poems and stories
scroll down to read poems and stories in our
growing weekly from March to June 2019
meet the poets and writers
our first poem, on the first day of Spring, is by Sarah Westcott
Filthy Little Stream
water~ ~~~~~~~~ needling
some reach towards majesty
frivolity of bubbles chemical sickness
long wet vocal cord opening —
smoother the lee; curling under tree roots, undermining,
something thrown down
to glint its way out
some formality in the stitch-work
turning itself over, like digestion,
inspecting its soft under-parts
a sputtering flow brick–jagged
unloved and unlocked this segment
rolls and pools where drains run in like sores
dark grey dark grey as tarmac or slate
a narrative of itself in the junking
some faith in the blackthorn
that strays so close,
the darkling thrush gunning for song –
Song of the Naiad
We sing our song of rise-rush-ring and spiral-sweep-spill
Of dip-down-ripple and fast flow-fill
Of wept water and whispering weed
Of sound-smooth rocks and silver speed
Of moss-fold and light-fold and shade-fold
Of tingling toes and cutting crisp call cold
Of bright bends and bubbles and broken-blue
Of sweet-sun-shafts that go tumbling through
Of stream-curve-carved seats
Of cold-quickened heartbeats
Of races where water is winning
Of sky-snatches spinning
Of on-rush, down-pull
Fast and full
Rise-rush-ring, spiral-sweep-spill, dip-down-ripple, fast flow-fill
Tingling toes, broken-blue, sweet-sun-shafts, spiral-sweep-spill
Weed, wept-water, crisp-call cold, silver speed, fast flow-fill
Fill, flow, fast flow-fill, ripple-down, sweep-spiral, dip – spill
We sing our song of all this, and more,
From the stream will this music pour
From the stream this music thrill
The music of water-spill and heart-fill
Lone Tree on Abandoned Pier
Edge of the city
lone tree on abandoned pier
layered in the dust
of rusted out nails
outlasting the sun
the splinters of crumbling wood
cast off a final message:
roots will find a way
What is the language of water
with no mouth, no larynx, no tongue?
Does water speak?
Does a stream sing?
Each note struck on rocks,
like a xylophone of stones.
Does a waterfall guffaw?
Transmitting the joke down,
fall about, laugh like a drain.
Does rain gossip?
Spread its tittle-tattle, spit spittle
at breeze’s rumour through corn.
Does the sea show anger?
Thumping waves, crashing breakers,
Does a lake convey stoicism?
Silent shifts of depth,
reply, ‘nothing’s wrong,’
when you know it is.
First published in Obsessed With Pipework #82
Long ago father led me, all train trestle legs and elbows,
through Pisgah Forest on a day hike.
Near the turkey brush and mountain laurel, a hook, a tiny crook
of Pisgah River had run dry.
Cracked and segmented from lack of God’s grace,Momma said.
We walked the parched branch past
Farlow Gap, beneath a parasol of Pignut Hickory
and Scarlet Oak trees.
I’m still all elbows, legs. My skin a segmented, dried out
creek bed. Age spots, like river rocks, lifting on the edges,
scatter about hook and crook, marking my time in the sun. The
drought of God’s grace.
I dreamt of air’s blue space
I swelled and sank in silt
I dreamt of wings folding and rising
I knew there was more
I knew the glory of reaching into my body
to pull out fineries, silks,
my delicate whisks
I was naiad and I knew
life would fan into a single haloed day of brightness
the air tinny and friable,
that I would fly on the narrowest silver threads
between the river bed and heavens
where I am written of.
That I am called imago.
I spin between earth and heaven
my guts are filled with air
my mouth is sealed
I trail eggs like falling suns
dip to the water’s skin
and bend my face to its coolness
I am burning myself out with beauty
I cannot bear
my body is diatom pellicle
my limbs threads
Light falls through the weed
river is mother, father, blood-mouth, mind
rising towards comprehension —
First published in Nature & Sentience, Corbel Stone Press, 2017.
Reasons to Swim Inside the Sky
The canals of upper Clapton are mustard smelling trenches of blink-and-you-miss-it spasm splatters of colour amidst tar dark pathways. Bushes bristle with broken bottle leaves, mottle cast in a sullen, diesel pallor. Warrens snake under daisy field enclosures, as rabbits jump up into patchworks of butterfly pastures in green shield stamp grasslands. Silence only broken by the magnetic hum of telegraph wires slung from giant cranes, barbing and scratching the clouds in criss-cross lines: steely map gradients for a slate grey sky.
