‘When I was six’ and other poems by Julia Deakin


It was you, wasn’t it?
Sent me a box of genitalia?
Not two but twenty-four ripe ovaries
with six enormous stamens each engorged with pollen
thrusting purple-veined through curvy lips and downy inner folds
around a fleshy pistil glistening with a film of moisture round the swollen tip
all bursting from a flushed, moist, hirsute declivity and smelling…
as if freshly showered?
Thank you for the flowers.
I won’t read too much into it.


Dovebber, Jaduary ad Barch
the datiodal afflictiod bakes its rouds.
Wad grib afterdood you sedse
a cledched fist roud your epiglottis.
Baligd greblid, it hags id there
squeezig ad squeezig. Or baybe
you swallowed a dailbrush?

Do, you thindk, do – bore
like Hober Sibsod by the biddit.
I cad still breathe. You turd
the heatig up to baxibub, buscles achig
udtil dext bordig you fide
you’ve betaborphosed
idto a woolly babboth –

eyes streabig, dose ruddig,
gradba recobbeddig vitabid C
or baduka huddy. Feed a code, she dags
but you cad odely taste Barbite
ad TCP – there’s a cebedt bixer
codvedtiod id your siduses
ad dow your ears have god fuddy,

rushig ad gurglig like a Badhattad
sewer. Your braid turded to bush
you draba queed it, sdortig ad sdeezig
od the screed which idforbs you
you are cobbod. You have
dasopharydgitis, rhidopharydgitis,
acute coryza or a code:

ad idfectiod which affects pribarily
the dose…the bost frequedt disease
id hubads, the average adult codtracts
two to three addually. These idfectiods
have beed with hubadity sidce adtiquity.
There is do cure. You are biserable
as sid. You are hubad.

Code – first published in Magma 66, Winter 2016, Eds. John Canfield and Ella Frears (www.magmapoetry.com)


Crabtree to Gascoigne, 1641

So, our dear Horrocks is gone. Twenty-two. I must repeat
what I find so hard to accept: that such a bright star
should be lost to us so young. After all we shared,
I shall never now shake his hand.

That November Sunday he, the better astronomer,
noted his observations there and then. I was too overcome
to touch a pen. I shall make amends.

Tonight though, at my window, the cosmos
he proved vaster and more ordered than we thought
seems emptier – a mere expanse.

My lenses mist.

Would he have planned to visit had he felt unwell,
or been ill for long? No. He was in health, for all we knew.

Which, in the end, was what? Something of the spheres,
their transit centuries hence. But of tomorrow –
of accidents round corners, stalking maladies, guests
with knives – nothing. Nothing about our inner storms
or numbered days. More of the heavenly bodies
than of ours.

Thus I am plagued by fears: that to fathom the skies
without first grasping our own profound cosmologies
is perverse. That to see – not as prophets but mathematicians,
the year, the day, the hour – so far ahead, is to spy
on God.

These fears I want his reason to reject.

But since my telescope cannot bring him closer,
it leaves me cold. I have no heart for work. No instrument,
good Sir, to measure loss.

Jeremiah Horrocks [1619-1641], of Toxteth, first recorded the transit of Venus and predicted future transits, including 8th June 2004. ‘The Keats of English astronomy’ died the day before he was to meet his mentee William Crabtree [1610-1644] of Salford. Their friend William Gascoigne [1612-1644], of Leeds, invented the micrometer.

Crabtree to Gascoigne, 1641 – from Eleven Wonders (Graft Poetry 2011, Ed. Nicholas Bielby www.graftpoetry.co.uk)

Unattributed sampler 
                        Bankfield Regimental Museum, Halifax

In memory of ELIZABETH HITCHEN, Who died November 26, this battle was begun 
in 1841. The house was quiet and you must learn to be, Grandmamma whispered, 
measuring the lines. Your little sister’s gone Aged 13 months to be with God.

I was just five but could already read THEY WILL BE MISST A VACANT PLACE
AT TABLE AND AT TIME OF PRAYER. What shall we put up there I asked,in the big space? 
Lord knows, my love – God will decide  she said, then smiled. Me, probably. 

AND EVERY WHERE. With the next letter, G – she stopped. When you’re a big girl, you can do the rest. 
Next day she showed me cross-stitch and I sewed IN MEMORY until my eyes hurt.

