Contents
Maths
Whitesands Bay
Leavings
Platform 2 - Southbound
Tattoo
The shedding of sequins
Brocken Spectre
Viroconium
Artefact
Mote & beam
Room 104
Astrocytoma
Basic principles of marine navigation by d a moore
The Mercedes
Harmony, Pembrokeshire
Quadrat
Shelter
Neglect
Troupe
Illuminated manuscript

Maths

Mountain light, Jordan

How these girls love to learn –
scarved heads bent over books,

numbers in rows, columns,
pencilled lines, neat courage

underlined in blueblack
ink – each drop guarded, eked

out – all of them adept
now in the market place;

the next step, forbidden
territory, calls on

diligence, abstract thought,
deducing the unknown –

algebra – we teach this
at our peril, the death

threats hiss in my pocket,
fisted to crumpled flame;

my flock of swallows waits,
we begin as always

with what we think we know –
apricots, figs – assign

symbols, equate harvest
with rainfall, solve simple

partnerships, chalk on board,
damp rag around my hand;

no notes, only the swoop
as thought soars when the link

takes hold, the spark ignites,
another world unfolds

as though pistachios
opened up to show sky

ablaze with mapped out stars
too numerous to count.

Helen Overell
Other Poetry April 2008, Poetry SE Anthology 2010, Thumbprints 2015

 

Whitesands Bay

Seascape, North Wales

e + 1 = 0

We talked about poems – how you
could see only words jam packed
in a near to meaningless
jumble – then we walked along
the swirling lace edged margin
of the sea looking for shells,
finding barnacles, limpets,
ruby sea anemones,
wave pounded pebbles rounded
to silken smoothness – chunky,
humbug striped, mottled, seal gray
slate aerofoils and these you
skimmed across the shallows in
one fluid half twist motion
that set them dolphin leaping.
We sat then mesmerised by
the sweep of sky, the ebb and
flow of the incoming tide
until you took a pebble,
wrote swiftly in the sand "e
to the i times pi, plus one
equals zero" in a bold
and cursive hand, turned and
"That" you said "is a poem".

Helen Overell
Other Poetry Aug 2003, Inscapes & Horizons 2008

 

Leavings

Autumn leaves

That sky – washed apricot
deepening to tangerine,

sgraffito branches –
black as depths of nothing –

reaching above us, each twig
template for a tributary.

Seeped light warms
the path of flinted chalk,

the scattered stones. Edges
blur to curved coverings.

We stand in the still of dusk,
tucked in the rind of the world.

Helen Overell
Acumen Jan 2011

 

Platform 2 – Southbound

Snape

Invest in the world's number four announced
the hoarding in bold black on flat white,

the rest of the board glistened, a man climbed
up a wooden ladder, held a broom

that dripped, a paper scroll that he unrolled,
brushed into place, abutted edges,

economy; down at ground level, words
wrinkled, bubbled, were eased away, coaxed

smooth, before it becomes, the stopping train
obscured my view, asthmatic doors urged

the carriages to trundle on, the world's
number one economy
, the clue

italicised in leaf green, lower left,
China, – I saw tea, porcelain, silk,

factories peopled in bruised tunic blue,
students mown down in a city square.

The man could have stepped back, read the writing
on the billboard, his eyes growing wide,

he might have scratched his head, thrown up his hands,
turned on his heels, faced the passengers,

looked them over, played to the gallery –
head caught between rungs, cue for Hardy,

playing to his Laurel, to lumber on,
in gray-scale, bowler-hatted, tackle

the predicament, swing round, trip over,
arms flailing, wedge him across the track,

railroad blues, honky tonk loud, played full speed,
quick wit combined with muscle power

just enough to avert catastrophe,
dusting down, bear hugs, back slaps, deep bows –

instead, he shouldered tools, grabbed his bucket,
made for the exit, played it dead straight.

Helen Overell
Staple August 2009

 

Tattoo

Boy's visit

Thirty years his wife
and then she left him –

the red rose on his bicep
all for her, the inked name

decoupled from his days,
church-made promises undone.

The dragon breathing fire –
that's for his eldest grandchild,

the lion wreathed with stars
is for the next one down,

the butterfly, the tiger,
for the twins who look angelic,

the gecko with curled tail
for the youngest, growing fast.

Each creature considered,
chosen by the child,

carried on his shoulders,
cherished with pride.

