York Literature Festival / YorkMix poetry competition 2018: Meet the winners

The winner! Hannah Copley with judge Andrew McMillan. Photograph: Rob O'Connor

A gruelling illness during pregnancy was the inspiration for the winning poem in this year’s York Literature Festival / YorkMix Poetry Competition.

Our winner, Hannah Copley, from Hertford, suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, the same rare extreme nausea that first hit the headlines when Kate Middleton was pregnant with Prince George.

Hannah, a lecturer and researcher, became ill when she was pregnant in 2016.

She told the story behind her poem, Haworth, 1855, at the competition awards ceremony at the weekend.

The illness is sometimes referred to as ‘extreme morning sickness’, but that doesn’t really come close as a description. For me it was nausea, dizziness and migraine and lasted for several weeks. The fatigue that accompanied it made it virtually impossible to move and the exhaustion was overwhelming.

It is now believed that this was the illness which took Charlotte Bronte’s life when she was in the fourth month of pregnancy. The death was recorded at the time as tuberculosis, but many of the symptoms are the same.

I started my poem when I was in the sixth month of pregnancy. But I didn’t finish it immediately, partly because I still wasn’t well enough to write. I kept working on it for a long time.

My starting point for the poem was the quote from The Life of Charlotte Bronte, by her close friend Elizabeth Gaskell.

Sharp detail

All smiles at the awards ceremony. Photograph: Rob O’Connor

Competition judge Andrew McMillan described Hannah’s poem as gripping, praising its sharp detail that takes the reader closely into the agony of the illness.

Hannah regularly blogs about poetry on her website.

Fortunately, Hannah’s story has a happier outcome than Charlotte’s. Hannah, 29, recovered from the illness and her baby, Emmeline, named after her suffragette heroine, Emmeline Pankhurst, celebrated her first birthday last month.

Hannah’s poem won the £600 top prize. And how will she spend her winnings? “A trip to Haworth might be on the cards…”

The other winners

  • Second prize (£150) was awarded to Joshua Judson, from New Cross, London, for his poem, Margaret Thatcher In Therapy
  • Third prize (£75) went to Len Lukowski, from South-East London for Ceiling
  • Fourth prize (£50) was awarded to Rachel Bower, of Sheffield, for her poem, Postnatal Ward
  • The Helen Cadbury Prize for the best entry from a YO postcode (£50), was awarded to University of York student, Emily Pritchard, originally from Oxford.

‘I wanted to be surprised’

The awards evening was held on a City Cruises York boat

Andrew’s selection of winning and commended poems is remarkable for its wide-ranging variety.

He said: “Some poets have a misconception about poetry competitions; they submit work they think will specifically please the judge, sometimes even in what they believe is the judge’s style of work.

“But what I was looking for was excellent poems on subjects or styles that I could never do myself. I wanted to be surprised, grabbed by the writer.

“I think all the poems I picked have that quality. It was a privilege to be the first to read them.”

Festival director Rob O’Connor opened the event, which was supported this year by City Cruises York, who provided the floating venue and a two-hour cruise on the Ouse as a dozen commended and prizewinning poets read their entries to a spellbound audience.

Now in its sixth year, the competition has become one of Britain’s most prestigious poetry competitions, this year attracting 856 poems from more than 400 poets.

Andrew completed the evening with readings from his award winning collection, Physical, and a selection of work from his upcoming collection, Playtime, to be published by Cape Poetry in August.

The winning poems

First prize

Haworth, 1855
by Hannah Copley

‘Martha tenderly waited on her mistress, and from time to time tried to cheer her with the thought of the baby that was coming. “I dare say I shall be glad sometime,” she would say; “but I am so ill – so weary” Then she took to her bed, too weak to sit up … Long days and longer nights went by; still the same relentless nausea and faintness.’  Elizabeth Gaskell

It was there already, yes, in those bone cold classrooms, in the chants
of homo, hominis, homini drifting out between the iron bars. But this
is different. This is slow, this is fragile. This is all sighs and rustlings,
retching and sobs. Loneliness, I now know, is guttural.

