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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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for Liane Aukin
The tributaries from my ancestors and distant relatives have flowed underground. They are lost or neglected, occasionally exploding into an image like a pool of water that gathers me in: a penetrating gaze, the bone structure of a face.
The yellow star
stuck to shop windows,
to sooty coat lapels
in jerky newsreels.

The dark eyes,
elegant shoulders of men and women;
the cobbled squares washes out
over a hanging Jew.

Ann Frank and her family,
the friends who looked after them,
cycling round with groceries,
candles, toilet paper.

The boredom of being good.
sharing your bedroom
with a dentist who snored!

The Gestapo found you.
The hurt was then,
that love could not save you;

your upper chest stiff as a cage
holding the mad beating of your heart.
Thus you entered the Nazi dream:

In well appointed apartments
clocks strike suavely.
Silver quarters of time
stir the thick curtains
and plates like water lilies
float on deep mahogany.
Soup is ladled from the tureen
into white soup plates
translucent in the maid's hands.
Behind her bent head
the champagne mirror shows her neck,
the clasp of a dress settled on flesh
soft and speckled,
how the breast are gathered,
two eggs in a nest.
The men in black
like birds of prey with folded wings.

After the long dinner,
Tafelspitz mit Kartofflen,
chamber music is played.
The sweet gloom of the velvet chairs,
lamps hanging like moons.
The walnut kommode hoarding
cut glass and silver flushed green
under felt wraps.
A woman sits before a mirror
brushing out her blue-black hair.
No other sound until the clack of the ivory
on the table top.
A man stands at the wardrobe door,
holding his dinner jacket.
Tears collect in his eyes,
fat diamonds that hurt.
He tries to press them back
but they run amok
over his finger tips
down his shaven skin.

Good yellow is a pyramid of lemons,
lemon sherbets in a bag,
the roses on my frock.
Dazzle of straw in the small barn
where the bitch had her pups;
when buttercups buttered our chins
and buttoned the field
we lay living in.

from Twenty Poems Rough Winds 1999


Lying on the Corbusier couch for the last time,
watching the clouds bump along
and you behind me in your chair,
your words still in the air.
An intimacy gained closer than
any lover or friend,
all the gaps that we've peered through
but never got to the end.
Goodbye is a lumpy, sparkling thing,
hanging above us in the sky.
The small room floats away
down a river of talk
and all that we don't say.

from Thirty Poems Rough Winds


Butterflies like velvet remnants bounce
On and off the purple fangs of the buddleia.
Blackberries plump up and slowly puff by puff,
Flies squat on them, buzzing blackly
Of an electric life that runs through nature
Shivering the hocks of the bay pony,
Swishing the rasp of his catchy tail.
His soft, black nostrils
Skimming the water,
Sucking and blowing over the bucket.

Frogs leap through grass,
Tiny movements of joy
Unfold in surprise,
Yellow legs stretch out like soft open scissors.
The washing stiffens on the line,
Pigeons croo in the humpy trees.
Sometimes the beautiful wind comes by
Sending a shiver through the cherry tree,
Turning the pages up,
Kissing me.

All afternoon the combine harvesters
Rumble and drone,
Filling the air with dry, gold, dust.
Cutting the shine off the corn fields,
Brushing the pile back and forth.
Racing before the harvest moon.
Until she rises, late, apricot hot,
A giant pearl unhooked from the sea,
Rolling up above indigo hedges
And the stars behind her
Like a broken necklace thrown
Over the back of a sleeping woman.

from Twenty Poems Rough Winds 1999

The telephone rang.
I looked out at the waving garden.

The house grew big as a hotel.
Was I the only guest?

The carpet swelled a deeper red.
The tulips kept still.

I loved you like an artist.
You saw me and were gone.

I wait.
Something else has begun.


Glistening, violet grey,
You lie folded down,
Like a hot stone on the pillow.
A metallic fragrance is on your skin;
You smell of the darkness within.
The inner chambers where you grew,
Soft bones hardening day by day,
Wrapped in satiny membranes
And fed with strings of blood.

You have come through time,
Bringing traces of early man
On your flattened face.
You remind me of things that grow under leaves
In the forest, dense organic matter
Fattening without light.

