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poems beginning with J by Jehanne Markham

Poems are catalogued alphabetically. Please select a specific section by clicking on the the alphabet above.

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Gently, gently,
Like a dog in the yellow grasses
You slink behind me
Across the skin of fields
Where I am settling the trees
Beneath the clouds.

Gently, gently
Make a mad woman spring forth
Hood my head
Lead me past matted bramble
And droopy columbine
To a place that feels like bed.

from The Captain's Death Soul 1974


The hills of Devon are tight as pincushions
and nearer the streams clatter and splash
over cold boulders, bronze and gleaming.

The bitter beauty of young willows
rise up in clouds of lime green,
welcoming me as they dust the sky.

The white box houses,
the smell of mildew at night.
But I will keep coming back

since my grand daughter lives here
with her skinny six- year -old legs
and her strawberry blonde hair.

My country and hers
melt in the land of dolls,
grass hospitals and dandelions

and in the smiles that fly
from soul to soul in the shy hello
and the hug of our goodbye.



Lightening wakes me, her lilac roots
striking me across the mouth of sleep

and something closes like a pleated skirt
when the legs have finished dancing.

Who blocked that little stammer
of ideas that were tiptoeing out?.

(The white windows of day say nothing)

The heart lies in a strong box,
not vulnerable to electric storms

but I know that love exists
in the humming of your arms about me,

your fingertips sliding down the gold of my hair
like field mice in the sun.

I sleep just below the surface,
just below the water, the ocean,
upside mirror of the day.
I dream of water, a roomful of people,
but I'm sitting in the wrong café.
There is no escape from death
whatever you do or say.
The years are made of paper,
you can bang them flat between your hands.

Now at the dead time when the world is up and running when the phones are ringing and the dish washer is thumping and school is half way through first period and people are waiting to see the dentist flicking through magazines a nervous shiver in the stomach hearing the faint high pitched whine of the high speed drill from the floor above when the receptionist clears her throat drinking her second cup of coffee and there is light music coming from somewhere and beyond the filmy net curtains the traffic has a serious sound to it and buses are revving and gliding over the streets of cities all over England when the washing is hung out to dry and the cows have all been milked long ago when mothers have left their toddlers at playgroup and the tears and the tantrums are no longer thrumming the air when the second batch of loaves is baked and cooling and the first shift are off drinking tea and the long-distance lorry drivers are pulling in to eat eggs and bacon and the full caboosh now is the dead time when the cat sleeps and the birds are silent and the sky is warmed up like silk pyjamas by the pale winter sun now I –

All the footmen are disappearing,
the excitement of presents brought before me,
gifts at the table, vanish.
There's nothing left but the electric stick of the clock
tapping a pathway before me in the dark.
When the poems are shot dead, no one notices.
There's a rustle of shopping bags
or someone on Radio 4 talking about tax relief.
The ghosts slide up and down the bannisters,
mocking me with their dropped eyes,
their see-through bodies.
I hear their shrieks in the flattened voices from the television,
in the rushing air before a tube train.
Creatures forever on their way to execution,
they are my people.

When I wake up shaken and stirred
I can't remember anything beautiful.

Dreams slip off my back like snakes
returning to the undergrowth.

Lightening wakes me, her lilac roots
striking me across the mouth of sleep;

it's not true what I said,
my heart is vulnerable to electric storms.

In the afternoon,
the dead are buried deeper, like coral in the sand.
Maybe the sunlight hangs itself between the curtains,
stretching out to warm the hours.
For a while the flowers are thick with lustre and grace.
I might be consoled by a story or the intimate jewellery of spoken words
but something turns over and falls away;
the twin towers of panic and boredom
rear their sheer sides against the fragile day.

My own mother rings the doorbell
only by now I've lost my ticket to the dancehall
the entrance is one way
in the bowery we eat rose petals
they have no taste colour
they have no taste
colour and sugar are one
I wake up, gone

from Thirty Poems Rough Winds 2004


Give me your head
I will pick out the grit
From your damaged eyes.
I will wash your ears
As though you were a boy.

The blood that leaks from your broken mouth
Will dry across my cheek.
I will burn the insects
In your dreams.
I will build kisses into your bones.

And when you stand
I am breaking
In your wholeness I am breaking
Breaking again and again.

from The Captain's Death Soul 1974


The trees make my throat ache
But the white drive whispers,
"Don't cry! Don't cry!"
The dog barks happily as we arrive.
At the nursery door
Mother has shrunk a bit more
Sadness has eaten into her face.
She cuts the cold meat loaf wafer thin,
The table is laid without his place,
We must eat before her tears begin.

At night in my old room
I hear the rain
And the whining of the cold tap
As mother cleans her teeth.
My child is asleep in bed,
His arms upon the pillow like a wreath.
Only the kind old books seem to know I keep awake
As the stream thickens,
Slapping the fat stones,
Clapping at my grief with glass hands that break.

from Twenty Poems Rough Winds 1999


When the cake rises
When the doctor smiles
When the bus comes
When a south wind prevails
When buds open
When the heart quietens
When fear curls up like a hibernating bear
And you can walk through the woods again.


She comes from the ocean floor,
shells, water, bones.
One miniature heart,
ovaries, womb, kidney,
liver, stomach, spleen;
soft coils and sponges
packed tight as a Christmas stocking.

I want to gulp her in tiny sips,
to bless each button on her dolly coat
and the ginger flame
of her fine spun hair.

Closed lids
like two horizons
sketched in.
She is closed,
not blown shut by trauma
but happily asleep
in the deep lilac
dreams of her first days.

Little deep-sea diver,
when you come up for air,
I'll be waiting.

Unpublished 2011


When the young doctor said
"It's a green stick fracture,"
I imagined a stream between hazel
Thickets and mossy tree stumps;
Young shoots, spring onion green,
Wild narcissi or the frilly collars
Of primroses curling
Over layers of winter leaves.
I almost imagined Pan, with his smooth
Muscular torso and unashamed goat legs
Blowing down my ear,
Softly and sweetly as the slippery laugh of a stream
Or the gloopy tete a tete of wild birds.
Not this place of modernity and dereliction,
Everything grubby, worn before.
Formica counters, the backs of computers,
Polystyrene cups and yellow plastic rubbish bags –
Disposable Sharps Only –
Water leaks into a bowl beneath a sink.
In the next cubicle
A woman faints out of her shoes.
Where are the green sticks now?
Once I was cantering under the trees
Pretending to be a horse myself,
Tapping my leg with a hazel switch
Peeled to the ivory,
Tossing my mane of hair.
The cool kisses of the West wind cannot enter here.

When you were a baby you caught pneumonia –
They had to prize you off me to make the tests,
a little curled creature breathing too fast.
The night uncoiled link by link
Through the hospital cot bars.
Now you are almost a man,
There's a bond between you and the doctor,
He talks about Tottenham and their chances,
Touching your toes lightly with untroubled fingers,
Your boyish body trembles on the adult trolley.

Jayclothed heads bend in a cluster of devotion,
The green servants of the operating theatre converge around you,
Kindly they will take you into darkness, kindly into sleep.
Happy dreams and counting butterflies,
Stroking your hand, pricking your finger,
So you may sleep for a hundred years while they
Re-arrange your bones,
Manipulate them, push them straight,
The tibia, the fibular and the growing plates.
Tenderly they stick you full of sleep and your eyes roll up like a fool,
Gone from me so quick.
Child, come back alive!
They are pushing you through the porthole doors
But it is I who am drowning
As the weight of love bears down on me
And sweeps me out to sea.

from Twenty Poems Rough Winds 1999