Now he's found his childhood
sweetheart – the flame still burns –

he's thinking of scrubbing
the writing by the rose,

making way for his first love
on the shadow left in place.

Helen Overell
12th Ware Poetry Competition Anthology 2010

 

The shedding of sequins

Pembrokeshire

A glint of pink on gold,
an insubstantial purple
circle, a deep blue disc,
all small as flung stars,
a tumbled trawl of light;

as though a mermaid swims
between these walls each
night in depths of air more
mountainous than an ocean
swell on a deep-bed trench,

her tail clad in iridescent
scales in every shade of sea;
far more than are needed
here in these white rooms
and so some fall, drift,

settle down; a round eye
winks from the windowsill,
while a cross-eyed stare
tilts from the floorboards
where a glance in a burl

looks out from a world
green with shifts of tide
that skim sky, bruise land;
I could be driftwood cast
aside, a figure in a dream.

Helen Overell
The Languages of Colour anthology 2012

 

Brocken Spectre

Brocken Spectre

As though standing there
on top of the world

in thin air cold as fire
were insufficient cause

for lifted spirits,
the low sun casts

her shadow onto cloud
below, long and tapered,

head imbued with rainbow,
a glory vivid as flame,

as though an angel hovered
there, keeping watch.

Helen Overell
Acumen Jan 2012

Brocken Spectre: magnified shadow of observer cast on cloud or mist, often accompanied by a halo or glory

With thanks to Dympna Pyle for permission to use this photo taken from Red Screes by her husband Leo.

 

Viroconium

Viroconium

Marcus Aurelius Silvanus, ill at ease with northern greens –
moss and grass and hedgerow – finds yellow lichen

on a hawthorn tree in bud where he would rather an olive
stooped to a shouldered sky struck blue in a soak of sun.

Instead, there are top-lit clouds piled in great layered heaps,
underwashed with grays of smoke and stone; chill air

cloaks him and his knees ache with a slow needled burn
fierce as the heat that bakes earth to dust back home.

He looks towards the uneven raised horizon in the west,
where mountain shadow shapes have that unslept,

under-eye hue seen on the pinched, pale face all the children
here seem to share; and these forever whisked away

for fear of greater loss – taken by the hand or called for
in that voice used for a child too close to danger – cariad.

He gives bread to those who fetch twigs, dry gorse to kindle
fire for the furnace that feeds the hypocaust that heats

the floors where he and his fellow men pace and eat and bathe,
curse the bone-seep cold, the unwanted benison of rain,

the lustre of lead, the lure of gold and copper, the coal-dark
stares of women, the iron in the fists of those who trade.

They talk of how the leather-sandalled march on solid road –
straight as dusted sunlight, paved, with chiselled milestones

and wayside stations – wins over track and byway, every time;
how city-dwelling – drains and ditches, walls and ramparts –

has to be the future; and hiraeth shifts – his bruised heart begins
to mend, the tight band in his throat eases, hunger strikes.

Helen Overell
Published in "Current Archaeology" in September 2012

cariad: Welsh: my love, dear one
hiraeth: Welsh: homesickness

 

Artefact

Artefact

An ancient flat stone
     chiselled into life –

two men plough a field,
     using two yoked cows –

one man walks behind,
     he wields a long stick,

the other, in front,
     holds a branch with leaves.

Scholars muse for hours –
     The stick strikes the cows,

drives the beasts that drag
     the plough that makes drills

in the field; the branch
     with leaves? who can say?

Then in Spain one day
     a learned scholar

sees two old men plough
     using two yoked cows,

one long stick, one branch
     with leaves – the first man

waves the branch to keep
     flies away, to swish

leaf cool air around
     the working beasts' eyes,

the other pauses
     at each furrow's end

scrapes the plough blade clean
     with his long stout stick.

Helen Overell
Shortlisted in the Bedford Open Poetry Competition 2011, Thumbprints 2015

 

Mote & beam

Mote & beam

Too close for comfort,
shoulders braced,

they stand nose to nose
with jutted chins,

he mirrors her, lower
eyelid stretched

open, held in place
with one finger,

his look intent and
all the while

he gives a running
commentary Over

this way, down a bit,
up, left, just there,

and points to his own eye
while she reaches

into hers towards the speck
she cannot see,

her eye watering, her mouth
a ruled line

that opens to an O
when the mote is gone,

she blinks, they step
apart, an arm's

length and years between
them now, his face

unlined, hers weary, the air
no longer silvered.

Helen Overell
Published in Poetry News 2011

 

Room 104

Room 104

104 Endwell St, Brockley SE4

Outside in the street,
that suburban rumble,
slipped knots of blurred sound –
buses, cars, bicycles, footsteps –
on a scraped sub-track of ever-stopping trains;

here, in the shop-front window,
three roundels in deep blue,
depicted saints – may the person
and the spirit always walk together
;
curved loops, in green and red and gold,
map a meditative path towards the centre
and this haloed with rounded petals as a rose;

beyond the plate-glass, an inner wall
glimmers white and grey –
the woman, robed and veiled,
starts up in a spill of woven light,
arms raised, fingers outstretched, her face tilts
towards the heavens, looks beyond the frame,
in the foreground, one bare foot meets the floor;

in the doorway, the still as of tall trees,
within, the wedged breadth unfolds –
the song of icons in filtered glass,
inner clarity held in watercolours,
pieced images, in layers, refract and reflect, reveal
and shelter, illumined by windows into the heart,
hushed words resonate from a laminated page

in this threshold space
where there is room
for a deep well of silence –
channel for many faiths –
in amongst the motley shouldered coffee-mugs.

Helen Overell
commissioned for the Windows into the Heart
exhibition at Room 104 Brockley May 2013

 

Astrocytoma

Astrocytoma

for FG

The moon's in hiding,
pared to the rim of a fine
porcelain bowl,

the far edge
cloaked by a swirling
skim of steam.

The girl, pale
as dregs of day, her face
round as the clock

on the wall that inches
time, grasps the deep
flat-based spoon

in the hand that obeys
thought, scoops, leans in, sips
the comfort of mushrooms.

Her throat, in training,
swallows, warmth trickles
through her bones.

She is enfolded
in the quiet of stars,
has returned again

from the onslaught
that seeks to oust the dark
clutch of overgrowth

lodged within her head
that undoes her walking, puts
her days on hold.

Helen Overell
published in Antiphon December 2012, Thumbprints 2015

 

Basic principles of marine navigation by d a moore

Basic principles of marine navigation by d a moore

The bookmark charts a patchwork sea – Cromarty,
Rockall, Bailey – the minded page describes
chronometers in gimbals protected from wrong
winding by a tipsy ratchet.

There are chapters on the geometry of spheres,
their parallels of latitude, meridians of longitude,
the phases of the moon, the predicted nature and
rise and fall of tides.

Diagrams elucidate the ellipse followed by the earth
around the constant sun, sidereal time as mapped
on the constellation of Aries, the use of a sextant
for measurement of angles.

There are calculations on the mean solar day and
solutions for the problem of accumulated seconds.
There are instructions on how to plot a course,
assess margins of error.

The words float on an ever moving swell, bright
as pin-point plankton in phosphorescent green;
the ocean teems with whorled mathematics
quicksilver bright.

Helen Overell
published in The Interpreter's House June 2013

 

The Mercedes

The Mercedes

for VS

already old as the African hills
when given to her father
as part of his annual pay
in the days he worked at the paper mill –

each journey a slow,
stately, considered trek –
and when he passed on,
handed over to a farmer who was known

to be gifted in all
the ways and inner
workings of engines, outer
matters of tyres and chipped paint, called

into new life, driven
the while, as well-befitted,
with dignity and decorum,
by the Zulu driver, now an aged man

who, she is told, retired
well into his eighties, his gift
the key – overcome, he sank
to the ground, I have no power he said.

And the great machine
dwells in his village,
polished, every Saturday,
without fail, to a dazzle of a gleam;

she hears how the whole
family, dressed in Sunday
best, is carried to Church, then
on to the Spar for the weekly shop, the low

hum of the laden car
content as any burdened
in the long lull of a life,
the deep bass notes a wordless Hallelujah.

Helen Overell
commended in Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2012, Thumbprints 2015

 

Harmony, Pembrokeshire

Harmony, Pembrokeshire

We see two men seated mid-slope
on a blue tarpaulined roof,

we travel closer, another crouches
on scaffolding at run-off height –

the gutter clings, tenacious, the rain
could slide in sheets at any moment –

one more pours from a Thermos flask,
mugs are handed round as though

all four were perched on boulders
on a hillside, ankle-deep in heather,

instead of being half-way to heaven,
within sight of the ever-present sea;

we drive on past the gable end
where the name – Harmony Chapel

stands out above the tall double
doors for all to see; beyond, tomb-

stones – inscribed slate, chiselled stone – tilt
together in good-natured rows,

then a handful of houses, nothing more;
the sky like a sail billowing in the wind,

held fast by the ridge of the blue
tarpaulined roof, sheltering the men,

those indoors, the children playing
hide-and-seek, the bones asleep.

Helen Overell
commended in the Cinnamon Press Single Poem Competition 2013, Thumbprints 2015

 

Quadrat

Quadrat

An infinity of sky, and the moor an ocean of heather,
and in the space framed by the low throw of a quadrat –

the tread of a path, spaghnum moss, tufted sheep's tail grass,
yellow tormentil, rust-red sundew, ghost-green lichen –

a tapestry so detailed, each stitch, observed through a hand lens,
opens the way into the needle’s eye, the world within.

Helen Overell
published in Scintilla 17, Thumbprints 2015

 

Shelter

Shelter

At first it was only a game –
dragged from sleep by the sirens' wail,
rushed under the stairs by her mother,
squeezed in with her brothers, and one
dared to draw on the wall –
soldiers with bayonets.

It went on, so men dug a pit
at the garden's end, put a roof in place,
piled all the earth on top, there were beds
in the Anderson shelter, slick
smells of damp concrete, mud –
water oozed in, sleep fled.

No end in sight – the Morrison
fitted indoors, made of metal, a sturdy
over-sized table with draw-down mesh
walls against shrapnel Only Hitler
throwing his pots downstairs

her father would say,

his arms around them and
that saw them through; after, the grassed
mound outside – mountain, castle-keep,
ship's crows-nest – her look-out, hands
as telescope, all along the back
gardens whose boundary,

the embankment, had saved them,
lifted the snarl-silenced doodlebug over
the tracks to make ghosts on the other
side – the thud worse than thunder,
sudden trains in the night,
her heart pounding, after.

Helen Overell
shortlisted for the Frogmore Poetry Prize in 2014, Thumbprints 2015

 

Neglect

Neglect

Tumbled walls, the drizzled sheen of scattered
hand-hewn stone, thistles as flame in the hearth,

troubled sky for a roof, the door that kept
outside from straying in, skim-thin imprint –

all those faces and footfalls, outstretched hands,
that ever passed through to bring news indoors,

handfuls of kindling, gleanings of oatmeal,
or else, caught fast in that threshold, sob-tight

under a flock of stars, bairns hugged and held,
rifle-butt stumbled out onto turf track.

Helen Overell
commended in the Poetry Society Stanza Competition in 2014

 

Troupe

Troupe

for VS

And, on a beach in Spain,
you watch a trio hone skills
exact as the angle of a wrist,
handclasp, foothold, the pivot
and strength of a leap, the grace
and poise of sprung resolution;
and the young man, exuberant,
breaks away, steps out onto
the strand in a blur of green,
blue, red – a catch of skittles
plucked from the sky, twirled,
spun into an arc about his head
bright as the scrolled tattoos
on his arms, his face, his back;
and the older one re-aligns
breath with bone, the woman
gathers dance to ease of still,
both sit on the sand, warmed
by the sun, lulled by the sea,
glad to rest – his distant gaze,
her deep dark eyes, from a place
far off beyond reach of time;
and then the routine begins
over again, until the three
think as one, each foot, hand,
step, grip belongs to them all
no drum rolls, just the moves
they live by, their daily bread.

Helen Overell
winner of second prize in The Enfield Poets International Poetry Competition 2015

 

Illuminated manuscript

Rose

There are those who live in the margins,
take shelter hidden in plain sight,

tilt the page, that faint indentation –
the merest outline, there where light

casts an almost shadow – shows nothing
more than a glimpse of someone stood

but a moment since on the page edge
amongst deer, rustled leaves of trees,

breath as hushed as footfall on bare earth,
tugged scrape of thorn catching on sleeve,

grain of vellum easing the knotwork
woven from stems of wild roses

and this refuge filled with bibbed sparrows –
chirruped flit and flutter of wings.

Helen Overell
highly commended in the Ver Poets Open Competition 2017