Archive | Poems


On a lamp-post near the site
of a sudden, modern loss
someone spelt their grief in flowers:
M…U…M –
discomfort in each driver’s path,
desiring only destination,
no in-your-face reminder
of destiny  (‘Destiny? –  No!  Destination’)
of transience, of one who never made it past
snakes and ladders to 99.
A sister, daughter, friend, a wife –
all these things – but one role named.
How selfish our bereavement is.

Nearby, in The Hope & Anchor
a girl sits careless on a likely knee –
death – all gossip to her ears,
hears “last orders please!”
giggling, falls towards the bar –
she’ll not be cold tonight.

The landlord’s wife, framed upstairs,
a reflection, arms wrapped close around itself,
stares from a window back into the night.
“I can see right through you, girl!”
echoes from her past … and now she does.
She recalls a chance once had and lost –
sees, but without recognition;
reads as headlamps in a toy-town distance
her own flickering eyelids’ S.O.S.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010



Like Sunday ritual – lifted respectfully
from the shelf – a heavy tea-tray of a book
opens at one familiar page, laid before me
as anatomy – Africa’s mons pubis,
South America’s flaccid hang.  I trace
my finger across continents and oceans –
swirls of fingerprint glide smoothly over
mountains, forests, deserts.  You are there,
less than a laser dot of ink, and I am
here, under a cross of longitude and latitude.
It’s hard to understand this distance –
how I can span my thumb to little finger
across a line that represents nothing solid –
nothing I could walk into with a bump.
A little like the time you heard yourself described
as ‘middle-aged’ and wondered when
that silent transition had taken place.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010



From the vantage of her ochre mound,
in copse high above Mackey’s Farm,
Fox stared at the giant eye.
It stared back, alert, ready.

Sometimes narrow, a sly squint,
tonight it was round as the tawny owl’s,
the colour of spider-webs,
washed like a pebble.

As a cub, fluffy in the balmy night,
she often stopped in sibling tumbles –
reached for it with her infant paw –
pat … pat …

Now Fox sat, tall and still,
the fields silvered in cool stealth.
She held her breath while a fat moth
zigzagged the surface, a flutter of shadow.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010



Something In the night

… my pen scratches
and he’s moving through
departure lounges like a ghost …
between dimensions.

Leaving lost opportunities,
withering as pot plants on the sill,
he’s leaving for a land of forgetfulness –
exchanging orchards for olive groves.

All he undid by his not doing –
unsaid by his not saying,
comes like a rush, a density of sighs.
Do you hear the beat of this flight,
his aching temples tattooing the air?

I’ll remember him sometimes
when I gaze from my window
at a solitary bird in his melancholy song,
picture him on his strange migration …

and what do you leave this time, my dear –
my sad, quiet watcher of the skies?
What trace will your love find when she wakes,
but a few curled feathers on her silent lawn?

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010


The last big secret

Later, bare feet on the dashboard,
I could have dipped my toes
in the cool screen.
Moonlight cast neon anklets –
it smoothed over my pale skin.

Our shared breath condensed,
we followed the road’s adverse camber,
drawing hearts on misted windows.

I was dreaming of a nameless lover,
he tasted of freedom  – looked like you:
my knight, late in rusty armour …
I’ve travelled the distance in your eyes.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010



If I slid, until my head was under the soothe
of bathwater – lay very still, I believed I could hear
the same burbled plumbing echo as you:
distant music percolating through from another,
waiting world.

My little amphibian, I imagined you
like a pearl to begin.  For a while, a pulsing jelly-fish –
bones building and building within you
like coral – your lungs’ soft sponges.

Then the ultrasound submarine search
found you whole –
your tiny pulsing heart
screened under a KY slide.

I waved to you, windowed in
the secret aquarium of my belly
and thought I saw you
press your face and webby palms against its sides
and smile a bubbly smile at me,

my merman, weaving between umbilical sea fronds.
I was scared for you – delivered onto
this blue-green planet through broken waters –
so afraid of the air to your new lungs.


© Caroline Fox Betts 2010


Things Accumulate

If an astral pilgrim were to ask me
what it’s like to be here,
I would have to say
“Things accumulate”.  Then I’d show him
how leaves in autumn fall to freedom –
I’d explain about soil.

