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I come back to the woods to find you.


I turn off the road, cut the lights, follow the track through to the clearing.


I sit in the car and listen to the tick of cooling metal. 


It takes me a long time to get out of the car, but I do get out, and follow the path into the trees, the thin beam of my torch making everything jump forward, startling everything out of itself.


Do you remember our torches, the ones they gave us for Christmas that year? Small, plastic – mine yellow and white, yours orange and white. It strikes me as odd, now, that they gave us torches – for what? Everything torches promised was forbidden. We never went out in the dark, or perhaps we did, but only once.


I walk along the path and the narrow beam of my torch makes another path, flickering with creatures. Caught in the light, jerky like puppets – maybe you in your white shirt, teasing me, jittering in and out of the trees – here I am, over here – 


until I come to the pond and everything shrinks back into stillness, the pond itself perfectly black, perfectly silent. I come as close as I dare to the still black edge and I shine my torch down into the water, but the water refuses, the black surface stops the light as though it were solid. You aren’t here, and after a while there is nothing to do but pocket the small plastic torch, turn and walk back to the car.



we take down the storm shutters    pale sea-light floods the rooms     wooden floorboards    

the rooms quite bare    we walk through them    try the switches    low humming    power on    

generator somewhere out back in the dunes    we make coffee    we walk through the rooms    

boards creaking under our feet    hollow drum sound of the crawlspace    hiss and scritch

against the porch    whisper of sand    its constant fetch up against the shingles    

spring and creak of the kitchen floor as we unpack the food     stock up the cupboards    

rattle of glasses on the dresser    sudden burst of radio voices    young voices    

just kids maybe    some abandoned station along the coast    maybe hundreds of miles    

maybe not far    signal fading in & out    wind rising    green flare of the lamps

as we light them    snatch of radio harmony    Surf City / here we come    & under it all

the sea-murmur    unbroken thought of this place    sea musing    out beyond the mudflats    

still it observes    weighs things up    begins to think of coming home

Long Grass with Butterflies

They encourage me to walk in the gardens

but they won’t allow me to stop and look.

They crowd me, they hold up constantly

their small devices. The grass grows 

tall and unkempt – granted, it seems,

a certain freedom. Their devices tell them 

how to see. They don’t allow me

to see with my eyes – the nakedness,

they find it obscene. In the long grass 

are butterflies, huge and violent. The trees

are cut off, close to the ground. The white path

leads into the trees, and disappears.



(Vincent van Gogh, Long Grass with Butterflies, 1890)

Helen Tookey is a poet based in Liverpool, where she teaches creative writing at Liverpool John Moores University. Her debut collection Missel-Child (Carcanet, 2014) was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Prize, and her second Carcanet collection, City of Departures, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2019. She has collaborated with musicians Sharron Kraus and Martin Heslop; in September 2019, Helen and Martin spent two weeks in the Elizabeth Bishop House in Nova Scotia, having been awarded a residency to make new work there responding to the location. Helen’s poems often focus on fleeting moments, dream-scenes and uncanny places, driven by ‘haunting transformative energies’ (Dundee University Review of the Arts) and by the pervasive sense of the present moment as threshold, caught between lost pasts and uncertain futures.

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