Belfast by stephenherronold

It was the big smoke
The one and only city
Gigantic and sprawling
(Or so we thought)
A thousand different places,
But one place.

The name rang
With promise. 
The distant thunder rumbled
From over the hill
As parts of the city
Were turned into dust.

That didn't matter to me
A trip downtown
Meant so many things.
Leisureworld's endless treasures
Woolworth's and Boot’s
Bookshops and Argos
Movies with my dad or gran
Always something new

Later, I went to school there
The city center was too close
A brighter, more tempting place
That still sang to my senses.
Until I moved to a place
A little too far away.

Later still, we reclaimed the city
Driving down weekly or more
The brand new glass and steel
Better cinemas and restaurants
Discovering the city all over again.

Eventually I lived there
A small nameless house
In the shadow of the building
Where I came into the world
Living out the same
Heartbreaks and triumphs
As everyone else.

That’s when I felt it.
Belonging to the place
Just as it belonged to me.
A connection going back
To before I was born.

Eventually I left.
Another post-industrial city on a Great Lake
Trading saltwater for fresh
Leaving Cave Hill behind

Sometimes I go back
Haunting the streets
Like an absentee ghost.
Always a hint of guilt
And wonder.

The Difference Between Writing and Not Writing by stephenherronold

A lot of what I'm going to say here will be very familiar to some readers, or may seem terribly obvious. Bear with me, though.

I'm a writer. I say that to remind myself that I am a writer, not to boast or show-off. I'm technically a published author, but I've not landed a book deal (yet) nor have I made any best-seller lists, of any kind. That's okay, though, because most writers don't. The words don't care, I think. They just want to be read. It's hard work. Other writers know that, while it's effing cool to be a writer, it's not remotely glamorous. It can be fun, but it's usually hard bloody work.

When the words are coming out and the story is flowing, then it's amazing. It can truly take you out of your own head, pushing the world away as you exist in another on the page or screen in front of you. That's quite something.

I often find myself at odds with my own inertia, especially when it comes to writing. Some things, like my poems, just bubble up and demand to be written, regardless of how I feel. Likewise, I might sit down to write one and there's nothing there. That's a different kind of writing, I think. Feel free to disagree. But mostly, I think about writing more than I actually perform the act of putting words onto a thing. And when I'm not actually doing it, I feel even less like a writer than I usually do.

For many weeks, recently, the words were only a trickle. They'd not come easily, if at all. I would be writing as part of my day job and as part of the odd freelance gig in the evenings, but the self-generated creative stuff wasn't coming out.

Then the fear of deadlines for the next Desolation book kicked in, and I got about 12k written in a couple of weeks. It wasn't easy, but the words were coming out.

And as I'm writing that stuff, ideas for other things jostle for attention, as if they've suddenly noticed that I'm paying attention again. A project that's not been touched in months now has a few hundred more words written, along with a pile of references entered into Evernote for later reference.

I've also not played World of Warcraft or Star Trek: Online in weeks. Well, aside from the odd 10 minutes on WoW, I find that the need for distraction isn't there any more. I neither want nor need distracted from the work of writing.

The day job takes a lot of energy. And you need energy in order to start writing. What I need to remember is that once I get started, the words generate their own energy.

I think that's the difference between writing and not writing. Even if you have to force yourself to write, chain yourself figuratively to a desk and laptop, it's worth it. Because one word leads to another and soon you're not pulling words out - you're trying to stop the flood

Not all the words will be good or right, but they'll be there. You can edit them later. But they'll be there.

Barberism by stephenherronold

Red and white stripes
Tell us we're there.

My father walks me up
The creaking wood stairs
Bent here and there
From the leaden feet
Of ten thousand shaggy men.

At the top of the hill,
A line of strangers sit
Reading "Punch"
Or old newspapers
All men.
This is the Barber's,
Not a hairdressers.

The paintings on the wall are for sale.
The place smells of old man,
Of hair tonic and stringent things, 
A hint of alcohol and aftershave

I see blades.
Sharp things. 
Devices for cleaning.
It feels like a doctor's office.
Nothing good ever happens there.

The snickersnack of steel, 
Scissors sneak around, 
Cutting, biting, snipping,
The tense anticipation
Of careless nick and stab.
Sitting on a small bench
Balanced across the arms Of the giant chair
That I'll fill one day,
But today, I'm only six.

His fingers are a vice
Ice-cold, in control.
Turning my head
This way and that.
In silence.
It hurts.

I stare back at the be-cloaked boy
In the mirror.
The scissor-man doesn't see him.
Just hair to be cut.

The black and white tiled floor
Looks like an endless chessboard, 
Ten thousand fallen soldiers
Scattered all around.

They get brushed away at the end.

Mystery Prize by stephenherronold

An old friendship
(school years are like dog years)
You gave me a transfusion of music
Donating good taste across
A dozen tape cassettes
In a single first-year term.

I moved, we maintained.
Summers here and there,
Hanging out,
Books, short stories,
Musical remixes,
Endless talk about girls.
The typical teenage stuff.

I thought
We'd share our stories

A sudden silence.
A sudden distance.
No explanation.
Decades of mystery,
A sense that I betrayed...

