Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A step towards warmth

The silhouette of an unidentified bird of prey
hovers still,
scratched against the air
above a silver flash of metal estuary,
carrying ships out to sea,
and reflecting plumes of smoke from the industrial horizon:
tall, fat chimneys belching it,
mixed up with sparse cotton clouds.
I saw blossom for the first time this morning,
creamy against a grateful sky,
blue: the colour of my teenage bedroom walls,
full and hopeful,
the broad canvas of spring
stretching out before us,
cosseting the tentative hyacinths that shoot upwards,
where people walk into work saying
"It's lovely out there!"
grateful for a lighter coat,
a brighter morning,
a step towards warmth.
The bird streaks away,
leaving a flutter of seagulls in her wake,
impossibly white against the tide,
the container ships pass, the smoke unfurls still,
the sun gains confidence,
immersing us into a warm yellow bath of a day.

Written for World Poetry Day 2018

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Roll up your sleeves

The smell of someone else's
on the breeze this morning
made me think of my Grandma
stealing a moment with a Lambert & Butler
by the back door
in the early morning,
while we were supposed to still be sleeping.
It made me think of all the women
I have known, loved, shared
moments with in my life. 
My two grandmothers
strong and tough:
independent, funny, clever women
who worked hard, grafted,
rolled up their sleeves,
shaped my life through
fruit cakes, Club biscuits kept in the fridge,
endless games that indulged us and
incredible dinners that fed us,
cherished phone calls,
letters when people still wrote letters.
It made me think of
my mum, my sister,
my partner,
my mother in law, my sister in law,
my best friends and old friends and new friends,
women who've been through the darkest days,
who have given me some of my brightest light.
It made me think of what it meant to be
a young girl;
who loved dolls but cars too,
who loved Sylvanian Families but Southend United too,
who cast around for her identity but found it,
who admitted she liked girls.
As a woman you feel a power grow in you:
sometimes uncontrollable,
like you could determine weather,
twist fate,
summon other worlds.
You can
be fragile and be bold,
listen and be heard,
be a feminist and love buying makeup,
adore women and love kind men,
dress up and dress down,
lie in woe on your period, with a blanket and a Nancy Myers movie,
and most importantly
roll your up your sleeves and fight.

For International Women's Day 2018

Friday, December 22, 2017


The house is layers,
an onion,
a rose unfurling its petals,
or a pass-the-parcel -
peel them back for all the Christmases we've had:
waking on cold mornings throughout those early years
to fat, stuffed woollen stockings
loaded with gifts from Leigh Toy Fair,
fortune-teller fish to curl in tiny palms,
miniature slinkies
wind-up toys
and tins of little sweets shaped like lemon pips.
Later, there's a photograph of us
as grown ups
around the dining table in dressing gowns
with cups of tea,
no mad hurry of presents or routine, just
us in our natural habitat
and Mum's face is one of pure contentment.
Now, to open the door
is half-like walking into a different house,
but steeped in those memories,
like how once we wrote a Christmas book together,
sugar paper, drawings and glue:
you led the project,
naming characters, making flaps to lift,
I was on five-years-younger duties
involving glitter glue.
The layers peel back,
memories unwrapped, and
in a second's glance 
there we are again,
tiny and in dressing gowns,
waiting outside the front room door,
hushed and sparkling with anticipation,
waiting to hear Dad say "He's been!"

Thursday, September 28, 2017


We're not quite there yet.
Green hasn't completely given over to amber,
red and eventually brown,
but it doesn't stop a camera roll
of pictures taken on my walk to work.
Insanely scarlet five-point leaves,
huddles of burgeoning yellow berries,
a clutch of branches against a September sky.
If it wasn't such a clear day I'd call it misty,
but it's the cloud of vape-smoke
from a passing commuter.
Something like black cherry,
a trace of dust left on my clothes,
unseen fragments in the air.
I still salute at crows,
a childhood superstition,
and pass the Highway Maintenance guys
planting lurid geraniums in concentric cirles on the cliffs.
The tide's roaming in,
a slick grey blanket,
softening the view.
I take more photos, obsessive almost: the sky again, a tree, the sea,
gobbling it up,
in case for some reason I can't commit it to memory.
The trees are simply regulating:
a chemical process to adapt to seasons;
it's nothing special to them.
But somehow as they go about their business, this
change of seasons fills my heart right up, like
battery power.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Last day of term

