Oxford Circus, by Rachel Burns

A homeless man sits beneath hanging angels
stretching across the street
angels glittering in the dark inky twilight
angels glittering in the December rain.
He shivers under a blanket,
bare feet resting on the cold wet pavement
and his feet are dirty, the toenails blackened
from wear and lack of care. The shoppers
walk on by, happy, laughing,
last minute Christmas shopping
and I want to go up to him
and ask, ‘Where’d you put your shoes?’
I want to wash his feet with my god-damn hair.


Rachel Burns poems have appeared in magazines such as The Fenland Reed, Crannog and Poetry Salzburg Review. She was commended in The Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize 2017 and shortlisted for Primers Volume Four. 

Two Sisters, by Rachel Burns

Two sisters shelter from hard rain
and hawk up phlegm over the railing
eyes of flint fixed
on customers eating in the chain Thai restaurant.
They watch bellies cold
hardened by envy, blinking back torrents of rain.
A mammy screams bloody murder
at her toddler child in the McLaren pushchair.
Two sisters slip unnoticed into the Primark store
the older finds her first, smiles, eyes blinking,
as the younger pulls the child outside
drags small feet through puddles.
Rain falls onto corrugated roof
like artillery fire.
The child cries for Mummy.
A hard lump forms in the back
of the younger sister’s throat
but no going back now.
To the park, eeny meena, mina mo.
They spin her around and around
until she vomits curdles of milk.
A new game. Running away.
Hard rain falls on somebody’s daughters
although we do not think of them that way.
The toddler child is spared.
The two sisters banished to the underworld.

In Preparation, by Rachel Burns

The man in the library says we are living in a fascist state
he tells me, there are armed police wearing bullet proof vests
and juggernauts blocking the streets.

The man in the library resembles St Nicholas
with his unkept dirty beard and long shabby winter coat.
He looks outside, it’s not right, we are living in a fascist state.
I look down at the newspaper headlines
Deadly Mosque Attack In Egypt Kills Hundreds.

The tree is being put up in the market place
and tomorrow the children will carry lanterns
and parade through Durham town surrounded by crowds of people
armed police wearing bullet proof vests will patrol the streets.

There will be a service in the cathedral
and the choir will weep O Little Town of Bethlehem.


Rachel’s poems have appeared in UK literary magazines including The Lake, South, Head Stuff, Lonesome October, South Bank Poetry and The Herald newspaper. She was shortlisted for the Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize 2017.

Rachel Tweets at @RachelLBurnsme

Counting Dead Rabbits by Rachel Burns

I sit on a bench, surrounded by moorland

and watch the children fly their new toy plane

it is motorized with a propeller, and has red and white wings.

The bench has a plaque dedicated to a son killed in Iraq.


The farmer is burning the heather over the far side

and I can taste smoke like someone else’s grief.

The plane takes off, droning through the air,

nose dives



               into the heather.


The children pick it up, try again.

The sun is high in the sky and I can see for miles.

The farmhouse looks tiny below, as do pine trees

planted in neat triangles sheltering the cattle from the cold.


The plane takes off, droning through the air,

nose dives



into the heather.


A pair of peewits and dive, peewit, peewit

rising above the sound of the droning engine

voices sharp as breaking glass as they dart

in and out of the tussocks of grass.


I see snow on the furthest reaches of the hills

and the dot, dot, dot of sheep. Smoke

from the burning heather billows across moorland.

Another sound startles from the heather,

hidden but strange like a wound up toy.


The plane takes off, droning through the air,

nose dives



into the heather.


The plane keeps on crashing and the children start to squabble.

The burnt heather taste stronger and the strangled sound

of the bird I can’t see, louder like terrible laughter.

I can’t help thinking about Colin.


The Red Cap killed in Iraq.

We make our way back over the moorland,

across the heather and thick rough grass.

The children run on in front, counting dead rabbits


one dead rabbit

two dead rabbits

three dead rabbits



I think of slain soldiers, glassy eyed in the grass.

The body count in Iraq.


Down and out in Durham by Rachel Burns

Late in the evening Alfie huddles in a shop doorway

beneath bright Christmas lights


Nearing thirty, he looks punch old.

His battered radio tuned to Metro Night Owls.


A wave of desperate voices, a distraction

from the freezing cold. Ida from Stockton remembers


people darning holes in their socks. Jim from Byker

is pissed off. He’s being sanctioned.


Vicky from Shields is looking for a Food Bank

to feed her three bairns. Alfie finds words


strangely comforting, as if back inside the army dorm

before he was kicked out, cos his head


is filled with raging nightmares and battle scars

before his mates were sent home in body bags.


By his side, a collection tin and a bottle of Bull

people walk by, he tries to catch their eye, areet darlin, smile.


He wraps himself in an old sleeping bag from the Salvo.

By the morning he will have succumbed to hypothermia


people walk on by, foot fall imprinting in the snow.



An Alien in London by Rachel Burns

Walk past a sea of sleeping bags, blues and greens

see the man swimming beneath, lost in drugged sleep

take a sleeping bag, it’s yours. Drag it through littered

streets. Smile be happy. This is London. The Big City.


Smoke weed, roach hanging from your mouth

greet fellow travellers, lost souls

on the long and dusty road. Let the tears flow.

Smile be happy. This is London. The Big City.


In the West End, walk through Burlington Arcade

stop to have a shoe shine, shoes blackened

for a charge, a very large charge. Pay with your soul.

This is London. The Big City. The Valley of Plenty.


No money? Don’t worry. On the outskirts

of King’s Cross, come sleep rough, become one of us.

Join us. Get your feet blackened for free.

This is London. The Big City. The Valley of Death.


Rachel Burns is a poet and playwright living in Durham City, England. Poems published in UK literary magazines. Shortlisted in competitions Mslexia, Writers’ & Artists Yearbook and The Keats- Shelley Poetry Prize 2017.