Three Drops from a Cauldron - Issue 16

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Three Drops from a Cauldron Issue 16 June 2017 Edited by Kate Garrett Poems copyright © 2017 Individual authors Issue copyright © Kate Garrett

Cover image is ‘Moonbow’ by Suzanne Rancourt Image copyright © 2017 Suzanne Rancourt



Three Drops from a Cauldron Issue 16 / June 2017 Dear Muse by Denise Blake Ring of Echoes by Noel Williams The Lost Garden by Phil Wood Aurora Awake by Andy Humphrey Fairy Curtail by Grant Tarbard Seal Woman by Petra Vergunst The Doppelgänger Riddle by Simon Cockle Grave Robbing by Alise Versella I’ll do the talking by Laura Beasley Purifying Shepherds by Paul Brookes Auspices by Judith Taylor I know not if I sink or swim by Olivia Tuck



Dear Muse Calliope, I’m contacting you re your extended absence without notice or apology. Deadlines approach and your hiatus is adding to my stress levels. Blank pages are starting to give me nightmares. I understood when I chose you for invocation that you are the most reliable of your sisters. I never expected you to actually write poems, just to bring a bit of artistic inspiration. You know the routine: I read extended works of the famous writers, buy floral-covered notebooks, packets of pens, light candles, build shrines to the poetry Gods. You, in turn, should produce your writing tablet and perhaps, a lyre , to sing through me. Zeus is mouthing off in the pub: you’d prefer handsome Greeks instead of namby pamby Irish women who sit around waiting for ideas. You’re being totally unfair, have regularly visited those younger poets. I saw you myself, lifting the latch at your man’s back door and then the lights dimmed in his room. How else could he be writing so many books? It might be slightly hysterical of me to stalk a muse and the writers she chooses to imbue. So, I’ve consulted with Dionysus; will now decant a special white, light a log fire, play soft music. My notebooks are lying open. I’m lost without you.

Denise Blake


Ring of Echoes At rain under boughs on the field’s edge the splash of a circle, that gloss green of holly in a pool of grass. As if something fell. Each stub shoves through glutinous soil, breaks a blister of earth, preens its gills in the drowning air. They dance a measure where no-one moves, keep their distance in a stoned world, mark a fey circumference. Toadflax, black saddle, pig’s ear only in the mouth we know their poison. Grass holds the shadow.

Noel Williams


The Lost Garden The sign outside the gate invites: ‘elcome’ it reads. Or maybe not. A mossy eyed marble head peeps above the crackling carpet leaf, offers an earthy grin. The frost of socks that dangle from the line tingle a thought of toes. Close-by a rag-doll, missing button eyes, holds up an arm. And rusted me, nursing these pots of thyme, to scent an April day. A dapple of moths flutters on lips; the flit and fret of finches far away. No child plays here.

Phil Wood


Aurora Awake She sits in the window-seat, counting stars as the clouds drift by. She knows that in a few moments another cloud will come, obscure the sky beyond the poplar grove, and she’ll have to begin the count again, one two three. For a moment, as night swallows the kingdom, she’ll be back in empty, floating dark, with the chill of winter in her heart, her belly. But she knows she must keep her eyes open, breathe slowly to calm the wild pulsations in her chest, and stay awake: because the cloud will pass, the stars will come out, and the count can begin once more. One two three... forty-eight forty-nine fifty... In the bed behind her, her prince sleeps the untroubled slumber of heroes. At first she used to sit up and watch him, touch the marks on his bare back and arms, trace the tracks burned into his skin by briar thorn and dragonfire. He never stirred at her touch. Her own scar, that tiny pinprick on her white fingertip, seems such a small thing in comparison, yet it gnaws at her from inside like frostbite. Outside, the night rings with such noise, yet he sleeps on, heedless. The clatter of the late night stagecoach, the rattling mail of the changing of the guard. The cries of owl and nightjar in the forest beyond the palace, the relentless susurration of leaves in the wind. She picks up her book, lays it aside again. The night is moonless; it’s too dark to read. She remembers the merchant from the north who came to pay respects on her wedding day. The last man in a long line of well-wishers whose faces had swum before her like debris washed ashore from a shipwreck. He brought a wagon-load of ice from the mountains at the top of the world, further north than she had ever been. The ice wagon was filled with exquisite golden berries, unlike any that grew in the kingdom, and when she placed one in her mouth she tasted sunlight reflecting off the sea. For than instant, she forgot the dark. All she wanted was to take a great handful of the golden berries and cram them into her mouth until the sweet-sharp juice ran down her chin and stained her wedding gown with sunshine. Cloudberries, the merchant called them. They grew in a land where the midsummer sun never set, where the sky was bright with rainbows and the flash of the arctic tern. For a few short weeks they carpeted every mountainside with gold, adorned it with sunlight. And when the summer


