‘Leaves’ by James Mulhern

That fall day we raked leaves from behind the shed.
Smell of earth and wet decay rose in the cold air.
We could see our breath.

Worms and beetles scattered through a fence.
I saw dirt and thought we had finished.
“Not yet,” you said.

The gray sky grew darker and the wind chilled.
When your flashlight showed not a speck of leaf,
you said, “We’re done.”

Today I look at the wet leaves below.
I kneel and clear your grave.
Again, I smell the earth and feel the biting cold.

The damp leaves shimmer like tears, not many,
that drop on the yellowed grass.
“We’re done,” I hear you say.

I say a prayer, cross myself, and rise.
I see my breath and imagine I see yours.
I should leave, I think, but not yet.

Meet the Poet!

James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and seventy-five times, and has been recognised with many awards. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was granted a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Two of his novels were Finalists for the United Kingdom’s Wishing Shelf Book Awards. His novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019. He was shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2021 for his poetry.

‘Conversing with Stars’ by Katarina Xóchitl Vargas

Dad died in the spring
    in the brown reclining chair, 
        without morphine, 

         before sunrise, 
    as elliptical galaxies 
retired to cosmic caves,

like whales into deep sea.

Yesterday, I learned 
     that space recycles stars—
          That when one burns out, 

           it splashes out sparks 
     of elements, that birth new stars,
traveling in clusters, like fish.

Maybe, if I look long enough

into May’s night sky, 
    I might catch a glimpse
        of Dad, swimming in space, 

       25 million light-years away:
   his giant fins causing constellations 
to sparkle, with each sweep. 

I empty my heart to Ursa Major tonight. 

For, every cell in me, 
    wants the trio of time, 
         dementia and distance

         to return Dad to me, 
    so that we may contemplate 
the minutia of our ebbing existence, 

and the edge of the universe,

and what’s beyond, 
    and what’s beyond the beyond,
        as we once did

when I was thirteen.

(April 21, 2022) 

Meet the Poet!

Katarina Xóchitl Vargas (she/her) is an emerging Xicana poet, originally from Mexico. After her family moved to the U.S, she began composing poems to process alienation. A dual citizen of the U.S and Mexico, today she writes resistance poetry and lives on occupied Tsenacommacah territory where she is working on her first chapbook. Xóchitl is the first-place recipient of the inaugural Mulberry Literary Fresh Voices Award. Her poems first appeared in Somos en escritoThe Latino Literary Online Magazine, Cloud Women’s Quarterly JournalThe Acentos Review, Penumbra and Barrio Panther. Follow her on Instagram @Cantos_de_Xochitl

Translation Tuesday – Poets in Prague!

We love bringing you our Autumn translation segments. We have something a little different for you today! Last week saw Crick in Prague for a week of exploring, good food, and (of course!) poetry, with a reading especially organised in the Czech Republic’s bustling capital. Despite that busy schedule, Nera and Crick found time to sit down in one of the city’s cafés to discuss translation, and to share Crick’s own poems in Czech!

Enjoy!

Two Poems by Lorraine Caputo

THEY WILL LOOSEN THEIR GRASP

As the days pass, those roses – one 
white, another red – slowly unfold their petals
from bud to full blossom, growing wider 
with each night, their scents swelling beneath
the stars, in the moon’s light …but
one day, their petals will loosen their 
grasp & begin to carpet this table.

RENASCENCE

On that distant mountain
fire snakes down its slopes
acrid smoke drifts ‘cross miles

wrapping around words we
weave in a blue house
drinking wine & feasting

on this birth day eve

Meet the Poet!

Lorraine Caputo is a documentary poet, translator and travel writer. Her works appear in over 300 journals on six continents, and 20 collections of poetry – including On Galápagos Shores (dancing girl press, 2019) and Caribbean Interludes (Origami Poems Project, 2022). She also authors travel narratives, articles and guidebooks. Her writing has been honoured by the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada (2011) and nominated for the Best of the Net. Caputo has done literary readings from Alaska to the Patagonia. She journeys through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. Follow her travels at: http://www.facebook.com/lorrainecaputo.wanderer or https://latinamericawanderer.wordpress.com.

‘Lover>Girlfriend’ by Frances Mulholland

I rifled through your overnight bag,
The one you’d been so proud to leave,
Pride of place, in his en suite.

Cheap everyday unguents,
Paraffin and lanolin,
Those things would not pollute my skin.

Relics of a birthday gift 
From a wealthy colleague, sister, friend,
Now sampled by the woman driving your man round the bend.

Blonde Kirby grips (he prefers Brunettes),
Your shampoo, at least, is cruelty-free,
Shame the same can’t be said for me.

I replace the bag, shake my head.
I return to your man, return to your bed. 

