A Nocmig Diary (extracts) by Jim Lloyd

Tuning in to birds migrating at night

First Spring

The software is slow to update the sonogram – watching the screen is like watching a photograph develop in the darkroom. It’s low resolution at first, blocky rather than blurry; then, at last, the trace becomes clear. Now a call stands out – sparkling and lovely. 

My wrist on the computer mouse is getting tired from scrolling through so much noise and then this shines out bright and pure – a short phrase, just over half a second long – with a rich, vibrant timbre. I listen through the headphones over and over again – I must have listened to that one hundred times by now. It captivates me. But I cannot recognise the bird.

I post on the Facebook group and replies soon come back – ‘Skylark’! – so I search on-line, on xeno-canto, for their nocturnal calls; I download samples and compare the sonogram shape to my bird. I examine the familiar Skylark song – cutting out a scrap of its heartpourings and comparing with my recording. Finally, I am convinced – yes, this was a Skylark flying over my house, calling, on that starry spring night.

I remember as a boy wandering the North Devon sea-cliffs – in summer there were always Skylarks, suspended – impossibly high, singing non-stop.  They were the sound of summer, like the blue of the sky, the warmth of the sun and the sound of the waves crashing and grinding pebbles at the base of the cliffs.  A sound so commonplace that it almost wasn’t noticed, would come and go out of focus. I would lie on my back on the sheep-cropped grass at the cliff edge, surrounded by sea pinks, and take in that song.  

Back then time didn’t exist, and now time is everywhere; short scale, I’m thinking I should be doing something else right now, and long scale, I am looking at graphs showing the population of Skylarks in England reduce by over sixty percent in fifty years. Yes, I do still hear them on the moors around here in summer, but now when I listen, as beautiful as it is, I cannot hear it in the same way as then. This is not, anymore, an untroubled, careless yet wondrous, listening. The fact that they are disappearing gives an urgency to the listening and I start to think of a purpose to the listening. Do I need to record it and report it, so that surveys can be made?  Would that help to halt the decline? Maybe I have some responsibility? 

It was early in 2021 that I first read about nocmig: a rather clumsy term for the practice of leaving a microphone running overnight, pointed at the sky, and listening out for the calls of nocturnally migrating birds. I found it difficult to believe that birds flew and called at night on migration, or that I would be able to capture these calls, but I thought I would try. My initial recordings were brief, mainly to test the equipment, and later I extended recording to run continuously from sunset to sunrise. 

12th April 2021

There is a light wind from the west, and it is cold for the time of year – minus two degrees with a little light snow falling; sunset was at 20:05. Between 22:00 and 23:00, above the noise I hear series of simple soft and rhythmical whistles – pyu – pyu – pyupyu with individual members of the flock audible at different times and at slightly varying frequencies. So, although the calls themselves are minimal, mesmerising cross rhythms occur.

I have recorded three flocks of Common Scoter. One hundred thousand of these all-dark sea ducks spend winter off British coasts. As I am thirty miles inland, I know these are on migration, heading from the Solway Firth, crossing the country through the Tyne Gap to the Northumberland coast and onwards out over the North Sea in darkness. 

I am hooked on nocmig from that first night. For over a year I continue to record from my garden , listening to the sounds of the night, tuning in to birds calling out on their hidden journeys.

At this time of year, as winter visitors leave, summer visitors arrive.


Curlews are the most pressing bird conservation priority in Britain; they are on the UK red list and globally ‘near threatened’.  A quarter of the worldwide population breeds in the UK and their numbers have declined steeply by over 40% from 1995 to 2008. Two related species, the Eskimo Curlew and the Slender-billed Curlew (which were once widespread) are now thought to be extinct. 

These graceful long-legged birds with long curved bills spend winter around the coast of the British Isles and breed on northern uplands. They are the emblem of the Northumberland National Park.

In spring, I always see and hear them when I walk up across a couple of fields from home and out along the Racecourse Road that follows a low ridge above the Tyne valley. At night from early April, I have recorded them many times returning to their breeding sites. They have a call like their name – a far-carrying, rising, fluty, melancholy whistle, ‘cour-lii cour-lii’. 

They sing a very long, haunting, bubbling song as they gently glide down to the ground, described in the Collins Bird Guide as:

starting with drawling notes, merging into a distinctive rhythmic, rippling trill:

‘oo-ot, oo-ot, oo-eet trru-ee trru-eel, trrru-eel trrru-eel trrru-uhl’.


Several Redshank flew over in late April and early May. I played the recordings back many times to be reminded of the evocative and melancholy calls: teu-huhu teu-huhu. 

Is it just evocative and melancholy for me – or do others who have never heard the call before think of it in the same way?

The estuary

He walks out on a low embankment that extends from the disused railway line over the salt marsh to the mudflats. He is trespassing; many years later this area will be full of cyclists, joggers, and walkers – but now, he is alone. This is the place where there will be a high-level road bridge across the width of the estuary, bypassing the white town and the old bridge. Today, the slow river, mud, and sky merge in luminous pale morning mists.

