I assumed people would notice. I’d been behaving weirdly, walking around in a bit of a daze – I could sense that much, even if I was unable to actually snap out of it. I thought someone would have worked out why, would have taken me aside and said, “I know that look – what’s her name?” like they do on television. But nobody did, so it just went on. I gradually returned to normal, eventually lost interest. At some point I realised she was never on the train anymore, she must have moved away or changed jobs or something but I didn’t notice it happen. By then I was back to normal, cosy nights in with the wife, forgetting my head had ever been turned.
Nick Lord Lancaster
A blackbird bobs obscenely
taps his toes on frozen asphalt
listens to a chirping track
of breakup music
He tells the houses how
he once saw lightning strike
a tall tree
and it paled and cracked
before its shadows
were interrupted by fire
He beats a wing
as if that is the punchline
because really he knows
the secret to breaking,
which isn’t a secret
but he’ll say it anyway:
apply ice to stop the swelling.
Driven by fantasy.
Take a photo.
A fag for you.
Jigsaw pieces are cut
From the clouds
And dropped into place,
Lorries lower their eyelids
Under a toffee-stained sky.
There are shapes, hidden –
Waiting for Michelangelo.
Charmayne Pountney Board
he solved equations with his right hand
and was tying a noose
with his left and
everyone said how smart he was at
Everywhere I look I see prejudice,
You see a man with a turban that’s a terrorist,
You see a guy in a hoodie you’re running from his fist,
You see a black man on the stairs, you decide to take the lift.
You see police and you feel safety,
He sees police and he stands there bravely,
you see man on a tube you’re not a questioner,
She sees a man on a tube that’s a predator,
You see a headscarf next to a bag that a bomb,
She sees her bag and that’s a gift for her mum.
You a see girl in a skirt as a slut,
yet a guy without his shirt is called tough.
Everywhere I look I see prejudice,
I see judgment with no evidence,
I watch people who see blind,
Handing out labels when they’re unrefined,
We’re in decline,
We’re all confined,
It’s like we’re inclined to have this frame of mind,
And yet a child is somehow innocent,
There brought into this world as a citizen,
They see every person as equivalent,
Then society diminishes this innocence,
There now prejudice that no coincidence.
And don’t get me wrong blaming this on society,
It’s our own fault for creating a hierarchy,
I’ts our fault that we see blindly
And it’s our own fault for making this society.
I have never eaten a lobster.
I almost did once,
but was told my country tongue
would be unable to distinguish its
rich golden hay
I’ve seen them in glare-lit tanks
banded together in their shell suits
like a train carriage of businessfolk
swaying to the metallic tide,
the colour of summer berries in labour
and claws like coastlines.
Is it true that some are blue?
What a rhapsody,
what a jazz. Rusted
Scuttle and cacophony.
I have never eaten a lobster,
but as a child
I refused to face the beach barefoot
in fear of blood-orange
They are a story to me.
frozen statue still
into the void of my chest
I love your smile always
But with that white scarf
And that blue dress and
Your bright eyes, I feel wise;
Not my usual mess of thoughts,
Not even quite jumbled a lot,
Not worried I’ll fumble or stop
Impressing, not worried about
Undressing eventually though
That’d be nice, no doubt.
Problem is I’m all ice,
Like that blue and white gown
Building seascapes for my heart.
Sometimes I get lost in what Kaveh writes in the glass jar at 3 am
The stretching search terms
The orders filling in the basket
The length of film I had taken to get developed
My father carrying negatives
Only to find the sweltering sun he misses
Has singed the only picture of his
Youth and his leg wide open
And cut from the time God had marked him for
Death and he had narrowly escaped
Through a broken window on a bus
And his whole leg is a shining oscillating tale
Thin as onion skin
Thin with tears
Growing soft with disuse
The nerves that have curled up and died
I press his leg and he doesn’t know I’m there
Couldn’t tell if I was air or nothing or a needle stitching what fell apart again
I spend money like it belongs to me instead of it being borrowed
But each note is so sweet I fold them as small and as thin as I can
Feed them into the camera and tell my father I can bring his youth back if he smiles
I can heal his leg with my lens
But my length of film is empty
There are these two spots where something tried to be born
And I can’t face my father’s defeated face
Thinned with tears
So I avoid him at noon, the sunset in the living room
At night, 2 am, fair, dawn, father forgive me these little things
In the middle of the birch trees,
he calls out the opening of her name
which is Olia, and in this round emptiness,
she writes between the lines of birch
on her fingers in berry juice
why and how she will feed him.
Silenced by her silence, he walks in
his new and unaccustomed greys,
tracing back to her the lineage
of the swampy grass, marked by
severed trees and the absences
of earth their feet had made.
In a hollow by the brook, he finds her
sitting in the moss, caressing into falling
bunches of berries. “I’ll wait for you
in the boat by the mouth of the river.”
