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138 x 216mm


28 pages


£6.00 + P&P UK


ISBN 978-1-912876-48-8


PUB: 08/01/2021










The Curfew Bell


Karen Jane Cannon






Set 1400 feet up in the Lowther Hills of southern Scotland, in a landscape scarred by the footprint of industry,  The Curfew Bell clangs a warning—a baby born too early against a desolate backdrop bleak and snowy, amongst baaing sheep and remnants of  leadmining works and grouse moors—a place of vanished villages and endless valleys, of motherhood and survival.








The Curfew Bell

(16th April, 1994)


From the ambulance I see the Curfew Bell,

a triangular frame arching skyward into prayer-hands.

In its belly the curved iron bell.


Once it clanged for miners lost deep underground

or children strayed onto saggy moor tops.

The bell should be ringing now—


my baby lost inside these hills, no womb-kicks

since breakfast, heart beat stilled

under drifts of spring snow.


We pass range after range of belly curves,

no footprint ever claimed

all of this,


far beyond

the earthworks of tumbled villages

and old shafts carved of straining earth.


I’ve travelled this pass—

first in December snow,

Leadhills forming out of mist


and I’ve walked across the heavens

from Wanlockhead along Enterkin, the Covenanters’ pass,

northern lights flashing overhead.  


But now I’m falling—Gas and Air

become low snow clouds, casting shadows

over the top of the world.



Shopping for a Cyclops Baby


There’s a story of a baby

born somewhere in Moffat, buried

inside a book of Scottish curiosities, lost

to ashen shelves.


I stare down the busy high street, wonder

at this coffined mystery, try to follow

a trail of silver coins

leading to a crib.


Was she hidden

at the Devil’s Beef Tub? Blessed

under the splash of Grey Mare’s tail?

No Google search will bring her back.


Did a midwife bring her bawling

into a tallow-lit world?

Soor ploom cheekbones sucking in  

a clear moon-gaze?


There are shops selling all-butter shortbread,

tartan as soft as fontanelle,

mineral water purer

than St Andrew’s holy font.


History is enameled

onto engine plates, behind bull’s eye glass.

But there is no clue buried

in this town of boiled toffee hearts.


Moffat is a pursed mouth,

bagpipes let out a pitiful wail.

The earless ram stands watching,

deaf to the cries of a babe.



Danger Signs


Hand in hand we stand behind police signs.

Beneath our feet a tonne of dynamite

is strapped to concrete—this first viaduct

was built to last and took the lead from hills

on trains that ran each hour. Above our heads

the cry of sparrow hawks who glide and watch

industries’ footprint fade—God’s Treasure House,

emptied and sold, leaves scars on bleak landscapes

and villages quickly fall to stone again.

The police puff through megaphones, escort

us down by force. We stand and watch the blast,

the pause before the past is lost. How fast

this revolution turns to history

yet took so many years to build by hand.

Karen Jane Cannon is a UK poet and author. Her debut pamphlet Emergency Mints was published by Paper Swans Press in 2018. She was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize in 2019, a finalist in the Mslexia Poetry Competition in 2017 and was commended for The Flambard Prize in 2014.


Her novel Powder Monkey (as Karen Sainsbury) was published by Phoenix in 2003.


Karen is a PhD candidate at the University of Southampton researching poetry and landscape. She lives in the New Forest, Hampshire.

Seeing in the New Year


At Hogmanay we walked six miles,

down through Elvanfoot to Abington, past

the swollen stream, a dead sheep drinking

its own reflection.


Snow and rabbits everywhere, scut-tails bobbing

far into the distance—a crofter’s cottage, abandoned

in the fifties—yellow linoleum a reminder,

our time will become archaeology.


At midnight we struggled up,

through Crawfordjohn, Leadhills long since lost

to darkness. In the village

the Curfew Bell would be ringing

in the new year. We were too far

to hear its metallic tongue calling.


The Lowthers stood above us—

Drake Law, Dun Law, Broad Law.

Snowy flanks of Mild Scar sliced the valley.

An arctic hare sat up, shook snowflakes

from pale ear-shafts. I fell, crunching snow

into my own hollows.


Snow fell silently into itself.

Looking back, we’d already vanished,

lost in the white ash of the old year.



Suicide Hill


The retired coalminer came to our cottage,

eyes dark pits, told us

about the sparrow hawks shot on the moor,

protected eggs smashed in the nest.


We knew about the gamekeepers, saw them

each night, sitting in lay-bys

with shotguns, flashlights, waiting

for life to scuttle past—arctic hares caught


between seasons, pale-scut rabbits

eyes round moons, a wildcat stalking shadows—

these moors old breeding grounds

for flame-feathered grouse,


yet the Southern Upland Way beckons,

opening secret passages between hills

for us to lay first treads.

It is suicide to come here—


to lay rare eggs in nests of clanging heather bells.

They know this at the unconsecrated burial ground

at the foot of Green Lowther—suicides

brought from the valley on carts


to lie staring at swirling skies.

But this is where they come to live and die,

to hills as bare as eggs, crowning

the top of the world.



Top of the World


We bought a cake to celebrate your homecoming—

a white rocking horse with yellow mane and tail,

a blue rocker. You cried all the way

from Glasgow and up the Mennock Pass,

over-heating in baby clothing—wool cardigan,

knitted bonnet, bootees from another lamb

born somewhere along the Southern Upland Way.


Lambs everywhere back in April—latched

tight onto mothers, sucking in the Lowthers,

the milk of heather bells and fool’s gold

found on the silt floors of stream paths.


Summer when we drove you home—

lambs grown plump,

though deep bleats still stirred dry teats.


We said goodbye to the little girl in ITU,

gave a card to her mother which read:

Good luck from one little lamb to another.


When we arrived home

villagers threw silver coins into your crib, marveling

at how newborn you still looked.



9781912876488 author amend



I wince as she twists

your wrist, pops a tiny vein,

while you writhe and wail


your newborn lung-wail.

All around new mothers leak

at this primal sound.