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mussels with coal oil by Jem Henderson

mussels in a hollandaise sauce

with coal oil, pork fat croutons,


mussels sit squat in the dark bowl

squat in the throat squat

in pale yellow meadow green

the addition of coal oil gives the dish

an unusual robust flavour

the addition of coal oil gives the family

rough heritage dirty hands mucky faces

lungs that cough

black lacework

during the late 19th and most

of the 20th century Armthorpe was known

for its coal mining; the pit Markham Main

the village rises men kiss their sleepy wives

over the tea kettle look in on the children

tossing in bed leave the house pass

fields of lowing cows in the dawn light

during the miners' strike only 34 of Armthorpe's

1300 miners went back to work

the excavation work is backbreaking

men with legs like tree trunks

roots in the earth roots

in the village muscles tight and taut

ache at night

when they retire these giants turn human

shrinking under the bright sunlight

three people from the village of Armthorpe

have died of vCJD, the human form

of mad cow disease, two who lived

on the same street

i’m 11 after opening our presents

we visit my grandparents my uncle

lays on a single bed in the front room

by the christmas tree lit up like a rainbow

curtains wide open

he can’t eat

but screams

the whole way through

our family’s christmas dinner

his cracker sits unopened

the third victim, Adrian Hodgkinson, 24,

lived in Harrogate, dying in 1997

he spent every weekend between 1972

and 1986 at his grandmother's house

in Armthorpe eating Sunday dinner

for the last few months of my uncle’s life

he couldn’t walk

his muscles




Jem Henderson (she/they) is a genderqueer poet from Leeds. They have recently won a Creative Future award for underrepresented writers. an othered mother, their first pamphlet came out July 2022 from Nine Pens. Another book, Genderfux came out in February 2022.


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