Still rejected, even today.
Attempts to reconnect

I'll never know
(unless I ask)
I'll never ask.

Shopping Trip by stephenherronold

Five years old.
Wide-eyed in the city.

Wrapped up against the drab grey cold,
My mother's hand pulls me through
The dreary sullen streets.
Boarded-up shop windows
Await new glass.
Metal gates block the streets
From everything but the buses.

This all seems normal to me. 
Wondrous, in fact.
Compared to what? I'm only five.

Getting into the city center
Means walking a gauntlet
Of English accents, uniforms, guns.
I'm patted down, like my mum.
The man tousles my hair with genuine affection.
He might be dead a week from now.

Grey things growl past,
Followed by armoured things.
Metal, wire and glass I watch, impressed,
Missing the point.

A pause as we enter the shop.
Waiting for another uniformed man
To search my mother's handbag.
A line of other mothers waiting.
For more of the same.

A sense of urgency,
A surgical strike. 
No messing around.
In and out, get what's needed
And go home.
Just in case.

A childhood less ordinary,
Better than most.
They kept me safe,
Kept the distant thunder

Winter by stephenherronold

Our memories are short.
Every Summer is endless.
We're surprised by Autumn,
And, for a day or two, Winter
Seems like the end of the world.

Yet when the snowflakes fall
I still feel a surge of wonder
A quickening, in awe
That's when I realize
No heart stays broken forever. 

Nature's Course by stephenherronold

Taking out the trash.
Walking back from the street.
A small form on the concrete
between the houses.

Like a frog, or something.
I looked closer, curious.

A dead bird.
Just a baby.

I looked up for the nest
Saw no obvious point of origin
For this fallen angel.

My eyes turned reluctantly downward.
taking in the tiny naked
unfeathered form.
Face up,
forever gone.

I stared for a while
Feeling odd
If a kick to the bushes
or a spade scoop to a trash bag
was appropriate

Or just to leave it be.
Let nature take her course.
Some scavenger
would surely take care of this.

I walked away,
imagining a tiny skeleton
remaining a few weeks later.
Hoping that it would be gone

Trusting to nature
to take care of this thing
I could not take care of myself.
Would not.

Sometimes it's a bird in the driveway.
Sometimes it's not.

Giving Thanks by stephenherronold

A strange holiday.
But it makes lots of sense.
(Ignoring ignoble origins,
like most holidays.)
Coming together to give thanks
And share good food,
just seems right.

I'm a fan.

It breaks the end of the year
Up into a more manageable chunk
That's never a bad thing.

Back home,
we don't have such a feast,
until Christmas Day, at least.

And having one day a year
When we're thoughtful of
What we're thankful for
Is better than nothing.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Entropy Pocket by stephenherronold

it happened at noon
walking out to my car
anticipating lunch
carrying an empty box

I walked through
a pocket of entropy

my shoelace unravelled
step by step
as the box lid slid
off and fell

shirt-tails escaped
from my belts embrace
a band-aid unwrapped
a little off a finger

and all this within
a few steps of my car

all was repaired
with quick tuck and tying
the box thrown into the backseat

I knew that it wasn't over
just a brief intense conflict
against the falling apart
a small battle in the war
that never ends


Just a Sestina by stephenherronold

An attempt to expand my writing skill
To write a sestina, tricky and delicate
Sometimes poetry demands much order
This is no small example
At least the poem doesn't have to rhyme
But care must be taken all the same

After this, nothing will seem quite the same
Free verse requires a different kind of skill
Not needing to make the endings rhyme
Yet working in cadence is still a delicate
task most times, this is a bad example
since I'm trying to keep these lines in order
And while I write these lines in order
I'm coming to realize that it's much the same
as writing a sonnet, you can find an example
somewhere nearby, when I tested my skill
writing 'Quest', weaving schemes so delicate
to try and keep the italian rhyme

I already know why poems rhyme
it's all about rhythm and order
That gives a poem that might seem delicate
some weight behind it, and that's the same
reason behind this exercise in skill
To give myself my own example

Of why all poets, Keats, for example,
Demand our respect, regardless of rhyme
It's a poets skill
to master both chaos and order
With short stanzas, but they aren't the same
as me, and that's a point that's delicate

Because I'm a hack, no, don't be delicate
This poem lacks subtly, for example
I talk of Keats, as if he's the same
As an Irish guy who hacks at rhyme
Barely able to keep this sestina in order
All this just to test my skill

This last bit's delicate, no, it doesn't rhyme
This is the best example of order
All the same, I hope this may hint at skill

Quest (a sonnet) by stephenherronold

The past has teeth - that much we know
Inflicting wounds that should serve well
Reminding us we should not dwell
On that which happened long ago
And hard it is, when we are low
To move on past, escape the hell
Left as an introspective shell
Just fading fast, nowhere to go

We try to rage against the night
When some things should be left behind
Flung aside like so much burden
To make us free to seek the light
That is the future where we'll find
Peace and truth, where love is certain

Recognition by stephenherronold

An accidental encounter
News from home
Streaming across
Three thousand miles of glass and metal.

