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Hartley's Boat               House

         The Island           On Shyness


Hartley's Boat


Last night I saw my brother float away,

his ashes in a boat we’d made

from tissue-paper and bamboo.


He shilly-shallied on the first few waves

as if he didn’t want to go,

as if he wasn’t keen on such black water.


In some of the rehearsals,

the boat had come back to us,

curving round in a huge arc to the shore.


We’d practised for months

using sugar then sand then gravel,

refining the shape,


adding a keel,

adjusting the pin-hole so it would sink

in five to ten minutes.


My brother’s daughters

carried him down to the lake,

cradling him in turn,


placed a candle inside to light his way.

It was dusk

when they let him go.


Jennifer Copley

Highly Commended, Mirehouse Poetry Competition, 2007






The back of the house doesn’t see you

walk up the path, nor does my father

who has waited by the dustbins nightly for weeks

to catch us together.


When he thought we were kissing

he would bang on them,

tell me to come in straight away,

the house needed to be locked.


The house wasn’t worried.

It liked the feel of us

crushed between ivy and porch,

making a nest in your duffel coat.


The windows approved of us,

our wobbling reflections,

the way we moved together

letting moonlight touch both our faces at once.


Now the door welcomes you with a big red smile.

The step has warmed itself specially.

We sit there in the sun,

spooning frothy coffee into each other’s mouths


while my father and briefcase are at work.

The house winks as my mother pulls down a blind

then lets it up again. A bird flies off the roof

and settles on my hair.


Jennifer Copley

1st prize, Ottakar’s and Faber National Poetry Competition, 2006

in collection Unsafe Monuments,  2006,

Arrowhead Press, ISBN 978-1-904852-13-1





The Island


When I came here last, I was young.

Uncle Jack brought me in his boat.

He rowed for a while, then I rowed.

The water was helpful,

the oars moved easily through it.


When we got here, the shore was covered

with small shells, many broken.

We broke more with our feet

crunching around.

Uncle Jack took off his shoes.


The sun went down in a skirt of red

as we sat on a bench. I wanted to skim stones

but Uncle Jack said sit a bit.

Up close, he stroked my back,

said I was a good girl,


slipped his fingers under my shirt.

The blue of the lake turned grey as my socks.

He took off his coat.

It said Pure New Wool on the breast pocket

where he slid his glasses.


Jennifer Copley

published in Lancaster Litfest. Anthology, 2005,

ISBN:0954088085;in collection Unsafe Monuments, 2006

Arrowhead Press,  ISBN 978-1-904852-13-1





On Shyness


My mother was shy,

my father was shy,

I am shy.

Everywhere I look for shyness,

catch it in the flick-fin eyes of fishermen

or the lowered gaze of mariners

who run away to sea to be shy because

the sea, though you would not know it,

is very shy. Its waves hide behind each other

when bold feet come splashing.


The wind is shy but birds are not shy.

Brassnecked, they fly where they please

and the wind, being shy, has no idea

how to shoo them away.

On the whole, animals are not shy

with the exception of horses—

so insanely shy, they shie from everything.

Hiding inside their glossy coats,

forced over jumps and along busy roads,

all they want is to be back in their meadows.


I met an executioner once.

He was extremely shy.

He hid behind his black mask,

wore black gloves on his shy fingers,

whispered to me that he was sorry

but he had a job to do.

In a little while, he said,

you will walk on the sea shore

among the calm, clear pebbles

who are the unshy eyes of the dead.


Jennifer Copley

2nd prize, Academi Cardiff International Poetry Competition, 2007


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