Helen Angell is a poetry and non-fiction writer based in South Yorkshire. She has had poems published in Route 57, Medea and Esoterica. Winner of the ‘Beats Working’ Music Journalism Bursary at Sensoria Festival in 2017, her music journalism also features in God Is In The TV and Dynamic online zines.
In Clifton Park
They unleash their dogs here,
stones that skim over grass. Ears
erect, long tongues loose.
Passing, we chance smiles. Faces
more hard-bitten stay shut.
On down the avenue where the storm
has stripped the branches raw,
to the gates, and the ivory silence
of the Cenotaph,
where for a month now,
people have replaced poppy wreaths
blown by the wind.
We talk in clichés
about the snow. How it silences
everything, makes even grimy parts
of Newcastle pretty.
And yet, when that first flake fell
like a piece of cotton in a mill
onto my black scarf,
sound spread out its arms
and waited, until I opened
like a soft hand.
They come in four square boxes
bought by my auntie for 50p each
from the carboot sale. Each one
no more than a centimetre deep,
from an era of boxes:
soap, chocolate, hat.
The top one dated chic, a blurry and back-lit
photograph, yellow and pink ferns on black.
Over that, a chain of cut pink roses,
lilac crocuses, an English garden
I flip the lid.
Under a layer of plastic,
pinned and pink-ribboned,
three mounted folds of Irish linen,
labelled in gold Celtic script.
I lift up a corner, unfix
the first bow.
It is the smell of life, trapped.
Quicker than Pandora, I reseal,
close the lid on time, keep the light out,
let no one know I’ve been there.
They have come from the same house clearance,
stored in a lined drawer for Sunday best.
I open the wardrobe,
remove the label from the silk shirt.
Nan at the Jigsaw Table
Your crabbed hands are readied
a finger-stretch from the board,
to weigh a piece,
rotate it between finger and thumb
Then the cardboard click fit
of lobed piece, nose first,
On these Saturday afternoons
I fix upside down skies,
reveal carol singers
immersed in lamplight.
You tell me about the first time
you sat on Grandad’s knee,
“You’ve got legs like Betty Grable,” he’d said,
about your first job at the grocer’s
on Cranworth Road
where you bagged sugar,
about the last time
you walked along Ingoldmells’ beach.
We turn back to the table
and lift new pieces.
On the floor by your feet
two fallen fragments, faces down
blank backs up,
tarot cards waiting to be turned.
On Sunday afternoons Dad would fall asleep
on the settee in front of the football,
heavy in the stink of vegetable farts and stale beer,
breath on the edge of snoring.
His body overlong on the gold velour;
top half serene, a boy, arms folded underneath
the cushion or in prayer on his chest;
bottom half cricked, legs tight in pike,
ankles crossed at the bone in air.
His nubbly feet rub, friction
of black ribbed nylon.
We close the living room door on him.