4 Pieces by emerging poet Jenny Middleton

THE ORANGES

We’d watch dusk creeping slowly over the hot

Sicilian day. The sky-skin taut and breathing 

warmth, even in darkness, as the orange 

trees were watered, pools forming at their white

painted bark and green fruits bright within grey 

shadows waiting 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 the 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.

NAN’S PIANO

Mahogany quieted 

and waiting. 

We lifted the front panel 

of Nan’s piano out. 

Its dust now 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, 

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. 

STRAWBERRY MARKS

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

shade-less questions. 

Our fingers clutch the stalks, snap

their greenness to song 

staining our fingers indelibly 

and our mouths to blush as we eat

the swelter and sweetness

of day to red memory.

BLUE

Because it is the crush of sky

to water – a horizon of lines 

drawn long and mapping the dittoed 

trail of ships printing waves 

on carbon paper, words

printed to endless echoes

and because it is the soft howl

of saxophone notes lingering 

surging then that pout of lipstick 

butting up against beauty 

its kiss filled with the smudge 

of bitten cornflowers –

their stars flung from night

with the blazing ends of fused indigo. 

And because it is everything 

we ever wanted to say –

without any words. 

Read more from Jenny Middleton work at https://www.jmiddletonpoems.com

About the contributor

Jenny Middleton’s poetry is published in printed anthologies and online poetry sites. She’s a working mum and writes whenever she can find stray minutes between the chaos of family life. She lives in London with her husband, two children, and two lovely, crazy cats.

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