© Ami Robertson
Former Foyle Young Poet Jen Feroze has had her poetry featured in a wide range of publications – from Magma, Poetry Wales, Spelt, Ink, Sweat & Tears and Stanchion to One Hand Clapping, Dust Poetry Magazine, Atrium and OneArt. She's also edited anthologies for Black Bough Poetry and The Mum Poem Press. Jen was a winner of the 2022-23 Magma Editors’ Prize, and her debut pamphlet is forthcoming from Nine Pens. Jen likes chunky knitwear, turquoise things, and cheese you can eat with a spoon.
Whenever there’s an icebreaker about where we come from,
my answer always elicits the same smile:
‘Oh yeah, that’s where the cheese is made!
I’m pretty sure I went there with my school once.’
So many kids bussed in to stare through cloudy glass
at curds, nonplussed, craning their necks upwards at the cliffs.
It’s funny the way hormones can flatten even the highest cliffs,
can make centuries of river-worn limestone a stage, from
which we played out our teenage dramas. Raise a glass
to the breathtaking arrogance of middle school. Smile
at the fact that we never stopped to take stock, not once,
we assumed these caves, these dripping stalactites, came ready made.
There was the time our history teacher made
the front pages, connected by strands of DNA to the cliffs,
to the ancient bones found there, to the man that once
inhabited their skin. 10,000 years, and he’d not moved a mile from
the dig site, was drilling us on The Iron Curtain, smiling
at the sudden smallness of his concept of history, polishing his glasses.
Some summer nights we’d smuggle blankets and cider and glasses
over the stile and onto Black Rock. Fires were lit, pacts were made
breath was snatched. Some things were lost, others found. The sky split in a smile,
loosing meteors like teeth. We lay on our backs, knees mimicking the cliffs,
until the shadows of our friends became indistinguishable from
one another. I felt drunk and happy and sad and too old and too young, all at once.
Then limestone stained siren blue brought us up short, for once.
We hugged our own ribs close, carried our bones like glass.
He was the brother of a friend’s friend. There were painful verbs to choose from:
To fall? To jump? Was it worse if a decision had been made?
For a short while, we looked with reverential gaze and sweaty palms at the cliffs,
then the flowers died, Christmas came, and he was buried again
under forgetful smiles.
After school we scattered to the winds, city-bound, throwing smiles
over our shoulders. So sure of our futures, and never once
pausing to give thanks or even glance back to those cliffs.
So desperate were we to be grown, to be skyscrapered behind glass,
to be able to say we got out, we did it, we made
something of ourselves, away from that shadowed small town we came from.
And as they have always done, the cliffs stand silent, a knowing smile
carved from water and rock into the landscape of so many childhoods. Only once
we left, did I see how we’d been shaped, hot as freshly blown glass;
Not the moon,
but her reflection caught in a pond.
My tenderly planted bed, latticed by slugs –
a seemingly overnight silvering
of this pungent earth.
Something you’d find glazed
on the bottom shelf of a bakery. A bag
thrashing with fairground fish.
An upturned bowl of porridge.
Oh, you slow-punctured water bed.
Oh! You magnetic globe for strangers’ hands,
the unwelcome and the minuscule, pushing
as if against a curved pane of glass.
For weeks now, the house has been haunted
by the suits and shoes of zealous estate agents.
The dark hush of the trees – excellent allies,
excellent secret-keepers – was felled
a long time ago in the name of the city’s loud expansion.
Now there is nowhere to hide.
Hard candy smiles pass through each room, looking out
through sugar-glass panes they convince themselves are dusky
and bubbled with age alone; running their hands
over mantels and recoiling at the layer of dust
on their fingertips. The house holds its breath,
waiting for someone to touch their lips, to taste its sweetness.
Then this afternoon, a truck yellow as sherbet lemons arrived
and spilled four bright, warm lives out and inside. So much noise
and so many running feet after so much gnawing emptiness,
so much guilt. The boxes smell like hope. They make the house ache.
There are two children – a boy and a girl,
curls soft as candyfloss.
They delight in choosing their new bedroom;
they fall asleep without a story, without a nightlight.
Downstairs, their parents clink glasses of cheap wine
as night arrives at the windows. They discuss where to hang
the family photographs, who they should call
to look at the old oven that didn’t want to light this evening.
If the house could talk, it would tell them to buy a new one,
shamed by the wicked pile of ash that still covers the grill.
If the house could talk, it would press upon them the wisdom
of keeping breadcrumbs close at hand, even in the absence of trees.
It would feel a slow tide of sugar rising unstoppably in its walls
at the sound of young laughter, at the thought of those little, darting tongues.