A mugger’s paradise – yellow raven’s eyes peep through black balaclava pillbox heads, bronchial and hoarse against the damp thin wool – lone men lurking in barbwire crevices, torsos immersed in the marshy reed vines, aqualungs of bile and blood coursing from their veins. Punctuating a walk along the bank are police notices with fish and chip paper headlines – uptight black letters stuck like calcified felt on crude yellow metal boards – milestone millstones chronicling acts of predatory violence.
Barges rest up along the River Lea decorated in Nepalese colours – mud reds, indigo and ochre. A local pub by a redbrick council estate spills people out into the early summer evening. Misplaced pudding-faced walkers, urban and ashen skinned, clutch their pints and look out to wide savannahs of wire sharp grass that grow beyond the swamp reeds of a still distant marshland. Chewing the crisp packet fat over memories of long distance walks: exaggerated escapes from concrete chokey and unlikely fishing exploits and tips swapped and passed on: ‘put Perrier in this canal and you could oxygenate the dead.’ Fish rise like aquiline Christs from sunken tramways set beneath the fine silt bed. As if on cue, a salmon with a display of temper cruises by, belly up, rung free from its cellophane tomb wrap (courtesy of the local Tesco Superstore) – a smile of slash gut, a grinning fish coyote, its scaly skin shimmering silver and purples amongst the petrol whirl-wash of slow moving water.
You’re as likely to see a discarded shopping trolley or a deserted desert boot as any living being float upon this surface; but there are lovers here. Lone couples circle in the fringes, promenading the mud banks. Held close on one side by the claustrophobic, crumbling outskirts of the city and on the other by fields of secret kisses calling, blush tinged in the spreading sunset – the promised melt of soft lips joined. They walk in twos like swooning Bobbies on the beat; their fingers interweaved behind their backs. Dusk is their time to take the air, now momentarily sweet, before the sun floats down to disappear and the evening draws in and closes out the light.
Swans form couples too, but one swims alone: Tony, named after a long-necked former defender of these parts, Tony Adams. He moves with a ferocious glandular reputation to live up to; encased in a brick-hard armour of snow pelt, he hisses like a tomcat if you get too close.
Downriver on the bank, the famous Dalston Heron poses on stilt-like old man’s legs. He is as still as night and cranes his telescopic neck and haughtily gives the eye, his calm shape-shifting in the shadows, his presence benign and balanced, somehow comforting. But a raucous bellow of noise comes from a pub and he takes his uptight walk and moves away.
A group of red faces nestled together on pint filled tables jab their tongues and shout out the odds. And from there comes a small boy, escaping his drunken mother’s shackles, emerging between heavy adult legs, and rubbing at his eyes. He moves towards the heron, which stands quietly by a wall, its feathers blurring in the breeze. The boy reaches out with his hands and the heron lays his long, red bill gently on the boy’s shoulder. And they find a space, air cuddled in between, and slowly rock: a melancholic waltz. From the aggravated throng splinters a shard of angular spite: ‘Sean, where the fuck are you?’
Bobbing close by, like a small balsa wood boat, is a protective coot who blows his tiny soul trumpet through a Burger King straw – Zoot the Coot, whose shrill call-melody seems to rest on the woman’s pitch each time she cries out. ‘Sean!’; blast of coot; ‘Fucking hell, Sean!’; more blast of coot until the boy and the heron are suddenly gone, and all is quiet again.
In a park, a small red vixen slinks into the bushes where her family waits. The moon passes shadows and light between the clouds, as the night rolls softly on the velvety, ebbing sheen of the canal. And there, high on the grass, are the boy and the heron – suddenly lit, finding places to hide and spotlights of moon dust to play and emerge into. The heron is watchful, standing proud, as the boy runs down a slope, his arms flapping through the air.
Sourcing its descent
slinking across sloping track
meltwaters headwaters bubbling fresh
swell and overflow the leafy stone trough
this running spill almost invisible
dashripples splits as outstretched fingers
ambles aside runs
a dog lick a light slick
fizzing tyres unseen
shifts grit tumbles gravel
gently gouges tracks
insects leaves debris
eddy its wet-eyed pools
each year hatched toads
hundreds upon hundreds
ford its wet plains deltas that hold
delay as thought charged swirling before
once more drop chases drop
fast past its surrounds relaid tracks
channels divines senses in unison
its undeniable descent escapes
under gate down grassy cascades
flushing the lush field’s brook
just before the Limey’s flow
its endless course
No Waters More Clear
I am stretched out in a bed of grief.
