Edited by Kate Garrett
All poems copyright © 2017 individual authors
Selection/issue copyright © 2017 Kate Garrett / Picaroon Poetry
This Month’s Rogue Poems ● November 2017
the mice have abandoned the woodpile // James H Duncan
Footsteps // F.R. Kesby
Donegal 2001 // p.a. morbid
On a Prairie at Sunrise // Jacob Butlett
Kinnikinnick // Bethany Rivers
Gift of the author // Sharon Phillips
Big Issue // Rachel Bower
If I Write About You // Jessica Mehta
Watch What You Eat // Ali Jones
Inside an Old Basement // Juliet Cook
Reality TV // Spangle McQueen
Bake Off // Paul Brookes
Mrs Bun, the Baker’s Wife // Russell Jones
Confession without Absolution // Janet Philo
Crime Procedural // Brennan Downey
Spiderling, hobbled // Emma Lee
Knave // Joan McNerney
French Kisses and Rainbow Bindis // Saira Viola
again a sweet blue // Reuben Woolley
Mouthpiece // Kitty Coles
Pyrophobia: there is a reason why // Carla M. Cherry
parent // Nick Allen
The Mountain // Benjamin Smith
Organised: Hand to mouth // Sally Barrett
Strategy for Having the Last Laugh
on the International Space Station // Simon Williams
The End // Irene Cunningham
Dance // Gareth Writer-Davies
Alack // Ken Cumberlidge
Gibside in Winter // Ceinwen Haydon
Growing on // Jackie Biggs
James H Duncan
the mice have abandoned the woodpile
it’s so cold that you sweat,
shivering and alone in a small room
as the phone lights up with
digital daggers and questions of whether
you’re seeing someone new
and wouldn’t it be nice to catch
up over drinks at one of the old places?
outside, the wind across the lake makes the
cold worse than it really is, and it’s bad enough
that the mice have abandoned the woodpile
to hide in the walls inside here where
they still freeze to death, and
you’ll know where come spring
it is three days to New Year’s Eve and she
already has her plans and won’t you be a
part of them? early afternoon cocktails? but
you think by not replying you’re winning,
except you both know it hurts, you both
know the streets are snowing themselves in,
that time piles up higher and higher to end
all things, all inroads, all escape routes
and it’s so cold you sweat as you wonder
what to say to her or anyone anymore, spying
through the curtain at the chopping maul, the pile
of wood waiting, the frozen lake beyond,
and the phone buzzing brings you back,
always brings you back, lighting up your face
in the blue silence of the small room alone
what will you do? what will you do?
now and forever, or never at all
Here, I think, here is where I fell,
where jeans ripped and ringlets tangled
with bike gears and stinging nettles.
Here among the petals and stems
in a garden of roses, a fallen infant
leaves a dent, a mark.
Does the ground remember?
Yes, it welcomes me home
as my footsteps beat a tattoo
into the skin of my history.
Home, again, to the doorstep,
worked and reworked and cemented
beyond recognition and memory
except the air that stands still
and holds my first kiss,
ready to embrace me all over again.
Every time I try to leave old love follows
whispering lingering remembrances
as my footsteps beat a tattoo
into the skin of my history.
My first and last cig waits in a graveyard,
the smoke still visible, still choking me.
And here, here is where she loved me
and here is where she broke me,
my heart interred at a bus stop.
in this town where I lived,
where the pavements are stained
with my past, my future,
where my footsteps beat a tattoo
into the skin of my history.
December in Donegal and we’re walking
up the main street in Falcarragh
the heavens hidden by high grey clouds
that press down low, obscuring the mountains.
Everything is grey, except for the crows
which flap and caw close to our heads
the rain falling steady, pungent with peat smoke.
On a Prairie at Sunrise
My boyfriend and I used to walk hand-in-hand
through the prairie, our prairie,
outside my apartment on Sunday mornings
to catch the sunrise with our eyes,
glassy butterfly nets brought to a crooning shine.
On a Sunday morning months ago,
as he drove to my apartment,
a tan sedan swerved into his lane and—
In my backyard,
I paced impatiently on prairie groundsel,
not knowing I was waiting
for a ghost.
With his parents’ blessing,
I spread his ashes across the prairie:
his gray body flew like grounded
woodchips through the tallgrass.
