Author Archives: Helen Lewis


I wrote this short story during the latest round of SPARK (a quarterly collaborative event pairing writers and artists), in response to a photograph by Rachel Brown. You can see the two together here.


Captain Yang was on watch when exoplanet ZX159c came within view. The sensors showed that gravity was high, but within tolerable levels. The planet had a breathable atmosphere, an ideal temperature range, and initial readings suggested it was teeming with life.

The captain woke up the others – Flight Officer Lin and Science Officer Tan – and all three prepared for the most dangerous part of the journey so far. Their descent through the atmosphere was even more hair-raising than expected, due to strong winds and heavy rain, and Flight Officer Lin had to make an emergency landing.

The spacecraft had come to rest on a rocky plateau near two massive boulders. A sheer cliff face rose above them on one side, and on the other side could be seen the distant glimmer of the ocean.

Despite the sensors’ reassurance that the atmosphere was breathable, the captain insisted that they suit up before they went outside. The rocky terrain was full of undulating ridges and was difficult to traverse.

After walking for about an hour, they came across an enormous conical structure about the same size as the ship, with vertical ridges and subtle bands of colour in green and sandy brown. Science Officer Tan identified it as a giant marine mollusc. When the others looked shocked, she explained that it was almost certainly a herbivore, so posed no danger. Nevertheless, they made sure to give the massive creature a wide berth.

Half an hour or so later, they came to the shore of a lake. Science Officer Tan collected a sample of the liquid from the lake and tested it.

‘It’s water, with fairly high concentrations of dissolved ions. Not drinkable as it is, but it could be made safe to drink through distillation.’

‘Very encouraging,’ beamed Captain Yang. ‘It looks like this planet might be the ideal place for a new colony.’

Flight Officer Lin looked at his watch. ‘Time to head back,’ he said.


After the storm, Mary took Barney for a walk along the beach. The little cocker spaniel ran ahead of her, splashing and snuffling in the rock pools.

When it was time to go back home, Mary called Barney to her. As she was putting on his lead, she noticed he had something in his mouth.

‘What have you got there, Barney?’

Mary reached gently into the dog’s mouth and pulled out a little model, about two inches long. This wasn’t the type of cheap plastic toy given away in cereal boxes; it was made out of metal and was beautifully detailed. A child must have left it behind when they were playing on the beach, thought Mary. Well, their prized possession wouldn’t go to waste. She’d give it to her five-year-old grandson, Noah. He had a big collection of toy vehicles, but as far as Mary knew, it didn’t yet include a spacecraft.


(C) Helen Lewis, 2018

The Pond

You long for a pool

fit for a Sultan’s palace:

so clear you might span its depth

with the breadth of a little finger;

so still, there’s no way to tell

where water ends and sky begins.


But what you’ve got

is a pond choked with pondweed,

its surface churned

by a thousand thrashing fish.


You’ve lived with the pond all your life,

but lately a seed inside

has bloomed into a whisper,

‘Get in!’

So here you are at the water’s edge,

discarding clothes

like a snake sheds its skin.


You wade out

until you’re treading water,

face drenched with fish-splash.


A gentle current pulls you under.

Fish swarm above

like moths around a street light.

As you drop deeper

they melt away

like snowflakes in June.


Deeper still,

your little pond

opens wider than the ocean.

With delight you realise

there are no ponds;

there is only water.


Then time muscles in

like a night club bouncer

and chucks you out

onto the cold pavement of normality.



you tug tangled clothes

over damp skin.


Looking back,

the pond’s the same but different:

now strewn with water lilies,

its surface rippled

by a dozen basking koi.


(C) Helen Lewis, 2018

Ode to an Idol

I wrote some really terrible poetry when I was a teenager. In amongst all the mawkish dross there are only a couple of poems that I’m prepared to own up to having written, and this is one of them. I’m not exactly sure when I wrote it, but I think it was around the age of 18. The idol of the title is John Taylor of Duran Duran, whose poster I had on my wall for a while. Well, okay – a few years. What was I thinking?! 😀


There he hangs on the wall of my bedroom,
Incomplete, just his torso and head.
And in case one dark night magic brings him to life,
He’s strategically placed by the bed!