Green as watercress, it is.
I can feel the love of ones that love me
supporting me all around,
like the water beneath the fronds
flowing through them constantly.
So here I am
able to shed these soft word seeds
among dark curling leaves of pain,
so fresh and tender that I begin
to understand more
the nature of bereavement. It is a spring
renewing itself from deep down.
The worst of losses has come into my life:
the loss of a child, loved and so loving,
young and so strong. He was taken
on impact by a freakish hurling force,
a race against time
in some stranger’s life.
Let there be no more race against time
for me. Time drifts on a bed of watercress.
There’s no waters more clear than here
in the quietest part of the stream
where cresses grow. During days
when I am stretched out floating,
too stricken for tears, these words
shed my freshwater grief.
After M.C. Escher
from chalk downs
spill from the rock
springflow a thin glaze
on a sandy bed
pools deep under trees
thread the crowns
of hazel and ash
leaf-fall floats yellow
on pearl-grey cloud.
Saunter the path wool-soft
ferns thistle water mint
by heron fox deer
footprints mired fresh
to mud like fossils bedded in rock
Follow the rill
down to a whisper
the lightest cloth
over the day
sedge warblers and damsels dance
through scots pines
bowing to the lapis blue
of devil’s-bit scabious
sleet grass seeds
buried in thickets
of bog myrtle
from the anchor
A Stream in the Woods
If a river is a dream then a stream is a doze, he said, the man in his wellies fetching the dog
who likes the water around her feet
the way I like the heated tiles in the bathroom: just to stand on.
It’s where she belongs, he says. Dozy mare, he says.
She leans her head down to drink, sneezes
at the water before dipping her tongue that curls at the end like a clover, a paper shovel
so thin it seems it would shred, because being wet
is being vulnerable. Or able to be.
(a wren dribbles by, quick twitch of a wing, and leaves an impression in the water
the shape of a hoof, or a heart with a divot kicked into it)
He pulls her by the collar and there is no resistance left in her old body. Deaf, the man says.
Nearly blind, the man says. Hopeless, the man says. And he is right –
hopeless – but he carries a towel wherever they go to dry her feet
because she likes the water to stand in.
White noise pours from the earth –
a liquid meteor shower.
Meadowsweet almonds the air.
I crush watercress with gritty sandalled feet,
brambles snag my ankles and I know
there will be a scabbed tear of scar next day.
I splay my hand as a sieve – splashes
darken the threads of my cotton shirt,
smear beige streaks on earth-brown legs.
I’m doused with the spring’s strength
as its rainbow arc spurts to the stream
plashy with mint and rushes.
The flow forces the jug down,
water spills up and over before I can stop,
droplets poise on the rim.
I carry it back to the house,
curl one hand round the haft’s sharpness
and finger the scallop shapes engraved on the glass.
A pool of stillness lies at the table’s centre
as clear as the Waterford chandelier
above the staircase in the sisters’ house.
A miniature spring pours from the jug’s lip –
I taste sunlight so cold it stings my teeth
and scalds my throat.
I’ve kept the jug.
First published in The Art of Gardening (Flambard Press 2010)
Every star over the moors was a trouble,
before it was speaking in light, the way stars do.
Every journey was meaningless dust, until
that moment the feet touched water and tingled.
Granite beneath us is restless in its core;
cooling, heating, repeating patterns of flux.
The old Dartmoor saying is true now
gorse is in flower and kissing’s in season,
while the stream closest to home
is singing the song of songs.
‘Stream’ was first published in ‘This Given’, a limited edition pamphlet by Paper Dart Press
Letters from Home
It’s not your news
the willow-curve of your words
I wait for but the space
between the lines
of the ghyll
her mouth-grey dawns squall
of blackbirds thrush and wren echoing
the leaf-scorched beck
her rain-on-rain September song
thrum of hooves
to shearing dipping cries of separation
banks of primrose violets lizards
storing summer warmth
between dappled shade and tiny
dusty throats swallowing the moon
in love with her own gaze her promise
to return on dead fern days
that northern light
falling between the lines
like winter from the sky
After Roger Deakin
Roger Stuart Deakin (1943-2006) writer and environmentalist
credited as founder of the English wild swimming movement
Going against the flow
Eyes straight ahead
Skimming on the surface
Like whirligig beetles
Gulping for breath
Mouth spitting water
That’s hardly saline
Though far from pure. But
Colder than ambient
Particularly under willow
Guarding from the banks
Like soldiers of honour
Avoiding native crayfish,
Gold-ring dragon larvae,
Stoneflies and above
Skirting mayfly. While
Reeds up the nostrils
Mixing with mucus
Coughing and spluttering
Every so often with
Knees knocking pebbles,
Rocks, dead branches,
Effluent of mankind
Dumped in the creek. For
This may be springtime
And this is wild swimming
In the hinterland of England
Off the beaten track
Going against the flow
Eyes straight ahead
Swimming in a stream
Never out of depth.
