New Poetry, Fiction, Essay

8 poems by our runner up, Simon Lewis

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When you emerged from a little egg,
you squirmed around your liquid house.
I caught flitting glimpses of you spread,
twisting and crawling in the darkness,
like an alabaster gut-sliding caterpillar,
your heartbeat rumbling. I saw you change
as you grew on the printed thermal paper
from sweetpea-size to plum to orange,
until you ran out of room. It was time
to leave the cocoon. When the doctor
dangled you, flapping like a butterfly
and rested you on your mother’s heart,
I could see you were a doppelganger
of me, squealing, squinting, all in a flutter.



Apgar Score

It seems degrading the way you’re taken,
how I imagine animals are grabbed
before their throats are slit at the butchers.
You are on a towel, pink and screaming.
The nurse is happy and gives you a two,
sticks her latexed finger into your mouth.
Wiping away the vernix, all you do
is numbered: heartbeats, sneezes, coughs.
It’s less than five minutes into your little life
and you’ve already been given a value.
Today the nurse says you’re an eight
or nine. I look at you being wrapped
in swaddles of towels and blankets
ready to spend your life trying to reach ten.




When the nurse pointed
at the dark brown birthmark
covering your left elbow
as you writhed on the scale,
she said we could get it removed
then wrapped you in towels.
The fortune tellers of Thailand
would have told me you’d grow
to be a scholar, predict a career
as a diplomat, marry you off
to a lady of savvy, discretion, charm.
The Indians, more sceptical,
grant you misfortune with money,
and the Spanish would blame
your mother and her unfulfilled wishes.
I stared at the red and white flecks
on your head as you screamed
at a world already condemning you
on a random clustering of pigment.
In time, the birthmark will be yours;
Wear it like a medal.




I study the magenta, pink and white specks,
on your head and the wisps of white vernix
as you squeal, squirm and suck the air.

I wipe milk and mucus from your lips, chin
and cheek as you spray a warm stream
of piss upwards, splashing on the changing bed.

I watch the ticker tape of yellow from your bottom
and catch the spurts in my hands as you dig
your heel in your excrement as you screech

like a thrashing wounded crow as if it were me
who caused it all. In the madness, I look at you,
the phlegm, the milk, the shit and I drink it all in.



Do Not Disturb

It has taken you more time to settle,
the gaps between naps are widening.
Multi-coloured cars, bicycles, trucks
motor slowly down Barrack Street,
sunlight flickers behind the gaps
in the shadows of potential friends,
the feel of the breeze on the tongue,
the warm meaty aroma of the vent
outside the fast food joint, too much
to warrant a morning doze. We cross
the bridge over the Barrow, walk the bank
past ducks and gulls who have given up
on human kindness and wait for the flow
to deliver gifts of accidentally dropped
ice-cream cones, biscuit crumbs, crisps.
The playground screams are faded wisps,
the town traffic blurred to distant murmur.
You slip your thumb between your gums,
close your eyes. I push you in the stillness.
Everything is resting: the weeping willows,
pondweeds, crowfoot, starworts, reeds;
even the blades of grass are dreaming.



At Six Weeks

There are nights I am woken by your cries,
arrhythmic grunts, explosions of reflux
in the blurry glow of the nightlight.

I might have slept an hour or maybe two
since I rocked you last, your head nestled
in the crease of my elbow, your eyes

dropping and whimpers softening
to a steady breath and I can finally rest
you down in your crib. I do it again

and again until the alarm clock signals
it is time to switch on the kettle
for my coffee and your first bottle.

You nuzzle your head, sucking the teat
and we share the morning together,
the night forgotten, both of us smiling.



Making Strange

The blue of your iris is fixed as you decipher
the face, inches in front of you. Your lips

thin to an em-dash; you’re giving nothing
as the cooing, blubbing, clucking come,

pleadings for a smile. It might be seconds,
a minute or not at all. I think how lucky you are

for if you turn out like me, you won’t get time
to turn it on, to warm up and the stranger

will have moved on to the quick-witted,
the storytellers, the gas tickets

and you’ll stand by the wall, clutching
an empty wine glass you drained too fast,

a wallflower wilting in the lonely corner.
For now, enjoy the chance to be shy

but learn the art of small talk. It’s better
to be a character than a silent letter.




You have battled many faceplants
before crawling, another victory;
now you march on and reach a hand
to the edge of the coffee table, steady
before the quivered jolt of hand number two,
press your fingers down and rest your chin
on the smooth walnut surface. “I see you,”
I say to the snub nose and two-tooth grin
and in the excitement you lose your grip,
tumble to floorboard world, left to clench
at curtains, tug the wires, or sit to stare
at the mirror. You’ll be back, like a conscript
for another battle, but for now in the trench
you can say, once I made it. I was here.




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