I was in a sea cave
Feeling the suck and bite
Of pain arching out in the night.
I thought I was drowning
But I caught the tail of your comet in mid flight
And we fell to earth
Through a galaxy of eyes and hands.

Hardly have the seconds ticked upon you,
Transforming the stone to flesh,
You grow exquisite in one breath.
The midwife weighs you in a tiny sling,
Roses stand in the jug and sing.
Your ancient eyes shine calmly on the rest;
Already we are putting your crab shaped arms
Into a white, long-sleeved vest.

from Ten Poems Redstone 1993


Lilac breath
(lost hope and the arms which once held me)
In a paradise of feelings
He lies across my breast
A little bag of bones
Pulsating with hot secrets
His serious succulent mouth+
Defies all fear of death
With nonchalant love
He knuckles into my heart
My kisses like pearls from deep within
Are strung round and around his skin.

from 10 Poems Redstone 1993


The dark, dusty, London bedroom,
The double bed, the chaos of a woman's clothes
In heaps over whatever chairs there were.

I didn't dare look at myself
As I stumbled past the mirror's stare,
I had entered a forbidden zone
Where it was best to pretend to be unknown.

Next to me, the huge hot chest of an adult male
Dwarfed my eager heart,
His quick tongue spoke a different language in kisses.

While I feared the shadows of desire that
Darkened his eyes
And spread
Driving me to the edge,

There was a movement I understood,
An incessant sea pulling and pushing
That heaved me up towards some cosmic entanglement.

But at fifteen,
Sex was like a big black dog,
Jumping up with two big paws,
Knocking me over and licking me clean.

from Twenty Poems Rough Winds 1999


I have known the loneliness of furnished rooms
where the heart beats in slow motion
like a Ming vase falling in a dream.

Smelling a stranger on my lover's skin
I turned myself out
I turned myself in

I wept under an eiderdown
in a room no bigger than a horse box
in Camden Town,
waiting for the knots to dissolve
along the tongue and groove of varnished pine.

In Finsbury Park I slept when I could,
glad to smother the hard corners of the hours
with the soft cloth of sleep.

In Chelsea and Cricklewood
I drew white lines with the London boys
lounged about on beaten-up old sofas
smoking joints and telling lies.
I sulked my way through days
collar up, buttoned hight
I walked along the bridge of doubt.

In Crouch End
I have known the desolations of launderettes
where the Service Lady sat all afternoon folding
tobacco smoke into the hot, dried clothes,
her head bent before a small t.v.
closing the porthole door with one hand
while smoke rose from the other
like strange blossom round a tree.

Next door the Asian newsagent with sad eyes
whose Golden Virginia must stand in
for the beauty of a sunrise.
I have known the last bus and the end of the line
too much to drink and "Gentlemen, Time."

All this went on and on
till you came along in your old hat and coat
knocking at my door at the dead of night.
You broke down my tough little fence of independence
held me in your arms by candlelight.
Then it was green, it was lilac, it was rain
and in Highgate Cemetery the stone angels
clapped the stones wings
and raised me up to whisper things.

from Thirty Poems Rough Winds 2004


Looking out the bedroom window
I can see the bare oak
pink at its tips

and the catkins hanging in dusty dashes
before a mass of ivy -
that pagan screen.

This is the second March
to live through without you.
The garden waiting, waits.

Some things die unexpectantly,
the lilac dries its curls,
stiffens towards firewood

and the pond has grown green slime
as bright as emerald hair,
whose roots can never be found;

but the hellebores
hang their lampshades of cochineal
for stoic insects

who make journeys back and forth
crisscrossing the stony ground
with fortitude.

Love, how the bells are ringing
for you, inside, hidden from view.
O sorrow, yield.

The woodpecker drills a light tattoo
on a tree somewhere,
a gate lies half open to a field.



Loosen the reins that hold me,
Take me for a ride,
The agony of abandonment is never lost,
Though it dissolves inside.

Two hands stuck to my back like glue,
In a room somewhere.
Loneliness comes through the floorboards
Like gas and air.

Escalators take me down and down,
Afraid to move and fall apart,
Fractured feelings are bound like limbs in a waiting room,
Waiting to set in my heart.

In my dreams a face is caught,
Fetching kisses from the dead,
Hope is expressed in the throat of a jug
And paintings of women dressed in red.

from Ten Poems Redstone 1993