I’d take him to beaches of sand and pebble –
explain about oceans, the action of time.
I’d show him bright rectangles where there hung pictures;
point to webbed veils in disused barns.

We’d trip round a scrapyard where oil-stained puddles
moved as kaleidoscopes under the sun;
I’d explain about rust and name all the lichens.
He might be amazed at the pyramids of tyres,
the involuntary sculptures of twisted metal.

I’d have to explain about house-dust and skin.

I’d show him how papers heap on the table:
bills, invitations, half-written thoughts,
and how some gravestones behind the old church
slowly subside and lean on each other, like
sleepy heads in a long train ride.

It follows I should show him the pictures from Auschwitz –
mountains of shoes and spectacle-frames.
It follows that I should,
but how could I explain?


Winner of the T.S. Eliot prize, University of Kent, 2006

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010


The Greengrocer’s Daughter of Tanner Street

She could munch her way through supermarket aisles
of sweet and savoury, hot and chilled,
filling her cheeks – a worried hamster –
a ritual of mastication, the kind of sugar-shock relief
that once soothed her infant tears, diverting pain
of grazed knee or broken toy.
Saliva flowed like consolation –
only herself to give it to,
sofa-curled, hugging her threadbare pillow, Love,
she rocked roundly, mouthing so familiar lines
in the blue reflected flicker of a film,
the kind where heroines end alone.

Something always nagged for more –
an insatiable fiend of head, not belly.
She ate in the solitude of fridge-light,
chewed a sticky cud of past,
digested all the sour words.
Had there been a husband once?
There was a half-remembered face,
lost under an autumn of wrappers,
or maybe she had eaten him, absentmindedly
in the dark.  She had to have the rings cut off before
they disappeared in flesh, the way a tree grows
over wire, the way her navel vanished in folds.

She swayed magnificently in the street –
a lumber and roll, a bear’s deliberate slow momentum
past windows of clothes she could never fit.
She turned her face, safe within her luscious flesh.
She knew she was a hidden kernel –
heavy fruit of ripe potential.
All she needed was a giant bat.  How she craved
his greedy mouth, his dark enfolding wings.  She saw
the journey, passing through him – her silent, willing
fall to earth, to germinate.  Yes, yes!  Metamorphosis:
a peach tree stretching from long sleep,
its slender branches to the sky.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010


Resurrection by lamplight

It passes quietly in velvet slippers,
this season of hollow oracles.

You walk the rain-glossed streets by night,
away from lights and the bright melee –

crowds with eyes like imploded stars.
None of them smiled.

Your footsteps echo on stone slabs,
desperate for distance, forgetfulness

and shadows cringe in colonic alleys,
shudder in brooding incubation.

I want to help, and dart my hand –
try to catch a flame of reason, flickering and blue,

it passes through without feeling
and I know it’s me that’s losing reason.

The dove you find, dead come morning,
is speaking with its glazed eye.

It fell to your doorstep in frozen dew –
a veil hanging around your home –

a house like a tomb of eroding names.
Wake, wake, the dream is over, and all the needly fingers gone.

See where the missing curtain hook
admits a ray – a lifeline of new possibility.
© Caroline Fox Betts 2010


Camera, Camera

… and this one I found in a bric-a-brac sale,
the Village Hall, some charity thing.
He had it marked at £40 – I knocked him down.
Quite a bargain, a Voigtlander Bessa 66 –
look at the perfect state of the bellows.
Now see a real classic:  the George Eastman
Brownie Kodak – a magic box, I like to think.
You peer into that little window, and there’s the image,
trapped like a tiny thing.

Yes, people often gasp at a whole room lined with cameras.
It just filled up when the wife moved out.
Now this was a rare find:
others would give an arm and leg,
and it’s all mine.  Guess where I found it?
A boot fair.  Under a pasteboard bent with weight.
It started raining.  I had a feeling,
like something was sending out a message.
So I rummaged in this old box, and there it was.
‘How much’, I asked the girl –
baby saddled on her hip, she stood crooked,
looked stupid.  She said, ‘I spose a quid’ll do’.
A quid, a quid!  Can you believe it?
At Christies it would sell for eleven thousand:
the Periphote panoramic, polished nickel, French lens.

