Elizabeth Barton read English at Cambridge, after which she worked as a teacher. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in magazines including Agenda, Acumen, Orbis, Mslexia, South, The Frogmore Papers and The High Window. Her pamphlet, If Grief were a Bird, was published in 2022 by Agenda Editions.

Poems by Elizabeth Barton

The Linnet
His Harris Tweed Coat

The Linnet

My mother is searching for a word.
It flits through the hedgerow of her thought,

flutters in her throat, but the word won't come.
Almost forty years ago, a stroke stole her song.

Wire by iron wire, she tore the cage
of her isolation down, reclaimed two languages.

She makes up for the gaps with gesture,
expression, her face a ripening field of wheat,

her fingers quivering like linnet's wings.
There's a game we play to keep the rhythm flowing –

she tells a story; I know it so well, I sense the words
she'll stumble over, fill the silences. It's the nouns

that elude her – she's trying to translate the name
of her grandparents' farm across the marsh, Dôlawel.

She closes her eyes, puts three fingers to her brow,
touches her lips, as though she's willing brain

and tongue to work in harmony, as though this rite
could coax the words from the thistles of her mind.

She pictures herself riding home through fields
of buttercups, tastes the sea's salt breath

and the words take flight.

Note: Dôlawel: Welsh for Meadow Breeze

(first published in Agenda, Weatherings issue, Winter/Spring 2022)

His Harris Tweed Coat

I hang from the kitchen door,
forlorn as a wolf hound
pining for its master; at night, I howl.

His huge brown shoes mope
on the tiles beneath me.

I long to walk with him again,
feel the bite of wind, his heart
leaping beneath my seam.

Instead, I stare at the washing machine,
sobbing and churning.


You cannot let me go –

I carry his shape, his scent,
the feel of him, an absence
you can touch.


I am his plain brother,
woven with patience on a treadle loom.

He found me on his honeymoon
in the Western Isles, bought
five yards of cloth.

A tailor sheared me to his size,
a coat for a giant –
rough, felt-pocketed,
with a chocolate, satin lining.


In my twill weave, you'll glimpse
the grey of a fulmar's wing,
rich brown of wilderness;
you can almost smell
the peat and heather.


The other day, you found
a white hair snagged
on my collar –

you leaned towards me,
felt the warmth
of soft yarn on your fingertips,
stubble prickling your cheeks.

(first published in The High Window, Issue 22 Summer 2021)