This poem was shortlisted for the Westport Arts Festival Poetry Competition 2016.
Open House at Shady Pines
They trudge in, trailing cheap perfume,
parading polyester slacks and cut-
price crap from T K Maxx.
Not one of them is here to buy.
Ours is an ‘open house’; a free-for-all
where folk can snuffle through our smalls
and nary a nook is out of bounds.
There isn’t a thing I can do.
We’ve over twenty floral rooms,
well-groomed grounds, a spacious
lounge – yet still it’s on the market
and so still they tramp through.
I sit here in my winged armchair
(a wedding gift from darling Bert)
as strangers coo ‘How’re you coping
without him, dear?’ and slope past
on their way to visit Walter with claw-
hands, Marsha with pishy pants, Harry
with gammy foot or Deirdre, bald as a coot
(why these codgers linger here’s beyond me).
Away, I say, Shady Pines is up for sale,
Bert put it on the market himself.
He’s always been fit as a butcher’s dog,
but this place grew too big for two.
We’ll find a buyer, shake off these chumps,
and nestle in our bungalow. We’ll gather
in its cosy hall, allow the blessed latch
to fall, and bar the door to every soul.
This poem first appeared in New Writing Scotland 35 (August 2017)
I was a minnow of a girl, tossed
by the storm. Banished from Algiers
with the skin of my belly tight
as a drum, packed with the kicks
of my Caliban, whose diabolic
father knew a trick or two.
Many moons rose. I wove an eel-
grass cradle, chased mischievous
spirits from my driftwood door.
Waves curling behind me like claws,
I screamed him out. Beneath a squid-
ink sky he hit the sand as lightning struck.
I loved my moon-calf dear, stroked
the bristles on his cheeks, caressed
his crooked spine. I held him high
to pick our olives, figs and oranges
until my salty breath ran out
and I became pure essence.
Prospero offered my boy stolen fruit
on open palms, beguiled with wily
spells. Now Caliban bears wood
like a mule, weeps over his chains
until iron turns to rust and man
turns to beast with a poet’s tongue.
Ah, his words might be as sweet
as peaches. At night, he rocks
gently, sings lullabies; but they are
few, and brief, and soiled with curses.
Oh, he could be so tall if he would
only walk with unbowed spine.
This poem won the Neil Gunn Writing Competition 2017.
The girl holds out her cup and sinks onto the hearthside stool, gulps again the bitter tea beneath the midwife’s gaze. Those eyes, buried in skin crinkled as raisins, will have seen a thousand like her: those who chose the wrong time to give in, or didn’t choose at all. The walls gather close as gossips, windows weeping steam, flames tonguing the grate. Then comes the quickening in her core, the poker-heat, the rush of liquid, brown and slippery as cooking-oil. A vision ensues: a shrivelled underwater foot emerging; a boiled potato torso; four tuberous limbs… The midwife shovels the mulch into the fire, hands glistening like ham, as the girl inches towards the couch, packing a wad of cloth between her thighs, inhaling the stench of burnt meat, sweltering in the fug.
‘This poem first appeared in Poetry Ireland Review (ed. Vona Groarke), December 2016.
I put eyes and tongues into every
dumb object I encounter, finding
smiles in fire-grates, laughter
tinkling in the servants’ bell.
I console the long silver spoon
as I polish her and all her daughters.
I stroke the cheeks of dusty clocks,
wipe sweat from leaky windows.
As I scrape up luncheon crumbs
he grumbles again: his women left him
out of spite. Tears mottle skin as dry
as moths entombed in wardrobes.
My cuckoo master laid his eggs
in umpteen nests: wife,
but never prune-fleshed me.
I used to hear his grunts then watch
them scuttle from his room. Now
I cannot shake the cat-in-the-wall
ache bricked-up in my chest.
I have stayed here too long.
I am as dried out and stuck
as rice abandoned in a pot.
I’ll never leave.
This poem first appeared in Scotia Extremis (ed. Andy Jackson and Brian Johnstone) 07/11/16
You brand me Very Difficult, as if I’m here
to challenge men who fritter days in stuffy
office blocks, evenings in provincial sheds
Sundays crawling up the backs of gods.
You peruse my Munro kin like bridies
on a buffet tray, but I’m the tricky bugger.
I make you strain with ropes. I don’t flinch
at your pitons. Gobs gape at my drop,
arseholes pucker tight as drawstring hoods.
I can’t be Bagged like a tin of shortie
or a bottle of scotch. I’ve felt the shifting
of tectonic plates, cracked and shuddered
through glacial drift. I’ve watched clans clash
like stags, flags indecipherable with blood.
Rain will rust your bolts, their fine red dust
tossed by the wind like ashes. You may fancy
your eroding steps superior to any other
Tommy Tourist’s, but watch your back.
I’m born of lava: my jutting jaw a blade’s edge,
my basalt skull treacherous when wet.
This poem first appeared in The University of Edinburgh’s From Arthur’s Seat, published by Egg Box Publishing 18/04/16.
I was red hot once, in my sarafan, with my six
pretty girls beside me. We had nothing to hide.
Our lacquered simpers graced the mantelpiece;
our bellies round with pride. Then hands split
us open, our wooden waists howling, crammed
my bean of a babe into her big sister, and she
into hers, and she into hers, and she into hers.
They made an onion of us, and we had to
eat each other’s secrets. We’d grown old.
The vintage of our curls and beauty spots,
flushed cheeks and bitten lips, had bred
contempt. We little ladies had taken up
too much space, for much too long.
My body solid with devoured kin,
they placed me in a modest place to
squat beneath a lampshade, vie for
prominence with porcelain tat, the
vacant milk-skinned shepherdess.
Now I cannot move for the heft
of my girls. I retch when they
wriggle within me. My glaze
has cracked, my paint flakes.
My lashes fall. My cheeks
blanch. The flowers of
my sarafan are fading.
My rosy smile has
shrunk to a bitter
This poem first appeared in Double Bill (Red Squirrel Press), 2014.
Behold the baldy man’s conceit, the way he flourishes his comb,
daintily coaxing the last, lank tendrils across his boiled-egg pate.
Watch how he flaunts his Scottish teeth, eyebrows arching coyly
as the seconds stretch. We know what surely happens next.
Just when he stoops that streaky heid FLASH goes the humbling camera.
Just when that simper slips FLASH goes the shaming lens.
Look how it chastens him even as the stool descends. But then:
the rasp of a match, a nimbus of smoke, an emanation of Bach
as if from paradise. See, it’s the wee things that help restore our pride,
and it’s us posers who parade the frailest hide.