The lines around her lips, etched in dark
juices, dark years, smile “I will come.”
For forty years he has waited at the mouth
of some river for her – gathered with her
and then separated. He counts his crop
of mushrooms four times before calling again.
She calls back his name, half an hour passes,
and she joins him.
the morning mist meanders,
the soft sun surfaces,
and Lana lulls us slow.
i realise that the sky tastes like
peach lollies in my mouth
i rest my head on yours
and fresh linen,
that was the scent of the day.
Is entertaining a friend at her home when there is a knock at the door. It turns out to be a delivery: her latest book is back from the printers. The friend, far younger than she is and not particularly bright, is anxious to get the box open. He keeps exclaiming at the size of the package and all the books that there must be inside. The great writer is reluctant to open the box as she’d much rather go through the book later, when she’s alone. The delivery of a new book from the printers is an event filled with trepidation: she has learned over time that mistakes are inevitable. One hopes that they will be minor – the odd missed comma or extra space between words – but occasionally there is a gross, unpardonable error that will inevitably sour the relationship between herself and the publisher, making things especially awkward when the editor is a friend, as is the case in this instance. Her companion, however, begs and pleads like a child trying to winkle an early Christmas present from his parents, and eventually the great writer gives in. He gleefully plunges towards the box and tears at it feverishly, emitting a little squeal as the first book emerges from the bubble wrap. After regarding it with a strangely ravenous look in his eyes, he passes the book to the writer and delves back into the box. His groan of disappointment confirms her worst fears:
“What is it?”
“They’ve made a mistake!”
“They’re all the same book!”
we used to sing “adap- adaptation…
changes in the body to fit a location”
to remember why we can’t breathe
underwater but your fish can.
in the playground, all our bodies made tender
by play, by fingers interlocked, and your bite,
your breathmarks on my wristbone,
you wished away offences caused when
you threatened to tell everyone about me
stealing your crisps. now I mend myself
for a different you. cast my limbs just so that
I might fit more comfortably under your arm,
in the palm of a friend, when I am just so
small, hooked on and impossibly breathless,
sprouting gills in the guilt of coming to know
the impossibility of my environment.
“You won’t always have this appetite.” Jane McKie
Wooing her is like licking
an electric fence, all wet hunger and idiot shock.
You won’t always want this trouble.
You won’t always have this appetite.
You won’t always write DMs and then
delete, and then refresh. You won’t always insist
on getting your chin wet. This story stretches
only as far as browsing the cost of a flight.
Ask lightning, an easier trip, a gentler blast
than a nude at midnight.
Girls are taught to make
I am built for sating, packet-mix, preheated,
impatient. I am buttered peaches,
I am the wide field of expectation, I am the calm cow
who asks how the new fence tastes, and I am proof
that you might always have that appetite.
Maybe on the first
day of first grade,
before we had money
and all that came with it,
before there were hand marks
all over both of us,
before we stumbled
like blind men without dogs,
it would be just me
standing behind you
in the class picture,
two of my fingers
making bunny ears
above your head
small but sure as soldiers,
it’s you, it’s going to be you.
I start today
The wine stain
On my mouth
My mother taught me to eke
out inherent goodness in others, even
if amounting to only a few drops and shower
them with waterfalls of praise, to behave
with books as with babies,
gently. I can now command reams of paper into to-
do lists that efficiently crumple
she told me, wound practical
people less. My mother taught me that the
kindest kind of kindness
is always spontaneous and unremembered,
but sings as silence would when
it comes back; I see the poetry
in her eyes when she hears it. My mother
taught me to exploit
discounts, fresh fruits and her
superlative cooking; my stomach grudges
being away as much as I do, but grudges,
like life, are not permanent she said.
Love is. Loving is.
Like oxygen, her love is life-sustaining but invisible,
My mother never taught me love, I
understood it the moment she cradled
me in her arms.
in a sticky mass.
we stumble on into a
round, circular night.
It’s a perversion of the bestest kind.
I open my mouth, with words
ready to defile the host.
But derision is an ache in my gut, just where I feel you the most.
A fine wind lands headfirst onto the solitary candle, and so I lose your face and your aquiline nose.
I weep up a storm cloud, spilling out on the asphalt.
I am an urban pomegranate.
I take to the Underground, just minutes before shutdown. I am here most of the year: a mole in search for a home.
Not much is awake yet.
The train snub-noses into the dawn
and the dawn shrugs. It’s not warm.
Polmont November. Geese.
The gummed rails’ murmur.
I tell you about the documentary
I watched, in which
some smart person sought out
The Scotrail lady.
You don’t know her,
under the buffer of your border
river, in London, where everything
is spoken in the dialect computer.
