At the suggestion of one of our favourite morphrog poets, we include in morphrog25 a single document with all the poems included in this issue. You can just scroll down the page and read it all in one go.

Ella Walsworth-Bell


My cup is gene-heavy, we are spilling over, you and I. Mixing blood.
The women who’ve read the parenting books are elm-thin. I’m more dumpy oak
Yes, I wanted them. But really – all I knew to do was feed them milk

everything else was new to me. And daylight fades, as a spread of spilt milk
My small precious son, limp-heavy in my bed. The making of my blood
he is my pedantic heir. We fumbled for each other, yawn, arms wide as oak

My children will shine on, grown like acorns seeded by grand old oak
both sustaining and sucking their parent dry. A sapling grown on milk
dreams taller, lives longer, roots deeper. A shared dawn as red as blood

Birthed in blood, they fulfil their mother oak. Grew, thrived on milk and love.

© Ella Walsworth-Bell


both sets of our eyes mirror the baby I lost before you, bubblegum blue ice-cream you never did like, blue blurred line on a hurried pregnancy test, blue gloves hauled you out of my womb, giving you bruises that bloomed blue as agapanthus along the shoreline of your crib, blue glows in the dark like bitter caracao, thin blue line between success and fail and some days I fail no matter what I do.

blue your eyes when you wake and stare lovingly (which is rare), blue where my fingers grab at your thick toddler arms, blue telltale feather marking out a jay, blue is the need for air, blue like that bird in Rio flying high high higher, blue-bottomed monkeys howling your diagnoses, a blue smurf head frozen numb, all of them singing the blues.

wanting you to be more like the other children standing in a neat blue line at the school gates, blue is your ringbound files on my shelf, blue: a forbidden ink in the NHS, blue the people carrier when I wanted a bike, blue is used blood returning to source, you turn the air blue, poof! clouds of ink like a squid fearing death, blue can’t change, can’t change.

our eyes a matching pale blue twinset (ugh), the blue of dream-sea matching fanciful sky, antifouling our boat with that paint getting under my fingernails and up my nose we’re dreaming of the same distant horizon and you’re riding the waves and squealing with delight and indigo woad is slathered on my soul like hot dogs with sauce I don’t really like, but it’s perfect.

© Ella Walsworth-Bell

Ian Heffernan


Du Fu


The autumn fields are bleaker every day,
The river holds a cold blue emptiness.
I’ve moored my boat beneath the southern stars,
And made my home in half-wild rural Chu.
I let my neighbours pick my ripened dates,
And hoe between my sunflowers myself.
A simple meal is set out on my plate,
One part of which I’ll keep to feed the fish.


It’s easy to discern the way of things,
Those laws of nature few will violate.
The fish are happy when the pond is deep,
The birds return at night to hidden roosts.
So I accept ill health and poverty,
The fight for wealth and fame is for the young.
The autumn wind is harsh, I sit or walk,
I won’t refuse to eat the mountain ferns.


Here rites and music hold my faults in check,
The woods and mountains bring long happiness.
I turn my head, my gauze hat slips askew,
I sun my back, light strikes the bamboo books.
I’ll gather pine nuts when the weather’s calm,
On colder days I’ll cut up honeycomb.
A few late flowers hint their reds and blues,
Their half-smelt fragrance causes me to halt.


Along the river’s reach the sand is white,
The mountain range reflects the red of dusk.
The scales of diving fish disturb the waves,
Returning wings are met by sudden gusts.
The sound of washing blocks fills every lane,
Woodcutters’ axes beat their rhythm out.
The Dark Maid bids a quilt of frost to form,
It brings to mind the ministry at night.


My portrait might’ve hung in Qilin Hall,
I’m growing old where ducks and egrets flock.
The river often swells with autumn rain,
Deserted gorges fill with sound at night.
A footpath hides among a thousand rocks,
A sail remains beneath a stretch of cloud.
My son has learned a barbarous southern tongue,
Let’s hope the army find him suitable.

© Ian Heffernan


I. Du Fu – A Corner of the World

The mountains hide the Yangtze and the Han,
In cloud and wind, a corner of the world.
Year after year allows no settled thing,
Place after place becomes a new impasse.
Escaping war, that gentleman of Qin,
Distraught and gaunt, that courtier of Chu.
Already solitary in peaceful times,
I walk a road more desolate each day.

II. Du Fu – Midnight

The West Pavilion high above, I walk
Beside my lattice windows in the dark.
The water shows the white of shooting stars,
The moon is setting over empty sand.
Choose any tree, a bird will hide within,
Imagine outsize fish beneath the waves.
My kin and friends are scattered through the world,
In time of war a letter seldom comes.

© Ian Heffernan


I watched an artist pack away her things,
Her rain-soused canvas freshly indistinct,
And listened to a teenage soldier rap
And beatbox to an antique nun, who mocked
The burgundy pyjamas that he wore
Beneath his one-size-too-small uniform.

Returning through the new-washed streets I reached
My hall of residence just as the rain
Began again; all evening I heard
Lone monomaniacs on balconies,
The pad of bare feet in the corridor
And drunken shutters rattling in the wind.

Next day they seized control, those we most loathed:
The Masters of Unreason and their aides.
We knew they’d come to crush the genuine.
They made us stitch old truths to new untruths
And forced us back through labyrinths of thought.
My fellow citizens complied. I fled.

I followed mountain paths until I found
A tiny inlet where the sea’s bleak blue
Amazed me and repulsed me; and that night
Beneath the fine braille of the sky, I left.
For seven hours the trawler pitched and yawed.
My empty stomach pitched and yawed in time.

I heard the sullen captain curse his lungs,
The senile motor stuttering, until
We put in at a wharf and disembarked.
All this was eighteen months ago, I’ve got
A place to live, a job of sorts and friends.
But boredom is a skill I’ve mastered now;

Boredom, and what putresces at its core:
A sense of guilt – I know that I’ve betrayed
The bright trust of the children, and the dead
Whose trust is brighter still; one night when wolves
Move north and shingle murmurs to itself,
One high cold night of clear stars, I’ll return.

© Ian Heffernan

Rodney Wood


There’s nothing much to say about death
except it’s not a good idea
but I’m lucky as I missed mine
by a few days
              had my mind uploaded
and am reborn as ones and zeros
compressed in a city of data servers.
It’s comforting to be in a virtual garden
mowing the lawn.
                             Actually that is all
I can think of.
              Lawnmower blades creating
paths, roads even whole airstrips, watching
clippings fly into a box and my father
appearing with a cigarette in his mouth.
He’s here to laugh at me because after
10 minutes using the lawnmower 
blisters bubble on my soft palms.
He worked for 40 years among
the howls, rumbles and detonations
of a print factory complete with rails,
tunnels and skyscrapers.
                             It was him, I think,
told me the servers are falling apart
and there is no one left to water, weed,
aerate, feed the soil, edge or fill in
bald patches.
              This might be true. I have forgotten
much but know it’s time to push the lawnmower
and for someone to appear with that laugh
that makes the ash from a cigarette
begin its long journey to feed the lawn. 

© Rodney Wood


Japanese TV is explaining what to do
in case of an earthquake and bare
feet on cold stone floors in evacuation
sites. The answer involves origami
from commonplace objects. After this
Day 8 of the Basho where large nappy
clad men parade round a circular stage
before individual bouts. Stomping is
involved as well as salt throwing
and rinsing the mouth with “power-water”.
Wrestlers crouch before charging
and one is pushed out the ring. The winner
is given a piece of paper by the ref.
I’m obviously missing something
but I don’t suppose anyone cares. 

© Rodney Wood


It’s been hard this past year when
everyone’s been told to stay at home.
I’m guessing here, but I expect
you are still taking your trolley
out for essentials each day
buying snacks and other morsels.

I know this because shopping
is your joy, your passion.
You could, for example, have chosen:
poetry, making miniature chairs,
flower arranging, time-travelling,
stalking, playing dead, watching soaps,
making animal sacrifices, knitting,
sex, collecting handcuffs, snow-globes,
owls, umbrellas or just marking time
but no, it was this. You’re lucky to do
what you love but it’s only shopping.

Last year I was used to seeing you,
parents, brothers and sisters, sitting
under the pinkish leaves of a Golden Rain tree
on the wooden bench between Greggs
and The Poundshop, eating pasties,
talking, laughing while you adjusted
the purple magnolia behind your ear
and saying I’m so happy we’re all together.

Shops will open again soon trust me.
That bench will feel again the heat and weight
of your family and it will be be surrounded
by crumbs and pigeons that somehow
can fly upside-down and backwards.

© Rodney Wood

Heather Sager


Before I went deaf,
I had the music of the world
at my fingertips.

It was not a deafness
I had expected,
it just happened.

Every time I walked
up those night-time stairs,
my legs felt so heavy
with soundless grief.

And yet, next dusk,
the cobalt-gray cloak about trees
in my winter window
looked like so much new light.

© Heather Sager


Only your collective eyes tell you how far it snakes,
this shimmering desert road that stretches its tail
from the dusty Cairo suburb into the Sahara,
you and your cousin shouting with joy,
and whooping your young man cries,
taking turns with his bicycle, you on your break
from the city of intrigues where Mother locks you up
behind your building’s doors to sweat,
to play games of chess, the clouds out your window
your only friend…
your whoops break into the air over the desert,
manly shrieks roll proud as warriors,
storm clouds on a blazing bright day.