passed, and the dark encroached upon the mountains, the berries would release their captured light and transfigure the dark with ribbons of gold and green and crimson, and it would be as if the whole sky were singing. That night, after her prince had spent himself inside her, she screwed her eyes tight shut and tried to imagine the burst of berries on her tongue, their light dancing in the sky. At first, she could hold back the dark. But with each day the memory faded. That black emptiness called her again, clawed at her. It tore at her from inside, split her open, her blood hot on the bed sheets. Her heart cold, her pinpricked finger numb. She fights it now, with whatever trick she can. She dare not close her eyes. She listens at the window to the conversations of guards on the battlements below: will the harvests be generous, who’s sleeping with whose wife. She reads when the moonlight allows, picks out patterns in cross-stitch, her finger hard to the point of the needle. Counts the stars as they appear behind the clouds. Waits and waits for the dawn. In the sky above, the briefest kiss of light. It must be a trick of aching eyes, she thinks at first. But now her tongue is flooded with a memory of sunlight, cold and sharp and sweeter than anything she’s ever tasted. Something in her moves. There’s an unfamiliar heat beneath her skin. She rises, takes a long look at her sleeping prince. Opens the bedchamber door. She’ll leave him there, this moonless midsummer night. Leave him to his dreams of fatherhood and dragon-slaying. Take the road through the poplar grove, past the merchant’s house, and on into the mountains; further north than she has ever been, to the land where the dark has no power. She’ll pick cloudberries and eat them until the juice runs down her dress. She’ll sing to the midnight sun, teach her daughter the song of the everlasting light. And when the sunlight passes, she will lie on her back in the snow, and watch the dark come alive with gold and green and crimson fire, and know the true meaning of her name.

Andy Humphrey


Fairy Curtail She whom with natural human susceptibility crafts stories of woe as shields to combat satanic seduction shall be everything. A false king bent with black kisses shall push his fingers through her milk throat, her throat is her breast feeding babes with tales. She shall take her sword and plunge it in the king’s damnable depth of faces – equivocator, wretch, demon. She’ll bind his severed head, cracked rib within a walnut shell.

Grant Tarbard


Seal Woman Deep sanguine the sun cloaks the cliffs beneath which soft whistles echo and salmon kiss fishing boats A woman appears, her undulating hair framed by a sliver of mist that shifts to veil her silhouette once more Hauling herself on their bowsprit the enchantress numbs their boat wild song nets from her glass Their eyes baited on her thigh fishtail the dooming granite heights overwhelm and they know the nearest landing to be a lifetime rowing away

Petra Vergunst

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The Doppelganger Riddle I dreamt of ghosts caught in the thick of a sycamore tree. As one sun set behind the hill, another rose slow in the distant east. The rank apparitions were silent, unhurried – they revolved about God's canopy like Saturn’s rings. And each wraith bore my helpless face – and wept as one. I held an apple in each hand; two fleshless horses took them whole – their eyes were wild, their fierce teeth white as marble. I saw myself waving, summoning and tried to speak; there came no words, or passed for words in this spectral hell. I awoke to find that I was alone in a dream of trees without ghosts.

