Underneath the Stairs

This tale is told by many tongues,
of now and yesteryear.
Three hundred years of life are here,
but memories disappear.

Between each line, a thousand words
of love, of heart and soul,
there’s mystery here, it must be said,
when tales remain untold,

they seed a search for history,
a sparkle in the eyes
of once romantic sons of yore;
a family’s demise.

And how their days would start at dawn
to sounds of clacking feet.
Underneath the stairs they’d run,
their serving paths to beat.

Stone dressed, these monuments became
far more than home sweet home,
for they withstood the test of time
in centuries to come.

And who could guess, in such a place,
we’d cast our eyes and, more,
write stories in organic dust,
of lives that went before.

Their toil, by standards of today,
would break, in half the time,
the backs of men and women who,
at forty, passed their prime.


Faint tinkling of bone china plates
their masters’ breakfast fare,
the focus of their energies
to serve, make good, repair.

And all day long these duties pressed
their shoulders to the stone
all day, each week, each month, each year,
their lives were not their own.

No leisure time to recreate,
without upstairs’ consent.
With no spare time or energy,
their lives were paid as rent.


No time allowed away from toil
save worship Sunday morn,
where duty bound them to this house,
all but their souls forsworn.

So much depended on their strength,
their duty, loyalty;
with half a day each week to rest
they earned their royalty.

They had to cast off any thought
of freedom, every day,
they bore their obligation and
they signed their lives away.


Then, life meant building grander things
mere ornaments to scale,
denying the austerity,
when nation could not fail.

And here to glimpse humanity,
their own great compromise;
to fall from favour and love’s loss;
so too a great house dies

… and with it all dependant life,
no welfare scheme was theirs
for all of its inhabitants
underneath the stairs.


And as his mansion starts to die,
the Earl sold on his lot,
the need for education rose
and a roof to stop the rot.

But here’s the final irony:
for those who served in fear
of losing jobs for which, today,
we freely volunteer.

This grand estate, these monuments
this house and gardens too
are all the product of an age,
restored and serving you.


This landscape’s green and pleasant land
its rooted, verdant gold
captures all these mysteries
for you that we unfold.

© 2013 John Anstie (lyric edited 2016)

[This lyric is based on an original ballad, written three years before, but extensively edited and augmented for Joseph Alen Shaw’s commission, the ‘Wentworth Cantata’, which was performed in the historic Victorian Conservatory of Wentworth Castle Gardens, South Yorkshire in October 2016. Joe has written about his composition, elsewhere in this month’s edition]

Cannonball Adderley Adrift

His music sounds lost,

as if he’s never seen a swan.


It sounds found again,

as if he has taken up a young

lady’s invitation

to bathe in her clawfoot tub.


His music sounds lost,

as if he has witnessed

a ritual drowning.


It sounds found again,

as if a bigger planet’s mass

is tugging at his tides.

© 2017, Glen Armstrong


Allow the nuanced rose
to grow behind your face.
Or somewhere in Europe.

Walk up to the orchestra
pit and declare,
I found that essence rare.

Johnny Yip lets Johnny Yen
carry him over the threshold
and name the electric poodle.

It’s nice to pick someone
else’s scab for a change.
Make small talk with the fellas

as they tend their garden.
Praise Berlin and its underground.
Praise the word of mouth.

Praise the loud, distorted
announcement that your pictures
are ready to pick up at the kiosk.

© 2017, Glen Armstrong

Used Records

The last thing that she said to me
was keep yourself alive
she’d been a fan of Mercury
May and those two other guys

whose names I can’t remember
I walk around downtown
and the city feels like one gigantic
vinyl record store

tonight the music left to us
and trapped inside those discs
spirals toward an emptiness
that once had purpose.

© 2017, Glen Armstrong

Under a rainbow. Somewhere.

look at the sky
it’s going to rain
so my teacher
taught us the -ing form

all things passing by
as a blue cloud
as a rainy day
as our eyes looking up

we never saw a rainbow

but we had sex
during a storm
wind blowing out of the window

but we chatted lying
on a soaked meadow
birds trying to speak from branch to branch

but we called each other at the phone
in a wet vernal evening
words about a rainbow we saw from our different cities

I think I know where the golden pot
myths talked about
is hidden
but I don’t care to search it

because it is somewhere now
because we are now somewhere
under a rainbow

© 2017, Mendes Biondo

First Time

First Time
a friend over at his place
put headphones over
my ears because it
was the seventies
and I was eleven
and never worn them before.

The rich friend says “Listen,”
as he puts the black mufflers
over my ears,
the thump, thump, thump,
the voices without shortwave
crackle or click of scratches,

and now
in the next century
a kind of Dark Side
Of the Moon everywhere,
giant footfalls as if I’m the shrinking
man, the scratch of flies feet,
high heels in the next street,
Earth moving at 140 miles an hour
beneath my feet

because my ear operation worked.

