Stolen Moments. Poems For a Jazz Evening, 2002.

TIME WARP Alison Jesson
GOING OFF John Clachan
TIME OUT Sylvia Herbert
WAVE Alison Jesson
SPENDING TIME Sylvia Herbert
REUNION Carolyn Dunnett
FLAMINGO Nikki Hopkins
THE LIST Alison Jesson
MOTHS Helen M Overell
LOVE FOR SALE Nikki Hopkins
CHRONOLOGY Alison Jesson
ALL BLUES Hugh Timothy


"Under the clock at Victoria Station," you said.
I travelled up to town eager to meet you there.
It's not a station I know well, I'm more at home
with Waterloo. The train oozed in dead slow and stopped
before the buffers with a squeal and hiss, stood panting
after its exertions getting in on time. Doors slammed
like ricochets which echoed down the carriages -
the guard returning to his van. I joined the hugger-
mugger of the crowd, jostled through the 'bouchon' of the gate;
emerged into the concourse and stood still. Not one clock
but nine confronted me; all reading the same time.
I looked for you under each one, walked that station
back to front and inside out. You arrived half an hour
late, a single red rose, a brief apology,
your supplicant's urchin grin and a long sweet kiss.
"Never do this to me again," I said, recovering
my self esteem; after all, I hadn't been stood up.
But you did. This, the first of many failed romantic
gestures you swathed through with your smile to calm my rage.
Your insouciance became transparent in the end,
revealed no god in the machine, but graceless gremlins.
We parted then. I still carry in my memory
the shadow of your smile, which once could soften fury
but was no match, eventually, for hate.

Nikki Hopkins


I wear lipstick for the first time
in months, nervous as a school girl
on a date, courting approval
for the years stretched out between us.
Your face has changed, your cheeks are free
from adolescent chubbiness,
though, with the same passion of your
fourth form Agincourt speech, you tell
me that of course we must drink wine
to celebrate. Over pizza
you show me photos of your kids
who are now the age we were, when
we last met, and recount all their
exploits, just like we're real grownups.
We launch a barrage of questions
dodge the tough ones, grab memories,
rattle through the same anecdotes
and feel the same rush of pleasure -
In the waiting room at Kings Cross,
missing trains, we hover among
an age of years, filling the breach.

Alison Jesson


Everyone around me knows my one consuming passion,
This subject being 'sell by' dates; I may be out of fashion,
But when I'm told that I must use the jar by '98
And three years on I find the contents still in perfect state,
We all know who is winning, with all this money spinning.

Who makes up these crazy dates? They come on like big brother,
Telling you to throw it out and go and buy another.
Don't be fooled and taken in by all their special offers,
All the time they're coining it and filling up their coffers.
It's a profiteering racket, putting 'use by' on the packet.

Am I being cynical? Believe them? Wish I could,
All the time they're telling me it's just for my own good.
Know your food and what you eat, this wastage is a sin,
Are those pickles really off, you're throwing in the bin?
I'm still feeling truly great, and I'm well past my 'sell by' date!

John Clachan


Dad's appendicitis
hurts us all.
Red-zipped scar
makes beached whale.
He writhes against the rope
of taut bedclothes.

Mother frets,
five miles distant,
and only bicycles.

I'm seven.
Matron's starched rigidity
forbids children.
I wave,
pressing my nose
against French-door glass.
Nurse strides over.
I fear trouble
even for this,
but she says, "Matron's not around.
Come in and give him a quick kiss."

Carolyn Dunnett


If I take time out to write a poem
All about you and me,
Will you take a moment off to read it
And write one back to me?

Or will you be too trapped. in meetings?
E-mail a line or two
If you have a chance to think about me,
I'll do the same for you.

When my verse appears, I hope you'll like it;
I'll wait for your reply,
The screen-saver's very discreet, you know,
There'll be no prying eye.

We're busy at the computer all day,
And we work overtime,
Do you think that it will matter too much
If we compose a rhyme?

There's no other way I have to show you
My feelings are quite true
There's only one way to get together,
For me to be with you.

