Three Drops from a Cauldron Midwinter 2017
Three Drops from a Cauldron Midwinter 2017
Edited by Kate Garrett with Becca Goodin, Loma Jones, Holly Magill, Amy Kinsman, Penny Sharman, Grant Tarbard, and Claire Walker
Three Drops Press Sheffield, UK
First published in 2017 by Three Drops Press Poems copyright © individual authors 2017 Anthology copyright © Three Drops Press 2017 Three Drops Press Sheffield, United Kingdom www.threedropspoetry.co.uk Cover image is used under the terms of the CC0 Public Domain license.
Just let me sleep
Does Eating Pumpkin Make You Dream?
The Wolves of Midwinter
The sinister season
Fourteen Ways to Become a Druid
Mallt Y Nos
The Flax Bleacher’s Daughter
Dark moon, Midwinter
In the Meadow in the Woods on a Midwinter’s Night
Raven at Solstice
Licking the Spoon
Fairytale of a First Christmas
Y Fari Lwyd
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Waiting for Epiphany
Previous Publication Credits
Just let me sleep On dark days like these, just let me sleep duveted under down or leaves and country counterpanes. Don’t be fooled by confused buds or mistimed flowers seduced by heat and diverted streams. Observe the lack of light. Leave a notelet written in frost on the wicker door ‘Knocker up not needed.’ Don’t let me uncurl, stretch and yawn leave me one of three bears wrapped by Green Man and Osiris. Don’t open shutters mid-way, leave blinds half-mast, gently pull away the straw from the nest wherever I’ve hidden. If false seasons trigger the Springed Alarm handle me with garden gauntlets keep spares in the glove box and boot in case I wander disorientated after sleeping, unused to early mornings. Don’t fence me in, I’ll need to follow the lanes and hedgerows. Leave those hobo Huckleberry holes in fences. While Atlantic Weather Fronts line up dead Ash trees scaffolded with Severn Cormorants and landing lights are needed in the morning, On dark days like this just let me sleep.
Does Eating Pumpkin Make You Dream? The local kids had their fun day at school – the whole store full of dressy-up. A blood-spattered schoolgirl – ripped pinafore, tattered socks. Bride of Dracula, backcombed hair, holes on her neck, flimsy veil of cobwebs. Pirates, nursery vampires, children’s faces chalked grey with paint, coal-smudged sockets, a drawn line of skull’s teeth. Babies sitting in trollies, done up adorable, drooling inside the foam-fabric shells of fat tangerine gourds. Any amount of spangled witches in green nylon wigs and purple puff-sleeves, skeletons, bandages made up with gore. Barely knee-high to the counter, a pocket Freddie Kruger pushes back his flopped fedora, near misses his eye with his four-bladed glove, smiles like a gummy bear. And me? I came as a pissed off checkout operator – scrunched uniform, stretched out, clown-style artificial grin that says, y’know, if you push me, I just might bite. At least, for a few days the ghost in aisle 14 will feel at home. She thinks nobody sees her. I do – endlessly up and down the freezers, passing through the breathy clouds of cold air, poking around each cold compartment, trying to open the doors. She’s frosted, as if she has always lived under snow – beads of ice on each lash. I know she is working on down to the peas. Her transparent hands cannot close on the packs, though she tries. This place is full of souls, stuck on the last thing they did. The woman choosing onions. The man at the deli, pondering ham. The teenager by the magazines, thinking it’s got to be time for home. Shoppers stomp over their feet – reach for beans through their ribs. We are all of us living in loops. I don’t know how to fix this for me – I got old and nothing I tried has ever worked out. I don’t know how to fix it for them – I don’t know the manner of their end. It’s a racket, I guess – same as all these holiday things. Buy a costume, hold a party, walk the streets, trick or treat, fill tubs with jellied balls, lollies, any amount of garish rot. He got older, my son – now I don’t have to walk him in the rain, tiny reaper, miniature door-to-door peddler of death holding out his bucket for sweets. I miss that he was little but I don’t miss that. I wish I had the stomach for more pumpkin – so many ways to cook but I am sick of them all, have chopped the rind, scooped the flesh, roasted seeds. Crates by the doorway groan with their weight while bats hang on strings above, grin 12
their pointed teeth, flap with crepe paper wings. I’m getting biceps, passing them over the till. Last night, I dreamed of marmalade, glassed in a giant jar – it wept for the loss of itself as oranges, soaking up sun from the trees. I dreamed that a giant in stripy trousers came to steal me away from my nest – his shirt was buttoned with stars. He held me against his chest and I drank his tears. I dreamed that the sea was a seersucker dress, my boat a ravaged hand – it opened its fingers to let in the pimples and pleats. As I drowned, the sea became a slither of sweetpungent skin and I woke with the taste of soup in my mouth. Come November, landfill will belch with a thousand, thousand pepo remains. Beneath the sugary horror of spoil, still the roasted tinge of candle smell from when the lanterns blazed from doorstep and window like fiery Pompeii. The Jack-o’s did their job this Hallow’s Eve – burned their embers against the ghouls. At the dump, they gnash their stumps of knife-cut teeth – domes collapsing behind their smiles. Their work done another year, they wait to be buried by winter’s slow-huffed sigh. It’s a long wait for the dead. They wanted to be stews. They wanted to be pies.
The Wolves of Midwinter Once the hour goes back they reappear, nervously at first, maybe stamping out a cigarette in the lane beside the bank or hiding behind a broadsheet in the dark corner of a cafĂŠ. As the days draw in they feel emboldened, switch from white to red, circle in lambswool and loafers, padding lounge carpet like snow, the blood of last yearâ€™s victims already returning to their lips.
The sinister season A dog bark and distant car alarm day. Thin pigeons take fright, fly and startle me. This city’s caged woods are lonely lately, in cacophony trees howl decay. A solitary magpie lingers last as the north wind blasts backstreet ginnels, boxing ears and spewing festering smells all crumpled up into pockets, like time past. The terrible, inevitable fall comes with a chill that never stops shocking, stripping branch and bone, its gnashers knocking until we’re curtain-twitching cowards, all. Would that I could outwit this wind with wings to wear no tread on weary road ahead, raise a dawn chorus like Eos instead, but already I can feel the frost set in. It is no mean feat forcing feet to March when bad omens are all we’ve got, when the sinister season’s ripe for rot with needle-drop, black cats and yellow larch. Stock up on sugar and cinnamon spice. The sky is sodden, how can it catch light? Make bodies bonfires to burn through the night, carve new faces, yield to every vice. Reborn from this unliveable darkness we must rally, recover, rise once more. Can you take another round? Are you sure? For I’m afraid I’ll come back changed, heartless.
Lonely Road It’s a lonely road. Of course it is. Early winter, bare trees line the tarmac, and when the car headlights hit them coming over the humpback bridge they look like skeletal arms against the inky sky. It’s pretty eerie. Exactly the kind of place where a driver might expect to spot a creepy hitchhiker. Someone who will have scattered your chopped up body through the forest by morning. It’s not a place where any sensible soul would stop to pick someone up. Here’s a car coming now. A Mazda. Middle-aged man at the wheel. He’s tired. It’s been a long drive, nearly nine hours already. Still miles to go before he sleeps. All he can think about is how good his pillow is going to feel when his head finally hits it. Bon Jovi blasts from the stereo, keeping the man awake. And here’s the hitchhiker. Emerging from the darkness of the trees, stepping into the glare of the headlights, tentatively raising a hand, his thumb raised in the typical gesture for requesting a lift. He’s not particularly frightening. Late 20s, maybe, average height, short brown hair. If you called a casting agent and asked for the British everyman, he’s what they’d send you. The Mazda driver glances up from his speedometer, sees the hitchhiker, slams on his brakes, swears. He wasn’t paying close enough attention to the road. That could have been nasty. A sweat breaks out across his receding hairline as the unpleasant surge of adrenaline subsides. He looks at the hitchhiker’s hopeful, ingratiating smile, mutters “Prick” under his breath and speeds away, flipping the young man off. The hitchhiker melts back into the darkness. He sighs. Well, he tried. Not his fault the guy didn’t stop. He’ll just have to wait for the next one. Could be hours, though. Not many drivers on this road since the new one was built. A few hours pass. Another car approaches, a little silver Nissan Micra. There’s a young woman at the wheel, barely 20, not long passed her test. In the passenger seat, her best friend, a bag of unsold band merch on her lap. They’re chatting about the gig they just played, how shit the sound guy was, how it’ll all be easier once they’ve saved up enough to move to the city. The young woman spots the hitchhiker well in advance, which gives her time to win a brief argument with her friend about whether to pick him up. “There’s two of us and one of him,” she says. “We’ll be fine.” The Micra comes to a halt and the passenger side window is rolled down.
