Joanna Nissel was runner-up for the 2018 Poetry Business International New Poets Prize, Pick of the Month for Ink, Sweat, and Tears (July 2020), and won the 2020 Bangor Literary Journal Ekphrastic competition. She works as an organiser and facilitator of online literary events, including the Stay-at-Home! Literature Festival, Tears in the Fence Festival, and events with Paper Nations. Joanna’s debut poetry pamphlet, Guerrilla Brightenings, is forthcoming with Against the Grain Press.
Mothers’ Day 2020
This is not my first poem
about washing hands
Dad learned the spell of lipid-based soaps
alcohol gel cracked knuckle-skin
to enter Dave’s hospice room
festooned with cards balloons
Did you know flower-water is so germ-ridden
it can be lethal?
Twenty years earlier the diagnosis
then the fall down the stairs cracked
his skull The friend who found him
scrubbed her hands of his blood
The ritual of it clutch of talismans
worn around the neck
without knowing if it would protect her
For Mothers’ Day I sketched a bouquet
of spring daffodils bluebells roses
hibiscus in biro The last time I saw Dave
The groom's declaring
his wedding my 11th birthday
Buddha-bar-bling-themed golds fuchsia
lighting rigs from the boys at the Old Vic
They stopped the ensuing rave
February frost melting
against steamed windows
to bring me a cake with candles
that when I blew on them
relit themselves never went out.
She drops the word into conversation,
sprawling and red like unfurling fire lilies.
The audacity of it makes me stutter,
and she, comfortable and languid-limbed,
moves on to the next topic as if she hasn’t just
released the scent of raspberries and honeysuckle
into a rainy afternoon catch-up. Afterwards I wonder
if I’ve just seen a glimpse of the world as she sees it,
life in all its mundanities rippling across her taste buds:
simply delicious. I find myself mouthing the word,
revelling in the sibilance
so petal-soft it burns.
All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb
It’s the Only Time
I See Them
On coming out – Hove Lawns
the lesbian couple, joining me to amble the pebbles at dawn,
meandering the artery between one pier and the other.
They’re gone by the time light proliferates, turns the world
from fragile pinks, pale blues to brash cerulean and shamrock lawns,
and the promenade has filled with clots of joggers,
children with training wheels, shirtless beer bellies.
I can’t blame them, when sunrise offers us a clear stretch
of saturated sands, which shift underfoot like the texture of damp biscuits,
which thrum with ancient energies and offer fragments of shells,
whole ecosystems on the groynes, encrusted with mussels
until the walls resemble the puffed wings of preening crows
and the bright shallows under 7am sun overlap like scales.
This morning, three women waded in and, as the water broke
against their stomachs, they were Leo standing on the prow,
the horizon building in them, building,
until they released their screams.