Simon Cockle


Grave Robbing The bone yard by the sea is where he drowned me My teeth are cold where I bit my cheek Holding coins for Hades underneath my tongue Fox-tails comforted me up ‘til now But in the woods the crows hold their vigil, still Each shriek and their feathers fly Out of cavernous eyes In calcified Skulls Dug From the mausoleum The ghost of a full moon rises And sonar waves violently Spread out a route For all the bats Owl talons shred the ground Ripping up the pieces of Eurydice’s broken crown The morning glory sings of Orpheus In an opiate haze he fades In and out A ghost whistling as he haunts The nightshade and the hemlock

Alise Versella


I’ll do the talking They walked into the woods carrying briefcases. When they explored as children, Harley left trails of pebbles. The twins were adults. Their stepmother had died three months earlier. They would not turn around if they found what they were looking for. They never gave up their sweet dream. Harley was an attorney. Her brother, Galen was a salesman. They parked at the edge of the woods and tied on walking shoes. They would search until nightfall. They could stop and read work papers when they tired. “When will we find it Harley?” “Soon.” They had searched for twenty years. Their father died when they were in kindergarten. Their stepmother left them alone when she went to work. They wandered further into the woods every day. Their true mother read them fairy tales before she died. The twins remembered pictures of Hansel and Gretel. “The candy will be sweet, Galen.” “It’s worth waiting for.” They didn’t stop to look through their briefcases. They walked into the darkness. “Should we keep searching, Harley?” “We’ll find the candy cottage.” A black cat stared at them. They followed it. They dropped their briefcases when the cat ran and reached a clearing. The fence around the cottage started to glow. “The skulls on the fence posts are flaming, Harley.” “This is a different wise woman. I’ll do the talking.” Law school and moot court is excellent training for dealing with the witch, Baba Yaga. Harley convinced her to spare their lives and retain them as


advisors. Even a wise woman needs an attorney and financial advisor. Galen managed Baba’s investments and diverted profits to buy candy. The three companions became friends who lived in the woods happily ever after.

Laura Beasley


Purifying Shepherds Smoke from burning droplets of blood from the tail of last October’s sacrificed horse ashes of the stillborn calves the shells of beans. We are sprinkled with water, wash our hands in spring-water, drink milk mixed with must. Towards evening after shepherds fed their flocks, laurel-branches are used as brooms to clean their stables, water sprinkled through them, then they are adorned with laurel-boughs. Shepherds burn sulphur, rosemary, fir-wood, and incense, usher the smoke through the stables and the flocks to purify them. Cakes, millet, milk, and other food is offered. Hay and straw bonfires lit cymbals and flutes play as sheep and shepherds are run three times through the fire. At an open air feast we sit or lay


on turf benches and sup a lot. Casks filled last autumn opened offered to Big Boss wine tasted for first time.

Paul Brookes


Auspices One’s a wish two’s a kiss, and so on. Though not much further, usually. Everyone knows the magpies up to seven – they were on children’s telly years ago – but this is a thing your granny used to say and who remembers all that forever after? Sneeze five times and you’re left to wonder what’s in store. Five wishes? Or a kiss and a disappointment?