Idly he gazes out over the flats – glistening like the back of a horse in the rain; grey – but lively, with hints of greens and yellows – thick and oozy. When he reaches the high-water mark, his nostrils are filled with the stench of rotting seaweed. Now, the tide is starting to turn – not a smooth encroachment, but a searching of fingers, feeling their way up the creeks and inlets in the vast tracts of sludge. As the water rises, wading birds are agitated and fly off calling – tyu-lu-lu       tyu-lu-lu           tu-tu    –   slipping from sight over the silent landscape – but persisting.


25th September 2021

During the day I heard geese overhead, heading south from the breeding quarters before the ice closes over, flying to their wintering grounds – places of sanctuary, food, and shelter. I wonder how much they know about their future. I can’t help but be interested in them, and I search out the direction of the sound; pause, figure out where they might be heading, listening to them call. Individual notes counter-play against the notes in a series, and against calls of the other members of the flock.  The music comes suddenly into my consciousness and now fades away, and there comes a point when they are no longer part of my perception but continue in my thoughts.

And now, listening through headphones to the sound recorded last night, I can clearly understand it as a flock moving overhead. I can picture in my mind’s eye the flock moving through the darkness against the stars and the moon and clouds, over the chimneys and the roofs. I wonder what view they have; I wonder what they are thinking and what purpose they think they have. What do they think of themselves and of the birds next to them and the flock as a whole? How are they sensing their direction and feeling the purpose of that direction? How is that magnetic sense felt, how does it look and feel to them?

I hear yelps, bark, squeaks, and grunts, and every so often, the characteristic high-pitched wink wink, wink wink wink. These are Icelandic Pink-footed Geese – or ‘pink-feet’.


I wonder if some of my recorded calls belong to birds that died in storms crossing the sea or struck a wind turbine or met their end at a lighthouse window.

Using my datastore and database I can reanimate any call at any time. 

18th February 2022

Storm Eunice followed Storm Dudley. Overnight snow.

24th February 2022

Bright between snow showers; cold blustery wind. Walking along the lane with the dog, two Oystercatchers dart overhead, k-peep k-peep. Then a different cry – and I stop, stand motionless, turning towards the sound, focussing completely on that call, searching for the bird – cour-lii … lii-lii … cour-lii

The Curlews have returned!

Second Spring

26th February 2022

What is this I hear now? – a high pitched meeo-meeoo-meeeoo – some sort of gull? – maybe a Mew Gull? – I have heard this before, in fact, now I think about it, I hear it often around this time. Ah! The neighbour is calling their cat! Now I realise that quite a few of my unidentified birdcall recordings are, in fact, people whistling for their dogs. I hear this at almost any time of night, depending on the owner’s working hours. And I realise that I have several recordings of my own dog whistles, calling her back after she had slinked off as I put the mic out. 

I have three basic whistles. The low, gentle, whistled version of her name ‘Myrtle’ – eeeooo – this is used when she is nearby or repeatedly as a contact call when we run through the woods together. Then there is the more insistent, four equal, high-pitched, piping notes – I use this to tell her to come, and then for when she is far away out of sight, potentially lost, the loud continuous whistle with two fingers from each hand pushing my tongue back as I squeeze my lips around them and blow hard. She doesn’t comprehend my lack of smell-sense when I use this slightly panicky ‘where the hell are you?’ call, while all along she was next to me, hidden in a bush – she appears, and makes eye contact, quizzically. 

Of course, I know she doesn’t need my calls. One day I decided to leave her at home and three miles into my run I heard a familiar panting and pattering behind me – she had broken out of the house, squeezed under three gates and negotiated two road crossings before joining me. 

When it snowed, I saw her tracing the tracks of field mice at a steady trot, nose scrapping the white. If she had needed to look or listen, she would have held her head up, but she didn’t.

Still, I can’t resist whistling to her – bird-like. 

18th March 2022

In the morning I hear the first overseas summer visitors: tiny, non-descript, green-brown leaf warblers, weighing less than ten grams. These had migrated overnight from wintering sites in southern Europe or North Africa. The male birds sing their name – chiff-chaff – loudly from the treetops as soon as they arrive, staking a claim for their one hundred square feet of territory. 

21st March 2022

Sunset 18:21. At the end of civil twilight – 18:58 – I set the mic up and sit near it.

Glass of whisky. 

Even the string-like terminal branches on the tall aspen are still. In the treetop opposite, a Robin sings – plaintive. A soft distant roar reaches me from the dual carriageway. I have my big coat and hat on. Another Robin sings – this one down the bridleway that leads to the reservoir. I should do this more – just sit and listen.

The sky above just holds some of the day’s blue. This imperceptibly grades to grey on the northern horizon and towards the west there is just a hint of warmth. I hear caw caw caw far-off. It is spring but you wouldn’t know it; trees are still bare silhouettes against the remains of the light. Cloud has been creeping from the west and now above are some sketchy white-grey shapes. Again, a crow caws at the limit of my hearing, then the day-birds fall silent, and the road noise intrudes. 

A Waitrose van passes with provisions for Number 7.

Half the sky is covered.

19:24 – First Tawny Owl call.

Feet are cold.

The sky is now like the skin of a toad.

Eight redwings fly over on migration – Zzeer, Zzeeer, Zeer Zzzeeeer, Zzeeerr, Zer, Zzeeer, Zzeieerip.

24th March 2022

No recording last night.

