppies were hidden
and your candlesticks faced the gloom.
If you haven't got a soul
then why does your silence thunder?
As a child, she had fallen into the fire
leaving an angry bite on her forehead
which she learned to cover
with a straight, black fringe.
She grew, but people ignored
or were afraid of her.
They said it looked as if two small paws
had attacked her face,
digging and biting at the same time.
By night she was seen in the woods
making holes as if to piss in,
smelling faintly of smoke.
One night her father undressed her
to see if she carried the mark of a witch.
He found nothing but a sea of freckles.
Next day, both were found bobbing dead,
water ran from their eyes
when released from the marsh.
The girl's body revealed
no mark or blemish anywhere.
He's light footed, my dad.
Forbade his dreams of football glory
by a fiercely Welsh father
he quickstepped his way into trade.
In the dance halls of Liverpool
he foxtrotted my mother off her feet,
converted to marry her and closed
behind the door of Chapel.
Called up to war, he lent his grace
to blowing up bridges, slow waltzed
across the Rhine on a raft of corpses.
A fact he wrapped in silence.
His Croix de Guerre hung framed
to tell us that our ordinary Dad
unbelievably had fought in battles.
I've heard him tell the lost names.
The demobbed stranger returned
to resentful sons and the awkward
tango of married life. The old tempo
of trade was the one in which he burned
to win, learning the moves and slides
to the percussion of whisky and ice,
the softened accent in the golf club,
the cliches of blazers and phony ties.
I remember odd intimate scenes -
he held her foot and pared her corns
with a razor - the flight of his descant
at mass - and him teaching me to dance.
The wit and quick tongue dressed
a temper. On the move from town to town
they fought to fierce crescendos. I banged
my head against a wall to make it pass.
Widowers at tea dances prefer
a flashy partner. I've watched them
lurching to rock - a loss of style
no glide ofd soft shoe into air.
He doesn't like old photographs
now he's given up on mass and can't
remember how to speak Welsh
or what it was that drove him to such wrath.
I heard your whispers count
The undoing days around the roots
Of bowing grasses
You had often walked this way, to carry
Your pail of frozen water home
To melt the work's grime
Earth and root slime and the dust
Of old bones compounded anonymously
And swept with the strife of the plough
Over huge distances
Only the tramp of a dozen generations
Kept it clear; and when the pail spilt
It revealed brown mirrors in the stones
And was quick to seep through.
When we feel the weight of winter fall
It bends our shoulders when the black wind drives.
From underneath the ice our bones call
Aloud for light: we watch the moon crawl
Out to scream the rhythms of our lives
When we feel the weight of winter fall;
We turn our faces to a sun too small
To thaw the splinters in our veins. we strive
To hear beneath the ice our blood's call.
Life closes in. Anger is a wall
We beat against. We sharpen all the knives
When we feel the weight of winter fall.
The land has silvered to a bitter scrawl
In which we cannot read our names. Hope dives
Deep underneath the ice. The birds call
Silently from other worlds. They all
escaped, for only the strongest hearts survive
The wait. At last we feel how winter falls
From underneath the ice, how light calls.
The Uncertainty of Angels
Where they are released
from wandering mirrors
mist clings to
the delicate knife
which cuts the rain,
the sleeper's silver cord,
the mesh of terrible violins.
Trees, in rags,
celebrate soundless mass
while angels assume
any shape they desire:
attending extravagant weddings
of bones, wax and smoke,
housebreakers in no-man's land.
Where they wait blood dries
only to freshen when they leave.
Where they shelter
from the nightmares of fathers
creatures will not rest.
In the hunger of kitchens
they stand unseen
before cold fires,
offering themselves as evidence
the sky clamourous
with broken wings.
On the facing wall is an eye
scrawled in crayon, roughly
whitewashed over. It bleeds through,
staring, in certain lights.
On the wall behind the bed
two grimy shadows sit
where we sat for six months,
Sometimes in the sticky night,
when the darkroom shutter creaks
and the white wall opens
its rough eye, peeping
over the sleeping telly,
and you moan in your dream,
I jump up, sweating, and feel
for the greasy shadows on the wall.
We're still there, watching.
The wind around my ankles, the wind
Around my cleanly shaven head. It cleanses
With hands that never mark me, never draw
An outline around this scar. It saddens me
To see it heal. I love to watch
The blooms awakening winter, their red
Heads pocked by pupils. They watch from strongholds
Built of biology. It would be so easy
To be still with roots, instead of drifting
With aching feet, an aching back,
A battered hand that bleeds from all the thorns
Grasped at in mistaken hopefulness.
I wash in waters, they wash me
Headfirst over waterfalls, into rainbows
Founded on spray and sunlight, daylight
streaming from the clouds, like certainty
Disguised as a princess wrapped head to toe
In white. I will find sanctuary
As the stamp on my forehead shows.
