poems and stories
scroll down to read poems and stories in our
growing weekly from June 2019
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The Jungle Rises
There where the croaking
rises from the inchoate
There in the palpable horizon
in globule & rivulet
in the hemorrhagic gush
There in the moldy coalescence
and vaporous ooze
in the nameless viscosities
and horrific bobbings
There in the leaping
and billion undiscovered emetics
and spittled to the heart
There where all are forced
to dwell in their hirsute
where none can vanquish
their greenest genesis
the jungle rises
through spiky palmetto
through everything we cannot hold at bay
has no taste for fish, unless it’s battered, fried,
vinegar-drenched – and spilling, half-eaten,
from an overfull dustbin. He’s never caught
a herring in his life. He settles on streetlamps
as if they were, for all the world, crows’ nests,
and has no notion of the winds that brought
his ancestors here, generations ago. City Gull
was born to the smoke, an urban hatchling,
streetwise and ready-mapped, no need to be taught
the wheres and hows of the complex crisscross
that spreads beneath him. He is all Cockney
birth-right, rough and ready squawks wrought
from a hawker’s gullet. He is king of the tip,
lord of landfill, dines royally on detritus and
shits where he pleases, wasting no thought
on the paintwork of cars. City Gull wonders,
sometimes, at his webbed feet, the splashy clatter
on allotment shed roofs during his clumsy halt.
He does not understand why, when his A-to-Z
synapses know only this city, he wakes from
strange dreams where the air tastes of salt.
Ode to a Giant Waterlily
the moon, you flower
the warm perfumery
of your heart,
offer a nectar banquet
in return for pollen
A petalled jailor,
your guzzling suitors
caged, until next evening
as a magenta dandy
you unlock the soft gates,
then sink yourself
on your second day
to the shadowed depths.
from primordial pools,
your stork leg stalks
and undersides barbed
fiercely as an iron maiden.
Your floating pads,
for Lily Trotters, sunbeds
for caimans. Vast green
salvers on which to serve
a grinning child.
I unzip the door of lianas, step
through, casting off the city;
rain threads tarmac.
Shrive-light braids the canopy and
here seedlings weave welcome.
Green mantles the dusk pool,
is a sprung floor for jiving
mosquitos and water beetles.
come the dark.
The moon sets moth traps
for new velvets,
and the hushed weft
of a deathhead’s wings.
The Teatime Tarzan
Blithely oblivious, as a child, to the dodgy
cultural politics of the source material
with the white man as noble savage
and secret peer of the realm, I
simply watched “Tarzan” for adventure.
And I’m the kid in the grey flannel
school shorts and white aertex vest
aping that 5 note ululation
and banging my scrawny chest –
but not too hard, for fear of cavities
There’s always quicksand.
No hanging liana vines in Finchley
with which to swing my way through
the suburban jungle, just a few horse
chestnut trees on the common,
their bases prone to dog mess. But
at least they’re in colour;
Tarzan’s jungle was always black and white
and not just because of the monochrome TV.
Now I think: How is he so toned
and are those Y-fronts beneath the loincloth?
And why does he never show dirt or sweat
from the exertion of beating the bad guy?
Even back then, I found it annoying
that he called his Chimpanzee “Cheta”.
I had one called “Jacko”. A toy.
All adventures ended by
“Come in now, it’s time
for tea. And your programme’s on.”
Leave riding the lions and trapping the trappers
to another day. Wipe your feet
on the doormat. Or maybe step over it
with exaggerated care. It might be
quicksand. There’s always
I am the Help. You need me
so I’m squeezing through
this narrow gap. See
how I compress, who knew
my head could shrink
like this! And it throb
throbs so fat I think
it can’t possibly fit
through that gap
but it does, and I know
this because as I collapse
I see the rest of me
go past: deflated dummy.
And when I hear me speak
I’m a bad juggler. Un-
funny. I think that I might
be some kind of
girl with a tail and a pin
in her hand, blind,
reaching for the flat animal
while everyone looks on.
Stretching out I feel around,
guess this is the wrong
side of the gap so I
start to use my eyes
but then I hear: Help
and I’m turning inside
out as you push me
back my hair stuffing
into my torso
my nails locking
into my palms.
The girl who can talk to birds
strides into the forest. Her unicorn bag
packed with toy bread, sea shells,
magnifying glass, she’s prepared.
In dapple-brightness she stops and
whistles. Her special whistle. The one
the birds know. The one she taught them.
A hornbill trumpets reply. She smiles.
Baby-boned arms outstretched, she twirls
and calls. Flap your wings birdies then up,
up she flutters all spangles and pink tutu.
Perched cloud high she canopy-dances,
in flurries of macaws and toucans.
A version was previously published in Play Anthology, Paper dart Press 2018.