Sylvia Herbert


Each day she waves to his retreating back,
her silent plea that just for once he'll turn
and smile at her to make up for his lack
of care; each day she knows she'll never learn.
Yet when they first were wed he waved a lot,
he'd run along the platform keeping pace
with her slow train, or in a crowd he'd spot
her, wave with both his arms at her bright face.
Next day, she thinks, she'll give him one more chance
to show his love is still worth waiting for,
and if he goes without a backward glance
she'll pack her bags, and leave and slam the door.
A wave is like a smile, a hug, a kiss,
its not a lot to ask for married bliss.

Alison Jesson


I led you gently to a garden chair,
You had a book, a shady hat to wear,
A glass of sparkling wine to show I care,
Bright flowers round about you, everywhere.

Inside, I hurried to complete my chores.
Intent, I laboured on without a pause,
Until, by chance, I cast a glance outdoors
And saw you, dreaming of those distant shores

To which old age bears you, far away from here;
Already, in your eyes a hint of fear.
I ran out, clasped your hand and held you near.
You said, "I'm lonely by myself, my dear".

Sylvia Herbert


They joined me in the train at Clapham
Straining at a common leash.
Sniping at each other's hurt and pride
With ricocheting words
Spent face to face, then silence
As they glared out blindly
At the passing evening.
The urgent rhythm of the train
A counterpoint to racing hearts.
The stations passed.

The two reflections catch each other
Mellowed by the dusky backdrop
Then eyes slink back to meet again.
As milky smiles slide into guilty grins
Hands reach slowly out to touch.
The train is settling to a halt.
I hear the question as I stand to leave
"If I asked you, would you marry me?"
For me, the answer would stay lost
Behind the slammed train door.

Hugh Timothy


I'd bottle hours if I could - with a clove
for safe keeping - jars full of tawny gold
flecked with strands of silver would stand in rows
along the windowsill, neatly labelled
with 'time of harvest', 'use by date' and bold
percentages of morning, noon and night.

I'd be ever so careful- would never
waste a drop - just use the odd spoonful here
and there, eke out the day's margins, hold on
to the far off glimmer of stars, lengthen
the leafy dance of shadow and slanting
sunlight, savour the kingfisher moment.

I'd use up most of one row - saving all
the jars and lids - well before the week's end,
after all moments of good company
could be stretched out toffee fashion, no need
to worry about running out of time
not until the windowsill was empty.

Helen M Overell


I must admit, your Honour,
I've stolen moments over time
And never thought it such a crime.
Now I come to give them back,
Pass them round,
Share them out,
With people whom I care about
But, I feel ashamed to say,
The moments have all slipped away.
I wait on your decision.
Life sentence, no remission!

John Clachan


Now shall I wear his silver brooch
or shall I wear a hat?
Will he even recognise me
since I've become quite fat?

I imagined he'd forgotten,
but then he phoned one day
to say he'd like to see me soon
if I could sneak away.

Our working lives divided us
and many years have passed.
Our partners haven't even met.
We'll meet again at last.

"Don't tell me that you're nervous now."
It shouldn't be this way.
Our conversation should have seemed
that we'd met yesterday.

We each related all we could
of forty years of life
and found ourselves recalling how
I might have been his wife.

The more assertive person soon
came surging to the fore.
The independence I'd admired
began to be a bore.

Our sense of values didn't match.
The gap seemed much too wide.
It's possible they never had,
despite the fact we'd tried.

I feel guilty and judgmental,
not sure I like him now.
The truth - perhaps he went away
and felt the same, somehow.

Carolyn Dunnett


In the run up to the creation
all us lads in the drawing office
were working overtime in shifts.
Every blue print had to be ready
on time, and the colourists, painters,
fill-in guys, had only just finished
the fish on schedule. A designer
called in sick - the stress too punishing -
without finalising the colour
placement on a number of the fowl
of the air. Well, you can imagine
what a pandemonium that caused.
They were needed, urgent, for day five.
And, as if that wasn't all, supplies
department had well under-ordered
burnt sienna and other darker browns,
and was clearly short of black and white.
Too many brown and grey scaled fishes
had diminished stocks. Then, to cap
it all, they replaced him with a girl.
You've never wondered why so many
birds are bright, with garish colours?
Look no further - she slapped viridian
hues, gamboge and lush vermilion tints
around without discrimination.
And what she did with cobalt blue,
chrome yellow, crimson alizarin
doesn't bear the thinking. I'm sure
she chose to daub the males because of spite.
The office lads had ribbed her wicked
when she first arrived. She got revenge all right.
It's poor flamingos I feel sorry for.
She hit them last, her artist's palette
gone, she found she'd only reds and white,
so painted them in violent shades of pink,
then tipped their beaks with Indian drawing ink.