This morning I walk across two fields. Mist blunts the low sun to a pale disc. On a bare hedge sycamore, on the last bud of the last twig of the last branch:

siff saff siff siff siff saff dut dut dut

He flits and flicks and sings – then stops, head cocked, listening as a chiff chaff chiff chaff chaff chaff chiff is returned, attenuated, from the woods below. A brief pause before he sings again – and listens again, before dipping and bouncing to the next tree and repeating. 

28th March 2022

I am getting tired of hearing so much noise. On my recordings there are many distracting sounds – sheep, cows, horses, foxes, badgers, cats and dogs and so much human sound – odd shouts, calls, and whistles at all times of the night. And the sound of the police cars and ambulance sirens and vehicle reversing warnings, trains, planes, motorbikes, cars, church bells and an ever-present low frequency rumble… maybe it is a mix of all the sounds leaking out from the houses in the town below or maybe it is emanating from the chipboard factory over two miles away. There seems more noise than there was this time last year. Maybe because we are no longer in lockdown.

Below in the town, over the last year, on the site of a previous nuclear bunker, a Travel Lodge, Lidl Supermarket and MacDonald’s have been built and there are two new housing estates on the east side. The dual-carriageway junction has been upgraded, so that now through traffic doesn’t need to slow down. 

Every now and then there is a magical moment of hearing a bird call – clear and beautiful above all this noise.

Meet the Author!

Jim Lloyd is a winner in the Rialto ‘Nature and Place’ poetry competition. His poems have appeared in The Rialto, Stand, bind, Green Ink Poetry, One Hand Clapping Online, Presence Haiku Journal, and Wales Haiku Journal. He is studying for an arts practice-based PhD at Newcastle University, considering representations of avian perception. He lives in Northumberland, UK.

‘Climate grief’ by McKenna Faulkner

How are we supposed to dance 
together. I refuse to stomp my feet 
unless you’re around. I will only break my ribs 
laughing if you laugh, too. 
How can I kiss another mouth 
if nothing is being sung. I will cry 
only if you do, too. I will slash my tires 
to be with you. I will not learn to run 
unless to carry you. I will not learn to dance 
alone beneath the moonlight: the night will devour 
me. Without you, the gentle breeze 
poisons. Me, without you, still breathing, 
though I do not want to.

Meet the Poet!

McKenna Faulkner is an American-Dutch poet and writer currently studying Creative Writing at Oxford. She writes and publishes in both English and Dutch, featuring in magazines such as Absint and Tijdschrift Ei. Her work touches upon topics such as multilingualism, mental health, and ecology, almost always with a touch of fantasy. She is currently working on a debut novel and learning to play the violin. 

‘Ackton Woods’ by Su Ryder

The location is lost now, but I map it in clouds, sky, green smells. Imprint of grass stalks on fingers and knees. Trophy bluebells bundled in posies, stems ripped out squeaking, bleeding milky sap. May-scented wisps of wild hyacinth, harvested with the thoughtless delight of childhood.

In the photograph, we girls wear sleeveless home-made dresses. Garlanded sprigs of pastel-print cotton, under hand-knitted cardigans. White socks, Mary-Jane sandals, wet with dew, specked with torn leaves. 

Propped on elbows, deep in a cluster of clover. Ladybird wings, cricket chirps, smell of sheep. Bright cowpat-flies hovering, singing, settling. Chatter of sparrows, a rustle, a flutter. Cowslips and meadowsweet. Single car passing, radio blurred. Eyes closed to drowsy red, skin nagged by endless small pricklings. Smell of hot sunlight, sharp bite of nettle leaves, bumble bees browsing, anointed with nectar.

Dad still clean-shaven, absorbed with a camera. Mum’s pink-winged spectacles, reflecting shifts of light in blue-green eyes, yet to be haunted by spectres of Stanley Royd. Hide-and-seek afternoon, giggling, crouching. I draw a snake on the hooligan’s back. One-two-three, one two three, you’re it, you’re it!

Picnic rug, beakers, two cups from the thermos-top, half-filled with over-steeped, sweetened tea. Tupperware, salmon-paste, potted-meat, Mother’s Pride. Hey Brothers’ Lemonade, marshmallow teacakes, ice-cream brick sandwiches, melting through wafers to dribble our fingers.

How time was counted then – drifting fluff, second hands, children’s tales, songs that lasted three minutes. Small, unimportant worlds, teeming with adventures, puddle-lake duckponds, thumbnail-slotted daisy chains, two-acre forests. We were low-centred, allied with small life, gravity – reality – unexplained and intermittent.

We were there only once. Fifty years feels too long to immortalise it. One fuzzy photograph – girl in a bluebell-wood, printed from slippery strips of negatives. Raincoats, long coils of bus ticket, barley sugar wrappers, lidless containers, pocket diaries, hand-me-down books, brown leather cases for defunct binoculars. Drawerfuls of faces in over-thumbed albums. Smiles gone to Kodachrome, lives into history, children to motherhood, woodland to industry. 

These unreliable scatters of sense remain. Questions whose answers are inconsequential. These scraps and remnants of days did not change the world. But, still, they changed our lives. That was enough.

Meet the Author!