You fantasize about the painted green mailbox
dizzyingly placed at the very highest hill’s top,
a snaking five miles distance of labyrinthine forested turns
from your home in the valley. You have passed by it in cars.
One late afternoon you accept the challenge. Ever the walker,
ever the rambler, more a warrior shout than a teen girl,
you don your rugged hiking shoes and set off. Soon, it’s dimming,
the cold thickening about your breath—
you’ve lengthened your defiant legs with miles of strides,
your torso expanding and contracting with air so sharp
it blew in from Norway, it doesn’t bother you that you’re alone,
you don’t even think of your father back home,
forced to play backgammon by himself, when, at last, after many strides
a victor, you attain the last hilltop, with the green mailbox…
barely visible in the fast-falling, tinted, snow-blurred dark…

© Heather Sager

Ian C. Smith


I picture heartfelt movie scenes of woe,
family, faithful friends, reft, in pieces,
finality’s echo, last hammer blow
to a coffin’s sawn lid, but my niece’s.

Grim news of the end of this once bright girl
lured by bandidos riding dark horses
hauls me over her past, mind in a whirl
through cause and effect, right and wrong sources.

Covid, and her trenchant spite, parents banned,
grown children by different crackhead men,
grief’s spaced out survivors who barely stand,
wither lank farewell’s pathos to just ten.

I recall her, a healthy child, well-read,
recall her, artless, slow ruin ahead.

© Ian C. Smith


A new sea-mark on my lone walk, tall mast
salient, the moored craft close, starts my day.
A woman clambers from below, her past
chapters unknown, spots me, surveys this bay.
I invent her life.  Water glints.  We stare.
A lone navigator, she is self-taught,
horizon endless, longingly aware
of life’s slippage, weak failures to act fraught
with regret.  Sailing to my far-flung land,
she hopes to find love before growing old,
and here I am, fate, wishful on the strand
expecting an Ahoy from one so bold.
Then a man’s head appears, two coffees brewed
in their snug galley.  End of interlude.

© Ian C. Smith

Mark McDonnell

Dead in a diaper, he lies back,
peaceful in his mother’s lap,
lovely, laid at the open womb,
the lust of all his powers gone,
done now with his bright-burning
failures; perhaps, at last, returning
to her – to where she wants him.

© Mark McDonnell

The Photographer
Tried to do portraits
of tired men of my generation.
They sat for me and rehearsed old jokes,
then took me out for tapas and wine
under plane trees in sunny squares
and sold me versions of their lives,
or complained of change and statins.
Some peered back in through my lens,
so they saw their shoes in the air
and, on the ground, thinning hair,
the checked shirt their wife had ironed,
upside-down over round midriff.
Generally, they stooped,
eyes not meeting mine,
but I needed to see them.

I hit upon a promising technique.
You set an ultra-slow shutter-speed.
You allow the subject to move at will,
then, when you develop them,
they emerge as curls of smoke,
each one twists, transparent,
unique in its coiling, untied from the earth. 
Glorious manes in subtle shades of grey,
they ride the air
until ushered from the frame
by the gentlest of breezes.

© Mark McDonnell

Gordon Scapens


Tell me how it feels
to love a fool.
Is it like holding
a cracked glass.

Say the tugging
on strings that bind us
only make us actors
in a drama.

Talk of little deaths
we serve each other daily
that are just currency
to exchange at going rates.

Tell me about crying
in each other’s arms
that gives absolution
by instalments.

But don’t say walk away
from the pain of love.
It’s a predicament
that’s its own solution.

© Gordon Scapens


Mr. Saturday Night swaggers
through his identity collection
into the town centre,
his face a sneer of maybes
semaphoring harboured intentions.

His regular pub is a border
he crosses with compulsion
to like-minded friends,
a landscape of common urges.
This will be home for the evening
where he’s harnessed by his rule
of a week’s worth of lager
while remaining vertical.

His eyes are wrestling with
the skimpy attire flaunted
by girls balancing on high heels.
His lack of success fraternizing
has the weight of frustration
on an overworked mind
that blossoms as resentment.

Mr. Saturday Night
throwing up his arrogance
in fresh air outside the bar,
is as yet unaware
of Sunday’s threatened ambush
waiting in his vengeful bed.

© Gordon Scapens


There’s no escaping
the mobile phone user
on this covid-spaced train,
stumbling loudly through
our enforced patience.

The same boastful speech
decorating his day
plays out small deaths
to four different women,
all refusing to meet up with him.

He’s oblivious to everyone,
travelling intently through
a self-made importance
where he keeps his ego.
His inward-looking hunger
will never acknowledge
life is like a poem
he doesn’t understand.

When he gets off the train
life yawns widely
and swallows him up.

For the station
that should be his life
he is too late.

© Gordon Scapens


She explores rooms
in child-like wonder,
her own house a story
of a strange new world.

Cocooned in a time capsule
of the last thirty seconds,
she would sit down
but has no invitation.

The place is unfamiliar
but reminds her of somewhere
she must have once visited
and photographs are strangers.

A kind man smiles now
and tests her hand,
obviously mistaking
 who she might be.

Kindness is in the offer
and her voice answers
with words sounding like
someone back in her past.

This voice wants to know
if who she is might be away
and could she be returning.
She wonders about his tears.

She exists the wrong side
of a door through which
life runs away without her.
She’s here but out of reach.

© Gordon Scapens