• A Great Writer

    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!”

    Kit Maude
  • adaptation

    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.

    Madeleine Pulman-Jones
  • Appetite

    “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
    hunger –
    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.

    alice tarbuck
  • If We Had Met Before

    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.

    Julia Wagner

    I start today
    Washing away
    The wine stain
    On my mouth

    Leiah Fournier
  • My Mother Taught Me

    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
    from ticks
    and scratches
    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.

    Anuradha Rao
  • At Barrio

    Roll out,
    in a sticky mass.
    Whistling indistinctly,
    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.

    Idil Galip
  • The Scotrail Lady

    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.

    Claire Askew
  • Sewing

    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
    bed because
    I have a
    conference call.

    Stella Hervey Birrell
  • By the Roadside

    As he waits for his turn
    at a dingy barber’s shop
    called ‘Lovely Saloon’,
    he watches the road,
    people moving up
    and down:

    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
    Khasi* sayings:
    ‘Do not talk to yourself
    like a lunatic’
    ‘Do not mumble all alone like a sorcerer’.

    He thinks,
    either the maxims
    have lost their relevance,
    this is an age
    of ear-clutching lunatics.

    * Khasi tribe from Meghalaya, Northeast India.

    Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih
  • Pubes

    Across her lips, dark
    shiny locks interlock like
    a venus flytrap.

    Nat Steinhouse
  • Melted Girl

    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.”

    Christina Gayton
  • One of them caught him on the leg

    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
  • Domestic bliss

    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.

    Maggie Dye
  • Dying is a warm beer

    A snap of the glove
    the curve
    of the latest finger

    my pearls
    turn into
    black pools.

    With every thorn
    I squirm
    like the new child
    my pink face
    crumples like paper.

    Blue, blue
    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.

    Dan Stringer
  • Dream sequence

    ‘Just do me a favour,’ he said
    ‘Check over my figures –
    Something just won’t add up.’
    I fix it
    in three hours
    and press my lips together.
    My smile is as convincing as his
    Toilet-bowl white teeth
    Mashing together
    Falling over his tongue
    As he races to affix it to
    A board member’s behind.

    Is who I am now
    It’s embedded in my genes
    Maybe if I tried
    I could read this report in Latin
    But instead I make notes in shorthand
    A revered ancient language.

    ‘Whose report is this?’ ejaculates Mr Board.
    A nervous brown tongue flicks over
    Those toilet-bowl teeth
    I am silent.
    ‘It’s mine,’ he says.
    Mr Board turns to me –
    ‘Just do me a favour’
    ‘Get that in the notes,’ he says.
    I press my lips together.

    In the doctor’s surgery
    My lips are parted
    For the third time this month
    In his endless quest to fix my insides
    By gently chipping away at them.
    I hand him the chisel,
    but he looks up, annoyed.
    ‘Just do me a favour,’ he says
    ‘And try to relax.’

    At home
    I try to relax
    but the phone keeps ringing.
    My mother is calling
    to check that I still cook her recipes.
    He asks: ‘do we know what we are having for tea?’
    We do not.
    He comes behind me
    and links his arms around my waist
    face in my hair.
    He says
    ‘Just do me a favour.’

    Meg Russell
  • Lullaby

    An unusually hot afternoon in mid- April. We are in the garden, amusing ourselves in companionable quiet. You are happiest with the earth, bedding fragrant French lavender into its new home. You work carefully, tucking the roots gently into the soil with your bare hands, contentedly sighing every now and again. I sit reading nearby, cocooned in the oval chair with its thick cream cushions. My dress is the colour of clementines, and glows in the hot golden sun. The pages of my book breathe on the breeze and I slip in and out of the words; one moment Nietzsche and the cries of the neighbours’ baby the next. Its wails rent the air suddenly, desperately, and my heart jolts. I listen instinctively, waiting for it to be soothed. The hush comes quickly, in soft Italian murmurs that my ears don’t understand. Softly, softly, lullaby, hush my love, you need not cry.

    Eleanor Harrison
  • Revolutionary

    Where are you going with this?
    Your passion is caught in your beard
    and she holds her breath,
    you might just take it from her.

    She is crushing on you:
    it is easy to do.
    Hungry for the stars
    and storminess and the pub at 2am,
    she will man your barricade.

    Having told her what it is,
    say the word.