Su Ryder lives in Leeds, West Yorkshire. ‘Ackton Woods’ won 2nd prize in the 2023 Leeds Writers Circle Flash Fiction competition.  Su’s poem ‘Behind the Pond, Meanwoodside’ won 1st prize at the 2021 Leeds Poetry Festival. Su has also been published in the Saboteur Award winning ‘Bloody Amazing’ (Dragon Yaffle), and sequel ‘Up the Duff’, also ‘And the Stones Fell Open’ (Yaffle), and on Visual Verse. Short fiction credits include Neon Magazine and Dark Lane Anthologies. Su is currently working on a first poetry pamphlet.

‘Emily’s earth’ by Julia Biggs

Moor-clutching fingers
softly sink ‘neath seas
of living heath-breath,
blown into the livid hillside’s longing surge,
high waves rising
to a moss-bedded heaven,
tide turning
to a turfy breast
of wide-sufficing rest,
re-making her—daughter of the heather  

Meet the Poet!

Julia Biggs is a freelance art historian and lecturer.  She lives in Cambridge, UK.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Crow’s Quill MagazineVersificationWords & WhispersNot Deer Magazine and Hungry Ghost Magazine.  Her current research explores haunting seascapes, the culinary uncanny and the delicious excesses of the Gothic mode.

‘Random’ by Mark Mayes

Where I’d finally moved to, I knew nobody. I’d been homeless for quite a while and ended up somewhere not many people wanted to be. But the quiet suited me after all that exposed street life. 

I got the internet hooked up and went back to my old ways, drinking during the day (and night), usually wine and orange juice, and spending all my time on social media and YouTube – sort of pretending I was doing valuable research. Exposing the New World Order and taking back control.

Having spent a lot of time in Glastonbury during my homeless days, I tried to convince myself I was breaking through to a fourth dimensional awareness and was in receipt of a higher vibrational download. This was the time of the Great Awakening, after all. You had to become the quiet, still centre. 

I was up most of the night – usually going to sleep on the futon on a bare concrete floor around 4 or 5am. Carpets were not a thing here yet, nor were curtains. I had Christmas paper up instead. No furniture to speak of, no fridge, cooker or washing machine. Maybe that was fine for now – it was certainly simple. But could it be sustained? I doubted it. Madness came to knock once or twice – the old dark thought patterns, the cycles of hate and venom. The comfort of aloneness, the quiet, and not being constantly observed (as I was while on the streets), had its own threat of a chosen imprisonment. The outside world grew incrementally dangerous. As soon as I put my head outdoors, I needed to be back with my wine mug and stained mouth, true crime on loop, and writing endless oversharing shit on my pages, which I’d invariably delete the next day. 

Then I saw the tweet. I didn’t recognise the name – not the whole name anyway. But the face, it was an older photograph, obviously – something about the tints, the colour palette. A real photograph. That hair style, that slightly wonky smile. It was her. Deffo. From the very early 90s. Someone I once went out with – her tweet having been randomly liked by someone I’d randomly followed for some random reason. 

I wish I could go back to 1990. I missed my chance then. Happiness. You only get one or two chances of it if you’re lucky. So don’t blow it like I did. xx

That’s what the tweet said, and it’d got a fair few likes and retweets. I was using only my first name on the Twitter, and a picture of some Van Gogh flowers on my profile, so I thought I’d nothing to lose by giving her a follow. Emma. Yes, it had to be her. We’d gone out two or three times. Went to see Dances with Wolves at the then new cinema in my old hometown. During the end credits, I’d clumsily tried to kiss her, and she’d rebuffed me. I took it badly and didn’t want to see her again, despite her trying a few times to call me – suggesting other meetups. She’d told me prior to our cinema date that she’d been hurt and was getting over a bad break up, and that anyone would need to be very patient with her. Patient I wasn’t. I was greedy, childish, grasping. I’d messed it up. Trashed it. But here was she, some thirty years later, saying she wanted to go back to 1990 – that she’d passed up on one of those rare chances of happiness in life. Did she mean us? Did she mean me? Or was I looking through wine goggles at some impossible chink of lost light?

I snapped down the lid of the laptop and crawled under my less than fresh duvet. Sleep came as it always eventually did. The futon had lost its springiness and I could feel the concrete harsh beneath my hips. She won’t follow back even, was my last thought before the thoughts stopped. 

I was wrong. Next day, around 3pm, after a milky coffee and some apricot wheaties, I fired up the ‘puter, and saw I had a few notifications on the twatter, as some people call it. One was her follow, amazingly enough. I saw I also had a DM. I checked it and saw her profile picture, then read the message. FFS, don’t be some porn bot, I thought. 

Thanks for the follow, David ( I knew a David once, very decent guy). I love Van Gogh. He suffered so much, but he still turned that suffering into art. You have to admire that. XX  Have a lovely day!

What to do?

I poured a half mug of wine and mulled over my next move. I decided to play it canny and get a sense of where Emma was in her life. I’d scanned her posts, and it was the usual stuff about loving yourself and being kind mixed with the obligatory cat and puppy videos. Now and again, she’d be revealing. 

I messaged her back:  Definitely. I’ve always like the impressionists. Mike Yarwood was probably the best, though. xx. 

Would the joke annoy her? Were two kisses one too many, or two too many? I didn’t hear anything for a couple of days, and almost deleted my account. Then I got a reply.