Up ’til now he’s remained unresponsive
To the kiss he receives every day,
Yet I still find him strangely attractive,
In a flat, two-dimensional way.

What would be the reaction, I wonder,
Of this man, who’s seen models undressed
Glimpsing me in my bri-nylon nightie?
I doubt if he’d be too impressed.

He’s unlikely to get all excited
At the sight of my goose-pimpled skin
Clad in heavyweight undies from Tesco’s
As I squeeze out a spot on my chin.

And he’d hardly be thrilled to discover
All the terrible secrets I keep,
Like my habit of picking my toenails
Or the way that I snore in my sleep.

But hold on! Just a sec! Wait a minute!
Even heroes can have feet of clay,
And if flesh could be moulded from paper
All my daydreams might flutter away.

I could find him a self-centred moron
And his cool conversation a bore.
He might suffer severe halitosis;
Leave his smalls in a heap on the floor.

So I think I’ll stop dangerous dreaming,
‘Cos I really prefer him like this –
A tongue that is nothing but pixels
Can’t get stuck on my brace when we kiss.


(C) Helen Lewis, 1983(-ish)


I wrote the story below during a round of SPARK in response to this painting by Sukia, entitled ‘Agave’.

Rose awoke to a gentle jolt, a pneumatic whoosh, and a rush of hot, dry air. She opened her eyes and looked out of the window.

This was the place from her dream. Not just similar, but exactly identical in every detail: the undulating smudge of hills in the distance, the rocky outcrop whose outline looked like the profile of a human face, and the cluster of agaves in the foreground.

In her dream it was night-time; the agaves’ grey-green foliage shone silvery blue in the moonlight, and the distant hills were backlit by the glow of an unidentified city. Rose would hear the unfamiliar sounds of the desert at night: the chirping of crickets, and numerous unidentified hoots, barks and howls. Then she’d become aware of another noise: the sound of a vehicle’s engine. She’d turn, and see a pair of headlights approaching. She’d walk out onto the side of the road, and stand with her thumb out.

And then she’d wake up.

‘Fifteen-minute break,’ said the coach driver, taking a packet of cigarettes from the chest pocket of his short-sleeved shirt and disappearing down the steps.


Rose had been brought up by her grandmother. Her grandmother’s interest in alternative therapies, her eclectic dress sense and her love of cats (she had eight of them), led to whispers among the local children that she was witch.

When a five-year-old Rose asked, ‘Nana, are you a witch?’ her grandmother answered, ‘Everyone has magic in them, Rosie. I’m one of the lucky ones; I was born knowing it. Most people don’t recognise the magic inside them until life cuts them open, but then the magic flows out, like blood from a wound.’

They say the first cut is the deepest. But not with Max. With him the cuts just got deeper and deeper. And then one day, while giving Rose a particularly violent beating, he collapsed and died. The doctors said he’d had a massive heart attack.

It was then that the dreams started. Or rather the dream – it was the same dream repeated over and over.


Rose stepped off the coach, her rucksack slung over her shoulder. This was definitely the place from her dream. She wouldn’t be getting back on the coach when the fifteen-minute break was up. All she needed now was a distraction – something to grab the driver’s attention, and make him forget to take a head count before leaving.

There was a sudden squeal of tyres and a brown station wagon slewed into the car park. A teenage boy leapt out of the driver’s seat, yelling, ‘Is anybody here a doctor? My brother’s been bitten by a rattlesnake!’

‘I used to be a paramedic,’ shouted the coach driver, running towards the station wagon.

Rose slipped around the back of the toilet block and leant against the wall, enjoying the coolness of the shade. Within a quarter of an hour she heard an ambulance siren, and five minutes later, she heard the coach pull off.