© 2017, Paul Brookes


Bubbling and breaking
Trouble in bass bone
Trouble in babble
Irish rabble round hub
And nub of tub
Of bars dribble

Then lug snug
Rhythm round rug
Where couples rumble
A stone jig
To dumb bell
Troubling skin
Tight on rum drum

© 2017, Paul Brookes

(previously appeared in Picaroon’s “Troubadour” anthology)

When I Used to Play.

Nights stretched to morning.
Muscles ached from hauling gear,
and set-ups:
Conga’s, bongo’s, granite blocks, chimes.
Hung and racked.
A full traps case: Guero, rattles, rain-stick,
Noises hidden till hands’ contact.
Mics rigged—one for skins, another ambient,
that took each whistle, whisper,
snick, thrum and clack.
Then the ubiquitous wait.
To absorb the room. Slide into the zone,
head-prep, sound-check.
Each instrument tested,
as tech-man spidered over his desk,
tweaked risers, treble, bass, EQ.
Mixed like a chef.
My sounds glided round, through.
Seasoned judiciously as salt.
The warm wash of it rolled back.
Skins sang, belled and bellowed.
hands and wrists tingled.
Excitement hummed, visceral, deep.
Then the eye-catch, knowing grab
of notes as we painted the tune,
onto the air. Tight, perfect, seamless.
Individual skill
honed to a collective golden whole.
Watching faces smiled.
Applause washed the finale.
Drew us toward the take-down.
A gritty-eyed struggle to stay awake,
in a van in early dawn.

© 2017, Miki Byrne

Beginners Night.

A borrowed costume,
dampening with nerve-sweat.
A delicate, pretty concoction.
Breath-tight top, frilled skirt,
red, sequinned seams.
A skaters bum-freezer,
stretched in places
that fit another’s curves.
For tonight, it was hers.
Backstage, The Hollies waited.
The warm-up,
Go-Go girls of La Dolce Vita,
tasked with shaping the mood.
Their cue came. They stepped.
Blinded by the gobo, bathed by gells,
pink, blue, peach, gold.
Chests ached from bass resonance,
monitors thundering foldback.
Synchronised routine
smoothed them across the stage.
Limbs moved ;sex-on legs languor
vampy come-to-bed motion.
Hearts pounded, high kicks and sass.
All was music, dry ice, strobes.
Practised routine
spilled from limbs and feet.
Two and half minutes of inhibition.
A show for the public.
Bow taken, breath regained
they brushed damp hair,
told the new girl
She did ok.

© 2017, Miki Byrne


Music ceases.
Only a string or skin trembles.
Hands tingle, sweat prickles
as minds loosen tendrils sewn
through the symbiosis of playing.
Slow seconds pass.
Breath stuffs itself back
into tight spaces of lungs.
Silence is deep.
A temporary empty world
where we are alone,
pinned under light.
Then it begins.
Slow, like the beginning of rain,
that increases and swells,
subtle as flowing water.
Hands collide. Throats roar.
Whistles slice warm air.
People stand arms high,
as if their appreciation might rise,
swell to a rolling wave
that heaves toward and over us.
We are lifted to a plateau
of euphoria, joy, satisfaction.
We take our bow, return.
Leave, wired and content.

© 2017, Miki Byrne

For Gilly Dangerous

I remember her arse.
The strut, stalk, bounce,
as I played percussion behind her.
Watched her stomp and prance,
as she held the room.
Purred, tore lyrics from her throat
as if her heart  was being rent
from her body.
She fronted that band
like a boxer fronts his opponent.
Staked her claim,
then led  through pain, tenderness,
to a great well of feeling.
Framed by lyrics,
her soul was transparent.
Brimmed with agony, melancholy,
soft sweet joy, all the angst
of a broken heart.
She left us early.
Another soul full of talent and torment
who found reality unkind
and rooms chilled  
without a spotlight’s nourishing sun.
Now time cannot spoil,
nor rub away her spark.
Will not lay more pain upon her.
Somewhere, her voice is heard.
The arse defiantly shimmying
across a celestial stage.
© 2017, Miki Byrne
 Gilly was lead vocalist for the Band The Dangerous Sisters.

Music Crashing

The bass of music came crashing,
lyrics grabbing on to my soul.
To my ears the speakers bashing,
as the rhythm grabs a hold.
Falling for a tune, like love,
crashing down in desperation to feel.
Every note sings like a dove;
Making all my emotions become real.
When music really hits, I feel.