LOL. That made me smile, that did. And I really needed it after the day I’d had. So, don’t you have a picture? Or are you really a vase of flowers? Don’t be bashful. xx

That was more than I could’ve hoped for. I wasn’t ready to let her know what I looked like now. Would she even recognise me after all these years? I’d put on a few stone, lost some hair, but then who hadn’t? After a bottle and a half of Merlot, I thought, sod it – go for it. 

Emma. The truth is, I remember you. I recognised your photograph. Don’t worry, I’m not a stalker or anything. I just saw your picture and it was how you looked when we knew each other. I’m that David. That David from 1990. Remember Dances with Wolves? Howl! I know I was a klutz back then, but I’ve definitely improved – ask my probation officer! #joke!! I’ll DM you my pic. Here it is. Don’t be too harsh on me – plse. xx

It was about 8pm when I wrote the above and expected her either to block me or write something back pretty sharpish. Maybe she was in a relationship, or she’d started batting for the other side, no offence. Or maybe she just wouldn’t fancy me now – like she probably didn’t then. But what about that tweet – the one about missing her chance of happiness – what about that?  I started on the port as the hours wore on. Nothing, nada. Not a squeak. Even the porn bots were ignoring me. I crawled into my pit and eventually drifted into nothingness.

Same the next day, then the next. No response from Emma. That’s it, I thought, how dumb was I to think she’d be interested after all this time – some random dweeb from thirty years ago. Two or three dates, the last one probably amounting to a #metoo moment. I really did need to delete the account, or block her; if anything, I could be in trouble – even after all this time. It was only a fumbled kiss, though, and I backed off straight away. Just got the signs wrong, didn’t I? Is that such a crime? 

My finger was hovering over the red deactivate account button when the notification came in. It won’t be her, I thought. Probably somebody from Ghana asking me how my day’s going, telling me they’re honest and a Christian. Yeah, right. 

I nearly pressed deactivate, so very nearly. Why not look, though? So, I did. 

It was Emma. She’d changed her photograph, now showing the mid-fifties woman she obviously was. I could still see the younger her in that face, and it was a nice face, both softened and hardened by life. The eyes weren’t cruel though, and they twinkled. I saw those lips I once tried to kiss, those decades ago – less plump – but still attractive. I was no oil painting either. I wasn’t even a scribble in charcoal. 

Her message. As I read, my heart went into my throat. 

Dearest David, Your message has blown my mind, tbh. I’ve thought about you so many times through the years. I was silly then, just hung up on some bad boy I couldn’t have – I was stuck on self-destructive men, drunks, druggies, bikers, all that nonsense. You were a bit …square, that’s what I thought then, but you were really what I needed, and I messed that up. I’m so sorry. 

I see we’re not that far from each other, are we? Fancy a coffee sometime?  My treat. 

Meet the Author!

Mark enjoys writing stories, poems, and songs, and is a keen reader of both fiction and non-fiction. He lives in deepest Somerset with his cat, Haslett. Other hobbies include model railways, growing vegetables, and board games. 

Four Poems by JW Summerisle

v a r i o u s  b o d i e s  i n  v a r i o u s  b a t h s

twelve fish open
mouth and sink
shallow in the brook.

it is the mouth of hell.

he says
so you
identify with the one

who cut all her hair off?

and i say nothing.
i shan’t raise him up.

my flock drinks the
water and their
fleeces all turn black.

it is a collective act.

at their meal of glass

my sisters sup the
blood of grapes. black fish
burst and dirty.

they smell sweet, however.
shed their skin like snakes.

f i f t i e s  m e m o r a b i l i a

a poltergeist is smashing plates.
it smells like burning hair.

decorative vintage edge meets
edge of kitchen wall. kitsch

wall unit pours teacups
over me.

recuperate this mug. seal
it with something soft.

like wool plucked from
your own black beastly head.

wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

the devil intones sarcasm
smoking the bones above

your feet. the disembodied
spirit screams obscenities

about a dog. your body.
your skin. her kith. your kin.

a cracking sound summons up
a sheep from out of hell.

the cost is our collective
sanity. and a collection

of vintage plates.

c o a t  f u l l  o f  p l a g u e

local history says the plague

was brought here last by a
coat. a dead girl’s family

sent it up as a gift for one girl
here. and she died. from the

sickness in it. and i often
think of the plague pit

apparently unmarked

where the unmourned bodies of
my brothers lie host

to a hundred plague fed

p a c k e t  o f  m a y f a i r

bruise of smoking,
my mothers head

swells from the
hands of the

bryll cream man

whose blue eyes
presuppose a heaven

that doesn’t care for us
at all.

Meet the Poet!

JW Summerisle lives in the English East Midlands. Their chapbook, ‘kinfolk’, is available from Black Sunflowers Poetry Press (and can be ordered through Waterstones and Blackwell’s). They make and sell artwork, clothing and weird stuff online.

Translation Tuesdays: ‘Three plus Two’

Each season we share a series of translated work from a particular country, as part of our mission to share voices you may not yet know! Building bridges, creating conversations across borders… making a whole with Fragmented Voices. Today, we are delighted to bring you some Polish poems, translated into English. Enjoy!