“We can take you as far as the town,” she says. “I can point you towards the Youth Hostel.” “Much appreciated,” he replies, and swings his backpack off his back. It’s a three-door car, so the best friend has to get out so that her seat can be pushed forward to let the hitchhiker in. He scrambles into the back, arranging himself amongst their cables and speakers. The passenger seat is repositioned, the best friend gets back in, and off they go. The driver is a chatty, friendly kind of girl, so she tells the hitchhiker her name and asks for his. She gets no reply. She thinks maybe he’s gone straight to sleep, looks in the rear view mirror… and sees nothing. Just their kit and an empty seat. With many backward glances and utterances of “What the fuck?” the girls stop the car. He’s definitely not there. They look outside. He’s back in his original spot, dimly lit by the Micra’s tail lights. They back up, roll down the window, ask if he’s all right. He says he is. They can’t think of a polite, non-insane-sounding way to ask whether he disappeared from the back seat. The driver just apologises profusely and they go through the process of cramming him and his backpack in beside the equipment once again. The driver moves off slowly this time, as if she might have somehow jolted him out of the car on the first try. She keeps her eyes on the rear view mirror for as long as she can, but after a few seconds her every instinct is screaming at her to check the road, so she flicks her eyes to the tarmac ahead. All clear. Back to the mirror. He’s gone again. She stops the car again. He’s back by the side of the road. The driver’s hand goes to the gear stick, ready to put the car into reverse, but her friend stops her. “Don’t,” she says. “This is some weird shit. Just keep going. Get us out of here.” The driver does. The hitchhiker watches, darkness enfolding him once again as the silver Micra disappears round the corner. He hopes they’re not too spooked. If she keeps a steady pace, she’ll miss her danger moment altogether. A deer will dart out from the undergrowth, just as the hitchhiker knows it must, but by the time the Micra reaches that point the animal will be long gone. The driver will not swerve to avoid the deer, and she won’t wrap her little silver car around a tree. He wishes he could have done the same for the Mazda driver. By now he’ll have reached his home town, a drunk driver will have gone straight through a red light, and the Mazda driver’s exhaustion-slowed reaction time
won’t have been quick enough to save him. The Mazda will be scattered across that junction. This knowledge lies heavy on the hitchhiker’s heart. He’d spare them all if he could. But they have to pick him up, and he understands why they don’t. It pains him to think that people see him as an omen of death, but it’s a small price to pay for the lives that he saves. Dawn arrives. The hitchhiker rests. The days are short, and he has a long night ahead of him.
Winter We are cut off from the mainland again; a pile of unopened letters sits in Donaghadee; there is flour and salt and treacle in the grocer’s, bags of coal and paraffin to fill the empty tins but the boat keeps close to the harbour wall. Tide in, tide out and the beam of light, and a distant moon – waxing and waning. Still, the bread is baked and the butter churned, the blocken cured and the rabbits trapped, mussels are plucked from the island pools and pickled in jars on larder shelves. The firewood is neatly stacked. Tide in, tide out and the beam of light, and a distant moon – waxing and waning. Inside the lamps are lit and curtains pulled while out at sea the wind and waves confront each other in torrents of eddies and pools and the gulls circling above the spume could be vultures in the thick sea-mist. Tide in, tide out and the beam of light, and a distant moon – waxing and waning. But we know what the darkness brings; it drags us from sleep into nightmare, lost in fog we’ll be struck by ship after floundering ship; forced into the driving rain, where muffled voices call from their wreck. We’ll run to the shore to save all we can. Tide in, tide out and the beam of light, and a distant moon – waxing and waning. In a place such as this, we are used to the ghosts, but not to their dying; never to the bodies of young men washed up on the shore, with their puffed up faces and gaping sockets where the eyes should be; or the tiny crab emerging from a silenced mouth to scurry, ever sideways.
Persephone naked white and pure in this center chamber of my realm instructed by your mother not to eat nor drink while you remain holy Persephone blessed amongst women seed dangled before your lips does not tempt you but left on the table for you to see it might, just. *
This is not a story where a compromise is reached. No six months in the underworld and six in Nisyros for us, holy one. You may plunge your hand into the fire I built between us on this altar. You know this but remember it: 20
the darkened skin will mark you. You are welcomed here, revered worshipped those beloved of the underworld are not so above *
Holy one we sing you hymns of praise. Persephone you need not fear this valley the wails you hear the screams praise your name. They sing yea we who walk through the valley of the shadow of death are blessed in your presence they sing our mother who art on Earth holy be thy name they sing let the fruit of our father pass your lips stay with us stay with us stay *
Between your visits I wander in this chamber in the corridors surrounding it beat the charred
bricks with my fists and await your return. The bargain I struck with your family was a harsh one limited but these moments with you stolen from that well-lit world are worth the pain in my knuckles. It is not always like this. I have the choice of any in this land it is my right as lord but none of them can quick the life within my veins as does the smile that touches you as you promise to come back when youâ€™re allowed Those lips! To kiss them. To kiss them I would leave this castle, cross the blood river that separates our worlds, claim you for my own before your family, world, and deities, but it is not my place. I am lord within this realm but powerless
to leave, to come for you. I would give my realm to kiss those lips, Persephone, o holy one. *
You have returned and stand before me hand on mine lips parted I would kiss you Instead I build the altar fire place my hand within witch your fingers tremble ever closer
Fourteen Ways to Become a Druid To become a druid, you must immerse yourself in druid lore, and for this purpose should wear a bathing suit, or at least paint yourself blue as the druids did during eclipses, perhaps in emulation of the penumbra, perhaps because of the ready availability of a sacred mushroom from which they made blue pigment. You should immediately commit to memory that fact that the word “druid” means “Knowing (or Finding) the Oak Tree”. The druids frequented oak forests where they performed secret rites – or as we would say today, arcane rites – at midnight despite the risk of contracting poison oak. If anyone disobeyed the decree of the druid judges who were omnipresent in the days before court congestion, he was barred from sacrifice (viewing it, not being it) which was considered the gravest of punishments. The reason the druids were marked by a dog-like devotion to the oak tree was the mistletoe that festooned its branches, crucial to the ceremony called Culling the Mistletoe, which means to gather it, no mean feat at midnight. Robert Graves (a kind of druid-come-lately) elucidates that “cutting of the mistletoe from the oak by the druids typified the emasculation of the old king by his successors – the mistletoe being a prime phallic emblem”. But there is no need for the upcoming modern druid to go beyond the simpler manifestations of the ceremony. At a later day, the druids turned their backs (apparently collectively) on the phalliced oak grove mistletoe bit (perhaps out of a new-found modesty betokening a significant step toward civilization) and transferred their ceremonies to Stonehenge (thereby transferring their allegiances to a womb emblem under the growing influence of druid priestesses whose ascendancy was facilitated by the depletion of priests caused by their falling out of oak trees in their frantic attempts to Cull the Mistletoe). The appeal of Stonehenge, as Freud would have surely pointed out had he gotten around to it, stems from the childhood practice of playing with stones, though the Stonehenge biggies make that impossible in the accepted sense, and any other sense is completely unacceptable. Also, there is all that solstice stuff – the winter solstice rites and the summer solstice rites, of which the latter are more popular with your modern druid, as lying prone on the ground waiting for the sun to surface over the heel stone can be debilitating in the snow. Summer solstice rites waiting allows time for gamboling on the grass (a traditional druid pastime which puts paid to the claim that the druids were all business). Gamboling fell off with the Pict incursions, usually timed for the druid solstice ceremonies to catch the druids unaware, an otherwise difficult 24
task, unless they were having a go at the sacred mushrooms, in which case the Picts would down their clubs and begin picking the mushrooms themselves (hence the origin of their name “Picts” and also the origin – the mushrooms being fortuitously the same that provided the blue pigment – of the Picts’ custom of painting themselves blue, which was easier than hunting pelts for clothes and got the jump on winter’s turning their bodies blue from cold). Another way to become a druid is to jump into druidship with both feet, as ancient druid initiates were presumed to have done from the heel stone, which is how the heel stone is thought to have earned its name; i.e., from the heel marks thus caused in the sacred Stonehenge turf. Over the years the jumping formed the ring of holes circling Stonehenge, a new hole being chosen when it became difficult to haul the initiates out of the old hole, the block and tackle not having been invented as rugby had not yet evolved (see below). Needless to add, the jumping ceremony constituted perhaps the holiest segment of druidic ritual, if a soupcon of mirth is not amiss. If you become a druid, you will follow in the footsteps of not only Robert Graves, but that druid's druid, D.H. Lawrence. He was so taken by the druids (not literally, though he would have luxuriated in it), or Druids, as he capital-D’d them in homage (a daring concept faithfully if somewhat servilely followed by Graves), that he wrote a poem stating exactly where he stood – “Under the Oak” – which in pertinent part reads: For I told you Beneath this powerful tree, my whole soul’s fluid Oozes away from me as a sacrifice stream At the knife of a Druid Again, I tell you, I bleed, I am bound with withies, My life runs out I tell you my blood runs out on the floor of this oak, Gout upon gout Above me springs the blood-born mistletoe You can’t get more druid than this. Or maybe you can, if you’re Robert Graves evoking the vision of the Naked King crucified to the lopped oak, and watched the dancers, red-
eyed from the acrid smoke of the sacrificial fires, stamping out the measure of the dance, their bodies bent uncouthly forward, with a monotonous chant of ‘Kill! kill! kill!’ and ‘Blood! blood, blood!’ The modern initiate need not carry out the ceremony in all its particulars. Another method is Dru-id Yourself (my little bon mot), utilizing the best-selling book How to Become a Druid and Make Money Doing It. Although this book may be helpful to some would be initiates, a caveat is in order: it tends toward commercialism. The discerning reader my protest that fourteen ways to become a druid have not in fact been enumerated. If you insist on being so logical, the mysteries of druidism are not for you.