I will be diving depths of ocean before you discover my name.
There are four of them today,
Cormorants at Castletown,
Blue and black on the white water.
Three dive and now, refined, uncaring,
The last one moves away
Like oil across the harbour.
They are so the same,
One bird, one moment, as another;
That might be thought
No less than terrifying;
A thing another time
That makes you catch the child
And draw her in behind the door
And hold your breath
While in the yard
Are strange birds;
Each, you realise,
Only one of very many;
Birds that turn and stare,
Finding you perhaps
And the child,
All the same.
You took us blackberry picking. Your four children with three mushroom boxes ready.
I was twelve. The eldest and alarmed at many things, yet ready to concede the absence of my mother.
Walking there, my brothers, eager and racing, darted between your side and the ditch-edges.
And you, in wellies long enough for my whole arm.
The fruits looked dull from road dust. Our smudging fingers made them bright again. A lick and they sparkled.
I did not feel anyone was missing. That day my family felt tight.
I imagined my mother in a tower somewherwe. Beautiful and hated.
Going home, the boys inspected stained tongues. The youngest, stealing from his box, couldn't see the dark slick on his face.
I struggled to balance my box. It needed two hands, but I wanted one to hold yours.
I've been staring at it for months,
the Jacksopn Pollocks of London's boroughs
scattered like seed before me.
I've been one way up the stony place,
driven in circles round the barren land,
tested through these desert days by Mr. Ormes -
a cruel man: if you've hair he wants it cut,
if not he wants it polished. He's got it all:
the needle and the wind up;
told the Bhuddist there was a nip in the air, took
the Rasta from Race Relations to Blackboy Road,
led me a merry dance round graveyards of interest.
Then I saw it. Like a blinding light. My head
turned fertile, foisonous, my mind's eye
was the Goodyear airship, the streets went Mondrian.
So today it's the final ride, the bimbo belt,
the lager run. In his office. I know it like the city:
the width of the desk, the clock above it
made by Smiths of Delhi.
I've played it in my head a thousand nights:
I take the badge, then drive him there; my first fare -
orbit round the 25, down the tunnel,
up the Kirgiz Steppe, through the sands of Qandahar.
I set down on the left, by the banks of the Yamuna,
beneath the fields of rice and sorghum,
give him the A-Z, a hankie for his head,
tell him, you can walk it back my son.
Nine Months and Five Days
Dad got in the car to drive and my mom was next to him.
For the first time, I sat in the back seat with my sister.
They talked and laughed. We had never been in a car
together all of us in such a small space.
So that was a glimpse of it; a family with laughter
crammed and bouncing so close. I wonder how
it would have seemed if he kissed her, or placed his hand over hers.
Maybe I'd have learned what it's all about. I could feel calm,
understand love. I have never seen it or been near
it, though in pieces and parts it comes across me
and rides the river of staples that grinds in my blood.
She hated us when he left. We we part of him.
She drank in vain to fill herself and swore at his name
and us that she gave him her youth and vows.
She'd never admit she still loved him.
When I watch a man cut wood in his back yard,
or one shopping with his daughter,
when I see a man and a woman riding bikes together,
I feel I'm missing something that I may never have.
There might have been a time, maybe those nine months
and five days that I was protected inside her when I felt
part of something. I could hear my father's voice
through her skin and her happiness shook through her blood into mine.
Once I felt the air, the warmth was gone.
Alison Eir Jenks
I watch my mother put on lipstick
three slick strokes,
same colour everyday
whatever she's wearing.
And there it was
the reassuring stain on cups
and cigarette ends
fading from her lips
until only an outline was left.
Now that stain's an omen
as I finger the tubes of colour
in a department store.
I swore I'd never wear it
after watching the ritual
but I can't resist the colours
feel there must be one that would give me
a little je ne sais quoi
and I could stop biting my lips
to keep them red.
I strike an arc across my hand
with a colour called Destiny,
my future flashes before me
and there I am, an old woman
laced with senility, unable to find my lips,
applying three shaky strokes
to the area near my mouth,
ready to face the world
with a lopsided smile.
Second hand Souvenir
just before she left
when they both knew she would she
cut long gold hair off
to spite him did it in front of
him in kitchen knock
at door gave chance to take hide
just enough before
she collected all up she
thought burnt before his
in empty room hangs
like Rapunzel's stair
for spiders woodlice get in
etc from round top of
years-stained seven-inch long stuck
in tatty aloe
Leaning Tower of Pisa
model once a pair
one long since broken has found
round space in summit
perfect fit to go into
careful not to knock
bluetak loose holds yellow strands
getting more and more
matted clogged each time in place tells
self each time excuse
is sympathetic magic
is making love straight
into her brain her mind keeps
him alive in there
Copyright in these poems is © the individual poets 1999