I dare say I’ll be glad when it’s over, but as it is I feel like I’ve been cleaved.
Stomach, lungs, throat frayed like a caught seam, mind spooling on the floor.
Under night’s cloak, beds slip their posts, sheets tie themselves in knots,
pillows calcify and crumble to a fine dust. I wake each morning hot,

threadbare, my linen twisted, this makeshift body kept in place
by the smallest dart of nerve, this makeshift heart still in my ear.
I dare say though, that I’ll be lighter in a month, but in my throat
there’s a bitterness that will not shift. My teeth are bird’s eggs

crunching under coach wheels, my tongue is torn cocoons
on garden lawns, my lips the dull skin of a cobra coiled behind
museum glass. But I shall be glad sometime, I’ll forget the smell
of an egg yolk, the slimy warmth of butter as it runs across my tongue.

I’ll want other things than unripe plums and blackberries green
and hard as stone, In two months I’ll see the white heather,
the dappled breasts of merlin, sheldapple. My eyes will catch
the winchat flushed and bolting from its thicket bed. In a year,

I’ll feel the backwards pull of a skirt hem through tangled gorse,
the sharp embrace of a bramble hedge. As I lie here soft and raw
as dough, I know tomorrow will prove infinitely brighter.
Even now, I can almost feel your uncut letter in my hand.

(Charlotte Bronte died on the 31st March, 1855. Although the cause of death was recorded as phthisis (tuberculosis), it is more likely to have been as a result of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, or severe morning sickness.)

Second prize

Margaret Thatcher in Therapy
by Joshua Judson

At the middle of the life of that little town was the chip shop.
I hated it – the hot and heavy air around the building,
the crowds of people, the grease of it, the sweating windows.
Worst of all was the colossal jar on the counter – onions
floating in murky vinegar. They were like foetuses in formaldehyde.
They were like eyes, plucked from the skull of the earth.
When I read The Aeneid, and Aeneas was in the underworld
passing by crowds of the dead on the banks of the Acheron
I imagined the eyes of the dead to be like those pickled onions,
glazed and blunt. On the worst days, I see them everywhere.
Crowds and crowds of dead and pickled eyes, staring from the jars
of gaunt faces – baying. With mouths screaming out, out, out.

Third prize

Ceiling
by Len Lukowski

The briefs
with the harness
lie on the floor
as new
dry unused.
The dick rests
at the bottom
of the bag
attracting
tiny flecks
of dirt
to its
surface
7 inches
permanently erect
permanently useless.
And all I can think of
is lying next to you sleeping,
junk swollen up like
some monster
out of Borges
nose stinging
coming down
and staring up
at the ceiling.

Fourth prize

Postnatal Ward
by Rachel Bower

After Natalie Diaz

I stood sobbing at the window in my pyjamas as
my Mum pulled into a layby to take the call.
There are wasps all over this place, I said
I can hear them buzzing, Mum.

My Mum pulled into a layby to take the call
What do you mean, wasps? Have you told anyone?
I can hear them buzzing, Mum.
They’re in the offensive waste.

She asked What do you mean, wasps? Are they real?
The dinner trolley hummed yellow and black outside the door.
They’re in the offensive waste
Please come quickly. It’s so hot in here.

The dinner trolley hummed yellow and black outside the door.
There must be a nest, I said. What if they land on his face.
Please come quickly. It’s so hot in here.
Mum winced. I’m on my way, she said.

But there must be a nest, I said. What if they land on his face.
Can you hear them Mum?
Mum winced. I’m on my way, she said.
The walls were clammy, the colour of porridge.

Can you hear them Mum?
Oh God, now they’re going for his spine.
The walls were clammy, the colour of porridge.
Now the floor is starting to vibrate

Oh God, now they’re going for his spine.
I stood sobbing at the window in my pyjamas as
the floor started to vibrate
I hear it, she said, I’m coming.

The Helen Cadbury Prize (Best poem by a York entrant)

This Good Day
by Emily Pritchard

On this good day, the heating
comes on in the kitchen.
I can cook slowly now.
Today, my aubergine
is absolutely seedless,
stunning. I empty the bin
with pleasure, imagine
my housemates’ relief.
And last night, I dreamt
I followed you ashamed
before you turned and gently
took my forearm
between your teeth
and I was filled – in dream,
in waking – with joy.

