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Category sponsored by ftwork

Low Tide

Vicky Hill

Not in ashes but in mud, it was,

where the River’s bones and bottle-bits chatter 

and the washed-up rattling things,

London's stones and stories, roll with the rise of the tide.

Not nestled and cosy but silt-smeared below the cityline

under the fierce salt-glaze of a bellarmine eye

between bright sherds in mismatched colours 

chipped shiva, pale madonna 

offered to the holy river,

coins from the world’s corners and a brass bullet case

spent as wishes,

and three red tesserae.

There it lay, where busy’s an echo.

A golden egg

gleaming through the clay-filth of the river.

It fit in the palm of my hand

smooth and heavy

warm with the life coming.

The gold would feed my children for a year.

I buried it back, wrapped in a scrap of blue and yellow cloth

and a littered paper facemask,

shallow enough for a nest.

Reborn in fire 

remade again in war

now it grows, a treasure in the mud of sickness and sorrow.

One day soon

the shining beak will tap the golden shell

and break its gilded walls.

Cramped wings will unfurl and stretch

and shake the thick grey silt 

of plague and weariness from its feathers.

Though from the mud it is not of the mud.

It is the stories and the souls 

and the colours and the hope

kept and told in dazzling rebirth

brilliant and terrible.

Listen. There it is.

That resilient tap.

The streets of Phoenix London will soon shine again.

Overall competition sponsor Almacantar

You can see all of the winning entries here, in a downloadable pdf, or online here

You can order the printed version of the booklet of winners - fourteen stories and poems in a 36pp A5 publication - go to our store.

And sign up here to be notified when the 2022 competition launches.