I wanted and still want
I’m caught in the violet air,
buried in the grassy melodies
of the swaying big bluestems,
listening to the chickadees and sparrows.
With him gone, my outstretched hand
has become an open grave.
If I were to hang myself.
He’d want me to live.
The red past, a prairie fire, encroaches,
the future like rain
snuffing out my tears.
He’s a part of the earth,
his ashes a part of our prairie.
And I’m sitting here, watching the sun
rise from coarse clouds,
the dirt holding my hand
with cold fingers.
Kinnikinnick is when you’ve lost your hat
and your shoes are untied and you can’t bend
down and you can’t find your glasses.
Kinnikinnick is when the food is too salty, too peppery,
and it’s cooked now and that’s all there is to eat
or starve. Kinnikinnick is when the TV has lost
its transmission and it’s your favourite
show and there’s nothing else to do but
sit and stare at rain through a window or white noise.
Kinnikinnick is when you don’t care about any
of this and neither do your friends, and the three or four
of you sit around in the haze of it all,
conversationless, white noised, pattered and
patterned by drops you can’t touch and the cat
snuggled in front of an empty grate.
Gift of the author
The book was cheap online. Hardback,
condition good. I clicked ‘buy now’,
forgot till I took in an unexpected box.
There it was, its jacket red and gold,
cream pages deckle-edged and poems
like voices of friends not met for years
though dear: it seemed we might all laugh
and talk as if no time had passed. Hardback,
ex-library stock, its pages so crisp they felt
unread and frontispiece inscribed in black
American Library, Paris, gift of the author
then overstamped in red: withdrawn.
He asks me what’s in the fancy bag
as I hand over three warm coins for the magazine.
I’ve been squeezing them up the street - I knew I’d meet him here.
We peer down past the handle, hooked over my wrist
into the gloss black bag, where a box of shiny boots sit.
On top of the box is a pregnancy test.
He looks up at my eyes and beams freckles
puts his arm round my shoulder and squeezes.
He’s all god bless you and have you got any more kids
and he knows all the comings and goings of the town this man
when wives are ill, when twins are born
when jobs are found and friends are lost
his emerald eyes have always known it.
At twilight he flies with the starlings.
Cherry-faced, I whisper, I’ll come back and let you know.
If I Write About You
If I write about you, you’re important
even if it’s just once, even
if it’s in passing. My love collects like coins,
fine precious metals,
in the cobwebbed attic of my heart. It occupies
all corners, each seam of every beam.
If I write about you,
I’m keeping you and nobody or nothing
can claim your space. You’ve become
a part of me, as necessary as my limbs,
my breath, my blood. When I write about you,
it’s a testament—my shouts to the world
that in this instant, you’re everything that matters.
And even if it fades,
even when it dims,
the echoes of our collision
will reverberate in my chest, play conductor
to the orchestra of my heartbeat.
Do you know what power you have,
how many blessings you’re gifted,
when I play god and make you immortal,
supplicating like a peasant while you’re reborn
omniscient in the drying ink? I choose happily
to bow before you, grateful and obliging
to simply be here
basking in the splendor of You.
Watch What You Eat
She never believed her mother, and alveoli flaring,
inhaled the seed, lodged it in the casket of her chest
until one day it rooted, and she finally emerged,
no longer barren, germinating, the seed
snaking nutrients from the coils of her veins;
it sought light, reaching for the anglepoise
that perched on her desk beneath the window,
drinking her from the inside, pushing upwards
to break through. One day when she woke,
her lips had sprouted leaves in bud,
her hair a crown of twigs, arms branching upwards,
star seeking. It did not seem strange to consider
heartwood darkening her spine, outer layers hardening
to textured gowns, at each season another layer
bedding in, armouring her against the world,
a xylem danced beneath the widening sky;
at the moon’s nodes, her mother fetched her water,
staked her strong, decked her arms with ribbons.
Inside an Old Basement
My tongue was pulled out of my mouth.
A red tongue bath
staining an old box.
Another broken light blue egg.
Nobody loves you he said.
You might as well suck
the dead baby
What did I think he wanted anyway?
Nobody wants all of me.
They just want small pieces.
Tear another part out,
stick it in
Nobody will look inside
after the blood dries.
Her carcass is splayed across
three Silent Witness tables -
and our widescreen television,
amidst repeat reports of the Iraqi war. An alien queen
whom an excited marine scientist prepares
to dissect and weigh and measure
as if he could learn her very essence,
since she met her skin’s disintegration,
net-tangled beyond her depths in Ross’s ice-choked sea.
