Thursday 5 January 2023

Four Poems by Shelley Tracey


The Properties of Glass


My new specs on the bedside table, arms twisted, lenses cracked.

Too little water in the drinking glass to down this morning’s pill.

The scars across my porcelain bowl of shells and stones have spread.


Dunnock-egg mosaic tiles around the bathroom mirror, 

grout in the interstices smattered with red flecks.

Grit embedded in the fissures of my unslept skin.


In church, the children ask about the stained-glass panels,

the names of bland-faced saints and slippery marble forms.

He kneels there to the side of us, eyes closed hard against his fists.


In the aquarium, the children spread their fingers, mimicking

the starfish, stare in wonder at the flickering neon blues and reds.

He thumps the glass, his stare confronts the shark’s wide rictus grin.


On the road towards his parents’ house, a navy starling rears  

against the windscreen.  He whisks it off with windscreen wipers.

A patina of blueberry mulch remains throughout the storm.


In his mother’s living room, the children keep returning

to the buds in millefiori paperweights,

to the ships forced into bottles, no release.





South Africa 


Little need for me to know the art of lighting fires in a dehydrated country where most houses lack a hearth.  My low-voiced father lit the barbecue, gentling an enduring simmer.  My mother’s urgent frictions never flinted him to flame.  


Grandmother told us stories of an icy Latvian childhood,  taking food to her soldier father in ragged clammy shoes.  Waylaid by tales of rocks and hedgehogs piercing snowdrifts, I never thought to ask of fireside-thawing on return.   


As girl guides,  at arms-length from the bonfire,  we toasted marshmallows to scorching sweetness, sacrificed outer layers to messy fragrant cores.


Night times in a rocking chair, the baby solid-warm against me, heating me to motherness, melting me to calm.



Northern Ireland


Slow to learn the rhythms of this frosty rain-chilled country,  the words which others understand, the craft of making fires.


My husband building coal-towers, making space for sparks to slip through. 


Christmas in the living room, woodfire-staring, serpent flames evolving backwards into dinosaurs, rugged creatures growling, crouching in the grate.


The boys who blazed  my car to rust and crumple right outside my door are never caught. Fire engine  hissing in the midnight driveway, the children’s anxious faces, the flickering singe of fear.  The ashes smudged into the tarmac will never brush away.



seeing in the dark  



at sunrise, our blankets cast a red glow on the ceiling   

i sleep behind you, skin    on your skin    my hand over your heart


morning sculpts new shadows on the grass before the storm


i listen to the wind, your breath, the wind, your breath, the wind


daisies lean against each other in the rain, umbrellas inside out


in the forest, trees change shape too slowly to be noticed    

no familiar tracks        to follow     every path i take is new


the stone i tossed into a lake will not return to tell me what it found there


reminder: the moon,  though invisible today, is always present


how will i keep warm at night after the room is cleared, the bed stripped back,

our years together folded up    behind the mountains?  





1.     In the surgery, walls depleted green, my bodyhusk beside me on a socially distanced chair. What matters is an aloe in a red clay pot, leaves uplifted to the closegrained light.


2.     Mountain, mist on skin, rain down sides, earthpelt over bones. I know that sunshine will arrive in its own time, and pull the covers over when it leaves.


3.     Feathery pink peonies open, my beginnings/endings blur. One moment away from flight.


4.     It doesn’t matter that the chilled sweet water in the yellow jug has spilt.  My thirst has passed.



throughout the winter

beeches hold out railings -

ready for spring bunting


Shelley Tracey, originally from South Africa, lives in Northern Ireland. Her poetry collection Elements of Distance was published by Lapwing in 2017. Other poems have been published in The North, Abridged, Artemis, The Haibun Journal, Drifting Sands Haibun and Tanka Prose Journal, Bangor Poetry Journal, Skylight 47, Visual Verse, Honest Ulsterman, North West Words, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Bray Arts Journal,  and many anthologies. Website:


  1. worth reading more than once.

  2. Congratulations dear Shelley.So proud to be part of this talented

  3. I really enjoyed all of these poems. Each time I have read them I have seen more in them. Very powerful


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