It wasn’t the life you’d imagine.
Most nights he’d be out,
on the sherry early doors.
Closing time, he’d come back and start.
Exploding over nothing,
he’d throw his tea at the wall,
smash the place up,
scatter elves like skittles.
He slept where he fell
and pissed himself.
We kept our heads down
and got on with the jobs.
There was nothing merry
about any of us.
Not dainty. Not delicate.
We were big girls,
built for the donkey work,
lugging boxes and sacks of toys
from the workshop by day,
nights in the loading bay.
More of a father to strangers,
he’d turn on us and say:
Who’d want you lot any way?
Wild hair flying, clumsy,
we weren’t born for shining
or finery, couldn’t be trusted
with delicate mechanisms
or finishing touches,
but we knew hard labour
and every one of us could lift
a toddler’s weight in trains.
At the end of the day
there’s only so much you can take.
I’ll never forget his face that last time
he staggered in, Jack Frost in tow,
covered in snow, an abominable man,
brandishing a hammer.
I’ll give you bloody Christmas…
By then we’d all come of age –
girls that could turn
skipping ropes into snakes
with a flick of a wrist, each tail
a fist shaking a baby’s rattle.
A rage so great it woke an army
of sleeping dolls. Angel-faced,
they climbed down from the shelves –
all the beautiful daughters
he’d ever wished for,
marching towards him in their clumpy shoes.
Joanne Key won 2nd prize in the 2014 National Poetry Competition, and first prize in the 2018 Hippocrates Open Prize. She was the winner of the 2018 Mslexia Short Story Competition.
A Blessed Virgin Grows Up
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart – Luke 2:19
There was so much Mary at Christmas.
I, too, was a handmaid,
a quiet girl,
untouched by man.
Advent nights, I waited
to be chosen
by the angel
with miraculous eyes.
Headlights feathered the ceiling.
My open book bloomed lily-white.
But the next day
with its ordinary dawn.
Once, a man drove one hundred miles
to bring me gifts.
Once, I was with child.
and all prayers were lost.
I will listen to the owls shout.
I will sleep with curtains open
so the moon slides
across my thighs.
What do I keep in my heart?
How far I’ve travelled in the dark.
How no one told me I could choose.
Catherine Ayres is a poet and teacher from Northumberland. Her collection, Amazon, is published by Indigo Dreams. She is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at Northumbria University.
While the Wise Men all Gather on Important Business
the women have been left
in stables, unarmed.
By turns they have claimed
what they had to hand, and now wield it
against whoever comes close. By God’s grace
they have been left the stories of great men
small as babies, love songs useful as star signs,
yet this winter they are asking questions, like, how
many daughters did Mary have? By nightfall
the devil has begun taking confessions
and if things stay this way, soon, one woman
will kiss her own arm, remember
what pleasure feels like, and then, even if the men
come home, sturdy and deep as barrels, the women
will push them over, and roll them away.
Amelia Loulli is a poet living in Cumbria. A pamphlet of her poetry was selected for publication in Primers Volume IV in 2019, and her work has been twice shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She is currently studying her MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University.