mussels with coal oil by Jem Henderson


mussels in a hollandaise sauce

with coal oil, pork fat croutons,

dashi


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


wasted


away


______________

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.