Two Poems by Sarah James

The Nook and the Knack

Once my dad would have
looked out at my back garden,
sighed and grabbed his tools:
mowing, weeding, pruning,
smoothing rough edges.

The ivy’s spread started
with my shed. A light touch,
at first. One leaf, and then another,
until the string of hearts grew
clasping, clinging, binding.

Its hold rotted the timber,
collapsing the felt roof,
but the structure remained intact.
A green patchwork
created its own shelter.

Decades later, it’s still growing,
still homing woodlice, beetles and spiders:
sturdy against the rain,
glistening with sunlight
and entwining new flowers.

This year, an ivy heart
has reached the nook in our fir tree,
where I sit snug between sunlit
russet branches, nursing
my troubled thoughts.

The wrinkled bark reminds me
of Dad’s weathered skin,
the crook between his thumb and finger,
his firm grasp planting a sapling
or steadying a nail for his hammer.

The knack of tools and fixing
worked into every muscle,
his fingers grip as tightly as before,
only slower, less determinedly.
I’m not sure if he’s come

to admire a little wildness,
or no longer has the strength
to tackle it.

Our Time

Handed on now Dad’s reached seventy,
his clock takes its place at the top of our stairs.

Its system of pendulum, weights and cogs
beyond me, the ticking’s an agitation I can’t quite

white-noise. I’ll wind the piece as shown.
Not because I need the dial’s numbers

or the hands’ circling to pace my days.
But because it’s Dad’s time, his giving it

to me: the unending tic of its tock
spells the words we feel but can’t speak.



Sarah James is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Her collections include plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press), shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Awards, and The Magnetic Diaries (Knives Forks and Spoons Press) highly commended in the Forward Prizes. Although she hasn’t inherited her father’s love of gardening or clocks, she enjoys time outside, walking, cycling and exploring nature. Her website is at

Two poems by Sarah Leavesley

Learning to Drive

It was the manual choke that got me,
that and the short but steep slope
of our drive to the road, stopping
before the edge, guessing the biting point.

Our Ford Fiesta did its best, tried
to chug smoothly, to even out breaths.
But me, I hadn’t yet learned to predict
the tone of steeled vibrations.

Week after week, hour after taut hour
of lessons with my dad,
everything about us cramped
into the space behind the steering wheel.

Arms brittle in plastic ballerina pose,
I’d grip the padded plastic, lift
my foot from one pedal, jolt-dance
on brake, accelerator, brake.

He’d watch, his back a closed door,
hands manacled to each knee,
though he couldn’t stop his left foot tapping.
So many times I inched us from the slope,

juddering…but in control.
Then we’d hear the engine gasp
and catch its breath,
as we stumbled,
…………………….then lurched forward.


Like my dad, Leonardo’s letters –
his mirror-script written right to left –
were before their time.
But there’s meaning between the lines.

Anatomical studies of the foetus,
our legs, head, eyes… Behind his art,
dissection, wax injections and the flow
of millet seeds through a glass heart valve.

My dad’s engineering – traffic flow
through towns – is unremembered,
re-developed. The letters he wrote
to me at university were filled

with years of nurture: from foetus
to tumbling toddler, through teen heart-break
to the homesickness of life
away from childhood and family.

Unappreciative at the time,
I now unfold Dad’s words to read
and re-read each copper-plated line;
my heart brims with meaning.

Sarah James is a poet, fiction writer, journalist, photographer and occasional playwright/short script writer. Her latest poetry collections are plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press) and the Overton Poetry Prize winning sequence Lampshades & Glass Rivers (Loughborough University). A short novella, Kaleidsocope, is published by Mantle Lane Press later this year. Her website is at and she is editor at V. Press, poetry and flash imprint.