Robbie Burton lives in a small village in Flintshire where she stares out of windows. As stanza rep for Cross Border Poets, the Poetry Society’s North East Wales stanza, she runs workshops, arranges poetry events and stares at a long stretch of the Clwydian Range out of a Clwyd Theatr Cymru window. Her poems have appeared in several magazines including Poetry Wales, The North and Magma, and in anthologies A Speaking Silence and The Book Of Love And Loss. Her debut poetry pamphlet, Someone Else’s Street, is available from HappenStance Press.
Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz
bubbled through Welsh washdays
like hot tarmac in Bad Piano Street.
No, that’s not right. Steam
and the quarry-tiled kitchen are true
but any jangly discords or whiffs
of envy were mine.
Damn, but my cousin could play. Passion
flew out of the iron-framed piano, shot
through two doorways and found
a route in.
For years I felt it
softening me up for love.
I didn’t know iron had flowed in too
waiting for the day.
They asked me to write you into a love poem.
I said I couldn’t do it, not knowing enough
about the bend and stretch of your sinews
and why a single hair grew in the middle
of your chest. I wasn’t prepared to tell them
about your irises going fuzzy
or the way your face changed shape that time
you were trapped inside a room with strangers
turning you into someone I’d never met.
With you inside a love poem, I said,
music would blast through the words letting out
bus engine rumble and the thud-thud-thud of boats.
Surely they could see that a love poem with you in it
would really be about me.
From the other side of the hedge
a sh-shh rustling. It stops
when we stop. Starts
when we start. Hawthorns
grow darker and taller.
Soon there’s nothing
but our urgent feet
and that soft insistent rustling.
On her side of the hedge
the cow tugs at long grasses.
She hears nothing
but the sh-shh rustle of supper.
She doesn’t see fear
place stones in our hands.
Cheryl Pearson lives and writes in Manchester in the North West of England. Her poems have appeared in publications including The Guardian, Southword, The High Window, Under The Radar, Poetry NorthWest, Crannog and Envoi. She won first prize in the High Sheriff’s Cheshire Prize for Literature 2016, and third prize in Bare Fiction Magazine’s national poetry competition in the same year. She has been shortlisted for the York Literature Festival Prize and the Princemere Poetry Prize, and was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Her first full poetry collection, “Oysterlight”, is available now from Pindrop Press.
Note: Between 1944 and 1992, at least forty-three female typhoid carrierswere kept in a secure isolation unit at Long Grove Hospital in Surrey. Despite having recovered from the disease, the women were deemed a public health risk as they still hosted the bacteria, and were kept incarcerated on this basis.
Imagine if you’d known in that first flush of fever
the time you’d endure in centimetres. The geological age
between Christmases. How sick would become monochromatic.
White. All white. Except for the scratched brass, and the green
that rises when they say Make a fist. And the blue eyes
above the white masks. You tell yourself
you cannot lose what you can still name, say yellow in earnest,
yellow, yellow. Later, daughter, into your pillow.
Your body – they repeat this – is now a bomb. You must keep
to paper slippers, a single room. They are afraid of bacteria.
You only of tedium. Once, you found a spider crouched in the sink,
and cried for the exquisite joy of something new.
Sometimes, you think you cannot bear
the weight of one stopped minute more. One single hour.
But then you do. And then you do.
Lluvia de Peces
You’ll speak of it for years:
the day the fish fell, like stars or prayers,
a finned rain filling the sky with silver.
You’ll say phenomenon. Say miracle. Say
fish out of water, which is how you felt
with your two feet sharing the same firmament.
Rainbows carving the air.
You never knew how many plates
held skydrowned bones that night,
could only guess from the smell
that swam through empty streets –
fat and seaspit greased with butter, dressed
with twists of lemon, salt – as though
each asphalt-dented swimmer
had risen from insult on a tide of steam
to breast again that current up
to cloud and star. Glutted with light.
Gravel-scarred. And in the air,
a hundred wakes as bright as comet-tails.
And on your hands, a scattering of scales.
The Water Dowser
Running through generations like a river, alongside
the gene for red hair, and the family name: this gift
of summoning the earth’s weather. A humming
in the wrists, is how he describes it. I picture his hands,
like knuckles of ginger, thrumming with bees: tiny harbingers
browsing his tributaries, raising the alarm
in the hand/arm hinge. In the old days, they called it
witching the water; walked their switch of hazel, switch of willow,
waiting for the dip and twitch that meant they’d struck gold,
and clear-running cold would follow. Years ago, a palmist
on a seaside pier winnowed a future from the forks of my hands.
I believed in magic. Now, I stand in a dry field watching
a man draw water like doves from his sleeves.
He tells me, Some people don’t trust this, spits, then grins.
I think of moons. Salt lines in the sand. My blood
‘Dragonish is my first publication — the pamphlet is published by The Emma Press (it was published in March this year).
I’ve returned rather later to writing – but kickstarted things by going on an Arvon course for my 40th birthday. It was an amazing experience. I was also lucky get selected for the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme for 2015/16 – where I was mentored by the enthusiastic and endless energetic Caroline Bird. It was a fantastic year – and really helped me focus on my writing.
