Poems

  • Spring
  • Nothing
  • Medusa’s visit to the salon
  • Her
  • The sea and you
  • Mimi
  • Mexico and him
  • Kathleen Kewley
  • Unread words
  • Call me Steph
  • Seasonal shifts
  • Fear and shopping in 2020
  • Overheard in a hotel one afternoon
  • Thomas Addison
  • Reply to Shakespeare’s sonnet xvii – O! never say that I was false of heart
  • The stalker
  • Picture of a young girl circ. 100 years ago
  • Transitions
  • To me you are beautiful
  • Beauty
  • Cruelty
  • Early in the plague of 2020
  • Her shoes
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Lumbago in middle age
  • Beautiful Miranda
  • Lucy
  • DNA
  • Retrospective yearning for middle age
  • King Dog and Lady Cat
  • Bariatric regrets
  • Resilience and the Lady
  • Dead Toad
  • Frog
Spring

Spring shines through the trees
turning them green
against their will.

Hard light slants past the grass
bright and pale
reluctantly aroused

from sleep. Wild garlic bursts
its scent without a thought
for those who dream

of stillness and of snow
who shade their eyes against the
blossom of the hawthorn trees.

Why stagger into life from rest
when wrapped in the cold
of an unthinking winter?
Nothing

These are the days when nothing happens
It happens all over the place
In the house, in the garden,
It happens all day
When I move from my bed
I marvel at my movement
The curve of the sheet, its scent
is paralysing.
My head is a boulder
my arms hang loose.
The pointlessness of movement
inverts my steps
I wonder what the day will bring
what kind of nothing
will follow me around
Time is shortened, yet endless
the path ahead is blurred
no longer certain
Each movement fascinates
and torments. There is no
end, the journey is all
that takes us to nowhere.
The food we eat is train food, 
and there is no arrival.
The tickets we buy to travel
show no destination and
where we came from
we have quite forgotten.
All day I have done nothing
and I fear to sleep and dream
of what I haven’t done.
Tomorrow I can do it all
again. 
Medusa’s visit to the salon

My scaly hair writhes past my neck
Waving in hands that weigh its worth
And eyes that will not look at me
Or meet my image there.

Make me beautiful, I say;
Make me shine again as when
he loved me. Though he too
looked away when I was near.

He shrugs his shoulders,
Wary of my stare, and says
Your hair is beautiful enough,
I never saw such hair.

And then he held the glass up high
so I could see the back;
The ravenous, the killing,
and the hair that was not hair.

Cut it off, I said, and so he did.
Each head dropped down and eyes 
glazed white. I looked around
to thank him, and he died.
Her

You look past me with sprout green eyes,
pouring your dress from your neck
and smiling faintly, enigmatically.

I would like, very much, to hurt you.
Only this would quench the throb
of your existence and grind it down

like spice, gripping my throat, and
drawing my breath to keep it sweet
and moist within me.

Your shoes, even. What are they
but gaudy, glossy, glassy? You glint
and scintillate, an unmasked bulb

that cannot shoot through soil to
spring. I am autumn, I was first, and
I am waiting for you.
The sea and you

The tide was out as we talked and picked up stones;
Sand squeezed between our toes and wrinkled back
where shining sea stretched into sun and past.
Now time has quenched your words, your voice is still,
though sun and water light up bright in mist
and cloud or sudden shower, flashed with blaze.
I have walked too far from you, and seek again
the earth, the sand, where soft and firm you trod. 

I live now where I never see the sea, 
or hear the gulls, l never smell the air 
that rasped my face, the salt that let me breathe,
and made you live again. I walked there last
when sea was curled, the tide was high and life
was hidden far beneath the stones, the seaweed, 
shells, and you. I listen, but your voice is still;
I see the light beyond, but you are gone.
Mimi

My hands are all I have that are not warmed
and clothes press tight and itchy round my waist
my hair is stretched and painful round my face;
My hands, my little reaching hands
are moving, moving, then they never stopped;
He took my hand and startled at its ice
I think of him, and all that I have lost
and know that there is nothing more for me;
Tomorrow I will find a way to live, for now
my little room is dark and cold and small
I step in shoes that pinch me meanly, and
my last attire is colourless and grey;
The wool is old and smells of ancient sheep
I think of warmth, of beauty and of food
and I will work and toil once more, again,
for tomorrow will not be another day;
My fingers swell and burst in all that heat,
such flowers, lush, I know I cannot touch;
Sometimes I think of her and where she is,
I think upon my life and might have wept
I see the window, see the dirty rain
I see the world but never see myself, but just
the dust, the dirt, that moves around my heart;
One day I hope tomorrow will not come
But if tomorrow comes then I will smile
Mexico and him

All I do now is
wait for you
In this country of colour and dust
All I ever did was
wait
You loved her
You loved her mountains, 
her cities
You loved me
I thought.
 
