Rae Howells

the poet

Rae Howells is a poet and journalist from Swansea, UK. She's won both the Welsh International and The Rialto poetry competitions, and been mentioned in several others (most recently, the MsLexia competition). Her work has featured in a wide range of journals, including Magma, The Rialto, New Welsh Review, Acumen, Envoi, Poetry Ireland, Black Bough Poetry, Marble and The Cardiff Review, as well as in the Poetry Business anthology, The Result is What You See Today. Her pamphlet Bloom and Bones, co-authored with Jean James, is forthcoming from The Hedgehog Poetry Press.

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the poems

Merchant Vessel Defoe, 1941

00:00 / 01:51

Moon nights were the worst
like being on a ruddy stage
with the spotlight shining in your eyes
the audience somewhere down there 
in the oily stalls beneath your feet
you couldn’t look them in the eye
but they saw you all right
unblinking periscopes with the waves clapping.
 
          we’d clank across the water
          a band a moving factory
          waves riddling on the rivets
          and the machine of the ocean grinding
          they knew exactly where we were of course they did
          we were the great flywheel rattling over
          and they, iron whales, waiting in the tide’s deep belt.
 
So we kept our backs to Brazil
and breathed our hope to Swansea.
We were bananas tucked in our skins
sweating in boxes in the tin stomach
of the hull our hands worrying black spiders in our sleep
 
          I couldn’t swim a stroke y’know
kept my steel helmet on so I could drown the quicker 
I hated the watch
all that starless black stretching out like a long ear
          listening
our convoy was the world 
we could have been the only people alive
the others wavering candles alongside
lamps and smoke the cigarette ends flaring
 
and then – BANG!
 
you always saw the white flash of death
before you heard the whump of it
before you retched at the cordite stink chlorine fire and oil burning on saltwater
and the shouts of tiny men
flung into the moonroad
 
                                        you couldn’t help but wonder
                                        when your turn would come
 
I’ve still got my medals somewhere, y’know,
tucked up in a tin box 
round as faces.

The swing

00:00 / 02:02

Six years on but still, sometimes,

                                                       I wake and find you in the dawn,

the woman                                          

                                                      from the mother-and-baby group,

pushing the swing, still there,                                       

                                                                             in that playground –

do you remember?                                                     

                                                                          both of us in the park:

 

your older daughter is                                 

                                                          straddled into the safety swing,

her legs flying up                                       

                                                                                    towards the sun

as she leaves you and comes back,         

                                                               leaves you, and comes back

 

and I am

                                                                                                with you,

the wind insisting itself

                                                                                     into everything,

the row of boats along the foreshore

                                                                            with their metalwork

ringing,

                                                                                             crying out,

my own baby snug

                                                                         in the hull of her pram,

and her small,

                                                                                       reliable, heart

working,

                                                                              winging in its chest

 

so that when I gull myself next to you

                                                                       – squawking too noisily

about motherhood –

                                                                                                 I almost

miss

                                                                           your daughter’s eyes,

locked onto you,

                                                                                       airborne tight,

as she reluctantly leaves you,

                                                                                     and leaves you,

a series of

                                                                                           small griefs,

her swoop,

                                                                              her snag of delight,

each time caught uncertainly

                                                                  in that belly-drop moment

between soaring joy

                                                                                          and parting.

 

I was too slow to notice

                                                                      you were a cracked egg,

albumen

                                                                                leaking out of you,

the way you forced yourself

                                                                       to push the swing away,

willed your muscles to obey,

                                                        each push a wrench of the heart.

 

I presumed you had simply left your baby boy with your mother.

 

But of course,

                                                           there are your daughter’s eyes,

fixed on you

                                                               as you slowly implode – you,

with your heart

                                                                 strung up on a pendulum –

transfixed,

                                                                                        watching you

caught in that terrible

                                                                                moment between:

 

oscillating, flying away,

                                                                              hands outstretched

for the miraculous return.

The winter-king

00:00 / 00:52

little-word bird little wren
feathered lung only built for singing
purifying freezing air through
a feather ball chitter chatter piper
little wren little brownleaf keeneye
built for singing
round like a minim
little wren pink wire feet
gripping winter’s branches
holding on to cold little bird
only built to pipe built to whistle
keeneye watching snow fall
crowning the holly little thornbeak
feathered bauble hanging on the pine
only built to sing
turning cold air into arias
too quick for the ice to catch
little keeneye raised eyebrow
jingling the dead leaf bells
surely too small to be –
but they say you’re the winter-king
only you can sing us into light

Publishing credits

Merchant Vessel Defoe, 1941: Magma Issue 74

The Swing: Please Give Me Your Heart to Hold

  Longlisted for the Winchester Poetry Prize 2019

The winter-king: The Rialto

  Winner of The Rialto Nature Poetry Competition 2018

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