Meet the Poet!

Frances Mulholland lives and writes in Northumberland. Her debut chapbook, Indifferent Desserts, was published in July 2022 by Bottlecap Press. When not writing, she can be found spending too much money on gig tickets and baking cakes.

‘The Fells Slumber’ by Helen Openshaw

Giant resting gravestones 
Anchored in the setting sun,
The fells slumber on. 
A tin drum moon
Awakens them to the sharp,
Sweet, night.
Rising, 
rumbling,
cloaked in the evening stars,
They survey the land,
And stake their claim.

Meet the Poet

Helen Openshaw is a Drama and English teacher, from Cumbria, England. She enjoys writing poetry and plays and inspiring her students to write. Helen has had a short monologue commissioned by Knock and Nash productions. Recently published and upcoming poetry work in Words and Whispers magazine, Green Ink Poetry magazine, The Madrigal, Unfortunately, literary magazine, Boats against the current, Forge Zine, Moist poetry, and The Dirigible Balloon magazine. Twitter – @Pocket_rhyme

‘Harley’s Rescue’ by William Falo

She jumped when a gust of wind ripped the restaurant door off its hinges. It disappeared down the street. She lived on the streets, but the restaurant workers fed her. Where did they go? The water got deeper by the minute. It now covered her paws and soon would touch her stomach. She sloshed through the water, looking for the humans. 

The last one hammered something on the building.

She heard someone’s voice. A boat drove toward the building. She meowed, but it was drowned out by the engine.

“I’m leaving.”

The human sloshed through the water toward the boat. 

“Get in. The storms getting worse,” the human on the boat said.

“I will, but there was a stray cat around here. I fed it. I hope she will be okay.”

“They’re tough, she’ll be okay…”

“I hope you’re right. I wanted to take her home, but I’m allergic, so I fed it here.”

“Let’s go.”

The engine roared, and she watched as they faded from view. The wind roared outside as she climbed onto the deck outside the restaurant. The patter on the roof increased as the storm intensified.

A board hit the deck and jammed on the steps, blocking her escape route.

She was trapped. The water streamed onto the deck.

The boat was gone, and she was alone. Things floated by, and she strained to see them. A raft floated by, covered with moving ants. She wanted to jump on it and follow the humans, but the ants would bite her. She remembered many painful bites from fire ants when she was a kitten in the woods. 

The memory made her think of when she was a kitten, she wondered where her siblings were, but there was no way of knowing. One day she wandered away from them, and when she went back, they were gone. Still, she remembered smelling a human and someone saying adoption, but when she meowed, they didn’t hear her, and she was alone, and she followed the scent of food to the restaurant. She’s been living near it ever since. She then remembered the warmth of her mother’s fur and meowed. 

The water now covered the deck. She jumped up on a chair. It wobbled, and she thought it would collapse, sending her into the water, but it stayed up. The human used to sit on it when he smoked a long stick and fed her scraps. She could still smell the smoke.

A long rope floated by before it moved and hissed at her. A snake. She hissed at it, and it drifted away.

She shook repeatedly, but she stayed wet, and a chill grew inside her. She curled up on the chair. The chair rocked like a boat when the wind roared, and darkness covered the area like someone had turned the lights off. She was so exhausted that she drifted to sleep despite the raging storm. 

Dreams. A warm mother, fights with siblings, catching a mouse, food from humans, catnip, a few pets, kind words, and an inside place that was warm and dry. A home that she never knew. 

A strong gust of wind shook the chair and woke her up. The chair started to topple over. At the same time, a bright light shined on the deck. She splashed into the water along with the chair. 

“Look at that sign.” A voice said. “A cat is around here. Please save her. She doesn’t have a home, but I call her Harley. Do you see her?”

She tried to climb on the board that blocked the deck, but it was too slippery, and she plunked back into the water. She was too weak and sank under and closed her eyes. Before she hit bottom, something grabbed her and hoisted her out of the water. 

“I got you.” A human with long hair lifted her up and stared into her eyes. “Give me a blanket.” 

She trembled despite the blanket being wrapped around her. Could she trust these humans?

“The sign says her name is Harley.”

“Harley, you’re a good cat.” She knew those words. They were good words. They got back into the boat, and the engine hummed to life. 

“I will take care of Harley,” Katie said.

“You are a Harley Quinn fan.” The human laughed.

“Yeah, I am. I also had a cat before. She lived to eighteen years old.” Harley felt warmth. 

The memories stayed, but she felt something new too. She stopped trembling and rubbed against the human’s hand. 

“Katie, she likes you.” 

Katie kissed her head and rubbed behind her ears. 

“Harley, you’re coming home with me.”

