Open Water Swim
(published in the 2022 Anthology 'Seasons')
In January July seemed Roman - a far-off, gaudy simmer of heat and light – inaccessible as the buff pip of an avocado buried in green flesh.
It arrives bald – searing its heat - razoring lawns to their baked clay beginnings. Snipping the cold mouths of lakes open, ready for the bodies of swimmers to pass through eddying tentacles.
Bathers are numbered and must wear silicone hats – it’s too hot for the neoprene wetsuit that strolled, posing through winter plans and no changing spaces or lockers either - people are nice here - the lifeguard says - rippling.
I strip in the car-park beneath a T-shirt dress to a swimsuit – and wade in through spongy, weedy mud and too blue water nagged by fluttering mayflies – hooked with questions- which chemicals have been used to kill, which to perfect - what I will I be when I swim so far there will be no going back?
full of July
the lake shimmies
(published in the 2022 Anthology 'Seasons')
January is boxy – all blank calendar squares
mapping out months of unlived days
each a gaping mouth waiting to be satiated
with the embryonic hatch of plans
and it's back to routine’s cardboard cubes too -
which is how on New Year's Day
I find myself agreeing to go open water swimming
in a freezing English lake – but in July – when it
will still be freezing-
so now instead of worrying
about the empty reel of blank eyed day-less days
strung to form January I can think about dying
by contracting legionnaires' or Weil’s disease –
rather than Covid –
yes - this must that cheery, silver flip of the coin
spun in aerial loops till it
winks with more than the weight of its worth
that I’ve so often been told about
I tell myself
thinking how Byron was more proud of his swimming
than his poetry
and he never had the chance to buy a neoprene
wet suit in a sale
or watch how these sleek, shapely skins
hang like body boxes
smoothly stitched with back, chest or zip free
fastenings. My future will be tight sealed and inescapable.
It’s easy to admire
the skater’s bladed boot resting on her partner’s thigh
his hands firm on her waist hoisting
her above the rink into glitzy, gaping lights
carving the ice together with the arced geometry of dance
few think of
scientists, at the poles, drilling metal cylinders
in to glaciers collecting the traces fallen things -
pollen’s sweat, snow compressed by mammoths
a deluge of poisoned rain – racked with signs
of change and how this shifts particles
flaying memories like the swan – trapped that winter
in ice and fishing nets
its feathers beating sound from still air
in flightless desperation
or how a body aches long after
the surgeon’s slice through skin
blurring its dead, rutted scar
amongst live veins
no – it is easier to love what doesn’t scream -
a world that winks sequins and whispers
soft, snowy songs to a tired audience
sitting in the arena’s dark.
Published at Ink Pantry
we row, hearing only our oars
pluck the sigh of ripples free
from the lake’s swish of midnight
and silence, lifting water to sudden
cold light, cutting and breaking at the damp
float of moss that clings to the cold
wooden skin of our craft
the stir of sand and silt scurries
beneath us as we pull on,
heavy with grief, our backs turned
from the shore and its familiar
round, worn stones, moving
onwards and away, towards
the tangle of the tree strutted
embankment, its branches open
and different with day.
Sleep- Some Scenarios
(published at Ink Pantry and at Spillwords)
From the beginning you wept, tossing
and un-soothed, suckling milk
to an exhaustion that gaped
from a hungry, red mouth.
We paced and sang rhyming reels,
running and running their rhythms
amongst the thinning air,
heated by your wails.
Then wings, gentle and absolute
with downy sleep
would brush us and rock us
from such barrenness.
Sofas sag with TV induced stupor
and beer bottles brag of an evening lounge,
gathering in glazed emptiness
on the coffee tables while you sleep,
fully clothed, as the drone of day
spirals fitfully to insubstantial rest.
Later you will jolt awake,
bleary, shirt astray and stumble
against the furniture of the world
stripped to 2AM; stark
with the inconsequence of failure.
Sleep arrives in the form of opaline tablets
marooned on a sanitised, metal tray,
each pill an island thudding with escape.
