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Grasmere Oak               The Word for Snow

         The French for Death           Litton Mill


Grasmere Oak


Since there’s no blind, the tree outsides

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 worlds 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 landscapes 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 valleys arm,

pin down the light, headlock the air

until theres nothing left of it at all.

Watch how the leaves balance the sky,

then let it fall.


Helen Mort

in pamphlet collection, Lie of the Land, 2010,

The Wordsworth Trust




The Word for Snow


The Inuit have twenty-two words

for snow, I told him, but he didn’t want to hear,

didn’t raise his head from the bowl of dough,

thumbs kneading flour in a frenzy.

The lawn was freezing over, but the air stayed

empty and I wondered how the Inuit

would name this waiting—

the radio playing to itself in the bathroom,

the sound from the street of

ice-cream vans out of season

in this town where we don’t have


twenty-two words for anything,

where I learned the name

for round hills built on plastic

and bothered by seagulls, the bridge

where a man was killed in the strike

and where they want to put street lamps

to keep away the kids.

From the window, I watch

the sky as it starts to fill. In the kitchen,

dad sifts flour, over and over

as if still panning for something. 


Helen Mort

in pamphlet collection, the shape of every box, 2007,
tall-lighthouse, ISBN No. 978-1-904551-29-4





The French for Death


I trampled ants for kicks on the quay at Dieppe, dawdling

by the desk where they wouldn’t take yes for an answer;

yes, it was our name and spelled just so –

we shook our heads at Moor and Maud and Morden,

dad traced phonetics in Oldham’s finest guttural.


Rope swung from the captain’s fist

and flayed the water. I saw him shudder, troubled

by a shift of air or a vision of our crossing: glower of thunder,

the lurch and buckle of the ferry, a thick Alsatian

with a face like Cerberus ushering us in to port


and I looked him in the eye, popped my bubblegum,

a child from the underworld in red sandals

and a t-shirt made by Disney, not yet ashamed

by that curt syllable, locked, cold to the tongue,

its hush of the morgue, not yet the girl


who takes the worst route home

pauses at the splayed mouths of alleyways

and looks straight past you as we kiss, as if to pick out

small behind your left shoulder, the spindle of a shipwreck,

prow to a far country.


Helen Mort

published in anthology, Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, 20th Anniversary, 2007, The Poetry Society





Litton Mill


Hold me, you said,

the way a glove is held by water.

Black, fingerless, we’d watched it

clutch a path across the pond,

never sure if it was water or wool

that clung fast. The mills are plush apartments now,

flanked by stiff-backed chimneys

and you ache for living voices,

the clank and jostle of machinery,  

for something to move in this glassy pool

where once, you were the waterwheel,

I, the dull silver it must

catch and release

as if it can’t be held.


Helen Mort

in pamphlet collection, the shape of every box, 2007,

tall-lighthouse, ISBN No. 978-1-904551-29-4


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