Three poems by Ilona Witkowska

Translated by Mircea Dan Duta


not wanting to sleep,
not wanting to work

building yourself chapels
while something is still lurking me here

there’s a free way
but just step on it

equation without three knowns /  

the sun of May was burning my head

(even if by reflex I use the form “us”,
I was alone that time)

(using by reflex the form “us”,
who did I actually mean?)

the best is where we just are,
for it’s actually us and no one else /

when I was a little girl, granny used to teach me
trample earthworms and just don’t worry about the thing;
she used to say: oh, yes! oh yes!

Prose Poems by Barbara Klicka

Translated by David Malcolm


A start like a recipe for spring. I was going a long journey in a fast car. Everywhere there were clouds, I appreciated the value of the sun-roof. We passed some storks, so I said:

look, storks. He said: you’re happy like a little kid. Stupid, I said, I’m happy like a little kid, because you’re speaking to me like to a woman in April, be my friend, I want to be aglow from that. Then

I called the witnesses on the spot, e-mails, ballets. All in pretty big quantities, because nothing stubbornly would do for me. Doesn’t matter, because the calendar resurrection’s on the way

for this I’ll bring the world a cheesecake.
Let them all love me, since you can’t.


A dream of seven nails in the skull. I hesitate – for none of the possibilities is ready for sense. My father says: think, you don’t cry out. I say to my father: cry out, don’t think. I live free as the wind, she feeds me.

And now look – I’ve picked up seven nails for my dance; seven guys from the Albatros and one dead girl. I lived over brow, over tit, over the wise stream, but the time came when they threw me out and led me to the field.

And in the field the harness goes on. Hi hi, the harness goes on in the field. Long live want and barren sand! May the grains fall to the depths of the seas, may the ponds go down in algae and black duckweed! Here the earth’s only good for covering things up.

‘Crocodile’ by Dominic Rivron

We live in a consumer society. That means if you’ve got the money you can buy what you like, right? Well, my brother Abe always wanted a crocodile. When he was little, like so many children do, he got obsessed with reptiles. You know the sort of thing: dinosaur pyjamas, dinosaur duvets and all that.  Only, in Abe’s case, it turned out to be more than a passing phase. I don’t think my parents were that worried about it at first. I remember my mum saying that, perhaps, if he turned out to be good at science at school, he might go on to study zoology, or something like that. He seemed to be developing a healthy interest, or so they thought back then.

He was only a year older than me and, our parents’ house only having two bedrooms, we had to share one. You could immediately tell which side of the room was his: it was the one where all the reptile stuff lived. As the years went by, he ditched the pyjamas and the duvet cover in favour of models, posters and books. He was obsessed. Sometimes, when we were small (I don’t know how old we were – I guess we’d both started school by then) I’d catch him sitting very still by the window, trying to catch flies on the glass with the tip of his tongue. Fortunately, he never succeeded. His tongue was too short and the flies were too quick for him. After a few minutes, he’d give up, with a shrug and a ‘better luck next time’ look.

It was like he believed he’d been born in the wrong body, that he should’ve been a reptile himself. Perhaps the fact that he couldn’t become one was why he wanted one so much. And what he wanted most of all was a crocodile. Mum and dad, obviously, said no, definitely not, not over their dead bodies. When he went on and on about it they decided to meet him half-way. They suggested he get a lizard. He immediately said yes. He told them he wanted a bearded dragon. They bought him one, along with a vivarium and all the other stuff he needed to look after it. Like a lot of parents faced with children demanding pets, I think they were worried he’d quickly lose interest in a real animal that need feeding and cleaning out and that they would be left doing all the work but no, Abe cared diligently for it till the end of its days.

We were well into secondary school when George – as he called it – died. We’d been on a family holiday and left some local friends of my parents in charge, with strict instructions as to how to care for George in our absence, but when we came back, George was dead. My parents’ friends obviously felt awful and swore blind they’d followed the instructions to the letter. My parents said they were sure they had and not to to worry, but Abe was beside himself. He went round to their house and smashed a window. Well, I say that, but strictly speaking, a window got smashed, and everyone thought it was Abe. He denied it but nobody believed him. I remember dad shouting at him and mum crying. It wasn’t just that he’d broken the window and lied about it: they were upset, too, that they’d lost their friends. Then Abe asked if he could have a new lizard. That was when dad really blew his top. Looking back, I think the whole business was a defining moment: mum and dad finally realised there was something wrong with Abe. I know I did. I’d always felt a bit wary of my older brother, for reasons I couldn’t quite explain. Now, all of a sudden, I could put those reasons into words. Not only did he live in a world of his own (which I knew), but also he’d lash out at anyone who interfered with it. Fortunately, he seemed to quite like me. 

My parents may have realised something was the matter, but the trouble was they didn’t have the faintest idea what to do about it. Abe, after a brief ceremony, buried George in a shoebox in the garden and then, as people do after such crises, everyone had to just get on with life, Abe without George and my parents without their friends. As for me, I felt pretty claustrophobic, squeezed in as I was between by brother with his reptile fixation and my increasingly-anxious parents. I resolved to just try and get on with everybody and leave home at the first sensible opportunity I had. It crossed my mind, too, that perhaps I was making too much of it all. Everyone’s weird and perhaps, as you grow up and get to know the people around you better and get to see the way their lives unfold, it just becomes increasingly obvious quite how weird they are. These were my thoughts at the time.

