Monday, 16 April 2018

Sand by Virginia Hainsworth

A grain of sand.  A grain
amidst a desert, grain on grain.
Its absence goes unnoticed
as it slips into the gap
and falls beneath.

Second by second, they disappear,
each one leaving no trace.
The tiny gap consumes them
but only one by one.
Their exodus relentless.

And yet their passage shows itself
from time to time, but briefly.
At first, I wished them gone,
to welcome new and better ones.
Too soon forgotten.

Too slow it seems and then too quick.
Too much to bear, there’s more to come
and brighter ones, I hope.
The growing plane of fallen grains
spreads out behind.

Until the day, when suddenly
the dunes are gone, the desert flat
and, falling still, the grains.
The reason clear to me.
Too late. 

So precious now each grain becomes
and still I cannot catch and hold.
But look at how the fallen ones
have shaped themselves.
Too far to touch.

The landscape past is making sense.
The one to come, though shrunken,
is shiny new and, breathing deep,
I welcome it.
My toes can feel the sand at last.

Monday, 9 April 2018

The Short Walk Home

Sheila pulled her light jacket closer, and folded her arms, as she waited. She had donned contact lens and deep dark shades in the blazing sunlight much earlier that day.  Good thing that she had her hat though, her gran always said that the most important thing, is to keep your head warm.  The wind was now cutting through her like a sharp blade, and seemed to have a spurious relationship with her bladder too. A white van joined the line of cars, some with headlights on, and she remembered the text alert regarding the IKEA delivery this evening. She had another 15 minutes to be home before the designated delivery time. The green man flashed, and she walked briskly, then swerved suddenly as she reached the opposite side, almost tripping over a pushchair, the mother smirked. Sheila steadied herself and headed for the cobbled stone alleyway. This way was shorter than going around the block.  Not one for using parks and alleys after dark, she walked quickly in the dusk and was on alert for any signs of danger. Maybe just this once would be okay, she thought.

As she approached a familiar row of 5 foot high steel garbage skips, she could see what looked like a person, wearing jeans, bum and one leg visible, as though the person was bending over from the waist. She figured someone might be taking a piss, or having a cigarette, as was usual because this little alley, had the rear entrances to the shops and banks and offices on the high roads.  As she came alongside, she saw that a man was intensely focused on something. Curiosity got the better of her and she had slowed down to take a peek. Her foot kicked a can and she muttered 'fuck' under her breath. The noise seemed to startle him, and he looked up, their eyes met briefly. She lowered her head and as she did, she saw a woman’s legs sprawled awkwardly, her dress revealing red knickers, and her arms dangling from where she was suspended by his arms gripping her around the neck, allowing her head to flop, and all Sheila could see was dark hair. She could not see her face and wasn’t clear if she was dead or alive.

A few seconds seemed like hours as her chest pounded and trickles of sweat laced her spine. She had not looked up again to meet his gaze, but had kept her head lowered and continued walking, the roar of a car engine and headlights on full beam approached quickly from behind her. Then another car, both blaring loud music, each car with two occupants shouting to each other through the windows, and oblivious to everything. The air had filled with the scent of weed and tobacco, the first car was now level with her at the busy intersection, and she turned left and quickened her pace.  She looked up and down the road before entering her building, her vision obscured because all the street lights were on and she was still wearing those shades. She called the police crime line anonymously, and tried to get the memory of what she had seen out of her head. She heard stories in the coming days, but like most news it soon becomes fish and chip paper. For the coming months her nightmares centred around him recognising her again, because the alleyway was so close to her home.

Christmas carols were blazing on the radio, the intercom buzzed, and she released the door. He’d called 10 minutes earlier to say that he was on his way. She had done a merry dance as she waited for him to climb the 30 steps to her apartment.  She stood at the opened door and he greeted her with a broad smile and outstretched palm. His hands were cold, and she ushered him in and offered him a hot drink to take the chill off. She pointed to the boxes and chuckled, as she told him that it had been over six months since IKEA had done the delivery. He said that he would have her ‘all sorted out’ for Christmas, and they had both laughed at the innuendo.

She made sure that he had what he needed, and excused herself as she retreated to her bedroom and closed the door quietly behind her. He whistled while he worked, and she could hear the soft hum of music in the background. She trusted the site for tradesmen on line but, despite his jolly character, she had felt uncomfortable. After a couple of hours, he indicated that he had finished and they both admired the chest. She made his final payment on line whilst he packed his tools away and swept up.

As she showed him out, he paused and asked her if she frequented the Jules Verne pub. She said no, and he threw his head back and his eyes to the ceiling, as though trying to recall something. Sheila thanked him again, and shared with him a story she had heard, that there are 3 identical people in various parts of the world, he laughed at this, and said he was a twin so in his case it was real. They both chuckled and he waved as he passed through the door on the landing.

