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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
An alien of suspicion growing beneath your heart,
you could sit hear for hours over a cup,
each day the same as if you have planned it,
watching and never knowing who is watching you.
At the centre of the universe, you have this moment
to put it all together, to make sense of the six
senses, of other lives, the expensive harlot
who is not giving you or belief a single thought.
A cowl of depression covers your head.
You can't pinpoint the pain, a cold ache seeping
into the blood. The outside goes dark, night falling
under the spell of gravity, the sky becoming slate.
And if you are being followed, you are also following:
the schoolgirl with a skirt over her face,
a couple at a corner talking themselves
out of a marriage as if you were possibly interested.
The overhead wires whistle through their teeth.
Your least-favourite song bleeds from a listening-post.
The telephone ringing in the empty kiosk
will tell you what papers are needed to get out.
There comes a moment in anxiety
when your hands tremble, vision
blurs, mud drips from the wall,
soiling the bedsheets and you're
in infancy again, wet fabric chafing
at your skin. These are the times
of suppuration, blotting-paper skies,
rivers of sewage in the streets and no
stepping-stones or shoes. The contagion
mounts, swirls round corners, but you
continue without a map, clutching
at window-sills, door-handles, the flimsiest
fence. You're the only pedestrian; all
the others are in cars sweeping past you,
caking your white petticoats. You find
a knife lying in the sludge - you might
use it to cut away the soiled fabric
that has become your winding-sheet.
Leaves cling to the trees until gangrene
has its way - the lawn is strewn with fallen
fingers, numbness gone, replaced by
absence. But now your fingers feel
the keys, your feet are wrapped in thick
cotton, not the recommended silk.
The gingko is not lime or gingko-green
or gold, but encased in something like
bright plastic. You're threatened with
vertigo, excessive sweating, more
anxiety, an inability to pee. The knife
lies on the kitchen table, blunt.
The origami masters told fantastic stories
shaped characters with intricate papers:
dragons, devils, animals with angular backs,
sharp snapping jaws.
William Macpherson said eight times
was the maximum amount
you could fold even the largest piece of paper.
Some folds leave their marks more than others,
like permanent stains,
thin slashes along the surface
but not punctures
not stab wounds.
Paper folders can perform vanishing tricks
log books spirit thenmselves away,
a mother's words diminish in a policeman's hand,
names disappear, suspects shrink
to a dot, a crease
The origami masters told fantastic stories
When the thorn was green
my gold-haired son was born.
His birth star blazed between
the midnight and the morn.
When the thorn was white
with new wine he was wed.
The may's hedge-blossom bright
festooned his marriage bed.
When the thorn was red
they tore his life from me.
The swollen fruit he bled
hung dripping from the tree.
Now the thorn is black
and storm clouds cloak the sky.
Men pray to bring him back;
I only wait to die.
It comes up immediately,
talk about sex, so
torn, let the back of envelopes claw the
The coffee's sourest,
sharp scented cyclone,
as the milk floods in to colour it.
Hands nerve, cold
as blood runs to major organs.
Make a rectangle
with fingers pressed
to the page of this book
Open the crease:
make a camera
and spot a writhing on stage
or damp pages read by torch light
legs part in the cafe
eyes continue to read the thin butcher,
cupped soft in round left hand; open kaleidoscope
Massaged, the book corner salivates with feeling
The familiar heat of lips part in the
slip like a foreskin.
you are sitting at my shoulder
I am counting chickens
I get to ten and you are still at three
"see" you say
when my cup overflows
you mop a dirty cloth
across the spill
"it will stain" you say
whenever I am full of life, flush
you come cooling to mind
reading tea leaves with pursed lips
"no good will come of it"
"no good ever comes of good"
I hold back from the belly laugh
afraid thjat you are right,
that joy blinds us to the truth of it
the cliff edge, the serpent's tail.
I carry in cupped hands
a little sorrow, just in case
you catch me with none
then I'd be for it
the big one
Another ordinary landscape
Look! See the ordinary landscape!
Very like the last ordinary landscape you saw
except of course that the last one wasn't in a poem.