But I tell you
one woman gives us this day
our daily bread: incantation
of Coupar, Leuchars, Dundee,
Arbroath, Montrose. I know
she recited each calling point –
Crianlarich, where this train will divide –
a magic three times. In a list,
the penultimate stop,
and each journeys close:
– and Mallaig. Bathgate,
where this train terminates.
She said she did it years ago –
Glaswegian actress with a gas bill
to pay – but that travellers still
write letters to tell her of kinks
in the sequence at Dumfries, Tweedbank, Drem.
There’s no more dawn at Croy
than there was at Falkirk High. I say
the word dreich for you to learn,
but you’re sleeping: lean and braced
as though facing a galeforce wind.
But in your weird and moving dream –
cold shuck of glass at your temple
and the tea-trolley’s ankle-break whirr –
you’ll hear her cast the glamour
of our impending arrival.
One day I’ll write her a letter
myself: say I’m thankful
for journeys she’s guided me on:
change here for the bus link and services to –
travel in the rear two carriages…
At Glasgow Queen Street you wake,
and it’s like she’s still guardian angeling –
take all your personal belongings
with you – knowing you’re precious,
your skeleton carefully made.
Take good care, she says, on the station.
I am reading a book for work
and you are checking
the camping equipment,
the tin saucepans
nestled into each other,
plastic shapes of
spoon and fork.
A sleeping bag has a rip in it.
I am still reading.
You tell me there is a hole
and I tell you where the sewing kit is –
a rabble of threads, needles half in, half out
of packets, you are amused
by the show of how much I care, how
often I sew.
The next time I look up – you had gone quiet –
you are sewing the tear
with neat stitches
with each stitch I feel something rip a little
as I read, and you sew.
Soon you will nestle
the children into
I have a
Stella Hervey Birrell
As he waits for his turn
at a dingy barber’s shop
called ‘Lovely Saloon’,
he watches the road,
people moving up
An attractive girl, her left hand on her left ear,
looks directly at him
and exclaims, ‘Shut up!’
A young man, his left
hand holding his left ear:
smiles and smiles at no one.
A lone woman, her right hand on her left ear,
her face to the sky, asks, ‘But where?’
Another woman, her left hand on her left ear,
suddenly thumps the air: ‘Yahoo!’
A girl with long hair, her left hand on her left ear,
briskly nods at the ground.
A middle-aged man, his left hand clutching his left ear,
raises a finger,
and with eyes blazing,
twists his lips agitatedly.
Seeing these people,
he recalls two old
‘Do not talk to yourself
like a lunatic’
‘Do not mumble all alone like a sorcerer’.
either the maxims
have lost their relevance,
this is an age
of ear-clutching lunatics.
* Khasi tribe from Meghalaya, Northeast India.
Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih
Across her lips, dark
shiny locks interlock like
a venus flytrap.
Mixed girl microaggression
at multiracial family gatherings.
Mixed girl model America’s
melting pot. No hate crimes
if everyone melds into one.
Golden hues pronouncing
“This is your diverse America,
where we lose all identity
till our colors become one.”
One of them caught him on the leg, one of the birds with the razors attached, when they were released into the ring. At the time he thought nothing of it. Just a little nick. He’d put a plaster on it later. Not going to distract him from the thrill of the fight and the lure of the money. And in the thick of the action, among the cheering and jeering, the pushing and shoving of the crowd, he completely forgot the slight twinge in his calf. Ironically, it was his bird that did it; the one he had backed, the one that won big for him.
It was only later, when the crowd had dispersed and the adrenaline wore off, that he realised the extent of the damage. Someone applied a tourniquet, helped concoct a plausible cover story. They’d clear up after him, don’t worry. Just another bloodstain in the sawdust.
Someone dumped him in a lay-by, far enough away, where he counted his money and tried to persuade himself he was only shivering because it was three in the morning. He went over the details of the cover story in his head again and again, but by the time the ambulance arrived he was in no position to tell it.
Nick Lord Lancaster
He gave her his name
As much a gift as syphilis
A tattoo that nobody wants
Blood beading around pools of black ink.
She lost her sense of humour
He’s hidden it away between folded towels
In the airing cupboard.
He always apologised
When she snorted
As if laughter on the lips of a young woman
Was a bad smell at the dinner table.
In amongst the pots and pans
She’d left her dignity somewhere
Because now she acted out the scenes
‘Put it in there, then in there, then in there’
The ones that she came to recognise
After work on his computer screen.
She missed her allowance for two months
When they bought a new bed
That they’d spent three Sundays
Admiring in the Pine Warehouse
Searching for a conversation.
But when he said ‘this is where
We will make our family.’
Bile rose in her throat and stole her tongue
She spent three hours boiling the sheets
Hoping that she too could stay
Clean clean clean.
A snap of the glove
of the latest finger
With every thorn
like the new child
my pink face
crumples like paper.
this costume is mine
until I’m new.
I lay awake
on my sticky bed
with all my neighbours
I’d never known so many
shades of white.