Sympathetic Magic Winterâ€™s geometry cuts the year into a mystery of two halves, and one has made a pact with death. Step up to the December door, lean sleetwards, to the waiting dark, past families and flu bugs, to the dagger branches of the trees, pillaged by the wind to a needled nest of ice among the early stars. For weeks, the stars have been talking to us, imploring, singing, searching for a body and a name; outside, in the visible cold, it is simple; the sympathetic magic of light.
Winter Guests When itâ€™s below zero coldness radiates through window glass Jack Frost hovers outside paintbrush in hand Sweep the kitchen clean wash the counters pour some creamy milk into a jar and set it outdoors with buttered warm bread Load the fire with cherry and birch watch the dance of flame and shadow
Home-hunting The traveller â€“ dazed by acid-yellow fields, cornflower sky pierced by hawks and poplars, cloud-shapes of leaves, feathers, towers â€“ listens to urban folk talk of stark scenes in black-and-white, cities drawn Gothic with spires, shadows, nuances of grey; wanders a winter in ancient woodland where brambles tug ankles; stumbles among twisted roots, deadfalls, lightning-tree totems; sleeps on leafmeal while the forest shimmers in its glaze of refrozen frost and implies possibilities of a hot, crackling hearth.
Falling You watch from afar as I shed my skin, become the wolf you’ve always known. Its your turn to gaze, to shiver in moonlight, fingers of wind on your silken spine. The fire makes masks of your muted face, of your white dress flickering gold and gray. Your hands nervous birds that flit at your sides, as if to take you far from this place, where the river spits mirrors of light to your left the forest breathes dark sweat just to your right. You must have known a darkness like mine would swallow whole a sky full of stars. Far-off boys’ laughter twists through the woods, kids playing games under cover of dark. Like me, they hide, then hunt their prey, seeking the thrill of an endless descent, though into what, they do not know. I fall in and out of my senses, my head that throbs with the thoughts of an ancient beast, is no longer mine, but I’ll give it to you, I’ll spew out my tale to be snatched by the night, watch your eyes on my animal self, until my words no longer make sense, turn into howls that ring hollow with loss.
Chasing Shadows “Come on! Rise and shine, Aybelline!” Aybelline scrunched her eyes, tightly. “…I’ll be there in a minute, Mom…” Her eyes opened. Roof-tiles rattled above her bed. The wind crashed against the windows. The sharp, reflected light of the snow beamed through the curtains and into her eyes. She swung her legs off her bed and into her work boots. Their leather was heavy, and stiff enough to stand up on their own. She’d been living in the same layers of clothes for days. Aybelline shivered. “Aybelline!” “What?” “Go check the chickens!” “Okay!” White feathers, flecked with red, were scattered all around. Thick blood coated the straw. Everything living was silent. She stepped back out, shutting the door behind her. The trees were weighted down by a thick layer of snow but the ground was only sprinkled with white. She saw, in front of her, where her prints had crossed another’s. They led up to the edge of the woodland where matchstick trees loomed from the thick frosty mist. A black furred vixen stood at the edge of the whiteness, staring. Clumps of meat and white feathers hung from its jaws. The vixen vanished. Aybelline used half-melted snow to wash her hands in the kitchen sink. The pipes had frozen long ago. She scrubbed and scrubbed, until the slush turned pink then dried her hands on an old rag and threw the rag aside. Collecting her father’s revolver from the empty pantry she began loading the last six bullets she owned. “Aybelline? What’s wrong?” “Nothing, Mom,” she said, “I’m going out hunting.” “In the snow? With your father’s revolver?” “Yeah.” “What’s happened?” “Nothing, Mom.” Aybelline sighed, checking the gun’s sights. “What’s wrong?” Mom asked.
“I left the barn door open, last night, and… a black fox shredded the chickens. It ran off. The eggs are all broken. The, meat is ruined. We’re not going to survive with what we have left.” “Well, we can try?” “No. We had a tiny chance before. Now?” Aybelline sent the gun’s dark heft clattering across the kitchen table. “Now all I’ve got is this.” She said, “I screwed up and nothing’s going to change that, so…” “So you’re going to kill it? What then, Aybelline? You know killing a wild, hungry animal isn’t going to change anything either, right?” Aybelline didn’t answer. “Throwing yourself into danger isn’t going to bring those chickens back…” “I know.” “It’s not going to bring me or your father back either…” “I know! Okay?” She said, turning around to face her. But her mom wasn’t there. “I just—!” The echoes of her voice traveled through the corridors of her empty home and back again. “I need…” she said, to the empty space, “I can’t…” A constant, hollow, gale howled at the window and moaned low at the door. Aybelline felt her breath shudder as she leaned against the kitchen table. For the first time, Aybelline felt weak. She collapsed down into a chair and sat staring at her own boney hands resting on the table. They slowly curled into a fist, as pain hummed throughout her body. Her parents had been heading to the trading post when the blizzard struck, blocking the northern passage with snow. The fog rolled in and turned the whole world to white. That was a long time ago. After a week, alone, her mind had started to play tricks on her. She’d started talking to herself. After a month, she’d started talking back. Aybelline dried her eyes and nose and swept her fingers through her long, knotted hair. She looked around every shadow in her home. “No more ghosts.” Slipping the revolver into her belt, she opened the door to the wind. The slam of the door was deadened by the snow. Even the wind felt quiet, outside the house. There wasn’t a structure to rattle against. She found the fox’s tracks and traveled on through the woodland, her eyes focused on the path and the marks the vixen left behind. It was snowing
again. Soon the marks would fade. Soon no-one would ever know about the fox or her mistake. An hour into her search she heard the fox and froze. The vixen screamed for her pups. She listened. The vixen called out again… nothing… Aybelline slipped through the low hanging branches until she came to the edge of a steep slope. The tracks continued down. Something snapped under her boot. It was a chicken’s wishbone. She knew there was no going back. Gingerly placing one foot onto the slope, and the next, she made her way, halfsliding, down the hillside. One leg slipped. She fell onto her back and tumbled, and rolled, striking bumps sharply, and landed, crashing her head, at the bottom. Her mind darkened. When she awoke everything hurt. Breathing hurt. Her eyes focused on the dark, cold, and starless sky. She turned her head. Shadows surrounded her. One crept forward. She eased herself up onto her side. The vixen stood, staring, vaguely curious but cautious of this new and alien presence. Aybelline scrambled. The vixen ran. Four gunshots echoed for miles, paused, then rang again, and again, and then… ‘click! click! CLACK!’ …And now the fox was gone. Snowflakes plummeted through the darkness and Aybelline was lost. Everything was lost. All context had been erased and all she could do was walk. Maybe someone would find the revolver she’d left abandoned, somewhere, buried in the snow, or the house she left empty, but all there was now was the wind and the snow and the shape of a woman, walking. Soon her body started to prepare a warm space inside itself so her mind could sleep. Wasn’t that nice? All she wanted now was somewhere to rest. She fell face first into the ground. Nothing could hurt her now. The snow was soft and warm and dark… “Come on! Rise and shine, Aybelline!” Aybelline smiled, weakly. “…I’ll be there in a minute, Mom…”
Thermals He always kept things warm for me â€“ the front door, the bed, the teapot. He had these thermal fingers heâ€™d press on to things, a kind of laying-on-of-hands that could defrost a frozen chicken. Once, when there was a power cut, we made toast on his palms and even managed to boil up a small camping kettle to make tea. When he was around frost wouldnâ€™t settle on the window panes. Cats curled around his legs as if they were stove pipes. When he was around our breath was invisible. The air had no angles. He nudged the whole, cold world to the liquid edge of melting but if I wanted ice he gave me ice.