She knew love. She knew it started slowly; maybe this was the beginning of it. Maybe she would have a home now like she dreamed all her siblings did. She purred.The sun came over the horizon as the storm moved away when they reached dry land, and a new day began. 

Meet the Author

William Falo lives with his family, including a papillon named Dax. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in various literary journals. He can be found on Twitter @williamfalo and Instagram @william.falo

‘Placing you’ by Clive Donovan

I have put you on this hillside
in order to prepare for you
a rock-scree slide-show,
freakish as it goes down
the perfect 45° slope

and over that precipice
about which I should warn you.
Do not move from your spot.
You are placed on a special rock
island of basalt.

I arrange a sprinkling of trees
to halt and hold the flow
and a layer of some hedging roots.
See already rabbit hare
and pigeon hop among the bush

making themselves at home
and a shy tortoise appears
shuffling up to your hand in admiration.
You sit with passive gaze at the distance.
On the river bend a boat.

Meet the Poet

Clive Donovan is widely published in magazines, including Fragmented Voices. He is a Pushcart and Forward Prize nominee this year for best individual poem and his first collection is recently published by Cinnamon Press. Many of his poems explore the eternal circle of desire, control and escape.

‘A Portrait’ by Duncan Bennett

Words fail me – even as I stand before her, absorbing her beauty and marvelling at the cold intensity of her gaze.

I can’t describe her presence. There are words – they rise quickly to my lips – but before this heavenly apparition their portent seems as rudimentary as stone, and I worry my mastery of language is too poor to attempt even the feeblest articulation of her grace.

However, in truth, I know I’m spellbound, and realise that only by conveying something of her allure will I be able to exorcise my infatuation and free myself of her thrall.

And so …

… her hair – a fine, lustrous, ebony-black which promises the texture of spun satin – is both long and full and frames her face perfectly; its loose tresses caressing the line of her high, finely sculpted cheekbones before falling in a cascade of curls about her slender shoulders.

Her face is just so dramatically beautiful: a beauty that I wager even the most passionately enthused artist could never aspire to paint, sculpt, depict nor design.  The delicate features are at once both angelically child-like, and remarkably sensuous.

Her eyes are immediately entrancing; they are hypnotically deep, yet from their dark fathoms emanates a bright, powder-blue lustre. But, though they betray a yielding temperament and vital intelligence, I fear they are perhaps too waxed and haunted to be properly described as vibrant.

If her eyes offer a window to her soul, then her mouth reveals the pathway to her heart: it describes a perfectly formed bow; rich, yielding and inviting though, as I can’t imagine it has ever been kissed, would, perhaps, seem far more readily given to hushed whispers than passion.  Their fullness contrasts vividly with the ivory-white pallor of the flesh upon which they are so delicately stencilled for, though unpainted, they are yet possessed of a deep, naturally blossoming, cherry-red flush.

However, for one whose features are so exquisitely endowed and classically composed, her expression is one of fast held – and seemingly long suppressed – anxiety; the pain of life is clearly etched upon a slightly gathered brow, and mistrust – so potent that it is almost offensive – draws a hard line upon a jaw too firm for familiarity.  Likewise, the eyes are held just slightly too focused, just slightly too alert to ever – one might imagine – evoke a passionate concordance with the world they observe.

Sonorous and languid; attentive yet unmoving; she gazes forlornly through a vivid dream of long, un-slept centuries.

Her blood no longer flows – but sleeps, cold and still in her veins.

She has no name.

She is a vampire, imprisoned within an impassioned canvas.

Meet the Author

Duncan Bennett is a West Lothian based poet, writer and photographer who enjoys a wide range of subjects but has a penchant for horror writing and street photography in particular. He can be reached at duncan.bennett121@gmail.com

Bex Hainsworth’s ‘Walnut Street’

is lined with oak trees.
No sharp crack of fossilized
brain tissue, all ridges, like the inside
of a rodent’s skull, beneath my feet
as I walk to the bus stop at dawn.
Instead, cupless acorns bursting, splitting,
as furniture becomes firewood.

There is a mushroom. It seems to be
growing out of a paving stone,
pressing its bare feet against the cold slab,
far from soil, leaning wearily against a wall.
It is a pound of grimy flesh, an amputated limb.

Passed over, like a beggar in a doorway,
head bowed beneath his grey-brown cap.
Displaced, rootless, lonely, in a land
with a strange name that doesn’t match,
from forests and fields to this urban plot.
I pause, and mourn for this mushroom:
a headstone for all the disinherited of the earth.  

Meet the Poet

Bex Hainsworth (she/her) is a bisexual poet and teacher based in Leicester, UK. She won the Collection HQ Prize as part of the East Riding Festival of Words and her work has appeared in Visual Verse, Neologism, Atrium, Acropolis Journal, and Brave Voices Magazine. Find her on Twitter @PoetBex.