Her voice 
I could not hear
like you
You thought that I would love her too
and you
that we three all would 
love
I hated me
with her
I could not see
her dust her colour
Not me.
Kathleen Kewley 
(1905-1987)

He asked me to arrange his flowers,
scrub his floors more like!
An irritating man, who called me Kay,
who gave me sherry, gin and it,
who took me dancing, and to golf.
I liked it all, I did, and him,
But once I had been Kathleen.
There were beaches and piers,
my sisters, and men, who never called me Kay.
Sometimes, when Kay is dancing,
or golfing, or just arranging flowers,
I see Kathleen in a mirror, or a glass,
and she laughs at me;
‘What were you thinking of, Kay?’
she mocks, ‘washing his socks, when you
could have breathed wildflowers with me.’
And I think then 
how I am contracted.
Unread words

Pages of unread words
Unreadable 
Undeliverable 
Undecipherable
Unchecked by autocorrect
Small words
Big words
Long sentences
parted by
semicolons
Words I can't write
Words I can’t know
Opposites
Young ink
Old words
Coloured words
Words that want to be read
Words that hide
Bad words that cut and hurt and can't forget
Caressing words that love and hiss
Call me Steph
 
she said, gazing, lips apart,
she didn’t like him all that much
her mother loathed him though
and that would do
 
his house was weird and deep
and dark and clammy
but the drink was good
rows and rows of shiny bottles
 
she sat there on his knee 
suckling, fingers trailing in his 
black cold hair as she
reached for another
 
his voice was gentle
aren’t you hungry?
he touched her lips 
you must eat now
 
she tossed her head
hands sliding on the glass
his hand on hers
and hers on his
 
afterwards she lay
he left her fruit
six seeds she ate
to quench her thirst
 
and then she drank again
a dark warm wine, and slept
Seph, he said, Persephone,
stay with me
Seasonal Shifts

Today I breathed in Autumn
Richness with a taste of death
Beauty in damp decay
And loss.

A stone slab lies beneath my feet
I smell the lingering warmth
Of rain on bark
And doubt.

This is the gentle month
Before doors close and
Dark thoughts curl
Like smoke.

Bright leaves fade to dirt and
Apples rot and leak
Sun dims
Darkness hangs.

This is the end for you
Declining season
Death grips you fast
Breath stops.

Your silent passing gone
You wake up dazed 
In Summer’s arms
Brightness blinds.

You cannot see
That soon the end 
Will come for you
Again.
Fear and shopping in 2020

The shop was full of people buying
toilet roll
I kid you not 
swathes and swathes of it they bought
their trollies ached with
beans, rice, pasta, paracetamol.
some, the posh ones, hid wine
beneath their beans
perhaps to wind away those
dreary nights ahead
perhaps to ward off shakes.
I bought a pack of carrots
I bought four large tomatoes
I bought oatcakes
and soap, but hard not soft.
I may well be unwise.
self-service check out only
no warmth of human hands and smiles.
but waiting, all of us,
for something
or nothing.
Overheard in a hotel one afternoon

I was seduced by what I do not know
But such seduction will beget rewards
A lump sum. What is this lump, so heavy
And desired? Where will you find it?
What’s more dot com has caused you grief,
I didn’t look carefully enough
How foolish could you be, my friend?
An older voice, a man’s voice, English,
Subsumes the lighter female voice,
How can someone talk like that?
Another sound cuts through the air,
Scottish, gentler, growing harsh,
You kept me awake till 4 last night,
Your bed squeaked as you tossed and turned.
Her voice squawked in return then stopped.
And wisely she said nothing.
I saw one financial advisor,
You’re not sleeping in that bed tonight
Who lies awake all night and thinks of sums?
Will sums spent on that bed help shut it up?
Why listen on if silence is a choice?
The voice will pierce the ear through all the noise.
Thomas Addison