I was also part of Jo Bell’s 52 – another formative poetry experience. Quite a few of the poems in Dragonish did start life there.
I’m interested in writing about myths and stories – and how these filter everyday experiences. I also have a bit of a soft-spot for dramatic monologues – so there are a few of them in Dragonish.
I live on the outskirts of London. I juggle writing with working part-time as a copywriter and freelance journalist. I’ve two kids, a husband and a large and demanding cat.
I wish I had some interesting hobbies — like keeping bees or restoring vintage motorbikes. But my time seems to be filled with all of the above. When I get a chance I like walking or cycling in Epping Forest which is nearby.
I’ve been published in various magazines and anthology – most recently I’ve been in the Writing Motherhood anthology by Seren, and have had poems in The Rialto, Under The Radar and The Interpreter’s House (I think it was at their launch there I met you Becky! At Albion Bookshop – you were telling me about the Hawthornden Fellowship).
I’ve also won the Prole Laureate Competition (2013), was second in Cannon Poet’s Sonnet or Not Competition (2014) and was commended in the Battered Moons competition (2015).’
Here’s link to pamphlet online: https://theemmapress.com/books/the-emma-press-poetry-pamphlets/dragonish/)
It was a double-page colour spread:
the man, the rock, the penknife
used in the desert to sever his own arm.
I worried at phrases:
‘torn edge’, ‘widening wound’
like a tongue prodding an ulcer.
He had to break the bone before he could
slice through. I rolled this fact
around my mouth for hours.
At that point I didn’t know which way
I would be split: hip to hip or vaginal tearing,
unlike the man and his bluntish penknife,
the Utah sun, a body heat of rock,
sick smell of seeping cactus,
the yellow marrow cradling the bone,
the sand rust red, the scree, the sweat, the dust
and hour after hour after hour, sawing.
“Being a non-native hybrid there is no mythology or folklore associated with the London Plane…
despite being the capital’s most common tree.” The Woodland Trust
They grow in dark spaces between street lights,
root through concrete, creating heart-stress egg cracks
that unsettle suburban homes. Camouflage bark,
it peels like banknotes, mulch for bluebells
blooming in the shade amid the dogshit.
When the pollen count’s thirteen and a sickle moon
pokes through the clouds of diesel fumes
dryads emerge, hesitant at first, dizzy
as Blitz-bombed housewives or wayward clubbers,
shaking out limbs that ache from holding.
They tiptoe past statues stood at park gates
to dance havoc in streets drained of the day’s worries.
Some nights you’ll hear their laugh: gurgle
of sap rising, riot of leaves
calling beneath the traffic drone, like dreams
of elsewhere you can’t quite shift next morning.
The slow-worm to work. Look up! Look up!
Finger-tipped avenues are closing above.
The End Of The End Of The Pier Show
Call it the Titanic Spirit: tonight
we have a show to end all shows,
kicked off by our teenage xylophonist
performing ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ blindfold.
Be dazzled as El Niño, East Anglia’s premier
flamenco troop, perform their showstopper routine —
testament to our unshaken belief
in Victorian riveting, balustrades and glitter balls.
Yes, we have stood by, watched struts
that held up Yarmouth’s ice-cream shops erode,
waved goodbye to penny-slot telescopes
sloshed away in last year’s high spring tide.
But your tears are now no longer enough
to resalinate the oceans — so tonight
let’s raise the roof of the Cromer Pavillon:
Resist the Great Storm Surge!
It may be too late for the Andaman Islands,
but money raised from ticket sales
will help those forced to flee bungalows
on the English Riviera.
And if we become unmoored midway,
drift out on this boardwalk ark to darker seas,
don’t panic, ladies & gentlemen,
our Michael Barrymore tribute act is first aid trained.
Enjoy our award-winning stage hypnotist.
The house band — the King Canuters —
will play loud and long into the night,
as we sail on, towards uncertain morning.
The Parts Of Ourselves We Leave With Former Lovers
Hush, hush my little sunflower, such noise
at such an hour, I thought — well, never mind
now what I thought — be soothed. The other ladies
of the house are sleeping, you do not want them
trampling down here in their bare faces before noon.
But what’s this package at your feet, the one that seeps
like oil? An ear! There, there, it is a shock I know,
but not the worst we’ve seen. You give them locks of hair,
the illusion of desire, but some, perhaps those who cannot
pay in full — or see the world through strange shadows —
have this urge to give much more. Severine received a finger
once. The fat signet ring attached like a tourniquet.
The smeared gold, we said, reminded us of summer sunsets
over Arles. And Babette, she swears she could string
charm bracelets from hearts proffered on plates. Then Marie,
remember the English gentleman, the one with the cane,
the shriek she gave when she found his —
But look, you are upset again. Let’s wrap it back up
in the cloth — carefully — not to disturb the perfect whorl,
or pattern of the blood stippled on the lobe.
Look at the raggedness of this edge. It’s not just eyes
that let us peep into the thoughts of men. Take it upstairs
to the cabinet — the Wunderkammer —
that is beside my bed. We keep such trinkets
in the drawers. It was moved from Claudine’s room —
the sound of souls tapping against the wood,
like palsied bluebottles she said, kept her awake
and disturbed the night-time callers.