Highly commended

The Buzzard
by Linda Baker

Hovers, comma in
Still blue air,
Intent on leafstalk,
Twig, soil…that eye…
She hangs, focused
In stillness,
Poised, a verb; muted..
Mobbed by a crow, to fly, flying;
She soars, pauses..lazy circle
Then the certain return,
Unfazed; true; strong.
To hang in space;
In trust; motionless…
Held by her bird belief
In the space of spaces..
No truer stretch of wing, of soul..
To just stay
Unsupported there…

because we can’t all look like Ryan Gosling
by Patrick Holloway

for then there would be no bad poetry
about Ryan Goslingor stymied mirror stares, no avoiding side
looks for fear they notice your noseor hanging forehead. there’d be no psychiatry
to help us straggle that question that swirlsand signals the sea closer; the unending stare.
there’d be no need for an awkward pose,crooked teeth, impotence. imagine the freedom
of zero comparisons or having neck muscles

& whistling in key. the lazy, breezy, care
free strut, endless fucking, the sum

of days absent of spot-squeezing, face-pulling
frustrations. we can’t all look like Ryan Gosling

for the world would be such a strained, systematic
catalogue of detestable perfections

that we’d free-float like $100 bills from high-rises
just to try & feel something real

no matter how ugly.

Under the Influence of Ursa Minor
by Georgina Titmus

On
summer
nights driven
from the mean
room with its lean-to
lav, by air that knew only
a sordid breathing, we slouched
streets uncompromised by lamplight,
for a fly-tipped mattress; an upholstered
road-kill to lie, side by side, mind by mind,
narcotising our Earth-shattered dreams in the
stars.

Your Skin
by Emma Storr

holds you intact
renews as it sloughs
cells to dust.
Translucent at birth
it thickened and stretched
was polished
by hormones.
It flushed with pleasure
shivered when
winter’s fingers
stroked your arm
made your fur rise.History is seared
in its layers
the half-moon burn
the white tracks of
your babies’ escape
that burst appendix.

Weathered and creased
by each bend of sunlight
now you tear
like tissue paper.
Spots and raisins
stipple your neck.
You notice the slack
lack of elasticity
in your suit
well-worn and thin
bespoke
shrugging off your frame.

The Keeper’s Wife
by Beth Somerford

She considers her options.
Whether to sever the ties, now
that the lighthouse is automated –
now that he will return to the water.
She looks for herself, using the mirror
like a glass-bottomed boat.
Her grief is an expander – opening
chinks. She sees a portrait of a woman
as facsimile; her skin a puzzle
stretching over bones. Her thoughts
are fractal and kaleidoscopic.
She is close up to herself.
It is quiet – too quiet – the sea is slight,
and she is aching for a storm;
the muddled sheets of Saturdays.
She day-dreams of a wreckage
to embrace her; only hears
the pastor’s second knock.
The cortege trickles down the
tarmacadam twists. She folds herself
into the car. And as they crawl
towards the church, she notices
a yellow veil of lichen all along
the drystone boundary walls.

Small Hands
by Lewis Buxton

We hug on the only chair left in the classroom,
all high-pitched love and no fight.
We are so small that our bottoms
fit on the same dip of red plastic.We are only vaguely aware of the distance
men are supposed to keep.
If we could, we would hug and kiss
as girls do, hold hands on the way to lessons,

comment on the ebb and flow of our bodies,
note how pretty our hands can be,
notice the curve of each other’s hips,
the fit of shirts on our skinny ribs.

We would advise one another
on shaving routines, learn how hair
that curls like a pencil sharpening
on the far side of our cheek can be beautiful.

He would take my head, gently in his hands
and trace with finger and thumb the places
I should shave. It would be gorgeous
simply because it has never happened before.

