Helen Bailey

Helen Bailey writes poems to record and fiction to explore. These five recent poems all begin with H.

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Halfway down the stairs

My father’s third and final wife
said he felt guilty every single day
for leaving us

I resented her for telling me about him
how to love him, that I should love him
and for protecting him against us

For years I had carried him
in the lining of my coat
inbetween inside/outside
carefully not touching my skin
while I held in my arms
my mother, my sisters

One day he rang
heard my doubtful voice
flattened onto the stairs
comforted the torn edges
of my not exactly lie

And for a moment I felt his pain




it was snowing – thick soft flakes riding in on the rain
crows sat sodden
hanging about in the black poplars
down by the river
i walked in it when it was still rainfelt lucky in my coat, my boots
to walk around in the weather
to be outside, be outside

on the opposite bank a muddle of green tents
couldn’t see at first what they were
tucked on the lea side of the industrial estate
i mistook them for equipment
and then stared at them for a while
looking for inhabitants
someone to wave and say hi how you doing
like happy campers
it was all quiet and dark
the tents were sodden
by the black poplars down by the river
i, lucky, walked away.




In your house, you move around me
leave extra space, wide pathways

thin layers of awkwardness coat us
gold leaf of misapplied friendships
misjudged gifts

Being slightly under, underbeing
where more is required I bring less
where less is more I overheap the table

using the wrong cloth – leaving the wrong stains
overhearing an underground breath
wearing the chill of change

reading a clock and saying the wrong time
slightly disjointed out of kilter sightline
seeing the wrong things

Disapproval skims my shoulders, heavies my arms
cools my skin – old cobwebs catch eyelashes
drop dust in my eyes

I mistrust my desires, quiet my instincts, hide in skin
my tongue trips in my mouth, teeth glare

A disappointing friend tries to align the soap exactly in its place
tries to leave no trace

Here, now, I am too big for this room.



hard as nails

what do you do
when your nails are too long to type
and you’re too worried about modern slavery
to go to a nail bar –
you learn how to use
your hands at a different angle
as if each nail is the hoof of a show pony
lifted high but then flattened out like a trotter
tapping the keys like miss piggy
nails are hooves and hooves are nails
an argument my dad used at the vets
whilst trying to procure hoof powder
to stop his nails splitting
you haven’t got a horse have you
said the receptionist finally putting the powder
back behind the counter
walt whitman probably never worried about his nails
whilst sam shepard probably had his bitten off by a horse
or a mean prairie dog



Here East

I set out when the sky was black
and could have gone either way
Panniers full of recycling
anything to make a difference
Cygnet clouds sitting thick on a breeze

The river surface shredded green
from a couldn’t careless dredger
I sailed the towpath, counting
moored boats, reinventions
upstart cafes, gleaming signs
Here East

is deserted Olympic designed-by sprawl
like a modern 60s housing estate
before everyone has moved in and planted
washing lines of chips and bacon
dog barks, fallen bikes
toggles, goggles, bits of swimmer

On the way home by the blue bridge
A man conducts his phone conversation with a finger
On my little daughter’s life I ain’t no bully bruv
I know that Kevin is nothing but I wouldn’ push him

A circular saw cuts his words
as a column of dog walkers
swarm over the bridge holding back reining in
as if one rushing dog would have them all in
two swans glide underline
and children are sprung from school

Thunder rumbles a warning
rain spits on my face
on my little daughter’s life


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