The level

I tilt the level
Trying to perfectly
Balance the caught breath
Of the bubble trapped within

Perhaps if it is carefully aligned
Everything made straight
Then the world will
Make sense

And maybe
If I can tilt myself
To the right angle, then
I’ll be at peace with what is
And with what is trapped inside

Note: The initial concept for this was inspired by a book I was reading (chapter 4 of Into The Wild).

Photo by Eran Menashri on Unsplash

The selvage

The thread is fine now
As thin as gossamer
Shimmering in the light

There is a strange beauty
In these times
Of holding, and letting go

I never believed in the fates
Spinning, weaving
Waiting, releasing

But now I see your place
In life’s tapestry
So clearly

My eyes may be wet
Yet my heart is full
You are part of the pattern

Note: This is a poem I originally wrote for a very special man, Richard Cooke, who passed away last month. He was at the centre of possibly the most generous and creative family I have ever encountered, people who are incredibly dear to me. The sadness of his passing was accompanied by a great sense of love from those around him, and a life well-lived – a passage into the beyond that was moving to witness, even from a secondhand distance.

In the last few months, a number of people close to me have experienced loved ones entering these end of life stages. I was repeatedly touched by the grace and bravery that accompanied these moments, and I found myself sending these words to them as well.

Although this poem originated with Richard, it has also come to mean something much bigger – which seems an even more fitting tribute in its way.

So if you need it, this poem is also for you.

Photo by Ethan Bodnar on Unsplash

The rumble beneath the surface

Things have been a little quiet on this blog.

But that’s not because the writing hasn’t been happening.

Time feels strange these days – whether a hangover of the pandemic or the strangely elastic nature of living with chronic illness, I’m not sure.

I think it was overyear ago that I took my first step towards sharing the work on this site a bit more publicly – around the time my second cancer diagnosis happened.

This was intentional: I knew that writing my way through it would be essential.

But when the experience began, it felt like I was a climber perched on a sheer rock face, and all I was doing was holding on for dear life. I couldn’t look up or down, or from side to side. I couldn’t see out into the world beyond me.

Which makes it very difficult to work out what feels right to share.

So instead, I got very very quiet.

But things are different now.

I recently completed a surgery that I hope will be the close of this chapter for a while. So I find myself looking up and out again. I am able to raise my gaze, and feeling brave enough to bring these words into contact with the world.

I have over 400 unpublished drafts of poems, poets, and odds & ends in a folder.

But I’m not in a hurry.

Bit by bit, I hope to bring them into the light.

Some of these things are easy. Some of them are very difficult to speak about in public. Baby steps.

I’m hoping to get the newsletter going (which I set up, but never actually started), so people who’d like to can know when there is something new.

But in the interest of starting small, I finally took the leap to do something I’ve been thinking about for at least a year. Today, I made a Facebook profile page to put new posts, instead of just quietly putting them here and letting them dissolve into the ether of the internet.

Setting it up, it felt like it took me ages to decide: whether to use a photograph of a flower as a profile picture, or to put my own face.

But I increasingly think that one of the bravest things we can do is let ourselves be seen. And I know that the people who are interested in my work at this stage is the people who already know and love me.

So I went with a selfie, taken on a good day on sunny walk. Largely chosen, my vanity will admit, because my hair looks really good – you would never guess it is still growing back in peculiar tufts underneath. But mostly because in that picture, I feel well and I am happy – smiling slightly, with glasses slightly askew. What more can a person ask for?

I know better at this point than to make promises. But hopefully this is the start of a new chapter, a season where it’s possible to release these bits of writing gratefully into the world.

Photo by Tanya Grypachevskaya on Unsplash


The tragedy that
A full fridge
Is cheaper to run
Than an empty one.

So the columnist
Advises placing
Bowls of water
On bare shelves.

Now in homes
Across the country
Hungry children
Will open the door –

Only to be met with
Their own reflections.

Note: This was inspired by an article in The Guardian. I understand the necessary practicality of the advice, but it struck me right in the gut.

Photo by Jawad Jawahir on Unsplash

Flowers for Rose

You asked me to write you a poem
About bringing you beautiful flowers
I thought about spinning slow verses
Unfurled in deliberate hours

But amidst the hair pulling and shouting
And laughing and singing and climbing
I find I’m increasingly doubting
That you give a fig about rhyming

So these quick-crafted lines must suffice
And although concentration is nice
And finishing is pleasant
What you want is presence not presents

Note: I was working on The Book Concert when Rose asked me to write her a poem. I started with just a few lines, but meanwhile she shedding glitter everywhere in her new Sleeping Beauty Halloween costume, stealing my glasses, putting her feet on me, singing songs, and putting clips in my hair.

