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Helen Kay



the poet

Helen Kay has poems in The Rialto, Stand and Butcher’s Dog, as well as in her pamphlet, This Lexia & Other Languages. She curates Poetry Dyslexia and Imagination: a creative platform for people with dyslexia and other forms of neurodiversity. A finalist for the 2022 Brotherton Anthology, Helen won both the Repton and the Ironbridge poetry competitions in 2023. On social media, she's known for her hen puppet sidekick, Nigella.

the poems

(from 𝑂𝐸 Biter)

00:00 / 01:37

                        The fox took away my old hens last night

                        to feed its starving cubs. Its vampire teeth 

                        parted feathers, pierced the oesophagus 

                        and windpipe below the sinewy neck 

                        and severed the spinal cord, quick as birds

                        that snatch worms or pluck a butterfly  

                        off a shelf of air. No waste; no signs, bar 

                        sequins of spilt corn on moulted feathers.

                        Wearing his wife’s kimono, a QC beat 

                        to death a fox caught in the wire fence

                        round his hen coop, blooded his baseball bat. 

                        I am not bitter, Foxy. The cruellest bite  

                        is the empty plate of death. I would bequeath 

                        you my thighs, breast and legs to plump up 

                        your bony kin. Worse things lurk darkly:      

                        two million hens gassed and eaten daily.  

                        We will chainsaw the coop, splintering tears 

                        of plywood on the earth. We will plant 

                        egg-smooth bean seeds in our hen manure  

                        and watch the sparrows steal red cherries.

                        I will stir my tears in a glass of wine 

                        or let them fall to dry on a page of words.

                        I will wear my fox socks, post #fox pics 

                        cross my fingers, bolt my door at dusk.


00:00 / 01:08

                        Every night Dad and I clicked the tiles slick 

                        as casino chips. A whiskey soda 

                        lit his petrol-coupon glass to a sparkling   

                        chandelier. An ashtray snake-charmed 

                        a Silk Cut while he positioned the tiles, 

                        turned misspellings into jokes. Winning 

                        did not matter; it was our way of talking.

                        We were both dictionary-dependent, lifting 

                        its cover like the lid of a Milk Tray box. 

                        We fished letters from a yellow wash bag, 

                        sliced them into so many meanings. 

                        Slotted in our chairs, we made order: 

                        ashtray, coaster, fag packet. My pen knitted 

                        lines of scores, filled the evening’s blank page, 

                        and always, upstairs, Mum, out cold, a burnt 

                        stub, empty tumbler, blank tile, jumbled-up bag 

                        of letters we could never put into words.

My Brother’s Widow

00:00 / 01:05

            Not wanting to waste things, she sows your tomato seeds,

            too late. The seedlings sprout in May, vulnerable and 

            hairy, moving forward imperceptibly, as she is. 

            Soon she has too many plants and gives me two. 

            Neither of us knows which bits to snip, what to feed them, 

            only that we are growing gently together, reaching out. 

            Green leaves unfurl their fingered symmetry towards me.

            Constellations of yellow flowers hold tomorrows.

            I can catch your flamboyance in the way they crowd my yard.

            Sal has planted marigolds with hers, calls it companion planting.

            In a way, I won’t mind a lack of tomatoes. The absence of them, 

            lurking round and red beneath the leaves, seems fitting.

Publishing credits

Bitter (from 𝑂𝐸 Biter): Live Canon Anthology 2022 (Live Canon)

Scrabble: won first prize at the Iron Bridge Poetry Festival 2023

My Brother's Widow: longlisted for the Cheltenham Poetry

  Competition 2023

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