Sommelier 2020

Stephen Smythe

Editor’s Note from Ian O’Brien: I recently heard this poem recited at a live event and was immediately struck, as I always am with Stephen Smythe’s work, by the voice. There is that wonderful balance of wordplay, crafting and a deceptive simplicity that I love in poetry. The result is a powerful sense of humanity; he creates a typically strong character here, telling a story through objects and the day to day. In his trademark style, Stephen brings touches of humour and lightness to a dark topic, in this case the loss and change inflicted in the pandemic. I find the ending hugely touching.

His shallow tasting cup,
antique corkscrew,
silver tongs and stopper,

candles and decanter,
glacette and thermometer,
tulip-shaped steel bucket,

large bowl glasses
with tapered openings,
all lie in their boxes.

No more New World.
Promise of a vintage year,
his sense of smell

and taste hijacked
he does his best
to coax them back;

consumes zinc-rich foods,
shellfish, legumes,
dark chocolate;

drinks enough garlic tea
to be banished
to the spare room;

coats his tongue with cinnamon,
sprinkles chilli seeds,
feels the burn;

gargles coconut and sesame,
imbibes the juice of curry leaves,
rubs mustard into gums;

drops oil into nostrils,
snorts baking soda,
inhales carom seeds.

Nothing works
and the mortgage holiday
is almost over.

He skulks around the house,
unshaven in pyjamas,
contemplates smoking,

strives to recall
the scent of old leather,
cut grass, sweet honey,

his wife’s cologne,
his new-born son.

Stephen Smythe is a Mancunian writer of short fiction and poetry. In recent years (2017-2021) he has been shortlisted and long-listed in several prestigious competitions including the Bridport Prize (Flash Fiction), Bath Flash Fiction Award, and the Bangor Literary Journal Poetry Competition. He was second in the Bangor Literary Journal FORTY Words Competition and third in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. Stephen completed an MA in Creative Writing at Salford University in 2018. You can find him on Twitter @smooth2go.