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Three Poems by Helen T. Curtis

Helen T Curtis is a poet now settled in Derbyshire but with roots in the South of the country. Having escaped the London suburbs to study in Wales, she spent a good part of her life among the chalk hills of the South, and by the sea. Coast and river landscapes inform a good deal of her writing; recent work has also explored waters and weathers of the heart. Poems have been written over a time of personal joy and grief within her family, negotiating loss and new birth, as well as in excavating a long-buried personal history. Her poetry has been published in several journals including ArtemisPoetry, Dreich, The OSP Review, Indigo Dreams, Ink, Sweat and Tears and anthologies. Helen has studied widely, including gaining degrees in German and English, the latter 1st Class Hons. She has been studying with Dr Kirsten Norrie at the OSP for more than four years, which has culminated in a significant body of work: a collection, Tides, Elemental, which is due to be published by Broken Sleep Books in January 2025.

 

SHOALS FOR A REQUIEM


In through walls of sand elaborations, elevations, spires, gargoyled and curlicued, terracotta scribbled on blue – it was a saint from the north brought the seas and transformation; red mid-land mud bloomed miracles.

 

Shoals swim in a glass kaleidoscope where the west doors fling open a cobalt-gold flood like a romantic war, and we, the faithful, bow in our heroic hospitality to it all. A thousand swarm in the sea of faith that crumbles and rebuilds by tides: Eastertide, Passiontide, and the relief of not smiling.

 

Uncapped heads bob in the flotsam with slivered fish of turquoise, yellow, rose; paisley of grey and pastel of saints that drip on praying heads, coughing heads, high-voiced choirboy heads. I am every note of the choir as without the rest there is misattunement.

 

Nobody cries and nobody joins the line snaking round pews, through apses, synapses, past the empty chancel, avoiding the high altar as it’s only a death not the resurrection.

 

Nothing here matters because, at a chasm, the organ blasts, rattling the bones and brains of the quick and the dead. Stained glass saints vibrate. Shocked virgins vibrate. Marble flags and tombs of dead bishops vibrate and a thousand damp-eyed peace-makers sniffle and cough and fumble for change for paltry offerings and flap their mouths and approximate the hymn.

 

Under the mud floor you hear the murmur of rippling water echoing, familiarly, in a landscape of flooded valleys and sudden rock walls.

 

All of us not touching on the same sea-bed; flickering fish shoal in the high windows - so our song is drained and air and wet skin stained and this, now, makes the difference as we turn one at a time and en masse to meet  in deep condolence and the smiling brings tears that shimmer with a bright grief like the end of time eyes of fish just before the hook bites.

 

And in the end, you do drink from the chalice; you, parched, take the sacred vessel as the stone-dead priest sees into your ridiculous game. Only, when your lips touch its pilgrim rim, and you tip towards essence, the nectar has vanished, and there is only dry wine to roll around your useless tongue.


SEEDS OF SILENCE


Wizened seed of Ammi,

tiny tomb, stonebound  pip,

you lost your wings,

 

yet on striated shell remains

a moment of flight, etched

memory of parachute.

 

Scratchy little pyramid  -

snapped off and sealed -

what ancient secrets do you hold?

 

When the time is right,

you will loose your parachute strings

and out-blossom your white silks,

blooms for bees,

 

lacy garments for your Queen.


A MEMOIR OF THE SEA IN ME

A memoir of the sea in me, a memoir of how

I tried to become the sea, this drought year of all years! A memoir

of how I turned from the tide, and let the land burn me, let the sun

induce hallucination; until I let the unrelenting light speckle me like a hen’s egg

and I let the fierce gold of fields crackle under my feet

and I let the stink of burning enter my lungs. I let

the river’s ochre banks weave their reedy art

 

in their loopings, their revelations of drowned belfries;

and dared to look at what had been buried

under water. A memoir of knowing thirst and staying

in the light. A memoir of gratitude for breaths

of breeze; of memories of plains of amazement,

and barley flanks of hazy Warwickshire. A memoir

of this year of bodies of sweat melting ripe together;

A memoir of having enough, of slowing

to the pace of creatures of heat.

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