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New Poetry, Fiction, Essays

Highly Commended poet – Sue Johnson

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witching hour

to the casual observer
we are just an ordinary family
clean white net curtains
no litter or weeds in the front garden

but do not be deceived

when night falls we are
the prowlers in the park
the whisper of scandal in the dark

we are the bringers of nightmares
the dream stealers

on pale mornings
you may see our shadows
slice the gloom
as we head home before sunrise


The last time

The last time I saw her
she was perched on her suitcase
on the station platform
nibbling a doughnut.

The last time I saw her
she was framed in morning mist
a black lace bow on her pink hair
dressed in layers of gothic net.

The last time I saw her
I told her to be careful
big cities devour girls like her.
She smiled but did not listen.

I swear to you officer
I didn’t harm her.
That’s exactly how it was
the last time I saw her.

Fairytale

Pink blossom and high blue sky
acid burn of sherbet yellow forsythia
Chantilly cream of blackthorn
dressed in fairytale finery

look for the secret door
enter the place where stories live
follow the ivy rope
through the enchanted forest

Be careful not to stray
too far from the path.
Sometimes you cannot be sure
who your friends are.

Follow the rainbows of light
from a spider’s web.
They will protect you
in the dark forest.

Be true to yourself.
Find the story you want to tell the world.
Do not give up if the path grows steep
and edged with brambles.

When you reach the end of your journey
close the secret door behind you.
Remember you may return here
whenever you wish.

Return to the place
where pink blossom
meets clear blue sky.
Wake safe and sound in your bed.

 

The bookshop

Icy needles of rain strike like arrows
as I push open the low door.
The bell jangles madly
as I fall into the musty church-like interior.

An old man in fingerless gloves
shuffles from behind a red velvet curtain.
I draw back caught between his shifty gaze
and the gathering storm outside.

The lights flicker. He draws closer.
The smell of leather, tobacco and peppermints
mask his stale breath.
My legs feel too shaky to run.

A Moroccan leather bound book falls from a shelf,
releases an envelope with my name on it.
The black letters coil and twine like snakes.
I throw it from me in terror.

The old man leaps forward
with surprising agility,
slides the bolts on the door
as the lights flicker and die.

I wake shivering in twisted sheets
to the sound of thunder and torrential rain
and the memory of a place
I can never escape.

 

Dream

First I am in an unfamiliar Library.
A man with a microphone asks questions about my books.
He wears a green bow-tie.
My work fills a lot of space.

The Library is surrounded by red sandstone hills.
I travel from place to place in a white Dormobile.
Someone said we are in Australia.
I don’t believe them.

The dream-scene cuts to a place in a novel not yet written.
It looks like a Yorkshire mill town
and a girl with blonde hair and pink cotton dress
runs down a steep hill edged with houses.

She carries a blue china plate of butterfly cakes.
Thirteen boys follow her – all with blonde hair.
They stream from one of the houses like ants
and chase her down the road.

My pen moves across the page. Purple ink
creates patterns on white paper. The story comes to life.
My alarm clock shrills
as the children gather round the man with the microphone.

 

The fabric of loss

black and white

……………………like magpies

my dress …………………your shirt

unfamiliar clothes
pushed to the back of the wardrobe
that, despite laundering, carry the mustiness of old churches
the scent of white lilies
the sound of cracked bells tolling
and the clamour of handshakes and hugs

a shaft of sunlight
reminds me to turn away from gloomy thoughts

we are together today – and Dad always said
a pair of magpies was lucky

and that feelings of joy and thankfulness
live alongside sorrow.

 

Time

When I was free to run under a clear blue sky
across a field of dandelion clocks
it seemed like time would last for ever

But open fields and the gateway to endless stories
closed
when the classroom door opened
swallowed me
devoured time
spat me out
a grey clad clone

Or so they thought

………………………………..but they were wrong

I never stopped daydreaming
no matter what they said

or how many detentions they gave

I knew the stories were there waiting
in the field of dandelion clocks
and that one day I would escape
to a place where time lasts for ever.

 

The Story Cupboard

She was a hoarder
a woman who dressed in dove grey
and viewed the world through yellowing net curtains.

She didn’t miss the slightest detail
of the events outside her window –

the smell of rain, the texture of sparrows,

the colour of love.

Her cupboards were crammed with stories
that were never shared
or framed with laughter

until the day she died

and a tiny girl in a peach cotton dress
opened the door
and the pages tumbled out
dusty and curling at the edges
like stale sandwiches.

The words swooped and dived
like black birds across faded blue paper
as the stories flew into the light.

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