FORTY: Alison Brackenbury

Breathless 

I sensed how we were stricken through one image

that Thing, coronavirus. I could see

across its whirled blue globe, in glistened ruby

how many arms it needed. So did we.

Alison Brackenbury has won an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award, and has frequently been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4. She has published ten collections of poetry. Her most recent, Skies, (Carcanet, 2016), was chosen as a Poetry Book of the Year by ‘The Observer’. Gallop, her Selected Poems, was published in 2019 by Carcanet. New poems can be read on her website: https://alisonbrackenbury.wordpress.com/

THIRTY-NINE: Paul Stephenson

The Downside of the Upside

It’s like that dachshund online

having the best week ever

with everyone home from work

until its tail went into overdrive.

Rolo is currently on pain relief.

It might take a week. Apparently

there’s some movement from side to side

but he’s struggling to lift it in the air.

Which reminds me of my father

carrying on with his rusty jack,

trying to raise the Mitsubishi 

up to inspect the chassis.

Chassis. Which makes me think

of Chas & Dave, the opening verse 

of their song ‘Rabbit’ used in ads

for Courage Bitter and beginning

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, 

rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit 

(rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit).

My father got us a rabbit. White.

Bugsy, after the only bunny we knew.

It was a Sunday. We let it out the hutch

so it could enjoy the grass.

The dog could work the back door 

and chased it round the garden.

I can see it, not hopping but swerving,

the tail wagging. Heart attack.

Paul Stephenson has published three pamphlets: Those People (Smith/Doorstop, 2015), The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance, 2016) and Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press, 2017). He co-edited Magma (issue 70 ‘Europe’) and co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh. He interviews poets at paulstep.comTwitter: stephenson_pj / instagram: paulstep456

THIRTY-EIGHT: Zoe Karathanasi

You Have a Karmic Relationship with Ireland

Last night I had a long clear dream about Cork I woke up in Paris the city I live in recalling my dream when I realised it was St. Patrick’s day in total confinement I conjured leprechaun ghosts in the half-empty streets passing through real-life characters with beak doctor masks on l Medici della Peste I could hear the chirping of songbirds through someone’s app I would have needed a special certificate to go out a fact I mention only because it reminds me of the complications of my situation in my dream I had to get myself from Paris to Cork in very little time I had an appointment with an ex sex friend who I was still seeing in my dream time is like a bouncing ball in dreams everything works like throwing together a soup with all the leftovers of one’s life whip it up why on earth Cork of all places I think a sneaked-in memory of that illicit couple in Tangier holding hands under the table influenced my dream they always met in some neutral faraway town the plan was to fly to Dublin then drive to Cork in a quarter of an hour which seemed possible when I was dreaming it up as simple as reading the world on our kitchen wall I found myself on a military plane conceived as a deux pièces one of the rooms functioned as a passenger lounge the other one had been turned into a music room as the passengers were turned into party people which alleviated the military feel of the flight my eight-year-old daughter was with me whose name is Oona when we landed in Dublin we joined my husband and youngest daughter they were supposed to drive me to Cork but I started stressing I was already late an hour at least and what would I say to my ex sex friend that I was just setting out from Dublin to Cork by car besides we had never spoken on the phone I checked it out the next morning and apparently it’s a three-hour drive down the M8 direct off the M50 if you are coming from the airport I was woken by my family’s breakfast chattering and the smell of crêpes but I strongly doubt that I made it to Cork and met with my ex sex friend whom I haven’t seen in fourteen years by that time my dream foundation was sinking and I was trying to fix it not the passionate love plus sexual passion whole package I was craving to succumb to and even if we did make it to Cork what was I envisaging wave my husband goodbye stick my tongue in my ex sex friend’s mouth yell come pick me up later it now seemed a clearly impossible ambition should I be checking the symptoms of falling in love apart from those of Covid-19 in the past when we were in Inverness I had asked my husband to drive me to Elgin to meet with my platonic love come to think of it I also hadn’t seen him in fourteen years at the time the one-hour drive was painted in orange and lilac we had a couple of whiskies in a pub while my husband was waiting in the car with our sleeping baby Oona any psychoanalyst could decipher this poem in a second that was a slip deciphering is not the intention of this dream do you also get this feeling with a poem how it wears out exactly the same way as a dream its vanishing memory a bittersweet aftertaste very often a poem manifests itself through a first line like this dream I had a long clear dream about Cork I have a sneaking suspicion that Larry Martin or Jacques Godbarge influenced it his record do not lean out of the window is an essential quarantine item these days and Jacques Godbarge was born in Cork and of course Rory Gallagher is buried in Cork I instant message a friend who sends me an entire row of shamrocks wishing me happy St. Patrick’s day it’s obvious you have a karmic relationship with Ireland I close my eyes and see Maud Gonne old very old falling asleep on her armchair her hollow cheeks and high cheekbones wrapped in her Zeus-filled kilt my birth town is not far from Byzantium thinking I have been in Maud Gonne’s shoes and Georgie’s and Iseult’s but this is no more a dream about unrequited love than one of our souls yearning to become One picture a kaleidoscopic Symposium of more or less 7.7 billion souls the message is we are in the same boat sharing the same journey especially now that we are confined within an online platform social media tele-working world the nightly rituals of clapping hands for the health workers supermarket staff and basically all who provide for us become clearly audible there will always be those who object not the perfect timing not the perfect angle for our perfect unity but what about Cork and as the smell of crêpes travels up my nostrils it becomes clear that we have something edible at least for a while and that Cork was my Ithaca and the important thing was not getting to Cork but the Journey

Zoe Karathanasi was born in Greece and lives in Paris. She has an MA in Poetry with distinction from the Manchester Metropolitan University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various online and print publications, such as Ink Sweat and TearsThe Interpreter’s HouseTears in the Fence and Under the Radar.

THIRTY-SEVEN: Neil Fulwood

BWV 156

(Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe)

I am standing with one foot in the grave, according

to the media, when I’d much prefer the pose

of a stricken Victorian poet, reclining on a chaise longue,

velvet smoking jacket and a thimble of a glass

brimming with some dull opiate, everything

just terrible, the evening’s erotic promises cancelled.

I am standing with one foot in the grave: radio,

TV, the internet insist on it. Texts from government

and NHS ram it home. I am a hair’s breadth 

from being a footnote to a statistic in a news bulletin.

I am a marked man, doomed, blogging on borrowed time.

Yet my cough is receding. My temperature’s normal. I feel fine.

Neil Fulwood has published two collections with Shoestring: No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere. He lives in Nottingham where he works as a bus driver.

THIRTY-SIX: Morag Anderson

DNR

Another night

succumbs to copper.

Morning swallows sentinel light

in the hospital carpark.

Incoming weather is dark.

His flickering lids

journey the geography

of sixty-seven summers,

come to rest on condensed light:

distant as heather honey.

I blow thirty-two winds

of the mariner’s rose

upon his cooling skin, slack

like a sail’s empty belly.

Life changes tack.

The music of monitors

steps up a pace

as his own timpani slows

then holds low C.

I run cold water to drown

the sound of my relief.

Morag Anderson lives in Highland Perthshire. One of her poems was placed in the Blue Nib Chapbook VI Contest. She performed at StAnza Poetry Festival 2020, was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2019 and won Over the Edge Poet of the Year 2018 and the Clochoderick 2018 Prize. Her poemsa ppear in several anthologies as well as Popshot Quarterly, Skylight47, The Scotsman, and The Corbenic Poetry Path.