Lyricism, surreal beauty, authentic capturing of love & loss

Maureen Jivani’s poem had a universal resonance. Voters said it brought to mind their first hospital visit, playing with a newborn baby, a mother with a dying daughter. They found the poem, haunting, tender, enigmatic and the word beautiful was repeated again and again.

And it is for these reasons and many more that ‘Lovely Feet’ is the IS&T Pick of the Month for December 2023.

Maureen’s recent work can be found in Alba, Orbis, The Alchemy Spoon, The High Window and Under the Radar.  She has a pamphlet of poems and a full collection published by Mulfran Press.

 

 

Lovely Feet

I dream I’m at the hospital
massaging your feet, your tiny feet

that I have freed from their tight
white stockings

and covered in aromatic oils,
as your lover lies beside you

stroking your lioness head
which turns and gently purrs

at the moon that has risen like a god
over the hills, blessing the far corners

of your room which is now awash
with silver and glows like song.

 

Other voters’ comments included:

This is a beautifully suggestive narrative, developed skilfully and tightly in a single, evolving sentence. It works with almost a fresh image in every line, each of them a little surprising but just. 

I like the way so many striking images have been conveyed with such intensity in such a short poem.

Real cadence and evocative of a personal memory

Extremely haunting and yet relatable

Love the sense of enigmatic, curious, intimacy in this poem.

So beautiful that is broke my heart!

It’s beautiful- takes the imagination everywhere and has perfect form

Such a tender poem, full of love.

It is different and it makes the reader think. I felt differently after reading this poem than I had done before. That is poetry.

Beautiful poem, other worldly and full of mystery

I love the way the poem opens out from specific actions into spaciousness with such an economy of language.

Beautiful curious poem

So vivid and emotional

It reflects the intimate connection between a mother and her late daughter

I work in the medical field so it resonated with me

Stirs a memory in my mind of my first visit to a hospital room

Because of the extraordinary way this poem works on my emotions. Simple brilliance!

Very personal and emotional recollection of a dear friend passing away

For its gentle care and fierce glory.

Such endearing words reminded me of the adoration i felt with my newborn

I was taken into Maureen Jivani’s poem by its surreal quality. I liked the references to anointed feet, maybe Mary Magdalene. The silver and light quality and the lion’s head tossing and purring. Also, the uncomplicated appearance of it.

tender, balanced, seemingly simple

 

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THE REST OF THE DECEMBER 2023 SHORTLIST

 

A Rumination

With ginger chai, lounged in the balcony,
Revisiting the years she and her spouse
Endeavoured for a better, self-owned house,
She takes a breath of content, finally.
But why is there no lustre in her eyes?
Nostalgia? This cannot be the case,
For she bears sour memories of that place
That served her naught but times of heavy sighs.
It’s guilt, perhaps, of being insensate
To those cracked tiles that helped her toddlers’ feet
Or chipped walls that, in frost, preserved some heat;
It’s guilt, perhaps, from cussing these inanimate
Friends (just as flawed as man) who kept them warm
Like selfless trees that house birds in a storm.

 

Shamik Banerjee is a poet from India. When he is not writing, he can be found strolling the hills surrounding his homestead. His poems have appeared in Fevers of the Mind, Lothlorien Poetry Journal and Westward Quarterly, among others.

*

 

Knots

When I remember
the white paint of the door frame
it’s not my tiny 8-year-old hands that grip it,

steadying the spinning top of my chest.
It’s not with those hands I feel the squeak of paint
under fingertips, not with that thumb I brush the knot of wood,
visible through the white like a half-healed bruise.

It’s my 25-year-old palm,
my self-gifted watch catching on its sharp edged tooth
blocking the splintery bite.

Years later I lacquer paint onto a different door frame
in a different house, black plastic bristles drawing smooth lines
like a zen garden rake.
The frame underneath is smooth, I notice,

great care has been taken to soften and sand it.
‘We’ve worked out the knots,’ he says, holding up his brush,
‘so they won’t bleed through.’

 

Alle Bloom is a poet and social statistician who spends their time searching for patterns in both numbers and words.

