Day 16: a double act

Two poems today, one from the lovely Kim Russell, and the other from the equally lovely Mary Earnshaw. They’re both quite short, and I think they work together well – both poems of winter weather.

Kim first:

Gentle Winter Reminder

Snow has been falling for half an hour
and already the garden is covered.
Slumped by the log store,
only the tip of an old sack is visible
as I approach, feet firmly in my wellies,
one sock creeping down to my toes.

The logs are frozen to the touch,
landing in the basket with a thud.
I’m so intent on piling logs for the stove,
I almost miss him: a cock robin hops
along the log-store roof and stops,
head cocked, eye shining, breast aflame,

reminding me of my duty to fill
the bird feeders with the sweetest trill.

and then Mary:

A wet coming they’d have of it

Beyond rain-bleared windows
draggled branches drip beneath
a night loured by cloud.

In the East no stars shine to
lead wise men, or fools, carrying
myrrh, gold and frankincense.

At last the rain stops. We conjure
up the silence of a deep snow quilt,
imagine reindeer really can fly.                

Kim M. Russell started writing when she was a schoolgirl and, since she retired from teaching in 2014, she has become a morning writer of at least a poem a day. She posts mainly poetry on her WordPress blog, writinginnorthnofolk.com. Her poems have been published on-line on Visual Verse, Spillwords, The Ekphrastic Review, Pure Haiku and the Poetry Pea Podcast, as well as in the following printed anthologies: Poetry Rivals and Love’s Labyrinth (Forward Press), Afflatus Magazine, River Writes (Bure Navigation Conservation Trust), Anthology of Aunts and Second Place Rosette (The Emma Press), Peeking Cat Anthologies 2017 and 2018, Fieldwork (New Nature Writing from East Anglia) and the Poetry Pea Journals, as well as a piece of flash fiction in Flash, I love you!, published by Paper Swans Press. Kim has self-published Between Heartbeats, an anthology of short stories and flash fiction, and a novel for children, Joe and Nelly. She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two cats.

Mary Earnshaw is a northerner with mixed loyalties, born Lancastrian but raised from the age of seven in Yorkshire. She is co-author, with Alan Parry, David Walshe and Paul Robert Mullen, of a chapbook of poems published by Dreich about Southport, under the title Belisama, Ptolemy’s name for that area south of the River Ribble, between sea and moss, where Mary lives. Her poetry, short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in various anthologies and journals and in 2021 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize and the Julian Lennon Poetry Prize.

In 2012 Mary published a crime fiction novel (A Wake of Vultures) set in Zambia where, since 1993, she has spent much time with her husband, Larry Barham, Professor of African Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, whom she met (far too long ago to admit) on a dig in Swaziland (now Eswatini). As a result, her non-verbal skills include cooking concoctions in witchy iron cauldrons, in the dark, over an open fire, for groups of dirty, hungry people.

Day 13 Three Winter Tales – an extract

[This is a short extract from the story of a young boy, Tom, born at the cost of his mother’s death to a woodcutter in ‘A Middling Time, of Fire and Frost,’ The second of ‘Three Winter Tales’]

“Tom’s green eyes are wide, staring from his doorway perch out into the forest.

It is the shortest day. His birthday, though none will celebrate that birth.

As inky twilight seeps through the sky he snuggles up to the doorpost.

And waits.

Tom is entranced by the stars. Perhaps he knows his mother is with them, keeping a mother’s watch.

Or perhaps he senses the magic abroad in tonight’s chill air.

The cousins return. The fire is lit. In the busy-ness of the cottage, no-one notices as Tom leaves his vantage point and walks to the edge of the forest.

It is raw cold. Icy cold.

He imagines frost as a winged creature, leaping from air to ground. From tree to grass, from grass to berry. Wizening fruits that cling to branches already gnarled and blackened.

All wondering, he wanders into the forest. Sits at the foot of a lofty tree. And dreams.

But to dream in the forest’s cold embrace on the night the sun stops is not for mortals to dare.

And as Tom sleeps, stealthy forces creep round him, seeking warm breath to steal.

But deep in the ancient heart of the woods a band of small forest folk feels that stealthy presence.

Like fireflies they wend their way to the place where young Tom sleeps. With baskets of jewel-bright lights they banish the sprites who would steal Tom’s breath.”

This is a short extract from the story of a young boy, Tom, born at the cost of his mother’s death to a woodcutter in ‘A Middling Time, of Fire and Frost,’ The second of ‘Three Winter Tales’

This is the first piece of prose I’ve ever used in the Advent Calendar. Everyone should have a wintry story collection, and Mary Earnshaw’s “Three Winter Tales” is gorgeous.

Mary Earnshaw is a northerner with mixed loyalties, born Lancastrian but raised from the age of seven in Yorkshire. She is co-author, with Alan Parry, David Walshe and Paul Robert Mullen, of a chapbook of poems published by Dreich about Southport, under the title Belisama, Ptolemy’s name for that area south of the River Ribble, between sea and moss, where Mary lives. Her poetry, short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in various anthologies and journals and in 2021 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize and the Julian Lennon Poetry Prize. In 2012 Mary published a crime fiction novel (A Wake of Vultures) set in Zambia where, since 1993, she has spent much time with her husband, Larry Barham, Professor of African Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, whom she met (far too long ago to admit) on a dig in Swaziland (now Eswatini). As a result, her non-verbal skills include cooking concoctions in witchy iron cauldrons, in the dark, over an open fire, for groups of dirty, hungry people