Frozen The night Death called for Alice, he pressed her doorbell hard. She was watching TV, half asleep, slumped in her favourite chair. She wondered who on earth it could be so late at night. She pulled a jumper over her flannel nightie, and opened the door an inch or two, with the chain on, just like she’d been told. ‘Yes?’ she said to the dark shape she could just make out in the gloom. The figure turned round. The man was wearing a dark suit and a red tie. He was handsome and soft voiced as he replied ‘Alice, Alice?’ She knew that voice. It was her husband. ‘Where have you been?’ she accused him. ‘Your tea was ready hours ago; I had to throw it away’. ‘Never mind that’, he said. ‘Aren’t you going to let me in?’ She closed the door to release the chain. This felt odd. What was he doing coming home so late? She had a feeling he had been gone for a while, yet why would she have prepared a meal for him if she wasn’t expecting him? There was no denying the scraped out sausage and mash in the bin. He came into the hall, but made no move to go into the lounge where the TV still mumbled to itself. He just stood there, locking her in his gaze. ‘Where have you been?’ she repeated. ‘Alice, I’m sorry I stayed away so long.’ What was he on about? ‘I’ve been so far away, for so long. But I want to take you home now.’ Home? Yes, he was right. This place wasn’t quite home, she’d often thought so. ‘Come, Alice. We’re going out on date.’ ‘I’m not dressed for it.’ ‘Well, you look just fine to me. You won’t need fancy clothes for this date.’ He led her out of the door. ‘Where are we going, Arthur?’ ‘I told you, love, home. Back where we used to live. Remember the cottage?’ Of course she did, that was where she had been happiest, bringing her babies into the world, running her kitchen, making do and mending, proud of her ability to budget, while Arthur worked and came home tired into the warm sitting room, with the smell of a good stew to comfort him. It was bitterly cold outside and she could feel the frost on the ground through her thin slippers. She shuddered a little, but he wrapped his arm around her to keep her warm. He felt cold too, but somehow it warmed her to 35
be close to him and hear his encouraging voice in her ear. Soon, she barely felt the chill wind cutting through the old jumper. Arthur was carrying her now, as if she was a little girl, as tenderly as he had held their daughter, the baby that didn’t make it. The pneumonia took her when she was three, a little cute dot with her dark curls and her chatty ways. Alice hadn’t thought about Grace for years now: it hurt too much. Arthur mentioned her now. ‘Alice, Grace is waiting for us. You’d like to see her again? She’s all grown up now, quite the lady.’ Surely Arthur hadn’t forgotten that she had died? He wasn’t making sense; he must be getting forgetful, like her. ‘Nearly there now Alice. Remember this road? The cottage is just down here.’ He set her down gently at the door of the cottage. She tried the brass door knob. The oak door was locked. She ran to the window. No-one was home and the furniture was all different. She wanted to be inside. Arthur was standing back, watching her. He shook his head. ‘We’re not going inside, love. Someone else lives here now’. Alice started to cry, to bang on the door. ‘No, love’. Arthur shook his head. She lay down in the doorway, on the step. Suddenly she felt chilled to the bone, and so tired. She closed her eyes. If she tried really hard, she could imagine a warm fire. She was burning with cold, like when you touch snow for too long. Arthur reached out his hand, also like ice. ‘Look’, he commanded, ‘Here’s Grace’. Her daughter, as she would have been, all grown up, with her fair skin and deep blue eyes, tall and stately, reaching down for her. ‘Come on, mum.’ she said. ‘It’s all fine now’. Arthur took one hand and Grace the other. When she got up, her body didn’t come with her. In the morning her son received a visit from the police. His mother’s body had been found lying on the doorstep of her former home, now part of the university buildings. She had left her sheltered flat the previous night for no apparent reason, and died of exposure on the coldest night of the year.
Tara A. Elliott
Thicket The forked path predicts nothing— a solitary raven rides the current above the brambles, feathers rumpled beneath the arching oak’s arm. Light falls down here & struggles to climb back up; roots are chicken claws rifling the forest floor. Pink tongue plucked from tender lips swollen thick & peppered with ants, Red is now dead, a peony toppled in late spring. The Woodsman wasn’t who she thought he was. And the wolf, little more than a dog with bared teeth gnawing endlessly on his own hind foot. The heart of these berries bleeds black.
Skyfall While we slept, the sky fell Left the round moon hanging In a blank black space, Scattered across town Over everything, smothering Houses, rosebushes, swings. It had brought the cold Down with it, the gusting wind Rippled with sky fragments. The sky gave under my feet I left a trail of footprints To the corner shop and back. As the sun rose, the sky Drifted up to meet it, a duvet Thinning to a blanketing. Soon only clumps of sky Were left, stuck to the corners Sulkily refusing to go home.
Krampus Misconstrued Too easy to stoke the fire of blame in obscurity â€“ a disciplinarian father, a jolly distant cousin, his own stature of daunting proportions â€“ he wished to set the record straight. If not for a gastropod-snag of horn, an annual visit marked by bleak, hoar-frosted winter, he thinks heâ€™d be confused for nothing more than a simple alpine goat of verdant grass fame. Alas, he is adorned with the constant jingle of chain, of silver branch, his bad rap of switching children precedes his gentle streak, shrouding his love of soup, bright star and night sky.
Sin Eater Open liver upon liver parted by greying cool skin. Bony fingers tear at animal flesh, warm fat tumbles from chewing mouth droplets of golden spittle fall onto the unmoving chest and rolls down a stiff arm. The feast is laden in cruel display, fit for the leaden king under it, eaten by the beggar. A human maggot absorbing transgressions. Adultery enters soul. Ignorance enters soul. Violence enters soul. While God clears room in the dead for himself. A stomach lurch, heavy with richness. Tears and drooling, he rummages for leftover crumbs on his panting chest. The corpse, now clean. The boy, now sodden in sin. He wipes his greasy mouth with the back of his dirt encrusted sleeves, dons a crown of old fur, and leaves a king.
Mallt Y Nos Sometimes at a crossroads you’ll hear her as the earth tilts on the longest night halting her fiery mare with steels reins and iron-hot crop her eyes burn like furnaces as she listens to the wind for answers she knows he won’t give, she cries to her hounds of the sky that once again she is lost, devotedly they come to her bid, guiding her close to the ground, ever searching for other lost souls reciting her long repented wish if I can’t hunt in heaven I’d rather not go.
The Flax Bleacher’s Daughter They found the flax bleacher’s daughter drowned in the mill dam, naked, cold as swamp, haltered by the wet swaddle of her hair, eyes open, blacker than bird cherries. They carried her to the chapel, properly shawled and veiled, the drench of hair coiled and wrapped, pennies blanking the pools of her gaze, to be laid out in the small light of beeswax candles which opened the dark in constellations. She couldn’t rest but lay waiting under turf and heather, creeled by sycamore roots, hollowed and caved by the consuming seasons to socket and bone, lured from her anchored skeleton, a soft glimmer at the lip of the dam, a curve of light breaking the surface, a stream of silver spilling over oily water. The chapel, now little more than a garner of stone, crumbles inwards, eroding under a pall of bindweed, its rafters, once the roost of souls, unrigged by gales and colonised by rooks. The flax bleacher’s daughter whispers, stirring the night air, rousing bat and barn owl, pursues her secret into a niche of light.
Hex Last night a vast halo circled our nearly-full moon â€“ entire, perfect, shining, wide. We wondered up from the step rattled indoors to check bashed books and online photos. Together, we learned how ice crystals form to refract in cold spring air. We wrapped up our precious, glacial new truth, still felt the witchâ€™s eye stare.
Lupine The wolf in my mother’s heart stalks along the mantelpiece flipping Dresden down in a shatter of porcelain. It sleeps under the sofa where ribbons of blue dust slip into its nostrils and its snores are an indigo cloud. It is bewitched by the casual art of shadows tastes their outline in its metamorphic mouth. The wolf in my mother’s heart hangs its coat in the hall wipes its feet on the mat sheds fur over chair and sofa. It prowls the fickle dark stealthily marks the garden with its scent digs up old bones to gnaw away at the marrow. The wolf is eating my mother’s heart. Her eyes a glow of amber as she brushes her winter pelage. She speaks in snarls in the rasping yap of a howl the helix of her breath speaking of forests, wild places and an unquiet moon. At dusk she sheds herself slips into his skin. When she kisses me goodnight I feel my cells changing my flesh prickle with bristles as she turns from the silver bullet of my tears.
Fenris Being northern people they were pessimists; as the days grew short saw the sun pursued by Fenris Wolf: huge, red-eyed, iron teeth; and wondered if this time heâ€™d win. Knew that in the end their gods would die in ice and fire, and darkness come. Now Decemberâ€™s here, Fenris is at my heels, black, grim, savaging all joy. I walk faster, activity can keep him away for a while. Hammering words together gives the sun power, but that chill breath, stinking of despair, drifts into nightmares of ice and fire.
Dark moon, Midwinter We step into a muted world. Night wicks the grass grey, streetlights nibble a fuzzy edge around the park’s obsidian heart. Retreat into the friendly pitch swallowed by oil-black. I’ve never understood why we’re supposed to be afraid.
Lisa Fusch Krause
Baltimore You tell me I can’t catch a snowflake, scattershot, burning, or find a dream on the corner of angst and anger I don’t need your censure A centaur stamps on icy cobblestones, his breath steams in the biting cold The streets of frozen Baltimore won’t stop me; what memories I own of you, I hold in my mother’s colander I walk toward magic; my steps take me far from you
Magickal This precious plant of the winter solstice hangs from a beam in our house. I cut its beloved sprigs on the sixth day, and am blessed with a bounty of berries, witchery fruit born on the sacred oak. White conjures nightly dreams of wonder. My child, Boudicca, wears an amulet of its wood as a talisman against werewolves. I am afraid of thunder. My husbandâ€™s kiss beneath its hanging bough ensures peace. Candles and red apple rosettes reflect my faceâ€™s sheen.