*

 

I Have Memorised a Series of Statistics About Drowning
after Benjamin Gucciardi

When the bus hits the tunnel and the sun disappears
I remember how the greatest risk-factor for drowning
is being near water; then being near it drunk;
then being near it young or male especially –
how an excellent precautionary step
is to be elsewhere. When the crowds outside me
are hammering waves I remember how
there are other risk factors: being poor (for example)
or being black or brown, though these
will vary across cultures, and here it may be
that the faces around me will carry their own
depth charges ready to detonate.
When my pressed-upon shudder and shriek breaks through
the shimmering surface, I remember how
I could never accept “everyone has drowned”,
because drowning is a judgement on those
who cannot swim, on the shame of needing
to be pulled from the water, your careless weight
a constant danger, the water indifferent,
the roar of riptide in your ears
the last thing there is before peace – of a kind.
When things go quiet, I remember how
the percentage of rescuers who drown
is unknown; there is little reliable data
for how much of you will be offered into
the water for someone else’s sake;
how much of you is at stake; how small
or how great a risk you are going to take
as you catch a last glimpse of a pale, wet face
before it disappears; how you see
the bubbles slow down, then stop, and realise
you don’t know – you have never known –
exactly how much time is left.

 

Tim Kiely is a criminal barrister and poet based in East London. He is the author of Hymn to the Smoke, Plaque for the Unknown Socialist and No Other Life. Buy his work at timkielybooks.bigcartel.com. Visit his WordPress at timkielypoetry.wordpress.com.

*

 

Stuffed Monkey
from Jane Grigson’s English Food

It’s impossible to foretell what will provoke tears, the sort
that well up and tip over while you hold onto the kitchen sink
waiting for them to subside.

It could be a bunch of keys, so many of them mysterious
from down the years, or clippings in a wallet, its leather
soft-shaped to a back pocket.

Or this cook book, English Food, sellotaped, cover missing,
pages stained, translucent with greasy butter prints,
the voice instructive, calm.

Tucked in, there’s a scrap scrawled with a list of ingredients
for just the filling of a classic lemon tart.
He didn’t need instructions

for its pâte sablé case, having mastered pastry: sweet crust,
short crust, rough puff, choux, all the many variations.
And here, Stuffed Monkey,

which no-one has ever had before – before he made it,
shiny with egg white glaze, round, heavy and dark
from brown sugar and cinnamon.

So plain to look at, so dense, delicious and unknown.
Now, I follow the steps, the book propped open,
method a bit vague. And I’m crying.

I could say widowhood, regret, could say it’s just a layer
of peel and ground almonds between two discs
of something like a pastry dough.

Jane says to make the dough ‘as if you are making pastry’.
I think she means rubbing in with fingertips, bringing together.
I could say ‘as if I’m suddenly so specifically lonely.’

Baked and cooled, the Stuffed Monkey sits in the shallow tin
which held our Christmas biscuits, stolid, a good traveller,
waiting to be taken somewhere. Sure of a welcome.

 

Kathy Pimlott has a collection, the small manoeuvres (Verve Poetry Press, 2022) and two pamphlets Elastic Glue and Goose Fair Night (Emma Press). She lives in Covent Garden. www.kathypimlott.co.uk

*

 

Advice To One Who Is Single
A Golden Shovel

‘True love. Is it normal? Is it serious? Is it practical? What does the world get, Warrior?
Two people who exist in a world of their own.’ From The Celtic Book of Days

The last night in November – it’s true
the dead were dancing with the fairies. The dead – and the fairies – love
music and wine, not the chill cold earth which is
where they must return in the Black Month; rain, it
may seep up your legs and creep into your liver. Normal,
but not pleasant. Place an oatmeal poultice on your feet – there is
no need to wash. Is that a weasel rattling behind your bed? Coax it
with a dish of fresh suet. It’s easily tamed. They are a more serious
threat after heavy rain. At Christmas it will turn dark yellow – it is
their ritual. Any wish you make will be granted in the magic hour. When is it?
No-one can tell. Meanwhile, golden butter, for practical
reasons, should be given in a new-made dish – say what
you like in the spell – to actually win your love it does
need to be offered in the presence of a mill, a stream, and the
tree on which you have already carved his or her name. The world
is wilder this season – such a dirty stormy night. Get
the ducks out of the nettles. Bitter is the wind like a fierce warrior
it tosses the ocean’s white hair. Be faithful like the two
eagles guarding the old king’s grave. People
speak of demons walking out of the sea, demons who
brandish fiery clubs and drop fire into the water. They exist
because we have been frightened all year. We shrink down in
our houses, avoid the rough, sharp wind. A woman or a
man must bed down on a pallet in a stall with their cattle. The world
is wilder but there are the unstung ducks and weasels with their miracle of
yellow. The Devil may steer the plough, and toads may pull it in their
harnesses but they are months behind while you are ahead, gladly on your own.

 

Pam Thompson is a writer, educator and reviewer based in Leicester.  Her works include include The Japan Quiz(Redbeck Press, 2009) and Show Date and Time (Smith|Doorstop, 2006). Pam’s collection, Strange Fashion, was published by Pindrop Press in 2017. She is a Hawthornden Fellow.