They slip between your waxy lips
and soon breath is a stringy rattle
clambering to the air, while dreams lurch
un-fettered beneath your eye-lids,
unwrapping the last of the world
amongst the dim lights of a hospice ward.
On Worthing Beach
Also published in 'The Red Hibiscus Anthology, volume 2'
Smooth shingle, rounded by sea,
slides and sinks as we walk,
unevenly as the tide
does in its blinking and glistening
suck at the shore, lapping
us in our race to print the sands.
Its salty rush at us, cool even
The wind full of bluster
and smudges of faraway
haunts our walk,
intercepting our words
with its stolen sounds.
So even as you push your fingers
against the crevices of my palm
and pull me to you,
we feel the persistence of centuries
echo within the town, the tide
and the gulls’ clasp of the paling sky
ring at us.
Our footsteps vanishing already
to the hold of the land.
Saturday Evening – Suburbia
The trees here are suburban stooges,
the stand-ins for a woodland,
growing in the dim expanse
of a backyard,
their shared vision grown to leaves
and translated, in mob, to the breeze,
their whispered drool in stereo
with the screech
of hand break spins
that greet this neighbourhood
from the supermarket car-park,
where, on evenings like these
its empty space is loot - for some-
to race with; to fill the trivia
of time with
and escapist fumes elude
the labour of trees.
Oxygen and air a cloak
as scarce as day.
I Realised When I Heard Him Play
that instead of talking he was glossing
life to a pop song's day,
fizzy with vacancy.
While his violin sung of a river;
long notes following long notes
in ripples pushed to air
from the eddy and flurry of water
circling in the dank murk of the weir.
His bow’s strong strokes
alive with sorrow swung
from beneath the current’s keening push
of minnows swum to minim beats
then to semibreves
while his fingers leapt between
fine, taut strings coaxing
music from hollow mahogany
to sing the sadness
of the sentences unsaid.
Published online by Spillwords
History, poetry written by Jenny Middleton at Spillwords.com
How illness’ bald precision
Leans its shadowy gnomon
At damp mouths, at a past
Too tight to speak
The starless, darkness of its own cavities
Unless it is to the soil’s prostrate
Buzz of the unfurling dead.
Their powdery silt laid down
Amongst lost paramours clambering in
Abandoned seas’ fossilised dissatisfactions.
No moment is sacred. No paper writ
Without the scrape
Of cells unveiled.
A steely cap of boots
Shrives bone to a skin drum’s slack
Pain, beating voices clear of velvet mufflers –
Of scrolled, marbled tongues
Swung from history’s lidded crypt.
(Published in the 2022 Anthology 'Seasons')
on spring bright mornings
you - a child -and me
squashed and spelt in the bones of
dead hedgehogs run down by traffic.
endings already congealing
and attracting flies to granite kerbsides
where we’d crowd with the others
lamenting – chattering – learning
about the loss of something realer
than Julie’s diamante hairband slipped
to sparkle in an unknown firmament
of long eared starry grass
beyond the wilderness of
the school playground -
today, neither of my children have seen
a hedgehog either dead or alive
or heard its snuffle bumble
burgling the twilight of its quietness
and suddenly I know something
of love’s unseen push
through uncertain nights
that fills a mind with seeds
pricking through their husks.
I see you trek carefully, feet edging
the pitted fissures that the wilds of storms
melt to rocks cleaving their chalky damp cries
to sheer the falling heights and pull down slow
then swift to the vanishing point of shore
below the eaten crags.
Then your voice -
wavering as grass ridging the back of cliffs,
burs and seeded ears sighing faintly
against the sweep of coast and hollow
flattening of the breeze,
begins to call,
sharp and acrid
through the lightning fused air.
And it is as it was once,
the summer a smile of sea
and sky tumbled russet bright
with longings and plans beyond
the edge of us,
before the sirens and urgent
quiet of the ending invaded,
lancing at today, listing
with the other obituaries.