In the Meadow in the Woods on a Midwinter’s Night “You are going? Now?” He paused, half bent over, coat heavy around his shoulders, furred hat low around his ears. The rabbit was already stuffed into his pack, along with the clay bowl of honey sealed with wax, and the jar of mead. He set the last apple from the autumn harvest atop the rabbit; it was dried and wrinkled now and barely filled his palm. Pressing his hand against the table to lever himself upright, he frowned across the kitchen at his daughter-in-law. His grandson squirmed in her arms, bits of pierogi sticking to his fingers, and the firelight etched her face with dark lines of exhaustion. “Yes.” “But… it is so cold out and…” And there is a war and there are soldiers about… “Why?” Her voice cracked. “It is pointless.” He scowled. A fine girl, his son had called her. Well-bred, from a good family. Too fine for his small farm and house and odd, old ways. Too fine to hear why it prospered when so many fell to bugs and storms and drought. No sooner were their vows spoken then his son had returned with her to the city, and not looked back. No letters, no visits, leaving him alone to carry on. Then the war came and his son went off to fight and the city was burned and bombed and his little farm was the only safe place for her and the baby. “Not pointless.” He closed the bag and slung it over his shoulder. “I shall return before dawn.” He stepped outside, leaving her muttering. It was cold, the sun long set. The moon was fat, the stars sharp. The apple trees creaked in the wind, straining under the weight of thick icicles. Tying on his snowshoes, he set out past the barn filled with content cattle, chickens, and pigs, and into the forest. The woods swallowed him whole. The wind fell away, the moon peeking occasionally through the furry evergreens and the bare oaks and hornbeams. Here and there, the white bark of birch groves gleamed. His shoes crunched, and his breath curled across his cheeks. The moon was high, just shy of midnight, when he reached the meadow. There was no name for this place. It had no need of a name. It was known to him as it had been known to his father and his grandfather and his
grandfather’s grandfather, going back to days so ancient they were now barely remembered even in song. It was a small field, not quite a circle. A stream cut through one side at an angle; now, it was a frozen crack of silver dusted with snow. Here and there, dried grasses poked through the drifts. And in the center, a simple stone, flat on the top, stained by the offerings of generations. He untied his snowshoes and leaned them against a tree. Stepping gingerly, sinking a few times to the top of his boots, he made his way across the meadow. Sweat dried on his neck, and he shivered. Pausing before the stone, he lifted the bag over his shoulder. The wine first. He tugged off the wax seal and the cork, poured a bit on the rock, and then set down the jug. The scent was so strong that he could taste it on his tongue. The honey next, the wax peeled away just enough that he could pour a few dribbles. He set the clay bowl beside the wine jar. Then the rabbit, fattened and freshly killed. A quick death, neck broken, not a drop of blood spilled. And finally the apple, still wrinkled. He laid it against the rabbit’s furred belly, and slowly straightened. And she was there, towering, easily the height of three men. Naked, but for the cloak of many furs that hung around her shoulders. Long dark hair streaked with moonlight, eyes bright and slitted. Great moose antlers, broad and flaring, grew from her skull; the tiny skulls of birds dangled from the tines, tinkling. Leather strips wound round and round the spear in her hand, the flint head stained dark. A lynx studied him curiously from the shadows within her cloak. A second, darker shadow stretched behind the great cat; wolf eyes blinked, hungry, and he caught the glint of teeth. He swallowed hard and spread his hands. “An offering for you, Great Lady, as ever and always, a thanks for your many blessings and your protection.” She speared the apple, swift and sure, and lifted it to her lips. Sharp teeth bit down and the apple disappeared. Then the rabbit, flesh tearing, bones snapping. She draped the skin between her antlers, and the blood rolled down through her hair. The clay bowl was licked clean, the wine jug emptied in a single swallow. Still licking her fingers, she finally spoke. The sound made his heart stutter. “As ever and always, I am pleased. Your lands shall prosper. What additionally boon would you ask of me?” “My—my son, Great Lady. Will he return safely?”
She considered him for a long moment. Then she tilted her head back and sniffed, tasting the air. She tore a branch from a hornbeam, peeled back the bark, studied it. She knelt, lifted a handful of snow, considered the tiny crystals carefully. The lynx peered over her arm, nose twitching. She tilted her hand and the snow fell with a plop. She rose, the tiny skulls dancing. “He shall return, but not as he was. He will have forgotten his true name. Do not bring him here again. On the longest night next, bring the child. I shall give him his name, as I did you, and he shall come to honor me, as you have, as ever and always.” His head dropped, grief numbing his tongue, and he was barely able to whisper the old words. “As ever and always.” And he was alone again in the meadow in the woods on a midwinter’s night.
Solstice trees gaze down silently at shivering reflections as chill water circles their roots midwinter heaves its Janus head to face both ways and counts the days dusk fades, the shortest day is sleeping, seeping into longest night transfixed on the axis of the year natureâ€™s see-saw hits the bottom with a bump a glimpse of light leaks weakly through the darkness frozen briefly into midnight stillness the year is turning, turning, memory fading into future hope
Corpse Road The Oak King takes the slow road to the clearing in the center of the forest. The end point is always a clearing in a forest, though the forest itself changes by the year. Sometimes it is in the undergrowth-choked temperate rainforests of the northwestern part of the continent, and others it is in the pine barrens along the eastern coast. These alternate with coniferous forests, lowland forest, rocklands, and hardwood forests. Luin has died in every one of them at least once, every year on this day. This time it is a rockland in the far south, and pinecones and longleaf pine needles litter and carpet their path instead of heavy snow. His Lady walks beside him, hand held limply in his tight grip, and he knows that the sorrow in her slim frame battles with her burning desire to see Farin again. They walk the corpse road to the clearing, knowing that when they enter it, only one will walk out. His wife will leave with a man who is not him. As the trees thin, he glances down at her slender hand. How he loved her, and how he knew she loved him. She glances up at him then, smiling a smile he knows is meant just for him. It is a smile that not even Farin sees; the one reserved for dances in fall leaves and similar to the one she bestows on the villagers who thank her for her bounty. She looks just as she did months ago, biting into a crisp apple, eyes alight with anticipation. He knows he isn’t the same, shoulders stooping with the weight of the season and aching with the cold. It is a sensation she will never know. “I love you, you know,” she says. It is the same conversation they always have on the way, with her not quite apologizing and him not quite accepting it. “I do,” he says. He does not say that he understands that she needs two husbands, one for each half of the year, for he doesn’t quite understand it himself. He just knows that she needs it, and to have her for even one month out of the year is a blessing, let alone six, and he knows her other husband feels the same way. Farin waits in the clearing ahead. He is tall and strong; young in a way that Luin was only months ago. All Luin can think about now is that at least it will be quick. He turns to their Lady, and before she can protest he pulls her into his arms, searing her mouth with a kiss he knows must last the next six months until he can win her back. She kisses him back, and he feels tears soak his beard. 53
“It will be alright,” he says. It is what he always says as the end nears. Steel rasps behind him, and he barely turns from her in time to catch it with his own blade. It is a quick battle, and soon he is lying on the ground watching death nibble away at the edges of his vision. “Take care of her,” he chokes out as the blood fills his lungs and he wheezes out the last of the air in him. He feels the earth and the leaves slithering over him like a blanket, and darkness swallows up everything but Farin’s face before it takes even that. It wraps him in a shroud of warmth and he goes to his half-year rest, content in knowing that the King of Holly will take care of their wife until he of the Oak bursts from the earth in the summer to take up the mantle of husband and God again.
Raven at Solstice An eve of solstice manwomanchild mass thickens woodland clearing, stamp-stamping earth below lofty oak and evergreens in company of unseen ravens, transmitting intention in echo of croak and kraa across brittle oak-smoked midwinter morning air punctured by amber-orange flame, scents of cedar, cinnamon, spiced apple and cider; soft notes, hum of carol and prayer, tales of sacred connections: Glastonbury, Llantwit Major and Stonehenge; Newgrange and Maeshowe; myth of Baldur and Odin â€“ mystery of ravenâ€™s return, releasing first shaft of solstice sun, blood sacrifice from dead heart of winter as heads turn, slowly, towards spring.
David J. Costello
Snowman One year the snowman lasted several weeks. Its icy stump persisting into spring. In summer she discovered lumps of coal, a rancid carrot top, the sticks sheâ€™d used as arms. She took them home and kept them in the cold she stole with his front door key, reading glasses and his wedding ring.
Hosanna Edinburgh’s sharp frost thaws as your fierce fire sparks. Too swollen to button up tight, you cradle fecund fullness. Day’s deep dark is no match. Ice melts from castle walls, Green Men grin and toast wassail with the Kings of Holly & Oak. Winter’s wolves skulk off, wedding guests cloak spindles. Seeing you, the flaming centre of gravity, chilled shoppers smile. No need for xmas shopping, you carry the perfect gift. A babe.
Licking the Spoon As the huge putty bowl appeared so did I, abandoning Narnia and the fire with poppy red coals. My nine year old ears finely tuned to those cupboard hinges. Grandmotherâ€™s apron tied in a rush as one loop dominated the messy bow. Flour dust sat in her curls and was smeared on her cheek like an Indian chief. The scales appeared with the electric whisk, which now lies in my dresser. It blended fruit and eggs, butter softened in a cosy kitchen, flour and toffee coloured sugar, with clever spice pinches from small glass jars. Maybe a splash, a shout of festive brandy to prolong its life when itâ€™s snugly wrapped in foil and baking paper. The large metal spoon was always offered, as the tin slid onto the middle shelf where the magic unfolded. I can taste it now, decades later the sweetness stark against the blatant metallic, the raisin cinnamon burst, a shooting star of memory.
