Helen Ferris – A Pilgrimage

Helen Ferris
A Pilgrimage

A mother wakes to a starless sky,
work on her mind and in her bones.
She scrubs under soft water
with hands that are used to hardness.
She scrubs floors that will never look clean.
It is comfort that the coast is near,
the landlock of London left behind,
grey smothered by the light of home.
Sweat and salt are her second skin
as her children ask questions about war.
The window is a siren call and a threat.
A small drip from the ceiling sinks into the sheets.
An ant carries a fragment of leaf above itself,
greener than still rivers.

A boy returns to school after everything he owns,
everything he knows, has been destroyed.
His towerblock up in flames, his flat a home then gone.
Stinging knees scraped by the concrete,
glowing rubies crusted with dirt.
A girl glances down at her scuffed trainers,
the flapping soles drawing unwanted attention.
One of the boys says she flinches too quickly.
She doesn’t trust how he laughs.
Answers catch in her throat. She fears further questions.
On the way home, the wind whips through her hair
veiling her chapped, rosy face,
a futile barrier to the spitting rain.
They fall through the cracks because they are quiet.
Wherever they go the air is thick
and the chimneys breathe slowly
into guzzling lungs.

A curious mind finds menageries in the clouds.
A sturdy hand finds black diamonds underground,
moves staccato, while light is swallowed
by shadow. As music is pulled from her
The mother wonders
how many have ripped their hearts out
to provide comfort for another.

Helen Ferris – That year

Helen Ferris
That year

Life was fast until we started losing time
quick breaths keeping time with the beat of the tube carriage
no more car rides
lingering and sickening

The air thickened
meaning summer
the screaming ache in my back telling me I had worked hard enough
wondering how it had been two weeks since I last ate
and why I felt emptiness but no hunger

You’re unsure how much to take from me
tipping the scales too far to bear, too far to go back
chewing your name
unfamiliar and intimate

Jennifer L. Freed – Crossing Boundaries

Jennifer L. Freed
Crossing Boundaries

The woods beyond the old stone walls
lot-by-lot scraped flat
for curving streets and backyard pools.

We see more of fox, deer, bear.

Today, a band of wild turkeys
strolls across a landscaped lawn
as though at a garden party.

A morning walker kneels,
whispers calmness to his yellow lab,
who barks, strains at his leash.

The turkeys do not falter.
They strut closer,
toward sidewalk, man, dog,

and when the man moves
to take a photo, they flare
and still press forward,
all black and copper fret and glare.

Dark pinion feathers scrape fresh pavement.
They make a fricative hiss
as they approach.

Tom Gannon Hamilton – Nickel Iron

Tom Gannon Hamilton
Nickel Iron

Recalling piglets at a sow, a score of grade four pupils,
we vied for position around a photo, framing a woman,
her upper thigh bruised black.
Transfixed by the famed image, such incomprehensible
odds, mixed misfortune and privilege
to be chosen by debris set in motion, we’d been told,
by a fourteen-billion-year-old event, still unfolding.
Discussing the Big Bang when the bell rang,
once dismissed, we dismissed the notion as irrelevant.

Yet space-time, writ-large, writes off as commonplace,
the stuff humans hold so dear: gemstones,
being mere silica, that mineral class comprising
over half earth’s crust: keen obsidian, quartz pegmatite
and our own exquisitely blown glass
are just so much fluff, a buffer for the nickel-iron core,
earth-science reckons to be quite similar
to meteorites, which, despite their mass, almost
always entirely combust after entering the atmosphere.

Over eons, our planet, on its annual orbit, has enjoyed
a rendezvous with an asteroid belt.
We watch the resulting showers from sleeping-bags,
under quilts, atop a frosty hillside, entranced for hours,
until hypothermia threatens, our host
promises hot cocoa and we repair indoors, where
he displays them: some resembling black chewing gum
wads, one specimen, cut into thin sections,
each plate, condensed calamity, a micro-mayhem.

I dreamt those interior designs: frozen Aurora Borealis,
lightning-bolt chorus line, crystalline chevron,
zig-zag Navajo blanket, then shuffled back to the sack
after emptying my bladder; a radiance arose
behind Venetian blinds, brighter than a cop helicopter
spotlight, white as the molten pellets arc-welders drop.
The ensuing split-second brought a muffled pooohmm,
as when you spit on campfire embers.
I presume it struck the riverbank or hit the river itself.

Deborah Harvey – A family history of refractive errors

Deborah Harvey
A family history of refractive errors

Tell me about your mother
the therapist said

and I stared at the floor, unsure how to start
all I could see was the grain of her skin
the knot of her nose, cherry pink
lipstick smeared on a tooth

It took me years to look past the wood, focus on tree

Now I’ve climbed to the top to take in the view
only to spot our distance
running at twice the speed of silence
over the clouded horizon

Is our gap wide enough now?

If I dress in hi-vis and wave both my arms
do you think you might see me?

Jerl Surratt – A Face in Flower

Jerl Surratt
A Face in Flower

No further away from you than one remove,
my having just leaned in close as a creature could
without landing in your neighborhood, the power
of my vision multiplied by nearly ten thanks to
this magnifying lens, a microscope of sorts
I’ve commandeered to see if I could figure out
what makes your velvet petaled surface glow.

My hand shakes just a little bit. Now from beneath
the rim of my transparent looking glass I purse
my lips, breathe out, and see you shy away as though
I’d tried to kiss a cheek too suddenly on our first date.
Then you look back at me with all the rods of which
your single eye’s composed and leave me blushing
to have dared to try transcending our divide.

One must at times risk doing what one’s not supposed
to do despite the risk—to take into a metaphoric bed
a distant other, with coitus there as punishment,
as Kafka said, for the happiness of being together.
Speaking as your admirer, I’m the one who fed you
sunlight in a tended garden bed to have you live
with me awhile indoors in lamplight, just like this,

so you’d stand in for another’s velvet cheek I’d once
made blush whenever leaning in to ask my kiss be met
halfway. Too late to change the fate of my attraction
to that other face in flower, to have the kiss I’d tried for
time and again, always too soon. But the risk itself
will always bear repeating, for love’s not fully felt
until returned. A lesson, thanks to you, I’ve now relearned.

Jerl Surratt – Speaking As a Child

Jerl Surratt
Speaking As a Child

Being that this thing I am
is in some part the very dust
of a bright star that I’ve been taught
to single out and call Arcturus,
I wonder on this summer night
what’s happening with the star
I’m fondest of, imagining
of all the stars you are the one
that I am most made of?

Are you as yet still bright as when
the bodies you were captured in
were born at the same time as me
in all Time’s zones around the world,

Or dimmed a little bit by now,
the now we never see from here,
your energy so radiant
another star eons ago
grew envious while drifting by
just close enough to siphon off
some of your outmost rays,

Or are you brighter still,
if imperceptibly as yet to us,
for having faintly flared because
within your heart, your core,
the heat your life depends upon
has almost reached the point at which
it cannot be contained and you’ve
begun to die, as all stars must?

Here on my back on a quilt
on the grass, an old quilt
mother’s let me have,
I’m asking childish questions
while I can. More fun to ask
sometimes and not to know
what is in store for you
while I’m still young and still
aglow for being unaware

of all that is in store for me,
while I daydream by night
and stare into the meadows
of the Bear, the Northern Crown
nearby and feel your energy
alive in me, your heat, your dust
my guiding light, Arcturus.

Jim Ross – Unassigned

Jim Ross

In a dream, I’m on my deathbed. As the moment approaches, I ask, ‘Is this billable? ’ followed by, ‘To what do I bill this?’


