Helen Mort

Helen Mort


‘I touch her with the eyes of my skin.’
– Natalie Diaz

High summer. Her garden climbs
and plummets: tendrils and vines
that have outgrown direction.

Leather flower. Virgin’s bower.
Traveller’s joy.

The trellis is a waterfall, flecked
with cream petals
I hold my hands out to it, a cup
or an offering.


My mum used to catch me out: which is heavier, 
a tonne of bricks or a tonne of feathers?

She’d laugh. There’s no difference. Now her limbs 
are tricking her. Her body was a house. 
Now it’s made of feathers.

Her bones know the truth of it: mortar 
and down, they share so little. Rain.
The roof of our world leaking.

Her skin lets the droplets in. Her composition matters.
Soak a brick in water and see how it trickles off.

Now soak a dozen feathers and feel the cold weight of them
press your face into your pillow at night.


My mother in the garden, cultivating
her hundred different types of clematis.

They are known for their ingenuity,
the incomprehensible ways they climb
and wrap around the vertical.

Andromeda. Catallus. Montana.
I love their papery strength, 
their astonishment,

the thousand ways 
the throat can open.


She has always prized rarity. 
Her body is pragmatic now, her pain

an advancement of science. 
Once, she wanted to leave 

the sum of herself to medical students
but my father could not bear it.

For us, she does not need to be useful
or flourishing. But my mother is a gardener.

She plants nothing without thought, knows 
the season for everything.


She is a specialist in her own suffering.
What can a consultant tell her?

They cut her: she bleeds and feels no sting.
She is weak, but her joints are painless.

I am a specialist in the scalpel
of love, the spotlight of her affection.

Dawn comes surgical, makes me wrap
my coat around my own flesh, own bones.

I should watch her now. I should be silent,
busy in the operating theatre of our lives.


Head in the sun, feet in the shade:
their pinks and purples are seasonal
and high maintenance.

Treated well, they can survive
a quarter of a century.
They will grow in any good soil
but there are many ways
to finish them.

Clematis montana, growing
through other plants.

When the breeze moves their blooms
they turn as one, shouting blue murder
into the wind.

HELEN MORT is a poet and novelist. Her collections Division Street and No Map Could Show Them are published by Chatto and her third, The Illustrated Woman is due in 2022. She’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University.​