Thursday 16 February 2023

Five Poems by Terri Metcalfe


Christmas Time


They say the first Christmas is the hardest –

an indulgence of denial, explanations, grief,

the scrutinising of hours.


My father hates turkey, watches the beef in its new coat of silver

as my mother worries chocolates from their rounded

moulds of bronze and gold, her hourglass long gone to sod.


An alarm sounds for potatoes to be turned in their fat shroud,

dead as desert but brought to life to gleam for us a minute,

sit leaden in the pits of our roasted zombie stomachs.


We pretend not to notice when my nephew, on repeat,

creeps outside to blow smoke rings

in a northerly direction past the shed and on to Skiddaw.


There is a baby, face fat as a grandfather clock,

drinks juice from a bottle and dips a finger into my brother’s

brandy. We all laugh without knowing why.


Metronome hands lift glasses, table to mouth,

mouth to table, again and again until the metronome

is the branch of a tree taken with the wind.


I pick a plastic cup from the floor. It’s these moments

I remember the casual nature of it. The throwaway decision

that would never cast itself off until my head was a shadow across a sundial.


The calendar turns eventually, until I am another year sober.


Into the City on a Whim


Its lodestone glow of new beginnings

Its lunch of twos and pickled sins

Its catch of eye and scratching din

Its box of frogs and nonsense things

Its Christmas tree of forest thin

Its crackle lights of glare within

Its harried life of aching limbs

Its botched clown of angled grin

Its cat o’ nine tails slash of skin

Its repetition, hypnotic hymn

Its mile of hole, come in, come in




Your power was nuclear

a cortisol and adrenaline bomb

One wrong move and you’d explode,

arcing across the room

as a flash of heat and light


so I’d sit tight

wait for the titanium bars

of your sadness to lower

then I’d break away

as your eyes milked over


I’d told you I was a sleepwalker,

a daughter of the moon

That’s how the house tipped

up in the middle of the night,

how the outside came in:


the cat with a raven,

its black plumes of warning


footprints fragmenting

and the smell of atoms splitting




I should remind you about the last day,

of the last term, of the first year,

when we hitched a lift home

two hours before classes ended.

How we smoked a fag at the big oak in preparation,

its solidity helping to steady the nerves,

how we chewed the gum,

sprayed the LouLou eau de toilette.


I should remind you of his thick accent,

thick like chloroform in the mouth,

how he dropped his aitches,

“’appen thas skivin’ lasses”

and listened to radio Cumbria.

How reception broke like trust and crackled

to a hiss, how jaws of crags appeared to jeer

as we drove deeper into the valley.


I should remind you how our parents

warned us about this kind of thing,

strange men, often with sweets

or puppies, or a long raincoat hiding

Something Unimaginable.

How this Yorkshire alien had a van

called the passion wagon

and a sticker that read, “don’t laugh, you’re next”.


I should remind you how the red plastic seats

stuck to our legs and made slapping

noises like a fish out of water.

How our thighs stung and our hearts

were dead cargo dumped in Johnny’s wood

or meat for eels in the beck.

How we’d be ghost stories for tourists,

“They carry their rucksacks like guilt”


I should remind you how he dropped us

by Howe Lane bus stop,

how we sat and smoked another fag in the silence,

tar and arsenic masking the smell of dead sheep.

How summer had been burst like an ugly zit.

How we forgot to chew the gum or spray the cheap perfume.

How your dad grounded you for two weeks

and how I said, “imagine if we’d been his type”.


Winter Sunrise Over Galway


It grabs the corners of my mouth,

pulls them from childhood above a blanket

into sharpened air.


There are as many smiles for as many reasons

as the mind has emotion.


I push the door of nostalgia and find myself

asleep in the way of good fortune.


There are as many difficulties as the mind

decides we have a blanket for.


I see now where I went wrong –

forgetting to watch the sun rise,

hiding under cold comfort.



Cumbria native Terri Metcalfe moved to Ireland with her Mayo born partner and two children in 2019. From a down-to-earth, tools of the practical trade family, she only recently in her forties, thought it acceptable that she might be a serious poet. Terri has endured several decades of mental and physical ill health which she draws on in her work. She has been published in Abridged, A New Ulster, Green Ink Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Skylight 47, Noctivagant and Crowstep Journal, amongst others. She was shortlisted for the Open Window 2023 mentorship programme and will be a featured reader at the 20th anniversary of Over The Edge Literary Events held in Galway city library this coming January.


  1. Incredible poems, Terri. “Christmas Time” and “Hitching” both stopped me in my tracks, such harrowing relatable scenes, beautifully crafted with honesty and your amazing weaving together of raw senses sounds tastes and lyricism. I keep hearing the metronome hands, that metronome branch.

  2. Terri Metcalfe8 March 2023 at 22:49

    Hey Casey, sorry I just saw this. Thank you so much for these kind words!


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