Hounds
by Kostya Tsolákis

You never barked or growled,
showed no desire to lick my face.
The sight of leg didn’t excite you.
I stroked your heads, offered you
treats. Your sparkless eyes
and stiffened tails gave me no sign.
Like satellites you followed
everywhere I went. I took you
to the parks I liked, we walked
the walks I loved. People stared,
never approached us — you terrified
their children — but, for me,
your mute companionship would do.
I said all kinds of things to you.
I talked about my family, secrets,
desires. At heart I thought
the honesty in my words
would charm you into love
like some enchanted lyre.
Maybe my voice began to grate
or showed how soft I was.
Whatever the cause, without
a sound you tore me up like dough.
Didn’t stop until all that was left of me
was bone.

Apple Pie by Jenny West

When I press the crust of your apple pie
With a cake fork, it breaks, and underneath
I see you, bending to pick up the fruit
From your lawn, wearing a navy blue dress
With white flowers on it, and a pinny
From the brown pile in the airing cupboard.
When I press again, you’re beneath the crumbs,
Bearing your bucket back to the kitchen
And then selecting the ones that will make
The softest, juiciest, safest filling,
A filling that I smother with custard –
Yellow, Birds’ Eye, the filmy skin scraped off –
Not knowing how much better it would taste
Without.

Respite
by Ayesha Drury

I saw a heron land in a tree this morning
and everything seemed possible again;
how we are aqueous – how the rain reflects our falling,
our falling, our merging into things;
thirsty earth, bird baths, open mouths,
sheep trails turned to streams.(In other words, I miss you bodily
and worse, I know you don’t exist.)

Grief pours through me, cataclysmic.
I ask only this: afterwards,
may I be smooth as a long-loved bannister,
an edge un-splintered by the pass of hands.
May I glow softly and smell of beeswax,
may I be glad for the hours and miles and nights.

(I am glad, Once-My-Love.
I am glad and it hurts me still.)

I saw a heron land in a tree this morning
and everything seemed possible again;
how we are aqueous – how the rain reflects our falling,
our falling, our merging into things;
eyes not separate from what they see,
lungs not separate from what they breathe,
bodies not separate from what they need.

(The ache-to-be-held, the world-no-longer;
quiet songs of a storytelling lover.)

Grief pours through me, cataclysmic.
I ask only this:
May the rain reflect my falling;
may my tears end up in the sea.

Et in Arcadia Ego
by Andy Armitage

We are in the dark
on the swings in the Rec,
a plastic bag of cans at our feet.
You’re sitting astride me
in those ripped jeans and Docs,
telling me who you are.

The voices of our friends are cast about us,
each shadow finding its edges
under that big wheel of constellations.

Here the moon is always waxing.
We know nothing of years or distance.
Your eyes are brimming with dead stars.

Do not let go my hand just yet.

Commended

Just Visiting
by Julia Webb

He said her skin was soft, so soft, and young, he said.
He said he’d better feed her smoked mackerel,
she liked the smoky taste, but oh the tiny pin-prick bones,
so many of them, oh so many, and the oiliness of the fingers.
And after lunch and the green hill of the afternoon
with its attendant sun, he took her jeep-jeep to the sawdust pub,
ales lined up, and the long drive back, switch off the headlights
and coast down the hill and her scream kept balled up
at the back of her throat so as not to look stupid or young.
And back, back in his house he night-slept on the sofa,
for woman thing is such a turn off, such a turn off,
woman blood and the dirty, dirty smell of her, he said
as he nodded off. So dirty. Dirty, dirty girl.
So she climbed the slippery stair into bed,
and later woke to his shadow-self looming up in the dark.
Is he looking for me, is he looking, is he coming to me,
no, no, turned away he is, what now, turned away,
he’s at the cupboard, creak of door, thing in hand
and splatter-splat hot drops hiss and spit on wooden floor,
shake, shake, and he stumbles away, down again, down again.
Dirty cat, she whispers, dirty old man dog. But whispers
under breath lest the furniture beasts that crouch around
in the black of his room come leering up and go fetch.

