Three poems from Helen Mort’s new pamphlet, Lie Of The Land

Helen’s currently Poet In Residence at The Wordsworth Trust up in Grasmere. Her new pamphlet, Lie Of The Land, is just out and I’m lucky enough to be able to post three poems from it today:

Grasmere Oak

Since there’s no blind, the tree outside’s
a curtain on your room, the yolk-bright mornings
breaking through. Last night, its shadow seemed
the only thing between you and the leaking dark,
the rain set loose and needling the bark.
Look close. Its leaves direct the wind.
Your world’s veiled by a moving thatch –
this is the way a hunter squints through grass,
a hide-and-seek cheat peers over their hands,
a girl looks up from underneath her fringe.

This is the landscape’s hidden hinge
where all things start and peter out:
the summers you were blind to, winters when
the tree gave back the tin-roof coloured sky,
the small, white knuckle of a distant farm.
These branches force the valley’s arm,
pin down the light, headlock the air
until there’s nothing left of it at all.
Watch how the leaves balance the sky,
then let it fall.

Coffin Path

Who’d jog along the Coffin Path?
Most evenings, only me,
head-down, hurrying to be gone,

running between the huddled trees,
the boulders streaked with rain,
the bowed heads of the ferns,

on stones worn treacherous
by centuries – men shouldering
the dead from Ambleside.

Today, the dark’s grown courteous,
the shadows seem to step aside
to let me pass,

just like that summer afternoon
in Cambridge, when a hearse
gave way to me near Jesus Lane

and I sprinted on, noting the driver,
black-capped, glancing at his watch,
certain he’d overtake before too long.

Common Names

Somewhere, there is a spider called Harrison Ford,
another genus known as Orson Welles. The ocean’s full
of seahorses who take their names from racing champs.
Above our heads, a solitary Greta Garbo wasp takes flight.

Each day, someone adopts a killer whale or buys
a patch of moon only to call it Bob and last night,
watching meteors sail drunk across the Grasmere sky,
you told me there are minor planets christened

Elvis, Nietzsche, Mr Spock. So forgive me if I looked up
past your face, to see those nearly-silver drops
make rivers in the dark, and, for a moment,
thought there might be stars named after us.

For more on Helen’s writing, readings and details on her previous publications visit her website

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