Snowball Every year it starts earlier and comes later. Or seems to. Or is that just something people have always said, like kids these days? Either way, since September she has itched. Can’t turn her head without copping an eyeful of promise, red and shiny. But as it gets closer, it seems to lose momentum. Everything is diluted now. She sits, E-cig in one hand, lemonade in the other. She picks at a bowl of nuts. Another once-a-year thing. The cashews remind her of his fingernails. Once she painted them, his nails, in a festive colour scheme. They were both drunk on the brandy she couldn’t pronounce, a whetstone sound. They never did it again but every year after he would raise them, glossy and glittering, and laugh. Pretty? Pretty. Still the wait. At first he comes gradually, out of the shadows and edges, as he always has. Between the sundered cardboard boxes, the pulse of the lights in tinny time to Little Drummer Boy, a long lick of wrapping paper. She drops her vape and it rolls leisurely off the table. She reaches for it and it’s right then, final and sudden. The wolf-on-a-bonfire smell of him. Here. Drink? He says. The sun’s over the yardarm somewhere in the British Empire, she says, which she knows makes no sense to him. His hooves spark on the floor. Which considering it’s lino she’ll admit to being impressed. He makes a swooping bow and comes up with a lit cigarette, a real one. Oh they don’t make ‘em like him anymore. But he has seen the acorn before the oak and he will see the sand after the mountain, so they don’t have to. He crushes her flimsy plastic consolation underfoot and they get comfy. He runs his tongue’s tip down the inside of his wrist, splitting his bristled flesh. His blood is thick and cool and as yellow as the suns on the drawings on the fridge. She exhales and clamps her lips to the wound. Sweetest from the source, this once-a-year thing where you can forget, because he’s here to remember for everyone, that there can be no indulgence without abstinence. No pleasure without payment. No black without red. Her eyes roll back. I must go, he says, like they do. Then she’s waiting again 'til next year, if there is a next year. But she’s not one to begrudge. She sits back, relishing the taste through gulps of lemonade and the shrieks from the other room. It’s for the kiddies really, isn’t it.
Fairytale of a First Christmas Our first Christmas was a thousand miles away with just the two of us, in love with first names. In the morning the Sunâ€™s rays shone through your ratty nightdress that I loved so with tinsel threaded through, numbed to the revolving outside of our core. We spun around an imagined band of gold, a plastic garland's matrimony with the TV in silence, a chorale of smiling faces muted. Iâ€™d like to rest my head on that memory before all these small things become weary of us, with you, with two heartbeats hidden away in your nest of fire. Our last Christmas will be held together with stretched elastic bands covered with a liberality of faded glitter, as cold as a struck match.
Window Dressing Ella is the most glamorous Virgin on Oxford Street, as alluring as a naughty thought on a dull day. She had been a sensation at the Royal Academy Summer Show. Thousands had seen her and the department store owner became obsessed with her. Had she been real and not a mannikin he would have married her. Now she sits in his shop window to be gawped at by an even more people. Ella is made suitably festive for the Christmas season. Her body is oiled and gilded, her face decorated. Toe and finger nails are painted the most alluring, most hypnotic flamboyant crimson, layered until it is the exact colour and translucency of a perfectly ripe pomegranate. Finally she is dressed in the wildest, most extraordinary expositions of the couturier’s art. Crowds who never go to art galleries come to gaze at her beauty. She sits as she is placed, silent, apparently serene. She could be an angel. Every second day, before the shop opens, the lights are dimmed and a curtain is pulled across the window. Window dressers come in to tidy the display, to change Ella’s clothes. They undress and redress her as if she were a child, talking all the time as if she is not there. “Better get this right, they’ve got that bright new photographer coming today, whatsisame, you know the one who does all the covers.” “Too late for “Chic” but it’ll be on the telly with that Kog Win feller.” “Fashion pages of the dailies more like.” “Pity about “Chic”, though, it’s always nice to be up at the top, those pictures are seen all over the world. This velvet’s ok.” “Not very practical and the sheep don’t really go. They’re bloomin’ heavy. That one’s winking at me.” “Nonsense. They’re all wood and woolliness. Christmas, you’ve got to have sheep and a manger. Last year it was camels…” When everything is complete the lights come back on, the curtain opens. Ella is on display again. All day passers-by stop to gape at her loveliness. The silent audience requires no response from her. She is an object to be admired. She is alone, apart from the sheep, for the first time in her life. She absorbs the smoothness of the silk, the furriness of the velvet, marvels at the night-sky blue of the sapphires, the red wine savour of the rubies and the starbright icy hardness of the diamonds until she is filled up with the glitter and the gorgeousness. All day the relentless repetition of Christmas carols vibrates her wooden body. Ding dong, ding dong, jinglebelling all the way from her feet to 61
her head. Memories crawl from their subliminal holes: mad Henry chattering away, faster and faster, his hands full of brushes, paint in his hair. Ella’s hands twitch. Her life before The Painter is a blur. She remembers a concatenation of colour, a thunderstorm of music and voices, and speed whizzing round and round like a carousel. Those dizzying revolutions turned her flesh into wood. Then nothing, only darkness. Her mind spins, circling the past, the present, her possible future, like a dog prowling round a bone. At night, when the steel mesh shutters come down behind the window glass to protect the dazzling, intricate, poetically beautiful clothes and jewels, it’s possible to look through the interstices and behold the fabulous Ella, posed artfully in attitudes of languor or haughtiness. Sometimes, if the viewer is concentrating too hard or not hard enough, there is a flicker, an intimate suggestion of movement, so that it appears that Ella has changed position. Is it beyond possibility that her right leg is now crossed over her left instead of the reverse, or has her carefully manicured hand turned up instead of down? The voyeurs are uncertain. They watch for a while longer then go home shuffling slowly through the seasonal snow like old men. Each night Ella’s gaze seems less distant, a little softer. She draws sustenance from her admiring audience until the moisture of her eyeballs glistens like all the tears in Hollywood and her stare meets those of the watchers outside the glass in the yeasty dark. On Christmas Eve the shop staff are in such a hurry to go home they forget to turn off the music. The vibration becomes unbearable. Pain starts as pinpricks. The soles of Ella’s feet feel as if she is standing on boiling ice. Her toes begin to flicker like candle flames. Her legs prickle and pulse as the burning, the stabbing, the bruising of the returning blood crawls past her knees and her thighs, tingles along her backbone and ribs, finally pinging about inside her skull. Her teeth start to click together, clickety click. She stills her jaw as her tongue explores the inside of her mouth. The hairs on her head rustle as life flows into them. Finally she is all woman. She steps out of the window into the stillness of the shop, abandons her stolid flock to watch over the manger. And knowing, for she had watched the people on the street and listened to the chatter of the window dressers, that a full length evening gown of palest blue velvet sewn with diamonds, pearls and innocent emeralds, is not really practical, she dresses herself in warm woollen trousers, a soft cashmere jumper, covers it all with a supple leather coat, all taken from the plastic mannequins standing unmoving in the darkness.
She lurches into the night. As she becomes accustomed to her new remembered limbs, her walk changes from the ungainly gait of a young giraffe to the smooth sensuousness of a leopard in her prime. Ella’s on the hunt, searching for Farringden Street and the offices of “Chic”. She cannot help herself. Being the centre of attention, the object of desire is all she knows.
Y Fari Lwyd skulls and verse are not usually associated with good luck so when a large white horse knocks on your door demanding you match him in rhyme you note those are your neighbourâ€™s feet poking from the sheet and the mad eyes of the steed are familiar tongue twisters that dash around like frazzled moths and as the year turns you invite chance in tell him to put his hooves up and have a beer next year Mari Lwyd will reappear from the basement dazed by fireworks skinned to the bone and braying the most beautiful verses
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
(what I learned from Carlo Rovelli on twelfth night ) These lessons were written for those who know little or nothing about modern science; for whom red berries augur snow; for those who stand on the shoulders of giants with divining rods, and foretell sorrow when a lone magpie breaks the morning’s silence. First, then, that space curves – that we go where the dark architecture so inclines; that nothing itself is truly so; we exist only as our lives entwine; that the universe’s nature is to grow, into the white ache of cosmic defiance – an echoing emptiness although in truth, the void is teeming with diamonds. Fifth, there is a degree of artistic licence in the matter of space and time – both illusory, though a snag in perception admits chance and heat, that sweet seasons may flow. Last, that to be at home here is our triumph; we’re in and of the stardust. Even so – when a lone magpie breaks the morning’s silence with a divining rod and foretells sorrow for those who stand on the shoulders of giants, for whom red berries augur snow – little or nothing is about modern science; these lessons were written for those who know.
Waiting for Epiphany It’s time to wind down, tidy up, tidy away. Liturgical traffic-lights switch from white to green, winter to spring. We will ritually disrobe the Christmas tree: strip its faded branches bare of the crystal teardrops (from a chandelier that once hung in some posh Edinburgh townhouse), the golden bells with little silver bows, the owls made of tin and the balsa-wood reindeer, the wee dogs and mice and birds in calico and felt, the spray-painted pinecones. Then the fairy lights. I’ll miss their hot, zany flashes and pulses. They keep the long nights at bay; it’s really too soon to put them away. But everything must go back into tissue paper, cardboard boxes, carrier bags. The tree, which has cheered us for weeks, will be banished, naked, to the storm-tattered garden to await collection, next stop landfill. Today the festive wreath came indoors, its berries beaded with the rain that has been falling ceaselessly for days and nights. Its gilt dusting says it is trying to stay sprightly, without much success. In the street’s sodden dark, rainwater trickles loudly into the drainage system, chortles like a mountain burn. I’ve found some chocolates to eat. Yes, I know it’s one-thirty in the morning. But they’re from a box opened at Hogmanay. I can feel virtuous. Wanting, not wasting. Tomorrow will be for sensible eating, ordinary life, Januarial responsibility. Bloody January again. We measure our lives by these domestic cycles all the years’ refrains
Dwynwen Misting the frost from my brow, The virgin ground spread before us, A page waiting For your holy words To fill it – But we linked hands In the muffled silence, Lobbed snowballs Through scuffed scarves, Making angel wings Of our love. Later, when the snow melted, Excaliburs of crocuses Stabbed out spring From the earth, And you held my hand in yours, As, tender-cold, I tried to hold The vision of your face, Just then – that moment – Solid, not melting.
