William Stephenson lives in Lancashire. He teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Chester. His first full collection of poetry, Travellers and Avatars, was shortlisted for the Live Canon First Collection prize and was published by Live Canon in 2018.
His pamphlets are Rain Dancers in the Data Cloud (Templar, 2012), winner of an Iota Shots Award, and Source Code (Ravenglass, 2013), winner of the Ravenglass Poetry Prize.
His second collection, The Lotus Bunker, is scheduled for publication by Live Canon in 2021.
The pilot sat mummified in webbing, a slim branch
impaling his larynx, blood spattering the cockpit
like spilled paint drying. I fingered the eagle
on his Luftwaffe breastpin. Gold? I hoped so.
I found the gunner in the snow, on the lip of hell,
limbs twisted like the swastika on the tailplane.
His hair shone, copper as the plane’s torn wires.
His grey eyes stared, unfathomable as pearls.
I smeared his skin in horse fat, cocooned his torso
in the furs I use to dream in. He raved in my arms,
called me mother, demon, teetering on the ledge
between waking and the thousand-season sleep.
I summoned him in the language of nectar, sap
and stamen, let my poppy tea whisper. He dozed
under my herbs, masks and drum, sweating
beside the fire, the smoke-hole a clouded moon.
Shadows dipped wings like circling planes
as I threw hemp onto hot stones, breathed in
and sowed the germ of the future in his ear:
You are planting forests over ruins of human
abattoirs. Fallen leaves camouflage burial pits.
Roots crack skulls till they crumble back to soil.
I kept the rest quiet. He’d grow fat and rich.
Beget sons on two women: one wife, one witch.
After three weeks he limped to the margin
of the pines, strong enough to hail the patrol
sent to find his remains. He said he’d roamed
at random, snared rabbits, chewed mushrooms.
He lived till 1990, Reunification, planting timber
to prop the Wirtschaftswunder. His foliage spread,
mottled and bushy. Hid Stuka, swastika, me, fire.
And you, inheritor, pearl-eyed with copper hair.
[First published in Antiphon 13 January 2015]
[Travellers and Avatars, Live Canon Poetry Press, 2018]