Three Poems by Mark Totterdell

Wood Pigeon

We startled a just-fledged pigeon
so it took a wrong turning
in through the open kitchen door,

flapped across the room,
tried to escape through
a closed window,

panicked on the sill
and knocked off ornament
after fragile ornament.

We were picking pieces
of glass out of the rug
long after the pigeon

had found its way back
to where the air was fluid,
the sky properly unroofed.

Moor Grass

This air has lent
some of its blue haze
to the distant forest
of conifers.

their needled tang,
the dank
of their dark avenues.

Above, beyond,
the shock of moor grass,
the miles of it,
each dry blade bleached

of its green.
See the whole high moor
as wide and palely bright
as that fulfilling sky.


I rambled back
from ferny fen
with this thing stuck
fast to my skin.
I’d felt no prick
as it latched on,

a pinhead speck
that pierced my skin,
began to suck
the blood within
and bloated thick
on what was mine.

How to unlock
it from my skin?
The tweezer-trick
just squashed it thin
and pumped its sick-
ness in my vein.


Mark Totterdell’s poems have appeared widely in magazines and have occasionally won competitions. His collections are ‘This Patter of Traces’ (Oversteps Books, 2014) and ‘Mapping’ (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2018).

One Poem by Dorrie Johnson

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

The long trial

I am so tired of this case.
It seems as though we have been here for years.
I feel quite blank.
Even you have stopped taking notes –
your eyes look vacant
and still the judge drones on and on…
Is the prosecution counsel asleep?
Can’t see him from here.

My head keeps dropping.
I hold it but my wig is itchy; I have to keep scratching –
I’d have liked one of those long curly ones.
I think my teeth are coming loose.
It’s ages since we had our last meal,
if we don’t eat soon everything will go right through me.

Stop looking at me – I’m only yawning.
Your wig is twisted –
each time you turn to me it slips a bit more.
And your gown seems to be growing something.
Your cheeks are looking hollow.
Are you losing weight?
Are you hungry, too?

That juror keeps leaning over –
falling asleep across the front of the box.
Glad we’re not his legal representatives.
He has long fingers.
I hope it won’t take much longer.
I’m feeling so very empty headed.
This is the longest trial I’ve ever had to attend.


Dorrie Johnson lives on the South Coast where the sea, New Forest and Nature Reserves offer ongoing stimulation. She is a member of a Stanza poetry group. Poetry is one of her interests but she is always trying to improve her writing and has had some publishing success.

Three Poems by Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon


Her eyes nestle in puffy pouches
of yellowed skin.
Her thinned white hair,
washed and set once a week,
straggles across her shiny scalp
forgetful of its onetime auburn fire.

Dora’s blocked nose snorts,
stuffy in the dawning day.
She rubs her stiff swollen knees,
flexes her locked knuckles
and listens to the cracks.

Beneath the jellied streaks
of her stretch-marked years,
her gastric gases gurgle
and warn of upsets to come.

the backs of her paper-dry hands
hold ridges when gently pinched.
She lives in fear of accidents,
and defies her doctor’s orders
to drink more water.

A downy fuzz haloes her jawline
and her features are smudged.
Photographs, taken over years,
record the changes;
swung by hormones
first to androgyny
then beyond to neutral.

Dora pours her morning treat,
builder’s brew, two sugars
and avoids the kitchen mirror.

The postie whistles nearby.
He calls through her open window,
Hi darling, you look ravishing today.
Life smiles back into her face
and she winks. Her fancy’s tickled
and stirs an appetite for romance
in large print.

She consults the Radio Times
for her favourite black and whites.
To dream, oh to dream.
It’s not all over yet,
though amply built
she’s yet to sing the blues.

Big Feet

My feet carry me, move me, if shod right
on paths that set me free. My long, flat
feet. First my father’s and now mine.
How they suffered, tight in shoes
too small. Blistered and bleeding,
they begged for space to wriggle toes,
stride out and dance on cobble stones.

Mam Gu’s Pies

Fruit pies on metal plates oozed
tart apple, bilberry, sugar, swollen
full between thin short crusts,
the top warm, brown and glazed.
I ate slice after slice, after slice,
juice dribbled down my chin,
stained my tongue, my skin,
marked me all yours. As I was
and would remain forever.


Mam Gu – Welsh – grandmother – pron. Mam Ghee

Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and writes short stories and poetry. She has been widely published in web magazines and in print anthologies. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in 2017. She believes everyone’s voice counts.

One Poem by Annie McCrea

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

To Yorick

gothic is my genre
feathers quills and skulls
not diamond encrusted
still clay cloying
purloined no doubt
from some body snatcher
and now serving as a memento mori
while I scratch out a living
on a scroll of parchment
for my master knowing
that he too will pass this way


Annie lives in the North West of Ireland and has had some success with her poems locally. She is now trying to reach a wider audience with her poetry.

