poetry pf header


home> poets> Anne Stewart>more poems

Sylvia Rowbottom      about Sylvia      back to Sylvia's page

events listing


home button poets button features button

links button shop button about ppf button email ppf button


last update:      

Life Measurements               The Cellist

         Family Likeness           Checking the Thread


Life Measurements


I have always been a good judge of small distances,

reach to shelf, hem to waist, bedfoot to the wardrobe door;

an accurate pie-divider, puddle-jumper, assessor

of the lifespan of the only toilet roll.


Not only I.


My sister put on lipstick without looking.

A modest outline but it never strayed—

it was so useful in the dark.

And she would sing out A’s, as many as required

to tune her ’cello to.  Her perfect pitch hung in the air

until the tightenings and releasings were complete.


I threw a florin once from off the Prom

into a bucket miles out on the beach.  When it dived inside

I thought My God, I’m someone after all !


Sylvia Rowbottom

first published in Smiths Knoll, 38, 2006





The Cellist


When all Dad’s jobs were bombed, he learned the saxophone—

in just three weeks—the Sheffield Empire had a vacancy by then.


I’d sit with him and listen, and report my findings from the chesterfield.

‘Better?’ he’d say.  I’d say ‘Oh yes, it sounds much better now’.


The thing would scream and squawk and crack and bray,

day after day.  I’d say ‘Yes, Dad, that bit was really, really good.’


One day the notes began to roll—solid globules floating out,

quivering but holding, rising up and breaking just in time.


He played and played.  I did not say a word because relief

was filling up my ribs until they hurt.  Now we were safe.


Sylvia Rowbottom

first published in Brittle Star, 13, Spring 2006





Family Likeness


Watching her interview on video

My office colleague was required to say

Were her responses apposite or no ?

How she ‘observed herself’ and in what way ?

‘I could not answer them’ she said ‘But only stare,

I did not see myself, it was my Mother there.’


My daughter and myself are not alike

In feature, colour, shape of head, or hair

The most observant artist could not strike

The slightest likeness from this disparate pair.

And yet my colleague said ‘Go to the foyer, do,

A smaller version of yourself is there for you.’


I have a tiny snap—its amber sheen

Obscures a young girl sitting on the prom

Nothing remarkable about the scene

Yet when I look at it odd feelings come

Time’s sequences have engineered a small escape

It is my mother sitting in my daughter’s shape.


This ghostly dispositioning of limbs

Identical displacements of the air

Are sharp adjustments as the likeness dims

Keeping identity in good repair,

A skeletal recall maintains our gestures true

Our children’s children’s child will move as now we do.


Sylvia Rowbottom

first published in Staple, 49, Winter 2001





Checking the Thread


‘The world at a distance is best’ said the boatman, prising a star from his net,

travelling it up between finger and thumb to rest on a ledge with the others.


No sound in his movement, the nets took all noise to themselves,

muffling into their delicate lattice the undisturbed hubbub of years.

Sweeping over the boatman’s knees and my knees, layering the warm boards

waistdeep in places, swooping up walls, rooting at oak studs struck in at

differing levels, hammocking under the roof.  Only the door and the floorswing clear.


He raised the first fold on his nails.  Yard after yard rode his finger-ends,

bright in the door-light, sun squinting and blinking, crazy with chequered joy,

netting his lighted face, leaping and swerving, joking the walls.


Manweb, threaded air tesserae, fluid as seawater, smelling of life before death.


‘This one’s done’.  He lowered the heavy folds down and stood up.

Freeing his feet, he swept the stars into the cup on one hand and

carefully stepped to the door, raised the cup and flung the stars clear of the wall.

They swung up and down in the sea’s oily lap, then turned like a little flotilla

and swam for the sky


He watched, forgotten hand curved at his neck, as he always did,

to see what the stars did.


Sylvia Rowbottom

first published in The Rialto, 57, Spring 2005


© of all poems featured on this site remains with the poet
site feedback welcome