Crackington Haven on New Year’s Eve
At the twist of the year, watching the whirl
of the world on the cliffs, a chaos of waves
flail in the sky, as the heavens weave
pearly curls of ivory. This storm
is skirring your ragged December
through pebbles between your feet. Bubbling
suds creep to your ankles, the ooze
sucking the scum of your failures
back to the source. From the brook by the bridge,
fresh water pumps up in funnels
to skitter a river into the salt. Watching
this meeting of waters and ferment,
you ponder the froth unable to fathom
the moment the stream stops being a stream
and succumbs to a vastness of sea.
Previously published in Poems for a Liminal Age, Sentinel Publishing
(Ed. Mandy Pannett, SPM Publications, 2015)
See that day we found a forest fire
roasting the ramsons, that sizzling garlic smell
all down the path and my back baking
in the crackling sun while the bracken
crisped and snapped, and melted your shoes
as you stamped
And even the flames withered
mercifully on the hillside, like they too were
wrung out, drained, extinguished by this heat
in the shade of the canopy meeting the sheer glen side,
an ancient feeling as I sat on the pebble bed, smoke
in my hair, hearing a dreamy hiss and pop of embers
The water gurgling through my toes; ash floating down the burn.
The Yew Speaks On St Brigid’s Day
out-striding the storm
under a fallen beech
two ridges in the gorge
a stream flowing from flooded field
to quagmire in the wood; rain water
from the stones
between its branches
an ancient yew holds open a hollow
-into this gap-
–you whisper a wish
half trusting heartwood
to soak up your hope with its sap
the crumpled face
in this thousand year trunk
and tells you its blessing
– a shift and stretch in the season
of thin sun
to an invisible swelling of green
The Disappearing River,
Where is the door
that opens to song,
the hidden source
that holds its notes alive,
the long tune that floats clear
through chill-&-thirst-struck stone?
I choke on its sudden burst, its rock-
jump, swelling spill-over.
Silence is the hole that waits, a falling
closed of mouth & heart, the ghost
trace of water’s slow-fast-slow
ongoing passage onwards past.
When the song’s flow is gone,
memory’s wet touch leaps on.
S. A. Leavesley
Note: This was initially inspired by the River Alyn, a tributary of the River Dee. As a small river running through a limestone gorge, large volumes of water are lost down sinkholes in the summer.
By the River Dwyfor
Under the great umbrella of a beech tree, the river shillies around rocks
while they resist the force of the current. Some are boulders, sturdy, unyielding,
others are dry, moss-covered, but all are as damp as the slip-grey sky.
Around me the air sings, the wind carries its song in a lullaby.
I rest at the feet of the great trunk – all its years of growth, pock-marked
by the seasons, challenged by lichen and other extraordinary growths.
Above, the leaves criss-cross each other, not quite touching, allowing space
for the air to filter, opening a multitude of crevices for the sky to enter.
Air, water, leaf, all meet at a place that is neither surface nor place, unowned by all.
A rope hangs from a branch, knotted at the end, slung from a strong limb, ready
to swing across the river in a child’s leap. Ivy graces the rocks on the bank
where the moss-cladding is deep and green and velvet.
Himalayan Balsam sways its sex, opening to the damp air.
On the far bank, the brambles etch their shapes, stretching their thorny feelers.
A moment of sun breaks through the cloud and the colours change; the water
is quick-bright, magnifying the stony bed, catching the tails of ghost-minnows
darting in and out of the shallows.
Leaves, grass, a ricketty fence, all choose new colours from an artist’s pallet.
The water downstream is feather-white as it leaps over the rocks, and an ash tree
waves its flags looking as if it will take-off, each leaf buffeting
one against the other, jostling, vying for a glimpse of the sun.
A tiny black and red winged creature, searches the length of my trouser leg.
My boots crunch on the sprinkling of beechmast on the ground around the tree.
With my back against the trunk of the beech I meld into the roots – my nest
of numbness as my human bones are flesh deep in tree and river and rock.