At Douk Ghyll Cave

I have returned and shall return again,
Summoned by whispering waters to the door
In Penyghent-side whence Douk Ghyll is born.

Hundreds of million years peine forte et dure
Have pressed to crush the life from solid seas –
Still living water flows out, cold and clear.

It trickles from the limestone layers that squeeze
Out of their own dead hearts the elixir
That smears them green. The muttering water flows

Under and over stones, through grassy hair,
Stitching together our green world, its thread
Appears and vanishes to reappear,

Shuttling in this secret weaving shed
Where life is spun from stone, and waterfalls
Unravel pools, and comb and card the flood.

This is the source, enfolded by rock walls,
Where trees gather like old wives at a birth,
Of consciousness itself, the voice that calls —

‘Though made of stone and rain I’m more than earth’.

– originally published by Peterloo Poets

Anna Adams, from issue No. 72

The Four Horsemen

When the White Horse Rider came, he traveled by night. He came among us quietly, lived in our street, spoke only occasionally. We didn’t see the hardness in his eyes, or hear his muttered imprecations, only saw the light in his room where a screen flickered.

When the Red Horse Rider came, he wore a fine uniform, and flashed a curved sword. Others came after him, Kalashnikovs over their shoulders, grenades in their belts. And then the tanks came to our street corner. And then the planes, and the bombs. The school exploded to rubble, houses blazed. Like rats, we lived in the craters, among the ruins.

When the Black Horse Rider came by, our fields were dust, the river a shallow ravine of stones and mud, the pond baked clay. Our goats chewed the last thistles. Our cattle staggered and died, their flesh picked by vultures and crows, white bones scattered and bleached under searing sun.

When the Pale Horse Rider came, with a face greenish white, he passed children with swollen bellies, drumstick skin over protruding ribs, flies on their lips, faces turned to the bare walls. Those of us who lived on, dug pits in the stony soil – a line of hummocks, unmarked, where once those children had played.

But this was another place, not here.
Come, through our locked doors, into the garden.
Hollyhocks, pelargoniums in the border,
Earl Grey tea to be taken on the lawn,
We have our own short lives to fill with pleasures,
with satisfactions.

Forget the smiling insomniacs, oceans away,
touching screens, picking up phones,
their shiny missiles gently rising, pointing.

Colin Speakman, from issue No. 82

Thelma Recovering

On a photograph by Chemena Dianguindo

This photo may grow to be my favourite.
Taken on the wing with a mobile phone,

it shows Thelma standing in the doorway
of the narrow passage from our kitchen

to the conservatory. Sunlight streaming
from the south pools creamily behind her,

shadowing her figure and face that looks
to the cool north. Despite the unorthodox

illumination, she commands her space
like the tempered traveller from mapless

places she is. Her bone-china fineness
washes my eyes. Like the base of a long-

established tree, the ridges and valleys
of her neck ascend to a queenly crown.

And there, among uncountable branches
of matter, the singular song of her mind.

Kevin Hanson, from issue No. 82

Teiresias on Burying the Dead

after The Antigone

Heads up. Pay attention when I speak.
Think of my words as medicine you need
for the pain of time, for these murder days.
You know what I do – I divine with birds
and take notice of the whispering trees.
It’s what wise men have been up to for years.
No trader launched their trireme without
input from someone like me – they need
to know what will be sunk in the angry sea,
they need to be told what’s turning turtle.
From the tripod in Thebes’ sanctuary
I heard crows and ravens at each other’s throats,
predator and prey, food and the feeder.
I turned to ignite the altar’s mantle
but it was having none of it – no light,
no spark – the flame choked off at source.
I sent a boy, my guide, to see what’s what.
It wasn’t hard. The streets were full of it.
Nobody can make an offering to the gods
because the faulty altars are manky
with guts and gizzards, eyeballs and shit.
Imagine what the gods will make of this.
It’s a plain fact, there are so many dead,
carrion scattered for everyone to see,
the birds crazy – they’ve got the taste for it.
And guess what, it’s not hard to understand,
this mess is down to a man. That’s Creon.
Don’t waste your time hunting for saboteurs
or terrorists, fifth columnists, lone wolves
or any of the crap his spokesmen spout.
In Thebes his crack troops are killing for fun,
leaving bodies decomposing on the street.
Anyone who stumbles in their path’s at risk –
non-combatants, school kids, nurses, mums.
So we’re clear who’s let these demons out.
His edict says A hero’s grave for patriots;
for traitors, the open street – let them rot.
Who thinks that’s clever? Who thinks it wise?
Not me, oh mighty king. You’ve lost the plot.
Think how this might be with one of your own,
how you’d feel if you lost Antigone.
It calls for compassion when children die.
I can see it though I have unseeing eyes.
So wind your neck in. Chill. Call it a day.
Stop cutting off noses to spite their faces.
Bury the dead with honour. Show respect.
Don’t think mercy’s something for the weak.
You should pay attention when I speak.

Philip Foster, from issue No. 81

Loss

I met you only briefly, twice,
perhaps a dozen years ago
beneath the pinnacles of ice
you feared. I wonder, often: did you sow
those seeds you held, into the melted snow?

You stood there slight, but this stood out:
you were a powerhouse of grief;
alone. And certain – way past doubt –
of utter undeception, in whose teeth
you’d lost your grip of comfortable belief.

So deep, so deep, you felt distress,
it stayed unburied, near to hand,
from where you vouched your forthright sense
the gods, with arbitrary spite, had planned
to visit drought upon and scorch your land.

I screwed my eyes against the glare
of highland light which bathed, and drained
all life, from the deserted square;
I wanted nothing, nothing more, right then
than for you to be healed and whole again,

and still, today, I think of you
abandoned – brittle, proud – by grace.
I pray you found a pathway through
the melting snow to reach a burial place
wherein to plant anew; a safer space.

Phil Vernon, from issue No. 80

Do you have the time?

As if I’d just locked up
and left the key inside –
when you turn round
and it’s too late –
I look at the door and windows
of our old place,
the house pretending
to be asleep.

This feeling, standing by the gate,
what is it?
The past is here
and feels like loss,
but isn’t lost.
Living in the present,
when tomorrow
is what you do today
and time has no lid,
took up all our time.

It’s happening now,
looking at the door which
cannot let me in
even though I have a key –
my daughter’s face,
looking up at me
in the window
looking back.

Chris Hardy, from issue No. 80

Small Stone Church

You meet it unexpected through the windshield’s sleety snow,
The whitening roof of a church in looped compactness hunched
Like a pioneer caught in the weather behind a horse and plow
With his hoar hat bent to the effort, his freezing shoulders hunched.
Your headlamps brush the stones of it, still grey,
Still stones though mortared into a wall
Solid as a promised truth. Fleetingly, you see
Its understated window, ashy pale
Inversion of an inner rainbow’s fire.
And at first you think it is gone, abandoned,
As you sweep on through swamp cedar down a thinning icy road.
But it refuses extinction, keeps shape, is there,
Anchored in the heart, a cairn in the wilderness.
Roof slush.
True stone.
Guessed-at glory in the window glass.

Tony Cosier, from issue No. 81