Jenny Middleton has written poetry throughout her life. Some of this is published in printed anthologies or on online poetry sites. Jenny is a working mum and writes whenever she can amid the fun and chaos of family life. She lives in London with her husband, two children and two very lovely, crazy cats.
Urban Myth Has It that There’s A Driver Who’s Been Circling London Ceaselessly
You are a coordinate on a map, a starting place and a destination endlessly circling between
their arms – the names of places you drove through on the way tyre-tracking into memory.
Distance is a drumming spiral of numbered miles and love is admitting there are places you
will never reach – people you don’t need to meet. Alternate endings gleam and fade in the
tail-lights of cars hurtling beyond you.
purple clovers grow
near and sweet
I have days when I think I
would have preferred living better
if it were a film
condensed into a couple of hours and any
mundane moments stuffed together
and sped up – think of flat clouds dispersing
into blue and a dolly shot
tracking fat, globular raindrops as they strike
windows and chase each other to obscurity-
the soundtrack is an acoustic guitar
as the camera pans to shoot the interior
of a kitchen and zooms in to focus
on the dregs in yesterday’s unwashed glasses
lip prints clustered and still
climbing at their rims.
published online by The Blue Nib Literary Magazine
and by Spillwords
We lifted the front panel
of Nan's piano out.
Its dust - sticky with age-
cracking against lacquered wood.
Its notes resting on felt-
runners poised on a starting block-
the vibration of sound a promise
as we heaved it free
of its stuffed elephant existence-
a carcass lifted - dripping
with the blood of a different world.
Of a war when Nan played piano in pubs
and working men's clubs, singing
in London between the sirens.
That was before the x-ray of her lung
became vague of breath and sported
cavities; dark holes shown eating
and eating at youth's tissue.
VE day sang its victory
in the TB sanatorium
where she spent the last year
of the war breathing, recovering the dust
of herself from the dust of the blitz
where her angora jumper, brand new
and completely insignificant, blazed
on the washing line burning itself to memory.
The scar the surgeon's scalpel left on her back
was crescent shaped and puckered,
knitted together like everything from then.
Make Do and Mend as with music.
Damaged, surviving, the piano stands,
its sinews singing now as my daughter plays
and with each octave stretch to a chord
I hear the piano wonder Nan's music.
Published @ The Drabble2022
We knew poems before
we’d read them
sucking them into our breaths
with the salt from the sandy lake flats
feeling their warmth steam from the wooden
boards of the deck.
Our voices were those of wolves
howling slithers of jazz
as we jumped into the water
letting its cold ripples lick us and swallow us
spitting us back from the murk as flying fish
wheeling against the sky –
we were not metaphors.
Published @ Oddball Magazine
Discos would end with the burnt, choking hiss of dry ice snaking its way between couples as they lean into each other for a last slow dance, hands reaching through each other’s fog to bury heads against shoulders and press tightly closed mouths to clothing in a desperate attempt to filter breath from the billowing, chemical clouds pulsing through a dancefloor’s neon.
Here, so many kisses are more hungry gasps for a last, fresh taste of someone else’s air, rather than love’s fume of sighs.
It’s the DJ’s way of sending everyone out on time into the cooling night – where a Viburnum’s winter blossoms perfume the falling frost.
Cracking the Cube
Parents, teachers and TV
pushed the Rubik's Cube Craze
like some mathematician’s drug
but still I thought more of jelly shoes
and whether they were maybe made
partly at least - of jelly cubes –
the type eaten at parties
and turned in to trifles
pulled from the elastic
of their gelatinous blocks
and dissolved from their geometry
in boiling water – growing paler and smoother
with each stir
– or pushed -
the way my diabetic uncle pops them
with urgent desire into his hot mouth’s cavern
chewing sugar into his blood
and I thought, when I was eight
about sweetness, about needing
something beyond yourself and
about how hard things have to be
before it gets easy
twist life right.
A Poem for The Man Who Spoke So Quietly and for So Long into the Carpark Intercom
published as part of the New York Society Library's 30 Days of Poetry 2023 - April14
head bent low, pressing
into the coldness of the tannoy’s
metal grill as if murmuring intimacies
or a prayer for a world that needs
less fuss and more love of mundane
that let background clouds blur
and sing – think of a film’s score --
the music we’re not meant to notice
while an unseen attendant
hovers in some distant
glass booth, eyeing us through CCTV
and the tune becomes a signature
chanting its mossy notes
through the grit of the carpark
translating the muffled sounds
into melodies washing over
the lips of actors, and the man
fumbling with coins
even though there may be no one listening
as their voices slip inside the music.