    Hannah January
  • Adam

    He plays by his own tune, an inventor,
    investor in himself.
    To others he might seem like one at odds with the world,
    but there are no odds in his world,
    nothing to gamble or lose.

    He is the solo player of his own team,
    motivator, multiplayer,
    bricklayer of his own foundation.
    The harmonies of his life are rich and silent
    scorching the ears of those that hear.

    He sits alone but surrounded,
    a thinker,
    tinker of his craft,
    weaving threads of agéd phrases,
    polished relics, softening the edges.

    He listens like a broken watch waiting for the minute,
    the second,
    but he is always second to those who shout or howl or cry.

    A river runs through him.
    Gushing the tide of humanity flows fast,
    shaping those around him,
    voicelessly moulding us into his works of art.

    Olivia Olphin
  • Borderline poem 3

    Today, I shat very well without noise and easily.
    I shat thinking about you, and to be honest, I’m not ashamed anymore.
    (Understand this: pretty boys also shit)
    To think about intestines you have to understand that the blue ass of a Russian smells the same as a beautiful Peruvian soldier’s ass.
    I get drunk and think about my stomach’s clay.
    Then, I realize an overwhelming truth:
    Each morning I shit my heart out in pieces.

    Jorge Alejandro Vargas Prado
  • Sunglasses

    She wore the biggest sunglasses you’ve seen,

    No sunshine in sight but that didn’t deter her,

    She thought the tinted lenses made her look smart,

    Shrouded in mystery,
    a woman with no history, she would wear her Raybans forever,
    whatever the weather.

    Mark O'Loughlin
  • hostile.

    The lights are on
    and I am home,

    There’s a
    rap tap
    knock knock:

    Outside shines night
    and birds sing silence.
    The moment grows
    and I cower.

    Anger fills
    and fuels the house.
    Violence follows
    like an erupting volcano.

    Children don’t work like adults.
    We have less to fear;
    but ours is double concentrated.

    There’s a
    smick smack
    crick crack:
    was someone.

    The lights are on
    but I’m not home,

    Jamie Hardwick
  • Here

    Here, is not there
    nor anywhere
    but here in
    the sounds of the moment
    we are here in.
    Yet, here is also an echo
    of a moment before
    when here was not here
    but there waiting
    to be discovered by us
    and defined in the borders
    of our memories
    as here, where
    we heard the birds in the sky.
    Here, is only here
    to be heard by us.
    For others to hear here
    would make it there to us once more.

    Kristy Keller

    A billion years from now
    or a billion billion
    will these words resound
    will these ancient feet print
    Could it be that
    Ridley Scott’s Alien exists
    will this make sense and how
    a billion years past
    or a billion billion
    will we be back now
    or stuck in hell. What
    will be remembered
    The Duellists or (the) Duel?

    Andrew Cocktoe
  • Dinner in Paris

    I have no idea why, but I thought the Mona Lisa would taste better.

    H. Victory
  • BMI

    “For those
    that have been asking,”
    she announced
    for all of Facebook
    to read or ignore.
    “My BMI has
    dropped from 26
    to 22.1.”

    I’m suspicious
    that anyone
    even asked.
    And if they did,
    surely she could have
    told them directly.

    Mansour Chow
  • The Look in Its Eyes

    “It’s the look in their eyes when we hit them, people and animals, that bothers me most,” the engineer said.

    I don’t miss those conversations with engineers and conductors about the horrors of their jobs.

    I don’t miss the three-hour delays for suicides, accompanied by fists pounding on windows when passengers realized they would not make graduations, weddings, and job interviews.

    I don’t miss the café car attendant, who sang over the intercom in a shrill voice his invitation to the café car.

    I don’t miss the cat lady, who claimed she kept her meowing cat zipped in her jacket for emotional support.

    I don’t miss passengers with croup-sounding coughs asking to borrow my phone.

    I don’t miss the sunburned faces and liquor-smelling belches of people boarding after a day at the horse races.

    I don’t miss the nosy tax guy, who seemed to take pleasure in hearing about our pay cuts and layoffs during the Great Recession.

    I don’t miss those things on 785 northbound.

    But I miss the happy-go-lucky dog, that for years ran full speed alongside us every day at the same place and time, like clockwork, trying to keep up with our train.

    I wish I could stop missing that dog, and wondering about the look the engineer last saw in its eyes.

    Michael Carter