Judith Taylor


I know not if I sink or swim Three score years ago, I found you. You leaned your forehead towards mine. Murmured, “We have already met.” “Beg your pardon, miss?” You weren’t local. You had the sweetest voice, but no Cornish burr when you spoke. I couldn’t have come across you before. I hadn’t left the surroundings in all my twenty years. You said, “It was when you were out on your boat in the thunder. You were cast overboard.” I frowned. There had been such a night, but my memories of it were ragged. After the stars had been blotted out and the rain had begun to fall in its cascades and the lightning had flashed, and the wind had spoken, had screamed, and the water had loomed like phantoms, all that came back was the cruel sea. The shortness of breath, the wicked current, the iciness, the roaring in the ears; my nose, my lungs, all the vessels in me filling with endless ocean; the pain of drowning, the pain… I don’t understand how on earth I wasn’t swallowed. I’d been roused on the sands by Ailla Trelawne, a girl I’d known since my schooldays. She’d been the only thing I’d noticed: her curls, her scarlet lips. She’d wrapped her coat round me and the numbness had seeped out. I thought I would have remembered you. I hadn’t seen another woman with your silver eyes. You were determined to be speaking the truth. Mystery was entwined with your loveliness. It was wonderful: I took you and I married you. The stained glass formed a glow that settled against your cheek. We left the church, and sat on the cliff, your dress fanned out against the chalky soil, because you wanted to drink in the white horses with your faraway gaze. When our silhouettes lengthened, we retreated to the hotel on the headland. You lay with me as the sun sank into the choppy brine below. * I rented us a little house with no stairwell and a hearth at its core, for log fires in the gales. I trusted our union would mean waking each morning to the sound of your voice as you twisted your long hair, like honeysuckle, with deft fingertips.


“A ship there is, and she sails the sea. She’s loaded deep, as deep can be. But not so deep as the love I’m in: I know not if I sink or swim.” Your song stopped shortly after the wedding. You began to sigh with the waves. You’d lie abed, weeping. “What devils dance under your skin?” I would ask. “Every step,” you’d whisper, “is like treading on knives.” I should have clutched you in my arms. Recalling what I lacked shatters me. My only defence is you were not the coy girl I had found on the rocks, nor the smiling angel in white satin at the end of the aisle. You weren’t the beauty I had carried across the threshold, with the giggle and the pulse and the promises. You’d become hollow. I’d leave you between the sheets. Sneak away to meet Ailla, my head rolling back to when my boat was wrecked. I was drowning once more. She shielded me from the pull of the tide. * I was woken by the glare of the moon on a silver surface. I looked up into your face, and saw tempests and wildfire. You knew. Your arm was raised and tilted, the dagger’s blade poised to break my heart as I’d broken yours. I screwed my eyes shut. Braced myself. No strike came. A primeval howl. Tears ran off your jaw and dripped onto the lace of your robe. You jumped over the window ledge. You were a ghost; pale, barefooted, gone. I chased you through the winding streets, your shouts leaping off every stone wall, my sobs of remorse failing you, over and over: I couldn’t stop you – I halted at the shoreline. Near weightless, you’d always been out of my reach. Your eyes were the last piece of you I saw. Beautiful eyes, they were. Cobalt haemorrhaged through the heavens. Dawn’s first light glowed on the horizon as you vanished into the bay. *


The coastguard questioned me, but the townsfolk were disturbed in the rumpus and witnessed the lot. It was suicide. I wanted to adorn you with flowers, but your bones were never found. Perhaps you had dissolved to a drifting mass of seafoam. I can’t bear to think of that. You stumbled into my soul, unsteady on slender legs, and left a message there, making me love you. I loved you as if you were the North Star and I were a lost liner. I was foolish enough to stray. I know nothing of where you hailed from, but Ailla confided that she hadn’t saved me from the wreck, the angry night on which you’d said our paths first crossed. Instead, an ethereal being had delivered me from the hungry whirlpool and carried me to safety. A creature with hair like ivy winding itself down the bricks of a castle turret, she said. A silver-eyed woman. Your sweet voice may as well have been muted by dark sorcery for all I listened to it. I married Ailla when spring returned. She gave me the child you and I weren’t blessed with. Yet between us now lay shadows. One cold Tuesday she fled, baby and all, to a faraway city. I’ve been flailing in the currents since. I long to disappear myself, and return to you. I search for you not in the waters, but in air. In mist. In sunlight. I hope I shall find you again.