My dog Jacob nearly died last month.
He waited and wasted
couldn’t speak to tell us why,
yellow white, his coat 
dropped, dust to dust.
We expected his death
and then they said, no, 
he shall not die.
For he has Addison’s disease,
which can’t be cured, but
with the help of steroids can
most definitely be endured.
Thomas Addison
a man of great intellect
with a knowledge of physic and glands.
Thomas Addison died by his hand
one hundred- and sixty-years past,
unable to tell his suffering.
Thomas Addison, you are remembered.
Reply to Shakespeare’s sonnet xvii – O! never say that I was false of heart

I think from this it’s very clear you strayed
While working on that job far overseas
It’s somewhat shocking, given I downplayed
My own pretence of virtue, worn to please
Our rather shabby bond. What makes you say
You kissed, but never loved? What lies come through
Your pale, misleading lips? Just know you’ll pay;
Your stain cannot be wiped while all you do
Is rant and plead. Your flame may well be lit 
But not by me; your number’s off my phone
So don’t go calling me again, I’ve met
Another love, without those frailties you own;
This universe has many more than you
And don’t tell me you didn’t know that too.
The stalker

I love you so, my darling!
Wonderfully, joyfully!
Your blue eyes
Heroic nose
These are all mine (and yours).

I love you so, most graciously,
With life and limb
My limbs are short
But may my life be yours
I love you with such passion.

I love you so, my love!
Devotedly, indubitably,
I love your smile
(It’s not for all)
I love you all I can.

I love you far too much, my love
Despite your gaze beyond me.
I love you – hopefully, sweetly,
Passionately, desperately, longingly,
Hopelessly.
Picture of a young girl circ. 100 years ago

That hat! All straw and flowers, 
Your dark hair coiled beneath.
Your limbs are white and reaching, 
With flesh so soft and shining on your
bosoms, squashed and tender,
On a sepia shawl.

Your clothes are sparse, your 
buttocks rise, that dress
has little compromise,
What did you think of, gazing at that lens?
Now you are dead, but then were young
And all that surrounds you is gone.

Where was your mother, or were you a mother?
Dark eyes look beyond, thinking of what?
Breakfast, a trinket, a man?
What happened to you when your beauty dimmed?
Did you age in mothballs and solitude?
Or die from exposure and love?
Transitions

How long before I am no longer young?
At what point do I cross that bridge?
Or did I leave its slats behind a while
ago. Does Youth look out around, while 
Age prepares a gentler route on softer
ground? Be not fooled! If you think of
Youth then you are old indeed!

Age has hands all soft and loved
Her eyes are blurred with Beauty’s smear
Age is gentle, striving ceased,
But must beware the shards of Youth
That do not care, will use, and then forget.
Am I young or am I old? The question asked
Is all I need to know.
To me you are beautiful

(after listening to Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn, a 1932 Yiddish song, by Jacob Jacobs & Sholom Secunda)

To me you are beautiful
Your sideways glances at the glass
Hands dragged through hair, your anxious smile
All these mean nothing.
Those little hands, so oddly clasped
Your dress, too tight in places, proudly worn
I love your face, your mouth, your startled eyes.
And would I care if there are some who mock?
If, when you pass, they look away?
Well, I will say I do care!
If those smiles, those cruel smiles, hurt you,
Make you wonder what you lack
Then let me say to you that
You lack nothing! That to me, forever,
You are beautiful.
Beauty

We are only beautiful
Because we fade and die
In decay
Lies our loveliness.

The botoxed face
Has all the grace
Of fruit sucked dry.
The juice of youth is gone.

In time we change
In time that drags and speeds
And soon we look at hands
That crack and fold.

We live a day that
Cannot last
And we must sit and stare
At those that follow.

With blue-rinsed hair
And sippy cup,
We watch new beauty
Thinking it will last.

And laugh.
Cruelty

If I think cruel thoughts
Does that make me cruel?
A monster?
Revelling in the deaths
Of insects and small mammals.

If I see myself as beautiful
Does that add a blush?
A shining gaze?
Do young men cast their eyes?
I do not think so.