Should I worry about this too?
I am lying on a nylon carpet – its pile flattened by thousands of feet – near to the photocopier – with fifteen or so other work colleagues – our hands turned palm up like splayed starfish drying on a barren shingly beach – listening to each other’s breathing – we are supposed to be listening to our own – but the distractions are heavy –
Learn to relax – the anti-stress therapist says in a smooth monotone over the CD recording of pan pipes – think of walking down steps into a sunken garden – there is a small stream and water babbles – listen to it – take off your shoes and feel damp moss push softness against your foot-soles – you will sleep –
Later, in bed the steps give way to the real shadows punctuating the bedroom ceiling between the gathers of curtains suspended from curled metal rings fanning the lights of cars – strobe-like – over me – and the imagining of bare feet hanker after a pair turquoise, vegetarian ballet pumps. Soft too. While distant traffic pouring fumes into darkness takes the place of the fountain’s watery singing scallops.
I turn over the day – dig through words – watch them centipede over each other and feel them burrow deeper in my thoughts. Think about not drinking wine, gin or too much coffee – remember caffeine is being used in the manufacture of tights – could it really burn cellulite? Could it? Thinking of sheer nylon now – the way it webs legs in its weightless mesh – like a word cocooning a thought until it is exhausted or eats its way out.
Audio Recording featured on the New York Society Library
See, lies are like that fifth tequila shot
shooting to the brain and jig-sawing true
perceptions to off-cut chaff, held in lieu
and replacing the real with a garotte
of cutting wires, unable to unknot
the fictive from the living, breathing hue
of experience. And despite those who
try to stop you sucking up old, dead rot
you continue, drunk in your set dogmas
and swaggeringly order another round,
although your heavy head and loose jaw’s slump
is at last queasy with chat and stigmas
that float grey as gas to choke and astound
your own throat with an asphyxiating lump.
The Sleep Counsellor Advises Us Not To Count Sheep
because soon they’ll want a drink, their mouths baying open, bleating and you’ll need to imagine a brook with banks low enough for sheep to stand and drink water from one into
an another and then another of their four stomachs that are full of churning and churning pink and red stringy muscles stretching beneath their fleece – which could be golden – like the one in the myth – that was dead –wasn’t it?
But lived and flew once before that – didn’t it? And didn’t Terry say something about people panning, bare-foot for gold in rivers and sieving the particles through oily fleeces?
How long ago? How much gold? And where exactly was this?
Now you’re back to counting again and the grains of gold are shifting into the sand of The Man who is meant to bring sleep to children in a sack that he leaves in parcels, tucked into the corners of their eyes in the morning –
can you remember rubbing its gritty, crystallised balls from the hot, dampness of your eyes into your puffy cheeks?
– and was he meant to be good or bad – that sandman with the sleep? The one who could deaden your senses and turn thoughts into dreams?
I Think of Internet Trolls when I See The Stranded Jellyfish
brainless, bloodless and eyeless Compass Jellyfish
speck the tideline of the beach we are visiting –
I am not sure whether they are dead
or dying – my children are keen to experiment
with saving one – at least – they balance
its translucent body between two flip-flops
wet sand raining in a thick cement
from their hands as they hunch
and stagger sidestepping away – my voice
a gull – swooping around them
don’t touch -don’t touch– it has
tentacles and stings – tentacles and stings –
they plop it back in the waves but there is
no muscle spasm – no flinch of life – it is not
one of the immortals – the waves return it to the sand-
its three-month life parcelled – washed ashore
and death congeals in its gelatinous body all afternoon
as we walk on, skim a Frisbee and watch
chameleon shrimps dart from our steps
in the cold shallow sea.
Teaching Romeo and Juliet - Drama - Lesson One
Two more stabbings bring London to its worst ever teenage homicide death toll – The Guardian 2021
Instead of the prologue’s chorus I set
Pomodoro Tomatoes – each a new
world – cardio shaped and throbbing scarlet
on desks along with blunt dining knives’ hewn
steel blades. Sixty hands, not yet crossed, will pierce
these thirty fruits spilling their fleshy globes
to split seeds laid out like runes of words - fierce
and foretelling death's stab that will disturb
the stage’s traffic and also our streets
twisting beyond the school gates to alleys
where pouched in jacket pockets sharp blades beat
in unison with misplaced allegiances
as an actor struts and frets un-lived lives
end - statistics congealing in the news.
Published in the anthology 'The Dust of Emotions' - 2022
published on line by The Blue Nib Literary Magazine
and published in the Indelible Poetry Anthology 2020
Sticky with sun and walking
surrounded by fields
ironed flat and gaping
beyond us to a distant
infinity of hedges
the strawberries glimmer
their tender swell
of scarlet from beneath their tri-fold
parasol leaves nestled around our feet.
The dry earth, their nest, strewn
with brittle straw and filled
with summer ripening.
Turning and turning the sun
blazes its axis to unwatchable
tongues nagging the clear sky
to reckoning. To a justification
of blank heat and inescapable
Our fingers clutch the stalks, snap
their greenness to song
staining our fingers, indelibly
and our mouths to a blush as we eat
the swelter and sweetness
of day to red memory.
My Grandad spoke Irish
not to us, but with
the soft sky thudding
piano clouds above
pulling wispy, cotton vapour thin
in their gust across the sea
unknotting rain to fall with his speech
garnered and floated with the lulling songs
of other isles rich with other airs.
Or else he listened, late at night,
to a radio’s report
telling today’s news with voices
from a childhood’s mist
with straying grass, buttercups and clovers
grown fresh and pressing long leaves
to whorls trapped under
the glassy, musty confines
of a London terrace and its red brick moods
as he murmured Latin prayers beneath
an English service to petalled oracles
crooning untranslated lore
from the webbing undulations
of Thames Valley’s silty strewn soil
till they were a-fleck with meadowy
Boiled low in a petri dish
the rime of salt reforms
to wafers of grief.
Dissolved sea minerals
hark to their beginnings
as land born particles
gritty and whole
are laid out on filter paper
charting the depository of loss
spelling the departures of the world
back to rock
and the glitter of dry eyes.
Published by Ink Pantry and in the anthology 'Revision's End'
We have taken to living life
as if it were jazz
rouging wan days
with bright notes
born from barren weeks
hollow as the tin-can lanterns
recycled and strung up
in the spindly birch trees
by kids next door.
Each cylinder's dark interior
is pierced with geometric patterns
so they gleam with empty space
marking out the night
with absence, as death is cut
into our lives.
We philander from the garden
and let it straggle, feeding
on its own leaves, drunk
with fermenting sugars
set to sweeten autumn
Grief's time-signature surges
days in eight bar riffs
to waves of past voices -
ghosts we drink to extinction -
and stand at last
in the darkness of a new street
awake and broken amongst dawn.
I lent Kundera’s novel,
and then separately,
a pair of daisy spotted culottes
(smart enough for an interview)
light enough not to return,
their words, ceiling trodden
and walked to air.
I find I still wonder where
the pages spore their print
from my shelf
as if they were
chilli pepper seeds –
papery and disk like
skimming ideas to flame
even after they are eaten
And whether clothes
with their wear
to larger shapes,
stained and stretched
The rails of thrift shops
and spooling sky.
published in the anthology 'coming home 2021'
The plough’s metal ribs are turned to the sky. Rust flakes in fingernails from the iron core of abandoned machinery amongst the unmown grass sprung with daisies and summery warmth. Flattened clouds rule the sky, pulled taut as clavichord strings that hum with a storm’s jigger at the afternoon and its wobble of espaliered peaches.
We run barefoot with the children, laughing, circuiting the field, drunk with exertion, feeling the rub of damp roots fleck with the music of first rain.
blue sky to numbers
rain blurs us
(published at Global Poemic
Cut a year to cloth
and faces to patchwork -
hemming breath beneath
a stitch-work of masks hanging
like forlorn sheets
queuing on washing lines
blown by muffled speech
between distant poles.
The virus, a ragged spectre,
spiking the air, unseen
and threading its wheezy
spoors at our skin.
And whole days bound by a string
of statistics peddling
us to the margins of empty streets
whittling our interactions
to cards tapped and slithered
between blue gloves
and Perspex, cold as pebbles
battered by a turning tide.
Shot high as December stars,
a vaccine punctuates
the closing year with a firework ellipsis
blazing at our arms,
injected and alive with blood’s
red dot of hope.
The Cedar Shingle Roof
(published in the 2019 Anthology Reach)
Rain shells the sky
and slides its drama down;
while arching over us
the cedar shingle roof
is silvered with air
The red of its youth
washed with autumn
and faded strong;
a will bent with survival.
Dad hammered the tiles
or so years ago
pounding the doubled-dipped
galvanised nails home
to the bed of rafters
Reverberating still, his hands
ridged with veins and visible
as ropes beneath canvas sails
fold around newspapers
full with giving
as the forest gave.
The turn of sky to cloud
a blink away.
Gloves, lined with silk’s soft blur
write my hands with memory;
their interior warm with the smooth touch
of things held and held before.
Creased and tender in their slide
over skin, it is as if we were relearning
our vows, as a language grown old sings
with words once rusted,
seized and deadened,
amongst a tangle of docks and nettles,
or choked with bind weed’s grasp.
Now as clay is worked clear,
turned on its wheel to rings
and worn up to the tenderness of sculpture
these words rise from their base vowels
to sentence the sublime
unfastening us from everyday
routine and rhyme.
Published in the Indelible Poetry Anthology 2020
Her tiny hands hold
a sky map pinpricked with light
pinpointing the stars
in their burst against the shade
of fuzzy living room walls,
stencilling our world with
the cold night of space.
Lines are drawn webbing a lace
of creatures and frozen
gods from emptiness to a story
once navigated by sailors’ briny eyes,
their tiller jib set to scribe
the arc of comets against
the chop of sea and flap of sail
tipping beyond the horizon.
While our home is shrunk
amongst the criss-cross of
small city streets, the dark cut only
with a motoring slash of cars
and the yawn of drivers heavy
at the wheel, their cabs
hemispheres of intermittent
night and strobes
slicing towards home
the eaves of the world
sagging at the pitch,
the stars a fibre optic
spray, hazy and shifting
Winning the Vote
(in memory of Emily Wilding Davidson)
Published in the anthology 'Grains of Sand'
Afternoon streets loll in hazy, summery heat,
schools, church halls and nurseries have installed
plywood voting booths where pencils droop
on stringy threads from thin walls
waiting for plumbago graphite lines
to sigh-hiss over plumbago graphite lines
whispering Xs to paper ridged with welts
run long with shady tissue marks
webbing the suffragettes’ win
for ‘Votes For Women’ a century ago.
Emily Davison died on a balmy day
like this in June - 1913-
hate mail still frothing rabid words
as she lay in a coma,
her throat already raw, her skull already cracked
from force feeding and her fall
down the prison steps.
Thousands watched her last protest
play and replay
on the Derby Day Pathé News
at the Picture House.
Emily walks clear of the crowd, cuts
the race-course rails,
arm outstretched, steady, a suffragette
scarf fluttering amongst the rush of horses’
hooves and hot flanks steaming speed
while she moves before the king’s horse,
and they smash at history’s
Later, the jockey recalled her face
twining with his own pain, spiralling with gas
galloping tragedy smack against tragedy.
Crosses drawn; ballots
cast - prickling and branding
thorns at voters' backs.
published online by The Blue Nib literary Magazine
Also published in the Anthology 'Words of Power'
We'd watch dusk creep slowly over the hot
Sicilian day. The sky skin-taut and breathing
warmth, even in darkness, as the orange
trees were watered, pools formed at their white,
painted bark and green fruits, bright within grey
shadows waited solemnly un-noticed and here.
And you'd talk to me of pips; the beginnings
of business and the daily manufacture
of components to light the camera's lights
and power batteries to record and film
all of this forever, or the digital
ever, anyway, pixelating the world
round as those Christingle gifts I crafted
at first school from oranges to universes.
Sometimes the fruits would already be moulding
as I plunged cloves into the bright, thick flesh
to scent them further, realising as I tied
a red ribbon of blood to the equator
the web of splitting segments was ourselves
splintering as we shared evening's silences;
voices lulled and quiet as oranges ripened.