There Was Always Drinking Going On
by Julie Mellor
after Michael McCarthy

Dad with his cans of Stones
lined up along the hearth,
Mum with a glass of Baileys
to help her get through the ironing,
Uncle Pete down at The Bridge
propping up the bar and singing
will thou leave me thus my dear,
Grandad Sid , braces holding up his dignity,
staggering home, shouting upstairs
do you still love me Frances?
and Frances, troubled by a whitlow,
awake but not replying,
two weeks short on housekeeping,
drinking a snowball at Christmas
to keep the peace, cousin Marcus
on pub watch after punching
the wall lights out in The Rose and Crown
on New Year’s Eve, and Gill,
the only one of us made good,
shaking a bottle of vodka
to distribute the gold leaf,
me round for supper
wondering if it was safe to drink,
mesmerised as it settled
like a snow globe on an empty scene.

Pomegranates
by Maeve Henry

Two stops away on the train on Sunday afternoon,
Saltburn. Out of the station to smacking
wind and keening seagulls. The shop
with the crooked brow is closed. Hairpin bend
to the seafront. Funfair, broken pier, then just
the sea. Cold slate scribbled by waves. We scrabble
down the rocks, burst bladder wrack with heels and test
the edge of razor shells against our thumbs. Hunt
flat pebbles for skimming – you taught us that. We try
to get the knack that sends a stone once, twice,
three times across the sliding grey water. It’s sleight
of hand. Now you are in your salt element. You pat
your pockets for ice cream money and we clap like seals.

And walking back, we find the shop is open.
You buy us pomegranates, show us how to tear them
open with our teeth, suck and spit out the seeds,
leaving a trail of pinkish pulp like human tissue.

When we get home our mother holds it against you
like she always did.

The Nard* Workers
by Lucy Watt

Every August my mother sewed lavender pouches,
little bags of seeds, to freshen clothes.

They also flushed moths from the wardrobes.
Her nails were polished and filed, her skin chapped and worn,

as she showed me, without explanation, how to pink
the edges with pulled threads and nylon frills.

Her thimble and needle tapped a quick tinny rhythm
and seeds danced across yesterday’s newspaper.

But in the polish of the table, shapes of cotton, gauze and ghost-thin
lawn suspended a water-lily glow, where the undersides of fingers

were damsel flies skimming a mahogany pond, and I grieved for the moths
with my child’s fellow-feeling for the hidden, the secretive, the pursued.

Besides, I rather liked their startled flutterings out
from folds of suiting and mother’s one nylon fur.

Years later, when I wrote out nard in Ancient Greek
she looked at me suspiciously, saying that ’lavender’ was softer and more like.

In time, as a widow, her choice was a flat. No garden, no more flowers.
Just a window where she sat. And sat. But when, after the funeral,

I packed up her things, there our sachets were, jamming drawers,
sunk-sided as old tea-bags. Or dangling, mummified, in dresses and coats.

Without hesitation I ditched every one in the waste.
The muslin tore, spilling seeds, hundreds of seeds, all gone to the black.

The desolation was immediately, but then not exactly,
my mother again, another fallen-in husk, propped greyly on pillows,

hands cupped in her lap, as if to catch
and retain any stray words slipping her mouth.

It seemed, I confess, because she left me this loose thread,
this finishing stitch, that there was, after eighty odd years,

and after everything, after it all,
nothing to say.

Yet traditions were never looked into in our raw new house:
they just came, along with the grim passed-down furniture,

(*ancient Greek for lavender)

First Love
by Tony D’Arpino

Davey showed us his tiny penis
From the pile of branches the tree pruners had left
He went into the dark nest of the branches
And dropped his shorts and laughed
Even Sharon Turner said she saw it
From where she sat on the swings
The parents never knew about these things
Her brother wasn’t there that day

I was let into their bathroom
One evening by their parents
While Sharon and her brother
Were having a bath together
Nobody seemed at all embarrassed
Which seemed a little odd
When I thought about it later
I had never seen a naked girl before

Later that summer in the tent in the back garden
I showed them my penis and it was really big
And it was so hard it almost hurt
And Davey and Sharon and her brother
Touched it a lot because I guess
They had never seen an erection before
We were all very young and innocent
But maybe not so innocent next summer

She won’t eat fiction
by Tracy Davidson

She used to appear on those old black
and white television talent shows.

Her partner would tear up telephone
directories and she would eat them.

Or large dictionaries, encyclopaedias,
atlases, any thick reference books.

