Division Street

You brought me here to break it off
one muggy Tuesday. A brewing storm,
the pigeons sleek with rain.
My black umbrella flexed its wings.
Damp-skinned, I made for the crush
of bars, where couples slip white pills
from tongue to tongue, light as drizzle,
your fingers through my hair,
the little way you nearly sneaked
a little something in my blood.

At the clinic, they asked if I’d tattoos
and I thought again of here –
the jaundiced walls, the knit-knit whine
of needle dotting bone, and, for a moment,
almost wish you’d left your mark;
subtle as the star I cover with t-shirts,
the memory of rain, or your head-down walk
along Division Street, slower each week, pausing
by the pubs, their windows so dim you see
nothing but yourself reflected.

by Helen Mort

from The shape of every box, published by tall-lighthouse.

“Having moved from Derbyshire to Cambridge, I find my poems often contain a kind of longing for people and places I used to know, and ‘Division Street’ is no exception. The poem is named after a street in Sheffield. So much of poetry is a kind of nostalgia – Michael Donaghy’s poem ‘Upon A Claude Glass’ captures this perfectly for me, the notion that the past is in front of us, not the present:

‘Don’t look so smug. Don’t think you’re any safer
as you blunder forward through your years

squinting to recall some fading pleasure,
or blinded by some private scrim of tears.’

“Like many semi-autobiographical poems, this one started from fact, and took off in the writing process.  That can make you feel as if you aren’t being faithful to your experiences, but it’s important to let a poem write itself, rather than always trying to direct it.”

Helen Mort was born in Sheffield in 1985, and now lives in Cambridge. Five times winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year competition, Helen’s work has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies including Tower PoetryThe Rialto and Poetry LondonThe shape of every box was published by tall-lighthouse in 2007; that same year she received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. In 2008, she won the Manchester Young Writer Prize. Helen is part of the ‘Escalator’ live literature scheme for performance.

tall-lighthouse was founded in 2000. It publishes full collections, pamphlets, chapbooks and anthologies of poetry, and organises poetry readings and events in and around London and South East and South West England, as well as facilitating writing workshops in conjunction with Arts, Education, Library and Community Services.