Sheila closed her door, locked it, and leaned against it as she said a small prayer and practised her deep breathing to calm her pounding heart and stop the beads of sweat that were now popping up on her spine.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Eden by Clair Wright

Deep within the tangled leaves,
Furled in the rippling shadow
It lies sleeping.
Tight coiled as an ammonite, a ridge
Of bright beads, dew-drop diamonds
Spring from its spine.
Amber orbs, flecked with gold, glitter
Through filmy lids.
It sleeps.
Frail folded wings, in papery pleats
Flicker with dreams of flight.
Ancient as rock, yet fine as a new leaf
Its emerald skin
Stretches and shrinks with each long breath.
In the warm damp air
A sigh of steam
Rises through the rich canopy -
As among the myriad undiscovered miracles
The dragon lies sleeping.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Scoff by Owen Townend

The royal family were quick to accept the role of 'prize' on The UK's Finest Fillets TV show.
            When the family sat down to sample the cod of Ezra Williamson, the Duke of Edinburgh made a passing comment. Unusually everyone was inclined to agree with it: if only they could organise a meal like this every year.
            A proper meal, of course, requires a dessert. The Rule Britannia Cake Bake had been going strong for a little under a decade and the Duke of York had admitted to fancying a lemon drizzle cake made by an ambitious minority.
            An agreement was reached with the producers and the Duchess of Cambridge was volunteered to sample the winner of that year: an overly-rich upside-down cake. She had to prove her worth somehow.
            When it was agreed that a prolonged deal would be worthwhile, more family members became involved. However there was one dish missing: the starter.
            A new niche was discovered: England's Green and Pleasant Salads. The royal family had to fund this show themselves initially but the British public ate it right up, so to speak.
            The Queen herself sampled the victorious Peach, Pancetta and Mozzarella Salad. As soon as it was revealed that the culinary artist was openly effete, most of her older male relatives were promptly kept away.
            It took some years to carefully marshal all three shows' conclusions to the same date but it was achieved without much notice. The average watcher thrived in flipping channels to catch up with the latest tray slips, collapsing dough and general drama. 
            At last the royal family had their desired three course meal. Furthermore the salad competition was paying tremendous dividends. In spite of its ravenous beginnings, their dinnertime plan turned out to be a sage business venture.
            That all being said, the meal was found to be more filling than originally hoped. The Queen herself was particularly discomfited: her appetite has shrunk with age.
            Her husband, sons and grandsons however are now eager to eat the best sandwich that their subjects can create.
            The next show title is expected to involve a pun on the famed Earl.

Monday, 19 March 2018

A Strange and Unexpected Gift by Jo Cameron-Symes

I am about to tell you a story. It is the kind of story which, if I entered for a competition, I feel that people would think that this would never happen in real life, because it sounds so far-fetched. They would likely feel that this story is too unrealistic. The irony is, that they would be wrong, because every word of this story is true…

         It was one of those blisteringly hot, long days of summer. The days that melted tarmac in the road to the consistency of cookie dough. The air was thick with humidity. Humidity, that seeped into your bones and weighed you down. These were the facts of my childhood summers. Hosepipe bans, dried out, scratchy, sickly yellow-coloured grass that looked as if it had never once been lush and green. Clay baked earth that dried rock-hard and became covered in fissures like mini earthquakes. On days like these, there was nothing to be done but to try to cool off, any way you could. No one had air conditioning in their houses then. Almost all houses owned an electric fan, though all they really seemed to do was re-circulate hot air. All you could do was pray for the rain which arrived with occasional, mythical-type thunderstorms. One storm was so powerful, it set off a cacophony of car alarms on our road by physically moving the cars. The problem was, once the storm had passed, it was cooler for a day or two, then became insufferably hot again.

          Supermarkets provided some refuge from the heat if you were lucky enough to be near one. The refreshing coolness of the freezer aisle was bliss; like walking into a mountain of pure air where you could breathe easily and where the air seemed weightless. But there was only so much time you could spend in a supermarket, especially if you were a teenage girl accompanied by her peers. No, if you spent too long with friends in a supermarket then you only seemed to generate suspicion and were tailed by the security guards, who watched you like a hawk until you left their hunting ground. This always made me angry and I wanted to tell the security guards that all the time that they had wasted watching us would be better used following the people in suits, who were more likely stealing the goods scot free. I never said this, though I wanted to. The only other place to stay cool was at the local outdoor swimming pool. Swim sessions were cheap then and you could stay for a whole afternoon then wander into town afterwards.

           It was after one of these outdoor swims with my friends when something truly odd happened. The four of us had got changed and were walking out of the leisure centre down a long corridor. This corridor fed into the main building from the women’s’ and men’s’ changing rooms and the squash courts at the rear of the building. We were chatting and laughing, talking about where we were going to go in town when two men in their thirties hurried by holding squash rackets. One of them seemed really stressed and (for some reason I was unaware of) singled me out, approaching me with something in his hand and said loudly and very insistently "Take it, please take it!"
           I looked down and saw that it was a women's ring. Thinking that he'd mistakenly thought that I'd dropped it I replied, "No, it's not mine."
           "I know!" he aggressively insisted "Just take it!"
           So I did.  
           He hurried off, followed by his concerned friend. "Oh my God!" I said, "That was weird!" I looked more closely at the ring with my friends, it was 24 carat gold, had a hallmark and what looked like a diamond in the centre. It didn't look brand new, but we assumed it looked a lot like an engagement ring, though being aged thirteen we were a fair few years from getting one of those ourselves. I had no idea what to do next, so stored it in the pocket of my rucksack.