She still does it now, though her
well-muscled partner is long gone

and she has to cut the pages out
with scissors and suck the paper

into a sticky mush through her dentures
before she can swallow.

Her grandchildren find her eccentricities
a mildly amusing diversion,

albeit temporary, from their iPods,
iPads and iPhones. One offered her

his battered Harry Potter, the thickest
book he owned. But she refused it,

saying: “Facts are for digestion boy,
fiction is to be savoured.”

Daddy Longlegs
by Joanne Key

lies on the side of the puddle like a drunk
clinging to the edge of a lake. Beyond saving.
You can tell it’s all but given up the struggle.

It should’ve watched where it was going.
Now look: limbs collapsed like broken stilts,
wilted stems, wings as frail as snowflakes.

You haven’t got time for this. A man once said
they only live for a few days after mating anyway
and you’re running late as it is. There’s no room

in your head with the days split and spinning
like dishes of spilt milk and the laundry basket
overflowing with arms and legs, and an endless

To-Do list of work, shop, wash, make yourself
a pair of wings from two panes of cracked glass.
Magic. You’re fresh out of the stuff.

But there’s still The Visit to do – Big Drunk slumped
in the chair, rattling like a dried up seed pod, thin legs
dangling like loose threads, threatening to unravel him

from the bottom up. Loose ends like tripwires. Tightropes
of fine lines. You can walk them all, talk the talk, and spin
a story made of gold yarn with the best of them. Head up.

You’ve inherited a gift for moving on. All you have to do is use it.
You’re a mile gone before you sidestep your thoughts,
break formation,

turn back in the middle of a conversation about rain

leaving the poor woman aghast mouth gaping at the space

you left in the queue wind whistling through

as the pump in your chest becomes muscle again forcing flames

to the sites of pain to the old wounds that glow like eggs

being candled in your own light to thirty years rushing back to your head

the burning sensation in your legs as everything pulsates

parts of you excised a long time ago

missing bits people who no longer exist all the gaps

filling up with blood run love run strides elongating

faster now faster your little feet barely touching the

couple [in a box]
by Karen Wheatcroft

a lasso in the corner steadies our heads. a blind-folding lid
flat-packs four limbs into dark. you left grease rings under my eyes,

& at the top of my ribs. can’t see you any more. there’s no tick
tick to measure hearts by. (don’t know if i ) there’s nothing

to count with. my arm has ants. we are pulling short slitted breaths
out from under a door we have imagined over there. how many

small hours left? you press on me the way rain-drenched cardboard
sticks to the streets. are we are not finished yet? your legs

kill. minutes hang like washing that never quite dries
in the cold.nothing will burst into light. they say it was us

who emptied the box. took its cube of oxygen to our lungs

When Rabbits Die
by Wendy Pratt

Rabbits die on their sides
like Anglo Saxon depictions
on earthenware pots, they die
still running, skimming the earth
on their sides.

Being lighter than biology
they live life backwards,
as if the air and the weather
is everything. Here is their heaven;
where they want for nothing except

another rabbit whose ear they can lick,
against whom they can flop, stretched
and upside down as cats,

until they die and the light in them
solidifies. Then they become thick
and filled with the blood and bone of it all.

The Farthest Reaches
by Paul Jeffcutt

Take the road
signposted ‘The North’
that traverses the spine
of the farthest inhabited island,
past The Final Checkout
for frozen and shelved goods
and Bobby’s Bus Shelter
with curtains, sofa and books.
Ascend the peaty heath
of Mouse-eared Chickweed
and Arctic Roundwort
above the cliffs and stacks
of guano and raucous Gannets
gazed on by young Robert Louis
a reluctant lighthouse engineer
conjuring Silver and Blind Pew
from the lamp of Muckle Flugga.
Climb onward to Saxa Vord
as Great Skuas dive-bomb
the Cold War radar station
warning of Fencers and Bears.
Brace against a keen northerly
that once rose to 177mph,
before the equipment blew away,
and wait
for a rocket
to the moon.

