Tag Archives: free verse

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. 

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The Matrix

 

You know that bit

in The Matrix

where Neo wakes up

on a bunk bed,

head shaved,

cheeks like rice paper?

 

Remember how his fingers

scan the back of his skull

like a child reading Braille

and stop

when they find the hole?

 

That’s when he knows

for certain

he’s no longer dreaming.

 

I keep on feeling

the back of my head

but so far,

nothing.

 

© Helen Lewis, 2006


‘How to…’ or ‘A woman’s guide to flirting’

 

How to send an astronaut into orbit:

            Ask him how much thrust his rocket produces.

                        Tell him he’s go for insertion.

                                    Show him you can perform a docking manoeuvre.

 

How to inflame a fireman:

            Ask him if you can try on his helmet.

                        Tell him you like his hose.

                                    Show him you can administer mouth-to-mouth.

 

How to sweet-talk a chef:

            Ask him if you can toss his salad.

                        Tell him mouth-feel is all-important.

                                    Show him how extensive your menu is.

 

How to hang on to a rodeo rider:

            Ask him if you can ride his bull.

                        Tell him he’s stayed on the longest.

                                    Show him how strong your inner thighs are.

 

How to tie a yoga instructor in knots:

            Ask him how long he can hold it.

                        Tell him you’ve studied Tantra.

                                    Show him your best wide-angled leg pose.

 

How to talk dirty to a health inspector:

            Ask him if he comes here often.

                        Tell him you need scrubbing down.

                                    Show him what you can do with a pair of Marigolds.

 

 (C) Helen Lewis, 2006


Apollo and Daphne

 

Rome in August. Only the tourists and the feral cats are left.

Fugitive from the heat, I take sanctuary in the Villa Borghese.

Beyond its heavy doors, the squeak of trainers and the smell of beeswax.

 

In a wedding cake of a room, a sculpture in white marble:  

A youthful Apollo chases a naked Daphne. As his hand touches her waist

She turns away, arms reaching up, fingers sprouting leaves,

Toes sending forth roots, bark closing around her legs and hips.

 

This binary star pulls me in to its orbit.

As I circle my perspective shifts.

 

Now the bile of Daphne’s revulsion rises in my throat.

Now the softness of her belly gives way beneath my fingers.

 Now my skin tightens and scabs over.

 Now my fingers are pinched between closing layers of bark.

 Now I’m high with the sugar-rush of rising sap.

 Now I breathe in the warm, woody scent of bay leaves.

 

I stop.

Below Daphne’s feet words are carved into the plinth –

Mediaeval graffiti ordered by a fat cardinal:

‘Pursuing earthly pleasures always ends in tears.’

An object of passion and beauty ten million years in the making

Reduced to a sound bite in Latin.

 

I close the cover on my mental notebook.

 

In the eternal city

Gian Lorenzo carves scalpel lines in space-time

While I hack away at nothing

With a sledgehammer of words.

 

(c) Helen Lewis, 2009


Pocket money, December 1972

Tom stands on tiptoe

his forearms resting on the counter.

He slides one sweaty palm aside to reveal

the full moon of a ten pence piece

against a black Formica sky.

On the shelves in front of him

constellations of sweets twinkle invitingly:

gobstoppers as big as Jupiter,

liquorice Catherine wheels that suck in light like a black hole,

sherbet fountains shaped like rockets,

a swarm of asteroids masquerading as chocolate raisins,

and coconut mushrooms, modelled on life forms

that float in the syrupy seas of planet Zyx.

‘The usual?’ asks Mr. Bradshaw

pushing his Joe 90 glasses up his nose.

Tom nods.

With a magician’s flourish Mr. Bradshaw produces a bulging paper bag

twirled over at the corners

and palms the coin.

Tom mumbles his thanks and scuffs out,

the door shutting with a clunk

and a clang of the bell.

Outside Tom opens the bag and peeps inside:

a packet of space dust

and two dozen flying saucers.

Tom pops a pink flying saucer in his mouth

and lets it dissolve on his tongue.

A quarter of a million miles above his head

two men get ready to leave the Moon.

 

© Helen Lewis 2011


Old Joe

 

he fills

the underpass with music

gnarled hands coaxing notes

from a battered guitar

 

sometimes

he plays to please the crowd

Free Bird or Smoke on the Water

but mostly he just jams

 

letting his fingers

dance across the frets

letting the music flow

into him and through him

 

every evening

as he walks back to the bridge

he passes the guitar shop

with the Gibson Firebird in the window

 

spotlights pick out

liquid swirls in black and red

frozen beneath a layer of lacquer

as thick as a ten pence piece

 

Joe presses

his palm against the window

and whistles softly

 

the Firebird sits mute

tethered by a security leash

caged behind a window grille

 

while Joe’s old strings

are free to sing

 

(C) Helen Lewis 2011


The Bin Bag of Banishment

 

It’s looking rather full.

 

I’ve crammed in Sunday teatime television,

doctors’ receptionists who treat patients like The Enemy,

owners of yappy dogs no bigger than a gerbil,

the greatest hits of Simon and Garfunkel,

soggy bits of celery in soup,

anyone who believes armed conflict is a sane way of solving a dispute,

sentences that start, ‘With all due respect…’,

insurance,

cockroaches,

Margaret Thatcher’s voice,

people who draw quote marks in the air,

and poetry you need a bloody PhD to understand.

 

I’m going to shove it in the boot

of a clapped-out Ford Cortina

and drive at twenty miles an hour

down the middle of the road

to the scrap yard.

I’m going to crush it in the crusher

over and over

until it’s the size of a walnut.

I’m going to toss it into the ashtray

on the way home.

 

Under cover of darkness

I’m going to creep into my neighbour’s garden

and feed the scrunched-up morsel

to his goat.

 

And in due course

the contents of the bag

will become

literally

what they’ve always been

metaphorically.

And then

 

I’m going to smile.

 

(c) Helen Lewis 2006


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