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3 poems by Helen Tookey 

In the Quaker hotel

single room on the top floor

narrow bed plain white bedspread

ventilator hum like a ship’s distant engines

floorboard creak

the brochure suggests a retreat for enquirers

could I learn to experiment with light?

can be challenging the writer warns

but may lead to new growth

below the window communal gardens

flagged square with two beehives

a kind of altar it comes to me

bees the tiny gods we depend on

each of us at our glowing window

a very practical discipline

walking in the woods with sarah

not a path

softness underfoot orange-brown compression layer

needles pinecones breaking down

becoming what

no roots no shadows

daub of bright neon green

at the base of each trunk

she said unmoored unlocated

not sure which way is up

she said cold hands knucklegrowths

soft tissue decay a thinning-out

I said certain unwantings


a kind of walking out of oneself

wandering the woods’ soft body

small mound exposed roots

ribs of a boat

ribs of a former animal

at the edge of the trees sandy earth

asparagus fields

running for miles behind the dunes

not a loss

something like a clarifying

becoming something you can’t name


then all at once running on the sand path

three dogs – one scruffy grey

two neater black and white –

and loping behind tall upright

self-contained in his dark clothes

the man of the dogs I know you

I said and thought at the same time

and an image rose from the other world

low ceiling painted walls thick mix

of talk and steam and food scents

this man at the centre of things capable

we stood apart on the sand path

yes he said we come here often

they can run for miles on these dry tracks

and there aren’t many people around

the dogs dashing back and forth

while he stood singular not liking

the loop of knowing I’d thrown around him

wanting to be gone I pictured him

down on the beach dark line

moving through an empty world

three dark dots at his heels trace on a screen


Helen Tookey is a poet and writer based in Liverpool, where she teaches creative writing at

Liverpool John Moores University. She has published two poetry collections with Carcanet

Press, Missel-Child (2014) and City of Departures (2019), and is currently working on a third.


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