© 2017, S.R. Chappell

Music Within

Life without music would be like a guitar without strings, a piano without keys, a cello without a bow, and a sax without a reed.
Music is my religion, lyrics preach to my heart in need.
It eases my soul when I’m falling apart.
The rhythm of the music is like the beat of my heart.
The melody sings to my soul, and melts my troubles away.
Drums move my feet, when the horns hit it makes me sway.
Guitars can electrify me to life, or simply sing me a lullaby.
Piano notes dance on me, like the wings of a butterfly.
The lick of the bass it goes straight to my hips.
Words of the lyrics sing of all my relationships.
There’s a tempo to match my every mood,
when I’m feeling happy, sad, or angry and rude.
Music has been faithful and never failed me.
It offers a love that sets me free.
So many times it’s eased my mind.
Music’s my friend who has always been kind.
Some people say music is a sin.
Though even in silence I have music within.

© 2017, S. R. Chappell

Ode to Nina Simone

Transforming us with blues, boogie-woogie,
using training in classics to quash rage,
she dug into our souls, tore open hearts, exposed our psyche.
Before King’s dream, she mounted battles onstage
from Harlem to Carnegie, leaving beloved Bach behind,
she battered walls of injustice, rattled abusers’ cages, yet
allowed herself to be battered, her sanity strewn.
Nina, a Harlem Renaissance soul out of time,
whose good intentions drown in madness and regret,
infused righteous power into every tune.

© 2017, Bill Cushing

On Modest Mussourgsky’s “Bydlo”

A shape appears
and is gone,
comes into view,
disappears, until,
cresting the hill,
the spot
blotting the sun,
a cartload of hay,
takes shape.

the wagon,
oxen-drawn, a juggernaut pulled
by two thousand pounds,
rolls between fields–
grinding dirt,
crushing stones.

Sweating flanks
of coarse,
matted hair
cause slow,
rhythmic hammering,
dull thunder
as hooves pound earth.
The ground moves
to the sound
of these hardened

Beast and wagon pass,
as if solemn,
and then recede
out of sight.

A wake is left–
strong pungent odor
of musk

with the sweet sharpness
of the cut stalks
being carried
to the village beyond.

©2017, Bill Cushing

La Rosa & El Dragon (impressions from the music of “Pan’s Labyrinth”

Terror rarely comes in thunder,
preferring a sinister waltz
of seduction, the single notes
of a piano, Bartok-like,
accompany the spiral stairs
winding down into the maze, echoed

by hammer-struck wire blossoming
out into chorus. Then, a voice
like violin strings descends in pitch,
looping in carefully placed steps
of a few seemingly random notes,
walking up scales and back.

This dance of tympani and plants
follows the labyrinth as wind
hums ethereal as an oboe
exhaling. A deep drop in tone,
a bassoon, then, metallic bones
clash in clanging vibrations

while strokes of plucked harp strings,
the heartbeat, first, steady, then slowing
to a perfect if ignoble end.
Ofelia, hearing the lullaby,
rests to find the peace of mind
found in the art of dying.

© 2017, Bill Cushing

“Zooz’s Brasshouse” Busking

Three spheres of instrument—percussion, sax,
and trumpet: brass, reed, and skin—become
a discussion of brash banging fun.

The three surround a pail, collecting
donations for their beating counterpoint,
a concerto akin to some surreal

coo-coo clock. The day’s audience gathers:
waiting commuters, tourists, regulars,
a few hipsters. The bucket fills, singles

and fives mostly, some tens, one guy stirs
a twenty. Two skinny Santas dance
into view, a yuletide boogie. The music

shrieks, shocks, squeals, and squawks, yet there’s fluid
motion in the high-stepping legs, the feet
that slide, circling Union Square platform

in waves that weave seductive, as these three
dance and create a wake in a shape
that’d break the back of a snake.

© 2017, Bill Cushing


Eubie did it better than anyone—
not just music but life as well. Sneaking
off at thirteen, already pro,
playing at a Baltimore brothel,

he filled time for men lounging on couches,
pulling slugs of whiskey from flasks, waiting
for the girl of—if not their dreams—at least
their choice that evening. Then, people hummed

his show tunes, but his true calling being
the Rachmaninoff of Ragtime.
Long fingers, doing what few can hope to,
created perfect stops, gaps leading to

rolling trills, rollicking dances on black
keys running along accidentals
of sharps and flats. Later, I watched him play
on that Manhattan stage, as Alberta Hunter

sang—both seeming unaware of the crowd
gathered about them— he having a year
for each key of his instrument; she 80,
near two centuries of experience. I wasn’t

at a music hall that night. Instead,
I stood on the edge of Mt. Olympus, looking up,
getting a chance to eavesdrop on gods
of music as they played.

© 2017, Bill Cushing