Lantern Men

 

My grandmothers warned me

never to leave my window open at night.

 

Now my room is shape-shifted by creatures,

the half-light filled with their secrets.

 

Their words become drunk incantations

to bulrushes and reed beds.

 

Come morning, they vanish so fast,

they leave toothed shadows on the wall.

 

I should learn the art of stilt-walking

to step over the menace lurking in their fog.

 

But I am snug, wintered down like an eel

in the moment before it tries to flee the fyke.

 

I close the shutters to prevent their whispers

unfurling over the sleeping village

 

like a fen on a November night.

 

 

Green Eyed

 

 

Due to a genetic mutation

which occurred 6,000-10,000 years ago,

all blue-eyed people share an ancestor

from the Caucasian region – Science Daily

 

They say the modern Bulgarian word sin

can function as an adjective meaning blue

 

and that the sky and the ocean appear blue

because of an illusion named Rayleigh scattering.

 

As I didn’t inherit my mother’s eyes,

I tried blue contact lenses in my teens,

 

tried to match her shade of aquamarine,

richer than the sea on Greek postcards.

 

Still, no one ever said, your eyes are sapphire blue,

as my school friend’s dad once told my mum.

 

Mum said this man looked like Paul Newman,

whose surname she’d been born with,

 

from the German, Neumann, to mean newcomer.

I pictured their blue-eyed ancestor

 

resting in her cradle by the Black Sea,

waiting to disperse sin across the world.

 

I smelled the pines on the Balkan peaks,

heard the wind moving through them:

 

northward to Varna, Constanta, Odessa,

and on its breath it carried rumours

 

of a new-born girl, named not for her beauty,

but the mutation in her eyes.

Nadezhda

Nadezhda*

 

You’ve forgotten Gornostaypol

and our cottage by the river.

You pass time by counting souls

trapped within the spillage pools:

they’d wither like jellyfish in the sun

should they ever leave, you tell me.

 

Can you see how green shoots have thickened

the old forest with new life? Ivy and brambles

now flesh out the legs of rusting pylons.

Yesterday I heard Paganini in the trees,

as branches fluttered against overhead cables,

leaves bristled to an applause.

 

Watch me lift my face to the razor

each morning, to rinse and rinse anew,

the water spiralling about my ears

like an orchestra. Let’s prepare our home

for guests: vases of wildflowers on windowsills,

candles at each end of the piano.

 

Oil slaps the sides of your buckets

and you strain the water until it runs clear.

It tastes sweet as well-water from the village

where my father mined. At the end of each shift,

he made his way through the earth

clawing at light as he abandoned the dark.

 

 

 

*Slavic female given name, meaning ‘hope.’ Popular in Russia, Bulgaria, and the Ukraine.

Second Prize, Inspired by Film Competition