           When I got home, I showed my mother and recounted this strange tale. The whole situation had felt so bizarre and strange that I felt odd keeping the ring, it wasn’t really something that I wanted to have in my possession. My mother agreed that it looked very valuable and took it to the police station where she handed it in. That was the last I ever heard of it.

          To this day, I find myself wondering what the real story was behind that mystery ring? Was it a case of a relationship gone sour? A terrible break-up perhaps, where the woman was unfaithful to her partner? This seems like the most realistic explanation, but perhaps instead, it was an antique ring from an unsuccessful proposal? The writerly side of me also imagines, the most sinister possibility. That it was the ring from a victim's hand, perhaps a murder victim? Of course, that's not likely it?

Monday, 12 March 2018

Mother’s Love by Annabel Howarth

From crack and snip,
On blue-white sheets,
To ash above or dust beneath,
There is a force which can’t be broken,
By distance or harsh words once spoken.

Mother’s touch,
The loving touch,
The one you crave and need so much,
Whose cradling arms stopped wailing cries,
When life was merely suckling milk.

Whose tender hands caressed your brow,
In childhood fever and disease,
Those arms which lifted you when down,
With ointments and her gentle touch,
She kissed away your screaming tears.

When you were young your sunny days,
Were filled with her sweet singing voice,
Her warm eyes gazing down on you,
Her Mona Lisa smile of love,
To make things right, it was enough.

And in achievement, up you’ll look
And catch her proud eyes smiling there,
When failure nags you in its midst,
She’ll smile and tell you not to care,
For mother’s love is always there.

When time and seas divide your flesh,
The cord which still holds fast your souls,
Will lengthen, strengthen, and in dreams,
She’ll wipe away your sleeping tears,
And whisper wisdom’s tales of love.

Even when your hurtful tongue,
May slash deep wounds within her heart,
When time comes that you need her most,
She’ll heal those words and play her part,
Mother’s love, her work of art.

And when you’re old, senile or frail,
And she has walked through heaven’s door,
The force of love will still be there,
When out you cry her name again,
Her touch will reach beyond the grave.

From crack and snip,
On blue-white sheets,
To ash above or dust beneath,
There is a force which can’t be broken,
By distance or harsh words once spoken.

This is from a poem I wrote in 1995.  I was 21.  This version is very slightly adapted, with changes to the last two lines of the first and last verses.  At the time, I was in my final year of university, in England.  My mother was living in the USA.  I missed her terribly, but always felt she was there.  We had terrible rows too, back then, but that was how our relationship always was.  Passionate.  She loved fiercely and felt pain in equal measure.  My paternal grandmother was in hospital, suffering from senile dementia.  She called out often for her sisters, Alice and Sarah, rather than her mother, but that bond was still there, and inspired me.  Sadly, my own mother died in December of last year.  It has been the first Mothering Sunday without her.  I miss her so much, but she speaks to me in my dreams.  In memory of my beloved mother, Ann, and to thank her for her unbreakable force of love.

Monday, 5 March 2018

A Poem to end all Poems, by Ian F White

A Poem to end all Poems

I relished this War,
Like no war before,
'Cause it got me away from the wife.
There'd be noise, there'd be mud,
There'd be buckets of blood,
And a stench you could cut with a knife.

My two pals and I,
Waved Blighty goodbye,
And caught the first steamer to France.
We were met at Calais,
By a band in full play,
And a Mademoiselle called Constance.

I got a new cap,
A compass a map,
A rifle, and grew a moustache.
Within a few weeks,
I got trench foot at 'Eeps',
And Willie developed a rash.

Some newfangled tanks,
Bolstered our ranks,
The expected big push was nigh
We mowed down the Hun,
With a big machine gun,
Their bodies piled two or three high.

It shook me a tad,
And it drove some men mad,
Bombs exploding around us all day.
There was this one fella,
They said he was yella,
And shot him the last day in May.

On Hill Sixty-One,
Our ammo all gone,
We fixed bayonets and stood firm,
They pressed us quite hard,
Well, it was their back yard,
When recalling that day, I just squirm.

But we had some good times,
Me, Hargreaves and Symes,
Especially that Christmas weekend.
A game of football,
It ended two-all,
For a time Hans called Tommy "good friend".

Four years had soon passed,
Home beckoned at last,
But for thousands their home was now here.
So many lives lost,
Freedoms heavy cost,
White crosses, red poppies, a tear.

Ian F White 2018
We shall never forget.