If I say to you that you are right 
Then is it wrong to mock you,
Deep inside?
Where bad thoughts push and shove
But can’t escape.

If my thoughts are virtuous and sweet
But I am cruel then who will care?
My words and deeds
Become what all perceive
I am despised.

My inner words and thoughts
Are mine alone.
I will not share them.
They are locked within
And feel no shame.
Early in the Plague of 2020

No lock on the door but a cross
and God have mercy upon us.
There is nothing we need
we have water and beans
we have straw on the floor
and the telly for cheer.

The world was our oyster they said.
Well they got that one wrong.
We tripped on our planes
and our ships where the rats were
the cloths on our mouths
as we breathed in the plague.

A test or a bubo, not much of a choice
the one from within that eats up your soul
the other a cross in a box that you dread
but isn’t so likely to make you as dead.
I sit in my house with my mask and my wipes
I wait in my house for the news of the spread.

The seaports and airports are darkened
with fear. Who can we blame? Not our
nearest and dearest, we hope still alive,
but the selfish, the foreign, all those we are not.
And the fear feeds the guilt
and the guilt feels the rot.

I sit all alone with the groan of my buboes
God knows they are growing and blackening.
I hate all the people that brought me to this
that killed me by moving and being.
Why should I die with this cross on my door?
Alone with my mask and my fear.

So I get on my phone and I call 111
and I tell them I’m ill with the plague.
They give me advice, and say best stay at home
and just wrap up and keep yourself warm.
Keep away from the ones that this illness could kill
but you don’t sound so terribly ill.

The cross has been scraped from my door.
The post man delivers once more.
My diet includes avocado again
and I might go on holiday soon.
But I will remember the tales of a plague
I will remember a plague.
Her shoes

Cracked leather, stretched on feet
that once could dance. Old shoes, bright shoes,
the smell of years of seasons past.

Dusty shoes, faint polish lingers on those
stubborn shoes that will not wear
my feet, that know I am not her.

Her feet were narrow once
and slid through stockings, 
stroked by silk and warmed by wool.

The shoes she later wore were shoes that chafed,
and rubbed at flesh, were worn again,
then walked with pride, the heels rebuilt.

Much later cuts were made to spread the leather
round that ageing foot, which dropsy swelled
and each step spoke of age and heaviness and pain.

What happened to your shoes when they were laid to rest? 
Did you see the care and carelessness once worn?
Or did you turn away and think no more. 
Psychoanalysis

She was as ugly as a blue winter day 
I’ll chum you up there, cackling, 
to see Sigmund Freud, no less.
My dog can fly, you know, 
the smell is rank. We breathe him in.
‘Put your seat belts on,’ he snarls
and taste your packaged lunch.
He laughs and slides his hand into his glove,
the softness trembles.
No deathly good will come of all this.
Bright sun through net curtains.
Lumbago in middle age

The cushion of my desire is plump,
and beckons boldly,
waiting for my back to sink back
softly into sleep,
caressing gently.

Reality is different.
My feet press hardly on the lumpy
seat, my bottom strains, 
against compressing pants 
that have and hold.

My nerves fire pain from back
to foot and back again
that cramps and grasps,
unseen, beneath my skin,
beneath my pale, unfettered skin.

Bring me tea to drink
I will not think of poppy,
wine, or other far off dreams.
Somewhere the world is beautiful
and there is peace.
Beautiful Miranda

Beautiful Miranda
gave not a fuck
alas she had no truck
with being kinder.

She had red hair
but never washed it
she had a child
but never hushed it.

The child was dead
she never bore it
she could not love
she was a harlot.

Beautiful Miranda
was a drunk
her house was full of junk
spread out around her.

Sorrow was her bed mate
from the start
despair came far too late
to save Miranda.

Beautiful Miranda
died too soon
life devoured all hope
and Death consumed her.
Lucy

Soundless you ceased to be,
Oh my daughter.
Unliving 
A shell of a life
A sigh with no start.

Is it better
To live, twenty years and more,
To long and yearn,
To lose the distance
That never comes?

Or does the pulling darkness,
The lack of time,
Beguile you more?
I never saw your face at all
My dear, dead child.