I read her the first three lines and she said ‘that’s great, thanks!’ and I thought, ‘it isn’t done!’, but it was about the gesture.

So somehow it seemed best to embrace the unevenness, the changing rhyme scheme, the not-quite sonnet-like form, the line that doesn’t scan. Because that is far truer to parenthood. And a gift should be about the recipient.

I just asked her if she wanted to hear the finished poem, and she said. ‘Not yet, I’m still finishing your hair, dear.’

If there’s anything a poet should know, it’s that timing is everything.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Mother meditating

What is the name of the mudra
Where you sit, hand folded over hand
Around the waist of a small child
With bits of snack still stuck to their shirt
Who pulls your grip even tighter
Insisting your hands are their seat belt
Whizzing off to imaginary galactic adventures
In the rocketship of your lap
While the ragdoll copilot dances merrily
On the tiny peak of your fingers
And your belly presses rhythmically into their back
Transferring the energy of your breath to that little body
Building warmth between you.
What is the name of that mudra?
Or is it simply beyond words?

Note: I’ve been really trying to keep up with my meditation practice, which has meant I’m not always alone when I do it. In some ways, this is quite distracting, but it can also have its own magic. I’ve been journalling about what this feels like a bit already, but I wanted to try to turn it into a poem. I actually wrote this on the tube (my first trip into London on a busy Saturday night since the pandemic hit and/or I got sick for the second time). It was a busy train and this was a wonderful way to take my brain elsewhere. I escaped back into this moment so fully that I missed my stop. Twice. Maybe if I am able to channel my focus that effectively, that means the meditation is working?

Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

It drives me crazy when people talk about ‘put on your own oxygen mask’

It’s been floating around for years, but at the moment it feels like it’s ‘EVERYWHERE’.

‘Put on your own oxygen mask first.’

It’s a great metaphor – it’s visual, and anyone who’s ridden on an airplane will have heard it.

People say this particularly to encourage people who struggle making space for self-care to take it, but it often doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t for me.

It just annoys me. The way that it is deployed feels like the new version of ‘greed is good’. I’m not debating that taking time to consider our own feelings and needs is essential, but the way this dictum is bandied about seems to be in a really self-centered way. People say it with a tome that feels more akin to ‘stay in your own bubble and just worry about your oxygen.’

I think why it doesn’t seem to work and drives me so bonkers isn’t the core idea, but the fact that people leave off the second half.

‘Put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else.’

The point of putting on your oxygen mask is not to nonchalantly sit there leafing through a magazine while someone next to you struggles to breathe. It’s to secure your own oxygen supply to then enable you to turn and help others.

And honestly, I think a lot more people who struggle to justify taking the time they need to look after themselves would find it a lot easier if we focused on using the whole phrase:

‘Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.’

Let’s remember why the airlines need to say this. It’s because the human instinct is so strong to look after the people that we care about, that we want to turn to helping them first before we care for ourselves.

That impulse is actually a beautiful thing. It is generous and compassionate.

The problem is that it isn’t actually safe or good – either for yourself of the person you are helping.

Yes, you have to ensure your own well-being first, but it doesn’t mean you have to forget about the other people.

Maybe this just reveals a flaw in my own thinking, but I feel like it gets talked about as a binary choice – either put on your own oxygen mask, OR help someone else.

When really, it is an AND. Put on your own oxygen mask AND help others. Ideally, not just the person you love sat next to you. But the person across the aisle who is panicking, or who can’t quite reach, or who is travelling miles above the earth alone.

We struggle to choose ourselves because it feels like a betrayal of the humanity that we have nourished, and it is hard to tease out what is best when needs are in conflict, but the best thing is always to look for the AND.

I feel like the task of adulthood – or maybe just personhood – is much more like a scale.

To be able to hold in one hand, our own needs. And in the other hand, someone else’s. And to try to find the balance between them.

Things will swing out of sync – sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot, but the goal is to look for the balance.

That seems to me what is getting lost in the current political climate. I’ve been so heartbroken to see the recent Supreme Court decisions that are gutting human rights.

Whence comes this insistence on dictating how others live? Why is it so hard to try to make equal space for our own needs AND someone else’s?

This seems like it should be a hallmark of community and our approach to the world.

