FIFTY-FIVE: Katharine Towers

The Winter Who is Coming

An improvisation on Jules Laforgue’s ‘L’hiver qui vient’

There is nightfall and rainfall and there is the wind.

There are the soaking wet park benches and the rusty leaves.

There is the last ever Sunday which has been spoiled.

There are the cobwebs sagging under the weight of the rain.

There is yellow broom and the sun like white spit.

There is a hunting horn like a torn-out gland or a memento mori.

There is no one to take Little Red Riding Hood into the woods.

There is no one to make stretchers out of leaves for the faraway soldiers.

There is the hunting horn shivering on the ground like a memory.

There are the echoes going round and round under the chestnut trees. 

There are the school dormitories where children cough.

There are the children dreaming of infusions and homemade remedies.

There is an old piano harbouring news of an epidemic.

There is a quaint little planet spinning in the lamplight.  

Katharine Towers’ second collection The Remedies (Picador, 2016) was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.  In 2019 HappenStance published her pamphlet The Violin Forest.  She is currently working on a book-length poem to be published by Picador in 2021. www.katharinetowers.com

FIFTY-FOUR: Marion McCready

The Solitude Stone

I saw a painted stone on a bench on the arc
of the West Bay decorated like the evil eye
charms that followed us across Greece
and Turkey. Smooth black rock: like a tiny
torpedo or basking shark embellished
with a rainbow of polka dots; the word
‘solitude’ bold in white letters across
the centre. In solitude I can’t stop eating.
As if solitude woke a hunger that cannot
be filled. If I eat the stone of solitude
it will break apart inside of me.
The solitude stone is a sort of heraldic
shield with its gyronny, charge, helm
and crest. Solitude has become my motto.
I wear solitude like the pearl necklace
passed down from my grandmother;
as a child I played with the pearls
on her dressing table. Daily, I come
to the shore and the stone speaks to me
like the horse’s head in a Grimm’s fairy-tale
shouting out the truth each time I pass by.
This amulet will protect me from the eye
of the storm. And my pearl necklace
will save me from hungers yet unknown.

Marion McCready lives in Dunoon, Argyll. Her poems have been published widely including in Poetry, Edinburgh Review and the Glasgow Herald. She won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2013 and the Melita Hume Poetry Prize for her first full-length collection Tree Language (Eyewear Publishing 2014). Her second collection Madame Ecosse was published in 2017, also by Eyewear Publishing.

FIFTY-THREE: Nicolas Spicer

Towards the End

… and still the stiffs in suits who took life seriously

busied themselves about a rotten magic

original to eighteenth-century, rational

Christian men of sound commercial means,

stinking & scratching in nice white linen, signing

the usual bills for sugar, slaves & tea,

not overblessed with intelligence or foresight

but very pleased with themselves & their enormous

scope of action.

                          They could decide one day

‘Value is fungible across qualities, if you don’t understand

here are men with guns to better explain’, & lo!

these that were trees are woodchips, this that was useful

sequestered under a trademark; & this was a planet

where people could keep on living, never mind.

Nicolas Spicer was educated at the universities of York and Newcastle upon Tyne, and lives in Sheffield. His collections Landscape with Forgeries and Lines on the Surface are available from Contraband Books at www.contrabandbooks.co.uk.

FIFTY-TWO: Madelaine Culver

Trich

The sky is full of faces today. 

Inside, the cat pads the blanket covering my legs

while I wrap ringlets around my fingers. 

He likes the catch of thread in his claws. 

I like the slip of hair between my nails, 

the unseen stretch 

A quiet madness has arrived with the wind.

Trich: diminutive of trichotillomania

Madelaine Culver is a writer and poet with a background in arts administration. Based in the NorthEast of England, she is currently completing her final year of the part-time Writing Poetry MA at Newcastle University. Her work appears in various places online, including the Poetry Book Society‘s YouTube channel and blog, Ink Sweat and Tears, and issue 17 of the international journal, Shuddhashar. Find her on Twitter @fromxthextower.

FIFTY-ONE: Simon Barraclough

Retirement Plan

The green shoots of recovery were the fingers of zombies

pushing up through leafy graves in city cemeteries,

hauling rancid bodies down midnight streets,

through doors and windows, into the beds of sleeping families.

A flash new facility went up overnight,

too fast for royal gurning – a polytunnel killing jar

planted with rows of the elderly and points-based rejects,

mouths full of Kentish apples and potato peelings.

On-the-spot fines for pavement dawdlers, close-talkers,

were applied by captive-bolt pistol through the forehead,

sowing bits of broken skull onto pavements,

stepped on and scattered like a Lindt Easter Bunny.

Viscera were cocooned by recycling robots

and stitched into parachutes for the war

they had planned from Day One of the plebeian lock-in,

Do Not Resuscitate daubed on every door down to the river.

It was then that my plan came into its own.

In my muddy bivouac beneath Tower Bridge,

naked to outsmart the mudlarks’ detectors,

singing songs to the rats sizing me up for supper. 

Simon Barraclough is a London-based poet, writer and editor. His most recent book is Sunspots (Penned in the Margins).  He reports that he has ‘new poems, stories and music pecking at the shell’.