*Saint Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers, whose special day is celebrated throughout Wales on 25 January. She lived in the fifth century and legend has it that she fell in love with a young man named Maelon. In the popular version of the tale, her father refused to let them marry. Other, darker, versions say he threatened to attack her, and he was turned to ice as a result. Overcome with grief, Dwynwen prayed for three requests: that Maelon be released from his ice prison; that, through her, God look after all true lovers; and that she remain unmarried. She retreated to Ynys Llanddwyn, off the west coast of Anglesey, where a shrine to her still remains.
Imbolc A hollow bone gleams pale in the dry grass, the hare long dead, picked clean and turned to flesh by fox and crow. This winter morning as earth tilts towards the sunâ€™s imagined flush, seeds stir in the ground and, under ice, fish dream flowing rivers as day repeals night. Crone reborn as Maiden seems a bit much but the yellow crocus, the snowdropâ€™s white bell prompt us, as darkness falls, to conceive the light.
Writers Steve Harrison was born in Yorkshire and now lives in Shropshire under the shadow of The Wrekin or just off the M54 on his non-poetic days. His work has been anthologised in both Emergency Poet collections, by Wenlock Poetry Festival, The Physic Garden, several Charity Publications, Pop Shot and Poets’ Republic magazines and appears in this seasons Wetherspoons News. His online appearances will include Riggwelter, Fair Acre Press and Poetry on Loan. He regularly performs across the Midlands and he won the Ledbury Poetry Festival Slam in 2014. Jane Burn is a North East based artist and writer originally from South Yorkshire. Her poems have been featured in magazines such as The Rialto, Under The Radar, Butcher's Dog, Iota Poetry, And Other Poems, The Black Light Engine Room and many more, as well as anthologies from the Emma Press, Beautiful Dragons, Poetry Box, Emergency Poet and Kind of a Hurricane Press. Her pamphlets include Fat Around the Middle, published by Talking Pen and Tongues of Fire published by the BLER Press. Her first full collection, nothing more to it than bubbles has been published by Indigo Dreams. She also established the poetry site The Fat Damsel. She was longlisted in the 2014 & 2016 National Poetry Competition, was commended and highly commended in the Yorkmix 2014 & 2015, won the inaugural Northern Writes Poetry Competition in 2017 and came second in the 2017 Welsh International Poetry Competition. Runner-up in The Interpreter’s House Poetry Competition in 2017, Maurice Devitt was winner of the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland Competition in 2015 and has been placed or shortlisted in many competitions including the Patrick Kavanagh Award, Listowel Collection Competition, Over the Edge New Writer Competition and Cuirt New Writing Award. With 200 poems published in Ireland and internationally, he has a debut collection upcoming from Doire Press in 2018. He is also the curator of the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies site and a founder member of the Hibernian Writers’ Group. Kristina Diprose is a quarter of Rhubarb at The Triangle, a monthly poetry and prose night in her adopted hometown of Shipley, and a regular reader at Yorkshire spoken word events. She is published by Stirred Press, Route 57 and Algebra of Owls, and in the Un/Forced Rhubarb anthology. Her work has recently featured in Marsden Jazz Festival’s Poetry in Shops exhibition, and placed 2nd in the 2017 Ilkley Literature Festival open mic competition. Jen McGregor is an Edinburgh-dwelling-Glaswegian-raised-Dundonian. She was a finalist in the Great British Write Off and SMHAFF Awards. Her plays have appeared at the Traverse and Piccolo Theatre of Milan. She’s been published by New Writing Scotland, Bare Fiction, and 404 Ink, including smash-hit anthology Nasty Women. Twitter: @jenbitespeople. 69
A former teacher and graduate of the MA programme at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Stephanie Conn won the Yeovil Poetry Prize, Funeral Service NI prize, the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. Her first collection, ‘The Woman on the Other Side’ is published by Doire Press and was shortlisted for the Shine/Strong Award for best first collection. Her pamphlet ‘Copeland’s Daughter’ won the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and is published by Smith/Doorstep. Her next collection is due out in 2018. Find out more at www.stephanieconn.org Robert Beveridge makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry just outside Cleveland, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Pulsar, Tessellate, and Scarlet Leaf Review, among others. Larry Lefkowitz’s stories, poetry and humor have been widely published. His humorous literary novel, "The Novel, Kunzman, the Novel!" is available as an ebook and in print from Lulu.com and other distributors. Writers and readers with a deep interest in literature will especially enjoy the novel. Lefkowitz’s humorous fantasy and science fiction collection, “Laughing into the Fourth dimension” is available from Amazon books. Ali Jones is a teacher and mother of three. Her work has appeared in Fire, Poetry Rivals, Strange Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Snakeskin Poetry, Atrium, Mother’s Milk Books, Breastfeeding Matters, Breastfeeding Today and Green Parent magazine. She has also written for The Guardian. Her pamphlets Heartwood and Omega are forthcoming with Indigo Dreams Press in 2018. Elaine Reardon is a poet, herbalist, educator, and member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. Her chapbook,The Heart is a Nursery For Hope, published September 2016, recently won first honors from Flutter Press. Most recently Elaine’s poetry has been published by Three Drops from a Cauldron, Black Poppy Review, MA Poet of the Moment, Poetry Superhighway, and several other literary journals. She’s recently been heard at Brattleboro Literary Festival, and Great Falls Spoken Word Festival. elainereardon.wordpress.com Lesley Burt’s poetry has been published in magazines and anthologies, including: Prole, Tears in the Fence, The Interpreter’s House, Sarasvati, Reach, and The Butchers Dog, and online, including in the Poetry Kit website, Algebra of Owls, Strange Poetry, The Poetry Shed, Ink Sweat and Tears, and Three Drops from a Cauldron. Awards in competitions include first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly (SLQ) competition August 2016. Shannon Cuthbert’s poems have appeared in Red Booth Review, The Montucky Review, Prick of the Spindle, Emerge Literary Journal, and Poetry Quarterly, among others. Based in Brooklyn, she also enjoys covering environmental
issues for organizations such as Sierra Club and Wildlife Conservation Film Festival. Joseph Allison was born in Manchester in 1992. He was brought up by his father (a Church of England vicar) and mother (a primary school teacher) in the Calder Valley with his two older siblings. In 2014 he graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a degree in Creative Writing with a First Class Honours. He currently lives in his family’s home in a small town near Bradford where he’s a voluntary writer for the debt charity, Christians Against Poverty on their website’s blog and magazine. He also writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, in his free time. Gaia Holmes is a free-lance writer and creative writing tutor who has worked with schools, universities, libraries and other community groups throughout the Yorkshire region. She runs ‘Igniting The Spark’, a weekly writing workshop at Dean Clough, Halifax. She has had two full length poetry collections published by Comma Press: Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed (2006) and Lifting The Piano With One Hand (2013). She is currently working on her third collection which will, amongst other things, deal with gaps, sink holes and rambling houses.. Angela Topping is a widely published poet who occasionally writes prose and flash fiction. She is a former writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library. Tara A. Elliott lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with her husband and son. She is the founder of Salisbury Poetry Week, and has poetry published in The Loch Raven Review, the TAOS Journal of Poetry, The Write Like You’re Alive Anthology, The Ekphrastic Review, and forthcoming in The End of 83. Charley Reay is a Newcastle based writer from the Lincolnshire Fens. Her poems are published by Obsessed With Pipework, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and Smeuse among others. She also performs on the North East spoken word scene. You can find her on Twitter @charleyreay Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, Alaskan. When not exploring the summer lands and dark winter of the Yukon, she lives in Sitka, Alaska. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing (University of Alaska Anchorage) and recently published her first collection of poetry Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017). Bethan Rees is fairly new to the poetry scene and has thoroughly enjoyed her time as a friend of Poetry Swindon, especially being asked to read her own work at The Swindonian Evening during the Swindon Festival of Literature. She is currently studying an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes and hopes to travel workshops in the future. Although now living in Swindon, Bethan grew up in Neath, South Wales and spent some time living in South
Dakota, USA. Her favourite things are words, nuzzes and her ancient dog, Mitzie. Ness Owen lives on a Welsh island where she writes poetry, plays and stories inbetween lecturing and farming. Her work has been published in various journals including Poetry Wales, Red Poets, The Fat Damsel, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Culture Matters Journal and in anthologies by Arachne Press, Mother's Milk Books, Three Drops Press, R S Thomas Festival and The Here and Now Project. Lesley Quayle is a poet, author and folk/blues singer currently living in the wilds of rural Dorset. Her latest collection, Sessions, is published by Indigo Dreams. Beth McDonough studied Silversmithing at Glasgow School of Art, teaching Art in various sectors. Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts (201416), she reviews for Dundee University Review of the Arts (DURA). Her poetry is strongly connected to place, particularly the Tay where she swims. Handfast (with Ruth Aylett, Mother’s Milk Books, 2016), explored the effect of her son’s autism on the family; in parallel Aylett considered her mother’s dementia. McDonough is anthologised widely and is published in Agenda, Causeway, Poetry Salzburg Review and many other journals.