He is cautious. Alive, he states, she was a predator,
the biggest, most fearsome known to science.
While plucking broken beaks from sperm whales’ bellies,
in colour-blind dreams he swims around a tank with her,
alive, intact, his mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni. *
Now he calls her ‘colossal’ to convey her size and
(speculated) aggressiveness. Meanwhile, back to Baghdad -
seven Iraqi women and children have been shot at a check-point,
killed in their vehicle for failing to stop as instructed.
Witnesses state no warning shots were fired.
to unstress, knead that flour.
Knuckle into a surface that gives
as plasticine once gave under pressed
thumbs and curled fists, work the worry.
Hand whisk gets bubbles into the mix
up and round the bowl till stiff.
Wooden rolling pin stretches the thought
to fringed edges, flatten and dab with water.
Place in hot oven and inhale fresh growth,
bread that breaks out a steam bath.
Mrs Bun, the Baker’s Wife
She’s not the spouse you’d expect: no
ribbon in her hair, no summer dress, no apron
bowed, no bag of flour cradled at her breast.
She’s not the ageing poster child
for the family bakery. She never bakes
the bread. Mrs Bun refuses to rise
to the crust of her name. She’s more
than just the baker’s wife. She paints
the town her shade, knocks off
men quick as she knocks back malts.
Mrs Bun plays happy families like no other.
She acts the Doting Wife or Caring Mother
but Bun is a criminal mastermind.
She’s piss-tongued, strong-armed,
the wild card. Bun’s a silent, bloody killer;
steel-jawed, public enemy number one.
In short: don’t fuck with Mrs Bun.
The baker told her she was doe-eyed,
dough-thighed. Now he’s toast, brown bread.
The bloated bastard never saw her coming
as he loaded the oven one last time.
Confession without Absolution
I killed him gently.
I held him down
in tepid water
filled his lungs.
I stretched from thumb
to finger tip
across the carapace.
‘He’ll sleep,’ they say,
‘just fade away.
no squeals,no pain,
and in my mind
I watch him
stretch eight limbs
across an empty beach,
climb the sand-fold
ridges and wade,
towards the sea;
eye stalks erupt,
from water laced
staring at tomorrow,
I’m mostly stock footage, to be honest.
To lie, I am the red herring.
I'm the killer as well.
Half truthfully, I fear that there is
an evil which runs through
unexpected burst of my energy.
I have concerns about love and
some questions for hate.
Somedays I’ll be hate. Let’s eat.
Let’s make more. Let’s make love separately.
Really, I’m a plumber
There’s a maze I like which
promises cheese to its master.
I am brochure simple,
but everything isn’t simple.
Everything is much longer.
My body is a body in a dark doorway.
Its ideas are strange to me.
I peek at it while I
pretend to be asleep.
You spun a story that put you firmly
at the centre of your complex web.
One persistent strand made you the shiny social one
compared with your drab academic sister with an easy
teaching job while your pupils glittered your reputation.
No one noticed the gold you offered was pyrite.
Look at how the sun shines on the dew caught in your web.
A myriad of mirrors. How could there be space for another?
Could you risk another tarnishing your spangled web?
Maintenance was hard work. You took the risk.
You created a spiderling to fix bridges, direct the sun
back at you, to remind others of the marvel of you,
and strengthen your venom towards those who failed
to praise you. A spiderling to reassure you they were wrong.
Your greatest fear: that your spiderling would leave
so you could no longer claim its achievements as yours,
that your spiderling would expose your dark web,
the shadows you worked so hard to keep hidden.
You made your spiderling broken. Hobbled attempts at independence,
used ridicule when it expressed an opinion that wasn’t yours.
Told others your spiderling was difficult, headstrong,
sullen, would never amount to much. Stole credit
for any talent it showed. Never let it hear praise.
Demonstrated that to you it was no more than a tool.
Your failure led to estrangement you don’t understand,
just as Frankenstein never thought his monster would think.
Full of himself flaunting
his black leather jacket
covered with silver studs.
Bling hangs from his bulging neck.
Flashy zircons, deep cologne,
tattoos, piercings, purple hair.
Puffed up, he struts across alleys.
Headlight eyes scoping
each corner searching prey.
