Category Archives: Poems

Cheryl Pearson

My Mother’s Hands

A mouse was the first death I touched. Soft apostrophe cupped
from grass and carried to my mother’s scream. She scrubbed

my palms until they pulsed, one heartbeat each. Now I watch her
cup the room where love and death sit nose to nose: her father

shrunk to wires and lights, his hands in hers. She urges oil
to each dry crease. His knuckles gnarled as root ginger. Hers

bright with grease. I think of the fevers I weathered young,
tossed on a hot sea of sheets. Always there: my mother’s murmur,

kind hands. Cool on a cheek. The yellowed pads I liked
that smelt of smoke. The raw flakes under her wedding ring.

I never wanted teething-beads to gum, the kiss of plasters
on a cut. I wanted hands and gentling, the way you’d stroke

a horse who’d spook. The way how here she tucks him in,
fits the clear straw to the drooped lip. I sit with her. With him.

We watch him dwindle for a week. And when his light goes out,
I hold her as she shakes and weeps. She cannot still. Her hands

mill the air, two birds disturbed. She has no parents now. How
old she looks. How thin. I take her hands in mine. I take her in.

‘My Mother’s Hands’ by Cheryl Pearson won 1st Prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (March/April 2020) judged by Mandy Pannett.

Jane Burn

How ASC Made Her Worth Her Weight in Birds

Pitter-scratch, patter-scratch, soil-deluded beak. The floor is a mystery
of worms, a concealment of seeds. This queerish bird keeps becoming lost,
though she is not a tiny thing. See how this bird knocks her cheek
against the cage of a cupboard door

and bat, bat, bat comes a beating sound of wood gently bumping against flesh.
The smell of varnish, bitter. The nurture of wood, divine. Elbow-flicker,
elbow-flack, great misguided flight. The air is a flabbergast of blank,
a fatigue of liberty.

Above is a pale unreachable scar, a stifle of pressing freight.
She sees it marked by a devotion of swans. She worships their berth,
the lowering of unblemished bows, their christening of self to water’s
shifting skin, their mustering of signets into coherent lines.

She is afraid she does not lead her baby well upon her stern wave’s
scrambled V – she is afraid he will drown in its chaos. She is all the horrors
of doing things wrong though she lowers her neck above him in shapes of love.
What sort of bird might she be?

Not the harsh slice of gulls for she did not abandon her most beloved chick
to sheer cliff, would never risk his meek, unfluttered fall nor his poor mite’s
casting to jaws of rock. How she fluffs around this treasure.
Waggle-squat, scuffle-crouch, bulk resigned frame.

The moor is a complex of heather, a concealment of mottled plume.
This bird is folding upon a stool’s perch. Look how she has laid
the addled shell of her head to the cold length of the table’s slab.
This bird has a way of guessing at the wind though she is not

a free thing and press, press, press, comes a knowing of lush, dull pain.
A bliss of blank. A bright nesting in her brow. She muses upon the plunge
of slick tar cormorants. Needles, stitching themselves into fathoms of salt.
Oceans have no corners – is the sea too big a space?

Floating bloat, reflections were never her friend. She would spur
at a repeating of herself, another wrong-ways, silent, weighted drag.
No matter how she swam, there would be no split from this clinging twin –
mock and mirror, aping curse.

Gravel-gullet, splinter-hymn, rasp of ugly verse. Compline is a nightmare time,
a tuneless ask. She is no nightingale, with her voice of shatter and shriek
though every hour she forces her breast to thorns.
Someone this weight will never hum for nectar,

no matter how she puts her tongue to bloom. She envies a chain of swallows,
prays for such frail connects. Quop-fleck, dash-fear, spook from human sight.
The day is a threat of harsh lungs, a worry of sounds.
She harbours aspects of a wren, as pit, pit, pit,

she weaves into a hidden home of threads. Picky-snap, scrabble-snap,
her hands are a hunger of clacking bills. She plucks at purses of screwed
receipts, pecks at paper scat. This bird is winding herself with spells,
rhythm and tight as bind, bind, bind,

she is lured back to ground. Becomes conscious of blood.
She closes her eyes. This bird was born a murmuration, a flocking
of small hearts. From somewhere inside her mouth, a great flight,
a quiet flurry for this is the way she cries.

Catch them, quick – though they are not perceptible things
and flit, flit, flit, there are hollows in her chest.
This bird is built on bruised and brittle sticks.
Look how she carries a craw of knives that cut through all her songs,

though she will say I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine,
there is no cure for cracks. The tap drips its patient chorus
through tinder dawns. This bird has a secret, caught behind her lips.
Look how her tongue struggles like a trapped wing.

Catch it, quick – for it will spiel feathers and sing, sing, sing,
a question of sky. Her kitchen is an aviary and she has seen blue,
its colour served through cracks. This bird, who made her brain?
Sometimes it is an eyrie – too high, scribbled with scraps and full of bones.

She is an owl’s breaking of late dusk. Perhaps she is the steeple of an egret,
poised. Dot-dash, dot-dash, her wiry toes cling to ledges like walking code,
like scratches of untidy stitch. She writes a riddle with each step.
Home, Sweet Home, Sweet Home.

‘How ASC Made Her Worth Her Weight in Birds’ by Jane Burn won 2nd Prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (March/April 2020) judged by Mandy Pannett.

Al Mcclimens

Nietzsche in Torino

“Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do” (2000:7)
M. Gladwell

Wasn’t it Friedrich Nietzsche who said, ‘We are
where we are’. Listen carefully, you can hear
Wagner in the background, all muscular Rheingold
sunsets and dodgy ideology. Ah, no, I’m being told
it was colloquial usage, early twenty first century.
An easy mistake to make. Now, where was I?
Lombardy in lockdown.
………………………….Nietzsche wrote, of course.
Then went mad. They say the sight of a horse
being whipped was the tipping point. Gladwell
at the millennium. Ecco Homo. Contagion fell
across the city. The Alps shrank in the distance.
Funny how little things can make a big difference.
But we are where we are, as someone once said,
somewhere, about something I once read.

Nietzsche in Torino by Al Mcclimens won 3rd Prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (March/April 2020) judged by Mandy Pannett.