Poetry by Pauline May


It’s this winter sunrise spiking my eyes as I drive.
It’s morning’s red-fingered goriness dazzling, as
I pull the sun shield down and try to look directly
ahead and keep a straight course.

It’s naked day lifted from the bleeding sky,
smacked on the back, bawling.
It’s kick-started winter dawn.

It’s cotton ball clouds swabbing up
the day’s possibilities.

And it’s always here, in the dip, on this rollercoaster
road that the climbing sun stabs my eyes –
just past the grass bank where the herring gulls
do their worm-stamp dance.

It’s from the astonishing north east – that low spotlight
of winter’s glare, watching the day draw breath.

It’s really true, like they say, my father had said.
Dying‘s like being drawn towards the warmest, most
welcoming tunnel of light.
After, they hauled him back, after
that third heart attack. So his jazz
beat beat again, like a novelty joke, until his eye
grew monstrous-Cyclops, bite by bite
eating his schemes and body
bit by bit.

It’s already in work’s car park that my motor
self-checks in, as dawn’s after-image
blurs my eye and the husk of this day’s prospects
wears indistinctly thin.


No trouble. No strife. Just delicious tranquility
that trickled into her skin. Mary commanded a core of calm
inside her very own maelstrom.

But she always knew that you can’t have the eye
of a storm without the storm itself. And so there it was –
an impalpable typhoon circling within the red brick walls
of her spell bound back yard.

From experience she knew the importance of donning
an eye mask and ear plugs to step through that whirlwind wall
of nagging-necessities, that swirl of insecurities. Or sometimes
she’d just put a sack over her head
and pass through by
hoodwinking herself.

Once inside
the nucleus of peace was hers.
Not a high. Not a low. But an equilibrium
humming out it’s time, as moment cowslipped into moment.
A serenity with fragrant-shine, perfect as an egg.
She was at heartsease in her space,
singing in Sweet Williams’ essence, held within the skylark’s song,
touching the soul’s weight.

The neighbours just thought she was eccentric
and avoided her and her backyard.
And Mary would never tell or share. Everyone would want a piece.
There’d be no end to it. There would be an irrevocable
breach of Mary’s peace


Up the cracked garden path, the moss whispering
under foot, you both pass the pyracantha
and reach the metal cylinder on its tripod,
all ready. The shed, morning holly trees
and old sky-tugging swing all wait.

Now don’t look at the light directly, Ella

Your stony hands that ground the telescope lens
night after work after night stroke
the now baby-smooth glass. Good job done.

I’m doing it already, Dad, with the iPad.

You force a smile towards the coming
one point of stillness. Birds stop their songs
as the moon shifts and begins to swallow the light.

C’mon, Ella! Our refractor telescope! Look! It’s amazing.

An all in a sigh shadow brushes past your held
breath and black fear that makes a stammer.
The moon sinks yellow. Your stars twist.

Not fussed, Dad. You made it. You use it.

You see the light held halo inside
the sky’s dark movement, as the flesh
of three heavenly bodies fuse for a fraction,
before the day regathers her poise
and moves on.


The Winter Moth airstrikes my table lamp.
Soft brown powder wings hitting
light hard. Sensual and vulnerable, drawn to
the flame that will consume it.
Self destruction. Guilty as charged.

Deftly caught within my tea towel and carried to
the window, which I quickly open up to
let it go, free into the black night to
find its mate, its rightful spark.
I draw the curtains so no light will show.

Owl-like, the night glides silently, under the
gibbous skew-whiff moon, as the trees’ bare
fingers weigh the sky. And Solstice darkness comes
too soon, when all good moths dream in cocoons
of brightness and of flying high.


You lie on your final bed,
strangely placed in your lounge.
I sit by you, rigid,
and slowly hold your hand.

Sometimes you drift away from me
and sometimes you just squeeze
my hand imperceptibly
in that hard place between
that end and now.

Our hands are identical:
same cuticles, knuckles and nails,
only yours are more crooked
with age and work;
old hands at being old hands.

At school your left hand was ruler-rapped,
guilty of writing with the wrong hand.
Hands that later sparkled at shorthand.
Hands that later typed at such speed.
Competent dab hands,
office sleeved.

Your hands are in my hands
but they’re also on the march.
I hear them fumbling down the chimney.
Now they’re sweeping up the hearth.
They’re scratching at the window
and rubbing at the smears.
They scurry out into the seed-beds
and start worrying the weeds.
Fingers point at the light switch
to jab away the pain.
Now they’re tickling the clock hands
and wriggling the time.

Your hands were always busy
and are close at hand just here.
I hold your hands in my hands.
I must let go, I understand.
I hold your hands in my hands
and I know I must let go now
and give you a free hand.



About the contributor

Pauline May Poetry: Pauline lives in Sunderland with her husband, son and cat. She has worked extensively in education and across child protection, special educational needs and drama in education. She enjoys performing at spoken word events across the north east.

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