Pushing down anything
in his way. Sniffing rear
doors, sniffing out death.
His hands move like claws
through shadows with
crooked nails buffed blue.
Lugging a bag of tricks loaded
with brass knuckles, chains,
zip guns, switchblade knives.
Opening his cavern mouth,
smacking wide lips, he drains
a cool cocktail of ruby red blood.
French Kisses and Rainbow Bindis
Hippie French kisses and rainbow bindis
Glitter mouthed blow jobs in the back seat
Zappa and Dylan on playback –
He keeps calling
It’s a ruptured burnt –peach Summer evening
The night wraps angel wings around her
Eyelids painted duck –teal and cream vanilla
Her unpinned hair falls like a golden step– ladder
In the distance flirty drunken laughter
but all he knew was BITE KICK PUNCH SLAP !
Pastel shades of vomit bubble– froth her glottis
Liquid lies Van Goghed the tiny pockets of air in her throat
And she saw three poets as her eyes turned into two pulpy black balloons
One was graffiti and saliva colonising a wall in Ladbroke Grove
One was stapled together hand made in the kitchen on acid free paper
–baby powder white
And one generic cup and saucer verse stands proud in the shop front window
Gold and silver fills that poet’s mouth
The first poet made hundreds of people stop and think
The second grew a devoted cult following
The third was honoured by the Queen.
again a sweet blue
she dances here inside
the once & ever steps
a moon / turning
we don’t sail rip
at a time.i know
this move & then
together / the next
& floating.the naked
& the waves.they dance
not everything / not now
& welcome the quiet rain
You disbelieved me, so I brought you proofs:
wax moulds of limbs that shone with spectral lustre,
the touch of hands still chilly from the grave,
pale faces looming, haloed, in the shadows,
new voices booming deeply from my throat
and trinkets such summer flowers in winter,
messages etched into my flesh like wounds.
You saw me shudder, taken up by others,
bound in my cabinet on my own orders
with muslin spewing from my passive lips.
At last you acquiesced and were convinced.
I now confess, as you have grown dependent,
and daily pester me for messages:
all you have seen and felt is trickery,
a pantomine for children, valueless.
The truth is as I told you in the first place,
when you were cynical and I was honest:
the words are real: my body swarms with them.
They crawl my fibres, murderous as wasps,
and when my mouth is opened they fly out
without consent from me, beyond volition,
darken the room, hot and ungovernable.
I am the rushes at the water’s edge
and, when the breeze arrives, I bend before it
and fill the air with its fierce murmuring.
Carla M. Cherry
Pyrophobia: there is a reason why
I was four when the burning began.
As Grandmother had done to her, Mother
had me perched on our yellow stepstool right next to the stove,
open jar of blue Ultra Sheen on the countertop.
Plastic comb for sectioning, hot comb on the burner, warming.
Paper towel atop a cotton one, for the embers.
Towel draped around shoulders like devil’s ivy.
Every few moments, she lifted the hot comb from the flame, blew wisps of air
And like an osprey diving towards a trout,
she swooped down into my puffy kinks,
searing my hair straight, one tuft at a time,
the scents of bergamot oil and petroleum jelly wafting through the house.
Sometimes she burned the helix of my ears; made me jump.
Hold still! she snapped. One day, thinking of them, I blew out the flame.
Imagining explosion, dead husband and daughters,
Mother had nails in her voice: Don’t ever do that again.
As a mature woman, I steal snuggles in Mother’s lap.
She strokes my kinky coils;
I comb her textured, silver silky hair. Still,
fearing fiery burn on fingers, I won’t light a match.
I never light candles for any birthday cake;
have already blown a thousand dandelion wishes
and faith outpaces my need for luck.
Don’t need to light a pilot light to cook.
I don’t throw big parties; don't bring me cans of Sterno.
A dinner for two? Yes. Candlelit? No.
Flick off just one switch.
There will be enough darkness
prodding passions, ample butter soft light
so I can peer into your soul.
fallen haw blossom foams the
canal lock like a flat London pint
the swimming rat cuts the thin head
as the reflection of traffic lights play
across the darkening surface
shepherding its young
into the feral dark of the walled bank
stashed beneath the back-seat
of the DeLorean.
We’re on our way.
We’re as free as wild cuckoos.