A familiar voice surprises me.
I pull the window up.
A woman in her late thirties,
Talks ernestly.

It's been a decade and a half
She looks so different,  
I almost wonder if it's her.
But it's in her eyes, the tilt of her head
Her mouth, when she speaks
The cadence and accent are hers.

The years have been kind,
She looks good
More confident and assured.

Things forgotten
(not thought about in years)
Tumble through my mind.
All our little intimacies
Winter evenings
Spent keeping each other company
All the games we played.

The last time we saw each other,
One night in Belfast, in different company.
Silent recognition.

I wonder if she thinks about me,
If the years inbetween
Made hearts grow fonder
Or memories warmer.

I sincerely doubt it.

Time Travel by stephenherronold

A certain shy simplicity.
"I'm staying here," she says,
Sitting on the bottom of the slide.
I can't blame her.

The sun is out and the sky is blue.
She's been up and down the slide
Two dozen times.
Now she eagerly pops bubbles
On a borrowed iPhone.

A year ago we were here.
(For her second birthday).
That time, it was the water fountain holding her attention.
The cold water on a hot day
Flowing endlessly over small hands.

Then as now
A dragon's horde of birthday gifts are forgotten by the princess.
Politely opened, elegantly ignored.

Suddenly, swings!
Urged by the birthday girl,
We all risk a go.
Creaking chains,
The happy vertigo of back-and-forth.
Muscle memory pushes legs out,
Then tucks them back, satisfyingly.
It all makes her very happy.
Mother, Daughter, Aunt and Uncle,
The same age, for five minutes.

Time flies by stephenherronold

Or so they say. Sometimes it doesn't, and you feel every numb, bloody second of life.I caught myself looking at the calendar and thinking back to 1989. An important summer, for many reasons. I graduated from the Academy but had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. It was really the starting point of a bad time wherein I had most of my illusions painfully shattered. (Rush quote, for the win.)

Anyway, bad poetry is thus called for. Isn't it always?

Northampton Calling

Twenty years ago.
I lived my life
For an illusion of expectation.
A fundamental flaw,
A majestic mistake
That sent me away
And broke me.

It broke everything, really.
It took me a year
To find my direction again.
This time, alone.

This isn't an anniversary
Or requiem.
Just a moment of recognition
And pity for a younger self.

Contempt, perhaps.

Yet another poem by stephenherronold

The following poem is a little more "experimental" than most of my stuff, in that I've put a bit more thought into the structure. Rather than just posting raw verse, I've taken a little bit of time with it. I was going to call it "Hint of Ascent" as a play on the last line, but that just felt a bit like I was trying to be cleverer than I am.

Anyway, let me know what you think. It's another true story.

Hope, Half Remembered.

I can't quite remember.
Did we once share
Time together?
Finding common ground,
One broken summer.
Or is that memory
A half-remembered dream?

(I've had dreams like that, you see.)

I think it's a bit of both.
I wonder how we missed it
(Was there something there? Maybe.)
The memory of it lifts me

Some what if's
Are all too near.
They rip and tear.
Some are like
The hint of a scent.

Weird, true things. by stephenherronold

This poem describes something that really happened. I think it was the summer of 2005, when I was still working in Twinsburg, Ohio. Sometimes I would leave an hour early to go get a haircut. I didn't do that very often, but maybe once every four months I'd take an hour of PTO and just go do it while the place was quiet. It was probably a "Great Clips" or whatever they're called. I remember the feeling of shock and surprise. The way the numbers bubbled up from nowhere. I came away with the very strong knowledge that there is an ocean beneath the surface of us all. Sometimes the secret currents will throw something up that is completely unexpected. Whether or not one should take meaning from such incidents, I can't say.

Here's the poem.

Eight Six One...

In line at the hairdresser
A cheap salon, one of a chain
Waiting for a trim
Bored, the girl asks me for my phone number
To feed the hungry computer.

I rattle off six numbers,
From deep inside.
She blinks and answers.
"That's not enough numbers," she says.

I'm surprised, too.
I realize that I didn't give an American answer but one from long ago, another country
Another decade, another life.

Not even my own phone number but one I rang much more often.
It's her number, the English girl
Born in the Broughshane countryside.
Over a dozen years
Since seen or heard

Still, her number lingers
I can still tap it into a phone
In less than a second.
Fingers dancing
A useless waltz.

Skating by stephenherronold

Hardly gliding,
Too afraid to take to the ice
Hand upon rail
Hesitant steps and not a few falls

You reach out
(Because it's safe to do so)
A kind word and a smile
Makes it better

Decades pass.
More ice, more falls
Those hesitant steps
(A kind word and a smile)
Are never forgotten.

Skein by stephenherronold

Wrapped up in my own thoughts
It's easy to forget others
A billion better worlds inside
Heads other than my own.

Raveled too tight around the past
Knots of the lost, broken and burned
Some deserve it, no pity there,
Though a few did not.

Where is my trust and mercy?
As pity ebbs and cynicism flows
My so-called wisdom seems distant
Some days it's not there at all.

Ah well, they can't all be winners. This one is more half-formed than usual, but seemed to get some of the thoughts out of my head this morning, which is mostly the point.