Kathy Miles is a poet and short story writer living in West Wales. She has published three collections of poetry: The Rocking Stone (Poetry Wales Press), The Shadow House, and Gardening With Deer (Cinnamon Press). Her work has appeared in many anthologies and magazines, and she has been placed in several major competitions, winning the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2015, the PENfro Poetry Competition in 2016, and the Wells Festival of Poetry Competition in 2017. She is also a coeditor of The Lampeter Review. Ruth Aylett lives in Edinburgh where she teaches and researches universitylevel computing. She was joint author with Beth McDonough of the pamphlet Handfast, published in 2016. One of four authors of the online epic Granite University, she performed with Sarah the Poetic Robot at the 2012 Edinburgh Free Fringe. She has been published by Prole, Antiphon, Interpreter’s House, New Writing Scotland, South Bank Poetry, Envoi, Bloodaxe Books, Poetry Scotland, Red Squirrel Press, Doire Press and others. See www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~ruth/writing.html for more. Jay Whittaker’s debut poetry collection, Wristwatch, was published by the Cinnamon Press in October 2017. She writes about transition, resilience, grief, breast cancer, and LGBT+ lives (including her own), often through the prism of the natural world. Her poems have also been published by the Scottish Poetry Library, Envoi, Orbis, The Frogmore Papers, Brittle Star, Impossible Archetypes,
The Interpreter’s House, Northwords Now and The Fenland Reed. Jay lives and works in Edinburgh. www.jaywhittaker.uk Lisa Fusch Krause lives in Seattle, Washington, with a wonky-tailed Siamese kitten, a long-suffering older black cat, and her husband, John. Lisa has recently retired from a career's worth of editing – everything from international corporate campaigns to engineering and computer documentation. She has published both poetry and prose in journals such as cahoodaloodaling, Cascadia Review, Englyn, The Ghazal Page, Red Fez, Right Hand Pointing, and Scissors and Spackle. Lisa thinks of her writing in terms of "snapshots," capturing images and moments of time. She is a firm believer in magic. Maggie Mackay, a Scot and recent Manchester Metropolitan University MA Poetry graduate, has work in a range of print and online publications such as Algebra of Owls, Ink, Sweat &Tears, Prole, Three Drops Press and Atrium. The editor of Amaryllis nominated her poem ‘How to Distil a Guid Scotch Malt’. for The Forward Prize, Best Single Poem, 2017. Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. She has been previously in Eye to the Telescope, Faerie Magazine, Polu Texni, Silverblade, Star*Line, and other venues. Alwyn Marriage’s ten published books include poetry, non-fiction and fiction. She is widely represented in magazines, anthologies and on-line, and gives readings all over the world. Her first novel, Rapeseed, and the poetry collection In the image: portraits of mediaeval women, were both published in 2017. Alwyn was formerly a university philosophy lecturer, Director of two international literacy and literature NGOs, a Rockefeller scholar and an environmental consultant. She is currently Managing Editor of Oversteps Books and research fellow at Surrey University. www.marriages.me.uk/alwyn Jade Black lives in Florida, where she works in the law enforcement field and has also worked as a body snatcher. She has a degree in criminal justice and has spent time on a body farm. Paul Waring is a retired clinical psychologist who once designed menswear and was a singer/songwriter in several Liverpool bands. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming at Prole, Clear Poetry, The Open Mouse, Amaryllis, The Lampeter Review, Foxglove Journal, Rat’s Ass Review, Reach Poetry, Eunoia Review and many others. His blog is waringwords.wordpress.com David J. Costello lives in Wallasey, England. His many publishing credits include Prole, Orbis, Magma, and Envoi. David has won the Welsh International Poetry Competition and been a prize-winner in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize. David’s first pamphlet, Human Engineering, was published in 2013 by Thynks Publishing. No Need For Candles, his most recent pamphlet (Red
Squirrel Press) has just been www.davidjcostellopoetry.com
Finola Scott's poems are widely published in anthologies and magazines including The Ofi Press,The Lake, Obsessed with Pipework and Clear Poetry. A Slam winning granny, Liz Lochead was her mentor on the Clydebuilt scheme. A Facebook addict, she justifies herself by being Admin on both main Scottish poetry sites – The Federation of Writers and Poetry & Spoken Word (Scotland) Poet and artist Lorraine Carey was born in Coventry, England and later grew up in Greencastle, Co. Donegal. Her poetry has been widely published in: Atrium, Ariel Chart, Poethead, The Honest Ulsterman, Sixteen, Vine Leaves, Olentangy Review, Quail Bell, Haikuniverse, Live Encounters, North West Words, Haiku in the Workplace, Picaroon Poetry, and is forthcoming in Laldy, Launchpad, and The Runt Zine. Her artwork has featured in Issue 15 of Three Drops From A Cauldron, Dodging The Rain and Riggwelter Press. Her debut poetry collection From Doll House Windows (Revival Press) is available from www.limerickwriterscentre.com. She now lives in Co. Kerry. Sarah Peploe’s short stories have appeared in various places including Snowbooks’ Game Over, Three Drops Press’s White Noise & Ouija Boards, and the online horror/erotica journal Body Parts. With Mindstain Comics cooperative she has illustrated sticky-sofa’d sci-fi Grunt8790 (written by Rob Burton), psychological thriller Convention (written by George Joy), and the ongoing Restoration-era-sex-workers-versus-misogynists siege drama Damaris. She lives in York and tweets @peplovna. Grant Tarbard is the former editor of The Screech Owl, a reviewer & the author of 'Loneliness is the Machine that Drives this World' (Platypus Press). His new collection 'Rosary of Ghosts' (Indigo Dreams) is out now. Daphne Milne writes poems, flash fiction and short stories. Her work has appeared in various magazines, both in print and on-line, including Aether and Ichor, Sarasvati, and Mslexia. She has a poetry pamphlet coming out next year from Indigo Dreams Publishing. She lives with her partner and a holographic cat. Gareth Writer-Davies was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize (2014 and 2017) and the Erbacce Prize (2014), commended in the Prole Laureate Competition (2015) and Prole Laureate for 2017, commended in the Welsh Poetry Competition 2015, and Highly Commended in 2017. His pamphlet Bodies was published in 2015 by Indigo Dreams and his latest pamphlet Cry Baby came out in November, 2017.
Jen Emery is a poet living in London. She has had work published in Brittle Star, on The Poetry School blog and in The Persisters: Holding the Line magazine. She has a day job in the City. Mandy Macdonald is an Australian writer and musician living in Aberdeen, trying to make sense of the 21st century. She returned to poetry after many years via the 52 project in 2014. Music, poetry and gardening keep her sane. Her poems have appeared in anthologies from Grey Hen Press (2015–17), Luath (2016), and Beautiful Dragons Collaborations (2017), and in online and print journals such as Three Drops from a Cauldron, Poetry Scotland, The Fat Damsel, Clear Poetry, Triadae, Coast to Coast to Coast, The Curlew, and others. She was shortlisted in the 2015 Wells Poetry Festival. Rebecca Lowe is a freelance journalist, writer, editor and performing poet, based in Swansea, Wales. Her poetry has been featured on BBC Radio 4's Poetry Workshop, and has appeared in anthologies including Bristol Poetry Can, Red Poets and Blackheath Countercultural Review. In addition to poetry, she plays hammered dulcimer and zither, which she sometimes incorporates into her performances. A short collection of Becky’s poems, ‘Music of the Sea’ is available from the author. www.writerscafe.org/BeckyLowe swanmedia.wix.com/copywriter-cv Theresa Sowerby has written plays, poetry short stories. She has had an adaptation of Moliere’s The Hypochondriac performed and her poem, Migration, won first prize At the Huddersfield Literature Festival. Theresa also lectures on poetry and runs a Stanza group in Manchester.
Previous Publication Credits ‘Winter’ by Stephanie Conn was first published in The Sea (Rebel Poetry). A shorter version of ‘Chasing Shadows’ by Joseph Allison was previously published in Slim Volume: See Into the Dark (Pankhearst, 2016). A longer version of ‘Fourteen Ways to Become a Druid’ by Larry Lefkowitz was published in Zymbol 3, 2014. ‘The Flax Bleacher’s Daughter’ by Lesley Quayle was first published in the author’s collection A Perfect Spit At The Stars (1999). ‘Solstice’ by Alwyn Marriage was first published in festo: celebrating winter and Christmas (Oversteps Books, 2012). ‘Licking the Spoon’ by Lorraine Carey was previously published at Poetry Breakfast, and in her collection From Doll House Windows. ‘Snowball’ by Sarah Peploe was first published in one of Tiny Owl Workshop's Krampus Crackers in 2014. An earlier version of ‘Fairytale of a First Christmas’ by Grant Tarbard was first published in The Seventh Quarry.
Welcome to our final seasonal special until January 2019 - and it's our Midwinter special, the annual feast of snow and ice, with warming hi...
Published on Dec 7, 2017
Welcome to our final seasonal special until January 2019 - and it's our Midwinter special, the annual feast of snow and ice, with warming hi...