There are of course some people who can’t get negotiated with – who only want to hold out their own hand without any room for complexity. There are places where this attitude enables violence and inequality that cannot be tolerated.

But in the places where there are no easy answers, which it seems like is much of life, I feel like the right approach is like this:

To let our own bodies be the scale, finding the tipping point between our own two hands outstretched in different directions. There we can hold with love our own needs. And hold with respect those of others. And to do our absolute best to let them both matter and to find the balance.

Oxygen masks for everyone!

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

Sky and Soil

flying and falling
the difference
looking ahead
to open air
an anxious gaze
at the ground

Note: This was inspired by a bird flying outside my window.

I played with different versions of this poem. Initially, there was more structure – firmer sentences, more words, capitalisation, punctuation, but it felt airier stripping that out. I tried to tease out exactly what phrases captured those feelings of an optimistic vision ahead and staring down in dread; there were so many more words I could have used, but I thought these feelings might be familiar enough that stripping back the adjectives would engage the reader’s imagination even more.

There was a version of this where ‘looking’ was ‘a look’ – making it a poem free from verbs (suspended in a sense?). But instinctively this contrast felt better, and actually highlights the difference between verb/doing (‘looking’) and paralysing ourselves with the fixed state of a noun (‘an anxious gaze’).

It was interesting choosing a photo to match with this poem, and made me reflect again how much those visuals can impact the feel of the words. Photos that were bright or that featured a crowd of birds had a totally different feel. I actually pictured a calm sky when I was writing, perhaps something blue and hopeful – but this image of an ominous mist or brewing storm feels like it makes the message land even more powerfully.

Missing mothers

Any student of fairytales will tell you
Almost nothing is as essential as
A missing mother.

The journeys and adventures belong
To the orphaned and abandoned;
Not to those tucked safely in bed,
Left with a warm kiss on their brow.

For the longest time I thought
This must be a plot imperative.
Of course there must be an absence
To trigger the journey. And critically,
No parents to stand in adventure’s way.

As I grew older, I began to suspect that
This was instead a form of misogyny
The women are deleted, made invisible
Killed by the hands of an unseen author,
That of our own collective unconscious,
Erasing the women who create and raise us

(Can you imagine the self-proclaimed stars of
The Hero’s Journey putting up with the same?)

But now that I am a mother, reading stories
To my own daughter, I have encountered this as
A more complex puzzle. If women are the ones
Originating and perpetuating these fairytales
Why do we leave ourselves out of them…?
I know now that it is because we are desperate

(Not thinking that we don’t matter,
But knowing how much we do – )

To believe that our children will survive without us
And to give them the tools and imagination to do it.
Even though we may not appear in the narrative
It is our voices that carry the stories forward
Through generation after generation, bedtime
After bedtime, with a love so profound it can only
Be made clear by enacting its own absence.

Note: This started as something I was puzzling over during the nightly bedtime routine. Wondering about the mothers – and the meaning, at least for me, hit like a ton of bricks with the line ‘we tell fairytales with missing mothers / to believe they will survive without us.’

I jotted this down as soon as I left the room, and returned to it today.

The absent mothers in fairytales are not a result of who don’t see themselves or don’t realise their value and importance – it is women who feel it almost too deeply, wondering what to do with that alongside the fragility of life.

These stories have existed since a time when motherhood was a risky endeavour, childbearing always carried a risk of death, and we knew that while our love sustained our children both physically and emotionally, it could be stolen away by circumstance at any moment.

Sometimes we tell fairytales simply because it is traditional. But for me, it feels like something deeper is at play. I think we tell stories with missing mothers not necessarily for our children, but for ourselves – believing that children on their own can successfully navigate their way through life to the happy ending.

For me, there is a poignant fear underlying this, but also a powerful belief that it can be done – and it is our belief in our children’s own resourcefulness and goodness that will ultimately help light the way.

Photo by David Gonzales from Pexels


We commiserate so often
About all the questions
Our children ask
The constant chorus

But maybe we should
Think more about the
Questions they don’t ask.

The things they know
Already are too secret
Or too shameful
To be spoken aloud,

The places they pick up
On our uneasy shifting,
The averted gaze,
The quick distraction;

Or worse – the pregnant
Pause before we answer
In too-bright tones, saying
Words we only half believe.

The questions they never ask
Point us in the direction
Of our own fears, our
Unseen hypocrisies,

And our own childhoods
At the cusp of the moment
When we ourselves first
Learned to stop asking why.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash