‘. . . crossing the garden by the pale flowers’
i.m. Helen Dunmore
Six o’clock strikes. Three crows clatter,
chart an opaque sky. Pinpricks of night rain
have etched mysterious footprints
onto brittle tarmac. Frogs crackle.
Mist hedges watery meadows.
No vibration stirs the leaves. No flies.
The garden swing strangulated by its own rope.
Only off-white flowers remain: ivory trumpets,
creamy elders. Bleached stalks of clematis –
the one we’d thought so hardy – snapped.
The church bell chimes the half-hour.
We are inching towards the angelus,
somnambulant, as if we hadn’t yet heard.
As If Invisible
Ezra Laycock’s single-decker smouldered
its way between Earby and Barlick.
The lad was drunk.
No one said a word
My stop, I struggled free.
The driver leered,
‘nowt extra for t’thrill, lass.’
I still had to tell the priest
In one to ones the tutor complained I was feisty,
opinionated: showed too much cleavage
and worse, came to college in a car.
Grades scrambled to average.
Could be more cooperative
There was an usher, offspring of the Town Clerk,
who, removing my coat at council meetings
took the chance to cradle my breasts.
No one noticed
I was sad when the whistles stopped. I tested Doris
Lessing’s theory: wiggle by a building site in heels
and slinky skirt. Repeat in frumpy clothes, no make-up.
Not a sound, either way
Mum told me fairies lived in the rose bushes.
I never saw any, but named the flowers anyway:
Myrtle, Mimosa, Jasmine. I remember the creaking swing –
thrusting brown-skinned legs, dragging on the ropes,
showing off to the urchin whispering in the hedge.
At night I kissed him through my pillow –
and Kubla Khan too, in his silken tent.
And nobody knew
My best friend was raped at the swimming pool
where therapy took place to heal her leg
that her mum had run over.
By accident she said
The leg got better, but Cara didn’t.
I never asked why.
She never said
We didn’t know that word,
when we were ten.
‘. . . crossing the garden by the pale flowers’ won 3rd Prize and As If Invisible was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (November 2019) judged by Oz Hardwick.
Jocelyn Simms has won several poetry prizes and is thrilled to feature once more in Sentinel. Her collection Tickling the Dragon (CircaldyGregory, 2019) recounts the birth of the atomic age through protagonists and survivors and reveals the duplicity of the governments involved.
Helen Dunmore graced the first of three bilingual festival that Jocelyn and husband Gordon put on in France in 2012, and the poem here is intended as a tribute to Helen’s generosity whilst reflecting the shock of her untimely death.
The Simms founded Segora International Writing Competitions in 2007 from their French home.
Jocelyn recently judged EarlyWorks flash fiction, and is to judge the 2020 Charroux short story competition.