Abe cleaned out his vivarium but didn’t get rid of it. It just sat there, dark and empty. Gradually, schoolbooks and papers got piled up on top of it. He had loads of exams coming up. He was working hard and didn’t let George’s death and all the fuss that surrounded it get in the way. His grades turned out to be excellent. I wondered how he managed to do this but, looking back, he was motivated by the fact that he had a plan. Although he never actually said it, it was becoming obvious he didn’t want to leave home. He wanted to do a computer science degree and he wanted to get in to his first-choice university, which was – purely on account of its location – the one in our town. With luck, when he finished, he’d be able to get a job locally.

He got his university place and, a year later, so did I. I went off to study civil engineering at York. One of the best things about it was that I actually, for the first time ever, had a room to myself. I spent a year in a hall of residence, then found a room in a shared house. I only came home in the holidays and – since it involved going back to sharing a room – only when I absolutely had to.

At the end of my second year, I had to spend all summer at home, as I was temporarily without digs. Abe, at that time, had finished at uni and had just started a job he’d had lined up at a Building Society in town. It was strange to see him, every morning, shaving and putting on a suit.

Back when Abe first got George I’d thought the crocodile thing had been a bargaining ploy and a pretty cunning one at that. And after the business of the broken window had died down, he hardly ever mentioned reptiles at all. As I said, though, he kept the vivarium. It came as a complete surprise – and to mum and dad, a nasty surprise – when, when he got his first pay-cheque, the first thing Abe did was go and get himself a baby crocodile. Don’t ask me where he got it from. All I know is there are all kinds of regulations about keeping crocs and Abe – with help, probably, from other online croc-lovers – had obviously found a way round them. It was a Saturday afternoon. I was just coming in – I think I’d been to the library – and I could hear mum and dad both shouting at Abe. The voices were coming from our room. They were all stood round the vivarium. It was lit up again for the first time in years and inside it, getting used to his new surroundings, was Horace.

Mum and dad were livid.  It wasn’t just the crocodile thing: they said he had to be responsible, that he had to help pay for the bills. He’d just blown most of his first pay-cheque on Horace. Did he expect them to keep feeding him for nothing? Abe – cunning as ever – wasn’t rising to the bait. He was trying to apologise. He said he was sorry and he should’ve thought of that and of course he’d pay his share: he’d be happy to pay double next month.

It’s bad enough having to put up with your brother’s farts and dirty laundry, but now our room began to stink of fish and rotting meat, too. The smell began to seep through the house. Dad insisted we keep the window open and the door closed, but it didn’t make much difference. 

That summer was the last time I stayed at home for any length of time. I went home for a few days the following Christmas, but that was about it. Before I knew it, the third year was over. My girlfriend Tina and I were both lucky enough to land ourselves jobs. We decided to move in together. Tina could drive – her parents were better-off than mine and had even bought her a car – so we used to go over and see my parents from time to time. I even used to look forward to it, knowing it was only for the day and that my days of sharing a smelly room with my brother were over.

Abe was clever. He knew that as time went by, Horace would outgrow his tank. He started doing overtime whenever he could, saving up money for something more substantial. He told mum and dad he understood how the smell that hung round the house drove them crazy and that he wanted to buy a shed to put in the garden for Horace to live in. It would be expensive. It would need heating. They’d have to run a power line out to it. Mum and dad jumped at the chance to get Horace out of the house and even offered to match whatever Abe managed to save towards his new quarters. 

No-one – except Abe, perhaps – was really thinking ahead at this point. Mum and dad had put a lot of work into the garden over the years. There were lawns, flower beds, a rockery – even a pond, with a water feature, overhung by a willow tree. Once they’d bought the shed and all the new gear for Horace, I went over for a few days so I could help dad and Abe get it all built and set up (I stayed in a local B&B). We created a bit of an enclosure for him, too: he needed water and shade, so we incorporated the pond and the willow tree into it. I have happy memories of that week: me, my dad and my brother all working on something together. 

Not long after that though, dad had his stroke. I remember mum ringing me to tell me and us all going to see him in hospital. Dad needed physiotherapy and speech therapy, but he responded well and was soon able to go home. He needed a walking frame and could only move around slowly, but otherwise he was okay. All of a sudden, he and mum really needed Abe to be there for them and, to be fair to Abe, he rose to the occasion. He saw to everything that needed seeing to. Someone had to help dad out of bed in the morning. Mum was too frail, so Abe did it. He sorted out dad’s medication, the shopping, you name it. He was a model son and in many ways made up for all the years of grief he’d caused them. He always turned down my offers of help: it was like he wanted to do everything. It was as if – if I were less generous – he wanted to be in control. And he was in a position to be. They seemed to think highly of him at the Building Society. He was the IT-wizard, the Mr Fix-It. They’d given him a raise, so he now had plenty of money coming in. They let him do some of his work at home, too, so he could be there in case mum and dad needed him.