Two Poems by Dennis DuBois

The Beast Underneath

Throughout the span, there are occasions, when rare allowance grants us the capacity to become beasts, spare moments when the sound emerging from the throat is not your own, not yet organized into words. In these disordered realms civility falls away, the captain’s wheel, the driver’s seat, surrendered to the baby beast within. Together we conspire to spin out of control, years, layers, of training in free fall, collapsing like a planned demolition. When the constraints are fully lifted, the cell door left open- we begin to resemble most truly, the animal we are- just under.

The Common Crane

In a clump of flattened grass I came upon the desiccated carcass of a common crane, stripped of every dignity with no remembrance of flight, no recall of his passionate mating dance or the way he stood, statuesque in still waters. There he lay, black ants scurrying out of sunken eye holes. The final pose of the common crane, neck askance, long legs akimbo, hardened into sticks. Black dry skin still clings to sun bleached bone. Yellow beak, faded, fixed open, a few feathers in disarray. There, where the belly would be, lay odd-shaped plastic objects, the discarded parts of broken toys; multi-colored stars, blocks, triangles, gears of all sizes. As many as twenty indigestibles lay there, intact on the ground, untouched by the tragedy of the event. They remain as testament. I kneel to take a feather.


Dennis Dubois holds a Master’s Degree in social work, and has worked to help others for decades, while writing poems along the way. He has published poems in Bee Museum, Curved House, The Projectionist’s Playground, Runcible Spoon, Verse News, MessageinaBottle, and Nine Muses poetry. He is preparing a collection of poems and a first work of fiction. He is an American expatriate, living in Copenhagen.

One Poem by Dennis DuBois

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

Forensic Conjectures

How could the topic of their focus have brought on
                  the very thing under discussion?
If one overly focuses on death, a specific type, will your
                  thoughts conjure it to manifest?
This questions renders the answers to be
                  unknowable, taboo,
                                    punishable if pursued.
We pushed forward, reassembled the parts
                  in reverse, placed the skulls
according to the manner in which they were found,
                  recreating a vibrant scene.
With lowered lights, we huddled together,
                  eyes darting with great intensity.
We sensed it all; the buildup of silence,
                  the flutter of leaves,
                                    the creaking of the old house--
All precursors of pathology, suggestive of
                  many hell-bound pathways.

This much we know: He set the black feather marker
                  upon the diagram of
                                    the cycle of decay.
He read to her from the ancient book of skulls.
                  She listened with great interest.
As he recited, she threw her hand up in awe,
                  slapping her cheek, as if to
                                    chastise herself for ignorance,
                  for not having known this before,
Yes, yes, she whispered, of course, it is just so,
                  as it should be, as it has
                                    always been.

Seconds later, the crinkle of something burning,
                  the dwindle of their undoing, reminiscent
of the browning and smushing of a dying rose.
                  His all-knowing look, now more mysterious,
                                    all his orifices empty of origin.
His uttered words echo in an empty bowl.
                  His snicker perverted. And her face,
her mouth wide open—is she enduring
                  unbearable pain or throwing her head back
                                    in uproarious laughter.
                  We don’t really know.

Continue reading “One Poem by Dennis DuBois”

Three Poems by Lizzie Ballagher

Celtic Knot Found in Translation

Seed to stem to leaf
Root to tree to fruit
Flower to weed to grief
Wood to coal to soot.

Soot to hearth to home
Heart to hands to knees
Moors to hills to roam
Shells to sand to seas.

Seas to heave to sky
Boats to breeze to run
Sails to curve to fly
Rays to flame to sun.

Sun to rise to light
Stars to blink to fire
Moon to wane to night
Dusk to church to choir.

Choir to song to words
Cloth to weave to wear
Door to woods to birds
Help to peace to dare.

Dare to dream to dawn
Eyes to close to sleep
Hope to dance to morn
Life to live to keep.

Keep to path to farm
Sheep to fold to fleece
Wool to wash to warm
Joy to tears to cease.

Cease to stand to cold
Bell to tower to ring
Arms to reach to hold
Love to bed to sing.

Sing to sow to grain
Shoes to walk to feet
Soil to plough to rain
Plant to sprout to wheat.

Wheat to bread to bake
Fields to grow to feed
Time to clocks to take
Corn to gold to seed.

Seed to stem to leaf:
One knot shall salve all grief.

Matisse at the MFA

“In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.” ~ T S Eliot, The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock He painted in a clutter of blowsy peonies— Old work askew on the mantelpiece, Tubes of carmine & aquamarine left trailing, Rotund chocolate-pots all silver & showy Beside stone-eyed death masks, Next to vermilion tapestries waiting, Rolled, for attention: All the props of his trade. Boston art lovers go up & down, Do him homage with flashless camera phones, Move like flamingos in their salty feeding ground, Heads turned one way, Stepping in tune, in time to the beat Of the colour waves; then turning Again in a shimmering mirage To look the other way: Again & again to drink the heat Of burnt sienna & crimson lake, As if to be fed somehow, As if to take—what?—new feathers, new skin. And I, although I do not understand This painter—just liking & looking— I too gather around me the muddles & miracles Of light & the moments & makings Not of paintings but of poems. Then sit, thirsty to write what I see, What I drink in, What I’ve scooped in the neb of my hand.