Nikki Hopkins


Remember when you passed your test,
Third time round, you did your best.
Then Henry Herbert he found out
And, in his nauseous whine,
He told you that he'd passed first time
And easily, in fact
(He's not well known for tact).

And when your marriage fell apart,
And you could do no more,
Henry Herbert had advice,
He'd been through that before.
In fact, three times or more -
Just take me as a model
(Such patronising twaddle).

You bought the new car of your dreams,
Went round to show it off.
Then Henry Herbert gave a glance,
And gave a little cough -
I saw the same car yesterday,
They'd knocked a thousand off.
You should have bought a scooter
(I'll smack him on the hooter!).

And then he tells you how to mend
That simple dripping tap,
He's such a clever chap.
When Henry Herbert gives advice
You polish it and clap,
And now you've got Niagra flowing
In your basement flat.
If you'd only got my special tool
(I'll use it on your head you fool).

Then one day your chance has come,
You're invited round for dinner.
You think now here's a winner,
For Henry cannot cook a stew
And you know you are Cordon Blue.
And when the ghastly muck is through
You tell him loud and clear
That's the best I've had this year!,
You lily-livered coward.
Dear Henry Herbert Howard.

John Clachan


First come gym-slips and brown knickers
from Tyrell and Green, then on past
the aviary with homesick birds,
across the park to French and Sons
where wafts of new leather mingle
with fresh floor polish and Brasso.
One pair dark brown outdoor lace ups.
One pair T-bar crepe-soled sandals.
A woman measures both my feet
so gently that my scalp tingles.
Boxes stacked from floor to ceiling,
numbered codes, ladders to reach them;
smooth shoe horn, cold against my socks.
I stand. She ties the laces tight,
her thumb pushes down on my toe
expertly, checking room for growth.
I navigate my way shyly
across the red plush pile carpet
until she nods her approval,
whisks my new shoes into their box.
Now I'm ready to be dispatched.

Alison Jesson


The moths have been busy again,
shook out a memory last night -
there were holes enough to infill
a cobweb thirty times over,
despite all that airing - no sign
of eggs or grubs but the damage
has been done, much of yesterday
is fogged as a glass of crushed ice
on a warm summer evening -
large fragments have been carried off
on fur fluttered wings to mingle
with night scented jasmine, soar on
updraughts from candle flames, burrow
through the soft dark velvet ablaze
with stars - which is all very well
but where's that file and those pieces
of paper and what about all
those lists of what to do today?

Helen M Overell


Slowing the sports car for the corner, there it stood,
a postcard cliché cottage, almost edible,
thatched, timbered, whitewashed walls, small porch and oak wood
door. Securely tied to gatepost, incredible,
a For Sale sign! Our touring honeymoon fulfilled
its final dream. We stared as black-eyed susan spilled

from window boxes down past sills to mingle through
the cottage garden mixture of the beds. Our hands
clasped, squeezed, we turned to face each other and we knew
that this was it. Close inspection, you understand,
revealed the aga, low slung beams, and inglenook.
By now you've guessed it, we were well and truly hooked.

We settle in and all is fine the first two years
or so; it's love's young dream; we play our parts too well,
the loving wife, the handsome spouse. But fortune veers,
redundancy, long distance travel, starts to spell
an end to halcyon nesting days; long winters.
stoking aga against his late return splinters

further the rifts which have appeared. He's never here,
now he works in the city. The train's delayed,
the station miles, the snow drifts deep, he'll put up near
the office, see me tomorrow. Dark doubts invade
deeper as I clean and sweep, dig soil for frosts
to break, relight the aga yet again. The costs

of country living are weighed and in the balance
found quite wanting. Struggling to survive the rigours
of isolation, absences, our forbearance
snaps, we argue constantly, finally it triggers
the end - he decamps to Bristol, rents penthouse flat
with floozy, files papers for divorce, so that is that.