More years went by. Mum, dad and Abe settled into a routine. All this time, Horace, of course, went on getting bigger. The time came when the enclosure we’d built for him just wasn’t big enough. He started trying to knock down the fence posts and almost got out on a couple of occasions. Abe told mum and dad that the only thing for it was to give Horace the run of the garden. They were in no position to argue with him. This time, he hired contractors and got them to erect a sturdy fence around the whole garden boundary. He got them to enlarge the pool, too. Giving Horace the run of the garden meant it soon fell into disrepair, as it was no longer safe to go out to weed or mow the lawn. In no time, it turned into a churned up, overgrown jungle. I have a vivid memory of visiting mum and dad around then, and seeing a look somewhere between horror and resignation on my mother’s face as she sat looking out of the window.

Then it happened. Early one Saturday morning I got a call from mum. She said Abe had gone out that morning to feed Horace but hadn’t come back. She said I must come round at once, to see what had become of him and to help dad off his commode. 

When I got there, I saw dad then looked out of the window into the garden, to see if I could see any sign of Abe. He was nowhere to be seen. All I could see was Horace, floating like a log in the lake that had once been a pond.

Meet the Author!

Dominic Rivron writes mainly short stories and poetry. His work has been published in a number of journals including The Milk House, The Fib Review and SETU Magazine. He lives in the North of England. His blog can be found at asithappens55.blogspot.com

‘Almond Blossom’ by Peter J Donnelly

Your favourite work of art, you say,
but not whether you’ve done the jigsaw. 
It isn’t mentioned in your personal history, 
which is not, you stressed, a memoir. 

Maybe when you’ve written that it will be.
I’m not sure what you’d say about 
the picture, other than that Van Gogh 
was joyful with his use of colour. 

It’s hard to imagine it a work in progress
photographed by your husband, 
with the blue bits arranged on sheets 
of paper, the white bits in one tin, 

the green ones in another, for what 
would that achieve? Perhaps like me 
you’d have pairs of pieces dotted
between the edges like marks on a mirror. 

Meet the Poet!

Peter J Donnelly lives in York where he works as a hospital secretary. He has a degree in English Literature and a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales Lampeter. His poetry has been published in various magazines and anthologies including Obsessed with PipeworkBlack Nore Review,  High Window,  Ink Sweat and Tears, The Poet’s Republic and he is soon to feature in Atrium. He won second prize in the Ripon Poetry Festival competition in 2021 and was a joint runner up in the Buzzwords open poetry competition in 2022. His first chapbook ‘The Second of August ‘ has recently been published by Alien Buddha Press

‘Furies’ by Letitia Payne

Mud pies and whole lives lived under a branch of a tree – anywhere is a home that you’ve made. In the crevice of a rock, a clearing in the woods, bottom shelves of bookcases and the lines of a web in your windowsill. In these things you are whole: wife, mother, virgin, keeper. 

At the bottom of the garden you and the boy divide your kingdoms. When you were smaller you used to catch butterflies in the cup of your hands, crush spiders with sticks, turn them all to stew in empty flower pots. One time you’d chased a spider through the backdoor right into the kitchen. The boy said he didn’t mind the ones with the long legs, they seemed too fragile. But that day she’d come too close, and you’d minded it then. Her egg sac spilled onto your mother’s linoleum when you’d poked at it. After, you retreated to the embrace of the woods, where the hum of the motorway spilled over the borders. Curled into the undergrowth you felt them creeping through the forest decay beneath you, vengeful Furies of the kitchen massacre. 

You knew you were cursed then, the rot had seeped into your palms and you never bothered to wash it out. Twigs snap beneath his wellies and all panic is lost in a single frosty exhale. Your father takes your hand and leads you back to the house. He tells you of when he was your age, somewhere much warmer, of scorpions crawling into children’s ears as they slept in olive groves. You tell him of the boy and your kingdoms, he tells you to draw out a map. Your mother never mentioned the spider eggs scattered across her kitchen floor. 

But you think of it now. Long after back garden borders crumbled, and homes became four walls above high street shops. You think of it now that you stand before the paper bag that holds his ashes. Through the streets of the city you carried your father, morgue to home. The city turned to flatlands and barren winter fields and he sat there beside you on the passenger seat in the woven basket you picked up from the charity shop. 

He’s in your arms as you walk him through the house, past the kitchen where the linoleum curls up at the skirting boards. You pause at the door frame, clutch the handles of his basket a little tighter.

They see you now you’ve come home. 

Out through the back, summer had been long trampled into what remained of the grass. The season’s decay so mottled with the living the two become indistinguishable. You keep on, all the way to the very end where the lines in the map you never drew began. There, the woods awaited your homecoming with that same embrace, you pulled him into it with you. Curled into the alcove of a tree trunk, you set him down beside you in the undergrowth. All the lives you wove beneath this tree, all the things that made you feel like you could be whole. You are none of these now. 

Beyond the wood’s edge the motorway works itself up into a rhythm as workers return from their city hives. You thrust your hands deep into the undergrowth and feel the rot once again reach up for you too. These vengeful spirits whisper to you the things you ache to claw back. 

Daughter, keeper. 

Turn them all to stew in the cracked remnants of flower pots. 

Meet the Author!

Letitia Payne is a short fiction writer from Norwich, UK. Due to her background in theatre she often intertwines classical themes within her writing. She has published two prior works: The Lights You Leave On (Kalopsia Literary Journal, 2021) and Bury the Box (Bandit Fiction, 2020). You can also find her giving much shorter takes on twitter: @letitiarpayne.