No Return To Varoşa
Varoşa : once glamorous holiday resort now at the eastern extremity
of the Cyprus Forbidden Zone guarded by the United Nations
Yasak Bölge Girilmez : Forbidden Zone created after the
1974 division of Cyprus into Turkish & Greek sectors
Behind rusting barbed wire
graffitied corrugated iron
with Yasak Bölge Girilmez
signs of blood scarlet
read by diasporics longing
while just out of sight
armed guards goosestep
up from the twinkling Med
with kilometers of empty beaches
engaging the prom
to The Jungle
multiple floors high crumbling
overgrown with verdant asps
strewn with sand grains massed
populated by stray mongrels
chasing feral Van cats
en pursuit of vermin
the rattus rattus of death
but devoid of turista
in kafe, bistro, ôtel
now as dark through the day
as from crepuscular to dawn
where Bardot, Taylor, Welch
once smouldered with chic
blinded by faux-light, while
a sylvia melanothorax warbles
as ripe effluent stinks
almost half a century gone
yet not a step closer.
singer of street-songs sodium lit
disdainer of dogs
shitter of garden-shingle shit
shifty smoothy shed invader
take-away detritus raider
private pavement pitter-patter
champion charmer chat-up chatter
predator prey pest player
fighter and fucker
stinker stalker long-term-stayer
The light is green, synthetic.
It steals between leaves, over floors,
breezes up walls, remembers last night’s
rainfall, its traces of fluorescence.
Flashes of colour shriek below domed
ceilings, land on far balconies, curl
around ropes of ivy, dip and preen.
We gather strange, nameless fruits
from designated trees.
Revolving orbs resume their humming.
Bewitched by cool beams of chloro-lamps,
luna moths descend from the canopy,
dissolve us in their whirring phosphorescence.
No one will find us here.
From outside we are barely visible:
just glimpses between fronds and fans of leaf,
our paths eclipsed by mighty tigers.
after Irina Mashinski
a week or so before the year pivots
& December closes, like a coffin lid,
over the unnourished land;
& hush now, here come
the bootless, the shoeless, the buttonless,
curling their bony blue toes
over ice, spread like a punched-in
windscreen over the wide fields;
beyond the treeline is the Border,
gorgeous where the plumdark sky
sinks below the earth’s ooze;
there is nothing here
you will recognise, not even this silver birch
hanging like a smashed limb;
here’s a rusting bike wheel, the torn canopy
of a fragile and long-ago plane –
others have tried this –
mud on their soles, their eyelids,
arms outstretched as if a loved one
were waiting, casting a short, cold
shadow across the shifting Border;
the moon rises, a brief howl of light,
before clouds trawl a darkness deeper
than the childhood wells we drank from.
another tree dead
taken by the throat
big bucks passed
under tables of ipê
logging despatched anywhere
apart from the indigenous
feeling every blade
every slice is to their torso
every axe is in their axillae
with every day passing
every cut cuts deeper
for once there was jungle
for hunting, for commerce
for stomachs to fill
for children to grow
to replicate and learn
where plants existed
where flowers bloomed
where animals frolicked
where insects infested
where reptiles ravaged
where mocking birds sang
yet vultures hover
more forest devastation
another clearing in prospect
more canopy gone
taken by the throat
another tree dead
Siesta at the botanical gardens
Leafstorm of lorikeets,
a shock of green noise,
rips up the sky.
on the lawn. Birdless,
the bamboo glade rustles
and frets. Glistening silky husks
like little paper skiffs
down the fountain’s stone curlicues.
Unkempt, autumnal, the grass
hides wonders. A tiny spider
explores her continents of green,
a banded wasp forages
among fallen twigs,
just by my grounded eye.
I frog-kick my way up
through fathoms of discarded dreams
to the leaf-litter of the day.
Last in Line
The elder lions are always there before us. Their claws tear at tough skin letting out a stream of wet red that reaches as far as the fringes of the frenzy where we wait. Low growls warn us to wait our turn but close on our tails prowl hyenas who will settle for one of us cubs if the carcass proves too difficult to steal away.
Between the ferocious tussling a gap appears giving the largest and quickest an opportunity to squeeze through and grasp a morsel. It’s more of a lick as our mouths and teeth are too small to do more than slide across the still, pulsating meal.
“Life is unfair,” I meow but above the roars of the pride my grumbles are ignored. Worse still, I am swatted away by the flick from a punishing tail. Landing too close to the predators circling this feast, I yelp in terror. This time my mother catches the scent of my plight. Her body taut; her ears strained; she narrows her eyes and stares at the hyena pack.
A rumbling roar halts the elders’ guzzling. I cower behind sun-bleached grass as tension ripples between my clan and the enemy. Time stands as still as the frozen stances taken by the two groups. Eyes are locked. Hardly a breath breaks the silence.
Then, a tiny sneeze from within the hyena pack reminds them of their own cubs. Both sides have much to lose. Time for a stand down, live another day, fight another night decide the leaders. As the hyenas slink away, I scamper back to the fold and fall patiently behind the others to feed.
The overgrown path
I meet these characters in
clearings edged with mist,
on paths through bracken,
their heads swathed in rags
like soldiers from the front.
Scarce words are said.
Beyond the swish of wind
I often hear a cry and stop
When safe inside our cabin
in the woods, blessed by pets
and your presence, the figure
in the bed, surrounded by our
children, sheets still warm,
pale butter on the table,
the smell of coffee and
baking on the air,
why I seem so ill at ease
and though I laugh, so
rarely celebrate. I guess
a part of me can’t believe
it’s true or isn’t here, or
can’t forget the sizzle of
raindrops on leaves, the
tramp of feet through trees.
First published in the pamphlet The Nutter in the Shrubbery, published by Pighog Press, 2007.