The echo of your birth
Lives down the years,
The you I never saw
That others saw, then looked away,
As though you were not fair.

My daughter,
You are gone.
You will not walk 
Through dark nights or bright days.
For you are fair and gone.
DNA

A poem warning of the dangers of ancestry testing & the consequent risk of ill-founded doubt 
(with thanks to Sylvia Plath) 

Daddy give me a break 
Won't you? 
Daddy what will it take 
For you 
To see 
That I am a part of you? 

What do you see when you see me 
Daddy? 
Is there any way you can free me 
Daddy? 
From you 
And all that has come from you? 

I never thought Mummy would stray 
Daddy 
The phenotype is a giveaway 
Daddy 
Your DNA 
Was to blame, don't you think? 

Daddy this gives you a thrill 
I see 
Daddy who will you kill? 
Not she. 
Is there  
Someone you think it could be? 

You told me it’s all a big hoax 
Daddy 
That my genes come from the Big Smoke 
Daddy 
So what 
Can be bothering you? 

Do you want me to be unique 
Daddy? 
Does doubt give you all that you seek 
Daddy? 
Just know 
I am perfectly me.
Retrospective yearning for middle age

You slouch in your chair
You are old
You are forgotten
You dribble slightly
Your trousers gape
 
Keep away from my baby
who is young
who smiles at me a
wet wide smile
whose nappy binds
 
We leak and age
then age and leak
a peak of dignity
wells sometime in between
for most 
 
You never knew that middle
age could be so good
which meant that you 
forgot
old man.
King Dog and Lady Cat

The Dog lounged on the velvet seat
licking at his dirty feet,
He frowned at insufficient heat
and gave a haughty look to greet
his Mistress, who let out a bleat
when she observed just how complete
a mess he’d made of her fine seat.

‘Mistress mine’ he cried with ire,
‘What is wrong with that old fire?
I thought when bought that it was dire
and what you do does not inspire
me much at all. Why does all that wire
hang loose? Find your phone and hire
a man before the cold makes me expire!’

‘Now Dog,’ she interrupted, cross,
‘Why are you making such a fuss?
You really are an awful wuss,
Come with me next time on the bus
so you can see just who is boss.
But then she smiled, you silly cuss
I’ve brought a friend for you – meet Puss!’

The Cat jumped down and gave a smile
She purred and whispered, ‘Do not rile
me, Mr Dog, or I will note this in my file.
Our Mistress cannot see my guile,
she thinks I am a nice Puss, while
I hate you both. To fight is futile.
Go, and leave me to my warm exile.’
Bariatric regrets

Many years had gone by without
seeing my feet, as my stomach got quite
in the way. I mused on them often
and tried not to weep when
I thought of what once I had been.

I went to the doctor who blanched
when he saw it, and sent me straight in
for the chop. Bariatric they called it
but what would I know?
I just stared at my odd-looking feet.

I used to have neat little feet in my day, but
these were quite swollen, squeezed over my
slippers, the nails were all yellow and bent.
I craved for my belly, its wonderful curve
It used to hide beautiful feet.
Resilience and the Lady

You said I was resilient, and you smiled;
I never understood quite what you meant, but
thought it was inside me, deeply furled,
then one day I looked inwards, and saw
nothing.
 
You had made me think I was a hero,
a modified St George without a sword
You told me I had courage in my guts,
and weary though I was you said - do more!
When I said no, you said that others could
and that the fault was mine, and I was
nothing.
 
You said we need resilience in this life,
that I must nurture mine to make it grow
so you could make me do much more than now.
And then I turned around and looked at you,
You want me to do more, I said, to work myself to
nothing.
 
This is your resilience. You do not care
for me, you only want to squeeze out what you can
and then replace me with another, saying sadly,
she had no resilience.
But I am not St George
I am St Georgina, and I’ll never slay a dragon;
You will not need me now, for you are
nothing.
Dead Toad

Dead toad on the road
Where were you going?
Who did you hope to meet
When everything stopped?
 
Toad you are forgotten
No-one mourns you
What spawn you have begotten
Think not of you.
Frog

Frog, your legs were long, symmetrical and brave
And also dead
Your arms were crossed across your breast
You looked at rest.
 
What creature killed you, Frog,
And left you there?
A sacrificed amphibian
On a cold, stone stair.