The mountains are singing
The Animals’ Don’t Let Me Be
as the sun burns off the early morning
fog; you’re rubbing your eyes,
I’m clearing my throat.
we’ll celebrate with
a hot shower, clean clothes,
a six-pack of Californian beer;
we’ll sleep in a queen-size bed
with plush pillows, and freshly pressed sheets;
we’ll make love, frantically,
like feverish chimpanzees, pausing
only to re-catch our breath,
or recount our cash,
until we’re spent,
and the wolves have all been cast out.
Organised: Hand to mouth
My name is Sally Organised Barrett
It used to be Sally Organised McManus
I am my father’s daughter
When I went to my sister’s wedding party
I was ready and dressed an hour early
Natalie was my plus one
She made me get changed again
So I wasn’t too crumpled
When we had a send off for Nick
At Natalie’s house
She greeted me with
I knew you’d be fucking early
And no one wanted to go into town to dance,
My life has eternally been
Trying to get people to go into town to dance
Now I’d rather watch
Miss Marple in our living room
And festivals are like an endurance test
Just because I’m organised
Doesn’t mean I can’t digress
Strategy for Having the Last Laugh
on the International Space Station
The latest information,
used as a key element of the film Gravity,
says your body won’t explode instantly,
if exposed to the vacuum of space.
This theory claims you won’t
lose consciousness for 30 seconds,
that freezing is the first effect to hit you,
not bodily detonation.
So when, after a heated disagreement,
they push you from the air lock of the ISS,
remember this. Scramble to the viewport,
remove your suit and moon.
It was as if I was still there, lying
like a forgotten coat on a sofa,
all ears and no understanding. I was
in the room, swimming in their voices; words
about me poked, spiked – my name, character
passed from mouth to mouth with nary a barb
to catch them. They scrambled about the room,
scurrying up arms in the excitement
of holiday announcements. No matter
how I tried to still the picture, snap it
into the answer to my questions, but
the smothering began and sense was just
impossible. They squeezed me out, and when
I rose it was clear that I wasn't there.
I have always admired
those who dance on graves
who even after death, summon up the macabre energy
to do The Locomotion
upon the recently deceased
gone, one step beyond the cares of this world
there is still someone, who keeps me in tight furious hold
and spinning the mortal
unto thought, fleckerl and feather
which is worth more than a thousand words of eulogy
and lasts longer than the funeral cake
so dance upon my grave
I am your hated and everlasting partner
haven’t we a word
for the uniquely squeaky
fresh snow gives
when trodden underfoot?
I’ll own up now:
I haven’t been to look,
but I’ll offer you an even bet
the Swedes have got one;
the whole fur-booted,
4-wheel driven, herring chewing crew.
Not us, though —
or, as far as I’m aware, not yet.
At any rate, not to the point
of being in such common use
as to have caused orgasm
at OED HQ.
It would be rather fun
to have one, don’t you think?
Not fancy, showy,
technical or difficult to spell,
just something short,
sufficient to the task:
a little, soft-but-brittle word
to thrill the palate,
chill the tongue
and chase around your teeth
before it melts.
Gibside in Winter
Iced air stings my cheeks to scarlet,
bites my ears numb and
my feet slip on frosted leaves
tipped by crystals on the Derwent’s rimed bank.
Wind sculled waves spray glitter
on mallards’ green-feathered backs
as they swim downstream
whilst speedwell skies
draw deep breaths from my lungs.
On woodland banks, backlit silhouettes
of stripped-bare winter trees,
stark black bronchioles,
guard the drowsy valley at the sundown’s onset.
Our walk is short,
so few miles, maybe four.
Just enough to warm my hand in yours.
I see what is growing in my garden
and think of Ophelia
Here is rosemary, for remembrance
There is fennel too, for the fickle in love
and daisies – for faithlessness.
Here are ivy and columbine
beautiful but toxic.
Now the long winter spell is ended
I can think about new planting.
There are blank fences with wires
a bench where I can sit and wonder.
There is compost ready,
and space in soil-rich beds.
I think about roses
for colour and scent
to climb the fences
and to bring the bees.
I think about herbs
to arouse tastebuds
awaken fresh memories.
I will add thyme for cleansing
lavender for a clear head
foxglove for a steady heart, and for bees.
There will be mint for potatoes
catnip for cats.
And there will be poppies –
orange and yellow –
for sleep, peacefulness
and for remembering.
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