Jane Symonds

wordsmith and mongrel

Category: Writing (page 1 of 13)


The cattle are coming in
up the creek banks, through the billabong
over the hungry ridge
the cattle are bearing
their pall of dust
they are coming in, heads tossing,
bellies sagging,
a thirst of Devons at
the trough of kindness.

The cattle are going
to town, they must
the cattle are going to sale
and none will come back
they cannot wait
they are going onto the truck
carrying on their backs
the candles we did not blow out
the wedding waltzes we did not dance
the prayers that were not answered
the rains that did not come
the cattle are going
it is time
it is done

The cattle are gone
do not look for the twilight skitter
of newborn calves
the comfortable camp of summer mothers
do not count heads
or hooves
do not check the feed, it belongs now
to the kangaroos
and the ghosts
do not go walking quietly among them
they are not there

The cattle are gone
and soon we will be like them.

a trio of fauxkus

Kisses like she writes:
with breathless arrhythmia;
mouthful of music

After the fanfare
come the loaded guns of war.
Don’t get too happy.

Not too much baggage
but it’s all carry-on, and
the cross weighs a ton.


When I was young, I thought
the trees made the wind.

How strange it is to discover that
what you thought was power
was merely submission.

summer body

The week the air turns cold I go back
to the Piscine Jean Taris, to make slow laps and emerge,
light-headed with chlorine and adrenaline,
as Paris is applying her morning blush in the sky.

I had planned to swim my way, in the spring,
into a new summer body,
stripped lean and smooth by morning motion,
regimented into beauty,

Instead in the summer my body grew soft and slow, filled with
heavy cider and light tinto de verano,
with Basque pintxos and oily langos and blue cheese
scooped onto fresh bread beside the Seine

My summer body oozed over the edges of a new bikini while I
cartwheeled down the beach at Le Touquet, and jiggled
under my tutu as I ran a chatty lap of the Château de Versailles, and ached
after I salsa-stepped until 6am

My summer body grew sticky with other people’s sweat as we jostled
before television screens and over beer-stained bars, and then
when the final whistle blew
became a single heaving being of joy and song:
on est champions !

Toasted golden-brown by a gentler sun, my summer body
was coated in Hungarian dust and washed clean to the sounds of thunder
as I danced
fully clothed
like a robot from 1984

Coiled tight with stress, hunched crooked over a desk until 11pm,
then coaxed straight again by practised fingers,
my summer body was slipped back into a bandage dress and heels and taken out
to be admired

My summer body was anointed with the tears of a friend as she trembled
against my shoulder at sunset,
prying open old wounds to let in
salty air
and then racked with my own sobs when in turn she took me by the shoulders
high above the Atlantic on the Camino de Santiago, and yelled
come back
you’re here
they can’t hurt you now
and tried to shake out
20 years of fear

My winter body will swim a little more slowly because it will be
heavy with memories and
fat with lessons learned and it will not apologise
for taking up more space in the world
than it did before.


You believed you were a woman when the
flare went up, spiking shards of fire
through your diaphragm and into something you thought
maybe was your heart? When your eyes fed
your stomach and your mouth,
went dry. Looking had become
an occupation and working woman sounded better than just
working girl.

You played at being woman when the flames
danced down your arms and you found
you could command them to
warm your grasp
and sear your prey

You shied from being woman when you reached
the edges, where the wires bared
possessive teeth, and where you had to
watch for openings:
a gate left unchained;
an angry streak of rust that
crumbled beneath the pressure
of your fingers;
a gap through which to crawl
and come out bleeding

You became a woman when you chose
to turn away, and though your longing
howled in the night, you
struck out for open country in search of
other things you did not know.


The moon?
Oh my darling, no,
the moon is too cold and too quiet.
I would give you a roaming brass band on
Sunday mornings, Brazilian drummers on Saturday nights, the clinking
of dishes and the chatter of terrasses.
I would give you
the place de la Bastille the night we qualified
for the final, a cacophony of horns, a snapping of flags, a roar
of savage jubilation,
and I would give you my eyes,
bright with sunshine.

The stars?
Oh my darling, no,
the stars are too far. But I would give you the smell of baking bread
floating in my windows,
the murmur of passing visitors, a light breeze
to stir the geraniums or
make the candle flame dance,
I would give you the pavement below and
the stonework above, and I would give you
my hands, curled around the stem of a
late-night glass.

The earth?
Oh my darling, no,
the earth is too big
and too troubled. But, oh, my love, I would give you
Paris in the summer,
and by that I mean,
my heart.

a proposed ranking system for injuries of the heart

How much it hurt can be gauged by
how I describe you: if you
had a lovely smile then
’twas but a scratch. If you
made great conversation then
the bruise flared but faded, but if
my mother would have liked you, then
it’s going to take a while
for the bones to set.

the other kind of love

If we were lovers, I could follow you
across the world
pack only sundresses and my
beating heart and say
I went all in for love
and sure
it might be foolish but it might also be
the entire course of my existence

If we were lovers I could fall apart
in public, run crying
from your farewell kiss and
beg you not to leave me, not even
for the adventure of your life

Because you are my friend I must say
be happier in a place where I am not
and I must do all this while continuing to
love you
via WhatsApp, if I’m lucky
and I must not tell anyone that my heart is broken because
you are my friend.


ours was a friendship that floated, a
sailboat we took out on
odd weekends, weather permitting, to
peruse the waves and
chase the sun

we bobbed above the unexplored and turned away from
sharks that roamed beneath us,
pulling up our trailing toes and never
throwing in a line although we knew
we’d make a catch.

I used to worry we were fools for
going out at all, if we never
touched the water; never tried to
find the ocean floor,
why did we go?

but when the storm blew up and cast
the sea aboard, I saw,
sunny afternoon by sunny afternoon, we had been
how to stay afloat.


The night you grabbed me in the street
Uber said,
Error. Try again later.

The night you grabbed me in the street
my friend was visiting
from Peru. As I left she clutched my face and told me
she loved me, and she was glad
I existed

The night you grabbed me in the street
there were no taxis.

The night you grabbed me in the street
I had almost not gone out because I was
sleepy, and it was
a long metro ride to find my friends, but they said
please come
so I put on a pretty skirt and some
red lipstick that made me feel
and in the end we had so much fun, I danced
until 4am

The night you grabbed me in the street
I had just got off
the night bus, where I had been thinking about
how Margaret Atwood said men are afraid women
will laugh at them, and women are afraid men will
kill them.

The night you grabbed me in the street
had been so happy

The night you grabbed me in the street
I was hurrying home thinking about
the man who just stared at me for 20 minutes at the bus stop and
the man who had run across traffic to say
mademoiselle, can I stay at your place tonight?

The night you grabbed me in the street
you spoke to me first and when I did not answer
you called me obscenities and when I kept walking
your friend shoved me and when I kept walking still
you ran after me and grabbed my arse

The night you grabbed me in the street
was only the second time it’s happened to me. That’s how I told it to my friend,
the next day:
only the second time.

The night you grabbed me in the street
I turned back to look at you in disgust but I did not
break stride, or
tell you off, or
grab you back
because flight seemed the least dangerous option

The night you grabbed me in the street
I felt sick and scared and ashamed
and then grateful
that it was only a shove and a grope
and I wondered how you felt or if you had already

The night after you grabbed me in the street I did not
or jog,
or walk
through the city I have made my home.

« Older posts

© 2019 Jane Symonds

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