This poem is for my Mum and Dad, who retire from their school jobs today, 21/07/17 x

I see kids this morning,
clutching Cath Kidston gift bags,
babbling on their way to school
on a zinger of a last day,
all blue skies and clearing out your lockers.
I remember that too:
the shine of pride on my face as I went
to the front of the class,
brandishing a card with earnest scribbles,
perhaps a bottle of wine that felt far too heavy
in my primary-school hands.
I remember my Dad coming home with a car boot full
of Parker pens, new ties, boxes of chocolates, whisky, wine,
a feast of gifts on the dining room table,
sweet presents from his Year 6 students,
possibly never to see them again.
Sometimes, a poor but well-meant thing,
a terrible dusty ornament grabbed in haste,
or something already open.
But each could mean the world.
We buzzed around the haul,
asking if we could open the Maltesers; 
save that box of ink cartridges for September
which would feel a lifetime away.

Friday, July 14, 2017


warm nights
picking the best 10 texts to stay in my phone
the trials of van occupanther
on repeat:
we say we'll go to see it performed live
not together
not yet
but maybe we'll see each other there
we'll talk on msn messenger,
up late,
for hours,
my status says 'away' but not for you;
laptop wobbling on my legs
on my bed,
the wire connecting the phone line to my computer
pulled taut,
connecting me to you
via dial-up
that stalls when my mum needs to use the phone,
that beeps and buzzes when it automatically
every 2 hours
it must happen three or four times
in one single chat session with you,
where we divulge our lives
to one another
asking questions,
taking dual breaks to go to the bathroom,
we go downstairs and raid our dads' beer stashes,
back to hot, airless bedrooms
where we talk some more
and drink alone but somehow together
until it's almost morning:
dry-eyed and limb-weary,
laptop lines embedded on our legs
we say our goodnights,
and close our computers down,
and text each other until we fall asleep,
new texts to save in my phone tomorrow,
how young we were,
how patient we seemed compared to now
but how impatient it was in hindsight
that we waited for so long.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The times

I think about the times when
all that mattered was picking enough rose petals to
make a kind of perfume,
cloyed and browning in an ageing bottle,
given as a gift and sweetly accepted
to be later, discreetly, thrown away.
When smoothing palms on a hot, silver playground floor and
counting how many cards I'd collected or marbles swapped
was life to me:
the big stuff wasn't even in a dream,
or kernel of a thought;
it just wasn't even there.
As I get older I forget how it felt to be free,
a looseness of limbs at night,
where sleep was unavoidable, inevitable, and crept over me as
a heavy blanket, pressing out the day.
The times back then are shut inside a cabinet,
and now
my face is pressed up to the glass trying to
feel that liberty again.
I look up at the sky and think about how it feels,
the scrolling 24 hour news a jumble in our heads,
we're no longer reading dystopian novels with a wry smile,
but instead a stone of fear in our stomachs
that these are our times.
Our hearts are full but our heads have become cynical.
We call each other up and talk about how dreadful it's become.
The times grind on but you can always find
a piece of hope to pluck from a tree,
and plant in the ground,
and bear more fruit. That's how it works.
It's a circle.
Stand by the shoreline and let the tide
breathe in and out to
soothe you with its sweet meditation.
Perhaps you might run fast not caring how you look,
or cry fat, salt tears from so much laughing
and your heart's memory says: this is that freedom again,
of course,
how could I have forgotten?
The times need love, action, and nurturing.
Let's not suffocate under gloaming clouds of anger, hurt and pain.
It's up to us to keep the circle going.