Olivia Tuck



Biographical Notes Cover artist Suzanne Rancourt is Abenaki/Huron decent, born and raised in the mountains of West Central Maine currently residing in the Adirondack Mountains, NY. She is a multi-modal artist with work appearing in Slipstream, Dawnland Voices, The Muddy River Review, Ginosko, Journal of Military Experience, and numerous anthologies. Her book, Billboard in the Clouds was the winner of the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas First Book Award. Ms. Rancourt is a USMC and USA veteran. Writers Denise Blake’s poetry collections, Take a Deep Breath and How to Spin Without Getting Dizzy, are published by Summer Palace Press. She is a regular contributor to Sunday Miscellany RTE Radio 1. She does Creative Writing facilitation work in schools and with Adult groups. Denise is on Poetry Ireland’s Writers in the Schools Directory and the Irish Writers Centre mentor scheme. www.deniseblake.com Noel Williams is co-editor of Antiphon (antiphon.org.uk) and associate editor of Orbis. He mentors other writers, reviews for magazines such as The North and Envoi and was Resident Poet at Bank Street Arts Centre in Sheffield, his home town. He publishes internationally and has won a few prizes. His PhD was on the word “fairy” in lore and literature. Cinnamon Press published his collection Out of Breath in 2014. Website: noelwilliams.wordpress.com Phil Wood works in a statistics office. He enjoys working with numbers and words. His writing can be found in various publications, most recently in The Lampeter Review and Clear Poetry. Andy Humphrey is a poet with a fondness for mythic fiction. He has published two collections of poetry, A Long Way to Fall (Lapwing, 2013) and Satires (Stairwell Books, 2015) and has had short stories and flash fiction published in various anthologies. His writing draws inspiration from the natural world as well as fairy tales and folklore. His ambition is to prove that dragons really did exist, and probably still do. www.andyhumphrey1971.webs.com.


Grant Tarbard is the author of Loneliness is the Machine that Drives this World (Platypus Press). Follow him on Twitter at @GrantTarbard. Petra Vergunst is a writer based in the northeast of Scotland. Inspired by local landscape and heritage her work investigates the multi-layered relationships we maintain with our natural and historical environments. Her narrative poem Embrace will be published in March 2017. The above poems were written as part of Edgelands, a poetry project in which she investigates the relation between land and sea. edgelandswriting.wordpress.com Simon Cockle is a poet from Hertfordshire. He writes as part of Poetry ID, a Stanza of the Poetry Society. His poems have been published in iOTA, Prole, The Lampeter Review, Algebra of Owls and the London Progressive Journal, amongst others. He was invited to read at last year’s Ledbury Poetry Festival as part of the Poetica Botanica event. He teaches English in a local comprehensive school, and has a wife and daughter who nod reassuringly when he reads them his poems. Alise Versella is the author of Five Foot Voice, Onion Heart, and A Few Wild Stanzas. She is a contributing author for Rebelle Society and her work can be found on Elephant Journal, Woman's Spiritual Poetry, and Ultraviolettribe. Laura Beasley, the Grandmother who Tells Stories, lives in California. More than twenty of her short stories have been published. Paul Brookes was poetry performer with "Rats for Love" and his work included in "Rats for Love: The Book", Bristol Broadsides, 1990. His first chapbook "The Fabulous Invention Of Barnsley", Dearne Community Arts, 1993. Read his work on BBC Radio Bristol, run a creative writing workshop for 6th formers broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live. Forthcoming this summer is an illustrated chapbook called "The Spermbot Blues" published by OpPRESS. Judith Taylor lives and works in Aberdeen. Her poetry has been published widely in magazines, and in two pamphlet collections - Earthlight (Koo Press, 2006) and Local Colour (Calder Wood Press, 2010). Her first full-length collection, Not in Nightingale Country, will be published in Autumn 2017 by Red Squirrel Press. www.sometimesjudy.co.uk Olivia Tuck is twenty years old. She lives in Wiltshire with her parents, her sisters and her dotty Cocker Spaniel. She entered and won her first writing competition when she was six and hasn’t stopped scribbling since, producing


flash fiction, short stories and poetry. Olivia studied English Language and Literature at A-level, and has been a ‘Wicked’ Young Writers’ Award finalist. She intends to start reading English and Creative Writing at university in 2018.


Previous Publication Credits ‘Ring of Echoes’ by Noel Williams was first published in The Dawntreader.