Peaches
by Michael Woods

Her mourning fingers felt the fleshy clefts
of peaches through the grocer’s paper bag
with a cupping hand… the other left
to grip its mouth as if she tried to gag

it shut and not herself, afraid its gape
might let out a roar to break the silence
between prayers and songs on tape
that she’d insisted on with such violence

of passion that she convinced the vicar
there were no grounds for unconsecrated
burial of her brother. Words ran quicker
than the river as she related

how a liebestod had gone half wrong
when his lover drowned but he survived
their leap into the Arrow. So, he swung;
the jury found his story too contrived.

Until the end she took her gift to him
and knew, maybe, an old mythology
that called the fruit pántáo, feasted on them,
the peaches of immortality.

That last time she was taken to his cell.
He stroked one like a cheek as though she gave
him back what he had lost, then breathed its smell
as if a peach could save him from the grave.

Narration
by Nairn Kennedy

To say it happened at four pm on a Tuesday afternoon in March is both irrelevant
and pointless, but
to follow the historical conventions, we must first invent a history.
Let’s say that Jimmy Adams, eight years old, was on the lake with an ancient split-cane rod
polished by his grandpa’s walnut hands,
when, in the water, to the west, initially no bigger
than a man’s hand, something disturbed the ripples.
Let’s say, without a reason, that in this final microsecond of his life, he thought
a jellyfish had blossomed underwater and spread consuming
him, the lake, the sea, and every ocean on the globe, hugging it for a second
like a vast discomfort blanket, before it gently coaxed to bloom
the planet as one gigantic thermonuclear
sunflower.
They say that all which had ever been of us
was wiped to wisps, that the Moon melted in the tide of fire
and that our legacy was an inconvenient gap that took
the irritated planets a hundred thousand years to iron out
to their satisfaction, until they asked
who told this story, and to whom?

Chilli Paste
by Sammy Gooch

After the crash we ordered noodles,
And didn’t talk about the bus
And how it had swerved off the road
And how Jodie had nearly gone through
The window, before we hit a ditch.

We didn’t talk about the bike,
And the ice-freeze crack it made
On the front wind-screen.

We didn’t talk about the girl
Whose grey body was swept past us
As we jumped out the window.

We didn’t talk about the man dragged out
From underneath, whose mangled body
Could not be pumped back to life.

We didn’t talk about the mother who cried
Like her soul was torn from her body, in a
Language of pain that is universal.

Or of the small browning puddle, where
A woman’s head had collided with the screen,
And the hot, soulless tarmac.

Instead we stirred chilli paste into bowls
Of chicken broth, that turned crimson
And feigned a laugh when the server
Asked if our red eyes were because it
Was too spicy.

Yes, we said.
Yes, it’s too spicy.

Swag
by Joy Winkler

We learned to hide things,
the more interesting pieces of
Meccano, all my pretty boxes.
Saturdays had a lull about them

unless we were visited;
good manners bringing out
the polite tea set and the back end
of coconut macaroons. Our cousin Robert

never welcomed us as playmates,
sat on his own, fat, cross-legged,
fingered the holes on my
school recorder, drew moon

heads along the lines of old
music manuscript paper.
Each visit allowed him
one of our toys: his forever,
not a loan.

He lives in America now,
has fallen on hard times
no mobile phone, no family,
no friends. Content to be alone

in some gingerbread apartment
whose mouse-eaten holes are
plugged with stolen Plasticine;
his sly laughter gagged

in stacks of my old comics,
his pockets, fat with swag,
our precious cats-eye
marbles weighing him down.

Aunty Alice Sixsmith
by Joy Winkler

She hangs our wet coats like pelts in the hall,
herds us to the dim welcome of the front room.
Shy in a snowdrift of antimacassars,
we sit marooned in mothballs.

We’ve been promised roller skates if we’re good.

Aunty Alice puts the tea down; her old table
precarious on wishbone legs. She’s shaky
as a dust mote, sags with age, yet her tiny hands
cast large shadows on the sepia walls.
Her voice plays through a thin reed.

She coaxes us, her wand twisted barley sugar.
Throws lumps of coal at the fire’s flames,
already hot as Hell. When we cry to go home,
she dances a little, takes off her Lisle stockings,
shows us her changeling feet, each gnarled
white stump resplendent with six toes.