This one has certain advantages:
you can choose the kinds of trees in it,
the size of the dark pool, and things like that.
The poem has a repeated shape.
It's got nothing to do with the landscape.
It's just coming out like this for some reason.
Now the verses are shrinking.
Now I'm starting to get worried
I'll run out of space before I'm finished.
But to get back to the landscape:
you can see it's all simple, figurative stuff;
everything is on the surface.
Well, the pool isn't all on the surface of itself,
of course, that wouldn't make sense;
but you know what I mean.
Now the shapes of the verses have gone backwards.
I wish I knew quite how all this
was going to turn out.
But what I was going to say about the landscape is this:
let's say you start idly kicking over the dead leaves,
and discover the last thing you'd expect.
Was it me who hid it there beforehand without telling you,
or had you left it there and forgotten about it?
Now we really have run out of poem.
Written in water
I open a vein,
squeeze some red drops, and take the scratchy pen
we used as children.
Mix ink with blood, and if the blood dries up
I can get more.
My arm is sore, but I'll continue writing.
Snow in the park
starts quietly, drops into the black water,
is lost; it's dark, the liquid now flows strongly.
The arm is aching. Even so
I write. Ink, blood and snow.
Razor-clicked under his palate like a brace;
Rolled between his teeth; a fallen leaf
Flat against the larynx like a glottal stop;
A metal thin between the fingers of the left;
And between the fingers of the right
The creature he found up against it:
A cruiser mellowed out by chemicals.
Out of luck, in a club that's just his type:
Lemon-loud; a full front hall of mirrors
Like scales of tempered steel, fingered, anchored against
Gums, trachea of something like a man
Stuffed under floorboards, oiled, like sleepers,
A flaccid matress, raving against the din
Of the only other thing: the never turned off never tuned in TV set.
from mountains of ice,
skirts red as rowan;
from the red country,
from Welsh coasts
and Norske valleys
and solid tears
on the glass-green water.
No natural light
greening her cabin,
driving the birch trees.
and a spruce
by her fierce grief.
She's outside, crouched,
in the cringing trees.
A sourceless wind
through the forest.
Tremors in her throat
set the sky howling.
She trails her fingers
in blood-red waters.
The kirke-boat glides
between river and lake.
Lilies rise from blue flame.
Oarsmen, erect as storks,
still as lyre-topped grave-cross,
ease towards union.
Sun ambered waves lap the shore.
Her voice, soothed by seawater, settles
to a murmur, chanting and chanting
the saga of the dead
The decorated room
It was the time of the full moon.
We were in the bedroom. Weeks before
we had painted the twenty year old walls
not cream or magnolia but a dark
and dramatic purple and, for days after,
had been left questioning our choice.
But the room with objects of white
and blue and yellow and peach
was becoming beautiful. The windows
were bare. I had not yet replaced the old
linings and put the curtains back up.
Each night we slept under the stars,
or, awake and unable to sleep, lay there,
amazed by space. I remember one evening
I came upstairs and opened the door, saw
the black branches of a tree spread out wide
against a phosphorescent sky, patches
of wet on the grass like snake-skin, raindrops
on a tree like fairy lights.
And then it was the time of the full moon.
I watched the light cover you -
as you slept, bright, clear and unchanging.
All night long the moon glazed our bodies,
momentous space entering our room.
On the interpretation of dreams
I don't believe in dreams
the same way Freud believed in dreams.
Maybe I believe in dreams the same way
my Great Grandmother is supposed to
have believed in dreams - she told fortunes
too, read tea-leaves despite being illiterate
or beat the newspaper just by staring
at the fire - but all that dookerin gone now.
Anyway, there was this dream that I didn't
know was a dream, for sometimes when I
dream I don't know that it is not a dream,
till I'm no longer dreaming. It was one
of those dreams.