One of the agaves behind the toilet block was in flower. The flower stalk was at least five times as tall as the plant itself, with green florets branching off the top half. It looked as if a giant had been throwing trees around, and had speared one of the agaves with a gangly pine tree.

Rose’s grandmother had grown agaves in her sprawling back garden. They’d never grown this big, though, and Rose had never seen one in flower before. Her grandmother had explained that an agave flowers just once, and then dies. Or rather, the old growth dies back, but the plant lives on in the form of suckers that sprout from the base of its stem.

Rose sat in the shade and waited for nightfall.


Rose woke up shivering. It was dark. She opened her rucksack, put on a jumper, and then hoisted the rucksack onto her back. She emerged from behind the toilet block.

The car park was empty. Beyond the low wooden railing the landscape looked exactly as it had in her dream, and the night noises were in full swing. She wondered which city was lighting up the horizon behind the hills, and thought perhaps it was Phoenix. When Rose was growing up her grandmother had had a fire screen in the shape of a phoenix rising from the flames. Whenever Rose had suffered losses and setbacks as a child, her grandmother had urged her to remember the phoenix. ‘Don’t forget, Rosie,’ she’d said, ‘whenever our lives are consumed by fire, it’s an opportunity for us to start again; to build an even better life out of the ashes of the old one. All you have to do is be open to the possibilities that present themselves.’

Rose didn’t have to wait for long before she heard the engine and saw the headlights on the horizon. The vehicle was heading west. Rose took up her position by the side of the road.

The vehicle was a van. It pulled up beside her.

The lettering on the side of the van read, ‘Back to the Fuchsia – floral arrangements for every occasion’.

The driver of the van was a woman in her fifties. She had a friendly-looking face and an unruly mop of dark, curly hair streaked with grey. She leant across and opened the passenger-side door.

‘I’m going to Phoenix,’ she said.

‘Me too,’ said Rose.

‘Hop in, then.’

Rose got into the passenger seat.

The air in the van was filled with the scent of freesias and carnations.

Rose was on her way to Phoenix. She had a feeling it was her time to bloom.

(C) Helen Lewis,  2012

On the Whanganui River

I grasp the moment
the way I grasp this paddle –
as lightly as I can,
knuckles still white.

The weight of time
is my ballast –
the ghost of a seal hunter
cutting through ice water.

No glacier-melt here.
The river gorge is a leaking boat
letting in sunlight
to leave me soaking hot.

On the stony sandbank
an installation of
driftwood sculptures
lies artfully abandoned.

Among the tree ferns
and rata vines
cicadas complain incessantly
about the heat.

A harrier hawk rises like a hymn
at the note of my paddle
and then is gone.

(C) Helen Lewis, 2006


The Whanganui River is on the North Island of New Zealand. Here’s a link to a couple of short videos about the canoe journey down the Whanganui. 

Mile 392




punch through

the darkness.

One of my hands grips

the wheel, knuckles white. The other

cradles a cigarette, lifting it to my lips, then

flicking it out of the window in a shower of sparks. I look over my shoulder.

Bobby’s lying down on the back seat. A fly that’s been

buzzing around since Monroe lands

on his upper lip.

He’s smelling





© Helen Lewis, 2011



I wrote this poem during a round of SPARK in response to a song written and recorded by my brother, John. The mood of the poem doesn’t match the mood of the song at all, but that’s the way inspiration rolls sometimes! 😀

Click here to listen to the song.


Meditations on a mountain: five haiku



sunrise paints the slopes

in semi-precious colours

pearlescent with ice



the wind carries the

tang of fresh snow, sends flocks of

prayer flags fluttering



rising up from the

monastery the scent of

sandalwood incense



sunlight glints off prayer

wheels, inscriptions worn smooth by

a million fingers



the mountain’s a sand

mandala, washing away

in the stream of time


© Helen Lewis, 2013



I wrote this series of linked haiku during a round of SPARK, in response to a painting by Cynthia Pailet. See the two together here.


%d bloggers like this: