Helen Ivory was born in Luton in 1969, and lives in Norwich. She has worked in shops, behind bars, on building sites and with several thousand free-range hens. She has studied painting and photography and has a Degree from Norwich School of Art. In 1999 she won an Eric Gregory Award. She has published three collections with Bloodaxe Books, The Double Life of Clocks (2002), The Dog in the Sky (2006) and The Breakfast Machine (2010). She was awarded an Arts Council writer’s bursary in 2005 and in 2008 an Author’s Foundation Grant. She has taught creative writing for Continuing Education at the University of East Anglia for nine years and has been Academic Director there for five. She is an editor for the Poetry Archive, a tutor for the Arvon Foundation and is currently studying for a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at UEA.
My mother kept a chameleon instead of a dog, and when I was at school it did the job of passing notes to my father. It was very clever at appearing anywhere around the house – hanging by its tail from the curtain pole, materializing suddenly from the pattern of the armchair. The quickness of its eyes meant he never got away, and when its elastic tongue delivered the message somewhere between temple and cheek, it would always come with the clatter of pans from down the hall, or the angry whiz of a blender.
The Story of Fire
After fire had ripped though the trees and towns and had left skeletons of houses and furniture, it turned its attentions on the graveyard. All my dead are there, neat in boxes, and fire skipped over their graves singing. When the song could not wake them, it pushed and shoved at the stones, but they would not budge. Once fire had squandered its strength on the stones, it shrank to the size of a single flame, which my mother blew out with a goodnight kiss.
Her Uncle’s New House
Her parents had gone there for serious talks
but the dumb waiter spent all night
conveying food though the storeys.
The head of a pig, cooked till its eyes
were cataract milky, jaw fallen open
to a wise-cracking grin.
A rabbit blancmange wobbling
through each jolt of the hoist,
fiercely trying to keep a straight face.
In the very quiet of an early morning
a bird tries every window of the house,
feathers bristling with effort.
Only the eldest girl hears
and creeps downstairs in her nightdress.
She knows nothing of the persistence of birds
has only seen them distant in trees
or making patterns in the sky,
so the dark bead of its eye unnerves her.
Still she opens a window.
It perches on the back of a chair,
claws grazing at lacquer.
When it speaks, it is raw crow,
earthy, guttural, with scant punctuation
no openings for niceties or how-do-you-dos.
Her ears hurt with the noise of it,
she tries dreadfully to understand
but she is only a girl. As it departs,
the bird filches a snag of her hair
to weave into its nest.
Another 3am Call
Every night, my grandmother
rehearses her journey
into the otherworld
as her womenfolk stand by,
rooted to this world by strong cups of tea.
The air is electricity
and it’s easy to imagine
my grandmother’s travels
and how superfluous
slippers might be.
We dress her in her wedding gown,
her auburn hair with violets.
On the walk home
night fits around us
like a freshly torn coat.
Order Helen’s recent collection, The Breakfast Machine