INDIGO DREAMS PUBLISHING LTD
GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2021
138 x 216mm
£10.00 + P&P UK
Bān-hūs; 'a charnel house; the human body'. 'Bone House' explores our physical relationship not only with the earth, but with what lies beneath it; that 'shamble of rubble and forgotten time' where our history and memories are buried.
As we walk the land we learn to read and interpret it, to listen to its sounds, and re-connect with it through music, language and the ancient words and traditions of the past.
Peel back the ground, delve into rich horizons,
the turf a wiry pelt between your fingers.
Underneath, the tree roots' muscle, smooth skulls
of stone where eyes of soil lie hidden in the hollows.
Dig deeper down; learn that a man once carved
a ladle from a fallen oak, forged an arrow carefully
in the flames, or shouldered forests on his back
to form these splintered timbers into home.
Below these contoured meadows is a midden;
a shamble of rubble and forgotten time,
where delicate gills of flesh petal back
into the living body of the earth
and whitening bones of vole and rabbit
shine like scattered stars among the thistle.
In the field, a kindle of hares, dancing
in tangles of sedge and heather.
A murmur of lacewing in brittle reeds,
the skim of wind on water, ruffling the surface
with its sudden gust. And here, too, the scars
of buried weather, marks of old flood etched
on scarp or heath, our memory hefted
by the river's surge as we are winnowed
from our place, drawn to the litany of landscape
and the long slow dissipate of years.
Last night the angels gathered on the hill,
leaning into the wind like angled pines.
My father tried to herd them, as he would
the wayward ewes, delved their tongues for magic
as he sheared their fleecy wings. As he moved
further from the light, the fading day passed
through them, their voices sweet as mead.
Air cracked like hazelnuts between their fingers.
The sky had ceased to breathe.
Reading the Leaves
She was the local gossip; a twattle-basket across
the garden fence. Curtain-twitcher, petulant,
fierce as a sigewif, the cockles of her heart
were hard shelled mussels, impossible to crack.
Everyone knew she had second sight,
could read a dream, predict a sudden passing.
Sunday tea each week at five. Crockery rocking
on the table, crumbs and judgements flying
from her mouth like angry bees as she piled
our plates with cake, buttercream sweet as caudle.
In those days our fortune rested, not on tombola
or Spot the Ball, but on the alphabet of leaves
in an upturned cup; the drawn pot warm,
full-bellied, with its cargo of oracles.
In her delicate slipware, a prosperous life,
unexpected windfalls, the shape of a future
husband silhouetted faintly in the dregs.
For others, disappointment. The cat that told
of treachery, a candle for worry or ill health,
a broken dish for loss. As my grandmother,
soothsayer, warrior queen, measured out
retribution in a teaspoon of sugary lies.
Kathy Miles was born in Liverpool and now lives in West Wales.
Her third poetry collection, 'Gardening with Deer', was published by Cinnamon Press in 2016, and a pamphlet, 'Inside the Animal House', by Rack Press in 2018. Her poetry appears widely in magazines and anthologies, and she is a previous winner of the Second Light, Welsh Poetry and Wells Festival competitions, as well as the Bridport Prize.
A co-editor of 'The Lampeter Review', Kathy is a frequent reader at literary events.
The Bone Merchant
Weekly he came, louche as a sin-eater,
his tongue loose with the scavenge of gossip
and rags. His mare fractious at the harness,
easing herself out of her ancient frame.
At his call, our mothers flocked from doors,
arms full of tattered clothes, the rattle of tin,
chipped pots, a chine of Sunday roast.
He piled these meagre wages on the cart,
clopped off across the cobbles. I imagined him
coming to collect our ribs, patellas,
shoulder-blades, siphoning off our marrow
as we slept. Shaping them to clones of us,
who'd walk round in their borrowed skeletons,
a dream of rag-and-bone men in their eyes.
An unexpected southerly; joists creak,
wood licked by salt-wind flexing its muscle.
I wait for sheets to unfurl from the bed,
for the duvet to become a racing jib,
the house go sailing down the lane.
Voices creep from the grain; not ghosts,
but insects chattering about the weather,
hoisting on oilskins and battening down.
The owl flattens itself against a trunk
as air is pressed out like an old accordion
and light launches a thousand ships
with your face at the helm. You navigate
our course with pen and compass,
a chart I cannot fathom. The house bucks
in a sudden gust, hesitates a moment,
but kicks her mooring, turns her keel to leeward,
as you unhitch the ropes, weigh anchor;
set us adrift from our foundations.
Here, evening is taking up the slack; already
swallows fidget on the wire, tetchy as fractious children
in a queue. And I saw you shift this summer,
your cheekbones harvesting the shadows.
Your heart a dragnet, drawn by its inconstant beat,
blood surging like a slow bore along the silted channels.
Now I'm trawling your horizons, searching
for a change in pressure, watching for the constants.
I see how your drift, silent as the tides' ebb, ruffles
the weight of air. Each night I listen for your breath
as your lungs cast out their line, over and over,
and I wait for the moment there's that gentle tug –
at first, just the hint of a catch – and then the long
tight pull of it, as you are reeled in, flounder.