Eight years slipped by AND ALSO ASSENETH WHO DIED when I was thirteen FEB 8 1849. 
That night I satin-stitched an urn, an altar, half a rose. AGED 19 MONTHS.    The cloth was grey by then
with childish sweat, pinpricks of blood and also tears AND ALSO 

HANNAH two years on THE GRANDMOTHER OF THE ABOVE. I found the last lines of the verse 
she had left off and marked them up, but couldn’t frame – until I’d lived as long again – to add 

– my nephew feverish, I had to end this tale. Thread by thread I drew our family back 

WE KNOW WE TRUST I persevered THE BOUNDLESS LOVE stitching my fingers numb 
oF GOD HE DOETH ill John’s son was ill, fighting for breath aged 4. If I could break the spell 
I told myself and stitch one living name – my own – with some date soon perhaps all would be WELL 

HIS WILL BE DONE WE SAY AND KISS his eyes his hands his fingernails God will decide 
my needle vain to stop his CHASTENING ROD claiming one more AND ALSO for this field of crosses
'Valentine', 'Unattributed Sampler', 'When I was six', 'Waltz' - from Without a Dog  
(Graft Poetry 2008, Ed. Nicholas Bielby www.graftpoetry.co.uk)

Image courtesy of Angela Clare, Collections and Exhibitions Officer at Calderdale Museums Service, Bankfield Museum, Halifax


Married fifty years today, Ted and Edie
take the floor not needing onlookers, but pleased
for those who want to watch their Anniversary Waltz.
They bring their language from another world
of sweethearts, long engagements and apprenticeships
in which they practised drawing and respecting
boundaries, making choices at every turn
yet making believe there was no other way.
If asked, they’d say theirs was no mystery, just years
of graft, of grasping drifts and judging distances,
steering a course through fractured families, neighbours,
nations – weaving meaning into remnant spaces –
station platforms, backyards, beaches – patterning
the long and short sides of their years until they learned
to keep in step, beating time, being alive together.
Now warmed by applause they cross the boards
and, holding and yet not quite being held,
teach us the grace of gentle intimacy. They wear
the clothes they walked here in, but in the light confetti
of the mirrorball the years fall from them
and they twirl their wedding finery, still points
at the centre of a dancing world.


When I was six

Lotus shoes (early 1900s), The Tolson Museum
they broke my ankles and bound my feet.
They said it wouldn’t hurt when they put me to sleep
but when I woke it did and when I tried to stand
I fell and gashed my face and lay and screamed
and a nurse and my maid Suyin came running
and said don’t cry, with your tiny feet
you’ll be the envy of Szechuan.
                                                      Dressing my face,
nurse said I’d be lucky not to have a scar –
but when they unwound the bandages and saw
my feet, blue-black as a typhoon, the shape and smell
of rotting vegetables, I said o you want that then ,
is that what you want and they looked away,
busying themselves as I lay, listening to their feet.

You will be beautiful my father said, as if
it were an order and I said was I not that already
had I not been a perfect baby then and he said
you know that isn’t what I mean and me
this is the twentieth century not the tenth and him
the more you argue the more you prove my case.
What case, I said, what case?
                                       I looked at mother
who was silent. Later she said why didn’t I paint
or practise holding my fan, looking ladylike…
that I should be grateful for a life of ease,
only having to bow and look serene.
But she did not look at me then, or when, married
at fifteen, I told her the day they broke my feet
still seemed like yesterday.

You’re lucky, says Suyin, brazen now,
you can sit around all day and think
how beautiful you’ll be – you are…. as she walks
away. You are not meant to walk but glide
they say, but I can only shuffle. My husband grunts
he married a lady not a labourer and anyway
he likes me better lying down.
                                                      Opium helps,
but sometimes I wake myself screaming
you said it wouldn’t hurt when you put me to sleep
and to my father, truly deaf now, what case, what case
and to my mother ladylike and to my husband
off somewhere and Suyin, in her own oblivion.
Tears run into my ears, along a faint scar.

When I was Six and other poems are © Julia Deakin


Julia Deakin is a UK-based poet with three full-length collections, each praised by nationally renowned poets. ‘Crafted, tender poems, written with passion and purpose,’ said Simon Armitage of Without a Dog (Graft, 2008). Anne Stevenson enjoyed its ‘mature wit and wisdom’. ‘Real linguistic inventiveness’ said Ian McMillan. ‘Bold, irreverent and wickedly funny,’ said Alison Brackenbury of her Poetry Business Competition winner The Half-Mile-High-Club.

Eleven Wonders (Graft 2012) Michael Symmons Roberts judged ‘powerful, assured, elegant. Her formal skill and inventiveness make this a rich and eclectic collection. Those who, like me, have admired her individual poems in the past, will be struck by their cumulative strength and range.’

A compelling reader, she has featured twice on Poetry Please and won numerous prizes. Her fourth collection, Sleepless (Valley Press) will be published in October 2018.


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