Published @ Spillwords
The woman at the bar
reveals a flying, beribboned heart
tattooed on the inner-side of her slender forearm –
its inky feathers lifting with her skin
as she drinks beer from a bottle
of Stella Artois –
her manicured hand a fist
curled around a cool, damp neck of glass
hard as the love
that cannot settle
in her mind– its raw persistence
beaten from her blood
curdled with long nights and lies
and then made light of – given wings –
hollow muscles that soar
and flex behind her grey-green eyes
that dip beneath glittery, glued on lashes
as she wordlessly tells another guy
that she can’t love at all – not
anymore- but would he like to help her try?
giddied with Entonox,
each breath a tubed loop running
from cylinder to mask to mouth,
tethering minutes to its gaseous flairs.
Thinning dawn’s contractions to ghosts
and dilating them with a new sky
grown from set bones.
all slippery flowers;
and sub-tropical, stemming
from the warm tides
of rooted continents
to a harbour of gentle arms.
Flesh, bright with arias of pain
suck sopranos inside singing,
self-circling bleeding note
to fledging note.
While an infant
lies gentle in a crib,
flushed with first breath,
The Flat Line
Once in maths, we made moebius strips,
snaking paper from its brittle, flat plane
to the impossibility of infinity.
We'd cut the paper to long, thin strands,
let them slide, smooth as laces,
through our hands before
We single twisted then glued
the stubs to invisibility,
ironing their separateness from existence.
Then we'd watch, with unfading awe
a pen skate a line, unbreaking
and running on both sides of the paper
circling endings to beginnings
and thoughts to overlap with thoughts'
experiences, again and again
as you would wind my hair
around the curved warmth of your fingers
coiling its fibres through laughter's
flash to helical perfection;
the coded core
of memory's reverberations.
The First Flute
(As published in 2019 Reach Poetry Anthology)
Even amongst the mires and marshes
at our beginnings we envied the birds
their song grown sweet amid the tawny thorns
of survival. Schemes were lit and fires
laid smoke to climb through the roast heat of bones
and blister of wings until the remains
displayed their hollow, fleshless tunnel caves.
Here the first enchantments lifted from lips,
swift fingers coaxed the perforated pieces
of death to fresh flight of flurried dance
now strumming soul soft from our stereos.
A Brighter Burn
That night the light was slow,
a faint glimmer before a brighter burn.
The singed green shade twisting
in the faint breeze mouthed
through half open windows.
I'd got up, too hot to sleep,
too tired really for those ends
of things really that tangle
a mind's late thoughts,
when a moth traced the vagueness
at the corners of the room,
its confusion crashing at the walls,
the brightness its beacon,
and then its silhouette inside the stretched
satin shade seemed muffled
and drawn large as those paper puppets
in shadow theatres of old preconfiguring
its own demise and fizzed throes
of death as staged and restaged tragedies.
Then the stench of absence and heat
was all, a universe swallowed whole.
Shutting the lights off, I stumble to the stairs
that fall into wheeling darkness.
As published online by spillwords https://spillwords.com/photographer/
in the infra dark of red hues
he develops photos the old way
his hands tilting dark avenues
side to side, crossing, caressing
chemicals drift to oblong lakes
rippling the grey-scale tones
of light to a glossed retina;
an imprinted code of vision,
fished from flimsy film to frame firm
the gaze of yesterday's wild eyes -
dripping with days done and captured
for a slow show reformation.
each is pegged to dry and retell
forever that blaze of a second's
wire crackling fresh
and kissing warmly back with life
lush with the moment.
Tight, between your thumb and index finger
You hold a match ready to strike a flame.
With rushing friction bursting from the tinder
Of glassy powdered card and your swift aim
You will change something forever. Blame
Free and with a flick you could set the spark
Of destruction eating all of acclaim
To the hollow hunch of a charred burnt mark;
Searing all with just one match sweeping in an arc.
The curve of you waking wise baby
Strangely natural and unknown grows unstoppably within.
You float, swim, kick, my conscious self
demanding my wearied world
awake for your own daisy-eyed looped dance.
The greying mornings dawn hunched over
since the blue dividing line proclaimed
your presence. A drawn line in my life too,
Then the metallic bleakness and longing.
Never have I felt so far from known land.
The material world other, outer and distant dim -
two thousand Christmas cribs crying anew
rhythmically rocking with visceral reality.
A pain suffused, strange secret of continuity
shivers as I pass past to you
Expectant we wait and watch your image beat
on dark screens and hear the muffle
of new life snuggle the world within.
Baby bigger than beyond;
A universe to come.