The Rhyme the Blackbird Sang

After Andrea Kowch’s painting of blackbirds, crows and starlings in the kitchen

The king’s long left his counting house
with nothing in the treasury to number
but bloody blackbird pies.

The queen’s cut quite adrift: eats
bread & honey, seeking comfort
in jars void of all but wasps’ hollow corpses.

Their maids have quit the garden
since royal clothes have gone to rags—
so none to hang—not clothes! not thieves!

My brother blackbird stole the pegs
from off the palace line; but my beak—
mine—is delving in the sweetest fruit.

No need to nip the noses
of those kitchen maids with floury hands,
or laundry maids with sallow cheeks:

See me pay for pies,
for honeyed berries,
with two of my finest feathers.

Now with scratchy claws I cling,
planting my feet in fatty dough—
the bliss! I whistle, the bliss!

Too bad! so sad!—
for my four-&-twenty sisters
baked in those plump pies.

These wild-eyed women shan’t catch me
(bright of eye, sleek of wing & sharp of beak), so
I shall have revenge:

Fly in & out of open sashes,
dine on every luscious berry,
build a nest in their crazy hair.

Never shall my hatchlings hunger—
early & late my song shall be
of blue- & black- & bilberry.


“Celtic Knot Found in Translation” was given special mention by judge Sally Spedding in the 2018 Welsh International English Language Poetry Competition.

A published novelist from 1984-1996 in the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden (pen-name Elizabeth Gibson), Lizzie Ballagher now writes poetry rather than fiction. Her work was featured at the 2017 Houston, TX, Poetry Festival and also appears intermittently in South-East Walker Magazine and on Poetry Space.

One Poem by James Bell

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

sure to be a winner

another October and you are not finished
and time too for replenishment of ink
such are the travails we have my dear

though when the time comes it’s sure
to be a winner – I say this all the time though
another October and you are not finished

your book becomes fatter as we decline
and even skin has left the bones of both
such are the travails we have my dear

perhaps we degenerate with the story
having followed too many subplots – diversions
another October and you are not finished

time pales us before this noble industry
our names forgotten as we fall to dust
such are the travails we have my dear

hold my hand as you ponder – consider
the next word in your skull – maybe the last –
another October and you are not finished
such are the travails we have my dear


James Bell has lived in France for a while now where he writes non-fiction, fiction and poetry, some of which gets published. This happens with photography too.

Two Poems by Jim Bennett

getting ready for bed

for goodness sake get ready for bed
OMG what is your problem
it is only half past one
just get ready for bed
then if you fall asleep you don’t
have to worry
I don’t see why I have to get ready
when I am not going to bed yet
because you go asleep watching TV
them your mum or I have to wake you
so you can go to bed so just go and get ready
do you mind?
what is the problem?
you are the problem
I am trying to take a call if you don’t mind
it is half past one
exactly  isn’t that what I have been saying
it is only half past one
plenty of time yet
plenty of time for what?
for this phone call if you don’t mind
it is private
you need to get ready for bed
no you want me to get ready for bed
I want to take this call  so if you don’t mind
why don’t you go to bed and when I am ready
I will go to bed

I told you to get ready for bed
not lie on your bed and go asleep
now get yourself ready for bed
OMG what is your problem
it is only half past three


he stood having belts and ropes
tied into place tested secured
his ankles tethered hobbled
then shuffles forward stands
arms outstretched

so I stand here thinking about him
listen to her cut into me
with words designed to draw blood
she was intent on getting rid of me
this time once and for all she said
and I could feel the rope tighten bite into flesh
as stomach churns

I had seen him on the TV and she had said then
how stupid it was to jump
to trust your life to an elastic rope
he had totted for a moment on the edge
then fell forward hands still stretched wide

I can feel the fall begin
head first heading into an abyss
the ground far below
wondering when or if the bungee rope
will start to pull me back
like the man on TV
or if this will be the time
that gravity wins
Continue reading “Two Poems by Jim Bennett”

One Poem by Jim Bennett

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

two skulls

there are two skulls
but I don’t know which is him
    his curled lip   snarl
       the cracked valleys of his face

the angry bloodshot eyes
       all gone to dust
   eye sockets like the finger holes
on a bowling ball

inside   a spider’s web
    stretches across the brain pan
        where personality once bounced
   from side to side
to change without warning

flimsy bone hands
            ready to fall apart
    don’t look like the hands
that punched me when he was drunk

I kiss the skull
   cold      hard     unyielding
         just like him


Jim Bennett is a poet who was born in Liverpool in the UK a long time ago and is still alive (we think).