Joanna Ezekiel’s Centuries of Skin

Joanna Ezekiel

Joanna Ezekiel grew up in Kent and Essex, and currently lives in York. She is a creative writing tutor for the Open University and the Open College of the Arts. Joanna’s first collection Centuries of Skin (Ragged Raven Press, 2010) follows her pamphlets Safe Passage (White Leaf Press, 2007) and A Braid of Words (Poetry Monthly Press, 2003). She has an MA in Creative Writing and Personal Development from Sussex University. Joanna has been guest reader at events such as Coffee-House Poetry and the Essex Poetry Festival, and is available for readings. She blogs at
Centuries of Skin was published in April 2010 by Ragged Raven Press. The collection is available for £7 including p&p from Ragged Raven Press.  
“… a control of narrative and image that makes the reader appreciate how poetry can illuminate lives that have both sad and celebratory moments”

– Liz Cashdan, Jewish Renaissance Magazine
“The compressed energy and an unswerving courage to tell the truth about her own family history marks many of Ezekiel’s poems with a sharp edge – a kind of elegiac journey that leaves the reader wanting to know more.”
– Patricia Prime, New Hope International Review

You buy a set of Russian dolls
from the street market in Budapest,
carry it home, gift-wrapped,
place it upon the dining table.
The largest doll is sturdy in indigo,
her headscarf threaded with gold,
her apron scarlet and green.
Inside her, the other dolls
rattle their whittled wood.
You let them out.
Four, three, two, one –
the shapes, the aprons,
the thick rounded bases,
the holiday smell of lacquer.
The face of the smallest doll
carries the widest smile,
the brush strokes of gold
copied last.
She does not open up.
You think: This is what
it must be like
to grow up
with your smiling face
turned out towards the world.
And you drop the dolls back
inside each other,
twisting each one shut,
smile after smile after smile.
Forty minutes to London
There will always be a girl in black leggings
leaving the hairdressers for cigarettes;
opposite, the library is still as wide
as a Roman villa, where Dennis Wheatley hardbacks
with swirling covers are packed away
in the basement. Although the Odeon, with queues
around the corner on Saturdays and Rosh Hashanah,
is long gone, traded for luxury flats, the nightclub
has enlarged, its weedy indie playlist
now forgotten. Waiting for fish and chips,
I catch the eye of the bus stop where kids my age
would stare at me as I, trying to look
just like them, would hurry by, their curiosity
persistent, searching for mismatched patterns
or last year’s trainers, their eyes such hot coals
I would say a mantra, like I am an Island
or Shyness is nice, as if it would save me,
above the Tube subway, forty minutes to London,
where we thought all the action happened.
“I am an Island” is from Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘I am a rock’
“Shyness is nice” is from The Smiths’ ‘Ask’

Coffee with an ex
To think, after everything,
that you would meet him,
yet here you are, the corner seat,
a green-tinted window, early.
You stare at your reflection
in the pine table, antiseptic-shiny,
look towards the café doorway
where his broad shadow will always win.
Other customers sip coffee
over papers, over laptops
blinking from page to page.
November. You place your phone
by the thin vase that contains
a single plastic poppy.
‘Coffee with an ex’ was longlisted for the 2009 Bridport Prize.
Writing about the sea
After the introductory session, the admin, the book lists, I take
the train a couple of stops to the beach. It’s a windy afternoon.
Waves roll in. I spot gulls and persistent autumn swimmers.
I hold my hard-backed notebook, its square, plain pages.
Start to write with my cheap cartridge pen, bought because I
want the ink to flow easily. I sit on the shingle and write, not
about my hopes and dreams for the course, but about my train
journey to college this morning, and about being one of sixteen
students sitting at a square of tables.
Now I continue to write through the rhythm of waves, the smell
of fish and chips, of salt carried to me by the wind. Children
shriek on the tinny clatter of a roundabout behind me. A crisp
wrapper flaps, just out of reach. My pen scratches turquoise
ink, like I’m in the third year of high school again. Turquoise
like a coral reef sea.
Even upstage
he is shockingly close –
looking her way
for a few seconds
to search beyond
the hushed audience,
the lamps on the ceiling
flaring tungsten
while she, on tiptoe
at the standing-rail
to follow the pulse
of his sightline
only afterwards
the crystalline whir
of a bluebottle
pleading against glass.
After watching Christopher Eccleston in ‘A Doll’s House’
at the Donmar Warehouse, London, 2009.
After the snow
Last night
watching The Wire,
all that drama
like today’s ice
cracking, seeping water
over the front path,
a wise detective said
All the pieces matter.
I think: more ice
than we could want
while the polar caps melt.
This morning,
shuffling a heap
of poems into order,
maybe I’m looking
for a pattern.
from Centuries of Skin (Ragged Raven Press, 2010)
Order Centuries of Skin.
Read more of Joanna’s poems at poetry pf.
Visit Joanna’s blog.

2 thoughts on “Joanna Ezekiel’s Centuries of Skin

  1. Julie

    Awesome poems. It’s always a pleasure to read here, Michelle. Thank you for the poetry and links. Happy Friday:)

  2. jack sender

    Michelle, it is a pleasure to read poems written with the direct approach. I like them. I understand them. They take me somewhere. Some, as ‘Coffee with an ex’ and ‘After the snow’ end with a delightful thought-provoking twist.

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