      I ask friends for advice on interpreting my dream.
      A high-school classmate, Ron, now a medieval historian, advises, ‘Ah, but who will be answering? Sounds like an illustration out of the medieval ars moriendi. Look out!’
      Knowing the ars moriendi were medieval texts outlining protocols for ‘a good death,’ I ask, ‘You mean dying isn’t billable?’
       ‘Au contraire,’ Ron answers, ‘but who will be holding the divine credit card reader?’
      A mutual classmate, Bob—a middle-school teacher and Assistant Principal—sharply disagrees: ‘The question might be read: “To what account do I bill this?” meaning “To whom am I accountable?” It’s not a matter of ars moriendi but of ars vivendi.’
           College classmate John, who ekes out a living through sweat of his brow and strength of his hands, suggests, ‘The experts are hill people: the rugged terrain where they spend their lives puts them a step ahead of most bill collectors. Ask them.’
      Another college classmate, Gus, a lawyer, promptly emails me a do-it-yourself manual for setting up and maintaining systems of billable rates.
      Yet another college classmate, Gary, known as the ‘poet lawyerette,’ says, ‘Instead of asking, “Is this billable?” I’d ask, “Can we make a deal about the value of the time that’s left?”’


      I spent my career in an industry that demanded its workers bill each quarter hour to any of numerous charge codes. As it happens, the company’s name was MACRO. Colleagues committed to a single client and project had little reason to ask howto complete their timecards. However, those who worked on multiple projects and sometimes performed non-billable work—tasks that couldn’t be billed to clients— often characterized the time-reporting experience as ‘vexing’ or ‘unsettling.’ Everyone knew, being billable was highly correlated with being valued, and having ‘billability problems’ meant your ‘future’ was ‘at risk.’
      Management made it clear we were expected to bill every moment we reasonably could to client-billable projects rather than to overhead. When asked to attend an all-staff meeting or perform a small, non-billable task, someone inevitably asked, ‘To what do I bill this?’ MACRO management bridled at such micro questions. They speculated that askers believed they operated on a higher ethical plane or suffered from a deficiency in ability to read between the lines.


      Former MACRO work colleague Trish, now a mindfulness coach, says, ‘Your dream is a reminder that every moment counts.’
      Another MACRO work colleague, Stan, an anthropologist, says, ‘You worked way too long in that milieu. Asking for someone else to take responsibility for providing a charge code, even in a dream, is either a way of avoiding responsibility or quibbling over meaningless details.’
      MACRO’s CEO, Frank—long the final arbiter of billability questions—advises, ‘Your time should be charged to “unassigned”’.


      Returning to my dream, I’m lying in bed, I know the end is near, yet I’m asking whether this is billable. I want to know to what account I should bill this. After telling colleagues who asked how to fill out their timecards that they knew the answer, here I am, asking the same niggling questions, on my deathbed no less. Am I too unable to read between the lines?
      Only I can decide. Nobody can tell me how to fill out my timecard. Only I know how I’ve spent my life. The moments that mattered were hardly ever client billable. I can’t abdicate to others my responsibility to answer the hard questions.
      Perhaps by asking on my deathbed, ‘Is this billable?’ and ‘To what do I bill this?’ I’m really asking ‘Am I still valued, even in the moment of my death?’ And if I am, ‘Does that mean my future is freed of risk?’   AQ

Lily Jarman-Reisch – Quantum’s Complaint

Lily Jarman-Reisch
Quantum’s Complaint

A runt
in a dark neighbourhood
few visit,
a lifer in the Shawshank
of quantum gravity,
entangled with trillions
of my kind, never
knowing my place,
my worth in the grand cycle

another black hole hoovers
me over its event-horizon
shrinking me to a nullity
too tiny for space and time,
suddenly distinctive
after a lifetime in limbo,
a singularity,
my one chance
to belly through a wormhole
to freedom,
revel in the rain of redemption

I’m spat out yet again
by the next big bang
back to the slammer,
pining before a pin-up
for the tunnel beyond.

Marcus Slingsby – Alang Ship Breaking Yard

Marcus Slingsby
Alang Ship Breaking Yard

At the water’s edge the sand is black
heavy-ink-black waves caress it.
Like a sunrise-sky the beach slowly,
through dirty greys and sickly yellows
becomes the colour you want.

The biggest ship breaking yard in the world!
Mile after mile, ship after ship
Rammed onto the sand
Eaten by hands
holding blow torches.

Ants on hulls
Slowly devouring everything.
The street to this show –
A market selling toothpicks from aircraft carriers
Shot glasses in Russian
A chandelier
But the ballroom’s gone
The dancers, a world away.