The sign is up outside again; my love's for sale.
Staddle stones brushed lichen free, borders fresh planted,
lupins and hollyhocks, night scented stocks assail
new prospects. A warning not to get enchanted
by chocolate-box packaged exteriors -
their centres are soft and mostly inferior.

Nikki Hopkins


All day it has rained; such force as gluts drains
and leaves the garden sogged and puddled, drowns
the fish still deeper in their pond, curtails
the light, with distance hid in clouded veils.
Reports of rivers rising swell the news
with flood alerts more urgent. Heaven knows
when all this rain will cease, release its hold
of winter weather on us and unfold
the spring. Beneath the trees at garden's end
the spikes of snowdrop, crocus, wait to band
with yellow, purple, white, the greening grass
that struggles in this sodden, mud morass.
Elsewhere are barren lands, dry, dying, parched,
whose sole survival-hopes wait knife-edge perched
on unpredictability of clouds.
Yet others, where the bursting tides send crowds
to rush for shelter, scrambling into trees,
who watch their meagre all float past. One tries
to keep perspective in light of others' woes;
with gratitude - the hill lived on bestows
protection from the worst of nature's whim;
that England's climate's never more than warm;
and a soggy garden's next to nothing
whilst waiting for the brightening sun of spring.

Nikki Hopkins


Sometimes, I hold a handful of sand
carefully, on my upturned palm
and feel the slow slip of grains

as they slide through my fingers
and I worry about where I have been
and where I am going

I am lost in the middle of my life
as the sand trickles away
and I try to understand the order of things

I am the merest speck
moulded and washed
by the tides of history

a fragment of the earth's landscape;
each grain on my hand will gently force
a passage through my life

will fall to make pearls of memories
or be blown into clouds on the wind;
as I strive to create order and meaning

I miss the moment of time
when the sand is no longer in my hand
but has not yet reached the ground.

Alison Jesson


I let you stop.
You stand there still,
No condemnation of my carelessness
So upstanding in your ancient carcass
Your voice's hourly interjections
Silenced by the unforgiving floor.
Yet still you live
Without a beating heart
But mine has lost its echo
My friend's asleep
In catatonic trance
Your tarnished face still smiles
Though wrinkles are not there
Three hundred years of wear and tear
Deserve far more respect
I open you to me
And take the key
Resolving as it takes the strain
To not abuse you so again.

Hugh Timothy


Eyes of blue
And the blue skies above then
Lights are leaping
Spring is casting its spell.

World of wonder
As emotions awaken
Chasing the heartbeat,
Puppy dog's just chasing his tail.

Eyes of blue
And the blue skies are grey now
Icy morning
Brings the sting in the tail

World of heartbreak
As emotions unburden
Lost in a heartbeat
Blue's the only shade in his hell.

Hugh Timothy


Pale wisps of woodsmoke drift
from a moated leaf mound
taut with the tang of scuffed
leaves tapestried with gold,
crimson, streaks of scarlet;
and time re-runs at one
remove, sharp as sherbet,
bright as the polished gleam
of burst out conkers, loud
as the swung satchel squeak
of a brand new term's fresh
ruled empty margins, pens
full of blotches, skipping
games ghosted to silence.

Helen M Overell


A jasmine plant, her grandson's Easter gift,
Stands fragrantly within the silent room,
Reminding her of spring and flowers in bloom.
The gardens that she loved now seem to drift
Across her clouded memory, nor shift
Her saddened spirit from engulfing gloom;
Each moment draws her nearer to the tomb,
Glamour and pomp too far away to lift
Her royally back to this world's empty dreams.
Except the undying love between the two
Nothing she has is really as it seems.
She guided him and showed him all things true;
The living plant on which the sunlight gleams
Gives back at last to her what is her due.

Sylvia Herbert