Oo, oo, mind how you hold it!
But let me show you the very best:
the Germans knew how to make a camera.
A Leica – issued to the Third Reich.
See the swastika marking there …
most of them have it scratched off.
This must have seen some strange sights.
I sometimes wonder if they’re still in there,
relegated like void emotions.


© Caroline Fox Betts 2010



‘Bubbly blonde’ – do you think that’s alright?
I mean, it’s bleached, but it makes me a blonde –
and it’s what they say in personal columns.
But what about ‘bubbly’, what does that mean?
I suppose it says, full of life.   I am …
after a drink or two.  You’re mad, Sal, my mates all say,
proper mad – a right scream.  (O, Prozac, thank you).
But do they want bubbly, or should I say:
‘Quiet – cooks a good Shepherd’s Pie?’

‘Forty something’ – my age not bust –
but, I’ll say with my chin up: like a good wine,
the home-made, rose-hip kind.
‘Divorced’ – yes, I’d better put that.  Shows I’m free
and not after a lay-by liaison –
not a neurotic and frigid spinster,
or lesbo with sudden change of heart.
Says I might know a trick or two.
(Says I know how the bastards lie,
I’m damaged goods and done some crying).

‘Wltm’ – but who would I like to meet?
Clint Eastwood in a desert storm,
to throw me over the front of his saddle?
Or Steve Martin, to laugh my M&S undies off …
or Robbie Williams to sing me asleep
with his long lashes brushing my cheek?
Yes, yes.  Robbie Williams with his big vibrato.
No, no, scrub that.  Here’s where I need adjectives:
‘kind, considerate, charming’ – ‘clean?’
Clean, yes, it comes down to that
at the end of the day, when I’m turning his socks
by the washing machine.


© Caroline Fox Betts 2010


Darling Dolly

It was Connor’s fault.  Stupid wanker.
I said ‘Connor, no – not without a condom’,
but he wasn’t listening.  He grunted –
it was over – over in the back seat
of a nicked Fiesta.

At first I was scared and Mum did her nut,
but I grew comfy with my big fat belly,
sittin up late in front of the telly – a bag of Walkers’
and watchin how Posh was coping with hers.

It was on the day of my English exam,
and I was screamin my own special language
I can tell you, I ripped the air,
squeezin her head out like a bloomin football.
‘Becks’, I said, ‘Becks, we should call you.’

But Tiny Tears is the name I give her,
my own real dolly with working parts.
The old vinyl one watches from the shelf
with her wonky eye and chewed little fingers.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010



Silence:  flowers bursting
in acres of scarlet –
recalling that ending to Blackadder,
causing a dry catch in the throat –
a slap for your laughter.

A lone trumpet:  more than two minutes –
or less than a moment at the kitchen sink,
when wonder invades,
as through the window, your focus blurs
on a white bird rising, her wings outstretched.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010


What matters

You hurry home, sweating files and protocols – papers to be signed,
and mutter at the hustle of it all.
You turn instead to TV chefs and wannabes, from hunger
for you don’t know what.

But what matters?

Could it be the girl you saw on Walpole Street – a rag-bound chrysalis
of cardboard-cutout dreams, of butterfly-away tomorrows,
passed, by the busy-busy in long-exposure neon streaks?

Perhaps it is the boy who beats his arms around himself in army-issue coat –
warmed by a burning wreckage of a car, his brindle-coloured dog distracted by the sparks
that dance like ruby stars upon an ink-delinquent sky.

Or is it in the rat and piss-stink black, where a trolley-snagged canal
oozes under the train’s clack-clack, and a drunkard gropes on goose-bumped skin?
He tongues her ear and grunts.

What matters?

Photo by Alex Ozga

Photo by Alex Ozga

This.  The ones who had no choice, who ran from what abomination you can’t guess
– sent them running to find, not help, but files and protocols and papers to be signed.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010


What the Waves Say

Come, I know where the sea-glass is
sorted to size and weight by waves
whose voice will fill you –
‘Sh-ore, sh-ore, sh-ore,’ they say with long vowels,
the sea-glass like drops of frozen lemonade.

‘Bladderwrack,’ I say, wanting the sound of it,
salty in my mouth.

Come with me, and I’ll show you where
the chalk that once was shells, laid dense,
crumbles to the sea, which calls it back
with its moon, dune, spume insistent voice –
‘You belong, belong to me.’

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010