I suppose I should have known it was all
a dream 'cos I was speaking on the telephone
and I ain't even connected, but that wasn't
the thing that was surprising me. Nay, what
got to me in this dreaming was that a long
lost best friend's wife was calling me, chatting gaily
to me about this and that, just small talk, a
bit of harmless chit-chat, and don't tell me how
but I knew, but I kent, that my friend was hovering in the
background. In the end, I just said, Jessie,
put John on the line, let me have a word.
John comes on, all he's saying is could he borrow
£70. I tried talking, talking normal things, but
there were these deathly silences at the other end,
and I had to keep on asking was he still there? He
was. He was waiting on that line for his £70.
I tried telling him about my work, the life I was
living, mi hopes and fears, that I was over in Germany
on holiday, that I had had to borrow a hundred pounds
from Big Al and Imidh just to make the break, that
I was a hundred and fifty down and too ill to work.
All the time there's these deathly silences. My friend,
my long-lost friend was still waiting for his money.
I had to tell him straight that it was great speaking
to him after all these years, but I couldn't raise anything
for him. I listened to the silence. I pretended to put
down the receiver and got to overhear this conversation.
going on. John was telling his wife that I wasn't coming through,
that I was a bastard, that I had always been a bastard,
a tight arse, a selfish -
I protested, shouted down the line, waking myself
up, coming to in the winter dark of morning,
knowing it all as a dream and knowing that
that didn't help a damn. I still felt mean: I'd
let a friend down, John was right, what sort
of bastard can't give money even in a dream?
Who could get so tight with imaginary money?
The pillow book
Her thoughts, secret as winter roots
sleep like snails beneath her head.
Moonmoths flutter in their chrysalis of wood.
Sentences etched out carefully with the quill
of her dreams
draw a picture
paint a triptych
an unfulfilled wish
held like a cold hard tablet of bone
beneath the tongue.
With a calligrapher's brush
she draws the shape of her desire
on the lover's glistening torso
and locks the tale beneath her pillow
with women's things:
and half-developed photographs
torn down the middle.
Year after year
the story lengthens.
The letters flutter like butterflies
beneath her head.
The words curve into hooks.
The sentences curl and hiss like snakes.
She writes faster and faster,
waiting for a life to clarify itself
into the shape of a blossom
the shape of a tongue,
secrets piling up like skulls,
tears marking the pages
As she writes,
the lines fill up with phantoms,
until no unused pages remain.
Found on the shores of Connemara
Heavenwards streams despair
in driven loads of mercy
while mothers weep for daughters
disappeared from our fireside.
Heads scream for deliverance
as frog-cleansing rains
hammer nails into the coffin
of the end of an Age.
Hearts fragile to this rough touch
bleak out fears
in sleepless nights
Yet I, I now heed the call.
I battered by insistent holy calling
can turn nowhere
but here to loud, lost page.
And in word ordering find I peace,
find I a surprising detail world
of many comforts, far
from the war-torn world I daily live in.
How delicate life's balance.
How unnerving the spill.
How needful of passion's distraction
I am in the house on the hill.
Won't you consume me, oh red harlot,
take me in a curse of sin,
for I tread too often the path of purity
where white needs its red, full blooding.
Take me away from perfection,
the plague of every good man,
and grind oats in a bed blazed
with raw, sensuous coupling.
Wave-tireless, let's sup
on the shore we have formed,
and moved by desperate winds
leap, dive, and break on the rock.
Solomon Blue Waters
Start? Banal. Like driving (say)
from suburbia to motorway:
ninety mind-numbing minutes.
Like the walk up into hill country,
They smoothe boredom away, though,
and you breathe more fully as your limbs
Talk loudly, run down a slope,
shy a flat stone across a cold lake.
It's the place, your attitude -
You glimpse, a hundred yards off,
brown fur over black peat through bracken,
the green swallowing it up
before you can say, "Look! There!"
Your partner's eyesight isn't focussed:
they miss the reappearance.
Insolent, erect, it bares
its startlingly white chest, like a skinhead
giving you the finger, then
dives, leaving you to guess how
it'll tear some rabbit's head off or
plunge its face into warm guts ..
Three hours of life exchanged
for fifteen seconds reality.
There is no capturing it.
Copyright in these poems is © the individual poets 1999