Andy Blackford: Flitwing
Padmaloka June 2016
Flitwing Pipistrelle careers into the thickening dark
lancing boils of dancing flies that burst
in swirls of black confetti
The river dawdles in dementia
lost in reedy mazes
In the meadow by the bridge
a bullock moans the old complaint
mist brimming to his matted haunch
Flitwing, come and corkscrew with me
through the midgy dimness
We’ll swoop and dart and loop the loop
and tease the glaring owl
our talons plucking oily wrinkles
on the moonstruck fen
and we the manic navigators of the night.
Julia Deakin: Checkpoint
We come from hell. A history of short measures, rough justice,
public executions. Rules of thumb. From backs bent in fields,
mines and furnaces, we walked miles in rags through becks
clogged with debris, hitching lifts on carts down rutted tracks
or shut for days in cramped, smoky carriages on splintered slats
with cocky strangers leering legally,
to cities ruled by horses
in the hands of drunks, the sound of klaxons, screeching,
oaths and tolling bells obscuring backstreet screams of birth,
crude amputations, barber dentists, TB wheezing up the stairs,
spit and spittoons everywhere, cataracts and goitres rampant,
fingers green with nicotine and ink, the tang of coins fished
from gutters, rivers heaving with the dead. Rain and slime
between our toes came with us into dim rooms close with soot
and sulphur, clogging nostrils picked for smuts flicked into rugs
thick with grit, chairs with dust and hair oil, privies cold
and wet or fetid, just vacated, hands from here unwashed
to hack food with a penknife used for fingernails and hooves
in kitchens home to cats, dogs, beetles, maggots, grubs in fruit
and slugs in greens at tables wiped with cloths boiled with kerchiefs,
bandages and nappies brought from bedrooms shared with mice,
bedbugs, nitcombs, pisspots, plaster peeling onto damp bolsters,
clammy sheets and memories of leeches, layings-out and wakes,
clothes seamed with sweat heaped souring in moth-filled closets
next to pictures over mould and trapped birds in chimney breasts
and hard soap scum in aluminium tubs of cooling water
fanned by draughts from grey net at the streaming windows,
springtails in the rotten frames and in the attic, books and papers
pulverised, riddled rafters, wasps’ nests, pigeon lime.
We’re here now. Gated, lighted. Vaccinated, regulated.
Vacuumed, smokeless, enzyme clean. It’s been
so long, like centuries.
Everything stank. Tanneries and pits and breath.
This is the past. Do not turn us back.
Mark Hinchcliffe: Pieta
A fox slowly swayed
down the middle of Cowlersley Lane,
eyes glassy and dazed.
People ran out of their houses
and you brought a bowl of milk.
Dressed in a pink tutu and purple glittery wig,
you knelt beside it as it lay down
in the gateway to a garden.
The people peered into
the darkness of its eyes
as if they looked into a stable
or a volcano slowly burning out,
holding up their hands
to catch the sparks
from its glowing tail.
Roy Cockcroft: Ninety-three
No one knows exactly where the river ends
And the sea begins,
But there are signs
that things have changed –
After the comfortable dialects
Of dapple and glide,
The river finds new voices –
Herons shuffling around
On smeared branches, coughing
Or going hysterical,
Dredging their vowels
From sluice-gates –
And there’s the slow grinding of rock
In the bed’s unstoppable machinery
And the guarded whisperings of sedge.
And features change –
Boats hang skewed on cable,
Or stretched out,
Exposing their keels on a wet slab;
Fences of reed split water
Into shallow lakes;
Banks are uncertain;
Every day the tide invents a new channel;
And later, when the fog clears,
We notice the wading of submerged roots,
A twist of wire fishing for its own reflection,
Low branches watching for hours
Before they stab.
And now the river has a new name.
And new colours –
Traces of black –
A suspicion of red –
Browns, purples and yellows leaking from ancient storms.
Levelling out, the greasy current slows,
Dithering in blocked drains,
Smelling of salt and ammonia,
Muttering to itself,
Revisiting the same places.
Tom Cleary: War Photo
Policemen in black and helmets squat on their haunches.
One sits on his bottom, legs spread, staring through a Perspex face shield.
They look like small boys in costume playing jackstones on the road,
skidding lumps of broken paving over the tarmac.
Beyond them there’s a woman in a striped sweater,
a man in a shirt as white as an advert,
figures with blank Os for heads,
like mannequins in a field to frighten birds.
A screen of metal with a mesh of gauze
hides a delicate blur that might be a child.
And Michael may have been hunched for hours, nursing his camera,
stepping back and sideways to avoid the bricks,
steaming cups of tea between the heels of his mittens.
Then these two women promenaded through holding hands.
One, her face fat with flush,
bundled her raincoat with her handbag under one arm,
and pressed the older woman’s hand to her thigh.
The companion blinked through the flash of her glasses
and surrendered her hand as if it was no longer hers.
It almost looks staged, back-projected from a comfortable suburb
where people had more time to talk
about supermarket bargains and boozy nights out,
Grania’s wedding and a June flight to the Canaries.